Gender Identity Things

A couple of posts down, I answered a meme wherein I mentioned that I “have some gender identity things I don’t talk about much.” To that post, one of my former co-workers added a comment.

When I initially read it, I deleted the comment. It’s been a very draining weekend, and I thought the post was antagonistic, and I really didn’t want to deal with it. I also didn’t want to let it stand, because I have a site comment policy that I enforce.

But it was also unfair enough, and full of so many unjust assumptions that I changed my mind and decided I’d better address it, for better or worse.

The text of the comment:

Gender Identity issues??? Well no Duh!

You know what they say Steph; those who protest the loudest have the most to hide and you aren’t any different. You treated me with complete disrespect and rejection when I transitioned at work 4 cubes away from you for over a year. At a time when I needed friends and support, you wouldn’t even talk to me, not a kind or supportive word EVER. You could have been a huge help and a valuable ally, but obviously you were hiding behind your own issues and didn’t want to muddy your internal gender puddle.

You know what? I get it, I understand. I wish I would have made the connection then instead of catching it in a brief comment on your blog which I read occasional. (It is one of the better Hoosier-made blogs, so kudos to you.) Had I known, or had I been in a position to get outside my own issues at the time, at least it would have dulled the feeling of rejection I felt.

I doubt you will, but should you want an ear for those gender identity issues, I’m here and more than willing to listen.

Janie

I’m not sure where to start, but let me dive in.

1. My own gender identity.

LET ME BE REALLY CLEAR because I’ve been through this discussion before, and had people try to tell me I don’t know my own mind. And anyone who reads my writing knows that’s the one thing that sends me into a blind, frothing rage. I hate it when people try to tell me what I think. I’m the most introspective person you or I know, and no one has examined what I think more carefully than me.

I am not interested in transitioning to a man. I’m happy with my body in it’s current configuration. I’ve been openly gay for over 20 years, and if I were interested in being a man, I would have arrived there 15 years ago.

What I’m not comfortable with is society’s expectations and prescribed role for me – primarily involving (but not exclusive to) clothing that is traditionally considered women’s clothing.

I don’t like dresses on me, and will not wear one. I’m not comfortable in a dress or a skirt and don’t like the way they look on me. I hate the way women’s shoes look and feel on my feet. I don’t like purses. I don’t like the colors, styles or cuts of women’s blouses or tops on me. I like to wear clothes that are comfortable to me. I like to wear men’s clothes. I like to wear men’s shoes.

I also have issues with what society expects from women when it come to occupations, behaviors and attitudes.

When I said my “gender identity things” I definitely DID NOT MEAN that I’m confused or have doubts about who I am or how I feel. The “issue” I have is with society, not with myself.

And I AM NOT ALONE in how I feel. There are LOTS of lesbians in the same shoes I am in – breaking gender lines without being trans. Wanting to change what women can do and be without transitioning into men.

This is wholly and completely different from the feelings and desires of female to male trans men, and the distinction is at the heart of some extremely emotional and very hostile clashes between the lesbian and trans communities.

These hostile clashes are one of the reasons I’m not comfortable bringing up gender identity on this blog – because one of the people I like and admire – my friend Marti Abernathey – is a a trans advocate, and I really like her, and don’t want to have difficult discussions with her. I’d much rather avoid the conversation, because there are things I disagree with in some of her positions, and I value her friendship and don’t want to argue when there’s so much we do agree on.

The other reason is because I don’t want to have this sort of conversation in front of my mother, whom I love very much, but who is, I’m sure, very uncomfortable at this topic right now, because she reads my blog regularly. My mom has come a very long way since I came out 20 years ago, but there are still areas where we have things to talk about, and I’d prefer do that in person with her and not here, because she deserves that respect.

2. My experience with trans people.

I have a friend who transitioned from male to female in college, (circa 1987) amidst great hostility and at a time when people REALLY didn’t know or understand much about gender identity issues. I listened to Rachel’s explanations about how she felt, sympathized with her in the fear she felt at the hostility she went through, tried not to add anything to the burden that got heaped on her, and actively defended her to other people as she gradually changed into the person she really felt she was.

I think she’s an amazing, strong and expressive person. We haven’t always agreed over the years because we have very different personalities, but I like her, and admire her for surviving all the crap she had to deal with in order to find her true self. I still see her a couple of times a year, usually at the holidays, and it seems she’s become a happy and truly joyful woman, and I can’t picture her as anything else.

Over the years I’ve become friends with several other trans people and also have the privilege of working with trans advocates on political issues and efforts.

I have also had numerous conversations with trans people and with lesbians and gay men about gender issues, and especially have had some difficult conversations with a few trans people who seem to believe that all “butch” lesbians have just not discovered their inner man and who are convinced I’m going to transition at some future date that I just haven’t realized. I’m not sure why a few people are so rigid in the other direction than societal norms in their beliefs, but those people exist and can be very vocal.

I don’t know if that’s what you’re saying, Janie, but it sure seems that you comment is making that assumption.

3. My workplace.

Before Janie came along, there were two other people who transitioned from one sex to another in our workplace. As far as I know, they both did so without problems, and were treated with respect and consideration. I wasn’t close friends with either of them, but in the few conversations we had, they said that their transition was supported by active participation from human resources. I never heard them complain about how other people in the company treated them, and I never heard anything against them from anyone else. Now that’s not to say things didn’t happen – just that I never heard about it. But I’ve always been openly gay at work, so it’s possible that people made sure nothing came to my ears.

When it comes to my own experiences with being openly gay at my current workplace, I’ve always felt supported. Hell, I CAME to the company in 1994 specifically because they had sexual orientation and gender identity in the EEOC clauses, and other gay people advertised it as a welcoming place to apply. After being fired from a job for being openly gay and dealing with another that was hostile to gay people, working at a welcoming workplace was a priority for me.

3. My experiences with Janie.

First of all, Janie… I regularly, openly defended your transition and challenged people’s beliefs about gender identity when you came up in conversation. I did this partly because you came up quite a bit, and partly because I was approached by human resources and asked to speak out on your behalf if I heard people making inappropriate or discriminatory remarks, and to let them know if I thought there was a problem.

In my discussions with co-workers, the issue wasn’t specifically your transition – it was other personality issues that got packaged with you transition, and I strove to separate those and point out that if someone had a problem with you, they should address the problem and not take cheap shots at your transition. All of the people I talked to were able to sort that out in their minds. Some took longer to get there.

About you and me personally – Not one kind word? What? I had conversations with you, Janie. I spoke to you, said hi to you, I wasn’t in anyway disrespectful or unkind.

On the other hand – bluntly – I just don’t like you. I’m sorry, but there it is. There were things you did and said that bothered me, and it had nothing to do with you transition, or my feelings about my gender or yours. It was just you. So yes, there were times when I wasn’t warm or welcoming. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to go into specifics on my issues with you here or anywhere else.

I did and do have an obligation to defend your status in a minority group – one that I took up unhesitatingly. But the reality is that we just don’t have to be BFF with everyone just because we’re in minority groups that deal with the same issues. Some people just have different personalities, and you and I are two of those people.

Posted in About Me, GLBT Issues, Journal Tagged with: ,
5 comments on “Gender Identity Things
  1. Steph,
    I really like and respect you. We could have those discussions and I’m sure we’d both learn a lot. Besides being part of a community together, you’re a geek, you’re eloquent…but blunt, and I like that too.

    Your likes and dislikes about clothing and the like are a lot different than gender dysphoria. 🙂 I haven’t worn heels in ages 😉 It’s not a matter of what I’m wearing, but of how I feel about myself, gender wise. It’s been with me even before I could understand it or express it.

    Regardless, when two people come together with love and an open mind, growth can happen.

    And for what it’s worth, I like who you are.

  2. Denise Maindelle says:

    I’m straight and I wear men’s shoes a lot because I have really wide feet. I don’t think anything about it. I have oone pair of heels that fit. I look like I am twelve when I wear them but they can be fun. I also wear men’s pants to work. I’m a server and women’s pants don’t have pockets big enough for my bank and work tools. I hate men’s pants because they don’t fit but I hate shopping even worse and it’s really hard to find big pockets in women’s pants. I also don’t like carrying a purse. I do sometimes when the occasion calls for it. I don’t like to carry things around period so I don’t have a cell phone yet either.
    The people in my life could not care less about my little quirks, which, by the way, are many. We all cane choose who we spend time with so why would anyone want to be friends with petty people? Most of my friends are straight, a few are gay, I guess because of the percentages in the population. I’ve never known a transgendered person.

  3. Janie says:

    Steph,
    Wow, I’m so surprised to hear you don’t like me…your kidding right? I mean why didn’t I see the signs?, I’m soooo stupid.
    Frankly I knew that then as I do now, and had I know you were speaking on my behalf, I would have had a fit. You have no clue as to what was going on there at the time and the battles I had to fight with them. It might have appeared like everything was nice and cozy, but it wasn’t…I had to fight for every scrap, and have my personal and private information tossed around and distributed freely. Shortly after I left the company, another closeted FtM quit because the environment was too hostile to transition.
    I was playing politics over my job, my transition, company policies, relationships etc…and trust me…had you really understood some of the things they had done regarding my transition issues, as an outspoken LGBT advocate, you would have been irate. How would you feel having your HR representative read you a statement outlining the fact that under the Indiana’s current employment laws, you are NOT protected under the non-discrimination policy and can be fired at any time? That was just the start, how about your company illegally distribute inaccurate medical information about you at company meetings. I could go on but there’s no point other than to discharge this idea that everything was smooth-sailing. When you transition at work…your world get’s rocked…HARD! Regardless, At least I made the effort to bridge the gap with you…I tried even when I knew you didn’t like me and it’s not like you didn’t wear that obvious bit-o-attitude out and proud for me to see.
    So five years later, how about a new perspective? Let go of who you think I am and actually get to know me. I think you’d be surprised about who I am and what I’m about past a few “comments” you apparently didn’t like years ago. I’m not going to cry over spilled milk should you balk at the idea, but again, I’m willing to make the effort.
    Janie

  4. Dyssonance says:

    Hi 🙂
    I’m quite glad I came across this blog through a link on a news aggregator I’m an “editor” for.
    The subject is one that I’ve been engaged in trying to discuss with various people, who have come to use the term “transgender” as a sort of code word for transsexual.
    Unfortunately, not all people are quite as, um, essentialist (?) as I and others are, and so ya get few cranky folks.
    Sounds to me like you’ve got things well in hand, and are a rockin type of gal 😉
    And denise? Now you do 🙂

  5. I’m violating one of the key rules of my website here – the “at work, the website doesn’t exist, and at the website, work doesn’t exist” rule.

    And the rule is there not because I’m concerned that my workplace is going to fire me for having this website. It’s possible, I suppose, because this is a brave new world, and big corporations don’t always have their shit together when it comes to the internet, but I think that’s rather unlikely to happen given my relationship with my management staff and human resources.

    I made this rule because I LIKE WHERE I WORK. I wouldn’t have been here this long if I didn’t. The goals of my company are in line with what my goals are, and I want my company to succeed and me to succeed with it.

    If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t still be here after all these years.

    And I don’t want my website to interfere with my company succeeding, or my work to interfere with my website succeeding. So I’ve always strived to keep the two apart, so there would never be a problem.

    I violated my own rule because I thought that Janie’s accusations towards me were worth addressing, but I don’t feel like it’s either my right or my responsibility to address Janie’s accusations about the company I work for.

    But again, if I felt that what you were saying, Janie, was completely accurate about the company I work for or the people I work for, I WOULD NOT STILL BE WORKING HERE.

    “You have no clue as to what was going on there at the time” – I have a brain, and I am aware of my surroundings, believe it or not.

    I’m sorry, Janie, but what I saw was very different than what you are describing here.

    As I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to go into specifics on my issues with you here or anywhere else.”

    That remains the case.

%d bloggers like this: