Monthly Archives: March 2011

What I Said at Girl Talk

cross posted at Fukshot

Marlene Says:

Girl Talk was an amazing experience, as it has been in years past. This time I was given the great honor of being asked to speak. I was plenty intimidated by the fact that I was on stage with some of the folks I respect most in the world. Big thanks to Debbie for her help as I was writing this piece.

I’m going to start by telling a story about someone telling a story about something someone else once said. Occasionally, people mistake me for younger than I am, so I’ll clarify by saying that this telling stories about telling stories is post-modern, not meta.

In Gender Outlaw, Kate tells about being involved in some sort of panel discussion. She is doing what Kate does, shaking apart presumptions about how identities are structured, and she asks her audience “What if I strapped on a dildo and fucked you? Then what would I be?” Carol Queen pipes up with “Nostalgic!”

I giggled the first time I read it. I grinned for an hour, actually.

I put together everything I knew from reading about these people I did not know. I knew that Carol was a kinky dyke who played with fags. I had read what would become the first chapter of <em>The Leather Daddy and the Femme</em> in <em>Taste of Latex</em>. I knew Carol was part of the same push towards a new queer revolution that I was part of. Reading these words, I knew that Carol and Kate were fond of each other. I knew that there was a friendship in the world that was like the friendships I would need. A queer trans woman, who was the only trans woman who had ever written a book that talked about her queerness, had a friendship with a queer cis woman.

That made me feel a little safer. That made me feel like I was going to be OK.

I was alone in my room in a new city where I had lived just a few months. The copy of Gender Outlaw was borrowed from a friend. Within weeks I would be paying a trans woman with a MFCC to write me a hormone letter. I think it was 40 bucks and that included a half hour conversation in a coffee shop on Haight Street where she told me about the different hormones folks used and the name of the friendly endocrinologist in town who looked and spoke like Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Any other survivors of the Smilo cocktail here? It consisted of a slightly high dose of premarin, a slightly high dose of estinyl (that’s 2 kinds of estrogen, either of which would be plenty by themselves) and provera, which made me want to have a baby. I’m glad I stopped taking that.

My monthly hormone expense was more than my rent.

I got a job as a messenger. I couldn’t pass and had almost no luck finding work. Delivering other people’s legal papers and enormous checks kept me fed. I worked for one of the bigger messenger companies. I would rather have worked for Lickety Split, the dyke messenger company, but I wasn’t welcome. The girls who rode for Lickety Split wouldn’t even talk to me when we met on the street, or in an elevator.

A dyke I knew took me out to see a performance. I think it was at theater Rhinocerous, or maybe some other incarnation of some other space somewhere in that same building. It was a women only event. A friend she introduced me to made compliments about my appearance with the finest of butch manners. I was petrified and didn’t know if I was being made fun of. I don’t think I said anything.

After the performance some dyke with a mullet said I shouldn’t be there. A butch who I still see around town told her she was mistaken. It turned into a short-lived fight. Mullet took off, but I was too uncomfortable to accept an invitation to the bar with the others.

When I had first read the beginnings of The Leather Daddy and the Femme, I was living as a fag in a relationship with a dyke.  Transition wasn’t my introduction to the world of queer women. My partner’s friends were also my friends and I knew the culture and the social norms as well as any other world I had lived in.

I went to a support group meeting for trans women. They were all in their forties, and straight, and they had jobs down town, and wore polyester skirt suits. I didn’t go back.

I had a friend named Casey,  another trans woman who was a little too butch for the trans women support groups. She also had a motorcycle. She was also serious about her kink. We didn’t hang out except at the waiting room at Tom Waddell, but we would see each other around and that was important to both of us. There was another one like us, but she was older and not very friendly, but it was good to know she existed too. Casey died in her sleep.

I went to a meeting of FTM International in my capacity as a dildo maker. I asked the guys what they wanted and took their thoughts back with me to influence future designs. I made a few friends. I met boys who had just been kinky punkrock 20-something dykes, like I was becoming. They were becoming kinky punkrock 20-something faggots, like I had just been. They gave me the lowdown on what pieces of the local dyke community I shouldn’t even bother with. We used brand new words together like non-operative transsexual. I also learned what it feels like to be a girl with a crush on a faggot who really doesn’t do girls.

I haven’t spoken to my mother in years, but I am the woman she raised on the children’s stories published in Ms Magazine. She taught me to question what the male dominated medical establishment tells us about what our bodies are and what our bodies mean. I don’t think she has any idea how useful that lesson was.

Some things are pretty much the same now as they were when I started transition, but most things are really different. At the first Girl Talk, Julia talked about the greatest barrier to trans women’s participation in queer women’s space. She called for the destruction of the insider/outsider myth; the myth that trans women were aliens to queer women’s spaces. In fact, we have been there for a very long time. I knew she was right because I knew the reason I am no longer anxious in those spaces is that I have been in those spaces long enough that I can’t be intimidated out of them. I am no longer very good at picking up on those things that might make trans women uncomfortable. The girl taking money at the door, who might make me feel unwelcome? My Exiles membership lapsed due to my being too lazy to cross the bay from Oakland before she had ever seen two girls kiss.

I was very lucky in some ways. Even with the occasional less-than-warm welcome from the queer women’s community, I got the welcome that I really needed.

I met a much older trans man who was just starting transition. He had lived as a butch dyke as far back as the fifties. We talked about the ways, new and old of our shared world of queer women. We only had a few conversations, but one night, I came home to a letter from him.


Dear Marlene,

Last time we talked you mentioned that you need $1500 for electrolysis – I wonder if  you would permit me to give it to you –

This is not a loan but a gift. I sold my old apartment at a slight profit in October. So this is a sum I can spare – it was an unexpected windfall –

When I was young my older friends kept me afloat for years – by various kindnesses – + I feel the need to pass it along – please take and enjoy – be well –

Transmen in the Workplace: No Surprises

Debbie says:

I’ve been saying for a long time that having more transpeople is going to teach us a lot about how gender works. Generally, when I say this, I mean that we’re going to learn about biology: what changes when a person is on hormones, and what doesn’t? What changes for some people and not others? What varies with hormone levels? What changes when a person has surgery? These are all things we couldn’t know before and now there’s an opportunity to gather data (so the geek in me is automatically interested).

At the same time, there’s also a lot to be learned sociologically. Twenty years ago or so, a major study (which I can’t easily find on the Internet) revealed that MTF transgender people earned a lot less after they transitioned than they did before transition. The study interpreted this as a failure of transition, failing to take into account that 1) at the time, to be permitted to have a medical transition, people had to agree to leave their whole old life (including their work history) behind and take a new name in a new city; and 2) women earn less than men.

Now, however, Kristen Schilt has published Just One of the Guys: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality

cover for Kristen Schilt's book

and guess what? People who have been in the workplace as both women and men report being treated better when they present as male.

In a fascinating blog called “Dollars and Sex,” which I hadn’t seen before, Marina Adshade reports on the book:

Most of the men interviewed revealed that as men they were given more authority and respect in the workplace than they had received as women, even when they had stayed in the same job. They also found that their economic gains post-transition were greater despite the fact that their human capital remained the same.

As men they found that they were perceived as being right more often. One tells a story of intentionally repeating a comment that had just been made by a woman in a conference setting. The woman had been shot down for making the comment but when the man made exactly the same observation the reaction was “Excellent point!”

The overriding theme here is that as men they were seen as more competent in their jobs and given more respect and authority. When it came time to evaluate workplace performance, either for promotion or pay, this perception played to their advantage. For those running their own businesses, they found it easier to gain the confidence of investors as men, making them more successful.

Again, no surprise: ethnicity, race, and age can be balancing factors:

It turns out that the real gain described above is not in becoming a man, but in becoming an older white man. Becoming either a Black or Asian man meant facing a whole new set of challenges in the workplace as either being too aggressive or too passive. If the transition made them look like very young men (especially over the period in which they are developing peach fuzz beards) they saw no advantage, or were disadvantaged for their youth and perceived lack of experience.

This is just another piece of evidence to add to the already-very-convincing pile of data which shows how much (older white) male privilege affects the workplace. What makes it interesting is that in this case, the change happens to a single person, which significantly undercuts any attempt to claim that “men are just better at these things” or “well, in our office, it just happens that the women aren’t as skillful at [X important skill].” Next time someone tries one of those arguments on me, I’ll have a new response.

Thanks to wordweaverlynn for the pointer.