Do you decide who is “really a man” or “really a woman”? (See 1m33s)
Part of being a public figure is attracting criticism. The praise is plentiful and frequent, but those who feel motivated to reach out and express their displeasure at some accomplishment or other of mine do work hard to make a lasting impression as well. One does begin to see patterns as the years go by, and sometimes it feels worthwhile to point them out. Generations do tend to define our systems of thought and coping, so generational patterns are among the most obvious.
Obviously, obviously, these are not sweeping observations about entire generations of trans people. Only some trans people who happen to be of certain generations. Ie: Not all animals are cats, but all cats are animals.
Around 2010, my emergence as a Hollywood cabaret singer and performer seems to have stirred up some members of the separatist trans community who vehemently reject gay culture and classify my performances as “drag”. In my experience, most trans people have been at least generally supportive of me as an entertainer, when and if they think of me at all. But some seem to have too much time on their hands, and the internet has put all my YouTube videos and stage-painted selfies at their fingertips. How they manage their own histories is one thing, but criticizing my choices warrants a response.
Let’s be clear… My journey of self discovery had its start in the gay community. I was an artistic, feminine child who quickly learned to hide any allegiance with females or sexual interest in males. A stint in the military as a young adult gave me the confidence to begin discovering who I really was, and my only resource afterward was a huge gay nightclub and theatre. I was taken in by incredibly talented entertainers and eventually given a job that allowed me to indulge my performance skills AND get paid a living wage while being encouraged to develop my feminine and womanly side. It was ideal.
My internet and media presence is obviously visibly inclusive of my trans history. In my daily life, walking around the city or having lunch with friends, I do not make an issue of my transition and I believe that most people around me have no idea that I ever transitioned. If a stranger asks me whether or not I’m trans, and there’s no value in discussing it, I will simply tell them to fuck off. Not because I deny that I had to transition my physical body into alignment with my soul, but because I don’t feel like discussing it on the street with a moron.
(Click CONTINUE READING to see the note that came in, and my response)
I am not saying that trans women have to transition or live the way I have. I am not saying that the goal of stealth (denying your history of transition) is wrong. What I am saying is that it is wrong and even transphobic to invalidate my identity as a woman because of my entertainment career, association with the gay community or my honesty about my history of physical, social and legal transition. I choose to own the fact that I had to transition, and I also choose to identify as female. Some believe acknowledging the first point makes the second one impossible. I disagree.
I have made a living as an entertainer pretty much since 1994. In the early days, it was in an externally masculinized body that I feminized as much as possible through makeup, wigs, clothing and freeing of my feminine personality. Once I discovered (dangerous black market) medical options, I began hormone therapy and other medical steps. Finally, as my body became more aligned with my soul, I undertook legal steps to confirm my identity and also had vaginoplasty.
Context: Living Amongst the Gays
Among older generations (yes there are trans women older than me!) some stealth and wannabe stealth trans women take my association with the gay male community as evidence that I am “really a man”, which they sometimes say directly and sometimes say in a sideways manner by calling me a “drag queen”. I see lots of self hatred in these women, who were deeply feminine children just like me but somehow were able to transition young even in the “bad old days” and slip out of sight into heterosexual society. NOT ALL, but some.
In more recent generations, thanks to the hard work put in by my generation and those preceding, younger trans women have not had to go underground in the gay community to find a safe and supportive space in which they can transition. While it’s still no picnic, the internet provides endless resources of information and support. Trans people can go to LGBT centers or sometimes even the campus health clinic for hormones or counseling. That’s all good, as it’s certainly what we were fighting for. Young and lovely, unhardened by masculinizing puberty, some of these trans girls look out from a place of relative privilege and ease to find my generation grotesque and silly looking. NOT ALL, but some.
Some who would have “gone with the flow” of a certain olden days transition narrative to marry women, father children and then transition in middle age now transition in their twenties to live as young queers and lesbians. These young women often seem to align with those older so-called “late transitioners” of a previous time, sharing a strange holdover disgust for “drag queens” aka “gay men” aka “transsexuals like Calpernia who perform in gay bars and dress flamboyantly”. NOT ALL, but some.
Hating me as an open trans woman, punishing honesty about the transition process and rejecting my claiming of a trans identity is honestly nothing if not transphobia. How sad!
What Makes a Woman?
I have long maintained that plenty of non-trans female entertainers have more plastic surgery and wear far more makeup, wigs and costumes than I ever will: Dolly Parton, Lady GaGa, Cher, Madonna, Bette Midler, and the list goes on. These women arguably owe their current careers to the gay male audience, as well. But I never see my small cadre of detractors calling them “men” or even, seriously, “drag queens”. I maintain that if someone is a woman, no amount of grease and pigment applied to the face can make her into a “drag queen” in the sense of being a man dressed as a woman. Her overdone appearance may recall the image put forth by drag queens. She may even acknowledge this similarity in appearance by joking about the title, as have entertainers like Dolly Parton and Cher. But underneath the cosmetics and wigs is a woman, who would probably be quite hurt if someone seriously and directly called her a literal “drag queen”.
If sex were determined by things as simple as adding or removing layers heavy makeup and then standing in front of gay vs. straight men, I could have saved myself tens of thousands of dollars and YEARS of heartache with a trip to the makeup counter, rather than the SRS surgeon.
Here is one note typical of the first type of detractor I mention above, and my response. This note came from a transsexual woman who plausibly claimed to have worked as a female model in the heterosexual adult magazine industry:
The note:Women that lead Stealth lives do so because they can, they drop away from the gay drag community, and live their genuine lives.I was stealth for 30 years by choice, when I came out,I who was a Playboy model and widow, did so to meet and support my community , instead I found trans women who could not make it stealth revert back to the drag/gay things they knew from before.The worst is the Trans/Drag people that complain, they hate being asked certain questions, and yet retain an unhealthy attachment to their past.
But (respondent), your entire life is built on the lie that you never transitioned… Apparently you were born into a male-identified body and took medical, social and legal steps to feminize it. So everything you have, every friend you made, every man you slept with, every bit of media work you did, was all based on denying or hiding your history of transition. I can assume by your efforts to cover up the transition that you believed that every one of those people probably would have hated the “real” you… the “you” whose history included transition. If not, why the lies?
I will clarify again that I do not disagree with the choice to live in stealth. I, too, wish I had never had to transition and I hate the way people react to the knowledge that I have transitioned. But if someone uses the disclosure or concealment of history as a “measuring stick” of womanhood, and directly or obliquely calls me a “man” or “drag queen” in the process, I will respond by breaking down exactly how I see their own situation.
Living in a fake world among fake friends and lovers who would recoil in disgust from the facts is not my idea of a life. I prefer to kiss a man who wants MY kiss, and who is not going to vomit and have an identity crisis after we sleep together because of some “shocking revelation” down the line.
Though I would have chosen a stealth life when I was younger, I have come to believe that it is more worthwhile for me personally to earn the self-confidence necessary to live with honesty about my physical journey. It is not easy, but nothing important ever is. I have a very public media side which does indeed make a point of my identity as a trans woman. But in my daily life, among my friends and the general public, I blend in easily and live as any other extremely fabulous woman might live in Los Angeles. You’ll find me in a sun dress, cowgirl boots and a ponytail with little or no makeup on most days, sipping coffee and reading a book.
If wearing styled hair, heavy makeup, fake lashes, painted nails and sexy clothes is “drag” (and implicitly a male thing), then what was your supposed time in front of Playboy’s cameras? Were you not painted, styled and sexualized? Does putting on that costume and standing in front of gay men vs. straight men somehow alter the reality of the woman doing so?
You followed the most obvious, and oldest trans path in the world: you became what is essentially a prostitute, selling your sexuality to heterosexual men as a way to validate your female identity. I have no issues with that. I fully support a woman’s right to do sex work if she is empowered in the process. But let’s call it what it is. However high-class, you were essentially a transsexual prostitute, just like the girls hoofing it down Santa Monica Boulevard in stripper heels and wigs. Those street girls would probably have worshiped your success, but from your previous communications with me I see little to indicate that you’d have had much compassion for them.
Statements like yours reveal a basic, boring transphobia… They somehow find transsexual women disgusting and think these women are “really men (drag queens)” because people who make these statements probably find *themselves* disgusting and consider themselves “really a man” somewhere down deep inside, when confronted with the facts of their origins. That’s probably why you so vehemently reject the story of how you came to be. At least that’s how I interpret your lashing out at someone who has undergone the same transition journey as yourself. The difference is, I embrace the thorny and unpleasant facts that I had to take a journey when necessary rather than lying to myself and everyone in my life that no journey was ever undertaken.
I disagree with your assertions that transsexuals are so horrible that lying about one’s history is the only way to deal with it. I disagree that there is a threshold of a certain amount of makeup, hair or clothing that turns someone from a woman into a man (a “drag queen”). I disagree that shaking your tits for straight men makes you a woman, and shaking them for gay men makes you a man. I wish I hadn’t had to transition, and would have preferred to have been born physically female, but that wasn’t the case. I did have to create my physical self. What makes me female is my soul, and that has never changed.
Now, I have a show to do… ta ta!
Further reading: Transsexuals Who Are Ashamed of Transsexuals (TWAATS)