Welcome back Through the Looking Glass, my friends. As MTFs, be we crossdressers, transsexuals, or those that love us, we have a number of myths that we use to soothe ourselves and to try to better our chances of being treated fairly. But just between us, don’t mistake these stories for the truth. Or better yet, do believe them; they may be more comforting and effective if you do, but in that case don’t read any further—and don’t say I didn’t warn you. And to make matters worse, I’m not going to debunk these myths with hard evidence, just the evidence of my eyes—and the evidence of yours once you take a good long look at it, not what you’ve heard but what you’ve seen, not what people say but what they do. But the evidence of your eyes may take a long time to accumulate and bring into focus. A wise post-op friend of mine explained, “That why so many of us have to figure these things out for ourselves, Alice--and I’d still beg to differ with you on a couple of points.”
Myth #1: Everyone is fascinated by transgenderism and male/female differences. Most of us don’t a have a clue how wrong this is, and I only fully realized it after five years of writing and marketing what I thought would be the widely bally-hooed first-ever memoir of crossdresser. And by the grace of God, Alice in Genderland did make a splash in our community, but really none at all in the mainstream. Though our transgender stories are filled with conflict and transformation, they lack relevance for everyone but us and our loved ones. The average man or woman is about as intrigued by us, as he or she would be the life of an Armenian American or a person with Lupus. Though women tend to be more interested in the topic of gender, they’re mostly looking for the knowledge that will help them ensure more equitable treatment at work, in their families, and in their relationships. They tend to deny gender differences and have no special interest in people who awkwardly combine male and female traits. To most enlightened people I know, we TGs are no great shame, but no fascinating phenomenon either, just folks born with something unfortunate, like albinos.
Myth #2: Crossdressers and transsexuals are two whole different types of people. This notion is extremely prevalent, as is reflected by the very fact that we use the words crossdresser and transsexual, as opposed to part-time MTFs and full-time MTFs—or something like that. This myth seems to be supported by the fact that some transsexuals, especially very effeminate, early-transitioning ones appear cut from a completely different cloth than crossdressers—and indeed they are (see my article on the two types of trans women). On top of that, drawing a hard line between CD and TS can be extremely useful for CDs who strive to stay accepted as men and TSs fighting for acceptance as women.
But be it on the Internet, at a convention, or even at a nightclub, scratch the surface with more than a handful of us, and you’ll realize that we started-out-straight MTFs have shockingly similar personalities, professions, and interests. Not only that, but you’ll find a number of us imbetweeners like me who feel that they’d be perfectly capable of living either as crossdressers or a transsexuals.
Myth #3: Transsexuals are simply women born into the wrong body. Though it’s important for transsexuals to be treated as women. This born-into-the-wrong-body notion does not ring true in my experience as psychiatrist or trans person. Just the kind of conversation a person makes is often enough to distinguish a trans woman from genetic woman—especially for started-out-straight trans women. The sheer difference in career choices and outsides interests as well the different ways of handling relationships and emotional ups and downs is really quite striking. The difference between a genetic woman and a started-out-gay trans woman is more subtle, though these MTFs seem different from women in how they seek attention and sexual satisfaction, in ways that may go beyond the effects of upbringing and male puberty. All that being said, are MTFs of either variety really men? No! Do they, and I if I someday were to go full-time, deserve to be treated as women? Hell, yes. Do we sometimes need simple messages to help cue people in to how to treat us? Definitely yes, and hence our continued need for Myth #3.
Myth #4: A lot of crossdressers pass and nearly all transsexuals do. It sure is a lot cheerier for me to assume that I pass and a lot more polite for me to go along with it when my transsexual friends insist that they do. And it’s not that outrageous an assumption to make when everyone around you at work, at home, or even in the ladies’ locker room at the gym is polite and using the right pronouns. Still, I believe it’s possible to be accepted as a woman without having to be mistaken for a genetic woman. The truth is that most of us taller, not-naturally-swishy, non-Asian MTFs don’t pass—not without Facial Feminization Surgery. Don’t believe me. Just hold some snapshots of your not-already-FFSed t-friends side by side with similar shots of some of your female friends, and you’ll see the difference. I’m sorry but brows, chins, and jaw angles might as well be beards and moustaches; they’re that gender-differentiated.
Myth #5: Crossdressers are regular straight guys. Myths #5-7 are like Myth #1 (Everyone’s fascinated by transgenderism) in that they involve misperceiving the way straight people--and specifically straight men--feel about transgender people and things. Myth #5 seems quite plausible in that most crossdressers are attracted to women and not to men. And it’s quite useful in that we CDs must provide a lot of reassurance if we want to a find a woman to settle down with.
Still, though, are we regular straight guys? Clearly not, because discreet, anonymous surveys show that only about three percent have any interest in crossdressing. So, at least in this regard, we’re rather irregular, though I must admit in most other ways we do seem like pretty typical straight-shooting, sports-loving, therapy-and-theater-shunning heterosexuals.
Myth #6: Trans admirers are regular straight guys. Here’s another myth that seems quite plausible, because nearly all men who hit on trans women are men interested in women. Gay men almost never show any interest. Myth #6 is also quite useful, because what man wants to admit that he has a seriously alternative sexual orientation. Which of us trans women wants to push that point when we’ve finally found a steady fellow. Not I. Though deep inside I don’t buy the standard myths, I’m very respectful of how Frank or any of my friends choose to see themselves.
Like Myth #5, Myth #6 could be tested by discreet, anonymous surveys, but I don’t know of any, nor do I think it would be easy to win the grant money necessary. But in the absence of that I recommend you conduct your own survey. Find three straight men you trust, maybe your brother, your best friend, and your AA sponsor, college roommate, or fellow vet. You could ask them if they’d ever seek out trans women, and their honest answer would almost always be no. Though I have never directly asked this question to more than three such men, I am a psychiatrist and the confessions I hear from scores of straight men lead me think that I’d have to stretch my survey to about twenty in order to chance upon one ostensibly straight fellow who also happened to be a trans admirer. Once again, though not gay, such a guy would be a rather irregular straight man.
Myth #7: After surgery I can get involved with regular straight men. Certainly if you pass, than after genital surgery you may be free to date mainstream straight men and even have sex without any differences detected. But, alas, as many friends have reported, once you tell them you’ve had a sex change, it’s like telling them you still have a penis. They can’t say goodbye quick enough. The same heartbreaking conclusion can be reached by returning to your three trusted straight friends and asking them, “If you were dating a beautiful woman who turned out to be transsexual, would you still be interested?” and all too often their answer will be no. I’m pleased to report though that I do hear of many post-ops who find love with trans-admiring men and even a few who find love and marriage with mainstream men who are able to say, “To me, you are and always were a woman.” ---
I’ve busted these seven myths here today because I believe that we TVs and TSs need inner clarity to make more informed decisions in addition to the outer mythology we need to keep our spirits up and secure acceptance in our personal and professional lives. Perhaps for a tiny minority like ours fighting for the basic right to have partners, children, and even jobs, effective propaganda has to come first--as Samuel Johnson once said, “Truth is the first casualty of war.” But just between us, let’s be as clear as we can, so we can each choose the best path possible based on the facts on the ground.
Life’s rich, complex, and full of possibilities. Be careful and enjoy!
Alice Novic, M.D.
To learn more about me than you’d ever dare ask, please see my smart, sexy memoir, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age