My Trans Problem

And How a Feminist Learned to Overcome It

I got it. I'd been like those straight folks who recoiled from the idea of bedding someone of the same sex—until they understood that heterosexuality felt exactly that unnatural to us. I had cringed the first time I heard of someone castrating her breasts. How could you excise those curious little animals, always sniffing the world? How could you close off that secret sense of dampness? But that's because I enjoy my body. Shannon was telling me that some people don't, waking up daily to flashes of: Wrong! Wrong! This doesn't belong! If that's transsexuality, it's beyond argument: It's an interior experience of something so basic it makes life worth living. From that perspective, medical assistance seems more like a heart transplant than a nose job.

Of course, that conversation hasn't settled all my questions. But why should this be simple? Transwomen and transmen are asking us to reconsider very basic things: What makes you a woman? What makes you a man? "Reason not the need," King Lear begs his daughter when she asks why he wants to keep his retinue. When human dignity is at stake, we must sometimes take each other's desires on faith.

Besides, we're stuck with each other politically. Six-year-old boys called "faggot" probably aren't being chastised for their sex lives. And even the most lipsticked lesbian betrays her sex role when she goes muffdiving. What I think I've finally gotten is this: We have no choice now but to expand not just our wardrobes but our politics.

Why should this be simple? Transpeople are asking us to reconsider very basic things: What makes you a woman? What makes you a man?
Photograph by Béla Dóka
Why should this be simple? Transpeople are asking us to reconsider very basic things: What makes you a woman? What makes you a man?


E J Graff is the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution (Beacon Press).

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