Bloggers Brynn Tannehill Trans — 30 August 2012
Truly Trans? A Call for Unity

A few years back, when I was just starting the transition process, an older trans woman was trying to convince me what path I should take. Get this surgery. You don’t need that one. Your sexual orientation will change anyway once you’ve had Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS).

I described this odd and frustrating online exchange with a friend of mine who transitioned years ago. She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s the trannier-than-thou crowd. Don’t pay any attention to them.” She was right. Too bad that one cannot seem to escape some level of the “trannier-than-thou” mentality no matter where you go in the trans community.

It seems counter-intuitive that a group, which seeks nothing but acceptance for its diversity from greater society, and even within the LGB community, can be so divisive because of its diversity. Other LGB people should be familiar with the phenomena, which is not unique to the trans community. Similar tropes permeate the entire LGBTQ population. Gay men versus lesbians. Bears scare the twinks. Bisexuals are just a step to gayville. Log Cabin Republicans are self-haters. All of these statements are judgemental and unhelpful. But the variations within the trans community have incredible subtleties that can create the greatest divides.

Examples of how the “real transsexual” mentality undercuts the community are everywhere. The blog article I wrote for OutServe Magazine on the Affordable Health Care Act attracted the attention of some members of the Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS is the original, 1960’s vintage name for gender dysphoria), “true transsexual” crowd. The comments section was one sided and long. The article ended up with more comments than any other OutServe Magazine blog before or since. I was attacked in other venues as part of this discussion. One person angrily fired away at me with, “A castration and a new face doesn’t make you a woman or qualified to discuss issues for real transsexuals.” Their perspective was that one is only really a woman if one has had SRS and is heterosexual. Whether one is perceived as a woman by other people is irrelevant, only the SRS matters.

Others in the trans community point out the lack of voice work by many trans people. They have a point. If you plan on interacting with other people and being perceived as female, your voice is very much a part of how you are judged. Many people within the trans community put in a lot of time and effort on this. Others regard it as selling out and not being themselves. As a result, some of those who have put in the effort resent those who feel that voice work isn’t being true to themselves.

Others take the approach that one is only a woman if you look the part and are accepted as female based on appearance and behavior. Given that most of us go out in public wearing clothes, and that random package checks are thankfully rare outside of airports, passing as female has nothing to do with what’s below the belt. Thus, voice work and facial features are far more important to being seen by others as female than SRS.

The extreme definition of a “true transsexual” is somebody who has had SRS, is 100 percent physically passable, is solely attracted to men, has had extensive voice training, and been coached well enough to have mannerisms and movements that are completely with the norm. This would be a very small, predominantly white, and independently wealthy group. Such a sub-group does exist, however.

All of this leads to some very interesting philosophical questions. Are you a woman if no one else sees you as a woman but yourself? Are you a woman if everyone else sees you as such, except when you are naked in front of a full length mirror? Are you a woman if people see you as a woman, have had SRS, but people stop seeing you as a woman when they interact with you? Are you a woman if you have tons of money, get every surgery done known to mankind, are 100 percent passable based on your voice and manners, but still aren’t seen as a woman by religious bigots and the states of Texas, Tennessee, and Ohio?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?

The answer to all of these is: I don’t care. I specialize in applied mathematics, not philosophy. The body of doctors and mental health experts responsible for developing the guidelines for trans related care, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), has made their position perfectly clear in their standards of care publication. They clearly state that the role of health care providers is to do whatever is best for the patient when addressing gender dysphoria. This can vary from patient to patient, from case to case, and can run the gamut from just therapy to full surgical and hormonal intervention. Yet somehow people within the trans community choose to take such a simple approach and turn it into a circular firing squad.

Here’s the secret though: there is no such thing as a “true transsexual.” My sexual orientation should be irrelevant to everyone but my partner. It is none of anybody’s business what I have or don’t in my Hanes-her ways—and has zero impact on my day to day interactions with others.

There is no right answer, only the answer that is right for you. You can go about your life now. What others have in their pants, how they look in public, and how they look in private has zero effect on you. However, how you choose to try to make them feel about their own answer does say a great deal about your character.


About Author

Brynn Tannehill was a SH-60B and P-3C pilot with 10 years of active duty service. A Naval Academy graduate, she left the reserves in 2010 as a lieutenant commander and is currently a contractor at the 711th Human Performance Wing in Dayton, Ohio. Brynn provides OutServe Magazine an experienced transgender voice. See more from this contributor.

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