Most gay and lesbian people have some sort of built-in gaydar, which makes me wonder if there is such a thing as transdar. Can transsexuals spot each other even in the absence of overt evidence like sex reassignment surgery (SRS), hormone-taking or crossdressing? Can a tranny look at a girl and think, “Oh child, one day those breasts are going to seem like a curse to you”?
But that’s a silly question. After all, transdar would be attuned to many of the same traits as gaydar: men who dress with swishy verve or tomboys who play with trucks. This close up, homosexuality and transsexuality are Siamese twins: They both revolt against what a man or a woman is, of what men or women should do.
But the relationship between these twins often seems sour. Though I think gay and lesbian people are more empathetic to transsexuals than straight folks, the tight quarters that we call the queer community amplifies misunderstandings and frustrations. Homos and trans- sexuals might attend the same community centres, activist groups, award ceremonies and Pride celebrations, but both sides are often left scratching their heads: Who the fuck are these people?
I think this impatience has a few roots.
- Gay and lesbian liberation as an organized movement is bigger, better established and has more money than any trans equivalent. With their small numbers, transsexuals often don’t have the resources to form their own groups – and consider that their goals often involve expensive medical procedures. In the groups we share, the homo majority usually calls the shots. On the tranny side, inclusion can seem perfunctory. On the homo side, trans inclusion can seem like a token gesture for a small minority
- Gay and lesbian activism has become caught up with rights. While genderbenders were part of the Stonewall riots that triggered the modern gay movement, the emphasis has gradually shifted away from the idea of “being different.” With lawyers at the forefront, homo priorities have become legalizing behaviour (sex laws), recognizing rights (same-sex marriage) and eliminating formal discrimination (human and employee rights protection, hate laws). Instead of a general raising of consciousness – People who look and behave differently from the norm are okay – we have checklist of court cases to fight, bills to pass. That raises a question of “who first?”
- Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you understand transsexuality. Hormones? Surgery? Even conscientious homos can end up sounding insensitive or like they’re walking on eggshells. It would be nice if passing – when a transsexual is accepted on sight as their chosen gender – didn’t matter. But it does. A confused brain flicker can result in a “he” directed at a tall, angular woman. The disappointment is the same as if the “he” was spoken out of spite
- The gay male cult of masculinity has grown more rigid. Even flamers are barely tolerable anymore. In the female camp, some lesbians suspect that female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals are just butches who have gone too far, who no longer love the female body. Transsexuals raise questions about gender that homos want to believe are settled in their own lives
- Though most transsexual people want to pass, there’s a growing number of transgendered people entering the fray. They thumb their noses at whether anyone is fundamentally a man or a woman. If you’re born a woman, present as a man, but don’t have a penis and you have sex with someone who’s born a woman, has a penis, dresses effeminately but identifies as a straight male – is that homosexuality? The labels that make gay personal ads easy are thrown out the window, and don’t even fit in with how many transsexuals see themselves – a male or female soul in the wrong biological body. There are inconsistencies in trans culture that gay and lesbian culture has escaped.
I suspect the blossoming trans movement is now where the gay and lesbian movement was back in the 1970s. While trans people launching and steering their own organizations can only be a good thing, it would be a shame if the institutions we share fell apart, built as they are around the idealism of the bendability of what a man or woman can be.
Paul Gallant is Managing Editor for Xtra.