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Backgrounder: Feeling like a new man

Mon 10 Jan 2005 In: Features View at NDHA

TVNZ screened a documentary about female to male transpeople last Tuesday (11 Jan) evening. So, what should know about the new guys on the block? In New Zealand/Aotearoa, most of the key transgender rights advocates and celebrities have been transwomen- Georgina Beyer, Claudia MacKay, Carmen et al. In Britain and the United States, things are somewhat different. There, female to male transsexuals also have an increased public profile. Stephen Whittle is one such figure, and director of the UK transgender rights organisation, Press For Change. As an academic, I first became aware of FTM transpeople when I encountered Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (Firebrand, 1993). Feinberg is a veteran of hir movement, and no, that's not a spelling error. Like transwomen in an analogous situation, transmen develop gender dysphoria related to their own bodily shape. However, they face an additional dilemma- genital surgery is far less advanced in their case, and so it is more difficult to construct male genitals than vaginas. As with transwomen, transmen have issues around adequate standards of care around gender reassignment surgery, although there's a shortage of research about their post-reassignment lives. Feinberg and Loren Cameron are exceptions. Cameron is one particularly brave man. He has become a photographer of the lives of his communities, including nude imagery. We are shown images of a ripped, lithe male body that should arouse any red-blooded gay male reader. And then... well, so what? Unlike radical lesbian feminists, gay men aren't into politically sanctioned social exclusion on the basis of anatomy. And as for anyone who does reject them as potential sexual partners on the basis of anatomy, that's their loss. And yes, like transwomen, transmen experience violence and discrimination on the basis of their transitioning gender identity. Tragically, Brandon Teena's horrific story is not an unusual one- Teena was raped and murdered in a rural Nebraska town when his anatomy was exposed by a group of rural rednecks. Boys Don't Cry was the outcome, and it should have sparked debate. In Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg related hir own experience of sexual violence at the hands of transphobic cops. For some reason, there are few New Zealand narratives about the lives of FTM transmen around. I visited one local website, only to find that it had closed down, although there is an Yahoo New Zealand website entitled nztransguys, and New Zealands transgender lobby group, Agender, contains FTM library resources and advice about behaviour and modes of dress related to transmen. And gay transmen? Some FTMs discover that once they've transitioned, they prefer blokes. There are several subjects in Feinberg's trans historical volume, Transgender Warriors (Beacon, 1996) and Cameron's book who identify as currently gay male. Matt Rice is better known as the ex-partner of Patrick Califia-Rice, formerly SM dyke Pat Califia. For some reason, there isn't all that much gay male erotica that includes FTMs as yet, apart from the opening story in the recent See Dick Deconstruct collection. Unlike transwomen, there seem to be few transmen employed in the sex industry, although many of Loren Cameron's subjects appear to be involved in manual and skilled trades work. Loren Cameron, Patrick Califia-Rice and Leslie Feinberg all identify as working-class as well, which may be significant. Like transwomen, transmen also need protection on the basis of gender identity discrimination, but haven't been as visible as their female counterparts as yet. Hopefully, Georgina Beyer's proposed Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill will change that if it is drawn from the ballot and progresses through select committee, submission and first to third reading stages. Her bill is intended to remedy a long-outstanding injustice and render it illegal to discriminate on the basis of transitioning and reassigned gender identity. So, watch Tuesday's docco, listen and learn. Essential Reading: Patrick Califia-Rice: Sex Changes: Cleis Press: 1998. Loren Cameron: Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits: Cleis Press: 1997. Leslie Feinberg: Stone Butch Blues: Firebrand Books: 1993. Leslie Feinberg: Transgender Warriors: Beacon Press: Boston: 1996. Essential Websites: Agender: New Zealand's trans lobby group. Press for Change: British trans lobby group Loren Cameron's personal website. Vile Transphobic Inhuman Crap: Janice Raymond: The Transsexual Empire: Women's Press: 1977: Ghastly transphobic diatribes that are answered in Patrick Califia's book above. In NZ's Broadsheet, Sarah Calvert objected to its content. Raymond collaborated with the Australian Christian Right over prohibition of RU486, France's abortion pill, which has been available in New Zealand for the last four years. Her Passion for Friends (1996) excommunicates various groups of lesbian sexual dissidents from radical lesbian feminism, although most of them prefer socialist lesbian feminism in any case. FTMs hadn't occurred to her when she wrote her original diatribe. Garnet Milne's inane diatribe about Jacqui Grant gets the beloved West Coast 'tranny granny's" personal pronouns wrong. On what purported proof texts does this sorry specimen justify discrimination against transfolk, given that gender reassignment surgery was unknown at the time that the Bible was composed, and there is no explicit condemnation of it? Craig Young - 10th January 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Monday, 10th January 2005 - 12:00pm

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