Genderation X

You can change your body with surgery and hormones, but what happens after that might surprise you

"There was a cluster of pins in the upper left corner," relates David Harrison, creator and star of the much-praised one-man theater piece FTM. "Those were the ultramale and ultrahetero. Then the rest of the pins were in this really wonderful blend, all scattered across the board. There were so many gay-identified men at the conference even we were surprised. I'd say close to half. There was so much excitement and interest that a newsletter is in the works -- Trans Fag Rag."

The pushpin exercise raises some obvious questions: We assume people change their physical gender because they identify deep down as the opposite sex, yet many of these men were scattered across the female-identified area. Is this because the change has freed these men to express qualities they'd suppressed before? Did most men know they were gay before the change, or was it a shock? How many had been oriented toward men all along?

James Green, newsletter editor of Oakland-based FTM International and a longtime transgender activist, says no statistics have been gathered to answer these questions, but he's willing to hazard a few observations. "People assume all FTMs come out of the lesbian community. I can't tell you how many people I've met who've had no connection with a gay subculture. Of course, a lot do, but we need to remember that for many people, the lesbian community was not 'the right place' but more like 'the only place.'

"Other people have a real identification with being gay, and what that means to them is being attracted to women. They haven't thought beyond that.

"Furthermore, these are people who have fought very hard to be who they are and where they are. They've struggled to break down barriers, so they don't want to limit themselves with definitions -- or anyone else either. Some guys won't define themselves as anything other than 'man.' That's what they've fought so hard to be."

More "scientific" answers will have to wait for someone's unwritten book. But what the pushpins illustrate beyond doubt is the paucity of all our ways of referring both to gender and to transgendered people. Sex change, FTM, and MTF (male to female) start one place and end another, signaling a radical leap between polarities that often leaves out the most important information -- and in many people's experience is simply false. The terms also encourage erroneous assumptions that, like Frankenstein's monster, take on lives of their own; in last month's Out magazine, an article suggests that the social aims of gays and transgendered people are in opposition, because the latter group favors rigidly defined gender roles.

Transgender, across gender, is more to the point (at least it allows for layering and subtlety), but by singling out some people to so label, it excludes everybody else from acknowledging the nuances that are part of all of us -- and excuses us from understanding how we all accommodate society's expectations. It's much easier to say, "That's his problem, not mine" -- as if any of us could escape the consequences of living in a world in which gender determines so much of who we are or could become.

Shadow Morton was described to me as a man both angry and eloquent about his summary dismissal from the dyke community. But when I meet him for a quiet Mexican meal at Mission Villa, with its dim lights and tall-backed booths, I get the impression that this is an old subject, one he's moved past. After twice as many years on hormones as Matt, he's full of enthusiasm about his life as a gay man. Perhaps we need to mourn what is lost before we can begin to embrace what's ahead.

Blond and cleanshaven but for a small beard, 33-year-old Shadow looks like exactly what he is -- an articulate, thoughtful gay man. "What I was doing in the dyke world was trying to be a straight man," he explains in a careful, measured voice. "I would grow up, find the perfect woman, we'd get married, have 2.5 kids, and live in a house with a white picket fence."

Shadow identified with his brothers as a child and couldn't understand why his mother wanted to dress him in girls clothes. "I'd chuck the underwear she was giving me and go into my brother's dresser and take two or three of his. I was so headstrong about it that my family quit fighting me about it. They just hoped it was a phase that would pass." He grins. "It didn't."

When he was around 12, he figured that if he had a woman's body and felt the way he did, it must mean that he was lesbian. That same year, he went to the first gay and lesbian march in his hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D. "I scared the snot out of them," he recalls. "They wouldn't touch me with a 10-foot pole."

In 1977, when he was 15, he read about a female-to-male transsexual in a magazine. The article got him thinking -- that and his dismay with the way his body was changing. "It was going in a completely different direction, and I had no control over it. I felt completely betrayed. I shut down and became neither male nor female and functioned that way for a very long time, even within the dyke community."

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