By Kate Conger
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His lesbian pals tried to get him to tone down being so male. "I'd go over to my male friends' houses, and I'd say, 'I don't understand this,' and they'd say, 'Well, we don't understand it either. Why can't you just be who you are?'
"There were key differences," Shadow remembers. "I was much more emotionally detached. When I was with guys -- and I don't mean sexually, I just mean on a comfort level -- I didn't have to explain myself, I didn't have to process things. With women, I was constantly explaining my motives, my words, my actions." He lifts his eyebrows, trying to communicate how exhausting and frustrating this was. "And when I look back at attractions to different women, it's stuff that would happen in a Harlequin romance, like I was trying to fit into a book."
I remind him what he said at the butch women's panel, about not wanting to change gender because he was turned on by dykes. He smiles, not at all defensive.
"Surprises, surprises. I'd been with women for 12 years, and I figured that was where I was supposed to be. But when I started paying attention to what triggered my sexual arousal, I figured out it was gay porn and watching other men's bodies. I thought, 'Maybe it's just 'cause I want that body so that's what I'm attracted to.' "
"Did this start before the hormones?"
"No. Before I started the hormones, I had a very clear-cut idea of where I was going to end up. But once the chemical was in my body, everything around my sexuality changed. I'm happy as a pig as a gay male. I don't have to change my politics; I can still be queer. I love gay men. And I don't have to worry about going out there and trying to fit into heterosexual society. I watch my sister at it, with her husband and her kids, and it doesn't make sense. It's like a totally foreign concept to me."
He begins to tick off how it works for him. "I don't tend to be a monogamous person. I'm not looking for Mr. Right. Tricking is just fine by me. I have to be very open about my process and who I am before we do too much, unless we just keep it oral." He pauses. "I'm still watching my friends die around me. There've been lots of people I've taken care of, and there isn't always time to wrap myself in latex when the person's getting sick. I've been stuck by needles twice helping with injections." He lets out a deep breath. "I get tested on a regular basis, and I'm as safe as I can possibly be." He pauses again. "It's hard getting dates. I think I've learned how to handle rejection in a very creative way."
"You tell him pretty quickly?"
"First date or two. I'll go have coffee and talk before I'll be sexual with him. Get a better feel for who he is. Early on in the hormones, I went with a guy to his place and as soon as I told him, I didn't know if I was going to live. It's the most violent reaction I've ever seen. He started throwing things, smashing things -- "
"Heterosexual panic," I say.
Shadow nods. "When someone says to me, 'If I went to bed with you I'd be straight,' I say, 'Tell you what. We'll go to bed, we'll fuck, and then you tell me whether you've been in bed with a guy or a woman.' " He laughs. "It's a great line. It's worked several times. And there's no argument once we get done. What women have been telling me for years is true: 'You fuck like a guy.' "
Men like Shadow and Matt and Jon are not what the doctors had in mind when the fledgling practice of gender reassignment came into being.
"They were invested in taking sissy gay boys and transforming them into straight women," Shadow says, "and taking tomboy women who were socially unacceptable and changing them into straight men. When a few of us started popping up who didn't fit those categories, they freaked."
Lou Sullivan is famous in the FTM community and beyond as a man who knew what he wanted and refused to back down. In the late '70s, he presented himself to the medical establishment for what he was -- a biological female who had been living as a gay male. Over the course of years, he tried to get treatment but was refused several times, due to the prevailing opinion that there was no such thing as a gay transsexual -- he was told, in fact, that he could not be FTM because he was gay. This shortsightedness likely had roots in the erroneous assumption that transsexuals are homosexuals who can't accept being gay and who therefore must alter their biological sex -- ergo, all transsexuals desire to be straight, which segued quite nicely with what the doctors wanted anyway.
Sullivan was like a bucket of ice water thrown on that bit of wishful thinking. Naturally he was treated as a misguided anomaly. But he neither changed his tune (many transsexuals are still forced to lie, telling the doctors what they want to hear), nor did he quietly slink away. He wrote letters, made phone calls, brought pressure from other doctors and transsexuals, and in 1986 founded FTM (which later became FTM International), partly as a resource for other men who were held hostage by recalcitrant doctors, partly as an educational and lobbying organization. Finally, years after he began his determined fight with the powers that be (and for some transsexuals, this phrase could not be more appropriate, since their ability to be is at the mercy of a medical authority's subjective judgment), Sullivan was allowed to transition.