Some Transgender Principles

Angus B. Grieve-Smith
August 1, 2005

For the past year and a half I've been participating on the (en)gender Message Boards, moderated by Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty, and her husband Betty Crow. It's a really good group of people, with lots of interesting ideas about transgender phenomena, but over that time I've found myself saying a few things over and over again. This page is written in part to save myself some typing on this message board; the next time one of these comes up I can just link to Principle 3. Kind of like the joke about the comedians' club. Right now I'll just write a little blurb for each principle. As time goes on I may expand them into full-fledged articles.
1. No one really knows what's going on
Discussions about transgenderism are often full of generalizations: "Transgender individuals are like this," or "Transsexuals are like this, but cross-dressers are like that." The fact of the matter is that nobody's done enough research to prove this, so everyone's going on hunches. Unfortunately, hunches can often be wrong. The bottom line is that nobody has information beyond the people that they've talked to. Except in Sweden.
2. Sometimes it is sexual
Lots of TG people bend over backwards to say "Hey, we're not perverts! It's not sexual for us! We're really women inside!" or "We're expressing our feminine sides!" And maybe it's true for them. But it's not true for everyone. For me, personally, it's sexual. That's not to say that it's exclusively sexual, or that cross-dressing is the equivalent of having sex. It's just saying that it's sexual.
3. Beware of gender euphoria
Cross-dressing can be exciting in many ways, but there's a certain kind of excitement that comes from cross-dressing in public. Something about having normal interactions with other people while presenting as the target gender can really make a transgendered person feel good. The problem is that sometimes it can feel too good, so good that you want more. TG people can get really carried away like this, and wind up doing things that they regret, like irreversable body modifications, or wrecking their relationships.
4. There are degrees of transvestite sexuality
This is kind of a follow-up to Principle 2. Right after I admitted to myself that my cross-dressing was sexual, I felt bad about going out in public cross-dressed. Then I realized that people are sexual in public all the time, and it's not considered a bad thing, at least in certain parts of the country. People flirt, hold hands, kiss and cuddle in public. When I go out cross-dressed in public, the sexual aspect never gets more intense than that.
5. There is no one way to be transgendered
I have Jamison Green to thank for this one. It's also been paraphrased by Helen Boyd as "There's no right way to be trans. There's no wrong way to be trans." This is obviously related to Principle 1, but slightly different. Unfortunately, it's all too common in the transgender community to hear statements invalidating one person's transgender experience and suggesting that "real" transgenders do such-and-such. To quote another transgender thinker, Flawless Sabrina, "We're like snowflakes."
6. Going out is not the same as being out
Recently there's been a movement of cross-dressers to go out in public, usually shopping or to bars, and say that they're "out of the closet." While it does involve revealing transgender status to at least some people, this concept of "out" is very different from the one used in the gay and lesbian communities, where it was borrowed from. A gay man who holds hands with his lover while walking through Chelsea, but then tells his family, co-workers and neighbors that they're "just friends" would not be considered out of the closet, and I don't consider a cross-dresser who is only seen cross-dressed anonymously or in trans-safe spaces to be out of the closet. The value of being out is to bring awareness of our humanity to those outside of our community: to show them that cross-dressers aren't just freaks on Maury Povich, but friends, brothers, neighbors and co-workers. Being seen as a random cross-dressed stranger on the street, in a store, or in a bar does very little for that kind of awareness. If you're not up to it, that's fine; just don't call yourself "out," or you'll piss me off.
7. Don't judge the normal by the standards of the exceptional
Just about anyone who's had contact with the trans community has had the experience of meeting someone who's a "great pass." Often there's the idea that this person must "really" be a woman because she seems so feminine. And maybe it's true for some people. But often what they're perceiving is really physical characteristics (body size or shape, facial features, high voice), or skill (good actors, good mimics, good dancers, good with make-up). And I think people wind up judging normal transpeople by the standards of these exceptional people, and believing that these normal people aren't "really trans" because they don't pass as well.
8. Experimentation changes you
I've often wanted to explore female roles, by interacting with supportive friends and my wife, and by going out in public, while presenting as a woman. I figured it was a good way for me to figure out how far I wanted to go with things, and what kinds of things I wanted or didn't want to do. The problem is that the act of exploration and experimentation changes you. Going out in public, going on dates, taking voice lessons, putting together a presentable wardrobe in addition to my fantasy one - all of those things changed who I was and how I related to myself, to gender and to other people. Some things I haven't been able to go back on, some things have set me off in unexpected directions. Some of it works through gender euphoria, some of it through other mechanisms that I don't understand. It hasn't all been bad, but it hasn't necessarily been good. So if you want to experiment, try to anticipate the consequences of experimenting.