Saturday, March 29, 2008

Transgendered author leads a normal life

I know we just had a post about a transgendered man, but I feel that Jennifer's story is important, and should be read. Perhaps it was the sensation caused by Thomas Beatie's pregnancy that has put transsexuals in the news lately, but I was really pleased to find this article on CNN's website.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is a novelist and English professor at Colby College who has written two memoirs about her life with a conflicted sexuality and adapting to womanhood she underwent surgery to become a woman after years of feeling misplaced within her own body.

"'Activism for me takes the form of living a normal life and doing so very publicly,' she said."

Jennifer, who was born James, had to hide her true feelings of sexual identity for years.

"James Boylan had met Deedie while in college and only told her of his secret about a decade ago, well after they were married. Boylan had hoped that their love would be enough to keep the gender demons at bay. They remain legally married."

Today, Jennifer lives with her spouse Deedie, their two boys and two Labrador retrievers.

"'A lot of good is done simply by being public, by being visible and by telling stories so people can see that a life like mine, a family like mine is familiar and it's normal, and that it's a lot less extraordinary than it seems,' she said."

I feel that this is a very important role that Jennifer is playing for the transgendered community. I think there are many misconceptions about transgendered people, and it is wonderful to see Jennifer living a normal, productive life. I think that in order for some people who are made uncomfortable with the idea of transgendered people to be able to work out their insecurities, they must be shown that being transgendered does not make a person less human, strange, or any of the like. Jennifer does this well.


judgesnineteen said...

This brings up issues for the anti-gay marriage people. First of all because whenever you try to enforce gender roles, which is usually very wrapped up in their beliefs on homosexuality, you end up with people who are gay and people who are trans getting married while in the closet. Then, maybe, they come out, and who wants to be that spouse, finding out your spouse's sexuality and/or gender is different from what you always thought? The other reason is because if you have someone married who then transitions to the other sex, well now you've got a homosexual marriage, don't you? To avoid that, you can either ban married people from transitioning (total violation of rights), force them to get a divorce (ditto), automatically bump their marriage down to civil union status (I'd call it a violation of rights, they probably wouldn't, but then some of them are against the civil union, too), or allow same sex marriage.

Basically, people need to accept that our simplistic idea that there are men and women, nothing in between, and sex is firmly tied to gender and the two are firmly tied to sexuality, so that all vagina bearers identify as women and like men, and all penis bearers identify as men and like women, doesn't fit reality. We can either catch up to what we now know about reality, try to force these people to pretend to fit our old idea, or exterminate them. Changing your mind is hard, but gosh, it's a lot easier than the alternatives.

Tyler said...

J19, are you honestly saying that traditional male and female definitions will either be completely thrown away, or all transsexuals will be murdered? that makes absolutely no sense to me. Here is a possibility, Introduce a 3rd grouping into society. Male=Penis Female=Vagina. An unnatural creation of a person is just that. Marriage has traditionally been a church issue, and i believe it should still be. There should be a "civil union" or whatever you call it to give people of either gender the equal legal recognition if they choose not, or are not allowed to be married in a church.

judgesnineteen said...

tyler, that's not at all what I said. First of all, I clearly gave 3 alternatives. Second, I never meant we would forget about the men and women you already know about - some people do fit that pattern. I just meant we should include other types of people in our concept of what types of people exist. Third, I never meant that all people would be unanimous in the alternative they would support. Some people will be for acceptance, some for closeting (therapy to make people un-gay, etc), and some will kill or use violence. We've seen examples of all three.

Regarding the word unnatural - who defines what's natural and what's not? If nature makes something, how is it not natural? And even if trans people are "unnatural," does that mean we can treat them as less than human?

Marriage has traditionally been a church issue? That's why atheists get married and have all the rights of marriage that aren't included in civil unions? Whether or not you think it should, the fact is that the state deals with marriages. You can choose to get married in a church, or in a synagogue, or on the beach, or in City Hall; the common denominator is that you need a marriage license from the state. It doesn't matter if your marriage is not recognized by a particular denomination, it's still a marriage. So why shouldn't same sex couples be allowed to get married on the beach or in City Hall, just like atheist couples?

Tyler said...

I meant civil unions for everyone except members of the church -- that is even atheists, and people who are not members of the church. A possible solution, require a "union license" and allow the participants to celebrate it anyway they want. Then technically you preserve the institution of marriage, but you extend legal rights. As far as "unnatural" natural is exactly as nature made them, even if it means they feel they are in the wrong body. I apologize if i misinterpreted, but It seemed very black and white from where i am.

judgesnineteen said...

I actually think it would have been great if we had done civil unions by the state and marriages by churches and not mixed the two. Unfortunately, from what I've been told that would take a lot of change that doesn't seem likely to happen. If that's the case, it's not fair to just keep same sex couples out of the institution that gets all the rights and recognition, which is currently marriage. Even if we allowed gay marriage and then found a way to get secular marriage changed to civil unions, the gay marriages would then change to civil unions along with all the rest.

It seems that trans people are naturally made with a dissonance between their sex and their gender. We let people alter their bodies when their bodies give them trouble, using medicine and surgery. Sex changes use medicine and surgery too, and significantly improve the lives of trans people. What's the difference? Nature can mess up, so to speak, in nearly every way imaginable; why would you think it's infallible in assigning sex and gender? Or if you do think it can mess up there, why would you think trans people should be made to continue to suffer while other people treat their problems?