Annika and Sebastian Answer Your Trans* Questions (Part One)

A lot of people don’t know anyone who is trans*, and as such may not have a complete understanding of transition and trans* issues in general. Our invisibility in mainstream, culture, in classrooms, in discussions of history, in scientific exploration of sex and gender, and even in campaigns for “LGBT” rights has left us isolated and othered. We are often deemed weird and abnormal by society simply because people don’t know anything about us.

Education is critical! A y’all asking questions is sometimes the best way for us to educate! (Of course, as we previously discussed [Trans Etiquette 101], it is important to be aware of and understand what is appropriate.)

So we asked you to give us your questions and you did and now we’re here to answer them! This is only Part One though because there were so many thoughtful questions.

We would like to genuinely thank all of you who sent in questions. Although they appear here as anonymous, we know it took some courage to send them in to us on ASS. And it’s a gutsy thing to admit that you don’t know something and/or you want to learn more. We hope that we have done your courage justice!

[Privilege disclaimer: Also, before we get into our answers, it is important that we acknowledge that we are speaking from our own very specific perspectives and do not represent the trans* community as a whole. We realize that we have it easier than many others with respect to our race, social class, ability to not be read as trans, et cetera et cetera..]

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Q: Where does your post-transition name come from? In general, do trans* people pick a name they like or does it have meaning?

SEBASTIAN: I actually wrote a post on this after there were some hateful things said about some names that trans people at my college had chosen. It is a difficult thing to choose a name and most trans* people I know and have talked to have put a LOT of time and effort into it. My birth name began with an S and I wanted to maintain that so my initials didn’t change. And of all the S names for men, it fit the most. At first I tried to find a name in my family’s history, then one with Scottish or German roots (upon reflection I’m not sure why I didn’t choose Scott… but that’s just a random thought). Nothing really fit my personality and I really loved Sebastian and some friends suggested it and it just stuck. My middle name is Mitchell, which was what my parents would have named me had I been assigned male at birth.

Some trans people (particularly those who transition younger) have their parents pick out their name. I’d already been using Sebastian for a month before I even told my parents, but I think that is a really nice thing to do if your parents are on board.

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ANNIKA: I chose Annika because it’s what my parents would have called me had I been assigned female at birth. The name is Scandinavian- my mother was always really interested in our family’s Swedish heritage. When I first came out to my parents I was hoping they would receive it as a gesture of goodwill, like “see! I’ve been your daughter all along!”, but when they completely rejected me it turned into a statement of defiance and a reclamation of what was rightfully mine. I like the name Annika because it’s unique- although nobody seems to be able to pronounce it! (Hint: it rhymes with electronica, or harmonica). My middle name is Penelope, which was selected as the winner of a naming contest among my friends.

Choosing a name is often an important rite of passage for many trans* people in solidifying their true identities, but I know a couple girls that have decided to embrace their traditionally masculine names as an act of reclamation. I also know others that have chosen completely atypical names like Sassafras as a way of rejecting any societal expectations of normality.

Q: Have you, even once, considered not transitioning?

SEBASTIAN: I made a point to consider all my routes before I decided on each step of transition. When I started to realize that my gender identity was not female, I played with the idea of drag – having an ambiguously gendered persona that I adopted when I went out, while continuing to live as female in my day-to-day life. I also considered changing simple aspects of my presentation (i.e. adopting a androgynous presentation through choice of hair cut and clothing) while continuing to live as a woman. When I realized I was male and really would be faking it if I continued to present at all as a woman, I thought I might be able to transition socially (change my name, pronouns, etc.) without transitioning medically (surgery and hormones). I took the approach that if you start with doubts you end with certainties, versus starting with certainties and ending with doubts (very psychotherapist’s child of me).

When I realized I wasn’t a woman, everything made so much sense. It’s like everything clicked. I let myself explore that really honestly, but because it was so right (and because for the most part I had an environment that let me comfortably experiment without challenging my identity) I never once thought “maybe I’m not a guy; maybe I’ve got this all wrong.” And once I experimented with different routes of transition, I knew I needed to live outwardly as a guy in order to be comfortable with my inward identity.

I also should say that I didn’t have too many obstacles or risks that would make me think “maybe this isn’t worth it.” But yes, I considered not transitioning.

ANNIKA: Welcome to the first 22 years of my life. I’ve known that my gender identity is female for as long as I can remember, but I used to think that I was powerless to act on it. I can’t point to one specific incident that made me realize that this was something I had to suppress , but by the time I was in elementary school I had learned that I was “weird” and that I should be ashamed of it. My family and peers reinforced the notion that feminine behavior in young boys would not be tolerated. The kids in my neighborhood used to play a game called “smear the queer”, which was basically a version of tag in which the boy holding the ball was “queer”, and the other kids would chase him down and physically hurt him until he was forced to let go of the ball. You can imagine what effect this had on poor little trans Annika.

In church I was taught that these feelings of being a girl were actually diabolic temptations that I had to resist if I wanted to be a good Christian. What’s more, I was always one of the smallest kids in my class and already a target for bullying, and I certainly didn’t want to make life harder for myself by transgressing gender norms. I was shy and desperately wanted to blend in, so I did everything I could to appear “normal”. Growing up in this environment, I never thought that transitioning would be possible- not in a million years. I was further confused by the fact that I liked girls. When I first discovered the concept of “transgender” as a young teenager, nearly every story I read online talked about having relationships with men. I tried really hard to picture it in my head, but I just wasn’t attracted to boys. So I thought that maybe I wasn’t trans after all. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that trans girls could be lesbians too!

So to answer your question, yes, I considered not transitioning for a number of reasons. My ability to pass as a girl was never one of them. I dressed in private a few times in high school and knew that I would be successful, but I didn’t think it could be possible unless I ran away from home and completely started a new life- something I just couldn’t bring myself to do. It may seem counterintuitive, but I think that I purposefully placed myself in situations that would be hostile to queers (hence the reason why I joined a frat in college). It somehow made knowing that I would not be able to transition an easier pill to swallow. But I underestimated the power of my dysphoria, which only increased as I watched the androgyny of youth start to fade away. My attempts at suppression failed, as they often do, and here we are today!

Q: Is Hormone Replacement Therapy affecting your sex life?

SEBASTIAN: Transitioning affected my sex life more than testosterone itself did. Testosterone did increase my sex drive, as it does for most people, and in the beginning it was admittedly challenging to learn how to cope with and resist my near constant urges (I’ve mostly gotten used to it now and can essentially ignore the I need sexual release messages pumping through my brain). I had to have a conversation with my partner at the time because I had without being aware of it become more sexually aggressive and without thinking had expected her needs and desires to match mine. The biggest changes in my sex life though came as I grew more and more comfortable in my body. Sex became a much fuller experience for me after testosterone had lowered my voice and bulked me up, and particularly after top surgery.

ANNIKA: I agree with Sebastian; transitioning has had a much greater impact on my sex life than HRT has. While I still enjoyed being intimate with girls before coming out as trans, something was always missing- like I couldn’t completely relax and just be in the moment. I felt pressure to perform a certain way that I thought was expected of guys. But obviously this wasn’t true to my sexuality or gender identity, so I constantly had to rely on my imagination and picture myself as a girl in the situation. Talk about exhausting! Transitioning has completely removed all of these barriers that I had to overcome. Sex is so much more enjoyable now that it is affirming to my identity (although my girlfriend and I have never subscribed to rigid gender roles in bed). Since starting HRT, my sex drive has probably decreased a bit, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s due to the hormones themselves or the stresses of balancing my transition, a full-time job, and a girlfriend in her first year of law school.

Q: What is your opinion on whether gender is socially constructed or not? I’ve met/read the blogs of lots of feminists who essentially dismiss gender as an entirely artificial construct, but the very existence of trans* individuals seems to go against that and I’m pretty sure none of those bloggers were trans* themselves.

SEBASTIAN: Before I realized I was transgender, I was really opposed to any talk of gender differences. I believed that gender (and even biological sex – the significance we place on it anyway) was almost entirely socially constructed. I thought that designating between people based on biological sex characteristics was as absurd as designating between them based on hair color. (Reflection however suggests that this was one of the ways I dealt with my male gender identity – by believing that women and men were no different, I trivialized my female gender assignment and presentation so it caused me less distress.)

Here’s what I think now, after some learning, and you know realizing that I was a man (and thus that being a man was somehow different than being a woman): There are differences between people of different genders – actual, documented/documentable differences. Some of these differences align with people’s gender identity (which goes beyond just male and female) and some align with the way our bodies are sexed at birth (you know chromosomal and anatomical stuff). For example, there have been documented gender differences in the way humans’ brains process certain things. Studies have shown that the brain activity of trans women matched the brain activity of cisgender women. Other things, like on-average physical differences have more to do with chromosomes and hormone levels.

And most importantly, the differences within gender groups are HUGE in like every area. Taking the average spacial processing abilities of women and the average special processing abilities of men and saying “this is how all men and women are different” is actually absurd and totally scientifically inaccurate.

So no gender isn’t complete bullshit – the way our society approaches it is. There is something in our brains that make us some gender and there are a few traits that come with that, and there are some things in our bodies that make us some sex, and there are a few traits that come with that. But it ain’t black and white, it ain’t binary, and it ain’t as important as our society makes it out to be.

ANNIKA: Like you said, the fact that trans* people exist clearly demonstrates that gender is not purely a social construct. Despite being placed in either a male or female box since birth (just look at how segregated the newborns’ section is at your local toy store to see what I mean), we have chosen to go against this socialization, because it runs counter to our fundamental sense of ourselves- our gender identities. Which, as Sebastian mentioned, are so much more diverse and complex than the binary system that dominates modern Western societies.

I read a really tragic story a couple months ago about a Canadian man named David, that I think best illustrates how gender identity is innate and internal. David was born as Bruce in the 1960s, and as an infant his penis was burned off in a circumcision accident. A psychologist convinced his parents to raise their child as a girl instead- because after all, he explained, gender was an artificial construct. So 17-month-old Bruce was castrated and became Brenda. His parents vowed to never tell their new daughter about what had happened. And for a while, Brenda seemed like a happy little girl, albeit a little tomboyish- until he reached puberty. As a teenager, Brenda was masculine and combative, and withdrew from his peers, who called him a cavewoman. His parents finally broke down and revealed the truth to him. Soon after, Brenda transitioned to male and became David, and went on to marry and have a family. But the psychological toll of the entire ordeal was too much for him to bear, and in 2004, David took his own life. Moral of this heartbreaking story: don’t assume that gender is entirely socially constructed, because it isn’t.

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Page 2: Adam’s Apples, height issues, how LGBT organizations can better include trans people and so much more! —>

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Avatar of annika

I'm a 23 year old femme lesbian living in SF. Once upon a time, I was a USC frat boy ;) I ♥ music so please recommend your favorite artists to me!

annika has written 21 articles for us.

126 Comments

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      I get that you probably qualified the attractive statement with “lets platonically cuddle” because you are gay and aren’t sexually attracted to men, but I wanted to highlight that this image is something that makes short men uncomfortable about their height.

      I’m not sure I would take a “you’re attractive in a lets platonically cuddle sort of way because you’re short” as a compliment

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        I actually do prefer shorter guys (my boyfriend’s 5’8″) because I don’t want to stand tip-toe to kiss him and it’s soooo much easier to be affectionate since he’s not towering over me. I get the weirdest looks from my girl friends when I say that tall guys aren’t hot.

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          everything is relative. especially height in terms of location

          In the US, average male height is 5’9″ and for females it is 5’4″

          in norway and parts of europe average male height is like 6′ – 6’1″.. but then in countries like Indonesia and India avg. male height is 5’2″

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          I think Icelandic people are quite tall, comparatively speaking :)

          I think it is true of people from the Nordic countries more generally, I am 5’2 and it was a bit of a shock boarding a plane to Copenhagen seeing how tall the Danes were!

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          He’s not considered tall at least, is what I’m saying. I don’t like tall guys, but most of my friends swoon over anyone over 6’2″.

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          I generally prefer people who fall in the middle as far as height is concerned, with both sexes. While I like taller people more than shorter people, people (especially men) who are REALLY tall – like, more than a few inches taller than 6′ – weird me out a little. No offense to all the super-tall people reading this.

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        yeah that comment irked me a little. also remember that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. so, i’m short, but i’m not really soft and cuddly looking (although I too love to cuddle) i am pretty built and my body feels like a rock. one of my best friends is a 6’4″ straight boy and lanky as anything. what I’m saying is, it would probably be easier to cuddle with him cause he’s skinny than to cuddle me. just cause i’m short doesn’t mean i’m TINY

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        yeah, i didn’t mean to be offensive, i’m sorry if i came off that way. i meant that in a “i’m a gay woman and you are a dude”. i’m sincerely inexperienced in this as the last time i was with a dude, i was fourteen, so. :)

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    this was awesome guys! and i think you’re both right, it’s a spectrum, not a rigid binary, where a lot of people exist in fluid motion, not as a dot on a line.
    the social construct is the gender binary itself, not our characteristics as human beings.

    can’t wait to here more
    <3

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      my thoughts exactly. it’s not gender itself that’s socially constructed, but the “appropriate” way for the two socially recognized genders to present. and the fact that society only accepts one or the other, obv.

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    This is wonderful.

    And thanks for the “does transitioning change your sexuality” answer. I’d gotten this nonsense myself–I have PCOS, see, which gives me too much testosterone, and a friend’s mother said that I should treat it asap because “if I didn’t I might wind up in a lesbian relationship and then suddenly no longer be into women” because of the estrogen. Apparently this happened to someone her sister knew or something. The idea that I could suddenly become straighty-straight just because I was on birth control pills scared the shit out of me. Society is so weird with this shit.

    Kudos, again, for the article–I can’t wait to read the next installment/Sebastian’s opinion of lesbians-who-like-trans-men.

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    Really informative and useful – thanks! I have to say a lot of what Sebastian has said about his own experience, I can relate to – and i’m getting to the point where things may be starting to ‘click’ in my own life.
    Really looking forward to part 2!

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      I think “petrified” is absolutely the right word. I am extremely nonconfrontational, and the thought of being offensive with something I said/did unknowingly adds to my social anxiety. I am so thankful for this kind of thing.

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    So I wrote a 1500 word response to this Q/A session. I am MTF myself (full time 6 years). Where can I post it? I assume it’s too long for comments? No I can’t break it down to finer points. I’ve been trying for the past hour and it’s not working.

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    Thanks so much for this! I’m glad to see that some of my questions were already answered – admittedly, I was way too uncomfortable to ask about your sex lives, so I’m glad someone else got to it. I know it must be a popular question to ask trans* people, but fuckme, I’d never want people to question my own sex life so how could I ask you!? /rant

    You two are sooooo adorable in those first pics! (Annika – love your haircut)

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    thanks for this, it is so informative. i learned a lot. can’t wait to read part 2.

    re the height thing, i’m a 5’5″ guy (not trans) and it is so silly to me, the idea that men should be taller. I have never been weird about dating women/people who are taller than me. height is the last thing I care about. maybe it’s because i come from a family of short men?
    I had a crush on a trans girl and she was way taller than me and nothing came of it but i think it bothered her that i was short! bummer

    also height doesn’t say much about strength. I am into boxing and i have won fights with guys who are 5’10 – 6′ (much taller than me) and these aren’t scrawny guys either!

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      A good friend of mine is a gay man who is around 5’3 and a very slender build. He is ALWAYS often assumed to be ‘effeminate’, whatever that means, and also a bottom… I swear, it is purely because of his physique. He actually has serious amounts of machismo and has a marked preference for being on top. It is crazy this association between height and masculinity.

      On the flip side, I find some guys like my petiteness, because it connotes that I am ‘delicate’ or ‘feminine’, thus affirming their big strong manly manliness. I am a raging queer feminist with no interest in being taken care of and a lot of interest in smashing the patriarchy. Fail.

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        in the gay male community often times if you are slender you are assumed to be a bottom. and if you are muscular you are assumed to be a top. it’s silly.. i know so many jacked gay guys who are bottoms!

        i know a lot of guys say they like short/petite girls and i always thought it was for that reason as well.. it sucks. i have a friend who is 5′ femme and super dominant and won’t have any of that. these assumptions about people based on their physical appearances are such fails

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        also, i’m short but muscular, so i’m always assumed to be masculine/macho/whatever just because of my physical build. i know if i was skinny it would be the opposite. so i think height/build go hand in hand. it’s really frustrating

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          Yeah, it seems we are really talking about overall body shape, not just height here… overall gender presentation I guess. I was so surprised to find how entrenched these assumptions were, I thought that men who had sex with men would be the most clued in on how it actually worked!

          I am sorry that people make those assumptions about you, I would find it incredibly irritating. From your comments you sound lovely, not a macho man at all :) and I hope the right people have been able to see past it.

          Is there anything deliberate your friend does to assert her dominant personality against the assumptions she encounters? I am about her height and super femme in the way I look. But on the inside I don’t feel feminine in a stereotypical sense, I feel quite assertive / dominant… I struggle to get people to look past the exterior, though. Argh!

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          On reflection, that shouldn’t have been about “seeing past” or “looking past” appearance at all… as I don’t think anyone’s appearance is something deceptive that needs to be disregarded before who they are becomes apparent.

          It is more like, I hope people have been able to see you clearly, and for myself I am interested in learning what I can do to change people’s frames so that they see who I am.

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          Oh god if you ever do find out please tell me, I have the same issue. I’m petite, (majoritarily) femmy, and have blond hair, big green eyes and a lisp. People who don’t know me well ALWAYS treat me as if I’m some bubbly, emotional, happy-go-lucky womanchild, purely beacause of my appearance and speech. RAGE.
          Not only am I also “a raging queer feminist with no interest in being taken care of”, but also I don’t feel like a femme or even a woman every day, and I’m way more cold/logical/harsh than women are supposed to be.
          The only thing I’ve found to counter this so far is to overplay my “don’t f*** with me” vibe and throw away any tact I might have until they get it, but playing the aggressive bitch is really getting old.

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          I am sorry this happens to you ): I know what you mean about playing the bitch getting old. I always feel pigeonholed as the bitch or the sweet little girl, and truth is I’m neither.

          All I can think of is butching up in the workplace (pants, button downs, sensible shoes) and not engaging in ‘feminine’ banter… I have noticed a lot of women I’ve worked with say little conversationally about their work and want to connect by talking shoes with me, whereas the dudes talk about the job first, and open up about other stuff when they deem you competent. Also not using terms like: “I feel”, “I just thought”, or constantly apologising or saying you don’t know.

          I *hate* altering my presentation to get a better response from people, but I am more comfortable doing it in the workplace, where I have to construct a persona anyway so it doesn’t matter so much that it’s not ‘who I am’.

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        Yeah, this is why I’m not interested in dating guys who are significantly taller and/or stronger than me – I really don’t want to fall into that “taking care of”/”petite” crap. It already annoys me to no end when guy friends who are more traditional in their understanding of gender roles insist on going with me every time I’m going out at night – especially when it’s a walk/bus trip I’ve made many, many times before at night. I’m an adult human, I can fend for myself, thanks.

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          Idk, I am generally appreciative of people caring about my safety, so long as they take a polite no for an answer when I’m comfortable on my own. Or do your guy friends refuse to let you decline their offers? That I would find frustrating.

          I have had some pretty negative experiences on familiar walks in ‘safe’ neighbourhoods (threatened with gang rape, having to sprint into strange houses with a man after me), so I see it as a legitimate safety concern rather than antiquated chivalry… and my woman friends do it too, so there’s that.

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          I don’t have a problem with friends who are genuinely concerned for my safety offering to walk me places; I live in downtown Baltimore, not the safest city in the world, so I generally appreciate it. It’s more a case of particular guys who are quite conservative and chauvinistic in general, and where it’s part of a pattern of them seeing women as helpless or childlike and always needing male protection. And yes, with the latter case, I often have to say “no” many times before they accept that I really am fine on my own, especially if I am on my way to a party or some other event where alcohol is involved (a lot of these guys have really victim-blamey attitudes about women, alcohol and rape).

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          It’s okay. Part of the reason it irritates me so much is that I’m not used to it; most of my friends are at least somewhat liberal and feminist-minded, and I’ve learned to cope by trying to avoid the vocal minority at my school of ultra-conservative traditionalists. It’s annoying when they won’t let me.

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          And occasionally, it’s funny. The most recent time I had to deal with this, it was when a guy who is a quite conservative, homophobic Catholic was trying to escort me to a party. Little did he know it was actually an LGBT meet-and-greet event. It was really funny, continually telling him “no” while he insisted while thinking “Dude, you REALLY don’t want to go to this party.” A lot of my friends think I should have just let him escort me there and then watched his face when he entered the room and saw the rainbow banners and guys dressed in wigs and make-up…

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        >>On the flip side, I find some guys like my petiteness, because it connotes that I am ‘delicate’ or ‘feminine’, thus affirming their big strong manly manliness. I am a raging queer feminist with no interest in being taken care of and a lot of interest in smashing the patriarchy. Fail.>>

        This is me too. I also look a lot younger than I actually am, which results in so many people thinking I’m their daughter or granddaughter and I need to be taken care of and couldn’t *possibly* carry that heavy box…

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          I’m 6 ft tall and of big build. Sometimes I’d appreciate someone to pick up my heavy box lol. But seriously, people don’t do things like that as they *assume* that I’m capable because of my height and build. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be petite, people can be so patronising.

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    WOnderful answers, I must go back and re-read more carefully when I have more time.
    It can be so hard to get honest information on trans* issues without asking questions that seem embarrassingly uninformed, so thanks to both of you :) :)

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        Hi Annika, there’s something I would really like to ask you guys, I think it would help me interact more sensitively with trans* people.

        Unfortunately I am technologically challenged at using the Autostraddle messaging service and it doesn’t seem to let me message either of you. Do I need to add you and Sebastian as friends before I can send you a message? Thank you :)

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          I wouldn’t bother asking them for any serious answers, because the intellectually and morally bankrupt transgender community has no real answers of substance to provide. Definitely don’t base your treatment of transsexuals off of these two, they haven’t a clue about the terminology they are parroting.

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          Maybe I can just post my questions here… Annika and Sebastian, how do you deal with the irrational bile people spew about trans* people without going crazy / punching someone in the face?

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          the same question could be asked of basically any queer person.
          oddly enough, i’ve met people who are OK with trans people, but super homophobic/not down with gay people

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          I was trying to make a point to Amberdextrix above ;) I want to ask something else, which I don’t mind posting here if that is easiest for Annika and Sebastian (assuming they are still answering questions).

          Though it’s a question I find always interesting to people who face oppression by reason of their identity because it operates differently, depending on who you are… my sexuality is not immediately visible, but my friend’s skin colour is. A girl is unlikely to freak out several weeks into dating because I am queer, as that’s a premise on which our dating is based. But christy who posts below has had girls get mad and leave when she discloses she is trans.

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    This has been great… I’m so excited for Sebastian’s article on lesbians and trans men. Since I came out to myself, that’s been something I personally have really struggled with figuring out.

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    This was so excellent, I’m super looking forward to part 2. I always found Penelope harder to say than Annika (apparently it doesn’t rhyme with antelope after all), but then I had a massive crush on Annika Sorenstam at one point

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    [As a trans woman who does believe gender is a pervasive, inescapable social construction.]

    The story of David is interesting, but I don’t think it really proves or disproves any ideas about gender.

    The parents knew the history of their child, so we can’t be sure how they treated David and if it would be the same as they would have treated an originally-female-assigned child.

    To me this seems much the same way that many parents I know seem to now believe in inate gender, because they believe they tried to raise their children in a gender neutral way, but still ended up with a child they believe to be classically masculine or feminine. However this is not the experiment that failed, but the experiment that was never really attempted; the parents being completely unaware of how they treated their child subconsciously [1].

    We also can’t decouple what happened from David’s own beliefs about gender and biology, since we don’t know, had David not learnt about his history, whether he still would have eventually chosen to transition; or whether he would have eventually become comfortable as a tomboyish woman.

    [1] There’s a really good discussion of this in Cordelia Fine’s The Gender Delusion.

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      I’ve actually read a lot about the David Reimer case and he was not identifying as a girl even BEFORE his parents told him.

      “Reimer’s account, written with John Colapinto two decades later, described how – contrary to Money’s reports – when living as Brenda, Reimer did not identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers, and neither frilly dresses (which he was forced to wear during frigid Calgary winters) nor female hormones made him feel female. By the age of 13, Reimer was experiencing suicidal depression, and told his parents he would commit suicide if they made him see John Money again. In 1980, Reimer’s parents told him the truth about his gender reassignment, following advice from Reimer’s endocrinologist and psychiatrist. At 14, Reimer decided to assume a male gender identity, calling himself David. By 1997, Reimer had undergone treatment to reverse the reassignment, including testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and two phalloplasty operations.”

      ALSO:

      “The report and subsequent book about Reimer influenced several medical practices and reputations, and even current understanding of the biology of gender. The case accelerated the decline of sex reassignment and surgery for unambiguous XY male infants with micropenis, various other rare congenital malformations or penile loss in infancy.
      It supported the arguments of those who feel that prenatal and early-infantile hormones have a strong influence on brain differentiation, gender identity and perhaps other sex-dimorphic behavior. The applicability of this case to appropriate sex assignment in cases of intersex conditions involving severe deficiency of testosterone or insensitivity to its effects is more uncertain. For some people, the inability to predict gender identity in this case confirmed skepticism about doctors’ abilities to do so in general, or about the wisdom of using genital reconstructive surgery to commit an infant with an intersex condition or genital defect to a specific gender role before the child is old enough to claim a gender identity.”

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      David was really never comfortable living as a girl… and started having extreme emotional problems long before puberty. Basically around 5 year old (which is about when kids are concretely aware of their gender identity) he started to be defiant and depressed. If you read the Colapinto book or see the documentary about David’s story, they’re quite clear about trying to raise him as with a pretty straightforward female socialization… he resisted it every step of the way. The one thing in his girlhood which was specifically disturbing were his annual follow-up visits to Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins who basically abused and traumatized him in the name of research.

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        David was obviously taken advantage of for money’s experiments, but we can’t use this one unfortunate instance to debunk theories of gender construction for everyone else in the world…

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          @JM:

          Yes, Reimer was one case… it proves nothing categorically (nor do many of the social construct theories taught in Gender Studies Programs) and I could imagine Annika was mentioning it as an anecdotal example, not as proof. I use my own life experience which has informed me that gender (both as it’s externally lived and internally experienced) is a highly complex construct based on all of the following: gender assignment (based on your assignment at birth); gender identity (AKA subconscious gender… one’s internal sense of self… including your relationship to your gendered body); gender expression (how one expresses one’s self within society; societally assigned gender roles (and how you interact with them); and gender assignment (how others assign a gender to you).

          IMO, saying gender is one of these elements without including the influence of the other elements is simplistic… it all matters. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how quickly some cissexual people throw “gender is a social construct” around when it suits their purposes and ignore it when it doesn’t.

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    This was pretty awesome, thanks to the two of you! I specially loved your comments about gender as not completely a social construct, it made me think a lot.

    Also looking forward to Part 2 and to Sebastian’s post about lesbians dating transmen!

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    The question of sexual orientation changing is a complicated one. I was MAAB and was attracted to women before transitioning (although… perhaps with some sexual ‘issues’). Very early in transition (I doubt if I was on HRT even a month) I was attracted pretty much exclusively to men (and still am years later). Would you say my orientation changed or would you say I remained heterosexual? I prefer to think the latter, but it’s not a clear answer but it all depends on how someone defines orientation… whether it’s in relationship to oneself or by definition as described by the physical body of the person you’re attracted to. Does that make any sense?

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    Re: Sex/Love life & acceptance from LGBT community

    Being a femme lesbian myself I can say, adding in the T element is pretty stressful. There is a lot of discrimination within the gay community towards us. I’ve seen and experienced some very sad things. To be treated so negatively (ie: calling an actual mtf or ftm a ‘tranny’) by the one community that is supposed to be our safe haven, is heart breaking.

    Gay men: Are usually alright once their boi’s get over being mad at them for dancing with us.

    (cis) Lesbian women: Your reception to us is pretty bad in a lot of places. The butches look at us as if we are the devil in disguise for dressing sexy, and looking like we’re at a photo shoot for Nylon magazine. The femme’s don’t want us and therefore treat us like dirt, because we once had (or still have) a penis (they shrink down teeny tiny btw, testicles go back up into our abdomens).

    Lesbians are dramatic. Once I finally realized I was a lesbian for forever and for real (dated guys for a moment there, hated myself), my life instantly became much more dramatic from being around other lesbians all the time. I honestly love it, and it completes me. But girls don’t like liars, and will call you out and embarrass you in front of others if they are emotionally hurt.

    A lot of lesbians will react very negatively (and very emotionally) and cut you off (pun intended) if they don’t find out about your past, or any extra body parts you may have right away. They feel cheated (finding out a ways into a relationship/friendship) and it’s like fighting with a girl that you think is your girlfriend and she barely even acknowledges you and is fact dating someone else and doesn’t care. You will leave us high and dry and emotionally destroyed. There’s a huge disconnection and it’s just weird and no one gets to have sex when that happens.

    The issue as to why we may not be so up front about it is, like myself, a lot of us don’t identify as “trans”. We are girls. We are women. That’s how we’ve always felt and that’s how we are going to present ourselves. We just got unlucky in the anatomy and hormone department. Our brains have always been female (actually proven scientifically). So why would we call ourselves anything else?

    As for for sex – most of us crafty girls have learned how to have a female orgasm. It’s pretty awesome, and you don’t have to touch or see anything you don’t want. Well, not directly at least. Rubbing does help, but it can be through clothes/panties, and in fact, that’s how I prefer it. Honestly, we don’t want to see what’s down there either. It’s not a self hate thing (well for some it is) it’s just like if someone held up a picture of a man and woman kissing at their wedding every time you had sex.
    It’s not who we are.
    Touching down there is not always necessary though. I found that out last year when I had an orgasm from a girl um—tongue raping my breasts.

    Anyways: It costs about 20-25k to have surgery, and there’s a month of recovery which interestingly enough involves a lot of bleeding between our legs and tampons.

    So there’s typically a long build up (grasping every penny to save money) to when we can finally be whole, physically. And it sucks. It sucks very bad. When a girl says to me “I wish I could have real [lesbian] sex with you” it’s just not a very happy feeling at all. I’m not trying to be negative. Just honest. A lot of you all seem interested in the sex aspect, so, just trying to add some extra perspective.

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        I kind of want to hug you. I hope if I ever manage to have a trans* girlfriend I don’t act like these apparently rather unpleasant folk. I mean, the one thing I think might worry me is being afraid I was triggering dysphoria with things I was doing/touching. And I kind of feel bad about this because it’s assuming trans* people have body issues automatically. And I guess I should have this concern with everyone because I’m kind of non-binary and the one male sexual encounter I’ve had was into my hips and this ruined the sex for me. Merf. Overly personal post, anyone?

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      I appreciate the comments, and would gladly take a hug right now. Luckily, a lot of the bad things, I have heard via other people. The things that happened directly to me really only happened in my early stages of transition. The funny thing is now, I only experience frustration from girls at gay clubs thinking I am a straight girl looking for kicks, etc.

      Avery: I wouldn’t worry about body issues. Yeah we all have our own little variations, but if you are interested in someone and you get to that point, just keep things out in the open. Ask what they like and don’t like. Don’t push any limits at first, but maybe eventually try to help them become more comfortable, and let them know it doesn’t bother you (or if it does, and why).

      I personally am kind of over it (hating parts of my body). I am a very strong and confident woman even though I have a hard time calling myself that (a woman as opposed to girl) since I till have another 8 or so years of puberty left (despite me being in my late 20′s) and I am mentally 14 years old, but somehow able to function well at keeping a job and paying my bills, etc.

      Anyway, I prefer to have everything nicely tucked together during sex because it honestly feels a lot better that way. I mean yeah, I still don’t like seeing what’s down there (even though it’s tiny) but I’m not going to lose my cool (or horiness) over it. Which btw, estrogen does indeed reduce you sex drive. For a while—in the past year and a half, I have been hornier (quite often) than ever in my life.

      So, yeah. If you ever come into a relationship or hookup, just experiment and see what she likes. It took me a long time to figure it out. It’s very difficult to explain without going into great detail would may fill this entire page. Be honest and open and let her know you are being sensitive about it. Just don’t be afraid. That will most likely make her feel guarded, and like you might be having serious issues and she’s potentially ruining your life.

      Seriously, sometimes—I say just start doing stuff and keep doing whatever makes her louder. But don’t approach it from the typical hetero guy-girl way. I can tell you that no amount of any “techniques” applied by girls (towards guys) in a hetero way do anything for me at all. In-fact, I really don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable and actually kind of hurts after a while (think of an over stimulated clitoris that someone keeps fondling which is starting to make you uncomfortable). Like I said, I’m over the super emo stuff. It just doesn’t feel good.

      Now, wrap all my “stuff” up so my crotch is nice and flat, and apply what you would to a woman with a vagina (that has panties on), and presto! Fun times abound. It’s very strange how it works like that. To put it a little differently: Rub in circles while applying a decent pressure, and you are a winner. Try to operate a jack hammer, and I’m out.

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    “And most importantly, the differences within gender groups are HUGE in like every area. Taking the average spacial processing abilities of women and the average special processing abilities of men and saying “this is how all men and women are different” is actually absurd and totally scientifically inaccurate.”

    Thank you for this. It is almost always ommitted when people talk about gender as anything other than a social construct and it drives me insane.

    Annika your hair cut is so pretty!

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    As a trans lesbian, it is seriously so great to see such quality coverage of transwomen here. Really, really wonderful – please keep it up!

    And Annika: you’re ridiculously cute. I am unbelievably jealous.

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      I’ve read that it comes from Boolean search logic, commonly used in Internet search engines, in which you use an asterisk (*) as a kind of placeholder or truncator for a word ending. Say you wanted to look up not only soymilk but also soyburgers and other soy products (I really need to make dinner): you could search “soy *” to get results including all of those words.

      Especially in some online queer communities, “trans*” is used more and more to recognize a sort of overarching identity-cluster that may contain many different names and terms, including (but certainly not limited to) transgender, transwomen, transmen, transsexual, transmasculine, etc.

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    Huh. “Translesbian.” Well, I suppose it’s a lot shorter than what I usually call myself: a transgender lesbian feminist activist. That is, when I use labels at all.

    But the best answer I ever heard to that conundrum was when the girl who is now my step-daughter asked, “But Mom–if you’re a woman, and Robyn is a woman, what does that make you?”

    A friend said, “Just tell her that you’re a Robynsexual, and that Robyn’s a Staceysexual, since you’re oriented towards each other.

    My step-daughter, by the way, still calls my Robyn. But when she’s sick or hurting, then it’s “Mommy, I don’t feel good.” Her mom is always “Mom,” and when she’s hurting, I’m “Mommy.”

    And yeah, I have to agree with the other comments here: Annika, you’re babe-a-licious!

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    i am a trans man who is cringing hard over the whole “lesbians dating trans* men” issue/question…good luck answering that, sebastian. it turns my stomach when i hear stuff (usually from lesbians) about how we are “the best of both worlds”, that we are essentially Man-Lite, that we look like boys, but have girl energy or other such bullshit. i could write at great length on the subject, but suffice to say: do not fetishize, misunderstand, delegitimize my maleness because of my birth assigned gender. by definition, lesbians are people that self identify as female and are attracted sexually to other female identified folks. and trans* men are not female identified.

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      yeah.. one thing I constantly encounter as a trans guy who also happens to identify as queer. When I am in a situation with either a queer woman or a queer man, a lot of times I feel fetishized because they are attracted to me knowing I am trans and then when I disclose that I have bottom surgery, they aren’t interested. Which really makes me think that they were only interested in me because they thought I was a guy with a vagina and when they find out that I’m a trans guy with a dick that want nothing to do with it

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    Hey Autostraddle, we have a Q&A for cis gay and bi women to ask trans people about their experiences: could we have a similar Q&A, in the opposite direction? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m trying to learn how to navigate a community that’s new to me, and I have some questions.

    While pre- and post-hormones experiences with sexual attraction seem to be highly idiosyncratic, most of the experiences of people I know seem to be summarized by “mostly the same” or “complicated.” I fall into the former category: while I was afraid estrogen would make me attracted to guys, instead it just made me like girls more. I was very alienated from my sexuality before hormones, and honestly expressing my attraction to women felt gross or inappropriate. Post-hormones, it feels natural and not at all weird. I like it more now.

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      I like this idea and think maybe it would work well as an open thread? I’m a cissy but I also feel like a newbie and I think I could benefit from this sort of discussion (not to walk all over you with cis privilege, I hope) so I think an open forum would be good so it could be both inclusive (lots of people, lots of feelings) and easy to find (unlike a group.)

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    Hey Annika and Sebastian: First of all, fantastic post! Second, what do you think is the best way to respond to transphobic harassment? I’m butch/genderqueer and have heard “are you a guy” or “is that a boy or a girl” from strangers several times, and I always struggle with how or if to respond.

    Sometimes I just ignore them, especially if they’re doing it in a threatening or aggressive way or if I’m alone. Sometimes I just say “that’s none of your business”, but that doesn’t always work. The educator in me wants to break down what “boy” and “girl” mean and why that’s important to them, while the activist/Bostonian in me wants to say “are you a bigoted asshole or just an idiot?” loudly back to them. But escalating things probably isn’t a good idea.

    Any advice? (also this is directed to AS commenters in general, not Sebastian and Annika)

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    This is an interesting TED Talk about how our entire notions of male and female *sex* are fuzzy – because essentially bodies are weird:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/alice_dreger_is_anatomy_destiny.html

    I personally find that what *constitutes* gender is a social construct, mainly because having crossed cultures I’ve found that the definition of “man” and “woman” differed in rather significant ways. What Westerners consider as “effeminate men” is bog-standard masculinity in South Asia, “masculine women” is normal for the women in my family (who are pretty typical), in Polynesian/Torres Strait countries your gender was based on your social and gender role and it wasn’t until Western gay culture showed up that people started incorporated more individualistic markers like makeup and drag. Hell depending on which country I’m in I’m considered a whole range of things – the main reason I’m female is because that’s what’s on my ID and therefore is what I’m processed as administratively, but I could pretty much pass as a man in Bangladesh and not be discovered for yonks if I wanted to just by wearing pants and a shirt. (And that has happened to some degree).

    How have you noticed these nuances of gender across cultures with your own peers? Do you see the experiences of being trans* being different according to race, class, nationality – at least amongst the people that you know?

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