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A Guide for Understanding Transgender Issues at Mills

      For the purpose of this FAQ, I should note that it is aimed towards female-born transgendered students, as I don't know of any MTF students at Mills and haven't been made aware of any transphobia towards them. Yet. A similar FAQ aimed towards male-born transgendered students will be begun soon!

      The 'third' is that which questions binary thinking and introduces crisis...
      [T]he 'third' is a mode of articulation, a way of describing a space of possibility.
      Three puts in question the idea of one: of identity, self-sufficiency, self-knowledge.

      --Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, 1992

      Q: What does 'transgendered' mean?

      A: 'Transgendered' means someone who transcends the conventional definitions of 'man' and 'woman'. Butch lesbians, transsexuals, radical faeries, boss girls, crossdressers, drag queens, sissies, tomboys, and many other kinds of people vary from the conventional expectations of their birth gender.

      Q: Isn't it a psychological disorder of some kind?

      A: Conventional medical diagnosis recognizes several kinds of psychiatric disorders relating to gender, such as 'gender identity disorder', 'gender dysphoria', 'transsexualism', and so forth. Many transgendered people, however, believe very strongly that the right to choose one's own destiny is not a pathology; but is instead the sign of a mature, thoughtful, and intelligent adult.

      Q: Aren't transgendered people just gay or lesbian people who are so deeply closeted they can't acknowledge their true orientation?

      A: Transgenderism cuts across all orientations, all races, all economic classes, and all walks of life. Some transgendered people prefer members of their own sex, some prefer members of the opposite some. Some change their preference after adopting a transgendered lifestyle. Some do not. Some prefer transgendered people, some prefer people who are not transgendered. There is no correlation between sexual orientation and gender identity.

      Q: Don't people who consider themselves transgender just think this because they feel they don't fit society's nice little pigeonhole categories regarding gender roles? (i.e., they're not REALLY transgendered, they're just rebelling against our sexist homophobic society....)

      A. That's a complex question. Part of the definition of transgender IS that you don't fit into the tight binary system of gender that society gives us. But it's not a rebellion against The Man, it's a realization that your assigned gender is wrong for you and a fight to find one that feels right (or escape gender entirely) and live it fully.

      Q. Don't female-to-male people just want to be men because they know men have it better? Aren't they just buying into the sexist society that tells them men are better?

      A: The argument that women who identify as men must just have internalized sexism is exactly like the homophobic argument that lesbians just want to be men. Neither argument is true. Lesbians are women who love women; f2ms are "women-born-women" who identify as male. It's not that they want to be men because of some rational argument about male privilege; it's a matter of feeling inside that your body doesn't match up with who you are.

      Q: Isn't it all just theory anyway?

      A: It's not theory, it's people's lives! Queer theory is great, but it doesn't help homeless queer teens. Same thing.
      You can say that, "well, the ideas you propose about gender being nonbinary and societally constructed are all very fancy-sounding, but they don't correspond to what we experience in real life." But our point is that they DO. For every idea you can come up with and every gender you can think of, there's someone living it. You can read books and books about how gender must be fluid because of this and that and we should be able to choose our own gender, but it's not the same as realizing that people ARE doing that. It's not theory: it's the man who binds his breasts after he shaves in the morning, and the woman who is forced to be a prostitute for a living because she can't get a job anywhere else because she's a pre-op transsexual, and the man who gets raped twice and then murdered because the local newspaper mentions that he's biologically female, and the person who lives as male one day and female another day and something else entirely the day after that, and the person who is a boy by day and a fabulous drag queen by night and a woman the next morning - AND the boy who identifies as a boy and lives as a boy but is accepted at a woman's college and often read as a butch dyke.

      Q: Look, this is totally un PC of me, but as far as I'm concerned, if your genitals are female, you're female. I say this because also as far as I'm concerned, gender doesn't mean a f*cking thing past what your privates look like (and other secondary sex characteristics) and what distribution of hormones you get.

      A: It's too bad the folks who beat us up don't think that way. On the other hand, if more people agreed with you, we'd have to accept that there were only two genders, and that'd be awfully dull!

      Q: Don't "transgendered" women just get sex changes so they can have male privilege?

      A: IF you can pass as a man, and IF you've been able to afford and complete the operation, and IF you're white and middle- or upper-class, then yes, you probably do get male privilege. You can also get straight privilege if you're gay and you stay in the closet. But if you're trans and people know it, or if they "clock" you (figure out you're trans), you get bashed as badly as any other minority group. And while you'retransitioning, you have two or three years, or more, of trying to pass as one gender or the other in a way that won't get you fired and beat up all the time. Plus the pain of gender dysphoria.
      If you think that women would go through the intense, long, painful, and expensive process of gender reassignment surgery and gender dysphoria just to get male privilege, you're welcome to do it yourself.

      In reality, many people don't want to just "pass" as men and be in the closet as transsexuals; many more people can't. The violence and discrimination against transgendered and transsexual people is often worse than that directed today against gay/bi people. This is not a ticket to Easy Street, it's an expensive and difficult struggle to accept yourself and be accepted as what you feel is the right gender for you.
      One of our members says, "Fine, question ppl's motivations, but don't assume that they are what you think they are. Because someone else might have a very different experience from you. And no, this is not just about being pc. It's about respecting other ppl. It's like ppl saying that someone is a lesbian just 'cuz she can't get guys. I know y'all think that kind of thing is obnoxious, but you're doing similar things."

      Q: I don't believe anyone can be transgendered, because that just means they think their soul is a different gender than their body and I don't believe in souls.

      A: Do you believe in brains or personalities?

      Yeah, if you feel like you're some little spark of manliness trapped in a woman's body, then your whole thing is based on the idea that there's an inherently gendered soul/spirit, and some people believe that. But there are also people who feel like living in their gendered body is like swimming in a wedding dress, who feel uncomfortable in their bodies; and some who feel that they can't live in any of the roles society allows for their biological gender. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you have all the answers about someone else's gender experience.

      Q: Do transgendered people consider themselves to be part of the queer community?

      A: Many transgendered people proudly consider themselves to be queer and work tirelessly to support the queer community. Others feel they have no connection to the queer community and do not participate in queer life. However, all transgendered people are perceived as being part of the queer community by people who are not well informed about gender and orientation. Therefore, regardless of whether transgendered people consider themselves queer or not, they are subjected to harassment, discrimination and violence because they are perceived to be queer.

      Q: Is violence a real issue?

      A: No authoritative study has been undertaken yet, but smaller studies suggest that as many as 80% of the transgendered population has been physically assaulted, 80% have feared for their lives or well being, and 50% have been sexually assaulted. 30% commit suicide. Transgendered youth are especially at risk.

      Q. F2M probably wouldn't want to go to a women's college since they are men.

      A. As one transgendered, male-identified student at Sarah Lawrence said, "Why would I still want to attend a women's college? Because this is where I began... before I decided to transition... and this is where I want to finish. The way I define myself right now is transgendered, NOT transexual. My gender, not my sex, is changing and I feel I have every right to continue my education here."

      Q. I wouldn't want men here regardless of if they were born or not.

      A. I'm sure lots of the straight women here feel the same way about dykes.

      Q. I feel that Mills is more about creating a place for women than just a place to exclude men.

      A. Another of our members, Nicole Wilkins, says, "Why is that a question? Mills should be a place for women. that means all women, even those transing beyond what we recognize and accept as our standard genders."

      Q. In cases where someone refuses to get a sex change, yet insists on being labelled a male...., or ftm cases, I don't think their place is at Mills. If you identify as male, a women's college is prolly not the best choice....

      A. I'll let Nicole handle that one again. She says, "I mean, if you feel that you are actually simply some guy but born a woman you prolly aren't attracted to Mills anyway. You want support from women because that's the community you feel you belong to whatever your gender.
      "I suppose it's a valid question except that you still look like a woman (in general, always exceptions) so you recive all the bullshit that all other women get. Why do you need to be cut off from a community that should be supporting you?" And she's right - every transgendered student I know at Mills passes to others here as a woman, both butch and femme.

      The question of what to do when someone lives as a man and goes to school as a man and presents as a man has yet to arise, but everyone persists in treating this issue as if Mills were overrun with bearded chauvinists romping naked through Toyon. If you're so worried about that, turn your energies towards fighting the grad program, and go read some Kate Bornstein!

      Q: How can I learn more?

      A: Go check out trans resources online!

      Transgendered Resources Online

      The American Boyz a group for F2M education and activism

      A Bill of Gender Rights

      Trans Theory, Reading List, and Rants

      A trans web geek's page

      The Gender Web - Great sources and info.

      Transgender History from the FTM International website

      The Questionnaire from Hell which you are required to fill out to enter a gender dysphoria program as part of transitioning to another gender.

      Back to the Mills Trans Alliance's web page.

      Back to Sphere

      Back to the Mills College Lesbian Avengers

      This page created 10/17/97. Last updated 10/1/98.

      Goals of the Mills Avengers TransPolicy Committee:

      it would be nifty to say (with a clear and citable source): mtf ppl were socialized as _______ (fill in the blank). ftm ppl tend to have ________ special needs which would (contrary to intuition) be better met at mills than a coed enviroment. Letting in mtf ppl at __________ stage would _______ the single-sex policy of mills college. TG means __________ and has nothing to do with being unable to cope with being a lesbian.
      (celeste's ideas)

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This Sphere page first resurrected 6/6/07 by Stephe Feldman. Last update: 8/25/07.