Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Fit for a queen

For the better part of the summer, I have been researching a story about the transgender community in Northeast Ohio. The experience has been amazing. Writing the article was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. It is the cover story for this week's Cleveland Free Times.

Read it here.

According to Wikipedia on August 1, 2006, "Transgender identity includes many overlapping sub-categories. These include transsexual; cross-dresser; transvestite; consciously androgynous people; genderqueer; people who live cross-gender; drag kings; and drag queens."

I spent hours and hours with members of the T community, particularly the heterosexual male cross dressers. I went to a drag queen bar, attended get-togethers, and conducted extensive interviews. I went to a fancy dinner event with ten men in dresses, as well as one of their wives. After that, I accompanied a half dozen of them on a trip to a lesbian bar.

Inside the bar, it was hot and smoky as hell. Music blared. Chicks of all shapes and sizes were walking around in their bras and shorts. There was a striking queen with long blond curls and five-inch heels. There was me looking like me in a black skirt and heels. There were guys looking at chicks who looked like guys.

Everyone had squirt guns. Everyone was drinking beer. My white shirt took more than a couple of water hits.

"Longneck Bud," I said to the bartender. Yeah, yeah.

I found the queens to be funny and smart and interesting. Some were quite beautiful, a couple made passes at me. Most endearing were the fiftysomething guys in polyester floral blouses and slides.

People sometimes stared and snickered and pointed at the men in dresses, which irritated the hell out of me. I wanted to call out the assholes who snarked at the queens. But this is a vulnerable group of people who don't like any more attention than they already get. I kept my mouth shut.

I met genetic men who were in the process of turning themselves into women and some that had completed the process.

Wonder how they do it? Find out how here. WARNING graphic sexual image on launch.

One thing I did not expect was how hugely disconcerting it was to be in a large group of T people, where gender and sexual orientation is anybody's guess. Flirting, my biggest social crutch, was not appropriate. I didn't know who was a he and who was a she, how they wished to be acknowledged, or if they preferred men or women as partners. Hence, the standard sexual scripts upon which I rely were yanked from my hands. The result was that I learned how elemental my sexuality is, whether I'm dishing with the girls at the local gym or sighing over some marvelous creature as he explains why my brakes need to be repaired.

Whether or not you will glean anything from the article, I couldn't say. Instead, how about you tell me?


bebe said...

Erin, brilliant and sharp.

Vince said...

Hmm… I’d wear a dress no problem, no underwear. I mean I got the body for it, and would love the freedom a dress could offer, the cool air rushing freely up under there.

And I’d be prettier than most women; I know it because I know what a man wants in a woman. I’m discouraged at how woman nowadays don’t take more advantage of the splendors of being a woman. Instead they seem to rather be like men, dress like men, act like men, hold a man’s job.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still all man…I’m just sayin’…

jamwall said...

excellent in-depth article erin. i never quite understood why they clump the transgender people with the GBL community tag, since not all are actually gay.

after all, dame edna almost killed a man with her bare hands and apparently is quite the ladies man.

...does anyone see the significance of having a sex reassignment doctor named "Schrang"?

Paul said...

A nice balance between the clinical and the personal. I particularly like the way you used the food to emphasize the commonality of experience, e.g.,"JoAnne's Asian rice salad is all but gone. The scoop left at the bottom of the Tupperware remains only because everyone is too polite to take it." The changes in POV work well, too.

So...I understand more than I did before, I find myself persuaded to treat such people with kindness, and I enjoyed the stylishness of the writing even as I was reading it.

You can't ask an essay to do more than that.

Strow said...

you aree an excellent writer erin. it totally blows we away the talent of some of the people that are on blogger.

People where I live arent that open to that sort of thing so you dont see alot of it around.This is a subject that i have never ever really commented on in my daily life, although after reading your article and post, it helps me form my opinion much easier.

~d said...

This sounds like GREAT FUN! I will be willing to bet you made a TON of good friends too! I have found that transgenders are usually VERY accepting people!
Your article rocked, too, Erin!
Go you!
(squirt guns?)

Blonde Vigilante said...

Erin, that article was amazing. You have incredible tact.

What I learned from the article?

a) Everybody has a story and it is unfair to judge at first glance.

b) Trans-genders have different sexual orientations.

c) It also made me wonder how people on the converse side of this situation must feel. Afterall, everybodies got feelings. For instance, the woman at the end of your article who had a wife and said that she still loved her very much, but the wife wanted nothing to do with her. I can understand why the wife would feel hurt. She (the husband) wanted to completely change herself into a woman and she said she hated heterosexual sex. If I was her wife, I would be hurt by that too. I would probably get over it, but I may not stay with someone who wanted to become a woman, b/c afterall I did marry a man.

Nobody has it easy in this situation, that much is certain.

Dean said...

I think I'll have more to say on this article later (I don't have the freedom to write anything long and thoughtful at the moment) but I just wanted you to know that I found it a powerful and thought-provoking piece.

Maureen McHugh said...

Nice, really nice, Erin. It's so very nice to see some the complexity of the community presented.

You don't have the recipe for the Asian Rice Salad, do you?

Pammy said...


What'd I "glean" from the article?

Though I've never really been around anyone who's transgendered (that I know of, anyway), I learned that, despite all our, ingrained...notions about gender and sexuality, when it comes right down to it, people are people. Though our gender might try to dictate how we're treated by society, one basic rule should still apply. Respect.

I'd be interested to know what kind of feedback you got on the article. Other than here, I mean. Especially coming from the midwest, like me. I wrote an article about the lifestyle for one of our local papers here and thought I might be burned at the stake. heh

zorgon said...

"Some of this is outside what I understand."

Yeah, I'm going to say I'm with JoAnne there! ;)

Fascinating stuff. Could be straight out of National Geographic -- intrepid explorer gains the confidence of the remote tribe and learns of their customs and rituals in a fair and respectful way, returns to give a slide show at the Explorers' Guild ...

doris day said...

brava! sensitive and insightful.

Denny Shane said...

This was a very interesting article Erin... thanks for researching it so thoroughly.

As you know I have been divorced for 6 years. In those 6 years I haven't had sex at all. Ok, not with someone anyway. But after your thoroughly interesting article I am seeing a possibility here.

I might as well get rid of this good for nothing penis and get one of those new fangled vaginas. Then all my problems would just float away.

sxKitten said...

An excellent article on a difficult subject, it makes me wish it were possible to force people to be more tolerant and open-minded.

Anita said...

Erin do you still speak to any of the people you interviewed? I live in Midtown and it is the Gay Mecca of Georgia. There are transvestite prostitutes (transvestitutes) that march outside my building on the street corner nearly every night. They regularly have drag shows at the corner sushi bar and I live 3 blocks from where the Pride Parade launches every year. I heart all of these people for having the balls to come out in the South and I heart you for writing an article that works and doesn't turn people off to the transgendered or the gender confused. Bravo, Erin. Bravo.

Zen Wizard said...

In completely, TOTALLY unrelated news, there is going to be a new show called, "The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll."

A whole nation will watch this woman's "personal TRANSformation."

The producer's words; not mine!

(Well, maybe the emphasis on TRANS was mine. I have seen less tranny in a '68 Corvette.)

Erin O'Brien said...

Bebe: Thanks.

Vince: I am certain you would be prettier than most woman. Even a 99-pound 20-year-old.

Jam: People in the T community hate that all those titles are lumped together. Some people in the gay community don't like to be lumped with the T community. They whole thing can be very, very touchy.

Paul and Strow: Thanks. This is a very misunderstood group of people. In the end, they are all just people, who wish to be accepted for who they are.

~d: Yeah, squirt guns. Big ones, little ones. Everyone was squirting each other. Voof!

BV: I'll tell you, this group has a very difficult row to hoe. They are often profoundly conflicted. The outside world tells them they are men, yet they feel like women, or vice versa. They love women. It is very hard for them.

Dean: Thanks.

McHugh: Sorry, no recipes. I'm so exhausted after all of this, I don't know what!

Pammy: Very well said. More on feedback in a bit.

Zorgon: I was telling people I was "embedded" for a month.

DD: Thanks.

Denny: Baby, you gave me the best laugh. And on what has turned out to be one tough day. Thanks.

sxK: Me too. Thanks.

Anita: More on T feedback in a minute. And hats off to those who thumb their noses at the close-minded among us.

Zen: What's new, Pussycat?

Erin O'Brien said...

Well, I have gotten three scathing letters from persons in the T community on the article. One said I did not sufficiently elaborate on the gratuitious sex, the drug and alcohol abuse, and the prostitiution.

Another said I presented an inaccurate carnival sideshow.

Yet another said I went only for shock value.

Wonder what else I'm going to get.


Goddamn, this writing shit is hard.

Hope Dangling said...

This article is beautiful and touching and inspiring to ANY of whom are transforming their lives - TO BE WHO YOU ARE. And it only helps if you make damn good potato salad and have wonderful friends. I have always admired this community, the gay community as well and have always been inspired by people who are being who they ARE in the world. The amount of dedication it takes to raise that MONEY for SRS - is amazing in itself.

I thought your writing was poetic, informative and personal - I'm sure the T-Community which whom you've written of is VERY proud of you?

What feedback have you had from them???


(funny - to leave a comment here - under this box it says 'choose an identity.' PERFECT. As we all should do.) : )

Hope Dangling said...

I meant ' Proud of you! - exclamation point - not question mark.

: )

Vince said...

erin—Well, for me, and from an “outside the Tcom perspective”, I think it was an exquisite look into the world of the Tcom. You allowed me to do my own ellaboration of gratuitous sex and prostitution. I saw it as more a celebration than a carnival sideshow. And I am not “Shocked” by anything anymore. But by God this was exciting! I say Bravo!

I guess I can understand the Tcom’s concerns too, but really, what inaccuracies? And I hope the Tcom can appreciate that for the "60 Minutes" version, you would of had to spend 8 years living in their midst as one of them, and even then, documentaries are boring--but not your stuff. That’s my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...


Sensational? Carnival Side Show?

Please refer those people to me.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and the other thing?

One of the tedious aspects of people in transworld is that anything that doesn't directly support their experience, their narrative is often interpreted as an attack. Sad really.


Marlena said...

Erin: As someone who's a crossdresser let me thank for an article well-down. I'm sorry gotten some scathing letters from some others in the trans communities. As JoAnne said, there are folks who aren't happy with anything isn't 100% reflective of (and positive about) their own experiences. Sometimes there's just no pleasing people... {sigh}

Vince: Seeing as you're in the Bay Area, if you ever get the urge to put on a dress that can be arranged. Eve's a total sweetie and would be happy to help you out. ;)

Jamwall: Pairing the GLB communities with the T communities is an odd pairing in some ways. The first three are about who you're attracted to, the latter is about who you see yourself as.

OTOH, there's common experiences: Dealing with being part of a stigmatized group. Fears about the effects of coming out. Being in the closet (By some estimates as many as 1 in 20 men do engage in some form of crossdressing -- the vast majority of whom are incredibly deep in the closet. I know one Special Forces type with 215 confirmed kills, a number up close and personal, who'd rather be back in hand-to-hand combat rather than go out in public crossdressed. And there's transsexuals, who are fewer in number, who don't have the luxury of being able to compartmentalize their lives like crossdressers can.)

That said, as Erin mentioned, titles are a touchy subject with the trans communities, even within the trans communities. Unfortunately, there's a lot of fighting over the bottom-rung of the ladder -- with transsexuals not wanting to be identified with crossdressers who don't want to be identified with drag queens who don't want to be identified with transsexuals.

BV: The convention labels of "hetro" and "homosexual" gets confusing with trans people. It's generally easier to think of people being andophilic or gynophilic (i.e. attracted to men or attracted to women). I have a friend who's a FTM transsexual and one of the things he's struggling with is going from being a straight woman to a gay man. Who he's attracted to hasn't changed, but how he's seen by other has.

Unfortunately, as you've said, late transitioning is often hard all the way around. Late transitioners don't intend to hurt their spouses, but usually they've gotten married as in an attempt to conform to their birth gender roles. Similar to how something like 1 in 8 lesbians come out after 40. If people felt able to be who they think they are, a lot of heartache could be avoided.

BTW, for those who care to read more, this is also one of the better articles I've seen done on crossdressing from a reporter who went out femme for an evening. I particularly liked the his thoughts at the end of the article.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I've got my hands on the other complainant's letter. She posted it on the trans-family elist.

While asking for an article that covered the broader aspects of the communities, she the proceeds to deride "guy in a dress", weekend outings, overdone makeup and heels. So much for wanting inclusion, or accepting differences.

As I suspected one of those "it's not about me" complainers.

I'll deal with this tonight...


Erin O'Brien said...

HD: For the F to M people who want to get SRS, the money is more like $30,000 and you have to travel to Belgium. The drive people have to do sexual reassignment is huge.

And thanks for the vote of confidence.

Vince: Your 2 cents is worth a million to me.

JoAnne: Funny, isn't it, that I am not the one assigning the words "carnival sideshow" to any part of the T community, but someone inside of it is. And good luck tonight.

Marlena: You, I love. I love you. I am packing up and coming over there and moving in. You are wonderful. I would copiously espouse this on your site, but your comments are off. Let the intent be known nonetheless. Come back often. Come back every day! Bring your friends.

Hope Dangling said...

To comment on scathing letters...three ain't bad sister. Just read and file away. You did nothing derogetory towards them, your article was very informative and detached enough to NOT be a carnival - the group of people you hung out with represtented THAT group of people you hung out with. BFD. You don't know from what perspective the people are writing these letters to you from - hate? fear? sadness? Maybe they are just bitter old ladies...trans ladies even! And hey - if you don't cause contreversy - what good are you as a WRITER?? hang in there!!! This too shall pass...

Vince said...

Marlena--Thanks for the link. Eve seems like a very nice person. And very talented. And Joe turned out absolutely stunning. I'm guessing he got the "Diva" makeover? If erin throws a CD party where the men dress as women and the women dress as men, then I'm there--we can be sisters! Gender vacation indeed. I'd be a challenge for Eve though, I'm 6'1", 240 pounds and hairy. I really don't have a 'real' urge to CD, I'm having too much fun acting like a man right now. But I'm tellin' ya, if we had a frownless, unsuppressed society, bangin' with Tcom culture, then the Retail business will BOOM with a whole new market. And I'll be going on the shopping spree of the Century--in heels :)

Erin O'Brien said...

HD: I can take the criticism. And everything you say is right, but you know how it is ...

Vince: I, too, found Joe to be a real stunner. When is your appointment with Eve? Do post the results.

Blonde Vigilante said...

Erin - Thank you, baby! I heart you long time.

Vince said...

erin--I need to lose at least 75 pounds first--I'm workin' on it. The hold back is the money, it's going to cost some coin for the Super Model or Diva makeover. I'd rather spend it on Pizza. But if somehow I can get a sponsor, then we're talkin' COSMO quality photoshoot man. I'd blow Joe away man. I got naturally long eyelashes...

Marlena said...

Erin: {blush} Thanks! I guess now that someone's looking at my blog I ought to update it (the comments are on for a couple weeks after a post).

BTW, I forgot to mention that I also find drag queens to be funny, smart and interesting. I think us crossdressers could learn a thing or two from them about out and proud. Unfortunately, DQs also can face similar prejudice within the gay community (part of a larger strain of "sissyophobia," as one gay writer put it).

Vince: Yeah, Eve's a sweetie. Although, I'm sure Joe got a freebie (in return for the publicity), it does look like he got either the Super Model or Diva makeover.

FYI, just remember Halloween is National Crossdresser's Day. (Yes I'm breaking the tranny omerta and reveal some of our secrets.) Sadly, most of the CDs who do use it as an excuse are careful not to do too good a job, being paranoid that others will suspect something. 'Course there's also the Pride Parade, when no one would bat an eye at a bear in a dress. And don't worry about the hair darling, nothing a little Nair won't fix. ;)

BTW, I do understand about the weight thing. I'm 5'10" 220 myself and getting slim enough to get out of plus sizes is an incentive. I've got a lot of sympathy for plus-sized fashionista -- all too often it seems like they get the design leftovers. And what is it with women's clothing and polyester?! At least couldn't the designers do some cotton/poly blends....

In a way, it's a double whammy. I think "being pretty" is a common motivation for many CDs (one of several usually) and we put on the dress in part because we don't feel we can be attractive in the same kind of way en homme. But then we also buy into the beauty myth that women are subject to -- and yet we're even further from the "ideal" than most women. So I think one reason for the well-known CD fascination with mirror and photos is in part to reassure ourselves that we are in fact attractive.

(Believe me, the photos I post are carefully chosen since there's nothing like good camera angles to enhance one's image. And often CDs are very good at seeing what we what to see in the mirror. Before I started going out in public, and needed to learn how to do hair and make-up properly, some of my "before" pictures were really quite scary.)

Vince said...

Mmarlena--Haha, I'm going to scare myself on Halloween. I'm with you on the shortage of plus size fashion. And we need a revolutionary ban on polyester man, for both men and women...

n said...

This particular topic has been in the media alot the past while, at least where I live.What I appreciated from your article is it was not sensationalized;it was a story about people.

Erin O'Brien said...

Marlena: Oh how that "pretty" thing dogs us all!

Vince: I would like to watch you Nair yourself.

n: Thanks. People. That's what I was aiming for.

Marlena said...

Erin: Yeah, the sad part about "pretty thing dogging us" is I see some of my fellows who do put the "drab" in being "in drab" (as in "dress as a boy" -- and opposed to being "in drag.")

I think part of it has to do with most CDs being hetro-ish. Because they're attracted to women, they don't think of men's bodies (and clothing, etc.) as being something that's attractive (or worse yet, something that someone could find attractive). Unfortunately, for some it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophesy....

So while feeling you've got to play the beauty game sucks, it also sucks to feel like you're stuck on the sidelines and not allowed to play.

Whereas I was a would-be metrosexual long before the term was coined. Just kind of hard to do when you're surrounded by "beer guys." So my own CDing is in part just for the love of the fashion/ornamentation possibilities. Of course there's a big difference between being able to get glammed up, and feeling like you have to do so every day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a wonderful article Erin.

shaina said...

wow, that article was AMAZING!! i have just been studying trans-folk and genderqueer and sexism and stuff in one of my classes, and it's fascinating. i also just learned that the Assistant Residence Director of my cluster of dorms is a F-to-M post-op (i think), which i never would have guessed from the limited interactions i've had with him. i wonder if he's in any group like this in our area? hm. anyway. i thought the article was very well written and amazing. :-D