By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
This month, by way of illustrating a common occurrence many trans people have to deal with on an all too regular basis, I thought I’d share with you my answers to a series of questions I got from a friend I knew as a teenager who recently stumbled across me online. The questions manage to represent an almost perfect sampling of the mix of curiosity and almost randomly offensive statements that many trans people have to deal with all the time, from even the most well-meaning people.
Q. I remember meeting in Northampton a transexual named Lori, but I remember facts better than faces, so I am not sure it was you. Lori told me that a man does not need to have an operation to be a transexual, he/she only needs to feel that he/she is a woman trapped in a man’s body.
A. Nope. I’m not that Lori, though you knew me extremely well! And yes, what Lori said about being a transsexual is roughly accurate. One needs no operations or treatment to be a transsexual, though people who are often seek such surgeries and treatments. “Transgender” is a somewhat broader definition that encompasses, often, transsexual people as well as others whose gender identity is variant in some way. As for who I am, well, I’ll let you take another guess.
Q. Robert? But I thought you were straight and dressed like a girl as a hobby.
A. Hey, hey! Almost. Robert, usually known as Mac, now Lorelei. And, I thought I was too! Then I had a lot of adventures and eventually accepted I was a woman. Really, truly, not just messing around. So I started on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) about seven years ago. However, it is worth noting that gender identity and sexual preference are separate and not necessarily related. After I transitioned, my sexuality also went kind of crazy and I currently date, well, whoever I’m attracted to regardless of gender. I consider myself queer.
Q. Wasn’t your girlfriend named Lori, you maricón? Did you steal her name? If sexual attraction and gender identity are separate things, are there lesbiens who were once straight men?
A. I do remember Lori. We dated briefly. She was pretty cool. Haven’t seen her in years. Didn’t take my name from her though. Lorelei is the name my hippie parents were going to give me had they known I was a girl.
As for “…lesbiens who were once straight men?” Well, sort of. The way I usually phrase it is that I was pretending to be a straight man for years. I’ve always been a woman, it just took me a long time to do something about it. So, when I transitioned, I was still attracted to women and in fact in a long-term relationship with one, which had the surreal effect of making me seem to go from straight to gay (lesbian), without ever actually changing my attractions at all. Of course, then I began to find myself attracted to men too.
Going through HRT is essentially putting your body through puberty for a second time, just in the other direction. So, I went from being theoretically bi-sexual (I never really was very attracted to men, just really open-minded) to all teenage-girl boy-crazy! However, I still like women too, and other trans people, and some folks who don’t identify as male or female. So, I identify as queer, which is kind of the sexuality version of punk rock!
Q. I thought you were just a transvestite.
A. Well, so did I, sort of. I mean, the truth of the matter is that I’ve known my whole life that I was a woman, or rather more specifically, that I was being gendered incorrectly. It took me a long time to first find the language to understand that, and then to accept that it wasn’t just a “part-time thing” I was doing, and then further to actually do something about it.
Q. Is it difficult to find shoes your size? Remember when Doc Martens were the mode?
A. Yes, it is quite difficult to find shoes in my size. Drives me crazy!
Of course I remember Docs! They never really went out of style in my punk rock world, though. Great shoes! In fact, I still have my 20-eye Dr. Marten boots from when I was 16 and even wear them occasionally. They’ve lasted through a lot!
It’s funny the things that remain constant. New gender. Same boots.
It’s worth noting, however, that the transsexual woman referred to at the beginning was not actually named “Lori.” It just wasn’t worth correcting, much like the correct spelling of both “transsexual” and “lesbian. We pick and choose our battles, and it can be enormously difficult not to get distracted by all the little mistakes and misguided assumptions that people make about us. It’s important to be patient, though, even if you’re not a highly visible trans columnist! Remember that most folks have at least decent intentions and are often merely curious. Focus on what’s important. Now, imagine repeating this exchange 20,000 more times!
* Lorelei Erisis is an activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.