What?!? What the heck does transsexualism have to do with the movies?
Well, oddly enough, my gender dysphoria kickstarted my love for the cinema. As a kid, the world of movies was a welcome escape from my gender. For two magical hours, I could be someone else. As I grew older, my need to escape my masculine existence continued to grow as well...as did my movie watching. Although there is still an element of escapism, I began to appreciate film in all its aspects. Soon, everyone was asking me about current releases, and I began writing movie reviews. The rest is history...
But, I digress...
The quick overview of my transition is: I am going to start living and working as a woman. I will be altering my appearance and manner of dress, as well as changing my name to Madeleine.
Oh, like the kid's film, Madeline?
Not exactly. Although the film was entertaining, the spelling and pronunciation of my new name are different (think "mad-elle-lynn", rather than "mad-elle-line"). Why Madeleine? Well, it's close to "Matt", without being "Matilda" (yecch...although the movie of the same name was quite enjoyable). Plus, it has several cinematic references: The primary one being the name of Kim Novak's character (Madeleine Elster) in one of my favorite movies of all time, Vertigo. In addition, it is also the name of the talented actress, Madeleine Stowe. The name is a bit old-fashioned, but it's fairly unique. Plus, I like the sound of it. The nickname "Maddie" (as in Cybil Shepherd's character in Moonlighting, or Lisa Kudrow's in the awful film, Hanging Up) is also acceptable to me, though I tend to prefer the full "Madeleine".
I know that it will take a while for many of you to get comfortable calling me "Madeleine", or using the pronouns "she" and "her". Don't worry about slip-ups, I'm sure I'll be making several over the next few weeks as well, but I do expect you to try.
OK, so you're really doing this whole thing to grab a role in Jerry Springer's Ringmaster 2, right?
No. The original Ringmaster was among my Worst Five Films of 1998, and I shudder at the very thought of a sequel (though I wouldn't put it past Hollywood). Thanks to Jerry Springer and his ilk, those few transsexuals who have appeared in the public eye have given the rest of us a bad name. Every group has its share of kooks and idiots. Unfortunately, that's true of transsexuals, too. Problem is, the morons who go on shows like Jerry Springer end up getting more media coverage than the intelligent professionals I know.
So this isn't going to be your big entry into the world of adult films?
No...it's that transsexual image problem again. Despite the "sex" in "transsexual", this is a gender issue...not about sex. Hence the new grab-bag term "transgender", which includes transsexuals as well as others who don't follow the traditional views of gender.
Oh...so this is like in The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
Well, though that is a good example of transgenderism...the film's not about transsexuals (despite the fact several characters come from "Transsexual, Transylvania"). I don't plan on parading around in fishnet stockings and stiletto heels anytime soon, if you were worried.
Uh..oh...This isn't like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, now, is it?
No! This is not like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs! Heck, the movie itself even admits that:
"Billy's not a real transsexual, but he thinks he is. He tries to be. He's tried to be a lot of things, I expect."Of course, the movie goes on and portrays him as a serial killer who's even more sick and depraved because he wants to be a woman. This is yet another example of the poor media image of the transgendered. The movies have often portrayed transsexuals as an evil threat (Freebie and the Bean is another bad example, as are the Hitchcock films: Murder!, Homicidal, and even Psycho). So, no...I don't keep pet moths in my basement, and I'm not sewing a woman suit out of human skin!
Oh, so this is more like the angora fetish in Ed Wood?
Not quite. Although that example is a bit more down to earth (a phrase I never thought I'd use to describe the film), Ed Wood is about a transvestite who makes bad movies. Transvestism is very different from transsexualism, though many get the two confused. A transvestite is a person (typically a straight male) who derives sexual pleasure or emotional satisfaction from wearing the clothing of the opposite sex. It's much more frequent than transsexualism (a general estimate is around 1 in 50), but the key distinction is a satisfaction with their current sex. A good film about transvestism is Just Like a Woman, there are many bad ones as well, where transvestism is merely used as a quick comic prop.
Alright...so this is more like The Birdcage, right?
Bzzzzt...wrong again. The Birdcage, To Wong Foo..., The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and the like are about drag queens. Drag Queens are primarily entertainers who use excessive femininity in their acts onstage, and sometimes off. Noxeema Jackson (as played by Wesley Snipes) in To Wong Foo... had a good description:
"When a straight man puts on a dress to get his sexual kicks, he is a transvestite. When a man is a woman trapped in a man's body ... he is a transsexual. When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender, he is...a drag queen!"I am not a drag queen. I don't plan on wearing a two-foot tall lavender wig, gold lame miniskirt, and/or foot-long lashes. I plan to dress sensibly, and like any other normal woman.
Ohh...so like Tootsie?
Ugh...well not quite. I'm hoping to have a little more fashion sense than the guys in Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, Some Like It Hot, Big Momma's House, the Bud Light commercials or a handful of other cross-dressing comedies. Dating back to before vaudeville, the use of a masculine man in feminine attire has been a common comic prop, and one which unfortunately continues to this day.
How about The Crying Game?
You're getting closer. Although the character of Dil (played by Jaye Davidson) was certainly transgendered, she was never positively identified as a transsexual (and she obviously had not had the final operation). In fact, identification is one of the problems with spotting transsexual characters in film...motivation and identity are key, but frequently glossed over in a two-hour movie.
So, you mean there ARE transsexual characters somewhere in the movies?
Yes, but relatively few. Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda, in 1953, marks the earliest film to feature a transsexual character, although the film itself is wretchedly awful. Transsexuals began popping up in the early works of Andy Warhol and John Waters in the late 60s and early 70s, though the films were mostly exercises in bad taste. A few biopics (The Christine Jorgensen Story and Second Serve) appeared around the same time. It wasn't until 1982 until a transsexual character appeared in a mainstream supporting role (John Lithgow as Roberta in The World According to Garp). And not until the mid-1990s until transsexuals actually appeared as main characters, such as in the films Different for Girls, Ma Vie En Rose, Flawless, and Boys Don't Cry (featuring a female-to-male transsexual). I actually have a lot more information on this topic, if you are interested. If you couldn't tell, it's been a sub-hobby of mine.
Wait, I still don't get it...it's not about the sex, it's not about the clothes...what the heck is transsexualism about???
Gender. Gender Identity to be more specific. Most people rarely think about their gender identity. Women usually feel like women, and men usually feel like men. Nothing comes up to make them question who they are, or why they are that way. That is not the case for transsexuals. Most people see gender as equivalent to sex, as simply a trait, like being tall, or being good at sports. But that is not the case at all. Gender involves the behavioral, social and psychological aspects of being masculine or feminine. Gender identity is the psychological self-identification, or the inner awareness of belonging to one gender or the other. Unlike physical or minor characteristics like height or handedness, gender plays a fundamental part of our psychological makeup from our earliest days. That is what makes gender dysphoria (a Greek term indicating "confusion" or something "hard to bear") so traumatic. Transsexuals feel their body does not match the way they think and feel, and they seek to remedy this by changing their body to match their mind.
Why go to the trouble of changing your body? Why not simply change your mind?
Well, first of all it's not that simple. For the past twenty-nine years, I have tried to "change my mind". It doesn't work that way. It is like trying to change your handedness, or like trying to forget how to see. For whatever reason, my brain has wired itself the way it has, and no amount of willpower can get it to change. I did not wake up one morning thinking, "Gee, I think I'll be gender dysphoric today." And yet, even if it were possible to "change my mind", I'm not sure if I would want to. My mind defines who I am. By changing my body, I am allowing others to get a closer glimpse at the real me.
So what caused your transsexualism, anyway?
Well, nobody quite knows what causes it. There are plenty of theories involving hormonal washes and fetal brain development, but those are just theories right now. It is likely some combination of both nature and nurture, and something that happens very early on. I don't really worry about what the cause is, anyway. I've felt this way as long as I can remember, and like it or not, this is who I am now.
I don't think of being transsexual as a blessing or a curse. I just think of it as a trait, like being right-handed or tall. Unfortunately, any trait carries with it certain social stereotypical presumptions. For example, in the movies, transgendered characters are typically portrayed as prostitutes (see Angel, or Blast From the Past) or stage performers (see Priscilla, or Better Than Chocolate). These underlie several common misconceptions that transsexuals have to deal with: that it's all about sex, or that we're just gay people who hate being gay. I just find that living and interacting with others as a female feels right.
So you're NOT gay?
To tell the truth, I don't really know yet...I could be a straight woman, I could be a lesbian...I'll just have to see. Although most people don't think about them being separate, gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different traits. Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to, while gender identity is who you are. There are straight transsexuals and gay transsexuals. Whereas most people (usually) have a clear idea of their sexual orientation, transsexualism throws a wrench into the works. It's difficult to get an understanding of who you're attracted to before you come to grips with who you are. I haven't felt like dating much, in any case, so it hasn't really been an issue for me.
How did you know you were transsexual?
It was something I've known since I was a little kid...before I even knew what "transsexuals" were, or even that much difference between the sexes. Starting around age 5 or 6, I knew I wanted to be a girl. Being a quick learner, I quickly discovered that revealing that fact would open me up to ridicule. None of the other boys in school wanted to be girls. So, I made every effort to act the way boys were expected to. I wasn't completely successful, but those traits I wasn't able to adopt, I masked behind the shield of being a "geek". I tried to ignore my gender dysphoria, and hoped it would just go away. It didn't. In fact, the feelings grew. Finally, a couple of years ago, I realized that I was only getting more and more unhappy by ignoring things. I discovered that being transsexual didn't mean being a white-trash Jerry Springer guest...that there was still the possibility of having a "normal" life as a woman. I started therapy, and began making plans to transition. That was two years ago.
How have other people reacted to this news?
Surprisingly well. I've since told all of my immediate family, and all of my friends outside of work. Before telling them, I always feared the nightmare scenarios of being shunned and exiled. However, everyone I've told has been open and accepting. It's been a shock for some, nay, most. (I must have been a good actress!)
So, what have you done, and what are you going to do?
Well, there are a set of medical standards, developed in the mid-60s, which I am following. I started therapy, and early last year began taking female hormones. At the same time I began having some grueling sessions of electrolysis to remove my facial hair. It's a long, painful process, and the reason my face has been red and swollen some days over this past year. Those of you who've seen me know I've been growing out my hair (nope, I wasn't doing it just to be an eccentric techie), and I've also been working on developing a female voice.
I will soon change my name legally, and will go through the tedious process of switching it on all my various accounts and documentation. I will also be having some cosmetic surgery procedures. Click here to see the results of my recent facial surgery. The standards of care dictate that I must live and work as a woman for at least one year prior to having the final Sex Reassignment Surgery (or SRS for short). My SRS likely won't be until 2002. (Note: I had my SRS on 7/6/2001) While I'm not ashamed to be a transsexual, I hope it eventually becomes a very incidental part of my life so I can get on with more important things.
What should I do if I have other questions?
Well, first of all, don't hesitate to talk to me. You can give me a call or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to me, you can talk to someone who's known for a little while (family members can either contact my parents, Kim and Bob, or Kate and David).
On the internet, you can check out:
There are several good books on the subject, which you can borrow from me, or get at your local internet bookstore. The best one I've read on the subject is: True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism - For Families, Friends, Coworkers and Helping Professionals, by Mildred L. Brown & Chloe Ann Rounsley. Not everything in the book applies to me and my circumstances, but a majority of it hits very close to home.
And, for those of you who want to turn to film, here are a few recommendations:
BEST OVERALL PORTRAYAL OF TRANSSEXUALISM: Boys Don't Cry (a rather tragic drama, but very well done)
BEST TRANSSEXUAL ROMANTIC COMEDY: Different for Girls (light and fluffy, but a fairly accurate TS portrayal)
BEST TRANSSEXUAL FOREIGN FILM: Ma Vie En Rose (A subtitled French Film - My Life in Pink)
WORST TRANSSEXUAL MOVIE: (tie) Glen or Glenda, and Myra Breckinridge