THE "EMPIRE" STRIKES BACK:
A POSTTRANSSEXUAL MANIFESTO
1. Frogs into princesses
2. Making history
3. "All of reality in late capitalist culture lusts to become an
image for its own security"
4. Whose story is this, anyway?
5. A posttranssexual manifesto
- Publication history
1. Frogs into princesses
The verdant hills of Casablanca look down on homes and shops jammed
chockablock against narrow, twisted streets filled with the odors of
spices and dung. Casablanca is a very old city, passed over by
Lawrence Durrell perhaps only by a geographical accident as the
winepress of love. In the more modern quarter, located on a broad,
sunny boulevard, is a building otherwise unremarkable except for a
small brass nameplate that identifies it as the clinic of Dr. Georges
Burou. It is predominantly devoted to obstetrics and gynecology, but
for many years has maintained another reputation quite unknown to the
stream of Moroccan women who pass through its rooms.
Dr. Burou is being visited by journalist James Morris. Morris fidgets
in an anteroom reading Elle and Paris-Match with something less than
full attention, because he is on an errand of immense personal import.
At last the receptionist calls for him, and he is shown to the inner
sanctum. He relates:
I was led along corridors and up staircases into the inner premises of
the clinic. The atmosphere thickened as we proceeded. The rooms
became more heavily curtained, more velvety, more voluptuous.
Portrait busts appeared, I think, and there was a hint of heavy
perfume. Presently I saw, advancing upon me through the dim alcoves
of this retreat, which distinctly suggested to me the allure of a
harem, a figure no less recognizably odalesque. It was Madame Burou.
She was dressed in a long white robe, tasseled I think around the
waist, which subtly managed to combine the luxuriance of a caftan with
the hygiene of a nurse's uniform, and she was blonde herself, and
carefully mysterious...Powers beyond my control had brought me to Room
5 at the clinic in Casablanca, and I could not have run away then even
if I had wanted to...I went to say good-bye to myself in the mirror.
We would never meet again, and I wanted to give that other self a long
last look in the eye, and a wink for luck. As I did so a street
vendor outside played a delicate arpeggio upon his flute, a very
gentle merry sound which he repeated, over and over again, in sweet
diminuendo down the street. Flights of angels, I said to myself, and
so staggered...to my bed, and oblivion.
Exit James Morris, enter Jan Morris, through the intervention of late
20th century medical practices in this wonderfully "oriental", almost
religious narrative of transformation. The passage is from Conundrum,
the story of Morris' "sex change" and the consequences for her life.
Besides the wink for luck, there is another obligatory ceremony known
to male-to-female transsexuals which is called "wringing the turkey's
neck", although it is not recorded whether Morris performed it as
well. I will return to this rite of passage later in more detail.
2. Making history
Imagine now a swift segue from the moiling alleyways of Casablanca to
the rolling green hills of Palo Alto. The Stanford Gender Dysphoria
Program occupies a small room near the campus in a quiet residential
section of this affluent community. The Program, which is a
counterpart to Georges Burou's clinic in Morocco, has been for many
years the academic focus of Western studies of gender dysphoria
syndrome, also known as transsexualism. Here are determined etiology,
diagnostic criteria, and treatment.
The Program was begun in 1968, and its staff of surgeons and
psychologists first set out to collect as much history on the subject
of transsexualism as was available. Let me pause to provide a very
brief capsule of their results. A transsexual is a person who
identifies his or her gender identity with that of the "opposite"
gender. Sex and gender are quite separate issues, but transsexuals
commonly blur the distinction by confusing the performative character
of gender with the physical "fact" of sex, referring to their
perceptions of their situation as being in the "wrong body". Although
the term transsexual is of recent origin, the phenomenon is not. The
earliest mention of something which we can recognize ex post facto as
transsexualism, in light of current diagnostic criteria, was of the
Assyrian king Sardanapalus, who was reported to have dressed in
women's clothing and spun with his wives. Later instances of
something very like transsexualism were reported by Philo of Judaea,
during the Roman Empire. In the 18th century the Chevalier d'Eon, who
lived for 39 years in the female role, was a rival of Madame Pompadour
for the attention of Louis XV. The first colonial governor of New
York, Lord Cornbury, came from England fully attired as a woman and
remained so during his time in office.
Transsexualism was not accorded the status of an "official disorder"
until 1980, when it was first listed in the American Psychiatric
Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. As Marie Mehl points
out, this is something of a Pyrrhic victory.
Prior to 1980, much work had already been done in an attempt to define
criteria for differential diagnosis. An example from the 1970s is
this one, from work carried out by Leslie Lothstein and reported in
Walters and Ross' Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment:
Lothstein, in his study of ten ageing transsexuals [average age
fifty-two], found that psychological testing helped to determine the
extent of the patients' pathology [sic]...[he] concluded that
[transsexuals as a class] were depressed, isolated, withdrawn,
schizoid individuals with profound dependency conflicts. Furthermore,
they were immature, narcissistic, egocentric and potentially
explosive, while their attempts to obtain [professional assistance]
were demanding, manipulative, controlling, coercive, and paranoid.
In a study of 56 transsexuals the results on the schizophrenia and
depression scales were outside the upper limit of the normal range.
The authors see these profiles as reflecting the confused and bizarre
life styles of the subjects.
These were clinical studies, which represented a very limited class of
subjects. However, the studies were considered sufficiently
representative for them to be reprinted without comment in collections
such as that of Walters and Ross. Further on in each paper, though,
we find that each investigator invalidates his results in a brief
disclaimer which is reminiscent of the fine print in a cigarette ad:
In the first, by adding "It must be admitted that Lothstein's subjects
could hardly be called a typical sample as nine of the ten studied had
serious physical health problems" [this was a study conducted in a
health clinic, not a gender clinic], and in the second, with the
afterthought that "82 per cent of [the subjects] were prostitutes and
atypical of transsexuals in other parts of the world." Such
results might have been considered marginal, hedged about as they were
with markers of questionable method or excessively limited samples.
Yet they came to represent transsexuals in medicolegal/psychological
literature, disclaimers and all, almost to the present day.
During the same period, feminist theoreticians were developing their
own analyses. The issue quickly became, and remains, volatile and
divisive. Let me quote an example.
Rape...is a masculinist violation of bodily integrity. All
transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the female form to an
artifact, appropriating this body for themselves...Rape, although it
is usually done by force, can also be accomplished by deception.
This quote is from Janice Raymond's 1979 book The Transsexual
Empire: The Making Of The She-Male, which occasioned the title of this
paper. I read Raymond to be claiming that transsexuals are constructs
of an evil phallocratic empire and were designed to invade women's
spaces and appropriate women's power. Though Empire represented a
specific moment in feminist analysis and prefigured the appropriation
of liberal political language by a radical right, here in 1991, on the
twelfth anniversary of its publication, it is still the definitive
statement on transsexualism by a genetic female academic. To
clarify my stakes in this discourse let me quote another passage from
Masculine behavior is notably obtrusive. It is significant that
transsexually constructed lesbian-feminists have inserted themselves
into the positions of importance and/or performance in the feminist
community. Sandy Stone, the transsexual engineer with Olivia Records,
an 'all-women' recording company, illustrates this well. Stone is not
only crucial to the Olivia enterprise but plays a very dominant role
there. The... visibility he achieved in the aftermath of the Olivia
controversy...only serves to enhance his previously dominant role and
to divide women, as men frequently do, when they make their presence
necessary and vital to women. As one woman wrote: "I feel raped when
Olivia passes off Sandy... as a real woman. After all his male
privilege, is he going to cash in on lesbian feminist culture too?"
This paper, The Empire Strikes Back, is about morality tales and
origin myths, about telling the "truth" of gender. Its informing
principle is that "technical arts are always imagined to be
subordinated by the ruling artistic idea, itself rooted
authoritatively in nature's own life." It is about the image and
the real mutually defining each other through the inscriptions and
reading practices of late capitalism. It is about postmodernism,
postfeminism, and [dare I say it] posttranssexualism. Throughout, the
paper owes a large debt to the work of Donna Haraway.
3. "All of reality in late capitalist culture lusts to become an
image for its own security"
Let's turn to accounts by the transsexuals themselves. During this
period virtually all of the published accounts were written by
male-to-females. I want to briefly consider four autobiographical
accounts of male-to-female transsexuals, to see what we can learn
about what they think they are doing. [I will consider female-to-male
transsexuals in another paper.]
The earliest partially autobiographical account in existence is that
of Lili Elbe in Niels Hoyer's book Man Into Woman .  The
first fully autobiographical book was the paperback I Changed My Sex!
[not exactly a quiet, contemplative title], written by the striptease
artist Hedy Jo Star in the mid-1950s. Christine Jorgensen, who
underwent surgery in the early 1950s and is arguably the best known of
the recent transsexuals, did not publish her autobiography until 1967;
instead, Star's book rode the wave of publicity surrounding
Jorgensen's surgery. In 1974 Conundrum was published, written by the
popular English journalist Jan Morris. In 1977 there was Canary, by
musician and performer Canary Conn. In addition, many
transsexuals keep something they call by the argot term "O.T.F.": The
Obligatory Transsexual File. This usually contains newspaper articles
and bits of forbidden diary entries about "inappropriate" gender
behavior. Transsexuals also collect autobiographical literature.
According to the Stanford gender dysphoria program, the medical
clinics do not, because they consider autobiographical accounts
thoroughly unreliable. Because of this, and since a fair percentage of
the literature is invisible to many library systems, these personal
collections are the only source for some of this information. I am
fortunate to have a few of them at my disposal.
What sort of subject is constituted in these texts? Hoyer
[representing Jacobson representing Elbe, who is representing Wegener
who is representing Sparre], writes:
A single glance of this man had deprived her of all her strength.
She felt as if her whole personality had been crushed by him. With a
single glance he had extinguished it. Something in her rebelled. She
felt like a schoolgirl who had received short shrift from an idolized
teacher. She was conscious of a peculiar weakness in all her
members...it was the first time her woman's heart had trembled before
her lord and master, before the man who had constituted himself her
protector, and she understood why she then submitted so utterly to him
and his will.
We can put to this fragment all of the usual questions: Not by whom
but for whom was Lili Elbe constructed? Under whose gaze did her text
fall? And consequently what stories appear and disappear in this kind
of seduction? It may come as no surprise that all of the accounts I
will relate here are similar in their description of "woman" as male
fetish, as replicating a socially enforced role, or as constituted by
performative gender. Lili Elbe faints at the sight of blood. Jan
Morris, a world-class journalist who has been around the block a few
times, still describes her sense of herself in relation to makeup and
dress, of being on display, and is pleased when men open doors for her:
I feel small, and neat. I am not small in fact, and not terribly neat
either, but femininity conspires to make me feel so. My blouse and
skirt are light, bright, crisp. My shoes make my feet look more
delicate than they are, besides giving me...a suggestion of
vulnerability that I rather like. My red and white bangles give me a
racy feel, my bag matches my shoes and makes me feel well
organized...When I walk out into the street I feel consciously ready
for the world's appraisal, in a way that I never felt as a man._
Hedy Jo Star, who was a professional stripper, says in I Changed My
Sex!: "I wanted the sensual feel of lingerie against my skin, I
wanted to brighten my face with cosmetics. I wanted a strong man to
protect me." Here in 1991 I have also encountered a few men who are
brave enough to echo this sentiment for themselves, but in 1955 it was
a proprietary feminine position.
Besides the obvious complicity of these accounts in a Western white
male definition of performative gender, the authors also reinforce a
binary, oppositional mode of gender identification. They go from
being unambiguous men, albeit unhappy men, to unambiguous women.
There is no territory between. Further, each constructs a
specific narrative moment when their personal sexual identification
changes from male to female. This moment is the moment of
neocolporraphy-- that is, of gender reassignment or "sex change
surgery". Jan Morris, on the night preceding surgery, wrote: "I
went to say good-bye to myself in the mirror. We would never meet
again, and I wanted to give that other self a last wink for luck..."
Canary Conn writes: "I'm not a muchacho...I'm a muchacha now...a
Hedy Jo Star writes: "In the instant that I awoke from the
anaesthetic, I realized that I had finally become a woman."
Even Lili Elbe, whose text is second-hand, used the same terms:
"Suddenly it occurred to him that he, Andreas Sparre, was probably
undressing for the last time." Immediately on awakening from
first-stage surgery [castration in Hoyer's account], Sparre writes a
note. "He gazed at the card and failed to recognize the writing. It
was a woman's script." Inger carries the note to the doctor: "What
do you think of this, Doctor. No man could have written it?" "No,"
said the astonished doctor; "no, you are quite right..." --an
exchange which requires the reader to forget that orthography is an
acquired skill. The same thing happens with Elbe's voice: "the
strange thing was that your voice had completely changed...You have a
splendid soprano voice! Simply astounding." Perhaps as
astounding now as then but for different reasons, since in light of
present knowledge of the effects [and more to the point, the
non-effects] of castration and hormones none of this could have
happened. Neither has any effect on voice timbre. Hence,
incidentally, the jaundiced eyes with which the clinics regard
If Hoyer mixes reality with fantasy and caricatures his subjects
besides ["Simply astounding!"], what lessons are there in Man Into
Woman? Partly what emerges from the book is how Hoyer deploys the
strategy of building barriers within a single subject, strategies that
are still in gainful employment today. Lili displaces the irruptive
masculine self , still dangerously present within her, onto the
God-figure of her surgeon/therapist Werner Kreutz, whom she calls The
Professor, or The Miracle Man. The Professor is He Who molds and Lili
that which is molded:
what the Professor is now doing with Lili is nothing less than an
emotional moulding, which is preceding the physical moulding into a
woman. Hitherto Lili has been like clay which others had prepared and
to which the Professor has given form and life...by a single glance
the Professor awoke her heart to life, a life with all the instincts
The female is immanent, the female is bone-deep, the female is
instinct. With Lili's eager complicity, The Professor drives a
massive wedge between the masculine and the feminine within her. In
this passage, reminiscent of the "oriental" quality of Morris'
narrative, the male must be annihilated or at least denied, but the
female is that which exists to be continually annihilated:
It seemed to her as if she no longer had any responsibility for
herself, for her fate. For Werner Kreutz had relieved her of it all.
Nor had she any longer a will of her own...there could be no past for
her. Everything in the past belonged to a person who...was dead. Now
there was only a perfectly humble woman, who was ready to obey, who
was happy to submit herself to the will of another...her master, her
creator, her Professor. Between [Andreas] and her stood Werner
Kreutz. She felt secure and salvaged.
Hoyer has the same problems with purity and denial of mixture that
recur in many transsexual autiobiographical narratives. The
characters in his narrative exist in an historical period of enormous
sexual repression. How is one to maintain the divide between the
"male" self, whose proper object of desire is Woman, and the "female"
self, whose proper object of desire is Man?
"As a man you have always seemed to me unquestionably healthy. I
have, indeed, seen with my own eyes that you attract women, and that
is the clearest proof that you are a genuine fellow." He paused, and
then placed his hand on Andreas' shoulder. "You won't take it amiss
if I ask you a frank question? ...Have you at any time been
interested in your own kind? You know what I mean."
Andreas shook his head calmly. "My word on it, Niels; never in my
life. And I can add that those kind of creatures have never shown any
interest in me."
"Good, Andreas! That's just what I thought."
Hoyer must separate the subjectivity of "Andreas", who has never felt
anything for men, and "Lili", who, in the course of the narrative,
wants to marry one. This salvaging procedure makes the world safe for
"Lili" by erecting and maintaining an impenetrable barrier between her
and "Andreas", reinforced again and again in such ways as two
different handwriting styles and two different voices. The force of
an imperative--a natural state toward which all things tend--to
deny the potentialities of mixture, acts to preserve "pure" gender
identity : at the dawn of the Nazi-led love affair with purity, no
"creatures" will tempt Andreas into transgressing boundaries with his
"I will honestly and plainly confess to you, Niels, that I have always
been attracted to women. And to-day as much as ever. A most banal
--banal only so long as the person inside Andreas' body who voices
it is Andreas, rather than Lili. There is a lot of work being done in
this passage, a microcosm of the work it takes to maintain the same
polar personae in society in the large. Further, each of these
writers constructs his or her account as a narrative of redemption.
There is a strong element of drama, of the sense of struggle against
huge odds, of overcoming perilous obstacles, and of mounting awe and
mystery at the breathtaking approach and final apotheosis of the
Forbidden Transformation. Oboy.
The first operation...has been successful beyond all expectations.
Andreas has ceased to exist, they said. His germ glands--oh, mystic
words--have been removed.
Oh, mystic words. The mysterium tremendum of deep identity hovers
about a physical locus; the entire complex of male engenderment, the
mysterious power of the Man-God, inhabits the "germ glands" in the way
that the soul was thought to inhabit the pineal. Maleness is in the
you-know-whats. For that matter, so is the ontology of the subject;
and therefore Hoyer can demonstrate in the coarsest way that
femaleness is lack:
The operation which has been performed here [that is, castration]
enables me to enter the clinic for women [exclusively for women].
On the other hand, either Niels or Lili can be constituted by an act
of insinuation, what the New Testament calls endeuein, or the putting
on of the god, inserting the physical body within a shell of cultural
Andreas Sparre...was probably undressing for the last time...For a
lifetime these coverings of coat and waistcoat and trousers had
It is now Lili who is writing to you. I am sitting up in my bed in a
silk nightdress with lace trimming, curled, powdered, with bangle,
necklace, and rings...
All these authors replicate the stereotypical male account of the
constitution of woman: Dress, makeup, and delicate fainting at the
sight of blood. Each of these adventurers passes directly from one
pole of sexual experience to the other. If there is any intervening
space in the continuum of sexuality, it is invisible. And nobody ever
mentions wringing the turkey's neck.
No wonder feminist theorists have been suspicious. Hell, I'm
How do these accounts converse with the medical/psychological texts?
In a time in which more interactions occur through texts, computer
conferences, and electronic media than by personal contact -- the
close of the mechanical age and the inception of the virtual, in which
multiplicity and prosthetic social communication are common -- and
consequently when individual subjectivity can be constituted through
inscription more often than through personal association, there are
still moments of embodied "natural truth" that cannot be avoided. In
the time period of most of these books the most critical of these
moments was the intake interview at the gender dysphoria clinic, when
the doctors, who were all males, decided whether the person was
eligible for gender reassignment surgery. The origin of the gender
dysphoria clinics is a microcosmic look at the construction of
criteria for gender. The foundational idea for the gender dysphoria
clinics was first, to study an interesting and potentially fundable
human aberration; second, to provide help, as they understood the
term, for a "correctable problem".
Some of the early nonacademic gender dysphoria clinics performed
surgery on demand, which is to say regardless of any judgment on the
part of the clinic staff regarding what came to be called
appropriateness to the gender of choice. When the first academic
gender dysphoria clinics were started on an experimental basis in the
1960s, the medical staff would not perform surgery on demand, because
of the professional risks involved in performing experimental surgery
on "sociopaths". At this time there were no official diagnostic
criteria; "transsexuals" were, ipso facto, whoever signed up for
assistance. Professionally this was a dicey situation. It was
necessary to construct the category "transsexual" along customary and
traditional lines, to construct plausible criteria for acceptance into
a clinic. Professionally speaking, a test or a differential diagnosis
was needed for transsexualism that did not depend on anything as
simple and subjective as feeling that one was in the wrong body. The
test needed to be objective, clinically appropriate, and repeatable.
But even after considerable research, no simple and unambiguous test
for gender dysphoria syndrome could be developed.
The Stanford clinic was in the business of helping people, among its
other agendas, as its members understood the term. Therefore the
final decisions of eligibility for gender reassignment were made by
the staff on the basis of an individual sense of the "appropriateness
of the individual to their gender of choice". The clinic took on the
additional role of "grooming clinic"or "charm school" because,
according to the judgment of the staff, the men who presented as
wanting to be women didn't always "behave like" women. Stanford
recognized that gender roles could be learned [to an extent]. Their
involvement with the grooming clinics was an effort to produce not
simply anatomically legible females, but women...i.e., gendered
females. As Norman Fisk remarked, "I now admit very candidly that...
in the early phases we were avowedly seeking candidates who would have
the best chance for success." In practice this meant that the
candidates for surgery were evaluated on the basis of their
performance in the gender of choice. The criteria constituted a fully
acculturated, consensual definition of gender, and at the site of
their enactment we can locate an actual instance of the apparatus of
production of gender.
This raises several sticky questions, the chief two being: Who is
telling the story for whom, and how do the storytellers differentiate
between the story they tell and the story they hear?
One answer is that they differentiate with great difficulty. The
criteria which the researchers developed and then applied were defined
recursively through a series of interactions with the candidates. The
scenario worked this way: Initially, the only textbook on the subject
of transsexualism was Harry Benjamin's definitive work The Transsexual
Phenomenon . [Note that Benjamin's book actually postdates
I Changed My Sex! by about ten years.] When the first clinics were
constituted, Benjamin's book was the researchers' standard reference.
And when the first transsexuals were evaluated for their suitability
for surgery, their behavior matched up gratifyingly with Benjamin's
criteria. The researchers produced papers which reported on this, and
which were used as bases for funding.
It took a surprisingly long time--several years--for the
researchers to realize that the reason the candidates' behavioral
profiles matched Benjamin's so well was that the candidates, too, had
read Benjamin's book, which was passed from hand to hand within the
transsexual community, and they were only too happy to provide the
behavior that led to acceptance for surgery. This sort of careful
repositioning created interesting problems. Among them was the
determination of the permissible range of expressions of physical
sexuality. This was a large gray area in the candidates'
self-presentations, because Benjamin's subjects did not talk about any
erotic sense of their own bodies. Consequently nobody else who came
to the clinics did either. By textual authority, physical men who
lived as women and who identified themselves as transsexuals, as
opposed to male transvestites for whom erotic penile sensation was
permissible, could not experience penile pleasure. Into the 1980s
there was not a single preoperative male-to-female transsexual for
whom data was available who experienced genital sexual pleasure while
living in the "gender of choice". The prohibition continued
postoperatively in interestingly transmuted form, and remained so
absolute that no postoperative transsexual would admit to experiencing
sexual pleasure through masturbation either. Full membership in the
assigned gender was conferred by orgasm, real or faked, accomplished
through heterosexual penetration. "Wringing the turkey's neck",
the ritual of penile masturbation just before surgery, was the most
secret of secret traditions. To acknowledge so natural a desire would
be to risk "crash landing"; that is, "role inappropriateness" leading
It was necessary to retrench. The two groups, on one hand the
researchers and on the other the transsexuals, were pursuing separate
ends. The researchers wanted to know what this thing they called
gender dysphoria syndrome was. They wanted a taxonomy of symptoms,
criteria for differential diagnosis, procedures for evaluation,
reliable courses of treatment, and thorough followup. The
transsexuals wanted surgery. They had very clear agendas regarding
their relation to the researchers, and considered the doctors'
evaluation criteria merely another obstacle in their path--
something to be overcome. In this they unambiguously expressed
Benjamin's original criterion in its simplest form: The sense of being
in the "wrong" body. This seems a recipe for an uneasy
adversarial relationship, and it was. It continues to be, although
with the passage of time there has been considerable dialogue between
the two camps. Partly this has been made possible by the realization
among the medical and psychological community that the expected
criteria for differential diagnosis did not emerge. Consider this
excerpt from a paper by Marie Mehl, written in 1986:
There is no mental nor psychological test which successfully
differentiates the transsexual from the so-called normal population.
There is no more psychopathology in the transsexual population than in
the population at large, although societal response to the transsexual
does pose some insurmountable problems. The psychodynamic histories
of transsexuals do not yield any consistent differentiation
characteristics from the rest of the population."
These two accounts, Mehl's statement and that of Lothstein, in which
he found transsexuals to be depressed, schizoid, manipulative,
controlling, and paranoid, coexist within a span of less than ten
years. With the achievement of a diagnostic category in 1980--one
which, after years of research, did not involve much more than the
original sense of "being in the wrong body"-- and consequent
acceptance by the body police, i.e., the medical establishment,
clinically "good" histories now exist of transsexuals in areas as
widely dispersed as Australia, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam,
Singapore, China, Malaysia, India, Uganda, Sudan, Tahiti, Chile,
Borneo, Madagascar, and the Aleutians. [This is not a complete
list.] It is a considerable stretch to fit them all into some
plausible theory. Were there undiscovered or untried diagnostic
techniques that would have differentiated transsexuals from the normal
population? Were the criteria wrong, limited, or shortsighted? Did
the realization that criteria weren't emerging just naturally appear
as a result of "scientific progress", or were there other forces at work?
Such a banquet of data creates its own problems. Concomitant with the
dubious achievement of a diagnostic category is the inevitable
blurring of boundaries as a vast heteroglossic account of difference,
heretofore invisible to the "legitimate" professions, suddenly
achieves canonization and simultaneously becomes homogenized to
satisfy the constraints of the category. Suddenly the old morality
tale of the truth of gender, told by a kindly white patriarch in New
York in 1966, becomes pancultural in the 1980s. Emergent
polyvocalities of lived experience, never represented in the discourse
but present at least in potential, disappear; the berdache and the
stripper, the tweedy housewife and the mujerado, the mah'u and the
rock star, are still the same story after all, if we only try hard enough.
4. Whose story is this, anyway?
I wish to point out the broad similarities which this peculiar
juxtaposition suggests to aspects of colonial discourse with which we
may be familiar: The initial fascination with the exotic, extending
to professional investigators; denial of subjectivity and lack of
access to the dominant discourse; followed by a species of
Raising these issues has complicated life in the clinics.
"Making" history, whether autobiographic, academic, or clinical, is
partly a struggle to ground an account in some natural inevitability.
Bodies are screens on which we see projected the momentary settlements
that emerge from ongoing struggles over beliefs and practices within
the academic and medical communities. These struggles play themselves
out in arenas far removed from the body. Each is an attempt to gain a
high ground which is profoundly moral in character, to make an
authoritative and final explanation for the way things are and
consequently for the way they must continue to be. In other words,
each of these accounts is culture speaking with the voice of an
individual. The people who have no voice in this theorizing are the
transsexuals themselves. As with males theorizing about women from
the beginning of time, theorists of gender have seen transsexuals as
possessing something less than agency. As with genetic women,
transsexuals are infantilized, considered too illogical or
irresponsible to achieve true subjectivity, or clinically erased by
diagnostic criteria; or else, as constructed by some radical feminist
theorists, as robots of an insidious and menacing patriarchy, an alien
army designed and constructed to infiltrate, pervert and destroy
"true" women. In this construction as well, the transsexuals have
been resolutely complicit by failing to develop an effective
Here on the gender borders at the close of the twentieth century, with
the faltering of phallocratic hegemony and the bumptious appearance of
heteroglossic origin accounts, we find the epistemologies of white
male medical practice, the rage of radical feminist theories and the
chaos of lived gendered experience meeting on the battlefield of the
transsexual body: a hotly contested site of cultural inscription, a
meaning machine for the production of ideal type. Representation at
its most magical, the transsexual body is perfected memory, inscribed
with the "true" story of Adam and Eve as the ontological account of
irreducible difference, an essential biography which is part of
nature. A story which culture tells itself, the transsexual body is a
tactile politics of reproduction constituted through textual violence.
The clinic is a technology of inscription.
Given this circumstance in which a minority discourse comes to ground
in the physical, a counterdiscourse is critical. But it is difficult
to generate a counterdiscourse if one is programmed to disappear. The
highest purpose of the transsexual is to erase h/erself, to fade into
the "normal"population as soon as possible. Part of this process is
known as constructing a plausible history-- learning to lie
effectively about one's past. What is gained is acceptability in
society. What is lost is the ability to authentically represent the
complexities and ambiguities of lived experience, and thereby is lost
that aspect of "nature" which Donna Haraway theorizes as Coyote--the
Native American spirit animal who represents the power of continual
transformation which is the heart of engaged life. Instead, authentic
experience is replaced by a particular kind of story, one that
supports the old constructed positions. This is expensive, and
profoundly disempowering. Whether desiring to do so or not,
transsexuals do not grow up in the same ways as "GGs", or genetic
"naturals". Transsexuals do not possess the same history as
genetic "naturals", and do not share common oppression prior to gender
reassignment. I am not suggesting a shared discourse. I am
suggesting that in the transsexual's erased history we can find a
story disruptive to the accepted discourses of gender, which
originates from within the gender minority itself and which can make
common cause with other oppositional discourses. But the transsexual
currently occupies a position which is nowhere, which is outside the
binary oppositions of gendered discourse. For a transsexual, as a
transsexual, to generate a true, effective and representational
counterdiscourse is to speak from outside the boundaries of gender,
beyond the constructed oppositional nodes which have been predefined
as the only positions from which discourse is possible. How, then,
can the transsexual speak? If the transsexual were to speak, what
would s/he say?
5. A posttranssexual manifesto
To attempt to occupy a place as speaking subject within the
traditional gender frame is to become complicit in the discourse which
one wishes to deconstruct. Rather, we can sieze upon the textual
violence inscribed in the transsexual body and turn it into a
reconstructive force. Let me suggest a more familiar example. Judith
Butler points out that the lesbian categories of "butch" and "femme"
are not simple assimilations of lesbianism back into the terms of
heterosexuality. Rather, Butler introduces the concept of cultural
intelligibility, and suggests that the contextualized and resignified
"masculinity" of the butch, seen against a culturally intelligible
"female" body, invokes a dissonance that both generates a sexual
tension and constitutes the object of desire. She points out that
this way of thinking about gendered objects of desire admits of much
greater complexity than the example suggests. The lesbian butch or
femme both recall the heterosexual scene but simultaneously displace it.
The idea that butch and femme are "replicas" or "copies" of
heterosexual exchange underestimates the erotic power of their
internal dissonance. In the case of the transsexual, the
varieties of performative gender, seen against a culturally
intelligible gendered body which is itself a medically constituted
textual violence, generate new and unpredictable dissonances which
implicate_ entire spectra of desire. In the transsexual as text we
may find the potential to map the refigured body onto conventional
gender discourse and thereby disrupt it, to take advantage of the
dissonances created by such a juxtaposition to fragment and
reconstitute the elements of gender in new and unexpected geometries.
I suggest we start by taking Raymond's accusation that "transsexuals
divide women" beyond itself, and turn it into a productive force to
multiplicatively divide the old binary discourses of gender--as well
as Raymond's own monistic discourse. To foreground the practices of
inscription and reading which are part of this deliberate invocation
of dissonance, I suggest constituting transsexuals not as a class or
problematic "third gender", but rather as a genre-- a set of
embodied texts whose potential for productive disruption of structured
sexualities and spectra of desire has yet to be explored.
In order to effect this, the genre of visible transsexuals must grow
by recruiting members from the class of invisible ones, from those who
have disappeared into their "plausible histories". The most critical
thing a transsexual can do, the thing that constitutes success, is to
"pass." Passing means to live successfully in the gender of
choice, to be accepted as a "natural" member of that gender. Passing
means the denial of mixture. One and the same with passing is
effacement of the prior gender role, or the construction of a
plausible history. Considering that most transsexuals choose
reassignment in their third or fourth decade, this means erasing a
considerable portion of their personal experience. It is my
contention that this process, in which both the transsexual and the
medicolegal/psychological establishment are complicit, forecloses the
possibility of a life grounded in the intertextual possibilities of
the transsexual body.
To negotiate the troubling and productive multiple permeabilities of
boundary and subject position that intertextuality implies, we must
begin to rearticulate the foundational language by which both
sexuality and transsexuality are described. For example, neither the
investigators nor the transsexuals have taken the step of
problematizing "wrong body" as an adequate descriptive category. In
fact "wrong body" has come, virtually by default, to define the
syndrome. It is quite understandable, I think, that a phrase
whose lexicality suggests the phallocentric, binary character of
gender differentiation should be examined with deepest suspicion. So
long as we, whether academics, clinicians, or transsexuals, ontologize
both sexuality and transsexuality in this way, we have foreclosed the
possibility of analyzing desire and motivational complexity in a
manner which adequately describes the multiple contradictions of
individual lived experience. We need a deeper analytical language for
transsexual theory, one which allows for the sorts of ambiguities and
polyvocalities which have already so productively informed and
enriched feminist theory.
Judith Shapiro points out that "To those...who might be inclined to
diagnose the transsexual's focus on the genitals as obsessive or
fetishistic, the response is that they are, in fact, simply conforming
to their culture's criteria for gender assignment" [emphasis mine].
This statement points to deeper workings, to hidden discourses and
experiential pluralities within the transsexual monolith. They are
not yet clinically or academically visible, and with good reason. For
example, in pursuit of differential diagnosis a question sometimes
asked of a prospective transsexual is "Suppose that you could be a man
[or woman] in every way except for your genitals; would you be
content?" There are several possible answers, but only one is
clinically correct. Small wonder, then, that so much of these
discourses revolves around the phrase "wrong body". Under the binary
phallocratic founding myth by which Western bodies and subjects are
authorized, only one body per gendered subject is "right". All other
bodies are wrong.
As clinicians and transsexuals continue to face off across the
diagnostic battlefield which this scenario suggests, the transsexuals
for whom gender identity is something different from and perhaps
irrelevant to physical genitalia are occulted by those for whom the
power of the medical/psychological establishments, and their ability
to act as gatekeepers for cultural norms, is the final authority for
what counts as a culturally intelligible body. This is a treacherous
area, and were the silenced groups to achieve voice we might well
find, as feminist theorists have claimed, that the identities of
individual, embodied subjects were far less implicated in physical
norms, and far more diversely spread across a rich and complex
structuration of identity and desire, than it is now possible to
express. And yet in even the best of the current debates, the
standard mode is one of relentless totalization. Consider the most
perspicuous example in this paper, Raymond's stunning "All
transsexuals rape women's bodies" [what if she had said, e.g., "all
blacks rape women's bodies"]: For all its egregious and inexcusable
bigotry, the language of her book is only marginally less totalizing
than Gary Kates' "transsexuals... take on an exaggerated and
stereotypical female role", or Ann Bolin's "transsexuals try to forget
their male history". Both Kates' and Bolin's studies are in most
respects excellent work, and were published in the same collection as
an earlier version of this essay; but still there are no subjects
in these discourses, only homogenized, totalized objects--fractally
replicating earlier histories of minority discourses in the large. So
when I speak the forgotten word, it will perhaps wake memories of
other debates. The word is some.
Transsexuals who pass seem able to ignore the fact that by creating
totalized, monistic identities, forgoing physical and subjective
intertextuality, they have foreclosed the possibility of authentic
relationships. Under the principle of passing, denying the
destabilizing power of being "read", relationships begin as lies--and
passing, of course, is not an activity restricted to transsexuals.
This is familiar to the person of color whose skin is light enough to
pass as white, or to the closet gay or lesbian... or to anyone who has
chosen invisibility as an imperfect solution to personal dissonance.
Essentially I am rearticulating one of the arguments for solidarity
which has been developed by gays, lesbians and people of color. The
comparison extends further. To deconstruct the necessity for passing
implies that transsexuals must take responsibility for all of their
history, to begin to rearticulate their lives not as a series of
erasures in the service of a species of feminism conceived from within
a traditional frame, but as a political action begun by
reappropriating difference and reclaiming the power of the refigured
and reinscribed body. The disruptions of the old patterns of desire
that the multiple dissonances of the transsexual body imply produce
not an irreducible alterity but a myriad of alterities, whose
unanticipated juxtapositions hold what Donna Haraway has called the
promises of monsters-- physicalities of constantly shifting figure
and ground that exceed the frame of any possible representation.
The essence of transsexualism is the act of passing. A transsexual
who passes is obeying the Derridean imperative: "Genres are not to be
mixed. I will not mix genres." I could not ask a transsexual for
anything more inconceivable than to forgo passing, to be consciously
"read", to read oneself aloud--and by this troubling and productive
reading, to begin to write oneself into the discourses by which one
has been written--in effect, then, to become a [look out-- dare I
say it again?] posttranssexual. Still, transsexuals know that
silence can be an extremely high price to pay for acceptance. I want
to speak directly to the brothers and sisters who may read/"read" this
and say: I ask all of us to use the strength which brought us through
the effort of restructuring identity, and which has also helped us to
live in silence and denial, for a re-visioning of our lives. I know
you feel that most of the work is behind you and that the price of
invisibility is not great. But, although individual change is the
foundation of all things, it is not the end of all things. Perhaps
it's time to begin laying the groundwork for the next transformation.
In the brief time, or so it seems, since this essay was first written,
the situation both on the street with regard to articulating a
specifically transgendered positionality and within the academy
vis-a-vis theory has deeply changed, and continues to evolve. Whether
the original Empire paper had the privilege of being a fortunately
timed bellwether or whether it successfully evoked the
build-it-and-they-will-come principle is unknown, but the results are
no less gratifying for lack of that knowledge. Transgender (or for
that matter, posttransgender) theory would appear to be successfully
engaging the nascent discourses of Queer Theory in a number of
graceful and mutually productive respects, and this is reason for
guarded celebration. Needless to say, however, beginnings are most
delicate and critical periods in which, while the foundation stones
are still exposed, it is necessary to pay exquisite attention to
detail. For this author, it is a most promising and interesting time
in which to be alive and writing.
This paper is chapter 10 of Transgression: Tales from the Edges of
Identity, in preparation.
Thanks to Gloria Anzaldua, Laura Chernaik, Ramona Fernandez, Thyrza
Goodeve, and John Hartigan for their valuable comments on earlier
drafts of this paper, Judy Van Maasdam and Donald Laub of the Stanford
Gender Dysphoria Program for their uneasy help; Wendy Chapkis;
Nathalie Magnan; the Olivia Records Collective, for whose caring in
difficult times I am deeply grateful; Janice Raymond, for playing Luke
Skywalker to my Darth Vader; Graham Nash and David Crosby; and to
Christy Staats and Brenda Warren for their steadfastness. Especially
I thank Donna Haraway, whose insight and encouragement continue to
inform and illuminate this work.
- Anzaldua, Gloria, 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza.
San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.
- Benjamin, Harry, 1966. The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York: Julian
- Conn, Canary, 1977. Canary: The story of a transsexual. New York: Bantam.
- Derrida, Jacques, 1980. La Loi Du Genre/The Law Of Genre [trans.
- Avital Ronell]. In Glyph 7:176 [French]; 202 [English].
- Docter, Richard F., 1988. Transvestites and Transsexuals: Toward a
theory of cross-gender behavior. New York: Plenum Press.
- Elbe, Lili, 1933. Man Into Woman: An authentic record of a change of
sex. The true story of the miraculous transformation of the Danish
painter, Einar Wegener [Andreas Sparre], edited by Niels Hoyer [pseud.
for Ernst Ludwig Harthern Jacobsen], Translated from the German by
H.J. Stenning, introduction by Norman Haire. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
- Faith, Karlene, forthcoming. If it weren't for the music: a history
of Olivia Records [mss].
- Foucault, Michel, 1980. Herculine Barbin: Being the recently
discovered memoirs of a nineteenth-century hermaphrodite. New York:
- Frazer, Sir James George, 1911. The Golden Bough, a Study in Magic
and Religion. London: Macmillan.
- Gatens, Moira, 1988. A Critique of the Sex-Gender Distinction. In
Allen, J. and P. Patton [eds.]: Interventions After Marx.
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Boston: Beacon Press.
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Reassignment. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
- Grosz, Elizabeth, 1988. Freaks: A paper delivered at the University
of California, Santa Cruz Conference on Women and Philosophy, 1988.
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Politics for Inappropriate/d Others. Forthcoming in Treichler, Paula,
Cary Nelson, and Larry Grossberg [eds.]: Cultural Studies Now and In
1985. A Manifesto For Cyborgs: Science, technology and
socialist feminism in the 1980s, Socialist Review, 80:65-107.
1985. Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of
Eden, New York City, 1908-1936. In Social Text 11:20, Winter 1984-85.
- Hoyer, Niels, 1933. Man Into Woman. [See Elbe, Lili.]
- Irvine, Janice M., 1990. Disorders Of Desire: Sex and gender in
modern American sexology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
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Second Interdisciplinary Symposium on Gender Dysphoria Syndrome.
- Stanford: Division of Reconstructive and Rehabilitation Surgery,
Stanford Medical Center.
- Lothstein, Leslie Martin, 1983. Female-to-Male Transsexualism:
Historical, clinical and theoretical issues. Boston: Routledge and
- Morris, Jan, 1974. Conundrum. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
- Nettick, Geri and Beth Elliot [forthcoming]. The Transsexual Vampire.
In Lonely and a long way from home: The life and strange adventures of
a lesbian transsexual [mss].
- Raymond, Janice, 1979. The Transsexual Empire: The making of the
she-male. Boston: Beacon.
- Riddell, Carol, 1980. Divided Sisterhood: A critical review of Janice
Raymond's The Transsexual Empire. Liverpool: News From Nowhere.
- Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 1988. In Other Worlds: Essays in
cultural politics. New York: Routledge.
- Star, Hedy Jo [Carl Rollins Hammonds], 1955. I Changed My Sex!
- Steiner, Betty [ed.], 1985. Gender Dysphoria Syndrome: Development,
research, management. New York: Plenum Press.
- Stoller, Robert J., 1985. Presentations of Gender. New Haven: Yale
- Stone, Allucqure Rosanne, 1992. Virtual Systems. In ZONE 6:
Fragments for a History of the Human Body, INCORPORATIONS. New York:
1991. Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?: Boundary
Stories About Virtual Cultures. In M. Benedikt, ed.: Cyberspace:
First Steps. New York: MIT.
- Stone, Sandy, forthcoming. In The Belly Of The Goddess: "Women's
Music", Feminist Collectives, and the Cultural Arc of Lesbian
- Walters, William A.W., and Michael W. Ross, 1986. Transsexualism and
Sex Reassignment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
1. Jan Morris, 1974. Conundrum. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich .
2. In Walters, William A.W., and Michael W. Ross, 1986.
"Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment." Oxford: Oxford University
3. This capsule history is related in the introduction to Richard
Docter's "Transvestites and Transsexuals: Toward a theory of
cross-gender behavior", New York: Plenum Press, 1988. It is also
treated by Judith Shapiro, and elsewhere by Janice Irvine (both vide infra).
4. In Mehl's introduction to Betty Steiner [ed.], 1985. "Gender
Dysphoria Syndrome: Development, Research, Management." New York:
5. Walters and Ross, op.cit.
6. From Don Burnard and Michael W. Ross: "Psychosocial Aspects and
Psychological Theory: What Can Psychological Testing Reveal?" In
Walters and Ross [58,2]
7. Walters and Ross [58,3]
8. Walters and Ross [58,3].
9. There is some hope to be taken that Judith Shapiro's work will
supercede Raymond's as such a definitive statement. Shapiro's
accounts seem excellently balanced, and she is aware that there are
more accounts from tra nssexual scholars that have not yet entered the
10. This wonderful phrase is from Donna Haraway's "Teddy Bear
Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden Of Eden, New York City,
1908-1936", in Social Text 11, 11:20.
11. Haraway, op.cit. The anecdotal character of this section is
supported by field notes which have not yet been organized and coded.
A thoroughly definitive and perhaps ethnographic version of this
paper, with appropriate citations of both professionals and their
subjects, awaits research time and funding.
12. The British sexologist, Norman Haine, wrote the introduction,
thus making Hoyer's book a semi-medical contribution.
13. Hedy Jo Star [Carl Rollins Hammonds], 1955. I Changed My Sex!
[From an OTF.] Star's book has disappeared from history, and I have
been unable to find reference to it in any library catalog. Having
held a copy in my hand, I am sorry I didn't hold tighter.
14. There was at least one other book published during this period,
Renee Richards' "Second Serve", which is not treated here.
15. Niels Hoyer was a pseudonym for Ernst Ludwig Harthern Jacobson;
Lili Elbe was the female name chosen by the artist Einar Wegener,
whose given name was Andreas Sparre. This lexical profusion has rich
implications for studies of boundaries of self; see, e.g.,
Allucqure Rosanne Stone, 1992, "Virtual Systems", in ZONE 6:
Incorporations. New York: Urzone (MIT).
16. Hoyer 
17. Hoyer 
18. Morris 
19. In Conundrum, Morris does describe a period in her journey from
masculine to feminine [from a few years before surgery to immediately
afterward] during which her gender was perceived, by herself and
others, as ambiguous. She is quite unambiguous, though, about the
moment of transition from male to female.
20. Gender reassignment is the correct disciplinary term. In current
medical discourse, sex is taken as a natural physical fact and cannot
21. Morris . I was reminded of this account on the eve of my
own surgery. Gee, I thought on that occasion, it would be interesting
to magically become another person in that binary and final way. So I
tried it myself-- going to the mirror and saying _goodbye to the
person I saw there-- and unfortunately it didn't work. A few days
later, when I could next get to the mirror, the person looking back at
me was still me. I still don't understand what I did wrong.
22. Canary Conn, 1977. Canary: The story of a transsexual. New
York: Bantam . Conn had her surgery at the clinic of Jesus Maria
Barbosa in Tijuana. In this excerpt she is speaking to a Mexican
nurse; hence the Mexicano terms.
23. Star, op.cit.
24. I admit to being every bit as astounded as the good Doctor, since
except for Hoyer's account there are no other records of change in
vocal pitch or timbre following administration of hormones or gender
reassignment surgery. If m/f transsexuals do succeed in altering
their vocal characteristics, they do it gradually and with great
difficulty. But there are more than sufficient problems with Lili
Elbe's True Story, not the least of which is the scene in which Elbe
finally "becomes a woman" by virtue of her physician's implanting into
her abdominal cavity a set of human ovaries. The attention given by
the media in the past decade to heart transplants and diseases of the
immune system have made the lay public more aware of the workings of
the human immune response, but even in 1936 Hoyer's account would have
been recognized by the medical community as questionable. Tissue
rejection and the dream of mitigating it were the subjects of
speculation in fiction and science fiction as late as the 1940s; e.g.,
the miracle drug "collodiansy" in H. Beam Piper's One Leg Too Many
25. Hoyer 
26. Hoyer . For an extended discussion of texts that transmute
submission into personal fulfillment cf. Sandy Stone, forthcoming,
"Sweet Surrender: Gender, Spirituality, and the Ecstasy of Subjection;
Pseudo-transsexual fiction in the 1970s".
27. Hoyer 
29. Hoyer 
30. Hoyer . Lili Elbe's sex change took place in 1930. In the
United States today, the juridical view of successful male-to-female
sex change is still based upon lack; e.g., a man is a woman when "the
male generative organs have been totally and irrevocably destroyed".
[From a clinic letter authorizing a name change on a passport, 1980]
31. Hoyer 
32. Hoyer . I call attention in both preceding passages to the
Koine Greek verb endeuein (endeuein), referring to the moment of
baptism, when the one being baptized enters into and is entered by the
Word; endeuein may be translated as "to enter into" but also "to put
on, to insinuate oneself into, like a glove"; viz. "He [sic] who is
baptized into Christ shall have put on Christ". In this intense
homoerotic vein in which both genders are present but collapsed in the
sacrifi[c]ed body cf. such examples as Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's
description of rituals during which the officiating priest puts on the
flayed skin of a young woman [in Frazer [589-91]].
33. The evolution and management of this problem deserves a paper in
itself. It is discussed in capsule form in Donald R. Laub and Patrick
Gandy [eds.], 1973: "Proceedings of the Second Interdisciplinary
Symposium on Gender Dysphoria Syndrome." Stanford: Division of
_Reconstructive and Rehabilitation Surgery, Stanford Medical Center,
and in Janice M. Irvine, 1990: "Disorders Of Desire: Sex and gender in
modern American sexology." Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
34. In Laub and Gandy . Fisk's full remarks provide an excellent
description of the aims and procedures of the Stanford group during
the early years, and the tensions of conflicting agendas and various
attempts at resolution are implicit in his account. For additional
accounts cf. both Irvine and Shapiro, op.cit.
35. Harry Benjamin, 1966. The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York:
Julian Press. The paper which was the foundation for the book was
published as "Transsexualism and Transvestism as Psycho-somatic and
Somato-Psychic Syndromes" in the American Journal of Psychotherapy
[8:219-30 ]. A much earlier paper by D. O. Cauldwell,
"Psychopathia transexualis", in Sexology [16:274-80 ], does not
appear to have had the same effect within the field, although John
Money still pays homage to it by retaining Cauldwell's single-s
spelling of the term. In early documents by other workers one may
sometimes trace the influence of Cauldwell or Benjamin by how the word
36. Laub and Gandy [8, 9 passim.]
37. The problem here is with the ontology of the term "genital", in
particular with regard to its definition for such activities as pre-
and postoperative masturbation. Engenderment ontologizes the erotic
economy of body surface; as Judith Butler points out, engenderment
polices which parts of the body have their erotic components switched
off or on. Conflicts arise when the same parts become multivalent;
e.g., when portions of the [physical male] urethra are used to
construct portions of the [gendered female in the physical male]
neoclitoris. I suggest that we use this vertiginous idea as an
example of ways in which we can refigure multivalence as intervention
into the constitution of binary gendered subject positions; in a
binary erotic economy, "Who" experiences erotic sensation associated
with these areas? [Elsewhere in this volume Judith Shapiro raises a
similar point in her essay "Transsexualism: Reflections on the
Persistence of Gender and the Mutability of Sex". I have chosen a
site geographically quite close to the one she describes, but
hopefully more ambiguous, and therefore more dissonant in these
discourses in which dissonance can be a powerful and productive
38. This act in the borderlands of subject position suggests a
category missing from Marjorie Garber's paper "Spare Parts: The
Surgical Construction of Gender", in Differences [1:137-59 ]; it
is an intervention into the dissymetry between "making a man" and
"making a woman" that Garber describes. To a certain extent it
figures a collapse of those categories within the transsexual
imaginary, although it seems reasonable to conclude that this version
of the coming-of-age story is still largely maleÑthe male doctors
and patients telling each other the stories of what Nature means for
both Man and Woman. Generally female [female-to-male] patients tell
the same stories from the other side.
39. The terms "wringing the turkey's neck" [male masturbation],
"crash landing" [rejection by a clinical program], and "gaff" [an
undergarment used to conceal male genitalia in preoperative m/f
transsexuals], vary slightly in different geographical areas but are
common enough to be recognized across sites.
40. Based upon Norman Fisk's remarks in Laub and Gandy , as well
as my own notes. Part of the difficulty, as I discuss in this paper,
is that the investigators [not to mention the transsexuals] have
failed to problematize the phrase "wrong body" as an adequate
41. In Walters and Ross, op.cit.
42. I use the word "clinical" here and elsewhere while remaining
mindful of the "Phyrric victory" of which Marie Mehl spoke. Now that
transsexualism has the uneasy legitimacy of a diagnostic category in
the DSM, how do we begin the process of getting it out of the book?
43. The actual meaning of "GG", a m/f transsexual slang term, is
"genuine girl [sic]", also called "genny".
44. Judith Butler, 1990. "Gender Trouble". New York: Routledge.
45. The opposite of passing, being read, provocatively invokes the
inscription practices to which I have referred.
46. I am suggesting a starting point, but it is necessary to go much
further. We will have to question not only how body is defined in
these discourses, but to more critically examine who gets to say what
47. In case the reader is unsure, let me supply the clinically
correct answer: "No".
48. It is useful as well as gratifying to note that since the first
version of this essay appeared in 1991, several coalition groups, one
of which is appropriately named Transgendered Nation, have begun
actively working to bring the rich diversity within transgendered
communities to public attention. Their action at the 1993 conference
of the American Psychological Association, which was debating the
appropriateness of continuing to include transsexuality in the next
edition of the official diagnostic manual (DSM), appeared brave and
timely. Of course, several arrests (of transgendered demonstrators,
not psychologists) ensued.
49. These essays appeared in Kristina Straub and Julia Epstein
(eds.), 1991: "Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender
Ambiguity". New York: Routledge.
50. For an elaboration of this concept cf. Donna Haraway, 1990, "The
Promises Of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d
Others", in Paula Treichler, Cary Nelson, and Larry Grossberg [eds.]:
51. Jacques Derrida, 1980. La Loi Du Genre/The Law Of Genre [trans.
Avital Ronell]. In Glyph 7:176 [French] ; 202 [English] .
52. I also call attention to Gloria Anzaldœa's theory of the
Mestiza, an illegible subject living in the borderlands between
cultures, capable of partial speech in each but always only partially
intelligible to each. Working against the grain of this position,
Anzaldœa's "new Mestiza" attempts to overcome illegibility partly
by seizing control of speech and inscription and by writing herself
into the discourse. The stunning "Borderlands" is a case in point;
cf. Gloria Anzaldœa, 1987, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New
Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.
- Version 1.0 written late 1987.
- First presented at "Other Voices, Other Worlds: Questioning Gender and
Ethnicity," Santa Cruz, CA, 1988.
- First published in Kristina Straub and Julia Epstein, eds.:
"Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity" (New York: Routledge 1991).
- Second version, revised and updated, published in "Camera Obscura", Spring 1994.
- Electronic version published on the ACTLab ftp site, January 1994.
- Fourth version, revised and updated, forthcoming.
Department of Radio, Television and Film, the University of Texas at Austin
Copyright (c) 1993 by Sandy Stone. This article may be freely distributed
through the net except as indicated herein, but may not be reproduced in
hardcopy without permission. - The Microsoft Network is specifically
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Appearance on Microsoft Network without permission constitutes agreement
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Sandy Stone : www.sandystone.com
Thanks to Sandy Stone.