Fuzzy Meanings and Transgender Politics

(originally published on http://www.tgforum.com on August 15, 2016)

Chip Morningstar, inventor of the avatar, once said that all technical arguments are ultimately about the meanings of terminology. I think this applies to political arguments too.

Much of the controversy in transgender politics flows from an ambiguity in meaning of the word “transgender,” People become angry, even vicious over misunderstandings of this word.

The definition of transgender has changed multiple times since we started using the word in the 1970s. Right now, there are two widely invoked meanings. 1) a euphemism for transsexual, and 2) an umbrella term for all gender-variant people.

Things were simpler in the old days — the community was roughly divided into transvestites (TV), transsexuals (TS), drag queens (DQ), & FtMs. The term “transgender community” meant “all of the above.” Transsexuals were defined as those who undertook medical treatment and made a permanent switch of public gender identity. (In this article, I will keep using the term TS to designate this narrower class, and use the term GC (or gender community) to designate the umbrella term).

After TV and TS acquired sexual connotations, both groups have tried to rename their categories to something more neutral. Transvestites are now crossdressers, and transsexuals appropriated the word transgender for the same reasons.

So we have a word that changes meaning in context. One meaning describes a subset of the other meaning. People with deep knowledge of our community can usually tell which. It isn’t easy, because some TS people try to exclude the rest of the GC and really want the word transgender to only apply to them.

For the larger world, it is a hotbed of confusion. Two recent examples are the controversy about erotic motivations and the controversy over medical treatment of gender non-conforming children.

Erotic motivations are important for many in the gender community. Female-to-male people are very sexual, as are many drag queens and crossdressers. Some transsexuals are, yet others are not, to the point becoming angry when viewed in the erotic frame. Using the umbrella term when talking about sexuality blunders into this mine field. So does using the word transsexual, for the same reasons.

With children, the problem is that many of the younger children who express an interest in becoming the opposite sex do not go on to becoming TS. They become gay or lesbian, or a crossdresser, or leave things as they are. You want them to sort things out before making permanent changes.

If a child is TS (meaning destined to medically and socially transition), then having to wait is just more torture. The devil lies in figuring out which ones are TS.

If you claim a child that is transgender (using the TS meaning) in conversation with someone who thinks the word transgender means the broader gender community, it sounds like you are recommending something dangerous without thinking it through.

Some activists attack the “80% desistance rate” claim arguing that the studies used a looser inclusion criteria. Obviously a scheme that reliably determines which children will become TS should have a 0% desistance rate. While this may be possible with the “gender affirming” treatments now in fashion, it is too early to know for sure. Until then, the war will wage.


A Visit to a Trans Sex Party

(originally published in TGForum on September 12, 2016)

Word was that another transgender sex party would happen on Saturday. It had been a few months since the last one. I checked the fetlife.com website, read the invitation and sent a message to the organizer who then gave me the address.

The address was for an industrial building in the East Bay. I arrived around 7 p.m. and opened the door with two pink balloons on it.

There were big loudspeakers along one wall. The music is a combination of hip-hop and ‘pole dancing’ beats.

The dimly lit stage was about 20’ x 30’ and was covered with mattresses, futons, and people upon. I went to the opposite side where there were chairs and a curtain. I took off my pants and top, revealing a slip mini-dress with panties and thigh-high ‘stay-up’ nylons and looked over the crowd.

Many of the faces are familiar. I have been to sex parties before and there are many regulars. One stunning trans lady, then unknown, introduced herself and her friends. Others were new, around 50 men, women, and trans women of all ages and sizes. This party welcomes the “trans attracted” as well as the trans (others are more restricted).

A man is kneeling, going down on a trans girl with short femme hair, a ruffled bikini top, and nothing else. A black guy, endowed and naked scans the crowd. A lovely trans-girl was dressed in a stylized maid’s uniform. More oral and intercourse is happening on stage. A group of trans-women are pleasuring each other. The edge of the stage has piles of (mandatory) condoms, lube, towels, and a box of under-used whips and paddles — “dungeon furniture” being notably absent.

A man asks if it is okay to touch me and I let him feel me up for awhile. Later a friend tickles my fancy while we talk about model trains.

Most of the people are not doing anything particularly sexual — they hang out talking. There is a table with food mostly eaten and a few wine containers mostly empty. There is a long bathroom line and a smoking area outside.

After more friends come and go, I wander home, happy that there are so many trans girls that celebrate their sexuality.

Transgender sex parties happen all over the world. London has one (or more) each week. You find out about them by word-of-mouth or by looking on a fetish Internet site, as I did. You usually have to convince the organizer that you know the basics of sex party etiquette, which comes down to “ask first” and “take no thank you for an answer.” Most cities have a BDSM society, like the Society of Janus in San Francisco, which offer orientations. BDSM societies usually have a sub-group of sexually active trans people who can clue you in.