A few things that I learned studying transsexuals
- Next in a series)
- My senior thesis was about gay male-to-female transsexuals
(that is, biological males who live as females and are sexually
attracted to men.) My professor was an evolutionary psychologist
who studied homosexuality. He had done a large study about the
mating strategy of gay vs. straight males vs. gay vs. straight
females. He had found that gay and straight men were indistinguishable-
they were both more interested in more numerous, younger, more
attractive partners, regardless of their social status. Gay and
straight women were more interested in a monogamous relationship
with a partner with higher social status. They were less interested
in having a younger, physically attractive partner, and were
much less interested in pornography than men.
- We were curious to see how transsexuals would respond to
this study. Transsexuals are the most feminine men in the world.
They frequently describe themselves as having a womans
brain in a mans body, and often undergo tremendous sacrifices
to make their body match their self-image. Before gender-reassignment
surgery was possible, transsexuals would occasionally risk death
by taking a DIY approach, a la Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
We were interested to see, on this measure of mating strategy,
would they react more like men or more like women?
- Read on to find out, true believer.
- 1. The difference between straight and gay transsexuals is
a matter of night and day. Theyre entirely different species.
Straight cross-dressers are most often married men who discover
a fetish for women's clothing as adults. Most cross-dress entirely
in private, or conceal women's underwear under men's clothing.
When they dress up and go out in public, their clothing tend
to emulate women like Barbara Bush- conservative dresses, pearls,
old-fashioned wigs or hairdos. Straight transsexuals tend to
go through a long period of escalating fetishistic cross-dressing.
If they take hormones, they tend to start them as full adults,
so the hormones aren't as effective as they could be in changing
their appearance or voice. They are not likely to fool an onlooker.
Straight transsexuals think of themselves as lesbians, and transvestites
often have fantasies that they and their wives are lesbians.
- Gay cross-dressers or transsexuals are not fetishistic about
women's clothing, and would not be likely to wear women's underwear
under men's clothing; they wouldn't see the point. Gay transsexuals
tend to realize that they feel like women in their teens. They
are more likely to start hormone therapy in early adulthood,
leading to a much more feminine appearance and voice. They are
more likely to wear cocktail dresses and short or slit skirts
and act in a flamboyant, even cartoonish version of femininity.
- I don't want to overgeneralize about groups of highly disparate
people; there are individuals who confound many of these individual
points. But there's no arguing that straight and gay transsexuals
have very little to do with each other. They look different,
act differently, and dress as women for entirely different reasons.
- 2. Gay transsexuals are extremely hard to find. The only
way that we were able to recruit was by going to gay bars and
drag shows and asking individuals directly to participate. We
tried ads in the gay press, fliers at electrolysis shops, and
attending a meeting of the Chicago Gender Society. We got a fair
number of responses, but they were all from straight transvestites
and transsexuals. The Chicago Gender Society had exactly one
gay member, and he was highly ambivalent about the group.
- 3. I think that stories about transsexuals picking up unsuspecting
straight guys and surprising them when they get home are urban
legends. The people that I interviewed honestly answered some
very personal questions, and every one of them denied that they
would ever do something like that. There was widespread agreement
that a stunt like that could get them killed.
- 3a. I also have to say that gay transsexuals do not exactly
lack for partners. A few of the people that I interviewed brought
in a fair amount of money as prostitutes. If I had continued
on in academia, I would have loved to interview some of the guys
who are into transsexuals, because I don't understand them at
- 4. It usually wasn't hard to tell transsexuals from biological
women- the illusion was rarely flawless, and biological women
don't often wear hyper-sexy dresses to gay bars. Nonetheless,
it did happen. When I accidentally asked women in a gay bar if
she was a cross-dressed man, I would have thought that they would
get very upset. But they never did. Thank you for your understanding,
women in gay bars!
- 5. People often ask if I got hit on a lot when I went to
gay bars. The answer is no. In a year of frequent attendance,
I never got hit on, not once. Either I'm horribly unattractive
to gay guys, or I project a blinding aura of heterosexuality
near which gay men fear to tread. I remember going to a Hispanic
drag club with a bisexual translator. He was propositioned within
30 seconds. Frankly, I was a little hurt. (In my defense, my
mom says I'm handsome, and she has never lied about anything.)
- 6. Quite a few little boys like to dress up as women as they're
growing up. Very, very few of them grow up as transsexuals. (More
than a few grow up to be gay men, but you never can tell.)
- 7. Most transsexuals do not get gender-reassignment surgery.
It's extremely expensive and produces genitals that many find
highly unsatisfactory. I was surprised to find out that transsexuals
who have had the surgery are no longer eligible for competition
in drag shows.
- 8. Small drag shows can actually be a lot of fun, if they
have a witty emcee and the performers sing live. But I didn't
have any fun at professional cabarets aimed at a straight audience
like The Baton in Chicago. The performers are often stunning,
but all they do is lip synch.
- 9. At the same time, there's an element of superficiality
in drag competitions that I found somewhat dispiriting. In the
end, they're no better or worse than other beauty pageants, but
I remember some of the rhetoric about the "accomplishments"
of the performers as being way, way over the top. Transsexual
triumphalism, if you will.
- In the end, we found that transsexuals, the most feminine
men on Earth, had scores that were indistinguishable from straight
or gay men. We couldn't support the thesis that transsexuals
are women in men's bodies."
- (edited slightly, as per comments)
- - Ted Barlow, 3:00 PM