Pink Triangulation

Anne Lawrence, Tammy Bruce, and transsexualism

Editor's note: The model discussed below does not encapsulate my views on this matter by any stretch, but provided an interesting chance to touch on three aspects that show this is larger than a strict "science" debate. I’m not even sure these are the three most important parts of the argument, but merely a way to express an important difference I see between Tammy, Anne and me-- the differences in our motivations and attitudes about what I see as our three distinct, yet simultaneously overlapping conditions.

I have also added a commentary by Dana Beyer, M.D. at the end.

A reader was kind enough to alert me to a new book by some right-wing nutjob named Tammy Bruce. She’s one of these types who has a baseline radical personality, so after becoming dissatisfied with left-wing radicalism, she underwent a radical political transition and has emerged as a radical right-wing darling. Yes, I know I used forms of “radical” four times in that sentence. That's how radical she is.

Anyway, in April 2003 she came out with a silly little book called “The Death of Right and Wrong: How the Left’s Moral Vacuum Corrupts Our Culture and Threatens Our Liberty.” The title reads like a focus-grouped amalgam of right-wing buzzwords.

The only reason I’m bothering to comment on this book (it’s actually a little more laughable than Bailey’s) is because she discusses Anne Lawrence as an example of said moral vacuum corrupting our culture and threatening our liberty. Hmmm.

So here’s the interesting part—Tammy’s rant helps to explain where I agree with her sometimes, with Anne sometimes, and with neither sometimes. Let me explain.

Symbol and symbolism

My title for this essay is based on Anne Lawrence’s logo, which no doubt causes Tammy conniptions.

Anne writes: “In early 1997 I designed the TWR logo: the pink ‘queer’ triangle overlaid by the vulva symbol.”

Tammy would argue that Anne has no right to appropriate either symbol. In her chapter “First the Culture, Then the Children: The Agenda of the Radical Gay Elite,” Tammy notes that “all manner of sexual perversion enjoys the protection and support of what was once a legitimate civil-rights effort by decent people” (p. 90). Here’s the twist: Tammy identifies as lesbian, but the “decent” kind of lesbian.

Tammy is apparently unable to see the moral relativism in her ridiculous claim. Now that she’s got her rights thanks to the hard work of a generation of radicals before her, she draws the line of "morality" on the other side of her own behavior and desires. She would have to be even more stupid than this book makes her out to be not to see the irony in her statements. The accusations she levels at Anne Lawrence were the very accusations leveled at the activists who made it possible for her to enjoy the rights and privileges of being an out lesbian. Her accusations are even more risible because of how shrill she is about it all.

Tammy also has a big problem with the vulva part of Anne’s logo. Typical rants include:

“In my opinion any man who thinks simply having his penis removed, having breast implants, and taking hormones turns him into a woman needs to be in a psychiatrist’s office, not a parade.” (p. 91)

“Would I, as a gay woman, date a man who had his body surgically mutilated so he could pretend he was a woman?” (p. 91)

“Ironically, the idea of becoming a woman through surgery and hormones could only appeal to men who are truly clueless about what it means to be a woman.” (p. 92)

These are certainly not new complaints about transgenderism and transsexualism. It does, however, bring up an interesting point: what is a “woman?” Tammy and I would agree that it’s more than body parts, but what is that elusive quality?

I have always looked at Anne’s logo as very expressive of her views on her condition, in the same way my logo reflects my view of my own condition. My logo suggests that “female” is a direction in which one can travel, an orientation of sorts. Anne seems to believe that “female” is a medical construct, defined as the presence of a vagina. Anne’s focus on hormones and genital surgery suggests that she thinks “female” can be literally embodied by anyone, where I feel “female” is more of a social condition, a journey to another place where you can either be taken as a foreigner or be taken as a native citizen.

For people like Tammy, Anne is worse than a foreigner: she’s like an ugly American standing at the base of the Eiffel tower in a gift shop beret wrapped in a French flag screaming “Yee-haw! Lookit me! I’m French, y’all!” I’m like the assimilated American expatriate living in Paris who is at times dreadfully embarrassed to be considered from the same country as Anne.

Anne is a political nightmare for me on several different levels:

  • A strict medicalized construction of sex and gender
  • Visible gender variance
  • Position of community prominence (following years of outstanding work on behalf of everyone seeking feminization)
  • Paraphilic tendencies

All this embodied in one person makes Anne the perfect human piñata for anyone seeking to deny transsexuals basic human rights and acceptance. They just have to hoist Anne up and start whacking away, as Tammy does. She’s such an easy target even a dullard like Tammy can make her point using Anne as an example.

I find myself working hard to resist the temptation to do the same, and I don’t always succeed. I admire and respect much of what Anne has done for me personally and for so many others, but she is so diametrically opposed to me on several issues that it’s hard for me not to take a whack at her now and then, in hopes of knocking a little sense into her.

She has shown no respect for my opposition to her sexualized taxonomy, and has been dismissive of my other attempts to discuss this matter in private. Despite that I’ll try to keep this public expression of my opposition to gentle taps of the piñata in this next section. I feel our differences are as important as our similarities.

Giving shape to selected differences

I have reappropriated the pink triangle once again to help give a shape to parts of this argument. I haven’t chatted with the other people in this model, and this by no means covers all the problems I have with Anne’s and Tammy’s points of view. Other issues will have to wait.

I'm going to refer to myself by name in the discussion below to make everything clearer here. Don't worry, Andrea doesn't usually do that.

Each corner represents a worldview. Each of us rejects one of these worldviews, but embraces the other two. Wherever two people embrace a worldview, they represent opposing views within that model. To wit:

Tammy and Andrea are both queer assimilationists who see Anne’s worldview as problematic. Anne thinks our assimilationism is regressive and conservative, and rejects it. Tammy and Andrea agree that “female” is a matter of social conditioning and interaction with others in whatever way “female” is defined by society. Although Tammy and Andrea are both assimilationsists, they are on opposite sides of the transsexualism debate.

Tammy and Anne both buy into a scientific model and see Andrea’s worldview as problematic. Andrea thinks their “science” model is a regressive and subjective belief system in which biology = destiny, and she rejects it. Anne and Tammy agree that “transsexual” is a condition that can be expressed scientifically, either through a medical or psychological model. Although Anne and Tammy are both invested in “science,” they are on opposite sides of the transsexualism issue.

Anne and Andrea both buy into a model where transsexualism falls outside of “moral” questions. We see it as neither moral nor immoral. Tammy accuses us of moral relativism and sees us both as degenerate and immoral. Although Anne and Andrea agree about the “morality” issue (or lack thereof), we split over whether “female” and “transsexual” are defined by science or by assimilation (“passing”).

Confused? Don’t worry, it’s all very confusing. That’s why I’m struggling to express the issue in many ways. My hope is that these will help explain why this debate cannot be expressed by incomplete models of “science,” and that any attempt to do so will be an abject failure.

Anne and me

Now that you understand some of the ways in which I agree with Anne’s positions, let’s explore why I feel she and I are very different, and what that might mean within the larger framework.

As an assimilationist, I need my self-identity as female reflected back to me in the mirror of social acceptance from people outside the transgender world, where someone like Anne seems OK with getting it from an actual mirror or from visibly gender variant peers. Anne feels her body parts make her female and that’s good enough for her. I need to have agreement from others in social settings, and my body parts are less important than my interaction with others as female. There is certainly a sexual component, and it has been nice to meet people and have the opportunity for sexual intimacy without necessarily having to divulge my transsexualism. However, my primary interest in sex reassignment surgery was a matter of expediency—it was a way to get more social acceptance as female, because current laws require the procedure in order to change certain documentation. Going full-time was more emotionally satisfying than completing sex reassignment surgery, which was really just icing on the cake in my opinion.

My need for validation from others is evident in my site’s extensive discussion of assimilation and stealth. One of the most telling differences between my web project and Anne’s can be illustrated with one of the most popular pages on my site. After several women wrote to me about problems with having personal information online, I wrote a very detailed article on internet safety and the option of stealth. It is consistently near the top of popular pages on my site. I sent the link to Anne and stressed its importance. Anne wrote back, “I'll have to think a bit about where the netstealth link could go. Any suggestions?”

The fact that Anne had no place on her site for something women like me consider absolutely essential, and to this day has no link to it, is perhaps the best example of the differences in our worldviews. I would argue that “female” as an identity does not exist in a vacuum. Transsexual women as I define them wish to be completely accepted as female, especially in social settings. Not humored or tolerated, but accepted without question or suspicion. People treat you differently whether they know you are transsexual or not, whether you’re in the bank or the bedroom, and it’s the rare person who can know my transsexual status and not respond in a different way to me. To be allowed to live as female has always been my only goal. We are extraordinary women whose greatest desire is to be seen as ordinary women.

A few years ago I was in Seattle visiting a friend and watching her perform at a nightclub. Anne Lawrence showed up, too. Anne and I had time to chat between sets, and I was very glad to have a moment to speak with someone who had such an important influence in my own transition. I still have a great deal of respect for Anne, and I cannot tell you how difficult it is to have to call her out like this in such a public way. It’s a very vexing situation.

Let me just lay it on the table. Anne is very poorly socialized. Her interpersonal style is quite challenging in every sense of the word. As an assimilationist, I am always extremely distressed to be around people who are unable to blend in and follow the rules of conventional society and manners. I am painfully attuned to these things and always have been.

In fact, I am so aware of these rules that I am able to break them in the most egregious ways if I’m so inclined. I play by these rules very carefully, but if the other person is unwilling to play by these rules (like J. Michael Bailey), I will happily toss politeness aside as well and lay into someone in a way that will resonate in their minds till the day they die. If they feel they are not bound to politeness and mutual respect (or “political correctness” as these dullards prefer to call it), I am quite able to take it down to their level of human interaction.

Perhaps this is why I’m so adept at observations of a certain type. People like Anne and Bailey usually try to get into positions of authority, where their inability to be respectfully deferential and politic don’t seem as offensive. As long as people give Anne the deference that reflects her self-identification as a “respected authority,” the power dynamic is fine. When someone possesses something she wishes she had, this dynamic is reversed, and her inability to socialize becomes painfully apparent.

Anne was at times adulatory and at other times bordering on contempt of me as we spoke. At one point, she said, “I was speaking with a transsexual woman the other day who had a wonderful voice, dare I say better than yours.” Anne had already made several similar judgments and pronouncements about me intermingled with gushing compliments, so I said with just a hint of sarcasm, “Wow, I didn’t know it was a contest.” She became immediately aware of her rudeness and started awkwardly backpedaling. I let her off the hook and got back to pleasantries, but it seemed in some weird way to make her even more defensive or full of self-loathing or something.

At one point after the show I was talking to a couple of guys at the bar, and I didn’t notice that Anne was sitting alone at a table against the wall. My friend came over and asked if I’d go talk with Anne because she seemed really down. I sat down across the table from her as she stared into her lap. I asked what was wrong, and she reached out her hand and took mine. She looked at my hand, not into my eyes.

“You make me feel so inadequate.”

The mild annoyance I had been feeling about her social ineptitude melted away, and I sincerely tried to reassure her that she should not feel this way. She did so much to help people, and she was obviously brilliant and hard-working, and she was doing a lot of good. I would say those exact same things today. Anne is probably going to think this and other upcoming essays are attacks on her because of the way she constructs the world, but I am trying to make my point as gently as possible.

In the end, I would side with Anne Lawrence over Tammy and her ilk in most disagreements on sex and gender. Anne and I are both fighting for transgender rights, and I believe that my own fight for rights would be a hollow victory if it didn’t include the most marginalized transgender street prostitute or most visibly gender variant late transitioner. I may be an assimilationist, but I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the radical drag queens at Stonewall, and I will never forget my debt to them or others who still live in the ghettoes of gender. Many of Anne's fights are mine, although our philosophies are frequently diametric.

However, Anne and I are different, and she knows it. She wants to be lumped in with me, but I resist this because there is something that makes her different from transsexual women I know. This is what I feel she refuses to admit, and this is the source of her intellectual dishonesty. To be honest, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems tied up in paraphilia and her projection of her own sexuality on women like me.

I would like to read what Anne meant when she said she felt inadequate around me, because whatever that is will probably give a hint at the distinction in my definition between Anne Lawrence and a transsexual woman.

Commentary by Dana Beyer, M.D.

Editor's note: Let me reiterate that this model does not encapsulate my views on this matter by any stretch, but provided an interesting chance to touch on three aspects that show this is larger than a strict "science" debate. I’m not even sure these are the three most important parts of the argument, but merely a way to express an important difference I see between Tammy, Anne and me-- the differences in our motivations and attitudes about our three distinct conditions. I know women who feel I fall outside their definition of "transsexual," and I find their arguments that I'm not transsexual far more compelling than Anne's argument that she is. Anne has admitted to realizing a distinction between the two of us previously, but not lately in public. When it was revealed, Anne was too emotional for me to press her on the difference she felt between us, but the time has come for Anne to explain herself.

The comments below put this essay back into the larger context, and I am thankful to Dr. Beyer for this clarification.

Personally, I don't believe in any of the constructs which separate mind and body, nature and nurture, gene and environment, essentialism and constructivism, or male and female, for that matter. Each of these constructs is a highly complex whole, with interdependence being as important as the constituent parts. As an example, the common impression, for instance, is that males have only testosterone and females only estrogen. Westerners have a very poor understanding of human sexuality, and that includes out lesbians like Tammy Bruce and physicians like Anne Lawrence.

So I have no problem in accepting gender identity as a concept, in humans as well as animals, and recognizing the scientific value of the recent neuroscientific research which proves (though it would be nice to have more data) that trans women are female rather than male in a certain brain structure organizing gender identity. That anyone who understands this material would, or could, deny it boggles my mind. That's not to say we don't need more studies, and it would be nice to have some in vivo studies as well, but the facts are the facts.

Now Anne and Tammy do not recognize those facts. Tammy probably doesn't even accept evolution, so I wouldn't know where to begin with her, other than to point out that she sounds like a religious fundamentalist and therefore all her comments should be viewed as being processed through that lens. Anne's reluctance, as a physician, surprises me much more, and I can only speculate that the truth threatens to undermine her sense of self-worth, however fragile that may be.

All that being said, one's life experiences, socialization, interactions with others and the general culture, have a profound impact on how that particular gender identity is manifest. That Bailey/Blanchard can so blithely ignore those factors and divide us into two useless categories shocks me. I understand that there are trans women who are more concerned with their gender expression and attribution, such as you, and others who are more focused on physical congruence (or anatomic correctness, as I like to say) between their bodies and mind/brain. While most pursue both, there are some who pursue only one or the other. I would not presume to say they are less "transsexual," nor would I use their choice or mine to construct some sort of etiological hierarchy.

Finally, I can't understand why anyone would take pride in self-labelling as "male sexual pervert," other than "identification with the aggressor/oppressor." Smells like New York Times plagiarist and fabricator Jayson Blair to me, a man so embittered that he feels a sense of brotherhood with Washington DC sniper John Lee Malvo. I don't expect that will win him too many friends, just as I expect Tammy Bruce and Anne Lawrence have both burned their bridges back to the larger communities of which they used to be a part.