The Anne Who Would Be Queen

Appendix 2: Observations from my encounter with Dr. Lawrence

Excerpted from The Anne Who Would Be Queen.

Some background: I began a website on transsexualism in late 1996, mainly to focus my mental energy while I was in transition. I had found it very frustrating to find reliable information since I was 11, when I first saw the word "transsexual" in a book. Before then, I'd heard rumors it was possible, but I'd never seen proof.

When creating the site, I took a pragmatic viewpoint. My years in advertising had trained me to spot consumer fraud, and there was a lot of it targeted at transgender women. While most fraud was devoted to gouging crossdressers and late transitioners with lots of disposable income, I was concerned that the Wild West atmosphere of the internet at the time might lure younger people in our community into wasting a lot of money they could not afford to lose.

Hormones and SRS were already covered quite well online by the crowd who felt those things “made you a woman,” and my own interest was to discuss what I felt was the more important part of transition: being able to function in society and be accepted as female by coworkers, friends, family, and acquaintances.

In 1999, Dr. Lawrence and I discussed collaborating on a book, to the point that we met at Dr. Lawrence's home and split up chapters to write. During a pleasant afternoon talking with someone whom I admire greatly, we discussed a number of interesting topics, the more relevant of which I'll discuss here.

Some of the issues we discussed regarding transsexual sexuality:

1. Madonna/whore dilemma

There's a no-win situation with Dr. Lawrence. If you take issue with the hyper-sexualized worldview, you are depicted as some sort of repressed holier-than-thou prude in denial, but if you make any mention of sexuality, it's all proof that this sexual taxonomy is valid. Typical sexist crap all women have to deal with from patriarchy.

2. Women as passive receptacles

At the time I met with Dr. Lawrence, I was in what I call my "model/stripper phase," where most of the guys I was seeing were chosen primarily for looks. I described to Dr. Lawrence this "guy I was fucking." Dr. Lawrence got all wide-eyed and said "What?" I explained that I thought it might be a generational thing: several women I worked with and partied with in Chicago used the term in that way. Dr. Lawrence still seemed genuinely taken aback that a female would possibly use the active form of the verb "fuck" instead of saying I was being fucked or getting fucked. I realized it was not a generational thing but a matter of sexism. As discussed in the earlier analysis of Taking Portlandia's Hand, Dr. Lawrence sees women as passive recipients of the phallus, and that the "active role" is only allowed for the penetrator.

3. Women in pornography after genital modificaiton

Another thing that surprised me coming from a sexologist was when I mentioned a couple of TG porn stars I know from out here in LA (one had appeared in a commercial shot by my Chicago ad agency, though she didn't make the final cut). This one had produced a couple of pornos featuring Lana Woods, who had undergone sex reassignment. Dr. Lawrence was very surprised that there was postoperative pornography. In fact, one of my own role models (Shannon) did a few pornos after she'd completed surgery as well, where her transsexualism was not played up. A few months after our meeting, I sent Dr. Lawrence my copy of the unfortunately-titled "Dick No More," featuring Lana Woods, telling Dr. Lawrence that I had been glad to see evidence that I could expect postoperative sex to be mechanically equivalent to what non-transsexual women experience. I'm always the little empiricist. As I noted to Dr. Lawrence:

"That tape was a very potent fantasy for me prior to transition, because it embodied the goal I had of sexual relationships with people who didn't know. Perhaps it's more mental than anything, but I've noticed a real difference between sex with someone who knows and one who doesn't, even in the same person after a divulgence."

[What's frustrating for me is that mentioning that I looked to porno chicks and showgirls for inspiration will be taken as evidence that this is about sex, and not that prior to the internet, the only way to find information was to talk to prostitutes or showgirls. I learned names of people through gay newspapers. The first copy of Transgender Tapestry I ever bought was in an adult bookstore on Hubbard Street, near Chicago's Baton nightclub, where I had several talks with performers. From Tapestry's resource listings in the back, I learned the name of my therapist. Before Lynn Conway had pages and pages of transsexual women's successes online, your only hope for seeing one of us onscreen was the occasional talk show or through porn and drag shows. Finding peers before the internet was considerably harder, so much so that it's hard to imagine how far we've come in less than a decade.

Anyway, several porn stars and drag queens gave me hope that the physical aspects would be OK, but it was a professional writer, Melanie Anne Phillips, who gave me my greatest inspiration, by showing that it was possible to do this on the social terms that I wanted, as a woman accepted in mainstream society. Someday I'll write about the drag queens and crossdressers and TGs and transsexuals who helped me along the way, and the debt I feel I owe all of them.]

After I sent this, I thought it might change Dr. Lawrence's thinking about sexuality, but the emailed response I got was all about the appearance of Lana's vagina, and speculation about the surgeon who performed the genital modification.

4. Vagina photos in our book

One thing that Dr. Lawrence kept dwelling on and coming back to as we discussed what to include was an insistence that there be a substantial section in the middle with the highest quality glossy color photos of vaginas. In fact, Dr. Lawrence kept coming back to this so often that I started to get mildly annoyed. I'd mention that I wanted to include information on harm reduction for those seeking silicone injections, and she'd use it as a negotiating point to add more stuff about vagina photos.

Eventually, the theme of vagina stuff got to the point that Dr. Lawrence suggested we go ahead and take the vagina photo of my result as arranged.

This led to an attempted seduction by Dr. Lawrence, which I rebuffed.

Clocked by association

I guess it was a day of uneasy feelings when I think back on it. We went to a Thai restaurant during our afternoon together, and I had that uneasy feeling which many of us get, one which makes us feel terribly guilty. I had the feeling of being clocked by association. In my daily life, I don't get clocked very often. At worst, I get that "gray" paranoid feeling sometimes where I think that someone might be wondering, but I've learned over the years that they frequently are not, and that it's mostly my own irrational paranoia.

This is going to sound like Anne Lawrence's bragging about treatment by doctors, but I was at GLAAD headquarters the other day talking about an upcoming documentary on transsexuals, and I'm talking about transsexualism with this doctor who is a television host. Sitting there with Calpernia, who he knew was transsexual because her fame preceded her, and halfway through what I'm saying about TS stuff, the doctor says, "Wow, I did not know you were transsexual until you started saying 'my community' and things like that." I share that to explain that I don't get clocked very much, which doesn't mean I'm better than anyone else, but I have a pretty high level of "passing privilege."

I have a theory that it's a hallmark of transsexualism to fear being clocked, and a hallmark of other conditions to think you're not being clocked when you are, a sort of delusion. Dr. Lawrence seemed oblivious to stares by the staff while speaking, and luckily, the place was almost empty.

Voice and the illusion of "natural femininity"

Speaking of voice, at some upcoming point, I will be writing a longer piece on Dr. Lawrence's unusually clockable voice and its relationship to Dr. Lawrence's spouse and transition. As one observer said, "It's the sword Dr. Lawrence can't put down."

Anyway, we are riding back to my friends house, and to take my mind off the weirdness, I explained a new voice training technique I'd been working on at the time.

As many of you know, I have been doing a lot of work on voice matters in the ensuing three years, because it's often neglected and poorly understood. I have several theories regarding voice as a marker for different kinds of transgender experiences. For many, it's a vestige of male privilege and a mental block. For some, it's a vestige from coming up through the club scene and a comfort with "gay" inflection. For others, there is an opposite homophobic aspect: they would rather sound like a straight man than attempt a female voice and be taken for a gay man. This surprising bit of news came from one of my clients with a voice similar to Dr. Lawrence's. I believe that the issue of homophobia in a certain subset of late-transitioning transgender women may be part of the reason so many have unconvincing female voices.

Anyway, I was trying to explain, and Dr. Lawrence said that I just had a naturally feminine voice.

I told Dr. Lawrence there was no such thing as "naturally feminine." Femininity is a social construct, and that I can teach anyone with motivation to speak in a female voice. There is nothing more innate about a "female" inflection than there is in a "gay" voice, or a foreign accent. It's all a social convention, learned behavior.

Well, this didn't sit well at all. Dr. Lawrence said some stuff to the contrary, but I don't recall what. I said, listen, and I did my lowest "male" voice. Rather than hear and process what I said, Dr. Lawrence immediately did a Lieutenant Worf impression from Star Trek, demonstrating a low voice, too, and I said you were missing my point. It doesn't matter how low your voice is. You can speak in any range you wish, as long as you have a healthy vocal structure. I tried to do a few exercises, but Dr. Lawrence almost wrecked the car trying to concentrate.

In June 2003, Dr. Lawrence removed all links to my voice program, a testament to how troubling Dr. Lawrence finds my claim that anyone, and I mean anyone, can speak in a female voice if they so desire. It's not a question of someone who can't, it's a question of someone who won't.

Some joke that electrolysis "separates the boys from the girls." I'd argue it's voice, because it's the clearest indicator to me of whether you consider yourself male or not deep down. Show me someone who can't do a female voice, and I'll show you someone who doesn't think of themselves as female. I'd argue it's the difference between someone with a gender identity issue and someone with another motivation for feminization.

My motivation

I hope I've conveyed that I am no prude, that I'm open and honest about my sexuality, and I try not to be judgmental about other people's erotic preferences. At one point, Dr. Lawrence claimed to feel "more like a crossdresser than a transsexual," and I mentioned that I thought it was most useful to think about transition in terms of age at transition, not sex-based motivation, since it seemed to correlate with degree of dysphoria. I also suggested that some of us may have better coping skills based on education, income level, and family support, which allows us to live with dysphoria longer. None of this seemed to sit very well with Dr. Lawrence.

Having discussed all of this sexual stuff candidly, I mentioned that in my own case I felt my motivation was non-sexual, more like "androphobia." The fear of staying in a male role any longer was unbearable, and thoughts of turning 30 as a male was causing panic attacks at the time I started transition.

I said my own feelings seemed similar to friends who dealt with anorexia; less about sex, and more about body image. I also discussed the trauma of adolescence, when I felt a great deal of anxiety about "going the wrong direction" when puberty started.

I had a crisis point in adolescence, as many of us do. I'd played flute since 2nd grade, because I felt it was the prettiest and most feminine musical instrument. I loved sitting in the front row with the other flute and clarinet players. It had progressively gotten to be more and more of a problem for my peers as I got older. I had passed out during a choir concert in 6th grade, which earned me the nickname The Fainting Flautist, and only worsened the ever-increasing ostracism. The next year at a University summer camp for musicians, without any context of friends who'd known me for a long time as a person, my femininity was made painfully clear to me by unending harassment and beatings. I called my parents, tearfully begging them to come get me, but I think they thought I was just homesick. I sat in my dorm room crying and cleaning the dirt out of the scrape on my leg, after a bunch of boys chased me down a hill and knocked me into a ditch. I thought if I smashed my hand with something, or drank the bottle of key oil in my case, I could probably stay in a hospital till my parents came for me. It was the first time in my life I ever thought I should kill myself. I looked out the window, but I didn't think I was far enough up to do the trick.

When I look back, I realize that was the day that I decided to leave the gendered place where I'd lived until then. Something had to give, all of me or part of me.

When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked,
And I'd pick flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do.
And I have lost some kindness, but I was a girl, too.
And you were just like me.
And I was just like you.

-- Dar Williams

We suffer under what I call the Tyranny of the Binary in this society. Gay/straight. Male/female. Good/evil. Homosexual/autogynephilic. They are all false constructs, but they hold great power over the weakest among us.

That Seattle trip marked the end of much of my socializing with the transgender community. I have been much more reclusive until this Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence outrage.

Thus ended two more things Dr. Lawrence tried to be: book collaborator and seducer of yours truly.

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