Monday, July 18, 2011

Genre Guessing

I have always thought of myself as open-minded. I have even walked in Gay Pride parades carrying a "straight not narrow" sign when my gay friends were still in the closet. But I do have to admit that I sometimes confuse the terminology in the gay community. With all the news about Chaz/Chastity Bono it made me what to finally try to get things straight in my head (no pun intended).

The" trans" definitions were the ones to confuse me the most. One website that I read states that people who are transgendered or transsexual are usually someone who was born with male or female anatomies but feel like they have been born in the wrong bodies, i.e. Chaz/Chasity Bono. People who are hermaphrodite or intersexual have anatomy that is not considered typically male or female, they can have both sex organs. While it is true that intersexual individuals may wish to change their gender it is usually because the medical community had chosen the wrong gender in which they should be raised.

There are a couple of award winning fiction novels that might help the ordinary reader explore these feelings of not belonging in your own body. It is also interesting that one novel has the character going from male to female and the other has female to male transition.

The first one I want to discuss is Annabel by Kathleen Winter. I found this one especially striking because it takes place in Labrador. Wayne is born at home with both male and female body parts. While deciding to raise him as a boy, with the doctor’s advice, his mother and neighbour still can’t help thinking about the little girl who may have been. Gender roles are strictly defined both in the small remote village of Croydon Harbour and in Wayne’s father’s mind. Throughout his life Wayne is faced with not belonging, due to his medicine, his love of symmetry and his lack of desire to be "one of the boys". Identity/individualism is hard enough to develop in a larger community but in the rural area secrets are more important to hide and there are no support groups to turn to. How Wayne/Annabel survives is an amazing tale.

Middlesex is Jeffrey Eugenides’ best-selling book and Pulitzer Prize winning novel on this subject matter. Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angles Times and the New York Times Book Review considered this novel one of the best novels of 2002. Callipose Stephanides states " I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petosky, Michigan, in August of 1974.". While it is the tale of a intersexed man it is also a family saga of a Greek immigrants voyage to the U.S. in 1922. You are enchanted by the 80 years of this Greek tragedy, from the 1922 Greco-Turkish War, through prohibition era Detroit and the race riots of the sixties to present day Berlin. Eugenides is an excellent guide through complex story.

Transition : the story of how I became a man by Chaz Bono. Bono has been all over the media promoting his book. There are very few people who are not familiar with his parents Sonny and Cher Bono. Chaz used to make appearances on his parent’s television show when he was still Chastity. I am unsure if it would have been easier or harder on him to transition. While he had the money for the operations and pills he would have been under the watchful eyes of the media.

She’s Not There : a life in two genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. is her journey from James to Jennifer. It is also a love story, how James’ wife learned to live with and love her "sister"Jennifer. What is so striking is how open and honest it is.

Should the reader wish to learn more on this subject theme they might consider reading the following:

Trans People in Love
edited by Tracie O’Keefe and Katrina Fox

Hermaphrodeities: the transgender spirituality workbook
by Raven Kaldera

Between XX and XY: intersexuality and the myth of two sexes

by Gerald N. Callahan

Transgender Child : a handbook for families and professionals
by Stephanie Brill


  1. It's Chaz Bono. Not "Chaz/Chastity Bono". That is horrifically insulting and if you'd done even a lick of research you'd know that. Go back to walking in gay pride parades hoping for cookies and ass pats for being "straight but not narrow" cause you're not getting any from me.

  2. I meant this as a letter, but I'm not finding any contact information outside of the Ask a Librarian link, so I will post this here.
    - - -
    Dear Halifax Reader, Part One:

    Before I begin, I would like to thank you for your efforts in fairly representing the trans and intersex community of Halifax in your post of Monday, July 18th, 2011. Any writing that is done to encourage others to learn about what they may not know about is a positive thing, and I realize that. In your efforts to do so, however, the posted content took several wrong turns and arrived at unfortunate conclusions.

    I don’t often go out of my way to point these things out. The world is, frankly, too full of transphobic, homophobic, ignorant people for me to have the time and energy to educate everyone over everything they say that goes awry. But I like you, Halifax Reader. Halifax is my home and my community, and the reading, writing, and artistic circles within it are one of my greatest treasures.

    I like you enough to try and say this as calmly, and hopefully as inoffensively as possible: that July 18th post should have come from someone else.

    It stinks. Not as much as the harbour on a hot day, because I know your heart was in the right place, but it stinks. The line about walking in Gay Pride parades when your gay friends were in the closet? I’m not sure what that was getting at. Should I be pleased that you can flaunt your privilege, your ability to walk down the street as a straight person, when your friends still could not—or perhaps pleased that you walked when there were people who, if they were gay and marching, had to do so with paper bags on their head?

    It’s nice of you to be willing to admit that, despite your obvious involvement in the gay community and ability to carry a sign down a street the actual people being marched for could not, you are still sometimes “confused” by the trans definitions. Trust me, so are some of us trans people, and some of us can’t even carry signs!

    I can only assume that this confusion you feel ties into the title of the post, “Genre Guessing”. A play on gender bending? The idea that when you have a book that crosses genres, you don’t know what to shelve it under, mirroring the confusion you feel when you see someone you don’t know how to categorize as male, female, genderqueer, or a different title altogether (there are many, you know)? It would be witty if it wasn’t so far from the mark, the point of some of us: that we don’t want to be classified by you, that we don’t need you to shelve us, that we don’t need you to validate us or even want you ‘genre guessing’. If nothing else in this post indicated that the author doesn’t know what they’re writing about, the title alone gave it away.

    You also write that there are a couple of fictional novels that might help the “ordinary” reader explore what transsexual or transgender people feel about their bodies.

    You know what is annoying? Constantly being told I am Other, and abnormal, and not right, because of my gender identity and need to transition. By calling those-who-are-not-trans-and-reading “ordinary” you’ve instantly set up a binary: us and them, me and you, trans readers and ordinary readers, and established that your intended audience is cis (that’s “non-trans”) folk. In other words, you’re writing about trans people, for trans people, but not to trans people… which is unfortunate, especially for Pride week, which is one of the few, very few, times in a year that the LGBT has a space devoted to its voice so that it’s NOT constantly being overwritten by heterosexual, cis people who would speak over and about us without letting us speak for ourselves all too often.

  3. Dear Halifax Reader, Part Two:
    Then there’s your mention of Chaz. Oh, Chaz. Did you know a lot of people in the trans community have a serious issue with Chaz being lifted up as our spokesperson as late? He’s said some completely inaccurate, blundering things in the eyes of some… which is why it might have been a good idea to have someone who is actually trans or intersexed, actually involved, actually lives this every day, to read over this list, incidentally. Maybe you are not recommending things the trans community actually considers informative and good. (Maybe you are; I cannot presume to speak for everyone, just my own experience). Regardless of my opinion of Chaz, Chaz is still Chaz. It’s not “Chaz/ Chastity”. It’s Chaz. If you’ve never experienced being misgendered and someone denying you your name of choice, then I can’t quite describe it to you, but it’s a bit like being punched in the gut from nowhere and you instantly know that the person doesn’t take you seriously as a human being. For future reference… it’s Chaz.

    I’m sorry the “trans” definitions confuse you and laud your attempt to research and clarify something you did not know about, and could not know about firsthand. But there is so much this article gets wrong, from names, to confusing “gay community” with “trans community” (gay and trans do not go hand in hand, one is not the same as the other, some trans people don’t identify as gay or with the gay community, and so on), to the title, that I can’t help but say something.

    I laud your attempts and your intention. But that post? That post was, at the end of the day, someone who is not trans, telling other not-trans people how to understand trans people. What worries me more than the inaccuracies and problems in the post itself are how it might spread the same misinformation. That someone who knows nothing about trans people will read it and see it as correct, when it’s not, which is the core of the problem of speaking about people anywhere.

    It’s Pride Week here in Halifax; can we not be spoken over, at least for today? Can you, next time, at least run it by someone who is a part of the community you are speaking for?

    For future reference, there are some fabulous trans writers out there, too (Middlesex is beautifully written but again, we are back into ‘people writing about intersex/trans people without being one’). Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman are both queer Canadian writers who receive a lot of love in these parts. Hell, a stop over to Venus Envy can net you a goldmine, easily.

    Thank you, and I truly do appreciate the effort,

    A Halifax Reader.

  4. Thanks for your comments on this post: we really appreciate them. We want to give the staff member who wrote the post the chance to respond, but they are off this week. Check back soon.

  5. Thank you for you comments and suggestions If my post offended anyone; that truly was not my intention. While I have lived with or around gays more than half my life, I like many people know little about the trans and intersex community. The feedback from this blog has been an education for me and perhaps others readers.
    I had not heard of Ivan E Coyote or S. Bear Bergman and look forward to looking at one or two of their books. The Halifax Regional Library always welcomes suggestions of materials that readers would enjoy. I must admit that I was hesitate to include Bono in my blog. While I try not to label people the library does have to catalogue its materials. Bono has written two books as Chastity : Family Outings and End of Innocense and one as Chaz : Transitions: The Story of How I Became a Man. Thus my uncertainty on how to include all of his books so that a library patron would be able to find them.

    Once again thank you for your feedback.

  6. Now might be a good point at which to discuss opportunities to promote inclusivity, such as bringing in guest bloggers.

  7. I am a member of the gay community who is also doing their PhD research on the issues of consent and sex reassignment surgery that affect both people who have intersex conditions and people who are transgender. I was the first leader of a health care program in Atlantic Canada sponsored by a health authority for the GLBTI community. I lobbied strongly for the inclusion of the I, as I knew that people were being marginalized because of their gender, and that healthcare services needed to be improved drastically for people who from these communities. I only talk about my experience to start to establish safety and trust and to let you I am only interested in improving healthcare for these communities, and personally understand very well what it is like to be living in a gender identity that doesnt fit what some seem to think are societal norms. I am hoping that you may check out my website and if you know of any Atlantic Canadians that may feel safe enough to share their experiences, I would welcome their contributions.

    I look most forward to hearing from you and if you have any questions please dont hesitate to ask :)