Not a Lesbian Anymore

I came out in 1984ish at 25, a little later than some, sooner than many. I’ve lived as a lesbian since then, an identity that I valued, and a community I’ve enjoyed.

Being a lesbian has been a safe haven for me – I’ve been able to be gender non-conforming in ways that are not only tolerated, but celebrated. I’ve watched the community grow and change, and in many ways, assimilate into society, while still maintaining some sense of identity as a community.

But as I transition to male, I kick myself out of that community, which seems both appropriate and unfortunate. Yes, it means I become part of the trans community, part of the larger LGBTQQIAA umbrella. And frankly, the “T” has been in a somewhat uneasy alliance withe the “L” and “G” (as has the “B” and the “I”, and both “A”s – frankly all of the letters can be a little uneasy together.)

I’ll miss being a lesbian, frankly, just as there are a few ways that I’ll miss being a woman. I want to find a way to embrace what’s been great for me from that experience as I move into this new phase of my life.


Big Decisions

This has been a very interesting step-by-step process, in a way, but it all sort of came to a head a few days ago, and I think I’m finally caught up with myself.

That is, I’ve made the decision to partake of most of the menu I mentioned. I had a date for top surgery for a few weeks now (Feb 6th.) And now, after a lot of consideration and spiritual exploration, I’ve decided to do testosterone,  socially transition, and change my legal name and gender markers.

Some people I know aren’t surprised, but somehow, it surprises me. I’m not quite yet used to it.

But it feels totally right – and also fucking scary. The fear isn’t a surprise, really – but it’s something I know I need to companion as I move through this process.

It’s funny – I had another one of those experiences where some guy called me “sir” and then saw me more fully and felt bad – and I almost said “no, you’re right,” but I said what I usually say, which is, “no worries.”


What I Have to Say Today

I’ve been triggered, greatly, by the events of the last two days. Not because I didn’t expect it. Not because #ThisIsNotUs. But because I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t really want to believe that it would. I’m not including any pictures on purpose – I’ve been way too triggered by them, and I don’t want to make it worse for anyone else.

I am really a Gen Xer, even though supposedly demographically, being born late in 1959, I’m a boomer. But I say that because the country I grew up in was different than the one boomers grew up in. I was barely 4 when the Birmingham church was bombed. I was still very young when the schools in the south were desegregated. Because of the class I grew up in, I grew up in a world of opportunity, even as I could see that it wasn’t one that all black people shared.

I’ve been a student of history for the past 20 years or so – intrigued by the past, and the ways the events of the past not only have echoes now, but actually create what we are looking at right now.

I’m not sure the Civil War ever really ended. I think perhaps we’ve been fighting a cold civil war since 1865. There have been great strides since then, as the quality of my black, queer, genderqueer life attests to. That said, there is a relatively small but significant number of people in this country that would happily return us to a time when blacks (and all POC) are subservient, women are in the kitchen, and queer people are shot on sight. And there is a much, much larger number of people who might not say they want this, but frankly wouldn’t mind so much. Those are the people who voted for Trump.

There’s been all sorts of strum and drang from the GOP about what happened in Charlottesville. But what you’re not hearing is them repudiating 40 years of stoking the flames. My bet is, that if Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was never started, first, the GOP would no longer exist, and second, we wouldn’t be dealing with a strong white supremacist movement. Stoking the flames of white resentment was the survival strategy of the GOP, once the Democratic party became progressive around race.  This is the continued survival strategy of the GOP. They can’t win without racist gerrymandering, racist voter suppression, and turning out their base with either “dog whistles” or outright racist rhetoric. They can’t repudiate their survival strategy and keep going as a party, and they fucking know it.

And on the progressive stance on the 2016 elections, I’m sorry, but right now I have to say that some of us told you so: Clinton and Trump were not just as bad. Trump is a white supremacist, ran with clearly white supremacist rhetoric, has white supremacists on his staff, and covers for white supremacists. This is only the beginning. With a DOJ run by a neo-confederate, which will happily stand by idly while other neo-confederates kill people (and make themselves busy investigating “discrimination” against whites), local police, many of whom have plenty of these people in their ranks, “leave the area” when neo-confederates stage rallies, and the fact that these people are the most well-armed private citizens in the United States, this is only going to get worse. I just hope we can make it through the next 41 months.



The Menu

Not so long ago, if you considered yourself trans, there was a transition process you were basically had to go through: first therapy, then hormones, then surgery, and somewhere in there  legal process of changing names, gender, etc.

Now, it’s more like a menu. You can pick and choose what you might want to do. Some do surgery only, some do just hormones, some do the entire package.

So far, I’ve only chosen one item on the menu: top surgery. I don’t know whether I’ll choose other items on the menu – I don’t know whether I’ll take testosterone yet. I don’t know whether I want to change my legal name and/or gender. I’m just not sure.  I’m taking it one step at a time – letting it all sink in, because each menu item has it’s own set of ramifications for my life.

And that feels OK, mostly, but here’s what Maxwell has to say:

I’m impatient. I’ve been in the background for years, and I want to be front and center. I want to learn what kind of man I might become. I want to experience the world from male eyes.

Sometimes, it feels like I have a bit of a split personality.  And that’s OK – I’m learning to live with that.


The Gym

At varied times in my life, I’ve been a gym rat. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights – I would say it’s my favorite exercise. I spent a number of years away from the gym, but I’m back now. I don’t just lift weights – one of the other things I happen to enjoy is aquaerobics.

One of the things I’m doing as I go through this process is notice things.  I’m noticing what’s out there, what people say and do, and what my internal responses are.

First, of course, there is the locker room. Every time I go to the locker room now, I’m so aware of the fact that it doesn’t feel totally right (it never has.) And after I get top surgery (even if I don’t take T), it’s going to feel even less right.

Then there’s the aquaerobics group. 95% of the time, it’s all women. That was true today.  Every once in a while, one (other?) guy joins. As we were doing our thing in the pool, someone said something I didn’t catch (I’m thinking it was slightly salacious) and another person said, “we’re all girls here.”  And all I could think of was “no, actually, we’re not.”

One of the things that I’ve always hated is being called one of the “ladies” or “ma’am.” Ugh. I hate that. I’ve never, ever been a lady, and I never will be. Some aspects of my being are female, although I’d not say they were “feminine.” No part of me is “lady-like.”

The locker room, and public bathrooms that aren’t gender neutral are going to be a challenge for me, especially if I stay in a sort of in-between state after top surgery.

I remember starkly one day I was in an airport, in line in the women’s bathroom, and I heard someone behind me loudly talking about how there was a man in line, and why was there a man in line. It didn’t occur to me for a while that she was talking about me – but she was.  (I’m tall, have a short afro, and wear men’s clothes – I don’t fault her.)  Then, I turned around fully, and she looked at me sheepishly (I have large, visible breasts.) But once I don’t have those anymore, what will I do? I don’t have an answer for that yet, except if I do choose the men’s room, at least I will never have to wait.



Coming Out As Trans

I’m still not sure I identify as “trans”, although I’ve slowly but surely begun to realize that perhaps I’ve been avoiding that identity because it scares me. I’ve identified as genderqueer pretty much the moment I heard that term, in the mid-late 90s. Before people began to talk about gender fluidity and multiple gender identities, I didn’t really have language to talk about what was going on inside of myself.

As I said before, I don’t have the narrative of “a man trapped in a woman’s body.” I’ve never quite felt that, even as I’ve felt, for a very long time (as long as I can remember) a boy, and then a man, somewhere buried inside there.

I have had gender dysphoria for as long as I can remember. In all of my years of working on getting to be friends with my body, the dysphoria has only gotten worse, not better.

And fully accepting my dysphoria is what has allowed me to come to the place of wanting to do something about it – wanting to present differently in the world. And presenting differently to the world, in this world, at this time, means, basically, that I am trans.

And perhaps that’s the problem. That’s the rub. Because our society is so divided by gender, I can’t just choose to present another part of myself that’s so present for me without changing my relationship with the world.

I’m getting used to that – used to this idea if I want Maxwell to have his time in this world, the world will not see him in the same way as it sees Pearl (not my real given first name). Max can’t live in exactly the same way as Pearl has lived in the world. The same spaces will not feel safe to Max as they did to Pearl . And, more importantly, in many ways, Max will not feel as safe to some people as Pearl does.




Top Surgery

On Friday, I’m going to see a surgeon. I’m one of the lucky ones, living in California. My insurance will pay entirely for gender surgery. A few weeks ago (was it only that long ago?) I called Kaiser, that has a specialized transgender clinic in the East Bay. I spent a very nice time with a mental health specialist, who was I guess going through the varied things needed to make sure that I was OK for starting this process.

I’m excited and petrified. Going to doctors isn’t really all that fun for me (I don’t know that it is for most people.) But I have a fairly long history with them, having had a number of medical ailments in my life. I’ve had mostly great doctors, and a few horrible doctors, and some in between.

But there is something really vulnerable about going to a surgeon (a *plastic* surgeon at that) about this thing that has been so tender for me for a long time.

I’ve never liked my breasts, since the beginning moment they began to grow. I started puberty really late (more on that later) and it happened fast. One minute, I had a body that I liked enough. The next minute (or so it seemed), I had a body I hated. I have gotten much, much better at loving this body, but knowing that I can get rid of my breasts is a relief. I know for many of you that might seem harsh. If you love your breasts, I’m happy for you. If you don’t have any, but want some, I can’t really understand, but I can hold a space for that for you. But the idea of not having them feels so freeing.

Right now, this feels like it’s the right step for me to take. Are there other steps? I don’t know yet. Possibly, probably, maybe, who knows. One halting step at a time.



I have to start somewhere – although I don’t really know where. Do I start at the point where I hated wearing girl’s clothes when I was a kid? Do I start with the running battles I had with my mother about what I was going to wear? I’m wanting to lay it all out – explain it all, even though at some point it’s unexplainable.

First, I’ll give you a little background to get you oriented. I’m 57 (I’ll be 58 in about a week.) I’ve lived for 35 of those years as a lesbian, and lived what I might say was “to be determined” before that. I never considered myself straight, really. I grew up in a different age. Straight was the default, you didn’t think about it much, until you had to.

Gender has always been complex for me – ever since the beginning, but it has gotten more and more complex as I’ve gotten older. No, let me revise that. I have gotten clearer and clearer about the complexities of gender inside of me. I’ve never had the narrative that I was a “man stuck in a woman’s body.” That said, there is a man in my body, and has been since the beginning. He’s not alone in there, but he’s there. And he’s been in the background of my life for a long time.

And not. I’ve dressed in men’s clothing (including underwear) since I could buy my own clothes. I haven’t bought an item of women’s clothing in over 30 years. There are other ways that I express male gender, and I’ll dive into that later.

This blog is meant to be a chronicle of a big change I’m going through. After living as a woman for my entire adult life, I’m considering living as a man. It’s a scary process, as well as a damned exciting one.

Where am I now? In some ways, I’m at the very beginning. In other ways, I’m toward the end of a lifetime arc. And I’ll be here, writing about it.

For now, this is anonymous. The name of this blog, Maxwell Pearl, is the name I’ve chosen for myself as a man. I don’t know that I’ll legally change my name, but if I do, that’s the name I’ve chosen. Maxwell B. Pearl, to be exact. The ‘B’ is still to be determined.

So if you happen across this blog, who I am besides a 50-something-person, and a few other details I’ve shared, will be a mystery.  I want to have a chance to write about this publicly, but not personally. When I’m ready, I will attach this blog to my own online presence.

If you know me, and are here because I’ve pointed you here, feel totally free to share this with others if you are so moved, but please don’t tell anyone who I am. I appreciate the space and time to talk about this process without it being connected to me.

[UPDATE: As I have now come out as Trans, this is totally public. Feel free to share it with attribution.]

I’ll probably be weaving between the past and the present, and perhaps the future. I don’t know how this is going to unfold, in the same way as I don’t know how my own process is going to unfold.


You’re Not Off The Hook Just Because You Don’t Have Privilege

Preface: This is only about interactions and conversations with people who are active, committed allies. This is NOT about conversations with anyone in the alt-right, or your sexist, homophobic uncle.

I see this dynamic play out over, and over, and I realized I really needed to write something about it.

The dynamic is this: someone with privilege (race, gender, class, cis, sexuality, ability, etc.) says or does something. Perhaps it’s an unconscious mistake, or perhaps not. What happens next is that the person without privilege gets triggered. And then they speak about what that privileged person just said, which then triggers the person with privilege, because, of course it does.

And with both people speaking while they are triggered, they continue to injure each other, and probably themselves, too. The person without privilege gets more jaded, and the person with privilege gets more wounded, feels more shame, and nothing changes. They each bring this same dynamic into other places and spaces, and… no wonder everyone feels like shit about the whole thing.

What’s most important for both sides of this equation is learning to get untriggered before you speak. It’s just as important for the person without privilege as it is for the person with.

Why is this? This is not about what’s right, or what’s polite, or whatever. This isn’t tone policing. This is about what’s effective, knowing what we know about the brain. One of the things we know about the brain is that when we get triggered – we’re in fight or flight mode. Our amygdalas are active. And what do they do? They actively hijack traffic from your pre-frontal cortex – that’s your wise, thinking brain. The amygdala does that because it’s not evolutionarily advantageous for us to be thinking when we’re in mortal danger.  But it gets us in all sorts of trouble because in this modern world, we’re not all that often in mortal danger. And you might think you’re being brilliant in your riposte to what you are sure was the racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/classist comment someone made, but you’re not. You are actually not using your wise, thinking mind. Which means that whatever you think happened isn’t necessarily what happened, and what you say isn’t going to be effective. And how a conversation like that unfolds is never going to result in the outcome you’re looking for.

Why is it that what you think happened isn’t necessarily what actually happened? First off, as I said, when you got triggered, your brain turned off your wise mind – so you can’t effectively evaluate what was said or done in that state. Second, our brains are masters at filling in blanks – it’s really an important tool, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, the way our brains fill in blanks is actually quite often wrong.

Anyway, if you keep doing this, it’s going to keep being the same thing, over and over. We can’t move forward with our amygdalas. That’s part of why we’re in the mess we’re in. Those of us without privilege don’t get off the hook, sadly. We still have to do our own work to do, too.


I Read Tuvel’s Article, So You Don’t Have To.

There has been quite the uproar about an article in the journal Hypatia on “transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel. It’s creating a real controversy in feminist academia and philosophy.

So first off, I’m not a philosopher. I took one philosophy course in college. I did teach feminist studies of varied sorts in my academic career, so I guess I have a few creds, but really,  one could say I’m not all that equipped to critique an article written by a philosopher in a peer-reviewed journal. Except I am. It’s hard to believe this article actually got published.

An amazing quote I got from an article written by Kelly Oliver, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt is this:

As one academic wrote to me in a private message, “sorry I’m not saying this publicly (I have no interest in battling the mean girls on Facebook) but fwiw it’s totally obvious to me that you haven’t been committing acts of violence against marginalized scholars.” Later, this same scholar wrote, again in private, saying Tuvel’s article is “a tight piece of philosophy” that makes clear that the position that “transgender is totally legit, [and] transracial is not—can only be justified using convoluted essentialist metaphysics.

And given that quote, I just had to write this post. If this is a “tight piece of philosophy”, I’ll eat my hat.

Let’s get one thing done first. The whole premise of this article is to debunk varied arguments that suggest that you can change gender, but you can’t change your race. And I have absolutely nothing against talking about, and thinking about what that means – what it means to decide you are of a different race than you’ve grown up with and society perceives that you are. And because both gender and race are social constructs, and do often define one’s position in the social hierarchy, it might be easy to think they are, in some ways, similar, so I can see that one might be tempted to argue that being transracial = being transgender.  (Insert sound of squealing brakes.)

Part of the uproar about the critiques of this article is that those critiques have called the article “epistemic violence,” and defenders of Tuvel are outraged by the use of that term. What is “epistemic violence”? Epistemic violence is a term I hadn’t known about, so I googled around. It’s a term by Foucault (of course.) Here’s a quote from Wikipedia from their article on post-colonialism:

Spivak developed and applied Foucault’s term epistemic violence to describe the destruction of non–Western ways of perceiving the world, and the resultant dominance of the Western ways of perceiving the world. Conceptually, epistemic violence specifically relates to women, whereby the “Subaltern [woman] must always be caught in translation, never [allowed to be] truly expressing herself”, because the colonial power’s destruction of her culture pushed to the social margins her non–Western ways of perceiving, understanding, and knowing the world.

At first, before I researched this, I thought that the idea that Tuvel’s article is “violence” was hyperbolic. But, actually, in reading a bunch of things, based on my reading of Tuvel’s article, I actually have to agree with this. Tuvel’s article does indeed meet the standard of the term epistemic violence as applied by Spivak and others. I do think that the term includes the word “violence” is not great, because using it amps up the controversy in a way that’s unfortunate. But I do think the article fits that definition.

So why is this article epistemic violence? Or to rephrase, using some of the language in the quote above, how does it destroy black and transgender ways of perceiving the world?

The first way that it does that is by basing the entire argument on the foundation of two particular lives and experiences, neither of which is representative. That is, Rachel Dolezal is no more a representative of transracialism than Caitlyn Jenner is representative of transgender lives. Tuvel spends a bit of time not prosecuting Dolezal’s case, but her concern is “more with the arguments for and against transracialism.” OK, if your arguments are for and against transracialism you have to spend some time defining what you are actually talking about, and not leaning too hard on the example of one particular person, with some very serious personal issues.

Tuvel says:

Is it even possible to feel like a member of another race similar to the way one can feel like a member of another sex? I do not know whether it is possible to feel like you belong to a different race. Indeed Dolezal’s claim that she saw herself as black as a child and drew self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon do strike me as decidedly odd. But I cannot say whether they seem odd because they are false, or because we are not routinely confronted with such claims. Indeed, I imagine it was once just as odd to hear people say they felt like they belonged to a sex other than the one they were assigned to at birth.

In any case, it’s not clear how one can affirm that it is possible to feel like the member of another sex, but deny it is possible to feel like a member of another race. How can one hold such a position?

Oy. This is a philosophy article? In a peer-reviewed journal? To first, reduce the transgender experience to “feeling like the member of another sex” is problematic (at best, at worst, it’s epistemic violence.) Second, to equate transracialism with the experience of Rachel Dolezal erases years of history of *actual* transracialism – that is, the experience of people of color who can pass as white.

She then goes on to talk about “identity categories” and what might appear “to limit to the status quo the possibilities for changing one’s membership in an identity category.” But she doesn’t talk about he pivotal difference between race and gender, which is the ways in which our brains process appearance, and the what that means in terms of the social situation of people who wish to change identity categories.

There’s a great article about the neuroscience of prejudice. Our brains process who is “us” and who is “them” before we can make a conscious thought. It also processes information about gender quickly, but that’s based largely on changeable characteristics. That is, it is very possible to change your appearance so that most (or all) people will read you as the gender you want them to read you as, but that is virtually impossible for with race, unless you are multi-racial and can pass as white.

Ijeoma Oluo interviewed Rachel Dolezal recently:

I‘m sitting across from Rachel Dolezal, and she looks… white. Not a little white, not racially ambiguous. Dolezal looks really, really white. She looks like a white woman with a mild suntan, in box braids—like perhaps she’d just gotten back from a Caribbean vacation and decided to keep the hairstyle for a few days “for fun.”

So then, Tuvel spends some time discounting the idea that white people identifying as black is different than the long tradition of blackface. Which, of course, it is. Except that this whole argument is tottering on the threads of one woman’s mind. It’s not like there are thousands, or hundreds, or even tens of white people who identify as black. And most people would agree that the white people who identify as Native American are doing cultural appropriation.

Then, there is this:

…to point out that a white-born person could always exercise white privilege by returning to being white, I note that the same argument would problematically apply to a male-to-female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege, perhaps especially if this individual has not undergone gender confirmation surgery. But the fact that a person could potentially return to male privilege does and should not preclude their transition.

Her point is to debunk the idea that privilege or lack thereof shouldn’t preclude transition, and I concede that point, except it’s not that simple. Many feminists have the idea that women who were born as men had male privilege. Which is, on it’s face, true, but it’s much, much more complicated than that. If you spend your boyhood wanting not to be what you are, it’s a very different experience of privilege than if you’re happy being a boy. It’s just not the same. And the millisecond you express your gender in a way that is not completely male, *poof*, male privilege is gone.

She then goes on to talk about Michael Jackson and Lil’ Kim, but completely erases the history of “passing.” How is it that she doesn’t even mention it in an article supposedly about transracialism?

Then, there’s this:

Recall my earlier point that for a successful self-identification to receive uptake from members of one’s society, at least two components are necessary. First, one has to self-identify as a member of the relevant category. Second, members of a society have to be willing to accept one’s entry into the relevant identity category. At this stage, I think it’s reasonable for a society to accept someone’s decision to enter another identity category only if it is possible for that person to know what it’s like to be treated as a member of category X. Absent the possibility for access to what it’s like to exist and be treated as a black person … there will be too little commonality to make the group designation meaningful. For example, if a cisgender white man fights for his rights not to be subject to anti-black police violence or to misogyny, yet never faces the possibility of having his rights so violated, we can reasonably expect allyship, not identification from him.

This is really an odd statement. But in a way, it destroys her argument. Rachel Dolezal is rarely, if ever, seen as black (even if she thinks otherwise.) Therefore, she is kinda like the cis white dude, because her personal experience is going to be one of white privilege.

She describes a specific theory of social construction (that of Sally Haslanger):

According to Haslanger, then, the presumption of one’s biological role in reproduction or the presumption of ancestral link, coupled with the relevant social treatment, is sufficient for one’s membership in a gender or race. Insofar as a transracial individual is presumed to have black ancestral ties and is treated accordingly by society, then such an individual could qualify as black on Haslinger’s account.

Cough, sputter. presumed? Presumed??? Um, upon what basis is that presumption, pray tell? I’ll tell ya: specific physical characteristics, skin color, hair, nose, lips. So yeah, if you have black ancestry, and you look black, and are treated like you’re black, you’re black. Duh.  She then goes on to say:

The advantages of Haslinger’s account are clear: it helps us identify groups that formed, and continue to exist, due to oppression… In the same way that Haslinger’s account accommodates transgender individuals, I think it could similarly account for transracial individuals.


She goes on to describe a couple of examples that are, frankly beside the point: a black couple adopting a South Asian child and raising them as black, and a theoretical Rachel Dolezal with some African ancestry. But again, these are straw people – she’s building a whole argument on one woman.

Then she wraps up with this hum-dinger:

Haslanger writes, “rather than worrying, ‘what is gender really?’ or ‘what is race really?’ I think we should begin by asking (both in the theoretical and political sense) what, if anything we want them to be.” I have taken it as my task in this article to argue that a just society should reconsider what we owe individuals who claim a strongly felt sense of identification with another race, and accordingly what we want race to be. I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I conclude that society should accept such an individual’s decision to change race the same way it should accept an individual’s decision to change sex.

So this is where we get into some more epistemic violence. It’s as if she (and it seems Haslanger, but I can’t be sure) completely forgets that race is a social construct that white people created. It’s not natural. It’s not real. It’s not random. It’s a construct that was purposely built, and purposely continued, to oppress and exploit certain people. I could tomorrow decide that I’m white, but no one is going to agree with that self-definition, and it’s not going to change my day-to-day life.

The whole of this article, besides the completely unstable basis it is written upon, also completely ignores years of critical race theory and intersection theory and trans theory.  You’d hardly know that there were tons of people who have been working and writing and talking about race and gender and their intersection for a long time. And I don’t know how you get away with writing and publishing an article comparing transracialism and transgenderism (I don’t like the way that term is generally used) without diving into that literature.

A lot of people are suggesting that this controversy is going to end Rebecca Tuvel’s academic career. That’s unfortunate. But if that’s so, I place the blame more on Hypatia for letting this through, and for her mentors for letting her down (after reading this, somebody should have sat her down with a stack of critical race theory books.) And if it was more that she didn’t listen to her mentors, then it’s all on her.