In The Trouble when Jane becomes Jack, published by the New York Times on August 20th, Paul Vitello recounts the experience of the lesbian community in dealing with female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals. That he represents the story from the point of view of the lesbian community, particularly those in the community who consider FTMs to be “traitors”, is an interesting choice. That he entirely neglects to report on the experience of transitioning (the social and medical process by which FTMs bring their bodies into accordance with their being), that he muddles pronoun usage, and that he either overlooks or chooses not to use the proper vocabulary in many places confuses the issue and makes it sound as though these men might actually be the “traitors” many women make them out to be.
It is possible that Vitello chose to avoid the correct terminology out of fear that it would confuse the general public – and, since the article was printed in the widely read Style section, that seems like a sensible concern. By trying to adapt the too-simple labels “man” and “woman” to fit the situation, though, he misrepresents transsexualism. An example:
“The increasing number of women who are choosing to pursue life as a man can provoke a deep resentment...”While many men of transsexual experience might have emerged from lesbian communities in the sense that they were accepted there, had friends there, and sometimes really identified as lesbians, they are not "women... choosing to pursue life as a man." They are men, choosing to pursue life as men, just like other men get to. They are not women. Many will say they never were women, even though they lived as women for a period of time. Again, in the following passages, Vitello uses the word “women” to describe transmen who probably would not have used that particular term for themselves during their period of transition:
“The word for the process is “to transition,” a modest verb for what in women usually means, at the minimum, a double mastectomy and heavy doses of hormones...”
“For women especially, the genital surgery is still risky.”
What Vitello actually means here is, "For FTMs," "For female-bodied people," or even "for those considering genital reconstruction of a penis,” but since he chose not to introduce the proper terminology at the beginning of the article he cannot employ it here.
Shane Caya is quite the manly-man, pictured in the article with his daughter and ex and showing off his top-surgery (or, as Vitello would say, “double mastectomy”) scars with his muscles and tattoos and goatee. Shane's ex, a lesbian, decided to leave him when he decided to transition, because she didn't want to be in a relationship with a man. Totally fair, totally legitimate, and totally representative of the fact that Shane -- who the author refers to as "she" on at least one occasion -- is not a woman choosing to pursue life as a man, but a man pure and simple. Vitello does not discuss the experience of transitioning from the perspective of those who go through it. If he had researched that side of the story a little more completely, he might have been able to represent the ways in which a man who transitions is not being a traitor to the lesbian community, but loyal to himself. Lesbian drama might make for a more fun, accessible story, but it doesn’t do much to increase public understanding of trans issues.
In other news, the article mentions Michigan Womyns Music Festival and its ban on anyone who doesn't fit the description "women born as women and living as women." This year, Festival organizers changed their tune and decided to allow all women, even those of transsexual experience, onto the premises. Hooray! And it's about damn time. The press release from
Michigan Women's Music Festival ends policy of discrimination against trans
women: After 15 years of controversy, supporters welcome trans women to 'the land'
HART, MICHIGAN - The Michigan Women's Music Festival began admitting openly
trans (transgender/transsexual) women last week, bringing success to a
longstanding struggle by trans activists both inside and outside the
"Seeing trans women inside the festival for the first time brought me to
tears," said Sue Ashman, who attends the festival every year. "It's
restored my faith in women's communities."
Ashman said "I have friends who have already committed to bringing
themselves and others for the first time next year."
festival, say that every year at least one trans woman at
to the festival gate with a group of supporters, explains that she is trans,
and tries to buy a ticket. In past years, the festival box office has
produced a printed copy of the policy and refused.
"This time, the response was, 'cash or credit?'" said Jessica Snodgrass, a
to supporters inside the fest. "They said the festival has no policy
barring any woman from attending."
The woman purchased her ticket on Wednesday and joined supporters inside the
festival. Another trans woman,
on Friday to facilitate a scheduled workshop discussion on the
"This kind of discussion has happened before inside the fest," said
Lombardi. "But for the first time in years, trans women were part of the
conversation. Over 50 women shared their thoughts about what the inclusion
of trans women means for the Festival and how we can move forward."
"We didn't expect to change anyone's minds in the workshop - but in the end
we didn't need to. The support we found was overwhelming."
Both trans women say they were moved by how friendly and supportive other
festival attendees were.
"We spent all day inside the festival, talking with other women about how
said. "The attitudes of festival goers have definitely shifted since the
With their original mission accomplished, organizers say
continue to be a place for trans people and allies to build community, share
ideas, and develop strategies for change. And they will keep working
together with festival workers and attendees to make sure trans women who
attend the fest next year have support and resources.
to establish an anti-transphobia area within the festival. Representatives
under the name "The Yellow Armbands," plan to educate people on trans issues
and provide support to trans and differently gendered women. Festival
attendees have worn yellow armbands for the past three years as a symbol of
pro-trans inclusion solidarity.
working together to welcome trans women and support a trans-inclusive,
"This is not about winning," said Snodgrass. "It's about making our
communities whole again. The policy divided people against each other who
could be fighting on the same side. We want to be part of the healing
women within women's communities. For 14 years,
for trans people and allies to protest the policy, build community, and
develop strategies for change.
The festival's policy against trans women was first enforced in 1991, when
festival security ejected Nancy Burkholder from the grounds of the festival.
As the largest women-only festival of its kind, and as one of the few
remaining women's events to openly discriminate against trans women, the
festival was well known for its policy, drawing criticism from trans
activists and festival attendees. Two years ago, a group of attendees
deployed a 25-foot banner opposing the policy during the headline act.