J. Anthony Fitzgerald
February 13, 2005
The lesson this morning is from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth
verse of the twenty-second chapter, under the
Laws of Separation:
Here endeth the lesson.
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man,
neither shall a man put on a woman's garment:
for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Short, not so sweet, pretty much sums up the Judeao-Christian-Islamic
reaction to cross-dressing.
This morning, I will take a quick look at the social reaction to the
cross-dresser in two rather disparate societies.
I also want to look at what is known about or at least speculate about the why
As you may observe, I will be speaking from experience as well as from
Broadly, I will present what are pretty much facts derived from research
then, I hope you will indulge me in some anecdotes and personal
First let us look at a couple of bits of history.
The crime for which Joan of Arc was burned at the stake was the heresy
of wearing men's clothes.
The French would, of course, not have stood for the English burning their
heroine, but once she was properly convicted of heresy, she was fuel for the
On October 5, 1513,
Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovers a community Of
cross-dressing, males in present-day Panama and, according to
eyewitnesses, feeds at least 40 of them to his dogs.
Most of the rest are lost in anonymity.
The European persecution of cross-dressers is, of course, not at all out of
Fired by the sort of nonsense that I read from Deuteronomy,
Christian Europe has a long tradition of burning anyone who was at all
at variance with the norm.
Burning witches, homosexuals and heretics in general, why not throw a few
cross-dressers on the pile as well.
Some other cultures, however, are not as intolerant.
In fact, among aboriginal cultures of the Americas, the concept of the
man-woman or two spirited person was not just tolerated, it was celebrated.
There are some one hundred and fifty documented cases of what Europeans
called the berdache. The European word, berdache, itself is telling. Its
etymology traces back to a Persian root word meaning a male slave or
prostitute. The general consensus now is that the use of the term berdache
should be deprecated in favour of using the native language word or the
direct translation of that word, usually the literal meaning of words such as
lhamana or bothe (a plains Indian term which was used in Guy Vanderhague's
The Last Crossing) is two-spirited or man-woman.
Aboriginal cultures acknowledged these people as a third sex. In some
cultures, the level of sophistication extended to up to four additional such
sexes over the European limitation of only two acknowledged sexes. The
variations would have different terms for a male spirit in a female body
versus female spirit in male body and probably also distinguished between
sexual orientation vs gender identity.
The story for all ages today was about a real person, however, like many
stories it was made up. I called it
A Story of We'Wha, not
Story. I knew what I wanted for the story. When I went looking, I found
nothing suitable. In fact, I found nothing for children.
The gender dysphoric typically become aware of their difference at a very
early age. Often at a much earlier age than when people become aware of
their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is latent until puberty when
the maturation of sex organs initiate the release of hormones that activate
the brain centres that are responsible for what we find physically
attractive. Gender is more pervasive. We have gender long before we have
One would think there should be books to help children who become aware that
they are different. Sensitive books that help the child and the child's peer
or play group understand who they are. Not a one. So I wrote
You heard it earlier this morning. Based on a real person, actually an
amalgam of real people. I don't know that the Zuni children would react to a
two-spirited child as I have portrayed it. It's possible that they are
enlightened from a very early age and that We'Wha would have been cherished
by parents and tribe for her difference from the moment it became apparent.
I needed a subject, so I found one who was accepted in her own culture and
received recognition in a vastly different culture. I imposed a bit of Jan
Morris' autobiography and Euro-centric reaction and then attempted to resolve
everything within what little I could glean of the actual culture. The idea
was to introduce our hero in a situation with which our children are more
likely to identify because it resembles what we would expect to happen in our
own society, then resolve the story favourably for the heroine. To get such
a resolution and to do so honestly, I had to morph into the aboriginal
culture where such a resolution matches reality. I think even the children
would not accept a positive resolution of the story in our own culture.
It would not ring true.
I've never written a children's story before. Never really written a work of
fiction. I hope I didn't do too much damage.
So... what do we know?
It's hard to find out.
Time magazine had an issue in which gender identity was the cover story.
In the article it was pointed out that about one in ten thousand births is
Usually, surgery is performed shortly after birth to remove whichever are the
easiest bits to remove and to re-construct what's left.
The assumption has been that gender is cultural and the child will adjust to
however he or she is raised.
In fact, such children do often feel out of place in their body.
At the other extreme, the article acknowledged that some experts estimate that
some degree of gender dysphoria may affect as much as 10% of the population.
Post Morten analysis of trans-sexual individuals has found a tendency for
male to female trans-sexuals to have an area of the hypothalamus, the central
subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, to have a volume more
characteristic of women than of men. The hypothalamus is critical to sexual
function and post-mortem analysis of male homosexuals have found the
suprachiasmatic nucleus and the anterior commissure to be twice the size of
that in heterosexuals. These areas tend to be larger in heterosexual women
than heterosexual men as well. Similarly, the interstitial notch of the
anterior hypothalamus tends to be smaller in women and homosexual men than in
heterosexual men. It's highly likely that milder forms of gender dysphoria
are associated with less extreme or androgynous developmental anomalies.
I'm sure you don't want to hear a lot of arcane or obscure terminology for
various bits of the brain.
Suffice it to say that there is mounting evidence for physical cause for
the various dysphorias which the Judeao-Christian-Islamic fundamentalists
have long condemned as abomination.
Let us be clear that gender dysphorics are not typically homosexual. Some
are. Whether a higher percentage of gender dysphorics are homosexual than
the general population may be so, however, I have not been able to find any
material which indicates this is so. Given the apparent similarities in the
causes of the two conditions, it would not surprise me to find out that there
is some positive correlation.
The fact is, that, as in most human conditions, gender dysphorics are not all
We have the example of Jan Morris who from a very early age realized she was
trapped in the wrong body and has never regretted (as far as I can determine)
her sex change operation.
I believe that Renée Richards, the tennis star who underwent a sex change
operation has been quoted as saying that
you are never really accepted as a
woman and you end up with a mutilated body.
Even so, there appears to be a tendency among the medical profession to deal
with gender dysphorics as a set.
Hormone therapy, live as the opposite sex while undergoing counselling and
therapy then sexual reassignment surgery.
In my own case, I began to become aware of my gender dysphoria during
I don't believe I ever thought of myself as a woman trapped in a man's body.
In my case, I knew I was male.
There is no question of it.
I only need look in a mirror.
I have a very strong male component which is usually in control, however,
below it all and pervading my existence is what I can only describe as an
I know what I am but I wish it were otherwise.
I know that I can never be a woman, can never experience child birth, the
special bonding with the child that only women can truly know.
When I let it, that knowledge fills me with an intense sense of loss that
is difficult to describe.
The term gender bending is usually applied to dressers such as I who
make no effort to pass as a woman.
I am a man.
Perhaps it was in reaction to my female side that my male side has adapted
some aggressively male characteristics such as growing a beard.
This should be contrasted with those who go so far as to take hormone
treatments to soften the skin and who remove all traces of male hair.
If you look at some of the trans-gendered web sites there are some remarkably
attractive people whom you would be hard pressed to say whether they were
Much like the subject of the Suzanne Vega song that we played for the
they make really good girls, as girls go.
When I cross-dress, I know that it is nothing like being a woman.
It is, however, a personal acknowledgement of that part of me that is not
happy with my maleness.
It is more the acknowledgement to that part of myself that gives a bit
of, not pleasure, really...
the emotion is difficult to describe.
This is how I prefer to dress in the privacy of my own home.
I wish I could express this part of myself more.
I wish there were stores which would cater to me as me.
Do you know how difficult it is to get 12W shoes?
The really fun clothes stop at size 12.
And heaven forbid that I go into a store dressed as this and ask to try
on that nice outfit.
As I've said a number of times, cross-dressing gives me a sense of
completeness, an acknowledgement of a side of myself that I can not display
nor acknowledge openly.
The first time I gave this talk was the first time I have ever set out
deliberately to appear dressed in public.
I had to find out how this community would react.
I am very happy that the Fellowship has become a place where I can
occasionally and comfortably appear in dress.
When I was courting my first wife, I raised the subject of cross-dressing and
encountered such a negative reaction that I decided it would be best to
repress that side of myself.
And I did, pretty much, repress this aspect of my being for twenty-five
After we separated, I began again to let my female side express itself in the
privacy of my own home.
Later I would find that it is possible for a woman to be supportive of a
It was like moving from a long darkness into the light,
a wonderful experience.
We often hear the Christian fundamentalists say that cross-dressers and homosexuals can
Given my own experience, it's quite likely that someone such as I who only
has a strong female aspect but is predominantly male could repress
the female side.
But I have to ask: why should I?
There's an old joke about seeing written on a washroom wall
My mother made
me a homosexual. and, underneath, in a different hand:
If I get her the
wool, will she make me one too?
There may be some truth to it.
Over a decade ago, I read a brief report about experiments with rats in
which the hormonal levels of gestating females were controlled,
deliberately elevating the level of female hormone.
The male pups that were born developed homosexual characteristics and would
only mount other males.
Possibly, hormonal imbalances during development of the stria terminalis
could be responsible for trans-gendered development.
More recently, I recall a brief report on the radio about research in which
it was reported that male hormones crossing the placenta from a developing
male foetus can cause reactions in the mother to increase the levels of
The research indicated that repeated pregnancies with male children could
sensitize the mother and the probability of such reactions increased so that
the incidence of homosexuality, at least, tended to be higher in younger
It actually makes an evolutionary sense if you consider a hunter-gatherer
society, which humans have been until only the past few tens of millennia.
If a woman has produced some number of what we'll call for want of a better
normal offspring, then
she can give her grandchildren a survival advantage if they have an aunt or
an uncle who, having no children of their own, would help hunt or gather for
their sibling's offspring.
Whether a similar case can be made for an evolutionary advantage in having
the occasional trans-gendered individual, I can't quite see it, so the
trans-gendered may just be a case of the timing being a little off when what
nature was really trying to create was a homosexual.
On the other hand, I think I can make a case that for a gender
dysphoric who is not convinced she is a woman trapped in a man's body but a
man who has a deep and intense longing to experience the female condition,
there is a deeper sensitivity towards women, a desire to know more.
This translates to greater attention to the needs of ones lover.
The desire to try to come as close to the female experience as possible,
I might argue, makes the gender dysphoric a better lover.
A woman might take the mighty hunter as husband but so long as she takes
the two spirited as her lover, the genes will not be lost.
On a sad note and a depressing aspect of the trans-gender issue, consider the
following: one web site I found in my research quoted a murder rate in the
US of 119 murders per month per 100,000 male to female trans-gendered people.
This rate is 16 times the US national average and three times the rate for
African-American men who have the next highest average. A particularly
frightening aspect of this murder rate is that murder by beatings and
bludgeonings for trans-gendered is 19% while it tends to be only 5% for
murders among the general population. This was a 1999 statistic. I would
like to think that we Canadians are better than that, more accepting and less
intolerant, but I couldn't find statistics. Perhaps that is a good sign.
November 20'th has been observed as the Transgendered Day of Remembrance.
An international day of observation organized in response to the murder of
Rita Hester, a transsexual who was stabbed to death in November of 1998 in
Another note about the story for all ages:
I had the story vetted by the chair of the children's religious education
at the time
and Debbie suggested a change which I made.
I do, however, want to make some additional comments.
I had expressed We'Wha's early conundrum with the phrase
something was not right and Debbie suggested that I rephrase this as
We'Wha knew he was different.
For the children, I made the change, however, I had originally chosen my
words quite deliberately.
The gender dysphoric may become aware of their condition anytime from
early childhood through adolescence.
In our society the child may have already had their prejudices shaped by
the sort of foolishness that I quoted from Deuteronomy to start.
It is a shock to realize that one is an abomination to the lord our god.
The first response is to ask what is wrong with me.
It may take years before one can overcome the early negative stereotyping
and come to an accommodation with oneself.
It is an unfortunate aspect of our society.
There was been a lot in the news at the time I originally wrote this
about the new health curriculum
in the New Brunswick middle school system.
I would argue that an important aspect of early sexual education must
include a rational and fact based look at gender dysphoria as well as
It would serve two important functions.
First, for the gender dysphoric it would help them realize what they are
and that we are simply another expression of the wealth of diversity
which is the human condition.
Secondly, for the rest of society, it would, one can only hope, begin to dispel
the hatred and prejudice that is bred from ignorance built upon the
nastier aspects of the Judeao-Christian-Islamic intolerance expressed in
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words have an incredible power to
penetrate the psyche and hurt in a way that lasts long beyond physical pain.
In a society such as ours, white heterosexual males do suffer from one
We lack the ability to appreciate how deeply painful some humour can be.
One Saturday afternoon I was working at something and the radio was playing
in the background and I became aware of the comedienne who was doing a stand
She was saying
What's with these men who dress up in women's clothes,
anyway? Do they think dressing up as a woman is anything like being a
I can not remember whether the audience laughed at all.
I don't recall that she had been getting a lot of audience response.
I do remember that these words hit home to me.
They hurt in a way that is difficult to describe.
I'm not stupid.
Of course I know that dressing up as a woman is nothing like being a woman.
It's a feeble effort to acknowledge a side of my being that society despises.
I am fully aware that, at best, I can only fantasize and the dressing helps
my personal fantasy.
It was odd to be mocked like this.
As I said, it hurt.
I think it has helped a little for me to begin to understand and appreciate
how similar humour hurts other disadvantaged groups.
I try to be careful now with humour.
It is too easy to hurt and not understand how deeply one has hurt another.
I encountered one of our members at the plaza at Priestman and Smythe.
More to make conversation than anything, I think, she asked if I was going to
No, Pennington's I said.
Rather than leave it at that, she wondered whether I might have a secret side
then, I suppose trying to extract her foot from her mouth said
we're a pretty tolerant bunch.
The situation was more amusing than anything else, however, there has been a
small aspect of the conversation that has nagged at me ever since:
We are a
pretty tolerant bunch.
There is a mystery and a power in words.
We give them far more influence than they deserve.
Even this word has implications.
We talk of being close to tolerance or out of tolerance when work is not
We tolerate something that is not quite right but is not worth the bother of
I have to ask,
what is there to tolerate?
Now that we are becoming a welcoming congregation, we must move beyond tolerance.
We must accept people as they are.
My cross-dressing poses no threat, no harm, to anyone.
It is not something to tolerate.
If I can not be welcomed as I am...
if my own desire to accept and acknowledge a powerful component of my own
something that must be tolerated, then we are not where we need to be.
We have a long way to go to be a welcoming congregation.
In summation and in brief, we cross-dressers are not monsters. We are no
more threat to anyone than any other group. I like to think I am a good
citizen, giving generously to charities, paying my taxes and expressing my
concerns to my government. A harmless desire to acknowledge and express a
strong female component of my being, however, makes me an object of ridicule
to most and hated by many. I would argue that there is something sick here.
What is sick here is a society that can not accept people such as I. A
society that calls us sick. A society that breeds sociopaths who are so
intolerant they hate and will kill harmless people such as I. It is our duty
to strive to heal the sick.
The author, at home.