Hi Virginia,
Gary Spangler

Hello Gary,

Thank you for the kind words.

People who have grappled with their gender since their earliest memories, and usually in secret, have given endless thought to what gender is and isn’t. It is my view, and likely self-evident, that gender identity has the component of biological sex, but only a component. We see this in cross-cultural studies. In the film, The Last Emperor, young Emperor Puyi asks his tutor (from Scotland) “Where is your skirt?” like the tutor’s countrymen. He is told (I am trying to remember this off the top of my head): My countrymen do not wear skirts. They wear kilts. Perhaps a small difference in words, but if a gentleman cannot say what he means he cannot mean what he says.

In old Thailand men wore gowns and women wore trousers. The list goes on. Elsewhere I suggested girls are given Barbies and boys are give G.I. Joe — both at bottom are simply dolls.

Obviously something cultural is also part of the equation and this is something all people, not just trans people, wrestle with — the example of the World War Two fighter ace who could not operate the family dishwasher because that was his wife’s domain. My father who when he was single threw fabulous dinners, which he cooked, for friends, but the moment he was married my mother said, “He even ‘forgot’ how to boil water.” She did all the cooking after that, but this was in the late 1930s.

Are we “trapped” by destiny or are we free agents? Is biology destiny? Are societys’ concerns about childbearing the platinum meter-stick to which we must all bow and pay homage? Is gender between the ears or between the legs? When we were growing up, you likely remember that doctors were referred to as “he” and nurses as “she.” It was just assumed. I remember that story of some of the first big waves of female doctors who, to the horror of the male surgeons,“barged” into the men’s O.R. changing room at a hospital because the door was marked “Doctors” while the women’s changing room was labeled “Nurses.” I wonder what our bathroom bill boys would say about that one?

Men were men. Women were “girls.” Black men were “boys.” And black people had separate restrooms, drinking fountains, and sat at the back of the bus. Is this genetic or was this racism? Sexism? Misogyny?

What makes someone a woman? Some will say chromosomes. Some will say DNA? Some will say a uterus. Some will say God makes someone a woman to which I’ll say, “Ya, He did that to me.” I also suggest someone is a woman who lives a woman’s life. A woman’s life is accessible to those who choose to do the “job” loosely defined as womanhood. Perhaps tautological or maybe axiomatic. Undefined in the sense a mathematician will use that word. “A line is the shortest distance between two points,” And “A point is the intersection of two lines.” Or from Euclid, “A point is that which has no part.” If we try to learn French by using a French dictionary with no illustrations or pictures, will we ever learn French? The meanings of the French words are defined by other French words.

It comes down to “I know a woman when I see one,” and to it’s logical extension, “I know a woman when I sleep with one,” which goes to the heart of my own experiences. At 28 months did I contemplate sleeping with a husband? Hardly. It would have been terribly frightening even in the abstract. The idea of the mechanics would have been horrifying. And yet a few decades later I was a wife. I had somehow learned a lot in between. Was that just chromosomes. I don’t think chromosomes taught me how to apply makeup or walk in high heels or pick out outfits that matched and then showed off my hips.

In my experience I believe that whatever it is in our brains that tells us “I am a boy,” or “I am a girl” then causes us to look to the peer groups. If all the “girls” are cuddling dolls, then I will too. If I am a boy and all the boys are pushing toy trucks, then I will join in. And yet, is there not a component of gentle play and rough play? What is inside us that gets us to gravitate to one or the other?

My parents pushed hard to keep me from being girlish (which I would say girlishness was my “natural” state) and so according to a famous gender therapist, “Virginia . . . you were raised lesbian.” And so I excelled in math and science as I was driven to “or else!” and then pulled toward arts. Both sides of my brain got worked but good. With that combo, maybe I could have been a fighter pilot who are highly left-right brained, but I never served and missed out on Vietnam. Instead I found the women’s movement and armed with a lot of thoughts about how gender works and its arbitrariness, I waded in. That was 1972 and got pulled into the lesbian vortex and had some deep and meaningful relationships.

And yet, something else called and after 25 years, I walked away from it. Was that biological? Situational homosexuality? Chromosomes? What? Going back to living a woman’s life, I was living a woman’s life as lesbian and I was living a married woman’s life with cishet guy in marriage role stereotypes which we tumbled into. Are both valid? Is one? Is neither? Depends who you ask and what their internal definitions are. Lots of second wave dykes got married to men. Several are now totally traditional wives living on a kibbutz.

What is a woman’s life? What is a man’s life? What are the tasks and roles we dare take on? Where do we draw the line? Oh . . . I forgot. A line is undefined.


P.S. If you click the link in my profile on Medium and go to my author page, you will see from my photo I am not in my 20s. In my 20s I was still fighting the disfigurement of testosterone poisoning and learning how curl my hair and heading off to see Dr. Biber. But before end of the 1970s I had transsexed.