Connor Maddocks Teaches “Trans 101” to Queer Marriage Group by Mark Gabrish Conlan
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
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The Queer community is increasingly referred to by the awkward acronym “LGBT” ? which stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender” ? but few Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals really understand the needs, struggles and the rights of Transgender people. To bridge that gap, the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) invited Connor Maddocks, facilities manager at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and a female-to-male Transgender person, to make a presentation at their March 8 meeting. Maddocks’ talk spanned a number of issues, from the physical aspects of a gender transition to the ways Transgender people are discriminated against and the hostility they sometimes face not only from heterosexuals but other Queers.
By now, virtually all Queer people and a lot of mainstream heterosexuals as well have heard or read the awkward acronym “LGBT” as an inclusive term of art for the Queer community — and it’s likely most people who’ve seen that set of initials know it stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender.” But while it would be hard to find people who don’t know what a Lesbian, Gay man or Bisexual are, far fewer really understand either what Transgender people are or how they fit into the same community of interest. As a step towards broadening Queer people’s understanding of Transgender people and how they’re both different from and similar to Lesbians, Gays and Bisexual, Connor Maddocks, facilities manager of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and a female-to-male Transgender person, spoke to the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) March 8.
The dictionary definition of “Transgender” ¬— to the extent there is one — is any person whose psychological experience of their gender varies from the genetic makeup of their body. Maddocks began his talk by explaining what a wide variety of people that describes, from drag queens and drag kings (usually Gay men and Lesbians, respectively, who dress in clothes and affect the attitudes of people of the other gender) to cross-dressers (usually heterosexual men “who feel a need to dress in women’s clothing, and don’t do it for sexual perversion or gratification,” Maddocks explained), transvestites (who also cross-dress but are more open about it and “usually have a name for their [alternate-gender] persona,” Maddocks said) and transsexuals, who so totally identify with the gender opposite to the one they were born into that they often (though not always) go through gender-reassignment surgery to conform their bodies to what their brains tell them they really have been all along.
But those aren’t the only types of Transgender people out there, Maddocks explained. In addition to Transgender people who draw a strict line between male and female and simply believe they were born into a wrongly gendered body, an increasing number of people identify as “androgynous, someone in the middle,” Maddocks said. “They don’t want to be identified as either male or female.” According to Maddocks, one word that’s becoming more common is “Genderqueer,” meaning “someone who wants to be gender-fluid. Sometimes they experience a female side and sometimes they experience a male side. They’re fluid in their gender expression.”
Another group that sometimes gets included in the Transgender community are so-called “Intersex” people, formerly known as hermaphrodites. These are people who were actually born with an in-between body that contains both male and female sex organs. Typically, doctors confronted with a gender-indeterminate infant have made surgical decisions on the fly, sometimes consulting the parents first but more often not, and rearranged the baby’s organs to fit a more common “male” or “female” pattern. Intersex activists are lobbying against this practice and urging parents and doctors of Intersex children not to assign them as males or females but to let them grow up in their natural in-between state. Maddocks made it clear he agreed: “You need to let these kids alone to find their own gender.” Some Intersex activists have also suggested that the initial “I” should be added to “LGBT” to include Intersex people in the Queer community.
Though Maddocks bent over backwards in his presentation to include the gender-ambiguous, Genderqueer and Intersex, his own experience was a more straightforward female-to-male (FTM) Transsexual one. He told S.A.M.E. he knew as early as age three that he was a male, even though his body was female and his parents, teachers and everyone who knew him related to him as a girl. It wasn’t until he was 50 that he finally started to “transition” — the term Transgender people use to designate the transformation of the body into what the person’s brain has known he or she was all along. Maddocks described the process in vivid and sometimes shocking detail.
The first step — at least for most Transsexuals of Maddocks’ generation — is a course of psychotherapy to make sure this is what the person really wants. He said some younger Transsexuals “are avoiding therapy, which I think is a mistake because it’s the biggest thing you will do in your life.” The physical transformation begins with regular doses of hormones — estrogen to transition a male into a female, testosterone to transition a female into a male. “Because I didn’t start my transition until I was 50, my doctor started me on higher doses than usual,” Maddocks said. “It takes 18 months to 2 ½ years to see all the changes. My face actually got wider. My muscle mass built up. I didn’t get taller, but my voice dropped and facial hair came in about two to three years.”
Maddocks added that for male-to-female (MTF) Transsexuals, the change takes longer because estrogen isn’t as strong as testosterone. “Their skin gets softer, their body fat redistributes, and they have less hair on their bodies,” he explained. “The facial hair does not disappear, so they have to have electrolysis” — a painful process of burning out the hair, follicle by follicle, with electricity. “They will grow breasts, but a lot of them have implants,” he added. One other quirk of the transition is that for MTF’s the hormone treatments lower the sex drive, while for FTM’s it increases it until they “become raging idiots.”
The next step in the transition, if the Transgender person can afford it — and a lot of them can’t — is the surgery. “MTF surgery is more common and done better,” he said. “They’re so good at it now that after the surgery they can go see a doctor, and the doctor wouldn’t know she wasn’t a woman-born woman. It costs about $35,000, plus $5,000 for breast implants, and a full facial feminization (involving plastic surgery) can cost up to $100,000. It’s very expensive and very painful.” Contrary to popular belief, Transgender people keep not only their ability to have sex but to have orgasm and feel pleasurable sensations from it, Maddocks explained, since the surgery is so good now all the nerve endings still exist, and still function, even though they’ve been turned outside in — or, in the case of FTM’s, inside out.
According to Maddocks, the FTM transition is both chancier and more expensive than the MTF. “The first thing they do is do a mastectomy (a breast removal) and pull the chest together,” he explained — a step that costs between $5,000 and $10,000. “Testosterone does a lot of the changes, and then the other side is the bottom surgery: metoidioplasty or phalloplasty. First you need a hysterectomy, and then they create a scrotum and you can pick the size of your balls. They re-route the urethra into the clitoris, which the testosterone has made two to three inches long — and it works, but most guys don’t want a two- to three-inch penis. The phalloplasty is bigger at first, and when it’s done it’s a six-inch penis. There are only seven doctors in the world that do it. It used to have a 60 percent failure rate; now it’s about 20 percent.”
But the procedure is also quite expensive — $50,000 to $100,000, not counting the cost of travel and lodging to one of the cities in which the seven doctors live, and the two- to three-month recovery period during which you can’t work. There’s one other curveball the biology throws you, Maddocks explained: “A phallus made that way comes from arm tissue and there’s no erectile tissue, so about one year later you have to get an implant pump similar to the ones they give guys with erectile dysfunction.”
Asked why Transgender people have come to be part of the movement for Queer equality along with Lesbians, Gay men and Bisexuals — even though the issues surrounding gender identity are quite different from those about sexual orientation —Maddocks said, “I think it comes from way back when, when the drag queen community joined because they were Gay. Because our community is about gender and sexual orientation, when people are Gay they’re told, ‘You act like a girl.’ The other reason is that we are at the bottom of the pile. We need you as our allies.” Though California allows post-operative Transsexuals to marry in their new gender (only one other state, New York, does), Maddocks said that the Transgender community is as concerned about marriage equality as any other Queers because discrimination against same-sex couples — however “sex” and “gender” is defined — “does affect all of us.”
One ongoing source of frustration to Transgender activists like Maddocks is how hard it is to mobilize his community. “So many Transgender people have to deal with day-to-day survival issues, they don’t have the resources to help,” he said. “But they need to help, because that’s the only way things will change. We need the LGB’s to tell the T’s that we are allies.” The upside of organizing Transgender people, Maddocks added, is that though it may be difficult to get them into a political or social movement, “once you get them in and they feel comfortable, they are awesome and they have so much to give.”