Through the Looking Glass, Column 4

The Two Types of Trans People (continued)

Today I’d like to pick up where I left off last month. You may want to take a quick peek at it so you don’t think I’m about slipping into the native tongue of Kazakhstan. When it comes to the different types of MTF trans people, there’s the conventional what-works-me trichotomy of crossdressers, transsexuals, and drag queens, and the better-substantiated seems-to-be dichotomy of love-to-be-femme people and act-femme people. Whether we’re expressing our womanhood on a limited basis or a full-time basis, most of us loath to recognize the love-to-femme/act-femme dichotomy because it doesn’t seem to help our cause, in general or with respect to securing acceptance from our loved ones, families, or employers. We also fail to notice this distinction because we love-to-be femmes run into only other love-be-femmes at support groups and conventions, and act-femmes tend to see only their own kind at gay bars. Our tranny clubs in L.A. have typically hosted both, but even then, there’s a striking qualitative difference between ‘the early night crowd’ and ‘the late night crowd.’ Breaking out onto the scene in my early thirties I really hoped to associate myself with the younger, prettier act-femme DQs and TSs but ultimately realized that the less fab, more soulful love-to-be-femme TVs and TSs were my true peers.

What’s going on here? Why do we have two types of MTFs? Why do we have trans people at all? Messed up by our mothers? Not mine, and I don’t believe too many parents encourage our growth in this direction. I’m an M.D. who believes we’re dealing with an intersex condition, in fact two different intersex conditions. By definition, intersex children are born with bodies that are in one or another in between male and female and include things like Klinefelter’s Syndrome and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Like genitalia, the brain is also a part of the body and comes in male and female forms, as we’re just starting to discover’and, at last, admit. Yet the brain is little harder to see from the outside even with modern imaging technologies.

With some evidence pointing in this direction, I believe we love-to-be femmes come into this world as males with an intersex brain that leaves us feeling much more satisfied with female role play than male role play. ‘Okay, I’m just begrudgingly going along with you at this point,’ you say. Well then now is where you’ll need to fasten your seatbelt and make sure your tray-tables are in an upright and locked position. Studies have shown that act-femme trans people are indistinguishable from gay men as children, and I believe that they both are born with a second, and rather much more common, intersex condition that leaves them thinking and feeling a lot like women do.

Wow, gay men born with an intersex condition. I can barely believe I just said that. It feels so wrong. I guess that’s because the term intersex condition sounds too much like a disease, a birth defect, or at best a congenital anomaly. Perhaps, being gay or trans is such a thing. But intersex conditions can just as legitimately be seen as simple differences, like green eyes or red hair, or strange, special powers. Rent the X-Men III, and tell me the writer didn’t have GLBT folks in mind. I know all us human beings would prefer to be either normal men or women, or prefer to have unambiguous genitalia for that matter, but we don’t all get to choose. Keep in mind whether some kind of basic difference might be seen as a birth defect or a special blessing has a lot to do with the culture we’re born into. Native Americans, after all, revered their GLBT/intersex people.

But let’s assume that there is no special advantage to being intersexed in body or brain in our Western culture, just like there’s no special advantage to be hearing impaired. What then should we all do? Learn to treasure our differences like the deaf people of the past. Or go for cochlear implants like so many hearing impaired kids today. When truly satisfactory treatments are available, this is no easy decision. Yet for gay and trans people, the only ‘brain treatments’ we’ve tried have been far too superficial. Learning how to suppress one’s urges (by analysis, prayer, or punishment) merely leaves a person with less joy in life. Now, if those urges could be re-patched into less awkward directions, then we’d be talking.

Of course many of us love-to-be-femme MTFs go for ‘body treatment’ and get hormonal, face, and genital reassignment, much as intersex kids ideally do these days when they realize whether life as a man or a woman feels best to them. Such physical changes are the end of the story for some of these MTFs. They feel cured of their birth defect, keep a stiff upper lip, and are happy to live just like any genetic woman. But they’re also many love-to-be-femme post-ops who find that they’re treated like imbetweenies by anyone who knows, or sense that they’re fully and deeply trans and can only connect complete with other t-people. Though these folks too tend to be happy, in their case, transition and surgery shouldn’t be seen as a cure but a satisfying treatment or life-choice. Of course, I too am a love-to-be-femme MTF, and I’ve found shame-reducing psychotherapy and one-night-a-week womanhood to be a satisfying treatment and reasonable life-choice.

Though I believe we crossdressers and later-transitioning transsexuals were born with the same love-to-be-femme intersex condition, we may bear it in varying degrees. That may explain why such divergent choices seem to work just fine for different people in our ‘family”contentious as it can be at times’ and why, at least through this looking glass, there is no clear-cut, true-blue way to go.

Life’s rich, complex, and full of possibilities. Be careful and enjoy!

Alice Novic, M.D.

To learn more about me than you’d ever dare to ask, please see my smart, sexy memoir, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age.

Also, if you wish to eMail Alice with Questions, Comments or Topics for Future Through the Looking Glass Articles, feel free to send her an eMail at or to Post any Comments below.