I'm writing to follow up on the conversation that you had with L-- last night. I know that you didn't want her to tell me about it because you don't want to pressure me into explaining things before I'm ready, but neither she or I want you to have to spend any time confused or upset or sad about this. It's most important for me to feel like you can ask me questions if you want, and to know that it isn't my intention to hide anything from you. I love my life, I love having you in my life, and I want to share as much of my life with you as feels right to both of us. I am not ashamed of anything I'm doing, in fact I'm quite proud, and my only hesitancy to tell you things comes from not wanting to clutter our relationship with things that might be difficult for you to understand because we live in pretty different worlds. I don't want to hide myself from you, but also I tend to want to focus our time together on the things we share and the places where we come together, because I get so much joy out of that and it seems like we never have enough time together. I always want to hear about you and the family and tell you about my work and friends that you know and love like Craig and Rania and all that stuff. Of course, there is a bunch of stuff in both of our lives that we don't talk about because its just not the priority or its not stuff we have in common as much, and I think that is okay, but I'm also open to delving into other areas with you too if it will help strengthen our understanding of each other. I love you a ton and I am committed to communicating with you about whatever we need to so that we always feel comfortable with each other.
From what I understand, L-- thought that you knew that most of the people in my life refer to me with masculine pronouns, but I hadn't told you this, so it came as a surprise and made you wonder if there were other things you didn't know. I am sorry it had to happen that way. To be honest, it was never very important to me what pronoun you and J-- and J-- and J-- referred to me by, so I never really went into this area with you. I know that a lot of my gender expression stuff is new and different to you guys, and I figured we'd all already done a lot of work with each other around my surgery and maybe that was a good understanding for now. But now that you know about this, I will try to explain what it means to me so that you won't have to feel confused.
Like I explained in the letter I wrote you about the surgery, I believe that people have lots of different ways that we express our gender, and that most everyone has their own version of 'boyness,' 'girlness,' 'manness,' 'womanness' etc that they live. It would be nearly impossible to be able to get people to agree on what these terms mean for them-there is no single characteristic that defines people's understandings of their genders. Everyone does things to help them express their gender they way they want. People change their appearances by shaving, dressing in certain clothes, dieting, lifting weights, having plastic surgery, etc to make themselves comfortable in their genders. What results is an amazing array of gender presentations, some more 'traditional' and societally approved, other more non-traditional. In different cultures, at different times, different kinds of gender presentations are popular or approved of, and as times change the boundaries of masculinity and femininity shift.
The word I use to describe my gender is "transgender." I didn't bring this word up with you before because a lot of people confuse it with "transsexual" and I didn't want to add that confusion to the discussion. When people think of "transsexuals" they usually think of people who feel they were "born in the wrong body" and who struggle their whole lives to correct this by changing from one traditional gender category to the other (male to female or female to male). This does not describe my experience. I am not trying to have a "sex change" to change from being "female" to being "male." I do not feel that I was born in the wrong body, nor that I have struggled with wanting a different body throughout my life. Instead, I believe that everyone's gender identity should be self-determined and that people occupy a range of gender identities that they should be able to express how they want. No matter whether someone is marked as "male" or "female" at birth, I believe that they should be able to work any job, fall in love with any person, wear whatever they want, use any name or pronoun to identify themself, etc. For me, because I feel that I don't fit neatly into the category of "male" or "female" and because I am fighting for a world in which people can be whoever they want to be regardless of these categories, I choose to use the name Dean and masculine pronouns. In part this feels right because most people who look at me take me to be a woman, so using these words helps disrupt that process a little and open a space for me to be something more complicated than that, which I feel better fits who I really am.
The word "transgender" is used by lots of people to describe having a gender presentation or self-understanding outside of traditional societally prescribed gender norms. Lots of different types of people use this word to describe themselves, and to describe a political and social movement for gender freedom for all people. This is a part of the activist work that I do, in addition to fighting for the rights of poor people like we've talked about.
I realize that these ideas probably sound about as out there to you as possible, but that is also a part of us living in very different worlds. In my world, people are familiar with transgender people and transgender activism. In fact, the fellowship I was just awarded is for me to start a law project to provide services to low-income transgender people, who often face bias and misunderstanding as they navigate various poverty alleviation systems. Such a law project already exists in San Francisco, and I will be starting the first one in New York. I'm cutting and pasting a part of one of my grant applications at the bottom so you can get a sense of what that is about. I wanted to tell you these details about the project, but I knew I needed to further explain the concept of 'transgender' before it would really make sense. Now, because of your conversation with Lis, I have that opportunity.
I know that one of your concerns must be that I am unhappy or confused. More than anything, I don't want you to spend any time worrying about this. I am thrilled with my life, and especially with my personal and political work around gender issues. I am delighted by the advances that are being made in this area, and my role in them. I am very proud to be starting my own project, and to have procured funding for it. These are big accomplishments that give me a lot of pride and fulfillment, and I am really happy that I am very good at this work and that other people recognize that and appreciate it. What could be better than to get to spend my days fighting for justice and doing work I am extremely passionate about? More personally, I have tons of amazing friends who adore me and are also deeply committed to the same ideas, and I have a great dating life full of interesting smart people who appreciate me and spend really nice times with me. I know that all this probably seems unusal and strange, but I need you to trust me that in my life, its all really wonderful. The last thing I would want is for you to spend time worrying about me. I know how much you care about me, and I really appreciate that, and it would be such a waste if you had to worry about the things in my life that make me really happy and that are going really really well.
I hope this offers some amount of explanation, but you should feel free to ask me more questions. The fundamental thing that may be hard to grasp here is that I think there is more to gender identity than "male" or "female" and I think people should be able to live that however they want. I am doing that-living a non-traditional gender, and sometimes it means I have to struggle to help people understand, but to me that is totally worth it because I love getting to live the life I want. Also, you know I've always enjoyed finding my own path in life rather than taking the roads carved out for me. I think this is a good quality, and one that helps improve the world for everyone, and though I know it can be hard on my family members who have to try to keep up with all the new twists and turns, I am really happy to be this kind of person, always fighting for a new, fairer, more open and just world. I know that you have a strong sense of justice as well, and are a very empathetic and generous person, and I think that is why we get along so well and have formed such a close relationship even though we live very different lives. I know it must be hard for anyone to watch a loved one take a road in life that may be difficult, but I also know that you're well aware that I've lived through a lot of tough times and always come out on top.
I really love you and J--, and you know that I feel deeply that my life would have taken a very different and very bad turn if you hadn't opened your home to me when I was 15, and I am forever grateful and touched by that. I hope that these gender issues don't block any of your ability to feel my love or enjoy our relationship, and that you know how much I appreciate the work you are doing to understand and respect my life experiences. I love you, dean