surgery coming out letter

August 19, 2001

Dear J---,

I just talked to L--, and she told me that you asked her about my chest, so I wanted to write and give you the full explanation that you deserve. I hope that you are not angry at me for not sharing this aspect of my life with you sooner. It has been something that I’ve tought a bout a ton, but I’ve had a really hard time deciding whether it would be something you would rather know about or not know, and how I would be able to give you a good understanding. Now, in some way it is very relieving that you’ve taken the initiative and now I know that you are interested in knowing.

A big part of the reason that I didn’t tell you before is that I knew that it would be hard for you to understand. For all the experience we share, we live in very different worlds, and the people we hang out with talka bout and do very different things. This shapes our frames of mind. We both have glimpses and ideas of what the other things and experiences in the different part of that world, but in some ways there are things we’ll never know fully or agree with and that is okay. Part of me thought that this aspect of my life might be so strange and unfamiliar to you that it would be better just to keep it private, instead of incurring lots of misunderstanding. However, my opinion about that was partly changed by my last trip to VA. I felt very connected to you and T- and J-and A- and was thinking about how to make you guys and even bigger part of my life. Then I wondered how I could do so and keep so much hidden.

I’m not sure what you and L-- talked about, so I’m just going to try to give you as full a description as possible as to why I had this surgery and what it means to me and my life. To start out, I’ll dispel the most common misunderstandings: first, I do not consider myself as having a ‘sex change’, second, this is not something I did because I’m a lesbian or as part of lesbian life. I’ll address the sex change thing first. When people thing about sex changes, what comes to mind is a person who feels they were ‘born in the wrong body’’ or trapped in the wrong gendered body. They change their body in order ot live as the other gender, by taking hormones and having surgery done on their chest and/or genitals. Then they live trying to pass as the new gender. This is not at all what I’m doing. I do not think I am a man, nor that I am trapped in the wrong body, nor that I was born with a condition that caused me to want this. I do not trace this to childhood.

My understanding of gender is different from this, and in a lot of ways derives from my feminist politics. The basic thing is that I don’t believe people fall into two neat gender categories-male and female. The world divides people into these categories, and gives them lots of meaning. Men and boys aer supposed to be strong, aggressive, wear blue, like sports, etc. women and girls are supposed to be passive, pink, stay at home, like kids, do housework, etc. the women’s movement was a fight to free people from the strictness of these categories so that they could choose what they wanted to do with their lives instead of being forced down a narrow track.

I believe that people don’t just exist at the extremes of gender, but in fact fall in all kinds of places in between. Some women are very feminine and meet the traditional ideas of womanhood, some prefer short hair and like doing heavy labor, some are very aggressive, etc. some men like wearing long hair, or like sewing and cooking, or love to care for children. People engage in all kinds of activities to change their appearance to more adequately express their gender, such as shaving their legs to be more feminie, getting breast augmentation, getting pectoral implants, working out to build big muscles, or wearing certain clothes to appear more masculine, feminine or androgynous. In this way, everyone takes part in building their own gender expression and deciding how they want to experience their bodies, their sexuality, and their gender. Some choose to be a scrawny academic, some a bodybuilder, some a pretty girl, some a tough businessperson. Society smiles on some, more traditional gender expressions,and frouns onsome more non-traditional expressions.

Given all that, I think it is exciting to live in a world where I get to experiment with gender expression and find what is right for me. My most comfortable gender space is somewhere in between male and female. I am glad to have been born female, but I am also interestd in living a life where I get to be the full me and experience my masculine and feminine attributes.

I knew that I was interested in having this surgery when I first heard of it more than 4 years ago. I spent a lot of time thinking abou tit, going to therapy sessions to talk about it, researching and talking to surgfeious, and meeting and talking to other people who had done it. It was not a decision that I took lightly at all. I didn’t have the surgery until all my doubts were resolved and I was totally clear that having it would yield the body I was sure I wanted. I think the experience might be equivalent to someone who really wants to lose a larege amount of weight, or who really want to change their nose or something. I had an image of myself that was different from what my body was, and I felt I could be moiré at home in my body and look more like the me I saw inside, if I made this change. I am so happy with the result. It doesn’t matter that most people probably don’t even notice-I just know that I look exactly how I want to and it makes me happy every day.

On the lesbian issue-this is not something that lesbians commonly do, and I didn’t do it as part of being a lesbian. I’m sure lots of lesbians would think its totally weird, although all of my friends are very supportive. I think it probably like other personal appearance things. Some people would be turned off by a woman who got a breast enlargement. Some people like more feminie women, some like more gender-neutral or boyish women, some like big muscular men, others like people based on other qualities besides appearance. I find that in the dating world this isn’t causing me to have problems. Lots of people in my life here share my ideas about gender, and are excited to hear my perspective and share theirs. I know this must seem so unusual there, but in my world, it’s a more familiar concept, and most people have other friends doing similar things.

I have no idea whether I’ve conveyed an understanding of what this is about, or whether I’ve answered any of your questions, but I hope I have. Basically, for me its about people living the lives they want to live and being happy, and that is what I’m doing. I was afraid to tell you because I didn’t want to drive a rift into the relationship we’ve both worked hard on, but now I think it’s the best thing to be open. It meant so much to me to spend time with you and T-and J-and A-and to share with you the memorial, and our thoguths about the U--- and S---. I really feel very close to you now, and very appreciative of all that you’ve done for me over the years, and how you’ve acted so often as a parent and a brother. Despite all of our family’s trials and tribulations, I think I have a more real connection to my siblings than most of my friends, and I’m really thankful for that. I don’t expect that we’ll understand everything each other does, but I think we’ have enough other stuff in our relationship, and history together, that it doesn’t matter. Please feel free to ask me any questions about this, and know that I understand if this doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, but you shouldn’t worry about me because I’m very happy with my decision. Give my love to J-and T-and A--.

Love, dean

Dean Spade would put your letter up too if you asked him.