The following two letters were sent in response to columnist Alix Dobkin's Jan. 26 column.
I was one of the five speakers in the butch/FTM panel at [ the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force ] Creating Change [ conference ] and I would like to respond to Alix Dobkin's piece in the Jan. 26, 2000 Minstrel Blood column entitled "Come Back, Little Butches."
First of all, the very title of this piece, to me, represents the condescension Ms. Dobkin shows for the people she wants to bring back to the fold. The fold can be a nurturing place for growth or a smothering place of stifled maturation and oppression. By identifying FTMs as usually young "girls confronting their powerlessness," Ms. Dobkins not only does a disservice to the the teenaged and 20-something FTMswhose transgenderism she equates with trendinessbut renders the rest of us invisible to prove her point.
My identity as a transgendered/transsexual person is no more a "flight from womanhood" than the identity of any self-respecting gay or lesbian is a flight from heterosexuality. My identityarrived at through over three decades of "study, reflection and thoughtful discussion"is not a reaction to anyone or anything else. I would think that as a self-proclaimed lesbian feminist Ms. Dobkin would have enough respect for us that she wouldn't question our abilities to deconstruct and construct our own genders and identify as we wish. Was this not the ultimate goal of feminism? Has the patriarchy itself had a gender-change?
Ms. Dobkins's characterization of her question at the end of the butch/FTM panel is either poetic license or self-delusion. Her question did indeed come at the end of a 2 hour+ panel/audience discussion when we were out of time and the moderator was attempting to wrap things up. The gist of the question, through much hemming and hawing, was how we ( the transgender community ) felt about our "life-long relationship ... with the medical establishment which is the most conservative part ... and this is ... forever." [ Partially transcribed from the taped proceedings. ] My response, which Ms. Dobkin either couldn't hear through the "noticable [ sic ] chill in the air" or refused to hear was that I, as a person with hypertension, already have a life-long relationship with the medical establishment. The phrasing of her question was so hesitant that it was hard for me to believe she really meant what she was saying. From where I sat, the noticeable chill Ms. Dobkin observed was a total disbelief at her feeble and badly executed attempt at misdirecting the debate to more familiar ground. If my 15 years of trying to pass as a lesbian didn't cure me of my "gender distress," did Ms. Dobkin really think that her timid attempt at AMA-bashing would help me see the light?
The more I think about it, I really don't think Ms. Dobkin had me in mind when she spoke of "the young butch Dykes many of us have been and known for decades." As a young black butch in D.C. I very rarely felt appreciated for the diversity I added to the lesbian/gay community. Many of you only ever heard my "echoes" as I only saw your "backs" as you fled my particular flavor of butch. I have since heard of similar experiences from hispanic and white working-class butches. As for that old standby of male power and privilege, would someone please show me this wealth of power and privilege I'm now owed as a black male that I didn't have as a black female? And while you're at it, could you show the other 15 million of "us," including my son?
In Dobkin's words, "Gays and Lesbians have struggled for decades to be able to name ourselves and to BE ourselves." Should transgendered people, many of whom have been fighting the good fight alongside of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, not be allowed to reap what we've sown? If being different is the "unifying thread" holding our "smart, brave and compassionate community" together, at what point of stress does this thread unravel? Why is there cowardice in the face of honest dialog? How has the compassion become condescension?
My condolences on your broken heart, Ms. Dobkin. I'll say to you what I said to my mother the day I came out to her as lesbian, maybe if your heart could expand to include who I am, it would be less likely to break. Marcelle Cook-Daniels
I want to begin by assuring Alix Dobkin that I will NOT call her a nazi or fascist. I will, however, lesbian feminist to lesbian feminist, challenge not only some of the analysis and conclusions she drew in her essay, "Come Back Little Butches," but also what she chose to silence.
Ms. Dobkin misrepresented the workshop she attended at the NGLTF Creating Change conference. It was a panel on Butch/FTM relationships consisting of a moderator and two couples: one a self-described butch and self-described femme, the other a self-defined lesbian-feminist ( me ) and my partner of 17 years, a female-to-male transsexual ( FTM ) . All five of us addressed many of the issues Ms. Dobkin is concerned about during our presentations, includingin the case of my partner and meour nearly two-decades' long but ultimately successful effort to reconcile our feminist beliefs and lesbian commitments with Marcelle's gender identity and my sexual orientation. Unfortunately, Ms. Dobkin chose to silence our voices and instead imply that what she labels "young butch dykes" ( i.e., FTMsshe says nothing at all about the lesbian partners unless we're included in her catch-all category of "supporters" ) have paid "scant attention to 'gender's' political roots and historic consequences." Not only is this untrue in addition to the presentation she attended, there is a large body of literature by feminist FTMs and their lesbian feminist partners on these political questionsit's tremendously condescending.
Ms. Dobkin did ask my partner at the end of the workshop something about his "lifelong dependence on doctors." I was appalled and embarrassed; the comment immediately dishonored many of those present, includingmost visiblyseveral people who use wheelchairs or other medically designed and maintained assistive devices and many older women and men ( most of whom are or will be dependent on medications and other medical interventions to maintain health and dignity ) . If there was a chill it was hard to tell with my partner responding to her, the moderator closing the workshop, and more than a hundred people getting up to leave or come talk to the panelistsit's entirely possible it came not only from shock at how weak the argument was from this well-known opponent of transsexuals, but also from its utter insensitivity to the life paths of so many members of the lesbian/gay community.
Ms. Dobkin's essay contains many other inaccuracies and disrespectful statements. I'll name just two. FTMs are definitely not all young. I should knowI am the founder and director of both the Transgender Aging Network and ElderTG. They are also not "girls ... run [ ning ] " from our identity and history as lesbians and queers. Not only are they are adults who have like most other lesbians, gay men, and bisexualsstruggled with their identities and politics in thoughtful, careful, and principled ways, but many of them are partnered with queers and/or remain active within the queer political and cultural communities.
Like Ms. Dobkin, many lesbian feminists are debating what to "do" about transpeople. I urge those engaged in such debates to do so within a framework of lesbian feminist ethics. To help this effort, I have posted a list of questions ( "Femmes, Butches, and Lesbian Feminists Discussing FTMs" ) at the website members.aol.com/marcellecd/Transgendered.html. That website also contains links to just a few of the many publications that have looked at the intersection of trans and feminist issues from the perspective of people who are living these issues. Loree Cook-Daniels, Vallejo Clif.