Amid the talk of Lesbian Visibility, we focus on the experiences of one young lesbian, Sydney Wright, and the impact of misogyny and homophobia on her life.
For Sydney Wright, Whose Story Gives Me Strength to Fight
“There is a pride in the nurturant love which is our common ground, and in the sensual love, and in the memory of the mother—and that pride shines as bright as the summer sun at noon. That pride cannot be degraded. Those who would degrade it are in the position of throwing handfuls of mud at the sun. Still it shines, and those who sling mud only dirty their own hands.”
– Andrea Dworkin, “Lesbian Pride” (1975), Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics (1976)
“The sister was not a mister. Was this a surprise. It was. The conclusion came when there was no arrangement. All the time that there was a question there was a decision. Replacing a casual acquaintance with an ordinary daughter does not make a son.”
– Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (1914)
“then I thought it time to reassess and perhaps invent.”
– Andrea Dworkin, “the simple story of a lesbian girlhood,” the new womans broken heart (1980)
A version of this essay, dated January 24, 2020, originally appeared self-published on my website at donovan-k-cleckley.com. I composed it, in a sense, as a gift of gratitude to Sydney Wright, a young lesbian, for her righteous sisterhood. Given that, just over a week ago, it was Lesbian Visibility Day, preceded by Lesbian Visibility Week, I share this piece, because lesbians find themselves marked as sexually deviant, still, simply for being homosexual adult human females. Queerly enough, this mistreatment transpires even among the very same activists who claim to care about the value of lesbian lives. How truly queer, indeed! Whatever the political point of view might look like to the probing eye, whether left or right, compulsory heterosexuality attacks lesbian existence from all sides. Wherever the attackers upon lesbian life reside, they live their own straight lies.
Sydney Wright has lived her life as a gender-nonconforming lesbian, born in the Deep South. While she is a person observed female at birth, I am a person observed male at birth. Yet, despite the difference in our sexes, I relate to her, as one would a sister, for we both feel exclusively sexually oriented toward members of our own respective sexes, that is, we both are homosexual. From childhood, we have developed, as many Southern children do in America, hearing that Eve came from Adam, male as primary and female as secondary, as woman must submit herself to man. As such, on the basis of sex, predestined by “God,” people observed male at birth must be “masculine,” while people observed female at birth must be “feminine.”
Penetrating and pervasive, this point of view has argued that one’s biological and physiological sex, observed at birth, defines one’s social and cultural role as either “masculine” or “feminine” based on one’s biological and physiological maleness or femaleness. By and large, this paradigm has instituted that, one way or another, human beings must conform to sex-based expectations of gender and, for the most part, that one must be exclusively sexually oriented toward members of the opposite sex. However, this conception of gender defined on the basis of sex does not work—and has not worked—for gender-nonconforming, homosexual people.
In Wright’s story, she reflects how, after feeling uncomfortable as a non-feminine, homosexual female, living in her own body, she felt as if it would be altogether more desirable to exist as a “heterosexual male.” Therefore, in Wright’s state of mind, at the time, social and medical transitioning made the most sense to her. A “new” body to which she could escape from her “old” one, a rebirth or reincarnation after the old way of life, became the sensible solution to her struggle, or so it seemed. Because, in theory, becoming a “straight man,” instead of being a lesbian, could help make her feel, in some way, “natural” and “normal” in her otherwise “unnatural” and “abnormal” romantic and sexual relationships with other people of her own sex.
After all, as most of us learn while little children, only men date women—certainly not two males and definitely not two females—or so we might be taught to believe by tradition and prejudice. Finally, living as a “man,” she could escape the straightjacket of femininity, her own “incorrectness” as female, by being reborn or reincarnated that new “man.” After feeling “wrong” during her life as a lesbian, that new “man” could hold the hands of female lovers in public as only thought possible in private, would be masculine as “male,” effectively “corrected,” after a suffocating life of self-loathing. Social transitioning followed by medical transitioning can be the consummation of conversion, resulting from the internalization of homophobia existing external to the self.
I find it critical to clarify that, despite this essay covering some themes observable in the lived experiences of gender-dysphoric people, the factors in cases like this one can be both various and intertwined. Likewise, we know, for example, that what becomes diagnosed as “gender dysphoria” manifests differently on the basis of sex. Such lived experiences, although all individually different, differ specifically in corresponding themes for people observed male at birth as opposed to people observed female at birth as two separate social groups subjected to different social conditions.
Human sexuality requires more analysis, both psychologically and sociologically, in relation to the development of the self in society. A person being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, in fact, can factor into how “gender dysphoria” manifests. For gender-nonconforming lesbian and gay youth, homophobia factors into feelings of dissociation between the mind and the body. These feelings appear in this essay. However, we should not see “gender dysphoria” in overly simplistic terms. Rather, we should aim to explore the collective influence of factors like homophobia, gender nonconformity, preexisting mental health conditions, and trauma.
Haunted by Homophobia
Misfits, made to feel as if mismatched, Wright and I have lived in this society that has communicated to us that every man must possess a woman, just as every woman must expect herself to be possessed, willingly or unwillingly, by a man. Religious upbringings should not be underestimated in relation to why young people can grow from childhood into adolescence learning to hate their own flesh and dissociate from themselves. Indeed, it seems that suppressing otherwise naturally occurring feelings of homosexuality in young people, replacing those original feelings with artificial “heterosexual” ones, harms far more than it helps anyone. Suppose that we taught children, both male and female alike, the value of self-possession from an early age; that future society would look so unrecognizably different than the present state of social relations. For once in our lives, in the truest sense, human beings would live in communion with our bodies and ourselves.
Yet, under the current order of things, institutionalized religion factors into the formation of a sense of self for lesbian girls and gay boys, children who are the way Wright and I once both were. Strains of Abrahamism, within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have emphasized sex as the marker for what one individual’s gender must be, as opposed to allowing the person to be as “masculine” or as “feminine” as that person pleases. Biological and physiological sex, from birth until death, has been the basis for which social and cultural ideas of both “masculinity” and “femininity” have been marked onto male-sexed and female-sexed bodies. Unreformed, the Abrahamic religions can cause problems in subordinating the self-development of individuals to the dogma of groupthink in social groups. As a result of coerced collectivism, without any consideration of individuality, ideologies as institutions suffocate individuals.
Living beneath these terms imposed upon individual existence, it would follow, then, that non-masculine males and non-feminine females, especially homosexual ones, such as both Wright and I, have found ourselves “corrected” for not being “correctly” male or “correctly” female. Girls and boys age into adolescence, their growth into human beings stunted in the shadow of this stifling way of life. Affecting the entire life course, such suppression by society, which underlies repression in the psyche, can damage the development of the self during childhood. I observe this state of the social order, not solely from anger and anguish, but rather from acute sensibility toward it all.
With doctors treating Wright’s sense of distress over her homosexuality and gender nonconformity as a medical condition, treatable by hormones and surgeries, Wright then “self-identified” as a “transgender man” for a year. She also took prescribed artificial testosterone during this time, before eventually desisting and then living her life, now, as a gender-nonconforming lesbian. As seen in some other cases involving desisting and detransitioning gender-nonconforming females, internalized homophobia noticeably factored into Wright’s desire to live as a “straight man” instead of a lesbian. The term internalized homophobia describes how homophobia originates externally, beyond the self, until one internalizes this self-hatred of exclusive same-sex sexual orientation as what becomes a straightjacket on one’s sense of self.
Because of the prevailing affirmative model for supposedly “helping” gender-nonconforming youth, however, no doctor competently identified the signs or tried to investigate the symptoms further. Doctors simply went along with Wright thinking, rather than her being “born this way,” that she was “born in the wrong body.” Wright felt “wrong,” but medicalization offered a “cure,” seen as either a transition or a conversion, to reconstruct the non-feminine homosexual female into a “masculine heterosexual male.”
“Different from the Other Girls”
“Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on male right of access to women. But it is more than these, although we may first begin to perceive it as a form of nay-saying to patriarchy, an act of resistance. It has of course included role playing, self-hatred, breakdown, alcoholism, suicide, and intrawoman violence; we romanticize at our peril what it means to love and act against the grain, and under heavy penalties; and lesbian existence has been lived (unlike, say, Jewish or Catholic existence) without access to any knowledge of a tradition, a continuity, a social underpinning. The destruction of records and memorabilia and letters documenting the realities of lesbian existence must be taken very seriously as a means of keeping heterosexuality compulsory for women, since what has been kept from our knowledge is joy, sensuality, courage, and community, as well as guilt, self-betrayal, and pain.”
– Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980)
Wright begins her piece by telling us how, just two years ago, she was physically healthy and headed toward her high school graduation. Then, after taking prescribed cross-sex hormones, she, in her own words, “turned into an overweight, pre-diabetic nightmare of a transgender man.” These changes derived from her taking artificial testosterone. Dosages of testosterone function in masculinizing the biologically and physiologically female-sexed body, allowing it to more closely approximate the appearance of a male body. Effects can include a deepening of the voice, an increase in the growth of body hair (including facial hair growth), clitoral growth, and male-pattern baldness. For the most part, the changes to the body, including the voice, become irreversible.
In these cases, the female masculinizes her body through medical means to assume a more masculine appearance than formerly possible with clothing alone. Typically, in the flight from femaleness, the female seeking to transition also undergoes a cosmetic double mastectomy, most often referred to as “top surgery,” during which a surgeon removes flesh from her otherwise healthy breasts. Yet, even afterward, the body itself remains biologically and physiologically female-sexed. That is, the physical sex remains the same as before, still sexually independent of the mental “gender identity.” Only through artificial cross-sex hormones and cosmetic surgery does the body become medically modified, even as the sex of the body does not change from one to the other.
Thankfully, although Wright herself took prescribed cross-sex hormones, as do most other young women who seek transition, she did not undergo invasive cosmetic surgeries. Had such procedures happened, they would have been performed, by mistake, on her otherwise healthy female body in the profoundly misguided aim of distancing it as far from its femaleness as possible. However, the same cannot be said for other young gender-nonconforming females who have undergone double mastectomies, only to find themselves honestly still as unhappy as before—perhaps even more anxious, depressed, and suicidal. What has remained overlooked, it seems, is how trauma negatively affects the self-concept of female adolescents. Trauma stacked upon trauma, violence done to the body measure for measure, these young women find themselves thoroughly violated. A result of wrongful medicalization, the physical harm done only deepens the emotional and mental harm already done.
A young woman ensnared in tradition and prejudice, Wright felt a sense of coming apart. It harmed her that she had to pretend as if happy while being a stereotypically feminine female, while suppressing her exclusive romantic and sexual attraction toward other females. Still closeted, a lesbian lost in her desperate longing for gay love that could be truly gay, she felt a sense of shame. These feelings arose within her, even while she secretly dated other members of her own sex. Wright tells us:
“At the time, you wouldn’t have been able to tell I was gay just from looking at me. I had long, blond hair, wore makeup, and carried myself rather femininely. But in my head, I knew I was gay—though I was more of a self-loathing gay. The truth is, I didn’t like gays, and didn’t want to be associated with them. Yet there I was, dating only other girls.”
Because she presented in a stereotypically feminine fashion, even if she did not necessarily prefer femininity for herself, Wright “passed” as presumably “heterosexual.” Externally, to the passerby, she looked like other girls around her age, following the standard feminine presentation expected of them. Yet, internally, she felt different, wishing to escape from the straightjacket of the feminine. Like most women, she perhaps felt as if her femaleness meant that she needed to appear feminine. Femininity, however, is not femaleness.
Like other gender-nonconforming lesbians, Wright remembers having been “different from the other girls,” ever since girlhood. She describes how she “wore boy clothes” and “played with boy toys,” that she “was a classic tomboy.” As Wright aged, she came to realize her romantic and sexual attraction to the same sex, that is, she awakened to her lesbian desires. She mentions, “with the exception of one guy,” having “exclusively dated girls.” But, living in fear and loathing, she kept her homosexuality closeted.
“This Awful ‘Dyke,’ This Unnatural Lesbian”
““Heterosexuality as an institution has also drowned in silence the erotic feelings between women. I myself lived half a lifetime in the lie of that denial. That silence makes us all, to some degree, into liars.”
– Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1975), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979)
By the age of eighteen, Wright saw transgender men’s “success stories” on Instagram, as most gender-nonconforming youth discover such stories through social media. She writes that, at the time, she related to these transgender men in how they “talked about how something had always ‘felt off’ with them.” What drew Wright’s attention, however, was that “they said people couldn’t tell they had been the opposite sex after their transition.” Seeing these transgender men, all seemingly finding a happy ending in a perceivably “heterosexual relationship” with a female, intensified Wright’s yearning for the perceived normalcy of “maleness.” She writes:
“Here I was getting frowned upon for holding hands with my girlfriend in public, feeling like I’m constantly being judged by everyone, while [the transgender men]could date their same-sex significant other while looking like the opposite sex.”
As we see, Wright’s longing only increased, growing in its urgency, because she saw transgender men holding their female partners’ hands in public, looking “heteronormative,” that is, “normal.” Although herself homosexual, she envied the appearance of normalcy which could be found in her becoming a “straight man” instead of remaining a lesbian. In Wright’s own words, she wanted to date her same-sex partner while, like the transgender men, “looking like the opposite sex.” Socially and medically transitioning, then “passing” as a “straight man,” would allow her to free herself from the stigma placed on homosexuality.
When Wright searched for resources on “transgenderism,” she could not find any about regret or about “the huge health issues that would come from making the transition.” Few, if any pieces at all, discussed the complexity of self-development and the positive and negative aspects of socially and medically transitioning. Instead, the pieces almost exclusively fixated on, as she discovered, “how brave the transition would make you, and how good it would be for you.”
Such articles and stories almost universally present narratives of “if only,” marketed in an ideal packaging, rather than asking “what if,” without the fear of shattering a shimmering fantasy. As perhaps true for many young people like Wright, she did not find critical points of view discussing the nuances of self-development in gender-nonconforming, homosexual youth. Nor is it even likely that she would find any readily available writing about the problems internalized homophobia and internalized misogyny can present for adolescent females as they contemplate social and medical transitioning.
Internalized misogyny and internalized homophobia can factor into why gender-nonconforming female youth transition to achieve an idealized image of “maleness” mistaken as a flight from femaleness. Wright’s story, like the stories of other young women similar to her, brings attention to the psychosexual impact of misogyny and homophobia. “Every passing day, I saw myself as this awful ‘dyke,’ this unnatural lesbian,” she writes. “I hated that image and would much rather have been a guy dating girls.” Driven by her feelings of self-hatred, Wright searched online about the process for her to transition from a homosexual female to a “heterosexual male.” “In reality, of course, I was not a boy, and hearing otherwise was the last thing I needed,” she reflects. “I was simply insecure about being tomboyish and a lesbian in public.”
Throughout Wright’s story, she discusses how the public’s generally uncritical stance toward the treatment of gender nonconformity as a pathology harmed her far more than it helped her. She uses the word “miserable” to characterize those circumstances. Beyond the straight lies about “the authentic self,” which can be used as a defense mechanism against the sting of regret, Wright “came to have even less self-confidence than before.” Her health has suffered as a result of otherwise unnecessary medicalization.
Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)
“I am the living mind you fail to describe
in your dead language
the lost noun, the verb surviving
only in the infinitive
the letters of my name are written
under the lids
of the newborn child.”
– Adrienne Rich, “The Stranger,” Diving into the Wreck (1973)
Dr. Lisa Littman has coined the term rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) to describe a form of gender dysphoria that she has observed among adolescents. From Littman’s initial observations, also indicated in her research, she has observed among these young people, females in particular, their declaration of being “transgender” without them having previously expressed any ongoing sense of feeling “transgender.” Gender dysphoria can be observed as how one feels as if one’s body should be the opposite sex coming into conflict with how, in fact, one’s body is not the opposite sex. Such a state of feeling about the self, which becomes a state of being in the mind, results in dissociation between the mind and the body. The condition becomes “rapid-onset,” in that the adolescent rapidly internalizes a sense of feeling “transgender,” therefore, to the individual, being “transgender,” and declares this identity as the substance of the self.
What we should find concerning, as applied to Wright’s story as a gender-nonconforming lesbian, however, seems to be the failure of the existing system to help adolescents, especially females, think through their senses of self. Instead, Wright, who was, is, and has been a lesbian, received unquestioning affirmation as a “straight man.” In Littman’s 2018 study, from the qualitative analysis section, she has provided a listing of themes seen across cases that she analyzed. One significant theme has been that mental health professionals have shown an unwillingness or disinterestedness to consider how “gender dysphoria” differently manifests from one case to the next. Littman writes:
“Parents described that clinicians did not seem interested or willing to explore alternative causes. One parent described. ‘Her current therapist seems to accept her self diagnosis of gender dysphoria and follows what she says without seeming too much interested in exploring the sexual trauma in her past.’ Another parent wrote, ‘The Asperger psychiatrist did not seem to care whether our daughter’s gender dysphoria stemmed from Asperger’s. If our daughter wanted to be male, then that was enough.’ And a third parent said. ‘The therapist did ask about those issues but seemed to want to accept the idea wholeheartedly that my daughter was transgender first and foremost, all other factors aside.’”
Littman has continued her research, currently focusing on people who socially and medically transitioned and then desisted and detransitioned. Recently, on April 10, 2020, Benjamin Boyce engaged in a conversation with both Littman and Sasha Ayad, in which Littman discussed some of the trends in the stories of people who have desisted and detransitioned. Littman reflected:
Many of these things came up, things like a history of sexual assault, things like mental health issues and trauma being the cause of the feelings that made them think they were transgender. There were also some narratives around people transitioning or identifying as transgender, because they had a very difficult time accepting themselves as lesbian or gay. Homophobia is something that definitely needs to be explored, especially toward lesbians, especially young lesbians. That a lot of the feelings of feeling wrong—there’s something wrong with my body, there’s something wrong with me—may be related to this homophobia. Those are things that are emerging from the detransition work.
Homophobia, as Littman says, requires more extensive exploration, especially with regard to cases like Wright’s. Before Littman’s research into rapid-onset gender dysphoria, Dr. Debra Soh observed, back in 2015, that most non-masculine male children grow up to be gay and most non-feminine female children grow up to be lesbian. Some of these children end up bisexual, while, still, albeit some end up straight like Soh herself, who was gender-nonconforming as a female child. Soh brought to our attention, then, that medicalizing any case of gender-nonconforming behavior in children unsurprisingly leads to lesbian girls and gay boys being needlessly transitioned. Indeed, she does mention that, for a minority of gender-nonconforming children who exhibit gender dysphoria, later medical measures, after adolescence, might be helpful. However, it seems more harmful than helpful to emphasize “feminine” male children as “female” and “masculine” female children as “male,” because it collaborates in homophobia through pathologizing gender nonconformity.
Contrary to false assumptions propagated about both Littman and Soh, they do not seek to stigmatize gender-nonconforming youth, especially lesbian girls and gay boys. Since they recognize the harms of homophobia, they seem opposed to converting homosexual people to “heterosexuality,” which, it seems, perhaps informs their opposition to transitioning children. Rather, they seem to emphasize, in fact, that people, whether young or old, should hold the best possible information for making otherwise difficult decisions about their health and wellbeing.
Unjustly, however, Littman and Soh, among others, have been accused of supporting “conversion therapy” based on them arguing for a more compassionate, more critical approach. Yet, I find it queer that the people making the charges support a kind of conversion therapy by uncritically championing the medicalization of lesbian girls and gay boys. When taking Littman’s and Soh’s research into account, what we find seems to be them stressing the value of being open to seeing what more studies show. Indeed, it is essential, for the sake of our society itself, that we are compassionate and critical in both our theories and our practices.
“No one who survives to speak
new language, has avoided this:
the cutting-away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground
the pitch of utter loneliness
where she herself and all creation
seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry
to which no echo comes or can ever come.”
– Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude,” The Dream of a Common Language (1978)
After reading Wright’s story, I thought of so many other young women, just like her, who struggle every day to feel comfortable living in their own bodies. We know about these young women in our lives. They feel their discomfort, as if disconnected from the very women around them feeling a similar way. Wright’s story should not be seen as unusual, by any means. It is a far more common lived experience among females than we would like to believe. We prefer to pretend that no woman ever feels such self-hatred toward her own body that, if given the chance, when presented with the opportunity, she would buy a new one.
For many of these young women, what we see generally categorized under the umbrella term “gender dysphoria” might very well be some varied combination of body dysmorphia, internalized homophobia, internalized misogyny, and dissociation arising as a defense mechanism in response to past experiences of trauma. Ironically, in this time of “self-love” and “self-care” in which we live, where any choice whatsoever can be framed as “feminist,” we still see so many female bodies going under the knife, dismembered and dissatisfied.
More research must be done as to the specific circumstances driving women to seek new lives as “men.” It harms more than it helps for us to uphold the myth that people truly can be “born in the wrong body.” A person cannot be born in the wrong sexed body, any more than a person can be born into the wrong colored skin. Our favorite activities, specific behaviors, clothing selections, and object preferences do not make us either male or female. Nor does us being biologically and physiologically male-sexed or female-sexed define how we must exist in our maleness or femaleness. Defining one’s sex based on one’s “gender identity” does no better than defining one’s “gender identity” based on one’s sex. Either way, “masculinity” and “femininity” become seen, wrongly, as the substance of maleness and femaleness.
Treating gender nonconformity as a medical condition meriting a medical solution of prescribed hormones and surgical interventions does not undoubtedly “cure” the symptoms of “gender dysphoria.” Masculinizing the female body and feminizing the male body function as attempts to improve life for the person already deviating from feminine and masculine gendered expectations imposed upon females and males. We do not need “gender identities,” when we could simply have our individual personalities that make us all, each in ourselves, beautifully unique creatures in this world that we share. Beyond gender, above all else, we need humanness.
I cannot think of anything more bizarrely antifeminist than us first denying social and cultural influences on girls and women and then pretending as if these people arrive into the world automatically hating their own female bodies. How gender hurts gender-nonconforming lesbian girls and gay boys, its impact on all children, demands our further investigation. We delay investigating at not only at our own expense but also that of our children whose lives remain in our hands.
Such an inquiry likely would expose the carelessness in us making a social and political problem into an individual and personal problem. In that coming inquiry, most likely, we would discover, also, that medical solutions at the individual level clearly cannot remedy social problems beyond the self, which, it seems, are the root cause of psychological distress related to “gender dysphoria.” Perhaps we would find, too, that egoism, far too overfed by uncritical validation, never can produce the happiness that we so desire as human beings.
Whether gender-conforming or gender-nonconforming, women, as a sex, collectively become socialized to accept that beauty hurts and that, to achieve their ideal of the beautiful, which is not truly even an ideal of their own, they must pay for it in not only their money but also their blood. Ideals of beauty can be terrorism, first in a psychological sense and then in a physiological one; for females, seeking either the masculine ideal or the feminine ideal results in female pain for another’s profit. Homophobia only intensifies these feelings. Lesbian girls and gay boys suffer under the suffocating dogma that non-feminine females must be de facto “male” and non-masculine males must be de facto “female.” Under such circumstances, as we see currently, “cross-sex hormones” and “gender reassignment surgery” function as instruments for a “queer” eugenics movement against homosexuality.
Women everywhere feeling unhappy with their bodies, as a cross-cultural phenomenon, generates profits for industries that hold a vested interest in the unhappiness of the female consumer. We know that, if every woman across the world woke up one day and felt comfortable living in her own body, then industries around the world would cease to exist. All of them would starve to death by the lack of profits harvested from female happiness as can be looted in excess from female unhappiness.
When I wrote a short note to Wright, thanking her for her courage in sharing her story, I included a quote from Andrea Dworkin’s speech, “Lesbian Pride,” from her 1976 book Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics. Dworkin tells us:
“As long as we have life and breath, no matter how dark the earth around us, that sun still burns, still shines. There is no today without it. There is no tomorrow without it. There was no yesterday without it. That light is within us—constant, warm, and healing. Remember it, sisters, in the dark times to come.”
Anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations can afflict us, as such problems can confront any human being. Trauma can leave marks upon the mind, which, in my view, should be scrutinized for the self rather than suppressed. We might find life seemingly unlivable sometimes, as it is. But, with the solitude of self, we must gather ourselves as best we can and find communion with other people. In reaching toward others, we must seek those who encourage us toward true self-actualization, rather than self-annihilation in an illusion of grandeur that we realize as just another delusion of gender. Our common humanness can be the cure to the cruelty done to human flesh; first, we must save ourselves, and, then, we begin to see the human being reimagined as independent rather than dependent.
I wrote my little note to Wright, because I wanted her to know that she was not alone as a gender-nonconforming, homosexual person. These young women, like Wright and so many others, never should have felt isolated in facing this society before them in the first place. They never should have faced abuse and exploitation by themselves, feeling as if they had nowhere to turn. They needed a community to love them. Still, they need that community—not about faith in any god beyond the self, but about the self and its relation to the shared humanity of others.
To speak without lies about ourselves, we cannot hide forever terrified of facing the fractures in our fantasies. In truth, we might find our newfound authenticity, constructed through artifice, as the very artifice numbing us to any true love for our bodies and ourselves. Years from now, when future generations reflect on this era, as they read stories like this one, I hope that they will find us, here, daring and defying as ever. For the first time, it was as if I truly spoke to myself. My sister was not a mister. This time, it was no surprise.
Not too long ago, for over two hours, Wright and I talked on the phone together; at the time, I was thinking, as I do, about how both conservatives and liberals have been failing lesbian girls and gay boys. And so, here we find ourselves, our lives subjected to laughter and leering. Yet, all that stupidity set aside, we survive, living somewhere in limbo.
Donovan Cleckley holds a BA in English and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Montevallo and is completing an MA in English at Tulane University. His research focuses on sexual politics and the history of the global women’s movement. Learn more about his work at donovan-k-cleckley.com.