Mail Call: A New Look at Gender Identity

Transgender readers were pleased to see our May 21 cover on the mystery of gender. "Thank you for showing the world that we are not freaks and weirdos," said one. A post-op transsexual woman added, "Gender is so much more than the public realizes and is prepared to accept. With articles like yours—and time—we will make progress." Other readers were touched by their stories. "I may not understand it," said one man, "but I salute the bravery and fortitude transgender people show just by getting out of bed and facing the world on their own terms every day."

As a transgender woman I would like to thank you for your May 21 cover story ("The Mystery of Gender"). Far too many people have formed their opinions of people like myself from the likes of "The Jerry Springer Show" and endless other negative and sensationalistic portrayals that have been so prevalent in the media over the years. While my own transition has been an ongoing string of assaults (both verbal and physical), humiliations and discrimination (think endless and fruitless job interviews) for no other reason than who and what I am, articles like the one you published give me hope that future generations will not have to endure the same mistreatment. Regardless, I have finally found something I always thought to be unattainable and that I would go to my grave without ever experiencing: peace with myself.
Beverly O'Keeffe
Cranford, N.J.

Thank you for your excellent and mind-opening article about transgender people. Although the article showed how transgender people experience arbitrary discrimination and can be victims of hate crimes, I write to underscore one very crucial point: at the local, state and federal levels of government, there are dozens of legislative efforts underway to include transgender people in our country's nondiscrimination laws and policies. From Terri O'Connell, who became a woman and lost a deep and lifelong connection with auto racing, to Susan Stanton, who became a woman and lost her job as city administrator of Largo, Fla., after 14 years, transgender people risk job, family, community and even safety when they decide to undertake a transition to be more wholly and truly themselves. L.A. Times sportswriter Christine Daniels, formerly Mike Penner, is the exception, not the rule. Our society can and will recognize this reality with passage of transgender-inclusive laws.
Matt Foreman,
Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
New York, N.Y.

I was thrilled to see your cover article on "the new visibility of transgender America." One thing you didn't focus much attention on, however, was health care for trans persons, both to hormonally maintain them through transition and to provide them with basic primary health care. Nationwide, the availability of these services is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of people who are exploring transition—and who may contract bronchitis or need a Pap smear along the way. In October 2005, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, with generous support from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, initiated its Trans Health Care Program. At our Westside Health Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., we offer comprehensive health care for trans people, including hormone-therapy initiation and maintenance, on a sliding fee scale that allows this care to be available for more people than ever before. With the grant funds, we've been able to train medical and mental-health providers in the county to be sensitive to the needs of their trans clients, and we've built a safety net of professionals who are prepared to serve people working with issues of gender identity.
Traci Townsend
Area Services Director, Monterey/Santa Cruz
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte
Salinas, Calif.

What makes wearing a dress inherently a "girl" thing? My 5-year-old son sounds very much like Jona Rose, but to me he is merely a boy with a huge imagination and a desire to try it all. I do not deny that some people truly feel they were born the wrong gender, but for many others, how much of their difficulties stem from social conditioning? When I was growing up, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school and I couldn't play the drums because it wasn't feminine. Now, girls can be eager math students, ace softball players and wear whatever they want—and (thankfully) everyone applauds. When will we give our sons the same freedoms?
Deborah Edelman
Ukiah, Calif.

Your cover article on gender identity brings to light many critical issues about human sexuality and gender, albeit decades late. However, the article fails to consider an important fact: roughly 1 percent of babies are born in an ambiguous state called "intersex," a situation in which the external genitalia are not readily assignable as either male or female. Intersex morphology arises from departures from the strictly male or strictly female developmental pathways for a variety of reasons. Historically, the sex of intersex individuals was "assigned" surgically shortly after birth on the basis of the doctor's opinion. The point is that human sex and sexuality are not always a simple dichotomy, a fact that some people of faith, and perhaps Renee Richards, need to consider.
Chris Nice
San Marcos, Texas

What a grievous commentary on the fall of American morals. Have we strayed so far from the Bible that we have forgotten God created Adam and Eve? Michael Kimmel's statement "that there are two distinct categories and there's no overlap, that's beginning to break down" is bone chilling. When we walk away from the order God provided, we reap confusion, and boy, are we confused. Please don't ask me to rethink gender. God had it right the first time.
Sally Cressman
Brentwood, Tenn.

Thanks for your excellent article on gender variance. The selection of anecdotal and scientific information made the article easy to read while educating those unfamiliar with the subject. I am disappointed, however, in your limited list of resources. In particular, PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) includes a national affiliate, PFLAG Transgender Network, that is dedicated to supporting, educating and advocating for transgender people as well as for their parents, families and friends. We are, in fact, the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender family-oriented organization in the country, with approximately 500 chapters and affiliates across the United States representing at least 200,000 parents, family members and friends of GLBT people. PFLAG and PFLAG Transgender Network offer support, education and advocacy for all GLBT people, their families and friends, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Dave Parker,
PresidentPFLAG Transgender Network
Greensboro, N.C.

Pope Benedict XVI is to be congratulated for his courage and wisdom in writing "Jesus of Nazareth" ("The Meaning of Baptism," May 21) Unlike the vast majority of religious people, but like scholars of all faiths, the pope did not shrink from mentioning and relying on non-Roman Catholic sources for his interpretation of the message of Jesus, but unflinchingly and unabashedly referred to intelligent scholarly views of Jews and Muslims. By doing so, and his ideology aside, he served as an excellent example to people of all faiths to accept the truth from all sources and traditions and not restrict themselves to the views of writers of their own faith and miss important contributions to truth and knowledge from thinking people of a different belief.
Rabbi Israel Drazin
Boca Raton, Fla.

Hooray for Mary Beth Baptiste and her husband for understanding that a splashy wedding is not the secret to a successful marriage ("Love on a Shoestring: Our $150 Wedding," my turn, May 21). However, she missed the larger issue: the financial attitudes you bring to the wedding are the attitudes that will set the tone for the entire marriage. When we got married, we decided we would throw the wedding we could afford—yep, punch and cake in the church basement. We also decided we would live within our means, which may explain why we are about to celebrate our 30th anniversary debt-free in an era when many marriages collapse because of squabbles over money. Starting married life free of debt and with a realistic attitude toward money is much more important than $30,000 worth of photographs and champagne.
Jim and Imozelle McVeigh
Chula Vista, Calif.

Mary Beth Baptiste brought back some lovely memories with her my turn story. My husband and I were married at our cabin in Colorado on a sunny August morning; my best friend and her daughter, my husband's "best woman" and her daughter, my mom and my husband's youngest daughter were in attendance and took pictures. Our wedding ceremony was performed by a wonderful woman, a minister who loved our ceremony in the woods. The altar was a tree stump. My bouquet was picked by the three little girls (who, in their zeal, provided bouquets for everyone) from the wildflowers around the cabin. Our music was provided by the birds and the stream nearby. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed coffeecake and fresh strawberries on the deck; the coffeecake was topped by a charming bride and groom my mother drew on copy paper and glued to a stick (I still have it). Our wedding cost $35; we've been married almost 24 years, still have the cabin and spend every anniversary there reminiscing in the "wedding glade." We wish everyone a wedding as simple and inexpensive as ours, and a marriage as rich.
Robin Root
Ridgeway, Va.

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