by Melanie Yarborough

Jayne Thomas, PhD, likes to relate one of her favorite stories about a class she taught on Human Sexuality. She once posed this question to the students: "If you woke up one day in a body of the opposite sex, not would you live as that sex, but could you?" One of the girls when asked replied tentatively "Yes", she might not like it, but could probably live as a man. Then, turning to a strapping football player, Jayne asked if he could live as a woman. "For a day only?" he asked. "No, for the rest of your life," was the reply. There was a long pause as the enormity of this dawned on him. "Oh, shit!" he yelped.

This anecdote shows how men and women view transgender issues. Many women do have the sensitivity to appreciate life for men. Many men, on the contrary, are at a total loss to understand what women experience daily.

"We live in a society that is uptight because of its own insecurities," Dr. Thomas notes. "When men grow up, they have to follow a much narrower road.....When we crossdress, we make a statement about ourselves and our society. [We] want to be able to express a tenderness and sensitivity that [we] can't express in [our] role as men. We live in a society that doesn't let men express that".

Dr. Thomas ironically looks in some ways like a stereotypical lesbian psychology professor: Her blonde hair is styled in an austere pageboy with sharply cut bangs, her no-nonsense wireframe glasses fit snugly over her face, and she was on the occasion she spoke attired in a sober black blazer and slacks, with a white jewel-neck blouse. However, in conversation, she soon revealed herself to be a warm and disarming person, frequently indulging in humorous asides.

The difficulty for many transgendered people, she points out, is "You're trying to do this withut the education that genetic females have". As a reassigned woman herself, Dr. Thomas jokes that "They didn't give me an owner's manual for the new equipment," on things such as how to behave as a woman in public, how to interact with men, etc. But how do genetic females themselves become women? They go through an adolescence-experimenting, making mistakes, surviving blunders, learning, and moving on.

"Being able to have these experiences in a safe way" is crucial for the transgendered. While there are a lot of books on how to dress, talk, and act like a woman, the only way to learn is to get out there and practice. Could you learn to be an auto mechanic or a surgeon just by reading about it? The principle is the same.

Also, it's important that the entire family be involved in the counseling process around transgender issues. "Excluding people leads to sorrow....and I don't think it has to be that way," Jayne notes. Ironically, in many situations, the problem is that the husband is transgendred in a nonproductive way. One spouse once commented "I wish my husband was more of a woman; concerned with meeting the needs of his mate, and not just looking pretty".


Children and their being informed is another delicate matter. Jayne is emphatic on the need to not force these issues on them. For the first half-dozen years of a child's life, they're forming their own ideas on gender differences and their own identity. Mixed messages may confuse them.

One member of the group in attendence told this story: One crossdresser he knew was a widower with a 5-year-old daughter. The child had periodically seen her father in female attire, and once in a bikini, at a private pool party. She unquestioningly accepted all this. However, one time they went together to a public beach, and the father wore his usual male swim trunks. "Pssst, Daddy" said the little girl "Put your top on so they don't see your boobies!"

On the whole, Dr. Thomas sees many positive developments for the transgender community. While shows like "Geraldo" may present a distasteful view of Crossdressers and Transsexuals, they do desensitize viewers, who will no longer see it as a menacing unknown. And in the past, when a husband revealed his cross- dressing to his wife, the marriage more often that not ended in divorce. Jayne now sees more couples trying to work out these issues. And the importance of what we are doing should not be overlooked: "We're trying to let society get a glimpse of what it means to be a complete human being".

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