Episode 39: Jamison Green: How Do You Know What You Are?
Are you a man? Are you a woman? How do you know, what makes you so certain? Meet Jamison Green. For as long as he can remember, Jamison has “known” he was a boy. But Jamison was born possessing a female body. ”The technical term is “transgendered” and Jamison is a fascinating and articulate advocate, author and activist in the field of transgender policy, theory and education. Join us as we talk about his journey and his book “Becoming a Visible Man”. And, we end with an intriguing exercise to help you discover your gender assumptions.
Woman: This program is intended for mature audiences only.
Chip August: Welcome to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm your host, Chip August. Today on the show, we are talking about gender and gender identity and gender politics. What is it to be a man and what is it to be a woman and how do you know, anyway?
We're talking with Northern California based author and activist, Jamison Green. He's internationally recognized as a leader in the field of transgender policy, theory, and education. Most of the social and political advancements that the transgender community had made over the past 16 years have roots in his groundbreaking policy work and his insightful writing. His award-winning book, “Becoming a Visible Man” is used as a text in numerous universities.
He serves on the Boards of several nonprofit organizations including the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, TransYouth Family Advocates, and the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. He has a dozen documentary films and given countless public speeches, lectures, and media interviews in North and South America, in Europe, in Australia, and in the Far East.
Mr. Green is President of Jamison Green and Associates, a firm specializing in transgender training and policy consulting for business, education, and government.
Jamison Green: We’ll use sometimes gender because they have more space, they have space for six characters although use sex because they have less space. They don’t really differentiate between the two. But really and truly, sex is a system of classification for bodies, essentially, based on presumed reproductive capacity and adjudicated--if you will--by virtue of a cursory examination of the external genitalia at birth.
I'm definitely upfront about my history because I don’t feel that transpeople should have anything to be ashamed about. I think that’s one of the reasons that people have been convinced to make up a past and pretend that this never happened to them and all those sort of thing. In fact, the therapeutic community used to encourage us to follow that pattern and I was one of the first people to publicly resist doing that and say, “I don’t think that’s psychologically healthy.” There's nothing wrong with the fact that some of us need to do things to align our sex and gender in ways that other people just experience as normal.
The reason that we are so afraid of sexuality, of gender is because we don’t talk about it. It's because we are told it's unspeakable. We are told to be afraid. We are told to worry about it as for ourselves, we are told to worry about other people and how it's going to rub off on us. This is so false and so damaging and this has to stop and that’s a lot of what the work I do in the world is about.
Chip August: Welcome to the show, Jamison Green.
Jamison Green: Thank you very much, Chip.
Chip August: I thought a great thing to do would be to start with you reading a little bit from your book, “Becoming a Visible Man” and I'm wondering if you would do that.
Jamison Green: I'm happy to. I'll just give you a couple of paragraphs here.
“Perhaps a computer analogy will be helpful. Think of sex as the hardware, gender is the software. In between, there's an operating system that allows this software and hardware to give meaningful instructions to each other so they work together to accomplish tasks. It's easy to see how that works if a person’s sex and gender are aligned. But what happens if your body doesn’t match your sense of self? Think about that for a moment.
Imagine you are exactly who you know yourself to be. You feel great about yourself. You have plans for your future. But when you look down, your body is the opposite sex from who you know yourself to be. You know you're a woman but you have to dress like a man. You have to behave like a man because you have a male body.
You, guys, who know you're guys, you have all the feelings you know so well. But imagine your body is female. What's more valid, your feelings and your certain knowledge of yourself or your body, the thing that other people see which signals to them what they can expect from you? Imagine what it would feel like to live with that discrepancy. That’s something like what many transgendered people feel, what they have to deal with everyday.
For transgender and transsexual people, their sense of self doesn’t line up with their body in various ways. They maybe perceived as belonging to one sex or gender when they actually belong to other or they don’t feel they don’t belong at all. But people who seem to be more closely connected to their gender than their sex, that’s hard to grasp if your sex and gender are aligned. But it's not so difficult if you're one of the millions of people who are, to some extent, in between.
All the evidence of the physical body doesn’t mean much when a person has a gender identity that doesn’t match that body. Gender identity, the sense of self is stronger than the body and will find a way to manifest itself.
Chip August: I read those words, you sent me a copy of the book, I read those words and I just started to imagine what that must be like? I know what I am but for a while, it doesn’t matter at all because I'm a little kid and little kids are little kids. Then one day, all the boys don’t look like me anymore or all the girls don’t look like me anymore and they no longer accept that I'm whatever I know I am. What an extraordinary alienating feeling.
Jamison Green: That’s true and one of the reasons why transgender experience is so difficult for adolescents and why many children actually now are beginning to manifest this in ways that their parents can understand and can recognize and acknowledge. Children are often allowed to transition not medically, necessarily, not surgically at all but to live in a gender that they feel they must in order to experience that. In some cases, they do ultimately transition as they become adults and live fully actual lives’ lives as the men or women they know themselves to be.
Chip August: Now, just to be clear to my listeners here, this is the story of you. This is the story of your journey. Now, I'm sitting here, I'm looking at a guy with a light beard and male pattern baldness and I'm looking at a guy. I mean, I'm really clear I'm looking at a guy and I'm really clear about how much surgery you had. This is about who you are as much as anything else.
Jamison Green: Right. It's very much a spiritual kind of journey actually that most transsexual people go through. There is a difference, by the way, between transgender and transsexual and we can get into that later, I suppose, I thought we might. But it is a spiritual kind of journey that people have to deal with. When you recognize that you don’t fit in the way that you need to fit, you have to take yourself apart and look at how it all works. Then put yourself back together very much like “The Hero’s Journey” that Joseph Campbell discusses.
Chip August: Now, let's just talk words for a minute here because part of why this is really difficult to talk about is languaging. I fill out a form, it's says sex. It's not asking me do I have sex, it's asking me to either put an M or an F. Are sex and gender synonymous? Are they the same words? Do they mean the same thing?
Jamison Green: Most people experience that their sex and their gender has the same thing and so that’s why we use those words interchangeably. Forms designers--interesting point--will use sometimes gender because they have more space, they have space for six characters although use sex because they have less space, they don’t really differentiate between the two.
But really and truly, sex is a system of classification for bodies, essentially, based on presumed reproductive capacity and adjudicated--if you will--by virtue of a cursory examination of the external genitalia at birth. So it's not an accurate description necessarily to say that one is male or female. It's just a generalization that we make about people based on the shape of their genitals.
Chip August: I think you just said something actually even deeper than that, sometimes based on some doctors’ decision about the shape of the genitals. I know that there's more than just innies and outies.
Jamison Green: That’s right. There are people who have fallen into the realm of what we call “intersex” which is the case, in the most obvious case, it's when the doctor cannot tell when a baby is born whether the child should be classified as male or female because the genitals are ambiguous. That’s the technical term for it, ambiguous genitalia.
Chip August: But I'm clear from reading your book, for you this wasn't so much about that there was anything ambiguous about your body. From a doctor’s point of view, they look and saw a little girl and from your point of view, you were not a little girl.
Jamison Green: Right, and I was very clear about that from about age four that I can remember. It just became obvious to me that I was not like the other girls and I was not like the other boys. I was more like the boys socially and more like the girls physically but only physically from appearance when it came to my activities.
The way I handled my body, the way I express myself physically, I was again more like the boys. So much so, in fact, that even when I was wearing a dress as a young child and even, in fact, up into my young adulthood, people would ask me if I was a boy or a girl. The essence of me was masculine.
Chip August: All right. Let's play with words here again. Now, you're not saying you were homosexual. So how do gay, lesbian, queer, intersex, transgender these are all--it's kind of baffling to people who haven’t actually experienced all of these. But you were pretty clear it's not that you're a girl who’s interested in girls. You're pretty clear, you were a guy in a girl’s body.
Jamison Green: That’s correct. I was pretty clear I was a guy in a girl’s body. Now as it happened, I did go through a long period of time where I was trying to be a lesbian because I was, in fact, interested in girls. But I wasn't interested in girls like girls are interested in girls and lesbian women had a lot of difficulty with me because I was much more like a guy with them than they were expecting.
So the complexity of this is that people tend to read gender and assume that it means something about sexuality. When you see a man with a preponderance of feminine characteristics, you just assume he's gay. But what about all the men that have a preponderance of masculine characteristics who happen to be attracted to other men? You don’t see them as gay. So it's a false analogy that gender expression indicates sexual orientation.
It may, in some cases, there may be an alignment there just as much as there's an alignment between masculinity and heterosexuality for some men, for example, or femininity and heterosexuality for some women, there maybe an analogy in other people for--now, I got myself all confused! It's really confusing! These characteristics don’t line up necessarily in the ways that we've been taught to believe that they do.
Chip August: I guess, in my own mind, I actually think it's even worse. It's more complicated that we're making it--I'm sorry, listeners--because I think, now, I am a man, I've always known I was a boy, there's never been any gender doubt. But I'm a man who likes to do the laundry, I like to cook. I like to do the shopping for my family. My wife doesn’t like to do any of those things and that’s great because I like to do all those things.
I can remember a brief time when I wanted to play with Barbie dolls, but I have to say, I'm not and I think, all right, so are there straight men. They look so straight when they're playing with their Barbie dolls, are there gay men who want to play GI Joe and war? That maybe the whole idea of gender might actually be much more individual than anybody ever gives credence to.
Jamison Green: I would absolutely agree with that. There is way more variety in this world than we tend to believe. There's no reason that just because you engage in one activity means something about some other aspect of your life.
Chip August: I get that, that can be a really challenging thought for people. I get that. Hold this talk because I want to pause for a break here. I want to give our sponsors a chance to support us and a chance for us to support our sponsors.
You are listening to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm talking with Jamison Green, we're talking about sex, gender, gender politics, gender identity and come on back because there's lots more interesting stuff.
Chip August: We're back. You're listening to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm your host, Chip August. I'm having a really wonderful somewhat confusing but really deep conversation with Jamison Green. We're talking about transgender. We're talking about sexual identity. We're talking about gender identity, gender politics. Jamison Green is the author of a terrific book called “Becoming a Visible Man”.
So when we took the break, it was occurring to me that some of what I notice is that people will argue with me that they really feel strongly “No, it's supposed to be a certain set way and if it isn’t that way”, it's like it squeeze around with the whole view of the universe.
Jamison Green: It's true. Sometimes people feel that the rug has just been jerked out from under them if suddenly somebody who they thought was female, for example, turns out to be male. This is often the cause of tremendous violence against transgender women that people think that transpeople are lying about who we are and that is the furthest thing from the truth that there could be. What we are doing as transgender people in expressing our gender is trying to be more of who we are not something that we're not.
Chip August: So in your own personal life, how do people react to you? Do you notice a difference before and after, like before they know and after they know? Are you aware of it?
Jamison Green: At this point now, if people suddenly are become aware that I've changed my sex 20 years ago, they're like, “I don’t believe it. You did what? Really?” They just don’t buy it. Actually, that happened to me in the early parts of my transition, too, when I would come out to people. If I was meeting new people especially in situations like there's someone I'm maybe interested in dating. I would come out to them and they would just go, “Oh, yes, right. I can smell queer some mile off.” That’s not what we're talking about. I'm talking about that I went through surgical sex reassignment that has nothing to do with my sexual orientation.
Chip August: So I get it. People think that this is maybe a really good line or something. OK, so you said “20 years ago whenever when I was dating”, when do you tell somebody? That must have been quite an interesting decision. Like, I know this, I meet somebody I don’t tell them all my most intimate secrets right away. When does one talk about this?
Jamison Green: I think it's a very subjective decision that one has to make and one’s personal safety has to come in to mind, too, when making disclosure like this. But for me, my general rule of thumb--always was and still is--that if a person, whether I'm going to have physical intimacy with them or just emotional or even intellectual intimacy; if that’s going to go to a certain level of intimacy; that they are going to be making assumptions about me that would be false and deeply affecting our relationship, then I would come out to them. So I make those decisions on the fly.
I'm definitely upfront about my history because I don’t feel that transpeople should have anything to be ashamed about. I think that’s one of the reasons that people have been convinced to make up a past and pretend that this never happened to them and all those sort of things.
In fact, the therapeutic community used to encourage us to follow that pattern and I was one of the first people to publicly resist doing that and say, “I don’t think that’s psychologically healthy.” There's nothing wrong with the fact that some of us need to do things to align our sex and gender in ways that other people just experience as normal. Some of us have to go to a little more trouble to do it.
Chip August: A little more trouble kind of to understate this a little bit. I am certain some number of male listeners somewhere at the back of their brain, it's the idea about surgery on our genitals and how does one actually get to that. If I think I'm a woman, can I really tell a doctor to cut my penis off? If I think I'm a man, can I really like saw up my vulva and reform it? Did you ever feel like you actually you had to kill one part of you to give birth to another?
Jamison Green: Not technically, no. I really feel much more integrated as a human being since I started the medical process of transition which is greased--if you will--by hormones. The surgery is sort of the icing on the cake, really. It's not the most important aspect of the transition. For female-to-male people, actually, chest reconstruction is probably more urgent than genital reconstruction. For male-to-female people, gender reconstruction seems to be the more urgent piece.
That’s a broad generalization. Certainly, there are people on both sides of the coin who feel very strongly in ways that I have just negated but I don’t mean to negate anyone’s experience. I just mean to sort of generalize in that context. But it isn’t a matter of knowing that “I'm a guy and can I really have my penis cut off because I think I'm a woman.” It's knowing that you are female and that that femaleness needs to be manifested. So it's not a matter of convincing yourself and it's OK to get your penis cut off.
By the same token, there are certainly transwomen who don’t want to have their penises cut off. They feel it's a part of them and it belongs there just as much as I feel for myself that those things that I learned that my parents tried to indoctrinate into me and inculcate in me the values that women’s culture, basically, has. In my own sense of feminism, having that in me doesn’t violate my masculinity.
Chip August: Yes, of course, all of us have an inner female and an inner male. Maybe we don’t exactly call it that but I think every man and every woman has these moments where it feels like, “No, that’s my masculine side. Oh, that’s kind of my more feminine side.” So that obtains, no matter whatever our body tells us, that’s available to us.
I work with teens a lot and I have this term that I got from a great organization called the “Challenged Days”. They talk sometimes about feeling terminally unique, feeling so unique it feels like you could die from it. And it's my experience that a lot of teenagers, regardless of sexual or gender identity, are feeling terminally unique. Doesn’t this sort of kick this up to a whole new level for instance for a teen?
Jamison Green: It can and that’s why it's really important that there's a sense of history, there's a sense of community available to people who are experiencing this in isolation. That they can find--on the Internet or through publications it used to be through publications more so the Internet now--that people become aware that they are not the only person who’s ever experienced this. I still to this day get email from people who have just found out that for 60 years or so, they’ve been living in this way or from young people who just found out that this is who they are and they want to know what to do next.
Chip August: Now, isn’t my sexuality private? You know, come on, it's just mine. It doesn’t really--you know, if I want to be in the bottom, if I want to be on top, if I prefer being penetrated, I prefer penetrating, that’s all really private. That’s nobody’s business. Is there a way you feel weird being this exposed about what's very private to you.
Jamison Green: Yes, and my sexuality still is private, but your gender is how you speak to other people about yourself and parts of your sexuality before you even meet them. People see your gender more than they see your sexuality. I think in our sort of animal brain or snake brain--whatever it is, back there, the very primitive part--that we have learned how to make quick assumptions about people and those assumptions were based on our need for safety.
In society now, we don’t have that same level of need to differentiate between men and women in the same way. We're not going to be treating all women in one way and all men in another. We're not going to be poised to fight every man that we see on the road. We're not going to be poised to mount every woman that we see on the road. Well, some people maybe, but you know you're not going to, whereas, a hundred thousand years ago, you might have been OK to do that.
Life is different now, society is different now and we are looking at what I think is sort of one of the last frontiers of our social psyche of what makes us human beings. The diversity that is present in gender, unconvinced, that if we can grasp this level of diversity and learn that we don’t have to be afraid of it and learn that it is something that is useful to us as human beings; that it is part of what makes us unique not in the terminal sense but in that rejoicing kind of sense; that all of the depth of the intricacies of our personality, our sexuality, our intellect all come together in our gender.
If we can deal over the fact that other people’s genders is not a threat to us, their difference from us is not a threat to us, we can really advance I think socially in many respect. We can get over a lot of the ‘isms’ that have plagued us in the last several hundred years.
Chip August: As my grandmother would say, “From your mouth to God’s ears.” We need to take a break and give a chance to support our sponsors and give a chance for our sponsors to support us. When we come back, we're going to talk a little bit more with Jamison Green, and also, I'll have an exercise that you can do at home which might awaken some interesting conversations about gender and gender identity.
You're listening to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm your host, Chip August. We'll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back. You're listening to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm your host, Chip August. We're talking to Jamison Green. We're talking about gender, gender identity, and gender politics.
Jamison, on the break, you and I were talking a little bit and I was wondering how this all place out right now in our country politically, what's happening around all these. You start to rattle off about five things, I said, “Wait, wait, let's get that into the interview.” So how is this all playing out in the country right now?
Chip August: Actually, I didn’t mention this on the break, but it just popped in in my head that the last fall, we had the Employment Non-Discrimination Act before Congress and gender identity was stripped out of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It essentially rendered the legislation useless for anyone except straight-appearing, straight-acting homosexual people, which means the people who least need the protection in the workplace. That’s one way in which our lack of understanding and our fears about gender variance get us into trouble.
Another thing that’s going on right now is there's a young child in Colorado who wants to go to school, who is transitioning with the support of medical professionals and her parents. She's what we call at TransYouth Family Advocates, an “affirmed girl”. Some people are reacting and really negative in really abominable ways to this innocent 8-year-old child--who simply wants to be safe and get an education--and her poor parents who only want to do what’s right for their child and make sure that she's safe and make sure that she gets an education.
I just heard recently about a woman who was a teacher who has been fired because she has a child who is a transgender who’s accessing medical services through the insurance that she receives as a benefit of her employment. So she lost her job as a punishment for having a transgender child. This is appalling and this kind of viciousness--let alone what happened a few years ago to Gwen Araujo in the Bay Area being beaten to death with a shovel and a frying pan and probably buried alive, too, it's hard to know. But her killers were brought to justice, fortunately, but what a horrible process everyone had to go through because of this.
The reason that we are so afraid of sexuality, of gender is because we don’t talk about it. It's because we are told it's unspeakable. We are told to be afraid. We are told to worry about it as for ourselves. We are told to worry about other people and how it's going to rub off on us. This is so false and so damaging and this has to stop and that’s a lot of what the work I do in the world is about.
Chip August: You're a great guest. I really appreciate you coming on and answer all these questions. If people want to know more about the work that you do in the world, that they want to know how to get your book or they want to know how to talk to you, how can people reach you?
Jamison Green: Through my website is probably the easiest way. It's www.JamisonGreen.com and also through a transgender education partnership that I've formed recently with a male-to-female colleague, it's called Transeducate.com.
Chip August: Thank you so much for being on the show. I do want to give everybody an exercise to do at home, but I have a last question, sort of a wrap-up question here. I think everyone in the world, to some degree, wrestles with self-acceptance. We all try to “Am I OK?” It seems like your wrestling match would be more challenging perhaps than others and yet it's seems like you've kind of won that wrestling match. Can you tell me one or two secrets to how you have found so much self-acceptance?
Jamison Green: I think I was very, very fortunate to have parents who were supportive of me even though we fought about a lot of things when I was a child. What kind of clothing I wanted to wear. Whether or not I was behaving properly; whether or not I was on time, you know, on and on and on. I never ever doubted that they loved me and I have been able to form very loving relationships with many, many people and feel supported in my life. I have always had a sense of myself that I was a good human being. My values were in line with the values that I think are most common to most of the spiritual practices of the world. I don’t want to hurt other people. I want to help other people and I think that that is one of the things that has kept me going.
Chip August: I really appreciate having your voice out there. It's a fascinating read, I did read it. It's called “Becoming a Visible Man”, it's by Jamison Green, it's published by Vanderbilt and I strongly encourage you--I think that’s the Vanderbilt University Press, yes. I strongly encourage you, if you have any interest in this, go ahead and get the book because it's quite a good read.
If you didn’t quite catch that email address, those website addresses, we'll put them on our website. So if you go to PersonalLifeMedia.com and look for “Sex, Love and Intimacy” where you'll find this interview and you can find text and transcripts of this interview and also the links. By the way, PersonalLifeMedia.com, you can find texts and transcripts of all of the Personal Life Media shows.
If you'd like to suggest guests or shows or you have ideas for me or criticism or comments or feedback--just to know that I actually found Jamison Green through a listener request that I do a little more about the trans-community. I really appreciated being pushed in that direction. So if you have more ideas, please feel free to email me, you can get me at [email protected]
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This has brings us to the end of the show and I always like to end with an exercise that you can do at home. There's a wonderful thing that I did at a workshop once and that just really, really surprised me when I did it. It's very, very simple.
Sit with your partner, be they the same gender than of you or a different gender than you, it doesn’t really matter here, OK. You just want to sit with your partner and one of you is going to say sort of complete this sentence over and over and over again while the other one listens. Then the other one is going to complete the same sentence and I'm going to change the sentence.
So for instance, I might be sitting with Jamison and I'm going to say to Jamison, “When it comes to sex, men are supposed to…” and just complete that thought, “When it comes to sex, men are supposed to…; when it comes to sex, men are supposed to…” I'm going to do it for a couple of minutes then list it off. Then Jamison is going to say back to me, “Well, I think when it comes to sex, men are supposed to…” Then we're going to say, “When it comes to sex, men are not supposed to…” My partner’s going to say back, “When it comes to sex, men are not supposed to…” Then we're going to say, “When it comes to sex, women are supposed to….” and “When it comes to sex, women are not supposed to…”
Just notice, notice all the ideas you have in there, all the thoughts, all of the baggage, all of the history. Notice if anything you say surprises you; notice if you don’t care for any of what you say. Just notice what's in the space about what you think men are supposed to and women are supposed to. I certainly was surprised at some of the things that got said and, hopefully, you will be, too. When we start to open up our eyes and our ears in that way that we began to see that maybe sexuality is as personal as fingerprints. It's just whatever yours is.
That brings us to the end of another wonderful interview. You've been listening to “Sex, Love and Intimacy”. I'm your host, Chip August. Please join us again.
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