Richard "Bugs" Burnett's national column and blog on LGBTQ life and culture across Canada and around the world
Sunday, 9 October 2016
TRANS ICON PATRICK CALIFIA: "BABY, I'M AN ACTIVIST IN THE SHOWER!"
Patrick Califia: "Male privilege is an unwelcome artifact of transitioning"
Bugs' interview with Patrick Califia originally ran in Three Dollar Bill on Nov. 19, 2009
"Baby, I’m an activist in the shower!" famed Texan author Pat Califia-Rice told me a decade ago, before she transitioned from a lesbian woman into a bisexual trans man.
Pat is now Patrick Califia, and the former Advocate sex columnist, celebrated author, marriage therapist, sex radical and queer icon has as loud a mouth as ever.
"Nobody should be a man – the world won’t be okay until men stop existing," says the FTM (female-to-male) Califia. "It was actually pretty hard for me to transition on days when I felt like I was going to join the people who spit on the sidewalk and look up women’s skirts every chance they get. But one of the exciting things about being an FTM is the possibility of creating new forms of masculinity and addressing our society’s mistreatment of little boys and its crazy expectations of men."
You’d think the gay community would be more disposed to supporting trans rights than straight people, because we’re both battling the heterosexual establishment. But Califia was outraged when much of the U.S. gay community didn’t want trans rights included in last year’s ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) bill.
"I felt betrayed," Califia says. "I felt belittled. I ought to expect it, though. Every minority group that wins a little bit of power uses that power to step on somebody else. I’ve never seen this pattern change. Human beings continue to be prejudiced and afraid of the ‘Other,’ even if they are an ‘Other’ to somebody else. Being gay is no guarantee that you’ve got good politics about anything other than your own narrow set of issues."
The leather community is no better.
"The gay men’s leather community is actually going through a pretty hard time about the growing visibility of transmen. Ever since a publicly visible FTM, Billy Lane, ran for International Mr. Leather, various organizations have taken different positions about whether they will include transmen. Some cisgendered [born-male] leathermen are pro-trans inclusion; others are gender essentialists who absolutely can’t stomach it…
"I think it might be less of an issue if more FTMs were able to have genital surgery. As far as most men of all sexual orientations are concerned, it is the presence or absence of a penis that determines your gender. Many gay men are afraid of and hate women, sad to say. If they perceive a transman as having female genitals, that means he is icky and ruins the erotic tone of an all-male gathering."
Speaking of FTMs, this past summer I asked Gene Simmons of KISS his thoughts about Chastity Bono transitioning into a man.
"I love Chas," Simmons replied. "I was living with Cher when Chas and [her brother] Elijah were kids and I was a substitute dad for a while. Life is short and we should all make up and be happy. And everybody else be damned if Chas isn’t happy today, God bless. If Chas is happy, then she will have found the secret of life."
Chas now calls himself Chaz and, if anybody knows what it’s like to transition in the public eye, it’s Patrick Califia.
"Poor Chaz!" Patrick tells me. "He already had to go through Cher throwing a homophobic fit about him being a lesbian. Now I get the distinct impression Cher is equally unhappy about the gender change. And I frankly think that most of the negative publicity has been about the fact that Chaz is fat and not a pretty girl.
"If Chaz was going to become the kind of transman who looks like the star of Twilight, the media would be kissing his ass all up and down. Being in the public eye makes this whole process hell. I wish people would just leave him alone, let him see if this will make him happier, and withhold the judgments for several years. Transition is not a fast process. He has about 10 years of changes to go through before he knows what kind of man he is going to be."
One of those changes is the ingestion of testosterone. For Califia, whose landmark 1988 book Macho Sluts was reissued by Arsenal Books this week, "taking testosterone did change the way I process porn. It really did. I became a lot more interested in photographic and video material. I also found that I looked at it a lot more often and responded to it more strongly and more quickly. Testosterone made it easier to get aroused and it made my orgasms stronger."
Califia also notes, "I never respected [the powerful physical component of gender] before I took testosterone and felt it rewire my brain. I notice that I am more comfortable with confrontation now. I speak my mind more readily. I am less nervous in situations where physical violence might take place. I don’t like it, and I’m not good at it, but I will face it when it comes my way."
It may not be radical to be a man but, as Califia readily admits, "It feels very weird sometimes and like a guilty pleasure."