This page has been created as "fair usage" entirely to allow assessment and
appreciation, by those concerned with the subject, of the unique
portrayal of transsexuality in young people in the article,
especially by young people affected themselves, their relatives, friends,
medical personnel, policy makers and academics. All copyrights are wholely
|A.J. Crittendon, a recent graduate of the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst
© Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton MA, USA, 2003
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Male to female/
Female to male
BY SUNSHINE DEWITT, Staff Writer
Editor's note: In referring to the transgender people profiled in this
article, we use the pronouns that they use.
Mitch Boucher, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,
has the easy charm and good looks of the all-American boy.
Sitting at his desk at the Stonewall
Center, a drop-in center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning
students, he seems fully at ease fielding questions from those who stream
in and out of the office.
Boucher says many who come into the Stonewall
Center assume he is a gay man.
He's not. But he's not a typical man
Boucher, 34, is a transgender person
- that is, according to the American Psychiatric Association, a person who
has a deep sense that the gender assigned at birth is not the right one.
Born a girl, Boucher has been living full time as a male for about four years,
having successfully undergone what is known as "transition," through the
use of hormones and surgery.
A year ago, few students on local campuses
would say they were much aware of the fact that there were people like Boucher
among them. They might have had a vague idea that some people had "sex changes."
Or they might have seen the movie "Boys Don't Cry," which portrayed the life
of a transgender teenager in the Midwest who was murdered.
However, during the last academic year
the issue suddenly came to the fore at several colleges.
At UMass, with Boucher and a second student
leading the way, the student government approved a measure to provide
gender-neutral bathroom and shower facilities in dormitories and other college
buildings to accommodate transgender people. Last spring, students at Smith
College were asked to vote on whether to accept gender-neutral wording in
their student constitution.
Outside the Five College area, similar
debates took place. At Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., a gender-neutral
hall was designated in one dormitory in response to transgender students'
requests, while at Northeastern University, the rights of a transgender
undergraduate who requested gender-neutral dormitory accommodations became
the cause célébre for a group of law students.
No one knows how common transgenderism
is; the United States Census does not include it on its forms. Estimates
veer from between one in 2,000 to one in 100,000. In addition, there is no
good estimate as to how many people have taken the steps Boucher has to transform
Lisette Lahana, a Northampton therapist
who specializes in gender issues, says that she has received 140 calls over
the past four years from those referred to her for therapy due to their gender
Boucher says he can name at least 15
people he has met at UMass over the past year who identify themselves as
transgender. The former assistant director of the Stonewall Center, Stephen
Pereira, says he worked with about 12 transgender students per year in the
two and a half years he was at the center.
In any case, the issue is one that colleges,
where housing and other matters are based on gender, are finding themselves
pressed to deal with.
"We are trying very hard to educate our
staff about the particular issues the transgender community faces," says
Joanne Vanin, vice chancellor of student affairs at UMass.
Smith College has hired therapist Julie
Mencher to serve as a "transgender specialist" on campus. While she says
there is only a small group of students at Smith who are taking testosterone
to alter their bodies, there is a larger number grappling with gender identities.
"There's certainly the group of students
who say, 'I always felt like I was in the wrong body,' " says Mencher.
MITCH BOUCHER, WHO grew up in Wethersfield, Conn., with an older brother,
was raised as a girl. His father was an accountant, and his mother, a social
Boucher says that as a child he was always
a tomboy. The year he spent as one of only two girls on the town children's
wrestling team, for example, he describes as "the highlight of my childhood."
By contrast, he says, he hated the time he spent trying cheerleading.
"I was totally jealous of the guys that
got to play football," says Boucher.
In adolescence, he says, things got harder.
Watching his body change made him feel "awkward," he says, though he didn't
tell anyone. Instead, he worked hard at being feminine but always with a
vague sense that "something didn't feel right."
"There's no role models out there," he
says. "There's nobody telling you, 'you can be a trans person.' "
Boucher says he remained heterosexual
until graduate school, when he began dating women. Still, he says, the lesbian
label didn't seem right and he avoided it.
When he was in his mid-20s, a friend
gave him a copy of "Stone Butch Blues," a novel about a transgender person
based on author Leslie Feinberg's life.
"I really identified with the character,"
says Boucher. However, he says, the idea of physically changing his body
scared him, and he put the book away for a couple of years and tried to forget
When he arrived at UMass a year later,
he saw a flier at the women's center on campus for a support group for
female-to-male transgender people. He says he hung onto the piece of paper
for a year before finding the courage to attend one of the group's meetings.
During that time, he says, he did a lot of reading on the topic, always telling
himself it was for "academic" reasons.
When he finally decided to check out
the support group, however, he knew it was a turning point.
"I was in a roomful of people who were
born female but identified as men," Boucher recalls. "That was the first
time it really hit me. Like, 'Wow! This is who I am.' "
He realized then, he says, that he could
go through the hormone treatments and surgery that would allow him to live
as a man.
Yet even before he began his medical
transition, he began to live in a gray area between the sexes.
"I was getting more and more
masculine-looking," he says.
He kept his hair very short, bound his
breasts and wore men's clothing.
"I always felt like I wanted to be more
butch, more butch, but I couldn't ever get butch enough," Boucher says. At
the same time, his mother, who was divorced from his father, was planning
to be remarried. "She wanted me to be her bridesmaid," he recalls. "And as
she was looking at me she realized she couldn't put the two pictures together."
They compromised, and he wore a tailored
suit appropriate for either gender. Soon after that, mainly, he says, with
the help of his transgender friends and a therapist, he started a process
known as transition from female to male.
While he says it took his parents some
time to get used to the idea, for the most part they have been supportive.
For the past three years, he has regularly been receiving shots of testosterone.
The results are not subtle. Soon after starting the injections, he began
getting more body and facial hair. He has increased muscle tone, and a deeper
voice. His face is more angular than it once was, and while he says he always
had a bit of a receding hairline, it is now more pronounced.
Boucher says the process was difficult
at first, because people didn't always know whether he was male or female.
"I was mainly passing as a guy, until I spoke," he says. "And then people
would get all flustered and they wouldn't know what to do."
About six months after beginning hormone
therapy, Boucher underwent chest reconstruction surgery in New York, which
involved a double mastectomy and construction of a male-appearing chest.
Such a surgery ranges in price from $5,000 to $10,000.
He says he has not considered genital
surgery because he doesn't find it to be necessary or anything he'd like
to pursue at this point. Dr. Yvon Menard of the Metropolitan Center for Plastic
Surgery in Montreal, Quebec is one of the few North American surgeons who
performs these operations. Menard says the cost of such surgeries can be
anywhere from $6,300 for a fairly basic surgery that doesn't have a completely
realistic appearance, called metaidoioplasty to about $36,000 for a phalloplasty,
which includes construction of a functional penis and scrotal implants.
LISETTE LAHANA, the Northampton therapist who specializes in gender issues,
says that while the changes Boucher has gone through can be a powerful remedy
for those who believe they've been born in the wrong bodies, no one should
approach the process lightly. "Transition is based on careful treatment with
a qualified therapist to discuss their readiness to take such a step," says
Before she recommends a client to a physician
for hormone treatment, Lahana, whose clients range in age from 16 to 60,
says she conducts an extensive evaluation. It is based on guidelines set
out by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association
(www.hbigda.org), an interdisciplinary board of specialists based in Minneapolis,
Minn., that has set the standards of care for several decades.
Lahana says that her transgender clients
often have difficulty getting such therapy covered by insurance companies,
some of which have specific wording in their contracts that prohibit treatments
for gender-identity disorders.
Therefore, many of them pay for psychological
treatments, hormones and surgeries themselves.
In addition, she says, most insurance
companies are confused by people whose medical needs cross both genders.
For example, an endocrinologist may list a person as female while the primary
care physician's records describes the individual as male. As a result, she
says, insurance companies will sometimes refuse to cover necessary treatment,
such as gynecological exams, for a transgender patient.
An individual can take legal steps to
get gender designations changed on birth certificates and driver's licenses,
says Cole Thaler, an attorney in Florence who is a female-to-male transgender
himself and has gone through a legal name change. He says anyone can get
a name changed simply by applying to probate court and paying a fee of about
To have gender changed on a driver's
license, Thaler says, the Registry of Motor Vehicles requires a letter from
a physician stating that the person has had irreversible gender-changing
surgery. The only cost involved is that of obtaining a new driver's license.
To change a gender on a birth certificate, he says, the process is similar.
A doctor's letter must be submitted to the city clerk of the community where
the individual was born.
Lahana says she advises individuals to
spend as long as possible living as a member of the other gender before making
any permanent physical changes. She says she coaches students on ways to
make that work on campus. "I suggest clients talk to the professor before
class and ask to be addressed by [the preferred] name and pronouns."
TAKING ON A different gender identity, however, isn't easy, as A.J. Crittendon,
who graduated from UMass last spring, has discovered. It's not making the
transition that's hard, he says, but dealing with others' reactions to it.
At 22, Crittendon, who lives in Amherst,
identifies himself as a transgender person, but has not yet undergone a medical
transition from female to male. He has adopted the name A.J. and his friends
use male pronouns to describe him, though his parents do not. His mother,
he says, is beginning to accept his transgender identity.
"She said she didn't like it, she didn't
agree with it, but she loves me," he says.
As for his father, Crittendon is hoping
his mother will be the one to talk to him about the issue, because he says
he hasn't worked up the nerve to do it himself.
His older brother, he says, has offered
to pay some of the costs of the physical procedures he plans to seek within
the next year.
Crittendon, who grew up in Hawaii, has
a laid-back athletic appearance. He wears baggy clothes, and keeps his hair
cut Marine-recruit short. On the advice of his therapist, he says, he is
taking a full year to consider his choice before starting hormones and undergoing
Crittendon looks like either a very boyish
woman or a young, teenage male. As a result, he says, it is difficult for
him to gauge how those around him are perceiving him. He says while at UMass,
he had little success talking to professors about his preferred pronoun usage.
"They're respectful of the name part but none of them get pronouns," says
His identity was also an issue among
his dorm mates.
Crittendon says due to his gender-ambiguous
appearance, he had trouble in his role as a dormitory Resident Assistant.
In spite of the fact that he was hired to oversee dormitory life, he was
often the target of suspicion by the very students he was supposed to be
Given university rules on bathroom usage,
deciding which bathroom to use became particularly troublesome for him.
"My own residents would harass me in
the bathroom," Crittendon recalls. He tells the story of a group of male
students seeing him through the window of the women's room, and yelling,
" 'There's a man in the women's room! We're going to have you written up!'
As a result, Crittendon says, he wrote
a letter to the administration in the fall of 2001 requesting a gender-neutral
bathroom that he could use without fear of harassment.
Then he turned to Mitch Boucher at the
Stonewall Center for help.
They sent out an e-mail asking others
to attend an organizational meeting. Thirty-five people showed up. "It blew
me away," says Boucher.
Many who came were not transgender
themselves, but, according to Boucher, were sympathetic to the cause, which
came to be known as the Restroom Revolution. The group formally proposed
that there be at least one gender-neutral bathroom in every dormitory. They
also asked for a limited number of such bathrooms in other buildings on campus.
Crittendon says it took a year and a
half before the administration responded. In the meantime, the students took
their grievance to the Student Government Association, which approved their
request. Still, debate persisted in an exchange of pro and con letters in
the campus newspaper during much of the last academic year.
"I look too much like a boy to use the
women's room ... but I am not legally allowed to use the men's room," wrote
student Eric Delisle.
Jared Nokes, a student and member of
the Student Government Association, countered with the argument that dropping
restroom gender rules would be awkward for women. "As a female, could you
ever feel comfortable knowing someone can walk in [to a bathroom stall] next
to you and lean over at any time?"
In May, Joanne Vanin, vice president
of student affairs, announced that two dormitories and one campus building
would contain unisex bathrooms. Though it is less than they asked for, Crittendon
and Boucher considered it a triumph.
So far, three unisex bathrooms are to
be installed, one in the Prince/Crampton dormitory cluster and two in Machmer,
a classroom building. A letter from Vanin says one other will be added at
a later date, most likely in another part of the Prince/Crampton cluster,
if there is a need for it.
"I consider it a step forward," said
Boucher earlier this month. "But there's still a lot that needs to be done
to make this campus trans friendly."
ACROSS THE river in Northampton at Smith College, which had steadfastly held
onto its all-female tradition despite the trend for single-sex schools to
go coed, the situation has an added dimension. While Smith has a reputation
as a lesbian-friendly campus, the college has struggled to decide how transgender
students fit in, if at all.
Last spring, the Student Government
Association (SGA) asked the student body to change the student government
constitution so that it contained only gender-neutral pronouns. During the
debate preceding the vote, concerns were raised that such a move would steer
Smith in the direction of coeducation.
"We are a single-sex college for women,"
said Maureen Mahoney, dean of the college at Smith. "That's who we admit."
"If other people want to be called something
else, fine," said sophomore Esi Cleland. "But as women we should be confident
enough not to want to be called something else."
But Toby Davis, a transgender student
who graduated last spring, said he believed that his presence at the school
was consistent with the college's original mission. "One of the reasons Smith
was founded was to serve those who, because of their gender, are having
difficulty having a voice," he said during a panel discussion held on campus
in May. "We've all had the disadvantages of being raised a woman."
In the end, the measure passed by 50
votes out of 1,115 cast.
Lindsay Watson, the former SGA president
who came up with the idea, said it was basically an attempt to attract more
students to student government. "We do have a population on this campus that
doesn't refer to itself as 'she,' and doesn't use that pronoun," says Watson.
Maureen Mahoney says that as complex
as the issue is for Smith, the college is committed to supporting students
in their gender explorations, no matter where this might take them. She says
she has no intention of looking up students' medical records, and there is
no policy in place for the college to expel a student because she started
looking like a man following hormone treatments.
"What we are concerned about is students
treating each other respectfully," says Mahoney. "That's a behavior issue,
not an identity issue."
Davis, who is tall and stocky, with features
that suggest a teenage boy, says that in general the people he meets view
him as male. He says he became aware that he was transgender midway through
his time at Smith. He told the assembled students, faculty and community
members at the spring panel discussion that it was the accepting environment
at Smith that allowed him to come to terms with his situation.
"Because Smith is so open about sexuality,
it gave me a chance to explore my identity," said Davis.
Julie Mencher, a local therapist, was
hired at Smith last year as a transgender specialist. On campus part time
to counsel students dealing with gender issues as well as to educate staff
members about transgender, Mencher also continues her private practice in
She says that there are only a handful
of students at Smith who are seriously considering medical transition, but
several more who are experimenting with the idea of being another gender.
"There are a lot of students here who
identify as transgender but don't identify as male. They identify in a more
gender-ambiguous way," says Mencher. "There are only some students who request
to be identified as 'he.' "
Just as it was a radical thing at one
time to experiment with sexual preference, these days the new edge for many
students is to push the boundaries of gender, says Mencher. And, she adds,
it is unclear how many of these students will end up identifying themselves
as transgender after college, just as many who experiment with lesbianism
in college don't always spend their lives with female partners.
"The ages 18 through 22 are a time of
experimenting with various kinds of identities," she says.
BUT FOR Louis Mitchell, an HIV prevention educator at Tapestry Men's Health
Project in Springfield and an undergraduate student at the UMass University
Without Walls program, youthful gender incongruity had deep roots.
Born a girl, Mitchell, who is 43, says
he knew from the time he was 3 years old that he wanted to be a boy, but
didn't know how to express it.
"IT NEVER STOPPED," HE SAYS. HE SAYS
HE USED TO PRAY TO GOD TO BE CHANGED INTO A BOY.
He says he lived many of his younger
years as a lesbian. "The earliest time I thought, 'I'm trans,' I was 30."
However, it was almost a decade before
he took steps to physically change his appearance. For one thing, he says,
he wanted to be sure he was ready to tell his mother about it. Also, he says,
it was frightening to leave the comfortable world of the lesbian community
in the Bay Area of California, where he spent 12 years.
Deeply committed to his Christian faith
and a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ, Mitchell says that
he decided to transition only after long discussions with his pastor.
He began the process in 1999, just a
few months after he met Krysia Villon, 30, a development officer at Mount
Holyoke College in South Hadley.
By the time they met, Mitchell had already
begun asking friends and family to use male pronouns as a way of beginning
the process. Villon says she always knew him as "he," even before he started
his testosterone treatments. Mitchell has since had chest reconstruction
surgery, performed at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.
Villon says she always considered herself
a lesbian, and has never been attracted to men.
Still, the couple says, sparks flew and
they fell in love.
"I wasn't clear in my mind that Louis
would really look like a guy," says Villon. "I thought, well, he'll just
be a little more masculine."
According to Mitchell, the hormones changed
him physically in many ways: His voice got lower, and he has a full beard.
There were other changes as well. His feet grew two sizes, something he says
he found annoying, because he had to buy a whole new set of shoes.
Also, he has a hard time crying nowadays,
which surprised him. He had always prided himself on being able to show his
Villon says that at first she had difficulty
getting used to the idea that, given her relationship with Mitchell, people
were seeing her as heterosexual.
"I was feeling invisible," says Villon.
"It was scary."
Still, Mitchell and Villon got married
a year ago last April, in a small ceremony at a divinity school in San Francisco.
Now, Villon says, she accepts that she's
being perceived as a heterosexual. Sometimes, she says, she even enjoys the
fact that among her co-workers she is seen as just another married woman.
She also says that despite her fears about Mitchell's physical changes, she
is still very much in love.
Mitchell says that as he has changed,
he has come to understand many issues that mystified him earlier in life.
He has started to see the dangers of being a black man in this society.
He said that when he was seen as a black
female, he wasn't perceived by others as being dangerous or a criminal, but
as soon as he began to appear male, he was treated with suspicion, particularly
by the police.
"I've been pulled over 600 percent more
than before I transitioned," he says.
Mitchell says he considers himself fortunate
to have lived a life that includes both male and female experiences. "How
many guys can honestly say they know what PMS feels like?" he quips.
However, he adds, undergoing transition
had nothing to do with changing his gender: He always knew he was male, he
says, and it was just a matter of having his body fit.
"I'm getting to know myself better as
a man," he says.
AS FOR UMASS graduate student Mitch Boucher, he says there are many things
he has had to get used to now that the world perceives him as male. For example,
he says, he finds it's no longer acceptable to smile at children in the grocery
store or on the street, because parents react suspiciously. A recent trip
to the florist was eye opening, he says, because as he purchased some flowers,
the woman behind the counter was so friendly and interested in hearing about
whether the flowers were for a girlfriend. In the past, he says, it was a
completely different experience.
"If they thought I was a lesbian, they
weren't going to ask me any questions," he says.
He says he considers himself a straight
male due to his sole attraction to women. But he acknowledges the fact that
his transgenderism complicates the picture. "I'm a straight queer," he says,
On the other hand, he adds, "I feel like
I'm different from a guy who was born male."
The numbers are elusive
BY SUNSHINE DEWITT, Staff Writer
The belief that transgenderism is rare is a popular misconception, says Sarah
Anne Thompson, a staff member of the International Foundation for Gender
Education (IFGE), a nonprofit based in Boston that provides information to
the public about transgender issues. This, she says, may be due to the fact
that transgender people often blend in with the rest of the
"You may have met many transgender people
and not even know it," says
The most commonly cited statistic for
the prevalence of transsexuality - that is, people who have undergone sex
reassignment surgeries - is one in 30,000 males and one in 100,000
An outspoken skeptic of these statistics,
however, is Lynn Conway, a professor of engineering at the University of
Michigan and a transgender person herself. She says the commonly cited statistics
are based on a study conducted in the 1950s, before sex-reassignment surgeries
were widely available. Conway, who underwent transition from male to female
30 years ago and has written extensively on the subject of transsexual
statistics, has conducted a survey of surgeons in the United States and compiled
her own data about transsexualism. She calculates that at least 1 in every
2,500 adult males in the United States has transitioned from male to female
(that is, has undergone complete sex-reassignment surgery). The number of
people who are experiencing feelings associated with being transgender may
be many times more than that, she
Conway says the numbers issue is important,
because it can determine the way transgender people are
"The rarer the group is, the less careful
you have to be in characterizing them," says Conway, speaking by phone from
Ann Arbor, Mich. "But if you're talking about 1 in 500, that means every
big university is going to have to deal with
There is plenty of debate as to what
causes transgenderism, and for each perspective, there is a wagonload of
assumptions and prescriptions. Some argue that transgenderism is a disease
rather than a legitimate gender
In an article entitled "Homosexual Agenda,"
circulated by the Christian conservative group Traditional Values Coalition,
the Restroom Revolution at the University of Massachusetts was pointed to
as a sign of a "dangerous new social
The article reads: "Transgenderism,
of course, is a serious gender identity disorder ... Individuals with mental
problems should not be allowed to dictate social policies at a university
nor in legislation that will normalize a mental
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV), published by the American
Psychiatric Association, is the bible of the psychiatric and psychological
profession. In it, there is a listing called "gender identity disorder,"
which describes childhood experiences such as taking on the "opposite sex"
roles in play, feeling disgust or anger at their genitals, and other signs
of cross-gender identification.
Some transgender activists have, like
their gay and lesbian counterparts in the 1980s, lobbied to have this "disorder"
removed from the DSM IV. Others have taken advantage of the situation and
used it to argue their status under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),
which requires accommodation in the workplace for those with physical or
According to Lisette Lahana, a Northampton
therapist who specializes in gender issues, there is a great deal of debate
in the psychological community as to whether transsexualism really is a
psychological disorder, or a medical
"We don't have adequate research yet
to come to a conclusion as to what is the real cause of transsexualism,"
says Lahana. "We have racial diversity and sexual diversity. Gender identity
could be seen as another form of human diversity," says Lahana.
Sunshine DeWitt is a Gazette reporter. She can be reached at