Mercedes Allen

Mercedes Joins the Gender Binary

Filed By Mercedes Allen | October 03, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender dysphoria, gender identity, MTF, sex change, sex reassignment surgery, transgender, two spirits

As it seemed so important to people to get offended at my surgical decision not to have GRS, for whatever reason, I suppose that it's only fitting to say this here. In the beginning, I had reserved the right to change my mind. I'm exercising that right, now. (It's a decision I'd actually made awhile ago, but had not commented on during the past month to two of being sidelined by depression).

That does not mean that I'm abandoning those who live in an in-between or conceding to a one-true-way in which we are forced to live in a binary and be either fully female or fully male. It also doesn't mean that I'm allowing ideological bullies push me into making a life-changing decision based on their indignant and bigoted puritanism. I've simply come to realize that the in-between path is not one that I personally can travel and be fulfilled. I believe that there will come a day when more trans folk will give consideration to traveling this path and do so without shame (those who can, that is -- there's a majority whose gender dysphoria is so severe that this would never be an option, and I don't see that changing), and that will bring its own set of controversies and insights -- but it's an idea for other pioneers, of whom I am no longer one.

It was because I'd been living 24/7 for some time that the gender dysphoria was alleviated enough to consider forgoing GRS. That and a somewhat positive sexual experience that has never been replicated gave me pause to think less about surgery and more about the concept of the Two Spirit, a concept that existed in many Native cultures, as well as other cultures past and present. Specific traditions vary considerably, and I never did filter that down to a conclusive singular definition of Two Spirit, other than that one must follow their heart on the matter. But there is an intrinsic sense that someone who is perfectly Two Spirited, i.e. not leaning to one side or the other, attains a higher spiritual level of balance, combining the feminine and masculine, the passive and aggressive (and hopefully not passive-aggressive), reflection and spontaneity, considering alternate viewpoints and decisiveness.... Of course, it would be impossible for anyone to be all that, but it seemed to me to be something to strive for. There is wisdom to be learned from every path, but the more unique the path, the more insight can be found.

In the end, however, I've found that I am far closer to a singular feminine spirit than that, and that having certain pieces of flesh didn't change that equation, anyway. What was awkward before remained awkward -- coping is not the same as fulfillment. The surgery exists for a reason, and that is to help a person function in every area in their life. As the realm particular to the genitals and associated psyche were not functioning, my decision had to be revisited.

Gender: Biology vs. Social Construct

... will probably be a debate for ages to come. My own travels so far tell me that it has to be a little bit of both. I didn't choose my gender, and was not able to sway it the (self-censored) number of years I tried to pass as the man that people expected me to be. There's something very intrinsic and unwavering about gender. And then... we construct a whole lot of ideas around that, many of which are $#!t. But the construct becomes a part of our self-expression, whether we loathe it or celebrate it. Questioning the biology, questioning the construct... it's all good. It helps us see more aspects of the whole. We are, after all, biology + socialization + choice, and those different components sometimes have specific and immovable province over different areas of our lives. Questioning allows us to determine where our notions are coming from and just how flexible or firm, founded or unfounded they might be.

Likewise, I see no need to expunge the concept of "Third Sex," although I doubt it will ever be adopted into the mainstream. I don't particularly feel like a third sex, although I know I'll never be male and have had a recent reminder that there will always be people who will never accept me as female, surgery or no. So, as in other aspects of life, trans folk of a "third sex" mindset exist to keep questioning the polarized concepts of binary gender, black and white.

But maybe that's what the in-betweeners and the misfits are for is to question things - something that doesn't change with the flick of a scalpel.

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Don't think for one moment that we will allow you to stop being a pioneer simply because you're getting surgery. No matter what body parts you have or don't have, it will not change you as a person in our eyes. You will remain "Mercedes Allen," a woman many trans people look up to and admire. It is your lot in life to be loved and admired. You'll just have to live with it, with or without the "you-know-what."

Congratulations, my friend, for receiving your landing instructions from the Venus Control Tower. Enjoy. I'll remain in orbit, taking in the view . . . yet again.

First and foremost, think.

Surgery is an irrevocable step that can not be undone. If you have any unresolved feelings or conflicts about getting it, then don't.

For me, my penis disgusted me. Everytime I went to the restroom, every time I saw it in a mirror or while dressing, I became revolted by that thing hagning between my legs. Once I came out and finally began to deal with who and what I am, surgery was the only recourse, for I realized just how much my own body disgusted me. I lost a girlfriend, because she couldn't understand about surgery.

So if you have any doubts or reservations, then don't, it is that simple.

Second, no matter what you do, you will never join the gender binary. Almost by definition, we can't. Though I have had surgery and my parts are female, that doesn't mean I have stopped being who and what I am. Some post-ops might have deluded themselves into thinking they are now proud members of the binary, but it just can't be.

Born a transexual, always a transexual. I might pass in society as a woman, but I will never be a cis-gendered woman. Our lives are permanently complicated when it comes to gender by the circumstances of our birth.

Can a person change their race, or their natural hair and eye color?

We are who we are, and no amount of surgery or wishing will ever change that.


I think we can safely assume that Mercedes has adequately thought out the issue. It's one of my pet peeves how people (often other trans people) insert themselves into trans people's medical decisions. It's perfectly fine to have a complicated view on the matter. When a patient undergoes any other kind of surgery, it's generally okay for them to have doubts yet still think it's a good idea. I don't think this surgery should be any different.

I agree that SRS won't solve all your problems, it won't make you not trans, and it won't make you binary-identified any more than not having SRS will make you non-binary identified. But I guess this is giving my flashbacks to when a trans woman was practically shouting at me that I shouldn't start hormones if I was genderqueer identified -- that unless I had the right kind of dysphoria it would cause more problems than it solved.

Also, as a side note, many folks do change their race. Maybe not their skin color, but I've spent a lot of time in mixed race spaces, native spaces, and light skinned PoC spaces to see it. Even I spent a few years white-identified back before I had the race consciousness I do now. So the whole, you-can't-change-your-race metaphor tends to ring false for me.


Well, socially, culturally, in the artificial ways that people find to live life, I guess you can "change" your race, but I was referring more to the physical, the biological level.

Spiritually, metaphysically, well things are pretty mutable once you get into those spaces, but down at the "hard" level, cellular, chromosomally, molecular, atomic, sub-atomic, who knows.

Well maybe not sub-atomic, some pretty wierd shit goes down around that level, so who knows, maybe.

I was born white northern european stock. That is what the genes will tell anyone who looks and knows what to look for. They will find genes for pale colored skin, dark brown hair, blue/grey eyes, five fingers, five toes, two arms, two legs, one penis.

It is all there, at the molecular-genetic level. Pretty much immutable, as far as our current knowledge and understanding go. who knows, there may be a genetic marker there for being trans, they just haven't found one yet.

Born a pasty faced white "boy", and that ain't going to change until the next incarnation, another turn of the wheel.

Oh well, everyone should be so "lucky". ;-)

Can a person change their race, or their natural hair and eye color?
Well, my eye colour changed as part of my anomalous transition. I lost the "salt and pepper" look in my hair too, though it's started to make a comeback. It's about where it was 10 years ago.

So YMMV when taking your statement literally.

Biologically speaking, I'll always be Intersexed.

Currently there's a debate as to whether I should be classed as an Intersexed female with a TS past (so only entitled to an amended birth certificate), or TS with severe endocrinal anomalies (so able to get a new BC - but only if I divorce). My opinion on the matter is immaterial, and there are quite serious legal consequences depending on the outcome.

This illustrates the arbitrary nature of such classifications when the gender line is blurry. Not even the TS/IS line is well-defined for everyone, let alone m/f.

Surgery, as you said, doesn't change the essence of the person. It may, however, allow the possibility of growth in areas that were stunted and atrophied before.

Our life history and body morphology shapes us, and may even constrain us, but it cannot define us. As you said though, our past is part of us, we can never be cis-sexual. How important we allow that to be to us is up to us though.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 3, 2008 12:15 PM

Monica, dear friend, diddlygrl, and Mercedes please forgive if I say anything out of ignorance. I am very glad for you Mercedes. I believe that the paradigm has already shifted. If I may borrow a phrase "plumbing issues" do not make someone a gender.

I also think that as women become truly independent of mind and as men feel freer to find simple beauty in everyday moments and more "vulnerable" these distinctions will not matter at all.

Let's all become the best humans we can be. Can we be fully in touch with beauty, intellect, organization, strength, optimism and assign nothing to a gender, but to ourselves?

Great post, Mercedes. Congratulations on coming to a decision that works for you. There are definitely some big issues that get wrapped up in it all, it's great to see them being teased apart.

One thing I feel I should mention, I'm a bit squicked by the idolizing of "pioneers" and the admiration of those claiming a two-spirit identity (without mention to the racial background of the people claiming it). You know what I mean?

Normally, either by itself is small enough that I don't even mention, but the two together seem to be a little extra icky.

"But maybe that's what the in-betweeners and the misfits are for is to question things - something that doesn't change with the flick of a scalpel."

Mercedes I wish you well on your journey. April 15th of this year I had GRS in Bangkok. It's been something I looked forward to for many years, but never thought I could afford. Since the age of 4 I had known something was different about me but just didn't know what that was.

It's been a long journey for me, not accepting myself as a transgender woman until age 52. Through all those interviening years I both hated my sexuality and tried to bury my gender identity.
My uncomfort with my sexuality contnues.

I once heard Kris Howey on Gendertalk discuss her journey. Something she said has remained with me - if you are at peace with where you are on your journey stay there and enjoy it. There is no race to see who can get to GRS first. Make sure GRS is where you want to go, not where others are wanting you to go.

I am thankful I finally accepted myself as a transgender woman. That acceptance has brought much peace to my life - and also much sorrow. GRS brought my body to completeness. I feel I am still the same person as before. I am now in consulting to try and reclaim my sexuality so that I may become a whole person.

I wish you the very best on your journey whereever it may lead.

Mercedes having read your writings for some time now I would assume you've put much thought into your decision.Good luck

Mercedes, your life is your own - as is your body.

When you start letting people tell you what to do with them (or scare or bully you into not doing certain things with them), they cease being yours.

Sincerest of best wishes - and I hope all goes well.

To Tobi, that's what I get for not telling the whole story, I suppose. I'm Metis (Cree & Saulteaux, plus European), the kind of Metis where the family doesn't practice the heritage and the mother tells you it's better to tell people you're a "mongrel" than that you're part Native. And probably unwisely for me, it wasn't until I was an adult and estranged from them that I questioned this and started to realize a serious emptiness from not having learned that heritage. Two Spirit is really a small part of it, and right now, being still kind of on the outside looking in, I admit it's still only "book smarts" more than experience that I've picked up (therefore, I don't claim to be an "authority"). But yes, there's a lot more spirituality to the search, and it went/goes further than a Two Spirit aspect.

To diddlygrl, don't worry, it's a decision many years in the making. When I was 20, I was ready for GRS, but faced with the understanding that it would never be a reality for me. I spent the next 20 years going through a "coping" stage where my image of self was questioned and gradually changed to something that I believed was the limit of what was possible for me. When I went full-time, the pivot point was whether I "could be happy with that," and I came to believe that I could. That was part of the mindset that led me to "non-op," but was still more apparently a question of coping than changing. Over this past year, this has been made pretty clear to me.

In short, there was a lot of aspects, a lot of psychological goings-on, maybe too much to detail here, but I've got them all reined in and not the other way around.

Thanks everyone for the support. I do appreciate it.

I figured it was something like that after reading your bio. I think it's the word "pioneer" that sets me in that direction, as it's hard for me to separate it from it's original meaning. That and I'm so used to seeing white folks pick up the term Two Spirit as a fascinating concept which they totally *love*, but in reality, it's just the name that they love and they barely know a paragraph's worth of the concept or history -- not that I'm an expert myself, but being Native and first finding acceptance as trans in Native space I tend to find that kind of cultural insensitivity frustrating.

Then I wish you the best of luck with your surgery, and highly recommend Montreal, Bassard is absolutely a wonderful person, and very skilled surgeon.

In the end, it all comes down to being your decision, only you live your life, no one else. As long as it is something you have decided, and not something that someone else has decided for you, then go for it.

Women in this society, hell in this world, are faced with the problem that too many times we are coerced by others into making life changing decisions, or having those decisions made for us, by family or "loved ones". The pressure to just shut up and go along with what someone tells you is constant, but then you have lived as a woman long enough to know that.

Best of luck on the completion of your transition, and the start of the "second phase". I have not really figured out what kind of catchy name to call it, I just know it is not "transition" anymore but something else, something similiar, but different. You have been writing about these type of things far longer than I have, maybe you can think of something to call it once you start to experience it.

I will just call it, "getting on with life" for now.

Because of Mercedes' geographical location, Brassard is obviously the surgeon to go to. I'm a Supornista, and even I have to admit Brassard's surgery is first-rate. I've been to Montreal, to help others, and have seen his results first-hand, up close and personal.

And apart from that, all I can say is "I agree". Those who transition late tend to let others' feelings and wishes over-rule their own. Well, they usually have done in the past.

Anyway, the only person who gets a vote in this is Mercedes, and although we can give advice, provide information and so on, she's the only one who knows the situation.

I confess that from her writings, it came as a surprise to me to learn that she is pre-op (that was what, over a year ago anyway). That just proved to me yet again that surgical status is irrelevant when it comes to defining who you are.

I hope that she finds having a consistent body as wonderful an experience as I have.

Melanie Davis | October 4, 2008 1:57 PM

It's a personal choice, and you go, girl!

As to the modern definition of two-spirit, Whatever! Much like the modern European Pagan religions that had a blossoming in the last century, it's mostly conjecture as to what the original practitioners did, how they believed and how they lived. Who today can say that if the two-spirit people of every generation past had access to ANY kind of remedy to their physical differences, that they would choose to stay blended or to what degree? Effectively those people who believe in the essentialism of labels and attack others for not having the same definitions they have constructed are insecure and need to get over their own crap.

Every person's path is different, every person deserves to live their lives as they choose. Thank the God[dess(es)] we have options now beyond non-sterile self castration. Nobody has the right to box you in, nobody has the right to shame you for your personal decisions, and you owe no one an explanation or apology for those decisions.

"Follow your bliss." -Joseph Campbell

Best of luck on your surgery, Mercedes, and hope all goes well for you.

Sophia Eudemon | October 4, 2008 7:45 AM

Monica expressed my feelings about Mercedes better than I could. So kudos to Mercedes!

I do, however, wish to disagree with the viewpoint expressed by others that GRS is of little consequence. I think this is likely to be the case only for those of us that continue to identify closely with MTF transsexuals most of whom are and intend to stay pre-op.

An important part of deciding to have GRS is deciding if we wish to identify with women or with MTF TSs after having the surgery. I'm running about 18 months behind Mercedes in having GRS but have already decided a vital part of my transition will be to live my life as a female and not as a transsexual. I agree at a genetic level this won't make any difference but given that I've never had anyone pull my DNA for analysis I doubt this to be of any consequence. In practical terms if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, so-to-speak, most people say it is a duck. This, of course, not being the case if even the duck doesn't identify as a duck!

Sophia, one of the very few advantages of straddling the IS/TS line is that you get to meet all sorts of interesting people.

I know too many women - the GG factory model variety - who have CAH - congenital adrenal hyperplasia - and to put it bluntly, are far better endowed than I ever was, even when the rest of my body looked male.

Some have borne children. Some can't.

It's not always about identifying as TS or whatever, really. Some are content having nonstandard bodies, or at least, prefer the devil they know. Still, you did say "likely", and you may be right.

Is it possible to be a natal woman, and have un-female genitalia? In my experience, yes.

Of course, wild horses couldn't have stopped me from getting genital reconstruction. But that's me, and I although I'm a monster of arrogance and ego, even I don't expect everyone to feel the same way.

I want you to be happy and loved. If surgery makes you happy, by all means jump on it. If it won't, don't worry about it.

But know always - you're already loved - just as you are.