What a strange thing man is; and what a stranger thing woman. – Lord Byron
Tomorrow I’ll be doing a question and answer column, but there was one query which I realized needed a column all to itself because the answer really isn’t as interesting as the question. It was, “How can you tell a transsexual from a biological woman?” Most of my female readers probably consider the answer to be obvious, but since many of my male readers may be equally convinced that it isn’t I think it’s best to examine the reasons for the question before moving on to the answer.
You would probably have to have lived at the bottom of the sea for your entire adult life to be unaware that some people born male are, to one degree or another, uncomfortable in their gender role; obviously some born-female are as well, but while many women who feel that way attempt to deny all gender by becoming neofeminists, men adopt a variety of behaviors ranging from cross-dressing to sex-change surgery. Women who cross-dress for sexual reasons are pretty rare and female-to-male transsexuals are unimportant to this discussion, so when I use the term “transgender” in this column it will heretofore mean only a male-to-female transsexual. The term “transgender” started out as an umbrella term for many kinds of gender nonconformity, but has settled in to basically mean what used to be described by the term “transsexual”.
Most cross-dressers are perfectly happy being male; they are not attracted to other men and their attachment to women’s lingerie probably arises from the same murky swamp of male sexuality as so many other “perversions” do. Indeed, most escorts have probably encountered clients who ask if they can wear women’s lingerie during sex or even answer the door in such garb without asking first. I never had a man surprise me that way, which is a good thing because my feelings on it would be the same as mixing BDSM with full service; I just can’t let a man inside me if I can’t take him seriously. Dominatrices cater to clients who wish to be “forced” to cross-dress as a BDSM “punishment”, and some of these men even derive a sexual thrill from going out in public and attempting to pass as women.
But that’s not the same thing as a transwoman, who actually feels uncomfortable as a male and really wants to be a woman. There are three types of transsexuals, Type 1, Type 2 and Extreme; as Dr. Helena put it, Type 1 transsexuals feel as though they are women in men’s bodies, Type 2 transsexuals only think they feel as though they are women in men’s bodies, and extreme transsexuals actually are women in men’s bodies. Type 1 transsexualism appears to derive from some childhood environment which stunted the development of a male self-image and caused the transsexual to pattern his psyche on strong female role models, while Type 2 appears to derive from trauma which causes the transsexual to reject his male identity. And extreme transsexualism (AKA gender dysmorphia) appears to derive from neurological causes which actually program a biological, XY chromosome male to think and feel like a woman, though he still has a physically and hormonally normal male body. At one time strict standards were in place to allow all extreme transsexuals and those Type 1 cases who could learn to live and behave like women to be recommended for gender reassignment while prohibiting Type 2 cases from doing so, but in recent years “queer activists” and easy international travel have combined to wreck or circumvent many of the safeguards which were designed to keep disturbed individuals from implementing irreversible changes to their bodies and later regretting it. Gender reassignment does not consist merely of sex-change surgery; it requires years of hormone therapy and electrolysis to remove his beard and other female-inappropriate body hair, and the candidate who wishes to do it by the numbers rather than simply flying to Thailand has to undergo years of psychological therapy as well. The costs of all this are astronomical, many tens of thousands of dollars, so a certain percentage of transsexuals turn to prostitution (generally at the street level) to earn it.
So in any large city, there is a small population of prostitutes, mostly streetwalkers, who dress as women but are not biologically female. Some of these are transsexuals earning their fees, while others are simply ordinary homosexual prostitutes who dress in drag; since all of these individuals lack female equipment they generally work at the low end where they can make a living only providing oral sex (unlike escorts, whose clientele presumes that full service is on the menu if desired). Traditionally these drag prostitutes did not openly advertise their masculinity (though it was generally obvious to those with eyes to see), but in modern times the internet has provided them with a venue to seek out those men who actually want to have sex with pre-operative transsexuals (also called “she-males” or “chicks with dicks” by their aficionados). But while some men actively seek transsexuals and some don’t care if only oral sex is involved, a much larger percentage are repelled by the thought of sexual contact with a male, however disguised, and in a few this goes beyond mere aversion to active concern. For whatever reason, these men are haunted by the thought that a prostitute they hire might be a post-operative transsexual.
Let’s face it; men really don’t look much like women. Even with padding in the right places they’re taller and larger, their faces, shoulders and waists are wider, they have thicker skin and deeper voices and hair everywhere, and their mannerisms aren’t much like those of women even when they try. In Hollywood comedies, men often dress as women and succeed in fooling everyone, but in the real world someone encountering the title character from Tootsie would be more likely to say, “Why is Dustin Hoffman in drag?” than “Wow, what a babe.” Normal men do not have access to Hollywood makeup artists and are seen from every angle rather than photographed in carefully-planned shots, and real people can’t help noticing the heavy theatrical makeup men need to cover their beard stubble. Even drag queens who perform in clubs benefit from dim lighting conditions and the distance of the audience from the stage. As I said above, transsexuals are physically and hormonally male; even years of hormone therapy and full-body electrolysis cannot erase greater height and larger bone structure, and once the larynx expands during puberty not even voice lessons can disguise the male vocal timbre.
Yet the myth persists; some men are absolutely convinced that a large percentage of escorts are actually post-operative transsexuals, and that it’s difficult to tell even when naked in the same bed with them! I suspect this idea is really just an exaggeration of the fact that some streetwalkers are either pre-operative transsexuals or drag queens, and the fact that a blow job from a fully-dressed streetwalker in a dimly-lit car is a far cry from a full-service call with a naked escort in a well-lit hotel room gets lost in the paranoia. Tourists to New Orleans, with its large homosexual population, seem especially worried about this; every week at least two or three guys, always tourists, asked if the girl I was about to send was a “real” girl, and every so often the number of such inquiries would explode for a few days (presumably after some “cautionary” TV show aired or magazine article was published). In truth, I knew of exactly four transsexual prostitutes in New Orleans; three were streetwalkers who worked out of the seedy Tulane Motel and one was an escort whom I never met, but was described to me by Doug as looking “like a stevedore in drag.” Despite the popular myth of their prevalence in the Big Easy, no service with which I was connected could even supply a transsexual hooker if a client wanted one!
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that a post-operative transsexual whore was short (by male standards), slender, possessed of very fine features and a high-pitched voice, and had received sufficient hormone therapy to give her a feminine shape and soft skin, and enough electrolysis to absolutely remove all facial hair and unfeminine body hair; are there any unalterable characteristics which would still allow one to tell that she was not biologically female? Obviously fleshy tissues can be surgically altered, but bone structure cannot, and there are a few such ways in which the average woman differs from the average man. The most obvious is in the proportional size of the hands and feet; even a short man tends to have larger hands and feet than a woman of the same physical size. The necks of women are proportionately longer and more slender than those of men, and this cannot be altered even if the Adam’s apple is shaved down. Also, women are leggier than men; though my husband is 8” taller than I am my waist is only barely below his, and I’m sure many of my readers have made comparable observations with their spouses. Finally, the index fingers of women are generally the same length as our ring fingers or slightly longer, while those of men are usually shorter than the ring finger. Of course none of these are foolproof tests; Uma Thurman has huge hands and feet, as did Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and I’m sure there are some men whose hands and feet are as small as a woman’s. I’ve met men with long, slender necks and women with bull necks, and I had a friend whose legs were so short that even though we were the same height standing, she was noticeably taller when sitting. And some studies suggest lesbians have longer ring fingers than other women, so that their hands are of similar proportions to those of men.
The short answer to my correspondent’s question, then, is that though there is no foolproof test, there are a few which would usually serve to allow a post-operative transsexual to be told apart from a woman of similar size and build. But I have a rhetorical question for you: Far be it from a bisexual woman to presume to understand a heterosexual man’s thinking, but why does it really matter? If your escort looks, sounds, acts and performs so much like a woman that you need some sort of Blade Runner replicant test to tell the difference, then what is the difference? If you were looking for a wife and planning to have kids I could see how it would be important, but for an hour’s diversion why is that particular aspect of an escort’s medical history more important than any other? You’re not going to turn gay from unknowingly copulating with her, so I don’t think I’m out of line in saying that when it comes to whores, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
UPDATE: Since I first wrote this column, my thinking on the subject has evolved considerably; I now realize that despite the positive ending, I inadvertently perpetuated some harmful stereotypes and slurs in the text. See “Due Consideration” for further discussion, and please accept my sincere apologies for the unintentional negativity.