Man Oh Man 

Transgender author Patrick Califia alienates readers right and left.

If it's true that no man is an island, it's also true that no man is Patrick Califia.

The author of Speaking Sex to Power and more than fifteen other books is a free thinker in the truest sense. A female-to-male transsexual who has advocated free sexual expression for more than twenty years, Califia has always managed to alienate much of mainstream society as well as feminists who staunchly oppose certain things he advocates -- namely, sadomasochism and pornography.

But never mind that. It's to be expected. Califia's sex-radical point of view has also angered parts of the politically viable gay and lesbian establishment, some of whom view transsexuals, bisexuals, and people into S/M with great disdain, branding them as threats to society's wider acceptance of homosexuality.

Not done yet. Separatists in the lesbian S/M community see the onetime "leatherdyke" as a modern-day Trojan horse, not only because, back in the day as a woman named Pat Califia, she came out as a bisexual and "slept with the enemy," but also because Califia eventually changed that precious pronoun and became the enemy.

More still. Califia reports that while most of his fellow female-to-male transsexuals offer a tremendous amount of support, a few see him as a charlatan because he refuses to repudiate the female parts of his past and "start over" as a man.

Sound like a recipe for all-encompassing estrangement and bitterness? Maybe for any other man, but not for Patrick Califia.

"It could be argued that I don't belong anywhere," says Califia, who was raised in Salt Lake City and has lived in the Bay Area most of his adult life, "but I feel like I belong everywhere."

That much comes through in his writing as well as his demeanor. Rather than starting from a place of scorned withdrawal toward those who reject him, he stays true to himself and steadfastly embraces his point of view regardless of any particular reader's reaction.

"Coming out as gay, bisexual, transgender -- that will make some people fear you, get you branded as a freak," says Califia, who started taking male hormones about five years ago and had chest surgery about two years ago. "But it also means you get to talk about things on your own terms."

And talk he has.

Califia's books include Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex, Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, and Sensuous Magic: A Guide for Adventurous Couples. His latest is a collection of essays and columns that have appeared in various publications over the last nine years. Some of these were written from a male perspective, some from a female one. Califia says he and the publisher, Cleis Press, struggled with whether to impose a singular voice on all the selections but eventually decided against it because all points of view are relevant, no matter where Califia is now.

"I don't think it's possible (or desirable) to erase the years I spent in the leatherdyke community or the sensibilities I acquired there," he writes in the book's introduction.

Califia says he's always identified partly as male. He recalls telling his mother -- when he was a young girl -- "I'm a boy," and announcing proud intentions to grow up as one.

"In a Mormon family, as you can imagine," he says, "that went down like a sack of coal at Christmas."

Still, he says his situation wasn't quite as simple as the "man trapped in a woman's body" perspective that some transgender people have. Califia says he made various efforts to feel comfortable physically as a woman but met with limited success. In his early forties he started to take small steps toward gender transition, reasoning that if he didn't like what was happening, he could always turn back.

He didn't.

"I feel like I just didn't have a choice," he says, adding with a smile, "I think if you have a choice between menopause and a second puberty, you should choose the second puberty."

Califia now has facial hair, a deeper voice, and a leaner jawline. He says he wants to have genital reconstructive surgery as well, but is not certain how he would pay for it.

"I kind of feel half-finished right now," he says.

Gender status on certain legal documents can't be changed from female to male until after genital surgery, and if you're living as a man but carrying a woman's ID, police, banks, and other institutions might assume that you're not who you claim to be.

As he works toward building his private therapy practice -- he has a master's degree in marriage and family counseling from the University of San Francisco -- Califia also is working on a number of book projects, including a collection of vampire stories called Mortal Companion, a collection of gay male smut called Hard Men, and a book with veteran leatherman and fellow therapist Guy Baldwin aimed at helping couples in S/M relationships with conflict resolution. He also intends to update Sex Changes for a second edition, he says, because when he wrote that book he wasn't certain whether he would transition from female to male.

It's just not a dilemma your average author has to face.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.

Latest in Books

Author Archives

  • Rebel Rock

    Protest music? In Taiwan?
    • Sep 7, 2005
  • Express Reviews

    Porn stars meet circus freaks, and rock stars die.
    • Jul 27, 2005
  • More»

Arts & Culture Blogs

Most Popular Stories

Special Reports

The Beer Issue 2020

The Decade in Review

The events and trends that shaped the Teens.

Best of the East Bay


© 2020 Telegraph Media    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation