Dear Angelo,

My friend, a drag queen, told me he's transgender and having a sex change. I don't understand it, but I think it's because he's getting older and not getting enough attention as a guy. How can I stop him from making a mistake he'll regret?

Signed, What's Transgender Anyway?

Dear What's Transgender Anyway?,

Sounds like your friend is probably a transsexual woman, not a drag queen. The best thing you can do is to be a supportive friend. Talk to your friend and get to know his experience. Here's some information that will help you enter the conversation.

A transsexual woman doesn't want to become a woman, she is a woman. It might help you to think of your friend as a woman soul in a male body. Your friend may want to be called "her." There are not only male to female transsexuals (MTF) but also female to male (FTM). Your friend may need surgery to change her male anatomy to female so that it matches her internal sense of being a woman. Getting older, not getting attention, or being a drag queen have nothing to do with wanting a sex change.

So what causes transsexuality then? Ask yourself, how did you become gay? How do you know you're gay? It just is. You just know. It's who you are. Well, it's the same little voice inside for transgender people.

Imagine going in for routine cosmetic surgery. But when you wake up, you're hurting where you shouldn't be. To your horror, you discover there was a mistake, and your male body has been changed into a female’s. As a man, how might you feel about this? Would you now be a female just because you have female genitals? Would you feel betrayed or disgusted by your new body? How would it be to be called "she" instead of "he?" Could you live in society as the opposite sex? Wouldn't you be running around screaming, "but I'm a man, I'm really a man!"? A transsexual person suffers from this mismatch between mind and body lifelong unless they do something about it. Our gender identity (how we think of ourself) is separate from our anatomy.

Sexuality is an entirely independent issue. You may be surprised that most transsexuals, like most people, identify as heterosexual. If a man is attracted to men, but identifies as a woman inside, then "’she" is straight. This becomes much more obvious after the sex change. Sexual reassignment surgery is not a solution for not wanting to be gay. While some transsexuals may identify as drag queens for awhile before they come to realize they are actually transsexual, transsexuals are not drag queens and drag queens are not transsexuals.

A drag queen is a gay cross dresser. Drag Queens are gay men that usually cross dress for fun, entertainment, or work. A drag queen does not live as a woman. He does not feel he is a woman. He does not want to change his male body into a woman’s. Drag queens are gay men playing with gender who like being men. There are lesbian drag kings too. Other cross dressers are heterosexual men. They dress in women’s clothes for fun, entertainment, work, sexual fetishes, to access emotionally sensitive parts of themselves, or to get a reprieve from the pressures of masculinity. There are also intersexes and a huge variety of other fluid variations between sex, gender, and sexual identity. The word "transgender" is often used to cover all gender variances.

So all these groups may cross dress, but for very different reasons. In addition, many transsexuals opt for hormones and surgery, many don't. Nevertheless in general, it's useful to remember that sex is between the legs while gender is between the ears.

Fortunately, we can choose to celebrate difference and to affirm each other as we are. If you can, tell your friend you will be there for her and try not to worry. The system has safeguards in place. Before hormones and surgery, most doctors require letters from gender therapists like me saying that the person is making the best decision for themselves with a clear mind.

It's understandable you'd feel concern for your friend. But many people wait to transition in midlife because it's "now or never" and they can no longer suffer, conforming to something which isn't them. They may have also finally gotten enough strength and money with age to do something that's so difficult, misunderstood, and expensive. It may help to think that you won't in fact be losing your friend. Although much will change in how she presents herself, your friend will still be the same person and will probably be much happier.

All The Best, Angelo

Dear Angelo,

I met a guy online. How do I go about asking him to meet in person?

Signed, Real Time

Dear Real Time,

Suggest meeting in a popular, public busy place like Starbucks. Somewhere like that is safe, easy to find, easy to leave, and not easy for the drama queens to make a scene should you do so. For friends and dating, start with about a half-hour meeting unless he's not what he said. Then it's perfectly fine to say so respectfully and exit, "I'm looking for a work-out partner. I don't recognize you as the athletic guy in the picture. This isn't a match for me, sorry." Keep this first encounter brief. It's just an introduction, not a marriage proposal (tell your lesbian friends!). If it goes well resist staying and pouring your soul out intensely for hours and hours! Instead, schedule a second longer meeting. To build a foundation of greater intimacy, try not to have sex the first few meetings unless you're just looking for hookups.

Hookup surveillance can take less than five minutes. A good line if you aren't interested can be, "Sorry guy, not a match." In the context of strictly sexual meetings, the rest is understood and usually isn't taken personally. If you are interested, be sure to talk about HIV status and play safe and sober.

The important thing overall is to be aware of expectations. Don't set yourself up to meet the perfect guy of your dreams. Resist the urge to write a love story in your head. Few people will be exactly like they say or look in their profile. Try not to get too disappointed. Keep an open mind along with your sense of humor.

Many of us have very specific turn-ons we're looking for. We go around trying to plug others into those flawless images. We can even get mad at them when they don't fit. Remember our wants are about us. They aren't about the other person having deficiencies. Own your preferences without putting others down. Try saying "Sorry, I liked the red head in your profile", not "Later blondie!"

In general, try trashing attitude. It's not inviting. Download warmth and friendliness when dealing with other gay men. We're all in this together. Most importantly be yourself and respect others. Then you'll get hits both online and off.

All The Best, Angelo.

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