Photo: There’s a Gay Biker’s Motorcycle Club! Who knew?
Okay, So I’ve received some really great feedback from the first ranty blog post, which came out of my brain after more than a year of engaging with people who are worried about the sorts of bodies that are occupying public washrooms.
I do stand corrected, I think, as I’ve gotten this piece back more than once:
I understood “transsexual” to refer to the sexual practice of cross-dressing, which is how it was initially explained to me, alllllll those years ago. In fact, the term cross-dressing or transvestite is what I should have said!
Transsexual is used to describe someone who has actually undertaken medical steps to change their body from one gender to another. Right? Yes. I think we agree on this definition. If you don’t agree, please comment below! I really appreciated and enjoyed all the awesome feedback on the first article.
Transgendered is how someone identifies – it’s about their spirit within the body they were born with. Transsexual, apparently, refers to someone who has undergone physical transition, but for that person’s whole life, before transition, they may have identified as transgendered.
Does this make sense? If not, ask!
Now, here’s a thing that came up during this particular podcast that got my mind really spinning out on these issues. For those who have watched “Sons of Anarchy” there’s a transgendered woman (mtf remember?) called Venus. I *love* her. What’s even more awesome is she gets involved with one of the more twisted bikers, and ultimately becomes a part of his character’s redemption. That was something I didn’t expect from the series and was very, very happy to see!
It’s not a show I recommend, by the way, Sweetie and I just watched the first season and couldn’t really STOP watching. I actually broke my rule of not watching shows that include sexual violence. It’s just not my kind of entertainment. But we were sucked in, and even though we’d cringe and fast-forward through some scenes, especially in the later seasons, we couldn’t stop watching that show! I think it’s because of our background in bikers. I’ll explain:
Sweetie actually worked in a leather shop in London, Ontario in the late 90s, a time when the biker wars were culminating. I have a feeling at least one of my long-term readers is going to chime in with biker stories of her own. Let’s watch the comments and see!
My Dad has told me stories from the 80s when my uncle’s Quebec hotel was a favoured hang out of a particular leader of a notorious biker gang. For my uncle’s part, he made it clear he didn’t want anything illegal happening at his hotel, and the arrangement ended up actually keeping trouble off the premises, because this biker really loved this hotel and bar of my uncle’s, and didn’t want it to get shut down, and so put out an “order” that no other members were allowed to frequent this bar or hotel but him and his personal guests. They ended up being really great bouncers. Whenever a customer would get rowdy, the biker dude and his cronies would carry the guy out by his elbows and pour him into a cab.
I actually have a story of a biker bringing me home when I was 13 years old and babysitting the neighbour kids, thus frightening years off the life of my mother. I’ll save that one for another day.
No, it’s short, I’ll tell it now. I’m already on a tangent, come along with me!
I was 13 and not legally allowed to work, but I had places to go, things to see, furniture to buy for my future apartment, and while I wasn’t really into childcare, I babysat because that was an income I wanted. I put out fliers in our mostly white middle class neighbourhood in North Bay, Ontario, and soon I had a new client, who regularly got me to look after their two kids.
It was a very easy job because the parents would go out around 9 pm, and usually come home between 1 and 2 in the morning. As a teen, I enjoyed staying up late, and the kids were already in bed by this point, so I would show up and watch TV. Pretty sweet gig for teenage Kate.
This is why it’s not an awesome idea for kids to care for kids: at 10 or 11 pm, there was a knock at the door.
I ANSWERED IT. I freaking answered the door! Looking back, I can’t believe I just opened the door like that! After living in a city for 10 years, I would NEVER just open the door without knowing who was on the other side!
So I opened the door, and there is a tall, burly, bearded guy in leathers, patches and bandanas standing in the door. He asked for the parents by their first name. I said, “THEY’RE NOT HERE RIGHT NOW!” DUMB MOVE, past Kate. So dumb!
So he said, “Oh, that’s okay, I’ll just wait here until they get home.”
I had no idea how screwed up that was. But here’s the thing – he didn’t scare me one bit. It didn’t occur to me that I could be in danger, even though in retrospect, through an adult’s eyes, this was a very dangerous situation.
He asked “Do you know when they’re going to be home?” I told him they were usually back late.
“Oh, okay. How about I go out and rent some movies?”
So he left to rent some movies. I didn’t call the police, it didn’t even occur to me. I was a very go-with-the-flow sort of kid. I didn’t call the parents because they never left a contact number. He came back, and I let him in again!
We watched PG movies and talked about horses until three in the morning. Turns out this dude grew up on a farm, and he had a lot of stories. Looking back, that’s probably part of the reason I was so relaxed. I associated the smell of leather with only good things, and this big, burly biker dude kind of looked like my Dad. Tough on the outside, soft on the inside. I had no problems with this guy.
The parents eventually turned up, and the biker met them at the door. When he came back in, he said to me, “Hey, they’re back and they’re really drunk. I’ll take you home to make sure you get there safely.”
“I can walk, it’s just up the street.”
“I’d really feel better if I just took you home myself.”
So I rode home with this guy, in the parent’s borrowed / stolen car (AAAAAA!) and nothing bad happens. He just took me home, and said he’d come back the next day to give me a ride on his Harley. I thought I’d made a new friend!
Well, I can’t recall if my Dad came out to meet Biker Dude when he dropped me off that night, or when he came back in the morning. I remember watching him and my Dad shake hands, the Dude’s eyes open wider in surprise, and they had a discussion for a few minutes. Apparently he told my Dad that he shouldn’t let me babysit for those parents anymore, because they “owed a lot of money.”
My Dad said he could not let me take that ride on the Harley, but thanks for making sure his 13 year old daughter made it home safely.
My mother was horrified. I think my Dad was calmer about it because he understood this code of honour thing, and he was probably able to name-drop that upper-level leader who used to stay at his brother’s hotel.
I actually had a pretty good impression of bikers as a result of that experience until I moved out to BC and heard other people’s stories. The moral of this story is not that bikers are all good guys. Many of them are terrible people. Oy. The horror stories. But this particular guy behaved like a decent person on this particular occasion.
Oh, and Kat’s friend’s place in London was robbed by bikers while she was visiting. Her friend’s roommate was a stripper who also, apparently, owed a lot of money. They took everything in the house, including her friend’s comic books, which was very upsetting to him. He had no idea his roomie was in debt with the bikers, and argued his stuff should not have to go to pay her debt! They apologized as they stripped the domicile clean, but it was also very clear you did not want to interfere with these guys. So he got robbed, and he moved out that day. This is not the first time I’ve heard of bikers robbing people. Those folks I babysat for probably got robbed that night.
So anyway, this is how Sweetie and I ended up getting sucked into this series about bikers, they had a presence in the political background of our childhood and teen years, because in the 80s and 90s the Hells Angels were making a huge bid to expand and take over a lot of territory. They were organized, they had this code of “honour” and they did a lot of public outreach. Toy rides, summer fun biker games, motocross tournaments. We recognized a lot of those elements in Sons of Anarchy.
So back to Sons of Anarchy, and the redemption of Tig, the notorious hit man, and his love-interest Venus.
I heard a guy say that Tig must be bisexual because he was having sex with Venus, who is a man.
I disagree. Maybe you’d agree. It doesn’t really matter how you or I might categorize Tig, or how Venus’ anatomy might factor in. What actually matters is what Tig might call himself, which is probably straight. Straight-ish. Hetero-flexible. In general, Tig’s character demonstrated he is into women. Venus was the enchanting exception to his otherwise pretty straight rule. We see that guy burn through a lot of women in that series. (The female characters in Sons of Anarchy are truly terrible. I found it hard to like any of them!)
I’ll compare it to myself, and my Sweetie. Both of us have had long-term relationships with men. I identify as gay / lesbian because I’m *primarily* attracted to women. Sweetie identifies as bisexual and she always has. She didn’t identify as straight during the 9 + years with her first partner, and she doesn’t identify as gay now. Ever since she was a teen she’s asserted she is bi. She really knew herself, actually. When you think about a teenage girl being that assertive about her identity at that time. Telling her mother, all her friends, in the 90s. Not letting anyone erase her sexuality just because she’s in a long-term monogamous relationship.
Sweetie, before I snapped her up, was just as likely to date a man as a woman when she was single. Not me. I dated exclusively women after I came out. So whatever label someone chooses and tells you is the thing they want to communicate to you about how they want to be understood.
That’s why you wait for someone to tell you, or you ask politely. You don’t have to worry about “figuring it out”. Isn’t that a relief?
So it’s not up to us, outsiders, to tell Tig the fictional biker that he’s not really straight if he’s having love and bedroom feelings for Venus.
AND it’s not up to anyone to tell Venus what her sexuality is, either. Neither Tig nor Venus talk about labels. I remember a T-Shirt on church street somewhere that read, “Labels are for soup cans!” Labels are useful, important even. This is why we fought for equal marriage, and this is why we must advocate for transgendered rights and respect too. Words have power. But as far as a person’s sexuality label, that’s something they choose for themselves, and they’ll tell you if it’s relevant. Need to know basis.
One woman I knew who frequented Goodhandy’s in the early 2000s wore a t-shirt that read “Transgendered Lesbian!!! BEWARE!!!” With a big biohazard symbol. It’s possible that biohaz symbol could have indicated her HIV status, now that I know a bit more about that stuff. She literally wore this T-Shirt to the trans bar so that she didn’t have to spend the entire night having the same conversation, over and over. She wanted women to approach her, and she was really only interested in dating people who were cool with the things on that T-Shirt.
A year or so later, she said she had moved on to only dating other T-Girls. Her dating pool was very small, and I often think about her and wonder how she’s doing. We had the same doctor so we ran into each other a lot, as we both had some chronic health issues to deal with.
Wow, this is the blog entry of tangents, isn’t it?!
She self-identified as a transgendered lesbian. Fair enough, that tells you what you need to know, when you’re going to the trans bar to pick up a date! But in line at the grocery store, it doesn’t really matter what label she’d use for herself, so it’s really none of our business. Unless we’re on a date with her.
What is very rude, is to say she is a straight man. No. She’s a woman. She presents as a woman. She had probably done a lot of work in her transitioning by that time. Her sexual orientation made a pivot, and what’s the word we use to describe a woman who’s interested only in dating other women?
You got it!
So you can imagine how this works if you start as a woman. The interesting thing to me is that many men who were born as female (ftm) would frequently identify as lesbian before they transitioned. As a man, they would then identify as straight. Or bi. Or however they wanted to identify. Again, not up to us, the public – only up to him.
In the years before gender transition was a known and semi-accepted thing, masculine gay women identified at “butch”. This was considered even WORSE than being a plain old lesbian. If you had to be a woman who was into other woman, the culture thought you should at least be an ATTRACTIVE (femme) woman! To be a butch lesbian was to fail completely and entirely as a member of the female gender. On top of that, some of those old-school butch lesbians were actually transgendered men. They were seen to be failing at a gender they didn’t even identify as.
It’s a very challenging life. There was even a time when you could be arrested for indecency if you were wearing gender inappropriate clothing! So if a butch lesbian decided to wear men’s underwear, pants and a man’s shirt to an illegal gay bar and was unfortunate enough to get busted that night, she could be charged for every single item of men’s clothing she was wearing.
There are stories of groups of trans people getting busted and piled into the back of a police van, giggling in nervous terror as they stripped down and swapped clothing items in an attempt to reduce the charges that would be leveled against them! As you can imagine, trans folks in police custody were routinely abused. They still are in many areas.
I’ve met straight men who used to be lesbians, a lesbian who used to be a straight man, a gay man who used to be a straight woman, and some “gender variant” / androgynous folks who identify as neither male nor female, and also don’t identify as gay or straight but simply “open”.
So how do you tell what someone’s “deal” is? First you ask yourself how this applies to you. If you need to know because you want to date this person, or set them up, then it’s appropriate to ask in the same way you’d ask about the pronouns. As a friend, or observe and infer, or after a get-to-know-ya period of time, politely ask yourself.
You don’t need to demand this information while policing a public washroom, or just to satisfy your curiosity. That’s weird. And rude. And I know that none of my readers would ever do this, but I hope you’d say something if you saw someone else doing it!
This concludes my rambling blog entry about bikers and transgendered sexuality! As always, please feel free to post your comments and stories below! I would love to hear from you, and I’m happy to be corrected by those who know more about this than I do!
PS: I’m a lesbian, except for about 10 seconds in the first episode of Sons of Anarchy when Charlie Hunnam puts on that bullet proof vest. Sexuality is more like colours in a rainbow, rather than black and white. That’s why we fly the rainbow flag at pride!
PPS: Sweetie and I will 90% probably be attending Vancouver Pride this year!!! We haven’t attended a Pride festival since 2008 and I’m SO looking forward to it!