Introducing new guest writer Jane Heenan: Confronting social constructs and gender identity

It has been a long-time goal of mine to have more regular guest writers representing the diversity of feminism and our society. So I am really excited to introduce Siren readers to the newest guest writer, Jane Heenan. Jane is a counselor, an adjunct instructor at the College of Southern Nevada and may be known by some of you for working as a transgender activist. But as you will learn, Jane is a lot more than the sum of her parts.

Who am I?  Who are you?  Who are we?

My name is Jane Ann Heenan.  I chose my name about 12 years ago with the help of my partner.  She didn’t like the name I initially picked, and when the name “Jane Ann” found me a short while later, I was further awakened from my 32 years of gender slumber.  Since then, I have continued to read and write and talk and listen and laugh and cry and meditate and dream about what in the world sex/gender is.  At first glance, it certainly seems simple enough:  there are boys and there are girls, there are innies and there are outies, there is femme and there is butch.  Any first grader knows that, right?!  Lived experience tells a different story, though, and my lived experience in particular has been quite, well, queer.  I don’t fit in the binary, and in the end, I don’t believe anyone does.  Further, while my changes in the context of sex/gender seem plain enough for all to see, I have come to believe that all of us change during our lifetimes in this context.  Pretty radical, huh?  Living beings grow and change.  That’s my thesis.

I have lived in Las Vegas since 1994.  I have dealt dice, gone to grad school, and cultivated a vibrant garden in the backyard of the suburban home I share with my partner of 19 years (yes, she has stayed with me through my change from outie to innie) and our four dogs (including three basset hounds from the Las Vegas Basset Rescue, my favorite non-profit).  I have a private psychotherapy practice and have taught as an adjunct instructor at the now College of Southern Nevada for almost 10 years.  I love good wine and have come to call myself a wine-snob.  And I have worked for years in advocacy of persons who don’t fit the sex/gender binary.  The thread of sex/gender runs through all of my life – as, I would argue, it does for all of us.  My posts on the Siren will reflect this truth, and I hope the readers of my words will offer their truth in response.  Discovery happens in dialog, you know. . . .

So, among other discoveries I have made along the way is that the metaphor of snowflakes fits living human beings much more accurately (if not more comfortably) than do the binary boxes of gender we put ourselves and others into day in and day out.  This is an important piece, I believe, because if lives are going to change, stories have to change.  We need to tell a better story.  These posts are in part going to be about searching for that story.

I work to push the boundaries of binary sex/gender with one goal in mind:  liberation.  We whose snowflakes break through the boxes are regularly confronted by the sex/gender police – who lurk almost everywhere.  And yet I am aware that we are not the only ones facing arrest and deportation for deviating from this most foundational system of social control.  ALL of us know the gender police – it’s just that only some of us consciously work to break the rules.  At the risk of being accusatory, I would say that most of you think not about gender beyond tired and harmful stereotypes.  I would further say that even most trannies that I have had the honor of sharing space with want to go along to get along.

Persons express such conformity in a variety of ways.  For instance, you want to know whether a friend is having or had a “boy” or a “girl” – even before asking whether the fetus or child is healthy.  You never use the “wrong” bathroom or shop in the “wrong” department – even if the line goes out the door or if there is some item that catches your eye.  You make sure you are attracted to the “right” kind of person – even if that person is the “same sex.”  Look at yourself in the mirror.  Go ahead.  It’s not easy, but you’ll survive albeit at the risk of change.  See the face of conformity that grants access to privilege.

And in doing so acknowledge the system of social control I call sex/gender operating in your life.  These posts are not going to be about me, fundamentally.  All of my work through the years about this system has not been about my insight or awareness.  I am mostly irrelevant.  The work is about US, about you and me.  So, don’t just be a voyeur into my process of queering sex/gender.  To quote one of my favorite Star Fleet captains, “Engage.”

6 thoughts on “Introducing new guest writer Jane Heenan: Confronting social constructs and gender identity

  1. As always Jane I love hearing/reading your unique insights and how your experiences have shaped the way you see things. It’s always nice to have someone else to connect to in terms of how I feel about our communities.

  2. Jane, my husband and I have just found out that our son is a transgender person. He’s felt this his whole life apparently. I feel like as his mother where was I? Shouldn’t I have noticed or when I did think or see something out of the ordinary for a boy why didn’t I say something. I think denial. My son was in the Marines, sure he had feminan tenancies but I never really thought anything of it. But now I’m told I should have said something. But I’ll be honest I am still in shock of the whole thing. And now on top of finding this out I find out that a lot of this is our fault. I must say I am totally lost. I am a beautician by trade and have been around all kinds of people. I’m not a closed minded person but this now is my son and I find where and what did I do wrong and now how can I make this a positive thing because right now even thoughi get all this it is still very hard to grasp. I love my son so much. I just can’t stop crying over this whole thing. We talked for along time about all kinds of things communication is a,big issue. There is more to this I just cannot write it all. Sorry! Just know I love him unconditionally.

    • hi chris,

      this is jane heenan, and i am moved by your words. in my experience, learning that someone we know and love is making significant changes in their gender expression is shocking — and such shock isn’t generally eased by how much someone knew or thought they knew. that you love your child unconditionally and that they know this is the most important part, in my opinion.

      also, i want to say that, to me, this isn’t your “fault.” indeed, i don’t believe there is any fault at all. gender is not the rigid, set-and-settled-at-birth part of human beings that we are raised to believe it is. and, that your child is telling you their truth means that they have a great deal of trust in you — which says many good things about your relationship and your parenting.

      if you want to talk further, you can reach me by email at VegasCounselor@aol.com or by phone at 702.810.4159. i would be happy to share resources or offer other assistance.

      thank you for sharing your words 🙂
      peace,
      jane

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