*Note: The website mentioned in this article no longer exists. All the screenshots provided are from 2011 and older snapshots from archive.org. This snapshot can be accessed here. Actually, go ahead and click it, and then imagine using such a thing as an “authoritative” source for research.*
In a fit of maximum pettiness, I’ve been reading/cross-referencing the sources in a couple of books that were given to me when I first started transitioning. These books, which were supposed to be the counterargument I needed to keep me from succumbing to the secular ways of the transgender agenda, are now the inspiration for my first ever voluntarily-written annotated bibliography. I’m also excitedly planning a new On Assholes category for this blog (inspired by the author of said books), but that’s still a hot minute (or forty) away.
However, that doesn’t mean this experience can’t generate a post or two now, because holy shit if one of the very first (and incidentally, most frequently-cited) references in the book isn’t Laura’s Playground.
Oh, Lauara’s Playground–I knew I recognized your name, but all it took was one look at your homepage to remind me of just how bad the bad old days really were.
I feel like this sort of trans history is some of the most likely to be forgotten today, despite being among the most recent. Those of us who remember it talk of it like a bad, half-remembered dream: in hushed tones, we whisper about message boards and personal websites, but never give any real details of what these prototypical online spaces were actually like. Well, abandon all hope, ye baby trans and oblivious cis who enter here–this is what it was actually like back then.
As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I started typing “I want to be a girl” into search engines (or what passed for them) sometime in the late 90s or very early 2000s–sometime between the ages of 8 and 12. And, as I alluded to in that post, the internet was a much hairier place in general back then, especially with regards to anything trans. I’m easily embittered when I think of how old I was when I started transitioning (28) compared to the teens and children I see transitioning now. And, I mean, yes good for them, that’s so incredibly, indescribably awesome, but I’m still human, and prone to jealousy. Sue me.
But what really sets me off? Thinking of all the things that sent me running back deep, deep into the closet for two decades or better.
Seriously, Laura’s Playground? Fuck you.
I have a super vivid memory of reading an article about the effect of transition on sexuality that I’m almost positive came from Laura’s Playground. I haven’t located it yet, but I remember it having the same Pepto Bismol pink background that distinguished Laura’s from other sites I remember visiting. At any rate, the memory of it remains because it specifically was one of those damaging things that delayed my self-acceptance by several years.
Okay, so I probably don’t have to say this to many who are reading this blog, but it’s important to understand that gender and sexuality are two different things. Gender is who you are, sexuality is who you want to be with. I’m the living testament to this: I didn’t like boys (sexually) pre-transition, and I don’t like men now. Though some transgender people report a change in sexuality after HRT, that fluidity is generally attributed more to transition leading people to having a greater degree of self-acceptance than when they were trying to fulfill the societal role of their gender. In other words, they were already attracted to the gender(s) they were attracted to, it’s just that they did not accept that as being the case until they accepted themselves enough to transition. Postnatal hormones can neither make a straight person gay, nor a gay person straight. (I’ve written a lot about hormones, some of which touches on sexuality, if you’re interested.)
A n y w a y, the article I remember reading at the tender age of whatever (12-ish?) basically stated the opposite of this, but in especially subversive terms. From what I remember, it detailed the story of a transwoman who, prior to transition, was only sexually interested in women. When she started transition, she “tried” being a lesbian, but as time went on, she began to see herself as “the girl” in the porn that she watched. Of course, straight porn is the only porn there is, so her growing compulsion to be “the girl” meant sexually pleasing “the guy.” There was an attached picture of a woman in negligee, lying on her back, waiting for…whatever. The author of the article stated that this became the only way she could see herself in a relationship, to the point that she found herself exclusively attracted to men. I believe there was probably a good bit in there at the end about being a good housewife and how to fulfill that early postwar definition of what it meant to be a good woman. She blamed this all on the hormones. Overall, the tone of the piece was that this was good and how things simply are and ought to be.
If I let myself, I could devote an entire chapter of a book doing a deep analysis of how messed up that particular article was. However, I foresee this being a bit long of a post as it is, so I’ll try to restrain myself. Here’s the thing, though: this article was in no way unique. In fact, it was pretty much de rigeuer for how spaces for transwomen looked online back in those days.
One massive hurdle that transwomen still struggle to overcome is how heavily they are often fethisized. Even a year ago, when I finally started to accept myself, it was difficult for me to find positive trans spaces that saw me as anything other than a sex object. Unfortunately, because of the stigma attached to being trans (and, in my case, society’s sexist views about femininity), many transwomen-in-denial end up feeding into this fetishization so that they can indulge it without accepting it. I know. I was one of them.
The difference: trans-positive spaces actually exist today, both on- and offline. A decade ago, let alone two? Good luck. Everything was the article written above.
Furthermore, “actually” being trans meant 100% embodying the expectations of that gender. As a kid, you had to be completely flamboyant and only interested in playing with barbies; pink had to be your favorite color. As you got older, you had to basically become that Barbie: platinum-blonde hair, deferent, and absolutely boy-crazy.
But that wasn’t me. And so “transsexuals” were a different breed entirely–I couldn’t possibly be one.
I was too young, stupid, and sheltered at the time to realize that few women (if any), trans or cis, are that person. Who knows if a transwoman even actually wrote that article.
The thing is, I can’t just shit on Laura’s without giving it some due. As I’ve said, it was a deeply flawed space that caused me actual damage when I was younger. However, it was also one of few places I remember finding that wasn’t outright porn, even if it was sometimes super fetish-y and creepy. “Laura” (was that her actual name, or a pen name?) dedicated a lot of the site’s space to addressing the issue of suicide (again, problematically at times, but still) and providing support to transwomen (and nominally transmen and enbies, though their representation, problematic even now, was basically non-existent then). The language often used on the site is super offensive today, but its a product of its time. Its shitty, shitty time.
Actually, that’s only sort of true, I think.
I had already finished the article when I came across the “Biography” section of Laura’s Playground, but having now found it, I would be remiss to not discuss it at least a bit. It turns out that Laura was a so-called “DES Son” whose mother allegedly really wanted a girl. She states that she was only dressed in dresses as a child, and only had girls for friends, and only saw herself as a girl until she was old enough to understand the physical differences between male and female bodies (which led to her trying to rip off her own genitals with a chain). *Note: It seems like every transwoman of Laura’s generation, at least those whom I remember reading about online, had a story with details like this. They “confirmed” to me when I was younger that I wasn’t trans, and now that I am transitioning years, I find many transphobic cis people of that age expect me to have a similar story as “proof” to them that I’m actually trans. So…I’m a bit resentful of the narrative, though I recognize that it’s her story, and not mine. It’s no more fair for me to invalidate what she went through as it is for others to invalidate what I have been through. And sadly, it appears that such justifications were perhaps the only way a transwoman could be seen as even a tiny bit valid back then.* As she got older, she attempted suicide several times, served in Vietnam, became a father and then a paraplegic…I really started to feel bad, and actually almost deleted this post…
O-okay, she’s a problematic character, but even a flawed resource is better than none for a population that is so vulnerable, both to society and suicide…
Ah, yes. So it really was as messed up as I remember.
I feel Laura’s struggle–I really do, at least to a degree. I’ve lived it, sort of. But 2011 was not 1991, and neither is 2019. Stumbling across Laura’s again as a citation in a recent, self-published, and virulently anti-trans book made me not only remember how bad it was just a few years ago, but it also made me immediately aware of the relative permanency of what we write on the internet. By the time 2011 rolled around, Laura’s and many (all?) of its articles were relics, but to someone looking for a weakness to attack in the legitimacy of being transgender, it was proof-positive that “transgereds” themselves believe that to be trans is to be a mentally-ill fetishist.
This has given me great pause to reflect on what I have done and am doing myself. Am I a Laura to some 10-year-old somewhere on their parents’ iPad? Will I be a Laura in 20 years to a transphobe looking for “evidence”? God, am I one to them now?
So I guess this is where I should end, by restating that this blog began as a journal for my private thoughts, and though I now have dozens (perhaps even scores) of readers, Authorless Blog is still very much me working through my own experiences and viewpoints. I’m by no means an expert, even if I am pretty cool.
Oh, and if you try to go to lauras-playground.com now, it automatically redirects to TransPulse, which appears to be a much more professional transgender suicide support site (a change which apparently occurred sometime in 2017). This is the best possible end for a place like Laura’s, whose mission (I think) really was to provide support and help mitigate the causes for trans suicide, but whose resources were also hopelessly outdated. Sometimes, it takes living long enough to see yourself become the villain before you can die the hero. Metaphorically, of course.