INTERVIEW WITH WRITER MAX WOLF VALERIO

Morty Diamond: Hey Max! Alright, first question. Do you date women primarily?

Max Valerio: Only women.

MD: And you always have?

MV: Yes, however, I did try guys out as a teenager. There was certainly more pressure to be heterosexual when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, and I succumbed to that. However, I am also the type of person who likes to experiment and push my own envelope of comfort. It was important to me to experience many different things, to have varied sexual experiences, and to really explore my sexuality. I saw sexuality as a kind of jumping off place for the exploration of consciousness, of self and other. I still do. But no, guys never did it for me, I have always loved women.

MD: So would you use the term heterosexual to describe yourself?

MV: Oh yeah, yeah I’m heterosexual.

MD: And you don’t have any issues with that word?

MV: No, not at all. “Heterosexual” describes me very well. I am very attracted to
women and I enjoy the sensation of being a man with a woman. I like that contrast
between bodies and enjoy the male/female dynamic in sexual situations. Of course,
being a man with women is fraught with sexual politics, but on a primal level, I find it very erotically compelling and — it makes me feel complete. Which isn’t to say that I don’t realize that I am different from other heterosexual men, because I am transsexual. I guess this difference is a type of queerness, or at least,
another way of being pretty damn weird. I cherish that. I cherish the fact that I am at odds with the world while also being completely ordinary in a sense. As an artist, this experience, where I am in a continual state of paradox, enables me to develop compassion and empathy, as well as to extend my thinking and imagination. I think in that sense, it is a gift.

MD: So you date mostly straight women?

MV: Yes, I have dated mostly straight women up until the relatively recent past. I
actually really do like heterosexual women, speaking generally. I like women who are attracted to male energy, to men. Now, what is interesting to me is that in the last few years there have suddenly been all these femmes who are interested in trans men. This is new. My last girlfriend was a femme dyke, very lesbian identified. I was her first man; we met after I had been transitioned for 14 years and so I was way past my beginning phase and very integrated into the world as a man. I was very physically male. She had never kissed anyone with facial hair before and screamed the first time I kissed her! She said the whole experience was very alien to her and scary. My body was harder, I smelled different.

MD: So you’ve seen a new avenue open for you with femmes in your community?

MV: Yes. I started transitioning in 1989, I had just turned 32, and it was very different then. There was only one support group, FTM organized by Lou Sullivan, and there were only a couple of books that I knew of. There was so little information out there. Transition really did feel like making a stab in the dark, it was a bizarre crazy thing to be doing. I was basically turning myself into a bizarre alien life form, a circus freak or something. Anyway, back then there were no so-called “tranny chasers” — at least for trans men. I had never heard of such a thing. Well, now there are and I think women who are comfortable or friendly with the idea of transsexuality is a good thing! But, I would never limit myself to “tranny chasers” or queer women –never have, never will. The world is filled with women after all.

MD: Yes, have you encountered any particular issues that come up with dating straight women ?

MV: I’ve never really had a problem. In the beginning of transition, I was filled with
trepidation. I think that many heterosexual women, if they were asked whether or not they would date a transsexual, would reject the idea. As a theoretical possibility, it is not attractive or may just seem bizarre. But, once a woman meets me, and experiences me first as a man and a real person, if we have an attraction and a rapport, she usually gets over that. This has been my experience at least, and maybe I have been lucky. However, I believe in the optimistic approach, it is always better to try and approach women and relationships with confidence.
Of course, I choose women who are more likely to be open to the idea of dating a transman. I’ve dated creative, entrepreneurial women, women in the post punk rock scene, artists, women who were a bit off the beaten path – independent thinkers. I am not trying to date women who are Evangelical Christians or extremely socially conservative. Also, there are a whole lot of heterosexual women out there, and it is really hard to generalize about such a huge group of people. I think that since trans men want others to have an open mind, it is imperative that we do as well. I find that relationships with femmes and relationships with heterosexual women present different, if equally daunting challenges. I was never worried in my relationship with a femme whether or not she would reject me because I was trans. I worried she would reject me because I was a man. The trans part was what made me an acceptable man. And with the straight women I never worried that I would be rejected because I am a man, but that being a transsexual might erode our relationship in some way, over time. Heterosexual women were very comfortable with my male identity, it was “home” to
them. But the fact that I was a trans man was what both intrigued and challenged them. So, there is no one group of people that is going to make us feel comfortable all the time. I think relationships present unique challenges for trans men, and there is no easy way out of that. You just have to relate to each situation and person individually and hope for the best.However, usually when straight women find out, they tend to be intrigued. I mean, it never turned anyone off entirely. The fact that I was trans would always add another dimension to me in their mind.

MD: A dimension you appreciated, you liked? It sounds a little exoticizing…

MV: Well, I would rather that reaction, that they were intrigued and encouraged than the opposite — thinking that being trans makes me less desirable. And certainly, I actually am different from non-trans men. What that difference means however is debatable. I mean, both femmes and het women often think that my difference, my “transness” is intriguing. Femmes feel more comfortable with me because I am a trans man, it kind of gives them “permission” to be with me, with a man. Heterosexual women may feel that I am special or unique in some way that they wish to understand. The most problematic thing about these expectations is that I may be expected to be more sensitive, magical or to fulfill some type of longing for a transcendent male being. I mean, I really am simply a man, even if I am different. Both types of women have something valuable to offer, and finally – it is really about individual chemistry and not simply what a woman’s sexual orientation or history is. And, I’ve found that I can fit into either the straight or queer world; I am always an individual, myself, in each context. Actually, the difficulty that straight women generally have is that they don’t know what
to tell their friends and family about my transsexuality. And, since they have never had an experience of being queer, being with someone who is transsexual is challenging and scary in terms of their own social acceptance. Again, as for being exoticized, well — I’ve been transitioned over 19 years now, so a part of me doesn’t even care one way or another. I’ve been through so much, in a way, that being pursued by “tranny chasers” does not bother me. I mean, like most men, the idea of being “objectified” is not at the top of my list of worries. How many straight guys or even gay men complain about this? I see it this way; some women like musicians, some women are drawn to athletes or wealthy men. Others like men with a certain build, men with a particular style or men of a certain class or ethnicity. Attractions are attractions and frankly, desire is not politically
correct. I have my own preferences, and find certain women more appealing for various reasons. Some of these reasons I am fully conscious of, and others are hidden just beneath the edges of my awareness. So, if a woman is intrigued by the fact that I am a transsexual, I don’t think that is necessarily a negative thing. Of course, there has to be a lot more than that between us, but certainly it can be a catalyst, much like my being a writer can be a catalyst. Some women are drawn to writers also you know!

MD: There are so many levels…how do we negotiate this. You want to be seen as male and not as a transguy so…

MV: Yes, I want to be seen as a man ultimately, but really a trans man is a kind of man. There does not have to be a contradiction. This is very important for trans men to really understand and integrate into our deepest beliefs about who we are.
Of course, I get insecure like any trans guy. It is easy to be insecure since we are perched in a position of insecurity since we have crossed from femaleness to maleness. We inhabit a place of some ambiguity and complexity. Even so, I’ve found that one must be secure in oneself first and foremost. You can’t rely
on reassurance from the rest of the world, or from your partner. Your manhood should not be something one negotiates, but something one knows.
That said, I do think that it can be difficult when a trans man is with a person who is very invested in our trans identity. From my experience, this appears to be more of an issue with femme women than with heterosexual women. Femme women who date trans men often state that they will only date trans men, they will not date genetic (non-trans) men. This appears strange to me since these same women may not even be able to tell the difference between any given trans man and a non-trans man. I am not entirely comfortable with this assertion, yet I know that for many femmes, this distinction between trans and non-trans men is a crucial one. As long as they are dating a man who is trans, they feel they can still maintain their identity as queer. While this feels problematic, I also respect their right to make that distinction for themselves. Regardless of my own trepidations about this preference, I do respect it. I mean, these femmes have their preferences, just as I have mine. However, when a woman expects somehow that I am extremely different from non-trans men, I do think that over time, that she might be in for some surprises.

MD: What would catch them by surprise?

MV: That’s a good question because all of this is so amorphous. People have such
varying experiences and perceptions and it is difficult to capture the essence of these. I’ve heard it all. I’ve been with straight women who have told me “you’re the most masculine man I’ve ever been with” and that I am some sort of apex of maleness. Now, I don’t actually believe this about myself. I just think that when people are in love they’re crazy! So people say many things at different times.
Sooner or later, however, in my experience women do realize that they are with a genuine “real” man who is not necessarily as different from non-trans men as they may have imagined. Or, the perception of that difference from non-trans men is fleeting, it is intangible and difficult to grasp as solid or quantifiable.

MD: Are you single right now?

MV: Yeah.

MD: So tell me how you traverse this San Francisco dating scene. Depending on which community you’re in at different moments, like a party or social gathering and how people see you.

MV: Well, I am just myself, and I trust fate, what else can you do?

MD: Do you out yourself quickly to a woman who has no idea you’re trans?

MV: I generally wait until I am sure there is a genuine interest and that it is worth
pursing. Which slows down everything. I’ll have to see her a few times and make sure I like her before I say anything. I want her to get an impression of me first, I think its really important that she gets an impression of me before I break the news. This cuts down on the one night stands, at least with straight women! That’s gone! But with the femmes you can definitely relax a little more because they already know. I mean, if I meet them at a place where trans men are expected to be. Sometimes, I still have to tell them, since even then people don’t automatically take me for a trans man –but at least, it is not something entirely unexpected. I can meet those women at a party for queer women and trans people, for example, or through some activity based around the trans community.

MD: Lets segue into talking about your writing and the heresay that goes on. The
preconceived notions about your attitude towards women through your writing.

MV: I know there is a crazy rumor about me that I’m a misogynist! A knuckle dragging anti-woman macho man! Very funny. I guess that’s the rumor… Anti-woman, super macho, misogynist, all of that. It’s insane.

MD: Well, it seems there has been a persona that’s been built around you based on your work, a lot of it, to me, taken out of context.

MV: Yeah, it’s very strange to me. I think it is absurd actually, I have no idea who this person is that people are talking about. That person is not me, it must be someone else. The memoir is very sexual, very heterosexual, and again, completely unapologetic. I celebrate masculinity in the book. The Testosterone Files is unafraid to peer deeply into male desire.

MD: It sounds like the community was against that. A man with your history of being trans… accepting your base male desires.

MV: (Laughs)Well, I guess so. Yeah even the other transguys! Well, not everyone, but there are a few who have made a lot of noise.

MD: Why do you think certain parts of the trans community is so unwilling to accept a transguy who is fully accepting of his heterosexuality?

MV: I am unafraid to explore raw male heterosexual sexuality, a kind that’s very primal, dark. That gets some people very upset. Also, I think there is a lot of misandry, anti-male sentiment in certain parts of the trans community that intersect with certain parts of the feminist dyke world, and since I am
very visible, I’ve become the focus of people’s projections around a certain type of male sexuality in the queer community. Well, that’s because I’m unapologetically putting it out there in the films, the films I’ve made with Monika Truet, particularly the “Max” documentary, but especially in my memoir.

MD: Do you feel like you are one of very few transmen who are vocal about their
heterosexuality?

MV: Yeah. Now I’m seen as somebody who took it all the way to this extreme in terms of expression, and certainly I’m not alone, but I may be the only one who is writing about it quite like this. And I have become the focus of all these fears, and also projections around maleness. And really, ultimately, it’s a rejection of male heterosexuality, a very profound rejection of male heterosexuality. And following that apparent rejection, the quandary for many of us is, if you are a heterosexual trans man, and you stay in the queer community, can you express your
sexuality?

MD: And what about your personal relationships?

MV: Well the women I date and the people who know me, they are shocked. I’ll find some of these rumors about me being a “notorious misogynist” online and show them to people and they just laugh. The women I’ve dated are stunned, my friends are stunned, they don’t know the person these people are talking about, he is a dream image. A close, longtime friend of mine observed, “Oh, its like Crowley. He used to be known as ‘The Evilest Man in the World’.”

MD: You’re perhaps the evilest transsexual man in the world!

MV: Ha! Yes, the “evilest transsexual man in the world!” Mwwwah ha haaaaa!

MD: Lets segue into talking more about your book The Testosterone Files. What’s your feeling about people calling your book misogynist?

MV: Again, I think that’s crazy. It’s a misreading of the book to read it as misogynist. Actually, this is simply an ad hominem attack by people who are challenged by the book. It is a failure of critical thinking and a failure to read the text accurately. I’ve heard through the grapevine a lot of fairly insane claims about the memoir, including the idea that I am somehow encouraging men to rape women. Or, that I excuse rape, or bad male behavior in general. Again, this is a misreading of the book. I really wanted to capture the chaotic experience of transitioning in the first five years. And I wanted to immerse the reader in that experience, which is adolescent and transforming. The Testosterone Files is a provocative book, I’m a provocative writer. However, I am in no way excusing men’s mistreatment of women. On the other hand, I didn’t want to preach. It’s not an activist book, it is a text that demands immersion in experience, and while I reflect on my experience, I do not preach.

MD: You didn’t censor yourself at all?

MV: Right, I wanted it to be very honest. I wanted to show the really raw stuff. The most controversial chapter in the book is “Cock In My Pocket”, where I talk about rape. I wanted to reveal our secrets, trans mens’ secrets. I did not want to deliver a whitewashed and “safe” book. I wanted the reader to question their own experiences and assumptions.

MD: (reading from the book) No wonder guys lose it sometimes, I think. How can they not? In the beginning I think this is a lot. My god, if this is how men feel how come they don’t rape more often? Rape and plunder. Take. (The Testosterone Files – pg. 229)

MV: Well, I wanted to bring the reader into the intensity, the scariness of those feelings.

MD: Scary for you?

MV: For me! The fact that that this thought even came into my mind was terrifying. People misread it and think that it’s a green light. But right after that, I am very clear, I write: “It is wrong to rape. I knew that before; I know that still. Any man who acts out these fantasies or impulses, no matter how strong, is doing a wrong act. An abominable act, and should be punished.” (The Testosterone Files – pg. 229) This is really about the struggle between a moral imperative and a very dark impulse. Of course, I am on the side, as a person, as a writer, of the moral imperative — “it is wrong to rape”, as I write.

MD: But then you say “Even so, I understand now the force of will it can take to keep from running wild with these feelings, the temptation.”(The Testosterone Files – pg. 229)

MV: Understanding something does not mean automatically that one condones it.
Throwing light and subsequently, some clarity on any impulse, any emotion, any act, this is never a negative thing. I guess this is the dark side and as an artist I’m not afraid of the dark side. I think that’s part of my job, to go deeper in my investigation than Oprah would. Of course, I don’t really entirely understand why people rape or murder. Why someone would go through with a dark impulse that is so violent. There has to be a screw loose. However, because I am now more biologically male because of testosterone, I understand more than I did before.

MD: It is exactly what you said, the dark side, because it is not something people want to believe, that testosterone can unlock some of those hidden doors.

MV: Yes, some people don’t even want to believe there is a dark side! I think people make choices, and certainly, some people make the wrong ones, they are bent. Or, certain circumstances come into play and they choose a certain direction. In any event, I am not condoning bad behavior even if I am shining a light on it. Certainly, testosterone does not make anyone automatically into a rapist.

MD: Of course not!

MV: But the sex drive of testosterone definitely can be a catalyst, that heightened
underlying drive to sex that occurs on testosterone can be expressed violently by some men. I mean, obviously rape is something men do and we know that. And so becoming a man I started to understand more about how that could happen. Not that I would actually want to do it, or that I excuse it, but I started understanding how this act might become possible. And that’s all I’m saying.
I have been around trans men who have told me “I’ve had times where if I wasn’t in my house, I am afraid that I would have raped a woman.” That is an intense and scary statement. I never had that experience by the way. Some of this is individual to each person obviously. I mean, every man has a different variation of this experience of testosterone changing his sex drive, and heightening it, each person brings their own sexual preferences into the picture, their own reality testing, their unique ability to empathize with others or not, and yes, their feelings and attitudes about women. Also, there is a cultural aspect: what does the culture teach about women? Does the culture create an environment where women are valued, respected, protected from violence, or not? That is also very important.
However, this statement from a trans man, one of many I’ve heard like this, contradicts the myth that a trans man would never feel or think sexually dark violent thoughts. I mean, the myth that trans men are not able to feel any impulse or fantasy of sexual violence because of our “female socialization”. Obviously, more than socialization is at play here, to one degree or another.
Another thing to remember is that fantasy is one thing and doing something is another. I am careful to make that distinction in the memoir as well.

MD: Do you experience a lot of misogyny in the trans male community? Do you see a lot of it?

MV: No, I do not. Even this guy who made that provocative statement did not actually hate women. He was only expressing a fear, a feeling, a nearly overwhelming dark sexual impulse that was momentary. But while I have not seen a lot of misogyny, I have seen some misogyny among trans men. There are trans men who have told me that they don’t like women very much, or that they dislike feminine women in particular, they are kind of allergic to femininity, at least as women express it. Not all of these trans men are heterosexual, in fact, many are queer identified or gay trans men. However, altogether I think that trans men are not any more or any less misogynist than any other group of men. In fact, I still think that since we have had female experiences living in the world, we are often more empathetic to women, although this is not always true. Certainly, it is often the case. Breaking it down, misogyny means contempt and hatred of women. And again, most of us don’t have hatred and contempt of women. However, personally, it is one of those accusations where I almost don’t want to defend myself too loudly or too much. I mean, I don’t want to even give it validity by taking it seriously.

MD: You don’t want to be yelling, “That is not me!”

MV: The accusation is so absurd as to be almost beneath me, its crazy to even take it seriously. I don’t want to be defensive as there is no reason for me to be. But, I will defend myself a bit here anyway. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I treat women with respect, as equals – which is what women are. I actually don’t hate or have contempt for anyone, male or female. Ironically, in some respects, I actually prefer women to men, in some ways I actually like them better generally speaking. But, I certainly like men also and I try and see the world from a large vantage. I think it is important to develop empathy for all kinds of human experiences and people. There is another angle on the memoir, which many who think I am misogynist would never expect. The core audience for the book was always supposed to be heterosexual women actually, and they have often championed the book and been its greatest fans. The Testosterone Files has helped many women understand their boyfriends or husbands.
I get this feedback from women all the time. Susie Bright actually had that take on the book – that it would be helpful to women trying to understand men. And so, it often is. I actually heard that one female student, who had attended a reading of mine at her college, told her professor that The Testosterone Files saved her relationship with her boyfriend! I hear a lot of testimony like that. And, of course the memoir has helped trans men through transition. So, I don’t want to make this sound as though the reaction to the memoir has all been negative, not at all. Or, even that I don’t have many women champions. However, I have observed that people tend to love the memoir or be very upset, there is very little middle ground. Possibly, that’s not entirely a bad thing.

MD: Well, Max this has been quite an illuminating interview. I appreciate your time with me.

MV: Thanks Morty, it was great.