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Gender Wars History Series: A Woman's Love
1970 "Letter from a Transsexual"
Think the issue of men claiming to be lesbians is a relatively new one? Think again!
In 1970, a man named Elliott Basil Mattiuzzi, who called himself Beth Elliot, decided to write a letter to the radical feminist newspaper It Ain’t Me Babe about how much of a lesbian he truly was.
(See the whole letter here.)
“I am a transsexual,” Mattiuzzi begins. “On the intellectual and emotional levels, I know myself to be a woman; on the physical level, my own body denies me this.”
The editors explained that they decided to print the letter to “show the seriousness of the problem.”
I thought this was a very interesting example of the kinds of arguments that trans-identified males and radical feminists have been having for more than half a century now.
Mattiuzzi goes on to describe how he met and fell in love with a woman named Bev who, apparently, made him realize that all his life he had given a “woman’s love.” Bev was Bev Jo, a radical lesbian feminist writer who has accused Mattiuzzi of stalking her and taking a name that sounded like hers.
Later, like the very heterosexual man he was, Mattiuzzi fell in love with another woman named Mary, who he met at the Gay Lib coffee house. He described Mary as “exclusively gay” but said that she was able to “see beyond” his body and love him as a person.
In the letter, Mattiuzzi also described how he felt “trapped” in a man’s body and was seeking to start estrogen treatment as a preparation for “sex-change surgery.”
The editors had quite a lot to say about this, responding that “the feminist revolution is accept the body and destroy the society” and “this we don’t dig at all as a solution.”
They invited Mattiuzzi to visit before publishing the letter to “check out his vibe” and try to talk him out of the operation. They noted that his understanding of women was “too passive/submissive” and that he talked in “generalizations and abstracts.” He was also insistent that the only way he could live and behave as a woman was to be “totally female.”
The editors insisted back that a sex-change operation wasn’t a healthy solution to his predicament and that men must start discovering a “new reality” for themselves, just as women were doing at the time.
In fairly typical radical feminist fashion, the editors come from the point of view that all men oppress all women and that all men must change. They even opine that men are destroying the planet! Their talk about men and women creating “new realities” strikes me as very socially constructionist as well: they even agree with Mattiuzzi that he might have needed a sex change a year ago but that he should no longer pursue it because times were changing. I took this to understand that they believed biological sex was becoming irrelevant.
These are not points of view I agree with—in fact, I am quite staunchly opposed to them. When I first came across this letter, it helped me decide that I am certainly no radical feminist.
However, I thought that this letter and the response provided a fascinating look at the history of an issue that has been smoldering mainly out of the eye of the public for over 50 years. While the casual observer might think this has all come out of nowhere, it’s just that it has finally caught fire.
As for Mattiuzzi—he walked away agreeing to give accepting himself as male a shot. However, just a few months later, he became the vice president of the San Francisco chapter of a lesbian political organization called the Daughters of Bilitis. In 1972, he was removed from the group after accusations of sexual harassment. However, this didn’t stop him from continual involvement in lesbian communities.
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