Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2011

Soulmate

Today is our 19th wedding anniversary. It’s been a wild ride from the start. All marriages have their challenges,  but I don’t know of many which have survived as many as ours.

We started dating in the summer of 1989, but our real relationship was actually born months later when we attempted to break up. Both of us had announced to friends that we were going to end the relationship. We walked into a room to have “the talk.” It was the first truly honest conversation we’d ever had. During the course of it we discovered that, far from wanting to break up, we wanted to date this cool new person we had just now met for the first time. Friends who had expected and even wished for the breakup were baffled, and so were we. But from that moment on nothing was going to keep us apart.

Though they’re likely to deny it today, both of our families were against us getting married. They said we were too young – we were only 22 at the time. But there were plenty of other objections. E was still in college, while also working as a line cook in a restaurant. I had just graduated college, working for barely more than minimum wage while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. My family was devoutly Catholic, and E was protestant. We had no money in the bank and a mountain of college debts. We were living together – against our parents wishes – in the first floor of a dilapidated old house we wistfully recall as “the house of plague.”

But we had decided, patiently but persistently, that we belonged together. The more anyone else objected or tried to keep us apart, the more fiercely we clung to each other. When we decided to marry it was almost a defiant gesture aimed at all of those who didn’t want to take our relationship seriously.

Our lives had already become effectively married well before the wedding. E was the first person to ever accept me completely. She was the first person I ever came out to, even when I hardly knew what to call the thing I was coming out as. There was no secret about my life I couldn’t share with her, nor in hers she couldn’t share with me. She accepted my weirdness, as I accepted hers. Rather than trying to “fix” one another we accepted each other as we were. Since other people would only recognize the depth of our relationship if we had a ceremony and legal certificate, we did the wedding thing (only after, it should be noted, my parents flipped out when they discovered our plans to elope).

Because we married so young we we’ve seen each other change and grow SO much over time. We’ve been there through each others highs and lows. We’ve shared amazing joys and gut-wrenching sorrows. Sometimes we’ve felt like the perfect couple. Other times each of us has wondered whether we even belong together. The rises and falls are roller-coaster wild and unpredictable but, so far, every time it seems like we’re heading over a cliff we get to the bottom and chug right back up again.

My gender transition presented a new and formidable set of challenges for us.  The emotional stress of transition pulls apart lives and marriages like almost nothing else, and we were not spared any of it. It has caused us to question our relationship about as fundamentally as anyone possibly can. And yet, gradually, we came through it together feeling closer than before.

However, as was the case early in our relationship, there are once again many people who want to break us apart. The notion that we’ve been together for 19 years, have three children together, and insist we want to stay together hasn’t prevented friends and family from repeatedly advising divorce. And that’s just the people who actually know us.

Now that we’re presenting as a same-sex couple there are fresh hordes of people who want laws passed against marriages like ours. Because I’m transsexual there are also some, including those from the church I was raised in, who want to declare our marriage annulled because I’m obviously insane, and so is anyone who would choose to stay with me. Still others want to consider our marriage invalidated because they don’t believe any marriage which survives gender transition can possibly be a “real” marriage on both sides of the divide.

I wonder if all the skeptics and doubters have any clue how strong a relationship can be.  It’s not that it’s easy. Marriage takes work. But ours has been battered and tossed a lot more than most, so we at least have a pretty good idea about what can’t bring it down.

We used to believe it was our honesty that kept us together, but looking back that’s really not true. We’ve lost and regained our ability to communicate honestly many times, just as we’ve lost and rediscovered our friendship more than once. The marriage persevered through it all.

I think the real thing keeping us together through every challenge is that nameless thing we discovered all those years ago when we first tried to break up. Whenever we seriously ponder ending our relationship it just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t just mean it would make us sad, though surely that is true. But also it literally makes no sense. We fit. Out of all the people in the world we somehow found each other. The odds against it were staggering. The challenges were there from the start, but so was an amazing sense of belonging that we don’t experience with anyone else.

Just as there are no perfect people, there are no perfect marriages. Ultimately there are just marriages that work, and those which don’t. Ours is a marriage that just works, and the explanations are beside the point. We belong together and we are together and those two things don’t come together every time a couple says “I do.” But it did for us and I treasure it.

Read Full Post »

Roadtrip

 

I’m heading out in a moment to see my sister, nephew & nieces. The weather for the trip looks good. The health of both families looks good.

The mood of the kids before a 6 hour road-trip is about as expected. It’s going to be a challenge to keep them from each others’ throats for that long a period in a confined space. My plan for combating this consists of snacks and movies. God forbid I have to resort to the, “I’ll pull this car over!” gambit.

I’m a little anxious over seeing everyone. The last time they saw me was around June of 2009. A lot has changed since then, for both of us.

Anyway it’s a short trip. And in the modern age one is hardly ever truly disconnected from the Internet and its associated communities. I’ll  be away, but maybe sort of around as well. I wish everyone a good weekend all the same.

Read Full Post »

Recently I’ve been engaged in an e-mail conversation on the topic of Catholicism as it applies to transsexuals. It started off with some promise, but ended disappointingly when my fellow correspondent retreated into argument by authority. In matters of Catholicism the highest practical authority consists of the Church hierarchy, which was cited to me repeatedly. Had our conversation been geared around a religious topic, such as the role of personal prayer in one’s salvation, this might have had some relevance. But our topic was not religion. It was about the treatment options available to transsexuals. I find the assertion of the Church’s authority into this matter very troubling.

Despite pretensions to the contrary, the Catholic hierarchy has a very poor understanding of transsexualism and their teachings reflect this ignorance.  Their current teaching on the matter is merely a recycled form of reparative therapy. If transsexuals follow this advice they’re putting themselves at risk. If non-transsexuals attempt to enforce adherence to this teaching they’re causing great harm.

My correspondent, drawing from their reading of Catholic teaching on the matter, came to the bizarre conclusion that transition meant substituting faith in God with a “religion of transition.” The Church fosters this nonsensical formulation by telling transsexuals that seeking the only known effective treatment for their condition – a treatment that includes transition – is hateful in the eyes of God. You can either have God’s Holy Church, or you can have transition as its replacement.

But of course, transition is no more a religion than going to a doctor when you’re sick is a religion. Transition is part of the course of treatment recommended by the leading medical and mental health providers for someone diagnosed as being transsexual. And they didn’t arrive at this conclusion lightly. Those same professions spent a good century after identifying this condition attempting to cure it by just about every other means at their disposal – psychotherapy, aversion therapy, hypnosis, drugs, lobotomy… the list goes on and on. None of it worked. Among the cures attempted over that time is the exact same thing the Church , after “careful study” of the matter, now recommends. This is not entirely unlike making a careful study of the treatment of polio and concluding that the use of penicillin is morally wrong, but leeches are fine.

The underlying problem is that, unlike advising polio sufferers, transsexualism puts the Church into a theological bind. It comes down to a concept pushed hard by the late Pope John Paul II called the “theology of the body.” In theological terms, this was JP II’s master work. If you want to see what it’s about just Google that term. But be warned, it is a lengthy subject.

The short version comes down to this: God created human beings as man and woman so that our dual nature would jointly embody the nature of God. When a man joins with a woman, it is analogous to God’s union with His Church. His never ending love for humanity is reflected in our marital fidelity. The physical act of union has the Godlike power to create life from nothingness. Etc. ad infinitum. From this basic metaphor, the late pope wove together disparate Church teachings into a single didactic logic. Taken on its own it’s quite a beautiful and impressive exercise of human intellect.

The problem is that this model wasn’t designed to account for anyone who doesn’t conform to the normative expectations of “male” or “female.” Homosexuals, transsexuals, the intersexed… we’re simply not covered by this theology. To an objective outsider this means the grand theology is merely an incomplete metaphor, rather than a comprehensive teaching of God’s plan for all mankind. But the Church doesn’t like that conclusion. To them the problem is not the incompleteness of their understanding. To them the problem is with those of us whose existence doesn’t conform to their model. As they have concluded that they know God’s plan, and as we fall outside of this plan, then clearly we are examples of sinfulness attempting to defy the will of God.

As a result he Church teachings for all of these non-normative groups are joined by a common thread. Their prescriptions for how all differently sexed and gendered people are supposed to live can be paraphrased as “either get in line, or shut up and get out of the way.” If you can’t live as a heterosexual conforming to the phenotype of your birth, then refrain from all sexual activity, don’t  marry anyone, and live some kind of isolated, asexual existence until you die. If you can’t conform you must be isolated so as not to “infect” God’s perfect plan.

This is the model through with the Church attempts to instruct transsexuals. They don’t want to parse through all the natural variations in human sex and gender. They built their teachings upon the assumption that everyone was either male or female from conception onward, and damned if they’re going to revisit this stuff in light of the findings of modern science.

And so, even as science is redefining our understanding of human sexuality with new findings in fields like neurology, genetics, and molecular biology, the Catholic Church is stuck with their “Adam and Eve” model of human sexuality. Whereas the former is capable of explaining the diversity of human sexuality as the result of natural processes, the Catholic view continues to assert that anything other than normative male and female is somehow “unnatural,” and “disordered.” Obviously the advantage of the former view is that it conforms to the evidence, as to the latter… well, some people really, really like tradition.

The recommended Catholic treatment for transsexualism reads like blast from discredited transsexual treatments past. They would have us undergo discredited forms of reparative therapy. They implausibly call upon successful and happy post-operative transsexuals to return to their birth sex. They declare all transsexual marriages to be invalid from the moment transsexualism had been manifested (which, for the record, averages around age 4-5). They would even bar celibate and chaste transsexuals who conform to all these teachings from their priesthood as being mentally unfit.

None of this makes a bit of sense given the most cursory findings of modern medical and mental health care.  Compare this paper published by the UK’s Gender Identity Research and Education Society on the topic of “Atypical Gender Development” with the Church’s findings on transsexuals published the same year. If the topic was curing measles or mending broken limbs rather than treating transsexualism, which approach would you trust to inform your own medical care?

The Church is not simply wrong in its position here. They’re pressuring an at-risk population to reject medical help in the name of their divine authority. That’s faith-healer stuff. It shouldn’t receive serious consideration in modern society.

Read Full Post »

Surveyed

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. – Hannibal Lector, survey enthusiast.

So this evening was something a little different. I participated in a focus group for a national study on parenting. My particular focus group was trying to get some GLBT representation into the study. And my personal presence was there to try to make sure the T in that equation wasn’t yet again a “silent T.”

There are those who believe GLB people have almost nothing in common with T people. I think the fact that we get beat up (sometimes only metaphorically) by the same people gives at least some indication that we’re facing some similar challenges. Parenting is definitely an area where I find a lot in common with GLB folks.

It was really only an LBT focus group, based on the survey teams’ inability to find male volunteers for the group. By my unofficial count there were 6 L’s, 1 B, and myself present. A bunch of women talking for an hour and a half about their families and kids and parenting.

I came away very impressed with the strength, resilience, and adaptability of our families. Unless the focus group was atypical, the closeness of GLBT families seems stronger than the norm. Unconditional love and acceptance coupled with a defiant resilience could be used to describe all of the families represented in the group. These are families forged in adversity but who refuse to let that fact define them. Proud while aware of their vulnerabilities. And, despite continual social castigation from some sectors, not remotely apologetic for their existence. Good company to be counted among, in my book.

We had a single mother, a couple of divorcees with children from previous relationships, multi-racial adoptions, anonymous sperm donors… really the diversity represented was pretty wide. But we had quite a lot in common.  Many times one parent would offer something, and another would pick up on it and expand while all around the table everyone else knowingly nodded their familiarity. Other times we admired and complimented unique solutions some of the parents had devised to commonly felt problems.

This was a good but strange experience for me. I was brought up in such a different kind of family. We didn’t have the closeness or the unconditional love. We were not allowed to appear different from other families around us. E and I have been consciously raising our kids in a very different way, but without much of a model to go by. Tonight felt like affirmation that we’re on the right track and not alone. (For the record, I think E was already pretty confident about this.)

The downside to my participation in the focus group was that I missed my son’s big history presentation tonight.  I really wanted to be there, but E tells me she took plenty of pictures. Oh the irony. Let me skip out on an actual parenting experience to talk about parenting, if you don’t mind. Yes, I do suck, now that you ask.

But you know, this is real parenting. Not the ideal kind you think you’ll be when you’re awaiting your first child. It’s all about trade offs, and trying to give them everything they need while accepting that you have your own needs. And sometimes it’s realizing you won’t be able to be two places at once. And that your relationship with your kids should withstand such things if it’s got a strong enough foundation. If you’re doing it right they’ll feel your love even without your physical presence. Learning to feel like a good parent at such moments may be a bit tougher.

Read Full Post »

Sisters

And now for some family news.

I’m planning to visit my sister next week. It will be the first time we’ve seen one another in two years. Quite a lot has happened in the past two years so that should prove interesting all on its own.

We’ve had an interesting relationship over the course of our lives. She was born two days shy of being exactly five years my junior. Throughout our childhoods everyone insisted we looked so alike we could be twins, except for the age difference. She remembers me as the “nice brother,” in contrast to our mutual older brother, her childhood arch-enemy within the family. As we grew older she had a lot more in common with me than she ever found with the older brother, which lead to a closer relationship between us.

One of the things that has been difficult for her about my transition is that it challenged her notion that we had ever been truly close. She used to think we were, but now she sees that wasn’t true. And she’s right. I couldn’t be truly close to someone without exposing my gender “issues,” and our relationship never really lent itself to that kind of leap of faith.

She’s the baby of the family, accustomed to being the spoiled center of attention. You listen to sisters like that. You talk about their lives and their problems. If you ever start to mention your own problems you discover how quickly they turn the conversation back to themselves without even realizing they’ve done it. That’s charming when they’re little. Often exasperrating when they’ve grown up. But it has also proven extremely awkward when it came to my transition. There was no denying that this was big news that deserved attention, but she had little ability to communicate with me on such a basis. As a result, despite her often stated intention, we haven’t spoken much about it. And at times that has been a bit of a barrier between us.

She was the very first family member I came out to. I had hoped at the time, and still hope now, that we can become closer. I could really use a sister who was more to me than a Christmas card and occasional phone call. But quite often she felt uncomfortable standing up for me when my parents were in the midst of denial.  She has a very hard time standing up to our mother, and so when my mother was at her coldest toward me some of that bled into our interactions. At that time she said some pretty hurtful things to me which are hard to forget. But I’m going to try. If transition teaches one lesson louder and clearer than any other it’s a lesson about second chances and the opportunity to change.

Besides our kids get along wonderfully.  I’ve missed the ability to get my kids together with their cousins. This is also an opportunity for that. Her youngest just turned three years old, and has never known me as anything other than Aunt Diana, though so far we’ve only spoken on the phone. The other kids have never seen me as their aunt before, but they’ve been calling me that on the phone for the past year. That should be a fun reunion in its own sake.

Anyway, the trip will be a short one. She doesn’t live that far away (in Neenah, Wisconsin – oddly and coincidentally a former destination spot for gender reassignment surgery, performed by the now retired Dr. Eugene Schrang). If the weather doesn’t cooperate (always a possibility in the Upper Midwest this time of year) we’ll probably put it off a couple more weeks and try again. But I think this trip means too much to me to put off much longer.

Read Full Post »

An interesting story emerged this week about a figure of some notoriety within the trans world. It involves a certain J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University. This time the dust-up doesn’t have to do with anything trans related but… well let’s just examine the story.

Evanston, Ill. – More than 100 Northwestern students watched as a naked woman was penetrated by a sex toy wielded by her boyfriend during an after-class session of the school’s popular “Human Sexuality” class.

The demo, which was optional, was part of the popular class taught by Prof. John Michael Bailey, the Sun-Times is reporting. More than 600 students take the class, which the course description says “will treat human sexuality as a subject for scientific inquiry.”

For some reason the general community is a bit upset with the good professor for staging something that sounds indistinguishable from pornography as part of a class demonstration.

But, as has been the case with Bailey in the past, this is not simply a matter of town and gown disagreement. Other academics also seem to question the scholarship involved here.

Bill Yarber, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of the widely used textbook “Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America,” said he’s never heard of a naked woman being brought to orgasm in front of a class of students.

“They way you present it there is very unconventional,” he said. “There’s certain boundaries of things, I think, that are acceptable and that would certainly be pushing that.”

There’s more at the link, but you get the general picture. For nebulous reasons Bailey insists are properly scholarly, but other scholars can’t seem to grasp, he staged a live demonstration of something one usually  finds on internet pornography for his students. And then, when asked to explain the academic merit of this exercise…

Bailey could not be reached for comment.

Of course he couldn’t. The demands of science have surely called upon him urgently to explore the role of  Cinemax in nighttime erections, or to return to his research upon alternative modalities of picking up hookers in bars (“Hey baby, how about you come back to my place and we make some sweet, sweet science?”).

Those of us in the trans world who have had reason to sample Bailey’s “scholarship” in the past can only chuckle about this. You mean it’s possible this guy is a wee bit more sex-obsessed than scholarly? Who could have known? Oh… right.

I’d just like to submit this latest incident into the popular record. The man who attempted to popularize the notion that all transsexualism could all be explained by two flavors of erotic compulsion may have been projecting just a bit.

UPDATE:

Lynn Conway, who was instrumental in leading the charge against Bailey’s anti-trans “research” has tracked down several  more articles on this matter. Here’s a sample:

F***saw: Northwestern University Professor John Michael Bailey Demonstrates Sex Toy to Class

Chicago Tribune exclusive interview: “J. Michael Bailey talks with Tribune columnist Mary Schmich”

Daily Northwestern: “Updated: Northwestern copes with fallout, attention from sex toy demo – Schapiro announces investigations; ethics claim to be filed by fellow scholar”

Read Full Post »

Vulnerability

My friend Mahra e-mailed the following video link to me today. It is totally worth sharing all on its own. But the subtext as it applies to gender transition is absolutely striking. By all means check it out at the link below:

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

 

Read Full Post »