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Monsters

I had a post for today. But I can’t post it now. This thing is all that my mind can process at the moment.

What happens in that video is still, as far as I can tell from the internet discussions about it, fair treatment for someone like me . Or at least, it’s worthy of debate (if the victim is a real woman, string the abusers up. but if she’s only a tranny…). I mean… you wouldn’t want to be “politically correct” and rule these kind of beatings out in all cases.

Tonight, I’m emotionally in the bunker. The rest of the human race who doesn’t  automatically condemn this seem like monsters to me after seeing this. And right now the world seems full of monsters.

Authentic Transition

I don’t often post directly in response to other people’s posts. If I agree, it seems redundant. If I disagree it seems confrontational. But in this case I’m going to make an exception because I suspect my reaction is neither redundant nor confrontational – it’s just different.

A post from Chloe Prince this morning gave me a little jolt because I had been thinking about a very similar topic during my morning commute.

In short, Chloe is having trouble being herself without feeling like she’s falling short of her standard of what a woman should be. If she’s drawing upon her male-upbringing in her new life, she feels it challenges her legitimacy as a woman. No doubt she speaks for many in this regard.

But I have to tell you, I talk to a lot of women and I hear this same concern quite a lot, regardless of their circumstances of birth. Women are increasingly called upon to not back down from doing the “guy stuff” from an early age. Some women learned to change their own oil. Some are good at fixing the plumbing or doing electrical work. Some grew up the only girl in a house full of brothers being treated like “one of the boys.” In all cases they have more masculine experiences than a lot of their peers, which can sometimes set them apart.

There’s an inevitable friction between the traditional image of feminine meekness and vulnerability, and the modern image of powerful women who can do anything men can do (backward and in heels, no less). The notion that those born female navigate these choppy waters naturally and easily is mistaken. Whether you were born into it or transitioned into it, the struggle to reconcile feminine vulnerability with female power – and in a form that will please everyone from your mother to your co-workers to your lovers to your friends – is a challenge. But it just doesn’t feel right to me to assume the correct answer is to feign ignorance where none exists, or weakness where you’re truly strong.

Chloe further elaborated her point:

“In truth, it takes a life time to enter and live in the female world to grow into a ‘woman’.  Normally, a child goes through all these awkward stages of social grooming into their gender roll, early on in life.  As a transgender woman, I feel like a 6 year old girl right now with the life experience of a 32 year old male.  And that hurts, some days. Other days, its been a blessing to be able to navigate a situation with my ‘privilege’ of my former experience of having lived as a male.  But again, your average woman would not have had that privilege.  So am I a woman? Or am I a Transgender woman with male privilege?  Admittedly, this is deeply troubling.  But why?”

Not long ago I thought in exactly the same terms. I was applying a fieldwork standard in cultural anthropology to the gender transition experience (why yes, I am that much of a geek). In ethnographic fieldwork you’re supposed to assume that one year in the field gives you the understanding in that culture of someone born into it of equivalent age. You spent five years with the Yanamamo in Amazonia? Consider your understanding the equivalent of a Yanamomo five year old. Chloe describes the same mindset above.

But recently I started to realize it’s a bad analogy. Gender transition – for me anyway – is nothing like that. It may be like that for others, and I don’t want to discount their experiences, but that concept totally fell apart in my own transition experience.

Transition for me has been more about learning to trust my own instincts, and strip away the artificial and the phony. If I approach it like I’m trying to learn something foreign to me, what was all that gender dysphoria about? Surely some of this stuff has been trapped inside me for ages waiting for the chance to come out. I’m finding that in most of the important cases, this has been so.

My shift away from being “intrepid ethnographer in gender-land” came when I discovered that my presumption (that I must be clueless because I didn’t grow up in a female role) was itself holding me back from being authentic. The lack of authenticity more than the lack of experience kept me separated from being accepted as a woman by others. When I embraced my own life – including the unique experiences and perspectives brought about by a cross-gendered life – the artificial wall I’d placed between myself and others quickly crumbled.

It sounds to me like Chloe – like myself not long ago – is looking for acceptance to come from others first, in order to justify her own self-acceptance. I’ve found that approach didn’t work so well. Far better to start with self-acceptance, and work outward from there. After all, if you don’t accept yourself – and you know yourself far better than anyone else can – why should anyone else accept you?

I think some people who transition have a kind of courage problem. It’s not a lack of courage. It takes incredible courage to face down everyone in your life and insist your gender role doesn’t fit and needs to change. I would call this particular courage problem one of misdirected courage. They have loads of courage to face other people despite their admitted imperfections. But that courage is no where to be found when it comes to confronting their own self-doubt and shame.

Way back in one of my early posts on this blog I wrote about how living as a male felt like a never-ending acting job. In the end it exhausted me and I simply couldn’t go on with it any longer. Perhaps that’s why I am so determined that my post-transition life cannot fall into that same trap. I refuse to “act the part” of someone I am not. One consequence of of that means I have to lose the shame. I need to be able to show my authentic self without harsh self-judgement picking apart my own confidence and self esteem before others even get the chance.

In short, I have to find the courage to be myself – and be okay with being myself. I have to love myself first before I can ask others to love me. I have to stop shaming myself as being “not good enough,” or “not pretty enough,” or “not feminine enough,” as if there is some external standard of perfection I’m obligated to meet.

I have faults – plenty of them. So does every other woman I’ve ever met (and men have even more of them *rimshot*). Last I checked, a woman with faults is still a woman. A woman sheltered from experiences common to other women is still a woman. A woman who doubts herself and wonders if she measures up well with other women is all too much a woman.

Transition should not be a form of the question: Am I good enough yet? Instead it should be the exclamation point following a line of self-discovery stating: This is who I am! In fact, that’s a pretty good way to live even if you’re not inclined to gender transition.

Becoming Yourself

“No matter where you go, there you are.”

An interesting post on a popular internet forum pondered: Is it better to try to become the person you want to be? Or to come to terms with the person you are?

Sometimes the most basic questions are the most important and this one is pretty fundamental. I don’t know many people who are perfectly content with themselves. Everyone I meet wants to change something. Some people want to change so much it’s almost like they want to be a totally different person. I used to be one of those people.

The problem is that the question poses a false dichotomy – one that is embraced all too readily by anyone filled with shame. There is no such thing as a “person you want to be” which can be based in anything other than the “person you are.” Who you are is a combination of who you were in the past, who you are today, and who you will become in the future. Any projection of a future self which isn’t fundamentally connected to your present (and former) self is a fantasy.

And yet, despite its unbreakable tether to the potentially unbearable past and present, I don’t consider anything about that concept limiting. In fact I consider it liberating. It’s the liberation that comes when you realize how much you have the power to actually do, rather than only imagine. It frees you to fulfill your actual life rather than speculating about (and/or envying) potential lives. Realizing this truth transforms you from a supplicant pleading with the universe to an actor with the power to become.

Here’s one thing I wish I knew earlier: You must, must accept who you are to ever have a chance at becoming any kind of person you’ll truly want to be. You don’t have to accept where you are. You don’t have to accept your present circumstances or your current habits. You don’t have to accept the company you currently keep or the life you’re currently living. But you have to accept yourself deeply and unconditionally. After all, there is no where you can go in life where you are not coming along for the ride.

There’s a huge and often under-appreciated lesson relevant to gender transition in this notion. Despite appearances to the contrary, gender transition does not – cannot – fundamentally change a person. It can change your shape. It can change your life experiences. It can change your relationships. But it cannot change who you really are. Nothing about the mechanics of transition – the hormones, the surgeries, the lifestyle changes – is going to make you another person. It can’t take away your past. It can’t change you from hating yourself to loving yourself. Transition may open up promising future possibilities, but those can never be more than part of the greater whole of your life.

The way to walk into transition – any life transition – is to embrace it as an opportunity to become. But you can’t become something you’re not. You can’t become someone without a past. It’s all you – all of it. If you despise yourself, even in part, you hold yourself back from your true potential.

So, here’s my answer to the question posed earlier: Is it better to try to become the person you want to be? Or to come to terms with the person you are?

Yes, and yes, but not necessarily in that order.

A Brief Editorial

Lately I’ve found exploring blogs, forums and articles written for transsexuals by other transsexuals a dispiriting and even angering experience. So many basic human flaws on never-ending display: Elitism, groupthink, factionalization. Then there are even more basic mammalian tendencies on equally proud display: marginalization of undesirables, alpha assertion, and dominance displays. These same sort of places seemed full of good advice and support back when I was looking forward to transition. Now they seem to be more full of harm rather than good. I’m sure this is more a result of my own transformation than theirs, but I feel the need to address it all the same.

Transsexual transition is a dramatic example of a life journey toward self-acceptance and self-realization. At some point the “transsexual” part becomes less important than the “self-acceptance and self-realization” part. And, as I am now discovering, in some cases the “transsexual” part inhibits the “self-acceptance and self-realization” part, and would be better discarded.

Our lives are just like other lives after a certain point. We all – trans and non-trans alike – seek to live authentically and honestly. Once the transition bugaboo is largely licked, why should we assume trans people have any special insight beyond what other people in similar situations can provide?

In way of illustration, here’s my transsexual life story writ in general terms:

I grew up under severe pressure to repress my self identity. I had to play a role which never felt like myself. I never thought anyone could ever love me if I showed them the person I truly was inside. As a result I was incredibly lonely and isolated, despite any appearances to the contrary. Learning to stop playing that role meant embracing my greatest phobia – being truly vulnerable. I was almost willing to die rather than ever do that. Learning to live another way has been rewarding and terrifying in equal measures. But I could never go back to living as before.

That paragraph above applies to a hell of a lot more people than the trans community. I’ve been encouraged learning about other individuals and groups who deal with this sort of thing better than anything I’ve seen within the trans community.

It helps when you start from the simple assumption that we are all worthy beings deserving of love and respect. We make mistakes. We’re not perfect. And still… we’re worthy of love and respect. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong and ought to be disregarded.

 

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.

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.

Leeches for Polio

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.