Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Irony

I have always had a deep fondness for Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I identify with both Quasimodo and Esmerelda. On the one hand, I feel like there’s a beautiful woman inside me, but, on the other, my body seems as twisted to me as Quasimodo’s to him. I feel like I share Quasimodo’s tender heart.

However, I think the biggest reason I like The Hunchback is simply that it’s laden with layers of irony. Irony is an inevitable part of a transperson’s life. For instance, prior to transition, everyone I met thought they knew me; but I did not reveal my real self to them, and I felt isolated and invisible, even in the most intimate of relationships. My body functions well, it would be beautiful in a man, but it seems dreadfully ugly and just wrong to me. When I started coming out, I found that I hurt people in direct proportion to how much I loved them and wanted to protect them from hurt.

That’s probably the most painful irony of being a transwoman.

The exception is my kids. Our relationship seems better since I came out, they’re thriving, and I’ve seen no evidence of hurt. I’m glad I did it while they’re young. I’ve also been lucky in transition – I’ve had very little negative reaction from the public, and my supervisors at work studied, planned, and worked hard to ensure that my transition went flawlessly, and to show that I had the full support of management (although my health plan still specifically excludes most of my health needs). Other transpeople commonly suffer the full weight of society's discrimination, hate, abuse, and prejudice.

The suffering my transition has caused my loved ones, my body has caused me, and society has caused to most of my peers, points to another aspect of The Hunchback that identifies it with transsexuality. The story of Quasimodo and Esmerelda is a tragedy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow falling gently

Yesterday I woke up to the beauty and silence of gently falling snow. Not a breath of wind stirred the air. Big flakes dropped straight down. In this part of Oregon, we rarely see snow, and when we do, it’s usually just a skiff or a few inches; but this snow kept on and on, until midafternoon, when a good six inches covered the ground, turning everything white and still.

Kristin got up and wrote three powerful poems. Just like that. Three of them. Beauty flows through her like water through an open pipe.

Before too long, the kids and I were out in the snow. We made a snowman, then went to visit our neighbors and warm up by their fire. The kids started making a snow fort, until another friend came along with his parents, riding a sandboard they were using as a sled. We gathered a sled, too, and went along.

The sled we brought was a blow-up one, and I had to push it down the hill to make it move. Not much fun. My son's pants got wet, and he was getting cold. But finally, he got a ride on his friend's sled – zooming down the hill in fine fashion, until he hit the jump at the bottom! That was enough for him! He had snow in his boots, and just wanted to get home and warm up. We hoofed it home, leaving the others to follow behind.

At home, I tried to fix the clogged drain in the bathroom, but found it was clogged somewhere way past the trap, and I couldn’t get to it. So I set off for rehearsal, for the Vagina Monologues performance I’m in.

Given the weather, I wasn’t about to ride my bike. So I walked. Twenty blocks later, muttering my lines under my breath, I got to the rehearsal room and found it cancelled.

I sat for a time, and rested.

And then I started the long walk back.

It was beautiful. Twilight was coming on, and the snow painted the city in a new light. I took my time, enjoying life, and reflecting.

I realized that I like myself. I like who I am, and the choices I make. I love that I am coming into my womanhood. I love that I chose to walk twenty blocks through the snow for rehearsal, rather than calling it off or driving. I love that I have a family that is close and warm.

The sky cleared off in the west. Blue showed through the clouds, and then faded as night took over, falling as gently as the snow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jenny!

Today is my sister Jenny’s birthday, and I wish her the very best.

Jenny is a very special person. She started to teach me to read before I went to school. I remember sitting with her up in the treehouse my siblings and I build ourselves, poring over easy reader books as she explained.

I used to play with dolls with her in the back of our old ’63 Chevy Carryall while traveling to visit a friend outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. I had so much fun, but even so, I made sure to downplay it, in case anyone thought I was getting too girly.

She was my protector in grade school. She watched out for me, perhaps more than I realize, because when she went on to Junior High, and I was the only one of my siblings left, I had a miserable time. More miserable than usual, that is – with all the other kids ganging up on me in the playground.

A lot of time has passed since then. Most of Jenny’s kids are grown up. Her daughter has a daughter. Jenny’s a grandma. I’m no longer her little brother; now I’m her little sister. And she’s still really special to me.

Happy birthday, Jenny!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The creationist editor

A friend of mine, Anne, recently published an story in an online publication, The Opinion Guy (http://theopinionguy.com/page2.html). Anne wrote a book called Living in the Light, a sort-of-instruction manual to help atheist parents teach their kids to resist religious proselytizing. The Opinion Guy opens his publication by attempting to skewer evolutionary theory in favor of creationism.

I love irony.

Anyway, just for kicks (and because it’s easy), I thought I’d take a few minutes to offer a rebuttal.

OP’s argument is based on this evidence:
It doesn’t seem reasonable that all this matter out there suddenly gathered in one place and exploded in the Big Bang.

Well, quantum physics has demonstrated that the actual construction of matter is almost completely energy (or perhaps completely). If you took the earth and squashed out all the empty space inside atoms and quarks, you’d have a tiny ball of intense energy you could hold in the palm of your hand. And anyway, doesn’t The Bible say, “With God all things are possible”?

If evolution is true, it must still be happening, but we haven’t seen it in the last 8,000 years, therefore it stopped. (There’s a “lack of recurring examples.”)

8,000 years is the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Any changes we would see in this period are gonna be pretty small. Even so, in the last few hundred years, we’ve seen canis lupus familiarus develop into German Shepherd and pug. Assuming both survived, what would they look like in 100,000 years? A million? New species are being discovered on a regular basis – how many of these have emerged through a process of evolution, and weren’t there 8,000 years ago? Nobody knows, obviously. So maybe we’re witnessing evolution all the time, and just haven’t noticed, since it hasn’t been replicated in a laboratory yet. Meanwhile, the fossil record provides lots of evidence that various hominid and other species lived in the past, and are not alive now; and lots of species that are alive now, apparently weren’t alive then – unless we just haven’t found the fossils yet. If the species of the past are completely different from those of the present, then either there must be a continual, gradual change (evolution) going on, or a continual, sudden creation of new critters from ‘the dust of the ground,’ or whatever. Natural selection, which is proven, implies the first.

“… to believe evolution, one has to believe that evolution suddenly happened and strangely stopped in strange bursts throughout history. Isn’t that far-fetched?”

Well, actually, no. That is exactly what evolutionary theory says, and what common sense implies. It's a pattern recreated throughout nature and life, from the growth of kids (they crawl for months and months, then, in a few days, they're walking) to seasons to economic cycles to supernovas.

In periods of environmental stability, such as we’ve enjoyed for the last 10,000 or so years, there is very little evolutionary change, and it’ll most likely happen in minor ways, such as the natural selection OP admits we’ve witnessed. In periods of climactic shift (such as the global warming we are now beginning to encounter) and intense environmental pressure, evolution occurs in bursts as the species dependent on their specific climates change rapidly or die out (become extinct).

The funny thing is, from an objective viewpoint evolution isn’t in doubt. The fossil record and process of natural selection are indisputable. What we can argue about rationally is how and whether it is directed. The real question is, Does evolution occur by random chance, or divine intervention? If you don’t read The Bible literally, it begins with a pretty good allegorical description of Big Bang-style creation (“… and God said Let there be light, and there was light,” etc.), so I don’t see why you can’t believe in The Bible and evolution at the same time. But it really doesn’t matter. Resolving that issue has bearing only on personal questions of faith. I see no reason to resolve it in the public realm.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mike Huckabee on Economics

I found this quote from GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fascinating, and absolutely perfect for summing up the Republicans’ blind ideology regarding economics.

“Some of the toughest competition your company faces is from its own government, whose tax policies, whose regulatory policies, the threat of litigation, makes it real tough to stay in business," he told employees at a Demmer Corp. plant near Lansing that makes armored personnel carriers for the military. (Clinton, Obama Step Back from Race Flap, AP, Jan. 14, 2008 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22657327/)

Huh? So the single customer who buys all your products is one of your toughest competitors?

If only all businesses could have it so easy.

Economics is not rocket science – more like tightrope walking – and the relationship between politics and economics is a delicate one. The role of government in ensuring everyone has enough, and no one gains disproportionate power, the environment is protected, and opportunity blossoms, is vital, but it can be easily swayed to damage, coercion, or lack. It requires constant vigilance, and frequent correction; sometimes more regulation or taxation, sometimes less. It is dynamic, a dance. For too long, the GOP’s been leading, and the dance card they hold is fascism – the melding of corporate and government power, for the advantage of a single economic constituency.

I’ll defend that statement in future posts, but for now, I’ll just say I’m making no allusion to specific fascist leaders of the past, only to the political-economic system they presided over.

That said, I find it fascinating that the media and the Republican Party is so successful at perpetrating the myth of Republicans as the party of small government and less regulation. Most of the regulation written since the Reagan administration has been written by large corporations, for their benefit, and has been voted in and signed by Republicans, who, judging from their policies, enjoy the ultra-rich as their one true constituent class. That regulation provides large corporations with huge advantages over small business, yet small business owners mostly seem to support the Republicans who undermine them.

I just wish I could have more confidence that the Democrats have some commitment to undoing fascist policies, and restoring a more balanced system.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Piercing connection

Last night I went down to High Priestess to get two new holes pierced in my right earlobe. A. greeted me at the door, his face covered in swirls of tattoos, with multiple piercings in eyebrows, nose, ears, and lips. He took my order with friendly professionalism, and put my opal earrings in the autoclave. I waited a little while, and joined J. in the piercing room.

J. had many tattoos, also, though none on his face. Wood plugs the diameter of a pop can stretched his earlobes. We talked about our children while he prepped my lobe and pierced it. We have kids about the same age, his daughter eight to T’s seven. He spoke of his daughter with great affection, how she snuggles with him, she’s the light of his life. It was a sweet connection, and I thought, how wonderful to live this life without judging by appearance. I could have missed that easily, but instead my life was enriched.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Celebration

Today I celebrate myself. Like Walt Whitman, I embrace myself:

“Clear and sweet is my Soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my Soul.

Not an inch [of my body], nor a particle of an inch, is vile….

I see, dance, laugh, sing:” *

The last week I have come into a newness of being. My body, more than it ever has, is joining in unity with my soul. There is a new ease about presenting as a woman, born in that unity and reinforced by recently being “Ma’am”-ed by a total stranger on the phone. (Only another transwoman can appreciate how special that is!)

Not to say life is perfect. I may never again share the intimacy I once shared with K, given my blend of genders. And even as I embrace myself and my unique gender, there is irony; last night I quizzed a post-op transwoman friend of mine about SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery, or ‘sex-change operation’). Not a particle of me is vile, yet I will most certainly change a part of me through surgery, should I ever gather enough money to do so.

Which takes nothing away from my celebration, born in a recent morning when I bogged down in despair over the hopelessness of being seen as the woman I am. I looked in the mirror before going to work and facing the public, and asked myself, “Do you have enough courage to face this day?” The answer was instant, unequivocal, and from the heart: “You bet I do!” That courage found, I faced the day with confidence. I followed that by adopting my 2008 New Year’s resolution, “Cultivate abundance,” and by taking a part in an all-woman cast performing The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler.

There is something beautiful about this shape-shifting possibility, this opportunity to enter into the ancient wisdom and sacred space between the sexes, and the potential for shifting our culture to respond anew to the natural diversity of biology – the culture of the rainbow, God’s creation, seen everywhere in the wild profusion of life, which our culture has so long attempted to suppress. It comes down to this: For the first time in my life, I like myself.

*(Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself - http://www.bartleby.com/142/14.html)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What's that smell?

It’s early January, eleven months from the general election. Already two small states have held primary-type elections, and already a total of four presidential candidates, two Democrats and two Republicans, have dropped out of the race. Now Bill Richardson is dropping out, too. I was seriously considering voting for him, but now I won't have the choice. By the time Oregon holds our primary in May, the two major-party nominees will be selected. They will probably be selected by the middle of February.

I say selected, because they will not be elected by the majority of voters of their respective political parties, but only by the majority of voters in a few states.

This system is not only insane and anti-democratic, it stinks.

The worst part is, in order to get a say in the primaries, states keep moving their primary to an earlier time, thereby extending the campaign cycle to the point that when the general election comes around, everybody’s so sick of both major candidates that nobody wants to vote, and nobody cares.

It’s time to reform the entire primary process, perhaps with regional primaries, or by prohibiting any state from holding a primary before May. I would rather have a say in choosing the nominee of my party even than in voting in the general election – that’s where the real choice is made. It’s bad enough that the Electoral College short-circuits one-person, one-vote; the current primary system eliminates probably half or more of the popular vote from the effective democratic process.


How broken does the system have to get before we try to fix it?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wildcraft!

Christmas was kind to us this year. We all got stuff we liked, and we didn’t get too much. One of the items I found most interesting was a board game called Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game, from LearningHerbs.com. (See link.) It was great fun for the kids, but what makes this game remarkable is that it teaches useful knowledge, and it’s cooperative, not competitive. I’d like to see more games out there like Wildcraft, and I heartily recommend it.

The point of the game is to follow the path on the board from Grandma’s house to the huckleberry patch, pick eight buckets of huckleberries, and get back before night. At periodic points along the path, you land on a night square, which brings about the passage of time and the threat of oncoming night. Along the way, you run into various kinds of trouble – skinned knees, sunburn, hunger, etc. – and you pick up various kinds of herbs, illustrated realistically on cards. If you have the right herb, you can use it to cure the trouble, and move on. If you have a cooperation card, you can use it to share herbs with others who have troubles, or to bring any player who falls behind up to your position on the path. In the process of the game, you learn about wild herbs and how to use them, which ones work for which situations, and you also practice cooperation, while having fun. Like real life, everyone wins, or everyone loses, depending on how well you work together to achieve a specific goal.

That got me to thinking about other games we’ve got in the house. Risk, the game of world domination – one winner, five losers, competition and the glories of war. Stratego. Battleship. So many war games. Monopoly and Life, games of economic domination, emphasize competition over others rather than the cooperation that makes real life pleasant and effectiveNone of them teach any practical knowledge or skills. Even chess, a game to which I am seriously addicted, lacks the qualities of education and cooperation that make Wildcraft! such a pleasant surprise.

The question I have now is, what are my kids learning while playing competitive, martially inspired games? Not cooperation, certainly, but does Risk teach that world domination is a possibility (an attractive one, to boot)? What do kids learn from Monopoly? Does it present a paradigm where it’s a good thing to hoard all the riches to yourself and send everyone else to the poorhouse? There are winners and losers, and that’s the natural order of things, so close your heart to the down-and-out? Even our discourse of team sports focuses on competition, on winners and losers, often in martial terms; but it seems to me that team sports are really about cooperation. The team that works best together, that most effectively operates as a team, wins. How would life in the office be different if we had soaked up these lessons of cooperation from the earliest age, instead of learning competition? Or is it all just good fun, and my youngest son's tears as he falls yet again to my eldest's developmental advantage just water on the garden of good losership?


Do we really want to teach our children to be good losers?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

An introduction of sorts...

My name is Seda. I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming among the last of the old cowboys who formed the macho basis for the Marlboro Man myth. Those folks were my folks; those people, my people. The first time I remember snitching and wearing my sister’s clothes, I was maybe six years old.

I’ve read plenty of accounts by other transwomen that they knew from their childhood that they were girls. I never had that sense growing up. Everyone around me bombarded me with the message, “You’re a boy,” and like so many children, I never questioned the parents and adults and peers who defined my world. I did know from the earliest age, however, that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t fit in. I just thought it was my mind and spirit that were fucked up. From the perspective of forty years of experience, now I realize it was my body.

Given the deep inner knowledge that there was something lacking in my manhood, perhaps it’s no surprise that I joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduating from high school. Four years failed miserably to fulfill their promise to ‘Make a man out of me.’ I traveled the country, working in construction, logging, and other jobs for four more years, then signed on with a commercial fishing boat, where I racked up over three years of sea time. The photo above was taken while fishing for pacific cod in the Bering Sea in January, right after I’d worked several hours at the rail, my face lashed constantly by howling wind and freezing salt spray. The ice is, indeed, salt water ice.

I got married. I had kids, two boys. I had nightmares, indigestion, depression. And one night a house fire began the process that would change my life forever. In the aftermath of that fire, losing our house, nearly losing our lives, middle-age closing in around me, I took the opportunity of my wife’s and kids’ temporary absence to purchase a bunch of second-hand women’s clothes. For the week they were gone, I spent every second I was home in drag. And one night, dancing in joy down the hall, I looked down at the skirt swirling around my legs, and I knew – this was me. The scales of denial having fallen from my eyes, I could not turn back. Eighteen months of therapy didn’t affect the growing needs for unity and self-expression, for integrity, for understanding and being understood, seeing and being seen, that had been suppressed for so long.

I am a year into hormone therapy now, and the tender buds of my breasts are starting to show. My beard is mostly gone, along with the depression and nightmares that plagued me. My ears are pierced, my hair is growing, and I spend each day living a life as close to that of a woman as I am able. I like myself, I respect myself, I have finally found a way to live with truth and integrity. All it cost me was my wife, a few friends, my career, my privileged white-male status, dependable medical care covered by insurance, and almost my last surviving brother (but not quite, thank God). My relationships with my boys have improved, and I am still best friends with the woman who was my wife.

I do not regret, nor do I want to discard, my past as a male. But I am not a male. Neither will I ever be completely female - anatomy and 40 years of male socialization conspire against that. I am not man nor woman, but a little bit of both. I am something in-between – a transwoman. What the hell, didn’t God “male and female created he them?” (Italics mine.) Yes, Virginia, God made us transfolk, too, and She made us this way for a reason, though I’m damned if I have a clue what it is.

In her autobiography, Conundrum, Jan Morris said, “I never did think that my own conundrum was a matter of either science or social convention. I thought it was a matter of the spirit, a kind of divine allegory, and that explanations of it were not very important anyway. What was important was the liberty of us all to live as we wished to live, to love however we wanted to love, and to know ourselves, however peculiar, disconcerting or unclassifiable, at one with the gods and angels.” I don’t know about the divine allegory; unusual gift, perhaps. But the rest of it resonates with the deep truth of a life lived with the same challenge that dominates my presence. Regardless of my genetic makeup, my most earnest desire is to live my life, closely connected to my family and to society, in complete acceptance of my role as woman. I am not a man. My heart and my soul beat to the rhythm of my womanhood, and when the sexes separate, that is where I want to be.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz