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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I’m Voting Republican (Not)

I got this video link in an email, and couldn't resist it.


There are some more videos along the same lines at the same location, if you follow the link - some better than others. However, I'm not sure that national politics is very relevant to real life anymore. I guess the last 28 years have made me cynical. Maybe Obama will spark a movement that will turn the federal government around and make it relevant again. Or maybe not. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Appreciation

Diane's story reminds me of the gratitude I feel for my own situation, which is very different. My transition was so smooth, it barely caused a wrinkle. I experienced a wealth of support, right from the start, which enabled a sense of safety and comfort that had me smiling on my way to work – even as people, especially clients, routinely got my pronouns wrong.

When I started my working for the city, I planned not to come out to anyone until my 12-month probation period was over, and I was completely represented by the union. Transition is fraught with challenge, difficulty, and frequently pain for many transpeople, including both FTM's and MTF's. For some, it means loss of a job; others suffer harassment, even in just minor ways. There are enough stories similar to Diane's that I didn't consider coming out prior to my hire date for more than a second or two.

Yet, within two months, I came out to a person I felt comfortable with in human resources. She was excited, and I soon met with her, the diversity consultant, and the human resources manager to begin a transition plan. All of them were completely supportive.

A month later, I was in my workgroup manager's office, coming out to her and my workgroup supervisor.

Up to that time, no one who was employed by my city government had transitioned on the job. I was breaking new ground. Nevertheless, Keli O. and Steve M. (the bosses above, respectively) worked with me to develop a plan to prepare for my transition with the least difficulty. They contacted other employers who had helped employees transition, such as the local university. They worked with HR, the human rights commission, and the city's diversity consultant, and prioritized a training on gender diversity that was in the process of planning but had not yet been scheduled. They consulted me on timing and terminology, and on coming out to my department and division managers, where I found additional support. Keli and Steve continued to support me, making helpful suggestions and consulting as need arose, planning for contingencies – one of which was what to do if someone noticed me during my non-work hours, since at that time I was living as Seda whenever I wasn't at work.

Nine months after I started working for the city, I changed my name and the gender marker on my driver's license, took a week's vacation, and began my new life. While I was gone, Keli and Steve obtained several copies of guidebooks for employees working with transpeople, and shared them with anyone who was interested. They met with the staff in my workgroup and other workgroups that had significant interaction with mine, and shared a letter I'd written explaining my transition. They also handed out a memo that included these statements, which I believe was written by Keli:

"…we have determined that the women's and unisex restrooms are appropriate for Seda's use. "

"If a co-worker or … patron asks not to work with an employee because of gender identity, we will not honor the request."

"The City will not subject an employee to adverse employment actions based on personal identity."

When I came back to work, I returned to hugs and congratulations from some, and strange looks and silence from others. But, no harassment, nothing negative. One of the most positive aspects of the work Keli and Steve did was to skillfully walk a line of representing my transition as normal, while simultaneously educating and reassuring those to whom it was strange and uncomfortable, and assuring that I experienced no harassment. At all. Almost a year later, I've had positive, respectful connections with even those who appeared most doubtful at first.

The ease of my transition was, even more than the fact that I work with some very connected and liberal people (including several natural allies from the lesbian and gay community), the direct result of outstanding, talented leadership. The department where I work is full of motivated and competent people, working with very high morale, and totally blowing the image so many have of government.

Oh, yeah, I appreciate it. My transition was a team affair, and I had the help of a lot of people, not just Keli and Steve, though they led the effort. I'm grateful for all of them.

I wish every transperson could have an equally positive experience.

Unfortunately, I believe it's all too rare.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Diane’s Story

From seeing her video story, Diane Schroer seems pretty typical of transwomen.

Stories like this make me wonder: Just how much can our society afford to dump good people because they are not understood, or because they present in ways we don't expect? How much can we afford to judge them? And why do some people seem to become so offended at the simple existence of transpeople?

I also wonder how do we as a society evaluate courage, and how do we value it?

I place it at a high value. I'm guessing Diane does, too. And regardless of what she says, I think she has it in spades. I know. I've walked a path all too similar to hers.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Mule Kicks Ass

Friday night, June 20, Government Mule and Ratdog kicked off their Mighty High Summer Tour at the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene, Oregon. I was there, sitting or dancing in the grass close to the bleachers, directly in front of center stage. On one side my brother peered through his high-class binoculars, on the other my niece and nephew texted each other, thumbs flying, while watching the band. Some of Sam's other friends and family sat on either side. As the sound flowed through me, I smiled so much my cheeks started aching.

I love music. I love rock 'n' roll. And these guys rocked.

Now, I've been a Grateful Dead fan for a very long time. I've spent countless hours listening to Jerry's sweet guitar licks and the Dead's endless jams that end too soon. I've crossed at least six state lines listening to just "Goin' Down the Road," not to mention all the other great songs. I think Bob Weir is great. My ticket says only that "Bob Weir & Ratdog will be playing – doesn't even mention Government Mule. And Ratdog did some great jams late in the show.

But… the Mule kicked their ass with a steady stream of electrifying, straight up rock 'n' roll.

With the late solstice-eve sun blazing in their faces, and the heat of the day still strong, sweat soaking their clothing, and clouds of marijuana smoke blowing over the crowd, the Mule played their heart out. I couldn't keep my feet still. I didn't try. I loved watching the drummer and guitarist playing off each other. I just let the long week's work bleed away and lived in the moment, completely absorbed in the music.

I didn't get down in the mosh pit in front of the band, but my brother's friend and his son did. It paid off. Thirteen-year-old Odin caught one of Warren Hayes' guitar picks. And Terry caught both of Matt Abts' battered drumsticks, one of them signed, and snagged one of the band's playlists for the show.

Sweet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seda

One of the most Frequently Asked FAQ's I receive since transition is, "Where does your name come from?" So, here's the answer:

I fell in love with a certain female name (which I won't mention here) way back in junior high, and throughout my life thought that if I were female, I'd like that name. So when I finally reached the point where I couldn't go forward any more with the Great Deception, I figured I'd adopt that name.

However, Kristin didn't like it, and with good reason. I'd acted out in ways that were really painful for her as I neared breakdown, and she associated that name with some very trying times. Having been with her sixteen years, being a co-parent with her, loving her, and sincerely wishing to cause her no more pain, I dumped that name into the trashbin of history.

Then came trying to find a new one, and this proved to be challenging. Whatever I liked, she didn't. And, the last sentence of the last paragraph remaining true, I figured the least I owed her was a name she liked – especially since it was I who violated our wedding vows, not her.

I should've asked my mom. Recently I asked her what she would have named me if I'd been born a genetic girl, and she suggested that it might have been "Laramie." I could live with that. (But I really like Seda.)

Kristin and I argued about it for awhile, and she finally suggested 'Sequoia.' Okay, not my favorite, but it was at least acceptable to me. I started using that name, and threw it out to my budding internet support group, adding 'Dawn' as a middle name since the two sounded good together.

It soon became clear that Sequoia Dawn wasn't going to work. Nearly everyone had trouble spelling the first. And the second sounds way too close to 'Don' for any woman who looks as masculine as I did (and still do).

That's when the internet support group came to the rescue. For simplicity, one of them wrote and conjuncted (is that a word) my name to SeDa. Both Kristin and I liked it, and my name was born. A nice feminine name for a middle – Jane – and I was on my way.

Since then, I found out that 'seda' means 'silk' in Spanish. I was also told, in playing chess online with a Turk, that 'Seda' is a female name in Turkish, meaning something like 'voice.' Hence my blogsite, www.silknvoice.blogspot.com.

Now I don't have to tell the story again – I can just give out the website. Maybe.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Great Deception

That's the name I'm assigning to my life prior to transition. It refers to the fact that I not only deceived all the people of my life about who I was, I even deceived myself. (I also like the way it suggests the Great Depression.)

That time of my life was largely defined, in my own inner world, with deep feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred. I was ashamed of my selfhood. Growing up in rural Wyoming, among the last of the old-time cowboys (the folks the Marlboro man was modeled on), I had definite images of what it meant to be a man, and I was very aware I didn't fit those images. It was vital to me that I fit in, that I hide my feminine urgings, and be accepted by these people whom I liked, admired, and respected deeply – and still do, to this day. It was also important to my survival. Girls who were tomboys got plenty of respect in the little two-room elementary school I attended through sixth grade. Boys who liked girl stuff were unthinkable. I wasn't popular – I was invisible. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, I had buried the shame of who I was so deep that I didn't know who I was, I just knew I didn't feel like a man.

I spent the next 25 years trying to prove to myself (and everyone else) that I was. I joined the Marine Corps, grew a beard, developed crude habits, chose occupations like logging and commercial fishing, and boozed myself into oblivion. I joined in perplexing, short-term liaisons with women, the role I took on understood so poorly that I was never able to carry it longer than a couple months until I was thirty years old and met Kristin.

It didn't work. I was just deceiving myself and others, most painfully all the people I love the most – and who love me the most. It came out in weird ways, like a sort of sexual perversion and a willingness to lie, cheat and steal that seem totally foreign to me now, and habitual suicidal ideation that came at times scarily close to fruition.

Hence the 'Great Deception.' Great only in personal terms, of course. It's nothing compared to the deceptions of George W. Bush, for instance, though mine was flawlessly opaque and his were and are transparent to anyone who wants to look. But that very opaqueness is what makes it 'great.'

Thank God it's over.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Price of Gas

For all the talk on how to deal with gas prices, I haven't seen anyone mention peak oil. A lot of experts in the oil industry predict world peak oil to occur around 2006 to 2008, though we'll only see the actual peak in the rearview mirror. US oil peaked in the early 1970's. Saudi oil is peaking or has already. Reality is that prices are just going to get worse. Drilling in ANWR and offshore is short term at best - last I heard ANWR has all of 6 months supply for the US, and it's hard and expensive to pump.

As the demand and supply curves of oil grow farther and farther apart, the price will continue to grow exponentially. The only way to deal with it is going to be to find different ways to get to work and move commodities. One idea might be to nationalize the rails and privatize Amtrac, but we'd still need huge investment to make trains competitive with long-haul trucking, and I'm guessing that's too little, too late.

The best thing to do now is to buy a bike and try to find living and working places close to each other, preferably with room for a big garden.

Meanwhile, blame Reagan for the current crisis. One of the first things he did after taking office was to cancel the solar incentives Carter put in place. Blame both of the Bushes and Clinton, and the Republican congress, too. Imagine if we'd been working on developing significant alternative energy sources since 1978.

And remember what Douglas MacArthur said: "There is no security in this world. There is only opportunity."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gender Identity Disorder

As the American Psychiatric Association works on revising the DSM, it's worth noting some curiosities about one of their entries, namely, GID.

The DSM IV is currently used as the guidebook to diagnose Gender Identity Disorder, the "mental disorder" used as a gatekeeper diagnosis for transpeople to get surgery and many other things needed for entry into society in their appropriate genders, such as the appropriate gender marker on their drivers licenses. It lists things like prevalence, which in the case of the DSM IV hasn't been updated since the 1960's. They cite male-to-female GID affecting about 1 in 30,000 individuals, and female-to-male affecting 1 in 100,000. That's 3,000 FTM's in the United States. I know at least five of them personally, right here in my town of 140,000. Lynn Conway, not surprisingly, takes issue with the APA's statistics.

What's really notable about GID, however, is that it is the only mental disorder I know of that has no recorded cases of anyone recovering. Zip. Zero. Ever. It's been around for as long as history, but nobody's ever been cured. It's had a name and professional treatment for almost 100 years, but nobody's ever been cured.

It can, however, be successfully treated - about 98% of the time – by surgery and drugs (Hormone Replacement Therapy).

To repeat:

Psychiatric/psychological treatment - 0% success rate.

Medical treatment - about 98% success rate.

Yet GID is listed as a mental disorder, not a genetic or hormonal disorder

P'raps it's time to remove GID from the DSM, and make it a medical diagnosis.

P'raps it's time to include HRT and surgery as regular treatment for GID in insurance plans. Time to treat it as the medical condition it is, rather than some kind of mental sickness to be gatekept by mental health professionals, with surgery as an optional treatment with costs to be born entirely by the patient.

P'raps it's time to look at the cost that transpeople pay for treatment and surgery (for just one example, click here), and the cost that society bears as a result, not just in broken lives but in HIV treatment, emergency room treatment for unsuccessful suicides, and incarceration.

Then maybe sharing the cost by paying for surgery through insurance won't seem so painful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guilds

I have been fascinated by the concept of guilds since Kristin first introduced it to me after/during reading Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway.

So what is a plant guild?

From the Alternative Gardens and Landscapes
website:

Plant Guilds
A plant guild may be easily established in the area under a fruit tree. Each variety of plant in the guild, or community, performs ecological functions such as fixing nitrogen, building soil, or purifying water. Some plants repel pests, help create mulch, or cultivate soil. Guilds are designed based on the functions of each plant, their needs and yields, and the relationships between different plants.

I'm not that much of a gardener, but this concept makes so much sense to me that I celebrate it. It's a society of plants, each with its own purpose and function, with the symbiosis of the whole contributing far more to plenty than the sum of its parts. The idea as I understand it is that there is one main species that defines the guild – the fruit tree, for instance – and the others gather around it and support it, and it supports them. Very different from the monoculture of our current agricultural model, it does not lend itself well to mass harvest via $100,000+ equipment. It only quietly makes life wonderful for a wide diversity of life.

The concept also stretches into other aspects of life, and that is the part that most fascinates me. For instance, social guilds, formed around one dominant personality. (Dominant not in the sense of domineering, but in the sense that one person can define hir social guild.) This can be seen in various forms – in business, for instance, where the boss creates an atmosphere in which some people thrive and others shrivel; in families, where the archtypical matriarch or patriarch drives the personality of the whole even after 'retirement.' I think, in fact, that it manifests in almost any social network you can find, to some extent.

A strong social guild will be one in which the primary personality most feeds those around it. I once worked on a fishing boat, and got to observe the effects of such a guild in a closed environment. We had one skipper who acted in an imperious, domineering manner, and assumed each crewmember had little motivation to pull hir share. Moral was low. The work consistently went overtime, and was poorly done. Then we switched captains. We had the same crewmembers, yet suddenly it was a crack crew. Moral was high, the work quickly and well done, regardless of whether fishing was poor or fish were pouring in.

No difference except a new primary personality, the basic element of the guild around which the others gathered and functioned.

That second skipper – the one who inspired such quality and cheer – is my brother, and in my humble opinion he's the best overall skipper of the Alaskan black c0d/codfish fishing fleet. I've worked with him enough to know. I was a member of his guild for a long time.

Then I met Kristin. For the last 17 years I've enjoyed autonomy and support in my life with her, yet without a doubt that she drives the overall arch of our lives together. Hers is the more dynamic personality, perhaps just because of who she is, perhaps because she's an older sibling and I'm a younger, perhaps both. I've watched her blossom from the young woman she was when I met her to the confident, competent artist-of-her-life she is today. It's pretty cool.

I'm in her guild now, and even though we are no longer a couple, I never want to leave it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Help Protect Marriage!

A message from HRC (Human Rights Campaign):

Dear Friends,

Do you want to live in a country that legalizes discrimination? Despite the recent California Supreme Court decision that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional, efforts are underway throughout the country to take away rights from same-sex couples.

I just joined thousands of others in showing my support for marriage equality for all. But recently, proponents of bigotry and hate collected even more signatures in an attempt to invalidate the California Supreme Court decision. Some people are even trying to add a same-sex marriage ban to the U.S. Constitution.

We are at a turning point in our nation's history and I'm hoping you'll join me in standing up against discrimination. Please sign the Million for Marriage petition and get us one name closer to showing that Americans overwhelmingly support marriage equality!

http://www.MillionForMarriage.org

Every committed couple deserves to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities conferred by marriage. Add your name to the petition and be a part of the movement to fight for marriage equality for all.

Thank you!

Of course, the folks supporting the ban on equal marriage are not really "proponents of bigotry and hate" – at least, not intentionally. They're just scared. I don't know how to help them understand that they are not endangered by allowing equal marriage for all. I suspect the best way is to show them that it just ain't that scary. In other words, to make marriage legal for any consenting adult who wants it, regardless of sex or gender. Really, it's doing them a favor. By relieving them of what appears to be one of their worst fears, they will live life with less fear, and hopefully more love.

And anyway, what business does the government have telling you who you may marry, so long as that person is a consenting adult? That is not an effective role for government.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Passing the Torch

Today Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama, and threw her complete support behind his candidacy. (Rock on, Barack!) As I read about it, a curious thing happened. I had this sense of Teddy Kennedy passing a torch – the torch of the Grand Ol' Man (soon Woman?) of the Democratic Party, of one who will stay close to the presidency while stalking the halls of the Senate, who may try many times and will always have great support yet never make it past the primary. I'm not sure how to articulate it. The feeling I had about this was more visual/emotional than logical/verbal.

This feeling, or vision, if you will, does have a certain coherence and rightness about it, though. It is a sense of good, very good, but never great. Of almost touching the stars, but falling short. Of a long, long time making a difference, while never achieving the dream. One of success, marred by a sense of failure that hangs like a cloud of "if only" over a sea of inevitability.

I don't know. I could be wrong. But I have a feeling Hillary's going to be around for a long, long time – in the Senate. Unless she ends up in the VP mansion, mucking out the massive dunghill Cheney's made of the place.

Gender Neutral Pronouns

How often have you been writing or talking about something, and wondered whether to use male or female pronouns? Things like, "When one is digging in the garden, he – uh, she – well, he or she should …" It's been a recurring theme for me lately in using the English language – the conventions that folks have come up with in the wake of the Cultural Revolution of the '60's to reflect our growing distaste of the patriarchal system that uses male pronouns as universal, as if women didn't exist or didn't matter. I've read people using alternate pronouns, first male, then female, then male, with a statement about it in the preamble. Some use plural pronouns in the singular – "they," instead of he or she. Others mix them – (s)he, his/her, she/he. All these solutions seem awkward and clumsy, none satisfactory.

It seems to me that here is another place where the emergence of visibility for transpeople contributes to bettering society, culture, and language. Dissatisfied with gendered pronouns, 'it', and the cultural binary that denies the wholeness of being for some people, some trans and two-spirit people have developed, or at least brought into more common usage, the gender-neutral pronouns "zie" (he and/or she), "hir" (him and/or her) and "hirs" (his and/or hers).

Despite that fact that I tread the line between man and woman, I'm quite clear I don't want those pronouns to refer to me. I don't mind using them to refer to people who prefer them, but I like female pronouns. Where I've been finding this construct most useful, however, is whenever I'm referring to singular third person in the general sense. "When one uses a digging fork, zie should take care that hir foot is not under the tines."

Well, you get the idea….

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Twilight

Twilight.

Day reaching into night.

I live here,

reaching

out my hand to Father Sun,

Mother Moon.


This is the land of the nighthawk

echoing call

of loneliness

and beauty.

Bats sweep

flitting wings against darkening sky.

Raccoons poke bandit faces

from blackberry jungles.

Everywhere life

stirs to rise

or sleep

in magnificent transition.


Twilight

is my country.

Banned from day and night,

a foot planted into each;

walking the place

where the wind dies

and the sky

paints colors

abandoned by rainbows.


Twilight

plays tricks on your eyes.

Can you see me

beautiful

in your headlights?




by Seda J. Collier

June 3, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

That Kid Is One Tough Dude

The other day I started a fight with my son.

I didn't intend it. I simply ran out of patience and used force, unaware in that moment that force is a form of violence, even when it causes no physical pain. I forgot to grant the autonomy I would like to receive. From my care about my neighbor's comfort, and without verifying that I was contributing to that comfort, I took the easy road of picking him up and moving him.

Trin responded in kind, hitting, biting, and kicking me, and defying my demand. I felt very frustrated. Sad. Angry. And scared that Trin would use violence carelessly and hurt someone badly because of it (even though, or perhaps because, he was responding only to my own use of violence).

It took two days for me to get over it, and during that time, any time I asked Trin to do anything, I got a scowl and open defiance.

When I was a kid, I never defied my parents – at least, not that I can remember. When I chafed under demands that I perceived as unjust or arbitrary, I responded by acting sullen and with passive-aggressive resentment. I reluctantly did as I was told, and felt ashamed of my weakness afterwards. That resentment and shame slowly festered and spread poison throughout my relationship with my father that lingers to this day, two years after his death.

Sad.

The passage of time has helped to shift me from the sadness and frustration of that argument several days ago. I see now how arbitrary my demand was, how unnecessary it was for me to use force in that moment. I did it for my sake, more than my neighbor's. I see that I started the fight, not Trin. I used force – violence – first, and not for his or someone else's safety. He merely responded in kind.

He stood up to an authority figure three times his size and weight. He refused to back down, even with no real hope of winning. He stood alone in front of a tank, and I felt completely floozled.

Now?

Despite (or because of) the challenges, I'm glad he's my kid. I'm learning so much.

I admire him.

I'm proud of him.

And I'm glad he doesn't go to school.

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