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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Honoring Diversity

Following the posting of last month's Transgender Awareness Week display at work, a colleague told me that he thought the oft-used phrase, "Honor Diversity," conveys the wrong idea. He is a Christian who had written an articulate and compassionate protest about the use of the word "Celebrating" in the display title, and I actually found myself agreeing with his argument. When I asked for some clarification, he explained that "Hitler was diverse, and no way he could honor Hitler."

Well, I certainly concur with that sentiment. Not only is Hitler responsible for the slaughter of Jews, in the late 1930's, he also had the institute where Magnus Hirschfield did his pioneering work on the treatment of trans people destroyed. As a member of a minority group that was slaughtered by the Nazis along with Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, Hitler's probably the last person on earth I'd want to honor. My colleague's statement, though, led me to question just what it means to honor something.

According to Dictionary.com, honor, when used as a verb, means (among other things):

13.

to hold in honor or high respect; revere: to honor one's parents.

14.

to treat with honor.

15.

to confer honor or distinction upon: The university honored him with its leadership award.

16.

to worship (the Supreme Being).

17.

to show a courteous regard for: to honor an invitation.


In the discussion on synonyms following the definitions, it says, "Honor suggests a combination of liking and respect."

It seems to me that definitions 13, 15, and 16 don't get at the meaning of "honoring diversity" at all. Used as a noun, as it is in #14, honor seems to mean "honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions." That seems appropriate, but def. 17, "to show a courteous regard for," gets more to the intent, I think.

Then what does "diversity" mean?

Again, Dictionary.com:

1.

the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness.

2.

variety; multiformity.

3.

a point of difference.


So honoring diversity means to show a courteous regard for our differences, for those ways that we are unlike. In keeping with that, the Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan recently adopted by our city includes within it statements like the following: "Diversity and human rights should no longer be viewed as 'programs,' but as core values integrated into the very fiber of the organization."

To me, Hitler was the very antithesis of diversity, and his example provides the dark side of the impetus toward showing courteous regard for our differences. Hitler proclaimed the superiority of the Aryan people, and attempted to eliminate people who were different based on ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, ability, and gender differences through genocide. It would be impossible to honor both Hitler and diversity at the same time; if you honor one, you dishonor the other.

I don't think you need to approve of another's behavior in order to show a courteous regard for how one is different. So long as that behavior stays respectful of each other and our common humanity, there is no reason for disapproval. However, I believe that one of the best ways we can show courteous regard for those who are different is by learning how we are similar. This was a criticism of the Celebrating Transgender Lives display; that to some people, the display seemed to ignore the similarities we all share, and focus on the difference. Yet each profile of the display was intended to highlight those similarities, and cut through the stereotypes that so often limit the opportunities of trans people. Each profile displayed the unique character or accomplishments of one person – his or her humor, talent, courage, creativity, contribution to society, and so on.

And in fact, each one of us is unique; despite the similarities we all share, we are all different. It is that very difference, the uniqueness of each individual, that makes life so varied, interesting, and – well, diverse. We offer always to each other a learning opportunity, a chance to grow. We are all similar, and we are all diverse. Each one of us loves, laughs, cries, mourns, and struggles to be the best we can be. At the same time, each person's unique character and talent contributes value to the whole of who we are as a people, a society, and a species. That includes our unique or specific expression of gender, whether it fits in between the traditional gender binary or not.

That is worth celebrating – and honoring.

Friday, December 18, 2009

International Migrants' Day

Today is International Migrants' Day, commemorating the day in 1990 that the UN Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (resolution 45/158). This article by Chandra Bhatnagar is worth reading for background, but suffice it to say that migrants face many human rights abuses right here in the original modern Bastion of Freedom known as the USA.

With that in mind, I call on all US agencies and employers to treat migrants with the humanity and respect that they deserve, simply by being our brothers and sisters born to the same divine Father-Mother as created us. I call on President Obama to direct his agencies to enforce all aspects of national and international law that protect these people from abuse, and to take immediate steps to rectify the situation in Villas-del-Sol, Puerto Rico, including provision of electricity, water, health care, and humanitarian aid as needed (see the article). And I extend my own prayers for all migrant workers in the US, and everywhere.

It is a disgrace for a nation of our proud heritage to continue to allow this kind of abuse, especially in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina travesty. If we cannot extend mercy, compassion, and basic human rights to people on our own soil, how can we ever expect to support it as far away as Afghanistan?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Biblical Surprise

I love the 139th Psalm, verses 1-18, with its lyrical assurance of God's everpresent Love. Sometimes I turn to it for comfort, for a reminder that I can never, not for one second, anywhere, be separated from the love of God. But this morning, as I turned the tattered pages of my Bible in search of it, something from the 142nd caught my eye. I stopped to read it.

Then I read it again.

I read it a third time.

I never expected a three thousand year old man hiding in a cave to write my own prayer – the prayer of a trans woman. Because that's what it was. What it is. A mirror of the desperation that drove me to transition, of the faith that, though not couched in any religion, led me to take that irrevocable step across gender lines.

~*~

Psalm 142
Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

~*~

But wait, you say, your family loved you! They cared deeply for you.

No. They did not know me. They cared deeply for the man they thought I was. But I was lying to them; my soul was deep in prison, and they cared not for me, because they could not know me. I lived then in a cave of my own making, a prison that seemed to have no door. But when the desolation of loneliness overwhelmed me, I cried out to the Universe; the door opened, and my path was shown; can I say that it was shown by other than divine Love? I had tried all others; religion, therapy, the Marine Corps, marriage, drunkenness, fantasy, adventure. Nothing opened the door until I surrendered to the one path that could bring my soul out of that prison.

And I am compassed with loving, open arms – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and colleagues. The Lord has dealt bountifully with me.

He will deliver me from my persecutors; for if they are stronger than I, they are certainly not stronger than Him.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Compromise

In a discussion on a "marriage defense" blog, I asked the questions, "Is defending traditional marriage more important than assuring that gay people and their families are not fully accepted into society? Would you trade supporting age-appropriate educational tools (such as the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" and movies like "Southern Comfort") for teaching your children, and prominent, visible support for the passage of ENDA and fully equal civil unions(including federal tax benefits and interstate recognition) on your blogs, for visible support from LGBT people in opposing the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage?" My intent in asking the questions was to clarify what the opine bloggers priorities are in regards to marriage equality for gays, i.e., whether protecting marriage was top priority, or whether protecting society from the "gay menace" was priority and that's merely one aspect of the anti-gay agenda.

OnLawn offered in reply a compromise on gay marriage. ("A compromise means both don't get everything we want, but we work together to find some ground in the middle where they both get what they need. Where there are direct incompatibilities, there each need their own space to afford their own values and ideals.") To summarize:

  • Gay people can become Reciprocal Beneficiaries, which essentially means the states pass a law that grants any two adults who are restricted from marriage by law "access to a limited number of rights and benefits on the state level."
  • No age-appropriate educational materials reflecting LGBT families in schools.
  • No federal protections for LGBT people from employment or housing discrimination.
  • It's not clear whether OnLawn would allow the reciprocal beneficiaries to extend to the federal level.

OnLawn is a Mormon, a member of a group that has survived plenty of persecution, violence, hate, and discrimination, some of which lingers on today, but most of which is in the past (thanks in part to civil rights legislation protecting folks from discrimination based on religion), such as when the Mormons were driven out of Illinois. So I'll assume that OnLawn is familiar with the effects of discrimination in a personal way, and, in that spirit of compromise, I'll offer this:

  • Mormons may no longer marry each other, but they may enter into reciprocal beneficiaries with each other.
  • No educational materials mentioning Mormons will be allowed in schools.
  • Mormons will be exempt from civil rights legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on their religion.
  • Mormon reciprocal beneficiaries will be recognized at the federal level, granting full rights of tax equality, inheritance, guardianship of children, and so on.

Of course, this is an academic question, as neither of us has the power to enact any of these elements beyond our votes – and, regarding my own suggestions, almost nobody, including me, is interested in effecting any of them. Also, I'm philosophically opposed to compromising on human rights, justice, and equality – not that there isn't room for all to have their needs met, and to have an equal place at the table. However, perhaps this will open a dialogue where we can both really hear what each other needs, and find a way to deal together toward finding that solution that meets all needs. This compromise deals with specific strategies for meeting needs, and I'm totally open to hearing other strategies; I don't insist that the strategies I believe will be effective be implemented, if others can accomplish the same thing in a way that better meets the needs of "marriage defenders" or gay people or preferably everybody. If this leads to a dialogue that clarifies what needs are/aren't met by different strategies, may it be blessed.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

“Love Your Enemies…”

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a certain Bible verse: Matthew 5:44 – "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." These words were attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I believe is one of, if not the, greatest talks on nonviolence or ahimsa in history. (Of course, that's from my western perspective and limited knowledge of non-western texts and teachings.) I got to thinking about it partly because I got into a rather unpleasant debate regarding feminism and gay rights on another blog, because for several months I've been studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and because I want to be the most effective force possible in my activism for LGBT rights, and I believe this is the way to do that. And I've been thinking about it because so often I fail to achieve my goal of doing just that – I want clarity about how to love my enemies – those who oppose equal rights for LGBT people.

So what does it mean, to "love your enemies?" That's a pretty strong statement, and the follow-up is no weaker: bless, do good to, pray for, those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek. How radically different is this from most of what I see in the world.

It's clear that "love," in this case, is a verb. It requires positive and proactive action on our part, a conscious decision, and determined persistence. In an essay titled "Love Your Enemies," Mrs. Eddy said, "We must love our enemies in all the manifestations wherein and whereby we love our friends; must even try not to expose their faults, but to do good to them whenever opportunity occurs." That raises the ante a bit, taking it to a new level. Certainly we must counter lies and misconceptions, and assert our own truth with determination and persistence. How do we do this without exposing the faults of our enemies? Perhaps by keeping our statements as completely impersonal as possible?

This gets really challenging in the heat of, so to speak, battle. How can you do good to and love someone who has just said words about you intended to wound and destroy? How can you not feel anger, and fear, and the hate that rises so easily from them? Once again I found some pretty useful words from Mrs. Eddy: "Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them;" "The mental arrow shot from another's bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it. It is our pride that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion;" "Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation? Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception? What is it that harms you?" Hannah More said, "If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody."

In this context I want to take my activism to this new level; active love of my enemies, even more than just passively eliminating the anger and fear from my own heart and wishing them well while still opposing them. It means finding ways of doing good to them, while simultaneously holding unconditional love in my heart, completely without rancor or judgment, and while also resisting the injustice. Indeed, it makes my resistance stronger.

I don't expect to be perfect at this; it is a goal to strive for, but I'm still completely human, subject to pride, anger, ego, misjudgment, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, mistake, and all the other foibles humans are subject to. I'll make mistakes. But I am convinced that returning always to this guidepost will lead me to a more effective activism; this seems to be the guidepost that directed Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. And if I'm not successful, at least I'll be happy doing it. After all, "'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies.'" (MBE)

I'm not a Christian Scientist, but I wish that The Christian Science Church would put Mrs. Eddy's essays, "Love Your Enemies" and "Taking Offense" online, and I could direct those of us who fight for equal rights for LGBT people to read them. Regardless of the religious undertones, these are strategies, I believe, for effective action. Our anger, justified as it may be, benefits no one; indeed, it does active harm to our own side.

If there are any activists out there who access my blog, I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this post.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Smell Roses....

Okay, this may be premature, with the Civil War coming up next Thursday, but this video's pretty cool. And I gotta go with Jeremiah Masoli and the Ducks.



Watch it before UO makes them pull it...! (UO ought to pay those students for making it!)

A Civil War for the ages. Go Ducks!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Danger of a Single Story

This video is rather long - about 20 minutes - but worth every second of it.



It has also inspired an idea for an upcoming project, which I hope to post soon. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Labels

I'm a member of the Diversity Committee where I work, and to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week (TAW) and International Transgender Day of Awareness (TDOR), we prepared a display that illustrates some of the gender-variant people through history, profiles of individual transpeople and their accomplishments, and a few of the people who've been killed over the last year because of their perceived gender-variance. The display will be put up in my building, and it turns out that, for some of my co-workers, it's controversial. They ask why we need to label people, why we can't just accept people for who they are without the labels.

And which label is it that offends them?

Turns out the display includes the word, "transgender," and a few of my coworkers don't want to be exposed to that word, and they don't want their children exposed to that word.

There's no doubt that labels can be limiting and destructive; that they can make pain and add to prejudice. But I'm not sure how you can have a display celebrating trans people for TAW without including the word "transgender." It would be kind of like celebrating Independence Day, but removing the word, "Independence." What makes that day different? What is it about these people that is different from others?

It's human nature to compartmentalize things, to label them for ease of understanding. There's great danger in that, as mis-labeling is common, and judging solely by label is guaranteed to result in misunderstanding and ignorance. Nevertheless, we cannot escape labels – and labels do have their place. They do differentiate according to individual characteristics. The error is in making assumptions regarding the person that go beyond the label. Assuming that because someone is a woman, she's weak and emotional. Assuming that because someone is a black man, he likes watermelon and fried chicken. Assuming that because someone is a Christian, she's a Republican. The label is accurate and impersonal, but that's all you know about the person; the assumption may or may not be accurate, and accepting it as truth perpetuates ignorance and violence.

In our building, we've also got a poster up called "Women at Work," illustrated with various women performing a variety of jobs, to show that women are capable workers. No one I've ever heard about has objected to it. We regularly put up notices regarding "Asian Celebration," or "Black History Month," or "Women's History Month", or "Hispanic Festival," or "Disability Etiquette." No one objects. If folks make assumptions regarding the people behind the labels, they keep those assumptions to themselves. The labels are accurate and impersonal, and important to place the announcement in context, to give it meaning. If you take that label away, you erase a part of that person's identity; you remove the person or the event from context, and make it meaningless. We are men, women, black, white, Native American, Asian – it's who we are, part of what makes us individuals, an aspect of our personhood that defines who we are in relation to those around us, that gives us our individuality within our common humanity. The label does not represent who we are – but who we are is not complete without it.

I am an American. I am white. I am middle-aged. I am a mother – and a father. I'm a writer. I'm a designer. I am an ex-Marine. I am a carpenter. I am an activist. I'm a feminist. I am free. I am a human. I am a woman. Most important of all, I am spiritual, a child of God. And I am transgendered.

Labels. I claim each one, I wear it with pride. This is who I am. Just as you label yourself, in whatever way you do, with whatever pride or shame you have about that aspect of who you are. Some of those labels I wear by choice – designer, writer, feminist, free. Others have been assigned to me by accident of birth, by fate, or by God – human, American, white, child of God. Transgender.

I don't have any choice about it. I was just as much a transgendered woman when I wore a beard, a man's name, and man's clothing, as I am now. I was just invisible, isolated, and desperately, suicidally miserable.

So when I hear that some of my own colleagues are so offended by who I am that they not only don't want to be confronted with my identity, that they don't even want their children to know of my existence; when I see that they want to bury my identity, erase it, make me invisible – it hurts.

It hurts not only because an important part of my identity is being dismissed. Making that label of such paramount importance that it must be hidden or erased, actually makes it more visible, even as it makes me invisible. The attempt to remove the label isolates it, so that it then becomes the definer of my individuality. It reduces me, and every trans person, to less than fully human, to only transgender. It perpetuates ignorance, prejudice, and fear, and smoothes the way for violence.

This is why we need the display so damned much in the first place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marriage: What’s Going On?

Not long ago, a "marriage defender" who calls himself R.K. asked me what I would like the general cultural understanding of marriage to be, whether "marriage is between any two persons"? Or "marriage is between a man and a woman, unless...."? He recommended I answer after reading this article. I didn't answer in that comment thread, but it's a fair question – one I'll answer here.

I recently read that 4 in 10 children – 40% - are born to unmarried mothers. This is a radical cultural shift from what marriage would have been even 50 years ago, when getting pregnant outside of marriage was stigmatized, and women didn't have the economic equality and opportunity to support themselves effectively. 150 years ago, pioneering feminist Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "… the frequency of divorce shows that the sacredness of this relationship is losing its influence and that fatal mistakes are undermining its foundations." At that time, divorce was relatively rare; today, around 50% of marriages end in divorce. The institution of no-fault divorce is at least partly, and perhaps wholly, responsible, and this represents another profound cultural shift in the perception and understanding of marriage. Today, gay people in four states can get married, just the same as straight people and into the same institution, and hate crimes legislation has been passed to protect them from crimes based on their identity. 50 years ago, they were frequently targeted by police for beatings, harassment, and arrest, and very few people in mainstream, straight society seemed to care.

There's a saying in architecture: "Form follows function." In other words, how a building works is more important than its shape, colors, textures, and so on; instead, the function of the building informs what shape it will (ideally) take.

So already, the cultural understanding of marriage – and its function – is profoundly different than it was 100, or even 50 years ago.

I'm not going to argue what's right or wrong here, or what's best. I've seen enough marriages where children were being hurt by the wars between their parents, where no-fault divorce was a better option than allowing the anger to escalate to violence, where the children were benefited, perhaps even their lives saved, by their parents' separation. At the same time, there is a preponderance of evidence that shows that, overall, children of divorce fare worse than the children of intact families. I don't have the wisdom to even suss out all the variables that influence things like that, much less analyze their effects.

The article cites six "goods" of marriage as an other-sex-only institution: it supports a child's birthright to know and be raised by her biological parents; it maximizes the level of private welfare of children; it is the foundation of the "child-rearing mode" that correlates – "in ways not subject to reasonable dispute" – with a child's well being; it is a bridge that unites men and women; it
is "the only institution that can confer the status of husband and wife, that can transform a male into a husband or a female into a wife …, and thus that can transform males into husband/fathers … and females into wife/mothers …; and last, it constitutes "social and official endorsement of that form of adult intimacy that society may rationally value above all other such forms. It cites these as self-evidently, inarguably the ideal. But I can't help but question some of them.

For instance, do kids have a right to know who their biological parents are? No doubt. Do they have the right to be raised by their biological parents? Maybe. But too often they should have the right to not be raised by their biological parents. I imagine Rusty Yates' kids would have welcomed an opportunity to be raised by someone else. What kids do have, is the right to be raised by people who love them unconditionally and have the emotional, spiritual, and physical resources that will enable them to grow into fulfilled, functioning adults. Indisbutably, that is, in most cases, biological parents. But the exceptions are so common, that can we justify codifying that into law? Thousands of children are worse off with their biological parent or parents than with someone else; thousands of adults have love and resources to bestow on children, yet for one reason or another cannot or will not contribute their genes.

I very much question whether a child's private welfare is better with a man-woman parenting couple than with a same-sex parenting couple. Again, too many variables intrude. We have seen that divorce is not the best platform for a child's well-being; but do we even have any significant data on intact same-sex parents? And even if we did, is it so compelling as to codify it? The children of same-sex couples I know are doing just fine. A child's well-being depends more on her individual relationships than on any particular "mode." Men and women are united by far more than marriage, biology and our common humanity perhaps being the strongest bridge. Inclusion of gay marriage transforms a male into a husband (two of them, in fact), and a woman into a wife. And why should society endorse one form of consensual adult intimacy over another? There is great danger in this assumption – our culture currently endorses one-man, one-woman marriage, but other cultures endorse polygamy, and ours has endorsed the concept of the woman as subservient to the man in the not-so-distant past.

Okay, back to the question:

Answer: I don't know. Theoretically, I think I could live with the cultural understanding of marriage being man-woman only, or including only same-sex couples. Objectively, I don't even know what it should be, or which form is best for children or society.

What I do know, is that regardless of what the cultural understanding of marriage should be, when I see my friends "Ken" and "Tom" together – they've been faithful to each other for 19 years now – I see married. I see two people deeply in love, with the comfortable intimacy that marks happy couples who've been through years and trials together. It's the same when I see Ann & Christine (14 years, 1 child), Angela & Cecily (at least 10 yrs.), Lila & Elaine (28+ yrs.), Annie & Michelle (more than 18 yrs, 2 kids). And last year, when Kelly broke up with her domestic partner, and her eyes were red from crying for a month, I saw the deep grief of divorce. (All names are changed to protect their identities.)

In other words, the cultural understanding of marriage I have is that it's between two people, and sometimes more. What I want doesn't seem to play into it that much, except that I would like a shared understanding. I bet you would, too. On the other hand, I want the cultural understanding of intimate relationships to be that same-sex relationships are just as legitimate and valuable as other-sex relationships. I also strongly believe that gay couples should have access to all the rights, responsibilities, privileges, and obligations that straight married couples have. I'm not set on the idea that those rights be defined as "marriage" – if equality can be obtained through "civil union," fine. In fact, some people have suggested that a two-tier system would be better – you get a license for a civil union from the state, and hold a legal ceremony completely separate from religious affiliation at a courthouse or other state building; then, if you want, you can get married in a sacred ceremony in the religious venue of your choice. Our German friend recently went through just such a pair of ceremonies, and it seems to make sense, separating the legal from the sacred. In such a case, both gay and straight couples would enter into the civil union, while the sacred union would be completely regulated by religious authority. If that system could end the animosity and free the energy of both "marriage defenders" and "marriage reformers," may it happen.

In sum, I think what we have is a culture in upheaval, caught in a radical shift between two visions, two understandings of what this particular social institution is and means, linked to the growing cultural understanding and acceptance of gender variance. I'm part of the new culture, along with, judging from recent votes in California and Maine, probably about 45 to 48% of our population. Judging by history and current trends, it's just a matter of time before that cultural shift is complete. The changes in function will bring about a new form, and the "goods" of marriage will have shifted to a new set. Looking back at history, the cycle is clear: the new (fill in the blank) causes great social upheaval, the old resists stiffly, but gradually fades away, and the new becomes accepted as normal and right. Industrial Revolution vs. Luddites. Feminism vs. patriarchy (or women as people vs. women as servants). Transition of European monarchical political systems to parliamentarian systems following the French Revolution and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. This shift in marriage is intrinsically linked to the cultural shift of recognizing homosexuality and transgenderism as normal variations of the human condition. And in some ways things will be better, in some ways worse.

I just pray that that new set of goods more than compensates for the old, and that our families and our children are blessed by it and grow stronger.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

“I Love My Country…

… but I fear my government."

So reads a bumper sticker I've seen on a bunch of cars lately, from trucks with matching pro-gun stickers, to beat-up VW vans with Grateful Dead decals.

Enough.

I love my country, AND I REFUSE to fear my government.

I have made plain my disgust and dissent from the direction our federal government is going multiple times in recent years, in writing letters-to-the-editor to my local newspaper and national news magazines, and in the archives of this blog. I will continue to do so in the future. What I will not do is hide in fear, or remain silent about things that matter. Life is too short, and too beautiful; Love is too powerful; freedom is too precious.

When I attended the University of Oregon, I had an opportunity to take a class on the Soviet Union under Andrei Sinyavsky. I made sure to fit it into my schedule. Sinyavsky was an old man then; it was only a year before he died. He didn't speak English. A team of Russian immigrants translated for him, sitting on either side and towering over him, a tiny old man with a white beard – who yet towered over us all. I never missed a single class session, and when I had the chance I shook his hand and gave him my respect. Since I'd already filled elective requirements, the class did nothing for my degree; it did a lot for my education.

Sinyavsky knew what it meant to fear his government. He spent six years in the Soviet Gulag for criticizing the government in writing published under the pen name Abram Tertz. That writing, and his trial, gave birth to the modern Soviet dissident movement, which led to the collapse of that regime – which he lived to see. I will never forget his presence, nor his example.

Compared to that, we live in radical freedom, with a government that is simply benign – even if it is foolishly driving over a financial cliff, and even though black men often have to fear the government that will harrass them for such "crimes" as running while black, driving while black, and so on. As for our state, county, and municipal governments, they provide so many valuable services that I treasure them. I have no patience for people who make a big show about fearing our government as if it were a fearsome totalitarian state. Its problems are legion, but that's not one of them - at least not yet. We are incredibly lucky to live in this country, sharing in a legacy of liberty and boundless creativity.

Regardless of the overwhelming power that multinational corporations appear to have over our government, our government operates with our consent. It is us. There is no us vs. the government; we are the government. That is part of living in a democracy, even a broken one like ours. If we feel disempowered, then perhaps we should look deep inside ourselves, and determine what matters. Because no one can take away our power without our consent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Like People

About a year ago, our jurisdiction let a team of coworkers develop a new program, called Express Permits, which allows customers to bring small projects on the mornings of certain days for review over-the-counter. The idea is, someone can show up in the morning and walk out the same day with their building permit in hand. It's very popular.

Yesterday I was the plans reviewer reviewing plans, and I got three of these applications. The first was a middle-aged white homeowner with whom I'd worked several times at the counter, helping him get what he needed to apply for permit. The plans were familiar, and it was probably the fastest review I've ever done – I'd already confirmed most of the information I needed. The second was a black mom and business owner, with plans drawn freehand on 8.5x11 paper, some of which had been taped together to make bigger sheets prior to copying. I enjoyed chatting with her about kids and stuff when I wasn't focused. The third was a design-build contractor we see regularly, with beautiful plans skillfully drawn by hand. I enjoyed working with them, helping them, and making their experience a pleasant one – after all, encounters with bureaucrats don't always make people's top-ten list of amusing activities. At the end of each review, as I walked back to my desk, codebook in hand, I felt a little high. And I realized something.

I like people.

That may not sound like much, but it wasn't always that way. Five years ago, it would have been torture for me to perform my job so openly in front of the public, interacting with perfect strangers. I was socially awkward and introverted. I considered myself a loner. And I was miserably unhappy. This blog is largely the story of the transformation that happened since – my social transition from male caterpillar to female butterfly.

Today, I know I'm one of the luckiest women in the world. I have a family that loves and embraces me. I live in a neighborhood full of liberal folks who are neighbors – talking, sharing, and watching out for each other. I live in beauty. I have friends with whom I can share my life in full honesty. I have friends half-a-world away, whom I've never met yet with whom I engage in stimulating conversations. I have job that pays well, supports me personally, offers me meaning, variety, and challenge, and benefits the community. God has blessed me richly with her omnipotent Love. And all this becomes radically clear, in stark contrast to my past, with this one tiny epiphany:

I like people.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Essence of Feminism

I just came across this statement by Mary Baker Eddy, in an excerpt from an essay titled "Man and Woman," published in the March 2004 Christian Science Journal:

"…The masculine element must not murmur if at some period in human history the verdict should take a turn in behalf of woman, and say, - Her time has come, and the reflection of God's feminine nature is permitted consideration, has come to the front, and will be heard and understood. … I would declare that one was not less, nor more, important in God's sight than the other, … we shall find therein no occasion for departure, no occasion for strife, no suggestion of preeminence, or disserverance [separation] of the masculine and feminine elements of God's creating – no question of who shall be greatest."

I love this quote. It's statements like this, as well as her accomplishments, that I believe have earned Mrs. Eddy a place of honor in the feminist canon. To me, it gets at the very essence of feminism, and of what it means to be a feminist: man, and woman, and those in between, all co-equal – and further, that every person is complete in their own right. This way lies peace, and freedom for all, ending the battle of the sexes, for each recognizes the other as equal and complete, with mutual respect, with no struggle for supremacy or subjugation of the other.

It seems to me that bringing on this "period in human history" is the desire and mission of mainstream feminism. Yes, there are extremists who twist feminism into the flip side of masculism, wishing a change from patriarchy to matriarchy, but, in my experience, these are a small minority. So why do antifeminists – typically conservatives, and often women who benefit greatly from feminism – feel so threatened by feminism? From where comes this meme of "feminazi?"

I think it's because they fear that losing male privilege will cause them to lose the essence of their identities – though in fact it only frees them to express the sovereignty of that identity.

I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of others, both feminists and those opposed, on this understanding of feminism.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Homeschooling? What’s that?

Sometimes things happen fast around here.

For years now, we've been dedicated unschoolers, basing our educational philosophy on the work of John Holt, Alfie Kohn, John Taylor Gatto, and Marshall Rosenberg. Unschooling has its challenges, of course, but we made the sacrifices necessary to accommodate them gladly, and everything went well. Sam reads way above grade level. Trin's knows science stuff that most adults don't know. The boys' friends trotted off to their various schools a week or two back, and it seemed we were all set for another year of homeschooling.

Then, last week, Kristin told me that she desired more structure in our lives, including in regards to their unschooling.

Be careful what you ask for. Desire is prayer.

Tuesday, I came home to find Kristin and the boys in deep discussion. Sam had asked to go to school.

Well, our intent in unschooling was to give the boys the best education we could, without coercion. We've told them from the start that they could go to school if they want to, but so far, they've resisted – particularly Trinidad, who did NOT enjoy Waldorf kindergarten. Not that we could afford private school, anyway.

Wednesday, I came home and before she even greeted me, Kristin said, "Come here, look at this!" and showed me the Family School website. It's one of our groovy local alternative public charter schools, and shares much of our educational philosophy: Multi-age classrooms. A cooperative, child-centered learning environment. A garden. Parents are integrated into the school, and can participate as much as they want. It's one of few local schools that composts its food waste. Of course, there are downsides, like the idiotic standardized testing they'll have to endure, and getting up early, but there are downsides to unschooling, too. Besides, as I mentioned, it's also one of our groovy schools that always has a long waiting list; the chances of getting in this year are slim, and the lottery for school choice ended way back in March or something and won't happen again until next year. Still, Kristin and I agreed that she should visit the school and check it out.

Thursday evening, as we sat down to dinner, my ears filled with the story of Kristin's and the boys' visit to the school. They liked what they saw. Even Trin wanted to go. The teachers had mentioned that they were looking to add a couple students, but didn't know what grade level they were looking for – they'd have to meet and decide. The discussion wandered to getting on the waiting list, and wondering how long it was, but both of us felt completely unworried. We both knew that if it was the right thing, they'd get in – if not, no way – regardless of evidence. Then the phone rang. Strange number, so we almost didn't answer, but at the last moment Kristin picked up the phone.

It was the head teacher at the Family School. They'd met. They offered the boys a spot. Both of them, different classes.

Like that.

The boys start their new educational adventure Monday. My homeschooling co-worker is going to be shocked. Shocked! I thought back to my post from just a few weeks ago, and I laughed. "I have to blog about this!"

Eating crow?

Nah. Just sliding along on the path of least resistance. No way is unschooling off the plate. Their educations are still in the boys' hands.

Because nobody can take responsibility for your education, except yourself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ain’t I a Woman?

The other day I pointed out Lynn Conway's website and photo to a friend for some reason. At first he thought she was cisgendered, and then he said something like, "She doesn't look trans." So I clicked on her Successful Transitions site, to kind of point out that she's not the only one, by a long shot. He thought just about everyone on the page looked like she was trans, and said, "Most of them would have a hard time finding someone who would put up with that."

Ouch.

My friend Tobi might call it "transmisogyny."

It's things like this that make me wish I were a lesbian. Women just don't seem to have that obsession with the physical bodies of their lovers – the personality, the inner beauty, seems more important than the physical. I know it's true for me. I sometimes feel quite attracted to guys who are not very physically attractive, because I like their personhood – their passion, their intellect, their generosity, humor, whatever. Characteristics other than physical beauty can be very sexy.

But apparently not to men. My friend is educated, liberal, accepting of gays, lesbians, and trans people. Yet his abhorrence of the idea of a man finding a woman like me attractive purely dripped from his words. And despite their obvious femininity, they all seemed like men to him. Any guy readers out there, does this resonate with you?

Why?

Many of these are beautiful women, with successful, interesting lives. Why should a man have to "put up with it" at all? Why can't men just see us for who we are? Why not celebrate it? Why this focus on birth gender?

What does it say about our culture, that the bodies of women are considered of so much more importance than their persons?

As Sojourner Truth might say, "And ain't I a woman?"

Friday, August 28, 2009

Political Science 101

I have a bad habit of going onto conservative blogs and starting conversations. It's my means of breaking out of my own liberal echo chamber and attempting to expand my understanding and horizons, while also pushing others to break out of theirs. Something I've noticed repeatedly on these forays is that conservatives (at least the ones on the blogs I visit) really don't understand political/economic systems very well. Typically they look at the current health care "reform" bill being proposed, and call it "Marxist" or "socialist." So, if any of you conservatives ever come visit me here, here's a short lesson to clarify the issue for you.

Socialism, especially as Marx espoused, is the when the state owns and operates the means of production and distribution. A completely socialist approach to the health care system would be as follows: 1) Nationalize the hospitals; eliminate private ownership of hospitals and clinics. 2) Make all health care providers employees of the state. 3) Nationalize pharmaceutical companies – the folks who research and make drugs. 4) That pretty much eliminates the need for health insurance. Everything's paid for by the state, anyway.

Fascism, on the other hand, allows for private ownership – but ensures that that ownership belongs to a certain class. As Benito Mussolini puts it, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."

So when Obama and other government officials meet with pharmaceutical and insurance lobbyists behind closed doors to negotiate how "health care reform" will not only be acceptable to them, but will make them primary beneficiaries, that's fascism. When the government requires citizens to purchase private insurance, that's fascism.

In fact, we've been seeing a lot of fascism in this country over the last 30 years or so. Now, it's SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in Washington for lobbyists to write the majority of legislation, which our congresspeople then sponsor. That's why these bills are so long and complicated – they are designed by and for the wealthiest corporations in the world. And it's completely bipartisan. This is what Reagan did, in things like quietly privatizing the military. (Currently a large percentage of the American military system is composed of corporate mercenaries.) Clinton had NAFTA, GATT, and Hillarycare. Bush had the PATRIOT Act, no-bid contracts, the Iraq invasion and occupation, and so on. Now Obama's signed on with this very fascist health care plan.

Of course, we don't call it fascism. That wouldn't be PC at all. Instead, the conservative media lapdogs (Rush, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, et al) slam "the liberals" and call it "socialism" when liberals do it, and "conservatism" or "common sense" when Republicans do it – as if the problem were this large liberal section of the American people. And liberal voices retaliate, and a vicious and divisive political discourse cripples any resistance possible from a united grassroots movement of citizens who have a common interest in tearing down fascism in this country.

The irony is that people on both sides think their leaders have their own best interests at heart, and care about liberty for the masses. Not so. The leaders care about maintaining their positions, and because We the People are ignorant, angry, and misinformed, and don't recognize our common interests and humanity, we let them.

I feel sad when I see the vicious rhetoric so common on various blogs, because it ensures that we won't listen to each other or find common ground. Instead, it aids the very people who are bleeding our freedom away. It is deeply self-destructive.

Bibliography:

Bernays, Edward: Propaganda

Johnson, Chalmers: Blowback – the costs and consequences of American Empire

Gatto, John Taylor: The Underground History of American Education

Briody, Dan: The Iron Triangle: Inside the Carlyle Group

Marx, Karl: The Communist Manifesto

Rand, Ayn: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Hartmann, Thom: Unequal Protection and What Would Jefferson Do?: A return to democracy

Omerud, Paul: Butterfly Economics

Singer, P.W.: Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry

Mill, John Stuart: On Liberty

Palast, Greg: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Hayek, F. A.: The Road To Serfdom

plus a whole bunch of books on WWII that I read before I started keeping records, and so can't cite individually.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thoughts on Homeschool Curriculum

We got a letter from the local ESD (Education Service District) recently. They used paper, envelope, postage, and about 250 words to say "Please tell us if you move your homeschooled kid out of the district or enroll him in school." An email would have sufficed, and saved the district a buck or two and us the recycling. I asked Trinidad if he wants to go to school. "NO!"

The other day the kids got to wondering how long a blue whale is. So Kristin and they found a tape measure and went out to the street to measure. It was only a 25' tape, so they learned how to add the measurements together to get the whole. It stretched from the fire hydrant at the corner across our neighbor's lot and almost all of ours. Then they measured how high they climb in the willow tree (25') and how high the treehouse is (10').

We practice a form of homeschooling called "unschooling," which operates without any curriculum at all. It's a system pioneered by John Holt, author of How Children Fail, How Children Learn, and Learning All the Time – books which were influential in developing our homeschool style. As unschoolers, the boys are not involved with any homeschool group – there is at least one local group, which offers some classes and gatherings – and they are perfectly happy to be outside the school system. Instead they have a remarkable amount of freedom, and with it, a remarkable amount of opportunity.

But without curriculum, how do they learn what they need to know?

It does create some disjointed learning processes. For instance, the boys really got into math last winter. They printed out blanks, and then filled in times tables. They got some math workbooks, and spent hours doing the problems, from simple addition to some basic division. Then, as summer harvest and the house addition began to absorb our time, and their friends started summer vacation, math fell by the wayside. The kids were too busy playing with their friends in the kid-pack that floats from house-to-house up and down our street, Kristin too busy harvesting, me too busy building. Last night, as they played Scrabble, I noticed that they'd forgotten a lot of their addition. I helped them out for awhile. When I got tired, they still wanted help with the math, so I found an addition workbook and said they could add up the score on the margins. They got distracted and started working on the problems in the book while I went to bed. And rapidly regained what they had lost.

I got to thinking about it.

How do we, as adults, learn what we need to know?

We learn when we are ready, when we need to know. Nobody tells us we have to – the need is there, it stimulates the desire, we seek the knowledge, and we learn. I didn't learn much in school. I was interested in history and geography, and read books like Bruce Catton's Civil War, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, that enabled me to frequently spot the inaccuracies in my school textbooks. High school history was so pointless that I used to hide novels inside my textbook and read them during class. I learned nothing about carpentry – I learned that on the job. I didn't learn to tie knots, splice line, sew web, maintain diesel engines, or start a fresh-water maker in school – I learned that working on a fishing boat. I learned nothing about design and architecture, my chosen field – I went to college, and followed it up with on-the-job training. I didn't learn to run a business until I started one. When I started work as a building official, I knew almost nothing about building code – now I can cite probably hundreds of code regulations.

Kids are no different. When Sam was five years old, he loved Magic Treehouse books. When his parents didn't have time to read to him, he needed to learn to read. He taught himself, with help from us. Now, at six, he reads at the 8th or 9th grade level.

But what if he had been in school? The demand to learn would be there, but the need might not. Or, he might have been too busy studying things he wasn't interested in (science?) to teach himself to read. I suspect he would have learned to read anyway. The need to learn is intrinsic to our human curiosity. If we aren't interested in something, if it doesn't have meaning in our lives, we won't learn it – or at least, not very well. If we are interested in it, if it has meaning in our lives, we will learn – and almost nothing can hold us back.

Feminism is the philosophy that women are people, too. Unschooling is the philosophy that kids are people, too.

School curricula, by removing the learning from the context, the readiness to learn it, the need for it and the meaning behind it, lowers the intrinsic motivation to learn. It is destructive. The best curriculum is to follow your heart.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Redux

The more I consider the health care system "reform" currently being debated and opposed so ardently by conservatives, the more opposed I am to it – though not, I suspect, for the reasons they'd quote. In my last post, I said I was agnostic after looking at all the good things that are being proposed. Many of the things Obama and the Democrats are trying to do are not only worthwhile, but morally imperative. However, the very attractiveness of that led me to miss the key point: it addresses the symptoms of the health care malaise, without addressing the underlying problems that create the symptoms. Because of that, it is doomed to fail.

The problems of our current health care system are as follows: 1. It is an extremely complex system, in a situation where simplicity is proven, all over the world, to be more effective and far more efficient. 2. It allows outrageous rewards for malpractice suits, which drives outrageous costs for malpractice insurance. 3. It prohibits the public payer from negotiating prices with the providers. 4. The payer in most situations is motivated by profit (not need) in a system where profit is maximized by denying (not providing) the services needed – effectively rationing health care and reducing choice far more effectively than even this bill would allow.

This bill actually addresses none of these problems. Instead, it takes a quintessentially Republican approach to legislate better results out of a failing system: Government officials meet with corporate industry officials behind closed doors to craft legislation which is then crammed down the citizen's throats. Benito Mussolini would approve; he'd call it fascism – "the merging of corporate and state power." It is a mystery to me why the folks who supported Bush oppose this plan – it is exactly the kind of thing that he would support and promote.

At the risk of being boring and redundant, the solution is simple: 1. To deal with problems #1 & 4 above, expand Medicare to include everyone, and reform the paperwork process to make it simple, easy, and able to process in multiple ways (digital, hard copy, etc.). (This has the added benefit of increasing everyone's choices on doctors, providers, and so on, because every provider is a preferred provider, and there is no out-of-network unless you leave the country.) 2. To deal with problem #2 above, limit malpractice suit rewards. 3. To deal with #3 above, require Medicare to negotiate prices. 4. To additionally deal with #4 above, cover alternative health care (acupuncture, Christian Science, etc.) and preventative care.

The current reform plan on the table operates from the same assumptions and paradigm as the current system, and merely attempts to legislate better results. But without reforming the system, we won't get better results. As Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." While doing some things to mitigate the symptoms of our current insane system, this plan will hurt vulnerable populations – small business and the middle class – while providing huge, usurious profits to huge, corrupt corporations. It will delay genuine reform. Liberals should stand side-by-side with our conservative brethren and sistren in opposition to it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Health Care Reform Bill

Caveat: I don't have time to research H.R. 3200, the House version of this bill, or any of the others, completely; so this analysis is based on reading the summary, scanning the text, and commentary from other sources. My analysis may have major holes in it. However, a conservative friend asked me to comment on it, so I'll give it a try.

First, this bill is almost 500 pages long. A basic principle I like to go by, articulated by Albert Einstein, is, "Everything should be made as simples as possible – but not simpler." Clearly, this bill fails that simple test.

The bill does have a lot of good points. It eliminates exclusions for pre-existing conditions. It limits out-of-pocket expenses and doesn't limit payouts. It covers preventive services. It provides health insurance for everyone. It requires the rich to pay more than the poor and middle class. It guarantees coverage for everyone. It includes mental health services. And so on.

My objections are as follows:

1. It's way more complex than it has to be. (See comment above.) It establishes a new bureaucracy, the "Health Choices Administration," with additional layers such as the "Health Insurance Exchange." It establishes a new public health insurance provider within this, I think as part of the Exchange. In addition, it seeks to fill the prescription benefit hole with this new insurance, so that people covered by Medicare then have the additional complexity of multiple payers for the same product, essentially doubling the paperwork. Every one of those is completely unnecessary and redundant. We've already got two public plans, Medicare and Medicaid, which is one more than we should have. Medicare has its problems, but it is run very efficiently. In fact, providing insurance is one of those places where government can excel, exceeding the efficiencies and effectiveness of private insurance because it is not motivated by profit, but by service.

2. The Health Insurance Exchange is supposed to compete with private insurers. Big mistake. I'd rather see something like the old-age insurance (Social Security) system: it is available for all, and if you want supplemental financial planning services, go for it.

3. It requires employers to provide coverage, based on payroll, not profitability. Really bad idea. We should be divorcing employers from providing coverage, not requiring more. Almost all other developed nations (those with which we trade) have single payer public health insurance; employers in those nations don't have the added cost of providing coverage. It's just one stupid way to make our own industry less competitive on the global market. Besides, it can really hit small employers hard, especially if their payroll is bigger than their profit. Expect marginal businesses to go under.

4. It doesn't mention "medically necessary." It should. Any procedure, service, or product considered medically necessary should be covered. That includes Sex Reassignment Surgery.

5. It imposes a tax on individuals without a health plan. That's okay, but I'd rather see a single-payer system that basically taxes everyone.

6. If it is true that people will be fined if they don't purchase a health care package, that is a major objection. "Nothing of benefit to the individual is obtained through coercion." (Socrates, I think?) I can think of no way to increase resistance to this bill better than this. People hate coercion, and rightfully so. I hate it. "Give me liberty, or give me death!"

7. Cost is not adequately addressed. (See update and link to Field's post below.) Without giving the public health insurance entity full ability to negotiate prices and without limiting the extent of malpractice suit penalties, cost cannot be adequately addressed. And creating redundant public bureaucracies adds a completely unnecessary level of cost, just for administration. It's stupid and counter-productive.

This health care reform bill is nowhere near as bad as some of the conservative commentary I've seen on it. For instance, one such objection is that it rations your health care. This exhibits the privileged ignorance of those who make this objection. Health care is already rationed, usually by income level. Poor people often have no coverage. Trans people can't obtain medically necessary procedures that are available to others. In fact, private insurers ration by pre-existing condition, exclusions, maximum payouts, preferred provider networks, and every other means they can legally access. This bill may well ration health care, but by eliminating maximum payouts, pre-existing conditions, and income refusals, it significantly reduces existing rationing. Another objection is that a government committee will determine your treatments and benefits. So what? Under private care, you've got an insurance executive, whose paycheck depends on reducing benefits provided to you, making those choices. And guess which one can be held accountable? (Hint: it's not the executive.) Making things better does not necessarily constitute making things perfect, but that's no reason not to do it.

Going back to Einstein's quote, the solution to the health care mess is way simpler than this bill. All we need to do is make Medicare available to everyone, with the following reforms: a) require it to negotiate prices. b) simplify the paperwork – everyone is covered, every provider a preferred provider; list the products and services provided to the patient on one sheet of paper, submit for payment, and you're done. c) limit malpractice suit payouts. d) cover alternative systems, such as acupuncture, naturopaths, homeopathy, and Christian Science treatment. Medicare is an efficiently run, existing agency; expanding it is simple, efficient, and effective. You could fit a far more complete reform package into a 25- or 50-page bill.

In sum, this bill is nowhere near as bad as the conservatives would make it out to be. It's also nowhere near as good as some liberals are making it out to be. It has some major problems, but also some really good stuff. Having looked at the actual bill, however briefly, I've modified my opposition. I'm agnostic. It will make some things better, but it will also create new problems which are obvious and predictable, and leaves other problems unaddressed. Whether there is a net social benefit to the bill is unclear to me – there may be one, and there may not. If it passes, we'll just have to wait and see.

One thing is clear, however: This health care reform bill could be a hell of a lot better.

Update: Field Negro is one smart cookie. When he posts something like this, I tend to believe it - and I agree with his commentary, especially about having each other's backs.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Party Day and Pride

I've been busy this year, building an addition on our house so that I'll have my own room. And an office, and a second bathroom, and a big-ass shop/storage room where Kristin can store her harvest – row upon row of neatly labeled ball jars filled with goodies from our garden and every stray fruit tree in a 14-block radius. This means I'm working four ten-hour days at work (I love the flexibility at my job!), and spending three-day weekends working on the house. The trusses are finally up, and the roof sheathing is going on. Needless to say, not much time for blogging, hence the erratic and rare nature of my posts. It also means that Kristin has taken over almost all domestic chores, including even doubling up on watching the kids.

Yesterday, however, two events coincided to give me a day off. A day of relaxation – what a concept!

First, it was our local PRIDE day – a party not to be missed. And, second, it was the day that one of my girlfriend's daughter had a birthday party at Skate World. I don't get to see my friend often enough because of our work schedules and the different circles our children usually travel in, so that was a must-go for me, too. Bonus – B isn't Kristin's friend, and Pride isn't Kristin's thing (though she did enjoy it later on), so she got a much-deserved day without kids.

I balanced it all by taking the kids to Pride for its opening two hours, then going to the birthday party, then back to Pride where I was supposed to meet Kristin and she'd take the kids so I could help out for awhile at the Human Rights Commission table – though when I got back, the table was gone and Kristin ended up spending the rest of the time with us there.

It was a good day for the boys. They plucked free candy from nearly every bowl at the festival, and then we found the Balloon Man! An artist with balloons with a big rainbow hat made of them, he rapidly blew up and twisted long, skinny balloons into fantastic shapes. Trin got a fish on a pole, Sam a jester's hat, along with others. Other kids got an alien, or a monkey with a gun or a peeled banana. At Skate World they got to exercise their roller blades and eat a cake shaped like a hamburger; and then back to Pride where we ended up joining Kristin and going around as a family. I got to relax, chat with friends, play with my kids, and reload for another strenuous day on the roof.

Pride is an interesting event. (In the past, certain groups would come to protest – ironically, usually protesting abortion more than homosexuality. For the last two years, they didn't show up. I guess they finally put one-and-one together and got two: I can think of no female demographic less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy than lesbians. But I digress.) There are people of all ages, from tiny babies to bent old folks with walkers or wheelchairs. People of all colors – often brilliant colors dyed into hair or tattooed into skin. Camp and music and grace and vulgarity and humor and talent, and men and women holding hands and kissing their partners with freedom not found in most of society. There is a sense of freedom, joy, almost family. Here, for one day of the year, we are free to be who we are. Tomorrow, we will go back to disguising our relationships, to restraining ourselves, to modifying our behavior to deflect the sneers, the slurs, the abuse, and simply to avoid offending our neighbors, many of whom violently object to the reality of our existence – and especially to any public display of affection, no matter that they smile indulgently to see the same behavior exhibited by other-sex couples with far less monogamy and history than many of the couples at Pride share.

This is the attraction for me. It is an oasis of openness, of truth, where the stress of the need to hide is gone. Here, people do not need to indulge the social conventions that all too often oppress rather than liberate. Yet there is restraint. This is a family event. It is a chance to see that we, and our families, especially our children, are not alone, and that the people with whom we share our conditions are typically honorable, interesting, witty, fun, intelligent, often talented, and widely diverse. It is a place for peace, honesty – far more honesty than I see in most of the circles of those who condemn us – and yes, pride. We are more than okay. We are good.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Luna

When I grew up back in the '60's and '70's, I didn't know that transgenderism existed. Not only was the ranch in Wyoming isolated from that kind of information, our entire culture buried it. The media never mentioned such phenomena. No books, especially children's or young adult's, reflected it. Trans people existed neither in fact nor fiction, and that isolation shut me off from any hope of understanding why I was different from my peers, and what that difference was.

Things have changed since then. A plethora of books have emerged, explaining the phenomenon of trangenderism from a variety of viewpoints. A list of some of them adorns the bottom of this webpage. Yet as much as these informational books clarify, they do not bring my experience to the mainstream with the power of fiction. The reason they do not is this: Non-fiction reveals facts; fiction reveals truth. Non-fiction explains intellectually; fiction explains viscerally. True understanding of another human being cannot come through the intellect; it must be experienced viscerally, emotionally. And while much fiction is void of that visceral truth, much also is not.

That's a rather long lead-in to this short review, but, I think, important. Because Julie Anne Peters, a lesbian author in Colorado, has written just such a book. Titled "Luna," the story of a young trans woman coming of age, told through the eyes of her sister, illuminates the trans experience. Written for young adults and told realistically, it makes the experience of people like me accessible to all – and most especially, to young people of the age when my own confusion and isolation were more than I could bear. That confusion and isolation led directly to drug and alcohol abuse and an emotional shut-down that took many years to overcome.

Had this book been available to me, had I read it then, how many things could have been different?

It's a moot point. What's done is done, and I now have a rich, fulfilling life. Had I transitioned earlier, I would not have my two beautiful sons, nor would I have the lovely relationship I share with Kristin. I regret nothing for myself.

But I am very glad that this resource is available to young people today.

Luna. Buy it. Read it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hmmmm....

Can't resist posting this quote that showed up on a friend's signature line:

"The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 to heterosexuals.
This doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals. Only that they seem to require much more supervision."
-Lynn Lavner, comedian, musician

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beauty

One of the things I appreciate about being raised by a Christian Scientist is learning their definition of God. In the CS worldview, there are seven synonyms for a universal, single deity: Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle. It offers a different, meaningful, and far more accurate understanding of God than the traditional Christian trinity of Father, Jesus, and the Spook (the three of which, somehow, are just one god. Wrap your head around that one!) Some of the things I love about it include the following:

It removes gender from the concept of the godhead completely. What gender is Life? Could be any – and, in fact, includes every. If mankind really is made in the image of God, then, truly, either man is genderless, or God includes all genders. This concept of God really does equalize the sexes, and by changing it from an anthropomorphic entity, makes the genders equal – all of them.

It removes the patriarchy from any sense of sacredness or higher meaning, and renders it what it is: politics.

It makes God accessible not as a distant, judgmental entity, but as ever-present – here, now, universal, and complete.

However, if it were me, I'd add one more to the list: Beauty. Everywhere, everything that is created in nature is beautiful in its own way. I am surrounded by beauty; I have been, everywhere I've gone, from the deserts of Arizona to the forests of Europe to the lush jungles of Hawaii to the stark Aleutians, and even far out in the middle of the Bering Sea. I was born in the beauty of sugar maples in their fall plumage, raised in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere I look I see beauty: the face of a child, the expression on a mother's face as she nurses her baby, puppies and kittens, even a vulture soaring on the wind. I hear it in a meadowlark's clear notes, the chuckle of water over rocks, Jerry Garcia's fantastical guitar solos blending in harmony with the band. I feel it in the warm sun on a cool fall morning, and the fall of cool water on a hot day. I smell it. I taste it. It fills me with joy, and brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.

God is Beauty. How could She not be?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Self-Preservation: Why I’m a Liberal #2

I'm a trans woman, a full-blown member of the LGBT community. By default, my choice of primary political party affiliation must be Democrat. The GOP has established itself in opposition – even violent animosity – against me and every other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans person in the country. I can't understand the Log Cabin Republicans, gay members of the party that desires to oppress them. They're like the gay versions of House Negroes.

Regardless of what conservatism may have meant in the past, it currently stands against equal rights and justice, firmly on the side of oppression and judgment. Conservatives have placed themselves in opposition to Thomas Jefferson's defining statement of American values: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Every effort of LGBT people to indulge in these rights, which conservatives take for granted in regards to themselves, is met with determined resistance by them. The oppression – frequently but not always unintended – is often invisible for these conservatives. In the same way, many white people have no understanding of how our culture oppresses black people, and many men are clueless about how it oppresses women. Those individuals who do not take this stand are drowned out and neutralized by those that do. Votes count for something, and actions speak louder than words.

This is not to say that conservatives have bad intentions. Often, their intent is only to support the institutions that have supported them, in our culture, for decades or centuries – religion, law, tradition, marriage, family, and so on. I have no trouble with that; in fact, I support them, too. The difference lies in that I believe there is room for all of us. I support those institutions not just for the majority, but for all of us.

When it comes to LGBT issues – to allowing gays to marry, to antidiscrimination laws, to universal health care, to fair taxation, etc. – I believe that we create a better society when all are welcome within it. I have experienced the social pressure to conform to a norm that is unnatural to me. I know the isolation and desolation of the closet. As a compassionate human being, I want to do all I can to relieve that pain for all. I also believe that the society we will create from granting gays, lesbians, and trans people an equal place at the table, will not be an immoral hell, but a healthier, happier, and more peaceful society. I believe that everyone should have the right to express themselves, not only within the parameters of this nation's First Amendment, but also in respect to the way they present their own gender. I believe that everyone has a right to safety within their own community, and given the bullying and abuse of gender variant children on schoolyards, and the frequency of gay- and trans-bashing incidents, we must counter the demonization of LGBT people wherever we find it. In fact, as a trans woman, I'm an activist just by showing up.

These beliefs are born in the conviction that people do not choose to be gay, or trans. I know I didn't choose to be trans; it was something I fought hard against for 40 years. It's born in an intimate knowledge of my own morality and genuine family values, and in the proximate knowledge I have of the values and morality of the gays, lesbians, and trans people of my acquaintance. It's also born in my own religious conviction, in the words of Jesus: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." "Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you." "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" "God is love."

Ultimately, it comes down to two worldviews. One values unity of culture, the comfort and ease of living in a world where every interaction with another human is predictable – it orients around a status quo; the other values the variety of diversity, enjoys engaging with and is curious about people one doesn't understand, and orients around openness, love, and acceptance. I embrace the second. I also recognize the need for balance. Without some unity of culture, it's hard to find our place in the world, but without diversity, culture is boring and oppressive.

In sum, my liberal views on LGBT issues come from both prior conviction and resistance to discrimination. They come from native belief and self-preservation. But even if native belief weren't there, the needs for safety and self-determination trumps all; even if my beliefs were conservative, I would still ally with liberals in my own defense, and in the defense of those who share my condition.

* Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NARTH and BS

A conservative blogger recently posted information that a "scientific" study had found that gays and lesbians don't suffer harm from reparative therapy. (Worth noting here this the article regarding the ICD-10: "It lists ego-dystonic sexual orientation as a disorder instead, which it defines as occurring where "the gender identity or sexual preference (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or prepubertal) is not in doubt, but the individual wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders, and may seek treatment in order to change it.") Having never heard of NARTH, I followed the link. Being a straight trans woman, I didn't look into the writings on homosexuality much, but instead focused on their entries on GID - and found a web(page) of misinformation. I hate to give a group like this even this much of attention, but some of the stuff written there really needs to be refuted. (For more on reparative therapty, try this, or this, or this.)

From "Transsexuality Explained," by Sander Breiner, M.D. (Note – in this article, the writer hardly mentions trans men, who compose about half the population of trans people – no doubt because "they're women" and so have no importance nor reflection on the human experience, which is white and male):

  • "There are a significant number of male homosexuals who would like to be a female with a penis. There are others who would like to be completely transformed into a female, but can't arrange to have such a complex surgical procedure. Both groups will obtain hormones from various sources; often it will be illegally from a pharmacy."

The assumption here, of course, is that trans women are gay men. But what about all those trans women who are attracted to women? And trans people who can't afford or obtain prescriptions for hormones (typically due to a lack of adequate health care) obtain illegal hormones online or on the black market – not from pharmacies, which actually have pretty stringent control mechanisms for disseminating controlled drugs. I'm rather surprised this "M.D." doesn't realize this.

  • "The transsexual male who was not part of a university/medical school treatment program, will often take hormone treatment (self-prescribed and administered), and play a feminine role with unsuspecting heterosexual males (often as a prostitute). … Their thinking about how they are tricking, fooling and using others has a clearly sadistic dynamic as well."

There are few if any current (2008, when this article was updated/published) university/medical school programs, and people who did go through these regularly told the gatekeepers, such as McHugh, what they thought the gatekeeper would want to hear to help them transition. Hormones are commonly and typically prescribed by doctors, and it would be silly to go to the doctor every day to take a little green pill. And many trans women are kicked out of their homes or fired because of discrimination, and end up on the street. They are forced into sex work to survive. They are not using, so much as being used; and they are not partnering with "unsuspecting" men so much as men who seek them out (tranny chasers). Most trans women, however, are employed, and reveal their status to prospective sexual partners if they are not asexual. In other words, this statement is patently false.

  • "Their histories almost invariably demonstrate a mother figure who is at least domineering, manipulative and controlling."

That sounds almost exactly the opposite of my mom, who left us free to make our own choices about most things, who never tried to manipulate us that I can remember, and who was definitely not domineering. Nor do I recognize this as a pattern in my trans women friends, whose families run the gamut.

  • "Such men have little to no relationship with their family. Unfortunately, their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

First, a trans woman is not a man. Second, as mentioned, many trans women, especially youth, have been kicked out of their families for being trans. Most, however, have some relationship. In my case, I'm quite close to my former wife (I share a household with her) and kids; I'm close to the surviving members of my immediate family; I have good relations with my cousins, nephews, and nieces. And most of my transwomen friends also have supportive families.

  • "Their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

Yeah. Like mine. Lots of healthy, nutritious, natural food in the diet, close connections with family and friends, spirituality, purpose and meaning, a good, middle class job. Actually, just like (surprise!) "normal" people, we run the gamut, from health nut to addict.

  • "These individuals usually do not stay in any adequate psychotherapy program (i.e., once per week for at least three months). They also have significant problems in certain areas of reality perception; therefore, long-term intensive therapy is the best choice, and long-term supportive therapy with medication is the bare minimum required to prevent them from destroying themselves."

If we don't stay long enough in a therapy program, it's most likely because the therapist doesn't know jack about gender dissonance. Paying $80/hour to educate someone who is supposed to be educated is not cost effective; the trans person involved will most likely stop sending good money after bad when she's got her letter authorizing hormones – and who could blame her? The "reality perception" is conveniently left vague. What areas? What medication is prescribed? The implication is some kind of anti-depressant; the reality is hormones and androgen blockers, which are not psycho-active. And the self-destruction comes almost completely prior to transition, when virtually all trans people have suicidal ideation, and many attempt it. Post-transition, such becomes much less common.

  • "There is a smaller group of transsexuals that includes those individuals who have been involved with a university-sponsored, medical-school treatment program."

He goes on to mention Wayne State University and Johns Hopkins University programs, both of which, I believe, are now defunct. The problems with these programs were legion. The gatekeepers turned away multitudes because they didn't fit the profile they were looking for (described by the author in the next section of his article). Trans people with same-sex attraction (trans women attracted to women, for instance) were turned away. Etc., etc. Those that did get in typically learned to deceive skillfully, giving the stereotypical answers the gatekeepers were looking for in their efforts to get hormone therapy and surgery.

Breiner goes on to describe a caricature of transsexualism who is completely unrecognizable when compared to real trans women, like Lynn Conway, Jennifer Boylan, Kate Bornstein, Calpernia Addams, Dr. Sara Becker, Anna Moore, Tobi, Julia Serrano, Hangar Queen, Andrea James, Dr. Becky Allison, etc., those represented here on Lynn Conway's website, and me. He then sums up thus:

  • "At this point in the process, I … must tell the surgeons that the disturbed body image was not an organic at all, but was strictly a psychological problem. … The more pervasive and extensive is this misperception of oneself [as defined by Mr. Breiner et al], the more significant is the psychological problem. The more the patient is willing to do extensive surgical intervention (especially when it is destructive), the more serious is the psychological problem. … This principle of isolated significant psychopathology indicating serious psychological problems (despite their ability to function in all other areas of life) is well known psychiatrically, historically, and by the judiciary."

So well known, in fact, that almost no one knows about the many people who have violated gender boundaries throughout history and in almost all cultures. So well known that psychologists who specialize in GID regularly authorize hormone therapy and surgery, and the AMA has determined that surgery is "medically necessary" and is often necessary for positive outcomes, and that it limits health risks from other sources. So well known that the judiciary regularly allows name changes and sex marker changes on documents.

I've written on this issue before. By the American Psychiatric Association's definition of a mental disorder, trans people are mentally disordered when they try to live as the sex they were assigned at birth – not when they transition. It's notable that the ISD-10 lists the denial of being homosexual as a mental disorder; the same should apply to denial of gender dissonance. Indeed, it almost killed me, and it did make me almost completely dysfunctional in my social and practical life. NARTH does a grave disservice to the people who go to them for help, supporting the mental disorders that affect them, rather than the patients themselves.

I wanted to correct a second article, too, but have run out of space and time. This is too long anyway. And still, I wonder: where are the trans men? Breiner and others go to some length to describe and define transsexuality, and yet never even mention, or at best only in passing, half the transsexual population. Perhaps, in their phallo-centric world, the desire for a penis is perfectly sane.

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