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

Saturday, January 10, 2009

If Only It Were That Easy…

Jose made the following comment on Opine, and I decided to publish my reply here, too:

To be completely what you are you need first want to change from being what your are not. You must of course find a reason to change, which objectively should not be difficult. This is most important but even before you find the reason you can stop the behaviors. Behavior number one to stop is referring to yourself as a woman!! You have never been a women and cannot possibly understand what it is to be a real woman. Living with a menstrual cycle and the entire biology, e.g., reproductive, mammary, etc. of a woman is completely out of a man's realm and it defines womanhood. This understanding and experience is a total impossibility for you and you must therefore face the reality of your body. Whatever effected your mental imaginings of being a woman you must renounce continuously as an absurdity. No amount of dismembering can ever conform your body to that of a woman's and so the only road to harmony between psyche and soma is through a psychological change to conform with your physical condition.

One of the gravest problems with this entire gender identity confusion is that it prompts people to label themselves and then they get themselves stuck in the label they have given themselves. To escape you must first break that label. You are a man. Reject all those myths about being a woman in the body of a man.

Ah, Jose, if only it were that easy.

You are right about some things. You are right that I am not a woman, that I can never have that experience of menstruation, of pregnancy and birthing and nursing, of socialization from the earliest age, of hormonal balance that is complete and cyclic, which fully defines (along with so much else) the life of a genetic, cisgendered woman. You are right that my body can never conform to that of a woman.

But you are dead wrong when you say that I am a man.

You can have no concept of how hard I fought to be one. I grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, and the men I idolized and found strangely mysterious rode to a powerful brand of masculinity that is clean and real, and that I admire to this day. I tried – oh, god how I tried! – to be like them, but all I could ever do was copy them. So I joined the Marine Corps, and four years later drifted out of that even more confused than I went in. I claimed I was a man, and I did everything I could to prove it. I tried logging and commercial fishing, and over six years racked up more than three years of sea time in the Bering Sea and among the Aleutian Islands. Look at the photo toward the bottom of my blog. Does it look like I labeled myself a woman there? Yet there the hollow ache of deception and isolation made my life as bleak as the Bering Sea in January.

Because I was lying to myself.

Over fourteen years of marriage I fought to force my sexuality and my identity to conform to my body. Fourteen years of intimacy in which I found simultaneously a growing isolation. I wish I could show you, in some way, the depth of loneliness, the black depression, the quiet desperation, the nightmares, the self-hatred, the truly depraved testosterone-driven fantasies that drove me so close to suicide that sometimes I'm surprised to see that I am still alive.

I chose transition because integrity, self-respect, honesty, and genuine human connection became so important to me that I could no longer live without them. Call it selfish if you want, but I did it so that my children would have two living parents, two parents who could care for them and love them fully. I did it so that they would not have a model of patriarchal suicide to draw them to an easy and permanent solution to the problems they may come to face.

Today, Jose, I am free. The nightmares have faded away. The depression is almost gone. I have rich and wonderful friendships. I actively participate in my community, and in parenting my children. I have discovered honor and integrity, and my life has meaning and purpose. No, it's not perfect. My body is what it is. I risked the loss of my entire family, and lost my wife, and a friend. There are many in society who, like you, look at me with contempt, and many who will judge me harshly for what I did to Kristin and my children. But there is no way I can ever imagine wanting to go back to that bleak hell that was pretending to be a man.

In sum, I have tried what you suggest, and utterly failed. Not once, or twice, but continuously for forty years.

I wish I could ask that you even try to understand, but I think I would be wasting my breath. I will ask you this, though: Are you really so confident that your understanding of my psyche exceeds my own?


To be honest, the things Jose said on that post hurt. I'm just going to honor myself here with a little self-empathy, because, frankly, I need it. I'd really like to be seen for who I am. I would love to be understood, and respected. I bet Jose could really relate to those needs. And I feel better, now.


Fannie said...

I won't go over to Opine and taint your conversation with them.

But, in my opinion, it's pretty clear that Jose has a strong need for you to present as a man. I don't know if he gets that you presenting as a man has brought you close to suicide. For, I see him discounting your experience and mostly telling you what it is that you need and what you should do.

I'm trying not to judge Jose, he may have good intentions, but I'm just not observing a ton of empathy or compassion there. Please take care of yourself Seda.

anne said...

Ah Seda,

When people try to change, they meet with great resistance. Sometimes it is deserved like poor Michael Jackson trying to be a white boy, and other times it is subtle like a nuevo riche or a person trying to be American--whatever that is. Your efforts to change are very visual and not at all subtle, so, of course, people will decide that you need to be criticized or abused for it.

But all things change. If a woman is defined by menstruation, then about half the women out there are not women. To say that being a woman is the ability to give birth, cuts out a number of other women and holds up this "chattle" standard that so many women have fought for ages.

Some people just don't like change. It frightens them. But it is what we are about, really, what life is about. What people are really criticizing is that you want to direct your own change, to have free will and not to just submit to the lot you were handed. Anyone who tries to cure themselves of a disease or fight their own poverty or stand up for their rights as a human and not a slave is doing this "unnatural" thing.

If we can make ourselves, let us do so. It is part of the humanness of being human.

On a side note, I did not mean to misspeak T in our conversation. He is a brilliant person who will come into his own, largely through your help.

take care, chica,

Seda said...

I wouldn't call that a need. To me, a need is something universal, which everyone shares. Jose's desire for me to present as a man is based on some feeling of discomfort, and his need(s) may be predictability, or sanctity, or community, or understanding, or any combination of the above. Jose may not even know, himself, which is alive for him; he may be so out of touch with his feelings that he isn't even aware of what feeling triggers his discomfort.

I would call his strong presentation of his desire for me to present as a man the "strategy" he has chosen to meet those need(s) unmet when he sees my presentation as a woman.

I cannot connect with Jose's strategy, but I certainly resonate with the needs behind them. That is what I love about NVC. If Jose is unable to relate or connect with the needs behind my choices - well, that's his problem. It's ironic, though, that NVC is also completely compatible with his own Mennonite philosophy and religion.

You got it, girl!

And I totally understood your stand on T. ;-)

Annette L said...

What a beautiful, gentle, and generous response.

Seda said...

Thanks, Annette! and welcome!

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