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

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Recently I started reading a book called "Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers," by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. and Gabor Mate, M.D. On page 18, they say, "… The orienting instinct is basic to our nature, even if we rarely become conscious of it. In its most concrete and physical form, orienting involves locating oneself in space and time. When we have difficulty doing this, we become anxious. If on waking we are not sure where we are or whether we are still dreaming, locating ourselves in space and time gets top priority. If we get lost while on a hike, we will not pause to admire the flora and fauna, or to assess our life goals, or even to think about supper. Getting our bearings will command all of our attention and consume most of our energy. … Our orienting needs are not just physical. Psychological orientation is just as important in human development."

As a student of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) (see sidebar), I try to relate the interactions I have with others to the feelings and needs they experience. In most cases, orientation is not clearly a need that is up. We tend to take our understanding of our physical world for granted as we move around our local milieus. However, I think the authors are on to something regarding the psychology of it.

When I first started taking hormones, I felt relief from a low-level anxiety that was so much a part of my experience and psyche I hadn't been aware of it. In its absence, however, it was very noticeable. In speaking with other trans people, I've found similar experiences following their first hormone doses to be universal. If it isn't, that's because I haven't spoken yet to a trans person who hasn't shared this result. In the past, I didn't connect it to the need to orient so much as a need for clarity, but reflecting on the truth of the author's statement, I think I was missing something.

The need for orientation, both physical and psychological, is universal. We all share it. The authors relate it to children, which makes sense in the context of their book, but I suspect that its psychological manifestation continues powerfully throughout life. I wonder how extensively it permeates our psyches and influences our actions, decisions, and lives.

For instance, how does it relate to alcohol and drug abuse? Is the abuse either an instigator or response to a lack of internal orientation? In my own case, prior to orienting around Kristin and transitioning, my abuse was so pervasive I concluded for awhile that I was an alcoholic. However, since transition, I find that drinking enough that I start to feel the effects brings an instant stop to any desire to drink more. I like sobriety much better. Is the psychological orientation found in matching my hormones to my brain responsible for that shift?

An even bigger question arises in relation to religion. Certainly religion is an orienting entity. Many people focus their lives around the larger guiding principles provided by religious texts and authorities. It seems to me that religious authorities often use this orienting need or principle to manipulate their flocks into quite negative directions. People everywhere cling to religion even when scientific evidence refutes religious myth. Hence, Galileo was sentenced to death if he didn't recant his conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun, that the sun is the center of the solar system. In my own case, when I joined the Marine Corps and found myself far from home, disoriented from anything I'd ever known to that time, I fell to the religious (Baptist and Pentacostal) proselytizers who infest military bases, preying on young military personnel in their vulnerability.

I have often wondered about the power of religion. Clearly it meets human needs, but what needs are really up for us when we cling to our faith, even in the face of fallacy, so fiercely? This intense need for orientation, starting with our first breaths, seems to explain it.

Read more on orientation here.


David Carrel said...

I have never thought about it that way. You are very right about religion and especially people driving their whole lives around it. I definitely would not be where I am today, if I were not totally convinced of its validity.
I feel like growing up in the church, I did have more of a blind faith. One can choose to continue on that path of blind faith, make it their own, or switch faiths to whatever they want to believe.
But I think that we all have some sort of faith. We believe something about God, whether there is a God or gods or no God at all, whether God is male or female or neither, etc... and how God relates to humans, deists believe God wound the clock and then let it go, whether God is personal or non-personal, judgmental or loving, whether God used the Koran, Bible, Vedas, myths or what to communicate, which all results in how we relate to God, and others and ourself.
So you, Seda, for example, take what you believe about God wanting you to be who you really are inside, a woman, and therefore act upon it. I take my view of myself and my role according to God and act upon that.
So we all take our worldview make our decisions based on "our orientation."

Let me note also about being Baptist. I know you have had a bad experience with it, and I am sorry about that. And you may include me in with those who are essentially brainwashed, and I understand that, although of course, I would not consider myself that, cause if I did, I wouldn't be part of it. haha. So I guess that my question from this to you Seda, would be whether there exists blind faith and seeing(I guess the opposite of blind) faith? Is my following God only out of ignorance or a need to be oriented, but in no way that of necessity?

Seda said...

Good questions, David. I've been around enough to know that everyone must find their own way to understand divinity, or the Universe, or God. The "straight and narrow path" is that which is right for the individual, and "by their fruits ye shall know them." I have seen good fruit from you, David, and have no reason to believe you're not on the right path. In my case, I actually tracked backwards, giving up on God altogether as I neared suicide and finally finding peace after transition, and beginning to really find God afterward.

I think there does exist both blind faith and visionary faith. Both of them can fill that human need for orientation, but I would say blind faith is that where you accept ideas or concepts that don't make sense, because that's what the religious authority (be it human or text or whatever) says. Blind faith cannot be tested without anger or fear or offense. It needs to be right, and to be validated by others agreeing to its rightness. It needs to be judgmental of others, because it has no foundation. You see that all the time. True faith cannot be shaken; it is when you have found the right path, when you stand rock solid with what you know is true even when those around you disagree - and you can let them be, without judgment, without fear, without anger or offense.

My argument with Baptists (or rather, with Christians in general) comes from the judgment, condemnation, and violence that is directed at so many others, including gays, lesbians, and trans people, but also Muslims, Christians of other denominations, and so on. But many Christians, including Baptists, choose instead to open their hearts and their minds. Perhaps that is the difference between true and blind faith. "By their fruits ye shall know them." It doesn't matter what you call the tree, if the fruit is good.

David Carrel said...

I understand your argument about people who call yourselves Christians and I hate what "christians" have done to the name of Christ. I have been reading even more about it the last couple of days and it amazes me what has been done wrongfully in the name of Christ.

If God created the straight and narrow path to reach him, and we must follow that path, how would it have to be right for the individual? Different individuals are convinced of different paths. Yet there has to be one right path to God. So how would you know you are on the right one and not just following blind faith?
And if you say that there are many paths to God, what about those who say that the right path is, as Hitler thought, clearing out the Jews? Or as some Muslims say, being a suicide bomber. To them, it is clear that is the right path. So would you say that if that is their right path for them as an individual, they are doing what is right before God?

anne said...

Hi Seda (and David)

I was born without the ability to believe and spent many years seriously trying to orient myself to belief, first with the Christians, and then with many other religions, thinking that it was religion, not me. Although I shall never have the ability to believe, I firmly advocate many religious practices like prayer, meditation, charity, suppression of the ego, advocating certain practices and shunning others to develop the will, and developing a general awareness of the consequence of action and how it affects others. My son also has no ability to believe, but his best friends are serious Jews and his stepmother is Jewish.

Many of my good friends are Sufis. Most "higher up" people I have known who are Sufis or such have said that it is more common that people think to lack the ability to believe.

But, without faith, life can be very disorienting. I generally envy people who have faith, for it makes life much easier. I just have to live naked before the terror of the universe and death and all that without any comfort of God or an afterlife.

However, before I sound too pathetic, I also lack the division between me and the world and have no solid ego that says "me--the rest of it" and generally feel that I am the world and the world is me, so I feel very little lost or cut off from anything. My son also feels this. So our brains might have substituted faith for this ego-less feeling.

I agree with you, David, that for each person, there is a path and that path may be the straight and narrow, but it may not be another's path. Obviously, you and Seda are examples of the very best that humanity can produce, but you are both on different paths. The proof that you are shining is in that you both do not seek to damn the other but to help each other carry on on the path chosen. Anyone seriously on the path will get oriented, to use Seda's metaphor.

I find that the more oriented and grounded that I become, the harder it is to be judgmental or to hate others. I think that everyone, if they could live long enough in the awareness of life would become enlightened. Seda does us a favor by showing her own enlightenment, or her coming out of darkness by having chosen to orient herself, despite the scorn and shunning by our society. How many saints have suffered less?

Seda, you may not feel like a saint, but you certainly came off a dark road onto this branch toward a new life.

Seda needed a new paradigm, a new compass, if we can continue with this metaphor, something she was denied as a child. The more we can offer our children as tools to find their own paths, the better we might be as parents.

Good post, Seda. I'd like to read the book.


Seda said...

If God created clothes for us that he expected us all to wear to his wedding, would you expect all of them to be the same size and style? One size does not fit all. I am absolutely convinced that God loves diversity. Look at the jungle around you. Does any tree have two leaves exactly the same? Do monocrops appear in nature?

Just so, it stands to reason and doctrine that the straight and narrow path is to be true to yourself, as God made you. When this is accomplished, as Anne said, "the harder it is to be judgmental or to hate others." And so you know. When you are at peace, and without fear; when love is woven into the fabric of your life - then you are probably on the right track. And looking around, you can see others are not on the right track, not on their personal straight and narrow path, because they are unhappy, or destructive, or hateful, or whatever.

At least, that's the way I see it!

Can you get down to the south anytime soon? I'm having Anne withdrawals! I'll be back at work on July 1, though, and we can re-meet then if not before!

Love and hugs,

Seda said...

I guess one way to say it is that if you are following someone else's authority, you are probably on the wrong track. How can you be true to yourself when you are being led around by the nose?

And so some find their path in religion - not because they are following the words of authority, but because there they discover Truth. Others find Truth elsewhere. And it's all good.

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