Tuesday, January 20, 2009
There is hope. Our long national nightmare is over, and, for the first time in years, I feel proud to be an American.
Goodbye, George! Don't let the door smack you on the butt on the way out!
Good morning, HOPE!
May this day open a new era in our American story. And may Barack Obama be blessed with the wisdom to guide our nation out of the dark morass of disgrace, dissolution, depravity, and depression that the former occupant of the White House guided us into.
Monday, January 19, 2009
This is based on a comment from Chairm, in my discussion with Jose at Opine:
Gender is a lot more than a social assumption. This is the same mistake many feminists make in their effort to break free of the restrictive gender roles of our patriarchal culture – they mistake gender roles for gender (or vice versa). Gender is our subjective, "sexual Self-Map, how we feel ourselves to be: male or female." (Bushong) "Like pain, it is unambiguously felt but one is unable to prove or display it to others. One's subjective gender is just as real and immalleable as one's physical gender but unfortunately not recognized in our culture."
So while it is true that I am not a genetic woman, and cannot share the complete experience of what that means (as far as the physical, embodied experience of living in a female body, and also as far as socialization from birth), it is at least as true to say I am a woman as it is to say I am a man. Probably more so, because gender identity certainly appears to be more immalleable than physical bodies.
In the same way, can you say whether an intersexed person is a man or a woman? Their bodies are ambiguous; so my gender is ambiguous. I'm neither man nor woman, but transwoman – some of both. I choose to live as a woman because it's a lot more comfortable. And that's not a bad thing, even though our culture works hard to make it so. It just is. It's beautiful in its own right. Between day and night is the beauty of twilight.
Gender is not plastic, but gender roles are. Gender roles are defined and delineated by culture and society, and they change over time and from place to place, culture to culture. When I speak of living in the role of a woman, I'm speaking of sharing that gender role with other women in our culture.
Given our culture and the discrepancy between sex and gender (or physical gender and gender identity), one of the biggest challenges faced by transpeople is integrating mind and body. Certainly that's been one of the hardest things I've tried to do, but, thankfully, I have had some success with it. I've still got plenty of room to grow there, but it is, I think, an important – maybe the most important – aspect of the peace that fills my life. I believe that there is a Universal Being (usually called God) which creates us all – Life, Love, Mind. Which means that I have a purpose in being a female person in a male body. That purpose is to love, but it must also be more – perhaps to demonstrate the integration of male and female aspects in the fullness of humanity, I don't know. Or maybe it's just a cozmic joke. :-)
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I have a new project in the works. It's a second blog, called Culture Pax. I intend to move my political diatribes over there, including my discussion on marriage equality.
The blog is not completely set up yet, and I'm not sure exactly when it will happen, but I hope very soon. My intent is that it will be a forum where people in this country can discuss controversial subjects in a way that is safe for both sides, even when emotions grow heated. My hope is that people on different sides of issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, climate change, and just about anything else will receive empathy and learn to advocate for their side in a way that both ensures their needs will be honored, and that honors the needs of others who disagree.
With that in mind, I'm hoping to develop a team of people who are skilled in Nonviolent Communication (or some similar system or non-system of communication) and in giving empathy, who will share in the creation and support of this blog. I'm looking for team members, and guest contributors, and have three others who are willing to start.
All right, I'm going to stick my neck out. Here's the link to Culture Pax. Don't expect too much to begin with. I'm just starting, and this site is truly under construction!
Blessings to all-
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
"As an aside, while you catch up with your deadlines or whatever you’re doing, I decided to go back to something you said in the comment dated 1/10/09:"
Let me say Seda that when I first read your comments you sounded like a man trying to sound feminine. The comments sounded affected. All that schmaltz didn't sound real to me. It was as if you thought women were immersed in fuzzy-feely expressions and therefore you had to express yourself that way. You were forever reveling in your feelings and even now you are immersed in your sadness which is probably more related to feigning offense because I do not accept your illusion of what you are. Like so many men who imagine themselves women it sounded like a caricature of femininity.
"I found your comment rather ironic, as my frequent references to feelings (especially when I first began to comment on your blog, was my attempt to use Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to connect with y’all. NVC was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, a cisgendered man who’s been married for probably 50 years at least, as a means to connect with people to resolve conflicts by relating to feelings and needs, rather than speaking in judgments and evaluations. Believe it or not, it works – at least, most of the time. :-) In the jargon, there’s something called OFNR – “observation, feeling, need, request.” The idea is to make a clear, concrete observation, then relate it to a feeling (emotion) you have or you guess the other has. Needs, in this case, are universal. You then connect the feeling to the need unmet that stimulated the feeling. At the end, you make a clear, doable request that the person can act on immediately. Example: “When you scream at me, I feel scared, because I have needs for safety and respect that aren’t met. Would you be willing to step out of the room until you calm down?” The website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication is www.cnvc.org; for more specific info on OFNR, try http://www.cnvc.org/en/what-nvc/nvc-model/2-parts-and-4-components-nvc.
"If you look back at my early comments, you’ll probably notice I wasn’t too hung up on the exact form of OFNR. The real idea is to connect – which, mostly, I didn’t do with y’all as much as I would like, though I think I did connect a little bit a few times. You probably will notice, though, quite a few feelings being linked to needs. What I find ironic about this, is that you immediately thought my use of OFNR sounded “like a man trying to sound feminine.” It “sounded like a caricature of femininity.” Yet I was making absolutely no effort to speak in any gendered way at all – I was using a discrete system of communication developed by a cisgendered man!"
(Actually, the example I used wasn't that great, since 'scream' could easily be considered an evaluation.)
Be that as it may Seda, you thereby affirm that my observation of it being contrived and affected is correct. I mentioned that this was simply a subjective conjecture. You may still subconsciously approach this as being a suave "feminine" form of expression but we need not labor the point.
"Jose, The point of NVC is to communicate with another person in a way that conveys respect and honors their humanity. I would really enjoy it if anyone from Opine tried to communicate that way with me - no matter how "contrived" it might sound.
"And no, I don't use NVC, and especially OFNR (which, as you point out, often sounds contrived), to sound "feminine," I use it because I don't know a better method of connecting in a way that conveys the respect and love I want to convey, while also honoring and respecting myself."
Also, BTW, if anyone familiar with it wants to critique my description and use of NVC here, please do!
Monday, January 12, 2009
Thorough responses to what you say may have to wait awhile as I'm getting bogged down in numerous tasks with deadlines. I hope that you do not react with any offense at what I can briefly say at this point. I am cutting to the chase. What you tell me is filled with platitudes and clichés. You talk about perceiving yourself as female but this "perception" can only be based on fantasy and imagination because as I mentioned before you have no foundation on which to base such a perception. It can be derived only from appearances of womanhood and that general sense that is inherent in all men. It cannot be grounded on anything of substance. Woman is not a phantasm, an image. Woman cannot be disembodied!! Only an image of woman can exist separate from the body of a woman. The realization, the experience of real woman can come only in relationship to the body of a woman.
You say, "I am not even that feminine of a woman." But that's simply because you are not. You might have the "femininity" of a man but that is light years away from being a woman. It's a different dimension.
I can give you a reference that might help. Be assured that you will not be helped by relying on varied large cohorts of psychotherapists as they cannot even really agree among themselves. They are mostly concerned these days with making politically correct assessments with lots of "psychologees" jargon but devoid of objective substance. Try beginning a study of Carl Jung's analytical psychology. Forget most contemporary Jungians and learn from the old masters. They will give you a better understanding of coming to terms with the "woman" in you with whom you identify.
Do you have actual evidence of having any morphological irregularities, female anything? I address every person's condition and situation individually. Referring to the particular conditions of other people does not benefit understanding yourself since you do have those attributes or physical traits/organs. Let's not bring in non-related conditions in the effort to justify your perceptions/imaginings. Time is short and of the essence. I cannot get into an entire therapeutic session so I must speak briefly and "mercilessly," that is, without concern for what I see as your cherished perceptions, fantasies and obsessions. It's a "cold turkey" approach. If it helps, great. If not, I did what I could. Ultimately it's your journey, a most arduous one. All I can do is break down your irrational, unfounded opinions of yourself.
No fear on thorough responses. I’m pinched for time, too.
You speak in absolutes – “…can only be based on fantasy…,” “…can only be derived …,” etc. What is the source of your confidence? Jungian psychoanalysis? Your own reason? The Bible? What is it? What is it in your background that gives you authority about gender dysphoria that is superior to the lives of thousands of transpeople and their therapists, including everyone associated with WPATH?
You speak of my obsessions. Yet for most of my life I was obsessed with being a man, and that was my desire. I fought against my own nature. It was only the depths of despair, the brink of suicide, that enabled me to accept who I am.
You say I speak in “platitudes and clichés,” implying that therefore my own testimony is faulty and does not represent any objective reality. I suggest you ask Kristin about it. She was with me every step of my transition, and witnessed my path for the last seventeen years.
I never claimed, nor do I claim, that I am or ever was a “real,” cisgendered, XX chromosome woman. I’m a transwoman. That means my gender is different from my sex, and yes, despite your absolute certainty, that is possible. The body morphology I suspect is not visible in a living human, and cannot be found without a thorough and very expensive autopsy. This study is too small to be conclusive, and, so far as I know, has not had peer review. However, it does present evidence of a physical condition that justifies my own experience and perception of myself, as well as the experience of thousands if not millions of other transpeople. You, of course, have the choice to blow it off and continue your delusions of “impossibility,” but I entertain the possibility that this may be the source of my condition.
I’ll note here also, on the question of psychoanalysis, that I spent over two years in therapy prior to seeking a specialist in gender dysphoria. At least eighteen months of that were spent with a very competent therapist who knew little about GID. We worked through a ton of issues, including a lot of childhood trauma, and she tried very hard to show me that my perception of femininity was not inherent. And yet, she did not dent it. Obsessed as I was with manhood and trying to hold onto my family and position in society, once the scales of denial fell away from my eyes, I could not put them back on.
Beyond that, there is my own life experience. That experience is that when I stopped obsessing about being a man, and accepted that I wasn’t, I could focus my life on other things, and just be. My experience of being a man devolved into an absolute hell of psychic isolation and depression that left me incompetent to function as a parent and unable to concentrate on my work. In contrast, every step I took in transitioning to presenting and living as a woman brought intense relief, as if lifting an enormous burden from my shoulders. The confusion that tortured my life for so many years fell away, and in its place I found clarity. As I relaxed into being a woman, I could finally concentrate on my work, so much so that I not only do my job with competence, confidence and focus, I also was able to take on a role on the board of a nonprofit and sit on a citizen’s advisory committee for my city for the past year, while also writing a novel and a blog. Best of all – the most precious gift I can imagine – I found myself parenting my children fully, with a completely open heart. Last summer I overheard my son talking to one of his friends. His friend asked him, “Don’t you miss having a dad?” Trinidad answered, “No. I like her better as a woman.” At Christmas, he asked me, “Maddy, how long ago was it that you transitioned to being a woman?” “A year and a half,” I answered. “Why? Do you miss having me as a dad?” “No!” said, positively. “I like you better as a woman.”
So, Jose, I ask you this: Even if you are right – even assuming that I am now confused and living a fantasy – does that really matter? If so, why? Does it matter why or how I came to be this way, if being this way not only gives me the peace and joy I live, but enables me to better parent my children, relate to my friends and loved ones, and contribute to a peaceful and functional society? Why would even you want me to go back to that misery I lived as a man, where I would be far more likely to end up as a burden to society than as a contributor to it?
One last note: You said you could “give me a reference that might help,” but only offered the generality of studying Jungian psychology. That’s a big subject. Do you have any specific reference?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Ah Seda, I never said it would be easy. It's just that there is no other way to be what you are made to be, a whole fully integrated person. I don't look at you with contempt. I see you only as a suffering and confused human being for whom I have nothing but compassion. I do see you as a person obsessed with the desire to be a woman, which is not unlike any number of other obsessions that people have to obtain something impossible. They obtain some relief from the obsession when they convince themselves that they have arrived at some similacrum of what they desired.
From what you say your efforts to be a man have been quite confused. You don't have to try to be a man because you are a man. You apparently were chasing stereotypes of masculinity. That's all nonsense about macho images of "a powerful brand of masculinity that is clean and real" on the Wyoming ranch. It's pure stereotyping and then to pursue this macho fantasy you join the Marine Corps, probably the worst thing you could have done. And you go on in this Quixotic quest for manhood by getting into logging and commercial fishing. Tough super macho stereotypes. The very quests you undertook to obtain manhood demonstrate that you were indeed labeling yourself a woman or being womanish and you were lying to yourself because you were trying to become some image of man. You coveted the deeds and exploits of certain men. There are women that can do those things also and some confuse themselves into imagining they are men or manlike.
It's like the story of that poor soul who goes all over the world seeking God or enlightenment and when he finally encounters an honest and knowing person he is told that he could have had both right in his own back yard. That actually, all the time he was "searching" or "striving" he was really fleeing from God, from himself and from his responsibilities.
Seda, you are a man. Accept it. There is no need for you to continually refer to yourself as a woman. Drop it. Men can be ballet dancers and chefs and artists and poets. They can be highly refined and sensitive. They can be in touch with their feelings and they can cry. They can have a great many of the social contructs generally associated with femininity by the ignorant. They can be married or single, sexually active or celibate. Don't try to be a man and don't call yourself a woman. If you don't try to be a man then you cannot fail at being a man. You simply are because you cannot be anything else.
I appreciate your concern, and your compassion. Actually, that compassion is welcome. Thank you.
From the description I gave you of my efforts to “be a man,” I can understand why you drew the conclusions you did. You are absolutely right that my efforts to be a man have “been quite confused.” One thing fishing did for me, though, was free me from any need to link my behavior to my gender. I stopped “chasing stereotypes of masculinity” almost twenty years ago. I can cut down a tree or change the oil in the car or build a treehouse or play chess or fix the kitchen sink perfectly comfortably as a woman, but doing them as a man is – well, uncomfortable. My connection to gender is relational and psychological.
For instance, from the first time I entered men’s space, way back in grade school, I’ve been uncomfortable there. Through high school locker rooms, Marine Corps squadbays, and fishing boat cabins, I felt like an interloper, at best vaguely uneasy, always with a sense that I did not belong. Yet, from the first moment I was allowed into women’s space, I felt completely comfortable and at home. I belonged. Any time the sexes separate into their own space, I want to be where the women are – not because the conversation is more interesting (it often isn’t), but because I belong.
From the first time I remember trying it – I was 6 or 7 years old – I have always been more comfortable in women’s clothes than in men’s clothes.
Living as a man, I was unable to relate to people in a way that established a fully integrated and honest connection. That was true in my most stereotypically masculine moments, but also it is true whenever I relate to others as male, whether I fully embrace my femininity in the moment or not. That social isolation is an incredibly corrosive thing, and it gets worse with time. The way that men and women interact with each other is different, and when I interact as a man, it is unnatural and I cannot relate honestly and openly. The result is a social isolation that is, perhaps, almost like solitary confinement. It is not me interacting, then, it is a stage presence, an act, a lie. And the people who interact with me do not interact with me, they interact with that lie.
Also, living as a man, I lacked any sense of personal integrity. That wasn’t just in my “masculine” pursuits. Prior to accepting that I’m a woman, I had no honor, no integrity. Oh, I tried. I knew intellectually what was right and wrong. Yet I had no real conscience, and cheated and lied and stole almost without regret. Yet, almost immediately upon committing to my transition, I found integrity became incredibly important. Those opportunities that arise where dishonest material gain without consequences offer, became not only easily refuted, they were no longer even tempting. Now, I absolutely treasure my integrity. It is one of the best things I’ve gained from my transition.
Then there is my subconscious. Dreams, including recurring nightmares of intense violence. I blogged about it here: http://silknvoice.blogspot.com/2008/08/dreams.html. And perhaps more profound, my instinctive reactions to the act of sex, which I will not discuss in detail here. The little jolt of surprise that always flashes by when I look in a mirror. You speak of me being a “fully integrated person,” yet it is far easier to integrate my female gender with my male body than it is to integrate any sense of myself – my gender – as male.
You say I “don’t have to try to be a man because [I am] a man.” Yet, when I still my inner voice, when I just exist, as I am, I perceive myself as female.
Had it been possible, it would have been so much easier and more comfortable to embrace this sort of feminine manhood you describe, rather than transition. It was simply not possible to do. I’m not even that feminine of a woman.
You do, I assume, acknowledge the existence of genetic and morphological irregularities, like Klinefelder’s Syndrome (XXY chromosomes), XYY chromosomes, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), and intersexed (those with ambiguous genetalia). While I have yet to see any Opiner refer to any of these conditions as anything except an “exception” for which “concessions” can be made, even that is acknowledgement of a sort. Why is it so difficult for you to even entertain the possibility that some genetic or hormonal or congenital condition may create a female brain morphology in an otherwise male body?
You speak with great confidence, even authority. Yet your recommendations and assumptions conflict with the life experience of thousands if not millions of transsexuals – and their therapists. I’d really like to hear what the source of your confidence and authority is.
Jose is right with his analogy about the man who went searching everywhere else for God. I did that for years. And finally, I discovered that what I was seeking - myself - was right here all the time. I just couldn't see her, because her body didn't look right.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
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.
(Warning - I don't believe Jose will see you. Don't expect it. Any comment, on his blog or mine, should be made for the sake of other readers; however, I do request that you seek to understand Jose and not condemn him.)
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I give kudo's to Fannie for the idea, and for following through with it, of publishing a series of coming out stories. As I've said before, there is great power in coming out. I believe it is the most powerful assurance LGBT people have of creating acceptance and the embrace of society, and, ultimately, equality. More than the courts, more than anything. Honesty is - well, honorable. And it makes a difference. Fannie's doing her part, and her willingness to publish a wide variety of coming out stories, including those of lesbians, gays, transpeople, and even straight people, is deeply appreciated.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Since beginning transition, at least four different people have contacted me with their own transgendered dilemmas. Three of them were completely or almost completely in the closet, while all sought connection and common ground. I have been able to share with them my experience and understanding, and that in turn has, I believe, moved each to some degree, relieving loneliness, anxiety, and isolation. My visibility has provided comfort for other lonely souls.
Gender dysphoria is an incredibly lonely condition. I remember when I was a kid, the great aching loneliness that filled my days. I was afraid to share with anyone – even the closest members of my family, my parents and siblings – who I was, my deepest desires, my aspirations, my own character. Not only did I fear the ridicule that I would have received, I didn't understand why I was so different from everyone else – why I wanted so much to do girl things, why it was so hard to connect with boys, why I didn't like what they liked. I just knew I didn't fit in – anywhere. Forming my presentation around a model of gender that was completely extrinsic, I could not relate to people as I was, and so I developed my skill at deception – and that disguised my own loneliness and inadequacy in a vain attempt to fit in, which only left me lonelier than ever.
It is that effort to hide one's self, based on needs for safety and connection, that makes transgendered people so lonely, so socially isolated. It is different for me now. Sure, I'm cut off from some people – those who don't understand, or who think that their God really hates people like me and so they should, too, or whatever – but I'm fully connected with so many more. I no longer spend my time developing and perfecting deception. I live openly and honestly, and that honesty has penetrated to every aspect of my life. Where I used to act in minor dishonest ways, lying or cheating or even stealing, I now rebel against those temptations, and really don't even find them tempting. Dishonesty now feels not like something natural and integral in my life, but like a desecration of it.
So the greatest value of transition for me is the redemption of my own character. And, close behind it, is my ability to connect with community, with other people – an end to loneliness. People see that, and respond to it. And other lonely souls, suffering from gender dysphoria, find connection and, I think, comfort.
There is power in coming out. It is social power – and it is also spiritual power.
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