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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Girlfriends

Last night I was listening to a song by Mana. I closed my eyes and picked out the various parts – two acoustic guitars, keyboard, bass, drums and percussion – hearing how they played off each other and blended into this incredible beauty of sound. I thought of how Kristin and the boys are learning music, and often play together both with Ken, their teacher, and with each other in practice. I thought how much fun it would be to join with them, though I've been resisting for some time now because I just don't have the time to learn music. Then I reflected on the many times I've tried to learn to play an instrument – drums, guitar, banjo, jews harp, harmonica. I never learned any of them, and thinking back, it seems to me the reason is I never played with anyone else. I never got lessons, never played with peers. For me, like everything else, learning music was a solitary experience.

Then I got to thinking about why that might be. Part of it – maybe most of it – is because I never had friends I could share that with. I noticed that my entire life, I could make only the most shallow friendships, because my primary goal in any relationship was to protect myself – to avoid revealing who I really am, to keep my deepest thoughts and desires secret to myself alone.

The overriding reason I wanted to keep myself private was shame.

I was so deeply ashamed of myself for those thoughts, desires, and experiences that reflect who I am. I was ashamed because I saw that my own experience was so different from everyone else's; because I simply could not relate those thoughts, desires, and experiences to the male role models in my life – at least, not in a deep, personal, and gendered way.

While there are many activities in life that are not gendered – woodworking, chess, gardening, the list goes on forever – there are no relationships that are not gendered. I relate differently depending on who I'm relating with, and gender is part of that relation. Even my relationship with myself is gendered. Women relate differently when they are in a women only group vs. mixed company, men do the same. Mostly, I think, people accept these differences for granted, perhaps don't even notice them. For me, they dominated every social experience.

Because I was so deeply ashamed of who I was, I tried to relate to people according to my sex, and because doing so meant I could not relate in a genuinely gendered way, I could not reveal enough of who I was, even with my most intimate friends, to share real intimacy.

In short, I never learned how to be a friend. Others related with me in the fullness of who they are, and I responded with a deep reserve and definite deception. I related with a mask, an assumed persona I'd pieced together to disguise my real self.

As I reflected on my current life, this became very clear, because I am finally learning how to be, and what it means to be, a friend. It's a matter of baby-steps, of stumbling in the dusk. I still don't have the basic skills of friendship down, by any means. However, I am relating in the wholeness of who I am, and that is bringing incredible changes.

I have real women friends now. These are the people most responsible for my new growth. This is the growing richness of my life. Girlfriends. I am finally welcomed into the social role where I belong. No longer am I isolated, an outsider in every social situation, an interloper who feels out of place. I can be myself, and people actually like me.

I cannot relate to you how incredibly beautiful that is, to belong, to be myself, to relate to others as fully human. This is the best thing, for me, about my transition. Women friends. Honesty. Relating fully, no longer isolated and alone, no longer a square peg in a round hole, but real, comfortable. I am just me. I cannot find words to express the sense of wholeness I have found. It is a pearl of great price.

To the extent that my body does not match my gender, it affects how people relate to me. But the need for human, intimate connection is so great and so basic to our humanity, to feeling and expressing love, so essential to our development and survival, that I will change my body as much as I possibly can to achieve that fullness of social connection. I cannot do otherwise. I am amazed that I stayed alive for so long without that intimacy. Kristin is responsible, of course. I was able to forge a relationship, cobbled together out of my deceptive persona and elements of my real self, with her that was sufficiently intimate to survive, and her love sustained me for 15 years. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that if I had not transitioned, I would now be dead. I simply could not survive in that vacuum of my own soul, in that social and personal isolation, much longer.

There are still a lot of aspects of being transgendered that suck. I hate parts of my body. They betray me. They are completely dysfunctional to who I am. Every day, throughout the day, they rear up and show me how still incomplete are my social relations. The pain of them is constant and unremitting. God, how I wish I could change them! But they do not dominate my life. I have hope. I have meaning. I have girlfriends.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Obama’s Stimulus

Somehow I got signed up for this conservative "news" list serve that sends out daily emails. It goes straight to junk mail, of course, but in the process of deleting the old garbage I noticed that one newsletter was commenting that, just two months into office, "Obama's stimulus" had failed. These guys still think that what we need to get out of this mess is more of the policies that got us into it.

Earth to conservatives! It's going to take a hell of a lot more time than two months for Obama and the Democrats to solve the problems Reagan, the Bushes (especially W) and the Republican congress created. We've had 28 years of lassaize faire, fascist economic policy. It's uncertain whether the economy is even salvageable. We'll probably have to raise taxes on the rich a lot to get out of it. We're also in a new situation, and it'll take a period of trial and error to get it right. However, Obama doesn't appear to be an idealist. Unlike his predecessor, if things don't work, he'll probably try something else.

Meanwhile, fasten your seat belts. There's plenty of turbulence ahead. Turbulence that was visible on the horizon when Reagan was in office, and which you've ignored until now – until avoiding or mitigating it is impossible.

But don't blame Obama for the fallout of Republican policies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aging and Death

This is the last post on original sin, following up on those before.

"This world is only a stage in some longer journey we do not understand. To fall in love with our physical beauty, wealth, health, or capacity for pleasure is to kid ourselves, because all that will be taken away. … The only thing that gives our choices any deep significance is the fact that none of this will last. Awareness of mortality gives relationships an urgency, makes our choices matter."

I don't think the importance of our choices imposed by mortality is disputable. For me, there's a special poignancy and urgency in those choices, imposed by a body that doesn't reflect my spirit and the hopelessness of attaining one that matches close enough to embrace the fullness of relationships without an operation that will cost nearly $20,000. My choices in the past have precluded the possibility of obtaining the funds necessary. Heading into the simultaneous transitions of adolescence and middle-age, the urgency of mortality imposes an impossible catch-22: how do I prepare for aging and death when I want so badly to live fully, and how do I live fully when I want so badly to die.

There is certainly a part of me that will welcome death, welcome death as a lover, embrace that oblivion and the release from this body that is a prison more cruel than concrete walls. That part is overwhelmed, however, by its twin, the love of life, the urgency – desperation! – to live each day fully, to embrace every moment of every possibility of every relationship I have as a woman. If I could change this body I would do so, I want release from it so badly. Yet I cling to it, precious as it allows me into the grace and beauty of this life in all its complexity, contradiction, and ambiguity. Yet the possibility of the lycanthropic transformation that will enable the greatest extent of my self's manifestation is precluded by a single line item exclusion in my employer's health plan – an exclusion specific to my diagnosis, specific to my personal demographic. Were I to suffer from a different ailment, this treatment would be available. This exclusion is reserved for transgendered people, because, obviously, our medical needs don't matter.

For most people, the urgency of adolescence is self-centered exploration of identity and sexuality and a passage into the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood. For me, the urgency is to delay the onset of old age long enough to explore any aspect of my sexuality at all, and to do it with the full burden of family and parenting. At the same time, that family, those children, are the center of the richness of my life.

And so I face the looming specter of old age and death with bitterness and gratitude, and a crowning conundrum: How do I enter gracefully into that good night?

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

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