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

Friday, April 24, 2009

Being Special

One of my girlfriends recently commented on how I tend to gush about how cool it is to be a woman. It seems like that's given her more appreciation for it, which his great, but her comment made me more aware of my attitude and led me to question it.

It's true that I'm thoroughly enjoying the freedom to explore my own femininity and sexuality. I do enjoy every aspect of womanhood I am able to participate in (except the tendency of some people to objectify, sexualize, or ignore me). But as I consider it, I think the real thing I'm finding joy in is being myself, in being connected with myself and others. It isn't femininity and womanhood per se, but the integrity, beauty, connection, autonomy, clarity, and sovereignty of my own life as a woman that are so rewarding. In my inner life, it's having hormones that correspond with my subconscious sex, so that my mind feels integrated instead of semi-schitzophrenic, and beginning to enjoy my body and my breasts and the way I look in the mirror.

All of these are miracles of wonder to me, but they are hardly unique, and they really don't indicate that being a woman is any more special than being a man. My trans men friends all report feeling the same way, just going in a different direction. For them, the joy is all in masculinity and manhood. (I know, I don't get it.)

The real meaning beneath the joy I find in my womanhood is found in the Bard's immortal statement: "To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." As Dr. Irene says (in a different context that makes this one no less true), "Allowing someone else to define who we are, we lose our ability to discover and grow inwardly. We no longer are able to discern a truth from a lie. For many of us, we have accepted lies for so long, that finding out what is true takes time. Having done this very thing, I know how difficult the journey to self-discovery can be."

It's as if Dr. Irene were talking about trans people, instead of survivors of abuse. I relate completely. For the first time in my life, I am being true to my own self. And that feels damn good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

“Opposite” Sexes?

There is an ancient myth in our culture that men and women belong to "opposite" sexes. Based on this myth, our culture assigns men and women – and masculinity and femininity – to opposite qualities and characteristics. Under this paradigm, because men and masculinity are strong, women and femininity are weak. Because men and masculinity are rational, women and femininity are irrational.

This model is not only flawed, it is completely wrong. If masculinity and femininity were opposites, why (and how) would they be expressed in differing degrees in each individual? Most men have some feminine traits to some extent, and most women have some masculine traits. The reason these traits are assigned a value according to sex is that they are expressed more often and to a more intense extent in one sex than the other. Many of these traits are influenced by hormones, and everyone has them. For example, men usually do have greater physical strength than women, thanks to the upper body muscle mass induced by greater amounts of testosterone. However, it takes great strength to give birth, not to mention the other aspects of strength women show – endurance, flexibility, courage, etc.

The "opposite sex" model is not biological, it is political. Notice that in every case, masculinity is assigned to a higher value. It is a means to support and perpetuate a patriarchy that disempowers women and enables a monopoly on power for men. It's time to subscribe to a new paradigm. Men and women, masculinity and femininity, are complementary and equally valuable aspects of our humanity. Both are necessary to be completely human. And femininity should be celebrated and enjoyed by feminism and feminists, just as masculinity is in our culture.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They are so much more eloquent than me...

... that I'm linking to Sara Whitman's and Field Negro's posts about Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

Please, follow the links, read the story, and then call your legislators and ask them to pass laws against bullying. Here in Oregon that law has passed the House - please, call you senator and ask them to pass it. I'm pretty sure Gov. Kulongoski will sign it.

It's past time to get past all this homophobia.

Hallelujah

Just found this sweet song by my friend AJ - definitely worth a listen!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mary Baker Eddy

Today I'd like to celebrate a great pioneer of feminism who, in my opinion, is given way too little respect by the feminist establishment.

I rarely (if ever) see Mary Baker Eddy mentioned in the same context as the leaders of the suffragette movement, such as Susan B. Anthony, or even among other great woman pioneers, such as Amelia Earhart or Elizabeth Blackwell, who became the first woman doctor in the United States in 1849. Yet Mary Baker Eddy's accomplishments stand as tall, if not taller, than any of these other women.

In a world where preachers, pastors, and priests were men, Mary Baker Eddy established her own, successful, religion. Christian Science is still a viable, mainstream religion, even though, like feminism in general, it is widely disparaged and misunderstood. In an outstanding example of subverting and destroying patriarchy, she established a church that is as close to being without hierarchy as I can imagine. The Christian Science church is decentralized and run democratically. The nominal leaders (First Reader and Second Reader, co-equal) are elected annually by the church membership. Whenever possible, one is a woman, one is a man – it doesn't matter which is which. In the Mother Church leadership, qualifications and ability trump sex or race, every time. And anyone who does the requisite study and practice is eligible to become a Christian Science Practitioner or Teacher, regardless of sex, gender, or race. In fact, I know of very few organizations that base their structure to a lesser extent on privilege and position, and more on ability. (The exception would be in the LGBT arena. It's interesting to speculate on what might be different if Mary were writing today, and was not a product of her Victorian era.)

But just establishing a religion where sexes were equal in a man's world was not enough for Mary Baker Eddy. She also established a newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, that is still one of the most respected news sources in the country. Unlike Faux News, whose mission is to further the agenda of multinational corporations, arms dealers, and the Republican Party, the Monitor's mission is "To injure no one, but to bless all mankind," and it is well known for unbiased, reliable reporting.

Not a bad accomplishment for a woman operating where women were not reporters and didn't even have the right to vote, but she didn't stop there. She made major inroads in the field of alternative medicine, as well. Her study of homeopathy led to her discovery of Christian Science treatment, which, contrary to mainstream opinion, is not "faith healing," or even, in any conventional sense, "healing through prayer." It is a scientific, proven system, practical and teachable, which is as effective (and sometimes more so) than acupuncture, homeopathy, or even allopathy, and it works on anybody, not just Christian Scientists. The record of Christian Science healing stands by itself. I know from experience. I have been healed, instantaneously, of a badly infected cut while I was out at sea on a fishing boat.

Christian Science healing has taken some serious hits from a few spectacular failures, especially among children, but that isn't Mary Baker Eddy's fault; rather, it is the fault of the culture within the religion that has developed in her absence, where if one doesn't heal with Christian Science treatment, one is often considered a failure. Mary Baker Eddy, in fact, stated that if someone is not able to effectively treat the disease or injury through Christian Science, they should seek medical treatment first. I have great respect (and gratitude) to my mom, who, when she developed cancer, did exactly that. She treated it with CS for awhile, and, when that wasn't effective, she sought medical treatment. She went through the chemo and so forth, and the speed and effectiveness of her recovery is, if anything, yet another testament to the effectiveness of Christian Science.

Mary Baker Eddy's philosophy and practice was not only non-hierarchical, it celebrated femininity. In her seminal book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she says, "Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness. The masculine mind reaches a higher tone through certain elements of the feminine, while the feminine mind gains courage and strength through masculine qualities. … Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong." (I might argue a bit with the specifics of this – I think femininity itself exhibits courage, and trans women prove it again and again.) She referred to God not as patriarchal, judgmental "Father," but as "Father-Mother." The overall meaning is clear: No patriarchy need apply. Masculinity and femininity are co-equal and are not opposites, but complementary aspects of our universal humanity.

It's true that her advocacy of women's suffrage was rather weak: "Civil law establishes very unfair differences between the rights of the two sexes. Christian Science furnishes no precedent for such injustice… Our laws are not impartial, to say the least, in their discrimination as to the person, property, and parental claims of the two sexes. If the elective franchise for women will remedy the evil without encouraging difficulties of greater magnitude, let us hope it will be granted." However, it's not in Mary Baker Eddy's advocacy of equal rights that she was a pioneer of feminism – it is in her example of overcoming systemic sexism and patriarchy to prove that women can be spiritual leaders, medical healers, and effective editors. She did so with outstanding courage and strength, and impeccable femininity, belying the myth that those qualities are masculine in nature and male in possession.

Mary Baker Eddy also had the courage of her convictions. When her first husband, a slaveholder, died, she impoverished herself by freeing all his slaves. Compare that to our great Founding Father, who penned those immortal words, "We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…" The only slaves he freed were his mistress and his children.

I am not a Christian Scientist for a number of reasons, including the fact that it did absolutely nothing to affect my gender dissonance, but I am grateful to have been raised on the teachings and writings of Mary Baker Eddy. In a community where blacks were often called "niggers" and Mexican-Americans were often referred to as "spics" and "greasers," my parents continually, by example, showed that all people, regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, economic privilege, or ability, are equally valued, equally beautiful children of God. For instance, one of my neighbors, "Benny the Jap," was welcomed into our house and always treated with respect, despite his race and poverty. In fact, not only was he treated with respect, my parents always referred to him with respect (and his name was always "Ben Shibata"), even when he wasn't anywhere around. And in a world where trans people are often disinherited and kicked out of home or family for being trans, when I came out as a woman to my mom, she didn't turn a hair. She looked across the table at me and spoke straight from her dedication to the religion that Mary Baker Eddy founded: "Your identity is intact, and it doesn't depend on gender."

Whenever I see a list of great women leaders in the feminist movement, I always look for Mary Baker Eddy's name. I rarely find it. She deserves better. Regardless of what one thinks of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy deserves a place of honor in the feminist canon. We feminists deserve to have her in that place of honor, too. We deserve better access to her example of courage, strength, grace, and yes, femininity, in overcoming legal and cultural barriers against women that were almost insurmountable. She played an important role in laying the groundwork that enabled the success of Susan Anthony and the other suffragettes, as well as the success of the feminist movement that began in the 1960's. We should recognize that, and celebrate it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Transconnection

A week or two ago, I rode my bike past a neighbor's house and saw a friend of mine, who happens to be a trans man. We got to talking, one thing led to another, and the next thing I know I'm shooting off an email to several other trans people friends of mine, saying we all ought to gather for a social event. NOT a support group. I'm talking fun, food, etc. A flurry of emails later, and fourteen or fifteen of us gather at the Q Center for pot luck.

(Here, I can't resist a dig at the DSM-IV: By their criteria, there should be 2.5 trans men in my area; in fact, at least eight of them were present today, and I know of several others; there should be 8.5 trans women in this area, and nearly all of them were present – despite the fact that I can think of at least seven who weren't there. Not only that, but the description the DSM has of us is almost unrecognizable in any meaningful way by anyone present, and it's downright rude and disrespectful the way they use the wrong pronouns throughout.)

To get an idea of the people gathered, one is a polyamorous sex worker (who has been nominated for best feminist porn film). Another is an ordained, celibate Buddhist monk. At least two live in two worlds, gendered female in one and male in the other, switching pronouns depending on company and situation. Several of us are parents. One is the son of a preacher. No one wore a skirt. And the food was pretty damn good.

For over four hours, the conversation never lagged. We caught up with old friends, made new ones, commiserated on the pains and foibles of transition, celebrated honesty and friendship, bashed hypocrites, and laughed – and laughed – and laughed. Genders mixed in a delightful medley as we all allowed our expression free rein.

There is something both validating and empowering in sharing with people who understand your issues, and something wonderfully refreshing in talking with people who (almost) always get your pronouns right. It is a comradeship, a shared experience, a common understanding. In our society, being where you can completely let down your guard, and be yourself in a crowd, for a while makes the world just right. I relaxed. I let myself be, without fear. And it was fun.

Thank you, all my trans friends. Thank you for gathering. And thank you for being you. You are real, and deeply valued.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Permaculture Video Worth Watching...

This video is long - about an hour - but definitely worth it. It is extremely well done, with beautiful cinematography, done by a professional wildlife photographer.

I was especially struck by the juxtaposition of images of plowing the same field for the first time in the 1980's with the way it looked 20 years later. In the first, thick rich black dirt, flocks of birds swarming around devouring the critters in the soil. Twenty years later, the soil is greyish-brown, dead, nothing living in it. You need chemical fertilizer, made from oil, to get it to grow.

Then, too, the permaculture garden, showing land that produces twice as much food as a conventionally-farmed farm - all for 10 days maintenance work per year, and one day a week to work it (primarily for harvest) - made an impression.

It leaves you with the sense that we kicked ourselves out of the Garden of Eden. It wasn't God doing it, it was agriculture. So then the power in agriculture is not in producing more food, so that we can have a higher population and greater separation of labor (specialization) as we were always taught. The real point of it was to reduce the amount of food to the degree that it could be locked up; and then people could be coerced into working for food, enabling the consolidation of wealth and power into a power elite - the pharoahs, kings, Bushes, etc.

Of course, making the case for that would take a book, and I don't have time for it. So I'll just leave it at that. Watch the video. It's worth it, and it talks about issues of today, not the historical theory I'm pulling out of my hat.
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