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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Different Conversations

I have to confess to an enjoyment of discussing religion and politics, and to the fact that I actually enjoy doing this with people I disagree with more than those I agree with. I find the challenges stimulating – that of matching my wits against a worthy opponent, that of creating peace and connection where there was none, that of understanding and being understood, that of testing my own beliefs to see if they are worthy to be held. The blogosphere holds endless possibilities to do this, and this is much of my enjoyment and engagement in this blog.

Hence, perhaps it is no surprise that I am now engaging in several conversations with different Christians. I initially connected with Pearl on homeschooling, and hence got into this conversation (13th comment on the thread) with someone who calls himself "Eutychus," after the boy Paul brought back to life after he fell from a window (Acts 20:9-12). At the same time (more or less), I've been holding a very different conversation on Deacon Blue's blog.

What intrigues me about these is the very different ways I speak of the Bible in each.

In speaking with Eutychus, I said, "I will pray that, someday, every Christian will look through the hollow words of his Bible, and see…" And I repeated the statement calling the Bible's words "hollow" in a later comment.

In speaking with Deke, I quoted rather extensively from Matthew and Ecclesiastes, and, in response to a post reflecting that he needed to "hit the books. More specifically, the Good Book," I replied, "I think you're onto something. Something good." And followed it with, "…if you don't mind a suggestion from a heathen: Ecclesiates Ch. 3, Psalms Ch. 23, Psalms Ch. 91, Matthew Ch. 6, 1 Cor. 2:10-16."

Now, I'm aware that these different responses indicated inconsistency, perhaps, to some, even hypocrisy. But they are different conversations, and the policies I advocate are the same in both cases. I stand by both of them. And I also remember that Gandhi said, "I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search for truth I have tried many things and discarded many ideas." (I forget exactly how it went…)

The truth is, I am meeting different needs, and making different points.

Perhaps, also, this is what politicians are doing when they say one thing to one group of people, and something that appears to be consistent with the first thing to another.

The question then is, do they advocate a consistent policy? And, if they change it, do they explain why, and then stand consistently on that one?

And the test is, do I?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Very Special Relationship

It's a joy working with Kristin on our new house addition.

Last Saturday the boys went off with friends and Ken left for a wedding gig and to do his schoolwork (he's earning a math certificate to add to his music teaching certs), and we spent the whole day working together. I don't think our jaws stopped yapping for more than a minute! We talked about everything from Roman and Viking history to relationships to kids to how we can best contribute to the world and society to how to take care of our bodies, etc., etc.

Our relationship has developed into something unique and incredible. We know each other like the paths of our own mind, and work together like music. There is a depth of spiritual intimacy and honesty that was not there (especially for me) when I was faking life. Now we are like sisters, but closer than sisters. We are partners and teammates. We are coparents who share in the nurture, guidance, and education of our children. It is this holistic female partnership that feels complete, even without the sexual relationship of spouses; and complete in a way that is hard to image a spousal relationship. Even now, two years past our spiritual divorce, there is a strong possibility that we'll stay together for the rest of our lives. Our love is that strong. Our respect and admiration for each other's strengths is that sincere.

I love her.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Abraham Lincoln & Proposition 8

So the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

Somehow, I can't seem to get too excited about it. Sure, it's a setback for marriage equality, but so what? Those two words roll off my tongue with the flavor of inevitability; not quite there, but close. Almost all of New England has adopted it. Iowa, for God's sake, has adopted it. Every time a new state gets it, it's harder to take it away. And 18,000 same-sex couples in California are still married.

How absurd is that?

Not only that, but the demographics of this country are changing. I participate in occasional LGBT panels at the university, and at a recent panel on media for a journalism class, the students were asked how many of them had a gay friend or family member. Every single one of them raised their hand. Granted, the University of Oregon is no bastion of conservatism, but still – the Young Republicans is still a viable organization on campus.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Am I not destroying my enemies, when I make friends of them?"

I love that quote. When I destroy my enemy by making him my friend, I also destroy my enemy's enemy. We both win.

Obtaining marriage equality for the nation is a matter of time. It's a matter of being out and proud. And it's a matter of civil discourse. I signed onto BRO's campaign to repeal Measure 36 here in Oregon, and fully intend to do all I can to move marriage equality forward.

I intend to be mindful about how I do it, though. The folks who voted for Prop. 8 and Measure 36 are our neighbors. The votes they cast were acts of conscience, fear, and/or ignorance; they were not, for the most part, acts of bigotry. Many of these votes were cast because the people who did it honestly believe that they are protecting their own family; that gay marriage really would somehow – spiritually, I guess – damage or destroy society. These are the acts of people motivated by love – and, I believe, in most cases, perhaps all, fear.

So I would ask that we speak to the opponents of marriage equality with respect. That we honor their dedication to their children, and to the code that they hold dear. That we honor their conscience, and their right to vote according to it. I would also ask that we do not motivate our actions out of fear, or anger, but love. I would ask that we do not take their words out of context, or lie. We do not need to lie; ours is an ethical and honest position. Leave the lies to them. And make no expectation that befriending them will change their minds. We have no hope of changing votes of conscience; and votes of fear or ignorance will fall by the wayside as we demonstrate to those who are ignorant of us our love, our respect, our compassion, and our integrity – as we ensure that our neighbors and family members know us, and know our lives.

I would like for us to stop throwing words like "bigotry" around. Let's recognize the integrity of those who are compassionate yet opposed to us because they rely on a certain reading of ancient wisdom texts to direct their moral consciences, and reserve "bigot" for genuine acts of violence that are directed at our persons, or intended to intimidate: rhetoric such as that thrown around by Fred Phelps, and the acts of violence that all too often harm us and our children.

To that end, I have entered conversations via this blog that have led to befriending an evangelical Christian, and may perhaps do the same with a Mormon mom, who shares with me a passion for homeschooling. They will continue to vote their conscience, and to pray for me, for they truly believe that that is their best gift. It probably is, and I appreciate it. If nothing else, when their children see them praying for a queer friend by name, the kids may think twice about bullying the queer kid on the schoolyard. And I have gifts to give to them, which I hope they are open to receive.

Their minds will not change. But that's not the point.

The point is to destroy our enemies – and theirs.

I believe we can do it.

If we all do it together, perhaps we can end the intolerance that leads to violence, and live side-by-side in peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Food for Thought #1

One of the chief objections that conservative Christians hold against gay marriage (and all things gay, including hate crime legislation) is found in Romans 1:21-30. Paul starts out talking about people who knew God, but "…neither were thankful: … and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: … God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another: … Being filled with … fornication, wickedness, covetousness, … full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, … backbiters, … despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents … covenantbreakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: Who knowing … that they which commit such things are worthy of death…"

Whew!

Let's see – who was Paul talking to? Oh, yeah, it says in v. 6-7: "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be his saints."

Remember your high school history lessons? What was the culture like in Rome in A.D. 60, around the time Paul wrote this? Tacitus, who wrote a bit later and was not Christian, pretty much parroted this theme. It was a time of drunken orgies and slavery (which Paul thought was cool), steeped in the Greek culture where mentors were men who regularly had sex with the boys they were mentoring.

Meanwhile, the gay couples I know have been together for 5, 17, >4, 5, and ~28 years. The lesbian couples I know have been together 1, 12*, 13*, 28, 7, ~18, ~12*, ~22, and >13* years. (Strikethrough indicates divorce; asterix indicates children.) Doesn't sound much like "[burning] in their lust" to me. I remember the intense grief my coworker going through divorce suffered – it was a dark time, and for weeks her eyes were often red from crying.

The heterosexual couples I know who have been monogamous for that long have been so because they love each other. And it seems to me also that that kind of love wouldn't occur if one were "leaving the natural use" of their bodies.

Maybe there's more than one way to be natural?

It also seems to me that Paul is talking specifically to "the called of Jesus Christ" – and not to the general population. Is he saying that the standard to which he is calling his followers should be held to the general population?

I wonder what even Paul would advocate as a legal framework for treating LGBT people? He did, after all, appear to follow pretty closely Jesus' advice to "render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Unfair Is This?

Kristin and I were talking about divorce and Social Security the other day, and I realized that if we were to separate completely and get a divorce, she would not share in my Social Security benefits.

Okay, here's some background. Nine years ago, we decided to have children. We chose Kristin, as the genetic female, to be the birth parent and do the baby-nursing and primary childcare. (Actually, for the first two years of Trin's life, she was the primary wage-earner, and I was the stay-at-home parent – but the last six years she's been the home-worker while I've been the wage-earner.) As we place a high priority on family and children, and wanted to parent our children fully, we chose to make the sacrifices that would allow us to get by on one wage, perhaps with part-time help from the other parent on an evening/weekend schedule. This means we've done things like live with all four of us in a one-bedroom duplex, and getting by with one 20+-year-old Volvo with well over 300,000 miles for the past eight years, and sleeping on garage-sale mattresses on the floor. But as time passed, I slowly advanced my position until now I've got a really good job that pays pretty damn well. We liken it to a football team. I play the offense; I make the points (money).

Kristin, meanwhile, plays defense. She saves money. While caring for the kids, she takes care of the house, manages the finances (which are all completely shared), plans meals and shops accordingly, cooks cheap, healthy meals for us all, and plants, weeds, and harvests gardens in four different yards, saving hundreds and hundreds of dollars on groceries and giving us the best food available. In doing all this, she saves a hell of a lot of money, gives our children the best education possible, and makes homeschooling on one wage possible.

Who do you suppose has the most challenging and difficult job, and works the hardest?

If you guessed Kristin, move to the head of the class.

However, even though Kristin contributes as much if not more to the economic well-being of this family, when we fill out our income tax forms, nearly all of the economic benefits are assigned to me.

Assuming we stay together, that's no big issue. She'll share in my benefits when I die.

But if (like 50% or so of the couples in this great nation) we divorce – she gets nothing from mine. She gets to try to make it on the benefits from her tiny-to-non-existent income, and I get all the benefits from my considerable income – even though we are equal members of a team, and she sacrificed her income to benefit me, our children, and, by extension, our community and society.

You know? It pisses me off. The income I make is not my income, it's our income. There ought to be some legal framework that ensures that the combination of our efforts will yield equal benefits to our old age, regardless of whether our team stays together or not.

While our situation is same-sex, most equivalent situations are not; and as usual, the woman ends up with the short end of the stick. Another reason to tear down the patriarchy, and embrace the philosophy of feminism.

Why Do We Homeschool?**

This video interview of John Taylor Gatto gets at the reasons our kids don't go to compulsory schooling. It's about ½ hour long, and the link is through a site that appears to be Libertarian in nature. I don't endorse Libertarianism, which tends to empower corporations over people. I wish I could have figured out how to embed this vid in my blog, but it's not YouTube, and so it goes.

I've blogged on Gatto a bit before. He's a former teacher of the year who wrote some books like "The Underground History of American Education," which made sense of the misery of my own experience with compulsory schooling (beyond the confusion and subsequent peer harassment of gender dissonance).

To sum up, the reason school reform never works for long is because school does what it's really meant to do very well. Compulsory school (public and private) is very successful at the job to which it is set by our cultural elite – the corporate puppetmasters who create the consumerist economy. That job is to produce a compliant, predictable workforce that lacks meaning, purpose, and initiative, and is blindly subservient to authority.

Reforming education within the current system is a hopeless task. Bad as Bush's bipartisan "No Child Left Behind" policy is, tweaking it to mitigate some of the worst aspects won't do much. The problem is the system of compulsory schooling this country has adopted, and the solution cannot be found within that system at all. It can only be found in dismantling the system – in giving children options, in making school a choice, in trusting our children to learn what they need to learn in order to navigate in our high tech society and natural world.

Imagine if we unleashed the creative force of our children and adolescents, allowing them to explore the world with wide open eyes, to channel their energy into their passions, instead of squelching that energy in the barren institutions of our schools and channeling it into despair, rebellion, and subservience to authority.

Of course, you can't imagine – because the results would be completely unpredictable. That's what happened in America back in 1776. That's the whole point of compulsory schooling. Our corporate puppetmasters* don't want a repeat.


 

*Worth noting that the descent of our nation out of democracy and freedom, and into fascism, was really enabled and made inevitable by both compulsory schooling and the 1886 Supreme Court decision of Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, which was used to establish the legal idiocy that corporations are persons protected by the 14th Amendment, even though the ruling did not say that. The abuse of that ruling enabled the rise of a corporate elite – further empowered by the methods Edward Bernays advocated in his book, "Propaganda" – which gradually insinuated itself into government, and ended up basically taking full control of government under Ronald Reagan. We've been a fully functional fascist society since 1981, if not earlier, and it doesn't matter whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, that's the way it's been since.


 

**This post was inspired by my recent conversation with Pearl, a conservative "marriage defender" who's probably further on the right side of the aisle than I am on the left. I'm a queer liberal Democrat anti-religious pro-marriage-equality trans woman, she's a conservative Republican (I assume) LDS anti-gay-marriage cis woman, yet on this we can agree.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Seda’s Theory of Gender

A couple of events recently got me to thinking about gender, and inspired me to come up with a revision of the concept of gender. First, reading Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano, introduced me to the concept of "subconscious sex," which makes so much more sense to me than "gender identity." And then at an LGBTQQIA panel (how's that for alphabet soup? More letters than people on the panel) recently, a feminist lesbian with a rather masculine gender presentation commented that gender is a "social construct," not inherent in individuals but created by culture. As a trans woman who has experienced both male and female hormone balances, I do not believe that is true. So, here is my personal understanding and belief of gender and the relationship between sex and gender.

To begin with, different aspects of sex and gender exist on a number of different continua. Nothing original here.

First there is biological sex, which includes several different aspects. Everyone has a genetic sex – most people have one of the two most common chromosomal combinations, XX or XY. A few fall in between, with XXY, XYY, or other combinations. Then there is body morphology – most people clearly exhibit primary and secondary sex characteristics, such as penis, testicles, broad shoulders, big feet, and hairy faces and torsos in males and vagina, ovaries, uterus, wide hips and breasts in females. Again, some fall in between, as intersexed people with ambiguous genitalia and people with AIS.

Then there is subconscious or instinctive sex, often (erroneously, in my opinion) termed "gender identity" – again on a continuum from hyper-male to hyper-female, with two-spirit or genderqueer in the middle. Subconscious sex is how the instinctive, primitive brain understands your body to be. In my case, my subconscious brain, or self, or whatever, has always thought I have a female body. When I first learned to throw, I threw "like a girl." The relationships I seek and treasure are female in nature. My sexual instincts are female, and in sexual situations the contrast between my instincts and desires and the nature of my body is sharp, intense, and painful. Everyone has a subconscious sex, though most people go through life unaware of it, as there is no conflict and no reason to access it consciously if your subconscious sex aligns with your biological sex.

The next continuum is gender expression. This is the natural inclination one has in expressing one's masculinity, femininity, or androgyny, and again, the continuum is related to the first two but independent of it. Someone might be male-bodied and male-gendered (in the subconscious sex sense of gender), and yet adopt feminine dress and mannerisms. Frequently folks refer to people who express gender strongly as "butch" or "femme," depending on which direction they are expressing. This is what people talk about when they speak of gender roles; it's what I believe feminists refer to when they say that gender is socially constructed. However, everyone has innate gender. I firmly believe, based on my study of philosophy, science, gender, and my own experience of both male and female sex hormones, that gender is innate – and that it is also influenced by society and social constructs.

The last one in my list is sexual orientation, reflecting one's innate attraction to one of the two primary sexes, both, all, or whatever.

So for each individual, there are four aspects of gender or sexuality, and each of these aspects is expressed somewhere on one of four corresponding continua. Each of these continua can be described as a double bell distribution curve, with the typical binary genders (male and female) each representing roughly equal "humps" and the rest spread out in between or way out on the fringes.

Female ------------------------ Male

(Imagine four of these, each separate and unique)

A typical man, for instance, would land in the center of the male hump (no pun intended) in all three internally-focused continua (genetic/body morphology, subconscious sex, and gender expression), and in the center of the female hump on the sexual orientation continuum, while a typical woman would land in the corresponding and opposite humps. My personal distribution used to be: a. center of the male genetic/biology hump; b. center of the female subconscious sex hump; c. extreme side of the male gender expression hump; and (on a conscious level – there was definitely serious subconscious conflict going on!) d. somewhere on the female side of the trough between the sexual orientation humps. Now, I've moved into the trough on the body morphology continuum (genetics are the same, but I've grown breasts and lost body hair, which puts me in that androgynous place in the middle), and my growing awareness of my real heterosexual orientation has moved me to the male side of the trough on the sexual orientation continuum.

Now, add the influence of our patriarchal culture and social constructs, including and especially the gender binary that says there is only one scale – the heterosexual male/female, opposite-sex dichotomy – and here's what you get:

Female--------------------------------Male

(Only one of these – where on the line do you fall? Chances are you don't)

Is it any wonder that feminists think of gender as socially constructed, and not innate? Especially since women have traditionally been given the short end of every opposite/binary stick (weak, irrational, emotional, etc.), they intensely feel the restrictions and limitations of cramming everyone onto one curve and making the curve a straight line. But it also hurts men. It hurts everyone. Gender is innate and natural, but society warps it into a cruel travesty.

The opposite-sex gender binary that supports patriarchy is wrong. It is limiting, harmful, inaccurate and untrue, and it's past time to bury it in an unmourned, unmarked grave. Everyone deserves the birthright to find their own places on the multiple levels of their own respective gender continua, and the respect of society to be recognized and honored there.

(Okay, I got off the theory and into my personal rant. Sorry, but it seems important.)

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