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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beauty

One of the things I appreciate about being raised by a Christian Scientist is learning their definition of God. In the CS worldview, there are seven synonyms for a universal, single deity: Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle. It offers a different, meaningful, and far more accurate understanding of God than the traditional Christian trinity of Father, Jesus, and the Spook (the three of which, somehow, are just one god. Wrap your head around that one!) Some of the things I love about it include the following:

It removes gender from the concept of the godhead completely. What gender is Life? Could be any – and, in fact, includes every. If mankind really is made in the image of God, then, truly, either man is genderless, or God includes all genders. This concept of God really does equalize the sexes, and by changing it from an anthropomorphic entity, makes the genders equal – all of them.

It removes the patriarchy from any sense of sacredness or higher meaning, and renders it what it is: politics.

It makes God accessible not as a distant, judgmental entity, but as ever-present – here, now, universal, and complete.

However, if it were me, I'd add one more to the list: Beauty. Everywhere, everything that is created in nature is beautiful in its own way. I am surrounded by beauty; I have been, everywhere I've gone, from the deserts of Arizona to the forests of Europe to the lush jungles of Hawaii to the stark Aleutians, and even far out in the middle of the Bering Sea. I was born in the beauty of sugar maples in their fall plumage, raised in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere I look I see beauty: the face of a child, the expression on a mother's face as she nurses her baby, puppies and kittens, even a vulture soaring on the wind. I hear it in a meadowlark's clear notes, the chuckle of water over rocks, Jerry Garcia's fantastical guitar solos blending in harmony with the band. I feel it in the warm sun on a cool fall morning, and the fall of cool water on a hot day. I smell it. I taste it. It fills me with joy, and brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.

God is Beauty. How could She not be?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Self-Preservation: Why I’m a Liberal #2

I'm a trans woman, a full-blown member of the LGBT community. By default, my choice of primary political party affiliation must be Democrat. The GOP has established itself in opposition – even violent animosity – against me and every other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans person in the country. I can't understand the Log Cabin Republicans, gay members of the party that desires to oppress them. They're like the gay versions of House Negroes.

Regardless of what conservatism may have meant in the past, it currently stands against equal rights and justice, firmly on the side of oppression and judgment. Conservatives have placed themselves in opposition to Thomas Jefferson's defining statement of American values: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Every effort of LGBT people to indulge in these rights, which conservatives take for granted in regards to themselves, is met with determined resistance by them. The oppression – frequently but not always unintended – is often invisible for these conservatives. In the same way, many white people have no understanding of how our culture oppresses black people, and many men are clueless about how it oppresses women. Those individuals who do not take this stand are drowned out and neutralized by those that do. Votes count for something, and actions speak louder than words.

This is not to say that conservatives have bad intentions. Often, their intent is only to support the institutions that have supported them, in our culture, for decades or centuries – religion, law, tradition, marriage, family, and so on. I have no trouble with that; in fact, I support them, too. The difference lies in that I believe there is room for all of us. I support those institutions not just for the majority, but for all of us.

When it comes to LGBT issues – to allowing gays to marry, to antidiscrimination laws, to universal health care, to fair taxation, etc. – I believe that we create a better society when all are welcome within it. I have experienced the social pressure to conform to a norm that is unnatural to me. I know the isolation and desolation of the closet. As a compassionate human being, I want to do all I can to relieve that pain for all. I also believe that the society we will create from granting gays, lesbians, and trans people an equal place at the table, will not be an immoral hell, but a healthier, happier, and more peaceful society. I believe that everyone should have the right to express themselves, not only within the parameters of this nation's First Amendment, but also in respect to the way they present their own gender. I believe that everyone has a right to safety within their own community, and given the bullying and abuse of gender variant children on schoolyards, and the frequency of gay- and trans-bashing incidents, we must counter the demonization of LGBT people wherever we find it. In fact, as a trans woman, I'm an activist just by showing up.

These beliefs are born in the conviction that people do not choose to be gay, or trans. I know I didn't choose to be trans; it was something I fought hard against for 40 years. It's born in an intimate knowledge of my own morality and genuine family values, and in the proximate knowledge I have of the values and morality of the gays, lesbians, and trans people of my acquaintance. It's also born in my own religious conviction, in the words of Jesus: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." "Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you." "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" "God is love."

Ultimately, it comes down to two worldviews. One values unity of culture, the comfort and ease of living in a world where every interaction with another human is predictable – it orients around a status quo; the other values the variety of diversity, enjoys engaging with and is curious about people one doesn't understand, and orients around openness, love, and acceptance. I embrace the second. I also recognize the need for balance. Without some unity of culture, it's hard to find our place in the world, but without diversity, culture is boring and oppressive.

In sum, my liberal views on LGBT issues come from both prior conviction and resistance to discrimination. They come from native belief and self-preservation. But even if native belief weren't there, the needs for safety and self-determination trumps all; even if my beliefs were conservative, I would still ally with liberals in my own defense, and in the defense of those who share my condition.

* Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NARTH and BS

A conservative blogger recently posted information that a "scientific" study had found that gays and lesbians don't suffer harm from reparative therapy. (Worth noting here this the article regarding the ICD-10: "It lists ego-dystonic sexual orientation as a disorder instead, which it defines as occurring where "the gender identity or sexual preference (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or prepubertal) is not in doubt, but the individual wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders, and may seek treatment in order to change it.") Having never heard of NARTH, I followed the link. Being a straight trans woman, I didn't look into the writings on homosexuality much, but instead focused on their entries on GID - and found a web(page) of misinformation. I hate to give a group like this even this much of attention, but some of the stuff written there really needs to be refuted. (For more on reparative therapty, try this, or this, or this.)

From "Transsexuality Explained," by Sander Breiner, M.D. (Note – in this article, the writer hardly mentions trans men, who compose about half the population of trans people – no doubt because "they're women" and so have no importance nor reflection on the human experience, which is white and male):

  • "There are a significant number of male homosexuals who would like to be a female with a penis. There are others who would like to be completely transformed into a female, but can't arrange to have such a complex surgical procedure. Both groups will obtain hormones from various sources; often it will be illegally from a pharmacy."

The assumption here, of course, is that trans women are gay men. But what about all those trans women who are attracted to women? And trans people who can't afford or obtain prescriptions for hormones (typically due to a lack of adequate health care) obtain illegal hormones online or on the black market – not from pharmacies, which actually have pretty stringent control mechanisms for disseminating controlled drugs. I'm rather surprised this "M.D." doesn't realize this.

  • "The transsexual male who was not part of a university/medical school treatment program, will often take hormone treatment (self-prescribed and administered), and play a feminine role with unsuspecting heterosexual males (often as a prostitute). … Their thinking about how they are tricking, fooling and using others has a clearly sadistic dynamic as well."

There are few if any current (2008, when this article was updated/published) university/medical school programs, and people who did go through these regularly told the gatekeepers, such as McHugh, what they thought the gatekeeper would want to hear to help them transition. Hormones are commonly and typically prescribed by doctors, and it would be silly to go to the doctor every day to take a little green pill. And many trans women are kicked out of their homes or fired because of discrimination, and end up on the street. They are forced into sex work to survive. They are not using, so much as being used; and they are not partnering with "unsuspecting" men so much as men who seek them out (tranny chasers). Most trans women, however, are employed, and reveal their status to prospective sexual partners if they are not asexual. In other words, this statement is patently false.

  • "Their histories almost invariably demonstrate a mother figure who is at least domineering, manipulative and controlling."

That sounds almost exactly the opposite of my mom, who left us free to make our own choices about most things, who never tried to manipulate us that I can remember, and who was definitely not domineering. Nor do I recognize this as a pattern in my trans women friends, whose families run the gamut.

  • "Such men have little to no relationship with their family. Unfortunately, their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

First, a trans woman is not a man. Second, as mentioned, many trans women, especially youth, have been kicked out of their families for being trans. Most, however, have some relationship. In my case, I'm quite close to my former wife (I share a household with her) and kids; I'm close to the surviving members of my immediate family; I have good relations with my cousins, nephews, and nieces. And most of my transwomen friends also have supportive families.

  • "Their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

Yeah. Like mine. Lots of healthy, nutritious, natural food in the diet, close connections with family and friends, spirituality, purpose and meaning, a good, middle class job. Actually, just like (surprise!) "normal" people, we run the gamut, from health nut to addict.

  • "These individuals usually do not stay in any adequate psychotherapy program (i.e., once per week for at least three months). They also have significant problems in certain areas of reality perception; therefore, long-term intensive therapy is the best choice, and long-term supportive therapy with medication is the bare minimum required to prevent them from destroying themselves."

If we don't stay long enough in a therapy program, it's most likely because the therapist doesn't know jack about gender dissonance. Paying $80/hour to educate someone who is supposed to be educated is not cost effective; the trans person involved will most likely stop sending good money after bad when she's got her letter authorizing hormones – and who could blame her? The "reality perception" is conveniently left vague. What areas? What medication is prescribed? The implication is some kind of anti-depressant; the reality is hormones and androgen blockers, which are not psycho-active. And the self-destruction comes almost completely prior to transition, when virtually all trans people have suicidal ideation, and many attempt it. Post-transition, such becomes much less common.

  • "There is a smaller group of transsexuals that includes those individuals who have been involved with a university-sponsored, medical-school treatment program."

He goes on to mention Wayne State University and Johns Hopkins University programs, both of which, I believe, are now defunct. The problems with these programs were legion. The gatekeepers turned away multitudes because they didn't fit the profile they were looking for (described by the author in the next section of his article). Trans people with same-sex attraction (trans women attracted to women, for instance) were turned away. Etc., etc. Those that did get in typically learned to deceive skillfully, giving the stereotypical answers the gatekeepers were looking for in their efforts to get hormone therapy and surgery.

Breiner goes on to describe a caricature of transsexualism who is completely unrecognizable when compared to real trans women, like Lynn Conway, Jennifer Boylan, Kate Bornstein, Calpernia Addams, Dr. Sara Becker, Anna Moore, Tobi, Julia Serrano, Hangar Queen, Andrea James, Dr. Becky Allison, etc., those represented here on Lynn Conway's website, and me. He then sums up thus:

  • "At this point in the process, I … must tell the surgeons that the disturbed body image was not an organic at all, but was strictly a psychological problem. … The more pervasive and extensive is this misperception of oneself [as defined by Mr. Breiner et al], the more significant is the psychological problem. The more the patient is willing to do extensive surgical intervention (especially when it is destructive), the more serious is the psychological problem. … This principle of isolated significant psychopathology indicating serious psychological problems (despite their ability to function in all other areas of life) is well known psychiatrically, historically, and by the judiciary."

So well known, in fact, that almost no one knows about the many people who have violated gender boundaries throughout history and in almost all cultures. So well known that psychologists who specialize in GID regularly authorize hormone therapy and surgery, and the AMA has determined that surgery is "medically necessary" and is often necessary for positive outcomes, and that it limits health risks from other sources. So well known that the judiciary regularly allows name changes and sex marker changes on documents.

I've written on this issue before. By the American Psychiatric Association's definition of a mental disorder, trans people are mentally disordered when they try to live as the sex they were assigned at birth – not when they transition. It's notable that the ISD-10 lists the denial of being homosexual as a mental disorder; the same should apply to denial of gender dissonance. Indeed, it almost killed me, and it did make me almost completely dysfunctional in my social and practical life. NARTH does a grave disservice to the people who go to them for help, supporting the mental disorders that affect them, rather than the patients themselves.

I wanted to correct a second article, too, but have run out of space and time. This is too long anyway. And still, I wonder: where are the trans men? Breiner and others go to some length to describe and define transsexuality, and yet never even mention, or at best only in passing, half the transsexual population. Perhaps, in their phallo-centric world, the desire for a penis is perfectly sane.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Trans Woman Abroad #2 – The Funeral

Earlier I wrote about the trip back to Wyoming, but that story did not include the climax of the matter – the memorial service.

My mom and I arrived early. We brought a couple of picture boards from Jenny's life, and wanted them to be displayed by the time everyone else arrived. I'm glad we did.

The chapel setup was beautiful. Two of Jenny's best horse paintings flanked several bouquets of flowers – enough, but not too much. The photo of Jenny that my brother Frank took, which was displayed in a national show, took center stage, along with the portrait my great-grandfather did of her.* As I got close enough to see everything, it hit me – the reality and finality of loss. I collapsed in tears. My mom hugged me close, and for the first time in probably 40 years, I cried on her breast while she comforted me.

When the flood abated, we went out to the lobby. Our old friends, Linda and Doug Nelson, joined us, and my cousins. My nieces, nephews, and brother and sister-in-law arrived, along with 2-year-old Tyler, my great-niece. I got to play with her while guests started to arrive. She had a great time exploring the fountain and getting everything wet while healing my heart, and soon the lobby swarmed with mourners.

Now, things have changed a bit for me since the last time I was home. These are the folks who knew me when I was a teenager and in the years since, when I desperately tried to compensate for the deeply ingrained sense of Not-a-Man by trying to be as macho as possible – which wasn't all that much, because macho just doesn't come natural to me. At all. Only this time, my hair was French-braided, and I wore a long black skirt and dark tunic. I did not look at all like the FN (Former Name) they used to know. Most people didn't recognize me, which was fine. I didn't go out of my way to introduce myself.

I did not, however, go unnoticed. Many people gave me curious looks. And when a large crowd had gathered in the lobby, I finally did approach someone, a close friend of my mom and my brother's former best friend – who greeted me with a loud "[FN]." A gentle correction led to, "You're still [FN] to me!"

Oh. Well, so it goes.

Without getting into too much detail, yes, that little exchange sucked.

I didn't cry during the service, which surprised me, given the way I collapsed before it. However, I was sitting up in the front, and felt the weight of eyes on my back too intensely to relax. It wasn't until after, during the reception in the lobby, that I once again collapsed, and cried on my cousin's shoulder for awhile. Jon has a pretty awesome shoulder for crying on. He's about 6'3", over 200#, former football player. Oh, yeah. His siblings nicknamed him "Herc," short for Hercules.

And then interesting things started happening. An old friend, a former rancher, realized who I was and rushed across the lobby and gave me a big hug. He was all smiles, and happy to see me. The fundamentalist Christian who adopted my youngest nephew following Jenny's car accident initiated a conversation with me, and we spoke pleasantly for several minutes. Raised eyebrows became smiles. The mom of the man who gave me that awkward moment before the service introduced her sister, hugged me warmly, and chatted for some time.**

* Art runs in the family. Jenny was a talented artist. My niece just graduated from grad school at the Chicago Art Institute. And I trace back professional artists on both sides of the family.

** There is immense power in being out. When people see you, the stereotypes they've accepted crumble before the reality of our common humanity.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Aside: Why I'm Liberal #1a

The difference between liberals and conservatives, inherent in the words themselves, is that conservatives stand to preserve the good that exists; liberals stand to make things better. Conservatism is by nature reactive; liberalism is proactive. Both have a place in the political order, and both are important in reaching a positive political outcome in most cases. Liberals have a tendency to overreach, to toss the good with the bad in their zeal for improvement, while conservatives tend to cling to social conditions that cause great damage in their zeal to preserve the positive conditions.

The interplay between these forces can, at its best, synthesize unforeseen solutions through respectful, compassionate communication. Such discourse generates new ideas as each side listens to the other. The liberal points out the need for improvement, or the damage the current conditions cause; the conservative then resists this presentation, pointing out how damage will result from the proposed change, or how positive conditions will be lost. In the continuing dialogue, the social needs that are or are not being met become clear, and, from that clarity, new solutions that can meet the needs of society present themselves – often with amazing ease.

It’s rather like a football team, with conservatives playing defense and liberals offense. With the shared goal of creating and maintaining the best society we can be, conservatives and liberals would play different roles on the same team, with respectful dialogue chasing positive solutions down the field.

Unfortunately, I rarely see this in our political discourse. Mostly I see people pushing their particular strategy for social preservation or reform, and when resistance comes from the other side, rather than listening and clarifying those needs that are/aren’t met, and the damage/good because of it, each side starts digging trenches and lobbing missiles. We play on opposite teams, and the goal becomes defeating the opposing team and winning the game. The chosen strategy becomes the need, rather than the means to meet the need. As the attacks escalate, each side grows more determined in promoting their chosen strategy, and the possibility of finding solutions that meet everyone’s needs go unexplored.

A case in point is marriage equality/defense of marriage. The presentation of allowing gays to marry as a solution to the problems of social inequity is resisted by people who value the concept of marriage as it has traditionally been applied through the Protestant establishment of our nation’s laws. I believe that a solution that both reduces or eliminates that social inequity, and strengthens families and communities (including “traditional” marriage), can be found. However, I have almost given up on finding it. The discourse has become so violent, and each side has become so defensive of their own position, that alienation becomes inevitable, and force becomes the means to end to the debate. When I hear conservatives suggest that we address the inequities through other means than changing marriage, it rings hollow; I have not heard them actually listen to us, and I have not seen any sign from any one of them that they would actually support any social action that may improve the lives of LGBT people. Every aspect, even our own natures, is opposed. How then do I find common ground?

To communicate, both sides must be willing to listen, and to respect, believe, and recognize the sincerity of the other side. Both sides must recognize that the other is not trying to destroy society, but to make it better – whether we realize it or not, our ultimate goals are the same. Only then will the possibility of conservatives and liberals working together to create the best society that we can be, be realized.

*Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Time Capsule

Back when I was a kid, my dad owned an old 1947 two-ton truck with a beet body. In 1977, when we moved from the ranch at Laramie to the ranch at Sundance, he loaded up the ’47 with stuff, covered it with a tarp, and drove it north. He parked it in the ranch driveway, and there it sat for 32 years, while trees grew up through the bumpers and running boards, and the tarpaulin slowly rotted. For 30 years, until the day he died, he refused to allow any effort to open it up and see if anything was worth saving.

When my family gathered to celebrate Jenny’s life and mourn her passing, my nephew Ray (Jenny’s son, now a fine, strapping 6’3”, 200# man – how time flies!) looked out the window and said, “We should unpack that old truck.”

“What,” my brother Sam replied, “the Time Capsule?”

That’s what it was – a time capsule from 1977. Without Pa to restrain us, we trooped out, pulled off the old bungy cords, and folded back the tarp.

No surprise, much of the stuff was ruined. Boxes of clothes that had rotted, books with pages that had molded together into a solid mass of moldy paper, an old mandolin so rotted that it fell to dust at a touch. We found that my dad had thrown stuff in with random disregard for value or meaning. Family heirlooms sat next to bundles of old newspapers. Valuable antiques huddled with a bag of used, empty toothpaste tubes. (I’m not kidding. He really packed that and moved it, rather than tossing it in the garbage.) And sitting in a box with kid art and a bag of buttons, I found a roll of 35 mm negatives. The date, carefully printed in my mother’s hand, was “Oct.-Nov. 1960.”

That’s right. My very first baby pictures, miraculously preserved for 32 years in the back of an old truck, protected from broiling sun and freezing winter, from rain and snow and drought, by one thin layer of canvas.

It was the one prize I took from the stuff that wasn’t wrecked. And it was enough.

Sweetness

'Scuse me? Nixon??!!! Ouch!

You'll never find my kids dressed like this...

Sleepy time!

My sibs - Frank, Jenny, and Sam

This one reminds me of my Trinidad, all snuggled in his sling. Sweet, sweet boy. (Trin, not me.)


"Where's that nipple?!"
The best picture of my mom - darn it!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Journey of Reason and Discovery: Why I’m a Liberal #1

This is the first installment in a series inspired by someone who calls himself Euripedes, who wrote his own series on why he's a conservative. (Ironically, his sixth installment was to explain that he's a conservative because he agrees with Edmund Burke when he said self-interest should be put aside in the selection (election) of leaders, and that they should be chosen for integrity and for the good of all. In principle, I would guess this to be nearly universal to any viable democratic political philosophy. In practice, I think conservatives consistently perform worse on this than liberals, voting for narrow self-interest or to benefit one economic class over all others almost all the time, as opposed to liberals, who frequently vote to benefit society as a whole.)

Anyway, the place to start this series seems to be the beginning – the journey I've traveled to achieve liberalhood, and the sources I've explored on the way.

My father was a Goldwater conservative, a rancher in Wyoming who once ran for county commissioner as a Republican. Politics frequented our dinnertime conversation, and dominated during elections. All my neighbors were Republicans, so far as I know. In the school elections in 1972, I was the only person in my 5th & 6th grade class to vote for McGovern; everyone else voted for Nixon. But that vote was an anomaly, perhaps a sign of the distant future, and probably a symptom of the fact that I didn't fit in with the cisgendered kids. I went on to start my political life voting for Reagan – twice. (Since then, I've tried not to repeat my mistakes.) At that time, I hadn't really thought much about politics or economics, nor learned much about them.

I became disaffected with conservatism and Republicans shortly after Reagan began his second term. I noticed the neglect and damage his policies created for the environment. He replaced the "tax and spend" policies of Democrats with a "borrow and spend" mentality that was clearly unsustainable way back then, and has only grown worse to the present (ironically, reaching its apex – so far – under a Democrat who considers himself at least somewhat liberal). Iran-Contra blew up, exposing the corruption that ran deep throughout his administration. Still laden with a prejudice that made me unable to stomach Democrats, I abandoned the GOP and adopted third-party affiliations and candidates.

For the next 15 years, until 2000, I never voted for a Republican or a Democrat for president, and rarely for anything else. I explored Libertariansim, and read Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal." I compared it to "The Communist Manifesto," and to the actual economic conditions in our own nation and others. I briefly worked to help establish a Green Party in Missoula, Montana. I read John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," and Thoreau's "Walden Pond" and "Civil Disobedience." I met Kristin, and my inability to satisfactorily answer her questions led me to question my own assumptions, and to think and explore further. I went to the University, and, though my field of study was architecture, I learned much more, including how to question and find answers. In the evening job I held to work through school (I was a janitor), I listened to talk radio. I listened to Rush Limbaugh, found him lying again and again, and his vicious rhetoric turned me off. Dr. Laura, Michael Savage, Shawn Hannity – none of them stood the test of truth and compassion. Then, when Air America took off, I listened to liberal radio. I found that some hosts - Thom Hartmann in particular - seemed to get their facts straight all or most of the time. Others, like Randy Rhodes, disappointed, with judgmental rants and lies that seemed to be no different from their conservative counterparts, just from the other side of the aisle.

Then, in 2000, a momentous event occurred, which irrevocably changed my life. My son was born. Within three months, I was his primary caretaker, and it soon became clear that the only way I could get him to fall asleep for his afternoon nap was to put him in the car and go for a drive. Since we lived in a house on a hillside, significantly above street level, I couldn't leave him in the car alone to go and do stuff, so each day for almost two years I had two to three uninterrupted hours in which to do nothing but read and think. Following is a brief list of some of the books I read during that time:

American Empire, by Andrew Bacevich

The Twilight of American Culture, by Morris Berman

Freedom in Chains, by James Bovard

America's Future, by William Boyer

Whole Life Economics, by Barbara Brandt

The Iron Triangle: Inside the Carlyle Group, by Dan Briody

The End of Economic Man, by George Brockway

Clueless at the Top, by Harriet and Charlotte Childress

The Growth Illusion, by Richard Douthwaite

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto

Mobilizing Resentment, by Jean Hardisty

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight; Unequal Protection; and What Would Jefferson Do?: a Return to Democracy, by Thom Hartmann

Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken et al

The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek

Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt

Instead of Education, by John Holt

The Death of Common Sense, by Phillip Howard

Bushwhacked, by Molly Ivins et al

Blowback: the Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn

The Teenage Liberation Handbook, by Grace Llewellyn

What It Means to Be a Libertarian, by Charles Murray

Butterfly Economics, by Paul Omerod

How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, by Christina Page

Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

Bionomics, by Michael Rothschild

Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Fundamentalist Islam, and the Future of America, by Michael Scheuer

Corporate Warriors: the Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, by P. W. Singer

When God Was a Woman, by Merlin Stone

The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss & Neil Howe

The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle

The Poverty of Affluence, by Paul Wachtel

and more.

This doesn't count the magazines, articles, and political and economic columns I read, nor my obsessive reading of the news following the 2000 election and 9/11. I did not, however, rely on TV for any information, and still don't. The manipulation of images and events is so blatant in TV that I think you become less informed the more you watch it (and, in fact, a study following 9/11 and the invasion and occupation of Iraq did show that people who watched Fox (Faux) News regularly were less informed than people who didn't pay any attention to the news at all.)

In sum, I sought out many different viewpoints, compared them to my observations and to the most reliable news reporting I could conveniently find (mostly Newsweek and our local newspaper), and reflected on what I read, heard, experienced, and observed. I accepted the ideas that made sense and that were verified by situations, events, and history, and rejected those that did not, regardless of the source – and many of the ideas I've embraced come from conservative sources. Yet from that grew a deepening liberalism – because ultimately, that is where the best arguments lie.

*Standard note: I value dissenting opinions as crucial to the maintenance of freedom and democracy. While I would like to write convincingly, to influence opinion and sway the balance of power my way, I also consider the conservative viewpoint to be important and meaningful. I do, however, believe that political discourse does not have to be nasty and vicious. I prefer to listen to and respect my political opponents. I ask the same from them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Disorientation Redux

Since my sister's death, I've felt rather discombobulated. I intended to post the further story of my trip back to Wyoming, but have not yet finished it. Instead I started to explore this discombobulation I'm experiencing, and found it related to the human need for orientation I blogged about earlier.

We all orient our lives around the people who are important to us, and siblings form one of the basic foundations of our psychological orientation, especially when they are close in age, as Jenny was. I don't know if that relates to my grief, but I'm sure it relates to my discombobulation. My world has turned sideways again. I imagine it is really strong for parents, also; we orient around our children, mothers even more than fathers as the intense importance of those first days, of nursing, feeding your baby and keeping her alive with the milk of your body, must form a bond so deep and permanent and beautiful. How can no sense of orientation arise?

I imagine that the change in my gender presentation affects that need for orientation in others – not only for my family, but for everyone else! I wonder; do people who have a firm basis of psychological orientation find it easier to accept and integrate things like my transition, while for someone who orients around fundamentalist religion and the binary gender myth, gender transitions are very threatening as they challenge that orientation? Perhaps it is the nature of one's orientation that makes it harder for some than others. For instance, an orientation to Christian Science doesn't take much of a hit; the body, and gender, are mortal concepts, and the person, the spiritual idea, is intact and immortal. As my mom said when I came out to her, "Your identity is intact, and it doesn't depend on gender." On the other hand, for someone who orients around a strict brand of Christianity that holds rigid barriers between classifications of man and woman, it must be very disorienting, and alarming – it shifts the layout of their psychological map, as if you were to go to a place in your neighborhood and find that the street you'd traveled a thousand times was no longer there and had never existed. It threatens the fabric of their world, as they understand it; there is no room for acceptance, because to do so would be to change the entire orientation, to change the psychological landscape as much as, and as frightening as, to change one's understanding of the physical landscape. The order of nature has been reversed. The creek no longer appears to flow downhill; it seems to flow up – and never mind that they are finally seeing reality. But someone who orients around the science of observed phenomena might think my transition is really cool. "Wow! Look at that! How beautiful! Something new under the sun." I've seen that reaction from people. Some people seem hardly affected by my transition, but many have either a strong positive or a strong negative reaction.

Regardless, a death in the family is going to disorient the survivors. I believe that the feeling of grief is related to a need for orientation unmet. And until I get completely oriented to a world without my sister, I'm going to remain discombobulated.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Can This Be True?

This clip is amazing and depressing. If true, it leaves me wondering if we now have a Bush III in office.

Think about it. The same policies as Bush; just under a new name - and, if this video is true (his awful budget is), taken to a greater extreme. Only this time, the guy who's making this stuff up is intelligent, articulate, and charismatic.

Scary.

I picked it up on a right-wing blog, so who knows? It's Rachel Maddow, though, not Rush, so I'm inclined to believe it.

Unfortunately.

Trans Woman Abroad: Part I – traveling and family

I didn't know what to expect. It's the first time I've traveled back to Wyoming since my transition, and many people here know me by my former name; none as Seda. And this is the heart of Bush country. (Okay, maybe not the heart, but the last time a Democrat won in Wyoming was probably before FDR.)

The first surprise came in the process of getting there. I took the train to Portland, then the bus to the airport, then a stop in Denver until finally renting a car in Rapid City. I met and spoke with a lot of people, and I only got "sir'd" once during travel, at security on the way home – and then the TSA employee right behind him immediately and pointedly called me "ma'am." And only once did I get the repeated double take that means someone wasn't sure and was trying to figure out if he was talking to a genetic male. That's not to say I was passing almost flawlessly – I don't know how many people clocked me and just didn't care.

At ten o'clock that evening I arrived at the ranch to warm embraces. I sat down at the kitchen table in the old ranchhouse with my family; my mom, my brother and sister-in-law, my nephew, my niece. I ate leftovers from their dinner while we shared laughter and tears, catching up on the events of recent days and months. It wasn't even awkward. My gender wasn't an issue.

The next day, last before the memorial service, I met my nephew who was adopted by a fundamentalist Christian family following Jenny's accident. His embrace was tentative, but I opened to him, and he soon warmed up. His girlfriend embraced me warmly. My niece and I drove to town to do some shopping, and, again, no one blinked an eye. It was "you ladies" and "ma'am," and everything felt natural. At home, the whole bunch of us younger folks worked to help put my mom's yard in order.

On the day of the memorial, my cousins arrived from the Bay Area. It's a pattern that developed with my brother's death in 2001: since then, seems like we only meet at funerals. Frank's, then my uncle's, then my dad's, and now Jenny's. Nevertheless, it's always good to see them – and there's never enough time. And the Nelson's, close family friends for 40 years, whom I haven't seen for ages, also arrived, bringing our gathering to considerable size.

There was so much warmth, so much love, in the gathering of extended family and friends. I am rich and richly blessed.

Soon, I'll write about the memorial service, where I encountered all the old neighbors and friends of my sister and family.

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