Sunday, November 20, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2011

It is not my intention to wax on at great lengths on this subject. I think that most readers of my writing are not the sort of folks who need to be reminded of the bigotry that trans people still face. I also must confess that, though living in a place that has a reputation for intolerance, my own walk these last two years has been far more civil, with a few notable exceptions, than I could ever have guessed. The worst of my experiences can probably be found in a few nasty exchanges on Facebook so danger has not been a part of my experience yet.

Nevertheless, those who measure such things report that over 200 transgender people are killed by violence that seems to be a result of hatred of trans people worldwide every year. Something like one a month even in the United States. These events seldom get the sort of attention that other sorts of hate-based crimes receive. For instance, on March 8, 2011 Marcal Camero Tye was shot and killed near Forrest City, AR and her body run over as the killer fled. The last local media report on the incident was April 2. How easily she was forgotten.

One death a month might not seem that much in a country in which dozens are killed every day, and I will readily agree that it's not at all a disproportionate rate. I know that some of my peers try to magnify it as if transgender people were the subject of violent death at a much higher rate than the ordinary person and the numbers don't bear that out. But it is not improper that they be remembered, nonetheless, because of what we know from those who are attacked and don't die. We know, that trans people widely suffer violence because they are trans. There is, I think it's fair to say, a difference in being attacked at random, as every citizen is to some extent in danger of, and being specifically targeted because of your race, or religion, or orientation, or in this case your gender identity. Every life is precious, and every lost life grievous, but while there are limits to what we can do about random violence, there is much we can do to try to win the hearts and minds of those who would attack people for who they are. And that is why we remember. Not because Marcal's death is more important than the death of any other murder victim, but because there's something we can do.

I won't go into a long exhaustive ramble about how it is that people come to hold such animosity towards trans people. I know that there is a sort of primal, instinctive negative reaction - particularly among males - to transsexual people in particular. Few people can fathom our condition and a certain percentage react to that lack of understanding with fear and anger. It is difficult to let education and compassion guide people away from that reaction, but it can be done. There is a sense in which we have to understand their instinctive reaction just as much as we ask them to understand our own nature.

What is more difficult to understand, and more difficult to confront rationally - because it is itself so irrational - is the warped cultural bias of some people, sacrilegiously wearing the robes of religion in many cases, that not only reacts hatefully but makes an art and science of engendering that hatefulness in as many of their fellow Americans as possible. I admit that there are well meaning people who simply are misinformed and their worst fault is that they are not wise enough to rise above their misinformation and seek out the truth, but there are others who seem to be unwilling to rest until everyone shares the bitter, nasty hatred they feel.

In support of this claim, I offer only one piece of evidence. Behold, if your stomach can take it, the website of Mass Resistance. It's not surprising that when the supposedly "good and godly" folks are so hateful, what can we expect of those who don't even profess religious morals?

Still, I come back to the point that the best way to honor the dead is to speak up. To never let a chance go by to correct a misapprehension, to educate where ignorance appears, and to engender an openness to listen on the part of others by NOT giving in to animosity. It's easy, for instance, to assume every one who speaks critically of us is an enemy to be overcome, but sometimes - SOMETIMES they are an opportunity. An opportunity we dare not miss. let us win every ally we can, and in that we will truly honor our dead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christianity, Certainty, and Change

If there is anything that I've encountered in my wanderings among the interwebs, it's that those who oppose transsexualism (and obviously, likewise homosexuality) from the argument that it is forbidden in Christian Scriptures by God himself are absolutely, unshakably, non-negotiably convinced that they cannot possibly be wrong on the matter.

Phrases like "it is very clear" or "it is indisputable" fall easily from their fingertips onto their keyboard as they presume to end debate by stating the facts that seem so obvious to them. It is apparent to me that such people have overlooked some very basic realities which would argue against such hubris. But as is often the case with ideologies that are held because one has been taught to believe them, rather than arrived at by one's own reasoning, these realities have not only not been considered, but the adamant one dares not consider them because of the risky implications. It is a very valid rule for living that what one believes is worthless unless one knows why they believe it. "Because my pastor said so" is not a sufficient answer. Another good principle is that the un-examined opinion isn't worth holding. That is, if you are not willing to submit your views to close examination and entertain the real possibility that it might be in whole or in part incorrect, then it has no value. you have not learned, you have been indoctrinated.

I submit that there are two major arguments against the claim of certitude before one ever actually opens the Bible and studies the relevant Scriptures. Either of these alone is sufficient to give the intellectually honest reader pause, both together in my opinion should be impossible to ignore for a person who authentically wishes to seek God's actual will and not just stand on tradition for tradition's sake.

Let me pause here for this caveat: I know that I have readers who do not believe the Bible reflects god's will in any material sense, even those who believe there is no God at all. While my views are not completely orthodox on these points, my opinions are sympathetic to the Christian opinion on them. Nevertheless, even if I did not believe it - I am addressing people who do, and I will show the respect of addressing the subject within the context of what they believe. In my opinion, a condescending "you believe e in a fairy tale God from a book of myths" attitude is not an approach that's going to give you the opportunity to reason with any believer. If you wish to read the following as within a "for the sake of argument" discussion, feel free to do so.

To begin, let us restate the claim. The proposition is that God's word makes it unmistakably clear that homosexuality (and by extrapolation transsexuality) is forbidden, sinful, and an abomination before God of which one must completely repent. Further that it is not possible for one who accepts the authority of Scripture to hold any other view and to do so is twisting the Bible or ignoring it altogether.

The first counterargument against that claim is the record of church history. Space forbids me to fully detail the evidence on this point, but let us sample the record beginning with the most recent examples and working backwards. Some of these were near universally agreed upon by the church, others were examples of a wildly held view that was, however, not universal in the church (and by "church" I mean the whole of Christianity, not the Catholic Church). what they have in common, however, is that a significant number of Christians would have argued that their position was completely Biblical and to dispute it was to "twist the Word" and evidence of being out of step with God's will.

  • In 1967 the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia struck down laws which banned interracial marriage as unconstitutional.  Until this ruling was announced (and frankly, for some years afterwards) it was the consensus opinion of the church, particularly in America, that such relationships were unbiblical. It would have been unthinkable in the vast majority of churches to preform such a ceremony.
  • Through the 1960's, divorce laws were widely restructured to expand the ability to dissolve an unworkable marriage. Before that time, a woman (or man for that matter) might have been forced under the law to remain with an abusive spouse, or continue in various other untenable relationships. The church in those days (and many still) were adamantly opposed to this and most are still uncomfortable with it despite recognizing the necessity of the reform.
  • Throughout the civil rights era a great many churches, particularly in the south but also in major cities, were outspoken in their opposition to desegregation. This was preached from the pulpit as a Godly point of view and even those who were not certain of that almost always rooted themselves firmly on the sidelines while black ministers and churches took to the streets to lead the fight for equality.
  • One hundred years earlier, the largest protestant denomination in the United States split in two (as did several other less prominent ones) over a dispute concerning slavery. Hundreds of churches of various denominations took their stand on the proposition that slavery was not only acceptable but possibly even favored in the eyes of God. That largest of denominations took almost a century and a half to formally declare they had actually been mistaken.
  • In the period of our history which preceded those days, the law viewed women as, essentially, property of their spouses or their father. For most of that time they could not own property except under special circumstances, they could not vote or hold office, there were even laws which specified to the husband to what degree he might beat her and be within the law.
  • Go back another century or so and you will find supposed witches being put to death, and while you might find that an isolated example, the reality was that banishment, violent punishment or even death was standard operating procedure for heretical views. Read about how the Puritans, themselves refugees from an oppressive state church, dealt with Ann Hutchinson. Before our Constitution was ratified (and in some cases even after) laws established what was the acceptable faith and what would result in official sanction.
  • Speaking of the state church, when the first colonists arrived in North America, Europe was completely filled with official state churches and bloodshed was routine between these churches and those who would oppose their rule. People literally killed each other over disputes in theology (and if you look around, there are places this still happens). Of course, as often as not it was political power which was the real source of their passion, but they claimed it was for God.
  • Not so very long before that, John Calvin, the founder of the Calvinist thought that informed most of our Founding Fathers said this of a man who was eventually burned at the stake for heresy: "for if he came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive." While it is not true that Calvin himself ordered the man's death, he surely consented to it.

Before that the record gets too ugly to even detail. Inquisitions, Crusades, Holy Wars, indulgences - the list goes on and on. The one thing they all have in common is that all or most of the contemporary church would have defended them as obviously biblical actions, and all or most of the modern church would shudder to even admit that Christians had ever behaved thus.

I do not submit this list as a condemnation of Christianity, but as confirmation that the church is filled with flawed and failing human beings who very often get it wrong. The reality of God and reliability of his word are not proven or dis-proven by the fact that human beings, particularly in groups, manage to screw up anything they touch.  The bottom line for the current discussion is this: the church has a solid track record of being firmly convinced they knew the biblically expressed will of God and ended up, in retrospect, hopelessly mistaken.

The second major counterargument is this: The current state of the church universal. Think about it: does the church, across denominations, have a unanimous opinion on the following subjects - ANY of them:

The nature of God?
The nature of Christ?
The manner of Atonement?
The process of Sanctification?
The practice of the sacraments?
The method of Baptism?
The security of the believer?
The nature of Prayer?
The proper mode of Worship?

All these things are the fundamental essential core of Christianity. Yet if you ask a Baptist, a Catholic, a Presbyterian, and a Pentecostal to explain these concepts, you will get often wildly different answers despite all of them professing to literally and faithfully interpret the same book (yes, the Catholic Bible is somewhat different but that only further reinforces my point).   It gets worse if you go beyond these to the less fundamental theologies - some can't even agree on what the rules are for how one is to dress. but let's lay the minor stuff aside.

There are literally hundreds of variations of interpretations on the most basic core doctrines which provide the foundation for the Christian religion. All drawn from the same Bible, All believed fervently by faithful people of respectable scholarship. The unmistakable implication is that it is legitimately possible for flawed human beings to misunderstand what the Bible says on any point. After all, two (or more) conflicting theologies cannot both be right. So at least one, and possibly all our understandings of that given point are flawed. simple common sense demands it. Only incredible hubris and arrogance (something that Christians, sadly, do not lack for)  would provoke one to say that they are absolutely certain they have the right interpretation and all others are wrong. The most that can be said is "I believe and am convinced that I understand it properly, with all due respect to a differing view." Still even when one is convinced they have the right view, you cannot in good faith deny that it's possible for sincere scholars to reach a different view. You can't seriously condemn every differing view as the result of dishonorable motives or poor scholarship.

Now, in light of this reality - are we to believe that while it is possible for imperfect humans to have differing views of the most fundamental and crucial doctrines in the Bible, we can nevertheless be absolutely certain beyond all doubt that our understanding that homosexuality is forbidden cannot possibly be in error? that the ONE thing in all the Bible that God was SO passionate about that he left NO room for misunderstanding...was the matter of how to have sex? REALLY?

How could that possibly begin to make even a little sense? And then you view that in the context of the church's track record for imposing personal bias onto Scripture in order to arrive at a false teaching and you still deny the remote possibility that the doctrine that homosexuality is sin cannot possibly under any circumstances be a false teaching? To me you have to have turned your brain completely off and let the battery die in order to be that obstinate.

The obvious conclusion, then, before one even considers a study or the relevant passages, is that it is foolhardy to suppose that the traditional teaching - the one your pastor and Sunday school teacher and that guy on the radio taught you - cannot possibly be incorrect. If that's what you believe, then don't even bother to open the book and read it because your masters will tell you what they want you to know. But for the rest, it's time to learn for yourself and not just accept what's been spoon fed to you. You may still reach the same conclusion, but at least one hopes you'll have learned the value of recognizing that others can and do disagree.

And if, then there is a finite possibility - just a possibility - that you are wrong and God does not, in fact, condemn your homosexual brother, do you really want to risk taking a hostile stand against that which God may not have condemned after all? Will you risk judging where he has not?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Childhood Gender Dysphoria

You would think that for a person who styles herself a writer, there would be more than one blog post a month, wouldn't you? I still have the goal of updating here at least weekly, but I tend to find myself too often distracted by discussions on web sites with a lot of traffic as opposed to this quiet little almost deserted corner of the net. It seems somewhat self important to be pontificating here for my own satisfaction  but that's an element of self doubt that probably works against me. Be that as it may, enough with the introverted prelude and on to the subject.

One of the topics that I've been most involved in over the last month is the several different recent stories all related to childhood gender dysphoria. In just the last couple of months there have been at least three prominent stories involving youngsters ranging in age from 7 to 11 whose life has brought them media attention. Not surprisingly, the reaction of the uninitiated has been passionate, but not always productive.

We transsexuals already deal with a situation in which those around us are not short on strongly held opinions, but are short on well informed positions. With many of the people I encounter, virtually every thing they think they know about transsexualism is at least in part incorrect. While many take a praise-worthy "live and let live" philosophy, that comes in many cases more from being a compassionate person more so than being a well-informed person.

This phenomena is compounded when the factor of childhood comes into play, simply because it never occurs to many people that children feel this way. The stereotype is that this is a decision considered and made as an adult - and historically it's true that the vast majority of us dealt with our condition as adults. But the fact that circumstances compelled us to wait creates an illusion which is inaccurate. The vast majority of transpeople testify that they understood the nature of their condition (even if they were unsure what to call it) at a very early age. People who've heard my story know that I report having been certain I was a girl no later than my 8th birthday. My experience is the rule, not the exception.

While those of us born in the 70's, 60's and before knew full well to keep our mouths shut in most cases because our culture simply had no precedent for the child who wished to transition to the other gender (except those with intersex conditions) this is no longer the case. When I was a child, I would have thought I was the only person with my particular sort of "crazy" in the world, I certainly had no idea what to call it, not for 3 or 4 years after I realized it. What I DID know was that coming out and telling my family that I knew in my heart that I was supposed to have been born female would have ended very badly for me. Certainly, as an 8,9,10 year old child I might have had even more fear than was justified. I had four of the best grandparents in the world and I certainly did not want to be disowned by them. Looking back now, I suspect it is not a given they would have, but in the mind of a child? All I could see was the strong possibility of losing everyone who claimed to love me.

I think it's reasonable to assume almost any child in those days would have. The record is littered with those who, usually as teenagers, had the boldness to tell their parents only to find themselves met with fierce resistance including "camps" designed to "fix" them, beatings designed to take a more direct approach, or even being thrown out of the house and disowned entirely. Any one who came of age throughout the 60's and 70's had real reason to expect such an outcome. Of course, that now creates the impression that none of us (or very few) knew about it then, because we hid it. I don't think cis-people fully appreciate the massive mental pressure to conform, to put the mask on and hide and try to be "ultra men" (or women) rather than risk being shunned and shamed for being a "freak." that we learn to hide it well is always eventually used against us as evidence that we can control this if we want to, and there's no reason for us to ever act on these feelings.

Thankfully, society has grown to the point that more and more young people sense that they can, in fact, open up to their parents. Not that the cultural resistance isn't there, and often fierce. but parents, despite almost always feeling strong initial resistance, now turn to professional help and the medical and psychiatric professionals have learned from years of mal-treatment that rejection and resistance are exactly the wrong things to do.

The uninformed cavalierly discuss these cases in terms which have no relationship to the established facts of this condition. Space prevents me from listing examples, but the gist of the argument seems to be that if you MAKE a boy do boyish things, you can train him to be happy as a boy. History demonstrates this is futile. Everything up to and including electroshock therapy has been tried to "cure" GD and nothing has ever worked. Even when one submits to religious pressure to repress one's condition, as I did, you are not "cured" but simply putting on the mask in order to please those whose judgement you fear.

Professional care-givers now know that such draconian reactions cause great psychological and emotional harm to the child. Some critics make the observation that "many children go through a period of gender confusion and grow out of it" and while there is a general truth to that, in the specific it is essentially false. "Gender confusion" is not what the transsexual child feels. We KNOW we are the wrong sex. Ask a "male" child with GD what sex he is and he will adamently say "I am a girl!" and he will not be talked out of it or back down from it or let it go. If you try to make him act male he will be at a minimum deeply depressed and possibly manifest other behavioral and mental problems. A boy who is typically though of as having "gender confusion" is almost always simply one who's not conforming to typical gender specific behavior (for instance, he might prefer dance to sports) and these children seldom declare they are the opposite gender and refuse to conform to any other truth. The latter group almost always "grows out of it" but these are not trans in the first place.

That's not to say a parent should run headlong into assuming a child is trans. Counseling is a must and flexibility is crucial. But the worst possible reaction is to try to crush the idea and drive it from your child.

In one of the notorious cases, a boy of 11 is taking hormone blocking drugs which will delay puberty for three years while the family considers the options and the child has time to be sure his GD will persist.  Critics cry "child abuse!" despite the fact that it's well understood that there's no real negative impact to delaying the onset of puberty. Some children have late onset puberty naturally - and early onset puberty, want to guess what the standard treatment for THAT is? It's interesting that critics who counsel "wait and see if they grow out of it" criticize the very treatment which allows just that option. These critics fail to appreciate that for the genuine TS child, puberty is a devastating experience. For a male-bodied child to be forced to endure the lowering of voice, the hair growth, the mascilinzation of features which comes with that event is torturous. And likewise the female-bodied child who has to watch breast and hip growth destroy what little male illusion she might otherwise have seen in the mirror is tremendously painful. And that's to say nothing of the pain and expense they will have to endure once they reach adulthood to reverse these developments (those which CAN be reversed).

In another case, a male-bodied child living as a girl wished to join the girl scouts. When the state chapter approved the request critics, mainly religious critics, were enraged again. It was not uncommon for this SEVEN year old child to be called a pervert and a lecher. such critics completely fail to understand transsexualism on even the most basic level. A M2F transsexual is pretty much the LAST person you should worry about assuming the aggressive male position in a romantic or sexualized situation. As if we are to assume 7 and 8 year old girls are sexually active anyway. In most such cases, other than those prone to bullying on any grounds, most of the child's peers will readily accept and adapt. Children at that age have not been indoctrinated with societies prejudices in many case, and often the child is readily accepted into the peer group. It's the PARENTS, with their uninformed biases who panic and demand action.

In the various discussions I've had on several sites - mostly Christian media sites - I've made an effort to be respectful but informative. It's my desire to see people of good will given the opportunity to learn and grow in their opinions on this subject. But sometimes the hostility is shocking. I can only hope that our culture continues to grow so that more and more children can avoid the destructive effects of dealing with a completely hostile culture.