Monday, March 19, 2012

You Never Know

Let me tell yal a story of karma. Back in 2010 I was working for the Census as a crew leader. One of my ACL was an apparently smart, friendly, and skilled young lady who got that job partly on my recommendation (after a previous ACL left the job). I know for a fact, based on some things she said to me, that she did not clock me at all while we worked together. When, during my term, an in-law passed away, she told me to "tell your husband they were praying for him and his family." She was always friendly and warm towards me. Also, by the way, was newly married to a guy she seemed to think was the practically perfect man. I added her (and a few other co-workers) as Facebook a friend.

After the job was over, she discovered my rather unusual situation and, I can only assume in a very poor reaction to having been "fooled", went nuts on me telling me how no one would ever believe I was a female (despite the fact she herself did for over six months) and being very blunt in telling me what an extremely low down and pathetic person I was for basically criminally destroying my marriage. Then she deleted me, but she "friended" my spouse.

So - guess which of us, between me and her, is separated from their mate and on their way to divorce court right now?

I take no pleasure in anyone else's pain, I wish her only the best. I actually really liked her and enjoyed her company and was pretty hurt when she turned on me. Still I cannot help but observe that her practically perfect man is the one screwing her over right now, not the "freak" she saw fit to judge (and yes, she used that specific word).

The sad part is - no lessons will be learned.

There's a verse in the New Testament which says "let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall."

Wise words. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dear 15 year old me

I remember you.

I remember small-town Mississippi in the fall of 1978 and that feeling of being an alien among a race of beings who seemed to be nothing like you. I remember the almost ten years you've spent coming to understand how you were different from what everyone else seemed to be, and the relief at finding out you were not the only such alien in the world, and the frustration that came from knowing you dare not so much as speak of your feelings, let alone embrace them.

I remember the times, years before, when you learned how to define yourself by what you knew to be true, and not what the world and the mirror told you. I remember the horror when you watched nature endow you with the exact opposite of all the things you felt sure you were supposed to have. I remember the lectures about how boys didn't shave their legs, I remember the time you tried to run away and be Tammy and the terror that forced you to lie when the girl clothes in your suitcase were discovered. I remember the shame you've felt all those years because you have been taught that you are a shameful thing, and the fear that anyone would ever find out your secret.

I remember the nights you spend staring at the ceiling, imagining what your life would have been like had you not been cursed (so you think) with this body - would you have been short ,or tall? slender or chubby? outgoing or shy? Would you have had your first date yet? Would you have been a cheerleader or on the basketball team? Who would you have had a crush on? I remember how you long to have just one friend you trust enough to tell them who you really are.

And I remember things you have not yet lived.  I remember magical moments of friendship with other girls (all too infrequent) and I remember frustrating days of trying to be a "real man." I remember years of wondering what good there was in life even continuing and those times when it almost didn't.

Most of all, I remember the Lie. Maybe that word is too harsh - is an untruth spoken by one who sincerely believes it is true actually a lie? Perhaps not, but it feels like a lie. The lie that convinced me that the only moral choice for someone like me was to submit my life for the approval of others, to wear the mask which was demanded of me and hope that somehow enough good things would come along in life to compensate me for what I had sacrificed. All cloaked in the claim that God said so.

Tammy, don't believe the lie. Don't even entertain it. Think for yourself, learn for yourself, feel for yourself. Never submit yourself to the veto of rule-makers and self-appointed judges. You were born 30 years too soon. If only you had been able to learn in 1978 what a 15 year old in 2008 could learn. I cannot give you all the details of that knowledge now, but I can tell you this much: you were born the way you are, you are not a freak, or a pervert, and being a girl is not, for you, a sin or a sinful desire. I know that you have faith in God, and I will not speak to you of religion for that is not why I write - but I want you to know that there's a difference between faith in God and faith in all the stuff humans attribute to him. Be very sure you strive to discern one from the other. If He is who you believe him to be, He does not hate you, he has not cursed you, he loves you and wants you to be happy. He has not called you to a life of rules but a life of freedom. Do not forgo that blessing in order to please men..

The road ahead is difficult, and you have much to overcome. But that's okay. Life doesn't have to be easy, but it ought to be honest and free. If you are reading this, that is the one thing I would give to you across the intervening years - freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from self-loathing, freedom from the soft bigotry of tradition. if your heart and soul are made free, there is nothing you can't do. How much better the world would be now, if you and your brothers and sisters had been made free then.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Not knowing, and not wanting to know

Okay, fine, I lied.

I said when I rebooted this blog that I would try to look outward and not use it as a vehicle to expand upon my personal experience for now, because whenever I write about my personal experience, I get in trouble. As it happens, it's pretty much impossible to stay out of trouble no matter what I do. So when there is occasion to, perhaps, seize a "teachable moment" by using my own experiences as a case in point, I might as well do so. Tonight is one of those nights. Perhaps tomorrow I'll simply cry about my own situation, or not, who knows?

I have tried, from the beginning of this journey, to take a philosophical point of view on those who "morally" disapproved of my transition. After all, I used to believe what they believe - I can relate to it. I think I have a solid grasp on where that sort of thinking comes from, consciously and subconsciously and because of that I make a direct effort to not see such people as enemies or "hateful" or "bigots" - I'm of the opinion one can ignorantly hold a bigoted view and not BE a bigot, depending on the attitude behind the view and the willingness to be open to new information.

I have chosen to approach the subject, particularly given the area in which I live, as an opportunity to "give back" by trying to help people of good will understand the subject better so that they might by more kind and compassionate to other trans people who come into their lives after me. That choice puts me somewhat more on the "front lines" of confronting and disputing ignorant and misinformed thinking, and obviously there is a delicate balance between that confrontational philosophy, and the tendency to dismiss  those who disagree as bigots. So I make every effort to try to plainly speak the facts that the hearer (reader) might be unaware of. On occasion, I've had people actually change their mind because I presented things in a light that they had previously not considered. Often I have run into a wall that I could not break through. That's simply the nature of the game.

I don't find that frustrating, really. If you expect to change every mind you are setting yourself up for disappointment. What I do find frustrating is stubborn irrationality. the sort of thing that is exemplified by clinging tenaciously to a belief that is not in any way intellectually defensible.

For instance, the argument that is common that people like me are "perverts." when one can demonstrate that one has known they were trans from early childhood, and that no molestation or any other traumatizing event has occurred, then that begs the question - WHAT exactly made a seven or eight year old child a "pervert"? Perversion, by definition (in this context) is a sexual term - have you ever met an eight year old pervert? Has anyone?

One of the classic examples is the whole ongoing bathroom debate. It's not difficult at all to find a minister convicted or accused of child molestation or child porn or similar perversion, yet no one ever assume ALL ministers are perverts (nor should they!!!). Yet it is essentially non-existent to find a trans person, or one pretending to be, misbehaving in a woman's restroom - yet far too many people take it as a given that it will be epidemic if you allow a trans woman the legal right to use the ladies room. How does that make any sense? I have had people, even loved ones, tell me to my face that they had better never catch me in the restroom with their daughter/niece/whatever  - do these people even realize they are in effect implying I am dangerous to children?

Based on what?

This is what I mean - it's not the disagreement that's frustrating, it's the maddening habit of so many to not THINK about what they believe. What good is it to believe anything if you have not reasoned it out and examined the facts logically, instead of just believing what you heard someone else say because it appeals to you emotionally?

So at the risk of repeating myself, here are the facts that merit consideration. I list them knowing full well that those in my life who need to see them most would never trouble themselves to read this post in the first place. But maybe someone somewhere will, Maybe some of you who have more rational acquaintances might be able to direct them to this information and some good might come of it. If nothing else, there are times when you simply have to speak your peace, even if no one is listening. What follows are five basic principles that anyone who has to deal with the reality of a transsexual person in their life needs to give serious consideration to. Are you intellectually honest enough to THINK about the things you say you believe? Are you confident enough in your beliefs to allow them to be challenged and see if they hold up? Or are so very afraid of changing your mind, of holding a minority point of view in the face of all the traditional thinkers around you, that you are willing to accept the possibility that you are wrong in order to conform?

First Principle, from which all the others flow: Being transsexual is a birth condition. It is not a  "perversion" or a "mental illness" or a "sickness" or a "hobby" or a "mid-life crisis" or any other pet theory you might have. There are (and this will not please some of my TG friends) in fact some transgender people who choose not to conform to gender norms for a variety of reasons not related to how they were born. It is not my purpose here to defend or attack those choices, to do so becomes too much of a distraction from the thesis at hand. Transsexual people, what the medical profession used to call "true transsexuals", are people who have  been the object of a malfunction in the womb which produced their state of affairs. None of us WANTS to be this way. all of us devote years, years, decades even, of full-force effort to NOT be this way. Those of us with faith spend more hours in prayer on this subject alone than most people spend praying about everything in their life - begging God to "fix" them.

The concept that any of us just wake up one day and choose to change gender is far more insane than anything a trans person has ever said. There's also the lie that some people tell (thankfully, no one has said this of me that knows my parents) that one's upbringing twisted them, that their parents somehow "forced" them to re-think their gender. if you are a man, ask yourself this: What can you conceive of that could possibly happen to you in your life that would make you want to be a female? Have you ever met a man who you think might easily be persuade to become a female? Heck, even gay guys jealously defend their maleness. It simply doesn't ever happen, when it's been tried, it's failed. Spectacularly. Yet some people believe a wildly ridiculous myth rather than face the possibility that they might have been wrong on the subject.

The entire mainstream medical, scientific, and psychological profession is in near-unanimous agreement on this point and those who are not are a tiny segment who let their religion dictate their science. A person who continues to maintain that being transsexual is a choice is akin to a person who continues to believe that epilepsy is caused by demon possession.

Second Principle: the condition only has one cure - transition. One cannot stop being transsexual, one can either transition and become (for all practical purposes) a "normal" woman, or one can repress and fight the condition and drive oneself into psychosis in the process.  It is all well and good for a person who has no common frame of reference or experience with the situation to say "well sure, you might be born with these feelings but you don't have to act on them" - technically that's true. but you are saying to that person "it is your place in life to be miserable and hate yourself so that other people do not have to be disturbed by your condition." It's not unlike saying to a person who's been disfigured in a fire "you should stay inside, or wear a mask, so that we do not have to be disturbed by your horrible ugly scars."
What right do you have to ask that? the list is long of the arbitrary standards society might cook up And have in various cultures around the world) which impose suffering upon others in order to comply with society's traditions. Do you, for instance, support the idea that a Saudi woman must remain veiled in public at all times in public, and walk five paces behind her husband, in order to comply with tradition? do you agree with the cultures who mutilate female genitals in order to comply with traditional thinking? Or is it only OUR traditions we have a right to impose, no matter how miserable it makes someone?
What if I said to you "sure, fella, you are attracted to women but I require of you that you never have a relationship with a female because your relationship disturbs me. I require that you go through life without a loving relationship so that I may be more comfortable"? Would you be inclined to comply? How is it that your comfort trumps mine? How is it that your tradition is more important than my mental health?

Third Principle: Say what you will about the Bible and homosexuality, I'll save that discussion for another day, the idea that the Bible forbids transsexuality is as thin as the idea that the Bible condemns owning a dog. If you cannot present to me a sound theological proof from the Bible that god forbids this, don't even THINK about invoking morals to me. Christian churches can't agree among themselves about the core doctrines of the faith (such as the nature of salvation) and for the most part the respectfully accept that other Christians believe differently. More to the point, many disagree about such surface behavior as the use of alcohol or the proper mode of dress. If you believe (in spite of the absence of Biblical proof) that my transition is sinful, you have just as much right to demand that I comply to your view as the Pentecostal preacher has a right to demand that your Baptist girlfriend (for instance) wear skirts instead of pants and take off her make-up...which is to say, NONE.

If, on the other hand, you wish to condemn me because my transition is putting massive strain on my marriage (and may lead to the end of it) then by all means, feel free to give me EXACTLY as much judgment as you give your divorced parents, friends, co-workers, etc. I do not for one second deny that it is tremendously painful for my family, but I will also insist that much of that pain comes directly from the lies society too often believes about transsexual people. I can't tell you the number of times I've been called "sick" and "pervert" in my own home, by someone who claims to love me more than anything - 99% of all the times I have been called such things can be attributed to that one person. Why? Because that is what our culture has taught her from her mother's knee to believe. And from that belief derives the vast majority her animosity towards me. If I became, say, a policeman, or a pastor, or a soldier, or a truck driver and that brought upon her a lifestyle that she could not deal with, she would not find it necessary to call me "pervert" in order to say that that was not the life she wanted.

It is perfectly legitimate to say "I did not sign on for this and I can't deal with it" - and it is quite something else to say "you are sick and perverted and it makes me sick to look at you." It is impossible to guess how her reaction might have been different if she did not think that being trans were a "perversion."

Fourth Principle: Being trans is NOT being "Super Gay" - one of the most frustrating things I've had to deal with over the last three years is the persistent idea that the only reason transsexuals transition is because they are gay and can't deal with same-sex intercourse so they have to "change teams" to make it okay. The easiest way to disprove this is to note that a very great many people transition and remain interested in the people they were always interested in (i.e. a male-to-female transsexual who remains interested in women, effectively becoming a lesbian) - for those people they are actually willingly becoming homosexual by their transition - not running from it. If I were to, as a woman, seek and prefer relationships with women (as a great many M2F transsexuals do) then I would be for all practical purposes a lesbian - how does that line up with the "supergay" theory?

I do not propose to discuss my sexual preferences or expectations in this space except to say this (as I have said before but it bears repeating): if I was granted a magic wish to be transformed into a fully functional natural born female in an instant, but the price I must pay for that wish was to never have any sexual contact with another human for the rest of my life, I would willingly and without reservation pay that price and consider it a bargain. If you are so shallow and unthinking that you HAVE to process my transition through the lens of who I (theoretically) want to sleep with, I can't stop you - but you ought to ask yourself why you are so fixated on who's having sex with who. Know this, though - whatever sort of relationship (if any, because I doubt seriously there will be one) you see me in down the road, if you think that relationship was the goal of my transition then you understand exactly nothing about being trans.

Fifth Principle: I, and people like me, are not a threat. Not in any way. We're not a threat in the bathroom or the locker room; we're not a threat in the classroom; we're not a threat in the store or on the street. Your kids will not suddenly decide maybe it's a good idea to switch genders because we exist. Your marriage will not suddenly fall apart, your business will not collapse, your church will not be closed down. We are, at most, 1/10 of 1% of the population. no matter how much acceptance we obtain, we will always be the "oddball" just simply be the numbers. Such a tiny minority CANNOT undermine civilization even if that were the agenda. If you think that your little boy will somehow become confused about HIS gender because I exist, you frankly don't think at all - you are just letting a visceral emotional bias color your opinion. I ask you again, if you are male, was there anything that might have happened to you at 7 or 8 or even 4 years old that would have made you think even for an hour "Hey, maybe I'M a girl too?" You and I both know that such an idea is ludicrous.

The only thing that the existence of trans people (and gay people for that matter) in your world should teach your kids is that the civilized thing to do is for people to respect each other's differences and not be hateful to those who are not like themselves. It astonishes me that so many Christians seem to believe that's a BAD thing.  Even if you do believe it's a sin, so what? How does that imply that it's right and proper for kids to be raised to dislike and abuse those who are trans (or gay)? I refer again to the Pentecostal dress code. If you raise your kids in that faith system and you send them to a school where their female teacher wears pants, are you in a panic that your daughter might become confused about whether or not she should stick to skirts? If so do you campaign to have that teacher fired for corrupting your child's faith? do you teach your child to look down on that teacher as a filthy sinner who needs to get right with God? Even in the unlikely event you answered "yes" to any of these, what does that say about your confidence in your beliefs and your parenting skills if the child's beliefs cannot withstand exposure to those who think differently?

If you are not Pentecostal, would you approve of these attitudes in your Holiness brethren? How would you feel if your Baptist or Methodist wife (or husband) were denied respect, or employment because someone believed their clothing was sinful? Do you not see where this leads? Yes, you have every right to call it sin (no matter how wrong you are) and you have every right to teach your kids it's sin (as harmful as that will be to them and those they encounter in life) but what you don't have a right to do is demand that others who do not share your theology nevertheless comply with it.  That is un-christian and un-american. It is your responsibility to pass on your worldview to your children and do so well enough that their faith can withstand encountering other people who do not share it. Do you tremble at the idea that your Protestant child might encounter a Catholic? that your Christian child might encounter a Jew? Why not? Those people do not share your faith or your manner of living and relating to God. Do you avoid a business that's owned by a Muslim or an atheist? Are you not afraid their existence will corrupt your child? What's the difference? In fact, there is NONE.

I hold a degree which allows me to be licensed to teach, one that I still owe thousands of dollars to the government for by the way. It's useless. Why? Because "good Christians" react in horror to the idea of a trans woman teaching their kids. Far be it that I might "normalize" transsexuality for them (or who knows, maybe I'm a child molesting pervert, eh?).  Here's the thing - if your own education of your kids on this subject is so weak and flawed that my existence might change their mind, then that failure is on YOU and your argument. Make your case and make it well and you won't have to worry about me, any more than you have to worry that the existence of a Jewish teacher will make them Jewish. Why are you worried? Because deep down you know you can't defend your position. or you haven't given serious thought to the subject at all. And because of your bigoted ideas, I and people like me have to live off welfare and charity rather than being the productive citizens we'd like to be, and those we try to support suffer for it too.

And what happens if I do "normalize it"? If your kid is not trans, NOTHING happens except that they are less likely to be abusive towards the next trans person they meet (or even towards me for that matter). That person might be your sibling, or theirs, or your best friend, or theirs - ask anyone who knows me if they would have ever believed this of me five years ago. Do not think for a minute that you don't know a trans person. if you know 500 people the odds are at least 50/50 that you do - even if they are hiding it from you. if your child IS trans, they are going to be trans no matter what I or you or anyone else tells them. The only choice they have is to repress it and be miserable, even suicidal, in order to save you the embarrassment of having a "freak" for a child, or they will transition and be happy, or they will kill themselves and leave you wondering why. Two out of three options, your kid is miserable so you don't have to grow up and accept that your world is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Is that the price you are willing to pay in order to be sure that transsexualism is not "normalized" for your child?

And speaking of faith - what do you think it will do to your child's faith if they do find that they are trans and their whole faith system, including their loved ones, their church and their pastor, tell them that they are an abomination before God? Can you even conceive of the number of young people raised in the church who drifted into spiritual darkness because they could not reconcile their identity with the religion they had been taught? Which had you rather have, a transsexual child who had a firm faith in Christ (in spite of their "sinful condition" as you would call it)? Or a child who could not accept the reality of a God who would judge them for something the were born with and desperately did NOT want? Is it worth it to you to forfeit their faith and their eternal destiny to make sure they behave in this life? More to the point, do you have so little faith in the Holy Spirit you claim to believe in that you cannot trust him to convict the child to change, if in fact HE thinks it's a sin? Do you trust him or don't you? Is God's arm short that he needs YOUR help? Or are you afraid that if you REALLY gave it to God, he might change YOUR heart instead of theirs?

Let's be blunt, if you think a transsexual person on the street, behind the cash register, or yes even in the classroom is somehow going to cause your child to question their faith n God, or go out and become trans themselves, then that says far more about you than it does me - it says you believe you have done a pathetic job of teaching your child what you believe, and have an exceedingly weak faith in God to honor and strengthen the things you have taught. OR it says that deep down you know what you taught them is bigoted baloney that God won't defend because he's not in it. Otherwise, you should have every confidence that the truth you believe will triumph over the error of people like me. Your fear reveals much.

(And oh by the way, if we get to slinging Scripture, I can show you about 20 times as much about how to love others, how to be a Christian in a non-christian world, how to refrain from judging another man's - God's - servant, and so forth, than you can show me about being "effeminate" so don't think I'm afraid to have that conversation)

And the bathrooms? Do I seriously need to cover this again. I've had blood kin tell me they would attack me for being in the bathroom with a female child, old friends tell me they would call the law on me if they found me in the ladies room. Suddenly, the person they respected for decades becomes a potential rapist and pedophile because they are trans? How does that work? Is it sexual attraction? Let's think that through. If, in fact, I am attracted to men as most suppose, then I am no more interested in the other women in the bathroom than is any woman born with a vagina. In fact, in that scenario you guys should be worried about me being in the men's room (or attack me for being there which would leave me no option at all in many places). If on the other hand I remain interested in females, then I am as much a threat to other women as the typical lesbian - how many women have been molested by lesbians in the bathroom?

The reality is that the LAST thing a trans woman wants is to draw any attention to themselves in there. We are more motivated than any other person on the planet to be above reproach in such settings lest we find ourselves assaulted or arrested. We're the safest possible companions for that reason alone. Furthermore, for a trans woman who's on a full course of HRT, she has neither the sexual drive, the penile function, or the upper body strength to be a threat if it crossed her mind. I won't even dignify the insulting and bigoted implication that we are a threat to children with an explanation.

The reality is that the whole concern proceeds from the myth that we think like guys. If we thought like guys we wouldn't be changing our bodies! Trans women think like women even before they transition. If you see anything masculine about them they are wearing that as a mask in order to hide their "freak" status. Most of the time, you see them as masculine based on what your eyes tell you, not on an objective analysis of their actual behavior. If people who knew me were to think objectively, they would recognize all the feminine qualities that were present in my behavior all along. Admittedly I'm argumentative, for instance, but I hope none of you are going to claim that there are no argumentative women of your acquaintance. On the other hand, I can direct you to people who have known me for 30 years who would describe my personality in terms stereotypically reserved for females. What you WON'T find is anyone who would describe my sexual behavior in any way typically male. this is generally true of all trans women (though there is always the rare exception to any principle).
And before you go with this whole "I'd have to answer uncomfortable questions when my child asked" well, guess what? That's your friggin job when you had kids. What's the real difference if your six year old daughter see me in the check-out line and asks the "hard"question or if she sees me in the bathroom, in terms of uncomfortable questions? None, she's going to ask either way. and if you are teaching her to fear me then you are doing it wrong, not me. If you consider me a threat to touch your child in the absence of ANY evidence about me or about trans women in general, then I consider you a contemptible bigot, no better than the white person who considers all black people criminals. Further, if you DO think that, then it's your responsibility to accompany your child into a restroom at all times, or find a one-seat restroom, so that she is never threatened by "disreputable" people.

Oh, but you say, "what if an actual pervert dresses up like a woman and goes in there to find a victim?"
1. He can do that now, law or no law. the definition of a criminal is that he BREAKS THE LAW.
2. So far, it basically never happens- the cases are so rare as to be statistically non-existent.
3. When they do, they are punished by the law just as the would be if the law protected my ability to be in there. Nothing would change.
4. The world is not a safe place. Women and children (and occasionally men) are assaulted in parks, in school, in their own homes, even in churches at statistically significant rates. Yet we do not have laws which restrict access to those places, and people do not call for them. By contrast, the incidence of assaults in public restrooms, locker rooms, etc are statistically insignificant, even in jurisdictions which have protected the rights of transpeople for years.
5. Such public "private spaces" are almost always awash in security measure. they are not places which are hospitable for guys who set out to commit a crime that they can more easily get away with committing elsewhere. the opportunity to catch a woman "with her pants down" is not remotely worth the cost of being caught on camera. It's much easier to commit the assault elsewhere and get her clothes off yourself.

In short, on this point and on all those which have gone before in this post, those who repeat this nonsense simply are not THINKING about what they say, they are simply repeating the knee-jerk bigotry that they have heard someone else say.

These are just the foundational principles for practical every day interactions with transsexual people. If you want to understand the science behind it, there are good sources (most notably Zoe Brain's blog) where you can learn more. If you want to get into the theology of the subject, there's good info out there on that subject too. But you don't really have to know the in-depth information in order to deal civilly and humanely with the trans person who crosses your path.* If you are going to discriminate against me or someone like me, then I invite you to first consider the points I have present and offer a convincing counter-argument. If you can't, then you have no rational basis for your bias.

You think about that.

*There are some principles of etiquette which the compassionate non-trans person ought to be aware of, just to be respectful, and some terms that it would be helpful to know (for the latter, see my previous post "Trans 101") but this post is already to long and I shall have to reserve THAT discussion for another day.