Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Into the Darkness

My Facebook page has been filled today with the expressions of shock and sadness at the passing of Lisa Empanada. While she was not a direct acquaintance of mine, let alone one I cold call friend (other than that ephemeral friendship that all of us who travel the same road share) and while it's quite true that the specifics of what happened and why are not very well known and indeed may never be, it's been said she took her own life and that choice, as well as the various reactions to it, provoke me to write tonight not specifically about her, for I cannot know the details of her situation, but about the phenomena in general, and what brings us to the point of slipping into the darkness.

My thoughts tonight are, in a sense, two posts in one. I'm inclined both to speak outward, to the world at large, and inward, to that circle of people for whom these are indeed life and death choices. so forgive me if there appears to be a radical change of subject a bit further down.

In another place where I write, I was once cautioned that i tended to present possibly a too-negative description of the pressures that come to bear on the person who sets out to transition gender. That advice was well taken because too much negativity can serve to add to the chains that keep the transsexual person closeted behind their mask, afraid of the consiquences of moving forward.

That said, it is important both for the potential transitioner to not be blindsided by the potential obstacles, but it is also important - and too seldom addressed  - for the cis-gendered population to wrap their heads around how much of that pressure and obstruction arises directly from ignorant and ill-willed attitudes displayed by non-trans people. One can easily detail all the various ways in which the transition journey, while leading to a very desired destination, can for some lead through some very dark valleys before you get there. it is a verified fact that the vast majority of those who achieve full transition are very very happy with the results themselves. Strikingly rare is the person who regrets their own physical transformation.

However, as stories like that of Christine Daniels testify, there are those who even having achieved what outwardly seems to be the most successful of transitions, are tormented by some regret that is collateral to the process. perhaps a lost love, perhaps a bitter ex who cuts you off from your kids, perhaps the loss of a career for which one was passionate. These are all examples of how ignorance or ill-will can create negative feedback which can be destructive to even the most (apparently) successful trans person.
It should be remembered too, that very often this negative feedback reinforces a lifelong pattern of negative self-evaluation, because it is inherent to the closeted transsexual to spend much of their life in fear that they will never be good enough, or "normal" enough to be respected and loved. For even the best of us there's usually a lot of psychological wounding and scarring to deal with. To take such a psyche and pound away at it with animosity and negativity can often be a recipe for a downward spiral that is almost impossible to halt. And it would be a mistake to assume that such a process is always obvious.

Now certainly there can be situations which provoke those negative thoughts, even suicidal thoughts, which have nothing to do with the attitude of others. Despondency over ever being able to afford transition is certainly one obvious example  (which could be greatly aided were these treatments rout8inely covered by insurance, BTW) or worse, being medically prevented from these treatments by a conflicting medical condition.

But the fact remains that if we in the trans community want to see these numbers reduced, we MUST educate those who don't understand us. Certainly their will always be unrepentant bigots, but so many of our critics could be won over if we take the time to lovingly help them understand. Every person who's heart you help change is a person who might not be the trigger that sends our brothers and sisters into that dark place from which they cannot escape. Do not be obnoxious, do not be hostile, do not be defensive - but do be gently, compassionately, PERSISTENT.

In the mean time, if you are one of those people out there who feels the darkness closing in, despite the fact that you present your friends and acquaintences with a hopeful image, remember a few things:

1. You did NOT take off one mask to put on another one. You and I know what it's like to spend most of your life trying to make the world see a "you" that was not authentic, and how much pain that caused. Why then will we torture ourselves by doing that all over again, only with a different mask?  Our mantra, if it is anything, is "Be Real" - so when you are hurting, when you don't feel "normal enough" - find a friend and SAY SO.

2. Remember that when you are forced to make that final decision, the worst of your critics WIN. Think about that one harshest and most hurtful critic you have, the one who might even say to your face that you are a monster that doesn't deserve to live. Are you going to give THAT person the satisfaction of quitting  and justify the lie that your transition was a function of mental illness, not biology?

3. There are scores, maybe hundreds, of women tonight crying bitter tears that Lisa did not give them a chance to make a difference. However isolated you feel, each and every one of them - every one of US - longs to be the voice who breaks through the darkness and becomes a ray of light and hope in your existence. please give someone that chance.

For the rest of us? Never miss the chance, not ever, to say to the apparently despondent person or even the one that seems to you to have it all together, "You are loved!" because you never know for who that message might be the one lifeline that stays their hand.

Can we all agree to do that?

[image by Stephanie Y.]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Be afraid! (or not)

Last month the big “trans story” came out of California, but was so quickly supplanted by the announcement regarding Chelsea Manning that it got pushed out of the public view with much less commentary that usually happens in these cases. Truth be told, that's a good thing as such progress usually is more effective, ultimately, when it takes place quietly and incrementally. Because you can look back in five or ten years and say “See? Civilization didn't collapse after all!”

I'm speaking, of course, about the bill signed by Gov. Brown which affirmed a policy already in place in quite a few school districts in California (and elsewhere, for that matter) which allows transgender youth to use the facilities, and participate in the activities, consistent with their identified gender rather than the one assigned at birth.

For the consideration of the potential reader who may not be well versed in the intricacies of trans-related terminology and so forth, let me explain. The phrase “assigned at birth” is not meant to imply that everyone's gender is arbitrary. Rather, it reflects the reality that for a very small percentage of births, the apparent gender of the infant is not, after all, the correct one – but the delivering doctor has no obvious way to determine this at birth. So when the doctor says “it's a boy” or “Its a girl” he's reacting to what he can see, which is 99'9% (or so) reliable. That's your “assigned” gender, which almost no one ever has any reason to wonder about. But occasionally, a child is assigned based on visual evidence incorrectly. Such a child is considered, in most cases, intersex when the situation is discovered. Sometimes the intersex condition is visible, and parents are asked to decide how to handle it. THAT is a subject for another day.

Your identified gender is your internal sense of self, who you believe you are – and it has nothing to do with the physical construct of your outward appearance. It might be customary to think that “because I have a vagina, I therefore know I'm a female” but the reality is that there's no sense in which a child doesn't know what they are until they learn the difference between one set of plumbing and the other. All sorts of examples might be offered to support this premise but that, too, would be a tangent. Short story: you know what gender you are innately, not based on outwardly visible data. Again, for 99+% of the population the outward data and the internal data are consistent. On rare occasions they are not. These people are, depending on the term you want to use (see my previous post on the subject) transgender, transsexual, or intersex.

Contrary to the popular mythology, it's more common for a trans person to know about their gender incongruity as a child than the reverse. Admittedly, there's a reason that myth exists. Until the last 10-15 years, the overwhelming majority of trans-kids would have felt an almost unimaginable social pressure to conceal their status. If they did display “cross-gender” feelings or actions, they were in almost every case browbeaten into conformity, and all this negative feedback of course reinforcing in their mind a sense of self-shame that persists far into adulthood. In my generation, accepting yourself is something that takes you often into your 40's to do.

With each succeeding generation that drops. One can basically correlate the age at which any person comes out with the age they reached in the first decade of this century. In other words, if you survey a thousand out trans people, the vast majority started their transition within the last 15 years, no matter what age they were at the time. That's simply a result of the increased volume of information available in the internet age than had been before. Not unexpectedly, it takes a while for cultural traditions to catch up with new information, or increased availability of information, both of which apply in relation to the science of being trans.

But the truth remains, a very high percentage of people born trans understand their gender dysphoria long before they leave school. The question then becomes, how do we as a society, as the responsible adults, react to this? Predictably, the traditionalist (masquerading as the defenders of morals) express shock and outrage that trans kids would be accommodated. Policies like the one in California (and many other local districts around the country, including the major metro school districts in Texas of all places) which seek to make the world a safer and more tolerant place for the one or two in a thousand kids who have gender dysphoria are twisted into outlandish claims that schools are purposely confusing the gender of your kids.

It's utter nonsense. Documented cases exist in which misguided adults tried to indoctrinate a child into a specific gender identity, with horrifically failed results. One need only consider the fact that medical and psychological science has utterly failed to come up with an effective treatment to “cure” a transsexual person of gender dysphoria. Heck, one need only ask themselves “what possible strategy might have been applied to me, when I was six, to make me think I was the opposite gender?” Are any of you willing to admit that could have been done? Of course it couldn't.

What remains, then, is teaching kids a pretty simple message, paraphrased thus: “You may someday have a classmate who believe they are the opposite sex from what you thought they were. This is a real condition, just like diabetes or anything else, and it's stupid to be mean to them for it, so don't do that, okay?” What's so objectionable about that?

“But,” the traditionalist cries, “Bathrooms! Locker rooms! Wild penises running around everywhere!!!”

Again, it's nonsense on so many levels. There may have been a time when no one anywhere ever used the bathroom with people of the opposite sex, in which one could have claimed it was dangerous to individuals or society to do so. Just as there was a time when people would have declared it a danger to society for blacks and whites to toilet in the same place. But for whatever reason, some places did it anyway. Guess what? No “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!” too place. Well, some folks might be on the fringes of that mass hysteria thing, but almost all of them are getting paid handsomely to be there.

In point of fact, we have a substantial data sample now, in both public settings and student settings, demonstrating conclusively that the predicted dangers failed to appear. Yes, occasionally some pervy man – a cis-man by the way – violates women's private spaces with his person or his technology, but there's no correlation at all between those fairly rare incidents and the local policies and laws being trans friendly or not. The whole “men will claim to be trans in order to gain access to vulnerable women” prediction completely failed to materialize. Even in school districts, this policy has been in place on the local level for, in some cases, close to a decade – long enough for us to see what the downside is. Here's the thing – no downside. All the rabble rousing is so much scare tactics proffered to you by people who KNOW based on available data that the thing they are warning you about hasn't happened.

So you, if you believe the rantings of everyone from Peter LaBarbara to Scott Lively to Bryan Fischer, if you believe the dire scare stories on WND, ONN, or the Christian Post – you need to ask yourself “why do these people continue to lie to me? What's in it for them?” Then consider the fact that every one of them will remind you that they are in business thanks to the generous financial support of believers like you.

You do the math.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Introducing: "For Gina"

Those who know me have heard me say too often how excited I am about the never-finished novel I'm working on. Truth is, I spent almost a full calendar year without adding more than a couple of thousand words to it, while doing a lot of obsessive tweaking to the part I did have,  because i was facing a major creative blockage. This is a story which is one I'm passionate to tell, but which has some structural difficulties which make it a challenging work, particularly for your first novel-length undertaking.

Essentially, it's a story in which the first 20k words (or so) come easy, and i believe the last 20K or so will come very fast. but the middle 20k (or so) was enormously challenging in terms of maintaining enough dramatic tension to keep the reader engaged. I recognize, I think, my strengths and weaknesses as a fiction writer - indeed as a writer in general terms - and I'm not the sort of writer who could, for instance, do a compelling murder mystery. The intricacies of a great plot are beyond me. Rather I write about people, places, scenes, and - to cite the oft told cliche - let them tell me what happens. I have never done detailed outlines, no matter how often I read that advice, for the same reason. I know where the story is going but I don't know the twists and turns along the road to that destination until i write them.

One of the strategies I've meant to try and never have, because it is so foreign to my nature, is to write random scenes and put them together in the right order later. but I tend to be the sort of compulsive type that can't stop themselves from putting things in order and my bias is to tell a story in order. In any case, I think I have finally had the epiphany which will break through the blockage so I'm putting myself out there for public accountability: I have a goal to have "For Gina" available for kindle by next summer (publisher co-operating of course).

In the mean time, i've decided to occasionally share some excerpts with you to whet your appetite (I hope) and provoke feedback. Here then, is the prologue to "For Gina" as it currently stands.


Stupid, stupid stupid!

Gina felt like such a fool. All she had wanted to do was blend in, mingle a bit, dance a little. Be “normal” for once. Was that too much to ask? She'd chosen to go to a club not too close to home and hoped she'd not see anyone she knew. Just an ordinary place where ordinary people went to unwind. Things had gone well enough, too, for a while. She'd been careful not to drink too much, careful not to let any flirting go too far. After an hour or two she'd begun to let her guard down. Still, it was stupid of her to do that. When he asked to sit down she'd took a chance and said yes, he'd seemed a pleasant enough guy. And look where it had gotten her.

Walking barefoot down an empty two-lane carrying her heels in hand. Stupid.

It had been too tempting, sure. But she should have known, should have expected it. He was a charmer, that sort that easily appealed to the same vulnerable emotions that had compelled her to go out in the first place with a playful sense of humor and a laid-back approach. That was besides being hot. Auburn-brown hair, not too long, at least six inches taller than her and she could tell by the feel of him when they danced he either worked heavy labor or worked out a lot. She'd set herself up to fall by the time she'd walked in the door of the club, all it took was just a guy like this to tip her over. Looking back it seems it was inevitable that he would show up. Within an hour it had seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to let him take her for a late supper. When they left the diner and he didn't take her back to her car, she realized what kind of corner she was in. If he found out the truth, well, ending up on foot was maybe the best possible outcome.

When she'd resisted his advance, he'd pushed, and, to be fair, she hadn't until now given him any reason to feel rejected. She had every reason to understand what would result from alcohol, testosterone, and male pride mixed in equal measure. She really had thought he was going to beat her to death and she still wasn't sure why he'd stopped after the first blow and simply put her out. He'd shoved her, empty-handed, out the passenger door of the red Dodge pick-up with a sneer and she toppled off her heels into the roadside gravel before he'd even closed the door. Her black clutch purse sailed after her into the ditch and the door slammed shut in the same instant the tires spun a shower of gravel to confirm her fate. There was no denying she'd been very very lucky but she really couldn't appreciate that because she'd been so very very stupid! It's hard to feel lucky when you were going on two hours of barefoot hike on a back-road on a drizzly Saturday night in late October.

A dozen feet from where she'd tumbled out the passenger side door of his pickup, she found where he'd tossed her clutch purse out of the truck as he sped away. Franticly, anticipating the worst, she dug into it searching for her phone. It wasn't there but a brief panicky search found it. It had flown free of the purse on impact and skidded into a nearby rain puddle. Useless. There had been nothing left to do but start walking. At length she came to the intersection with the highway. It was still empty two-lane blacktop, and a particularly empty stretch where the road curved away in both directions without sight of a house or a street light. The full moon had begin to break through the clouds from the earlier cold drizzle which had soaked her in the first half hour of her late-night walk. There was enough light to see, but nothing else beside the road itself worth seeing.

She hadn't thought it was cold earlier, and certainly hadn't expected to be outdoors to any extent and had dressed for the warm environment and physical activity inside the club. But now the late-fall chill was making itself known to her and she shivered. Recalling the evenings events and cursing herself again for her choices, she was able to distract herself a bit from her discomfort but it was debatable whether the trade-off was worth it. She turned the evenings events over in her mind, be-rating her choices at every point but also, as the night wore on, feeling more and more defiant. Who shouldn't she be able to enjoy an evening out? Who said she had to follow rules no one else had to? What's so wrong about wanting to be treated like any other girl? She had a right, same as anyone else. When she saw the approaching headlights from the direction she'd been walking, it only made sense to feel relieved. Surely whoever it was would be perfectly willing to give a girl a ride, right?

She had only a few seconds to think anything else once she realized the vehicle wasn't slowing down, and even less when she realized it's direction. And that the speed was increasing. It was a strangely detached thought that was her last: “Helluva price to pay for being stupid.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Five Years On

And what have we learned?

September 1, 2008. I took the first rash step on what has been a life-saving journey five years ago and there's a part of me that very much wants to mark that anniversary with a profound bit of writing that will be worthy of the (completely arbitrary) milestone. But as I sit here and think back over the road thus far, I'm not sure that any profundity will emerge. Still, I don't think I want to go in an upbeat direction. I'm in a more mellow state of mind. Maybe someday I'll write a more lighthearted commentary on what I learned on "the other side of the street" so far - in a couple of months I'll reach 4 full years of full time presentation as a woman. But I'm not in that kind of mood tonight.

One of the things that you do gain, apart from the obvious, in undertaking transition is a great deal more clarity than you had before. Of course there's clarity about your own heart and mind and soul. Anyone who was not wholly invested in the necessity of this process will certainly turn back in the fact of the difficulty of the task. Occasionally you will hear of a case of "regret" or a person who decided to "de-transition" and I feel sad for those people because they are either people who tried it for the wrong reasons (Hiya Walt!) or those for whom the lack of support and outright opposition from loved ones was too much to take. Often those in that latter group ends in a tragic place. I sometimes wonder if those who pulled out every stop to undermine a transition or reject their trans "loved" one are at peace with their choices after they had to bury the one they rejected. I myself have been told, in all seriousness, that it would be far better had I taken my own life than that i transitioned - and this by those who profess to love me. what kind of love is that, exactly? So yes, you face that kind of challenge, both emotionally and all the various circumstances regarding the cost, the physical pain, the rejection of the world, the loss of career and social standing and all the rest - it burns away the dross in your life and gives you a clear view of your priority.

Likewise, you get a much clearer understanding of the immediate world around you. Trans people find themselves cut off with people that they thought were the most loyal, close family and old friends often just disappear or, if they do maintain any sort of relationship it's laced with open contempt. I'm estranged from my father, who thinks I'm "crazy as hell"...but that was a difficult relationship anyway. More surprising to me was that it's been over 4 years since I've had any interaction with my brother and, as far as I can tell, there's a specific mandate among his family to NOT give me any point of contact information. Here's a guy who, make during my hyper-religious days, came to me to tell me about his impending divorce and received nothing but understanding - even though the Bible says far more about divorce than about me. Now, when love and understanding need to flow in the other direction, the tap is turned off and welded shut. so be it.

Discretion does not even allow me to begin to comment on the things I've heard from my spouse, or the things I've experienced. suffice it to say that i have a lot more clarity about people's priorities. There are others I could comment on - my one time "best friend" who's all too willing to throw me under the bus and talk about me in terms that would imply he never liked me at all, for example. But the point is  made I think. It is, though, only fitting that I also remark that others, such as my mother, have also shown their true colors during this difficult time and that reflecting well upon their character and their heart.

You get clarity on a larger scale too, the folks so blinded by religious tradition that they lose site of what it means to love your fellow human being; the people so obsessed with making you pay that they go out of their way to poison your job prospects or even your marriage; the knowledge that even those who've known you their whole life can't show enough compassion to even have a civil discussion with you about it. And on the other hand the people you basically never knew at all until they stepped up and said "I admire your courage" and become new friends, more true than any of the ones you claimed that title that you lost.

You get clarity about the world at large and just how infested the human race is with, let's call it what it is, meanness. The hundreds and hundreds of remarks I've seen in various media from those who claim the name of Christ and profess to be defending morals which are just flat out hateful is stunning. Let's be clear, I don't toss around the word "hateful" lightly. there are several religious conservative organizations that the SPLC calls a hate group that I don't think are at all motivated by hate. They do not intentionally speak or act hatefully, it's just that their ignorance and loyalty to tradition  leads then to inadvertently say and do hateful things. THAT is not what i mean. What I refer to is, for example, the sort of thing I saw on WND just last night. You see, i can't even post a comment on that site because I'm banned, despite never having lowered myself to any sort of antagonistic comment on that site. meanwhile, the "good Christians" (so professed) go on about how trans people are perverts and freaks who ought to be institutionalized, lobotomized, or even euthanized for the good of society - and those comments and the ones who posted them go unmolested. This is not the exception, this is the majority on any number of supposed "Christian" sites.

There was a time I'd have argued such a thing would never be possible. Then you look at just how often a trans person is assaulted, raped, or killed (or all three) for the offense of being what they are and ...yeah, it's pretty hard to not be very cynical about the human race.

The remarkable thing, though, is that the more clarity you get, the more peace you have in your own soul. At least that has been my experience. It is about like the Biblical analogy of the refiner's fire. The difficulties of this process burn away the people and things in your life which are not true and worthy, and leave you with a much smaller, but more precious, possession instead.

I'm not done, far from it. in fact, in my state of poverty I despair of ever finishing the process to the extent I'd prefer. Even when or if that ever is the case, I'll still have to deal with regrets. Every day I have to remind myself to focus on what I've gained and not waste time mourning for all the experiences
I feel ought rightfully have been mine that I'll never ever get to live. There's no comparison between transitioning at 20 and transitioning at 45-50 in terms of the life you have left in front of you. but then I remember that many people my age are dealing with serious issues like cancer or renal failure or whatever, many didn't even live this long, so quit my whining and be glad for what I have.

I'm not done. not even with the things i could have done even in the midst of poverty, because I have personal obligations of the heart that i have refuse to just throw away. I have friends who don't understand my commitment, and advise me to move on. I have enemies who spit on my efforts rather than recognizing the sincerity of them because they can't see me as anything other than a villain. Certainly it would be a lie to deny that there are not moments when i am tempted to say "this is too hard" and wash my hands of it - to cut all the strings which tie me to my past life and which force me to spend some part of every day having "him" rubbed in my face. Nevertheless, I'm resolved to be able to look in the mirror every day and say "I did my best" in how I handle this situation.

Because clarity extends beyond just confirming you have the strength to transition, it shows you how much strength you have in every other area of life too.