Category Archives: Personal

Milestones in the Wilderness

Published / by rmaddy / 2 Comments on Milestones in the Wilderness

His name was Mark.

When I was an intern (essentially, a freshman doctor) in Emergency Medicine, he was a more senior resident in Internal Medicine.  We crossed paths numerous times during the year.  I appreciated his calm demeanor and quick wit.  One day, we both managed to escape to the cafeteria for a quick lunch.  Our conversation, to the best of my recollection:

Mark:  So, tell me about your family.
Me:  I am married to Kathy, and we have a one year old, Kaitlin.
(I expound for a while)
(pause)
Me:  How about you?
Mark:  What?
Me:  Do you have any kids?
Mark:  I’m not allowed to have kids.
Me:  You’re unfit to parent?  Yeah, I suppose I can see that..
Mark:  Some would say so.
Me:  What the hell are you talking about?
Mark:  Haven’t you heard _________ talking crap about me?
Me:  No.  Again, what the hell are you talking about?
Mark:  I’m gay.
Me:  Oh.
(pause)
Me:  I just figured you were unfit to parent…

Although I am sure that I met many gay people before that time, Mark was the first to tell me so.  He probably knew of my conservative religious background and anticipated an unfavorable reaction.  I don’t think I reacted much at all in the moment–clearly not enough to rein in my sarcastic sense of humor–but the conversation percolated through my consciousness for months and years to come.

We did not cross paths much more after that.  I will never have a detailed understanding of his thoughts, but I recognized that he felt less than human in the eyes of society.  Every time I recall our conversation, I renew the vow that I made that afternoon–I will never do that to another individual.

It took me decades to shake off the shackles of narrow-minded religion and longer still to adopt an attitude of broad tolerance toward the entire rainbow humanity.  I do not claim to have finished either of these tasks, but the lunch with Mark remains one of the most potent memories of my journey.

If I can be so bold as to offer you any suggestion from my experience it would be this:  pay attention.  Any given moment may be one that changes your life.

More milestones to come.  And more wilderness.  We change, or/then we die.  Let’s be good to each other.

The Abominable T-girl

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Xenophobia:  the irrational fear of that which seems strange, different or foreign.  

Emphasis on the word irrational.  Despite cherished fantasies about our adventuresome natures, most of us have no real appetite for uncharted waters.  Odds are pretty good that if you set me down in a new restaurant, I’m going to order the fish tacos.  This is not because fish tacos are my favorite food, but rather because they occupy a  safety zone in my subconscious.  Unfamiliar place.  Crowd noise.  Two columns worth of culinary descriptions on a piece of laminated cardboard that accomplish little more than making my eyes unfocus.  Server pressing to get the show on the road…

“What’ll you have?”

“Fish tacos, please.”

“Excellent…a bold choice.”

Some might be less inclined toward the comforts of familiarity than I am, but I doubt I sit too far off the curve.  One barely notices when a dog brushes past, but let a mouse into the kitchen and all hell breaks loose.  Other things being equal, a 25 kilogram canine is a greater potential threat to life and limb than a 25 gram rodent, but one of them is unexpected.  More nightmares involve the first day of school than the 147th.  Traffic will predictably slow in front of a house with diagonal green stripes painted on the side.  We all have an unstated concept of the ordinary against which we measure our experiences.  Inevitably, various things fall outside the parameters of “normality”.   A horse-drawn carriage on an urban street.  A mouse in the kitchen.  A trans-woman in the breakroom.

The subconscious registers surprise and generates alertness, bringing the unusual sighting to conscious attention.  Additionally, the alert triggers a cascade of effects pre-programmed to preserve the individual.  The pulse quickens.  The pupils dilate.  A wash of chemicals flood various pathways in the brain producing the emotional content of anxiety.  Is this xenophobia?

No.  The preliminary sub-conscious processes are non-rational, not irrational.  Up to this point, the perceiver has not even begun to do that which we would generally label “thinking”.  Although we certainly have the capacity (and, I will argue, duty) to condition our reflexes, our reflexes themselves are not culpable.  Noticing difference is morally neutral.  Heck, I’m probably nearly as surprised as you are when I encounter another trans person.  It is what we do after our programmed defenses kick in that constitutes moral or immoral behavior.  Xenophobia occurs when one or more of the following things happen:

1.  Assignment of moral value to phobias.  Suppose the color blue makes me anxious.  A stranger approaches me in a brilliant blue shirt.  The fear that I feel is real, but it is not a moral principle.   It does not follow ethically that wearer is doing something wrong merely because I feel anxious.  Indeed, since he can scarcely anticipate my phobia, the wearer has no real opportunity to make a moral decision.

Even if the scenario were altered such that the person knew that blue terrified me and wore it in my presence anyway, the moral offense would still have nothing to do with blue itself, but rather to the act of deliberately causing discomfort, that is to say, being an asshole.  At various times I have been told that my gender expression is a metaphorical blue shirt with which I set out to offend.  If this were indeed the case, I would be hard pressed to defend it.  However, my experience of being transgender, and that of others with whom I have spoken, would be more aptly analogized by reworking the scenario yet again to where it was my skin, and not my clothing, that was blue.  Regardless of what fear it provokes in others, it is not something I can simply discard in favor of a more soothing color.   If this seems dubious to you, perhaps you can at least accept that I found no way of doing so despite decades of genuinely trying.

2.  Codification of phobias through appeal to unassailable principle.   “It’s not natural,” I have been told.  I have yet to hear this sort of statement backed by a coherent argument.  If being transgender (or gay, or left-handed–yes, people really used to believe that too) is unnatural, how can one make sense of the fact that it regularly occurs in nature, albeit in a small minority of persons?  Does the uncommonness prove the thesis?  Being transgender is 10 times more common than having multiple sclerosis and more than 100 times more common than albinism.  Both, last time I checked, were considered to be natural phenomena.

In my experience, the “not natural” argument is always underpinned by the concept of sin.  In theory, one could hold that being transgender is unnatural without appealing to religion, and yet every person from which I have heard the line is conservatively religious.  How can transgender identity be morally neutral when the Word of God declares:

“A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

Never mind that fundamentalist Christians don’t keep Levitical law.  They’ll keep this one, or at least demand that I do.  And, to be fair, I concede that the biblical proscription against crossdressing is pretty damned unambiguous.  There are lots of silly things which the Levitical codes say should be abominations to us.  This is one of the few which invokes abomination to God himself, putting trangenderism in the elite company of pride, lying lips, dishonest measures and foreign gods.

Of course not all Christians think this way.  If you are one of those fortunates with the capacity to reject hateful bits of scripture, I congratulate you, and wish you the best of luck going forward.

3.  Cultivation of narrow horizons.  If your friends throw you a surprise birthday party, it may catch you completely off guard.  If, however, they throw you a surprise party five years in a row, your capacity for shock rapidly dwindles to nothing.  In fact, at that point the only thing they could do to genuinely surprise you is to not throw it.  The unexpected has become expected.  So it goes with the initial anxieties that might accompany first encounters with diversity.

Human beings have an amazing ability to acclimate.  The process requires nothing more than a little time and a certain degree of exposure.  However, it is possible to maintain such closed-border, monolithic social circles that the process of acclimatization never occurs.  If all your friends are similar in appearance, beliefs, culture, family structure and so on, you might just be too insulated to grow.  The iron bars that keep others out are just as certain to keep you in.

Step out of the cage.  Embrace difference.  Set yourself free.

It would have been a good one

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I had a great post planned for you.  Really, really good.  Amazing actually.  Well, maybe not that good, but it’s not like there’s any way you can call me on it.   At any rate, it all came to naught when the stove died.

After:

1.  One hour to figure out how it worked, AND

2.  10 minutes checking out what a replacement would cost, AND

3.  4 seconds deciding I didn’t want to pay that, AND

4.  Half an hour cleaning little gas burner holes with a  paperclip, AND

5.  A 1″ burn on my forearm which hurt 23.7% more because I couldn’t scream obscenities without waking up the troops, AND

6.  Half an hour testing everything over and over to make sure nothing would blow up…

 

THE STOVE WORKS AGAIN

 

Reality check

Published / by rmaddy / 2 Comments on Reality check

“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”

–Arthur Dent, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I went nuts this week.  Melted down.  Blew a gasket.  Tripped a circuit breaker.  Lost my marbles.  Redlined the tachometer.  Rounded the bend.  Wigged out.  Went totally bitchcakes.  Shit a cold purple Twinkie.

One of the logical conundrums associated with losing one’s gourd is that it’s difficult to know when you’re done.  I make every effort not to succumb to mad cow any more than necessary, so I’m not sure that I know the procedure as well as I should, but I’m reasonably (?!) certain that my name is not first on the phone alert list when it’s okay to stand down the firehoses.  It’s the sort of occasion where it might be nice to ask someone who has kayaked in similarly dire straits, but a) I don’t know too many people like myself, and b) my insurance has decided that any turbulence in my psyche can be neatly filed under “transgender stuff”, i.e. totally elective and just as totally uncovered.  Therefore, without a map of the woods or any particular proof that I have left them, here is what I think happened:

I started months ago with a fairly realistic conception of what it meant to change my name and gender.  Then came the seemingly endless piles of paperwork.  I developed a project mentality.  I assigned myself name change tasks on days off.  Legal transition became something to finish, and as each agency, website or business learned my new particulars, I logged it on a spreadsheet as a measure of success, or more to the point, completion.

“Victories” accumulated.  I could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I progressively started to think that I would be done when everyone else “got it right”.  Name and pronoun mistakes began to matter more to me.  My frustrations rose, not only with distant entities who screwed up a mailing, but with family and friends who unintentionally slipped.  “It’s been months,” I thought.   “How long will until I’m accepted as a normal female?”

Except that this was never the goal.  Without noticing, I had moved the goal posts, shot beyond the target, lost sight of the forest on account of the trees.*  The reality check hit me hard this week when I realized that I am not any more comfortable as a regular woman than I was a regular man.  Well, duh.  Maybe I should read my own posts:

Political independents generally caucus with one party or another.  I hope the metaphor will be instructive.  I am Renae–reborn.  I’m stuck between the poles of gender and it’s not always easy to see where I fit in the continuum, but I caucus with women.  She.  Her.

And so, I spent about 5 days in a near constant crisis of panic and self-doubt.  It is probably the most intense one that I have ever weathered, and it was largely avoidable.  Changing my name and gender was not a mistake.  The error was in allowing myself to believe that I could be done with being transgender.

I remember my first transgender pride parade.  50 yards ahead of me was a young person carrying a rainbow sign which read, “I LOVE BEING TRANS”.  Or, as Kathy says, “You need to learn to like yourself.”  I am a long, long way from such an attitude, but therein lie  my best prospects for happiness.  As spake the philosopher, it’s not easy being green,  but perhaps it is all there is to be.

I am going to take away some victories, if not the ones I originally perceived.  When doubt and despair were crushing me to the ground, I sought  help and talked it out.  I didn’t let the feeling of being better off dead sprout into thoughts about making it happen.  I fought off the shrill chorus of my thoughts by finding things to do.

Maybe some day all the papers and perceptions and pronouns will align neatly.  Until then, I reserve the right not to give a shit, or at least to give less of one.  I’m going to try not to worry whether people “get it right” or even if there is a right to get.  I won’t be defined by my genitals, but neither will I be defined by my driver’s license.

The dark accusation of bigotry is that transgender is merely something that we do.  “Just stop, because everyone knows who you really are.”  About this too I refuse to be defeated.  If it is merely something I do, it is something I do so consistently and thoroughly to invoke Aristotle’s concept of being.  Therefore, I resolve to be…or to do…or whatever.  I will haul my ass out of bed, often as early as noon, and take care of business.  See you there.

 

 

 

 

* And quite possibly other clichés as well.

A walk on the wild side

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on A walk on the wild side

BubbleM52

 

Crisp fall nights with their earlier sunsets and short twilights are tailor-made for astrophotography.  I love to shoot this time of year, when the weather is warm enough that I can sit out all night without having to run inside to recover the heat in my bones.  Monday night was so pleasant, in fact, that I decided to take a walk while the telescope ticked off an hour long sequence of images.

There isn’t any rule that one can’t go for a walk in the country at 3:00 AM, yet one cannot do so without experiencing the nagging sensation of violating a cosmic principle.  I had time to spare and yet I found it impossible to walk slowly.  My footfalls were louder than I have ever heard them as I strode down the centerline of the highway with my flashlight off, except for those few times when I could tell that I was getting too close for comfort with a skunk.  Then, I would swing the flashlight around the roadside like a broadsword, until danger past and the night sky faded from my constricting pupils, luring me once again to embrace the dark.

What would I do if a car came by?  Would a friendly wave be appropriate or just creepy?  And what if a barking dog brought me to the attention of a nervous homeowner?  If a policeman happened by would he accept that I had not been drinking as, if not quite a fact, at least not an egregious lie, and agree that the night air was truly my own business to mind?

I turned back toward home.  Now fully accommodated to the light, and brightened by increased circulation, my eyes locked on to the majestic form of Orion laying on his back in the east, seemingly launching his arrow into the depths of space.  I passed the skunks in their familiar locations, this time with the flashlight off.  I walked, if not slowly, at least with less urgency down the center of the road.  I listened to the wisdom of owls who insist on being heard while refusing to be seen.  I arrived home and strolled under the familiar shadow of trees I had planted, whereupon a rabbit and I scared the mutual bejeezus out of each other.

Why is night cast as a metaphor for death?  It quickens the senses, exhilarates the psyche and opens the eyes.  Half of what lives and breathes calls it home.  Count me among them.

 

Can I get that in writing?

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Ten days Renae, and I am steadily working on discovering then altering the massive amount of paperwork attached to my existence.  It’s been an eye-opener.

I have learned that most governmental and corporate agencies bury their phone numbers deep into the maze of their service websites, making it very difficult to find them at all.  As an extraordinary coincidence, every customer service phone bank in the galaxy is simultaneously “experiencing higher than average call volumes”, with wait times extending up to 2 hours.  It turns out that very little can be accomplished on the phone anyway.

I have found that governmental agencies are at least as efficient if not more so than corporate entities in negotiating the process of identity change.  The fastest changeover completed so far was with the Drug Enforcement Agency.  Unable to get anyone on the phone (!!) initially, I faxed in a name change request with a copy of my court order and was called the next day by an agent who linked me to a new DEA card online.  I was told that I could start prescribing all the niftiest pills immediately as Renae Gage MD, so quickly that it occurred to me that I had not yet figured out what my signature would look like.

The social security agency is also very quick with the caveat that you must go in person and wait in line (90 minutes in my case).  My card arrived via mail 8 days later.  On the other hand, they lost points in my book when the agent, looking puzzled, asked me, “But…have you had THE SURGERY yet?”  I’m pretty sure she said it in capslock too.  I explained that my medical history is none of her business, and pointed her to the SSA regulations which state what is actually required for name and gender change.

The much maligned DMV handled my driver’s license and voter registration update in about 15 minutes.  Honestly, I have never had an excessively long wait or a bad experience at the DMV in any of 4 states where I have held licensure.  This often-cited poster child for governmental incompetence seems, in my experience, to operate like a well oiled machine.  I was street legal, same day, although I am still awaiting the new card.

Banks and insurance companies are going to take months, and most don’t accept my court order as sufficient evidence that my name has legally changed, despite the fact that the court order is the thing that legally changed it.  Yesterday’s arrival of my Social Security card should allow me to get the ball rolling this week, although some companies state they must have photocopies of my new driver’s license and passport, having no explanation for why they were able to service me in the past without a photocopy of my old one.

One step at a time.

Can I get a witness?

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Can I get a witness?

No, seriously…I need a witness.  Two, actually.

The legal procedure for legally changing one’s name involves filing a motion in county court, submitting to two background checks and paying $320.  When this is complete, one appears in court for a five minute hearing with two adult witness willing to swear that they know the petitioning party, and, to the best of their understanding, no shenanigans are in progress.  A court order is then issued (at $16 per copy) making it as legal as driving with an open container of booze in Mississippi.

Once this is complete, the real fun begins, including but not limited to:

  • Requesting an amended birth certificate (this is where gender legally changes) from the State of California, which is unsurprisingly rather good at this whole business
  • Obtaining a new passport and social security card
  • Appealing to the Board of Medical Practice for maintenance of licensure under the new name
  • Changing my name and gender on every legal and financial document I have

On the plus side, I’ll probably throw a few thousand spammers and direct mail marketers off my trail for a couple of weeks.  With any luck, I won’t shake off my retirement funds in the process.  It’s a dizzying bit of bureaucracy, even for someone who doesn’t think that the government is particularly oversized other than one five sided building.  Incidentally, for those curious why I did not opt to spell my name “Renée”, it is largely because the Social Security Administration does not recognize accents and diacritical marks.  Who knew?*

So, I need witnesses, specifically on Thursday, August 21 at 9:00 AM in the Scott County Courthouse.  Alas, this historical privilege is available to only a select few.  Please form a queue behind the yellow line, and, as always, mind the gap.  Or, better yet, send me an email at renaegage@integra.net.

* Other than Jørg Jürgenson and Bernabé Muñoz

What’s in a name?

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

HH

Today I ask you to break an old habit.

The biggest pain in the ass about coming out of the closet is that one never runs out of those willing to reminisce about the good old days when you were still in it.  “Let me get the door for you,” they say, with a twinkle in the eye and a hand between the shoulders ready to shove you back inside.  Such people are fortunately relatively few and far between–the proverbial squeaky wheels not easily ignored–but the task of breaking free never ends.

Part of that process for me is recognition that language is gender binary even if I am not.  Half a dozen years ago, I came to you thoroughly battered, paralyzed by fear of still greater loss than I had already suffered.  You asked what you should call me and I told you it didn’t matter.  I have spent the last several years learning the degree to which I was mistaken.

By retaining to my birth name, I taught you that it was ok to not to re-think my identity–to see me as a regular guy with an bizarre sense of fashion.  You were frustrated by mixed messages, and I cringed at becoming the reincarnation of Corporal Klinger, an affable clown in fashionable shoes.

Reset.

My name is Renae Madison Gage.  Renée is French for “born again”.  I have chosen what I hope to be the easier spelling.  Madison was chosen for rhythm and vibe.  I don’t mind sharing a name with a half fish, but I regret losing the middle name tribute to my grandpa, William.

Political independents generally caucus with one party or another.  I hope the metaphor will be instructive.  I am Renae–reborn.  I’m stuck between the poles of gender and it’s not always easy to see where I fit in the continuum, but I caucus with women.  She.  Her.

Finally, I’m pretty sure we’re going to mess this up for awhile.  It’s ok.  We’ll learn together.  Gawker slowdown.  Awkward pronouns.  That’s the way it goes.