Tag Archives: Transgender

Outlawing Trans

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Outlawing Trans

Enough already.

North Carolina is not an outlier.  More than 30 anti-transgender bathroom bills have been proposed since the first of the year, and this week the shameless carnival came to my not-so-red state of Minnesota.  Locally, the proposal stands little chance of passing the legislature and none of escaping the Governor’s veto, but such pragmatic considerations were insufficient to prevent high-profile hearings, during which Republican sponsors publicly equated transgender women with voyeurs, pedophiles and rapists.  As is often the case in election years, the viability of legislative proposals is beside the point.  Of course they are delighted when a bill succeeds, but the viral proliferation of anti-trans proposals is more about messaging:

Fear not, culture warriors.  Stick with us through one more election.  Marriage equality was a setback, not a loss.  The front may have shifted, but the larger campaign goes on.  

2016 is open season on transgender Americans.


The ostensible justification for banning transgender people from restrooms corresponding to their identity is the privacy and protection of women and children.  Opening the bathroom door to transfolk will, we are told, unleash salivating hordes of predators and peeping toms upon unsuspecting innocents.  To be sure, protecting the vulnerable whenever possible is certainly a right and proper function of government; it simply has nothing whatsoever to do with the bills in question.  Transwomen have been using women’s restrooms all along.  There have been no reports of either transwomen harassing others in the privy, nor of non-transgender predators posing as transwomen to gain access to the Ladies’.  Where was the public safety crisis in 2010?  2005?  2000?

Further, every danger imagined by opponents of transgender bathroom access is already a crime.  Harassment, indecent exposure, assault, invasions of privacy, rape–all are fully prosecutable under existing statutes, and a transgender person committing such acts would face the same consequences as anyone else committing such an act.  Creepy behavior in a public restroom is illegal because it is creepy behavior, not because of who does it.

The implication of anti-transgender bills is that transgender people enter public restrooms as predators.  There is simply no evidence for this. We go to pee, and the facilities already equipped with private stalls, in which the chances of seeing anyone else in a state of undress is essentially zero.1 We do not go to to make a sociopolitical statement, but rather to relieve ourselves so that we can get back to what we are doing as soon as possible.  We are not–I must stress–not, “men in the ladies’ room,” because we are not men.  The genitals that we were born with demonstrably do not prevent us from acting in a civilized manner toward others, and whether or not we have left them surgically unaltered is frankly none of anyone’s business.  They are called private parts for a reason.

All of you, both men and women, have shared public facilities with transgender people many times in the past.  Most of the time you probably didn’t notice, and in any case you were done no harm.  Nevertheless much harm can come to transgender people and others when they are forced, as the bills prescribe, to use the bathroom associated with the sex on their original birth certificate.  It was not only because I was being ridiculed and occasionally threatened in the men’s room that I switched.  Some men who encountered me would visibly panic when I walked in, whether they were sure I was in the wrong place or worried that they were.  The nicest confrontation I recall was a guy who was walking out as I was walking in.  As he saw me, he froze, checked himself, then said.  “Miss?  You’re in the wrong room.”2

I quite agree.  However, what seemed obvious to both that poor guy and me is lost on an increasing number of conservative politicians.  They are not seeking to protect the privacy of women,3 but rather to make it legally difficult for us to function socially or professionally.  Their seething, absurdist rhetoric casts little doubt that they see us as delusional sociopaths.  Don’t be misled by them, my friends.  Dehumanizing transgender people does not make anyone else safer.  It just makes us feel like shit.

I am NOT Cait.

Published / by rmaddy / 4 Comments on I am NOT Cait.

I love medical students.  They’re just crazy enough to do what I did 25 years ago, but haven’t yet had the idealism beaten out of them.  They are young, driven, and honestly, a hell of a lot smarter than I was at the time, let alone now.  Meeting with them, I see their stars rising as mine slowly sets, and yet they afford me opportunity to feel on top of a social situation.   “You know that thing you want to do?  That you are betting your entire future on?  That you think about, dream about and obsess about until you can nearly taste it?  I’ve been there.  Done that.”1

So, when my psychiatrist asked if he could interview me in front of his medical students, who were studying gender and sexuality, I allowed as how it sounded like a lot of fun.   I was expecting a handful of students, but ended up with the entire first year class–50 or so–a much better number for me.  I am substantially more comfortable in front of a crowd than I am within an intimate circle, and I was definitely going to need to get comfortable.  I understood going in that I was a rara avis to be dissected, and that their scientific curiosity would express itself in some very personal, intimate questions.

The hour did not disappoint.  One student’s brilliant question2 gave me early occasion to point out that, contrary to worn cliché, there is such a thing as a stupid question.  Without further clarification on my part, the students artfully avoided the most cringeworthy ones.  Still, this was a psychiatry class, and they did ask tough, personal questions.  When did I know?  Were there earlier inklings?  How had my sex life been affected?  How did we manage to stay together as a family?  Was I having problems at work?  And what do I think about Caitlyn Jenner…

Just as in 2016 all Americans are expected to have an opinion on Donald Trump, so also must all trans-people be ready with an opinion about Cait Jenner.  I tell you now what I related to them then–that coming out is hard, and that coming out in front of a billion or more people must be harder still; that I recognize that she is a shameless self-promoter, but that I am old enough to know that this has been part of her DNA since at least 1976; that trans people don’t undergo personality transplants.  We work out gender shift within the context of who we already are.  I think she has made some missteps, but that so have we all, and I wouldn’t call her out.

Until this headline…

Caitlyn Jenner Wants to Be ‘Trans Ambassador’ for Ted Cruz

WTF.  I mean seriously…what the fucking fuck?

Being Ted Cruz’s transgender ambassador would be roughly equivalent to being the Teletubby ambassador to Mordor.  Cruz regularly equates transgender people with sexual predators.  He makes appearances and receives support from pastors who are not just anti-gay, but thoroughly on record as wanting to rid the nation of LGBT people.  He devotes particular political energy to railing against protections for transgender children.  That his five year old “knows there is a difference between boys and girls” is a regular punch line in his smarmy stump speeches.  Some people are beyond persuasion.  The best thing one can do regarding Cruz on transgender issues is to fight like hell to make sure he never gets elected.

I empathize with Cait as a fellow sojourner…a late-transitioning MTF transsexual who managed for a long season to bear the unwelcome burdens of masculine expectation, always longing for a different one to carry.  I understand that she needs to be her own person and follow her own beliefs. Nevertheless, I cringe when she has four minute conversations with notoriously bigoted pastors, then acts as if some major breakthrough has occurred.  Or when she visits with urban underclass women facing pressures she could never imagine, helpfully suggesting that maybe they should just “get a job.”  Now she expresses her immense admiration for Ted Cruz and wants to help him on transgender issues.

There are good reasons why transgender people are wary of the GOP.  Without a single exception, proposals to limit transgender rights have arisen from Republican legislatures or executives.  We understand the codes.  “Protecting our children” means kicking trans kids out of sports, clubs or bathrooms.  “Defending the family” means legally invalidating trans or gay partnerships.  “Defending religious liberty” means enacting laws which allow people to justify discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their beliefs.3These things are not just coming from the far right fringes.  They are mainstream Republican policies.  They want judges who will “strictly interpret the Constitution,” by which they mean bolstering the 2nd Amendment (guns) and gutting the 14th (equal protection under the law for all citizens).  Candidates for major office actually promote their hostility to transgender rights as positives, egged on by their rank and file.  I’m sure just as many trans people come from conservative backgrounds as from progressive, but it’s damned hard to stay there if you are paying attention.  Cait clearly is not.

Through no fault of her own4, the general public sees Cait as a leader if not the leader of the American trans community.  Well, I’m not Cait, and many within the trans community are becoming frustrated with the extent to which she does not seem to grasp the issues which bear on us most acutely.

Why should she?  This is all new for her.  Coming out for Jenner has brought social promotion, positive attention and a resurgence of financial potential.  It usually does the opposite.  She is totally unconstrained by the often prohibitive costs of medical care.  Although I certainly recognize her courage, no other trans person I know has ever received an award for it.  For most of us, being trans isn’t a series of road trips and adventures with our posse in The Mystery Machine.

My best guess is that her path is horrible.  From time to time I wish she’d spend a bit more time figuring herself out before she opines to the press.  Then I remember that the only difference between her microphone and my blog is the number of people paying attention.  She relishes the spotlight, but I doubt she could escape it either.  I take a breath, continue to wish her well and give her due props for enduring transition under the microscope.  Still, I can’t sit quietly when she backs a smug, ill-tempered, transphobic bigot for our nation’s highest office.  Even from a sister, this is unforgivable.

Well, almost.

 

Religious Liberty Laws

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

One would have to be positively comatose to not realize that an election cycle is upon us.  For the moment, personalities are trumping1 the issues, but eventually our national discourse will turn to the latter.  When they do, expect to hear a lot more rhetoric about protecting religious liberty.  My task today is to explain how religious liberty intersects with LGBT interests, and what I, as a trans person, hear when a candidate starts making promises to defend it.

The average queer American is somewhat religious, and probably becoming more so even as the national population moves in the opposite direction.  A Pew Research survey in 2015 found that while fewer LGB Americans aligned themselves with a faith than the general population (60% vs 80%), the percentage of homosexuals identifying as Christians increased from 40% to 48% since 2013 even as the percentage in the general population decreased from 78% to 71%.

It would seem, therefore, that LGBT folk have every reason to be interested in the preservation of religious freedoms.  Even post-religious, reprobate, demon-spawn heathens like me are all for such liberties.  Let people believe what they will.  Why then, do LGBT groups get in a lather when candidates pontificate on religious freedom or legislatures propose laws guaranteeing it?  The answer is that recent calls to “restore religious freedom” have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting religious freedom and everything to do with perpetuating discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

Up until last year, an ideological struggle over the meaning of marriage raged throughout the nation.  Then, in June, the Supreme Court ruled2 that prohibitions against gay marriage were unconstitutional.  The battle ended overnight.  Or not.  Within months, Republican legislatures in 22 states proposed “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRA).  Proponents asserted that churches with doctrinal objections to homosexual marriage should not be forced to sanctify such marriages.  Almost nobody would argue this point, but unfortunately the proposals do not stop there.

Broadly speaking, RFRA bills hold that LGBT persons may be denied goods, service and access if the individuals or businesses deny these things based on moral objection to homosexuality/transgender variance.  A baker who sells wedding cakes need not sell one to a lesbian couple.  A hotel which caters receptions need not rent out its space for a gay wedding.  Restaurants need not seat or serve transgender patrons.

Paradoxically, as gay marriage has become legal, discrimination against gays is actually increasing in some states.  It is still perfectly legal to fire someone for their sexual or gender identity in 28 states.  “Married on Saturday; Fired on Monday” is altogether too common.  In several bills, the state specifically nullifies any municipal bill which offers greater discrimination protection within its city limits.  In other words, if Minneapolis enacted a law which prevented housing discrimination against trans people, Minnesota could pass an RFRA law which rendered the city’s protections void.  Fortunately, Minnesota is not a state where such bills enjoy success.  In the Bible Belt, however, it is a different story.

Deliberate deception characterizes the public promotion of these laws.  Proponents opine that religious freedoms are “under attack”.  Churches, they say, will be forced to accept teachings that they cannot accept.  Preaching against homosexuality will become illegal.  Parents will be prevented from teaching their kids to abstain from pre-marital sex.  Such propaganda has worked to get RFRAs passed.  The end result is codification of discrimination such that a janitor can lose his job cleaning school classrooms or a nursing assistant be fired by an assisted living facility which objects to the fact that she has a girlfriend.  Unsurprisingly, RFRA proponents demonstrate little or no sympathy for the idea of laws protecting the practice of any religion but their own.  Donald Trump wants to stop Muslim immigration.  Ted Cruz states we should accept Christian refugees, but send Muslims to other countries.

The moral of the story is “Be careful what you wish for.”  I don’t want to live in a country where the government can tell a preacher what to say, but that is not really what is at stake here.  Instead, cover is being given to businesses that openly discriminate against non-straight clients.3  I choose to believe that we are better than this.

Coming Out

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Coming Out

I never had friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?  –the Narrator in Stand By Me (1986).

I left high school like I was shot from a cannon.  Three months later I moved out of state, returning only rarely for family gatherings, and three years after that I was married and completely disconnected from my entire graduating class.  Last month I rejoined those classmates for only the second time in 30 years.  The first time, ten years ago, I wore a jacket and tie.  This time, boots, skinny jeans and a dazzling1 topcoat.  True, I sported long (permed) hair and earrings in 2005, but even I had no real inkling at that point that in 2015, I would return on the other side of gender transition.

As I flew out to my the reunion, I knew that I would be asked when I had come out.  Should I tell them 2008, when I basically decided that I was going to dress the person in the mirror how I damned well pleased?2  Or perhaps 2009, when I started to pay a social price for doing so.  Maybe it was 2014, when I petitioned the court to change my name, or the same year, when I engaged the power of social media to reintroduce myself.  The answer could be any of these, or all of them taken collectively.

The expression “coming out” as applied to LGBT people originally drew upon the traditions of social initiation, wherein the debutante enters womanhood.  The metaphorical closet (of denial, social isolation, etc) was apparently layered on to the concept over time.  Either way however, the sense of a distinct moment is present, with one mode of living giving way to another.  It is very understandable, therefore, that to the person who has never gone through the process, coming out might be imagined as a single event.

This has not been my experience.  To be sure, coming out has a beginning to which one might point, but if there is an end, I have never personally encountered it.  Part of this might be occupational–I work as an Emergency Room doctor.  I have no practice3 to which patients return.  I am in the business of meeting strangers.  Further, being transgender is far more visual than, say, being lesbian.  One’s sexuality does not often come up in professional conversations, but the social transgression of not passing means that every new encounter involves an element of personal disclosure.  Whether a gift that keeps on giving, or a nagging eternal pain in the ass, coming out is something that I continue to do far more than something that I have done.

Fortunately, it has gotten a little easier.  When I first began, I did not understand, let alone know how to convey my story.  All I had really done in coming out was to enter a phase of exploration with no clear destination in mind.  I disclosed by getting dressed, but I often had no clue how to answer the questions which my self-presentation generated.  The result was a seemingly endless sequence of embarrassing moments and awkward conversations.  A polished quinceañera I was not.  Eventually, however, I figured out who I was and how to talk about it.  Perhaps it would have better for all parties involved, in retrospect, if I had sorted everything out first then come out in one dazzling fell swoop, but alas–this is not how I roll.

Still, the reunion was a bit of a debut for me.  I had never previously come out to so many people simultaneously and in person.  I admit a little nervousness heading into the weekend, but by the time I arrived at the party, I doubt my psychological state was too much different than that of anyone else there–I was proud of who I have become and eager to see how my classmates also had flourished.  And flourish they have.  What a great group of people!  Life in 2015 was unimaginable for me in 1985, but no less so for them.  I found the whole experience warm and mutually affirming.  Reunions are a bit surreal anyway–for a fleeting moment our erstwhile importance to each other was rekindled, only to have it recede again in the weeks and months to come.  Still, it was just like old times.

But real.

 

Potty Politics

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Merely 100 years after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the new Norman/English nation, led by King Henry II, extended its reach into Ireland, seizing a large swath of land starting at Dublin and extending northward up the Irish east coast.  For centuries they tried (and ultimately failed) to preserve this area as a distinctly English enclave, separated from local blood, customs and language.    They marked the contentious boundary between their lands and those of the native Irish with a series of stakes demarcating the territory that they claimed and were prepared to defend.  Collectively, the stakes lent their name (Latin:  palus) to the English lands within, although the stakes themselves gradually gave way to a series of defensive ditches and hedges which could not even restrain livestock.  Nevertheless, psychologically the English separated themselves from the great unwashed–the uncouth, uncivilized heathens living “beyond the pale”.

This quaint historical echo of English condescension resurfaced last month when New Jersey governor and playground bully Chris Christie referred to a bill changing the requirement for gender-corrected birth certificates for transgender New Jerseyans as once again, beyond the pale.  Existing law allows such a change only for those who have had genital surgery; the new proposal, which Christie has now twice vetoed in consecutive years, amends this to those who can document “appropriate medical therapy.”  This year as last, Christie cited the possibility of fraud as justification for rejecting the bill.

While I don’t believe for a minute that he actually believes such a bill would result in significant identity fraud, I am hardly surprised that, given his aspirations for the Republican Presidential nomination, Christie is not an early adopter of transgender rights.  What caught my attention was not so much that he is unconvinced such a measure is right for New Jersey.  He could have said that such an idea was “beyond the Hudson” without arousing much more than a confused shrug from those who slept through their high school geography class.1  Christie aroused my ire and news outlet scrutiny not because of his predictable conservative stance, but rather because he seems to have laughed derisively at the bill in public comment, misrepresented it as requiring nothing more than a capricious feeling on the part of the applicant, and casting it as somehow ridiculous, employing the colorful Anglo-Irish metaphor which merely two paragraphs ago inspired our rapt attention.

The extent to which Christie’s meager 1% support in the polls owes to his stance on transgender rights is dubious.  However, it is increasingly clear that in 2016, Presidential contenders will, at the very least, need to have a stance on such rights.  To my upraised finger,2 this represents a huge shift in the political winds.

I digress.  Thanks to my own nativity in the State of Confusion3, I already have a reissued birth certificate.  It felt important at the time for me to obtain it, but it is my driver’s license which daily proves my name/gender, and my passport which put an end to the extraordinary rate of rescanning, patting down, and in one case barely disguised groping I used to experience at TSA security.  One year and a dozen flights later, they have not laid a hand on me since.  Documents really do matter.  Nevertheless, the signature battle for transgender rights will not occur at a government desk, but rather in your local restroom.

Transgender bathroom bills are all the rage this year.  Culture warriors increasingly rally troops bruised by losses on gay marriage by pivoting to a front where they still feel like they can win–the legitimization of transgender discrimination.  Whatever.  Christie and other state/local officials may obstruct on birth certificates, but practically speaking, one usually isn’t required until something is needed to staple to the equivalent death document.  I expect to have to pee long before then.  Transphobic activists are working overtime to put an end to such excretory nonsense.

Until I got to know more transgender people I wondered if I was becoming a bit lavatory-obsessed.  Writing my Bathroom Song was the first sign.  Then came the (unrecorded as far as you know) Garth Brooks spoof,4 riffing on the same theme.  Was I stuck in a rut?

Well, it turns out that I have absolutely nothing on the fanaticism of transphobic activists and legislators.  They propose laws which explicitly discriminate, well…indiscriminately against both FTM’s and MTF’s, although honestly they don’t seem to have heard of the former.  MTF’s themselves are cast not as women in any sense, but posers and pretenders faking an identity crisis to justify legalized voyeurism.  “The clothes make the man?” Pshaw…it’s all about the naughty bits, and they are coming after your daughter.

The central assumption of anti-trans bathroom legislation is that a short and slippery slope exists between transgender identity and sexual predation.  Further, the only way to prevent such acts of sexual violence is to ensure that people use the bathroom corresponding to those parts of their bodies which are unquestionably the least likely to be seen by others in a public restroom.  Or, the hypothetical discomfort of born men/women with trans men/women in the Gents/Ladies5 is sufficient cause to compel transfolk to use facilities where they are actually uncomfortable and genuinely at risk for assault.

I have been called selfish for using the Women’s room, but honestly never by anyone inside of it.  Maybe no woman has ever had the heart to tell me.  However, I suspect that the truth of the matter is that once I reached the point when I was thought it was more appropriate to use the women’s room, most reasonable people agreed with me.  Think about it.  Is this or this really more comfortable for all parties concerned?

I’ll wager that beyond some threshold of minimum facility cleanliness before dropping your drawers/lifting your shift you don’t have a Bathroom Strategy, let alone one that rates capital letters.  I’ll let you decide if it reveals a potential threat to the common good or if it’s merely neurotic as hell:

It starts with intelligence gathering. Are the rooms multistall or locking singles?  Are there just the two options, or is there a door number three?  How philosophically compromising, on a scale from 9 to 10, does door number three feel today?  Can I tell which side the stalls will be on by the distance between the men’s and women’s doors?  I look for temporary lulls in traffic like a golfer trying to time a shot between invisible gusts of wind.  Wait, it’s intermission…perhaps I can dart in quickly after they flick the lights to signal the rest of the patrons back to their seats.

Time to move. Eyes downcast, or at least distant and unfocused, I enter the bathroom hugging the wall.  One stall will be larger–this time the handicapped designation doesn’t seem to goad me.  Being 6’3″ in a room full of ridiculously low toilets is handicap enough.  Sitting down on one of those little toadstools captures 90% of the essence of falling ingloriously on one’s ass. I might never rise again, and they’ll find me stuck here during third shift cleaning.  I bee line for the taller seat if available, but if not, then closest port in a storm.

Dear God, no…there’s a line.  Please, please, please don’t talk to me.  Maybe I can pretend I’m 20 and just stare at my phone.  How convincingly can I say, No habla ingles? It’s not too late to turn back.  Two and a half hours…surely I can hold it for two and a half hours.

No, I can’t.  Hopefully there’s somewhere else to stop on the way home–a gas station preferably.  Good ol’ single rooms.  Fair odds in a fast food joint too.  Not the roadside, though.  There is no way in hell I’m going to be written up in the local paper as the transvestite[sic] cited for public urination.  I go through life bouncing from one embarrassment to another, but some humiliations are simply beyond the pale.

 

Happiness

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Once upon a time…

Trans person discovers self.  Reveals self.  Awkward first steps.  Family, friends sustain and support.  Over time, trans person flourishes and thrives.  Storybook ending.  Happily ever after…

2015 is the Year of the Transgender Fairy Tale.  It’s not just okay to be out.  It’s absolutely fucking brilliant.  Pockets of resistance still clutter the battlefield, but the war is essentially over.  Tolerance triumphs over bigotry.  The rainbow-clad umbrella shelters a technicolor world of unique experiences and diverse truths.

More than any other comment, whether online or in my day to day life, I hear other people commenting on my happiness:

“Sure, it’s a rough road, but at least you found your happiness.”  
“Whatever makes you happy.”

And so on…

The Caitlyn Jenner spectacle centers on happiness1  The storyline runs from 65 years of secret misery to a summer of public happiness.  To be sure, Jenner’s own comments reinforce this narrative at nearly every turn.  Happiness is the story we want.  Happiness sells.

Is transgender happiness real?  Better, is it any different than non-transgender happiness?  Perhaps happiness is what we all prefer to show to the world.  A richly evocative metaphor proposes that we “put our best face forward.”  Philosopher Immanual Kant suggests that the increase of happiness is our highest moral principle.  For the most part, we act like we agree.

It can be quite unnerving to have others speak of your happiness when you are miserable.  Not everyone does so, of course.  A few recognize the emotional undercurrents which most apparently prefer to ignore.  During two separate multi-week intervals of intense depression this past winter, praise of my new happiness by others never abated.  Meanwhile, I was, if not suicidal, “praying for the mountains to fall upon me.”  I barely weathered the most intense emotional experience of my life–despair–and wondered at the fact that I had previously thought I knew what the word meant.  “As long as you’re happy…”

Nor are trans people immune to this sort of thinking.  Early in my transition, I lamented to my counselor that despite all the changes (relatively minor compared to what followed) I was not feeling happy.  She responded, “Oh…is that what you thought the prize was?”

Trans people may or may not find happiness, just as non-trans people may or may not find happiness.  The “prize” of transition is not happiness, but rather authenticity.  We cease living a life which is not ours to live.  We stop being two people, and become one.  We embrace what is increasingly being referred to as our “personal truth.”  We allow ourselves to do what our subconscious has been driving us to do against the force of other conscious and subconscious decisions to keep these things hidden.

Transition (ideally), reduces an internal struggle, but at the cost of an external one.  Moving through life as a gender congruent person was, by comparison, effortless, even if it simply felt wrong to me.  Now, I face a spectrum of public abuse, ranging from the overt taunts of “he-she” and “it” to the subtleties of non-inclusion into social behaviors.  Never before did I need a strategy for public restroom use, or consider waiting several hours to get home a viable option.  I plan my route through crowded rooms.  Even trans-accepting people tend think I’m at least a little bit nuts, some patting themselves on the back for putting up with it.  Others not-so-subtly project the idea that they are the adult in the room.  My phone never rings other than for business–I am neither one of the guys nor one of the girls.  Gentle reminders to address me by my name and with feminine pronouns are repetitively ignored, and more forceful requests are seen as bitchy.  The battle goes on and on.  Only the location has changed.  Sometimes I miss the days when I was merely torturing myself.

When speaking of medical transition, transgender happiness or at least contentment with transition has been subjected to scientific study.  One such paper made headlines within the past few years, with various findings being emphasized depending on the agenda of the reviewer.  Within support groups, one commonly invoked phrase is that of reaching the point of “transition or die”.  The good news is that the vast majority of people express contentment with their medical treatments.  However, transgender people still remain at substantially higher2 risk for depression and suicide.  Sometimes you transition and die.

We don’t know if Caitlyn Jenner is any happier than Bruce Jenner was.  In real time, we assumed that they both were.  I can’t guess at your happiness, and you can’t guess at mine.  In most cases, I tend to think that we publicly exaggerate.

Working toward happiness remains a worthy goal.  Gender dysphoria may prevent happiness, but gender transition does not necessarily produce it.  The pursuit of authenticity and the pursuit of happiness intersect, but they are separate journeys.

Perhaps seeming happy is a milepost on the road to becoming happy.  We move through life telling jokes and sharing laughs.  We binge watch sit-coms and dance to Pharrell Williams.  We write our Christmas cards and recount our family’s greatest hits. We put candles on birthday cakes and gather in December to cheer the new year.   We smile for the camera.  We reassure our friends that we, like they, are blissfully happy.

But it’s just a fairy tale.

 

Passing Revisited

Published / by rmaddy / 2 Comments on Passing Revisited

Image credit Johnny Hart.

He pedaled directly to where I sat by the lake.  He appeared to be seventy or so, and looked harmless enough.  The trouble is that you can’t always tell.

Immediately I begin to flash through the inventory.  Let’s see:  I’m sitting down.  Good.  He can tell that I’m tall, but now how tall.  Sunglasses cover my eyes and brows.  Excellent.  I happen to be wearing old men’s swim trunks, but they are very loud colors and paired with a swim shirt which offers no solid clues.  I shaved yesterday.  To me, it suddenly feels like a bumper crop of thistles, but from his side, it’s probably still blond enough.  My fingernails are hot pink.  Oh well, here goes nothing…

I told you that I reject the idea of passing.  It’s time to clarify.  I reject that I should have to appear feminine for the comfort of a binary world.  I reject the idea that not passing makes me less of a woman than a transsexual who can pull it off or a natal female who doesn’t have to.  I don’t owe anyone anything vis-a-vis my presentation except myself.1

That said, being clocked2 every time I encounter a stranger is a lamentable pain in the ass-bone.  It really doesn’t matter how many times you see someone’s face fall as they say, “Oh…”, or hear the “are you a man/woman” question.  There is no graceful exit once the bottle is tipped.  You’ve already got Awkward Sauce all over your new white shirt before you ever push away from the table.  So, while I don’t owe anyone an inconspicuous cameo, I also admit that I can’t sustain the energy necessary to clean up the spill dozens of times per day.  For my own sake, I learn to pick my spots.

In this case, I remain fascinated with the lake.  I don’t turn to face him directly.  I remember to smile as we make small talk and I tune in to his reactions as well as I can with my eyes elsewhere.  I push my voice up from it’s normal residence in the center of my chest to the larynx.  This raises the pitch a few notches, but not to Mickey Mouse levels.  I turn down the volume and let the pitch bounce a little.  It’s not to hard to break the monotone once you realize it’s there–something men rarely seem to do.

I feel deeply conflicted about vocal training.  For one thing, I am a singer, and though not very good at it, I shudder to think of the loss of my vocal signature.  Everyone has one.  It is the permanent narrator of your thoughts, as familiar to you as your own face.  Probably more.  Second, I see vocal training as a concession along the same lines of visually passing.  Indeed, voice is far more important in passing than appearance.  There are many oceans left to navigate on my voyage, but the passage I dread the most at this point is the fact that some time soon I will have to figure out what to do with my voice.  Meanwhile it’s just so damned easy to sound like me.

I know the basic principles of voice modulation.  And, I would be a complete idiot if I didn’t cultivate the ability to sound plausible in a pinch.  Today it was apparently optional.  Another day my survival might depend on it.

Most of the time, “clocking” leads merely to mutual embarrassment.  The person who reads me is often just as flustered as I am, or even more.  They might never have experienced this before, whereas I am thoroughly practiced and cannot help but be a little numb.  Still, it builds up.  Whatever the stranger feels will only be felt this once, whereas my life is an endless repetition of such moments.  And that’s the best case scenario.

Trans people need to develop a strategy for men.  Personally, I don’t have much use for them.  I am not attracted to them, and don’t seem to share many of their typical interests.  I don’t care for my own smell, let alone their generally less disguised version.  I was never any good at being one and I’ve noticed to my amusement that many of them are not especially good at it either.  Only the flavor of our failure is different.  Nevertheless, despite the wicked lie of my upbringing 3, I have to admit that the vast majority of them are really decent folk, and to channel Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless.

Most encounters are therefore quite benign.  On rare occasion, however, being transgender can be a death sentence.  The flashpoint typically occurs when a man experiences sexual attraction to a trans person before the lightbulb goes on.  In order for this to be truly dangerous, the guy has to be fairly unglued to start with.  I have definitely seen guys get flustered when they are either making casual conversation or overtly hitting on me when they suddenly discern my unique origins.  Almost all of them just want to go crawl into a hole somewhere.  Some get rude.  It is my great fortune to have never seen an outcome much worse than this.  Nevertheless, trans people are murdered every year by guys whose sexual attraction morphs into uncontrollable rage.

The sunlight of public attention is just beginning to dawn on this situation, but the sharks are still circling in the water.  The recent Supreme Court decision ends only one type of publicly-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people.  As I mentioned recently, it is still legal to fire people for being queer in 29 states.  Attempts to rewrite public ordinances to allow transgender people the right to pee in the most comfortable restroom are routinely fought by people casting us as a threat to children.  The DOD is spending six months investigating a solution, but I am still not eligible to serve openly in the military.  When I go to the vendor areas at medical conferences, the military recruiters literally4 look down at the floor as I pass their booth.

Most of you probably find these things to be very sad.  Further, you would be outraged to learn that “trans-panic” has been used with some success to assert innocence of violence against transsexuals and to reduce sentences for such crimes.  The idea is that it is justifiable to attack someone who surprised you by being who they are.  Many red states have been fighting like hell against hate crimes statutes and only now are losing out to superseding federal considerations.  Let’s make it personal:

Try this thought experiment.  Does a transsexual person have a duty to disclose himself/herself to a potential sex partner before making steps in that direction?  Why?  While the times are certainly a-changin’, exhaustive knowledge of private matters has never been a pre-condition for sexual activity.  I challenge you to consider whether you believe that transsexuals must lay all their cards on the table in the way a “real man/woman” would not, and what this has to say about your value of transgender life.  Of course one eventually needs to sort out the mechanics of it all, but the truth of the matter is that often identity disclosure often ends brings an evening to a screeching halt, and deep down inside you may have to admit that it would for you too.  To be transgender is to be Less Than.  Maybe a few laws are falling our way, but society still hates us, and won’t even concede the point.

Therefore we make do.  There are several things we can do to be safe.  One is to avoid being noticed at all.  Trans people tend to be much more socially withdrawn.  This, and not our gender identity itself, accounts for the mental illness which we undeniably and disproportionately suffer.  Second, we can try to pass, or at the least make half-way adjustments aimed at soothing the bruised ego of the beholder .  At the risk of beating a dead horse, we keep this option open not because of moral obligation but rather because it is simply in our best interests in a broken world.  Defensive strategies often involve a combination of both.  Fly below the radar whenever you can, even it would be more pleasant to be uninhibited and free.  Third, make some friends–fast.  Without people to watch your back, the target on it grows ever larger.  Finally, learn to recognize the weirdos.  Unfortunately this is an inexact science.

Today, however, the tale has a happy ending.  Whether totally convinced or just pleasantly unconcerned, our cycling gentleman departed as amiably as he arrived.  Heading off towards home, he called over his shoulder, “Have a wonderful day, my girl.”

Exotica

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment
All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies.  —Book of Bokonon; Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

The North American jackalope is among the most elusive of all native fauna. Speculated1 to have numbered in the tens of millions prior to colonization of the Desert Southwest, they are apparently destined to follow in the footsteps of the dodo, the golden toad and the jabberwock.  Despite the warnings on the sign pictured above, I didn’t see one damned jackalope on that entire stretch of road, nor indeed for several days afterwards.2

Nor is the life of an exotic animal always easy.  You are a curiosity.  People constantly point at you, sometimes whispering, other times shouting to make sure everyone else knows that you are the one who made the Epic Discovery.  Strangers poke and prod at you.  Camera-wielding thrill seekers try to pretend that they are taking a picture of something very interesting behind you, but you know they will display your image like a trophy to their friends later over craft beers.  Herding with other exotics only amplifies the effect.  Crowds gather and text messages start flying like hippogriffs and pegasi.  No small wonder, therefore, that many jackalope prefer to remain hidden in the crannies of the forest.

Which brings me to lunch…

Surgeon:  Would you like company as you eat?
Fabulous transgender ER doctor (F-TERD):  Sure
Surgeon:  Um, are you a girl?
F-TERD:  I’m a transgender female.
Surgeon:  Ok?
F-TERD:  It happens.
Surgeon:  I see.  Just so you know, I’m not interested in anything else.
F-TERD:  Thanks for the tip.

Having spent my entire life with one amazing woman, I lack recent experience with the complex mating, or in this case, explicitly non-mating rituals of the human animal.  I hear that humans develop an elegant fluency for this sort of interaction, but alas, I am entirely unpracticed.  Honest to Bob I thought it was a bit awkward.  No matter–he was fibbing a bit regarding his disinterest.  The next hour consisted of two ships passing in the daylight–me asking him about his hometown, medical practice and hobbies and he peppering me with a series of incredulous questions about how I managed to navigate the world, “seeming like a rational”3  professional attending the same conference that he was.  Guess I fooled him.

Most days I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but this time I chose amusement instead of indignation.  All in all, it turned out to be a decent conversation.  I’m pretty sure I saw him squirm a little when I described the freedom inherent in living a life without secrets.  I wasn’t just any old jackalope today.  I was a jackalope rockstar.

Human beings love exotica.  Witness how children love dinosaurs.  Big children (aka young Earth Creationists) love them even more.  Ken Ham’s Creation Museum postulates that extensive human contact with dinosaurs led to proliferation of dragon legends throughout the world.  “Prepare to Believe”, signs suggest helpfully.  I’m not making fun of them.4  My point is that whatever else we might disagree upon, the coolness of dinosaurs is beyond question.

Still, I think that they got it wrong.  We invent ogres, dragons, demons and unicorns because we need them.  They inhabit the darkened edges on the spectrum of possibility.  Tossed about in a world where no rule of thumb long remains unbroken, we cling to our superlatives:  the strongest, the most terrifying, the surreal and the mythical.  We embrace fantasy because most of the time reality feels far more absurd.  As GK Chesterton said:

Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird circulates in more than 250 newspapers and has spawned both friendly and competitive clone sites.  Would millions of people bother to read News of the Tedious and Mundane?  I think not.5  Shepherd sates our nearly unquenchable appetite for the bizarre, simultaneous providing us with something quasi-respectable to tell people that we are reading when we are actually looking at Dear Abby.  Or so I have heard…

At the risk of alienating the folks who probably comprise the vast majority of the page hits on this site, you didn’t find me nearly so fascinating in 2005.  I get it.  I suppose that I wasn’t.  Except that I was, and I was terrified to tell you.  We nearly missed the opportunity to know and love each other.  That’s the message:  somewhere out there, someone you know has an absolutely mesmerizing story to tell but is afraid to tell it.  If you can, try to project the sort of presence that makes others believe that you will listen to them, even or especially when the chain derails.

 

 

 

 

Self-identification

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

“I identify as black.”  –Rachel Dolezal

It’s that sort of year for the transgender community.  Even when the story is not about us, somehow we are getting dragged into the mix.  Former Spokane NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal1 scripted her words carefully for her first public post-outing interview, and the howl of the transgender advocates and allies was swift and furious.

I think we all understand the underlying question that Dolezal posed.  Right-wing culture warriors certainly pounced on it.  Are we free to forge our identities or not?  If I can call myself female,2 why can’t she call herself black?

I caught my first glimpse of the Lauer/Dolezal interview as I was hurrying to catch a flight.  I was transfixed and my stomach dropped to knee level.  Immediately and intuitively, I sensed that there was something deeply wrong about what she was saying, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

800 miles later, I still can’t.

To be sure, there is much wrong about the Dolezal story itself.  I don’t think it is possible for her to rationalize taking on leadership of a community without disclosure of her background.  Dolezal might believe that it would make no difference whatsoever if we were to find out that Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Steinem were transwomen, but I doubt many people agree.  Further, she has told some pretty big whoppers over the years to cover her tracks, to the point that she is being cast as a pathological liar.

I’m not sure what good this does for the discussion.  If her dishonesty really is pathological, then step one is to stop blaming her for it. Disease is best addressed with compassion, not shaming. To the best of my ability to tell from what I have read, Dolezal is someone who feels strong emotional connection to the black community.  She believes, wrongly in my opinion, that she couldn’t be a good mother to her black child without being black herself.  She felt that her experience of blackness provides credibility and gravitas to her life’s work as a civil rights activist.  Without endorsing her non-disclosure, I recognize that her self-presentation, her racial expression, if you will, arose at least in part from some fairly positive motives.  If she is a little messed up about what it means to be black, might it not reasonable to ask if I am a little messed up about what it means to be a woman?  Witness:

Critics assert that Dolezal cannot possibly understand black experience because she was raised white, growing up with privilege instead of oppression.  She is not black because she has altered her appearance to pass as such.  She could stop presenting as black tomorrow.  She wasn’t always black.  A paper trail and gallery of photographs attest to her former whiteness.   She benefited in some way from her transition.  She is potentially fetishizing black experience.  Stop me when I say something that could not be equally applied to transgender people.

The reason that Dolezal’s comment left me so breathless was not because it was so ridiculous, but rather because it wasn’t.  I might castigate her all I want for dishonest dealings.  I might chafe at the fact that she is capitalizing on transgender experience to score a point.  Regardless, I concede the point.  I don’t know if being “transracial” in the Dolezal sense is a real thing or not, but I see the peril in claiming legitimacy for my own cause on something as logically flimsy as strength in numbers.  Self-report is the bedrock on which my identity rests, and I can’t deny it to someone else while clinging to it for myself.

I see a potential path out of the woods.  It starts by recognizing what actually went wrong here.  Transgender people hide their past life post-transition are said to be “woodworking”, or “going stealth”.  This, and not internal self-concept, was Dolezal’s transgression.  I reject “stealth mode”, and I think it is time for the transgender community to loudly and clearly do the same.  I am who I am by way of who I was.  This does not mean, of course, that we all need to walk around wearing signs disclosing the intimate details of our biography to disinterested parties,3 but we can certainly do a better job of telling our stories when they really do matter.  Further, we can begin to recognize that the rigid constructs of race and gender don’t work as well as we used to think.  We do not live in a black and white world.  We are clothed in shades of gray.4

The transgender narrative wanders off target when it latches on to hopes of future technologies to prove who we are.  I can’t imagine any version of that scenario that does not suck.  I claim the right to define myself.  I affirm the right of others to do the same.  I think that we can do this with both honesty and care.  I don’t call myself a woman, and maybe Dolezal shouldn’t call herself black.  I am a transwoman.  My path to femininity was different from that of cis-women (aka “biological females), but it is not less.

The Jenner Moment

Published / by rmaddy / 2 Comments on The Jenner Moment

There are an estimated 700,000 transgender people in the United States.  Being transgender is more common than being from Wyoming.  Nevertheless, 92% of Americans in a recent survey said that they did not know a transgender person.1  The transgender community would seem to have a visibility problem, or at least it did until last week.

More people know that Caitlyn Jenner is transitioning than know that Rick Santorum is running for President.  One year from now, that will still be true.  I don’t spend much time in my car, but already this week I have heard three radio conversations with trans people as a direct result of the Jenner/Sawyer interview and the Vanity Fair cover.  Such a cluster of coverage–almost all of it respectful and positive–would have been unthinkable ten years ago.  If Jenner does nothing more than this for the cause of transgender acceptance, she will still have done our community a very good turn.  Inevitably, some of the other 699,999 stories are going to be heard.

Onto today’s riddle:

My daughter is a fashionista and cosmetology school graduate.  She has seen all the latest movies and knows the best places to hang out.  She likes sleek cars, muscular guys and takes a wicked selfie.  My wife fell out of a Jane Austen novel.  She dazzles in modest dress, revels in nature and eschews modern technology.  Her beauty is undeniable, but similarly unpolished.  If she weren’t such a strong ally to the LGBT community, she would likely have never seen a cover of Vanity Fair.

Which one of them is the real woman?

If you answered, “What a f***ing stupid question,” you are today’s winner.  Let’s take it a step further though.  Now add me into the mix.  A few of you might still find the question stupid, while others might find the question somewhat more complicated.2  Nevertheless, I trust that all of you would have sufficient respect for my human dignity to ponder the nuances privately.  Not so for an unholy alliance of conservative culture warriors, religious bigots and a few radical feminists who felt the need to respond to Caitlyn Jenner’s recent public appearances with venomous articles mocking her as a delusional pretender and insisting that she is a man.

Attacks from feminists unsettle me the most.  I expect nonsense from the religious right.  Feminism, on the other hand, is nearly defined by efforts to expose and uproot gender-based oppression.3  Women and transgender people (from all points of the gender spectrum) both suffer the ill effects of gender policing and gendered social structuring.  Why would feminists lash out at transwomen?  Looking again to the Burkett article, several reasons shake out:

1.  Transwomen have enjoyed and are suffused with male privilege.  In many cases, this is true.  The nature of social privilege is such that those who have it are least likely to notice it.  I am certainly guilty of not recognizing privilege in my life, and quite probably of not doing enough to renounce and reject male privilege in particular as I have transitioned.  On the other hand, I have certainly (through societal conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation) lost straight privilege, and in so doing, I have formed the idea that privilege is one–in other words, I cannot rationally reject male privilege while choosing to retain privilege based on race, class, education, etc.  Of course there is no guarantee that I will act rationally, but I do believe that I have made some progress.  And, responding to Ms. Burkett, to the extent that I continue to exude male privilege, I admit to being a poor feminist.  Then again, not all women are feminists either, and I don’t see her questioning their identity as women.

2.  Transwomen (and Jenner in particular) embody a skewed vision and stereotypical view of femininity.  Hell, I wouldn’t pose in a white corset either.  That said, there are dozens of glamour/fashion magazines coming out every week, and whether or not feminists of Ms. Burkett’s stripe have applauded the choices of the models, they have certainly not questioned their womanhood.  Is it possible that Jenner’s view of femininity is informed by the women with whom she is most closely associated?  Are they also “not real women?”  Additionally, I refuse to get my lingerie in a loop about the made-for-reality-TV flavor of Jenner’s public transition.  She was a consummate self-promoter long before she was Caitlyn, and expecting her to behave otherwise in this marketable moment would be like insisting that Mick Jagger sit down when he sings.  Ironically, those who wish Jenner would just shut up and/or slink away into a quiet corner are echoing the age-old wish that women should be seen but not heard.

Until transpeople are accepted as people, there will always be insinuations about deceptiveness and pretense.  I work in an all female “office”.  I wear more makeup than 98% of my co-workers. Many of my female friends report that they just don’t feel like they need it, that it feels like a mask, or that it hides their face.  I get that.  Although I enjoy the artistic aspects of application and take some pride in having gotten a bit better at it, I too think it would be nice to just “wash and wear” from time to time.  The problem is that my physical features project something to the world with which I don’t feel comfortable.  My face itself is the mask.  There is something behind it which is very difficult for you to see unless I show you.  When I put on makeup, it is not to hide, but rather to reveal.

3.  “Jenny come lately.”  Transwomen didn’t grow up as girls, and therefore are not women at all.  Except for transwomen who transitioned very young, the initial premise is certainly true.  It is to the conclusion that I object.  Or rather, I say, “define woman”.  If one wants (as it seems evident from Burkett’s writing) to define women as those adults who have vaginas on their original equipment list, I suppose that this closes the case.  Nevertheless, feminism has long aspired to loftier conceptions.

I agree that cosmetic surgeries can be a trap.  Caitlyn Jenner has obviously had some work done, but she didn’t invent breast augmentation, face lifts or nose jobs.  These things have all been available to (wealthy) women for quite some time.  Neither are these operations all bad.  There is a reason that breast reconstruction after mastectomy has become an almost uniformly insured procedure–our sense of wholeness and wellness is profoundly influenced by the shape of our bodies.  Trans people often feel intensely betrayed by and uncomfortable with their bodies.  While surgery should not be a first or obligatory step towards wholeness, it may well play a valuable role.

Every woman I know became one gradually.  Transfolk like Jenner and me are adolescent in spite of our years.  I really don’t give a shit if people think that I am a “real woman”.  That I also don’t know whether or not I am reflects the fact that I don’t think there is any definition of “woman” which universally works.  As Obi Wan says, “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”  Meanwhile, if it is my destiny to become a woman, whether in part or in toto, perhaps a bit of patience is in order.

 

Thank you for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please write them on them on the bottom of a Mopho x4 synthesizer, and mail it to my home address.