Monday, December 21, 2009

The Divinding Line

Without "talking out of school" I want to say a bit about a recent conversation I had because it seems to me that the thoughts expressed there represent a deeper reality that applies to everyone's attitudes.

The basic structure is as follows.
When you consider a transgender person, you believe - if you have an opinion at all - that one of these two things is true: Either (a) this is a person with a condition, something they were probably born with and over which they have no control other than how they choose to "treat" the condition; or (b) this is a person indulging in a lifestyle choice which they could easily, if they so desired, "turn off" and put aside.

The person I was talking with was firmly in the latter camp. In his opinion then, quite logically and obviously, I was selfishly placing my desire to behave this way ahead of the concerns of those who might be hurt by my choices. Other people I have spoken with seem to grasp the reality of the former point of view (one very sweet lady I am acquainted with seem surprised when I said "no church around here is going to have me." she said "Why not? I don't see anything wrong with you." It made my day).

It seems to me that that difference of opinion is the fundamental dividing line in terms of how people like me are received. Oh that's not to say that a person who thinks this is a choice will be rude or unkind, they may well feel obliged to exercise good manners and be polite. but when it comes to how a person fundamentally feels about you - whether they are happy that you are happy or uncomfortable in your presence or whatever - it goes back to the basic question of WHY you are what you are.

After all, for a person like me who's in a long term marriage, if this is a condition then it falls under "in sickness and in health, for better or worse" but if it's a choice then it is, in many ways, abandonment. That's a huge distinction when a spouse is trying to process what comes next.

What makes it more complex and difficult is that in most cases, a person who believes it is a choice does so because of their moral world view. Such a person is usually not at all receptive to evidence to the contrary. I can point you to any number of solid scientific finding which indicate this is inborn. Both behavioral studies which I grok and technical biological studies which I confess to being out of my depth in trying to understand. but if you BELIEVE this is a choice, then you are often pre-disposed to dismiss any so-called evidence which might muddy those particular waters. I don't say this with any sort of hostility, just as an observation of reality.

Still, if there's a lesson in this for those of us living out this process, it's that maybe there's a real obligation on us to be as open about our condition as possible. While some of those we love most will be the ones who hurt us most by there rejection, it's also apparently true that for a great many well intentioned people, having someone "put a face on" this thing provokes them to reconsider their worldview. And if there's ever going to be a place in the world for people like us, it's going to come not through political pressure but through changing people's hearts one at a time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


But is it really paranoia if the thing you are paranoid about ends up being true?

I've always felt, and perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the image I presented to the world was a false front, that feeling that there was something going on behind my back that I wasn't privy to. You know what I mean. Like when there are two people at the other end of the hall whispering and you are SURE they are talking about you?

I never really put too much stock in that feeling - one could go crazy wondering if they indulged that. But this experience has added a couple of new layers or facets to that feeling.

For one thing, I take it as a given now that if two or more people near me are laughing together, they are probably laughing at me. That's not so much paranoia, because I resolved when I started down this road not to be discouraged by the ridicule I might get from others, but more a mechanism for dealing with the reality that at least some of them surely are. If I take it for granted that it's about me and then am able to shrug it off and not be hurt or offended, then it makes me stronger for the hard parts of the road ahead.

I saw that coming and was ready for it.

But the other thing is something I didn't see coming at all - the paranoia about what a Facebook friendship really means.

This actually works out in a couple of different ways. first, what do you make of a Facebook friend who "defriends" you? Did they somehow decide you were ok at first but then reverse course and decide to wash there hands of you? I mean, that's anyone's right to be sure - but it leaves a lot of room for speculation as to motives when it happens with no explanation.

The other side of it is, of course, wondering why someone you have little or no real-world interaction with wants to be your friend. I mean, for a "normal" person maybe it's not that big a deal. Probably they just need one more person to invite to Farmville or some such. Maybe they just want the biggest friend list ever.
But with me, there's always the possibility that there's something more.

Is this person my friend because they really want to be nice? Are they just innocently curious? Do they wish to be supportive?


Are they slowing down to gawk at the train wreck?

Are they here for the same reason people pay to see the Dog-Faced Boy at the Freak Show? are they looking for something to gossip about?

You see, I hate to even think these thoughts. I would much prefer to think the very best of everyone absent some real reason for doing otherwise. But I can't help but wonder if people REALLY are supportive of (or at least cool with) me? they really remember me fondly from some previous interaction or some such?...or am I providing them free ammunition?

I really don't know. In most respects it doesn't matter I suppose. If you are laughing at me when I'm not around there's nothing I can do about it and it really does me no harm. But there is one thing about this that does matter a very great deal to me, and that's how you treat the people I love and the people whom circumstances have connected to me.

No one else but me had anything to do with causing this or any ability to stop it. it is my own private curse or condition or whatever the hell you call it. I would really hate to think that my mom or my wife or my kids or my brother or my in-laws or anyone else connected to me was having to suffer the abuse of small-minded and petty people because I've chosen to be so open about my situation on-line and in the real-world. I realize there are such childish and mean-spirited people out there, and it's not like I'm not an easy target, both for what I am and because of anyone's judgment about how I chose to deal with it.

But honestly, if you feel you MUST act a fool, at least have the sense to direct your derision at the ACTUAL freak and not the person who through no fault of there own has some connection to the freak, ok? It might not occur to you but chances are the person you are troubling isn't any more happy about this than you are.

I don't say all this in reference to any particular person of whom I'm aware - as far as I know, every friend on my list (and everyone I've spoken to about this IRL) is completely compassionate and kind towards me and everyone around me. So maybe I'm just paranoid.

Maybe there isn't anything at all to worry about in this regard. but, if I were a gambler . . . I'd have to place my bets that if it hasn't happened, it will.

So all I ask for is sincerity. If I'm doing anything here, it's being totally frank and open with people about my issues. so be open in return. there is nothing so valuable as a sincere relationship, and nothing so empty as a false one. I can take any heat you can throw at me and maybe even answer with some of my own...but let your words to me be the same as your words that I don't hear. and save your judgment for me alone if judgment you have.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

What makes a difference?

So maybe this week I don't have a long drawn out dissertation on life, the universe, and everything. I've been thinking that not everyone who reads this thing is local and yet my previous posts have been sort of coming from a place where you almost have to be local to know what I'm talking about, so let me try to do some posts, perhaps shorter, on some more general thoughts.

A friend of mine has ask me a few questions about where this sort of thing comes from and why a person with GID makes the choices they do and I want to address those here at some point but I'm still kind of gathering my thoughts on that in a way that I can be clear and not give in to my usual tendency to wander off on tangents.

In the mean time, another thought is on my mind this evening, which is this - does real world contact do more to build tolerance than political activism?

One of the things I've gone back and forth on in terms of where I go from here is the extent to which I "keep my head down" and live my own life, as opposed to the possibility of - for example - trying to start a support group for folks like me in North Mississippi (believe me, there are NO resources for gender issues this side of Memphis that are easily found) or some other effort to "be active" beyond getting through my own life unmolested. But what I don't have an interest in is being a "professional victim." It seems to me that those who very loudly and publicly proclaim how they and those like them are being abused often alienate the hearts and minds they are trying to win. I don't want to be that sort of person.

First of all, there is the problem of mistaken perceptions. I personally think it is most unfortunate that gay/lesbian issues are joined at the hip with transsexualism in the minds of most people (practically all people who are not themselves trans). Both in the LGB community, and in the "Christian Conservative" movement, they are thought to be all the same set of problems. In my humble opinion, they are not. Meaning no disrespect to gays and lesbians when I say this, there is a fundamental difference in their orientation situation and our identity situation. At it's most basic level, being transsexual is not a SEXUAL issue at all, it's a gender issue. Which is to say that it's not at all about who you have sex with or, indeed, if you have sex at all.
A great many transsexuals, whether pre- or post-operative, are essentially celibate the rest of their lives (and quite happy to make the bargain if that's the price that must be paid). Many others remain oriented towards the gender that they were always oriented towards (i.e. a transwoman who is still romantically interested in women - which puts the lie to the myth that transsexuals are just homosexuals in denial) as well. Our issues with our identity are not predicated on or even directly related to our sexual behavior.

Whatever might be said for or against the rights of homosexuals to practice their lifestyle unmolested, there issues are not the same as ours. Take one obvious example. A gay man can and does commonly use a men's restroom without an eyebrow being raised. Why? Because his bedroom habits are not at issue when he is using the restroom, it's as irrelevant as what he had for dinner last night. By contrast, every time a pre-operative transwoman sets foot in a ladies room (at least one which is designed for more than one occupant at a time) she is risking the wrath of some offended person taking exception. Now, whatever your opinion of the bathroom issue (perhaps I'll devote a column to that issue sometime in the future) the point remains - for us the issue is the restroom itself, not what we do elsewhere as it is for the homosexual.

That's just one illustration - but the point I'm making here is that despite that reality, in the common perception of opinion and politics, trans issues are intertwined with homosexual issues. Another case in which, politically speaking, perception becomes reality. So I'm pretty much stuck with knowing that as you read, you'll be thinking "gay rights" no matter how I preface it.

Now, in saying I don't want to be a political crusader, that's not to say that there are not legitimate issues that need to be worked out in this ever-more-complex society. It's not to say that I might not at some point find myself treated unfairly (in fact, I'd be stunned if it didn't happen) and that such unfairness wouldn't possibly put me in a position of protesting I'd rather not be in. But nonetheless, having been on both sides of the issue, so to speak, I have maybe a bit of insight not everyone "in the trenches" on these battles has. I've seen both sides demonize the other and I've noticed, I think, that it is the most political of activists that seems to most provoke suspicion on the other side.

So. what really works? If I, or anyone else in my position, wants to see a world that's more accepting of our condition, do we really need to march with placards and be "in the face" of those with differing opinions? do we really need to (as the gay press does with great reliability) accuse those who have a differing view of being "haters"? I can testify that during all the time I spent reading and listening and talking to people who had views which gay rights activists would label as intolerant, I never saw even one example of open hatred among the people I interacted with. I mean sure there are people like Fred Phelps and Steve Anderson but the vast majority are not remotely like that. It seems to me that nothing is to be gained by an "us vs. them" mentality in which you assume the worst about the "opponent."

Likewise, it does the conservative side no good, in the long run, to constantly try to make the worst possible connections in expressing their disagreement. Constantly comparing gays to child molesters for instance, trying to build up the mental image that the leather clad parader in San Francisco represents your typical gay or that the over-the-top drag queen represents your typical transsexual (with all due respect to leather-clad drag queens). In fact, all that really says to a lot of the people who's mind you are trying to change is that you are out of touch with reality. Heck, most drag queens aren't even transsexuals in the first place.

In my observation, both in my VERY limited time living it but also in the testimony of many others who have traveled a similar road, what really works is recognizing and honoring the humanity of the person in question. When the person with the "abnormal" lifestyle is loved and cared for by a real flesh and blood Christian they get the chance to find out that not all (hardly any in fact but you get the point) Christians are motivated by "hate."

Likewise, hopefully at least, when people who've never had any experience with a person with these issues in their life has a chance to know a real person that they have known for years and have some respect for happens to be one of "those people"- when you find out your nephew is gay or your sister is a lesbian or your uncle is trans or ...whatever else you don't personally agree with - hopefully then it gives you the chance to see the people on the other side of public opinion as something more worthy of respect than they were when they were "those people."

Does that mean you have to change your opinion, either way? of course not. You can love a person with whom you agree on absolutely nothing politically or otherwise. It doesn't take approving of someone's issues, decisions, choices, whatever you want to think of them as - in order to have some kindness and compassion for them. That's a matter of simple human decency isn't it? What do we gain by calling each other "hateful" or "sick" except more distance between us?
Differences of opinion are to be expected. But villainizing those who disagree is beneath all of us. I have no idea to what extent I'll try to do in the future (I suspect very very little) but I do hope that at least every once in a while, someone who's known me for years can now take a second look at transsexualism based on what they see in me. Maybe I can "put a face on" the issue in a way that will help someone be more open minded.

Or - Maybe not.