Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Spirit of the Decleration

[to all my non-trans friends, this is regarding a sort of in-house debate within the community and may be of little interest to you, though your comments are not unwelcome]

Three times now, among my friends, I've seen a link to a note posted by another friend which is styled a "deceleration of Independence" for transsexuals. I want to be clear that I share a great deal of the sentiment of this note, which you may read in its entirety here, I was troubled however by the length and complexity of the document, and the potential that it might fail to be as winsome as it might otherwise be because of that nature. Rather than complain without having exerted any effort myself, I took it upon myself to try to do better. Not to disrespect my friend's effort but just the opposite - to be willing to put in an equal amount of effort rather than just sit and be a critic in the peanut gallery. What I found, though, was that Teresa's document while through in detail, did not read like the original Deceleration of Independence for which I, naturally, have a predisposition to fondness.

So I decided that rather than try to squeeze her lengthy argument into that document, I would divide my exercise in two. What I submit for your consideration below is heavily dependent on the theme and structure of Jefferson's original document. I freely confess that large portions of it are borrowed or only slightly modified. This is specifically because i sought to emulate the appeal of his petition and, after all, there is arrogance indeed in trying to do it better than he, right?

What I had intended was to then try to construct a more accessible take on Teresa's actual message. However, I've decided that what she wrote is, less so than a deceleration, a description of an ideological viewpoint, one I agree with on most but not all points, and it is not my place to reword such a statement.

This then, is inspired by her work but seeks not to replace it but to take a different road to the same destination.


A Deceleration of Transsexual Ideological Independence

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political associations which have connected them with another, and to assume among the voices in the political sphere, the separate and equal station to which natural rights and logical consideration entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of those affected requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal, that they are endowed therefore with certain equal unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, our government recognizes the sovereign human right to petition for redress of grievances; and that to that end, citizens freely form political and ideological associations. Having the just intent to amplify their voices to call for equality before the law, these associations are, and of a right must be, freely chosen and not manipulated by any ulterior motive or purpose apart from those of the person so associated. Whenever ones voice is abused to support an action or idea unwillingly, both the cause and the citizen are wronged.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that such associations long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that persons are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute subjugation, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such association, and to provide new guards for their voice in the public arena and their equal rights.

Such has been the patient endurance of transsexuals in their relationship to the community of individuals referred to as transgender or, of late, “gender variant” and the larger human rights community which is active in behalf of those who's rights are infringed based upon their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former public associations.

The history of the present political and ideological movement with which transsexuals are commonly and often unwillingly associated is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the goal of usurping our voice for the political advantage of a cause to which we do not willingly subscribe. These are too numerous and complex to detail herein, but we assert that the specific nature of our lives demonstrates conclusively our right to our own independent voice.

To prove this, let these facts be considered by a candid audience.

The conditions, primarily medical and secondarily psychological, which is present in the transsexual person is demonstrably not the same as, or similar to, those who identify themselves as having a variant gender expression.

The course of treatment require to resolve this condition in the transsexual person according to accepted medical practices places burdens upon the lives of transsexuals which are not a necessary requirement of a variant gender expression. These burdens are essential to rectify our birth condition to a degree that they are part and parcel of the natural right to pursuit of happiness. This is manifestly not the case for the individual who freely chooses a variant gender expression to whatever degree.

As a result of the inborn nature of the transsexual condition, they have a natural right to pursue a course of treatment appropriate to alleviate the distress of said condition in exactly the same manner as persons afflicted with any other condition for which science has provided remedy. This is a specific right which has no application to variant gender expression or, for comparison, to sexual orientation.

While gender variant expressions seeks, perhaps with meritorious reason, to diminish or erase the societal standards which are common to the gender binary customs in the pursuit of freedom of expression, the transsexual seeks to conform to and assimilate into those very customs. Without casting negative aspersions upon the goals of the gender variant, those goals are not only not the goals of the transsexual, but can be counter-productive to the outcome we seek.

It is a self evident reality that the society at large is struggling to reach that place of enlightenment at which all people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, or gender identities enjoy full and equal rights before the law. It is further self evident that progress in this evolution is often inconsistent and frankly irrational. In light of this reality, it is reasonable that those persons who believe their goals are not always the goals of their political and idealogical allies to seek a separate and independent voice in the arena of ideas.

Moreover, many in the transsexual community feel that our distinctive voices, identities, and concerns have been subjugated to a political agenda which they may or may not support but which does not reflect in a significant way the outcome they hope to achieve. It is right and proper that those who find this to be true would sue for separation from the collective movement under which they have been subsumed.

It is further self evident that in the face of a slowly evolving public opinion, the cause and concerns of transsexual persons may in fact receive less than fair consideration because of a reluctance to extend legal privilege to the extent that the gender variant community would petition. It is not a de-legitimizing of the standing that the gender variant community seeks, to recognize the incremental nature of civil rights progress. Nor is it incumbent upon the transsexual to give up progress which might be obtained in order to make common cause with those who have a further agenda.

The larger community generally referred to as “LGBT” has potentially and perhaps inadvertently hindered the progression of legal equality for transsexual persons by merging our legitimate concerns within a conglomeration of other rights for which they petition before governments at all levels It is right and proper that transsexuals then protest that their concerns have not been given consideration on their own merits.

While people of good will can and do disagree on the legitimacy of any specific petition for expansion of the recognition of rights, it is not a logical necessity that the transsexual community disavow the petitions of the gender variant persons. Some will find the petitions lacking, some will make common cause. But fair minded people should agree that this support, or lack thereof, must be granted voluntarily and volitionally and not assumed as a result of their status or condition.

Candid observation may readily determine that, beyond the problematic nature of merging the concerns of the transsexual and the gender variant, both have been ill-served by being the significantly lesser voice in the larger LGBT agenda. It bears repeating that one need not disrespect any other agenda to note that your own is being neglected, either willfully or inadvertently.

The right of the person who wishes to remedy their birth condition with the end result of merging into the gender customs of the general society ultimately must take precedent over any obligation assumed upon them by others to give up that goal for the pursuit of any political or ideological agenda, however worthy.

For some fair and reasonable length of time, the transsexual community has been slow to give voice to these concerns and then, when so voiced they have been characterized in unflattering terms, and subject to undeserved and oppressive pressure to co-operate to the detriment of our own self-identified interests. Whatever the previous dissatisfaction, the former offense has been far exceeded by the hostility and ill-will with which our petition has been received. We assert the right to self determination, and the choice to be a willingly ally in your struggle, or to resign from the arena as our own conscience dictates.

The application of harassment, emotional manipulation, and open hostility in pursuit of that which is falsely called unity, but is in fact nothing less than subjugation, is by itself and apart from all other concerns, a worthy cause for separation.

While it is indeed true that many transsexuals wish to engage in no political agenda at all, but only to assume their place in the gender identity in which they find peace and happiness - which is their natural right - the deceleration of separation between transsexuals and other gender variant peoples, commonly referred to as transgender, is not of necessity a forsaking of the claims either of transgender people or of homosexual people. Rather, it is a recognition of the clear reality that while allies may work together to great effect, it is not necessary to merge there various concerns into one homogeneous agenda in order to achieve that effect. We seek to reclaim a distinct identity, a distinct right to define our own agenda, and the respect that should be accorded one who is a political ally rather than a political pawn.

We do not believe that transsexuals can receive a fair hearing before the general public, and their elected representatives, so long as misconceptions and falsehoods about the nature of our condition and concerns is perpetuated by the unwise and unwilling association between our condition and the gender expression behaviors of the gender variant community. We demand our own identity in the public consciousness and conversation and it is only insomuch as we achieve that that our rights will be recognized. We call upon all organizations which work for human rights at any level to recognize that there are at least three distinct communities who stand in need: homosexual persons, as defined by their sexual orientation, transsexual persons, as defined by their gender identity, and transgender (or gender variant) persons who are defined by their gender expression. We insist that identity and expression are not synonymous and each has it's own concerns and agenda. These may and hopefully will bye willing allies, but none may fairly be subject to any other.

We, therefore, the representatives of the transsexual population of the United States of America, speaking independently, and collectively only where willing assent is voluntarily given, appealing to the natural rights of all humans of the world as recognized by all major faith systems and free governments, do, each individually and according to the dictates of their own conscience, publish and declare our separation from and independence of the designation “transgender” and free of any obligation to activism on behalf of an ideology which is not our own.

We offer the friendly hand of alliance in the cause of anyone who's natural rights are oppressed by force of law, but we reserve the right to self-determine where and whether such a violation has occurred, and further reserve the right to stand aside from conflict which we cannot in good conscience partake in. This is the essence of the freedom which we claim with this act. May fair minded people of good will recognize the rights that we herein assert.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

MUST trans people be Democrats?

A trans activist, Christian Williams, who’s been outspoken in regards to the Nikki Araguz case has, in the course of her following the intricacies of that case, occasionally made comments which spark intense reaction within the trans community, both in agreement and opposition. For the most part I’ve kept my head down on all that. It is, in a sense, a tangent from the larger ongoing rift in the trans community concerning the “TS not TG” position (which I’m largely sympathetic to - but that’s for another post) and the counter-argument to that position.

However, in a recent post she addressed herself to a somewhat broader conversation and I felt I had to reply. It occurred to me as I did that what I wanted to say was worthy of expanding on here, as a very worthy example of the sort of things I want to speak to here since it has become inconvenient for me to be very autobiographical here.

Ms Williams went to exhaustive length to, in her view, identify and refute any possible disagreement with her premise as illogical and even possibly irrational. I am willing to recognize the validity of her argument as far as it goes, but I think that it exists largely in a rhetorical vacuum and ignores important context which makes the choice she presents far from the slam-dunk that she argues for, in my opinion.

Without going to such lengths to review her position, which you may consider in full (if you have lots of time - I thought I was verbose!) I hope that I can fairly summarize it before offering my semi-rebuttal. In short, Williams argues that for a trans person (actually, any LGBT person) to EVER support a Republican is to make common cause with those who would deny rights to LGBT people and is thus never, ever the right choice. Any arguments offered to the contrary are, as she attempts to demonstrate, logical fallacies. Again I must be clear, in an absolute vacuum, I think she has a valid point. But we do not live and move in a vacuum and context matters. I offered in my comments there and wish to expand upon here, four areas which I believe are important context for the discussion that she does not address to my satisfaction in her post.

Before I begin, a couple of points of clarification:
1. My actual sympathies are only marginally more Republican than Democrat. I consider myself a “small l” libertarian. But I have voted with the GOP on several occasions and virtually never for a Democrat. In any case, I am not so much arguing “I’m a proud Republican!” as “It’s not entirely unsupportable to vote for A Republican.”
2. I will not attempt to argue the premise that Republicans do not actually DO what they say they believe in when they have power. In most cases, neither party does. But if my goal is, for instance, smaller government, voting for the party which professes that view, even if they don’t often act on it, is still defensible against the idea of supporting a party who has no interest at all in that position. Just as a left winger might well vote for a “tax the rich” party like the Democrats that often do not actually do that, as vote for the GOP who has expressed no sympathy at all to that objective.

Now, with that said, there are four points I think need to be made. Not direct refutation to the premise, so much as context worthy of consideration so that the deceleration can no longer be seen as such an absolute.

First, Us/Them politics is counter-productive. If one "writes off" the opposing group as unwindable and takes their stand firmly with their opposition, then you reinforce your opponents resolve to be unwinable. Whatever might be said for political activism on the left side of the spectrum, there is, in my view, a SERIOUS need to "put a face on" trans issues (and the larger LGBT community) among those on the right who have limited exposure. It's much more difficult for my right-of-center friends to know me and care for me and still say "no rights for you" and that applies in all cases. Isolation from us makes it much easier to oppose us. You might say, well sure, be friends with them but be active for Democrats and the left - but they can see that. If you go about with an Obama bumper sticker and a pro-choice button and the whole nine yards, your arguments for trans rights are automatically written off as "left wing nonsense." but if they know that you are otherwise "one of them" - small government, tax cuts, pro-life, whatever - then your counter-argument on trans rights is not so easily ignored. Especially when you appeal to small-government and pro-liberty instincts in order to make the case.
(And before you get self satisfied, my lefty friend, look in the mirror - reverse all the issues and most of you do the same thing)

By contrast, when I am well known among my acquaintances as a small-government conservative with little sympathy for all that class-warfare rhetoric, and then I argue this point I cannot be dismissed as “toeing the party line.” Furthermore, the act of “putting a face on” a concern, which is of incalculable value in my opinion, cannot be done from the other side of the political aisle. It is MUCH harder for a conservative to argue that the person they know, respect, and maybe love is unworthy of equality than it is for them to argue against the “freaks and pervs in San Francisco.” That’s not to say it can’t be done. No one is more familiar than me with the concept that loved ones sometimes reject you and your rights in your very face. But the percentages are assuredly in our favor. The people who are bold enough to reject me to my face would have done so to anyone in any context - those are not the one’s I’m trying to reach. It’s the ones who might well reject what Gavin Newsom or Nancy Pelosi says on the subject, but are more open when it’s someone they know. THEY can be won.

Secondly, Ms Williams paints a picture of what would seem to be, in essence, a direct choice between “good social policy + economics I don’t like” vs. “Economics I like + bad social policies” but this overlooks the context of HOW bad the economy is and how bad the potential social policies are. If my choice was between “less than the best” economics, which resulted in a slow-growth economy as a worst case, or solid economics which provoked a booming economy, I might well vote Democrat in order to move the ball on civil rights while the mood was favorable. But that’s not the choice. In my opinion we are teetering on the brink of abject economic disaster. The choices made over the next 4-8 years may very well set an irreversible course. Certainly it’s arguable that the GOP can’t or won’t fix this, but the Democrats are committed to a course which barely acknowledges the possibility of disaster, let alone makes good choices. (Please don’t take the time to try to change my mind on economics, if you disagree then take this as a “for the sake of discussion” theoretical point - economic debates are for another day)

I must therefore ask the question - who protects my rights if the economy completely collapses? There is such a thing as “recessive discrimination” - which is to say that the employee you tolerate in the good times is the first one out the door (and the last one hired) in the bad times. This will be true with or without ENDA, employers will always find another reason to get rid of you if they want you gone. To me, it’s about the priority of the moment, and the context of the present economy. Not the theoretical economy of her argument. In this present hour, I want an at least stable economy in which there IS a job for me to apply for before I worry about whether discrimination keeps me from it.

By contrast, do the Republicans have the political will or capital to actively roll back rights which have already been achieved? Almost never. Even when they occasionally try they tend to lose, as in Maine. The recent nonsense in Tennessee is the tiny exception, not the rule. The occasional “old school” politician trying to prove how “godly” he is notwithstanding, and the positions taken in ongoing battles such as California’s Prop 8 being a different subject, I can’t think of a GOP politician, no matter how conservative, who ever spends ANY political capital addressing the idea of turning back the clock. Some of the left’s most despised targets fail to reach for that goal. Take Sarah Palin. Feel free to cite me anything she’s ever said that hints that she would seek to reduce the rights of gay Americans. That’s not to say they won’t mouth the right words in a primary race, as several did the other night in offering token support to a “Marriage amendment” - but there is no practical chance at all of such an amendment even making it out of committee, let alone into the Constitution. Given these realities, prioritizing is, at a minimum, a defensible position.

Third, Ms Williams cites, in support of her case, poll results which indicate that Republicans lag in their support for gay rights. And it’s true that conservatives do lag behind the curve on this issue. However, it’s also very true that even among Republicans support is growing. The line is moving steadily and inexorably towards support for gay marriages or the legal equivalent (even in the poll she cites, more than half of polled Republicans - 59% - support legal recognition of either marriage or civil unions for homosexuals). This is not happening because LGBT people abandon conservatism, but because we engage it - because we remind conservatives how staying out of people’s private affairs is a small-government value. How refraining from dictating religious morality by the power of the law is a pro-liberty position. Again, this is almost impossible to do from across the political aisle - there is simply too much baggage attached to that.

Even though the Republican demographic still trails badly in opinion polls, the public sentiment for gay/trans rights is an unrelenting tide in our direction. They WILL come, as the recent article on HuffPost notes, the war is over - some just haven't realized they have lost yet. The key demographic is not the party split but the age split - younger voters are hugely in our favor, and those most opposed are passing from the political arena. Even the head of Focus on the Family is on record saying the gay marriage battle is lost - and make no mistake, when that is accomplished all the other things we are fighting for get WAY harder to logically (even with the most generous definition of logic) argue against. If they stop fighting your marriage, they will not go to the mat on housing or employment. So what she argues for here is not win v. lose, it's urgency - do it in the next five years instead of the next 10 or whatever.

Fourth, she notes, correctly, regional politics in admitting that some northeastern Republicans might support our rights, but you ignore the reverse of that. She lives in Texas, I live in Mississippi. I don't know that I can speak for their legislature, specifically, but in this state and many like it - the most Democrat of Democrat, the most left of the left person who can possibly get elected in any district in this state would not DARE sacrifice their re-election chances (as they perceive them) to support a gay/trans friendly bill. The most left wing districts are in the delta, which are heavily African American - but African American voters are also the most stridently anti-gay (even more so than evangelicals). In a state with big cities like Texas there will be some pro-gay enclaves. But in the VAST swath of non-urban America, voting for a Democrat is by NO means voting for a gay/trans friendly office holder. Quite the opposite. Even when gay/trans friendly is the party line. Put another way, if You don't live in a city that's at least the size of, say, Nashville the option to vote for a LGBT supportive politician, of either party, almost certainly doesn't exist. Which means when you vote Democrat is solidarity with your activist brothers and sisters, you get all of the bad aspects of left-wing economics and none of the good aspects of left wing social policy. In fact, you reinforce exactly the WRONG instincts on both sides of that ledger.

This point might seem to stand in contrast to the claim that the tide is moving in our direction. I rather suggest it is an acknowledgment that politicians are a superstitious and cowardly lot who, in the aggregate, are far more likely to follow than lead. This tends to put them behind the will of the people - particularly when the change is perceived as radical. Also, the opposition - particularly on the right - tends to be louder than the favorable. We are having legislative elections in Mississippi this year and I know before I speak that not one of the men who go to the stump to ask for your vote, in either party, will speak up and say “It’s time for equality.”. No matter what polls may say. That said, I acknowledge that Mississippi is near the bottom of the list in terms of public approval, I suffer no illusions on that score. Nevertheless, when the right wing activist mobilize to shout from the rooftops at any politician from the middle to the right about “Godly values” and the LGBT supporters shout at every politician from the middle left “Equality!” all you end up with is that “Us v. them” dichotomy which serves no one.

So in summation, while I do not disagree with her observation on a national, corporate level, I respectfully submit that she overlook a GREAT deal of needed context to basically take a sledgehammer to any LGBT person who gets off the Democrat reservation. I reserve my right to stay off that reservation until I can support them on more than one issue.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Current Events

For first time readers, please excuse the introductory material containing navel-gazing about the nature of this blog. Trust me, there's meat to this entry beginning in the fifth paragraph)

I've mulled, for some time now, just what direction I need to take this blog in. It was originally intended as a "my journey" sort of journal (original, eh? what maybe 2 of every 3 transitioning people do this?) but I'm a bit cursed by my openness. My wife is fully aware of the blog and reads it, and my comments here have on more than one occasion led to drama which is unnecessary and hurtful all around. so as long as we are under the same roof it's probably best for me to drift away from that motif.

Also, due to considerable emotional distress over home-front tensions over the last month or so, I've had a sort of "writer's block" on all fronts. This hasn't exactly help encourage readership. Looking at the pageview history is depressing, but I've not really given anyone anything TO view. To make matters worse, virtually everyone who reads this regularly that I'm aware of is also a Facebook friend and a note there will be seen by those same people and potentially several others. It makes me question the efficiency of having this blog up and running at all.

Still, call it ego or whatever, but I'm reluctant to let it go, so it makes sense to try to find some useful purpose for it. it's not like the world is going to miss one more blog with breathless updates of how many weeks/days/hours I've been on HRT (I'm not, sadly, but if you read many trans blogs you know what I mean). What I can do, potentially, is try to bring another voice to the discussion of trans-related current events. To be sure, there is a massive raft of political/activist trans blogs too. but not that many have my particular political viewpoint.

As I've discussed previously, I'm a heavily libertarian, and that means mostly conservative (where they parallel) sort of person on most of the political issues of the day except the equality issues. The case I'd like to make is that belief in equality for all people is not antithetical to conservatism (I'd argue libertarians are not the ones who are on the wrong side of this issue). That's not to say that I want to pour every thing I discuss into that mold, but it's the worldview which moves me and it's not all that common in my opinion.

The current issue, of course, is the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in Rosedale, Maryland on April 18. Over the last couple of days I've been to as many as a dozen different sites where people were discussing this case and I've come away with something of a sense of where my voice potentially is within the community. Before I get to saying anything about the Rosedale Incident, let me elaborate on that.

It seems to me that the activist community - at least those who's voice I'm exposed to - seem to fall into certain habits of thought, if not cliched behavior. It's not unusual that when one precedes from a long held worldview, one begins to frame every subject within the parameters laid out by your habits of thought. Obviously I'm not above this, but I do have the benefit of having made a major shift from one side to the other on one of the most controversial issues of our day. I do therefore have some experience with questioning my own suppositions.

So after I outline the Polis story, for any who might be unaware, I want to say something about that as it is illustrated by the reaction to this story. These are the details which have emerged.

Chrissy Lee Polis is a 22 year old white female in Rosedale, MD (a suburb of Baltimore). On April 18, she entered a McDonald's to, at least, use the restroom. As she made her way from the entrance to the restroom, she was addressed, according to her interview here, by a man whom she brushed off. Near the bathroom, either before entering, or upon exiting (or possible within the restroom itself) she was confronted by two black teenage females, 18 yo Teonna Monae Brown and an unidentified 14 yo. One of them asked Polis "You tryin' to talk to my man?" and apparently an argument ensued which escalated into the two teens attacking Polis.

A now widely circulated video was shot by a McDonald's employee, one Vernon Hackett, who's heard to repeatedly say of Polis "that's a man" and encourage bystanders to stay back at let the beating continue, apparently under the impression that she was being beaten for using the ladies room (Polis is a post-op transsexual woman). The store manager can be seen repeatedly trying to intervene (sometimes with the assistance of one other employee) but it's fair to observe he was less than skillful at this, though in fairness this is not an everyday occurrence.

At about 22 seconds in the attackers are moved away, and are all but out the door, then return and renew the attack. If there's criticism for the manager here it's in that one might argue he should have had them out the door rather than letting them return. But again, he's acting almost alone and one man can't lock two doors. Once the attack is renewed, it's really out of his hands at that point. The vicious beating can be seen here, but be advised many find it disturbing. One elderly lady attempts to intervene at one point and she too was struck for her trouble. At no time during the video do many of the "men" in the place make ANY effort to assist Polis, who's seen going into an apparent seizure at the end of the 3 minute video while Hackett warns the perpetrators to flee before the cops get there. Interestingly, the man who would later insist the victim was a man, or his co-worker, is heard repeatedly saying "She's having a seizure."

Hackett later posted the video to the web, and it now appears in several places. When the story was picked up by The Smoking Gun and other news sites including the Baltimore Sun, Hackett posted messages to his Facebook and Twitter accounts clearly indicating his contention that the victim was a male (even claiming "he still has his man parts") with the obvious underlying logic that the beating was deserved. later he backpedaled claiming he had nothing against anyone, yet the insistence that Polis was a man only makes sense if Hackett assumes that makes a difference in the justness of the attack. Outrage has of course erupted in various quarters. Some expressing outrage over two blacks attacking a white girl, others expressing disgust that the girl was beaten for being trans. No one was aware of the jealousy angle until Polis spoke up on Saturday, in an interview on the Baltimore Sun site, though Polis also voiced the view that her trans history played a big role in the initial attack and in the lack of aid.

McDonald's Corp. has strongly denounced the attack, as has the store owner, and both seem to be working with authorities and trans activists for the best possible resolution. Hackett has already been fired, so there is already a sign of progress. The story of course bears close monitoring. As noted, Hackett is out of work and both attackers have been arrested. In my estimation, calls for the manager's dismissal are unfair. He's doing as much as can reasonable be expected in the situation. Also, one other hourly employee seems to be trying to intervene. the rest stand accused, in my mind.

Another aspect worth noting is that the state of Maine is, even now, considering a bill which would reverse trans-access rights which were recognized in a 2005 action (see a related story here). The state of Maryland ended their legislative session without acting on a hotly contested bill which had been watered down to exclude restroom-access protections for trans people because even gay rights groups were connived the bill couldn't pass with that provision. As it turned out it didn't pass anyway. Texas is considering a bill which would seek to "clarify" legislative intent in a way unfriendly to trans people (which is a big enough story that I'll comment on it in a future column).

Clearly, there is much fodder for uproar and outrage in this story. All too often though, the outrage falls into particular patterns which seem almost a mental crutch. What I've seen, in particular, were example of this sort of thing manifested in three different ways.

First, the basic assumption that the attack on Polis MUST have been an anti-trans event. It was a reasonable assumption when he hadn't heard from Polis given Hackett's voice over encouragement. Surely it is reasonable to assume that the attack could have been made worse by the knowledge of her status. I do not wish to imply for a moment that the attack, the severity, the duration, or the lack of aid was not affected by her trans status. It would be difficult to believe that it was not.
However, by Polis' own testimony, the flash-point was something much more common. Jealousy. Also, while it's a sensitive subject, it's fairly well known that many black women highly resent even the implication that "their" black men have an interest in any white woman. It's reasonable to assume that transphobia is only one factor in the event. Time may reveal the extent to which it increased the severity of the beating, but it seems to not be the only factor in the fact that it occurred.

Secondly, the "let's get McDonald's" riff is in my estimation wildly misguided. All over the trans-blogosphere (and Facebook, Twitter, et al) the cries ring out "Hold McDonald's accountable!!!" This despite the fact that there's no logical sense in which McDonald's Corp. could have prevented this attack and only a limited sense in which the severity could have bee mitigated (and even to that extent, the responsibility is with the local location, not the national corporation). McDonald's as a whole has a solid and deserved reputation as a trans-accepting and supportive business. Antagonizim and confrontation is exactly the wrong approach to such an ally.
It IS true that there have been 3 or 4 previous incidents at McDonald's locations, but no one seems willing to acknowledge that there are other factors which correlate much more directly to anti-trans violence than incidents which occur at McDonald's. Specifically, attacks and oppression are reported much more frequently among lower socio-economic class people than elsewhere. McDonald's has locations in poor neighborhood and from time to time the negatives of the neighborhood (violence, robbery, drug use, etc) cause bad things to happen at McDonald's. And also, at other sorts of businesses in these neighborhoods.
The truth is, McDonald's has 12,804 locations in the U.S. If each one serves, say, 500 customers a day(on average), that's over 6 million served per day. if there is one trans person who's out of the closet in every 3,000 people ( a VERY conservative estimate since I know there's at least that high a rate in this rural MS county) that's 2,000 trans people served daily (assuming an equal distribution of course). 2,000 a day equals 728,000 a year, or over 2 million easy in the last three years. and in that period of time we are aware of something like four incidence of anti-trans events at McDonald's locations. That makes the odds one in a half million that it might happen to, for instance, me. That's an awfully high standard to hold McDonald's to, to significantly reduce that number. I suspect the odds of being a victim of random violence in such neighborhoods, for ANY person, is considerably higher.
That's not to say there were not things which could have been done better, that there are not directives and possibly training that needs to go out. But implying that bad policies allowed this to happen is just silly.

The third thing I've noticed is the knee-jerk effort to expand the targets for vented frustration. An example: I saw a Facebook post which ranted that Fox News was typically taking an opportunity to bash transgender people with their headline and story, and she provided a link. the problem with her complaint was that what she linked was "FoxNation" which is a discussion forum, and the headline and article that offended her was lifted whole and without alteration from as a thread starter. No Fox employee had anything to do with the content she was complaining about. Still, fox is right wing, thus by definition evil, thus a good target for anger.
Likewise many commenters in various places railed against the "Religious Right" as the spook behind this situation. To be clear, the Religious Right and it's influence on conservative politicians IS a HUGE obstacle to trans equality. BUT, anyone who thinks the ideas of a couple of black teenagers in a ghetto neighborhood is being informed by Focus on the Family is on some seriously crazy crack. The fact is that the single most anti-gay (and by extension anti-trans) demographic in this country by a WIDE margin is the black community - you know, the folks who vote Democrat 90% of the time? Those people share, of course, the views of the religious right but they are NOT to any significant extent being informed by them.

My point in all this is that while we are and should be outraged that this event occurred, we do nothing to advance our cause by being overly confrontational (unless the guilty party is stonewalling which isn't the case here), by mis-directing our ire, or by having unrealistic expectations. Rational, logical, and efficient action MUST trump emotionalistic irrationality. This even, grevious though it is, is also a golden opportunity to frame the "bathroom debate" in a new light. Heaven help us if we squander it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Now for something completely different

It's easy enough, in this world, for someone like me to feel completely different on a daily basis. Even when you are as thick skinned as I, in terms of not crumbling into tears at every perceived slight, you can't help but notice. You see someone pass in the aisle who's gaze lingers a bit too long and you wonder "Do they know?" and "what must they be thinking?"

You have to go to the ladies room and you wonder "Is this the day someone calls me out for being in here?"
You have people tell you they are not judging you and they believe in "live and let live" and you wonder how they explain you to their kids at home.

But even beyond all that, even when you are not wondering if others are taking you seriously, you tend to beat up on yourself. Women are given to self-criticism and negatively comparing themselves to other women in the best of times, but for us it can become a full time occupation. Everything from whether the beard shadow is showing yet, to whether or not your fake boobs are level, to whether your voice slipped after you coughed. You get jealous of others who are further along transition than you, and frustrated at the difference between you and "real" women. You get depressed when one of your friends describes "I'm doing so and so" (having surgery, reached a year on HRT, whatever) and you realize how very little you've accomplished in comparison. Being happy for her doesn't keep you from saying "When will I ever be there?"

But all that is part and parcel of being what I am. it might not be pleasant but we all have some unpleasant circumstances, such is life. It's part of what you sign on for.

The sort of "being different" on my mind tonight is something else completely. It's that freakishness that comes from not toeing the right wing or left wing party line on every last issue. For background I have to admit that for most of my life, I did just that. I've discussed here before how I accepted the teachings regarding gays and other associated "lifestyles" (lord I hate that word) without giving too much logical thought to them. Combine that with my right-of-center views on abortion and economic issues and I was a pretty stereotypical "right winger."

However, the same sort of reasoning which compelled me to re-examine the (almost entirely religion driven) "social conservatism" also forced me to re-think the rest of my ideology. Was I pro-life because it made sense, or because I'd been condition to think that? Did I believe in smaller government and tax cuts because it was what I was "supposed" to believe or did it have merit? The results of that re-thinking are, frankly, all over the map - and that reality has left me "different" everywhere I go.

I have found, since I've spent more time interacting with other trans people, that most (but not all) of the on-line trans community is vehemently leftist. And they don't have much stomach for exposure to anything they consider a "right wing" sympathy. For the great majority of them, the Democrat/Liberal/leftist position on any issue is the OBVIOUS position to support, apparently for no other reason than that those liberal have it right on matters of equality.

Just the other day, a (former) Facebook friend post an article cheerleading the Union protesters in Wisconsin. No big deal, of course, I had no objection to seeing that. But I offered a comment that was not wholly supportive of their actions, and my friend first de-friended me (lest I be able to publicly reply) then accused me of being "self loathing."

Excuse me? what does my gender issue, and my opinion of it, have at all to do with the events going on in Wisconsin? Nothing of course, but in her world, anyone who deviated from the script on ANY issue was clearly not "trans enough" or something. It's just silly. Over and over if I dare to voice a point of view that's off the liberal script, I catch a lot of grief as if I'm enabling those who would kill me (supposedly).

I've not yet been confronted by a Republican/Right-winger because I favor, for instance, marriage equality (not, by the way, "gay marriage" - more on that in a bit) but I'm sure I fail the purity test. All you have to do is watch the potential presidential contenders step and fetch rather than say anything unconventional. Mitch Daniels, for instance, wisely (in my view) suggested that the GOP pause a bit on the social conservatism to rescue the economy. A perfectly sensible view even if you disagree - and he's been catching grief ever since. What Daniels didn't say, and what no Republican who wants to contend dares to say, is even more unconventional than that.

The 2010 elections were the first elections in my adult memory in which neither war issues, or social conservative issues, played ANY role in the election. Overwhelmingly people were obsessed with the economy - and in THAT election the Republicans won bigger than they ever have before. Why? Because the social issue people didn't need to be told who was on their side, and the middle of the road folks didn't want to endorse the social conservative issues. So on the heels of that, what shall we do? Crucify people who don't toe the "gayz are teh EEvil" party line, of course.
Can we pay SOME attention guys?

The point is - the VAST majority of those who venture an opinion, on either side, are of the opinion that you must agree on ALL the issues to be sincere on any issue. Which is, frankly, intellectually lazy. One CAN, in fact, be pro-choice and for smaller government, one can be pro-life and for gay rights, one can be for tax cuts and against foreign wars, one can be an environmentalist and a hardliner on illegal immigration. but such people are not taken seriously because they can't be easily pigeon-holed.

Another manifestation of this I've seen lately is organizations which work for equal rights trying to mobilize their membership for some other cause, such as for the Unions in Wisconsin. I'm sorry folks, no sale. My opinion on that situation has no relation to my gender identity and I'm not obliged to take a left wing view on one because I do on the other. Or vice-versa.

To be quite honest with you, I've got views on every issue that will piss someone off, sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left and sometimes both. But they are reasoned and considered views - MY views and not those poured into my skull by Rush Limbaugh, or Bill Maher either. That makes me a "freak" ideologically, whether I'm interacting with my conservative and Christian peers, or whether I'm interacting with my trans peers.

I am, or at least am closest to being, a libertarian. Small "L." Though I have points of disagreement with them too. But what does that mean?

I believe in small government, which doesn't do anything that the free market can reasonably be expected to accomplish. The few things that remain they should do, and when there seems to be an obvious need not being met by the market, the government should do the minimum it has to do to provoke the market to act responsibly, or to do the think a free market is not equipped to do (such as make war, for instance).

I believe that our emotional desires often conflict with harsh economic reality. In other words, I very much agree with the idea that society should look after the less fortunate and that where private charity fails there might be a role for government as a last ditch safety net. But at the same time I understand that economics is no respecter of emotion. if we try to legislate what makes us feel better about ourselves, it won't work if the laws of economics don't work that way. That's why, as good as it might feel to tax the mega-wealthy down to a reasonable level of wealth, doing that has a real and quantifiable negative impact on us all which will happen no matter how we feel good about our choices. So economically, I'm conservative not because I like it, or because it makes me feel good - quite the opposite - but because I recognize that economics is not an emotionally driven process. This means that a rational government seeks to do that which will work, not that which makes us feel better about ourselves.

I believe that government should allow the maximum amount of freedom for you to do what you want so long as it cannot demonstrate a real, obvious, unmistakable threat to the whole community that cannot be solved any other way. That means that you can go without your seat belt or your helmet, you can grow and smoke your own pot, whatever - as long as you are not infringing on anyone else. One obvious example is prostitution.

Street prostitution should be illegal, it's a place where the government has a legitimate right to be concerned for the community at large, because of the potential for exploitation, the danger to public health and safety, and so forth. On the other hand, if a given individual man or woman chooses of their own free will to accept some form of payment for a sexual act, that harms no one else in a way that should concern the government. Whether or not one considers it moral is beside the point.

It has been argued, not without some merit, that the law is "the great teacher" which serves not only to preserve the public order, but to "train" people in the proper morals. However, the downside of that is that someone, somewhere, has to decide what morals are the proper ones. it's all well and good for us good Christian folks to be satisfied with our good Christian morals being taught - but what if you are a Christian in Iran - do you still want the government to be the arbiter of what people should think? If the principle is true that it's not right for an Islamic government to force Islamic morals, then the principle is true whatever morals are being enforced. And don't come back with "yes but our Christian morals are right!" because that is exactly what the Ayatollah thinks. The only logical principle is that it's the church's role (or the synagogue or the mosque or whatever) to instruct in morals, not the governments. the governments role is to preserve order. So in my view, a rational government is one that only with great hesitation says "thou shalt not" (or "thou shalt").

I believe that part of that order is equality before the law in all things wherein a person interacts with their government. If the government recognizes ANY social relationship, it cannot pick and chose. In point of fact, it ought not recognize a social relationship at all, for that means that the single individual is not equal before the law. People who wish to have legal entanglements with others, such as survivor-ship or visitation rights, or custody of children - things traditionally associated with marriage - can and should obtain legal contracts which specify the details. If you wish to be "married" - go to your house of worship and get married, that's none of the government's affair. This falls under the smallest government that's practical, as well as the maximum liberty that is practical.

If the government is going to act at all to insure fair employment or housing or whatever, then they should protect any group that might be discriminated against. Picking and choosing what the government protects (race, for instance) and what it doesn't is inequality before the law. I see an argument for the government saying "you can't fire someone because they are black" but in like manner, that should also include gay or trans or whatever. That's not to say that you cannot legitimately consider that which would potentially have a legitimate impact on your business, but you'd have to demonstrate one. If you'd rather the government not extend such protections at all, I could see an argument for that - but in for a penny, in for a pound.

I do, however, take the position that in our current society government SHOULD equalize the status of LGT people before the law. I do think that a given business ought to have a business related reason to not hire me, or to fire me, as a transwoman. I believe that, in fact, the more places which are accepting of gender transitions, the less they will be an issue with customers.

An example - I know that a lot of people around me silently disagree with my transition - fellow customers at Wal-Mart or the supermarket. But these people do not, in fact, refrain from shopping there lest I appear. I contrast to this, I was made aware last week of a business which did not consider my job application because they believed, or had been told, that they would lose business if people had to be checked out by "one of them." I would argue that those who would give up patronizing a business they enjoy shopping at over such a concern would be very very few, and there would be even fewer examples of it if it were not uncommon to find a transperson behind the register (and word to the intolerant, the odds are not zero that you HAVE been checked out by a transwoman and didn't realize it at some point in your life. If i were a checker at Wal-Mart, there's no doubt people might choose another line (and how many of you have chosen another line because a checker seemed unfriendly, or slow?) but not one in 1,000 will stop shopping there.

The point being, I can see a legitimate role for the government in forcing the issue that the market won't readily address, until society grows up enough it's no longer necessary. The tricky thing is, of course, people recognizing when in fact the necessity has passed. Governments pretty much never voluntarily surrender power once acquired.

You can see above that on the former principle, I'd usually align with conservatives, on the latter principle I would stand on the same side with, albeit for different reasons, the liberals, and in both I'm closer to the classic libertarian than either. The major point being, however, that the position is reasoned. that's not to say I can't be wrong. particularly on matters economic. I'm always learning something new. but only that the position I take is my own reasoning applied to the knowledge I have available, not a parroting of what some politician or preacher or speaker told me I should think. Which is why it galls me so when someone accuses me of that sort of thing.

One last example - an issue where I don't fit with either extreme. Well, actually there are two - one is foreign policy which is far too complex for me to use as an example in this space. The other is abortion. This subject is such an emotionally charged issue that even the use of the word "abortion" can almost never be discussed rationally. I recently had a long, frustrating, and ultimately pointless discussion about the reality that another name for "miscarriage" is "spontaneous abortion" - because I should never use that heinous word to refer to an event that cost a woman so much emotionally. Try as I might I couldn't put across that the word "abortion" has a real, specific, meaning that goes not only beyond the surgical procedure but indeed, beyond pregnancy (for instance, a pilot on a military mission might be told to "abort" the mission).

That highly charged emotionality makes it almost impossible for anyone on either side to be rational about the subject. so you end up with armed camps in a standoff in which neither side gives any ground, even though there's a rather obvious answer.

Consider this: The "right wing" (i.e. religious) position is that human life is present from conception. Thus, the only moral position on abortion is that one must never induce the end of a pregnancy or one has taken a human life (laying aside exceptions that are often discussed as not relevant right now). However, scientific studies indicate that as many as 62% of all conceptions end in a miscarriage before 12 weeks of pregnancy, and over 90% of those mothers never even realized they were pregnant.

Have you ever stopped to think about the religious implications of that reality? As Christians we believe that the innocent child who dies in an abortion (or miscarriage) goes to be with God. If the soul is present from conception, and if over 60% of all pregnancies in human history, and you can bet the figure was much higher up until the last couple hundred years, end before the mother even knows she's pregnant then inescapably heaven's population - billions and billions and billions of souls - would be 99.9% the souls of those who never lived to draw their first breath.

Does that make ANY sense to you? I think it's a reasonable conclusion that we're wrong about something. Either we're wrong that the soul of the unborn goes to be with God (and that opens a much bigger kettle of theological fish) or we're wrong about when the soul is present.

And that's before we get to the discussion of whether it's the governments business to answer a theological question. The government's business is to defend LIFE. so how do we define human life? Certainly there's one argument for defining it as beginning at conception - you've heard those arguments enough that I need not repeat them. But we never apply those same reasonings to the end of life. We are all aware that there are people who are beyond "life" but yet still meet all those stipulations.

I suggest that it's rational that we consider applying the same standards to mark the beginning of life as we do the end. In every jurisdiction the law stipulates when a person is no longer "alive" to the satisfaction of the law. Often it has to do with brain activity. Why not apply that same measure to the start of life? In doing so there is a reasonable window for a woman who does not want to be pregnant to see to that before the fetus is legally alive (i.e. has brain activity, which itself would be a very good indication to the religious that a human soul is now present). After that point, you missed your chance (save to protect the life of the mother). The line would probably fall in the 8-10 week neighborhood, and a woman who engaged in some activity (or was raped) who felt she was at risk could take measures to deal with the possibility - even without knowing for sure if she had conceived. This might not have been possible 50 years ago, but what's past is past. such methods are readily available now.

This will, of course, please neither side. Even now my pro-life friends reading this are no doubt convinced I contribute regularly to NARAL and my trans friends probably largely think I'm Bible thumping. But what this is, bluntly, is a rational synthesis of the information available to us. Separated from the emotionality of what we WANT to be true on either end of the spectrum.

But it's also an example of the sort of thinking that leaves me a poor fit for any group. what's the point in all this whining? Well, it forms the backdrop for a more specific personal concern, but this post is far too long already so I'll save that for another post.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kobayashi Maru, Redux

So, it's been almost six weeks since I posted, mostly because I find it pretty much unsafe to say anything personal at all of consequence. Oh, I could do the "educational" posts, and in truth I should have. But that sort of thing seems like filler when tensions are so high. I promise I'll try to be more diligent in posting something that's not just an exercise in wallowing in my own "misery" in the future.

I was thinking again lately about the metaphor that I can't avoid for this situation, and I was sure I'd used the title before - and I have. So I went back and reread what I wrote roughly a year ago under this title. Turns out I was wrong, at least in my conclusions. I won't rehash that post here, probably no more than 2 or 3 people ever read it anyway, but to say that in a years time no real progress on a long term solution was reached.

If you are not a Star Trek geek like I am, you might not know that the title refers to a test designed to place the officer candidate a StarFleet Academy in a "no-win" situation, to see how they respond to it. In the second Trek movie, we learn that Jim Kirk was the only one to ever beat the test - because he cheated. Sadly, in my no-win scenario, there doesn't seem to be an opportunity to "reprogram the simulation."

If you've been paying attention (I assume the theoretical possibility that SOME one might be) you've heard me say that I recognize that my need to transition is taking everything from my wife that she ever wanted (save her kids) and that I have to face the truth that for her to lose the "man" she married is a road to spiritual if not physical death. My heart longs for her to recover from her unhappiness and find a path to at least peace of mind, whether with me or with another - but she's given me no hint that this will ever happen.

On the other hand, for me to do the only thing that apparently can solve this difficulty - de-transition - is every bit as much spiritual (if not physical) death for me. I could no more return to pretending to be the man she remembers than I could be the next Dali Lama. I'm very convinced my sanity would not survive the attempt. I do not think, however, that she believes this is true, as I believe it is true for her. Part of what makes the discussions so difficult is that she refuses to believe that the stakes are that high for me.

We have periods of "case fire" but the subject is never more than one wrong word away. We have occasional "knock down drag out" fights, but they never settle anything. We have a general understanding that the time is fast approaching when we'll have to at least try a separation. Probably within less than a month unless something changes. I have told her, and anyone else who will listen, that it is not my desire to be apart from her. I respect and understand her position that she cannot just "live with it" - I do not blame her for that. But at the same time, she doesn't, apparently, have any willingness to understand how it could be important enough to me to actually move. I continue to maintain that if it were possible to "just stop" I have had more than enough motivation over the past 18 months to do just that. Why anyone would believe it still an "optional" path after all the pain that's gone into choosing it is beyond me.

The first and most serious piece of advice any trans person receives, when they consider transition, is "be prepared to lose everything, most of us do" - I counted the costs in the weeks before and after I told her about myself and yes, I am prepared (though not eager) to spend my life utterly alone if it's the cost of conquering these demons. Again, who concludes that if they have a choice?

I do not wish to go, but if it would lead to her ultimate recovery and happiness I would willingly go. As it is, if and when I go it's only because I've been told to. For reasons which go beyond the scope of this blog, it's a tremendously bad idea on her part to try to live without me around right now, the logistics of it are crazy-difficult. but if she insists upon it then I will go, at least for long enough to assess the downside. But my desire to stay is not for my own satisfaction, though I loved how she used to love me. It's in order to be as good FOR her as my pathetic existence is capable of.

I KNOW, as surely as I know how many fingers I have, how badly I have failed. As a husband, as a father, as a provider, as a lover - by whatever measure. I KNOW that I made promises I have not kept and now cannot keep. I KNOW that she deserved and deserves better than she got. I KNOW that if she had an ounce of reason she would hate me and move on to saner men. I KNOW that no woman deserves to go through what she's going through.

I also know I have no real control over the reality of the situation.

The frustrating thing to me, as much as anything else, is that while I bend over backwards to understand her position, her pain, the impossibility of her situation - while I fully agree she's been wronged and deserves much much more than I have ever given her or ever can - at the same time I don't feel like she even remotely, slightly, in the tiniest way, understands my situation. Her refrain is "if it wasn't important enough to do 20 years ago, then it's not important enough to do now." Logically, that position is wildly ridiculous, but emotionally that's where she's locked in.

So here is us, on the raggidy edge. She's convinced that all I have to do is "just quit" - and flows from that the obvious implication that if I don't it's because I don't love her and the kids enough to do what's in my power to do. So she has no motivation to bend. And I'm convinced that I cannot live, literally, being that person again. No way out, no wining solution, no happy ending. I know that the "strong" and "honorable" thing to do is to sacrifice myself for her. bt i am neither of those things and I know it. But I also know that there is no true honor in conceding your soul to hatred and bigotry, to re-confirming in the minds of those with prejudiced ideas that those ideas were correct. There's no strength in my teaching my kids to bow your head and cater to the pressure of society to conform, or to set the example that will be set by the train wreck my life will become if I try (and fail) to live behind the mask again. Had I rather them see me like this, or see me in a box?

So being "honorable" is a ship that's pretty much sailed. I've said that I stayed here through the wars to try to be as honorable as I could to my obligations, but even that is a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Am I rambling much?

In any case, from time to time I need to write, just to be "on the record" with my thoughts because I frankly have no idea what the future holds. It pains me to see her be a victim of her own feelings - if she didn't love so hard, she wouldn't cling so tightly. And I know, whether she does or not, how undeserving I am of that love. I was, truth be told, a cold, too often uncaring, fraud of a person. I love her as much as I know how to love another human being, although I often wonder if what I call "love" is anything like what she feels or that thing people write songs about. Maybe I don't even know how to love anyone else because I've always so thoroughly hated myself. I do know that in my own opinion, what passed for loving her was far too weak, too distant, too poorly shown. And yet for some crazy reason she clings to it when she has a right to so much better.

That does NOT mean I'm "trying to get away" or "just want to do my own thing" - again, why would I stay and fight to keep it together this long if that was my aim? But it does mean that no one will ever say with more conviction than I do: "She's better off without me." If I may borrow a sentiment, as long as she continues to cling to the idea that she can make me stop, make things go back to the way they used to be, then she will never be able to go forward. if I leave, or rather comply with her instruction to leave, it will not be because I do not love her but because I do - I love her enough to want her to have better than she has now. Even if the pain of getting from here to there is excruciating both for her and for me to know I caused.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Attempt at Clarity

I say "attempt" because sometimes I think often I belabor a point until that which was once made clear is muddied again, but I'm going to try to be direct and (for me) concise here. What follows is not precisely a post about me or my journey, but some clarity is needed regarding some of the things I have said and will no doubt say in the future. These clarifications do not fit easily as a parenthetical portion of a larger post, so I'm taking time out to dedicate a post to them in their own right.

One of the dangers is blogging about personal issues is becoming self-absorbed, that is, giving the impression that everything is - in your own mind - about you. One of the ways that tendency to self-absorption plays out is in being less than clear about the people you mention along the way who play a role in the events you write about.

It occurs to me, at times, that the impression I've left of my wife is overly negative in ways which are not entirely accurate. I hope here to clarify what I mean to be negative about, and what I feel like she's being unfairly painted in a negative light on.

First, there are at least two ways in which I will not shy from pointing the finger at her. Even in these, I do not think it's entirely her fault - for reasons which I will explain - but they are the sort of things that a person might be reasonably asked to rise above and overcome. The sort of things, if you will, that a professional therapist would ask a client to work towards correcting.

The first of these is that she is, bluntly, bigoted towards homosexuality (and she defines what's going on with me as a variant of homosexuality). I entirely recognize that this is a product of the indoctrination of the culture she was raised in - the culture that all of us in the rural South were raised in, frankly, and I suspect the rural parts of most of the country. I shared for much of my adult life many of those positions (though I never felt it as passionately as the true bigot - I simply thought it was an academic truth that homosexuality was "wrong" - I didn't "feel" it on an emotional level as many do).
Nevertheless, she is not just of the dispassionate opinion that being gay is wrong, she FEELS it on a visceral, emotional, passionate level. Try being in the same room when a couple of guys or a couple of girls kiss on TV and listen. Even though I recognize she's been indoctrinated to feel this way, I think it's reasonable to ask a person to be able to explain WHY what they believe to be true is true. And absent being able to logically defend the view, be willing to change it.

The second issue I have is what I'll call "fighting style" and the inability to handle any level of criticism. These, two, are a result of her own particular psychology combined, I believe, with the home she grew up in. They have always been present, but never having had a way to remedy them, I simply learned to work around them - but that's harder to do not that conflict is such a close companion. Taking the latter first - I find that any critical word I speak is magnified to maximum proportions, far beyond my intent. For instance, if I express a mild disagreement about some interaction with the kids on a specific point, her emotional reaction is "Oh, so basically I'm just a failure as a mother, right?" That puts me on the defensive as I try to explain "No, that's not what I meant" and it makes me much more likely to bite my tongue next time.

The other - and much more difficult - problem is a classic "bad fighting" style that marriage counselors earn their checks identifying and correcting: Fighting to hurt rather than fighting to make a point. I am quite convinced that this is all the fighting she ever saw growing up. It goes something like this:

Me: "What's wrong?"
Her: "I could use some help"
Me: "I told you just let me know what specifically I need to do"
Her: "I shouldn't have to ask"
Me: "I'm not saying you should ask, I'm saying tell me the specific chore, like 'take out the trash'"
Her: "Well, you're probably too busy trying to find a dick to suck on the internet to bother"

Now to be clear, that's a very broad example, that specific exchange has never happened to my memory, but the point is that you get to a place in an argument when you are so mad you no longer care about winning the point, you just want to cause emotional pain in your opponent - usually with a comment that has nothing whatever to do with what was the original disagreement. And as it applies to the current situation, how that plays out is that EVERYTHING that is wrong around here is somehow directly caused by my transition.

That kind of fighting is juvenile and blatantly unfair, but in the heat of the moment she will go to it every single time. I don't think she knows how to do it any other way. It's her family's tradition, I think. In any case, it's something that ought been overcome long long ago.

Having said that, those are things that are in isolation pretty random things. I'm sure everyone, including me, has a certain set of negative behaviors and thought patterns. Far be it for me of all people to expect perfection in my partner. But I cannot honestly write what comes next without having balanced it with a description of that which I do thing she bears responsibility for - otherwise the reader is left to assume I'm trying to explain away ALL her negativity and justify everything she's said and done - and as much as I'd like to say she has no flaws, I can't do that and be truthful.

All the foregoing, then, serves as a platform to say this: she's as much a victim of the demons in her head as I am.

I explain this at the risk of appearing indiscreet. But you cannot truly understand without this information. My wife has suffered from clinical depression since before I met her. There are, I believe, circumstances which contributed to this but it's also, apparently, a chemical imbalance issue. Her ability to put on a mask of happiness and keep any of her family or acquaintances from seeing this is astonishing to behold. So for the most part it's just been me and her dealing with it. for years she refused any suggestion of getting help because "if I go to a nut doctor that means I'm a nut" was the sum total of her view.

I spent literally years on the wrong side of completely irrational fights, went to work countless days not knowing if she'd be alive when I got home, and developed a VERY patient and deflective skill set in terms of dealing with it because the "events" when she was emotionally out of control were relatively brief and she was very very regretful once she "came to herself." And we might go several days, even a week or more, between "events" in which she was, though often not really "un-depressed," not at all an angry hurtful belligerent attacker. The rages were not typical behavior, but aberrations from the everyday norm.

Eventually we got medication which was just somewhat helpful and kept trying until we got to one that really balanced her emotions and made her "whole." When I came out it had literally been YEARS since we'd had anything that anyone could reasonably have called an argument. Some of that was my having been "trained" by the hard years to be a bit afraid of saying certain things, but a lot of it was that she'd gotten help.

I tel you all that to say that I had no doubt at all, in those early years, that she had absolutely no control over the negative emotions which caused the "events." The remarkable thing is that in the last year or two, as we've had ever increasing conflict over my transition, the pattern of events is EXACTLY like the pre-medication days. We go days at a time, occasionally weeks, in a relatively placid, though somewhat depressed state. Things are not "normal" due to tensions about many things related to the issue but things that sometimes "set her off" like how much makeup I have on or whatever will very often NOT provoke anything more than a sad or disappointed look on her face.

But every so often...on average once a week or so?... something DOES "set her off" and we're in for a Full On Attack of enraged irrationality, complete with every nasty remark in the book designed to cause maximum emotional pain. Now, I DO, on an emotional level, resent what goes on in those fights. Part of the reason we have difficulty rebuilding any bridges is that when she "comes down" I'm still processing a lot of pain from what has been said, even though on an intellectual level I know a lot of it wasn't an expression of how she really feels. It's difficult to be talked to and about like that and then come back later with a hug and a kiss, which is what she needs emotionally after she comes down.

Back n the old days, I knew that the hurtful things didn't matter because they were so wildly inapplicable to me. So it was easy for me to just let them slide off and be there to comfort her when she came down and rebuild the connections. Now, the hurtful things are much more personal and cut to the heart of the places where I've made myself vulnerable and they are not at all easy to "let slide" and so both of us are left with lingering pain - me from the remarks and her from the lack of reconciliation.

The point in all this, though, is that I DON'T think she's any more able to control the "events" or the rage she pours out in the midst of them now than she ever was. the patterns are far too similar. Whatever might be said (and will be below) about what would be happening if there were no rages, I simply cannot assume that the person I see when they are going on is the person she wants to be, or the way she wants to behave. Whatever is going on inside her brain that makes it possible for those events to happen, they hurt her just as much as they hurt me. And what's more, I can no more ask her to "just stop it" than she can rightfully ask me to stop being trans (even though she does ask) - it is a burden she has to bear.

This doesn't make up for her bigotry, or her generally negative manner in dealing with this issue at hand. I am convinced that even if she were unable to live with me as a woman and as a part of her life, there is a "part as friends" way to handle these situations in which one can mourn and be sad, but not feel as if your spouse is your enemy. If there were no rages, I'm not convinced that we would otherwise be taking that high road - but even admitting that, I cannot leave you with the impression that her most angry and hateful actions are those which she is fully in control of because I don't think they are.

But we cannot ever know - the rages build walls and set in motion feelings and actions and words that cannot easily be overcome. No one can say what might have been said or done in the absence of the events.

What is even more troubling is the reality that this cycle doesn't stop even if we part. I've said before in this space, and I believe this to be true, that this situation is literally going to kill one of us. If I attempt to go back to wearing the mask of the man I was pretending to be, it will take my life. At some point you will pick up the paper and read that I am dead, whether it be an obvious suicide or not. This is not intended as a threat, just a recognition of truth. On the other hand, if she forces me out and refuses to reconcile, I think there's a pretty high probability that she will commit suicide, or at least attempt it. and whatever logic might say, emotionally the guilt will be on my hands (both from myself, and from all those who love her).
I see no way out of this dilema, no happy ending. In the former case, losing me will still end up crushing her - so it's only a question of HOW she loses me. In the latter case, how do I embrace my future knowing how high the price was which I paid to obtain it?

I've been told that what I've just described to you is a classic case of emotional abuse. That claim is, in my opinion, true. With the caveat that most emotionally abusive people do not realize what they are doing. As such, my staying and trying to fight through it is a form of enabling - setting myself up for more abuse and legitimizing that which has come before. Again, I do not think it is INTENTIONAL - but it is what it is. The dispassionate academic answer to that situation is to get out. Walk away with your sanity somewhat intact and let the chips fall.

But my reply is that I feel obliged, even knowing what's going on, to go the extra mile anyway. I feel like, especially having gone through those early days when she desperately needed me to stay and see her through and NOT say "this is too hard for me" and bail out, that I should be MORE than just honorable. Part of that is for the kids - I want them to see that I made every last effort to do the right thing. Part of it, I'm sure, is for my own peace of mind if the worst happens, I want to be able to say that I did all I could to keep it together. If that means I take more abuse than I should have, I can live with that.

And of course, beyond all that - and here is where I'm probably being the most irrational of enablers like the woman who keeps going back to the drunken and violent boyfriend - a big part of it is that there's still the hope that somehow, someway, she'll wake up one day and realize that she will be far more miserable if she makes me leave than if she learns to adjust to the new reality. At one time I thought that was a pretty reasonable possibility. Now it seems like one in a hundred. But for the time being, I have to give that one chance a little more time.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Worst Christmas Ever?

That's an ugly headline, and it can lead to untrue conclusions. I do not want to say it was a BAD Christmas, nor do I want people to jump to conclusions about what I found unsatisfying about it. But compared to others in my life, it's got to rank at the bottom.

There's a lot of factors that go into a conclusion like that. On the most basic level, I've had SO little money for SO long that every purchase, every choice, is a stressful issue. I'd hoped to have, and had reason to expect, somewhat more available cash this month then I ended up having, but that's not the heart of it. The way that things got complicated this year was my wife's almost obsessive desire to get the kids every last thing they wanted - even when the kids themselves said "if we can't afford this it's cool" - in some sort of misguided attempt to make this a special Christmas in the face of the drama that might be coming soon. How do you point out that one more video game in December isn't going to make things better in March without coming across as a cheap bastard who's looking to dodge a little spending?
Then, of course, I can't buy her as much as I'd like because we spent it all on the kids - and again I'm an unfeeling and uncaring SOB (not that she would say it and probably doesn't consciously think it but I pick up enough negative emotion to feel guilty about it). That's not to say that I think that happiness at Christmas is about gifts - it's not. BUT attempting to buy happiness with more gifts and measuring how much someone cares by what the think they can afford MAKES it about gifts. They become emotional proxies for feelings which are assumed to be absent.

On top of that, she's rightly down because her mother passed last month and because, on top of that, some members of her family are behaving less than lovingly in the wake of that event. It's been some six weeks and most of her kids still haven't had the chance to go through her meager belongings and find some keepsakes of her. My wife spent much of Friday in tears thinking of such things. She has a right to feel that way, but that's compounded by also feeling I am not interested in providing her emotional support - support which I can't give because of the distance she's put between us. It is a maddening paradox to be accused of being distant and unsupportive while so often running into a cold shoulder when you try. But even if all that is somehow my fault, it surely can't lead to much of a Christmas when you are mourning your mom.

Then on top of that, we confirm what I already knew - that I have no close family except my mom. You shouldn't read this as a complaint on my part. I had a pretty good idea that I was in for a life of rejection, and while I couldn't in most cases predict the sources, I am not surprised or dismayed about the price which is to be paid. I read so many of my sisters write in obvious pain around the holidays about how their parents or siblings or kids or whoever treat them so coldly and unlovingly at Christmas and my heart goes out to them but I don't share that depression. Maybe I am too callous and cynical after all. I often feel like I don't really know how to love anyone enough to feel that kind of pain. (Maybe that comes from too many years letting the false front be the vehicle for all emotions given or received?) But beyond that I also know that I can't build my life around whether or not my dad or my brother or whoever can stand to be in the same room with me. I refuse to grant anyone that power over me. I care enough about my wife and kids - more love there than I could muster for the whole rest of the world combined and doubled - to be making every effort to do the right thing by them (and even that has it's limits) but beyond those three? You don't have a prayer of thinking your disapproval is going to affect my peace of mind.
Besides, the honest truth is that since the grandparents passed, most family functions feel like people who don't especially care for each other going through the motions because that's what families are "supposed" to do. Frankly, I've rebuilt my life around taking off masks and that's one mask I certainly have no real interest in putting back on. I'd rather be alone as be with people who have to pretend to enjoy my company.

BUT I'm married to a woman for whom family is precious (even though many of her own family are almost abusive in how they treat each other) and somehow, someway, the pretense of caring is supposed to be important. My dad has neither appeared, nor called, nor written to make contact with my kids (the ones he's not laid his eyes on since LAST Christmas) this year and not only does it hurt her that he doesn't make a token appearance (I despite token affection myself, and I don't think either son is a great fan of their "grandpa" anyway) but it's yet another brick to throw at me (i.e. he's taking out his feelings about "this mess" on our kids). Never mind what it says about him that he can't be burdened with ignoring our differences long enough to visit, or bring a gift - it's MY fault.

Nor am I arguing that I was the perfect child when it came to maintaining relationships before I came out. But an unbiased mind could analyze the history of interpersonal relationships in our family (on my dad's side, my folks divorced when I was in my teens) and find a strong pattern of "fucked up" long before I went crazy. Still, he doesn't show? MY FAULT.

And for the icing on the cake, we got entirely too close to having yet ANOTHER discussion about how I need to make a choice and how I was obliged to "act right" to prove my feelings if I wanted to save the relationship. On Christmas f'n DAY!

I've spent the last several days reading the posts on Facebook and on a few message boards and on Twitter as people speak, apparently sincerely, about family get-togethers and how blessed they are and how happy they are. . . and it pains me I can't make that sort of happiness a reality for her. The kids are content, I'm content, and she's miserable. I can't control life and death, of course, but beyond that - just more guilt. Of all the emotions I was prepared to deal with during transition, I don't think I could have ever imagined the almost infinite number of ways I could be made to feel guilty.

So yeah, not the best Christmas.

(I should say here, that I feel like I owe a bit of an explanation about WHY things are as they are emotionally. Despite all I've said I don't really blame her for a lot of this - she's as much a victim of her own mental wiring as I am. I think I have a good handle on why things are going as the yare going, even though I'm utterly hopeless to change it. But until I review what I've said before, lest i repeat myself, I'll save that for next time. Besides, this post is long enough)