Monday, January 31, 2011

Transgender, Authenticity and Burning the Mask...

A wonderful blog post from my beloved Dreamweaver has provided much food for thought. I want to share some rambling thoughts of my own. Authenticity is a profound issue for us. We desire to live authentically. And we live in a world and culture that demands that we be anything BUT authentic. Dreamweaver approached this from the view point of menopause, which has had a huge influence on her life - both our lives. Many women's cycles affect them deeply in an almost Jekyll/Hyde fashion; Wordweaving was definitely one of them. And for the first few years we were together, I rode the roller coaster with her. The cessation of this dark merry-go-round with the arrival of menopause has felt almost as though her mind cleared for the first time in years, but then you have to look at the fact that she was having double periods her whole life. She was never out of the swing of the cycle, ever, until menopause hit. I am also almost three years older, and I may, just may, be starting perimenopause...maybe. We can hope.  %$#@ cycle is rolling as usual, no real changes.I have to admit that as cycles go, my situation is profoundly mild...virtually no cramps, no PMS, no wild seesaw of emotions - just a slight moodiness or emotional sensitivity.  I really in some ways have no real reason to be grumpy compared to what Cyn went through.

 In point of fact, being FtM transgender means I loathe my cycle, because it is a monthly unavoidable collision with my female body. Few women that I know, despite attempts to tie the cycles and periods to wisdom and womens mysteries, etc actually like their periods.It might be pointed out that a huge dislike of the cycle of womens periods comes not from the periods themselves, but rather from the culture we live in that makes us deny our bodies needs and instincts and cycles. A very cogent point indeed.  My dislike of my cycle however,  is off the scale because of being transgender. It just adds an unimaginable element to it that is very hard to explain, unless you have been there. But looking at the cycles and changes of the body touches on only one part of our over all authenticity struggles. Despite the tidal pull of biology, it is not the sum total of what affects us.

Our culture affects us.
Our individual families of origin affect us. 
Our individual life experiences affect us. 

Our culture - let me reframe that - my culture, for this may be profoundly different somewhere else. The culture that I live in is, even after a century of the progression and history of womens rights and suffrage, profoundly patriarchal. It is profoundly consumer and time clock driven. The medical model still subliminally operates on the male being the standard for health care and acceptability. Women may only advance so far before hitting a "glass ceiling" in most professions. A woman is taught to deny everything possible about her self  entirely. Far too many women work the "silent second shift" I call it - you know, the one where she has put in her 8 or more hours of paid work (at generally less pay than a male counterpoint) and she goes home and then must cook the meal, do the laundry, cleaning, straighten up, get kids bathed and put to bed...and she is doing this as a single parent, or her husband is sitting with his feet is up because he is tired from his job that day. And then she must get up and do it all over again. And understand - there are profound exceptions to this - there are many men who get in there and split the chores right along with their wives. There are lesbian relationships where work is not decided equally, and one partner follows the patriarchal model and sits on her ass. There are families where the reverse is true and the man is doing the extra shift and not the woman. There are always endless individualistic variations. But over all, there is a general truth to what I have just set forth. I have seen it. I have lived it. Sit in a gathering of women, and  you will hear it, more often then not. And if a woman's periodic cycle is heavy and difficult for her, guess what...well, all that is just in her head. She's a bitch anyway. And no, she can't take a day or two to specifically rest and care for her body's shift in needs and feelings each month - what, does she think the world is going to stop for her ? Its all hormonal anyway, and thats just an excuse for women to get away with being lazy or with bad behavior. This kind of attitude is real among men and women. Trust.

 In modern America, there is no particular celebration or ceremony granted the beginning of a young woman's cycle or menarche.  She may have been told about it in advance as part of the whole "birds and bees" conversation about sex and changes in the body by her mother or other female relatives. She may know about it from older sisters and seeing their experiences. With the advent of the internet, she may research it on her own. Some sex education or biology classes in school may cover it where allowed. And it is not entirely impossible for it to come upon her with no warning at all. Her public rite of passage is the purchase of supplies to deal with it. And that is pretty much it. Other cultures - Japan, India, Australia, Nepal to name a few - have celebrations of special foods, gift giving, gatherings of female relatives who share experiences and wisdom.

Ulithi Menstrual House, Micronesia
 In Micronesia, the Ulithi tribe actually still maintains the ritual of a Menstrual House  where women go every month when their periods cycle to spend the time resting, being with other women, bathing and segregated from the rest of the world. Now, this does carry the idea of being segregated because of being unclean, or dangerous to men or mens magic and that does not sound good.. HOWEVER.... Imagine....if you are a woman, if when your period started, that instead of going to work or to school, you went to a house where you could sack out in a warm bath, sleep off and on through out the day, be with other women talking and resting, and stay there until the period was over. No alarm clocks. No dragging through the day crampy, tired, bloated and uncomfortable while working, running errands, doing laundry, chasing kids, pets laundry, classes, homework, no dressing out for gymn class (oh my god, there's a thought!) And you got to do this every month! And while you were gone, your spouse suddenly had the daily experience you have month in and and out - punch a time clock, chase the kids, fix the meals, clean up after the meals the kids the petslaundrygetkidstothebaseballgamesoccarpracticehavethebathroomdoorbangedonbecauseofemergency....when you got back, you might find the husband has a renewed appreciation for what you do. The culture might be structured for childcare for single mothers when their periods hit. Women might not be isolated in their homes and family units because she would have time with other women in her community. Business would be structured so that women dropped in and out at need, men's workloads might be lightened that week, or maybe they'd be granted a reciprocal weeks leave to be available to take over at home...impossible, right? Not really. It would take the alteration of the entire culture to put back into the space for womens cycles and bodies and I submit to you that whatever it became, patriarchal is not what it would be any more!

 And we wonder why women don't like their periods. Hel-lo! The menstration isn't the problem! The 24/7 stop for nothing, gogogo profit is god masculine modeled driven pace of America is the problem - and its none too healthy for men either. But thats a post for another time. So there's the cultural issue. Ignoring a woman's cycle is inauthentic. It becomes invisible. A curse. A burden. And one that falls on top of other cultural taboos and strictures women face - women must be skinny, have curves, wear make up, dress certain ways, behave certain ways, look certain ways...and heaven help her if she is heavy, too tall, masculine in appearance or dress,plain, under or over endowed, not interested in culturally approved things like make up, carrying a purse, or men, or doesn't want to have kids, or wants to be single, or heaven forbid, is transgender - male in a female body.

 A FTM either tears out his own heart and self respect and identity to conform, or suffers the consequences, some of them severe - being mistaken for a man in the woman's restroom , facing possible arrest for being a woman in the mens bathroom, constant discomfort colliding with the gender binary, being fired for being trans, even being in physical danger (though MTFs by far are in more danger and face much worse disapproval and hatred than FTMs and that too is driven by misogyny and culture,) My culture is a space where authenticity is punished violently.(I have to admit, I wonder what does a transgender of either stripe, FTM or MTF experience in the Ulithi culture in the menstrual houses? There's a thought...) To conform to the female gender box as a transgender is to wear a mask - one that might as well have razor blades on the inside slicing your skin and body at every turn....

The family is the vehicle in which our culture is conveyed to us. But each family is unique as well. So, perhaps you are one of the fortunate few whose family empowers authenticity - whatever you are is respected, whatever you want to be is honored, respect and self - expression is practiced and honored. How many of us had that? Not many I suspect. Whatever a child's authentic self is, it sometimes seems like childhood is a process of suppression, not nurturance or encouragement. I am not, for the record saying that children should have no guidance regarding ethical behavior. What I am saying approaches cultural mores. How many vivacious, bright girls that wanted to be some career that might be male dominated, climbed trees, brought home frogs, had scabby knees and came home triumphantly banged up from dumping the class bully on his ass, by puberty were moody, silent, told climbing trees was not lady like, put away your dreams of this or that, a young lady does not behave thus and such. Young men go through this too - do not cry, its not manly, forget the violin, you by god are going to be a man and play football, and for GODS sake do not have any interest in womens clothing or dress! Don't shake your head and say this doesn't still happen. It does. In the 1980's, 63 years after women won the right to vote in America, began to hold property, work in male dominated jobs, and only 22 years ago from where I stand now....after being told all my childhood that I could be anything I wanted to be, I announced to my parents that I wanted to major in studio art. This was brutally and summarily shot down in a series of violent verbal arguments on the reasoning that if I must major in art, it had to be an Art Education major - if I had to work it must be as an art teacher until I got married. I kid you not. Not only did I not want to be a teacher, I have no ability to teach, especially not art! It made my parents words I had been told - you can be anything you want to be - into a lie, and broke my heart and trust in them. And how many GLBT kids are terrified of coming out, verbally or physically punished for their "deviance", thrown out on the street for not conforming to being heterosexual. And at the bottom of the ladder are the trans kids - most of them emotionally and physically battered, abused, denied, cut off. Wear the mask, or you are not part of this family, we will not love you. How rare is the parent who truly accepts their son or daughters individuality with unconditional support and love?

Here's one example of what it should look like...Jazz, a transgendered little girl who announced as early as age two that he was a little girl. The parents after researching and struggling and wrestling with all the issues, waded in and supported Jazz in coming out as and living full time as their daughter...and will carry through with hormonal treatments at puberty if Jazz continues to insist that is what she wants to do and will support her choosing transitional surgery if she so desires after she turns 18. Jazz does not wear a mask...Jazz is what she is with the unconditional love and support of her family.

Not all kids know as young as Jazz. I knew I was different and that I didn't fit, somehow. Tomboy was the closest label I had, and I was too sheltered and over protected to have any sort of language or knowledge to figure anything out. Sometimes the masks are forced on us so early we don't even know they are there on a conscious level - all we know is we do not fit, we are unhappy. I used to  breathe a sigh of relief to get back into a pair of jeans and scrape off the makeup, loathing the heels, the dresses, the beauty parlor, the shower parties....chafing and pulling at something, never knowing the mask had been welded on to me.  And that in the future, for me to tear it off will take setting myself metaphorically on  fire. And I had the rarest of all rare childhoods - a happy one in a loving and functional home. Not perfect, but wonderful. Add dysfunction into the mix, which is present in 95% of homes today - add in divorce, add in drugs, add in abuse, add in indifference and neglect, add in mental a country where the family model remains the husband/housewife 2.5 children happy 1950's home that may have been a myth even then. And authenticity becomes all but impossible. Rebellion is the adolescents struggle for authenticity - and when kids are given no blue print for authenticity, no map for the journey to be healthy and whole and authentic - true to themselves and able to fit into community and honor others - then rebellion becomes dysfunctional and damaging.

Our individual experiences affect us - out side the home, we are the sum of myriads of tiny moments that become powerful motivators for why we do what we do - why we may willingly don a mask we realize doesn't fit us, even when we might not know why. I remember being cornered a number of times about not being like other girls, or vicious teasing and harassment associated with being a girl that tore me into of the final moments, that drove me nearly to despair as a teenager, was being cornered at my church in the formal dressing parlor of the womens room (where the brides changed on their wedding day into their bridal gowns or going away clothes, ironically enough) by a group of girls my age in the youth group and being forcibly told that I must wear make up, that I didn't dress appropriately, I did not act like a girl and no boy would date me or man marry me if I didn't straighten up and conform and start acting like a lady and a woman. It was like being dropped in scalding acid. I crawled out of there emotionally devastated, knowing I was miserable when I did the things they insisted I do, but not knowing what to do or how to refute them, or what I really was. Knowing I was not accepted, and not honored. I especially did not feel particularly loved that night either. I had no knowledge of how to resist them, no self confidence to say "NO! Thats not who I am and you guys are a bunch of jerks!"I was taught by my religion that a woman accepted what she was told to do.

 I have a thousand tiny stories, subliminal re-enforcers, glimpses of consequences, that all said you are a woman - you  must behave a certain way, dress a certain way, act a certain way, marry the opposite gender, be a victim, be subservient, accept being less than what you are, be the antithesis of what you are - accept the mask that you must wear, and the chains and the bondage that go with it. To be successful, happily married, to be a woman - because thats what you obviously are - you must set aside every need you have, others come first, the husband comes first, the children come first, the opinions of others come first...authenticity is rebellion, is damned, is unacceptable and is punishable by teasing, rejection, loneliness, ostrasization, hatred, isolation, danger and for some, by death.

And this goes beyond transgender, or feminism - this extends any prejudice. To racism. To social class. To the handicapped. To any and all who bear the ultimate mark of Cain in this society - the stigma of being different. And all of us find ourselves wearing masks, struggling with inauthenticity, forswearing our truths, foreclosing our identities. Some never take them off, never understand, never see what has been done, never understand what has happened.

And some of us pay prices that are far too high for nonconformity. For authenticity.
When we break, ripping off the masks and throwing them into the fire we run the risk of the flames ourselves.
For being greater than the sum of our parts.
For being authentic. 

Friday, January 28, 2011


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds....

Apollo 1
Caught fire January 27th, 1963 - no survivors. 

- and done a hundred things 
you have not dreamed of - 

Crew of Apollo 1
Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B Chaffee

Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence
Hovering there -  

The Challenger, exploded January 28th, 1986,
No Survivors. 

 My eager craft through footless halls of air
Up, up, up the long delirious burning,  blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Crew of the Challenger
Michael J Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair
Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick

Where never lark or even an eagle flew
And while with silent lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space...

Shuttle Columbia, February 1st, 2003, exploded, no Survivors

Put out my hand....

Crew of the Shuttle Columbia
Rick D Husband., William C  McCool, Micheal P Anderson,
 Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla,  David M Brown, Laurel Clark

....and touched the face of God. 

High Flight
by    John  Gillespie Magee, Jr. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Making a Difference...

On January the 8th, as we all know by now, Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic Congresswoman was shot, along with 14 others. There were 6 fatalities, including a nine year old girl. The individual who pulled the trigger is emerging in the ongoing news reports as a deeply disturbed incoherent person with no obvious political affiliation. This tragedy has driven an already politically polarized country into hysteric division, hateful rhetoric and deep bitterness. This got me to thinking about the rhetoric, the anger, the brewing violence. And what changes these things. What makes a difference. Not more violence, or hate or anger, or lashing back.

This took me back to my visit - pilgrimage, really - to the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama in 2009. It was pouring rain the day we arrived there, and the water pouring from the sky mingled with the water  streaming across the sculpture in a way that was indescribably powerful.

The Civil Rights Water Table was created by artist/architect Maya Lin (also the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC and the Women's Table at Yale University) in memoriam to another great time of hate, rhetoric, violence and change - the 1955 - 1968 Civil Rights Movement that sought to end racial discrimination and segregation in America.

The quote on the great black wall of the memorial comes from Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech; he in turn drew these words from Amos 5:24 in the Bible.

On the Table are carved the names of 40 people who were martyrs, one way or another for the Civil Rights Movement. Here is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination listed....

Rosa Parks, who's refusal to give up her seat at the demand of the bus driver in order to seat the white passengers led to her arrest and the bus boycott...her statement later: "I would have to know for once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen."

William Lewis Moore, who staged one man marches protesting segregation. On his last march he was shot and murdered. "...the white man cannot be truly free himself until all men have their rights...Be gracious and give more than is immediately demanded of you..." it is worth noting that Moore was white.

Water from the table sculpture mixing with the pouring rain...

In this decade, and time, also trouble with hate, angry rhetoric, violence and murder, I only have one quiet voice. It will not ever be heard nationally, what I say will not be remembered or known in posterity...

I have only my hands and such gifts that I have been given...I do not have the talent or the reach of a Maya Lin to change consciousness and provoke thought on a national or global level...

I have only what I can say each day to one person at at time, I have only what my hands can do to the extant of the gifts given do justice, and to love reject the language of hate and violence. and give back the Grace that is given to me...

May God grant that it be enough.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jan.10th, 2011 - SNOW!!!

The first sight that greeted me when I opened the door this morning...

The snow arrived late last night, at about 2:00 AM and it snowed nonstop for about 12 hours! That is unheard of here in our area of the south, and we got 7 inches by the middle of the afternoon, when the snow finally slowed and stopped. I know that doesn't sound like anything to someone up north in the snow belt, but remember, because we rarely get snow at all, we don't have the equipment for clearing it. And what happens usually in conjunction with the snow is ice. Which it is doing right now - we now have sleet falling and there is about a quarter of an inch of ice forming so far, as we speak. The main roads that may have gotten reasonably clear are right now sheets of black ice...and it's not going to go above freezing tomorrow. Its dangerous out there. We live on what could be termed "tertiary" roads, which no plow ever gets to at all. So our roads in this neighborhood are basically all but impassable.

So...lessee...cord of wood *check* fire logs and firestarter *check* plenty of food including homemade soup *check* generator, gas, extension cord, camp stove, candles *check* hot chocolate and butterschnaps *check* shoveled out and salted down the back deck and steps *check* cleared off cars and tarped the windshields *check* shoveled off driveway *check* nice homey roaring fire in fire place *check*! I think we're in good shape. School is closed, and where Wordweaving works is also closed. So we have a nice couple of days to be together and snug and warm. It's all good! are some pictures Wordweaving and I took this morning, before I started shoveling and clearing and working on stuff, while the snow was all pristine and still coming down. It has been truly beautiful. We don't get this very often, so we treasure it when we do!

There is a car under there....

Across the way from our front yard...

Our maple tree...

Ibn is a cat with a problem...a civilized cat goes outside to potty...but how to get off the porch...

Dang it! How do I get off of here!?

Oh, this sucks!

When ya gotta go...ya gotta go...

MacDubh and I, out for his morning walk...

He really isn't totally sure about this.

I have always love the snow!

...and it's still coming down.

The lake in the snow.

Holly berries in the snow.

Our magnificent tree...

Celtic cross in the snow....

Rascal the orange cat curled up in front of the fire..which is where we also have spent today...
Happy snow, everybody! .