31 January 2010

Trannies, Trains and Creativity

Today my long-lost cousin called. Well, actually, he's newly-found, as I am to him. You see, near the end of August, he and I met for the first time since I was about ten years old and he was in his 20's. So you might say that each of us changed a bit. That tends to happen to people when you don't see them for 40 years.

Ironically, through all those years, he'd been living just a few neighborhoods away from where I live now. In fact, I pass his house, more or less, on my way to work.

Anyway, he made an interesting proposition: In late March and early April, he's driving to Nevada. Like me, he won't be working during that week, which is Spring Recess for the school system and the college. So, he thought, I might be interested. And he'd like the company.

So far I've enjoyed his company. And, after all, he's a relative. Also, I've never crossed the continent on the ground. I sometimes think I'd like to pedal coast-to-coast, but I never had any fantasies of driving across the country. Then again, I might enjoy the ride with him.

He's going to Nevada, so it won't quite be a coast-to-coast trip. His mission: To retrieve a set of electric trains that he had as a boy. It's currently with another cousin who lives out there. They found out that to properly pack and insure the trains and related accessories for shipping, it would cost several hundred dollars. So, my cousin reasons, it makes sense to go out there and fetch them. Plus, he doesn't have to worry about whether my other cousin will pack them properly or what will happen to them in transit. They probably would be worth something to a collector, but the sentimental value is equally important.

Well, I said, I'm happy he asked. But Marilynne and her daughter have talked about coming up this way during that time. And, if they didn't, I was thinking of going to see my parents. But if it doesn't look like either of those things will happen, I'll go.

I don't recall the train set he's talking about, but if I saw it, I might. It seems that when I was growing up, everyone--or at least my relatives--had electric trains snaking around Christmas presents and dioramas of Currier and Ives-like Christmas Village scenes. Young boys always seemed to be fascinated with the trains: putting them together, assembling the track and all of the stuff that went with them, and of running the trains. I was, too. There was even a time I wanted to be a train engineer. But I think it had as much to do with those cool caps the engineers always wore, and the places those trains went, in the movies or on TV as it had to do with actually piloting a train--which was appealing in and of itself. I used to love riding trains with my grandfather, and he was always happy to take me for a trip on one.

Somewhere along the way, I lost my desire--however naive--to become a train engineer and my fascination with electric trains. In fact, I sold the set of Lionels I had as a kid to help pay for my first year at Rutgers. Kids who keep their fascination with model railroads and grow into men who keep up their boyhood train fantasies almost always become interested in the mechanical and engineering aspects of trains and railroading. I never did. In fact, I wasn't terribly technically oriented: I can fix bicycles but I never could handle anything much more complex. And, these days, with my limited time, I'd rather pay someone to do a major repair. I also don't tinker with my bikes the way I once did: When I have time, I'd rather ride, write, read or meet a friend.

A lack of interest and aptitude for mechanical and technical things is supposed to be a female trait. So is a lack of interest in, or even a fear of, math and science. I'll admit that somewhere in the morass of trigonometry and calculus, I was left in the digital dust. I find science interesting to the extent that I understand it, which was less and less every year that I was in school.

So, if those are such stereotypically female traits. why are so many male-to-female transsexuals --at least, so many of the ones I hear about--in scientific and technical fields? I've learned of transgendered rocket scientists (see Amanda Simpson and "A.E.Brain"), computer scientists and engineers. Rhiannon O' Donnahbain, whom I mentioned yesterday, is an engineer. So is Nancy Jean Burkholder, who was barred from attending the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in 1990. Another transgendered engineer is Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, who started "Morning Glow" (the predecessor of The Morning After House in Trinidad, CO). Sabrina, for whom the room in which I stayed at the Morning After House is named, describes herself as a "gear head."

I don't know why so many male-to-female (MTF) transgenders are in scientific and technical fields. Some might say they were "overcompensating" or trying to show that they were "really men" until they accepted themselves. The same explanation is given for MTFs who were cops, fighter pilots and in any number of stereotypically masculine fields before transitioning. I even have explained my participation in sports in the same way. However, I think that even though it may be true for some MTFs, it's not the whole story.

I suspect that another reason why MTFs like the ones I've mentioned become rocket scientists and engineers and such is that such fields are, in their own ways, creative. In other words, they require the ability to solve problems by "thinking outside the box." That, I believe, is something women have to do more often than men realize and that we, as transgender women, have to do in order to become ourselves.

Also, because those fields are creative in the way I just mentioned, they encompass both "left brain" and "right brain" skills. If one continually has to bridge those parts of the brain, it's not a stretch, really, to transverse the gap between genders. In other words, if someone is female but has to live as male, it's not such a leap--for someone with mathematical and scientific aptitude--to be a rational, scientific person who operates, in effect, as an artist. Or vice-versa.

That makes me think of something Marci says: that she sees herself as an artist first. That, she believes, is what enables her to perform genital reassignment and reconstruction surgeries that result in such realistic-looking (and -functioning) genitalia.

Now, I'm not a scientist. So make what you will of the things I've just said. It's the best explanation I can offer for now. Meanwhile, I'm going to think about taking that trip with my cousin so that he can retrieve his electric trains.


Velouria said...

I have to disagree that being technically minded is a male trait; I believe this is a mostly American concept, and to a lesser extent English. In Russia and Asia there are just as many girls who excel in math as boys. In Continental Europe it is not quite the same as in Russia and Asia, but not the same stereotype as in the US either. And I say this while at the same time subscribing to the left vs right brain thing (my research was party in that field).

The thing about math and technical stuff, is that it can be approached in one of two ways: systematically, and visuo-spatially. Men are better at the former ("left brain"); women at the latter ("right brain") - so it is a matter of the approach they take to the discipline, rather than the discipline itself. What I think happens in the US, is that the approach used here to teach those things is almost entirely systematic and not at all visuo-spatial (unlike the Russian, Asian, and Continental European methodologies). This is why women who are educated in the US tend not to excel in these things.

Zoe Brain said...

Hi Justine!

It appears that it may be in the neuroanatomy. Trans women tend to have a large degree of creativity, as you surmised.

This appears to be the result of both a lessening of the division in the corpus allosum - the bit connecting left and right hemispheres - plus a mixed masculinisation of the frontal gyrus and feminisation of the lymbic nucleus. Basically, bits of our brains to do with sex identity are F, other parts somewhat F, other parts M, and a few parts more M than most males. That can lead to Aspergers amongst other things. We have a higher rate of ambidexterity (or ambi-clumsiness) than most too.

Most women have partly masculinised brains, just as most men have partly feminised ones. Few conform 100% to one stereotype or another. We just got the bit that determines sex as not just F but **strongly** F - or we would not have had to transition.

For some reason we're grossly over-represented in the military, in engineering, science, medicine... and model railways.

Congrats on your rebirth on 7 July last year BTW. And it's obvious your creativity is channelled into your writing. Thanks for sharing that.

Justine Valinotti said...

Velouria and Zoe Brain: Your comments are very interesting and enlightening. I may have lived in my mind, but I haven't researched the brain.

Velouria: Now you've got me wondering whether I might be better in math if it had been taught differently. I tend to learn things better visuo-spatially than systematically: Actually, that's how I learned how to fix my bike with the help of Tom Cuthbertson's "Anybody's Bike Book, which had lots of helpful drawings accompanying its very readable prose.

Zoe: If more people knew what you said about the corpus allosum, they might understand our need to transition. And thank you for your good wishes on mine and compliments on my writing.