26 February 2012

Another Pronoun Problem?

It seems I just can't get away from that issue of pronouns.

Actually, it's been a while since anyone's addressed me with male pronouns in face-to-face situations.  Sometimes I'm still referred to as "sir" or "mister" when I talk on the telephone, particularly in stressful situations or when I have to be assertive.  Otherwise, though, I never hear them, and whenever I walk into a store or other public place, people say, "Can I help you ma'am?"  On occasion, they'll call me "miss."  That gets them good-sized tips. ;-)

Anyway, someone else in my life has a "pronoun problem."  Perhaps I'll be accused of "transferring" mine!

It seems that everyone with whom I've talked about Marley has referred to him at least once as "she" or "her."  Even Stephanie, who rescued him, and Millie, who has seen him, have referred to him that way.  

I guess people associate cats with femininity and often assume a cat is female until they find out otherwise.  In Marley's case, he's still a kitten (though rather large for his estimated seven months) and is very, very cuddly.  And, even when he runs or has his little tussles with Max, his body language, if you will, seems almost feminine at times.

His "identity crisis" may also have to do with his looks--he's what many people would call "pretty" or "beautiful".  I see him that way, too, but I think of him as being rather boyish.  

Still, I find people confusing his gender to be ironic, and just plain funny.  Maybe one day he'll come up to me and say, "There's something I have to tell you.  I'm not Marley; I'm Marlene..."  Even if he does, I'll still love him.

25 February 2012

New Growth?

I've gained some weight over the past few months.  Hopefully, as I ride my bike more and stick to some semblance of a diet, I'll lose it.

However, I found another reason why some of my tops are tighter than they had been.  I own only a couple of clingy tops; the rest are either tailored but not form-fitting, or relaxed.  At least, that is what they were when I bought them.

Even though some of those blouses, T-shirts and shells aren't tight around the tummy, they're tight around my chest.  I also notice that the oldest bras I have are tight on me.

My tape measure confirmed something I'd suspected when I saw myself in the mirror:  My breasts have grown--by about an inch and a half--since my surgery.  I'm going to have a measurement taken, just to be sure.  But it's actually visible when I'm dressing or undressing.  

That might be the reason why a couple of people asked me--without sarcasm--whether I'd lost some weight. If my breasts are bigger, I guess that would make my tummy look smaller--though not small!

If my breasts have indeed grown, I would guess that a reason might be that the estrogen I take now more effective on me.  Before the surgery, I had to take an anti-androgen in addition to estrogen.  If you've ever taken a medication for one condition while your body was dealing with another, you may have noticed that the medication wasn't as effective (at least in the ways you and your doctor wanted it to be) as it could have been had your body not been dealing with that second condition.  I think that something similar happened when I was taking estrogen while I was also taking an anti-androgen:  My body was working to suppress the testosterone I had been producing, and that probably made the estrogen (which is a weaker hormone than testosterone) less effective than it would have been otherwise.  But now my body is not producing testosterone; hence, I don't have to take anything to suppress it.  

I wonder whether other post-op women have experienced similar or parallel changes after their surgeries.  

24 February 2012

A Pyrrhic Victory In Baltimore

When I wrote yesterday's post, all of the information I had about the passage of Baltimore County's new law came from "instant" reports, which weren't very detailed, and I couldn't find a copy of the actual law.  So, naturally, I was happy that it had passed.

However, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.  As it turns out, there is "fine print" added to Baltimore County Bill 3-12  that essentially caused it to pass.  The irony is that the people who were upset over the bill's passage most likely hadn't read it.

On page 5, lines 8-10 we find this little gem: This subtitle does not apply to the provision of facilities that are distinctly private or personal.

Now, you may have already figured out what "distinctly private or personal" means.  In case you haven't, I'll translate:  bathrooms.  Well, all right, that's just part of the translation, but it's enough to demonstrate how that clause can, in essence, negate much of the protection the bill is supposed to provide.

Most people take access to bathrooms in their workplaces, and in public spaces for granted.  However, if your appearance, mannerisms or other physical or personal qualities don't conform to societal expectations of the gender for whom the bathroom you enter is designated, you can face harassment, arrest and even physical violence.  I'm not being alarmist here: I am speaking from personal experience.

You see, eight years ago, I was harassed by a security guard at a center where I'd gone to take the GRE.  It was early in my transition, and I had just recently changed my name and acquired identification indicating that I am female.  I showed that identification to a security guard when I entered the building and to the test administrators.  

Before starting the test, I'd asked to use a restroom.  The test administrator handed me the key to the women's room, which the test center shared with other offices on the same floor of that building.  I had that restroom all to myself until another woman entered while I was washing my hands.  We said "hello" to each other, and I left.

When I re-entered the test site, the same security guard who checked me into the building waited for me.  "What were you doing in the women's room?," he bellowed.

"What women usually do in a restroom."

"What were you doing in the women's room?"

"Do you want me to go into detail?"

"You're not supposed to be in there!"

"Why not?"  I pulled out my state ID.  

"What's this?"

"I showed it to you when you checked me in."

"Yeah, and..."

"Look under 'sex'."

"What do you mean?"

I pointed to the box.  "What letter is there?"

"What's this?"

"An F."

"Oh, so you had the operation..."

I pulled the ID out of his hand.  "Have a good day."

The test administrator, and other people who were waiting to take the test, complimented me on the way I handled him.  Of course, they didn't know the rage and fear I felt. Addled by those emotions, I took the test.

That night, I called Pauline Park and mentioned the incident.  She had a very similar incident the day before in Manhattan Mall.  As it turned out, the Mall used the same security company that the testing center used.  Together, we filed a complaint that turned into a lawsuit against the company.  

In answer to the question you're probably asking, neither Pauline nor I made any money, nor was it our intention to do so.  Instead, our complaint to the city's Commission on Human Rights resulted in the security company making donations to advocacy organizations Pauline and I chose.  The ruling also mandated that the company had to institute a training program for its employees.  The CHR and the security company consulted Pauline and me on designing the program, and Pauline trained the company's HR people who, in turn, trained the rest of the employees.

I was satisfied with the outcome.  However, I haven't forgotten how I felt that day, when I was about to take the GRE.  More important, I realized how being harassed over fulfilling a basic need--using a bathroom--can render you a second-class citizen, not to mention shake your confidence in yourself and the society in which you live.  

Plus, some organizations and employers may decide that they don't want the "hassle" of providing access to the appropriate bathrooms and may, as a result, not hire transgenders or trump up charges to dismiss the ones in their employ.  In this economy and society, not having fair and equitable access to employment is tantamount to being a non-person.  That is what, in spite of the "victory" of 3-12, is still allowed in Baltimore County.

23 February 2012

Victory And Backlash In Baltimore County And Maryland

The good news:  Baltimore County, in Maryland, has approved a bill that would ban discrimination against transgenders.  It thus becomes the fourth jurisdiction in Maryland to take such action.

Also:  The Maryland Legislature has just passed a law to allow same-sex marriage, thus becoming the eighth state (last week, Washington State became the seventh) to allow same-sex marriage.

The bad news:  The unfounded but predictable objections. There are the ones who think that a "lifestyle" is being "pushed" on their children or grandchildren.  

Hmm...When other previously-disenfranchised people, such as women and blacks, were given the right to vote, own property and such, and when laws to fight discrimination against them were passed, was someone "pushing" a "lifestyle", or anything else, on people who had always enjoyed those same rights?  Did anyone accuse them of putting dangerous ideas in kids' heads?  Imagine...a girl in 1920 thinking, "Wow!  I can vote for the President!" Or a young black man thinking, "Dang!  Now I can run for Congress when I grow up!"  

I know a pretty fair number of transgender people.  Not a single one of them has ever tried to "push" his or her "lifestyle" on anyone or "recruit" anyone's kids.  Even though most of us (I include myself) are happy that we decided to live as the people we really are, none of us try to convince anyone else that he or she is transgendered.  That is a realization one can only make for one's self.  

A few parents try to raise their kids as the "opposite" gender from the one they were assigned at birth.  Most of those kids rebel against it; many run away from home.  The kids who want to live as the "opposite" gender will, in one way or another, manifest that wish without any help or prodding from anyone else.  Or they simply carry their true selves within them until the moment they feel they can live as the people they are.  If anything, the truly transgendered survive in spite of attempts to make them conform to the gender they were assigned at birth.  

I know that the last two sentences of the previous paragraph describe the childhood and adolescent experience of me and many other transgendered people of my generation.  Most people had little or no idea of what it meant to have a conflict over one's gender identity, much less to be a child with such a conflict.  So, even parents with the best of intentions tried to make their kids conform because they didn't know what else to do.

Those of us who've grown up that way want to help anyone who realizes he or she is really transgendered.  But none of us would try to convince anyone that he or she is like us.  And I doubt that any non-transgendered person would try to do such a thing, either.

So tell me...Who is trying to "push" what on whom?

20 February 2012

Say Hello To Marley

Did a little bit more riding than I did the other day, without pain.  I think I'll be ready to resume regular riding soon.

Yesterday, though, I didn't ride.  I was welcoming the newest "addition" to my family.

Stephanie, who rescued Marley, brought him to my place yesterday.  So, naturally, I spent the day home so I could welcome him and ease the "transition."  Actually, Max is taking it pretty well.

Right now, my new family member seems to have two speeds:  sleep and "charge!"  As soon as we released him from his carrier, Max tried to play with him.  And, all through the day, Max tried to make friends with him.  It's been a bit more than a month since Charlie died, and Max seems to have been starved for feline attention ever since.

As my new friend is a "rescue" kitten, I can understand the nervousness and skittishness he felt yesterday.  I can also understand his need for sleep.

When Stephanie kept him in her apartment, she called him "Charlie."  Not only is that the name of my recently departed; it is also the name of a cat--also gray and white!--I had before him. So, I think I'm going to rename him.  For now, I'm calling him Marley.  I've read and seen "Marley and Me," but more important, I have recordings of just about everything Bob ever did.  My new friend doesn't particularly remind me of him, but I figure neither of us can go wrong with that name. Plus, I like the sound of it.

Speaking of sound:  I thought I heard a mouse squeak.  Turns out, it was Marley crying.  I've raised only one other cat from kittenhood--my first Charlie--and remember him crying that way, too.  What do they say? Big boys cry because they are always, at heart, little boys.

I don't know whether I'll ever try to carry Marley in a basket.  I never tried that with Max or my second Charlie  because they were big when I adopted them.  However, I took my first Charlie on a couple of rides when he was still small.  When he got bigger, he wasn't too keen on riding in a basket.  But, his being home was one more thing for me to look forward to at the end of every ride!  That's how I see Max's presence now, and how I will most likely see Marley's.

18 February 2012

New Member of The Family?

Tomorrow I'm going to have a guest who may turn into a member of my family.  The cat my friend rescued is coming to my place.  His rescuer, Stephanie, is bringing him to me.  

On one hand, I hope Max, my orange cat, gets along with him.  I'm told he's a cuddler par excellence. Max is one, too, so that might help them get along.  Then again, Max might think he has exclusive rights to my lap or something.

On the other hand, I hope it doesn't work.  As adorable as the new guy is, I still miss Charlie. Most likely, I always will.  But, as Millie--who knew Charlie well--says, "Charlie would want you to adopt another cat, especially a rescue cat. Charlie made you happy; that's what he'd want for you.

Really...I hope Max sees it that way!

17 February 2012

Before Martina, There Was Nancy

Every once in a while, an athlete comes along who completely dominates his or her sport, at least during his or her career.  I'd say that in my lifetime, there were four such athletes:  Eddy Mercx, Martina Navratilova, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan

(With all due respect to Lance, I think Eddy was the most dominant cyclist because he won every type of race that existed while he was competing.  Like Mercx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain also won the Tour de France and a variety of other races.  However, they never seemed to have the same aura of invincibility Mercx had in his prime.)

Of the four, perhaps Navratilova's timing was the most fortuitous.  She came along during the 1970's, when women's sports first started to achieve anything like a wide audience, and was at her peak during the early and mid 1980's.  

Recently, I learned of another great athlete who may have been on the other side of the mirror from Navratilova.

Nancy Burghart accepting the trophy for her 1964 National Championship from USI President Otto Eisele Jr.

Nancy Burghart (now Nancy Burghart-Haviland) won eight US National Championships during the 1960's.  She was one of the most versatile riders of her time, as she also won pursuit and sprint championships.  Nearly any time she mounted a bicycle, people expected her to win, much as they did when Navratilova entered a tennis court.

Some would say that Burghart had the misfortune of racing at a time when relatively little attention was paid to cycling, and to women's sports, in the US.  However, she garnered great respect from both the men and women in her sport, and even got some overseas press, which was no small feat in the conditions I've described, and in the absence of the Internet and 24-hour news cycles. 

During Burghart's career, the traditional cycling powers of Europe and Japan did not take American racing very seriously.  However, one could argue that, even then, American female cyclists were among the world's best.  In countries like France, Italy and Japan, bicycle racing, and the media that covered it, were focused almost entirely on male racers.  This could only have stunted the development in women's racing in those countries.  On the other hand, bicycle racing in the US during the three decades after World War II was entirely an amateur affair.   Some have argued that this is a reason why male and female racers were on more or less equal footing, and may have been what allowed women's cycling to gain more prominence in the years before Greg LeMond won the Tour de France.

In my research, I found another interesting detail about Ms. Burghart:  She was born and raised in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, barely a couple hundred pedal spins from the Kissena track--or my apartment.  That track is where any number of American racers have trained as well as raced.  And it's also where the trials were held for the 1964 Olympic team.

In 1957, when she was 12 years old, she won the Girls' Midget title.  Her twin sister Melissa also competed in the race, and others Nancy rode and won.  It would have taken plenty of determination for an American boy to pursue a bicycle-racing dream at that time:  Imagine what it must have taken for two girls!

From what I've gathered, Burghart-Haviland now lives in Maine.  Given her role in cycling, and American sports generally, I am surprised she isn't better-known.

15 February 2012

On Transwomen and Self-Determination

I've come across an excellent article:  Sexual Rights of HIV-Positive Transwomen by Dee Barrego.  She covers many of the dilemmas faced by HIV-positive transwomen, and transwomen generally.  However, the real point of the article--and what makes it something more than a manifesto or a collection of information--is that transwomen have the same rights to self-determination when it comes to their bodies, but that too many health-care and social service providers, not to mention law enforcement officials, act as if this were not true.

I find myself thinking about a conversation I had with two friends of mine.  They are young, attractive African-American professional women who have had their share of adventures, shall we say, in the dating world.    One of their complaints is that too many men--mainly white, but of other races as well--don't want to bring home a black woman to their family, or simply don't want to be in a committed relationship with one.  However, those same men seem to believe that black women should always be sexually available to them.  Also, those same men seem to think that they have the right not to discuss anything they'd prefer not to, while black women's sexuality, as well as their sexual and medical history, should be completely open books.

In many ways, what they say about their experience parallels something I--and, I suspect, other trans women--have experienced.  Other people seem to think that they have the right to decide what and when, or whether, we will disclose, and with whom or whether we can have sex.  They ask us questions about our genitalia and other body parts they would never ask anyone else, and they seem to think they have a right to know about our HIV, relationship and even employment status, even when such information is completely irrelevant to them.  

And then there is the man with whom I was involved--and whom I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog--who told me that if he were HIV-positive, he would not disclose that before having sex with me.  Yet he felt entitled to pry into any and all areas of my life, looking for anything, however innocuous, he could twist and use against me when it suited him.  When he couldn't find such things, he made them up.  Plus, no matter how much I could prove to him that I was who and what I told him I am, it was never good enough.  Even a notarized letter from my doctor stating that I am HIV-negative wasn't enough for him.

(Since ending my relationship with him, I've come to realize that his openly homophobic and transphobic relatives actually have more integrity, at least in relation to the things I've mentioned, than he did.  But that's another story!)

Now, I am willing to talk about my experiences because I hope they will allow some people to understand me, and other trans women, better.  But neither I nor anyone else should be forced to discuss, for example, our sexual practices or our medical histories.  And if someone asks and we answer, what we say shouldn't be used against us.  There's nothing worse than the person who's always asking about "what it's like," then uses the fact that you've talked about it to discredit you, end a friendship or even try to terminate your employment or a professional relationship.  I've heard too many stories of such things from other trans women!

The experience of women--cisgender, trans, straight, lesbian, bisexual or any other--has shown that when we don't have control over our bodies, minds and histories, other people take it upon themselves to make decisions about them for us.  And those decisions are rarely in our best interest, let alone to our benefit.

14 February 2012

A New Companion?

I can't believe it's already been a month and a day since Charlie died.  

Since then, I've vacillated between getting another cat--and seeing how well Max gets along with him/her--and letting Max be an "only child" for the rest of his life.  What made the latter option appealing is that Max is about the same age as Charlie was.

However, I've since gotten a glimpse of a cat Millie's friend Stephanie rescued:

How could I not love this one?  I've asked whether I could "borrow" him for a couple of days to see how he and Max get along.  Stephanie s willing.  And, I'm  sure, he wouldn't mind getting a home and three square meals a day!

13 February 2012

One Governor Gets It, Another Doesn't

Being Catholic is not an excuse.  

It seems that Christine Gregoire understands that.  But someone in that foreign country, er, state, across the river from where I live doesn't.

Yesterday, Ms. Gregoire signed the legislation that made Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.  "I'm proud of who and what we are as a state," she said.  

Although she doesn't use her Roman Catholic faith as a rationale for what she does as a lawmaker, she doesn't make her faith a secret, either.  And, apparently, she sees no contradiction between her beliefs and allowing non-heteorosexual people to enjoy a right heterosexual people take for granted.

Would that I could say the same of Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey. Today, his state's Senate passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.  The same body rejected the bill two years ago, when Jon Corzine was still the governor.  During his campaign, and ever since, Christie said he would veto the bill and has called for a referendum on the issue.  

Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, has denounced Christie's move, saying that "the rights of a minority can't be trusted to the majority."  In principle, he may be right.  However, he may not have as much to fear as he believes:  In a recent poll, the majority of New Jersey residents said they favor legalizing gay marriage.  That is the first time the majority has expressed such a view in the state, and the numbers of people who support same-sex marriage have increased every time a poll has been taken.  

And, if I'm not mistaken, more New Jersey residents are Roman Catholic than of any other religion.  For them, it's not an excuse to perpetuate inequality.  Funny how Chris Christie doesn't see it that way.

11 February 2012

Justine's Knee (Apologies to Eric Rohmer)

I took a bit of a fall the other day.  Now my knee is swollen and bruised.  I've been to the doctor, who said "it feels worse than it actually is."  That's good to know:  at least, according to him, I'll be fine if I give it a few days' rest.  

Even if I only need a few days to mend, I'm worried the inactivity will make me even fatter than I am.  And of course I want a pain-free and functional knee, but I want it to look good, too.  I know, I'm not asking for much, am I? ;-)

In spite of the title, Eric Rohmer had nothing to do with this post!

10 February 2012

What If They Knew?

Yesterday, I was talking with friend of a colleague who dropped by our office.  This friend, whom I'll call "Amanda" is pregnant for the first time.  I asked her whether she knew the gender of her child.

"No.  I don't want to."

"What do you think?"

"Well, I have a feeling about what my baby will be.  But I really don't want to think about it.  Whatever the gender of my baby, I'll love it."

Although I'm not sure I'd feel the same way she does in her circumstances, I admire her.  The ability to determine the gender of the fetus is a pretty recent development; for milennia before it, people didn't know the genders of their babies until they were born.  So, in  sense, whatever the child's gender, he or she was a "surprise."

Now I find myself thinking about what it would be like to know other characteristics of your child before he or she is born. I'm thinking about physical characteristics, of course, like eye color, height and diseases.  However, I'm even more interested in what it would be like if parents could know that the fetus in the mother's womb would become a gay or transgendered child.   

09 February 2012

When Pierre Is Allowed To Become Pauline But Can't Go Home

Imagine that you've just won the right to do something about which you've always dreamed--in this case, serving in the Armed Forces of your country.

Now, having become a soldier, sailor or member of your country's air force, imagine that you can't fly home to visit your family.

That is exactly the situation faced by transgender people in a Western country that's among the world's most respected, at least when it comest to human rights and general civility.

That country would be Canada.  Yes, the same country that had gay marriage before its powerful neighbor to the south.  Said neighbor still has it in only a few states, while the entirety of Canada--the second-largest nation on the planet--has it.

And Canada not only allows LGBT people to serve in its armed forces, it also allows members of the military who are making gender transition to wear the uniform of their "destination" gender.  So, if Pierre is in the process of becoming Pauline, he can wear Pauline's uniform even if he hasn't yet had surgery.

As far as I know, no other country has such a policy.   In the United States, transgenders still can't serve, at least not openly, in the military.  If they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder or have begun to transition, they can't join; if, once they're in, they visibly transition or reveal their identities, they can't stay.

Yet the same country that has no problem with transgenders serving in its armed forces has a policy that is, if unintentionally, as discriminatory against transgenders as anything its southern neighbor, and any number of other countries, have.

In July of 2011, Transport Canada instituted a rule stating that a passenger could be barred from boarding a plane if he or she doesn't appear to be the gender indicated on his or her passport.

Just for its sheer subjectivity alone, it's a terrible policy.  There are plenty of masculine-looking women and feminine-looking men, most of whom never thought about transitioning.  If this law can wreak havoc with them, imagine what it can do for any number of transgender people-- such as those who, for various reasons, never have the surgery or wait many years for it.

The argument made for this law--and the policies the US and other countries have regarding gender identity indicated on passports--goes something like this:  "Well, some suicide bomber might disguise pretend to be a woman to get on a plane." 

It's a silly--not to mention offensive--argument for any number of reasons.  First of all, suicide bombers, and terrorists generally, aren't people who try to "fly under the radar."  They are driven by some sort of rage or resentment, or out of  fervent (if twisted) political or religious beliefs that matter more to them than their own lives.  People who are about to blow themselves up for the sake of killing a bunch of other people aren't much concenred about whether or not they'll be found out.  If anything, they want to be known for committing the terrible deeds they plan to do.

Someone who is simply insane (which, according to some people, includes the would-be terrorists I've just mentioned) also isn't going to trouble him or herself with concealing his or her identity or carrying a false passport.

Also, consider the fact that someone who really wants to commit a terrible crime on a plane has to, well, get on the plane.  If he's carrying a false passport and is caught, that won't happen.  Most likely, he'll be arrested.  And, if he is caught wearing a dress and carrying a female passport that isn't his, he'll probably get the shit beaten out of him in the airport parking garage.

Now tell me, what self-respecting suicide bomber would do that?

I remember that when I first tried to get a new passport that indicated me as female,  the State Department gave, essentially, the reasons I just mentioned for denying me (as well as others in my situation).  Yet, one State Department representative with whom I spoke said that, to his knowledge, no terrorist had ever committed his or her deeds while presenting him or herself as a member of the other gender. 

Even one who could "pass" as a member of the other side is unlikely to represent him or herself as one in order to gain access to something and blow it up.  Even such people would have to spend a lot of time and money (As far as I know, Al Queda and Hamaz aren't paying for hormones or GRS.) to be a convincing member of the gender they were trying to represent.  And, if you're a male-to-female, the hormones rob you of a good part of your physical strength and quickness--not to mention that it's easier to do the sorts of things terrorists do in most men's than in most women's clothing!

So, what would-be terrorists Transport Canada expects to stop with such a policy is beyond me.  And, given the other laws Canada has, I rather doubt they were trying to exclude transgender people from boarding planes.  So what, exactly is the rationale for such a law?

Fortunately, there is a movement to repeal it.  I trust Canadians to have the good sense, and good will, to do so.  Hopefully, lawmakers in my country will start looking north for their cues.

07 February 2012

Forever Seventeen At Two Hundred

Seventeen and two hundred.

All right, you ask, what is the connection between those two numbers?

Well, I'll tell you:  It's Charles Dickens.

Yes, the famed British writer is two hundred years old today.

So what about seventeen?  Think about Dora of David Copperfield, Estella of Great Expectations and Rosa Budd of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Thanks to Dickens, they will be forever seventeen.

You see, as progressive (for his time, anyway) he seems to be in describing life in London in the middle of the 19th Century, his attitudes about women were fairly retrograde, even by the standards of that time.  Take a look at the portrait of perfect womanhood he paints in his description of Mrs. Chirrup, in Sketches for Young Couples:

‘...the prettiest of all little women... the prettiest little figure conceivable...the neatest little foot, and the softest little voice, and the pleasantest little smile, and the tidiest little curls, and the brightest little eyes, and the quietest little manner... a condensation of all the domestic virtues – a pocket edition of the Young Man’s Best Companion...’

More than one critic has pointed out that were he not considered such a great writer, Dickens would be considered a terrible misogynist.  There's a lot of truth to that, I think, as the quote above is not merely an isolated example.  As we say in the old country, "There's more where that came from."

There are a number of explanations as to why Dickens seemed to have what amounts to a fetish for women who were young, small, weak and submissive--and virgins.  One is that he was in love with his wife's younger sister, who died in his arms when she was seventeen years old.  That may well explain, at least partially, his infatuation with young girls who, basically, were china dolls.  But it doesn't explain the other side of that obsession:  the cruelty he could express in his depictions of older women, or those who were sick or disabled in some way.  I'm thinking, for example, of Flora Flinching of Little Dorrit, who wants to rekindle a romance with the young lover but, in Dickens' descriptions, is beyond any hope of sexual allure, and is therefore worthy only of contempt. 

His portrayal of Flora Flinching is hardly the most misogynistic thing you'll find in his writing.  There's also the wheelchair-bound Mrs. Skewton, whom we meet in Domby and Son:

‘Cleopatra was arrayed in full dress, with the diamonds, short sleeves, rouge, curls, teeth, and other juvenility all complete, but Paralysis was not to be deceived, had known her for the object of its errand, and had struck her at her glass, where she lay like a horrible doll that had tumbled down.’

Some have said that this description, being from one of his later works, is a reflection of how he viewed his by-then-aging wife.  People who knew him--including one of his daughters--said that he didn't treat her well, and that he could be as cruel to some as he was generous to others.  And, she said, "My father does not understand women."

I suppose that such complexity is what made him a keen observer of the economic and social uphevals of his time--but not of women. 

06 February 2012

Revving Up

We were in the department office after our evening classes.  Most students had already left the campus, and Alexie and I were looking forward to a few quiet moments to work on our projects.

"Vroom!  Vroom!  Skreeeech!"  Alexie pushed over to the window; I craned my head to look out.  The engine's revving faded to a drone and the screeching tires thudded over the curb as the Camaro pulled out of the lot.  Then, another car--I couldn't tell what it was in the darkness--echoed the Camaro and made the same beeline out of the lot.

Alexie: "You know, you guys don't have to show us you have penises!"

Me, to myself:  "Yeah, and having one isn't all that.  Trust me, I know!"

05 February 2012

A Women's Super Bowl?

If you were to say "women's football," most people would think of the "other" football, a.k.a. soccer.  That's understandable:  After all, soccer has one of the highest rates of female participation among sports.  And women's soccer has gotten more attention in the past fifteen years or so, especially after the success of the US team.  

However, there was, believe it or not, a women's tackle football league--a women's NFL, if you will.

In the early days of the NFL (the 1920's and 1930's), some teams sponsored women's teams that mainly provided halftime entertainment.  Then, it seems, this episode of sports was all but forgotten for about two decades after World War II.

Then, during the mid-1960's, Cleveland talent agent Sid Friedman started the Women's Professional Football League.  It was really a semi-professional league and, as Friedman said, a "gimmick."  However, by the early 1970's, it had grown to a dozen teams with names like the Los Angeles Dandelions, Dallas Bluebonnets, Tulsa Babes and Oklahoma City Dolls.  Believe it or not, a few of their games were televised, albeit regionally, and as often as not, the broadcasters highlighted the physical attractiveness of some of the players and the fact that others were mothers.

There is some controversy as to whether the National Women's Football League was formed as a new league or was a re-branding of the WPFL, as the NWFL consisted mainly of WPFL franchises.  In any event, within two years, the NWFL fielded fourteen teams in three divisions.  While there were teams in Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angleles and Dallas, major metropoli like New York, Chicago, Boston and the San Francisco Bay area did not have teams.  That may well have been one of the reasons why the NWFL, and women's tackle football, didn't last.

However, there are signs of a revival of the sport.  The Independent Women's Football League, a nonprofit organization that allows its member teams to operate independently, was formed in 2000 and has since grown to 40 teams.  Stuart Kantor, the author of The History of Women's Professional Football, believes that the IWFL might finally bring women's tackle football to a national audience.

Who knows?  One day, "Super Bowl Sunday" might pit the New England Debs against the New York Catwalkers!

04 February 2012

Once A Bully, Always A Bully?

What is a bully?  Most people, I think, would agree that "people who beat up on people who have less power than themselves" is a pretty good starting point for a definition.

Of course, the beating and power don't have to be physical.  In fact, the non-physical variety can be even worse, and is as often as not what underlies abusive relationships.  Trust me, I know something about that, and it's fresh in my mind!

Anyway, most people would also agree, I think, that bullies act as they do because they know, deep down, they have so little power themselves.  That is why so much domestic violence is done by men whose lives are on the edge:  the ones who've lost their jobs and way of life, or who are about to.  Or, they may simply fear that they are about to lose those things, or that they will be revealed as not having them.

But I don't want to simply rag on men who beat women.  Anyone who doesn't have the soul of a cockroach deplores such things.  Besides, the victims of such people can at least begin to recover from the damage they've incurred--a process that, admittedly, can be a project for the remainder of the victim's life--by getting out of the abusive relationship.  Also, the aftermath of such abuse is usually limited to the victim and his or her loved ones, as well as those of the abuser.

On the other hand, there are other kinds of bullies who can cause untold damage to large numbers, and entire groups, of people.  Such people usually pick some of the most disenfranchised people as objects of their hatred.  

One such person is one who, rightly, is vilified by the trans community and our allies is one about whom I, to myself, swore I would never write or speak.  She is none other than Janice Raymond.

To attack The Transgender Empire at this late date is almost pointless.  The damage she caused with the baseless claims she made in it is finally, I believe, being reversed simply because more people know they know someone who's transgendered, and because, thankfully, only a relatively small number of people see feminism as something that includes hating all men or anything that has ever--willingly or not--worn a male guise.

In other words, more people understand that people like me actually are women and that trans men are really men.  Or, they simply think of us as living a "different" way--one that they,perhaps, wouldn't want for themselves, but that is ours by both necessity and choice.  

And then, of course, there is a whole generation of people who's come along not having read or even heard about Janice Raymond, "radical feminism" or the sexual politics of the 1970's.  They don't think much, if at all, about feminism because they take it for granted that women can be bank presidents and airline pilots and judges rather than just "girls" who serve them.  They see sexism and hit glass ceilings, but know that feminism, as defined by such as Raymond, will not help them to overcome those things.  In fact, some have even come to realize that radicals, in the end, objectify them just as much as men, in the minds of those radicals, objectify women's bodies.

Still, people like Raymond, Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford simply can't be ignored out of existence.  Their real motivations need, as much as the flaws in what they try to pass off as arguments, to be not only fought against, but dismantled.

It seems that, as a friend of mine has pointed out, Raymond has found a new group of people to bully:  sex workers.  She argues against legalizing sex work and wants to end to "the sex industry."  

On the face of it, those are legitimate positions--and I say so as someone who doesn't agree with them.  One can make valid moral arguments against legalizing sex work, and I really wish that the world was a better place so that people wouldn't feel the need to become sex workers or their customers.  However, as cynical as this may seem, unless the human race changes radically, there will always be a market for what sex workers offer.

It would be one thing if Janice Raymond were merely ignorant of this fact, or even if she ignored it.  (Actually, either would make sense had she remained the nun she once was.)  However, as I read her Ten Reasons For Not Legalizing Prostitution, I realize that her real motivation is not concern for exploited sex workers--most of whom are young women from difficult backgrounds--but her hatred of their customers and those who control their industry, most of whom are men.  Instead of going after the johns, the pimps and those who make it easy for them to operate, she picks on the sex workers themselves.

Perhaps Janice Raymond is at too late a stage in her life to change.  Does her example tell us, "Once a bully, always a bully"?  Perhaps. But, I'm happy to say, plenty of people recognize a bully when they see one and will either fight them or simply keep them out of the way.  Most bullies back down or slink away when faced with people who have courage and integrity.  Janice Raymond may not do that, but those people, and others who recognize her for what she is, will consign her to Marx's infamous dustbin of history.

03 February 2012

Today's post is going to be a rant that will lead to a long rhetorical question.  So consider yourself forewarned!

Ever since I can remember, I have heard people say that letting kids see--let alone teaching them about--gays, lesbians and transgender people will "confuse" them or "give" them "ideas".  Two couples who were once in my life gave me, essentially, the same rationale for ending their relationships with me after I began my transition.  They said things like "I don't want my kids exposed to things like that."

At least they've spared me the most spurious and simply ridiculous allegation of all:  that I might try to "recruit" their kids.  Oh, yes, we're all trying to "recruit" kids into facing the same sort of rejection we face.   I guess we're all sadists and don't want to admit it.

All right:  I'll get off the rant.  Now, to cut to the chase--or the long rhetorical question I promised you, anyway.  Here goes:  How is it that people can say I, or any other LGBT person, is bad for kids, yet those same people will let their kids watch stuff like "Family Guy"?  I mean, there was an episode in which Baby Stewie pulled out a machine gun and shot his mother full of holes.  (And peple say we have mother issues!)  Plus, he and the rest of the family continuously make fun of the physically unattractive and socially awkward daughter Meg.  Is that somehow a better example for children than an LGBT person who's an accomplished professional and raises a child he or she adopted?

Some would say, "But that's TV!" or "It's a cartoon!"  True enough.  But most Americans still think cartoons are OK for kids, and Fox has never made any effort to encourage adults to keep kids from watching the show.  Now tell me, what kind of a message is that for kids?

02 February 2012

Hate Escalates At Montclair State

Last Thursday, anti-gay graffiti was found by the LGBT Center of Montclair State University in New Jersey.  The following day, a threatening note was left under the door of the center.

The other day, "Fags will die on 2/7" was scrawled on a wall of a women's restroom in the student center.

Any message of hate is threatening and disturbine enough.  But in this case, the ante was upped in each incident.  The downward spiral from anti-Semitic laws to Kristallnacht to the arrest and deportation of Jews from countries the Nazis invaded, to the execution of so many of those Jews (and the use of others as, essentially, guinea pigs) should teach us that when haters feel free to escalate the manifestations of their hatred, things cannot be good for those they hate--or anyone else.

Fortunately, many Montclair students have expressed their disgust and outrage at the incidents on their campus.  I don't doubt that they represent a large segment, if not the vast majority, of campus sentiment.  After all, today most young people who are not in the closet themselves will acknowledge that at least one of their family members, friends, classmates or other peers is one of the hues in the LGBT spectrum. 

However, unless something drastically changes in the physiological makeup of young males or the psychological construction of the human race, there will always be some homophobes on any college campus.

Some have speculated that one or more fundamentalist Muslims are behind the acts of bigotry.  Back in October, some students attending a meeting in the LGBT center found a note that said, "You will feel the wrath of Allah/Your thoughts are immoral/homosexuality is sin/Allah says you must pay."

Now, I don't doubt that some Muslims share such sentiments.  Then again, change "Allah" to "God" and you will see what some fundamentalist Christians believe.  However, I don't want to insult Muslims, Christians or members of any other religion, for one does not need those, or any other, religions to rationalize his or her hate. 

In fact, it may very well be that someone was who sent that message simply used "Allah" as a smokescreen.  Something very similar happened to me once:  Someone left an anonymous complaint about me and couched his/her grievances in terms of religious (Islamic) objections to my gender transition.  It turned out that it was a student who was upset at receiving a grade that reflected the kind of work he did (or more precisely, didn't) do in my class.

Likewise, someone may be sending threats against gays because of some beef he has with a specific gay person.  Or, more likely, he might be in the closet,  or simply feeling insecure--for whatever reason--about his place in this world as a young man.  And the age at which young men traditionally attend college is about the age that many young men experience their inner conflicts about their sexuality or gender identity most intensely.  They might be living in dorms with other males like themselves; in such an environment, they try to show who has the biggest one of all.  And a young man who is not comfortable with himself feels that he has the most to prove, and will do the most extreme things in his attempts to prove that he is a man or "the man."

Then again, whoever made the threats and scrawled the graffiti may not be a student at Montclair (or at all). Or those acts may not be the work of the same person.

Whoever is responsible for those actions, and whatever his/her/their motives, it's still alarming when acts of hate can be repeated and escalated as they have during the past several months at Montclair State University.

01 February 2012

Upholding The "Norms"

Writing about Kitty Genovese, and the way it was covered in the media, has made me think more about the ways in which maleness, heterosexuality and cisgenderism frame most discussions and perceptions of gender and sexuality, even among those who seem to be sympathetic toward LGBT people.

Let's revisit, for one more moment, the portrayal of Genovese.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the fact that she was a lesbian was not disclosed at the time.  Her neighbors and the media mentioned that she had a "roommate," which seems plausible for two young single women.  

Also, much was made of how she was petite, dressed well and was "always smiling."  Those are often considered desirable "feminine" qualities, which is to say that they are qualities many straight men find appealing in women.   Also, the media accounts echoed something else her neighbors said about her:  Working at night left her free to browse the stores along Austin Street, the neighborhood's main shopping strip.  A good number of those stores sell women's clothing and shoes, as they do now, while others sold "aesthetic" items like jewelry and furnishings.

In other words, at least part of the sympathy people felt for her--and the media attention her case got--resulted from the degree to which she fit, or at least seemed to fit,  gender and sexual norms for young women at that time.

Sadly, not much has changed in that regard.  Worse, from my point of view, is that heterosexism and cisgenderism pervade even the standards and procedures of care for young men and women who are transitioning into the gender of their spirit--or subconscious, if you will.  

Although the situation is changing, you have a better chance of being approved for hormones and gender reassignment surgery if you seem as though you would fit a stereotype--almost a cariacture, really--of the gender in which you want to spend the rest of your life.   And whatever approval and support you might get will depend, at least to some degree, upon how well you fit people's expectation of what someone in your "new" gender should be.  

The weird thing is that if you fit one of those stereotypes--say, if you're one of those transwomen (increasingly rare these days) who never leaves her dwelling in anything but a skirt, blouse, stockings, high heels and makeup--you will be criticized for "overdoing it," on one hand and for "overcompensating," on the other.  

Yet, until recently, if you'd shown up for your first session with a screening doctor or psychotherapist in clothing more appropriate to someone of the gender to which you were assigned at birth, there was a very good chance you wouldn't be approved, or would be told that you're "not ready."

And, if you are a transwoman who falls into the kind of submissive behavior men traditionally expected from women, you are criticized for being weak.  Yet, if you stand up to mistreatment, people say that you're "acting like a man" or are "uppity."

One thing about privilege:  Those who enjoy it seem to see it fit to change thee rules at any given moment.  That is how you get criticized for doing the very things you were expected to do, and criticized for not doing other things.   

The things I've just mentioned remind me that there won't be any real progress in the human race, let alone in gender and power relations, unless variations in gender identity, expression, sexuality--not to mention culture and value systems--are recognized and respected rather than merely seen as conditions to "tolerate" or efface from the person who holds them.