23 July 2012

Sally Ride, R.I.P.

I have just found out that Sally Ride has died of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 61.

As you probably know, she became the first American woman in space" when she blasted off  in 1983.  She took another trip into outer space the following year.  Then she was scheduled for another voyage that was cancelled after the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight on 28 January 1986.

Dr. Ride, who earned undergraduate degrees in Physics and English, had just recently finished her PhD in Physics at Stanford University when she took her first trip.  While still a doctoral student, she answered an ad NASA had placed in her school's student newspaper.  As it happened, the space program finally decided to accept women the year before she took her historic journey.

Later, as a professor at the University of California-San Diego, she started Sally Ride Science, which, as she says, allowed her to pursue her "longtime passion for motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.

One thing I find interesting now is that at the time of her space trips, no mention was made of her sexual orientation.  In fact, most people probably don't know about it unless they've seen the story I've linked, or others that say she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.  

Of course, it makes sense that her sexuality, had it been know, wouldn't have been mentioned at the time.  She may well have done everything she could to hide it when she applied, and was training, for the program.  Also, she went into space at a time when then-President Ronald Reagan wouldn't even say the word "AIDS" in public.  In fact, according to a story that circulated around that time, The Gipper kicked his son out of the house when he dropped out of Yale to become a ballet dancer.  (He was good enough to join the Joffrey.)  

We all know about boys who become dancers--and girls who become astrophysicists.  They're just like you and me.  Well, maybe not me:  I don't have the requisite talents for becoming either of those. But at least Sally Ride found a way to nurture her talents, in a time when there was little support for girls or young women who wanted to be astronauts--or boys or young men who wanted to be ballet dancers.

17 July 2012

The Dilemma Of A Transgender In Prison

Note:  At the beginning of  this post, I am going to use a male pronouns and a male name in reference to someone who identifies as female.  As a transsexual woman,I am not doing this out of disrespect to her.  Rather, as a former journalist, I am following the practice of using what is in official records.  Also, to my knowledge the person of whom I'm about to write has not changed her name or gender. 

However, I will take the liberty of referring to the subject of this post by a female name and feminine pronouns later in the post.  

This story came my way today.

Derek Sinden, who identifies as Thalia, has been incarcerated in the Wolston Correctional Center in Queensland, Australia since 1999.  After becoming involved with the transgender community in Sydney, Sinden used drugs, drinking and sexual activities with men to cope with gender identity issues.

Queensland Correctional Department's policies allow prisoners to receive hormone treatments while in custody if they had been receiving treatment before they were incarcerated.  Thus, the authorities will not allow Sinden such treatments.  However, the prison is providing a testosterone blocker.

On one hand, I know--from my own experiences and those of other transgender people--that, for us, hormones are not merely a means for feminizing (or masculinizing, in the case of female-to-males) our bodies.  To us, they are what Prozac, Zoloft and other psychotropic medications are for clinically depressed (which many of us are before our transitions, by the way) patients.  True, they--in conjunction with antiandrogens (for male-to-females)--soften our skin, hasten the growth of the hair on our heads, slow or stop hair growth on our bodies and grow our breasts.  But, I felt that the most important effect, at least for me, was psychological:  Depression that, for me, seemed like a normal state of being lifted.  Perhaps I shouldn't say this in a public forum, but I'll say it anyway:  Had I not started taking hormones, I might be dead by now, and it probably wouldn't be from natural causes. 

If I could experience the sort of depression I felt--in my body as well as my mind--for so long, I should not be surprised that others, in such a state, would resort to crimes of one sort or another.  Some might commit them to cope with their issues, while others might break the law under the influence of the drugs or alcohol they use in their attempts to ease their pain.   For those reasons, I think that if prisons can dispense pyschotropic medications to depressed inmates or prisoners with other disorders, they should also give transgender patients hormones treatments.

On the other hand, I understand what Custodial Operations Deputy Commissioner Marlene Morrison said about Sinden's case.  Even if someone has know since age four or five (as I did) that he or she is not the "right" sex, prison is not the best place to embark upon such a transition.  No matter how certain you are about your need for a gender transition, you need to see a doctor and therapist.  Seeing, in addition, a counselor or social worker who understands the issues involved with gender transition is a very good idea.  (For the first two and a half years of my transition, I saw both a therapist and clinical social worker every week.)  Plus, you need other kinds of supportive people, whether they're friends, family members, co-workers, members of support groups or other people in the communities of which you're a part.

Medical or psychiatric professionals are not merely "gatekeepers."  What people--especially young people who are eager to transition--often forget is that the hormones and medical procedures are risky.  Also, anyone who embarks on a transition needs to have mental, emotional and spiritual resources to cope with the transition.  You might think you'll deal with one aspect or another in a certain way, but you are changing and things feel different from how they did before you started your transition.

Also, as Ms. Morrison pointed out, fellow prisoners may not be the most supportive people, to put it mildly, for someone undergoing a transition.  Most medical and psychiatric professionals--including the ones employed by correctional facilities and systems--cannot offer advice or anything else that can help someone in a gender transition deal with hostile, and possibly violent, inmates.  

So, even with all of my sympathy for anyone who faces gender identity issues, I'm torn.  On one hand, I'd like to see Sinden get the hormone treatments, which would probably alleviate some of the emotional and psychiatric problems associated with gender identity issues.  On the other, Sinden would really have to face the transition alone in ways that most of us who've had the help of competent professionals, friends and (in some cases) family members and co-workers, simply cannot imagine.  

16 July 2012

What We Become

Note:  You may have noticed that two previous posts (Fatigue At The Beginning And The End and Stories of Men And Women) were in italics.  That is not a silly post-modern affectation. Rather, as you may have figured, they're parts of a work of fiction I started writing before my transition and have returned to.   This post is also, for the moment, part of that work

On this block, even in this day and age, most women become mothers, sometimes by choice but usually by circumstance. Some become wives--many more, I believe, than ever would have chosen such a fate.  I always wonder whether I'd end up like them had I been born female.  Would I've had a child--like the one I once was?  Would I've wished him--given him--that long garden of childhood people always seem to remember--which is to say wish--having?  For that matter, what would I make of having a boy--or girl? That is to ask:  What would I have done if I'd had a child who didn't fall between his or her own nature and what teachers, priests, government authorities and other adults expect?

Long before I knew I could undergo the transition I'll soon culminate, I swore I'd never have children.  It's one of two resolutions--getting away from this block was the other--that I've ever stuck to.  I knew, even then, I couldn't justify bringing  anyone into this world to face he same kinds of conflicts I had, or anything like them.  Not that I regret them now:  the struggle and frustrations have turned me into a person who's embarked on, I believe, the most exciting, excruciating and enerving experience one can have other than giving birth to another human being.  Since I'll never be able to do that (barring a sudden advance in medical technology) even after I've completed my transformation, I'll never know for sure.  But, as I said, I still have no wish to bring the needs of another mouth, the longings of another pair of eyes or the rupture of another skin into being.

I still can only wonder how many mothers--including my own--actually chose the role born from their children...and the role by which they're always identified.

If you're a woman and you don't give birth to, or raise, children, then the world--most men, anyway--will fix at least one of these labels on you:  bitch, whore, dyke.  In this scheme, a woman can be a bitch and a whore, but any actual or perceived lesbianism overrides everything else:  Men profess more hatred, which is to say more fascination, for the other two. 

I wonder where I'll fit in that scheme.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter, in a way, because I won't have any more to do with men than I have to.  Hopefully, I'll never have to turn tricks again, but I know better than to say "never again."  What I hope, at least now, that I'll never have to be of use to anybody ever again, for any reason or in any way--whether for their real needs or their fantasies.  Then, whatever I become will be all right

13 July 2012

Running Here For Their Lives

In an earlier post, I described the ordeal of "Fahrida," who was in one of my first support groups.  Now I will tell you something you might have guessed from her name:  In her home country, she was a hijra.  In Western countries, they are often classified as transgender or intersexed, but those terms are not exact equivalents to what hijra are, much less the roles they play in those societies.

As a feminine boy, she was outcast by her family and community.  While she could demand fees for appearing at weddings and such, and could even extort men or do sex work, she did not want to do those things.  Anyone who's ever done, or known anyone who's done, sex work realizes the risk of experiencing violence--or even being murdered--that goes along with such work.  Those risks are even greater for the hijra, who, like transgender and other gender-non-conforming people, experience the most brutal and gratuitous kinds of violence.

She cited these risks in her appeal to remain in this country.  That appeal was denied, as was her request to return to this country from a third country where she now lives.

What a lot of people don't realize is that LGBT--especially T--people who come to this country are often, literally, running for their lives.  Even though they can meet with grisly, violent deaths here, the risk is somewhat lower, and there is more of a chance of finding individuals or groups of people who will accept them.  They will not be confined to living among other bands of outcasts, as the hijra are in countries like Pakistan.

Plus, if they can stay, there is at least some chance of getting an education and doing something besides sex work--even if it's driving a cab, as Fahrida did when she was here.

09 July 2012

Josie Romero: A Child Knows Her Body, Knows Her Self

Quite possibly the most profound message of The Vagina Monologues is that the easiest way to keep someone--especially a woman--oppressed is to keep her from learning about her own body.

I was reminded of this when watching the Dateline segment about 11-year-old transgender child Josie Romero.

I missed the segment when it aired, but I was alerted to it by Kelli Busey's post on her blog Planet Transgender and Vickie Davis' post on her blog.

What struck me is how Josie was able, at her age, to talk about the kind of body she wants to have.  She knows that she was born with male organs, and knows how they are different from female ones.  

Some people would argue that she is "too young" to know such things.  That, essentially, is the argument many people use against sex education:  They believe that, somehow, keeping kids "innocent" will keep them safe, or at least keep them from doing things of which their families, communities and churches don't approve.

Young people in my generation, and those who came before me, did not grow up with the awareness Josie has, let alone the ability to talk about it as freely as she does with her parents and her doctor.  I don't want to impute too much of my own experience to other people around my age who grew up feeling that something "wasn't right" about our gender identities and the ways in which we were expected to express them.  But I suspect that if you grew up with such feelings and your experience was anything like mine, you probably didn't even know enough, at age eleven, to be able to tell a doctor or anyone else why you thought you weren't the gender you were told you were.

Although I felt I wasn't a boy, and I knew I wanted "girly" stuff, I didn't have enough awareness about bodies to be able to say that I was born in the "wrong" one.  Or, more precisely, I couldn't tell anyone why it was "wrong."  Although I knew that girls grew up to be women and that most women could have babies, I couldn't say what about their bodies made them able to do such things.  Once I learned about that, it would be many more years before  I realized that my inability to bring a baby into world didn't preclude me from being a woman; many other women also lack that capacity, and many others never had any desire to do so.  It almost goes without saying that I also didn't understand that boys and girls, and men and women, reacted differently to the same things in part because of their biological and physiological differences.  

And I couldn't even begin to ask what those differences might be until one day when a girl in my class writhed as blood ran down her leg from under the skirt of her uniform and neither she nor any of us in that class had any idea of why.  The nun who taught us was of no help:  She yelled at that girl and whacked her with a ruler.  

Now I realize--as Eve Ensler points out in The Vagina Monologues--that many of the adults in our lives didn't know very much about their bodies, either.  In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to know that some kids' parents knew only that if they had sexual relations at the right time, they'd have another kid--or that those same parents had little, if any, idea of how that happened.  In fact, some of the monologues show us that in the countries, cultures and religious traditions in which women are most oppressed, there are very few, if any, ways for them to learn about the intricacies and needs of their own bodies.  

Even though I would never menstruate (and, of course, I had no idea of why), I felt the terror of that girl in my class.  It wasn't just empathy:  I have some capacity for that, I think, but I am not exceptional in that way.  Rather, I sensed--although I didn't understand why--my body (and so much else in my life) was about to undergo changes that would be just as terrifying if for no other reason that I would be no more prepared for them or, more important, prepared to understand them, than that girl in my class was for her first period.  

Not long after that, I would undergo my own puberty: my first one.  Josie has been taking hormones, in part to forestall her the male puberty I and every other male-to-female transgender child of my generation experienced.  If she continues her treatments and has gender reassignment surgery at, say, age 20, she will not have to endure another puberty later in life, as those of us who transitioned in the middle or near the end of our lives had to experience when we started to take hormones.  

And she will enter womanhood with an awareness of her body none of us had when we were growing up, or even as adults.  And, just as she has adults in her life who can guide her in her journey of self-awareness, perhaps she will do the same for some other child--perhaps one of her own--one day.

07 July 2012

I'm Three; This Blog Is Four. What's Next?

Today I am three years old.  And this blog is four.

The second sentence probably makes sense to you.  Maybe the first one doesn't.  What I mean, of course, is that I had my surgery three years ago today.

If you've been reading this blog, you've probably noticed that my posts are less frequent.  I guess there's less to talk about, at least in terms of my own gender identity and reassignment, as time goes on.  Ironically, I find that the few occasions on which I talk about those things are with certain people at work, and in other academic settings. Most people who encounter me will never see me again and, as far as they know, I'm a middle-aged woman.  Which, of course, is what I am.  On the other hand, people who have spent lots of time in school--especially if their field of study is related to gender, gender studies or feminism--have to fit me into some sub-sub-sub-category or other.  

It seems that, in academic circles, more people than I'd expected are reading this blog.  At least, that's what I've been told.  So, every once in a while, I'll bump into some professor or researcher who's not connected with any institution in which I've worked, and whom I've never before met, and he or she will say that he or she has heard about me.

But once I'm outside of an academic setting, my past hardly seems to matter at all.  I suppose that if I apply for something and a background check is done, or even if I'm merely asked whether I've ever gone by another name, I'll have to explain where and what I've been.  I suppose--or I hope, anyway--that it won't be seen as negatively as having been convicted of a felony.  Not that I would know anything about that!

I have been volunteering with a women's organization, about which I'll say more in a future post.  I told its founder and officers about my past.  Even though I hadn't expected it to be an issue for them,  I figured it would be better for them to hear it from me than someone else.  Also, I figured that if they didn't want a trans woman in their midst (which, by the way, some women's groups don't), it would be better to find out before I got involved.  But, as the founder of the organization said, somewhat wryly, "We're not the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival."

It was exactly the sort of thing I'd wanted when I started my transition.  I not only knew it was possible; it was what I expected.  So, even though I knew that there were people who were like the organizers of MWMF, there were also people like the founder of the organization.  And there are many other women who've never heard of the Festival, or simply don't care about it.  I know, because I've come to know some of them, and they have friends, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers and other women in their lives who share their feelings.  And most of them don't, or wouldn't, care about my past--or would only care about it to the extent that we like to know where and what the people in our lives have come from.  

As one of them said, it's not easy being a woman, so she has all the more respect for someone who has embraced her femaleness, and chosen to live it. In the end, that's all there really is to what I've done during these past few years, from going into therapy, taking hormones, changing my name, living in my new identity, getting my surgery, starting this blog and doing any number of other things.  

It may lead me to start another blog.  If I do, it will probably be at least somewhat related to this blog.  (How could it not be?  Even my other blog, Midlife Cycling, is--at least to some extent.)  And it might lead me to other projects and work which I can't yet conceive.  All I know is that whatever I do, I have no choice but to live as the woman I am.  And I wouldn't make any other choice, even if I could.

03 July 2012

Stories of Men And Women

Nobody's a hero; nobody's decorated.  Nobody's remembered...at least not the men, anyway.  Now that everybody who was related to me--that I know of, anyway--is gone, I hope nobody on this block remembers me, either.  It's a privilege I could've claimed for myself the day I left, no matter where I went next.

But of course I didn't have to.  That may be the one advantage I have as a result of growing up here:  I've never had to claim privilege; I've never had to pull rank on anyone.  At least, I've never felt any such need.  You might say that I'm not impressed with people or with anything they do; I'm even less awed by men and their stories.  That isn't to say that I fear no one:  I simply have a pretty good idea of who can or can't, or who will or won't, do what, and to whom or what.

So there're lots of things I've never had any use for.  Like most of the things they tried to teach me in school--or, more precisely, most of the things they were supposed to make gestures of teaching me and I was supposed to make them think I'd learned--and everything I heard in church.  The canons of the academies and monasteries echo thousands of lies and even more exaggerations and misrepresentations.  No one you will ever meet is like anyone you read about in any history book or any epic tale, whether it's Beowulf, The Deerslayer or All Quiet On The Western Front.  The ballads I had to hear and the paintings we looked at in textbooks and school trips to museums were all about generals, emperors or mystic visionaries:  all about solitary men leading lonely young men to their deaths, in the fields or in the trenches, or at their own hands.  No man like any of those characters or figures ever came from this block--or, for that matter, any other blocks like this one that I've seen or heard about.

Who's ever written an opera about a woman and her cat?  Or a woman and another woman, or a woman and her children?  About the latter, there's the story of Mary and Jesus.  Of course!:  two people who never could have existed on this block.  Not only is he too good to be true, she...well, let's say she contradicts one of the few relevant facts that's ever been taught in any science class!

Why can't we have a religion--if we have to have one--based on the story of a woman and her cat?  At least someone could get that one right, I think.  I don't believe anyone could set down the story of a woman and her child, and whenever anybody's set down the story of a woman and a woman, it sounds like a man's fantasy.  (Trust me.  I know the difference:  I've had lots of time--and more opportunities than anyone should have--to learn.)

But about a woman-and-her-cat tale:  If someone could write it, that person is not me.  I've never kept a feline, at least not long enough to have such a relationship.  The one time I had one--a gray, smoky shadow I never named--I ended up giving him to an old woman.  It just didn't seem fair to make that cat dependent on someone like me; it was no more fair to the cat than my dependence on my mother, for so many years, was to her.  Since then, I've done my best to avoid creating any need for me in any other living being.

Even if I'd had a cat, a child, or any other permanent companion, I couldn't have written about me and him, her or it.  Maybe, as people have told me,  if I'd stayed in school, I'd've learned how to put some experiences--my own and those of others--on a page, or even between the covers of a book.  There's so much I never learned.  As a kid, I asked myself, "Why should I?"  "So I could write the kinds of things they made us read?," I wondered.  "Or to play what they taught us was music, or how to say their prayers?"  

So now I have practically no education and, as far as most educated people are concerned, I'm illiterate, or close to it.  Still, I've managed to read a bit since I stopped going to school.  I've even finished a few books, a couple of plays and a whole bunch of poems:  something I never accomplished when I was in school.  I'm not going to explain or analyze anything I've read:  Anything I could say about them isn't that important and probably has already been said.  I don't know.  Maybe I'd've stuck with school or "done something with" myself if I'd've known, while I was still in school, that such pieces of writing existed.  Let's just say that they're not about war heroes, and they're not the sorts of things that give men excuses for belieiving that women are neurotic.

I don't think anybody on this block has read them.  Living on this block isn't like being in one of those neighborhoods where people spend their Sundays talking about what was in The Times Book Review over brunch.  (I had never heard of brunch when I was growing up!)  I don't think even Mrs. Littington--who'd seen more of the world than most of us and spoke at least two languages--had ever read them.  (I can only hope that she didn't have to read some of those really awful books and even worse translations they tried to shove down my throat:  their Bible, for instance.)  

As far as I know, the male gender has produced three real poets--at least, when it comes to writing about other men.  One of them--who actually could create convincing female characters, too--wrote Othello, The Tempest and Macbeth, and of course a whole bunch of sonnets.  Another wrote some fine poetry and Les Miserables. And, finally, there's the one who wrote about Don Quixote.  I'll pass on the rest.  Just for once, I want a story about a woman opening--or closing--her window.

02 July 2012


Here is something that gives new meaning to the word concatenation:

Max is in front; Marley is behind him. They know how to deal with the heat!