30 March 2013

An Old Riding Partner--Or Racing Rival?


"Mind if I ride your wheel?"

"No, not at all!"


He didn't realize it's the best--or, at least my favorite--question anyone has asked me in a while. It's  as good as "How old are you?  Forty?"


We'd been playing "tag" along Cross Bay Boulevard, the road that runs the length of an island in Jamaica Bay between Howard Beach and Rockaway Beach.  It's a long (about 4km) flat stretch, which makes almost anyone on a bike feel like a sprinter, at least for a few minutes.  The day was sunny, though chilly, and we were buffeted by the winds one expects at this time of year.  Still, I think both he and I felt  about ten years younger.


Actually, I felt even younger than that. A man--a trim one, who looked like he'd been riding more than I'd been--wanting to draft my wheel.  Hey, if he'd asked me, I probably would have pulled him with one hand!


Somehow he looked familiar.  He was maybe a centimeter, if that, taller than me and, as I mentioned, trimmer.  His dark beard was flecked with gray, and his fair black skin had a few small wrinkles.  I'd've guessed him to be close to my own age.  That guess would turn out to be correct.


As we talked, I couldn't help but to think we'd met--actually, ridden--together.  When I was living in Park Slope, he was living on the other side of Prospect Park, in Crown Heights.  Now he lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant.  So, naturally, we talked about riding in Prospect Park, and how we both had the "ten lap" rule:  Once we could ride that much in the park without much effort--something that would happen around this time of year, maybe a bit earlier--we'd "graduate" to longer rides outside the park,and even outside of Brooklyn or New York City.  I had a feeling I'd ridden with him on at least one of those longer rides; he had the same feeling. 


He also mentioned that he'd road-raced, around the same time I did.  Like me, he quit racing (and I also stopped riding off-road) after turning 40:  Although, ironically, I had more strength and endurance than I did 15 years earlier, my wounds weren't healing as quickly as they once did.  He also gave that as a reason for not chasing trophies, and other riders.


I rode with him for a couple of hours and, actually, off the route I'd planned to ride.  But I didn't mind:  Just as I was wondering whether I'd ever get myself into any kind of shape, ever again, he wanted to ride my wheel.  And he thought I'd been riding more than he'd been.  To be fair, I have to give at least some of the credit to Arielle:





To answer a question you might be asking:  He gave me his name (which was familiar) and told me where he works.



29 March 2013

On Abortion And Same-Sex Marriage

As the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage are taking place, I've read and heard more than a few comparisons between that issue and abortion.  I guess it was to be expected, as the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade has just passed.  

Once upon a time (well, all right, in the days of the so-called Moral Majority), Evangelical Christians and various other social conservatives opposed both same-sex marriage and abortion rights.  However, they were more concerned with the latter, as Roe v Wade had  become the law of the land (which they were trying to repeal) and there wasn't as much of a movement for same-sex marriage as there has been in the past few years.  Also, in those days, even most people who favored legal abortions opposed same-sex unions, whether on religious or other grounds.  So there really wasn't much reason for Jerry Falwell and his friends to get worked up over Adam marrying Steve.

The fact that Evangelicals were against abortion and same-sex unions was really about the only thing those two issues have in common.  And, oh, yeah, they both involve sex, which is probably the reason they got Jerry and his friends all hot and bothered.

But more recent polls show that younger people--even the children of those fundamentalist Christians who helped Ronald Reagan and scores of state and local officials get elected--support, or are willing to entertain the idea of allowing, same-sex marriage.  And many of those same young people want to overturn Roe v Wade, as their parents did or do.

Part of the reason is simply that younger Evangelicals have grown up in a different world from what their parents knew in their youth.  But, more to the point, I think, is that abortion and same-sex marriages aren't just apples and oranges, or even apples and onions.  They are, simply, profoundly different issues.

First of all, for all of the controversy it has created, abortion is still mainly a private issue.  The girls and women who end their pregnancies do so, for the most part, alone.  Their boyfriends, husbands and families may be involved in the decision, but no one else is--save, perhaps, for the abortion provider, if the procedure should go wrong and he or she faces a malpractice suit.  Most girls or women who go through the procedure get on with their lives because, well, for most of them, that's the point of getting an abortion. The few exceptions are those who have to end their pregnancies for medical reasons.

On the other hand, getting married is the most public action most people ever take.  The union of two people affects themselves, their families and many other people in their community, mostly in positive ways.  In contrast, almost nobody is happy about an abortion.  The woman terminating her pregnancy as well as other people in her life might feel relief, or at least that the least bad choice is being made.  But almost no one who has ended her pregnancy will tell you that it's a cause for celebration.

Also, there are many legal ramifications to marriage.  They include tax benefits, inheritance rights, health care, insurance, hospital visitation rights and custody over children and, in a few cases, other relatives.  

Those consequences (both in the positive and negative sense of the word) last as long as the marriage does.  Most people, when they get married, want their unions to last for the rest of their lives.  And, if they don't, ending their marriages certainly has little, if anything, in common with ending a pregnancy.

Finally, let's just say that the kinds of people who want to enter into same-sex unions aren't, generally speaking, the same people who get abortions.  If same-sex couples want to have children, and they don't want to adopt, they have to find surrogates: One to impregnate one member of a lesbian couple, or one to carry a child for a gay male couple.  Somehow, I don't imagine that  very many people in those circumstances think about having abortions!  In fact, about the only way abortion might intersect with the life of anyone in, or who wants to enter, a same-sex union is if he or she is bisexual and has a heterosexual relationship outside the marriage, or has had such a relationship before getting married.

All of those things being said, I will reiterate a position Hillary Clinton articulated when she was First Lady:  Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. And, as I've mentioned in other posts, I support same-sex marriage because it's the best we can do for same-sex couples until the state and churches lose whatever power they have to determine whether or not people are married, and until there are no longer any tax or other benefits to marriage.  That is why I support both the right to same-sex marriage and abortion, and my support for one is not tied to the other.



28 March 2013

A Growing Boy

Marley has been in my life for a bit more than a year.  When he first came into my life at the end of February of last year, he was still a little guy, save for his distended belly.  (He was born and lived the first five months of his life on the street.) Now, I can't believe how much he's grown:



Do you know why he's grown so much?  He's got an Italian mama feeding him!



Nice work if you can get it, eh?

27 March 2013

Why I Didn't Give Up Cycling


I have been cycling, in one way or another, for more than four decades.  Now I do not pedal nearly as many miles (or kilometres) as I did "back in the day."  But I feel that, in some way, cycling is as much a part of my life now as it was then.

Through all of those years, there was one period when I seriously considered giving up cycling altogether.  I was going to keep one bike "for old time's sake" and, perhaps, for errands and transportation.  But I thought that my days as a regular rider were going to come to an end.

That time came early in my life as Justine.  I really didn't know how, or even whether, I could combine cycling--or, more precisely, my identity as a cyclist (There were years in which I pedaled 360 days and 25,000 or more kilometers!) with the life on which I was about to embark.  One reason for that was, frankly, I had practically no idea of what the life on which I was embarking would be like.  Oh, I had visions of who and what Justine would be.  But, as happens with nearly everyone who undergoes a gender transition, my expectations--and the sort of woman I would become--differed, at least somewhat. Although my therapist, social worker, doctor and other transgender people who were further along in their transitions--or who'd had surgery and were living fully in their "new" genders--told me such a thing would probably happen, I had no idea of what I would become as a woman.

Also, I was trying so hard to be the sort of woman I envisioned at the beginning of my transition that it took me time to realize that it could encompass much more than I imagined at the time--and that, of course, the sort of woman I could, and would, become could be different.  I'd entered my transition with ideas of what women in the '40's and '50's were like, which were the ideas to which early transsexuals like Christine Jorgensen conformed, and what the public expected of transsexuals (to the extent that they paid attention to us).

But, perhaps the most important reason why I thought I might not ride anymore was that so much of my cycling had been a means of escape, however temporary.  Whether I was pedaling 180 rpm on the Prospect Park loop or hugging the edge of a virage in the Alps--or dodging taxis and giving the one-fingered peace sign to drivers who got in my way--bicycling had always been a means of escape for me.  I think now of a friendly acquaintance who was one of the first women to attend her undergraduate college on a track and field scholarship.  She has told me that whether she was training on local streets or pumping away during the state championships, she was "running for my life by running from my life".  She never would have been able to attend her college without that scholarship, she said.  But, perhaps even more important, she says she doesn't know  how she would have "survived, in one piece" a childhood that included incest and other forms of dysfunction and disease in her family.

My childhood wasn't nearly as Dickensian as hers.  Perhaps I shouldn't say that, for such a comparison may not make any sense:  After all, she suffered at the hands of other people, while most of my torment came from within me.  Still, I could relate to what she said as much as anything anyone else has said to me.  Her running and my cycling had been means of escape, however momentary.  

She hasn't run, even for fitness, in more than two decades.  She has taken up other sports (including cycling, which is how I know her) and forms of training, but she has not run since the day she was doing laps in the park and "asking myself why," she said.

But I didn't give up cycling because, frankly, I probably have always enjoyed it more than she liked running, and I now have more reasons to continue on two wheels than she does on the training loop.  Also, during my second year of living as Justine, I was running errands and shopping after work one Friday.  It was a pleasantly cool day in May,and I was still in the blouse, skirt and low heels I'd worn to work that day. I had just come out of a store and was unlocking my bike from a parking meter when a tall black man chatted me up.  "Are you European?", he wondered.

"Well, I've lived and traveled there," I explained.  "But I'm from here, and I've lived most of my life here."

"You look more like a European woman, getting around on your bike," he said.  He confirmed what I suspected, from his accent and mannerisms, that he was born in Africa but had lived much of his life in Europe--specifically, France.

By Harmonyhalo


That day I realized that, one way or another, I would probably continue to ride my bicycle in my new life.  I would never be the same kind of cyclist I was when I was living as Nick--and, honestly, at that time, I didn't want to be.  But I knew that as Justine, a newly-born woman in her 40's, I would be able to ride her bike in my new life--and my job and those stores wouldn't be my only destinations, any more than commuting and store-hopping would be my only rides. 

26 March 2013

When The Paperwork Is Done





Variations of this cartoon hung in many an office during the 1970's.  However, they all had the same message: No job is finished until the paperwork is done.


Who knew how pertinent that pearl of wisdom would be for transgender people today?  And, at this moment, how many people can better understand its verisimilitude than Calliope Wong can?

She has just been rejected by Smith College.  That happens to lots of applicants, as Smith is one of the most selective all-female colleges in the United States.  

But it wasn't Ms. Wong's grades or SAT scores, or a lack of extracurricular activities or letters of recommendation that doomed her application.  Rather, it had to do with her Financial Aid forms.

Now, it's been rumored that some schools will take an applicant that doesn't request financial aid over one who does but has similar credentials.  However, I am willing to believe Smith officials when they say that it isn't her family's lack of wealth that's keeping her out of their school.

Instead, it has to do with some information her parents provided on that form.  You see, they checked off the "M" box because it's the one marked on her birth certificate and Social Security records.  Although Calliope has been living as female for two years and has identified herself as one for as long as she can remember, her official records do not yet indicate that.  

So, Smith returned her application materials without an official admissions review.  College officials said she is free to re-apply.

To its credit, Smith was one of the first colleges to openly support lesbian students, and it allows students to remain in the college if they transition from female to male.  However, with such policies, "Smith seems to be saying that they welcome trans men, but not trans women", according to Mara Keisling.  "At first blush, it appears to be counter to Smith's anti-discrimination policy," added Ms. Keisling, who is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.  

While I support Smith's willingness to allow female-to-male transitions, I agree with Keisling that it's strange that the same school wouldn't allow transitions in the other direction.  Perhaps Smith could use letters from doctors and therapists certifying that the applicant has made some significant step, such as taking hormones or living full-time as female, toward her gender transition.  Or, if the college wants candidates who are "officially" female, it should specify which documents have to indicate that gender in order for an applicant to be considered.

Ms. Wong says she plans to commence her studies elsewhere.  I get the feeling that Smith will be poorer for it.




25 March 2013

Homophobia And The Lost Generation Of Transgenders

Parent: "So, are you going to date men or women?"

Adult child: "Men."

Parent:  (Expression of relief.) "At least you're not a lesbian."

If I ever do stand-up comedy (which is about as likely as my becoming the Pope), I will include that in my repertoire.

Now, I didn't have an exchange like that with my own parents.  But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that something like it was part of some other male-to-female transsexual's "coming out" to her parents.  

The principle espoused by the parent in that conversation--a paradoxical mixture of homophobia and a willingness to accept a trans child--actually governs an entire nation.  

The nation to which I'm referring is second only to Thailand in the number of gender-reassignment surgeries performed within its borders every year.  Yet, in that same country, same-sex relationships, and even cross-dressing, are punishable (at least in theory) by death.

That country is not governed by transgender equivalents of Janice Raymond and Mary Daly.  Rather, it's ruled by a man whom various groups tried to bar from speaking at Columbia and other American universities and who has done about as much for women's rights in his country as Raymond and Daly have done for transgender equality.

I am talking about Iran.  Not only do its doctors perform more gender-reassignment surgeries than their counterparts in the US; its government pays for up to half the cost of the surgery for those who can't pay for it themselves.  Moreover, male-to-female transgenders are allowed to live as women until they have their surgeries.  After surgery, their birth certificates and other documents are re-issued with their "new" gender and they are allowed to marry men.  

Did you notice that I've referred only to male-to-female transsexuals?  I did so, not only because I am one, but also because I couldn't find information about female-to-male transsexuals in Iran.   Also, I found, in my research, that when one is approved for surgery, one must begin to undergo treatments (hormones, psychotherapy, and such) immediately.  Anyone who doesn't undergo those treatments is considered to be of the gender assigned to him at birth.  That means that if he were to have sexual relationships with men, "cross-dress" or live as what we might call "genderqueer", he is subject to the same penalties as gay men can incur.

In other words, Iran's encouragement of GRS and related treatments is really, at least to some degree, a way of negating homosexuality.   I can't help but to wonder whether something similar happened here in the US during the 1960's and 1970's.  While those times were not easy for us, they were still better than the era of the Lost Generation of Transgenders, which spanned the decade-and-a-half (or so) following the rise of Second-Wave Feminism.  I have to wonder whether some people, in the time of Renee Richards, simply found trans women who dated and married men more palatable than men who dated other men.  

If that is the case, it certainly didn't help trans people.  If anything, it may have had something to do with the Lost Generation of Transgenders I've mentioned in earlier posts. 


Homophobia And The Lost Generation Of Transgenders

Parent: "So, are you going to date men or women?"

Adult child: "Men."

Parent:  (Expression of relief.) "At least you're not a lesbian."

If I ever do stand-up comedy (which is about as likely as my becoming the Pope), I will include that in my repertoire.

Now, I didn't have an exchange like that with my own parents.  But it wouldn't surprise me to learn that something like it was part of some other male-to-female transsexual's "coming out" to her parents.  

The principle espoused by the parent in that conversation--a paradoxical mixture of homophobia and a willingness to accept a trans child--actually governs an entire nation.  

The nation to which I'm referring is second only to Thailand in the number of gender-reassignment surgeries performed within its borders every year.  Yet, in that same country, same-sex relationships, and even cross-dressing, are punishable (at least in theory) by death.

That country is not governed by transgender equivalents of Janice Raymond and Mary Daly.  Rather, it's ruled by a man whom various groups tried to bar from speaking at Columbia and other American universities and who has done about as much for women's rights in his country as Raymond and Daly have done for transgender equality.

I am talking about Iran.  Not only do its doctors perform more gender-reassignment surgeries than their counterparts in the US; its government pays for up to half the cost of the surgery for those who can't pay for it themselves.  Moreover, male-to-female transgenders are allowed to live as women until they have their surgeries.  After surgery, their birth certificates and other documents are re-issued with their "new" gender and they are allowed to marry men.  

Did you notice that I've referred only to male-to-female transsexuals?  I did so, not only because I am one, but also because I couldn't find information about female-to-male transsexuals in Iran.   Also, I found, in my research, that when one is approved for surgery, one must begin to undergo treatments (hormones, psychotherapy, and such) immediately.  Anyone who doesn't undergo those treatments is considered to be of the gender assigned to him at birth.  That means that if he were to have sexual relationships with men, "cross-dress" or live as what we might call "genderqueer", he is subject to the same penalties as gay men can incur.

In other words, Iran's encouragement of GRS and related treatments is really, at least to some degree, a way of negating homosexuality.   I can't help but to wonder whether something similar happened here in the US during the 1960's and 1970's.  While those times were not easy for us, they were still better than the era of the Lost Generation of Transgenders, which spanned the decade-and-a-half (or so) following the rise of Second-Wave Feminism.  I have to wonder whether some people, in the time of Renee Richards, simply found trans women who dated and married men more palatable than a man who dated other men.  

If that is the case, it certainly didn't help trans people.  If anything, it may have had something to do with the Lost Generation of Transgenders I've mentioned in earlier posts. 


24 March 2013

Not A Luxury


Being transgendered is not a luxury.

To some of you, such a statement may seem so self-evident that it doesn’t need to be said.  To other people, it may be frivolous, blasphemous or worse.
Let me put it another way:  Living as one’s true self—that is to say, living with integrity and dignity—is not a luxury.

Likewise, loving whomever one loves, and being loved by that person, is also not a luxury.  Nor is having the ability to build a life around one’s relationship with such a person.

The notion that the right to  be ourselves and to love whomever we love are luxuries is, however, deeply ingrained in people’s psyches—not to mention our legal, social and economic systems.  I say this as someone who, until the time of her transition—and, in fact, well into it—thought that living as Justine was not as important or necessary as going to school, having a career, building a family or meeting all sorts of other expectations that had been placed upon me.  

The truth is, of course, that I was never terribly successful at school, work or life itself because I was spending so much of my time trying to live without what I needed, and in alienation from the person I am.  I wasn’t more studious or ambitious than I was because I figured that the grades, the accomplishments, the accolades and everything else simply weren’t going to matter.  Degrees, titles, careers, money, beautiful lovers and spouses, and all of the other accomplishments, accolades and trophies simply wouldn’t mean a damned thing because they wouldn’t make life worth living. 

I am trying not to turn this into a hateful, resentful rant against heterosexual and cisgender people.  What I am trying to do, among other things, is to point out that people who never felt any reason to question their gender identities or any inclination to love anyone who isn’t of the “opposite” gender—or not to marry—are not treated as if their identities and proclivities must be earned, if they are allowed to exist at all.  Of course, we tell people that it’s best to be established in a career, or at least to have a stable job, before marrying someone of the “opposite” gender and having children.  However, if they are having difficulty providing for their kids, or are going through “rough patches” in their relationships, nobody questions their right to be married or have kids.  If anything, they often find sympathy and even help, even if they were “too young” or “too poor” when they got married and had kids.  If one or both members of the couple has a reasonably good insurance plan, it will pay for the hospital stay and most other costs related to giving birth. And, as we all know, there are tax benefits (at least in the US) for being a married heterosexual couple and having kids. 

The fact that there is such approval and support for a man and a woman who have kids tells us that the so-called nuclear family is seen as a foundation of society and, therefore, not a luxury.  The legal, social and economic arrangements I’ve described also allow people in heterosexual marriages, especially if they have kids, to feel secure in themselves in ways denied to those of us whose sense of ourselves and who we love is not condoned, let alone supported, by society in general.  A number of studies show that married people (particularly men) make much more money than single people, and that their kids do better in school.

Now, of course, social conservatives would take that last statement as evidence that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman, and that only people who are so married should be allowed to give birth to, or adopt, children.  But what it shows me is the importance of having a positive (though not overly egoistic) image of one’s self in attaining loce and other kinds of success.  To understand what I mean, all you have to do is to look at how much more likely despised or disapproved-of people are to be depressed, or to abuse substances, attempt suicide or harm themselves in any number of other ways.  I know this as someone who has done those things and was depressed for about 35 of the first 45 years of her life.  Now, I’m not saying that my gender-identity issues were the sole cause of those problems, and I’m not using the fact that I had to live as someone I’m not as the excuse for underachieving and other failures.  After all, some people have had the same problems as mine and attained success in one way or another.  But even those people—including a few I know personally—wonder how much more they could have achieved, or what different choices they might have made, had they been able to live and love their entire lives as the people they truly are.

Almost nobody denies that those who grow up poor and, as a result, attend bad schools or get substandard nutrition will have a more difficult time in realizing his or her potential.  I think that most of us would want to see talented, sensitive or simply ambitious kids get the kind of education that will help them realize their potential and dreams.  I think most people would also want those kids to get the help they need in overcoming the emotional difficulties they may have as a result of growing up in a fractured environment.

In other words, I don’t think that most of us would regard what those kids need as “luxuries.”  Why, then, shouldn’t we see someone’s need to be true to him- or her- self, and to love and be loved, as anything but necessities?

23 March 2013

Calling MTF CUNY Faculty Members!

Last night, I had dinner with a friend who's in a late stage of her transition.  She teaches in the City University of New York (CUNY), as I do.  Although our situations are somewhat different, we have faced many of the same challenges in navigating university system.  

Aside from transphobia and pure-and-simple pettiness (and, to be fair, gestures of support) from unexpected as well as anticipated sources, we both have had to deal with administrators who didn't know or understand policies--or, in a few cases, chose to ignore them--in matters ranging from changing our names on our records to time off.  

My friend has said she learned a few things from my experiences, and that she hopes things will go more smoothly for the next faculty member who transitions on the job.  I said that we need to communicate with, not only those who are about to transition, but those who have already done so, while working in CUNY.

The problem, she said, is finding those other faculty members.  CUNY consists of eleven four-year colleges, six community colleges, The Graduate Center and a few other schools, scattered across a few hundred square miles.  

She thinks we should have an association of male-to-female transsexual/transgender faculty and staff members in the CUNY system.  I think it's a great idea, whether we are an informal association that meets for tea and discusses our experiences, or morph into a more formal organization sponsored or chartered by CUNY.  

Consider this post the first announcement of our intention to form such a group.  If you are an MTF faculty or staff member in any CUNY school and are interested, please let me know.  Also, if you know such a faculty or staff member, please feel free to pass this announcement on to her.  

The only real restriction we want to place on the group is that its members are actually in, or have completed, their transitions:  This is not a group for those who are questioning whether or not they are really trans. (There are such groups at the LGBT Community Center and other places here in New York.)  So, my friend and I thought that it would be best to limit membership to those who are, at minimum, taking hormones and have at least the intention of continuing their transitions.  We are not trying to be exclusionary; we simply want the group (in whatever form it takes) to be focused on some of the experiences shared by those of us who are transitioning, or have transitioned, while teaching in CUNY schools.

22 March 2013

Please Help Kate

Today I'm going to ask you to help one of my heroines.

  

At the very beginning of my transition--just as I was about to start living full-time as a woman--I met Kate Bornstein, albeit briefly.

I was working on a media project at the LGBT Community Center in New York.  At the time, I was just learning about LGBT culture and some of its luminaries.

Meeting her was like seeing a supernova just as you've risen beyond the cloud cover.  All right, I can't tell you exactly what that's like, as I've risen beyond the clouds but have never seen such a bright celestial object.

However, Kate not only lit up the room; she filled the people in it--including me--with light.  In a way, she's what I imagine Ellen DeGeneres would be if she were a trans woman--only better.  Like Ellen, she is literate and funny but uses neither of those traits to demean or bully others.  What makes Kate even better, though, is that she is one of the few--perhaps the only--person I've ever met who can be tender, corny and ironic all at the same time.

I realized, then, that if she could keep such a perspective after making her transition, and having her surgery, in an environment even less hospitable than what I imagined I would face, I would be all right.  Things wouldn't be easy, I knewBut somehow, meeting Kate helped me to realize I would, or at least could, make it.

And now I hope she makes it through her cancer.  The doctors say she can, but she'll, of course, need treatment.  

You can donate through the site her friend Laura Vogel has set up.      

15 March 2013

Same-Sex Marriage And The Economy

I'm not entirely a fan of Obama, though I am glad he defeated Mitt Romney in the most recent election.

Now I'll defend Obama in a more specific way: In at least one area, he's doing exactly what he should be doing.  That is to say, he is endorsing gay marriage. 

(N.B.:  I don't think a government should have any say at all in marriage.  All couples should get the equivalent of a domestic partnership agreement and, if they want to marry in a church or wherever, let them.  But marriage in a religious institution should not confer tax and other benefits married heterosexual couples currently enjoy.)

Now, some people wonder why he's mentioning such an issue--or LGBT equality when we're experiencing the worst economy we've had since the Great Depression.  Well, if this isn't one of his reasons, it should be:  Allowing same-sex marriages makes economic sense.  Isn't that how he should be making most of his decisions?

Take a look at this infographic from Unicorn Booty:



14 March 2013

Who Does This Pope Represent, Anyway?

I know this question has been asked before.  But I'll ask it anyway:  How can someone talk about the love of Jesus Christ and discriminate against people in the same breath?

I know it's done every day, inside and outside the Catholic Church.  Hey, I've known atheists and agnostics who talked about peace and cooperation with all --except for those they disliked, for whatever reasons, or with whom they disagreed.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this new pope--who calls himself Francis, after the patron saint of animals and the environment--should do the same.  To be fair, he has done a lot of work with the poor in his home country of Argentina, and he has eschewed many of the trappings of the offices he's held.  Plus, he seems to have a more democratic, if not demagogic, style.  The people gathered in St. Peter's square talked about feeling a "connection" and were happy that he addressed them in Italian instead of the Latin Benedict used in his initial address eight years ago.  

Although I'm far from being a practicing Catholic, I am glad to see that someone who is so dedicated to working with the poor, and who takes the vows of poverty seriously, has ascended to the Papacy.  On the other hand, I'm not so sure that he's a representative of Latin America, per se.  Yes, he was born and raised in Argentina.  However, many other Latin Americans will tell you that Argentinians do not really see themselves as Latin Americans; rather, they feel more like Europeans who just happen to live at the end of the South American continent.  Many people--including some Argentinians themselves--will argue that they are just that.  After all, of all South and Central American countries, Argentina is probably the one in which the European immigrants and their descendants--who come from Italy, Germany, France, Spain and other European countries--have mingled the least with the native peoples.  It is also the Latin American country whose culture probably most resembles those of European societies.  Reading the country's most famous writer, Jorge Luis Borges, and contrasting him with, say, Mario Vargas Llosa--let alone poets such as Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and Silvina Ocampo--could lead you to a similar conclusion.

Anyway, what I find most striking about the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the throne of St. Peter is that he comes from a country that is noteworthy for three events in its recent history.  One is the economic crisis of about a decade ago, which impoverished many formerly middle-class and even affluent Argentinians and kept the now-Pope Francis very busy, to say the least.  

That episode of Argentina's recent history is sandwiched between two seemingly-opposing events.  The first is the brutal military dictatorship that carried out a "dirty war" of murders and kidnappings between 1976 and 1983.  Jacobo Timerman, the author of Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number, as well as other journalists, scholars and everyday citizens, have documented the collaboration between Catholic Church authorities and the ruling junta of that time.  That, of course, has to lead one to wonder what, exactly, Father Bergoglio's role (if indeed he had any) was during that time.

The other side of recent Argentine history is playing out now.  Some now argue that Argentine LGBT people are the freest in the world. Same-sex sexual activity, in private, has been legal in Argentina since 1887; the age of consent is fifteen, as it is for heterosexuals. Still, it took about another century to pass laws that protected the rights of LGBT people.  The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2010; two years later, it passed a law that says, in essence, any person over the age of 18 can choose his or her gender, and mandates that state-funded hospitals perform gender-reassignment surgery free of charge.  The country has also done a lot to make counseling, psychotherapy and hormones available to poor transgender Argentinians. 

Pope Francis, like most other Catholic priests, is on record as opposing gay marriage.  I'm guessing that he wasn't too happy when the gender identity law was passed.  Not surprisingly, he has been a very outspoken critic of  President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and her predecessor (and late husband) Nestor Kirchner.  In spite of opposition from Cardinal Bergoglio and other Catholic officials, polls show that most Argentines support gay marriage and the majority favor the gender-identity laws.

Given his opposition to LGBT equality and his possible collaboration with (or having done nothing against) a regime that most people are glad to be rid of, one has to--or, at least I have to--wonder just how much he actually "represents" the people of his country. And, because of what I've said about Argentina, I have to question how representative he is of Latin America, his work with the region's poor notwithstanding.

13 March 2013

J'Accuse

Here is another part of the work of fiction I've been writing:  

J’Accuse

One thing I’ve noticed since I left this block:  all of the sentences that began with “You aren’t…,”  “You can’t…” or “You are not to..” have been replaced with ones that begin, “Why do you want to…”

I’m thinking of Vivian again.  Maybe she wouldn’t recognize me now:  it’s been... how long?  Last I heard, she wasn’t living far from here.  Not that she ever did, or would do otherwise.

Near here.  With or without a man.  Or a woman, perhaps. Then I probably wouldn’t recognize her.  No, she wouldn’t recognize her as she was when she drove me through her old seaside town, not so far from here.  Or as she or I was on the morning when I first woke with her, when for the first time since early in my childhood I wasn’t thinking about a cup of coffee, a drink or breakfast. Or any other drug, for that matter.

Until that moment, my body’d never caught up to my mind, or at least the rages, fears and other waves that swirled behind my eyes and ears.  The spirit had been ready, so to speak, but not the flesh.  But on the morning, my body craved, for the first time I remember, the touch of another.  My pores had opened, throbbing like buds after the first April rainstorm.

And her gaze:  It stunned me, even blinded me temporarily.  Twinges of needles, glancing without piercing—and I wanted more, because she could open me, if only for a moment, without rending.

For the first time, I felt—or at least relished the illusion—that someone’d taken from me exactly what I’d taken from her:  whatever we could absorb through our mouths, through our skins.  Of course we began and ended through our orifices; one of us, as it turned out, sweeter than the other, more bitter than the other.  She, always a woman, on my tongue; I, becoming a woman—or so I thought—between her lips.

And through those hours, those days of chatting before that first night; the hours that followed; the days when I loved, when she loved:  her supple touch.  I, the supple touch, like the steady wind against her curtains:  I turned to waves as cool as her linens against my skin.

No man could’ve loved me that way, I thought: no man could be loved so.  That word I’d always swirled around, like sand around those mounds where boys believed they’d built castles, all dissipated in waves and wind.  Boys rise, men fall; Vivian and I lay facing each other, her eyes opening to my gaze.

I knew I wasn’t going to die and go to heaven.  I’d always known that.  There was always another day, whether I wanted it or not.  After what, it didn’t matter; there was always the day, the night, they year after.  No way out of it, no way to fight—but on that day there was no need to fight, at least some things. Later she’d tell me it was the first gentle night she spent with a man.  Was that the same as telling me I was the first gentle man she’d met?  I know that’s something I’d’ve never been, not for her or anybody else. 

On that night, I merely did what I’d done ever since a man—another one who disappeared from this block—pushed his pants down from his waist and pulled my face toward his crotch.  There was no way out of the moment, which lasted an eternity; there was only the moment; there would never be any other. There was only him; there was only her; there would be this moment, consisting of women.  And no way to leave it, even if I’d wanted to.

There was one major difference between that moment with Vivian and the others that preceded it: I’d had no urge to resist, to flee or even to protest. I could only accept her, in that particle of time, in the others that flew away from it:  only me, only her, and no other force in the universe.

If she’d understood that I simply acted as I always had up to that moment, would she’ve declared that I was the first, the only, man for her even as I wrapped my body—at that moment clad in a black lace bra and panties—in her kimono and shuffled into the kitchen where I boiled water for coffee and the sun flooded the window?  Well, if I was savoring an illusion, who’s to say that she wasn’t, too?

So, her question—her plea, her accusation—“How could you…” when I started taking hormones, when I talked about surgery, seems inevitable now, even—especially—had she seen me, or I her.

Something else I hadn’t realized then:  the moment someone exclaims, “How could you!” it’s a sure sign you’ve survived, or at least progressed in some way, however small.  The moment you’re not a subject—which is not necessarily the moment you cease to submit, if you ever do—someone somewhere feels betrayed.  Actually, it takes only a moment of happiness, or at least equanimity, to make someone believe you’ve taken it from him or her.  Look at all those parents who resent, overtly or covertly, their children’s success—which for most children, for most people, means nothing more than getting what they want.  The son dreams of moving to a penthouse in the city; the father wants him to take over the family’s hardware store and father his grandchildren. And girls inspire jealousy in mothers who’ve stopped sleeping in the same beds with their husbands but have no desire to sleep with any other man.   They’d sit shiva; they’ll schedule exorcisms (or psychotherapy, which is usually the same thing) for daughters who realize they’ll find love, in all its glory and cruelty, only inside the curtains of another woman.

Contrary to what some churches teach every day and others teach on Sundays, love is not forgiving, and it can only lead people to seek it by whatever means and for whatever ends. 

12 March 2013

A Journey

Just recently, I came across this e-mail I sent a few friends.  I couldn't believe I still had it in an old e-mail account I now use for school.


18 november 2006

Hi Everybody:

 No urgent messages here. This'll be more like a blog, I guess, or a journal entry. Read on at your own peril! ;-)

 Today I went for a bike ride with Barbara and Sue, who have become sometime riding buddies during the past couple of years. It was chilly, overcast and fairly breezy, but actually not a bad day to ride.  We may not see any better for a while, so we went.

 We started on the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, with no particular destination in mind. I don't know which, if any, of us was leading the way, but we found ourselves headed toward water: Jamaica Bay and the ocean. It was as if currents of the sky, gray and rippled by white crests of clouds, pulled us there.

 Our bikes zigged and jagged along boards that clunked and chattered underneath us on the Rockaway Boardwalk. Sky and ocean grew grayer, bluer and steelier all at once as foamy white ripples thickened.

 We crossed the bridge into Atlantic Beach, Nassau County, where both the fresh-faced and the weathered people wore down parkas with swim trunks and flip-flops. Sand swirled on the road toward Point Lookout--on the other side of the bay from Jones Beach--where we had a picnic lunch.

 Since we all did errands this morning, we didn't meet for our ride until well after noon. Of course, we didn't take into account how the days are growing shorter, so by the time we got to Point Lookout, we saw rays of a sun that was about to set peeking through furtive openings in the clouds.

 And everything grew darker as we rode back along the southern Atlantic shores of Nassau County, the Rockaways section of Queens, Sheepshead Bay and ultimately to Coney Island. The point at which the sea and sky disappear into each other grew closer and the tides amplified their echoes as their foam crests grew whiter like advancing glaciers.

 There was a time in my life--actually, most of my life--when a scene like this was my only solace. The day returned to the sea; the night spread across it, punctuated by the pulse of waves that reflected flashes from the moon and stars. I often went to the sea, alone, in the darkness. Sometimes I hoped not to come back; other times I had some vague, if entirely implausible, hope that fluidity and darkness would wash away what I was trying to leave and change.

 Somehow, though, it didn't seem so odd to be at the darkening sea with a couple of friends. In a sense, I was never actually alone, even in the days when I was traveling solo. When I first started my gender transition, I used to believe that for all those years, the boy and young man I had been was carrying the person I'm becoming within him, all the while hoping nobody would notice. I suppose that is what would sometimes cause me to sometimes grieve about Nick when I first began to live as Justine. I used to think that he'd been carrying me all this time, and somehow it wasn't fair that I was able to experience the joy that he never could.

 But now I realize that in some way, I, Justine, had been guiding and protecting him. And I was again today. Today I would show that scared, confused, angry teenaged boy and young man named Nick--whom I learned to love only by becoming Justine--that what we were seeing today was not all there is to life, that we were continuing on a journey and that it would be all right and neither of us would have to be alone.

 Of course I didn't tell any of this to Sue or Barbara, for I am just realizing it now. But I did tell them what a joy it is to ride with them, and apologized for not being in the kind of shape I was once in and for being something of a chatterbox.  Don't worry, they said. It's all fine.

 Yes, Justine, it's all fine. And it's going to be all right. For you, too, Nick.

 OK. I apologize if this is a bit of a ramble. I know you're all busy, and I appreciate you, whether or not you've read this far.

 Good night.
 
 Love and best,

Justine

11 March 2013

Why Imperialism and LGBT Equality Don't Mix, Even If Obama's Stirring The Drink


In an essay he wrote during the time of the Civil Rights movement, James Baldwin recounted how some of the “agitators” were accused of being Communists, or at least puppets of them.  As Baldwin pointed out, it was an incredibly stupid allegation because, to many poor and oppressed people in the world, it made the Kremlin seem like a supporter of human rights—which is, of course, exactly the opposite of what the McCarthyites wanted Americans to believe.

History is irony when it’s not tragedy.  At  times—like now—it’s both:  Someone who has fashioned himself as a champion of peace and human rights has done more damage to both than any of the past few predecessors in his office.

I am talking about the current US President, Barack Obama.  Like many other LGBT people, I am glad that he has done more to bring us—especially transgender people—closer to equality with hetero and cis people than, perhaps, all of his predecessors combined.  Of course, he had to be prodded into some of his actions—most notably by his second-in-command, Joe Biden, into supporting same-sex marriage.

Still, I can’t help but to wonder whether he’s actually demonizing the cause of LGBT equality in the rest of the world, save for a few European and a couple of Latin American countries.  While we can celebrate, and push for more change, in the majority of the world, we’re not even deemed fit to exist, let alone marry or go into the same professions and occupations as other people.  A Jamican lesbian I know tells me she can’t go home: “I’d be killed as soon as I got off the plane in Kingston.”  A Pakistani and a Chinese gay man of my acquaintance have expressed similar anxieties. 

They all come from conservative—and, in the case of the Pakistani and Jamaican, religious—societies in which any deviance from cisgenderism and heterosexuality are crimes that could be punished by death.  Subtract religion from the equation and you have China, where the law allows the state to execute someone who loves someone of his or her own gender.
And, of course, the situation is probably even more dire for LGBT people in some Middle Eastern countries, particularly ones like Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Even in Turkey, I didn’t have the sense that a gay man or lesbian was particularly safe, and I knew that my own well-being had much to do with the degree to which my gender identity wasn’t in question.

In addition to ingrained homophobia and transphobia, those countries and others share resentment, if not outright hatred, of the United States—or, at any rate of its foreign policy.  More precisely, those countries have histories of economic and cultural —and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jamaica, political and military—colonialism and young people know it.  So, naturally, they detest our invasion of Iraq and our attempt to subjugate Afghanistan.  And, I imagine, they aren’t too happy about the fact that we have military bases in over two-thirds of the world’s nations—or that we’ve conducted drone surveillance and strikes.

Ah, yes, the drones.  Some argue that they’re better than putting young Americans in harm’s way.  However, that argument misses the point:  the drones aren’t meant to replace “boots on the ground”.  Rather, they’re meant to go above and beyond (in military terms, anyway) what live human beings can do to gather information and strike targets.   Also, if they’re meant to replace soldiers and sailors and airmen, why was a drone sighted at  JFK International Airport?

In the first two months of his administration, Obama ordered six times as many drone strikes in Pakistan during his first term as George W. Bush did during both of his terms.  (Of course, GWB started the drone program.  Still, the facts speak for themselves.)  He also did something that wasn’t part of Bush’s, or even Dick Cheney’s, wildest dreams:  He, in essence, gave himself the right to order the murders extrajudicial killings of US citizens anywhere in the world simply by deciding they are "enemy combatants".   I don’t think that even Humphrey and Nixon claimed such rights when they were invading Southeast Asian countries, and I don’t think George W's father even thought of such a thing when he invaded Grenada and conducted what was essentially a drug bust against Manuel Noriega

Now, as Jody Williams has wondered, how can a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize—and still thinks of himself as a champion of world peace and who has expressed his admiration for Martin Luther King Jr.—do such things?  At best, it makes him blind to his own contradictions.  At worst, it makes him a rank hypocrite.  How can the rest of the world see him as a torch-bearer for liberty and justice?

Moreover, I can’t help but to wonder how countries and peoples who have been subjected to his version of “peace” see his support of women’s and LGBT rights and equality.  If other countries can see our universities, our culture and our economy—not to mention our militarism—as manifestations of “The Great Satan”, how can they see our (or, more specifically, Obama’s) expression of support for LGBT equality?   How can our leaders talk to Ahmadinejad about his country’s treatment of women and gays (or denial that the latter even exist in his country) or his revisionist views of history when our own foreign policy is killing innocent people all around him?  And, what’s going to make him, or the leader of any conservative Muslim country or military dictatorship, believe that LGBT people simply should have the right to live, let alone love and marry the people they love, when a President who supports such things is killing innocent people who just happen to live in countries deemed to be our enemies?

10 March 2013

A Passing


Here is something I wrote early in my transition:



Passing

A path of fire ripples


roiling from the opposite shore.
Rays of sunsets descend

through mirrors.  Long boats are crossing

reflections too bright to be seen
leaving the sun behind them.

Clouds curl like smoke.  Ripples

reflect breezes across this river.
A wide boat is turning.

Paths of fire are flickering away.

A barge’s wake spreads the twilight.

                                                       
                                                           2 June 2005

07 March 2013

This Fox Is A Fighter

I never thought that I would ever mention Mixed Martial Arts on this blog.  It's not that I have anything against them, or anyone who participates or even competes in them.  They're just not something I think about very often.

Well, there's a first time for everything, right?  So here goes:  Fallon Fox's MMA licenses are under review.

You see, the 37-year-old Ms. Fox had gender-reassignment surgery seven years ago.  (It's a great way to turn 30, isn't it?)  And, of course, she took hormones before, and has taken them since, then.

That means the 145-pound Ms. Fox would not have any advantage over another woman of her size.  The hormones reduce the mass and density of bone and muscle and, in some male-to-female transgenders, lessen endurance.  Before her surgery, she would have been taking an anti-androgen, which also would have reduced her muscles and bone mass and endurance.  After the surgery, the glands that produce testosterone are gone, which would also take away any physical advantage she might have enjoyed as a man.

Still, in spite of these facts, she has won all five of her bouts, and all of those victories have come in the first round.

Apparently, there was some confusion about licensing procedures:  She thought her application for a license in California had been approved, and she used it to obtain another license in Florida.  She used the license she thought she'd gotten from the Golden State to get its counterpart in the Sunshine State and says she 

Ms. Fox's next match was scheduled for 20 April as part of the semifinals in an eight-woman tournament.  Her promoter, the Championship Fighting Alliance, has canceled the event in a show of support.