28 August 2015

Mama Mechanic

This afternoon I took a ride out to the Rockaways on Tosca, my Mercian fixie.

The weather was lovely, as it was yesterday:  warm, but not overly so, with high puffy clouds floating across expanses of blue sky.  And, as luck would have it, I rode into the wind on my way out to Rockaway Beach and Far Rockaway.  That meant, of course, that on my way home, I could pedal about 20 RPM faster without trying.

Anyway, I was coasting through an area of Gateway National Recreation area frequented by bird-watchers and wildlife photographers--in plain view of JFK International Airport!  My external reverie seemed to embody the one that was playing out within me at that moment:  I am still in the afterglow of my trip to Paris and of the wonderful late-day ride to Connecticut I enjoyed yesterday.  I have been doing some writing away from this blog (I don't want to give too much away!) and I'm feeling optimistic about the semester that's about to begin. Now all I need is to hit the Lotto jackpot and meet the love of my life.  Hmm...I'm not so sure about the latter.  Being single isn't so bad after you've been in an abusive relationship or two.

Wouldn't you know...a cute young guy approaches me from behind.  "Sir!"  "Sir!"  He sounded distressed, so I turned to look at him.  (His distress was the only reason I looked at him, I swear! ;-))  "Do you...Oh, I'm sorry, Ma'am."

"Don't worry."

"You don't see a lot of women riding here.  And, from behind, you were pedaling like a dude."

I said nothing. (I didn't want to give too much away!)

"Do you have an allen key?"

"Yes, I do."

Just then I saw the reason why he asked:  His handlebar slipped and rolled inside the stem.

"We can't let you ride like that," I said.

"I swapped this handlebar today.  I guess I didn't tighten it enough."

"Well, let's hope it's the right diameter."

"I thought they were all the same size."

I shook my head and, from the corner of my eye, saw the source of the problem.  He had a stem with a faceplate that bolts in the four corners. He'd tightened the top two bolts much more than the lower ones.  So, in addition to the usual hazards of a loose handlebar, he ran the risk of shearing off the faceplate and, possibly, taking an even nastier spill than he might have had he only leaned on loose bars. 

Before I tightened the stem bolts, I asked him to move the bar to a position he likes.  Good thing: I noticed that his grips slipped on the bars.

He said he'd used water to slide the rubber grips onto the bars.   I grabbed the edge of the right grip and rolled it up to the end of the bar.  Then I unrolled it, and the grip--an Oury--stayed as if it had been epoxied to the bar.  I did the same for his left grip.

Then I told him to grab the grip and try to roll it, and to try to move the bar in the stem.  Everything was as firmly in place as the pyramids.

"Lady, I don't know how to thank you enough."

"Just be careful," I said in my most maternal tone.  Really, he's a nice kid--he's been working as a lifeguard--and want him to live and ride long.

07 August 2015

It's Not About Privilege. It's About How She Uses It.

OK, I'll admit it: I haven't watched "I Am Cait."  Then again, I haven't watched anything on television in a while because I almost never watch TV.

That said, I want to address remarks I've heard about it, and about Caitlyn Jenner's very public journey.  Those remarks have a common denominator:  privilege, or at least the word "privilege."  As in, "She's exploiting her upper-class privilege."  A few others have said she is using her "male privilege":  in essence, denying her transition and current life.  

The "male privilege" accusation comes mainly from TERFs and their allies:  After all, any man or any conservative who refused to see Caitlyn as female wouldn't see males as having privilege.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, the "white privilege" or "class privilege" whine doesn't emenate from the lips those who are darker or poorer than Caitlyn:  Those echoes of resentment come mainly from rich white cisgender heterosexuals who took a gender studies course or two.  Ironically, they are no different from white male conservatives in that they cannot see themselves as having privilege, but they can find it in a millisecond in someone else, whether or not that person actually has it.

There is no question that Caitlyn Jenner's celebrity--garnered mainly during her life as a man named Bruce--gives her more privilege than most people will ever enjoy.  And, if she's not part of the "one percent", she's close to it--which, of course, is another source of privilege.  Of course, being white doesn't hurt her standing, either.

Every male-to-female transgender I have ever known--I include myself--has lost some sort of privilege she didn't know she had when she was living as male.  This is especially true if said trans person is white:  As one black trans woman told me, "I don't feel I lost privilege because I had so little to begin with."  Whether the same thing will happen to Caitlyn remains to be seen.  Many of us are rightly celebrating her courage and integrity and, not surprisingly, some are mocking and hating on her.  Some of the haters probably own, or run, the companies that sponsor the programs on which Caitlyn has appeared, so it's hard not to wonder whether, after the attention she's now receiving has shifted elsewhere, she will lose some of her television work or be asked to make fewer public appearances in other venues.

I hope that nothing like that happens to Caitlyn.  As much as I'd like to have some of her privilege, I don't begrudge her for it.  If anything, I think she is using it well to call attention to such things as the suicide of a transgender teenager no one would have heard about if Caitlyn hadn't mentioned him.  Perhaps someone could knock her for taking a cross-country trip with her own entourage but, hey, if it helps to make us and our stories and struggles more real to the public, I have no problem with it.  If nothing else, such actions--and almost everything else she's done from the time Diane Sawyer interviewed her--has helped to break some of the old stereotypes about trans people.

If you're going to denigrate someone for having privilege, go after someone who's using it to bully or exploit people--especially if he's running for the Presidential nomination of his party.  But don't knock someone like Caitlyn, who's been using it for our betterment. 

06 August 2015

Shin's Tricycle

On my other blog, I have written several posts about bicycles, and the ways they have been used, in war.  It may surprise you to learn that the reason why I am interested in such things--and in military history, with an emphasis on the history--is that I am anti-war.  In fact, I believe that the only chance the human race has of surviving-- let alone becoming a better, more enlightened species--is to render war obsolete.  Only then will we be truly able to address issues of environmental degradation and economic injustice.

That last sentence also explains why I am anti-war and pro-veteran:  To me, few things show how pointless war is than seeing a veteran sleeping under a bridge, highway overpass or train trestle, as I sometimes see on my way to work. It also explains why I see bicycling to work and school, and even for recreation --and not as a self-conscious fashion statement or a callow attempt at irony (Can it really be irony if you're trying to achieve it?)--as an instrument for attaining peace and justice.

So, in that spirit, I am posting this photograph:

Why?, you ask.  Well, on this date 70 years ago, a boy named Shin and his best friend, a girl named Kimi, were playing with it when--to paraphrase Albert Camus in The Plague--death rained on them from the clear blue sky. 

When Shin's family found him under a house beam, he was too weak to talk.  But his hand still held the red grip of that tricycle.  And Kimi was nowhere to be found.

Shin would not survive that night.  Nor would Kimi, who was found later.   Shin's father could not bear to leave him in a lonely graveyard, so he was interred--along with Kimi and the tricycle--in the family's backyard.

In 1985--forty years after the first atomic bomb leveled their home town of Hiroshima--his father decided to move his remains to the family's gravesite.  He, with the help of his wife, dug up the backyard burial ground.   There they found "the little white bones of Kimi and Shin, hand in hand as we had placed them," according to the father.

Also present was the tricycle, which the father had all but forgotten.  Lifting it out of the grave, he said, "This should never happen to children.  The world should be a peaceful place where children can play and laugh."

The next day, he would donate the tricycle to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where it is exhibited with other artifacts, as well as drawings, photos and stories from survivors of the first atomic bomb, exploded over the city 70 years ago today.

The tricycle inspired a children's book written by survivor Tatsuharu Kodama.  Published in 1995, Shin's Tricycle is narrated by Nobuo Tetsunani, Shin's father.  It's as painful as it is beautiful.  I urge you to read it--and to take a good look at those stark drawings!  

05 August 2015

What The Planned Parenthood Controversy Means For LGBT People

Dr. Marci Bowers is an extremely skilled surgeon with a good “bedside manner.”  Like any other first-rate professional, she has fine people working with and for her.

Among them are the screening nurses, counselors and others who prepare people like me for surgery.  The ones who worked with Marci when she was in Trinidad also worked with the local Planned Parenthood, right next to the hospital in which Dr. Bowers practiced.  In fact, on the morning of my surgery, I went to the PP office—where I passed a lone protestor—and, from there, was escorted to the hospital.

I am thinking of that now in light of the furor over Planned Parenthood.  To religious fundamentalists (who, almost invariably, are trying to follow a literal interpretation of a translation of a book written, at least in part, in languages that haven’t been spoken in more than a millennium), Planned Parenthood can be defined in one word:  abortion.  And if something has anything to do with abortion, they are not only against it, they are willing to believe the absolute worst things anyone can say, true or not, about it.

So it’s really no surprise that they’re in a lather over the story that PP is selling tissue from aborted fetuses for use in medical research and treatment.  Of course, when stories are passed along, parts of it are exaggerated, distorted or otherwise changed.  So, somewhere along the way, some hysterical or simply mendacious person announced that Planned Parenthood is “harvesting’ fetuses for tissue.  That story gave the conservatives just the sort of weapon they’ve wanted.

What’s commonly forgotten is that abortion is actually a very small part of what Planned Parenthood does.  For many women—especially the poor and those who live in isolated rural areas—the Planned Parenthood office is one of the few places, if not the only place, where they can find compassionate and competent gynecological health care.  Sometimes even men in such situations rely on Planned Parenthood for their needs.

Knowing such things, I can’t help but to think that Planned Parenthood is a lifeline for many LGBT people.  There are still many health care professionals who won’t treat us or, worse, can’t or won’t treat us with the same compassion or diligence they would provide other patients.  I had one such experience early in my transition, and I have heard stories from other queer people who were treated with contempt or simply given inappropriate advice or care. For example, the doctor of  a lesbian I know told her that if she doesn’t want to get breast cancer, she should have a baby. I doubt that anyone in Planned Parenthood would have told her that.

01 August 2015

After The Losses: After The Guilt Has Passed

If you are now living in a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth, you have most likely lost at least one relationship that was very important to you.  It might be the one you had with a spouse or partner.  Or, perhaps, family members have—or your entire family has—rejected you. 

Maybe longtime friends or professional colleagues have decided that you are less worthy of their esteem than you were when they knew you by your old name, in the gender in which you had been living.

I have experienced losses in all three categories.  My partner split with me when I started my transition.  (When I offered not to live as female for the sake of our relationship, she would not hear of it. “You have to do it,” she said of my impending change.  “I just can’t go there with you.”)  One family member has cut ties with me; others have kept some distance.  And one friend—whose PhD, interestingly, includes a specialty in gender studies—said and did the politically correct things until she lashed out at me over an imagined transgression.   Another friend, I now realize, simply didn’t have the courage to tell me to my face how he really felt.  Over time, he stopped answering my calls and responding to my e-mails. 

And then there was the former boss—the chair of a department in which I taught—who observed my class and wrote a glowing observation and sang my praises to his superiors and colleagues—when I was a guy named Nick.  After about a year of living as Justine, I asked him whether he would write a reference or recommendation for me.  He shook his head and gave an appraisal of me that completely contradicted the report he wrote about me and things he said to others, including the college provost.

I grieved all of those relationships.  I hoped that my former partner would become the friend she said she wanted to be after we split.  I hoped that blood would indeed be thicker than whatever hormones were coursing through my body.  And I hoped that my old friends would get over the shock of the person they knew as a guy named Nick becoming a woman named Justine and realize that I was still all of the things they used to say I was: caring, compassionate, intelligent and sometimes even funny.

My old boss has retired, and I’ve moved on with my work, so I am no longer concerned with his assessment of me.  Although I still recall some of the good times I had with her, I have long resigned myself to the fact that my former partner didn’t mean what she said about remaining friends with me.  I have a similar attitude about the gender studies PhD:  She was a really good friend once (She called me the night, long ago, when I’d traced a line on my left wrist; I didn’t draw the razor blade across it) but that—like the relationship I had with my former partner, is a memory.  And now I realize—if you’ll pardon the expression—that even after my surgery, I have more balls than that male former friend, if I do say so myself.

I have not only accepted that I will most likely never have relationships with them again; I have even lost my desire to re-connect with them.  I have also resigned myself to not being reconciled with the family members I mentioned, especially one in particular.  I even promised my mother that if that family member decides to speak to me again, I will listen and not question or accuse.

That promise still holds.  Lately, though, I’ve noticed that I’m losing not only my hope or wish, but also my desire, to see a renewed relationship.  If that family member calls or approaches me, I won’t refuse.  However, I don’t expect that to happen and don’t feel particularly troubled by it anymore.  I get the feeling that if we ever meet again, it will be at the funeral of one of my parents.  We will probably be the proverbial ships passing in the night; we might say the things relatives say to each other over the death of another relative, but I don’t expect to look to that relative for support any more than I expect to be looked to.

What I’m noticing now is that I’ve lost the sadness I felt over losing that relationship—and that I’m not feeling guilty about it.  Some might regard that as cold or heartless. Perhaps it is. But to me, it seems no more sensible to pine for someone who has rejected me—and who, in our last conversation, said that rejection is about that person’s “stubbornness” (Yes, that is the word that person used) is the reason for not acknowledging me as I am, let alone having any sort of relationship with me—than it is to wish I were 27 years old again.  It just ain’t happenin’, and I’m getting over it.