June 14th, 2005

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On Gender and Normality, whatever the hell THAT is
This post is difficult for me to write for a number of reasons, but I've never spoken about it before - and given the current theme of my posts during Pride month, I felt it was necessary to write about it. I make this post in honor and remembrance of my transgendered friends - old and new - and those who are no longer alive to share in our lives anymore. Deidre & Ashley, I love and miss you terribly, I haven't tears enough for what each of you suffered and I will never get over not being there when you left.
I want you to imagine something for me. I want you to imagine that things don't match up between what you know and what you are. That there is something so very wrong between who you see in the mirror and who you know you really are, enshrined in taboo and shame, that you are forced to live an unfathomable lie. Consider that whatever it is about you that you know is wrong is so overwhelming you can barely bring yourself to accept it, let alone say it out loud to another person. As my friend Jennifer says "I don't want to say it, 'cause you know if you don't say it it's not real." In your desperation, you begin to think that there is no hope you'll ever find another person who will accept this hidden part of you, compounding the shame you carry like bricks in your heart and knowing you are powerless. You may have thoughts of suicide. You may act out in self destructive ways and turn your anger inward on yourself. You may feel so completely isolated in this private hell that you'll try anything to numb the pain, from drugs and alcohol or being excessively mean and cruel to overcompensating for what you feel are your shortcomings - anything to not have to deal with "it". Imagine this is a secret so overwhelming that it prevents you from ever feeling like you could be happy, like you could ever live like "normal" people do. Imagine feeling every day like there is a bomb about to go off in your life and you have nowhere to hide. Imagine having a part of your body that feels so damaged, so alien, that you have considered self mutilation just to be free from the prison it places you in. Imagine feeling like this private part of yourself that by all rights should be shared with the world is so overwhelming that you can barely breathe. Perhaps you cannot put these descriptions on yourself. Fine, have it your way. Imagine the person I'm describing is someone you know, someone whose secretive, or odd behaviour makes you question the deep sense of sadness they reek of. Maybe it's your friend. Maybe it's your father. Maybe it's your child. Maybe it's your spouse. Maybe it really just is YOU.

Now imagine me, and imagine I'm telling you to your face that there is nothing I find wrong - or ugly - or shameful about you. I know better. If nobody else, I can see through the things most "normal" people cannot get past and see what makes a whole person themselves. That's what I chose to say to someone I love very much many years ago when I knew precious little about transgendered people. I was so honored and I felt so trusted when a dear friend of mine came out to me as transgendered because she knew somehow that I would understand and accept her if only she could find her courage and her voice to tell me. The first thing I did was asked her to tell me her name. She kind of looked at me strangely, and I told her "I know what name you were given, but I want to know YOUR name. Because from now on, you've got to be who you know you are. And I love you. So I'm asking you again, what is your name?" By the time I finished this, we were both crying and hugging and being as close as two people can be emotionally outside of being in romantic love. Once the reality of this all sunk in, I knew I would never be the same and I was proud of myself that I could help open that door for someone I loved. Ever since then, I make it a habit of holding doors open - literally and metaphorically.

It is estimated that 1 in 100,000 males are born transgendered or intersexed, and 1 in 400,000 females. Bear in mind I have recently been informed that these estimations are way off, I have since come across statistics to the contrary that refute those mentioned earlier. From the beginning, gender roles have been assigned by people who had no knowledge of gender issues. Gender dysphoria has historically been met with much derision and intolerance from all factions of society, while other questionable (and controllable) behaviours have been overlooked as more mainstream and insignificant. Consider a time before when people felt so stigmatized that they never had a chance to give themselves a voice or tell their own stories, let alone in a voice that sounded like their authentic selves.

There is a film I saw a couple of years ago called Soldier's Girl. It was a love story about a young man named Barry Winchell and a beautiful woman named Calpernia Addams. It was also about coming to terms with loving and accepting people as they are. It was also about Barry's horrific murder. It is a true story. Immediately after seeing this movie I was so completely wrecked and overwrought with sadness and emotion that I went in search of a way to contact Calpernia Addams. I wrote her as heartfelt and honest an email as I could muster, telling her of my deep and profound sense of feeling damaged by this story and the subsequent loss and suffering and sent it knowing that she may never read it. Imagine my surprise a week later when I got a reply from her thanking me for my kindnesses and sentiments and revealing more about herself than I could have ever felt comfortable asking about. It began a series of written exchanges that I know have affected the way I feel about gender issues even further, though I almost never hear from her anymore. It's life, she's a busy woman. I'm proud of her successes and accomplishments, she is one of the most inspiring and resilient people you would ever have the good fortune to meet and I'm grateful for the time I've spent getting to know more about her directly from her. Last year I saw a film called Normal that had a similar effect on me. I highly recommend seeing both and sharing them with others.

Not long ago, another friend decided similarly for one reason or another to come out to me in hints. I decided to write her an email before anything else was said or alluded to, explaining how much I loved her and her family, because it was necessary. One of the first things I made sure to do was ask her what her name was. I told her something that has since been adopted as a sort of mantra. I said "The person you're supposed to be is the person you know you ARE - period. You have a responsibility to that person to live through to be the "authentic self". Let's face it - if you're not telling yourself the truth, then you're lying to every person you come into association with. That's no way to live. Let them decide themselves how they feel about you, and that at the end of the day the people who don't accept you as you aren't rejecting you - they were never worthy of you to begin with."

I speak my truth as a man who was (thankfully) born to the correct gender, as most of us are and take for granted. I've put myself in every conceivable scenario with people who must live this way so I could better serve my friend and support her. I've had countless conversations and read a wealth of information so I could help give voice to an issue very close to my heart - and help others find their own voice. I'm encouraged by awareness and inspired by the bravery of these people, and by the evidence that these gender issues are biologically defined components of human sexuality and expression - the only choice is in living your truth. I know more about that subject than many, which is fortunate or unfortunate depending on how you look at it. Intolerance and ignorance can invariably lead to tragedy, as evidenced in the story of Brandon Teena, often referred to incorrectly by his birthname Teena Brandon and depicted in the movie Boys Don't Cry. I provide these kinds of posts as a means to honor people I love and admire, even those I don't know personally. I want others to have access to the information that might make a difference in their lives. I want people who were born "normal" like me to be more aware and compassionate, because it is contagious. Infect the world with knowledge, compassion, and love. Be a voice, and say SOMETHING. Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Transgender Resources
Transgender Law and Policy Institute
Transgender Forum
Transgender Guide - Transgendered Information, Links & Resources
The National Center for Transgender Equality
Deep Stealth Productions
Wiki List of transgender-related topics
The International Journal Of Transgenderism

Electronic Books - Free Access
The Transsexual Phenomenon - Benjamin - 1966, 278 pages
Sex Reassignment - Pfaefflin/Junge - 1998, 370 pages
Transsexualism - Wålinder - 1967, 150 pages
As always, feel free to link to this entry and pass it along.