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14th-Jun-2005 11:57 am
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.
14th-Jun-2005 04:08 pm (UTC)
I have many friends in various stages of discovery along the transgender spectrum. One of them just had her final reassignment surgery and another is still debating whether or not she wants to take the hormone treatments or whether she'd just be happy dressing as a female without any surgical or hormone enhancements. All of them have had a very, very difficult time. Some of them, as you mentioned, don't make it. I had a friend who, rather than live with the lie, attempted to castrate herself knowing she'd die before anyone found her. What society does to them makes me ill.

I can identify to some extent with their struggles. I am the correct gender but I don't look it and I never will. A brain virus caused a metabolic illness in late adolescence which masculinized my features. I'm fully female, but I'm built like a linebacker (including the hair in unwanted places UGH) and I talk like one. I don't think I've ever met another female who could sing bass without faking it. People call me "sir" when I speak, even if I'm in feminine clothing. Thus I know some of those hurts. I'm female but will never be seen as such, will never be "real" to most of society.
14th-Jun-2005 04:56 pm (UTC)
Gender is a curious thing, isn't it? People's perceptions and these preconceived notions of what defines such things never fail to amuse me. I've always been intrigued by androgny, I think it's part of my fascination with people who live (by admission or reaction) on a certain fringe. It could also be reactionary on my part as one who is more closely associated with underdogs and misfits, though for all intents and purposes I'm not much like that myself.

I believe that these unrealistic and unattainable standards of normalcy, beauty, and acceptability within most of society are a direct reason who so many TG people self mutilate. While it breaks my heart, it does not surprise me at all.

I went to high school with a girl in a similar situation to yours, and I remember how timid she was despite her size and strength. I befriended her when no one else would, and she went with me to our very first Pride, which was an amazing experience in and of itself without our own personal input. I'll never forget her taking my face in her hands and explaining to me that I was the only person up until that day that ever just saw her as she was without trying to dress her up in some way mentally and project those hang ups onto her by default. From then on, she was different and demanded this of everyone.

While I cannot take away those hurts you describe, know that I honor you as you are and I thank you for taking this time to tell me some of your story.
14th-Jun-2005 04:16 pm (UTC)
This should be a lot to some people. There's just too many factors that play against some people and they just can't be out there like they want to. IMO, the majority of those factors can't be controlled.
14th-Jun-2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
*This should mean a lot to some people.*

Sorry bout that.
14th-Jun-2005 04:18 pm (UTC)
Jude, I have to tell you: You are an amazing person. Not many people try so hard to get the truth out there, and hardly anyone is as compassionate and caring. I'm so glad there are people out there like you.
14th-Jun-2005 04:57 pm (UTC)
I'm no more special than anyone else, T - I just make different choices and I wear my heart on my sleeve. Thank you for the kindnesses, though, all the same.
14th-Jun-2005 04:20 pm (UTC) - Thank You
.............simply for caring and for being a voice in the dark so often.
14th-Jun-2005 04:58 pm (UTC) - Re: Thank You
14th-Jun-2005 04:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for your thoughts. You inspire me to take action where I can.
14th-Jun-2005 04:58 pm (UTC)
That makes it all worthwhile then.
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14th-Jun-2005 04:59 pm (UTC)
I love you just as much, if not more sweetie. Thank you for helping to inspire me, and others vicariously as a result of your butterfly effect.
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14th-Jun-2005 04:20 pm (UTC)
It was many years ago now...I had been browsing websites, and I came across one of a rather attractive bear. Clicking through his site, I (naturally) ended up in his photo gallery. Not long after that, I was looking at pictures of before/after he had his breasts removed.

It really did short circuit my brain. Being that dumb little blond boy from Iowa, I'd never encountered such a thing. I stared at his site, I read the passages he'd written about it, and finally, a little worried, I opened up my email and I wrote

"Hi. You don't know me. I was browsing the net tonight and I came across your page. I've never known someone transgendered and there are things about it that confuse me. I'd like to ask you some questions, if you are feeling up to it. PLEASE KNOW that I might say something that could be interpreted as hurtful, but it's not meant that way. Anything of that nature is simply my own ignorance because I don't know better and I don't understand. I want to understand, so I'm asking. Would you mind fielding a few stupid questions?"

He graciously accepted and I learned a lot from him. I've always been thankful that he was open to talking to a complete stranger to help educate them so that I could come to a place of understanding. He helped me to understand the difference between gender identity and sexuality, in particular. (He had become a man but was still into "the bears", so I was confused. As a woman, he could have been with the men he wanted with no social stigma. After talking with him, I learned and came to understand)

Thanks for this piece today. It made me smile to remember him, even though we've lost touch over the years.
14th-Jun-2005 05:00 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I could return the favor, thank you for taking the time and walking the path.
14th-Jun-2005 04:22 pm (UTC) - tears
Man you have me on tears.. I saw that movie.. soldier`s girl. It shocked me alot when I saw it. While I was living in San FRancisco, actually the first day I was there to meet the one who would be my partner for almost a year, he needed to go and work at a trans march.. For me was my first experience. I was there listening to their problems, like from just going to the bathroom. (My ex is an interpreter for the deaf). That nite I woke him up, I was crying, never realized how hard was life for them. And I always thought mine was hard. Steve has several of transgender friends. And all of them were great to me. I learn a vauable lesson from them. I never asked them their given names. I knew them as they are and I dont care who they were before. Growing up in a small city in mexico, where being macho is all that matters. I grew up pretending something I wasnt. My best friend during elementary was a fem kid. And we remained friends all the way to HS. I guess somehow I related to him. But I was doing the str8 life, having GF`s and being a boy. I never stopped talking to him or hide my friendship with him. When kid, I grew up with my 3 sisters playing with barby and letting them to dress me as a girl and putting me make up. Here in mexico theres an actress her name is Libertad and media is always so mean to her.. wondering if she has completely changed her body yet or not. And saying things about how would parents explaing their kids that what they are seeing is a guy .. but he has boobs.. so its a female but not cuz she still has a pennis..thats just wrong.. specially since the guy making the comments its gay too. I admire you for making contact with Calpernia.. I once did the same withthe author of Angelas Ashes.. since he was an immigrant I shared the same feelings.. somehow its amazing to see how simple and down to earth they can be. Hugz men
14th-Jun-2005 05:00 pm (UTC) - Re: tears
Thank you for this, I appreciate it!
14th-Jun-2005 04:28 pm (UTC)
My dear friend (and ex-husband) Christine Beatty, an mtf transwoman, has a great site here, detailing her journey to self-acceptance and womanhood.
14th-Jun-2005 05:01 pm (UTC)
See, I knew you were coming from a different place than most. Like speaks to like when it comes to being enlightened, I suppose.
14th-Jun-2005 04:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this beautiful and most inspiring post. I would expect nothing more coming from you, sweetie. :)

I knew Calpernia back in Nashville, before she met Barry. We weren't close friends...we didn't exactly run in the same circles, but we had several mutual friends and inter-acted some. I met her before I really understood what being transgendered was about. Before...she was just another boy in a dress, performing drag at The Underground on amateur night or at The Connection - Nashville. I didn't understand. Watching her go through self recognition and transformation was quite a thing to see and I am very happy to see how far she has come in her life, especially with the tragedy that was Barry's murder, at Ft. Campbell. She truly loved him.

I just wanted to commend you on the heart-felt posts you often make, sharing important information and helping others. We need to get together again, soon. Big hugs! :)
14th-Jun-2005 05:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Barry - I love you too. And yes, we do need to get together again soon! ;-)
14th-Jun-2005 04:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks. That's all I can say. You're amazing.
14th-Jun-2005 05:02 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, but no - I'm not. I'm just not content to be complacent is all.
14th-Jun-2005 04:48 pm (UTC)
Um, wow. What an incredible testament. While I am not transgendered myself, a number of my online friends are, and it's been an interesting and enlightening learning experience for me to share in their daily trials and tribulations. Thanks for helping put into words some of what I've been thinking about on and off for the last several months.

You're a very talented writer. I hope you share your writing with the larger world outside of LJ...

14th-Jun-2005 05:04 pm (UTC)
My hope is that if anything I say is found to be meaningful to others that it gets carried along. If I can do that, then it is worth the emotional toll it takes sometimes. Thank you for your kindnesses.
14th-Jun-2005 05:52 pm (UTC)
Just another heartfelt THANK YOU!
14th-Jun-2005 05:54 pm (UTC)
You're welcome ;-)
14th-Jun-2005 06:14 pm (UTC)
Wow... just... wow.

I have a lot of friends who are transgender. I myself feel like I don't 'fit' as my birth sex. It is stressful and emotionally crippling. It's something that you know you need to talk about with someone, but who do you turn to? You're afraid to talk to a loved one out of the fear of losing them, your friends because its an awkward discussion to bring up, and your family because they don't want to lose you. A lot of feelings get internalized until eventually you either choose to react and do something about how you feel, or you fall apart completely.

The problem is, unless people like myself, my friends and the hundreds of thousands of trans-people around the world start talking, people aren't going to learn. A lot of people don't want to listen, though, because transsexuality and transgenderism is too "out there" for most people to want to understand. So how does one break that cycle?

I have no idea. I'm hoping someone else does.
14th-Jun-2005 08:49 pm (UTC)
I've left a lot of links, hopefully something in them will give you some direction. Best of luck to you!
14th-Jun-2005 06:25 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thank you. Add me to the hordes that are adding you to their friends list due to your recent posts. I try, as much as possible to accept everyone on equal terms, and accept them for who they ARE, but you are reminding me I ought to do more, be more outspoken to help spread that acceptance around.
14th-Jun-2005 08:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you, we all should.
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