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Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Blushing Bride of PRIDE

Does the whole concept of Pride ever strike anyone else as rather odd? Naturally I’m talking about LGBTQ Pride, and not your everyday kind of humdrum pride gotten from remembering to lug out the trash on garbage day or stopping yourself from eating your roommates’ leftover pirogues. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally swept up in it all and actually had the Buffalo Pride Fest weekend surpass my love of Christmas in terms of anticipation and overall enjoyment. I wear my colors with a great swelling in my bosom, but here and there I have to stop and think, “wait Michelle, what are you actually proud of?”

I think the whole Gay Pride movement began shortly after the epic Stonewall riots back in the 60’s that counter intuitively did not feature fighting for either side by Gen ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. It would have been nice if he could have stood with our camp, but nevertheless. The idea, if I understand correctly (dubious given my previous statement), is that one should have pride in their sexual identity and gender expression. Both are inherent to a person at the core, unchangeable, and therefore the opposite of ‘shame’ should apply to any feeling regarding this. I can dig that, certainly. I don’t feel any shame in my gender identity, even though it means I’m transitioning into a less empowered class.

What makes me wonder though if ‘pride’ is the right expression is that I didn’t actually do anything to be born this way? That’s really it. I see tee shirts all the time that say things like ‘Proud to be Irish’ or even for some reason ‘Proud to be Polish’ and shake my head. What is there to be proud of? That your ancestors through a zany chain of mishaps, invasions, and forced relocations found their way to someplace the stronger tribes didn’t want, slaughtered or absorbed the indigenous populations, and were randy enough to produce descendants? Yay them, but what the hell did you do? If you are here in America, you don’t even live there anymore. All kind of baffling.

I do have pride in being transgender, but also recognize I didn’t really contribute much to my own state of being. I survived, sure, but I get to feel proud of that on my birthday when everyone acknowledges that I somehow managed to not die in the past year. I’m kind of proud about transitioning, but as we discussed many times in the past, it was kind of a necessity, like jumping off a burning boat, so again, I can’t take a whole lot of credit there, even if I’m like a cat water and deathly afraid of sharks.

Yes, yes, you all know I’m eventually going to get to the point, so here it is. We need to be proud because we have opposition. Without opposition, we could just go about saying, “I’m basically OK, in a status quo kind of way”. Because we have sizable groups of people dedicated to denying us rights, denying our basic existence, and even wishing to deny us the right to continue breathing, we have to express something stronger about the whole thing. Blasé indifference could easily be misconstrued as a passive means of admitting we are wrong for who we are. We simply can’t have that.

I suppose another positive adjective would have worked just as well – exuberant, munificent, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – but pride is probably the best choice. We all stand a reasonable chance of spelling it correctly, and I also like the fact that it’s personal. When we talk pride, we talk about ourselves and ourselves only without putting anything on anyone else. We don’t need society to be proud of us; all we need is to recognize that we exist, we matter, and frankly we are pretty freaking awesome.

So, as June finally rolls around in Buffalo, and Pride Fest blooms again, I’ll be out there and hopefully so will you. If you can show your pride at Dingus Day, an obscure festival that involves getting whupped with pussy willow branches, this should be a no brainer.

Seriously, What is She Waiting For?

My spouse-turned-sister (there is no word for it, I did try ‘spouster’ for a while, but thought it sounded lame) used to have a book on her shelf titled When I’m An Old Lady I Shall Wear Purple. For some reason, this really bothered me. I won’t judge a book by its cover, but I sure as hell will for a bad title. I don’t know what the book is about; I never was willing to expend the energy to pull it out and read the back cover. It’s probably a piece of enriching feminist literature I would absolutely adore, but instead of reading and enjoying, I’ll content myself to being annoyed with the ridiculous choice of words on the spine.

The source of my misplaced outrage is the very notion that someone would wait what could amount to many decades to wear a certain color. I have trouble imagining a circumstance where this would be a big deal unless one were randomly selected for the Hunger Games on this criteria. If that were the case I think I’d let the dream die rather than sit there as an old spinster in my eggplant hued shawl, trembling as I’m selected to engage in a life or death struggle. No thanks, I’m good here with my lime green hoodie. I also don’t care much for people who use ‘shall’ either. It sounds snotty, or like something the Queen of England would say, which I suppose is all one in the same.

OK, I’ll stop making fun of the book which is probably a fine, fine read. My point, now that I’m 40 years young (still so very clever after the 10 billionth utterance) and transitioning, I see absolutely no point to waiting to do anything. Within reason of course, like I can’t retire now and still expecting to eat and buy pretty things. I was asked recently, in a manner most snotty, why I couldn’t wait until my son is in college to transition. He’s four right now, so unless he’s a super genius of some kind, that’s a good 13 or 14 years away. That’s a really long time to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Einstein once explained the relativity of time to imagining 5 minutes passionately kissing or 5 minutes with your hand in a hot frying pan. Those are two very different 5 minutes! I’m pretty sure waiting would be akin to the latter, and would undoubtedly make me a pure delight to be around while the months ticked by with agonizing slowness. And waiting, I might add, for some benchmark to roll around that doesn’t actually change anything.

Aside from the unbearable discomfort, imagine my surprise if the rapture folks were somehow right and Jesus came back to whisk us all God knows where. If I waited only to be called over to eternity in dude mode, I would not be a happy camper. Oh, he and I would have some words. “First off you fuck up my order and bring me a burrito when I clearly wanted a taco, and now you are closing up shop before my order can be changed? Not cool man, not cool.” Well, I’m pretty sure I’d be back with the ‘left behind’ crowd anyway, and with any luck, so would my surgeon.

So there you have it, the title character in the book can wait until she’s a gramma to slip into some grape colored galoshes, but I’m not. One thing I’ve managed to learn so far is that there is never going to be a right time to do anything, so might as well do it now. Within reason of course; I’m not going to advocate putting a down payment on a yacht when your main income is from an assistant manager position at Arby’s. If you are certain transition is your inevitable path though, starting tomorrow isn’t going to be any easier than starting today.

Rites of Passage

I recently took issue with a blog post by a cis woman who was actively defending the exclusion of trans women retaining their original issue genitalia from a sky-clad ritual. I got a little hissy, but managed to keep it out of my reply. “Educate first Michelle, then throw the fit.” It’s a hot button topic for me. We ended up getting into a very productive back and forth, during which she gave me some things to think about, as well as a few good ideas. I wanted to share the best one first.  I have, by the way, come to admire her, and her blog is over at May We Dance Upon Their Graves – trigger alert, it’s for adult survivors of CSA.

It occurs to me that I might not be blazing a new trail here, but if so, I’ve not been made aware. As we transition, we do some pretty significant things along the way. Things that are really a big deal to us, fill us with overwhelming joy and a sense of accomplishment, and lead women like me to blog about them. Think about your first facial hair removal, the very first HRT treatment, the first person you came out to. Afterwards, filled with heady glee, you probably went home, looked in the mirror, shouted “yay me!”, then had some wine or well aged leftovers and went to bed. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I did. You know what though, that really, really sucks!

After I went on about trans women being excluded from acceptance in the greater world of womanhood, and she gave me some points I’ll get to addressing in another post, she suggested it might be a good idea to have menarche-type rituals to welcome us into womanhood at various significant milestones. I didn’t know what a “menarche” was, so I looked it up. The menarche has to do with a woman’s first menstrual cycle and using it as a cause to celebrate, unlike the olden days when she’d be stuck in a windowless hut decorated with skulls on the outskirts of the village. People like to whine about modern times, but seriously, I wouldn’t want to go back. True, no matter how we feel on the matter, none of us will ever menstruate, sad to say. It doesn’t mean that we still can’t find cause to celebrate out own trans unique passage and significant events.

While it is gratifying in its own way to have my face blasted with lasers or have my nipples suddenly feel like I’m wearing a sandpaper bra, it would be yet even better to celebrate these occasions with a small group of both trans and cis women who are willing to support and thus honor the event. I know many are isolated and the idea of a party at Red Lobster is nice but just won’t happen. At the very least we can probably arrange web based events, maybe once a month or once a quarter, in honor of those who can’t get together physically. I think this bears more discussion. Usually I consider commentary a “nice to have”, but here I’d really like to hear some thoughts.

Something I’ve noticed about the humans is that we sure seem to love our rituals. A girls Bat mitzvah, a boys first communion, a young Satanists first sacrificial cat, or an indigenous South American lad sticking his hand into a glove full of excruciating bullet ants; we do extraordinary things to mark the passage of time and periods of major growth. Our loved ones and communities celebrate with us. Laughing, cheering, showering us with gifts, and getting stupendously drunk. At least that is how we like it to be. Jokes aside, it’s important to the human spirit to have important passages memorialized and elevated above the wearisome hum drum of everyday life.

If we can have a party or even solemn ritual to mark the long awaited growth of breasts, or mastectomy for my brothers going in the other direction, we should do so. Hallmark is not going to invent these holidays, so they must come from we in the trans community. It doesn’t have to be every little thing, just a few things many or most of us experiences that bring joy to our hearts because something long awaited has happened.

I’m going to suggest a few ideas and again, feedback would be wonderful. This can only work if a lot of us think it’s a good idea and work hard to make them things instead of idle wishes.

Women:

  1. HRT letter
  2. Official coming out to everyone
  3. Initiation into womanhood
  4. A year lived full time as the right gender
  5. SRS

Men:

  1. HRT letter
  2. Official coming out to everyone
  3. The conference of male status
  4. A year lived full time as the right gender
  5. Top surgery

I’m sure there are other and better ideas of course. The male and female transitions take somewhat different routes, but if we make our milestones similar, the greeting card industry may be more likely to crank out a few offerings for the occasion. In my mind, the initiation into the right gender is a deep and meaningful ritual wherein we are welcomed by our cisgender counterparts. This will take some time to get off the ground, but well worth pursuing, especially with the help of the greater LGBT community. What we are doing is so very hard, with so much loss and sadness along the way. I think we could stand a little celebration of us here and there.

Conditions to Transition

I saw a newsfeed come up on Jenny Boylan’s FB updates that seemed to cause a lot of hullabaloo. Rather than get lost among the many dozens of commenter’s, I thought the notion deserved a little more thought than a quick “yeah!” or “here are 17 points of disagreement that will never be read”. Imagine, me with opinions! I’ve become such a cheeky lass in my middle age.

The big issue was that Jenny congratulated a FB trans friend for having the courage to decide not to transition, or at the very least delay it until a later date. Yes, yes, I can hear you gasp from way over here, but stay with me a moment, because it’s the reason behind the gasping outrage I would like to discuss. It does hit a nerve though, doesn’t it?

We all know no one transitions on a whim, waking up one morning, stretching, and thinking, “yeah, I think today I’ll start living as the gender other than the one I had been.” I can only speak for myself, but until I was able to come to terms with my identity, make the leap forward to do something about it, I was seriously starting to lose it. If I could look into a parallel dimension and view the me who decided to tough it out as a male, I’m very sure I would be looking at a wretched wreck of a human being, probably jobless and single but due to a much less amiable path. Ugh. No way! If it looks like I’m going out either way, I’m at least doing it as me. Those of you on the path of transition know what I’m talking about.

Here is why it strikes a discord when we hear of those who decided not to transition, or worse yet, changed their mind mid transition. It can be frightfully invalidating. After all the endless explanation to everyone affected by our transition, defending the absolute necessity in the face of all catastrophe, anyone can point to this person and say, “well, she didn’t have to do it, are you sure you did?” It was a real piece of work convincing yourself to begin with, then everyone else, and right there is an example to the contrary. It’s hard not to get rankled by the concept. It falls in parallel with a gay man saying he acknowledges his homosexuality, but is sticking with women.

Where I understand naary feelings this idea engenders, and I do get them as well, I also have to acknowledge that we don’t really know what it’s like to be in those shoes. In mortal terror of both the devil and the deep blue sea, sometimes going with the known evil is all a person can muster. They certainly aren’t doing it to give you a harder time with it all, but making the best possible decision in alignment with their capabilities. We know what it’s like to be hanging on by a thread, and sometimes that thread is all we have until the right time comes.

Did this person have courage to make this decision? I think so. Think about it and take your own sensibilities out of the picture, because really, aside from a little kick in the cred, it doesn’t mean much to you. They got to the point where they were able to admit being trans. They probably already told a whole lot of people about it. They may have begun the process. Then to go back and decide not to continue. Ugh! No one who knows is going to look at them the same again. Everyone is going to wonder when the shoe is finally going to drop. The specter of transition out of necessity to survive always lingering, just waiting for the right moment of mental weakness. It takes courage and grit to know thyself and chose the other path. I’m reasonably certain it is not any less bloody than our own, but without the benefit of at least being you. I don’t understand it. I just don’t have that. I can admit it sounds much harder than anything I would like to do though.

At the end of the day, no matter what our feelings are about it, this person is going to do what is best for their situation. Whether we agree, disagree, hate them, applaud them, or ignore it completely, it doesn’t matter. On that point I think we can all agree from experience.

My Name is Michelle, Dammit

“A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”, or so claimed old Bill Shakespeare. I wonder if he would have felt the same if he was born with one of those Dickensian names like Chuzzy Wuzzilwhillikers? I’m thinking no, no he would not. Norma Jean and dozens of other celebrities will also testify to this in their adoption of new monikers that are more suited for the spotlight instead of mopping up spilled Clamato in aisle 3. To those of us who were born trans and fitted with most unfitting names understand this very well. That’s why I’m Michelle, dammit.

When I was but a child and dressed, I did it because it felt more comfortable and correct, but never gave any thought to my name while doing it. Yes, I already had identity issues, but I was also under the assumption that certain things were immutable, like bodies and names. One would only change the latter if on the lam after being framed for some horrible crime. The closest I came in those days was to imagine a kind of secret identity sort of thing and used to fantasize about running around Kenmore at night as the Ghost in a white leotard and tights, fighting crime and letting villains and police alike mistake me for female and thus removing all suspicion from my household. I got as far as attempting to make a costume, but it didn’t turn out right and I never ventured forth, probably for the better. Don’t you look at me that way, I’ve already let on that I was a pretty weird kid, so nothing should surprise you anymore.

I didn’t decide to actually name my female self until college and dabbled with a lot of different M based names. I don’t know why, but it seemed important to keep the same initials at the very least, partially because I liked the way I could sign things as MW by connecting the last leg of the M with the first of the W. For a while it was a close call between Molly and Michelle as I liked both equally. In retrospect, I chose slightly better as I ended up with a Molly, and sharing the name would have been just strange. Not that it would have eclipsed the gender change or anything, but still. Instead, Michelle just felt right to me and is now one more thing I share with my mother in law.

One of the cool parts about transitioning is that you get to choose your own name. The downside is that people feel free to comment on your choice of name, where they never would have had you been labeled at birth, even if you got stuck with Hubert or Blanch. At least after middle school anyway. As with many trans, I picked the female equivalent of my original name. I liked my original name, but it just wasn’t quite a fit. It didn’t stop me from getting questions and critique though, including from my own mother who came right out and said she wasn’t a fan. Don’t even get her started on my middle name. With her though, I understand. She did pick out ‘Michael’ like 10 years before I was born, so I can’t help but feel sympathy and understanding, and I’d keep it if it didn’t make me stand out.

As this has turned into a rambling type post instead of having a clear agenda  or anything, I’d like to finish by saying names are often a dead giveaway in telling if a person is transsexual or a CD. Most trans usually won’t go with something ostentatious like  ‘Isabella Nylonluvr’ or ‘Chestity LaRue’, and instead stick with Diana, Christina, and of course, Michelle. There are exceptions of course, but it seems like a rare CD who goes with ‘Joan’ or trans who adopts ‘Bambi’. We seem to have much less a desire for the attention. At the end of the day though, it’s just a name, rose smelling or not. Just don’t call me Shelly.

Why I’m Not a Bitch

The whole idea of comparing a woman to a dog in order to be extra derogatory almost certainly came from a man*, and like all mean and demeaning things, it caught on quickly. While never intended to be exactly empowering, in recent years attempts to take the word back have been made with varying success. Adorable band geek Michelle in American Pie uses it to assert her sexual dominance over dorkalou Jason Biggs in a witty role reversal. Paris Hilton tried to make it as ubiquitous as “bro”, by using it on everyone leading it to achieve the same level of charm. All in all, for the most part, the original meaning as “you are like unto a thoroughly disagreeable crotch licking animal” continues to stand. So why do some trans women immediately begin shouting from the rooftops, “I’m a bitch!” upon starting transition?

Veering left for a second, I’m going to make a bold statement and say that I think the future of heterosexual sex would be in grave danger if men and women truly understood each other. It’s probably good that the misunderstandings persist as I believe they allow for procreation of the species and help avoid public screaming matches. Because of this, when a man calls a woman a bitch, she can soften the blow by assuming he is reacting out a complex emotional conflict and denied the use of a lengthier, more accurate description due to gender limitations. He of course really means nothing more than, “I think you are like a crotch licking animal”.

Here’s the thing. Cisgender women have no reason to know this. Trans women though… I don’t like it either, but none of us can deny that for a good chunk of our lives we were accepted as card carrying members of the great big sausage party. Behind the lines in disgusting places like locker rooms, we know what men really think in male only environments. I think it is why a lot of us have a hard time finding attraction there, no matter what our orientation would have been had we been born in the correct body. Getting to the point, we all understand that when a guy calls a woman a bitch, his intention is to be insulting and hurtful. So why do some insist on doing this?

Those of us who identify with one of the binary genders know that it is very desirable to our self esteem to be accepted by the cisgender versions of ourselves. For many trans women who feel they are female and not a third or separate gender, it feels very good to be considered to be one of the girls. I am one of them, and in the past I’ve complained much about when we are excluded on account of having been born different. I really hate it when the reason is given that we didn’t have girlhoods and therefore enjoyed a patriarchal favorable upbringing. I think this is false and mean in spirit. In some cases though, I kind of see their point.

We had it hard in our own way, but we were not victim to the same derogatory insults as cisgender girls. I can see cisgender women getting a little put out when we “take back a word” that was not hurled at us every time we offered a strong opinion. Unfair as it is, and regardless of our feminine equality to cisgender women, we can’t assume ownership of experiences we didn’t have. If a butch cisgender lesbian declared herself a “lady-boy”, we might find that a little offensive. If Mitt Romney, always a hillbilly in heart and mind, moved to Alabama and started pronouncing, “I’m a whiskey tango redneck, y’all!”, he could reasonably expect to get shot in the ass with rock salt.

The point is, yes, we are real women and it is right that we be accepted as such. At the same time, I think it would be better and more sensitive of us not to assume ownership of derogatory experiences we didn’t have. Lord knows, we have enough of our own to draw from if we want to take something back. Having someone call us bitches and really mean it like that isn’t one of them, so think we should respect our sisters and not use it.

*As referenced in my last post, a particular kind of man, ubiquitous** as they may be.

**Seriously Michelle, “ubiquitous” used twice in the same post? Ugh. Done for today.

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