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Monthly Archives: July 2013

So We Have Some “Trans-generational” Differences

GenerationsIt seems to be a lot easier to transition between genders than it is to transition between generations. I had a question posed to me by a reader the other day that got me thinking on the subject. Her concern was that the younger trans in her tribe generally neglected to invite her out, and she was attributing that to reasons of passability. My thought was that it had way more to do with the fact that they were decades younger and may have not wanted ‘mom’ or ‘grandma’ along as a big buzz kill. It got me thinking about the whole ‘trans-generational’ thing, so let’s talk about that for a minute.

Having crossed the dreadful line of 40, I acknowledge that I am now considered to be closing in on ancient to many of the younger folks. Whether this is true of not is relative, but I will admit that my cultural IQ does not do me any favors. I can’t name one song by the Jonas Brothers, Justin Beaver, or The Kardashian’s. I don’t know how to use my Twitter account. I just found out about ‘Rickrolling’ through CNN but don’t get the joke; I love that song. I still find ‘The Simpson’s’ fresh, edgy, and in your face. I really don’t know why I’m telling all of you this, it’s not like I don’t get made fun of enough. Regardless, there is a significant cultural divide between trans people my age and older, and those damn kids who pierce their ears with poker chips and won’t stay off my lawn.

In strictly trans terms, I think the biggest difference is that kids are now transitioning in their teens and early twenties and comparing themselves to those of us who spent decades cowering in terror that someone would find out our deep dark secret. Just to be clear, I think it is awesome that they have the opportunity to do this in a kinder, gentler atmosphere. Not that it’s necessarily easy, but the chances of being committed to an asylum or being legally charged under some arcane law have gone down considerably.

I have heard some of the younger set pile some derision on we ‘later in life’ transsexuals, salting their language with peppy little terms like ‘denial’ and ‘scaredy pants’. It’s difficult for them to understand trying to achieve self-awareness in the pre-internet days. The closest we often got to understanding people like us actually existed was spotting something in adult shops that not only were we too afraid to purchase, but really painted a grotesque picture of what our lives would be like if this ever got out. So we buried it deep within, and now paying the price of all the efforts we undertook to try to fix ourselves. It’s very much my hope that those days are quickly diminishing the rear view mirror.

At the same time, we who are so fortunate to transition well into the 21st century are having a very different experience than those who had to do so well before the turn of the millennium. Back when we were simply known as ‘she-males’, there were only a handful of medical and mental health professionals in the country who had an inkling we existed, and the only career choices were living petrified half-lives, working in the sex industry, or going destitute. These grand ladies, those of whom are gracious enough to share their stories, paint a very bleak and depressing picture of what enduring life really meant, if one was so brave as to choose to live through it.

The point of course is that it is too our advantage to appreciate while everyone’s transition experience is unique, there is also a generational component that flavors those experiences in yet another way. Rather than disdaining new, young, millennial trans as having it so easy, it’s better to appreciate the progress that has been made and that the cubs of our own tribe are here to receive the benefits of progress. There is equal value in appreciating what I hope is becoming an endangered species; the trans who lived decades in fearful silence. Finally it is most important to value the efforts for everyone who has walked this path before us, knowing it was considerably harder, but that the footfalls of countless unknown trans tramped the way smooth and forced channels through all the debris. In time we will all be a slice of history highlighting the rapid ascent from darkness into the light of society in general, and it’s so much more of a compelling story if we know each other in the here and now.

What I Think ‘Going Stealth’ Really Means

Face-off illegal personIf you are an ardent aficionado of crafty military technology, I promise you can keep on walking. Seriously, you are going to hate this. OK, now that he’s gone, I’ll clarify and say I’m talking about the whole concept of trans stealth. This is hardly original because over on Transadvocate they had a whole big Stealth Week. I found it as gripping as Shark Week, even though no seals were eaten. Though I was not specifically invited to participate, I decided to horn in on their gig and regale my disenchanted readers with my own thoughts on the matter.

For those of you who might not be familiar, going stealth commonly refers to trans people who have successfully transitioned and who have chosen to integrate fully into the right gender without being super up front about their past in another life. Attractive idea, yes? Over on TA, a lot of great thoughts on this were floated, most of which concluded this concept being a terrible idea. I wrote a few pieces on the subject myself in the past and decided it was time to kind of hone the concept in my own direction.

Some say stealth, and implied 100% passability are the ultimate goals for anyone undergoing gender transition. This is the holy or wholly grail of clean and clear authenticity. No one else needs to know because it was simply a matter of a personal medical condition that common sense suggests should not be advertised any more than a wicked case of the crabs long since eradicated. Others claim that living an authentic life means acknowledging the whole of that life, even the decades one wishes were better spent. We have a moral duty to our friends and lovers to let them know, not to mention to the trans tribe at large. Hiding ourselves behind a fabricated past is less palatable than feeling a wet spot next to the toilet absorb through your sock. You can pretend it’s something else while you are stuck sitting there, but deep down you know it’s piss.

For me stealth means something else, and passability isn’t even a factor. Stealth is achieved when we embrace a sense of self-assuredness and comfort with ourselves that allows us to interact with individuals, groups, and society at large where the apparent degree of our trans-ness is no longer a factor. Be clear, however, this does not mean that strangers will no longer stare, certain people will no longer treat us like shit, or that all dangers associated with being trans will disappear; more on that in a second. It does mean that being able to insert ourselves into personal relationships and social constructs where our being trans is not a defining factor. In this model a trans woman, comfortable in her female identity and successfully projecting that is able to relate to people and groups ideally as human to human, or at least woman to man/ woman/ child. This is what cisgender people do, aside from self-created ethno-religious categorization, but that is another ball of wax.

Here’s why I think that is the best model for the concept of stealth. There is a good chance that is the best we are going to do. I’m not convinced that there are many amongst us that are 100% passable. We may be to most people, but there always seem to be some who have that extra sensitive radar that at the very least invites questions. I also agree with some of the assessments over on TA that there is risk involved of being discovered, which in turn puts one right back in ‘living a life of deception’ mode, and really, I would think everyone would be sick and tired of that already. I know I am.

Just to clarify further, I’m not advising that it’s a good idea to lead off a dinner party conversation with a detailed blow by blow of your SRS (see note at the end), or walk into a ladies room and shout, “I used to have a wang, y’all!” You are going to have to use your best common sense judgment of where the line is between TMI and intentional denial of identity. We are trans, we will always be trans, and no matter what we do, if someone is determined enough, they can conclusively prove we are trans. Instead, our blending an assimilation into wider cis society is determined on who we are, how comfortable we are with ourselves, and what we say and do.

Did He Just Call Me a Monster?

Invisible MonstersLord knows I appreciate a title that has a little pizzazz and controversy, but it stops short when I and my demographic are referred to as “monsters”. Specifically, Invisible Monsters. The title was used by hard boiled author Chuck Palahniuk, a darling of the Maxim crowd with a nearly unpronounceable last name. Seriously, can someone tell me how to say that? The Wikipedia pronunciation guide spells it out in Cyrillic, something I also don’t know how to pronounce correctly. Not that I’m much better in English. Seriously, if you ever have the misfortune to hear me speak, I guarantee you come away confirming my suspected idiocy.

Invisible Monsters, without giving too much away because some of you may rush out to download it to your Kindle, is the tale of 2 social outcasts. One is the narrator who was shot in the face and had her jaw blown off. Her companion is an alleged transsexual, who unlike any trans woman I have ever met, decided to go with the very drag queen moniker of Brandy Alexander. Then again, Pala… Palahuk… whatever, has a habit of naming characters after liquor, so maybe it’s just that. Oh, it gets worse. Much worse. I’m reasonably sure if the fundamentalist right or RadFem debased themselves to read this, they would nod their heads and say, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Now is the part where I’m going to give some stuff away, but not the big shocker of a twist ending. If you want to stop reading and go devour the novel before coming back, I totally won’t hold it against you. Seriously, I won’t even know. My contract with the NSA just went sour. The evolution of a young runaway into (not kidding here) The Queen Supreme, is worthy of any given troll on a website comments section. By the way, is it too much to ask to have trolls here at Michellelianna? Instead I get all these lovely, well thought out and reasoned comments that never seem to inspire a rage and bile chunked vomit of responses. I digress.

Brandy’s story begins with a young gay male who is sexually molested by both his father and a policeman. I can’t believe he didn’t manage to work a priest in there, but this was drafted before that whole ball of evil came to world consciousness. After running away, he is eventually taken in by 3 drag queens who adopted the performing name, The Rhea Sisters. I remember one of them going by ‘Dia’ and another by ‘Gona’. Get it? Ugh. Under their care, young Brandy is convinced to transition with the sister’s paying for all the operations and somehow circumventing WPATH all together. Now here is the real kicker. Brandy went along with this even though she doesn’t consider herself transgender! She’s simply looking for a new identity because she doesn’t care for the old one. Holy shit.

To put all the pieces together, transsexuals are the result of child sex abuse and homosexuality, who have been influenced and cajoled to transition by other trans as a means to adopt a new identity. Is it possible that Chuck Palooka.. [whatever!] and Shelia Jeffrey’s are really one in the same? I understand he’s a writer who likes to push the edges, which is fine, but his portrayal is akin to me writing a book about cabal of Jewish elders in cahoots to poison wells, steal Christian children for their blood and openly gloat how they managed to off Jesus as they polish their horns. I believe strongly in free speech, but some things are just not cool. Sure, it was the first thing he wrote and the public was still very much in the dark, but he just released a remix of the work without any tweaking in this area.

Should we rise in protest? Write angry letters to the publisher or even the author? Um, no. Our time is much better served educating the public on what the truth really is rather than nitpicking with someone who is only going to claim artistic license or character-specific, non-global circumstances. I just thought you all should know in case you were browsing for literature under the keyword ‘transgender’ and in for a nasty surprise. One of his other works, Rant, I found to be both very clever and entertaining, so go figure.

Why a Transgender Racist Makes No Sense

Racist catNow that racial tensions are good and high again as a result of the Zimmerman verdict, I thought now would be a good time to spit a mouthful of kerosene on that fun little fire. I was just reading an article on how people in general don’t seem to have a whole lot of “race empathy”. This isn’t so much empathizing with a particular racial demographic on a whole, but having the ability to put oneself in the position of someone of a different race, especially when controversy arises. My personal experience, however, is that trans people seem to be way better than average at this. Let’s talk about that today because let’s face it, we’ll grasp at any straws to feel a little better about ourselves.

I’ll get the inevitable disclaimer over quickly. Lord knows if I don’t, there will be comments about isolated trans people who are real dingleberries when it comes to bigotry. Every demographic has members we all kind of wish identified as something else, but ignorance and prejudice know no boundaries. I’m also going to throw in the disclaimer that “race” itself doesn’t even truly exist, but instead is dubious classification system based on superficial external characteristics with extremely fuzzy boundaries. Nevertheless, people created this system and insist on treating it as if it’s real, so it exists by common consensus, much like we all agree that Jennifer Aniston is  good actress, even though she always plays ‘Rachel’.

In my time so far with both the local and global trans communities, I have not yet encountered any racial insensitivity. For the most part, race, religion, national origin, social status and education level do not seem to be factors by which people tend to differentiate themselves. While I have heard that the experience of being African-American and trans tends to be somewhat more difficult, the data generally supports this, so the discussion is simply about a real situation and not a point of divisiveness. Why is that?

My own theory, and you all knew I had one, is that when something so core as gender is under question in someone’s mind, the other ways in which we categorize ourselves seems pretty unimportant and fade into the background static. Living in Buffalo, I’ve come to notice that the large Italian population here has a habit of almost immediately working it into the conversation that they are Italian under the supposition that being named Rocco Scaloppini and wearing a ‘Viva Italia!’ tee shirt wasn’t enough. While there are trans people I have met who may be Italian, or even ethnic Tajik, which would be interesting because few outside central Asia have heard of them, no one has bothered to identify themselves as such. We have more important matters to discuss, like where someone else is having electrified needles shoved into their facial follicles and how much it hurts.

On the flip side of that, and reinforcing this concept, is that people who encounter us generally have no interest in our rich Tajik heritage. All they are interested in is what gender we are supposed to be and possibly some of the juicy details about what we are contemplating doing to ourselves down there. Like there aren’t enough YouTube videos on the subject. While we wish people would treat us ‘normally’, being asked ethnic, religious or other cultural based questions doesn’t seem to be high on our list of priorities. It seems like fluff and doesn’t seem to matter much.

I see it all as being a function of Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid, which is taught and immediately forgotten by everyone who took a social sciences class or was subjected to corporate management training. To sum it up, you have to take care of the big shit at the bottom first before really giving a flying canoodle about the stuff above until that is sorted out. In Maslow’s version, it’s your basic food, clothing, shelter, and iPhone, before moving up to ‘nice to have’s’ like love, friendship, more things that start with ‘i’, and spirituality, etc. On ours, gender is at the base and everything else is built on that, but seriously, who has the energy to really give a toss? Trying to put that foundation down is so onerous, many of us are comfortable living in a single level and think the view is just fine.

It would be interesting to know what the outcomes of racially charged trials like Zimmerman or OJ would have been had the chosen a color indifferent trans jury. We don’t care what your ethic/ cultural/ social/ religious identification is, unless it matters to you and you want to talk about it, and then we are happy to listen.

Now, just for fun, some comment themes I would imagine this would generate were this site regularly visited by trolls:

1. I’m inherently racist for even bringing this up because if I truly didn’t care, it would not have occurred to me.

2. I protesteth too loudly, covering for a malicious and hate filled heart.

3. Angry Italians, identifying themselves as such, who claim they never do that.

4. Ethnic Tajiks, just happy to finally get a shout out.

5. People attempting to convince that ethnicity does matter and why, falling back on the standard “everyone knows that [blank] really just want [something negative]”.

6. Something negative to balance out a bit of niceness regarding trans culture, such as our evil patriarchal conspiracy to subjugate women by volunteering to be treated like shit.

7. Advertisements for cheap, generic Viagra proving spammers really do have a sense of humor.

A Smear of Trans Blood on the Glass Ceiling

A Smear of Trans Blood on the Glass Ceiling.

A Smear of Trans Blood on the Glass Ceiling

glass-ceilingMy forehead is still trickling a bit of blood and the bruising hasn’t quite subsided all the way just yet. I should have seen it coming, but didn’t. I mean really, I’ve talked about it, written about it, and joked about it and still ambled on in my merry way until I smacked right into that invisible barrier head first and fell to my knees. In my defense, it was a lot closer than I had expected it to be, and someone had cleaned it so perfectly that I never even got a glare of reflection. Some sticky fingerprints or dead birds laying around it would have been nice. That way one might think twice before making a great leap of faith and end up crumpled on the floor ashamed and just a little bit broken. Should I not have expected that being trans? Let’s talk about that a little bit.

I’ll be flat out honest here. I have no idea whatsoever if my gender identity was much or at all a factor in what happened. It could just have easily occurred if I went for the position as ‘Michael’ and I would have been just as surprised and crushed. I have no reason to think it because the company has been great and very supportive of my transition and I do not feel like I have been discriminated against in any way, shape or form. At the same time no one really knows what lurks in the hearts of others, and I was reasonably (no, paranoid) sure that some members of the interview panel are a little uncomfortable in my presence. These are things I will never really know, but it does make me wonder.

I decided to do some intense research on the subject and posed a half-assed question on the Association of Transgender Professionals Facebook page. If anyone would know about glass ceilings and career stagnation, it was this mighty collective of transgender corporate acumen. The overall theme of the responses was “Consider yourself lucky you have a job”, “Get used to the view, you aren’t going any higher”, and “Have you considered an exciting career in fast paced over-the-phone sales?”. Ugh. Fuck that. Not just the last one; all of it.

As trans people, many, if not most of us, sustain significant blows to our sense of self-worth simply as a function of our existence. Even aware of this, I consistently rate myself far lower than my peers and superiors  rate me in any type of feedback and often feel unworthy even when there is no justification for it. I’m sure this is also one of the factors that contribute to the high suicide rate. While some consider this putting on an air of victimization, in reality it has more to do with feeling wrong in one’s own skin for years and decades, followed by the ubiquitous stares and awkwardness that follow transition. Even the most robust of egos is not immune to such a Chinese water torture of subtle but persistent pounding. Knowing this, however, begs the question; are we unintentionally limiting ourselves, or worse, shooting ourselves in the foot?

While there is no doubt whatsoever that being trans carries with it negative connotations in the minds of others who have the power to limit or empower our success, I have to wonder if we are often complicit in steadily boosting them up while that ceiling is being installed. Is it not then possible that with confidence and conviction in our own intelligence, skill, experience, and talent that are completely exclusive of our trans state of being, we can overcome the innate obstacles external perceptions bring? I’m not going to lie to you here; I really like this idea. Yes, it bites that misinformation and prejudice persist regarding who and what we are, but so many other demographics, different in superficial characteristics alone, have managed to push past being entrapped by complacent acceptance of other’s opinions.

I am still sore and bleeding. I do still feel the tilt of the world that is making it difficult to feel steady on my feet. I’m also getting up and dusting myself off, just a wee bit smarter than the day before. I lost that round and it hurt, but I’m not close to being done fighting. Whether I decide to make another great leap up where I’m standing at this moment, or choose to shift to the side, pick another target and move so quickly they never see me coming, I’m not giving up. I will never accept that this is the best I’m ever going to do when I know I can do more. The shackles of my own making are coming off; they are doing me no good. I will not yield.

Stuck In the Middle With You

stuck%20in%20the%20middle%20with%20youAfter I begged for a review copy of Jenny Boylan’s 10th anniversary edition of She’s Not There, I received a pleasant surprise in the box. Also included was a hardcover copy of her newest offering, Stuck In the Middle With You: Parenting in 3 Genders. Now, I’ve come to notice that my book reviews are about as popular as my mother-in-law when she cracks open a can of sardines on the plane, but I can’t let this go without saying something about it. After all, it was pretty fantastic.

The format of Stuck (what I’m going to call it in lieu of the usual convention of using the acronym SITMWY:PI3G for economy of letters) ran a little differently than She’s Not There in a few ways. For one, instead of a strictly linear narrative, there are interviews with several personages of greater or lesser note on the topic of parenting. I thought these were good additions to the topic, but I’ll speak more on them later. The rest was a direct continuation of the first work, though this time with names reverted back to original to unprotect both the innocent and directly affiliated. Fortunately she explains this well enough that even the most easily confused among us can follow.

I’m going to start with a huge positive about this work. For those of us who have been through, are in the middle of, or contemplating transition, the Jenny we met in She’s Not There was the cats ass in the transgender world. While suffering the same dysphoria most of us are familiar with, she still managed to survive, marry and stay with her partner, and worked her way into stellar career as professor, departmental co-chair, and author. Add to this that she seems to have achieved total passability microseconds after kicking off transition, and got to go on Oprah. In Stuck, however, we get to see a different side of Jenny that I found far more gratifying and endearing.

In her new work, she is willing to show her vulnerability in issues outside of transition allowing the reader, or at least myself, to have a far easier time identifying with her. Aside from living what would appear to be a picture perfect life in a very non-Stevenkingesque Maine making delicious sounding pizza all the time, she recounts struggles that many of us are well familiar with. Children who bring us to the edge of insane rage, the feeling of having one’s heart walking around outside their body and seeing it crash into a gully, and even the temptation breach years of celibacy out of a yearning to finally test drive the new equipment. Where we admire and seek to be like the Jenny from She’s Not There, we can feel like the Jenny in Stuck really is one of us.

The interviews I have mixed feelings about. Each of them explored a different aspect of the parenting experience and came from very different points of view. While each was enlightening in and of itself, I did feel that a few of them only had the most loose affiliations with the overall theme of the book. While gold in a general book about perspectives in parenting, some shown through as tarnished silver in a book that sold itself as being about parenting in 3 genders as the subtitle suggests. My favorite was the interview with Dr Christine McGinn, and I’ll be honest, I skipped ahead and read this first before anything else. I can also admit I’m biased here as she is going to be doing my surgery this fall, and any insight I can get about someone who is going to poking and snipping around in an area I’m super sensitive about is going to make me feel better.

Her writing, as always, is very engaging and continuously invites the reader to keep moving forward without resorting to hackneyed tactics like cliff-hangers. She paints a vivid picture with her words, and there is great clarity of what she is trying to convey. At the same time, the material is very thought provoking, allowing the readers to imagine themselves in her shoes, creating a minor conflict as whether to continue reading on or ruminate for a little bit. I like this because it’s suited for any mood; something harder to accomplish than commonly acknowledged.

This book is very much for you if you are transgender, transgender with children, or simply a parent of any gender demographic. The common experience translates across all. If any of these are you, I would highly recommend picking this up and having yourself an enjoyable and educational read. If you are confirmed childless, single, or either and cisgender, this may not hold your interest to the same degree as the aforementioned populations. It is not for me to say you will not gain anything from this as I think it would broaden your horizons and worldview, but I can’t guarantee the same level of enjoyment if the material is too foreign. I would imagine very few readers of this blog fall into that category, but still.

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