Robyn's Perch

Friday, April 20, 2007


I've been watching the news and listening to all the commentary about the shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas. As a resident of Arkansas for the past 14 years, how could I not? As a parent of a child that attended school in Arkansas, how could I not? As a teacher who often teaches potential teachers, how could I not?

As much as I hate the idea of using the deaths of children as a platform for politics, I have to say my piece. Someone has to tell the truth. The truth is not being heard, in my opinion.

First of all, I am tragically shocked that the major issue discussed immediately after this profound act of violence in one of our schools is punishment. What kind of a society is this? Shouldn't our first concern be seeing that it doesn't happen again? Instead there are people trying to figure out how these two boys can be tried as adults so that they can be given the death penalty or at least locked away for the rest of their lives. This is insane. These are children we are talking about. A society so fixated on punishment is sincerely warped.

The politicians and the media and religious types have been busy trying to affix blame. They point their fingers everywhere but where it belongs. They apparently don't know how to point at themselves.

Knowing that the National Rifle Association is very prevalent in this state, everyone has been extremely careful not to insinuate that there was anything wrong with these boys having access to guns from their earliest years. But you know, if there hadn't been guns and ammunition so readily available, this couldn't have happened. I am sickened by reporting that talks about what an expert shot one of the boys was. Maybe if he hadn't have been such a good shot, some of those children or that teacher might still be alive.

The governor of Arkansas blames society. Understanding this conservative Christian preacher's political position, I'm sure that his intention is to blame what he perceives to be a permissive, ungodly society. Given his druthers, he'd have our students praying in the schools, as if this wouldn't have happened if students were allowed to pray. But this misses the mark. These boys were "good Christian boys" by all accounts. I imagine that they have done a lot of praying. Reports are that they are sure doing a lot of praying now. You can't blame "Godlessness" for this act. It was the product of a godly upbringing.

Yes, there is too much violence on television. We all know that. There's especially too much violence in video games targeted at young boys. But the society that I have been immersed in since I moved here in 1984 worships violence on the football field. Is rooting for the good guy to kill the bad guy on television any different from rooting for the best player on the other team to get injured so that your team will have a better chance to win? Success at this close relative to blood sports is so highly worshipped that two players for one high school team were publicly slapped on the wrist for having sex a girl much their junior...and all most people seemed to worry about was whether or not they would be allowed to
play in the state tournament.

It is apparently the fact that one of these boys in Jonesboro was dumped by a girl at the school. Isn't it morally wrong that we live in a society that diminishes the value of a woman or a girl to the point a male can deem her life to be worthless if she doesn't want him anymore? Less than two days after the schoolyard killings, a man went on a killing spree in another part of this state, killing his ex-girlfriend and a visiting woman friend and three children, all because he was rejected. This heterosexual violence has got to stop.

Women have intrinsic value. Placing limits on that value does harm to our society. That, to me, is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it's a minority opinion in this part of the South, where conservative Christianity with its ideal of male supremacy predominates. What are the Promise Keepers doing to end male-on-female violence? Maybe brains are scarce around here.

Blame has been directed at the families of these boys, implying that the parents or grandparents must have done something wrong in raising the boys that caused them to act as they did. You don't know how much that scares me, for I would hazard to guess that these boys were raised no differently than most boys in rural Arkansas. I sincerely hope that parents around the state are doing some soul-searching, but I'll bet not. It's too hard to put the faces of their own family members on this incident.

I have been particularly upset by the conflicting reports that on the one hand these were good boys with no history of problems, that there were no warning signs, and on the other hand that the boys were bullies. This is all too familiar. As a parent of a daughter who is both gay and large, I know the way bullies are handled in our schools, not just in Arkansas, but across the nation. The reaction of school officials to reports of abuse, both verbal and physical, based on real or perceived difference in sexual orientation or abuse because of size or abuse directed at students with disabilities or abuse because of economic status or abuse based on a myriad of other factors all too often is "boys will be boys"...except perhaps when the reaction is "girls will be girls."

We do our children no favors by telling them that they are supposed to withstand torture in our schools in order to become worthwhile adults. Allowing abuse of any child in our schools, for any reason, reinforces the hate-filled culture we find ourselves living in. But it is allowed. Too many adults at too many schools, if not actively promoting hatred directed at certain groups, are turning their backs on the results of that hatred.

No, this has not been without warning. There has been lots of warning, from organizations such as Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, from women's groups and minority groups of all stripes. What is true is that those warnings have been ignored.

In another corner of Arkansas, in another college town, a high school student named Willie Wagner was abused so often and beaten so badly, just because he is gay, that he eventually had to drop out of school. Officials at the high school did nothing.

At a school near the one Willie used to attend, a girl was assaulted because her parents are lesbians. Officials at that school blamed the parents. From their statements, they apparently believe the child deserves the abuse because her parents are different. Things would be much better if her parents just stopped being lesbians. Isn't that absurd?

In the capitol city of Little Rock, another gay high school student was forced to change schools because the school he was attending failed to protect him from harassment. Isn't that dereliction of duty?

Gay and lesbian children have been thrown out of their so-called Christian families all around this state. This is child abuse, isn't it?

Too many self-proclaimed "Christian" people believe that tolerance for diversity is a sin. The major denomination in this state believes that it must target any group that practices either tolerance toward, acceptance of, or support for diversity in our community with either the fact of or the threat of economic boycott. Other denominations also wish to limit the rights of women and homosexuals, of people holding different spiritual beliefs and immigrants to this country who have different cultural practices. The most direct place one can view the results of this policy is in our schools.

Doesn't this position encourage hatred? Is it really surprising that where hatred is nourished, violence is a result? Isn't it time for us to act?

We live in a country that professes that every child has the right to an education. Speaking as a teacher for the last 22 years, let me assure you that if a child doesn't feel safe, then that child is not getting the education s/he deserves. If we as a society allow the harassment of ANY child because someone thinks it is deserved, then we have failed. No child deserves to be picked on, for any reason, and we must begin to teach that in the schools. We need to teach it from day one. School must be a place to bring people together, not tear them apart. School officials have the responsibility to take an active part in that process. They must end the attitude that blames the victim, for the sake of the victim, to be sure, but also for the sake of the perpetrator, as well as for the sake of society. Society doesn't need more bullies.

As I said up front, I find it distasteful to use the deaths of children as a political forum. But the truth must be told.

--Robyn Elaine Serven
--March 27, 1998

Permission to use is granted upon notification of the author.

Thursday, July 20, 2006



The first three or four months of my transition had me very angry. I don't like being angry...but when people step on my toes, I tell them it hurts...and I tend to tell everyone else about it, too.

Anger is something I have always tried to avoid in my life, to the extent that I would keep quiet about my anger. That's not a healthy have to let the anger out somewhere.

People still call me "he" or "sir" from time to time. I smile and correct them. If it is repeated, I ask them to reexamine their words. If they still do it, with no sign of regret for the "slip," then I take it as intentional. People who do such things will hear about it...but perhaps not in the way they want... instead of me yelling or screaming, I ask to talk to their supervisor. If I get no apology, I ask for that person's supervisor. I'm prepared to go as high as it takes to get that apology, but I do require it. Supervisors don't like to handle this type of stuff, and it is not me they get angry at, but the people who gave me the crap in the first place. That is my intention.

Getting angry with people just reinforces their feelings about you. That's what I learned. And showing anger leads to more situations in which you will get angry, because there are a lot of people who will use your anger against you.

I was not "successful" in my transition until I learned to let go of the feel the pain that causes it and to learn to own that pain. It made me a better person, I think.

That doesn't mean that I don't speak out about injustices done to me or anyone else anymore. I just try to do so in a more reasoned choose my words better and use the words, not volume, to express my anger.

One always has to keep in mind who one's friends are. Getting angry at them isn't a good idea. Just because someone is angry continually doesn't mean hir transition is successful. Sure, s/he may get people to stay out of hir leave hir alone...but angry people don't make friends easily. I don't know about you, but friends are important to me now, in a way they never were before. For some reason, people like me now that I have mellowed. That anger from before is in control, to be used sparingly, like cayenne. Too much of it is not a good thing.

We survive transition by showing everyone what better people we have become.

People often work from a lack of knowledge. Instead of getting angry with someone that exhibits their ignorance about us, even to the point of being offensive, perhaps sharing some knowledge that we ourselves have would seem a more useful tack. If all everyone does is get angry at that person, his or her opinion of us will not change...perhaps it would deepen into worse feelings.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Review

Bernice Hausman, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender, Duke University Press, 1995.

It has always bothered me when someone writes a book that attacks the being of people with a different outlook on existence. It frustrates me a whole lot more when the person writing the text does so in the name of philosophy, cultural anthropology or sociology. When that person espouses her opinions without having all the facts, it makes me sad. But when the author doesn't have all the facts because she has failed to do her homework, it makes me angry.

Ms. Hausman has indeed done some homework in writing this tome. Anyone needing to know about the history of gender in the first two thirds of this century will find it quite useful, provided they can get past the way she has chosen to emphasize certain aspects of the discourse. The problem is that she uses this "history" as she has constructed it to vilify a group of people. Her goal, as near as I can tell, is to contribute to the deconstruction of gender. What is sad is that she truly seems to believe that the way to do this is to destroy the being of transsexual people.

The best thing about this text, from my admittedly biased position as a transsexual woman, is that it is such a difficult read that very few people are going to struggle through it. Ms. Hausman never uses a small word where a big one will do. And none but the heartiest gender theorist is likely to comprehend her chain of logic (or illogic, as the case may be). Unfortunately, that is still too many people in my opinion.

The author's point, I gather, is that if it weren't for the existence of transsexual people and intersexual people (which I will identify as a group by the term "gender variant") and the medical and psychological professionals who studied them in the earlier in this century, the modern concept of gender would not exist. And eradication of the concept of gender and gender stereotypes is considered a Good Thing in Ms. Hausman's view.

Ms. Hausman seems to view transsexualism as some sort of monolithic evil because of the way it reinforces gender stereotypes. The fatal flaw in her vigorous attack, however, lies in her unadulterated stereotyping of transsexual folk. The use of stereotyping to counter the existence of stereotypes hardly seems to be a rational approach. It strikes me rather as an academic way of saying "So's your mama!" Time and again, the author misses the point since she has already decided what her conclusion is going to be and refuses to let anything (such as fairness or facts) stand in her way. I can only hope that other readers find the text as truly distasteful as I did.

I am truly amazed that the author could spend as much time and effort studying the phenomenon of gender variance as she obviously did in producing this work and yet could gain so little insight into actual gender variant people. But the reason why this happened is clear. Ms. Hausman studied gender variance by reading the works of non-gender-variant people which described the phenomenon (1). This is rather like studying the inhabitants of colonized areas by restricting oneself to reading the works of the colonialists. To be sure, Ms. Hausman did read some autobiographies by transsexual people, but none of these were published more recently than 1979, though she did acknowledge in an epilogue reading Kate Bornstein's book, "Gender Outlaw: on men women and the rest of us." Unfortunately, she did not apparently notice how this last text might have opened the door to a new line of study which might have invalidated some of her major points and allowed the book to be published anyway, including only a weak and defensive argument in the epilogue.

The stereotype about transsexual people that the author finds most irresistible is the notion that they change sex to be heterosexual (while at the same time she describes them as primarily asexual...she never seems to quite get a handle on this paradox). She claims that gender variant folk claiming an identity separate from that of homosexuals is nothing short of homophobic. Her perception of this heterosexism of transsexual people is central to her theory. It was indeed disheartening to discover that the author had spent so much of her time burying herself in theory written by non-transsexual people that she apparently failed to discover the one glaring fault in her logic, a fault that she would surely have discovered had she conversed or corresponded (or wished to know, for this knowledge would certainly have ruined her project) with any actual transfolk: while we don't have any actual figures, it is probable that more than half of transsexual men and women identify post-transition as lesbian, gay or bisexual (indeed the author must have known this from reading Bornstein's book, but she fails to mention it even in the epilogue). This fact is definitely not available from reading the works on her reading list. It was the people who wrote these works that were in large part homophobic. Gender variant people knew it then and know it now. It is the reason that they preferred not to discuss their sex lives and were hence labelled as being asexual by these researchers (which explains the paradox addressed above). After all, a male-to-female transsexual person who identified as a lesbian and a female-to-male transsexual person who identified as gay *would not* be accepted as a patient by these folks. Thankfully, times have changed. Unfortunately, Ms. Hausman's research did not reveal this change(2).

Another bone of contention I have with Ms. Hausman's work (I will not counter them all, or this review would approach the length of her text(3)) is rather more theoretical. She claims that a concept cannot exist before it is named. I find this a rather alarming statement coming from a supposed academic mind. If the concept does not exist, it surely cannot be named! Specific to her work, the concept that she approaches in this manner is that of "gender" as being separate from "sex" first and "gender role" second.

Ms. Hausman claims that it wasn't until the mid-1950s that John Money defined the concept...and that before that life was good, from what I am given to understand. It may very well be true (I have no doubt that Money lays claim to being the man who coined the term in this context, but one wonders what took him so long). After all, there were so-called sex-change operations earlier than 1955, so surely the concept must have existed in *some* minds. And I have no doubt that the concept of gender, if not its label, existed in the minds of gender variant people far before Money's definition. Medical doctors and psychologists do not just make up terms out of whole cloth. They see a condition and they attempt to label and describe it (being, as they are, so conditioned by the nature of their education).

Ms. Hausman attacks transfolk for their use of the terminology that the medical/psychological establishment used to describe their condition. While I agree with her that transsexual people tend to pattern their self-descriptions based on this terminology (to the point that some transfolk have even reinvented their histories to match the terms(4)), I rather think that the reason for this is that it was the only vocabulary that allowed transfolk and the doctors to communicate. Surely Ms. Hausman herself encountered difficulty in describing gender variant people using a language that did not include words to describe more than two sexes/genders(5). The author is apparently complaining that those early gender variant people did not develop their own vocabulary. This is tantamount to insisting that our community be nothing less than linguistic geniuses from the very outset. We *are* developing our own vocabulary, given the constraint imposed on us of being able to communicate with the society around us. If we have in someway hijacked terminology that she thinks should be used in other ways, then let her join in our discussions. We are, if anything, highly flexible people.

The author does in truth point out some disturbing trends among transsexual people. It is indeed true that we read whatever we can find about our condition in order to learn about ourselves and all too often we rely on the the conclusions drawn in those writings to describe our own existence, rather than speaking our individual truths. Largely this is because we must develop the vocabularity to discover our commonality, but we sometimes do tend to go overboard. We do not have to all be the same anymore, as was once the case. And some of us are addicted to surgical intervention to change more than our genital morphology. And some of us claim unknown, perhaps even unknowable, biological sources for our condition instead of just accepting that we are the way we are because that is how we feel (which, to my way of thinking, is not a bad thing...since when are feelings and convictions inherently evil?). And some of us, to our shame, *are* probably even homophobic. We are just people, perhaps not like everyone else, but people nonetheless. We have our faults and we have our virtues. It woul have be nice if Ms. Hausman had spent some time examining some of those virtues.

We did not construct gender roles. They existed long before we began upsetting the binary gender apple cart. Nor do we monolithically reinforce them. There is no such thing as the typical transperson. While it is true that all too often we are willing to be stereotyped, willing to phrase our truths in the terms that doctors and therapists need to hear in order to get the type of treatment we desire, our lives do not end when we have surgery. To target the period of our lives spent pursuing our dreams against an often unfriendly society is equivalent to blaming us for any maltreatment we may receive. Too often we have seen feminists jump on this bandwagon and Ms. Hausman has seen fit to join in with this transbashing.

That Ms. Hausman does so while purporting to be a truly enlightened academic is truly unfortunate.

Robyn Elaine Serven, Ph. D.
University of Central Arkansas (at time of review)
Bloomfield College (now)

(1) To be sure, Ms. Hausman does mention visiting a conference sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) in 1991. That she failed to understand that the IFGE is primarily run by non-transsexual people but is rather much more dominated by transvestites is truly regrettable.

(2) Yes, the author did visit an IFGE conference, which she found to be quite homophobic. I attended the organization's 1996 convention and came away with the same sense. Perhaps the fact that most of the participants were in fact heterosexual, as transvestites are known to predominately be, might explain this.

(3) Among them are her use of outdated statistics, such as the fact male-born transsexual people outnumber their female-born brothers by a ratio of 8:1, though she does mention that it is converging. In fact, the ratio is approximately 1:1 and has been for some time. Assumption of the statistic she mentions, however, allows her to further marginalize our female-born brothers by eliminating them from much of her discourse. Like Janice Raymond and other anti-transsexualists, it is the male-born transfolk who are to be the main target of their declamations.

(4) The author also stresses cases in which gender variant people have *lied* and the description of transsexual people as being consumate prevaricators that exists in much of the early literature. Again, given the homophobic and transphobic (Money himself at one time separated transfolk into two groups, one which he labelled "criminal transsexuals") nature of the so-called "care givers," I believe such past licentiousness with our truths at least understandable. It is my hope that more and more of us are forgoing this unfortunate ritual.

(5) I personally found some of the author's use of pronouns while describing gender variant people to be offensive.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006



When I first went to see Kurt, I was a real basket case. I knew the shit was going to hit the fan at school and consequently that I had no idea of what the future held for even the next day. I was highly stressed because of that, emotionally glued to a relationship that was falling apart, and quite angry at both myself and the rest of the world that I had waited until I was 44 years old before seeking help. To be honest, the only thing that was keeping me going was the knowledge that the alternative of death would at least end the pain I was feeling and that it was perfectly alright to check out whenever I wanted or needed to.

I think my first words to Kurt were something like: "I know I am transsexual. I didn't come here to have you tell me that. I understand that I am required to have a therapist for at least a year before I can have surgery. While I am here, we may as well use the time wisely talking about the fact that I grew up in an emotionally abusive home because my father was an alcoholic, that I grew up in the wrong gender, and that I have been in an abusive marriage for the last 23 years." My tone expressed anger, I'm sure, because that is what I felt.

Remarkably, Kurt didn't toss me out of his office. He smiled that little buddha-like smile of his and spoke to me calmly. By the end of that first hour, I knew that I had found a true friend, someone who would hold on to me while my world was shattered to bits.

Over the course of our meetings, first weekly and then later every two weeks, Kurt told me about himself and his philosophy of life. I knew that he was gay. Ralph had told me that. He told me he was buddhist and I found that to be an unexpected bonus. He told me that he had treated only two transsexual people in the first 18 years of his practice, but that in the time surrounding my first visit to him, he had four transsexual patients. I never asked and never found out who the others were. When I found that out, I started bringing Kurt little tidbits of information that I gathered. When I got online, that grew to a steady stream. He provided me with information in return that he got from other sources, always asking for my comments on them as he picked my brain about my thoughts on my condition.

At the same time, we dealt with the issues I stated at the beginning. Additionally, he helped me eliminate my driving and money phobias. I had not been a driver ever, having only once had a driver's license, during my time in the army, when not passing the military driving test would have resulted in me being sent to infantry school and sent onward to Vietnam. Kurt helped me change I love to drive.

His examination of my relationship led him to remark that it was the most abusive one he had ever seen and that my behavior was the worst case of codependency he had ever seen. Much of the problem stemmed from my phobia about money which we discovered traced back to my having to lie on the phone to creditors about my parents being home. When I married, I let my wife handle the money, which was like letting Imelda Marcos have access to the Home Shopping Network. My wife was a user of people and lived in a reality where everything existed merely for her benefit and she required someone else to bail her out of trouble when everyone else's reality collided with hers. My life job had been to keep her out of trouble, to pay for her mistakes, to shield her so that her reality could exist. With Kurt's help, I learned to untangle the poisonous vines that had bound the two of us together for so long.

I have memories of some of the days I spent visiting with Kurt that will be forever etched in my mind. I remember the day he had his first "breakthrough" to understanding what it was like to be me. That was when he realized that even though I was 45 at the time, I was going through puberty and that needed to be factored in to our discussions. I remember the surprise on his face the first time he realized that I was a lesbian. The look was priceless...I don't believe I have ever physically seen a jaw drop before except in cartoons. I remember the first time I wore a shortish skirt to his office, when he admired my legs. I remember discussing life and death with him, from my taoist perspective and his buddhist one. I remember the times when he would be playing his piano when I arrived. But mostly I remember his hugs at the end of the sessions. He was one of the best huggers ever.

Towards the end of our sessions together, his health started deteriorating. While at a buddhist retreat in California, he had to be rushed to a hospital for emergency stomach surgery. He had to cancel a Caribbean cruise because he was sick. Our visits became a bit more special to me. He never told me exactly what his condition was, but I knew. I could see the AIDS literature in his living room while I waited for him to finish with another patient in the den. I saw the condolence cards that he received from his friends. None of them said, "Get Well Soon."

Finally came the day when I asked him to write my surgery letter. He told me to write whatever I would like and that he would sign it. And then he told me that he was retiring and that this would be our last professional visit. He asked me to keep in touch though. I'm afraid I wasn't very good at that. I wish I had done better.

Last Tuesday, at Ralph's therapy group, I found out that Kurt had died. I kept my feelings inside until last night...I'm a teacher and teachers never get sick until Friday. For the last few days, though, I have felt myself spinning downward. I know that Kurt would not want that. So I've been letting the tears flow and trying to fight my way back up.

I'll make it, Kurt. And I'll always remember those hugs.

--February 9, 1994

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hippie Memories


This memory had been stored away and has just recently come back. Why had it been forgotten? As Country Joe McDonald put it: "Anyone who remembers the '60s wasn't there." Or possibly it was the nature of the incident.

Back in my hippie days...

I felt like I was always the outsider, even among the people living on the fringes of society. I would make a few least I thought of them as friends, but I never was very optimistic about how they felt about me. I would hang out with them until I perceived in some way that they would prefer that I not do so. It could be something blatant like someone telling me to go away or something that might have been only in my mind, a feeling that I was overstaying my welcome. When one has no sense of self-worth, it's easy to imagine all sorts of reasons people would not want them around, so I never had any friends for very long. Eventually, I would go try to find someone new to hang out with.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Alice and a man named Paul Simon (no, not the songwriter...and it probably wasn't his real name). Paul and I used to crash in Buena Vista park when the weather wasn't too bad. Paul did it almost always...he hated sleeping indoors. There were some other people that slept in the park: Morningstar was a woman from New York. Scorpio was a young gay boy also from there (he once put the moves on me, but I defended myself gracefully). The four of us would hang out together, panhandling for money for food, or the food itself, or money for drugs, or for the drugs themselves.

Then we met Alice. Alice had run away from Santa Clara, was perhaps 17. She had no place to stay and looked ever-so-cute in her hippie dress. We sort of started looking after her. It turned out that Alice didn't like sleeping in the park and she said she had some money at her house in Santa Clara so she and I hitchhiked down there and she broke into her house and got her savings bonds and we went to the bank and cashed them and hitched back to the Haight and rented an apartment. I rented the apartment for the rest of us since I was the oldest except for Paul and he declined to be connected with any paperwork.

The apartment was on Waller and Shrader...the former store room of a feed and grain store (the purpose of a feed and grain store in the Haight was something I could never fathom). On the door we painted "Alice's Restaurant" (okay, so we weren't very original). It had two rooms that we used as bedrooms and a kitchen that we hardly ever used (I recall using it to make popped birdseed once upon a time...we had no corn and the birdseed was leftover from the place's days as a storage room).

We mostly used it as a place to crash, often inviting other people of the street to crash there with us, and as a place to get stoned, which we did often. It was only a block from our favorite panhandling areas and we found that we could keep up with the rent for a few months if we worked hard doing that and selling the hippie newspapers to the tourists.

Our little group of friends grew over time. Alice met Danny, from Kansas, and they became a couple. Then I met someone. I've been trying to remember her name, but that hasn't come back to me yet. I'm pretty certain that it started with a "C" or "Ch" (no, I'm positive it was not a Christine variation).

What I do remember is that we hit it off and I really liked her. We used to go for walks in Golden Gate Park and sometimes we would lay down and do a little necking or just nap next to each other in the sun. I invited her to move in with us and she did. Being a virgin at the time I was more than a little nervous about her doing so. I was very happy with the way our friendship was going and was in no hurry to move on to a level that made either of us uncomfortable. But that was hard since we were sharing the same mattress. Inevitably, I guess, we found ourselves making out on the mattress one night and it seemed that perhaps we might go a little beyond that when she stopped me. She told me that we couldn't go any further and that the reason was because she was pre-operative transsexual.

My memory of everything ends right there. I'm pretty certain I went off the deep end for a while. I hope that I acted well...I can't imagine that I said anything unkind. But in the face of my own transsexuality, I couldn't cope.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


I was raised as a Lutheran...pretty whitebread, I know. Actually, I was a "football" Lutheran, I suppose. The children in my family were sent to the Our Savior's Lutheran Church since it was the closest to our house and it would get us away from home so my father could watch football, which started at 10am on the west coast.

Being the precocious child that I was, I did all of the reading I was supposed to do for Sunday school, but I noticed something...I would read the stories from the Sunday school book and get the point that was trying to be made, then the Sunday school teacher or the minister would talk about the story and have an entirely different spin on it. So I decided that the bible was sort of a magical book, that whoever read it saw what it meant, but that different people would read it differently, and no one could tell anyone else what it was saying, because it was different for all of us. That was good enough for me until I got older.

When I first went to college, I still considered myself a christian, for want of a better word. After all, I believed strongly in the things that Jesus preached: "Love thy neighbor as thyself," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" [although I sometimes had the problem of *expecting* them to behave the same way, which is not part of the bargain], "Judge not, lest thee be judged," "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." These were guiding principles in my life, and still are.

At the University of Pennsylvania, I signed up for a course in eastern religions. I got my first taste of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as many other eastern religions. I liked what I read, especially the Tao te Ching, and especially the (supposed) interpretations of Liu An. [Chuang Tse was a little too militaristic and legalistic for my taste...I liked the mysticism in Liu An's writings].

When I was nearly 20, having dropped out of college, one suicide attempt survived, and gone on the road to avoid the draft, a hippie hitchhiking across the country, a friend and I stopped at a mission in Tucson so we could have a hot meal and a shower. Before one can eat, one has to listen to the preacher man, and this guy was all fire and brimstone. After he finished, I asked him a question. There had recently been a tribe of people discovered in the Philippines, I think, that had not had any previous contact with Europeans. They had no knowledge of the western god or of Jesus. I asked the preacher if they were bound for his hell. He acknowledged that they were. I couldn't handle that: they were going to hell because of the failing of the white men to find them and tell them about the "wonders" of christianity. That night, I decided I was not a christian anymore.

If not a christian, what was I? I decided that Jesus would be appalled at any of the christian churches of our day...perhaps at any of the christian religions ever. I still believed...and still the words that he said. But Jesus didn't hang out with the people who are like the people who today proclaim their christianity loudly. He hung out with the poor, the destitute, the lonely, the diseased...the dregs of the so-called society.

I studied eastern religions again when I returned to school after my travels and my time in the Army. I decided that my belief system was based partly in Taoism (which I acknowledge when asked), but also partly in Buddhism, with an underlying belief in the teachings of Jesus.

Is there a god? I don't believe that we can know. "Something, I don't know what, is doing something, I don't know what," as an early researcher in quantum physics put it [i.e. The Tao is unknowable. But if you know the Tao, it is unspeakable]. But knowledge of things greater than us is beyond our ken on this plane of existence. Maybe we will learn about what is out there after we die...maybe not. I view death as a door that we pass through. It's a one-way door and (no matter what the early disciples said), I don't believe that anyone can come back here to tell us what is on the other side. The worst possibility is that there is nothing there...that we just cease to exist. Possibly, we come back here to the start over. One of my friends suggested that my life was so messed up for so long because I was impatient and just grabbed the first available body that came along...and got the wrong sex. Possibly we go to another plane of existence. I don't know...I can't know. I'll find out when the time comes.

In the meantime, I think I am here for a purpose. I don't know entirely what it is yet, but I think that everything I have gone through has had a point...that it's leading to something. And, while I am waiting to find out what it is, I believe that I should try to do some good while I am here.

What exactly "good" means depends on the circumstances. Life presents us options. We make choices. Whatever choice we make is the right choice, because it is the one we made and we can't take it back. Life doesn't come with rehearsals. Given this set-up, "doing good" means making our choices without merely our own welfare in mind, but also considering what would benefit people other than ourselves (currently living...our "peers," as it were) as well as those who will live in the future (who will be affected by the Society they are born into. Our choices help to mold that Society). The weight we give to each of these considerations is something that each of us has to decide every time a choice has to be made (and we do it in a split second) and they are an intrinsic part of who we are. Some of us are more altruistic in nature (with weights heavier for peers and Society), while some of us are more selfish (weight heavier for personal). We can shift these somewhat...many transsexual people live the first part of their lives shifted away from personal and learn during their transition that they need to give more weight to it (sometimes forever, sometimes temporarily).

Being altruistic by nature, I became a teacher, so that my impact on my peers and Society could be greater. That's a major part of who I am...the road I chose.

My life, everyone's life, is but a path...starting from our births and leading into infinity. There is no end to the path. There are lots of obstacles along the path...some of them very hard to surmount. Some are seemingly so large that we are tempted to take a different fork in the path. But by surmounting them, we become better, stronger people. I've learned that the obstacles seem much harder to surmount before we try, than when we actually try. Having passed the hard parts, life seems smoother for is fun. The beauty in life is not "up ahead" on the path, but off to the sides, in what we can see and hear, taste and touch along the way. Waiting for something good to come along is not good...make something good now.

Life is a state of constant change. It's good to keep that in mind. If you are depressed, sad, and lonely, it will change. If you are on top of the world, that too will change. It helps to keep away from the too highs and too lows, to even out the path.

Life is wonder, life is beauty, life is learning. Embrace it with everything you have.

Monday, May 29, 2006


I cannot talk about my life without first talking about fear. Most of my life has been consumed by fear. I was afraid of everything.

I'm not talking about the little fears of my life, though those are a good starting point.

I was afraid of being physically hurt.

I was too afraid of crashing to learn to ride a bicycle. Later I was too afraid to drive a car for the same reason.

Even though I was good at baseball when I was a young, I was afraid of being hit by the ball.

I was even afraid that people would find out how afraid I was as a child.

I was afraid of handling money.

I was so afraid of failing that often I wouldn't even try.

I was afraid of making mistakes.

I was afraid about what people would think or say about me.

I was afraid of being rejected.

I was afraid of being alone.

Most importantly, I was afraid that people would find out who and what I was.

And this last fear was paralyzing . . . not just something that made me uneasy or embarrassed or whatever it is that other people may feel when they think they are afraid. It was total . . . abject . . . blinding . . . brain numbing . . . feel like you need to vomit . . . rip your heart out . . . capital . . . F . . . E . . . A . . . R . . . fear.

What other force can so dominate a person as to make them pretend to be someone they are not just to survive? What else can make a person wait until she is 44 years old before she can step out into the light of day and actually begin to enjoy life?

Fear is the hardest foe. It can make us constantly reexamine every possible ramification of every possible event until we make no decisions whatsoever, caught in it's awful grip, carried on by a river of a circumstances over which we exert no control, turning the paths of our lives into quagmires from which there seem to be no escape, into mazes that we wander aimlessly, endlessly.

Then one day there comes a point when in order to survive, we have to face the fear, stand up to it and spit in its eye and say, "I want to live." And do it...slowly and tentatively at first, to be sure, but soon we can learn to embrace life, to clutch it strongly to our souls, to learn to shout at the top of our minds, if not our lungs, "I AM NOT AFRAID! THIS IS MY LIFE AND IT IS WORTH AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELSE'S AND WORTH MORE THAN MOST! AND I AM GOING TO LIVE IT AS I DAMN WELL PLEASE!"

And that is a start. That is the moment of Courage . . . the time when we start to live by our own rules rather than for other people's convenience. And that point is when we become true homo sapiens . . . thinking people . . . real people . . . people with a contribution to make in weaving the fabric of the world.