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I’m happy to report that I’m feeling much better this week. After doing some research, talking to therapists, and soon to confirm with the endocrinologist, I’m convinced that while the depression is real, I have an aggravating condition I’ve been previously unaware of: PMS.

You see, I’m on a four week cycle for my estrogen injections: at the end of every fourth week, I inject my estrogen dose intra-muscularly. For a while now, I’ve had suspicions about the timing of these worse than normal bouts of depression. Part of my reluctance to go on anti-depressants was a desire to not muddle what I thought was the effect of the waning estrogen with the main effect of the anti-depressant.

As I believe I mentioned already, now I want to see if I can correct the PMS-type symptoms with a different dose or frequency of estrogen. If not, one of my therapists recommended the anti-depressants for only the week of PMS. While anti-depressants work best over long periods of time (I’ve been told that 3 to 4 weeks is a normal wait for the full effect), my therapist feels that even the minimal serotonin boost from the anti-depressant during PMS week only would be enough to keep me from wanting to self-harm or suicide.

For a while, I’ve been concerned that I’m not exhibiting sufficient control of suicidality. As my therapist and I discussed this in detail this past week, one thing really stuck out: Before I started transitioning, I wasn’t suicidal and I wasn’t in the habit of self-harming. I previously had those impulses under control, and what I’m dealing with currently is more a product of the HRT than anything else. That I’ve identified the root cause of the distress and have some potential solutions to make it better is a good thing and indicates that I’m really taking things seriously and working to improve my quality of life. In a sense, I am exhibiting a significantly better state of mental health: I have not suicided, and the fact that I was that depressed indicated to me that something was wrong even in spite of the painful circumstances that have often coincided with PMS week.

I also clarified one other point: my RLE start date was April 9th, 2009. It was Maundy Thursday and I went to mass dressed like a woman. It wasn’t just that I went dressed as a woman, because I’d done blouses and pants at church before. I presented as a woman. Previously, I’d been trying to hide my breasts, I’d skip jewelry on Sundays because even though that heart necklace was really cute, it wouldn’t be appropriate if I wasn’t trying to pass as Jessica. But that night, four days before Easter, I was. It was the first day that I started presenting as a woman with no exceptions, and the name change in July was just a formality.

The one year anniversary for my RLE is important because it’s one of the criteria establishing eligibility for surgery– that’s the next place for me to go, the next step for me to take, and I’m starting to get my eyes adjusted to that view. It also gets me thinking about Christine Daniels, the former sportswriter for the LA Times. There’s plenty of info online about her very public transition, de-transition and suicide. The reason I bring her up is that when I started this process back in the fall of 2007, one of the things I ran across in some of my preliminary information gathering searches was the story of Christine’s transition. That encouraged me, and I remember thinking “Go Christine!” on more than one occasion. I was deeply saddened to hear about her de-transition in 2008 and subsequent suicide in November of last year. I didn’t know her, but I was going through a PMS week at about the same time, dangerously close to suicide myself. About five days before Christine was found dead in her home, I had a razor blade about 1/8 of an inch deep in my wrist.

The thing that got me off the floor of my bathroom last year, the thing that kept the razor blade from going deeper was thinking that it wasn’t fair for me to be the one bleeding to death. It should really be all the people who couldn’t understand that calling me by my old name wasn’t just rude, it was cruel. With the fresh perspective of Christine’s suicide, a suicide I believed was at least partly due to her unhappiness at detransitioning, I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me that my RLE was anything less than a smashing success just because my parents decided to be assholes about my transition. I didn’t want them to have that kind of power over what I have left of my life.

I remember thinking that detransition and suicide wasn’t so much Christine’s fault as much as a failing of her support network. In a way, the shakiness of my last several months has been a failing of my network: I was overly reliant on people I thought ought to be supportive (such as my parents), and not as reliant as I should have been on the people who really were (such as a good number of my friends). When I look closer at that, I see that it was really my fault as the manager (if you will) of that network: I had all the wrong people in all the wrong positions.

And now as I’m working on salvaging something of the relationship I had with my parents, I understand that they’re never going to be the strong support I had hoped they would be. I initially had wild hopes of teary-eyed parents confiding in me that if I had been born a girl, they would have named me such-and-such. I am under no such illusion any more. The other day, I was having lunch with my Mum, and the topic of surgery came up. She said to me, “That’s too hard for me to hear. This (she opened her hands and gestured) is hard enough.” My parents aren’t gone, and the relationship is at least in better shape than it was, but they’re not up for what I need. As much as I want to include them in the new life that I’m creating for myself, I fear that it’s just too much for them. It feels like they’re not ready to go on and up. The things I regard with excitement and possibility, they see only with fear and dread.

Right here and right now, two of the most important people in my life aren’t really there for me anymore. I worry that if or when they’re finally (and really) ready to catch up, I’ll be too far ahead. I’ve had similar problems before, and I resent having to backtrack and pick up people that I’ve lost along the way. On one hand, I’m impatient with being the trans woman—I just want to get on and live my life already but I also realize that if I do that, then there might be some irreparable harm to important relationships. I think that’s a risk I’m not only willing to take, I think it’s a risk that I have to take.

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I’m feeling hopeless. Of course I have depression. And no, I don’t take medication for it. In fact, I’m also due for an E injection next week. In the last three months, I’ve been wondering whether it’s the circumstances that have hurt so much, or if it’s just the events in question occurring at a particular point in my hormone cycle. (When I see my endocrinologist the next time I’m going to find whether I might be able to take care of some of these feeling just by adjusting the frequency of hormone injections rather than trying to combat the side effects of one medication with the main effect of another.)

In November, it was the conjunction of my birthday, fucking up my estrogen injection, not having enough money to get the prescription refilled so I could have a do-over, and not having enough money for the mortgage payment. I think most of the stress is self-explanatory. The birthday might need some explanation. I normally like my birthday. I get free stuff from Sephora, I usually take the day off work and go shopping. I did that this past year, too. Except this year I received a card from my Mom and Dad. More properly, Joshua* received a card from his parents. After I spent the better part of a week (two weeks?) crying about it, cutting myself, and crying some more, I put the card in the shredder at work.

December was a pretty miserable month. I spent the first few weeks recovering from the most recent bout of cutting, and then Christmas Eve was excruciating. I spent most of Christmas Day in the shower, letting the water run through my hair and over my face. Long after all the hot water ran out, I was still sitting in the bottom of the bathtub, crying. The water was freezing, my toes numb. I was crying for the parents I wasn’t seeing, for the twisted parody of the holiday that I was participating in, something that tried and failed to feel like Christmas. I was crying for church, the way people treat one another, especially God’s people. It may not have seemed like a bad Christmas if you were outside looking in, but it was the worst I’ve ever had.

Since the new year, I decided I would try and work on a financial plan, something that would help me reach my goal of getting surgery before I hit 40. I figured out that if I wait four more years, I might have enough money in my 401(k) at work that I can borrow enough money out of it to pay for everything. That’s a big “if” but I need that hope. And we’re changing health insurance at work: Blue Cross. In some cases, Blue Cross is rumored to pay for GRS. I checked online, and their clinical guidelines do state that it can be medically necessary and therefore, covered. I really got my hope up, I’m sorry to say, and crashed hard when I realized that all of our policies at work will exclude coverage for GRS. The clinical guidelines are just that, guidelines. There’s no requirement for a procedure to be covered just because it’s medically necessary, and the exclusions in the policy can trump the good judgment of the three doctors I see regularly.

That whole process feels hypocritical, and it’s the thing that pisses me off about people expecting health care to get better without public options and without government interference. The situation we’re in right now is what the free market does sometimes: companies realize that with a commodity like insurance that the insurers can charge more and cover less, treatments get excluded not because they’re not medically necessary but because it’s too much hassle to cover, or not enough people take advantage of the coverage. If less than 1% of the population in the US is transgender, is it any wonder the insurance companies don’t feel a lot of pressure to cover our care? Why exactly would we expect them to correct this particular oversight on their own? Because they’re all such good people?

That certain coverage is excluded doesn’t surprise me anymore, but I realized something: whether you expect it or not, being slapped in the fact still hurts, and that’s what I’m reeling from. I’m left with a feeling of hopelessness and the sense that I deserve the misery in which I’m now mired. I alternate between that, blaming God for doing this to me in the first place, and blaming society for making things so inconvenient, so hard for me just to be myself and live my life and move on.

Placing the blame on other quarters is an easy way to absolve myself of any responsibility, but it’s not worth very much. Proving that I’m being treated unfairly doesn’t allow me to improve the quality of my insurance coverage, it doesn’t increase acceptance at work, church or with my family. It doesn’t change the fact that I have a penis and sometimes I think that I’d like to get the chef’s knife out of the butcher block and cut the fucking thing off myself**.

At my company’s benefits fair yesterday, it took our medical insurance rep half a minute to get over the word transsexual in the Blue Cross clinical guideline when I was asking about transgender coverage. I felt a little bad that he was so uncomfortable, but then realized that I didn’t exactly have the option of being uncomfortable about outing myself to him—I either had to go up and ask my question or let his employer, my insurance company, take my money and invisiblize me as a trans person at the same time.

That experience sets me to wondering what it was about me made that insurance agent so uncomfortable in the first place: some kind of transferred castration anxiety? Or is it homophobia that has trans-misogyny and oppositional sexism at its root? I start to internalize that reaction, start thinking there’s something wrong with me, something within from which I ought to recoil. That process speaks to my possible self and says I’m never going to be a real woman, that I’ll never bear my own children or wear my own white dress at a wedding. It says to not-yet-me that I can be, at best, a facsimile of real women, but I’m not even there yet. It is painful and humiliating to want something you know you can never have.

A novelist named William Styron said, In depression… faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come– not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute… It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

That sums up how I feel right now. Last night my wife said to me, “But you have a plan, we’ll get there someday.” Though I’m sure we will, I couldn’t help but remind her that she’s not the woman with a penis in our family. Every day there are a million subtle reminders that I’m not right, that there’s something off, and every hour of it feels like a life sentence.

One of my aunts (one of the two that still talks to me) shared a quote from the book of Lamentations with me: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. It occurs to me that I’d like it better if God stopped doing me so many favors. I realize that sounds petulant, and to an extent, it is. In a discussion of Romans 9:20-21 I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d say to God, “Why’d you have to go and fuck me up so badly?”

That good things can come from bad experiences doesn’t make suffering into a good thing. It’s still a bad experience, just one that doesn’t end completely badly. Suffering is always an unfortunate thing and it disgusts me the way that some people try to portray it as noble or Christ-like. To pretend that suffering is God’s will is inconsistent with the God that says “I will give in my house and within my walls a monument better than sons and daughters.” It’s even inconsistent with the God who said, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Things might be difficult, but that doesn’t automatically make it God’s will.

The process of suffering does matter, or at least it should. Writing it off as God’s will just because something good might eventually happen feels like missing the point, just like all those people who suggested I wait longer to transition missed the point. How long is long enough? How much suffering is enough? Or that it’s all going to be okay just because I’ll be a girl when I’m all done? I call bullshit. The ends don’t always justify the means, and things aren’t always sunshine and roses and puppy dogs at their end.

I don’t know that I would say that transition is worth it– it seems a lot of people imagine it will bring less suffering than what’s been left behind, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s more like all the problems get brought out to the surface, made visible for people to see (even if you don’t want them to), and you have to deal with all of it one by one. It may not sound that bad, but speaking from my own experience, it’s excruciating. Worth it? I don’t know. I do know that I couldn’t have kept on the way I was; it was unbearable, and trying to stick it out wasn’t going to work.

I have a way of going over these things in the dark before I sleep. I’ve had bouts of theodicy in the past several months (as you might be able to have guessed), cursed and cried at God, confident that if He truly is God then He is not hurt by my cursing, my petulance, or my blasphemy. He should understand hurt and understand that sometimes feelings must be voiced, regardless of what one says, or even whether one expects an answer (c.f Mark 15:34). I do not know, for example, why I am transgender, or why I was never cured, but I believe that God ought to be able to reach me in that questioning pain.

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* I hate talking about myself in the third person, but there are certain points where I will do it, primarily issues of timeline. After the point where I got my name changed, and people direct communication at me with the name Joshua, it feels to me like they’re trying to talk to someone other than me. In those instances only, I refer to myself in the third person.

** It’s a common misconception that the penis is amputated in GRS. It’s actually cut lengthwise and inverted, the tissue being used to create a neo-vagina. Part of the glans is used during clitoroplasty. Cutting the penis off would actually be counterproductive since the nerve endings need to be intact for clitoral sensation. It’s the only reason I still have the damned thing.

All the talk on the internet about the Prop 8 trial here in California got me thinking about intolerance. Some people talk about how LGBT people want to “re-define marriage” as though we’re interested in destroying the very institution that we want so badly to be a part of. We’re accused of being intolerant towards the religious views of other people, or as my brother calls it being intolerant of intolerance. That’s a disingenuous turn of phrase, because it tries to lump all these disparate behaviors under a single umbrella and brand them intolerant. It tries to make everyone appear intolerant because the prop 8 supporters believe we’re all intolerant of something*, so they try and paint LGBT people as being intolerant of religion.

They try to paint us as hypocrites in order to level the playing field—if everyone in the fight is a hypocrite, opposed to the rights of their opponents, then that makes LGBT people seem less like the right side of history and more like just another special interest group.

The appropriate deconstruction of the intolerance of intolerance starts with first identifying ourselves: are we hypocrites? The LGBT community is trying to resolve the dispute between moral conflict and liberty by erring on the side of LGBTs. In that sense, we are requesting to place some restrictions on religious belief and practice—that a justice of the peace could not decline to marry a homosexual couple even if it offended their conscience. But does that make us hypocrites?

To answer, I’m going to crib from a post by someone else from somewhere else (Special thanks for all involved in this quote’s chain of custody. You know who you are). Glaucus at Ars Technica recently said:

I propose the notion of higher order intolerance. First order intolerance consists of rejecting people for their attribute or traits. Second order intolerance is rejecting people based on their first-order intolerance of others. So, that line about “where the intolerant aren’t tolerated” is really a statement about 2nd order intolerance towards the 1st order intolerant.

If we look at our behavior that’s being called intolerant, it falls under Glaucus’ second order: in other words we are intolerant of certain actions, but not necessarily the beliefs that inform those actions. As evidence, let me offer up the text of any anti-discrimination law that says regardless of race, religion, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. That law unequivocally grants the same protections to religious people that it does to gay people. If you can’t be fired for being gay, you can’t be fired for being a Christian, either.

But antidiscrimination laws don’t touch on the issues at hand in Peter Vadala’s lawsuit against Brookstone. He lost his job for expressing anti-gay sentiment on the job, which is a good bit different than losing one’s job because of being a Christian. An out and proud gay person could have just as much difficulty on the job were they outspoken and offensive enough. Indiscriminately blasting religion in front of religious co-workers should earn one as quick a trip to the HR penalty box as Vadala received for expressing anti-gay sentiment.

I am not intolerant of Vadala’s opinion. He’s entitled to it. But the line is drawn and crossed when that opinion gets expressed to a co-worker and that person feels uncomfortable or threatened or demeaned. That’s the difference: Vadala was criticizing the action of the co-worker marrying her same sex partner which looks like second order intolerance on its face. What he’s really attacking however, is the underlying relationship and attraction that might lead two women to get married in the first place, which is an attribute, and thus first order intolerance.

The fundamental difference then, between the religious right and the LGBT community seems to be a conflict between actions and beliefs, deeds and words. When the LGBT community speaks out against discriminatory actions directed at LGBT people, the religious right decries that criticism as hypocritical intolerance.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to expand on my brother’s refusal to accept me as his sister. When I try to tell him that his behavior towards me is intolerant, he tries to turn it around on me. At one point in a conversation last year, he said to me “What gives you the right to take away my brother and change everything I know?” The answer, aside from what I said (“Because I’m a transsexual”) is really “Because I transitioned.” It’s the action, the thing that I did, that really made me different.

My protestations affirming my gender identity or his protestations against don’t have much impact on the discussion. I transitioned, and as a result I have changed**. When I talk to my brother though, it’s what he says, in his eyes, that really matters. He may not let me in his house, but as long as he reaffirms his love for me, in his mind, that makes it all okay. My experience is drastically different than his. What I see is that he claims one thing, while his actions are saying something completely contradictory. This is a difference between us that runs very deep, it goes deeper than religion and hits at the very core of who we are as individuals***.

But religion does factor into this. The differences between us, I believe, could most easily be summed up as a conflict between faith and works. My brother places a lot of emphasis on what he says, which indicates what he believes about his faith. I place a lot of emphasis on treating people with dignity and respect, on letting my actions speak for my faith. The lines between us get crossed because I don’t understand his words without the context of consistent action: I don’t feel loved by my brother because the way he treats me is the antithesis of loving one’s neighbor regardless of what he might say, or how he might try to make it sound like he’s doing this for my own good.

He doesn’t understand me because I emphasize what I do, how I want to be treated, and how I might treat him, while completely disagreeing with and rejecting his words, beliefs, and faith interpretation. To him, that feels like I’m being intolerant of his beliefs when what I’m really expressing is intolerance for his actions. He is free to believe whatever he wants about me, but not to treat me in a way that is void of dignity and respect for my identity.

He thinks that I’m being unfair, that I’m lumping him in with a bunch of people that he’s not necessarily similar to and he’s right about that, at least to the extent that I categorize him based on his actions. The reason I do that is because the things that he says and does are hurtful to me, and are similar to other hurtful experiences I’ve had. I am emotionally distancing myself from a relationship that doesn’t have any affirmative value because divorcing myself from that hurt is better for me at this point.

I’ve tried to explain this to him, and tried to get him to understand. I talk about how we go around in circles, but the truth is that we’ve done no such thing. I’ve gone around in circles with others and I’ve seen how so much of that is just so much wasted time and logical fallacies and differences in Bible interpretation. As the kids say, “You can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.” With my brother,we’ve discussed how he views my transition, that he thinks transition is the wrong decision and at this point, I can’t talk to him anymore.

The problem with naysayers like my brother is that they don’t have alternative treatments to offer, they don’t have any special insight into my condition, and the truth is that they just don’t know what it’s like to have a cure in reach and have people tell you that it’s a morally compromised decision to take hold of it. Before the description was removed from the title, Gender Identity Disorder used to be referred to as Gender Dysphoria, literally a depression caused by one’s gender. This isn’t some bullshit that trans people make up so we can mutilate ourselves. Those feelings and the depression are real, and when things are at their worst, the finger waggers aren’t the ones that deal with the pieces that we break into. As far as I’m concerned, trying to make people do what you want and absenting yourself the rest of the time isn’t an attempt to do the right thing or help someone avoid a grievous mistake. It’s an attempt to be a watchman, except there’s none of the action you might expect. In this case, the watchman blows the trumpet to cover his own ass and then, rather than helping people get to shelter, or rallying the army, he runs and hides, his duty having been fulfilled. While I might respect that the watchman at least stands by the conviction to speak the truth, I don’t respect the further actions that are informed by those beliefs. In other words, I don’t believe our obligation to others ends once we have sounded the alarm.

To people that fancy themselves modern day prophets I reply that it’s not my place to be the punching bag for other people or their religious beliefs. Transition was a hard thing, and more stressful than I would have liked. But I made it, my job is still here, my wife is still here, my home is still here. But it hurt me. I’ve been hurt. And now I feel like I want some peace. If people don’t want to accept me as I am, then I don’t want to go through the emotional wringer for them. That they may be unaware that they’re being rude doesn’t absolve them of their guilt. The things they say hurt and I’m not interested in being hurt anymore, for any reason.

Late last year, I asked Christine to talk to my parents. I’d had enough of them, I didn’t want to deal with the pain, and I’d have given anything for it to stop, even if it meant never seeing them again. The day she called, Christine phoned me, crying. It took several minutes for both of us to calm down enough for her message to come out cleanly—my parents were acting completely different.

They were apologetic, sorrowful and desirous to make amends with us. I was flummoxed. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen them a few times, and while I’m not certain that this represents a certain change on their part, they are treating me like a human being again. I’m not certain how they really feel about my transition, but they’ve said that they realize that they have no place to judge my actions. It’s short of a statement of full and complete acceptance, but it’s a lot better than the position we were in for most of last year. Assuming that the visceral reaction, the internal belief of my parents hasn’t changed, then we’re agreeing to disagree. If I am a sinner, then they are succeeding at loving me while hating my sin and that makes them one of the best examples of Christianity that I’ve seen in a long time.

I think if you want people to be tolerant of your views, then you have to be tolerant of theirs. That’s something that the religious right fails to do, something that only a very few people are able to get right. That is where second order intolerance comes in: when the majority fail to get it right, the minority appeal to the courts to overturn the tyranny. That’s not disrespectful of the beliefs of people who think that being gay is a sin, it’s an attempt to re-establish the dignity and worth of every human being, regardless of race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity, to exhibit a little second order intolerance. In short, by challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8, we are decrying the way we are treated, not what other people believe. While the supporters of Prop 8 are defending their first order intolerant actions by claiming to have friendships with gay people, they’re working to disenfranchise those same friends****. That’s intolerant and duplicitous, not being in the right.

Being intolerant of intolerance is a mature understanding that there are some restrictions to liberty when living in a society. We work for the greater good and respect the dignity of all people, whether they’re like us or not. First order intolerance is the insistence of having it our way, which isn’t always possible.

The petulant thing for Prop 8 supporters to do would be to insist on upholding Prop 8 and then to work on getting similar bans passed in other states. The mature thing is to realize that they can just not get a gay marriage while leaving others free to live their lives as they see fit.

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* The supporters of Prop 8 believe that there are more people who are intolerant towards bestiality, polygamy and inbreeding than people who are intolerant merely of gay marriage. If the pro 8 side can convince people there’s a slippery slope link between gay marriage and these socially unacceptable relationships, it’s possible to rally a lot more people to the pro 8 cause. I’m not sure how effective these tactics actually were at getting out the Yes on 8 vote, but the fact that these things even come up during a campaign seems like nothing more than a smear attempt.

** It’s weird when people say that transition doesn’t change who you are. If I wasn’t going to change at all, then why on earth am I going to all this trouble, spending all this money, using up all this time, jumping through all these hoops just to be the same person? It’s inconceivable. It’s not a case of Jekyll and Hyde as much as it is a metamorphosis. Like any chrysalitic organism, there are some traits that remain consistent between the pre- and post- metamorphic forms. If you look at those two photos, there are drastic differences but there’s also something weirdly similar about them, too. At least, I always tend to think so. And I think it’s kind of the same thing with anyone who undergoes a drastic life change: they’re going to be wildly different than what you remember but you will still be able see underlying parts of the person that you knew. I hope that at least the Dr. Who fans that are reading this will have a clear understanding of my clumsy words.

*** As a transsexual, I experience my gender in an action-oriented way: I perform various gender roles, not necessarily expecting my proclamation of being female to be sufficient to convince people of the fact that I’m a woman. That’s something I was trying to get at on my “About” page—if I wanted people to really see me as a woman, I had to transition. It was the action, not the words, that would make it real for all of us. And it has. Being female is different than feeling female or wanting to be female.

**** When I hear members of the religious right say that they have gay friends, I feel like replying, “No you don’t. No one treats their friends like that.”

My Social Vibe charity, To Write Love on Her Arms is doing a webcast of their annual Heavy and Light concert. There’s music, poetry, and it benefits an extremely awesome cause.

You can view the webcast here starting at 8:00PM, Eastern time.

Continuing with my previous post regarding Amanda Simpson, the following bit was on David Letterman’s show a few nights ago:

So why am I posting that video, why am I embedding it, talking about it and asking you to watch it? Why is the trans community up in arms? Why did the HRC write a complaint letter? Or why did I?? Part of the answer has to do with the idea the joke promotes: that our birth sex is more important than our sex of identity (Amanda Simpson used to be a dude?), that living our lives as we see ourselves is disingenuous and deceptive.

To explain by way of example, let me bring up Angie Zapata’s murderer, Allen Andrade. Andrade used a trans panic defense in his murder trial saying that he lost control when he found out that Angie was born male. He became enraged, and in the heat of passion, he killed her. Actually, he beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. More correctly, he beat her until she was unconscious, and he thought she was dead. Then, as Andrade was clearing out of the apartment, he realized Angie was still breathing. So he picked up the fire extinguisher, and beat her *again* until she was dead. The facts weren’t even contested during Andrade’s trial. His entire defense consisted of I thought it was a girl, and it turned out to be a guy.

What David Letterman used as fodder for a joke is the defense of murderers, as though a person’s gender identity is sufficient reason not only to laugh at them but also to kill them. Letterman’s joke casually devalues the trans identity, implies that Amanda Simpson is deceptive, and makes the case that transitioning, her actual gender identity, everything she’s been through, has no impact at all on the fact that she used to be a dude and how we might presently view her as a woman. From Letterman’s show, viewers see trans people being devalued in mass media outlets and the jokes and pejoratives get repeated at work and in public (and directed at real people, including me). I don’t have a problem with David Letterman exactly; I have a problem with the whole mindset that thinks a joke like that is okay.

The internet comments, the rude jokes on TV, the way trans people are (mis)treated in real life are all signals to us that our identities don’t matter as much and aren’t as inherently valuable or important as the identities of cisgender people. When was the last time someone got made fun of for being a stereotypically masculine male? I’m not talking about behavior, like Governor Schwarzenegger calling the Democratic lawmakers a bunch of girly men or President Clinton not being able to keep it in his pants. I’m talking about just making fun of someone for *existing*. That’s what’s happening with Amanda Simpson: it’s not her behavior that’s being turned into a spectacle, it’s her.

Repeating the trans pejoratives, laughing at trans people and further encouraging that behavior isn’t much different than saying Dr. George Tiller deserved to be murdered so that we could protect the lives of innocent babies. While there are people who think he did deserve to die, it’s the casual devaluing of Tiller’s life that ought to give all of us pause. The attitude is what led to his murder just like the casual devaluing of trans people leads to killers like Allen Andrade saying that, “It’s not like I went up to a school teacher and shot her in the head, or killed a straight law-abiding citizen.” In Tiller’s murder, just like Angie Zapata’s, the perpetrators didn’t even think they were going to be punished. It’s not a question of whether what they did is right or wrong, whether Tiller or Angie deserved it, it’s a question of whether they thought anyone would even care because their victims were made invisible by casual and degrading comments.

Which brings me away from David Letterman and to a larger issue of the expectations and assumptions of cis people regarding the existence (and erasure) of trans people. Unless we don’t pass and can be easily clocked as trans men and women, it’s assumed that we’re all automatically cissexual (Julia Serano calls this cissexual assumption), which is hardly the trans person’s fault. The corollary is that we ought to share the truth about our transsexual histories with anyone who needs to know (especially sexual partners). The problem with that expectation is that all the weight and burden rests on the trans person, and no one places any concern over the unfair (and often incorrect) expectation of cissexual assumption. I hope that I can explain why it’s unfair and that the absolutes aren’t quite so simple as they’re made out to be.

The appropriate compromise between honesty and being unnecessarily open with strangers (or at least people you don’t know very well) is hard to nail down because the point of no return is different for each person. Every person has their own unique answer to this question, and while it may be blatantly obvious to them, the real answer to the question when am I supposed to disclose my history as a transsexual? is when it’s appropriate for the other person to know, and that’s going to vary by person, relationship and circumstance.

Now, some people don’t care what genitals a person has at all. Some people only want individuals with genitals of a certain kind, and some people will kill you if they find out you’ve got the wrong ones, think you’ve delayed too long in telling them, or tricked, duped or deceived them in some way.

It’s not always easy to tell where a stranger might fall in that spectrum, and there are people I’ve met, considered cute enough to flirt with, but not safe enough to tell about my history as a trans woman. Were I younger and unmarried, I suppose I may have have been interested in going home with some of those people, but when am I supposed to bring up the issue of full disclosure? Is it inconceivable that things could go too far without ever being sure I really trust the person enough to confide in them? How is it remotely fair to hang the responsibility for all of that on the trans person, and then blame them when things go wrong?

The fact is that there are circumstances where it’s not safe to out yourself, even if you’re going home with someone, or among people that you might consider your friends. I’d say that the circumstances surrounding Gwen Araujo’s murder are proof enough of that. Gwen’s murder was a classic trans panic scenario, and while she may not have been killed by the defendants had she been more open about her gender identity from the beginning, I don’t think it’s unfair to assume, based on the reaction of the defendants, that Gwen wouldn’t have been safe had she been open with any of them.

Do we blame Gwen, the boys who killed her, or the society that perpetuates the gender roles, stereotypes and homophobia such that it is nearly impossible for people to be open about who they are?

Maybe you can guess my answer: the assistant DA on Gwen’s murder case said, “Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in her relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.”

Before you agree with the ADA’s statement, let me point out the problems with it, problems that don’t start and end with him. There are a lot of people that hold those views, after all. And I’m not trying to say that the concept is wrong as much as I’m trying to say that it’s unfair.

On one hand we say, there’s nothing wrong with being transgender, but on the other, it’s just not okay if you hide it from people with whom you’re being sexually intimate. We blame the trans person for not correcting the assumption, and act as though the subsequent overreaction is understandable, if not condonable. The subtext is that we believe more people would reject a pre-operative transsexual than would be interested in taking her home, that no one will find her attractive without a vagina. So rather than maintaining her sexual agency, the trans woman becomes dependant on finding a person that won’t reject her out of a homophobic reaction towards her genitalia. A person who is unaware of a transsexual’s history might feel as though their sexual agency has been co-opted against their wishes, which is not something I’m advocating. But perhaps there’s a solution to the problem in sharing the responsibility for communication between both individuals rather than placing all the weight on a single person.

From the perspective of a trans person, it’s humiliating to know that your attractiveness is reduced to what exists between your legs, to be rejected because the other person thinks you’re a freak. When the trans person has to disclose her past, she risks not only humiliation but violence. She bears all the risk in the coming out process, and has no easy way out of potentially awkward situations.

The potential partner of the trans woman, on the other hand, is free to accept or reject her and bears no immediate repercussions for the decision.* The entire process is too one-sided, and as long as it is, trans people are going to be reluctant about coming out to people they don’t know that well.

Which brings us back where we started: at some point in a relationship, a trans person is supposed to disclose her history. In that scenario, all the weight for honesty falls on the trans people, with only the faintest glimmer of lip service given to the problem of cissexual assumption.

The reason I’m talking about this, and not writing a condemnatory screed against David Letterman is because I think Letterman is a barometer of the problem, not the source. The joke bothers me so much because the underlying attitude is so prevalent. Am I, as a trans woman, supposed to walk around with a big “T” on my chest, supposed to just tell every stranger that I think might be interested in me that I’m trans? Is it my problem, my fault, that everyone assumes my genitalia are of a particular form? Why does the burden of honesty, the negation of my expectations of privacy start the instant that a stranger displays even the slightest interest in me? Am I supposed to start every conversation with some variant of the following disclaimer: Hi, I’m Jessica, and since I’m transgender, I don’t want you to freak out and kill me if you find me attractive and then decide you’re not okay with the fact that I still have a penis?

Trans people are devalued to the point, objectified to the point, of being reduced to our genitalia, to the surgical procedures that we’ve undergone, to the discrepancies between our birth sex and our sex of identity. It happens every time a total stranger asks me whether I’ve gotten “the surgery” (they usually wink when they say this, like it’s a code word that they’re very pleased with themselves for having learned), or whether I still have a penis. My all time favorite invasive question is when people ask how my wife and I have sex.

So what do I think is the way forward? I had to go back and dig up a quote that Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend uses on a fairly regular basis—I’ve had it rattling around in my head and had to share it:

“[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.”
~Bayard Rustin; From Montgomery to Stonewall (1986)

The reason to fight back, to stick up for ourselves, to write blog posts explaining why Letterman’s joke is tasteless, to explain that trans people aren’t deluded perverts, to write letters to CBS, or at the very least, to use their online complaint form is to make people aware that expressing bigotry (under the guise of humor or otherwise) isn’t acceptable. We’re human beings and we deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.

We aren’t deluded, deranged, mutilated degenerates, and if I scream loud enough, maybe someone will get it. Maybe enough people will get it that I won’t need to say things like this anymore– that’s the point of Rustin’s quote: at some point we want the environment to be so inhospitable to bigotry that trans and gay people aren’t going to be devalued in such a casual way.

We’re not trying to be loved, adored or revered. We’re trying to make our place in the world safer. So rather than expecting all trans people to disclose the status of their genitals, we should be asking why we even assume everyone cares what genitals a person has. Maybe the people that care are the ones that should ask. If that feels like an extreme measure to you, then you’ll get an idea of what it’s like for a trans person to have to disclose something so intimate about themselves. Or maybe cissexual assumption just shouldn’t be the default position any more.

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* At least not in the I’m going to kill you, faggot sense. What they bear in a long term relationship is much more complicated, and that’s not something I’m comfortable writing about because I simply can’t speak to it. I’d recommend books by Helen Boyd, either My Husband Betty or She’s Not the Man I Married.

From the NCTE press release regarding Amanda Simpson’s appointment:

For thirty years, she has worked in the aerospace
and defense industry, most recently serving as Deputy
Director in Advanced Technology Development at Raytheon
Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona. She holds degrees in
physics, engineering and business administration along with
an extensive flight background. She is a certified flight instructor and test pilot with 20 years of experience.

Now, I don’t have the specifics of Ms. Simpson’s job, but from what I’ve been able to gather from the Department of Commerce’s website and other news sources, the Bureau of Industry and Security monitors “dual use” exports. “Dual use” implies exactly what you think it does. Lots of technological innovations that can be used for scientific purposes (like generating nuclear power) can also be used for military applications (like building atomic bombs). Some of those items (a list is available on the website) are blacklisted for export.

Ms. Simpson’s job is as a technical advisor. Given her experience in missile systems at Raytheon, it sounds like she’s a really good fit for analyzing the export of various technologies, assessing the capacity to which those goods could be used by foreign agents to make missiles, and whether that’s a sufficient reason to block the export of said technology. It sounds complicated, and I’m sure that Ms. Simpson’s job will be challenging, but (and let me be *very* clear) her status as a transgender person has absolutely nothing to do with whether she can do her job.

For all the individuals that would criticize her expertise, experience or qualifications, I’d like you to find one person that you’d put up in her place for the same position. Here is some of the information on obtaining non-career Presidential appointments for some of the jobs, and a direct link to the application. Please, encourage all those overqualified and overlooked individuals to apply. We want the best people involved in our national security, don’t we? So what is that I’m trying to say?

I’m saying I have *absolute* faith in Ms. Simpson’s qualifications and abilities to fulfill her duties. I would put her up against *anyone* else in this country without a second’s hesitation. But because she’s transgender, suddenly she’s unqualified for the job, she’s a token tranny in the Obama “white hut”, we have license to make fun of her and call her “it”, misgender her, and treat her like shit? I guarantee that if it were Mr. Simpson applying for the job, no one would have batted an eye. So, everyone, let me introduce you to transmisogyny.

No one deserves to be treated the way that Ms. Simpson is being treated. That people may disagree with the choices she’s made in her life is their right as citizens of this country, and while her role in the public eye necessitates dealing with criticism, I think criticism of her gender identity is entirely inappropriate. Do you get criticized at your job, being told that you can’t handle a promotion because you’re male? Or because you’re too militantly straight? How about if you look too stereotypically masculine? Better yet, do you actually think that your appearance has much at all to do with how you perform your job?

Does Ms. Simpson’s history as a trans woman make her mentally unstable or unfit for her job or the security clearances that she needs and possesses? The FBI apparently doesn’t think so. And neither do any of the other professionals that have worked with her and evaluated her. That she had an impressive enough résumé and recommendations to get a job at that level of government is impressive, and is the reason she got the job. I don’t think I could have pulled the same thing off, and I write well enough to sucker a lot of people (well, I think it’s a lot of people) into reading this dreck I call a blog (daily humility checklist: self-effacing comment…. check).

Ms. Simpson’s appointment is an incredibly positive thing for trans people– she’s broken through a glass ceiling here, showing that trans people can be accomplished and professional and secure good jobs. I’m glad that she wasn’t an appointee related to trans-inclusive policies: then she would have been the token tranny on a larger panel of LGBT people*. As of right now, she’s just the most qualified woman for the job. Prove me wrong.

————
* I’m not saying she’d be unqualified for that position either, merely that being on a panel of LGBT people would more likely be a numbers game, and allegations of quota filling might make a bit more sense, but not much. Simpson’s experience with the NCTE makes me pretty confident that she’d be awesome as a policy maker, too.

In the process of talking about something else somewhere else, I realized something that I haven’t previously given a lot of consideration, or at least have only considered peripherally: in the church we (or at least I) was taught that God loves us, that if we trust in Him then everything will work out perfectly, and that even if we have a little trouble, it’s part of His big plan, and there’s a reason for it, and all that. How often have you heard John 16:33: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We are raised to believe that God loves us, but never to believe that God will test us or challenge us or give us something to deal with that seems overwhelming. We are always told that No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor 10:13).

The thought that things could be so overwhelmingly bad seems not to have crossed the mind of most of my Sunday school teachers. That such an important thing is left out of our religious educations is a massive failure. For me at least, growing up in America precluded the experience of tribulation that Jesus talks about in St. John’s gospel, but growing up trans made me confused about that quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

I grew up thinking that being gay was a horrible thing. I think other writers have done a better job analyzing why the church excoriates gay people to the degree it does, but maybe it will suffice to say that gender roles were rigidly enforced in my environment. Being a crossdresser, which is how I started out viewing myself, was something I thought of as worse than homosexuality, or at least on par with it (c.f. Deuteronomy 22:5).

The reason I say that I started out viewing myself as a crossdresser is because I had no idea what a trans person was, or how or why people got sex changes (which is how we all thought of GRS in elementary school), and at that point in my life I hadn’t given a lot of thought to it. When I started crossdressing, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. I don’t think I was naïve enough to think that dressing in girls’ clothes made me a girl, but I do think I completely failed to understand my own feelings, that there was more to it than just wanting to dress like a girl. Thinking back on some of my earliest experiences, I remember a strong feeling of dysphoria with my body even then: I wanted breasts, I wanted my penis gone. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’d say I was probably 9 or 10.

My parents caught me in my mother’s clothes when I was 11. I’m sure you can guess how well they reacted to it. I don’t really blame them for it because I think they understood it less than I did. My Dad asked me if I did it because I was curious. His tone made it sound like that might have been normal. I didn’t get any other option, any other choice, so I had no idea what to say in response. My options were curious or not-curious, and I thought about what not-curious might entail. I admit that I hadn’t the slightest inkling, but I knew that curious was definitely something I wasn’t, and I needed an out. So I lied. I said I was curious.

I had no words or vocabulary to express how I felt. I had no idea why I felt the way I did, or if it was even unique or important. I wasn’t curious in the conventional sense of the word, but I wondered if maybe every boy was curious about what it’s like to be a girl, and that my feelings just weren’t a big deal. When I read the book of Deuteronomy for the first time, I understood that gender roles were a big deal, and that wanting to be a girl or even pretending to be one wasn’t okay.

I struggled through my teenage years (and my twenties) with this unresolvable dilemma. I didn’t understand how to deal with the overwhelming temptation/desire to be a girl that I viewed as my own sin. It contributed to my depression certainly, and also made me question my faith. How could I reconcile my impotence against sin with my belief that I was a Christian, with that quotation from 1 Corinthians? I had, as I’ve said before, started cutting as a way of punishing myself or showing God how much I really wanted to be a good, straight little boy. I couldn’t stop my cross gender feelings, and I had no idea what to do. Fast forwarding to the time I was 30, I was utterly hopeless.

I decided to buy some clothes that felt like me, and to stop shaming myself as a crossdresser. I wasn’t sure how I was going to reconcile crossdressing with my faith, but I knew that I had to stop beating myself up over my failure to be someone I wasn’t.

The internet, as it turns out, is a marvelous thing. I found out that were actually transgender Christans, and that they had support groups online that weren’t interested in making you straight or masculine or whatever people thought would make you not-a-crossdresser. Lee Heller’s newsletters were instrumental in helping me understand that God wasn’t against me. There’s a link to some of her writing here, if you’re interested.

Lee’s writing focused a lot on putting the Biblical rules in context and perspective, on talking about how God loves what He has made and doesn’t hate anyone. The proscription against crossdressing in Deuteronomy, I’ve seen it argued, was to prohibit the practice of a certain kind of fertility ritual, not to eliminate all gender variant expression. And that makes sense, given the subject of those first five books of the Bible. They’re about how to serve God, not how to be a jerk to others that are different from you. Some of Lee’s writings weren’t a lot different than what I’d heard in church, except it was being applied to me, a transgender Christian, with no expectation that it was going to free me from my sin of gender variance. Instead, it freed me to express my gender identity as I understood it, as I understood myself to be, and that was hugely different.

Gender variance in the Bible isn’t actually discouraged. Eunuchs are praised in a way that can make me feel like God really cares about us. I feel like the linked verses from Isaiah say something like You may not be able to have children of your own, so here’s how we can make up for it. It’s not equal to what you lose, but it’s important and it *honors* you.

I don’t think the Bible promises that such roads are easy. Jesus said For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” It sounds to me like it’s a hard thing to accept, a hard thing to deal with, not just for yourself, but for others, too.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: that there are hard things that we deal with, and sometimes those things feel like they’re going to overwhelm us. Sometimes they make us feel depressed, sometimes they make us feel suicidal. And reading the Bible, or being a Christian, or praying, or going to church, don’t affect those things. There are aspects to our identities that have been misunderstood in the past, both by others, and maybe even by ourselves.

I am not saying that faith is useless or evil, or that it oughtn’t to inform our actions. I’m saying that sometimes faith is the wrong tool for the job: sometimes a person just is the way they are, and trying to beat, pray, or exorcise it out of them is about as useful as trying to use a screwdriver to pound nails. That we can be so confused about something that we would try to use our faith to resolve it is a tragedy.

I’ve been depressed, raged and stormed against God, called Him every profane word I could think of, because I couldn’t understand why He fucked me up. I couldn’t understand why He wouldn’t help me, or turn me into a girl, or at least help me be a good straight cisgender boy. And I remember something that Lee Heller wrote: that maybe to God, asking Him to fix this is like asking for my eyes to be brown instead of green, for all it might really matter in His economy. To expect that God ought to fix it and make it right isn’t necessarily correct. In short, I think that’s more like expecting faith to do something that faith doesn’t do.

I remember watching the movie Luther a few years ago, and Martin decided to bury a suicide in the churchyard despite the fact that the Catholic Church considered suicides to be damned. Unable to remember the quote, I looked it up, and it turns out to have been a quote from something Martin Luther actually said: “I don’t have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil.”

To be overwhelmed by the power of the devil, in my mind, is to think that God is supposed to make something better but that He fails to do so. As a result, we think that He must hate us, or that He’s teasing us and we despair. In short, we have no hope because we do not have that which we need. Contrasting against the same God who said, You are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:31), makes God out to be a liar, the despair sets in because we have no solid foundation, and we wither and die.

I think understanding the depths of despair, acknowledging that people can face things that they aren’t prepared for is much healthier than a belief that God will keep any ill from befalling us. Realizing that God isn’t going to automatically make everything better for us, simply because it ought to be His will is one of the first steps. Dealing with those challenges on our own is what it really means to have free will. Otherwise we’d all be cured of whatever wasn’t right with us, and God would make us all into cookie cutter copies of each other, though I admit He doesn’t seem much interested in that, either. Understanding that it doesn’t work that way and that some challenges are uniquely our own, for better or worse is what it really means to be our own people, and to be individuals.