Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Clothes

After I go to the Doctor's office, we're going straight to a birthday party for one of the great unsung heroic leaders of the local PFLAG chapter -- so I was wondering what to wear. I looked good the last time I went, in a black velvet dress and a little black hat, with hoops in my ears. And before that, I was on the kitchen committee and went in a simple blue shift with an apron and a hair kerchief.

But this time, absolutely nothing would do. I'm realizing I'm not as out to the front counter people at the Dr.'s office as I'd like to be, just yet, not to mention terrified of the other patients -- her office is in a small town with a logging background -- but also with Beloved coming along, it makes it different ... she's in a classroom environment today, which means she'll come home in overalls and tired, maybe cranky. If I get her into the car at all, it won't be with me doing the Betty Boop act!

So I fell back on my old standby, a maroon turtleneck and jeans, with a bandanna -- and, sure enough, I feel womanly again, not like that big-headed wide-shouldered thing I saw in those dresses in the mirror.

There's an old joke about cross-dressers can't wait to get home and put on the bra, while transwomen can't wait to get home and take the damned thing off.

It's kinda true.

What complicates things for us when we try to explain about all this to counselors, though, is they have taken classes about telling us apart from the dressers, and it's not easy to do for 2 reasons.

Cross-dressing males dress as women.

Women dress as whatever the occasion demands (think house painting), but usually as women.

So if you have a male body but feel you are supposed to be a woman, you'll do things that look pretty indistinguishable from cross-dressing behaviors.

Which is why the shame associated with shopping, etc. -- we feel the always-potentially-devastating label of sexual deviant hovering nearby.

And so when the counselors ask us how did you feel when you dressed up as a girl? what they're looking for is that moment of hesitation while we decide whether to lie about dressing for pleasure.

And we do fall for it. Which slows down the whole process, because they don't always get that at one time, each of us had to go through the phase of dressing for pleasure because we didn't know what transsexualism was -- we had only heard of transvestism. We were choosing colors that were the only ones available on the palette.

So, now that I know this, I have the feeling I'm not going to be spending much of my life in lacy underthings -- a good bra cami makes so much more sense -- or dresses -- a good pair of jeans is better protection for the knees, and ya can run faster -- and I'm going to be cleaning out my dresser pretty soon.

Because I need the room for clothes, not symbols.

:::

OTOH, yesterday I got out the kayak for the first time in ages, in an effort to get some kind of exercise in this weather. It was sunny for an hour or so in the morning, which suckered me in, so suddenly I'm on middle of the reservoir when a bitterly cold storm front rolled up the valley. These things always appear from the southwest, behind Mount Zion, their shadows spread over the water the wings of a frozen death angel.

I didn't stay long, just enough to say hi to the ospreys and coots and tell them I'd be back.

But the whole trip just made me about as glum as I've ever been on the water. And it wasn't the cold.

I don't yet have anything -- um -- feminine -- to wear out there. So I was in cold-weather guy-kayaking-gear. All that was me about me, to any outward observer, was the color of my fingernails.

Shouldn't bother me, after all I just said above about jeans and symbolism, right?

So here's the deal: I want practical stuff, but I'm not happy in size 32/36; I'm happy in size 14.

That's an internal matter.

So I'm taking these pants and this shirt back to the closet in the storeroom, where the ties and blazers are. I'm going to the doctor's office as me. Then the party, with my tired but brave and loving spouse. Then back here. And I'm gonna plan on taking her up on her offer to go shopping with me for better stuff. Including outdoor stuff.

Real Soon.

And I'm ready for summer, like, Any Day Now ...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Simple/not simple

My granddaughter came to visit. She's five, full of openness and curiosity. Beloved explained to her that I was now a "she."

"He's a she?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

I turned and smoothed down my denim blouse.

"She gots boobs?"

"Yep," we chorused.

Later, I read to her in bed. She likes this chicka-chicka boom boom book and I was just getting into the rhythm of it.

She stopped me to check out my fingernails. "Pink," she mused.

"Good color on me?"

"Yah ... yah, you're a girl all right. Girls got pink. You're not Papa Bear now."

"Not?"

"Nope. You're Papa Risa Bear."

If only it were always that simple.

--risa b

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bread

Beloved has commandeered the dining room, especially the table, and I've been mostly in the kitchen. There is a potluck this evening at the Friends Meeting House and another one tomorrow night at PFLAG. While I'm confident of my cooking enough to please me and a few others, I'm still a shrinking violet when it comes to my peers, so I tend to retreat into what I know, which is bread.

I once lived in a Hutterite/Quaker commune in Georgia, where one of the income ventures was a bakery, and the baker, a magnificent Hutterite woman, was called back to North Dakota to take care of her failing father. She trained me on her job in one week, decided I would have to do, and went away. The product was whole wheat bread, sold at the door and to hippie food cooperatives and health food stores, in one-and-a-half pound loaves. I milled at 4 A.M. on Monday, and baked fifty loaves to the batch through Tuesday morning, a twenty-four hour shift once a week, producing eight hundred loaves. It was really good stuff, made with organic hard winter wheat and raw honey from the big North Dakota farm.

So, later in life, when I became interested in creating bread at home, I realized I knew only a recipe for a seventy-five pound batch and had to relearn the whole process.

I'm not baking much for myself these days, because of the belly I'm still trying to eliminate. But for others, as a rule, I can do pretty well. When inspired.

Today I'm doing apple-raisin wheat loaves, with a hint of cinnamon; these have been a hit lately, but, looking at them, I'm beginning to worry. One is spreading out a little flatter than I like, and the other is showing signs of not wanting to rise in time to bake before I leave.

I sometimes bobble baking when there's performance pressure, so that it's almost as bad as my other options. There have been times where I have just grabbed two cans of Three Bean Salad, poured off the excess sugar-water, and dumped them in a bowl. Uh, voilà, yeah ...

Last week we had our holiday potluck at work, and I have had three bread disasters in a row there.

So I poked about in the kitchen and came up with two sweet potatoes. I looked them up in Rombauer and Becker and could see that I didn't have all the ingredients they'd like, but I thought I might get by. I peeled them, cut them up in two-inch squares, and simmered them until soft, then drained them off and put them in the mixer with some brown sugar, a bit of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 1/4 pound of butter. I scooped all this into a baking dish, and then found in the refrigerator some homemade applesauce a friend gave us, already cinnamony and nicely textured, and spread this on top of the sweet potatoes. Baked about 15 minutes at a low heat to kind of fuse the flavors a bit, let it cool, covered it with plastic wrap, and took it to work.

A few minutes in the zapper, and the "deep-dish sweet potato pie" was ready to serve. There were seventy other dishes, but it was a hit nonetheless. Luck. I'm so far behind in these skills, I'll take any credit I can get.

:::

Beloved took a break and we talked a bit about gender roles.

She's never really liked "girly-girl" stuff, hates terms like "chick-flick," likes overalls and barn boots, could do without slaving in a kitchen for anyone, has enjoyed having a career, doesn't particularly like having doors held open for her (unless she's carrying a load of firewood).

I go in way more for that stuff, though I try to have a sense of proportion about it; I keenly dislike grotesquery and avoid exaggeration. I'm learning to use a bit of mascara and a bit of blush and a bit of lip-liner. She didn't used to use any of these, but finds herself competing with me for feminine space. I'm a mild threat, though I'm not sure why. Is this a whiff of the thing some militants complain of? MTF transitioner as femme imperialist?

I say, "How do I look?'

She says, "disgusting."

That means I look pretty.

Fortunately we have our own bathrooms, such as they are.

"And there's this thing you do," she says, "I brought in the wood and you held open the door for me and you flirted with me as I came in. I have to admit that made me really nervous."

Pause.

"You're doing it now!"

Sorry ...

Some people, you just can't bat your eyes at.

My opinion only, the following:

There are those of you who are considering male-to-female transition because you think it would be fun. Well, life is fun. Or not. Depending. If you were sort of cheerful before, you'll likely be cheerful after, because glass-is-half-full people have to be put through a lot before they'll see the glass half-empty.

In other words, don't depend on your fantasies about how "it's going to be different" to guage success. "Different" could turn out to be hitting a brick wall.

For example, libido. It's true; I make eyes at the Firewood Lady. But I've been with her twenty-eight years. And now I'm wearing a patch and taking an androgen blocker, meaning that that behavior is much, much, much more about affection than, you know, that other stuff. This happens to late transitioners, and though some of us will feel a return of desire post-SRS, many will not. It's a risk that has to be faced. If you're reading this, and you're considering doing what I'm doing, I recommend your partner read it too, so that any subsequent discussion of your plans amounts to full disclosure.

Look at it this way. Suppose your spouse or significant other said: "I have to go find myself. I'll be here the whole time, but we have to not do anything especially intimate together for the next year. If ever."

Would you stick it out in that relationship?

Because, if you're transitioning, you may be asking something like that from the person you're with.

But if that Special Someone touches your hand, and your entire being fills up with sparkles -- not really desire, just sparkles -- and your eyes brim over with tears, and that's sufficient for you -- under the transition circumstances -- and for your partner, then you're good candidates for going though this together.

Eek! Gotta go check the oven.

:::

Later: well, that was a success! The Friends Meeting potluck had over 60 people, and we fed them all, with leftovers. I helped with tablecloths, napkins, silverware, crystal cups for the punchbowl, set out plates, served, and pre-washed dishes for the dishwasher. During the talent show I stayed alone in the kitchen, doing the pre-wash, and stopped a bit to savor a wee slice of my own raisin-apple wheat bread, with butter, and some apple cider.

Suddenly I realized why I was so happy. I was living a scene from my all-time favorite movie, "Babette's Feast." Life is good.

I met people I hadn't seen in a long time, and some new people. I wore my name tag, even though no one else did, because lots of people don't know me or know my new name.

Two people told me flat out that they didn't know I wasn't a born woman. That still blows me away.

I know that several people didn't try to connect with me, and gave me that wall-eyed look I now recognize as what trans people call being "clocked."

Serious, even angry, clockers generally seem to have small kids with them. So their radar is tuned to whatever they're trained to think is a weirdo. If I'm not absolutely convincing, then i'm a weirdo, therefore potentially a predator. In other words, yes, it's ignorance, but, y'know, I have had small kids of my own, and I remember that vigilance. It was the proudly accepted price of fatherhood.

I'm a false positive, but it means they are on the job.

I actually respect that.

So, no, it did not put the least damper on my evening.

The place was so crowded, moving dishes of food around was like waiting table in a Paris café. Twice I had to negotiate past other dish-toting women and both times, even though I wasn't sure I knew them, they said, "Excuse me, Risa."

Life is really good.

-- risa b

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Lend me a bit of your courage

I'm home now, in my room. It's been a long day. Beloved is asleep at the other end of the house, in the big bed. She needs to be in good shape early in the mornings, as her responsibilities are spread over half the county. I have this room because I like to sit up late to unwind, writing, transcribing, reading, listening to Bach, Mozart, or blues or Reggae, sometimes jazz, or strong-spirited altos with steel-string guitars.

I also do my morning stuff here, except for coffee, which Beloved likes to bring to me by the fire, in the dining room, where we can watch birds at the feeder in the sunrise before she leaves for work, usually before I do. We give it about ten to fifteen minutes, and it's an important ritual. She says it's her symbolic nurturing thing to do for me, in recognition of my decades as the breadwinner.

She makes more than I do, and I get a kick out of fixing dinner for her before she gets in, sometimes trout, homemade bread, salad. Things from the garden in season. Definitely not "in season" just now. So the coffee is only fair! Everyone should have one small vice, and be pampered with it. Coffee, tea, chocolate, a glass of wine, or a small bit of cheesecake. But then take your health seriously the remainder of the day. And walk a lot.

On the wall of my room are portraits of a few of my heroines: Georgia O'Keefe, Anaïs Nin, Colette, Jan Morris. Lives lived to the full, without apology, able to move on from hurts or to use them to build new strengths.

When O'Keefe was a young student,

"...a student at the League asked Georgia to pose for him. Seeing her annoyance at the offer he commented, "It doesn't matter what you do, I'm going to be a great painter and you will probably end up teaching painting in some girls' school."

What a difference between his perception and hers of what she could do!

O'Keefe did solitude a lot, and observation, and could represent what she saw with that searing clarity which belongs to the desert. She could show life and death without commenting. She could portray stillness.

O'Keefe's portrait hangs on my south wall, in the direction of the sun.

Nin, not as popular with some nowadays as in the sixties and seventies: the Sexual Revolution. I'm always rediscovering in her work the determination and vision of a pioneer -- the fearlessness with which she pursued what were, for her, the truths that come from within.

Adele Aldridge says this (and much more) of her:

Certainly Anaïs Nin was narcissistic but how can any of us who keep a Journal not be called that? Just the fact that one writes to one's self is an act of narcissism. So given that this is true, I want to emphasize that one can be narcissistic and also be a generous person to others. Anaïs was an exceptionally generous person - financially, emotionally and spiritually generous .... When you love someone nothing any one says about that person, even they themselves, make you love them less. I will always love her - who ever she was - and there were many Anaïs Nins - one for each of us. What more could one want from another?

When Nin couldn't find a publisher, she bought a treadle-operated letterpress and hired a printer to teach her how to use it. She set type tirelessly for page after page until it was done, then threw a coming-out party for her book.

Nin's portrait hangs by my door on the west wall, for the sunset, because in her sunset years she found happiness by going thoroughly her own way.

Colette achieved her art against first the indifference and finally the identity theft of an abusive and manipulative husband. Once she had attained her reputation and a place of her own, she mostly avoided such traps; though she was often alone she seemed to have the ability to treat solitude as a place to retire to, to draw strength from, in the midst of an active life. When her strength diminished in later years, she lay in bed writing at a lap desk.

The church tried to refuse her burial in a consecrated graveyard; Colette, whose heart was many times the size of all the churches of France!

In the 1930s Colette was made a member of the Belgian Royal Academy. She was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Goncourt Academy. In 1953 she became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour.

A State funeral was arranged, in spite of the Church, and thousands attended, weeping.

Her portrait hangs on my east wall, for sunrise, for Spring, for hope, for love. For all fragile and tender hearts.

I wrote this about Morris (It's taken from a passage in her memoir, Conundrum [1974]):

He, who saw and wrote wars and collapsing empires,
who wrote well, and was a celebrated man, goes,
carefully, quietly, to Africa. He has also

been she for years, disclosing to few or none
the changing shape, her body, as it grew into
her self. Waiting her turn for the doctor,

she walks the roads and beaches, and comes to love
the people. Women stop her once, demanding
to know, “Are you a man or a woman?” She opens

her blouse to them; they are satisfied.
Children follow her, chanting. An old man
waves them off, making a holy place for her:

“This one,” he tells them, “walks alone.”

A small picture of Morris is affixed to the top of the large mirror on my dresser. She reminds me that it takes courage to be a woman, and that not all womanhood is in makeup, perfumery, and obedience. She's easy in slacks, with her own hands and her own face, a writer, first, last, and always, and goes her own way.

There are on the dresser a seashell, a rock from a streambed in the High Cascades, and a pitcher that my grandmother got for her wedding day, in 1884. There's a snapshot of me with my friends from PFLAG, taken at the AIDS walk. There's a small portrait of my daughter in a frame that bears the words, "Where you are/There is the sun."

Hanging from the mirror's corners are necklaces and strings of beads. There are hair ties, bracelets, a Venetian mask, a princess doll with a bright tiara, and a pair of silver hoops that await the healing of my piercing. These are steadying things, chosen from all that I have, to see when retiring and to see when awakening. They are, mostly, found, or gifts from my spouse and daughter and best women friends.

:::

Today, sorrow. My first rebuff.

I complimented an old acquaintance on her cookies. She managed to thank me, but couldn't look at me, and I felt as if I should go away, preferably go away and die, or maybe go away and die horribly: multiple choice. And this from someone I had always counted a friend. I have known her for years; she was a help to me in trouble; and I hope I have been the same to her.

Is it because of religion?

But what kind of religion would prescribe cold-shouldering as the way to convince someone of its truth?

One of the definitive passages in the Bible is Luke 10:25-37 (quoting from the NIV):

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The point here of course is that the priest and the Levite, the official purifiers and teachers of Israel, miss their chance to inherit eternal life, while the Samaritan, who is UNCLEAN (i.e., an abomination) gets it right.

To get where the Samaritan fits in here, these were people which Jesus' hearers were not allowed to talk to or eat with, let alone marry, etc. Sound familiar?? If you're a white supremacist, substitute a black person for the Samaritan and you discover that this lesson is for you. And if you are homophobic or transphobic ... well, I rest my case.

I went to a meeting, later, where activists were planning to pull together a beleagured community -- read Samaritans if you like -- gays, old Lesbians who had been together for forty years, ministers, transmen, transwomen, queer-questioning youth.

A new friend asked how I was doing. I burst into tears (blame the hormones if you like), told her what had happened, and she wrapped me in her deep and healing embrace and said the kind words I needed to hear. There should be more like her.

I'm up late; it's 1 A.M. and I do go to work in the morning. Dear sisters, lend me a bit of your courage to face the day, and sometime when I'm feeling braver, I'll lend you mine.

-- risa

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dominionism

This is directed to my friends and to everyone who regards kindness and tolerance as virtues.

I know I'm going to lose some of you, because all this can be hard work to follow, and we'd rather all fight our particular battles, especially among ourselves, so I'm only going to say it ONCE. There are some people out there who are willing to make some sacrifices to get the kind of world they want, and you and I are sacrifices they are willing to make. And there is a "they," and you can find out who they are.

I have heard a number of people at various meetings voice their amazement at what went on at a local school board meeting, in which church members blocked a school anti-bullying program, and have heard discussion of a number of strategies on how to enlighten and win over the opposition. "if only they would stop and listen for a moment, so they would realize the harm they're about to do" would sum up some of the comments.

That might work for some on the periphery, who are basically well-meaning citizens with a sad lack of knowledge of the issues. Those who can still listen.

Meanwhile, there's a core element, a trained cadre as it were, of activists at work, and their goals are as diverse as their aim is single. I'm not doing "conspiracy theory" here; this crowd is relatively open and public about what they're doing.

However!

It's not Christianity. Intimidation, lying to gain political power, election fraud, clinic bombings and the like are behaviors expressly forbidden by the religion's founder. Matt. 7:12.

Hopefully you'll visit some of their websites or read their books after you've been here.

You'll have noticed there have been, since 1981, coordinated, effective and savvy attacks on:

1. Federal, state, and local taxes and public revenue streams.
2. Public Education, from preschool to University level. You will hear a lot about home education, voucher' and private schools.
3. Public school teachers and all sorts of teacher's associations.
4. Libraries. Funding of.
5. Librarians. Attempts to intimidate or have them removed for providing information on some of the other things here.
6. Abortion, abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, contraception, etc.
7. Sex education, AIDS prevention, and so on.
8. Multiculturalism.
9. Internationalism, International Law, the United Nations, Immigration.
10. Gays and lesbians and bisexuals.
11. Transgender and Intersexual folks.
12. Journalism (the "fair and balanced" kind).
13. Public domain.
14. Biology, evolutionary theory, and any form of environmental conservationism.
15. Democratic electoral processes, checks and balances, an independent and informed judiciary.
16. Astrophysics, geology and paleontology.
17. Science in general, and especially K-12 science teachers.
18. Art education and arts funding.
19. Public media (including NPR, PBS, etc.)
20. Public service agencies such as Head Start, Family and Childrens Services, even Public Health departments, including attacks on their constituencies such as funding for people with chronic mental health issues and other disabilities, from autism to blindness.

The list could go on; you'll notice we LGBTQI are only a couple of items buried in the list. Many of us to whom any one or more of these other things are also held dear (say, libraries in my case) hear from friends who are perplexed as to where the attacks are coming from and why so nasty (some people have been killed), and why they are so well financed, persistent and cyclically recurrent.

This leads to much discussion of "fascism" and "billionaires" and "neoconservatism" which contains some truth as far as it goes, but the people we're thinking of when we say these things, while interested in being rich and powerful, don't necessarily care about all the goals shown above. They're using someone else to leverage their power, and that someone else is using them to leverage their power. I submit that the second group is where our trouble lies, because that's the "moral values" vote we have begun hearing about. Why now? Remember I mentioned 1981? Who was doing this stuff then? And are they the same people? Back to that in a moment.

At a LGBTQI meeting recently I heard this: "these people are always quoting the Bible; doesn't anyone here know the Bible enough to be able to respond to them?" Well, we have several good theologians among us. But the other side already knows what our theologians would say and are prepared not to listen.

I have been reading their literature.

What I'm seeing is, frankly, scarier than anything I've seen in political Islamism, Bin Ladin included. Scarier even than Dick Cheney.

I won't try to convince you of this on my own. For one thing, I've got a LOT on my own little transitioning plate.

So I'm going to ask you to do your own homework.

A good introduction: story of a fight going on in a school district in California over whether to include TRANSGENDER as a protected category as ordered by the state, with compliance linked to state funding. It's well told in a local blog:

http://lizditz.typepad.com/i_speak_of_dreams/2004/04/christian_right.html

Hopefully you will read it with close attention, and will run searches on some of the names and concepts introduced.

Google, in random combinations, some of the following and you will be on your way:

Biblical America. Rousas J. Rushdoony. Francis Schaeffer. The Christian Manifesto. Franky Schaeffer. Robert L. Thoburn. The Children Trap. Christian Reconstructionism. Dominionism. Theonomy. Creation Science. Gary North. Ray Sutton. Greg Bahnsen. David Chilton. Jerry Falwell. Pat Robertson. D. James Kennedy. John Whitehead. The Christian Coalition. Charles Colson. Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Operation Rescue. S. Michael Fort. Majoritarian Utilitarianism. Shelley Shannon. Army of God. Sphere of Civil Government. God's Law. Civil Disobedience. Humanist education. The God Who Is There. Chalcedon Foundation. C. Everett Koop. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Terry Eastland. Samuel Rutherford. Calvin. Zwingli. The L'Abri Fellowship. Total Truth. Nancy Pearcey. David Limbaugh. Heritage Foundation. Sola Scriptura. John W. Whitehead. Oliver North. Jeremy Jackson. The Second American Revolution. Addicted to Mediocrity. Focus on the Family. 700 Club. Euthanasia. Coalition on Revival. Maranatha! Campus Crusade for Christ. plerosai (Greek word). The Institutes of Bible Law. Ralph Reed. Robert Simonds. Citizens for Excellence in Education. Paul Weyrich. Free Congress Foundation. Randall Terry. The New World Order. Rutherford Institute. America Can Be Saved. Beverly LaHaye. Concerned Women for America. Family Research Council. Jay Grimstead. Biblical Role of Civil Government. Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. Institute for Christian Economics. Gary Potter. Catholics for Christian Political Action. Gary Bauer. Steven Showers. School Prayer Resource Center. Education: Public Problems and Private Solutions. Coral Ridge Ministries. National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. Tony Nassif. Robert H. Knight. Christian Action Network. People for the American Way. Eagle Forum.

Not done yet!
See: Yurica Report.

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