This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Called toward

"How are you?" asks a friend in an email.

"Oh, it's all good," I reply, "except that work is too hard, and looks like it will be for at least a year. You can see what i'm doing: My own project is an index, grant-driven. My boss's project, which is driving me nuts because it uses time I feel I need for my grant, is the capturing of 'local documents.'

"The aim is to capture online planning documents from cities' and counties' websites and archive them, becuase the governments themselves often forget to. Once there is a new edition, the old one is often lost to the public.

"I'm documenting our efforts with a huge intranet full of dates and links. Every time we go to a website, or make a capture, or write metadata, we date our action and link the date to the source or the product accordingly.

"The family seems to be doing ok. Rough things have happened at Beloved's job and she is using her down time to recover from shock and depression.

"Our two youngest (19 and 22) stayed over for Christmas Eve and got their old stockings in the morning. It was a quiet and lovely time. They are off to a rock concert tonight and Beloved and I are going to some sort of Jungian rite-of-passage followed by a potluck. I'm doing walnut/raisin bread and she's about to start on a rhubard cobbler and I can tell we are going to squabble over the oven.

"I'm supposed to get my surgery letters on the 6th. Should that prove to be the case, I can set a date with the surgeon, which should be during Spring Break."

"The creek is over its banks and I can hear it rumbling without my hearing aid. There have been four inches of rain in three days. We plan to be cautious in venturing out tonight."


A box of gifts has just arrived from one, much dearer than a friend, who lives a continent away. Though she has many troubles, she has taken time to think over each amazing item, and wrap with care. It goes straight to the heart. Already I am wearing the black earrings, which came on the very day that I planned to dress in black for the evening, knowing I had not quite the right earrings to do so. She has set me a task along with the gifts, which is perhaps the great gift itself, and I will accept it.

I am supposed to give away something of my old self tonight; that should be easy: a book of poems written by the former me (I think that my transition is more literal than that of the others who will be there, but I believe the book will be accepted graciously. One never knows what others have been through, or what will speak to them). One must also supply a poem or other thoughts, on paper, to be read to and distributed to all present, to mark that passing of the year and the renewal of one's spirit. Thus:

What am I being asked to release? What am I being called toward?

I might write this:

When I was gravely ill,
I lost my looks.
I had been late in

coming by them, being risa
fifty and six returns
of the year, and so

was sad to see them gone.
I'm better, now,
I think --

ready to be woman
that was, so briefly, girl.
Some blessings,

like short Springs,
belong to the Wind.

--risa b

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Women with XY chromosomes

This week I had one of my appointments, and the counselor read me a draft of the surgeon letter. "She fully understands the implications .... She is out to all the significant people in her life .... she is clearly well adjusted." I cried. Four years now I've been stalking this letter. It's supposed to go forth on the 6th of January, and if it doesn't, I' m sure I don't know what I'll do. Burst, maybe.


I asked Beloved for a sewing basket and she found a lovely one in what she calls her "storeroom," made of willow-withies in two colors. Then I got to pick through some spools of thread and needles and such, but I'll need to buy a thimble or two.

People knit or crochet at meetings, neither of which I've learned to do, but I can do my mending well enough that I thought I might as well bring it to things.

I have been, over the last couple of years, active in several trans online groups. What I'm looking for is a nonsynchronous support group. What I tend to find is people who get angry with one another a lot. This mystifies me. What does arguing with another transwoman about the meaning of "trans" do to aid the cause of any transwoman?? Sisterhood, they used to say, is powerful, and I'd love to go on believing that.

The worst stuff happens when one of the younger people, or someone posing as a young person (this does happen) pipes up with an innocent sounding question like "has your orientation changed" and, upon getting a variety of thoughtful responses from others --among them older women for whom sex is no longer such a big issue as it once was -- accusing them of being in denial about being gay. Which invariably starts a row. And when I see this, I sign off for weeks, waiting for the dust to settle, or perhaps forever, and move on.

Trolls, as such divisive people are called online, aren't looking for discussion, they're looking for a somewhat captive audience on whom to spring their own agenda.

I remember thinking that sex was just about all there was. I held that view from the age of fourteen to about the age of forty-eight. I was also extremely hetero during all that time. I wasn't just blocked about gay issues, I found the thought of two guys together repugnant; I could feel the repugnance, as though it were an axiom of nature.

Well, it was. It was an axiom of my nature at the time, which was a combination of two factors, over and above any social training: genetics and hormonal levels. If you have XY chromosomes and plenty of testosterone and you are, from before birth, predisposed to respond to female pheromones, you get to be normally hetero in your orientation.

Other factors being equal, of course, such as that you don't have androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Now, suppose you have XY chromosomes, plenty of testosterone, and are from before birth predisposed to respond to male pheromones. You get to be normally gay in your orientation. Normally. For you. And you may find the thought of a man kissing a woman repugnant accordingly.

Ditto for cisgendered women: If you have XX chromosomes and plenty of estrogen and you are, from before birth, predisposed to respond to male pheromones, you get to be normally hetero in your orientation, whereas if you have XX chromosomes, plenty of estrogen, and are from before birth predisposed to respond to female pheromones you get to be normally lesbian in your orientation. And you may find the thought of a woman kissing a man repugnant accordingly.

(Isn't copy-and-paste wonderful? But I digress.)

I fully expected, because I was highly attracted to my partner before I began transition, to become a lesbian.

Didn't entirely happen. I stayed straight and did a flip-flop, suddenly noticing guys.

We're still happy together, but it's different. As she said to me, if all this had happened to us when we were thirty, she would probably have had to leave me.

And that's fair. She wanted to have kids ....

All this tells me that those who theorize that I'm a suppressed gay, spending a fortune to avoid admitting it, or that I'm a fetishist, spending a fortune to have a female body handy to play with, are theorists whose views are colored by their own sexual issues and drives.

See, nearly all of them are male -- and nearly all of them mean Male To Female rather than Female To Male when disparaging transsexuals -- they can only "see" a world in which obsession with sex is the norm. That's what their bodies tell them. So they theorize to fit the world picture their bodies show them.

They should be made to take a month's worth of Estrofem before being allowed to pontificate on the matter.

Testosterone and estrogen are among the world's most powerful psychotropics. Think about that. Controlled substances. It's difficult, legally, to get hold of the one if you're legally hooked on the other from earliest childhood..

So, in the real world, you have born straight men and women and born gays and lesbians and people who are in between or none of the above. All of whom are, given whatever combination of factors they were born with, normal.

And then you get another layer: intersexuals and transsexuals. Not normal? If this were all about sex, I might agree.

But once you can, as many well-educated people do, distinguish sex from gender, a lot of nonsense simply falls by the wayside.

Here's the thing: I was wandering through the stacks in my university's library, one day, back in the nineties, and pulled out a book, almost at random -- can't find it now -- something about its title intrigued me -- and it turned out to be a study of more than twenty women from a village somewhere in the Caribbean. Many women in the village were sterile, apparently, which may be what originally called medical attention to them.

There turned out to be a recessive gene that had cropped up due to inbreeding, resulting in XY individuals with very convincing feminine bodies, though their vaginas lacked depth. Typically, these women married and adopted children.

I looked at the grainy photographs, with the little black patches covering the eyes. I read the captions. I found the anecdotes. My heart raced. My breath came in ragged gasps. Anyone watching might easily have concluded that here was a fetishist or typical male looking at soft porn.

But the experience I was having was this: I was thunderstruck to discover that in the world there were women who were accepted by their communities. Women with XY chromosomes.

Not men. Women.

Suddenly there was hope for me.

Because I might not be a "pervert" after all.

Just a person.

--risa b

Saturday, December 03, 2005

People do fly

I come out to one greatly loved, whom I have not seen in decades. She has questions. She has concerns. I cannot tell her much, from across so many years.

I was, through those decades, deliberately, though eventually unconsciously, "out of focus." For reasons which I have stated ... there is no simply greater liar, where the self is concerned, than the closeted transsexual.

Someone said: "It's wrong to do anything to the body God gave you." But the person saying this has had a gall bladder operation. I have more respect for the 7th day Adventist position; a little more consistency. A lot of them practice before preaching, a rare instance.

God didn't give us wings, either, but people do fly.

I write to her:

All that, and all the selfishness, and all the overwrought autobiographies, and all the rather ridiculous transphobic pharisees aside, there's not much about me, and my life, that's at all new.

I rise, have coffee with Beloved (whom I often don't see again until 10 pm), make myself a veggie burrito, shave (still necessary after almost two years of electro), do my face, dress, brush my hair while upside down, mousse, toss back, put in my earrings, dress, grab my purse, and go. I drive, listening to Air America or Haydn or Muddy Waters or the Chieftains, for twenty minutes. I let myself in the employees' entrance with my combination. I greet everyone; they greet me. One is our European cataloger; knows eight languages. He's Polish. He holds the door for me and bows slightly. "Bonjour, Madame." I drop a tiny curtsy; "Merci, Monsieur."

I "open" the department: unlocking four doors and turning on two banks of lights; turning on the twelve public monitors and checking their network connection; turning on the service computer, making the coffee, checking the lost and found, checking in overnight books, and straightening chairs and cleaning countertops missed by the janitorial crew.

I sit at the service desk and help patrons find the restroom and the stapler, until ten, when I am relieved by a "real" librarian, and then work on projects: hiring, training, scheduling and monitoring student workers, electronic publishing, trouble-shooting. I go to lunch with friends. "What about him? Cute?" "Not really ... but the other one is O.K." I go to the ladies' room, wash up, snatch a bit of paper towel, check my makeup, return. "Your guy is out of the running," she says, lifting her coffee cup. "Oh? Why?" "He picks his nose on the sly." "Ewww...O.K., yours is better."

I attend a circ meeting. We haven't met in a couple of months, so we all check in. The main stacks manager announces she has been riding to work on a motor scooter. "Must be my way of dealing with my midlife crisis ... though it's not as big as yours, Risa!" We all crack up. It's the only reference to my status all day.

I help afternoon patrons. "That title is in the Science library; shelved by title. It's also available online. What year?" "2002." Clickety-click. "O.K., that one is available in a bound volume in the Science stacks, just look for the letter "R" on a range card." "Where are they?" "Across campus, underneath the courtyard between Physics and Chemistry. Here's a map." I draw a green circle. "Thank you, Ma'am." "You're welcome, sir."

I call the kids. "Need anything?" "Not today, Mommytwo; Momma took us to the grocery store Thursday." "Oh, right; she brought home tofu and bok choi for me. Did Brother get the four-cheese pizza?" "Uh-huh, but he doesn't put veggies all over it like you said." "Well, it's his choice. You're both learning to cook, finally; I'm proud of you. I go now?" "Uh, huh, love you. "love you." I hang up, grab my coat and purse, and head for a meeting at a friends' house.

Eight of us sit round a table, munching homemade cobbler and drinking lemongrass tea, while long-haired black cats roam amongst our stockinged feet. These are almost all mothers of gay and lesbian children, trying to make a world that will treat their kids as human beings.

"What about Pride Day at the community college? We'll need tablers." "I'll go. Risa, go with me? We'll make a day of it, eat dinner afterwards?" "I think I can; call you?" "Mm-hmm." "Who has the table?" "Elaine does; it's in her garage, and the literature is with it in one of those big plastic tubs with the lid." "we can just go in?" "Mm-hmm."

It's 9:30 pm. I shut off the engine, gather my things, and feel my way with my feet along the darkened, wet-leaves-buried walk toward the front door, step up through the mudroom, and make my way to the fireside in the dining room. Beloved hasn't been here long, but she's built a fire and she's in her nightgown. I can smell hot cocoa.

"Hello, love." "Hiya. Want anything hot to drink?" "No ... any mail?" "Two catalogs and a bill." I pick up a shining mailer. ALL ITEMS 30% OFF MARKED PRICE. "Uck, that one; all the models drape themselves over stuff and all you can see is cleavage." "The other one's just as bad. All I want is a green jumper." "I'll take you shopping next Tuesday; I promise." "Silly ... you have your own backlog. Going to bed?" "In two sips; I'm worn out." "Me too -- read a book?" "Sure, I'll have my cap down over my eyes."

I go into my little bathroom and disrobe, wash up, pick a nightie, drink a little water. I also take my two little pills -- the blue one, for Girl, and the bigger yellow one, for Not Boy. These help me to live, in twelve-hour installments. I decide, every twelve hours, that I want to do this, that I must do this, that I will do this. Tonight is the 2,306th decision. It was no contest from day one. I take the pills, pick up my book (of travels, by Jan Morris) and go into the bedroom. Beloved, already asleep, has left the light on for me.

After finishing a happy chapter on the coast of Yugoslavia, I reach up and turn the switch.


--risa b


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