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.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

on normal reactions

I try to mostly stay away from negative people here; This I can't let pass, though.

A fellow transitioner has been brutally murdered in San Francisco, and she'll be listed soon among our dead, no doubt, at

Michael Savage (pseud.), who has eight million listeners, had this to say about it, according to MediaMatters:
On the March 20 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage discussed a San Francisco Chronicle report detailing the murder of a transgender woman whose body was found naked near a freeway outside San Francisco. Savage read a sentence from the article stating that "it appeared the victim had been in the process of becoming a woman," to which Savage replied: "Yeah, process of becoming a woman -- psychopath. He should have been in a back ward in a straitjacket for years, howling on major medication." He went on to say, "And what's this sympathy, constant sympathy for sexually confused people? Why should we have constant sympathy for people who are freaks in every society?" adding, "But you know what? You're never gonna make me respect the freak. I don't want to respect the freak." Savage concluded: "The freak ought to be glad that they're allowed to walk around without begging for something. You know, I'm sick and tired of the whole country begging, bending over backwards for the junkie, the freak, the pervert, the illegal immigrant...."
Well, it's nice to know someone out there is thinking of me.

I'm a gardener, a farmer, and a library project manager who likes kayaking and has four good kids to her credit -- and eighteen years of rave reviews from supervisors as a State employee -- so I don't feel I have to apologize for existing.

Of the 30,000 to 40,000 Americans who have had sexual reassignment surgery, nearly all are living such boring and unexceptionable lives that people like Savage don't notice us. Transmen stand next to him at the urinals, and transwomen shop next to his wife in the grocery store. And nothing weird happens. We're that ordinary.

And although medical and scientific studies have shown that our condition is innate -- not a lifestyle choice -- Savage and his ilk would deny us access to the one recourse that has been statistically shown to be helpful: transition.

According to the studies that have been done on this (Friedemann Pfaefflin, Astrid Junge, Sex Reassignment. Thirty Years of International Follow-up Studies After Sex Reassignment Surgery: A Comprehensive Review, 1961-1991), over sixteen percent of pre-operative transsexuals attempt suicide, whereas for post-operative transsexuals, the rate is under two percent. This would mean that SRS is perhaps the most successful procedure in the history of psychiatric intervention.

I sympathise with poor Mr. Savage (Dr. Weiner -- he's a nutritionist); his reaction to the thought of the existence of transpeople, which he, like many, confuses with that of homosexuals (alike in some ways but different in others - one could be both or neither), is a normal reaction.

I say that, knowing that it tends to startle my friends, most of whom are gay or lesbian or allies.

But it needs to be looked into.

Why do heterosexual parents tend to overwhelmingly shield their children from access to facts about, or the (known) presence of, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or intersexed (born with primary or secondary sexual characteristics of both sexes) persons?

I remember that I did this myself when I was a heterosexual parent of small children, and felt very much in the right to do so at the time. I can't excuse it other than to note that the feeling was that kind of core feeling one gets from a biological imperative -- such as one's vigilance to keep one's children from being run over by a car, or starving to death.

Not everyone has, or can have, children. Some are infertile, or born with incomplete reproductive organs. Yet, so long as their behavior is heterosexual, they're not regarded as pariahs -- much.

But most people are physically capable of coupling in ways that result in children, and our social adaptations -- such as the various forms of male/female marriage (usually a property-clarifying contract assuming there will be genetic heirs) found round the world -- are shored up by sanctions intended to maximize the potential for carrying on the species.

There's a social contract, in other words, between our DNA and our culture.

We're all trained to honor that contract from a very early age, the idea being that the more people who can be restrained from turning out to deviate from the norm beyond certain culturally established bounds, the more the species will survive. Fertile people are given massive support for compliance. And infertile people are given points for at least trying.

If you marry heterosexually, have kids and successfully raise the kids to be heterosexuals (although 92% will be whether you try or not, and the other 8% won't, again whether you try or not), you will get certain advantages and protections via governmental agencies, the laws, the tax structure, the insurance system, the school systems, the church or synagogue or temple of your choice, and, importantly, your neighbors.

Tribally-sanctioned behaviors.

Woo, primitive stuff.


There's a place in your hypothalamus where other people's pheromones impact your cortisol production (Ivanka Savic, Hans Berglund, and Per Lindström, "Brain response to putative pheromones in homosexual men"). If you are a heterosexual male, you tend respond to female chemicals. If you are a homosexual male, says the study, you tend to respond to male chemicals.

Studies suggest these tendencies, both the one and the other, are innate (born). And so a gay person feels just as "right" in orientation as the hetero. One person is as "natural" as the other.

And it's no good suggesting, as many uneducated people do, that this happens only in humans. The number of mammalian species in which same-sex couplings are said by scientists to have been observed is up to 1500 and counting.


What happens when you smell the pheromones you aren't attracted to?

I know that for most of my life I have been repelled by the bodies of men.

Presumably I had "normal" pheromone tracking in my hypothalamus.

Woman smell good, man smell bad.

Smell woman, smile.

Smell man, frown.

And as a visual animal, I reacted to things seen much as to things smelled. The sight of men kissing each other was repugnant to me, and I am sure I must have frowned, just as I once saw my father frown upon discovering that my hair had grown.

Charles Darwin (The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals [1904, 28-29]) deduced three principles in the production of expression: The Principle of Associated Habits; The Principle of Antithesis, and The Principle of Actions Due to the Constitution of the Nervous System.

Habit we may ascribe to individual usage over time, with or without reinforcement from a social setting (men kissing men = bad).

Antithesis, the encountering of the unexpected (such as happening upon a man kissing a man in a society in which men kissing men = bad).

Habit we may relearn at the behest of civilization; surprise ends when a thing seen often no longer surprises. These are mechanisms well understood, under the name of habituation and dishabituation, from such studies as that of the nervous system of a sea slug.

But as actions originating from the constitution of the nervous system, what shall we say?

Dr. Weiner reacts savagely to the thought of gay men or transwomen (lesbians and transmen don't seem to occupy his imagination as much).

We don't surprise him; his analysis of civilization as going to hell in a handbasket would lead him to expect our presence. He's an analytical person (though many would deny it), so I doubt that any habituation to bigotry by his parents or his synagogue can explain his attitude.

His reaction may be visceral, just as mine was for so many years.

The constitution of the nervous system is normative; he is disgusted by that which, as it is not how he is wired (from birth), must seem to him abnormal. Add societal training and assorted concepts will reinforce the impression and the reaction, which is where ideas such as "freak" or Crime Against Nature, or Sin -- come in.

This is assuming he's not a closeted/repressed homosexual himself.

Some gay men have sometimes mentioned to me that the sight of a man kissing a woman produces a similar gut reaction --as in "Ewww!"

What to watch out for is the conflation of our normal neuro/hormonally driven reactionary behaviors -- "Ewwww!" -- with normative, socially driven reactionary imperatives.

Just because the sight of a guy kissing his boyfriend has been known to creep me out does not equate to his being somehow evil or sinful for doing so.

I'm creeped out by people eating wasabi.

Doesn't mean I need to bully, ostracize or kill them for it!

My wasabi problem is my own.

Different situations, you may say. Wasabi-eaters aren't a danger to children...whereas gays...


Gay and lesbian behavior does not lead to kids being molested. Rape isn't sex, it's power. Most of those who aren't safe to have around your children -- including those of the same sex -- are hetero males.

I'll repeat that.

Most of those, either numerically or by percentage, who aren't safe to have around your children -- including those of the same sex -- are hetero males.

Here's a quick cut-and-paste of a survey of the data by Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D. :
For the present discussion, the important point is that many child molesters cannot be meaningfully described as homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals (in the usual sense of those terms) because they are not really capable of a relationship with an adult man or woman. Instead of gender, their sexual attractions are based primarily on age. These individuals – who are often characterized as fixated – are attracted to children, not to men or women.

Using the fixated-regressed distinction, Groth and Birnbaum (1978) studied 175 adult males who were convicted in Massachusetts of sexual assault against a child. None of the men had an exclusively homosexual adult sexual orientation. 83 (47%) were classified as "fixated;" 70 others (40%) were classified as regressed adult heterosexuals; the remaining 22 (13%) were classified as regressed adult bisexuals. Of the last group, Groth and Birnbaum observed that "in their adult relationships they engaged in sex on occasion with men as well as with women. However, in no case did this attraction to men exceed their preference for women....There were no men who were primarily sexually attracted to other adult males..." (p.180).

Other researchers have taken different approaches, but have similarly failed to find a connection between homosexuality and child molestation. Dr. Carole Jenny and her colleagues reviewed 352 medical charts, representing all of the sexually abused children seen in the emergency room or child abuse clinic of a Denver children's hospital during a one-year period (from July 1, 1991 to June 30, 1992). The molester was a gay or lesbian adult in fewer than 1% in which an adult molester could be identified – only 2 of the 269 cases (Jenny et al., 1994).
He goes on to note:
Reflecting the results of these and other studies, the mainstream view among researchers and professionals who work in the area of child sexual abuse is that homosexual and bisexual men do not pose any special threat to children. For example, in one review of the scientific literature, noted authority Dr. A. Nicholas Groth wrote:
Are homosexual adults in general sexually attracted to children and are preadolescent children at greater risk of molestation from homosexual adults than from heterosexual adults? There is no reason to believe so. The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual (Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147).

In a more recent literature review, Dr. Nathaniel McConaghy (1998) similarly cautioned against confusing homosexuality with pedophilia. He noted, "The man who offends against prepubertal or immediately postpubertal boys is typically not sexually interested in older men or in women" (p. 259).

This well known lack of a linkage between homosexuality and child molestation accounts for why relatively little research has directly addressed the issue. Proving something we already know simply isn't a priority. Indeed, a commentary that accompanied publication of the 1994 study by Jenny et al. in Pediatrics noted that debates about gay people as molesters "have little to do with everyday child abuse" and lamented that they distract lawmakers and the public from dealing with the real problem of children's sexual mistreatment (Krugman, 1994).

Those of you who have followed this blog from its early days will remember that my own awareness of men has undergone a sea change.

I'll recap: I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in August of 2003. Under the influence of estrogen and in the absence of testosterone, I've gone the way of many former hetero males in becoming what can only best be described as a hetero female. That is, I find some guys (nice, gentlemanly, i.e., not Dr. Weiner) attractive.

It's my belief that this is not a homosexual orientation as it was never there before and, given my prior history of distaste for the idea of men as sexual partners, I suspect I have the "normal" set of pheromone receptors, the polarity of which reversed along with my hormone supply.

But! I am different from most norm-conforming people, in some way that enrages Dr. Weiner.

It may be that the
bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in my hypothalamus (J.-N. Zhou, M.A. Hofman, L.J. Gooren and D.F. Swaab, "A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality" NATURE, 378: 68-70 [1995]) is half the size of that in cisgendered males.

Assuming that is true, I pass my own gut-feeling test of being female because that's the internal data I get. So I'm now a hetero female, at least in my own estimation and that of millions of others, who seem to be able to get on with their lives without being enraged at the existence of someone who's a little different.

I don't see where that qualifies me as Dr. Weiner's "psychopath." "
Currently, psychopathy is defined in psychiatry as a condition characterized by lack of empathy or conscience, and poor impulse control or manipulative behaviors," says the Wikipedia article.

Someone lacking empathy, hmm. Conscience, hmmm. Manipulative. I think "psychopath" is pretty close in meaning to 'bully."

Which, I gather, is pretty much what Dr. Weiner is.

A bully.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

a flat of snow peas

Beloved and Risa pose for a family photo in the orchard.

Orchard is likely from Wort-Yard, "an enclosure for plants or herbs." Ours includes filberts, six kinds of apples, four of cherries, two of plums, and one of pears, as well as the unkempt grapevine shown behind us and the elephant garlic-bordered garden area beyond, to the right. I would like to add kiwis, more pears, and peaches. She would like to try blueberries again (they went sickly before) and raspberries (more work to maintain than we were up for). And we have lots of blackberries, but, around here, who doesn't?

During a warm, sunny hole in the wacky weather, I tore down the half-collapsed creek bridge and finally rebuilt it on pier blocks I'd bought for this so long ago that moss had grown over the blocks. Several of the antique 2X10 treads had to be retired, but most were recycled back into the bridge. The pressure treated 4X4 timbers are holding up well, though they curved over time, so I rotated them and used the curvature as camber for the new bridge

I celebrated the new bridge by dragging a mower across it, and now the whole place has been mowed, with the clippings piled on the garden, the garden tilled, and the fruit trees pruned.

We'd prefer not to mow at all, but we still don't have quite enough money for a sheep fence. So we keep and use all the clippings, as well as the prunings, wherever we can, and are thus able to avoid the neighborhood ritual of backyard burning.

I also cleaned up the potting shed a bit, and planted a flat of snow peas and a flat of mixed lettuces. The garden will need to be tilled again before these can be planted out. Already the beheaded dandelions have returned, each one sporting a jaunty yellow blossom at ground level. Cheeky!

Beloved says she is this year's primary veggie gardener, so I may be heading into trouble by putzing about the potting bench, but I couldn't resist. Our winters are long and dark. When we come away from our firesides hereabouts in March, we enter the unaccustomed sunlight squinting and blinking like so many moles ...

risa b

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

simple black dress

Well, this has been quite an adventure.

Flights from Eugene to Daytona Beach were uneventful enough, though the air was bumpy across the middle of the country, so that it was like riding on a jackhammer. Some of the passengers opened their trays and slept, with their heads gently bumping, hunched in their narrow seats like so many restrained cattle.

My mom and her friend, Paradisa, picked me up at the airport with hugs and laughter, and we set off into the wilds of North Central Florida.

I was fascinated with the large farms along Route 100 northeast of Bunnell, but I got weepy from time to time, and hid this beneath my sunglasses, although Paradisa could tell what was happening and gave me sympathy glances in the rear-view, while alternately offering reassurances to my mom about the impending surgery and spooking her by passing much of the traffic as though it were standing still. She's a skilled driver, though, and I felt we were in good hands.

During the trip of about fifty miles, I noticed that my mom, who had tried mightily to do my name and pronouns on her visit two years ago, has given up on that entirely, which, while it is very hard for me to hear, has to be lived with -- she has not really recovered much from her stroke and has to be taken as she is.

But with Paradisa it's just the opposite: all Risa, she, her, and hers. This lady is a serious adherent of the Church of God, maybe not always the place I would look for allies, but in her case I know that the street in front of the mansion that is being built for her is paved with gold.

Pulling up to the house was -- just -- really -- scary for me. One the one hand, since I had mowed or painted everything in sight, the scene shouted out to me: HOME. On the other, somewhere in the vicinity was a man who had declared that I was never to speak to him again. Paradisa dropped us off, but took me aside for a moment. "If it gets tough here, I've got a room for you at my place, O.K.?"

She's not one to be refused. "Yes'm, thankee ma'am" was the only answer possible.

I did not see him, although I got to meet the Beagle, Dolly, of whom I had heard so much in recent years. She doesn't seem as fat and pampered as I had pictured, but I found her a bit preoccupied and distant (I hear Beagles are like that). And then my mom showed me to my room. I spotted the latest item right away: a CD player, which neither of them knows how to use. And on top of the player, a box of Mozart CDs.

I picked up the box and raised an eyebrow.

"Your daddy says he wants no contact," my mom said, pointing to the Mozart, "but he brought this down here yesterday."

This seemed -- kind of -- well, better than just reassuring.

There was no sign of him for most of the afternoon. We learned later he had slipped round to the front porch from the back door when we came in the front, and sat in the shade much of the afternoon, talking to a fifth of vodka. "Well, he had a lot on his plate just then," added our informant. "He has talked about how his son died and all, and you he doesn't know."

Later, I heard my dad in the living room consulting with my mom on protocols for the next day. I noticed two things: he used "Risa" and "she." Amazing. Just -- amazing.


The next day, the plan that unfolded (with very little input from me) went as follows: I would drive my mom to the hospital, and my dad would come later with Paradisa. This way he wouldn't need to be the same car with me, apparently.

For this occasion I wore a simple black dress with cultured pearls, and I think it was the first time he's ever really seen me.

Hospital staff were relaxed with me even though my mom blithely outed me to each staffer that came to insert an IV or take blood. And Paradisa and I had clearly taken to each other. I found that my dad was able to respond to my overtures in this setting -- no, I couldn't get him coffee --, no, thanks, no candy -- but because he didn't want them just now, was the implication, rather than that I was not to offer.

He actually surprised my mom. But what was working was that I'm so clearly successful in my stealth: justanother57yearoldwomanish -- he had visualized a drag queen, which had horrified him no end. So her outing me troubled him, because he could see that it's another kind of closet, and he's really into closets. So he would correct her.

Which put him kind of into my camp.

Fortunately all eyes were on my mom anyway. It was her movie; I was just a subplot. The idea was, they would do a colonectomy for dangerous polyps. But they were having trouble with her blood pressure. The morning wore on into the afternoon with no sign of the orderlies and their gurney. There were two chairs and three tired old people in rotation around the bed. This gave me lots of opportunities to make sure Paradisa and my dad had somewhere to sit, and I could be kept busy running errands.

Ultimately the young (and very handsome) surgeon came and conferred with us all.

"Ma'am, if we were to do this right now, I'm afraid we would give you another stroke." She will need to have her high blood pressure and her current pacemaker reassessed. They set a new date, and we dressed up our erstwhile patient and walked her back out to the parking lot.

Amid the general relief, it was decided we would all go out for pizza. We did that, and the old man sat across from me. They brought him a larger coffee than he wanted, and he offered to split it with me! My mom and Paradisa looked across the table at each other and smiled conspiratorially.

The next day, I went shopping for a few things: flowers, cards, and a cheap DVD player. I set up the player in the living room and showed my dad how to use it, with the movie "Gettysburg," which I had bought for him, as the sample.

He took an interest.

It was now time for me to return to Oregon.

Paradisa and my mom were waiting at the car. My dad looked up at me from his chair, his chin on his walking stick, his watery right eye drooping at the corner.

"I'm not long for this world. I've signed up at the University for the medical students to use me for science; they can cut me up whichever way they want."

For a moment I couldn't think of a response. I knew about this, but only from my mom; he seemed to be volunteering something mostly as a way of reaching out. I knew that if I tried to say something sentimental, or changed the subject, I'd lose some ground with him, and this was the goodbye moment. How to get it right? Humor would be my best card to play, as it has so often been through the years.

"Well," I offered, "You always wanted to go to the university!"

He didn't exactly laugh, but his eyes lit up.

I patted his shoulder and went out to the waiting car.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

drums along the willamette

I attended the March 7 rally [more] [more] at the state capital. Heavy rain all the way there, but things got better, if a little chilly, by 11:30, when things began and I arrived. I didn't go in afterwards and lobby, but sent in two handwritten letters.

There will be two bills.

Senate Bill 2:
Prohibits, in specified areas of law, discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation. Defines 'sexual orientation.' Authorizes enforcement of prohibition through civil action for actual and punitive damages. Authorizes attorney fees
in civil proceedings for unlawful discrimination. Requires state agencies to eliminate discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation.
One could worry that this bill is not "T" inclusive, but it contains this:

Sexual orientation' means an individual's actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender identity, regardless of whether the individual's gender identity, appearance, expression or behavior differs from that traditionally associated with the individual's sex at birth.

Not the way we'd write it, but potentially more helpful. Everybody thinks we're gay, anyway, except when we try to use "sexual orientation" clauses in discrimination suits. Then it's "Oh, that doesn't apply to you." Similar to the Title 7 decisions where "sex discrimination doesn't apply to you either." This bill will help with some of this double-jeopardy stuff, I hope.

House Bill 2007:
Establishes requirements and procedures for entering into civil union contract between individuals of same sex. Provides that any privilege, immunity, right or benefit granted by law to individual who is or was married is granted to individual who is or was in civil union. Provides that any responsibility imposed by law on individual who is or was married is imposed on individual who is or was in civil union. Provides that any privilege, immunity, right, benefit or responsibility granted or imposed by law to or on spouse with respect to child of either spouse is granted to or imposed on partner with respect to child of either partner.

Sadly, this is not full civil rights -- but it can help with family survival for hundreds -- if not thousands -- of couples, many of whom do have children...

You might ask, what's risa's stake in this one?

Given the history of some court cases, it's clear that in the mind of the dominionists, some of whom are judges, and given the mood of the judiciary in some states, the current status of my currently legal marriage could be in jeopardy. Marriage is generally defined as "till death or divorce." Beloved and I were legal when we married because we were a man and a woman. Now that we're both legally female, someone could say, well, the Oregon Constitution forbids marriage between two women. But we never divorced, and neither of us has died. So our marriage is still in force.

If Beloved were to divorce me now, I could not remarry her. That's a new marriage, and that is covered by the prohibition.

I'm legally female. So I could marry a man. But not in some states or local jurisdictions. In some, I can't marry in either direction.

"Nope. No women. You're -- ahem -- a woman."

"Nope. No men, either. That would be a gay relationship." (!!!!)

In other words, just go away and die, please. You don't exist in this universe. Never mind what the doctors and scientists said.

So if we have civil union in Oregon, Beloved and I will have something to fall back on if the forces of intolerance decide to annul our thirtieth anniversary. Or thirty-first. Et cetera.

If you live in Oregon, please email, write or call your legislators to support these humane and desperately needed bills within the next two weeks. Every right denied to anyone is a loss of rights for all.

Thank you.

risa b

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a shared birthday coming up

My mom has called in her chips. I'm off to Florida on Sunday to see of what use I can be to her during and after a particularly invasive surgery -- she'll be 79 the day after, and I'll be one year old in my current configuration -- a shared birthday, as it were.

We've been playing phone tag about it. When I caught up with her, I was walking across campus with my cell phone stuck to the side of my head, like all the students -- the difference being that I was distracted by all the camellias, daffodils, and ornamental cherries -- they're either too young or too old for that right now, a lot of them.


"You got your ticket yet?"

"Yes'm." (We're Southerners.)

"You get a car, too, and a room. There's a motel down the road from the hospital."

"Mm-hmm, saw it on the computer. It's a Holiday Inn®. So, I shouldn't come to the house?"

"Well, you know how he can be -- not to see, nor be seen with."

"Who all will be at the hospital?"

"Well, the preacher and his wife, and Auntie, and Mr. and Mrs. Bungalow."

"And me."

"And you, honey."

"But not him."

"Not him. He won't be there if you're there."

"Want me to stay home?"

"Lord, no, child. I think I'm going to need you this time."

"He doesn't want those maps printed out, or any help with driving?"

"No -- he won't be there if you're there, and I'm sorry, I just couldn't do any more." She started to cry.

"My dear, it's nothing to do with you, and I'm fine. He's the only person in the whole world that has a problem with me, and right now that's between him and him."

It'll be interesting.

I think, off and on, what if I were to just show up at the end of the driveway and wait? I mean, what can he do, come out and shoot me?

As if that were the worst thing that could happen.

The worst thing that could have happened to me would have been if I were too afraid to transition.

I've passed that test with flying colors.

It's all good now, and even an abrupt ending would not change this story from having its happy ending.

Except, of course, the mess that would put everyone else through.

So, I'll have to play this one by ear. Not for me, I'm covered, but for Beloved, and Mom, and Daughter, and My Three Sons, the granddaughters, Auntie, my friends, my mom's friends, and my co-workers. All of whom are with me.

And for the old man, too, who's temporarily forgotten who loves him.


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