Posts Tagged ‘ transgender ’

Twitter Hater

“…Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.…” The Honourable Jack Layton.

I had my first ever troll engage with me the other day on my twitter feed. This person was full of vitriol and hatred, calling me a freak and consigning me to hell and damnation. We sparred back and forth some on twitter, him (I’m presuming male here) ranting and raving about the aforementioned hell and damnation, how The Church (in this case The Roman Catholic Church) has history to back it up (not that he was clear on that point) and reminding me several times that I was a freak and a sexual deviant.

It would have been very, very easy to take offense to what he was saying. It would have been easier still to consign him to the rubbish pile of village idiots and simply assume he was speaking out of mean-spiritedness and hate. After all, when I look back on what he wrote, there was nothing but hatred and intolerance in every post. Nowhere did I see a willingness to talk respectfully about our divergent views. Oh yes, it would have been very easy to hate this man.

Except, I don’t. I don’t hate him; I don’t even dislike him. Truth is, all I feel for him is compassion and a deep and quiet sadness.

As some of you may, or may not know, I am a public speaker. I speak about what it’s like to live as an openly transgender man. I tell my audience that no question is off-limits, and I mean it. I’ve been asked about everything from masturbation (do I?) to organ donation (no, you can’t donate your penis to me, but thanks for the thought) and everything in between. Several folks have asked me if I’ve ever been the recipient of hateful interactions. Until recently, I said no. I would often then go on to tell them how I believed I would reply, should I ever be in that position.

As it turns out, I replied exactly how I figured I would. I found myself staying strangely calm and detached. Not dissociated but rather, removed from the emotional dung that he threw at me. I found myself reading the posts repeatedly, trying to parse out what the deeper message behind them was. I firmly believed, and still do, that one does not engage that much if there’s not something deeper driving it. I suspect part of that is having practiced that detached reaction with my 6-year-old son who deals with some profound behavioural issues. When he was younger, tantrums lasting a couple of hours were not uncommon. I learned that a cool, calm and collected reaction to his emotional firestorm was the best way to calm him down and re-ground him. I’ve spent several years perfecting that kind of reaction in the face of white-hot, uncontrolled tantrums.

As I think on the interaction further, I realize there is something deeper at work in my non-reaction. It’s love. I don’t know this man and have no idea if he’s the kind of person I would choose to have in my sphere of friends though, given his reactions to me, I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t. It wasn’t the charm, or the eloquence with which he presented his arguments. In fact, the arguments themselves were weak and didn’t contain a single shred of verifiable evidence to support them. It wasn’t his willingness to hear me as a person (there was none) or so see me as an intellectually competent contributor. Rather, my love for him was the love I would have for someone who is acting out of blind fear; lashing out at something they don’t understand and are too afraid to investigate.

In short, what I feel for my son when he loses complete control over himself and his actions is the same gentle, patient and sorrowful love. I found myself wondering who had hurt him so badly that he was unable to see the humanity behind the words. I wanted to know what about himself did he see in me that provoked such fear. I asked myself to think on what it would be like to walk in his shoes; would I feel the same, as I believed he did. I caught myself hoping that if he had family, none of them would have to see this side of him. I found myself concerned that perhaps he DID have family, and had driven them all away with his soul-crushing fear. I realized that I felt indescribably sad if that was truly the case. I know what it’s like to feel utterly alone and isolated. I can’t imagine how it would feel to know that you’re the one who was the cause of your own isolation.

I also prayed for him. I prayed that wherever he was in his life, his road ahead be filled with healing and love. I prayed that if he had family, they would support him in his journey out of fear and hatred. I hope that if he ever is given a chance to leave this all behind, he takes it. I want those circumstances that change him in such a profound way to be gentle and done with love, not forced on him with anger and hatred. My heart says he’s had enough hate in his life to last several lifetimes; I want him to know peace and love.

Although he may hate me, I don’t hate him. Truly, love is better than anger, hope is better than fear and optimism really is better than despair.

this post can also be found at PositiveLite.com

Bucking The Trend. Why I can’t support Jenna Talackova’s bid for Miss Universe

Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality (and you thought it was just a movie?)  – all around the globe there exists contests in which women fight to be crowned the winner. While all of them certainly include questions about goals, education, and passions it’s alarmingly evident that it’s still a beauty contest when you watch their swimsuit and evening-wear segments.  Particularly in the televised pageants, there is, at best, a cursory examination of a contestant’s educational and humanitarian qualifications.  In fact, when you look at the categories, there is one-thing that stands out, over two thirds of a contestant’s score is appearance driven.

The trans community as a whole struggles against society’s narrow definition of what is acceptable and what is beautiful. Particularly in North America, the trans community is very vocal in saying that acceptance of one’s gender does not depend on one’s body and how it looks. Why then, is our community rallying around and supporting the inclusion of a trans woman in a contest in which two thirds of the contestant’s score is appearance based; a contest that enforces a narrow and generally unobtainable standard of beauty.

From bleaching one’s hair to obtain that perfect platinum blonde shade all the way to the ravages of anorexia and bulimia, it’s hard to argue that society’s obsession with beauty and the attainment of it, for some women, has become an unhealthy and dangerous obsession.  Reports in the news and scientific journals of girls as young as 11 years of age dieting in order to maintain an appearance they believe men want; the kind of appearance that leads to an average industry weight somewhere around 120lbs for a woman approximately 5’8”. While the Body Mass Index scale has been said to be of limited value, a woman who is of the weight and height stated here has a BMI scale of 18.2, a number that would mark her as underweight.

Why does this concern me; you may ask. After all, haven’t I walked away entirely from the pressures put on me by the beauty industry? Indeed, since my transition, I’ve been fortunate to be able to not have to worry if my makeup is on right, if my hair and breasts are displayed just so or if I’m slim enough to be noticed. That said, I still have female bodied, female identified friends who have to contend with the images they are bombarded with every day about what kind of appearance is acceptable from women and what is not. These kinds of standards are driven by the beauty industry and reinforced using beauty pageants. Standards that I believe are harmful to women of all biological configurations.

Historically the transgender community has fought not just for acceptance, but acceptance based on more than just physical appearance. Whether you have transwomen who should be accepted as women regardless of their physiology or transmen who should not be classed as lesbians simply because of how they dress, one of the primary messages the trans community wants heard is that looks aren’t everything.  A message that seems to be the very antithesis of the appearance based message that these pageants promote.

While no one should be denied entry into something based solely on their birth sex, I have to wonder what kind of message our community is sending out when we blindly support the kind of activities in which looks are the chief reason for its existence. 

 

this post was originally posted at PositiveLite

Hi, my name is Wes…part 3

“Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” -Frank Herbert

The internet is a wonderful thing really. From inside the relative safety of our homes we can reach out and chat with people hundreds of miles away. Through social networking sites, we can interact with people we never would have even met otherwise. It was through some mutual friends and the wonders of internet connectivity that I met a woman who I’ll call Andrea (of course, it’s not her real name). She and I began by commenting on a mutual friend’s blog posts and eventually struck up a friendship, which over time, blossomed into a romance. We spent hours chatting and exchanging bits and pieces of our lives. Our debates and discussions covered everything from politics to sex to gender. You see, as I mention in my last post, Andrea identified as transgender. She was born male and transitioned to living full time as a woman.

In my exploration of sex and kink, I had come to realize that I wasn’t the kind of person who cared about the configuration of my partner’s genitals. In fact, really the only thought I would give to genitals was to find out what type my sexual partner had so that we could discuss what type of sex we’d like to have with them. As I often said, if you had the bits I wanted  – great, if not we’d just go shopping. When Andrea revealed to me that her genitals didn’t match her presentation, I gave it no more than a cursory thought. After all, not only was she located in the United States, neither of us had enough extra money lying around to take a trip. The likelihood of this ever becoming an issue we’d need to deal with was remote, at best.

I will eventually learn not to make sweeping pronouncements about relationships. At that time however, I had not yet learned the lesson. While I was confident that Andrea and I would never meet, the fates decided that my confidence would end up being misplaced. In May of 2009 I went to Montreal for four days for a romantic getaway with her

Although I was still living with my husband, functionally our marriage had collapsed some time ago.

Full of excitement and not a small amount of trepidation, I took the train to Montreal to begin what would end up being the final few weeks of living as a woman. My partner and I were involved in a fetish relationship and part of that relationship was built around my ‘alter male identity’ which I was going to have the luxury of indulging for the next four days.

The trip to Montreal turned out to be sheer bliss on several fronts. Not only did I get to enjoy the beautiful city, more importantly I had a chance to truly bring my masculinity out of the closet in an unapologetic way and simply see what it would be like.

It was fantastic. I felt freer and more relaxed about things that entire weekend. Part of that I attributed simply to being in Montreal (one of my favourite cities) and part of it I chalked up to not having to watch myself or try to fit into this preconceived notion of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ that I’d constructed in my head. You see, I had spent the last few years trying very hard to find a notion of femininity that worked for me. I thought if I read just one more woman’s magazine, or learned how to pick the latest colours, or the prettiest makeup then everything would fall into place and I’d get the hang of being a girl. I was certain that women around me possessed some secret to liking their basic femaleness that I had not yet discovered. I truly believed that although I had missed it as a child, I could acquire this secret by indulging in the best, and worst, that feminine culture had to offer. This trip gave me the chance to set aside that quest for a few days and just relax. Relax and talk to Andrea about what her experiences were like growing up as someone who came to identify as transgender.

They were conversations that had repercussions that last to this very day. As she talked, I heard thoughts and feelings that were mine coming out of her mouth. I heard my pain, confusion and loneliness echoed in the stories she told about her isolation and rejection. Immediately, I dismissed the thoughts I was having as simply my own feeble efforts to grasp at any reason to explain my constant, subtle discomfort with my life. I tried to tell myself that the only reason I wanted this to fit is that I was tired of feeling miserable. I was certain that this couldn’t be the real reason. After all, I was a wife and the mother of a beautiful little boy, surely there was no way this profound issue could be the cause of what really looked like nothing more than a mild depression. I had felt grey and dull for so long, I could no longer see how truly depressed I was. No, I decided that I was crazy (again) and simply pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind, determined to just get on with life and stop this nonsense.

Two weeks later, with the thoughts still rolling around my head, two books arrived on my doorstep. Sent to me by Andrea with a note saying how she thought they’d be very informative in helping me understand where she was coming from. Only later did she tell me that she sent them to me because she had a very good idea that this was what I was struggling to come to terms with.

The first book Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg was so very, very difficult to read. Although economically I had little in common with the main character, I could relate in so many powerful ways to the narrative. I couldn’t read more than two pages at a time simply because I had to process what I’d read and find some emotional equilibrium before I could go on. My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein was the literary nail in the coffin. Through her use of humour and with an irreverent style, she asks the reader to examine their concepts of gender and, if the reader is willing, play with those concepts. I took the challenge, and realized with a miserable, sick feeling that I fell very squarely on the male end of the spectrum.

It took me another couple of weeks to come to a place where I could face this conclusion and move forward. My world had blown apart internally and I felt utterly shattered. Everything I’d known for nearly 34 years was turning out to be no closer to the truth than a shadow is to the real object. The person I had constructed over the years was largely what I thought I was supposed to be. Sure, there was some core elements of me in that façade however the outward expression reflected what I thought I was being asked to be. I was a good (ok, not so good really, actually quite miserable) wife and a good mom. I wore stylish clothes, tried to read the right magazines. WHY DIDN’T THIS WORK? I was furious, I was frightened but most of all, I was confused. If I wasn’t the person that I looked at in the mirror every day then, who was I?

Once I made the decision to move forward and explore this issue I felt an incredible lightness inside me. It felt as if a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I talked with my therapist about what was happening and even though she didn’t have any expertise in this area, she remarked that she felt a sudden rightness when I told her that I believed I was living in the wrong body.

Nearly three years later, I have to say that her hunch was right on. I packed up all my overtly female clothing and decided that in order to test this, I was going to see if I could ‘go male’ for at least 6 months. There was to be no going back to the ‘girl’ clothes unless I was naked or needed to appear at a family function. As it turns out, I ended up giving the clothes away and haven’t once regretted my decision.

While my life has radically changed, those first few painful months quickly gave way to a sense of authenticity and ‘rightness’ that I had never felt before. I could finally look in the mirror and see reflected at me, the image I’d always carried of myself in my head. Day by day, I was shedding old images and habits and forging a new and better path. With that said, the path has not always been easy to walk.

Stay tuned as I talk about some of my day-to-day experiences and struggles living as an openly transgender man.  

Disclosure

I want to fuck.

When I say I want to fuck I mean I really REALLY want to fuck. I want to fuck and suck and roll around and get sweaty and dirty and in general, enjoy my body and it’s physicality. Yet, I don’t. I don’t really do any of those things because I’m stuck in this female body. I want to feel his hands pushing and pulling at me. I want to feel bodies sliding against one another all angles and curves mixing with tautness of muscle and softness of skin. I want the smell of raw, powerful sex to fill my senses and I want to shut my brain off and let my body do it’s thing.

I feel that but for this damned body, I could do those things. I hesitate being naked in front of people because I am ever reminded that the vision I see of me in my head, doesn’t even come close to matching what the world sees.
I am all curves and softness, not flat planes and wiry muscles. My chest is heavy with two breasts that I neither need nor want. The space where my legs join is hollow and receiving. Even my hips betray my biological sex with their gentle swell instead of unremarkable narrowing.

The guy I saw last night, last week, last month. The cute one with the bubble butt, or dreamy eyes, or beautiful smile, will see me at first as I see myself. If the clothes come off however, it is then he will see how my body has betrayed me, continues to betray me.

If I’m lucky, or smart, or well prepared, we will have already spoken about that reality and there will be no shock. If I have been afraid, or less than careful…the shock may torpedo any further intimacy.

Not disclosing soon enough may get me badly hurt or even killed. Disclosing early may get me politely shut down or rejected.

I walk a tightrope in which I balance the need for physical deception with emotional honesty.

When, where, how? I wish I had the answers

A rose by any other name?

As some of you may know, I occasionally go out into my local community and provide information sessions/educational presentations to our local universities and colleges regarding transgender issues. I often talk about my experiences before and after transition as well as some of the obstacles i face in day to day life. My presentations are open discussion styles and I always encourage my audience to ask their questions so that i can address the needs of my audience, rather than just rambling on aimlessly.

I also provide at least one interactive component to my presentation to get my audience engaged and thinking. At this last one, I asked the folks to write down three things that are related to their gendered identity starting with their name. Once they’d all indicated they were done, I asked everyone to hand me over their names. I explained that they didn’t get their names anymore as part of transition. They looked startled and I explained that often when one is transitioning, one of the first things given up is your name. Granted, there are some folks who choose to keep their name, or alter it ever so slightly however if one is planning on going through the Gender Identity Clinic (GID) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one needs to realize that the name they pick will be subject to just as much scrutiny as everything else about that person and if the name is found wanting, it could result in denial of service.

Names are also how we identify ourselves to the outside world. They can immediately indicate to people very important things about our identity and possibly even how we wish to be addressed. Most people who hear the name ‘Lisa’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is female/woman. Likewise, most people who hear the name ‘Wesley’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is male/man. I was at the doctors the other day when the nurse came out and asked for ‘legal female name’. I sat very still for a moment seeing if she would correct herself. Rather than that, she went back to the receptionist, looked at my chart/file and called ‘legal female name again’ only then pausing and asking for me by name.

I was infuriated. It’s very clearly set out on my file that I am transgender and that I prefer my ‘use name’ to be used. By way of apology she said “I’m sorry, I looked so quickly I didn’t notice”

I was restrained and polite. Very, very polite. I simply nodded and said I see.

She indicated very vehemently that it wouldn’t happen again from her. I’m willing to believe she won’t make that mistake again. However, this is the second person in this office (and the second appointment in a row) who has made this mistake. This is not ok.

Before you ask, I didn’t bring the issue up with my doctor. I’m trying to find a way to approach it that doesn’t go straight for the jugular while also not being so passive as to have the point missed. It’s a delicate balance. How do I explain to them that outting me that way could potentially be a fatal mistake? How do I explain that slowing down and actually reading my name isn’t really going to take any more time than going back to check the name on the chart? I understand they are busy however names are one of humanity’s defining features. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that if you go back to check the name, you actually read the whole of it.

I ask you dear readers, how do you make the transition from your birth name to the name you want used. What do you do when you can’t afford the legal name change? Do you educate folks as you come in contact with them or do you just sigh and answer to your legal name?

Is it really a choice?

The other day when I was a guest on our local radio talk show, both the host and one of the listeners used wording that made it seem like being transgender is a choice. One of the listeners that called in said “…these people are trying to have us legitimize their behaviour(1)..” and another caller said “…well it was your choice to be who you wanted to be…(2)“. What this sounds like – at least to me – is that many people still think that being transgender is a choice -that it’s a lifestyle or set of behaviours that we choose.

I would like to ask these people a very, very simple question: Why would anyone willingly choose a lifestyle or set of behaviours which puts them at a much greater risk for depression, suicide, assaults both sexual and physical and even becoming a victim of homicide?

In an e-bulletin issued on November 12th 2010, the Trans Pulse survey group released results from the survey that had been sent to people who had identified as transgender. This survey was unique in that it is a respondent driven survey. Once you had obtained a code to complete the survey (presumably from a transgender connection of your own) you were given three codes to pass on to other trasngender folks. This survey garnered 433 results and was limited to Ontario only. Of those numbers, a startling 77% said they had seriously considered suicide(3). What’s even more heartbreaking is that 43% had actually attempted suicide(4).

That’s just the most recent statistic I was able to find on the subject of suicide and transgender folks. This doesn’t even address the homicides,assaults (sexual or physical), discrimination, or issues of homelessness that transgender people face on a daily basis.

I ask you, do you really think someone would choose a lifestyle that puts everything on the line like that? Do you think boys, girls, men and women just wake up one day and say “Hey, I’d like to dramatically increase my risk of dying and of being assaulted. I haven’t been discriminated against enough lately and I could really use some fuel for some suicidal ideation. I think I’m going to just change my gender and see what happens.”

Sounds silly when you say it that way, doesn’t it? Yet that’s what many critics of trans folk argue. That it’s a choice, that we somehow woke up one morning and decided we weren’t happy with our gender the way it was and just decided it was time for a change.

I know I wouldn’t be going down this road just for kicks, would you?

Thanks to Ashley N for her editorial assistance

1 The Jeff Allan Show podcast on March 1st 2011 “Gender Identity Bill” segment http://www.570news.com/listen/listenplayer/190907–10am-gender-identity-bill
2 Ibid
3 Ontario’s Trans Communities and Suicide : Transphobia is Bad for Our Health. Trans PULSE E-Bulletin Volume 1, Issue 2. November 12 2010 http://transpulse.ca/documents/E2English.pdf
4 Ibid

Why can’t we all just get along?

This morning I had the opportunity to serve as a guest on a local call in talk show. The host was discussing bill C-389, The Trans Rights Bill which passed in the House of Commons not long ago. One of the most widely discussed objections to this bill is the fear that this bill will allow ANY man to simply claim ‘an innate feeling of femaleness‘ as an excuse to engage in behaviour that is sexually inappropriate in women’s washrooms.

The Honourable Marlene Jennings mentioned during her conversation with the show’s host,
“….it is a criminal act to assault, sexually assault a child, to lure a child, to sexually exploit a child, or an adult. Any sexual assault, it doesn’t matter where it happens it’s a criminal act and nothing in bill c-389 changes that.”

Essentially what that tells me, as a transgender person, is that I will still be held to the same standard of the law as every other Canadian or visitor to Canada. This is as it should be.

One of the callers to the show questioned the need for this bill. Essentially their argument was that as this applies to such a small minority of people, there really is no need to single out this group out as in need of protection.

In 2001, census statistics put Canada’s population of disabled persons at about 12.4% of . There were over 28 million people counted in that census. That figure translates into about 3.6 million people living with disabilities and  we don’t dispute the need to protect the rights of disabled Canadians.  As per Canada’s Human Right’s act, discrimination based on disability is illegal.

Why? Because they are Canadians, plain and simple.

I don’t believe that protection should be extended to a group of Canadians ONLY if their numbers exceed a certain arbitrarily set amount.  Firstly because, who would set that number? Our government? Our population? Some obscure think tank? So let’s go ahead and say that someone has said that any special interest group must have more than 1000 people who qualify for inclusion into this group. How exactly do the rights of 999 people mean any less than the rights of 1000 people? I know that when we say one person can make a difference we really mean it, but does not hitting that arbitrary number invalidate the rights of all the other people included in that group? I don’t believe it does.

Secondly, even if we did decide who would set that number, how do we know that the people who went ahead and set that boundary are well and truly qualified to assess the needs of a group of Canadians that they may not even know? Does this same group of policy makers decide what criteria need to be met in order for inclusion in this group? How do they go about that process? Do they ask the Canadians who are seeking to have their human rights spelled out what constitutes inclusion into that group or do they again make arbitrary decisions about what inclusion means? Are these policy makers in touch with the Canadians who’s rights they are deciding on?

As a person of transgender experience I find it insulting when people who have never had the experience of living in a gender role other than what they were assigned at birth presume to be able to say with any certainty what transgender means, what it looks like or even how it’s experienced.

We protect our ‘special interest groups’ and their rights because every one of them is Canadian. End of story.

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