Gifts and Discoveries
|“My soul is too cramped for you to enter it,” lamented Augustine. Later he would find this cry itself something of an answer from God in the first place—for how could a soul articulate its longing for God if the Spirit had not first shown it what it longs for? Yet how familiar these initial attempts to approach God with a dreaded sense of failure seem to be. Is it God who first approaches? Or we who have to first clear the way? Might God approach even in our restless longing, even as our souls are cramped with baggage and the journey at times seems more a fight with self than a means of meeting the Other?
Author and former atheist Anne Lamott begins her story with borrowed words of W.S. Merwin: “We are saying thank you and waving, dark though it is.”(1) She describes darkness in a broken world and an unpredictable childhood, the dimming affects of self-loathing, addiction, fear, guilt, and grief. And yet she somehow describes the presence of one to thank regardless, one whose light gradually appeared through a world that slowly cracked into a thousand pieces—maybe even cracking mercifully?
Whether the journey of faith is a miracle or it is more like a gift that requires some assembly, I’m not sure. “Man is born broken,” quotes Lamott. “He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” How else would one come to know the Father of Light in the house of a father who despised Christianity. Lamott describes the family codes which solemnly held everyone to unbelief. “It was like we all signed some sort of loyalty oath early on,” she writes, “agreeing not to believe in God in deference to the pain of my father’s cold Christian childhood.” Mercifully or ironically, there was also a sense of moral obligation preached in her household, a clear (even disheartening) scale of good and bad, acceptable and insufficient. Thus, “I bowed my head in bed and prayed, because I believed—not in Jesus—but in someone listening, someone who heard.” Apparently, the cosmic umpire so many know and fear lurches even in atheist households.
Yet from the beginning, there were clues that this someone was relational—in the differences she saw in the social structures of her and her friends’ houses, in the Catholic family who offered images of God both compelling and odd, in her need to please the one who listened, like one might a foreign, unpredictable, unknown king. “This God could be loving and reassuring one minute, sure that you had potential, and then fiercely disappointed the next, noticing every little mistake and just in general what a fraud you really were.”
And yet maybe even broken images of God somehow matter, as God approaches to shatter and re-form even these. Lamott describes a life of encounters with God in places of desperation—in a drunken haze, in a broken vehicle, on the bathroom floor, in deaths and in birth and in dying, in her own vehement denials of an approaching God. When the English teacher she loved became a born-again Christian, she wept at the betrayal and challenged this teacher on everything—”every assertion, even when she was right.” She willed not to believe, even as her own rebellion held the sneaking suspicion that God might be near.
Perhaps faith is indeed more a gift than a discovery, as John Calvin once insisted. If so, I like Lamott’s image of this gift better than most: like a sloppily wrapped package that repulses with absurdity yet somehow compells you to claim it for its beauty nonetheless. Wholly unable and unwilling to see or to seek God, a reluctant Lamott would eventually claim the gift of faith nonetheless. “I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus,” she said at the one who came so near she eventually stopped denying it. “And I was appalled.”
Dark and difficult, holy and absurd though it is, Lamott is right: It’s funny where we look for salvation, and where we actually find it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) As quoted in Anne Lamott’s, Traveling Mercies (New York: Random House, 1999).
Too good not to reblog
Sorry readers…I have been stewing over this for a couple of weeks, and have finally found the courage and balance to try and express myself over it. One last re-post, and then you are on your own and equipped with what you need to educate yourselves on this topic.
When you’re a writer, you want something you create to have a long life, to be something that readers will remember and revisit for years to come. If such was Caleb Hannan’s wish, it’s been granted, because his essay on “Dr. V and the magical putter” figures to be a permanent exhibit of what not to do, and how not to treat a fellow human being.
Hannan’s job might have seemed fairly straightforward. There’s a cool new tool with a padded sales pitch — does it really work? He could dig into its virtues on the golf course and look at the validity of Essay Anne Vanderbilt’s claims on behalf of her product, and as a matter of basic homework verify her claims of expertise in inventing it. And he did a good chunk of that checklist, effectively debunking her elaborate claims of expertise with an ease almost anyone in the electronic age has within his or her power. He struggled with the question of whether or not she’d actually designed a great putter; if you’re a golfer, that might have been what you wanted to know. It certainly would have been the extent of what you needed to know.
Unfortunately, that isn’t where Hannan stopped. Instead of fulfilling his mission in its entirety, he lurched into something that had nothing to do with his story, but that he was excited to share, repeatedly: Vanderbilt was a transsexual woman.
By any professional or ethical standard, that wasn’t merely irrelevant to the story, it wasn’t his information to share. Like gays or lesbians — or anyone else, for that matter — trans folk get to determine for themselves what they’re willing to divulge about their sexuality and gender identity. As in, it’s not your business unless or until the person tells you it is, and if it’s not germane to your story, you can safely forgo using it. Unfortunately, he indulged his discovery. The story’s problems include screw-ups you might expect for a writer or editors who aren’t familiar with this kind of subject matter — misgendering and ambiguous pronoun usage upon making his needless discovery of Vanderbilt’s past identity.
But we’re not here because Hannan and his editors blew a pronoun and that’s rude and we have some very thoughtful style guides from GLAAD and the Associated Press to recommend that deserve your perusal to avoid this kind of mistake in the future.
We’re here because Essay Anne Vanderbilt is dead.
And she’s dead because — however loath she was to admit it — she was a member of a community for whom tragedy and loss are as regular as the sunrise, a minority for whom suicide attempts outpace the national average almost 26 times over, perhaps as high as 41 percent of all trans people. And because one of her responses to the fear of being outed as a transsexual woman to some of the people in her life — when it wasn’t even clear the story was ever going to run — was to immediately start talking and thinking about attempting suicide. Again.
It was not Grantland’s job to out Essay Anne Vanderbilt, but it was done, carelessly. Not simply with the story’s posthumous publication; that kind of casual cruelty is weekly fare visited upon transgender murder victims in newspapers across the country. No, what Hannan apparently did was worse: Upon making the unavoidable discovery that Vanderbilt’s background didn’t stand up to scrutiny, he didn’t reassure her that her gender identity wasn’t germane to the broader problems he’d uncovered with her story. Rather, he provided this tidbit to one of the investors in her company in a gratuitous “gotcha” moment that reflects how little thought he’d given the matter. Maybe it was relevant for him to inform the investor that she wasn’t a physicist and probably didn’t work on the stealth bomber and probably also wasn’t a Vanderbilt cut from the same cloth as the original Commodore. But revealing her gender identity was ultimately as dangerous as it was thoughtless.
What should Grantland have done instead? It really should have simply stuck with debunking those claims to education and professional expertise relevant to the putter itself, dropped the element of her gender identity if she didn’t want that to be public information — as she very clearly did not — and left it at that. “That would have been responsible,” transgender activist Antonia Elle d’Orsay suggested when I asked for her thoughts on this road not taken. It’s certainly the path I would have chosen as a writer making this sort of accidental discovery, or would have insisted upon as an editor.
But because the site did go there, we have a problem, one that goes well beyond putters and overly contrived sales pitches. Because of this screw-up, we owe it to the ruin wrought in its wake to talk about the desperate lives that most transgender Americans lead and the adaptive strategies they have to come up with while trying to deal with the massive rates of under- and unemployment from which the trans community generally suffers. And we owe it to Essay Anne to understand how an attempt to escape those things became its own kind of trap, one Grantland had neither the right nor the responsibility to spring.
Let’s start off with acknowledging that, while I did not know her personally, apparently Essay Anne was a transgender woman in deep stealth, a term that means she did not want to be identified as transgender publicly, and probably not on any level personally. Stealth is tough to maintain, and generally involves trading one closet for another: You may be acting on your sense of self to finally achieve happiness, but the specter of potential discovery is still with you. And if you wind up in the public eye for any reason, stealth might be that much more difficult to maintain.
As an adaptive strategy to cope with being transgender, stealth is something of an unhappy legacy of an earlier age. It was often the recommended goal for trans folks from the ’60s well into the ’90s from a psychiatric community that was doing little better than winging it, and that poorly served a (now) older generation of the generally white trans women who could afford psychiatric help. So, at the same time the outbreak of AIDS was killing off so many of the nascent trans community’s much-needed leaders — including some of those who instigated the Stonewall riots and launched the LGBT rights movement in this country — another segment was being screwed by professional advice to cut themselves off from their families, their jobs, and their hometowns to begin life anew as someone else in their new gender. In stealth. Without the support network they’d spent their lives with. As if being trans weren’t hard enough, therapy’s best solution was to tell you to isolate yourself.
Which is nuts, but let’s be generous and accept that psychiatric care for trans folks was and remains a developing field, where the science is still trailing the authenticity of the lives that trans folks of every stripe are forced to lead. As a Z-list public figure as a columnist at Baseball Prospectus when I came out 11 years ago, I dispensed with the entire notion of stealth as ludicrous — I wanted to keep my career, family, and friends, and I felt (and still feel) no stigma as a result of the benefit of being born trans. If this is the hand I’ve been dealt, my job is to cope and make it work. I’m trans — so what? I certainly wasn’t going to detach myself from a past I had enjoyed as best I could, so figuring out how to integrate my past as Chris with my future as Christina was the centerpiece of my adaptive strategy.
But that’s the thing: When you’re trans, you learn that while there’s no one right way to transition into your new life, there are also plenty of wrong ways. One of the difficulties that Essay Anne had imposed on herself is that, while trying to live a life in total stealth, she was also a hostage to the impossible and implausible collection of lies she’d created to promote her invention, inevitably risking discovery in an era when a cursory investigation can invalidate claims about something like a doctorate.
Which does not get Grantland off the hook for blundering into outing her. A responsibility to the truth should have limited itself to what was relevant. If it had, would that have generated a happy ending? No, so let’s not kid ourselves. Shredding Vanderbilt’s claims of expertise by publication alone almost certainly wouldn’t have left her in good shape with her investors or consumers. She risked that by conjuring up an apparently bogus set of credentials to reinforce her claims for her putter, claims that were unavoidably part of the story because she’d made them in the first place. There’s no getting around that.
Hers is not the only story without a guaranteed happy ending where trans folks are concerned. For as much progress as seems to have been made, it has been a mixed bag of gains and setbacks. In sports, Bobbi Lancaster should get a shot to join the LPGA tour in 2014, but MMA fighter Fallon Fox has to compete in front of some of the most ferociously hateful audiences in any sport. In entertainment, we can revel in Laverne Cox’s breakthrough performance on Orange Is the New Black, but we also have to sit through watching Jared Leto make an unsympathetic ass of himself while taking bows for his caricature of a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club.
But as high-profile as trans people within the sports and entertainment industries might be, most trans folks are coping with much more desperate real-world concerns. While some of you are fidgeting over the Affordable Care Act’s benefits, in 45 of 50 states trans folks have to deal with the fact that the law doesn’t explicitly cover their health care needs, forcing us to pursue legal remedies. We can be happy that CeCe McDonald, a trans woman whose only crime was defending herself from a bigot’s assault, was released from prison last week after 19 months in jail; at the same time we have to live with knowing that Islan Nettles was beaten to death for being trans in New York City — in front of a police station, in front of multiple witnesses — and there has not been and may never be any justice done in her name. They’re just the names that achieved mainstream recognition, but behind CeCe and Islan are thousands of trans people ill served by our public institutions, by our public servants, and by more than a few of our fellow Americans.
Which leaves me deeply frustrated. First off because, even though we’re separated by layers of company hierarchy, if I had known this story was in the pipeline, my first instinct is that I’d want to help Bill Simmons and his team get the job done right. Even if I really would rather be talking about baseball — my day job, my dream job, my job-job as part of ESPN.com’s editorial and writing team for MLB — if I can help my colleagues and simultaneously make sure that the trans people who come up in their coverage get a fair shake, I welcome that opportunity.
But I’m also angry because of the more fundamental problem that this story perpetuates. We’re talking about a piece aimed at golf readers. So we’re talking about a mostly white, mostly older, mostly male audience that wound up reading a story that reinforced several negative stereotypes about trans people. For an audience that doesn’t usually know and may never know anyone who’s trans and may get few opportunities to ever learn any differently, that’s confirmation bias of the worst sort. I may not have made you care about people like CeCe McDonald or Islan Nettles or even Essay Anne Vanderbilt here, but better to fail in the attempt than to reinforce ignorance and contempt bred through the thoughtless trivialization of their lives and challenges.
Another rebog worthy posting
This is from a good blog:
I am not capable of saying it this well. Please read and allow your self to be enlarged.
Dr. V, Caleb Hannan, and Grantland
Hi — thank you for opening this and reading more about this horrible set of events. As it involves the life and experiences of a trans woman, which I am not, I ask that you read the voices of trans women writing about Dr. V before reading mine. (Or just their voices, if you have limited time.) They are very often written about, and not listened to, and it’s important to change that. Thanks.
Also, as the situation involves a reporter posthumously outing his subject as trans after her suicide, please consider this post and all of the links herein to have content warnings for suicide, transmisogyny, transphobia, and outing.
- The Tragedy of Dr .V by Kat Haché
- “Nobody knows my life but me”: An elegy for Dr. V by Katherine Cross
- What Grantland Got Wrong by Christina Kahrl (this is one of Grantland’s two official responses to the outcry after the Dr. V piece; Christina is a trans woman employed by ESPN, which owns Grantland)
- Prejudice Is Not An “Ethics Lapse” by Cheryl Morgan
- Strange story? No: just a writer who hasn’t grown up yet and Lies, damned lies, and absence of evidence by janefae
- Dead Trans Women in the Print Guillotine by aoifeschatology
I’m adding new pieces as I find them, but please feel encouraged to send them to me to accelerate: @handler on Twitter, michael/at\grendel/dot\net via email, or contact via Tumblr. Thanks. -mh
Dear Caleb Hannan & the editors of Grantland:
I’m not a habitual reader of Grantland, because I’m not much into the work-a-day issues and discussions of the sports world. I do love long-form journalism about specific people, and culture, and pop culture issues, and the works that I’ve read on Grantland have been satisfying enough that I kept on wondering why I wasn’t making it part of my regular reading rounds. The other week, I stumbled across Chuck Klosterman’s article about Royce White and mental health, and I shared it with my SO, and she shared it with her family, and we had a deep and connecting discussion about it which I am still appreciating.
Despite my lack of regular connection to Grantland, I am compelled to write in to you about Caleb Hannan’s article about Dr. V, which I read today, mostly in openmouthed disgust, and with increasing horror as it built to its conclusion.
There’s no question that the design, origin, and performance of a new golf club of mysterious provenance, from outside the historical establishment of equipment design, is a compelling and interesting story on many levels. There’s no question that the behavior and history of an erratic and inconsistent inventor, whose claimed superlative credentials persistently cannot be verified, is also compelling and relevant to the narrative.
There’s also no question that the way that Dr. V’s existence as a trans woman was researched, outed, and used in the narrative of the story was monstrous, stereotypical, transphobic, hurtful, and wrong.
- Caleb outed Dr. V as trans. Outing people is wrong, full stop. (The onlypossible exception is if the person holds a position of power and is using it to mistreat and oppress the population of which they are a member, e.g. secretly queer homophobic politicians, and even then, opinions are often divided on this topic. Regardless: it doesn’t apply here.)
- Caleb builds his outing of Dr. V as a trans woman into a narrative peak in the story, as if it’s something incredible or horrible or notably relevant, which it is not. He reinforces this by saying “a chill actually ran up my spine,” easily read as reinforcing that this was shocking news. (That he “ironically” calls this out as an explicit cliche doesn’t help, at all.)
- Caleb writes about Dr. V’s existence as a trans woman in the narrative of her apparently unverifiable claims about her work history and education, tarring her gender by association as another potential lie or deception or inconsistency amongst many. Any number of human beings of all gender histories have engaged in exaggeration or deception about their education, work, or accomplishments; why is her purported behavior tied to her gender in this story?
- Caleb writes that she was “born a boy” and uses male pronouns and her birth name for her when writing about her early life, without any knowledge that this would be what she wished, or an explicit disclaimer that he has no idea what her desires would be.
- Caleb’s article treats the fact that Dr. V was a trans woman as the linchpin in his narrative of her apparent deceptions and inconsistencies. Even in the section about the silent investor, he continues by inserting a parenthetical aside where he reveals outing her to Phil Kinney, contrasting Mr. Kinney’s description of her appearance and clothes with the (implied horrifying/misleading) “truth” about her.
I’m not a trans woman, and in no way should what I write here be taken as an authoritative list of what’s wrong with this article, nor do I want to claim to be an authority about how one should write about trans women in order to treat them with respect.
But having read even a small number of narratives and writing by trans people, and by trans women in particular, the starting list here of glaring, flaming, eternally repeated and perpetually painful mistakes are both obvious and completely avoidable. Simple decency and compassion for other human beings gets you the rest of the way there to confirming that.
None of this invasive mock-detective work was necessary to tell a compelling and complete story. A narrative of “I couldn’t verify any of her work or education history, and she wouldn’t participate in any verification in a way I could accept” is just as good. A different name and assigned gender at birth is just another set of queries to run in a database, and come up with no results. But for whatever reason, Caleb fixated on Dr. V’s gender as a way to run this story to ground narratively, and in that way may very well have helped run her to ground, too.
Caleb: I don’t know what was in Dr. V’s mind; I only know her through your words, and I’m not sure how much I can trust them, both because of your clear biases and mistakes here, and because I’m not sure she trusted you enough to give you a full and accurate picture of herself. (Rightfully so, as it turns out.) So I can’t and won’t make a stark assertion that you are responsible for her suicide. But, given what you knew about the state of her mental health (apparently in advance), and what you easily could have understood about the risks of what you were engaging in… If I was in your shoes, I’d wonder daily about just how culpable I was in her death, and be haunted by the realization that I’d never know.
(That you started out today tweeting about how blocking people feels fantastic, after you’d started getting angry responses to this article, well… I will call it what it is: smug privileged assholery at its finest.)
Caleb, on the 12th of January you tweeted multiple times about how awful Bill Keller’s NYT op-ed about Lisa Adams was. (I agree emphatically, and wrote my own screed about it on Medium.) You called it “anti-human”, and retweeted @popehat saying “Do you regard suffering human beings as abstractions?” This shows to me that you do know the perspective that many of us who are speaking to you about this share. I don’t know why you weren’t able to bring that same awareness to bear on your own writing, reporting, and direct interactions with Dr. V, and for her sake, I truly wish you had been able to.
Grantland editors: This is article is journalistic overreach and malpractice at its most basic level. I don’t know what the group of you knew, and when you knew it, but if you were aware of the extent of Caleb’s activities during his writing, you should have stopped him from hounding her to the extent he did. Barring that, it should not have been published in this form, with this narrative. There’s no sign, discussion, or apparent awareness that this may very well have been a situation where the activities of your reporter contributed to or caused the suicide of his subject. I’m horrified that you’d want it published under your masthead, with your names on it.
I know you’re not Buzzfeed or Gawker or a tabloid. It’s clear from your site and your activities in general that you all feel connected to the practice, history, ethics, and importance of journalism, and generally strive to be a good example of… whatever that is evolving into being, in the modern era. But you stepped very, very far across the line here, and that needs to be acknowledged and repaired, to the extent that it can be.
As a class, trans women are currently some of the most vulnerable human beings on the planet, and it’s up to everyone to work toward changing that, if you don’t want to be an monster (by action or inaction) during your brief life here. Outing someone or subjecting them to asymmetrical attention can lead to abuse and harassment, or loss of housing, physical safety, sanity, health, stability. These are not hypothetical concerns, and they are painfully experienced (and exceedingly well documented) by trans women, every day. The Internet can present copious examples to you instantly, if you take but a moment to look.
Journalism is needs to be about punching up, not punching down towards people who can least afford to respond, or be the target of it. Hounding Dr. V when she clearly wanted to be left alone, telling her story to the world in your words and perspective (when she’s dead and can’t respond — and daring to call it a “eulogy”!) and flaying her open on the page (for the “sin” of having lied about where she went to school and worked, while inventing and marketing a possibly curiously useful new golf club) is punching very very very very far down indeed.
I know we’re all human. You made a mistake; that’s inevitable for all of us. But this is a big one, a horrendously bad and unkind one. You published an article that got its perspective very very wrong, and treated its subject as less human than others, and clearly concerned and hurt her very badly.
Please, please, please, please, please listen to what is being said, reflect on this and understand, and try and make it right, both for Dr. V and for the future.
Thanks for reading.
Are you aware of the recent outing of a trans-woman by the blog Grantland? It is a heartbreaking story to all of us who share humanity, as there was yet another life laid on the altar of the yawning maw of the false gods of trans-phobia and hate…and it is a tragic and gut-wrenching story to trans-humans everywhere…countless other blogs have written in detail about it, but I want to give my thoughts and reactions to this thing.
First of all, just google the Story of Dr. V, or Inventor of magical putter…go to Grantland.com and look for the archives and it is easily found…you can read the original story and if you are cis, you will have one reaction to the story…but this was my reaction:
Here is someone like me in terms of the volcano of hurt and despair and desperation and ultimately hopelessness that happens within someone who has woken up in the wrong body and has to serve a life sentence. She had to try to cope, and then when she (like me) discovered that something can actually be done about it, there is indeed a trapdoor through which one can slip out of jail, but also that the hounds will trail, will bay and howl and sniff…
…so she took her courage in hand, pulled the rip chord, and then did her best to stay escaped, walking in the waters to hide her scent from the dogs, walking on the rocks so as not to leave tracks, striving to leave behind her past…not because she is ashamed of who she was!!! But rather because if the hounds and jailers found out who she was THEY would make her present a paradigm of shame and loathing and she would be then seen as a freak, and worse.
Alas, life. Life happens to we humans, regardless of gender. All humans have made mistakes, all humans have told lies, all humans have presented themselves outwardly to others differently than who they truly are inside. All humans have endeavored to present themselves truly, and then perceived falsely and thus been labeled liars or worse. For the cis world, wrapped in the legacy gifted to them by their gender “normalcy”, there is compassion for the wrongly accused, there is mercy to the fallen, and ultimately, for the ones who intentionally deceive for sordid gain there is pity and the sop of correction via the penitentiary system.
But if you are also a transgender human, suddenly you find a level of malevolence added to all of the above, a sense of de-legitimacy is bound round about you…what might be a simple failure of life common and possible for anyone to stumble in instantly becomes a deviant and diabolical plot to deceive and defile. And for some reason or another, the fear that someone might actually bond with a transgender person and like them engenders so much loathing that the justified reaction to that is to destroy them violently (and usually with extreme malice…this is factually the case nearly always: dismemberment, the complete basing in of the face and head, and worse)…
…and then there is the “compassionate reaction”: simply shame them, rain down ridicule and hatred with such unrelenting force that they kill themselves! Perfect solution! Make the trans human do your dirty work for you, so you can sit with Pilate and clean hands looking on.
This poor woman transitioned, and then, only she knows what she did and more importantly why she did it…she falsified credentials and history, and then created a brilliant new golf club that many people liked very much.
Along came a young and curious cis-gender male, wrapped without knowing he was, in all his priveleged splendour! Eager to practice all he had been taught in becoming a journalist, he did his best investigative reporter schtick and began to try to do a feature story on this club and its creator…and in the process, thanks to his talent and skill that lay tragically uninformed by wisdom or education, he realized that things were not adding up.
I will let you read for yourselves the resulting conclusion he came to and what he did with it. But let me just say this: if you google transgender, and scratch even a shallow ways beneath the sensational and porn polluted links that form the cartoonish and lewd popular image of trans-people, you can find pages and pages of well written, calm, scientific explanation of a real condition that falsifies the binary and woefully insufficient definition of the gender experience of human beings. You will find story after story of men and women who very successfully and morally transitioned to their proper body orientation thanks to modern medicine, and have gone on to live fruitful and contributing lives in a wide variety of ways. You will find that gender variance is more common than many birth defects that are accepted as nearly instantly correctable. And you will find that new and enlightened views on gender do not assume that variance is a result of a defect at all!
It is actually quite encouraging, interesting, fascinating even.
You will find that other cultures and other times have actually been light years ahead of us, having far more enlightened and merciful views on these things.
And you will also find tragic stories that read so similar to any tale of the desperate and cruel measures taken by people of privilege when that privilege is threatened and on the wane. The same tactics of othering and then destroying.
This can be done in a matter of days…and for an important article such as the one that this author aspired to produce, it seems obvious in hindsight that such research should have been done. Consulting with other transgender people and asking them how they see the issue before anything else is done would seem obvious.
But not only was this not done…it was not even THOUGHT OF! Gawd…it never even occurred to the author, or the editors of the sight.
The transwoman begged them to not go forward with things…and they heard the pleas of a con artist found out, instead of an escapee from gender prison who felt the hot breath of the hounds on her heels.
I felt her fear…I felt her horror…I felt her terror…I felt her despair…and at last, I felt her death, and it rocked me back, it frightened me and terrified me. I cried most of the day after I read it, for with the wrong step, the wrong word, that could be me, and the walls come tumbling down onto me, destroying my life as I know it. I plan to leave this life behind…but in due season and time, like a child leaves the womb at the right time.
MY GENDER IDENTITY IS MINE TO REVEAL AS I CHOOSE, WHEN I CHOOSE, and HOW I CHOOSE!
The thought of some stranger coming into my life, prying, asking questions, and making threats chills me.
Bill Simmons wrote a well intentioned apology, and it was pretty good for one soused in ignorance. I can only hope that he is haunted by knowing that indirectly her blood is on his hands…and maybe he can be motivated to educate himself on these issues and allow his consciousness to be raised. Think of what could happen if he allowed transgender contributors to educate, inform, and then ultimately just join in the conversation and judged only on the content of their ideas and not on the label put on them gender-wise.
In conclusion…a word of thanks you you my followers, for I have been received as me…without exception! Many of you have written me the kindest little notes that have encouraged me to keep on writing.
“Oh Humans…we have been shown what is good, what is required of us…it is simple and short:
Love one another, forgive, and be kind.”
I think of you often,
your soul sparkle fierce and exultant,
but that ache,
that gash left by the fall.
Snatched away from your heart,
torn and sudden…and the grief, the rage,
the sadness, the ache
oh the ache.
But you are amazing to me,
for you shine still…
your shine is not a choice,
it is the You-ness of you,
and I know in my soul
that you are like a
wrung out sponge
to those in your life…
dipped into the wine,
into the water,
into the broth, and
gently wrung out
over parched heart lips
…drop by drop…
and supremely precious,
for each and every drop
is infused by your
faith to carry on
in the face of that
which cannot be named
for it is behind empty,
blessing to this world,
and mother to many,
your small notes
during a time
of mortal danger to me,
a time when despair
transmogrified into hyenas
slathering and gibbering
cowardly courageous in
to chew at my achilles heels
Seeking to lame me,
deliberate and cruel
to maim me.
(David with sling and stone)
you with light touch and gushing empathy
lobbed your rocks towards
those foul goliaths.
I thank God for you,
pray for you,
and ask that Lady Grace
would make straight your path,
would take up residence within you,
would make you the Temple
surpassing in their simple
comfort and joy.
You are one of the best.
and stand up
and hold up…
(Gentle reader, head over to Blooming Spiders for words of honesty, words of truth, and words of life)
“There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me.”
Laura Jane Grace
” She makes all that cis punk sound limp in comparison.”
From a review of Laura Jane Grace’s new album Against Me by Jeremy D. Larson
Roll back stormy waters, roiling steely dark and deep.
Roll back clinging finger-waves and the icy grip they keep.
Make a way thru waters where there isn’t any way
And lead me laughing, walking, running out of miry clay.
Elder voices rebound around, echoes from my past,
Deep bass rumbles, gruff and loud remind me of my caste…
Hairy, clumsy, unrefined the world which held me chained
Roll them back, please scour me, set me free from all that’s stained.
Behind me, tumult quiets as I stride forward in grace,
At my left hand are threatening wails and rain-lash on my face,
At my right arm benighted phobic zombies gibber shrill
Roll back the waters Adonai, and lead me up Your hill.
I walk on dry ground breathlessly, forward in the night
Reminding myself all the time I walk by faith not sight.
My soul will someday sing the song of Miriam and rejoice,
But now, ROLL BACK, please…save me, for You are my always choice.
I have been thinking of the extreme reaction that most people have who are uninformed or have never ever given any thought to the construct of gender when they come into contact with a transgender person. Unfortunately, especially with cismen, this reaction is nearly always violent and abusive emotionally, and very often that violence takes on physical expression as well, and another transwoman joins the broken and crushed ranks of the statistics.
My thoughts are running along the question: WHY????
Why the violent reaction? At times ciswomen react that way as well, but usually it is men. Now, obviously this reaction is not okay in that it results in a lot of hurt in every way. But to stop there, with the understanding that it isn’t ok is to miss a larger and more salient observation. It is this…I think that transphobia and dysphoria are mirror images!!
Think about it: most of the time the horror of cis-gendered males, even fear and loathing…the immediate and totally male reaction of taking physical steps that involve muscle and doing to change something…the attempt to eradicate the “wrong” person and condition…the attempt to “otherize” the trans-person, all in hopes that “normalization” can be reestablished and the status quo restored…
…all of these things mirror the feelings that assail one who suffers from gender dysphoria…the horror of being in the wrong body…the attempt to change that wrongness…the anger and fear of being trapped in the wrong body which is turned inward and becomes depression and suicidal desire. Tragically, we transgender people have “murdered” as many of us as cis-gender people have, in that we commit suicide at a horrendous rate.
So…please, when you encounter a trans-gender person, and you reflexively go to the far corner of the binary, and if you find strong feelings within yourself about the interaction, stop! Think! And try on this idea…
The very same sort of horror you may be feeling is what we have lived with since the day we became conscious! Except you can go somewhere else and forget about it, but us? No matter where we go, there we are.
Let me propose a better way…let us all lay down our horror, our revulsion, and let us acknowledge that the binary is simply inadequate and artificial and needs to be trans-cended…let us lift up our hearts and open our spirits to a better way, and assist us all in truly becoming who we are created to be, intended to be. And let us realize that the miracles of modern medicine and technology can literally work wonders for humans of all gender!
Long ago, when I first began this blog, I posted about how I discovered that my gender belonged to everyone else that I knew and not to myself. I quickly realized once I knew the inner truth that I had so long tried to tell myself, and for so long had run from, that people would literally freak out if they found out that I was actually a woman and always had been. Oddly, it would make so much sense to so many who never really understood me…male friends who were totally perplexed by me, and who often called me gay, fag, a girl, etc. would then actually have a logical explanation. Women friends who like me very much and actually treat me like one of them would finally understand why I was easy to talk to and not like other men…
…but in actuality, the unusualness of this would freak people out, and my gender would be severely policed. I would be run out at w**k, almost immediately, as due to the nature of our c**w interaction, those guys would feel betrayed. It feels so weird to see everyone else allowed to own their gender with virtually no cost, but to realize that mine would have to be purchased from everyone else with the currency of fear, shame, rejection, alienation, and possibly even violence.
What I didn’t realize though, is what Brynn writes about in this article, on how so very little of our lives as transhumans is allowed to be ours. I encourage you to read this and ponder it.
One last comment…my dearest darling had an experience where she felt labeled as being “masculine” and it irked her deeply. She resented being gendered that way, and fumed. Later, as she reflected she realized that her reaction was so much due to her upbringing and being deeply immeshed in the binary concerning gender. After she finished relating the story to me, I asked her to consider a life where everyday, in virtually every encounter, she was mis-gendered that way…where she incurred significant social pressure to dress according to the mis-genderedness, to act according to it, talk according to it, work according to it, love and marry according to it…
…she was very quiet and thoughtful, and told me she had just gained a deeper glimpse into the life that I had walked everyday since I was just under 4 years old.
On to the essay……………………………….
The Fatal Transgender Double Standard
A few days ago, Katie Couric interviewed transgender model Carmen Carrera, andOrange is the New Black star Laverne Cox. For whatever reason, Couric chose to veer suddenly into questioning Carrera about how her “private parts” are “different now” and if she’s had that surgery yet. Carmen shushed her immediately, and reminded Couric that’s a very private issue. In the next segment with Laverne, Couric went right back to asking Ms. Cox about the genitalia question.
Laverne’s answer was flawless.
“The preoccupation with transition with surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the [LGBT] community. … [B]y focusing on bodies, we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”
Other commentators have noted that the bodies of transgender people are somehow public domain. Though Laverne alluded to it, not only are our bodies expected to be public domain, but so are our histories. The results of this unrealistic expectation are horrific.
In Australia, police took a man into custody. While there, the police (illegally) informed him that his girlfriend was a post-operative transsexual. After being released from police custody, he went home, found his girlfriend sleeping, and woke her up by repeatedly bludgeoning her with a glass ash tray until it tore her lips off. After she lost consciousness, he took her to the attic balcony and threw her over the rail onto the concrete two floors below.
The police who leaked this information got community service as punishment.
In Scotland, a transgender man has been convicted of rape and placed on the sex offender list for not disclosing to his girlfriend that he was transgender before engaging in consensual sexual activity.
I have seen it expressed that any transgender person who does not tell their partner that they have transitioned is guilty of rape, and that violence against the transgender person is merely an act of justifiable self-defense. The way this man stuck his hands down the pants of a transgender woman without her consent and then beat her when he found out her birth gender. One commenter on this assault summed up how transgender people are expected to know their place:
“Since heterosexual males generally are not looking for a person of the same physical sex as them, shouldn’t this transgender person have informed the man that she is in reality a male? “Anita” Green is the problem here, not the poor guy who got duped.”
When 18-year-old Angie Zapata’s boyfriend found out she was transgender by forcibly groping her, he bludgeoned her to death with a fire extinguisher. A commenter on theDenver Post summed up society’s feelings in one sentence: “This transgender brought it on himself…”
Not only are our bodies not our own, neither are the history of your genitals or your genetics. For whatever reason, this seems to only apply to transgender people.
Is there societal acceptance of someone who beats a woman when he finds out she’s a quarter Jewish? Are men required to tell if they’re circumcised? Women have to announce if they’re had a clitoral hood piercing? Is it self-defense if you murder your boyfriend because you found out he’s not a gold star gay like you? How about throwing your girlfriend off a balcony when you find out she identified as bisexual before she identified as a lesbian?
From Gwen Araujo, to Brandon Teena, to Angie Zapata, to Cemia Dove, our lack of ownership of our bodies has meant being forcibly stripped, groped, raped, strangled, stabbed burned, and bludgeoned. It means that transgender panic defenses live on in court, and sometimes even win. After Brandon McInerney shot Larry King twice in the back of the head in the middle of a crowded classroom, the jury deadlocked on the case. Some even sympathized with the murderer. “[Brandon] was just solving a problem,” one juror said.
Since Couric’s interview, much has been written about how transgender people seem to have no expectation of privacy. Laverne alluded to the violence that the transgender community faces. Couric’s expectation that transgender people have little right to physical privacy is an expression of the cause.
Follow Brynn Tannehill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BrynnTannehill
I have never encountered it before, but I have been told similar things before…accused of sincerity. Oh, and accused of being “enthusiastic” also. I cried when someone said that to me with the intent to injure me…until the Lady Grace directed me to go read the definition. It literally means “filled with God, infused with God”. I have proudly been sincerely enthusiastic ever since, in the most intentional of ways. 🙂
with fierce purpose.
Pushing, unnoticed, til thru
dark and unconscious earth
they poke, appear, and sing.
Blossoms of hope,
of song, of trailing beauty
and fragrant comfort.
My heart soars,
rises like the wave rises
and longs for Her
as the wave’s curl
longs to break
onto the shore
and be wasted there
and I too
will break on her
and rush over this earth
as a tide of fragrant blossoms.
your garden of Grace,
Give ear, sharp, perked up
Oh Lady Grace my Liege
to my words.
Consider my meditation.
Draw near, hover,
snuggle down over
my fear, pain,
anxious moments and
tossy topsy turvy turnings.
Hear my inner voice,
may it call true to You,
from mourning to morning,
may my soul learn to trust Thee.
For in the morning
will I direct my cries unto You,
and to you shall my inner eye
always gaze straight.
|The world is full of beginnings and endings. We begin a new year with a certain hope—another year, another chance, a new day. But we carry with us the same fears, the same longings, the same resolutions. A more cynical riposte thus might be: Is there ever really anything new about a new year? When the past or present seems so broken that its shards seem to reach well into the future, new days are often filled more with fear than with promise. I remember a time myself when I could see the end of a difficult situation, but I could not see a beginning unmarred by the residue of the past. ”Is there really such a thing as new day?” was the question I held disconsolately. A friend gave me the following words and asked me to hold them instead:
“But this I call to mind,
Spoken in a time of exile, I imagine these words were as pungent for the people they were spoken to as they were for me. The ancient writer held fast to the assurance of things new, even in the midst of a situation that blinded him from any vision of what that could possibly mean. In all of the suffering and sorrow surrounding him, it would not have been unreasonable for him to admit that he saw no way out. With all the damage that had been done, with the uncertainty of exile, and the finality of a destroyed Jerusalem, no one would have blamed him for seeing new mornings as nothing but a cynical promise of more of the same.
But this was not the lament on this writer’s lips. Written in the style of an ancient funeral song, the writer’s words, though consumed with death, call to this God by name: The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. Another translation reads, Because of Yahweh’s great love we are not consumed; his mercies are new every morning. What the writer was able to see in the midst of his own lamentation is that only an all-powerful God can truly make a beginning. New mornings, new years, in and of themselves, are useless and worse than useless if they are not seen as belonging to the one who makes all things new.
And often, it is in the midst of a definitive ending that this particular God brings new beginnings to life. In a poem called “Ash Wednesday,” T.S. Eliot describes redemption as a figure moving about ashes and endings.
The new years walk, restoring
Perhaps there is something restorative about a new years walk, something hopeful in unread visions and new days, precisely because there is a coming new day that this God has promised. Perhaps the hope promised in new mornings, the assurance of new mercies and new beginnings, is only a hint of the promise of a certain redemption, a new earth. In this higher dream, God is the dreamer, redeeming worlds, redeeming time; God’s redemption is the great love that prevents us from being consumed.
It is no coincidence that the last words of the Christian story are aimed at describing the beginning of something more than we see now. Depicting the vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” John reports a voice crying out: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
This day is new because it is a day made by the God of visions and beginnings, the God who came to live among mortals, the God who offers himself as a new portion every morning. Behold him come, for this is the Christian hope of newness.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
We have all heard it, have we not?
“It’s all good…everything happens for a reason.”
That line is used as a salve and as a panacea to any and all things not understood or sensible to us. And the implication is that we are supposed to just go with the flow and let this reason manifest. Far too often, this results in a sort of hollow fatalism which results in our justifying any action that we wish to pursue after we stamp our experience with that cliché.
But let’s stop a minute…what is the reason everything happens???
Is it always the same reason that everything happens? Does each thing happen for a different reason?
What if the reason is evil? Meaningless? Absurd? What then?
When atrocities occur, are those happenings for a reason, and if so, is there a reason to stop them? To let them continue?
See…it is the vague pithiness of that assumption that deeply disturbs me in my core. I think that it is a modern quan cribbed (as so much of our law, morality and guidelines for living in our culture are) from the remains of foundational bedrock spirituality bequeathed to us by Christendom, when it was vital, alive, and dangerous. I think that it comes from this truth, penned by the great thinker Paul of Tarsus: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose“.
Do you see that? There is a condition! Similar to our own experience when we wish to help someone mired in something bad for them–a habit, an addiction, a bad relationship, bad choices–it is impossible to truly help someone who refuses to embrace and receive that help!
Free will is a bitch! And it is the fulcrum that pivots our lives from one side of the truth that everything happens for a reason to the other side of it, which is God involving Himself in our lives and changing what is happening into something that ultimately is for our good.
Right now, it is true indeed that everything happens for a reason, and that reason is that this world is deeply broken and wounded by sin and death. No, not just the countless acts, great and small, which are mean, evil, venal, and self serving…sin and death are powers that have entered in and taken us hostage to their icy and implacable hold.
But it is also true that God has loved, does love, and will love us enough to get Himself dirty and covered in filth on our behalf, and through His involvement transform and resurrect our purpose and destiny into one that fills us with life, love and hope.
For those reading who already know that I urge you to comb back thru the recent events in your life and recalibrate…root out the sloppy thinking and fatalistic resignation to the happy illusion that it will all just work itself out…it won’t!
For those reading to whom the concept of loving God and choosing to be called according to His purpose is new: I invite you to consider asking God first of all what His purpose might be…what Love is…and for Him to begin to dialogue with you regarding the possibility of choosing to love Him.
Everything happens for a reason, and God, who loves us, cares enough to cause all things to work together for good if we let Him, if we open the door to Him by our free will and choice to love Him.
Pedantic words perhaps to some…but no less true for it.
There, ‘neath the charred and crisp skin
the hull, the shell, the null…
laughingly lurking and eager
to break thru the crusty cap and gleam
brilliant and true.
Fire and rain have fallen
and taken tribute from
my bleeding vital heart,
and twisted back again and over,
licking kissing and
claiming all their bounty…
what can be shaken is
what can be eaten is
She is such a role model for me…she has truly transitioned. What do I mean by that? It seems to me that so many transwomen get lost in transition, and are actually a bit too fearful to ever really internalize for their own identity the fact that they truly are women and have made their way into the body they desire. There is still life to be lived post transition! There is a walk to be walked, there is a life to be lived, and a destiny to be actualized.
This is what I have been trying to sow into my own heart and spirit as each day passes. Well, Janet inspires me sooo hugely! She has really lived with courage and strength and yet with tenderness and vulnerability as well. She is smart, cogent, beautiful and amazing. She speaks well for us, and for anyone who wishes to learn about the experience of being a transwoman, read her amazing writing and learn. I do each and every time I read.
I’M A TRANS WOMAN, BUT PLEASE STOP ASKING ME ABOUT MY GENITALIA
Author and advocate Janet Mock breaks down Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera’s appearance on Katie Couric’s talk show
By Janet Mock
I don’t talk about my kitty cat with my friends. It never seems to come up when we’re gabbing about The Real Housewives or gagging over Beyonce’s “Partition” music video. But I—an unapologetic trans woman and writer—have been asked about my vagina (by people I do not know, mind you) more times than I can even recall.
Outrageously, trans people’s bodies have been open for public dissection since 1952 when Christine Jorgensen became the media’s first sex change darling, and in the 60 years since Jorgensen’s headline-making path to womanhood, journalists from Barbara Walters to Katie Couric are still asking the same tired questions about our bodies.
It’s stunning that legendary women have found themselves asking other women about their genitalia—in public. As I write in my upcoming memoir, Redefining Realness“Undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction surgery are the titillating details that cisgender people love to hear.” (For the uninitiated, cisgender is nomenclature for those who are not trans, and therefore less likely to experience the misalignment of their gender identity and assigned sex at birth.) But these are “deeply personal steps I took to become closer to me, and I choose to share them.”
It’s about choice. We, as women, have the choice to invite people into our lives, into our struggles, and into our bodies. Consent is key here, and on Monday, model Carmen Carrera and Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox wielded their agency during a joint appearance on Katie, the ABC daytime TV talk show hosted by Katie Couric, who posed the genitalia question–twice.
When Carrera was asked, “Your private parts are different now, aren’t they?” her response was simple: she shushed Couric on her own show. Like a bawse.
“I don’t want to talk about it; it’s really personal,” Carrera said, visibly and rightly uncomfortable by Couric’s gaze. “I’d rather talk about my modeling…There’s more to trans people than just [genitalia].”
What was interesting to me in this moment was that Carrera laid claim to her body. She’s danced in pasties in clubs across the country, on our TV screens in RuPaul’s Drag Race, and in two W magazine shoots with photographer Steven Meisel—but don’t get it twisted: Her body is not ours to dissect.
Couric backpedaled, stating that her question was not in vain, that it was more than just “peering interest,” yet she posed the same question to Cox when she took her seat beside Carrera in a glowing BCBG Max Azria sheath. Couric told Cox that Carrera “recoiled a little bit” at the “genitalia question” and that she wondered if she had “the same feeling about that as Carmen does.”
“I do,” Cox said, backing Carrera up. “I was so proud of Carmen for saying that…the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the lived experiences, the reality of trans people’s lives.”
Cox then broke it down for the journalist, serving Couric facts for days: Trans people face discrimination everywhere, from employment to the streets, where trans women, specifically those of color, disproportionately face brutal violence (Cox mentions the murder of Islan Nettles in New York City, giving the tragedy its highest media profile to date). The actress concludes by saying that our culture’s focus on bodies doesn’t allow us to zero in on trans people’s “lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”
And that was the moment in which, Couric, a TV veteran, had to “bow down” to the magnificence of Cox, leaving her with this throwaway statement: “You’re so well spoken about it.”
Let’s be clear though: This story is larger than Couric; it’s about our culture and its dehumanization of trans people’s bodies and identities. Because trans people are marked as artificial, unnatural, and illegitimate, our bodies and identities are often open to public dissection. Plainly, cisgender folks often take it as their duty to investigate our lives to see if we’re real.
Curiosity is vital to the growth of our society. It allows us to stretch our minds and learn more, which I truly believe was Couric’s intention: to educate her viewers. But curiosity and mere mystery objectifies and others those that are being gazed upon, pushing our most marginalized peers to defend their right to exist without the pervasive violation of the dehumanizing gaze of curiosity.
The real takeaway from this Katie appearance is the transformative power of solidarity and sisterhood, as exhibited by two successful women—two trans women, two women of color—at the top of their game. As Cornel West, someone Cox often quotes, said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and these two women loved one another in public.
Carrera and Cox applauded one another, gushing about how proud they are of the others’ success and how their various achievements help elevate the public’s perception of what’s possible for trans women. And it was this public showing ofsolidarity that actually flipped the media’s tired genitalia script when it comes to women and girls like us.
When Couric re-posed the question to Cox, even after being shut down by Carrera, to me, it seemed that the TV host was trying to pit the women against one another; instead, Cox said, she was “proud” of Carrera for not answering the question. It was like glorious choreography—again, I’m referencing Beyonce’s “Partition,” in which two women dance in unison against the ropes, moving together as a leopard-print spotlight silhouettes their bodies. Carrera and Cox are equals, partners, a team, and they produce something revolutionary: a new possibility for trans women.
And it’s a possibility model for us all.
Janet Mock is a writer and advocate, whose book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More will be released February 4 by Atria Books. For more info visit JanetMock.com.
Read more: Janet Mock ‘Redefining Realness’ – Empowerment for Transgender Women – ELLE
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Visit us at ELLE.com
Read more: Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera – News Treatment of Trans Women – ELLE
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Visit us at ELLE.com
I am sharing this post, and hope that you would click thru to see the story and video. It is a fabulous example first of all of how easily and literally without awareness it is for cis-gendered people to do things to transgender people which they would never ever even think to do to cis-gendered people.
Secondly, it is also a great example of how to handle things with Grace and Kindness…far too often I find that we are so very sensitive and hyper aware of any slight, no matter how small. It seems in our culture today that regardless of gender, sexuality, political persuasion, or religion we are by and large eager to take offense and cannot wait to grab those arrows of offense and stab our own selves with them! It is is if we want to be infected with that poison, and then we turn around and start trying to infect others
No wonder that zombie movies and shows are so popular now…they are a metaphor for a process in our time by which it seems that we make ourselves and one another into spiritual zombies, rampaging about biting and devouring one another.
Let’s all just stop! Step back. Take a breath…and then simply
be kind…be merciful…be full of grace.
Imagine…no not a world where there is no heaven, or religion, or any of the drivel that John Lennon sang about, for that very philosophy was already tried by the communists of Russia and Stalin’s regime, to the tune of nearly 100,000,000 deaths…that same philosophy was adhered to by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia…
No…imagine a world where each person actively sought to just be kind…to just show mercy…to just be full of grace…
What is required? Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and love your neighbor as yourself.
See these two amazing human beings, and glean…maybe you too will be inspired as was I to strive to be a kinder and more gentle person.
Is this true? Part of it really resonates.
PS: Laser went AWESOME!!
Very well written and good article. Please read it, and continue to learn about the amazing continuum that human gender is. Ya know, the rainbow was given as a promise from God…it is a continuum as well!
I know the more I have learned, the more better I feel! :)))
A NEW ERA FOR INTERSEX RIGHTS
When Ambrose was twelve years old, he began to take female hormones. At eighteen, he prepared to undergo a vaginoplasty, the surgical reconstruction of the vagina. Suffering from depression, Ambrose contemplated suicide. “I knew that I wasn’t a girl,” he later told a reporter. The following year, Ambrose obtained his medical records, and discovered what had happened to him as an infant: “I was sterilized at birth—and no one ever told me.” Ambrose was born with a condition that inhibited testosterone production; after adolescence, he began to take testosterone shots, and had surgery to remove his breasts.
Approximately one in every fifteen hundred to two thousand children born each year is diagnosed with a disorder or difference of sexual development. (Accurate figures are difficult to obtain, because it is difficult to measure degrees of physical and hormonal difference, and because many, like Ambrose, may not know they were diagnosed as such.) Some advocates believe the numbers are even higher: by the broadest measurement, one out of every hundred children has some subtle form of “sex anatomy variation.” Parents whose newborn babies have indeterminate genitalia typically follow what has long been the standard medical advice, to have doctors perform surgery to help the child conform to one or the other fixed gender category. Traditionally, the choice has been which gender to assign to the baby, not whether to put a baby through invasive surgery at all.
Today, we pride ourselves on letting children defy antiquated gender stereotypes. Boys can now have dolls, and girls Erector sets; we agree that the salient differences between genders are social constructs, and give little leeway to those who insinuate that, say, women have less aptitude for science and engineering. Yet, even as many fight against the persistence of rigid gender norms, we still separate the sexes as soon as kids are old enough to be potty-trained; when gym class arrives and locker rooms are needed, we push the boys and girls even farther apart. For all the progress that has followed from the enlightened credo that gender is but a construct, we keep hesitating at the notion that sex, too, does not obey strict binaries. Some people aren’t just pushing away from prototypes of sinewy maleness or delicate femaleness; they were born with bodies that don’t conform to the “M” or the “F” boxes on the census form. There are children, in other words, whose genes have not defined for them which bathroom to use, or where to change for gym class; babies can be born with XX chromosomes in certain cells, and XY chromosomes in others—mosaic genetics.
Attention to the complexities of biological variation is growing. Two weeks ago, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill that would grant citizens the right to change the gender on their birth certificate without having gender-reassignment surgery. The bill “revises the requirements for obtaining an amended certificate of birth due to a change in sex,” which can now be done through an official form indicating “that the person has undergone clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition, based on contemporary medical standards, or that the person has an intersex condition.”
In early November, Germany—which, in part to combat the legacy of the Third Reich, has deliberately asserted the rights of marginalized groups—became the first country in Europe to allow a third gender designation: X, for indeterminate or intersex. (Australia introduced a similar measure in July.) If a baby is born with ambiguous sex characteristics, it won’t be forced to undergo a normalizing operation just so that nurses can tick “male” or “female” on its birth certificate. The legal acknowledgment of a third category should mean that fewer doctors urge parents to have sex-assignment surgery performed on their newborns. Fewer children should suffer the plight described by one person quoted in a report that helped lead to the new law, a German born with ambiguous genitalia in 1965, who spoke of being a “patchwork created by doctors, bruised and scarred.”
The law has angered some intersex-rights groups, who object to its stipulation that a child “assigned to neither the female nor the male sex … is to be entered into the register of births without such a specification.” The new designation, they argue, still presents a requirement rather than a choice; they want the determination to be a personal decision, not the result of doctors making judgments on the basis of observed physical characteristics.
These advocates feel that the law will do little to combat stigma, and may, in fact, inspire parents to push harder to avoid a formal intersex designation for their children. The law doesn’t solve the problem, in their words, of “the externally determined gender assignment, the practice of sexed standardization and mutilation, as well as medical authority of definition on sex.” The only real solution, some suggest, would be to ban gender-assignment surgeries for infants, which would provide intersex persons with the opportunity to decide, later in life, whether to identify with one gender, or neither.
While certain religious groups argue that sexuality is a choice (and certain sexual lifestyles are therefore sinful), no one makes that argument about biology, which might suggest a certain logic to granting rights to genetic difference before sexual preference. A report filed to the European Commission in June, 2011, implies that the case of intersex persons is more clear-cut than that of gay or transgender individuals: “Intersex people differ from trans people as their status is not gender related but instead relates to their biological makeup (genetic, hormonal and physical features).” By this token, Germany’s measure is a conservative one, addressed to questions of biology rather than identity, and not necessarily linked to the L.G.B.T. movement. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Germany (although civil unions are recognized), and the ruling on a third gender category does not clarify how the intersex designation might affect marriage laws.
While broader cultural developments have begun to clear space for the expression of formerly unorthodox sexualities and gender identities, those who would have once been called hermaphrodites remain even more marginal than transgender persons. But the order in which old taboos dissolve varies without much logic: the movement for gay rights and same-sex marriage has helped the admittedly slower recognition of transgender issues, while intersex rights have sometimes been granted in statutes, like the one in New Jersey, that enhance transgender rights. On December 17th, the Netherlands approved a law that will allow transgender people to change their gender on identity papers without undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, amending an earlier statute that did not grant individuals the autonomy to define their own gender identity. The Dutch law does not include a provision for intersex rights; in November, Maya Posch, a Dutch woman who is intersex and has fought for a decade to have her status acknowledged, announced that she planned to move to Germany. A lesbian in Berlin who wanted to marry might make the opposite move: the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Whatever the sequence, diverse expressions of gender and sexuality are becoming mainstream. In March, Margaret Talbot wrote in the magazine about Skylar, a transgender teen-ager who grew up with doting parents in an affluent suburb, a milieu vastly more open to his gender identity and decision to undergo surgery than would have been imaginable decades ago. “Like many ‘trans’ people of his generation,” Talbot wrote, “he is comfortable with some gender ambiguity, and doesn’t feel the need to be, as he puts it, a ‘macho bro.’ ” Talbot’s story about Skylar is about transgender identity being far less of a story than it used to be.
In 2000, when Jim Ambrose was twenty-four and still living as Kristi, he was one of the subjects of a short documentary, “XXXY,” by Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh. Ambrose was a bike messenger then, and told the filmmakers that riding all day was an inhumane ordeal: “Vaginoplasty is so fucking disgusting and so barbaric, it’s starting to come out—the inner part of the intestine is starting to come out, stick out.” The film includes an interview with Ambrose’s parents, who seem quite helpless. His father recalls that doctors didn’t present much of a choice: they said—without malice, he notes—that they could simply correct the problem. And that was that. When their child found out about the surgery, Ambrose’s father says, “we tried to explain that we thought this was the best thing, with the doctors. But she was not very happy at all.” His mother adds, “She was real angry.”
Ambrose no longer sounds angry at his parents. In the film, he speaks about forgiveness; more recently, he wrote that parents “were often led to believe they were doing the best thing for the child.”
“XXXY” also contains a startlingly personal interview with Howard Devore, a clinical psychologist who is intersex. Devore speaks candidly about the emotional devastation of growing up as someone doctors consider a freak, someone the medical establishment tried to “repair” at birth. He has spoken with thousands of intersex people around the world. “I don’t know one intersex individual who is happy with the treatment they have received from the physicians they have consulted with over the years—not one,” Devore tells the filmmakers. “One’s sexual feeling, ability to feel like they can couple with another human being, is literally destroyed by some doctor’s idea of how genitals are supposed to look.”
In childhood, as soon as he realized that other kids spent their summer vacations at Yellowstone, Devore says, “I learned to lie. I couldn’t tell other kids I went to the hospital and had my genitals chopped up again.” He lived with a plastic tube attached to his genitals so that he could stand to pee; his urinary opening came at the base, not the tip, of his penis. Cosmetic surgery should not be performed on infants, he insists. “If they choose, later, to have a surgery—if it’s their choice. If I’d had the chance to do that, I wouldn’t have gone quite so horrible an adolescence, quite so difficult an identify formation as an adult.”
Today, Jim Ambrose works at the Interface Project, a nonprofit sponsored by Advocates for Informed Choice, a legal group that champions people with intersex conditions. Ambrose is a fellow of remarkable good humor, on display in a video introduction where he hails the effects of testosterone, “which makes my voice deep, and gives me this hair on my face, and”—he points—”is killing my hairline.”
“I have chest hair; I have much bigger muscles than I did before, because before,” he takes a beat, “I was living as female. And I was living as female because when I was born, I was born with a very small penis, and internal testes, and XY chromosomes. And my parents were very upset, my doctor was very upset, and the only information that they had out there to treat a problem like me was to remove my penis, and take out my reproductive organs, because they didn’t like the way it looked.”
“Remember: your kid is going to want his genitals. Your kid is going to want her genitals,” Ambrose tells the camera. “My mother regrets having my penis cut off and my testes cut out so, so much.”
Watching Ambrose’s testimonial today, it galls to think of this person in 2000, when he went by Kristi, saying that these surgeries would stop within his lifetime. In “XXXY,” he said it like a pledge, and today it’s becoming true: little by little, doctors and parents—and even politicians, from New Jersey to Germany to Australia—are questioning, delaying, and cancelling cosmetic genital and gender-assignment surgeries.
“I’ll get to talk to little hermaphrodites running around, I’ll get to hold them in my arms,” Ambrose says, choking up, in “XXXY.” “I’ll get to tell them—I’ll get to tell their parents how wonderful their children are.”
Photograph by Anastasia Taylor-Lind/VII.
Unquenchable, I sally forth in song
Unbreakable, I shatter into view.
Unmakeable, I plop onto the wheel
Unanchored now, I give myself to You.
Come down, come close, come change this mottled clay
Into the Living Woman that I am.
Take every barb and barrier stinging sharp
And give Your song, that bright celestial jam
Let Heaven flow into my tattered soul
Let earth be rent and give up all my dead.
I rise remade, renewed from sorrow’s bed
Your daughter, touched, delivered, and made Whole.
Look. Past appearance, past hair and smell
and braying wheezing dischord as my soul
Strives to sing.
I am HERE!
Singing, dancing and waiting.
I groan and ache.
Who I am is not here,
Who knew that emptiness,
null could be so
concrete, so staunch,
so unyielding and
My absence is a pit that breaks my teeth.
PULL ME OUT OF MYSELF ALIVE!
Let me live, be.
Please? Deliver me.
God grant me grace,
chance to let the knife
Cut away the bray
and set my heartsong free.
drawing down and deep
from her most secret treasure.
She carries with her silk,
gossamer strands and strategy
and patiently she makes
from who she is inside…
her one and only option.
And need. Her One Desire.
She gets life, sustenance,
exists for transformation
of her web of life.And I watch, fascinated
by her patience,
her diligent patience,
Mama, teach me
to take the traumas,
emptinesses, hurts, wounds,
deposits and experiences,
Teach me to yield
and let this whirling
confusion become spinning,
and spinning out of who I am,
that I might spin a web
to catch Your Sacred blessings
I walk slow on a
road that bears leaves in mountains
on the peaks of spring.
rain-filled ruts reflect
an apple-red summer sky
that highlights brown hills.
in the wind my skin
revels amidst bitter-sweet
echoes of that day.
wind, you will have a
terrible time smothering
my soft clarity.
light fall of the moon
gently caresses the tree
and subtracts some dark.
silver sliver rides
through dark blue breaths of still night
on a cricket’s song
voices of snowmen
call the white-haired children home
then melt in their mouths.
beggar’s withered hand
stretched out inert, silent as
if already dead.
The old ones, bookends
whose bodies encrust their lives
find peace yet again.
a good poem somehow
makes what’s true a little more
melting candles drip
with hidden light most precious
a grain-growth of gold
Poem within the poem
Grace inhabits this body–
Image finds its Source.
flow’ring thru silk sleeves
are come memories of all
the moments of life.
You say “I love you”
a sound so tender that the
dead could even hear!
I raise my hands high
to have them remember you
they trace you in air.
#7: Final Call
Come. Walk beside me
Heads held high we’ll sing into
the difficult dark.
River meets river
They meld, one to another
our beings, the streams
We journey slow, on
a long road that leads to a
I LOVE this post…it made me giggle so hard I snurfed my coffee outta my nose!
man i wish homophobic people were actually AFRAID of gay people like could you imagine having the power to strike fear in peoples hearts with your homo…”If I do not have one trazillion dollars on my doorstep by noon tomorrow, I swear I will KISS THIS WOMAN on the MOUTH in front of your children.”