Thursday, July 30, 2009

If You Would Write, Write

I'm back, for a number of reasons, to a lack of time and privacy.
So I've got a little time, here in the classroom, before attacking a pile of essays, to write. I've got the desire, the urge, and a little time. All I lack is something to say.

Here are a couple of notes:

I watched the ABC presentation on Chloe Prince online a day after just about everyone else and was moved. Many questions were answered and the "bee sting" question raised (which she has answered in her blog). As one would expect, ABC left things out and muddled the story here and there. (I remember Mark Twain complaining about a news story about himself: "You could go over it with a fine-toothed comb and never find yourself.") My biggest gripe actually lies in the production and is one I've seen over and over again across the spectrum of news documentaries: with all that footage taken, why are the same shots repeated? I don't know Chloe as well as I'd like to, but I wish her and her family all joy and hope that this exposure brings nothing but positive outcomes.

Totally unrelated:
About a week ago, my younger daughter told me about an animated film that she had come across called Sita Sings the Blues. It's an interpretation of the Hindu epic Ramayana with modern interpolations and musical numbers by 20's singer Annette Hanshaw. I was enchanted by it and remain so despite the fact that many Hindus were offended by what they saw as an irreverent depiction of one of their sacred stories and that many non-Hindu academics felt that, since animator Nina Paley is not Hindu herself, she has no right to work with The Ramayana. I honor the first criticism more than I honor the latter. I believe all faiths should be honored, but I also believe that one of the best ways to honor a belief or a culture is to share it through story. I am pleased to find that a good many Hindu viewers share my feelings. Here is a link to the film's website where you can watch the entire hour-and-a-half film:
I love what Ms. Paley is doing regarding the rights here. I plan to make a donation and buy stuff as soon as I'm back in the chips. Go thou and do the same.
Admittedly, there is little here to do with trans issues, but that doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother you.

Now I've got to get back to those essays...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Than Adequate

A couple of months ago, as I was beginning a storytelling performance, I introduced myself as a trans woman. (The audience was comprised of genetic women, most of whom were practicing pagans, and since I have few illusions, I felt it only fitting to acknowledge the obvious.) From nowhere a good line came to me: “In acknowledging my feminine nature, I’ve discovered a whole new level of inadequacy.” It got a laugh, and I’ve used it again since then. It set the audience at ease. Perhaps this revelation that I lack confidence in my presentation allowed them the freedom to say (mentally at least), “big hands, big feet, can’t quite hide the blue jowls, can’t quite make the voice work – you’ve validated exactly what we were thinking.” Or maybe, since these women were of an age with me, my bit of self-deprecation was accepted as a validation of their own status: a sense that, because of any number of physical factors, a woman just doesn’t measure up to those who are younger, smaller, prettier, more graceful, more fertile, ad infinitum. It was a kind and loving audience, and I will accept the latter – that in acknowledging my own feelings of inadequacy I was validating the common lot of women in a culture that values a woman’s surface beauty over the splendor of her soul.

So, in accepting myself and presenting as myself more and more, I have taken on a burden that men (in most cultures) do not carry: that of maintaining and appearance of youth and adhering to an almost
unattainable and certainly unsustainable standard of beauty. And this standard seems to have been ever so. 2500 years ago in the play that bears her name, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata says:
A soldier’s discharged,
And he may be bald and toothless, yet he’ll find
A pretty young thing to go to bed with.
But a woman!
Her beauty is gone with the first grey hair…

And in the 20
th Century Sylvia Plath really nails it in a poem that reads like a Viking riddle:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is,
unmisted by love or dislike .
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Okay. So now that I’ve REALLY depressed myself – and probably you as well (especially remembering how Ms. Plath chose to make her quietus), I’m left with the question of what to make of this burden.

I go back to the women who were in attendance when I first decided to make my “inadequacy” remark. Every one of those women had something which I have not mentioned heretofore in this writing but which makes the perceived inadequacy ludicrous, and that is a spiritual base. They were Goddess worshippers who see in all women a
tri-partite deity: The Virgin, The Mother, and The Crone. One contemporary mythologist, Donna Henes, in her book The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife, has added “The Queen” as a fourth archetype between The Mother, and The Crone. If I ignore the obvious implications of referring to myself as “a queen,” and acknowledge myself as a mature woman who has learned from experience and who possesses a spark of the divine which manifests itself in the form of sharing insight through a store of tales and lore, then all the fretting about being overweight and aging evaporates.

I look at the faces of the mature women I know – both trans and genetic, and I see a beauty which is less obvious but much more present than in many women who are physically gorgeous. I like the company of these women. I am honored to be accepted into their company. The inadequacy evaporates.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the Margins

Abby just posted an entry over at her blog regarding cisgendered privilege and transphobia. It's got me thinking about marginalization.

I'm marginalized.

I'm marginalized, for example, in regard to my tastes in music. My tastes are eclectic, but do not run to the norm. There is not a single mainstream recording artist presently whose music I listen to. I don't know that it's a matter of choice; most pop does not fall pleasingly upon my ear. But folk, classic jazz, classical, tribal, etc. all give me pleasure and comfort. Thus I have always had to go far afield in order to find "my" kind of music. On one level it's a pain, but there are pleasures also to be had. Though I can't expect to find "my" music at mainstream record stores (now there's a term leftover from the Jurassic period), I have spent wonderful hours treasure-hunting through the odd corners and used stacks of the few privately-owned record stores left in my area (huzzah for Canterbury Records, Pooh-Bah, and Penny Lane - all in Pasadena, CA) and rummaging around online for odd mp3's. I've also made many friends with similar out-of-the-way tastes. Nonetheless, I am discriminated against (though unintentionally) by such mainstream purveyors of music as record stores and radio stations, etc. precisely because they cater to mainstream tastes.

I'm marginalized because I'm large by American women's standards and because I wear size 11-12 shoes, thus necessitating shopping at plus-sized dress stores and "mutant" shoe stores. It's not really Macy's fault that their shoe sizes stop at 10. They just don't get all that much call for anything larger. (Though, I suspect if they were to offer larger sizes they would have a market in frustrated trans women like myself.)

I'm marginalized because I am transgendered.

The power lies in numbers and in the General Will.

Cisgendered privilege lies in the numbers, and a member of that number might rankle at being called "cisgendered" as opposed to "normal." There are vast numbers of cisgendered individuals who do not know that they are cisgendered because they are unaware of the nature of transgendered people.

Case in point: the majority of my friends are cisgendered women. For many of them I am the only trans woman they have met. Many times I have had to teach a quick course in Transgendered 101. That being done, there is a context for the terms "genetic woman" or "cisgendered woman." Without the context, there is no need for the terms. Of course, I hang with an enlightened crowd, so the term "trans woman" is accepted and the context is agreed upon. If the concept of "trans" is not accepted, then there is no context for "cis." And in that circumstance, there is no context for communication and understanding either.

Frankly, I couldn't care less if "cisgendered" becomes part of everyday parlance. Neither do I want "trans" appended to me at all times. If I am with a group, I would prefer to just one of the group -- or to be numbered amongst the women if such distinctions are made. When I am among friends, "cis" and "trans" are completely out of context.