Monday, October 27, 2014

Transgender Lives, Transgender Rhetoric

I am proud of my house of worship in many ways, but its progressive stance towards LGBTs is a major reason why. Organized religion has unnecessarily wounded many queer attenders to Worship, but I have long believed that God is available to all and draws no distinctions based on sexual orientation or gender identity. My Meetinghouse is located in an area that began life highly affluent and trendy, grew rough and became a gay ghetto, then returned to prominence in more recent years. I work with several people who identify as LGBT and will continue to do so as frequently as I do now.

Over the past several weeks, I've gotten to know three transgender Quakers, seeking an emphasis upon active listening. I don't want to be praised for doing my homework, but I do want to continue being an effective ally. Everyone's story is different, but there are many commonalities between each of us that I seek to underscore in this dialog.

Transsexualism has become increasingly politicized for at least the last decade, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, liberal activist overkill should be avoided whenever possible. Midway through my discussions, which I hoped would prove me intensely literate on the topic, one transwoman cut our talk short. I don't really want to talk about being trans anymore. It wasn't said nastily, but matter-of-factly instead. She changed the subject and our conversation took a very different direction from there.

I was, of course, embarrassed with my choice of topic and how I had persisted. I had hoped this command of subject would make her feel that I genuinely cared. I even apologized, but was told that apologies were not necessary. It was an awkward moment for me, since I have slowly stored up knowledge of those who do not easily fit into the narrowly defined parameters of male or female. In Gender Studies terminology, we might call that behavior gender non-conforming. For many activists, throwing oneself into a crusade is easy enough, but crusades can become us versus them without much difficulty.

For a moment, I felt as though I'd become the personification of the good, back-patting, well-meaning liberal. One of my favorite movies is called Fritz the Cat. The first X-rated cartoon, it gets in some effective digs on white progressives who want to be praised for their virtuously tolerant attitudes and are unintentionally condescending in spite of themselves.

I have slowly come to terms with the fact that my gender has no clear association with either male or female. A brief glance at my exterior would seem to negate that view. I'm six feet tall with broad shoulders, a long torso, and copious body hair. Nothing about my physical presentation is feminine in the least. Engage me in conversation, however, and it is possible to have some understanding of how I am neither male, nor masculine.

The transwoman I referenced earlier began taking Estrogen around a month ago. Her voice has dropped an octave since then. Prior to transition, I would have called her gender ambiguous, so her path towards passing as a woman would be far easier than my own. A second transwoman is two inches taller than me and has the same sort of broad shouldered physique that I do. But it is a testament to her diligence and outward work that I never made the connection of where she began until someone else let me know.

I seem to have gone in the exact opposite direction. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with hypogonadism, which in laymen's terms is a medical state of abnormally low levels of testosterone. I inject testosterone in oil form into the muscles of my thigh once a week. Testosterone Replacement Therapy converts some T into Estrogen. Because of this, I take a pill to lower my Estrogen levels to manageable levels.

What I have been taking is a regimen a female-to-male transsexual might pursue. When picking up the prescription for the Estrogen reducer, months ago, a pharmacy worker responded to me in a hostile, or at least sarcastic fashion. My pharmacy ID was typed in wrongly, and I have been registered as Ms. rather than Mr. in their computer system for the past six years. I could have had it changed, but a part of me feels comfortable being female, so I have no intention to make a correction.

Whatever it is you call yourself, said the jaded pharmacist, handing over another month's worth of medication and a receipt. It's difficult to assign true motives to a total stranger, but I surmised that he felt that insurance shouldn't cover medication for those undergoing transition. I rarely encounter transphobic attitudes, but I live in an overwhelmingly blue city. Deep into Virginia or Maryland, respecting gender identity would not be assigned the same priority.

In the meantime, I'm still learning about myself. One of the transwomen I spoke of earlier said that the more she stuffed down and denied her gender dissonance, the stronger those desires came back. I'm not sure this describes me entirely. Gay men and women routinely identify as the opposite gender to their own, even going as far as wearing clothing designed for the opposite sex.

One of the lesbians at Meeting stands out because she's a ravenous football fan and wears the jersey of her favorite NFL team every Sunday. If I had more courage, I might add additional elements of women's clothing beyond those which I do already. And if this ever became a topic for discussion with someone else, I could keep it going for hours, if necessary.

Analysis is my stock in trade, but I do recognize that focusing on specific part of a person's identity becomes a presentation of facts, figures, conjecture, and emphasis. Personal anecdote is more important, because it makes our understanding three-dimensional, not the two-dimensional world of continued emphasis and keystrokes.

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