Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Need for Clarity

Hello, all you amazing readers!

I have a request from my transfans.

Will you please... or ask someone in your community to... create a glossary of terms the transgender community has created to describe everyone else.

Seriously. I'm not joking.

If the trans community really, really wants the non-trans community to fully embrace all of the wonderful qualities you all have as human beings, then you really have to consider that when the rest of us are called something that we don't understand, it kinda puts us off.

"Cishet"?
"Cisgender"? Thanks to GLAAD, we can look this on up.

I'm really, really not kidding my friends. Words are symbols. Words bring groups together and they can keep them apart. When someone writes something, for example, about the trans-experience in a non-trans oriented publication, do you expect to engender (pardon the pun) understanding or camaraderie when you use a term that only other transfolk understand?

It's like two people from different countries trying to forge a peace agreement when neither of them speak the same language nor do either have an interpreter.

Besides, "cishet" sounds like asshat to me. :-)

This is just a suggestion, beautiful people. But perhaps y'all should consider it somewhat seriously, since you know for a fact that I'm totally on your side. You know?

And by the way...

YAY SCOTUS!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weighing In

A few days ago, this op/ed article appeared and caused a sh*t storm of its own. Burkett, the author, a "journalist, a former professor of women’s studies and an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker," weighed in on Caitlyn Jenner's story. I read it that evening and after finishing it, wrote my response to it. I needed to edit it down, and then I got busy, and within two days I realized my efforts to submit a rebuttal to the NY Times was moot because everyone and their sister did it already.

What follows is a shorter, much more organized version of my intended response. 

Ahem...

Do men and women have different brains? This was the pivotal question Burkett posed in her article and the proceeded to, sort of, answer. As cheesy as Chelsea Manning's comment was about having been more emotionally inspired by Jenner's story, it didn't matter. Much of Burkett's opinions featured in this piece didn't matter because they were irrelevant to her original point of concern. What ultimately mattered to Burkett was that people insinuated that one could actually witness physical/chemical differences in male and female brains and that those differences actually have outer consequences. 

Rightfully so, Burkett reminded readers that because of perceived mental capacities, women were oppressed in many cultures for hundreds, even thousands of years. Burkett states that, "People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women...shouldn’t get to define us. That’s something men have been doing for much too long."

I get that. I totally get that. No one should ever "get" to define anyone else. Like Burkett said, "Their truth is not my truth." A-men, sister!

And herein lies the enormously hypocritical flaw in Burkett's argument. She says the following:
They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.
In other words, "women" have suffered or are constantly at risk of suffering at the hands or gawking eyeballs of men... or from having a period.

Well, I guess I'm something other than a woman, because... um... I haven't suffered any of these things, except maybe for that almost bleeding through my pants in public, but I was, like 16 at the time.

Sure, men have looked at my boobs while I was talking; however, I also got intelligent verbal responses from them. Maybe my boobs weren't pretty enough or what I said far outweighed the boob allure.

In all the years I was on the pill, I was NEVER ONCE terrified that I'd forgotten to take one. Like the directions said, if you missed one, take it as soon as you realize you missed it. Perhaps I was more responsible with my pill-taking, pregnancy-preventing responsibilities than she was.

As I worked in academia for many years, WE ALL HAD CRAPPY PAYCHECKS. In fact, I earned more than most because of the unreasonable number of masters degrees I have.

The fear of rape thing? That cinches it for me. I have never once in my ENTIRE LIFE been afraid of being too weak to fight off a rapist. Never. Ever. I'm so strong that other people ask me to walk them to their cars, and I'm not referring to my physical strength (although my dad did always say I was strong as an ox).

Burkett should dismiss me right away. I have to go to the Virginia department of records or whatever and have my birth certificate changed from girl to... something else. I'm clearly not a guy. Unfortunately for Burkett, her argument that women can only call themselves such because of experience is a load of hot, stinky crap, and I am living proof of that.

To attempt a justification of this warped way of thinking, Burkett returns to the subject of brains. She says that "science" has determined that "they're in fact shaped by experience, cultural and otherwise." Yes, I've read those studies, and they also say that experience is only a part of what makes a brain function the way it does. Those same scientists DO NOT discount the actual fact (which has repeatedly been documented and proven) that there are male and female brains. Gina Rippon, that professor of neuroscience she quoted, was the ONLY science-type person to entirely dismiss the science of the effect of hormones on brain chemistry in-utero. So, of course Burkett is going to glom onto this person... who isn't actually a scientist but just a professor who makes unfounded suspicions to seminar attendees. The notion that you can't look at a brain and tell that it's a male or female brain, as stated by Rippon, is ludicrous to suggest as proof. Of course you can't. But you can look at it with machines and other scientific tools that can.

The next couple of paragraphs of Burkett's rant is blather, so I'm going to skip them.

Burkett continues, "The `I was born in the wrong body' rhetoric favored by other trans people...is...offensive, reducing us to our collective breasts and vaginas." Maybe for Burkett. Yet this comment is reminiscent of her earlier comment that one can't be a woman if one hasn't suffered like she has. Feeling that a person was born in the wrong body has far more implications than being about breasts and vaginas. Quick quiz: First, what word that starts with an H caused your body to produce those breasts and that vagina? Second, did that thing that starts with an H affect any other parts of your body or personality development? (The answers, FYI, are "Hormones," and "YES!" or "Duh!") Burkett's lack of empathy here is fantastic, painting a sparkling, clear picture of her view of "the Other." Talk about marginalizing a group of people! Not being transsexual, I can't possibly imagine what that feeling is like, but my spouse completed her transition in 2012, so I've got that as a reference. It is my understanding that the feeling of being in the wrong body can often be akin to having a wet, heavy, musty blanket all over your body that you can't get off.

Transfolk? Did I nail it?

Now, I'm not going to nail Burkett on anything she reported about the trans community having a problem with using the word "vagina" for plays and things about women. There are radicals in the trans community, too. That doesn't mean, nor did they imply, that they speak for all trans women. Burkett is just complaining that the people whom she aims to label are slinging mud, too. Yeah? And? Two wrongs don't make a right, you know. 

No. Wait. I am going to nail her. Burkett has a problem with a group of people who are fighting for inclusion in abortion rights? Really? You go, Fund Texas Chioce, formerly Fund Texas Women, for understanding that anyone with a uterus might need an abortion some day. Women's colleges are probably not "contorting themselves into knots" for re-thinking how to accommodate women who are accepting who they are and asking their school to support them. Does Burkett have proof that these schools are freaking out? I'd like to see those documents, please. She singles out Wellesley College as being tormented by trans issues, but hey, let's just take a look at part of their mission statement:
Valuing Diversity 
There is no greater benefit to one’s intellectual and social development—and to the vitality of an academic community—than the forthright engagement with and exploration of unfamiliar viewpoints and experiences. Wellesley encourages students to try on new ideas, try out new courses of action, and interact authentically with others whose beliefs or choices challenge their own.
..."and interact authentically with others whose beliefs or choices challenge their own." Hmmm. I'm thinking that Burkett did not get accepted to Wellesley. I hope Columbia University's excellent reputation isn't too tarnished by Burkett's lack of "fair and balanced" reporting.

Burkett lastly offers trans women a compromise: we womenfolk will happily support your right to be whomever you want to be along the X-Y chromosomal spectrum (which Burkett says is possible because what you do with your life defines your gender) just as long as you don't call yourselves women. That is so kind, isn't she?

She doesn't speak for me. Her truth isn't my truth. We may have been born with the same type of brain (female), but because of our experiences, we have developed into vastly different types of human being. If being allowed to use the term "woman" means that I had to have suffered from fear and degradation at the hands of males, then you can have it. On the other hand, I vote to remove Burkett's ability to call herself a women for the same reasons. Women are adult females. That's my understanding, at least. I give you permission, Ms. Burkett, to continue using the word "woman" to define yourself because I'm a nice person and because my definition is broad enough to include you. I suppose that if I were to follow your lead, I could change my definition to suit my fear-based arguments, but I don't think I'll do that because I'm not afraid of anything. Dirty litter boxes: those are scary. And that dream where you have a ton of homework due but you're already late to class. That one terrifies me every time!

Oh yeah. Those people who try to marginalize others because of difference, based on a conjecture that is utterly contrary to modern science... Do men and women have different brains? Are black people or Jews equal races to white Europeans? Does factory exhaust contribute to climate change? Does fracking cause earthquakes?


Those people frighten me the most.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Bruce Jenner Interview Experience

It's been a few days since the interview and in those few days, the transgender conversation has exploded. Within the community, I've seen both overwhelming support and overwhelming damnation of Bruce Jenner coming out on national television.

Dawn Ennis, a friend of mine (whom I have yet to physically meet :-D) in the trans community, made an excellent point in her TV interview that everyone has their own experience in how he or she discovered and figured out what to do about being transsexual, and I think people need to be conscious of that. Jenner is a celebrity and has been for about 40 years. No one could ask him to remain closeted just because his coming out would invite so much press. In my opinion, he handled it well. I can think of several other ways this could have gone really badly.

As the spouse of a transsexual (I'm still not sure why no one used this word instead of transgender, but I'm no expert either), I found the interview fascinating. Much of what Jenner said was true for our experience - albeit from my perspective. We have two kids, but they were much younger when Tasha began her transition than when Jenner's transition started. I was amused at one of the wife's quoted comments calling transition a "journey" because that's what Tasha's father called it. It's a very impersonal comment. I would never call what a trans person goes through a "journey." "Ordeal," probably. "Process," maybe. But when you wish people luck on their journey, it means you are not coming along. It's that person's journey, so send me a postcard when you get there.

I think Jenner will have a lot of support throughout the transition, even outside the family. People will accept the woman Jenner is and that will be good for trans people. But what about the other trans people? The ones who are not celebrities. The ones whose name we don't know. The ones whose only person looking at him or her is himself or herself in the mirror.

I thought mostly about the wives as I listened to the interview. I'm a spouse, after all. It was nice to hear that the ex-wives were supportive (although if they weren't they wouldn't say since they were quoted on national TV). I thought about having torn feelings toward Tasha's transition. I thought about being angry at the universe for all of it.

I remembered thoughts that went through my head only a few years ago that still echo sometimes in my head. As I was taking the last of Jonathan's things out of our closet and putting them into bags, I had this crazy revelation (however irrational it might have been) that I didn't marry a man after all. I married a woman. The only person who wanted to marry me was not even a guy. I'd had relationships before, but none of those led to marriage because clearly guys didn't find me to be marriage material. It made perfect sense to me at the time. If you know me personally, you'll agree that it fit nicely into my self-image.

Jenner said that as a man, he was being himself under the circumstances. That was not authentic to how he really felt about who he was, but in the man's body, he was who he could be: a woman's brain in a man's body. But did that make him a "man" while he was in that body? He certainly had that body's sensations. Like Tasha, he acted and reacted like a guy. Tasha tried to convince me of this, and I finally just let the idea go, but I maintained that a female brain was responsible for guiding the testosterone-driven body, so it was still not quite the same. But does it really matter in the long run for me as a spouse? It shouldn't. People come in all colors. Some guys with guy brains are more emotional than other guys with guy brains. I, for one, do not act like a "girly girl." So, should it have mattered? No, but it did. Have you ever doubted your attractiveness because your partner changed genders? Do you think the average person ever would?

The interview made me wonder about all of the other spouses out there. The ones who, like me, have gone on "the journey" with their partners/spouses. I know that there are many spouses who say they're bi-sexual, so the gender change didn't matter to them. What about the other heterosexual spouses? That's why I started this blog: to share my experience with other spouses out there. Maybe it was a selfish thought, but I kept thinking about the stories of those women and men who chose to stay and how many of those trans people never tried to end their lives because of it. I felt for Jenner's wives. I cannot have a shared experience with the transsexual person, but I can with their partners. I also thought about stories of partners who left.

If you haven't watched the interview, you should. I wonder what people who have absolutely no exposure to this felt about it. I mean really. I'm not talking about the people who post responses under articles. My perspective is different as a spouse to that of a transsexual. My experience is different from other spouses/partners. My experience is different from someone who has never had to think about it. What this interview did was start a bigger conversation, and that's super important. Sure, it's going to cause all sorts of reactions. Some will probably be bad. But the elephant is in the room and nobody can get around it without touching it now (unless perhaps you live under the carpet). So much good can come out of this. It's true and proper education at its finest. It's a "real world application," as they like to call it. Your perspective on the interview is important. The interview itself can be a jumping-off point to meaningful conversations.

Take advantage of Jenner's vulnerability, no matter what you thought of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Turning of the Wheel

I was somewhat depressed lately for several reasons.

In March, our collie Casey had to leave us due to complications from pneumonia. My heart is still broken over it, even though I know she is with me in my soul. We still have Moose, our Bassett Hound, and I love him to bits, but Casey was "my" dog from the start, you know?

In March last year, the kids and I came downstairs to get ready for school and we found our crazy, lovable, softest cat in the world, Magnus, dying on the dining room floor. We rushed him to our vet, but he passed on the way.

Except for some birthdays, March is now my least favorite month.

Also, I am still floundering around for a day job/career while I continue to work toward a writing career. I finally admitted that I enjoyed being a literary agent (that's another story), so I sent out resumes for jobs and training programs, but in February I was informed, after working for them for a whole YEAR in California, that my last online teaching job couldn't offer me work anymore because their accreditation doesn't extend into California. So that disappeared. Thank goodness Tasha and I are back in school this year because we are receiving some cost-of-living financial aid. I could go out and get whatever job I can find, but there are two sad facts: 1) I am way overqualified for most so they won't even consider me and 2) most non-teaching jobs out there don't pay enough to cover our monthly expenses. So finances really suck. I did, however, take the plunge today and announce to my local FB friends that I'm getting back into massage, so if word gets around enough, things will get better. Fingers and eyes crossed!

The other significant reason I've been feeling this way is because of guilt. I know I shouldn't feel guilty, and Tasha has told me the same, but I have recognized that our marriage is not working for me as much as I wish it did. I am so very, very happy and lucky to be married to my best friend and soul mate. We have fun. We get along. We communicate very well. We have a ton in common and we agree on most topics. But what we have is a platonic friendship. Well, that's the case for me, at least.

We talked about this the other day, when I couldn't hold it in anymore. Those thoughts were weighing on me in a way I've never felt before. So, it was a relief to finally talk about it. I told her everything I was feeling and she understood. In fact, she was calm about it, which I didn't expect at all. I'm pretty sure she had been sensing it long before, but considering how she had reacted in the past to passing conversations about our marriage, I was relieved to see that she had clearly thought about this, too, and knew how she really felt about it.

I'm not involved with anyone else. No one has asked me out or even hinted at being interested in me. I'm not going to bars or joining matchmaking websites or anything like that. Some day, I will probably get to the point where I feel that I just need to live alone (with the kids, of course) because being married to her might become more of a convenience than anything else, and that's not fair to her. Heck, as much as she disagrees about the possibility, she might actually meet someone worth being with. That would make me SO happy. She misses the "intimacy" of a relationship as much as I do and we both deserve to have it.

She said that she's okay with me taking my wedding ring off if I feel the need to. She suggested that I could probably still find someone even with the ring on, but seriously, would YOU want to be with someone who ignored the ring on your finger? What does that say about that person? I'm sure a totally awesome guy (a guy for me, a girl for you maybe) would understand if I explained the situation to him and he understood, but at some point he'd want that ring off. Anyway, the bottom line is that we have crossed yet another spoke in this wheel we're on. On the one hand, I feel much better having been "given permission" by her to move on, but on the other hand, it still breaks my heart to think about the probable end to what was supposed to be a forever thing.

Tasha says if we end up not living together, she'll build a tiny house in my back yard to live in. That's what she told our daughter, anyway. I can't see her staying in one of those things. She's got too much stuff. :-)

The story isn't over, my super-wonderful readers. Nothing's happening yet. If or when it does, there will still be more to say about being the spouse of a transsexual. For now, we're still married and still rolling with the wheel.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Introductions

A spouse of a transwoman asked for advice the other day about introducing new people to her family. In this example, one of her children was going to have a play date with a new friend and she wasn't sure if she should introduce her trans spouse to the friend's mother.

As the spouse/partner, we are in an interesting position. Most of us who have chosen to stay are not embarrassed by the fact that our significant other is a woman. Yet, we find ourselves justifying to strangers why we are married to another woman when we are not gay or that the father of our children is female.

No, it doesn't matter in the big picture that two women are married. If you have chosen to remain in this community, you can't possibly be homophobic. Trust me when I say that I know with absolute certainty where I stand on the rainbow, and where other people stand is of no concern to me. However, as the heterosexual spouse of a woman and the mother of children whose father is female... frankly... it's weird. Even after six years of this situation, I still have moments of strangeness when I feel that have to explain.

Ah, I can hear the chorus: "You don't HAVE to explain anything to anyone. It's not their business!"

That's not entirely true, especially when you're talking about introducing adults who are involved in some way with your kids.

We don't have to explain. It's easy to say, "Hi, I'm Marni, and this is my spouse Natasha." Enough said. Another parent will hear, "Hi, we're a married gay couple." Fine. But then the parent's child is playing with your child and your kid says, "Let's go see if Daddy will play video games with us."

"Daddy" doesn't seem to be around, yet your kid asks the other woman in the house to play video games. Your child's friend is going to have NO problem saying aloud, "That's not your daddy!" Then, when the friend goes home, he/she says to his/her parent, "E has a girl for a daddy," and then things go wonky.

In the case of my kids, they call Natasha "Sunny." They chose that name to mean "daddy," especially in public. Early on when Natasha was presenting as female in public, I might say at a restaurant, "Go sit next to Daddy," in front of the waiter. That would garner strange looks. Again, it's not that I cared, but the kids noticed and it sure embarrassed Natasha. For the trans person, it's like putting up a big neon sign that says, "TRANSSEXUAL RIGHT HERE!!" So, we asked the kids to come up with a new name that meant "daddy" to them, and they chose "Sunny."

Getting back to the introductions, I found it necessary to explain to teachers that if the kids talked about their Sunny, it was Natasha and if they talked about their daddy, it was Natasha, too. Sunny and Daddy were interchangeable. It was absolutely necessary because when we didn't explain at first, I'd be asked about it at the first parent-teacher meetings. Inevitably, one of the kids would talk about Sunny or Daddy to the other kids and a classmate would point out the obvious and then things would... go wonky. All I had to do was point it out to the teacher in the beginning of the year and all would be well. It was the same for the parents of our kids' friends. Sometimes, "daddy" would slip out. "Daddy's coming to see our play tonight," and poof... there's a woman walking in. Hey, wait a minute!

The spouse who asked the question wanted to know if she should contact the friend's parent before meeting her so that she would be prepared. My advice was not to do that. Other spouses agreed that even if she isn't embarrassed, to pre-warn someone is to come across as being embarrassed. It gives the other party a chance to back out before the confrontation. It's not presenting unexpected information in the moment, when it's appropriate and when you can see for yourself the reaction of the other party. If you're not embarrassed, don't act like you are. Like I said to the spouse, would you want your kid to be playing with the kid of someone who didn't accept that you were married to a transsexual? Would you want to be friends with someone like that?

There are a lot of factors that go into when/if it is time to let other parties know that your spouse is trans, but the bottom line is that at some point, people in your life will find out. The question is: how do you want them to find out? No, it really isn't other people's business whom you're married to, but when it comes to parenthood, biological relationships can be important information to know. Besides, it's really not about whose business it is or isn't. It's about the fact that the vast majority has never met a trans person. While there shouldn't be any "shock value" to it, there is, even if they're okay with it. I think it is better to just get it out of the way and let people react. Again, with the kids, I'd rather the parent choose to accept or not before my kid gets attached to the other kid.

Just my opinion. Yours is welcome.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Observing

My apologies, amazingly awesome readers, for the serious lack of posts. As this blog is about my relationship with Natasha, a post-operative transsexual woman, we've hit something of a lull in having much to report that might be helpful to you.

I'm in something of an observation mode right now because much of my life is still in limbo but is also moving forward at an incredibly swift pace. They say that time seems to move more quickly the longer we are alive because a year to a child takes up a much larger segment of life than it does when we're adults. You know, if you look at a pie and a year represents a slice, a year is 1/5 of the pie to a 5 year old but 1/40 of the pie to a 40 year old. I'm not talking about that, though. My loyal readers know that we moved back to Los Angeles a year ago. While progress in the writing career department is like molasses, lots of things are happening.

I need to make an observation that will hopefully become relevant before I complete this post. As I sit here in my dining room, the middle floor of a split-level townhouse that we shouldn't be able to afford, I listen to my children playing some kind of Mario video game with at least two other people. In my house is my spouse, a transsexual woman, president of a small yet ambitious theatre in what we hope to soon be known as the Valley Village Arts District, and high school thratre and film teacher; a transsexual woman artist who is performing her autobiographical one-woman show about... being trans; a 19 year-old African American Italian Latino former student of Natasha's who has come out here to contemplate his future in film and television and theatre; my two kids, both highly gifted - my nearly 8 year-old daughter is in a death phase and my son is getting on with life after completely losing vision in his left eye on January 3rd; and a 20 year-old amazingly talented artist and recently admitted lesbian or possible transsexual. Plus there are the two dogs and five cats and me. We are barely scraping by, since I'm still looking for employment and hanging on for dear life to my last job that offers no stability.

It's a full house. No one can possibly accuse me of being normal or having a normal life.

Natasha and I had a conversation the other evening about relationships. Neither of us have our sights on anyone, mainly because we're both not feeling at our best, but I got her to agree that if she did meet another soul mate, she would be honest in her desire to pursue it instead of shoving the potentiality of it aside because we are married. She agreed to do so if I agreed to do so, which I did. In a way, this brief talk marked another phase in our relationship that made me a little bit happier (always a good thing). Like Tasha, I don't realistically believe that I will find another soul mate who would also want to be with me. I'm not ordinary, even without the extraneous factors listed above. I think it's just nice to know that should some kind of cosmic miracle occur, we are both at a place where we would actually be glad for the other person. Dare I say, we might actually be... happy... for the other. We only want the best for each other. We love each other so very much. But our marriage, as I've said before, is incomplete for both of us. Since neither of us are in favor of an open marriage, there would be one clear choice should either of us find that other soul mate who fits the mold.

Ah, I think I figured out how that paragraph up there fits into this post. It's about me. I've said to friends that I don't see myself finding another male soul mate who is ready or able to be with me in an intimate relationship. My friends tell me I'm being silly and that I'm amazing and pretty and lots of complimentary things and that I should stop thinking those things. But I know what I look like. I know what kind of person I am. I feel that I am a very realistic, sensible person. So, when I say things about myself, I'm not looking down at me. I think that I need to be realistic about what's possibly out there. It's why I have David Tennant (Doctor Who) as my standard. A, he's married. B, he's... David Tennant. It's not realistic to consider him as anyone else other than an amazing actor whom I find attractive and potentially someone I will work with as a writer some day (hint hint Universe!!). He's a safe standard to have. Heck, he could be totally jerky, although that's not what I read about him. Nevertheless, as I feel the way I do about my prospects, no harm.

I know that I'm a good person. I'm smart and loyal and protective. I'm also strong with a strong will and I don't hide my feelings. Psychically speaking, I tend to radiate my feelings, which can be either good or bad. I've been known to intimidate people just by being in the room for the same reason that my best friend says that if she had to go into a dark alley, I'm the only person she knows who would make her feel safe. Sure, I deserve to have a good man in my life. I just don't see it happening. There's too much about me that isn't easy or simple or normal. I'm not holding my breath. Instead, I'm enjoying my life with Natasha and our kids and our menagerie of peeps going in and out of the house.

I do still wish that I didn't think about the mythical "someone else" out there. I wish my marriage were still what I need. But it isn't, and I'm okay with that. Natasha has me always to support her and I will always have her. The details might change, but some things, in spite of all of the immensely dramatic changes, remain the same. And that's pretty darned incredible.

Until next time...