Our Horrible, Ugly Bodies

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I told my dad about my wishes to go full-time today. It went about as poorly as I thought it would. Here are just a few of the highlights from our “conversation”:

  • I am an embarrassment (ouch. That stung.)
  • I am insane (yep. I’ve heard that one before.)
  • I am living in sin and in fact am no longer a Christian (well, okay. If you say so.)
  • I am just trying to escape from the difficulties of life (Really!? by coming out as transgender, I hope to make life easier???)
  • And the kicker: what’s the point because, in the end I’ll always be an ugly excuse for a real woman.

Alright. So I’ve touched on why I’m not crazy nor sinning in previous posts, and I’ve no desire to go back to them today. The thing about escaping from my “hard-knock life” (insert obligatory eye roll) is so nonsensical I don’t even know where to start with it yet. The last two, though…ouch. My dad always said he was proud of my accomplishments, of what I’d done, of the person I was. Clearly that’s changed, and I don’t think I have it in me to try and weed anything out of it right now. It was the kind of jab that hits home no matter how many defenses you’ve put up. 

That leaves the last thing, then. The one about me being ugly. There’s so much wrong with this statement, it will be tough to pick a place to start. I will say it. I am not some beautiful, brown-haired babe. I knew that. I’ve been living for 27 years with testosterone wracking my body. I have a bulging adam’s apple, my shoulders are too broad, my hips are too narrow, the little bit of pudge around my belly just won’t go away, my nose is too big, my jaw is too square, my boobs are basically non-existent. ALL OF THAT. I pick myself apart everyday several times a day. I look at myself and compare my fears about my self-image to every other cisfemale out there. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve looked at pictures of transwomen who are less attractive than me just to make myself feel better. 

It’s got me thinking: why. Why do I feel this way about my body? Why did what he said upset me so much? I think there are several answers, all of which are part and parcel of the general sexism and anti-trans ideology permeating our culture. Women have always had their womanhood judged based on their appearances. People like my dad crack jokes at women who don’t perfectly fit our cultural preconceptions about female beauty. These women aren’t perceived as women. They are gazed at as something other, something different. For transwomen, I think it can be even worse. If you see a transwoman who doesn’t pass as a woman, not only do you consider her ugly, but you fail to see that person as a woman at all. Neither is that person a man. In fact, when my dad looks at me, he doesn’t even see a human being. He sees something in-between and far-away, something inconsistent, something that doesn’t fit any mold. He looks at me and sees an absurdity. I am ugly and I will never be female. I will always be a mockery, a caricature, something fake. And all because I am ugly. 

Assuming my experience is not singular, is it any wonder that transwomen are worried so much about passing? Think about it. If being “beautiful” is not only about being seen as female but also about being seen as human, then it’s not so hard to blame transwomen for spending tens of thousands of dollars on cosmetic procedures, hormones, electrolysis, facial feminization surgery, and new wardrobes. It’s suddenly not so difficult to imagine why we obsessively look in mirrors and take relentless selfies. In my situation, cultural ideology has affected me so deeply so deeply that subconsciously, even I have trouble seeing myself as a human when I look in the mirror or take an especially bad picture of myself. And since coming out has been about my becoming more authentically human, when I can’t look at myself and feel like I see a genuine person, I get angry and sad and my dysphoria kicks into overdrive x 10. 

On the same note, I finally got around to watching Dallas Buyer’s Club. I’d heard all about Jared Leto’s “transface” performance, how it unintentionally belittles the trans community, and why the role only perpetuates stereotypes. Needless to say, I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. I basically had to force myself to see it, and even then, I figured I’d be super-critical about Leto et al. Well. I was wrong. There’s one scene near the end of Rayon’s life when she says a prayer. I can’t remember the exact wordage, but it went something like this: “God, when I get to heaven, I swear I am going to be pretty.” This, right after the (eerily similar) confrontation with her dad. At that moment, and for several hours afterwards, I just couldn’t get that prayer out of my head. It struck me, and that’s because it hits at the core of so much of my gender dysphoria. 

To explain what I mean, I’ll take a look at Rayon as a person. First (because it’s what society would have us do), let’s analyze her appearance. I am sure I won’t be the first to admit that Jared Leto does not make a (culturally) pretty transwoman. As Rayon, he certainly doesn’t pass. And Rayon’s mountain-of-make-up and brightly colored dresses make her seem just a little shallow and over-the-top. I think a lot of people saw this physical portrayal and immediately thought that Leto was doing transwomen a disservice. Why? Because Rayon is ugly. Rayon fails on just about every level to look like a ciswoman. It would have been better if Rayon were less made-up, less drag-queenish (I know it’s not a word, but whatever). If she looked like a normal girl, viewers would see that transwomen don’t all look like half-starved, coked-up hookers. 

But that would miss the point.

Like so many transwomen, Rayon wants to be pretty. She wants to look in that mirror and see what the culture expects to see. She fears her ugliness, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Her image is part of her, and, whether we like it or not, our trans images our part of us, too. MIne certainly is. I know I’m not pretty, but I want to be. Not because I’m shallow or vain. But, like Rayon, because I want to be accepted as a person. 

By forcing Rayon onto viewers in this way, Jean-Marc Vallee asks that we deepen our gaze and go beyond the physical. He wants the culture-at-large to look at transwomen and see beyond the material. When we see past Rayon’s horrible, ugly skin, we see a real beauty. She is kind and loving. She cares about people. She helps Ron with his charlie horse the first time she meets him. She worries about Dr. Saks. She presents as a male in front of her father. She gives the money from her life insurance policy to Ron. These are the sorts of things that exemplify true beauty. Rayon’s actions are images of God’s beauty, the beauty that perpetuates and spreads, that builds up instead of tearing down, the beauty that humanizes rather than objectifying. Tragically, though, the ideology of appearance is so insidious that, even after all the good she’s done, Rayon still feels less-than-human. And, also tragically, I’m afraid that most viewers (cis- and trans- alike) feel the same.

Are we really in control?

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Just a short post tonight.

Earlier today, I read two articles about transgender issues. Both argued in opposition to trans* identity. One, a Patheos article written by a Catholic mom, was touching and–though I disagreed with it–gentle. The other, which was published on The Federalist, is just another knee-jerk, toe-the-line reaction.  Basically, the writer argues that transgender issues are really just another arm of some leftist hegemony that is trying to force people to think differently. Oh, and put a nail in the coffin of traditional marriage (or…something like that. I still don’t get how anyone could have come to such a ridiculous conclusion, but whatever). There were so many things wrong with the article, that it really upset me just trying to wrap my head around all of them. Trans* people are trying to kill what it means to be human. Transgender issues are just a fad. Transgender people want to invade your home and set it on fire (okay, I made that last one up, but good grief, it’s like the good minds at The Federalist are trying their utmost to turn us into some uber-scary monsters under the bed).

And then there are the air quotes. One after another, sentence after sentence. The author just has to drive home how ludicrous it is for a “man” to “believe” “he” is a “woman” who was “born” with the “wrong” “body”.

But all of that is just poor rhetoric. What really bugged me was the stuff about power struggles. The author’s basic thesis: trans* people are taking control of language, culture, and politics in order to force other people to acknowledge their expressed genders. She creates an illusion that we have an iron fist fixed straight at the throats of anyone who dare oppose us. Really? Let’s think about that for a minute. Trans* people have power? One of the smallest, most downtrodden minorities in the entire world has unspeakable power? A group of people who suffer from astronomical suicide rates, hate crimes, drug abuse, loneliness, lack of healthcare, and joblessness/poverty are controlling your lives? How very sad, poor, white, libertarian journalist.

This is what kills me. How people argue that I–who have lost my wife, most of my family, and many of my friends–could be in control. How is it that I–the girl who gets stared down wherever I go, who is gossiped about among my old classmates and teachers, who lives in a small, Bible-Belt community where some would sooner hang me than call me “she”–have power?

There is one thing I have control over. One thing. Myself. And since I have some small bit of control over myself, I at least want the freedom to work out who I am without being afraid. I do believe that is a key aspect of democracy…or so I’ve read. I also want the freedom to be recognized as human, something The Federalist seems to misunderstand. Rather than throwing away the meaning of the word, I want to revitalize it. I want us to remember that it is more than biology and reproduction. Yes, those things are part of it. But what about consciousness, spirit, soul? What about being itself? Don’t they play into our most vital and lasting definitions of the human?

So, yeah, as a human who wants to be treated humanely, I do ask that people gender me appropriately. Why? Because it shows respect. It shows care. And shouldn’t that be enough on its own?

As an example, let me make a comparison. I live in a part of the world where the term “Mexican” has become derogatory. When people use the word, they spit it out. It’s rarely complimentary. As a result, many of the Mexican Americans in this area have stopped referring to themselves in relation to their heritage. They call themselves Hispanic or Latino. Some, however, see a problem with this. They see what could be lost. They believe that it is a point of pride to be Mexican or of Mexican descent. And so, they were the term with honor. They ask others–people who have criticized “Mescans”their entire lives–to call them by what they are. Why? Because it is part of their being. They deserve to have their being accepted. It has formed them and continues to form them.

I understand that being transgender is not the same as being of a racial minority. But, the act of wearing one’s gender for the world to see is very similar. We want people to know how important gender is, and how much it has affected our being. And for that, I think we deserve some level of acceptance, just an ounce of respect. And that’s not because we want power. It’s because we want love. We ask you to love us. When you don’t, is it any surprise that we don’t always love you back? That we fight for power? We are the ones without it, after all. And really, when you think about it, the only time people starts complaining about other people taking power, well, that’s when you know they’re afraid of losing some of it.

Anorexia =/= Gender Dysphoria

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Let’s do a short comparison of two psychological “disorders”. For the sake of suspense, I don’t think I’ll name the two things I’m comparing, not until I’m done anyways. Why not? Because I can.

Disorder #1

Characterized by:

  1. a conscious belief that one’s physical appearance does not coincide with their psychological conception of self
  2. the desire to inflict bodily change in order to see the two dissimilarities made similar
  3. the presence of neuroses, brought about by individual psychology and physiology as well as cultural ideology
  4. a dangerous modification of the body that could lead to serious illness or death

Disorder #2

  1. a conscious belief that one’s physical appearance does not coincide with their psychological conception of self
  2. the desire to inflict bodily change in order to see the two dissimilarities made similar
  3. the presence of neuroses, brought about by individual psychology and physiology as well as cultural ideology
  4. a dangerous modification of the body that could lead to serious illness or death

These two are not the same. But how, when their characteristics are so closely matched? It’s a question I’ve struggled with for a while. What does it mean when a disorder like anorexia shares so much in common with something like gender dysphoria? We all know anorexia is dangerous. It leads to severe health problems. Heck, if not treated, it can easily take a person’s life. Anorexia is bad, we tell ourselves. The anorexic clearly has a misplaced sense of self. So how do we treat it? We correct the sufferer’s self-image. We reconstruct it, so they see what we see. We “fix” them, tell them they are wrong when they look at themselves and think their body is wrong.

With trans* people we do the exact opposite.

Instead of counseling trans* people into readjusting to fit our preconceptions about health, we allow them the chance to connect their body with their conscious thoughts about how their body should be.

Is that not unethical/dangerous/inconsistent? I don’t think so. While, gender dysphoria and anorexia appear to be similar in nature, their is one massive difference between them: the question of being. According to Aristotle, we are always in the process of becoming. We are humans who are never-yet fully realized humans but always already becoming more human. Heidegger said something similar. In Being and Time, he tells us that being is directly related to care and is therefore about being in the world. We never stop caring, and coming further into being requires continually showing care. For the anorexic, these two things are lost. The sense of becoming more human has been replaced by the sense of becoming what one has been led to believe is more human–whether that be the portrayal of body image through mass media or even a more personal need to assert power over oneself and others through eating/non-eating. On the one hand, misconstruing culturally perfected bodies and turning them into something one must have does not lead to a more human sense of being. Instead, it turns objectifies the self, makes it belong to the media and not to the true, individual self. As to power control, this is often cited as the primary cause for the development of anorexia (which, by the way, is entirely different from the development of gender dysphoria). But the need to assert dominance means rejecting the need to show care. Because, in gaining power, the anorexic gives up caring for their body’s health and well-being in return for a kind of societal and visual hegemony. In essence, they go outside of themselves and then remold themselves. Heidegger would call this inauthenticity, or the rejection of being.

For the trans* person, the battle does come partially from outside. After all, the vast majority of us are bound by cultural standards of gender from birth. When we struggle against those standards, we are struggling against a very powerful ideological apparatus. BUT, when we struggle, we are struggling on account of health and well-being. We struggle for being. We realize that who they tell us we are is not what makes us who we are. Instead, in the process of becoming human, we must learn for ourselves what will make us the fullest, most-complete person we can be. And for many trans* persons, this means asserting a gender not assigned at birth. We don’t do this as a means of creating power. Instead, we do this out of care. We show care for ourselves by attempting to live the most psychologically healthy life we can lead. We show care for ourselves by seeking out our authentic selves from the inside-out. We do not let culture dictate what it means to be authentic or inauthentic. Instead, we search our guts, our minds, and our souls looking for what it means to be the appropriate gender. We show care for God, too. God longs to mold us into the image of Christ. And Christ is love. For so many trans* people, transitioning means finding a sense of love that has been rejected for years. We have to learn to love ourselves and the way that God made us. He made us all to suffer, after all, but He also made us for joy, and in finding gender, we find a small spark of joy. I know I did. Even as I lost family, friends, a wife, my job; somehow I still found joy. And, unlike the anorexic, the trans* person shows care for the world they inhabit. In my own experience, when I came to terms with myself and started living those terms out, I grew less and less self-focused. I had been so locked inside myself for so many years that I had also lost the sense of care for the world around me. I had grown cynical and jealous. But when I let that go and chose to live, I was finally able to start loving others the way I’d have them love me–as the person they see in front of them, as Mary Catherine and not her male counter-part.

And that’s really the difference. Love is at the core. When we show love, we are in being. By hating the self and/or the world the self inhabits, the anorexic falls out of being. But, when they learn to love again, to treat their body with care and the world around them with charity, things might have a way of coming back together. When a trans* person chooses to accept their dysphoria and deal with it, when they learn to start caring for the self they’ve rejected for so long, love happens. Love for the self, love for God, love for the world.

Regrets and Repression

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It happens every day. At some point I catch myself thinking about how I suppressed my transexuality growing up and the repercussions of that suppression. For one, I got married. BIG MISTAKE. Why is it that nobody listens when you tell them not to get married for the sake of being “cured” of something. It doesn’t work. Don’t for a second think that it will. But this post isn’t really about the pain I’ve caused to myself. It’s about what I did to others, especially when I was growing up. 

You see, there’s this weird thing that happens when you feel like your gender/sexuality/whatever doesn’t mesh up with the expectations of the world around you. You get scared. And for some reason, when you’re scared you turn vicious. I know I did. This is how things would go down: 1) I would feel my dysphoria coming on real strong 2) I would get incredibly nervous that someone would point out something about my gender expression 3) I wanted to turn the negative attention away from myself 4) I pointed out something about someone else that made them look “gay” or “queer” 5) I felt safe because another person was being attacked. It’s a terrible cycle. I could blame it on others. I could tell you how bad bullying is in schools (especially if you’re a closet trans person living in Small-Town Central, located in the state of Bible Belt). I could say that the people I mocked weren’t really hurt because they probably were straight, white males who could have benefited from seeing life in the eyes of a non-gender conforming individual. 

But that just isn’t true. 

The blame is my own. Ironically, I was often the cause of the cycle in the first place. I started it. Most likely, people weren’t going to pick on me because they could see a girl inside my eyes. Most likely, they just didn’t care. As long as I wasn’t going to school presenting as a female, nobody was ever going to know I was transgender. And besides that, I was the one bullying myself. I picked out the things about me that I was ashamed of, things that I was afraid of. Why did I want to wear my hair like the other girls? Why did I want to dress like them? Why did I want to spend time with them, play sports with them, talk like them, and giggle at boys like them? Why even use the phrase “the other girls”? As soon as those parts that I was repressing bubbled up to the surface, I spat them out, and usually I spat them right at a target. And worse, that target had to be someone I knew others would bully.

Bad, right? It gets worse. 

When you play the part of instigator long enough, you start to get a certain sadistic pride out of it. So what started as a defense mechanism eventually became a sport. In high school, I was the queen of gossip, backstabbing, manipulation, you name it. And I liked it. I guess when you get good enough at manipulating yourself into hating yourself then it’s easy getting yourself to do same to others. I hated being transgender. And so I mocked anything that had to do with the LGBT world. I hated gay people. And God you if you were a guy and you ever tried to touch me, or hug me, or tell me you loved me. BECAUSE HOW GAY IS THAT? You know? So if you wronged me, I would lie about you. I would socially eradicate you. I would stomp on you as hard as I could.

And you know, this didn’t really stop until I was 26 years old. This fear and anger didn’t go away until I finally said to myself: “you’re transgender. You’re okay with that. It’s who you are.” And when that happened, when I finally got the courage to quit being afraid of me, I felt compassion. I felt love–which, honestly, is not something I’ve truly felt for a very long time. I mean, I loved my wife. I still do, even if she’s not my wife anymore. I loved my parents. I loved my friends. But I didn’t really love them. I know that doesn’t make sense. What I mean to say is that I judged them for every little defect. I hated my defect, so it was only fair that I hate everyone else’s. When I learned to stop judging my defect-as-defect and learned to start loving my uniqueness, I learned to love other’s particularities, too. I realized that the cycle was stupid. Why create pain just to deflect it? Instead, show care, and you never know, you might receive it in return. Even if you don’t, you know that others won’t be hurt because of you. They might hurt you, but if they do, don’t lose your ability to love.

Because once you start loving, you start to enjoy it. And that’s a cycle worth spinning.

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Way to go, SBC. You just reminded me why I am super-positively joyful to know longer be a Baptist. Not that there is anything wrong with most Baptist folks. Many of my friends and most of my family belong to the SBC, and that’s okay (J).

But yeah…the SBC just drilled the transgender movement with its own ideology: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2014/06/the-southern-baptist-convention-throws-transgender-people-under-the-bus/#comments. I guess none of this surprises really me, though it does make me sad. Most everything accepted by the convention is  reactionary, unscientific (shocker!), and theologically simplistic. Basically, the entire thing can be broken into three parts: transpeople are delusional, transpeople are actively disobeying God, and transpeople should have no legal rights. It’s the same thing that you see all over the place. And it’s totally misrepresentative and biased.

The idea that transpeople are crazy has been proven false by the APA, but to be honest, any human being who thinks about it for more than five minutes could come to the same conclusion. If transpeople are delusional nutcases who perceive their physical self as something disproportionate to their metaphysical self, then doesn’t that make them like every other human being ever? How many people want to change something about their bodies? And how many people pay gobs and gobs of cash to get those changes? They see a form that they strive for. That form is the essential idea of the human-as-human. For the transperson, it goes far deeper. The transperson knows that human essence is intricately tied to gender, and transpersons feels the tension between their gender  and the body that their gender does not match. To know one’s gender and live it is not delusional. In fact, it can be argued that doing so is a very fundamental way of being (at least in regards to evangelical Christianity). If there is an essential, God-given masculine and feminine, then living out that masculine or feminine is an important part of any Christian’s life. In theory, then, a transperson who knows their  gender should try to live it authentically in the most Godly way possible. Not to do so would be a rejection of God’s will—which…dun dun dun would be a sin.

And speaking of sin, how is it that a transperson can be both delusional and a sinner? If they know not what they do, then why are they held accountable? Taken another way, does a paranoid schizophrenic pay the sin-price for accidentally hurting someone? If we were to ask Thomas Aquinas, then “no”. But that’s not the same as asking a Southern Baptist, I’m sure.

And then the stuff about legal rights. Why is that Baptists must always bring politics into theology. I’d hoped dominionism was starting to wane. Way to crush my hopes, SBC. But suppose we do kick trans-rights out the church doors. What then? People who are apparently psychologically disturbed will lose access to jobs, healthcare, safe workplaces, safe restrooms, and safe schools. I suppose that’s fine and all if we’re not delusional and just making it up—you know, because it’s fun to pretend you’re the other gender and risk violence, loss, and hurt everywhere you go. But us crazies deserve the same rights as all the others, don’t you think, SBC? Or are we sinners? I just can’t keep up with all of this…

And that’s the crux of the matter. The SBC wants transpeople to be delusional and sinful and selfish, lying narcissists. We can’t be all three, so which is it? Perhaps it’s none of them. Perhaps we are scientifically damaged humans struggling to exist and struggling to exist in a way that shines the light of Christ into the world just like any other fallen, sinful person.

First Post!

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First post! Hi, internet. It’s so good to be one of the two billion blogs scattered across the web. You know, because they all get read…For the longest time, I thought blogging had become so procedural that everybody would do it. Everybody has something to say, after all. I have things to say, anyways. But, I thought that they’d get lost, floating somewhere in the clouds (pun!).  Nobody would hear me, and frankly, nobody would care. So I never wrote anything—at least, I never committed myself to anything.

Now things have changed.

In February of this year, I certainly changed. Or, to put it another way, I let myself finally be myself. You see, I’ve struggled with trying to understand my gender for a VERY long time—like 20+ years long, and that’s a lot, considering I’m only now 27. Finally, on February 13th, I decided to face my dissonance, my divided self, and start the healing process. I told my wife. She left. I told my family. Most don’t talk to  me. Talk about painful. It was. I lost so much when I came out. BUT. I also gained. I let myself be the person God made me. I dug my way out of the depression that had been eating at me since I was a freshman in college. I let the people around see the person hidden deep inside: the fun, bubbly, friendly, energetic one that had been hidden behind the pretentious, quiet, cold and calloused mask I’d worn for years.

And here I am.

I’m living life to the fullest now. I’m also learning a lot (you try going through puberty again, and this time, as another sex…). And I want to share that with people. More than anything, I want to share how God has been with me through this time. I recently left the evangelical church I was raised in and joined an Anglican parish in my new home. It has been completely life-altering. I am afraid that all too often, transgender people like myself are turned off by Christians, reviled, misunderstood. I know I have been. My brother’s pastor recently told me I had a demon in me and a short prayer would fix everything.

Yeah. Right.

I don’t want that for transpeople. I don’t want it for Christians, either. We have a real chance to try and deepen our understanding of both peoples,  both traditions, both ways of being, if only we try. Right now, the conversation is dead. Transpeople are pissed at Christians. Christians don’t even attempt to understand transpeople. I want that to change. Hopefully, I have enough things to say about both cultures—as I am part of both—and hopefully I can prove that the two are not incompatible. It’s only a matter of uncovering the Christian way for myself as a transperson and how that has changed my life for the better. Christians have deserted me left and right, but thankfully, it’s not in the Christians that I place faith. It’s in God. And, considering that, I even want my special experience, my being transgender, to be devoted to God. Scripture relates to us the notion that some people are made eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. I pray that I will let myself be as those people. And I pray that at least somebody out there will hear.