When One Transitions, We All Transition

bathroom

Our granddaughter announced his decision to become an F to M Trans Boy. Okay, I am ready, I thought. Well, not completely ready, I discovered.

I should be ready. I came out in 1977 as a bisexual. I was precocious, adventurous and fully engaged in the pre-AIDS era of sexual exploration and experimentation. I had boyfriends and girlfriends. I knew I didn’t want to get married and behave like the heterosexual women of my mother’s generation. I didn’t believe in monogamy. Messages my mother gave me about female identity included the statement that, “women are second class citizens.” I was ambitious. I wanted to be first-class.

Influenced by second wave feminism, especially the radical and cultural aspects of that great tidal wave crashing upon the shore of U.S. society, my identity kept shifting on the wet sand. I cut off my hair and dressed like a boy. Back then we called it being androgynous. We loved Ziggy Stardust. I learned that snails, slime mold and other beings in Creator’s magnificent universe did not reproduce through a binary gender system. In Judy Grahn’s anthology, True to Life Adventure Stories, I read a short story, Boys at the Rodeo, about a group of lesbians attending a rodeo in Wyoming who were mistaken as boys. Once the cowboys accepted them as young, rambunctious males, those dykes had a blast. Unlike the then-popular phrase, “Blondes have more fun,” it seemed to me that boys had more fun.

At twenty I hitch-hiked alone across Scotland. I left behind a beautiful long-haired man in Wisconsin and a feisty athletic woman in Michigan. Lugging my backpack, I stuck out my thumb and pretended to be a boy. My ruse was not entirely successful despite my cropped hair, flannel shirt, baggy pants and worn-out sneakers. Once I climbed into the back seat, the driver would generally say, “Thought you were a boy,” which meant that already my voice or gestures had given me away. So much for that. I let my hair grow out and slowly grew to embrace my emerging identity as a power-femme.

Gender is performance. As a young adult, freed up by 1970s lesbian culture, I was able to perform my inner boy. I enjoyed it but not enough to abandon my inner girl. At that time society presented me with a narrow choice: man or woman; male or female. Pretty limiting but I found ways to straddle the categories.

Today I wear summer dresses, paint my toenails and flip up my long hair. But I also hike in sturdy boots and camp in the wilderness beneath the naked stars. I am unafraid. I am fiercely independent. I settled down and married a woman. Between us we share the stereotypical male roles in the old-fashioned husband-wife dynamic. I handle most of the financial and legal matters. She handles most of the power tools for household maintenance, yardwork, carpentry, that stuff. I mean I can spackle drywall or drive a nail into a two by four, but she does it better. I guess I am a gender-bending person in my own way.

The next generation is doing what they should to race through the door kicked open by gay rights activists and second wave feminists. They inherited the social and political spaces created by those who dared to question strict gender roles and the suppression of both female and homosexual lives. It’s not that the violence and hatred against us has ended, but the legal system and public opinion have shifted. I myself have benefited by this extraordinary movement toward human liberation.

So why am I having difficulty with my grandchild’s transition? I recall the bright face of the baby whose diapers I once changed, the toddler whose bedtime stories I once read, the small, rambunctious one for whom I drove around in the humid Ohio night singing to the moon so she would fall asleep. Did I make up stories in my mind about the woman this child would become? Did I get attached to my stories of make-believe?

Or do I feel a sense of loss because we have worked so hard to lift up female identity as valued, relevant, vital and necessary to change the oppressive domination of our world. You see, I love being a woman. I am interested in and deeply committed to women’s lives, voices, empowerment and spirituality. I understand the menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, the mothering process, the struggle of being female under male domination, the silencing effect on girls and women inside patriarchal systems, and the profound desire to share authority in the world differently than the dominator-power-over style used by our government, police, academic institutions and families. Though I am part of the LGBTQ community, I strongly identify as a woman and care deeply about the lives of girls and women. Yet my grandchild was born female and is choosing to live her/his life as a trans male.

Since I came of age during that era of name-changing, identity-switching liberation, I should be ready for anything. I should be fine about a girl I adore becoming the boy I will adore. For her/him, this decision has been years in the making. I remember going into the boys clothing department to help her choose clothes she wanted to wear. I recall the summer the luscious long hair was first cut short. Emerging today is a confident, articulate, intelligent, stylish, young performance artist who can sing, dance, direct, conceive and execute original theatrical material. I am proud. Her decision to transition into living this life as a trans boy has made him very happy. I can see that. It fits. It seems right. Still in brief moments I catch myself mourning for the girl who is no longer there, and who is not going to become a woman.

Native communities use the term, Two Spirit. I like it. It suggests a spiritual aspect to the act of transgressing gender divisions. Two Spirit advances the possibility of living within a state of consciousness that embraces gender-duality-becoming-unity. It is both/and: both male and female; both straight and gay; both old and new. Perhaps it is even more than that. Two Spirit goes beyond gender-based identity boxes. It signifies someone filled with the power of Two Spirits. Am I Two Spirit? Is my grandchild?

Once we get beyond the public bathroom debate, I look forward to what other new social and political spaces will open up for all of us. If our society can make room for all of the myriad gendered expressions in the emerging trans-youth of today, how much freedom could we all experience?

Trans-identity is now part of our family. This means, I, too, must transition. Though my tongue still stumbles over the pronoun change, I will get it. One day he will slip effortlessly from my mouth when I refer to my beloved grandchild. I know I can do it.

 

 

Compassionate Inquiry: Writing Ourselves, Writing the Other, Workshop

handshadowdune

Please join me for a writing workshop on Thursday, August 27, 9 am to 12:00 pm at Southwestern College, 3960 San Felipe Road, Santa Fe as part of the Diversity, Healing & Consciousness, 34th Annual Transformation & Healing Conference.

Our basic quest for unity asks us to consider: Who am I? Who is Other? Writing is a powerful expressive arts therapeutic tool for self-discovery and self-acceptance. In this workshop we will touch on issues of identity, family and community. We will explore the separation we may have experienced through racial, ethnic, religious, economic class, sexuality, gender, or other socially defined categories of difference. We will seek to recognize, reconcile and release that which keeps us feeling separate. Using both imagination and memory, we will use the power of metaphor to express a transformational experience.

3 CECs available for counselors, art therapists and social workers. Limited space available. Please register now. $40 for workshop. Call toll free: 877-471-5756 or 505-471-5756 or email: info@swc.edu

Today’s Thoughts on Marriage Equality & the Supreme Court Decision: June 27, 2015

The day before the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. The day after the Supreme Court decision, I swept out my home. It was the same work the day before and the day after. The marriage equality decision uplifts all of us as it embraces the aspiration of a human being to freely love another human being. The decision matters to me. As a lesbian, a woman, a teacher, a lover in a long-term partnership, a grandmother and a friend, it matters to me.

I wept when I read the concluding paragraph written by Justice Kennedy for the majority:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I am so happy.

Still I have to sweep out the house.

I don’t literally grab a broom, though living in the high desert on a dirt road means there is dust blowing in every open window in the summer. What I mean is I am responsible for my home. I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I help keep it clean and in good working order. If I have friends or family visiting, I am responsible for their hospitality. I like to make sure everyone is comfortable and their needs are met while they stay in my home with me.

Likewise I am responsible for my life, for my thoughts, feelings, attitudes and ideas. It is up to me to recognize and sweep out any negativity, hate, fear or doubt. Otherwise like rodents, these things will occupy my home. They will pester me and destroy the good things I have inside the home of my being.

So yes, I sweep daily.

I sweep out any sign that I have removed someone from the community of caring. If I have judged someone, thought of that person or group of people as wrong or bad, or given myself any excuse to hate another, it is time to grab the broom and sweep.

If I make anyone my enemy, I have gone to war. In my true heart, I am a healer and a peacemaker. So I have to catch myself if I start to raise a righteous flag and take up arms against someone. I watch myself for what I call enemy consciousness, for it erases the spiritual wisdom that we are all one, and that whatever happens to one of us affects all of us.

The evidence of our fundamental unity is everywhere. It is perhaps most obvious when we consider the environment. The air and water, climate and oceans, do not recognize national borders, cultural boundaries, gender, religion, politics, economics or any other social construct. We are all impacted by what is happening right now on our planet. Yet we are surrounded by the popular notion that there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them.’ And for ‘us’ to live, ‘they’ must die. If I catch myself succumbing to this erroneous belief and making anyone my enemy, even for a moment, I stop and sweep.

In the Supreme Court Decision, the dissenting opinion of Judge Clarence Thomas caused me such a moment. When I read his statement, I felt myself tense up in outrage and disagreement. I reacted especially to the following quote:

“Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Really? Slaves did not lose their dignity or their humanity when the law in this country defined them as only three/fifths human and denied them any right to their labor, their families, their own bodies and their lives?

Truly? Japanese-American families did not lose their dignity when the U.S. government seized their property and forced them to live in substandard conditions under constant armed guard behind rows of chain-linked barbed wire as enemies of the state?

Wow. That was astonishing to read. But it also reminded me to see clearly how every human struggle is connected to every other one. Thomas connected slavery to internment camps to gay marriage. How interesting. They are connected. Each expresses brutal separation and rigid demarcation. We could add more examples: the Holocaust or the murders last week of nine African American parishioners in their church by a young white supremacist. Each is an example of the relentless violence of enemy consciousness.

Clarence’s denouncement that government has an impact on the dignity of human life is bizarre. He argues that dignity cannot be granted or removed by the external authority of a legal or political regime. Yet every study of the human psyche illustrates that we exist in relationship to others. Our identities are shaped, in part, by how others perceive and treat us. Our external circumstances do affect our internal sense of worth, especially in the lives of children.

This decision to extend the same marital rights and legal recognition to same-sex couples will impact the next generation of same-sex families. They will experience a security I never did. When we were a young lesbian couple raising a son in the 1980s during the gay hate-mongering of the Reagan administration, we suffered violence, invisibility and a profound lack of support. I believe this decision will change these conditions for future same-sex families. Like my goddess-daughter Malaika Carver wrote on her Facebook last night, “Finally love is legal!”

Clarence is entitled to his opinion, as I am to mine. He has the platform of serving as a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have the platform of my little blog. Please share this with someone if you find it useful.

It is my responsibility to express myself. I can express anger, sadness and grief. I can also forgive, enjoy, celebrate and love. It is my responsibility to love the ones I love with depth, power, beauty and resilience. No one else can do that for me.

I do not hate those whose opinions I find difficult. I may disagree. I can also sweep out the urge to close myself against those who see the world differently. There is always something to learn.

Reading Thomas’ opinion I learned something, or rather, I was reminded of something important. Every human struggle is worthy of our attention.

This is my life and I have a right to live it fully. You do, too. Let us celebrate! Then I will pick up my broom and sweep away whatever it is that keeps me from acting on the truth of our interconnection.

Exploring Gender – a true story

Acolo

Family Discount Train Ticket, USA 1984

I try talking the travel agent

into selling me a family discount train ticket

What about sisters? I insist. Sisters are family.

No, she retorts. Man and Wife. Only man and wife.

 Stalking back up the Bronx Street

with the family discount in my pocket

I have to break it to you

now one of us has to be the man.

What? you exclaim.

I can be the man, I reply.

You shake your head.

It’s decided. I become an East Coast Bohemian

sporting red plastic cat-eye glasses

two-inch stacked heels

hair swirled up, splash of lipstick, stack of books.

You dress up like a stodgy, well-educated Kenyan

Nehru jacket, thick glasses, cropped Afro.

We fake it from New York to Chicago.

You keep a growl plastered to your face.

I smile like an elite

know-it-all, possessive, protective wife.

Enjoying the backstory

I created for our cross-country gender performance

I proudly show our husband&wife ticket

to each conductor at every stop.

We are north of Kenosha

heading into Milwaukee

last leg of the journey home

when the conductor eyes us suspiciously.

He opens his mouth to question me

but before he can speak

I shoot up teetering on both heels

ready to make a scene.

You cringe pretending to sleep.

I hiss, You got a problem?

I am ready to slap him.

He hands me back our ticket

moves to the next passenger

I look around the train car

memorizing faces

so I can point later:

You were there and did nothing

when they stripped us to inspect our female genitalia

and threw us from the train.

We make it home. We make it

knowing not everybody does.

Note: Image is entitled, Acolo, encaustic & collage on paper, from Romanian artist Victor Brauner. I photographed it last month at the Chicago Art Museum. This image expresses how I sometimes feel about being my gender.