Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Midwinter Carol

In the mid 80's when I lived in Phoenix, I happened to buy a Christmas album featuring several Arizona folk musicians. One of the tracks was an Appalachian dulcimer rendition of Planxty Irwin by Turlough O'Carolan (1670 - 1738), the blind harper who composed some of Ireland's most beautiful music. Planxty Irwin is not a seasonal piece; it is simply a harp tune, most likely dedicated to Colonel John Irwin, a contemporary of O'Carolan's. But the tune fit wonderfully with the rest of the music (all of which is in a box of cassettes somewhere in a closet). It percolated in my head for about ten years, then I put words to it. Perhaps it was because I was teaching comparative religions at the time, but I wanted to create a holiday song that touched as many traditions as possible. In going over the words, I find it still doesn't go as far as I would have liked.

Anyway, I thought I'd share it with you. Here is the tune: Planxty Irwin. And here are the words.

Now the year draws to its ending;
Now our harvest is gathered in.
Now, together, we meet, intending
To share our joy as the new comes in.

Here among our friends and neighbors,
We shall laugh and dance and sing,
And share the fruit of all our labors:
The wealth that Nature and God do bring.

Hail the feast! Hail the company!
Hail to Nature and God above!
Hail, Midwinter, we come together
To share our joy and peace and love.

One house now holds eight bright lights,
While in its neighbor there stands a tree.
The third hears songs into the night;
The joy of family warms all three

Families large with loved ones numberless;
Families small with only two;
It matters not: God one and all shall bless.
Bless the multitude, bless the few.

Bless our home! Bless our family,
In whatever form it may take.
Hail, Midwinter, we come together
To praise God for our family's sake.

Solstice brings the world together,
All humanity, hand in hand.
In the warm or freezing weather,
We of Earth must together stand.

Jew and Muslim, Catholic, Protestant -
All believers the words fulfill:
Peace on Earth to all is God's intent -
Peace on Earth to all of Good Will.

Peace on Earth, the Peace of Nature,
For God and Nature are one and the same.
Hail Midwinter, we come together,
And God is God whatever the name.

Peace and Joy be with you all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Out of the Past

My dear friend Jayne sent me this link to the British newspaper The Independent today, regarding the remains of a 2,000-year-old remains of a young Cybellean priestess was found in North Yorkshire. I'm not particularly crazy about the correspondent's gender terminology, but the information is fascinating. I had not realized that there were any Gallae this far north. I'm not surprised, though, since the worship of Cybelle was widespread, and wherever the Romans went, a wealth of faiths followed.

Now, in the midst of writing this, I decided to do a little more research and found a BBC article from 2002 documenting the finding of the remains. The the point to the article in the Independent, it seems, is that forensic studies were done on the remains, and apparently this priestess died as the result of ritually castrating herself.

There is much to be said for ecstatic frenzy. On the other hand, I hope my dear sisters opt for Dr. Bowers or some other qualified surgeon and not a flint knife or a pottery shard.

As regards more information on the Gallae, I must bow to the more knowledgeable. You can find scads of information here . We may not agree on all things, but Cathryn knows her stuff and is a fantastic historical resource.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Media

It seems that many of us need a good laugh right now. On a hunch I Googled (Feh! I hate that verb) Flying Karamazov Brothers: The Comedy of Errors. I saw this live on PBS twenty years ago, and taped it but now my video tape has deteriorated. Not much regarding transgender here, except for the appearance of the late performer/writer Ethyl Eichelberger. Anyway, I was very happy to see that someone had preserved it, since it's not been available commercially for some years. Enjoy.
Part 1
Part 2


So I've just spent an hour putting a music player on this page. It doesn't turn on automatically, so if you want to be exposed to the kind of music I listen to, scroll (wayyyy down) to the bottom of the page. I hate to make you work just to listen to some obscure piece of music, but since I don't work in html, I'm stuck with this template - which is why that thing is at the bottom of the page in a box it doesn't fit.

I'll be adding to it from time to time as I find stuff that suits my fancy. Be forwarned, though, popular music and I part ways somewhere around 1950, then meet up again in the big folk music scare of the early sixties, and finalize the breakup in the 1970's.

So anyway, if the mood strikes, scroll to the bottom and see what's there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


On Sunday evening I had what, sadly, is now a rare treat. I picked up one daughter from the iconic Pasadena bookstore where she is clerking while studying art, then drove to Burbank to pick up her elder sister who was flying back from Oakland. We drove her to her apartment in Santa Monica and then returned the other to San Gabriel where she lives with her mother. All told, it was a sixty-mile loop through Los Angeles.

The drive? We live on freeways here; it was negligible. The company of these two vivacious, intelligent and eccentric young women? Priceless. And all the more precious because I don't get to spend much time with either of them. (And when I do, it is not in "Gillian" mode.)

We raised our girls on a diet of good literature, classic films, vulgarity, sarcasm, and Monty Python, and they have turned out to be exactly the kind of young women that I am proud to claim as mine. They have also turned out to be exactly the variety of young woman I would have liked to have been. Of course, there is the dilemma: had I allowed myself to be such at their age, they wouldn't be here now. If I had been more honest with myself at the age of 23, their mother at the age of 21 would not have consented to marry me. Be my friend, yes; be my life partner, no.

One of the many things I love about my daughters is that they love to talk, particularly about books and film. I was treated that evening to hearing the Twilight series and film soundly panned in stereo. (I ask you: vampires that shimmer in daylight and drink animal blood? They're the UNDEAD, dammit! Vampires are NOT having a good time!) I also got a critique from my younger daughter regarding Thanksgiving at her aunt's house and her uncle's ill-behaved nieces. My daughters and I agreed that, as a family, we may be judgmental, but at least we know how to behave. The younger said that she observes other people's behavior and decides what she wants to avoid, thus coming off polite. The elder has always been gregarious but with the caveat that she feels that everyone hates her, so she is also especially nice to people. I know where they both got this behavior: the apple does not fall far from the tree. We are a family that is true to its British heritage: we're nice to the point of neurosis.

I think this, more than anything else, is the reason I don't push the dime about being myself in front of them. I've nicely asked if they could handle it, and they've nicely said that it would make them uncomfortable. And since it's not imperative, they've not met me.

I add to this the fact that I had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with my father. You remember him... the guy who'd have the coronary if he knew. A recurring thought has struck me about him: what if he were transgendered? The universe lurches. It took me years to accept myself, and I can visualize just about anybody - even J. Edgar Hoover - but this image does not come within the widest boundaries of conceivability. No shame. No judgment. Just no way. So if I'm not insistent with my girls that they go out and do mother-daughter stuff with me, or that my ex, who is still my best friend go to Nordstrom's with me when I want a new chemise, it's because of that image of my own father that won't fit into my universe.

As I said, we're a polite lot, which brings to mind this quote from Emily Post: "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

There are some of us whose very being depends upon a totally authentic representation, and I can do no less than honor and respect that. I can survive in a dual existence. I could survive, though miserably, in exclusively male mode. So if I can keep their universe intact, I shall. It would be nice if they invited me (this me) into their world, but I'm too polite to pressure them.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm tempted to go into a bit of research and tell how Thanksgiving has its roots in Sukkot, the ancient Jewish harvest festival and give lines and lines of pedantry. I'd rather keep it short and sincere.

I give thanks for my health. I give thanks for two beautiful, funny and intelligent daughters. I give thanks for an ex whom I still love and who is now my best friend. I give thanks for Melody. I give thanks for Alisa. I give thanks for Jayne. I give thanks for Paula. I give thanks for my father. I give thanks for my students and for all with whom I have a daily contact.

Those beloveds are a given.

In the past four months, though, I have been blessed with a group of friends who, though they are scattered throughout the continent, are very, very dear to me: Abby, Lori, Gillian, Rhada, Shauna, Christianne, Stephanie, Denise, Leith, Kathryn, Teri, Cathryn, Chloe, Sarah, Eva-Genevieve, the list is so long...

You all have touched me from so far. You have caused me to reach for my highest spirit and to reach inside for the gold.

Bless you every one. I love you all.

Joy be yours this day and every day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Tale...

Over the past few days, I've been mulling over what to write about. The elections are over. Obama's working out his plan of action. I've said about everything I'm going to say about Prop 8 (it sucks; the California Supreme Court is going to hold hearings; fingers crossed; in the meantime, keep to the high road: don't harass old homophobic ladies in Palm Springs or elsewhere). And I've got a truckload of papers to grade. So...

I'm going to tell you a story. This is my retelling of a Scottish folktale collected by Linda Williamson from Betsy Whyte of Collessie, Fife on April 16, 1987. The original is to be found in The Penguin Book of Scottish Folktales, edited by Neil Philip. It's one of the first stories in my repertoire. Be forewarned: it's one of the saddest stories I know.

The Laird was rumored to be a master of the black arts, and though he kept both an open hall and hand, all thereabouts agreed that one would be wise to keep well on his good side. He was also fond of a joke, especially if it was at the expense of another. So it was that on the night of a great cèilidh that he hosted each year in his his manor, he called for Auld Sandy, his cowherd. Sandy, it was agreed by all, was only a few degrees brighter than the cows he kept. The Laird's bully boy found Sandy on a stool in the byre, lightly dozing between two of his charges. Affectionately but firmly, Sandy was lifted from his seat and conducted to the great hall where the Laird was firmly ensconced on a far grander seat of his own.

"Sandy," said the Laird, "We've become bored with the music and the dancing. Tell us the best lie ye know and I'll give ye a soveriegn."

Sandy looked blankly at his master, removed his cloth cap, ran his fingers through his grizzled hair, and then rubbed the backs of his calloused knuckles against the graying stubble on his chin.

"I canna tell a lie, Laird. I dinna hae the art."

The Laird frowned, and his voice rang through the hall, "What use are you then?" He then winked to company when Sandy lowered his head in shame. "Here. I've a currach on the banks of the loch, and I've a mind to fish tomorrow. Go, bail it out and patch it."

Sandy pulled his forelock and shambled from the hall. He found the currach easily enough, and indeed, water had seeped through the tarred leather hull and now filled the small boat. Sandy found a pan on the bank and began to bail. Eventually, after he'd emptied the boat halfway, he found it necessary to get inside in order to reach the water in the bottom. So intent was he on his task, that he took no notice when the boat came free of the shore and began to drift into the loch.

Only when he was several yards from shore did he realize that he was afloat with no oars. Panic seized him and he began to shout for help, but the lawn between the great hall and the banks of the loch was devoid of
people. He could do nothing but sit quietly in the currach as it drifted further into the center of the loch and into a fog bank. As the fog enveloped the currach, Sandy began to feel a tingling throughout his body and a wave of dizziness. He put his hand on the gunwale to steady himself and was surprised to see that it was not his hand he thrust forth. It was not the brown, calloused hand of an aging cowherd, but the small, soft hand of a well-born young woman. Sandy's eyes moved from the hand to where a pair of old, worn boots, covered with years and years of cow dung should have been. Instead, Sandy's eyes found a pair of dainty black slippers of the finest neat's leather, and no patched breeches, but a yellow taffeta gown. Risking capsize, Sandy's head thrust over the gunwales, meeting the eyes of a golden-haired lassie of no more than nineteen looking up from the gray water. Every shred of panic left Sandy as the currach cleared the fog bank. The beautiful young woman sat stock still and moved only when she heard a man's voice hailing her from the shore before her. She looked up and saw a young man hailing her from a promontory. Could he be of assistance? Fearful of what voice might issue from her throat, she replied with a firm nod. The young man ran to the shore and dove into the water. The young woman overcame her shock enough to feel sympathetic chills as the saw the young man plow toward her through the icy water.

Having guided the currach to shore, the young man easily lifted the girl from the currach and stood her on dry land. Her breath caught at his touch, and her heart blossomed as their eyes met.
"My name is Alec Buchanan," he said. "It's my family's land we're on. What's yer name? Where d'ye come from?" he asked.

"Al-" She caught herself for a split second, hearing with relief a woman's dulcet voice, and she found to her surprise that she had never thought this clearly before. I can't very well say that I'm Alexander MacSorley, the half-witted cowherd from across the loch, she thought. She spoke again. "Alison MacSorley," she said. She'd found the currach and sat in it for a lark. Before she knew it she had drifted...

Neither of them completely remembered the story in later years. By the time she turned to follow him to his freehold where he lived with his mother, it was agreed they would be wed. Maisie Buchanan could never get over how this high-born lassie that her son had fished out of the loch could take so well to housekeeping, and Alison came to love her mother-in-law as if she were her own. And she never ceased to take joy in the mere presence of her husband. Five bonny bairns she gave him, one for each year they were together.

It was while she was still nursing the fifth child that a fancy came upon her that she must walk upon the beach. She, Alec, and the children walked in the sunlight and down to
the shore. Something black glistened on the shore.

"Look," said Alison, hearing her own voice as in a dream, "It's the currach that brought me here. Och! It's full of water."

She brought the sleeping, sated child from under her shawl, put him in her husband's arms, and ran to the shore. Before he could protest that the currach she spoke of had drifted back into the loch the second he had lifted her from it, she was in the boat and bailing. He had a baby in his arms and a toddler at his feet. He could not run after her. He could only watch as the currach drifted into the lock, carrying away his wife and the mother of his children.

When Alison came to her senses, it was too late. She turned to see Alec and the children, now black specks on the shore. As before, there were no oars.

"Alec!" she screamed, "My bairns!" And she repeated the screams as she drifted into the fog bank. When the voice became harsh and deep, she fell silent, not daring to look down.

When the currach bumped ashore, a figure in a cloth cap, soiled boots, and worn breaches shambled from it and up to the great hall. The door opened. The Laird looked down from his seat at the figure in the doorway.

"Sandy," the Laird beamed, and the figure fell to the floor weeping.

"My man! My bairns!"

At a tacit signal from the Laird, the bully boy brought Sandy to his feet.

"What on earth are you on about, Sandy?"

In the voice of a fifty-year-old cowherd, a twenty-four-year-old wife and mother told of the loves and joys,
now lost, of the past five years . The Laird laughed, and so did all the company as the cold reality crept into Sandy's mind.

"Five years!" roared the Laird through his laughter, "Sandy, ye've only been gone twenty minutes. But," he laughed, holding up a golden sovereign, "ye've told the finest lie I've heard this night. The sovereign is yours."

Sandy stood silent. He ran the back of his hand against his unshaven chin, a gesture that was now as foreign to him as the feeling of the beard itself. Slowly, he took off his cloth cap and slowly shuffled toward the Laird's high chair. He stared at the sovereign for a long time before he took it, turned, and shuffled from the hall to go and sleep amongst the cattle.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Since You Asked...

Was it Abby who asked for a picture of me as Kali? I have to admit that I've been holding this back. Those lines in the face, the double chin, that bloodshot third eye... Anyway, here it is...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One of the Women

I had intended to post about how Matreya went last week, but I found it hard to find the proper thing to say outside of a quick review. Besides, the world has gone through some major changes in the past week.

So it's been a week since Matreya went up. It was well-attended and received and it looks like it's going to have a lifetime with other performances in other venues, so my prosthetic eye stays in my makeup box and my skull paraphernalia are put away with my other costume parts. I believe it was Abby who asked how Kali felt to me as I portrayed her. I replied that she felt like a combination Screaming Death and June Cleaver. I had intended to post pictures, but I have none as of yet. When I have them, up they'll go. As with any kind of production, there were plenty of last-minute kerfuffles, and Jayne and the tech crew wore themselves to a frazzle. She's been down with the flu for the past few days - probably due more to the stress.

The women I was privileged to work with are uniformly dedicated and talented. They are wonderful singers, and all have a deep sense of spirit. As I said in an earlier post, the play concerns a young woman who has been killed and finds herself welcomed into the Bardo (one of the stages of the Buddhist otherworld) by a conclave of goddesses who share their stories and prepare her to return to Earth as Matreya, a Bodhisattva of compassion. I would give names, but I don't feel comfortable without their permission. Isis was portrayed by a writer, producer, and life coach; Spider Woman was played by a marriage and family counselor with a regular column on a well-known news blog; White Buffalo Calf Woman and Magdalene were played by professional singers; Lilith was played by dancer and fashion designer, and Matreya was portrayed by a working actress (there's got to be at least one - it's LA). And, of course, there were Jayne and Gilli and the stage crew. The only men directly involved were the bass player and the sound tech.

The play was presented at The Mint, a venerated blues club, one of the few venues of its kind in LA which has maintained its identity for more than a few years - seventy to be exact. The audience of about 50 (it's ok; it's a small venue) was a combination of familiar faces and total strangers. Melody sat in a conspicuous seat and gave me a single yellow rose as I left the stage. It's still in its bud vase.

It was an exhausting and profoundly positive experience.

So what has this meant to me?

I was one of the women who put this on. If I were transitioned or living full time, these words might not be making me as woozy as they are right now. These women knew me, knew the nature of my life, and yet I was accepted without question. Well... sure, I answered a few questions and did some explaining, but I was one of them. After the show, I was invited to participate in a women's circle that took place on Venice Beach yesterday. Unfortunately, I had to decline because of a family engagement, but the invitation stands. I've also been invited to be a main presenter for another women's circle after the first of the year.

As usual, I have various points of view running through my head:

Pragmatic and self-deprecating: Are you sure? I mean... I don't think I can pass the physical.
Goddess Chick: Why, thank you so much for recognizing me.
Overwhelmed: You like me! You really like me!
Just me: Thank you. I love working with you. This feels so comfortable and so right.

I would say that the biggest conflict is between the first and last. For all my claims to being a "mystical and magical creature," I am still conflicted as to my right to be me.

I'll let you in on a secret: I feel like I haven't paid my dues. I've neither gone through a girlhood, through menstruation, through childbirth nor gone through RLE, HRT, or SRS. What makes this acceptance so profound for me is the nagging feeling that I don't rate it - that I have sisters who have struggled with gaining acceptance, and it's handed to me on a silver platter. That having been said; however, I am also more convinced than ever that being a woman or a man (and perhaps being many other things also) is more about the energy we emanate than it is about our physicality. I don't say this to detract from any of my beloved sisters who have transitioned or are on the way. How could I dare? You bear so much. (Does that sound a little over the top? Deal with it. Right now I'm loving every last one of you.) But I celebrate your (and my) beautiful feminine souls. And I celebrate the souls of these wonderful women with whom I have spent all too short a time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Would Jonathan Do?

It goes without saying that as elated as I am at the landslide election of Barack Obama, I am depressed and disgusted with the passing of Proposition 8 here in California. It's not only the fact that those who typically squeal the loudest about freedom are the first who want to deprive others of it that repulses me; I would expect self-professed "Christians" to at the very least tell the truth. I receive a daily feed from Transgendered News which includes the positive with the negative, and I regularly see in the propaganda of the "Christianists," a wellspring of half truths, chop-logic, and outright lies. Being in the group that is on the receiving end of this barrage of flung feces is bad enough, but when it comes from groups that profess to believe in a doctrine of love, I am sick unto vomiting. And it was a vomiting of lies spread primarily by the Mormon Church with (I am told) out-of-state funding, which pushed Prop 8 through by a narrow margin. The Catholic Church was also instrumental - for which I'll take a cheap shot: given its problems with pederasty over the years, one would think this church would stay the hell out of the fray. There are times when I am tempted to write modern Christianity off as simply another hate group.

And yet...

Many of my friends are Pagans. My faith hovers somewhere between Christianity in its earliest forms and Zen Buddhism. When I hear certain of my friends lambaste Christianity in general for historical excesses and abuses on the part of inquisitors, grotesquely corrupt popes and cardinals, pathological monks, and hypocritical TV huckster evangelists, I try to remind them that these are aberrations. They did not and do not practice what Jeshua Ben Joseph of Nazareth taught. I've read and taught the Sermon on the Mount many times, and at its core is this: forgive others if you want any hope of being forgiven. So a true follower of the teachings of Jesus does not condemn; s/he forgives. Or (since I've got major problems with forgiving anybody who has done absolutely nothing that has caused anyone harm) try this : Treat every person you meet as if that person is in a state of grace. In other words: Have humility.

I believe I've mentioned elsewhere the little card that I found on a sidewalk in college and which even now is mingled amongst the clutter on my desk. It reads: "If you think you know what's going on, you're probably full of shit." In other words, once more: Have humility. Part of that humility is not being so all-fired sure that your hot line to the Deity is any more static-free than the person's next to you.

OK, so this is what I try to live by, and I've (ahem) exhibited a tendency to expect others to live up to certain codes which I have espoused. So it looks like I've got a pretty big plank in my eye when I expect so-called Christians to follow the teachings of their Messiah: Love, Forgive, and Don't Judge. Oh, and while you're at it, Don't Tell Lies.

You know where I am seeing these qualities? In my hedonistic high school students. My 99% Latino students overwhelmingly supported Obama and opposed Proposition 8. And they did so on moral grounds - they felt that the war was obscene, that it was time for more responsible government, and that a committed relationship, regardless of the gender of those involved, should be honored and supported. I had reason, then, on Wednesday to console one of my 11th graders who is Lesbian. The future is with her and her peers. Obama was elected because of the impetus of young voters who have abandoned the prejudices of previous generations. A black president? About time! And while we're at it, how about a Latina governor? About time! And these attitudes are not the attitudes of my students alone. I've seen it in young people across the board. I reminded my student of all this. I told her that she must take her power and her rights and have faith in the future. She left my room with a smile. She's been trying hard in class the past couple of days.

A few minutes ago, my landlady called me to say there's a big protest going on at the Mormon Temple in Westwood. It was the Mormon Church that pumped the most money into the Prop 8 campaign. It also told the most lies and tried to extort funds from businesses that contributed to the Anti-Prop 8 campaign. I've read that there's a movement afoot to strip the church of its tax-free status. There was a time when I would come to the defense of Mormonism when my fundamentalist (and now former) brother-in-law would refer to it as a cult. Now I'm not so generous. But it's 7 pm on a school night, the week has been exhausting, and I just don't have the energy to get made up and drive over there. (I may be protesting, but be damn sure I'll look presentable.) I may join in tomorrow or on the weekend. Then again, other than letting our anger and disappointment be known, I don't know what can be accomplished by an overt demonstration. It may be gratifying to vent, but the winning of hearts and minds is accomplished more slowly, gently, and subtly.

I believe that the very same values which the proponents of Prop 8 are supposed to display and don't are those which will bury it and all hateful thoughts. I'm thinking of my friend Jonathan, who used to teach chemistry at my school and is now a principal. He's a black man, he's gay, he's one of the most dedicated educators I've ever known, he exudes love at every pore, he's been in a committed relationship for years, and he is a devout Christian. So WWJD? What would Jonathan do? He would do what he's been doing for years: teaching by example, forgiving, loving all who comes his way, working quietly within his craft for the betterment of all. I haven't seen him in about a year and a half. As I said, he's principal at another school (an out gay principal!!). When he was on campus, though, he was one of the people to whom I was out. I expressed my admiration for him more than once. He was quiet in his acceptance of praise. But then, he has humility.

Advising patience, perseverance, love, and humility, however, is mighty cold comfort for the countless people who are effected by this hate-based legislation here in California and in other states. My friend Abby writes of her personal heartache. But I see in her and my friend Jonathan and my 11th grader the eventual change that will come. Forgive me for being an English major, but I feel a quote coming on, from William Faulkner's Nobel acceptance speech in which he spoke about the "old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." He's talking about writing. I'm writing about living. And I'm saying that the best way to nullify hatred and fear is to consciously, mindfully live these verities, and, through our lives and actions, prove the haters wrong. And perhaps we can help certain Christians learn the lessons they should have learned while they were so busy paying attention to what the person in the desk beside them was doing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It wasn't easy to find a third eye.

I blame the economy. One by one the costume houses in my area (the San Gabriel Valley, east of LA) have become early victims of the economy. One of the very last, "Would You Believe," in South Pasadena, shut its doors yesterday after three decades. As a former theatre arts major, I find this very saddening.

But back to the eye. I went to "Cinema Secrets" in Burbank and not only did I find my third eye, but now I know where to go the next time I need a good gash or a piece of re-bar projecting from my skull. (And that's not to mention any kind of everyday cosmetic that I might want and perhaps someone who can tell me how to really disguise the bags under my eyes.)

So now the eye is sitting in my makeup case, ready to be applied when I play Kali in tomorrow's presentation of Matreya.

I'd thought to write about Kali, but that is for a future posting. Right now I want to write about how I got here.

There is something to be said about having a conservative upbringing: it keeps you honest. If you're taking the time to do anything, you've got to justify it. On one level that's a pretty toxic attitude. When I was 12 and collecting and building models of Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man (I date myself once again), my father would ask me what use they were. Now today I might say that their purpose was purely aesthetic, and I do believe there is a great deal of aesthetic experience to be gained in the contemplation of a well-assembled and judiciously painted plastic werewolf, but I doubt my father would agree. So from my pragmatic father comes a conditioning in me that each action one performs should serve a purpose. Is this the making of a neurotic? You bet.

So add to this little nugget of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant-Guilt, the fact that I am transgendered. When, at the age of 36, I finally decided to accept myself, I then asked myself, "Now what?" Did I put on a frock and hang around of an evening with a bunch of other crossdressers? Yep. Did that get old after a bit? Yep, and for two reasons. The first was the realization that who I was wasn't just about clothes. (I have to admit here and now that presentation is a big part of it. Nichole just wrote and excellent post in which she questions the whole idea of "women's" and "men's" clothes, but I find that I am far more comfortable in those items of apparel which our society has assigned to women, and I feel much better about my appearance when I'm wearing makeup.) The second was that though I was making friends and assuring myself that I wasn't the only one "like this," the get-togethers seemed a bit pointless. (I'm afraid I'm not much fun at parties for the same reason.) So I began contemplating the metaphysical aspects of transgenderism, much to the amusement and sometimes irritation of friends who approached their transgenderism in a more visceral way. It's the good old Protestant work ethic: justify your existence; if you're having a good time, you're probably not doing your job.

Almost seven years ago, I was able to find my purpose. My alter-ego had been telling stories before audiences of both children and adults for more than fifteen years. Why not give Gillian a chance? My debut was at a Tri-Ess meeting in Burbank in January of 2002. It was very well received, and I had a rush of confidence that I had never before experienced. Later that year I was a guest speaker for my friend Stacy Clement in her psychology classes at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. I spent my entire spring break there, presenting as Gillian, and found a major portion of myself through interacting with students and life in general. It was also that year that I left home. (That's worth a posting in itself.) I was invited by my friend, LA trans-activist Michelle Dennis, to present stories that June at the Trans-Unity conference at The Village GLBT center in Hollywood. Again, I was bowled over by the general acceptance. It was also there that I met my dear Melody.

Melody is an environmental activist, an artist, an historian, the list goes on. Melody also thought I was pretty cool, and the feeling is mutual. Amongst other things, Melody has acted as a coach for crossdressers, and she soon became my fashion guru. She is an absolute thrift store sorceress. Having constructed an ecumenical temple in her house, she is a deeply spiritual woman and opened me further to the dualistic nature of my own being. She also introduced me to the Goddess Community and particularly to Karen Tate, an expert in the divine feminine and a priestess in her own right.

Two years ago, Karen invited me to be part of a birthday celebration for the goddess Isis at the Goddess Temple in Costa Mesa. I was speechless. I was being asked to tell the story of Isis and the regeneration of Osiris in a women's temple as part of a ceremony in which every other woman was cisgendered, and in front of an audience of cisgendered women. I did it. I told the story of Isis. Up to that time all the other stories I had told had been, in one way or another, transgendered in theme. This was the first "women's story" I had told. It fit; it worked. After the ceremony, I was approached by several women and hugged by many. (Though Melody told me later that there were a couple of women who grumbled about "womyn born womyn.")

The next day, I participated in the annual "Isis Tea" at a Victorian tea room in Long Beach, and I was again asked to tell a story. (Hmm... She's invited to a tea party at which all and sundry are dressed to the nines and then she's asked to tell a story. Go ahead and guess at my state of mind that day.) I told a story about an Indian prince named Sudyamna who, upon riding into an enchanted wood, is turned into a woman. (I'll do a post on it at a later date.) Among the guests was Jayne de Mente who has since become my great friend. She asked me if I would be a presenter in her Women's Heritage Series, which included women scholars and artists from all over the country, talking on subjects that included Mary Magdalene, the Queen of Sheba, and other aspects of feminist spirituality. Of course, I was again very flattered, and I accepted. Not only did I do a storytelling presentation of my own, but at the end of each subsequent presentation I was asked to tell a story. Toward the end of the series, I told the story Inana's descent to the underworld in front of Z. Budapest, who is considered a founder of feminist spirituality, and was again well received.

I've written elsewhere about my theological take on the Goddess. I've pretty much seen myself as a Zen Catholic. But what I find compelling in my relationship with these women is this: I don't "pass;" I'm clocked the moment I step into the room, and still I am accepted as one of them. It isn't the physicality that is important; it is the soul, though the dress and accoutrement are seen as outward manifestations of the inner feminine. In short they know who and what I am, yet I am accepted as a woman amongst women. The fact that I am a transwoman is a spiritual bonus.

So tomorrow I will be performing with nine cisgendered women in a play, presented in readers' theatre, about a young woman who, after being murdered, discovers that she is coming back to the world as Matreya, a Bodhisattva of compassion. I will be playing Kali in a conclave of goddesses that includes Magdalene, Isis, Spider Woman, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Bridget, and Lilith. And I've been running around to find a third eye. It's probably better that I've been concentrating on that, on my line reading, and on trying to get hold of a pair of black harem pants for my costume (the ones I ordered on line have been stuck in New York for three weeks!!). When I think of the circumstances of my participation I'm a little blown away. My dad doesn't know I'm doing this. It would probably give him a coronary. But his legacy of justification has led me to this means of expression and has blessed me with these friendships. It's also blessed me with you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tag. I'm It.

Usually when I receive a chain email I conveniently forget it, which is probably why I'm not rich and haven't made whoopie in a while. This morning, however, I was "tagged" by Nichole and challenged with the following:

Where Would Your 8 Homes Be?

List them. You don’t have to list your reasons, but if you do at least for a few of them, it would be more fun. And remember that the only rule is: the homes must be within the borders of the United States of America or else, within the borders of the country you live in, so as to utterly emulate the McCains. When you’re done, tag 8 people, so that they may join in the self-indulgence, forgetting about the crappy property market and the equivalent of The End of Pompeii on Wall-Street. You could spend your time hammering your doors and windows shut in preparation for the apocalypse instead, but it would be much less fun.

Well okay, I said. I'm willing to take this on. I want to take any chance I can to write. What's this got to do with transgenderism? Not much, but I recently wrote more directly about a transgender subject and am still getting the taste of crow out of my mouth. Now here's the fun part: did you see the line about sending it to eight other people? From what I can see, this blog still being in relative infancy, most of my readers are also people to whom I would be sending this, so if you are reading this, consider yourself tagged. (Now wasn't that simple?)

Now to it.

First of all... well poop! It's got to be in the US. Not that I have anything against the country of my birth, but I know where my dream home is. Deep (depth depending upon my degree of pissiness and misanthropy at the time I'm asked) in Bodmin Moor in Cornwall: a little thatched stone cottage with an unwalkable path. I'll be the crazy old lady in tweeds. Depending upon my mood either ask you in for tea and scones or fire some rock salt and bacon rind in your general direction.

OK. That's over.

1. I really don't have to go to Cornwall to find a stone cottage. There are plenty of viable alternatives in the Pasadena area, not to mention some pretty cool craftsman and mission revivals. One takes it for granted, but I really do enjoy this area of California. It's gorgeous on clear days looking north toward the mountains. If you're not from here, and you've seen Pasadena when the Rose Parade is televised, let me assure you that the town is every bit as pretty as it appears. I particularly love it around the time of the Rose Parade. The winds have blown the smog away for a while, the air is crisp, and the sun is bright, making me thank my luck to be born seeing in color. So I'll take one of any number of 1920's faux English cottages between Cal Tech and the Huntington Library.

2. As long as I'm in the neighborhood, I'll drive a few miles south to the Silverlake and Echo Park areas. There are parts of the Los Angeles area which are becoming "gentrified." The unfair aspect of this is that these were once areas which were affordable to low-income families, and I am sad to say that many Latino neighborhoods have been broken up because of higher rents. I don't think the current drop in the housing market is going to change that. That being said, these neighborhoods are shabby-chic with a lot of art and music going on. I recently helped the niece of a friend move into an apartment in Echo Park and was struck with envy. I want to be a twenty-year-old girl sharing an apartment with a couple of friends while I try to get my acting career off the ground. Don't we all? Except I don't want the apartment. How about that house/studio that Emma Thompson had in Dead Again? Ooh! While we're at it, can I be Emma Thompson?

3. Douglas Adams once called Malibu the only place in the world where someone would pay millions of dollars to live in a shack on the beach. And having driven the coast road during summer all I can say is, "Keep looking at that ocean view, sweetie, 'cause you aren't going to be able to get out of your driveway until after ten tonight." But if I turn inland from Pacific Coast Highway and drive north on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, I'm in just that: Topanga Canyon. Remember the opening sequences of MASH, with the helicopters against the mountains? Those shots and much of the show were filmed in that area. This is a place where people play with their homes. It's not clogged with "McMansions." And though it is pretty upscale, it still retains much of what it was back in the sixties when the "commune" scenes in Easy Rider were filmed there. This is where I'd like to build my own stone cottage: stone siding, but actually constructed from either hay bales or insulated concrete forms for energy efficiency.

If you're saying, "Hey, what's all this California stuff?" I must make a confession. I'm better traveled outside the country than in, and I can give a better account of California than anywhere else. I've was born in Tucson and lived in Phoenix for six years, and with all deference to Lori and Abby, I couldn't take another Arizona summer if my life depended on it.

So let's get on with some pipe dreams:

4. A few years ago I took my daughters on a trip to San Francisco. We stayed near Union Square, and I had decided to do a pilgrimage and walk the labyrinth outside Grace Cathedral. Following the map, it seemed not that much of a walk. I'm from LA; I didn't know Grace Cathedral was at the top of Nob Hill, across from Mark Hopkins. They were troupers, though and remained so as we tromped through China Town and over to North Beach. We saw the back of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's head at City Light's Bookstore (he was going out the door; it wasn't on display). This was another place I wanted to live: North Beach in San Francisco, still thriving with artists and poets and not commercialized. Give me a slightly crumbling one-bedroom here.

5. OK. Out of state. Six years ago, I spent a week with my dear friend Stacy, guest lecturing to her psych classes at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. It was early March. Once I learned that one does NOT put one's tongue on the flagpole, I was right at home. I was charmed, really. It was a bit like a smaller, homier, Mid-Western San Francisco. I would love a big, old, hard-to-heat Victorian on the banks of Lake Superior.

6. I've got to say it. I quote Thoreau and Emerson too much not to say that I'd love a 200-year-old farm house in Concord, Massachusetts. Having not visited there, though, my images are shaped by calendar photographs and Currier and Ives engravings. If you're from there, please don't tell me that the area is all covered over with shopping malls. Leave me to my dreams.

7. Twenty years ago, my ex and I to a trip to Vancouver and then over to Victoria. I'd never seen forest extend all the way down to the sea. I've just looked at a map of that area, and there seem to be enough islands to accommodate one little English-style cottage.

8. There's an unassuming, white 1947 clapboard bungalo in San Gabriel, California... I wish the circumstances were such that it had never been necessary to leave. Two people I love very much still live there. The third is across town in Santa Monica, in her first apartment, making her way in the world.

I'm glad I took this challenge. It's nice to go home.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Rethinking

I love this community. I have never known a sweeter, kinder, gentler group of people, and I have been gently upbraded for my previous posting by Lori and Kathryn. Please read their comments.

I wrote the last post fresh out of bed, still in nightgown, housecoat, and pink fuzzies, and without the benefit of a cup of English breakfast tea. (I confess: I'm a tea junkie, and don't even get me started on Nutella.) I'd just read another blog regarding sportswriter Christine Daniels' transition back to Mike Penner, and my posting came undiluted out of my head and into my blog.

I wasn't very generous.

My point of view was formed from a literal and pragmatic view of the role of reporter and writer. It did not take into account the human being in question. It took the gentle comments of two very wise women to broaden my vision. My assessment of the journalistic integrity of closing down Christine Daniels' LA Times blog may have been accurate from an editorial point of view, but in light of what may have been some very painful realizations on that writer's part, it was mean-spirited and short-sighted.

I want to thank both Lori and Kathryn not only for their comments, but for their compassion and empathy. These are aspects of the eternal feminine and may we all be blessed with them.

I also would like to apologize to Mike Penner, whether or not this reaches his eyes. He has shown personal courage that has exceeded anyone's rightful expectations, and it would be unfair of me or anyone else to ask more.

You Knew the Job Was Dangerous When You Took It, Chris

It's not like I've got a lot of room to talk. I'm not officially "out" to most people I know. I'm not going to transition or even go full time. But I've got to do a bit of grumbling.

I've received about half a dozen articles from Transgendered News regarding LA Times Sportswriter Christine Daniels' re-transition back to Mike Penner. About a year and a half ago Christine came out to her readers and began a transition blog on the LA Times website. There was a lot of support and a lot of derision, but the Times supported her. Now Christine is Mike again and is quietly back at the Times, and Christine's blog has been taken down without comment.

Preparing to come out and then actually doing it has got to be one of the most harrowing times in a transgendered person's life. For someone in my position, coming out selectively to people I know I can trust is bad enough, but to bare one's soul to the world takes guts, plain and simple. And that's just coming out; actually presenting as the woman or man one truly is - that is a public action. A lesbian or gay man can, if they choose, keep their sexuality private. A transsexual, by definition cannot. If I commit to being a woman, I will present as one. And it's belaboring the obvious to say that this will effect a radical change in my appearance and behavior. (Given my readership, I've been belaboring the obvious from the beginning of this paragraph, but keep with me.) For the average person, this public change, as I said, takes, perhaps, more courage than facing the surgery which will confirm the change. (Heck, I've read the words of women who looked forward to SRS as if it were a debutante ball. I've had a bilateral hernia surgery and gall bladder surgery. Surgery is sugery and post-op pain is post-op pain.)

So when a man who is in the public eye, and one who (unlike, say, Alexis Arquette) is not someone you'd expect, comes out, takes a new name, and begins to present as a woman, notice will be taken. That woman will be under public scrutiny.


If that person commits to a blog which is sponsored by a major newspaper and implicitly promises to share with the public the vicissitudes of this transition, that person has taken on a responsibility to her readership.

I read Christine Daniels' blog from the beginning and, along with many others, sent her my best wishes and admiration. I continued to read her blog for a few weeks until two things happened.

1. Sports started creeping in. Yeah, I know this is a sportswriter we're talking about, but I can safely say that, being a person who would rather watch paint dry than sit through the Superbowl, I would never even have paid attention had she not been a tranny.

2. I began to get the impression that her transition was somewhat superficial. I can't go back and check this because the blog entries have all been quietly taken down, but I remember that after several postings about shopping, social events, and being accepted by other trannies, I started to get bored. I do remember some about being accepted by coworkers, which were good to see.

The capper for me, though, was this: twice, after Christine had written in rapt wonderment about how well things were going, I had posted comments asking about how her family was accepting the transition. My comments were never posted, much less acknowledged. I really wanted to know. One of the major factors that has and does keep me from transitioning is family. (Of course, the very fact that ANYTHING keeps me from transitioning tells me that transitioning is most likely not in my cards.) A major part of transitioning deals with how we interact with others: how we are treated, how we react. And our family or lack or loss thereof is part of the definition of who we are. By not acknowledging my questions regarding family (and, as I understand it, the questions of others, because at least one columnist complained that such questions were taboo in interviews) Christine robbed her blog postings of a major part of their meaning and usefulness. I got tired of the sweetness and light and stopped reading.

Now, without a word of explanation, she has transitioned back to Mike, and I want to know why. Part of me says that it's none of my business, but that's the sweet, understanding part that recognizes that Mike Penner let the cat out of the bag and is now having to stuff it back in. Apparently Christine flunked her Real-Life Test. But another part of me is loudly quoting Super Chicken: "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred." When Christine started her blog, she took the responsibility I've already described. She made a deal with me as a reader. Part of that deal was to honestly report her progress and, as part of that, the lack thereof. Mike Penner owes it to his readers to let us know what happened.

I read a blog the other day complaining about the Real-Life Test, how it was so unfair and cruel or some such rot. From what I can see, the Real-Life Test is a vital component of a transexual's transition. It lets that individual know firsthand whether or not a whole life transition is feasible or advisable. And the fact that it encompasses a year is of vital importance. A few years ago, I spent a week in another town as Gillian 24/7, as a guest speaker in a friend's psychology classes. The feeling of euphoria was overwhelming. It took the wise words of my friend Ally, who had been through it all, to bring me back to reality: I had been in a rarified atmosphere. "If you have any doubts at all," she said, "DON'T." This is not to say that the thought of transitioning still doesn't come to me, I often find that I get a lot more satisfaction as Gillian that otherwise, but that is also because most of the more mundane and distateful tasks are left to my male alter-ego. (I'd make an analogy to marriage, but the ghost of my mother, a 1950's and 60's housewife and stay-at-home mom is shouting, "Don't you dare!" in my ear.)

The point is, by starting her blog and making it as public as it was, Christine Daniels made a contract with the rest of us that she would let us know how things went. Apparently things went south. That does not give Mike Penner permission to breach the contract. This person has a responsibility to the rest of us to let us know what went wrong. It was part of the job. The fact that this information might help the transitioning person know what might be ahead is very, very important, but of more importance is honoring the debt owed to one's readership. I know it's snide to say it, but the fact that Christine was never totally open with us (and since, as I said, I stopped reading the blog after a while, I hope I'm wrong and she did open up a little more) I'm not surprised that Mike is keeping quiet about what went wrong.

I feel compelled, then, to make this deal with my readership: I'll keep this bolg up as long as I have ideas that are worth writing about. I'll be as informative and entertaining as I can be. I will honor all comments and questions. But if I ever feel it incumbent upon myself to take this blog down, I will let you know exactly why. Of course, I'd already made that deal with you when I wrote my first posting.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I've Got My Fifteen Minutes of Fame - How 'Bout You?

A minute or so ago I uploaded Sunday's Doonesbury strip which makes a sapient comment upon blogging. While admiring it on my page, I had one or two sapient thoughts about copyright laws. Not wanting to get on the wrong side of either Mr. Trudeau or his syndicate, I'm posting a link instead: Doonesbury. It's not as attractive, but it's safer.

Now I think I'll go read a book.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I have annoying epiphanies. It’s not the epiphanies themselves that are annoying; it’s what I do with them. I file them away in my journal or in the inner reaches of my consciousness, and when the same epiphany presents itself to me a while later, I shout “Eureka!” (figuratively, at any rate) and then go and confide it to someone who will (usually with a bit of annoyance) remind me that I’ve had that same revelation at least once if not three times within recent memory. I’ll then thumb through my journal and there it is. I’d put it down to creeping age, but the same damn thing was happening to me when I was twenty. (It’s cold comfort, but I’ll take what I can get.)

So I had a recurring epiphany a few days ago as I was posting a comment on Abby’s Course in Miracles blog. The revelation was hammered home, when a bit later she honored me by writing a post about my comment. (Mind you, I’m still new to this blogging thing, and being mentioned and quoted in a post is about as thrilling as opening on Broadway. My friend Gillian_y just gave me a stellar review and I’m thrilled.)* The comment in question contained a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “The American Scholar”:

The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, is transferred to the record. The poet chanting was felt to be a divine [wo]man: henceforth the chant is divine also. The writer was a just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled the book is perfect; as love of the hero corrupts into worship of his[/her] statue. Instantly the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude, slow to open to the incursions of Reason, having once so opened, having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry if it is disparaged.

My epiphany is attached to the second sentence: “The poet chanting was felt to be a divine [wo]man…”

Several years ago I was part of a Zen Sangha in Pasadena, California. We’d sit in the basement of a metaphysical bookstore on Monday evenings and meditate. It being a Zen sit, founded in the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, there would be no chanting; we’d listen to ourselves breathe.

Of course, I had terminal monkey-mind. During one meditation the Jamaican bobsled team came into my consciousness and refused to leave until they’d instilled in me a desire to watch Cool Runnings and cook up a batch of jerk pork.

At the end of one meditation, when we compared notes, a young Australian man related how an altar had fallen down at his home and how after an initial bit of annoyance he and his life partner had set about repairing and reconsecrating it. The incident had been foremost on his mind before he had meditated, and now he was able to step back and review it. His last remark was, “It’s odd, but this whole thing didn’t have any meaning to me before I talked about it here.”

The epiphany came like a brick to the back of my head. This was the poet chanting. This was the “why” of all literature – and “illiterature” too: written and oral tradition. I went back to “The American Scholar” and found that Emerson had had the same realization:

The scholar…received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him life; it went out from him truth. It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thought. It came to him business; it went from him poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought. It can stand, and it can go. It now endures, it now flies, it now inspires. Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Nothing has meaning – not unless we talk about it. That is the purpose of the playwright, the poet, the journalist, the diarist, the historian, the singer, the blogger, and the storyteller.

The ubiquitous bumper sticker was right: shit happens. Both physically and mentally. But the act of a human being reflecting upon and relating the occurrence transforms it into matter of meaning. The act of a human being taking random motifs of action and image and forming and shaping them into a narrative or lyric is the creation of literature.

It’s all just a lot of stuff until we shape it into a story, a poem, a white paper, a song, a letter, an essay, a prospectus, or a joke.

So that’s just one of the many epiphanies that come around every so often to visit. But yesterday, at the storytelling stage at the Taste of Encino festival in Encino, California, her sister epiphany sat down next to me and gave me such a nudge with her elbow that she nearly broke a rib. My friend True Thomas took the stage and told the “Lay of Thym” with such boisterous humor and detail that I was indeed hearing it for the first time. He was the poet chanting. Through True’s voice, gesture, and detail, Thor, Loki, Freyja, Thyrm, and the rest all took life for the space of twenty minutes.

Storytelling, as True practices it (and as I pursue the practice of it) is like verbal jazz: the words are not memorized, but the story is a part of the teller. The teller sees the story in his/her mind’s eye and tells the audience what that mind’s eye sees. The dialogue comes straight from the teller’s ear. When the teller is in that transported state of mind s/he and the audience share an experience that is both auditory and visual – and it is spontaneous and extemporaneous. It is life on a higher level of consciousness.

Is it any wonder that the griot, the bard, the skald, the scop, the shanachie, were considered treasures?

Every so often, I have to get reintroduced to this and my other epiphanies. Every so often we need to remember just why it is we do what we do and love what we love.

*I had more than one professor in college who complained that I used too many parenthetical statements. What can I say? I’ve got ADD.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Legacy of Divisiveness

I’m having Gilgamesh withdrawals right now. Let me explain: for the last decade I have taught the Sumerian epic as part of the Mesopotamian unit of my Humanities/Expository Composition class. For a number of reasons, all of them positive, I’m not teaching that course this year. I miss it and Gilgamesh. And I’ve been meaning to explore a particular meaning it has for me as a transgendered woman.
Right: The original Macho Man. Gilgamesh wrestles a lion in a statue in the Louvre.
In a nutshell, Gilgamesh is the story of an obnoxiously arrogant king to whom the gods want to teach humility by giving him a friend who is his equal in all things – his exact double, in fact, in all but a few details – and taking that friend away, causing Gilgamesh to vicariously experience his own death. Gilgamesh loves his friend Enkidu as he loves himself, and together they fight and kill the giant Humbaba, the guardian of the Cedars of Lebanon, and when Gilgamesh spurns the advances of Ishtar the goddess of fertility, love, and war, and patroness of his city of Uruk, and she sends the Bull of Heaven to destroy him, it is Enkidu who throws the Bull’s severed haunch into the Ishtar’s face. And it is not long afterward that Enkidu sickens and dies, sending Gilgamesh into paroxysms of grief and causing him to undertake a quest for his own immortality. Ultimately, Utanipishtim, the Mesopotamian equivalent of Noah, who survived the great flood and has gained immortality from the gods, and thus is the object of Gilgamesh’s quest, teaches him that immortality is not his, that even though he is two-thirds god, Gilgamesh will, at his death, go to the underworld with every other mortal and eat clay for eternity. Through realizing his own mortality, Gilgamesh gains the humility he needs and returns to his city of Uruk a better king.

Not much to do with transgenderism here. Are Gilgamesh and Enkidu archetypal gay lovers – a Sumerian Damon and Pythias? Is this story, in part, Brokeback Mountain set between the Tigris and Euphrates? Dense as I am, it took me years to realize it, but – yep.

But much as I honor that, that’s not the purpose of this blog, and I must admit that on the surface there is little in the main story of Gilgamesh that sheds light on the transgendered experience. But I think the story holds an important key to the disenfranchisement of both natal and transgendered women. I’m referring to the section of the epic in which Ishtar approaches Gilgamesh and offers to take him as her consort.
Right: Voluptuous Ishtar in a Mesopotamian statue.
"Come here, Gilgamesh," Ishtar said,
"marry me, give me your luscious fruits,
be my husband, be my sweet man.
I will give you abundance beyond your dreams:
marble and alabaster, ivory and jade,
gorgeous servants with blue-green eyes,
a chariot of lapis lazuli
with golden wheels and guide-horns of amber,
pulled by storm-demons like giant mules.
When you enter my temple and its cedar fragrance
high priests will bow down and kiss your feet,
kings and princes will kneel before you,
bringing you tribute from east and west.
And I will bless everything that you own,
your goats will bear triplets, your ewes will twin,
your donkeys will be faster than any mule,
your chariot-horses will win every race,
your oxen will be the envy of the world.
These are the least of the gifts I will shower
upon you. Come here. Be my sweet man."

[Gilgamesh, never a paragon of tact, replies hotly:]

"Your price is too high,
such riches are far beyond my means.
Tell me, how could I ever repay you,
even if I gave you jewels, perfumes,
rich robes? And what will happen to me
when your heart turns elsewhere and your lust burns out?

"Why would I want to be the lover
of a broken oven that fails in the cold.
a flimsy door that the wind blows through,
a palace that falls on its staunchest defenders,
a mouse that gnaws through its thin reed shelter,
tar that blackens the workman's hands,
a waterskin that is full of holes
and leaks all over its bearer, a piece
of limestone that crumbles and undermines
a solid stone wall, a battering ram
that knocks down the rampart of an allied city,
a shoe that mangles its owner's foot?

"Which of your husbands did you love forever?
Which could satisfy your endless desires?
Let me remind you of how they suffered,
how each one came to a bitter end.
Remember what happened to that beautiful boy
Tammuz: you loved him when you were both young
then you changed, you sent him to the underworld
and doomed him to be wailed for, year after year
You loved the bright-speckled roller bird,
then you changed, you attacked him and broke
and he sits in the woods crying Ow'ee! Ow'ee!
You loved the lion, matchless in strength,
then you changed, you dug seven pits for him,
and when he fell, you left him to die.
You loved the hot-blooded, war-bold stallion,
then you changed, you doomed him to whip an
to endlessly gallop, with a bit in his mouth,
to muddy his own water when he drinks from a pool,
and for his mother, the goddess Silili,
you ordained a weeping that will never end.
You loved the shepherd, the master of the flocks,
who every day would bake bread for you
and would bring you a fresh-slaughtered, roasted lamb,
then you changed, you touched him, he became a wolf,
and now his own shepherd boys drive him away
and his own dogs snap at his hairy thighs.
You loved the gardener Ishullanu,
who would bring you baskets of fresh-picked dates,
every day, to brighten your table,
you lusted for him, you drew close and said,
'Sweet Ishullanu, let me suck your rod,
touch my vagina, caress my jewel,'
and he frowned and answered, 'Why should I eat
this rotten meal of yours? What can you offer
but the bread of dishonor, the beer of shame,
and thin reeds as covers when the cold wind blows?'
But you kept up your sweet-talk and at last he gave in,
then you changed, you turned him into a toad
and doomed him to live in his devastated garden.
And why would my fate be any different?
If I too became your lover, you would treat me
as cruelly as you treated them."
Gilgamesh: A New English Version by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Free Press, 2004

In effect, Gilgamesh is refusing the honor of being a sacrificial king. Mythographers and anthropologists from James George Fraser to Jesse L. Weston to Joseph Campbell to Marija Gimbutas have told us about the dying and resurrecting king. It’s the basis of Greek tragedy and of Christianity (not to mention the religions of such broad ranging cultures as the Egyptians and Mayans). In an agrarian society, the king is equated with the crop. As the crop goes through a birth, death and resurrection cycle, so must the king. As the Earth is constant, so is the queen. The king often becomes king by marrying the queen. (Ever wonder why Penelope in The Odyssey has all those suitors hanging around waiting for her to declare Odysseus dead and remarry, when she has a perfectly good son moping about the palace?) The king rules for a period of time and then, while he is still potent, is either sacrificed or dies in a ritual fight defending his kingship from a successor. The true power actually lies in the queen, who is an embodiment of the goddess.
Right: Artist's rendering of Ishtar's temple at Uruk.
In denying Ishtar, Gilgamesh is making both a political and spiritual move: he is taking the constant power unto himself. With this action he is refusing to be the sacrificial victim and asserting his political might. In doing so, he is relegating the goddess/queen to a lesser position and inaugurating an era of patriarchy. Part of the Mesopotamian legacy, then, will be femiphobia, for men, who have taken the power unto themselves, will constantly be glancing over their shoulders, worrying whether women will try to get the power back – whether it be in the household, business, or politics. Physical force will take precedence over intellect and spirit. And women themselves will be relegated to the position of possessions and children. Thus any male who is compelled to emulate a woman or identify as one will be relegated to a lower position, since he is deliberately discarding his power.

Please keep in mind that I’m not saying that this was the literal action of the historical Gilgamesh (and there was one). It is very hard to pin down just when the shift to patriarchy occurred. I am saying, however, that this scene in the Gilgamesh epic can be seen as a milestone in the mythic consciousness of Western society in which the divine feminine is repudiated rather than embraced.

I don’t miss Gilgamesh as a character; he’s a jerk, and there’s too little of the reformed Gilgamesh at the end of the epic to admire. It’s good to see him get his comeuppance, though. No, what I miss is bittersweet. I’m seeing the start of it all. In rejecting the goddess, Gilgamesh has taken on a mantle of power so great that it has for centuries made men suspicious, violent, cold-blooded and unimaginative. It is the beginning of what has for millennia kept my natal sisters in subjugation and what has made my transgendered sisters and me a source of derision and fear. I miss showing this to my students and chipping away at a six-thousand-year-old edifice of femiphobia.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jill Gets Political Again

Listened to the Vice Presidential Debate this evening. I must say that my view of Sarah Palin has changed; given the right set of circumstances she might make a passable small-town mayor.

Just so long as it's not in my town.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Since I've been plugging things in my last couple of posts, I might as well plug something in which I'm directly involved. Matreya is a rock opera about apotheosis, the becoming of a deity. A work in progress, written by my dear friend Jayne De Mente and scored by song writer and music producer Gilli Moon, it will be presented as a reading on Sunday, November 2 at 1:00 pm at The Mint, a popular LA nightclub. The production will be presented jointly by Jayne's Women's Heritage Project and Gilli's Warrior Girl Music . Proceeds will help to fund Warrior Girl's "Females on Fire" CD series, which promotes empowering women worldwide through their music, and a documentary film on the Durga. On top of many other things I could say (and may say in subsequent posts), I'm very honored to be included in this natal-woman oriented production: I'll be playing the part of Kali. I'm debating right now whether to try painting myself blue or simply use very severe blue eyeshadow - I think I'll do the latter. (Now to find a necklace of skulls...)
Click on the poster for full size.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Circles Retreat

I want to put in a word for the Circles Retreat coming up next week, October 3-5, Friday 6:00 PM - Sunday 3:00 PM, at Manzanita Village. It's a trans-friendly retreat at a beautiful, trans-friendly retreat center two-and-a-half hours southeast of LA. (I've never seen the desert look more beautiful - and given SoCal's underachieving wastelands, that's saying a lot!) The retreat is facilitated by Elise Turen, Michele Benzamin-Miki, and Caitríona Reed who, if they haven't cornered the market on empathy, insight, and profundity, at least hold a major share of it. It's three days of quiet, sharing, meditation, sister-and-brotherhood, and excellent food. Alas. I cannot attend this year, but if you can, by all means do so.

Monday, September 22, 2008


There are so many topics I'd like to explore right now, but I am inundated with at least three separate jobs, and I'm weary unto the bone. However, I wanted to get this out while it was still fresh in my mind...

I'd like to acknowledge my friend Gillian Y who sent me a link to a Trans-Ponder podcast in which Mila and Jayna interview actor Peterson Toscano regarding his theatre piece on transgenderism in the Bible. (I wish I'd thought of it first and done the homework.) Gillian had been doing some housework and came upon this year-old program, linked it to her blog, and was kind enough to alert me. I've listened to it once already and intend to take notes when I play it again. Peterson Toscano's ideas are, for me at any rate, source of comfort and hope. I love the thought that Joseph's coat of many colors might be a princess's outfit. That in itself is worth clicking the link.

(I've just dumped about a page and a half of text about paganism and Abrahamic religions into a Word file for future use. I'm tired, and I'm not gonna go there right now. Two things this blog is doing are keeping me on my toes and making me a bit nervous about stepping on anyone else's.)

Any ideas out there regarding Judeo-Christianity being a couple teaspoons trans-friendlier than appearances would have it?

Monday, September 15, 2008

This Just In...

I've got to add a couple of addenda to the posting I just addressed to Abby:

1. I don't want anyone thinking that my awe of them is any less than my awe for Abby. I've got plenty here for everybody.


2. The above goes for me too. A quick story:

I was out to dinner (no, I don't go out every night) with my dear friend Melody, who thinks it's pretty damn cool that I yam what I yam. We had a wonderful Vietnamese meal and I paid for it with my alter ego's debit card, saying in so many words that I didn't give a fig what the waiter thought. (What the heck. I'm sure I was clocked the minute we stepped into the joint.) Later she told me that she was very proud of me, that I am a two-spirit.

I looked my best (as I always try to do) and was treated with respect (as I always am). I fully acknowledged who and what I was (which I'm still getting used to). I like to think that little things like this continue to add to the general respect for our community. I guess I'm a little awesome too.

Written in answer to a comment made by Abby, whom I never have met but whose soul is great.

Dear Abby,

I have to admit that I sometimes do feel a "pecking order." I was out to dinner the other night with a transitioned friend Alana who is doing very well - professionally at least. And we were watching Jennifer Leitham perform. I was struck by the presence of these two women - the respected bassist on the stage and the respected systems analyst sitting across from me. I was humbled, as I am by you (especially after having taken a good look at your website and blogs) and any other transwoman who lives the life. I've been told many times that it is not a matter of courage but one of survival - and yet it is to me a matter of strength. Of necessity I have taken a different path, and I feel it is a a precious gift when my feminine spirit is acknowledged and accepted. But I stand in awe of my transitioned sisters who, by the act of pursuing their lives and crafts serve as our most effective representatives.

You mention sadness in your comment that we all can't seem to get along. It's like herding cats, isn't it? Given your advocacy work, I'm not at all surprised at your feeling, but I don't ever expect all members of any group to come to a consensus - even if it's for their mutual good. Yet if I laugh, 'tis that I may not weep. I think that what we all are most in need of is something I mentioned in the last sentences of my posting: a sense of our own absurdity. Like Harold Crick, the main character in the film "Stranger Than Fiction," we must each discover whether our story is a comedy or a tragedy. And since a classic comedy is distinguished most by a happy ending, I think I would like my story to be a comedy. I would rather laugh than be saddened. My masculine side has enough angst for the both of us, and he's welcome to it.

Whether we want to or not, we who are transgendered take a major part of accepted societal reality and twist it into a pretzel. Our heartstrings are twisted in the process, but otherwise it really is a hoot. And I think we need to be the first ones to see the absurdity both of the "rules" we are breaking and of our selves. In doing so we break the ice and set ourselves and others at ease. At the very least I am pleading that we keep a sense of humor - that we not take ourselves too seriously. A person I loved very much, an angel in training, who got her wings in 2001, used to love to quote G.K. Chesterton: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." I've said it in other places: we are magic and mystical creatures, and we can be angels in training. I believe that starts with loving and laughing.

I'd been meaning to write a blog like this for some time, but I got my final impetus when I happened to wander through Helen Boyd's "En/Gender" to our dear, sweet, vulnerable, and wonderful friend Leith's page. I found a loving community there as I spent time reading comments and tracing them back. I've truly met very few. I was honored to exchange comments here with Christianne (otherwise known as Dr. Morbius), and having seen you on Lori D's page, I am equally honored now. (I have to admit that there's something about this process that makes me feel a bit voyeuristic.) Now mind you, I've never met you, and all I know of you is based upon what amounts to little more than a cursory glance at your blog and a couple of others, but I sense in you a great soul. I see it in your face. I sense another woman in whose presence I am awed. (And you have every right to make protest to this if it sounds overstated, but come on, accept it just for now.)

I noticed that you are contemplating a move to Tucson. I was born there and still have relatives there. It would be nice to have yet another reason to go back there.

All love,

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

I’m getting a little tired of late in hearing transitioned transsexuals separating themselves in one way or another from the rest of the population of the transgendered community,

A woman (who shall remain nameless in respect for her privacy) on a Yahoo group to which I belong claims to be a woman to the exclusion of others who have not gone through SRS, apparently putting herself higher on a pecking order which has yet to be agreed upon by all involved. She has stated that she and other post-ops are transgendered while anyone who has decided, for one reason or another, not to transition is not.

On the other hand, I have seen postings by transitioned women on a blog entitled Enough Non-Sense, one of whom maintains a temple to the goddess Cybele. The main thesis of this blog is that these individuals have always been women and do not belong under the “transgender” umbrella with perverts like me.

I find this spiritual attitude particularly interesting since the Gallae, the transsexual priestesses of Cybele, by definition, became priestesses by castrating themselves and dedicating themselves to the goddess. The mystic aspect of such a priestess derives directly from the fact that she IS transgendered. That is the mystery. Take away the transgendered nature and you take away the title. (Although it must be admitted that in this priestess’s case, she was born intersexed, which, from a mythic point of view, is equally mystical.) From what I can see from at least one contemporary narrative, The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleus, the Gallae were no more accepted as natal women than are the present-day Hijra of India. And, as I said before, it is this transgendered state that gives them their spiritual power.

At any rate, the latter group wants to step out from under the “transgender umbrella,” while the former wants to hog it all for themselves. Either way, the rest of us are excluded.

I am a believer in inclusiveness. I believe in the transgender umbrella. (I must admit that I cringe a bit at the term, though, just as I despise the ugly word “transvestite” and hesitate to identify myself as a “heterosexual crossdresser; unfortunately the term "rather-dumpy-overweight-middle-aged-part-time-
lesbian-who-looks-like-someone’s-second-grade-teacher-in-1960" contains too many syllables.) I believe in finding similarities rather than belaboring differences. The fact is, whether we transition or not, all transwomen and transmen are faced, to a greater or lesser degree with some of these problems, if not many more:

1. Physical appearance
2. Voice
3. Adopting (or in my case “liberating”) mannerisms from one gender and banishing residual mannerisms from the other.
4. Acceptance by family, friends, and associates
5. Prejudice and stereotyping
6. Painful prices, both monetary and emotional

Even within the subgroups of the larger transgender community (yup, I’m continuing to use the term) there are varying agendas and definitions, and it is unfair to judge each other. We are all on different positions upon the continuum, and as such are faced with different conditions, options, and choices. My identity and comfort zone are not your identity and comfort zone.

For the record, I have not transitioned because
1. I did not want to alienate my children, nor give my 80+ father a stroke
2. I like my profession, and I saw what transitioning on the job did for Dana Rivers. I don’t want to be a cause célèbre, and I don’t want to go looking for a new career in my 50’s.
3. I can’t afford it.
4. I don’t want to kill off my male persona who is a pretty nice guy, if I do say so myself.

I must ask myself, do those who are so exclusionary in their title of “woman” feel that they have sacrificed so much that anyone who has not gone that far is a slacker?

I’ve heard transsexuals say that they were always women (reminding me of the little feminist girl in Doonesbury about 25 years ago saying, “It’s a baby woman!”). Why the operation then? What is the line of demarcation? Certainly, having gone through SRS will make it much easier to obtain a membership at Curves, but does SRS, HRT, FFS, voice training, etc., make an individual a woman? Is it a matter of how much practice, electrolysis, hormones and surgery an individual has gone through? Is womanhood to be bought?

To my sisters (and brothers) who have paid these prices and toed these lines I say, I am on your side. You have what I would love to have, but what exactly is it that you do have?

Some years ago I met Virginia Prince.

You may love her or hate her, but if it were not for her, and later the Internet, the vast majority of us would still be closeted and whining. If you can’t admit at least that, then it’s probably not worth carrying on this conversation with you. Pioneers are always embarrassing to those who come later. She was walking the walk before most of us were born.

In our conversation, she made a delineation between being “a woman” and being “female”. I thought it was a bit self-serving, and I still do. (Of course, if you’ve got an entire life to justify, you’re going to be self-serving. It’s called survival.) And yet… It’s about energy. I have known non-op transwomen who’ve exuded so much feminine energy they make Audrey Hepburn look like Broderick Crawford, and I’ve met non-op transmen who make Broderick Crawford – you get the idea. (Though this last has also brought up another argument against my own transitioning – my age. If you remember Highway Patrol, there’s no amount of HRT gonna turn you completely around.) I have also met post-op women who make me wonder why they ever went to the trouble. The spectrum is broad, and trying to define is like trying to build a workable staircase of sand.

Those who say they were always female, then, are tacitly agreeing with Virginia Prince in that they are talking about energy. Energy is conducted. Ultimately, it’s not about what we transmit, it’s about how that energy is received. We may know inside that our identity is at variance with our “assigned” role, but until that recognition goes beyond ourselves, we are doomed, at the very least, to disabling frustration. Despite Riki Anne Wilchins’ list of “21 Things You DON'T Say to a Transexual,” ( womanhood and manhood is conferred by those with whom the individual associates. That was the case in tribal societies; it is still the purpose of the Quinceañera in Latino society, in which womanhood is conferred upon a young woman by her family and friends. In some Native American societies womanhood was conferred upon natal males who identified as female, often coupled with recognition as a shaman. What validates our gender is acceptance by those around us. Womanhood is conferred upon me when I’m out to dinner and use the ladies’ room and nobody has a fit. It’s conferred upon me when the server says to my friend and me, “Can I get you ladies something to drink?” It is conferred on me when a natal friend suggests with a straight face that I patronize her favorite day spa.

Two stories come to mind here:

Groucho Marx told the story of how the 19th Century financier Otto Khan happened to pass a synagogue while walking with his friend, Marshall P. Wilder, who was a wildly popular comedian despite his horrendously curved spine. Khan turned to his friend and said, “You know, Marshall, I used to be a Jew.”
“Is that so?” said Wilder, I used to be a hunchback.”

The other story, from India, is quite similar:

An orphaned tiger is raised as a goat. When an adult tiger attacks the flock and finds this young tiger pretending to be a goat, the adult tiger takes the misguided youngster aside and shows the young one those things which pertain to a tiger. The tiger’s true nature was exposed, and a childhood pretending to be a goat did not ultimately detract from tigerhood.

You can’t leave it behind. We may bemoan the girlhoods we never had and the fact that we were forced to play “boys’ games,” etc. The majority of my friends are natal women, and they roll their eyes when they hear this. I know at least one natal woman who, because of an alcoholic father and abusive mother, had no childhood at all. For Goddess’ sake, quit your whingeing! You’ve had a unique experience which should, if you let it, give you insight and compassion.

Those who would repudiate the term “transgender” and those who would separate themselves from others on the continuum do have an option - one that has been taken by many in their position: withdraw. Go stealth. Dissociate yourselves from the community. Considering (thank Heaven) there is no Central Committee, you can define yourself (both figuratively and literally) any way you want to. And, if you are lucky enough that your definition and society’s definition gel, you are liberated from your concerns and unburdened of having to be associated with people like me. Of course, as I was reminded this afternoon by a very nice transman of my acquaintance, you’ve got a lot of concealing and subterfuge ahead of you if you want to truly lose the epithet “transgender.” And, unfortunately, no amount of petitioning, shunning, and snarling will rid you of the stigma if you are found out. There are plenty of Peter La Barbaras and Janice Raymonds out there who will not listen one whit to your claims and will shove you back under the umbrella with me.

Fact is, if you lack the empathy, compassion, imagination, and sense of your own absurdity to accept me, I’m not sure I’m any happier to be here with you than you are to be here with me.