Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Angels in Training

I’m wondering, given my slightly addictive and obsessive personality, if signing on to FaceBook was a good idea. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time posting to this blog, checking to see if anyone was reading it, commenting on other blogs, etc. Now I’m spending an inordinate amount of time posting to FB, checking to see if anyone is reading it, commenting on other postings, etc. (I think I’m seeing a pattern here.) My FB friends run about 70/30: transwomen/feminist spirituality, with a couple of cisgendered males to even things out. (This isn’t counting three Middle Eastern males who sent friend requests out of nowhere that I’ve kept in FB Limbo.) I want to concentrate on transwomen right now.

I’m seeing a broad swath of this sisterhood. I’ve been friended by artists, lawyers, homemakers, educators, activists, doctors, women who work with their hands and girls who just wanna have fun. What impresses me beyond the eclectic makeup of this group is the almost universal sense of altruism. When I called this a sisterhood, I wasn’t kidding. If anyone states that she is feeling upset, if anyone is in trouble, if anyone is hurt, friends come flocking, some with words of comfort and encouragement, others with physical help.

I’ve always felt that connecting to my womanhood was connecting to my higher and more nurturing self. I see this in spades in my sisters. One couple comes to mind whose names I’ll not include out of respect for their privacy: transwomen who are married to each other, one is a lawyer and one is retired from construction, I believe. Part of their Christmas holiday was spent taking underprivileged children on an outing (and this was only one of several altruistic acts). One comment read: “You are Angels!” I have to concur. But I see this kind of giving behavior all the time, and I do not count it an act of egotism when it is posted on FB; it is a sharing of love.

I had a friend, a fellow storyteller, a cisgendered woman who was tragically taken from us nine years ago this coming May. Lora had this kind of giving quality. In one of her personal stories she referred to herself as an “Angel in Training.” I miss her even now. But I see her in so many of my sisters.

I’ve been looking at angels quite a bit over the past weeks. They are beautiful creatures, close to the creator, who transcend the boundaries of male and female. They can be fierce, like St. Michael fighting the Devil, but they also embody the female qualities of compassion and nurture.

We are not perfect, physically or morally. Many of us have understandably rejected religion. We’re not angels, but I see all about me Angels in Training.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Telling Tales This Sunday

My dear friends Jayne and Anniitra have asked me to tell and discuss stories of descent on their blogspot raidio show 11 am pst this Sunday. I am very excited and flattered. If you'd like to tune in and/or call in, here's a link: Creatrix Media Live.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Inner Circle

I’m the first to admit that I probably spend way too much time being absolutely gobsmacked at the acceptance I’ve gained from my friends who are genetic women. I am especially impressed by this acceptance in light of the fact that I am not transitioned. And with this admission I further admit that I am perpetuating a ludicrous trans pecking order which does none of us any good. And all of this has more to do with my own self-esteem issues than the subject upon which I had intended to comment, which is…


I don’t. And, if you’re part of my regular readership (the breadth of which completely escapes me) you most likely don’t either. But my daughters do, my business partner does, most of my colleagues do (teaching being a female-dominated profession), and most of my friends do (though many are post menopausal and therefore used to). Forget all the rest of the accoutrement (well, yeah there’s childbirth and multiple orgasms – though usually not in that order), if there is one thing that makes me acutely aware of my status amongst my cis-sisters it's the lack of that monthly visit from Aunt Flo. I’m not saying that I envy it, but I am in awe of it.

On the lowest level, I am in awe that women can go through this every month and still maintain, still function personally and professionally. But I’d rather bring this up to a higher plane. It’s been noted that women in groups tend to menstruate at the same time, hence the red tent in Anita Diamant’s novel of the same name, in which the women of Jacob’s family live during their time of the month – all together, if I recall. Connect this monthly cycle to the monthly cycle of the moon, and you have something very powerful, something that connected the women of a tribe with the earth and the heavens, a magical synergy which linked women with the cosmos in a way that was denied to men.

In this light, I have no problem envisioning a time when the power of the tribe’s or city’s (an early city being the size of a small town in which everyone knew everybody else) women was recognized and when women’s wisdom was respected and revered. This would have been a time of matriarchy. It would not have been a time in which power was seized by the most violent within the community, but, as I said, a time in which spirit, wisdom, and connectedness were recognized and listened to.

If I say “queen,” I envision a female version of some medieval lunkhead hacking and hewing his way to the throne (or at least sitting on a throne to which his grandfather hacked and hewed his way). I don’t see that here. I see someone more akin to Mother Judith, the priestess (she’d probably blanche at the word) at my parents' Episcopalian church: a mature woman who has known responsibility, parenthood, pain and connection with the spirit. A woman who can give damn good advice and to whom people listen -- if they have half a brain. An Earth Mother.

Such an individual possesses the experience needed to deal with the “real” world along with the intuition required to evoke the Spirit. Such individuals, I believe, will eventually be the salvation of humanity.

So where does that leave transwomen? Where does this leave me? I started this post after having read Kate Bornstein’s rebuttal to a transphobic essay by Germaine Greer. In so many words, Ms. Greer calls transwomen “ghastly parodies.” Ms. Bornstein counters it well, but the epithet hit home. I have felt the import of those words and I feel it as I write this. “But you’re not a woman.” I’ve heard it more than once from more than one person, and though it does not contain the bitterness Ms. Greer’s pronouncement, it means the same thing. I have no hard and pat answer to it other than this:

Today I called into the Creatrix Media Live! podcast hosted by my friends Jayne and Aniitra. The host was Dr. Miriam Robbins Dexter, an archeomythologist, linguist and instructor at UCLA Women's Studies Program, and the talk was on matriarchy and patriarchy in ancient Europe. My question was typically self-serving: what was the position of transwomen in ancient cultures? Dr. Dexter’s answer was one which I had expected and one which brings me back to a sense of balance and peace. We were the shamans, and a tradition of transgendered priestesses is recorded as early as the early Mesopotamian cities and most likely existed far earlier.

Transwomen may not menstruate, but that does not exclude us from a larger sisterhood marked by such qualities as intuition, compassion, empathy, and nurture. I was once reminded, early on my road to acceptance, that not all genetic women menstruate. The boundary is not so clear as it may seem to Ms. Greer.

And yet…

When I hear two of my friends complaining about their hot flashes, I’m mixed. I’m glad I don’t have to put up with hot flashes of my own, and I’m saddened not to be part of the inner circle.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saving the World's Women

My friend Shaktima Brien posted this New York Times article on Facebook, and I want to give it to you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

If You Would Write, Write

I'm back, for a number of reasons, to a lack of time and privacy.
So I've got a little time, here in the classroom, before attacking a pile of essays, to write. I've got the desire, the urge, and a little time. All I lack is something to say.

Here are a couple of notes:

I watched the ABC presentation on Chloe Prince online a day after just about everyone else and was moved. Many questions were answered and the "bee sting" question raised (which she has answered in her blog). As one would expect, ABC left things out and muddled the story here and there. (I remember Mark Twain complaining about a news story about himself: "You could go over it with a fine-toothed comb and never find yourself.") My biggest gripe actually lies in the production and is one I've seen over and over again across the spectrum of news documentaries: with all that footage taken, why are the same shots repeated? I don't know Chloe as well as I'd like to, but I wish her and her family all joy and hope that this exposure brings nothing but positive outcomes.

Totally unrelated:
About a week ago, my younger daughter told me about an animated film that she had come across called Sita Sings the Blues. It's an interpretation of the Hindu epic Ramayana with modern interpolations and musical numbers by 20's singer Annette Hanshaw. I was enchanted by it and remain so despite the fact that many Hindus were offended by what they saw as an irreverent depiction of one of their sacred stories and that many non-Hindu academics felt that, since animator Nina Paley is not Hindu herself, she has no right to work with The Ramayana. I honor the first criticism more than I honor the latter. I believe all faiths should be honored, but I also believe that one of the best ways to honor a belief or a culture is to share it through story. I am pleased to find that a good many Hindu viewers share my feelings. Here is a link to the film's website where you can watch the entire hour-and-a-half film:
I love what Ms. Paley is doing regarding the rights here. I plan to make a donation and buy stuff as soon as I'm back in the chips. Go thou and do the same.
Admittedly, there is little here to do with trans issues, but that doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother you.

Now I've got to get back to those essays...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More Than Adequate

A couple of months ago, as I was beginning a storytelling performance, I introduced myself as a trans woman. (The audience was comprised of genetic women, most of whom were practicing pagans, and since I have few illusions, I felt it only fitting to acknowledge the obvious.) From nowhere a good line came to me: “In acknowledging my feminine nature, I’ve discovered a whole new level of inadequacy.” It got a laugh, and I’ve used it again since then. It set the audience at ease. Perhaps this revelation that I lack confidence in my presentation allowed them the freedom to say (mentally at least), “big hands, big feet, can’t quite hide the blue jowls, can’t quite make the voice work – you’ve validated exactly what we were thinking.” Or maybe, since these women were of an age with me, my bit of self-deprecation was accepted as a validation of their own status: a sense that, because of any number of physical factors, a woman just doesn’t measure up to those who are younger, smaller, prettier, more graceful, more fertile, ad infinitum. It was a kind and loving audience, and I will accept the latter – that in acknowledging my own feelings of inadequacy I was validating the common lot of women in a culture that values a woman’s surface beauty over the splendor of her soul.

So, in accepting myself and presenting as myself more and more, I have taken on a burden that men (in most cultures) do not carry: that of maintaining and appearance of youth and adhering to an almost
unattainable and certainly unsustainable standard of beauty. And this standard seems to have been ever so. 2500 years ago in the play that bears her name, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata says:
A soldier’s discharged,
And he may be bald and toothless, yet he’ll find
A pretty young thing to go to bed with.
But a woman!
Her beauty is gone with the first grey hair…

And in the 20
th Century Sylvia Plath really nails it in a poem that reads like a Viking riddle:

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is,
unmisted by love or dislike .
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Okay. So now that I’ve REALLY depressed myself – and probably you as well (especially remembering how Ms. Plath chose to make her quietus), I’m left with the question of what to make of this burden.

I go back to the women who were in attendance when I first decided to make my “inadequacy” remark. Every one of those women had something which I have not mentioned heretofore in this writing but which makes the perceived inadequacy ludicrous, and that is a spiritual base. They were Goddess worshippers who see in all women a
tri-partite deity: The Virgin, The Mother, and The Crone. One contemporary mythologist, Donna Henes, in her book The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife, has added “The Queen” as a fourth archetype between The Mother, and The Crone. If I ignore the obvious implications of referring to myself as “a queen,” and acknowledge myself as a mature woman who has learned from experience and who possesses a spark of the divine which manifests itself in the form of sharing insight through a store of tales and lore, then all the fretting about being overweight and aging evaporates.

I look at the faces of the mature women I know – both trans and genetic, and I see a beauty which is less obvious but much more present than in many women who are physically gorgeous. I like the company of these women. I am honored to be accepted into their company. The inadequacy evaporates.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the Margins

Abby just posted an entry over at her blog regarding cisgendered privilege and transphobia. It's got me thinking about marginalization.

I'm marginalized.

I'm marginalized, for example, in regard to my tastes in music. My tastes are eclectic, but do not run to the norm. There is not a single mainstream recording artist presently whose music I listen to. I don't know that it's a matter of choice; most pop does not fall pleasingly upon my ear. But folk, classic jazz, classical, tribal, etc. all give me pleasure and comfort. Thus I have always had to go far afield in order to find "my" kind of music. On one level it's a pain, but there are pleasures also to be had. Though I can't expect to find "my" music at mainstream record stores (now there's a term leftover from the Jurassic period), I have spent wonderful hours treasure-hunting through the odd corners and used stacks of the few privately-owned record stores left in my area (huzzah for Canterbury Records, Pooh-Bah, and Penny Lane - all in Pasadena, CA) and rummaging around online for odd mp3's. I've also made many friends with similar out-of-the-way tastes. Nonetheless, I am discriminated against (though unintentionally) by such mainstream purveyors of music as record stores and radio stations, etc. precisely because they cater to mainstream tastes.

I'm marginalized because I'm large by American women's standards and because I wear size 11-12 shoes, thus necessitating shopping at plus-sized dress stores and "mutant" shoe stores. It's not really Macy's fault that their shoe sizes stop at 10. They just don't get all that much call for anything larger. (Though, I suspect if they were to offer larger sizes they would have a market in frustrated trans women like myself.)

I'm marginalized because I am transgendered.

The power lies in numbers and in the General Will.

Cisgendered privilege lies in the numbers, and a member of that number might rankle at being called "cisgendered" as opposed to "normal." There are vast numbers of cisgendered individuals who do not know that they are cisgendered because they are unaware of the nature of transgendered people.

Case in point: the majority of my friends are cisgendered women. For many of them I am the only trans woman they have met. Many times I have had to teach a quick course in Transgendered 101. That being done, there is a context for the terms "genetic woman" or "cisgendered woman." Without the context, there is no need for the terms. Of course, I hang with an enlightened crowd, so the term "trans woman" is accepted and the context is agreed upon. If the concept of "trans" is not accepted, then there is no context for "cis." And in that circumstance, there is no context for communication and understanding either.

Frankly, I couldn't care less if "cisgendered" becomes part of everyday parlance. Neither do I want "trans" appended to me at all times. If I am with a group, I would prefer to just one of the group -- or to be numbered amongst the women if such distinctions are made. When I am among friends, "cis" and "trans" are completely out of context.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm Back

A Saturday morning. I'm alone in my apartment, still in my nightgown. I've got a hot cup of Tetley's tea with half-and-half and honey on my mouse pad. I've got folk music streaming on the computer. My friend, with whom I've been sharing this apartment since March is 1700 miles away, taking care of business and cutting deals. Her kids are with their father. The semester is over, and though I'm still cleaning up my shambles of a classroom, I've turned in my keys and I won't go back in to clean and organize until Monday. I'll start my summer school syllabus then also.

Right now, for the first time in months, I've got time to write.



It's not like I haven't got plenty of things to write about. I just don't want to write about them right this minute. Those topics will provide fodder for the rest of the summer.

Right now, though, I'm thinking about a story:

One day, Brahma, the creator, whose being, as Atman, informs all things, decided to take human form and visit the World. As he strolled through the forest, he found a Brahmin seated in profound meditation - so profound, in fact, that anthills had grown two cubits tall all around him. When the Brahmin sensed the presence of the deity, he bowed and said,
"Brahma-Ji, I am honored and humbled by your divine presence. May I be so bold as to ask you a question?"

"Most certainly," said Brahma, "What would you know?"

"I have meditated in this spot so long that anthills two cubits tall have arisen all about me. I believe I am close to enlightenment. O Brahma, how many more lifetimes must I live before I achieve Moksha, before I am released from this world?"

"You have four more lifetimes before you," said Brahma gently.

The Brahmin burst into tears of grief and frustration, but composed himself and thanked Brahma.

Brahma continued on his way. He walked until he met another Brahmin, this one a fool who played a flute and danced beneath a banyan tree. When this Brahmin saw Brahma, he threw down his flute, jumped up and down, and then went to his knees in joy.

"Brahma-Ji! I am so happy to see you!"

Brahma said nothing but smiled.

"Brahma-Ji," said the Foolish Brahmin, "May I ask you a question?"


"Brahma-Ji, how many more lives will I have before I reach Moksha and release?"

"How many leaves do you think are on this banyan tree?"

The Foolish Brahmin leapt to his feet and quickly surveyed the branches above him. "Oh, there must be twenty thousand leaves, Brahma-Ji."

"That is the number of lifetimes you must spend before you achieve enlightenment and release."

The Foolish Brahmin gaped at the leaves for a second, and then a joyous smile spread across his face. "Is that all? Oh thank you, Brahma-Ji!"

Brahma then replied, "You have already achieved Moksha."

I thought of this story yesterday, in reading Lori's post. Many wisdom tales point out that sometimes we search so hard for our heart's desire that we don't realize we've already achieved it.

It's good to be back at this.

Love and joy to you all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Act of Guerilla Beauty

I just found this on a friend's facebook, and it made my day. May it do the same for you.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Just a Note to Say I'm Still Alive

If and when this all settles down, I will have enough material for a plethora of postings. As it is, I will simply have to check in and say that I'm still here.

No word yet as to the promise of a comfortable and wealthy decrepitude after nearly six years of work. There are a business plan and private placement memorandum out to investors, and we are waiting for their decision. Email me for more details.

Two weeks ago, I did a storytelling performance at a friend's women's spirituality circle and was very well received. I was, in fact, invited to present at a Goddess Faire in June.

Way behind in grading.

Spring break will be full of work.

I hope I can give a more complete post later this week, but as my house will be filled with business, noise, and children, I doubt it.

Things WILL even out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Another Recurring Epiphany

Gender is most often not the problem.

For decades I thought the being transgendered was the major problem of my life.
It's not. If anything, I can list it amongst those things which make me interesting.

I say this as a caution to those who think that a full acceptance of their right-gendered selves or that going through a physical transition will be the solution of all their problems. It may solve a problem of self-esteem, but I can say with confidence that in either of my gender identities, the true banes of my existence still persist.

To wit:

1. Attention Deficit Disorder - it's real, and it can be a royal pain. Imagine life as being a party, a really loud party, and you are trying to carry on a conversation through a cacophony of voices and stimuli. If you do focus, you focus to the exclusion of everything else, and very often upon a detail that, in the long run, is insignificant. My world, then, is like a never-ending "Where's Waldo" book. It can be mitigated by a cup of Yorkshire tea (the Red Bull of teas), and a calmly-composed "to-do" list. (If I don't lose that list...and those phone numbers...and that email address...and that work order number...)

2. I'm a Project Slut. I'm just a girl who can't say, "No." And, unfortunately, unlike Ado Annie, I'm not talking about sex. It may be the legacy of an unpopular childhood, but I have this insatiable need to make myself useful - to the detriment of my own projects.

Now several very sizable chickens have come home to roost, and I've only just been able to squeeze out the time for this posting.

So... Would these propensities vanish were I to transition? Bluntly, no. They are the ingrained behaviors of half a century. (Oh Lord, I've never put it that way!) They will be mitigated only if I consciously discipline myself. But they are not attached to gender. Of course, these problems are my own problems, and I can't put this template upon anyone else, but I will say this: As we explore our gender nature, we should explore the entirety of our selves. Our transition to our true selves may be a the fulfilment of part of our beings, and may well clear the way for further mental, emotional, and spiritual growth, but some major aspects of our selves remain unchanged and must be dealt with separately.

(I come out of this with the feeling that I have belabored the obvious, but at least it explains my absence over the past month and a half.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to find that "to-do" list.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still Here

I have a favorite Yiddish proverb that states, "With one tuchas you can't ride two horses." I've been trying to ride about five. Sufficeth to say, I've not been able to post of late. But once all the ponies are back in their stalls, I should be back at it.

All love to you all,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It may mean nothing at all, but...

One of the perks of having two grown daughters with jobs, taste, and an inherited lack monetary skills is that I receive a lot of really cool gifts at Christmas. From the elder I received a scroll emblazoned with Einstein's words: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand,” a book on fairy lore, a book on filmmaking, and a book of Little Nemo in Slumberland from 1916 to 1928. From the younger comes a gift certificate for Vroman's Bookstore (as you may gather, we are that kind of family) and a coffee mug covered with Shakespearean insults. (For an English teacher, this is the Holy Grail of coffee mugs.)

But there is one, seemingly minor, gift which stands out for me. It is a calendar from my younger daughter. Each month is a sample of wall paper from the factory of William Morris, the great mover and shaker of the 19th Century arts and crafts movement. Now, both my daughters have been dragged to art museums from the time they could walk. One of our great adventures of recent years was taking the Gold Line from Pasadena to Union Station, there catching the Red Line to the corner of Wilshire and Western and transferring to a bus which took us to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a showing of Diane Arbus photographs. (Note: If you are the slightest bit down and have just had a major fight with a coworker and are feeling somewhat weird about being transgendered, DO NOT take public transportation on a dismal day to see an exhibition of Diane Arbus photographs.) To my girls, the Norton Simon, the Getty, and particularly the Huntington Library and Gardens are second homes. On a recent trip to the Huntington, I went crazy over a William Morris exhibition, and daughter number two took note. Hence the calendar.

And yet.

Here is July. Chrysanthemums. This is not what I would call a "guy" calendar or a "Dad" calendar. And it contrasts with previous calendars which have been Charles Addams, Wallace and Grommit, Edward Gorey, etc. I didn't make comment other than to express my pleasure in receiving it, but I'm tacitly taking it as tacit acceptance of who I am. It's not exactly the equivalent of going to brunch and then dress shopping with me in Gillian mode, but it's a small, sweet gesture and will add the kind of touch I need to my office. I've said it before and I'll say it now: I'm blessed with these girls.

And on a totally unrelated note: I just looked out my window to watch the Stealth Bomber fly by on its way to the Rose Parade. Thought 1: It certainly didn't get its name from its silence; you can hear it coming for miles. Thought 2: Oh for crying out loud! This is a transgendered blog. Take the plane's name and run with it.