Life is a Journey - Make sure you get the right roadmap to the universe

I'm quite sure I picked up the wrong one on my way out the door....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Understanding Identity as Both a Binding and as an Exclusionary Force

What is your identity?

What does it mean when someone asks who or what you are?

How do you answer them in a single word, a single phrase, a single sentence?

Perhaps how you answer is dependent upon who asks you and what context or situation you are in at the time.

If you are being asked this question while attending a Church, you might say you are Greek Orthodox or Catholic, or Protestant or Baptist, let's say.

If you are asked who or what you are outside of a voting booth, you might say you are a Democrat or a Republican, or an Independent.

If you are, let us say, attending an ethnic festival, you might say that you are Greek, or Lebanese or wherever mother country your descendants harken from.

And if you are a newborn baby, your mother or father will speak for you and say that you are a boy or a girl....and that is who you are.

But who one is, is so much more than just being a label or a conglomeration of labels  One is so much more than simply a concatenation of these things.  One is more than simply a "Girl" who is a "Democrat" whose ethnicity is from "Greece" and who is "Greek Orthodox".

The idea of who we are may seem simple enough an understanding at first glance but the more we think about ourselves, the more complex and unique we come to find we are.
 
The concept of identity has always fascinated me.  Being transgender makes me even more aware of identity and in trying to answer the question of myself as to "Who am I?"

Even when one takes on a label of an identity, there are a myriad of "sub-identities" within that identity.
In the transgender community, who one is becomes even more stratified as now one can be known as being "pre-op" or "post-op", a cross-dresser, a transsexual,  a drag queen, gay, straight, bi, cis-gendered, queer..... and the list goes on and on.

As in any culture, identity becomes a means to categorize a person with a "stamp" which brands them, binds them or excludes them from a group of people.  Identities bring people who are the same together and also serve to become a target for discrimination or hate by others who don't identify with the grouping.

Solidarity and strength arise from identifying unique aspects within each of us which fit into a larger general grouping and aligning us together as a single unit.   "The Greeks", "The Blacks", "The Jews", "The Gays", "The Lesbians", "The Transgenders".  We align because it is comfortable, or because we feel included, or perhaps because we can find sympathy in like individuals where sympathy does not lie elsewhere.  We align religiously to promote our beliefs and ethnically to defend our heritage.  This can lead to violent bloodshed and war when an entire country identifies against another country whose people identify in solidarity themselves.

But there is an even darker side to all of this... The downside of groups coalescing for an identity cause comes about when we band together.  When we group together, we often ISOLATE others either passively or actively and aggressively as a result through exclusion.  When groups band together, then these groups must consider how they will be perceived by others who are not part of that group, not part of the heritage, not part of the initiative and movement which the group may be undertaking as part of its charter mission.

When a group isolates another, whether it be purposeful or not, it can promulgate fear by those who may feel threatened by the emerging alliance.  Those outside of the group may ask.... "How will this group alliance affect me? my family?  my religion? my life?"

We have seen this countless times before in all likelihood.....

*  An established Italian Neighborhood sees immigrants from Brazil moving in and setting up homes and businesses in their neighborhood.

*  A predominantly White Neighborhood begins to see Black and African American individuals moving in

*  A country such as Oman or Afghanistan or Iraq sees western value systems, media and lifestyles moving in and making inroads at changing the defacto standards of an entrenched and established way of religious life.

Fear of change.  Fear of the loss of power within an establishment, brought about by an uprising or movement into those established set of norms by another group which identifies to different values, races, religious beliefs, or human and civil rights creates anger and violence and resistance by the established norm.

An established grouping may believe that their identity is being threatened, infiltrated or over-turned by another and in many cases of civil war, this is so very true.  Identifying as a person... as part of a grouping, can be a powerful thing.  It can lead to great and positive changes, whether subtly achieved over many decades of passive integration or it can lead to bloody civil wars between the two regimes.

The key to both sides successfully integrating their identities is held in part by communication and a willingness to educate each side.  We must understand that for another viewpoint to be empathetically received by the opposing camp, we must be sure to equate our own needs, our own issues and our own struggles in terms which the other side can understand in relevant perspective.

In the realm of being transgender, how can a person who is not, understand what lack of rights, lack of services and lack of justices exist?  They are not living our life and the thought would never arise in their minds because it does not concern them that they these issues could exist.

A cis-gendered person, for the most part, will not have concept that a transgender person could be fired from their job for simply being different, or that they could be denied housing and accommodations.   They will not likely know that a transgender individual could be arrested for using a public accommodation not compliant with their gender marker on their license.  What becomes worse is the fact that they may not be able, in the state they reside in, to change their gender marker on their license because of a myriad of monetary, health or personal reasons.   And although they may be living their life and, for all intensive purposes, be perceived by the general populace as the gender they are living in, still be unable to legally secure rights of that gender.

The reality and the sobering fact is that many who identify as transgender, whose identity is as the gender opposite to their birth gender, are unable to live their lives freely as a result.

In attempting to garner what would seem to be basic human and civil rights, a plethora of fears from cis-gender groups arises.  Lack of understanding regarding what it means to be transgender causes unknowledgeable minds to race wildly imagining such things as men dressed as women able to use women's bathrooms and dressing rooms as a means for perverted sexual acts.  Fears that religious normative values will be torn down and the country whittled away to the point that accommodations for others will lead to God's wrath unto them and to us as a nation.

The reality, however, is in the perspective and the eye of the beholder.  A religious sect may in fact be against making accommodations to what they believe is a group that will undermine the word and teachings of their God.  I say "Their God" because each religion has it's own morality basis and its own teachings.  Yet, as a country which was founded as a secular nation and with secular governing principles, there must be consideration for all in terms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which honors the right of religious belief to the individual without allowing those who hold those beliefs to be allowed to undermine the equality of human and civil rights in the process.

In short, we must ensure that we respect the rights of individuals to their own identities and to afford them the same human and civil rights as anyone else.

To achieve this, it will be necessary to educate as best we can....by setting an example, and through deed and action.   We must set the stage, as every race and ethnic group in the past has, through hard work and example, and through our tenacious, steadfast, constant and consistent positive visibility within the community.

If a person becomes known in their community for the good person they are, for the deeds they have done, rather than by the label they would otherwise, without knowing them, be given,  then that person is a progenitor for change.  That person may stop being labeled as, "Hey, look at that transgender person!"  and, rather, be known as, "Hey, that is a person who I have come to know.  She is a loving and caring person who cares for ALL of our community needs and cares about each one of us..... and she is my friend!"

An identity creates a label for us.  Labels can create unity for a group with a common mission and vision to form.  Unity can create power.  Power can create change.  Change can create fear.  Fear can breed violence and war.

When unities are formed, we must take care to be visible as a positive force, as an empathetic listener to the needs of those outside and a bridge to include others rather than exclude.  It seems a simple enough recipe, but the history of the world, of the various races and ethnicities who have been trying to integrate for millenia on this planet, offers us the wisdom and words that "Change Does Not Come Easily".

A successful progenitor to change is the person who can do so by building bridges to connect both sides and not simply by digging the chasm which separates and leads to violence, fear and war.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moving Beyond Pride

Saturday, August 11th was to be a day of unity for all as we were to attend, participate, educate and celebrate the diversity of being transgender as part of the LGBT population in New Hampshire.

The first organized Pride Event in the city of Manchester was occurring on that day and our leadership team at TransGender New Hampshire (TG-NH) had been busy working steadily toward creating a space for ourselves at this event and in securing attendees to assist with our campaign.  Our theme was to be one of information and education and to dispel the myths and perceptions which many still hold in their mind's eye of the transgender population at large and to bring about awareness of what protections were lacking for the population in regards to lack of civil and human equality and fairness rights such as employment and housing discrimination.

As the event drew nearer and the time to the event itself closer, we began to realize that there were too many unresolved concerns that were not being addressed by the Pride Event Organizers to safely and effectively continue our involvement.  It was on the Thursday morning prior to the event that an email was sent out by the steering committee attesting to the sudden change in plans:

It is with great disappointment that the Steering Committee has decided to neither participate in nor support New Hampshire Pride Fest. We came to this decision because of concerns about safety and security, lack of safe public accommodations, and requests from trusted and respected allies in the broader NH LGBT community to reconsider. We were not assured that our community could participate safely and effectively in Pride Fest. Our goal was to build visibility, educate, and build capacity for trans* rights in New Hampshire and it quickly became abundantly clear that our participation would do more to hamper those goals than to work toward them.

It was difficult for me, personally, to watch the News Media event coverage as one of the spokespersons for the event uttered in front of the camera how this event was to celebrate the gains within the gay population within the state of New Hampshire.  She mentioned that there were now laws in place to grant marriage rights and laws in place to prevent against discrimination.  She closed by stating that this was an event to celebrate those victories and those gains and that "We have everything we need now in place to move forward".

That last closing sentence really struck me to the core.  I understand how often the transgender realm is tied in with the LGB ticket but, in reality, our needs are so vastly unique in ways which gay rights can not extend to.  Although the state of New Hampshire has marriage rights and housing and employment safety protections in place to prevent against discrimination of a person based upon their sexual orientation, there is no such provisions of any sort in place to protect an individual who is transgender..... who presents as a gender that is variant from their birthed biological sex.

Such key issues as being able to have a license or official id whose gender marker is aligned with the life they lead within that gender is often difficult to obtain without formal laws in place to guarantee it.  Having to reveal to someone upon presentation of official documentation that their license shows a person of one gender while they are attempting to peacefully live their live as the gender they have transitioned to creates a needless dichotomy which works to segregate, isolate and discriminate against the individual.  Bars may refuse to serve liquor to a person citing that the person in the license is NOT the person they are seeing in the id.  Employers can choose to not hire someone simply and specifically based upon their own personal biases and discomforts which leads to higher unemployment rates within the transgender community.  The presentation of a gender that varies from what is on their license can oft cause law enforcement to question motive, as if dressing as a gender opposite of their birth one is a sexual act of some sort, which is almost never, ever the case.

Additionally, transgender individuals now face a new challenge which is upon them, of losing the potential right to vote in public elections if they are unable, due to state laws, to obtain identification which matches their gender presentation.  For the latest news on this, please visit the following link

In it's simplest form of explanation, being gay is not the same as being transgender.... sexual identity, (who one wants to BE WITH) is mutually exclusive to the concept of gender identity, (who one sees themselves as being... man or woman).  It was these key issues which could not be voiced at the Pride Event and it was sorrowful, at least to me, to hear that Pride Representative utter the words on WMUR Television.... "We have everything we need now in place to move forward".  The truth of the matter is that WE does not include US.  In reality, we have little in place for protecting the rights of those who are transgender.  That is something we seriously need to work on.

I hope that we can work together as an organization to help bring that statement to fruition one day, but it appears we have a lot of work yet to accomplish that goal.

To learn more about the TG-NH organization, please visit us at:

http://www.tgnh.org/index.html

or find us on Facebook.... Transgender New Hampshire

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Those Who Dwell in Glass Houses Should Consider What Stones They May Throw

It is with a weighted heart that I write this entry in my blog. It is not one I wished to write, nor one that I would have ever preconceived from the deepest recesses from my mind. Nevertheless, the gnawing which I have felt for sometime through endless innuendos and disparate pieces have become too numerous to ignore any longer.

Although I have felt these feelings, and dismissed them, for some time, it was my spouse who manifested the reality of what I felt was happening and which I tried to brush under the table... to ignore.... for some time now. It is something that, like a cancer, has grown in time to a point that it could no longer be ignored. It had grown to a point where it began to tear at the very fabric and intimacy of our own relationship, threatening, in the process, to tear it apart.

Let me be perfectly clear what this is. Let me relate what has been going on. I have, for some time, been aware that others have been casting darts at the very fabric of the relationship which I hold with J and with my own sense of self as well. I can only insinuate the possible reasons but the actions speak volumes to me. There are also many who believe they know me through the virtual world, and through what they see that I present therein. They relate what they believe to be my issues... my problems... my faults... my hidden fears... through what they are privy to and by what I share in this, the virtual internet realm.

While perhaps their intent is one of friendship as they see it, it is often as a dart thrown with a blindfold on... an attempt and a miss. Those who know me, know that I do not often ask questions of others that are of a personal nature... do not probe into another person's life... and do not try to dig into another's life. Perhaps this may come off to others as me being indifferent for not doing so. Perhaps they may feel that I am not interested in hearing about their views, experiences and lives. But in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. I am very much interested in hearing and discussing what my acquaintances and friends may offer.... but I never like to take up a position to throw out an opinion, or to do so publicly especially such that others may see their opinion of me then made public for others to read. I respect others' privacy and am there if they ask but will not probe and inquire if they do not ask me first.

I wish it were true the other way around. I truly do.

Many have made themselves plainly heard to tell me that I have spent too much time trying to figure out who I am and why I am the way I am. They tell me that I should live in the present and not in the past, and that I should move on. What I must state for the record is that I am a scientist by nature. I am a person who questions EVERYTHING in life. It is who I am. When I was a child, I asked and inquired why the sky was blue, why did gravity exist and all manner of questions. I was never satisfied until I had an answer for each question and so read books, and read more until I could have an answer which satisfied me. I yearn to know. I yearn to understand. I yearn to find answers and to relate them to others such that perhaps others will not have to face the same struggles in their own lives. This is why I relate my story and this is why I do it so that I can also try to fit together the pieces of my own life.

Many may not know that there have been many secrets kept from me my entire life. I learned only within the last 5 years the following.... My mother was remarried. My Sister was not the biological offspring of my father. My parents tried to dispense my sister at a young age onto a relative for my Father's mother's fear that no one should know that my father married a woman who bore a child by another man. That my mother claimed she was raped by her first husband which caused her pregnancy... although it was consensual sex, as I had come to learn. That my mother knew I was different but tried to hide that from me all my life growing up. That my mother took drugs which are known to cause gender and sexual variances yet hid this. And I learned all of this exactly one month before I watched my mother take her last breath as I held her hand.

There is much more... but it is beyond the scope of what I mean to write here.

What I am upset with are the friends who attack me and state that I am only interested in constantly retelling the past, of wishing to tell only my story but not to listen to others. That I am the person who needs the audience yet will not be an audience to others. To you, I say, you do not know me. You did not live my life and I did not live yours. I write to help myself through my own recently availed past which I have only in the past 5 years come to find out the truth of. I write to help others who perhaps may read this one day and find something in it that may help them. If you don't have the empathy or sympathy or caring of a friend to allow me to vent, to write and to hopefully help others, then please, just leave me alone and let me be. I ask nothing more. If you want to give me your opinion, then please ask me first if you may give it, instead of throwing it out. I speak of several people here... not just one. Those who may know who they are are likely not even reading this so no matter.

I post a picture of myself in a dress. I don't often wear dresses as I have a varicose vein issue which is congenital and often painful. J is a bit nervous of my going in for treatment on it and, quite frankly, I am as well. As a result, I often wear pantyhose as a way to provide support for the circulation. I post a picture of myself wearing a dress and the only remark I get back from a supposedly good friend is not that they like the dress or something nice about the picture but rather.... "Why are you wearing pantyhose in summer?" and publicly posted as well. I didn't want to tell the entire world I have a circulatory issue in one leg so I did not answer it. I just deleted their very inconsiderate public commentary.  The same person only and always posts criticisms in a similar vein to many of my posts.  Never is there anything positive to say or to find something pleasant to say.  This is a person who called upon me when she was in a grave situation and no one else seemed to care, yet I came through to be there.  To you I say, thanks so much.  I'm hurt and I'm done with you.  Be well.

I am attacked for being silly and frivolous. Those who know me in person, know that I am a person who has great latitude and variation in my demeanor and that I can be as serious as anyone could ever be, empathetic and caring to those who are in need, but also a comedian of sorts who may come off as being overly frivolous. I deal with my own stress in life in my own way, just as each of you deal with yours in your own way. I deal with my stress through comedy and laughter. I obfuscate seriousness in a way that allows me to be able to deal with some very serious stress in my life. It's not all about being transgender, although working through that myself and with J is a sizable piece of that equation. It is how I deal with things. If you don't like that, then please, let me simply be, and walk away.

I've had more than one so-called friend try to help me by offering advice. They tell me in private that I must be truthful to myself and be who I am inside and become the woman I should be if that is who I claim to be--and then tell my spouse in private that I am being selfish and that they should demand me to be the man I was committed to when I married. J and I argued shortly after that conversation but then we shared the words of the communications we each were given, and realized that we were being played with and toyed with.

I was told, perhaps two or so years ago, by a trusted friend who always kept her opinions to herself unless asked, that there was a lot of jealousy in these people, that J and I were working this through together and that others, she said, were hoping, rooting if you will, that we would break up. Misery loves company apparently and J and I are not ready to set sail on the ship of woes with everyone else. Over time, I have heard others come forth and tell me the same... that there are those who would love to see us fail. To those that might or would think it or hope it even casually: We couldn't care less. Leave us be and be on your way. Your "help" is not appreciated here by either of us.

A "friend" told J that she should consider what she is doing in this relationship. They called her a passenger on my own ship that I was sailing and she was riding on. They asked her why would she stay with me when this was not "something she signed up for". You are right in that one respect. She did not sign up for this, nor did I. For those who simply crossdress yet still find it bearable to live your lives as male, kudos to you! For those who have realized that their heart and soul, and the way in which they socialize in the greater world is really as female, and realize that they are living as a shell of person not themselves, then there is no comparison. In any regard, you are not me and you do not know what goes on every second of every minute of every day that makes getting up in the morning unbearable save for the fact that I have the one person in my life who allows me the gift to be myself. For her gift, I work so very hard to try to quell the inner anxiety to be the person SHE needs in her life. It's not perfect. It's not up for argument or debate. It is how we live our lives and how we choose to do so together. We are the ones who stay up late at night communicating with each other. We are the ones who must live with each other's decisions. No one else has the intimacy which we have shared for 20+ years together, so please.... keep your opinions to yourself.

I have "friends" who tell me how much I seem to toot my own horn and try to capitalize on the attention of others yet they are also the same people who think it alright to boast of the stuff they own, the cars they drive, the fancy furniture they have or the accomplishments and merits they receive and must take pictures of and show. I am proud of what I see in other's lives and certainly not jealous. I've learned not to be jealous of anyone as everyone has their own demons in life to contend with and no one has it perfect... no one. However, when I post something of my own achievements, I am told I am high on myself.

Yes, I like to take pictures and yes I do have my little poses for the camera. It is simply fun for me and just playful. I am not living full time so these are my memories of my identity of a person who does not as of yet live 24x7 in the real world as the projection of the person I truly am inside. These are my iconic moments to carry me through another day. Please allow me that bit of self identity to relish.

To those who say I am living too much within the trans world and not the "real" world, I say to you this: Before I figured out who I was, I was shy and reserved and very nervous around others in the world. I realized that all my phobias and reservations sailed away the moment Christen got out in the world. She was sociable and friendly and confident because she was who she felt inside and she felt appropriate as to how she was treated as a WOMAN... not as a man.... when out in the greater world. So yes, as a male, I still deal with many of the same issues but am trying to work on them as best I can. I don't hide from the real world but I am not comfortable to live my life in it as a male and perceived and socialized with as one. I can't change my nature to pretend to fit in to something that I have found I cannot. I do not escape to the trans world but I have found that I have the opportunity to make a difference within the transgender community in the realm of both personal help so others might not have to deal with what I have dealt with, and perhaps to make a positive difference within the legal realm to help others through changes to bring about awareness in human and civil rights. Do not accuse me of being selfish, for trying to do good for others as I try to help deal with my own sense of self. If you must, then please.... be on your way and leave me to be.

I am sorry to ramble as much as I have, but I am distraught at those who have taken aim at me over the years. It is rare for me to vent and it is even rarer to see me write a piece such as I have here. I will not, in all likelihood, ever write such a piece again. But it stands as witness to what I have been feeling and have seen come to physical fruition, as my spouse has as well.

To my truest of friends, I love you all very much and you are appreciated by me and thought of fondly nearly constantly. I'm there if you need me, but I'll never impose, barge in, interfere or postulate. I am not God and I do not proclaim to have the answers to your problems. If I cannot answer all of my own questions in life then I will not preconceive to interject in yours... unless you ask... and even then, it will only be as my opinion.

I wish you all well in each of your lives....

-Christen