Archive for August, 2011

h1

Believe It or Not: The Greatest American Antihero

27 August, 2011

2:36 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

“Believe it or not
I’m walking on air
I never thought I could feel so free
Flying away on a wing and a prayer
Who could it be
Believe it or not it’s just me”
~ The Greatest American Hero Theme (Believe It or Not)

In the last four months I have had a number of people tell me how courageous I am and some have even called me a heroine. But I feel neither courageous nor heroic. In fact, much of my day is felt feeling cowardly. I was born female and male. Really, that’s the ultimate cosmic joke. Once I realized who everyone else thought I was I began molding a role that would allow me to become in the public eye the boy, and later the man, they believed I was. I bottled up my identity in order to preserve the status quo and make as many people happy as possible. That sort of self-sacrifice—akin to Spider-Man pretending not to love first Gwen Stacey and later Mary Jane Watson in order to guarantee their safety—is an act of heroism. It is like firemen and police officers and soldiers stuffing down the instinct of self-preservation to protect others. Self-sacrifice, the putting of others before yourself, particularly when no one knows you are doing it, is noble and heroic.

I lived that way as long as possible, but it got to the point where doing so was killing me and that’s when I wussed out. Yep. Wussy. Part wimp, part sissy, all coward. My regeneration, my giving up the struggle to play the part of man, was not to make others happy but to preserve my health. It was a selfish, coward’s choice. (Please don’t allow my use of the word choice to confuse you. Being female is not a choice for me, it is simply who I am, presenting as male despite being female is a choice, it is an actress’s role I choose or choose not to play.) Plenty of men and women have died trying to preserve the happiness of others. Better people than I. Ultimately, I was a failure as a man because the role could not enable me to do to what was required to maintain the role: sacrifice my health and personality for the good of my family and marriage. I failed at this despite having role models in my life to show me how. My father worked a job he hated, that gave him ulcers and stressed his heart, because it was the only way to earn enough income to take care of his family. My brother is doing the same thing. Like our father, he should have been an artist by trade, but he works with “clients” that stress him out and make him physically ill because he has a family to support and no other job in the area will enable him to do so. These men are courageous, these men a heroes! I couldn’t find the same courage to maintain my role. I couldn’t continue living in away that might have saved my marriage and definitely wouldn’t have put my family in the awkward position of needing to explain me to others, like my poor sister-in-law who went round and round with a group of people who refused to understand that I am female not male. She would not have been in that skewed situation and been judged by these people if I had not failed to live up to the role my body fated for me to play.

Another comparison to the courageous and heroic people make is my comments for equal rights for transsexuals. I don’t understand that thought. I’m not in the community making political statements or engaging in activist platforms and demonstrations. I’m just a woman trying to get by on a day-to-day basis and hoping that one day she will blend in or at least be accepted. There’s nothing heroic in that, if anything it’s just a more socially acceptable version of self-orientated behavior. Recently a good and wise friend drew a comparison between what I am experiencing and what Frederick Douglass experienced. I love and respect that friend deeply and am honored she should think of me in such away, see that sort of greatness in me. But, it also makes me a little sad, because I don’t see that greatness staring back at me from my mirror. Douglass was an early pioneer in the civil rights movement and a powerful and outspoken advocate for equality in education. Douglass was an author, an abolitionist, a diplomat, a statesman, and a reformer. He was bold and brave; he declared “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” He did not live quietly nor did he make others comfortable; he would make others uncomfortable in order to make his point, “to do right.” But I just want to write my stories, teach my classes, and reach those kids I can. What I do for trans rights I would do for homosexual, minority, gender, age, and religious rights. My cry for across the board equality does not make me heroic, because it is a call that all people in an educated society should take up. I’m not trying to be a hero, I’m trying to be human.

If I am anything I am Ralph Hanley, The Greatest American Hero. A bumbling, slightly incompetent but dedicated teacher who hates the mantle that has been thrust upon him by fate (in this case a super-suit delivered by aliens). Ralph doesn’t want to save the world, he just wants to teach his kids. He is an anti-hero in many regards because he hates the position he has found himself in and would give it up in a heartbeat to go back to being ordinary. He is only doing what he has to do, what fate has forced upon him. I did not transition to become a representative for others like me, because I am a poor representation of the transsexual community. I do not pass well, I am a joke to many, if anything my presence in the community confirms people’s bigoted beliefs that the MtF is a guy in a dress, a bad sketch on a British sitcom. So many others do this so much better than I, that I don’t understand why anyone would look to me and say: there is an advocate for equality, there is a courageous person, there is someone to emulate, there is a hero.

I’m no hero. I’m just trying to be me.

Advertisements
h1

Caitlin and The Friendly Earthquake

23 August, 2011

Today was this transsexual woman’s first day in the classroom. The students in general are not handling things well. I am ignored, mocked, stared at, and insulted. Over all it is much like being a new attraction in the zoo. They stare in through the open door or through the window of the closed-door then stand in the hallway commenting. I have consistently been referred to as an “it” and one student walked out of class. I understand how he feels. After first period I was ready to walk out and not come back. I got out to the parking lot and was in my car with keys in hand. But something held me back. Maybe I’m stubborn. Maybe I’m masochistic. Maybe I just realize nothing worth having comes without struggle. Any way you slice it, I’m a bit insane and lot touched.

Parent reaction will hit sometime this evening or tomorrow morning. I’m vaguely curious about it, but at the same time I do not want to know a thing. Maybe they can find me a nice desk job somewhere.

Now, as if my day wasn’t surreal enough, we had an earthquake. Just after one-thirty there was a tremor in the ceiling. At first, I thought there were kids running around upstairs but it kept getting worse. Soon the lights were swaying and standing was like trying to keep your feet on a floor made of Jell-O. I had kids running around and screaming. Some made a dash for the hallway, which wasn’t safe as the ceiling tiles out there, and a few cinder blocks, crashed down like the tablets Moses shattered. We evacuated the building and kept the kids on the football field until the buses came. The fire department needs to inspect the school to determine if it is structurally sound enough to have classes tomorrow.

The earthquake coinciding with my first day with the students was bad timing. I overheard a few of them talking as they linked the earthquake and me via religious fanaticism. Apparently, god, pissed that a “faggot tranny” is teaching at the school, punished the county by shaking the school down to its foundations. I guess everyone up to New York and down to Atlanta are just friendly fire.

All in all, I have had worse days but not by much. I don’t know if my calm through out the day is due to dissociating or if the estrogen has made it easier for me to cope without getting angry. Perhaps both, but either way maintaining calm is a plus.

h1

The Rite

16 August, 2011

Despite the negative reviews I heard about The Rite, I rented it this past weekend. The film was decent, but the story was lop-sided. The start of the film was a bit slow and drug its feet getting started. The background info the opening gave was necessary, but fails to compel the audience to connect with the protagonist. His goal is go through college in preparation for the priesthood on the church’s dime to get away from his home life and father—about whom we learn almost nothing. Once his education is complete his plan is to leave before taking his vows. A plan that usurped by his advisor, who enrolls the young priest in exorcism school at the Vatican.

There he is a slight nuisance to the professor. The prof sees him as a young American who lacks faith but has potential, therefore he must learn first hand from resident Welshman Anthony Hopkins. Who introduces him to the basics of exorcism and to a few possessed souls. All this takes a bit over an hour. The film culminates with the young priest having to perform an exorcism that the Welshman could not. Here is where the slow-paced film picks up with visions, phone calls from the dead, and a struggle against Ba’al. The rapid switch in tone and pacing results in a lop-sided film. Overly introspective in the beginning and overly burdened with spooky action, which is never really explained, in the end.

All in all, I give The Rite two and half upside-down crosses out of five. It kept the boredom at bay, but never really drew me in.

h1

Lines

15 August, 2011

12:22 pm
FHS

When I was in college I took a course in Ancient Greek. I remember two things from that class quite distinctly. The first is the abject horror I felt sitting down to a textbook that was unreadable. With the romance languages you work with the Roman alphabet, so you can haltingly read the language before you are able to understand it; by engaging the text it helped you become familiar with the language and sped up the process of learning it. Ancient Greek, however, is more than a new language, it is also a new alphabet. Nothing looks familiar. It was necessary to start over from the beginning studying a whole new system for reading, writing, and creating meaning. Of making the scrawling lines make sense.

The other aspect I will never forget is the day those lines finally made sense. I was sitting in the classroom watching Fritz write on the board trying to recognize individual letters. Suddenly the random seeming lines shifted into focus and one word popped into my head: anthropos. I hadn’t read the word, per say, rather it was almost an instinctual recognition. The lines made sense. They weren’t random chicken scratchings, but an organized method of conveying thoughts.

As I go through the transition process, I look in the mirror and I see only lines. I’m tired of seeing only lines. I see my ex-relationship, I see a chin that’s too strong, I see feminine eyes set beneath a masculine brow. I see parts but no whole and I’m tired. I’m tired of not seeing the whole. I’m tired of seeing only lines when I want to read the language.

h1

Caitlin on Self Image: or wigging out

10 August, 2011

2:03 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

I am in flux again as to whether I should wear a wig. Sometimes I feel better wearing it. Other times I feel like I am a fraud. The advantage to wearing the wig is it gives people an additional tip off as to my gender identity, not that they should need it, after all breasts and a skirt should be more than enough. It also adds to the first impression phenomenon in which people see what they think they see. Does this make me safer in public? I honestly don’t know.

As for reasons to not wear it there are the standard concerns: Does it look real? Is it on straight? Is is it placed properly? Is the hair net showing? These all serve to make me self conscious. Others pick up on that self conscious feeling and that makes them less comfortable around me. Couple that with it being hot and concern for my hair underneath it and you have some solid reasons not to wear it.

So the whole thing seems like a wash. That being the case what then, as Sarah asked me, is my hangup about wearing a wig? What inside me is rebelling against it? I think I finally figured that out and it has nothing to do with the wig itself, but the reason for wearing it: to make others more comfortable.

Wearing a wig has become another aspect of altering myself to please society and fit into their mold of what a man or a woman is. It is putting on another disguise because it’s wrong to present the way I am. The whole purpose of this transition was to become me, but how am I becoming me if I have to go through an elaborate, daily, disguising ritual to do so? How am I becoming me if I have to cover up my appearance with artificiality. Yes, we all do certain aspects of that every day, but just how much can you do before you’re a false presentation?

Maybe, I’m just vain, but I happen to like MY hair and though it is not perfect it is part of me, why should I be ashamed of it? If I wear a wig it should be because I want to, not because I have to, or because other people will think less of me if I don’t. Changing who I am to make others comfortable and happy is what caused me so much pain to begin with; why should I repeat that error in my new life?

h1

Caitlin on the Ramifications of the SSA’s Inconsistent Policies

10 August, 2011

12:18 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

Social Security Administration is running its office on an inconsistent policy regarding gender marker amendments. The official policy states the following items of proof are needed to amend your personal information on file with the SSA:

• proof “of identity establishing that he or she is the person on the record to whom SSA assigned the SSN, and”
• documentation “supporting the change” such as “an amended birth certificate” or “a letter from his or her surgeon or the attending physician.”

When I went to amend my information, however, I was informed that only an amended birth certificate counts as documentation of gender change.

By running their offices on a dual policy four negative consequences are possible and I think it’s important to examine each of these and how they affect the transitioning individual:

1. Immediate Discrimination

The transitioning person has gone in good faith to meet the requirements that the SSA has outlined in public documentation. Upon arriving they are informed of an alternate policy and treated like a simpleton incapable of understanding basic policy. This also opens the door to being “outed” by the representative to others in the room. The clerk is already of the opinion the applicant is below standard intelligence so they are less likely to take other aspects of the applicant (such as gender identity) seriously. This can cause major issues.

Here’s how it played out for me. I presented my documentation and was asked this: Do you have an amended birth certificate Mister Song? With this question several issues arise. First, I was immediately denied legitimacy and the right to self-determination with the refusal to address me with the proper title. This is discrimination. If a cis-woman arrives she would not intentionally be addressed as male because it would be grounds for a harassment case; why then is a trans-woman with proper identification of her status being addressed as male? Because the person speaking to her refuses to acknowledge her identity and as a trans-individual she is not considered legitimate and therefore (supposedly) has no grounds for a case against the offending party.

Second, this is a public place and the clerk has now identified me as trans to everyone in ear shot. This makes me the center of public curiosity and results in stares and whispers. Further, should there be anyone in the room who posses extreme bigotry and a violent nature, they have been alerted to my presence and I am more likely to be a target. By refusing to acknowledge the proper documentation the clerk has exposed me to additional threats beyond what I may have already wandered into just by being there.

This particular clerk compounded this action by, while discussing my petition with a supervisor, pointing at me and saying “Him; he wants to be female in the system.” This occurred after I had been told to have a seat and was said loud enough for me to hear, thus anyone nearby has been informed of my transgender status. This is a violation of ADA law that gives those with medical conditions the right to self-disclosure (see point four below).

When I approached the counter and asked that I be referred to by the feminine pronoun (really I should have asked I be included in a conversation centered on me) I was told I was being argumentative and instructed to take a seat until they were ready to explain things to me. At that point the on site police officer was called over to keep an eye on me in case I should decide to make trouble. This made me a public spectacle and now the entire room has focused it’s attention on me. Anonymity has dropped to zero as has my right to live free of harassment.

2. One Hurdle Too Many

The transition process is difficult and bogged down in red tape and the pre-conceived notions of an ill-informed public. By having inconsistent policies the SSA has created a needless hurdle for the transitioning person to surmount. For some this may be a breaking point and they may give up, leaving them stuck in a state of dual existence, female in some places and male in others. This makes functioning in society impossible and dangerous (more on that in a moment). It also adds to the stresses that result in the above average suicides rates in transitioning individuals.

Some might argue that this is a positive in that it weeds out those who aren’t strong enough to make the transition. I suppose they are right. Perhaps we should apply that logic to other conditions and situations. If your kid can’t handle being bullied at school, she/he isn’t strong enough to deserve a safe environment. If a cancer patient despairs the intensity of treatment, they aren’t deserving of said treatment. That kind of logic is sadistic.

My situation was compounded by the clerk and the clerk’s supervisor refusing to explain or produce documentation of the policy they claimed prevented me from using anything other than an amended birth certificate. Let me tell you, I felt despondent after my visit and considered the idea of giving up, but that leads to a slew of problems when seeking employment.

3. Employment Issues

First, let’s say the job applicant has a wonderful interview and is highly qualified for the job. The potential employer makes a tentative offer and runs the traditional checks through SSA. Now, because of inconsistent policies that prevented the applicant from amending their gender marker, the employer will receive documents that refer to the applicant by the opposite gender. Suddenly, the applicant doesn’t look so good, perhaps they seem mentally unstable. Would you want to hire someone who is mentally unstable? And anti-discrimination laws do not help in this case because the applicant can be seen as falsifying their application documents and have their employment offer rescinded.

The situation is the same for existing employees. They can be terminated on the grounds they falsified their application. If the employer doesn’t terminate them this confidential information becomes available to anyone who can access employee records. If the person with access has questionable morals, the transitioning person can become the victim of office gossip and discrimination that can create a hostile work environment.

To avoid this issue the transitioning person would be required to identify her/himself as transgendered in the work place. If they can “pass” without doing so, why should they be forced to disclose? This leads to the fourth and most important point:

4. The Right of Self-Disclosure

The ADA protects people with biological and psychological conditions from having to engage in disclosure that could lead to discrimination or dangerous situations. However you define the transgender condition, biological or psychological, it is covered by the ADA. the SSA’s inconsistent policy creates situations for the transitioning person that denies them the right to self-disclosure. Tell the world what you are, the SSA says, or we will. This opens the transgendered person up to discrimination in all areas of life: employment, credit, housing, legal services, et cetera.

When you strip the bureaucratic BS from the situation you are left with a discriminatory practice designed to punish transgendered individuals for being who they are and that undermines their ability to live as a respectable, honest individuals in society. It dehumanizes them, reducing then to a condition or psychosis that can be ignored and holds no community or political presence.

Consider the words of Harriet Tubman, “None of us is free, until we all is free.” If we allow this type of discrimination is anyone free?

h1

Sucker Punch

9 August, 2011

This film took a daring approach to story telling and (unlike The Fountain) the multi-level approach adds a rich complexity and aids the telling of the story. The idea that we posses everything we need to see us through troubled situations, if we know how to tell ourselves the right story about who we are, is sound psychologically. There is a type of psychotherapy based on this theory, Narrative Therapy, and the movie (though on the fictional edge of the theory) plays the idea out well.

The action is fast paced and, although the running time is over the traditional 90 minutes action films general stay within, the breakneck speed never gives the viewer’s mind a chance to wander. The brief stints back in the “real” world give a beat for the mind to catch-up with the plot and absorb the emotional impact of what it has seen.

In the final analysis the film is tightly written and cuts to the heart of what it means to be a human being in crisis.

The downside to the film is though its avant-garde nature and fantastic elements are essential to telling the story they also limit the film’s potential audience. Add to this the difficulty of being both an action film and a cerebral story and the film finds its niche audience very small. This is reflected in it’s negative reviews by other Netflix renters and Rotten Tomatoes polling. If you were a fan of Blade Runner, however, you are the target audience, enjoy!

3/5 Electronic Sheep