Archive for April, 2012

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The Pro from Dover

27 April, 2012

The alarm went off at six in the morning and I continued to lie there for a few minutes, smiling pleasantly to myself and the black cat, Spooky-Mulder, curled against my side. This was a rare treat for both of us, as my Friday morning alarm is typically set for five. Today, I was not going to work. I would still teach and still interact with students, but none of them would be my students.

I began my transition a year a ago; well just a smidgen, as A.A. Milne would say, over a year ago. And in my transition, my regeneration, I still feel closer to the residents of the 100 Aker Wood than I do a mature and knowledge adult. My world is still centred around the joy and anguish of discovery. Everything is still new, sensations, expectations, introspections, and socialisations. Like the little girl I was and wasn’t, I am in constant awe of a world that is not what it seems and hides a myriad of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Like all children, I am primarily hedonistic. With so much that is new it is impossible not to be. Yet, on an increasing basis I find myself being pulled from my life as a child of the Wood and into the role of the expert. Like Hawkeye Pierce, I find myself having to answer the question ‘who are you?’ with ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

That is why I got to sleep an extra hour; I am being called upon as the pro, again. In the last eight months I have been on a panel discussing the experience of being part of the Gender and Sexuality Minorities (GSM) community in the field of education, spoken to high school Gay-Staight Alliance (GSA) groups, unofficially found myself a mentor to two young lesbians, and been asked to be the sponsor for a teenage survivors of sexual assault support group. This time I am speaking to a class of Washington, DC high schoolers on the topic of trans and homophobia. ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

I was a tad nervous going in, but nothing compared to the first few times I did this and certainly nothing compared to the nerves of ‘coming out’ to family and friends. It was more the general social anxiety I feel when interacting with any person or group where I am the primary focus and I need to watch for social cues I feel disconnected from. I would feel more at home in the Ancient Library of Alexandria or the TARDIS than I do in professional situations or groups larger than three. I’m just not a socialite. So how did I get in the position I am now? How did I become ‘the pro from Dover’?

I question this. Surely, there are more qualified people with a greater breadth and depth of experience and knowledge than I. There are local trans women whose transition began longer ago, who have experienced more discrimination, who could speak with greater authority. It’s not that I have not experienced these things for I have been the victim of discrimination, bigotry fueled assault, transmisogyny, and phobias, but I do not feel my voice is worthy of being heard, that my experiences are in any way defining or particularly unique. So how did a person of novels and papers get to be the pro from Dover? The only answer I have found is it is my status as a child of the Wood that makes me a desirable speaker. I always enjoy myself and bring my marvelling at life to the conversation. Having the opportunity to express what I have experienced, getting the chance to share thoughts and opinions, spreading the sense of wonder and delight I take from the world, and helping others see the familiar in new and inspiring ways is a source of great joy. And maybe that’s what is required. Maybe it is the embracing of, the relishing in the world and its treasures that makes one ‘the pro from Dover,’ or from anywhere else!

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Trans* DOs and DON’Ts

24 April, 2012

I am transsexual . . .

do treat me like you would anyone else.

do respect my name and my pronouns. If it is not clear what my pronouns are you may politely ask. Generally, a trans woman goes by she and a trans man by he.

if you make a mistake with pronouns, do politely apologise and then continue with the conversation.

do not ask me what my birth name was. That is private and a source of anxiety for many trans* people.

do not ask me about any surgeries I may or may not have had. That is the business of the trans* person only.

do not assume things about me. Do not assume I am straight or gay, liberal or conservative, happy or unhappy, married or single. We are all different.

do not assume a trans* person wants to teach you about trans* issues. Some trans* people find this very hard to discuss; others are comfortable answering questions. Everyone has a different comfort level.

do not touch me inappropriately. Some people think it is okay to touch trans* people’s bodies to see if things are real. If you would not touch someone else that way do not touch a trans* person that way.

do not “out” me. Do not tell some else I am trans*. The only person who has the right to reveal if someone is trans* is the trans* person. If you reveal it you could embarrasses them or even put their safety and life at risk.

do not say, “But you are really a man (or woman),” “I still see the man (or woman) in you,” or “You pass really well.” These are very insulting comments and are often used as a way to invalidate that person’s gender identity.

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Trans* Girl with a Lesson Plan

1 April, 2012

I was recently contacted by another educator, GirlWithALessonPlan (you should follow her), who had four questions for me about being a trans woman in the education field. Here are her questions and my responses.

1. How far before your career did you begin living [as] the gender you identify [as]?

I began living as my identified gender (female) just out of college (2000). I was working as a special education aide and living part-time as my proper gender and presenting male at work. I lived this way for nine months before deciding to go back for my MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction. When I made that decision I had to move back in with my patents for two months and then moved in with four male flat mates, so that ended my first attempt at transitioning. I tried again in 2004 but this time full-time. I was working as an editor and English tutor, but people stopped speaking to me and my co-workers complained, ending my second attempt (employment is a big transition preventer for most trans women). Finally, spring of 2011, I made the transition full-time and started HRT. I was teaching full-time as a middle school TAG English instructor and the conditions on my transition were so restrictive and backlash from faculty, parents, and the student body so nasty that I chose to transfer schools. I have only presented as my identified gender at the high school I work at.

2. Do your students know about your previous gender presentation?

Yes. Yes, they do. Mainly because I was only four months on HRT when I started my new position. I had very unrealistic expectations of the HRT time schedule, part of that was from Jennifer Boylan‘s book “She’s Not There,” which is an excellent book but set me up with unrealistic expectations for transitioning. My transition has been easier than a number of FtF (female to female, as I do not see myself as ever having been male in anything apart from presentation, though MtF is the more standardised term), but Boylan’s book makes her transition seem a brilliant mix of acerbic wit and acceptance (I doubt it was, but the writing comes across that way). I also had the downfall of having been told by so many I had a feminine build and facial structure that I believed changing my presentation would be simple; decades of testosterone damage did not make that the case. So, the students know I did not always present as my gender but they do not know when I switched presentations. There is a wide amount of speculation on that ranging from the day before school started to when I was a kid. There is also a lot of speculation as to whether I have had FFS (facial feminization surgery)—the answer to that is no, I have not.

3. Has your identity ever caused problems for you at work?

Slews of them! Parents have worked/are working to get me fired. Teachers have spoken out against me to their students. Certain administrators refuse to look at me, let alone assist me when I need it, and a fair number of students refuse to work or listen. The students are the ones that are the most extreme in their reactions because they are the most honest in how they feel. Kids I have never interacted with have burst into the room, called me “tranny,” “freak,” “whore,” et cetera, then dashed out of the room laughing like hyenas, or they’ll stand outside the door and stare in at me like I am an exhibition for their amusement. It works the other way, also. Once a student accepts me they are unwavering loyal. A female student of mine chased a boy who called me “tranny” down the hall, tackled him, and pinned him until the principal came (so damned proud of her!). Mostly it is the girls who are accepting and come to like me as an instructor and a person, though a number of boys have come around as well.

4. Have you helped students with their gender identity?

Directly? No. I am not allowed by the county to discuss the issue, at all, under any circumstances. The one time it came up naturally in class a student told a teacher, who told the principal, who told the superintendent, who had me written up for “failure to recognize ‘she’ does not teach a health class.” Indirectly, it is impossible to say, but I hope by just being myself I have. I have had outside-of-class discussions with several lesbian students who are having difficulty dealing with family, friends and/or relationships. I am glad I can offer them some of the support they need.

Though you did not ask this, I feel I should add that although there are policies that prevent them from outright firing me, they can and sometimes do, make life a living hell. There were three schools they could have transferred me to that would have been more accepting, but they chose to put me in one of the least tolerant communities in the county. Also, they can always find a reason to remove you from the classroom or terminate you that has nothing to do with your identity. I am still employed partly due to tenure and the union. Mostly, however, my employment continues because I am damned good at what I do. I scored in the top one percent of the nation on my English Content PRAXIS exam, I have consistently raised test scores with every grade level I have taught, and I have gotten kids who hate reading to pick up and willingly complete at least one novel per quarter. Ultimately the only way a trans person survives in this or any other business is to know their stuff and perform their job better than anyone else, to be irreplaceable.