Posts Tagged ‘Regeneration’



7 April, 2016
On Monday, 1 August, 1977 a baby girl named Caitlín was born to two loving parents. They were told to raise her as a boy. No one understood that she was a girl. Her parents did a good job of raising her and gave her many moments of joy, but that joy was interspersed among gorges of self-hate, fear, and confusion about why God or the Universe would make people think she was a boy. Life was always stressful and there was a weight of pain and responsibility for other people’s happiness and welfare always dragging her below the surface.
Eventually, this all became too much. Her health declined and she came very close to her body just shutting down on her. She decided to save herself and become herself. Her parents still loved her, but she lost almost everything in the process. Much of her family, nearly every friend, her wife, her economic security, her safety leaving the house, and she was ex-communicated from her church. Her job was openly hostile and they put her in as many horrible situations as they could because they could not fire her. She almost broke.
Piece by piece, over many years, she began to rebuild her life. She deepened the few remaining friendship she had, she built new friendships, she eventually found someone who could love her for who she was. Work, however, continued to be a place of violence and abuse that whittled away at her heart, though she developed a few friendships that could provide her with safety when she most needed it. The administration, many staff, many students, and even parents were actively against her and continue to be so. They do their best to hurt her and they are trying to get her removed. Her greatest fear is that they will eventually succeed or that they will finally break her.
I am Caitlín and this is my life.

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Days 16 – 30.

7 December, 2011

Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 16.

16) What’s your rock anthem and why?

Before regenerating, my rock anthem was Kansas’s ‘Carry On Wayward Son.’ I saw my brother and I a lot like Dean and Sam, with both of us having elements of each in our personalities. We still have the kind of relationship that they had in the first five seasons, but it has also altered now. I wish they had a sister. 😦 Another reason this was my anthem: I felt like I was carrying on, keeping up the charade of masculinity. The peace when I was done was the day I could finally drop the act—a day I feared would never come because each passing year my life got more complicated and intertwined with others. I still love that song and feel a connection to it but it no longer seems appropriate for my anthem.

I have not settled on a new anthem, yet. Briefly I thought about making it ‘What the Hell’ by Avril Lavigne. It was the “All my life I’ve been good, but now, I’m thinking what the hell” that seemed so right for my first few weeks regenerating. But nothing else in the song fit and it is too bubble gum rock to be an anthem.

There are elements of Black Sabbath’s ‘Crazy Train’ that are fitting, but I’m not sure crazy is the self description I should go for. After all, I’m not Charlie Sheen.

Next up on the playlist of candidates is Joan Jett’s ‘Androgynous.’ My most recent discovery in the music department; I love this song and its anti gender binary theme. The two problems with it as an anthem are it is a touch too upbeat for anthemdom and I’m a trans woman not androgynous. There is also the issue of Dick and Jane demonstrating traditional gender roles at the end, as though defying the binary is fine when you are young but as you get older it is better/easier to just conform. Still, it is an awesome song!

The real contender is Bob Seger’s ‘Turn the Page.’ I have definately turned pages in my life and not just in connection with regeneration. I have moved cross-country. I was married. I work in a culutal setting radically different than the one I grew up and was educated in. It works well with the lyrics being gender neutral enough that they apply pre and post regeneration and being a writer and teacher, in regards to having to be “on” with your performances, the energy output, and the requisite creativity, is similar to being a musician. The lines, “you can feel the eyes upon you … You pretend it doesn’t bother you but you just want to explode … ‘Is that a woman or a man?’ And you always seem out numbered, you don’t dare make a stand,” capture what it is like to be an outcast, or as Auntie Kate says, an outlaw. The last verse really speaks to me when Seger says, “You smoke the day’s last cigarette, rememberin’ what she said.” Though I quit smoking before regenerating, there are times I still crave them, especially when I am reflecting back on my failed marriage and mulling over the things my wife said.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 17.

17) What’s your binding choice and why?

Tight panties and a pair of pantyhose trimmed to the length of a pair of boxer briefs. This holds everything in place when tucking and provides a smooth contoured look. Some people use medical tape. I do not because it hurts like hell removing it each night.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 18.

18) How do you feel about the trans* laws where you live?

Two words: Righteous indignation

Virginia not only rejected laws that would have protected trans* persons from discrimination and would have included us in the Human Rights Act but also makes it difficult to do things you are legally allowed to do, at times they will even deny you your rights—for example, the VA Social Security Administration refused to allow me to make my changes despite having all the proper authorizations, documents, and physician letters along with a copy of SSA policy detailing what I was legally allowed to change.

Compare this to the state I came from, Minnesota. Minnesota was THE FIRST state to pass anti-discrimination and protection laws. They did this almost twenty years ago (1993). Now consider the three laws that have been proposed in Virginia and their fate:

Virginia HB 1624
This bill was introduced January 20, 2009 and assigned to the House Education Committee. HB 1624 would provide information for the Board of Education to use in its model policy on bullying and harassment or intimidation, including a definition of bullying, harassment or intimidation that includes behavior motivated by actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Has not been ratified yet.

Virginia HB 2385
This bill was introduced January 14, 2009 and assigned to the House Committee on General Laws. The bill died when the legislature adjourned February 28, 2009. HB 2385 would have prohibited discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and other traits.

Virginia SB 1247
This bill was introduced January 14, 2009 and assigned to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology. The bill was withdrawn January 28, 2009. SB 1247 was to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the categories protected under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

Why do I live here?


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 19.

19) If you are religious how do your views effect being trans*? If you are not religious what about your family’s religion(s)?

This is a difficult question to answer. I have a very complicated past with religion. There was a time (forever and a day ago) when I was a bit of a religious zealot. A large part of this stemmed from my need to present as the All-American male. A big part of being a WASP is being Protestant and I did my best to play the part. I honestly think there was some belief in there also, but it was all tangled up in presentation and mysticism. I was of two minds in regards to my faith. The first was that it might somehow cure me of the cognitive dissonance between my subconscious sex and my physical sex. The second was that if I discharged my duties as a Christian man well enough I would be rewarded with the proper body in the afterlife (this ties in with the deep connection I had to “Carry On Wayward Son”). I had such a fervent belief I became a pre-seminary student and eventually received conditional acceptance to Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, I did not go due to unrelated-related issues (I warned you this was complicated). I served as an associate youth minister to a Lutheran congregation in South Dakota. There I saw example after example of religious intolerance. The youth minister, who was otherwise a good man, believed the Halucaust was God punishing Jews (like a parent an errant child) for their failure to believe in Jesus. One of the senior pastors preached intolerance and the ideology “hate the sin and the sinner.” The mass majority of the congregation was so homophobic that when I interviewed for the position I was given a fifteen minute lecture on how homosexuality was a sin involving a coffee maker and an electric pencil sharpner; the “Elder” kept slamming the electric plugs prongs into each other saying, “Look! It just don’t fit.” (He felt the need to explain this to me because my college accepted homosexual students.) After four months working at that church I left and abandoned the ministry track. I could not be part of an institution that taught people to hate and I believe Jesus would have been pretty heart sick, too.

Afterward, I tried to stay in the “fold” but I kept encountering such horrid examples of hatred and selfishness—often beyond that of non-religious folk—that I gave up on the whole ideology.

My family believes in the Christian faith and would like to see me come back to it, but they also realize I could not set foot in the majority of churches without being condemned and excluded or over-whelmed by those who would save me. A number of my friends are adherents to the Christian faith, also. When I transitioned the majority of them stopped associating with me. They would not even answer my letters or return my phone calls. A few of them are still close and non-judgmental. I do not know how they reconcile who I am to their faith nor do I ask—their personal beliefs are their business not mine.

My current stance is anti-religious, at least in regards to formalized religion, but I am fine with my friends who are religious. Those friendships function on a simple rule, we do not discuss it, ever. Though I am anti-religious, I do have a “spiritual” leaning. Whether this is inherent in me or the by-product of decades of sustained belief I could not say. I believe there is a divine presence in the universe and in all of creation, but what it is and how it manifests itself is beyond my scope.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 20.

20) Do you want to be a parent why or why not?

I do not think it matters if I want children or not, as the issue has already been settled.

My former regeneration wanted to be a parent. I am not entirely sure why. There is a legacy one creates by being a parent. By raising a child with values similar to your own you create a bit of hope that the darkness in the world has not won yet. Then there is the idea that there is a third, beautiful being created through a combination of you and the person you love. A unique bundle of pure potential. But I was diagnosed with a Parkinsonian condition that could very well be genetic and inheritable. Having children would have meant risking passing that on to them.

Now the point is moot. I cannot afford to have sperm frozen for later (and where would I keep it; my freezer next to the pizza?) and the longer I’m on HRT the less likely it is I could produce viable sperm (blech, that just sounds so nasty). Adoption is an option for most people but there are so many hurdles on that path for me that I would never qualify.

In the end it is not an issue of wanting or not wanting children, but a matter of capability to and that is a no.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 21.

21) What are your views on the cis-gendered community?

Bare in mind the only way to succinctly address this is to take the community as a collective unit and not as individual members. Therefore, not everything I say applies to everyone, but serves to express my thoughts on the average individual in the community. I acknowledge there are individuals who fall on either side of this demarcation, which is always the issue with lines in the sand.

On the whole the cis community simply does not get it. Having the privilege of matching subconscious and physical sexes has anesthetized them to their subconscious identification and convinced them there is only a physical sex. The way they are hard wired keeps them from recognizing the struggle the trans* community in general and the transsexual community in particular have when attempting to reconcile their sex/gender dissonance.

Though most are ignorant of this by nature there are also a larger number who embrace ignorance as an act of will. These people are being controlled by a sexual phobia akin to xenophobia only instead of fearing something non-human they are fearing those who do not fit their narrow definition of the gender binary. Thus, fearful and dogmatic would, also, be how I categorize the cis community; though, truth be told, I believe both of my assessments describe humans in general and not just cis humans.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 22.

22) Do you feel being trans* holds you back from your career choice?

Being a trans woman does not hold me back as a writer. Being a woman with primary source experience in the male world (granted a unique and incomplete experience) gives me a little bit of an edge on other writers. I have been inside the spaces reserved only for men and seen their sanctum sanctorum. The double perspective this has given me is a benefit when writing realistic characters and interactions.

In regards to being a teacher, which I do not see as being a carter choice, being a trans woman definitely holds me back. I am seen as a corrupting influence, I am a political pawn and have been used as such, and I cannot interact with other employees without there being subtle (and not so subtle) references to my status. It also makes it difficult to get supplies. I still have no computers and the year is almost half over. The reason I do not have computers? The IT guy disapproves if me; he even refuses to use the proper pronouns. Going to work there is exhausting. It is a continuous battle against ignorance and bigotry on top of battling the ignorance a bigotry every teacher is already battling.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans Challenge. Day 23.

23) What stereotypes are put on trans people?

Oh, let us see:

1. Sexual Fetishist
2. Sexual Deviant
3. Sexual Predator
4. Deceiver
5. Pathetic Imitator
6. Potential Rapist
7. Pedophile
8. Pathological
9. Misogynist (because we “invade” women only spaces)
10. Sub-human/Monster


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 24.

24) Who is your favorite LGBT actor/musician/director/artist etc and why?

Hands down, Kate Bornstein. She is the original gender outlaw and her work revolutionized not just the perception of trans* people but a culture’s understanding of gender, privilege, and power. Without the activism and writing she did there would not have been as many gains made in the ability of American transsexuals to claim who they are with pride. She is also a very humble and down to earth person who lives, breathes, and eats experience, joy, and wisdom.

Julia Serano is a close second. Her work in the philosophy of biology has been ground breaking for transfeminism and trans* rights.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 25.

25) Doctor visits?

I have been waiting for that madman with a magic blue box for sometime. Oh, you mean the medical doctor. 😉

When I go to the doctor it is typically a female doctor who also specializes in trans woman needs. She prescribes my hormones and serves as my general physician. A lot of trans women do not have the same fortune and I am grateful to Whitman Walker Health Clinic for making that possible.

However, I am forced to occasionally see other doctors because I also have early onset Parkinson’s, which is currently in a remission or some kind of dormant state. (it is a long and complicated story that I may tell you someday, or may not, you never know). It was difficult to come out to those doctors because I purposefully hid my intention to transition from them until I had my name changed and was living full-time. This was probably not the wisest choice, but I did not want to risk them trying to stop me. They have both taken it in stride. With one being openly curious about the process and the other acting as though I had always been Ms. instead of Mr.

On the rare occasion I will end up seeing an urgent care doctor. It is true that doctor’s spend more time looking at your chart than you, because twice I have been asked when my last menstruation was and it was my response of never and their shocked concern which got them to really notice me.

The medical community is like everyone else. Some are interested, some are not, and most are so wrapped up in their own world they do not have time to notice.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 26.

26) Do you feel comfortable answering questions about being trans* if, say, a student/friend/stranger asked you?

The answer to that all depends on how the question is asked and the intent behind the question. If the intent is to pry for information or to belittle me, I will not answer the question. If the asker is genuine and polite, I am happy to answer their question. The only way we can combat the oppressive stereotypes and gain a foothold in acceptance is through educating the public, hitting them with the truth wherever and whenever we can.

That being said, there are certain questions I will not answer. Such as what my birth name was, which surgeries I have had or not had, and the state of my genitals. All of these things are of an exceptionally personal nature and no one else’s damned business.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 27.

27) What goals do you have?

To not be clocked every time I step outside my flat.

To be accepted.

To make a difference in people’s lives and to matter more than anything else to just one person.

To not feel an overwhelming depression and a horrid self doubt and dysphoria.

To get a different job. One that does not make me feel insignificant and useless.

To be able to function in the world.

To be with my family.

To not have to shave my face.

To get my book and poem published.

To not be alone.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 28.

28) What is something you have to do everyday or else you feel like your whole day is off if you don’t do it?

Well, at the present time, I would have to say shave. I might be able to go a day and a half without shaving but I do not like risking be caught out longer. It is a safety issue. I was going to electrolysis but I do not have the money for a session right now, so I have only completed three out of three hundred hours. Exactly one percent.

Besides shave, I do not have anything in particular I have to do, other than eat, sleep, and swallow pills. Perhaps, that is something I need to work on. Maybe, I would feel less depressed if there was something I had to do every day. The only thing that comes close is writing. I do not have to do it every day, but definitely every few days. Writing is how I stay sane. Without my writing, I think I would, quite literally, fade away.


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 29.

29) Write out something positive about yourself using the letters of your name. Ex. Your name is Bob so B-Beautiful O-Outstanding B-Boy.

I am a

R – rare
I – intellectual
V – vivacious
E – eclectic
R – rebel

Tomorrow will be the last day of the challenge. I find it hard to believe a month has gone by! 🙆


Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 30.

30) Write a haiku about being trans*.

I, Dysphoria.
Always female, never male.


Regeneratio et Politica

5 November, 2011

The prevailing theory on the Doctor’s regeneration and personality states the emotions, situations, and general state of being the Doctor is in just before regeneration dictate the resulting personality of the next regeneration. This theory, the idea that we are the sum of our experiences, is one of insight and verisimilitude exposing the inner workings of the world. I have noted this in my regeneration from A to River. There are so many elements of my personality shaped by my situation as I began regeneration. From my bleak outlook on the possibility of being loved (my divorce) to the Buddhist like calm of River (the inner peace found in acknowledging who I am publicly) to the political activism that drives me (resultant of my work place and colleagues). Of these elements, it is the last that is so telling to the idea of situational personality.

As I began the regeneration process and began my (forced) public deceleration of intent, I was approached privately by a friend who—though I believe him to have been well meaning—said things I found more painful and heart wrenching than the divorce from my wife or the shunning by my extended family. He said that I was simply “[River] in a wig” and that he could accept my regeneration provided I did not “make it political.” How this came across to me was he would never see me as anything other than a fraud and that if I went down this path I would have no right to expect acceptance or fair treatment by society. It came across as, I will tolerate this choice but it is wrong and you are wrong to be open about it. That is, a denial of the right to self-determination.

The person of whom I speak is a good man, but he is one who is a possessor of power and privilege (as defined by Kate Bornstein and the Power Pyramid). He falls victim to the same blindness that all individuals in this position incarnate: an inability to recognize their own position and how different and biased it is from the majority of human doings. I am, however, understanding and compassionate toward this state of politica caecitas because I used to be a sufferer of the condition. It took a Parkinson’s diagnosis and regenerating to shake me violently enough to knock the blinders off. We cannot blame the privileged for their blindness to their own privilege; it is a regrettable but natural state.

Despite how forgivable his offense may be, it became a defining moment in my regenerative process. It helped open my eyes to the inherent bias in the American culture. The idea that outlaws and rebels, speakers for those with no voice, progenitors of change and revolution, protestors for equality and representation, are tolerable only in small disenfranchised doses is a linchpin holding the control of those in power in place.

The very act of regenerating made me a threat to the comfortable universe he lived in. But how? Simple. I represent, at my core, not just an alternative lifestyle, but the idea of tolerance for and acceptance of things his political and religious institution condemns. In most cases he would ignore this existence or even condemn it, but he could not with me. I was within his sphere of influence. He knew me, respected me, and believed in my basic decency and social acceptability. The moment I began regeneration I created a violently opposing dichotomy for him. Here is a person that embodies the more noble aspects of his private philosophy that simultaneously embodies the unacceptable, morally questionable, and sinful. This left him with three possible resolutions to this conflict:

  • ignore the positive qualities
  • ignore the negative qualities
  • redefine his personal schemata

To his credit he was not someone who could do the first, but engaging the third is such a huge undertaking it is not surprising that only the most committed or the most desperate are capable of it. This left him only one option: to ignore the aspects of who I am that are in direct conflict with his perception of me as a good human being. He had to ask me not to display these aspects in order to maintain the delicate mental and moral equilibrium his mind had created.

This also meant that he could not acknowledge my position to influence or sway others to the type of tolerant and accepting thinking that the opposing dichotomy and my position of instructor gave me. Unable to ignore the situation’s reality, he gave me a polite ultimatum: either be quiet about this and remain friends or be public (political) and be cut off. It was the only course a rational and thinking member of the powered and privileged could take. And, predictably, since transferring to a new teaching site, I have not heard from him.

Nor have I been capable of contacting him. Why not? Because the forced choice of being quietly myself or openly, actively, myself became a defining moment in my regenerative process. I was malleable at this point, subject to influence in a number of directions. This private conversation and subtle ultimatum pushed me in the direction of activist. I was so offended by the command’s audacity (as it was not phrased as either a request or a stance for consideration, but as an imperative declaration, “don’t make this political”) that I veered in the opposite direction. It is basic physics, sweetie, every action (the command against the political) results in a reaction opposite of and equal in strength to the original action (River becomes a political activist).

I know that I would have been aware of the political dimension of my existence even without this conversation. The degree of awareness and participation, however, would have been reduced. I was not one who paid attention to politics before regenerating. As a member of the powered and privileged I did not need to be, my position was secure. As a new member of the disenfranchised I could have focused only on securing the limited power and position my new life afforded me, a good white woman. But I was now aware of the bias and bigotry directed at those who make-up the bottom of the Power Pyramid. I was aware, I was emotionally charged, and I was malleable. My new personality was directly shaped by my situation, emotional state, and the people around me.

Who I am is still in development but the public outlaw, the hippie professor, speaker of truth is a fundamental part of my personality. I have been shaped, however unintentionally, by my interactions with the other—those outside myself. Whether the regenerating individual is the last of the Time Lords, a MtF, or just someone growing up and growing into themselves, who they become is intimately linked to who they were, who they were with, and how they responded to the world.


The Patience of Parkinson’s

15 October, 2011

Old Snatch came a visited me in the classroom yesterday. I was walking across the room, when he snuck up and stole my most precious gain since regenerating: mobility. Without warning I lost control of my right leg and went over sideways. The ancient skill of falling properly, honed to instinct by repeated practice in the previous regeneration, saved me from busting my skull wide open on the concrete wall and floor. It scared the hell out of my Seniors. It scared the hell out of me, but not for the same reasons. They had never seen anything like it before; a healthy woman collapsing for no reason. I know the moment more intimately than I care to. It was Old Snatch, Parkinson’s, come back to for a quick reminder.

He is still there, in the background.

He is patient and will claim me.

Till then he will bide his time, waiting for the day when I am weak and out of regenerations.


The Problem of Pain (a Caitlin On . . . post)

9 October, 2011

Dearest Reader, let’s you and I step away from the heady, intellectual stuff of the last several posts and get back to the down and dirty, the smut of regeneration as the republican candidates would say. Specifically, the concept of pain. Pain is a familiar, if rough, lover for the regenerating individual. Whether they are MtF, FtM, androgynous, agender, bigender, two-spirited, or some new understanding of self not yet categorized or demonized by the gender elite, they understand pain. There is the psychological pain of living contrary to yourself and then of coming out to those close to you along with the rest of a mixed-reaction world. And there is the physical pain associated with harassment and opposition; along with the physical pain of tucking/binding and surgical changes. But there is one type of pain reserved as unique to the MtF regeneration: electrolysis.

Electrolysis becomes a necessary pain for the MtF. There comes a point in her journey where she says, Enough with the razor! Words cannot express how tiresome the act of shaving becomes. And no ladies you do not understand what I am talking about. You shave your legs and underarms, this is true, but that is less than half of the area transwomen shave. The average transwoman shaves her legs, arms, underarms, hands, chest, and stomach every few days and her face every single day. Early in the regenerative process, she may have to shave her face twice or even three times in one day just to prevent the Harry Mudd look. It is exhausting and eventually wears her down duller than her (several thousand) discarded razor blades. Not to mention the damage constant shaving does to the sensitive skin of the face, particularly for those ladies of Celtic and Nordic decent.

Electrolysis becomes the answer, but it is not a pleasant one. Despite the advances in medical science the art of hair removal has not changed much. Yes, there is laser hair removal but it is not guaranteed successful, and if you have blond or red hair it will not work at all. So that leaves a number of transwomen, myself included, with no alternative to burning the individual hairs off the face one — at — a — time. The process is slow. It needs to be because they are destroying each hair at the root, multiple times to finally kill it. This is done by inserting a very thin, very hot needle into the skin to burn out the root. On average this process takes somewhere between two and three hundred hours depending on how hairy the woman is and runs between two and five thousand dollars and that is just the facial hair! Imagine getting other areas done [there are transwomen who do]!

I am currently undergoing this treatment. The doctor said I am doing marvelously well and I handle the pain better than the majority of people do. But that does not make the experience pleasant. It feels like being poked and plucked by a pair of electrified tweezers. After the procedure, my face feels raw and sore, as though a smelter had just poured molten iron across it. So far I have completed two out of three hundred hour long sessions and am now almost one precent done with treatment. So the next time, ladies, you groan about having to get up early to shave your legs or, gentlemen, you your face, think about the transwomen and consider yourself fortunate you have to do so little.


The Dangers of Being Trans-Friendly (a Caitlin On . . . post)

6 October, 2011

So, it is time for me to discuss a serious issue that I have had on my mind but did not have the guts to bring up. We are all aware being transgendered results in serious safety issues for transgendered persons. There is the very real possibilities of hate crime [which isn’t legally hate crime because it is not illegal to attack a person for their gender expression, we are the only unprotected group left in America], retribution in personal and professional lives, and a host of dangers born out of legal issues and the end-all-be-all, the genetic birth marker. ::spits on the ground:: These are all very real dangers. They are not, however, the ones on my mind tonight. What concerns me is the dangers faced by those who know me: classification by association, shunning for slumming, and flacking for backing.

[Cute names, right? I’m afraid I have to use the cute approach when addressing this subject because I feel overwhelmed when I considered it without a certain degree of levity. I’m not trying to downgrade the issue, I am just trying to cope with the danger my existence as self puts those around me in.]

Classification by Association

If we are honest with ourselves we can all find things about us that are not gender ideal. The regenerating individual is on the extreme end of a very real phenomena for every person. The prevalence of cosmetic plastic surgery, anti-aging muds and creams, diet and exercise fads, and heart-healthy Cheerios all point to a basic insecurity at the root of the American psyche. On our mad dash from the cradle to the grave each of us attempts to align ourself to the gender ideal. Or, as Kate Bornstein puts it, we are all attempting to reach the capstone on the gender pyramid. Advertisements, programing, publications, and a slew of other pop-culture sources inundate us and belittle us into believing we have not yet reached the gender ideal, but with just one more purchase, one more pill, one more diet, one more round of psychoanalysis, we can come just $19.95 closer.

Living in a society that labels our worth on how much we conform or fail to conform to the gender ideal has made us all paranoid about not living up to it. It took a bold step away from that gender ideal for me to see just how deeply entrenched the idea is. Something else I have seen is how desperately people look for those who do not conform as well as they do, because it allows them to feel better about their own status. The idea that there is someone lower on the rung than you means that you are not as bad off as it seems. There is always another rung down, another slot that you have been fortunate enough to exceed. When people spend their time looking for these nonconforming points in others it is only a matter of time before they are found–real or not.

This is hard enough for the transgendered and cis-gendered [trans means cross, cis means on the same side of] when they are alone, but the cis who spends time with trans-folk are taking on an extra risk that may lead others to question whether the friend is cis or just another tranny. When this classification by association happens all the dangers the trans person is exposed to are now the cis person’s dangers too. When I am out with female friends I worry that someone may see them as less of a woman because they are associating with me. When I am out with trans-friends I worry that my inability to successfully pass due to in-progress regeneration will out them and put them back in a danger zone they were “out” of.

Shunning for Slumming

Slumming, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, is a term first brought into the common language in London, 1884 and referred to the members of a higher social class spending time with a lower social class or participating in lower class activities for amusement. It is typically done with a sense of superiority over the class being entered by the participants, a malicious mocking of the lower class. In this case, I am not saying that cis-folk that hangout with trans-folk are slumming. [Though there are members of the cis population, particularly among the wealthy and famous patrons of the arts, who do so.] I am suggesting that cis-friends of trans-individuals can be viewed as “going slumming” by hypersensitive activists and faux-friends of the transgendered. Those who wish to be friends with trans-folk, should be aware that not all attacks are going to come from the bigots who hate transgender-ism; there are plenty of people–cis and trans alike–who are going to take offense to the cis-friend’s acceptance of their transgendered friend. I, myself, know my friends are genuine, but it can be hard to convince others. Just something those who are my friends should be aware of.

Flacking for Backing

The moral majority, the religiously fanatical, and the bigoted asshats are the ones responsible for giving flack to cis-friends of the transgendered. They will, with luck, only try to convince or sway the cis away from the corrupting influence and  inherent “evils” of friendship with a transgendered person. However, much like whites who marched alongside of blacks in the civil rights movement, the cis-friend exposes themselves to same physical dangers that their transgender-friend is exposed to. The people who jump your transgender-friend as you walk from the theater to your car are not going to say, “Hey, that person isn’t transgendered, so we should leave her/him alone.” The whites were not exempt from brutal attacks by racists, and neither are the cis.

And let us get one thing straight. This is a civil rights movement! Regardless of what others might think, regardless of what others might wish, the call for equal rights and fair treatment of the transgendered is a civil rights movement. If a person of color is denied the right to housing because of their ancestry, it is a hate crime against their civil rights. If a homosexual is beaten because of his sexual orientation, it is a hate crime against his civil rights. If a lesbian is shot at by a drunk, off-duty police officer, it is a hate crime against her civil rights. So why is denying housing to, beating, and murdering a transgendered individual seen as somehow less important? Why is it less of crime and why does the general population tend to sympathize with the perpetrator of the crime and villainize the victim? “The murdered transsexuals were most likely hookers,” I overheard a teacher say about the transwomen shot this summer. “That cop was just doin [sic] what need [sic] to be dun [sic],” posted a commenter on a article about the cop who shot at the transwomen who refused his advances.

This is clearly a civil rights issue and it is clearly dangerous for everyone involved in it whether transgendered, family, or friend.

It is this last bit that leaves me nervous and questioning. What have I exposed my family and friends to? None of them have been attacked or molested, but they have received verbal flack, been questioned, and been rebuked and shunned for their association with me. Yes, I know they are big boys and girls and the choices they make are their own, but it still worries me and knowing that they chose to be my friend will not make me feel any less guilty when someone puts them in the hospital because they were spending time with me at the wrong moment. Sometimes I wonder if those I care about would be better off not caring about me. Perhaps not better off, but certainly safer.


The Problem of Self and Regeneration (a Caitlin On . . . post)

24 September, 2011

MtM (Me to Me Transitioning)

The process of regeneration (transitioning) calls a number of basic assumptions about yourself into question: how you move, how you speak, how you interact with others. We see ourselves in a new way and others perceive us in a new way. We alter how we interact with others and they alter their interactions with us. It is a new dance and often times we step on each others toes in the process. This new way of viewing myself, as a woman moving through the world as a woman (as opposed to a woman moving through the world as a man), has sparked the inquisitive and introspective side of me. I have always been one for the deep end of the pool, regardless of how much or little water was in it, but with this new issue I am nervous about plunging in headfirst, as I might go so deep I forget where the surface is. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and dive into the issue of identity and selfhood.

To begin, a brief explanation of why this is an issue of import to me. Part of being a transgender person is having a repressed sense of self. Every trans* person I have met has had at least a few years in their life where they were denying their true self or hiding it from others. This comes from fear. Fear of how others will react. Will they approve or disapprove, support me or leave me, shower me with (at times an uncomfortable amount of) praise for my bravery or will they just beat the ever-living-hell out of me? Also, fear of how we will react. Am I strong enough to do what is necessary, mentally and emotionally prepared for the consequences, willing to risk everything I have for something I believe I need? We locked our selfhood away and developed characters, perceived selves, that we could don in the appropriate social settings. I was a drinker and a playboy when I was at the poker table, I was a protector with my wife, I was the physically able always ready to haul a stack of wood or fell some trees country boy with my dad and brother. But I was never me. Never wholly and never intentionally. As my Jewish professor told me, if you act a part long enough, you become that part. My sense of self was wrapped up in who I was pretending to be and at the start of the transition I did not know how to be me. I had to learn this and am still learning it, but now I am much closer to me than I have ever been. And this is where my concern about selfhood comes in. I have changed physically, emotionally, and mentally. How do I know that this person who is Caitlin is still the same person who was once A?

Three Theories

There are three major theories to how we know we are who we are. Let’s take a look at them before I raise my issues with them and drain all the water out of our philosophical pool. After all, you can’t drown if there’s no water, right? ::shrugs::

Theory one suggests that we are the same person we were because our current self is recognizable as our previous self. I can look in my mirror and say that person is, on the whole, the same person that was staring back at me yesterday and the day before, and the day before that. When my friend is walking down the street, I can recognize hir because ze still looks like the person ze looked like before, maybe a few pounds more or less, a scar here, a wrinkle there, but overall the same person. It is the very condition of sameness that links us to who we were and who we will become. But is theory one too easy to be true?

Theory two proposes that we are who we are not because we resemble our previous selves but because we have memories of being the previous self. I remember being a little girl-boy in a rural town in northern Minnesota. I remember being an outcast and feeling ostracized. These memories link me to my past and define me as a separate self over and against every other person in the community. This theory sounds more convincing than theory one, but I take greater issue with it than with the previous theory.

Theory three is the most convincing of the theories. This theory states our personalities define who we are. I think, act, and behave a certain way. I have a certain sense of humor and a specific outlook on life. These elements combine to form a distinct personality that is constant through time and links all incarnations of my selfhood together. Perhaps.

Physical Consistency Equals Self Continuity

The idea that we are the same person because we bear a physical resemblance to the person we were yesterday and will be tomorrow is a weak attempt at a theory of selfhood. On the surface it looks good, but if you plan on examining who you are in your depths you better have some back-up theories because this one is like trying to SCUBA dive with a snorkel. You’ll be sucking more water than air. The most glaring problem with this is childhood and puberty. Other than a few qualities such as eye shape and an innie bellybutton there is very little that links who I am now with who I was as a toddler. So, immediately, we have the theory breaking down on a closer inspection.

But let us say, for a moment, that the selfhood of a person does not develop until a relatively stable physical appearance has developed. The Hebrews said that a boy becomes a man at thirteen so set that as our approximate age. The wonderful experience of puberty! ::shudders:: If you were to look at photos of who I was at thirteen and compare them with who I was at nineteen, twenty-five, and thirty-something, you would be able to identify each snapshot as being the same person despite the difference in age. True, one picture may look dorkier than another and I may have long hair in one and short in another, but the general features are, subtle differences aside, the same. A is recognizable as A consistently. But if you were to compare a photograph of me now with a photograph of thirteen year-old A, you would be hard-pressed to recognize the one as being the same as the other. The characteristics altered in the transition process have become disassociated with the characteristics of my former self. And this is more than a matter of having breasts. Physical changes in the face, hips, waist, and tuchus has resulted in an over hauling of this lassie’s chassis. Thus, by the standards set by this theory, Caitlin and A are not the same person.

And this is not unique to those of us who have regenerated. A myriad of things can happen to a person and result in the same disconnect. Survivors of traumatic accidents that result in severe burns or amputation. A person who undergoes corrective or enhancing plastic surgery. Sometimes just plain old aging is enough to make us unrecognizable. Even before transitioning I caught glimpses of myself and couldn’t figure out who the old person was in the mirror, I’m still nineteen! No, I’m afraid that as a functional theory of selfhood physical resemblance just isn’t enough.

I Remember Mama, Therefore I Am

The idea that we are the same because we have memories of being the previous incarnations sounds like a firm theory. We don’t run into the problem of growth spurts and the majority of accidents are incapable of altering our indelible sense of self. I remember what it was like to sit and have a cup of coffee on the patio with my mum in 1998, therefore I am the person who sat and had a cup of coffee on the patio with my mum in 1998. My life, if viewed from a four-dimensional perspective would look like one of those time-lapse photos, a blur of memories connecting A in 1998 to Caitlin in 2011. But there are so many things that can interrupt that flow of memories that this is a dangerous way to define our selfhood.

When I was in college I was sitting in the dorm room of my then girlfriend, J. J and I were talking about the psychology course we were taking and how one out of every three people experienced some form of abuse as a child. One case study in particular, a boy who was sexually abused by an older boy, sparked something inside me and I was suddenly flooded with the awareness of being in the babysitter’s basement and being confronted with the demand to give oral sex to the babysitter’s oldest boy. A repressed memory had risen to the surface of my mind. An event I had no previous recollection of had now become a pivot point in my memory. If I am my memories then the person before the spontaneous recall and the person after the spontaneous recall are not the same person.

Now, let’s take it the other direction. My grandmother is showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She is forgetting more and more things. She has trouble remembering events that have occurred and muddles the past in with the present. According to this theory of selfhood, my grandmother is becoming a different person, because the memories that link her to her previous selves are being stolen by the disease. This is also the case for people who experience traumatic brain injury, drink to the point of blacking out, and suffer from amnesia. If this theory holds, the moment they lose their memories they become another person, which would make helping them recover their memories a unique type of murder as we would be eliminating one person in favor of another. No, this theory is too volatile and too many things can end that chain of memories to make it safe to hang our understanding of self on.

I Am What I Am and That’s All That I Am

I think of this third theory as the Popeye theory of selfhood, the idea that we are the same person we were because we demonstrate a consistent character throughout the course of our lives. My sense of humor, my indignation at injustice, my compassion, and my skill with words define me. These things are important parts of my personality and they are fundamental cores that have not changed with regeneration. If personality is taken solely as these elements then yes the person who was A is the same as the person who is Caitlin. My personality, however, is more than just those things. Personality consists of traits and characteristics across a wide spectrum and can include style, preferences, outlook, and demeanor. If we look at who A was and who Caitlin is we can find as many differences in their personalities as similarities. A liked spicy food, Caitlin not so much and A couldn’t stand strawberries, but Caitlin loves them. A was the type of person to get violently angry when pushed by a situation. Caitlin withdraws in the same situation. A was animated and enjoyed tossing himself into any given debate, but Caitlin is more the type of person to listen and absorb while others carry the conversation. A was disorganized, not very good at self-care, and difficult to motivate. Caitlin is more put together and initiates the things she needs to do to preserve; she makes things happen while A waited for them to happen to him. By the standard of the Popeye theory, A and Caitlin are nowhere close to being the same person.

This holds for people who aren’t regenerating also. Consider the Type A business person who has a heart attack leaves hir high-profile, high pressure job and takes up Zen meditation. Or the religious fundamentalist who watches hir friend slowly waste away from cancer and loses hir faith in god. People are inconstant and constantly changing who they are and how they deal with the world based on their present circumstances and even who they are with. This theory cannot work because it ignores a fundamental characteristic of the human self.

So, Where Are We? Who Are We?

With all three theories failing to hold up to honest examination I find myself stuck in a selfhood purgatory. All rational thought argues that who I am now and who I was then are two completely different people, that Caitlin and A are not and could never be the same self. Yet, there is something inside me that recognizes who A was as who Caitlin was and who Caitlin is as who A is. I feel like the same person. But is a gut feeling enough? I wish had the answer. All I can say with certainty is none of the current thoughts on the consistency of self survive exposure to the human factor. Each looks nice on the surface, but each is incapable of sustaining us for deeper reflections. The pool of identity is deep and clouded by a plethora of psychological detritus; if we’re going to go diving in, we better bring more sophisticated equipment than philosophy offers thus far.