On Wanting Family

One of the things with which I really struggle, mostly quietly, is wanting desperately to have a baby. I mean, to bear a child. I love this life. I am so thankful daily to have been given all the opportunities and to have been able to see all the wonders I have seen so far, and each day adds new wonders to my hope chest. I find myself easily not bitter about most things. The one thing I find hard to embrace is never being able to bear a child. Of course, I want so desperately to be able to have that one thing I cannot have. And each day, I find ways to make it okay.

There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for these kids…they get me through a lot. So I find strength in all of them. All my families – the ones I was born into and the ones I found. I find strength in Teri’s arms*. I cradle Iago (those moments, at night, tucked in-between my two boys**, are so wonderful). Sometimes, I cry about it. More than just once in a while.

I also got used to the idea that it isn’t something people are going to understand. So many people – and I mean people who really, really love me – instantly, dismissively, remind me that I can adopt, that adopting is just the same. But it isn’t, really. Or worse, they tell me, of course, that isn’t possible***. Or worse yet, they tell me that I’m better off without kids. Maybe. I’m happy that there are people who find meaning in all kinds of things. And I’ve found so much meaning in so much. But I also feel that I am meant, amongst many other things, to be a mother. If being without a child is some kind of affluence, surely, I am meant to be poor.

A friend, who is a trans man, recently commented that he is sometimes accused of being selfish, because he bore a child before he transitioned. He responds, simply, that he wanted children, and he could do it, so he did. Childless women, and childless couples in general, are a political hot-button topic, too. People too easily make all kinds of incorrect inferences. So let’s just be clear. So many people who choose not to have children give back to society in so many ways. And some people who do choose to have children give little back to society, or sometimes even to their own kids. And not everyone (myself in particular) who is childless is childless by choice. I did not have the option that my friend did. To me, although I want desperately to have a child, I could not stand the thought of being a father to one – it is simply not a role I am meant to play. So, for me, the only real route to a child of my own blood was not something I wanted to pursue, and I don’t regret it, because I don’t think it was what was meant to be.

Then, one night, swathed in blankets and in the gentle sleeping noises Teri and Iago make****, I was up at night, crying. I do this, sometimes. Not a lot, but sometimes. Teri awoke, held me, comforted me, and wiped away my tears, asking me what was wrong. But this time, they weren’t very sad tears. I started to learn to see my plight in a different way. I have felt for some time – ever since I met him – that Teri is my Prince Charming. That our spirits were always looking for each other. They (we) knew each other instantly, after so much yearning, so much searching, and so much wandering in all the years we were apart. I am in turns very Christian in my sentimentality, and in turns very spiritual in a more general sense, but I believe unwaveringly that there is a deep structure to the universe, in which we are embedded, and that our lives have more meaning, more purpose, and more importance than just the interactions we have with the atoms in which we bathe. I guess I don’t really know if it’s true, but like Pi Patel in the Life of Pi, it colors the way I see the world, and to me, the world is far richer seen this way. So, to me, Teri’s spirit and mine were always meant to be together. We didn’t really have or need love at first sight, because our spirits loved each other long before we met – they were always made for loving each other. Loving Teri is not something I choose, but something I am. Teri was what I had always been looking for, even if I wouldn’t have known how to describe it, or known fully how to prepare myself to be ready for him, when he finally came.

I also recognized that I had little part in that moment when our spirits finally came together. Our meeting happened by chance. This is the story that’s in our StoryCorps recording, in my PFLAG speech, etc., etc., I guess, I can’t stop telling that story, and I probably never will. It was all chance strung from chance hanging from chance. I was always looking for Teri, but the most I can really claim for myself is that I was ready to jump into his arms when I finally found him.

What if this…is…the same? I had been grieving, all this time, and still struggle with, even now, my barrenness. But I found that Teri’s spirit was out there, and although it required years of faith and waiting, our spirits were always meant to be together, and now we are. What if the child I am supposed to mother is out there, too, in spirit? Maybe a spirit that hasn’t even been born yet. Or, maybe a spirit that is lost and alone, out there, desperately trying to find a way even now to us. It breaks my heart to think the spirit of my child is out there, struggling without us. That I cannot now comfort that pain or kiss away those tears. But a spirit that belongs with us, out there, seeking us out…. I know that my child is strong, and brave, born of the same courage from which Teri and I came. Like me, I don’t think my child is fearless, because I have been – am – so scared, so many times, but I know that my child has a spirit that perseveres, that is not stopped . Most of all, I know my child sees life as a gift, like we do, and that someday, when that moment comes, when our spirits can be together, just like I knew to leap to Teri with all my might, our child will know. And we’ll know, too.

And then, we’ll be together. And, much as I remember all the years before I found Teri, but they didn’t make sense – really make sense – until I met him, and he put them in context, I will understand why my path to motherhood has been so long and treacherous, and I will recognize that it was the perfect path, and the only path I am meant to follow.

For now (and, well, always), Iago is my baby

For now (and, well, always), Iago is my baby. It’s a story for another time, but Iago, knew, too, and he was always meant to be with me.

* Teri supports me through this wonderfully. Recently, he’s talked more than once about wanting children, but I think we both recognize the depth of pain about this is something I really go through alone, inside myself.

** I’m crying, writing this blog. Teri made Iago move so he could hold me, but Iago went around Teri, got back up on the other couch, and climbed into my lap, so I have one arm typing from above him now, the other below.

*** Yes, I am quite cognizant of that fact, thank you.

**** Okay, they both snore sometimes, but at that moment, they were gentle.

Mira and Teri Record with StoryCorps

This is a picture from last week (Valentine's Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

This is a picture from last week (Valentine’s Day!). Some pronouns changed in our relationship since August, but the fire still burns hotly.

You may have heard of StoryCorps. They’ve been recording stories across America since 2003, archiving more than 50,000 of them in a little more than a decade. A few of their recordings get edited down professionally and published on NPR, and you’ve probably heard one of them at one point, or another (they’re online!). The rest of the time, they archive the digital recording at the Library of Congress, in their American Folklife Center. One cool thing about StoryCorps is that they try to oversample underrepresented stories. Last summer, they came to Grand Rapids, and they worked with OutPro, The Network, and others to help collect more LGBT voices. We recorded with them on August 16, 2014. This was kind of amazing timing, because just around that time, the Smithsonian’s LGBT collection plans were unveiled, and there has been talk about possibly creating duplicates of LGBT narratives, like ours, and also putting them in that collection, which is something that’s happened with StoryCorps recordings in other target areas.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there's a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

This is the actual StoryCorps trailer, it has a mad fierce sound booth tucked away in it, and you can actually get a great audio recording even while there’s a festival going on in Rosa Parks Circle right outside the door.

Technically, you can go listen to our story at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, right now, the unedited stories do not go online. However, the StoryCorps people provide a CD of the recording and permission to excerpt and publish that. I’ll have to admit it took me all the way until January to finally rip the CD onto my Macbook Pro and start editing it down in Audacity, and I just finally figured out how to do some channel mixing and compression on it, get it to a manageable size (the interview is 45 minutes long; this excerpt is only 10), and upload it somewhere so I can stream it from this blog.

The excerpt here focuses on the story of how Teri and I met (I know, sickeningly sweet) and fell in love, and how we find that our relationship allows us to strengthen each other in our passions for serving children, me with my roles at the Center for Autism and with the AACRC, and Teri as a facilitator of our LGBT Youth Group at The Network. In picking 10 minutes to share, I was challenged with what to admit. Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t keep the parts about LGBT advocacy, really, even though this is a huge part of our lives. I did save one part, where Teri came out to me, for the first time*, in words, about being trans himself, since back at that time, we were publicly lesbian identified (and not yet heteroqueer). I cut out a lot of me talking about my little autism kids, because, well, we have other videos on that topic (and once you get me started, I scarcely have the ability to stop). I really decided to focus on our love story. Why? Because it’s my favorite part of the interview. Because it’s the story that just gets better (and perhaps slightly more exaggerated) every time we’ve told it**.

I suppose that opens me up to criticism of bleaching away the queerness of our story, but in my defense, I think it is important to remind the world that even we, two trans people in a loosely heterosexual relationship – even we have love stories just like anyone else’s. So, it isn’t me preaching feminism. It isn’t me talking about the amazing future we have, when NT’s and NNST’s start building the world, hand in hand. It isn’t about the message of a day when we are equal in our lives, our loves, and our gifts. It’s just a love story. Hate it if you may, dear reader, but in hating love stories, must you not also find yourself hating love? And without love, what are we?

So, here it is:

I hope you like it!

* Yes, in the sound booth, girlfriend. It was not, however, the biggest shock in the world.

** I know, we tell it a lot. It’s become kind of legendary among my close friends.

Teaching People to “Get” Privilege

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post* outlining why I felt a shakeup in our notion of being an ally was critically needed. It followed up on my attempt to start a conversation around redefining privilege, begun publicly at the West Michigan TDoR a few months earlier. I started, in essence, with how I am dedicated not just to recognizing the marginalization of the LGBT community, but to ending it. And the end I foresee is a world in which we are valued for the gifts we bring, where people know that we anchor communities, where people know that we make towns and cities vibrant, and where people feel motivated to keep us safe not because they feel sorry for us, but because it’s in their own self-interest. To get there, I argued, we needed to become more aware not just of marginalization as we experience it, and privilege as others experience it, but we need to be aware of the privilege each of us carries, and become increasingly willing to leverage that privilege we have to engage audiences, tell stories, build relationships, and change the world.

The second place I engaged in this conversation was by starting Our Narratives, along with my Teri and others, as the Network‘s new initiative to help LGBT people know their stories, relate their stories to the Struggle, and use their stories to advocate for change, both big and small. We started this with our November 2014 Our Narratives workshop (and we have another one coming up, in a couple of weeks). Our Narratives was a critical piece of what needed to be done, because it is difficult to use privilege to advocate for change if you don’t really understand how to advocate for change, or how to broaden that story beyond just your own story. We showed with that inaugural event that our participants came in feeling they knew their story, but they didn’t know how to relate it to the struggles of others (or distill the universal theme or align the societal statistics with their story), and they really didn’t know how to use their own story to advocate for change or understand why their own story was relevant in advocating for change**. And we showed that we could change all that, just in a day. Teri commented, also, that he was blown away by the intensity of these stories, and he felt kind of badly for having underestimated our community, going in. This, I think, really recapitulates my point at TDoR. That passion behind that storytelling… is a kind of talent or privilege, and it’s just one of the many talents*** we don’t recognize or leverage as a community.

So, I’ve got people talking about and understanding their marginalization. But my belief is that we cannot be good allies unless we understand our privilege, too, and we begin to understand intersectionalism of both marginalization and privilege. So, really, I set out with So You Want To Be An Ally (SYWTBAA), which happened at the end of January, with two goals. First, I want to learn to teach people that we exist within an intersecting web of privileges and marginalization – it is fundamentally flawed to think of “us” as marginalized and “them” as privileged. Second, I wanted to socialize our people to critically analyze our behaviors as allies. Again, pulling us out of an “us v. them” mentality, I want us to be good allies to others (because it will stop unfortunate things like ethnic minority groups attacking LGBT rights, because they perceive that “our” freedom is incompatible with “theirs,” when in reality, we are all “us,” and there is no “them”).

I’m coming back now to talk about where I succeeded, and where I’m still trying. SYWTBAA was a three hour seminar with group activities interspersed. Unlike Our Narratives, it placed a heavier emphasis on instructor led content. I originally conceptualized it as being co-led by an LGBT person and a heterosexual ally (and had one picked out). But, the more and more I thought about it****, SYWTBAA became not primarily about heterosexual allies working with the LGBT community, but rather, a broader and more conceptual thing. I got feedback, privately, from some people I trust and respect, that I needed to thin down the feminist theory, because people who came to such an event would be well versed in it already. I respectfully disagree (and I’m sticking with that assessment). At least, here, in Grand Rapids, we do not have people show up to these events with bell hooks under their arm. And I would challenge, that, honestly, while there are a few of us out here, we do not even make up the majority in our own activist/advocacy spaces, let alone the majority of mobilizable people that can make the army we leverage to end oppression. A simple analysis of how many HRC bumper stickers one sees and the sales data on the feminist classics quickly reveals that.

So, the workshop ended up being more of a solo presentation, by me. I would like to broaden the examples I drew on, but I used examples from multiple kinds of marginalization – related to disability, mental illness, different racial and ethnic groups, the young and old, women, and, of course, the LGBT community. I used examples ranging from the Victoria’s Secret expropriation of Native American culture three years ago, to raising the possibility that the 99% may just be the largest of all marginalized groups, even larger than women as a group (or the 51%, as we like to call ourselves). I acknowledged my heroines, provocatively putting Andrea Dworkin and Julia Serano on the same page*****. And I preached feminism. I talked some gay – I explained why we don’t have a straight pride, as an example of how privilege assumptions and the power structure they maintain form an asymmetrical view of the world.

There was some good stuff. Unlike the very targeted before/after results we saw for the flagship Our Narratives workshop, we saw broadband improvements on all five of the questions we asked about our participants’ before and after experiences. But, the biggest gains were in understanding one’s own privilege (that is, understanding of one’s own privilege improved markedly, whereas improvements in understanding one’s own marginalization were more subtle), and feeling able to critically analyze one’s behaviors as an ally. So these are exactly the things we set out to do, and this preliminary data, from the first time we did the program, were very favorable. It also turns out that Keynote makes totally fetch slides, and although I used it at First Event earlier in the month, this is the first really meaty presentation I made in Keynote, and it was much more sophisticated than that prior one.

#Geekgirl loves her data, so here are the numbers – again, noting the big gains on the top-most and middle items:

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

Participant survey data from our January 2015 So You Want To Be An Ally

There were some surprises. Using the Network’s detailed identity question****** on our post-hoc survey, only 55% of respondents classified themselves as allies (#FAIL? Or humility?). Of course, with all the work to make sure there were plenty of presentation materials, it went a little long. The last exercise was supposed to really critically push people to identify both when they were an ally and when they were an accomplice (and really, all four roles in the paradigm I borrowed and presented earlier). I do not feel like I fully got across the idea that things like reverse racism are not valid constructually, because of global effects overwhelming the local effects (so that in a majority black neighborhood, like the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where I lived before I moved back to Grand Rapids, the national/systemic racism against black people overwhelms the fact that Caucasians are a minority just in those few blocks, even though the President of the United States of America lives 2.5 blocks away, etc.). People also still tended to think of themselves as primarily privileged or primarily marginalized (and I really should’ve asked a poll question about this, and I did not – I really want people to come away from something like this understanding that we are all both).

Don't make me do Michelle Obama side eyes.

Don’t make me do Michelle Obama side eyes

Overall, though, I was pretty happy with the conversation. In spite of the early critiques that the feminist / conceptual approach would not be what people wanted, we had a pretty sold-out event, and we had really positive feedback from the participants. One, who leads a drop in center for homeless and runaway youth, followed up by inviting me to a training panel discussion to talk about this content. There was interest in exporting the training to another group, which is something we’re possibly open to (although we really want people to come in our doors). We want to do this quarterly, so I’ll be curious to see if we can find 20-25 people who want this training every three months (I think we should be able to – there are, in any event, to me, more than 20-25 people who need this training every three months).

What’s next? Well, we’re looking at ways other than dramatic / prose speaking and blogging to teach people to tell their stories. Maybe spoken word art, maybe something video-based, so we can go wreck YouTube. I’m also thinkiI’mng of more content elements. I’m wondering, particularly, if we need to QueerTheConversation on racial justice – still giving you side eyes if you talk reverse racism at me. We could come clean (or even cleaner) about how everyone who’s been on our Board of Directors in the last couple of years has been Caucasian or Asian (and, as I’ve argued, there are many ways in which I feel a need for pause and caution, and I do not consider myself a good spokesperson for racial injustice), and much more strategically talk about our outreach to ethnic minorities, both in terms of building support for LGBT people from these populations but also building a reciprocal ally base, because we’ve got a lot to give back to people. We’ve been talking about that a lot, but right now, I feel like we need to double down on that. Amidst all the other things were trying to revolutionize and all the other systems we’re trying to wreck (now, usually I don’t do this, but why don’t you go ahead and break them off a little preview of the remix?).

I guess it turns out that Queering the New Year is a resolution one really must keep all year long.

* Slash manifesto

** For instance, it is also a narrative we can leverage that, in the midst of fighting over whether transgender people should be equal (or should be excluded), my narrative that I am societally accepted, largely by everyone, that I’m here in Grand Rapids creating jobs and opportunity for adults and teaching kids with autism how to communicate and learn, and that I am in danger not of killing myself, if I can’t have rights, but of not building as many jobs (mostly for straight people) or helping as many kids (again, predominantly straight people’s kids) – my narrative is an important narrative, because it dovetails exactly with what the rest of the business community has been saying about our civil rights act. It’s just, by and large – and not for want of talent, see the next footnote – I’m the only trans person saying it. But this is an example of a privilege-based narrative, used to advocate for good. Making me something more like Tesla and Elon Musk, arguing, “Hey, your life would be better if you changed your laws for me.”

*** Sometime, let me write a blog post about all the kinds of people I know because I’m engaged in the LGBT community, that wouldn’t normally be in my social circles… sure, there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and CEOs, but actors and actresses, airplane pilots, retired Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, authors, poets, comedians, magazine editors, … I’m really not kidding when I say my network broadened by coming out, and didn’t contract really at all.

**** And, well, because we woke up early and finished the last bits of the program the morning of the event, itself, and Teri even cooked us breakfast, so that I could finish.

***** I should be even more provocative, and have some male role models too, and in truth, I do, although most of my strongest inspirations are other women, and I put up six pictures of women. For the record, they were: bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Shulamith Firestone, Andrea Dworkin, Julia Serano, and Mira Nair.

****** For a lot of our own surveys, we use an inclusive identity question, where a long list of options is presented, and respondents check all that apply, with no validation process. Currently, our list is: female, male, androgynous, agender, bigender, cisgender, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, cross dresser, intersex, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, sexually fluid, asexual, aromantic, questioning, two spirit, queer, and ally. There is a free response “other” option, and my smart-ass boyfriend put in heteroqueer. So we add items as we go – it had less items the last time we used it. Recently, I’ve been asked how to do this on surveys, and I agree that this approach is cumbersome for someone other than an LGBT organization. So my second approach, when we’re trying to make it simpler, is to ask two questions, modeled after the two-question approach of identifying ethnic/racial grouping. There, questions are asked separately, here in the US that is, about being Hispanic/Latino, and about ethnic affiliation. I propose something similar, which is (1) Do you identify as trans/transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, or non-binary? (Yes/No/DK) and (2) Do you identify as (male/female/other). This is nicely subversive, too, in that the questions make more sense and are more welcoming if trans people are put in front rather than put in as an afterthought.

A Mission to Christianity

Last week, Calvin College brought Mark Yarhouse to speak about the transgender community. Christian LGBT community members raised concern. On digging further into the matter (I had heard neither of Dr. Yarhouse nor of the Regent University from which he hails), much of this concern is rooted in Dr. Yarhouse’s historical body of work. At its best, he takes a non-judgmental* approach to supporting Christians (predominantly) who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their Christian identity. At its worst, it stoops precipitously close to apologetics for conversion therapy, teetering on an edge (although, from Dr. Yarhouse’s perspective, trying not to go over that edge) of what is considered criminal in multiple states (although not Michigan), and what is considered clearly unethical by a preponderance of us as psychologists.

I, in turn, reached out to friends at Calvin and summarized these concerns. They very graciously had me out to tea to discuss them further. I understand (and welcome) their spirit of trying to create dialog across what they perceive as a chasm (although, in truth, we are quite able to sit at the same table, drink the same tea, and find common language with little difficulty). I also understand and accept their challenge in working with a broader range of stakeholders, ranging from their students (who are generally quite accepting) to some of their older constituents (who are, sometimes, otherwise).

gender-dysphoria-cover

Based on Dr. Yarhouse’s presentation, I cannot recommend his forthcoming book.

I went to hear Dr. Yarhouse speak, and up until now, I have been largely silent (or, as I am sometimes accused of being, “diplomatic”). I did so out of love for my friends at Calvin – and I do sincerely consider them friends – who I am very convinced are trying to do right (and good). I do so out of love for my Calvin alumni staff – anyone who knows me knows how much I love my team, and that I would make (and sometimes have made) all manner of sacrifices for them. My friends at Calvin worked very hard to make this a non-combative atmosphere for discussion, and I do appreciate that, although there are subtle nuances of these choices that are more problematic**.

I have held off because I have been balancing various other perspectives, as well, causing me to wait before I responded. I balance the very different perspective my own organization is in the process of taking towards its own mission of Christian service (one which I wholly endorse, for no simpler reason than that it is based in love), and even the wonderful things Calvin College, itself, is doing for its trans students, like a whole campus network of gender inclusive bathrooms***. I balance my duties to the LGBT community – many of whom would not be willing to even listen to this. And I balance my obligation to live my life, to be the sort of woman God made me, to be what and whom God has seen fit, to be unashamed and unabashed, to try and be a source of support and kinship for others. Again, anyone who knows me really knows how much I love the wonder of this life. In speaking now, I accept and embrace that I am doubtless to be scorned on the one side or the other, and most likely, on both. But I – we – must live our lives against what is right and not against what will receive scorn. From anyone.

Yarhouse spoke about many things. Semantically, he used marginalizing language under the apologetic of recognizing that “we won’t all agree on words.” Scientifically, it is my opinion that he misrepresented and selectively presented data – for instance, in discussing the increasingly common practice of suppression / delay of puberty medically for trans kids, he included data that indicates that young children who do not conform to their birth assigned sex have a high rate of “desisting,” or not being transgender-identified by adulthood, but he ignored data that adolescents have a much lower rate of return to cisgenderhood. He ignored large scale data on the safety and efficacy of transition. This data is not inaccessible or esoteric to the researcher – much of it is summarized in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care****, commonly considered the international, scientifically accepted, gold standard, and endorsed widely by other provider and specialty organizations (and freely downloadable – you should read it, if you have not already). He included some references to neuroscience, ignoring much of the most recent cognitive neuroscience data. There is much more that could be said about the scientific content of this lecture. But I think this is entirely not the point*****.

Rather, it is the Christian content of this lecture that most troubles me. On one level, the Christian content of this lecture was deeply problematic because it included discussion of the kind of “deadly passages” that are used, and used absurdly, in Christian discussions of LGBT people. To caution for deep pause and great consideration of scripture such as the Deuteronomy quote, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord,” is to forget the gospel (or worse, to fail to understand it). But the real point that bears discussion goes beyond this kind of legalism, too.

My last blog post was a continuation of a discussion from a year ago. In some ways, this post, too, is a continuation of a prior thread of discussion. What remains from that discussion is this question of why full and easy acceptance (for me, particularly) comes from all corners of society except certain elements of the church (which do not include my friends at Calvin, or even Calvin as an organization, and which does not generally include my own church, but which are exemplified by conversations like the one led by this speaker). I am drawn back (again) to Frederick Douglass’s claim that, under the surface, there are two separate Christs – one of the Cross and one of this land. Whereas the former accepted, included, and fought for social justice, the rather, all too often, back in his day, and still today, looks for permission to hate, reasons to exclude, limitations on welcome, and the development of a Christian body that is more concerned with its organization and prosperity, than with serving God. A Christian body that uses religion not as salve, but as weapon. A Christian body that uses its senior leadership not to motivate believers to love and nurture people, but who motivates them to shun them (or, in a weaker form, to have conversations about whom and what they are still ‘allowed’ to shun). The same sort of people who cry foul that Christians are a mistreated minority (in America, no less) while, in the same breadth, fighting marriage equality.

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. — Frederick Douglass

In Douglass’ day, it was the conflation of Christ with slavery, whereas today, this phenomenon is best seen at looking at too much of the church’s attitude towards women and gender/sexual minorities. But, the phenomenon, itself, is wholly alive. And, sadly, quite well. Although there are times when we let ourselves infight as marginalized communities, and one cannot ignore the overwhelming magnitude of the body of depradation wrought by the Christians who championed slavery, and I have no wish to pretend that I have been subjected to those kinds of horrors, still, the mechanics are the same. In those days, Christians had these very same conversations asking whether Black men were men, whether Black women were women (“like our women”). The fundamental problem with Dr. Yarhouse’s talk – and with “Christian apologetics” and the way transgender people are treated by the church – is a failure to recognize that God’s making us in His likeness is a two-way street. God is in heaven, and we are on earth, yet the reality is that merely existing is not enough to be Christlike to anyone, and failing to love, to understand, or to accept, particularly when done in the guise of Christlikeness – is morally wrong.

Early in my coming out process, once, I had a gay man tell me, presuming that I must be interested in him at all, that I could not be his girlfriend, but that I must be his boyfriend. In saying what is the point in understanding what is wrong with the lecture I went to see, I can only say simply that both he and Yarhouse miss the point of my existence entirely, and in exactly the same way. Yarhouse seems genuinely surprised that a gay Christian would perceive more in common with other LGBT people (as gay) than with him (as a Christian). He would be surprised, likewise, that I would shun this olive branch of being told that I can be accepted, not as the woman that I am, but instead, as a “biological male presenting female” or some other self-evident absurdity (again, evident to everyone except certain members of the Church). But far more than this, this line of reasoning runs the risk of ignoring the inevitability that denying what God made me, must always be a denial of God, Himself, as well.

In truth, I felt the greatest wall separating my closeness to God, all the time between when I realized the woman I must grow up to be, and when I finally let myself be her. When I finally accepted the charge to be myself, that wall – those scales – they fell away at that moment of finally accepting the full truth. In those days, I did make a lifestyle choice – one that kept me from my place as a daughter-child of the divine. I left that choice behind, and I became – am becoming – whole again. Not sin-free, not screw-up-free, because I do many things I feel unworthy of the woman I am called to be, and perhaps, most of the time, find myself generally inadequate at this and many other things. But as whole as a wicked girl like me can find a way to be.

Much as it was not my accepting the truth of who I am that kept me at arms length from God, but rather my refusal to do so, for many years, Yarhouse fails to understand that it is not now any choice of mine that prevents these Christians from being Christ for me. It is their choice. Their lifestyle. Their denial of God’s truth (or even the very small part of it that is evident in my existence) even when presented directly with it. This, I fear, is very much the same to be a disciple of the Christ of the land, and not of the Christ of the Cross, to look for excuses not to love, rather than opportunities to love. I am not the one being intransigent in this case – for being that woman is not one of my many sins. I know that I find myself bathing****** daily and hourly, in all manner of guilt that I did not do more, love more readily, work harder, be less weak, and I scarcely feel capable of being Christ for anyone, but I do not spend my time looking for excuses to not love, to not accept, to exclude, to discriminate.

Thus, the premise underlying Yarhouse’s statement is fundamentally flawed. I appreciate your desire to be Christ for me, but if you wish to call me these names, if you want to have this kind of discussion over my living body, then you’ve already made your decision not to do so. This is your decision, and neither I nor God have made it for you. And again, my fear is that anyone who makes such a decision will find themselves aligned with the Christ of the land. I won’t judge you for making this decision – it isn’t my place. But, like Douglass, I will respectfully decline to be interested in that sort of Christ.

That choice is their moral quandary. But thus, I am left with what becomes my moral quandary. Christ spent time in synagogues. He debated and spoke with elders. But he spent much more time loving people, and being out among them. I must ask myself, what is the opportunity cost of spending time (any time) trying to build inroads into the dwellings of this Christ of the land, instead of being out loving? What is the point in this dialog? What is the point of feeling the rage build up inside me, at the injustice, for all these days since that talk, and before I wrote this? Who was I not able to love, because I was too busy hurting, these last days – hurting man-made hurt? Could I not shed the tears I shed, just now, as I wrote this, for something more worthy? To me, the truth is, it is the Church that needs our prayers, with the “issue” of transgender people, not me. Save your prayers for me, please, for my million actual flaws and shortcomings, and not one of the few things that is not wrong with me.

I don’t have an easy answer to this quandary. In my feeble attempt to be like Christ, I try to spend most of my time out loving others. On most days, I am simply thankful for all the kids God has given me, for the rich work I have been given and for the surprising ability of my small hands to do even a tiny part of it. But, like Christ, I also long for a day when the structural injustice is undone, and the Church can again establish itself as a home for the broken hearted, and not for exclusionary movements.

* What, in my sister, Miss Austen’s, time, would have been called “disinterested,” when that word still meant a good thing, that a person was supporting another person out of a desire for that person’s good and not their own.

** Calvin uses – this is not unique to this event – comment cards for Q&A. The cards are moderated, with a subset being presented to the speaker by a faculty facilitator. In general, this has the significant strength of creating a more civil, and a more continuous discourse. It is also probably ultimately faster, allowing for answer to more questions and questions of more substance. In this kind of a case, however, it, unfortunately, amplifies the fact that this is a conversation on transgender Christians but not by or with us – by further silencing our already marginalized voices from the conversation. When Frank Foster, an outgoing State Representative, who fought for change to our civil rights amendment, but made a tactical decision to sacrifice the wellbeing of transgender people for the sake of a bill protecting the less marginalized (but still at risk) gay/lesbian/bisexual components of our community, only, I did feel it was my responsibility to gently raise the issue that we do, in fact, exist, and that our voices belong in the conversation about us. I do not represent trans women, or trans people, but I am one, and, if no one else will speak, I am willing. I also frequently promise not to pick (verbal) fights, and most usually, I keep my word. But, promises to behave oneself were made somewhat superfluous by the manner of the lecture.

*** Although, I do also hope the point is clear that I welcome this, but that I do not generally need/use gender inclusive bathrooms, myself, and I am content to use the women’s room like any other woman, which is also the only generally accepted policy from an HR standpoint.

**** I am a member of WPATH but was not involved in writing the Standards. As of this writing, Dr. Yarhouse does not appear to be a member of WPATH.

***** I often quote my friend, Mara Keisling, who heads the National Center for Transgender Equality, when she says that, “Science is our best friend.” So this may, especially in conjunction with my own pedigree as a neuropsychologist, for the best of readers, strike as somewhat a surprise. Do let me explain. I do think that there is science underlying my claim that I do not “identify as,” “present as,” “live my life as,” but rather, that I simply am a woman. Science that has to do with my brain. Science that establishes the safety and efficacy of transition-related medical services. Science from an anthropological standpoint that demonstrates our stable presence over time and space, across cultures, a marker of a likely biological/genetic/epigenetic phenomenon. But, for people who have not yet accepted gays and lesbians on this same ground, and who in some cases (this happened at a Christian Reformed event, held by a grassroots effort called All One Body, a few months ago) have still not come around to the idea of what they refer to as “interracial” marriage, I think a scientific conversation is really a waste of time and effort.

****** Alongside all the other more trivial, daily, guilts, of having eaten too much, of having not been ladylike enough, and so many other things.

Sexual Healing

This is a part two to last year’s Learning to be Loved*. Teri’s a part (intermittently) of a certain Facebook group for transgender people, which will remain unnamed, which I joined briefly last year and went running from, arms flailing and mouth screaming. And it’s a great example of how few safe spaces there are to have a constructive conversation about the sexuality of mono-amorous, relationship-oriented, yet proudly sexual trans people. There recently was a blow-up over there (I’ll check and see if Teri left the group again – yep, he did) related to who, how, and when a person could be attracted to a trans body (like mine). A blowup that did not include a productive conversation on this topic**.

No, sir, I plead not guilty.

No, sir, I plead not guilty

Even in our national spaces, like First Event, one struggles to find room for this conversation. I was able to sneak my way into some excellent seminars, led by trans men and about trans masculine sexuality***, and this was pretty great. I made some new friends, and I brought home something**** autographed for Teri (do go check out Mitch’s site, too, he’s so cool) to spark further discussion back home. A discussion about queering heterosexuality, alongside the conversation about what trans men can contribute to a desperately needed reboot of manhood.

Go buy this book, for serious

Go buy this book, for serious

But, so, with my recent Mira Goes Het article, I focused on the relationship between our heteroqueer relationship and the heteropatriarchy. I want to return back to the ground of that even older post, and this question of the feminine body as an object of desire, and the extension to the situation in which that feminine body is a trans woman’s body, or, well, in this case, my body. Back in one of those panels, someone said something interesting, and noteworthy for its non-provocativeness. He said, basically, “You know, I date everyone except cis guys.” This was non-controversial … it basically extracted chuckles and knowing nods. And “Honey, I feel you, I dated a cis guy, once.” I did feel badly for the one cis gay guy present, but then again, he made a comment something along the lines of, “You know, if my partner has a vagina, I’m going to want to penetrate that” and… well, there are just no words.

IMG_2339

Also at First Event. I don’t want to just make fun of him… well, maybe for that last bit. But how do we get to being sexual without the weirdness?

So then, on Facebook, this morning, there was this interaction Teri had with a fella who was attracted to trans women (specifically/exclusively). This person was attacked, fairly mercilessly, as one of those “tranny chasers.” The only space that was opened for anyone to be attracted to a trans woman was the absurdist reduction of “trans women and cis women are exactly the same” (I’ve seen trans women take, also, the polemical position that they wouldn’t consider any lesbian an ally unless they would openly pledge, ridiculously, that they would date any trans woman). Apparently, another trans guy (because Teri’s my Dear Future Husband) chimed in and was open about his own attraction to trans women. That was “okay” because he was one of “us.” In contrast, the original poster (OP for you OG’s) was cisgender, and so he was… disgusting. A pervert. The difference between these statements, how they were perceived, and where they came from, was — is — worrisome to me.

Also on Facebook a friend posted an article about what lesbian-identified trans women (a class from which I’m increasingly the dearly departed) refer to as the “cotton ceiling” (namely, because I’m using my footnotes up too quickly today, and I feel bad when I get to ten asterisks, when cis lesbians accept trans women conceptually but reject them as potential partners for cis lesbians, either in the general sense of the dating scene, or the specific sense of dating them, themselves). I responded on Facebook that the biggest thing I could do to fight the cotton ceiling was to openly and authentically be in love with Teri – to be, in the public eye, the subject and object of love, and the object of physical desire*****.

So here is the presentation of the conundrum. Janet Mock has talked about this, too. We cannot extend a blanket statement that people attracted to trans women’s bodies are disgusting, without in turn, making an unacceptable but implicit statement that my body, too, is disgusting. And I’m here to tell you it isn’t (and if you don’t believe me, ask my boyfriend). My body is lovely, not because I’m “almost” as good as a “real” girl, but because I’m better than any other girl Teri’s ever going to find (because I’m the one, Mister). Friends (who are newer to trans people) sometimes say to me, “You looked hot the other night – is it okay if I say that?” And I tell them, of course it’s okay. I like to look hot – and my friends are benefitted by me with the right to appreciate it. And I’m desirable, not to everyone, but to the one that matters, not because I’m exactly the same as other women (because we’re not Barbie dolls … I don’t look like or have the experiences of an African woman, as much as a waitress recently thought I look like Pam Grier, or a woman from Uzbekistan, or any number of other women), but because of my unique value and desirability as a woman unlike any other. And if you pay any actual attention to actual women, that’s (not to speak for everyone — some women are asexual or aromantic) what we want.

I’m not in the business of telling other people to whom they should be attracted. I’m going to go on several limbs, and I don’t mean to offend out here, but I’m going to say what I see. We live in a world that is dominated by long-term, stable, mono-amorous romantic/sexual relationships. That’s the political battleground, for most of us. And yet we do not leverage actual trans people in romantically/sexually, long-term, stable, mono-amorous, satisfying relationships as a part of the war on the cotton ceiling – most of the people I know, Mock aside, who have much to say about this are way outside of this space. And this is crazypants. I’m not in the business of telling anyone to whom they should be attracted – not even Teri. But Teri is attracted to me. And I am attractive to him. I bestow on him the right to have me be the object of his desire, and I delight in his desire. And I deserve it.

I changed the tagline of my blog this year, to “Welcome to the Revolution.” So I might as well be clear about the revolution to which you’re welcome. There are lots of revolutions, actually, but with respect to being trans, I’m reminded of a comment Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about being feminist – she had to clarify that she’s a happy feminist, because of the dominant assumption that feminists aren’t happy. My revolution is that I’m a happy trans woman. A happy woman (because trans is a modifier, I am not anything other than a woman). Not just like cis women. Different, but not less. I’m happily in love. I’m happy to be the object of desire. I look good – sometimes I even look really hot (and even less frequently, I actually believe this about myself). And sometimes, I need to be told I shouldn’t wear that, because it doesn’t do anything for me. Or to stop obsessing about the scale.

If we want more trans people in happy, satisfying, romantically/sexually fulfilling relationships, this is the kind of revolution we need, and we need to get more of our stories out there (because I know Teri and I are not the only happy ones). We can’t solve the “cotton ceiling” or its heterosexual equivalent without actually including the stories of trans people in good relationships. And just like I play a unique role in being the trans woman who gains acceptance quickly and easily, and who doesn’t really seem to scare anyone, ours is one of those trans relationship that is the safe gateway to the idea that trans people are relationship material. So I’m going to welcome you to it, and help you understand that it … is wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that we should all be feminists. She’s right. I’m going to add that we should all be happy.

* You know, everything needs a sequel. Even Pride & Prejudice.

** I admittedly read this conversation over Teri’s shoulder.

*** I was welcomed as having the stake as a significant other of a trans man. Actually welcomed. We need to learn how to actually be welcoming (without diluting our standards or intent) in the queer community.

**** I tend to lead with something like, “I’m in love with a trans guy, and it’s so amazing, we’re so happy together, and no relationship I’d been in before this one just made sense, like this one does” and this tends to go over well, and make me friends / establish me as the trans girl who rides in cars with trans boys. There is probably something about this whole still complex question, as we exit the butch/femme paradigm and move into this heteroqueer space, about this dual issue of whether we end up endorsing the patriarchy and how to come to terms with what the “safeness” sexually we have with our trans guys and bois, absent from interacting with cis guys, says about cis guys, says about the damage of masculinity, says about how to help guys achieve a rebirth of slick.

***** Reader, she means lust. She is the subject of physical desire, as well, but she is a femme and rarely admits it in public.

On Reconciling The Binary with Fighting The Patriarchy

We have lots of very feminist discussions in my household. We routinely analyze the systems of oppression underlying events and discuss critically what being an ally means in different situations. We use words like cispatriarchy*. Intersectionalism gets invoked frequently as a concept not only by me, but by also Teri (who really only understood that he was a feminist relatively recently, back when he came with me to V to Shining V). Last weekend, a bunch of trans guys came over, and along with my own Teri, they had an excellent dialog about what manhood means. They let me listen, and occasionally add a feminist perspective. And we laugh and cheer when there’s a character in a movie named after Shulamith Firestone**.

Seriously, you guys, this movie is SO good.

Seriously, you guys, this movie is SO good.

Okay, so that’s all good, right? And I stand in solidarity with other women. I try to stamp out sexism in the workplace and teach my people to recognize discrimination. I support reproductive freedom. I support pro-woman policies. I’ve supported numerous women in office or running for office, and advocate for the unique contributions women make to leadership. I didn’t back down from my work leadership roles as a woman and even doubled down, taking on this new mission that may yet be the death of me. I don’t just call myself a feminist – but in the language of my analysis of oppression, I function as a feminist, and I am a feminist, because I clearly act to undermine the system of marginalization that keeps us ladies down.

So why, ahem, do I have this guilty obsession with Blurred Lines*** whenever it comes on the radio (it’s not because it’s a “feminist movement“)? And why did Hot in Herre make me actually want to take my clothes off? (Nowadays, reader, this video is why, but I just saw Austenland a few months ago, and so previously, this could not have been the explanation.)

Why, the more masculine Teri’s role became in our relationship, did I suddenly feel not quite right sitting at the head of my own table and felt better with Teri sitting at the head of my table and me at his side (okay, erm, I actually did this)? Why do I find myself wanting to defer to him, or serve things to him? Why do I seem to, here and there, quite like a little misogyny or chauvinism in my life? I know, too, that I’m not the only one. Just what in the name of Simone de Beauvoir is going on here?

Recently, Teri and I have been having something of an 11-month itch. Rounding on a year together (our anniversary is January 18), we’ve been fighting a little bit about our models of responsibilities. This started, apropos of my Mira Goes Het and Teri’s Real Men Wanted piece, with the situation that preceded the jam session with the trans guys, about Teri’s “breadwinner” comment. Even after the jam session, and our blog posts, I stewed about this for some time before finally admitting to Teri that this comment had made the short list of times when I felt most disrespected in our relationship. Not only did I not have the choice to assume the role of primary financial agency in our relationship, but this was explicitly something I did not really want, and had not been looking for. With that being said, I felt the comment had failed to recognize not only the home and parties and tickets to galas and other middle-class luxuries I provide, but also that I do the laundry, vacuum, grocery shop, make Teri at least one, if not two fresh/hot meals every day (and sometimes pack him a lunch), all while trying to be pretty for him and satisfy him and … Yeah. Way, way het. On the one hand, it placed me in a narrative in which many other modern career women find themselves, also****. But on the other, and this part is harsh to admit – the thing that Teri can do (and has offered to / is starting to do), which is take on more of the chores around the house, is not what I actually want (it is what I am supposed to want). It’s true, what I said before, I do want to be out changing the world. But, the truth is that I do find myself wishing I were not financially responsible for us in the all-encompassing way I am now, and I find I quite like domesticity, and I keep finding myself on the verge of telling Teri to man up, which I said I would not do, and then feeling ashamed about the sentiment. If Teri is going to do more chores, this part of me is saying, “At least go take care of the driveway/yard … it’s a treat when you cook for me once in a while, but I like cooking for you. I like wearing pretty things for you.” And other, sundry, seemingly thoughts unbecoming a feminist.

We got to talking about this a day or two ago, and I pointed out something to Teri that surprised him (and which surprised me, a long time ago, but which had long since been assimilated into how I see the world). It also explains a little bit of our dilemma. Studies have shown in different ways that equality of chores and domestic labor lessens, not increases marital sexual satisfaction. It actually leads to less sex. Other converging lines of evidence paint a potentially scary picture. Heterosexual relationships are much more able to tolerate the combination of a less pretty man and a more pretty woman, than the reverse. High status professional straight women (many/most of whom are feminist in their mentality) tend to seek even higher status professional men as mates. All of this converging evidence, in essence, says that there is at least some success/selection of relationships based on their compatibility with the binary*****.

As always, I part ways with some ideas in my sisterhood. Many feminists still argue for the idea that gender****** is pure or mostly social construct. As a scientist, like Julia Serrano (Serrano is a biochemist, and I am a neuropsychologist), I find this untenable to the point that having this argument is not even constructive. There is too much contradicting evidence for there to be any sense in a social constructivist view of gender. This isn’t an argument for genetic determinism. Rather, the only sensible view is an epigenetic one, in which most factors are driven by genetics, and biology generally, with varying response to environmental moderating factors. This grey scale is the only real option. Queer people are also taken with very black and white statements, like the statement that gender identity and sexual orientation are (completely) unrelated. Again, it is very difficult to even coerce the data to make this statement sensible. It is not a coincidence that most people are cisgender or that most people are heterosexual, and that the “rules” bend far enough to allow me to exist does not, in itself, invalidate these moderately to very strong associations. It is not a coincidence that most feminine people are women and most masculine people are men. These concepts are related by correlation of more modest strength. You cannot use someone’s gender to predict with certainty their sexual orientation (although, from a scientific standpoint, you can make a much better guess than if you didn’t have their gender available). This doesn’t mean people should be cisgender, heterosexual, feminine women, masculine men, etc. It doesn’t mean that we should go back to making bad assumptions about people. It just means that our coding (in the range of environments we experience) strongly selects for these combinations.

Like all of this, the binary is probably, itself, not a coincidence, either. It is certainly possible that, to some extent, the findings like the finding that men who do more chores have less sex, may be a symptom of the patriarchy, instead. So, just like LGBT people experience mental illness 2.5x as often as straight people, but it’s because of society’s marginalization of us and not anything wrong with us, these men are ostensibly having (“getting” is the term society would use) less sex not because of their egalitarian nature, itself, but because this nature bucks society’s expectations. There is probably something to this. But it seems hard entirely to ignore the fact that in-binary behaviors are associated with more sex (for binary people in binary relations, she bends over backwards to minimize the offense this whole line of reasoning will undoubtedly cause… to everybody).

It is also much more likely that, although the binary is not (and should not be) for everyone, the binary is likely to continue, for a long, long time, to be the thing, for most people, in some form or other, and that the binary cannot simply be “shattered” by the emergence of non-binary people or relationships. Without any intention to define or question the identities of non-binary people, then, for those of us in the binary, it is imperative that we understand how this thing works, because, again, from the perspective that few of these things are likely to be pure social constructs, and many of these things are likely to be biology-environment interactions of some kind, the binary is likely to be a thing that is malleable in some places and firm in others – meaning that some things about the binary are relatively easy to change, and changing them may result relatively readily in making us happier, whereas changing other things about the binary, or changing the binary in other ways, may really go “against our nature,” and make us miserable. This is backed up by looking at large scale experiments that tried to substantially de-gender societies, like the early kibbutzim. Experiment is relevant, whereas societies with an array of gender norms, which evolved spontaneously over millennia and survived, are relatively more likely to have found a way to “roll with the punches” and re-craft the binary, these attempts to substantially change the binary, far from the existing binary, and not informed by an understanding, really, of what the binary is or how it works, fail. This isn’t a cop-out. All the things that survived over the generations, including, but not limited to, LGBT people happily living their lives when no one is trying to kill or marginalize us, again, are variations we seem to be able to tolerate. What I want to do is not apologize for the binary, but understand how it can be changed so that it can be healthier, because I don’t think it can be shattered, and I’m interested in making a better option for people inside the binary, not just increasing awareness of “options” outside of the binary (which are probably not “options” in the sense of political lesbianism, for most people, anyways).

That’s because part of what is going on in our relationship, that’s complex and problematic and I don’t know what to do about it, is that I feel my femininity, in my very binary nature, wanting masculinity out of Teri. Which I have no particular right to ask for. And besides it not being right to Teri, I should not be mindlessly endorsing the binary (even if I do find that bass line in that song catchy, that song is still rapey). And even if I think the binary is highly selected for by the way we’re all wired, it scares me. It’s easy for me to say, “Women don’t get hit” but I don’t think men should get hit, either. I don’t just want women to be safe from guns – I want men to be safe, too. I don’t think “boys will be boys,” I think that shortchanges them, even if I don’t really know what being a boy is like, exactly. So, the binary is alluring to me, but also I don’t honestly know how to make the binary “safe, sane, and consensual*******”.   And certainly, the binary ebbs and flows. It seems worryingly pronounced right now, for instance in the degree or extent of gratuitous use of female sexual images for every kind of purpose. And femininity must never be an apologist for the worst excesses carried out under the banner of masculinity, as in Forster’s excellent Passage to India, where he attributes to this vicious cycle between masculinity and femininity the death of the ability to collaborate and grow with each other of British and Indian men: “They had started speaking of ‘women and children’ – that phrase that exempts the male from sanity when it has been repeated a few times.”

I avoided this book for the longest time, because I didn't know how it ended, and I didn't understand the point Forster was making, until I got all the way to the end.

I avoided this book for the longest time, because I didn’t know how it ended, and I didn’t understand the point Forster was making, until I got all the way to the end.

At the same time, Teri’s quest, and those of the other trans guys, to either infiltrate and redefine manhood, or replace it with some other good identity construct, is something, then, that I do, after all, have this binary stake in (because binary women have a stake in binary manhood). And although there are good men all around, engaging in this same discussion, I think queer men (or guys) like Teri, particularly, have something really unique and valuable to contribute, and hopefully queer women (like me) stand to gain, in this case, quite directly, from Teri’s findings. Again, we use too many ultimatums and too much hyperbole, but I guess I’m saying that I need a good man way more than a fish needs a bicycle.

* Okay, and then we Google them to make sure we know what they mean.

** If I could’ve had more names, I would’ve snuck “Shulie” in there somewhere, for serious.

*** It’s because of that descending bass line before the chorus, and how they sing “You Know You Want It” an octave down. It’s potent!

**** This in itself, cognitive schema be damned, makes this whole business more palatable than any sort of thought of being stuck in any kind of “man of the house” role.

***** By the binary, I mean the traditional “complementary” relationship between… male and female, masculine and feminine, butch and femme, man and woman, etc. Without arguing that all these things are the same, because they are not, the binary is the dualistic quality that these relationships, as typically appreciated by society (and in the case of the butch/femme relationship, by queer society), have in common. As an aside to an aside, as far as the butch/femme concept goes, we all hate the question, “Which one of you is the guy,” but we don’t want to discuss the fact that, given the sufficiently robust grounding in gender and feminism that we have (but the people asking these questions typically do not), it’s a less ridiculous question than we make it out to be.

****** Another fight, that I’m not going to pick today, is that the idea that “sex is biology and gender is expression,” or similar ideas, as if these terms could be analogous to mood and affect, is also not workable. I take, and at some point, will defend, the notion that there is no meaningful or non-arbitrary way in which sex and gender can be understood as discrete and unrelated constructs.

******* Unless you’re really feminist, you’re probably not going to really get this analogy, but many feminists wrote about reading The Story of O, and most of them had the same response I did… they thought it was insanely hot… until it wasn’t anymore. And then it became quite the turn-off. Although we try to be sex-positive, and we accept people who like kink, we end up finding sadism is not a neutral / amoral construct, but it is an altogether bad / evil thing, and masochism, while alluring, lives in a binary, mutually reinforcing system with sadism (acting as its accomplice). Thus, while masochism is alluring, it too, is immoral, for the reason that it perpetuates the horror that is sadism. In the same way, femininity cannot, must not, be the immorality that perpetuates barbarisms committed under the flag of “masculinity.”

Mira Goes Het – Way, Way Het

I intimated recently that you should expect this post. Teri’s been writing about stuff that’s been going on with him, over at his excellent blog, throwing all kinds of foreshadowing (reader*, note the stylistic difference between Exhibit A and Exhibit B, and Teri’s newest blog, on trans men reclaiming manhood… #SorelyNeeded) into the mix.

#NoHomo to be seen, at all?

#NoHomo to be seen here, at all?

We’ve known for some time, that there is, if anything, more diversity of sexual orientation within the trans community than within our cisgender siblings. I’ve commented, before (there’s a little reprise of it in this Gays.com article I did) on how I had felt attraction to men, prior to transitioning, but trying to date gay men, as a man, had been a miserable disaster. I had accepted being a heterosexual man as the only sensible option available to me, but I knew that wasn’t right, either. When I finally became honest with myself, and started coming out, my attractions did trend right back to men. And then I met Teri. And all I knew was she held the door. Teri fit the bill – first as my Prince Charming who used she and her pronouns, and now just as my Prince Charming.

And so, suddenly, with Teri’s own newfound openness, I’m a straight person, again. Interestingly, it’s really hard, within the visible elements of the trans community, to find a trans man + trans woman couple. There were Arin Andrews and Katie Hill, for a hot minute, but at least as a couple, they didn’t last (this isn’t a criticism, they seem to both be doing very well, and to have remained close, and more power to them!). There are one or two stories like this one, about a trans couple having children. These stories tend to be transition-centric, and in the case of the Andrews/Hill relationship, transient. Really, our love is neither transition-centric nor transient. So I guess, we’re going to be defining and owning this space.

I had written, quite some time ago, about my insistence that people who bring gender and sexual diversity (the LGBTQIA+) should retain the term “queer.” I’m starting to come around on this idea, a lot – I have/do act as an ally for people who are different in many other ways. Autism being an obvious example, but at work, also, I’ve acted as an ally for someone on this very specific topic of respecting personal choices related to body modification. However, my queerness is not a moving target – I am still queer. In actuality, my sexual orientation was not a moving target, either. When I came out of the closet, I became honest about what I want and need in a companion. I am attracted, as it turns out, to men and bois*. And Teri fit in this category from the beginning, and he still does, today.

Here, I make a distinction with some of my friends. There is a tendency of sexually fluid people (whether bisexually identified or not), interestingly, to impose the assumption of their experience on other people – for instance, by saying something like, “It’s the heart that matters, the plumbing will take care of itself.” It’s not always so simple, for all of us. Of course it’s the heart that matters, but we don’t all experience our attraction in an “I’m attracted to the person” kind of way – that’s one sexual orientation amongst many. So it’s not all about the plumbing (in the sense of the stories that spend all their time talking “sex change” surgeries), but the physical/chemical attraction is also not always irrelevant. My situation, also, I suppose, is a little different than Tina’s situation (as Alice sees it) on L Word. I am taking no easy road out of anything (although, arguably, when I tell the car dealer I can’t make a decision, because “I have to go home and ask my boyfriend for advice,” I may be treading some fine line).

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that's right.

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that’s right.

In our case, in any event, the conversation was a gradual shift in tone. I had jokingly called Teri, “sir,” many times before, when I was very happy being “her” girlfriend. And “Mister.” I had, at one point, had a conversation something like, “Would you want me to call you my wife, when we get married someday? It doesn’t seem quite right. But I would, if that’s what you want.” (Whereas, there is no ambiguity that I want to be a bride/wife). At that time, Teri had said, “I’ll be your husband and your wife.” Interestingly, later, a variant of this conversation happened at work, for him, also – “Would you prefer that I call you ‘he’? I feel so badly calling you ‘she,’ like it doesn’t really fit you, and I want to respect who you are.” In truth, all this time***, I was not “gunning” for any one answer. I love Teri. I’m content – was content, am content, will be content – to be terisexual. Who knows how the introduction of something like testosterone would affect our relationship? But Teri was here to watch me make the jump to clean-burning estrogen, and that was surprisingly uneventful. It might make our love even better. It might pose a hurdle here or there****. All eminently manageable.

That part, actually, is easy. And thus she writes many paragraphs about it. The part that she has been avoiding, thus far, dear reader, is the hard part. As a butch/femme couple, we already had to start having a dialog about heteropatriarchy and the dangers of our queer relationship emulating all its flaws, and acting to strengthen it (making us accomplices). I have had to, before any discussion of pronoun preferences surfaced, confront things like my feeling wholly inadequate as a partner if I do not provide a fresh, hot, home cooked meal at least once a day. How quickly I feel responsible for doing his laundry and cleaning up after him. The tang of annoyance I get at also being the primary economic agent of the household, on top of “taking care of” Teri and Iago. Of how, suddenly, I am dealing with heretofore unexperienced impulses in me, to defer to Teri’s judgment and to want him at the head of my table, to take my place at his side, to chose my actions in a way pleasing to him. And scoffing at the idea that he may be able to weigh in on aesthetic matters.

Reader, I am still a feminist. And I seek to be as radical as she comes. But, although I was never any political lesbian, there was a sort of safety in being a lesbian, much in the sense of pride one feels when buying fair trade, organic coffee – as if our relationship came stamped with some “No Proceeds Went to Support The Patriarchy” badge. The truth, though, is that butchness and masculinity, themselves, bear far more overlap than we generally care to admit, and in truth, a great many butch/femme relationships do function as accomplices to oppression under the patriarchy. If anything, a trans-hetero relationship bears that risk and then some. This statement, that our marriage would, surreally, now be back to a union between one man and one woman, seems to raise the bar, or heighten my awareness of the risk. Suddenly, one goes to get one’s fair trade, organic coffee, in a big SUV*****, replete with guard grilles over the headlights (in case the driver should need to run over the proletariat on the way to Starbucks, no cosmetic damage would be incurred).

Teri and several of our trans guy friends were at an excellent in-between-the-holidays party we threw for the trans community here. We had a really great discussion (because I’m that trans girl who likes to ride in cars with trans boys… and call them by their last names, okay, basically, I am One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male Driven Comedy) about how trans men are reticent to be called men. Sometimes, we all agreed, because their identities are actually non-binary. Sometimes, I argued, because they are afraid of taking their stand within manhood, and being able to embrace the good and fight the bad from within. Because, as men, they lack Gloria Steinems to whom they can unabashedly look up. It occurred to me that, whereas I have a cloud of inspirational women (most of them cis, but many trans also) around me, as role models and inspirations, when I asked Teri, or other trans men, who their role models were, I got … weighty silence. In those cases, I argued, they are indeed binary, and ought, indeed, call themselves men, but they are scared to take up arms and fight within manhood against the patriarchy (I commented, later, because this is what our pillow talk is like, that “man” is the traditional form of reference for adults who use he and him pronouns, and if trans men reject the title, we all need them to do more talking about why and what their choice means).

I also took Teri to task, several days later, because he said, “I wouldn’t ever want to be the breadwinner.” I pointed out that this seemed overly convenient, since I had no similar choice in our life together. He explained what he meant by the comment, and I understand where he’s coming from. In essence, he doesn’t want to force our relationship into a “traditional” configuration. I don’t want that, either. The truth is that, even if Teri could support us financially, I rather like being out changing the world, both for kids with autism and for the LGBTQIA+ community. I also don’t want Teri (or any man, cis or trans), pushed into not being allowed any emotions or into having to be stoic in the face of all odds. I don’t want Teri forced into a job he hates just to keep me in a lifestyle (whereas I love the job that keeps us in our lifestyle right now).

But…I suppose, to whatever extent I have a right, in the binary, to influence what kind of man Teri becomes (or manhood generally), don’t let’s have trans men become the sort of men whose manhood is living in their mom’s basement, because the internet is free, playing Call of Duty all day, and asking me to evaluate them and say they have autism and are thus disabled (okay, so that might hit a particular nerve for me). Manhood, in the traditional binary sense, and the masculinity it accompanies, is bound up in the idea of agency. And I fear for young trans men / boys – some of the ones around me seem not to develop this sense of agency (as seen in many good men, and better yet, in most feminist women). Who want a manhood that involves a wide variety of women solving all their problems for them. So I challenged Teri, in essence, to view his manhood not only in terms of the privileges it affords him, but in terms of the responsibility that comes with that privilege. His blog post represents a way station in that process.

The challenge reflects back on me, too. I’m going to have to learn to be a straight girl, without selling out the movement. I’m going to have to learn how to love my man but remain tall, fierce, and proud, loving my womanhood. To figure out what femininity means, inside the binary, and all my desires to “give” myself to him, in a way that does not destroy my selfhood. I’m going to have to learn to support Teri’s development of a holistic, sustainable, beautiful manhood, without ever asking him to “man up.”  This is going to be really interesting. It’s the first day of 2015, a whole new year, and I think I’m up to this challenge.

* Reader, I snuck this gag into my About Mira, page, but please be forewarned, I am so bowled over by the delicious titling of this piece about my middle namesake, that I cannot stop making reference to it.

** I openly admit (and Teri tolerates) that I find trans men, generally, quite hot – this is in no way meant to be any kind of incentivization to Teri to transition (or not transition).

*** Okay, you know I’m a little impish. There were many conversations, like, “Can I call you a dude?” “What about saying you’re my fella?” Accompanied by endearing, but annoying, Mira-isms.

**** One does not know, for instance, how one feels about facial hair. But one is willing to give this idea a try, because one’s partner wants some. There may need to be a Mira Embraces Lumbersexuality blog post, soon.

***** Reader, I just leased a Prius C. Although, Teri… wants a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. and goddess help my ecofeminist soul, but I find this idea disturbingly sexy.