Experimenting with trans

What is happening when teenagers say they are trans, and then a few years later say they aren’t?

Possibly, they are really trans but societal transphobia is so bad that they have gone into denial again. The relentless opposition of parents may be insurmountable. The desistance myth, that they are in some way “cured”, that they have regained a healthy sense of self, is part of that transphobia.

What does “really trans” mean? Compare “really gay”. Some men are attracted to other men. Society calls them “gay”. From vilification and prosecution in 1966, there has been increasing tolerance from mainstream society and gay pride pushing boundaries, asserting gay men’s right to be who they are. Some people are born gay. Some people are bisexual. Most people are straight. And prisons alter that narrative, for some people choose to have sex with other prisoners, who were straight on the outside. Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian ideas of what same sex love or sex was don’t fit, either.

There’s a mostly accepted concept of “really gay”, so that people identify as gay, are seen as gay, are accepted as gay, share stories of knowing they were gay as young children. Teachers say they can spot them young, too. Conversion therapy is going to be made illegal.

There is some conception of “really trans” which fits some of that: knowing when young, having particular attitudes to your body. I fit that. I despised my body. I felt detached from it, as if I were a separate intellect. Then I transitioned, and I love my body, I feel it is me. Transition cured the detachment. Yet, there is fierce opposition to making anti-trans conversion therapy illegal. What if the trans identity is a delusion, and the person can be made comfortable in their birth sex, which some would call their real sex? There is even the allegation that transition is anti-gay conversion therapy: gay men transition to female and are thereby “converted” to being straight. ICD 11 says trans is not a medical condition, but many people have not got the memo.

The “detransition voices” website would have you believe trans is a poisonous myth. Rachel was born in 1990, came out as lesbian aged 22, having been molested by her father when she was four. She was homeschooled into repressive Christianity, with strict gender roles. She was raped four times, the first when she was 14.

She identified as trans aged 22, and detransitioned five years later, having taken testosterone. Now, she calls transition running away from Patriarchy and its oppression of her female self, a quick fix. It was a fantasy, it failed, she had to cope with reality, to “deal with my shit on my own”.

The detrans voices site recommends Lisa Marchiano in Quillette, who writes an easy morality tale of Carl Jung. Aged 12 he was shoved to the ground by another child, and hit his head on the pavement. Later he wrote, “The thought flashed through my mind: ‘Now you won’t have to go to school anymore’.” He started having fainting spells, which felt real to him but doctors could find nothing wrong. He had a six month “picnic”. Then he overheard his father say, “What will become of the boy if he cannot earn his own living?” Jung called this “the collision with reality”.

I met a woman who may have been like that. After a car accident aged about 12, she was still an invalid in her early twenties. Her immigrant husband by arranged marriage was her full time carer. The doctors could find nothing wrong with her. Seeing his complete subjugation, we called him “Mr Bibi”.

Marchiano says trans is “victim culture”, a way of avoiding our fate by imagining ourselves sick. Her answer is the Stoic Marcus Aurelius’: “I am rising for the work of man”. There is a happy ending- people taking control of their lives and finding health and energy- but there is also a living Hell, for those who persist as seeing themselves as victims. It’s a neat moral for Quillette: the poor have themselves to blame, the rich are meritocrats.

In your teens you find who you are. This shocks parents and the old: sometimes, what the young come up with is entirely new. Death and birth is how human culture advances. Why not try on a number of identities, to find which one fits? If gender stereotypes do not fit, that does not mean that you are trans, but exploring that identity to see if it fits might help you know yourself better. Rachel found absolute clarity about what she did not want. Someone else might tease apart the various strands in this concept of trans, and find some work for them, some don’t. Nonbinary is more capacious, variable to fit the individual. Surgery becomes an option rather than the obvious course of action for someone who fits the trans box. Experimenting is how we find things out.

If someone identifies as a “desister”, they might look with horror on the trans community, and be glad that they have escaped medicalisation into loving their bodies, genders and whole selves. If they see themselves as having experimented, they will be grateful to others who experimented alongside them, all working to find out who we are. If this is impossible, that is because of society’s extreme transphobia.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, organiser of the March on Washington in 1963, was a Quaker who schooled his monthly meeting in pacifism and prison warders in non violent resistance and direct action. He might accept tactically delaying racial integration in order to reduce resistance to it; he would not accept delay caused by white people’s hurt feelings. In prison, he addressed the Warden as an equal.

In 1942, he was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, for refusing to sit in the back of a bus.

He was the assistant to Martin Luther King who may have brought King to non-violent resistance and direct action; he had to resign as assistant when he was accused of an affair with King. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. concocted the story fearing civil rights marches would embarrass the Democratic party. Rustin supported gay rights all his life: “no group is ultimately safe from prejudice, bigotry, and harassment so long as any group is subject to special negative treatment.”

He recognised how injustice is interconnected, and supported poor whites. King eventually followed Rustin’s argument, for example in the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Rustin led the A. Philip Randolph Institute, forming alliances with the white labor movement. He was a singer who released albums and entertained fellow prisoners by the prison pipe system.

He was brought up by his grandmother Julia, a Quaker, and joined Brooklyn MM when he moved there. The Meeting was considering providing US soldiers with hospitality services. Rustin argued that soldiers’ morale was important to make them effective in war, and as “war is wrong”, “It is then our duty to make war impossible, first in us and then in society”. Yet it would not be fair to men committed to taking part in the war to admit them to meeting for worship, where pacifist messages might cause them anxiety. Co-operating with the military might make it more difficult for Quaker conscientious objectors to avoid conscription.

Rustin was a youth worker for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which worked on nonviolent direct action for peace and human rights. He observed, “The suffering which the Negro has already endured fits him well for the disciplines necessary for nonviolent direct action. . . . The use of violence by a minority group is suicidal.” In a few months he travelled in twenty states and spoke before more than 5000 people, including in seventeen colleges, and counselled many men and boys considering conscientious objection.

He was a Communist who left the party when war broke out and the party told him to focus on defeating fascism rather than the liberation struggle of African Americans.

Jesus was his exemplar in nonviolent direct action. Jesus practiced civil disobedience (He deliberately violated the Sabbath laws), noncooperation (He refused to answer ‘quisling’ Herod when questioned by him), mass marches (Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with a large procession of his followers shouting revolutionary statements), and even personal nonviolent direct action (He drove by drastic action the exploiters from the temple).

Rustin refused to go to a camp for COs, as COs there had restricted contact with the outside world, and so went to prison. “But when the will of God and the will of the state conflict, I am compelled to follow the will of God.” He said he would attempt escape from a minimum security prison, so had to be sent to a higher security prison. The warden begged his superiors to send Rustin somewhere else. He immediately sought to work with the warden for the racial integration of the prison.

I have had difficulty, sometimes, remaining in the Light in a Quaker committee. How much more in the violence of prison? Rustin wrote, “Though joyfully following the will of God, I regret that I must break the law of the state. I am prepared for whatever may follow.”

I have been taught a great lesson since coming here—namely, that there is such suffering in this world that not one penny should be misplaced or one moment wasted by men of social concern. I shall see many fewer shows and drink many fewer beers when I am free. And this not merely for discipline of self, but because these pleasures pale into the distance as one is brought face to face with the suffering . . . in lives here. I say this to indicate that we, all of us, must be very careful to search ourselves and our enterprises to make certain that we are using our resources wisely.

When the warden allowed him to mix with white prisoners, a man attacked him with a mop handle, with force sufficient to break the handle and Rustin’s wrist. Rustin did not resist, and insisted that the attacker be not punished, perhaps heaping burning coals on his head.

I certainly am convinced that there is need of a spiritual revolution if we are to avoid complete moral degeneration. I am equally certain that some totally dedicated and spiritually radical group, giving itself constantly and wholly to a life of the spirit, will (by its virtues) usher in the forces that will make genuine change possible. Whether I am to be of that group I doubt.

My own wish to be part of that revolution blanches before this modesty.

When one works to relieve racial tension (an area in which progress is slow, in which a life’s work can be destroyed by one hasty or unfortunate incident, in which the principle of ends and means must be observed faithfully) one must develop along with patience and a real consideration for the conditioning and point of view of others an easy sense of humor. Be able to laugh! Be able to laugh at yourself first. Only then will you have perspective, that middle ground “between tears and laughter” in which you will be forced to work for many years yet.

He would not force a white man to integrate. “It is, indeed, the most basic tenet of my belief: to force is to destroy.” But, giving white objectors the option of moving to another wing meant that they were not forced. The Warden should also consider the Black men: “There are 19 men in lower E who may appear to be content but who constantly are warped and embittered and made to look upon themselves as inferiors (as you yourself have noted) by the system of separation. The line of segregation, as every enlightened social worker, doctor, or teacher knows, touches every aspect of these 19 black lives.” Rustin thought the warden might be delaying, and wrote, “May I hear from you today.”

Instead the warders found prisoners who told of Rustin propositioning them sexually, or said they had seen him engage in oral sex, and had him placed in administrative segregation. Rustin resisted being sent there; but later wrote, “As a personal discipline I intend to … concentrate wholly on my own share of guilt; to refuse to discuss the administration’s share.”

From “I must resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters,” ed. Michael G. Long.

Trans and culture

Some people are gay. Get over it, as they say. More precisely, some people are same-sex attracted, and “gay” is a useful cultural response to that, a way of containing and explaining the various effects same sex attraction has on people.

Strip away the culture from trans, and what is left? People from widely different cultures live as the opposite sex. Hijras are hijras, Femminielli are femminielli, presenting as women but not seen as women. Elagabalus proclaimed herself “Empress” of Rome, rather than Emperor, a rare example of a transitioned woman with the power to insist. People squabble over instances of those found to be female-bodied after careers as soldiers or physicians- were they transitioning from identity, or were they women choosing that way to survive in a man’s world? Hijra have penis and testicles removed, and so do many modern European trans women.

What is the common factor underlying all these cultural responses? Whether people, either gay or straight, are promiscuous or prefer long term partnerships depends partly on circumstances; I read in the eighties writers disgusted by gay people who said they were promiscuous, and that was disgusting, but also immature and unserious and a sign that homosexuality was pathological, yet I am aware of life-partnerships from before 1967, the date of partial decriminalisation in England. So too trans responses may depend on circumstances. If transgenderists in the old sense, living full time presenting female but not using hormones or surgery, were seen by anyone as “women” I doubt they would object.

If trans women had surgery because they thought it made them women, or made others believe they were women, or believe that they had some medical condition which was properly treated by surgery and therefore they lost the stigma of a sexual pervert, that would mean surgery arose from circumstances, was a cultural response rather than a part of the underlying phenomenon. If the advantage you obtain from the operation is wholly symbolic, it is still an advantage; but society might be better if we could be accepted without having to be mutilated.

There is not only the phenomenon of trans, and cultural expressions of it, but reactions to it and cultural expressions of that. Some say it is a delusion, harmful to the sufferer and to other people who are affected by the sufferer’s actions, and some say it is part of ordinary human diversity. Decent people indulge arachnophobes, taking care to check whether there are spiders and getting rid of any, rather than telling them to pull themselves together.

I say there is a phenomenon of feminine or effeminate men, who do not fit the masculine stereotype, who transition because they fit the feminine stereotype better. If that is the case, the belief in onesself being a woman would come from shame at not fitting masculinity, then seeing the cultural expression of transition. Aha! An answer! The concept of transition arising from gender dysphoria does not require there to be just two genders, and everyone is either one or the other, only that the person transitioning believes that. So the concept of non-binary or gender queer will subvert traditional transition: I do not fit masculinity, but I can find some other way of being, rather than pretend to be a woman.

As people debate these questions, their motivations affect their answers. Are they trying to subvert rigid gender roles by supporting transition, or to protect people from mutilation by preventing it? Do they see trans folk as a threat? Do they seek our best interests, or seek to use us for some other campaign? Are they phobic about us, letting disgust and fear run riot because they imagine it is rational and reasonable, or are they objective?

In the world without Patriarchy, would anyone transition?

After the Gender clinic

This is a serious Trans post, which will give all my other fans warm fuzzies about Self-Acceptance and Personal Growth, even though the title is yet again click-bait for t-central. After counselling, I went to the Tate.

I loved Sculpture Victorious, and after eating my packed lunch in the sunshine went for a tour. The Tate is deserted for the Chelsea Flower Show, and I talk back to the guide: she asked if I was an art student, I don’t think sarcastically. We end with the base of a crucifixion.

-You know about Francis Bacon?
-Didn’t he write “No man is an island entire unto himself”? I am on a roll today.

She gives her interpretation, then I give mine. “I want to give an LGBT interpretation.” There he was, Out when it was really dangerous, a Sodomite or Invert because “Gay” had not been coined, a “promiscuous homoSEKKKKS-ual” inspiring disgust in right-thinking people, who would fail to see his courage, and deny his humanity. These are self-portraits. They are he, they are I, blind, screaming, yet Not cowering away. They stand there and face outwards. I will not hide, or run.

Bacon said he wanted to paint mouths like Monet painted sunsets, she says, and if you look at the layering of the paint you will see he did just that. His father was an army officer, who threw him out of the house, so he went to Paris and lived with a sugar-daddy, she tells us.

She sends us off to see more Bacon. I am not sure this was the one she had in mind.

25 years later, these may also be self-portraits. To me, they are all in the moment of orgasm. Pools of ejaculate cover the floor! Again, he says, I AM HERE but in a more joyous manner, though still with something which a day ago I would have seen as twisted monstrousness. No longer.

She had said that in 1947 people hated the triptych, and I understand. Looking at a work of art or reading a novel I like to sympathise with the subject. Knowing that it will be impossible for normal people to sympathise, he flings this ugliness in their faces. I Love him, and I love these creatures.

Arted-out, I walk to the Tube. I told Serra that I want to fear less, but no: I want to fear more! I want to rejoice, exult, luxuriate in my fear, let it effervesce in me, for it is my vulnerable Power. Part of this is because of Mrs Mounter, whom the guide showed us. I see in her fear and confusion, yet she looks out at us or the artist, resigned. There is self-respect and even authority there.

On the train I chat to Izzie, who is 25 and teaches PE at a fee-paying school. She tells me how facilities in state schools are really poor, and how her class sizes are 15 tops. She has had a job interview which lasted from 9-5 the previous day. She got fed up telling different people the same things, but is not fatigued because she resides in the pupils’ living quarters, so is always on duty. Her best sport is netball, her worst tennis. She is not bad at Badminton, because like netball it requires a loose wrist.

At the bus stop four women and I pet a pretty, friendly staffordshire bull terrier cross, and chat to her owner. So much connection!

Quiet, please

File:Syhem Angel.jpgI am not sure how we got on to murder- but all the ideas came from me.

I went into the library, and got chatting to the librarian. I wanted to ask her what quote she had tattooed on her arm. She rolled up her sleeve to show me, “because I don’t read it every day”. It is about how we are surrounded by angels, who support us, and we should practise awareness of them.

-It’s unprofessional to talk about myself. (Oh, what could the next word possibly be? Nothing other than) But-

The tattoos are the history of her life with her husband, ending with a butterfly, her pupation and leaving him. I congratulated her. He was a little scrote, she says, packing great malice into the word. She has been reading the detective fiction in order to get ideas.

-There was painting poison onto a stamp, so that when she licked it, she would die.
-Oh yes, I saw that. Murder in Paradise. I like that, it’s terribly British, isn’t it: fluffy, unserious, always a happy ending. But stamps are self-sticking.

In The Name of the Rose, a monk was murdered by painting poison on his manuscript. As he turned the pages, licking his finger to stick to the corner, he took it in.

-Now all I have to do is poison all the motorbike magazines in the hopes he will buy one.

File:Syang.jpgYou could steal a car, knock him off his scooter, then burn the car out. She likes this idea.

-There are people I would like to imprison in a disused nuclear bunker with a plentiful supply of bottled water to drink, and lots of sharp knives. I would have painted on the wall, “If you kill someone you will have something to eat”, and I would switch the lights on and off randomly.

-You’ve thought a lot about this, haven’t you?

-Well, it doesn’t take much to think that up. How do you feel when you kill a spider? You probably couldn’t do it.

-I don’t mind spiders, they don’t do me any harm. They kill flies. I hate flies, I kill them.

Her brother got the huge row for getting a tattoo, so when she got her first her mother was almost reconciled to the idea. They are all over her now. Her mother was a biker-chick, though: she has seen the photos of her mother in leathers. She remembers her grandmother, with a blue rinse, telling her off for dying her hair that colour, and she thought, oh, you can talk. Her sons are learning to drink, but are far less trouble than she was.

In other news: I had a serious WTF moment reading this blogger. He says Christianss are not obsessed with gays, and is bewildered by questions about homosexuality when he has been talking of “the state of marriage”. It is society that is obsessed: Activists want to change the definition of marriage, and they want to require Christian photographers and florists to service homosexual weddings. He presumably thinks that of all Worldly, Atheistical people, gays are the unique evildoers whom Christians should refuse to serve. Go, if you like writers who miss the point, and savour his befuddled, injured innocence.

Fallible humans

Caroline and KateDo we want our LGBT characters to be heroes?

We are a minority, subject to varying levels of distrust and dislike in the general population, becoming more visible and visibly successful. In real life there are queer heroes and villains, those oppressed and disadvantaged by homophobia and those who transcend it, people of all levels of gift and accomplishment, psychopaths and empaths.

The Bechdel test asks, in this drama are there two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man? That is, does the drama have anything primarily for a female audience? There are films for queer audiences, romantic comedies of two women or two men, just as fifty years ago there were films for Black audiences in the US.

Oops. I was going to stick in a joke about black film noir, but this article says that there are still segregated films, even though Morgan Freeman and Eddie Murphy are mainstream: if the Whites are watching a Black film such a high empathy threshold would make the suspension of disbelief difficult and attenuate the pleasure of their viewing experience. Please read that word “mainstream” imagining distaste in my voice.

Jack and IantoSo we look at these dramas with a beady eye. Are the gay characters in some way clichéd, like Jack the camp one in Will and Grace?  Will, the main character, was straight-acting to be more reassuring to the straight audience. Oops. Cliché camp gay: bad. Straight acting: bad. Felix in Orphan Black is also ostentatiously camp: most gay men I have known have reserved their fully camp side, like a Scouser in London speaking with a modified accent. Is he cliché or role-model?

In Last Tango in Halifax, a married woman having a lesbian affair books a hotel for a weekend away with her girlfriend. Phoning a young male receptionist, she bottles it, and books two single rooms to the great disgust of her girlfriend who does not find out until they check in. Arriving to find a middle-aged woman receptionist, she does not correct her mistake.

I can believe she would be frightened about her relationship being known. I want drama to portray reality without pointing too much of a moral, so we can react to it as we will: but I would not want anyone thinking she was right to be ashamed.

People use the word “lesbian” of her, as if her marriage was a mistake. Was there never any attraction? I may be less offended by this than if I were bi.   Yet so many women marry then come out that we have the expression “Gold star lesbian” for those who have never had sex with men. We would not need terms at all if sexual fluidity was accepted, that it was equally normal for some people to feel attractions to the same sex, and act on them, and different attractions at different times of their lives: but would there still be straights who suffered that high empathy threshold and be put off?

I want the queer couples to get a happy ending. Straights do.

A gay debate

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-26055-0017%2C_Dresden%2C_Zwinger%2C_Statue_Mephistopheles.jpgGay, of course, in the archaic sense of joyous, rather than the ancient sense of bent, not-straight.

I commented on the blog of some vile queerbasher or other,

Hello Cliff. I think you are a bad pastor, because you preach in this way against gay people. You are the one driving gay people out of the church, promoting bullying, and driving gay people to suicide. Shame on you.

And- I want to promote dialogue across the Church. I am a Christian.

“Like Jesus, we shall be misunderstood”, you say. Remember the Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray- “Thank God I am not like this publican”. What did Jesus say?

No, homosexuality is not the “sin” “unnaturally pushed on our culture”. Adultery is. You are a pastor. Have you ever had a couple in your church, on their second marriage? Read Mark’s Gospel: that is adultery. Yet you do not care about it, because it is the sin you sympathise with. Yet even the gay people who buy the bullshit you peddle, and imagine they have to be celibate- contrary to the Bible, which says “it is not good for the man to be alone”- become uncomfortable in your church, and leave.

You can, if you wish, read articles delving into the Greek Hebrew and Aramaic, and finding that only specific acts of gay lovemaking are condemned. For http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/Mephistopheles_by_Antokolsky.jpgexample, Romans 1 condemns sex during idol worship, in Rome in the first century, notably in the worship of Cybele. Yet you ignore them. You do not have ears to hear.

Knockabout stuff. He replied, thanks! You helped make my point! Which merely as repartee is a brilliant answer. No-one on whose blog I have posted similar has been able to answer the adultery point. Better to ignore it.

I am not hypocritical in my statement on adultery. I think often a couple join together in haste, and couples grow apart: it is not always wrong to split, and I would not stop them from splicing again, though sometimes I feel queasy about it. But I am not the one who claims to live by the Bible. I am pointing out his hypocrisy. Of course he has “adulterers”, so defined, in his church.

I can “make a case” for the virtue of my commenting in this way. I confront the ones who torture gay people with words. I demonstrate to them that there is another way, a Christian way, of responding to gay people.

And, perhaps, I am talking to myself. I assure myself that I am not doing wrong by fulfilling my God-given nature, despite what all these “Christians” think. Writing such things helps me to think them through. This comment is the latest of many, during which I have honed my rhetoric, and increased my detestation for such abominable lies. Reading it, it occurred to me that I might have done all I need, interacting with such slime, and can move on.

I exposed myself to such devilish hatred, in order to inoculate myself against it. Perhaps I have done so. Reading more of it gives it more importance than it deserves.