Death, Please.

Subj:        Death, Please.
Date:       08/10/96

Why are TG people so focused on death?

Much of the organizing energy over the past few years has been on the death of a handful of TG people — Brandon Teena, Tyra Hunter, Chanelle Pickett, Deborah Forte, the gals in Toronto, Christian Paige.  Riki has her “We are not disposable!” speech down pat, and has been able to use these deaths very powerfully to get sympathy and support.

While the death of any individual is sad, we don’t know how mant TG people are killed — is it more than average for their profession and role, or less? Are we really under attack — or do we just feel unsafe?

I think that one of the reasons we all feel so unsafe is that one of the key parts of TG is death — the death of a persona.  When we gendershift, a part of us dies — and to some people, it feels like a whole person dies.

Maybe one of the reasons that the Benjamin Standards are focused on people “Who have always been a woman inside” rather that people who choose to be a woman, is because that makes SRS the birth of a woman — and not the death of a man.  The doctor simply frees the real vagina rather than killing the old penis.

Kate Bornstein writes in Gender Outlaw:

**********************************

Sometimes, it’s not the fist in your belly that gets to you. Sometimes, it’s when they’re quiet, even polite. Sometimes, it’s how they look at you day after day that finally gets to you.

They squint at you, like they can’t see.

It’s as if by squinting they might get a better make on you.

If they’re in a crowd, they shift their eyes so friends can’t tell they’re looking at you. Real subtle.

You can read the fear behind the smirk, The hatred just past the disgust.

You worry it’s your paranoia. and you always hope it’s only your paranoia. (Confidence, they’ve told you, helps you pass.)

But there’s always one of them who looks at you with longing. And that scares you the most, Because if you let that longing into your heart, you have to accept yourself just the way you are.

***************

I wonder if it’s not the people who would kill us with knives and fists that scare us, but the people who would kill us with kindness and acceptance.

When they stop being disapproving, start accepting us, we are faced with the horrible decision — is it time to die?  Should the man persona that has sereved me so well, that was so hard to build, the ego laden armor that protected the tender child within — should that be dropped, killed?

That person was built to satisfy the expectations of others around us.  How do we tell those people who learned to love that persona that he has to die so another can be born.

All TG people are born with drama in their soul.  And the ultimate high-drama-event is simple — death and rebirth.  It is required.

It’s true that every good-bye is a hello, every death a rebirth — but the reason we hold joy for the birth of a baby is because we believe in the joyous possibilities a baby has in front of them.

Yet who can hold joy for the birth of a loud, queer human?  Do we have to make promises of acceptance and future to accept rebirth — or can we just leap.

These are the questions of the hero quest, no doubt.

We do need to mourn out bothers and sisters who have died at the hands of another — even at their own hand.  But I suspect that one reason we fight death so much is because we fight our own death, the death that being profoundly TG still requires.

It is the death of so many things.  Of the ego patterns and protections we have build up to create a gender role that doesn’t fit us.  Of a past that isn’t useful.  Of a son or a daughter that parents have expectations for.  Of a parent who children look up to.  Of one career.  Of the dreams that we would be able to fit in.  Of all the work and pain we used to try to fit in, to stem the flood of TG.

It is also the birth, a new birth, full of new possibilities and new power. It is the birth we must focus on, it is true — knowing that while we are forever changed, we are also forever the same.  Everyone has their own way of embracing the new birth — from Rachel Pollack’s mythological bent to other people’s total rejection of their past.

Yet, if we don’t die, we can’t be reborn.

I want to talk about death, about how we embrace the death that is required, about how we deal not just with our grief & mourning — which is mild, because the dream of a new life is planted deeply in us, or we would not leap — but of how we help the others around us though the process.  Can we?  Or do we just have to abandon them, do off in the woods to die and be reborn on a journey, the traditional transexual way as in “In Search Of Eve?”

I do not believe my life as a man was imply a canard — or that the relationships that people had with me as a man were not true.  I don’t hate my life, and don’t want to — and that makes death harder.   But we constantly have the pressure of rebirth – and for me, that involves being born out, public and loud.  Scary.

Does the gender community help people with death and rebirth, or does it simply try to relieve the pain and avoid death.  Questions.

But whatever it is, we are obsessed with avoiding death — as most of the culture is — and that continues to be a block to transformation.

Where do we look to find comfort in embracing death — and choosing a new life?

Callan

TG & Identity Politics

TG & Identity Politics

Copyright © Callan Williams, 1996

Are identity politics the salvation of TG people,  or the downfall of them?  It is a question worth  discussing.

I got a packet from Dallas Denny, with Chrysalis  10 and AEGIS News 6 & 7.  The theme of this  Chrysalis is Transgender Gothic, with an image  of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting on  the front, doctored by JoAnn Roberts to have the  heads of Virginia Prince and Harry Benjamin.

It contains my IFGE speech, where I call for  transcending the Prince-Benjamin model.   Dallas’ big piece is on the myth of the  Heterosexual Crossdresser, and the  communities and people who remain  untouched by the traditional gender community  — and how labeling has left them out in the cold.

Both pieces focus on the limits of the old  models, on how the groupings of people into  convenient labels and concepts limit all of us.

AEGIS News #7 is lead by Vision 2001, Dallas’s  analysis of the TG communities national groups.   Jessica Xavier writes the lead on politics, noting  that to be effective, we have to create people  whose primary identification is “transgendered,”  like the gays and lesbians have done — and if we  don’t do that, we will fail as a movement.

I also read a piece in The Sunday Gazette by Carl  Strock who went up to the National Women’s  Studies Conference up at Skidmore.  He came  away with amusement at the triumph of identity  politics, of how people grouped themselves  under labels, and how limiting that was — even  though it seemed to be the central cannon of  women’s studies.  In fact, the conference theme  was Boundaries: What separates and connects us?  I  suspect the answer to both questions was labels  — identity politics.

The biggest gift that The Prince brought to  transgendered people was identity politics.   Labels and separations — not only of those who  were not femiphiles or heterosexual  crossdressers, but even of those who were sort  of crossdressers but disagreed with The Prince,  as Dallas points out in her essay.  And to this  day, we debate the costs of that gift — the  balance between group idenitity and group  separation.

The question we have today is a tricky one.  Do  we, for political reasons, embrace identity  politics, as Jessica Xavier suggests, or do we,  again for political reasons, transcend identity  politics, as Dallas and I suggest?

Where are transgendered people to get an  identity?  Our birth families are very different  than we are, and are almost unanimously un- accepting, forcing us to lie about who we are, to  create a false self.  We don’t get support in our  schools or churches either, limiting our  geographic or spiritual identities.

Lesbian and Gay people have the same issues,  but they do get support from their lovers.  They  create families of choice out of a drive for  companionship and sexual satisfaction.  But  Transgendered people don’t have those drives.   We don’t share an attraction to partners like us.

We end up coming together under concepts,  under banners.  And for a long while, those  banners were simple: transsexual, het- crossdresser, drag queen.  Problem is that we  don’t fit neatly there — the labels were forced,  and they were not, as Jessica Xavier notes with  some frustration, our primary labels.  If TS we  wanted to become women (or for some, men) if  TV, we were normal het males, and drag  queens, normal gay men. We wanted to stay  away from the TG label.

And why not stay away?  What is the benefit of  the TG label?  Does it carry status, power,  glamour, affirmation?  In most cases, no — it  only carries entree to a few support groups —  ane often they were simply places of fear and  sublimation.

On a personal level, the transgender label, the  history and a few role models, can help us find  our own worth, transcend our own shame.  But  after all is said and done, we have to live inside  of a community, and while some have  postulated the creation of utopian transgender  communities, none exist.  The best we can get is  queer communities, like the gay ghettos of San  Francisco, Toronto, Atlanta, and so on.

I suspect that we would find that the level of  immersion of a gay or lesbian person into the  local gay or lesbian community is directly  related to how they primarily identify.  If they  are active, they are lesbians or gays first — but  for many, who have settled like any other  person, they may be lawyers, perents, blacks,  town dwellers, council-members, Christians or  some other identity first.  It is a question of the  group you see as being your first home — and  acknowledgment that we all live in many  groups, many worlds.

Life, for most people, is beyond the simplistic  views of identity politics.  And the gift of  identity politics that Virginia Prince brought to  the gender community is a double edged  sword, cutting the space for TG people to be  themselves — and cutting separations between  TG people and others in their community.

Politically oriented people will jump and run,  tell us that the only way to be effective is to be  part of a distinct group that can follow them and  fight for rights — by giving time, energy and  money to support the battles.

But many of us will wonder how that helps us  be more effective in the communities in which  we live.

Transgendered people have always been, and  probably will always be rare.  One or two per  nomadic tribe of 50 or so was enough.  They  have also always spoken for individual  expression — there was never a handbook on  how to be a shaman, only stories and tales that  lead us to find our own personal ways of power  and transcendence.

To be effective, transgendered people must  create alliances with many others around them —  it is not sufficient to find an isolated community  where only TG people live, for such a thing has  never existed.

Can we really find our voices as transgendered  people using the sword of identity politics?  I  don’t think so — the separations it creates cut us  off from our natural powers of bridging worlds,  of showing connection, of cutting across  boundaries.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying to  introduce more identity politics into the world  of transgender, and using the fear of separation  to drive people together.  “If you are not with  us, you will be alone, isolated, harassed, killed.   Only by standing together can we be powerful!”

Lily Tomlin: “We are all in this alone.”  I think, that  while I would never want to give up my  connections to other transgendered people, I  never want to primarily think of myself as  transgendered — or any other label relating to  that, like TS or TV.  I want to be essentially  human, and connect with other humans.

Are identity politics the salvation of TG people,  or the downfall of them?  It is a question worth discussing.
Chrysalis Quarterly, Vol. 2 No. 4 (Winter, 1996-1997), page 10

Stop Abusing Shame

Date:         Thu, 25 May 1995 12:13:25 -0400
Reply-To:     Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU>
Sender:       Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU>
From:         Callan Williams <TheCallan@AOL.COM>
Subject:      Stop Abusing Shame!

For your comments....

Thanks.

Callan

___________________________________________

Stop Abusing Shame!

Callan Williams  Copyright © 1995

We have a paradox.  Many people in this country are concerned about our national lack of shame, how we seem to be self centered, shameless, with a failing morality that it driving this country into a criminal morass.  Others, like those in the recovery movement,  are concerned with getting rid of shame, an internal feeling that something is wrong with them and they deserve to be punished.  They are working to be more authentic and whole, not shame based.

Shaming people is a powerful weapon.  We, as a human culture, have learned to use shame to stop people from certain behaviors. We want people to feel ashamed of theft, abuse, greed, violence and other behaviors that can be damaging to the fabric of this society.   It is important that we work to  limit these behaviors.

Unfortunately, we have been using shame for other reasons.  We have attempted to use shame to enforce not simply a code of deep, shared morality, but also to enforce compliance with an image of who we should be as Americans.  As we became an itinerant culture, moving from ancestral homes in cities and farms, we became a suburban culture, where our worth was valued not from a deep knowledge of our roots and our inner lives but by our compliance with a set of images.  TV and the media delivered these images, planted deep in our brains, and the vast malls, a homogeneous merchandising structure, gave us a way to look alike.

The pressure to keep up this front was, and is, shame.  We are ashamed of the way we look, ashamed of our parents, ashamed of our kids, ashamed of our pimples, ashamed of out thoughts, ashamed of who we are.  

The problem with this is that it debased the value of shame.  If we live with shame everyday, we can soon become sick -- so sick that we get ill, or so  sick that we become shameless.  Shame loses its sting when we don't have a strong context of pride in who we are to contrast it with.  It is impossible to shame those who have lost their pride, or worse, have learned to take a perverse pride in activities that should be shameful.

We can look at prisons, where shameful acts become a badge of pride, turning the entire moral structure upside down.  If there is no building of pride, even in prison, there is no way to control prisoners with healthy shame about destructive behavior.  Even in finance or politics, the excuse "everybody  does it" signals that people don't feel shame about lining their pockets through behavior that is destructive, illegal, immoral -- behavior that should be shameful.

Kids in inner cities are especially prone to overdosing on shame.  They feel the shame that our moralistic, suburban, materialistic culture imposes, yet they have no way to buy the things that will stop the shame.  They learn to live without pride, hardened to shame.  To complain that they are without  shame is to not understand how they have been abused by shame, forced to become shameless.

Like creating resistant diseases by the overuse of antibiotics, destroying our weapon by overuse, we have created a shame resistant culture by overuse of shame.

This process goes on.  We see people who call themselves Christians pulling out the big guns of shame to stop behavior they don't like, such as birth  control and homosexuality, and who then ask why the big guns don't work on the big crimes, like murder and rape.  They don't acknowledge how the abuse of shame has left them defenseless.

As a culture, we must come to an agreement on a set of core values that we can and must enforce.  These cannot be simple lifestyle issues, or marketing tools.  We cannot try to enforce homogenization, for that is unenforceable.  People understand that the creation of unenforceable laws diminishes the  respect for all laws, and we must also understand that the use of shame to enforce surface similarity will diminish the respect for shame.

We must allow people to find and have pride in their lives, however diverse they may be, and however much they make choices that we find odd or unpleasant.  Only then can we all find ways to enforce destructive acts as the truly shameful things that they are.

Many of us are learning to move away from our legacy of shame, the pain of the constant humiliation that was applied to try to make us conform.  We are trying to heal the hurt and find our true self, figure out what we really  should be ashamed of enough to change, and what is simply an essential part of us that doesn't fit into the images of conformity that were pumped into our brain.

As we do this, we must also keep in mind that all others deserve the same  privilege to be proud of their own unique expression, and that we must be  sparing with our expressions of scorn and humiliation, because they don't  need to be ashamed of themselves.  They -- and we -- simply need a healthy sense of shame.

A Tale Off Jennifer

A Tale Off Jennifer 

May, 11, 1995
(With Apologies to Melodie Warner)
 
Strike the gong! Ring the bells! 
I sing a song of Jennifer Wells 
She flies away very soon 
to have her cock turned into poon. 
Jennifer finally has enough cash 
To get a brand-new lovely gash! 

Never a boy, but learned to be a man 
She tried the very best she can 
To fill the wingtips of a father 
when she was always really a mother. 

Her journey, it was long, 
but soon, not her dong, 
Jennifer will be remade, 
with a sharp surgeon's blade. 
A new vagina 
(Don't be a whiner!), 
Ballsy slice of sculpted perfection 
that can host a yeast infection 

Many people at the Rage 
Would ask Jennifer her age. 
But she wouldn't tell 
Said 'Go to hell!" 
Now she will be reborn 
when her old penis is shorn 
Her life brand new, maybe 
like a just born baby. 

Jennifer trades in her gaff 
For the ability to laugh 
when people want to sneak a peek 
at the area where she takes a leak. 
All her parts nicely tucked in, 
soon Jenny can be simply fucked in. 

Her life has been varied, rich &amp; deep 
Two wives, five kids, maybe a sheep 
She explored while both hard and long 
followed the little head in her dong. 
But yea, that is going, leaving a slot, 
Now Jennifer will explore with a twat 

Who knows what she may see 
When Jennifer must squat to pee? 
Will she live a life of success &amp; fun? 
Feel the freedom, jump &amp; run? 
We hope for this, oh yes we do 
'Cause she's our sister, that is true. 

Biber beckons with his surgeon's skilly 
making a box out of Jennifer's willy 
He gives your body a new design, 
but in your head you must find 
joy is in your heart and soul, 
not in a surgically created hole. 

We trust that Jennifer will find peace 
when she has a brand new crease 
Her life will be both fresh and full 
Lo, she's a cow, no more a bull. 
Go have fun, follow your bliss 
maybe even steal a kiss 
the world is open, all for you 
life starts over, rare and true. 

Jennifer's dick said good bye today. 
Tucked inside so she can play 
Jennifer now can move on with her life 
Now not husband, now more house wife 
It is presently time to say 
Good bye dick! good bye -- and hooray!

Say It Loud! I’m Transgendered and I’m, uhhh, confused!

Say It Loud!

I’m Transgendered and I’m, uhhh, confused!

(Apologies to James Brown)

We are those lost between the boxes, struggling with a balance that for most people is very well defined.  When we fill out a form we look at the 2 boxes under gender– male & female– and have trouble choosing just one.

We know our physical sex.  We know our socialization, what sex role we were trained to play.  We know our sexual preferences.  We know what society expects of us.  We know that it is not right.

Sex is a pretty binary thing.  With the exception of a few true hermaphrodites, sex is fixed.  But somehow we know that gender is not fixed, is not some simple on/off issue.  We are men and we are women, at the same time.

This is not an easy concept to grasp for one who’s gender and sex roles seem to fit well.  This aspect of life is pretty simple.  But for one who’s mind hums with the internal dissonance of transgenderism, it’s not so simple.

Everbody has some understanding of the limits of their gender role.  Few have an understanding of the powerful internal pressure created when you know your gender role is somehow wrong.

If the internal pressure is powerful enough, you can change your sex to match your internal gender.  If the pressure is there, but not very strong, you may be satisfied with occaisonal forays into crossdressing.

If the pressure is there, but is balanced with other pressures, like the love of your family, a certain comfort in being a male, a joy in carreer, or a range of other issues, then you are caught between a rock and a hard place.  You find yourself split, trying to find a balance between male and female in a world that doesn’t have a clear definition of such a role.

We work to find such a balance, each in our own way.  Some resist the traditional duality of crossdressing by refusing to take a femme name, trying to find a balanced personae.  Some live full time as a woman, but stop when they realize that does not express all of them.  Some live full time, but resist having SRS.  Others have regular routines of living as a woman, but spend most of their time as male.  Because there is no accepted norm for transgendered people, we all must find our own way.

There are enormous pressures, both inside and outside the gender community to have us find a role that conforms more with the norms in our society.  We may be told that we are just refusing to surrender to our femininity, or that we should start acting like a man.  Even inside the gender community, many are uncomfortable with “gender freaks,” those who stand between the traditional gender roles.

But still we resist.  Most try to find a way of behaving that is gender neutral, finding the balance between male hierarcical power and female connection power.  This is not often simple, as tools that work well in one gender often appear inappropriate when done by the other.  One of us, living full time, has said that she act as a woman, and is stunned when it works for her.

We try to find ways to express ourselves, but get caught in the male female duality that we were trained to believe.  One old saw goes “In the war between the sexes, men see crossdressers as traitors, and women see crossdressers as spies.  In either case, they want to kill them.”  While this may not be accurate, as many transgenderists have found acceptance, it is what we were taught, and it scares us.

One TS has related three questions to be answered before you decide if you are TS

–Would you continue to pursue this if you were blind?

–Are you willing to give up all sexuality if necessary?

–Are you willing to give up your lifestyle and connections?

While many of us would have no problem with the first two questions, we have trouble with the third.  We understand that to be connected is to be alive, and breaking the connections, the history we have now.  We are leaders, we are fathers, we are connected

We know what it means be raised as a male, and that lets us help boys.  We don’t know what it means to be raised a girl, and that creates barriers between us and women.  We understand the rights and obligations of “members of the patriarchy,” and while we may disagree, this creates barriers between us and those who have never been members of the patriarchy, namely women.  We see life from both sides, and have trouble agreeing with politcally correct statements of opression, as we know the influences of both sides.

Is it a blessing or a curse to be given the gift of seeing both sides?  While it makes one a richer person, it also means that you can never be quite so sure about your choices, your decisions.

Many of us put deliberate blocks in the way of our being completely accepted as women.  A male attitude, a few extra pounds, a too glossy look are all things that could be eliminated if we had the desire to become women.  As transgenderists however, they provide a statement of our transgendered status.

Society sees gender roles as directly related to sexual preference.  Men worry about being “caught” by a “false woman,” and women often feel men who express their feminity are out to “catch” men.  To transgenderists, the words heterosexual and homosexual lose their meaning, being replaced with the simple understanding of a preference for men or women.

We try to find ways that let us be somewhere between the fixed, formal gender roles.  Some of us, living full time as women, know that women have a great deal more flexibility in “gender appropriate” behavior.  A woman in jeans and a t-shirt is more accepted than a man in a gown, for example.  This does have it’s roots in the power of the patriarchy, and since women were out of the formal power structure they had less to lose, but it is still true as women take more formal power in our society.

We are transgenderists.  We understand society’s confusion about how to treat us, as we are confused about how to live our life.  We know that “gender benders” appaer to be a threat to all that is good and simple and black and white in society.  We see the pictures Pat Roberston and Jerry Falwell show when they mention homosexuality, not nice normal gay guys, but drag queens in scary sexual poses.

We are transgenderists.  We live in a “no-person’s land” undertanding that gender roles are not fixed and firm, but rather a spread of options.  We are as confused as anyone else about the terrain of this land.

But we are driven to explore it, to find the balance we need in our lives, in our souls.