Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Transgender Gene?

Science or Hokum?

The transworld is all a dither about a report in Biological Psychiatry that suggests there is a "transgender gene" that has been identified. Some suggest this "validates" our experience, others worry about tests that could prove harmful. Me? I'm just gonna be a wet blanket. Not only am I not all that excited about fact I'm quite skeptical.

First, they report finding only that the gene variation (regarding a gene string thought to have impact as an androgen receptor) is noted more often in MtF's than the control group. So some/many MtF's did NOT have this genetic string and some/few of the control group did. I'm no geneticist, but I did a pretty good job in logic in college. Some is not all and neither is many. So if there are some who do not have the gene variation (which some reports have labeled a "defect" - another reason not to trust these reports) then one cannot claim this is THE cause. At best, it may be ONE cause. Or it just may be total bupkus.

Also, in reading the report it referenced the AR gene structure in how it *might* relate to "masculinity" and/or "femininity". Those are sociologically constructed
gender roles, NOT personal identity factors. Many of us are/were very "masculine", just like many gay males are quite "masculine" and many lesbian women are "feminine". So once again, behavior is confused with status.

I first read about this via the BBC website - which you can find here:

That page will also link you to an "authoritative" study from 2000 by Professor Richard Green of Imperial College in London who said that MtF's had certain traits in common - lefthandedness, late birth order and an abundance of maternal aunts. Of course, I'm right handed, first born and had no maternal aunts.

And I recall an article in the
San Francisco Chronicle about Dr. V.S. Ramachandran's theory of a "phantom pain" connection and his rather egotistic declaration ""Those who study transsexuality tend to be territorial because they themselves have made so little progress. There is no literature that illuminates the underlying mechanisms, other than psychological mumbo jumbo. And then someone comes striding in and spends two weeks solving the riddle. It must be infuriating." I don't think so, but I'll give him props for "psychological mumbo jumbo"!

As someone who offers what I believe to be a rather credible presentation on transgender understanding, I come across a lot of these studies and research efforts. Some may have merit, most probably don't. Ours is an existence that lends itself to a lot of "pseudoscience" either by those trying to make a name for themselves or by those like Focus on the Family that have a clear agenda to support. In fact, I recently gave a presentation to a local college class. One of the student's memos that were forwarded on to me was from someone not terribly supportive, which is okay by me. What is not okay was his belief this was due to a sexual trauma earlier in my life....'cuz that's what he'd heard. So here is someone who'd rather believe the phony myths because it neatly fits his biases, rather than attempt to understand the real science as we can best discern it.

Its hard enough to recognize true scientific discovery and breakthrough when we are constantly bombarded with stories such as this. In fact the headlines cite "transgender gene found!", when even in the article the authors suggest this may only be a connection. Thus we can't even trust the scientific journalism involved, let alone the authenticity of the scientists themselves. Is it really that important to find the "cause"? Isn't our collective existence and experience sufficient? Listen to us and you will learn. Those who don't want to listen are the ones bound and determined to deny our journeys by finding some "cause".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mike to Christine to Mike

The Re-Transition of Mike Penner

Word is spreading today that Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist Christine Daniels is transitioning back to her former life as Mike Penner. Mike/Christine made a huge public splash with an "outing" column published in the Times back on April 26th of last year. Everything written then spoke directly to the common journey experienced by so many others over so many years. There was nothing hinting of something amiss. But clearly, something is amiss. Just what that "something" is will be the subject of speculation until Mike/Christine (and I feel absolutely frustrated that I must list the name is such fashion) speaks directly.

Magnanimous me. Charitably I will suggest, as I do underscore in seminars I present, that this is Mike's journey, not mine, nor that of the trans community at large. Our gender identity struggles have no one-size-fits-all destiny. For some like me, full transition with surgery is where my journey has led to my peace. Others transition, but have no surgery - for them that is not that important. Some continue to fashion their own personal peace by living a dual life. The journey is the individual's. For that, I will offer my best to Mike.

Clinical me. I know little of Mike/Christine's early journey. Who was the therapist involved? I won't necessarily criticize the therapeutic skill or care of the counselor (was there one at all?) for they must proceed as the patient presents their story. This isn't an exact science, it is possible that appropriate care was provided, that there was something within Mike/Christine that wasn't brought out or kept hidden. We are very good about hiding ourselves. But in looking at others who have expressed severe regrets or "gone back", most of the time there was either incompetant therapeutic service or none at all. Still, it is reported that there is about a four percent "regret rate" among Mike/Christine in that slim demographic?

Economic me. Perhaps these challenging economic days are bringing an emotional stress all its own. The Times has endured many layoffs over the past few years. A new spartan ownership, a dwindling readership and advertising base and the current crisis may have initiated a controlling fear that he might be better served in his employment if he "returned". Employment is a major hurdle for many of us. If laid off, who would hire a transgender sports columnist? My guess would be that if his position is on the chopping block, this move won't stave off the pink slip.

Cynical me. Was this all a ruse? Nora Vincent wrote a somewhat successful book, "Self Made Man", about her living as a man for a year or so - although it's interesting that the paperback version listed on Amazon subtitles the book "One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man" and the hardcover edition says "One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back". Is it possible that Mike is going to write some kind of similar "autobiography"? The trans community adoringly absorbed Christine into the sisterhood and provided access to the top transgender leaders in the country. And we are talking about a very gifted writer.

Angry me. Mike/Christine has had every advantage that so many of us never enjoyed. Just yesterday I completed preparing the list of names for our local Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial next month. With a month remaining, there are 23 names. And so many were involved in sex work - so marginalized in their lives that this was likely their only legitimate option to economically survive. Dear Mike/Christine, this isn't a "whim". You were so darned certain with that initial column - were your doubts present then?

Jaded me. Christine became the "celebrity du jour" in the trans community. Without so much as a blink of a mascara-ed eyelash, we fawned all over her. Same thing happened with Susan Stanton. Susan, it turned out, harbored some of her own transphobic sentiments. After making hay with the Human Rights Campaign (she was introduced at the HRC's presidential "debate"), Stanton's star faded rapidly thereafter with her comments. She's argued that she was misunderstood, but the egg on HRC's face - if not hers - was most evident. Did we, the trans community, adopt another "star" much too quickly? Some of us, myself included, get our so-called fifteen minutes of fame - but does that make us any "better" than those transpeople whose transitions were in the margins or the shadows?

In the end, I'll return to the first point. This is not about me, but about Mike/Christine. But I worry not only about what lies ahead for Mike, but also for the transgender community at large.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Divided Within

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I wrote in an earlier entry, "Our Ugly Truth", about how the transgender "community" has an unfortunate tendency to divide and stratify itself - post-ops are higher than pre-ops, pre-ops higher than non-ops, all "T's" above all "CD's" (cross-dressers) and everyone higher than the transvestites. Now I've encountered yet another way we divide ourselves - the transwomen vs. the transmen.

I recently became aware of a local Yahoo e-mail group for FtM's in the Kansas City area. There is one for MtF's as well, which I joined prior to coming here, but later withdrew when there got to be too much division created by various participants. Now, as someone who has provided well over a hundred talks and presentations about Gender Identity locally, I do my best to address this from both the male-to-female experience and the female-to-male. Clearly, it is much easier for me to reference the MtF part more easily since that has been my own personal journey. I sought to enlist in the local FtM group to not only learn a bit more about their journey, but become more knowledgeable about local resources - support groups, therapists, physicians, etc.

To join a Yahoo group you access their home page and, if it is a private group - and this one is - you fill out the application box with a short blurb as to why you'd like to join. A few days later the group's owner sent me an email asking for a more in-depth explanation, which I provided even though I thought it a bit odd as I had clearly identified myself as MtF and as an advocate in the initial application. According to the owner, my application had caused a bit of a stir and debate. This was noticeable in the increase in messages for the month - which is visible on the group homepage.

Another week passes by with no further communication so I sent a note to the owner to withdraw my application. His response was that maybe I could send the FtM community information (which was also part of my reason to join) through someone else who is a member. It was yet another week before I finally got the "application denied" note from him. So I'm left to wonder why. Was it because I'm a transwoman? Was it because of something about me personally? Their homepage clearly states that "SOFFA's" are welcome. That's Significant Others (those in our committed relationships), Family, Friends and Allies. I do have local FtM friends and I am definitely an Ally. So, why?

An enduring principle, first cited by Aesop nearly six centuries before Christ, is "United we stand, divided we fall". Heck it's even the lyrics to a well-known song sung by Brotherhood of Man in the early 70's - "For United we stand, divided we fall. And if our backs should ever against the wall, we'll be together, together, you and I". It's about solidarity, it's about unity, it's about community. And yet, once again, I have to say their is no "community" within the transgender world. Amazing, isn't it? We who are so deeply marginalized by society - and even by some who are gay and lesbian - can't stand together in defense or support of ourselves.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

National Coming Out Day

Taking the Leap of Faith

Today is National Coming Out Day, a time when people who have been closeted are encouraged to come into the light of life, to be open, honest and authentic unto themselves. I often talk about the fact that for transgenders, there is no "choice" about coming out - only a question of "when". For our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, coming out is a matter of sharing something deeply personal - but they look the same the next day. Not so for us. Our whole lives are radically and dramatically changed. We become a physical reminder every day of our status.

And so I would ask for your special prayers for the transgenders who come Out today - and any day. The world is slowly becoming a better place for us. As more and more transwomen and transmen come out, become more visible, more and more people find role models and encouragement in making their Leap. Laws are slowly changing as well, but they continue to spread. Currently close to 40% of the population is now covered by anti-discrimination laws at the state, county or city level. And Diane Schroer last month won her federal discrimination suit against the Library of Congress, thus paving the way for transpeople to seek judicial relief on the basis of sex discrimination.

Though written for gays and lesbians, here are some prayers for those coming out, their families and their friends. Authors Leanne Tigert and Timothy Brown, in their book 'Coming Out Young and Faithful' offer these three prayers:

Prayer for Coming Out

Creator God, I am learning things all the time.
It is a gift to get to know you and your world, your beautiful creations.
I am also getting to know myself,
and I am discovering I am attracted to members of my gender - other girls (or boys). Sometimes the things I feel are strong and deep.
Sometimes it even feels like love.
Sometimes I feel scared about these feelings.
Sometimes I feel wonderful about them.
I know that I am your creation,
and you have given me a wonderful gift in my orientation.
I pray for your supporting presence as I become more comfortable with my feelings.
I pray for your guidance,
that I may know when it is the right time
for me to let other people know about this part of me.
I pray for your supporting presence if I should be rejected,
knowing that you, God who created me, will not reject me,
that you will affirm me as part of your beautiful creation.
In your trust. Amen.

Parent's Prayer

God you are the creator of the universe.
You created all that is.
You made the animals, and the fish and the birds,
you created humanity.
You created me
and you created the miracle that is my child, whom I love deeply.
I/We have just learned that s/he is gay.
I/We don't know why you created her/him this way
Help me/us not only to accept him/her
but to fully embrace and love him/her for who he/she is
I/We ask for your presence during my/our own journey with my/our daughter/son.
I/We also ask for your presence
and special protection with my/our child on her/his journey in this world,
which can sometimes be so cruel,
especially to one so different.
I/We ask your blessing on my/our family.

A Friend's Prayer

Loving Spirit and Friend,
my friend (name) is coming out as gay.
I ask for you to be present with my friend,
to help him/her know that s/he is loved - by me, by you, and by others.
Guide my friend as s/he comes to terms with his/her identity.
Protect her/him from the cruel things people may say or do;
surround him/her with support and with your love.

I have recently had the mothers of two transpeople contact me. One is the parent of a transwoman in her early 20's, the other of a transman still in his late teens. Both express more concern from society's antipathy and bigotry about us and how that may affect their children than the fact they're having to learn to accept their "new" child. I hope each has learned a bit more about the journey and that transpeople can and do lead healthy, productive lives. Continuing to hide, continuing the charade, continuing to bow to society's pressures is what causes destruction of the soul. Be well, be open, I hope you long bask in the light of Life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why I Won't Vote

For either Obama or McCain

Well, let's just face it, there's no way I could support John McCain. While once a distinct possibility in 2000, McCain has rapidly deteriorated into a toady of the fundamentalists and neo-con conservatives. Remember when he called Falwell and Robertson, et. al. the "Agents of Intolerance"? Of course, he lost that election so now he fawns for their support. He has since provided the Commencement address at Liberty University, aggressively sought the endorsements of John Hagee and Rod Parsley (who both almost make Falwell and Robertson seem "normal") and then selects as his running mate, someone who's home church recently staged a so-called "Love Won Out" (i.e. pray the gay away 'ex-gay', reparative therapy) event. No, the GOP is completely off my list.

So what of Obama-Biden? Nope. One of the stories coming out of the much ballyhooed - but in all honesty very disappointing - Vice Presidential debate in St. Louis was they completely agree on denying lesbians and gays marriage equity. As I've written before, marriage isn't a big issue for transgenders as we can marry either gender - it only depends upon in which state the marriage is held. Still, marriage equity for all would clear up a lot of gray areas and confusion on the part of transgenders and the law about our legal relationships.

When asked if he supported marriage equity, "Say it ain't so, Joe" replied, "No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage." Obama himself said he would consider the notion of "civil unions", but not "marriage" arguing that his faith guided his belief that "marriage" is one man/one woman only. Nevermind that his faith, under the United Church of Christ, holds no top down dogma - so his "faith" is basically his own - and that the UCC is actually the only mainstream, Protestant denomination to support marriage equity.

Biden hails from Delaware, a state with no employment protections for LGB or T people and no inclusion of Gender Identity in the state's hate crimes laws. Do you think if the widely popular Biden were to throw his weight behind our issues that perhaps his small state might be a bit more supportive? In truth, Biden has generally voted in support of LGB or T issues when brought to the floor of Congress, but he has been no real advocate for those issues either.

Obama was very quick last fall to declare his support for a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), then come spring started offering up the "but it might take a little longer" for the T-part mantra. Care to guess where he might have come up with that "incrementalist" notion?

And Obama has recently developed a hemming and hawing approach to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) saying he wouldn't do so "on his own". That's not leadership, that's prepping honorably serving gays, lesbians and transgenders for a sell out down the road. Count on it. People thought DADT was the big win when Bill Clinton went halfway in clearing the path for LGB or T people to serve openly and honestly in the military. How wrong was that support? Once burned, twice shy.

Also disturbing is Obama's continued outreach to very conservative faith leaders, one of whom is stumping for him in California while simultaneously supporting Proposition 8, which is the effort to overturn the state's Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for marriage equity. While Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec has been denied Communion for his support of Obama - who supports reproductive rights and choice for women - which is spiritual violence at him, the fact remains that Kmiec also supported Mitt Romney until his poorly defined candidacy collapsed. Kmiec is to be part of Obama's "Faith and Values" tour. Let us not forget that Obama earlier used Donnie McClurkin, a self-proclaimed "ex-gay" minister and gospel singer in the primary campaign in South Carolina.

I truly hope that Obama does win the election and not just for the historical context. But I can no longer support someone based on promises or hope or simply being the lesser of two choices. I spent nearly 50 years of my life living "second best" and I refuse to accept that premise any longer. I will support, eagerly support, those that support me. Is it a "litmus test"? Sure, but if I don't stand firm about transgender issues, the others don't really matter much. Clear that hurdle - act, not promise, for transgender equality - and then I'll consider the other issues important to the nation. Neither candidate, nor their running mates, have done so and thus I will sit on the sidelines of this election.