Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I am a Trekkie

I was never really exposed to Star Trek until I started dating Chris, who has a Star Trek shrine and owns every single series and season on DVD.  A common date for us in our first year together would involve having sex like animals, then watching Deep Space Nine while eating whatever dinner I threw together to satisfy our sex munchies.  It got to the point that "Hey, wanna watch DS9?" was code for "Hey, wanna fuck?"  Fast forward to the present and we've been together for two and a half years, living together since March.  We've finished DS9 as well as Enterprise and we're currently on the last season of Voyager

The greatest thing about Star Trek is it gives us a vision for what the future not only could be, but should be.  Even though the first series comes across as sexist (and not just because of Captain Kirk) it was still incredibly liberal for it's time.  Not only were women military officers, but black women were military officers.  People of all different races and cultures were working together toward a common goal of exploration, but rather than pointing out "look what we can accomplish when we work together" in a heavy-handed way, the characters were incidentally multi-cultural.  The fact that they were multi-cultural was a non-issue for the characters, and so it promoted the idea that it should be a non-issue for us.  For this reason, Martin Luther King Jr. convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show, telling her that playing Uhura the most important thing she could do for the Civil Rights Movement.  She was a role model for countless minorities, including Whoopie Goldberg who ran to tell her parents, ""I just saw a black woman on television; and she ain't no maid!"

In Star Trek, the petty divisions that exist in our time are gone.  There is no discrimination.  Now, just because there is no institutionalized discrimination, doesn't mean prejudism doesn't exist.  An individual character can be racist, such as Miles O'Brien against Cardassians or Worf against Romulans, but that doesn't mean the Federation discriminates, nor is prejudism tolerated.  Nearly everyone acts as an ally and will call out prejudiced behaviour whenever it occurs.  That's not an unreasonable future to hope for.

In the future of Star Trek there is virtually no religion, since creator Gene Roddenberry was an atheist.  But this isn't a future where religion is outlawed, in fact there are many instances of religious characters, such as Chakotay's shamanism or Kira's worship of the Prophets.  However, the show often points out the dangers of religion and dogmatic faith, most memorably with Vedek Winn who turns from a devout nun, of sorts, to a tyrant hellbent on destruction because she believes she's being led by her gods and does not stop to question.  And who can forget Q, which is pretty much how I imagine the Abrahamic god would act if he existed.  Star Trek also embraces science and naturalism.  Whenever there appears to be a supernatural phenomenon on the ship, there is ultimately always a scientific explanation for it.  Often the writers will attempt to make these episodes ambiguous so that spiritual people can believe in the supernatural explanation while the rest of us can believe in the natural one.

Diversity is an essential part of the Star Trek universe.  When exploring the galaxy the various crews come across countless different species, many which defy our socially constructed norms such as race, gender, bipedal bodies and more.  Some of my favorite episodes are those that directly confront gender and sex and it is for this reason that Jadzia Dax is my favorite character.  Dax is a joined Trill, a privileged member of the Trill species that has joined with a symbiote, a kind of parasite that can remember the lives and memories of all it's former hosts.  As a result, Dax has the memory of seven (or nine) previous hosts, all of which have been blended with her own personality.  At the start of DS9, Ben Sisko, who was good friends with the previous host, meets the "new" Dax for the first time.  It's a little awkward, considering Dax was a man and is now a woman.  As a result, many trans jokes pass through the show, including Sisko continuing to call Dax "Old Man".  And even though this is uncomfortable for him, as it is for all friends of people transitioning, I'm sure, he handles it respectfully and ultimately learns to love the new Dax as much as the old one.

So why am I a Trekkie?  Because when I think of a future I'd like to live in, I can't think of a better one than what Star Trek shows.  There's no discrimination, diversity is a fact of life, peace is always preferred over war, science and exploration are encouraged, religion is a personal matter and not public policy, and the economy is like communism, except it works.  The human race has grown beyond nationality and is now working together as one planet, which is only a small part of a larger, galaxy-wide coalition.  I know there are plenty of questionable things about Star Trek (faster-than-light travel, for instance) but isn't that vision of the future worth striving for?  Even if we never achieve it it's a noble goal to shoot for.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Delivered from Deliverance

For about the first decade of my childhood I lived blissfully ignorant of nearly all religious practices.  My mother took me to an Mormon church but was never very dogmatic herself and raised me to believe that all religions were equally valid, just different ways of expressing the same ideas.  I had a vague notion that God and Jesus were good, but not much more.  While children are often pressured into baptism my mother was adamant that it was a decision I should make if and when I was informed and old enough to make it.  I'm incredibly grateful of my mother for so many reasons, her attitude toward religion being only one of them.

My parents got divorced when I was 9.  My dad received custody and religion suddenly became a much stricter part of my life.  We moved from Little Rock to a small town named Searcy and attended my grandmother's Baptist church while we were staying with her.  We later moved to my step-mom's Church of Christ when my dad remarried.  In the small town I was singled out and bullied for my "feminine" mannerisms, which had gone unnoticed at my old school in Little Rock.  As a result I suffered physical, mental and ultimately sexual abuse from a group of bullies who seemed dedicated to making my life a living hell for the next 5 years.  My dad was also becoming more and more unstable due to his schizophrenia, so even family life was enormously stressful.  Downtown Church of Christ was liberal enough in many ways and actually became a source of tranquility in a very tumultuous life.  I won't deny that the love for my mom and little sister along with my religious dedication are the only things that got me through some serious depression and suicidal temptation.  But the church also gave me a major cause of my anxiety: Hell.

My church believed in a literal Hell, complete with eternal torture and burning and suffering for not accepting Jesus Christ.  I lived in constant fear that the Rapture or Death could happen at any minute and I would not be worthy of salvation.  I constantly worried I wasn't good enough and was constantly asking God for forgiveness.  I was just as worried that my loved ones would go to Hell, in particular my "lapsed Catholic" (Atheist) grandparents and my mother.  I wasn't sure if their baptisms would be enough to save them or if they had to be devout churchgoers.  I spent many sleepless nights trying to think of how to "witness" to them, but never worked up the nerve and thus punished myself even more.

The reason I was so concerned about Hell was because at this same time I was going through puberty and that really kicked the whole "I'm not so sure I'm a boy" thing into high gear.  It's so hard to describe what it's like to start puberty as a transsexual.  Imagine that you've finally settled on the fact that you are stuck being a boy, despite not feeling like one, because there's nothing to be done about it.  So you deal with it and try to move on with the rest of your life.  Then a freight train of hormones (estrogen and testosterone, just to make it more confusing) slams into your body and you're so frightened and aroused you feel like you're losing your mind.  While I was attracted to men and women, I was unable to achieve any sexual satisfaction unless I dressed as or imagined myself to be a girl.  In hindsight, this makes perfect sense.  Not many girls have sexual fantasies about being men, but at the time I thought I was the sickest pervert out there and yet felt unable to control myself.  Throw in some sexual assault and it's not difficult to explain why every time I masturbated felt like I'd personally pissed in God's face.  When I developed facial hair and breasts at the same time I was convinced it was God's punishment for wanting to be a girl.  I was so ashamed of my body I developed bulimia, gained a lot of weight as a result (yes, that happens) and wore baggy clothes to try to hide my breasts in public.  Once again, I'd like to thank my mom for always raising us in a sex-positive way and ultimately freeing me from the shame and disgust I learned from Christianity.  She's also a bulimia survivor and was my main inspiration for stopping as well.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, everything changed.  I was accepted to a month-long scholarship arts camp.  At 13 I was the youngest of about a hundred high schoolers at Arkansas Tech to study Visual Arts, Dance, Music, or Theatre.  I was the only other "boy" in the Theatre department and suddenly found myself surrounded by other queer students.  Because it was on a college campus and was largely run like a college, complete with dorm rooms and student union meals it was like going to college.  I experienced new freedoms and stopped going to the church after the second week.  In my final weekend I had many firsts:  I smoked weed, I french kissed a boy, and I shared my secret with another person, all with Jonathan, a 17-year-old gay boy who knew I was queer and took me to the roof of our dorms to talk with me about it.  While he was disappointed I wasn't gay, he taught me two very important things.  1: A just and benevolent God would never create a hell.  2: You can't choose whether you're queer or not.  Your only choice is whether you hide it or embrace it.  Sadly, I decided to hide for another 10 years.

After ultimately dismissing Hell, the grasp religion had on me began to fade.  I started questioning things I had never been brave enough to before but still didn't want to lose my faith.  So I bargained with God that I would read the bible from cover to cover.  That only made my faith even weaker.  As a last ditch effort I bargained to get baptized, hoping that Jesus would reveal himself to me as I had been told so many times before.  But once my head was dunked in the water I didn't feel enlightened, only embarrassed at wearing nothing but a wet, thin white robe in front of hundreds of people.  At that exact moment I completely lost faith in all Abrahamic Religions.

I considered myself an agnostic for a long time, but tried every other "woo-woo" religion out there.  I practiced tarot cards, runes, and palmistry.  I tried Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Paganism.  Eventually I was just a "spiritual atheist" and believed gods were only manifestations of ourselves that we used in order to channel different parts of our psyche.  Yeah, it was weird.  On one eventful night I decided to practice in some shaman meditation.  In other words, I took a lot of psychedelic 'shrooms and thought about Odin while I tripped balls.  I joke about it, but it was a very intense vision in which Odin and Tlazolteotl (Aztec Goddess of Filth) argued about who was going to watch over me know while using female pronouns and words like "boygirl child".  I realized after my journey that I had to come out.  I still tried to delay it by coming out as a gay boy instead.  I figured that would be an adequate alternative.  It wasn't.  I didn't even last a year.

It was a roommate's wedding and honeymoon that finally pushed me out of the closet.  I now refer to my few months as a gay boy as my "ma'am/sir phase" because it was not uncommon for strangers to say "Excuse me ma'am...sir...ma'am."  My appearance was very androgynous and my curvy body wasn't helping matters.  As I, the bride and bridesmaids got manicures before the wedding my manicurist and I had the following conversation,
"You a bridesmaid?"
"No, I'm one of the groomsmen."
"You a boy?"
She laughs, "You not a boy!"
On the wedding I inexplicably burst into tears from putting on a tuxedo.  I had a crushing realization that I wanted to wear a dress on my wedding day, but not as a joke or a drag queen.  I just wanted to be a bride.  I wanted to be a woman.  Somehow I held it together through the ceremony and reception and waited until bedtime before crying years worth of oppression.

I spent my roommates' week long honeymoon living as a girl whenever I wasn't at work.  I would simply change into my secret clothes when I got home and do the same things I always did.  I watched movies, played video games, read books and cooked dinner.  When the week was closing to an end I began to panic about living as a boy again, so I resolved to come out of the closet a week after they returned, out of respect for their wedding.  I pushed that week back further and further until my 22nd birthday, when I couldn't keep lying anymore.  I came out to my 4 closest friends at the time and come out on facebook after that.  It wasn't long until I came out at work, went "full-time" and have never looked back since.

It was religion that held me back from self-acceptance and happiness and atheism that set me free.  Had I not become an atheist would I have been able to come out?  Maybe, but it could have taken much longer and I'm not sure I would be nearly as confident and outspoken as I am now.  Once you throw off the oppression of religion it's much easier to kick other nonsense to the curb.  But I'd also like to thank my mother and sister one last time.  They gave me the courage to be myself and have shaped me to be the woman I am.

F3 and Dallas Pride

Whew!  I've had a hell of a weekend between participating in the F3 conference and volunteering with Youth First Texas to set up the Alan Ross Freedom Parade (Dallas's Pride parade).  There were a few hiccups at F3, but considering it was the first of it's kind I was very impressed and can't wait to attend or participate in it once again in the future.  As for Pride, we worked from 6:30am to 1:30pm in the rain, suffered one casualty (a torn ligament), and had to scream ourselves hoarse dealing with drunk people while trying to set up barricades, but like every year it's always worth it.  Pride is one of those special events where I feel truly connected to my community and happy to help it in whatever way I can.  Thanks to all of you who helped or attended F3 or Pride or both.  I'm hoping to post some more pictures and YouTube links of the events once those become available.  Until then, never hide your pride!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

FAQs about Trans Folk

A reader recently left me a comment asking me to answer some basic questions about trans people and clear up a few myths and misconceptions.  It sounded like a great idea for a new blog post so let's get started!

Trans FAQs

Help!  I've never met a trans person before.  What do I do?
Actually, chances are very good you have met a trans person before and just didn't know it.  Some conservative estimates say anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the population is trans, so that means out of all the hundreds and thousands of people you've interacted with throughout your life, a decent number have been trans.  Trans people really don't need to be treated any differently from cis people.

What does "cis" mean?

Cis stands for cisgender or cissexual and it is the opposite of trans.  Cis means "from the same side" in Latin, so we use it to refer to people whose assigned sex and gender are "from the same side".  I use this word over "normal, genetic, real, or biological" because the implication is that trans people are weird, fake freaks.  No one is normal, we're all real, we're all made of genetic material and we're all biological creatures.  So cis is the word I and many other people use.

Does "trans man" or "trans woman" refer to their assigned sex or their gender identity?
Trans man refers to a trans person whose gender identity is male, but their assigned sex was female and vice versa for trans women.  Some people use FTM and MTF, but I find these phrases clunky and somewhat insulting as they imply a trans woman was a man at some point rather than just assigned male sex against her will as a child.  Compare trans woman to "black woman" or "Christian man".  The descriptive word, trans, has nothing to do with their sex or gender, it merely describes part of who they are.  The word following trans tells you whether that person is a man or woman.  You wouldn't question whether "black woman" meant male or female, so it works exactly the same way.

How do I know which pronoun to use with a trans person? 
Generally, it's however that person is presenting.  If they're wearing a dress you should use female pronouns, for example.  If their dressed androgynously and you're still not sure, just ask them which pronouns they prefer.  While this may be an awkward question, if you do it in a respectful manner and clarify it's so you can address them as they wish to be addressed than there's no harm.  After all, they may prefer gender neutral pronouns, so there's no way you're going to guess that!  Asking which pronoun someone prefers is much less rude than "What are you?" or "Are you a man or a woman?"

Are gay men/lesbians the same thing as trans women/trans men?
Absolutely not.  Assigned sex, gender identity, and gender presentation are all different.  While this may be confusing for some because some gay men like to dress in drag or fuck with gender norms, their gender identity is still firmly male.  The same goes for butch lesbians.  Being trans isn't a fashion statement.  A trans woman is a woman and a gay man is a man, so while there may be some overlap in clothing (just like cis women and gay men) that doesn't mean they experience their genders the same way.

Are all trans women feminine?  Are all trans men masculine?
Nope.  It's true that many of us early in our transition tend to go "overboard" and might act extra feminine or masculine, but that's mostly just from the sudden freedom to be able to do so.  Similar to how teenagers tend to go overboard until they figure out who they are.  But like teenagers, that phase dies out after a year or so.  I know plenty of fabulous trans men and plenty of butch trans women, we fall all through the spectrum just like cis people.  Even I tend to have my "girly" days and my "tomboy" days, it just depends on my mood.

How does sexual orientation work for trans people and their partners?
If you don't get hung up on genitals, it's a lot less confusing.  If a cis man is attracted to a cis woman than he's straight.  If a cis man is attracted to a trans woman than he's straight.  Yes, even if she's pre-op.  It's the secondary-sex characteristics such as breasts and hips for women and facial hair and muscle for men that everyone is attracted to.  How often do you see someone's genitals before you become interested in them?  Trans people have just as many sexual orientations as cis people.  If you're having a hard time figuring out what someone's orientation is, ask what it would be if they were cis.  If you're still concerned, maybe you should give the labels a rest for a while, they're not that important.

How do trans people have sex?
Very well, thank you.  Seriously, I get this question a lot and often people have no idea how rude it is.  Would you ask someone what their favorite position is?  How about what their kinks might be?  Of course not, unless you were in a sexual relationship with that person.  I don't mean to brag, but the truth is that trans people and their partners, regardless of surgery status, tend to be very creative in the bedroom.  Sometimes out of necessity and sometimes because when you've confronted the bullshit surrounding gender it makes confronting the bullshit surrounding sex a lot easier.

How does a trans person really know their trans?  What if they have regrets later?
Gender identity is set very early on in childhood and can't be changed.  Somewhere around the age of 3 or 4 we all begin to understand what gender we are.  That can get a little confusing if you're a little baby trans person.  How does a cis person really know their cis?  Is it because of what genitalia you have?  If that's the case, ask yourself how you would feel if you woke up with different genitalia one morning.  Would you suddenly decide you were a woman just because you had a vagina or a man because you had a penis?  No!  You would just be really pissed off and try to find a way to deal with it.  Welcome to our world. 

Is it okay to ask about surgery, hormones, etc?
In general, no.  If you're very close with someone who's trans and they bring up the topic, you can probably ask some questions provided you do so in a respectful manner.  At no point should you ask someone about their surgery status unless you're in a romantic relationship with them.  Think about it, wouldn't you be offended if someone asked if your penis was circumcised or what shape your vulva was?  Asking people about their genitals is just rude, including if their trans.

How does "The Surgery" work?
Depends on what surgery and which surgeon.  It's way too much for me to go into here, but if you'd like a basic run-down of different popular methods I would suggest you visit TS Road Map.  They also have some good information on hormones and other medical procedures trans people go through.  In general, the major surgeries are vaginoplasty for trans women and double mastectomy for trans men.  Phalloplasty isn't really that advanced yet, so most trans men choose not to get "bottom" surgery.  I'll try to go more in depth about these in a future post.

Are those real?
Believe it or not, I get this question about my breasts fairly often.  Yes, they are real.  And no, I'm not taking excessive amounts of estrogen to get bigger boobs.  It doesn't even work that way.  Hormone therapy only gets your hormone levels to typical female levels and then genetics takes over from there.  I happen to come from a large-breasted family, so I have large breasts.  It's exactly the same as cis women.  And if a trans woman does get breast augmentation, that's nobody's business but theirs and their sexual partners', so don't ask.

Don't trans people have a mental disorder?
It's true that Gender Identity Disorder was listed in the DSM-IV TR, the APA bible that lists all mental disorders.  However the upcoming DSM-V will be removing GID and instead replacing it with Gender Dysphoria, which is a temporary disorder similar to depression due to someone's unhappiness about their gender or sex, which generally becomes fixed once someone begins transition.  So no, trans people don't have a mental disorder because they're trans.  Whether they have a different mental disorder all depends on the person in question.

I'm pretty sure my co-worker/classmate/acquintance is trans?  How should I approach the subject?
You shouldn't.  This could go one of two ways, neither of which are good.  If your acquintance is trans and you try to ask them if they are, they'll probably feel extremely uncomfortable and wonder if they're so obvious that everybody knows.  This will most likely make them self-conscious and generally ruin their day.  If your acquintance isn't trans they will probably be offended and then feel self-conscious, wondering what part of their appearance makes them appear trans.  Unless someone tells you they're trans, don't try to guess.  It can only end badly.

How can I be a good trans ally?
Excellent question!  The best way to be an ally for trans people is to be their friend.  Talk with them, give them a hug if they're feeling down and be available for them.  Make an effort to use their prefered pronouns and name, even if they haven't started transitioning yet.  This will go a long way to making them feel more comfortable around you.  If you hear anyone making a transphobic remark or use a trans slur like "tranny" or make a joke at trans people's expense, call them out and educate them.  It's the only way we're going to make the world better for all of us.

Hopefully that was enough to get the dialogue started.  If you have any additional questions or comments please feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer them.  Now I need to get ready for my next class.  Thanks for reading!