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Two Faces

Originally part of the previous post on handedness, I pick up the thread once again with song lyrics from back in the day.  Thank you, Lou Christie!

And I have a confession to make.  No, I’m not living a lie nor do I wear two faces (although until a few years ago, that was true).

My confession has to do with the title for my blog.  It is based on out-of-date science.  It is based on the idea that Mercury was the McDLT of planets: one side faces the sun and is always kept hot; the other side always faces away from the sun and always stays cold.

It is now known that the belief was erroneous.  The errant observation was due to the nature of Earth’s orbit and rotation as it synchronizes with Mercury’s orbit and rotation.  A layman’s explanation is that when Mercury was in its best position to be observed from Earth, the same side was always facing the sun.

I discovered this bit of information when I reconsidered my blog title recently.  At first, I was not upset at the error.  After all, no one corrected me on the inference I had made.  So I assumed that this must be a recent discovery.

Then I dug a little deeper and my heart sank.  This has been known about Mercury for 50 years!  I was in junior high in 1965.  Yes, I did well in math and science and hung out at times with the math/science “geek” crowd.  But my interests extended beyond that one group.  I was a well-rounded student who at one time or another hung out with the athletes (I lettered in four sports at my tiny private high school, Rockland Country Day School), I was one of a group of guys who would play bridge at a drop of a hat, I had one male classmate who got me interested in war gaming for a while (Avalon Hill games, for example) and a female classmate with whom I discussed classical music (she being far more knowledgeable than me).

While astronomy was never my science focus, I was interested in it.  And to top it off, I attended and graduated from Cornell, where I was an engineering student for two years.  By the time I arrived at Cornell in 1970, one of the best known astronomers and popularizers of science, Carl Sagan, was already there as a professor.  Becoming a full professor in 1971, he was already one of the more popular and visible professors on campus.  I even read (and I think I still have) one of his books, The Dragons of Eden.  But somehow, I never received the memo that Mercury was a little more complex than one side always facing the sun and the other always facing away.

But the title of my blog post still fits.  Not only is this still a commonly held view of the planet Mercury, it is a reminder that it can take a while for scientific knowledge to trickle down to the general public.  The average citizen is not going to be aware that the medical community (AMA and American Psychiatric Association) no longer classifies transsexuals as either suffering from mental illness or engaging in a form of homosexuality.  They are not going to be aware of recent studies that show that certain areas of the brains of MTF’s are closer to the normative female brain than male brain.  They are not going to be aware of the recent knowledge that male and female does not always fit into neat little physical boxes (see my links page for various conditions, such as XY people giving birth, Androgen Insensitivity Disorder, other sex chromosome abnormalities and XX people born with MRKH: the lack of or severely underdeveloped vagina, fallopian tubes and uterus).

I happen to meet some of my tax clients at the local public library.  I sometimes browse the used book sale to see if there is something interesting to read while I am waiting for a client.  Now and then, I buy the book I started reading.

Chris Bohjalian.

Chris Bohjalian. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usually it will take a while before I find something I like.  But last week, I zoomed in on a book.  It was “Trans-sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian.  With a title like that, how could I pass it up?  And while Bohjalian is a thoroughly cisgender author with a number of successful novels, I was correct: the book had a thoroughly transgender theme.

Bohjalian researched the topic very well and the writing showed it.  But when I first picked up the book and read the liner notes, I thought he had erred.  A resident of Vermont, he did what good authors often do: he wrote about what he knows best, so he had most of the story take place in a small town in Vermont.  So it surprised me when the blurb on the back of the paperback edition stated that the main characters had to contend with the “outrage” of a “Vermont community”.  I know that Vermont is a very liberal state, having elected a self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, to the US Congress ten times (eight times to Vermont’s only House seat and twice to the US Senate).  Vermont was also one of the first two states to approve Medicaid funding for surgery to treat gender identity disorder.

Then I saw that the copyright date was 2000.  Bohjalian had been researching this book at the turn of this century.  Now I knew he had not erred.

What is the point I am making?  Simply that transgender rights has not always been a liberal cause.  It has not always been a cause for the L, G and B members of that coalition.  There are still some radicals who have a problem with transgender rights.  And transgender allies who have worked with all four communities will tell you that even those supportive members of the first three do not understand those of us who are T.

My desire is to educate people and add transgender allies.  I don’t care what other labels they give themselves.  Older allies were new allies at one time.  Therefore at one time, they were not allies.  If they can convert, so can others.

When I came out to people, I lived by two slogans: “If I want to be understood, I need to be understanding;” “if it took me fifty years to figure this out, I can’t expect you to figure it out in fifty minutes.”  So my desire is to help people understand.  That requires a process.  And it requires understanding what part of their belief system prevents them from being an ally already.

In my previous blog post about handedness and reviewing the historic treatment of left-handed people, we saw that there are some cases where society is driven by a need for conformity.  In the related and intertwined topics of sexuality and gender, many people feel the need to see things as male or female with no gray areas.  Initially at least, it isn’t a matter of hatred.  It is a matter of wanting to keep life simple and manageable.  Who do I call “sir” and who do I call “ma’am”?  Which pronouns do I use for a person without having to ask everyone I meet?

At the beginning of this post, I discussed the time lag before which knowledge passes down from the expert level to the general population.  If there are people who are not aware of the nature of transgender as a birth condition instead of being a behavioral choice, is that the fault of the student or the educator?  Therefore, we need to continue to patiently educate.  Some people are resistant to change, some people are skeptical of new ideas and some people are slow learners.  These things take time and effort and persistence.

And then there is religious belief.  As a Christian, I respect those who follow deeply held beliefs consistent with their religion.  I also know that in every religion with which I am familiar, there are doctrines that are debated within the body of followers.  So there is room for discussion on a number of points outside of the principal doctrines.

I have witnessed hatred first-hand from people who have turned away from me or who have attacked others in the transgender community.  It could be because of ignorance, fear of a world that is moving beyond their comprehension (loss of conformity), religious fervor or any combination of them.  But I have had people disagree with me without showing hatred or disrespect.  Some remain in my life as good friends.  Therefore, I will not automatically ascribe to hatred those who hold a different opinion on transgender issues.

I endeavor for open, honest, respectful discussion and to build consensus as a result.  I do not want to be marginalized during that discussion.  And I will not marginalize any other parties of the discussion by name calling or making assumptions about them.  I will listen to the other person’s point of view and respond in a way that befits their beliefs.

Last year at the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), we memorialized between 300 and 400 people who we learned were killed because of their transgender identity or their alliance to transgender causes.  Since there are many countries that will not acknowledge the transgender identity of murder victims, it can be reasonably assumed that the number is significantly higher.  For the sake of this post, I will make a guess of 550 victims.

According to reliable statistics, 100,000 Christians are violently killed for their faith every year.  That would be roughly 550 victims every two days.  But it is also true that the Christian population of the world is much larger than the transgender population.  There is not a matter of competition.  I belong to both groups and I grieve those who lose their lives or are otherwise marginalized due to hatred against either group.  And I grieve the existence of any in one of the groups who hates those of the other group, whether or not directed at me.

Last week, my story (400 word limit) was published in the online NY Times editorial series “Transgender Lives: Your Stories” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/storywall/transgender-today/stories/lois-simmons). With the encouragement of two non-Christian members of the TG community, I focused on the acceptance I have received in my church from church leaders and others.  With the permission of denomination leadership, I included the fact that my church is part of the Salvation Army.

How did I achieve acceptance at such a church?  I did not compromise any of my beliefs regarding either group.  After meeting with three key people who provided reasons to believe that I would be accepted, I simply let people get to know me.  On a need to know basis, I came out to two people here and another person there. Based on people’s responses when  I came out to them, I have ~90% acceptance, one person who asked for time to process the information (granted!) and one person who appears to be negative.  I would have been thrilled with 50% acceptance!

As I put it to the college class to which I spoke last Wednesday evening, instead of coming in like a hammer, I was water.  It is consistent with the feminine strength of yin-yang (gleaned from my days of studying Oriental philosophy).  With nothing more than a desire to educate and bring the Christian and transgender communities together, I flowed where the terrain would allow me to go.  It has brought me to a larger body of water.  We shall see where it will flow next.

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. – Ecclesiastes 1:7

God bless,

Lois

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