The Becky Blog
It's been a while since my last blog, but maybe it's worth the wait...we'll see. I think I'll open my heart a bit.
I've just read a wonderful novel which I would highly recommend: The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. It's the story of Susie Salmon, who was 14 years old in 1973 when she was raped and murdered by a neighbor. From her vantage point in heaven, Susie can see each member of her family as they struggle with the tragedy of losing a beloved child and sister. She can see the boy who gave her her first (and only) kiss. She can even see her murderer, as he brazenly tells Susie's father "I hope they catch the bastard." Life continues on earth, but she can only observe; she cannot influence it. Or can she?
The story is captivating enough to keep me up until 3 AM finishing it. I agreed with the reviewers from Amazon and the New York Times, who gave it high praise for the story of a family's struggles and love in the face of disaster.
I internalized it much more than I expected. I have felt for some time that my relationship to my family is that of a ghost. In some ways, I have even less contact with them than Susie did with hers: at least she can see what's happening with her family.
My parents have been gone for decades, and I was an only child. The "family" experiences I had for over ten years were with my in-laws: Sandra's family. I had truly come to regard them as my family, and I know they felt the same about me. I loved George and Billye as my own, and felt a kinship to them and to Sandra's two sisters and their families. This made it so much more difficult for me to disrupt the family relationship, and I tried for years not to do so. When my conflict finally reached the stage of "transition or die" - which it did in 1993 - I tried to talk with them, but they just could not comprehend how I could do such a thing. For several years I wrote to them, but finally was made to understand that they don't want to hear from me again.
I am a ghost. Becky is alive, but Bruce is dead to them, and they blame me with much ill-will. I didn't want it to turn out this way. Even now I feel strange talking about this, because if I mention it to some of my old friends, they will respond "what did you expect, after you hurt them so badly?" I try to understand this. I know I hurt them, and I've tried to make amends. I've tried to communicate. Until earlier this year, my attempts at contact were never answered.I have still not heard from the other family members. My making this information public undoubtedly won't help the situation. Why, then, am I telling you this? I feel it is important to say this to persons who are considering transition. You may look at the successes in my story, and think that my transition has been without any problems. That is surely not the case. I have my share of grief, and I carry around so much guilt for entering into the marriage in the first place. I wish she could understand that I had no idea, prior to marriage, that life would turn out this way. I cannot regret the marriage, because I can never regret the wonderful life that is Dr. Mike Atkinson. I just wish I could have held on to the love and understanding of my family. I blame myself for being unable to communicate the reality of my life properly to them.
So, I look on my family from afar. My abilities to communicate and influence are not completely absent, but they are very impaired. I'm the ghost who is still alive.
Those of you who are planning your transition should be aware of the risks you will face. The loss of a job can be devastating, but the loss of your family can be so much worse. Don't think it can't happen to you. Am I saying you shouldn't go down this path? You must decide for yourself. For you, as for me, the day may come when remaining in the old life simply isn't an alternative. How will you deal with it?
One cannot be too maudlin for too long. I find it healthy to reflect sometimes on what has been and what may be, but unhealthy to dwell so closely on the grief that we lose sight of the wonder of the here and now.
Sonoma County, California, is one of the world's naturally blessed places, and October is its most blessed month. The grape harvest is in full swing. My medical meeting in the little town of Sonoma was planned so thoughtfully, to give us free time in the afternoons. Two friends from Arizona were attending the meeting also, and together we planned such enjoyable times.
Friday afternoon we drove up to Santa Rosa, to the county fairgrounds, for the Harvest Festival. I'll admit the main purpose of our trip was the wine tasting - all the year's Grand Prize winners were available to taste and purchase. Oh, my, were they good. Wonderful vineyards such as Alexander Valley and Kunde, Chateau St. Jean and Gallo (yes, Gallo) were showing off their winners. I introduced my friends to a type of wine - Late Harvest - they had never tried before, and found a new type myself - Viognier. After we had sampled the wines, we walked over to the grandstand to watch the preliminary heats of the Grape Stomping competition. I may never see this event again, but I can say I've done it, and it was delightful in its small-town pride manner.
We drove back to Sonoma on Friday night and had dinner at a wonderful local restaurant called Meritage. The next day we were treated to a private tour of Chateau St. Jean winery, a few miles north on Highway 12. I had taken such a tour years ago, but remembered so little of it, and now I found myself learning the basics of the fermentation vats, the "must", the oak barrels and their "toasting." The private reserve wines we sampled there were even smoother, more fragrant and exotic. The weather was perfect and the company was so enjoyable.
Later in this wonderful month of October, I celebrate my eighth anniversary of that trip to Neenah, Wisconsin, which capped my transition year. One of my dear friends has her own trip coming up just days afterward, although to a different destination, even a different country. She's been ready for this for a long time and I am so happy for her.
Next weekend I must work work work, but the rest of the month is free for trips to Sedona and Oak Creek - so gorgeous in the fall. I'm already planning the pictures I will take.
And, oh yes, last but not least, my beloved Ole Miss Rebels kicked Gator butt yesterday in their biggest upset victory in twenty-five years (that would be Notre Dame 1977). (I'd have enjoyed the game from the stands, but not if it meant giving up Sonoma.) Go Rebs!!!
Life's little pleasures. Enjoy them every day. Cherish and make memories.
Margaux and I in September 1994, on top of Schnebly Hill overlooking Sedona. We took a "Pink Jeep" tour to get an overview of the area.
(From The Real Life Test, Chapter 12)
Same hill, same Pink Jeep tour - eight years later, October 2002.
Slightly different Margaux and me.
Maybe we'll do it again, if we're here in 2010.
Gwen Araujo is dead at 17.
Born Eddie Araujo, the transgender teen had finally realized her dream of living as a girl and being accepted by her friends and family. She took the name "Gwen" after her favorite singer, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. The apparent tolerance Gwen experienced in Newark, California, must have caused her to relax that shield of caution each "out" transsexual learns to build. On the night of October 3, at a party at the home of a 24 year old man, Gwen was savagely beaten and strangled to death by the party's host and two of his like-minded friends, who have incredibly entered a plea of innocent to the murder.
What motivates a man to kill a transgender woman? Is it rage over having been deceived? Is it internal panic over the fact that he was attracted to her? What is it that has gone so terribly wrong with our society? This beautiful child deserved to grow up to a life free from hatred and fear.
I have been "out" on my Web site to provide an example of living free from such fear. The young transsexuals who write to me indicate that they are living in this freedom. The efforts of my generation are not in vain. Yet, the transphobic thugs of "2K2" America are still bound by their fears, and would destroy all of us to relieve their sense of discomfort.
Hundreds of friends and supporters attended Gwen's funeral. The name on her gravestone will read "Gwen Araujo." For most of society, attitudes are gradually changing. Just as in Washington in August, the blood of our own young people has brought a bit more acceptance in mainstream society. But this price is much too high to pay. These three murderers must be prosecuted for their hate crime. One more dead transgender teen is too many.
Here's the latest interesting anonymous mail (I'm calling it anonymous because there's no way this is the person's real name):
From: "Jane Joneson"
So, what's your point, Dr. Becky!!!
Sweet coat it any way you want, it's still being a queer!
That's it - just one shot and run away. So, I tried to be gracious in my reply:
Well, "Jane," not in the sense in which you are using the word. But in a broader definition of being outside the mainstream, that's certainly true.
A more interesting question: what issues are YOU having that you felt compelled to write this (and in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Can't sleep, eh? Bothering you that much?). Apparently my words struck a nerve somewhere. Care to think about that?
But enough about "Jane" - unless I ever get a reply. Let's talk about the concept of "queer."
A perfectly good word which used to mean "eccentric" or "strange" was hijacked a couple of generations ago, and turned into a pejorative put-down by which one person can assert moral and social superiority over another. The specific connotation, of course, is of homosexuality.
When I was in high school (as I've mentioned elsewhere) it was a humiliating experience to be called a "queer." The name was reserved for social misfits and nonconformists - and for boys who didn't fit the masculine stereotype. Innocent actions were interpreted as signals: a boy who, when sitting, crossed his legs at the knee had to be queer. My favorite silliness was: "If you wear green on Thursdays, you're a queer." Where did that come from?
Eventually, many gay or lesbian young people came to accept themselves and to accept the term "queer": "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" was a statement of solidarity and pride for people who realized there was no stigmatization in being born with certain characteristics.
Still, some people can't deal with the rejection associated with being placed in the "different" category, and will go to great lengths to deny their difference. For these people we have given new meaning to another old word: "closet." Being "in the closet" means to hide your difference from everyone - sometimes, alas, even from yourself.
I know a lot about closets. I can also tell you that it's more difficult for a transsexual person to remain in that closet forever, because of the obvious changes we undergo after accepting our reality. So we are visible, and to some non-affected persons we are seen as "queer."
I have dear friends in the "gender community" who are greatly bothered by the term "queer." Some of them want to draw a distinction between us and them, as I mentioned in "I'm Not One Of Them." I have seen people split hairs over Bible verses to justify their existence as transgender, but make no attempt to defend their gay and lesbian friends before the judgmental Puritans. Some have even gone so far as to remain incognito in fundamentalist churches, sitting silently while "their kind" are condemned from the pulpit.
We need to realize something. It doesn't really matter if we identify as gay, lesbian, hetero, bi, or asexual. We trannies are going to be identified with the larger group of sexual and gender nonconformists. "Get used to it", indeed. We don't do well to deny our different nature. Staying in that closet will do no one any good, and will perpetuate the "culture of shame" which I believe it is our duty to destroy. There is no shame in being born different.
I am proud to be a part of a group of intelligent, concerned, caring persons, all bound together by our "difference," most bearing the wounds of rejection for being different. I don't run away from the term "queer." I really don't care what is meant in the heart of the individual who uses the word as an epithet. Many times, as I'm convinced about "Jane" above, it's an attempt to pretend normalcy by calling others abnormal. It's a doomed effort. One day, the truth will find you out.
And I do enjoy wearing my green sweater on Thursdays like tomorrow.
The title of the essay is "Keep Big Brother's Hands Off The Internet." It was written by a U.S. Senator in 1997. Can you guess which Senator?
The Clinton administration would like the Federal government to have the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode, digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail, and proprietary information sent abroad -- all in the name of national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications.
This proposed policy raises obvious concerns about Americans' privacy, in addition to tampering with the competitive advantage that our U.S. software companies currently enjoy in the field of encryption technology. Not only would Big Brother be looming over the shoulders of international cyber-surfers, but the administration threatens to render our state-of-the-art computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.
There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?
The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.
...The administration's interest in all e-mail is a wholly unhealthy precedent, especially given this administration's track record on FBI files and IRS snooping. Every medium by which people communicate can be subject to exploitation by those with illegal intentions. Nevertheless, this is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.
Did you guess the Senator's name? Oh well, I'll just come right out and tell you. His name is John Ashcroft. Isn't it interesting how our opinions change as our circumstances change?
I've been talking with a longtime friend; some of you would recognize her if I mentioned her name. She tells me of a great change that is benefitting her life. Not transition, mind you; she is many years post op. This is a change which she fought against for years before finally giving in to reality.
You see, my friend, who blends very well into society as a normal woman, has suffered from a rather severe hair loss problem. It happened over a short period of time, during which she was under great stress, and doctors told her it wasn't typical male pattern baldness. She was left with an area about as wide as the palm of her hand, extending from the frontal hairline back to the crown, which lost about three fourths of its hair.
When she began taking estrogen prior to transition, she began using topical minoxidil and oral Propecia. She visited several different cosmetic surgeons for consultation. Their advice was always the same: her remaining hair was too fine and sparse to cover properly, so transplants and scalp reduction were not feasible.
She was very distressed: how could transition be possible? But she was very fortunate to be referred to a hair stylist who specialized in hair loss clients. This stylist worked with her over the years to design custom human hairpieces which were nearly undetectable. These hairpieces attached to her own hair with clips in the back and a liquid adhesive in front; each night she would detach the clips, dissolve the adhesive, and place the hairpiece on a head-shaped styrofoam block while she slept.
It was a workable solution; she could be quite normal in society during waking hours - if "normal" meant no swimming, no snorkeling at the beach, no walking in a strong wind, and above all no intimacy with someone who might run their fingers through your hair. But at night the hair came off, and she hated her appearance in the mirror. With the medical treatment, she was able to get slight regrowth of her natural hair, but nowhere near enough to go without a hairpiece.
Her stylist was very aware of this distress, and for years she tried to persuade my friend to take the next step in hair replacement. A different sort of "permanent" hairpiece could be applied to the scalp with a special adhesive which would last for several months. It would absorb oil and perspiration, and would not be removed except for the re-applications in the stylist's salon. She could do all those things which had been forbidden to her until now. The only downside was that this would require shaving a large area of scalp with every re-application, in order to achieve a secure fit. In other words, my friend would be giving up her dream of regaining her own natural hair.
It seemed so unfair. She knew many persons whose hair had regrown after transition. Why did she have to be different? She held back, still believing that each new improvement in scalp treatments would be the key to her hair regrowth.
"What changed your mind?" I asked, after she had finally agreed to make the change and was totally happy with her beautiful, flawless new system.
"I had to get my attitude right," she told me. "It was a matter of letting go of a dream. Once I accepted that it wasn't realistic to keep hoping for a miracle, I was able to take the right steps to reach an equally good solution."
Sometimes, growth and improvement cannot occur in our lives until we are willing to let go of those things in our past which hold us back. Letting go is hard - it's a risk. How can we know when the time is right? We say, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." But sometimes when we let go we don't find a devil at all - we find a very pleasant surprise.
I sense another essay or two out of this topic later...
Vatican Says 'Sex-change' Operation Does Not Change Person's Gender
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After years of study, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation has sent church leaders a confidential document concluding that "sex-change" procedures do not change a person's gender in the eyes of the church.
Consequently, the document instructs bishops never to alter the sex listed in parish baptismal records and says Catholics who have undergone "sex-change" procedures are not eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life, according to a source familiar with the text.
The document was completed in 2000 and sent "sub secretum" (under secrecy) to the papal representatives in each country to provide guidance on a case-by-case basis to bishops. But when it became clear that many bishops were still unaware of its existence, in 2002 the congregation sent it to the presidents of bishops' conferences as well. "The key point is that the (transsexual) surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female," said the source.
So: If you are a Catholic, be aware that your church doesn't recognize your existence as a transsexual. The old men who make the policy decisions are trying to distract the world's attention from the mess that is rampant pedophilia in the priesthood, and they are lashing out at the most unlikely targets. This document ignores all current medical and psychological research into the causes of transsexualism. "It does not change the personality," indeed. That's the whole point! Our "personality" was already mismatched with our bodies.
If you are a Catholic, do NOT give your support - financial or otherwise - to a church that officially denies the validity of your existence. Withhold it until reason prevails and opinions change to reflect reality.
If you are a Catholic, and a postoperative transsexual, and in a heterosexual marriage - guess what, your marriage isn't valid anymore. Shhh! Don't tell anyone. Better still, get the heck out of the Catholic church and find a place where you are welcome. They don't deserve your presence.