The Becky Blog

 

May 17, 2003

More community leaders weigh in on J. Michael Bailey's absurd ideas:

Christine Burns, Vice President and Media Liaison of the highly successful UK activist organization Press For Change, has these excellent essays (copyrighted by the author; with permission to reproduce).

"There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who classify everything into two categories, and those who don't."

Excerpts: "If you are especially lazy and concerned primarily in whether other people are 'us' or 'them' then the ideal number of categories which you would like to have is two. Two is a special number - unique for the way in which it simplifies the application of logic...Any other number of categories involves a lot more work - and the higher number of choices the more the process of data collection involves listening well enough to discern differences, which may often be subtle."

"What happens when the data presented to you doesn't fit? Do you abandon the binary model (and everything you've based on it so far) or do you simply widen one of the categories you've got so that 'the rest' is general enough to act as a general dustbin for awkward results?"

"If the subject's history is to be imputed from their label, and if disagreement is characterised as lying or a lack of insight, what further point is there in talking to the patient - other than rule that they've only progressed when they fall into line and agree? Is that the purpose of therapy? Is the idea to help the individual find their own unique comfortable accommodation of their experience within the world and deal with the traumas they'll face? Or is it the objective to force one of two pre-determined explanations onto the individual, by withholding consent to treatment until they've suppressed their own account? Is this not in itself a strong motive to lie?"

[Remind anyone of the Jurassic Clarke? - Becky]

"The problem with selective believing is that all the questions are focused on the believer's own subjectivities and researchers can have unconscious motives of their own. Achieving objectivity as a scientist requires a lot of insight about oneself too."

Are we late transitioners any different from those who come out in their teens? Or were we not quite so incredibly brave back then? Perhaps we can understand why some persons wait until well into adulthood to transition, if we compare the circumstance of persons who return to University to get their degrees in middle age.


Gwen Smith, Bay Area Web developer and the originator of the "Remembering Our Dead" site and annual day of remembrance:

[The cartoon kicks butt! - Becky]

"Bailey’s test subjects are largely from the club scene, and many of which do not fit the more-or-less accepted standards of transsexuality. At least one of his test subjects has come forth and stated that she was misrepresented in his text. For what it’s worth, I know said person personally, and would have to agree with her."

"For that matter, my very existence invalidates Bailey’s rigid pigeonholes. I can’t fit his 'homosexual man' category, because I am bisexual, and primarily interested in other women. I don’t fit his 'autogynephilic man' category because I have never been one to fetishize about having a female body. Never mind that I also don’t fit the label 'man' in most meanings of the term."

"Judging from what little response he has given to those who have spoken out about his 'theories,' he would just assume that I am lying, and really do fit into his binary."

"After three decades or so, I think I’m the foremost authority on what it is to be myself, and I really don’t feel the need to have J. Michael Bailey — or anyone else, for that matter — try to tell me what they think I am. I am me: that’s all you need to know."


Katherine, a transsexual woman who is working on her Ph.D. in psychology, offers these well-presented thoughts:

"I often read the psychological literature about transsexuals. It's actually sometimes hard for me to read. We're referred to with gendered terms like 'he' and 'she' as though we are our biological sex. But all MtF transsexuals should be discussed as 'transsexual women' and all FtM transsexuals should be discussed as 'transsexual men.' When making reference to out sexuality, it should be consistent with our gender identity. For example, a MtF transsexual who is attracted to men should be viewed as a straight transsexual women but instead she is often called a 'homosexual transsexual.' This may seem obvious, but rarely does the psychological literature treat us so kindly."

Blanchard's Mis-Directed Sex-Drive Model of Transsexuality
(A very detailed, technical analysis of the autogynephilia hypothesis)

"'Self Verification' is the idea that, whatever our self concepts, we will actively seek to maintain our sense of self and actively thwart efforts to change our sense of self.

"Anne Lawrence asks us, 'What force is powerful enough to make us give up our whole place in the world; to make us risk estrangement from our families, loss of our jobs, and rejection by our friends?'

"Identity.

"Though sexuality as a causal mechanism provides us with an intuitive way to understand the extremes of the transgendered community, identity provides us with an intuitive way to understand the transgendered community in its entirety.'"


May 25, 2003

A Continuing Spiritual Journey

My parents were Baptists, and I was raised from childhood in the Southern Baptist church in Mississippi. For years I seriously thought we had the One True Way, and everyone else's problems would be solved if they would just convert to our way of thinking and believing. (Not necessarily our way of behaving, of course. One need only to look at the history of Baptist behavior in the South to know how often they speak of love and practice anything but love.) By young adulthood I had concluded that there were many valid life paths, but I stayed in the Baptist church for family harmony and, well, inertia.

In the Baptist church I learned two humorous sayings. The first was: "I was Baptist born and Baptist bred, and when I die, I'll be a Baptist dead." One could have many comments on that; for me it just shows the power of inertia and satisfaction with the status quo. The second made more sense. "Growing up in a garage doesn't make you a car; growing up in church doesn't make you a Christian." As a teenager, I automatically thought I was a Christian, but I didn't give the subject much deep thought. It was not until I was twenty-six that I had a real "personal experience" of the awe and mystery of God, and made a commitment to try at all times to live with the love of God as revealed in Christ.

I didn't leave the Baptist church so much as it left me. I was never asked to leave, and for all I know I could have stayed. But I couldn't in good conscience remain a part of a group which condemns other people for nothing more than being born a certain way. The denomination has shifted far to the right since a plan was born in 1979 in Texas to purge the "liberal" or inclusive element. They have moved into dangerous ground, where fundamentalism is re-defined as that One True Way of my childhood, epitomized in the extreme by that Baptist church in Topeka whose members fly all over the country to picket funerals of persons they accuse of being "fags" and take great pleasure that such persons [they suppose] are burning in hell.

The Methodist church in Georgia wasn't bad. They were very accepting of me in my obviously less than perfectly passable state at the time. If I had found a comparable Methodist church here I might have remained a Methodist. Or not. The national leadership still doesn't seem very tolerant.

After some searching and comparisons, I settled on an Episcopal church. I really appreciated the person who was Rector at the time, and the repetitive familiarity of the liturgy was a weekly reminder of the basics of my faith. After a few years, however, it seemed as though there was no longer a living spiritual presence in that congregation. For one thing, it was a very wealthy church. Building projects were funded as soon as they were announced. They had everything they could wish for - and needed very little. I didn't feel I was making a contribution. The liturgy seemed repetitious and less than sincere. It was time for a change.

I visited in a Unitarian Universalist church for several weeks. The welcome was warm and sincere. The pastor was accessible, and the services were intellectually stimulating and filled with opportunities for service. It seemed very comfortable, but ultimately I had to admit my personal beliefs did not match those of the Unitarians well enough to allow me to feel happy there.

Almost by chance (or perhaps not by chance!) I found the church which is just right for me at this point in my life. Very close to my home, in a beautiful mountainside location, I noticed a Congregational church (United Church of Christ). I've been attending since January, and have found more love and concern than I did in several years at my previous church. Their doctrines are very compatible with mine. I became a member two weeks ago and it feels so good to be home!

June 14, 2003


Why You Should See This Movie

Soldier's Girl
A Showtime Original Movie

The true story of Calpernia Addams and Barry Winchell. From Showtime's promotional site:

The true story of a young soldier who fell in love with a transgendered nightclub singer forms the basis for this original drama starring Troy Garity as 21-year-old Army private Barry Winchell. When he falls for Calpernia Addams (Lee Pace), an alluring transgendered entertainer, Barry ignites the jealous fury of his homophobic brothers-in-arms, particularly his roommate Justin (Sean Hatosy), an anti-social misfit whose rage spurs violent action. Andre Braugher costars in this drama from director Frank Pierson.

This is one of the highest quality, most empathetic movies ever made about "us." Superbly acted by Troy Garity and Lee Pace, and faithfully - tragically - accurate to the details.

Still in rotation throughout June 2003. If you don't have Showtime, find a friend who does.


June 15, 2003

Professor Bayes and the Litmus Test

I read with interest the reports of various "diagnostic tests" for transsexualism. A physician friend of mine conducted a well-designed study of MRI brain scans, evaluating the size of the corpus callosum (the structure that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain). The study did seem to indicate that, on the average, MtoF transsexual women had a larger, more bulbous "splenium" portion of the corpus callosum than nontranssexual men.

Another study from Europe found distinct differences in the brain structure called the "BSTC nucleus" in transsexual women. One can't attach too much diagnostic importance to this study, of course, since the results were autopsy based. I'm not THAT anxious to find out anything.

Blanchard and Bailey will rig up their preposterous Rube Goldberg machines to measure local arousal to pictures of men and pictures of women, and incredibly claim that the responses have something to do with gender identity.

Then there are the psychological tests, even the simplistic online ones. "I must be transsexual - the COGIATI tells me so."

What's a seeker of truth to do? Can't someone just invent a single "litmus test" that will tell us whether or not a person is transsexual? That way she can justify payment for transition expenses on the basis of that test result!

Well - no. Make that emphatically NO! To explain my answer, let me introduce Professor Bayes.

Thomas Bayes was an eighteenth century English mathematician who developed a theory of conditional probability: the probability of a given event occurring depends on the occurrence of certain other events. As a medical student, I found this as confusing as most biostatistical terms. Our teacher explained it more simply, with an emphasis on the medical aspect:

The probability that a given test result will truly indicate the presence of a disease [the post-test probability of disease] depends upon three factors.

A. How specific is the test? That is, how many positive test results are "false positive"?

B. How sensitive is the test? That is, how many negative test results are "false negative"?

C. What is the pre-test probability of disease, based on the information you have before performing the test?

This is a very important concept for a cardiologist to understand, since we tend to base clinical decisions on test results. The area of interest here would be a treadmill stress test. This test has a specificity of about 85 to 90 per cent. That means that 10 to 15 per cent of positive (abnormal) treadmill results are going to be false positive - not very high, but potentially significant. Even more important is the sensitivity of the test, which is about 80 per cent. That means as many as 20 per cent of negative treadmills may be "false negative" and may miss a diagnosis of significant disease.

Therefore we depend on criterion C, the "pre-test probability," to refine our diagnosis. Let's say someone comes to my office with squeezing pain in the center of the chest, worse with activity, better with rest. He's smoked for 30 years and has high cholesterol. This person's pre-test probability of disease is already much greater than 80 per cent, so the treadmill isn't going to add much more information. I would take this person directly to the cardiac cath lab and perform an angiogram, the sensitivity of which test approximates 100 per cent.

What the heck does this have to do with transsexualism? It's simple. The likelihood that a single test will ever be found which is 100 per cent sensitive and 100 per cent specific for transsexualism is just about nil. So if you have a test with 95 per cent sensitivity, you are still going to misdiagnose one transsexual person out of twenty. That's devastating if you happen to be that one person. No SRS for you - you failed your MRI exam!

A diagnosis of transsexualism must rely not on any one diagnostic test, but on the "pre-test probability." Who determines that probability? Why, you do, of course, dear reader. You and your therapist, over time, establish a certainty that you can best find peace and fulfillment in life by making a transition from your gender role of birth to your gender role of choice. That's the only way to ensure fair treatment of all persons who feel this angst, this conflict.

A general rule: the politics of inclusion are preferable to the politics of exclusion. At least among trannies.


July 8, 2003

My focus on the compatibility of transsexualism and Christianity has led me in another new direction. Soulforce is an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against GLBT people. To that end, Soulforce conducts nonviolent protests in association with conventions and other meetings of religious groups which perpetuate this violence. These protests involve vigils, attempts at outreach and education, and sometimes civil disobedience. I became somewhat involved in Soulforce during the recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting which was in Phoenix this year. The organization feels very right for me at this point in my life, and I expect to participate much more in the future.

For more photos, go to Global Aware's site and do a picture search for "Soulforce."


August 3, 2003

"What's it like, owning a yacht?"

Liza Minelli to Dudley Moore, at the end of Arthur

"It doesn't suck."

Moore

What if a professional writer - an acclaimed novelist - were to transition and tell her story? What would it be like?

It would be She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. And it would not suck.

Boylan is co-chair of the English department at Colby College in Maine. She has published three novels and a collection of short stories.

But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know
Why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her
She's not there.

The Zombies

She's Not There is all about Jenny, who finally stopped pretending to be James. It is also very much about Grace Finney Boylan, who thought Jenny was James when they married.

It's about their families and friends, especially Richard Russo, Boylan's faculty colleague and beer-drinkin' buddy. Russo, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, listens in shocked silence as James delivers the monologue we all know by heart: I've felt this way all my life - thought I could be cured - it's a medical condition, not a choice. Can't take it any more; must act on what I know to be true.

Jenny feels relief to finally be able to share her true self with those she loves. Grace and Russo, however, don't feel relieved at all. Their world is thrown into confusion. Russo writes Jenny:

You insist that Jenny is the real you, but you played the other role so long and so convincingly that we can't banish it.

Grace is devastated: her husband is going away, becoming a woman, and she is powerless to stop it. This is not what she signed up for. In a Thai restaurant she weeps and speaks her point of view.

I think, What's the difference. Since day one you've pretty much had an idea in your head of exactly what you wanted to do, and when you'd do it. All I've ever said all along was, Wait, please, stop, slow down; and to that you've responded with all sorts of words about your suffering, about what you've been through, about how you don't have any choice, about how this is mostly a medical issue and all that. It seems like no matter what I say it doesn't matter, because it's all been decided a long time ago. You've just been on a freight train for two years now. You're going where you feel like you need to go. For me, it's just like I'm standing here watching.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but for Dr. Becky these words strike extremely close to home.

Fortunately for Jenny, both her spouse and her friend resolve to stay with her through the journey. We should all be so blessed. The time of transition changes all of them and brings them together in new relationships.

Before Jenny's familiar trip to Wisconsin and her date with Dr. Schrang, we are treated to a wondrous series of vignettes, presented in a non-linear manner and going all the way back to childhood.

Did you ever daydream you were an astronaut and were shipwrecked on Girl Planet, where breathing the atmosphere turns you into a female? Jenny did. So did I. Why did you keep trying on those old dresses, one after another, in the storage closet? Because I can't not.

"Just tell me this," said a friend. "When you started in on hormones, was irony the first thing to go?"

As an exchange professor in Cork, Ireland, pre-transition: "I spent that year in the traditional Irish manner - drinking heavily, singing songs, and wearing sheer-to-waist panty hose." In the pubs, the Irish ballads told of strangers in a strange land.

Surely they had me in mind when they sang about having to leave the land of one's birth because of the Great Hunger. Standing on the deck of a coffin ship, waving farewell to one's sweetheart. Making a difficult ocean crossing. Arriving at last in a new world, the land of promise, the land of freedom. But never quite fitting in, in the new land, always speaking with a trace of foreign accent.

Sometimes I think the best way to understand gender shift is to sing a song of diaspora.

The journey marks a milestone in that familiar hospital in Wisconsin, to the tune of "Everything's Coming Up Roses." I swear. Show tunes. But the journey didn't end there, and goes on still.

This is a crossover story in more ways than one. It will appeal, as all our stories, to us. And "She's Not There" will be popular with non-transgender readers also. I give it my highest recommendation. You can order it from the publisher, Random House, or from Jenny's personal Web site.


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becky@drbecky.com