The Becky Blog
I am becoming more and more active in the greater "GLBT" community. This past weekend I've attended a Board meeting of GLMA, the medical association for GLBTI (you can figure the abbreviation out) health professionals. It was my first Board meeting and I soaked up a lot of information. I hope to bring a new perspective to the Board as their only trans identified member.
Next weekend is busy also. Our Phoenix affiliate of HRC, the Human Rights Commission, will have our first annual fundraiser banquet and awards recognition. HRC is not to be confused with AHRF, the Arizona Human Rights Foundation/Fund, which has been holding similar events for several years - although it was confusing to me also at first. I'm a Table Captain for the HRC event, and fortunately my friends came to my aid to buy the tickets to fill up my table.
I still have friends - post op friends - who think I'm out of my mind for remaining visible in GLBT affairs, when, they say, I could drop out and have a nice anonymous life. Implicit sometimes is the idea that a "real woman" wouldn't "out" herself in the way my actions publicize my different history. Sigh. Suffice it to say we disagree. This is part of who I am, and I don't feel any less Becky for it. I'm not disappearing and leaving the battles to someone else. Besides, it's wonderful to make so many new friends from all over the country. Our GLMA meeting this fall will be in Montreal, a place I've never visited. It will be exciting, cold, and French. Can't wait.
For many years, Milton (Mickey) Diamond, Ph.D., has been one of the most respected academic investigators in transgender and intersex issues. Years ago, Dr. Diamond dared to challenge John Money, the Johns Hopkins sexologist who believed gender identity is socially constructed. Over a long period of time he accumulated evidence to refute Money's theories. In the case documented in the book As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, Diamond interviewed the subject as an adult and found that for years it had been apparent that the experiment did not work - the child's male gender identity was never modified by being raised as a girl. Moreover, this knowledge was suppressed and the false theory espoused even until a few years ago. Mickey Diamond, at great personal risk, kept collecting and publishing this information until the truth was known.
Dr. Diamond's latest research involves various body and sexuality issues in trans people. He has developed a questionnaire which I would recommend to you. Replies can be anonymous. You may visit Lynn Conway's site to view the questionnaire.
You can download the document as a Word file (.doc). Then edit it, answering the questions. Save it again. When you compose a reply email to Dr. Diamond, be sure to attach the newly saved version to send back to him. Alternatively, you may view the document on Lynn's Web site:
Please participate if you feel comfortable to do so.
Did He Really Say That?
The Dan Quayle Public Speaking Award should go to Arizona State Legislator Warde Nichols of East Mesa. Nichols is the author of a resolution called a "postcard" to be sent to the U.S. Congress in support of a federal constitutional amendment to permanently ban marital equality nationwide. The resolution, which was passed out of the Judiciary Committee to the full house by a 6-3 vote this week, declares that "the founders of our country decreed marriage between a man and a woman to be 'the highest and most blessed of relationships'." This declaration was apparently based on a 17th century Puritan document, and definitely not found in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
Nichols further opined that the resolution was designed to preserve marriage because marriage is the "foundation of our society and government." Then he outdid himself with this Quayle Award zinger:
"Only in a heterosexual environment are more taxpayers born so the government can take their money."
Which might explain the practice of some heterosexual men in Arizona to take several wives. More taxpayers! Golly, Warde, you've given away one of the secrets of the vast right wing conspiracy!
You can contact Warde at firstname.lastname@example.org if you so desire. You might have better luck with your local representative. Ask her or him to please vote against this little piece of hatred.
Keyes Family Values
From the Washington Post, February 13:
Maya Keyes loves her father and mother. She put off college and moved from the family home in Darnestown to Chicago to be with her dad on a grand adventure. Even though she disagrees with him on "almost everything" political, she worked hard for his quixotic and losing campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Now Maya Keyes -- liberal, lesbian and a little lost -- finds herself out on her own. She says her parents -- conservative commentator and perennial candidate Alan Keyes and his wife, Jocelyn -- threw her out of their house, refused to pay her college tuition and stopped speaking to her.
Maya, 19, says her parents cut her off because of who she is -- "a liberal queer." Tomorrow, she will take her private dispute with her dad into the open. She is scheduled to make her debut as a political animal, speaking at a rally in Annapolis sponsored by Equality Maryland, the state's gay rights lobby.
She plans to talk about "what it was like for me growing up as a liberal queer in a very conservative household. I've known so many other people in a position like mine, where their families really don't want much to do with them. Maybe I can help by talking about it."
During his failed campaign last fall against Barack Obama (D) for the Illinois Senate seat, Alan Keyes lashed out at Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Cheney. Keyes told a radio interviewer that Mary Cheney was a "selfish hedonist." Then, without having been asked anything about his own family, he volunteered that "if my daughter were a lesbian, I'd look at her and say, 'That is a relationship that is based on selfish hedonism.' I would also tell my daughter that it's a sin and she needs to pray to the Lord God to help her deal with that sin."
Maya heard the comments and recoiled. "It was kind of strange that he said it like a hypothetical," she says. "It was really kind of unpleasant."
Alan Keyes (R) has made a career as a controversialist, an eloquent and passionate defender of traditional values and conservative thinking. He has run for the Senate three times and the presidency twice. Like his daughter, he took time away from education because of his politics, leaving Cornell University as a freshman after getting into a heated dispute with black students who had taken over the student center.
Maya is also an eloquent iconoclast, at once an adult and an adolescent, testing society's limits even as she expects her parents to give her the love and support they always have provided.
Her parents have known that Maya is a lesbian since they found a copy of the Washington Blade, the gay weekly, in her room and confronted her at the end of high school (she went to Oakcrest School for Girls, a Catholic school in McLean run by the church's highly devout Opus Dei movement.) Ever since, Maya says, her parents have told her that her sexuality is wrong and sinful.
"As long as I was quiet about being gay or my politics, we got along," she says. "Then I went to the Counterinaugural," last month's protests in Washington against President Bush. "My father didn't like that."
Maya returned from the demonstration to find that she had been let go from her job at her father's political organization.
She says she was told to leave her father's apartment and not to expect any money toward attending Brown University, where she was admitted but deferred matriculation to spend a year teaching in southern India. "In my father's view, financing my college would be financing my politics, in a sense," Maya says, "because I plan to be an activist after college."
She wrote to her parents to tell them about tomorrow's speech, but says she got no response.
After I contacted Alan Keyes's office, press secretary Connie Hair called back with a prepared statement from him: "My daughter is an adult, and she is responsible for her own actions. What she chooses to do has nothing to do with my work or political activities." End of statement.
To you who wrote expressing concern for the lack of writing in over a month, thank you for your concern! I am alive and well, if somewhat exhausted. I love my work. I don't understand why any doctor would want to practice anything other than cardiology - but the long cases, standing up with the lead apron (x-ray shield), take their toll on this old lady. I have also expanded my teaching responsibilities. For six months out of the current academic year I have served as preceptor to third-year medical students, a different student each four weeks. I make sure they are exposed to every aspect of cardiology practice - the stents, the pacemakers, the surgery, the office practice; and especially I teach them how to read electrocardiograms. All this means I get to start my office paperwork after 5 PM and stay for about two more hours. By 9 PM I can't keep my eyes open... Thank goodness for a Saturday.
It is such a blessing to me to read messages from persons who have benefitted from the experience I describe in my writings. I especially love to hear about acceptance from families. There is serious irony therein, however, and the realization that this will be another year in which my contact with my family is limited to long distance correspondence is beginning to sink in. Perhaps in 2006, then. There is always hope.
On to the business at hand.
There's nothing to be said here about the passing of the Pope. I've already made clear my feeling that the Vatican bureaucracy makes the policies, and we trans persons are totally nonexistent in their eyes. That won't change. I've urged persons to find their spiritual fulfillment elsewhere.
There's not much else to be said about the Schiavo case, which has already been discussed to the extreme. There were definitely two sides to that story, and I'm not going to come down on either one. What I do find interesting is the huge over-reaction of the federal government: a weekend session, calling the president back from Texas to sign a hastily crafted bill? Please. At this point it would seem that they overplayed their hand, not realizing the huge public sentiment against their interference. The sleazy congressman from Texas may turn out to be the political loser here. His veiled threats against the judges who upheld the Florida law did not go unnoticed. There's speculation that the administration may "pull a Trent Lott" on him and dump him for a less controversial House leader.
The religious far right didn't fare too well in the matter either. The shrill hysteria of the Traditional Values Coalition is wearing thin on most of America, and many mainstream Republicans (such as John Danforth) are voicing the opinion that they've allowed too much influence in their party for this extremist camp.
I especially enjoyed these comments from none other than Jerry Falwell, on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer March 27:
A month ago, I was on a ventilator to breathe, and I had a feeding tube down my nose, just like she. And thank the Lord, I'm out of it, and I preached two times this morning in my Easter services.
But I've already given my living will. Don't you dare pull the plug on me. I want to wake up in 14 years and say, "What day is it? What time is it?"
"Don't you dare pull the plug on me"? Does he not see the hypocrisy in this? This is a man who has built his career trumpeting his self assurance that when he dies, he's going to be taken immediately to his version of Heaven, where he'll never again have to put up with us sinners! Now he wants to do anything possible to avoid that trip - to stay here on this "sinful" earth, even in a comatose state, waiting on a medical miracle? Jerry, you don't believe a word you've been preaching, do you??
On a more serious note, I've seen two political developments recently which may have troublesome implications for us.
- Isolated cases have been reported all over the country wherein a pharmacist refuses to fill a prescription for birth control pills, or more acutely serious, for a "morning after" contraceptive. Some women have reported that the pharmacist refuses to even return the prescription so they can take it elsewhere. The implication is obvious that a transgender person may be refused hormone therapy if the pharmacist assesses their situation correctly.
My thoughts: first, this is malpractice on the part of the pharmacist. A pharmacist has the right to question a physician's prescription, and I have appreciated such questions when I have been called. But a pharmacist has no right to unilaterally discard a physician's prescription without contacting the physician. Patients do not deserve this mistreatment, and such pharmacists should be disciplined. Second, my warning to transgender women and men: if you don't know the pharmacist whom you choose, be ready to call your doctor's office immediately if the pharmacist keeps your prescription without filling it. This may happen.
- The second early warning concerns the changes in bankruptcy law recently passed by Congress. These changes are generally perceived as being very favorable to the credit card industry, which will gain about $5 billion per year from fewer bankruptcy losses. From the Nolo web site: "The legislation prohibits some people from filing for bankruptcy altogether. For those who manage to qualify for bankruptcy, it makes it harder to come up with manageable repayment plans and it has fewer protections from collection efforts than prior law." This is relevant to us, because the financial losses associated with transition are often devastating, and bankruptcy becomes an option for many. It will be more difficult now.
My advice: make every effort to avoid serious credit debt. It's not easy. Every day I get junk mail promising low introductory interest rates on a new credit card. Seduction is hard to resist. The tendency in our community is to "max out" credit card debt to pay for our surgery expenses, reasoning that a new face or SRS can't be repossessed. This may be true, but under the new law you may be unable to get out of the credit card debt through bankruptcy. Be prepared to make payments for years to come.
For my part, I'm going to try my best to live on a monthly cash-flow. I've cancelled several credit cards, and I'm going to try to pay off the few remaining ones every month. The old advice to avoid credit debt, except for homes and cars, is even more sound today, if we can possibly follow it.
Life, and the Quality Thereof
Among the many persons over the world who reached the end of their earthly life today, there was one here in Phoenix to which I was a witness. More than a witness; I was part of a team which tried to make this passage as painless as possible for him and for his loved ones.
Everything which was medically possible had already been done. Certain body parts (yes, the heart, that's why I was involved) were just worn out. He could have been kept alive for a time through very aggressive measures, but he wouldn't have been able to survive without the various machines which were performing his bodily functions for him.
Before his condition reached this point, he had conferred with his grown children, and together they decided he would not have such extraordinary measures continued past a time when his recovery was not possible. The decisions were made to wean off the support, keeping him free from suffering, and let him go with dignity. Unlike the infamous case I referenced on my last blog entry, these decisions had the full agreement of all family members. One by one, they kissed their Dad for the last time and told him they loved him. His breathing, shallow but not distressed, slowed and then stopped. It seemed very peaceful.
It was a moment which will forever be in the memory of those several men and women. April 23, another day on the calendar for the rest of us, will for them be The Day Dad Died. But they will always comfort one another with the knowledge that they honored his wishes.
It won't be forgotten by the doctor in the room, either. She internalized, as she often does. Some day, hopefully many years away, someone in the room will be choosing whether to honor her decisions.
Who will that be, she wondered.
"God Doesn't Take Sides"
A must-read article in today's Salon by Anne Lamott contains this quote:
What the right has "appropriated" has nothing to do with God as most of us believers experience God. Their pronouncements about God are based on the great palace lie that this is a Christian country, that they were chosen by God to be his ethical consultants, and that therefore they alone know God's will for us. The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. [italics mine] It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.
This recalls my essay of a few years ago, "Images," which made the point that persons tend to make God in their own image instead of the other way around.
The Real Must-See Movie of Early Summer
Thousands of miles from their home in Peru, a flock of cherry-headed conures inhabits the urban wild of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. No one is sure how their ancestors escaped en route to the pet shop, but these birds are native to the City.
They didn't choose to be here, and there are those who don't want them here. They call them "non-native" and say they should be caught or exterminated. But the parrots just want to be parrots, to have their little roles in the drama of life. Their flock feeds on the flowering plants and trees in the city parks. They nest and breed in the safety of the trees, and they keep watch against the hawks who are their most feared predators. Some perish - from the hawks, from illness. Life, and the flock, go on.
The Telegraph Hill flock has a benefactor. Mark Bittner has lived in the area for years. While he was living as a caretaker in a cottage on the hill, he became familiar with each bird and gave them names. Far from being "dumb birds," each had a distinct personality. There are Sophie and her mate Picasso, tragic lovers; Mingus, who prefers domestication and the indoor life; and Connor, the elder bird who is lonely since losing his mate. You see, Connor isn't like the others. He is a blue-crowned conure, a gorgeous bird, but the cherry-heads know he is "different."
By this time I was already getting a bit tearful. Then Mark showed where he had buried Tupelo, and we learned her story. That opened the floodgates.
It was apparent that Tupelo was dying. She fell on Mark's porch and couldn't fly. Mark brought her indoors for warmth and food, and placed her on his bed to rest. He became aware of a definite sense of emotion - of gratitude - communicated from the bird. Later, Mark had to move Tupelo to the carpet so she wouldn't be crushed if he rolled onto her. The awareness of gratitude changed to a feeling of "resignation and regret." She knew. When Mark awoke in the morning, Tupelo was dead.
Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe... After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.
When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? We will have composure then, perfect composure.
I'm crying now, as I type it.
There is more pathos, and some unexpected delight, as the story expands to the human drama of Mark's experiences. This true documentary will remain with me long after the fictional Force has faded.
"Wild Parrots" is in limited release, but if it plays a theater anywhere near you, you should experience the wonder. I don't think you will forget it. I'm sure I won't.
This is my experience. I met Dr. Ousterhout and Mira Coluccio, his office manager, in 1997, and he performed surgery on me on three occasions between 1998 and 2000. I am still very happy with my results. I continue to recommend Dr. Ousterhout for facial feminization surgery. He changed my life for the better, as well as the lives of many of my friends.
Mira is a personal friend. We have spent a number of delightful evenings together, whether dining in San Francisco or visiting at V-Day or the Gold Rush. Mira has never treated me poorly in any way.
As far as I'm concerned, this little anecdote will tell you all you need to know about Mira. When I left Davies after my forehead-3 procedure in 1999, there was no Cocoon House, so I stayed in a condo in downtown San Francisco close to the Powell Street Muni station. When it was time for my follow-up office visit and staple removal, I boarded what I thought would be the "N" train to let me off right at Davies. Unfortunately, my sense of direction was taking the day off. I ended up on a BART train and got off at 24th Street and Mission. No problem, I thought, looking at my handy dandy map. I'll just walk. That was my second dumb move of the day. After three blocks my postoperative exhaustion was very apparent. I was stuck in an unknown neighborhood, where nearly no one was speaking English, and I did the only thing I knew to do. I called Mira.
"No problem, dear." Mira dropped what she was doing and was there for me within ten minutes. She transformed a developing disaster into yet another pleasant San Francisco experience.
That's the Mira I know, and that's the person I think you will meet if you have the good fortune to become one of Dr. Ousterhout's patients. You can read more about Mira on Andrea's "Transsexual Road Map" site.
I'm a little nervous about the possible responses to my latest essay on the Grace and Lace section: "The Word." I've been moving more and more towards a very liberal Christian theology over the years, but this essay will be interpreted by some as my jump completely off the cliff.
So be it. It's been a burden for me for a couple of years. I was initially going to title it "Bookianity," but I think "The Word" is much better.
I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of those of you with spiritual interests...