Week 158 – Empathy for the devils

Cultures, like living organisms, evolve and shift in response to environmental conditions via natural selection and favor traits promoting their continuance. If a culture starts to lose its cohesiveness or shrinks due to changes in its members’ self-identification criteria, these changes naturally generate fear for those remaining in that culture. Empathizing with those people can help ease the transition period, help reduce unnecessary friction between competing cultural groups, and light the way towards combating toxic cultures.

How someone reacts to a cultural shift depends on how central it is to their self-identification. If it’s highly central, they are likely to blame the people abandoning it for abandoning their values while simultaneously attacking people who identify with the newly evolved culture. We are seeing this play out in the United States as the still-dominant white culture reacts to the growing multi-racial culture with recently re-energized white supremacy and white nationalism as reflected in the recently elected 45th presidential administration.

If the cultural shift is not central to self-identity, they are likely to define the people remaining in the traditionally defined culture as rigid or anti-progressive.

Cultural groupthink often operates in both directions here by requiring people wanting to remain in the traditional culture group to sacrifice any progressive beliefs in the service of orthodoxy and cultural cohesion, and by those in the newer culture by requiring those transiting from the traditional group to abandon deeply held beliefs and traditions.

This dynamic is usually framed as a regressive/progressive or traditional/radical, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.

All established, regressive/traditional cultures were at some point progressive/radical. It’s just the way cultures progress. Newer cultures displace older cultures. The timeframes vary depending on the size of the culture. We see rapid cultural shifts measured in weeks on the Internet around memes, music, and games, and slower cultural shifts around things like national or ethnic identity. All behave in punctuated equilibrium, with long periods of relative stability compared to shorter periods of rapid change.

During the transition from one recognizable culture to another, the definition of traditional/regressive cultural behaviors or artifacts for the people who choose remain changes and it defines a new traditional/regressive baseline for the radical/progressive group. Often, cultures split during these changes and arguments to wars are fought over whose version of traditional/regressive is the ‘correct’ one. It’s very a human cultural behavior seen everywhere from politics to religion to sports to specialized micro-affinity groups.

I posit it is entwined in our great ape troop roots as an evolutionary adaptation, with h. sapiens being the most successful at exploiting the adaptation compared to other hominids. It helps explain how h. sapiens eradicated/assimilated competing species with advanced culture like h. neanderthalensis.

At a species-level, we pull together when faced with non-anthropogenic species-level threats and then ‘subset’ it down through diminishing cultural affinity bonds like nation-state, region/state, city, sportsball team, school, professional associations, friends, etc.[1]

That was a very long wind up for my pitches:

Pitch #1: Gender, as socially constructed cultural affinity groupings,[2][3][4] is currently going through a traditional/regressive to radical/progressive cultural shift. This, by definition, is going to get people agitated.

Pitch #2: The traditional/regressive and radical/progressive gender shifts are oscillating around our contemporary cultural extremes while the culture of gender reverts to the mean. This is a fancy way of saying gender culture is fracturing along binary/non-binary boundaries tied to religious and political beliefs and is moving towards modeling historical cultures where acceptance and/or tolerance of gender non-conforming people were just how things were.

Pitch #3: After a few hundred years of trans people being banished from the public cultural sphere, we seem to be reclaiming our spot. This is a very good thing.

Pitch #4: More people coming at trans people hammer and tongs is a signal the traditional/regressive group is losing their power to assert trans people should be banished from the public square. It used to be almost everybody hated/didn’t want/didn’t care about trans people, so the broader polity worked to keep us in the shadows. This is no longer the case.

Taken together, I think this means attacks on us will increase before they decrease, but it seems clear to me the overall cultural momentum has shifted our way as evidenced by demographic shifts in transgender acceptance and tolerance.[5][6]

While what’s happening in the U.S. states around existing and proposed legislation impacting trans people is ugly, the traditional/regressive camp is aging out.

I am not a Pollyanna. We will see more trans people, especially trans women of color, killed just for being trans. I do not expect trans people will have full civil rights any time soon.

I do believe now and the days ahead will be the best time to transition. There are several orders of magnitude more visibly trans people now to help light and lead the way. There are several orders of magnitude more cis people who are supportive to tolerant of trans people.

There is still much work to do. There is still a long way to go. But we have come a long way in a short amount of time, and while there are still huge barriers to transition breaking across race and income, access is continuing to increase.

And here’s my last pitch: If you accept the current cultural dynamic as a natural one, developing an empathy for those opposing and denying us strengthens us by allowing us to see their behavior towards us for what it is rooted in: fear. Their cultural world is diminishing. It must be scary to them as they contemplate cultural extinction.

Identifying a culture as wrong and hurtful can exist next to an understanding and empathy of the people within the culture and the fear they have of it going away. Pouring our anger on their fear creates more fear and anger on their side, which entrenches them in even more reactionary behavior with the result of creating more anger on our side. We all lose.

I accept there will always be people who hate me and want me dead for what fears they project onto me. I will fight them. I will fight them with cold, steely determination until I am unable to fight any more.

What I will not do is what they do to me: dehumanize them. I can still punch them in the face[7] and empathize with their very human fear of me. These are not in opposition.

My argument is empathy makes us stronger and more human when those people attempt to dehumanize us by making their attempts even uglier and harder for others to turn a blind eye. It arms us with the knowledge of knowing exactly where to shine a light to expose their prejudice and bigotry. It de-escalates anger, allowing clearer thinking about how to defeat them.

Be strong.

(This essay is a cleaned-up version of a Twitter stream I posted.)

[1] The vast majority of people will help another drowning person or attend to someone they discover in physical distress unless there are clear cultural markers identifying the other person as an enemy group. e.g. – A racist might let a person from another race down or a person attending a sporting event who is bleeding might be ignored if they are wearing the rival jersey.
[2] http://www.who.int/gender-equity-rights/understanding/gender-definition/en/
[3] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/gender
[4] https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-lgbt-poll-idUSKCN0XI11M
[6] http://www.hrc.org/resources/hrc-national-survey-of-likely-voters
[7] http://thefreshtoast.com/culture/the-best-remixes-of-white-nationalist-richard-spencer-getting-punched-in-the-head/

Posted in activism, gender transition, observations, opinion, politics, transgender, transition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Week 157 – Three years of HRT

estradiol-svg

While three years of continuous HRT have just passed, setting a hormonaversary date isn’t so easy for me. My first hormone course was May 2011 through December 2011. It included two brief breaks; one was for a medical scare and the other was to self-check if I was doing the right thing. By that December I decided I wasn’t ready to continue and paused until February 6, 2014, when I started again. And here I am.

The ‘here’ is a curious spot. It’s a milestone but not a destination. It’s easy to see how far I’ve come but harder to see where I’m going.

Gender things that looked like they had simple answers six years ago have turned out to be complex and the things that looked complex have been relatively simple. Back then, gender transition milestones looked a lot like video game experience points. Collect enough, and I’d be a woman and be happy.

Leave the house dressed for the first time, +10. Put makeup on and not have it look like total shit, +15. Get ma’amed, +20. Start electrolysis, +25. Start hormones, +50. Grow tits and an ass, +150. Grow hair out, +75. Part-time transition, +250. Full-time transition, +500. Legal name change, +200. Gender marker changed on identification, +350. Facial feminization surgery, +1,000. GCS/SRS, +5,000. Plus a zillion bonus multipliers like getting hit on, a bra fitting, skirts, dresses, ears pierced, and so on and so forth. More woman with each goal level achieved!

But it really didn’t work that way. With each new milestone came a growing awareness I wasn’t so much building myself to be seen as a woman in other people’s eyes but stripping the man off of me, layer by layer to reveal the me that’d been hidden from view the whole time. My thinking shifted from an externally validated, ‘I need x, y, and Z to be seen as a woman by others,’ to an internally validating, ‘What do I need to do in order to bring the woman I see in the mirror into comfortable focus?’

This shift was gradual, and I didn’t really notice my perspective had changed until a few months ago. Like when most of my beard was gone and the realization of how much having facial hair had been driving my gender dysphoria, having most of the guy gone has made me realize how much woman I am, if that makes any sense.

And long-term happiness? I’m still working on that. I am massively happier than I was before transition. To be free of a large chunk of my gender dysphoria has brought a great happiness to me. To be in the final phases of dismantling the last, larger vestiges of it is a great relief. It shrinks them to size in my self-revelation process versus being separate, outsized goals with huge emotional freight attached in a vain attempt to create something that was already there.

Onward!

Posted in self-acceptance, observations, coming out, personal history, HRT, transition, transgender, gender transition | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Turning queer

I was queer in 7th grade when my class daydreams floated over to an 8th grade girl’s desk and I saved her from a fire and my unlimited imagination’s reward was a passionate embrace and kiss.

I was queer the first time I kissed a girl later that year and my mind drifted off to her sweeping me away into the future while she looked at me with a look I’d eventually come to recognize as, “Aren’t you going to make another move on me?”

I was queer when I was thirteen and discovered that I just liked sitting around in my mom’s skirt and wondered who’d want to be with me.

I was queer when I was fourteen and confused a girl by getting her incredibly turned on by only massaging her breasts and not being very interested in doing anything else.

I was queer when I figured out I was trans, not gay.

I was queer at fifteen when I would imagine myself to be the centerfold models I saw in the magazines that came my way.

I was queer when I lost my virginity at sixteen and spoke of wanting to swap bodies when we made love.

I was queer at eighteen when a drunken fraternity brother I suspected was gay kissed me during a room party and I wondered why he thought I was the person to kiss in the room because while it didn’t bother me, I wasn’t attracted to guys.

I was queer at twenty when I realized everyone else in that room when I was eighteen was gay except me.

I was queer throughout my twenties, like the time a naked woman who was not my girlfriend crawled into my bed and I spent an hour trying to figure out what to do until she became exasperated and climbed on top of me and the times I saw the, “Aren’t you going to make another move on me?” looks, which I still hadn’t figured out.

I was queer when I married for the first time at twenty-five and wished it was me wearing the wedding dress and the bridal trousseau on the first night of our honeymoon.

I was queer through that marriage as I walked up to the point of taking hormones and transition and walked back in fear.

I was queer when I dated after my divorce in my thirties and saw many more, “Aren’t you going to make another move on me?” looks and the answer to that question began to arrive when a woman said to me, “Well, it’s strange. We’ve been on three dates and you haven’t even tried to kiss me yet.”

I was queer when I purged all of my women’s clothes and convinced myself I was a guy.

I was queer when I remarried and had a kid and then another kid.

I was queer when I realized I couldn’t live as a guy any more in my forties.

I was queer when I started to take hormones and a few months later my body started to change and I made some more progress answering the, “Aren’t you going to make another move on me?” question.

I was queer when my ex moved out and I started to think about dating.

I was queer when I went on my first date as myself with another woman and began to get an inkling I was queer.

I finally realized I was queer when I collided into another woman and the resulting pleasure explosion was exactly what I had been looking for my entire life and answered the, “Aren’t you going to make another move on me?” question because it didn’t come up at all.

And just like that, I turned queer.

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Week 156 – January 2017

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Everything I’ve been trying to write as of late has been coming out too clever by half, so this is a back-to-basics update.

January 24th my youngest kid came down with the flu, and then my eldest succumbed on the 26th, and then it took me down on the 28th. This interrupted the regular weekly transfer of the kids between households on Thursdays, and the ex and I agreed to hold off until they were fever-free. My youngest transferred this past Sunday and my eldest Tuesday. While I’m past the worst of the flu, I’m still coughing and a secondary head cold has taken up residence.

So for the past ten days I’ve been nursing my kids and then myself, and it wasn’t until today that I left my property to do some grocery shopping and to get the hell out of the house for a change of scene. Just doing that turned out to be overdoing it, and I’ve spent tonight on the couch streaming TV.

The other reason I went out was to pick up some medication for my kid, because the ex ran out, and as almost de rigueur for her, she only realized when she ran out. How she can’t keep track of a critical maintenance medication for him is beyond me. It also angers me since I’m on the hook for medical stuff for the kids and it forces me to scramble when she drops the ball.

And in the background of all this is, of course, the shitshow that is the new presidential administration. While they have issued a statement saying they’ll support Obama’s Executive Order providing federal-level gender identity protections for federal employees and contractors, it’s clear that something is in the works to fuck us over, probably modeled on existing state laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill emergency contraceptives through a ‘conscience clause’.

Post-inauguration, I stepped back from Twitter because it was getting a bit overwhelming being tapped into the digital vein. Thank you to everyone who has reached out, I really appreciate it. I’m not entirely gone, but I’m purposefully being much, much quieter than normal so that I can focus on my own stuff for a bit.

I did something similar in 2013, when I took a whole month off and then came away with some insights. What I notice is that my first break was also in January and it might be that the holiday/immediate post-holiday emotional roller coaster myself and many other trans people tend to end up on during this period is just too much for me to absorb.

Yesterday marked ten months post full-time social transition and I’m coming up on three years of HRT on the 6th. Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of my first date with my ex. I suppose I should remove that reminder from my phone. Time just keeps slipping on by.

©Heather Coldstream


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Week 155 – WTF

I can’t even right now. I’m practicing my deep breathing.

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Week 154 – The dream-like past

My past is like a series of dream sequences slowly evaporating upon awakening. The outlines are still there, but the details are become fuzzier and fuzzier as time passes.

(DISSOLVE)

EXTERIOR, SIXTH GRADE RECESS: Some boys are playing touch football on a sandy area in front of the monkey bars. A lone figure stands before the two teams. The team captains argue, as neither wants the reluctant-looking participant. The individual looks confused and keeps glancing at the monkey bars and the girls playing on them.

“Maybe I could be the referee?” they venture.

The sandlot swallows them whole in a puff of dust and the team captains, looking relieved to have their problem solved for them, begin the game.

(DISSOLVE)

INTERIOR, FRATERNITY HOUSE PARTY: Young men and women are laughing and drinking while listening to The Cure playing in the background during a fraternity/sorority social. A long-haired person sits on the stairs alone, drinking beer from a large red plastic cup. They watch the party with a puzzled look on their face. None of the women approach and the fraternity brothers going up and down the stairs drop advice as they pass by.

“You’re not going to get laid unless you talk to someone!”

“Go talk to some pussy.”

“That chick’s hammered. She’ll be an easy lay.”

The stairs turn into a slide, and the person sitting on them plunges into a black, oily pit in the basement. The party continues as if nothing has happened.

(DISSOLVE)

INTERIOR, SUBURBAN TRACT HOME: A lone figure paces a hallway and glances into a bedroom on every pass. A wedding dress is spread out on a bed. After multiple passes, they pause at the doorway, grip the door frame, and slightly swaying as if unsure if they will enter. As if in a trance they enter the room, pick up the dress, take it back to their room, undress, and put it on. The ceiling dissolves, the walls fall away, and they standing in a temperate forest with cedars and ferns during a downpour. Wolves begin to howl in the distance as if they have picked up a scent and begun to hunt. The person in the dress hikes up the skirts and runs. The white hems become stained with dark mud.

(DISSOLVE)

INTERIOR, ALPINE CABIN KITCHEN: A male and female couple sits at the countertop eating dinner. Each dinner plate is covered with a single white squid. The squid wiggle on the plates with tentacles that wave in the air.

“It’s all in the past,” the man says.

The squid on his plate springs up on its tentacles and wraps them around his neck. He grimaces. The woman looks on, nonplussed, as the squid makes sucking motions and blood diffuses through its body, turning it red.

“But it may come back,” he continues.

The squid, now engorged, explodes and splatters blood everywhere, including on the couple.

“Can I have another beer?” the woman asks.

She ignores the blood dripping down her face in rivulets.

(DISSOLVE TO BLACK)

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Hello, World! Part five.

There are times for patience and and deliberation and there are times for haste and action. In the five years(!) since my last installment, I shifted from decades of deliberation to the action of gender transition.

In December 2011, I had recently stopped taking hormones after a few months and given up on the idea of transition.

Why? I didn’t think I was trans enough and wasn’t sure transition would make me feel better:

“Unlike the last couple of times, this feels more like a stop than a pause.

My personal truth is that while I have strong affinity and desire to be female, I don’t intrinsically believe myself to be female. At least not yet, because I believe myself to be somewhere in between.”

This particular personal demon still pops out to harass me on a regular basis, and I am still learning to not chase it down its hole and become lost in its dark and endless labyrinthine warren.

It leaps from nowhere for my jugular sometimes when I’m around women I find beautiful by putting its blade to my neck and holding me frozen without breath and forcing me to look at her as it whispers, “You’re not that and you never will be,” before disappearing like a mist in the bright glares at my awkward stares.

It’s there when I’m alone in the dressing room, teasing me almost to tears by telling me I’m a fraud when the pants don’t fit in the butt, or the top that looked amazing on the clothes hanger makes my shoulders look huge.

It’s there when I can’t get my makeup just right by cackling I’m a painted caricature.

Even with the massive widening of the gender spectrum and space created in the past several years to be more inclusive of non-binary and genderqueer people, the world at large still aims to sort people into male or female, man or woman to preserve a simplistic worldview that requires little thought or examination. Even with the recent strides in transgender equality we have taken, in most places we are still policed by these demons to perform for our life-saving care, to be treated with civil rights, to be accorded the humanity that is our birthright.

Those demons are fucking assholes that pop up and out in public a million times a day and a million times a day I ignore or wave and bat them away, but the full stable of demons have yet to be fully tamed or banished because the demons that haunt me when I am alone are often inescapable personal truths, only conquerable by love.

They are the sedimentary layers of hurtful comments turned to stone that weigh me down, they are past moments that still make me flinch in fear from shadows in sunlight, they are the blows that broke me to toughen me up.

After years of transition, my truth is still feeling not-right, an unclassified evolutionary mutation in the species homo trans. Worse, my metamorphoses is still incomplete, muddling self-classification. While I have achieved most of my transition goals I feel I am upon a new plateau marked by recent decisions about more physical changes I’m gated on by time and money.

As angsty as this all sounds, it’s mostly background noise at this point compared to the multiple klaxons going off alerting me to transition five years ago. My self-doubt tends to be fleeting, measured in seconds to minutes, and ever-more rarely hours to days.

Self-love conquers most of my fears and I’ve learned to love many of the parts of myself I used to consider unlovable. I’ve moved closer to accepting the things I will never have and its concomitant joys of letting go and not giving a fuck. Part of that self-love is working towards dismantling my impossible internal ideals of my feminine expression while finding my feminism.

Most of those impossible ideals came from the culture of men I was raised in, where women are treated as objects and the prettier they are, the more value they have in simultaneously being collected by men and then protected from other men. Being unconcerned with participating in that dynamic, I’ve shifted taking my femme cues from the male gaze-driven beauty culture towards more realistic and acheiveable femme queer and lesbian women.

This has helped de-fang much of my angst around measuring up to other women by discovering my own beauty. But the razor cuts both ways. The more I embrace my look, the more I expose myself to misgenderings and the risks that come with it.

So I grit my teeth at the truth demon of wanting surgical internventions to more closely approximate my internal self-view of my body and the social benefits it would bequeath, not knowing which is the chicken and which is the egg. I’m confident in time I’ll be able to bat this demon away, too.

This sort of introspection was difficult before my gender dysphoria diminished post-transition. Compared to when my brain would vapor-lock while trying to decide on a shirt to wear, it’s a whole new world.

I like this world.

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