Sunday, June 29, 2008

The 'out' dilemma

Coming out is not an easy choice. We value our relationships whther romantic, family or friendships, even working relationships are extremely important to us. Humans are a social animal and their is no denying that fact and any moral and/or ethical dilemma must take that into account though it is rarely given its full genuine value in many such discussions.

So anything that might threaten those relationships or are feared will are of course problematic. It's been a problem for all sorts of people for a long time and many people have struggled internally on whether to be open about matters of faith or sexuality or politics and much more because of possible or believed risk to these vital connections with others. The world is rife with people who have lost friends, lovers, family and the like because of such honesty so the risk can't be easilly dissmissed.

Somehave it easier than others, some have more open-minded family and friends or culture, some have the reverse. Some have little choice and are compelled inexorably to be out while others struggle or hide for ages.

Now to me.
I've always been a non-conformist so I'm not sure why just this one part of me got hidden away. I recall struggling with it at a very early age though which makes it difficult to work out. Nevertheless a few circumstances lead me to begin slowly to start unravelling the denials and difficultioes I'd built up in my unconcious relating to this.

I'd been as honest as I knew how with my relationship, mentioning my crossdressing as soon as it started getting at all serious only weeks into it. However it became a problem anyway as she demanded I quit and I realised through attempting too that it was more a part of me than i had allowed myself to realise.

It's easy to lock away the memories of the times when you cry into your pillow screaming silently or wishing fervently that things will change. You just have to not think about those times and if you suceed you leave them out of your sense of self. Your unconcious knows the truth but your concious lives shielded from it by a wall of whitewashed self deception.

But as I started to face these parts of me and as my relationship fell apart for a variety of reasons I decided to tell those I was relying on for my emotional support. The responses were good. My imediate family, and almost all my close friends were told and all were supportive in their own way, some a little reserved but uncritical and loving and others shockingly exuberantly supportive (my Dad actually shouted 'Good on ya!' down the phone when I told him!).

But even when its got a bit easier with each success its still hard. The few friends I haven't told are awkward as some I don't know as well or for as long while another I'm not sure how he will react and I'm finding myself struggling with bad mental and emotional habits lately too though I'm working on that. I've dropped hints aplenty but i know thats not the best way to deal with it. Still I hope that the gradual increase in my general femininity will ease into things.

There's also the problem of the general community. I've not had much problem since the end of school despite being a goth but the town is a unique mixture of rural and cosmopolitan because of the University and the large number of foreign students and while there's a lot more acceptance than in many rural areas i know others have had some problems with intolerance over the years.

So I'm hoping that the gradual increase in my public feminity might help there too and so far so good. But the fear remains. How quick would be too quick? Or is there a line that can be stretched only so far? I'm sure in some places in town I would already have crossed that line but pubs aren't my scene.

So its the difficulty I'm wrestling with right now. Ideally I'd just be 'out there' just as I am as a goth, but the town has had over a decade and a half to get used to me as a goth and my self defence skills because of my CFS sure aren't what they were last time I had to defend myself.

It's not so much an if though, but a how and a how fast.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fetish, no not that meaning, the original one and how it relates

Words meanings change over time and by usage.
Most people when they hear the word fetish think of kinkiness or of a sexual obsession or both.

But let us look at one example of what the word has meant and how that can inform us about things today.

Fetishes were/are (as some few still use it in this sense) items in occult and religious traditions. Idols, carvings, symbols, designs, relics, items or combinations of items that are believed by some to hold some form of power.

Some common examples include rabbits feet, four-leafed clovers, crucifixes, rosary beads, gourd rattles, ju-ju pouches filled with goofer dust, medicine pouches with tobacco and herbs and the like.

So how did a word for a religious symbol come to mean kinkyness or serious sexually related mental illness?

Well the symbol of the fetish was a useful one in earky psychology to explain a function of the way people thought. So the attachment someone might feel to a secular symbol especially an object as a source of comfort clearly functioned on much the same mechanism as someones superstitious or religious attachment to such a symbol. A photo of a loved one or a lock of hair could be as vital to someones emotional well being as the crucifix to the religious persons emotional well being.

An extreme of this associative attachment could then be understood. Just about everyone has emotional reactions to certain images, smells or objects. Reminders of moods or evokers of memories. The child who cannot give up the comfort-blanket to the person sexually aroused only by large pieces of industrial machinery both suffered from an extreme version of the useful mechanism of emotional association and attachment to things.

Coinciding with the rise in the field of psychology was a strong anti-religious and anti-superstition movement and lets not forget the anti-icon attitudes of some branches of christianity that meant that such attachments were often derided. Sentimentality and nostalgia were often ridiculed. Over time the general western culture moved away from much though far from all religious fetishes (often replacing them with political and commercial ones).

Look at the animists. The oldest continuing religious and spiritual traditions of the world with their shamans, animal totems etc. Even the rocks and landscape are often considered to have their own spirit. The capacity for humans to form emotional attachment to objects and even to consider them as entities clearly is part not just of our past but of common human nature. It has been suggested that this cognitive function, the capacity to extend our empathy and emotional attachments to non-human things coukd in fact be a huge part of our capacity to domesticate animals which was one of the species greatest and most significant acheivments.

Not to mention things like art.

A painting moves us, but it is just a flat mass of smears of different light reflecting minerals. It is our capacity to see in that image what is not there but what the artist wants us to see that is the key here.

It's not just seeing certain shapes and translating them as a person, a landscape etc but it is the capacity for us to see a mood, an emotion, a story in that flat mess of various minerals stuck on fabric with oil.

It is our capacity for illusions, for manipulating those instinctive illusion shortcuts, our overly loose and flexible capacity for empathy, our capacity for language, our connecting disparate nebulous ideas together that combines to create our capacity for intelligence, science, creativity, technology and all our achievements as a species.

Without the capacity to associate one notion with another we could never have got to where we are. Without the connections of emotions to symbols there would be no art of any sort. It is at the heart of the reasons why we create art and why it moves us so strongly.

And so, surprisingly, the mechanism of fetish is at the very heart of the human experience. Put Lascaux into an image search. See for yourself. Look at the power of that early human art and wonder at the beauty that comes from those hunters creating the animals they hunted in simple paint on a cave wall. It is our associations, emotional, nostalgic, sentimental that are at the core of all human meaning and knowledge. It is the centre of our communication from the most primal of the evoking of the most raw emotions to our development of sophisticated language and precise scientific knowledge. It is the core of our personal experiences, how we try to understand them, how we make sense of the world and how we try to share that through the nebulous and deeply flawed process of words.

The same mechanism that informs my art and my writing, what little my CFS lets me indulge in, informs my experience when I walk out my door. The smell of the cut grass that reminds me of my childhood, the endless cycle of growth and reaping that has been the core of civilisation since the discovery of agriculture performed in miniature, turning there is the path, the journey, the symbol of progress and the course of life not to mention of our one-way procession through the dimension of time in the space-time continuum. Before I can dwell on causality or Indian metaphysics my eyes are drawn up to the row of trees on the right with their many shifting meanings and the great building to my left. The trees on this occassion are leafless, seeming dead but only dormant, sleeping, conserving themselves through harsh times to burst into life in the spring. Their limbs are black silhoettes against a pale lemon sky and the sun glints it's last fading rays as gold off the windows of that beautiful house of learning with it's grand entrance and columns. I cross the wide hilltop road, bracing against the bitter sharp breeze filled with icy moist night air so that I can smell the twilight scents of the gardens on the other side of the fence that run along the side of the great brick building. I pause, letting the smells transport me to those times good and bad that I smelt those scents before, some memories have turned bitter with time becoming sharp like the thorns of the roses and some have mellowed and softened like wilting petals. I turn back, the warm memories having won over the chill melancholies and am greeted by the swooping form of a small bat hunting the mosquitos and moths of the beginning of the night.

You see what I have done there? Our lives are filled with associations. Many are shared. Most of us have similar enough experiences that we can convey the message we wish too by using these shared experiences and common language. But not all is common. Warmth is not always seen as positive in all cultures, nor cold as negative.

Look at the symbol of the bat. In China it is a symbol of good fortune, mostly on account of a similarity of the sound of the name and the word. In parts of the west it was once a belief that bats were the spirits of sleeping, dreaming people or those of the dead so harming a bat was meant to cause terrible bad luck. Other times and other cultures have bats as symbols of evil.

Now I'll get more personal.
I know clothes dont make women women. That is clear and obvious on a rational level.
But they do inform our symbolic landscape which directly connects to our emotions.
When I put on the clothes I don't see myself as a man transforming into a woman in the way a shaman might transforn into an animal by donning a wooden mask though there is a relation between the two. Instead I am using the symbol to express an inner truth. The dark red lipstick as it marks my lips is not a mineral stuck on with an oil or a tool of deception, it is a symbol of the emotions within, it is a sign projected outwards of the femininity within me.

It is powerful, like the rosary beeds or the gourd rattle or the goofer dust but I am aware that the power comes not from some outside source but from my emotional associations that I impose upon it in my mind. I invest it with power that i then react to on the deepest emotional levels just as I do the smell of the lavender mixed with the hum of bees.

Thats not all there is to it of course, crossdressing has many levels. Still it is worth exploring ideas like the occult and religious fetish and how it relates to our basic human existence at every level, not just sexual but relating to every passion, emotion and experience.

So some days puting on some lipstick can move me near to tears and/or make me ecstaticly happy. But then I cried watching an old videotape of She-Ra yesterday when the unicorn was hurt as the emotions i swiftly swallowed and hid watching it as a child 'because He-man is in it' and I had convinced myself (with a lot of help from society) that 'I wasn't suppossed to still get upset like that at my age as a boy' all just poured out of me now with the extra strength of nostalgia, increased self awareness and decades of bottling them up, locking them away.

The lipstick and the clothes do not make me feminine. I do not only feel feminine when I wear them. They certainly aren't neccessary for sexual arousal but neither am I never sexual when I wear them either. They express my inner femininity. They evoke many memories from throughout my life. They represent all those times when i had to be not-feminine, all those things I had to hide, give up and keep secret. They allow me to see myself reflected on the outside the way i often, but not always, feel on the inside.

These strong emotional associations aren't the sole reason for crossdressing, they are an effect rather than the cause. The cause is the inner femininity and its alternating repression and intensified external release is a substantial part of the way many crossdressing people experience their transgender nature. The clothes as symbols are culturally specific but the motivation, the reason why clothes become symbols and tools of trans-gender expression is because they already exist in those cultures as gender symbols.

Perhaps this meditation on fetish in the braoder meaning of the word, on symbology and its emotional power that occured to me as I put my lipstick on yesterday might convey to those who do not understand why for some it is such an emotionally powerful act, why so many misunderstand it and why the narrow view of it as a 'kink' or a sexual fetish in the modern psychological sense fails to reflect the way we all make emotional associations, the way we all live in a world made up of symbols both those shared and those uniquely personal.

Of how such associations of thought and emotion are at the very core of the human mind and experience.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A decent one at last? The future of HBS?

The other day I was wishing that a decent HBS supporter might turn up. And so far at a discussion over at Zoe's excellent blog there seems to be one who is indeed behaving like a decent person.

Now decent doesn't mean agreeing with me. Few of my own friends agree with me. I'm fine with people with different views. The problem has been that in most of my discussions with HBS supporters they manage to destroy any sympathy by acting like hate groups.

Double standards like demanding only their views be considered valid of others identities as well as their own, the worst logical fallacies, frequent hostility towards others and frequently accusing others of things they themselves do more often have been trademarks of these discussions.

Many including myself are left with the impression that these people aren't trying to argue for a valid medical definition of neurologicaly caused transsexualism but instead a way to justify bias against transgendered people that don't fit into their HBS definition.

But in my experience decent reasonable good hearted people can be found in almost any group and their is no need to hate transgender people to consider HBS valid so surely I knew there has to be some decent people in the HBS movement who don't hate transgender people.

But one of the obstacles for the social and political part of the HBS movement is that it will be a magnet for people who seek a platform for spouting hate and intolerance. It's not new, many groups have had to deal with that problem.

HBS as a medical definition will be scientificly controlled if it ever does succeed and the bigots amongst those groups may well end up in despair if broad neurological research expands the definition to include some of those that many HBS supporters online rail against frequently.

It also may be true that some or maybe even all of the transgender variations may have one or more medical causations too. Some might be related to the causation of HBS and some may not. The role of epigenetics in intersex conditions depending on the time in development of gene activation as recently discovered accidentally with mice could have massive implications for HBS, its definition and its treatment.

Beyond that there are many justifications for transgender beyond medical. There are cultural and human-rights arguments that alone are a sufficient justification for transgender.

So HBS could well harm itself by too fervently opposing transgender people to the point where they could be labelled a hate group by human rights organisations which would definatly harm, maybe even derail attempts to get the idea recognised by the international medical community.

The political tactic of distancing oneself from less acceptable people to become acceptable may be a large part of HBS's appeal for many. It was after all one of the primary social mechanisms of the schoolyard so a lot of people consider it acceptible not considering the cost of ostracism and bullying that the most different are subjected to so those not quite so different become acceptible.

I've seen that tactic a thousand times. Heck I was the victim of it over a thousand times being one of the most different people in school in every school I attended. It's unethical and it's immoral. It does sometimes work too. Though most as they grow up discover the 'cool kids' were really some of th worst people around while the 'uncool kids' aften were the most decent people though there are always exceptions.

But the tactic can backfire. Sometimes fashions change and the punk kids or goth kids become cool or at least acceptible. And so the exclusion tactic involves betting on the people your trying to distance yourself from never being cool or acceptible. With a black man as a US presidential candidate with a chance of winning there is a lesson to be learned. In one lifetime a lot can change. I point this out to some of the crossdressers who are uncomfortable being linked with gay people too. They are becoming more and more accepted in society. There's a lot of struggles still but compared with 20 years ago? A lot changed in 20 years!

So finding an HBS person able and willing to express their viewpoint without spite, without hatred towards crossdressers isn't just apleasant surprise for me. It signifies a real hope for them too.

If they can rein in the bigots amongst their movement, the rabid ideologues and dogmatists enough to stop them from harming the movement then perhaps they can make real headway in their attempts to ensure that they get the medical treatment they need and deserve.

They don't have to deny the human rights of non-HBS people to medical treatment like hormones and SRS or to protection from discrimination to do that, they don't have to denigrate, insult or act rudely to crossdressers like me to do that.

More conversations like this and who knows, many transgender activists might start supporting HBS as a definition. Certainly becoming considerd as a hate group opposing the human rights of others sure wont help their cause.

So, thanks Evey! Thanks from the bottom of my heart! Thanks for talking to me like i'm a valid human being. Thanks for talking to me in a respectful manner! We may not agree on a lot of things and thats ok, I am glad to talk to you. I hope you can redeem HBS from the terrible associations that some of it's extremists have marred it with.

Science and medicine will have the final say on HBS as a medical definition. As a movement both social and political you Evey and others like you may well be it's saving grace.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sure I ramble, Brain Fog, gender identity and other issues

Yep, I ramble.
Its a part of the way I think, the curse of creativity that there is always more than one subject being considered in my mind at one time.
And the 'brain fog' of chronic fatigue syndrome means that on a moderate day these thoughts can run together somewhat along whatever line they may be linked and on a bad day... on a bad day my brain can crosswire and my mouth says one word while my brain thinks another.

Brain fog. It sounds like it should be announced melodramaticly in a deep echoing booming voice accomapanied by a theramin. Some days thats exactly what it feels like too.

It's hard to describe what it feels like. It is a sort of fog in an abstract sense, it interferes with my vision and hearing for example. The light gets into my eyes, the sound into the ears but the data doesn't go through to the brain right. Sounds end up not being recognised or seeming dull and distant. An object right in front of the face doesn't attract attention. It is an impediment to awareness.

It's a little like being groggy, half awake, in that state where dream and reality combine and reality is sort of blurred and indistinct.

And this week, this week it's bad!
Brain fog impedes reasoning and concentration too. It's not like just being walled in by fog, it's in the car with you. It's in the brain not just between the brain and it's senses. It reduces the IQ by, according to stuff I read almost a decade ago, up to 40 points. I can attest it does get bad. I remember the day I couldn't recall what the number 6 meant.

Oh sure I knew it was a number, but the links and connections, the associations you build between numbers, the awareness of the significance of the number six was a big blurry blank in my mind.

Thats not fun. Its not just unpleasant. Its sheer unadaulterated HORROR! To have something so basic, so familiar be suddenly wrapped in void can trigger utter panic. Especially when so much of my life has been wrapped up with my intellect.

So a couple of days ago when I couldn't remember the name of my nice next-door neighbour I realised that this week my brain fog was really, really bad again. I almost butst into tears right then and there but I didn't want to cry in front of the people I was talking to.

I certainly have done a fair bit of crying lately which would be good as I would consider that I was unbottling a lot of the emotions I had to supress over the years but its often been random. Only about 60% can I attrivbute to a reaction to something or other and the rest just hits me seemingly at random.

And like everything else in my life my self-acceptance is affected by the variation of my symptoms. Finding a balance between expressing my feminine aspects and getting basic housework done is not easy. Fail at either and misery is the result and when my brain fog is bad i can find myself procrastinating, thats always a bad sign.

Procrastination often means I'm starting to repress or avoid something important again. A stupid and hurtful reflex. It had it's purpose though. If I'd expressed my gender variance as much in the past as I do now I'd be dead for sure. I suffered enough ostracism, bullying and attacks of physical violence as it was through my school years. But now its just a bunch of old infected wounds that need to be cleaned to heal, bad habits, bad reflexes I need to undo.

I'm still not sure why my gender variance was something I repressed when I have always been so anti-conformist. Not that it was ever utterly repressed after all I wad teased aplenty for being feminine anyway but I kept telling myself I was just an effeminate boy and compartmentslised my crossdressing, kept it to enough of a minimum to ignore as an important part of who I am.

I remember getting upset over conflicted gender issues back when I was three or four. I know it was no later than that because it was before my parents seperated. I don't know the order of events though. I was kicked out of ballet for being a boy. I'd done nothing wrong, I loved ballet. I went there on doctors orders to strengthen my severely poor arch muscles in my feet. But some parents were upset that there was a boy in the class with girls, even a perfectly behaved boy that young. I was told I couldn't have a couple of toys because they were girls toys. I don't remember the situations well but I remember one toy well, a treehouse playset. I recall another time at the show, they were selling these 'antenae' things attached to hairbands and I wanted one but also got distressed because they were 'girls' and i thought i wasn't supposed to have them. The memories are fragmentary. But somewhere even back then I had this deep conflict of feeling like a girl and liking girl things sometimes and feeling that it was wrong.

Through my life it's been like that. Somyetimes it wasn't a problem, sometimes it was. Some days I was happy being a boy, weird sensitive boy that i was, and other days I'd cry myself to sleep hoping that this time, please this time, when I woke up I'd be a girl. I'd come up with excuses to watch shows like She-Ra and Jem as well as He-Man and Transformers and convince myself of them till I could believe them for a while.

Why? I don't know. I just locked up those feelings and pretended they weren't there. Something I wouldn't have been able to do if they were constant, or of constant strength perhaps.

Like the day I found all my muscles and joints weren't hurting was the day I realised they had been hurting non-stop for years. Those days I thought they were hurting I realised they'd only been hurting more. It took the absence to reveal what the concious mind had adapted to. So have even on my most 'male' days I been still rather female? How can that be tested? Experience is so subjective anyway.

So here I am. Too tired to shave away the light fuzz of beard growth since the day before yesterday, fingernails painted black and decorated with little white and green skulls, clothing of mixed sexes (mostly only mixed cause some of the guy stuff I have is warmer) and some lipstick on just to let enough girl out to stop crying or wanting to scream and just keep screaming. Just pouring out my feelings, letting them through the chink in my logical and rational mind. The stream of underground water that eats away the limestone that forms the hollow that is the cave of rationality.

Cause frankly my brain is just too blurry to try and write poetry. And my hands shaking from the CFS too much to paint or draw today.

And then there is the anger.
I have plenty of that.
You don't go through life as an outsider without picking up some. You can wear it as armour of course but like steel in the sun it can scald as well as save. I've known my share of bigotry. I've suffered for not liking 'male' things like sport and cars, for looking feminine (and/or 'gay' for those numbskulls who don't notice their are masculine gay people too) I've suffered for being intellectual, for being a goth, for appearing to look like a particular ethnicity, for my actual ethnic heritage, for having a different skin colour to my brother even though we at other times have been mistaken for twins so it was assumed we had different fathers. Oh I know what bigotry feels like, what it tastes and smells like.

With all its petty excuses and false justifications.

You know what I'd like? I'd like to meet a non-bigoted HBS supporter! One who can handle the notion of 'transgender' identity being as valid as HBS, of crossdressers and non-hbs definition yet self-identified transexuals still having the same human rights as them. All the ones I talk to claim that it's just about their own self-identity and a medical definition but they fight against the possibility that crossfressers and drag queens et al have the same rights, the same validity. Thats where their bigotry shows. Even if there was proof that non-HBS transgender people are all of purely psychological causation which isn't as conclusively proven as they often claim the human rights of those people are undiminished! Their right to self-expression, to self-definition, to decide what treatment they do or do not undergo and how their body may or may not be modified is no greater or lesser than any other humans! Being Homosexual were it biological or psychological is nonetheless a human right. Gay people are equal to straight people. There are those who claim that religiosity or conservative or liberal outlooks are biological in origin too. It matters not one iota to the validity of those people.

When I meet an HBS supporter who can handle that, who can support transgender peoples rights and needs and recognise their validity as much as they want HBS to be recognised and who can handle the possibility of people holding different views on the medical and scientific arguments of each... that day I'll be happy because so far all the ones who I meet on the net are a pack of bigots hiding behind their self-created medical definition as an excuse for their anti-trans views. Any genuinele decent and reasonable HBS suporters risk being stigmatised by association with these bigots.

I have plenty of other things to be angry about of course.
CFS is one of those 'invisible' disabilities. People assume your not disabled till they know otherwise. Not a lot is known about CFS in the general community, little is raised for research and the CFS resources are crap because of the past stigma of 'yuppie flu' reporting, assumptions by biased researchers that the illness was spychological in origin and all the sufferers are all too disabled to run support services. CFS is socially isolating, deeply disstressing and just plain unfair! Even the reports of people dying from it hasn't raised it's public profile much.

I've been managing a moderate social life but it's taken a tremendous effort to do so.

And then there's all the pain and anger left from my last relationship.

I'm generally an optimistic and positive person, not that this post shows that.
But sometimes it's good to express the pain and fear and anger and suffering. It's a part of being human after all.

Is there any value to a reader? I can't know. Nor if anyone will even read this. But I feel a bit better for having said it.

So I guess i should wrap up this rambling mess of a blog post, find something uplifting and affirming to remind me of the joy of being transgendered and then crawl into bed with an issue of Fortean Times and a hotwater bottle and the hope that my head will be clear enough tomorrow to follow and enjoy the science, psychology and philosophy shows on the radio.