Posted on Monday, 5 May 2014

Narratives Matter

I wanted to remind my trans brothers and sisters of the upcoming workshop -

NEW NARRATIVES 2014: REFRAMING THE CONVERSATION
new directions in trans activism

It will be held in Portland Oregon May 25th,  the day after the RadFems Respond conference in the same city.   You can visit either website for registration information (there will be activities open to all natal females on the 25th as well.)

There is a lot of violent rhetoric coming out of the trans community that is dangerous and is hurting many people. And the bullying and silencing by brute force seems to be reaching a new level of ugliness as acceptance for “trans” identities seems to be becoming more “mainstream”.

What we say matters. It is so much more than words.  The day after I started my “real life test” my dear therapist was gunned down by a very trouble trans person (who I also knew) who then committed suicide.   Below I am sharing one of my first posts from my website retransition.org that I wrote in September of last year.  It is my belief that rhetoric and trans-centric narratives were a major contributing factor leading up to this tragedy.  There were words written by the trans community in mailing lists etc., about the events (and blaming my therapist) that make me feel sick inside every time I read them.  So far I have chosen not to share them because I think they are just too ugly to re-air and I believe they will open up too much pain again. So I ask you to trust me that they were awful and understand the importance to remember that none of us live in a vacuum and the words we use and the attitudes we express impact not only “our community” but all of our partners in the larger community of life.   Here is what I wrote last September:

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This is going to be a rough and ready posting about some topics that I wanted to devote multiple long blog posts about.  I hope to do those in the future in a more measured fashion but there are some things I want to get out there quickly.

One of my stated purposes for starting this blog is to help other people out who are considering retransition – to find resources and also read some of my thoughts if they are helpful. But, as I have also said and I need to emphasize it again, this blog also exists for less altruistic reasons.  I am asking people about experiences and thoughts about retransitioning because I am struggling through this myself.  It is an attempt to collect field notes from people and conversations that have gone on in the past or are ongoing today that I can quickly refer to when I am encountering confusing or scary situations in my life or in my thoughts.

There are a lot of people writing some really great stuff out there – doing a wonderful job of articulating things that I have been thinking for years but haven’t seen written before (maybe because I never searched for them.)  I want to share this stuff.  In some cases I may even want to open up a dialogue with them.    But I also know that some of these people hate and distrust each other. People who’s opinions I really respect have also done some really uncool things to people who disagree with them.   Should I make a vow not to talk them?  If so my options for dialogue are going to be pretty limited.

Should I call these people out when they do something I don’t agree with or when they attack someone unfairly or unnecessarily? I don’t want to get into that. Besides appearing to be “choosing sides”, it would also just be perpetuating conflict.  And really, if I tried to call this out every time I see it I would need to hire a staff of editorial assistants so that we can adequately staff the machine needed to respond directly to each of these. What I can do is talk about BEHAVIORS that I find nonproductive when I notice a trend and I definitely plan on doing that.  I guess the closest thing I have to a main “religion” is just the Golden Rule . “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I find it discouraging but sadly human when I see so much time being wasted on just trying to bring others down. It goes without saying that I have even done it myself.

A lot of people have warned me that if I do this blog I am going to get a lot of hate directed my way.  That has kept me from starting it sooner.  Hatred from certain agenda driven segments within the transgender community, hatred from right wing groups who still see me as some sexual freak and hatred from people who think that my existence alone is some sort of act towards a marginalized community. At this point my blog is so far under the radar that I haven’t gotten this directed my way yet.  I know there is a very good chance it will come and  since in a lot of ways I am a very fragile person I am not looking forward to it at all.  Right now I recognize that I am in a unique place I will never be in again.  Since I have been not really been too involved with the trans community (I have one very dear mtf  friend but we hardly talk about this stuff) I don’t really have allegiances.   I am not choosing sides.  I am sure this will get emotional for me though and I will feel a pull to choose sides, to find the people who tell me that everything is ok and never mind what those “bad people” are saying about you.  I imagine that is why some who struggle with detransition end up by getting very involved with a church or give up their detransition and return to the transgender community.

In the past week I have spent some time on transgender message boards.  I have been speaking with MTFs, FTMs and people who are not comfortable with either of those categories.  My conversations with them have been very helpful to me and there are a lot of very gentle and wise spirits there.  I want to be mindful that everything I say here is with the aim of doing no harm to anyone there.  I am thankful they are there.

A lot of people keep asking me “are you sure?” about the detransitioning thing being right for me right now.  My answer is “yes” and I will talk more about why soon.  But in retracing the steps that made me the man I am now I see certain events,  choices I made  and life realities that maybe would have led me to a different place in how I express gender had things been different.  Does that mean that I should reject being the man I am now? Of course not!  I just think it is important for me to be mindful of how I got here and for anyone who strongly wants to reinforce their own transition maybe they can look at some of the things I have done (or not done) and get some ideas of what they may wish to do or not do to avoid getting into a place that resembles where I am at now.

My feeling of estrangement from some of the tribal aspects of the trans community came during the devastating and horrible days that were my first few weeks of my original transition, which were by far the worst days of my life. Nothing else has ever come close. Nothing.

I had actually planned my transition out really carefully.  I had been in counseling for several years, I had found some good support groups, I had an endocrinologist I trusted, I had (most) of my family’s support and I had worked out everything with my employer – who was really great and helpful about the whole process.

In a drawer I still have the two large now yellowed pieces of presentation paper on which my therapist wrote out the steps that we decided I needed to get taken care of to start my transition.  I was really lucky to have a fantastic therapist who in many ways thought like I did but was great in challenging certain beliefs that I had about how things were or should be.   She is still helping me today – and often when something happens I will hear her voice in my head saying one of the sayings or ideas that became recurring motifs in our work together. While getting ready for transition, she was my anchor.

I can still remember the day that my transition officially began. I wrote out a “coming out” letter to my colleagues and then closed my eyes and pressed send. There was no turning back now – I was out.  I walked out of the building to begin 2 weeks of vacation time after which I would come back presenting a new gender identity.

I gave myself a couple of days to begin to acclimate and then I had an appointment scheduled with my therapist for a much needed check-in.  I was really looking forward to that session (and I still have the calendar with the appointment date on it.)

I was so busy and preoccupied with my first few days of transition that I originally missed the news that my therapist, Rita Powers, had been shot dead in her office. A client, an MTF that I also knew, shot her point blank multiple times in a struggle over a gun the client had concealed in her purse and pulled out while threatening  to kill herself if Rita did not comply with the client’s demand for a letter approving gender reassignment surgery. The client was still mostly living as male at the time and so had not begun any sort of sustained “real life test” so I assume Rita was refusing to write such a letter. Within seconds both were dead.

When I finally got the news the next day I began shrieking in a way that I never did before or since. Sounds came out of my mouth that I didn’t even know I was capable of. Neighbors came running over.  Any sense of being in the real world was immediately gone and I was in a surreal new isolated world where nothing made sense.  I guess I was just starting my own five stages of grieving (I’ll say more on that theory in another context in another post).  The initial disbelief lasted for a long time – it couldn’t be real. But it was also soon joined by another emotion – extreme anger.

At that point my anger was kind of selfish – it was for my own personal loss.  I was beyond pissed that someone had taken away a someone I really needed in my life, probably the person I need the MOST at that time.  Rita’s office had been a place of comfort for me, a safety zone where I could work through my deepest and darkest fears. Now that had been transformed by the shooter into a grotesque death scene.  I watched people I knew appear on the regular tv coverage that went on for days explaining what had REALLY happened and putting their own little spin on the process. I saw Rita’s face on TV and realized she was no longer the incredible woman and personal champion that I had in my life.  She was the latest face of dead person in another bizarre murder story that would gain national attention due to the perceived salaciousness of the story and our society’s appetite for this kind of stuff.

But what made me the most angry was the lack of empathy that I perceived coming from the trans community toward Rita as a person and the vigils, eulogies and tributes that quickly came poring in for the shooter. At that time I hated the shooter more than I have ever hated anyone in the world. People were actually starting to blame Rita for being inexperienced, indirectly implying that her own murder was really her own fault.  I saw her talked about less as a person, a healer, a friend and (most importantly) a loving mother with two children now left behind.  Instead she was a “gatekeeper”, a symbol for what was wrong with the hurdles and hoops that people had to jump through to “be who they needed to be”. She was the worst of “the system”.

Looking back on it I think I think that my proximity to the whole situation made me too emotionally invested to think clearly about the trans community and how I wanted to move through it and be a member of it.  I keep using this awkward term “community” which isn’t quite right because I am actually talking about a diverse collection of individuals.  Many of them were absolutely horrified by what happened. Still there were a lot of people saying things about the event that made me uncomfortable so just as I started my transition I pulled away.

The irony is that after making sure I had all of my ducks lined up when I finally started transition I suddenly didn’t have a therapist. I was now totally on my own in that regard. I was eligible for emergency grief counseling so I remember seeing someone for two sessions who I could tell was very frightened by me.  I had just had a really poorly done electrolysis session (I found out about Rita’s death when I got home from that) and I had scabs all over my face, my eyes were blood red and I was a complete mess.  I remember her looking at me like I was a bug.  I hated life.

Eventually I got back on my feet.  The trans community (there is that awkward phrase again) and the San Diego LGBT Center lent me a much needed and healing ear as I tried to process through all of this.

I am sure it will not be lost on some readers that I have been referring to the shooter as, well, “the shooter” and more importantly I am using female pronouns.  I struggled with this for years and am still struggling now. First of all, with me she used one name and when the murder went down I learned that she was also using another. If anything I would call her by what I knew her is but that would be confusing. And, because I am only human, I am still very much pissed off at her.   The second issue, how to gender her, is even harder.  For many, many years I refused to call her “female”.  I have to admit it still makes me uneasy right now.  I am doing this though as a sign of respect, not so much for her but for her “sisters”.  And, although the expressed notion that she was somehow was a “victim” angered me so much at the time, I am beginning to feel a little compassion for this woman. I know she was obviously suffering.  I am not convinced that the suffering was entirely about gender. I do think she “snapped’. I am sorry she is dead.

As for Rita I have missed her for 15 years. I believe that the concept of life after death exists mainly in terms of legacy, and how our own thoughts that we share become the things we leave others with that live on.  Rita left me with a lot and I think I am passing some of it on to other people. I am sure others are as well because I know she had that effect on people. In some ways she is especially present today, reminding me that ALL people are worthy of understanding and love.  She gave her life for the trans community because it was a community that she came to love and wanted to help. I feel pretty confident that she would approve of me making my amends.

I think about her children. I wonder how they turned out. I know she loved them very much.  It still makes me sick to think of how they were robbed of their wonderful mother.  I hope they are well.  As for the rest of the world, they will never get to hear too much about Rita Powers other than as part of a now mostly forgotten story about a transsexual murder suicide incident.  I am confident if she had lived people would have heard a lot more from her.  She would have made a difference.

Rita had a really droll sense of humor which I do too so I think that helped our therapeutic relationship. I remember one of the last things she said to me – “Things will get better.  Of course first they are probably going to get much worse but they will get better.”  Despite the horrible irony I cannot help but attach to this, I still smile when I remember this (which is often because I always seem to do be in one muddle or another.)

I guess this whole experience makes me bristle when I hear conversations that divide – or groups up people into “us and them”.  There are some people saying things that I think are really right on and then I see them use a hurtful hashtag like “f***cispeople” and I have an immediate and physical reaction. Pain and bad memories return.

It seems my blogging here has already reignited an argument between two people who’s writings and experiences I find helpful.  I am really sad about this.  Again, I am not going to take sides. Although I cannot ever fully understand where both of them are coming from due to the uniqueness of all life experiences, I can feel empathy with some of the feelings they are talking about as they navigate through life.

And then there is the thing where I am all gung-ho about shining a light on everyone talking about detransitioning and I am learning maybe some people don’t want to have a flashlight shining in their face while they figure this out.  A bunch of posts were deleted over the last few days by someone I have interacted with and I hope that has nothing to do with me or any attention I might bring to them.    I know I need to proceed more mindfully so I am going to back off for now and pull back some of my links until I get a better sense of what I am doing.  I guess I am typical guy – just barging in with bluster and bravado.  I am going to dial it back a little bit.  What I really hope is that I didn’t silence any dialogues that were helping people.

Although I think that MTF and FTM are very different things there are some common touch points.  I also understand and support the need for woman born woman spaces and communities and men born men communities.  I do hope we can come together to talk about the stuff that matters to both of us and that it is ok to then also participate in communities that are shared only with people who have specific commonalities with us (including birth sex). I am all about unity but sometime we all need our “safe spaces” surrounded only by those that make us comfortable.

I have said a lot in this posting and spent a beautiful Sunday with gardening plans hunched over my laptop writing this out.  But one more thing.  I have worried about doing this blog for years.  I finally made it public last week.  I wasn’t sure if I ever would come out about who I actually was or how much I wanted to say about it.  As late as a few days ago I wanted to maintain two different parts of my life – the part of me here talking about a very personal journey, and the part of me in the real world where although people know some things they don’t hear me talking in such detail about it.   A lot has changed this week though.  And tonight I am signing this under my own name.  I am officially out. Again.

- See more at: http://retransition.org/2013/09/rita/#sthash.bV7SrYQw.dpuf

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