Friday Philosophy: Nebulous answers to cogent questions

The WeaveMothers were one and several.  The collective imagined a HereNow.  But the autonomous units were going to do what autonomous units do.  The distance between imagination and image on the one hand and reality on the other was immense through the eye of any disinterested observer.

As if there existed such a concept as disinterested observer…

_ # ^ &  _ # ^ &  _ # ^ &  _

It started out in the comments to one of my essays.  I have rewritten the comments just a bit for the purposes of readability.

so,

1. is there abandonment of the gender identity you, Robyn, had before your surgery?

2. and a full embrace of the gender you had surgery to become?

3. or is there a sense of identity with both genders,

4. or this there an identity awareness of a new, blended gender?

and the reason i mentioned this belonging in your Friday essay was due to the quote pulled from Friday’s essay that prompted these questions.  you notice, i hope, that i’m finally taking you up on your offer to answer questions, Teach!  

– kj

So I respond, with full knowledge that sharing even this much diminishes the probability that venturing inside will happen…

My initial response, which was totally inadequate:

Hmmm.

1. Yes.

2. No.

3. Maybe, but that probably depends on perspective.

4. Politically, yes…socially, it probably depends on time and place.  But since so much of my daily existence is often a political act, I’m not always so sure about the SpaceTime dependence.

Each of those answers is highly qualified…dependent upon a lot of definitions having common connotations between us. 🙂

Eg.  I abandoned the identity I had before the transitioning (a better marker than the surgery).  But on the other hand, I am still me.  Parts were shed.  Parts were added.

I am reminded of a story about a guy who had a hammer.  The head had to be replaced twice and the shaft three times, but it’s still the same hammer.

–Robyn

I gave kj some short answers.  Too short.  As I had already said to kj in a previous comment,

Short answer?

There is no short answer.

Isolation can happen in an instant.  A slip of the tongue…or the mind…and everyone sits there with me being the one who is different…having to find a way to politely make someone aware of a mistaken word choice.  Instantly I become aware that it is in truth impossible to explain something in any way close to how I feel in less than several dozen chapters and that still people who are not gender-variant will not be able to understand what it all means because it is nearly impossible to describe non-feelings.  Explain sound to someone born deaf or sight to someone born blind.

How do people change who they are?  How do people discover who they really are?  How do people pursue their true identity?  Is there such a thing as “true identity?”

All very good questions.  One arrives at those questions when one starts searching for answers.

I came to a time and a place.  The world in which I felt the True I was existing was shrinking.  That fact that I could discern a difference between the True I and the external I was disconcerting, to say the least.  The fact that I was forced to enter the world of pornography in order to learn about myself was extremely disturbing, not to mention being a real blow to my self-esteem.

I abandoned the identity I had before the transitioning (a better marker than the surgery).  But on the other hand, I am still me.  Parts were shed.  Parts were added.

A comment about a comment:  If transition is done well, in my opinion, the surgery itself is just a natural step in the process…for whatever values of “natural” one might wish to apply.  The real work of change is mostly done before surgery.  And it continues for the rest of one’s life.  It’s called growing.

Transition required letting go of past entanglements in order to escape the maze I had been stuck in for so long.  All aspects of my past personality were available to be jetisoned.

As one might imagine, this brings up a huge number of questions about who one has been…and who one desires to be.  That’s why we have therapists to help guide us in learning about ourselves.

Our (officially, at least one year, but more likely two or more) mission is plainly stated.  We must live 24/7 as the target gender during transition.  There are, of course, no guides as to what it means to “live as a woman” or “live as a man.”  So we have to figure that out for ourselves.  I figure I spent over half a year being stupid enough to try.

Then I figured it out:  I am a woman.  If I live as myself, then I am living my life as a woman.

Duh.

So I needed to pursue my own identity.  I still do.

Life does not happen in a vacuum however.  All this was happening against a backdrop of considerable resistance and not a little hatred.  I was, after all, living in Conway, AR at the time.  Now it was my choice not to run away to someplace where I was unknown and attempt what might have been a smoother transition (like such a thing truly existed) because there wouldn’t have been people who knew me from before.  The alternative, in my case, turned out to be that everyone knew enough details about my life and had so many misconceptions about what it means to be a transperson that living as an uncompounded woman was impossible for me.  Months were spent defending my right to be who I am.  That stretched to years.  From time to time, it is still necessary.

Along the way I picked up a mission in life:  to improve the lives of people like me, in whatever way “like me” is interpreted.

Unfortunately that mission has been marinated in frustration.  I spent several years studying, discussing, deconstructing and reassembling gender with my friends and some of the people who hate us on general principles.  I could still be doing that if I chose.  But is a neverending process and requires new blood as time passes.  And in the end, the problem will still be how one transmits those conclusions to a public who doesn’t have that time to spend…or the inclination to do so.

At least not in the last millennium,…and perhaps not in this one.

And we are left with the sound byte story of our lives.  I was born in the wrong body?  Really?  Can someone tell me what that really means and end up with something constructive, something that is not dismissive of my existence and the process I have gone through?

But it is what people expect to hear, even whether or not it is meaningless drivel.

The truth is that some of us spend years analyzing gender in order to discover just who we are, while most people are such experts on the subject that they don’t even give it a second thought…let alone give us a second chance at life.

I do not embrace “both genders,” from my perspective, because the concept of “both genders” is too limiting, too reductionist, in my opinion too damaging to our society.  I have my own personal gender, just like everyone else.

And I am too cognitively complex for a sound byte.

From at least one point of view, no discussion of my gender can ultimately prove fruitful until the people participating in that discussion have examined their own conceptualization of the subject.  But that requires people who are willing to do that examination.  Perhaps even before that, it requires people wanting to participate in the discussion.

It requires people of all genders.

So I keep plucking that thread, hoping the vibration caused will become a standing wave and some year begin such an open dialog.

The WeaveMother might be pleased.  On some happentrack this might provoke progress.

More likely is it the case that I will once again prove inadequate to the task I attempt.  There are so many concerns which are ever so much more vital.  Who cares about this?

Perhaps in some WhereWhen it could instigate change…but the likelihood is small that it will be this one

.


Looking Back

Lacking Options

Meaningful discussion

about what it means

for me to be

differently gendered

must clearly begin

by exploring

why you are not

I shall wait

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–May 30, 2008

_ # ^ &  _ # ^ &  _ # ^ &  _

The WeaveMother sensed the twang and measured the message.  And exuded a fluid from its visual sensory organ.

Communication with any WhereWhen could be so difficult.  Trying to communicate with one of the units was unheard of.

76 comments

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    • Robyn on May 31, 2008 at 12:08 am
      Author

    Having stu piddy insinuate that people on medication were unable to think clearly contributed to that.

    I also received a copy of a paper about me, which included:

    The number of news articles in the conservative south was greatly increased due to Dr. Serven’s decision to have a sex change operation.

    But this is counterbalanced by being referred to in the paper 95% of the time as “he.”

    Robyn

  1. most people ( myself included ) don’t actually ever explore or question their gender identity. We assume it is fixed.  I think we are more comfortable with the idea that it is immobile because if it is not we get very existential. I say we in a societal sense.

    I can’t speak for anybody else on this issue. I probably have not really explored who I am as a woman.

  2. Nicely phrased.  I don’t know what you’ve gone through and it must have been extremely difficult…but I know what it’s like to appear androgynous (from, apparently, a very early age…like four) and to embrace it…and to live with the consequences.

    You are a braver woman than I am.  BTW, love the graphic above your poem.  No offense intended, by any means, but it reminds me somewhat of those Russian Constructivist posters from the 1930s–that’s a compliment; I always adored ’em, even while I reviled Stalin.  (And no, I’m not that old…just like art.)

  3. I feel like your essays, and this one in particular, are opening up my thinking in a very good, very important way.  I especially appreciate that you’ve answered questions you’ve been asked.  I’m pretty sure that I don’t really understand gender, but I’d like to. This essay seems to move my thinking in productive directions.  So, thanks.

    • Alma on May 31, 2008 at 1:45 am

    And it continues for the rest of one’s life.  It’s called growing.

    Wouldn’t it be awful to reach a plateau and not learn, or understand anything new?

    I figure I spent over half a year being stupid enough to try.

    Then I figured it out:  I am a woman.  If I live as myself, then I am living my life as a woman.

    Glad you figured out it just meant being yourself.  🙂

    It must have been heartbreaking to be refered to so often in the paper as he.  I think its harder for people when they’ve known someone since before transition.  Still, thats no excuse!  You are always “she” to me, a transgendered woman in the restaurant is always “she” to me, but I sometimes find myself thinking of my kids old teacher as “he”, and have to correct myself in my head.  If I had been introduced to her as a female, I don’t think I’d have that problem.

    I love the eye in the art.  Its cool.  🙂

    I think that people don’t think about their gender, if the body matches the soul.  But if it doesn’t match then it affects everything in ones life, and the only thing to do is to figure out what will make one happy.  How to get the body and soul to match.  It would really suck.  I see it as a somewhat correctable birth defect.  I’m probably WAY off base, but like you say, its like Explaining sound to someone born deaf or sight to someone born blind.  

  4. When I say I am relieved to have not had to explore that part of me (re your poem)too deeply. It’s not like there is not plenty to keep me busy on the self exploration front!

    I have of course explored gender as metaphor and the “feminine parts” of my psyche, but I have always been so unabashedly male that the question rarely in terms of identity.

  5. In terms of connecting, but I desire men sexually. I like men but I am very much aware that they are the “other”, not in a deviant or negative way.

    Odd because I have always had male friends and I am particularly close to a male cousin.

  6. growing up. Even now I am not, even though there are “girl” things I just love like being with other women and laughing and talking. I hate dressing up but I love shoes.

    Weddings bore me, but I like babies and kids even though I don’t have any of my own.

    I think I would have been a terrible 1950’s housewife. Probably would have ended up institutionalized.

    • kj on May 31, 2008 at 3:29 am

    🙂

    • kj on May 31, 2008 at 3:41 am

       🙂

    The distance between imagination and image on the one hand and reality on the other was immense through the eye of any disinterested observer.

    As if there existed such a concept as disinterested observer…

    Wow, really expressed those points on the scale (stars in the sky? lol) well, Robyn.  

    I came to a time and a place.  The world in which I felt the True I was existing was becoming shrinking.  That fact that I could discern a difference between the True I and the external I was disconcerting, to say the least.  

    Now that, above, could fill an essay. Beautifully described. I’ve felt that, I can’t think of anyone I know who hasn’t felt that at one time or another… or for very long stretches of their lives. Empathic.

    Don’t know if I can describe a recent interchange with one of my sisters… for whatever reasons, we both have haircuts just exactly like the ones we wore when we were five-years-old. We both had those flash moments of catching sight of ourselves in the mirror and seeing the far younger version.  Only now the front of my hair is gray. But it is an identification.

    • kj on May 31, 2008 at 3:53 am

    How do people change who they are?  How do people discover who they really are?  How do people pursue their true identity?  Is there such a thing as “true identity?”

    I was supposed to be born a boy, name was all picked out. Answered to a boy’s name until turning 17 and my oldest sister decided it was high time to stop the nickname.  by that age, the only two left in the house were my father and me. he saw no reason why i couldn’t clean the gutters and/or/plus mow the lawn.  😉

    on the other hand… my shape is unmistakably female and I’m sexually attracted to men. i wear jeans, drive a jeep, but never fail to wear banging earrings. all and all, just your average old hippie chick.

    Identity is a fascinating adventure.  As a writer, I employ those voices in my head… they are as much “me” as anything else is.

    I can see where gender is different than identity. And different from identification with gender.  At least I think. 🙂  ?!

    • kj on May 31, 2008 at 4:37 am

    Who cares about this?

    i would venture to say that what this essay had done for me to provide a means of common ground when it comes to discussion of identity. Which, I think, encompasses a much larger field of reality (and myth!) than gender.

    Davidseth mentioned shamanism in his essay tonight, and there’s a subject for mutable identities right there.  🙂 The act of journeying is part and parcel identification with our selves, our other selves, our animal selves, their other selves.  

    speaking as an ace identity-hider, this essay has opened a few doors. 🙂  I care.

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