Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Wages of Privilege

I've started this entry about five times now, and I keep getting frustrated with the overly-strident tone and finger-pointingness of it. I know there have been lots of different blogs and various other things written about privilege, or lack thereof. But it hadn't yet reared its ugly head in my life. Until now.

A friend had made an incredibly cissexist and transphobic comment, which I felt certain was just thoughtlessness on hir part. Zie had been friendly to me since before my physical transition had even begun. When I mentioned to hir that comments like that hurt all transpeople, zie blew me off. The sentiment was basically "I don't feel that I have hurt anyone, so therefore I haven't." I wouldn't have brought something like that up, if nobody was hurt. I was hurt. And I felt like, somehow, my feelings had become a non-consideration for hir.

So a series of unfollowings and emails ensued, and it appears that we are no longer friends. Any chance of reconciliation any time soon is pretty close to zero. And that's a shame, because it didn't have to happen.

I won't lie: I'm angry at the way things went down. I'm angry that it had to happen in the first place. But I'm most angry that zie seemed quite unwilling to consider my position. It seemed like the core of the whole thing was an unwillingness to consider the positions of privilege that were at work.

I've radically changed positions in my life. I started out at the top of the privilege heap: male, white, heterosexual. And I didn't do a thing to get those privileges; they were mine simply by accident of birth. Now that I've shifted so many of those categories, it's hard to know where I stand. I'm still white, but I'm now a woman - a transgender woman at that - and a lesbian. I have never before had to consider the role of privilege. I was so disconnected from everyone and everything, I'm not sure what, if anything, it would have meant to me anyway. I always felt like I existed as something of a ghost on the very edge of the world. But now the clarity with which privilege is making itself known to me... it's a little overwhelming. And more than a little disgusting.

So in my previous role, it would have been inconsequential to have made the same comment as my friend did. I was above all those categories - sexism, cissexism, transphobia. But now, having started to experience some of those things first hand, I can say that privilege is a millstone around the neck of society as a whole. Privileged and non-privileged alike are burdened by it. It's laziness, pure and simple. It eliminates the need to actually get to know someone before making a judgement about who they are. I would suggest that those on the lower end of the privilege curve might even have the capacity to be worse in preserving the disparity than those on top; they're downtrodden, so rather than be content with everybody standing on their neck, they might seek to push somebody down, so they don't have to live at the bottom of that curve.

The problem is that this makes the problem worse, not better. Those at the top of the heap can just watch all those underneath fight it out to not be the worst. But all it does is preserves the status quo. Those on top remain, and those on the bottom remain, and none are truly benefitted.

The core of the whole thing is respect. Respect is a funny thing, though. It functions best when it is given, rather than when it is received. And rather than being in a limited supply, the more respect that is given, the more that comes back, and the more one has to give to others. Everyone is uplifted, and nobody is diminished. The trick is that it's a chain, and any weak or broken link can make the whole thing fall apart. It's a practical example of an iterated prisoner's dilemma, and there is no consequence for defecting, especially for those who already have the power of their privilege. Power they acquired by doing nothing more dramatic than drawing breath.

Ridiculous quote aside, it seems a bit crazy that the true solution is for everyone to "be excellent to each other", but it really is just that simple. First we need to form a chain of respect that encompasses everyone. Then we need to just not break it. I don't know if human nature would ever allow us to do that, but we could do far worse than to strive for such an ideal.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Inflection point

Seems like I've hit another big inflection point. Or maybe a couple of them, clumped right together.

I've long thought that the doctor who was originally managing my hormone replacement was not doing a very good job, so I found another doctor, and have seen him a couple times now. Our first visit was an extremely affirming experience, and it made me immediately glad that I had finally made a change. I saw him again a little over a week ago, for a six-week followup appointment, to see how things had changed or progressed.

He went over the results from my first blood tests, and described the main parts of interest. My testosterone level is 6.7, which is about what we would expect, he said, given my current physiology. My estradiol level was 80, which he said was very low; ideally it would be around 200. Levels of the two precursor hormones, FSH and LH, which are produced by the pituitary gland and signal the body to produce the main sex hormones, were very high. This indicated, the doctor said, that my body is not seeing enough sex hormones, and it was trying to spur my body to produce more. I don't have the right body parts to produce a whole lot of estrogen, of course, so what it actually indicated was that my hormone replacement dosages were too low. He had placed me on a different estrogen medication, which he hoped would increase the levels. This office visit was to confirm if this actually happened. So, he sent me over to the lab, and they drew the necessary blood, and off I went.

A few days later, I called back for the results. My estradiol level was apparently still very low, and the doctor wanted to double my dosage. Gulp! So, all this time, I've been on such a low dosage, and have had less-than-stellar development; I chalked that up to my being almost 40 years old, and my body just reacting less to the new hormones that were coursing through it. Everyone is different, of course, but it seems that older bodies typically react less-well to transition. But with this new information, it seems like my depression and nihilism might have been a side effect of my body trying to tell me something: more, please! So, ok, more estrogen.

It's only been a few days on the new dosage, so it's still really early to tell if I'm feeling different, or if I'll see another spurt of development. Maybe in a few weeks, I'll have a better idea.

The other big change is regarding my career. I've been working in the IT industry for many years now, and despite the fact that I am good at what I do, I just can't generate any interest for it any longer. I mean, like none.

Looking back, programming and system administration was something I sort of fell into. I had aptitude and ability, and it was something that I had done since I was a child, but there was never a desperate desire to do it. There are aspects of the job that I enjoyed: one must continually learn new things, and a lot of the job is governed by logical cause-and-effect. That is how I approach most things, so it seemed a perfect match.

All except that I don't care anymore. If I ever even did.

I like to make things. When I was little, my favorite toys were LEGO. Most of my current hobbies involve some sort of craft, and some act of creation. And as time goes on, the physical aspect of creation seems to have become more and more important; I enjoy photography, for example, but the modern moving-bits-around instead of standing in the dark and making something, seems too much like work to me.

And then there's another large aspect which never seemed important before: I like working with people, and it turns out that I like it when people are happy, and especially if I can make them happy with something I've done. Now, it seems like this aspect has grown more important than feeding my brain. I get excited when I know I'll have a chance to make someone happy, and I find myself drawn to doing that, as strongly as I've ever felt anything ever before. Here is that deep need, that desperate desire that I've always wondered if I had.

I keep feeling nudges here, and seeing signs there, and hearing people talking about change, and it seems like this is all conspiring to tell me something. Now is the time. Just as there was a time in which I had to say I will now become who I need to be, this seems like the time when I need to say I will now do what I need to do.

It is time to take another leap.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More family stuff

I feel like I've been a bit of a broken record here, going on and on about the same thing. But, as a friend once said, it's hard to just talk about whatever, when there's something specific and important on your mind. Since most of my physical and social transition stuff is done, the only things that are left are sort of cleaning up around the edges. And my family stuff has been pretty messy, so that's what I've got to work on.

I had a long and productive conversation with my mom on Wednesday night. I originally went over because I just needed some comfort; my unemployment, which is continuing, is becoming way too much stress for me to handle by myself. Money, ever the evil that it has always been, is showing me a bad image of my future, unless I'm able to do something. What that something is, well, I'm not entirely sure. So I thought my mom might have some ideas, since she's really practical about things like this. I had some really basic ideas of things I might do, and she helped me sort of work out a rough plan.

Once that was all done, we sort of segued into other stuff; I asked about her recent vacation to her high school reunion, and her visits with the family who still lives there. After that ran down a bit, I told her that I had been corresponding with one of my cousins recently.

I had wished my cousin a happy birthday on facebook a month or two ago, and at the time he said that we should catch up soon. This week seemed to be the time. We traded several messages, and he relayed his complete support, which was such a wonderful change from what I've heard from many of the other family members. He also asked about who else on his side of the family knew about me; I guessed probably nobody. He suggested that all of them should be fine with my transition, and that I should just call them. I thought it might be a little weird for some random girl to call them and claim to be their former male cousin/nephew, so asked if he'd be willing to out me to them, which he was more than happy to do. He got back to me a day or so later, and said that everybody was accepting and glad that I was able to do what I needed to do. He also suggested that I follow up with a call to each, which I haven't done yet.

After relating this to my mother, she mentioned that my father had shown her the email I sent him last week, discussing my name change. This seemed to be a pretty big deal to me, that he would reach out to my mom with something like that, since my dad is usually pretty self-contained about such things. At that point, it seemed like a good opportunity to tell her about what was really in my heart. I told her that when she used my old name, and used 'he' and 'him', it hurt me every time. I went on a bit about the semi-rant I wrote a couple blog posts ago, and asked how she was unable to see the changes that I had made. She said that the changes were very clear to her. I told her that I didn't go through all this time and effort and expense, for nothing to happen. I'm her daughter now, and that carries some necessary changes with it. And through all the effort and expense, even though it has been the hardest thing I have ever done, the benefits so greatly outweigh any price I've had to pay, I would willingly and gladly pay that price again.

This past week, I've had a few moments which really made clear to me the purpose of my transition and the goals which I had hoped to accomplish. Before, I was in such a state of detachment, that I was rarely ever able to have even a moment when I felt comfortable. I can remember one fleeting time, ever. But since my transition has been done, I've had those moments pretty often. This past week, a friend was visiting from out of town, and one day we were planning to just spend time together at my house. I had gotten out of bed, put on clothes, brushed my hair and teeth, and gotten in the car to go get her from the hotel. I'm sure I looked exactly like somebody who had just woken up (since, y'know, I had), but at that moment, I had such a feeling of peace and contentment... It was so powerful. All I could do was smile. That feeling is worth any price.

I related that feeling to my mom, and I think that made a real impression. As I was sort of running out of steam, I said that it was probably impossible for any cis person to really understand what being transgender means, and that I didn't really need her to understand what I've been through, but that I just needed her to accept me as I am now - that's who I really am, and who I've always wanted to be.

We finished our talk well past midnight, which we haven't done ever. She seems more willing to let those new ideas take root; perhaps my passion helped convey just what all this means to me.