There's a lot of stuff we don't know and can't prove. This doesn't mean we must take someone else's word for it, or trust some authority. It means we don't know. We can have an opinion, informed by as much or as little fact as we wish. But we can't say that simply because we believe something, it's true.
What do we know.
At least in this country we know that adult humans have the right to do as they wish so long as they don't endanger or violate the rights of others. (This has been changed somewhat by Presidential fiat and by the US Supremem Court, but we still pretty much believe this.) We know that only women have the capacity to produce another living human. We don't know when the human they do produce is functioning and conscious except by the fact of their birth and their subsequent behavior. Making assumptions about pain or awareness is unwarranted because we don't know. Before birth we can speculate, guess, have an opinion, cite the opinions of others and so on, but we don't know and we cannot know.
We can't know what happens before birth in exactly the same way that we can't know what happens after death. No one has come back from death with verifiable proof of what they experienced, and no one has shown verifiable knowledge of anything before their birth that they could not have obtained after birth. No one.
The sincereity and depth of one's belief is not proof and does not establish truth, no matter how many people hold that belief. Changing the law does not change the truth of this, but only classify more things as crimes and punish people for their thoughts and beliefs. People have every right to act on their beliefs so long as their acts do not infringe on the rights of other living (as in having been born) human beings.
We DO know that an unborn human is not a living human, it is a living fetus. It may become a living human, but it is not one so long as it is not separated from its host mother. In exactly the same way a woman's liver or heart is alive only in the sense that it is a dependent part of her. When the fetus leaves the woman it has the potential to live on independently as a human being. This is an arbitrary distinction, but it establishes the human rights of both mother and child.
Before birth the fetus is part of a woman's body and all rights pertaining to it are hers. All injuries to it are injuries to her. It is a crime for anyone to injure any part of her without her consent, whether that part is her brain, her liver, or her fetus. It is not a crime for her to injure herself, and though we may frown on activities that might do so, it is her right to do so, up to the point of taking her own life, and past that point in some parts of the US and elsewhere.
Similarly we allow people to drink alcohol, smoke, climb mountains, skydive, and participate in athletic events when pregnant, because it is their right to do so. We allow people to remove blood, bone marrow, and kidneys, and to have themselves pierced and tattooed, liposuctioned and cosmetically operated upon, up to the point of death, because it is their right to do so. It is their body, and they have the right to use it as they will, so long as it does not violate the rights of another living, born person capable of acting on its own behalf.
What happens if we declare that a fertilized egg is a living being with the rights of an adult? This would mean that what happens to the fetus before birth is no longer the responsibility of the woman who produces it, but the responsibility of the State. It also means that, while pregnant, women become a slave to the fetus whose guardian is the State, and therefor those women are slaves of the State. Thus by the act of fertilization of an egg which she alone can produce, and regardless of her consent to fertilization, she loses all her rights as an adult citizen. Rape a woman, make a slave.
By declaring a fertilized egg to be a person, we make the woman who produced and carries it, a non-person, a slave or piece of property. And we vest all her previous rights in the egg, of which the State is the sole guardian.
To pass such a law is to instantly enslave half of the population.
To remove the rights of half of humanity because we believe it to be necessary or because our "faith" tells us to is to condemn all who might be impregnated, for whatever reason, to slavery. There is no legal or demonstrably logical reason for doing this, which is immoral and a violation of the rights of another human being.
At this moment the legislatures in many states are preparing measures that would enslave every pregnant women and threaten the enslavement of every woman capable of producing an egg. You can help stop these politicians by taking the actions recommended at the FaceBook pages of Parents Against Personhood, Virginians Against Personhood, and Oklahomans Against Personhood. Please go to these sites and give them your support. Your state may be next -- your wife, mother, sister, or daughter may be next. So please act now.
[This note will be republished in Facebook whenever legislation changing the status of women is proposed.]
This is the first of a series of links to the writing of Ellen Willis that I will periodically post here. I do this because I believe she is the most incisive and penetrating intellectual of our time. In 1969, for Ramparts magazine, she wrote Women and the Myth of Consumerism. It's still controversial, and still holds up quite well. It concludes:
If we are to build a mass movement we must recognize that no individual decision, like rejecting consumption, can liberate us. We must stop arguing about whose life style is better (and secretly believing ours is) and tend to the task of collectively fighting our own oppression and the ways in which we oppress others. When we create a political alternative to sexism, racism, and capitalism, the consumer problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself.
You can find the rest of her article here: http://fair-use.org/ellen-willis/women-and-the-myth-of-consumerism
This is from 1971. It is as timely today as it was then, when the Right To Life movement was new. There have always been those who think of women as property and not as human beings. They use the same arguments now as then, and the same twisted logic. Ellen unravels it nicely.
In 2002 she writes:
AS A POLITICAL MOVEMENT, feminism is barely breathing. Many forces converge to obstruct movement toward genuine equality of the sexes: the entrenched, symbiotic structures of work and family life; the refusal to assign economic value to housework and child rearing; the devolution of the public sector; increasing class and racial inequality; the religious right's influence on abortion policy, sex education, and other aspects of sex and gender politics.
I haven't noticed much change since 2002. Only that the hysterical fringe of the political right wing (the ones in charge right now) have revamped the "personhood" argument in the strongest, most mindless attempt to return women to the status of property since, uh, since they were property. It wasn't that long ago folks.
In 2000 Ellen Willis wrote a review of Steal This Movie and Easy Rider for the New York Times, called "Steal This Myth," and showed us how we felt about the 60's:
"Two kinds of voices dominate the present conversation about the 60's: those who condemn the utopianism of the time as a totalitarian delusion, and those who sentimentally endow it with a moral purity unknown to today's era of rampant materialism and cynicism about politics. What's missing from both accounts is the 60's as emotional experience: the desire to live intensely, the hope that people could have more than Freud's ordinary unhappiness. For my generation, the pursuit of happiness was not a slogan; it turned our guts inside out and left us with a bone-deep sense of loss."
It's a decade later. Has anything changed?
The assassinations of the Kennedys, Malcolm, Martin, and John, were their national shocks. We had ours on September 11, 2001. Their moments of hope came with the Columbia University student strike, the student-worker uprising in Paris, ''Prague Spring'' and the ensuing Soviet invasion, and the launching of women's liberation with a demonstration against the Miss America pageant. Ours came in 2003 when hundreds of thousands marched in our streets against war. And though millions marched in Europe and elsewhere, Arundhati Roy noted that only American voices would be heard.
We soon learned that even our voices counted for nothing. There was no echo from the White House. Nothing. The inhabitant was a Texas dry drunk who imagined a deadly enemy, attacked it ineffectually, and was puzzled that, when he declared victory, this enemy did not immediately lie down at his feet, surrender, and offer its tummy to be scratched.
And in 2005, with the destruction of New Orleans, we saw that his delusions of competence and his denial of reality encompassed our pain and suffering, too. Apparently 9/11 and Katrina happened only to him, not us.
Now we see the Occupy movement stalled and largely unsupported, with a few unions and service workers joining them for special occasions. We begin to see that the 1% are largely the "good job, Brownie" cronies of finance and the war industry. Grumblings of debt-ridden students are not sufficient to move us yet. The hysterical legislation to make citizens of the unborn and slaves of their incubators may steal the moment from us. The Occupier's hopes of a new day and a new deal seem as far from realization as the utopian dreams of the 60's.
I assume we'll recover from this, as we recovered from the dashed hopes of the 60's. Perhaps our President of Hope will be moved to create a national jobs program, a social safety net, a universal health care program, and to rebuild our failing infrastructure and abandoned schools, and tear down our prisons. He said he would, but only if we made him do it. We haven't done that yet.
The subtitle of Ellen Willis's review was "why we still try to re-create the rush of the 60's." Well, that rush is now pretty dead. I lived through it and dreamed that dream and saw it fade away. I wish the Occupiers the wisdom that we didn't have, and the luck that we hoped for but never found. Perhaps they'll find it.
The rest of Willis' review can be read here: (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/20/movies/steal-this-myth-why-we-still-try-to-re-create-the-rush-of-the-60-s.html?fta=y&pagewanted=print). It's worth your time, and perhaps you'll see or realize something that Ellen and I missed.
(T)he democratic purpose does not prosper when a man dies or a building collapses or an enemy force retreats. It may be hard for it to prosper unless these things happen, and in that lies the entire justification for the use of force at all as a weapon of national policy. But the actual prospering only occurs when something happens in a man's mind that increases his enlightenment and the consciousness of his real relation to other people -- something that makes him aware that, whenever the dignity of another man is offended, is own dignity among men, is thereby reduced. ~George F. Kennan
This is from Kennan's American Diplomacy, 1900-1950, page 78 of the Mentor Book edition. It seems to be a rather nuanced equivalent of Kant's Categorical Imperative for diplomacy in a democratic nation. It assumes enlightened application by men of good will and no small amount of wisdom and perspective. It also assumes that such a nation would balance its own interests with those of other nations. I don't know if it's ever been applied in U.S. foreign policy. Certainly not in my lifetime.
My grandparents' ghosts
are here now. My old cats too.
Blink, and the floaters go.
If I could just not look
they might stay until
I become one.
Mon, April 9, 2007
revision X April 6, 2012
Older is reflexive scratching at phantom thoughts,
recollections of other itches better scratched.
Softer memories and erections, less urgently relived.
"Look! He must be chasing something!" He is.
Tue, April 10, 2007
Ten years ago we taught the PDX police how to not freak out. So now their violence is focused and they need less of it to get "command and control." It's time to update and apply new guerrilla tactics:
1. Build community support by replacing government services (food, medicine, sanitation, safety, news, housing).
2. Leverage unequal force with superior communications and mobility.
3. Develop discipline through well publicized small successes so that people WANT to follow your orders.
4. Provide "entertainment actions" through satire and simple fun (no porta-potties? do a shit-in at Pioneer Square!).
5. Do Flash Occupations and Flash Services (donuts and coffee at off-ramp signals, crazy-glue in Hummer door locks).
6. Cultivate natural allies and use their expertise: community services, credit unions, veterans groups, churches, etc.
7. Create/revive mock leaders and anti-leaders using identifiable clown characters and making each the focus of an action (General Hersey Bar, The Flying Sister of Indulgence, Commandante Sub-Zero, Captain 99%, Billionaires for Themselves Alone, Che Guayabera, Coyote, Sucka Spliff, El Handicapicos, Bestus Mofo, Super-Femina, Gay Beyonda, . . .), and when one is busted, another pops up instantly, 50 feet away, in the same costume.
8. As the sun makes it fun / each day make it fun / once again make it fun!
What we do, is observable fact. It's real. What we say about why we did it is justification, an after-the-fact story we tell ourselves and others about ourselves to justify and make sense of ourselves - in the best possible way, of course.
Our reasons and rationalizations for what we do are irrelevant and often absurd. So, arguing that your reasons or beliefs are better than mine is both ridiculous and pointless.
If all that you "are" is someone who annoys others by indulging in ridiculous and pointless arguments, then you are truly a pitiful waste of human life, and you are certainly wasting my time.
If you teach your children to "do what I say, not what I do," then you are modeling hypocracy: children learn from the models of behavior they are exposed to, not from what they are told. So, be the person you want your child to be.
Taken from Jane Jacobs' Systems of Survival:
Guardian Syndrome's Moral Precepts
Be obedient and disciplined
Adhere to tradition
Deceive for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisure
Commercial Syndrome's Moral Precepts
Be open to inventiveness and novelty
Use initiative and enterprise
Come to voluntary agreements
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for productive purposes
Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
Promote comfort and convenience
These are the two opposing value systems that operate in Western society. The Guardian syndrome is found in military, police, government, religion, and many institutions, . The Commerce syndrome is characteristically egalitarian, democratic, and follows Kant's Categorical Imperative. The first is exclusive and hierarchical, the second inclusive and empathetic.
The reason and logic of each system is opaque to the other, so direct argument is never persuasive. To sway the other one must show what one's perceptions of the other are, in hopes that the other may see why you behave and believe as you do and not as they do. This level of understanding is difficult for Guardians because they are inclined to exclude the other as alien, while Commericals are inclined to include the alien other as a potential collaborator, customer, friend and ally. Nevertheless, I see no other way of suasion.
Modeling empathy for the other, rather than simply attending to one's own or the groups' needs, is the educational key to creating a Commercial type. Modelling power relationships is the educational key to creating a Guardian type. (See Wilhelm Reich's Character Analysis.)
For example, the Guardian syndrome has the precept "Deceive for the sake of the task." Jacobs assumes the developmental and historical reasons for one to so deceive are that:
Deception arises from man's early days as a hunters — hunters deceive prey.
Deception is part of warfare, as well as police tactics and diplomacy.
Deception must be for the purpose of achieving a guardian task, not a personal agenda.
It is moral to deceive an outsider but not one of the other guardians — that would be disloyal.
If an action is to achieve a guardian task and the deception is not aimed at members of the guardian organization, then it is an esteemed guardian action — virtuous.
This may help one understand why the Teaparty has no problem with lying and exaggerating. As for how these syndromes apply to other situations, you'll have to read her book. I've spent the last 15+ years trying to understand this well enough to think like a Guardian, and to understand why my type is so detested by them. Like all other Commerical types, I tend to believe that dispasstionate intellectual rigor will always win the game. Guardian types, don't.
This is a test.
Had this been an actual revolution
you would all be lying in a heap
at the base of the wall.
This is only a test.
This is a test.
Had you been doing purposeful work
instead of reacting to the work of others,
they would now be reacting to you.
This is only a test.
This is a test.
In the event of an honest personal evaluation
you would be several miles from here
naked and hiding, in the dark.
This is only a test.
This is a test.
Had this been a meaningful encounter
you would have changed,
and so would I.
But this is only a test.
April 7, 2007
High fructose corn syrup (and sugar in general) caused the recent 100% rise in autism spectrum disorder.
The number of children ages 6 to 21 in the U.S. receiving special education services under the autism disability category increased 91 % between 2005 to 2010 despite fewer children receiving special education services overall during the same time period. A comparison of autism prevalence between the U.S. and Italy using the Mercury Toxicity Model suggests the increase in autism in the U.S. is not related to mercury exposure from fish, coal-fired power plants, thimerosal, or dental amalgam but instead to the consumption of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). Consumption of HFCS may lead to mineral imbalances, including Zn, Ca and P loss and Cu gain and is a potential source of inorganic mercury exposure. These mineral imbalances create multiple pathways for oxidative stress in the brain from exposure to OP pesticides and heavy metals, such as Pb or Hg. Inorganic mercury and fructose exposure from HFCS consumption may both modulate PON1 gene expression. With a reduction in PON1 activity, there is a potential for increasing homocysteine levels which are associated with genome-wide DNA hypomethylation that may carry over from one generation to the next, affecting both neurodevelopment and autism prevalence.
This is the first believeable study I've seen that points to a believeable cause of autism.
Here's the complete article: http://www.clinicalepigeneticsjournal.com/content/pdf/1868-7083-4-6.pdf
The society and culture determine what benefits teachers are thought to offer.
In todays job market there is little value seen in the skills that kids acquire in high school, let alone in grade school. And pre-school skills are so far from meaningful reality as to be, well, meaningless. New college grads are making less every year while the cost of college keeps skyrocketing and employment on graduation has more to do with who your family knows than with what you can actually do. College is clearly a risky investment. Better to build prisons to house the hapless, the homeless, the ones without the brains or fortitude to stay clear of drugs and alcohol, or crime. We know prisons will be needed.
So why not cut teachers' pay, remove their tenure, their benefits and pensions, and hire them as what they really are: temporary, interchangeable, and disposable workers. Really, why not? And aren't colleges and universities now doing that anyway?
Perhaps teachers should simply promote themselves as really dependable baby sitters, lovable nannies, exemplary role models, and fair but firm disciplinarians, until such time as the kids claim citizenship by moving away, getting a job or joining the military. What they teach isn't of any value to our children, so let's pay them according to the actual service they provide to us, the parents, and not to the service we imagine they provice to our children.
If any of these ideas appeal to you, if you cannot quickly dismiss them as nonsense, then you are my enemy. You are the enemy of my society, culture, and civilization, as well as the enemy of all children at all times, everywhere. You are the enemy of the whole of mankind and you must be banished or destroyed. You disgust me and you are evil.
Mend your thoughts and ways, kill yourself, or prepare for battle. I give you fair warning. I will offer no quarter.
I've seen three of my cats through the ends of their lives. When they could no longer be comforted by my care or touch, and there was no reasonable hope for easing their pain, then it was time to let or help them go.
My love for them and pain at the thought of losing them could not erase their misery or justify their continued suffering. They were my friends. And so, being their friend, I helped in the only ways I could.
Their gift to me was not only their company, but the memories they've left with me. I miss them.
It's gone now.
I had it for fifty years, covering my face, hiding me, mostly from myself. Not consciously hiding, but that's what it amounted to. My beard was my 'beard'. I don't presume to speak for anyone else here, bearded or otherwise - this is about me alone.
I wanted to see what I looked like. To see if I'd been missing some aspect of myself. Something I needed but was afraid of. I wanted to see what I'd been covering up and who was under the beard. So I shaved it off. It will stay off for a while - at least until it no longer matters.
Fifty years ago I was discharged from the Marine Corps. They'd offered me the usual bonuses to stay, and an assignment in some place in Japan I'd never head of. Attractive, but not enough so to compensate for life in the Corps. So I refused their kind offer and got out when my three years was up. My friends who re-upped found that that place in Japan was a staging area for Vietnam. None that I knew ever came back. But I didn't know that then.
What I did know was that the Marine Corps may have made me a man, but I was still the man that I was afraid of being, and afraid of what I might become. This fear had been one of the reasons I left AFSC summer camps to join the Marine Corps. Eddy Izzard might have said I was a baby Executive Transvestite in hiding, but I didn't know that then, either. I just knew that as a thirteen-year-old I'd been caught obsessively stealing women's undergarments and nightgowns from clothes lines and laundry rooms, and been punished for it. A year in a locked mental institution, with electroshock "therapy" treatment every week, and then every other week, and then until I gamed the system by voluntarily having it without the pentathol so that they'd figure they had "won."
The strap goes on your head, the rubber piece goes in your mouth, the needle goes in your arm, the machine is turned on and you get turned off. Unilke sleep, during the electroshock-induced coma there is no perception of self. None. No thoughts or dreams. Memory only gradually comes back. You become conscious to find that you have been doing things or are in the midst of doing things, but the why and for how long and who -- the whole back-story of self -- is gone. And while the memories eventually come back they seem, for a while, to belong to someone else. Even the structure that holds long-term memories together gets warped. From that point on you are never sure that you're the same person you were before they turned you off. And then they do it again. For a year.
Worst, was that this was done with the permission of my mother, whose love and warmth I had hoped to regain after her attention was focused on three other children, through wearing her clothing. Through being her.
As therapy it wasn't effective. The compulsions kept coming back. But it was a definite winner as negative reinforecement, and punishment, and torture. It made me terrified of my urges and careful never to get caught again, despite my compulsions to risk discovery. I suspect this is why I may have seemed aloof to some, and have not kept up long-term friendships. The fear of being discovered, of getting caught, has shaped much of my life.
After that year I learned to see my past as a series of stories. But they were like Nabakov or Conrad stories, where you can't always trust the narrator. You wonder if what you remember is true and not just the accumulated embellishments you've added and liberties you've taken in telling and retelling the stories of your life. But it's all you have, so you go with it. Even today, each immediately passing month and year fades into that gray uncertainty, and because you can't be entirely sure of the truth or sequence or spacing of events, it becomes important to be a good story teller because that is your life.
We now accept sexual variation and gender bending enough to not freak out when a child dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex. The idea of subjecting anyone to shock treatment for that is for most people, I hope, absurd and horrifying. But this is now and that was then. In the mid 1950s it was quite acceptable as a treatment for sexual deviance of any kind, or depression, or anything else they couldn't cure and didn't understand. Needless to say, my views on sex were shaped as much by fear as by the compulsions that drove my sexual expression.
So who and what am I? I'm a seventy-one-year-old man who has lived the life expected of me, done reasonably well, and achieved much that I am quite proud and much that is quite forgettable. That makes me quite ordinary, I think. I vastly prefer women to men, sexually, but I've loved both. Do I want to "be" a woman? No. Do I want to have sexual relations with men? No. Do I occasionally fantasize or speculate? Well, doesn't everyone, really? I am 100% physically a man, but emotionally a man and a woman. I dress and present myself as a man in almost all circumstances, though I may choose to look/feel/present as more female in private and where and with whom I feel safe doing so. I have never, ever, wanted to be a drag queen. I hope that as I accept myself and gather my courage I will become more visibly "out," whatever that means for an elderly male with transvestite compulsions. I take strength and courage from the example of Eddy Izzard, the philosophy of Gore Vidal, and from the intelligent and perceptive love of my life-partner, Beth.
This is a strange age, personally and culturally, in which to so come out. Why, and why now? Well, a year of electroshock treatment has its effects, as does a lifetime of hiding and shame. I did not accept my sexuality until after the death of my wife, Judith, to whom I was married for forty years. I'd recognized it long before then, of course, but felt I could not express it without straining the already strained compact of our life together. Still, it was a good life and I regret none of it. Now, with my new partner and soon to be wife, Beth, and among friends for whom this seems like a perfectly natural manner of expression, I have a new life in which I feel supported and accepted, so maybe I can do this.
From the sixties on I've been politically aware of, and quite active in support of sexual diversity. Hypocracy disgusts me, especially my own, and now, rather than being ashamed of what I was, I am chagrinned at how much of myself I've hidden from friends and family, even though nobody needed to know. With Gore Vidal I believe that the individual human sexual experience is broader than commonly or even radically perceived, and that while sexual labels are sometimes useful politically, they are constricting personally. With Eddy Izzard I smile and try to think of myself as an Executive Transvestite composed of one-and-a-half people.
When her mother told her I was a cross-dresser, Julia only said, "Okay, but is he a good one?" I hope to be a good one and not a parody or an eyesore. To my friends and family, I love you and I deeply regret not being forthcoming before this. Now I can be, so I am. Mostly I hope that it doesn't make much difference. I think I am who I've always been, just less afraid and secretive. Just thinking of that s an incredible relief.
It's been a year since I started this note. The beard has grown back because I hate shaving. But I'll periodically shave it and maybe more, if I feel like it. It's now, only now, just a beard.
Don't expect to see me in a dress and wig except maybe at Mary's parties. I believe cross dressing will always be a private matter for me except politically, but I know things tend to change, even at 71. Yet I don't feel I'm changing who I am, but becoming larger, realizing more of myself. I don't think these changes will matter to anyone who already knows me. I hope that some will be encouraged by this note and feel that it's never too late to reshape your life and begin living again.
I hope also to become kinder, less impatient, and more nurturing. I regret no longer being young enough to make myself pretty or beautiful. I do find comfort in now seeing a mature, centered woman in the pictures we took a year ago, when Beth, who is now my wife and has always been my soul mate, first helped me with dress and makeup. Yesterday I even recognized myself.
Move through your time
with modesty in all things
The art of making
good friends and family,
good food and drink,
and a pleasant house
to come home to
after doing honorable work.
Brightness has burned away all else from the sand,
but here and there a few tough plants survive,
solitary and strong beneath the unfailing sun,
and in the dusty silence, astonishingly green.
Conditioned by centuries of the hard light,
they live on the rain within, and do not crave
the temperate communities of shade.
Yet something about them knows so well how to thrive
that to endure where nothing else endures is not enough,
and wonderful and alone in the sand
and upon the indifferent rocks,
they bring forth flowers.
Judith Eisenstein Bagai
I've been reading TNY since the late 60's. When we got together, Judy had a subscription to it and a stack of back issues that covered at least ten years. I started with the cartoons, and gradually began reading the Talk of The Town, then the reviews, then the articles, and now even the poetry. I've discovered more there than I did in any class, in any school.
The current issue, July 2nd, 2012, has a long article by John Mcphee on the editors of TNY and their attitude towards the word "fuck," and "motherfucker," and McPhee's development as a writer under their firm guidance. I almost changed my City College major to geology because of him, and still have the piece of amethyst geode I found then -- one of the few rocks I've kept out of so many picked up in 70 years. Mcphee did not so much change my life as nudge it along, showing me where I lived and what the earth was and might mean if I could but see it there under all the concrete and asphalt.
There is also a long piece by Louis Menand on James Joyce and his works, from which I would happily quote many lines if this weren't Facebook. Even its cover collage with Joyce staring sideways, some fairy muses, sketches and diagrams, an alter/chandelier, the outlines of England, Ireland, parts of Europe, and (best) an open suitcase full of night with a pair of gloves draped across its lid, is meaningful and telling and rebus to all that follows.
Judy was a life-long Joycean, pleased that her birthday was Bloom's Day. I wish she had been able to read Menand's piece, with its explication of that day's meaning (a purely gratuitous hand job), and of Joyce's conviction that the pun is the perfect medium for expressing life's meaning. She wanted to be Nora, but except in her most whimsical moments she could not accept that her life and work's meaning might be a pun.
I'm no Stephen, but I know that my life has been a series of stumbles over the pretty rocks in my path, and I'm so grateful now to have stumbled on my Nora.
I haven't finished this NYT issue yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
The difficult thing is to be oneself. Simply, honestly, thoughtlessly. Instead, we assume roles. Parent, child, employee, boss, colleague, subordinate, housewife, teacher, student, lover, beloved, master, slave, fool, storyteller. We define ourselves by these roles. They are the charactors in our life story.
We do this because we are self-aware. We observe ourselves. We judge our performance. We are our own audience and critic, always. But we have invisible, secret roles, too. Roles that play us, as we play them.
These roles are different for each of us. They are our archetypes, our heros and models, the ones that come to us in dreams. For me they are often the otter and the dragon. I love their presence and fear and love their gaze, their judgement. They tell me if I have behaved honorably, not by my standards, but by theirs. Have I played earnestly and seriously, with all my heart and soul? Have I reached far enough, tried hard enough, to touch the pearl of wisdom that must forever elude me?
Such secret roles have their own rules and standards, so your milage will indeed vary. Even if you love dragons or otters - they will be your otters and dragons. Not mine. How do you find yours? They find you. But you have to go and wait for them where they are. Examine your own life for patterns, themes and repetitions. Similarly, examine your dreams. Go to a place where you can hear yourself and no one else, and wait until you find yourself speaking, and listen. Go to a place you've never been and talk to people you don't know. They may know you.
Our culture has few ritualized roles that help us fulfill these functions. Yet we cannot borrow from a culture we were not raised in and use it to speak to a shaman and believe, or take up a Katchina or Santaria mask and, for a time, become them. When we do evoke roles that are alien to our native understanding, they can consume us, utterly.
In this culture we can submerge ourselves in a game, in our work, an orchestra, a choir or a play, and act out the roles assigned to us. But even there we must leave the magic in the theater, lest it take over our lives. The game must end, the days work be left at the office, the music must stop. We can come back to it, but love or hate it, we cannot stay there. Give yourself up, but take yourself back, so that you may give yourself up again. Only thus can you renew yourself, and be yourself.
Some years ago a friend called me, asking for my advice about his daughter and her progressively ambivalent relationships while she was in college, and what they should do about it. I ask for some details, and he related that:
In her first year at SDSU she informed her parents that she was no longer a virgin.
During her second year she declared that she was a lesbian.
In her third year she quietly shared that while she still enjoyed sexual relations with women there was a definite place for men in her sex life as well.
In her fourth year of college she announced that now that she was more experienced and aware of the larger world, rather than limit her relationships she believed she should go on to graduate school in her true identity, which was as a Goth.
I had known these people since the 1960s, and watched each of their four children grow up. I felt I had to say something soothing, encouraging, and practical. So, I told him that they had no choice but to take a longer view of these things, and that sometimes one just had to let bi-goths be bi-goths.
First published in Tribe, September 15, 2007 -
After reading of others' opinions on transgender stages and goals, I'm inclined to tell some of my own story - it is not unusual, but it does have unique elements and a few rather different conclusions. I hope it will be received as an individual perspective, possibly useful in whole or in part to those of any gender or sexual variance from vanilla, and not a staking out of territory: the view from here.
I first realized that I was not what I was perceived to be, supposed to be, around age 12 (1952). My compulsions were overpowering, and in the only expression I could find for them, illegal. It wasn't until many years later that I developed a satisfying idea of who and what I was and why I was driven as I was.
I had been subject to a long series of electroshock treatments and the attention of many different psychologists, psychiatric social workers and psychiatrists for longer and shorter terms, the upshot of which was only that I learned to be a more effective sneak.
During these two decades I had served in the military, gotten thoroughly degreed, had been married twice, and was raising a son, when I began re-reading C.G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Mercia Eliad (among many others), and seeing a Jungian therapist. That was the beginning of my understanding that there was more to me than my conscious understanding of myself, and that I contained and was inhabited by a number of aspects or archetypal essences, male and female, human and non-, divine and mundane, that all contributed to my conscious self. These aspects each had needs and abilities which could only be expressed or integrated through me. They were me, and for better or worse I was them. The greater my acceptance and integration of them, the more whole I became.
Complete acceptance and integration is unlikely, probably not even possible for me, but always a goal. I'm happy with where I am at this point. But I recognize that there is always more "work" to be done, and that my perspective could always change by the simple, metaphorical act of turning my head and looking around.
I now enjoy the feminine aspects of myself and want to give them greater expression in my day-to-day behavior and relationships by being kinder, gentler, more receptive, more nurturing. I have no interest in becoming or even in being perceived as a woman any more than I have an interest in becoming or being perceived as a dragon, a cat, or an otter. Yet I feel I have the nature of these and many more aspects (trilobite, naked mole rat, kachina) to call upon when I need them, who nudge me for attention when I ignore them, and who find their expression through me.
I have learned that, for me, to give myself up to any one aspect is to lose myself to it and to be consumed by it. I have seen what it is to do that, in myself and in others, and I don't want that to happen to me. Similarly I have seen the result, in myself and others, of locking out all self-expression that is not conscious. (YMMV)
So, I'm a happy underdressing and occasionally crossdressing woman-loving male who chooses to also occasionally express the most feminine aspects of himself in the privacy of his bedroom with his new wife who is the love of his life and his soul-mate. Yet the dragon/anarchist-organizer in me demands that, even though I could easily remain invisible, in solidarity with my current and future peers, I must be "out." I also know that I have much more life to be lived, and that nothing stays the same. I can grow and flourish, or stagnate and wither. My choice. I look forward to the great adventure of my future, and treasure the joys and terrors of my past, for they, too, are who I am.
How to avoid the system crash that we all fear is coming?
Use the tools and incentives we already have. They work.
These are our tools: Taxing out-sized accumulations of wealth and regulating unfair means of wealth accumulation. We regulate unfair means through equitable laws and sympathetic and humane enforcement. That is, we adjust significantly inequitable accumulation through progressive taxation of income, gifts and ineritance wealth, with only enough "loopholes" to further inequities for groups we want to encourage (parents, homeowners, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists) who benefit society as a whole. Alternately, we eliminate all loopholes because all are equally worthy - which is not at all the same as a flat tax, which is incredibly regressive. We regulate unfair and inequitable accumulation by means of fraud and deceit through fines and imprisonment. We curb the unfair segmentation of society by class and caste that currently happens because of unequal educational opportunity, mass imprisonment, and procrustean law (three strikes, drug wars) and inequitable law enforcement.
Sound familiar? Of course. It's what our government, us, "we the people," are supposed to have been doing. Why hasn't it worked? Well, it has, mostly. But we've neglected our job - eternal vigilance - and we are all paying for it.
We've neglected to be vigilant about the state of our society and we are paying the price. Re-balancing the system will be painful - even more painful than giving up the ideas that keep us from doing so. Merely railing against Taxes or Big Government, or against Psychopaths ("bad people" by another name), Gun Control, or "Choice," or against the victims of our neglect, misses the point, corrects nothing, and hastens apocalypse.
Rather than prepare for blood in the streets, we must begin again to do our job of keeping democracy in balance, with humane sympathy. That is, with liberty and justice for all.
I began posting to USENET in 1985 on various Newsgroups, but especially in rec.juggling. Almost from the beginning I signed off as =Eric. (The form used to signify the author of a puzzle in The Enigma, a magazine I've printed for about twenty of its one hundred-twenty very odd years.)
Usenet and the early listserves, then Yahoo groups, Tribe and MySpace, and now Facebook, have always struck me as performance spaces, where one might strut and preen, share knowledge, spread rumor, and tell lies. Just like real life. It helps to have been a clown, an entertainer, a teacher, and I've been all of them.
What always surprises me is how many 'net participants don't seem to realise that it is simply a beautiful and boundless playground where we have the great good fortune to be the children. Our tools and game pieces are words and ideas and images. We get to wear any costume we can imagine, and to make up all the rules we can enforce (which limits us mostly to rules about our own behavior). And the object of it all is not to score but to have fun and make it fun for others, too. Just like real life.
That is what it's all about, isn't it?
February 02, 2008
I told my husband the other day (when he was trying to explain and/or excuse the lies and deception) that in our specific situation his fears were groundless, and if he had honestly thought about who I am and my experiences, he'd have realized that this is something I can MORE THAN accept. Since I am a bisexual woman who gave up sex and relationships with other women so that I could marry a man, I asked him if he even thought that him being a CDer ever might actually HELP me in the relationship. He said he never even thought of looking at things from my POV, and that he wished he could have been more logical about it.
Yes! This point of view has rarely been expressed in any CD forum, so I'll expand upon it from my angle on the matter, as a male cross dresser who has survived the gender presentation wars.
I'm in my third marriage, and she was/is bi-friendly and polyamorous, and had explored bdsm long before we met. I didn't go looking for any of this, we just accidently found each other. A happy accident! My CD to her is largely a 'feature' rather than a 'bug'. Even so, as every CDs partner does, she needed to know that she was desirable to me, that she was not a beard for my own bi tendencies, and that I'd continue to love her no matter where my CD took me. Likewise, I needed to know that I was desirable to her, that I was not just a reliable storm in her port and a kindred kink, and that she would love me and hold me as her 'primary' no matter who else she or I came to love.
True, one can never know these things as fact, but one can consciously develop and nurture mutual faith and trust -- which is difficult because both of us have abandonment issues, and we both suffered childhood abuse.
Now, we have a very stable though highly emotional mono marriage, without significant (to us) kinks. We've each (and together) been approached by other poly and/or bi friends and, with love and respect, we each made the apology that "we aren't ready for that yet," and suggested that maybe later it might be okay. We both respect and understand perfectly well that one always has more trouble with one's partner's poly than with one's own poly, that love is not necessarily limited or a "zero-sum" game, and that the concept of poly requires people to be more (not less) adult, and more honest and transparent, as well as super-good about scheduling one's time and super-sensitive about loyalty to and primacy with one's partner.
So, we are not swingers, bath house trollers, predators, or recruiters. Sharing and indulging each other's kinks is both our pleasure and our joy. It makes us stronger for having to have worked these things through. My CD is just one such "thing," and not even the most significant.
In my two previous marriages I gently explained my CD long before we were married. (I believe that's only fair.) My first wife accepted it because to her it was kinky and dirty, and only much later revealed in a burst of resentment, anger, and even hatred, that she had always thought I was a pervert and had intensely disliked herself for being excited by it. My second wife understood it intellectually but could not accept it emotionally - my CD to her was a reflection on herself and her own perceived inadequacies. I could never convince her otherwise, even though we were married for decades and I suppressed my CD and kept it closeted.
I wasn't mature or experienced enough then to have helped them through it. It's equally possible that they wouldn't have been able to go there, regardless. I loved them both and will forever regret that our perceptions and expectations of each other were not reconcilable.
Finding love, partnership, and happiness are sometimes distinctly separate things. They have to be nurtured and tended to as if they were your most important life tasks, for they are. And unlike formula novels and movies, they rarely happen by chance or all at the same time. I'm just lucky, I guess.
I was born and raised male, but as a child I was severerly punished when I deviated from that role. So "straight male" is what I know how to be and how I think of myself. Yet my CD is part of me and always will be. That doesn't mean I'm going to fully transition or suddenly start desiring men. I like my junk. I like my wife's junk. Outside of the occasional fantasy, I don't want to trade. My fantasies are not my life or my destiny, they're just very fun and exciting fantasies. But when I denied them and felt I couldn't share them, they often became compulsive and overwhelming. Now that I accept who I am, and my wife loves who I am, they are a relatively minor issue and only surface in our bedroom.
Why am I sharing this with the world? Why should any cross dresser come out? Why be public about so easily private a matter? After all, if we don't come out, who would know, anyway? Cross dressers have no natural allies. Not the trans folk, not the drag queens, not queers, not intersexuals, not BDSM people of any stripe or proclivity, and certainly not straights. Most people think CDs are simply incomplete, misguided, or broken versions of themselves. We're not. So we have to speak for ourselves.
Explaining oneself and being understood is good, but it's also politically necessary. By coming out of our closets we make it possible for future young cross dressers to suffer less of the shame and fear that we suffered, and maybe avoid the pain and confusion that our parents inflicted on us and perhaps even experienced themselves. I've spent sixty years suppressing anything about myself that wasn't vanilla straight masculine, sixty years when I was ashamed, afraid, and sometimes terrified that I might be losing my mind. Sixty fucking years!
Our society is now much more accepting of gender variation than it has ever been, and the more there are visible models of confident cross dressers, the more they will just be seen as simply another part of the human landscape. So it's a political thing, a moral thing, a personal thing. I doubt I'd ever have come to this point without a loving and accepting partner. I'm terribly, wonderfully grateful to her. So it's a love thing, too.
"To see the elephant" is a 19th century American expression, no longer in use, having to do with an elephant as the most remarkable thing one could see at a traveling circus, which was itself the most remarkable thing ordinary Americans of that day could experience. The first recorded definition was in 1835: "to see or experience all that one can endure; to see enough." Also, "to lose one's innocence." In the American Civil War and after, a related usage was "to see combat or to face death, especially for the first time."
We have seen the elephant.
We have gone and by pure blind luck, returned,
Heroes, larger, no longer the same.
We are back, and we know the elephant.
We came back mad, in shells
Of gray flannel and three or maybe four martinis,
Encrusted with invisible filth that never washed away.
The filth we'd seen, and done, when we saw the elephant.
Some still can not speak of it, the elephant:
Larger than anything. Larger than everything,
Its gray horror reflected, always, in our eyes
And twisted bodies, standing alone at freeway on-ramps.
Some of us identify with it, and woo the elephant, as if
To win its favor, speaking of its glory (and of our part),
Teaching our children to seek their manhood In the elephant,
as we did. And then we try to sleep.
Some of us tell our children there are better ways to die,
And better things to die for. That luck is not grace,
And surviving isn't all that great either, after the elephant.
But children rarely listen. They say:
"Take us! Use us! Make us more than we are!"
Instead it took the ones who had our backs,
It took the ones we would have died for,
And made them dead, and made us veterans.
So, yes. We've seen the elephant.
We've gone, and served, and somehow made it back.
Heroes? No. Just lucky, I guess. But not the same.
We've seen the elephant.
Eric Bagai Portland, Oregon. March, 2006.
It should be apparent to everyone by now that the questions of whether Bush and friends created, enabled, or faked the tragedy of 9/11/2001 cannot be resolved.
Believe what you wish, but understand that the purpose of conspiracy theories is to keep people intellectually and emotionally distracted, wasting time and energy that they might use to actually do something. Newspapers should start printing box scores on conspiracy theories, just like they do baseball statistics, and with about the same effect on the game (or reality) itself. Fans of conspiracy theories are just that: fans.
They are not players, nor are they theorists, they are second-hand fabulists, picking which of the hundreds of opinions to adopt and mouth as their own, and carefully choosing which little hill of sand to build their castles on. They are consumers, not producers, and they do not particpate in democracy. Mos of all they are not activists, left-wing or right. They are in-activists. They prevent others from being citizens and from taking a meaningful role in political life.
In themselves they are politically irrelevent, morally bankrupt, and physically impotent to affect or confront power. The lesson they teach is that nothing really matters because the truth is not findable; and even if you found it there is nothing you could do about it because it's bigger than you are. Dictators, fascists, unitary executivists, they all love the fans of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy buffs make their jobs easier.
Do not listen to them. Do not argue with them. Do not respond to them. Do something real instead: picket a recruiting station, speak to students about what war really is, march and vigil against injustice, write editorial letters, blog, raise funds and knock on doors for local candidates. Be active in, and be a meaningful part of the world you live in. Nothing that you may think or say about any conspiracy can change anything.
So do something that can. Even and especially if you feel it will do no good or make no difference. Do it anyway. You might be pleasantly wrong.
First published August 28, 2007 -
My dear, you may always experience regret at not being wholly one thing or the other. But that's a problem - the binary absolutist trap - that our culture imposes. Feeling regret for what we didn't do or become is universal, something experienced by everyone regardless of their sex or gender.
Our culture also says that if we're not obviously male or female we must therefore be a freak, a Rocky Horror drag queen, a super-fem transvestite, an Intersexed hermaphrodite, a misfit: something that belongs in a circus side show. This also is an imposed self-image that comes about from the tensions between our fear of being different, our desire to be accepted, and our need to be ourselves - but not knowing what that "self" really is. So we conform to a stereotype rather than develop and grow as a unique individual in a world of unique individuals.
You sound so grounded in so many ways. I hope your feelings also work for you, too, so that, more than being stuck in a box as one thing or another, you can be alternately either, or androgynously both, or somewhere in between, or on a tangent of your own - somewhere of your own choosing, perhaps changing a little from day to day just as you would change clothing to fit the occasion or match your mood.
When you grow and develop only a partial aspect of yourself, only that aspect matures. Your undeveloped and unpracticed aspect may be an awkward adolescent, perhaps a shy or angry child, but not a fully self-confident adult with a developed aesthetic, style, and personality. Being whoever the hell you are takes practice!
So practice! Explore! Find what you enjoy, see where your talents and strengths are, and work on them! It's not just a matter of finding "who you really are," but of finding who you want to become. It's a life-long process, and it's never too late to become you.
Also remember that it's only through the process of growth and development in all your aspects that you can be comfortable in your own skin as you become old.
Helen Keller: "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either adaring adventure, or nothing."
This is the obverse (not the opposite) of what Gavin DeBecker says about security. He advocates a more cognitive, less intuitive perception of danger, a more conscious management of ones adrenaline rushes, and some simple risk analysis. Then throw yourself at it or run away, deliberately.
Moderation in all things I guess: both fear and analysis, obsession and indifference. Seize the day, but gently and consciously, as well as with joy.
Like a spinning coin, I want to resolve myself into one side up or the other. But I also want to just keep on spinning as long as possible.
Schroedinger didn't have the courage or stupidity of his cat. My hero is Tom Baker's Doctor Who.
The new wife of a cross dresser says "He seems disappointed with himself when finally dressed, like it didn't turn out how he wanted it to. I've told him that it will take time for him to master all of the techniques that go along with transforming into a woman. This process has been hard for me at times but it makes it harder when I see him so frustrated."
Many cross dressers do feel disappointed at what they see in the mirror when they dress up, even when completely shaven, made up, tweezed, padded, corsetted, wigged, scented, and heeled. Some common reasons given are age and seeing coarse or masculine features. At least in my own case, I think there is a much more deeply rooted reason for dissatisfaction than that.
When the development of any aspect of oneself is halted for any reason, that aspect pretty much stays at that level of maturity until it is released from whatever is binding it - usually fear or trauma. Only then can development proceed again. My generation of cross dressers were punished for it. Severely. For me it was a series of electroconvulsive shock treatments, and being locked up in a mental hospital for several months. That brought things to a screeching halt, and they pretty much stayed there for sixty years. The current generation doesn't have that hanging over them. Many even have access to support groups and "clubs" in school.
My generation never learned how to "be" girls, or how to play cooperatively with other girls. We didn't have the opportunity or permission to play out the roles of mother, housewife, nurse, secretary, runway model, movie/TV star, teen idol, adult temptress, or any other girly play-practice roles. We quickly learned that boys must instead emulate masculine roles or suffer very unpleasant consequences.
At the house of a woman I once visited, a pair eight-year-old girls suddenly and dramatically tromped through the living room wearing their mothers' long dresses and heels, with lipstick smeared across their faces. When asked what was up they simply raised their noses in the air and said "We're hoors," and proudly tromped out again. Even today, if their sons had done that it would be a rare parent who would smile.
So we were stopped from exploring these roles, often traumatically. What we see in the mirror now, as adults, is not the beautiful young girl or woman that we once might have been, but an awkward old-looking guy in a dress. It can be a crushing disappointment. "I finally get to put on the lovely clothes I've always wanted to wear and the mirror doesn't show me the lovely young woman or girl I thought I'd be." We never learned how to be her. We've had no practice. And worse yet, we've no experience of slowly growing up to be the adult version of that beautiful young child, of seeing our bodies become women, and of evolving new styles and patterns of behavior as we mature. We never learned how to leave that little-girl-image behind.
We only know the image we had as a child, with a child's understanding of an adult women. That image is often hyper-feminine or over-sexed, a child's image of a glamorous movie star. A drag queen. We no longer see as children but as adults, and what we see in the mirror hurts and disappoints us. Another reason to hide.
With expert guidance and instruction, and lots of practice, we can learn. Or at least we can learn to compensate. But we may always regret not being who we thought we would be. When we do unblock we often leap forward quite quickly, but we still have to learn from scratch how to cope with the world in our new-found bodies or personas. That can be long and difficult. If the woman who you now see in the mirror is still who you long to be, then be her. There are people who can guide you. (crossdressers-forum.com, myhusbandbetty.com are among the best) Just remember that changing what you look like will not change who you like or are attracted to.
For myself, and perhaps for you, it was better to accept my physical, social, and psychological limitations and make the best of things - on my own terms. I recognized that I really didn't want to re-live growing up, let alone growing up as a girl, and then a young woman, a mature woman, a young crone, a mature crone - it was hard enough the first time, as a man! And I like and am comfortable with the man I grew up to be. And I like, I love being loved by a woman who thinks I'm a guy with extra features. So thats my choice and, as far into the future as I can imagine, I'm sticking with it.
Will you have regrets, whatever path you choose? Will I have regrets? Of course we will! But who doesn't have regrets? And if we must have them, isn't it better to choose which regrets to have?
All serious political parties in the US now build toward fascism and the destruction of the republic. Law has been subverted to enforce racism, protect the rich and suppress popular inquiry. Corruption and cronyism are everywhere and the function of the economy is to enrich the already rich at the expense of the poor.
Yet, God help me, this is my country and I will stay and grow older, watching while all around me becomes kindling for the seemingly inevitable conflagration. What gives me hope is that many of my ancestors felt the same way and somehow still managed to create a useful and productive life for themselves and their families. One can only try to live an honorable life as bravely as one dares, and love and care for as many others as possible.
It has always been like this, I think. And somehow, despite what I've said, the times are better for a greater proportion or humanity than they have ever been. I don't know why this is so or should be so except that some of us seem to move toward love and caring when we can.
Perhaps that is enough.