Gratitude

Thanksgiving, as a United States holiday, has all sorts of complex and unfortunate historical baggage. And for many, it has unfortunate family baggage as well. But today, I just want to focus on gratitude.

I’ve been on a social media and news fast since the day after the midterm elections, and I feel like in a way, my brain is cleaned out – clear of clutter. I think it might be a while, if ever, that I fully return to social media – I’m rather enjoying this clarity – and I feel grateful for the decision to start the fast.

I am so grateful for the many wonderful friendships in my life – from the friends that I see and am in contact with regularly, to those I am hardly in contact with, but when we are, it’s like nothing has changed.

I’m grateful for the loves I’ve had in my life – the ones in the past, who have loved me, and from whom I’ve learned so much (sometimes even painful lessons.) I’m grateful for the love in the present, and grateful for the life we have already created, and the life we will create together.

I’m grateful for my Transmission community – the wonderful, motley crew of heart-centered trans masculine folks that I have the amazing honor of helping to lead.

I’m grateful for whatever combination of DNA and experience I got from my parents, and the directions my life has taken (sometimes in similar directions, more often in opposite directions) to the lives they made for themselves and me.

I’m grateful for communities of color who are leading the way in creating a truly inclusive and embracing country. I’m grateful for all of the people who are artists, anarchists, queer, gender-queer, weirdos, activists, writers, and non-conformists who populate my life and community.

We have a rough time ahead of us. May we all remember what we are grateful for. Gratitude makes a difference.

 

 

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Yes, This is Really All About Race

If you are a progressive Twitter user, you probably have been alerted to the open warfare between Amy Siskind and her (largely white) allies, and Imani Gandy (known as @AngryBlackLady on Twitter,) and her allies. It all started with the tweet seen above.

A lot more happened, including Amy Siskind not owning up to her not-all-that-progressive past,  which I am not going to talk about. What I am going to talk about is something underneath all of this – a set of assumptions that are really important to make clear.

The above quoted tweet by Siskind is actually a capsule of the problem. Some progressives think that Trump is the problem. All we have to do is get rid of the Orange Menace, and we can go back to having brunch.

But that’s not the reality. Trump is simply a (horrible, potentially fatal) symptom of this country’s deep disease. The disease started with the founding of this country with stolen land and stolen labor, but most specifically, this disease got its most recent turn toward the worse in the late ’60s, with Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

I don’t really want to go into a lot of detail about it – there are reams of pages written on it. But suffice it to say, the Republican party has been courting and winning voters based almost entirely on fear of people who aren’t white. Trump’s campaign was simply the latest, most obvious, and most virulent. Trump’s presidency has been in the works for literally decades, and people of color know this. We, and other marginalized people, have been the primary victims of this disease, and have been living the reality of it for years.

About 1/3 of people in this country firmly believe in freedom and equality for some, and not all. And they will consistently vote against their own self-interest. And those people, even when we get rid of Trump, aren’t going anywhere. We have to figure this out, and cure the disease, or the country will die of it.

 

 

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The End of Civility

The philosopher Karl Popper is famous for a lot of things, but one of the things he is famous for is the “Paradox of Intolerance.” The paradox is that if a society is tolerant of intolerance, the intolerant will eventually destroy the tolerant society.

Some people will say we are losing our democracy. But that’s not what I think. What I think is that the rotten foundation (genocide, stolen land, stolen labor) that we built an edifice of democracy and civil rights upon are finally crumbling, and people who never believed in democracy and civil rights in the first place have, through a variety of means, started winning.

There is a big conversation happening right now about “civility.” Civility is, in a normal democratic political system, a norm worth maintaining. But we don’t live there anymore – we have to simply admit that. Everyone who isn’t white, cis, straight, male, and Christian are fighting for our very lives.

Civility isn’t going to save us if we are going to survive. As much as I love Michelle Obama, “Going high when they go low” isn’t going to get us out of this mess. It’s already proven itself to be futile. People who don’t care about your life and rights definitely don’t care about how you say something. They will just use whatever you say to their advantage somehow.

So be uncivil. Say “Fuck you” to intolerance and intolerant people. They shouldn’t be able to eat, or sleep, walk down the street in peace, or work. We have to stop being tolerant of intolerance, or, like Popper said, we are well and truly doomed.

I’m still deeply struggling with where the practice of  lovingkindness and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” fits in. I know I don’t want to feed hatred. But I also know that I want a tolerant, loving society, and it’s not going to happen with intolerant, hateful people given free reign. It’s a narrow path to follow, and I wish I had better ways of thinking about it. Please comment if you’ve found some ways to walk this path.

 

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A New Kind of Pride

It’s Pride month. That annual festival of queer celebration.

My first Pride march was in 1985. I went down to Columbus, OH (Cleveland, where I lived at the time, didn’t have a Pride march yet.) I was 25 years old, freshly minted lesbian, marching with like 200 other people, with about that many counter protesters with hateful signs and more hateful looks on their faces.

When I lived in Western Massachusetts, Pride came early  – because of the students, the Pride march was in May. I rarely went. In 2000, I was traveling to San Francisco with my partner at the time, for a conference she was attending, and we went to the Dyke March, and the pride parade the next day, and it felt really special.

Since I moved to the queer equivalent of Mecca, Pride has seemed both a bigger deal, and a smaller one. There’s lots going on for Pride month here, concerts, film festivals, all sorts of events. And I’ve dipped in and out (much less since I’ve lived up in Sonoma County.) I’ve been to the Dyke March and the Pride Parade a few times, but not lately. It seemed like pride was kinda “old hat.” (Besides the fact that it has become increasingly commercial.)

This year, I’m going to Santa Rosa Pride (today!), and also traveling down to SF for the Trans March later in the month. It feels like a new moment in my life. I was always proud to be queer. And I’m still proud to be queer. And now I’m also proud to be trans.

Happy Pride!

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Being Part of an Avalanche of Love

I have a confession to make: I don’t think this country is going to survive the next several years intact.

But I have decided to put that feeling on hold – to pretend I don’t believe it. I’m going to pretend that a difference can be made – that we can manage to emerge from this dark time a country that puts people, not money and power, first. A country that actually takes care of each other, and the planet. And perhaps, I am mistaken, and that can happen.

In the (now many fewer, I’ve tired of it) online arguments with right-wing people that I’ve had, I actually enjoy being called a snowflake. Because of course, individual snowflakes easily melt. But when snowflakes come together, they are quite powerful.

I’m spending 2018 focused on democracy. I feel like this moment calls me to that particular path. I know it calls others to other paths, and I as I’ve said before, I think we need to do all of the things, and not have arguments about what the right strategy is – just do anything we each are called to do.

I’m going to adopt a few candidates, a couple in CA, and a couple elsewhere, who are challenging GOP candidates in districts that are (at least vaguely) winnable. I’ll find out ways I can support those candidates (financially and otherwise.)  I’m going to also do what I can around getting the vote out, and combating voter suppression. I created a Facebook Group to gather other folks interested in that effort.

It’s true, avalanches are destructive.  But we need that right now. We need to destroy a culture that ignores children killed while they attend school. We need to destroy a culture that ignores unarmed men and women killed by police. We need to destroy a culture that privileges billionaires over people who have little. We need to destroy a culture that is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. These things need destroying.

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Healing

One week ago today, I stood in front of my plastic surgeon as she drew on my chest. I felt like she was performing her art on me, which, I guess, she was. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, groggy and out of it, looking out of the window on the unfamiliar hills of Richmond, CA, where my surgery was performed.

Ultimately, our transitions are about our bodies, whether or not we actively do anything to change them (although most trans people do something.) Our bodies in some way don’t fit us. This manifests in many different ways for different people. For me, one thing I felt strongly (since they appeared in my life in my late teens) was that my breasts didn’t really belong to me. And now, finally, I’ve let them go.

For most people, that might seem unimaginable – that a part of your body doesn’t feel like it’s yours. But it’s the reality of most trans people. Why that happens and where that comes from is still a bit of a scientific mystery, although it’s being slowly explained over time. But it has been the lived reality of my life for a very long time.

During the groggy drive home with the dear friend who stayed with me for a week, and for the last seven days of pain, discomfort, and, frankly, suffering, in the Buddhist sense, I’ve been in a healing process – but not just from the surgery itself. This whole transition process for me has been part of a much bigger, much broader arc of healing.

It was a part of the package I didn’t expect – the surprise, really, that deeply embedded in this process of transition was a surprising healing of my own inner and outer life – a mending of wounds and sloughing off of scar tissue.

What remains is still tender, like the scars on my chest will be for months. But I’m beginning to see the larger picture, and it looks more whole than I expected.

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Becoming a Man in the #MeToo Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a man. I mean of course I have, but more deeply than just this transition process.

In my adult life, I have been spared from sexual harassment. I think that’s largely because I have been gender non-conforming, and thus not an object of male attention. But I do fully know and understand the effect it has on women’s lives and livelihoods.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of man I want to become. Not just what kind of man I will be, but what kind of man I want to be. I think that it’s probably always been important to be conscious about male privilege, and how walking around in the world as a man is different. But now, it seems mandatory.

I already have witnessed a few trans men take on some of the more unpleasant aspects of male behavior (luckily, it seems rare.) I think it’s that for many of us, we see what society demands of men, and given that we want to fit in as men, we take on some of the same behavior as men.

I have said many times in the weeks and months after starting testosterone, that if you’d asked me what percentage of male behavior and psychology is conditioned by family and society, I would have said 95%. Now, after having experienced first-hand what testosterone does, I’d drop it down to 45%.

But I think what’s important about that is not to say “boys will be boys.”  I think that human beings have all sorts of inclinations and impulses no matter what our gender is, and we are taught how not to act out of them. Boys and men could be taught how not to act out of those testosterone-fueled impulses that I have now experienced first-hand. (In fact, plenty of men know quite well how not to act out of them, so it’s not that hard.)

One of the things I am acutely aware of is that for many women who don’t know me, there is a way that I will no longer feel safe. (Of course, as a black woman, there are ways I wasn’t considered safe, but let’s put that aside for a moment.) In fact, I’ve already experienced (on Twitter, primarily) how I am treated differently by women who don’t know who I am because I have a male name. Even though (I think) I’m saying pretty much what I would have said before. And so now, that makes me think twice, or three times, about what I say.

 

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What’s Coming in 2018

I was pondering what to write for a New Year’s post. I don’t generally do a post for New Year’s, but somehow it seemed a good idea for this year. For one, it’s a big year for me. Two, I think it’s a big year for all of us – at least potentially.

I think I have one major intention I have for the year – and that is simply (simple, but not easy) to be present and open for the wide variety of things I know are going to happen this year. A lot of things are settling and changing in my life, and I’m meeting a lot of new people, and making new friends. The littler intentions are:

  • Get more involved in local community activism.
  • Write more (fiction, essays.)
  • Learn lots of stuff (I’m currently focused on data science and machine learning.)
  • Take care of my body and heart.

I also think that this is, for this country, a make or break year. This is the year we either break the grip of this authoritarian-capitalist cabal, or the country enters into a death-spiral.

Frankly, I’m not so worried about California, New York, and the 1/2 dozen other progressive coastal states with vibrant economies that don’t actually need the rest of the country. I’m sure that the local pressure for things like single-payer health care, educational investment, renewable energy, livable wage, affordable housing, etc. will continue and in fact increase in those states in the face of a country going in the other direction. If things get way much worse, we can always just leave. (Yes, that’s complicated, but it’s not impossible.)

But I am worried about the millions of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIIA folks, disabled, and poor and working-class people in the states that don’t have such vibrant economies, and are held in a headlock by the right. (And those DO correlate.)

Next year, like every year, I’m going to vote. But my vote is going to have zero effect – I live in a super-deep blue county in a super-deep blue state. I already have a representative I can really respect, and one Senator I really like (the other one I often have trouble with, but not since last year.) My state reps are, on the whole, great people. So I’m going to give time and $ to whoever is challenging the two geographically closest GOP congressional representatives whose districts either are mixed or lean Democratic: Jeff Denham (10th district) and David Valadeo (21st district.)

And I’m going to keep doing what makes sense to me to do, which is what I think we all need to do. No judgement on who is doing it “right.” No holier than thou. No purity tests. No “my strategy is better than your strategy.” Let’s just do all of the things, and keep bending the arc of history toward justice.

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New Year, New Voice, New Name, New Life

So it’s 2018. It’s a big year for me. It’s the year I will emerge visually as a man. I’m having top surgery on February 6th. I’ve been on Testosterone now for 4 months, and my voice, as well as other things, have really changed:

I’ve pretty much completed the coming out and name change process. It’s interesting getting used to people calling me “Max.” I like it – and it’s also a little strange.

My legal name change process will soon be underway – I’m submitting the paperwork to the county next week, and 45 days later, I’ll have a court order with my new name and gender marker. I’ll also be submitting a change to the NY state for a modification of my birth certificate. Then starts the fascinating cascade of administrivia. Social Security, banks, credit cards, driver’s license, passport, etc. etc.

So there’s a lot of practical things to think about and do. And I’m still wanting to hold this time as sacred – to hold this big change in my life and body, and this big change in the way I will live in the world.

I’m wanting to be conscious about how I am living into this person called “Max.” Who is this man I am becoming, and what is he like? It’s so interesting to get to do this consciously – of course, I did it once before, but it was without experience, without self-knowledge, or really knowledge of the world.  But I still have so much to learn.

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Spiritual and Emotional Work

Ever since I was in my mid-20s, I have been committed to growth and consciousness/awareness. Perhaps it’s been life-long, but it’s at least been conscious since that time. Part of it is just what I’m made of, and part of it is that I could see, in the small bits I had begun to do at that time, that my life was materially better and happier for it.

And, in many ways, my transition is a direct outgrowth of this commitment.

There are some things that have surprised me about this process, and one of them is that the nature of emotional, spiritual and psychological work I will do is shifting.

One example: people say a lot that testosterone increases one’s access to anger and aggressiveness. In my life, I have had very, very little access to anger – mostly because expressing anger wasn’t OK growing up. In fact, a lot of my emotional work over the past few years was increasing my willingness to experience and express anger.

But after several small incidents, and one incredibly frustrating experience with a customer service representative last week, where I literally yelled at her (if you know me, you realize how unusual that is) I realize that this is not going to be my issue anymore. My issue is going to be how to control the expression of my anger.

Another example – I generally used to be able to depend on my ability to read other people’s emotions, but it seems that ability is changing. I seem to be less able to do that. There is actually scientific evidence for this. So my work moves into working to be more conscious, and asking when I don’t know.

It’s all good, but it’s really interesting to me to watch how this is changing for me.

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