Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why Do I Let Things Bother Me so Much?

A few days ago I accidentally called a transperson by the wrong pronoun. Well, maybe. It would be so unlike me to say such a thing, that part of me wonders if she just misheard me, or if I just wasn't enunciating well.

But right or wrong, the accusation felt like getting punched in the stomach. And it still feels like getting punched when I think back on it. I apologized in a private message later, and I might have gone too far in my apology. I really wanted to make sure she knew I don't think of her as a "he". So now I'm kicking myself both for using the wrong pronoun AND for overdoing it on the apology. This right here, this is what those of us socially inept people live with every day. Even the most pleasant conversations echo through my head later, so I can analyze them to see what sort of mistakes I might have made. Sometimes after perfectly tame interactions I have to stop myself from sending them an e-mail explaining any little slip ups I might have made.

It doesn't help that my tongue is easily tied. Even easy sentences are often like tongue twisters to me, and the wrong word comes out of my mouth quite often. This causes me embarrassment, which causes me to want to interact even less, which leads to me talking less, which allows my speech muscles to atrophy, which makes me makes me stumble even more. Vicious cycle.

Just for "fun", my brain still keeps reminding me of every social blunder I've ever made, most of which have been long forgotten by the other people involved. I remember dozens of times when I was wrong about which actor was in what movie. I still get angry over a dispute I had with some classmates in elementary school over a game we were playing. I still get embarrassed about my hat falling off during kindergarten graduation.

But my slip up with the pronoun is particularly upsetting because I try so hard not to make that mistake. Unlike most slip ups, there's a "I've hurt one of my own" factor here. It's a mistake I wouldn't want others to make of me when I'm dressed as a woman, so it's horrifying to me to make that mistake on someone else.  One year I went to Nashville Pride dressed en femme, back when it was still held at Centennial Park.  Of course, the Pride festival itself is a somewhat safe haven from bad comments, but on the walk there from my car I overheard a parent telling their child, "Don't stare at him."  It hurt.

I've had several transfolk as friends... but even typing that just reminds me of the old racist standby, "I can't be racist, some of my best friends are black!" It's just that it's so unlikely for me to use a wrong pronoun. With ordinary mortals, who aren't used to being around transpeople, I can see it. Some of the less enlightened might consider an MtF to be a man in drag, and might have to keep reminding themselves, "Say she not he. Say she not he. Say she not he." But I don't think of her as male in my head, so it's not like this "he" was hiding behind my tongue waiting for me to speak without thinking.

I hate being accused of failing at one of the few things I'm actually good at and/or knowledgeable about. I don't have much, but GLBT/gender relations is something usually have up on people. I've spent so much of my life dabbling dabbling in different hobbies and fandoms, that I'm not an expert on much of anything. But I am a liberal SJW who believes in political correctness and a huge supporter of GLBT rights, and if there's one thing I know it's to call people what they want to be called. It's one of my core beliefs, and it's one of the few things that makes me feel on the same level as other people.

I might be boring, socially inept, and a complete failure at connecting with other human beings, but by golly, at least I'm better than those bigots over there at GLBT relations. So failing at one of my few specialties makes me want to curl up into a ball. It doesn't matter that it was just a trip of the tongue, it doesn't matter that she might have just misheard me, and it doesn't matter that she's already accepted my apology. For me, what matters is that I screwed up one of the few things I'm good at. Yes, there's a completely messed up hierarchy of things I let bother me. I have plenty to be depressed about: NO direction in life, lots of debt, and heck, let's not forget my own gender issues... but one little slip of the tongue makes me want to hide in the corner.

Is it like this for everyone?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where I Am Today

I don't talk about my gender issues as much as I used to.  No, I haven't been "cured" by any stretch of the imagination.  It's still the last thing I think about before falling asleep, and the first thing I think about when I wake up.

But as a topic of conversation, it's gotten stale.  There's nothing new to say on the subject; if I still talked about it I'd just be whining about the same things over and over.  Some of my friends are sick of hearing it, though most have been polite enough not to say anything.  I doubt my friends were very comfortable with the subject in the first place, and I don't want to make them uncomfortable.  I can't afford a psychiatrist any more.  I don't like talking about it with my wife, because it makes both of us sad.  I don't really even have any other transfolk to talk to.  Yes I know a few, but we're not close enough that I'd feel comfortable venting about something so personal.

And so, I resort to what is probably the most psychologically unhealthy solution: I keep things bottled up inside.  At least I can still make the occasional blog entry.  Since no one reads this thing, I can vent all I like. 

Okay, fine, it's been a while, so for those of you just joining us...

Hello, my name is Matt.  As of this writing, I'm a 41-year-old male who identifies more strongly as female.  If you want to catch up, click the GLBT tag on this blog and start with the oldest.  But to sum up:

I've known I had female tendencies all my life, but I've only recognized myself as transgender for about 10 years.  Before that, I had some serious misconceptions about gender and the people who got the surgery. Specifically, I thought that all gay people eventually wanted to get sex changes.  Since I wasn't attracted to men, obviously I wasn't in the wrong body.  I don't think I even heard the word "transgender" until around 2005. 

If I hadn't been raised Christian, I might have done more research.  If I the information that's out there now had been available to me when I was growing up, I might have figured out my problem early enough to do something.  If if if but but but.  It's not worth dwelling on.  I can spend all my time wishing I'd had an earlier start on the trans journey, but if I'm going to blow a wish, I'd rather just wish I was born female.

That first year was the hardest.  When I first had my trans epiphany, I was both elated and crushed.  I knew my life was going to change.  I knew there was a path I could take that would make me feel like my true self.  But I also knew that path was dangerous, difficult, and destructive. I was sure I was headed for a disaster.  Maybe I'd get a divorce, maybe I'd kill myself.  In my moments of weakness, I made some bad financial decisions that I'm still paying for today.

I spent a few years seeing psychiatrists and psychologists.  I tried a few antidepressant meds, some of which worked better than others.  Unfortunately the one that worked best also had the worst side effects.  I can't say the psychologists helped much, but it was nice to have someone to whine to.  And then my work's insurance changed, and suddenly I couldn't afford psychiatry any more.  Seems the insurance companies now consider mental health a luxury. 

I was about as low as I've been in my life.  Oddly, what really saved me was Dungeons & Dragons.  I would play female characters in NeverWinter Nights online games, and it was like scratching an itch in my head.  Getting to live a virtual life as a woman for a few hours now and then... well, it wasn't totally satisfying, but it kept me from slitting my wrists.  Eventually I sought out a real D&D group, and I've been playing ever since.  For me, playing a female character for a few hours every Saturday satisfies the same needs some transpeople get from crossdressing.

And that sums up the last 10 years.  I've been out of the closet so long I'm pretty much back in it.  In the past decade I've made several new friends who may or may not know about my issues.  It's been so long since I've mentioned my problems to my older friends and family, that some of them probably think I've "gotten over it".  But no, I'm not "cured", it's more like I'm in stasis.  If I found a magic lamp tomorrow, my first wish would still be a female body.  But I love my marriage, D&D is a fun hobby, and this solution keeps my depression at bay.

I've recently become acquainted with another MtF transperson.  She and I are very similar and very different.  I look at her and I see the road not taken.  She is estranged from her family, and has made plans to move out of this bigotry-infested cesspool called the South.  She's a lot more outgoing than I am, and on the surface seems to be very proud of who she is today.  I don't know how far along she is in her transition (nor am I likely to ask), but as far as I'm concerned she's a woman.

Like I said, the road not taken.  She seems to be so much more comfortable than I am.  She doesn't really dress en femme, and yet her appearance is obviously female.  I never figured out how to do that.  I don't feel I pass even in makeup and a dress, but she pulls it off in jeans and a T-shirt.  She seems so self-confident (though who knows what's going on inside).  So in some ways I'm very jealous.

But at the same time, she's lost her family and probably a lot of her older friends.  She feels so little connection to Nashville that she's about to move across the country.  I just don't know if I could do that.  I'm too full of fear and I just don't have the motivational energy to start a new life.

But it's a moot point anyway. I don't want to transition.  I don't want to be a transsexual.  I want to be a woman, but I want the whole package: to grow up as a girl and experience all of it, good and bad, without resorting to hormone pills or surgery.  Obviously that's only an option if I subscribe to some very specific religions.  But I'm an atheist, and no matter how much I'd like to believe in reincarnation, I can't make myself believe something I don't.

So I will take the next best thing.  Stay with the body I've got, live vicariously through my D&D characters and digital avatars, and continue to take advantage of my white male privilege.  I will enjoy my continued marriage to my wonderful wife, for as long as she'll have me.  I hate that I have to refer to her as my second choice.  It's demeaning.  But since my first choice involves reversing time and believing in magic, that does make her my first realistic choice.  I can only hope that's good enough, and that I can make our marriage worth it to her.  In a world without magic, she is everything to me.


I'm reorganizing my blog a little bit.  From now on, blogs about movies, books, video games, and other entertainment will go here:

Blogs about GLBT issues, politics, and other serious matters will go here:

Some older blog entries may appear on both pages for a while, but going forward I'm keeping the fluffy stuff away from the serious stuff.

My blog about Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs remains here:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner

All right, I've now seen several variations of "This soldier is a bigger hero than Caitlyn Jenner" or "While you were distracted by Bruce Jenner, this (other story) happened."  Two of the more prominent memes turned out to be based on misunderstandings (see here and here), but the larger sentiment - that Jenner doesn't deserve all this attention while there are real heroes out there - is still going strong.

As if nobody can read more than one article a day, and the entire reason the other stories were under reported is because people were talking about Jenner.  Believe me, if I didn't catch that other story, it wasn't because of Jenner.

There's always going to be a more important story or a bigger hero somewhere.  You can't just go through life saying, "This story isn't important because there's a better one over there."  Do you really want to live in a world where news outlets are only allowed to report one story a day?  Where they have to get together and vote, "Well this this earthquake destroyed more homes than that tsunami, so we won't report the tsunami at all."  

No reporting on the guy who saved a child from a bear, because somewhere overseas a soldier just saved ten people... but no reporting on him either, because a few days ago another soldier saved twenty people.  Fine, we'll track down which soldier has saved the most lives in human history, report the story, and never have another news story again.  No need to watch the news any more, people, it's been reported. 

Besides, the Jenner hoopla isn't all about heroism.  Transgender issues are new and confusing to some people, and they're going to talk about it.  There have been heroic soldiers all throughout history, and not to downplay them in the slightest, but at least people understand them.  I look forward to a day when transpeople are so accepted and understood that they aren't news.  But right now, it's legitimate news.  Yes, there's a lot of other heroes who deserve to have their stories told, and yes it would be great if these soldiers/police officers/firefighters/etc would get the recognition they deserve.  But blaming it on Jenner is ridiculous.

Bottom line:  There is room on my Facebook feed for more than one news story, and more than one hero.  Maybe the Jenner story is getting too much attention, maybe not, but I've still been seeing plenty of other stories in my newsfeed.  And seriously, if you do hear about a hero who isn't getting enough media attention, share their story!  Preferably without making comparisons to Jenner.  Chances are, the hero you're reporting wouldn't want their name being used to put down someone else.

Switching subjects a little... 
I do hope the increased transgender awareness is a good thing, but it still scares me.  I personally don't like being in the spotlight, and the extra attention makes me uncomfortable.  Plain old "gay" has become so mainstream that media can no longer get extra attention from it, so they're starting to make all sorts of TV shows about transgender people.  I hope that it succeeds in normalizing* it; maybe the next generation will be so used to the concept of transgender that they won't go into a murderous panic when someone comes out to them.

But my fear is that heightened awareness will just alert the wolves.  Twenty years ago most people didn't know the word "transgender".  They were aware that some people got sex changes, but it was so rare that the average person didn't believe they'd ever meet one.  Twenty years ago if a bigot saw an unattractive woman go into a women's restroom, they'd probably just think, "She's ugly" and leave it at that.  Not a nice thing to think, but at least they didn't immediately get suspicious about the woman's sex.  The increase in awareness has brought with it an increase in panic, with legislators drafting new bathroom laws and so on.

Overall this media attention is something that has to be done, and I'm not saying we should hold back.  I'm just saying the next few years are going to be scary for me.

* I'm not comfortable with the word "normalizing", though.  Even in a perfect world I don't know if I'd want transgender to be considered normal.  IMO, it's basically a birth defect, so calling it normal is like saying it doesn't need to be fixed.  We give artificial arms and legs to people born without limbs, so the last thing I'd want to tell a transperson is, "Just live with it, you're normal as is."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Flamingo Analogy

"The world's toughest flamingo is still a flamingo."

Sometimes when I stop by the flamingo pen at the zoo, I'll see two flamingos fighting. This always makes me laugh, because really, what's this fight going to prove? Sure, you might be the strongest, but you're still a skinny pink bird with a crooked beak and a wormlike neck. When you're one of nature's silliest animals, there's no extra prestige in being the biggest and baddest one. Just picture a flamingo in a leather jacket and shades, sporting skull tattoos.  Intimidating, no?  No.

This analogy comes to mind whenever I see two "silly" groups fighting with each other.  For example, Twilight fans had "Team Edward" vs "Team Jacob".  No one ever wins these arguments, but even if you did, you'd still be a loser.  So if you ever hear me dismiss an argument as a "flamingo fight", that's what I mean.

It's hard for me to say this without insulting my more reverent friends, and so I apologize for this in advance.  But I also consider this analogy whenever I see two religious groups attacking each other. It doesn't matter if it's Christians vs Muslims, or Baptists vs Presbyterians, or Jehovah's Witnesses vs Mormons. From an outsider's point-of-view, all these religions are equally unlikely.

Lest you think I'm being snobbish, I'm not immune to the flamingo analogy. Everyone has their own flamingo threshold.  I've argued with my fellow geeks on many subjects that ordinary mortals would find pointless.  I've participated in internet flame wars over the best edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  I've been involved in heated discussions over the greatest Star Trek captain. 

So if I ever dismiss a battle you believe in as a flamingo fight, well, I'm sorry.  I know these things are important to people, and I should respect the believer if not the belief.  On the other hand, if you laugh along with me while I make fun of arguments between Twilight fans, Mormons, or rap artists, but suddenly get offended when I include something you like, then we're probably headed to the same hell together.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Believe It, Or Not.

Why do you believe what you believe?

I strongly distrust anyone who reaches adulthood and ends up having the exact same religious beliefs as their parents.  Wikipedia says there's about 38,000 Christian denominations... what are the odds your parents picked the right one?  It tells me you've never really given it a lot of thought, other than those "justify what I'm already doing" kind of thoughts.  What if your parents never gave it much more thought than that, either?  How many generations ago was it that someone actually did some real research?  Look, I appreciate the whole, "My daddy is always right" thing, but if everyone emulated their parents without question, we'd all still be living in caves. But we did progress... some... which means that blind obedience must skip a generation now and then.

Okay, I'm just venting because I'm pissed about the gay rights issues in the news right now.  I'm a bit tired of bigots (some of which are in my own family) who defend themselves by saying, "I'm sorry, it's just what my religion teaches."  Well, then you're not really sorry, because you choose to keep following that version of your religion.  There are plenty of Christian churches that believe gays are 100% equals.  They're really not hard to find, believe me.  But by staying in your present bigoted church, you're saying, "I believe what these people believe."  There's no "sorry" to it.

Admittedly I'm agnostic, but that doesn't mean I think religious people are stupid.  On the contrary, many of the smartest people I know are Christian.  To me, religion is just philosophy.  Everyone has a philosophy, and it has nothing to do with intelligence.  What is stupid is not following the tenets of your own religion.  It's like saying, "I know exactly what will send me to Hell, so I'm going to do just that."

There is plenty of evidence that the Bible is fine with homosexuality.  There are six verses people usually quote when they're trying to support their anti-gay agenda, but those verses are often misunderstood and subject to contexts these people won't consider.  Due to archaic language and translation differences, the Bible is extremely open to interpretation.  There's a lot of personal choice involved when you decipher a passage for yourself.  The fact is, you either blindly follow your parents/preacher/etc (who in turn may have blindly followed whoever taught them), or you choose what you think is most likely interpretation.  Why choose the worst one?  Don't you have more respect for your God than that?

As I said above, there are 38,000 versions of the Christian God.  Every single one of them has the same amount of evidence for their existence (i.e. none).  That's not a dig at religion; the Bible is pretty clear that faith is integral to Christianity, and therefore evidence is not needed.  Whether or not I consider that a cop-out is irrelevant.  But it does mean that there's no more proof that your denomination is the correct one, than there is for one of the more enlightened churches.  You don't pick a denomination based on how scientifically likely you think that version of God is.  You don't say, "Well, this church was verified by snopes and Mythbusters, so it must be the true path."  No, you go on faith, and pick one that fits beliefs you already have. 

What I'm getting at is, you can't blame the Bible if you think it tells you to discriminate against someone.  You chose your church, even if you lazily chose it by continuing to follow your parents' choices.  You chose your denomination, you chose how to interpret the passages.  You knew there were alternatives, and you chose your path anyway.  You have no right to blame God.  God is not the bigot, you are.  The Bible clearly told you to love everyone; you are the one who decided that meant "discriminate against people who are different."  By your own religion's most basic rules, you are the one who is on a path to damnation, all the while pointing fingers at everyone else.  How in the world can you not see this?

Update:  I just saw this article on The Oatmeal that seemed appropriate.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Note: If the subject line offended you at all, you should probably stop reading now.  It's about to get a lot worse.  On the other hand, if you stick around, you might learn something.

When I was a kid, I loved the phrase "Happy Holidays".  To me, it was a more efficient way of saying, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year".  Shortly thereafter I discovered that if you use the phrase in mid-November, you can even include Thanksgiving in the mix.  No longer was I burdened with the phrase, "Have a good Thanksgiving, followed by a joyous Christmas, and don't get hit by a truck on New Year's Day."  Some genius had managed to reduce the entire sentiment into two words.  When I got a little older, I realized that I wasn't the center of the universe, and discovered that some people celebrate other holidays instead of (or in addition to) mine.  "Even better," I said, realizing that my favorite seasonal greeting was more useful than ever.  No need to wonder if they even celebrate a specific holiday, I could use one simple phrase and spread good wishes to everyone.

After all, I don't only wish good tidings to those who celebrate the same holidays that I do.  That would be unforgivably self-centered.  And yet, an unbelievable number of pompous jerks are actually offended when people wish them happy holidays.  For the love of Rudolph, why?  "Well," they say, "it's removing Christmas from the Christmas season."  Really?  So Christmas isn't a holiday?  Wait a minute, let me check the dictionary...

Christmas: "The annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts."

Wow, not only is it a holiday, it's a legal holiday.  Of course, there's some debate over whether it should really be a Christian holiday (just ask any Jehovah's witness), but there doesn't seem to be much doubt that it's a holiday.  So unless that cashier says, "Happy Holidays except for Christmas," it's reasonably safe to assume that Christmas was one of the holidays included in the sentiment.  Seriously, don't you understand the beauty of "more"?  I want you to have several really great days this holiday season, but you're only wishing for me to be merry on one of them.  I feel like I deserve a refund.

Now, those on the other end of the spectrum aren't off the hook... I'm just as disgusted by people who are offended by "Merry Christmas" as I am at those who are offended by "Happy Holidays".  I don't celebrate Kwanzaa, but I'm not going to be offended if you wish me a happy one.  Frankly, I don't even know when Kwanzaa is, but I hope I am happy on Kwanzaa, and it's nice of you to hope so too.  So why should you be annoyed if I request your merriment on Christmas?  Just because you're not celebrating anything on December 25th, that doesn't mean you should be unhappy on that day.  Accept it as a token of good will and get on with your life, you self-centered elbow-sucker.

But that doesn't come up as often, at least not in my experience.  I've known a few people who don't celebrate Christmas, and they never seemed to be as brittle on this issue as the Happy Holidays Haters.  But that's another thing that bunches my boxers - people who call themselves "oppressed" when they're not.  Those who celebrate Christmas are clearly the majority, but they're also the ones whining "I'm sooo oooopresssed!  It's a war on Christmas!"

There is no war, and if there was, you'd be winning.  Yes, some cashiers have been instructed to use broader, more inclusive greetings, but it's not like they're requiring you answer in kind.  If you answer your cashier with "Merry Christmas", the manager isn't going to have you arrested.  The cashier simply wished that you not be miserable on several key days of the season; you're the one trying to start something.

Or to put it another way, one group of people is giving out coupons for free ice cream, any flavor.  Another group of people is giving out free ice cream, but only in peppermint flavor.  The peppermint people are being a little bit arrogant in assuming that everyone likes that flavor, but so what?  Peppermint ice cream is better than no ice cream, especially when it's free.  And yet, it's the peppermint people who are getting the most offended by their competition.  Why?  Because they think everyone should like peppermint, and to them there's no point in the existence of any other flavors.  They find the very idea that someone might want to eat chocolate or strawberry to be an abomination.

But I believe there's room in this country for more than one holiday.  It's not a competition.  I don't think Santa Claus is sending goons to hobble the Easter Bunny so that Xmas can "win" the Holiday race. 

...Whoops, I said the X-word.  That's another thing that bugs people, often the same people.  People who think that "Xmas" means removing Christ from Christmas.  Five minutes of research will tell you that "X" was a well-used abbreviation for Christ long before we had a holiday called Christmas.  But apparently thinking too much gives you wrinkles, so once again everybody has to bow to the most delusional segment of society.  These are the same people who keep spreading the urban legend that you can't pray in schools.  Of course you can pray in school, how are they going to stop a prayer?  You don't even have to close your eyes to pray.  It's not like they have some sort of signal cancelling device that prevents your prayers from reaching the heavens.  The law simply says that teachers can't lead prayers in public schools.  Which makes perfect sense; not everyone in the room is necessarily going to be the same religion.  And even if they were, different denominations might have different rules about what should be in a prayer.

But that doesn't cut any slack with some people.  Some people want everyone to be required to celebrate the same holidays and participate in the same religion.  It's why we have "Under God" in the pledge, and why we have "In God We Trust" on our money.   Bit o' trivia: both of those are Newer Than They Think.  "Under God" was added to the pledge in 1954, more than 60 years after the pledge was written.  "In God We Trust" was added to paper money in 1957.  Apparently both additions were the result of the Red Scare, when Americans were so afraid of "Godless Commies" that we started adding God wherever we could to distinguish ourselves from our so-called enemies.  The obvious problem is that history hasn't been kind to the Scare.  I think most people now realize that our paranoia was unfounded, and that maybe we went a little too far in judging other people's political beliefs.  And yet these relics remain, on our money and in our pledge.  Why?  We know we were wrong, so why not fix it?

The answer is, of course, entitlement.  Please understand, this is not an attack on Christians, or people who celebrate Christmas.  This is an attack on people who are so entitled that they insist the world bow to their lifestyles.  While most of us are content to live our own lives and let others live theirs, these people require everyone to live the way they do.  These are the people who say, "I'm not gay, so homosexuality must be a sin.  My religion doesn't like witchcraft, so the Harry Potter books must be banned for everyone.  I don't enjoy video games, so they must be bad for you."  And if you don't pass their laws banning the things they don't like, they call themselves oppressed. 

“Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion... perhaps around their necks? And maybe -- dare I dream it? -- maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.”  - Jon Stewart

But if you're still upset about the use of Happy Holidays, then fine.  You win.  I hope you have a lousy Thanksgiving, a terrible Kwanzaa, a dreadful Hanukkah, a horrible Ashura, and a sucky Boxing Day.  But by all means, have a Merry Christmas.