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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Born This Way

It's amazing what you can stumble onto when you start surfing the web.

I learned about this blog, "Born This Way" quite by accident.

I hadn't gotten the memo from "Queer Central" - probably because I don't even know where Queer Central IS - or if there really IS a Queer Central. I've only assumed, from some of the things I've read as I've surfed the web, that there is some place, somewhere in a deep, dark cavern at the base of a volcano where LGBT people and their Progressive allies are busy writing the Gay Agenda and plotting to take over the world.

I was 'surfing the web' on the far right of Anglican Cyberspace to see what might be going on in the outer fringes of Anglicanism. I hadn't been to some of these sites in a long, long while and was pleasantly surprised to find how small they've gotten.

A few of the blogs have actually closed up shop. One blog asked for suggestions from its readers to "clean up the Blog Roll" of defunct or irrelevant blogs. The membership in the comment section of a few of them seems to have dwindled down to the same 12-20 people with the same really silly web names making the same kinds of angry noises.

I took heart that this is a portent of what will happen, eventually, to the Anglican Schismatic Alphabet Soup of C.R.A.P. - "Church of Really Angry People".

It was a slow news day, that day, in the Anglican Communion. The so-called "orthodox" hate slow news days. It tends to bring them down off their usual testosterone high.

Their whole cosmology is about Good v. Evil and 'standing firm' and being 'still on patrol' while 'fighting the good fight' against the nefarious forces of The Progressive Left. If there's nothing to fight, well, let's just say the comment section can get fairly heated - and amusing - if you don't take any of it personally.

That's when I came across this wonderful new blog, "Born This Way". It was being held up for ridicule, of course, and the comments ranged from expressions of incredulity (these kids obviously don't get out much) to comments that were cruel in their ignorance and bigotry - which is never an excuse for cruelty.

When I clicked on the link to "Born This Way", I was absolutely delighted with what I found.

The Blog was started by a man named Paul V. who came upon the idea from some of the baby pictures sent to him by some of his friends for his FaceBook Page. As he looked over some of the pictures, he thought to himself, "This kid is gay!" - and has been so since s/he was born.

He began collecting the childhood pictures of LGBT people - along with their stories - and started the blog as a way to inspire and encourage struggling youth.

CNN did a report of his blog - you can watch the video here - in which he says, "If there's one kid who reads this blog and feels that sense of connection and that sense of self worth and it saves one life, then, I'm thrilled."

I hope you go over there and read it and, perhaps, be inspired by what you find to send your own childhood picture and story.

I hope parents go over there, too. I think those who "fear" their child may be LGBT will find a sense of solace and hope in these stories.

Dr. Freud was wrong on this one. People aren't gay because they have a weak or absent father and/or an overbearing mother. People are LGBT because they're born that way.

And...and...AND... it's a whole heck of a lot more complicated than that.

It's not just about 'nature vs. nurture'. It's actually a little bit of both - genetics and social conditioning.

Which is why some people, like Christopher here on your right, didn't 'come out' until just before his fortieth birthday, but, he says, "I always knew I was different from even a very early age".

He writes:
My parents indulged and embraced my uniqueness. When I wanted a baby doll, I got one and I loved and cared for him, and even dressed him in the same outfit I'm wearing in the photo. And I still have him.

In junior high, I took home economics instead of shop. And though my dad wasn't happy about it, he reluctantly bought me the supplies I needed for my first sewing project. By 13, my mom turned the kitchen over to me and encouraged me to pursue my love of cooking as a career. I later became a pastry chef.

Although my journey was also filled with many dark and depressing days, when my being "different" made life difficult, I've come to love this photo of me.

It reminds me that I am as I was meant to be. I was born this way."
And, this is Cameron, a an FtM (female to male) transsexual who lives in Concord, MA. S/he was born female with the name 'Camilla' and, like most of us, grew up not knowing that there was anything like being 'transsexual'. Boys are boys and girls are girls, right?

It's more complicated than that.

Even so, Cameron - like so many LGBT people - had some early inklings that s/he was different. S/he says that s/he wore 'girly clothes' until about the 5th grade, when s/he discovered that s/he much preferred wearing baggy T-Shirts, jeans and a baseball cap.

S/he writes:
In 9th grade, I cut my hair short. At a school dance, girls asked me to dance, 'mistaking me' for a boy. And I realized that I didn't mind their confusion.

In fact, I liked it.

That was my first realization that I might be transgendered. Coming out to my parents was tricky, though. They still don't accept me for being the man that I SHOULD have been born as. They don't understand, that every day, I wake up wishing that I was just born with the body that boys take for granted. You never know how much you have, and how much other people value what you were born with. If I had one wish, it would be to be born with the right body.

I'm still struggling with my transition to manhood, and it's a slow process. I'm starting to tell people at school, and from what I have seen, they are all getting on board with it. Although I still go by female pronouns almost everywhere, I'm looking forward to the day that I will be known as a man everywhere.

I'm so much happier now, then when I was as a girl in middle school: wondering why I hated my body, and wearing boy clothes to cover up my awkward, out of place shell.

And I know I'm only going to get happier. Which is why I always think things will get better, for those who want it to. :)
There's something reassuring in the fact that Cameron is "still struggling with my transition to manhood, and it's a slow process." It gives me permission to struggle and take my time as well, so my embrace of my Trans sisters and brothers can be authentic and warm and not just "nice".

I've come a long way, but I confess that I continue to struggle with the idea of transgender. I totally 'get' that a man might want to be a woman - is my bias showing? I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that any woman would want to be a man.

Gee, does that ring a bell that we've heard from the homophobic side of the playing field? There it is, then - my gender prejudice and bias right out there for all the world to see. And, probably judge. It's okay. I deserve it.

I would rather admit and take responsibility for my own growth and transformation than to "shame and blame" those I don't understand - or, try to take away their civil rights.

I've yet to have some what of I expect will be some-what difficult conversations with some of my FtM sister/brothers about the political implications of things like male privilege and how they reconcile all of that.

I don't expect them to "teach" me - I will take responsibility for my own education and learning - but I'm interested in what I will be able to learn from them that will challenge some of my own assumptions and biases about gender and privilege.

I can only imagine  and hope that, with love and support, Trans people will help us continue to fight against assumed and unexamined privilege - especially around issues of gender.

Gender - like sexuality - is more complicated than physical form and attraction and orientation. It's an intricate, sometimes delicate mixture of nature and nurture. There is a whole, wide range of being "born this way" and the things which happen to shape and form identity.

I'm also grateful for my Trans sisters and brothers because their struggle and mine also allows me to be more tolerant of people who don't "get" my sexual orientation.

You want to call me a 'lesbian'? Fine. You think, because I've been married and had children that I'm really 'bi'? Fine. Really.

I can't change the way you see me or think of me. But please don't stop at your labels. I'm so much more than the person who has chosen to identify herself and her family in a way that is not part of the mainstream "normal" - whatever that is.

I can only take responsibility for my own change and transformation. Increasing my own levels of tolerance. Becoming a more compassionate and understanding person.

Surprisingly enough, I'm growing much more comfortable with the term "Queer". Not only does it curb the ever-growing Alphabet Soup of God's Rainbow Tribe, it brings a halt to the ways some folks - within and without the LGBTQI community - try to use our differences to "divide and conquer".

There is no hierarchy of oppression and prejudice.

Let me say that again, because it's important: There is no hierarchy of oppression and prejudice. You aren't "better" or "worse" than I am because of your gender or sexual orientation or the color of your skin or where you were born or where you went to school.

I think the best way to avoid the seduction of that is to stop looking so closely at our differences and celebrate our uniqueness. What we have in common is much stronger than any differences we have.

That's the thing you'll learn from reading the stories on "Born This Way". That's not a statement from a hopeless victim of harsh circumstance who "just can't help it."

"I was born this way" is a statement of acknowledgment and choice.

Yes, choice.

I know. I know. Part of the long-standing gestalt in the LGBT community has been to emphasize the fact that we were "just born this way" to side step the whole idea of choice because it avoids the whole classical understanding of sin.

No, I don't think LGBT people have a choice about their sexual or gender orientation. However, I do believe that we do make a choice about our identity and orientation. We have a choice about acting on who we believe ourselves to be and how we intend to live our lives.

That's not sin - not unless my choice challenges your construct and world view of what it means to be human and healthy and happy. Even so, you can call it "sin", but ultimately, that's not your judgment to make. That's between me and God.

Here's what I do believe to be sin - LGBT people who are coerced or emotionally manipulated or forced by 'religious preference' to chose a 'heterosexual lifestyle' in order to conform to what others - family, church, friends - think they ought to be.

Ironically, these are the people the Radical Right Fringe hold up as examples of how the "choice" to be LGBT is a sin. See, you can choose to 'right' thing - read, what I think is 'right' for you.

I believe St. Paul said something about "going against your nature". Yup, and he said it was a sin.

Ironies abound.

The world is such an amazing place and these are such amazing times. There is beauty and diversity everywhere in God's creation - especially in God's creatures. We are just beginning to discover and understand just how beautiful and diverse God made the world and the people who populate it.

Turns out, we all have a choice to make: To be part of the C.R.A.P. (Church of Really Angry People) or part of a C.o.F. (Community of Faith) - Church, Temple, Mosque - that celebrates even as it struggles to understand and appreciate the wideness of God's creativity and mercy.

Yes, I know we all have the potential for good and the potential for evil. We make choices all the time around those two polar extremes. Sometimes, the landscape between the two can get rocky and foggy, with lots of twists and turns.

I tend to agree with Anne Frank,
"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
Because, ultimately, I believe we were all born that way. Good at heart.

Or, as Cameron says, "Which is why I always think things will get better, for those who want it to."

Even happiness is a choice.

It's just not always easy.


RevMama said...

As usual, Elizabeth, your blog evokes in me deep thoughts and powerful emotions. It is indeed about being "born this way" and it is also a choice (what a great Anglican synthesis of apparent opposites!). As I read your blog I recalled a photo of 6-year-old me, dressed as a cowboy - hat, Western shirt, jeans, boot, and 6-shooter. I had a Dale Evans skirt and vest which I HATED. Early on I discovered that I'd rather play with the boys, and a little later I discovered that I'd much rather date the girls. That discovery was a long, sometimes painful process. INot transgendered - I never wanted to be a man - just a self-avowed, practicing, born-that-way, happy lesbian. And like you I am learning to embrace the great diversity of God's creation and to let people label themselves.

I'm going to find that old photo and post it on Born That Way's blog.

JCF said...

Elizabeth: if Cameron IDs as FTM, please (unless otherwise requested by Cameron) address him as he. Thank you.

LOVE the Born This Way blog! I'm separated from childhood photos right now, or I'm sure I could provide something equally ob-vi-ous... ;-/

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

If you read Cameron's statement carefully s/he says s/he hasn't settled on a pronoun. I tried to be respectful of that

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

RM- I had that SAME Dale Evans outfit! I LOVED it!

JCF said...

[JCF, feeling all teach-y]

I've yet to have some what of I expect will be some-what difficult conversations with some of my FtM sister/brothers about the political implications of things like male privilege and how they reconcile all of that.

FTM people are your brothers, Elizabeth. It's not that they (necessarily) "want" to be---they just ARE.

They ought to deal w/ male privilege as a genetic XY male does...and probably more do (questioning, resisting). They don't have any special responsibility to do so, however, for having a second X chromosome.

My confession (and I'm speaking as GenderQueer here. On the FTM spectrum, though I don't ID, personally, as a Transman): I'm frequently very mystified by lesbians and gay men, who seem so (confoundedly!) CLUELESS about Trans people. People who deny till they're blue in the face that they ever CHOSE their sexual orientation, will still say to (at) Trans people: "Hey, quit being FREAKS! And if you can't do that, then stay the hell away, and stop confusing the hets that LGBs are like Ts in any way!" [Over at Joe.My.God. (speaking of Gay Central!), there's a gay man called "dwerk" who's both a RAGING misognyist and transphobe (both of which he'll happily cop to). Good tasted prevents me from repeating the kind of vile things he says about anyone w/ a second X chromosome---ESPECIALLY if they ID as male.]

Sexual orientation and gender identity are BOTH self-discoveries, of GIVEN realities. The individual is, and MUST be, the ultimate authority on this natural, regular and (when understood and accepted) non-pathological variation.

As far the "LGBT" alliance: it seems obvious enough to me . . . but Ben Franklin pointed out the need of this sort of alliance a couple of centuries ago: "If we don't hang together, we'll hang separately."

JCF said...

I'm looking forward to the day that I will be known as a man everywhere.

Call him "he", Elizabeth. OK?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - You forgot the first part

"Although I still go by female pronouns almost everywhere. . ."

I thought what I wrote was a respectful compromise. At least, that's the way I intended it.

JCF said...

[Did my previous post go missing?]

Elizabeth, PLEASE understand that I know what I'm talking about here? (*I* "still go by female pronouns almost everywhere", too.)

Cameron is being descriptive of his (our) status. But he's LOOKING FORWARD to being seen as fully male. Respect him, to be addressed as he WANTS to be, and not as most people (unthinkingly) do?

"respectful compromise": huh? Um, with whom are you compromising? O_o

JCF said...

Oh wait, I know what happened (re the missing post). Blogger (lately) has been sending any post w/ an HTML link in it (as my lengthier post did), to the "Spam" file. Look for it, it'll be there! ;-X

it's margaret said...

Love this in so many ways. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. Keep telling those "secrets" of our hearts, dear sister.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Surprisingly enough, I'm growing much more comfortable with the term "Queer". Not only does it curb the ever-growing Alphabet Soup of God's Rainbow Tribe....

Elizabeth, you may be more comfortable with "queer", but I'm not - not yet - as I'm not at all sure that persons who are not lesbian or gay can use the word freely. Although I'd like to be rid of the alphabet soup, too, because it's awkward, I could still cause offense if I said "queer".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I understand, Mimi. I always squirm when I'm in the company of people of color and one calls the other the 'n'word.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - You know, I think the etiquette / protocol has not yet been established. I know more and more trans people who say, when they are in transition, please use the pronoun I ask you to. If I don't, please use an ambiguous pronoun - call me He/She. I was simply following what I understand is proper etiquette.

I was compromising not with myself but with the conflicting parts of the sentence.

I'm sorry if I offended you as a trans person.

IT said...

I'm a lesbian and I dislike the term queer.

Just saying.

walter said...

I think that the expression “born this way” should connote a truthful balance of nature and social sensibility. Unfortunately it has been connoted times too often with some deficient biological biased model and this is just why your educating must continue to be reinforced, sorry I mean empowered.
I think the potential coining of the term “Queer” promises greater Christian union at least and yet respecting Mimi’ sensibility is the beginning of the understanding of the irrelevance of the definition “forcible rape”. A rape is just rape and always empowers our understanding and forgiveness of the immaturity of one's chosen sexual orientation. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful, Jesus The Christ “?”

Walter Vitale

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT. I didn't say I liked the term. I said I was "growing much more comfortable" with the term. I suppose that's because, in part, from the fact that The Academy has taken on the term. "Queer Studies", and "Queer Christology" are hot on the lips of lots of people in Cambridge, MA. I still don't like it, but I'm growing much more comfortable with the term. I guess that happens with use.

JCF said...

[Did you find my post in the Spam file? (IT, you'll know what I'm talking about)]

I like the word "Queer" (it works so well for me, personally, as someone w/ a number of non-het/non-gender-normative factors), but I sympathize w/ those (often, though not always, older. Often, though not always, non-white) who don't like it at all.

Elizabeth, I just wanted to say that my snippy attitude yesterday was probably being influenced by stress&worry for my friend Cath (suffering w/ late-stage cancer). I shouldn't have vented that anxiety here, in the way I did---

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I think I've posted both your comments here. Nothing else in my spam filter.

I understand. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Bateau Master said...

Okay you guys .... we live in different worlds. At least in banal work word of cubicles and PCs - a straight white guy using the adjective/noun (even adverb) Queer would find one assigned to sensitivity training so fast it would make your head spin. We're not that advanced - the terms gay, lesbian, or GLTB are barely safe and of course context is critical.

When the President (any president) refers to the Queer Community - then and only then will I feel a little safer even considering the word.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I understand, Bateau. I understand.

Matthew said...

You might want to read some of Joan Nestle's work and how she talks about how yesterdays butch lesbians are sometimes today's ftm transgenders. She talks about that many of her butch friends from the 1960's are today going transgendered. For example


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Matthew.

JCF said...

FWIW, Elizabeth, the comment is still missing. It got sent to the Spam file, because it included an HTML link to Joe.My.God (note that I'm not hyperlinking it again, because then THIS comment would just get sent to the Spam file! It happened AGAIN to me today at Friends-of-Jake's. Argh! I don't know why/how Blogger started doing this. It was several weeks ago). That post also included a little more about myself.

I know more and more trans people who say, when they are in transition, please use the pronoun I ask you to. If I don't, please use an ambiguous pronoun - call me He/She. I was simply following what I understand is proper etiquette.

This is not my understanding. If someone identifies as "FTM" I would always use male pronouns, unless specifically asked not to [In the same way, if someone identifies as "MTF", I would always use female pronouns, unless asked not to]. Transition is a process that begins w/ a realization---and a decision to express that realization---NOT w/ hormones and/or surgery (if the latter two follow at all).

Ironically, as I'm a GenderQueer person, *I* am more the one who's a Pronoun-Conundrum! [Some GenderQueers like the neologisms "ze" and "hir", but personally I'm not fond of them.] I always say "Try not to use pronouns for me AT ALL---just say "JCF" "JCF's"---but if you HAVE to, use male.

Well, on that "telling {TMI?} secrets" note, blessed First Sunday of Lent to all...

[I'm still waiting to hear more about my sick friend. Please pray for Cath!]

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Here's the thing, JCF - I'm not talking about you. I'm talking to people all along the gender spectrum. So sister/brother is the best way to say that to the audience that reads this blog. Were I talking to YOU, I would ask YOU what your preference as - as I do when I am having a personal conversation with a trans person.

I really mean no offense, and I'm trying to be as sensitive as I can to the broad spectrum of people who read this blog - especially to trans people who may be at various stages of their transition.

Prayers for Cath and a Blessed Lent.

Anonymous said...

I've come a long way, but I confess that I continue to struggle with the idea of transgender. I totally 'get' that a man might want to be a woman - is my bias showing? I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that any woman would want to be a man.

Personally, I disagree with your choice to label this as prejudice. I don't think that saying "I'm struggling to understand something that's beyond my personal experience" is prejudice in itself. I don't expect the average heterosexual man to really understand what it's like to develop a crush on his evangelical Christian roommate in college and having to struggle with those feelings. It's beyond his experience.

I think it only becomes prejudice when one says, "I don't understand this, so you must be wrong. It can't possibly be true. You should just..."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Jared. I was exaggerating to make a point - your point, exactly.