Nothing to Fear

From Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, toward the end of Chapter 10:

I’ll tell you a secret about fear: it’s an absolutist. With fear, it’s all or nothing. Either, like any bullying tyrant, it rules your life with a stupid blinding omnipotence, or else you overthrow it, and its power vanishes in a puff of smoke. And another secret: the revolution against fear, the engendering of that tawdry despot’s fall, has more or less nothing to do with ‘courage.’ It is driven by something much more straightforward: the simple need to get on with your life. I stopped being afraid because, if my time on earth was limited, I didn’t have seconds to spare for funk. Lord Khusro’s injunction echoed Vasco Miraanda’s motto, another version of which I found, years later, in a story by J. Conrad. I must live until I die.

I’m reading it because I recommended his Midnight’s Children to a student, then wanted to re-read it myself, & so instead picked up one of his I hadn’t read. I love his writing – it’s at once so inebriating, the joy he takes with language, but then exhausting — why aspire when someone is already so good at what you want to do? — still, I’m writing anyway.

Two Tune Tuesday: Inspired by Juneteenth

I went to a Juneteenth celebration – yes, here in Appleton, Wisconsin – and one band did a bunch of familiar R&B; I don’t know if it’s age or what, but I have really started to love the soul side of things. Philly soul next week!

Guest Author: Kelzi

Kelzi, one of the regulars on our MHB message boards, wrote a piece about what it’s like to be a couple going through transition that resounded pretty strongly for me (& for others):

Lately, I haven’t had much to say, and when I do, I just journal it. However, when I stop by to catch up here and there, I often find that I should have posted. My recent M.O. What’s different about tonight is that I find the warm and fuzzy stories about couples who stay together way too inflated, heart warmed and fuzzed that they become unrecognizable as a point of reference. Except, every once and a while someone cleans the pig. MG wrote:

….And Jenn and I didn’t survive anything. Everyday we make a decision to continue to stay together. That in no way means we survived anything. It only means that, for today, we still want to be together. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll both make the same decision.

Two nights ago, D and I just celebrated (and I use the word figuratively, it certainly was not a celebration. miss O was genuinely upset we didn’t go out and celebrate. Upon querying us as to the reason, D quickly replied ‘what’s to celebrate?’ to which miss O responded ‘Oh yeah, that man and wife thing.’) our 14th year as husband and wife. It was also our 8th year since my transition.

MG is painfully right, couples that choose to stay together, after the transition of a spouse, are not survivors, we have just found a couple of compelling reasons to stick it out together for one more day. A couple of reasons to let ourselves think that the cultural and social stigmata that tattoo our lives will disappear in the morning. That in the frighteningly few moments where we get to forget the realities of our lives together and embrace as lovers, only to have the moments shattered when we remember that we no longer make love as we once did, we both agree to stick it out for one more day.

I wish I could understand why we choose this way. It not a path that I’d wish on any couple. Its hard and it hurts and the longer we stay together, the more I’m convinced that the pain will never really go away. Its true that we still love each other. We cuddle on the sofa, sleep in the same bed (depending on the intensity of our hot flashes or the weather) and continue to revel in the joys of raising our daughter, together. But we have also become much more reclusive. We’re hurt by the simple slip of a pronoun. I being reminded of what I am, she remembering who she was. We look at the photo from that night 14 years ago and wonder what happened to that couple, where did they go? Why aren’t they here? Will they ever come back? Perhaps what hurts most of all, we miss our simple displays of affection, that kiss on the street, holding hands as we walk, a long embrace under a street lamp, that we so often freely gifted. Yeah, we miss the simplicity of man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. We tire of the attitudes from the public and parents and friends and family. They, thinking their thoughts of us. We, conflicted by wanting to right the assumptions they make of us, wanting to correct, explain, share and then we remember the results of our previous disclosures. Who has that kind of time and energy? For the last 8 years, it has taken all the energy plus some that we borrowed, just to stay together just one more day.

There are days, too often it seems, where making the best of a trying situation, makes no sense. How I long for those days where my sweetie’s resting head gradually, gently drifts to my chest and there we drift into our world of pleasant dreams. Now a days her head comes to rest at my boob. She awakes and is reminded of the indignities she endures, the loss she has suffered, unfulfilled dreams that may never return. Could our lives be much better if we said enough is enough? We’d be free to experience our lives as we once dreamt they would be. In love. In public. Innocuous. Together, silently, without ever saying it to each other, we ask, ‘Really, is it really worth it? Can I do this for one more day?’

Usually I don’t know.

Its part of our unspoken agreement to each other. Oh, there have been times where I thought we wouldn’t be able to do it. We leave each other. We look for clarity. We seek advise and usually we wake up in the morning ready for one more day.

Next year, if we get that far, it’ll be our crystal anniversary. Maybe things will be clearer by then. Maybe we’ll be gifted a crystal ball that will show us were to go, how to get there. Maybe I’ll be able to clearly explain why we stay together. Except with our luck, Coyote would come along and want it for himself, steal it before we even got to peak into it. I bet that he would eat it, to illuminate his inner self, only to see that he was really full of shit. Maybe that’s the point, we have to see thru all the shit find what we really are looking for. When asked on how we’re doing, we’ve often say, ‘We’re taking it day by day’. It comforting to know that at least for now, that hasn’t changed. At the end of the day, we both are saying, ‘I think I can do this for another day.’

The Other VD

South African doctor invents female condoms with ‘teeth’ to fight rape

Do you really even need to read the rest of the story?

Vagina dentata via prophylactic. (I’m sorry, has there not been a punk female vocalist named Vagina Dentata yet? or a derby grrrl?)

Dirty Crossdressers!

Oh, this killed me. Aside from the message being cool & groovy – what about all the trans women who used to identify as crosdressers – the “what CDs are doing on MySpace clip is priceless.

“I can see cisgender people from my house!”

(thanks to Melissa V. for the link)

Handsome Women in Handsome Clothes

Entrepreneur Shaz Riley has started a clothing company catering to butch women. It’s about time: menswear made for women which de-emphasizes bust line and doesn’t make room for package.

What I find amazing is that on Joe.My.God’s post about it, there are people who don’t seem to understand that butch women are women.

Sometimes the cluelessness in the LGBTQ community about gender identities and expressions blows my mind.

Classical Music (& Class)

Lawrence University, where Rachel & I work, has a Conservatory as well — which for me means tons of free, cool music. I go see a lot of things I never went to see in NYC; as I was explaining, in NYC, classical music often costs a lot, and when it doesn’t, it means sitting with a million people in Central Park to hear/see it. Ditto for opera, and often for jazz, too.

Here, I go a lot, although I’ve never known much about classical music, and along comes this cool series from Atlantic Monthly about how to listen to (& appreciate) classical music. I’ve had people give me CDs (the music medium, not the type of trans person) in the past, but for me – live is the thing. I prefer all of my music live & in person, pretty much, & now feel like I’ve been incredibly spoiled to have so much of it around so much of the time as a NYC resident. I went to see a Chinese classical performer, here, for instance, & couldn’t remember where I’d seen someone play that kind of instrument before, until I remembered: the W 4th Street subway. It’s one of the things I miss most, all the found music in NYC – guys playing plastic buckets, folk singers in Washington Square Park – but the Con makes up for a lot.

World Man Cup

No, really: why do so many cool people watch World Cup? There isn’t one woman on a team anywhere, & if any other industry were so blatant in its discrimination, so many people wouldn’t watch, & might actually be out protesting.

Not having women on World Cup teams isn’t discrimination, you say? How, exactly? Are the try-outs open to women? As far as I know (& I’m willing to stand corrected), there is no “separate but equal” league, or set of teams, that gets the same kind of attention, that represents their home countries on the world stage.

I will confess that it’s no skin off my nose not to watch because I don’t really like sports (and I’ve certainly got no truck with a field full of athletic men in shorts).

I’m not for quotas or lowering standards – though I’d ask my liberal friends to consider how full of shit that argument is when you apply it to any other category of human competition – just for opening the try-outs to women.

Two Tune Tueday: Gogol Bordello

There’s new Gogol Bordello out!

Ethics, Schmethics

Alice Dreger, recently disliked by those in the trans (for defending Michael Bailey) and intersex communities (for being for the “DSD” diagnosis), has at least said, in print, in both Psychology Today and The Hastings Center Report, that maybe using a vibrator on a young girl’s clitoris is completely unacceptable.

Here more specifically is, apparently, what is happening: At annual visits after the surgery, while a parent watches, Poppas touches the daughter’s surgically shortened clitoris with a cotton-tip applicator and/or with a “vibratory device,” and the girl is asked to report to Poppas how strongly she feels him touching her clitoris. Using the vibrator, he also touches her on her inner thigh, her labia minora, and the introitus of her vagina, asking her to report, on a scale of 0 (no sensation) to 5 (maximum), how strongly she feels the touch. Yang, Felsen, and Poppas also report a “capillary perfusion testing,” which means a physician or nurse pushes a finger nail on the girl’s clitoris to see if the blood goes away and comes back, a sign of healthy tissue. Poppas has indicated in this article and elsewhere that ideally he seeks to conduct annual exams with these girls. He intends to chart the development of their sexual sensation over time.

If this were requested reconstructive surgery, or absolutely necessary surgery that treated a dire medical condition, maybe this wouldnt’ seem to fucked up. But these are surgeries conducted on girls whose clitorises are viewed as “too big.” That’s all. Just “too big.” They worry that girls with big clitorises will somehow – I don’t know, that they’ll be socially traumatized, but all I can think is: it’s probably just more likely that they’ll have orgasms, & we certainly can’t have that

One time I asked a surgeon who does these surgeries if he had any idea how women actually reach orgasm. What did he actually know, scientifically, about the functional physiology of the adult clitoris? He looked at me blankly, and then said, “But we’re working on children.” As if they were never going to grow up.

Or, as Courtney on the MHB forums put it, maybe this article should be called When Ken Zucker calls you out for being a sicko, you’ve know you’re screwed.

Dads’ Day

A very happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

Dads, I hope you got to sleep in. Or eat what you want. Or do whatever it is that makes you happy in a simple, lovely way.


TG POC is a discussion-oriented listserv for Trans People of Color as well as their significant others and allies.

SF Trans Pride

Trans people are leading the SF Pride Parade, right after Dykes on Bikes (who have always been the 1st group).

& Once again, New York lags behind in hipness (although there is a Trans Day of Action march, which includes a whole bunch of other political stands).

You can sign up to march with the SF contingent via Facebook.

If anyone knows whether non-trans allies (partners, parents, children, friends) are welcome too, do let me know.

If you know of any other trans-specific pride stuff, do let me know.

(courtesy Lena Dahlstrom)

Tierney (un)Truth and (not) Dare

A little more than a week ago, John Tierney published an article in the NYT “daring” to question whether or not girls just aren’t good at math. What a goddamn revelation. I don’t know what we would do without such daring journalism.

Maggie Koerth-Baker over at BoingBoing actually interviewed some female scientists on the topic. One of them, a Dr. Isis, had some great things to say:

John Tierney titles his article “Daring to Discuss Women’s Potential in Science,” as though he is bravely daring to out the dirty little secret that we all supposedly know deep in our hearts. Girls suck at math and science. The truth is, they really don’t. It’s just that John Tierney sucks at googling.

I love the idea of John Tierney publishing pie recipes instead:

Yet, he clearly has ignored the fact that this phenomenon is unique to the United States. Indeed, in countries with more gender equal cultural norms, the divide disappears. In Iceland, girls out perform boys in math and science. Japanese girls out perform American boys. Maybe in his next column Tierney will argue some type of evolutionary difference between the boys and girls in these other countries and American boys and girls. Personally, I would find it much more interesting if he would start posting recipes for pies we could make with all the cherries he’s picking.

and then:

Can we all agree that Tierny pulled this completely out of his ass? Someone who scores in the top 99.9% of an aptitude test is more likely to get tenure than someone who scores in the top 99.1% in the seventh grade? Really?

Honestly, the NYT had no business publishing a poorly-researched and obviously biased article. Let’s all keep in mind that Tierney has already written in defense of Summers, which indicates some pre-existing bias — other than the obvious sexist one, of course.

These guys tire me.

Genital Algorithm

In an attempt to get rid of the weenie waggers & masturbaters, people are trying to develop tech that would help scan for human penises when people are in chat rooms.

The idea, of course, is for people to avoid the penises.

The service may add software that can quickly scan video to determine if a penis is being shown. And users that are consistently quickly skipped over (presumably because they are exposing themselves or otherwise being disgusting) can be flagged as well. With those and other changes Chatroulette may be able to put people who actually want to talk to each other in touch much more often.

Some websites, and some users, no doubt, will want the tech to find the penises. Gay porn sites comes to mind, say.

But what this might mean for trans people? On the internet, everyone knows if you have a penis (or not)?

Like Catnip to a Lion

Cats really do rule the world. Okay, not really. Actually, toxoplasma rules the world:

Unlike Plasmodium, however, which can rely on the natural behaviour of mosquitoes to spread it around, Toxoplasma’s rodent hosts have a strong aversion to helping it into its next home. Which is where, in Dr Webster’s elegant phrase, fatal feline attraction comes in. Rats and mice infected with Toxoplasma start wandering around and drawing attention to themselves—in other words, behaving in ways that will bring them to the attention of cats. They are even, Dr Webster’s work suggests, attracted to the smell of cats.

It’s like science fiction.

(thanks to my friend Mendel for this one)


It’s about damn time, but a six-month moratorium on deep water drilling is a start.

& To hell with the Minerals Management Service: ask any coal miner. I’m glad to hear there will be some attempt to get them to get their act together.

Two Tune Tuesday: Franz Ferdinand

Maybe you’ve had enough Franz Ferdinand, but I haven’t: I keep listening & then discovering my most recent favorite track (since it took me a while to listen to any other than “No You Girls”). So here’s the three most recent favorites: how can I not love a song that starts you don’t know the pseudonyms I assume…


Congratulations to all of Lawrence University’s graduating seniors! Today is commencement, my second since I’ve been teaching here, but the first where I’ve known quite a few students, one of whom is graduating summa cum laude with an honors project on drag kings in Amsterdam. He was in the first Trans Lives course I taught here two years ago.

New Guidelines for Gender Marker Changes on US Passports

This just in from NCTE:

Last night the US Department of State announced new guidelines for issuing passports to transgender people. Beginning today, applicants for a gender marker change on their passports will need to submit certification from a physician that they have received “appropriate clinical treatment” for gender transition. Most importantly, gender reassignment surgery is not required under the new policy.

The new rules will also apply to changing a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for US citizens who were born outside of the United States. CRBA’s are the equivalent of a birth certificate.

For years, NCTE has been advocating with the State Department to change their rules about gender markers on passports and CRBA’s. Previously they had required proof of irreversible sex reassignment surgery before the gender marker could be changed, although there were exceptions for temporary, provisional passports to allow someone to travel for surgery.

NCTE and other advocates have stressed with the State Department that this policy unnecessarily called attention to transgender travelers whose appearance and gender marker were at odds. In some destinations, this had the potential to create an extremely dangerous situation when a traveler is outed as transgender in an unwelcoming environment or in the presence of prejudiced security personnel.

Fortunately, the new rules represent a significant advance in providing safe, humane and dignified treatment of transgender people. There are details in the guidelines about what information a physician must provide and we will communicate those to you as soon as possible. However, the State Department notes that applicants will not need to supply any additional medical documentation and that there is no SRS requirement.

“We want to extend our thanks to the Obama Administration, and particularly to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, for understanding the need for this change and then responding to make travel safer for transgender people,” commented Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE. “This shows how changes in government policy directly impact people’s lives, in this case, for the better.”

In the next few days, NCTE will be issuing a definitive resource that fully explains the new guidelines and outlines the ways in which transgender people can make changes to their passports and CRBAs.

Many people-from elected officials to LGBT advocates-have worked for years to change these policies and deserve credit and thanks. Particularly important work was done by Rep. Barney Frank as well as Rep. Steve Israel in the House of Representatives; Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which represents LGBT employees and their families working in foreign affairs offices for the US government; all of our allied LGBT organizations who have been committed to this work, including the Center for Global Equality, The Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign; and those working on medical policies, including the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).