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Eugene Weekly : Views : 02.03.05

The Transsexual Quandary

Misconceptions, fear feed society's revulsion.


Transsexuals are currently one of society's easiest targets for disinformation, scapegoating, and vilification, and are sometimes violently attacked or even murdered for being who they are. Statistically, murders of trans people are more violent than average, with repeated blows from blunt objects or knives. See "Remembering Our Dead" at www.rememberingourdead.org

What would be the cause of such revulsion in society? Fear and misunderstanding. A clue to the lack of understanding of trans people is the use of phrases like "homosexual agenda" in transphobic propaganda.

In fact, the condition is relatively rare, affecting as few as one in 10,000 of the population, unlike homosexuality, which affects as many as one in 10. Gender Identity Disorder is a known medical condition believed by leading researchers to be generally caused by hormone imbalances in utero and described in the physician's mental health reference manual DSM-IV, with a prescribed set of diagnostic and therapeutic responses, up to and including surgical intervention. Surgery, however, is regarded as a last resort. "Reversion" therapy is practiced, generally for a year, before surgery is allowed, with letter of approval from a physician and two psychotherapists.

Research has indicated that transsexuals as a population are particularly resistant to reversion, having a particularly strong identity that is opposed to their birth gender. Awareness that one is trans often has an onset of four to six years. Doctors and researchers the world over have concluded from these facts that the condition is related to levels of testosterone and/or estrogen present during formation of the brain and before the formation of secondary sexual characteristics.

Formation of the secondary sexual characteristics follows instructions usually, but not always, consistent with the presence or absence of a Y chromosome (problems with the chromosomal location of the "sex determining factor" result in intersexuals, a different population from gays or transpersons but equally adversely affected by the marriage amendments). Transpeople are thought to suffer from the presence in the brain of a structure in the hypothalamus that differs from they one they should have had, given the sex of the body. See "Definition and Synopsis of the Etiology of Adult Gender Identity Disorder and Transsexualism" at www.gires.org.uk/Web_Page_Assets/Etiology_definition_signed.htm

Although this condition is known and understood among medical professionals, treatment is regularly and specifically denied by insurance companies and HMOs, and transpeople must fend for themselves. The justification given is a few studies showing that transpeople aren't always happier after GRS and the suicide rate remains high. This is true, but what the studies do not consider is that the reason given by transpeople for suicide attempts is social rejection before surgery AND social rejection after surgery. It's not that the surgery doesn't have the desired effect, but that society often refuses to allow a happy outcome.

Hormone replacement therapy, electrolysis, psychotherapy (including the much-touted but extremely stressful "reversion" therapy) and, ultimately, for those who can tough it out (I've heard figures of as low as 15 percent), surgery, costs transmen and transwomen anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000, cash up front. There is tremendous pain involved, often accompanied by the loss of spouse (I've heard 93 percent), friends, family, work, or housing, and increased danger of death from blood clots, necrosis or infection from surgical malpractice, suicide, or murder.

No, we're not "recruiting" anyone. Who would wish this condition on themselves or anyone else?

As a population, transpeople appear to have higher than average intelligence and are less prone to violence than others, and, given the opportunity, are notably productive, gentle and unassuming citizens who, like other persecuted groups, ask nothing more than the same rights and responsibilities that are accorded to and expected of the surrounding population. See "Transsexual Women's Successes" at http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TSsuccesses/TSsuccesses.html

I'm a pre-op MTF (male-to-female) transsexual. I believe the author of the letter "Sheer Madness" (1/6) to be a person of good intentions, and I invite him to lunch, on me, any time. I'm easy to find: in the Document Center in the Knight Library on the UO campus. Or dinner with my family at our home, if he likes. We don't live far from Springfield. My daughter was born there. I believe he will find that our agenda, just like his, is, first, to breathe, and, second, to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Risa Bear is a resident of Pleasant Hill.



In the Pits

The muddle ages


I'm losing my mind.

I've found myself doing those stereotypically menopausal things like putting library books in the freezer next to the Mocha Almond Swirl. I sometimes find my keys there, but only because that's where my menopausal craving for Mocha Almond Swirl leads me.

I first noticed the trend on a cold, sunny morning on my way to get a package to the post office. I pulled on my new loose-weave wool jacket and slipped the keys off their special hook — which is nowhere near the ice cream. I stepped outside, locked the front door, walked to the driveway, and unlocked the car. I hefted my bigger-than-a-breadbox parcel onto the passenger seat, pulled the door closed, and buckled my seat belt. When I went to stick the key into the ignition my hand came up empty. No keys. What the …?

Had I left my keys in the car door? Slipped them into my jacket pocket? Dropped them on the floor? Had they slid into the seat crack? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

They must've fallen onto the driveway while I was hoisting the package into the passenger seat. I undid my seat belt, climbed out, and squatted down and searched the ground. Nothing.

How could this be? I can't unlock the car door without the keys. They had to be nearby. I checked behind the front tire, in the flower bed next to the driveway, and underneath the car from every angle.

Gone. A loaded key ring cannot vanish into thin air. Mine holds work, house, and bike keys, a couple of mystery keys whose purpose I hope will come to me when the need arises, a photon flashlight, and the miniature notebook I won playing Skee Ball in Seaside with Wifey on our 17th anniversary.

I'm prepared for such lapses. I stash an extra set of keys with our neighbor around the corner. If Barbara was home, I'd be OK until the keys turned up. To my relief, Barbara answered the door.

"I need my keys."

"When did you last have them?" She barely suppressed a chuckle. Barbara gets a kick out of watching Wifey and me go through all the mood swings, hot flashes, and memory loss of The Change while she's still ovulating away.

"I definitely had them when I left the house," I blabbered to Barbara all the way around the corner and up the driveway. "I've retraced my steps a million times. They're definitely not in the house."

"I'll find them." My neighbor's stride was long and strong as we marched back to my house. She teaches college Spanish and is renowned for not excusing absences, accepting late papers, or taking any bull from her students. I wasn't about to challenge her.

"Show me exactly what you did."

I lifted the box out of the car and walked back to the front door. I mimed locking the dead bolt. I mimed unlocking the car, re-enacted every detail. I opened the door, climbed in, and hoisted the package over to the passenger seat.

"Stop right there," Barbara commanded, as if she'd busted a Spanish student passing notes. "Do that again." (She may have actually said, "Repita.")

I lifted the box over toward the passenger seat one more time.


I froze with the box in midair — nobody defies Profesora Bárbara.

"There they are."

I looked at the seat where the box had sat. Nada.

"Check under your left arm." She was so smug. Arrogant. Fertile.

But at the moment she was in charge and I needed my keys. I did as Barbara instructed and looked under my arm. There hung my fully loaded key ring, snagged in the loose-woven fabric of my jacket armpit.

From now on when my keys go missing, I'm checking under my arm first. Or at least right after I check next to the Mocha Almond Swirl.

Writer Sally Sheklow offers playshops in courage and creativity at Tamarack Wellness Center www.tamarackwellness.com.



What Sort of Freedom?

Abstractions vs. reality


George Bush banged the word "Freedom" into his Jan. 20 inaugural speech 27 times. It reminded me a little of how my father, a minister, would repeatedly use the term Love. Dad was principled, religious, and a decent person. But his oft-used word Love was at times uncomfortably abstract.

I remember one evening around 1984, sitting at the dinner table in my parents' home. Dad was giving a theological explanation of love to my 12-year-old son. (Dad rarely confined his sermons to Sunday mornings.) When my sister Sara and her 10-year-old son Sena walked in late for the dinner from my nephew's soccer practice, Dad was irritated. Sena mentioned that his foot hurt. Sara headed for the refrigerator to get some ice.

"Sit down for dinner. You're late," Dad demanded. Sara retreated to the table.

This was ridiculous. I glared at Dad, got up from the table, and got Sena some ice for his foot.

"And now, to continue," I said as I sat down, "you were talking about Love?" The irony escaped him, and he continued.

The fate of the world, I believe, hangs on people recognizing the differences between Freedom and freedom; Love and love; National Security and national security; and Democracy and democracy.

What does our president mean by Freedom?

Does he mean freedom to torture?

The day before the inaugural address, Amnesty International delivered a long letter to Bush, entitled "Human Rights, Not Hollow Words." The letter describes recent U.S. involvement in torture and provides more than 60 recommendations that would make the U.S. an international leader against, rather than a proponent of, torture.

Does he mean freedom to own life?

Two days after Bush talked in his inaugural address of the "ownership society" (one of his campaign phrases) as an example of America's ideal of freedom, I was reading a science article describing the critical importance of informal seed exchanges among farmers following wars, for recovery of their locally adapted crops and retention of genetic seed variation. But in Iraq during 2004, the U.S. administrator Paul Bremer installed U.S.-style rules that outlaw farmers exchanging patented seeds.

Does he mean freedom to pollute?

Bush promised the glories of everyone for himself in his address: "By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear." Three days later I read of new research showing that most childhood cancers are initiated while those children are developing inside mothers who live near heavy traffic flows, industrial facilities, and other users of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Is a child with brain cancer from industrial pollution the agent of his or her own destiny?

Does he mean freedom from community-established rules (also known as laws)?

"In America's ideal of freedom," Bush explained to his nation, "the public interest depends on private character." Pharmaceutical drug prices will depend on the private character of pharmaceutical company CEOs? Women will have to depend on the private character of their husbands for freedom from domestic abuse? Our national forests will depend for their care on the private character of mining company managers, cattle and sheep ranchers, and off-road vehicle drivers?

Is Freedom eternally right?

"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation," Bush warned: "The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."

Ah, flashbacks to Minister Dad: Access to eternal Love as long as you believe in God. President Bush: Access to being eternally right if your crusade is Freedom. Maybe it's the word "eternal" that helps people enter into the abstract and leave behind a child's sore foot, 100,000 war-killed Iraqis, children with brain tumors, and ravaged national forests.

This month Seymour Hersh, the journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre of women, children, and old men by a group of U.S. soldiers 35 years ago; the journalist who uncovered torture in Abu Ghraib prison by a group of U.S. soldiers last year; the journalist whom Army officers and soldiers, and CIA and State Department professionals talk to because they respect his accuracy, said the following to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!:

"Every four-star general I know is saying, 'Who is going to tell them [i.e., Congress and the press] we have no clothes?' Nobody is going to do it. Everybody is afraid to tell Rumsfeld anything. That's just the way it is. It's a system built on fear. It's not lack of integrity, it's more profound than that. Because there is individual integrity. It's a system that's completely been taken over by cultists."

It looks like freedom is going to depend on your dissent.

Mary O'Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached at mob@efn.org