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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

A wonderful observation was made by Venkat Rao. People desire for things around them to be “legible.” He was quoting someone else, but he’s brought a lot of people’s attention to the concept. In this context, Legibility refers to how easy it is to understand the purpose and the meaning of a thing, not just a text, but anything.

On the very legible end of things is something like an office chair, or a cup of coffee.  These are designed by humans, completely contrived for the types of purposes that anyone can plainly gather from their adaptation to these intentions.  On the far side of illegibility is the pattern of plants in a forest.  Not to say that it’s random, but without an extremely specialized understanding, the patterning, the whys, the meaning of it is indecipherable.  The only other way to access a complicated image like a forest or a city is to simply experience the gestalt of it, the sense of it as you are there, in the moment.

Rao gives us examples of problems that arise when we humans try and impose legibility. His easiest example is the growth of a city.  Old cities have grown in such a complex pattern over decades, centuries, even millenia, and with such a collection of complex human interactions, that their patterning is as nuanced as the trees and ferns of the forest floor.  When planners come along and try to work out a method to set up a city artificially, it so often fails miserably because there is a forced legibility (indeed, it’s hard to imagine making policies about things without first rendering them legible, but for policymakers to grok the complexities necessary to understand things like city growth is more than most mere politicians can muster).

The important points here are that legibility is highest in man-made things and that people desire legibility.  In fact, Rao cites an interesting incident at a neurology clinic where a black and white checkerboard pattern is used to establish a “baseline” of someone’s brain activity, a “calm state.”  When the patient asked the doctor “shouldn’t you use something more neutral, white noise, perhaps?”  The doctor responds, “Oh no, people’s brains go wild when we show a random pattern, because they work hard to grasp at some underlying structure.”

Perhaps it is the fruit of Maharishi’s meditation on who am I? perhaps it is my vows, or just observation.  But recently I have found myself truly switching identity experiences rather easily.  After actual decades of wanting so much to be a woman, and an entire decade of being mostly submissive, I find myself being a true switch.  I can stop what we’re doing at home to force slap her ass, make sure she’s knowing she’s in submission, and leave her begging for more as we’re walking into town. Yes, I can still kiss a whip, scrub someone’s floor, and pine to get held down and fucked.  Honestly, I could beg God for either role just as sincerely, or forget the whole thing entirely.  All of it is surrender!

If you don’t build it deliberately, but let it form, like actions of nature, it isn’t going to have the same kind of legibility of an invention.  I smile this smile that old ladies and children seem to find irresistable.  I alternatively flush a bit from some men’s heat, and then wet some girl’s panties by our immediate mutual knowledge that I would chain her up alongside the others and perhaps horsewhip the living hell out of her in half a second.  And I gain trusting giggles and secret intimacies when I unwrap my Arab kuffiya and smile a blushing conspiratorial sister smile.  No one seems to try to cheat me anymore, in fact it seems they’re mostly quite generous with me.  My employees are artistic and seem satisfied.  I drive hard bargains with a shy voice.  My students mostly do what I say, alternatively seduced, in love, and afraid. My personality is a forest rather than a coffee cup, mysterious to even myself.

Then this all generalizes into other things.  I find myself more generous with money, and managing it all quite differently because I don’t even know what it is anymore.  It seems to have no value at all.  I don’t mean that in a naive sense, but in the sense that we’re all dying so quickly, what the fuck?  Perhaps I will find the capacity for even more generosity, or that great fabled freedom to just cast a fortune away in a moment, without a thought, and the power to create another kind or another kind or even a different kind than that….  How can I lack patience in this case?  How can I worry any sense of morality?  I tested this by lying outright a few times, and find the only thing I have that could be called a “conscience” is confusion brought on by blood sugar levels.

My friends seem to stumble with their reactions.  And I think it’s because I’ve become illegible.  So I do try and maintain some consistency around them lately, but it feels so stilted, and I notice that any real observer should be able to see through the plastic of contrivance. People want you to have an identity though, something to pin down and relate to with a known set of codes.  My girlfriend, fortunately, is blessed with enough innocence to just tell me when she doesn’t get what’s going on, and to roll with it.  She’s uncaring about social norms enough to either not notice or not care when I mix gender, dominance, social class signals, fashions, and actions with the kind of attitude that I would pack a backpack for a walk in the woods.  Toilet paper is good for so many things, I’ll bring a whole roll of that with me for even a day or two in the woods.

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“In every victory is a defeat, in every death a rebirth.”

In our KungFu, WuJiFa, we focus on connection, intention, groundedness.  Through deceptively simple exercises we refine these to a high degree.  This is how we excel at “the Qi Kung of dancing, drinking, and fucking.”

Maybe you knew me long enough to know that I didn’t want being transgendered to dominate my life.  Maybe you knew me well enough to know that while I make no judgements about it in general, I knew that some aspects of it were obsessive for me, tantalizing, crazy-making.

The biggest trigger point has always been relationship.  Opening my heart, I could feel as if the whole universe were wrapping around me, holding me, reaching out to lift me up and support the liquid flow of openness between two people — if and only if I were a woman.

Thus, many times I shut my heart.  In fact, while sometimes I would go awhile without feeling gender dysphoria, I never managed to make a sexual connection in my life without it, and I mean a hefty dose of it.  Enough to drive me close to suicide many times.

Recently, though, I used the Qi Kung.  I let myself feel all the sensations of connection, of opening and beautiful flowing, touching, holding that I once only reserved in the box I called “womanhood”…  I used my orgasmic breathing techniques to amplify all this.  Then I very specifically connected all this in a grounded way, with touch and movement and awareness, back to my own body, simply….  flowed in it.

For months I’d been praying to lord Ganesha, every time I would find myself in the throes of teeth gnashing addiction I would focus on him.  And that act, that final act, clear focus and grounded connection was a killing blow.

So here I am, feeling the blankets on my own skin like I’ve never felt before, feeling my weight through my legs, feeling my shoes, feeling my fingers and toes, everything so lucid.  And I’m in a relationship, my heart is open, I feel her clearly, I listen, I appreciate her without any pain.  I don’t feel blocked in my affections or any flow of any part of myself….  It borders on miraculous considering I’ve been unable to do this for the last fifteen years I’ve been dating and having sexual relationships.

Now, senses emerging, feelings of self and openness….

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I blindfolded myself for about a day.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but the sensory deprivation, the lack of visual stimuli to distract myself with simply put me against my own patterns after a few hours.

I can see some of the circles I was always aware of.  For example, I treat being transgendered like a kind of addiction, and I guess inasmuch as it can become an obsession, it resembles almost any other addiction.  However, every time I put it down, sometime thereafter I just notice, clearly, my own femininity, my own sense of being a woman blatently staring at me.  Then, when I try and embrace that identity, I find the trap that I cannot simply crossover into being that, either, so I find myself reaching for more, as that identity is comfortable, and then I’m back into the addiction part of it again. . . once I realize I’m acting like this, I let go again, the way I’d put down painkillers or booze, and eventually seem to repeat the cycle when I realize I’m not simply a man either.

I’m good at conditioning myself, and testing for what is conditioning and what is not.  I started this after a family at the church I grew up in, who had converted from Islam to Christianity, had converted back to Islam in a time of family crisis.  I realized then and there that 99% of religious sentiment must just be finding comfort in the familiar, like the way a wounded and dying soldier might cry out for his long gone mommy.

So I set about to simply condition every attachment to Christianity out of myself, so I could see if there was anything worthwhile left of it.  I stopped praying to Jesus in crises, and I stopped thinking about God.  I found after a couple of years that there wasn’t much of it left.  Nowadays I basically like what Jesus said about most everything the same way I like what other wonderful sages said, and I think Christians pretty much went awry by adopting Paul’s ideas.

So, in some ways I’ve done the same thing with gender.  Where I found conflict between masculinity and Femininity, I often conditioned out the masculinity, or, if I was feeling like an addict, like feeling transgendered was some unhealthy pressure inside of me, born of some kind of avoidance, I’d try to condition out femininity.  I’ve discovered that a large part of sexual orientation is alterable in this way….  but maybe I didn’t do it wholeheartedly enough with other aspects, because I keep finding a conflict inside.

To be honest, There’s an aspect of dealing with my lovers where I don’t trust them.  Thus far these have mostly been women, so mostly it comes up in relation to women, though I feel a touch of it in relation to men as well.  Basically I expect to be twisted, manipulated, and thrown away, as I don’t think anyone sees anything in me worth the courage and patience to build a significant connection with.

What else did I find whilst blindfolded?  Well, I have seen the desire to fit in and to conform set a huge burden on one of my close friends.  And last week I noticed it creating tightness and stiltedness in another of my good friends.  In my state of semi-sensory deprivation, I noticed it in myself.  It was odd to move towards the fridge, just to get a bottle of milk to put on my cereal and catch myself imagining how I look from outside, imagining someone else’s positive or negative judgments.  For god’s sake, this was in my apartment by myself!

Internal dialogue is mostly preceded by internal pictures.  Without these imaginations of others to compare to, there is also very little to set up as a dialogue.

After removing the blindfold, I noticed every brick in every building, I noticed every reflection off the windows, I saw the limits of my eyesight clearly, I even differentiated dirt on my glasses from blurry vision.  I walked outside and enjoyed everything I could see, the month of February being a beautiful one in Taiwan.  And I stopped while I was walking and focused on “who am I?”  Simply waited to see where *I* wish to go, what I thought right, regardless of the judgments of others.  I couldn’t find clarity in this.  I guess one of the hardest things is to trust myself.

Every moment has the promise of change in it, the promise of the infinite.  I’m terrified even as I speak the words out loud, “I’m ready to let go of this, I’m ready to let go of all the talking inside my mind and I’m ready to let go of the false identities I try and build.”  This time I didn’t say it to Ganesha, or to Kuan Yin, but simply to life itself.  And the feeling was immediately like a good break-up, where I feel a sense of loss of the familiar, but simultaneously a deep calm breath, a feeling of “rightness.”  Now, like any intention born of innocence, I only need to combine it with courage and patience, and it will surely come to pass.

Of course, as I say all this, I even have trouble trusting anyone who might read this to not judge me.  I set it up as a dialogue with some or another person inside my mind and so easily try to push away or else justify the simple clear intention..  innocence and intention can also feel vulnerable.  And of course, that’s what I fear the most with my lovers as well — vulnerability.

This isn’t easy for me.  In both cases an intention must be combined with both patience and courage.  Patience is not merely waiting.  Patience is harder when it isn’t like enduring one state, or even a predictable cycle of states, but allowing and embracing a constant flow of changes — this is where courage comes in.

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One of my friends said to the other, talking about me:

“This is why JP is not so suicidal now, or as hard on himself.
He is not trying to BE SOMETHING HE IS NOT
that’s when he was suicidal.”

If you look back over the history in my blog (or just take my word for it), you’d see that much of the last six years I’ve felt very unhappy.  Yes, I’ve more than ‘merely considered’ suicide many times.  And my friend had a really good point.  Why am I feeling happier now?  (and not just “self controlled” or “satisfied”)  One of the big things that allows me to feel easier is that I’m not trying to be something I’m not.

When I saw the truth of his comment the other night I decided to take this further.  I realize that a lot of my transgender issues are a real push/pull either/or kind of thing.  In my interactions with people, it can create a private (or public) drama.  Obviously such drama lends a ton of spice to sexual relationships too.  However, I find there’s a lot of repression still involved in all of this.

Yesterday I changed my name legally.  After a year of going by different names, publicly and among friends, my sense of what a “name” means is pretty different.  Still I find I feel a bit “boxed in” calling myself my given boy name or I feel “boxed in” calling myself my feminine name.  I’m starting to lean towards preferring my Chinese name, which just means, “peaceful and really really white.”  I find a lot of transgendered people become total gender NAZIs after they shift over to their preferred role…  however, my own passion is about Freedom, not putting on a “better straight jacket.”

So that first night I just decided specifically not to repress or deny ANYTHING, even if it was uncomfortable, even if it seemed to “violate” some or another role or poke holes in my “better straight jacket.”  Anything goes was my rule as long as I had the honest desire to express that.  I think in many cases I’ve allowed myself to “choose freely” among known roles, or ways, or patterns or paths (even straight jackets).  However, I took the attitude to allow anything, even if it didn’t make sense, or felt like I’d be judged for it — anything.

Here’s what I found:

A depth of femininity that actually frightened me.  Blowing past all the superficialities I could call “feminine.”  To be honest, it scared the shit out of me even when I thought about it today.  Funny for someone who has fought pretty hard for my right to express femininity.

A solidity of masculinity, again, quite real and beyond superficialities.  Again, this makes me a bit nervous to feel it.

If I maintain a clear intention to do what’s authentically REAL, it certainly changes everything.  It was a pretty big step for me to just accept that eventually it would become glaringly apparent to me if I should get a sex change or not.  The only way I could possibly feel so calmly clear about it is if I’m not committed to forcing it one way or another.  In other words, it’s important to me and I know I’ll just do what I really want to do.

So I’m finally starting to make progress on the questions like, “do I practice law for money or go spend my time working like Mother Theresa?”  Even if I don’t know the answer right now, at least I am not forcing myself into something to please others or to fit into a role.  This feels a lot clearer, though I know I could still deceive myself.

At the root of a lot of all this trying to please people I can see the way I interact with my dad.  I can see myself making plans I know are good ones, and editing them or pitching them (to myself, to others, to everyone around me) to try and get approval.  It’s just like how I interact with him.  The trouble is my authentic intentions, such as my desire to open access to more things for more people, get lost in all this marketing.

I don’t need to feel like everyone around me thinks what I’m doing is okay.  I need to pick the best way to get what I want done and do it!  But even my writing in this matter still feels stilted and stuck to me.  I’m having trouble dealing with how I interact with him.  I haven’t found openness with it in myself yet.  And I don’t just mean when I’m around him, I mean the whole issue — you can move a thousand miles away from your parents and still live with them in your house, even after they’re long dead.  I hear thats what most people do.

Still, asking myself the question, “who am I?” seems to be helping.  I really want to know the answer.  As I look inwards to find that core, I feel I’m picking up some steam, gaining some grasp on the truth.  Even asking the question changes my entire focus.  It’s better to look and learn who and what I actually am than it is to try and be comfortable socially, or to make myself fit into patterns and roles I think I understand, where I feel “safe.”  I can sense a lot more power in my choices and my movements already.

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I was doing a meditation, looking into the core of myself.  I practiced this meditation for about three years.  I was starting to have a lot of insight into myself (and other people).

So one night I stood in an old shrine on Kite Mountain, in Sansia.  I loved going up there to do Qi Kung or the meditation to find the center.  The shrine had some Buddhas, some Taras and several different deities I didn’t know.  There were always candles burning inside.  If it was warm weather, I liked to do my Qi Kung standing up on the rock outcropping by the shrine, overlooking the city lights of YingHe.  If it was cold, I’d stand inside the shrine.  I always felt warm enough in there.

On this particular night, I wanted to sit down, so I was inside the shrine on one of the stools.  I was doing the meditation to find the central point inside myself.  I was enjoying my internal feeling of space and peacefulness.

In the months previous, I had been working to shape a form of masculinity I was happy with, and that I enjoyed embodying.  But as I was doing this meditation, I realized that I simply prefer being feminine, and I think there’s something inside of me that is close to my heart that is fundamentally, deeply feminine.

Further, I realized it was okay, even that I would like to be a woman.  I even understood that, while this might not be a perfectly free and enlightened thought, in accepting it and doing what felt natural and good to me, I might really help and inspire others.

I remembered a close friend of mine saying that some of the most pure and intimate relationships he’d had were with prostitutes.  While his enjoyment of hookers might not be the greatest thing in the world, I had learned a lot about love, and intention in relationships, by listening to him talk about them.  I think a lot of people who know him have learned the same things.

So I felt very strongly that just accepting this part of myself and integrating it might even benefit people around me in ways I couldn’t predict.  Then, maybe half a week later, I was walking up the same mountain and I understood deeply that my desire to embody femininity in whatever way I chose wasn’t wrong, morally.  That was something I had struggled with for so many years.  I found the freedom from guilt uplifting!

Then I went back into the world, back to my girlfriend, back to Taiwanese culture and my friends, back to the internet, where I started talking to other people who were differently gendered.

I discovered that I wasn’t trans-enough to really fit into the psychiatric model, or to hang out with other trans-folk.  I mean, I wasn’t thinking of having surgery at that point.  I really didn’t even want to take hormones.  Hell, at the outset I didn’t even want to change my name!

And speaking with my lover, I told her how I felt.  I only knew the framework of “transgendered” to be able to talk about it.  In retrospect, I was trying to learn of my own femininity, and I wanted a friend to help me see it better and give me some support as I found a sense of confidence in it.  However, I did not communicate this well (indeed, I wasn’t so cognizant that’s what I wanted).

And when I did feel like I was in the middle of an opportunity to discover and learn and grow and was looking for some external support, I often felt ignored…  or that I was making her uncomfortable.  I remember as she was preparing for a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand I kept thinking that by my supporting her and focusing on her.  I believed that my turn would come as I needed support in this journey of discovery I was on.

I greeted her at the airport with a new pair of glasses, fresh waxed brows, a really cute skirt, and looking great.  She seemed happy to see me and was very complimentary and comfortable, and I was hoping to continue learning about myself as time went on.  But I continually felt little subtle hints that I should stop doing even the more conservative things I was doing, that somehow I was making her uncomfortable.  Additionally, my time for the spotlight and extra support never came.  So mostly I just felt ignored.

I know that I looked really good, and I was very tasteful with everything.  I seldom wore skirts but when I did I was careful that everything looked right on me or I wouldn’t leave the house.  One guy commented that my new style, the outfits I wore, were quite becoming of me.  And he was from combat arms in the military, and was open about the fact the he disagreed religiously with my entire project of being gender queer.  I took his compliments, and his wife’s, without too much skepticism since I know they were shooting straight with me.

I also cherished the way that I could be around other women and we related to each other in a more open and friendly way.  It was with the army officer’s wife that I started getting my early tastes of this.  At first I thought it was silly that everyone responds to visual cues so much, but then I just accepted that’s the way it is.  I found with her that I could dress femme and she’d relax and share and talk with me and I had more fun with her.  It was great.  I was getting a lovely social feedback that put me into a role I felt really comfortable and easy with.

However, in the greater world, I still felt alienated.  Really though, a lot of it was probably in my own mind.  The thing I was looking for so desperately was some support.  I posted this on my blog at the time:

Now I think I understand why people change their name. I also understand why many transgendered people adopt a very specific set of mannerisms, even change the way they talk, dress, etc. I think that this part of my sense of identity often feels disconnected and overly internal, then without adequate social or personal feedback to reinforce it, I often feel at odds with external input… then I start feeling detachment, dissonance, then a myriad of hellish things.

However, I really like my name and do not intend to change it. Actually, I do not wish to marginalize myself as an obviously transgendered woman and thus I have no intention of following the pattern of plenty of others who share my plight. I am not a hundred percent certain what I’ll do outwardly, though recently I’ve managed to put myself in positions where I felt a strong sense of socially supportive feedback for this aspect of who I am. Actually, my lover and roommate is supportive to the point that it often becomes the afterthought I always wished it to be, up to a point.

So I get why someone would change their name (auditory social feedback loop), or their voice (somewhat more kineasthetic, mostly auditory social and personal feedback loop), or alter how they look (visual social and personal feedback loops). I’ve started the ball rolling to have a truly world class surgeon provide me with the restorative operation. There’s been some cool advances, in all the relevant surgeries, that I think bring treatment up to a really high standard. Here’s where most people that do it say they feel “whole” for the first time ever (pretty important kineasthetic highly personal feedback loops).

My request to all my friends: From this point forward, please refer to me using female pronouns. Please accept me and think of me as a woman. Thanks. You’ll be thinking of me in a way that’s congruent with how I’ve wanted to be since my earliest earliest memories in life. My sincere hope is that this involves only the tiniest shift and that in the 98% of any interaction you’ll have with me where it’s not an issue, it will not be an issue. In the small percentage of the time where it does matter, I appreciate your understanding and acceptance.

But I was rapidly getting caught in traps!  As I said above, I felt gradually marginalized by my girlfriend, and I couldn’t find a way to consistently fit in as a really feminine person (if not a woman) in a way that I and everyone else knew how to relate with.  The other transgendered people I met online were about as rigid in their gender role as any traditional roles ever made me feel.

And no one around me really offered me anything in terms of feedback to help me perceive and understand and accept this sense of femininity that is so important to me.  (And, as I said, I had not clearly articulated my need for this either)

So I went down the road of altering my intentions.  I changed my name.  I started changing my voice.  I started studying mannerisms and such and practicing all kinds of things to try and elicit the social feedback I wanted.  In other words, I abandoned my initial free and open feeling and tried to adopt myself to all the contingencies and difficulties and practicalities of living in the social world.

Only recently have I taken a step back from all of this.  A new friend of mine is helping me to see and understand my inner womanhood, and feel confident in being feminine.  She’s also shared some very personal experiences of hers that have helped me see that I can carry out my intentions, perhaps, without being so dependent on altering my body with technology that, in this day and age, is far from great.

I also had to realize that I cannot put any pressure on other people that i don’t want them to put on me.  I mean, really, if I can’t be cool with other people calling me he/she/whatever then how can I expect other people to be cool with my own preferences?

The other step that made my life a lot easier was the thought that my experience is just different from “normal” men’s or women’s experiences.  The cool thing about the Native Americans is that they had a space for trannys (called us “two-spirits) where it was acknowledged that we have something different from what is usual, and that’s okay.

From that step of acceptance, I can also see that maybe I’m not all that different from other people, fundamentally.  When I cut to the chase, I just want to express myself spontaneously, authentically, and honestly.  On a simple level, I believe lots of people are dying to step out of their rigidly defined roles.

And maybe, as I thought on that night in the shrine on Kite Mountain, my own journey can give some clues to other people about how they can be freer.

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