Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My transgender fiddle teacher

Early last summer, the man I've been taking fiddling lessons from revealed that he has always identified as a woman and was going to start living as one forthwith.  He said he had tried once before in the early 1990s, to the extreme detriment of his music career. But the brain wants what the brain wants.

We'd all known Seth had strong sympathies for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. A lot of people in the arts do. At the last session before the summer break for the string band he showed up in a tie dyed sundress. But the official announcement nailed it down.

For someone who is not transgender, thinking about it is completely disorienting. It's much easier to imagine being homosexual than trying to reconcile the unshakeable belief your friend's mind has that his body is completely mistaken.

I don't know if someone can be slightly transgender. The conviction that you have been issued the wrong genitalia is about as basic as an issue gets.

Even with sex reassignment treatments and surgery the result is never complete. Certain things just aren't going to happen. But trying to reconcile mind and body does not seem to work. It makes my friend happier to work toward conforming physical appearance to the convictions of the mind than to try to convince the mind that the body is okay.

If you don't have it you can't really claim to understand it. All you can do is say it's all right and keep being their friend.

The absolute hardest thing about it is pronouns. The artist formerly known as Seth has often posted things on Facebook about the search for a really good gender neutral pronoun. Now called Zythyra, she uses the feminine pronoun in some contexts where a choice is required, but told us in the initial announcement that the singular they would be acceptable. What ends up happening is that we use the name Zythyra or the abbreviation Z rather than any pronoun at all.

The pronoun thing. It's a real bitch.

Continuing to attend String Band has provided a real lesson in relevance. Z could show up with a shaved head and a form-fitted silver jumpsuit and the music would still be the music. The teaching style hasn't changed. The content hasn't changed. Some mannerisms are overtly more feminine, as is the wardrobe. So what?

I can't say the simulation of womanhood is at all convincing. There again it does not matter. Zythyra seems happy and at peace more than in the years of unhappily presenting as masculine. When Z was he, he was never grumpy or bitter or querulous. The change has not been huge, because Z as Seth was always a pleasant companion and a good teacher, same as now. But in a critical small way, Zythyra seems more satisfied. I don't know how it works. I don't know why it happens. I just know it's not my place to make someone else conform to my normality any more than anyone should be able to get me to conform to theirs. We're given a point of view with the brains and bodies we receive. There are worse things to be than completely crossed-up in the gender department. You could be aggressively weird and get off on hurting people.

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