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.

Guns and helmets.

The rationale behind the need to own a gun is strikingly similar to the arguments supporting bicycle and motorcycle helmets. Even some of the arguments against guns sound somewhat similar.

Many people who tremble at the thought of being gunless tell you that they don't want to use it but they want it on hand in case they need it. Likewise, helmet wearers will say they don't plan to crash, but want the protective gear in case they do.

Opponents of both guns and helmets might acknowledge that each has its uses, but point out the ways in which either one can be a genuine hazard to your own personal safety, even if you're trying to use it correctly. Helmet wearers have suffered neck and facial injuries because the projecting edge of the helmet caused their heads to twist sharply during an impact. Gun accidents are well-publicized by the faction saying "I told you so."

Helmet wearers are almost never injured or killed because someone took their helmet from them and attacked them with it. So guns get the demerits there.

Helmet opponents point to unsubstantiated pseudo-scientific studies that seem to indicate a helmet wearer is more likely to have a dangerous encounter with a passing motorist than someone riding bare-headed. I don't know if wearing a gun makes people more likely to shy away from you or if it might inspire a few aggressive types to take it as an invitation to try you out. Someone wearing a gun certainly discourages me from wanting to walk up and say hello. I might find a safe place to watch if two of them decided to see who is faster. But there might be no safe place when the lead starts flying.

Ultimately the sense of a need to own a gun comes down to the individual's imagination -- one might almost say fantasy life. In fact it would be quite safe to say fantasy life in the case of gun cultists who imagine themselves as action heroes saving the day with their trusty shootin' iron.

Many of us -- perhaps even most of us -- will get through life without ever needing to shoot someone. People in the military don't have to buy the guns they use to shoot the people they're sent to face, so those confrontations don't really figure in the decision to go armed in civilian life.

Maybe I've just never lived in a bad enough neighborhood.

I have a couple of guns in the house. I even slept with them handy during a particularly ugly time in town politics. That level of intensity soon passed.

When I've considered carrying a gun on my bike rides I soon realized that it would not be worth its weight. By the time you know you need it, it's too late. The same is true of many imaginary situations in the rest of life. Deadly force is just so darn deadly. Revenge killing is just so darn illegal.

Ultimately you have to make your own decision. The rhetoric gets hot enough to melt lead.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

It's a bully's world

Bullies have shaped society since before humans developed language.

Bullying is the animal model for establishing dominance. As humans developed more complex thoughts and feelings they had to manage the more intricate relationships among bullies who had achieved varying levels of success occupying adjacent or overlapping territories. As our growing minds and collective experience added more and more data, humans developed many philosophies to try to reconcile the increasing collection of new discoveries and realizations.

At some point it became popular to forget our natural origins. After that we could try to hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, declaring we must control or forbid many of our natural compulsions. These were temptations from an evil entity bent on spoiling our relationship with the Supreme Bully, who would treat us handsomely if we behaved ourselves.

In recent years many cultures have adopted the idea that bullying should be discouraged. As one who played on both sides of that conflict at different times in different schools, I applaud the idea. I just wonder what unintended consequence we will spin off as a result. I would love for it to be all cooperation and acceptance and self improvement. I simply wonder how deleting a fundamental compulsion in our personalities will alter human institutions we have unwittingly based on it throughout our thoughtful existence. Everything we praise: brave warriors, law enforcement, holy martyrs on a cross, is based on the interaction between the bullies and the bullied. If no one ever pushed anyone else around we would be different from almost all other living things. Even plants try to grow taller than their neighbors.

Someone who is willing to push other people around has an automatic advantage over people who would prefer not to. This will make bullying a constant temptation. Some would even say that the will to dominate leads to high achievement. Who is going to argue against high achievement? So if you want to convince a potential bully that it's really wrong to feel that way you had better have a lot of good arguments to support your position. Otherwise you'll just end up beaten up and dunked in a toilet.