Saturday, August 22, 2009

I got a name...

My name and gender are finally legally changed. There are still hoops to jump through and forms to submit, but that's just busy work. I am no longer at the mercy of courts and judges and someone else's opinions.

I thought this day would come with me screaming and cheering from the rooftops. Initially just the feelings of relief were overwhelming. When I finally heard the news I didn't cheer--I quietly began shaking. The end of waiting. Anna and Laura knew because they were with me, but beyond that I didn't tell anyone. I didn't know how. Although it's an obvious milestone it also felt like a very strange thing to share. I told my parents that night, gradually told my friends, but for a very public transition this was a very private milestone. I've been met with some very unexpected mixed feelings--moments of questioning.

I don't regret my transition, but I do often miss my dyke self. This name I have given up feels like the last public part of that identity. Getting carded in public was often embarrassing and awkward, but getting carded at a gay bar made it look like I belonged. Even if I publicly walk through every minute of every day as a man, I still carried a little bit of my history in my wallet.

I haven't worked out all these feelings yet. Looking back I remember myself as a strong, outspoken, confident dyke. Now I often feel like an awkward, timid self-conscious man. I was watching Gran Torino recently and there is a scene where Clint Eastwood is teaching a teenage boy to be a man. The more time I spend as a man the more important those lessons I missed out on become. I assumed the life lessons learned as a woman and as a human would translate. I would be the same person needing the same skills in a slightly modified body. In many cases this is true. Dealings with friends and other women are comfortable and casual, but men treat men differently. This isn't bad, it's just different. It's something I have never learned. Men have thicker skin and mine is thin.

So this signed petition is met with relief and also a feeling of great responsibility. Relief that my presentation and documents are now consistent. The limitations I used to experience in travel, renting a car, in feelings of personal safety no longer have to be an issue. There is also a responsibility to myself to be honest and live with integrity. Responsibility to own my past though it could now easily be ignored. A responsibility to let go of my feelings of fear and danger--fear became a part of me and it's time to let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A line in the sand

I don't know how many of you are aware of the Track and Field scandal surrounding Caster Semenya. This 18 year old from a South African village competed in the 800 meter run in Berlin and won by such a margin that her sex/gender (articles are mistakenly using the words interchangeably) is now being called into question. This investigation is raising so many questions that I don't even know where to start.

First there are the initial, somewhat surface questions. According to the New York Times (linked above) and the Yahoo article I have read, Semenya's sex/gender was initially called into question when she bettered her time in the 800 meters by more than seven seconds. What does it mean that someone performing well means that one can't possibly be a woman? Still, this alone is not enough to spark an investigation. There has to be further complaint. Complaints something like this, perhaps? (from the NY Times)

Some of Semenya’s competitors in the 800 meters considered the issue straightforward after Semenya romped to a commanding victory at the world championships Wednesday. “Just look at her,” said Mariya Savinova of Russia, who finished fifth. Elisa Cusma of Italy, who was sixth, told Italian journalists: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

Her parents have no question about her gender and say she is simply a hard training and determined athlete. Her former head master thinks she is a boy because she only wears pants and plays soccer.

The process by which they are determining gender is complex and ultimately could end with just as much confusion and disagreement as they started with. This young runner will have to face a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. They could find nothing abnormal, or they could find a host of genetic, hormonal or chromosomal variations. Either way, does that mean she is not a woman?

These inquiries are not new, but they aren't generally played out this publicly. I think this case will ultimately raise more questions than it answers, but these questions that will undoubtedly come up are things that I would really like to talk about.

At what point would Semenya be considered a man? Apparently the Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, may be more predisposed to being hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia. They are genetically female yet have both testes and ovaries. Would her evolutionary heritage push her over the male line? Would high levels of testosterone make her a man? This could be caused by congenital adrenal hyperplasia. What is considered high? All women have some testosterone in their system and some have more than others. Would a Y chromosome determine her manhood? There are plenty of people who have chromosomal abnormalities most of whom never realize it. Is it looks? Is it actions? Is it a court (as I just experienced first hand)

And if it is deemed that she isn't "entirely female" does that mean she is not allowed to compete? Most athletes have some sort of genetic predisposition that makes them more talented than the average person. Lance Armstrong has enormous lungs, Michael Phelps has a perfectly designed swimmers body, but because their abnormalities aren't tied to gender their achievements aren't in question.

Whatever the ruling body decides will not really be the truth and it won't bother to answer the broader questions of what makes a man or a woman and what does that distinction mean?

“It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review.” “But at the end of the day, they are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said. “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ” From the New York Times, Aug. 20, 2009

I couldn't have said it better myself--except maybe I'd say nature is more imaginative than sloppy.