Telling My Stories

A life lived outside

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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Memorial Day Memories

Posted by catkisser on June 1, 2010

For most of my adult life, Memorial Day Weekend was the “Rolling Rock Festival” held by Tom Nagel every year from shortly after I left college.  Every year a core group of us who knew each other in college and mostly were active in the Cockroach Coffeehouse off campus during that time got together with our families and newer friends to barbecue, play “jungle crochet”, reconnect and finally, in the evening, pull out the instruments and jam all those old folksongs we performed at the coffeehouse as well as the one’s we’d written since then.

Others from that core group hostessed other yearly get togethers, my family did the Wino Festival around Halloween because it was near the time last year’s wine was ready to drink and that year’s wine had just been put up.  Midsummer Ed and Betsy Burke had an un-named gettogether at their farm near Lake Erie, midwinter Terry and Carol Hartley held the Ham Fest.  At all of them the Folk Music Jam was the central attraction.  But Tom’s Rolling Rock Festival was the longest and most consistent and thus the primary event of the year for my old college friends.

When Tom and Judy divorced, Judy was no longer there even though she was one of our college crowd.  Later she and I ran into each other occasionally, I wish it had been more often.  These get togethers kept us connected and I expended a lot of personal effort to get as many as possible to attend all the events.  It was also where the annual fishing trip was planned.  Some of those trips were incredible adventures, most just camping and fishing and good times.  My function for those trips was organizing, planning, cooking, cleaning up camp etc.  Years later I realized I was functioning as the group wife for them.

Before I transitioned I considered Tom and Glenn my best friends in the world.  Tom and I would often take off for a weekend fishing trip or canoe trip or even both combined.  Every year it was a given that I would be with Tom on opening day of hunting season.  Tom and I shared very similar political points of view, Glenn was our political opposite but that never seemed to matter that much.  Robin, Ed and Betsy were all very very Christian, me a lifelong Pagan.  That didn’t ever seem to matter either.  Often they would joke that if I entered a church it was even money whether the church or I would burst into flames, but I did occasionally support some church activity important to them.  I would have done almost anything for this circle of friends and in fact often dropped whatever I was doing to come help them in some project or emergency.  When I transitioned, I died in their eyes.

I attended exactly one Rolling Rock Festival after I transitioned, then I was no longer welcome, no longer invited while my daughter and my ex continued to go and would tell me I was mourned as if I had died.  They still attend them.

Most transsexuals try to erase the lives they had prior to transition because of a mental disconnect between seeing themselves as male and then female.  I was different.  I always saw myself as female, did male as an act but among my friends, I was myself so I was hurt more deeply than words can express that my entire circle of friends cast me out just because the exterior changed.  Nothing else drove home the nature of the differences in social interactions between the sexes more than that did.

There is no happy ending to this story.  Fourteen years later I am still estranged from the circle of friends I maintained for over thirty years and even acted as “social secretary” for.  Glenn died a number of years ago.  Apparently without me pushing him to stay in contact, he had dropped out of the events shortly after I “died”.  Terry and Carol, whom I’d introduced to each other in college and intervened many times to keep their marriage together, just divorced recently after more than thirty five years of marriage.  Of all the get togethers, the Rolling Rock Festival was the first and now the last.  I try to stay very busy on Memorial Day weekends but still those memories at some point come back.  And it still hurts.

When someone asks me what the hardest thing about transitioning one’s life from “male” to female my answer is learning the true nature of the relationships you are in.  Most live an entire life without having to do that and that is a blessing.


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Practical Magick

Posted by catkisser on August 8, 2009

I come from two very old New England families, one dirt poor “swamp yankees” the other with a linage that includes John and John Quincy Adams, the composer Stephen Foster and other semi famous personages mixed with a Swedish grandfather.

My mother’s side of the family always felt like my “true” family.  On that side was William Wood, who wrote the book “New England Prospects” that triggered the immigration to New England and Susanna Martin, the witch of Amesbury called by Newsweek the first American Feminist.  She was hung for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, but only at the end of a long life that saw her raise nine children mostly by herself while managing her farm.  My mother’s side of the family practiced magick, accepted the realities of ghosts and spirits and were quite open about family stories of the supernatural.  We played with Ouija boards, did seances and communed with the spirits in those marvelous pre-revolutionary homes in the family.

One family story was about the closet in my Grandmother’s bedroom.  Apparently all my aunts and uncles had had the same dream about it growing up.  My grandparent’s home was in a small town called Groveland just east of Haverhill.  Our family was connected to Plum Island, off Newbury and Newburyport back as far as Susanna Martin.  Every one of my aunts and uncles and my mother had dreamed as children that there was a portal to Plum Island in my Grandmother’s closet.  As a young child, I had the same dream and was told about theirs after revealing mine.  So you see, my childhood was filled with magick, it was second nature to me.  I also was drawn from the earliest memories to any wild space accessible to me and back then even New England had no shortage of them.

When we lived in Framingham, Mass. one such place was along the river a  few blocks from our home.  A “woods” as we called it then about 30 or so acres with encroaching suburban tract homes pressing on two sides.  I practically lived in those woods.  On one visit from my paternal Grandmother, who never approved of me at all and made little secret of that, she deliberately let my parakeet, Petey, out the window.  Petey was allowed to fly around the house most of the time and never before had flown out of the house.  I was devastated and obsessed over his survival in the coming winter.  I searched for him in the woods for months.  Paying particular attention to the treetops as a result, one day the idea occurred to me to “invent” a new animal that was part bird, part mammal that had both feathers and fur.  I was quite skilled at visualization even then and had no problem at all “seeing” this animal at will while aware it was something I had made up.  To my amazement, I had no trouble at all getting others to see it too!  In just a few weeks kids I didn’t even know were reporting sightings of my animal/bird.  Call it the power of suggestion, mass hypnosis or magick, it taught me an early lesson in perceptions of reality and how they could be malleable.  It was my first experience with practical magick, it would be far from my last.

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Posted by catkisser on August 8, 2009

In the earlier entry called Life’s Turning Points I talked about my “feminist awakening” in the pre-dawn of the Second Wave of Feminism. How I became aware of male privilege by having it extended to me by my father and I rejected it causing a rift that never healed between us.

I had trouble since his death forgiving him still. Privilege is a hot button topic these days but having lived a life essentially outside I have had unique experiences with it. I was born in Grosse Point, the wealthiest place in America at the time. I joke I was born with a plastic spork in my mouth because we were the “token poor folk”, my father being a teacher at Detroit University School. I attended nursery school, kindergarten and first grade with the wealthy elite but not one of them. Class distinctions were something I was aware of at a very early age as a result.

The summer of 1964 we moved to India. Perhaps because of my early experience with class in the supposedly classless society of 1950’s America, the culture shock for myself was quite different that those of my American classmates. I say American classmates because the American International School in New Delhi was truly international. Students from all over the world attended. I knew and socialize and played with kids from Soviet blog nations, South America, India, Europe. And it was not lost on me how ill equipped many of my American classmates were to deal with a society with the caste system. I ate India up……..loved it. Unlike my peers, I listened raptly to stories from our “servants” about Indian culture, religion, ghost stories. And apparently, in retrospect, they knew more about me than I realized.

Our live in cook was an incredible man named Lakshman. It was strange enough suddenly going from suburban middle class to having servants but here was a man who spoke seven languages and could read and write in five of them…and he was a servant because of his caste. Lakshman never once called me by my birth name in two full years even in response to others using it when answering the phone or in conversation. He insisted on calling me Jackie instead, often to the great confusion of those trying to leave me a message. It took me years to figure out why along with remembering some very stern warnings he gave me whenever I planned a trip to villages outside the Delhi metro area. During this time shortly after the assassination of JFK, Jackie Kennedy had a position in the rest of the world similar to that which Princess Di would have later. She was literally the royalty to the world. Calling me Jackie was Lakshman’s way of telling me he knew me and who I was and he approved and honoured that. He used to warn me that my hair colour, red, would get me in a lot of trouble if I was seen as female. At the time I made no sense of why he would tell me this but he and others (all Indian) repeated this to me constantly. Red haired women were considered witches outside the urban areas. I did not know at the time about the Hijra, no one told me of them and if I ever met any, I was unaware of it………but every Indian knew of them and apparently recognized my similarity to them with no problem.

Other than Christine Jorgensen, no one in “polite” Western circles ever discussed people like me. Despite having devoured my father’s psychology text books from the time I first cut my reading teeth, I found almost nothing but very vague references to anyone like me, anyone intersexed but Indian myths, religion and folk tales were full of them. It was at my first “western” party I met first person who set off my intersex radar as well. Western kids in India socialized with dance and music mixers at each other’s home a lot. New arrivals were expected to bring along the newest records from the US and England so the parties were a big deal. At my first one I met a girl who was leaving India for the States and something happened between us I’ve rarely experience since. She and I were drawn to each other like we were opposite poles of a magnet and it wasn’t sexual. We talked all night long as if we were long time friends and I can still see her face clearly in my mind..but I have never been able to find a picture of her in the school yearbooks from the immediate prior years. I am certain she was intersexed like myself.

In India I cut across all class lines and borders constantly. Many classmates were from much poorer situations, some from totally different cultures and ideologies. I met with adults who would later be a head of State, the governor of the state I was to live in later, servants and beggers and even did volunteer work in a leper colony. Economic class never meant much to me after that and the rest of my life I went from poor to well off to poor many times without much concern. Racism was also a concept pretty much outside my personal experience until my senior year of high school in West Virgina.

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Confessions of a Deeply Closeted College Co-Ed, circa 1969

Posted by catkisser on June 18, 2009

There really is only one word that sums up being a woman in a male body…..weird. I lost my virginity in 1969 during the age of “free sex” under bizarre circumstances. But first some background. (they are my stories after-all so you have to indulge me)

Being born with a female neurology (central nervous system) means regardless of the attempts to make a man out of you, you still think and feel in female norm fashions. Knowing since I was very young what my situation was, I was intensely interested in the differences between men and women and the mechanics of sex were mysteries to learn everything I could about….intellectually. Being bisexual and knowing everyone expected me to be interested in girls, it was fairly easy to just not think much about being interested in men. For some reason I never had any homophobia which apparently was required for hetero malehood, but then other than having every chicken hawk (old men who cruise for teenaged boys) who encountered me trying to bed me, it just didn’t come up much. So, as I was expected to do, I pursued girls as romantic interests. Looking back it was pretty pathetic. As a total sexual submissive by nature, unless I encountered a very sexually aggressive girl absolutely nothing happened at all. In lesbian circles this is sometimes known as lesbian sheep syndrome. Female sheep indicate sexual availability by standing perfectly still, you get the picture.

So, although every one of my circle of friends both in India and the US thought I was quite sexually active and experienced due to my knowledge of the mechanics of sex, I wasn’t, the instincts and my sexual responses worked against that. This was also the time of my first dysphoric “crisis”. It appears these strike women such as myself at roughly ten to fifteen year intervals until they finally get so bad you finally transition or suicide. Many of us of bisexual or lesbian nature can make adjustments (deals with the devil) through several of these crisises before they finally reach the breaking point. Mine was stepping up the adjustment I’d made as a child of honouring a parallel, but totally closeted female life. But I wanted, craved and was overwhelmed with the need for estrogen and seeking desperately for a reliable source of birth control pills, the estrogen levels of which were magnitudes greater than the ones today. As a friend today has pointed out to me (she suffers from PCOS), due to my actually having ovaries that had shutdown during the great puberty hormone wars within my body, they might have actually killed me had I succeeded. No place for the flow to go = blood poisoning.

This was at the height of the military draft and my induction center was in Kentucky, across from Huntington W. Va. They made multiple attempts to draft me despite my 2-S student deferment. Ah the blindness that comes from keeping a deep dark secret. It never once occurred to me that the answer to the draft was simply tell them the truth! Instead I did things like paste one of those enormous plastic flowers made to put on VW bugs on my chest and answer questions on the forms that asked badly worded questions such as “have you ever committed suicide?” Figuring they couldn’t draft you if you were dead, I answered “yes”. That led to an interesting session with a draft board shrink.

So here I was, sexual confused, a female libido fueled by testosterone, (that particular brand of hell is known only to classic transsexuals and women suffering PCOS) and instincts that worked against my ever having sex. A tri-delta sorority girl decided I was just the thing to make her pre-yuppie boyfriend jealous and her uptight family crazy. After all I was a genuine hippy activist who lived in a basement apartment we oh so cleverly called the A-P-T with a beer tap frig and was on the crash pad circuit. A crash pad was a place that traveling hippies told each other about that let anyone sleep there. Gross Glenn and my roommate, Fred, travelled around spreading the word so at any given time my place was filled with strangers.

The sorority girl, who’s name escapes me, and I were chatting away in the living room when Debbie and Gypsy from Arizona appeared at the door looking to crash for the night. Ms. Tri-Delt found that just too weird and immediately left. She and I had been drinking heavily, so I showed the two hippy girls how to set up the couch as a bed and retired to the bedroom and basically passed out. When I woke Debbie was on top of me and we were having sex. Talk about mixed emotions! I was pissed my body had betrayed me by responding, felt I was being raped for all practical purposes and aware I could not express that to anyone….all while having an orgasm. I did get up immediately afterwards and shower.

Three weeks later my friends told me Debbie was pregnant and it was my child. Actually she had left Arizona because she was pregnant but this cruel joke on me was continued right up until she gave birth. The other joke on me was I was practically sterile so the odds it was my child approached zero but I had no idea at the time.

My second attempt at sex was stoned with a good friend. It was a disaster. Third time being the charm, I drove down to Huntington from Columbus on a tiny 150cc motorcycle to spend a weekend with a woman I’d dated in high school…finally I experienced sex.

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The People’s Army of Ohio State

Posted by catkisser on June 18, 2009

It was a Friday, May Day, 1970 at Ohio State University. The night before a fire had been set at the ROTC building, a national student strike had been called for over the invasion of Cambodia announced the day before….but it was a beautiful day, spring day at OSU and May Day was the traditional start of the annual spring demonstration on the Oval.

I was in Botany class near the south gate of the campus and just as class let out, the march was on it’s way to the gate so I found myself at the head of the crowd leaving class. It was a happy crowd of laughing students doing something against the war and enjoying the fun of spring all at once. We were set up as it turns out. Jim Rhodes, the republican governor of Ohio wanted a major confrontation to put down the student anti-war movement. National Guard troops were already in place just outside several campuses. Just a few days before a number of us piled into Jeff-freak’s 38 Buick for a road trip all dressed up as Bonnie and Clyde characters complete with toy machine guns and ran into the Guard unit on it’s way to Kent State. We cruised along side the convey pretending to shoot. I’ll never forget that.

When we arrived at the South Gate, we were confronted with the Columbus Police “Goon Squad” as they were called then. They literally read us the riot act. That was apparently the signal for four undercover State police posing as students to close the gate. Literally the first tear gas canister landed at my feet and I was overcome as the police proceeded to advance and start clubbing everyone. Several people grabbed me and dragged me back to the Oval at mid campus. It was a pitched battle all the way back to the Oval where the public address system had already been set up for the day’s rallys. Someone got on the podium and started yelling “It’s our campus, push the pigs off!” and everything changed. We’d had enough, we fought back. Every building around the Oval was stripped of the CO2 fire extinguishers. We learned quickly to cover our faces with rags, grab the tear gas canisters with another and throw them back. Seems the police hadn’t figured on that and didn’t have gas masks either. If you hit a cansiters with the CO2, it held the gas in place and didn’t disperse.

A pitched battle went on for what seemed like hours all across the campus. We gave at least as good as we got. Dorms and Frat houses were gassed making instant radicals of those who would have be neutral. Some of us were able to rip the electrical tape covered badges off the cops for IDing them later. At the end of the day we slipped off to our apartments and dorms…I lived off campus back then near the Fairgrounds where the National Guard was camped. We smoked dope and planned for the next day. A lot of us had been hurt, some badly. I came up with the idea of a student medic corps and called my contacts at the United Christian Center to see if we could set it up there since I worked there on weekends as a janitor, Friday nights as a receptionist and Saturday nights as MC of the Cockroach Coffee House. It seems the Center was gassed during the day and they refused out of fear, so did the Newman Center (Catholics) but the Hillel Center said yes.

The next day I was on the Oval and got up on the podium and announced what we were trying to organize. By that evening we had a full scale “MASH” style unit set up complete with nurses, medical students, the first CB radios I’d seen set up in mobile units (people’s cars) and tonnes of donated medical supplies! That was one of the proudest moments of my life and never again did I ever witness that level of organic, spontaneous organizing in almost no time flat. That evening I was on the phone to the police, campus officials and the University Hospital arranging recognition of our white armbands as “neutral non combatants”.

Saturday night and Sunday the area around the campus was literally a war zone. Checkpoints everywhere on and off campus, helicopters circling endlessly, National Guard everywhere. On Saturday, right after I spoke the Guard commander spoke and announced the Guard recognized it was our campus and would get between us and police if necessary to the cheers of the crowd. Pitched battles were still breaking out all over the campus. We viewed them as our allies and Saturday and Sunday students were bringing food and drink to the Guard. This was the day before Kent State. Monday, as classes tried to resume, all hell broke out. The police were major pissed off. We had dozens of their badges and they were desperate to get them back and invading apartments, bashing students on their way to class and shooting…some rubber bullets, some live ammo. Some had rifles with fixed bayonets. While trying to aid injured students I was shot at several times and in one case, while bent over giving first aid to an unconsious student, a cop tried to run me through with a bayonet ignoring my yelling and pointing at the white arm band and the clearly marked medical bag. He was apparently pissed off I had a surplus gas mask.

I didn’t like cops much before then having had several run ins with rogue pigs, mostly over “driving while hippy” offenses, but from that day on I never trusted any cop I didn’t know personally ever again.

Four people died at Ohio State in those four days. No one but a few of us ever heard about it. All died from injuries inflicted by the police ranging from gunshot wounds to being beaten to death. There was never any justice done.

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Life’s Turning Points

Posted by catkisser on June 16, 2009

In everyone’s life there are points where a decision or event changes the entire course of one’s life. Mine has been no exception. I suppose my birth was the first major one. Apparently I was born a hermaphrodite. That’s right, someone born with the supposedly extremely rare condition of both male and female genitals. The decision must have seem easy to the doctor who delivered me, just sew up the labia and toss a blue blanket over the area. Afterall, it must have seemed a no brainer at that time that being a boy would be vastly superior to being a girl and back then no one had a clue what gender identity was, babies were supposed to be a tabla rasa, a blank slate for life to write on.

By the time I was three I knew something was very very wrong with that, by the time I was four or five, I learned never to speak of it aloud…but it was always there, always present, my shameful secret. My maternal grandmother was present at my birth and quite telling is she always honoured my female nature in a covert but supportive fashion. I was told in no uncertain terms that boys did not play “house” or have dolls but I did have a wonderful assortment of homemade stuffed animals Grandma made for me…..and I played “village” with them. I was an avid reader so my parents bought me the Hardy Boys books. Around age nine I discovered a tomboy who had a Nancy Drew collection….we exchanged books.

But the major turning point at that stage in my life was the night my mother tried to leave my father. I was about nine years old at the time and understood that my father’s treatment of my mother pretty darn patriarchal (no I didn’t have that word then but I sure as hell got the concept). Finally being fed up that treatment my mother attempted the bravest thing I’d ever seen, to leave him even in the face of the threats my father made that she’d never see us kids again. She actually did walk out and I came out of my hiding place crying. My father totally misread my feelings for one’s of abandonment and “comforted” me by telling me “don’t worry, she’ll be back because she has no place to go.” This was the late fifties and second wave feminism was just barely getting started and I sure wasn’t aware of it but I had my feminist awakening right then and there. My father’s attitude was just plain wrong, I wanted no part of his male entitlement. That wedge existed between him and me up to the day he died.

Another turning point that was unexpected happened when I was 15 years old. Our family was living in India and I was practically an emancipated minor in the freedom I had. Walking alone on a dusty road outside of Jaipur I was suddenly aware the entire world around me was paired. Monkeys, insects, reptiles, people, everything was in male/female pairs but me…..and I was struck with the realization I would never actually be part of such a pair because of who I was. It was a powerful but unbelievably sad moment in my life, the realization that I was something not quite human, not quite of the world and probably never would be. That sense of being in the world but not of it has been with me in some fashion ever since.

There are lot’s more, one appropriate for Pride month on the 40’th anniversary of Stonewall, but maybe later.

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Come the Revolution

Posted by catkisser on June 16, 2009

I attended Ohio State during the late sixties, early seventies, the “hippy” era and definitely considered myself a “freak” in the political, radical sense. We said this back then, we believed it. The Revolution was coming any day, the country would embrace counter culture values, we would change the world.

If you didn’t live through that period no amount of documentaries or movies can convey how much we believed that. It was a period of time of political change, martyrs to the causes of justice, street action, liberation movements springing up almost daily. It was a period of time when you could safely hitchhike almost anywhere knowing that arriving in a strange city you would be able to find a place to sleep and someone would feed you. It was a time of free clinics, free stores, shared resources. Never before or after had I ever felt a sense of community to even come close with any group. In that respect, it was probably the highlight of my life. The people I met and associated with even called ourselves “the Family”, feeling closer to each other than our birth families who often rejected us for our lifestyles and life philosophies.

My non-birth Family stayed close over the years through the raising of our own individual families, sea changes of politics and values, careers choices and even the spreading out of socio-economic class. That ended for me personally when I finally transitioned and to this day the hurt is as fresh as when it happened.

I bring this up because I see the same consciousness trying to arise anew split up by identity politics but fueled by the same disgust in our government and liberal broken policies as then. Like then we are involved in a seemingly endless, pointless war but lacking the unfairness of the draft to finish uniting opposition. No, today economics fuel who’s bodies are put at risk in war rather than a draft that cut across socio-economic classes. Makes it much easier for the middle class to be able to be less involved…..but the economic collapse is changing that as the middle class is less and less secure and only a layoff or two away from being poor. Stonewall 2.0 is poised to happen if only the same Mattachine conserva-queers who openly opposed it then get out of the way today.

Feminism is slowly being reborn again in the face of the most rigid gender role enforcing point our society has ever been at since the mid-fifties when I grew up. America is almost at a point of civil war dealing with our own homegrown terrorists, the religious right and frustration with the “change we can believe in” broken promises for equal rights, this time economic justice and social justice for lesbian, gays, trans, bisexuals and others in some fashion “queer”.

Once again it feels to me that “Come the Revolution” is in the air but this time the violence promises to kill far far more than the Goodman, Schwerner and Chaneys, the Martins and Bobbies, the Jackson State and Kent State students, those three little girls in a church basement.

Come the Revolution….it’s finally coming I think some forty years later than I thought but it lacks the sense of community we had back then……and that’s a shame.  And I confess, the older me fears it as much as welcomes it.

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