Archive for September, 2010

Why I admire Don Draper

**Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Mad Men Seasons 1-3 yet but plan to, don’t read further. You’ve been warned.**

Don Draper is my hero. Sure, he’s a womanizer, a liar, an adulterer and criminal (desertion), but let’s face it we all have our faults. I realize that Draper is far from perfect, but the good qualities he possesses, well, in my eyes they make up for all of it. Here are a few of my favourite Don qualities:

1 – He’s resilient

This is a man who grew up in a family that didn’t love him. His father was a drunk and his step-mother resented having to raise a prostitute’s child. Don had every reason in the world to fail. Instead, he decided to go his own way, reinvent himself and never look back.

2 – He’s open to new experiences

Don isn’t afraid of walking into an unknown situation. It’s what makes him so good at his job. His willingness to interact with a strange man called “Connie” at Roger’s second wedding without knowing who this man really is (i.e. Conrad Hilton) ultimately lands him the Hilton Hotel account. While the account doesn’t last, Don learns to roll with the punches and does some of his best work in the process.

3 – He’s a self-made man

Say what you will about his service in the Korean war, you have to admire Don’s moxie in claiming another man’s identity and pulling it off for so many years undetected. But that aside, Don is a man who has a pragmatic approach to problem solving. He may act out of self-interest, but when the real Don Draper’s wife catches him at his lie, Don does the honourable thing and supports her financially. In fact, they grow so close that she is one of the few people who gets to know Don for who he is. They become life-long confidantes.

5 – He can keep a secret

When Peggie gets pregnant and disappears, Don takes the time to find her and talk her out of the depths of depression. He sees in her aspects of his own personality and knows just what she needs to hear. He knows that sometimes getting on with life means that, for a time, you need to just pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening. It’s not a long-term solution, but sometimes we need something more immediate to push us on. And Don never betrays Peggie’s trust.

And then, of course, there’s his own secret that he conceals from almost everybody for as long as he possibly can. Enough said about that.

For every good quality I’ve listed here, there are plenty of bad ones to counteract them. But somehow I can’t help seeing in Don a man who despite his considerable faults, is making things happen. And, hey, I want to make things happen too.

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September 30, 2010 at 5:55 am Leave a comment

On Facebook privacy

I came across a fascinating article about Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in The New Yorker. Zuckerberg discusses how society’s notions around privacy are evolving and how the world, in his view, would be a more honest place if we were open and transparent about who we were. Zuckerberg seems genuinely flummoxed when the author of the article tells him that he deliberated for a long time on whether to indicate his sexual interest in men on Facebook, ultimately deciding against it. Vargas, the author, concluded that he did not want his professional colleagues to learn about his sexual orientation from his Facebook page. Ironically, Vargas’ orientation will be revealed to anyone who bothers to read his article.

The rules are different online, especially in Zuckerberg’s world. Openness is the default; privacy the alternative. Facebook forces us to challenge what we’re comfortable divulging about ourselves. Zuckerberg is a young, 26 years old, heterosexual male, from a presumably well-to-do Jewish family. He inhabits a position of privilege and good fortune and has, it seems, relatively few skeletons in his proverbial closet. For him, the risks of divulging details about his personal life are not the same as they would be for a dissident in Iran, say, or a queer individual living in the closet for the sake of preserving his/her safety. If I were queer in Africa or a defender of free speech living under a totalitarian regime, I might think twice before setting up a Facebook profile. Who’s to stop a violent government from using what I post on Facebook against me?

For me, navigating Facebook’s waters is challenging enough. I lived the first 24 years of my life as a female. Many of the people I knew as a woman might be shocked to discover that I’m now a man. For the longest time I didn’t permit my profile to appear in public searches because I was terrified that someone from my distant past would track me down. Since then I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to live my life in fear. Sure, someone from my past may well come across my facebook profile, but there are also many legitimate friends out there that I would love to reconnect with. Am I really going to give up on that chance for the sake of protecting my privacy? And even if someone was shocked to discover my, well, secret would that really be the end of the world? Transsexuals exist. And we’re not freaks. It’s about time the world got used to it.

My own view is this: I will friend those who want to friend me. They may learn about my past from my profile and if they do, they can decide if they want to keep on reading or unfriend me again. In the end, I don’t want to lie about who or what I am. It’s up to other people if they care to listen.

September 29, 2010 at 5:45 am Leave a comment

It’s the little things in life

Over the weekend I did what I should have done months ago. I bought myself two pairs of shoes, one for work and one for my casual outings. I didn’t go for the cheapest I could find either, because I figured I walk enough to warrant a decent pair or two. I’m very particular about my shoes: my high arches mean that oftentimes loafers or other slip-on type shoes rub uncomfortably against the top of my foot. I also happen to live in a rainy city; leaky shoes won’t do. It’s amazing how a simple thing like a snug-fitting, moisture-resistant shoe can do wonders for reviving one’s pleasure in walking. And I do enjoy walking.

My shoe experience reminded me that often we have more control over our happiness than we think. Sometimes, when I’m feeling blue, my mind whirrs into action and dreams up superhero-like scenarios to extract me from my funk. At those moments I’m susceptible to think that I need to find a new house, or move to a different city, or find a new job, or go bungee-jumping or…

It doesn’t take a giant leap to access pleasure. All it takes is enough patience to enjoy life. And life isn’t just made up of grand, earth-shattering events. It’s the little things: the process of cooking dinner, or a good night’s sleep, or a bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table. A good conversation or a soothing song can be the difference between stressing out and blissing out. Speaking of which, I think it’s about time I unwound for the day. Time to kick off my snug shoes and settle into a nice warm shower.

Aaaah, life is good.

September 28, 2010 at 5:33 am Leave a comment

The gender delusion theory

“I feel like a lizard trapped in a human body. Somebody help turn me into a lizard!” This sarcastic comment reveals a deep distrust among some critics about the legitimacy of the transsexual’s condition. This commentator is also likely to compare us transsexuals to a psychotic person who believes that he/she is god. Society classifies the psychotic person as mentally ill and usually treats him or her with anti-psychotic medication and talk therapy. As transsexuals, however, we are treated with hormone therapy and often undergo major surgery to align our body with our gender “delusion”. To our critics, this is outrageous. But what these critics seem to disregard is that in the scientific studies performed on transsexuals, psychotherapy and the administration of drugs have not proven effective in helping us.

In previous posts I have spoken about the existence of intersex individuals: these are people who do not have the luxury of being born with a clearly gendered body. People with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), for example, may live their early years thinking they are a girl only to discover later on, usually when they try to have children, that their chromosomal makeup is in fact male (XY). Their condition is the result of their body not being able to process testosterone. As a consequence, they do not experience the masculinizing effects that boys go through: a deepening of the voice, hair growth, development of a full-grown penis, dropped testicles. The majority of people with AIS live out their lives as women despite their “male” chromosomes. They get married, have jobs and live fulfilling lives as contributing members of society. Their sense of themselves as women is not a delusion but the combined consequence of the syndrome they were born with and their upbringing as girls.

A Japanese Canadian who lived in Canada during the Second World – a time when Canada gathered up Japanese men, women and children and sent them to internment camps – told me that my transsexualism reminded him of his own dilemma during his teenage years. The hate he experienced from Caucasian Canadians during WW II made him hate his own Japanese skin. If there was a surgery that could have made him white, he told me, he would have jumped at the chance. The difference is that for me as a female-to-male transsexual, there is a surgery available. Implied in his statement is that there is an element of choice involved in my decision to transition. After all, I could just as easily have decided to live as a masculine woman rather than going male. Really?

Transsexualism is not a lifestyle choice. It’s true, I did choose to transition from being perceived socially as female to being perceived as male. But it was a choice born out of necessity. Imagine getting up each day and having to conceal who you are day in, day out, in perpetuity. Imagine the emotional toll that would take on you. I tried to deny who I was, tried to learn the social cues associated with being a woman, but the more I tried, the more I felt disconnected from myself. I sank into a deep, very serious depression that took me to the brink of sanity. I went into therapy. I drank pills. Nothing helped. I was making myself ill by denying who I was.

I was at a crossroads. The choice was between death and life – death as a failed woman, or life as a transsexual man. I chose life. It took time but eventually my depression subsided. Today, I no longer need antidepressants. And I no longer self harm. Transitioning is not a panacea – all my problems didn’t disappear overnight, but it allowed me to move forward with living rather than slipping closer toward death.

Gender is a continuum. Some people experience mild gender dysphoria, i.e. a discomfort with their assigned gender role, but find that they are able to express their gender-transgressive feelings without resorting to hormone treatments or surgery. Others feel that they do not associate with the gender binary at all but fall outside of it. They may or may not request hormone therapy but rarely resort to surgery. These people may refer to themselves as genderqueer or transgender. Further along the gender continuum, we find the transsexual. The dysphoria present in transsexuals is so strong that medical intervention is the only solution we know to be effective. Until we find another way to dial down the dysphoria in transsexual patients who present for treatment, I suggest critics back off and let us be.

September 27, 2010 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

Does community limit us?

In a recent article, trans porn star Buck Angel mentions how he is not very popular in the trans community for his choice to embrace his non-normative genitalia. He actively enjoys his vagina in the transpositive porn he produces and doesn’t see himself as any less of a man as a result. What I found particularly interesting was his assertion that seeing oneself as part of a community can have a limiting effect on one’s self identity:

Many of my girlfriends or sex partners wanted to penetrate me, but I was always too afraid to go there; afraid of what it would make me. Butch dykes are conditioned never to go there. That is a bad place. Of course, back in the day, there were no FTMs, so the only community I fit in was the Dyke community.

I knew I didn’t really belong there, but it was the place that made me feel the most “normal.” This is one of the reasons I dislike “community.” Once you belong to a community, they never give you the freedom to just be an individual; they always have these damn rules that screw your head up if you don’t follow them.

It made me think of my own coming out saga and how difficult I have found it to find a group where I feet at home. To this day I search for that one community that will embrace me in my entirety. But maybe that’s the wrong approach. Maybe the fault isn’t so much with the communities who do not embrace me as it is with me for expecting a single community to be capable of understanding every nook and cranny of my identity.

Identity politics can be as damaging as believing that there is A Special Someone out there who will somehow complete you. That Special Someone doesn’t exist. Relationships are built on trust and commitment and shared values but they usually come with the odd disagreement and differing interests.

Relationships change us – we feed off of one another’s energy. In a similar way, belonging to a community shapes us. But, we shape our communities too. Communities are made up of disparate individuals with a wide range of views. We may share some things in common (e.g. sexuality, gender identity, religion, class) but our diverse backgrounds are bound to influence us into holding differing views on other things.

Throwing out the concept of community just because some people in our community don’t like our choices or views is, come to think of it, a little like throwing out the baby with the bath water. A vibrant community is one that can embrace multiple viewpoints and still stand strong. But, and maybe this is what Buck Angel is getting at, we need to make sure we don’t tear each other apart before we get to the real battlefield – the world. All too often in marginalized communities, we bite into each other with such vehemence that we forget who and what we’re really fighting.

Diversity isn’t just about being politically correct, it’s about evolution. By play-fighting within our communities, we build up our strength so that when we go out there into the world, we’ll be prepared to face off against more virulent forces. We’re like young deer locking antlers with one another, establishing ourselves as leaders within our communities.

September 26, 2010 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Creating wealth versus making money

As I contemplate the virtues of going to see Oliver Stone’s new Wall Street movie, I’m reminded of a teacher of mine who declared that there’s a difference between creating wealth and making money. Greed isn’t good but neither is blind altruism. If untempered self-interest leads to crooked business dealings, then we also need to acknowledge that continual self-effacement leads to loss of respect and loss of influence. And without influence we can achieve nothing.

What do I mean by influence? I mean knowing ourselves so well that we are honest about our strengths and weaknesses and live accordingly. I mean walking into a room of people and feeling comfortable in your skin, knowing that others respect you even if they don’t necessarily like you.

In practical terms, influence means committing to creating wealth each day rather than simply making money. Making money is about consuming whatever we want without regard for others. It may satisfy us in the short term, like a well-crafted cigar, but if we inhale too much of it, we will get sick.

Creating wealth, on the other hand, is about realizing a fundamental truth: that real wealth is wealth that shares itself. It’s wealth that recognizes that relationships are the only true currency in our world that means anything at all.

What kind of relationships do you have with those around you?

September 25, 2010 at 7:55 am Leave a comment

The Divine Mistake

When people post comments on articles relating to transsexualism or transgenderism, you can be sure that you’ll find a comment or two proclaiming that God doesn’t make mistakes. Usually the argument goes something like this: God created two genders and made each of us into either a man or a woman. That’s how we’re born. Ergo, those of us who try to alter our genders after the fact are acting against God’s will.

The argument has a ring to it, but that’s all it has. Quite aside from people like me, i.e. people who are transgender, there are plenty of people who are born with genitalia that are neither male nor female. These people have been called many names: hermaphrodites, intersex, people with disorders of sexual differentiation. Right after they’re born, physicians sculpt their infant bodies into one gender or another based on little more than guess work. Sometimes the doctors get it right, and sometimes not. If they don’t, these children often transition later in life to bring their inner and outer genders in line. Point is, if God never made mistakes, then surely babies wouldn’t be born with ambiguous genitalia, or be blind, deaf, have cleft palates, and deformed limbs, for that matter. Surely it’s unrealistic to expect babies with these (or other afflictions) not to modify, as much as possible, their particular impediment to minimize its impact on their lives?

Transsexuals have an impairment that’s initially invisible to the naked eye. For some, the disconnect between body and mind leads to so much mental anguish and suffering that suicide is all too often the result. But I believe that God made the transsexual just as He made everyone else. God gave doctors the technology to correct our particular impediment. For many of us surgery and hormone treatment give us the relief of finally feeling at home in our bodies for the very first time. Imagine, for a moment, if you were stuck in perpetual pre-pubescence while your peers developed into adult men and women. How would that make you feel?

To those who say God doesn’t make mistakes my question is this: How are transsexuals any different from a child with a cleft palate who goes in to have his/her palate repaired? God gave us each a sense of who we are and that sense is all we have to guide us. My sense tells me I’m a man, even though I wasn’t born into a man’s physical body. I don’t know why God decided that I had to walk this particular path to express my inherent masculinity, but I’m glad I’m here and I’m going to be the best man I can be. Make no mistake.

September 24, 2010 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

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