White Dame Syndrome

Have you ever been “lucky” enough to catch yourself right at the start of an habitual pattern you’ve been a slave to all your life? Et voilà. Behold…

Something I’ve only just clocked pretty recently, after my last girlfriend broke up with me, is that every single relationship I’ve ever got into (and these have all been with women) has started with me wanting to rescue the girl, in some way.

This is classic abuse survivor behaviour, by the way – we need to care for someone who isn’t us, or we’d have to face the unfaceable fact that no-one came to our rescue.

But I was also carefully programmed into this by my dad, who pretty much told me to look after my mum so he could bugger off with someone else. And my mum absolutely bought into that too. Ever since then, I’ve found myself constantly acting under a perceived obligation that has caused me and the women I’ve been involved with a lot of unnecessary suffering.

So there’s this lovely woman I have a bit of a crush on. And she’s recently painfully single, and looking for somewhere new to live, and having a hard time with it all. And suddenly I spot myself feeling compelled to respond to all her facebook stuff, to reassure, to… well, to schmooze, when it comes down to it.

My motives are mixed. The great thing about mixed motives is that some of them are positive. I like her, I feel for her situation, I want to comfort her just like all her friends do. But I can feel in myself the awful urge to do this other classic abuse survivor thing: I’ve heard it described as Best Friend Syndrome (since we’re doing syndromes tonight). It means, wanting to be not just close to someone, but closer than anyone else. To be the most important thing in their universe. And it applies just as much to friendships as to relationships – it’s the grand romanticizing. (This we do to make them dependent on us, so they never leave…)

This is a terrible and pointless burden to place on anyone, including on myself. And, if you’ll pardon my Middle English, I’m fucking well not going through this all over again, please. It’s not my job to make it alright for anyone – not even for myself. That’s no basis for a relationship of equality and health and happiness… believe me, I know whereof I speak.

So I’m stepping back into “merely” caring about her.

Better.

[Incidentally – there’s an irony here to the whole Dame thing that you’re never going to hear the details of… and it hath nothing to do with dragging up, be assured.]

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Ubi amici, ibi opes

Hmm… this is probably going to arrive in several pieces.

So yes, I just spent three days at a hired boarding school in Norfolk (England), in the company of around 400 fellow ordained Buddhists. I’d guess by eye the men/women mix was around 50/50.

I was going to post here about the experience while it was going on, but lacked the requisite signal to get anything broadcast. Probably a good thing, as it gave me more time to mull things over. Then I got back and now have this godawful head cold, but here I am at the keyboard (brave soul) because some things have had time to surface and be written. Here goes.

(…a brief pause for blind anger…)

Unbelievable – I just had yet another feminine trans woman tell me “don’t worry, you’ll be more like us when you grow up.” It’s a bloody conspiracy – this script needs burning. Behold: I dub thee Pigeonholier-Than-Thou.

(…okay, I’m back…)

Walking into the communal dining hall on the Friday evening was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done, ever. Strange. It felt like in the westerns, where someone walks into the saloon, and the piano music stops. Well, no, it didn’t actually feel like that, this is just what I was scared of it being like. I felt very self-conscious, and afraid especially of the disapproval of women. But I bumped into two old friends as I was walking in, we had supper together and did a lot of laughing, and I relaxed.

To jump to the end of the story: by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling relaxed enough to go around with my jacket off – which meant that people could see I have nascent boobs. What happened in between? (between Friday and Sunday, not between my nascent boobs…)

What happened was this: I had a slow and steady stream of women, most of whom I didn’t even know personally (yet), come up to me and welcome me, and tell me I’m courageous, and encourage me. This was amazing, unlooked-for, lovely.

I also (and this is kind of hilarious) had a smaller, slower, but also steady stream of straight men sidle up to me, smile awkwardly, and tell me I “look good”. After the fourth or fifth, I stopped knowing how to respond – saying “thank you” felt a bit weird – and there were at least 20 by the end of the weekend. Oh, and there was also a steady stream of straight men studiously ignoring me, men who I’ve known for up to 20 years. Oh well, discomfort is discomfort, so it goes.

Did I have any actual trouble? Yes, I did. Was it unexpected? No it wasn’t. Did it bother me? Not much at all, actually.

I had one older gay man try to tell me my womanhood (we’ll come back to this) was invalidated by my denim jacket, which he assured me was a man’s jacket as it buttons left-over-right (*rolling of eyes*). He told me this makes me “look unsure” about my gender. This actually made me laugh, and didn’t bother me because I’ve been on the receiving end of his unthinking “feedback” before, and don’t take it personally (he does it to everyone on occasion, despite being basically a good egg) – and also because I had as a counterbalance all these women being welcoming, without imposing conditions attached to my choice of apparel.

The only other person who gave me tsuris was the only other trans woman in our Buddhist order. But I was expecting this too. When I began transitioning, I contacted her to tell her, and she just tried to tell me (all together now) “you’re just like me, so you’ll do exactly what I did”, and I had to back away in a hurry, because she wouldn’t hear anything to the contrary. She butted in again over the weekend, trying to make people deal with my situation the way she’d have liked hers dealt with. I was able (after an initial period of rabbit-in-the-headlights) to tell her thanks, but I’m happy doing it my way.

Anyway. Things I learned over the weekend.

When I’m around people who are obviously accepting of me, it’s much easier for me to simply settle into my female self. As soon as I got back home, doubt and un-safety set in again, but that’s just because I’m in a less safe and accepting environment.

Being around 400 people, even nice people, is a bloody relentless strain when you have PTSD. Having a single room to go and hide in was a brilliant investment.

Travelling on the London Underground with PTSD is also a bloody relentless strain.

And ubi amici, ibi opes – where there’s friends, there’s riches.

*****

Since I got back, I’ve been thinking (glacially, due to head cold factor). What I’ve been thinking about is how I’ve been afraid of being rejected by Women™. I notice that I’m very happy and comfortable with calling myself female. This is because my experience of myself, and reason for my gender transition, revolves around my sense of my physical form, and how it should have been from the start. I notice also that I’m reluctant to call myself a woman. This is where it gets more interesting and convoluted (and I’m probably repeating myself a bit from previous posts here, but it’s an ongoing debate, innit).

It seems contradictory, but it isn’t, really.

On the one hand, there’s my desire for acceptance by women, and my own feminist conditioning (and also personal observation), which tells me that being a woman is a product of having grown up as one, with all the social and cultural conditioning/training that’s involved in that. I didn’t personally have any of that, though in theory I had the male equivalent, and most of that went by without even touching the sides – so how formative all that has to be is in doubt for me. The point is, I feel somewhere deep down that I don’t get to call myself a woman until my transition is complete.

But the point is. I don’t know whether I want or need to call myself a woman. Since “womanliness” seems to be so loaded with overtones of “femininity”, I don’t know how much I want to be associated with that.

I was mulling over this out loud on the trans forum I inhabit when I got the response that I mentioned made me so angry earlier, which seems to reinforce my caution. I don’t need to come up with any answers at the moment. I certainly don’t need anyone else’s answers at the moment. It seems that I want to be accepted as a woman, if “woman” were accepted as something realistically broad of definition; but that I’m consequently afraid of being trapped by being a woman, if “woman” is defined as rigidly as many seem to want to.

It’s just a word, love – don’t get too worked up about it! Okay.

I guess what prompted this spaciousness of thinking about this was spending a weekend with a very diverse bunch of Buddhist women, many of whom do not at all stick within the confines of “mainstream woman” definitions. It was bloody refreshing. I’m really excited to be joining their ranks, slowly and gently.

Why has womandrogyne gone to the east?

So… I went away north and east to spend the weekend with 400 fellow Buddhists who hadn’t seen me since I began my gender transition.

And I’m going to write some coherent ponderings about the experience here, but not right now, as I brought back with me a phenomenal head cold, and am barely capable of sitting up for long enough to watch an episode of Buffy.

Watch this space (in my head) and it will get filled with words soon, and they will spill over onto the screen, like something poetic and not gross…

(spoiler: there were no fatalities)

The Janka conundrum

Who, I wonder, finally got to decide on the optimal size of the ball? Were there boardroom arguments? Internet flame wars? Did Betamax lose (metaphorically speaking)?

“The Janka hardness test measures the resistance of a type of wood to withstand denting and wear. It measures the force required to embed an 11.28 mm (0.444 in) steel ball into wood to half the ball’s diameter.”

Oh, and who wrote this? I mean, either we’re measuring “the resistance of a type of wood to denting and wear” or “the ability of a type of wood to withstand denting and wear” – but “the resistance of a type of wood to withstand”? That’s gobbledygook (which my spell checker just corrected for me, mirabile visu…)

Mohs, Rockwell, Janka, Fear

I’m noticing (again, again…) that when I get scared, I get – dammit, I want to avoid saying “harder, stiff, more rigid” – I’ll just have to make do with “more inflexible” even though it’s a bit clinical and indirect, so as to avoid any confusion with erection metaphors.

I mean that fear makes me throw up boundaries, and they’re not permeable boundaries, they’re unbreakable.

How I notice this is that when I’m fearful (like I am today, in preparation for facing 400 fellow Buddhists for the next 3 days, being out as trans for the first time), I catch myself much more ready to “assume a position” in discussion and argument. Even to start arguments. Because my Self feels under threat, I’m assuming threat everywhere.

In fact, it’s a useful feedback system. Since I’m not usually that opinionated or angry, when that kind of nonsense kicks in, its usually a good fear litmus.

The blog-thing I wrote about autogynephilia is a fine example of the genre. I’ve spent a year as a trans forum mod, fielding posts about AGP, and then “all of a sudden” I’ve had enough and need to blow off steam about it. Don’t get me wrong, I meant everything I wrote. But I’m angry because I’m scared. My lizard brain is expecting trouble, and there’s a limited amount of talking-to that I can do to it. The best I can do is to keep reminding myself that it’s all imaginary until/unless it actually happens, and try to catch myself going into Combat Mode unnecessarily.

I count myself fortunate that I have some kind of Buddhist perspective to apply to my PTSD experience – mainly in not hating it, and in being able to remind myself that whatever I’m experiencing is never the whole of me. Now I just have to remember to apply it!

I prefer myself with boundaries to without – but only if they’re permeable. Rigid boundaries create isolation. As I’ve said before – a castle’s no different from a prison, if you can’t remember where you left the keys.

[PS: Mohs, Rockwell, Janka – they’re all scales of hardness. Google is my collusive friend.]

AGP? WTF

[not sure this is 100% coherent, I was angry when I wrote it, plus it’s hard work typing on a phone… applying “shoot first, edit later” methodology here…]

I’m one of the mods on a large trans forum. Every so often we get another topic started by some poor bugger who’s the victim of the egregious pseudo-diagnosis that is “autogynephilia” *spits*.

I feel the need to let off some steam about this, since it keeps causing people unnecessary grief.

The “theory” behind AGP (as it’s often abbreviated) was that trans women could be divided into two groups – those who fancy men, and those who fancy women – and that this told anyone anything useful about the causes of their transsexualism. The women-fanciers were taken to be autogynephilic, basically implying that what’s really going on is that they just fancy themselves.

As a model, it has been discredited as pointless, misleading, poorly researched, you name it. But trans women are still regularly getting handed this “diagnosis” as somehow an alternative to just having gender dysphoria, if they happen to be gay trans women, i.e. if they prefer women – or if they find themselves getting turned on imagining themselves as a woman. It’s given to these women in such a way as to make them doubt the validity of themselves as trans, as in “No, you’re just autogynephilic”, by physicians who are behind the times, and possibly homophobic as well as transphobic.

And fundamentally (and this really pisses me off), this takes what is just basic benign sexuality, that is: “I am (for example) a man, and imagining myself as a woman turns me on” and pathologises it in a most Victorian manner. Then takes that pseudo-diagnosis, tangles it up with gender theory, and turns it on some trans women as a way to further pathologise them.

This makes me want to break furniture on behalf of all those people whose minds and hearts have been messed with by this nonsense.

Let me write this louder:

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH A MAN BEING TURNED ON BY IMAGINING HIMSELF AS A WOMAN. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH A TRANS WOMAN BEING TURNED ON BY WOMEN (OR BY IMAGINING HERSELF AS A WOMAN, OBVIOUSLY). IT’S JUST SEXUALITY. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GENDER OR GENDER DYSPHORIA.

So finding yourself turned on imagining yourself as a woman neither proves that you’re trans nor proves that you’re not, it’s irrelevant – as a trans woman, whether the thought of yourself as a woman makes you happy is an entirely separate issue from whether it makes you horny.

Okay, I’m done – going to glue these chairs back together now…

Dharma drama

I may be less prolific here for a few days (which may come as a relief…)

I’m off to the other side of the country, to Norwich, where I lived for a year, to stay with the friend I lived with, and then spend the weekend with over 400 fellow ordained Buddhist men and women… oh no, I just checked and it’s down to 382. That would be a relief but for two things: one, my almost ex-wife will be there, and we haven’t seen each other since I began transitioning (eek); and two…

Our Buddhist order is both men and women, on equal terms (still not that usual among Buddhist orders). Except that we have a Sanskrit title we all use, so there’s a masculine and feminine form of the term. I made a point of booking using the female form, but they’ve put me on the “Who’s Going” list using the male one.

I need to have a conversation with someone about this (I had actually brought this issue up with someone already, and am waiting for a response); but more importantly, I need to not let it stop me from going (there were a few moments there where it almost tipped the balance). It’s weird how the “small” things make big ripples. The further I walk into this transition, the more uncomfortable it makes me that in some situations, I’m still unavoidably Mr instead of Ms. This turns out to be one of those situation. Labels are important, it seems. They resonate, and the male resonance sets my teeth on edge these days.

Anyway, I’m more anxious about just being there with all those people, since my PTSD doesn’t particularly encourage crowds and calm in the same sentence. So we’ll see what I latch onto as “important” to distract myself from the twitchings of my Inner Meerkat once I get there.

If I have anything particularly funky to tell – or feel like blowing off spiritual steam – I may post something here while I’m away, since I have The Technology.

By the way, you’ve perhaps noticed by now that I’m not broadcasting which Buddhist order I’m ordained in. This is deliberate. If there’s one thing I can’t stand (as if there was only one, pff…) it’s brand loyalty. So you’ll just have to take me as I am, without a logo :).

Wish me luck. Wish me calm, at least.

[sigh… late night overreactions…]