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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Musings on a Trans-gender Friend

What is gender when it is chosen?

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jan 22, 2008

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My friend, whom I have known for more than thirty years, decided to become a woman after more than fifty years in a man's body. I am in awe of her great-spirited wife, the mother of their three children, who has become a loving and supportive partner in the process.

I have no quarrel with that decision philosophically. A part of me questions the validity of seeking to alter what "God" put together at birth on grounds of human preference, but that is my culturally-based conditioning doing the questioning. I feel called to write about this whole experiment because so much world-wide prejudice is based on cultural taboos and fear. We can love one another in a peaceful society only as we understand our connectedness within the kingdom of heaven.

Meanwhile I've watched this gender adjustment with a hearty dose of skepticism. After fathering children within an apparently loving marriage relationship, can this be accomplished effectively? This skepticism on my part, when I thought I was open-minded and accepting of what was happening, has come as something of a shock.

In talking with my friend I found that I know very little about the trauma and fear that go along with gender adjustment. I didn't know anything about the rate of suicide among those with gender differences. I had no idea how hard it is for the adjustment to be accepted by so many officials whose cooperation is essential. I was not aware of the reluctance many people feel toward actually understanding and supporting the process. A hint of "in your face" reaction to my friend's undertaking is based very much on our communities' unconscious distaste for even thinking of this. I have read that even children react with dislike to other children they sense as being uncomfortable in the bodies they were born in.

A recent issue of the FRIENDS JOURNAL has an article reporting on a Quaker conference in February of this last year where 100 lesbian,gay and transgender Quakers from evangelical, conservative and more liberal congregations met to find common ground in their work for understanding within the Society of Friends. Their conference speaker, Willie Frye, said, "It is a cause of great pain to our corporate body to know that there are some Friends for whom our message (of radical inclusion) is deeply disturbing... apparently in contravention of their strongly held beliefs." He pointed out that it is easier to demonize those you do not know. Conferees discovered "it is much easier to understand our fear of others than it is for us to understand their fear of us."

To accommodate this adjustment by my friend I am expected to break a life-long habit of thought including use of her new name and pronouns as I relate to my friend. This is a daunting challenge for me, but what is required of me is peanuts compared to my friend's prospects.

There has been surgery and follow-up attention for a bodily sex change. There have been years of estrogen therapy and electrolysis to remove unwanted hair. There has been the difficult puzzle of revising listings to FEMALE for driver�s license, social security number, insurance coverage, employment records and on and on, and many of these have been uncourteously resisted by the authorities along the way. The process of creating the feminine role and identity in our society has required a gentle yet persistent demand by my friend to revise patterns of others' behavior at the same time.

Many of us in our mutual community have accepted this decision on the part of our friend with equanimity. We have noted the change: I hear around me people wondering why there was the need to make my friend's transition such a public, participatory event, when this individual is still one of us, in a close, fellowship community. Now that I learn how poorly informed I have been, I more clearly sense the reluctance of other good people in my community to bother with positive affirmation when they are not tuned in to the need.

The testosterone influence in that male body has not been disguised by a feminine wig, lipstick, nail polish, jewelry or feminine clothing. My friend has mentioned that most of her female companions use little makeup and jewelry. It is notable that these items seem to constitute important female presentation to her. Our conversation has clearly demonstrated the necessity of a distinctive female presence in many public situations. Help in changing a flat tire. Routine stop by police officer. Accidental injury involving EMTs. There must be no question as to sex in the minds of helpers, and these feminine accessories create assurance when the body is in transition.

So what is a woman? As my friend points out, there are many "ugly" women whose bodies as well as strong anima characteristics are accepted as females. My friend recognizes the physical limitations she is faced with.
I've read her book titled "Homecomings" which tells of a lifelong struggle toward wanting to be a girl. As an only son of a doting father years ago he was taught all the male skills; hunting, fishing, mechanics etc. in spite of reluctant disinterest. The book moves me to tears. This child of God ably describes a path one cannot question. My friend is a talented writer and describes in moving detail the struggle she has been making for more than three years to achieve her goal of transformation. As I have learned some of the details of this struggle I have recognized her legitimate fear based on uncertainties and an intimate knowledge of atrocities practiced by the ignorant on trans-gender people.

How does this new woman evolve beyond physical adjustment and develop womanly attributes? How can she become less self-absorbed in this process and more overtly feminine? What have my friend's hormone and body adjustments really to do with femininity? What's the body part of femininity? What's the consciousness part? What's the application of sentiments and identity that makes a person a man or a woman? I pray that she is soon able to use her skill and training to work for causes we share without the need to remind the world around her that she is a normal woman now.
Beyond that, how can I help the world out there to rise above religious and cultural condemnation, to respect individuals such as my friend who are driven to rearrange their lives according to their best understanding of built-in talents and wisdom? This second concern is behind my need to write to you, who may find a story like this distasteful, with loving hope that you will no longer pass judgment on situations you fear and misunderstand.

Copyright 2008 by Lois Barton

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 88 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life-long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Tuba Christmas and The King's Carolers

Three Tales for the Wintertide: Of Dragons and Dreams

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frank and the Rivers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: My Friend Peg and the Peaceful Good Fight

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: These Stones Are Speaking

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Lucy McIver, Peace Pole Artist

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Telephones, Then and Now

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Remembering Bovine Tuberculosis

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: What Is a Quilt?

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Quakers in the British Virgin Islands

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Manta Rays, and Dandelions, A Poem, also introducing Carolann Krohn

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Those Husky Macadamia Nuts

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Fender's Blue, a Nine Day Wonder

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frannie and the Arrow

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Bhavia's Cambodia

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of the Smoking Chimney

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of Big Oak Stables

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Fishy Story

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2006 by West By

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