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Sunday, September 30, 2012

I'm Back From Southern Comfort Conference: Reflections and Observations

I'm home again from the Southern Comfort Conference. Well, actually I came home a week ago last week on Sunday. I was quite tired, had to work the next day and I've gone to bed fairly early each night until last night night when the Gods of Football television decreed that the University of Alabama begin their game at 9:15 P.M. local time, so I find myself tired again this morning and did not participate in my intentional community's service. Perhaps I will get back on track with that next week. I hope so, as I always feel better for having attended.

As always, I truly enjoyed my time at the conference. The Crowne Plaza Ravinia in the Perimeter area of Atlanta is simply a gorgeous venue and conveniently located across from a very nice mall and several very fine restaurants. Other shopping is convenient as well in the area and you won't get lost.

My workshop was well received and I'm always both flattered and humbled that people enjoy my presentation and I always give an historical context for the present state of the WPATH standards of care, as well as what the standards actually do state. There is a lot of myth about the standards of care that continues to abound. It confuses both people who are wanting to approach a transition and be healthy, and puts so many people off who resort to illegal sources to obtain hormones for a number of reasons. I'll be writing more on this topic next time.

Chloe Prince had a reception for Pink Essence members which was well attended and very lovely. She announced that she is launching a new web enterprise called It's purpose is to be a one stop website to help people find the various resources we all need on our gender journey. This is a much needed service to our community and I wish her all the success in the world with this venture!

I didn't attend many workshops myself this time. Many of the topics I've heard on a number of occasions. This is not to say I am above it all or that there isn't more to learn, because there is always more to learn and I need to stay current so that I can help others better and for my own needs at this late time in my transition. I attended a workshop on transitioning in the workplace that was excellent and got a few ideas about better ways to go about taking this up with the workplace administration. The other workshops I attended were on sexuality for the male to female transsexual taking hormones and one on coping with and resolving internalized transphobia. That is a very important topic as even those of us have dealt mostly with coming to terms about who we are and coming to terms with the people in our lives, can sometimes feel a degree of doubt or guilt and shame creep into the back of our minds. Resolving internalized transphobia isn't like completing a contest, or arriving at a destination, just like the process of transitioning, it is a journey.

My purpose this time, besides the main purpose of presenting my workshop, was to get some time to destress from my practice of psychotherapy which has been very busy and undergoing a lot of changes with the changes coming with the new health care systems. I wanted to get a massage for a back problem and for the holistic health benefits from a therapeutic massage. So the good news is that I got my back straightened out after almost a month and I was able to return to playing golf this week. I played twice in fact! On Thursday I played 9 holes with a friend after work and then yesterday I played 18 holes by myself. I played well for my level of skill on both occasions. I'm playing on a course I've never played before this Wednesday afternoon that is rated #36  in difficulty in the United States. I'm pretty sure I will stink it up, but I never take the game seriously, don't get angry when I don't play well and generally have a fun time and get rid of my stress.

Another purpose was to network with other psychotherapists, gender surgeons, and other allied health care professionals who I know. I took the opportunity to meet some other professionals I hadn't met before.

Then of course one of the biggest reasons is to see old friends I don't to see more than a few times a year and some I only see once a year. Wonderful people and I wish I could see them more often. I have friends like them all over now because of the opportunity to give the workshops in various places.

One of the things I enjoy a great deal is the opportunity to make new friends and each time I go to give a workshop, I meet new friends and look forward to seeing them the next time I'm in their city. That's always a lot of fun for me!

One of the things I reflected on is the debate on gender identities and I recently wrote on that topic here. The article is called The Dialectic of the Gender Continuum. One of the things I wrote mentioned that various gender identities are all valid, though not necessarily having anything in common with each other. Before I went to the conference, I wrote another article about the important role conventions such as Southern Comfort play for our communities. Some people I know expressed that they no longer go to these conferences because they feel they have nothing in common with others who have different gender identities. They feel clearly different from people with other gender identities and don't wish to socialize with them. I find that attitude disappointing. While I personally don't feel as if my identity has common elements as a woman of transsexual experience, I don't like the idea that I shouldn't socialize with others because they are different. I think if those who segregate themselves from others with different gender identities were to reflect on this attitude, they might be shocked to realize that that notion is no different from segregation due to racism and that they would not find those attitudes to be attractive within themselves. I'm not going to like every person who identifies as a cross dresser, fetishistic transvestite, transgender, or whichever identity someone may claim, but I am going to like some of them and I would not wish to not have the opportunity to make a new friendship. I've found that I never have enough friends and that all my friends, close or not, have something to offer me or teach me. I'm pretty shy, people wouldn't guess that, but I do like people.

Along this same theme, I heard the attitude shared that many younger people at the conference philosophically don't like the idea of having a gender identity at all. They identify as gender queer or other similar labels and they would deny everyone their own right to a gender identity as male or female in a society of their own design. I find it interesting that they would segregate themselves and impose a societal code that denies others of their own gender identity. You see this theme in much of feminist academic writing and in the presentations these individuals give at workshops. They want to impose the use of new language in the use of pronouns that deny the existence of gender identity. Ironically, these folks seem to be a small proportion of those in the gender community. I can never see myself identifying as anything than "female" or "woman" and would feel oppressed by a society that denies me my own identity, much as these individuals feel oppressed by a society that expects them to have a gender identity of either male or female. I find that rather ironic that they would choose to subject others to the same oppression they seek to be freed from.

I hope that the gender communities will come to accept others with different identities than their own and not feel threatened by those identities that are different than their own, just as we expect the dominant culture to accept us and respect our place in an open and free society. Sometimes I think the dominant culture is way beyond us in acceptance of us when we can't be tolerant of others with different identities in our own community. What do you think?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Decision Not To Decide

I have debated for quite awhile whether to share this very personal and painful essay with you my readers on this blog. I wrote this to submit to a national magazine for an essay contest. This particular piece is one of the most revealing and difficult things I have ever put word on paper about. I've debated seriously about publishing it here, and weighed if I thought it would help younger people not make some of the very painful mistakes I made, which is why I am posting this. I came to the conclusion it was more important to post this than the importance of my own comfort.

The style in which I chose to write this article does not mention that what I am speaking of is being a woman of transsexual experience. I did not want to be so public about myself. Some may criticize that decision, but I do want a modicum of anonymity, though it isn't exactly a State Secret about this aspect of myself to a moderate segment of the professional community and in the gender community itself as I have so many friends all over the country who I have met giving workshops, through Pink Essence, Facebook and Google+. That's fine, but I'm a private person and don't feel the need to make this a central aspect of my public identity. It serves a purpose for those who know because I want to be of help, but I don't feel that is a carte blanche to open myself up to the world in general. Some people may think I'm copping out by not being out to everyone I meet, but it really isn't anyone's business what my medical issues are or what my genitalia are and how they got there. No one would ever enquire of a woman of non transsexual experience what their genitalia are or how they came to be and I wish to be afforded the same dignity and privacy as they have. So without further delay I give you the story about myself.

"Some of us turn off the lights and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly" The Girl From the Red River Shore   Bob Dylan

 The decision that I most regret in my life was the day I first made the decision to not decide. Because of this decision to not decide, my life became a war of attrition within myself. I find that my life has consisted of a slow drift in which I would strike a bargain with myself over and over again. Each time I would concede a bit more and have faith that this would be the end point, only to find myself drift some more.  No one knew anything about what I failed to decide for the first 37 years of my life. When someone did learn of it, it was a very disturbing and painful event. However, it allowed me to come to the conclusion that I needed to accept this and continue to become more comfortable with myself. The consequences of not coming to terms with me would be serious.

Even with this, I continued in the same way, deciding not to decide, but allowing the concessions to continue as they became manifest in my life. Somewhere the tipping point was reached. It happened three years ago when I made a decision that I should have made when I was 22, or 27 or even at 37. I was 51.

Though I finally made the decision to decide, I’m sure you must be wondering what is it that I regret by not making a decision. After all, yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised to us. We only have today.

 I regret living with fear.  I regret that so many people I have known, some loved, many wonderful people, have missed out in knowing me as equally well as I have known them. I may owe some of them an apology for not trusting when they have proven themselves again and again. I regret that because of my decision not to decide for so long that I limited my own ability to reach my full potential in many domains of my life.

When T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think they will sing to me.” It held a lot of significance about my decision not to decide. It left me with being incomplete and life would not offer the same opportunities others have had.

What I have been so indecisive about is about my identity. I have known this about myself since I was able to acquire the language to name it. I was very young then. Then when I was about 10, I began to go to the library and read about others who shared similar struggles. I was a very advanced reader for my age. That was when I became unhappy about who I was, as opposed to being confused about who I was. The battle of attrition began. I figured out all kinds of ways to be ok with myself without having to deal with reality, but they either only worked temporarily, or not at all. I did things that not many people did. Sometimes they were things that were dangerous with potential for serious injury. I should have been killed six times over because of serious accidents I was involved in. They might not have been my fault, but I was responsible indirectly (which means I was responsible) for making choices that put me in those situations. I had no wish to die, but I wasn’t very happy with my life. I was careless about myself.

Through all these years since I first read about myself, I continued to follow new publications and articles and learned quite a bit about myself that made me unhappier for a variety of reasons. I always wanted to understand and know my own truth. I continued to read and be current. Most of what I read seemed to be right; some of it was way off base.

I avoided serious relationships for many years so as not to have to be open to people or hurt them in some way. I’m sure I puzzled some people who would try to get close and were pushed away. I was very lonely for a number of years. There were some very fine people I decided to protect from me that under different circumstances I could have been very happy with.

Finally, I met someone and decided that I was wrong about myself. I could have this side of my to remain only with me. Eventually this person became the first person to know me completely. I’m very sorry that I must have inflicted a great deal of emotional pain on this person due to my unwillingness to make a decision with personal integrity, though that person also inflicted a great deal of emotional pain upon me as well. Nevertheless that does not justify my lack of sharing myself openly for me. I was at fault for a lot of our conflicts as well.

Even with the person to who I am spiritually bonded now, who I told at the time when our relationship became serious, it has been a painful burden to bear over the course of our relationship. It makes me extremely sad that even though I had progressed to the point to be able to be transparent about myself, it has been a painful experience for us as a couple. There have been very few who have traveled this path together. We define ourselves in relation to each other as well as we define ourselves.  It is not clear that we will be able to travel together forever, though we hope and pray so. We stay in the moment, or at least the day. We remember we each have a process we are going through, more or less of our own design. We feel it out as we go. Sometimes we are afraid. Sometimes we are just sad. But then there are other times that are happy. They renew us and remind us why we are in this process together, and that is a good thing.

Even now with the decision made, the battle of attrition has become a different battle. The battle has become about how long I will wait to allow myself to finish this process, if at all, so the next part of life can begin. There is a need for immediacy that must be as carefully approached as I approached my own truth. While before I had dug my heels in, I am now accelerating towards something I did not ever wish for and I attempt to exercise restraint as a matter of judgment. I now grow impatient, yet the need for patience is even greater than before.

 I have also been mindful that there is very little left to do, just two important things and when I complete that that aspect of my life. I’ll be there.

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” I don’t want to do that anymore. I have learned that you have to live in the moment and it will pass, whether it was good or bad. We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow. That’s enough to live with myself today and be at peace.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Tao of Fishing

This is a poem that I wrote long ago and is influenced by a time in my life that I felt very spiritually connected by fishing rivers. I would fish the mighty Shenandoah River for smallmouth bass one weekend a month and the other weekend I would fish the mountain streams of the Appalachians for trout for most of the year, though in winter months I would only fish the trout streams in the crystaline clear water and air of the mountains. At the time I was studying Taoism in depth as it resonated with my spirit and over a three day period, I wrote the following verse. I hope that you can feel the spiritual connection that I felt at this time of my life.

                                     The Tao of Fishing 

                                    The Tao of Fishing

                                Is not the Tao that can be named                               

                                It is the Tao of the universe

                                      Where all is one                                

                                 The Tao ebbs and flows                          

                               As the continuity of the river                                 

                                      Great and strong

                                    Slow and feeble                                  

                                    But ever present                               

                            As the great consciousness                

                    Where one joins the Ten Thousand Things               


           When does one man join the Ten Thousand Things?                          

                               Many have pondered for centuries                       

                                    When river meets man                         

                                    When man meets rod                          

                                    When rod meets reel                            

                                    When reel meets line                             

                                    When line meets lure
                                   When lure meets water                                        
                                   When water meets man                                      
                                    The cycle is complete 
                                   Time and river are one 
                              What flows by can not be regained
                                Take heart in this 
                         The wise fisher remembers and profits 
                         The foolish fisher forgets and has no success
                                     Many wonder how to live 
                                    It is best to be like the bass 
                                    Live not in the mainstream 
                                          But by the edge 
                                       Steadied by the calm 
                                     Ready to reach for the chance                               
                                         The carp is slow 
                                 Gliding low and out of range 
                                 Unperturbed is his nature 
                                       The trout is careful 
                      Swimming and waiting with a chance to discern 
                               Before belief comes swiftly and fatally 
                        Who knows the way of the freshwater clam? 
                         Traces of empty shell are only to be found 
                                   What was once is no more
                                       The fish is not the Tao
                                     But the Fish, one of the Ten Thousand Things
                                               Is of the Tao
                       The river motion is of the Tao  
                                  But it is not the Tao 
                                 The motion unites man and river 
                                  And are of the Tao
                                  But they are not the Tao
                         When the river does not flow 
                           And there is no motion
                                    There is death
                                   This is not the Tao
                                    And not of the Tao
                             In the Tao there is only motion
                                        Motion is life
                               Motion is at one with the Tao
                                        Life is Tao
                                         Tao is motion 
                         One does not strive to capture the Tao 
                         As the wise fisherman does not set out to catch the fish 
                          Instead the wise fisherman seeks perfection in motion
                                  And joins the Ten Thousand Things
                         In this manner the wise fisherman is set free by the Ten       Thousand Things
                                    In this manner the fish joins the fisher 
                                                When the fisher is of the Tao
                                                    He often releases the fish                      
                                                He does not rejoice in death
                                             He does not condone the waste of life
                        But consumes only what is needed to sustain life             
                    The Tao embodies and preserves life in the Ten Thousand Things                             
 © Sherri Lynne Tancyus 1983












Saturday, September 8, 2012

Women That I Admire: Beatrix Potter


Do you know of Beatrix Potter? She is a woman that I greatly admire! She is most well known for her illustrated stories about the adventures of Peter Rabbit, his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, and their cousing Benjamin Bunny, along with all number of adorable animals that were mostly her pets. There were Miss Tiggywinkle, the hedgehog, Jemima Puddleduck, Squirrel Nutkin, Tom Kitten and other delightful personalities!

During my early 30's in a difficult period of my life, I remembered these little delightful stories and began to reread them. This led me to become curious about the woman who write these stories and I began to set out to learn everything I could about her.

Miss Potter grew up in Victorian England, a time when there were very few opportunities for young ladies growing up. Additionally, she grew up in a time when it was thought that parents should be rather emotionally distant from their children and she was mostly raised by the nannies and governesses that were employed by families of a certain social class during that time. She was educated at home, being deprived of the company of children her own age by teachers that her parents hired. I can only imagine that she was very lonely and felt much unloved, which makes me very sad for her.

Growing up she had a keen interest in nature and studied Biology and especially Botany. She had all manner of kinds of pets and loved them all very much. My guess is that this was a way for her to find the love that she was missing as she was growing up and that she nurtured these creatures as a substitute for the nurturing that she and all little ones deserve. She was, as you can see, an extremely gifted artist, and became well known as a young lady for her intricate and precise illustrations of species of plants native to Great Britian. Her work was of such high quality that she was considered for membership of the British Royal Botanical Society, whose membership was comprised of Britain's most emminent botanists. But, because she was a woman, she was not allowed to become a member of this mens' only society. How sad. What a loss for the advancement of the field of Botany in that era. Surely this must have been a crushing disappointment for her in young adulthood!

Miss Potter, like all young women of the day, was expected to be married to a successful young man, have children, become the matron of the home, supervising the household staff who were engaged to cook, clean and perform the functions of running an upperclass Victorian Household (A fun movie to watch is "Life with Father" starring William Powell, Irene Dunne and a very youthful and pretty Elizabeth Taylor. It gives an insight into the family dynamics of a family in the Victorian era. Its one of my favorites!)

She became engaged to a young man, but tragically, he died at quite a young age of leukemia most unexpectedly. Miss Potter went into seclusion and remained unmarried for most of her life. With all the love she had to offer, sadly she remained childless. She did have a number of neices and nephews and began to write them little illustrated stories about her pets. These became the stories that she remains so famous for after all these years.


Eventually, a publisher became aware of these stories she had written for her young nieces and nephews and offered to publish them for sale to the public. As her father was an attorney, a contract was negotiated and her stories became best sellers in an era where spending money on children was considered frivelous.

Resigned to living her life alone, her writing career eventually came to an end, but she became quite independently wealthy to a degree unimaginable for a woman of her time. What did she do with her wealth? She moved from London to the Lake District and purchased a farm and began to raise sheep. As her sheep farming became more successful, she bought more and more land in the Lake District, expanding her operation. She became quite famous for her work in breeding Herdwick sheep, as well as studying diseases and disorders that afflicted them and their treatment. During this period of her life, she married a local attorney, William Heeli and they were happy together for 30 years before she succumbed to heart disease and pneumonia. She and her husband left their vast land holdings in the Lake District to the National Trust to preserve the beauty of this wonderful area of England, noted for being the location where many of the Romantic era poets commemorated in their beautiful poetry.

Because of her many remarkable accomplishments in the face of such adversity, she is truly a woman I admire. I have known of her for many years, but as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Allison Sweeny, I remembered her last evening and I wanted to share her life you, my readers. Thanks, Allie!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Touched By an Angel

This is a personal and true story that covers about 45 years of my life. I am a person  with a strong faith in Christ. I have from the time when I was very young and my mother can recount a story when I was six and she found me witnessing to a friend whose family were atheists. Even in my darkest moments of my life I have never questioned my faith. It is deeply personal and I don't feel a need to justify my faith to others. I have known people who have ridiculed my faith. That doesn't bother me. My faith is about my relationship to the God of my understanding. My own salvation is a full time preoccupation and I do not judge where others stand in the sight of God or whether they stand at all because they do not believe. It's not my business. It matters nothing to me whether those who have the same faith as I, believe that I am sinning by being a transsexual. I do not believe I am comitting a sin for being who I am. Similiarly, those who would criticize me for my faith in God matter nothing to me. I am who I am and I am comfortable with that. I'm not bothered either way and don't judge them negatively in their criticism of me.
It is important for readers of this article to know that I was named Michael firstly after the Archangel Michael and also because of my Geat Grandfather Michael who died when I was about 4 years old.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I awoke to the presence of a towering angel beside my bed. This angel wore white clothing and had huge black wings. The angel touched me on the forehead with his right wing three times. Being a young child, I was terrified by the angel's presence. I had no way of making sense of the angel's visitation or what being touched three times  I knew he was an angelic being, but I was too young to know what all of this meant, much less that this angel was one of a number of kinds of angels. Did you know that there are many different types of angels arranged in a heirachy? Within this heirarchy there are several classifications of angels grouped into spheres or "choirs". Most of us will recognize that there are Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim.
There are nine types of angels arranged in the following order. Members of the first choir of angels in order are Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. Seraphim are the closest to God and there are only four of them who are identified. Their purpose is to praise God and protect God's throne. Cherubim are God's intercessors and they also protect the throne of God. Thrones are responsible for dispensing God's judgement and are the intercessors for angels of other orders.
In the second choir of angels, there are Dominions who administer over  the duties of all angels and grant power to government leaders as well as other people in positions of authority. Virtues are angels who control the elements, govern over nature and perform miracles. They give us courage, strength and valor. Powers control the boundaries of heaven and earth. They are warrior angels and preside over birth and death. They engage in spiritual warfare with demons.
The third choir of angels include Principalities whose responsibility is being in charge of the world's cities, towns and and nations. They take charge of religions and politics. (I note specifically "religions" as the three great monotheistic religions- Christianity, Judaism and Islam all recognize the existence of angels.) Archangels are the chief angels. They are the guardians of all people and all things of the physical world. They are God's messengers to people in critical times. Finally, there are Angels who carry our prayers to God and bring us God's answers to our prayers as well as providing nurturing, healing and counseling us.
There are also the fallen angels, or demons. I will speak no further of them. I do not invite them or allow access to my spiritual life, though I do believe that they indeed exist.

For most of my life, I had never seen or head of an angel with black wings, nor had anyone with whom I had ever shared this story. I wondered what it meant for the angel to touch me three times. I wondered if it meant that I would die before the time I was 30 years old. Having lived through a series of car accidents (not my fault) that I had no right to walk away from, I knew that this was not the meaning of the angel's visit, but I was no closer to understanding my experience. By all rights, I should have been killed five times over. So this mystery went on for about the next 30 years, until I was 38.

(This is the picture I saw when I was 38)

That year I went to the local book fair that is held 8 or 9 times a year and has literally thousands of books on all imaginable topics. Not looking for anything in particular, I came across a book on angels in the Religion section. There in that book was a picture of an angel with black wings, but it had no information on this angel. It was then that I knew my visitation was real, even if I was no closer to understanding why I had been visited by this angel.

It would be another 16 years before I learned why this angel came to me at a very young age. My answer came about 10 days ago and I have only shared this revelation with four of the people I am most close to.

Once again I began to think about the angel I had been visited by and I decided to do another of many searches to learn what this meant. I began to search the internet and while beginning to find pictures of angels with black wings, I also came across what I have come to know to be my answer.

In order to understand this better, I have to share that I was the victim and I am a survivor of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. This went on for about 3 and a half years before it was ended. The way I was able to overcome the legacy of this trauma was to come to the recognition that it is no longer happening to me and if I allow it to affect my life now, I would continue to give the power to perpetrators of the abuse and allow them to revictimize me even after all these years. I refuse to allow this to happen any more.

I learned that the angel who came to me, and who I read about was the Arcangel Michael. The reason that he was revealed to me having black wings was described because in this manifestation, he is a warrior angel and an angel of protection, He came to me to let me know that I would be kept safe from the things I would have to live through to carry out God's plan for my life. The reason for being touched on the forehead three times? I was being blessed and protected in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am so thankful for that protection and blessing.

I have always believed that whatever talent I have as a therapist is not of me and is a gift from my God as I understand him. I am only the vehicle of healing that I am able to use in helping others. That is the only reason that I am still here is to fulfill my purpose. I hope that I will always live up to that mission.