A trans woman’s experiences with the Boy Scouts

So I haven’t posted here in a while because I’ve been in a funk, but I’m pulling out of it long enough to bitch about the recent jazz about this super-secret committee formed back in 2010 what decided that it’s cool for the Boy Scouts of America to be discriminatory douchebags.

You see, I was in the boy scouts as a young lad. Not only was I in the Boy Scouts, I was also Senior Patrol Leader. I was also in two Venture Scout posts, one of which I was the President of. Furthermore, I was inducted into the Order of the Arrow. I think I know a thing or two about Scouting.

I loved my experiences with the Boy Scouts. Not only did I learn a lot of useful stuff that I actually use quite regularly, but I made lasting friendships. I’m a huge outdoorsy nerd (even though I do like to get all dressed up and purdy nowadays, I do heart roughing it in the wilderness). My troop seemed fairly accepting of all sorts of people. I’m pretty sure most people at least suspected I was queer: despite being a regular deadeye Dick with a rifle and being able to tie any sort of knot imaginable, I was always pretty femmy and queery. However, I never felt like I was discriminated against during my time with the Scouts. In fact, I’m friends with one of my old scout masters on Facebook and he doesn’t mind calling me by my chosen name. For that reason, it hurts me all the more to hear that the BSA are perfectly fine with being hyper-conservative assfucks, since clearly not all the people involved in Scouting are of the assfuck variety.

The Scouts provided me with memories and knowledge for the rest of my life, and I am incredibly thankful to them for that. Still, I am utterly disgusted that they could be involved in such outright hateful practices. It sort of makes me ashamed to have been a Scout. I really wish they would be more accepting so that more queer kids can have the experiences I had.

I was talking with a trans man friend on Facebook about this and he said he embraces his differences; despite not never having been a Boy Scout, how many grown men could say they were members of the Girl Scouts. I’m sort of the same way: how many sexy foxes were the SPL of their local Scout troop? Why can’t the BSA be more like us? Diversity is beautiful, not something to be ashamed of.

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The glamorization of mental illness is just as bad as the stigmatization of it

At the risk of being misinterpreted as being somehow passive-aggressive, I’m going to write about something pertaining to an interpersonal spat I’m kind of in the middle of right now. I’m going to share my story of struggles with mental illness, as well as my personal thoughts about the way “normal” people think and talk about mental illness. For some of you this is old news, many of you probably know bits and pieces, and if you’re a stranger, acquaintance, or someone I just met within the last year, it may be brand new to you. I would appreciate it if you kept the jeering and judging to a minimum.

Ever since I was about ten years old I have suffered from a whole slew of anxiety disorders. I like to joke that I have every anxiety disorder on the books. I always have a very difficult time staying still because I’m constantly filled with so much anxious energy that I just have to keep moving to expel it all or risk exploding. Among these anxiety disorders are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (social phobia), and pathological perfectionism, which is not technically a recognized mental illness, but most of the doctors I’ve spoken to tell me that the general consensus is that it is closely related to anxiety disorders and specifically OCD. On top of all of that, I have had major depressive disorder (clinical depression) since I was 12.

My mental illness is generally described by clinicians as “severe” in that it greatly negatively impacts my social, school, and work life. In fact, in 2007 it led me to flunk out of school, which is why I’m almost 26 and still not finished with college. The combination of the fact that I have a bunch of rituals which I can only do in private and the fact that I used to have a hard time being in groups of more than three strangers without freaking out led me to miss a lot of class. On top of that, I spent a great deal of my free time playing video games, not because I was a lazy geek, but because gaming for some reason has always helped me with my anxiety. (I just recently found out that that’s why one of my neighbors games, so apparently I’m not the only one.) Despite the fact that I almost always got As on assignments and tests, my grades would suffer from my attendance problems. Once m grades began to suffer, my pathological perfectionism kicked in and I began punishing myself for not doing well by forcing myself to stay in the class as opposed to withdrawing before the late withdrawal deadline and I would just take the F or C- or whatever. In the first semester of what should have been my senior year (I was still only a junior though)–Fall 2007–I ended up flunking all of my classes and getting kicked out.

This led to me beginning to drink heavily to cope with the anxiety and depression. By May 2008, I was in the beginning stages of a complete psychotic break. I had begun to develop paranoid delusions and heard the occasional voice or two. (Voices in your head are never nice; mine laughed at me and told me what a failure I was.) I ended up spending most of the summer of 2008 in the psych ward of the local hospital, followed by nine weeks in partial hospitalization. It’s still unclear why I had a psychotic break, but my suspicion is that it has something to do with the pathological perfectionism and the fact that I’m an obsessive planner, and flunking out of school, becoming an alcoholic, and entering into an abusive relationship was not part of the plan. After that, I spent a while trying to get back on my feet before finally entering into a social rehabilitation program run by the Lancaster County Community Mental Health Center. Despite the fact that the anxiety and depression became worse than ever after recovering from my brief psychotic episode, I began to make progress, and since the summer of 2010 things have been looking up. I still have an insane amount of anxiety, but the depression is under control and I’ve learned how to cope with the anxiety.

Anyway, the thing that really offends me as a person who has suffered most of her life from a severe and persistent mental illness (“SPMI” in the biz) is the fact that no one really understand what a mental illness is or what it’s like to have one. There are two types of misunderstanders: those who fear us (the general public) and those who romanticize us (usually artsy types).

The frightened people are victims of the mass media’s portrayal of the mentally ill. The only time we make the news or appear in movies is when we’ve done something illegal (usually murder), which creates the stereotype of the raving mass murderer. Unfortunately, nothing can be farther from the truth. Last I knew (2010), the mentally ill were perpetrators of only 2% of violent crime. However, we were victims of 40% of the violent crime in this country. Why don’t you ever hear about hate crime against the mentally ill? Because it’s okay to hurt us: we aren’t fully human.

What’s got my panties all in a bunch right now, though, is that minority of folks who like to glamorize and romanticize mental illness. These people are generally people who would be described as “artsy”, and I think that they come to identify with the mentally ill because of the fact that they feel like social outcasts because of their career choices, and there’s no bigger social outcast than a crazy person. These people like to talk of a “fine line between genius and insanity”, which is perhaps my least favorite expression simply because of how ignorant it is. Aside from OCD, which is startlingly more common in people with higher IQs, there is no link between mental illness and intelligence. In fact, people with SPMIs tend to be markedly undereducated, simply because their mental illness gets in the way of their education. People with SMPIs often have a hard time functioning and a lot of times when are symptoms are severe we can barely take care of ourselves and need serious help. We frequently lose our jobs and friends, which are both things I went through in 2008-2009. Mental illness is a disability. It is not simply eccentricity or idiosyncratic behavior. It is a severe disorder.

I’ve been fishing around for the past few hours for a fitting analogy, and I’ve come up with one which is probably not a completely true analogy, but will have to do until I can think of a better one. Glamorizing the mentally ill is like when rich white suburban teenagers glamorize gang violence because they come to develop some ignorant and narcissistic identification with the plight of poor inner-city blacks. Like I said, it’s not entirely fitting, but it comes close to my point.

So anyway, this glamorization of the mentally ill by artists and other “outsiders” has got to stop. We need your help and support. We do not need you to idolize us.

A woman’s personality is a direct function of her looks

So, for the past two days I’ve been seeing this promotional poll on Facebook:

Which do you think fits me?

So, as you can see, the question reads, “Which Chubby Stick name fits your personality best?” Chubby Stick is a lip balm made by Clinique, so obviously this poll is aimed at the lady-types. Anyway, the thing that’s got me pissed off is the last option, which also seems to be the most popular. I see no way in which it could be extrapolated onto a personality type. It’s obviously a reference to a woman’s figure, which has absolutely nothing to do with her personality. The fact that the female Facebookers are responding that this matches their personality kind of makes me sad. It’s like the misogynist brainwashing is so complete a woman can’t separate her dreams, likes, dislikes, intelligence, ambition, etc. from her figure.

Why do we have to be like this? I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty plenty of times of assuming things about a person just because of how they look, but still, it’s something I try to change about myself and I think the world would be better if more people fought it. Someone’s figure is completely out of their control, and last I knew there was no known link between a woman’s curvosity and her personality. It’s like saying my gorgeous, curly locks say something more about me than the fact that I have really good genes. Incredibly ridiculous.

Also, I’m kinda irked about trying to jam people into really vague personality types based on clever names. Something about that bothers me, but I’ve always been confused by the personality typing craze. Completely unscientific.

Women and science

So being a major nerd for social progress, girls/women overcoming barriers, and science, this article on Jezebel brought a major tear to my eye. Totally embarrassing. In case you’re too lazy to click and read it, let me sum it up for you: an all-girl team just won the FIRST 2012 Championship with a device meant to help pasteurize milk in Nicaragua. Apparently Nicaraguan women don’t have easy access to clean milk, which results in all sorts of nastiness for them. Well, now they can drink their milk with peace of mind, thanks to an intrepid young band of femmy pioneers. Totally awesome.

This has got me thinking about that other article I wrote about about women in gaming. It seems like the STEM field is a major boy’s club. In fact, when I was talking to my doctor about starting life as a woman, the first thing she asked was, “Well, you’re not in any math or computer science classes, are you?” And she’s an MD! Why is it that STEM is such a boy’s club? I know, I know, there’s the whole stereotype of men being more logical while women are more about their feelings, but still, this is the 21st century. Shouldn’t we be past that by now?

I know I don’t really have room to talk since I opted not to go into STEM even though I am both interested in it and very good at it. I am thinking of going to grad school for philosophy of science, but it’s not really the same thing. However, one of my major concerns when it comes to going into a STEM field is the fact that I’m a trans lesbian, which is a triple whammy in that area: gay, transgender, and a woman. Really, I want to study physics and computer science, but I chickened out because I’m a wuss like that. My mistake. I now wish I could go back and start over and be a pioneering queer trans woman in a straight dude’s world, but I really don’t feel like being stuck as an undergraduate for another couple of years. My dad is talking about starting his own web-based software company and wants me on board as a designer, so maybe I can use that as an in to the world of computer science.

Anyway, enough about me, here’s why women should get into the hard sciences: women think differently from men. I know it’s probably not biological–it’s probably got more to do with social conditioning than anything like genes or innate neural differences–but still, the fact remains that there are usually marked differences between the ways in which women approach problems and the ways in which men do. If we only have one type of person trying to solve these problems, we’re only going to get on type of solution, when there may be other, possibly better, solutions waiting in the wings for someone with the right mindset to bring them into the open. It’d be best for the world of science–and the world in general–if we had as many different types of people as possible working on these issues.

Let’s make the world better. We can start by encouraging women and minorities to get into the STEM fields.

Argentina is “lightyears ahead of the vast majority of countries” in the fight for trans rights

So as I was perusing Google+ instead of working on my novel, I stumbled upon this completely, totally, mind-bogglingly amazing news on Trans News Daily’s feed: In Argentina, trans people can now legally change their genders on government documents without any sort of psychiatric, medical, or judicial procedures! This is simply amazing. I remember in 2007, shortly after I came out to my close friends and family, New Jersey passed similar legislation for driver’s licenses, but this is even bigger. This is a federal law.

From the article:

“The fact that there are no medical requirements at all — no surgery, no hormone treatment and no diagnosis — is a real game changer and completely unique in the world. It is light years ahead of the vast majority of countries, including the U.S., and significantly ahead of even the most advanced countries,” said [Justus] Eisfeld [of Global Action for Trans Equality], who researched the laws of the 47 countries for the Council of Europe’s human rights commission.

Something like this makes me feel like not all is lost. Sure, it’s not the U.S. we’re talking about, but hopefully this helps spur other countries to action. Maybe I’ll actually live long enough to see true trans equality in my own country. This is truly one of the biggest wins ever. I had planned on doing some sort of analysis, but I’m simply speechless.

Taking away the hurdles to overcome and hoops to jump through can only spell good news for millions of trans Argentinians. Who knows, maybe one day we won’t even need gender identifiers on legal documentation. I think that’s probably the next thing for Argentina to aim for. One more step and they’ll be well on their way to liberation.

As for you American legislators: what the fuck y’all waiting for? Get with the times! Don’t let Argentina show us up!

Mitt Romney is secretly a major asshole

So perhaps by now you’ve heard the news that Mitt Romney was really secretly one of those terrible schoolhouse bullies what drive people to kill themselves and suchlike. Let me just say that this news doesn’t shock me. It’s not a major intuitive leap to assume that the guy who made his fortune as a professional worker-layer-offer has a hard-on for acting like a macho tough guy.

Here’s the deal: while it’s true that kids do some stupid things all in the name of winning favor among peers, there is no excuse for being an antisocial assfuck. The proper thing to do now would be to issue a major public apology to anyone he may have treated like shit. This country is suffering a bullying epidemic, and having a major public figure who used to be part of the problem isn’t the right way to tackle this issue. If anyone seriously thought he had what it takes to run this country, I sincerely hope they’re reconsidering their position. Bullies are a blight on society, and people with a history of this brand of sociopathy ought not be holding public office.

I’m lucky in that I was never really bullied in school. Or, at least if I was bullied I was too oblivious to ever really notice it. Maybe I was bullied 24/7 and blacked out the memories, but since that sounds like psychoanalytical bullshit I doubt that’s the case. Anyway, I don’t think I ever realized how big a problem bullying and hazing were simply because I didn’t experience it. I feel like an asshole for assuming that everyone breezed through high school with as little hassle as me. If I could go back, I’d be that super-awesome gal who fights the bullies and rallies all the bullied kids together into a coalition of hope. However, I can’t do that, so I’ll do the next best thing: blog about assholes who got away with torture and are now within inches of become the most powerful person in the country. I do not want this man as my leader for many reasons, but right now, this seems like the biggest reason. Bullying is wrong, there is never any excuse, and Romney needs to recognize that, apologize, and give large sums of his money to an organization like You Are Not Alone at my school (a suicide prevention program) or a dedicated national antibullying program. Fucking inexcusable, jerk.

“We need a leader who is biblically based”

So the Reverend Ralph Martino just got done blabbing his word-flap on CNN about this big shitstorm with Obama alienating lots of black voters by showing that he has a heart. I sort of knew this was going to happen, because black folks in America are slightly more concerned with gender roles and norms than whitey. (Generally speaking; obviously, there are people who break the mold.) Anyway, when asked if he and Watch and Pray Ministries would still be supporting President Obama, he responded that they will be praying for them and went off on a tangent about how we need an über Christ-lover in the Oval Office. I think this is rather coincidental, because I just found out that I got an A+ on my paper about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. If I were clinically insane, I might think this was synchronicity at work.

Anyway, I won’t go into the fine details about why I’m opposed to deeply religious folks running things. If you want, you can read my full project, which is up on my Open Letter to American Atheists page. Really, it boils down to this: Christianity is a deficient belief system, and people who blindly follow its tenets are not going to have the problem-solving skills to run a country. It is perfectly possible to have a secular ethical system based on logic (again, read my paper or this post or the entry on Humanism at ReligiousTolerance.org). In fact, I think it is desirable to have an ethical system based on reason as opposed to faith. You see, the nice thing about basing things on reason is that you actually have reasons for them. Reasons which are objectively verifiable and don’t boil down to gut intuitions.

Also, I was shocked when Rev Martino said that his ministry prays for more than 32,000 minutes a week. What a waste of time. Prayer has never solved any problems. Active doing of things is what gets things done. That’s why it’s called “doing things.” Prayer doesn’t do anything other than shut down certain parts of your brain, causing you to mildly dissociate and think that things coming from your own mind are coming from supernatural fairy-being. Direct action is the way to effect change in the socio-political world.

SOrry, Christians, but you’ve had your millennium of dominance. Time to let the rational empiricists have a turn.