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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Loneliness and Hope

Last week, Donna Rose wrote a post on her blog that resonated deeply with me, entitled "Movies, Loneliness and Hope." It starts out reviewing a recent Pixar movie, "Wall-E". Pixar (owned by Disney) makes movies that are wildly popular not only because of their use of cute toys, cars, bugs and robots, because also because of their deft use of common human themes. One of these themes is loneliness, and it is a theme that has frequently appeared on my daily menu recently.

I have been quiet of late, taking time to recoup and recover after the massive frenzy ensuing after ENDA. As the psychological toll recedes, as well as the always-frenetic end-of-semester season, and an unexpected shock from being named Convenor of Law and Society at my College (akin to Department Chair at other schools), I have had time to reflect on the issues that I face and that our community faces.

Here's what Donna said that touched me so deeply:



"I talked with a trans friend the other night who said she had seen the movie and it made her cry like a baby. I get that. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that loneliness is the single-most difficult issue that many trans-people face. We often feel it core-deep and although we can fill our lives with other things to keep us busy and keep our minds off the fact that we’re all alone sometimes it can become almost overwhelming. It’s not that we don’t have friends. And, it’s not about sex either. It’s the deeper need for intimacy - for simple things like holding hands, hugging, having a shoulder to cry on - those are things so many of us long for but often our searches are futile."

You can read the rest here. While I am blessed with a wonderful soulmate, I notice that I often have feelings of intense aloneness - a lack of connection with others who share my concerns and feelings. The intensity of these feelings is quite deep, and they affect not only my personal life, but also my work.

When I began this blog in March 2006, it was motivated by a feeling of hope in community. While some of my friends were questioning the idea of a transgender "community", or any interest on the part of the larger community in helping transgender people, I was hopeful. Sitting down to blog was a pleasure. I enjoyed giving my academic slant on trans employment issues. I was constantly writing and thinking, and it was pure joy.

Then came ENDA. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act was re-introduced in Congress last year with a prohibition against employment discrimination based on not only sexual orientation, but also gender identity. This was an enormous surprise to me, as I had understood that most LGBT activists held no hope of such a bill passing. And yet all of the major advocacy organizations lined up in favor of such a bill. A miracle!

And then there were dark hints that, despite promises of even the most conservative advocacy organizations, gender identity would be pulled from the bill. The rumors said certain gay activitists were so desperate for passage by the House immediately that they preferred not to go through the necessary education process, and felt that transgender people should wait on asking for civil rights. When these hints turned out to be true, I was upset. When these gay activists suggested that nobody in Congress understood transgender issues, and that this was the fault of transgender people, who had failed to make any efforts at advocacy, instead preferring freeriding on the decades of effort and millions of dollars expended by gay activists, I was outraged. When they said a whip count showed a lack of support, but gave no numbers and no one could find out when such a count had occurred, I was livid. When they said that gender identity had nothing to do with sexual orientation, and hinted that transgender people were not part of the same community as gays and lesbians, I was apoplectic.

When they lobbied members of Congress against the gender identity portion of the bill, showing flawed polls saying that most gays and lesbians didn't want to include transgender people in the bill, I was aghast. When their legal experts weighed in against us, suggested that those who disagreed were untutored in the law, and my carefully researched and written legal analyses were completely ignored, I was ashen. When I contacted a hundred-odd transgender academics and lawyers on a listserv and suggested that we should issue statements and provide guidance to the LGBT community, and was told that we should let the gay activitists, who know best, handle this, I was stunned. By the time that, despite the united agreement of all of the remainder of the LGBT advocacy community that a bill without gender identity would go unsupported, the Baldwin amendment to re-add the gender identity language was yanked without so much as a vote, my faith in my community was completely shaken.

Later, I was contacted by this organization that orchestrated the campaign against us. It was a contact from a different part of the organization, one which has been more sympathetic and helpful to the trans community, and one which didn't agreed with what the political part of the organization had done. I was asked to join an advisory council, and was told that my expertise in trans employment issues was sorely needed, and that other trans people with expertise in the area were being asked to join, four in total. I was conflicted: my first impression was to decline angrily, but I also thought I might be able to do some good. I contacted friends, activists and academics to give thought to this decision. I spoke to the other three trans people who were being asked to join this council. I had long phone calls with the people from the council. I spent hours and weeks pondering and discussing, and at long last decided to say yes, with the proviso that I would be able to speak my mind regarding the problems with the ENDA decision. Oh yes, I was told, we want people who are courageous and willing to speak up, and we accept that not everyone agrees with that decision. No problem. We wouldn't censor anyone. What would you like to say about this issue? Talk to us openly and honestly. We support you. So I spoke openly and honestly, and without any rancor explained my position on the issues. One of the others was also eloquent on this issue. The other two didn't speak up on this. Fine. No problem. You will be installed on the council next Thursday, and can you come to Washington D.C. for the installation?

And then I got a phone call on Tuesday, before the Thursday vote. We've decided to take only two people onto the council. It's not anything you said, no we just decided that we only need two of you, not four. Oh, did we tell you that it was all arranged? Oh, a communication error. We hope that you will continue to support us. So sorry.

My dominant feeling with all of these events was not anger. It was not frustration or betrayal. It was not disappointment, resentment or bitterness. It was loneliness. This, however was not just the small loneliness that sometimes occurs when you wish for a friend on a rainy day. This was abandonment. This was devastation. I had a feeling that you might feel when your completely trusted partner leaves a note that they are running off with your best friend. Sick at heart, and I could feel this one in my gut. It was with me in the morning when I woke up, and it stayed all day, and it was the last thing I felt at night. My friends mostly had no idea what I was talking about, since my friends are not activists, and even my gay and trans friends had not heard of what had happened, except from me. My beautiful wife was so very loving and understanding, but after this persisted for a few weeks, and started interfering with my work and my relationship, I realized that it was time to call in a professional. It took me a while to find a psychologist, what with in-network, out-of-network, and all of the bureaucracy that is involved in health insurance. (I'm thrilled to have health insurance, and frankly thankful every day to have a job, as most trans people do not have either.) She's very good, and I'm coming to see that this is not something to be avoided, but something to be experienced and shared.

It is difficult for me to write of these things. I would like to be the consummate professional, whose abilities are sharpened by challenge. I would like to be the unwavering advocate, whose ardor is only whetted by injustice. But I am neither of those things. I am a human being who has had some very difficult experiences, both growing up and in later life. The complete loss of family, friends, career and status that I experienced when I transitioned is still with me, ten years later. My writing has come to a standstill because I have been reluctant to write what is in my heart, and have tried to write only that which is socially acceptable. But while my mind may try to deceive, my pen cannot be other than truthful. The wellsprings of creativity cannot flow when the springs are choked with rocks and dirt. As in Radclyffe Hall's "The Well of Loneliness," it is not the lack of intimates that is the problem, but rather the social isolation and rejection that has a debilitating effect. But I am coming to see that I can overcome isolation by sharing it, and I can reject rejection while doing so.

It is my hope that I will be able to return to daily writings, though I start slowly.

I would welcome any comments that you care to share.

Best to all of my readers and friends,

Jillian

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