the circular runner

is the woman making my espressos really a woman & why do I care?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on February 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

A few words for context: a friend is working on a documentary about transsexuals. It’s a topic I really didn’t know much about, admittedly. But I helped him out on the shoot, and he was gracious and patient as I asked my questions beforehand. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but when entering a new community, as I was about to do working on this movie, my biggest concern is not to offend. Then again, I’m a Libra, so I tend to like to be liked, so there’s that.  I enjoyed helping out. I learned a lot. And I’m glad to say that I think the doc will turn out pretty nicely. Check out the movie’s kickstarter campaign if you are interested, but come back if you want to find why it’s made me confused–more so than usual.

It’s been about three weeks since the shoot, but a question has arisen for me more than once while walking the streets of San Fran: how many of the women I am seeing are actually women?  And to make things more interesting still, what do I mean when I say, “actually”?

If I learned anything about the transsexual community, it’s that the whole distinction between real and not-real is not as real as I once thought, or at least, the standards by which I define real and not real may not be as steady as most of us like to think they are. The women on the movie–post operation or pre–are women. They see themselves that way. They live their lives that way. So they are women.  And then again…I say this and I hear the voice of one of the producers of the doc who in private admitted that though he would never want to disrespect the individuals he was filming–i.e., he would refer to them as women to their faces–he didn’t really think they were.  I think this is where my conservative friends would jump in with a nod and say, “yup, just ’cause you call yourself something, doesn’t make you that thing.”  You probably can hear those voices chiming in, using the argument by extension: “if someone said he was a llama, and ate like a llama and hung out with llamas, would that person be a llama?”  My flip answer would be, if a person could have an operation in which he was transformed to look like a llama and have sex like a llama, then, I’d probably be willing to think of that man as a llama.

But let me go back to the producer and his point because though I don’t want to agree with him, I do find myself having some sympathy for what he said. Maybe sympathy is the wrong word. But here’s the thing, I have another friend who kind of got into this movement called, transhumanism, which pushes the idea that eventually, humans will incorporate robotics into their bodies, thus erasing the human-computer divide. Generally, I think that’s creepy, and I don’t want to accept the premise that me and my Apple will soon be indistinguishable–though I do love my Apple, it should be said.

So, why is it that I can accept that a person who has an operation to erase the gender divide is ok, but not so much for the guy who wants to become bionic?  Isn’t kind of the same thing?

The only difference I can come up with is that in the case of the transsexual, there is this heartbreaking idea of being born into the wrong body. I cannot imagine being a physical man who feels he should have been a woman, or vice versa. Maybe the transhumanist thinks her body is not right without some kind of robotic thing inserted into it, but those people seem a little more cold and clinical, as in the sense that they feel their bodies should be more perfect and can only be so with some computer chip swimming around their bloodstream. In one case, the operation points at being happier and humaner; in the case of the transhuman, the goal seems to be to become less human.  Of course, this is probably my bias.

And so, as long as we are referring to biases, let me add another to the list. Because for all my talk of acceptance, I find myself wondering about this one women I see almost every day.  She makes my awful espresso at the local Starbucks. I don’t know why I suspect her of being transsexual. I don’t know why I care. Maybe I don’t really. I don’t know what it is I feel. Is it rude for me to think of a person who feels like she is born in the wrong body as a misfit? I count myself in that club. I have always felt that way, but the misfittedness that I feel is more internal, and I know how to cover it up. Its dumb. I’m probably an asshole. But there is a part of me that wants to break down the covering-up that I am doing and that I think she is doing and get up on a faux-rickety table while the faux jazz plays at my Starbucks, and powered by my faux espresso, I want to reach out and tell this person that I am one of the club, that I feel the pain of not fitting in.

Of course, I am not part of the club. Not her club. She may not even have a club. She may not see herself as being anything but a she. She may have been a she since birth for all I know. So, I guess it all boils down to me. I’m the misfit, and that’s really all I know.  Now what?

  1. You know, as I grow up, I am starting to realize that I have a very open mind about people, and it doesn’t phase me when people are much different than what most people would expect. I always find it interesting to see other people’s point of view on controversial topics, such as transsexualism. Thanks for providing your thoughts! And thanks for actually thinking, not just reflexively giving an opinion.

  2. a few weeks in the midwest would do you some good…or at least Seattle

  3. I have an interesting insight for you that many people do drawn immediately as they drawn out their perceptions… The reason why we think the way we do when it comes to gender and social conventions is because culture, media, coffee cups at Starbucks, and the influence our culture has on us pounds those ways of thinking into our head. It is why people tend to view transsexuality as a counter-culture when in reality (in my opinion) it is a natural aspect of humanity, that as with many other traits humans tend to attempt to repress, or erase. I am transsexual, so I have a slightly different view of this. Misfittedness (as you defined it) is a product of individuality. Our culture has a weird way about it when it comes to who and what we are. It exemplifies individuality but curbs it at the same time by setting an upper limit to how “unique” you can be and still fit in.

    In another sense too, humans are a communal species and our alliances tend to border on clannish. People tend to separate into cliques, ethicities, genders, or by other identifiable characteristics. As a result they bond with those like them, and while not always overtly, they reject those not like them. This is sometimes why wars break out between unique and divergent cultures and why there is a constant “Conformist” force within all culture groups. I’d like the think that we’d evolve past that someday, but I don’t know for sure if it is intrinsic or just some norm pounded into our head by our cultural forerunners. Who knows. However, where this process transforms more occurs with minorities, transsexuals like myself included. Even groups with no other common grounds can be seen to “Unite” when transsexuals come into the equation because not being transsexual is trait they share in common.

    This is facilitated and reinforced by the cultural exchange that tends to produce media, ideas, and concepts that reinforce the “Need for Distinctions”. But this is false, as humanity is a blended species and distinctions for distinctions sake makes no logical sense. In the case with transsexuals these distinctions are related to gender, because people tend to as a culture norm to perceive gender as binary. However, there is no evidence that it is, and piles of evidence that it isn’t. As a result many people exist in a state of cognitive dissonance when it comes to transsexuality. Example: [I see myself as a reasonable, open and accepting person who feels compassion for the misfits/outsiders (however) I don’t understand transsexuality and it confuses me to a degree that causes me discomfort and I fail to accept it fully.] Beyond that our culture teaches us to feel that way when it comes to gender, which can be very problematic for many reasons.

    What you are experiencing is what many others experience because of the phenomenon where perception comes into contact with reality. Within each of us we try to resolve those conflicts, but our experiences are limited thus sometimes the only solution is to learn about it. We can seek more experience and knowledge through openness until we have a better grasp of why we feel that way and about the subject which makes us feel that way. Learning, in the end, is perpetual. We all experience it for different reasons, I am a transsexual, a transhumanist, and a transfeminist. However, people who are into BDSM are strange to me in the way Transhumanist are to you. It all boils back to the beginning, that we innately identify with those of our peer group (those like us), and disassociate with others to a degree. Either be it fear, misunderstanding, or just ignorance the story is all the same.

    • Hi Renata,

      I love your reply and didn’t respond because I wanted to give it some thought before doing so. I agree with what you wrote–especially the last paragraph. And I appreciate that you gave so much time and attention to my ramblings. I hope you’ll consider coming back now and again. It’s wonderful to engage deeply with deep readers.


      • You are totally welcome… I enjoy deep, and valuable exchanges of thought because I feel that is how we learn as a species… We are made better by the communion of ideas, and the weeding of sorts of bad ones, and the reinforcement of good ones; assuming balance exchange of coarse. I felt your piece was honest, and straight forward and I respect and admire that. Too bad more people can’t be like that. Best of luck.

  4. […] is the woman making my espressos really a woman & why do I care? ( […]

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