Category Archives: non-fiction

The biological basis for transgender – part one

Studies point to genetic triggers of atypical gender identity. (That’s fancy-schmancy talk for transgender people are born that way, and there’s proof.)

Unfortunately, nobody is listening. The social stigma attached to gender diversity implies that it’s simply a lifestyle choice. That one can simply choose to be a particular gender just because they feel like it. Perhaps on a whim. When the reality is, Lady Gaga was right, you were born that way.

lady gaga

And because being transgender (or gender atypical) is not something you can see with the naked eye, folks tend to assume it’s all in your head. For the last 4 decades, medical doctors have shipped gender atypical folks off to the psychologists and psychiatrists. These very same psychologists and psychiatrists have then assumed (without any scientific evidence) that it must be a mental illness. A disease of the mind. Which, of course, carries its own social stigma, making gender variance a wildly and socially unpopular condition. (Historically, this was not the case. Before our patriarchal society came into full effect, gender variance was accepted and often revered – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

By defining transgender as a mental illness, these mental health professionals have inadvertently shaped much of the entire medical establishments (as well as the general publics) views on gender variant individuals. There is a popular notion in politics that transsexuals are psychopathological sexual deviants. These folks will switch genders in order to follow you into a public restroom and catch you unaware with your pants down. (Yes, Senator Plett, I’m talking to you.) These same alarmists also argue that we are all psychosexually neutral at birth, and that gender identity/expression is something that is nurtured or chosen.  But seriously, who would choose to live their life labelled with a socially unpopular mental illness?

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett's Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett’s Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Now, because this condition is still (today) diagnosed as a mental illness (Gender Dysphoria) as noted in the bible of modern psychiatry, the DSM-V  (Diagnostics & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, written by the American Psychiatric Association), nobody is looking at any scientific evidence of this phenomenon.  Medical doctors are not trained in gender variance (since it’s always been a “mental illness”) and mental health professionals (to whom this “disorder” currently belongs) don’t look at new medical science outside their area of expertise.

Remember female hysteria – the mental disorder attributed only to women? Yeah, it was in the DSM once too. Symptoms included emotional outbursts and various sexual urges. It was widely believed that women didn’t orgasm or enjoy sex, so any woman who exhibited these symptoms were either forced to enter an insane asylum or forced to undergo surgical hysterectomy. True story. (There’s a great movie on the subject here.) The American Psychiatric Association didn’t drop the term until the early 1950s, and actually, “hysterical neurosis” didn’t disappear from the DSM until 1980! (Vibrators were initially developed as a medical device to aid in the treatment of female hysteria.  <ahem> And in the 1950s, pornography became prolific with their use, thus shattering the long-held mental illness illusion. Hey, that’s right when the APA dropped the term, coincidence? Hmm.) I never thought I’d say this, but thanks porn.

hysteria_scene

scene from the 2011 movie, Hysteria.

There are some researchers out there trying to get to the bottom of it, and so far, all of these studies point to biological origins of transgender. The proof is hidden in your genes.

I decided to do some research to make sense of the studies. The first questions that popped into my head had to do with fetal development. My own transgender daughter was born prematurely at 26 weeks gestation, and I can recall the specialists telling me these bizarre (and off-handed) little factual remarks, like, all biological males born before 27 weeks are left-handed.  At the time, I chalked it up to mysteries of the womb. Partly because that sounded like a cool sci-fi show, but mostly because I didn’t really care why. But now, I want to know more.

fetus-development

My artistic skills – straight from my research journal notepad

The first interesting tidbit I came across in my research was that all developing embryos follow a “female blueprint” for the 1st several weeks of development. Some folks will try to tell you that this isn’t true, that all humans are biologically neutral at birth, and they would be correct if by neutral they mean female. You only need to look as far as your nearest nipple for the proof. Men’s nipples are equipped with both nerves and blood vessels, thanks to the first 2 months of gestation. (Don’t believe me? Pinch one. Did he say ow?) Further evidence comes in the form of the raphe line on his scrotum. It’s a scar, from where his vagina sealed up. OK, so it wasn’t quite a vagina yet, but the opening was there. It sealed up around the same time that his clitoris grew out into a penis and his ovaries dropped down into testicles.

So what happens to determine the biological sex? After about 60 days, the hormone testosterone kicks up for most of those with a “Y” chromosome – changing the genetic activity of the cells in the genitals and the brain. (I say kicks ‘up’ instead of ‘on’ because folks assume that testosterone is a ‘male’ hormone, but that’s another unfortunate term, as every single human body produces all three hormones; estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.)  The changes to the genitals begin right away based on genetic instruction (“If Y is present then turn left, if no Y is present then continue straight ahead”), but the organizing effects of sexual hormones and differentiation in the brain doesn’t occur until the second half of pregnancy. That means that the genital-sex and brain-sex processes are independent of each other and chronologically separated during fetal development. And that’s fancy-schmancy talk for any number of things can go sideways and disconnect the two, and why wouldn’t they? Nature loves adversity. Maybe they were never supposed to match.

But sex ideology happens in the brain (as well as the genitals), and it happens during fetal development. This evidence would agree and support the Canadian Paediatric Society who have published that gender identity is fully established by the time a child is 18-30 months of age. And also, that it’s not a choice.

Are you still reading this? Hopefully you hung in there with me and found some of this interesting, and maybe even eye-opening. (And yes, I drew that picture of the baby, and yes, that’s the uterus it’s in and not actually resting peacfully on a wooden spoon.) I’m hoping that if we can help to ‘rein in’ some of the stigma attached to gender diversity, then I believe we’re one step closer to acceptance. Next time (in part two) I’ll share the brain-mapping and receptor gene evidence I’ve found. Until then, be hysterical, pinch some man-nipples, and share the knowledge. 🙂

 

 

 

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under non-fiction, projects & events, transgender, world news

To be a better parent, see yourself as a child.

The most common question I’m asked after appearing as a guest speaker for parents dealing with gender non-conforming youth, is “what one piece of advice could I give to parents that would help them begin to accept their child.”

child

Each time I’m asked this question, it’s like I’m being asked which end of the bull I would like to do battle with. I stare blankly back at the ask-er, and all coherent thought eludes me.

The truth is, I find this question quite troublesome. What kind of parent doesn’t accept their child as-is? And unfortunately, that immediate thought blocks out all others. (I excel in self-distractibility.) The trouble with being forthright with honesty is that I tend to offend. I’m the kind of gal that others refer to as… prickly. Not everyone can handle the truth.  And while I am learning how to make-nice and think of people’s feelings before I speak my truth (I still don’t think that should be my problem, however, I don’t make up these rules of engagement) in the end, I babble some feel-good jibber-jabber to confuse and distract, and then quickly move on to the next question.  

But everywhere I go—there it is. Like a dead albatross that I must wear for my crime of automatic acceptance. I have spent many a car-ride home contemplating a better response to this question.  One that is true, but also considerate. A philosophical conundrum for the passionately honest folk like myself. <ahem.>

After serious soul-searching, the only answer I’ve decided I can (or should) give is that which is true for me. Given my bedside manner (there’s a reason I’m not a therapist or social worker) I need to choose my advice wisely. 

My one piece of advice is actually two-fold. Appreciate life, and remember to see yourself as a child.  Most people don’t appreciate life the way that they should. It usually takes monumental adversity to scare-up the kind of appreciation for each moment of the day that you have available to love—and be loved.  Epiphanies can’t be taught.  Each person must find it for themselves.  And it must be practiced daily.  This kind of appreciation helps settle you. It directs your battles. It reduces fear, anger and frustration. If you are struggling with acceptance of who your child is, I encourage you to have an epiphany.  There are worse evils in the world that can be delivered to your doorstep.

Also remember that you are but a child yourself. As adults, we have wrapped ourselves in the glory of our own families and have forgotten the once upon a time of our youth.  The way in which you love your own children is the way that you are loved.  Denying it or not feeling your parents love does not constitute or guarantee its absence.  I may have grown up and become an adult and a parent, but I did not leave my youth behind as I might have thought.  It has been here, in me and around me, the entire time. The absolute truth of what I know is that your life is not a linear succession of milestones, but a vast circumference of love and memories.  I did not leave home and embark on my own life—home came with me.  Always and undeniably, I am but a child of my parents. 

baby hand

I have been lucky enough to have had several life-changing epiphanies.  Perhaps I didn’t get it the first few times—but you can read the one that stuck here.  With this understanding, I see parenting through the eyes of the mother AND the child.  Children look to their parents for comfort, nurture, safety, and acceptance. And if you love your children… you will swim the ocean, you will climb the mountain and you will go toe-to-toe with the boogeyman.

My advice is, go put your big boots on.

1 Comment

Filed under non-fiction, parenting, transgender

Skinny Bitch, Skinny Lies: Beware of vegan and vegetarian agenda

skinny-lies-image

Remember when Oprah exposed James Frey’s Million Little Lies… er, Pieces? The latest New York Times best seller, Skinny Bitch, is following in those footsteps as public skepticism turns to anger at the self-proclaimed “know-it-all” author who is selling her biased opinion (along with misinformation) to a hungry audience desperate for weight-loss. (Can you tell that irks me?) I mean, the strong should protect the weak, shouldn’t they? Tell the whole truth, and nothin’ but? Who’s with me? I’m all for a good novel, but if it’s your opinion you’re writing about, be upfront and honest and let people know that they need to research what’s right for them. Don’t sell your opinion as the gospel of how to get skinny… that’s like waving crack under the nose of an addict. And SKINNY? Aren’t we trying to stop perpetuating the need for “skinny” to our young? Perseus Books publishing house should be ashamed of themselves (and renamed Cuckoo Books) for not vetting and fact-checking their non-fiction works. Gah!

Here’s an article titled, Setting the Skinny Bitches Straight, that made me shout Hells Yeah! after every paragraph. And it was written by a skinny bastard too.

3 Comments

Filed under Awesome, book reviews, non-fiction, world news

the mother of all things—acceptance

Last night I was lucky enough to be able to speak to a large group of students studying Social Sciences at McMaster University.  I’ve done many public speaking gigs before, so the size of the audience wasn’t intimidating, it was the nature of the lecture that I found paralyzing. I stood before them not as a business woman—but as a mother.

As with everything that is to be taught and learned in our lives, I behooved these students to be as objective as they could be, while listening to a subjective story-teller whose passion was animated enough to convince them the sky was green.  I was speaking from personal experience and the subject matter was the single most important thing in my life. My children; one of whom is a transgender girl.

I stood before them explaining that throughout time, nature has given us two kinds of mothers. There are those mothers who will stop at nothing to protect their young, or the young of others. And then there are those who will abandon or eat their own young.  I reduced this battle of altruistic versus egoistic behaviour to it’s simplest—without getting into a philosophical debate with regard to perspectives of the beneficiary—as the basis for my introduction.  Although, in person… I’m not quite as refined. I can never remember, is it always cuss in front of the students or never cuss in front of the students?

the mother

So what kind of mother am I?  I’m a T. Rex.  Top of the food chain, baby.

I explained that in no way was I faulting the mothers who abandon their young.  They are the opposite side of the maternal coin in a tricky balance of nature. In earlier periods, this behaviour was self-preservation from the world they lived in; where predators of all sizes loomed above them.  With mortal danger imminent, they would sacrifice their young to save themselves.  And, although the nature of those dangers have long since disappeared for us humans—the evolution of this continued fear of “being eaten alive” by predators has perpetuated the fight or flight mothering divide.  Abandon your young to save yourself.

Humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and reciprocity of a group or individual. For the young that have been kicked out of the nest, that’s where these students will come in. One day they will be part of the necessary support system that will show these individuals that altruistic behaviour does exist.  They will help these people understand that they are loved, accepted and necessary—regardless of the reasons they were abandoned by their mothers.  The mother’s choice to abandon is ALWAYS about the mother.

acceptance

Part of the adaptation into a happy and “normal” lifestyle for all those condemned as different will be based on how they are treated.  How we react to the needs of our youth—right here and now today—will set precedents for future generations.  Do NOT segregate people into boxes of conformity. Do NOT place labels of identification on our young that will later be used for discriminatory injustices against them—and Do NOT fix what isn’t broken. (Can I get a hells yeah?)

This is the opportunity to re-define “normal” and trip the natural balance to praise the uniqueness of ALL people, instead of pointing fingers at the differences. Let “normal” become the outcast.  Burst forth into your lives with passion and focus your educated eyes of therapy on those who need it—the mother who abandoned her young and the judgmental predators who stalk her.

abandon

Many thanks to Will Rowe of The Well, who invited me to speak to the students and also for all that he does in his work in social services and support of youth.  The force is strong my friend, the future is ours.

8 Comments

Filed under non-fiction, parenting, transgender, world news

My MTF daughter: An ordinary life with an extraordinary girl

For some reason or another, my blog has become less personal over the last few years. I’ve shared stories, news, videos and pictures, but nothing that is really personal—from the uberscribbling heart—so to speak.  That’s about to change. The uberscribbler is more than just an author, public speaker and social media junkie.  There are more stories to share, things that need to be said, and thoughts that I need to send out to the universe via the world-wide web. And so with a deep breath…

On Feb 9, 1998 I was in a delivery room at McMaster hospital in Hamilton.  I was 26 weeks into pregnancy and wildly distraught that I was losing my baby.  After a blur of white-coat activity, my second child came in to this world weighing 1121 grams. The celebration of life was announced to the room with three simple words. It’s a boy.

scan0003

15 years later, I find myself reflecting on that moment quite often. Announcing the biological anatomy of a baby at birth seems like a misnomer.  It has become a delivery room habit—almost a rite of passage for new parents. The sex of that child can mean different things, to different walks of life all over the world. For some parents, that determination can be crucial to their lives and that of the child.  In delivery rooms around the world, the air is thick with anticipation, until the obligatory sex declaration has been uttered.  It is then that life for that child begins—in an assigned role.

Sometimes nature gets it right and we don’t think it has—so we fix what we think it broke.  In this day and age, it is estimated that still more than 30% of the world’s male population (aged 15 and over) are circumcised.  From infancy.  Not from infection, or medical conditions, but just because—and without their consent.

Sometimes nature gets it wrong.  And I don’t blame her.  With all that we’ve done to her planet and the environment, it surprises me that we don’t see more birth anomalies as she digs in to protect herself—letting us know the only way she knows how.

It was 15 years ago my child was born with just such an anomaly. It wasn’t club feet, cleft palette, fused limbs, missing digits, dwarfism, intersex (hermaphrodite), down-syndrome or anything else that you could identify through sight alone.  According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1 in every 33 babies is born with a birth anomaly (defect).  For as technologically and intellectually advanced as we believe ourselves to be, we still only count what we can see with our own eyes and observe through biology.  Anything that doesn’t match the majority is considered defective, like we’re some sort of assembly line where all end product must look and act the exact same way or it’s scrapped as faulty goods. We’ve instituted our own quality control on what it means to be human.

But what about the anomalies that you can’t see right away? The ones that require the collection of your other senses and the ability of the child to communicate?

mackenzie2

“Mommy, when I grow up… I want to be beautiful.” – Mackenzie, aged 3

I knew from a very early age that my child didn’t fit the mold.  I suspected that my son was not my son at all.  But this made me afraid. I angrily blamed society and its narrow acceptance of gender roles and made excuses to others who bullied and pointed fingers at my “sissy” feminine son.  Why is it OK for young girls to be a tomboy but not the other way around? I wrote letters to the President, the Premier, the UN, McDonald’s Corporation, and Mattel Toys asking them to use their positions of corporate power to stop perpetuating gender stereotypes. All the while, I ignored the pleas for help from my child and made assumptions that inevitably cost my child 14 years of true comfortable happiness. I violated my oath as a parent, which was to love unconditionally and do no harm.  Sometimes… doing nothing IS the harm.

It did not matter to my child if the world accepted them—only that I did. I adopted a new oath, “Love your child unconditionally, do no harm, and let them lead the way.

It was then that I learned the word transgender.

I’m not the kind of person that subscribes to labels.  I’m not racist or prejudice and I don’t put people in boxes.  I don’t like segregation.  People are just people—although I know as a society, we have a long history of unnecessary evil against each other.  I also don’t like the term “trans” (Latin for ‘beyond’) assigned to people.  There is nothing good, decent, or “right” about treating or referring to someone as beyond gender.  Giving them labels, and segregating them to their own groups does just that.  It points a finger at their different and unique individuality and infers that they are sub-human.  Not cool.  We don’t use the term transgender in our family, it is irrelevant.  Just as I don’t walk around the house referring to each other as Caucasian. We are what we are—and that is refreshingly unique.

It turns out that my son is actually my daughter, with a biological anomaly.  She was born with a hormone problem—too much testosterone in utero—which consequently led to the growth of testes and a penis. Her brain, personality and personal identity are all female, and always have been.  How did this happen? I don’t know, how do any birth anomalies happen?  All I can say is that we judged a book by its cover.

My daughter is so much more than just the sum of her biological parts. And I don’t want the cover to be her story. It’s time to move forward. As a parent, I have had to make some difficult decisions for the benefit of my child. I medically halted her puberty at 14 years of age, and I introduced her young body to estrogen.  When she is old enough, she will undergo surgery to correct this birth anomaly. (Currently covered under healthcare in some parts of Canada.)  I have received a lot of criticism over this, but I understand that people fear what they don’t know.  Fear and ignorance is the stuff that bullies are made of. I realized early on that any trouble I had with what my child was telling me, was more about me then it was her. I can never let my selfishness stand in the way of the absolute love and acceptance that my children deserve from me as their mother.  This was not a choice—for either of us.

quote

We are almost one year in now from her diagnosis. She is 15 years old, a junior in highschool, and she is a happy, confident, and self-aware teenage girl. She continues to teach me the value of courage, and I hold that lesson very sacred.  She is willing to lose everything to be true to herself and to help teach understanding for the acceptance of others like her. What could be more selfless than that?  It is with her encouragement, that I begin to tell you our story.

**Update – The video that used to be here is no longer available. As with any post that is 5 years old, things change. My daughter is living an extraordinary life… her life, and I support her decisions for a relatively anonymous life. Who doesn’t want that? Well, except maybe the Kardashians. 

You can read more of our story, or find tools for acceptance in my ebooklet, an unwanted penis. Available on Amazon Kindle, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other e-retailers near you. Spread the word and help more of our youth gain acceptance from their parents. #anunwantedpenis

74 Comments

Filed under non-fiction, parenting, transgender, world news

The advantage of circumstance, is no advantage at all.

At some point in your life, a moment comes that breaks you. It’s a break that you can hear. It echoes through your body like the metal gears of an old clock suddenly snapping loose from its tight wound precision. It’s the sound of a mind coming apart. It’s the swan song of idealism, the undoing of a lifetime of beliefs, the disassembly of romantic notions, and the silent surrender of the last of your youth.

The moment before this sound, you were presented with a choice. Not an everyday choice, but one of those choices that sneaks up on you in a moment of opportunity. It’s a panicked choice that gives you only seconds of consideration, praying upon the weak and flawed curious nature of your fears. It’s not enough time to battle the selfish advantage that opportunity brings—and it has little regard for even the most principled of minds. Good… just needs more time to battle evil. And so sometimes, weakness wins.

The moment you’ve made the choice, you can never undo it. Regret and shame settle in like a new blanket of skin, and a profound loss battles your guilt for centre stage. The consequences of your choice seep deep into the nooks and crannies of your thought centers, like the silent flow of lava cementing the dry, cracked plains of the earth. It traps you. Crippling you from the inside out.

And that’s when you hear it. The grinding gears of an old clock.

Suddenly quiet. Void of animation and life.

Leave a comment

Filed under non-fiction, world news

the content whisperer

Magazines were the original social networks. They filled a void for otherwise isolated individuals and the content transported them outside their community.   Brands promoted their products through this early network with static advertising placement that shouted “LOOK AT ME.  BUY ME.  LOVE ME.”

Early television formats featured someone standing motionless at a microphone telling stories.  Much like the technology evolution from radio to television, this print to digital content evolution has left folks standing around delivering static content in a dynamic environment.  Technology changes faster than corporate mindset.

Thankfully, the gap is starting to close and we’re seeing Brands and marketers leading with diversity in content innovation.

Social networks are about sharing.  It’s important to understand the distinction between sharing, and being shared with.  Value, not persuasion, is the core of the social sharing ecosystem.  Content must be dynamic not static—put the microphone down and put on your dancing shoes.

As a brand, providing value in content is about storytelling.  Storytelling is a long-standing tradition at the heart of all families, communities and cultures.  Effective and dynamic story-telling develops deeper, emotional connections that allow readers to be a big part of the experience.

So, how do you tell an effective story?

Imagine your brand as a big book of stories.  Each story must have your brands corporate message baked in (not obvious posturing), it must be relevant, timely, provide value, allow for consumer interaction, and be engaging.  You want your audience to turn the page and read the next story, don’t you?

With that in mind, let’s use Coca-Cola’s 70/20/10 content rule.  70% of your stories should be the low-risk, solid useful content your audience expects—appealing to all audiences.  20% of your stories should be higher-risk, solid useful content that is directed to specific segments of your audience—your loyal consumers.  The last 10% of your stories are where you can set your hair on fire.  It’s the content that reaches out to the edges, or comes at your idea in an entirely new way. Your audience might not be there yet or they might be right there with you.  It’s the crazy, never-been-done-before-and-might-fail ideas.  This is high-risk, but it has the potential to achieve the highest share rate and is also where your future 70-20% will come from.

Ultimately, content innovation is driven by the combination of old ideas and new configurations.  Readers don’t want to be told information in a static one-way drop.  They want to have a conversation about the information, be swept away into the information, they want to be affected and share that information within their own social circles.

Brand stories should be a distribution of creativity with a content excellence that would make a ruthless editor weep tears of joy.  You want to be dramatically different—not just noise in the digital airwaves.  But how many different ways can you do it?  The possibilities are endless!

A good example of a Brand leading their story through innovation is the grocery retail chain, Longo’s.   They are telling you their brand story—quite literally.   They are exercising their 10% and pioneering into new content configuration frontiers.  They are bringing journalistic blogging together with traditional publishing techniques for a compelling story that is fun, engaging, and worth the attention of their audience.

And hey, it can even be plopped into my e-reader with RSS.

This is an idea of brand storytelling through actual storytelling.  Check out Longo’s creative non-fiction brand story here.

1 Comment

Filed under creative non-fiction, Social Media, social strategist, social writer