A Family, A History, A Legacy

Tonight, I was reading an article about how a supposed travel writer of the NYT would never wish to visit Israel. For me, as a “new Jew,” this is something very hard to understand the sentiments behind. Not only is Israel the center of the religion to which I am drawn, but aside from that in entirety, the country is a cultural gold mine, literally representing the cradle of the Christian and Jewish faiths, and thus, some of the best recorded history.

In as much as I have been lucky enough to be part of a family, in some ways, I don’t feel that I really am in that family. On one side, I have a group of people who have completely rejected me, and whom I have rejected, and on the other, a group that mostly accepts me, but in some ways would trade me for a rookie with some head issues and a limited pitching repertoire.

For me, I came to realize that what Israel represents to me is much like what most people get from their family. A history and legacy. The stories of the old country, the ancestors, the claim to the rights that brings with it. Perhaps I’m disaffected in some ways, but I just don’t feel any heritage. I love my family, but I’m often left feeling an outsider. As a trans woman, and as someone who was just sort of absorbed into the family, I feel like all too often, everyone is aware of both of these things, and I am loved for neither.

More than that, though, in Israel, I find a level of acceptance I don’t get from my own friends and family. Not all of them, of course, many are in the same or worse positions that I am. Some of my family I know loves me as deeply as I love them, and I would truly be lost without their love and support, but I just know that I am not what they want.

Will I get to go find that family and history? Who knows? I do know that I want to, though.


Kol Nidrei at Occupy Wall Street

So, I spent Friday evening at Occupy Wall Street with a group organized through my shul, CBST.

Here’s a video I shot at request of some other people who made it. It’s not spectacular quality – it’s from my Droid Incredible, and it was low enough light. Still, people were celebrating and dancing, and though typically a more somber event, the spin put on it was that we would pledge to do our best to fight injustices (and that we would not be silent on matters we believed in). Mostly, these took the form of calling Wall Street to task, but plenty were also self improvements.

Kol Nidrei at Occupy Wall Street

Needless to say, there’s a reason I enjoy being part of an extremely liberal shul. Getting involved in OWS and adding a positive voice that appealed to humanity, not anger, felt really good.

Now, full disclosure – I was a terrible Jew this past weekend. I didn’t attend services other than the OWS Kol Nidrei service, even though I should have, but honestly, I just felt like I’d end up with a bad taste for them if I spent the day there not knowing what was going on. I also didn’t fast, though my friends would attest to the fact that when you’re on as many meds as I am, and react as well as I do to lack of food, that was the best thing I could do. Still, I’d really love to be able to participate in a holiday properly.

All that said, I am meeting with my rabbi soon, hopefully, to figure out how to go about a proper conversion so that with luck, next year I’ll be attending the holidays with an idea of what’s going on. My genuine hope is to be able to truly “enjoy” the experiences of being there and dedicating myself and my time to G-d, something I feel too many don’t share. (If you have a lot of Jewish friends, particularly Secular or extremely religious ones, ask them their opinion on conversion – it reads like a list of reasons not to go into a cage with a hungry lion.) In short, if you feel this way, why is it that you believe G-d gives even the slightest shit about what happens to you in eternity? There’s no sense going to services and observing the mitzvot if you’re simply doing it out of robotic obedience.

(I should note that I’m not implying that any of my friends are doing this, it’s a general observation.)

Anyway, it’s time for me to reach out to that rabbi and get on this. I should be putting a bit of money into classes and such, and not upgrading my car (even though my clutch is shot, and I really think it needs to be upgraded!).


The Death Sentence

According to so many religions, certain acts mandate the death sentence. Certainly, many of the rules are simply outmoded, and for one reason or another, are comical and ridiculous to consider enforcing. Some have taken on a more appropriate punishment, or simply moved down to being things which are criticized. For obvious reasons, this is good – nobody wants to be put to death for being held in contempt of court – though it would be kind of hilarious to see Karl Rove put to death for being in contempt of Congress.

Last night, as the majority of the world now knows, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia, his official time of death recorded as 11:08 PM. I admit, I’m not a hero of justice, I wasn’t fighting for his freedom or anything, and I really wasn’t aware of the case until about two months ago, if that. I’m not saying people didn’t fight hard enough, or that I was the only one who cared – no, if nobody else fought or cared enough, I’d never have known about this, my world would have been no different today than yesterday.

In 1991, Troy was convicted of, and sentenced to death for, the murder of an off duty police officer, Mark MacPhail, working as a security guard who was attempting to help a homeless man being assaulted in a parking lot.

Troy was convicted, based in large part, on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony, including that of Sylvester “Redd” Coles, later himself implicated in the crime. Due to a string of mishandling of the case, evidence, and witnesses by the defense, both in the original trial and subsequent appeals and evidentiary hearings, as well as the aggression of the prosecutors, and the blood thirsty MacPhail family, no substantial case was put together to clear Davis, or at least commute his sentence to life in prison.

I do not claim to know whether or not Troy Davis was guilty or innocent. The most important fact here is that we do not KNOW. Enough holes were in the original case, or later exposed that the case by definition must be considered to have at least a serious doubt, serious enough that the death penalty cannot in fairness be applied here. Unfortunately, for Troy Davis, at least, the debate is now academic. Hopefully, he will at least be given a fair trial in his afterlife.

As a generality, I personally believe in the death penalty. Some crimes are simply too heinous, such as rape, child molestation, and murder, and the perpetrators of these crimes do not deserve the life they have been given, and in some cases, maintain after committing the crime. That said, the burden of proof in a capital case must by definition be 100%. There can be no doubt, as a life cannot be returned once taken. A life sentence without the possibility of parole serves the same purpose, and it always leaves room for a conviction to be overturned later.

In a different case, the death sentence is almost not enough, certainly not in a manner which we can feel a true sense of justice. Just hours before Troy Davis was executed, justice was truly served, even if in a state in which the death penalty should be abolished for the sake of the poor and innocent who may be the wrong color or class. Last night, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in perhaps one of the most well known and revolting hate crimes of the last century.

Brewer and two of his friends, John William King and Shawn Berry, chained a black man, James Byrd, Jr. to the back of their pickup truck, and dragged him to death, spreading his remains across nearly three miles.

My point is, I support the death penalty. A deterrent it is not, but I know that I could be brought some peace if someone close to me were murdered, and the guilty party would have to face their imminent death. While there is still room for error, however, I cannot support the death penalty. A mistake like that cannot be reversed.


Being a Good Person vs. Being Too Good

Is there such a thing as being too good of a person? I never would have believed it, but it might be possible, at least insofar as societal concepts go. Most people contribute something to the world, and try to leave things better than they found them. Some people though give everything to help other people.

I don’t know when or how it started, nor why, but I’ve always had a feeling that I owe it to the world to do the most good I can. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a saint, nor am I saying I should be (though I might revisit that in the event the current Pope ever gets sainted). I’ve got plenty of issues and faults, and blame them on what you or I might like, they’re still within my control. I’m just saying that I’ve tried, in particular in the last few years, to do the right thing wherever possible, to “take care of my people,” as my grandfather might have said.

(Wait – what’s this business about the Pope? Isn’t this a Jewish site? Yes, it is, more or less, but I have some strong feelings as a recovering Cathoholic. [sic])

For a very long time, I have had a habit of sort of spreading my luck (I won’t say wealth, as I have none of that) around to those who have less. This has been doubly so within the trans community since I’ve been involved there, most of our people in the group have low to no income, and have difficulty improving their chances due to discrimination and transphobia. Be it a few bucks for a Metrocard or bus, a ride somewhere, a meal, help moving from one transient home to another, or even occasionally a computer as I happen to have a spare one, I’ve done what I can. In turn, I’ve been blessed with people so wonderful that they will often share their last $20 with me on the times when I’ve been low on money.

This is by no means my way of extolling my generosity or virtues, I don’t see it as that anyway. This is more about peoples’ reactions to this behavior, and how some have taken to treating me in response.

I have noticed an increasingly negative response to my desire to do the buying when I’m able, or offer to go out of my way, or whatever it is that I’m able to do to help. The first time it was really said out loud to me was a date last year who told me straight up (AFTER we’d had several dates and I’d paid for all of them) that she felt like I was “trying to buy” her. In my opinion, it’s one thing to buy someone things and then expect more from them, and quite another to simply treat them and let them make the next decisions. Certainly to go so far as accepting someone else’s generosity, regardless of motive, and then accuse them of having an ulterior motive after having accepted it all is more than a little ridiculous.

Moreover, it strikes me that after a time, some people come to just expect this, that someone would be a never ending fountain of wishes. On more than one occasion, the one time I am unable to help someone, people act as though I’m their ‘tagalong’ friend who always takes but never gives. When this happened almost ten years ago in a group of myself and two other friends, the third friend had to point out how ridiculous it was when the other friend suddenly got upset that I asked him to loan me money for lunch that day. The third friend had to remind the other that I had paid for most of his lunches back in school, and he got so indignant that I was daring to ask him for a favor, as if I’d always borrowed his last dollar and never once repaid him.

I’m not looking for reassurances that I’m a really great or special person, nor do I want supporting or countering evidence from people on this post. I just wanted to vent about being made to feel like I’m somehow a terrible person for behavior I can’t even explain.


Transsexuality and G-d, Struggling With Desire and Calling

This afternoon (When did it become afternoon? The dreary weather makes it feel more like a late morning that just won’t quit), I was having an e-mail conversation with my aunt. We had a conversation over tea not long ago about how transsexuality and feminism are inextricably linked, and how that link requires a mutual respect and acceptance between cis and transgendered women. More to the point, I suppose I had the conversation, she listened… sort of. Such is the life of a conversation with my aunt and things which do not concern Adam Lambert.

We all know that a biological ability to do something does not, in and of themselves, make up the physical sexes, let alone gender identities. To my aunt, however, those basic (and base) properties are all that should be entailed in the determination of gender. To her, rejection of one set of properties and jealousy/lust for another are conflated as being the same as my gender identity, and the resultant dysphoric feelings.

Part of my biggest issue with religion and G-d in the past have related to being handed a raw deal, and being asked to endure it. The concept to me is anathema that someone could willingly give a life filled with hurt, sadness, anger, and despair, in addition to being asked to live without being something you feel such a desperate longing for. Maybe, though, there is something to the idea that “We are only given that which we can handle.”

During this conversation, I began writing a response to her which triggered more thoughts, ones not relevant to her, or perhaps things that could not be explained to her. A few months ago, during a visit to the hospital for my job, I was confronted with an ugly reality, one that had lingered in my mind, but never really had time to set in and do some damage. I was on the maternity ward doing a survey of some of our devices, and forced to reconcile the fact that I would never be here for myself. Yes, perhaps for a partner, or a friend, but never for me – I would never occupy one of these rooms.

I had the recognition today, even if I hadn’t been searching for it outright, that though I was not to be granted the gift of having been born as I would desire, there is something else for which I’ve been chosen. It may take a long time, but I will find whatever that is, and with the help of faith, friends, and family, I intend to make the best of it.


Dreams, Weddings, but not a Dream Wedding

So I had one of the strangest dreams of my life last night. Terrifying only in how sad it was – I think I might’ve been crying in my sleep last night.

I dreamed that I was going to get married, finally!Skipping all the stuff I barely remember anyway, I got my whole family and friends together. We had a space (a church??? Really, dreams?), everyone was there. Strangely, it seemed that nobody else was READY for it except me. Now mind you, I had no memory of making arrangements with anyone, but yet nobody in the wedding party was ready. As in, there wasn’t one!

As I’m standing in the back, I realize that there’s nobody to walk me down the aisle. This part is sort of a quiet screaming fear in the back of my head, quite likely really, that my Dad won’t be willing to give me away. This is probably true, sadly, and one of the things that upset me the most about this dream. Even if he does, I doubt he’ll be happy or proud, or for that matter, anything less than ashamed.

So I go to get up and get everything ready to go, and go up to the altar, sans any typical procession or anything, when I realize – I’m not prepared at all. I go over to talk to my cousin Deb, one of my biggest advisors and trustees in the family to talk about it. Of course, at this point there’s nothing she can do. There’s nobody there to do the marrying (yes, Francesca and Lynn, I know, you’re both qualified and more than willing, but this is a dream, there is no logic there), and moreover, there’s nobody to marry!

Standing in the shadow of the tank (yes, there is apparently a tank in the church because we’re in imminent danger for some reason, and we need a TANK to defend us), I begin to panic. At some point, I just ran out of the church in full panic attack.Curiously, from the outside of the church, it looked more like a typical courthouse as much as it did a church (Athenian Architecture, columns, the whole bit). Dream ended there.

 

So, just sort of picking out a few details, I think I can pick up the strands from which this dream was constructed.

 

– The wedding: Well, aside from the fact that I have been itching to get married since I was probably 16 (and perhaps planning that out more than I’ll admit), that’s a pretty fair start. That said, more recently, my cousin Paul just got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Erica. A long way off from the big day, sure, but certainly a good way to steer my brain to thinking about such things.

– The church: I suppose my brain just sort of picked that one out. Considering that I’m converting to Judaism, it would make sense that it would be elsewhere, but the synagogue I am currently regularly attending has its home in a church it rents space from. (Although, the church is an Episcopal one, ergo, no Greek architecture. The culprit there is likely from being down at Centre Street in Manhattan, pending the finale of my name change.) Ok, sense made.

– Tank: Too many reports of the shit going on over in Libya. Fine, fair.

– Nobody to marry: I have been quite lonely of late. I suspect this has a great deal to do with that horrifying realization. I suspect I feel like I will never find anyone, even though I have a date tonight and it actually promises to be a good one. So so strange.

(I just ask that people spare me any sarcastic comments. I’m a little shaken up by this.)


Socially Promiscuous

So this post is quite old, and I’m a bit at a loss to explain how I never finished it except for all the aforementioned overabundance of stuff to write about. Here goes at writing about something I sort of left behind. This was started shortly after the Philly Trans Health Conference (PTHC), an exciting event for me but which was filled with sorrowful reminders of my dear friend, Stacy.

With that in mind, I transport you magically back two months in time:

This weekend was a bit of an eye opener for me. I’ve talked before about having a much more open mind these days than ever before – it’s very unusual for me. That being said, this weekend I had the pleasure of being so much more socially active than I’d ever experienced in my life, and I have to say it was a blast. I used the word ‘Promiscuous’ with good cause as well. I spent the weekend being the biggest flirt I’ve ever been, coming on to just about anyone I found attractive.

I know, I know, this is a good and a bad thing – there are many conflicting reasons that this isn’t a great idea (appearing desperate (I did, ask my roommates), being seen as slutty, being too forward), but it was a lot of fun and a very safe environment to make a move on people. There was no real fear of an angry rejection, one likely to out me to people who wouldn’t approve of my lifestyle, and less fear of rejection overall. To my disappointment, I failed in this objective, but nonetheless, it was relieving to shake some of my fear in approaching people.

My biggest accomplishment that weekend though was meeting so many new wonderful people, and getting to know many of them under better circumstances than previously. I got to know The Penguin a good deal better – not named so because of any physical comparison, but because of her obsession with a special penguin we geeks know, and no, not Pen Pen. I originally met her at Stacy’s wake and funeral, and obviously, it was a very difficult time for any of us to really open up and speak about ourselves.

My roommate, well, that’s a special one right there. A friend of Stacy’s originally from the previous PTHC, California Girl was pretty much amazing. I don’t wish they all could be California Girls, but this one was awesome. We talked about our transitions and how they’ve really come to define us, both to ourselves and to those who surround us, for good or bad, we shared a morning of excitement when we thought we found a bed bug (what we found was much larger, and just as creepy, though harmless), and just generally had a great time.

For all of the other girls I met there, know that I haven’t and won’t forget you all – I have so many more friends than I ever anticipated now, and you have all been wonderful to get to know since the end of the conference. Simply an incredible experience, and I hope it’s only better next year.