Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for January, 2010

My new favorite google search for me…

So, I can see the Google search terms that people use to find (or stumble into) my blog. Some are funny, some are disturbing, and some are perplexing. Often I joke with the Darling Boyfriend that people had no idea what they were in for when they clicked on the link that lead to my blog. 😉 And sometimes someone is pretty obviously searching for me. Every once in a while one stands out as being truly brilliant; yesterday there was a winner, and it’s so good I’m thinking of changing the tagline of my blog for the first time in several years. Here it is:

“I am a Penny; this is my adventure.”

How sweet is that?


I’ve seen so many folks labeled under the Trans umbrella talk about duality, as in they feel the duality of both sexes inside. That’s not the kind of duality I want to write about today, for I don’t feel that duality. I feel 100% woman (whatever the hell any of these words mean – what I mean is, now that my soul and my brain and my body all “match,” there is no feeling in me that ever makes me question my womanhood). I am not a third gender. I am a woman who was born with the wrong body. Honestly at this point I feel fairly unremarkable (besides the drumming, I’m awesome for the drumming).

The duality I want to write about is my ability to see merit in both sides of almost every argument or disagreement (as a side note, The Darling Boyfriend is really great at this too, and I think it’s one of the things that makes us so compatible). I’ve joked that I’m nothing but gray. It’s funny, because lots of my closest friends are ~very~ black-and-white. I just can’t dismiss anyone’s point of view. I am trusting and naive, and I believe that what people say is what they really think. I give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that people are all basically good and just want to live happy lives. Those last few things actually get me in trouble sometimes, as the world tries to show me sometimes that they’re not true, but I still firmly cling to my beliefs about the goodness of all people, even when we disagree.

I’ve always been a peace-maker. I simply do not understand why people are horrible to each other, and I never have. This is a tiny world, and we’ve got to share it. I’ve always thought the best way for that to happen was for us all to get along (yes, I channel Rodney King, sorry).

And so the manifestation of this duality I want to write about today is a rift that exists between some folks who were also born with similar issues to my own [it’s hard to say “the same,” because there are so many variations that both the physical and neurological inter- or trans- birth anomalies can take that it seems nearly everyone has their own physical and historical experience and perspective and I don’t intend to minimize anyone’s individual story]. Duality might not even be the right word, as it seems there are several different points of view. I know lots of folks, and I read several blogs, and I read other resources on-line. I’d like to be specific, as it would make some of my points easier to follow in some ways, but I don’t want to single anyone out so I’ll keep this a bit general.

There are those who want to put their medical history behind them and live quiet lives. I sympathize with them. I read their blogs and I agree with so much of what they say. This group of folks isn’t too happy with any label or modifier being attached to their womanhood, and I really understand that (like ~really~). I didn’t do anything special to have a label. I was born with a birth defect. I had surgery when I was three, and another one when I was 38 to correct this birth defect. It’s not really an identity, it’s just a medical issue. My medical history is not what makes me special; the way I have lived my life makes me special. I didn’t sign up to be anyone’s poster-child just by being born and living my life. These folks talk about maintaining and protecting their privacy, and I completely respect that.

And then there are those who are out and proud about their history. I know many folks who proudly proclaim themselves as transgender. I confess that I do understand these people as well. Just as there was nothing I could do about having been born with the wrong body (and I certainly had no say in that genital surgery when I was three), short of having that wrong body surgically corrected, so too I have nothing to be ashamed about. I remember how completely alone and misunderstood I felt when I was six, and twelve, and seventeen, and twenty-three. I wish I had seen other people like me out in the world willing to talk about their stories. I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to be open and vocal about their histories.

And then there are people whom I don’t claim to understand, who feel more comfortable expressing some form of androgyny. I find these folks fascinating (and often they’re the strongest people I’ve ever seen), but I confess to not fully understanding their experience. Which is perhaps why I hang around with them and feel drawn to them, because I hope to understand their unique stories.

Let me stop and say that I recognize “transgender” as a flawed term. It is both a specific and a general. It specifically means folks who cross-dress and live full time as the opposite gender without hormonal or surgical intervention (usually), but it has also been gradually taken to mean anyone who has any sort of gender or sex-diversity. It’s sort of what it would be like if tomorrow we decided that we’d use the label “Chinese” not only to mean people from China, but also all Asian people. That wouldn’t work – neither, really, does “transgender.” It’s a flawed word, and it creates a flawed way that people who are lumped under the “transgender umbrella” are viewed. It annoys people to be labeled as something they are not (call a Vietnamese person Chinese, and see if they don’t correct you), and the word transgender forces that. I hate the word transgender. I’m not trans anything. I was always a woman. I was born with ambiguous genitalia and I had surgery to have it corrected. And don’t even get me started about all the misconceptions people have about the word transgender. I hate all the baggage and hate and misunderstanding that is attached to the word. And yet, at least for the time being, transgender is the word I have. I didn’t vote for it; I didn’t pick it; I don’t endorse it, but someone, somewhere, decided that this was the word that made sense, so until something better comes along, this is the word I’ll use. So, whatever, I hate the word, but I use it because even as flawed as it is, it is useful at this point to convey things in a general sense.

So, there are folks who eschew the word transgender, or any label that would add a qualifier to their womanhood (or manhood), and there are those who proudly embrace the term transgender and its derivatives such as “trans woman” and “trans man.” And I understand where all of them are coming from. But they all seem to think each other is wrong, and irredeemably so. They fight and troll and yell and call names. And it makes me very sad. I’ve met hateful people of every stripe, and I’ve met beautiful and sweet and lovely people of every stripe. I wish people could just judge each other on their individual merits and only take as interesting details what group someone is a part of. I like to mention the fact that I’m Swedish as a comparison to my medical history. There could be a time and place when being Swedish might be seen as a negative (Sweden occupied Finland for quite a while, and were fairly unkind to the Fins, and the Fins rightly felt pretty negative about Swedes), but I would hope that people would still see me as the person I am, with any modifiers attached to me as mere details. My merit as a human being wouldn’t change just because peoples perceptions of Swedes could change.

I sort of walk this middle-ground between the two sides, and I hope that I still can. I’m very supportive of people living quiet lives of privacy where their medical history fades into the background. I recognize their desire to just live a normal life (and I have a similar desire). And I’m also very supportive of people who are out and proud, and I recognize their hopes for the world. I’ve seen people act with grace and dignity whether they’re living quietly or openly, and I’ve seen people act poorly, whether they’re living quietly or openly. It seems like the way they choose to deal with the greater aspects of their lives aren’t necessarily pertinent in how they choose to act when interacting with others. I just try to tell my own story, and live my own life, and only once in a great while will I even talk about general stuff like this anymore. It’s much more fun blogging about drumming or the Darling Boyfriend or sci-fi conventions.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole examination process on my part has been the recognition that I admire so much people who so vehemently disagree with each other.

I think it might be relevant that I see myself as a straight ally to GLB folks. I’m also a monogamous ally to Polyamorous folks. I’m a fan of equality. But that seems like a separate point for another time.

And so I’ll continue to talk about my medical history, and I’ll continue doing it as a seeker. I’ll get frustrated with myself and others. I’ll still see the merit in both sides when others disagree. I’ll still naively hope for reconciliation. I’ll still believe that I can make the world a better place, especially for those born with similar issues to my own (here’s two of my pet issues: leave babies’ genitals alone {no non-emergency genital surgery on anyone before the age of consent} and insurance coverage of sex-affirming surgeries). I’ll still hope to make the world understand.

I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

(Yes, I’m aware that I’m unrealistically optimistic, it’s just my nature – as someone said last night: I’m very New Age. But I believe in a perfect world, and I believe we can create it together.)

Trans Lobby Day 2010

“I might have to become politically active.”

I said that to my Gram about five years ago, when I first told her that I was trans.

I was never one to stand up for myself. I was never one to separate myself from the crowd. I was never one to be political. And yet here I am, going to meet with my state legislators to urge them to support the Trans Civil Rights Bill in Massachusetts.  My words to my Gram have come true, and I’ve become politically active.

Of course, it’s been building for a while. I met my state senator about two months ago and urged him to help move the bill out of the judiciary committee. I’ve volunteered a few times with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. I marched in the Trans Pride parade in Northampton. I marched in the Pride Parade in Boston. I organized an open mic night at my church to support Trans awareness. I went to The Day of Remembrance. I blog. I tease and pretend that I’m not really that active, or that I don’t do too much, but I guess I really am pretty out there.

And so it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t go to the Lobby Day today; it was just something that I knew I would do.

It was an amazing day. I saw so many people I know, and so many people that know me. This really is my community – not because we share some connection to the “trans-umbrella,” but because these are my friends; these are lovely people; these are special people. These are people that I am proud to call my community.

I listened to the speakers at the rally, and there were many, and they were moving. I was surrounded by members of my church, including my priest, and I was moved to tears several times. Hearing folks talk about the discrimination they had faced simply for not conforming to what society thinks a man or a woman is supposed to be was heart-breaking. Hearing some of the legislative co-sponsors of the bill speak helped to balance that heaviness with positivity.

After the rally I went off to see my legislators. I saw staff members in both offices. My Representative, A. Stephen Tobin, is a co-sponsor of the bill, so I offered my thanks. My Senator, Michael Morrissey, was on vacation somewhere warm (smart man). He is a supporter, though not a co-sponsor, so I again offered thanks and urged his staff member to have him write a letter to the judiciary committee to help move the bill to the full houses of the legislature for a vote.

I also made a new friend who lives about a mile from my house. That’s pretty cool!

From chatting with folks, it seems like Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, the chair on the house side of the joint judiciary committee, is holding the bill in committee. And it seems the issue, as it seems to always be, is scary trannies in bathrooms. It makes me really frustrated that the issue is framed this way. In my experience, people who are trans tend to get in and out of the restroom as quickly as possible to avoid any stir. When I was in the midst of my transition, for example, and wasn’t sure whether I would be seen as an intruder in the ladies room, I went to great lengths to avoid using public restrooms at all. I would purposely dehydrate myself so that I wouldn’t have to use a public facility that everyone should take as a public accommodation. When I would go out to gigs I would refuse to use the restroom out of fear that someone might make an issue of me being in the “wrong place.” I often ended up in great physical discomfort, and I’m sure it’s possible that I did some damage to my kidneys, but I was that terrified of using the ladies room. I finally got over it when I flew to Iowa for some gigs. When I was at the airport I had to pee, so I went and peed – I even stood in line. And the world didn’t end. I had been living full-time for eight months by that point, and I had still been too scared to use the proper restroom. It’s just so sad that something that most trans folk are terrified about is turned around and used as if we are just trying to get into public restrooms to cause mischief. *sigh* I have yet to see a report of a trans person causing trouble in a public restroom (short of “causing trouble” by merely having the temerity to exist). It’s just so sad.

So, I feel positive about the day, and my activism. But I also feel sad that it seems so easy for others to hate and fear people whom they don’t understand.

Trans. Rights. Now.

Arisia 2010

Yay, my first Arisia with a boyfriend in tow! 🙂

So, the Darling Boyfriend and I went to Arisia this past weekend, and had sort of a super-amazing time. This was my third Arisia, and his second. We both had professional concerns that pulled us away from the convention at various points on Saturday, but we were at the con for most of it.

We stayed in a lovely room at the Hyatt, with a balcony and an amazing view of Boston and the Charles River. I could have spent the whole weekend in the room looking at the picturesque scene. It was that lovely. The Hyatt is built sort of like a two-dimensional zigguart, and created this sort of “looking out from the peak of a mountain” effect that was just stunning. Seriously, just the room and the view would have made me incredibly happy.

But then there was the actual ~stuff~ to do…

We got there Friday, and it took a while to check-in, but I’ve dealt with bigger hassles before. We had dinner with a couple guys we know from a local game store, and it was really nice getting to chat with them and get to know them better. We bumped into some other friends and hung out and chatted and just got settled on Friday night. We also went up to the top floor to see the art show, which is always one of my favorite parts of the whole convention. We didn’t make it to any of the panels Friday night, but we had plenty of fun and good times.

On Saturday morning the Darling Boyfriend had to get up early and go to work for a few hours, so I was on my own. I went to a really great lecture on music called “Fantastic Film Music Before Star Wars.” It was good, but it was definitely more of a lecture than a panel (it was given by one person, and was very much a presentation). I heard a lot of great music that I had been unfamiliar with, and it was really interesting. It sort of reminded me of being back in school. 😉 After that I had lunch with a couple friends, whom I don’t see enough. After lunch I went to a panel called “1980’s – The Silver Age of SF Movies?” It was a fun panel, until my friend (donned in an awesome custom-made corset – ya gotta love sci/fi cons) pointed out that 1980 was ~30~ years ago. Ouch.

After being made to feel very old I went and tried to donate blood. I got cleared and found that even my iron levels were good (I’m sometimes anemic). I was excited; I’ve never donated blood before. But the nurse stuck me and got a vein but my body just wasn’t giving up any blood. She had to stop it, so I ended up with a big bruise for nothing. I had a bruise on my other arm from a blood test that I had done a couple days before so she couldn’t even try the other arm. *sigh* I felt like a loser. The Darling Boyfriend was back by this time and tried to console me, but I was really bummed. Oh well; I guess I’m just not meant to give blood. 😦

After that we went to a panel called “Queer SF&F,” which was okay, but sort of all over the map. Then I scaled “Mount Arisia,” which means I climbed 15 flights of stairs (remember I said it looks sort of like a mountain, well so do the stairs).

And then I was off to Northampton to play a gig with Leslie-Anne Rios. It was my first time playing with her with an actual drum set; the other time we played together I was playing on my djembe. We played in The Academy of Music, which is a beautiful old theater. I played okay, I’m still sort of learning the songs, but it was a fun gig.

I dashed back to Arisia in time for the reading of The Eye of Argon, which is a really cheesy fantasy story. The game is that each person reads aloud as far as they can, with typos and poor word choice and all – with no laughing. I actually tried reading this year, and didn’t do too badly, either.

On Sunday morning we met a friend for the breakfast buffet, which is awesome.

After breakfast I wasn’t feeling all that well, so I went up to the room and laid down.

The Darling Boyfriend and I had a little tiff, but I still managed to make it down to the Munchkin Brawl, which is a Munchkin game with all the different flavors of Munchkin crammed into one blended game. We played for four hours and still no one got to level 20 (we were playing with “Epic” rules), so the Darling Boyfriend was declared the winner. He was level 12 with a +25 combat bonus. I must point out that even though I was level nine, my combat bonus was +31-+37, so it could be argued that I was on par with, if not ahead of, the Darling Boyfriend. It’s really hard to accurately gauge who is in the lead at any point in a Munchkin game, and that makes games that end early due to time sort of annoying. Anyway, the game was really good for my mood, as it was a lot of fun and I just felt really great by the end of the game.

After Munchkin we went up to our room and had a little alone time, which was really nice, because even though we were at the con together, we had been doing a lot of stuff on our own.

I went to the panel on “Coming Out,” which I had also gone to last year. I’m in a very different place in my life this year, and this panel was different for me. I don’t have the same relationship with my medical history or my body that I did a year ago. I’ve made lots of peace with my past at this point, and so I noticed how much of a “reclaiming of space” and “ownership of self” coming out can be for people. It’s interesting to see that more from the observational side. I even caused a little bit of trouble. There had been a running gag about people needing to come out as Republicans (which, in a hippy-liberal-geeky space like Arisia is something that people are just assumed to ~not~ be). Any time it was mentioned that someone might need to come out as Republican, everyone laughed on cue. I felt a need to point out that in this liberal and progressive and individual-empowering group we might be pushing some of our friends into a closet of their own. It was actually a point well met by the panelists, which made me feel good.

We went and had dinner at the buffet and then went to a panel called “Scening and Catharsis” which was fascinating, and then we topped off the night by watching some Japanese Hentai (anime porn).

On Monday morning, squeezing the last bit of good out of Arisia that I could, I went to a panel called “Stereotype and Religion in Literature,” which I’m pretty sure I went to last year, and was just as fascinating, especially considering that I’m much more comfortable with my Christianity at this point. Then the Darling Boyfriend and I went to “The Casting Couch,” which is a discussion about recasting different roles with different actors (so, your “perfect” Star Wars cast, and so on).

And then we were done.

It was another fantastic Arisia. I absolutely had an amazing time. And I can’t wait till next year!

Sarah Clemens’ art at Arisia 2010

Every year that I’ve gone to Arisia I’ve bought some piece of art from the art show. The art show is one of my favorite parts of Arisia (I think this was the first year that I only made it up to the art show once, but I walked through all of the artists’ work several times. The Artist Guest of Honor this year was Sarah Clemens, and for the first time I bought a piece by the Artist Guest of Honor. I really liked her work. It was fantastical and whimsical and sweet and charming (and some of it was mildly erotic as well, but even that had a sweetness to it that was very endearing). I was sorry that I never got to one of her talks, but the weekend was a little hectic for me.

She was a series of works with two characters, a cat and a dragon, named Magnus and Loki. They were really cute, and it was from this series that I found a piece that just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. It was actually the first piece in the whole show, right as you walked into the first exhibit. I saw it, fell in love with it, and walked around the rest of the show about four times before actually going and buying it. I knew right from when I first saw it, but I wanted to make sure. It is ~so~ cute! It’s called “Pileup,” and here’s a link to her site where you can buy prints. And here’s the pic:

I think I’m going to make buying a piece by the Artist Guest of Honor at Arisia an official tradition. It’s sort of a neat way to fill my house with art, support artists, and remember each year’s Arisia.

Yay art!

Gender Assumptions and Kids

I was at Arisia this past weekend with the Darling Boyfriend. It’s a sci/fi convention, with geeks and nerds and brains all over the place. I’ll blog about the con in a separate post, but something struck me that I wanted to mention in its own post.

There are lots of kids at Arisia (geeks procreate too). Because the Darling Boyfriend has gotten me playing Munchkin, I actually spent some time in the game room this year. There were lots of kids in the game room. A couple kids played in the Munchkin game that I played. And lots of these kids looked either androgynous or completely like the “other” gender. There were a couple little boys that I would have sworn were cute little girls. In fact, without their name-tags I totally would have misgendered them. And I watched other people misgender them several times.

The obvious “answer” is for parents to insist that their children conform to our societal stereotypes of how each gender is supposed to look.

Of course, I don’t think much of that “answer.” (That’s why “answer” is in scare-quotes.)

You could tell that these kids were used to having people make the wrong assumptions about who they are, and they generally handled the mistakes with aplomb. And most of the folks who misgendered these kids instantly turned into teaching and caring and empathic moments (one man even told a little boy about how he had a high voice when he was younger and was often mistake for a girl and how he hated it). It was an interesting thing to watch, all these kids breaking norms and being strong enough to just gently correct people when they made mistakes.

And I wondered if any of these kids were doing more than just breaking societal gender norms. I wondered if any of these kids were expressing something that didn’t have words for yet. I wondered how I could reach out to any of these kids and find answers to those questions. And I realized that I couldn’t. But I did take to these kids instantly. And I know all I can do is be me and live like me and maybe present a positive role-model for any of those kids that are more than just challenging gender-norms, but have deeper issues with their gender. I suffered due to a lack of visible people like me when I was younger, and I’d really like to be available as a role model for kids like I was.

Anyway, the punch-line is…

I leaned over to the Darling Boyfriend at one point and told him that I’m never going to make an assumption about a kid’s gender ever again. I know I will, but this weekend was a powerful reminder for me that people come in all shapes and sizes. We ~glance~ at each other and instantly start to make assumptions. It’s important to slow down and take individuals as just that – individuals.

Oh, and playing games with all those geeky kids just tweaked my “I want a baby” button like mad. Those kids were so frickin’ cute. I want one.

Off to Arisia ’10

The Darling Boyfriend and I are off to Arisia for the weekend, and I’m pretty excited. This will be my third year and his second, and it should be all sorts of goofy, amazing, geeky, lovely fun.


Not much of a post, but I just felt like saying: YAY!

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