Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20 (tomorrow), the annual, solemn, unfortunately necessary Transgender Day of Remembrance marks its tenth anniversary. While some local observances occur on other dates in November for one reason or another, still the 20th is the primary date. This annual observance began in 1999 in San Francisco as a means of memorializing a transsexual who was murdered in November, 1998. The groups that maintain the sobering Remembering our Dead web page and the Transgender Day of Remembrance website track the sickening statistics.

In a downloadable Excel spreadsheet (it also opens in Quattro Pro X3), found at the latter website, names (where known), place, date and what is known about each death are all listed. The main table, listing all known homicides worldwide from 1970 to 2008 lists 419 names. In the United States, eight senseless and needless transgender deaths occurred in 2007, including one due to denial of medical treatment at several medical centers in Texas, and one in California that is sickening. An alleged undocumented alien needed an antibiotic to help recover from an HIV-connected illness. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials denied her access to the antibiotic, so she died in US Federal custody. Yet one more example of the extent to which the current Administration showers contempt on basic human decency and morality.

Through November 18, there have been sixteen such homicides in 2008, including one in Syracuse, NY last Friday, November 14. In this latest case, the transsexual and her brother were sitting in a car when they were shot. As of Monday’s update, the brother was still alive. One more sobering estimate exists. As reported last year, while people generally face a less than 0.0055% chance of becoming a homicide victim, transsexuals face about a 10% chance. This shows that a transsexual’s risk of becoming a murder statistic is over 1800 times higher than the people around her. Add to that the estimate I have seen that 60% of all transsexuals have been assaulted, and it can be seen that life truly is uncertain for transsexuals.

Over the last decade a few trans community murders have been turned into movies. Three that I have seen include A Girl Like Me: the Gwen Araujo Story, about a California high school aged male to female transsexual who was tortured, killed and buried by a quartet of male classmates, Boys Don’t Cry, a telling of the short life of Brandon Teena, a female to male transsexual brutally murdered in a small town in Nebraska solely because of his difference, and Soldier’s Girl, about US Army Private Brandon Winchell, beaten to death with a baseball bat by mentally unstable members of his unit because he was dating a male to female nightclub singer/entertainer at a bar near their Kentucky base. Even though he wasn’t transsexual, I feel it is appropriate to include his name on the list since his acceptance of a transsexual as normal directly led to his death.

When will this senseless killing stop? It would be a definite benefit to the transgender community if this astronomical homicide rate could be brought back down to a level comparable to the rest of society in a year or two. That, however, is sadly unrealistic. For that to happen, human societies worldwide will need to become more accepting of human diversity in all of its complexities, and will need to learn greater tolerance of individual differences.

Having said that, I choose to be optimistic that humanity will, in time, reach that level of healthiness. In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (a childhood hero in my eyes) spoke eloquently of a time when people would be judged on the content of their character, not their skin color. Within me, his eloquent dream lives on, and will live on as long as I live. Building on his dream, I dream of a time when people outgrow the need to judge their fellow human beings.

Scattered across the globe, various appropriate ceremonies will be held to remember the fallen. Not surprisingly, no announced ceremonies or observances are planned in Idaho, where I live. In light of the wide-spread bigotry and resistance to change in this state, it will be quite a while before any events like this can be planned.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update: 50,000 words are in sight

November moved into its second half this weekend. This means that the 125,000 or so participants in this year’s National Novel Writing Month project need to be very close to the 25,000 word mark in their manuscripts to have a realistic chance of hitting the 50,000 word target by the close of November.

I am in good shape in this respect. As of this evening, my word count has topped 31,700 words, so in my mind the countdown is on. I am reaching the home stretch, and my personal goal of reaching the 50,000 word mark by Thanksgiving eve (a week from this Wednesday) is in sight. To pull that off, I need to add about 18,300 words (or more). Given that there are ten days left in which to reach this target, I would need to average about 1,830 words a day. Given that I have been averaging a little over 2,000 words a day since I started on November 2, this is eminently doable.

So now it becomes pertinant to reflect on what I have learned or discovered during the course of this year’s project. Actually, plenty. First, I have confirmed for myself that I am, in fact, a writer. Even NaNoWriMo veterans make that observation. If a participant finds the challenge to be fun, and, perhaps, not that hard, then odds are that participant is a writer. To me, once I hit my stride last week, I found the pace to be rather easy. For example, to write 50,000 words in exactly 30 days, a pace of 1,700 words (or a little less) a day is needed. Last week, on successive evenings I wrote about 7,100 words combined, and did not feel stressed by that pace.

One question that came up on one of the website’s forum boards concerns the use (or non use) of outlines. I noticed that virtually all of the participants who added relies don’t use outlines, for one reason or another. I approached this manuscript much like I have launched term papers in school: when it came to the actual writing, I simply jumped in and started writing. I find written outlines to be a distraction so I disdain their use. With this manuscript, writing without an outline has given the writing the flexibility to unfold as it chooses. While this might sound like a chaotic situation (and a couple of times it felt that way), actually out of that essentially free-form writing style I have gained a number of fresh perspectives and insights that will be immensely useful for me.

This year’s manuscript is a fictionalized transsexual autobiography with a wrinkle. When finished, my current intention is to use the autobiography as a backdrop for an investigation into possible biological and social antecedents of transsexual identity formation, with an examination of the "absent father figure" as a contributing factor. In parallel with this, I am planning on exploring the interplay between family emotional dysfunctionality and transsexual identity formation. I am getting a sense that inter-generational transmission of emotional memories (parent to child, possibly even grandparent to grandchild) is emerging as an issue to be examined.

In other words, once the 50,000 word mark has been surpassed, and has been confirmed by the website servers, which will add my name to the list of this year’s winners, a fairly significant amount of additional research will need to be done as well as the editing (and additional writing) process. Yes, this does sound like a mountain of work still to be done before this manuscript will reach the point of publish ability. So the question is: have I set a target deadline for completion of this project? Yes: October 31, 2009, so I can step back, take a breath, load up on caffeine, and, a few seconds into November 2009, begin writing next year’s NaNoWriMo winning manuscript.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 Days

November of every year is when this open competition takes place. The ground rules all participants must adhere to are simple: write 50,000 (or more) words of a new novel, provided that the only words that can be included in the official word count must be written between November 1 and November 30. The sponsors stress that in November the focus is on quantity not quality; December is for editing.

This is my first year of participation, having just learned of its existence while browsing the deeply engrossing blogs hosted by on November 1. After thinking about it for a bit, I signed on shortly before midnight, then begain writing in the wee small hours of November 2. In the first seven days of writing, my word count has gone from 0 to 14,000 plus, so, yeah, I am quite confident I will hit the target on time, and will join the thousands of other winners.

During November, if long gaps of time develop between posts on this blog, it's because I am up to my hair follicles chipping away toward the 50,000 word target one word at a time. Still, I find the fiction writing process to be quite enjoyable (so far), and, since this first manuscript is intended to use my trans autobiography as a backdrop for exploring the interplay between family dysfunctionality and trans identity development as well as the question about the nature and nurture aspects of transgendered identity formation. Suffice to say, this first 50,000 words is just that -- the first 50,000.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Finally, the Elections Are Over, And Hope Has a Chance

The American elections reached their Election Day conclusion today. Several hours earlier than I expected, the Presidential race ended when Republican John McCain called Democrat Barack Obama to congratulate him, then publically conceded the election. This means that the 44th US President will be its first African-American occupant of the Oval Office. In the final days of the campaign the current economic mess trumped all other campaign issues.

So now the transition, and the healing can begin. I feel that, with the Obama victory, hope has a chance. We saw that during the dust up between Russia and Georgia earlier this year. When McCain was asked how he would respond to the situation if he was President, his response was predictably militaristic, and involved sending US troops into Georgia, to side with the Georgians. Barack Obama’s response to the same question centered on seeking a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means.

While exit polls appear to indicate that economic concerns formed the top issue in voters minds, still I wonder about the subconscious impact candidate health had on the outcome. The fact that John McCain is 72, and has had four malignant melanoma skin cancer surgeries had to be a background concern, at least in the minds of some voters. The extent of its influence on the more medically aware voters will never be known.

Still, tonight, the United States faces a better future because enough responsible citizens saw through the last minute mud slinging from the Republican side and cast a decisive vote for the candidate of change. Now let the international healing begin.

Finally, tonight, there is even better news: in 77 days the Bush nightmare finally will end. More importantly he has only 15 days left in which his administration can make "economically significant" policy and Federal rule changes. After November 20, any such changes become draft proposals for the next President to act on.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Days To Go Before the Counting (And Recounts, Challenges, etc) Begins

Two days from today it will be Election Day in the United States. The general sentiment among state election officials is that this years turnout will be significantly heavier than in many recent elections. Whether this is an accurate assessment can only be known once all of the votes have been counted and the actual per cent age of registered voters who voted is determined.

At this point, two things are certain. First, in each contested race there will be one winner and at least one looser. In the race for President either Barack Obama will win, which means John McCain will lose, or vice versa. Second, I feel the Presidential outcome will not be known with any certainty until the states of Oregon, Washington and California declare their respective states’ winner. If this is the case, given that the polls on the west coast don’t close until 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on the east coast (where big media is concentrated), it could easily be two or three am before the outcome is known.

However, as we have seen with recent Presidential elections, even then the outcome might remain up in the air. Should John McCain appear to win, I look for Democratic challenges to the outcome in possibly several states, alleging tampering with electronic voting machines. Already, I am seeing multiple references to videos circulating on the Internet showing touch screen units changing votes cast for Obama to votes for McCain. So 2008 might end up being a replay of 2000, with the Courts deciding who will be the next US President.

My embracing of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism has been on-going for some time. For me, it is far healthier and down to earth than Christianity, the faith of my youth. I am surviving this pivotal national election cycle with far less psychological distress than in recent years because the core Buddhist teaching "all is impermanent" helps me keep things in perspective. Whoever occupies the Oval Office next will do so only for a short period of time, then fade into history.
I’ve subscribed to Tricycle: the Buddhist Review for several years now. On their excellent website, they offer a free series of e-mails called the Tricycle Daily Dharma, which is a series of short passages presenting various aspects of overall Dharma. The November 1 Daily Dharma provides an interesting additional way of looking at this year’s election outcomes.

Joseph Goldstein, author of the book Insight Meditation, where this passage first appeared, illustrated the difference between perception and mindfulness. Briefly, when perception outweighs mindfulness, the mind recognizes various appearance-guided artificial concepts. To build on his main example, in the Northern Hemisphere nighttime sky, on a clear night it is relatively easy to identify a constellation called the Big Dipper. It takes its name form the shape a particular set of stars forms in the sky. While this artificial concept helps identify this set of stars, allowing one to become attached to this concept causes these stars to stand out and become separated from the rest of the stars. This, in turn, causes the observer to lose sight of the oneness and the wholeness of the universe.

These thoughts are helping me see the US elections in a different, and far less stressful, light. In the Presidential race between Obama and McCain, supporters of each carry perceptions that their candidate is right and the other candidate is wrong. The same can be said about the policies each side is promoting. These positions arise out of perceptions, not mindfulness. When the final winner is determined, supporters of the victor will see the outcome as a victory for all Americans, while the loser’s supporters will see only gloom and doom ahead.

So what future does exist for the United States? I am not a psychic, so I don’t know. What I do know comes from US history, particularly over the last 40 years or so. Every newly elected US President has entered office will a specific set of goals and plans to accomplish while in office. Under the US system, all such ideas must gain the approval of Congress before taking effect. More often than not, that is the black hole where Presidential ideas get lost in petty partisanship. Thus, it really doesn’t matter who wins, the new President will still have the US Congress to deal with. To the winner: good luck.