Who the hell am I?
I get asked that a lot. Usually it comes from people who wonder what right I have to speak up about gender issues, or glbt issues, or women's issues, or < fill in the blank > issues. And most likely those self-same people will not wander into this diary at any point in time, would rather die than acknowledging certain social justice issues, but maybe it will make my job easier to have someplace I can just throw a link to in my future time of need.
The following was started some time in the latter part of the 1990s. It was incomplete. Consider this an attempt at being even more open and truthful...and perhaps more confusing as I include updates as asides and intentionally do not change tenses.
I'm Robyn Serven. Here's me in this picture here (well, it was me in January of 1995...I tend to be a little photo shy, I guess, since there aren't too many of them available). I'm now 51 years old, which is older than I ever imagined myself being, but I suppose I'm not really complaining (well, except for the physical problems that seem to have arrived along with getting this old).
I teach mathematics at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, which is about 30 miles north northwest of Little Rock along I-40. I am an algebraist. My special skill lies in the teaching of the fundamentals of the syntax and vocabulary of the language of mathematics. I can apply this skill because of the Ph.D. I received at the University of Oregon in 1981 (I am originally from Lake Oswego, OR, and received my undergraduate degree from Portland State University, graduating after two and one-half years with a 4.0 GPA while majoring in mathematics). Students here seem to think I am a good teacher. They also think I am challenging. Who am I to disagree with this assessment?
My reality has changed drastically several times during my life.
[Still is. Transsexual lesbian mathematics professor at the University of Central Arkansas? The most recent change is that I'm now 59 and teach the syntax and vocabulary of programming languages at Bloomfield College near Newark, New Jersey.]
I have been (as if it makes a difference, but it does give reference points):
...the first openly transsexual person to attend a Rainbow Gathering (1993).
...the first transsexual woman (to anyone's knowledge) to attend a Women's Project Retreat
...an active member of the Women's Project, and through that organization, active in the Arkansas Progressive Network. I'll be writing about our Hate Free Zones campaign in the near future.
- Okay. I moved from Arkansas and have had to set this aside in the process of gaining tenure in my new discipline. Hence the use of the past tense "have been" above.
- The Hate Free Zones campaign included my first and only attempt at "acting," as one half of the role, lesbian couple seen walking while viewers listen to Mediate by INXS.]
...the transwoman mentioned in the book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism by Suzanne Pharr, as well as in her interview in Ms. magazine in the way back.
...Regional Director of the PFLAG Transgender Special Outreach Network for the Heartlands Region (Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma) and co-facilitator of the tgs-pflag email support list. [Ditto the previous. Works were left in my wake, whether for good or bad.] Here's a resource link.
...a member of the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Gay and Lesbian Task Force. I recently resigned because I disagreed with the direction the organization was pursuing. I do not believe that the purpose of any gay and lesbian organization should be to make money off the gay and lesbian community. [Instead, I believed in the values of the NGLTF.]
...a columnist for the gay newsmagazine Triangle Rising, writing the monthly column From Outside the Gender Prison and the semi-regular offerings Let Me Get This Straight
...a founding member of Conway Prism, formerly the Conway Task Force, along with my [former] partner Alicia. We open our house to anyone who wants to come, as long as they are GLBT friendly. We have quite a few students and others from the community who show up for socializing and support. It's our attempt to build community.
...advisor for PRISM, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight student alliance at the University of Central Arkansas. [It still exists. :)]
...member/officer of the Faulkner County, AR, chapter of the National Organization of Women.
...a member of the following email lists: OWLS,
TRANS-THEORY, PFLAG-TSON and TSLESBIAN.
...a former member of the following email lists: SAPPHO, TRANSGEN, TSMENACE, TGS-PFLAG, PFLAG-TALK, GLB-MATH, TG-SPIRIT, TRANS-THEORY, PFLAG-TSON and TSLESBIAN.
...the author of several of the poems published as part of the flyer entitled "Poetry by Transsexual Women," copies of which were symbolically tossed into the latrines at the Michigan Women's Music Festival in 1993.
...author of two and a fraction of the poems in Chapter 11: In Their Own Words of True Selves by Mildred L. Brown and Chloe Ann Rounsley. The editing of the third poem still irks me.
...author of 107 poems which made their first appearances at Daily Kos, most of them under the banner Poem du Jour.
[In the interest of full disclosure, it wasn't like I did nothing before transitioning. Some of those items include dodging the draft for 3 years, during which I was a digger in the Haight, marched on Washington and resided in Resurrection City with the Poor People's Campaign, became a Spec. 5 in the USArmy as a correctional specialist at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, earned a presidential commendation from Nixon for helping to fix the broken Army inmate pay system, and raised a child.]
Statement of purpose:
Words are powerful. Words convey meaning and meaning is the substance of ideas. Ideas can be dangerous. Or perhaps it is rather the case that some people seem to find ideas dangerous. Personally I believe in the freedom to have and voice ideas. Campaigns to limit the expression of ideas are what I find dangerous. But then, I have discovered that I am a creature destined to push limits wherever I find them.
I believe in growth of the individual. I believe that cultural restrictions on individual growth need to be examined for their purpose and challenged if that purpose is found lacking. Human beings should to be free to evolve beyond what is classified as "normal." Normality is stagnation. A human beings has to grow in order to reach full potential. Such growth often stretches the limits defined on the culture by what is or is not normal.
I am not a normal human and I have not lived a normal life. What I believe is not what is normally believed by normal people. How I have lived my life is not acceptable to many adherents to the cult of normality. So my abnormality is considered by some to be dangerous. My ideas may be no less so.
For some reason the voice that surfaced from within me a few years ago has been found by some to be a voice of reason. If it were not so, I wouldn't share my thoughts as I do. I share them and my reality in the hope that something here will help someone cope with their own reality and on the off chance that something here just might lead to the world being a fundamentally better place to live.
--Robyn Elaine Serven
PS: It was almost exactly 13 years ago that I had my sex-reassignment surgery. Currently I'm working on an autobiographical piece...my life's work, as it were. I work better with audience interaction, so I'm going to be doing some of that work here...so that people can, and hopefully do, actually interact, as they may so choose. Please remember:
- You don't have to watch.
- Of course it will seem self-centered. It's an autobiography. You have my permission to be self-centered when you do your autobiography.
My plans are to first publish a few additional background pieces in addition to the previous Gender Workshops and indeed, all my other diaries, both here at Daily Kos and at Robyn's Perch. But the backbone of the summer will be the proto-blog online diary I did in 1994, reformatted for modern technology and annotated/commented upon from the perspective of an additional 13 years. Diary will begin July 4 since the original begins that day, but will cover 3 or 4 days at a time, making each slice about 10K in size.