(an excerpt from my currently untitled autobiography in progress)
Let's get this straight right from the beginning. I'm a transsexual woman. For whatever reasons I may have had (which will be explored elsewhere in this book), I changed my sex. I was born with some male body parts, but I'm much better now.
Being transsexual is an evolving process. It takes longer for some people to evolve than others. In my case it has taken nearly 48 years so far...less than some, more than most. I'm still evolving and I imagine I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Evolution is painful for any individual so many of us fight it tooth and nail for most of our existence. If we're lucky, we realize at some point that we have to stop trying to swim upstream and let the river of life carry us to whatever shore it will. That's a frightening prospect because there's no guarantee that we still won't drown along the way. All that is certain is that swimming upstream isn't a fruitful endeavor.
The vast majority of the people in the societies of the world cannot possibly imagine what would drive someone to change sex. Waking up in the morning is not an occasion for self doubt for them as it is for us. Gender is not a confusing issue for them. For us transsexual people gender is the supreme issue. It colors just about everything in our lives in one way or another.
Our obsession with gender sets us apart from mainstream societies which consider gender one of the few immutable attributes in a human being. Tampering with anything which is supposedly immutable is fraught with danger. In the past few years I have seen signs that societies are beginning to evolve away from the concept of immutability of gender, but as it is with evolution of an individual, evolution is a painful process for a society and unfortunately the pain of a society is generally inflicted on some of its individuals.
For those few of us who can escape the whirlpool of fear, pain, and danger that we find swirling around us, there is the hope someday of reaching some distant safe shore. It's not an easy journey because it involves an investigation and interrogation of one's self that the vast majority of people would be hard put to withstand. We must delve into our soul and peel away the layers of deceit we have cloaked it with, forever searching for who we really are. In the end we are compelled to bare that stark naked soul to the world.
I'm sure that there are still more layers of my own soul to be peeled away until I get to that nugget that may be in there somewhere. Or maybe I'll just keep peeling until I die and never reach it. I do know, however, that I've become a better human being through this process: stronger, braver, kinder, more patient, more understanding, more open to new ideas.
I hope that through my writing I can help others through their own personal journeys of discovery, especially my transgender sisters and brothers, but also anyone who has ever had a family member or a friend who was transgender and anyone else who encounters the compulsion to rip apart their soul as they travel the river of life.
| A Secret
buried deep within my soul
hidden from one and all
too hard for me to tell
complex enough to kill
that cannot see the light
I kept it locked up tight
leaking out so late
determining my fate
--Robyn Elaine Serven
That is the first of over 200 poems I have written on this journey of self-discovery, following the first of several introductions I have written.
Here's an alternative introduction, written in a different time and place (warning, tense confusion):
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, who 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 more confuusing as I include updates as asides.
I'm Robyn Serven. That's me in this picture over there (well, it was me in the Spring of 1993). 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. [1. 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. 2. 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.]
I do not possess a copy of that PSA...but here is the music:
...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 (July/August 1996...the Xena issue).
How do we root out our own racism or homophobia or prejudice against poor people?
One way is to examine the place in yourself where you have experienced discrimination and imagine someone else there. If you've experienced sexism or had a hard time advancing at work, you might examine that closely and ask yourself, Could this be how a person of color feels in terms of discrimination? Could this be how a lesbian or gay man feels in terms of discrimination? We need a politics of empathy: If this is what it feels like to be me, isn't it possible that this is similar to the experiences of other people? What also breaks through is hearing other people's stories. I cannot tell you how important this is.
May I tell you a story? For 15 years the Women's Project has had a women's retreat in Arkansas. This year for the first time a transgendered person came, a post-operative male-to-female lesbian. On the first day, we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, and she said she would like to create a workshop on transsexuality. Only then did everybody realize she was a transsexual. All hell broke loose the next day. One lesbian couple came up to several of us who had organized the retreat and said: "How dare you let him stay in a dorm where our daughters are?" We said: "We stand on 15 years of fighting for sexual freedom. You have to deal with this..." Personally, I love femmy men and butch women because they break barriers. We have got to bust up gender roles.
Anyway, the next night this transgendered woman got up and told us about her life, what it felt like to be at a university in central Arkansas having no community, no intimacy, her only contact with other transgendered people occurring online. Eighty to 90 percent of the women in that room listened and changed their minds. They came up to us and said, "You did the right thing." This is an example of the power of story.
Stories must be built into our political work. We live in a time where people feel so disconnected and isolated. We have to speak that. The Right does that. They say, "We will give you a home in this church or this program and help you feel together by naming all these things as the enemy." They preach the myth of scarcity combined with the mood of mean-spiritedness: there's not enough to go around and someone else is taking something from you. We have to speak to people's better selves, find ways to make people in our communities feel better. Let's foster generosity and inclusion.
...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,
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:
1. You don't have to watch.
2. 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.
Of course, even more time has passed since then. I'm now 66 years old and a retired professor emerita from Bloomfield College, living in the sunny and much too dry San Fernando Valley...and striving valiantly to put aside my tendency towards procrastination until a later day...and actually make some progress towards writing this thing.