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Three Years
 
mirror image - transgender reflection on rainbow background
 

First and foremost, I want to offer thanks. Thanks to all. Thanks, especially, to those who offer compliments.

Next a bit of an apology. I had planned to do this service since last summer, however, even with all that time to prepare, I am not happy with what I've done and find it a bit disorganized. I hope you can bear with me.

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There are, it might be said, two types of people in this world. There are those, on the one side, who divide people up into two distinct types while, on the other, there are those who understand that for just about any characteristic by which we choose to measure people, we exist along a continuum. There may be clusters near certain values and there may be limits beyond which it is extremely unlikely that we will find samples. Even near the clusters, you will find deviations and in measuring the population which may be selected out as a member of a cluster by some set of criteria, we can talk about mean values and the natural deviation of the population around that mean. We characterize population statistics by saying that 90% of the population tends to be within some value plus and minus of the mean.

As an example, let us decide to arbitrarily divide the population into those who have two X chromosomes vs those who have an XY chromosome pair for *MOST* of the cells of their body (more on that later). Interestingly, over time, genes have been lost from the Y chromosome so it tends to be smaller than the X and each time a gene is lost and that mutation spreads through the sub-population which contains it, the members of the population with paired X chromosomes have to adapt... to disable one of the pair or somehow limit the effect of the pair so that the double X individual is not harmed by an excess of whatever protein or enzyme the gene codes for, nor the XY individual suffer from a lack of that protein. Since many genes are naturally suppressed so that only one of the pair is expressed it is likely that mutations resulting in gene loss in the Y chromosome usually involve a gene which is in a pair one of which would have been silenced anyway. It does leave the XY individual more susceptible to diseases caused by faults in the specific gene when a faulty copy is inherited without a healthy copy that could be expressed in preference to the faulty.

Genetics is fascinating, even when only understood at the relatively superficial level that a lay person typically reaches. We are, however, getting close to the point that I want to make in this train of thought.

In human populations, individuals with paired X chromosomes tend to be smaller on average than individuals with XY pairs. You will find individuals in the XY set who are smaller than the XX set average and individuals in the XX set who are larger than the XY average. In English, and in short, not all women are smaller than all men. For almost all sex linked characteristics, there is this typical overlap.

A large part of this variation is, of course, environmental but a large part is innate or genetic and the exact ratio of how much is which varies from individual to individual and you can get into lengthy arguments about whether nurture or nature is the predominant factor in human development.

This is, really, just a rather lengthy way of saying that diversity is part of the human condition.

Diversity... Diversity is the fuel which powers the engine of evolution. The engine of evolution is interesting in that it tends to create more fuel when it works properly and diversity will build up in healthy populations. Truly negative diversity tends to get weeded out in a natural population and diversity with positive benefits tends to become the norm but unless a characteristic is truly detrimental in a new or changing environment, it tends to remain in the population. If populations are separated from one another by some mechanism the balance of characteristics will change to reflect the different environments in which the two populations live. Biologists use the amount of diversity in a population to determine how recently a species may have encountered a near extinction event or how recently populations separated.

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Consider a population which moves North, possibly in response to retreating ice sheets and changing conditions in their previous home. Humans live in a nice balance between absorbing enough sunlight to manufacture vitamin D but not so much as to cause skin damage and cancers. There is a natural variation in the amount of melanin that individuals in any given population will have in their skin. Greater amounts of melanin will protect more against the damage of the sun's rays while lesser amounts will allow the body to absorb more sunlight and manufacture more vitamin D. Insufficient vitamin D will cause problems in bone formation and a wide range of other disorders.

In natural (pre-industrial) human populations that move northward, it takes only a few millennia for individuals to predominate if their melanocytes significantly reduce the amount of melanin expressed in the skin. Probably because nursing mothers are particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies.

Of course this is all for natural conditions. Now a days, we intervene with vitamin D supplements and high SPF sun lotions and everyone can live well and prosper. Sometimes natural is over-rated but until recently, natural was what we had.

Even so, our species has had a sad history of placing far too much emphasis on how much melanin a particular population expresses in their skin. We repeatedly seem to be ignorant of the simple fact that diversity is a natural part of any healthy population. It is critical to the way that nature works. It is to be embraced.

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Coming back to one of my themes today, I want to again express my thanks to this place and the people who constitute it. I became aware of the welcoming congregation program when I attended my first CUC annual meeting, in 2001 in Montréal. I asked Nancy Anderson, our minister at the time, whether the Fellowship had ever considered becoming a welcoming congregation. Nancy told me that we had started the process a couple of times but had never seen it through. Thank you for completing the process three years ago. It meant a lot to me.

By being a welcoming place and one in which diversity is celebrated, this home has helped me to become more comfortable with who I am.

I grew up in the 1950's in a rural area of Nova Scotia, then small town New Brunswick. It was vastly different from the here and now of a small New Brunswick city in the early twenty-first century. It would have been in the very early 1960's that I first became aware that I had a predilection for women's clothes. I had no idea why. I had a vague idea that it was wrong... but there was a sense of right when I would sneak into a favourite hiding spot and get dressed up always terrified that I would be caught. The fear might have been part of the thrill.

It was not particularly difficult to repress the activity when I started University and lived in residence, a strictly segregated male residence to begin with and even with a co-educational residence when I moved on to graduate school. In my presentation of three years ago, I indicated that I pretty much continued repressing this aspect of my being after I got married. I had a sense that something was missing, but only vaguely. On rare occasions, when I had the house completely to myself for an extended period, I would take out a small stash of lingerie that I had carefull hidden and dress up. It would leave me simultaneously feeling a little better but wanting something far more.

I mentioned in my previous talk that I had taken up cross dressing again after my first marriage fell apart and I suppose I had some hope that the Welcoming Congregation program might offer some promise in expressing this side of myself.

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The Welcoming Congregation program was adopted by the 1989 UUA General Assembly. What does it say about our Fellowship that it took a decade and a half before we were finally able to add our name to the ranks of those who had completed the program?

We became a Welcoming Congregation barely a month before the Senate completed the process to make same-sex marriages legal. We were, hardly breaking new ground.

Do not mistake me, I am very grateful that the step was taken and once more, I want to express my sincere thanks. It's just that, in many ways, I think the emotion we, as a congregation, should feel is relief that we were able to complete the program before society in general swept past us. I find it difficult to feel pride that we are somehow leading the pack. Perhaps, the congregation could have felt such pride, had the rainbow welcoming banner been proudly displayed for a half decade or more before I darkened your doors...

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In 2005 and again in 2006 NDP MP Bill Siksay introduced a bill in the House of Commons to explicitly add gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. The second time the bill died when parliament was dissolved for the last election. Eventually, this will happen. When it happens, I think that most Canadians will wonder that it was not already protected and very few will raise the old bugbear of Deuteronomy five, twenty-two.

After I came out to this community, I wanted more. I suppose that will always be the case, after years with so little we get a small taste and we want more. I started by experimenting while walking Peerless, my granddog, in the Woodlot or along the Thatch road. The time of day that we walk, we would rarely encounter anyone and at the far end of our walks, would almost never encounter anyone. I luxuriated in the sensual feel of skirt and slip gently brushed over stockinged leg by gentle spring and summer breezes.

It was wonderful.

I would wear trousers that I could slip off and put in a backpack once we were away from the well travelled areas and put back on before we left the less travelled areas. One day, a cyclist approached and there was no way to change before he would be upon us, so we braved on and... nothing... he said hi we said hello and that was that. No different from any other encounter.

I became less timid and found, so far without exception, that people are as pleasant to the cross-dresser as they are to any person they encounter engaged in similar pursuit: walking the dog, enjoying the weather, whatever. We engage in conversation about dogs, or the weather, or the cows that had apparently escaped from the island and were meandering down the road.

It has been wonderful, enlightening and spirit lifting. Once more, I want to say thank you. I gained my initial confidence here and with that as a bootstrap have broadened my experiences.

In short, and in my experience, we are generally safe in this larger community of Canada and in this time. The only time now that I might fear for my safety would be should I find myself where people are experimenting with combinations of testosterone and alcohol. Of course, in such times and at such places, I don't believe anyone is safe.

My employer, the University of New Brunswick, publicly unveiled its new charter of rights and responsibilities in early October. The document was the result of almost a decade of work and consideration, I believe.

When it was unofficially announced and the location of the document published within the University community, I obtained a copy and, in reading it through, found in section 3.01, Every member of the University community is entitled to full protection under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, which legislates against discrimination and harassment based on race, colour, religion, national origin, ancestry, place of origin, age, state of physical or mental ability, marital status, sexual orientation, sex, social condition, political belief or activity. ( ...and here, as I read it, my heart leapt...) UNB extends this to include issues of gender identity. Every member of the University community has the right to fair and equitable treatment by other members of the University community, and by the University.

This was repeated in section 5.01 the Right to be free of discrimination where the term gender identity is included in the list immediately after sex, recognizing that gender is distinct from sex. As a number of people have said gender is between the ears, sex is below the neck.

I sent a note to my immediate manager and to the Associate VP of IT saying that I would be occasionally taking advantage of these rights. October 11 had been declared as coming out day and, although the publicity could have been a little more aggressive and I think few people were aware of the event, I chose that day as the first to dress up for work and chose a relatively conservative outfit. Some people expressed curiosity, but there was no negative reaction and a surprising amount of positive support. My service from three years ago is available from our web site and my personal web site has a link to my talk. I referred people to that if they had not seen it and it answers most questions. At least one colleague said she had printed out my story about We'wha so she could read it to her son.

A very positive experience, over all. Even the Sodexho employees, the catering company which runs the cafeterias and dining rooms on campus, who work the cafeteria in Head Hall and who are not, strictly speaking, University employees, have been very positive complimenting me on my jewellery and colour coordination. It was a Sodexho cashier to told me that a number of students had commented to her (not to me, interestingly) that I looked quite nice in the outfit I had chosen for that first day. Talk about an ego booster.

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For some time, I have taken to dressing up while travelling. I'll hang a pair of trousers in the back of the car so that I can do a quick change before going into a restaurant or gas bar. When I drove down to Halifax this past November to travel to Saint John's for the Eastern Regional Networking Group, I had hung the trousers in the back, planning to change in the car before heading into the airport, however, when I got there, construction at the airport had reduced the amount of parking and I think I got the last spot in the parking lot and the wind was blowing and it was generally miserable and I said to myself, the Hell with it and just grabbed my suitcase and carry-on and went in.

It was an eye opener from the simple aspect of non-event. Other travellers were simply too busy with their own problems and priorities. Airport and airline staff were 100% professional and security staff absolutely polite. This accepting reception continued as I picked up my rental car and checked into the hotel. I did change before going out for dinner that evening, but the next evening after registration at the conference and opening ceremonies, I walked from the hotel to a small restaurant I had seen the first evening and wanted to try, and once more it was a non-event and people were pleasant and as outgoing as Newfoundlanders would be to any visitor.

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Margaret and I made a side trip to Montréal before we went to the Eastern Regional in North Hatley last year. I was shopping in Montréal and the sales clerk asked me about what her size might be and when I replied well, actually, it's for me she brightens up and asks if I would like to try it on! Sure I say and a little later, she's made her sale.

I've had similar reactions in Penington's, Additionelle and even Zellers here. River Valley shoes doesn't keep my size in stock but are more than willing to order in with no obligation on my part. I can try on and keep or return.

It's wonderful!

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There may be people out there who would react negatively to the cross-dresser but I have yet to meet one. Perhaps they realize at some fundamental level that they are in the wrong and hold their silence.

An interesting observation is that the only place I have seen even raised eyebrows was during a stopover in Québec city on our way back from Ontario last summer and, again, the next morning at a Tim Hortons in Edmundston. I don't believe their reaction was hostile, simply more surprised than I experience in English areas where I have conducted my experiments.

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In my talk of three years ago, I touched briefly on brain morphology and research which shows that for areas of the brain which tend to be differently sized between male and female brains, those areas are androgynously sized: some parts for transexuals and other parts for homosexuals. There were some other research findings in my talk. Science is always refining our knowledge base and there are a couple of points that I want to touch on again.

I reported on a Time article which indicated that the incidence of physical androgyny was about 1 in 10,000. A more recent interview in Scientific American reported the incidence to be 1 in 7,500. Slightly higher but in the same order of magnitude. Perhaps the brain is more plastic than the sex organs or perhaps the gender differences in the brain are more subtle and more readily subject to androgynous development or, as I suggested before, there is evolutionary advantage to having a significant homosexual presence in a hunter-gatherer population. It appears more true, though, that there is usually physical cause for what the bible has long taught to be abomination. In short, if there is a god, she would appear to be responsible for the transgender and the homosexual. It is not a conscious choice.

Having said that, I have to admit that there is a counter argument. For a long time it was assumed that after about the age of two the brain was pretty much set and neurons would not subsequently change. More recent research, however, shows that the brain is more plastic than was believed and exercising specific parts of the brain can cause new neurons to develop in those areas. The old use it or lose it argument. There are those who have used this new research data to suggest that perhaps if homosexuals and transgenered have androgynously developed brain areas, it is because they have given in to thought processes that cause the development rather than the anomalous development has that caused the behaviour. The old chicken and egg meaningless question.

Another interesting research finding is micro-chimerism, the exchange of cells between mother and foetus, which appears to be a feature of placental mammals. The placenta is not a perfect barrier between the foetus and the mother and a few cells can cross in either direction. The numbers that I have seen is that typically about 1 in 1000 to 10,000 cells are chimeric and that such cells have been found in women as long as 38 years after their last birth. Typically mother's cells in sons or son's cells in mothers are more easily detected than daughter's or in daughters because the XY chromosome pair is easily distinguished from the XX. Such cells can be responsible for a wide variety of auto-immune disorders but may have some beneficial effects in other disorders.

If cells can cross the placental barrier, then obviously so can hormones and population diversity and accidents of time could mean that sometimes too much female hormone crosses and the excess might cause homosexual and transgender development in males, perhaps other times not enough crosses and lesbian and transgender development in females results.

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People who attend the Monday night film series at the University may recall the movie Lars and the Real Girl. The movie was filmed in small communities surrounding Toronto but was set in a small mid-Western town. The protagonist of the movie was a recluse who purchases a life size anatomically correct doll

While billed as a comedy, both Margaret and I agreed the movie was really about acceptance and redemption. The community gathers round and accepts the doll as they would any partner of a beloved son of the community. One especially poignant scene is at the church when Lars' brother and siter-in-law ask about Lars bringing the doll to services. Eventually, everyone agrees, even a curmudgeonly and obviously conservative member of the congregational elders.

The thing is, the scene was believable. It was a work of fiction, but like any well done work of fiction, I could believe it.

I truly believe that, in our enlightened era, when pressed, *MOST* people will accept the needs of a real person over their indoctrinated prejudices. It is only the truly pathological who can ignore the needs of people who they know when those needs clash with dogma. Compassion is the natural response of the human being to the needs of people we know. It is only as long as we can maintain an aloofness and distance from the other that we can continue discrimination.

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Most people, I believe, are at least uncomfortable with the concept that not being on the side of an idea (or movement or whatever) implies that one must necessarily be against it. The argument that there are only two kinds of people in this world is called in logic, the error of the false dichotomy or the error of the excluded middle.

For those of us who find ourselves in that excluded middle, between worlds, so to speak... with desires, hopes and aspirations which can never be realized because of accidents of early development... I want to close with a final thanks to the Fellowship for being a community of willing acceptance to and celebration of diversity.

A place where we can be at home.