Being told that I’ve had it relatively easy because of money or power grates against my internal sense of having worked really, really hard on myself in order to survive my transsexual transition and suggests that I’ve been able to buy or bully myself out of trouble. A third term, Luck, completes the trio of dismissive terms, and I would like to explore what’s so wrong about being lucky.

For the ancient Greeks, the concept of luck was embodied in Tykhe:

Tykhe was the goddess or spirit of fortune, chance, providence and fate. She was usually honoured in a more favourable light as Eutykhia, goddess of good fortune, luck, success and prosperity.

Tykhe was represented with different attributes. Holding a rudder, she was conceived as the divinity guiding and conducting the affairs of the world, and in this respect she was called one of the Moirai (Fates); with a ball she represented the varying unsteadiness of fortune — unsteady and capable of rolling in any direction; with Ploutos or the horn of Amalthea, she was the symbol of the plentiful gifts of fortune.

Nemesis (Fair Distribution) was cautiously regarded as the downside of Tykhe, one who provided a check on extravagant favours conferred by fortune.

For Tykhe or Nemesis, the concept of luck is either random or divine and doesn’t have much to do with the deeds, intelligence, or strategy undertaken by someone. No matter her personal qualities, the recipient of luck has no part to play.

Sometimes, when people say, “You’re lucky,” I am left with the impression not unlike the ancient Greek idea, that my hard work, communications, therapy take a back seat to chance. In other words, this transition might have turned out disastrously, regardless of my efforts or qualities.

And maybe that’s true, but I simply don’t think it’s good policy to believe in such things because they remove agency and responsibility from the transitioner, who is tempted to ask, “Why go to therapy — it’s all fate, anyway.”

Why tell a transsexual she’s lucky, in any case? What’s the effect of saying such a thing? True or not, it’s going to feel to the transsexual that she’s being dismissed, that what you’re saying is that their transition is somehow not as hard as it might have been. Pointing to money, power, and luck suggests that a good transsexual transition is almost predestined if you have enough of one, two, or all three things, and conversely, that a transsexual is doomed without them.

Not that there’s anything wrong with having these things, of course. It’s good to be lucky, to have some money, and to be powerful. But if you come to rely on them, then luck, money, and power become paradoxically disempowering because they trump hope, and hope is what’s in short supply when a transsexual finally faces her demons and realizes she must take action. I’ve been there, and let me tell you that no cushy balance in the checkbook, no collected power over others’ lives, and no track record of good luck makes any difference to one facing the daunting task of transsexual transition. Hard work and a belief that such hard work will get us through our transition are the only things that really have an impact on a transsexual transition, as far as I can see.

I have always bristled at such dismissive observations, even those that fall outside of this transition crisis of the past couple of years. When I used to be told, “Of course you did well in college — you always had it easy,” I felt as if my reading and studying and struggling with academic concepts weren’t worth recognizing. These days, comments like “It’s no wonder you’ve had such a good transition — you’re in the protective walls of a university” diminish the struggle that my friends and colleagues and I have had in understanding and accepting my changes. While it is certainly true doing well in college or surviving transsexual transition are facts of my life, I don’t believe in predestination, and I certainly do not believe that having power or working in the right industry will inevitably smooth over all life’s difficulties.

Maybe this essay is just a cry for you to “look at me” and appreciate me. You already know how painful and difficult my past couple of years were, and so I don’t need you to acknowledge it again. But I really want to know how we can ever learn from each other through honest criticism and praise if money, luck, and power obstruct us or cause us to reduce hard work and struggle into predetermined outcomes.

Is truth still the truth if no one speaks it?
Does truth transcend power?
What’s the impact of power on truth?

A few days ago, I was talking with Leia, one of my graduate students, about my plans of possibly asking people to write their thoughts on my transition, focusing on how, if at all, this has impacted them. I told her it was a way to tell a transsexual transition story without necessarily getting bogged down with the same old transition details and to focus instead on the social relationships undergoing transition.

Without hesitation, she said, “It’s a bad idea: no one will tell you the truth.”

“Why?” I asked, a bit taken aback.

“Because of your power.”

“Power? Over what?”

“Over their schedules, their lives,” she said. “Your decisions impact graduate student and faculty schedules, their teaching assignments, their grades, their very careers. If you ask them to write about your transition, all they’ll do is tell you what you want to hear. In fact, even today, you never hear the truth about what people think because of your power.”

I honestly don’t think Leia meant to hurt or deflate my excitement. I don’t think it was meant to deflate any more than Betsy and Rachael’s observation that money makes my transition palatable for the hometown folks of Empire Falls. And the question of whether I actually have any of this so-called power is better left to debate some other day.

But her argument that my power causes people to tell me what I want to hear or to simply hold their tongues also sounds to me like an argument that power makes my hard-fought changes seem easy and almost automatic. It also causes me to doubt the good feeling I’ve felt these past 6 months — if I’m so powerful that people wouldn’t tell me what they think, then it follows that maybe all this acceptance I thought I was feeling is just fear of power.

And it’s not just a feeling that I’ll never really know these things, but Leia’s observation also suggests that all my pain and effort at overcoming all my gender-related shame was wasted energy, since my power would protect me from others’ judgment and snarky comments.

It feels very deflating and dismissing to me.

I know, I know — I tell my kids, “No one can MAKE you feel anything,” but in this case, I can’t help it. I am mindful of my emotions, even as they are awakened by innocent words. Believe me, I know deflation and dismissal when I feel it, and Leia’s observation deflates and dismisses.

Maybe this whining is just another sort of cry for you to “look at me” and appreciate me. You already know how painful and difficult my past couple of years were, and so I don’t need you to acknowledge it again. But I really want to know how we can ever learn from each other, offering each other honest criticism and praise, if money and power obstruct us and build up walls that stymie such worthy efforts.

See also “Luck

Buy the sky and sell the sky…

One of my colleagues and friends happens to be from my hometown. Betsy is much younger than I am but she visits Empire Falls fairly regularly. Small towns being what they are, she hears the news whenever she visits. Rachael, another colleague of mine, called me the other day and said she had been talking with Betsy, who during her most recent visit to Empire Falls had heard from parties completely outside of my circle or my sister’s circle that I was engaged in a sex change. This means, of course, that everyone in my hometown knows–which is fine with me, by the way.

Rachael, being curious, asked Betsy about the Empire Falls’ general reaction, wondering if it would be judgmental or skeptical, and Betsy said it was all live and let live and perhaps even supportive. Rachael, who was telling me this on the phone, said that she and Betsy had a theory about it all. I thought it was going to be something like “Small town people are live-and-let-live,” or “Society is changing,” or “People have an incredible capacity for compassion.” Instead, their theory is that if you have enough money, no one cares what you do.

It’s been a long time since I lived in Empire Falls. My parents have been dead a while. My grandparents are long dead. Yes, we had a family of some means and some influence and maybe that counts for something. Maybe it counts for a lot. It doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from pain or suffering, like Richard Corey, but maybe it means you get a bit of a break for catastrophic or unusual events.

But what bugs me is what this observation of Rachael’s and Betsy’s means:

My acceptance has nothing to do with being a nice person or a good student or a fellow human being or a persuasive communicator or helpful neighbor or a good family member, but it’s just a case of that well-to-do ranch boy gone eccentric and, well, you really can’t tell about those eccentric rich folks, can you?

I’ll take acceptance in whatever form it takes, of course, but this idea bothers me. I can’t help but extend this idea beyond my hometown, because if the theory is true, it suggests to me that not only is all of my hometown acceptance dependent on money, but so is all of my family acceptance, and my friends’ acceptance, and my colleagues’ acceptance, and even your acceptance, dear reader. All of it is just something I’ve bought.

If anyone understands and accepts, they have done so in spite of my bribery.

If I had known a couple of years ago that transsexual transition was only a matter of buying people off, I wouldn’t have worried myself sick for 2 years, wouldn’t have sat at the edge of the bed with a pistol thinking of suicide, wouldn’t have obsessed about the welfare of Mary Jo or my kids or my friends, wouldn’t have begged any deity or other power there might be to show me the way out of this dilemma.

I would have just whipped out my checkbook.