Imagine That!

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #102, Summer 2003.

At the recent Transgender 2003, IFGE?s Board of Directors

named Moonhawk River Stone to the position of Chair.

Mr. Stone replaces Julie Ann Johnson, who served as

Board Chair from March 2000 until March 2003.

At the Virginia Prince Awards Ceremony on Saturday,

Mr. Stone gave the following speech.

At his request, we are running it unedited?Ed.

Imagine That!

Thank you and good afternoon, everyone.

I never imagined that I would be standing here today, before you, my community, wearing my father?s tie. Not his stolen tie...not his pilfered tie...but his inherited tie. My Dad was the kind of fellow who made most right-wing folks look way left of center; he could be a foul-mouthed bigot of the highest order. Yet, I stand here today, before you, in his tie. Imagine that!

I couldn?t have imagined that, for most of my life. But my transitioning from female
to male did something to my father. What exactly, I?ll never know. Or maybe it was happening all along and my transition just made it noticeable. I don?t know. Everyone who knew him was predicting the worst possible of scenarios?scorn, rejection, disownment.

I imagined every day, in the months before I told him, that it would be OK?I was shooting for?just OK. What I got was like hitting the lottery. His first words to me were, ?I love you,? and it got better from there. In the ten months between my telling my father and his death, we healed a lifetime of horror and pain. We came to respect each other as men, as father and son, and I think my father knew that I carried forth into the world the kind of man he was, underneath all the pain and bigotry. We came to be happy in each other?s
company. Came to understand trauma and its aftereffects. He came to respect the work I do. A miracle. Truly. Later, at his funeral, I found out he and his elder brother, my Uncle Don, who, in many ways, was the polar opposite of my father, had become my biggest allies in the family, working diligently and quietly, to make the way welcoming for me. Go figure. I can?t. But I do.

Because I imagine. I imagine all kinds of things, over and over again. I ponder ?the improbable,? ?the invisible? and the ?it can?t ever happen? all the time. Imagination and its twin, curiosity, have been my constant companions since before I can remember. They are the very core of my spirit, and, I think, of all our spirits. Today, I want to talk about imagination, about what happens when we imagine that...well? Anything is possible.

When I was growing up there was Christine, then later, Renee and Jan. Fascinated, I never imagined such a thing were possible for me. I was lost in the heterosexism of the times. In the late 1950s, women?s possibilities were still largely outside of everyday consciousness?especially my poor, working class, Catholic consciousness. My boyish ways permeated my life, my consciousness, but not my conscious awareness. That possibility lay unawakened within me for decades. I never knew about Reed Erikson, Mario Martino, Steve Dain, Lou Sullivan or my dear friend, Jude Patton.

If we cannot imagine something, then for us, it doesn?t exist. If I couldn?t imagine FTMs, (and I didn?t) then they didn?t exist?at least for me, that is.

Joan Borysenkno in her book, Fire in the Soul, tells a Larry Dossey story about Charles Darwin?s landing in Micronesia. The story goes that the indigenous people there had no concept of what a large ocean-going ship was. Accustomed to staying in the vicinity of their own islands, the people had only small boats. They had no imagination, or language, for anything bigger. Darwin and his crew arrived in the Beagle, a large vessel. Although the people saw them coming ashore in the small landing boats, when the Beagle was pointed out to them, they literally could not see it. It was invisible to minds that believed such a big ship to be impossible.

Also, in ?The Republic,? Plato spoke to the relative inability of people to take in information outside of their usual belief systems. Dyan Hogue, writing in Transgender Tapestry #90, states: ?Women and men alike have strong reactions to violations of their conceptual space.? She was speaking about people?s violent response to pre-op or non-op MTFs when they revealed their mixed anatomy, or transgender status to a potential partner. One way to think of our conceptual space is to think of our imagination, and following that thought?then, how well we have developed our imagination determines the flexibility of our conceptual space. Further, an interesting way to look at heterosexism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia is through imagination. In our culture we teach children to be imaginative, curious and creative?but only about certain things?and certainly, our society ultimately discourages the unbridled imagination of childhood as one grows toward adulthood. Logic and practicality must prevail. The imaginative as adults are marginalized. Particularly, children are not encouraged to be imaginative and curious about sex, gender and sexuality. They are encouraged to figure out the rules of the gender binary, and then to conform. To assist in this, our elementary schools are the tenacious, staunch and ironclad guardians of the gender binary. Its elementary to me that if we did more imagining as children about sex, gender and sexuality that we?d have less hate crimes, more civil rights and a much less gender binaried society where children are free to explore the richness of what might be their own unique sex, gender and sexuality; hence we?d have less heterosexism. Imagine that!

As a corollary we need to remember when we hear the all too frequent ?I can?t imagine that....? that we use this phrase to express fear, and its siblings helplessness and doubt. I offer that when we hear ?I can?t imagine that??that there is a person in need?fear or terror, disconnection, helplessness have taken over and that person is in need of compassion, love and the encouragement to imagine?to open their
conceptual space to myriad possibility.

One of my earliest uses of imagination had to do with my family, not my gender identity. I was adopted as a child into a family with whom I had very little in common. I was literally baptized Catholic on the way to the first home visit, by the DSS worker. I looked nothing like the people in my family?a
constant reminder to me of my outsider status, which my family, because of their own issues, chronically reinforced in very unkind ways. I used to obsessively escape into my imagination, outfitting myself with all kinds of families, trying them on like some of you here in this room would try on lovely things in the ladies dressing room. And, today, I credit that curiosity and searching for connection and place as the foundation for my appreciation of other cultures, peoples, ethnicities and religions. I was so displaced as a child, I never noticed consciously the displacement of my body/sex/gender. Somewhere, I knew I was a boy, and I ignored my body, made it as invisible as the Beagle. Back in 1953, when I could no longer escape the dreaded ?playing house with the little girls next door? plot, I was made the daddy. We never talked about this, it was just what was done. Everyone was happy with it, especially me. Our parents, thank God, never knew. But even as the daddy, I enjoyed taking care of the ?baby?; they didn?t object to that either. Imagine that! Imagine, that at my father?s funeral, I got to tell those friends how grateful I was for their kindness and love and their seeing me?imagining me?when I was so very little. The girls, now women and grandmothers, had not seen me in 15 years. It was a richly poignant conversation.

Imagination drives us to create anew where there is nothing. Today as we honor Alison and Dorothy Liang with the Virginia Prince Award, we honor not only their service and dedication to the transgender community, but also their imagination?to create where there was so much need. We also honor Virginia Prince, who imagined, lo, now those 50 years ago, that it was possible to create outreach and networks for crossdressing women. I wonder if she ever imagined that her initial work would have the huge and positive outcome it did. Virginia and other groundbreakers like Lou Sullivan, Merissa Sherill Lynn, James Green, Gary Bowen, Alexander Jon Goodrum, Yose-io Lewis imagine the world a different place, especially a place which is kinder and more understanding of transpeople.

Today, people like Joan Roughgarden imagine changing the scientific paradigm?the fundamental way in which we ask questions about sex, gender and sexuality because she?s studying the natural world and seeing its sex/gender diversity and how that occurs, and finds that the hererosexist assumptions of the scientific approach are, perhaps, grossly in error.

I languished for decades, imagining myself male, but never finding language for the inner visioning. Despite the academic discussions we have about deconstructing gender and abolishing gender labels, I think labels are useful and powerful. They form synchronistic jumping off places for our imagination. Anything we can name, we can bring into our consciousness, indeed into all of consciousness?and by doing so we can empower it with our vision and understanding and then we and it can evolve. So, the other key to imagination, along with curiosity, is naming. In 1993, in one epiphanic moment, I had a name for who I am. Like many both before and after me, that moment is locked in time with the explosion of homecoming?feelings tumbling in one after the other?awe, joy, the high of ah-ha!, eureka, I?ve found me and many others. From that moment arose a series of imaginings, of unfoldings, of emergences cascading upon themselves like the rush and ferment of a northeast spring, one peak experience after the other.

Imagine that! Imagine that I could be me! Many of you here today might be able to identify with that experience.

Now, and here?s the crux of the story, having successfully drawn my true self out into being, I?ve been sort of getting on with my life. My imaginings were more on the order of where to plant the sunflowers and what color peonies to buy. Then one early summer morn last year, an email from Yvonne Cook-Riley lands on my desk. ?Wanted: FTM to go to the Bahamas.? Huh? Well, one of the things I?ve been frequently known to say was I can?t imagine ever getting to the islands. OPPS! Wrong again. I corresponded over the next couple of weeks with Vicky of the Bahamas Rainbow Alliance. In late August they were to celebrate their very first out and open Pride Week; three years prior running, the events were all private. Vicky, who to her knowledge, is the only out and open transwoman on the islands was a founding member of the alliance. She said that people were having a hard enough time understanding her and her transition, but that they had never met any FTMs?in fact they could not imagine that such people existed! Vicky wanted to educate her young, small community about transgender men and wanted to bring an FTM to Nassau to be one of the keynote speakers at their Pride Celebration. That FTM turned out to be none other than me. Imagine that!

There I was on the Beagle again. Only this time with the tables turned. The irony of the situation alternately sent me to heights of laughter and to the somber depths of what I was about to embark on. My imagination helped enormously. Some of the considerations running through me were?what is my role here? How do I, a singular guy, represent the whole FTM community? (We FTMs, as you might know, are a varied bunch!) First impressions are permanent?how do I create the desired imprint? Eventually what it all boiled down to was: to just go and be myself. But I remained acutely aware of my roles as pioneer, ambassador, educator, historian, and above all as guest in a foreign culture, connected in language to mine, but whose ways were markedly different from Albany, NY. What worked marvelously was the super immersion technique?I lived with Vicky?s large extended family for a week, participating in their daily life; then, I participated in the Alliance?s final planning meeting and worked with them hand in hand to run errands, prepare, set up/tear down each venue we used, all the while becoming very quickly an adopted member of the community and of Vicky?s family. It brought me more sense of accomplishment and joy and peace than I?ve ever known.

The Bahamian LGBT community is miniscule, and largely, extremely clos-eted. I felt as if I had time traveled back to the 1940s or 1950s. The hardest thing was for me to tuck in my ?out-ness?: (And no, that?s not a packing joke!) I am so used to being out and not caring about being out, that it was humbling and eye-opening to see the struggle, the isolation, and danger the Alliance members confronted daily to do their work. There are rigidly enforced sodomy laws still on the books, and the conservative religious right openly proselytizes that people who die from AIDS deserve their death. Many of the people the Alliance gave awards to did not come out to the public space to receive them?even if, in some cases, the recipients themselves were not LGBT. The courage, foresight and persistence of the Alliance members will stead them well as they bring full civil rights to LGBT people in the Bahamas in the years to come despite the formidable obstacles they face. It?s wonderful, too, they are not duplicating American history and, at the outset, casting the T overboard because it makes many uncomfortable. Trans awareness and trans inclusion
are key to their strategy and they will not be convinced otherwise. They are to be commended for their loving inclusiveness.

My most memorable experiences are the keynote at the outset of the awards evening, the street outreach we did at the Rainbow Ball and the religious service Sunday evening. Before the keynote, I had sort of been broken in by the Rainbow Alliance members? questions and curiosity. But standing up and beginning to speak as an FTM, as THE FIRST FTM, in front of a roomful of people who had no idea about me, I was filled to overflow with feelings?pride, anxiety, uncertainty, joy. My heart was filled with a sense of homecoming?of the circle coming round, full and complete. I began to speak: ?I never imagined that I would be standing before you to share my story with you this evening, because so much of my life, I was unimagined even to myself...? and my voice broke and I paused until I could move on. I was never more aware of my father and his legacy.

Later that evening Vicky and I met five young black transwomen and had a rollicking time beginning a dialog with them about MTFs/FTMs and all the varieties of transgender?for which they did not have a conceptual framework, though they are living as who they really are?some of the time; they are still largely closeted and struggling to find themselves. They shared feelings of doubt and incredulousness, to outright disbelief, about me. Partly because I ?passed? so well, even for a short guy! This dialog lasted the rest of the week and culminated with their arrival at the religious service just as I began my reading.

In the discussion following the service they gave a promise to come to Rainbow Alliance meetings. Imagine that! I was delighted and astonished at the whole process.

I always imagined that I wanted to find a way to provide for others what I had never had for myself and I did and I have. Through the work I did with the community, Alliance members began to identify gender transgressive women and possible transmen and they made a commitment to reach out to them to get to know them better and to provide information and education to them. But, like the Beagle, until someone gave them a conceptual framework for FTMs, those among them were invisible. Incredibly, I left not wondering how I?d done as pioneer, ambassador, educator and historian. I?ve been invited back again this year to continue with this community as they imagine their next steps. Imagine that!

Back here in the states, what do I imagine these days? After my Dad, imagining seems easier. In my work as a political activist I imagine several things. First, on the practical level, is that we solve the states rights/federal rights issue with regard to identity documentation. My imaginings are for consistent state to state to federal identity policies which are broad and non-punitive to transgender people; which do not rely upon surgery as the definite marker of one?s right to one?s gender identity. I imagine where policies have suddenly become more regressive, that they just as suddenly become more progressive; where it becomes routine and easy to affirm one?s innate identity. Second, I imagine that we coalesce a unified approach to litigation which tenders the same arguments repeatedly establishing consistent precedents in the courts to assist transgender people in custody/marriage/ divorce family issues and that we do the same in the workplace. I invite you to imagine that with me! Third, that we and they figure out that the bathroom issue is just about the potty and nothing else! Fourth, I like to imagine that here in the transgender movement we could work vigorously to end the heterosexism, classism and most of all, racism, which pervade our movement and often divide our efforts, making some still unimagined.

And fifth, I am a longtime student of consciousness studies, both academic and spiritual. Many disciplines?among them biology, sociology, psychology, medicine, philosophy, and gender studies?lay claim to ?the answer? as they see it about sex, gender and sexuality. But I like to ask a Joan Roughgarden/ Rupert Sheldrake kind of question?I think a lot of what goes on about sex, gender and sexuality is innate?is a part of that part of us which is connected to the pure interconnecting consciousness of which spiritual people have known has existed since time began and science is finally confirming. This innateness transcends physical and social realities.

There is a magical moment with each of my transitioning gender clients when they allow the consciousness of who they truly are to emerge and take up residence in their bodies. It is an exquisite moment of I am, I am here, who I am has arrived. I spend time that session, noting that to them and talking about it?the day they finally arrive. ?Ah, you?re here! Imagine that!? I often say. No matter how sophisticated each is or isn?t in matters of consciousness or energy, each to a person has known what I?m talking about the moment I mention it. It?s not genetic or learned, not spiritual in the common way that term is used, but it?s an energy which manifests itself solidly in the body and it is beyond the mundane. So, I ask a more interesting question: if this is who I truly am?what part of that is the mundane?the biological or the socially constructed, and what part of who I am as a transgender person is just a manifestation of pure consciousness? Interesting question to imagine on. Imagine that!

I no longer try to know myself by trying on imaginary families. I no longer feel disconnected; my belonging is with and within myself and having imagined myself into reality, I am home. I am whole. I am Hawk, who is the transsexual man. I do imagine that one day, I will bequeath this tie and my father?s legacy on to the man who will follow me and my father into a future world where social justice for transgender people is a given fact, not a fight still engaged in battle.

To close, I wish you all to imagine yourselves home to your true self and then having done that, imagine yourself becoming...well, anything is possible, right? Imagine that!

Thank you.