What Transgender Means

from the cover story of Grant Magazine, May 2016


Surely in writing this post, which is a highly personal meditation, I have to begin from the admission of my own lack of principled stance over time.  My opinions have changed and developed in the course of years.

Today the principal of Grant High School sent the parents of the Class of 2017 an email, notifying us of the suicide of one of the members of the class.  Aditi Staub.  This notice, which my 18-year-old son Michael Kepler Meo did not receive, had a significant impact on him because he recalled being very friendly with Staub, as a freshman, before the young man’s transition to female presentation.

He wondered whether his discomfort with the female, Aditi, as opposed to his warm appreciation for the male, Jack Staub, contributed to the tragic outcome. In discussing this sad news I advised him that I had just today learned that the head of the Healthcare for All Oregonian movement in my city, Portland, a woman named Robin Cash, is transgender.  She writes today:

Analysis of today’s news: (TW: this is dark)
Today Trump announced trans people cannot serve in the military, and simultaneously that Taiwanese manufacturer FoxConn is making a $10 billion investment in building factories in Wisconsin. These two announcements are connected. This day has Steve Bannon written all over it.
I don’t personally care whether we can serve in the military, and don’t particularly want to get into a debate about whether this is an issue trans folk should focus on.

I connected this to the fact, which I had already shared with him, that the treasurer of the statewide Green Party, Trish Driscoll, as well as its secretary, Christina Lugo, are both of them transgender male-to-females.  I am perfectly comfortable with these two last people — I may have met Robin Cash, but I do not recall it well, if at all — but I am not comfortable with the prominence of transgender people within the political party in which I am an activist.  No, it is not that I am not comfortable . . . it makes me wonder about the nature of the political party.

I don’t know whether the suicide rate of transgenders after the sex-change operation is four times that of the rest of us, or six times.  It’s a lot, and that’s all that matters.  It doesn’t drop down to anything like a rate comparable to the general population. I consider the demand for transition to a different sex to be unethical, although I am willing to let people do it.  That suggested to me the Green Party is run by people I like personally, but whose ethics I do not accept; that is, that I ought to quit the Party.

I reject that option because I reject the idea that we all have to agree on everything before we can work together on social justice.  Let me continue, however, to riff on my own lack of consistency before the reader demands an elaboration of the rational basis for the above “unethical” comment.  I have previously celebrated those women who have breast implants.  I posted their pictures on this blog.

That got me more or less read out of the Green Party, for “sexism”.

How can I allow, indeed glorify, surgical implantation of plastic bags into a woman’s body and then turn around and condemn in for god’s sake moral terms the surgical transition operation?

Well, that suicide rate has a lot to do with it.  I will admit, as well, that my masculinity is involved, and I am conscious of a general social re-evaluation of people with penises and testicles at the present time, and so as one of those folk, I claim that there’s an inherent difference between adding a bit of padding to a body part and cutting your entire genital equipment out.

Perhaps I am in error.  I don’t think so, but then again, there was a time when —  it was back when I was in my 20s — I opposed equal rights for gays.  I can remember George Balint, a Hungarian refugee I knew in the late 1960s, pointing out to me how widespread homosexual behavior and status had been in many different cultures around the world.  I lived in Oakland, California, then, and I subsequently came to meet a wide spectrum of gay men. I learned to acknowledge my own liking for submissive feminized individuals willing to give me blow jobs.  It was not enough for me to engage in the practice — just as I’ve never been to bed with a prostitute, but I’ve certainly thought about it (and my opposition is not purely to the empirical problem of sexually transmitted disease, but also to the payment for affection).  Homosexuals also have a higher suicide rate than the general population, but less than transexuals.  The argument that many gays have contributed, in so many different ways and means, to the heritage of human accomplishment which I appreciate — science, music, education, the arts in particular, but there are too many to mention — also contributed to my change of opinion.

If everyone in leadership positions of a political party of which I am a member is/were gay, that would also make me wonder what’s up, even though I’m firmly on board with gay people having no bar to social, economic, or legal acceptance.  I do wonder about the Green Party of Oregon, but not enough to leave.

That’s about it.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Bradley Manning, Cameron Whitten, Education, Elections, Friendship, Inequality, Oakland, Pacific Green Party, Spiritual life, Vali Balint. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to What Transgender Means

  1. Cristan Williams says:

    BTW, the link you supplied to support your claim that suicide rates do not fall rates comparable to the general population post-transition actually states the opposite. You might want to read the article as it’s a discussion with the lead author of a study right-wing groups often misrepresent to support their claims that transition for folks with gender dysphoria isn’t actually helpful.

    • M. Meo says:

      Dear Ms Williams,

      You say that the study to which I link shows that suicide rates fall, post-operative, for transgendered individuals. I would ask that you read texts with greater care, and take into account, as I try to do, the obvious bias of the person writing the text.

      In the present instance, the author of the study, perhaps with complete justification, is certain that his study has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. However, there is this:

      Quote. The story references your 2011 study. This study states, “The overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons was higher during follow-up (aHR 2.8; 95% CI 1.8–4.3) than for controls of the same birth sex, particularly death from suicide (aHR 19.1; 95% CI 5.8–62.9). Sex-reassigned persons also had an increased risk for suicide attempts (aHR 4.9; 95% CI 2.9–8.5) and psychiatric inpatient care (aHR 2.8; 95% CI 2.0–3.9).” However, those citing your work never seem to note that your study also includes the following very large caveat:

      It is therefore important to note that the current study is only informative with respect to transsexual persons health after sex reassignment; no inferences can be drawn as to the effectiveness of sex reassignment as a treatment for transsexualism. In other words, the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment. As an analogy, similar studies have found increased somatic morbidity, suicide rate, and overall mortality for patients treated for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This is important information, but it does not follow that mood stabilizing treatment or antipsychotic treatment is the culprit. Unquote.

      The doctor strongly believes that medical intervention does good. His study showed no drop in suicide rates, so he said more needs to be done.

  2. Johnny says:

    What kind of garbage person uses the suicide of a young person to justify their bigotry.

    Bigotry is the reason for those suicide rates.

    YOU ARE the reason for those suicide rates.

    What the hell is wrong with you?

  3. Kaitlyn says:

    You call this a “highly personal mediation” but you don’t have any actual right to comment on this matter and none of what you said holds any value. The reason LGBTQ and transgender people have higher suicide rates than cisgender, straight people is because of difficulties forced upon them by a society that devalues and criticizes them. Getting surgery does not worsen the issue; it is a very valuable and important process to many transgender people. Transgender people should be supported, not criticized, for wanting and undergoing surgery. Also, calling gay men “submissive feminized individuals willing to give [you] blow jobs” is awful. Being attracted to men does not make you submissive or feminine. Also I’m sure no gay man in his right mind would want to give your ignorant ass a blow job.

    • M. Meo says:

      Dear Kaitlyn,

      Your first statement, that I don’t have any “right” to comment is enough for me to tell you, that you are outside the universe of discourse of thinking individuals.

      We all have a right to speech and thought. You can say, as you do, that you disagree with my thoughts, and — you will notice — your comment goes right up on my blog. But the denial of the right to comment, so frequent a stance nowadays among those with whom I am politically allied, is beneath contempt in my opinion. It belongs in the category of witch-hunting and burning people for heretical opinion, under the Inquisition.

      What I did say about surgery was, that it does not lessen the suicide among transgender individuals. I am able to cite research from a medical professional who insists on the importance of support for transgender choice, so would be expected to find a reduction of the rate, post-surgery. He did not so find.

      My twisted sexual proclivities may be awful to you. I stated them honestly, which is the best I can do.

  4. M. Meo says:

    Dear Johnny,

    As far as what is wrong with me, refer to the first sentence of the post. My failings are explicitly recognized. The tragic loss of a young student who used to be a close friend of my son was the stimulus for this post, which went on to discuss the unusual prevalence of transgender folk in the leadership of the Green Party. I could have added to it the circumstances of the anti-war hero and unjustly imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

    As far as the facts of the case, however, your assertion that the lack of acceptance of transgender surgery is the sole reason for the high rate of suicide is contradicted by other considerations. Setting aside that it has no empirical evidence to support it, we have the suicide rate of black folk in the United States. Although that minority has been subjected a a horrific level of discrimination and disapproval, their suicide rate is below that of white people.

    So your statement that disapproval of transgender people is the only reason for their high rate of suicide is unpersuasive, to say the least.

  5. Kelly says:

    All these intellectually-framed, flowery eloquent words will never excuse the use of the suicide of a young woman as a platform for this transphobic “dissertation.” Nor will assertions of free speech — if you must, you surely could have written your piece entirely separately from any reference to Adi — nor will prefacing your verbiage with an admission of your own failings.

    For shame.

  6. Jacob Stearn says:

    Please of your own free will, just remove this. You should know what type of effect you are having on friends and relatives of the deceased, do not pin them down for your “cause”. This is incredibly rude.

  7. Destini says:

    Mr. Meo.

    I am greatly sadden and hurt by your article, yes children who have nonconforming gender identity are at higher risk of hurting themselves. But are at even higher risk of being hurt by the community around them. This article was so poorly written or was truly just meant to hide your true mission, to stand in judgement.

    You never once said “she”, Adi was a beautiful young woman. Not a “he”!

    Your article would be an example of why they are hurting themselves. It’s not because gender identity is difficult, these kids are brave, smart and will figure it out like most teens. It is because of people like you who choose to go through life labeling people who make them question themselves.
    In my experience Grant high kids and parents are the worse Hippocrates, they promoted supporting every one, LGBTQ included but the kids write and use hate words of discrimination, they have privilege but no class and obviously no compassion (thus your article).

    For if you had any compassion you would take this down.

    Thank you!

    • M. Meo says:

      Dear Jacob, Kelly, and Destini, I firmly believe that people of goodwill can disagree. Your requests are up here, asking me to remove an honest statement of my doubt about the value of transgender surgery, because I take them as having a right to be put up. For my part, I am sorry that you three are hurt by honest statements by someone who disagrees with you.

  8. Zak says:

    Jesus Christ I heard this post was bad. I didn’t think it would be this bad. It’s one thing to lose track of pronouns or spout something misinformed about political correctness, and another thing entirely to try and (ir)rationally explain your prejudices without attempting to move past them while using the death of a teenager as a political platform. Adi was my friend, and I’m a straight white man who struggles with my own proclivities for closed-mindedness. I will admit that I felt uncomfortable when she came out as trans, but I moved past that and came to overcome the same prejudices that seem to rule your mind. I also know your son Mike, and while I used to see his argumentative, provocative nature as a character flaw in an otherwise great guy, I won’t judge him for that because now I know exactly who taught him to see the world that way.

  9. Anonymous says:

    How dare you use this young girl’s suicide as a springboard to talk about your political beliefs? It doesn’t matter what your stance is, it’s just in poor taste to use this kind of tragedy to express your thoughts. Even if her suicide got you thinking about this topic, you could have left Adi’s name out of it. It’s rude to her family, her friends, and her memory.

    Also, isn’t this a political blog for the Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party? What does you liking blowjobs and thinking about soliciting prostitutes have anything to do with politics? I’ve noticed this in some of your other articles as well. You often rant about your personal troubles, especially your hilariously horrible family life. How about you make your own personal blog instead of tarnishing the name of the Pacific Green Party with your crazy antics? 🙂

  10. Drew Staub says:

    I’ve never written a comment on any website before, but as of late I have been scrolling the search results of my sister’s name for some reason. I don’t know why but I guess I just get caught in a loop thinking about them sometimes and I don’t really know what else to do.
    Anyways… About your article. I understand and I value that meditation and introspection through writing is extremely valuable, my sister did it all the time, but perhaps this was not the time or place for such meditation. But since we find ourselves here, in a public space of communication, how about we actually use this horrifyingly tragic event to actually re-examine our beliefs and meditate on the issue?

    Firstly, I will address this. It’s not your fault you are uncomfortable with trans people. You, like many people have been raised in an environment where people think it’s strange for individuals to pass back and forth between gender lines. You fixate on the physical aspect of only a single part of being trans: gender reassignment surgery. That is a totally normal thing for people to do. There were many times were I told someone I had a trans sister, and the first thing they asked me was if they were going to get surgery. With no realization they were asking me to talk about my sister’s genitals!! It’s not your fault, it’s not anybody’s fault really. But we have to change, as a society, or we are going to keep losing really amazing people to suicide. Which brings me to my next point.

    You left a comment:
    “As far as the facts of the case, however, your assertion that the lack of acceptance of transgender surgery is the sole reason for the high rate of suicide is contradicted by other considerations. Setting aside that it has no empirical evidence to support it, we have the suicide rate of black folk in the United States. Although that minority has been subjected a a horrific level of discrimination and disapproval, their suicide rate is below that of white people.”

    I’m telling you as the brother of someone who committed suicide, that the lack of acceptance is a MAJOR factor in why they are no longer living, and when I read your remark “I consider the demand for transition to a different sex to be unethical” I was nauseous. It was like looking at a weapon that was used to kill your family member. It’s enough that trans people have to deal with body dysphoria without having people tell them that they are unethical for wanting to do something to fix it. If a surgery that can save someone’s life is unethical, then what is going on with your moral compass? I’m sorry that you are so uncomfortable with such a surgery, but for my sake, please. Shut up and get over it. You’re a fully formed adult with a child! Why do you care so much about what somebody wants to do with their body? Why does the death of my sister make you want to get on the internet and and shame them and their people? Just think about it please.

    There are so so many other things to address in your article, but honestly it’s draining thinking about it. I would advise you to actually meditate on the morality of your beliefs rather than writing something down to help you justify your current beliefs. I don’t expect this to change your mind, but maybe for other trans people it will give them hope that there are a few dumb boring-ass cis white dudes like me who care deeply for them and their basic human rights and would gladly die defending them. As a people, we are lucky enough to have defining points in our lives were we can help make the world a better, more accepting place, or we can be scared into doing the opposite by things that make us uncomfortable. I hope you end up on the right side of history. Don’t bother responding M. Meo, unless you’ve changed your mind. Thanks – Drew Staub

    • M. Meo says:

      Dear Mr Staub,

      We agree that suicide is tragic and a loss to the community. We both wish that no one killed themselves. I thank you for your acknowledgement that my statement of my own attitude was a reflection of social upbringing, shared by others, and something which you do not find hateful.

      We disagree when it comes to the question of the causes of suicide or what the attitude toward it might be.

      Tolerance and acceptance is not the sovereign remedy for every ill in the world. Honest self-reflection is, in my opinion, at least a step in the right direction.

      I have not always found life, my own life, pleasant to contemplate: I’ve been clinically depressed, some decades ago, for years. While I was in that condition, I remember pretty vividly how fatuous it seemed to me when others told me that all I needed was something to cheer me up, or, equally, how self-indulgent it was of me to feel useless and sad. Neither attitude moved me one way or the other toward or away from suicide, which was a live option at that time.

      I do remember with equal strength of feeling how much I respected those who simply said that they were sorry I felt bad and left it at that. From one perspective, they were being, perhaps, tolerant; or, perhaps, they were speaking honestly, without announcing that they knew the solution.

      I sure don’t know the solution to the high rate of suicide among folks with gender dismorphia. Their deaths are a terrible loss, and I view the growing acceptance of the condition with some discomfort.

      I do not have the means of putting the World Health Organization statistics for suicide into this reply easily, but you can find them, I feel sure. The suicide rate in South Korea, Mr Staub, is more than fifty percent higher than it is in North Korea. Surely the acceptance of unusual behavior is higher in the place with the higher suicide rate. Again, as far as European countries go, all the ones with high suicide rates are East European — that is, formerly Communist, officially secular, officially atheist, countries.

      Overall, the countries with a Roman Catholic culture occupy the lower rungs of the list. Opposition to suicide does appear to have an effect.

      To use an analogy, I would oppose performing liposuction on a person who was anorexic.

  11. --- says:

    shame on you for this disrespectful article. shame on you for defending it.
    you’re asking the queer community but not listening at all.

    this is what kills trans kids.
    this is what kills trans kids.

    peoples lives and personal hardships is not up for a political debate. our dead friends aren’t.

    i’ve read this article many times since it was written and didn’t ever know what to say.
    this is really fucked up.
    this kills trans kids.

    educate yourself.

    • M. Meo says:

      Speaking anonymously, you claim a moral high ground. And what, sir or madam, is your reason for failing to sign your bumpersticker comment? As for what’s up for debate, that’s precisely where you lose the argument. We disagree, and instead of persuading by arguing your opinion, you chant a phrase and deny a willingness to respond to someone who disagrees with you and offers the reasons for it.

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