The Myth of the Warrior MG

We have been reading creation stories lately in our family. So, in light of MG’s official name change today, I thought of this myth.

*

At first there was only bear and dragon. They wrestled playfully in the great darkness for an eternity. Once, though, bear grabbed dragon by the belly and squeezed too hard. She did not mean to do it. Fire poured from dragon’s mouth. This was the beginning of light and time. Sadly, the fire burned so hot that it scorched poor bear, who rolled into a ball called earth. Her bones were charred into rocks, her skin became soil. Dragon wept and his tears became the oceans on the ball of the old bear’s body. The cinders from his fire caught up in the fabric of the sky and smoldered here and there, becoming the stars.

The right eye of bear floated up and became the moon, white and unseeing, winking slowly. The left eye started to float up too, but dragon held it down. He then made an ax from the red granite heart of old bear and he used it carve a cave into the mountain. The left eye, he affixed to the entrance of his cave so that it became the door of his home. He laid the handle of the ax across the door to bar the way. It was so mighty that no one could lift it. Dragon then hid deep down in the bones of bear.

He slept a long sleep. The steam from his nostrils rose up through the rocks and became the spirit of all the living things. The sky was dark all around. Only the pale light of the moon cast faint shadows on the moving bodies of the living things below. When dragon would dream of bear, fire leaped out of his nostrils and up through the volcanoes. When the fire cooled into flows of mud, it became humans. Their fire birth meant that they could speak. They made names and they gave names to all the living things and to their own children.

These humans were accustomed to the dark. They licked the rocks for minerals and they ate the lichens that grew in the moonlight. They cared little for anything but their names. Each said that his or her name was the best in all the land. This was their way.

In truth, there was only one who had the greatest name. It combined the letters of the alphabet in the most perfect way. Everyone knew that name was the best and that he who wore that name was the greatest warrior.

It came to be that dragon awoke. He was hungry, his belly was empty of fire. And when he saw that the humans had stolen his fire to make their names, he grew terribly angry. He swooped down on the tribe of lichen eaters. But the warrior stood bravely and fought the dragon. It was an awful battle and the warrior nearly died. The dragon ate all of his name except for two letters. Only a tattered M covered his top half and a ragged G covered the bottom. Yet he had repelled the dragon. The people carried him home gratefully and nursed him back to health.

The dragon’s belly was full again, even though he had not eaten the full name. That’s how powerful that name was. He turned up to the dark sky and, remembering his old friend bear, he blew his fire as strong as he could. The fire collected seven hands above the horizon and became the sun. The way the sun rolled around the earth reminded dragon of rolling through space wrestling bear. At long last, he smiled. He went back to his cave, forgetting to close the door.

The lichen eaters, however, did not like the sun. It hurt their eyes. They told the warrior to go and slay the dragon so that all of his fire would finally die. The warrior found the dragon in his cave and they fought for over three years without resting. The warrior turned his M into a set of teeth that bit at the dragon’s back. He turned his G into a hook that grabbed at the dragon’s neck.

Finally, both warrior and dragon slumped against each other, exhausted. The dragon said, “We must make a truce.” The warrior nodded. The dragon continued, “Because it reminds me of my old friend bear, I will leave the sun in the sky…”

“But my people hate the sun,” the warrior yelled. Although, secretly he loved the sun.

“Your people will get used to it,” the dragon said calmly, “their eyes will adjust. And in return, I will give you a new name.” The dragon and the warrior both looked at the M and G, those battle-worn weapons on the floor of the cave.

“Very well,” said the warrior.

And with that, the dragon said, “I will give you my ax,” and he reached out and grabbed a stalactite from the roof of the cave. With his breath, he warmed it until it became as pliable as a cord of leather. He picked up his granite ax and the metal M and tied them together and that is how he made Max.

“Now,” said the dragon, “I will call you my son, because you are made from my fire.” And when he said the word “son” he spit it into his hand. There he held it as he walked out of the cave, dragging the terrible G behind him. The warrior followed him. The dragon then peeled a ray of light from the sun that he so loved, the sun that reminded him of bear, the sun that he had forged from the warrior’s old name. And he took that ray and tied it to the word son and then he grabbed up that fearsome G that had been so often slung across his neck and he built the word Grayson.

And this is how the warrior Max Grayson walked back to his tribe. And in time he taught them how to adore the sun.

**

Here we are at the courthouse after getting his name officially changed.

mgnamechange

Winter Hawk

That last tatter of the once royal prairie

toggles his sabre wings against the blue

spelling the end, my friend, for the likes of me and you.

He hadn’t looked so scary on his telephone pole

I even said “his feathers are tattered and his chest is dull,”

you might recall, my fellow vole.

But now he has become Shiva,

a mote in the encompassing eye transfixed with deadly intent,

and he has claws enough, I’m afraid old stuff,

for the furry fruit of his ruinous descent.

Run? You say. Run…but where?

Better to hold my paw and sing Kumbaya

and get ready for our time in the air.

We are only the hawk before the hawk

just as this salted grass was the preface to us.

Soon we will see through the veil of his whicker bones

and this final cloud of dust.

The Legs of my Four-Year-Old Daughter

Though made of watermelons and Sunday chickens

they are not these things.

Hominluluid, curvilinear, balletic exclamation points.

The size of a serious mechanic’s wrench,

two-handed tool, capable of a fair poundage of torque.

Though I have watched, I have never seen them grow.

It is the same as Orion toggling across winter’s horizon

or the roots of the water lily spreading under blankets of mud.

Imperceptibly she is stealing away from me,

born away by these pale vines, detestable

beautiful archeries of flesh.

Shins of moon cratered with ochre and midnight bruises

(I counted eleven today)

subdermal epistemology, wisdom of worldly encounters.

Spriglets sprightly wound up tightly, dancing drumsticks, metronomes…

Keep the time in tapping toes, oh Anthropos.

Two half notes with stems pointed down surround a quarter rest,

the squiggle of a conch tossed with driftwood by the ocean.

Some can only appraise the volumetrics of cylinders.

But you walk on talismans, the howls of wolves made solid.

The Turing Toaster Test

Father of a Gender Non-Conforming Kid Lovingly Responds to Hate Mail

*The following is part of what may or may not become a quasi-regular series of posts. They are my (mostly light-hearted) replies to actual things people have said/written to me. I have modified their comments just enough to fit the format of this “Dear Abbey” style question-and-answer, but the gist of their remarks is unchanged.

 

Installment #1

Dear Deranged Douche,

You are obviously a joke. I can’t believe you are a professor. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas. That’s called science – look it up. You can’t just choose one or the other. So, if your students asked you if they can be a toaster what would you say?!

Sincerely,

Self-righteous Blowhard

to

Dear Blowhard,

Great question. And, I might add, one of the perennial quandaries that ranks up there with “do we have free will?” and “how many degrees of separation are there between Francis Bacon and Kevin Bacon?”

There is much debate about the Great Toaster Conundrum (as it is known among analytic philosophers). Some follow this chain of thinking, which is generally attributed to Gettier:

(proposition alpha) Humans and toasters both have a material existence,

(proposition beta) humans and toasters both know (in the main) what to do with bread,

(conclusion) therefore, yes, humans can be toasters.

However, at the 1932 conference of the Vienna Oval (a breakaway group of philosophers who had interminable quibbles with Popper re: Abduction, etc.) Herr Wundtz surmised:

(proposition theta) Humans have veins whereas toasters have heating elements,

(proposition chai) humans are (generally) mobile whereas toaster are (generally) not,

(conclusion) therefore, no, humans cannot be toasters.

Obviously, I am glossing over all the crucial details, which continue to play out in the pages of the periodical Of Bread and Men (H factor: 32).

My own take is slightly more pragmatic. While walking out and about, I have found people say things to my son like (upon holding the door) “What a gentleman!” or “How old is your son?” or “What sports does he like to play?”

So, I tell my students to run an experiment along the lines of the Turing test: head out for a walk down campus just being simply who you are. If people spontaneously and sincerely say things like, “My, this toaster really does bagels perfectly!” or “What setting should I use for rye?” or “Whose toaster is this and can you get it the f**k out of chair?” well, then I think the answer to your question is “yes.” But for now, I am going with a provisional “no.”

Sincerely,

Loving Dad

Penises, Guns, and Fear in Texas

I want to push an analogy about two of the hottest debates in Texas politics now: bathroom bills and campus carry. Of course all analogies walk on three legs, and I may have pushed this one so far it falls over…

gundude

Someone with a penis walks into a women’s bathroom but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a trans woman who might look something like this. Someone with a gun walks onto a college campus but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a conceal carry license holder. One is always hidden behind clothing or a stall door. The other is always hidden in a purse or a backpack.

Both are there because of rights claims – the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to self-defense. If either of them ever becomes visible, then almost certainly an illegal event has occurred. You cannot rip someone’s pants off and you cannot just rip someone’s purse off. Also, you cannot pull down your own pants in plain sight, and you cannot pull out your gun in plain sight (see the UNT campus carry policy).

In both cases, it is claimed that allowing a penis or a gun in those places will invite greater dangers. Men will take advantage of non-discrimination policies to gain access to women’s facilities. Disgruntled people will take advantage of concealed carry policies to bring more guns on campus. Then, they say, we’ll have increased sexual assault and campus shootings.

Sure, it is always possible that a dingbat uses a gender identity inclusive law to justify getting access to a bathroom or locker room. But it is exceedingly rare (over 200 cities and 18 states with non-discrimination laws report no increased incidents of sexual assault or public safety violations as a result of the laws). Further, this is all a red herring given the fact that over 80% of rape and sexual assault is perpetrated by non-strangers, whereas 64% of transgender individuals will experience sexual assault simply for being who they are.

And, sure, someone with a conceal carry license could fly off the handle and become a campus shooter. But it is exceedingly rare (in Texas, conceal carry holders, who comprise just three percent of the population, are six times less likely to commit a violent crime than the general public). In the US, 150 campuses have concealed carry laws and not one violent act has resulted. Further, if a person really wants to commit a violent crime on campus with a gun, they are not likely to go through the process of obtaining a legal license when they can much more quickly and easily just get a gun and illegally carry it on campus.

You want to restrict penises in ladies rooms and guns on campus? Good luck enforcing that without violating privacy rights and ratcheting up a culture of policing and control.

The penis or the gun doesn’t matter. It is the behavior that matters. If everyone is being peaceful and respectful, then there is no issue. And indeed in both cases, you can argue that history has proved this to be the case. Transgender people have long been using Texas restrooms that match their gender identity with no incidents. Conceal carry holders have long safely been walking around Texas.

Yes, in both cases there is the further argument not about behavior but about mere presence. People say they don’t feel safe just knowing there could be a penis in the stall next to you or a gun in the backpack next to you. It will foster an atmosphere of discomfort in one case. In the other case, it will have a chilling effect on free speech and critical feedback (e.g., honest grades).

But in the case of genitalia, this is simply a mental hang-up. It is not the responsibility of a trans person to help you deal with the complex reality of gender identity. That’s on you. They should not be forced to lead undignified, stigmatized double lives just because you have a vague sense of repugnance or discomfort. If there are bad behaviors, report it. Otherwise, get over it.

The same thing goes for guns. Your mental block and feeling of unease does not trump someone else’s right to self-defense. Yes, it would be more important if the statistics showed conceal carry leads to more actual threats of intimidation or violence, but they don’t show that. Of course, a gun is not neutral – it opens up a different reality and makes its possessor into a different subject. Still, though, there is no evidence that someone with a conceal carry license will turn into someone who intimidates or commits violent acts simply by virtue of having a gun.

In the end, if someone is going to hurt you either with a penis or a gun it won’t be because of a non-discrimination law or a campus carry law. Of course, there is always a slight chance – we can never rule out even the slimmest of possible risks, even death by falling coconut. But the fear engendered by these laws is blown way out of proportion.

Adam Says Farewell to DAG

Five years ago, then newly elected City Councilmember Kevin Roden arranged a meeting with the now defunct Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at UNT. He asked me if I would be interested in forming a citizen’s committee to help the city rewrite their rules governing drilling and natural gas production. This was shortly after the council had approved three wells near McKenna Park amidst great controversy. I agreed and wrote up a one page document outlining the basic idea of an informal, ‘shadow,’ advisory and educational commission. And that’s how the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group was born. Across the years, it changed a lot, including a name change to the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. I served as Chair, then Vice President, then President, then Board Member.

And today, I attended my last Board meeting. After five years, I am no longer a part of DAG. I depart on good terms with all the current members – Rhonda, Tara Linn, Ed, Carol, Michael, and Emily – and I am confident they will continue to do great things. I look forward to supporting them however I can as a fan and occasional volunteer. I have recently been voted in as the Vice President of the Board for the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and I just decided that both jobs would be too much.

I thought I would make this announcement so that everyone would know. Clearly, now when and if I speak in public about fracking I only speak for myself and not on behalf of DAG.

night

I want to thank everyone who has been involved over these past five years. I learned so much and took so much joy in serving my city and fellow citizens. It’s crazy to think now about all that was involved – I wrote over 300 blogs first on the dentondrilling site and then on frackfreedenton.com, produced several videos, wrote many op-eds, participated in a few debates, and hosted dozens of meetings. But that was only a tiny slice of the work that took a whole community to accomplish – reaching out to neighbors, printing flyers, writing reports, raising funds, marching in parades, playing music, making art, writing letters to the editor, making signs, making phone calls, speaking at City Hall, driving down to Austin, working the polls, voting, protesting, and so much more.

Now, if you are a pessimist you might say that after all that, given HB 40, we are right back where we started. But that’s not just too bleak of a view – it’s wrong. Because we have come a long ways. So many people have been educated. So many people have tuned into their power as citizens. So many people have gotten activated to take part in our public sphere. And we won that glorious victory on November 4, 2014. Nothing can ever take that away…and nothing can ever take away that feeling of empowerment and the bonds of community that we have forged.

So, thank you to everyone who has played a part in Denton’s fracking saga these past five years. And my very best wishes to DAG as they go forward and to our entire city as we struggle toward justice.

Asthma, Gender, Numbers, Self

I have lately seen both of my children intersect with the realm of medical and social labels. A kid who likes short hair and Star Wars becomes “transgender.” A kid who coughs and is prone to pneumonia becomes “asthmatic.”

The labels help some and hurt some. It is good to know there are others out there like you and your family. It is good to know there are things to do. I take the labels seriously. But I try not to reify them and let them do the thinking for me. Asthma, for example, is not well defined. Our different pediatricians disagree about the diagnosis. Even those who like the diagnosis admit that asthma is really a catch-all term for lots of poorly understood stuff about breathing problems.

How many asthmatics are there? Well, it’s an unanswerable question, because the term is so loose. How many transgender people are there? Well, I think ditto. That doesn’t mean there is no such thing as being asthmatic or transgender. It just means human categories are often poor approximations of reality. Breath is a spectrum from in to out. Gender is a spectrum. It’s ok, just breathe.

Is Lulu really asthmatic? I don’t think that matters as much as trying to do things that help her to flourish. Is MG transgender? Again, ditto. So, I understand the need for short-hand labels. But beware the way labels become impersonal signifiers. They become numbers and data points that get used this way and that. They hide the faces behind them – the unique stories. They are like the eyes of Medusa – they freeze into stone a living, changing self.

disney

People sometimes ask how a child who is only eight years old could possibly identify with a gender that doesn’t correspond to their sex or the gender assigned at birth. Kids are too young, they say.

Well, maybe it seems less weird if you consider that an eight year old is also a 3,000 day old or a 4,320,000 minute old.  Have you ever spent all day with a three or four year old? It can seem like an eternity. Now stretch those eternities across eight years and you can remind yourself of how it is to be a person. The slow work of unfurling, becoming, self-knowing.

So much is packed into a day of, say, a five year old. The bathroom saga. The toothbrush dilemma. The board games strewn around the toy room. The sore fingers from tying water balloons. The skinned knee from falling off the trampoline. The inconsolable rage at your sister. The unstoppable laughter when tickled. The adventure of making lunch. And dear god it’s not even afternoon yet.

We used to play make believe zoo, then make believe garbage monsters, we learned to swim, we used to be a white belt in Taekwondo and of course we used to not do Taekwondo, we used to really be into Spiderman, Minecraft on again off again, we used to love Caillou (thank god that is over).

We used to say there are lots of ways to be a girl. Now we say he is a boy. Dresses went away at the age of 2. Asking questions about whether scientists can turn us into boys at the age of 4. Short hair at the age of 5. Changed pronouns at the age of 6 and a half – really 6 and three quarters. That didn’t happen overnight. Day by day – slow and slow – things change. But some things go away and some things develop. We don’t play garbage monsters any more, but we are still wearing our hair short. We are still convinced “pretty” is a derogatory term. We still identify as boys. We still are boys. We are still who we have always been, though changed, of course.

Transition, metamorphosis, selfhood. I wonder if we can keep all of this in mind when we talk about bathrooms and gender identity. We all have spent millions of minutes becoming who we are and being who we become.

So, please be conscious of the way labels can trigger in your mind instant assumptions, boxes in which you then file people away – good or bad, blessed or cursed, odd or normal. No eternity of days can be captured in a single word. And no word can substitute for listening ears and loving care.