Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Friday, August 14, 2020

Normally I Woudn't Be Here

In which I question call out culture, extremist activism, LGBTQ splintering and perspectives in an opinion centered culture vs a non-confrontational collectivist one.

I would normally right now be overseas in Thailand enjoying being pampered by my cook and traveling to my farm with Clasina. Or alternately traveling to my other home of origin the UK. My devising to be overseas every six months began in earnest during the Trump era. This has proven to be an excellent strategy for saving my mental health. 

Thai culture being a collectivist culture doesn't burden the individual with the need to move daily through a barrage of opinions. I once joked to a Thai friend that for every American who believes they can change the world this instant by delivering an opinion there needs to be at least a hundred Thais in agreement just to begin a discussion on a topic. This expressed equally our frustration with both Thai and American culture.

While in Thailand any actual requirement of me to express myself is so reduced that my stress level comes down to a soothing slowness that gives me a sense of timelessness and spaciousness. It also gave me the clarity of mind to look back at American culture through Facebook and sharply see the biases at play there. 

When people ask me how I stay so thin I tell them it is because my brain uses up so much fuel just trying to deconstruct my life given all I have to process making sense of it as an American of multiple perspectives.

Lockdown Retreat

Luckily I had the best of all possible lockdowns mostly alone which gave me a lot of space in isolation in my tiny house with lots to do putting in a garden and adding new dimensions to my off grid life. I kept expecting long tracts of boredom which never appeared. I was kept so busy reading the news. And I had two classes to attend on Zoom for which I installed a hanging chair. One class is called The Fool’s Journey, a year long exploration into the Western mystery school tradition using the Tarot deck designed by my teacher Pamela Eakins. I spent a lot of my shamanic journeys for the class hugging my two spirit guides and holding hands with them to fill the void left by all the social distancing. This  felt so real to me I could feel my heart opening to receive their love.

The second class was also taught by Pamela and that was a women’s writing class. We had been meeting for several years at her comfortable home on the coast and now on Zoom in the strange prison of our individual cells we spent that first meeting voicing our fears and wondering if anything we had been writing had any relevancy at all. Pamela with her usual stroke of inspiration had us sit down and write whatever we had to say about the pandemic. The pieces were so full of energy she decided we were to do a book and invited more women writers on her list to contribute. The poems and essays came in so fast that Pamela was soon able to produce our finished book. Called  Pandemic Carona: Poems of Shock, Fear, Realization and Metamorphis by the Sisters of the Holy Pen which you can now order on Amazon.

This project saved our sanity and gave us purpose. And most important it kept us writing and I was able to regain my sense of relevance. The book itself is a diverse collection of voices some intentionally ordinary and full of love, some brilliant at times profound. It is a capture of the arc of this pandemic and its impact on us collectively. We did a book reading this week on zoom for 29 of the writers hosted by Bookwoman an independent bookstore in Austin Texas attended by some 70 people. The reading a performance that was part ceremonial, part intimate revelation. It was recorded so you can soon enjoy it at your leisure. 

Nevertheless as we approached June I had been alone so long I started to feel the edges of the abyss, the sense that if I didn’t work at holding it altogether I would unravel into some sort of crazy fractured despair. I was no longer as captivated by the discoveries of the evolving virus and the shenanigans of the current administration threatening to collapse our country. I kept in mind an astrological interpretation of 2020 which described a year of turmoil as long held assumptions and structures were challenged, but clarity would come sometime in December it promised. As I wondered how this turmoil would manifest George Floyd was killed and society broke open with rallies led by Black Lives Matter. 

I breathed a sigh of relief. If this was the turmoil we needed to process (yet again) we could do this. Race was something every American had to address in some fashion and had a handle on though likely not the same handle, but at least a perspective from which to begin. In short order just about all the books on the New York Times bestseller list was about race. I was touched by the interest my white women colleagues showed in rolling up their sleeves to get a grip on white fragility and structural racism so that a solution might be found and applied. I also came to understand through Black activist contacts that white women were far from considered trustworthy (largely because of their role in lynching history and now as Karens) and had to work super hard to offset this distrust. I came to the conclusion that only with a Black woman in leadership would we regain any sort of feminist credibility. (Go Kamala Harris.)

I listened to podcast discussions of American History including the 1619 project and a much more comprehensive series of podcasts called “Seeing White” and “The Land That Never Has Been Yet”. This last title a quote from Langston Hughes. 

Seeing American history through the eyes of slavery and the cruel brand of capitalism that evolved from it along with the associated societal disdain for the poor was a perspective that actually made me feel better about the current administration. When Trump was first elected I felt that the GOP had pulled off a coup which was an alarming concept even for a Thai. But from this historical perspective I saw that the U.S. had all along contained this element of bias for wealthy white men and Darwinistic cruelty for those who couldn’t cut it in this supposed land of opportunity. This made me feel that the core of this country was still stable in nature; it had just been backsliding rather terrifyingly.

It allowed me to see that those who managed to succeed at all in such a country were heroic. This was a helpful concept. It reminded me of the Buddhist teaching that all life is suffering. So we were doing well if we managed not to suffer. 

Out Onto The Streets

I attended the Black Lives Matter rally in Redwood City which happened early on while we were still in quarantine and was well attended. I was pleased to see the large presence of white people and subsequent rallies through the largely white towns of Woodside, Half Moon Bay, Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In Menlo Park I attended the LGBTQ+Black Lives Matter rally held on the anniversary of Stonewall. I pulled out my vintage “Queer N’Asian” t-shirt and made myself a little Black Lives Matter sign. The t-shirt gave me claim to being a part of queer history. I hadn’t felt such a sense of belonging in a long time especially as a woman of color and now as an elder asking the young women if I could photograph them.

Having given my time to Black Lives Matter I reserved a little space to present my own cause by presenting myself as a butch lesbian in a post on Facebook. Most Americans don’t read me as butch because I am Asian and have kept my hair long. And Asian women are so highly fetishized as sexual creatures that they are seen as a dish for men (and thus assumed to be straight and femme). So in order to counter act these assumptions I posted a picture of myself wearing my Fruit of the Loom tighty whities. This classic garment being the only male garment not appropriated by women so could still truly be said to be cross dressing. I paired it with a wife beater tank top and photographed myself from overhead while lounging on my bed in classic pseudo pin-up fashion. It got my point across. See it here

I wouldn’t have to do this in Thailand where I am read as a Tom the slang term for masculine presenting women. Tom is short for tomboy and also means lesbian. I was assured of this presentation by my housekeeper when I mentioned to her that I was going to lunch with my Tom friend. 

“Are you a Tom too,” she asked.

 “A little bit,” I said. 

“More than a little bit,” she responded. I smiled broadly pleased at this reading. That was another perk ofbeing in Thailand. I am seen for who I am. And the visibility of other butch lesbians in Bangkok is prevalent. 

I was making myself visible to my Western audience in order to maintain this aspect of lesbian culture especially in these times of makeover by the transgender movement. 

Thai people already understand what a transgender person is. There is the term katoey used to identify those (mostly men) who are cross dressing and presenting as women. They do not hold the same status as women, but they have a place in society that goes back through history. Most Asian societies have this category in their lexicon. Similar to Native American society under the name Two Spirit.

It was because of the term katoey that I knew I would have a place in Thai society. The explanation for this transgender presentation is explained as most things in Thailand are by the concept of karma and reincarnation. I was told that I still carried the spirit of a boy implying that I had been a man in my last life. The idea that transgender people are persons who are trapped in the wrong body would seem beside the point to a Thai. The whole point of incarnating is to work through your stuff where you now find yourself which is as a man or a woman. Though Thailand being the sex change capital of the world is eager to accommodate those who wish sex reassignment surgery. Because if you can have it why not? The Thais are as much about acquisition as any consumer society.

Given this reincarnation karma story you would likely call this a religious ideology and I’m fine with that. But by the same token I can also claim that the idea of a person being trapped in the wrong body is an ideology. One that is being enabled by the “new” science of gender. Such science has proven that those who are transgender have the brain of the sex they identify with. Society needs science to prove such things because of the logic of American civil rights. For in order to legislate protection for those who face prejudice from others who would enact violence or bias against us it is best that such characteristics be determined to be immutable. 

In other words it’s not a choice or a psychological aberration. Because after all we are a self flagellating moral society and if it were a choice or a psychological aberration we would be obliged to fix it to conform to societal mores. And if science says you were born in the wrong body then by all means let us alleviate the stress of this suffering preferably wth medical intervention as we do every other condition in this over-medicalized society so we can make some money off it and contribute to the GNP.

The ideology of karma makes for better stories about past lives which includes historical circumstances and some artistic nuances in the telling. A psychic is the professional you would call to help you see into this past. But mostly we just shrug and leave it to the mystery of not knowing. Remember mystery? That element of awe and how to live with what you cannot know with a hope for the poetic justice of karma in the end.

Cancel Me This

An opinion in Thailand does not require a response. To object to it would be to seek conflict which would cause suffering and that would just not be a good practice of Buddhism—to intentionally cause more suffering. But here in the West we have elevated an opinion to such a point that people are publicly reviled, lose their jobs and their reputations while attempts are made to prevent them from speaking further. 

I read a few analysis to understand this phenomena. Call-out culture I learned was largely due to Twitter empowering those who usually don’t have a podium. From the perspective of the status quo it was mob rule. And this technology had empowered young people, African Americans and Trans Activists one article stated. I remember being young and gay recklessly making declarations and refusing to trust anyone over 30. The second category wasn’t surprising given the history of this country. But this final category; how did this tiny .01% minority become so virulent?

The best way to explain this last category is through the shallow lens of American pop culture. You will no doubt remember that five years ago Bruce Jenner became Caitlin Jenner in a manner so public it put the whole trans story into the public eye and explained the idea of a man trapped in a women’s body. And because Jenner had access to not only the finest plastic surgery that money can buy but the glamour arm of Hollywood the results were absolutely spectacular. Americans love a story of transformation and glamour and ate it up. The story might have ended there, but for the political aspects of the trans movement and the ongoing violence enacted on transgender people. This violence targeted at any gender nonconforming, cross dressing individual, but because of the popularity of the transgender story it became mainly about transgender individuals. And how to protect those individuals.

Both the United States and the UK took steps to protect transgender people basically by inserting the word gender into all the discrimination clauses where the word sex had originally been inserted to legislate equality between the sexes i.e. men and women. This change had an impact on the protected class of women. But before we could even get a grip on what this might mean cancel culture determined that anything that was not pro trans was bad whether it had an impact on natal born women or not. And that’s how J.K. Rowling became the poster child of transphobia. And by trouncing the writer of this most popular children’s book series of all times every liberal straight person could now virtue signal their support for the T in the LGBTQ alphabet without even fully understanding what any of it meant. And trans activist could use the headlines trouncing the author for being a transphobe to further present all the pro trans ideology as established fact (to fill the vacuum of this absence of understanding). 

When I read these articles I was struck by the calm matter of fact language used to establish an authority that was not to be denied with links thrown in liberally to “prove” that these facts were not to be contested. And when I followed the links  I found more of the same style of language interpreting science based research that basically came down to opinions rooted in an authority that was backed up by nothing more than the lived experience of a trans woman. 

This illusion of authority was so complete that it took me a few minutes to realize that we were allowing a person who transitioned as an adult and had no actual lived experience as a girl to comment on both the lives of young girls and how their social lives operated. And that I in fact had more authority having come out much earlier than my peers in the context of an all girls school. A school that came to be known in the psychiatric community as the hotbed of eating disorders and other self harming practices due largely to the incredibly high expectations placed on girls being groomed to leadership as stated by the school mantra or at the very least the trophy wives of the rich given the demographic.

It is in the arena of high school that trans ideology is having its biggest impact and had come to the attention of research scientists given that the number of teenage girls seeking sex reassignment surgery had shot up by 4,400%. Seventy times what it had been before which was so negligible that it couldn’t even really be counted. Before 2016 the number of gender dysphoric kids had been predominantly pre-school age boys. 

The moment the first research study was published it was debunked and cancel cultured into disgrace by trans activists. But the researcher prevailed, apologized for any offense taken and successfully republished the paper with just a few clarifications on methodology. But further research has been stymied and gone underground. Nobody wants death threats just for doing their job. But a brave journalist did publish a book on the phenomena of this trans contagion among girls which I have duly read and reviewed here. It’s a compelling read of sociological significance.

Meanwhile almost no girls seemed to be identifying as lesbians anymore. Lots of lesbians in my age group wanted to be boys as children including me (and we are all glad we remained women). So what was going on during an era that is supposedly so gay positive. Or was it?

Gay Liberation No More

When I came into the movement post Stonewall it was determined that to be accepted by the public we needed to present ourselves as ordinary people. Ordinary in the sense of being just like anybody else, wanting to live quietly with our chosen partners, get married and have a family. This line of thinking required the right optics i.e. that we also look and act like straight people and basically keep our fabulousness off the streets and safely cordoned off to the night club act and movies as entertainment for y’all. In the process of this assimilationist strategy we threw all the gender non-conforming and poly pansexuals and what all under the bus. And that naked man with the boa constrictor who appeared in all the San Francisco Pride parades at the time.

Liberals embraced gay marriage as their virtue signaling token issue and haters targeted gay youth and gender non-conforming individuals. To assuage this wrong and the accompanying guilt of the assimilationist strategy the movement now feels that the time has come for the T in LGBTQ to be the focus of the times. And that California schools are to be apprised of all the various flavors of our rainbow down to our many sexual preferences and gender non-confirming presentations including the whole brain in wrong body thing to prevent further bullying of our people. As a result or maybe as a clever workaround to the ordinary vanilla male and female stereotypes being described in the process the number of those identifying as non-binary entering college has shot up along with the incidences of transitioning. While the number of out gay youth seem to be disappearing per the observations of my peers. Homophobia was clearly still at large.

Last year to get a feel for this transgender era I took myself to the Trans March the weekend of Pride. I immediately noticed all the Toms—the Asian girls presenting as butch, arm in arm with their femme counterparts. And I was delighted to see Latina Toms too. I also photographed the proud shirtless transman showing off his bare flat chests for us. There were what I used to think of as drag queens—gay men with more style than could be contained in one gender to paraphrase a drag queen movie of the ‘90s. One in a wonder woman outfit. And lots with a more vintage slightly dowdy style I used to recognize as transvestites—straight men who like to dress as women (and were observed by gender scientists to be sexually aroused by this, but this autogynephelia is now considered a transphobic concept). There were also young children identifying as trans accompanied by their entire family. And a dour androgynous woman holding a flag I didn’t recognize striped in olive white and violet. It was the “gender queer” flag I was told upon inquiry with some annoyance. My favorite flag was a transgender flag with the words Trans Queer Witches Against Fascism scribed across it with a drawn glyph of pagan and gender symbols. Standing next to the flag was what I used to recognize as a lesbian with the fade haircut now popular with butch lesbians. On their shirt a button proclaiming the pronoun “he”. My photographs organized for you here

The takeaway of my foray into this brave new queer world was that it was so splintered into factions that nobody would look anyone in the eye let alone smile. So much depended now on defending one’s identity. Because apparently it wouldn’t be apparent otherwise. The chalked messages on the sidewalk gave me a clue of the underlying pain. “I Am Trans Enough” and “Let People Be Themselves”. I realized that this movement both included me as an Asian Tom and rejected me as an American lesbian. It also empowered me to defend myself.

The very definition of lesbian being oriented around being a woman and being attracted to women seems to defy the very existence of trans women whose vocal activists have mounted such an aggressive public attack on women who don’t want to sleep with persons who have penises that they sound exactly like men who tell lesbians they haven’t met the right man yet. (Not all trans people have genital surgery so they are stuck with the equipment they were born with as it shrinks or enlarges in response to the hormones they are taking.) No comparable attack seems to be aimed at straight women. Maybe their appetite for penises is too intimidating. heh. Plenty divorced their husbands who wanted them to be lesbians to support their late blooming transgender lives.

Meanwhile online lesbian-only space has been completely excommunicated from social media platforms. Even the ever tolerant kink community can no longer allow their members to express their particular preferences if it involves only natal born women. I have though found an online group that regularly shows me photos of cross dressing lesbians hosted by a clothing company offering clothes for women affecting masculine style. This fashion group called Butch Fashion, Style & Care was the perfect cover for natal born women only. Fashion serving as a cover for a persecuted minority. I was able to post my lesbian stories and photos there and occasionally others would discuss the pros and cons of taking T (male hormones) or the best brand of binders to compress their chests into a male appearance. All closely moderated to stop any fights.

The trans identity has benefited the community greatly to be sure; it created a political category for gender non-conforming people and thanks to recent Supreme Court ruling this category is now to be protected from job discrimination. This was huge in my mind because it finally allowed all cross dressing persons to have a place in American society. 

I do not however think it a good thing that people are being punished and prevented from simply stating a preference for natal born women. Being able to state our sexual preferences was the main point of the gay movement. Not to allow this is homophobic. But now the bigger activist epithet is that I am being transphobic. Well have at it then. I’ve devoted my entire life to being free to express myself without fear of reprisal either from losing my job or by besmirching my reputation only now to have my voice canceled by my own tribe. 

A society that cancels what people can say so punishingly is practicing a self imposed totalitarianism. It is a mob rule that is stoked for revolution, but has no skill set for the long slow work of diplomacy and coalition building. It is adolescent and punch drunk from unaccustomed power. Reminding me of revolutions that having thrown over a society devolve into corrupt governments with little vision.

I have a long memory going back to a time that strived for freedom of expression and a live and let live openness to differences. One that allowed a certain curiosity to ask questions and a diplomacy in answering those questions. My values didn’t change; the world around me changed and my language dates me. I now regard anyone under 35 with suspicion. I feel like an old crank spouting insults.

American culture as many have pointed out denigrates and mothballs their elders. Another perk of going to Thailand was that my status as an elder gave me a reverence that was palpable in the sky train station as I pulled out my senior card. It made me feel seen and respected.

Now I am trapped here in this ridiculously shallow, polarized society that has so politicized everything that even wearing a mask in a health crisis is a political statement. But with little to lose I realized that I could afford to speak for the unfavorable positions as I saw them.

I have long been of crone age, but maybe curmudgeon would be a better fit. heh.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Lenore said...

I always am grateful for your perspective, thank you for sharing it with us.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Auburnin said...

Just a great read. A close friend and his wife have 2 kids and their 2nd born identifies as a boy and they have joined the trans community as a family and were part of what you saw at the March. I'm going to share this SA with my pal because I was uncomfortable with his wife's determination to go fully trans identity with their child. She's a fair a pest and seems to have a grasp on what her child needs. I was just confused and reading your essay has relaxed me and reassured me that it's a fluid landscape with clear thinking individuals working for common sense tolerance and acceptance.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Auburnin said...

Therapist, rather, not "fair a pest" & essay, rather, not "SA"

At 5:27 PM, Blogger AK said...

Thanks so much for leaving this note. I'm so glad you found it reassuring. It has made my day and I am so glad my work on this topic can be of help. If your friend seeks more information on the medical and emotional risks of this trans journey for children I recommend the story of a transman by the name of Scott Nugent. He is very concerned about children undertaking such treatment and is gathering up other rational trans people to do a speaking tour for parents. Here is an interview with him that reveals his concerns in detail.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Jay Davidson said...

Thanks for this, Amanda.

Yesterday I spoke to our mutual friend Karla, and she asked me if I had read this, but I had not read it yet.

I believe that what has most helped me when reading this is that I have known you for more than twenty years, I know your voice, and I could hear you speaking these words when I read this.

It seems to me that your greatest benefit nowadays, and a terrific strength, is your understanding of Thai culture. Even though you are not in Thailand now, as you may otherwise be, you have those values to bolster you.

You concluded by referring to our (USA) culture as shallow, and I agree. It's sad that wearing a mask is nowadays a political statement, as opposed to the way people in many other collective societies see their actions: as supporting, helping, working with other people in their society, as opposed to the ridiculous claims of anti-maskers that they are fighting for their freedoms! Freedome to be stupid - that's what I call it. And there are too many of them!

At 6:46 AM, Blogger AK said...

Thanks so much for commenting Jay and vouching for my authenticity of voice from your over 20 years of knowing me. I am also delighted to hear Karla's name and that she asked if you had read this piece for it is packed with so much I've had to say of late and upon rereading it I am glad that I hit a tone of calm observation that still stands me in good stead. You are right I draw much from my Thai culture, its timelessness and basic common sense and Buddhist perspective informing me and helping me navigate from a stable core sense of self.

The polarization of our culture here in the U.S. is so much a result of our immense diversity. The politicization now of so much of our lives has prompted me to call it shallow, but on balance I am glad that it is here I have landed. Scary as this polarization is it still speaks to how rich we are in diversity of opinions. It is stimulating and maddening, but it is also fertile ground for a writer to live in a culture where opinions matter and where different voices and stories can be heard.

To be able to live in a culture where I am inspired to write and where my writing matters is vital to my spirit. However small my audience, it is a select group of people whose responses thrill me. And we live in a pocket of the country that is science based and tolerant of diversity which counts for a lot. One that has a Bay Area micro culture of intellectual openness that also supports good mental health and self care so that we may retreat to the safety of our homes (providing we have one)and stay relatively sane. For this I am enormously grateful.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Earthworm. Get yours at