Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Our “Albert Nobbs” Moment

     Many years ago I was exposed – pardon the choice of words – to a short story titled “Albert Nobbs,” by Irish writer “George Moore.” Its title character is a woman who, for economic reasons, chooses to live as a man. It causes her a great many problems. One of the worst of these is that she becomes the romantic target of a woman who cannot understand why the attraction isn’t mutual. While her secret is not exposed until her death at a relatively advanced age, she is nevertheless compelled to live in hiding, just to make a living.

     The story, a piquant blend of irony and farce, won considerable praise in its time. Few of its adulators were aware that “George Moore” was a woman. I don’t remember when in “Moore’s” life (or afterward) that tidbit became general knowledge.

     Not that long ago, a brilliant writer penned a novelette titled “Nine Lives” about two extrasolar technicians, in a time of intense labor shortages, who found themselves confined with the sole survivor of a group of clones. The survivor’s nine clone-brethren had been killed off in a mining accident, leaving him alone in the care of two normal humans. It left him barely able to remain alive. Indeed, he wanted to die, having never in his life been apart from his nine clone-brethren. The story first appeared in Playboy in 1969. It won a great deal of critical praise for its eloquence and evocative force.

     The byline above the story read “U. K. Leguin.” That was at the insistence of Playboy’s editors. Leguin’s first name, as is well known to virtually every reader of science fiction, was Ursula.

     Mrs. Leguin might not have had to travel androgynously to get published. Indeed, her early fantasy work A Wizard of Earthsea and her brilliant multiple award-winner The Left Hand of Darkness were both published at that time under her full name, to tremendous applause and critical acclaim. But Playboy, at the time one of the most munificent of the periodical publishers, insisted that her sex be concealed if it was to publish “Nine Lives.”

     People can be funny about this stuff. Just now they’re funnier than ever.

     I’m currently at work upon the third of my “futanari” novels, which will appear under the title The Wise and the Mad. (The first two, Innocents and Experiences, and the “prequel” novelettes The Athene Academy Collection, are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.) They’re cockeyed explorations of the contemporary phenomenon we call transgenderism: Cockeyed, because a goodly group of the “futanari” in those stories were born that way: women in every regard, two X chromosomes in every cell, but with male genitals. They’re my attempt to examine transgenderism closely: to separate the aspects of it that can and should be tolerated from the parts that cannot and must not.

     One of the principal characters in Experiences, Holly Martinowski, was born Horace Martinowski: a normal male child in every regard. Upon reaching his majority, Horace decides that he would prefer to present and live as a woman. He takes the steps required to do so, and thus becomes internationally successful romance novelist Holly Martins.

     But Horace / Holly is a bit conflicted. He / she was raised Catholic and wants to be a full communicant in that flock. Here’s how she explains herself to the priest who hears her “returning” confession:

     Ray had only just donned his stole and murmured a prayer for God’s guidance when a penitent entered the face-to-face booth and knelt. He donned a formally grave expression, looked up at his visitor, and swallowed an oath.
     “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” Holly Martinowski intoned. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” She smiled wanly. “I’m not really sure how long it’s been since my last confession. More than fifteen years, anyway.”
     “Bless you, Holly,” Ray said. “May the Lord be in your heart and help you to confess your sins sincerely and with true contrition. What are your sins, dear?”
     “Father,” she said in a gradually strengthening voice, “I’ve been bitter and resentful. I estranged myself from my parents because they mocked me as I was and could not accept me as I am today. My bitterness has led me to resent them and wish them ill, even though none of them ever did me any injustice that went beyond a few harsh words.
     “And I may have been less than honest. Since I endeavored to transition, I’ve let everyone I met believe that I’m female. I know I have only the appearance and not the essence. I know that no surgery could make me other than cosmetically female. But I’ve chosen to live as a woman, rather than as the pitifully unmanly man I would otherwise have been. And I am happy this way. I don’t regard my masquerade as a sin, though not being candid about my origins might strike you as sinful.”
     She bowed her head over her folded hands.
     “Other than that, I’ve missed a lot of Sunday Masses. But I have not worshipped any other god. I have not blasphemed. I have not made any idols. I haven’t killed or harmed anyone, or committed adultery, or theft or fraud. I haven’t borne false witness against others. I’ve envied naturally born women their state, but only in a wistful way. And I’ve tried most sincerely, Father, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I love God and delight in all His works. I strive to love my neighbor as myself. And with that I subject myself to your judgment and to the mercy of God.”
     Ray was momentarily thrown out of his orbit.
     “Have you examined your conscience closely, Holly?”
     “I have, Father.”
     “And you find no other blemishes there?”
     “I have confessed all that I’ve found, Father.”
     “You don’t think it a deception to wear a female guise?”
     “I wear it for its own sake, Father. I don’t use it to deceive or defraud others. I never have.”
     “And you never will, dear?”
     That brought Holly’s head back up.
     “Only God can know the future, Father. But it’s not my intention ever to do so. What could I gain that I couldn’t get some other way?”
     Ray breathed deeply and strove to steady himself.
     “It’s not the gain or loss that matters but the intention, dear. Are you firm in your resolve?”
     “I am, Father.”
     “And truly sorry for your sins?”
     “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and worthy of all my love. I humbly resolve with the help of Thy Grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
     He grinned despite himself. “You boned up before you came here, didn’t you?”
     She returned the grin. “A little cramming is acceptable before an exam, isn’t it, Father?”
     He chuckled. “Let’s hope so, dear, because it was one of my most regular practices back in seminary. Your penance is five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys, and five Glory Bes interleaved, to be performed in a spirit of contrition immediately upon leaving the confessional. Go to the front of the church and kneel at the old communion rail. Look upon the Presence lamp as you pray, and give thanks for the love and mercy of God.”
     “I shall, Father.”
     He raised his right hand. “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
     “Amen,” she whispered.
     “Now go and sin no more.”
     She exited the confessional.

     To my mind, this is what makes Horace / Holly’s choice a tolerable one:

     “I know I have only the appearance and not the essence. I know that no surgery could make me other than cosmetically female....I wear it for its own sake, Father. I don’t use it to deceive or defraud others. I never have.”

     Horace Martinowski presents convincingly as Holly, a woman. She asks nothing of anyone except to be treated according to her presentation.

     Such “transitions” have been going on for several decades. Cosmetics and surgery have made them ever more complete and convincing. What’s changed is the sociopolitical aspect of transgenderism: the crusade by activists to compel others to kowtow to anyone who claims to be a particular sex regardless of appearances, behavior, and underlying reality.

     To be blunt, that is not tolerable and must be condemned. It tramples several important rights: rights that the transgender would miss quite as much as anyone else.

     Granted that even the tolerable aspect of the transgenderism phenomenon complicates matters quite a bit. Were Holly to be courted by a man, she’d have the same problems as “Albert Nobbs.” It would be imperative – her moral responsibility – for her to fend off such attention.

     At their foundation, the “futanari” stories are an exploration of the dividing line between what we ought to tolerate, because it’s harmless, and what we must never, ever tolerate, because it’s inherently disruptive and destructive. Today the ability to find and maintain that dividing line is being bludgeoned out of us by the shrill demands and punitive tactics of activists.

     Transgenderism isn’t the only phenomenon of this sort, of course. Homosexuality is another of similar cast. There are aspects of it that cannot and must not be tolerated: Homosexual evangelism toward the young, for example. But the “quiet” homosexual, who keeps what he does with his genitals to himself and those who choose him for a lover, can and should be tolerated, regardless of anyone else’s convictions or sexual preferences. He demands nothing except to be allowed to live as he pleases. How does that distinguish him from the rest of us?

     The problems created by “noisy,” demanding homosexual activists are well known to anyone who’s left his cave or turned on a television since 1970. Some of those problems fall upon the “quiet” homosexual, just as some of the problems created by “noisy,” demanding transgenderism activists would fall upon a “quiet” transgender such as Holly Martinowski. There’s a great deal of irony here; I trust I needn’t explicate it further.

     The larger point seems clear:

Some things are tolerable.
Others are not.
Good men must distinguish between them.
The distinction is critical.

     As is the awareness of when one’s own prerogatives are being infringed.

     With that, I yield the floor to my Gentle Readers.


Tracy Coyle said...

Three groups: Those that go about their lives, quietly. Trying to be "Holly" and in the end as the character from "Saving Private Ryan" asks at the end - 'did I live a good life?'

Those that go about their lives seeking to have an greater impact on their community by reaching out and helping, supporting, encouraging others either one at a time or more broadly. Many of your characters act this way.

Those that go about their lives demanding that we ALL act according to THEIR beliefs and assertions. These people point out flaws they have determined to exist in individuals and society and DEMAND their solutions be implemented. They are the activists and they know, deep down, they are the BEST of us....never asking 'did I live a good life' for it never occurs to them they are not. But it occurs to them others are NOT.

Most transsexuals choose to be in the first group. That line Holly walks is one that presents itself SO OFTEN that it becomes so tiring to deal with it is better to just avoid it. Some, because of their lives and choices, live in the second and have learned to walk that balance line. I don't share my past with people unless there is a STRONG possibility of lasting intimacy and of course that takes time. I have found only 1 of 8 people to be willing to remain involved with me - the others all ran the other direction. (People have come back into my life knowing my change.)

Coming out of the closet, even today, carries significant risk. I am glad society is becoming more tolerable even if the third group is founded upon, is loudest about, and promotes more intolerable.

Amy Bowersox said...

Of course, I'm mostly like Holly in this respect. I don't hide my past, but I don't go around telling people "Have I mentioned today that I am transgender?". Many people don't know unless I bring something up in passing in conversation. And all I really ask for is to be treated as the woman that I am. By and large, people do this.

I resolve the issue of "what if she were courted by a man?" by being a lesbian. :) Nonetheless, if I were ever to get involved with another woman on such a level, I would disclose the fact of my futa-like anatomy beforehand.

I am generally open to telling people my story and talking about transgender issues, because it's my firm belief that, the more people know about those like me, and what goes into making us the way we are, the fewer people will hate and fear us. Change will ultimately come, not through force, as many activists would have it, but through knowledge.

In about three months, I will become an aunt, as my youngest brother and his wife are expecting their first child. That child will never know a world in which I was anything but his Aunt Amy. In time, maybe I will tell them the whole story, or maybe their parents will. I'm betting that child will have no trouble whatsoever with trans people. This is how change will happen.