Other Than Myself, by John Ostrander
I remember the morning after the primary election where Harold Washington won the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Chicago, becoming the first African-American man to do so. It was February 22, 1983 – 25 years ago. The white voters were split between then incumbent mayor Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley, son of long-time mayor Richard J. Daley and who is currently mayor of Chicago.
Whoever wins the Democratic mayoral primary is de facto mayor of Chicago. That’s a given. The last Republican mayor, William Hale Thompson, left that office in 1931.
There is no two-party system in Chicago. At best, it’s a party and a half. As a result, Washington was going to be the new mayor of Chicago and, oh, how the white establishment cried! One white Democratic politician actually considered switching parties to oppose Washington in the mayoral election rather than have Chicago face the terrible possibility of a Negro mayor. The fact that he didn’t simply means that he realized that the habit of voting Democratic was too ingrained.
I learned exactly what it meant on my way to work that day. I used the “L” at that time – Chicago’s rail transit line. My neighborhood was “iffy” – right on the borderline between an okay area and a slum and was gradually slipping downwards. That meant you walked around with your ‘spider-sense” definitely on. That was especially true of the L station.
I paid my fare and walk up the stairs to wait for the train. There was only one other person up there – a “Negro.”
I’m aware of the parts in me that are racist, bigoted, prejudiced. I am a product of my environment as much as anyone else is and the Chicago of my most formative years was very segregated and very racist. The route for the Dan Ryan Expressway was charted and designed to create an impassable barrier between the black South Side and the White South Side of Chicago.
It was not an attitude that my parents fostered. Far from it, in fact. Nonetheless, it was part of the environment and the culture in which I was raised and I don’t think you escape that kind of cultural pollution any more than you can escape pollution that may be in the air. I’ve worked against it most of my life but I still find vestiges of it within me.
This is all by way of explanation for saying that, when I stepped out onto that platform and saw it was me and one other male and that male was “Negro,” my “spider sense” tingled. It was assisted by the (white) media coverage the night before and in the Chicago Tribune that morning (the Trib had the better funnies section so it was my newspaper of choice). Nobody knew what would happen now that Washington had won the nomination but the tone was apprehensive. So, despite my better nature, was I at that moment.
The “Negro” turned and saw me and his face lit up in a big smile, “Good morning!” he shouted, “Great day! Great! Day!” He beamed. I nodded that it was.
Suddenly, I got it. His guy, his candidate, had won. After centuries on the outside, someone who looked like him was going to be mayor of Chicago. That made the guy on the station a part of the city in a way that, 24 hours earlier, he hadn’t been.
He was no longer someone “other.” He was “me.” It was what I would feel. Amidst all the great, massive differences between us, important differences of race, color, and culture, there were areas where we were no different.
Last Sunday, I went to Adult Forum at my church. I go most weeks, despite being a self-professed agnostic, and the Adult Forum is the major reason. It challenges me, it makes me question, it makes me think. Sometimes the topics are questions of faith but just as often they are not.
Last Sunday was a case in point. There are a fair number of transsexuals, male into female, who attend our church, and some were talking that week on what it meant to be transsexual, why they made that choice, try to dispel preconceptions. I’ll admit that here, too, I have a comfort level problem. As members of my church, I certainly accept them but I don’t necessarily feel easy around them. That’s my problem rather than theirs but it was something that I wanted to confront in myself. The best way to deal with it, I felt, was to go and listen to what they had to say, to listen to their stories. I wanted to see if I could find a place where our lives intersected, as it did with that man on the train station.
For me, dealing with transsexuals means dealing with wider topics of gender and gender choice. The differences between what it means to be male or female and what society decrees is acceptable and appropriate male or female behavior. I can’t say that I have ever felt like I was a female trapped within a male body but I have been trapped, more than once, by male expectations – what it supposedly meant to be male.
This forms the thematic core of my writing. What unites us, what makes us the same, what brings us together is greater and more important than that which separates us. Nothing that is human is alien to me. I can and must find within myself the places where we meet and that can be unpleasant, given some of the characters that I write. If I do my work correctly, then it means there are places that I as the writer and you as the reader will connect. That’s my job as I understand it. Find the places where we all connect via story.
That’s the lesson I realized on that L platform. It’s the lesson I’m trying to apply at the Adult Forum at church. It’s what I’m trying to do every time I write.
Let me know if it’s working.
These days John Ostrander writes GrimJack, much of Munden’s Bar, Star Wars: Legends, and the just-yesterday-completed Suicide Squad mini-series. As well as this column.
Being transgendered is not a choice. Or are you referring to the choice of being out, or having surgery?
I think John was referring to the choice of being out or having surgery. maybe even why they made the choice to speak at a forum.Like anything dealing with sexuality, "transgender" issues are complex and confused. Heck, LIFE is confused and complex. Generalizations are rarely right about everyone. I think it's a disservice to transgender folks to say that all of them have a choice. But I don't think that's what John meant, and there are limited returns on parsing out our words down to the last jot and tiddle.But, I do think that being transgender runs a WIDE spectrum of the human condition. There are crossdressers, people who have had only hormone treatements and people who have had partial or full gender reassignment surgeries. There are also people who just feel wrong in their gender role and do nothing about it. Are all of these people "transgender?" What about heterosexual men, who enjoy being male but, (for whatever reason) they dress as women? Where do those men fall on the spectrum of trans?There may be as many reasons for being transgender as there are transgendered people! I agree, for many there is NO choice. But, for a few, there MAY actually be a choice! Generalizing that there is no choice in being transgender may be as wrong as generalizing that everyone has a choice. Certainly there are examples of people who have had gender reassignment and then regretted the "choice." And there are a lot of different ways of dealing with gender dysphoria. There are lots of choices that can get made or ignored.Transgender issues certainly raise a lot of questions, some medical, some philosophical and moral. Why are most of the people who report experiencing gender dysphoria male? Is the problem genetically linked? Some conditions seem to affect males more often than females, like autism or baldness. Is the problem cultural? Do we have a culture that just makes being "male" intolerable for some men?
God I love topic drift.I love the way the text on my screen sways to one side for a moment as the intertial dampers try and catch up to the sudden change in course like on Star Trek…
I did mean the operation. i know some transexuals don't (or sometimes can't or are not approved) to complete the physical change but the ones with which I spoke had.
For just this once I'll try to be serious as this one hits close to home. Martha T forwarded me this column's link and I've been a fan of hers for four decades (Good Grief!).My world is akin to a combination Twilight Zone, Alien meets Predator and The Final Frontier. I was born into a condition now called "Intersexed." Born with male and female parts. This places me firmly under the so-called Transgender umbrealla in the LGBT world–truly a menagerie of alphabet soup creativity manufactured by a "straight" world. And people think there are just two genders… Hah!It's sooooooo confusing,..But what can a poor girl do, but to sing in a R & R band…Trust me. This is a universe of which I dwell and am quite familiar. Do those of you who consider yourselves "straight" feel you made or faced a choice in the matter? We don't either. Like many of my fellow travelers, we knew at an early age we were/are queer.The only choice was whether/when to admit the truth to ourselves, then our families and loved ones. Many of us lost everybody and everything. Welcome to my world. Our personal courage was rewarded by isolation. Want to get ostracized. I'll tell you some stories to curl your short ones….For many in the past, there was only one option: suicide. Thank the Goddess these days there are more options, more alternatives around. More understanding and information.Blame it on the Bossa Nova–and the Internet.To correct an impression: there are nearly as many female-to-male transsexuals as male-to-female. You just didn't know that. Welcome to my world! With open arms!The Transgender umbrella encompasses a wide swath of humanity. Fetishists; cross-dressers; drag kings and queens; the intersexed; pre-op transsexuals; post-op transsexuals;those questioning…and so many more. The sole choice we have is that of self-acceptance. After that, it's easy as pie…(HAH!).We understand that many people struggle accepting us. Many don't look like "comfortable." Many aren't. You're right, once we accept our true natures, the problem isn't ours…but then again, it is. We gotta deal with you. I've been out for years. Not everyone feels as I do but like working for other causes dear to my heart, I consider it my duty to try to educate people AMAP. How the hell else are they going to learn? I commend you for attending that weekly meeting, despite all of your reservations. You're a rara avis. More power to you. The more we get along, the more we get along. Peace,pennie
pennie, thanks for stopping by, chatting and shedding a little light. To answer your question, do I think I have made choices in my heterosexual life, choices about my sexuality and gender role? Yeah. I think so. There are certainly times when I have questioned and pondered my gender roles and sexuality. For instance, I'm a stay at home dad, my wife is the major breadwinner in our family. That's not earth shattering, but you might be surprised at the various levels of acceptance or condemnation that can get.Your posting made me realize that I have many preconceived and misinformed notions. (Actually, I knew that already. I'm something of a prater and a blowhard!) So I went looking for information. I Googled and ended up at a site called "Laura's Playground: A Transsexual Transgender and Crossdressers Support Site." Cute sight, good clearinghouse of information and links. I was shocked at the gender dysphoric teen suicide rate. http://www.lauras-playground.comFrom there I found a link to an article about Human Rights for Intersexuals: http://www.luckymojo.com/tkintersex.htmlThat's page that is hosted by cat yronwode. It's an article written by her daughter, Althaea, when she was a med student. This brings us full circle! Why? Because cat yronwode used to be an editor for one of the major, independent comics companies of the 80's and 90's, Eclipse. She used to work with several of the creators here on ComicMix! I was surprised by this bit of synchronicity.So what's my point, pennie? (Because I so rarely have one.) My point is, come for the comments, stay for the comics! Yeah, John Ostrander is a rare bird, but on ComicMix, rare birds seem to flock together.Rock on,Russ
Hi Russ,You sound like a real good guy. I mean that. You took the time to find out what this mystery of life in which I (along with many, many others across the globe) dwell. It is a strange, mystifying universe to outsiders. We understand that. Yet, I believe it is only through education and understanding that all of us who inhabit this planet will come to accept (and possibly) embrace the marvelous differences in the human race. I cherish those differences. WHat a boring place this place would otherwise be.I'm not going to be picky but try to reach out. You wrote:"To answer your question, do I think I have made choices in my heterosexual life, choices about my sexuality and gender role? Yeah. I think so. There are certainly times when I have questioned and pondered my gender roles and sexuality. For instance, I'm a stay at home dad, my wife is the major breadwinner in our family. That's not earth shattering, but you might be surprised at the various levels of acceptance or condemnation that can get…"Okay, I can understand how you get flack about your role. You and your wife made choices concerning the traditionally accepted male-dominated role of breadwinner. (Believe it or not, in many civilizations, women had that role for thousands of years of human developement until patriarchal societys took root and precedence).So, there were/are choices there. But, I'm not sure there were questions about your gender and sexuality that you spell out. Does staying at home make you more "feminine" and your wife more "masculine?" Does that make either of you queer?You may both (or individually) be that but your chosen roles don't necessarily equate to those things.When one is born into a state of mixed masculine/feminine physical/emotional/psychological/sexual confusion, and one has or develops a clear sense of identity, there are no choices. When one KNOWS she/he is a homosexual/lesbian/queer person, the only choices are self-acceptance, great restraint/struggle, or…The rate of queer teen suicide is simply mind-boggling. So are all the murders and daily beatings we endure. Me,I'm a survivor.It really isn't the same as staying at home, although that role may being other, deeper questions into the forefront. Did your domestic role make you think of making love with a man? Question your attraction to your wife? I don't mean to get so personal with a complete stranger but these are the real choices to which I was referring. You also wrote, "Your posting made me realize that I have many preconceived and misinformed notions."Great news here! Most of us have those pre-conceived notions. So many are in denial.When one sees another human being, it only takes a few micro-seconds of sub-conscious juggling for the brain to decide whether the individual in question is either male of female. Contemporary sociologists understand and accept the Kinsey scale. This scale rates people from 1 to 6 with one extreme excessively masculine and the other excessively feminine. Most of us fall somewhere in-between with mixed and blended traits of male and female. There are numerous specifics that go into this–a mixture of nature and nurture. Many people prefer simplicity–either/or. Nature is far more complex than that which is unsettling for those people. But, trust me, the day of the stereotypical lesbian, gay male, transsexual or straight person is happily over. Those of us who dwell in this Twilight Zone celebrate the dawning of a more enlightened era. To whose who would seek to return us to Neanderthal days of yore, I say, "Bonne Chance!" Ain't gonna happen.Your synchronicity is happy news indeed. There are more of us out there than you might realize. But, if you really want broaden your horizons, please understand that gender and sexuality are two completely different issues. You can be a man who loves women, men, both or neither. You can be a man who doesn't feel masculine one iota. The same for women. There are many people who identified as lesbians for years who have come to the realization that they are really men–and they are acting on these feelings and going for gender reassignment surgery. This is a major issue in the lesbian world lately. All of this is completely fluid in that for many people, they reach new levels of understanding and sel-acceptance at different times of their lives. Finally, I read Martha's column every Saturday. She's family in the best sense–and I don't have too many of those folks. I've always loved comics. I'm just an old hippie chick who grew up with DC and went on to the underground stuff then fell off the planet.Who knows, maybe I'm back.Life is sure funny.Peace,pennie
"The route for the Dan Ryan Expressway was charted and designed to create an impassable barrier between the black South Side and the White South Side of Chicago."Ask New Yorkers about the Cross Bronx Expressway. It killed off the South Bronx like a turniquet on a snake-bitten limb. Indeed, before the CBE, there WAS no South Bronx, just "the Bronx".The line between racist/prejudicial and "cautious" is a thin one. I don't think there's a person who walks in a city who doesn't see someone walk towards them down the street and thought that odds are, the person is probably perfectly nice, but it couldn't hurt to cross the street just in case you're wrong.
Both projects were nightmares, and certainly in New York Robert Moses had a malicious disregard for neighborhoods, poor folk, tradition, and (for that matter) baseball. Much the same was true when the Dan Ryan was built in Chicago, which happened at the same time that some of the old vital traditional Italian, Jewish and black neighborhoods were destroyed by the creation and expansion of the University of Illinois — which, not coincidentally, was right off the Dan Ryan project. I discovered the blues on Maxwell Street (where the Blues Brothers scene with Aretha Franklin was set). There was nothing like walking through a fantastic open air market and seeing the likes of John Lee Hooker play for free damn near every Sunday morning.And now, because of Robert Moses, we have the Cross Bronx Expressway, one of the most mindnumbingly ill-conceived and dysfunctional car-moving systems in America. It wasn't worth it.Urban renewal is often just urban removal.
"Robert Moses had a malicious disregard for neighborhoods, poor folk, tradition, and (for that matter) baseball."TELL me about it. The overpasses on the Southern State parkway (which lead you to Jones beach among other sites on Long Island) were dsliberately built very low, so only cars could use it. Moses didn't want buses (and the type of people who ride them) getting to the beach.There's an iconic photograph from Newsday showing the hearse carrying Moses' body exiting the Southern State as the exit sign marks the start of the Robert Moses Causeway.