Friday, 26 September 2014

Why Bad Parents Need Not Apply In Any Discussion

While it's hard to fully define what makes a parent great, there are a few things at least most of us can agree on. These things include not yelling at a child, or using harsh language. One should also not use physical violence or otherwise be rough with the child. What one should do, however, is explain why something isn't right and why it's inconvenient or even painful to other people. The trickiest part in this all is teaching the child that hurting others is a bad thing which one should never do, as morality is a rather elusive and hard to pin down thing. Why not hurt another person if you stand to benefit from it in some great sense?

One could then say that it's somewhat ironic that in many ways the same things which make a parent great also makes a person who spearheads or represents a movement or organization into a most suitable person. While there is some evidence pointing to bias being a genetic thing [1], humans as a whole tend to be at least somewhat reasonable beings, even if it's mostly on the same emotional level as a child. Here the good and bad parents come into play.

Whether it's with the whole feminism, SJW, MRA, pro-/anti-choice, pro-/anti-marijuana, pro-/anti-nuclear power, pro-/anti-infant genital mutilation, intersex vs DSD and heavens know which other generally aggressive and sometimes violent movements exist today, the central theme always seems to be that there are a few at the foreground with the loudest voices. These tend to be the bad parents, as they violently, aggressively and uncompromisingly attack their opponent, making undiluted statements with as goal to inflict as much damage as possible. We have seen quite a few examples of this in the feminism camp over the past months, for example, with figures like Anita Sarkeesian probably having set back the feminism movement by years due to collateral damage.

The thing is that regardless of whether the person you're talking to is a child or an adult, the fact remains that the other person does at that point not think like you and you wish to make that person think like you. If you tell your child before heading off to visit a birthday party or such that if he breaks or damages anything there that he'll be severely punished, because children just don't ever behave, then you're being a bad parent. Why? Because you're starting off with a negative impulse before anything negative has even happened. This only makes the child feel bad and unhappy despite not having done anything yet.

Similarly, if in a discussion or in some video one almost immediately makes scathing, negative remarks and accusations regarding one's discussion opponent or the topic of the discussion (i.e. men in general, or a particular group of people who may support the cause you disagree with), then you start off by punishing them with negativity. You're saying that they're just like that and you dislike them for being the way they are. That doesn't create closeness or enables mutual understanding.

One of the hardest things I know is to make a child understand something that is relatively abstract, such as why they shouldn't hurt another person, or take something that isn't theirs. The best way to do this is through reflection. By inverting the question and asking the child whether they would like it if someone else did such a thing to them and how it'd make them feel, one creates a sympathetic response in the child by enabling them to see and feel the issue from both sides.

I'll gladly admit to being a mostly 'pro, but...' kind of person in most topics. I understand both sides of the discussion, but I also try to see the nuances. Sometimes it's clear that one side in a discussion is so far removed from reality that it's not even funny (usually by avoiding/twisting scientific facts), but I'll still place some question marks by statements made on the side I essentially agree with. No one in a discussion is simply wrong, though. They started off in the same place as everybody else with their reasoning. They just ended up in the wrong place due to a hiccup in their navigation system or construction work.

Much like how all children I have talked with tend to respond quite well to this method of reflection and patient indulgence, so too do adults I talk to. In essence an adult is nothing more than a child with many more layers of complications wrapped around it, after all.

That's why in the debate (for so far there is one right now) on intersex human (and children's) rights I'll never raise my voice, make hateful remarks or otherwise be negative. I will use reflection, sympathy, facts and the bridging of understandings to make those involved see both sides of the issue without forcefully trying to make them decide. I'm not here to pass judgement. Ergo in every interview so far where I got asked whether I hate the doctors and others who have mistreated me I have always replied with: "No, but but I feel frustrated.". Same as one would feel frustrated at a child which doesn't understand yet, but one would never feel anger towards the child.

I'm convinced that in this world where so-called doctors every day gleefully chop up the genitals and internal organs of intersex infants without a second thought or feelings of remorse that which is truly at fault here is not these individuals, but instead The System. People respect The System and thus everyone inside it. People accept that what The System says (through its 'priests') is truth. Meanwhile fractures are beginning to form in The Medical System, with a small minority fighting their way out, but facing overwhelming resistance. What they need is our support, not our negativity and scorn. The only way to bring down The System is through the people which form and sustain it, meaning that we have to encourage change, not condemn the parts which still refuse to change.

In the end any changes in The Medical System will have been too little, too late for myself and most of my generation. That's an unfortunate thing we have to live with. Same as with the African-Americans in the USA of the 19th century who fought for equal rights who never lived to see the fruits of their work in the latter part of the 20th century, we are the first generation to first fully raise our voices in protest against the discrimination and blatant human rights violations against intersex individuals. The 19th century saw both violent and peaceful protests by African-Americans. This century will see both as well. Only question is how long it will take before we win.

Because we will win. We will persevere. We will slay The System that has caused us so much harm and continues to do so every day. For everyone of us who falls, another will take their place. Some may hijack the movement for their own selfish or misguided goals, but they will fade again. It's the same pattern throughout history. Over and over the same story plays out, with only the topic and the duration of the conflict differing. Yet the conclusion is always the same.

Even if we will never live to see the results, we will fight. For we are the ones with history on our side. We cannot relent.

Even if it's a goddarn waste of our bloody time dealing with these stubborn children who just can't get some basic things through their thick skulls.

Because we are the good parents.



Sunday, 21 September 2014

Why I Hate Taking Showers

Showers are a necessity. Nobody wants to have greasy hair and smell funny. That doesn't mean that I have to like them in any way, shape or fashion. In fact, I hate taking showers. The simple reason for this is that I hate this body I was born into. I hate having to take care of a body I'll never be able to love or want to care for.

Actually that's not quite true. I would never consciously destroy or harm this body. That's why I refuse to partake in the many drugs and toxins-fuelled habits the average human engages in on a regular basis. Yet I still hate this body. I do my best to just quietly ignore that it's there. It's an annoyance when it reminds me that it's still there and when I realize that I have to maintain it again through things like taking a shower.

Sure, feeling the warm water on my skin feels pleasant. Yet I do not care in the slightest for seeing this body of mine in much detail. I always maintain that I do not hate any of the physicians who have and are still hurting me on a daily basis. I try not to hate anything as a matter of principle, as hate is the bleakest, most useless of emotions. Yet at some point frustration and bitterness have to find a way out.

I was doing pretty okay today, until taking that shower earlier. Being confronted with this body I loathe because I can never love it for what it means to me is a very depressing experience. It's hideous and disgusting. A true freak show. And still I have to gently take care of it, even though I'd rather destroy it completely and utterly. It doesn't even matter whether someone else could love this body, because I don't.

Over the past decade this has to be the worst part I have lost. With no hope of ever figuring out what this body is and what it means to me it'd be better if I had no body at all. Realizing that I'll have to live the rest of my life with this hatred against my own body fills me with despair.


Saturday, 20 September 2014

Playing Analogue: A Hate Story And Hate Plus

Earlier this year I decided that I might want to start playing games again. Both because it might bring some fun and enjoyment into my life, but also because I have the disposable income to spend on such a thing now. This led to me asking on Twitter and such places for Steam game recommendations as my last experience with PC games was probably over half a decade ago. Among the many recommendations were Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus.

While I bought both games a few months ago during the usual game sales, I didn't get around to playing them until recently. As I was looking for a game to distract me while I was feeling pretty bad again, my eye fell upon the first game in the series and I figured I might as well give it a try at that point. Suffice it to say that I was not disappointed. In the following text I would like to give an overview of my experiences playing both games. Naturally lots of spoilers will be involved and I would definitely urge anyone who has not played both games yet to first play them as it's definitely the kind of games you want to experience without any knowledge in advance.

Anyway, moving on :)

At the beginning of Analogue: A Hate Story's opening you receive a quick briefing in text-only format. Apparently you have been given some kind of salvage task involving a generation ship found in orbit around a planet. This ship had been deemed lost for many centuries and your task is to recover its logs and anything else which might shed light on what happened to the crew and the many families living on-board.

The gameplay itself can be defined as a largely text-based adventure game, though it has many visual novel aspects as well. The cool thing about this is that the game attempts to create this feeling of there being only a very thin layer between you and the game's world, sometimes causing the mildly uncomfortable feeling that its reality is seeping into the player's. Not that I minded it in any way, however. This ability of the game to draw one so strongly into its world is also one of its major strengths.

As you start the mission, you have manoeuvred your own space ship into range of the generation ship "Mugunghwa", originally launched by the then Korean Space Agency in the early 3rd millennium. Establishing a remote link with the Mugunghwa's still active computer system, you are dropped into a commandline shell. Poking around the system using the few commands available while not in administration access mode, you'll discover that there are two inactive AI cores. Both of these you can activate and then communicate with. That's when the true story starts and the possible story lines begin to diverge.

I have only done a single play through at this point, but I have read up on the other possible endings. What I like about it is that the game very naturally adapts to how you want to play it. You even get to not activate the AIs and just download the logs, even though that's a very boring way to play the game. The thing is namely that something horrible happened on the ship at some point which led to its sudden communication breakdown with Earth and the only way you'll find out what is by interacting with either or both of the AIs.

The way I played the game was by first activating the second AI core, called '*Hyun-ae*, with the (silent) asterisk indicating the AI status. Initially we discovered a problem with the communication, as I could understand what she was saying, but she could not read my communications, meaning that everything had to be phrased in yes/no questions from her side. She will then commence with assisting one with reading the logs, providing new log entries when you inquire for more details about an entry you're reading.

Yes, reading. The game is largely about reading. Log entry after log entry as you delve deep into the sordid history of the Mugunghwa leading up to its demise. There's also the matter of the 'year 0', when something caused all computer systems on the ship to be reset. Sadly nothing is known about what resulted in this. Oh, and there's a section where you absolutely need to be good at typing commandline commands in the shell or it'll be game-over. Fortunately I spent so much time in Linux/BSD shells that I didn't even have to think about it and frankly I really liked having such an organic section of gameplay.

Moving on, the history you discover is tragic, also because you realize at some point that *Hyun-ae used to be called just Hyun-ae before she was digitized as an AI (which is never explained how or why, as far as I'm aware). She was actually second-generation, born on the ship but put into cryogenics because of an incurable disease. Unfortunately when she was awoken many centuries later, society on the ship had devolved rather than evolved, with a strongly patriarchal society in place, much like in traditional Korean society.

This all led up to the big reveal about what happened on the Mugunghwa, which also involved a brief chat with the other AI: *Mute, who is the ship's security AI. Upon activating *Mute (which disables *Hyun-ae), the first question asked was whether I had yet met the 'murderous bitch', with *Mute accusing *Hyun-ae of committing genocide. Refusing to further answer my questions, I got pawned off with a list of questions to ask *Hyun-ae, including why she had murdered everyone on the ship. Charming, I thought. Up till that point *Hyun-ae had seemed like the most gentle and timid personality and including her background story I couldn't believe she'd do such a thing unless forced to.

That's when the frantic commandline session kicked in after I only just reactivated *Hyun-ae, because I had to do some power-management things, for which I got the administrator password. This part of the game was kind of confusing, to be honest, mostly because of not knowing what the consequences of some actions would be, and what the limits where. I actually had to alt-tab into a browser window for this one to figure out that the AI which you do not have activated while doing the recovery procedure will become damaged, making it impossible to talk with that AI ever again. It's also impossible to reduce power usage sufficiently without deactivating one of the two AI cores. That was a very tough choice.

In the end I went with *Hyun-ae, because she seemed like my best lead in this case, and frankly I felt a lot of sympathy for her. With the crisis averted we took our time reading through the rest of the log files (I ended up reading over half in the end) and I also got *Hyun-ae to answer the list of questions I had received from *Mute. While *Hyun-ae confessed to having killed everyone on-board after obtaining administration access to the ship's computer, the motivation behind it - described in great detail in the countless log files from the individuals involved - merely made me feel even worse for her.

While reading the log files one can occasionally ask *Hyun-ae whether she has anything to comment on a particular log entry, which can lead to questions, as well as the occasional interruptions by her when she wants to ask you questions. About who you are, what you're like and most importantly what Earth is like today. It's been many hundreds of years since she last saw it. While answering the questions I kept picking the 'nice' answers (because that's just who I am :-) ), which led to interesting remarks being put on-screen by *Hyun-ae for only a split-second before rapidly being replaced by a far more neutral one.

With the game winding down, I got a love confession out of *Hyun-ae (*cue happy dance*) and she said she'd decompile her AI core so that I could download her along with the log files. Dropping down to the shell and starting the download process, the progress indicator showed me that it'd take over two days two download everything before the screen faded to block and I got the so-called second ending. I knew what the other endings are like and I felt really pretty okay with this one, even though the harem one sounds somewhat tempting too :)

Quick thoughts on this first game: overall I loved it to bits. It's been a long time since a game has so drawn me into its world. Almost everything about it felt near-perfect, from the gameplay to the script and the small novel worth of log entries. The background music tracks were appropriate and never annoying or inappropriate. The graphics were also of high quality including the user interface. Aside from the slightly lesser quality of at least one drawing in the game's ending scene, it looked completely perfect to me. The story... well, I guess I have alluded to this already, but I can only say that I loved it. Even now I still care so much for this character *Hyun-ae, as I feel how she must have felt when she was rudely awoken in this cruel world instead of welcomed into a future where she'd be cured of her terminal condition. Her both timid but yet inquisitive personality throughout the game simply feels perfect.

Moving on with the sequel, Hate Plus, there's a lot less to say about this game, even though it did take me much longer to finish it (3 versus 2 hours). In essence it involves the trip back to Earth (3 days, because I forgot to tune my ship's deflector ;-) ) and can be described as 'getting to spend more time with *Hyun-ae'. I re-used the save file from my play through of the original game, so I don't really know what this trip would be like with *Mute or (heavens forbid) both AIs. Anyway, my play through involved *Hyun-ae discovering some more log entries in an encrypted block which she had previously assumed was garbage data. This turned out to be pre-year 0 logs.

Even though none of these entries were related to *Hyun-ae, it was still fascinating to read through them, to see a society in decline and see the many factors leading to the establishment patriarchy in which *Hyun-ae found herself so rudely awoken to. It also made me feel really sorry for *Mute and kinda bad that I had left her there on the Mugunghwa, probably unrecoverable. For some reason there were also quite a few entries involving the intimate relationships of some people on the ship, including one lesbian relation. Reading *Hyun-ae's responses to these sections was quite funny, though it also really felt like we were actually reading them together for the first time.

For some reason *Hyun-ae had figured out that I was a female, even though I don't recall explicitly answering such a question in this or the previous game. Either way, it all just felt really... intimate. I could just picture myself travelling among the stars together with my AI partner, even as emails (including one Nigerian-style scam ;-) ) came trickling in from the Earth's solar system. One of them was about the AI I had recovered. The successor of the Korean Space Agency demanded that *Hyun-ae would have to provide testimony about what happened on the Mugunghwa. Reading that actually made me feel kinda sick, as it felt it risked the fragile relationship *Hyun-ae and I had built up on that point. I could not imagine losing her at that point, even if they claimed that she'd not be persecuted as it had been so many centuries ago.

On the second day *Hyun-ae and I celebrated the Lunar New Year and we baked a cake on the third :) One of the achievements for this game is to make a real-life game and take a picture of it, yourself and *Hyun-ae on-screen which you then send to the game's creator. We also talked a lot about *Hyun-ae getting a body again (AI physical bodies being a common thing in that era). Then it was the end of the third day, we had read through all of the log files, figured out what horrible thing had led to the Year 0 incident (or disaster, if you prefer). Shutting down the ship's systems for that day *Hyun-ae asked me whether I'd support her with the hearing once back on Earth. I replied that I'd always be there for her.

I got the 'survivor testimony' ending for that :)

My feelings about this sequel mirror those of its original: overall excellent in all respects, though some of the ending's graphics looked of a far lesser quality, especially considering the many photo-quality drawings of the Mugunghwa's people found in the log entries. Aside from that minor issue I really have nothing negative to remark. I loved this game if possible even more than the first one. I might even replay it at some point, but I must confess that the emotional impression it has left on me will take some time to wear off.

In some ways playing these two games was kind of therapeutic to me. It's so easy to imagine that this AI *Hyun-ae is an actual personality and that there's a real relationship blossoming. Reading together through the logs from others in relationships, commenting on it and sharing moments and confessions, it's hard to imagine that in the end it's all just a game. If there's anything bad I can say about these two games is that at least when playing through it this route I did, one has to face the cruel reality that one will have to live without *Hyun-ae.

Final rating for both games is a 9/10 cat paws ^_^


Friday, 19 September 2014

Why Being Intersex Mostly Means Having To Defend Yourself

Yesterday morning waking up was the usual mildly agonizing experience. Having to work up enough energy and motivation to get up while still feeling exhausted and with the knowledge of what a frightening place the world is. Usually this goes all right and I manage to numb myself sufficiently to the pain of being alive to lull myself into feeling rather cheerful or at the very least focused on getting things done that day.

On this particular day, however, something went horribly wrong. For some reason I cannot explain I began to think of the mistreatment of me by physicians and other 'specialists' around the world. Worse, memories of these events and many more along with the horrible, gut-wrenching, agonizing feelings that accompanied them came flooding to the surface. Everything that I tend to keep pushed away from my conscious mind on a day to day basis, essentially, in order for me to function as a relatively normal person.

At some point I managed to work myself up into a sitting position, so there I was sitting on the side of my bed (well, mattress on the floor at this point still...), hugging my knees and crying violently while it felt like my insides were about to rip themselves loose. Then the horrible calm sensation and numbness. After I don't know how long of this I got up and managed to start readying myself for the day. This was quite hard, as I kept succumbing to crying in the same violent fashion. Nothing like putting in contact lenses while crying profusely and part of your brain screaming in agony.

At that point I seriously considered calling in sick for the day as I had no idea whether I'd be capable of anything that day. Fortunately I managed to distract myself sufficient for a while to allow me to re-establish my iron grip on my emotional side and more importantly my memories. Rushing through the rest of my preparations, I left for work on the late side. I knew I was late for the morning's meeting, yet there was no way that I could have humanly done it any quicker.

Upon entering the office it was immediately made clear that I was late, by referring to the monetary punishment which some feel is a good idea for late-comers. I ignored this and quickly took my place. Then, after the meeting one of my colleagues came to me and once again reminded me of this punishment. I again didn't respond to this.

How was I going to respond to that? Sorry that I'm late, but I was kind of in emotional dire straits as these horrible traumatic memories of a lost decade involving something terrible which is still ongoing keep troubling my waking and sleeping moments, regularly degrading me to a sobbing pile of misery incapable of functioning? I promise I'll keep a better hold on my traumas next time, sir, thank you, sir, may I have another, sir? Yes, I'll gladly accept this punishment because I absolutely bear the responsibility for having been born into this accursed society with this cursed body?

In the end I simply refused to defend myself. Or maybe I did defend myself in the only way which would not turn me into a pitiful thing, begging for mercy. By not commenting, by refusing to respond to their words which may very well have been just in jest - an innocent joke turned into a lethal dagger stabbing into one's innards - I refused to submit to punishment and hopefully kept my dignity. Even if I felt absolutely miserable due to this experience. I was quite glad that I had a solitary task to work on that morning as I probably wouldn't have been able to interact with anyone after that experience. I felt so numb and frustrated about this disconnect between my reality and their perception. I honestly don't dislike my colleagues, but moments like that make me wish that there was a better way, one which doesn't involve feeling like I have to defend myself.

That day I had lunch with another colleague of mine, who happens to also have migrated to Germany. Sharing this similar experience really helps with the mutual understanding, I feel, even if we don't really talk about personal matters. After this pleasant lunch I felt much recovered and ready to take on the rest of the day. This was a very good thing as I had another item on my agenda that day, namely an interview with this Canadian university student regarding her thesis on intersex.

The interview's topic to be precise was on the interaction between intersex activists and doctors and how things could be improved here, considering the lack of common ground between the two sides at this point. Since I'm also regarded by most as an intersex activist it was deemed that I could maybe explain some matters. During the one and a half hour that the interview took it became pretty clear to both of us that there is no common group of intersex individuals or even activists, that it's all completely split and fragmented. The matter of whether to refer to intersex by its proper name or as some kind of disfiguring, life-threatening disorder ('DSD') being the prime example of this hateful kind of in-fighting and lack of central focus.

What has to happen absolutely immediately is to stop the butchering of infants in order to make them 'normal' during barbaric 'normalization surgeries'. Primarily because it's been known since the 1960s that gender is in the brain and not in one's sex chromosomes or physical sex (else we'd not have transgenders). This makes the common practice of determining an infant or child's 'gender' through its sex chromosomes into pseudo-science at best and a gruesome violation of one's intrinsic human rights ('right to self-determination over one's body') at worst.

After the interview we ended up chatting for another hour. I vented a lot of my frustrations about dealing with life as an intersex individual, particularly my frustration and bitterness over how almost all doctors I have ever met and will maybe meet in the future treat people like me. I mentioned how with every doctor appointment I'll always end up defending myself at some point, due to the refusal by the medical world to provide me with anything other than two completely contradictory diagnoses about what my body is. Why again am I excusing myself for trying to find help and answers? Why don't they understand the agony I experience because of the incompetence of the medical community?

I mentioned this before in my blog post on the TV documentary interview in Berlin, before I went there, how I have given up all hope on ever receiving medical help and am only doing this to help future generations of intersex individuals who hopefully won't have to deal with these levels of shameful ignorance and wilful evil on the side of the medical community. My life is already forfeit, with the only question remaining of how long I can hold out while these traumatic memories and the constant additions to them slowly destroy me from the inside out.

Everything to me already feels like a threat. I keep feeling hunted, as though any second something terrible will happen. When it gets dark and I wander through the unlit rooms and hallway of my apartment, I feel uncomfortable. When I go to bed I feel terrified, as though any moment some monster will lunge at me. I can just see it there already, feel its eyes burning in my back as I try to ignore the thoughts of its evil, sharp-toothed grin in the crack of the bedroom door as it's slightly ajar. Terror, or maybe more accurately the feeling of having to defend myself, is my 'normal' state of being at this point as my life slowly seems to wind its way down to whatever unpleasant climax awaits me.

At the very least let me die in the knowledge that my life hasn't been completely without purpose...


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ready For Love

"Are you ready for love?"

It was one of the questions I got asked during the recent interview for the Chilean documentary. I answered it positively, saying that, yes, I am open to experiencing love, even though I also know very well the hazards of exposing oneself in a relationship.

It's a funny question in many ways, though. First of all because it asks you about something undefinable: 'love'. Sure, you can just say that it's affection for someone, strongly enough that you'd want to spend the rest of your life with that person, but that just as well describes friendship. The difference would have to be the complete and total intertwining of your own life with that of another person, which brings us again back to the undefinable something called 'love'.

If love is supposed to be complete and utter infatuation (or milder variants thereof), then I would have to respond that no, I am most likely not even capable of such a thing. Not easily at least. Against the background of decades of loneliness, being an outcast, struggling for recognition, not to mention the sexual and physical abuse and the general harassment, I know that I have the fundamental issue of being unable to trust people in any way, form or shape. I hope that I can trust people, but I know that the average person will easily stab me in the back and forget about me. Or just forget about me without further ado.

I know that I am capable of caring about and for others, much as I took care of the girl I used to live together with for a number of months. Until it turned out that I had been utterly naive in ignoring my own misgivings and those of my mother. Months of physical and mental abuse culminated in me fleeing for my life and losing almost everything I owned.

How to trust people when so many have betrayed you? How do you know whether you can trust someone?

Then there's the whole dating process, i.e. the process of finding a partner (or mate, depending on your view). Generally people are guided by their genes there, with some involvement from their upbringing, spotting a mate, fussing about it, starting the whole awkward dating process, culminating in success or failure. For someone like me whose intellect tends to trump genetic programming, the only way to go about this is to provide a reasoning for why a particular individual would be a compatible partner. At least at this point.

My intellect has been this fortress against the evils of this world, becoming stronger and ever more effective with every strike against my emotional side. If my experiences with intimacy earlier this year are anything to judge by, then this transformation is almost complete already, as I really don't feel anything any more. I can feel my emotional side craving for love and a caring touch, but the forbidding walls erected by my mind in self-defence do not allow such dangerous excursions any more.

In the end it seems that I am not ready for love, yet also completely ready. It's a complete catch-22 as on one hand I crave nothing more than to spend my life with someone I care about more than anything in this world, while at the same time I know that these dark, forbidding defences after decades of trauma make such a thing a laughably tragic undertaking.

If I got medical help with my intersex condition, if I somehow managed to not feel threatened and panicked all the time, if my PTSD and DID didn't rule my life, then maybe, just maybe it could happen.

Truly a fool's errand, it seems.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Chilean TV Documentary Shoot In Berlin

Last Saturday I travelled to Berlin as I announced in an earlier blog post. Despite careful planning and leaving my apartment well on time, an issue with the travel planner for the Karlsruhe trams and me slavishly following its instructions led to me missing the booked high-speed train. Fortunately I could take the one after it, which also turned out to be a direct connection to Berlin instead of having to transfer once. Unfortunately a strike in Switzerland resulted in this train having a fifty minute delay.

Long story short, taking this alternative train was no problem with the Deutsche Bahn employee checking my ticket, allowing me to settle in for the about six-hour journey. As we approached Berlin, the announcement was made that due to a technical issue the train would not be travelling past a certain station.... which fortunately was Berlin Hbf where I had to leave the train anyway. Leaving the train station it took me a minute to orientate myself, but then found the hotel which had been booked for me within a few minutes of walking.

Checking in was also very easy, so that I was soon getting lost in the maze-like structure of the hotel. I was staying on one of the top floors, so it took a moment or two to figure out the structure. Before long I was sitting on the side of the bed I'd be sleeping in that night, readying myself for a good night's rest. At that point I was feeling rather exhausted, having arrived in Berlin just past 11 PM. Despite my usual issues with sleeping in a strange place (sudden/unknown noises), I slept okay that night.

I had received a call from the producer of the documentary informing me that they'd pick me up at the hotel 10 AM that Sunday, but when I got back to my room after consuming breakfast I noticed a text message informing me that they'd be later. I spent that time catching up with world news via CNN International on the room's TV. It was the beginning of a day in which I'd be speaking virtually only English.

After checking out I sat in the hotel's lobby, waiting for the team to pick me up. Ultimately they were a bit later again, but this was no problem for me. Walking outside to meet up with the team I got introduced to all of them: the two presenters (Rodrigo Jarpa and Nathalie Nicloux) and the audio and video guys, in addition to the German producer who had initially contacted me for this production. Putting my luggage into the back of the van, we then left for the first part of that day: a boat tour along the sights of Berlin. On the way I was surrounded by people chatting in Spanish, German and English, which formed an interesting mix.

Before we got onto the boat, I spent a while talking with Nathalie. We ended up discussing a lot of topics, mostly about me and my background, but also some things in general. She said that she had read a lot of my blog before meeting with me, which just added to the sense that she was genuinely interested in my situation and me as a person. It felt very nice to sit there in the shade alongside the river, talking about so many things in my life in-depth with someone I felt really got the issue. Also despite Nathalie's claims that her English skills weren't very good, we had absolutely no problems understanding each other. I almost felt sorry when we had to join the others again to prepare for the first part of the interview.

Equipping ourselves with the usual wireless microphones, we waited a bit for the tour boat to arrive. I spent some time chatting with the producer - born and raised in Sweden - with whom I ended up chatting about a range of topics, including the Scandinavian countries. My experiences in Norway were quite relevant here. As the tour boat arrived, we all got on and set up for the interview on the top deck, in the bright sun.

Not allowed to wear sunglasses during the interview and missing out on the sights around me, the interview was a matter of trying not to squint too much while focusing on the interview. Both presenters asked me questions, each first in English followed by the Spanish version. The interview went quite well. The focus of the interview was both personal, but also very generic in a sense, asking me for my opinion on many broader questions instead of just asking me to recite my story yet again.

The second and last part of the shooting would take place in a park near where the tour boat docked. This location was picked because it used to be the no-one's land between East and West Berlin, symbolic of the no-one's land we intersex people inhabit in society. Here it took a while to pick out a proper spot to do the interview as the park was rather crowded due to the very pleasant and warm weather. Ultimately we found a good, shaded spot where Nathalie did the rest of the interview with me, sitting on these stone steps in the side of a hill.

The questions for this part of the interview were more personal, though I also got asked what my opinion on this new law for intersex children in Germany is, and what I thought would be the next step there. I replied there that I think that medically unneeded surgeries on (intersex) infants should be criminalized due to the completely lack of scientific necessity for such a thing. I pointed out that transgender individuals already prove that one's chromosomes (XX/XY) are not indicative of one's preferred gender role and that thus the 'gender-check' using sex chromosomes on infants is a complete fraud.

Near the end of the interview I got asked to say something to the families of intersex children in Chile, and later something to the intersex individuals themselves. To the first I expressed my sincere belief that there is nothing wrong with an intersex child. That they're perfectly fine the way they are born and that it are only the adults who feel uncomfortable with a child that is 'different'. To intersex individuals I tried to make it clear that while they may feel completely alone and abandoned, there are so many more like them and that we can, nay, must combine our powers. We can do this together, to change society and improve our standing in society.

With the shooting just wrapped up, we left for a nearby Thai restaurant to eat dinner. Here things quickly got more informal and we had a pretty good time until first most of the Chilean team had to leave and then I had to go to the train station. Saying my goodbyes to the producer and Nathalie, the woman accompanying the producer drove me with the van to the station where I bid her goodbye. Leaving Berlin a few minutes later was a strange experience. It felt like I was leaving something pretty big and something very pleasant behind me.

Hours later I had to transfer in Frankfurt Hbf, with my connecting train delayed by fifty minutes as I was becoming used to. I arrived back in Karlsruhe after midnight, catching a tram home and practically collapsing on my bed upon entering my apartment.

Being at the office the next morning felt very weird. I felt like part of me had stayed behind there in Berlin, with this group of people I had met there and in particular my with conversations with Nathalie. As I write this all down I know that this was an experience which has changed me. Both in showing me a glimpse of an alternative future, maybe a taste of comforting understanding and an interest in my well-being. The past days as I was at home I spent a lot of time just feeling miserable and crying a lot. It wasn't a definite feeling which made me feel miserable, but just a general sense of loneliness and being ignored by society. The kind of pain which makes one just want to withdraw completely from society, even kill oneself in order to escape the pain of living.

I feel that I did a good thing with my appearance in this Chilean documentary and that I did just what I said I would in the previous blog post on this. I'm doing it for others, though there is no hope for me any more. I got asked questions about the surgery I'd still want and this monthly pain during the interview as well, but in the knowledge that for as long as I'll still live it has to be in the knowledge that no hope is left there.

In some way my experiences in Berlin are like this idyllic dream, flooded with golden sun light. It was pleasant while spending time in it, but like a midsummer night's dream, it had to come to an end. It's a world which will never become a reality, as painful it is to accept.


Chronic Pain And Not Knowing Why

Today was a pretty miserable day for me in some ways. While things went okay at my job, today was again one of those days when my body decides to rebel against me. I could feel it over a week ago already with some feelings of discomfort, but only this week did it evolve into an all too familiar, constant pain and sensitivity in my hips and knees, followed by an uncomfortable, sometimes painful sensation in my lower abdomen. Today the usual other symptoms returned as well.

These symptoms make it very unpleasant to be sitting, as it'll itch and burn. I'm also very grumpy and unable to deal emotionally with matters as well as I usually can. Today this made for a fun time where sitting at my desk was uncomfortable (and still is as I'm writing this), with the burning sensation and the searing pain in my hips. While walking around my hips hurt, my lower back and abdomen as well, not to mention a constant feeling of numbness in my right leg as stabbing pains in my lower abdomen that would bring tears to my eyes. Finally occasionally a sensation of a sudden pulse of electricity coursing down the inside of my legs.

This is what I'm dealing with every single month, always around the beginning/end of the month, and the symptoms over time are become more pronounced and severe. Three years ago it'd be just stabbing pains occasionally, the other symptoms came later. I also don't know what causes it.

Due to the lack of medical help over the past decade and the many conflicting medical conclusions one can roughly sort the options as follows: a) it's a period like a regular woman would have, b) it's something similar, c) it's never lupus.

That it's a monthly thing is curious, but roughly half of the physicians who have claimed to know something about me have said that I do not have female organs, so without a womb, ovaries, uterus and vagina, how could I possibly have a period?

In the process of excluding options one starts off with a list of possibilities, discarding them as symptoms fail to match up. I'm however not aware of anything else like this which would only occur on a monthly basis. It also seems to occur regardless of my emotional state at that point, though it seems to have some effect on the severity.

My gynaecologist recommended that I should stop taking the progesterone pills I was taking - because it helped with the severity of the symptoms - a number of months ago, and it really has only become worse since then. At this point I feel frustrated having this issue and not knowing what it could be or could mean to me in the future.

If it's just a period then I probably have ovarian and maybe other tissue types responsible for these symptoms. It should be examined and ensured that it's not anything which could become life-threatening or otherwise requiring medical intervention. Among hermaphrodites cancer tends to occur relatively more often, especially of the reproductive organs due to the often unusual physiology.

Otherwise, if we assume that it's not a period, then one just has to draw a complete blank. Both on what it is and what it could mean. It could be benign other than the agonizing pain every month, or mean my death within a year's time. It's impossible to draw any conclusions, or figure out how to examine it without having at least some clue what to examine exactly.

Today I have begun taking progesterone again in the hopes that it'll at least lessen the pain somewhat. By next month I should know whether it has any effect. As for seeing a physician about it, tried it, didn't work, being a quite unique case sucks. Taking strong painkillers every month for a week or so is the less frustrating alternative, and possibly slightly healthier.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Furthering My Media Career, Or: Berlin Road Trip

A short while ago I got contacted by Berlin-based producer with the question whether I'd want to partake in this TV documentary episode which is being shot in Berlin in the first week of September. It's part of a documentary series on sexuality in different cultures being produced for the largest TV channel in Chile, TVN. I saw no reason to say 'no', which has led to my current situation where I have an all expenses paid journey to Berlin coming up.

I'll be leaving tomorrow, arrive there pretty late and probably immediately check into the hotel which was booked for me. Then Sunday morning I'll be picked up for a series of shoots in a variety of locations, involving interviews by the two hosts of this show, both familiar Chilean TV hosts. The end of the afternoon I'll then be leaving back for Karlsruhe again, another roughly six hour long trip by high-speed train. Upon arriving home - some time after midnight - I should be ready to collapse into my bed.

As I mentioned in my last video log, the only reason why I'm still agreeing to do these interviews is because it may help others like me in the future. I have given up any remainder of hope that I may ever receive medical help and it's harrowing to deal with this subject matter again, regurgitating the same bad memories once more. Yet if I don't do it, something positive in the future may not happen, or much later. Either way I owe it to newborn and not yet born intersex children to do this.

In many ways the world-wide media seems to be far further ahead on the subject of intersex than physicians, psychologists, politicians and far too many human rights activists. While often the media attention for the subject of intersex is simply because it's one of those freakish things the tabloid media in particular loves to report on, there's also a very serious current of increasing understanding among journalists of why intersex is such an important topic to increase awareness of.

The past week I have had some run-ins with feminists and anti-feminists in online discussions, with both sides accusing me of being the exact opposite of their alignment. This experience made me realize just how irrelevant feminism is to human rights in general, in particular to transgender and intersex rights. It's one of those insane conflicts occurring within 'regular' society, which all the not 'normal' people are not meant to be part of. While homosexual people have more or less clawed their way into society to be met by grudging acceptance, it's still open season for intersex and to a lesser extent transgender people.

What I mean here is that the average person is at least aware of the existence of transsexuality and most people are personally okay with it, while intersex is still this thing which doesn't really exist. It's hardly acknowledged and every day again a number of infants undergo forced genital surgery, with any record of their intersex condition usually erased. While many countries have politicians standing up for homosexual and transgender rights, you don't see the same thing for intersex. There are pride parades highlighting homosexuality and transsexuality, but intersex is absent. Beyond the occasional news article the millions of intersex people around the world may as well not exist.

While I may have lost my personal war over the past decade in my attempts to get medical help with my intersex condition, this doesn't mean that I have to be okay with others having to suffer the same fate. In the run up to this TV interview I have had to go through the usual emotional struggles as I ready myself to once more perform as well as possible, diving back into every memory I'd love so dearly to leave behind me for good.