07 January 2011

Sex Advice from Flight Attendants

Life had gotten out of hand for me (including a trip to Hawaii on Sarah's airline!) and novel has been sitting on back burner. But to start 2011 off, I was given this link via a friend on Facebook:


Quite an interesting read. The most important bit of advice is that as flight attendants are adventurous by nature, they have interesting takes on sex life. (Second most important: the "mile high club" is grossly overrated.)

I had some ideas though. I've envisioned Sarah as being unable to let herself free on sexual topics, at least to start off, due to gender confusion and anatomy issues. My longstanding plan was to let Sarah continue to resist her own desires and feelings, even through the relationship with coworker Martha, at least until Martha is tragically killed. The relationship with Kirsten would be the time when Sarah starts to be a sexual being to at least some extent. In fact, having Kirsten help out with Sarah's sexual self-discovery will be a key component to Sarah's story.

But now that I think about it, I think Kirsten's own sexual self-discovery, which I had never given much thought to, will need to be elaborated upon. For Kirsten, growing up in the Bible Belt was not conducive to being honest about one's sexual drive, even had she been heterosexual. I don't think Kirsten would have been able to have a quality relationship even after her move to California, until Sarah. It may be the shared frustration that makes the unlikely pairing happen. Just as Kirsten helps Sarah discover her sexual side, it may as well be Sarah who helps Kirsten discover her own sexual tendencies. And now I need to start figuring out those tendencies - I know some details about Sarah's but don't really have much when it comes to Kirsten's.

(One thought: Kirsten may have a uniform fetish, which may draw her to uniformed people, including, of course, Sarah. And of course, Kirsten most likely has a thing for redheads.)

Another thought is that since Kirsten had been quite suppressed sexually, despite her strong lesbian identity she may have never had experience with female anatomy. Most likely she may have had a few sexual experiences with men, probably in high school or early college, which she would not have enjoyed at all. Sarah would be her first and only quality relationship, and even then, given Sarah's pre-operative anatomy, it would not be until Sarah is post-op that Kirsten actually finds herself doing "muff diving." And to be honest, the push for Sarah's surgery would come as strongly from Kirsten's desire for a "red carpet treatment" as it would come from Sarah's own strong discomfort with her large male anatomy.

21 October 2010

A piece of writing from Sarah

Right now I'm writing another Sarah-Kirsten joint interview, but as I do so, I want to post an exercise I had written for a class two years ago.  This was done for a class on writing for social change, done online with my longtime mentor Gayle Brandeis.  In this exercise, I imagined pre-operative Sarah, in an all-woman retreat, sitting naked and talking about her body image as a transwoman. If it were me in a similar situation, my response would be pretty similar. I don't expect this to ever be done in the presence of men, however - I don't need to stoke anyone's shemale porn fantasies.

Here I am – my body in all its glory.

Notice the cacophony of my male bits against the otherwise feminine silhouette of my body.  Yes, I am a transwoman.  Yes, I am pre-operative.  But no, I refuse to be ashamed of myself for having the so-called wrong genitals.

What others call a penis, I call it my “big clit.”  After all, it does everything that a clitoris ought to do – namely, feel sexual arousal and get erect.  It came from the very tissues that would have become a clitoris, had I followed typical female development.  It does bother me when my big clit bulges under my skinny jeans or tights, but it’s still a part of me.  I don’t understand why men make such a big deal out of their penises, when really, all they have is just the larger version of what women also have.

When the time comes for me to go under the knife, I will thank my big clit one more time.  My soon-to-be-opened vagina will be formed using that very clit.  They call it “penile inversion vaginoplasty” for a reason.  Like what it says, most of my big clit will be inverted to form the inside of my vagina.  The rest of it will become my new, smaller, but much more sensitive clitoris.  And ironically, the bigger my clit is, the easier it is to make the vagina.  I’m actually glad that my clit is really big.

And the sac below, you will call it the scrotum.  I call it my future labia.  It will indeed become my lips, when that vagina opens up.  Too bad, the balls in them will have to go.  They were once ovarian tissue and should have become ovaries, but a cruel trick of biochemistry turned them into testicles that have done me no good, except to hurt badly on occasion and to give me several years of unwanted boyhood.

But even those testicles are a part of me.  I know that I will never be able to give birth, even when the vagina opens up.  I want a kid, but the cruel trick of biochemistry says I can only have one as its father.  Tomorrow, I will put these testicles to good use at the sperm bank, so that my wife Kirsten will one day have a beautiful child for me.

Again, you may see a penis and two testicles between my legs.  But as far as I am concerned, I see the beginnings of full womanhood, even in those most masculine of my body parts.  And just as my male bits will help make up my future life as a complete woman, I will continue to carry on the best qualities of my past male life, and be proud of them, even as I carry on into a fulfilling life of a woman.

07 October 2010

Sapphites, Let's Fly Together

Now that United and Continental are officially one airline at the corporate level, the inflight safety video, which Sarah plays for all her passengers at the beginning of every flight, reflects it.

Here is the latest edition of the safety video for United 777s - with an introduction from Jeff Smisek, CEO of Continental who has now taken over as the CEO of the combined United.

Continental used to have major problems with LGBT employees in the 1990s. I hope it learns a lesson from United in LGBT-friendliness. In return, Continental can surely teach United a thing or two about taking a cut-rate airline and turning it into the best in business and one employees can be proud to call home.

Happy flying, Sarah!

06 October 2010

Getting the creative juice to flow

I like to talk about Sarah's and Kirsten's music tastes quite a bit. Sarah really identifies with her idol, Sarah McLachlan. Likewise, Kirsten feels a very strong affinity to Mariah Carey. Both affinities are a reflection of my own, especially in the case of Mariah Carey, with whom I even managed to meet.

But my own music taste is a wee bit more complicated than that, and the past two weeks have been a very good reminder of that.

Anna Nalick and I met on August 9th, 2006.

Anna Nalick and I met again - September 21st, 2010.
I would meet her one week and two weeks later as well.

Anna Nalick emerged as a strong favorite of mine around 2005, as her debut single, "Breathe (2AM)," started playing everywhere - first on Sirius Satellite Radio, then terrestrial radio, and even on TV programs. When the song became a popular telephone ringtone, it was proof that she arrived. The reason why she really hooked me in was because of a very peculiar, brilliant style of lyric writing that she employed - no resorting to any fancy words or techniques, but profound when read as a whole. It didn't hurt that unlike my other favorite artists, who are at least 6 years older than me if not much older, Anna is actually 8 years younger, yet wrote in a very grown-up way.

As the photos above attest, I ended up meeting with Anna in 2006 for an autograph. And I was very disappointed when Anna disappeared without much of a warning in 2008. As it turned out there was an issue with her record label that had caused her second album to be scrapped. In any case, Anna went back in action in August 2010, and I made sure to attend three shows out of her four-show Hollywood residency in September and yesterday. It wasn't just the old hits I was enjoying - as it turned out, I liked the new numbers, to be included in her next album, even more.

One reason why I feel an affinity to Anna is because of her origins in Glendora - only a few minutes from where I am right now. Though if I look back to my own teenage years in Arcadia, I feel that there are even more parallels. Both Arcadia and Glendora are located on the old Route 66, and as far as Southern California suburbia goes, both communities are quite old (certainly much older than my current one). Both are affluent upper-middle-class communities that are quite quiet and not exactly exciting. Both were whites-only in the sad days of California's own segregation, but ironically because of that, have attracted well-to-do Asians in recent decades. (Though I have to say, Glendora hasn't turned all that much Asian, while Arcadia has become REALLY Asian especially after I left.) When I read about stories coming out of Anna's experiences in her grade school and high school years, it often feels like what happened in Arcadia back in my day - the vibe is similar enough that the inspirations that powered her songwriting were just as well present for me, and she sounds a lot like many white girls in my high school that I never got to know back in the day. With this added factor, I can feel an extra degree of affinity to her music in ways I would never feel with, say, an R&B artist from Compton or Harlem, as much as I try to appreciate R&B in general. Or a teen growing up in Halifax (Sarah Mac) or Long Island (Mariah Carey).

It doesn't hurt that I continue to keep in touch with Anna via her Facebook fanpage, where she actually spends time exchanging ideas with her fans (and hopefully draws ideas for future songs). That way I really have insights into her creative processes.

As much as I discouraged myself from developing a creative side in my teenage years, I want to think about it. There may be hidden gems of memory from my own high school years that I need to tap into - especially in terms of how those memories helped form who I am today. There were some negatives, as in my refusal to eat bagels even today after being force-fed them in my teenage years because that was all my folks could afford. There were some positives, such as learning to really cherish every moment of my summer New York visits and motivating myself to go to New York for college out of that. (It also explains one key reason why I idolized Mariah Carey - and the way Anna Nalick talks about idolizing certain favorite artists of her own and rewriting lyrics to their songs, I can totally identify.) And the way I craft Sarah's story grounds itself heavily to my own experiences growing up - even down to Sarah's fashion sense and the cars she drives. I need to put all these pieces together into a coherent story, and more importantly, see what kinds of creative spark Sarah may get. (I see Sarah as more of a gamer/aviation geek, but still.) Who knows, Sarah herself may have a few angst-ridden teenage poems lying around somewhere... Of course, minor adjustments will need to be made to account for Sarah's origins in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I don't see issues with that. Kirsten's upbringing as a mixed-race lesbian in Alabama will be much tougher for me, however. Though I may consider doing the "Kirsten rewrite" versions of Mariah Carey's key hits.

On a lighter note, I notice that one element of Anna Nalick's comeback is her appearance makeover, and as much as I had loved her natural dark brown hair, I love her even more as a redhead. Yes, my penchant for redheads, which was an acquired taste thanks to me making Sarah a redhead (primarily so that she would be bullied more often and severely), is at work here. However, honestly I want to keep Anna as my own Music Muse (incidentally one of her newest compositions), and not really share the gift of her music with my characters (though they may occasionally enjoy "Breathe (2AM)") - I do want Sarah and Kirsten to have their own sets of favorite artists and a fairly good reason for why they love each, and they already share more than a few favorites with me already (Melissa Etheridge would be a good example). What I do know is that the way Sarah enjoys Sarah Mac, and the way Kirsten enjoys Mariah, will largely mirror the way I enjoy Anna (though most likely minus the in-person interactions).

It'll be fun getting Sarah's creative juices flowing and giving her a complex, realistic taste in pop music.

Some ideas

A few new ideas came about thanks to discussions with Gil Gillon, AKA the Wandering Gentile, who commented on my previous post. As he is my Facebook friend we had some messages and comments happen on Facebook.

Thanks to him, I am changing the circumstances of Martha's murder. She will still be murdered in New York City, in order to highlight Mayor Rudia Giuliani's transphobia. However, instead of having Sarah hear something at home in San Francisco, I will expect her to hear the news in Chicago on her layover. And just as she tries to get to New York, 9/11 happens and all flights are shut down. She will be forced to scramble for a rental car - Gil's suggestion for a contemporary rental car would be the Oldsmobile Alero (he is extremely knowledgeable about cars) - and driving nonstop to New York, would try to tune in to a news station, most likely WINS 1010, for any updates. I expect Sarah to boil over with anger and hatred at all the murderers, be they the hijackers or Martha's killers, as she drives east - and I expect some of that anger to show in her driving. And as she would be an underage driver, she may find getting a car even more difficult.

I am sticking to using United rather than a fictional airline, however, for good reasons. At least Gil's suggestion for a fictional airline's name was something appropriate: Lambda.

Speaking of Sarah's employer, the United-Continental merger is finalized, and the new United branding will indeed be that of Continental, except for a new sans-serif font being chosen for the "UNITED" titles. I don't know how Sarah will feel about this, as the tulip is such an iconic symbol of United (and a Sapphic symbol for Sarah), but it will be inconsequential as the storyline will be over by the time the merger actually is reality.

02 September 2010

Airline image

An article I just read - the Yin and Yang of Airline Identity, at Ask the Pilot:

Part 1
Part 2

Sarah takes a huge pride in working for United Airlines, but it's always good to ask how effective the airline's branding is in portraying the history and service of the airline and projecting that pride. The author is not too convinced about the current United branding, except for the tulip, which had been a generic design to start but has come to be the definitive symbol of United (and shaped like a U, does represent the airline's name).

The author is also very enamored of United's longtime slogan, "Fly the Friendly Skies," even though it was officially retired in 1997. But the slogan was so effective that unofficially it is still used by some flight attendants in their announcements. Of course, I am more likely to utter it as "Fly the LESBIAN-friendly skies" in a nod to Sarah's lesbian pride and all the lesbian vibe I had gotten on United flights over the years (especially on the otherwise dreadful trip to Amsterdam in 1999).

The article also argues that other simple yet effective airline branding include the Pan Am globe (1950s to the airline's folding in 1991), the Japan Airlines crane (1960-2002), the Lufthansa crane (1910s to current), and the Aeroflot hammer and sickle (1940s to today). It is also partial to the 1989-2002 Northwest logo (pointing northwest, and simultaneously an N and a W) as well. Also good are airline names that incorporate a quirkiness of its home base; one example cited is Royal Dutch Airlines, or Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij - shortened to KLM. The article's favorite current tagline appears to be "Excellence in Flight" used by Korean Air.

Of course there are plenty of bad branding examples out there, cited in the article as well.

Considering that air travel has the potential to bring distant peoples together, and that I am trying to take that mentality straight into Sarah and her work, looking into how various airlines actually convey that spirit in their branding and public image is a very important part of the process.

11 August 2010

Future writing ideas

While Perfect Girl remains stalled (though I now have some new ideas to work off of, and that will lead somewhere once I actually work them), I am at a point where I have some new ideas floating around my head, that will not only give Sarah a new lease on life, but also start some new projects.

I've always held interest in current events, and I've considered myself an idealist. And I've always taken note of the fact that the current neoliberal/libertarian teabagging movement promises maximum freedom and minimum government intervention - but ends up taking more freedom away instead. There is a strong parallel to communism, which had promised a classless, equal society but ended up with even more of a class society instead. I'm not very enamored of either ideology, while I acknowledge how great each looks on paper.

That's just led me to a very rough idea of a storyline as follows:

The protagonist, in mid-20th Century in some nondescript country, is an idealist thinker who quickly rises up the ranks of the nascent communist revolution. Once the revolution succeeds and the Communist Party takes power, she becomes the key advisor to the head of state, and ends up crafting the key pillars of the Party and national ideology, in an effort to bring maximum equality and prosperity to the people. But when some of her ideas toward that end, including limited market reforms, get her branded a heretic by the Party, she eventually abandons her revolution, defects to the West, and becomes an outspoken and influential neoliberal thinker. She will now sing the praises of the free market, in an effort to maximize freedom and prosperity for the people. But eventually, she will be betrayed by her new neoliberal bosses for ideological impurity, just like from her old Communist bosses, and she will probably move to a third country where she can truly continue working for justice for the people while disassociating herself with ideologies.

At this time, it's a very rough idea. And I don't want to really work on this until I have Sarah's life story largely finished.

One thing I do know is that my new protagonist will have to be gay, if closeted. She will have to deal with her Communist bosses, who think homosexuality is an import from the decadent, permissive Western capitalists, as well as her later neoliberal bosses, who consider gays to be socialist scum who infringe on the people's religious freedoms. This will certainly deliver a huge additional boost to the sense of alienation she feels from both movements she had strongly identified herself with and devoted herself to.

My preliminary preference is to start the story in a fictional Eastern Bloc country, then move it to Reagan-era US; it will make the most sense, and research will be quite easy too. The key challenge, however, will be to concoct a plausible Eastern Bloc society and decide on its ethnicity and language. When rejected by the neoliberals, the protagonist may stay in the US but relocate to a saner state, or she may choose to relocate to Canada.

An alternate approach - especially if/when my next Seoul stint is well underway - will be to use the two Koreas as the setting; however, in that case, thanks to the Confucian misogyny making female leaders implausible, the protagonist will have to be male, to eventually identify as a gay man or a transwoman, and I'll have to portray the two Korean societies in ways that will be more understandable for the average Western reader. (At least I can simply use actual North Korean system and personalities in this case, rather than inventing a whole new country.) The timeframe can also be pushed a bit later; the protagonist can observe North Korea's 1990s famines, then arrive in South Korea around 2000 and help out with the conservative resurgence of 2007. Eventual ending may take within South Korea or in Western Europe or Canada; the US, which the protagonist should visit a few times, will be ruled out, with Korean-American McCarthyism being a key factor in the decision.

Let me see what I can make out of this. And hopefully the sense of idealism and dedication can be translated into Sarah's mindset as well - and her passengers will be all the better off for it. More importantly, the whole story arc for Sarah, not just Sarah's personality and work, will need to carry that mindset as well.

06 August 2010

For Sarah's reference...

Just came across this - a history of United Airlines logos, from the four predecessor airlines who united in 1931 (hence the name United) to today.

I spotted this pictorial history at a Facebook group that is asking to save the United tulip, as current proposals will have the United name slapped onto the Continental globe logo and livery when the two airlines merge.

I am partial to the tulip because of all the flying I've done on United planes over the years. But even more importantly, the tulip is yet another lesbian double-entendre for me, since it sounds like "two lips."

With so many lesbian connotations I attach to Sarah's employer for one reason or another, I actually wonder how I actually had first envisioned Sarah to be hopelessly boycrazy. Of course, that never worked out anyway, which is why I turned Sarah into a lesbian, and her traits started to make far more sense (not to mention I could give Kirsten, my alter ego and a hardcore lesbian, a much more significant role as Sarah's girlfriend and wife).

One group member also comments that the United name is meant to be written using sans-serif fonts; that is definitely evident in the above logos. The only serif font was the Century used in the 1993 logo, which proved to be very dreadful, especially combined with the Battleship Gray livery introduced at the same time; the Century was retired in favor of retro blocky font only four years later, but the Battleship Gray livery continued to be used until 2004, and some United planes still sport the badly faded Battleship Gray paint job. This is yet another argument the group uses against the Continental branding, as its font is serif as well.

05 August 2010

My own "My Life with the Lincolns" moment...

Of course, My Life with the Lincolns was my most recent read, and a book written by my longtime mentor Gayle Brandeis. The narrator of the story, 12-year-old Wilhelmina Edelman ("Mina"), fancies her family to be a reincarnation of the Lincoln family, due to her father's initials being ABE. (Turns out that Gayle's own father had AIB as his initials - and she felt the same way about him as a child.) And when toward the end of the book, Mina and her father visit the Lincoln house in Springfield and eventually the family grave, Mina feels that she is meeting her previous life - Willie Lincoln, who died at age 11 - face-to-face.

I actually had the same feeling today. Turns out that my paternal grandmother in South Korea, who had passed away three months short of my birth, recently had to have her grave moved due to zoning changes. (I did know from a visit to her cemetery in late 2008 that the cemetery was slated for closure very soon.) Today, I received some photos, dated October 2009, from the move, including final shots of her old grave, the exhumed remains, and the photos of the new grave.

I do feel that my grandmother may as well have been a past life of myself; after all, looking at her photos taken in her 60s (she died at age 70), she has a trademark family look, especially in her eyes, that I notice in my own photos, and had pink miniskirts existed during her younger days, she may have looked strikingly similar to me. I also know that she was a forward-thinking progressive, who attended a boarding school in Shanghai at a time when women were supposed to not even learn how to read, and who converted to Christianity due to it being the religion of modernity and progress. (Ironically, I am leaving her religion, in search of my own progress and modernity.) I also do know that she brought a very holistic approach to Christianity, as unlike most Korean Christians, she practiced it in the multifaith coexistence mentality of traditional Korean society, and kept extremely good relations with neighborhood Buddhist monks and even had Confucian and Buddhist ceremonies done for her family. (Also why my father and his family would continue to take an extended family trip together to Buddhist temples, such as Jikjisa, a stop on my 2008 Korean road trip.)

As I saw the photo of the opened old grave, with my grandmother's bones lying inside, as well as the next photo showing her bones cleaned and neatly arranged, it seemed like she was speaking to me in a way - about my past life. I do know that she was patting my mom's belly when she was pregnant with me, hoping to witness my birth but never quite making it. I do feel that her pioneering, forward-thinking spirit was passed on to me as she passed - and as her remains saw the light of day for the first time in over 33 years, it seemed that my past has risen out of the ground it had been buried in, and wants to speak to my present so that I can take it into the future.

It appears that I will go ahead with my return visit to South Korea very soon - but the exact format/purpose of the trip may change dramatically. Once there, I will make sure to visit the new grave, make this spiritual connection with my grandmother, and push ahead with my own life the way my grandmother had done during the treacherous years involving exodus from the North and the wartime poverty.

Back to Gayle, I attended another reading of hers tonight - but this time it dealt with her other new novel, Delta Girls, which I am currently working on. She shared some more tricks of the trade; while she had discussed her Korean cultural immersion during her work on The Book of Dead Birds, this time she also mentioned that the cultural immersion included listening to Korean-language conversations and getting the cadence and rhythm right, to somehow reflect into her sentences. Pleasant-sounding cadence and sentences is something I tend not to think about too much, but it does make a book more readable - and mixing up sentence lengths was done in Delta Girls for a similar effect. Another trick worth thinking about is grabbing some unusual, outrageous details from a given subject (such as all the wacky worm names used by fruit pickers in the Sacramento River Delta farms) to grab the reader's attention; for me and Sarah, the key may be using technical aviation lingo and/or terminology specific to United Airlines (such as "2P" to indicate Premier elite frequent flier level). (And speaking of flight attendants, Gayle tells me that her teenage daughter Hannah is thinking of becoming one for a few years, for the experience.)

Always glad to be able to pick up tips and hints from a trusted mentor. Now let me see if I can write a scene or two that brings out Sarah's essence (perhaps she works a practice flight to Denver, where she is surprised with a flight simulator session). Or something that brings the past and present together - like the Mina-Willie connection (or my connection to my grandmother's remains). Perhaps Sarah, despite hating being Sanford, does feel a kinship to her great-grandfather Sanford; Sarah may visit Great-Grandpa Sanford's tomb when she is on an England layover, and this may also better explain why when Sarah and Kirsten have their biological child from Sarah's saved sperm, the child, a son, will again be named Sanford.

02 August 2010

On another hand...

While I am rediscovering the joy of reading, I still found time to return to simulated airline business, for another look at Sarah's industry. I had left it a year ago after my airline, Mercy Airlines (invoking the name of Kwan Yin), was targeted by an airline alliance made up of Thai kathoeys with too much time on their hands, and couldn't compete.

In fact, I am running two airlines in two different worlds. One is a rehash of Mercy, though it is now based in Shenzhen, China; I founded it in January 1969, now it's December 1969, and I'm keeping it low-key, hoping to last until the game end in 1983. The name was changed to Kwun Yam, the Cantonese pronunciation of Kwan Yin. I'm giving it a very conservative approach, running mostly readily available, slightly obsolete secondhand aircraft, but to keep commonality up and costs down, I am very particular about the aircraft I choose (I currently fly only two - Caravelle 10B, a mix of new and used, and Vickers Viscount 810, all used). Since international runs from Shenzhen are not very lucrative and the nicer Chinese markets (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) are out of available flight slots, I am forced to be very creative to keep up. My key is to keep my staff morale up - I am slightly overhiring flight attendants to ensure superior service (Sarah will love the sound of that).

The second game, which had started in 1986 and runs through the end of 2009, was tougher; I had gone into Chicago in 1996, only to find no flight slots, and wasted time and money relocating to Vancouver, before going bankrupt. Soon afterwards, I re-founded the airline in Athens, a rehash of Air Athena, though I renamed the airline to Eresia, in honor of Sappho (yes, now I have a lesbian airline!). Eresia also had hiccups at the start, but cobbling together a fleet of Dash 8-300s helped, as they are quite profitable especially on the Greek domestic island hops. It's been around for a few months in 1997, and I'm slowly amassing money to acquire more Dash 8's as well as another fleet of readily available secondhand Fokker 100s for a bit more profit. I'll worry about long-haul planes only when I have enough profits to afford them.

In both games, I am not looking for a dominant airline that flies everywhere in the world, but rather, a sustainable modest airline that delivers the greatest possible experience for the passenger. Also, rule changes during my absence make the game more to my liking; predatory alliance attacks on other airlines, and deliberate oversupply of a route by over twice the demand, are now prohibited. Moreover, I can only fly direct to/from my hub, all intermediate stops being allowed only for refueling, and I can make secondary hubs but only in my own country (or only within the European Union in case of Eresia); that means I no longer have to worry about unfair sneak invasions from foreign airlines, an issue I constantly had had when operating Mercy out of Seoul as Chinese and Japanese airlines were dumping tons of capacity into my cash-cow routes to Europe and North America then. For Kwun Yam, I should soon be able to open a second hub that has a good mix of domestic and foreign demand - and hopefully once a major Beijing or Shanghai-based competitor falters, swoop right in.

Hopefully I will have some extra lessons from these new games.

On a more Sarah-related note, the Caravelle will be of significance to Sarah. An earlier Caravelle, the VI-R, was the first jet-powered aircraft in the world to come with features that are commonplace today - thrust reversers and wing spoilers. And the launch customer of the Caravelle VI-R was none other than Sarah's employer, United Airlines. That gave United yet one more in a long series of aircraft launches, while Caravelle became the first European airliner to see significant use in the US. One more thing for Sarah to take pride in!

Reading therapy

I will admit this - while I had been known as a bookworm during my childhood, that completely melted away during my teenage years, as the pressure of honors/AP English classes and literary analysis really built up. Reading was dreadful rather than fun, and even when I did read books, I often kept to nonfiction books discussing my favorite topics (science, sociopolitical issues, etc.) rather than anything fictional or literary. Sure, objectively speaking, leaving ESL in one year, and jumping to honors English in just another year, was an unheard-of accomplishment, but that was never enough for the people around me who were determined to send me to Harvard against my own goals/wishes. (Sure, I did end up at Columbia, another Ivy, but that was not so good for bragging rights.)

I continued to avoid reading even as I've been working on my own story to tell - the story of Sarah. That's NOT good. If I ever read, that would've more likely been a nonfiction book on airplanes or computers or some other topic of interest to Sarah.

But it appears that I am finally discovering the joy of reading! My nerves are extremely frayed at work, as I am trying to close out a few projects and wind my business down. But I've now started using downtime to start reading a few novels - and I found that being engrossed in the world of the novel's characters was actually the best way to distract myself from work and current events! Moreover, reading works of fiction is always a good thing, as I can observe some techniques used by the author and take inspirations that can be of use in my own writing.

Last week's read was My Life with the Lincolns, the first young adult novel from my (longtime) mentor Gayle Brandeis. This week it's another new novel from her - Delta Girls. One reason why I enjoy reading her is because of her emphasis on social justice. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she is a mentor I've worked with for years, and that I have better insights into her thought processes (and she's more than happy to elaborate if I have questions) than I would with an author I don't know. But if having such a mentor as a friend is the key to let me rediscover the joy of reading in general, and improve my own writing as a result, then that may be the best thing to come out of having a mentor! In fact, I am attending some of Gayle's public book reading sessions, to get further insights into how she came up with the concepts and the storylines, and what kinds of research she did; this past weekend was my first time seeing her in over two years in fact!

Hoping to get to know a few more authors and their works while at it. That also means I will need to get my hands on a copy of Dorothy's Girl, from my Facebook friend Margaret Bengtson, as soon as I can - since the concept of that book is very similar to the way I am crafting Sarah's story.

19 July 2010

New layout - and new trans links

With Blogger's new layout templates, including the ability to have ten permanent static pages in addition to the blog itself, I have been giving this blog a makeover.

And with the newer friends in the trans community I have made, it is imperative that I provide a link to them and to follow their own endeavors.

I have added a link to Chaz Bono, the son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono. His initial coming out actually had me bummed, as I had loved his former identity Chastity as a lesbian pride icon, but I am starting to really appreciate the work he is putting into the trans community.

Tara Avery is a talented comic artist, who will be presenting at the San Diego ComiCon this weekend. She has been a good friend of mine for over a year now, and I am proud to have been her matchmaker - after I introduced her to my church friend Stephanie Ballard, the two are now in a relationship. Although her blog is badly outdated, her comic samples are current.

Finally, I need to give a shout-out to a fellow trans novelist, Margaret Bengtson. She initially had wanted to write a memoir of her experiences, but seeing that there are plenty of trans memoirs out there already, she decided to change some details and turn the story into fiction, entitled Dorothy's Boy. This is the same idea that drove me to settle into writing Sarah's memoir rather than my own. I have yet to read her works, but will have to do so before long - and look forward to it.

Fashion and Beauty

Looking at those 1960s fashion statements in Queens at Heart had me thinking a bit on fashion, especially since I am always hunting for that next great "lesbian fashion statement," and while I have defined some peculiarities of Sarah's fashion sense, I can always define it in even more detail.

Trusty Wikipedia comes to the rescue again. The 1960s fashions are a great historical reference, but won't be relevant to me or Sarah, unless they involve styles, such as plaid miniskirts, that get revived in the 1980s, 1990s, or later.

The 1980s fashions are not too relevant, as neither Sarah nor I actually get to wear them as contemporaries. But again, revival of specific trends will be the key. More importantly, both she and I are old enough to remember certain 1980s trends, and regret that we were unable to wear them then. Some specific thoughts:
  • Sarah probably won't care too much for shoulder pads, since her shoulders are prominent as is already.
  • Headbands are a lovely touch - though whether Sarah gets to sport them or not, even as a retro look, will heavily depend on what kind of a hairline she has. Too masculine or high a hairline, then forget headbands.
  • Dancewear trend, immortalized in Flashdance, will be the key. Sarah absolutely loves her leggings, but I am not so sure about her penchant for leg warmers. Though due to the male anatomy, it will be a challenge for Sarah to wear some of the dancewear looks for a while.
  • Preppy style may not be Sarah's favorite, as that may have been the clothing she was forced to wear as a young boy. I also need to look into the difference between American and British interpretations of the preppy, as Sarah's childhood is in London rather than in the US.
  • Opaque tights (perhaps the ribbed kind) should play a key role in Sarah's wardrobe - even in those preppy boy clothes, she may have worn them under shorts, and nowadays she will also substitute them for leggings.
  • Tracksuits were a key trend especially in the UK. Sarah may have some memories that may predispose her for/against tracksuits.
On to the 1990s, the era of the Rachel haircut, and when Sarah and I were both coming of age - and developing our own fashion statements at last.
  • Some key 1960s-1970s colors, like brown, were revived in the late 1990s. My first outfits were brown, but I don't know if Sarah can make brown work out on her paler skin tone, red hair, and green eyes.
  • Pants became wide-legged again, in a repeat of 1940s and 1970s. This is a trend I was slow to embrace, but Sarah might make good use of it, though it is probably not her signature look. Toward the turn of the millennium, waistlines started to go down.
  • Leggings went even more viral in the early 1990s, outselling jeans. Instead of dancewear look, they were being worn with long sweatshirts and T-shirts, scrunchy socks, and sneakers. Definitely a key look for Sarah in her early days of womanhood - and still a key look for both her and me (though with a different choice of footwear). Leggings would go out of style by late 1990s, however - though both Sarah and I managed to hold on to a few pairs, and wear them again from 2006 on.
  • Corduroy is probably not a trend Sarah will embrace.
  • Late 1990s saw the rise of wrap skirts - one of my favorite trends ever. I am not sure if Sarah will embrace them, though Sarah will certainly make sure to have a mini or two in her closet.
  • Punk and goth were key trends, and while Sarah won't be a follower of either trend, I expect her to incorporate a few elements in her own look. And chances are, a few of her friends were probably goth anyway - I knew of a number of goth transwomen back in the day myself.
  • Keds were popular then. I don't think I wore them, but Sarah should wear a few pairs.
  • While Ally McBeal and her trademark miniskirt suits were the rage in the late 1990s, and Sarah identified strongly with Ally, I don't expect Sarah to actually wear her miniskirts with a suit jacket. I don't really expect Sarah to be a suit girl anyway, except in her professional capacity. I would rather leave the Ally look to my alter ego Kirsten anyway - after all, the Ally look was, and still is, my primary trademark look and lesbian fashion statement.
Then on to the first decade of the new millennium, as Sarah flies away as a flight attendant, only to be brought down by layoff, but eventually regaining her wings and developing a strong identity as a woman, not to mention a social network and a marriage.
  • The 1990s ended with dark monochromatic looks. Sarah may have made good use of that look well into the new millennium, highlighting her gorgeous red hair.
  • Dark denim. I never wear denim, but Sarah may end up growing to love a few dark pairs of bellbottom jeans. I remember writing a scene where Sarah's father remarks to her about how she resembled her mother back when he had first met her - the bellbottom jeans will do it.
  • The Boho look, first pushed by Kate Moss and later by the likes of Sienna Miller and the Olsen twins. I never got much into Boho, but Sarah may end up with a peasant top or two out of this trend.
  • The protests against President Bush's wars made activist clothing (Che Guevara T-shirts, etc.) very fashionable for a time. I do not expect Sarah to wear them, however, as I think she'll prefer to make her statement with lapel pins and necklaces.
  • Leggings and footless tights made their return mid-decade. For Sarah and for me, thanks to Lindsay Lohan, these items are a lesbian fashion statement. They are worn like in the 1980s (under miniskirts) or in a new way (with Ugg boots). Tunics/minidresses in various styles to go along with the leggings are a must - I prefer them in floral and similar textures, and Sarah probably does too. The popular mantra directed at young girls too young to remember the 1980s - "Leggings are not pants" - are completely lost on both Sarah and me.
  • Speaking of Uggs and other Australian sheepskin boots, I refused to wear them at first, but now love them (though it's too warm to wear them now). Sarah may be an early adapter due to the Uggs' unmatched comfort.
  • Capri and gaucho pants, coming down to just below the knee, were popular. I never got to wear them for one reason or another. I don't expect Sarah to wear capris (she'll prefer capri-length leggings) but do expect her to wear wide-leg wool gauchos in cooler weather.
  • Ballet flats are the current popular footwear trend. I like them, but don't wear them often due to blisters left on my heel. But as they go so well with leggings, I expect Sarah to really wear her ballet flats.
  • Asia, especially Japan, was often the origin of some iconic fashion statements of the new millennium, including Lolita. I tend to ignore them, though an element or two *may* end up influencing me. Sarah may not differ too much from me on this.
Now that the 2010s are here, one key trend I am noticing is Christian Audigier's T-shirts and other fashion items under the Ed Hardy brand, incorporating designs from Hardy's tattoos. Honestly it's a trend I would rather do without, and I don't think Sarah is too keen on this either. Both of us simply wish to ride this trend out, the way we rode out two early 1990s key trends - Generra Hypercolor T-shirts and Cross Colours hip-hop apparel.

The other major trend is rompers, though honestly both Sarah and I are a bit too old to wear them.

Most importantly, fashion is the most obvious way for the wearer to express her personality and preferences. And by picking key iconic looks of the past and the present for Sarah, I will be better able to tell her story and the experiences that have shaped her.

17 July 2010

Queens at Heart

Outfest, the annual LGBT film festival in Los Angeles, has the Legacy Project, which is dedicated to digging up rare, neglected early LGBT themed movies, restoring them, and preserving them for posterity.

And today, while attending this year's Outfest, I was able to watch a short film entitled Queens at Heart, a 1967 (yes, that is pre-Stonewall) look at four New York area transwomen. As early trans themed films are extremely rare, Outfest made the restoration of this film a priority; the negative is forever lost, and the restoration used digital color enhancements on the two remaining, badly faded reels.

Again, this is a pre-Stonewall era film, at a time when very few heterosexuals understood what it is like to be gay and/or trans, and even fewer could even realize that the two topics were separate. The film is in the form of an interview of four "subjects" of a six-month observation, and the "interviewer" does his best to show off the misunderstandings/prejudices of the hetero world of the era. Namely, the interviewer is trying to approach the four transwomen as effeminate homosexual men, yet the four women end up answering the offensive questions (including those on anatomy, gender transition plans, and sex life with boyfriends) with dignity and spell out what it really is like to have the experience of "a girl trapped in a boy body." The interview is interspersed with extremely rare footages of New York area drag balls, where transwomen would have beauty pageants and dance the night away with men.

And I must also say that I certainly loved the contemporary hairdos and outfits - those iconic 1960s fashions and styles were memorable, and it is extremely rare to get to see them on the transwomen of the day.

Though again, it was the 1960s. In 2000, I remember sitting at some trans support groups in Berkeley, and hearing from some of the attendees about the stories they had, in turn, heard from early transitioners (circa 1980). Namely, the goals for the transwomen back then were to disappear into the crowds as full women, marry a nice man, and live in a suburban house with white picket fences. Very idealized, and very stereotyped, ideas of womanhood. And this film is from an even earlier era. The idea of transwomen being assertive, being lesbians, and/or hanging on to stereotypically male professions (if they had been working in them pre-transition) was completely unheard of then. Or for that matter, living openly as transgender for that matter - or choosing to be non-op.

Although a lot of progress remains to be made - transwomen in many countries are still unable to be anything other than stereotypical boycrazy entertainers, and even stateside, law enforcement often takes the same offensive attitude this film's "interviewer" carried - I am grateful that the LGBT culture and its understanding in hetero culture have evolved, to a point where being a trans lesbian in a stereotypically male profession in a Western country is just another ordinary day. I am glad that both I, and Sarah in the novel, will be able to determine our womanhood and female identities, on our own terms, rather than what stereotypes and social expectations demand, unlike these brave early pioneers.

I was also very pleased with the closing remarks by the "interviewer" - while he alluded to the psychiatric beliefs of the time, when homosexuality could be considered a mental illness (it was de-pathologized in 1973), he did note that when these four "effeminate homosexuals" were so attached to their female identities, maybe it would only be fair to consider their relationships with men to be not a homosexual relationship, but a manifestation of their inborn female identities.

After the film, there was a panel with three panelists - including Bamby Salcedo, a Facebook friend of mine who works with Latino trans youth at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and also tries to elevate trans Latino issues to the Latino community at large - to further discuss how the politics of trans movement can evolve to benefit the most people. Some valuable inputs came from the audience, including a need to be inclusive of intersex individuals as well as mutual reachout to/from allies in the lesbian/bisexual/gay community. Unfortunately I have to say that Ashley Love Sousa, who apparently has returned to Los Angeles after several months in New York, was in the audience, and took up a good chunk of time trying to argue that "real women" do not indulge in politics based on their medical condition, and that she is sick of gay men trying to appropriate the trans community for their perverted agenda; I honestly consider this mentality to be a huge insult to the four transwomen in the film who were such brave pioneers in their day.

When I get back on novel progress, I really need to make sure that Sarah (and by extension, myself) will assert her womanhood in her own way. She will be very open, almost to a vulnerable level - and there will be plenty of male aspects to Sarah, from her "big clit" to her penchant for aviation - but despite those factors, Sarah will still find a way to define and assert her female identity.

13 July 2010

Lilith Fair (and Happy 33rd Birthday, Sarah!)

It's already July 13th - Sarah's 33rd birthday!

The reasoning behind picking July 13th as Sarah's birthday was to mark July 13th, 2004, when I saw Sarah McLachlan, one of my music idols, for the first time in person. Although Sarah was not named after Sarah Mac in my mind (I simply picked an arbitrary name that transwomen tend to like), the storyline calls for just that; Sarah is driven by Sarah Mac's music as much as Kirsten is driven by Mariah Carey's. (I need to come up with what specifically gets Sarah attached to Sarah Mac.)

So it was very appropriate to celebrate Sarah's birthday by seeing Sarah Mac all over again. This time, it was part of the Los Angeles (actually it was Irvine in Orange County) stop of Lilith Fair, a festival of women musicians that had run from 1997 to 1999 and has now been revived. Sarah Mac or not, attending a very womanly event like this is also a good way to mark the occasion.

During the daylight hours, two smaller stages hosted up-and-coming singers, while a third intimate lounge, set up by ABC, hosted three acts.

Here is MariƩ Digby, singing her cover of the infamous Rihanna hit "Umbrella." Lovely atmosphere around the lounge, and MariƩ is interacting with the crowd pretty well too.

The rest of the festival had a very womanly feel of course, as well. Samples of sanitary pads and other feminine hygiene products being handed out, a feminist author having an autographing session, and of course a crowd that was 90% or so female (and a good portion of them lesbian). Lilith Fair is the ultimate way to just enjoy being a woman and value the sisterhood of other women.

Of course, here is the one and only Sarah Mac. So glad to see her again after six years.

The time when I enjoyed Sarah Mac especially a lot was the late 1990s, as I listened to her live Mirrorball album extensively, often on the road. Of course, it was also the time when my own Sarah was supposed to start her flight attendant stint. At the end of 1999, I had a disastrous trip to Amsterdam, where Sarah's airline was the saving grace thanks to the Melissa Etheridge inflight audio entertainment; truth be told, however, during the flights I was rocking away to Sarah Mac just as much through my own CD player, and Sarah Mac ended up being the pre-landing music at the end of both ocean crossings (and several more afterwards). In any case, glad to be reminded of my own Sarah from Sarah Mac.

On a more personal note, Sarah Mac becomes the fourth artist whom I get to enjoy in person multiple times. For a long time, Mariah Carey was the only artist with that distinction for me - though I also ended up returning to Sir Elton John and Melissa Etheridge in recent years, and had it not been for Bono's back injury, U2 would've been on that short list as well last month.

The encore finale. Sarah Mac brought out the performers from throughout the event, so that they could jointly sing the 10,000 Maniacs number "Because the Night."

Some of the performers visible are Brandi Carlile (in all black and singing her heart out), an out and proud lesbian; the legendary Emmylou Harris (in white cardigan and black slacks); Jes Hudak (in red shirt); and Molly Jenson (in floral romper). This main stage had also hosted country star Miranda Lambert and mariachi star Jenni Rivera; Rivera's mariachi music was certainly an unusual and very welcome twist to Lilith which normally sees only WASP music.

Again, one great event, just to feel good about being a woman and being surrounded by other women. And happy birthday, Sarah!

05 July 2010

From a former classmate

Kathy Valentino, with whom I took two Gayle Brandeis writing courses, is a lovely personality. A Canada-US dual citizen, she splits time between Los Angeles and Tucson.

Recently she took part in the NOH8 campaign to fight homophobia. I am glad to call her an ally.

Hoping to see progress on her novel in progress, which dealt with an aspiring actress, Dee, in early 1980s Hollywood and weaves the AIDS epidemic into the storyline. I hope to sit down with her for a novel brainstorming/writing session together, considering that we've known each other for five years now, and have some basic ideas about each other's work.

23 June 2010

A Sarah moment

My decision to portray Sarah as a gorgeous redhead was purely a practical consideration - to ensure that her teenage years would be as miserable as possible.

My original intent had been to portray Sarah as being boycrazy, but eventually my own experiences had to play a role - and Sarah evolved into a hardcore lesbian.

I've always known that Sarah was to be a flight attendant for United Airlines. And its elite passenger lounge, as shown above at Los Angeles International Airport, is known as the Red Carpet Club, something I had known for ages as a United customer.

Though putting all these pieces together, and also considering that I have been promoting "carpetmunching" as a political movement to counter the "teabagging" of the Tea Party Movement, the name Red Carpet Club is suddenly looking like a double-entendre involving Sarah's private quarters.

As scheduled, I flew United to New Orleans and back over Memorial Day weekend, and the photo was taken at the beginning of my trip. On this particular day, United logistics were in a total meltdown, and I was almost regretting my airline choice - the only good thing being that I had used a $150 credit from last year's Toronto trip and its own United goofup. But the rest of the experience went well - I got automatic first class upgrades both ways, without having to ask or cough up miles, just for being an elite customer, and the purser on the return flight was outstanding, single-handedly making sure that United would continue to earn my business - and that Sarah will continue to get paid.

22 June 2010

New US Passport Policy

Per a policy change in the US Department of State, proof of genital surgery is no longer a prerequisite for changing the gender designation on a US passport. Although it is old news by now, it is very important for both the novel storyline and for myself, and must be noted.

US Department of State
National Center for Transgender Equality

The new guidelines only require a physician's note, on official letterhead of the physician, attesting to the completion of "clinical treatment" for gender transition. What constitutes appropriate clinical treatment is left up to the applicant and the physician, no specific requirements. There is no longer a need to submit detailed medical records so that a brain-dead bureaucrat can determine if the genital surgery is "complete" or not. It appears that changing the gender marker on the passport is now very similar to changing it on state identification cards (driver's license, etc.) in the more progressive states; the State of California uses a specific form for the purpose, and requires the physician to only attest to the appearance and demeanor of the applicant, without a need to state further medical information.

If the clinical treatment is ongoing, a temporary nonrenewable passport can be obtained, though it is valid for two years rather than one, as was the case for pre-op transpeople previously.

This brings the US policy on par with the policies of the UK and Spain, both of whom had done away with the surgery requirement years ago.

For me, this is a very important change, and in a good direction as well. For me, it's more important to live the life of a woman, and socialize the way a woman would, than to have a female anatomy; getting a gender-corrected passport was honestly the only major reason for me to opt for genital surgery, and that's a pretty lousy reason. With this change, I can now concentrate more on building a female life and identity, and work on better life quality, rather than worrying about surgery expenses - without the fear of losing my ability to travel.

I don't know how this will work for Sarah. I had seen her traveling with a passport with a male gender marker through 2008, though in late 2008, I expected her to get the one-year nonrenewable passport in anticipation of her mid-2009 surgery. While it is true that Sarah can stay non-op and benefit from this 2010 policy, I don't really see the storyline extending this long. Moreover, I had previously, repeatedly, noted Sarah's huge male anatomy, and surgery in the interest of improved self-image may be much more necessary in Sarah's case.

One possible idea may be to extend the storyline, to throw in another twist. Sarah would end up with the genital surgery in 2009, but due to her lack of labioplasty, her passport would continue to identify her as male, giving her severe headaches when traveling to some new, noted homophobic destinations of her airline. This new policy may be the saving grace of it all - a final affirmation of Sarah's female identity, as it finally allows Sarah to get a female passport.

27 May 2010

Another one from Europe archives

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, December 9th, 1999.

After being sickened by one week of nonstop harassment from Amsterdam's ethnic thugs, I am leaving, and no sight could be a bigger relief than this United Airlines 777 waiting to take me back to sanity. The aircraft will fly to Washington Dulles Airport as Flight 947, and from there, I will continue on to San Francisco in a 767 that will take over the 947 flight number.

At least I can count on one of the inflight audio channels run a Melissa Etheridge marathon, once I'm on board. That's vastly preferable to flying on one of the KLM planes in the background, and prolonging my Amsterdam agony by several more hours.

Because of the Melissa Etheridge programming, plus the fact that United extended employee benefits to same-sex partners of employees earlier in the year, flying United for the millennial holiday season (I had also flown to Las Vegas earlier) was an exercise in feeling some serious doses of Lesbian Power. I have always referred to United Airlines as "the Dyke-Friendly United" ever since.

Of course, that was one of the reasons behind shaping Sarah as a flight attendant, and having her work at United. The second portion of Flight 947 indeed appeared to have a transwoman flight attendant. Though I have had no chance, so far, to "tell" Sarah that I associate her employer with lesbian pride - I know she'd reply to me with even more chants of "hopeless dyke," while appreciating me for associating her employer with something I love and cherish.

When I had started this trip a week prior, I had left San Francisco on Flight 930, arriving in London. That flight will be immortalized as Sarah's first international work assignment. (And Sarah herself will end up experiencing Amsterdam later on, and making choice comments on the thugs who made my own visit such a misery.)

11 May 2010

From European archives

This was the last photo from my two-week European tour of late 2009. Seen at the Louvre in Paris, France, this Hermaphrodite is on loan from Villa Borghese in Rome, Italy, and is a 16th Century copy of a 1st Century Roman original.

Hermaphrodite is noteworthy in Greco-Roman mythology. Described as the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, he has always been described as someone with both male and female attributes. However, the Wikipedia article seems to describe Hermaphrodite as a feminine being who happens to have male genitals, making him an historical form of shemale porn. And that's certainly what I saw at the Louvre - a lovely nymph with soft, feminine curves and proportions, but with a very well-endowed manhood that's greater than those on the teabagger warrior statues nearby.

I felt quite insulted looking at this statue, seeing as proof that the Romans were not merely into teabagging (which I hate greatly), but also into shemale porn as well. But at the same time, I was thinking of Sarah, whom I describe as having similar attributes - a lovely, attractive woman who (until recently) was known for a large male anatomy as well. In fact, as Kirsten poses Sarah through successive photo sessions to document Sarah's bodily changes, this will be very evident as well. (I especially look forward to two particular photo sessions - Sarah's final pre-op session, where with estrogen treatment temporarily halted, Sarah feels Sanford's wild sex drive take her over, and acts more like Sanford with boobs and long hair than Sarah, then Sarah's first post-op session, where the fresh surgery scars and Sarah's newfound fully female anatomy will be the showcase, giving a very positive connotation to a normally derogative term "fire crotch.")

It will be only a few more weeks before I fly to New Orleans with Sarah's coworkers. But more importantly, it looks like I will be repeating, and continuing, my 2008 Seoul meditation regimen as well, the only question being exactly when; I had found that period, and Seoul itself, to be very conducive to my creativity, so to resume what I had interrupted will be a huge plus to me - and to the novel. Could be a very interesting summer/autumn, if I am not banned by the far-right South Korean government for my "subversive leftist" views.

03 May 2010

Novel slows down - but Sarah gets a new boss

Moving forward with the novel is so challenging now, due to my lack of motivation. I am finding myself ever more easily annoyed, as (1) I cannot even count on my living arrangements in a few months (my current place may need to be rented out), and (2) I'm running out of patience with people I deal with, for whom I might as well be speaking Martian. This is despite the fact that I'm trying to enjoy myself, complete with a Dodgers baseball season ticket package. (Who knows, Sarah may need to become part of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, she would be rooting for the Giants.)

The big news today, however, is that Sarah's employer, United Airlines, announced a merger with Continental Airlines. I am following up on a number of articles, as well as the two airlines' official merger site. The combined airline will be called United, but will use Continental's current branding including the globe tail, and the new airline's management team will be led by Continental's CEO (AKA Sarah's new boss). While most people, including me, see airline mergers as a bad thing due to decreased competition and reduced services on redundant routes, this may be one exception due to relatively little overlap between the two airlines (the recent Delta-Northwest merger also is considered to be a good one along similar lines). In any case, regulators and unions will have to sign off on the merger before it's done - that includes Association of Flight Attendants, which represents Sarah.

I even read a particular article, which I cannot locate anymore, regarding Sarah's old boss, Glenn Tilton, who joined United as an industry outsider in 2002, coming from Texaco. Tilton has been reviled, and rightfully so, for stiffing his employees, via a number of moves including termination of employee pension plan. I do not think his name is something that brings smiles to Sarah, for sure. Tilton was also responsible for mass termination of plane leases, and for letting the United fleet decay significantly. The United board of directors had zero employee representation, which allowed Tilton to rule in a nearly dictatorial manner, and he was looking for mere survival rather than building of the airline. There are tons of battle scars at United, which will continue to be factors even after the merger is completed. However, I am hearing two good things regarding him - that (1) his appointment of a new COO for services/fleet has started concrete improvements in service and returned profitability, and (2) his insistence on finding a suitable merger partner, which culminated with the Continental merger today, may be the one thing that ensures United - and Sarah - will fly on. (And that my frequent flier points live on too.)

In any case, this will be an interesting development, even though I expect the storyline to end before the merger is of any consequence. However, the turbulent years involving bankruptcy and pension termination, which left Sarah fuming badly and even laid off for a while, are definitely worth a review, to get the storyline right for her.

P.S. According to the official merger website, the founder of Varney Air Lines, a mail airline and one of the four airlines that merged to form United, went on to found another mail airline, Varney Speed Lines, in 1935, and that became today's Continental. Pretty interesting to see both companies become one again.

29 March 2010

Public Triumph, Private Torment

That is the title of a Los Angeles Times article, dating from March 27th, 2010, dealing with the story of the paper's star sports writer, the late Mike Penner.

What is already well known is that Penner's true inner identity was female, and that identity was manifested as Christine Daniels in 2007. However, hurtful comments by other sports writers, as well as a transgender community that wanted to idolize Daniels and take advantage of her stature, without truly catering to her needs, took a toll. One part of the article, in particular, describes Daniels' photo shoot in late 2007, which, to her, seemed to feel more like an attempt to portray her as an ugly man in a dress. Combined with a divorce filing by her wife, Daniels, after suffering from months of disability, returned to work as Penner, and eventually committed suicide.

Some of the older women in the Los Angeles trans community, especially those at Metropolitan Community Church where Daniels had attended, are prominently named in the article. A good number of them are close friends of mine as well, though what they had done in order to try to help Daniels out - for example, Amy LaCoe housing Daniels at her place for a few months - are well above and beyond what I had previously known. Just as noteworthy in the article is the mention that while a presentation that's neither strictly male nor strictly female is finding acceptance among younger people, for older people like Daniels and her friends, that's not as well accepted due to having grown up in an era of more defined gender roles; this is something I strongly agree with.

Though honestly I don't know where that deal about Daniels being ugly and unpassable even comes in. Based on the photos I have seen, Daniels looked lovely and very passable.

The saddest part of it all is that the factors that drove Christine Daniels to revert to Mike Penner, and eventually commit suicide, are still clear and present dangers. Southern California remains a very transphobic place, made even worse by theocratic immigration, and even the trans community itself is trying to determine who is a rightful transperson and who's not, rather than collectively work together to end the gender binary and other social constructs that serve to oppress the trans community. And when it comes to the trans community's own internal discrimination, I had thought it was simply a relic of the older generation with stricter gender roles, but I was wrong; a very young "activist," Ashley Love Sousa, is pushing this very same mentality herself. (And her constant search for fame and self-promotion, penchant for freeloading, and very incendiary rhetoric that is actually very empty in substance, have actually left many of my friends wondering if Ashley is indeed trans, or is a mere impostor pretending to be a trans activist simply to further her career.)

I simply want to say that I am getting sick of all this infighting among transpeople myself. The death of Christine Daniels is a tragedy that is bound to repeat over and over again, though I want to do everything I can to help end the sad trend of trans suicides. And I need to keep my activities in perspective; while I will gladly work with the trans community to further its broad causes (and I will tell Sarah's story to help in that regard), I myself need to cultivate friendships and networks in the broader community, be it lesbians, straight women, or anyone else.

I do want to thank Christine Daniels, in the meantime, for spreading some insights on the trans experience - her writings have allowed her BFF Susan Horn to reconnect with her teenage daughter, who had disowned her upon coming out as trans, but later turned around upon reading a Daniels column.

24 March 2010

Being trans in the Netherlands

A new Facebook friend, who currently lives in Little Rock but previously based herself out of Utrecht (and now is preparing to move back to Europe - this time, to Spain), asked to be my friend when I vented my 1999 Amsterdam frustrations in response to a trans-themed fanpage's "dream destinations for transgender women."

Both she and I agree - that Amsterdam's trans-friendliness is grossly overrated. While legal framework is favorable, the fact remains, as I had noted during my visit, that hate speech wrapped up in ethnic cultures is very well protected. But what she added to my observations was just as eye-opening; she says that (1) the straight world pays lip service to transpeople without really trying to address their concerns, and (2) transwomen who are not post-op reasonably fast are deemed to be casual transvestite men rather than a member of womanhood. The trans support groups are very miserable, she says, and not all that interested in making transpeople healthy and productive at all, rather keeping them miserable.

This new friend is, again, very new, and I do need to verify what she says via another source. Luckily, I know another trans lesbian, a native Dutchwoman based in IJmuiden, who has filled me in with details on the recent rise of theocracy in the Netherlands after my visit. Although she feels that I am singling out the Surinamese, she does agree with many of my concerns.

In any case, I am appalled at the politically correct people who do NOT even want to entertain the very possibility that the Netherlands, a "beacon of tolerance," is much less of a utopia than it's hyped out to be, much less the reality that the intolerance often has an ethnic origin. Similar issues have risen in the UK, and in the US as well (I will gladly talk about the Korean and Central American theocracy in the State of California, the reason why the state banned gay marriage twice).

I sincerely feel that Sarah will need to discuss this reality in a tactful way. The story, and my message, will simply not be complete without this. And honestly, she may find coming home on Flight 947 to be as much of a relief, as I had found it to be on December 9th, 1999.

23 March 2010

LGBT rights around the world

The following article links to a PDF file from the US Department of State, that summarizes LGBT rights in every nation worldwide, sorted by continent:

Bay Windows

Since Sarah has to travel to many nations around the world as part of her job, having this information will help out immensely with writing some of my scenes in the countries concerned. In a nutshell, Western Europe is still the most friendly region of the world, although East Asia is catching up surprisingly fast (well, not so much of a surprise to me), while Africa and the Middle East remain dismal.

Although Sarah's airline is about to start up its first-ever African route (serving Ghana and Nigeria) and adding its third Middle Eastern destination (Bahrain, in addition to Kuwait and Dubai), I don't think Sarah will ever be going to any of those places anytime soon - and given her seniority by now, she should be able to stick to her favorite European and Asian routes.

Another key may be to have Sarah personally document the fast-improving life for LGBTs in East Asia, from a non-Asian perspective. Now that will be a challenge for me. However, by having Sarah tell stories of improvement in Asia over the years, I could add yet another positive twist to the story. I want her, in particular, to report on all sorts of strong LGBT protection laws put in by the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan (the article says any business who discriminates against LGBTs can expect a very hefty fine), and/or rulings coming out of South Korea's Human Rights Commission - not to mention transpeople in pop culture in both countries plus other Asian destinations.

And while modern developments are featured, traditional culture still needs to play a part. Sarah's first trip to Hong Kong will certainly involve Kwan Yin, and I intend to send her to Monastery of Ten Thousand Buddhas, where I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of Kwan Yin statues there; in fact, she may be even more overcome with emotions. And during my Seoul stay, I had decided that Sarah would write a travelogue for United's inflight magazine, Hemispheres, featuring Seoul's shaman sights, as well as some blurb on the role of transgender women as shamans (mudang); that idea is still a go, of course, and yes, Sarah will write the article as an openly transgender lesbian employee.

Sarah must also discuss nasty surprises even in "friendly" Europe - be they from Jamaican thugs in southern London, Surinamese thugs in Amsterdam, or neo-Nazi skinheads and Slavic homophobes in Germany. She may have some REAL difficulties in Amsterdam in particular, but I want her to be able to overcome them with help of some kind locals.

It's kind of hard to motivate myself to get back to writing still, but it looks like my work will wind down significantly in a few months, so let me see what happens then. For now I'm too busy enjoying my newfound solitary living. In the meantime, I have confirmed my New Orleans visit; although the most logical airline for New Orleans is Delta (after all, the Delta name itself refers to the Mississippi Delta), I am sticking to Sarah and United while my elite privileges still last. See you on board, Sarah! (And of course, I'd LOVE to travel to Japan toward the autumn. Given my travel patterns, Nawlins and Japan are the two most glaring gaps in my travels, and I sincerely hope to fill those gaps this year.)

02 March 2010

Sarah, your new planes are on order

For the first time in 11 years, United Airlines has placed an order for new aircraft. The order includes 25 firm orders for the Boeing 787, with options for 50 more. This order has been rumored and discussed for almost a year, so I'm glad to finally see it become reality.

Chicago Breaking Business News

This order takes advantage of decreased demands from other airlines for new aircraft, due to the global recession. Due to the still-sketchy nature of the 787 program, the orders have been scheduled so that the 787 will not actually enter United service until 2016. Moreover, an order for a rival aircraft, the Airbus A350, is still being negotiated, meaning that if the 787 turns out to be a real dud, the risks will be minor.

Those miserable 747s and 767s need to be phased out soon, so this is a good thing for Sarah, and for the passengers she serves. I am thinking of a possible trip to Tokyo (my first visit to Japan) later this year, but the thought of hopping on one of those aging 747s, with only an old projector screen for video entertainment in economy class, is NOT appetizing at all. And when passengers don't feel good about an airplane, they won't like Sarah too much either, and inferior amenities also prevent Sarah from delivering a better service to passengers as well.

In addition to the 787 and the A350, another order of narrowbody aircraft, to add to and eventually replace the current A320 and 757 fleet (the retirement of the 737 has really shrunk the fleet), is being worked on, the article says. Due to newer, smaller, efficient jets from Bombardier and Embraer, the competition among manufacturers should be more fierce than for the big jets under Boeing-Airbus duopoly. In any case, the 757 is way too old. For Sarah and her airline to hold on to elite customers like me, ongoing aircraft and service investments are badly needed.

Enjoy your 787, Sarah, and I hope to run into you on board soon.