29 May 2015

He's The Best Tennis Player In The State--And A Fine Swimmer, Too!

Some of us in the LGBT--especially the T--community have complicated relationships with sports.

In my day, one stereotype of gay boys--and, by extension trans girls (for the latter were considered, if they were at all, to be more extreme versions of the former)--was that they weren't any good at sports.  In fact, one way people expressed consternation at finding out a boy was gay was to say, "but he's so good at sports!"

The fact is, many a gay boy and trans girl has played "under cover", if you will, on boys' sports teams.  I'm sure many a young lesbian or trans boy has done the same on girls' teams. However, because of the stereotypes of the time, a masculine girl who played sports was usually seen as a "tomboy" and given a bit more leeway than a feminine boy.

Nearly all of us who played sports in high school or even college experienced some kind of harassment or even outright bullying.  Still, many of us were spared the worst treatment accorded boys who were--or were perceived as--gay or girlish because sports and athletes are so revered in many schools.  At least, I can say that was the case for me.

But how could things have been different if trans kids could have played on teams designated for the gender by which we identified?

In the time and places where I grew up, such a thing would have been unthinkable to most parents, teachers and school administrators. Much of that had to do, of course, with the stereotypes I've just mentioned--and the fear that trans people (especially trans girls) were sexual predators.  But I have often thought that being allowed to play on teams for our true genders could have helped us in so many ways, from "coming out" to beginning our lives in the genders by which we know ourselves.

Recent events are showing that what I have just said is not a naive or idealistic fantasy.  Among them is the Maine Principals' Association adoption of a new policy that allows trans kids to play on teams according to the gender by which they identify.  That has been a great thing for the tennis team of  Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine, which has lost only one of its twelve matches so far this year.  One reason for that is Leo Eichfeld, the state's top player.

Yes, you read that right: He's the best high-school tennis player in the whole state of Maine.  And, yes, he's trans.  In fact, he "came out" to his teammates at the beginning of the school year.

He also swims for his school's team.  Actually, he was doing that even before he started playing tennis.   When he goes into the water, he wears a special chest binder and swimsuit that covers him from shoulder to knee.

Some would say that was an even bolder move than being on the tennis team--or just about anything else he could have done.  "It wasn't like he joined the debate team," says his coach, Tracy Doviak.

And, in case you were wondering, Eichfeld swims the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. By the end of his first season, he'd shaved five seconds off his time for each.

He says that his transition has been relatively easy compared to other trans people he knows about.  Part of that was the acceptance he experienced from his teammates, classmates and others in his community.  Also, he said, competing helped him to "get the energy out".

Now, I know that not all trans kids are, or want to be, athletes.  But for those who have such inclinations, Leo Eichfeld's story shows us how they--and their families, schools and communities--can benefit.

28 May 2015

Protest Against Treatment of LGBT Undocumented Immigrants In California

Contrary to how some would spin the story, transgender inmates aren't looking for "special treatment".

I don't think any trans person would deny that when one of us commits a crime, we should pay our "debt to society", whatever that may be.  Being trans might drive someone to, say, prostitution (which, I believe, shouldn't be a crime) or even other illegal acts out of desperation or the pure and simple stress of incurring the prejudice we face.  

And I think that most people would agree that if one of the purposes of prison or jail is to rehabilitate people, an inmate should not be tortured or live with the danger of sexual abuse.  I believe that most would also agree that a prisoner shouldn't be thrown into solitary confinement simply because the system doesn't know what else to do with him or her.

Yet all of the things I've mentioned in the previous paragraph routinely happen to transgender inmates.  Some end up in solitary because they've been placed in the system according to the gender they were assigned at birth and the wardens simply don't know how else to keep the inmate from being sexually attacked.  Or, trans inmates might be so placed simply out of spite and hate.

Being confined under such conditions--and having to become, in essence, a hardened criminal in order to survive among hardened criminals--makes recidivism all the more likely.  After all, if you take a person who has no marketable skills or other means of survival and place him or her in an environment in which the choice is between becoming predator or prey--and then release that person into the environment from which he or she came (which could well be the streets), what is that person going to do after he or she can't get legal employment, housing or social services?

That is why 70 protesters chained themselves together in front of the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, CA.  There, as in other places, undocumented immigrants--especially those who are LGBT, with a particular emphasis on the "T"--are routinely subject to the conditions I've described.  And those inmates, as often as not, have no one to fight for them.

If someone in your family got arrested, you probably wouldn't want him or her to end up in the conditions I've described.  Why, then, should undocumented transgender immigrants be forced to live that way?

27 May 2015

The Wound Nobody Could Heal

For most of my life, I have withdrawn from people when I felt they were getting close--or, more precisely, too close for my comfort.

And what do I mean by "too close for my comfort"?  Well, I always knew that deep within myself, there was a pain, a wound, that nobody could make better--and, I believed, nobody else could understand.  It made me very, very angry and whenever people who might have been acting from the purest of motives tried to "help" me, it almost invariably made me feel worse.  Sometimes I would be angry at those people.  I never expressed that rage physically, but I said a lot of things I shouldn't have and walked out on a few people who deserved better.  

Sometimes I withdrew simply to try to spare someone my wrath.  If I and that person were lucky, I could somehow pre-empt that person's attempt at charity or mercy or compassion, which I knew I never could reciporacate and would never make me a happier or better person.  And there were a few people whom I simply wanted to spare from grief and self-blame, to whatever degree I could. 

In fact, there were two occasions in which I stopped myself from committing suicide only because I knew that the only two people about whom I cared at that point in my life--my mother and a very close friend--would blame themselves. Both of those occasions came within weeks after another friend committed suicide not long after the deaths of an uncle to whom I was close and my grandmother.

I will never know exactly what was in Kyler Prescott's mind and heart.  I, like most people, hadn't heard of the 14-year-old Californian until today.  However, I suspect he was suffering in a way similar to what I've described.  From what I've read and heard, I don't doubt that his mother, Katherine Prescott, did everything she could to support him from the day he announced that he was a boy, not the girl indicated on his birth certificate.  But the pain of having to live in a body that didn't conform to his gender--and the bullying he experienced online and in person--marked him with wounds that even the most resilient and resourceful teenager or parent would have trouble healing.

If there is any window into Kyler Prescott's mind and soul, it might be this poem he wrote:

                     My mirror does not define me:
Not the stranger that looks back at me
Not the smooth face that belongs to someone else
Not the eyes that gleam with sadness
When I look for him and can only see her.

My body does not define me:
Not the slim shoulders that will not change
Not the hips that give me away
Not the chest I can’t stand to look at
When I look for him and can only see her.

My clothes do not define me:
Not the shirt and the jeans
That would look so perfect on him
But that I know would never fit me
When I look for him and can only find her.

And I’ve been looking for him for years,
But I seem to grow farther away from him
With each passing day.
He’s trapped inside this body,
Wrapped in society’s chains
That keep him from escaping.

But one day I will break those chains.
One day I will set him free.
And I’ll finally look in the mirror
And see me--
The boy I was always meant to be.

Ms. Prescott is calling for greater empathy, support and acceptance for transgender and other non-gender-conforming teenagers.  She has done what she could, she is doing what she can and is trying to do better.  Nobody can ask more.  I don't think her son would, or could, have.

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