30 March 2011

Damien Furtch Speaks Up and Out

What happened to Damian Furtch is terrible.  He was leaving the McDonald's at Sixth Avenue and West Third Street in Manhattan on Saturday night when he was attacked.

Sometimes I think LGBT people are actually less safe in the "gay ghettos" than they are in other areas.  Damian Furtch was attacked in the heart of Greenwich Village, just doors away from stores and other establishments owned by, and that cater to, gay men as well as other non-heterosexual and non-gender-conforming people.  

The particular stretch where Furtch ended up with two black eyes and bloody nose is the site of one of the biggest subway stations in the New York City system.  Seven different lines stop there, on two levels of track separated by a mezzanine.  Lots of young people from New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and other places outside the city get off the train there, especially on Saturday nights, as it is only one stop away from Penn Station and two away from the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Times Square.  I know because more times (and more years ago) than I'll admit, I was one of those young people.

Now, the majority of them go to the Village to hang out, and perhaps to catch a movie or go shopping.   But others are go there specifically to harass gay people.  After all, they're a lot more likely to find a target there than in Moonachie or Mahopac or Meriden.  

I'm glad that Damian Furtch is speaking up.   He is performing as valuable a role as all of those young LGBT people in the "It Gets Better" videos and commercials.  He and they are survivors and, hopefully, testaments that their love for whomever they love is greater than whatever hate someone else might have for them.

29 March 2011

Hearing It All Again

Sometimes it all seems too familiar.  There is a particularly gruesome attack on a transgender person, and the media splashes it all over their pages and screens.  Or they do one of their "Bet You Didn't Know They Were Trannies" segments.

The problem is that reporters, producers and others who are supposed to inform the public forget about us the rest of the time.  They will never, for instance, talk about Injustice At Every Turn:  A Report of The National Transgender Discrimination Survey.  If they did, they would express shock or possibly pity.    But they would be surprised only in ways we can't be upon finding out that 78 percent of gender non-conforming people experience harassment in grades K-12 and half of us were harassed in our workplaces, while seven percent of us experienced outright violence there.  

And for trans people of color, it's all worse.  But when was the last time you saw a gender non-conforming person of color who wasn't named RuPaul on TV or in a movie?

I wonder whether anyone has done a study about how much media attention we actually get.

27 March 2011

Sometimes You Just Have To Ask

Today I parked my bike in a place where I never before parked it.

The funny thing is that it was a place where I used to go almost daily for about two years.  That was about a dozen years ago, at least, and I hadn't been back since.  I had no bad feelings about the place; I simply hadn't been in its vicinity.

The reason I never parked there is that I never needed to.  I worked just across the street from it and parked in a storage area of the building.  So I never knew whether or not the place would allow my bike to accompany me.

And I found out that the proprietor would let me park there the same way R.J. Cutler, the director of The September Issue got to talk to Anna Wintour:  he asked.

Actually, the proprietor is  nowhere near as ferocious as the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Vogue editor.  But he is an intense man who seems not to have aged at all since I last visited the place.  For that matter, the place hasn't changed since then--or, it seems, since the 1970's or thereabouts:

I mean, when was the last time you saw stools with Naugahyde in that shade of mustard-beige, and lampshades to match?  

The menu seems not to have changed, either.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it hasn't changed since the 1950's, if the place has been around that long.  And most of its patrons--including yours truly--wouldn't want it to.  It consists of the sorts of sandwiches and dishes diners in New Jersey and New England (away from the Route 128 corridor, anyway) would have served during that time: things like spaghetti with fish cakes, meat loaf, roast beef sandwiches and some Greek and Italian specialties.  

Back in the day, I would buy a cup of coffee and a corn muffin on my way in to work. Sometimes I would go there for a sandwich.  It was all really good.  But today they had sold out of muffins and donuts and looked ready to close:  apparently, on Sundays they stay open long enough only to serve people going to, or coming from, church and the ones finishing up the weekend shift and the nearby bus yard. 

So, I had a baklava and cup of coffee.  These days, I don't normally drink coffee, but this was one good time to make an exception.  It was as good as I remember from back in the day.  And the baklava was not soggy, as it is in too many places:  The buttery texture of the flaky pastry really tied together the tastes and texures of the nuts and honey it contained, and the slight taste of cinnamon was the perfect "foil" for the rest of it.

The funny thing is that the proprietor was looking at me as if he were trying to remember where he saw me before.  Finally, I said, "I used to work in this neighborhood, and I used to come here."  


"A long time ago.  About twenty years ago."  I stretched the facts a bit, but the truth is that it seemed even further in the past than that.  It was, almost literally, another lifetime.

The proprietor's wife, who had been putting away dishes of butter and jars of jelly, overheard us.  

As I left, she said, "Come back, will ya?"

I promised her that I would, next time I'm down that way.

26 March 2011

What I Learned From Geraldine Ferraro

Is this turning into a blog about famous recently-departed women?

Today Geraldine Ferraro died.  If you're reading this, you probably know that she was the first woman (and first Italian-American) to be nominated as a major political party's Vice-Presidential candidate.  I remember it well:  It was 1984, and in a sadly ironic way, Presidential nominee Walter Mondale had nothing to lose by choosing her as his running mate. After all, incumbent Ronald Reagan was one of the most popular Presidents of all time (It pains me to write that!) due to the economy-- or, rather, people's perception of it--and the fact that Iran-Contra and other scandals had not yet come to light.  

A few people praised Mondale's choice.  But there was far more criticism, which ranged from ignorant to outright vicious.  Much of it included the old (but, in some quarters, still-persistent) stereotypes about women and our un-fitness for public office or much else besides domesticity and child-bearing.  Some saw her as shrill; given the attacks on her, I thought she was a model of restraint and dignity.

The interesting thing about her is that not many people can point to any significant legislations or policy that bore her imprimatur.   Yes, she was an Assistant District Attorney in Queens at a time when there were almost no other women in such offices, and she headed the office's Special Victims Bureau at a time (the mid-1970's) when rape and other crimes against women were starting to get the attention they needed and victims of those crimes were starting to get the compassion they deserved rather than the blame they unfairly received.  And, later, she was an effective advocate for women who were raped during the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  As commendable as those efforts were, they were hardly ground-breaking.

What she will always be known for is for having been a "first."  Of course, the importance of that cannot be underestimated:  even Sarah Palin has acknowledged a debt to Ferraro.  And now I will.  You see, if one woman is allowed to go where her talents and ambitions take her, it's possible for other women to do the same. And in doing so, we have more possibility of, and more possibilities for, being ourselves and not having to fit pre-conceived notions and, therefore, proscribed roles.

That is one reason why I have been able to make my gender transition.  When the definitions of what a woman is, and can be are expanded, it makes it easier for a woman to realize the person she is--even if she happens to be in a male body.  I did not have to become another Marilyn Monroe (as if I ever could!) or June Cleaver; when Christine Jorgensen made her transition, those seemed to be the only options for women.  And so she had to fit into one after she had her surgery, and the other as she lived, got married and continued with her life as Christine.  Today I can choose to be a different sort of woman. In fact, I have no choice but to be. And from Geraldine Ferraro I learned about some of my possibilities for doing that.

25 March 2011

Violence Against Transgenders On The Rise. Why?

Lately, I've been reading reports and editorials that indicate or imply increasing violence against transgender people.  Some people might say that these crimes are simply reported more than they have been in the past; the same claim has been made about the increasing numbers of sexual assaults and incidents of domestic violence in some areas.  However, there are some areas--particularly in the Middle East and Latin America--where even the authorities say that all forms of violence, from verbal assaults to murder, are on the rise.  In fact, seven out of every ten reported murders of transgender people occur between the Rio Grande and the Tierra del Fuego.

The easy explanations include "machismo" and Islamic fundamentalism, as if those things were definitions of Latin American and Middle Eastern society. Somehow I think there's more to the increasing incidence and brutality of crimes against transgender people.

23 March 2011

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor

As most of the world knows by now, Elizabeth Taylor died today.  

As old as I am, I can just barely remember her heyday as an actress--or, more precisely, the days when she was more or less defined by the roles she played on stage and screen.  Those days have long passed.  

However, I do not say that to disparage her.  In fact, it's rather a point of honor, in her case.  That's not to say that I don't love to see a star playing a big role in a great (or at least big) movie.  Instead, that is to say--as others have pointed out--that her life transcended even those highlights, and was so much more than what we heard about her marriages, battles with addiction and other experiences.

For one thing, she will be remembered--and will have my respect--for her courage.  She stood with Rock Hudson when he was diagnosed with AIDS in a time when infected people were routinely shunned and even beaten or killed when their status was disclosed, or even alleged.  And she is probably the only person in the world who could have gotten away with supporting Michael Jackson the way she did.

She was able to do those things, in fact, for the same reason she became as much of a star as she did:  her presence.  Whether she was on stage or on screen, she was compelling.  It wasn't just a matter of her theatrical abilities: She had them, but other people had more, and better versions of, them.  Nor was it solely about her incredible beauty or her unique eyes.  Rather, she was one of those rare people who simply seemed to belong on whatever stage she stood.  That was also what allowed her to reign as an old-fashioned screen and stage idol long after "celebrity" seemed to become a synonym for "richer and more fucked-up than you or I."

That is also what allowed her to become one of the best public friends of the LGBT community we've had.  It's hard not to think that more than a few people  thought, "Well, if they're good enough for Elizabeth Taylor, they must be good enough for us."  

She loved diamonds, too.  

Anyway, we'll miss her.  But then again, who won't?

22 March 2011

Please Don't Approach Me As A "T"

Today two different people approached me to help with something called "Safe Zone" training.  And I reacted in two completely different ways.

No, I haven't suddenly gone bipolar.  At least, I don't think I have.

At my first job, I heard someone rasp, "Hey, Professor" a few feet behind me.  The voice belonged to a longtime prof who, a few years ago, swore me to secrecy when she told me what I already knew:  She is a lesbian.  Today she denied that she ever extracted that promise from me.  Well, whether or not she did, I assured her, whoever knows about her didn't learn about it from me.  She thanked me for that, and mentioned that she wanted to do the Safe Zone training.

"It's for the benefit of LGBT people," she explained.  "And we don't have a T."  

I explained--truthfully--that I couldn't do the training session because it conflicted with a class at my other job.  "Well, we hope to have another training soon after," she said.  "Hopefully, you can do that one.

I didn't respond to that.  Thankfully--for me, anyway--a student approached me to ask when I would be in my office.  Thank you, student!

At my second job, I met, for the first time, a prof with whom I'd had an "argument" on the online Community Dialogue for the college's faculty and staff.  Actually, he agreed with most of what I said, except for one point in which I compared the way the Democrats take "minority" support for granted to the way the faculty union treats adjunct instructors.  He admitted that he would like to convince me otherwise.  He also said he wanted to talk about the ignorance and hate that, he feels, are part of the faculty and staff culture.

"I've read your blog," he pronounced, "and it confirmed what I thought after reading your comments--you're a courageous person. And I'm drawn to corageous people."

After that, he mentioned the idea of Safe Zone training.  By that time, I had about two minutes before the start of my next class. "Let's talk some more about that," I said.

I'm not sure of whether I did the best or dumbest thing I've done since I started working there.  Or maybe I did neither.  All I know was that I felt less like I was being approached as a T and more as a W or F.  Or maybe as J.

21 March 2011

It's Her Party, So Why Am I The Center of Attention?

I went to a party a couple of nights ago. For most people that wouldn't be terribly remarkable, I guess.  And, in the scheme of things, it wasn't for me, either.

But it's the first gathering of its kind I've attended in a while.  A colleague at my second job invited me; she was celebrating a round-number birthday. Some other colleagues attended, too, including two of my favorites.  But most of the attendees were longtime friends of the birthday girl.  And they were very friendly to me.

Some were college friends; others attended high school with her; still others knew her for even longer.  I think that may have been the reason I felt comfortable with them:  They love and trust each other and aren't cliquish, which itself was remarkable, at least to me.  But what really struck me is that some of them told me that they'd heard about me.  "She talks a lot about you," a few of them said.  

I made my usual jokes about that.  But I realized that their discussions weren't about my history--specifically, my adventures in gender and sexuality.  Or, at least, that's not what they cared about.  "She really admires you," two of them told me.  

We were in a bar on Long Island, where the birthday girl has lived all of her life.  I hadn't been in a bar in a long time.  At first, I was "hiding" in our group.  But some of the other bar patrons were striking up conversations with me, including one man who complimented me on what I was wearing and two others who made more direct overtures to me.  At that moment, I wasn't wondering why they were paying attention to me.  Later, I thought it might have had to do with the fact that I was drinking Diet Cokes and they were drinking stronger stuff.  Or did they "read" me, even at this late date?  Was I an object of curiosity?

Sometimes I was, even before my transition.  In some situations, I could attract attention without trying.   Back in the day,  some people, including practically everyone who ended up in bed with me, said I had an "intense" look.  I wonder if anyone thinks that now.  I have been told--by people who claimed not to know my history until I revealed it--that I have a "distinctive" look.  Perhaps they're right.

Maybe I can't do camouflage as well as I might want to, at least in certain situations.  When I walk down the street, I'm usually not noticed and prefer it that way. But in social situations, I seem to get more attention than I seek.  At least it turned out well this time.  And maybe I needed to be in a situation like that.  After all, I'm in a new phase of my life and still learning how to live in it. 

17 March 2011

Barie Shortell and Trans Women In Brazil

At some point, I came to think of late June as gay bashing season.  It seemed that the couple of weeks before and after this city's Pride March (and the anniversary of Stonewall) brought every bigot out of the woodwork.  In fact, after the first Pride March in which I participated, I found myself consoling someone who'd just been attacked by a bunch of teenagers two days after moving to New York from Alabama.

But lately I've been hearing more and more stories of violence against LGBT people for being LGBT people at other times of year, including this one.  Maybe the "season" really has extended.  Or, perhaps, I am simply more aware of attacks that occur.

Today one of my favorite bloggers, Vickie Davis, related the story of two transgendered women who were murdered within 20 hours of each other in Brazil.  I can assure you that Vickie is a realist and not someone who's fallen into mindless cynicism.  So, she can honestly say that it's "without malice"  when she says that such incidents are "to be expected" in a country where a trans person is slain every other day.

Now, tonight I learned of Barie Shortell, who was brutally attacked when he was walking home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.   His medical bills are expected to come to more than $100,000.  And he doesn't have health insurance. Friends are holding a benefit and have created a Facebook page for donations to help pay for those expenses.       

15 March 2011

Found Out!

At my second job, I haven't talked about my gender history with my students.  I haven't wanted to, in part because I got tired of doing so.  But I also got tired of being identified that way, and I was tired and angry after being shunned, ostracized and retaliated against for talking about it by the very same people who encouraged me to "educate" students about it.  At least, that's what has happened at my main job, and I want a refuge from it.  At my second job--which, frankly, I would turn into my first if I could--I decided to be simply a middle-aged woman teaching a writing course, and to let everything else be.

That plan seemed to work--until today.  One of my students--a quiet, shy and very studious young Bangladeshi man--told me he found this blog.  He said he found it "fascinating" and that he likes the way I write.  He's a really good writer himself, so I am flattered.

But still...I wonder what will happen next.  I realize he's probably not the first student at my second job to have found this blog.  And he won't be the last.  After all, if you were to type my name into a google search, one of the first things to come up would be a link to one of my entries in this blog, or my other blog.

14 March 2011

Keeping Our Fingers Crossed

Normally, my mind glazes over when I see charts full of numbers.  But A.E.Brain has a way of making such things comprehensible.  I'm happy for that, because I so distrust media coverage of nearly any event, and while Japanese officialdom is, to my knowledge, no more or less dishonest than its counterpart in any other country, my normal distrust of government is heightened by the Japanese need to save face in times of crisis.

Reading her blog, I think the best most of us can do now is to cross our fingers.  Some radiation has leaked, and people within 19 miles of the Fukushima Dai-Chi nuclear power plant have been advised to stay indoors.  But beyond that area, no one has been exposed to worrisome levels of radiation.  Not yet, anyway.

13 March 2011

Japan and the Children of Chernobyl

It seems that things are going from bad to worse in Japan.  Now there's been a meltdown in one of the nuclear reactors there, and radiation has been detected more than 100 miles away.

I've never had children and probably never will. I also don't think I'm an extraordinarily sensitive person.  But I can't help but to think about the children of Chernobyl:  the ones who were affected by that disaster as well as the ones who've been born since then.  

In addition to the ones who've been sick, there are the ones who've dealt with the loss of parents and other family members.  Even if they haven't had such tragedies befall them, they have been exposed to radiation and as most haven't the means, and others the desire, to leave, they will be exposed to that radiation for the rest of their lives.  

And the mothers, if they survived, will have to deal with their kids getting sicker and possibly dying before them.  Could a similar fait await the mothers and children of Japan?

12 March 2011

How Will Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami Affect Women?

What's happened in Japan over the last 48 hours is terrible enough.  Indeed, the earthquake that hit is much stronger than the one that devastated Haiti last year.  Worse, the quake in Japan triggered tsunami that caused even more destruction.

But the most catastrophic event so far may turn out to be the damage to two nuclear power plants.  News reports say there still could be a meltdown at one of the nuclear power plants damaged by the earthquake.  

Naturally, no one save for members of the Westboro Baptist Church (and other groups whose members' hatred of this planet and humanity seems, at times to greatly exceed their professed love of God) want such a thing to happen.  But I fear that it may be the only way that some so-called experts will actually belive that nuclear power generation has more risks than rewards.

I find myself thinking of the threats to women's health.  There were more birth defects and other genetic, reproductive and other health problems in the wake of Chernobyl's disaster.  It seems that even women who aren't of reproductive age or can't or won't have children are more affected by environmental health problems than men are.  So, as you can imagine, I wonder whether I may also be more vulnerable than men, or at least than I was when I lived as a man.

Whatever my risks, it's undeniable that women are at greater risk for breast and other kinds of cancer as a result of intentional or unintentional releases of radiation.  So, it's hard not to think of any such disaster, and the response to it, as a women's issue.

11 March 2011

Rose, Thou Are Well

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

I took a slightly different route to work today.  Along the way, I found this:

Does this mean the rose's (with an unnecessary apostrophe) have gotten well? 

10 March 2011

Charlie and Lindsay

Could I be turning into one of those women who finds sexism around every corner?  Could you blame me if I did?

Here's a thought I had today:  Charlie Sheen behaves like the worst sort of frat boy. And, at best, he makes an utter fool of himself on his videos.  Yet the media are practically making a hero of him.   It seems that whenever they show him, they catch him in a cocky, defiant move.  Or, at worst, they make him seem like a dickhead.  But there's no law against that.  And plenty of men--and a surprising number of women--cheer him on.

I've seen him holding a cigar at a rakish angle and women standing at a similar angle from him.  Can any woman--no matter how young and bimbo-ish--actually look at him without thinking about the way he's treated his wife, and women generally?  

In contrast to the almost worshipful-treatment he gets, the way Lindsay Lohan has been treated can be encapsulated in the mugshots that were all over the news a while back.  Now, I agree that she should pay for whatever crimes she's committed.  But I'm sure that when she misbehaves at a party, people don't cheer or egg her on to more bad behavior the way they do when they see Chalie Sheen.

Plus, the inequity in the way they've been treated is all the more galling when you consider that Ms. Lohan has had issues with substance abuse.  One might argue that she made the choice to drink or do whatever else she did. That's true, at least in a sense.  But if she's addicted, she couldn't have known her propensity toward addiction until she took that first drink or pill or whatever.  Let's face it:  Almost nobody in this world wakes up one morning and says, "i'm going to get myself hooked on painkillers." 

One might argue that Charlie Sheen can't control his behavior.  If it is, that's all the more reason not to celebrate it, and not to villify Lindsay Lohan.

So tell me, dear readers:  Why is there such a discrepancy between the way they're treated?

09 March 2011

Breaking Them

Today I saw a bumper sticker that said, "I love my country, not my government."

When I've traveled overseas, people have told me they liked me and thought Americans were good people, but they didn't like what our government and military were doing.

Making a distinction between the people and whoever governs them is very important.  It helped me to make sense of something I noticed in the wake of what's happening in Wisconsin.

The striking public-sector employees are getting scorn from some quarters.  They're blamed for "breaking" the budgets of their states and for all sorts of woes that betide the states.  

I'll concede that there are public-sector employees who are slackers or are simply unqualified for their jobs.  Are you going to tell me you won't find such employees in other places?  

But those employees are, I believe, unfairly blamed for things that the union bosses have done, such as feathering their nests at the public's expense and of creating cushy jobs as favors to someone or another in the heirarchy.

I also think that's the reason why Tea Baggers see nothing wrong with demanding that public employees give up their bargaining rights, as the governor of Wisconsin wants them to do.  Meantime, the TBs squawk over a small tax increase for billionaires.  

07 March 2011

Fading Away

Lately I find that this blog is about the only place in which I discuss my experiences of having transitioned and gone through the surgery, or my life since then.  It seems that the surgery itself is less momentous an event than it was at the time I had it, or during the days that followed.  And the transition that led up to it doesn't seem quite as important now.  Some might say that I'm starting to take those things for granted.  They may be right.

What I am noticing, though, is that there are things that I simply don't see the same way as other people.  As an example, I got into an e-mail argument/discussion with a couple of colleagues about bigotry against racial and ethnic groups.  Someone thought I was somehow implying that white people have never suffered discrimination.  I never said that; instead, I explained that indentured servants (to use an example said colleague mentioned) faced bias, but not on account of being white.  Furthermore, none were brought here against his or her will, as African-American slaves were.  And, I added, indentured servants could gain their freedom after completing their period of servitude, which was usually about seven years.  African-American slaves had no such option.

The colleague said that our conversation (which included other colleagues) was "strange."  I didn't ask her to elaborate, but she did:  "I never heard a white person say those things before."

What I didn't tell them was that now I understand what it's like to face bigotry over some congenital trait rather than something like class.  Plus, if I do say so myself, I have some idea of how fearfully complicated life can be.  People's actual or perceived identities are simply a reflection of that.  So it makes sense, at least to me, that I am seeing--and being seen, at least by some--as someone who's more than just a bunch of therapy sessions, a couple thousand doses of hormones and the surgery.  Somehow I think that's, at least in part, the reason why I find myself not talking about those things, and thinking less and less about them.  Now that I think of it, that was one of the goals of everything I did.  

06 March 2011

Exceeding Their Grasp

Although the day was almost as mild as yesterday was, I didn't ride.  In fact, I barely got out of my apartment at all.  I wasn't the only one who stayed indoors:  The driving rain that began some time early this morning seemed not to let up.

As much as many of us would like to think Spring has sprung, some things tell us otherwise:

Stretching toward the light of a sun that is beyond them, their wizened fingers must weather the wind and rain, for now.  They remind me of what Robert Browning wrote in Andrea del Sarto:  "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's heaven for?  All is silver-grey/Placid and perfect with my art:  the worse!

05 March 2011

Charlie and Max on DOMA

I am not, and have never been, a bleeding-heart liberal.  Everything I believe and know to be true is based on empirical evidence and my own expereince.

So now I'll show you why I'm against DOMA.  

They are adults.  And they are harming no one.

04 March 2011

Tyra Trent And The Violence of Poverty

I know it's the dead of winter and everyone's sick of it.  And some want to be cheered up.

Well, this post isn't going to do it.  But it won't contain any whining about my own issues.

Instead, it concerns something I thought about a while back.  Apparently, I'm not the only one who did.

The first time I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil--in 2002, if I recall correctly--I was shocked, but not surprised, by the number of trans people who met early and brutal deaths.  Nearly all of the victims whose names were read incurred multiple traumas, any one of which could have killed them. They were shot and then stabbed as they were bleeding to death, were bashed on the head with a baseball bat after being set on fire or chopped up after they were beaten, shot or bludgeoned.  In many of those cases, the investigators said they couldn't recall seeing any other crime so grisly.

As awful as those murders were, I thought, they were not the only violent ways in which trans people die.  There are the suicides--two of which I knew personally--and then the ones who die from the violence of drug addiction and homelessness.

Yes, I regard drug addiction and homelessness as forms of violence against those who incur them.  Some would argue that taking drugs is a choice and that anyone who really wants a job and a place to live can get them.  But things aren't quite that simple when you've been kicked out of your family after  "coming out"--after you stopped attending school because you've been beaten up too many times.  I know that almost anyone who becomes addicted to a substance--or to other things--is trying to deal with some sort of pain.   I also know that having no material resources, education or family (or some other network of people willing and able to give support)  is, too often, a recipe for homelessness.

What I have described is the reality for too many trans people.  That is something, it seems, people remembered as they were holding a memorial for Tyra Trent in Baltimore.  Her body was found in the basement of a vacant city-owned house in the Northwest part of that city.  She died of asphyxiation.

It's a terrible way to go.  So are drug addiction and homelessness, which have claimed too many lives--of transgenders and non-transgenders alike--in the area surrounding the house where Tyra Trent's body was found.  

All I hope is that if anything comes after this life, Tyra Trent will find the safety and security she couldn't have in this life.

02 March 2011

Transgender Orthodox Rabbis?

Yesterday another prof in my secondary job told me about an interesting article she read in the Jewish Forward.  Given that the Socialist Party, once strongly allied with the newspaper, is all but non-existent in the US now and the overall rightward drift of popular discourse, the Forward remains a surprisingly liberal--and, at times, even balanced--newspaper.

Well, this prof--I can't decide whether she's maternal or friendly--had an adulthood epiphany that led to her living on a kibbutz and marrying an Orthodox man.  That, and motherhood, she says, have shaped her outlook.  The result of it is that she really does (or seems to) accept people who are different from herself as readily as she likes to believe she does.

And so I wasn't surprised at what she told me.  Actually, I'm not sure of whether it's what she told me or the fact that it was she who told me that I find less surprising.

According to the article she mentioned, there are now transgendered candidates for the Orthodox rabbiniate.  What's so intriguing about that, at least to me, is that it's happening in a segment of Judaism in which the sexes are segregated in many arenae.  I experienced one example firsthand when I taught in an Orthodox yeshiva.  It was an all-boys' school; in fact, the only female (if you don't count some guy named Nick who was years away from "coming out"  or any other woman manque who may have been there) was the secretary, who was the head rabbi's mother.

Every once in a while I think of what it might be like to revisit that yeshiva.  For all I know, the head rabbi and the other rabbis who were there when I taught may not be there anymore.  They may even be dead:   After all, they weren't young guys back then.  But if they're still there, I wonder whether they'd recognize me. 

What's really ironic is that, even though I'm not religious, much less Jewish, I can almost see myself as a rabbi sometimes.  In some ways, I teach like them:  I often answer a question with a question and show my students that the truth is not a destination; rather, it is something found in increments and pieces, and by degrees, along the way.

Plus, my students look to me for counsel on all sorts of matters, some entirely unrelated to the studies at hand.  It seems to me that rabbis do something like that, too:  they are counselors in things secular as well as spiritual.

But I assure you:  As exciting as the news is, I'm not going to rabbinical school.  Well, not yet, anyway! ;-)

01 March 2011

The Look

I can tell them from a mile away.  They're the ones who want to take you aside to talk to you.  They think they're doing something wrong, and they're waiting for--and fearing--your reaction.  And that's exactly the reason why they talk to you, and hope that you don't react the way others have screamed at, scolded or even beat them.

I first noticed that look--They're looking to you even when they can't look into your eyes, and they won't look into you--in a woman I dated a long time ago.  I was about 24; it was not long after I returned from France and my grandmother had died, and not long before an uncle would die and a friend would commit suicide.  She was a dozen years older than I was, and had divorced a few years earlier. For me, that was an eon:  I was still in high school when her alcoholic husband was beating her.  

We got into an argument about something I've long since forgotten.  Having almost no coping skills for such situations, I suggested that it might be better if I left.  "No," she insisted.  "At least you didn't beat me."

"Well, that just makes me a human being."

"That's not true.  Besides, you don't use sex on or over me.  You don't use sex, period."

I didn't quite understand what she meant.  I take that back: I knew full well what she meant, but I was sure that I couldn't have learned it in the same way she did.

Or did I?

Over the years, before and since I became sober, before and since my transition, females have come to me with that same look.  One was eight years old; another was seventy-nine and others were ages in between.  Of the in-betweens, I dated a few and had long-term relationships with two.  In the words of one, "My brothers used me for sex."  A student who talked me today said the same thing about her father.  Somehow, I knew, before she opened her mouth.  Another student, who did a tour of duty in Iraq before taking a class with me last semester, had that same look and confided a similarly appalling and terrifying story.  She and the student with whom I talked today spent time in foster care as a result of their sexual abuse and, in their new homes, were subject to more and new kinds of sexual violation.

I was spared the foster-care experience; my family was actually  stable, though it had its tough times.  And I was not abused by any family member.  However, I was molested by a close family friend.  Even when I wasn't consciously thinking of it--which was most of the time, for many years--the echoes of it still muttered like thunder through my sleep.   I can think of no other reason why other females wanted to talk about their experiences with me long before I was conscious of my own, and my own experience.  It seemed that wherever I looked, I saw their look.