31 December 2012

Lessons After Three And A Half Years

I've heard many other people say that they're not sorry to see 2012 go.  On the whole, I agree with them.  I've discussed some of the difficulties (which may well be minor in the Grand Scheme of Things) I've encountered, mostly in my personal life, as well as some health issues.  My doctor says that the latter are simply part of aging and, to some degree, the stresses related to some of the issues I've faced.  Others have said that the initial euphoria I felt in the wake of finally having my surgery is finally wearing off.  That, I suppose, was inevitable, and if it just started to wear off this year, it had a pretty good run.

Whatever the case, the question for me this New Year's Eve is "What's Next?"  Perhaps that's always the question.  However, it seems particularly pertinent now.  My old therapist and my gynecologist say that I have come to a point--three and a half years after surgery--when post-op transsexuals start to realize what kind of man or woman they are becoming, and how it is like, or different from, what they envisioned when they began their transitions.

I know that I weigh more than I expected to, and I am not (and may never again be) as athletic as I was when I was younger and full of testosterone.  I never expected to be beautiful--at least in the ways that, say, Angelina Jolie, Hallie Berry and even Laura Linney are--but I actually like what I see in my face and eyes, even if I've aged a bit more than I thought I would. But most important of all, I realize now that being a woman is, for me, different than it ever could be for the ones I've mentioned, or for my mother or any other woman who's been part of my life.  

What I have in common with them is that we all have become women.  The difference is that they were born female and I wasn't.  Thus, there is no way I could become a woman who in any way resembles them.  But, ironically, it's also the reason why I can learn so much from them--especially from my mother and my friend Mildred.  Among the lessons I've absorbed from them (mainly through their presence) is that everything I thought about femininity--especially those things I tried to emulate--have little, if anything, to do with being a woman.  That is not to say, of course, that the women in my life, or the ones who are cultural icons, are  not feminine in their own ways.  Rather, they have become women, embodying femaleness, in ways they had to learn mostly on their own.  And that is what, I believe, I am beginning to learn.

Popular culture can only teach a girl or young woman some men's idea of femaleness, which is really almost a parody of femininity.  And the education system only teaches the roles women have played and the places they have occupied.  (That, by the way, is why even very intelligent women of my mother's generation didn't realize they were capable of getting more education than they did and pursuing all sorts of careers and other options than the ones they followed, or fell into.)  If children born as females (or assigned that gender at birth) couldn't learn how to be women from their environments, how in the world could a female born in a male body learn what living beyond the boundaries of her flesh could, and would,  mean?

So it's no wonder that trans people like me find ourselves becoming different kinds of women from what we envisioned when we started our transitions.  The real lesson I've been learning, though, is that my conception of myself of a woman is changing because nobody and nothing could have taught me what it means to be a woman, never mind the kind of woman that I am.

30 December 2012

Past, Passing Or Passage?

I don't know what, if anything, this has to do with gender identity, sexuality, or anything else.  But it's taking up a few of my brain cells, so I thought I'd mention it here.

I'm going to show you two photos.  Does either or neither, or do both, express anything that 2012 has meant to you--or that you anticipate for 2013?

29 December 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have...

I am not being sarcastic at all when I say that Flagler Beach, Florida has its charms.  The beach is great, and the dunes to the north and south of it are beautiful. However, I probably would never have gone there if my parents didn't live in neighboring Palm Coast.

That said, if I were to go to Flagler and my parents (or, for that matter, anyone else I know) didn't live nearby, I'd want to stay at the Si Como No Inn.  For one thing, I prefer family- or locally-owned hostelries to chains.  For another, Si Como No embodies what's cool and friendly about the hippie/beach bum lifestyle and mentality.

I also can't help but to love a place that has signs like this above the entrances to its rooms:

"Girls Just Wanna Have Sun".  I'm sure Cyndi Lauper would approve.  

If you want your wisdom from a source that predates the '80's, check this out:

Whether or not you fish (I don't), and whether you're a man or a woman, I hope that you're having fun and that the coming year is bountiful for you!

27 December 2012

Fenway Health Series

Fenway Health has put together an excellent series of videos and graphics about the disparities in health care that affect us in the transgender community.

Here is one of the videos from that series:

26 December 2012

Stealth Or Denial?

Every time I come here--a part of  Florida between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach-- to visit my parents, I think for a moment or two about moving down here.  I won't do it for a variety of reasons, the most important being that my parents know that I would move here to be near them and they don't want that.  They value their independence; plus, as they remind me, there are very few jobs that pay a living wage and even fewer social opportunities and cultural amenities in this part of the so-called Sunshine State.

But today I finally understood why thoughts of moving here flash through my mind, however briefly.  One reason is the beautiful dunes and ocean beaches:  Whenever I ride down Route A1A, I imagine how wonderful it would be to open my front door and see, across the road, wind skipping through wildflowers on dunes that reflect the sun before the great Atlantic expanse.  Of course, there are other places that offer similar vistas, as well as the other thing that tempts me to live here.

Apart from my parents and a few of my mother's friends, nobody knows me here.  The owner of one store remembered me from a previous visit and greeted me warmly, but he really doesn't know anything about me aside from the fact that I've been in his store.  I imagine that everyone else here knows even less than he knows about me.

To anyone who comes into contact with me, I am a middle-aged woman.  It is in fact what I am.  What that means is that, among other things, I am treated with the kinds of courtesy or chauvinism (depending on your point of view) men accord women in this part of the world.  A few have chatted me up; one even wanted to see me again.  

I experience the same kinds of treatment in New York, where I live.  However, as polite and helpful as many people are, at least a few know about my past. I am sure that even more have heard rumors or other kinds of stories about the life I led before they knew me--and about the life I live now. 

On the other hand, I am without a history--at least any that anybody knows--when I leave my parents' house.  I do not say that as a complaint:  Although I keep this blog and have discussed my history with a few people, most of the  time I prefer not to talk about who I was or, more precisely, wasn't.  That is an option I would have here, at least for some time. I have to wonder, though, how long "some time" would be.  It might be years, or even decades.  But, if I were to get involved romantically or sexually with somebody, I would have to divulge at least some of my history.  Or, perhaps, it might become known--or, worse, rumored--by other means.

In brief, what I realized today is that if I were to live in this place, I could have something like the sort of life that was considered "ideal"--or, at least, the goal--of someone who "changed" his or her gender. Transsexuals of the 1980's and earlier were counseled to completely erase their pasts and even to invent new ones.  As an example, a male-to-female might say that she was a Girl Scout rather than a Boy Scout.  I don't know whether I'd have to go so far if I were living here, but I also don't know just how much (if any) of my past I'd want to deny or annihilate.  Such would be the price of living in a place like this.

23 December 2012

"You Must Be Nick"

Last night I came to Florida, to spend the holiday with Mom and Dad.  This evening we went to dinner at the Tuscan Grille in Flagler Beach.  I recommend it if you're in that part of the world:  I very much enjoyed my pasta e faggioli and Tuscan Artichoke Medley, which included artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes mushrooms and fusilli bucati.  The bread was hot and crusty, and the olive oil they provided for dipping had just the right combination of spiciness and earthiness.  Plus, the service is very friendly.

Now, I didn't intend for this post to be a restaurant review.  I'm mentioning the fact that we dined out because of something that happened when we arrived.

My father made a reservation in his name.  That is to say, his first name:  Nick.  When we arrived, we were greated by a warm, effusive man whom I believe is the owner.  Anyway, he looked at my father and declared, "You must be Nick.  And you're here with two lovely ladies."

I didn't have an immediate reaction:  I haven't responded to that name in a long time.  That's ironic when you consider that I kept "Nicholas", my former first name,  in my current name.  Actually, I always intended it to be part of a hyphenated name:  Justine Nicholas-Valinotti.  But, it seems, everyone forgets the hyphen so it becomes a sort of middle name.  In a way, I don't mind:  In some cultures, some women's middle names are those of male saints, relatives or other figures. And, in many Catholic countries, especially those in which Spanish or French is spoken, some men have their language's version of "Mary" as a middle name:  think of Eugenio Maria de Hostos and, ahem, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Anyway, I kept "Nicholas" partly out of respect for my parents and because, I realized, attempting to deny or whitewash my past would be futile, and probably unhealthy.  On the other hand, my old nicknames (If that isn't a pun, it should be!) of "Nick" and "Nicky" have all but disappeared from my normal consciousness.  I have long since stopped turning my head when someone mentions or calls out either of those names--although, I must admit, I probably paid more notice than I otherwise might have to a student I had last year whose name was Nick Valenti.

I'll admit that, in recalling that encounter in the restaurant, I was very happy that when my mother, father and I entered that restaurant, there was only one Nick, and he wasn't me.  I wonder, though, whether it was bittersweet, or possibly even a little sad, for my father. 

19 December 2012

Annie Londonderry: Pedaling And Peddling Like A Man

As a teenager, I looked forward to Bicycling! magazine every month.  Aside from learning about bikes and equipment I wouldn't encounter and couldn't afford, I learned that people did all sorts of things on, and with, their bicycles that I never imagined.  In fact, I think the people who did those things didn't imagine them, either, until they undertook them.

One such person was John Rakowski, who rode his bicycle around the world and wrote a series of articles (journal entries, really) for the magazine. As much as I admired him, I would soon learn that he wasn't the first to accomplish ht e feat:  Thomas Stevens did it eight decades earlier.  Seven years after he completed his journey, Annie Kopchovsky would make a similar voyage.

Well, sort of.  I'll get to that soon.  Ms. Kopchovsky was born in Latvia, but her family emigrated to Boston when she was a child.  At 18, she married Max Kopchovsky, a peddler.    Within four years they had three children.

Much of what comes after that is a matter of debate.  Kopchovsky said that her ride was the result of a bet two wealthy Bostonian men made:  One asserted that women could do whatever men could, and his friend took the bait.  They agreed on a wager that a woman could ride around the world in 15 months(!) and earn $5000 along the way.  Nobody is sure why she felt compelled to take up the challenge as she, up to that point, had never been on a bicycle. However, she, like many other young women of her time, were inspired by Susan B. Anthony's assertion that the bicycle had done more to emancipate women than anything else.

So, on 27 June 1894, she hopped her 42-pound Columbia women's bike (Well, it was lighter than my Schwinn Collegiate, I think!) dressed in the long skirt, corset and high collar of that time and waved goodbye to her husband and children as she set off down Beacon Street.  From there, she rode to New York.  Before she took off, the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?)  offered her $100.  In return, she would display their placard on her bike and adopt the nom de velo Anne Londonderry.

From New York, she pedaled west, arriving in Chicago in just under three months after she left Boston.   Along the way, she lost 20 pounds.  In the Windy City, she realized that she would need to make some changes.  First of all, she realizing her bike was too heavy, she switched to a Sterling men's model with one gear and no brakes.  It weighed tipped the scales at half of the Columbia's weight.  Second, she realized she would never be able to ride that bike in her attire.  So, at first, she wore bloomers, and eventually changed to a men's riding suit.

She'd planned to ride west, but the impending winter made her change direction.  She rode back to New York and set sail for Le Havre, France, where she arrived in early December.  Her bike was impounded, her money was stolen and the French press declared her too muscular to be a woman, assigning her to the category of "neutered beings."  Somehow she turned things around and, in spite of bad weather, made it from Paris to Marseilles in two weeks via bike and train.  

In Marseilles, she boarded the steamship "Sydney" ,  Her itinerary included all sorts of exotic ports of call.  To prove she'd been to those places, she got the signature of the United States Consul in each location.  

She returned to the US in San Francisco on 23 March 1895.  From there, she rode south to Los Angeles, then east through Arizona and New Mexico to El Paso. From there, she  turned north and rode to Denver, then Cheyenne, where she hopped on a train that took her to Nebraska.  She then hopped back on her bike to Chicago, arriving on 12 September.  Then she took the train back to Boston, arriving on 24 September, 15 months after she left.

As you might expect, some accused her of traveling more with her bike than on it.  Most people didn't seem to mind, though:  She was a tireless self-promoter who, while in France and Asia, told tales of being a medical student, the neice of a US Congressman, a lawyer, an inventor of a new method of stenography and an orphan.  Plus, she sold commemorative photographs, silk handkerchiefs, souvenir pins and autographs.  Upon returning to the US, she told tales of hunting with German royalty in India and nearly being killed by "Asiatics" who thought she was an evil spirit. She even insisted that she was involved in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895. On the front lines, she'd fallen through a frozen river and ended up in a Japanese prison with a bullet would in her shoulder.  Or so she said.

But, hey, if she biked even half as much as she told stories, she rode a lot.  And her pedaling brought her family more money, through sponsorships, her own entrepreneurship and articles she wrote, than her husband's peddling ever could have provided!

17 December 2012

This Is Not A Dirty Joke

Seriously...A trans woman I know has just returned from a conference.

She was boarding her flight in Florida--in Tampa, I believe--when, after walking through the scanner, TSA agents pulled her aside.

Why?  She was wearing a wide flared skirt.  One of the agents said they had to check for "weapons."  

What kinds of weapons?, I wonder.

By the way, this woman is post-op, so I don't know what kind of "weapon" that agent had in mind.  

Really, I don't.  My friend doesn't know, either.

16 December 2012

About The Massacre In Connecticut

Although it may not seem directly related to transgender issue, I want to make a comment about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

I'm thinking about it (How could you not, with all of the coverage it's getting?) for a variety of reasons.  One of them is the ways in which such tragedies affect women and children disproportionately.

One of the most obvious reasons why these shootings are a "women's issue" is that the principal and school psychologist who were murdered, and the teacher who was shot to death while shielding children, were all women.  That's no surprise when you consider that the vast majority of elementary school teachers are female.  

It's also hard not to notice that most of the parents who came to the school in the aftermath of the shootings were the mothers.  Although men--at least in some communities--are taking on more roles in child-rearing, it's still a fact that kids spend more time with their mothers or female caretakers.  There's also an unwritten, unspoken expectation that the mother will take on the more emotionally difficult parts of raising children--including the role of "first responders" in crises in the children's and families' lives.

I hope that the mothers--and fathers--of the victims get all of the support they will need for a long time to come.  And I hope that whatever comes next for those who were killed does not include the violence--emotional and spiritual as well as physical--that punctuated the last moments of their lives.

15 December 2012

Why They Call Him A Faggot

Let's see...One girlfriend is found dead under mysterious circumstances. The next one takes out an order of protection against him after she accuses him of choking her.  Then, after leaving the courthouse after a hearing, he and his current girlfriend--with whom he claims to have an "open relationship"-- get into a screaming match.

The guy sounds like a real charmer, doesn't he?  So I guess it's only right to feel some pity for him when he complains that someone scrawled "Faggot" across his locker. 

His real name is Taylor Murphy, and he's a New York City Firefighter.  He was once "Mr. March" on an unofficial NYFD calendar, but now it seems--and he fears--that he won't be a firefighter for much longer.

You see, most firefighters can't stand men who hit women (although they themselves may be abusers).  Actually, lots of tough guys--or men who see themselves as such--share that same hatred.  But I would suspect that this antipathy is even greater among "smoke eaters."

When I was growing up, males who hit females were called "faggots."  From there, things would get worse for the hitter, as they seem to be getting for Murphy. You see, there is another layer to this story:  The woman he is accused of beating is transgendered.  So is his current girlfriend.  So was the girlfriend who died under mysterious circumstances.

Of his dating preferences, Taylor says, "Once you do that, you're not part of the Fire Department."  He complains that if he is allowed to remain in it, he is likely to face harassment.   But he may not have to worry about that:  Although he was cleared of the choking charge, he has been found guilty of violating the order of protection.  That could result in prison time, which would almost certainly mean the loss of his job.

I guess it's a long way down from being Mr. March.  Still, I suppose I should feel some empathy for Mr. Murphy:  After all, I know how it feels to be called a "faggot."  The difference is that I didn't get that title for beating up my girlfriends, or any other females.  

14 December 2012

Knowing What's Right For Her

The kind of transsexual woman I want to be is twelve years old!

Her name is Jazz.  In an interview with Barbara Walters, she says that she's attracted to boys.  But, when Barbara Walters asked whether she's afraid she might not get dates with boys, she said,  "If any of the boys decline me because of my situation, then I just know they're not right for me, at all."

Somehow I believe she really has the confidence she exudes.  Maybe it's a result of being able to know, and express, her gender identity at a young age.

See the interview here.

13 December 2012

Susan B. Anthony On Cycling

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

Those words were uttered by none other than Susan B. Anthony.  What she said was not at all hyperbolic:  bicycling almost single-handedly brought women's clothing from the 19th to the 20th Centuries.  

In this illustration from an 1895 issue of Punch magazine, the young woman on the left is wearing the then-new "bicycle suit."  The woman on the right, in contrast, is wearing the ankle-length skirt and bodice that were more typical of women's attire until that time.  

I wonder whether the woman in the "bicycle suit" is wearing some sort of girdle or other torture device to cinch her waist. Looking at the woman on the right, and knowing about the fashions of the time, I would guess that she had a corset underneath her outfit.  By the end of the decade, that undergarment would become as outmoded as seamed stockings would later become.  As women were released from the bondage of whalebone, their skirts got shorter and, sometimes, morped into the then-shocking "bloomers", which resembled, more than anything, old-style Turkish trousers.

Even Susan B. Anthony herself probably didn't realize how true her comment was.  Even during the "dark ages" of cycling in the US, women wore clothing that allowed much greater freedom of movement than what their grandmothers donned.  So, by the time the "bike boom" of the 1970's came along, it was that much easier for us to ride--and to work 18-hour days.

12 December 2012

Why Are You Transgendered?

Why are you transgendered?

Oh, I dunno.  But maybe you can tell me why you're such a thug.

Now, I don't recommend giving such an answer.  But I certainly would've been tempted to give it were I in Tegan Smith's shoes.

The other day, around 6PM, police boarded a plane bound for Atlanta from Love Field in Dallas and arrested Tegan.  They handcuffed her and not only failed to read her Miranda rights; they told her she didn't have any rights.  In the meantime, her cell phone, hormones and a few other personal items disappeared.  She had only one phone number, she recounted, and got no answer when she dialed, so she had no means of getting help.

In other words, she was at the mercy of those cops.  I can only imagine how vulnerable she must have felt.  However, she didn't let it show:  As she says on her Facebook posting, "No one is going to see me cry."

Not surprisingly, she missed her flight and couldn't fly out of Dallas until the following day.  But, at least a ticket was provided to her, free of charge.  And she got back all of the items that had gone missing.

So, tell me again:  Why are you transgendered?

"Yey, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for I am the toughest bitch in the valley."

Actually, that "response" was part of Tegan's Facebook posting.  Way to go!

And thanks to Kelli Anne Busey for recounting Tegan's story on Planet Transgender.

11 December 2012

Doing Their Good Deed Daily?

On my other blog, I've mentioned that The Bowery Boys is one of my favorite blogs that isn't about bicycling or gender. Now I'm going to introduce you to another: Old Picture of the Day.

Like Bowery Boys and Nikon Sniper (another favorite), OPD is not normally bike- or gender-related. However, today's photo featured two Boy Scouts giving rides to girls. The question is: To whom do those bikes belong?

As you've probably noticed, those bikes have girls'/female frames. Now, we've all seen guys on girls' bikes: Come on, admit it, all of you guys have ridden your wife's, girlfriend's, sister's or mother's--or some other woman's--bike. Maybe you didn't know whose bike it was. That's OK. ;-) Or, maybe you even owned the bike. That's OK, too. At one point of my life, I was commuting on women's bikes because they were completely out of fashion, so they weren't being stolen as much as men's bikes were.

But how likely is it that both of those Boy Scouts owned girls' bikes?

Were they riding men's bikes, I would have guessed that those boys were following the Scout pledge: Do A Good Deed Daily. However, if those bikes belonged to the girls, I would have to wonder whether they "picked up" those Boy Scouts. From what I understand, that would have gone against the gender norms of 1937, when that photo was taken.

And it looks like the Scouts' troop is standing in the background, off to the left in the photo. Could it be that those girls went up to that troop and picked the two boys they thought were the cutest? Now that would be a real breach of gender norms of that time!

Or do you think there's some other story behind the photo?

10 December 2012

Relationships Lost By The Lost Generation

A post from Feministe that recently came my way highlighted an aspect of life for the Lost Generation of Transgenders.

During the time in question--roughly from the time The Transsexual Empire was published until transgender movements were revived (and new ones, particularly for female-to-male transgenders, were begun) in the 1990's, many of us entered into long-term relationships or, at least, relationships we or our partners hoped or planned on being long-term.

Many of us married members of the "opposite" gender from the ones to which we were assigned at birth--that is to say, the gender of our mind and spirit.  Others entered into partnerships of one kind or another, and even had children, but never had the ceremony or got the license.  And then others among us were in relationships with people of the genders in which we were living at the time.

Some of us remained in those relationships for years, or even decades.  In addition to having children, some of us bought houses, started businesses and did any number of other things married couples do.  Some of us even changed careers or other aspects of our lives in order to be with our partners, or they did the same for us.

A few of us (I am not among them) are still in those relationships.  Some are living as siblings or roommates; a fortunate few have spouses or partners who accomodated to the new circumstances of the relationship.  Those partners, whether or not they voiced it, realized that they were in love with the person, not his or her gender.

Unfortunately, not all partners saw their love that way.  Many women base their relationships on the manliness of the man, and many men base their feelings on the womanliness of the woman.  Other men and women simply cannot cope with the fact that they loved people who are of their own gender.  The last relationship I had before I started my transition ended for that very reason.

Sometimes, when we "come out" to our partners or spouses, we are accused of having lied to them when we met.   Some may indeed have practiced such a deception.  More of us (I include myself), however, simply could not articulate, with the language available to us and in cultural climate that surrounded us, exactly how we felt.  During the age of the Lost Generation of Transgenders, most people--even LGBT people and those who could accept us--still thought of gender more or less the way people did at the time Christine Jorgensen had her surgery.  Some of us thought we couldn't be trangendered because we weren't gay or even bisexual; given the ideas we had, we could not reconcile, the fact that we were never attracted to someone of the gender to which we were assigned at birth with our knowledge of our true genders, and our love for someone who was of that gender in body as well as in mind and spirit.  And if we didn't have the knowledge and language to explain it, how could our partners or anyone else understand it?

So, many of us were in relationships that neither we nor our partners could understand.  Some of our friendships and business relationships, and even ones with family members, were based on their and our then-limited understanding of our gender identities and sexualities.  In fact, most people--include yours truly--conflated one with the other.  As a result, we not only lost those marriages and partnerships into which we entered; we also lost relationships with friends, family members and professional colleagues or business associates.  

Those relationships are among the casualties, if you will, of the Lost Generation of Transgenders.  I can understand why someone whose spouse says, after a number of years of marriage, that he or she feels he is trapped in the wrong body would feel betrayed, duped or simply angry:  They feel that the assumptions and beliefs on which they based their lives with the other person were false, and--to use a cliche--that the ground has been knocked out from under them. On the other hand, I also understand (perhaps too well) why we asked those people to become our spouses and partners.  Some of us were indeed desperate and hoped that being in a relationship with someone of the "opposite" gender would extinguish our feelings of having bodies that didn't express our true gender identities.  Others simply loved the people they married, even if they couldn't understand how or why.  (Some would argue that true love is that way in any event.)  I don't think many of us deliberately deceived our partners.  However, they may always feel as if we have.  And that may be one of the more damaging legacies of having to be part of the Lost Generation of Transgenders.

09 December 2012

What's The Difference Between Indonesia And Indiana?

At one time, the French referred to sadomasochism  as "le vice anglais."  It's rather ironic, when you consider that "sadism" is named for a Frenchman, le Marquis de Sade, and masochism immortalizes Baron von Masoch.

Now, it seems, "Islamist" groups often depict homosexuality and transgenderism as "Western" vices--along with Christianity and Judaism!  One such group is the Islam Defenders Front, which managed to shut down a transgender festival in Jakarta, Indonesia last week.

Nominally, Indonesia is, like Turkey, a secular country in which most of its people are Muslims.  However, as in Turkey and other countries, the more extreme and fundamentalist Islamist groups have taken root in Indonesia.  And they are not shy about their efforts to root out western "corruption."  Earlier this year, the IDF forced the cancellation of a Lady Gaga concert.

Of course, referring to something one doesn't like as a "corrupting influence" brought in from "outsiders"--especially if said outsiders have, or seem to have, greater privilege and prosperity--is nothing new.  Nor is blaming said outsiders for the corruption of youth and the erosion of values a society is believed to have.

This is exactly the reason why, for example, anti-Semetism is found among people who live in places where there are no Jews.  When times get tough, it's easy to blame a group of people one hasn't met and about whom one believes the stereotypes.  And it's a reason why I fear that, as the battle for scarce resources grows more intense, secular and democratic countries will fall under the spell of angry charismatic leaders who preach their own vision of their country's religion or history, and claim that some minority group is trying to undermine it.  And, of course, such a demagogue will claim that the outsiders who are "destroying" the "foundations" of the country are the reason why so many people in his country are choking under the yoke of colonial (i.e., Western) oppression and exploitation.

Since such demagogues' versions of history are almost always based, at least to some degree, on some romantic masculine vision of their societies.  They can spell only trouble for women--whether gay or straight, cis- or trans-gender--as well as men who don't fit into such a narrative.  

And it's not only the trans people of Muslim countries who are in danger.  The things I've described are happening here in the United States.  As laws are passed in an effort to ensure equal rights for LGBT people, there are religious fundamentalists as well as pure-and-simple-haters who not only want to keep us out of sight, or to destroy us altogether.  The difference between this country and those in the Middle East and South Asia is, of course, that most of the religious "fundamentalists" in America are Christian rather than Muslim.  But their hatred--and rationale for it--are exactly the same as those of the IDF and other Muslim "fundamentalist" groups.

08 December 2012

A White House Engagement Leads To...A Second-Wave Marriage?

You probably heard that back in June, a transgender man who goes by the single name of Scout proposed to Liz Margolies during the LGBT pride month celebration at the White House.

Well, the other day, they got married.  Actually, they eloped, more or less.  The only people on hand were the rabbi who officiated and two friends who served as witnesses and signed their marriage contract.  Some of their friends and family members disapproved of their union, they said.  I also have to believe that had their wedding more public, it could have been turned, possibly by uninvited guests, into something they never wanted it to be.

Here is an edited copy of their ceremony:

While I am happy for them, I have one question for Liz (assuming, of course, she reads this blog!):  You describe yourself as a "second wave feminist."  Every second-wave feminist whom I've read, or of whom I've heard, has been transphobic.  Some even deny the existence of transgenderism or transsexuality.  So I wonder how marrying a trans man fits into your views?  Or have they changed?  

If she still thinks herself a "second wave" feminist and is marrying Scout because, in spite of what she thinks, she's madly and irrationally in love with him...well, then, what can I say?  Maybe that's true love.  If it is, that's all the more reason to be happy for them!

06 December 2012

Man Charged In Murder Of January Lapuz

Many of us in the US see Canada--and Vancouver in particular--as a safe, tolerant haven. After all, it was the first country outside of Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, and Toronto and Vancouver are reputed to be among the world's more trans-friendly cities.

Even in those places, though, trans people are apparently not immune to violence and worse.  On 30 September, January Lapuz was found stabbed in her New Westminster, BC home.  She later died in the hospital.   Now a 20-year-old man has been charged in her slaying.

If it's not disturbing enough that the social coordinator of Sher Vancouver (a South Asian gay, lesbian and transgender group) was murdered in metropolitan Vancouver, it would come as another shock to most people to realize that the arrest in her case represents more police work than is done in most other places on most other cases of murdered transgender (or otherwise gender non-conforming) people.   

Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha correctly sees Ms. Lapuz's murder, and that of other trans women, as part of an even larger problem.  "There's violence against women, period," he explained.  "[A]nd, if you're different, you're even more vulnerable."

Perhaps that is one reason why there were people who sought to minimize this tragedy.  Although British Columbia isn't Brazil, there is still enough ingrained misogyny that some people sought to, in essence, blame Ms. Lapuz for her stabbing.   When some of the local media reported that she'd been a prostitute, one commenter even said, of her murder, that he was "relieved" for his family.  "I don't have room in my heart to love a gangsters (sic), or a crackhead or an alleged hooker," he explained.

Even if she had been a "hooker", how in the world could he compare her to a gangster, or even a crackhead?  One reason why a larger percentage of trans people than other kinds of people are involved in sex work is that too many of us have no other way to make a living.  Even in a relatively trans-friendly city like San Francisco, in the relatively good economy of 2005, it was estimated that half of all trans people didn't have legitimate paid work.  Much of that, of course, has to do with discrimination.  But many other trans folk--especially the young ones--were bullied out of their schools or kicked out of their homes.  They have no credentials and, too often, lack skills because they've missed so much school and have had chaotic home lives.   So few, if any, legal jobs are available to them.

Even in the unlikely event that she became a prostitute by choice, it is no reason to dismiss the tragedy of January Lapuz's death.  If any other woman--someone's mother, wife, daughter, sister, niece or friend--had been stabbed to death, someone would, rightfully, mourn her.  Ms. Lapuz deserves no less.

05 December 2012

Gay Marriage: A Pocketbook Issue?

There are historians as well as people who know even less about history than I know who argue that even if the Civil War hadn't been fought and Lincoln hadn't made his Emancipation Proclamation, slavery would have ended.  Those people say that using dark-skinned people as agricultural machinery became less profitable as machines made of metal came into use.  Those inanimate contraptions didn't need to be fed or housed, even in the conditions in which most African-Americans lived.  In time, they even came to cost less to buy than slaves.

Now, I don't feel I know enough about the issues--particularly the economic ones--involved to say whether those people's arguments are valid.  However, I have enough common sense to know that more issues and elections are decided on economics than ideology.

And so I was very interested to read this article that came my way.  It disappointed me in that it was poorly written and organized:  If one of my students had written it, I would have returned it and demanded major revisions.  On the other hand, it does raise a pertinent question:  Might Indiana voters decide not to include a ban on gay marriage in the Hoosier State's constitution because they realize it's bad for business?  Or, might they find that it's good for business and vote for it?

Of course, the states that have legalized same-sex marriage have made some money from what the couples spend on the ceremony and, in some cases, their honeymoons and their travel to the state if they come from states that still don't allow same-sex marriage.  Even more to the point, as some people in Indiana are realizing, allowing same-sex marriage could help to attract young talent to work and to buy homes, cars and other things that go with setting down roots and starting families.  That is the reason why Eli Lilly, the state's largest private employer, and Simon Properties, its largest realtor, oppose including a ban in the state constitution.

On the other hand, some argue that allowing same-sex marriage would actually be a disincentive to do business in the state, as employers would have to provide domestic partners' benefits and such.  Somehow, I have my doubts about that argument:  A number of firms in New York City--including some in the FIRE industries--began to provide domestic-partner benefits during the 1990's, long before New York State legalized same-sex weddings.  As a matter of fact, I was, ironically, a beneficiary of one company's largesse: Near the end of my life as a man, my then-girlfriend and I got a Domestic Partnership Agreement, which was sufficient to get me coverage on the very good insurance plan her company offered her.

In another irony, I actually hope that a lot of Hoosiers decide to vote with the "bottom line" and, at least, not to include a ban on same-sex couplings in its constitution.  On the other hand, from what I understand, Indiana is one of the most politically conservative states in the nation--at least it was, not long ago, the most Republican state.   Also, it's different from nearby states like Iowa, Illinois and Michigan in that larger numbers of its people belong to evangelical or other fundamentalist churches.  Will their beliefs trump their pocketbooks?  I hope not.  I still can't believe I said that.  But there it is.

04 December 2012

What The DSM-V Won't, And Can't, Address

Yesterday I discussed, briefly, the possible implications and effects of removing "transgender" from the list of mental disorders for the upcoming DSM-V.

As I mentioned, this de-classification of us as mentally ill may not turn out to be an entirely good thing unless other changes are made.  In the post, I talked about the fact that some medical and psychiatric care is available to us on the premise that our identity is a "disorder". The good news is that while changing such a circumstance won't be easy, it can at least be done through a few very specific actions, such as changing some health care, governmental and insurance policies.

On the other hand, there's another problem that will take longer and could prove even more difficult:  changing the attitudes of some health professionals and others on whom we depend.  While efforts to educate them about homosexuality have eliminated or lessened at least some of the homophobia found among such professionals, there is still some bigotry against non-heterosexual people.  And, where there's homophobia, there's usually even more transphobia.

Fortuanately for me, I have not experienced transphobia from health care professionals since the time, early in my transition, a group of nurses at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary mocked me when I came in for an appointment.  I was ready to walk out and file a complaint when the doctor with whom I had the appointment walked in, apologized for the nurses' behavior and treated me with courtesy and respect.  While that incident turned out well and I have not had difficulty with health care professionals since then, many other trans people are not so fortunate.

As an example, a trans man I know told me about an LGBT health fair he attended.  One of the presenters was a doctor with a large number of transgender patients.  In fact, he was my first doctor when I started my transition.  According to this friend--and others who attended that fair--this doctor disparagingly compared trans people to Michael Jackson and even said, in essence, that there's not much that can be done to help trans people; all anyone can do is to medicate them.

Now, if a doctor with transgender patients can make such comments, you can only imagine how much transphobia still exists, even if it's less openly expressed.  It can be mitigated, of course, through education:  Some aspiring doctors are learning about trans issues as part of their training.  Others are doing residencies or internships with clinics and other institutions that serve large numbers of LGBT people.  And, of course, some experienced doctors and nurses are open to change, or weren't bigoted to begin with.  But while I am confident that others  can and will change, de-classifying us in the DSM-V won't be enough.

03 December 2012

How Much Of A Victory Will The DSM-V Be For Transgenders?

If you're not LGBT, or not a medical or psychiatric professional, or an actuary, you've probably never looked at the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual (DSM).

However, even if you haven't, it probably has a greater impact on your life than you realize.  Doctors, psychiatrists and researchers in those fields depend on it because it provides a common nomenclature and has, by and large, standardized the categories used to classify various psychiatric issues.  Perhaps even more important to most people, health policy makers as well as pharmaceutical and insurance companies use it in a variety of ways.  

That last fact is one reason why removing "transgender" from the list of mental disorders--one of the many revisions in the upcoming DSM-V, due to be released in May--may not be as much a cause for celebration as some would believe.

To be sure, it would remove much of the stigma of being a transgendered person, just as the subtraction of homosexuality from the list of disorders in the seventh edition of DSM-II did much to help gay men and lesbians.  One result was that serious medical and psychiatric practitioners would no longer sanction the use of electroshock, lobotomies and other horrific "therapies" that were employed in the hope of "curing" a person's attraction to other people of his or her own gender. (In its place, we got "reparative" "therapies" and ministries.)  In turn, that would lead to the greater availability of appropriate medical and psychological care for members of the LGBT community.

However, there is one major difference between the situation of gays before and after changes to the DSM-II and that of trans people.  Most of the care we now receive has been made available to us based on the assumption that we do indeed have a "disorder" that needs treatment.  The few insurance plans that paid for psychotherapy, surgery, hormones and other treatments did so because transgenderism was seen as a disease, as it were.  

So I wonder:  Could the change in DSM-V actually make it more difficult for many trans people to get the care we need?  And would it give insurance companies a rationale for continuing to see gender reassignment surgery as "cosmetic" and refusing to cover the costs of it?

On one hand, I am glad that we will no longer be classified as mentally ill.  But, as we all know, you don't have to be ill to need treatment.

01 December 2012

Reagan, Wall Street And The Lost Generation of Transgender People

In previous posts, I've talked a bit about the Lost Generation of Transgender People.  I've mentioned a few of the possible reasons why, it seems, trans people you meet transitioned before the early 1980's or from the mid-90's or so onward.  

Among the things I mentioned were some of the ways in which LGBT-related movements were taken over by relatively affluent gay white men, and the influence of the so-called Second Wave Feminists.  There are, of course, many other factors, which I hope to discuss in this blog and in other fora.  In this post, I'll talk briefly about something that happened in the culture and economy of this country (and, in particular, New York City) that caused us to "lose" a generation.

Perhaps the recent death of Larry Hagman got met to thinking about the things I'm going to say.  (I don't mean to imply that he was a reason why the state of transgender people was worse in 1990 than it was fifteen or twenty years earlier!)  He, of course, was a star on the wildly popular TV series Dallas --which, for many people, epitomized the Eighties, a.k.a., the Reagan Era.

Now, of course, Reagan himself was certainly of no help to our cause.  For all of his first term, and the first half of his second, he wouldn't even say "AIDS" in public.  And he espoused a conservative right-wing "fundamentalist" policy that was, essentially, a code for racism, sexism and homophobia.  The latter, of course, included transphobia by implication because, to the extent that most people thought about it, we were just more extreme versions of gay people.

But what I've yet to hear is the ways in which the so-called economic "boom"--which was concentrated mainly in the FIRE industries--left transgender people even further from economic, as well as legal and social, equality than they were two decades earlier.  

One obvious reason why Reagan's economic policies were disastrous for trans people is that it all but eliminated the few services that were available to us. Believe it or not, some people diagnosed as transgender actually had surgeries for which the government paid during the 1960's and 1970's.  And folks like Sylvia Rivera found more of other kinds of assistance available to them in the years immediately after Stonewall than they would a decade later.

But there was something else in the zeitgeist of the 1980's that made American society--not to mention the country's legal and economic systems--noticeably more hostile to trans people (male-to-females in particular) than it was only a decade earlier.

From the end of World War II until the election of Reagan, Wall Street and its related industries were largely "gentlemen's" clubs.  Most of the men in charge, if not the floor traders, came from the same schools and, sometimes, families.  They were interested mainly in protecting the wealth they had and living off the interest; they tended toward safe, conservative investments and strategies.  Their demeanor and attire reflected their origins in the (mostly) East Coast elite classes.  As one old Wall Streeter told me some years ago, while there was a kind of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the fact that Wall Street had its fair share of gay men was an open secret.  In such an atmosphere, this man explained, gay men could fit in simply by dressing well and maintaining an air of detachment, if not indifference.

All of that changed during the "go-go" years of the Reagan administration.  Deregulation of the FIRE industries (begun, ironically, under Jimmy Carter, Reagan's predecessor) led to more aggressive behavior in the boardrooms as well as on the trading floor.  Even the few women who were working on "the Street" engaged in hypermasculine behaviors that included excessive drinking and cocaine usage.  In such a milieu, not surprisingly, one could be more openly homphobic or transphobic than his father could have been.  

The "Greed Is Good" era disdained any sort of empathy for--let alone willingness to help--people who are subjected to bigotry and, too often, fall victim to violence for no other reason than their own identities.  People who were poor or otherwise disenfranchised were seen as somehow morally defective.  Transgender people, who were already at or near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder when the era began, lost even more ground during that time.   The ones who weren't destroyed outright were turned into shadows wandering through clubs and alleyways in parts of New York and other cities where neon and strobe lights masked how sad and dirty most of them actually were in daylight.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, too many young trans people didn't survive those years.  And the atmosphere of the era deterred many of us from coming out and transitioning until much later in our lives, if we did those things at all.

30 November 2012

Andy Marra: Moving Ahead With Two Families

For so many of us, the stories of our "coming out" and gender transition are inextricably woven with our families.  A few of us are actually encouraged by our family members to live our lives in our true genders; for too many of us, family members discourage or deter us from, or simply cause us to feel more inhibited about, doing the things we need to do.

Today I read a story from a young trans women who had both sorts of family influence.  Andy Marra was born in Korea but adopted, as an infant, by an American family.  She came out as a trans woman to her adopted family, whom she says were "encouraging", in 2003.  However, she would not begin taking hormones for many years because she also felt the need to meet her Korean family.  She wanted to see them--at least initially--as a male because she feared rejection if they met her as a woman instead of the man they would have expected her to become. 

One thing that further complicates her story is that fewer than three percent of Koreans who are adopted in other countries ever find their birth families. And, in fact, Ms. Marra almost ended her 2010 visit to Korea as one of the other 97 percent.

However, on what would have been the last day of her trip, a police officer found her mother, who had been living about an hour away from the station. As a result, she extended her trip by two weeks.  During that time, she met other relatives, including a grandfather who bestowed a Korean name on her.  However, after a few days, her mother realized that Ms. Marra had to tell her something.  "May I offer a hint at what I am talking about?," her mother suggested.  "Please don't be offended by my hint. But I don't think you will be."  After Marra nodded with tense curiosity, her mother continued, "I think it has to do with how pretty you look."  

Marra hesitated again, fearing she would lose the mother she'd just met.  After her mother reassured her, "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere," Marra slowly and hesitantly explained, "I am not a boy. I am a girl.  I am transgender."

After a long silence--in part a result of Marra trying to communicate something that is not part of very many everyday conversations in English or Korean (or any other language, for that matter)--her mother responded.  "Mommy knew," she calmly said.  "I was waiting for you to tell me."

Her story has a happy ending:  Her "new" family accepts her, and she could return to the States to begin her transition with the support of two families on opposite sides of the world.

Now, if all trans people could have the support they needed, from their families or elsewhere, in whatever part of the world they inhabit...

29 November 2012

Lighting The Way Home

Well, it's that time of year again.

Whatever route I take home from work, I pass through a couple of residential neighborhoods in eastern and central Queens that feel more like they belong in Nassau County than New York City.  In those neighborhoods, many of the homes are decorated:.  Some are gaudy, others are stunning.  

Then there are ones that are distinctive, even in an image taken on a cell phone by yours truly:

28 November 2012

Stacie Laughton Resigns

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the election of Stacie Laughton, New Hampshire's first transgender legislator.

Now she has resigned.  It seems that she didn't disclose some criminal activity in her recent past.

Probably the most serious of her transgressions is the attempt to commit credit card fraud, though her and her ex-wife's feigning illnesses to get an ambulance ride when they were stranded isn't something to be proud of, either.

On one hand, I find myself thinking, "Well, at least she isn't a murderer or child abuser.  And other elected officials have done worse things, before entering and while serving in office.  On the other hand, I fault her for not having disclosed her legal troubles while she was campaigning.  Perhaps she would not have won the election, but that would have been better than the public embarrassment she's caused herself and many other people.

Aside from her lack of honesty, what concerns me is the impression this leaves on some people.  They might see trans people as inherently deceptive, and that acts such as Staci's are par for the course for people who are distancing themselves from their pasts.

Then again, there are other trans officials, elected and appointed.  Perhaps they can help to overcome whatever damage Ms. Laughton might have done.

26 November 2012

Healthcare And The Transgender Lost Generation

How many people would take advice from someone who was deemed mentally ill?

And, what would you do if you suffered some sort of disease but no one who has suffered it would talk to you?

Those two questions, I believe, sum up at least one part of the reason why there is the lost generation of transgender pepople I've mentioned in earlier posts.  

In addition to discrimination and other problems, trans people of the 1950's, and even the 1980's, faced the stigma of being classified as mentally ill.  What this meant is that, in some places, they were subjected to treatment much like the kind suffered in some of this country's worst mental institutions.    Or they were referred to the wrong kinds of medical or pyschiatric practitioners for their difficulties.  That is not to mention, of course, all of the jobs that were unavailable to them, no matter their qualifications.

This belief that trans people are mentally ill is one reason why so much emphasis was placed on "going stealth".   Doing so also could prevent a trans person from experiencing discrimination in workplaces, schools, social service agencies and other ares.  

The hostility they faced also deterred many from getting the health care they needed.  This, of course, cut more than a few trans people's lives short:  Such was the story of a few older trans people I knew.  Not that I used the past tense:   They are no longer in this world.

I discovered another effect of what I've just described in 2005-2006, when I was writing a pamphlet on how to access health care for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund .  Although I knew a fair number of trans people by that time, it was difficult to find older trans people with whom I could discuss such things as long-term health issues trans people experience as they age--or, for that matter, the issues they faced in getting the healthcare they needed.  Of course, I could--and did--talk to the health care providers.  But providers can talk mainly about treatments and therapies; only someone who has experienced those things can talk about coping with the effects of treatments and medications, or about some of the emotional and mental issues someone who's in the process of a gender transition might face.

What the experience also taught me is that trans people of that time didn't have others with whom they could share the wisdom borne of their experiences.  Part of the reason for this is in going "stealth", they could not disclose much about the issues--including discrimination and, in a few cases, outright hostility, they might have faced.  So, in not passing their knowledge and wisdom onto their "children"--because those "children" weren't there--the new generation of trans people I was seeing had no one from whom they could learn.  Thus, in the middle of the last decade, the level of healthcare (excluding surgeries) available to most trans people, and their level of sophistication in accessing it, was really not much (if at all) better than they were two or even three decades earlier.

25 November 2012

Cycling After The Tide

This sign should have given me some idea of what I was getting myself into:

From 91st Street in Howard Beach--where I saw the inverted sign--I took the bridge into Broad Channel and the Rockaways.  

Broad Channel is a bit like the Louisiana, with colder weather.  It's only a three to four blocks wide, with Jamaica Bay on either side.  Some of the houses are built on stilts; many of the people who live there have never been to Manhattan.  In Broad Channel, it seems, there are as many boats as there are cars or trucks.  Some of them were torn from their moorings and were "beached" in the middle of streets, or in front of houses:

But, not surprisingly, there was more to come.  The retaining wall that separates the bay from the entrance ramp for cyclists and pedestrians of the Cross Bay Bridge was gone.  So was most of a restaurant that stood beside it.

When you arrive in Rockaway Beach, you come to a McDonald's.  You know how powerful the storm was, and how much desperation there is, when you see this:

But the contents of that restaurant weren't the only things gone from Rockaway Beach:

This sandy lot was, just four weeks ago, a community garden and flea market.  But something that had been a part of Rockaway Beach for much longer was also gone:

There was a boardwalk here. It extended from Far Rockaway, near the border with Nassau County, to Belle Harbor, about five miles  along the beach.  Gone, all of it, gone:

Much of Riis Park was cordoned off.  But the part that was still open felt utterly desolate:

There were dunes along this stretch of beach.  I don't know how long those dunes stood, but given the force of the storm, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were destroyed in an instant.  

At Riis Park, I met another cyclist. Together we rode to a beach club to which he'd once belonged.  Its parking lot was full of sand, and doors of cabanas were pulled off their hinges.  

He had to go home to his sick wife, but I continued toward Breezy Point.  In normal times, it's a sort of gated community:  One enters it through a kind of tollbooth where security guards stand watch.  Normally, when I ride my bike, they barely notice me at all.  Today, though, a female NYPD officer was checking people who entered.  "Ma'am do you live here," she intoned.  I probably could have lied that I did, or said that I was a volunteer who was meeting other volunteers.  But that didn't seem right:  I could only imagine how residents might have felt about an interloper like me.  

What I had seen up to that point was worse than what I'd seen in the news accounts.  I'm sure it was even worse in Breezy Point; for now, that assumption will have to suffice.

I'll close this post with an observation:  It was, or at least seemed, much colder than I expected.  Of course, that would be par for the course in an area, especially on a day as windy as today was.  However, I also realized that many of the houses and other buildings were empty and still had no electricity or heat.  Perhaps it really was colder due to the loss of ambient heat that normally radiates from buildings.  (It's one of the reasons why, on summer days, central city areas are usually hotter than the "ring" neighborhoods or suburbs.)  So it's not hard to understand why people who are sleeping in tents or in the open air are coming down with frostbite and other ailments.

I hope they can all go home soon.