31 January 2012

More About Kitty Genovese

I realize now that yesterday I overlooked something very important when I was writing my post about Kitty Genovese:  the gender power structure that existed at the time of her murder.

Why is that important?, you ask.

Well, while I have my doubts that 38 (or whatever the number) people witnessed her murder and did nothing, and even graver doubts that anybody saw the incident from beginninng to end, I do think that some who heard the screams may have reacted from the (mis)conceptions that existed at the time.

At that time, it was commonly assumed that if a man attacked a woman--whether physically, verbally, emotionally or financially--"she must have done something to deserve it." 

According to the attitudes of the time, if a woman was raped, her skirt must have been too short, her heels too high or her blouse too revealing of cleavage.  Or, she was someplace where she shouldn't have been, or been there when she shouldn't have been there.

In line with that way of thinking, if a man yelled at or beat his wife or girlfriend, she must have done something to make him unhappy.  Perhaps the meal wasn't to his liking or the house wasn't tidy enough.  Or, maybe she withheld sex (although nobody would come out and use the word) when he was tired and needed to "get his rocks off."  There was also the possiblity that she "didn't know her place," which meant that somehow she didn't bolster his sense that he "wore the pants" and was therefore in charge.

Just today a colleague at work told me that after her first marriage ended--not long after Genovese's murder--people, including family members and people she beleived to be friends--echoed the things I recounted in the previous paragraph.   Nobody talked about "domestic abuse" in those days, and those who were subjected to it faced ostracism and sometimes even legal troubles, and often medicated themselves or did other self-destructive things.  Even clergypeople and psychotherapists, to the extent that they knew or discussed such problems, advised battered women to try to "make amends" with their husbands, and to try to please them more.

All of the notions and attitudes I've mentioned were voiced by adults I knew during my adolescence, about a decade after Genovese was left to die in a Queens doorway.  In fact, well into my adulthood, I heard people who urged sensitivity and understanding when it came to other issues echo the notions I've described.  I even heard women voice their support for men who abused their significant others, and denigrate those who were battered.

Now, I don't want to insinuate that all of Kitty Genovese's neighbors were misogynistic, any more than I'd want to portray them in the way they have been by the media, and even in academic journals.  Rather, I think that if some of them heard those screams--and it's entirely possible that they didn't, or they mistook them for those of a lover's quarrel or rowdy bar patrons--they may have been acting, or basing their inaction, on assumptions they didn't even realize they held.  In fact, almost nobody who held such assumptions would have recognized him or her self as having an internalized misogyny because most people had it, to one degree or another, at that time and long after.

I know I had it, too, and it was entwined with my internalized homophobia--or, more accurately, internalized phobia about anything that wasn't heterosexual and cisgendered.  They are among the factors that prevented me from transitioning earlier in my life than I did.  At least I got to live a life, at least more than poor Kitty Genovese did.

30 January 2012

Kitty Genovese: A Hate Crime?

Tonight, on my way home from work, I rode through Kew Gardens.  George Gershwin lived there; Paul Simon and Jerry Springer were born and raised there.  However, the name of someone who lived there for only a year or so will be associated with the neighborhood for a long, long time.

It's something I don't normally think about.  However, today, the name of Kitty Genovese popped into my head.  If you have lived in New York for any amount of time, or are a researcher of social phenomena, you've probably heard the name.

She was a bar manager who was coming home from work shortly after 3 am on 13 March 1964.  She parked her red Fiat in the lot by the Long Island Rail Road station, even though the railroad discouraged it.  Her apartment was about 100 yards from that lot, and the neighborhood was quiet and considered safe.

That illusion of tranquility was shattered in the wee hours of that morning, when Winston Mosley raped and repeatedly stabbed her.  When people in nearby apartments turned on their lights to see what was going on, he leapt into his car and drove off.  About half an hour later, he returned to a staggering Genovese to stab her again.  

Police arrived two minutes after receiving the first call about the incident, only to find Genovese's lifeless body.

After his arrest, Mosley said he simply wanted to kill a woman and confessed to killing others.  To this day, he has expressed no remorse for his deed.  Not surprisingly, he was denied parole at his most recent hearing in November.  His next hearing is next year; even though he will be 77 years old in March, I don't think anybody wants to be responsible for releasing him.

It's not surprising that the details of the event are in dispute.  After all, the weather was cold and, which meant that windows were shut.  Also, at that hour, most people were still sleeping.  Some said they believed the screams, which they didn't hear distinctly, were from a lover's quarrel or a nearby bar that was known for its rowdy patrons.  Others may have thought they were awakening from a bad dream.  Plus, the crime happened in two stages, as it were.  And, after the first time Moseley attacked her, she staggered into a door a couple of buildings down from where she'd been attacked.

Then, of course, there were some people who simply "didn't want to get involved" and others who were afraid.  The article I linked, published two weeks after the attacks, said thirty-eight people witnessed the crime.  Almost nobody believes that now, in part for the reasons I mentioned in my previous paragraph.

However, there is one fact that was known to Kitty's neighbors but was not reported in any media accounts of the crime.  She was a lesbian.  In fact, many  people in the neighborhood knew her partner, with whom she shared her apartment. 

I only learned of these things tonight.  I'd had my suspicions (Yes, trans people have "gaydar," too!), but never gave them very much thought. I wasn't thinking about it even as I typed her name into a Google search box when I got home.  However, some of the search results mentioned her sexuality, and one even mentioned her partner's name.

Mosley said he enjoyed killing women.  None of the sources I found mentions the sexual orientations of the other women he killed, and none seem to imply that he killed them or Genovese because of their sexual orientation, or the way he may have perceived it.  However, even if he didn't choose Genovese as a victim because she was a lesbian, I wonder whether her sexuality motivated him to attack her as fiercely as he did, and to return and attack her a second time.  After all, as we've seen--and I've mentioned in some previous posts--murders of LGBT people (especially trans people) are some of the most gruesome in the annals of crime.  

Voltaire wrote, "To the living we owe respect; to the dead, only the truth."  Perhaps we will never know the whole truth about Kitty Genovese's murder.  But any aspect of it that comes to light needs to be examined scrupulously. Would you want any less if she'd been one of your loved ones?

29 January 2012

It Ain't Dead Yet

When you get to be my age, you realize there isn't an idea that's so bad that nobody will try to keep it alive.

In fact, if it's a bad enough idea, someone will try to cross-breed it with an equally bad, and outmoded, idea.

So, what's the bad idea that just won't go away?  Why, it's none other than our old friend, Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT).

So who's breathing new life into it?  Someone of whom I hadn't heard until now: Oklahoma State Representative Mike Reynolds.  And what Mendelian scheme is he using to keep it alive?  Well, it looks like he's crossing DADT with the Grandfather Clause.

Oh, talk about a piece of legislation only a lawyer could love: The Grandfather Clause said that all men who were eligible to vote in 1867--the year before the reforms of Reconstruction took effect--or men who were lineal descendents of such men--were eligible to vote.  Most of the Southern States adopted it, in one form or another, during the last years of the 19th Century.  

Oklahoma, which didn't become a state until 1907, was late to that party.  However, Oklahoma lawmakers wasted little time in getting their own version of the Clause, which was enacted in 1910.  Oklahoma was in on the fun for only a few years, though:  In 1915, Guinn v. United States effectively struck down various States' Grandfather Clauses as unconstitutional.  

That didn't stop Oklahoma or any other state, though, from stopping blacks from voting:  They found all sorts of other ways, including poll taxes.

But I digress.  Folks like Reynolds know a bad old laws become good laws after a generation or two--especially when they're combined with bad, not-so-old, laws.  So, voila--He combines DADT with the Grandfather Clause, and what does he get?  The new law he's trying to get the state to enact:  People can serve in the Oklahoma National Guard only if they would have qualified for military service under the Federal laws that were in effect on 1 January 2009.

So, while the rest of the country is benighted by the repeal of DADT, good ol' Mike is trying to bring it back for Oklahomans.  By combining it with the Grandfather Clause--the way you combine fabrics or ingredients in a sandwich--he's trying to give his people a new, improved version of the law--or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell on steroids," as someone quipped.

Of course, I was happy when DADT was repealed.  But somehow I knew it wouldn't go away. For once, I wish I had been wrong.

28 January 2012

More About ROTC At York

To follow up on my post from yesterday:  A professor who's involved with curriculum development says, in essence, that the ROTC program is being offered as a "minor" in "military leadership" and would not oblige the student to serve in the military.

Unless things have changed dramatically since I was in ROTC, that person doesn't know what she's talking about.  If they pay you, whether or not they give you a scholarship, you have a commitment to the military upon graduation.  The Armed Forces are like many other organizations:  They don't give you something without demanding something in return.

Now, I realize that there are some people whose calling, if you will, is the military.  To those people, I would say "go for it."  But to them, and anyone else who joins, I'd say that it's a "must" to read everything--including the fine print--before signing on.  Lots of people, particularly the young, hear only about the benefits, but don't realize that the military isn't just a way to pay for a college, and it isn't a job-training program.

And, of course, if they're anywhere on the LGBT spectrum, they should really think about why they're joining. 

27 January 2012

ROTC At York: Who's Serving Whom?

Yesterday, I learned that there's talk about bringing an ROTC program to York College.

Since opening its doors in 1966, the college has not had such a program.  Some argue that it would open up job opportunities for students.  In this economy,that's no small consideration.

Also, there are more than a few veterans among the student body, as there are in most other CUNY schools.  However, the feeling among the student body, not to mention the faculty, is not as pro-military as one might expect.

I suspect that the Department of Defense is looking to York for two reasons.

First of all, the college has been expanding its programs in health-related sciences and professions.  So, perhaps, the Pentagon is looking at the college as a potential source of people who have at least some of the skills the military needs.

But second, and perhaps equally important, about 90 percent of its students are members of "minority" groups.  As much as it pains me to say it, the Armed Forces have offered more and better opportunities to "minorities"--particularly black men--than other areas of society and the economy.  That is not to say, of course, that there's no racism in the military.  It just means that one has a better chance of becoming a high-ranking officer than of becoming a CEO of a major corporation or university president if one does not come from the "right" families and schools.  And, of course, most who come from such backgrounds are white and well-off.  

Perhaps ROTC can present itself as a vehicle for equal opportunity if it comes to York. However, there's a problem I have with that.  While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," may have been repealed, the military is a notorious hotbed of homophobia.  We've heard about Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew, the son of parents who emigrated to New York's Chinatown, who committed suicide in Afghanistan because he was hazed so much, and so badly, by fellow Marines. The media have reported that the hazing was motivated by those Marines' prejudice against Asians like Lew.  However, I've heard rumors that the hazing was as much motivated by those Marines' suspicions that he was gay.  If that's the case, it wouldn't be the first time someone was so harassed and driven to suicide.

And, in addition to the residual homophobia that still exists in the military, there's the fact that transgender people aren't allowed to serve at all. And, of course, one won't remain a soldier, sailor, member of the Air Force or Marine for very long after starting to transition, or merely revealing a wish to do so.

So...I hope the college's administration and whoever else might be responsible for deciding on whether or not York gets an ROTC program to think about what they'd really be bringing to campus.

26 January 2012


One of the nice things about being my age is that, if you're lucky, you can start to reconcile all kinds of things that seemed irreconcilable. If you're not lucky, they reconcile themselves, though perhaps not in the ways you'd intended--or one might destroy the other.

Where am I going with this?  Well, it's about growing up transgendered, but it also has to do with stuff you'd find on my other blog, if you read it.  So consider yourself forewarned.

You see, from the time I found out about John Rakowski, I wanted to do something like what he did.  He cycled around the world, turning his pedals on every continent except Antarctica.  (What would penguins think of some guy with a bike laden with full front and rear panniers, camping equipment and bottles of water anyplace they'd fit on the bike?)  He recounted his adventures in Bicycling! magazine during my teen years.

Rakowski was in his early 50's when he undertook his journey, which lasted three years, if I recall correctly.  As it turned out, he was living not far from where I lived, in New Jersey, at the time.  And, yes I met him, and he signed my magazines.  

Well, the fact that he lived nearby and did what he did would have been reason enough for me to take him as an inspiration, if not a role model.  But there was another reason--apart from the "local boy" and "cycling" aspects of the story--that meant so much to me at that time in my life.

However, as important as his feat was to me, I never talked about it with anybody.  For one thing, no one else in my family, or even in my circle of peers or the neighborhood in which I was living, shared my passion for cycling.   It was as if the so-called "bike boom" had passed them all by.  Everybody predicted that I would "grow out of " my obsession with cycling as soon as I got my driver's licence.  Then again, people said I would "grow out of" all sorts of other things, as if they were tops and shoes.

You may have figured out where this is going: something else I didn't "grow out of."  I'm talking, of course, about my wish to be able to wear bike jerseys and shorts with cleated shoes(In that place and time, almost no one had ever seen them.) or skirts and blouses with heels, as a way of life.

The reason, of course, I didn't "grow out of" those desires is that there was more to them--which, of course, I didn't talk about with anybody.  Wearing the clothes wasn't the point for me; I wanted to be the person who was expected to wear them--or, at least, a person who wouldn't face opprobrium for doing so.  

That John Rakowski was a man, and most cyclists were men, was problematic.  How could I want to ride around the world and win the Tour de France and be a woman at the same time?

Today, of course, there are more female cyclists than there were in those days, and women's racing enjoyed a heyday during the late '80's and the '90's.  I could not understand why only men should race, tour or participate in most other sports.  Title IX had been enacted around that time; however, it would take time for women's sports to gain any momentum because the sorts of sports programs, like Little League and Pop Warner football, that existed for boys didn't exist for girls.  

It was a time when many people--including many women--thought sports were "unfeminine."  I recall one girl in my high school who was as an even better athlete than most of the boys.  Her family, which included three brothers who were athletes,  was supportive of her interests.  However, some of the teachers and other adults tried to discourage her, saying that no man would want to marry her.  I couldn't understand that:  She was a very attractive girl who had no difficulty getting dates.

Fortunately for her, she was able to play basketball and a couple of other sports in college.  Of course, I would have wanted to be like her.  Perhaps I could have been:  I played soccer in high school.  However, my real passion always lay with cycling, and only a few colleges had teams or even clubs for cycling.  To my knowledge, none were for women.

Although I repressed my desire to be a woman then, and for most of the next three decades, I always felt, deep down, that there was no contradiction between wanting to ride the world, and to race, on my bike.  What has always drawn me to cycling is the freedom I feel when I ride.  I feel as if my spirit is unchained, that--if you'll indulge me a cliche--I felt as free as the wind and as open as the air.  

And that, naturally, was what the woman in me wanted.  She wanted to be free from what I now realize were the same boundaries that seemed to contain me when I was off my bike.  When I say what I'm about to say, I don't mean to aggrandize myself:  To be a long-distance cyclist at an age after you were supposed to have a drivers license and a car, you had to be an independent spirit.  And, of course, it's impossible to be anything else if you want to live by the imperatives of your spirit rather than the dictates of your school, community and society.  That's doubly true if your subconscious or unconscious gender--the one you are when you're by yourself--is different from the one on your birth certificate, and for which you are being trained by your school, church and other institutions.

I wanted to be free--to be Justine, on a bike.  At least I lived long enough to know that those things weren't contradictory, and to meet people who understand that.  And, just as important,from my point of view, is that I've begun to develop a language to explain my complications, contradictions and complexities.  It makes sense to me, which means that I can also make it make sense to others--well, some other people anyway.  If they don't understand, or don't accept it, that is all right.  

I am Justine, and ride wherever and whenever my time and resources allow.  Hopefully, some day, I'll have more of both.  For now, living my life and riding my bikes are inseparable, and offer me so much.

25 January 2012

Portrait Of The Feline As A Real Man

Here's a picture of a Real Man:

He's not afraid to go into a lady's boudoir.  You know how some guys get that look on their faces that says, "Oh, shit, I'm in the wrong neighborhood!" when they're in a girl's girliest spot?  Or when they're around a bunch of women listening to Laura Nyro or Nina Simone?

Well, Max has no fear.  Just to show you what I mean, he's going to take a leap.  No, not the leap.  Just a leap.

Sigh.  I miss Charlie.  That's why I'm so glad Max is here.

23 January 2012

To The Santorums

Last week, Annette Gross's "Open Letter to Karen Santorum" appeared on The Bilerico Project.

I've provided a link to it because I hope that you'll show it to someone who thinks that LGBT people get "special treatment."  

I also hope that you'll show it to those people who say that we wouldn't have any problems if we kept quiet or stayed in the closet.

What Gross's letter points out so brilliantly is that we are targets of discrimination, not because of a "lifestyle choice," but because we are targeted for who and what we are.  That is something most straight cissexual people never face.  When was the last time you heard of a straight person being assaulted, much less killed, for being--or simply being perceived as--straight?

And when do straight married people have to defend their right to have the relationships they enjoy, and the privilege society affords them for doing so?

To the Santorums, and everyone else who feels bullied by gays and lesbians and transgender people, I say: Get over it.  Toughen up.  Grow thicker skin.  Grow up.    Hey, people told us those same things, and look how fierce and intimidating we've become!  

And remember:  If the queers are bullying you now, go and get an education and turn the tables.  Tomorrow can be a better day for you.

22 January 2012

South Carolina Yesterday; Ecuador Tomorrow?

Media pundits have parsed Newt Gingrich's primary victory in South Carolina last night in a number of ways.  Some think it's an indication that the battle for the Republican nomination will be very close; after all, there has been one other primary and one caucus, each of which produced a different winner.  Others say South Carolina is a bellwether:  Every candidate who's won its primary since 1980 has gone on to win the nomination.  Then there are those pundits who think South Carolina is too different from other states that have had, and will have, primaries, to serve as a harbinger of what's to come.

But nearly all of the commentators seem to agree that Evangelical Christians played a large part in Gingrich's victory.  While a larger percentage of the population identifies itself as Evangelical in South Carolina than in any other state, it's hard to deny the influence they will have in upcoming primaries, and the general election.

That can have dire consequences for LGBT people.  Sure, Michele Bachmann may be out of the race, but her husband's "therapeutic" practice--which, among other things, purports to "cure" homosexuality--is still thriving.  He was her main campaign adviser; now that she's out of the race, I wouldn't be surprised if he were giving support to Gingrich or Rick Santorum, who has also denounced homosexuality in religious terms.

Some of my friends and colleagues--who work some of the "bluest" occupations  in one of the "bluest" states-- don't understand just how many people in other places hold similar beliefs and were sorry to see Bachmann leave the race but are willing to vote for people like Gingrich and Santorum.  Of course, I don't think they can elect a President all by themselves.  But they are vocal about what they believe, and they vote.

So what would happen if this country were run by people who operate or support "ex-gay" clinics or camps?  Well, this might seem extreme to some of you, but we could end up like Ecuador, where hundreds of such clinics exist. According to the testimony of people who've experienced them, the physical and psychological torture of women is endemic to those places.  According to Karen Barba, the Director of Fundation Causana, those who operating the centers are "not only getting away with obscene human rights abuses, they are profiting off them."

So those clinics come from an unholy alliance of bigotry married to greed, which is then covered with a veneer of religiosity.  Hmm...that sounds familiar.  I think we've seen it at work in this country's election cycle, and there's more to come.

21 January 2012

Sterilization In Sweden

One day, one decade, one century, you're ahead of the curve.  Then the curve catches up with you.  If you're not careful, it becomes a tidal wave.

I know; I mixed metaphors a bit.  But you get the idea.  

When I was young, Sweden was seen as a progressive country in, among other areas, human rights, particularly for LGBT people.  It was one of those countries (along with Denmark) to which men went for their "sex change" operations.  (At that time, one rarely--if ever heard of FTMs.)  And Sweden was one of the first countries to include language in its laws specifically to protect gay men and lesbians.

Fast-forward to today, when the country's law regarding gender-reassignment surgery are being assailed as "barbaric" by human rights activists.

The law, enacted in 1972, says that any Swedish resident who wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery must be over 18 and unmarried--and be sterilized before the surgery.  

I used to think that no one under the age of 25 or so should undergo the surgery until I met the teenager who underwent the same surgery, on the same day, as I did.  Some might say she is unusual, but from what she and her mother told me, it was clear from an early age that she simply could not grow up to be a man.  

As for marital status:  Many people--like Joyce, my roommate at San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad--are married when they have the surgery.  Some manage to remain so.  If a marriage stays together through and after the transition and surgery, it's hard to beat for support!

But sterilization is what really has human rights activists upset.  At the time the law was enacted, that stipulation may have made sense, given what the medical establishment knew--and much of the public believed--about transgender people.  

Most of the Swedish Parliament, and public, wants to change the law.  However, there is a conservative party (sound familiar?)  that's blocking the change.  That party is said to be small; I hope its influence will be even smaller in proportion to its size.  And I hope Sweden returns to its longtime role as the small country with a big role in the state of human rights.

20 January 2012

Why I Won't Marry A Gay Person

Someone--I forget who--said, "If you're against gay marriage, don't marry a gay person."

I couldn't have said it any better.  If you don't marry a gay person, exactly what effect does gay marriage have on you? 

Still, some people insist that "the institution of marriage"--which is a recent innovation in human history--will be "threatened" or "destroyed" as same-sex couples flock to chapels to be united in matrimony.  

So, let's see...Gay marriage accounts for the fact that Larry King has been divorced 8 times. Or Tiger Woods and Jesse James cheating on their now-ex-wives?  Or that Kim Kardashian's marriage lasted only 72 days?  

And I'll bet that Elton saying "I do" to David, or Ellen saying the same thing to Portia, is what caused Newt Gingrich to have affairs while his first and second wives were deathly ill.  

I'm so glad that somebody set me straight about the hazards of gay marriage. I'll be sure not to marry a gay person, ever.

19 January 2012

What To Do After Charlie?

Max, the orange cat you see in the sidebar photo, doesn't seem to be pining for Charlie so much as he's becoming even more of a glutton for affection than he had been.  I don't mind; still, I wish Charlie were here.

On one hand, I could very easily adopt another cat on impulse--another one of Millie's rescues, or one I encounter on one of my bike rides.  On another, I want to have Max as my "only child," at least for now.

I wonder...How would Max react if I were to adopt another cat?  Would he and the new kittie become pals.  Or would Max try to run him/her out of the house?  Sometimes he was aggressive with Charlie.  Other times, he and Charlie curled around each other in a corner of my living room or on the sofa.  I'm not so sure Max was trying to push Charlie away as much as he wanted me to himself.  Yet he seemed to know that he and Charlie were "in this thing together," as we used to say in my old neighborhood.

While it's tempting to take home the next thing I hear mewling, I realize Max is about the same age as Charlie.  That means he might live one or ten more years, or something in between.  He might or might not take well to a new roommate.  Then again, he might get lonely, or simply tired of me.  Or his energy might start winding down and he won't be so playful.  Will he have a relatively quick decline, as Charlie did, or a slow and agonizing demise?  

Tomorrow or ten years from now?  Alone with me or with another kitty?  Whatever his remaining lifespan, I want to enjoy it--and I want him to enjoy it even more.  

If he spends his remaining time alone with me, I could adopt a pair of kittens and they could grow old together, like the two cats who preceded Charlie and Max in my life.  And--depending on when I adopted those kittens, I'd be old with them.  Real old.  

Oh well.  I'm going to be home in a while.  Max will charge the door when he hears me coming, and he'll curl around my ankles as I try to walk through the doorway.  I'll feed him, and maybe eat something myself.  And I'll probably cry for Charlie again.  Max  knows.

17 January 2012

The Same Struggle

Toward the end of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. realized that even though laws against discrimination had been passed and that some people who weren't victimized by inequality had at least begun to realize that it exists, the struggle for human rights was nowhere near being won.  He said, in essence, that winning the right to sit at the same lunch counters as everyone else doesn't matter if you can't afford a hamburger and a cup of coffee once you're there.

That, in essence, remains the problem.  Even though I am lower middle-class by American standards (Perhaps I'd be simply middle-class in another part of the country.), I am still doing better than many other transgender (whether pre- or post-op) people.  And, for all of the wealth in the gay community portrayed in the media, they actually suffer with the same levels of povertyas the population in general.  

Actually, the worst thing for trans people is that so many of us can't get jobs, period, and that we--particularly the young among us--suffer from disproportionate levels of homelessness.

We still have to fight the same fight MLK was fighting more than four decades ago.  The difference is, the economy is much worse now than it was then.

16 January 2012

Leaving MLK Spinning

Today is Martin Luther King day.  Someone commented that his life and work weren't only about racial equality; rather, he stood for human right and justice.

If that's the case--which I don't doubt--I have little doubt that he would be appalled at the field of candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination.

Mind you, I'm no fan of Obama:  I think he's thrown transgender people under the bus.  However, even Ron Paul--the only one of the Republicans for whom I would even consider voting--makes Obama seem like, well, MLK by comparison.

At least Ron Paul voted against the Marriage Protection Act which, had it been amended to the Constitution, would have banned gay marriage.  Of course, his motives for his vote had nothing to do with any interest in LGBT rights.  Rather, he didn't want to vote for another law that would have allowed the Federal Government to, in his view, usurp authority that belongs to individual states.   Absent such a law, we have a few states that allow gay marriage, even if there is no Federal guarantee that same-sex couples will have the same rights as heterosexual ones. 

That vote alone makes Ron Paul seem like Sojourner Truth next to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or even Mitt Romney.  I can just see MLK spinning in his grave.

15 January 2012


It's really true:  the guys are too hot and the girls are too cold.  And you can blame it on the hormones.

My friend Lakythia and I had planned to go cycling today.  However, the temperature didn't reach the legal drinking age and the wind speed exceeded my age.  So, instead, we opted for a dim sum brunch in Chinatown.  

Those of you who take estrogen have probably notice that you're more sensitive to the cold than you were before, and those of you who take testosterone feel the heat.  Well, I've noticed that since my surgery, I am even more sensitive to cold than I was when I was taking estrogen and anti-androgens. Of course, the level of estrogen in my body is now higher than it was before the surgery, and most of the testosterone I once had is gone.  

But at least I enjoyed the dim sum brunch and Lakythia's company.   I just wish she could have met Charlie:  They would have appreciated each other's sensitivity, I think.  

And, after talking to Millie and Mom, I know that in the near future--say, a couple or a few months--I want to adopt another cat.  Another rescued cat, to be more specific. They both know that, and Millie will probably find my next feline companion, and Max's next roommate, if you will.

14 January 2012

Charlie R.I.P.

I really wish I didn't have to say this:  Charlie died last night.

No, I wasn't there when it happened.  However, I feel pretty certain that he died some time around 8 p.m.  

I was pedaling home from work when, all of a sudden, I burst into tears.  I was crying so deeply that I could barely see in front of me, much less control my front wheel. 

I spotted an ATM I sometimes use, opened the door and wheeled my bike in.  I sat in a corner of the vestibule, my tears rolling from my cheeks, down my neck and onto the collar of my jacket.  I don't know how long I was there and I don't think anyone came in to use the machines, in spite of its location in the middle of a commercial strip that remains busy well into the night.

When I thought I had my crying under control (a completely unrealistic assumption after my operation and years of taking hormones!), I wheeled out of the vestibule and stepped over the bike's top tube.  I rode about two blocks before I saw a tortoiseshell calico in a store window.  Even though she looked nothing like Charlie, the faucet was turned on once again.  And my legs developed the firmness of tapioca pudding.

Fortunately, there was a subway station only another block away.  When a middle-aged woman starts crying on New York City transport, some  passengers will look away or pretend not to notice (or, perhaps, will actually not notice), others will give you the widest berth they can, and one or two will give her looks of sympathy.  Now, if you're a middle-aged woman with a bike and a helmet dangling from the handlebar, some will react as if a giraffe got on the train, or like Agent Scully from the X-Files.  

One Latina woman who looked about ten years older than me offered me tissues, which I took.

By the time I got home, Charlie was lying on his side, with his rear legs crossed as if he'd taken a tumble.  He may very well have done just that:  he was lying on a blanket and sheet I used to leave for him on my sofa, and they--and he--were on the floor.  I'm guessing that he might have tried to climb on the couch, and when he clawed the sheet or blanket, they slipped off the cushions.  I don't know whether that is what killed him, because he didn't look as if he had wounds caused by such a fall.  However, as weak as he was, he may have simply not gotten back up.

Anyway...What's the point of playing detective now?  He's gone, and I can't stop crying.  He's been in my life for six years.  Even though I had two other cats, whom I loved dearly, for much longer, I think I developed a bond with him that I have not developed with any other animal.  Part of it has to do with the time of my life in which he accompanied me:  He came into my home about two years after I started living as Justine, and was with me through all manner of change in my life.  And, he curled up by my side, in my lap, or even on my belly when I was lying down, during those days when I was recovering from my surgery.

That he never showed me anything but affection is all the more remarkable when I consider how he came into my life.  My friend Millie rescued him from the street.  How such a loving--and handsome--cat ended up on the street is one of those mysteries I'd rather not ponder:  If someone abandoned him, I don't want to think about the sort of person who would do such a thing.

When I think about that, I think that in my next life, I'd like to have a farm with a bunch of animals, especially cats.  When animals attack each other--something Charlie never did, by the way--they are only doing what they are made or hard-wired (or whatever you want to call it) to do.  They are not capriciously cruel, they don't maim or kill for fun or profit, and they don't invade other countries whose citizens never harmed them.

After being, possibly, abandoned on the streets, Charlie was always sweet-natured and never wanted anything more than to be fed, stroked, spoken to gently and cuddled.  People sometimes come from far more fortunate circumstances and are pointlessly mean and avaricious.  Or they simply think only about their own happiness, others be damned.

As I sit and write this, I have my shoulder bag in my lap.  It just doesn't feel right.

13 January 2012

I Don't Want To Lose Him Yet

I'm feeling a bit gloomy, to say the least.  The day started with rain and turned into one of those dreary winter afternoons smothered by cold gray clouds.  And Charlie's getting sicker and sicker.

Back in the Spring, he'd lost some weight.  I brought him to the vet, who said that his kidneys were slowing down.  She prescribed a medicine that seemed to restore his appetitite and energy. 

Now I've noticed that since Christmas, he lost even more weight than he did in the Spring.  And he seems to be losing his energy even more precipitiously.  The one good thing in this is that he always wants to be in my lap.  And, when he does, I don't care about what I'm wearing, even if its a black wool skirt like the one I wore yesterday.

He was rescued from the street.  I adopted him six years ago--a bit more than two years after I started my life as Justine.  So he has been with me through my physical and emotional changes, as people and things have come and gone.  He curled on, and cuddled, me every day of my recovery from my surgery.  And he has rubbed his nose on, and licked, my hands, toes and face more times than I can count. 

I'm going to stop now: I don't want to write his requiem just yet.

11 January 2012

Boycotting Girl Scout Cookies--Or A Girl?

Today is the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, a 14-year-old girl in California is calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies. 

She is a former Girl Scout.  So why does she call for the boycott in a YouTube video?  A troop in Colorado admitted a seven-year-old transgender child.

In the video, the ex-Girl Scout, who is identified only as "Taylor," says, “Right now, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. ... is not being honest with us girls, its troops, its leaders, its parents or the American public.”  According to "Taylor," who wears a Girl Scout sash during the video, “Girl Scouts describes itself as an all-girl experience. With that label, families trust that the girls will be in an environment that is not only nurturing and sensitive to girls' needs, but also safe for girls.”

An "all-girl expereince."  That sounds like a reason why the seven-year-old transgender would join.  "Families trust that the girls will be in an environment that is not only nurturing and sensitive to girls' needs, but also safe for girls."  Hmm...If I were a parent, I think those would be exactly the reasons why I'd support my child who wanted to join.  It would be safe, not only for the kid who's joining, but for the other girls in the troop.  After all, if the kid is a genetic boy with female characteristics and a high level of estrogen, that kid is neither a physical nor a sexual threat to other girls.  And, even if the kid were more characteristically male, it's highly unlikely that she'd be interested in doing anything that would menace the girls or their parents.

I can't be too angry with "Taylor," though.  After all, she's still a kid and what we're hearing from her are most likely notions she's received.  I knew less about gender variance (save for the suspicion that I was indeed variant) at her age than she does; most people in that place and time knew even less.  Perhaps she will learn things I didn't have the opportunity to learn.

Still, there's the question of what the future holds for those organizations with "Boy" or "Girl" in their names.  In recent years, the Boy Scouts have become notorious for homophobic practices and policies. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are people who share "Taylor"'s sentiments.  However, as it becomes somewhat acceptable, in some milieux, to raise a child in ways that aren't in accordance with traditional notions about the gender on the child's birth certificate, the Scouts and other organizations will have to re-think their criteria for membership.  Of course, their thinking will be driven by practical considerations, like the threat of lawsuits.  But, if people become more willing to accept variance in gender and sexuality, some may not let their kids join, and some kids may decide they don't want to belong.  After all, they all need "safe" envirnoments that are "nurturing and sensitive."

10 January 2012

Why "Work It" Doesn't Work

In "Think Progress," Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a very perceptive post about the new TV show Work It.  In her discussion of the negative reaction the program has receieved from transgenders, she includes this response from ABC entertainment president Paul Lee:

"Certainly in terms of the lesbian and gay community, we’re incredibly proud of the work ABC does, and that’s not just Modern Family, it’s Grey’s Anatomy, it’s Private Practice. In that case, I didn’t really get it," he said.    He contiI loved Tootsie, I think it’s a great thing, so in that particular case, I didn’t get it. But I think that’s me.” And he said that given the sophistication of the rest of the network’s fall lineup, “I thought there was room for a very, very, very, very silly show."

And that "very, very, very, very silly show" just happens to be about a couple of guys who dress like girls to get jobs.  Hmm...I guess the man doesn't understand the difference between a "very, very, very, very silly show" and something that uses a gender inversion, if you will, for the purposes of irony and satire. 

Some of you might remember the movie Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a desperate out-of-work actor who presents himself as female in order to get work.  While I think it had its banalities, at least the situation wasn't played for "yuck"s.  Rather, it was an attempt, however crude, to show some of the sometimes-contradictory ideas people have about work and gender.  At least at that level, it was ironic and almost satirical.

A much better treatment of the same theme can be found, interestingly enough, in a short story written half a century before Tootsie was made:  Richard Wright's A Man Of All Work.  In fact, it's still one of my favorite short stories.  The male protagonist of the story, who is a husband and father during the Great Depression, decides to dress as a woman in order to get work as a domestic.  "Who ever looks at us folks anyhow?," he says to his horrified bedridden wife.

In the story--which is told entirely in dialogue--the man's portrayal of a woman is so convincing that he is sexually assaulted by a male employer.  As you can imagine, Wright brilliantly used the situation to expose some of the misconceptions and hypocrisies surrounding attitudes about race and gender.

Though that story is about eighty years old, it is light years ahead of Work It, not only in its incisiveness into questions about race, gender, sexuality and economics, but is also--if unintentionally--a much more sensitive treatment of gender-variant people. 

A Man Of All Work at least acknowledged--better yet, showed--some of the potential dangers faced by those who do not live in accordance with the gender to which they were assigned at birth.  Now, that protagonist's situation and mine are undoubtedly very different, but he did suffer from at least one of the dangers about which I've been warned ever since I started my gender transition:  We are more likely to be assaulted--whether sexually or not--or murdered than anyone else.  And, for those of us who "change" sexes--or even for crossdressers-- putting on the clothes of the "opposite" gender is not simply a game or fetish:  We do it so that our bodies, and our overall physical apperance, can be more congruent with the gender of our minds and spirits.

Living by the dictates of our mind and spirit:  I can't think of a more fundamental human right than that.  That's something Paul Lee and the writers and producers of Work It will never have to understand.  At least Ms. Rosenberg does.

08 January 2012

That's How I Am Now

I was just like I am now.  The only difference is, I was a guy then.

Sometimes I think that's what I'll answer if anyone else asks what I was like when I was the "before" photo.  During the first couple of years of my new life, people would ask to see a photo of me from before my transition.  Sometimes I would show an old passport; according to one person, I looked like a terrorist in it.  Other times, I'd show my "Hemingway" photo, in which I sat in a writerly pose at my desk.  And then there was my "Amish" photo, in which I stood in front of a stone farmhouse.

No matter which photo I showed, people said I looked angry or simply unhappy.  That perception is accurate, mostly.   I didn't show the photos I mentioned to highlight that fact, or anything else: I just don't have a lot of photos of myself, particularly from the time before my transition.  I didn't destroy or discard any old ones:  I merely managed to keep myself from being photographed very often.  And I think I made one self-portrait, which I call my "Death Row" photo.

The thing is, I was just as much of a woman in that photo--in which I had close-cropped hair and a beard, and sat clutching the arms of a chair--as I have ever been.  Around that time, in fact, a woman with whom I'd been going to movies and restaurants said "no" when I expressed my wish to make our friendship into something else.  "You're too much like a woman," she said.  "You think the world is all about feelings and refinements.  That's what I like about hanging out with you.  But in that kind of relationship, I want a man."

Perhaps the particulars of what she said were not quite right. But she got the most important part right:  Emotionally and spiritually--as well as intellectually--I have always been female.  Even buying a pair of corduroy pants and flannel shirt--let alone a bike jersey-- became an emotional, esthetic experience for me:  I wanted colors and patterns or designs that not only looked good, but felt right to me.  I was the same way (and still am) with my bicycles, even when I was beating more "macho" guys in races.  It wasn't enough for something to fill a function or to look right:  They also had to feel right to me.

Now, in some ways--including some of the worst ones--I was both a stereotypical male and female.  I was able to navigate through strange cities in countries where I could barely, if at all, speak the language.  On the other hand, I couldn't do math worth a damn.  I can fix nearly anything on a bicycle, and I can fix some small appliances, but I never learned how to fix cars, planes, air conditioners or televisions, and I learned how to use a computer only when I absolutely had to.  I always felt that the only way to relate to people was emotionally; yet it was the very reason I withdrew and lived much of my life alone.

I think that everything I've said in the previous paragraph still holds true, if in different degrees and different ways from before.  But now that I am living as a woman, and my body mostly conforms to my gender identity, I feel complete, whole, in ways that I never did before.  That means I'm happier, if not necessarily more cheerful.  Flipper's trainer says the dolphin's smile is deceptive, especially if she is in captivity.  Cats don't smile, but you know when they are happy.  Sometimes I feel like I've become a cat!

Anyway, now that I've written what you've just read, something else makes sense to me:  why I have so little interest in Gender Studies or any other academic area ostensibly related to questions of gender identity and sexuality.  Even when they're practiced by people who aren't cisgendered and heterosexual, they seem simplistic at best and trivial at worst.  That's the reason why, inwardly, I winced the other day when a new fellow-faculty member said, "Well, you know, gender is performative" and all of those other things they say in graduate seminars.