31 March 2012

For Alexis Rivera

Just before I started my transition, I attended the wake and funeral of Sylvia Rivera.  (I can't believe a decade has passed since then!) She died at the same age at which I had my gender-reassignment surgery.  At the time, I remember thinking that she had died (relatively) young but had accomplished--and lived through--so much.

That seems to be the story for so many trans people who manage to find the strength of their voices.  I am going to talk about one such person in a moment. However, there are far too many others who, for various reasons, simply die young--like the person I'm going to mention.

Alexis Rivera (no relation to Sylvia, to my knowledge) was only 34 years old when she died on Wednesday, 28 March.  She'd become a grandmother only a month before her death.  In California, she  was one of the leaders of the transgender community, fighting for our equality.  She also worked on issues relating to AIDS.  According to reports, complications from that disease resulted in her death.

Now, I have had people in my life die that way.  Even though treatments have improved, and the length and quality of the lives of those affected have improved, it's still a terrible way to die.  On the other hand, the fact that people do live longer (I remember when people lived no more than a year after being diagnosed.) and can spend at least some of that time in much the same ways as people who aren't infected has much to do with the work of Ms. Rivera, not to mention any number of dedicated scientists and medical professionals.

Still, I couldn't help but to think about things that I didn't understand when Sylvia Rivera died.  For one thing, the fact that both she and Alexis died relatively young had, ironically and sadly, much to do with the fact that they  "came out" and transitionsed (at least in Alexis' case) at a young age.  Sylvia, from what I know about her, seemed not to have a choice; somehow I think the same was true of Alexis.  What that meant for Sylvia--and I susupect, for Alexis--is that they didn't have access to some of the care and support we can find (even if we are of modest means) when we're in our 40's and 50's.  Plus, more people are more aware of what it means to be trans now than when we were young.   

Also, I suspect that being leaders of the activist movements for transgenders and people afflicted with HIV/AIDS made it more difficult for Sylvia and Alexis to care, or get care, for themselves.  People like them feel--rightly, I believe--the need to be strong and to seem brave for us, and to the rest of the world.  Part of that has to do with not wanting others to see chinks in the armor.  People like the Riveras--especially Alexis--do not want our detractors to see their (and, by extension, our) vulnerabilities.  

Plus, I think having to overcome the adversities they experienced may have led both of them to trivialize whatever medical or other problems they may have had.  I think now of an activist who is a dear friend:  Jay Toole.  He has had various health problems which, I suspect, are due to having lived a more stressful life (a family situation so terrible I can scarcely imagine it, and having to live in a world even more hostile to "butches" than the one I have experienced as a trans woman) and to his attempts to be strong for all of those for whom he is working.  There is also, of course, the issue of getting health care that is appropriate for his physical needs as well as sensitive toward the ways in which he differs from most people.  

In the end, though, I believe the most important parallel between Jay's and Alexis' health problems is this:  They put others before themselves.  Alexis said that everything she did was motivated by love; knowing Jay, I believe that he has similar, if not identical, motivations.  He never demeans those against whom he has to fight; instead, he sees them as people who can be educated and won over.  From what I've heard about Alexis, she had a similar way of seeing her opponents, whom neither she nor Jay would label as enemies.

Although I never had the opportunity to meet Alexis Rivera and have only heard and read about her work, I feel I owe her a debt of gratitude.  We may have lost her "too soon," but wherever she is going will be better for her energy and spirit.

29 March 2012

Not Standing Idly By Transgendered Youth

There are days when I wish I'd gotten on a bus, or my bike, the day after I graduated high school and gone to some place where nobody knew me.  Then, I could have done whatever I needed to do to begin my transition into my life as a woman.

However, I also realize that such a thing would have been infinitely more difficult than it is now.  Part of the reason for that, of course, has to do with societal attitudes.  While many of us still face ostracism, and worse, there was even less understanding of, and hostility directed toward, us three and a half decades ago than there is now.

Another reason why transitioning into a life in my true gender would have been more difficult is, of course, the cost. I, like most new high school graduates, didn't have the money necessary for everything from psychotherapy and hormonal treatments--let alone surgery.  In fact, about the only way I could have gained access (legally, anyway) to that much money was through a loan--which I could have used only to go to college.

Still another thing that would have made my journey much more arduous and perilous than it has been is the lack of facilities and competent (let alone willing) providers of health care and other services for transgenders.  In most places, such facilities and services didn't exist at all; those services and techniques in use at the time were, at best, primitive compared to what we have today, simply because so few providers and policy-makers understood our needs and concerns.

So, it is heartening to read about resources and people available to trans people, especially the young, that weren't available in my youth.  

In particular, I'm glad to see someone like Dr. Norman Spack doing the kind of work he does.

Dr. Spack has worked at the Boston Children's Hospital for 39 years.  In his early days at the hospital, he treated street kids as a volunteer on a medical van.  Some of those young people were "throwaways" who were rejected by their families and communities because of their gender variance.    That is how he first learned of the difficulties faced by transgender children and teenagers.

Later, a colleague referred a young transgender adult, who was a Harvard graduate, to him.  This patient introduced the doctor to other transgender young adults.  Dr. Spack would become one of the few doctors who was willing to provide care and treatment for transgenders.  Even today, many doctors are reluctant or unwilling to take on trans patients, let alone those who are young adults or children.

Five years ago, Dr. Spack co-founded the Gender Management Services Clinic, or GeMS, at the hospital.  This clinic provides many services to transgender children and teenagers.  Among the most controversial is treatment with hormonal suppressants that delay the onset of puberty.  In addition to relieving depression and cutting down on self-destructive behaviors, the treatment buys time for the transgendered child.  A teenager is better able to decide whether or not to start taking the hormones of the "opposite" that trigger permanent physical changes.  Hormonal suppression treatments, on the other hand, are fully reversible.

Dr. Spack's work at the clinic is not limited to medical treatments.  He, who comes from a family of noted Jewish educators, does what he can to reassure this young patients that God has not played a trick on them.  "Things happen," he tells them. "It's not because of anything you did.  It's our job to find a way for you to be balanced, to be happy."

His inspiration for his work, he says, comes from Leviticus:  If your neighbor is bleeding by the side of the road, you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor."

28 March 2012

It Gets Better For Them, Too

By now, you've probably seen the ads, Public Service Announcements and videos that try to reassure LGBT youth that "It Gets Better."  Columnist Dan Savage started the project; since then, a number of celebrities, including President Obama, have made videos bringing that message to You Tube viewers.

So far, we've seen adults giving that message of hope to young people.  And, young people have offered it to their peers and those slightly younger than themselves.

However, children and teenagers who are, or believe themselves to be, on the LGBT spectrum aren't the only ones who need to hear such a message. Sabine Bartlett knows that very well.

She was taunted and bullied--but not for being part of the "rainbow" herself.  Rather, kids harassed her--to the point that she's now home-schooled--because her mother, who is divorced from her father, transitioned into manhood.

Her mother began that process when Sabine was 13.  Now, three years later, she says, "It's hard to face the fact that someone who is close to you changes at all--especially a change that big."  She "felt a sense of loss," she recalls, until a year later, when she saw that her mother was "a much happier person."

This sixteen-year-old has some great wisdom to share with any of her peers who might be in a position like hers:  "It usually gets easier after a while and, despite the changes, your parent will always be the same person.  Only, maybe a bit happier."

26 March 2012

He Would Have Had An Easier Time In Georgia

The State of Georgia actually makes one aspect of life for transgender people easier than the City of New York does.

Yes, you read that right.

How did I learn that?  Experience.

You see, I was born in Georgia.  I spent only the first seven months of my life there and have only been there once, for a few hours, since then.

After I had my surgery, I had to send my birth certificate, a certified letter from Dr. Bowers and a certified copy of the court order for my name change, along with $35.  Within two weeks, a new birth certificate with my new name and true gender arrived in the mail.

Compare that with what happened to Louis Birney, right here in New York City. Around the same time I had my surgery, he had his.  He is nearly two decades older than I am.

He sent the letter from his surgeon to the City's Department of Health, which issues birth certificate.  (In Georgia, they're issued by the Department of Public Records.)  In response, the DoH demanded a psychiatric report and detailed surgical records in order to turn the "F" to an "M" on his birth certificate.

Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Paul G.Feinman has ruled that the Health Department should re-evaluate Birney's case.  The judge also questioned the Department's understanding of "the lives and experience of transgender people," noting that "It does not seem likely that an individual would go through all the required years of preparation for surgical transition, including psychotherapy, undergo major surgery, assume life under his or her new gender, and then decide it was all a mistake and change back."

Feinman faulted the Department had provided a "clear, straightforward list" of requirements for changing his birth certificate.  To their credit, the Georgia officials provided such a document for me.  So did the State Department before I applied for a new passport. 

It's about time for the city to catch up to Georgia and the State Department.  

25 March 2012

What Is Denis Davila Afraid Of?

Would you let Jenna Talackova compete in your beauty contest?

If not, what are you afraid of?

I'd like to ask the latter question of Denis Davila, the National Director of Miss Universe Canada.  He claimed that only "natural born" women are qualified to compete in the pageant.  

However, Maria Keisling, the Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, claims that she read the rules and couldn't find any prohibition against transgenders.  "It seems that they made (the rules) up on the fly to disqualify her," she explained.

In defending the ban on Talackova, Davila said, "Just because she can't compete doesn't mean we stopped loving her."

24 March 2012

Why Bullying Is A Crime

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who is showing some signs of taking hormones but has not started to live full-time as a woman.  This friend is a few years older than I am and grew up under very different circumstances from what I experienced as a child.  However, there is at least one parallel between our childhoods and adolescent years:  Each of us was bullied.

Now, some might say that we were simply having experiences typical of adolescence, particularly for males.  You know what I mean: getting slammed into lockers, being taunted--that sort of thing.  However, what makes it different is that even though no one bullied us specifically for being transgendered, mainly because most people in our milieux had no idea of what that means, we were taunted because we were perceived as people who didn't fit into what we were "supposed to be" as males.  Plus, you might say that each of us was a kind of geek, albeit in different ways. 

What I just said about each of us could also have been said about countless other young people who have been bullied and harassed. Tyler Clementi comes to mind:  He was quiet, reflective and intense (as one might expect of an aspiring concert violin player).  Those qualities made him a misfit in a male college dormitory.  I don't know whether things have changed since I was in college, but as I recall, the atmosphere in such dorms really isn't so different from high school, or even junior high school.  If you don't "fit in", you are subject to harassment, and even physical violence.  And those who taunt you will also use the stereotypes about people like you to make your life miserable in all sorts of ways, or simply as a rationale to hate, shun and slander you.  I know; such things have been done to me, and they have been done to my friend.

Some people say that those of us who are bullied or harassed should conform more to whatever is around us.  Such an expectation is as illogical as it is disrespectful.  Telling someone who is slight of build and who may have health issues to "toughen up" is a kind of taunt, whether or not it's intended as one.  As it happens, my friend did that, at least to some degree, by learning some combat techniques from her father, who was in the Special Forces.  But, although she is not physically imposing, she was healthy enough to be able to make the moves her father taught her. However, not every kid is like that.  Likewise, not everyone can change his or her personality to suit a situation.  I don't know how you turn a shy, diffident person into someone who is more boisterous and cocky.  I'm not so sure I'd even want such a thing:  I've learned all sorts of things from those shy people that I don't think I could have learned from other kinds of personalities.

Anyway, bullying and harassment aren't simply rites of passage or "boys being boys."  They are a form of terrorism, for they are ways of attempting to intimidate someone into some sort of submission to someone who exploits his or her status as a privileged "normal" person.  They are attempts to deny someone the right to be who he or she is.  In other words, they are ways of preventing a person from living simply because he or she is somehow different from others.  

22 March 2012

99 Steps

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has just issued a new Blueprint for Equality. It outlines 99 steps that could be taken to improve the lives of transgender  Americans.   The steps are classified among such areas as Housing and Homelessness, Safe and Supportive Schools and Health Care Access.  Also, there are sections about Immigration, Travel, Documents and Privacy as well as Military Service and Honoring Our Veterans, all of which are issues that are all but completely missed by the mainstream media.

It's particularly gratifying to note that even in areas like Safe and Supportive Schools that have recently been part of the national conversation, the report makes useful suggestions that go well beyond what even policy-makers, let alone the mainstream media, have discussed.  For example, the report recommends that the Department of Education should mandate that all high schools provide comprehensive suicide prevention education--which includes discussion of LGBT youth and why they are at increased risk--to all high-school students.  

Another thing I like about the report is that it points out the importance of the efforts parents and youth educators have made in bringing about safer schools.  It also mentions the work done by individuals as well as small local organization in helping to get trans elders the care they need, among other things.  As I have maintained, in this blog and in my other communications, the real change will happen at the local level and will start with individual people, working alone or in small groups and families.  More than one Civil Rights activist said, in essence, that anti-discrimination laws will mean only so much if the people whose rights are protected by those laws aren't seen as their friends, neighbors, co-workers, brothers, sisters and members of their community rather than as merely Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Gays, Transgenders or members of any other "minority" group you care to name.

21 March 2012

Testing My Patience

I am going to say something that, coming from an educator, you might find odd:  I utterly abhor tests.

All right.  I'll lay my cards on the table:  I never was very good at taking tests.  I know lots of other people aren't, either.  More to the point, I wonder whether some tests measure anything besides its taker's ability to take tests.

And then there are the ones that are just plain stupid, and worse.  An example is one that was on Planet Transgender's site the other day.  The blog's author put it very well:  "The ChaCha quiz challenges you to prove your (manly) or (womanly) misogynistic transphobic cissexualism by being able to distinguish between real Woman (sic) and transgender fakers."

The test does play into, and display, all sorts of stereotypes and pure-and-simple hate. However, I have to admit that in one way, I do find amusement in the fact that it exists.  In looking at it, all I could think about was a guy I knew who made it a point of showing me that he could pick out all of the gay people walking down the street or in a crowded restaurant.  And, after every display of his prowess, he insisted, "But I'm 100 percent straight."  Uh-huh. 

In a more serious vein, the test reminded me that society at large will accept us as equals to cisgender folk only when it can embrace, not only diversity as most people currently understand it, but diversity within any given group of people.  In other words, there won't be any real hope of equality until more people are willing to accept the same sorts of variation in physical appearance, behavior and other characteristics in trans people as it does in cisgendered people.  We're not all weepy bombshells, just as not all cisgender women are.  And some of us, as much as we love clothes and shoes, actually care more about things like books.

Anyway...If you've been reading this blog, it's likely that you already understand what I've just said.  So I don't want to risk beating the proverbial dead horse to death.  I just hope that I live long enough to see true acceptance become the norm.

19 March 2012

Kaeden Kass: Denied For A Job, His Identity Denied

Kaeden Kass was not allowed to serve as resident assistant of a male dorm at Miami University of Ohio.

Normally, that wouldn't be noteworthy:  Every year, thousands of college students apply for such a position at colleges all over America.  Most aren't selected.  At most colleges, RA's receive free housing along with a stipend, a reduction in tuition or free meals.  That's often better, financially, than working a job while in school.  For such perks, RAs usually serve as para-counselors, answer residents' questions and enforce residence policies.  Sometimes they're referred to as the "Mayors" of the residences; more than anything, they are familiar (and, one assumes, friendly) faces for student residents, most of whom are living away from their families for the first time.

However, you probably noticed that I mentioned Kass was rejected for the position of RA in a male dorm.  You see, Kass looks and acts the part of a college guy, but according to his birth certificate, he was born female.

School officials say they offered him a like position in a female dorm. However, he feels that taking such a position, or living in the college's new gender-neutral dorm, would "erase" his identity.  That is unacceptable, he says, because, "I have to fight for my identity every day, and it's just exhausting and frustrating, and it hinders my mental health every day."

I understand how he feels.  Early in my transition, I had to assert my identity in various ways, to building security personnel, prospective employers and even salespeople who wanted to sell me men's products.  I had to argue with a security guard who admitted me into a building but later confronted me about using the women's room, just as I was about to take the GRE.  And, I am sad to say, there are people who were once in my life who aren't, and in the little bit of contact I've had with them, they still address me by my old name and refer to me with male pronouns.  So, I am also sad to say that none some of the hateful and ignorant comments that appear after the linked news story came as no surprise to me.

I have never met Kass, but somehow I think he'd be a good residence counselor.  Perhaps I am prejudiced:  After all, the psychiatric social worker who helped as I was preparing for, and in the early days of, my transition is a trans man.  He's one of the best listeners I've ever encountered. 

17 March 2012

Darun Rhavi's Crime

The debate continues, and will most likely continue, about Dharun Ravi's conviction yesterday.  Whether or not you think that he is responsible for Tyler Clementi's suicide, it's hard not to characterize what Ravi did to Clementi as bullying. 

What is bullying?  To me, it's when someone uses an advantage he or she has to intimidate or harass someone else.  Most people thinking of the big, brutish (or simply pyschopathic) kid in the schoolyard preying on someone who's smaller, weaker, gentler, more soft-spoken or simply pusillanimous.  Of course, that scenario did not transpire between Ravi and Clementi.  However, Ravi used three advantages (at least in terms of life in this society) to intimidate and harass Clementi.

The first was his webcam.  Now, Clementi may well have owned one and could have set it up as Ravi did.  However, I doubt that Clementi would have thought to set up a webcam on Ravi, or anyone else, as he was about to have an intimate encounter with his boyfriend. So, the fact that Ravi had a webcam and was in a state of mind to use it as he did put him in a position of power, vis-a-vis Clementi.

The second advantage Ravi had--at least in terms of the situation between him and Clementi--was a personality that others described as loud, brash and bombastic.  Clementi, on the other hand, was said to be quiet and reserved, and not the type to fight back.  People--especially young ones--with personalities like Ravi's prey upon personalities like Clementi's all of the time.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that Ravi was (presumably) straight. So were his friends.  A gay person can't make a spectacle out of someone having heterosexual relations because it is highly unlikely that someone would lose
"face" (save, perhaps, among the most radical of queers), not to mention a job or an apartment, if he were "outed" as straight.  In contrast, even in this more "tolerant" world, LGBT people still face discrimination and the threat of violence if their identities are known.

So, whatever you think of the trial, it's hard to deny that Ravi bullied Clementi.  Unfortuantely, some in law enforcement seem ignorant of antbullying laws, or simply not interested in enforcing them.  And so there will be more bullying.

16 March 2012

Is This Justice For Tyler Clementi--Or Dharun Ravi?

As you may have heard by now, Dharun Ravi has been found guilty of hate crimes.  He will be sentenced on 21 May; he faces ten years in prison and possible deportation to his native India.

As an aside, I think the latter may turn out, in some ways, to be the more severe punishment. Although he was born in India, he has spent most of his life in New Jersey.  His parents brought him to the US when he was a small child, so if he is deported, he will be cut off from his friends and family (unless, of course, they go to India) and, really, life as he knows it.

In any event, although I am satisfied with the fact that he will be punished for his actions, I have mixed feelings about the verdict and the specific punishment he could receive.

On one hand, I know firsthand how serious it is when someone invades your privacy and uses whatever he finds to intimidate, harass or simply embarrass you.  Even if he is "revealing" something people already know about you, he can still use it for the purposes I have mentioned. Also, it makes you feel vulnerable and helpless when someone uses very personal information about you for the purpose of demeaning you in some way. That, essentially, is what Ravi did when he showed his friends the images of Tyler Clementi and his boyfriend.

Also, I know--I've learned the hard way!--that someone who's upset with you, or simply dislikes you, can take the most benign information he finds about you and spin it into something negative or even an outright falsehood.  Such things can put you in physical danger as well as the risk of losing friends, jobs and places to live. (I've seen all of those things happen to people.)  

It seems to me that Ravi was upset because Clementi, his roommate, asked to have the room to himself.  Like most freshman-year college roommates, they had never before met each other before going to Rutgers.  That, I believe, would intensify whatever resentment Ravi may have had--whether or not verbalized it--over being kicked out of his room.  Perhaps videotaping it and amusing his friends with the images was some sort of retaliation for what he perceived to be an unfair demand from Clementi.  

Even if we accept such an explanation, we are still left with this question: Would Ravi have videotaped Clementi had he brought a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend to the room?  I can't help but to answer, "no."  I base that answer, not on any speculation about whether or not Ravi is homophobic:  Perhaps he was, but I doubt that he is any more so than most young men of his age. (I include myself at that stage of my life.)  The reason I think that he wouldn't have run the webcam had Clementi been canoodling with a co-ed is that it simply wouldn't have shocked or titillated his friends--or him.  Clementi would have been doing what the majority of college students--including, I assume, Ravi and his friends--have, or would have done, at one time or another.  On the other hand, even if they were raised in "tolerant" environments and their best friends "came out" to them when they were twelve years old, it's unlikely that they would have seen two men (or two women) in acts of physical intimacy.  

Think of it this way: Has Jerry Springer ever had a heterosexual married couple from Greenwich, Connecticut and their 2.5 kids on his show?

In any event, if Ravi showing his friends what that webcam revealed really drove Clementi to his suicide, Ravi was, indeed, responsible for Clementi's death. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I have to wonder what crime--among those defined by law--describes what Ravi did.  I would guess that it's probably not murder. So, then, is it manslaughter?  Involuntary manslaughter? If it is, my admittedly sketchy knowledge of criminal law tells me that ten years in prison and/or deportation is probably an appropriate sentence.

The real tragedy is, of course, that Clementi is dead and Ravi's life is effectively over at the age of 20.  Also, the lives of Clementi's family members, and others who were in his life, will never be what they were.   There is no way to redress those things--not under the law, anyway.  For that reason, there is simply no way that justice can be done--not for his family, and not for Ravi. But most important, not for Tyler Clementi.  I can only hope that he has gone to a place where there is love and acceptance, not to mention more maturity about sexual matters and other people's lives.

15 March 2012

More Attempts At Legislative Violence Against Women

I'm normally not much of a fan of increased government regulation.  However, I am disgusted by  the latest efforts to weaken legislation designed to help women.  What's even worse is that such efforts are being made in tandem with attempts to violate our right to the sanctity of our own bodies.

In a previous post, I discussed the drive in several states--most notably Texas--to require a woman who seeks an abortion to be probed, in her vagina, with an ultrasound stick.  Now many of the same lawmakers who support such legislation are behind efforts to prevent the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

Those who want to renew the Act also want to broaden its powers to include, among other women, those who live in rural areas and Native American communities, and those who experience violence in same-sex relationships.  They also want to include stalking in the definition of domestic violence.

I can tell you firsthand that being stalked, even electronically, by an ex can have as much an effect as physical battering on your physical health and emotional well-being.  It's a kind of terrorism, when you think about it, because it keeps the stalked person on edge in much the same way that the threat of bombings keeps a society on edge.  The difference is that law enforcement officers and agencies don't take stalking seriously.  (Yes, I know that firsthand, too.) Then again, most of them don't take other kinds of violence against women seriously, either.

As for women in rural areas and Native American communities, they have less access than most other women to the services available to victims of violence, as well as the services to prevent some of them from becoming victims. Such a lack of access has to do with their isolation:  In addition to being far from the centers that offer services, women in those areas also share the isolation women in abusive relationships experience.  One all-too-common side effect of that isolation, which further exacerbates the problems those women face, is poverty.  A woman in such a relationship is likely not to have money or other resources of her own that would allow her to escape such a situation and start life anew someplace else.  Also, if such women have children, they want to take those children with them. That, of course, requires even more money and other resources, including a safe place to which they can go.

Now you might ask, "Why should there be programs for same-sex couples?"  You might not believe this, but even the so-called "helping professions" have their share of deliberately and, more often, unconsciously homophobic practitioners.  There are many other practitioners who simply don't have training for, or experience with, helping LGBT people and don't understand the particular risks-- most of which stem from the stress of living with discrimination in employment, housing and other areas--for domestic violence (and related issues like substance abuse) in the community.  Those problems are further exacerbated by the fact that because same-sex marriage still isn't legal in most states, abused partners often don't have the same venues of recourse and redress that people battered in heterosexual relationships can use.

What really rankles me is that some of the politicians who want to get rid of the Violence Against Women Act, and require doctors to probe the vaginas of women who've been raped and girls who've been incested, frame it as a diversion of money away from "more important" things in the worst economic times since the Great Depression.  If 51 percent of the population can't be as secure within our persons as the other 49 percent, what hope is there of a "recovery" or "improvement" in any other area?

13 March 2012

"But No Man Will Want To Marry You!"

Some of my current students had yet to be born when I started teaching.  Just when I thought I'd heard everything, I realized I had. And that was part of the problem.

One of my students told me she wants to study aerospace engineering. That means she will have to transfer to another school.  It may also mean that getting a bachelor's degree won't be enough.

However, those aren't the reasons why her parents are trying to talk her out of her dream.  It's also not the expense her schooling would entail, or even what her job prospects would be.  (As an occupation, it's growing at about an average rate, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.)  Rather, it's about what it would do to her social life and marriageability.

What's really disturbing is that her parents aren't religious fundamentalists from some country where women aren't allowed to do much besides have babies.  They were born and raised here, and are both teachers.  She tells me they want her to "be happy."  But, she says, "They don't understand that my happiness might be different from theirs."

Now, if they were concerned about her job prospects, I could understand:  As I understand, most aerospace engineers are white and male.  So, perhaps, she might encounter prejudice, albeit in more subtle ways than she would in other fields.  But I would think that if she were determined enough, she could make her place in such a field.

I thought the "no man will want to marry you" canard died out, at least in this country, by the time Sally Ride came along.  I guess I was wrong. 

I'm not against anyone getting married, if that's what he or she wants.  I'm also not against one spouse or partner staying home with the kids, as long as both spouses or partners agree to the arrangement and will make whatever sacrifices are necessary. However, unless being married is the most important thing in a person's life, I don't think he or she should choose a major or career on whatever marriage prospects it might or might not offer.

Ironically, though, her parents might be right, at least in one way. In some of the states in which one is most likely to find a job as an aerospace engineer, my student could not get married. At least, she wouldn't be able to marry anyone she would want to marry.  I wonder whether her parents know that about her.

12 March 2012

After Their Traumas

(I know there are now thousands of women in the US Armed Forces.  However, for the purposes of this post, I'll use male pronouns in referring to soldiers.)

A soldier returns home from combat duty.  He's among family and friends, in places that were familiar to him before he went off to fight the war. 

Yet he is still angry, confused, scared or simply anxious.  Although his brain tells him that the family car isn't booby-trapped with explosives, his nerves are still programmed to expect the car to blow up if he opens the door.  Or some smell that he once associated with pleasant experiences--of breakfast, of a walk through the woods--reminds him of the way he lost one of his buddies. 

Or he simply cannot be close to the people who always knew him; he cannot touch his wife or girlfriend.  And his children can be decoys, or victims of a roadside bomb.

As far-fetched as these scenarios might seem to some people, I have heard or read of ones like them.   Just as a wound is still open, or at least present, even as the person with it is in the best hospital in the world, so are the psychic scars of those expereinces with the soldier even as he's among those who have always loved him.

Most of you will recognise what I have described as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  It is common, not only to members of the military who have served in combat, but also to others who have suffered physically or emotionally traumatic expereinces.  I am talking, of course, about people who have been in abusive relationships or dysfunctional homes, have been the victims of violent crimes or who have survived some sort of terrible accident or natural disaster.

However, I have come across some literature and websites that have referred to PTSD and transgender people.  It doesn't surprise me that the incidence of PTSD is higher among trans people, as well as L's and G's, or people who are simply perceived as such.  We have, after all, experience violence and discrimination directed against us more than most other people.  And many of us who were perceived as incongruent with the expectations of the gender to which we were assigned at birth, or to people's ideas of heterosexuality, also incurred bullying and, sometimes, physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children.

But there are those of us who cry or simply sulk over those past traumas even after we have successfully transitioned into lives in our spiritual and psychological genders, or found the kind of love we have always wanted and needed.  Someone who had her surgery around the same time as I had mine was talking about that just recently.  Yes, she is happy about the life she has now, and wishes only that she'd begun her transition sooner.   However, no matter how good our new lives are, we never quite forget about our old ones.

In Christine Jorgensen's time--and, until not very long before I began my own transition-- doctors and therapists recommended, not only abandoning one's past, but re-inventing it, making up an entirely fictitious personal history.  Doing so, of course, complicated whatever issues those transsexuals may have had. 

Now I can understand why it's entirely useless to tell someone who's been traumatized to "just get over" their pasts.  I don't care whether that person suffered abuse from his or her family or spouse (current or former), or whether that person carries the residual effects of being called "Nigger!" or seeing her uncle hanging from a tree.  (A student of mine, who returned to school at age 58, related such an expereince to me.)  There are some things you just don't get over.  And maybe you need not to "get over" them if you want to move forward and create the kind of life you envisioned for yourself.

10 March 2012

Gay Time

When I was teaching at LaGuardia Community College, I helped to organize an event called "Queer CUNY."  Every year, it's held on a different campus of the City University of New York.  That year, it was held at LaGuardia, marking the first time the event took place in one of CUNY's community colleges.

We were trying to decide when a certain workshop should begin.  After deciding on a time, one of the student organizers quipped, "Will that be Eastern or Gay Daylight Time?

He was making light of a stereotype:  that LGBT events never start on time.  I won't say whether or not that's true.  On the other hand, I want to make some attempt to define "Gay Time."

Here is one definition of Gay Time:  http://24timezones.com/usa_time/ga_meriwether/gay.htm

If you prefer, you can check Gay mountain time:  http://24timezones.com/usa_time/wv_logan/mount_gay.htm

Remember to set your clocks forward!

09 March 2012

On LGBT Substance Abuse

I try not to re-hash material I've seen on other blogs or websites, or even in the print media.  I also try not to spend too much time revisiting issues I've already discussed, unless I feel I can add something new.

However, I just came across one of the better articles I've seen on LGBT health issues.  Specifically, it discusses some of the reasons why LGBT people abuse substances at two to three times the rate that the general population does. What it discloses, interestingly (and disturbingly) is that gay men are twelve times as straight men to likely use amphetamines (including "crystal meth") and transgender are twice to five times as likely as everyone else to abuse alcohol.

The article, by Jerome Hunt, does an excellent job of summing up some of the better- as well as the lesser-known reasons for the disproportionate substance abuse among LGBT people.  They can all be traced, in one way or another, to the discrimination we too often face.  However, in reading the article and thinking about some of my own experiences, I came to a very disturbing realization.

Having attended more than a few twelve-step meetings and support groups, I recall many people who became alcoholics and drug abusers either as a result of, or to reinforce, their isolation.  They stayed away from other people for a variety of reasons, almost all of which had to do with some sort of trauma or an inadequacy they felt in themselves.  (The inadequacies, of course, were often the results of traumas.)  Such people often were able to become and remain sober through socialization:  Their sponsors were often the first people with whom they socialized, without alcohol or drugs, in their adult lives; subsequently, they'd make other friends and acquaintances or reach out to the people they'd been keeping away from themselves.

As I read Hunt's fine article, I came to realize that LGBT people very often do not have that option.  The stresses we experience from discrimination in employment, housing and even the medical care we receive (or don't receive)--not to mention the threat or the experience of violence directed at us--cause too many of us to isolate ourselves.  That sort of isolation--a response to the alienation brought on by the experiences of bigotry--is a fertile field in which the pill, the bottle and the needle can sprout into addiction.  

However, leaving that field, and looking for love (or companionship or simply friendship) can lead to other, even more fertile, fields for addiction.  I'm talking about bars and clubs.  LGBT people, especially the young, depend on them to a far greater degree than straight and cisgender people for making friends, let alone finding dates or partners.  The reason for that is that for many LGBT people (again, the young in particular), those bars and clubs are the only "safe" venues.  

Marketers for alcohol and tobacco companies know what I've just described.  So do drug pushers. So, they target their campaigns accordingly.  More than a few scholarly articles have been written about the homoeroticism of the Marlboro Man; a good many ads for booze and smoke are subtly (or not-so-subtly) targeted toward LGBT people, especially young gay men.  And at least one beer brewer has sent a lesbian sales rep into gay and lesbian bars to offer samples.

As long as trying to be an integrated social being is so entwined with intoxicating one's self, and as long as there people and institutions that, through bigotry, thwart those attempts at integration, substance abuse will be one of the biggest problems among LGBT people.

08 March 2012

What Do They Want From Us?

It seems that the longer I am post-op and living as a woman, the more I find myself talking about race relations, especially with my students.

In one way, that makes sense, given that so many of my students are Afro-American or Afro-Caribbean.  What surprises me now is that no one ever says, "Well, what do you know about that."  They don't even have hostile or skeptical expressions when I get into the topic.

I won't claim to be any more accepting, or less racist, than anyone else.  However, if I do say so myself, I have come to understand a few things that I never would have otherwise.

The glib explanation is that I have been the object of bigotry.  When I look back, I realize that I experienced prejudice even long before I started my transition, when I still could be readily identified as male.  It had to do with the fact that even though I looked and acted the part in so many ways, more than a few people could see that something was "off", that I was not quite "one of the boys," if you will.

However, what I've learned goes deeper than that.  I have made black female friends in my new life.  It's not that I avoided making such friends before, or have sought them out in my new life.  I just find myself meeting and befriending them in the context of my own life.  And, very often, there is a significant, if not profound, understanding between us.

Much of that has to do with the sexual attitudes of many men.  In at least one previous post, I have mentioned some conversations I've had with those new friends.  One of their complaints is that men don't see any of them--who are intelligent, successful and attractive women--as actual or potential partners.  That is because men don't want to see them as intellectual or spiritual peers; they only want them for sex.  I have had similar experiences.

Sadly, they have experienced what I've just described from men of their race and in their communities, as well as ones they've met in dating services.  Likewise, I cannot say that straight cissexual men are the only ones who project their lurid fantasies onto me. Gay men have done the same thing, and I ended up in relationships with two of them. I've mentioned one on a previous post; the main difference between him and the other guy is the amount and degree of psychological abuse I would endure as a result of each of their inability to see me as a human being.

07 March 2012

After Esther

On my way home tonight, three guys stumbled off a curb and nearly tumbled in front of my wheel.  I would have cursed at them, but they were dressed in very gaudy outfits that were somewhere between robes and dresses.  And they wore wigs, or what looked like wigs.

Instead of yelling at them, I thought, "Hmm...They look like they're doing a Chasidic version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Or maybe La Cage Aux Folles. The loud but lilting music that echoed off the houses made it seem even more like a campy drag revue.

Turns out, I wasn't too far off.  At sundown, a couple of hours before I left work, the feast of Purim began.  Some people refer to it as "The Jewish Mardi Gras," which also isn't too far off.  

It commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction in the ancient Persian Empire.  Hamman, a high-ranking advisor to King Ahaseurus, conceived of the plot, which is revealed to the king by Esther, who became his favorite concubine and, finally, his wife. Until the moment she tipped the king off, she did not reveal her Jewish identity.

It's a complicated but fascinating story, which is related in the Magillat Esther, the only book of the Torah in which G-d* isn't mentioned by name.  However, everything about the story, including Esther's concealment of her identity, shows G-d working in mysterious ways and in various guises.

That is one of the reasons why people wear costumes for the feast and it is the only day on which the prohibition against men wearing women's clothing is not observed.  

Hmm...Could that have been an early manifestation of "don't ask, don't tell"?

* I am using the name of G-d in the way an Orthodox or Chasidic Jew would.

06 March 2012

Legal Lone Star Rape

Three weeks ago, the State of Texas made rape legal.

Actually, the Lone Star State went even further than that.  It made rape mandatory in certain situations.

Now, some people would accuse me of exaggerating, being alarmist or making an incendiary statement.  (Folks in the academic world like to use that last phrase when someone says something they don't agree with, or that simply has some passion to it.)  However, with strong support from Governor Rick Perry, some women in Texas must submit to what many of them--and I--would see as rape.

Under the new law, a woman who wants an abortion in that state must endure having an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina.  Never mind that the woman who wants the abortion may have become pregnant as a result of a rape or incest.  She has to submit to that invasion of her private self all over again if she doesn't want to bear a forced progeny.

Then she has to listen to the audio thumping of the foetal heartbeat and watch the foetus on an ultrasound screen.  After that, she has to listen as a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the foetus as they're shown on the monitor.  She has to sign a document, which will be placed in her medical files,  saying that she understands all of this.  

After all of that, she has to wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.

If it isn't bad enough that Texas now has such legislation, Alabama, Kentucky,Mississippi and Rhode Island are also considering similar legislation.  
Now, you might be wondering why I or any other  trans person should care about this, as we won't get preganant.

Well, for one thing, I am a woman and am therefore concerned with any state violation of our selves.  If someone disrespects women enough to impose such regulations, I should be as concerned as any other woman.  Plus, if they actually think that women can be treated in such a way, I can only imagine how they'd see trans women. 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how,under Swedish law, if you want to undergo gender reassignment surgery, you have to be sterilized first.  (That is only one of the draconian requirements Sweden has for people who are "changing" sexes.) If such policies can exist in a country like Sweden, it's not a stretch to imagine something like it, or worse, in Texas or any of the states that are considering Texas-style state-sanctioned rape.

Moreover, I wouldn't have a difficult time imagining those states, or others, making it more difficult for even post-op transsexuals to get the care we need without submitting to invasive procedures.  In fact, I wouldn't even be surprised if, in the near future, those who want the surgery are subjected to even more invasions of their privacy and personhood than they now face.

Although I may have become more "liberal" about some issues, I still don't trust any government with my body or mind.  If anything, that distrust has intensified, now that I understand--at least better than I did before--how much more governments can invade our persons.

02 March 2012

What If She'd Been His Child?

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I love cats about as much as anyone can.

Still, when I heard the story about a tortoiseshell named "Rosie", all I could think was, "What would have happened if she were human?"

You see, Rosie is a hermaphrodite.  Her owner assumed she was a female cat until he took her to the vet's office, where a veterinary nurse noticed a complete set of male genitals along side her female parts.  However, Rosie doesn't have internal female reproductive organs.

Rosie's owner had always seen her as female.  That's understandable, given her appearance and the fact that tortoiseshell cats are almost always female.  That probably led to the decision to castrate, rather than to spay, her.  

What if she'd been a human child?  How would she have been treated?

01 March 2012

Why the SAGE Innovative Center Is Necessary

Today, the SAGE Innovative Center opened in Chelsea.

What is SAGE?  And what's so innovative about the center?

First, the organization:  Straight And LGBT Elders began as  Straight And Gay Elders more than three decades ago.  It was probably the first, and is still one of the few, organizations to cater to the needs of LGBT senior citizens.

So it makes sense (At least, I think it does) that SAGE would open a senior center.   But what, you might wonder, is different about an LGBT senior center?

Well, one of the harshest truths about the LGBT community is that many of us don't have anyone to take care of us--in fact, many of us don't have anybody at all--when we get old.   

There are many reasons for that.  One obvious one is that most of us haven't had children.  Corollary to that is the fact that, until a few years ago, there were no legally-sanctioned same-sex marriages.  This meant that those who lived as committed partners of other members of their own gender didn't have the same legal rights--including those of custody and visitation--that the spouses of heterosexuals enjoyed.  I recall a man I met who was dying of AIDS-related and whose partner of more than two decades couldn't visit him, much less be involved in any decisions about his medical care or estate.  Those rights were held by family members who cut off contact with him after he "came out" during his freshman year in college nearly four decades earlier.

Before and since meeting him, I have talked to other LGBT people who lost contact with their families in a similar fashion.  As an example, Charles King, one of the founders of Housing Works, told me that no relative of his has been in contact with him since he "came out" when he was twenty years old.  He's a few years older than I am.

The fact that they have experienced family life differently from most straight people also affects such things as the ways they deal with the deaths of loved ones.  Although same-sex marriage is now legal in eight US states and the District of Columbia (as well as several nations, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain), there is still not the same public support for a gay person grieving the loss of his or her partner as there is for someone who's lost an "opposite"-sex spouse.  Plus, many in the LGBT community have lost their partners--as well as friends and other members of their support networks--to the ravages of HIV/AIDS, as well as to violent crimes.  

I mean no disrespect to anyone who's lost a spouse or other loved one to cancer or any other illness, or to tragedies like the events of 9/11, when I say that LGBT people who've lost partners to HIV/AIDS or hate-fueled violence have, in some ways, a more difficult passage because of the lack of societal support I mentioned as well as the relative scarcity of counselors and other professionals who are trained to help them deal with their circumstances.  As someone who's lost people to HIV/AIDS-related illness, hate-fueled violence (and suicide) as well as pure and simple old age, I can tell you that the last one, while not simple or easy, is somewhat easier  because the deaths of older people are expected, and there are  more bereavement counseling and other kinds of support available for those who have lost parents or other elders, or heterosexual partners, than for those who might be assumed to be straight.