30 April 2012

Appealing For Care

Transgender health care isn't simply a matter of finding "sensitive" providers, as important as that is.  Rather, it is a matter of having our needs met.  In that sense, health care for us is no different from what it is for everyone else.  However, getting that care can be, to put it charitably, an adventure for some trans people.

Such was the case for Beth Scott of New Jersey.  She has just successfully appealed her health insurance company's denial of coverage for a mammogram she had nearly two years ago.  An official of the company, Aetna, apologized to Ms. Scott, saying, "[W]e have determined that the eligibility of the claim and plan benefits were misinterpreted." 

So what, exactly, was "misinterpreted"?  Well, Ms. Scott's plan, like most others, denies coverage for transgender care, including surgeries.  Apparently, someone thought that "transgender care" included Ms. Scott's mammogram, which she underwent under her doctor's recommendation.

I also have undergone mammograms my doctor recommended.  Fortunately for me, mine are paid for.  However, before I had my surgery--and before I had my current plan--I went one of the free mobile clinics that offers them.  Taking estrogen puts trans women at a greater risk for breast cancer, just as it does for cis women.  Although I wasn't, and have never been, what most people would call "rich," I gave a donation to the organization that provides the free mammograms.  (I still donate to them.)  In that clinic, I saw some destitute women--trans as well as cis--as well as some who looked as if they could have gone elsewhere.  I figure that I'm still better off than they are--or Ms. Scott is.

29 April 2012

What Happened To Victoria Carmen White

It seems that any time a particularly heinous crime or sensational case is reported in the media, there are remarkably similar incidents--or, at least incidents that have similar circumstances or motives--that are ignored.  As an example, Evelyn Hernandez--whom I mentioned in an earlier post--met with a fate very similar to that of Lacey Peterson.   Yet the world's attention focused on Lacey's disappearance and the trial of Scott Peterson, yet nary a word was mentioned about Ms. Hernandez.

Alarshim Chambers of Newark, NJ is about to be tried for the shooting of Victor Carmen White, a professional lingerie model and dancer whom he'd met only hours earlier.  Two women who were in the apartment, though in a different room from, where White was shot on the evening of 12 September 2010.  They said they heard something said about White's gender identity as a transgender woman, which Chambers supposedly discovered only after becoming intimate with her.  

This shooting occurred just days after Tyler Clementi committed suicide.  The prosecution tried to argue, in essence, Dharun Ravi (Clementi's roommate) committed a hate crime when he used his Webcam to record Clementi kissing another man and videostreamed the images.  

So why was Clementi's death a worldwide headline, while White's was ignored until recently?  Well, call me a cynic, but I think the fact that Clementi was a white Rutgers student from an upper-middle class family and community had something to do with the questions i've been asking.  Plus, Clementi was a talented violinist who was working to parlay his talents into a career.  That elicits more sympathy than the knowledge that someone is a stripper and underwear model.  

Also, the fact that Ms. White was, and Mr. Chambers is, black would all but ensure that their case would be ignored.  And the final coup de grace for their case is the knowledge that White is transgendered.  

So, while Clementi's suicide deserved all of the attention it got, it oversadowed a crime committed by and against members of scorned minority groups.  It could be argued that blacks have it worst of all the races, and that transgender people have it the worst of all.  If some would say "You brought it on yourself" if I were to incur bias or harassment, I can only imagine what some would say about Ms. White.

27 April 2012

The Spirit Moves Them To Harvard Divinity School

According to an in-the-know friend of mine, the Harvard Divinity School has more than its share of LGBT faculty members and students, and that a large number of theses are being written on topics related to LGBT and spirituality.

Somehow, even though I don't consider myself religious, what this friend tells me makes perfect sense.  Some cultures have seen dual-gendered or two-spirited people as having particular conduits to the divine or spirit world.  For this reason, they were often accorded the tasks of mediating disputes and performing marriages and funerals and were exempted from some of the duties normally expected of people of their physical or birth genders.

However, I think there is another reason why many LGBT people are returning, as clergy members, to the churches that once shunned them, or from which they felt alienated.  It doesn't have to do with "liberal" or "post-modern" interpretation of the Holy Scriptures or some such thing.  Rather, I feel that our identities--particularly for those of us who are of transgender experience--are not merely about our physical, or even psychological or sexual selves.  We identify ourselves as we do because of a force within us that is independent of just about everything else.  Freudians would call it the subconscious, a term which is accurate as far as it goes.  While I believe there are forces within us that influence, if not govern, much of our behavior, I also think there is a dimension of our selves that is both within and beyond our conscious and subconscious minds.  Perhaps it is a supernatural force, and there may be a being or beings responsible for it.

In other words--for lack of a better term--being lesbian, gay, transgendered, bisexual or of whatever orientation or identity you care to name is as much a spiritual state as it is a psychological or physical one.  In fact, one might say that the very fact of life (as opposed to mere existence) is a spiritual state.  As Pere Teilhard de Chardin said, we are not human beings having spiritual experiences, we are spiritual beings having human experiences.  

Lots of people would deny (or simply not understand) what I've just said.  However, many of those same people would say that our selves and our lives, whatever they are, are created by God (or whom- or whatever else they believe in).  For them, that is sufficient reason for LGBT people to believe, to worship and even to feel that they are "called" into the clergy or to become theologians.  

Now, I just happen to believe that one can believe whatever one believes independently of other people, and that one can pray (or pay homage to their Supreme Being or Force) in the privacy of their own selves.  However, people who are spiritually moved, more often, want to share what they regard as the "gift" of their faith with others, and seek the company and support of others who are similarly motivated.  LGBT people who feel such impulses and "callings" have, I believe, even more reason to want the company of like-minded people and the support the structure of an institution of such people can offer them.  After all, many face ostracism and worse in their daily lives, often from the very people who were supposed to love and nurture them. And, those who have not become embittered by such experiences often feel the need to reach out to those who might be hostile to, or simply not understand, them.  

So it doesn't surprise me that more and more LGBT people are turning or returning to the places of worship that shunned them, and are even following "callings" to become members of the clergy.  And it surprises me even less that they'd be studying and teaching in places like Harvard Divinity School.

25 April 2012

Our "Unfair Advantage" In Beauty Pageants

On to another beauty pageant controversy...

Today, courtesy of Kelli Anne Busey (author of the Planet Transgender blog), I learned that organizers of the Miss Universe Singapore pageant might allow transgender contestants to enter. 

On its face, that sounds enlightened.  However, as the wonderful Ms. Busey points out, the Jakarta Post article about the issue still reflects some widely-held misconceptions:  "It is an event designed to celebrate the country's most beautiful women.  But next year's Miss Universe Singagpore could be won by somebody born a man..." 

Now, perhaps the writers and editors of the Jakarta Post can be forgiven for not understanding that male-to-female transsexuals (I include myself, of course.) were not born as men, or even boys. Yes, we have XY chromosomes (Most of us do, anyway.) and most of us have male genitalia and other body parts (as I did, until I had my surgery).  However, our psyches and spirits were no more male than Jennifer Lopez's body.  Many of us knew we were not the gender to which we were assigned at birth as soon as we had any awareness of gender.  Even those who weren't had, I believe, at least the innate propensity to femaleness.  If you want to use Freudian psychoanalytic terms, you could say--as Julia Serrano says-- that our subconscious gender is female.

The reason why it took so long for so many of us to express such a realization, let alone to begin our transitions, is that the vocuabulary to articulate our reality wasn't available to us.  Much of it didn't even exist when I was growing up, and what was available to us was, for the most part, diminutive, if not simply insulting, to trans people and to women generally.  And, even if we could express our realities with such limited language, not many people could have understood our condition as anything other than a mental illness (at best) or, worse, a criminal pathology.

So we, the male-to-female transgenders of this world, were born just as female as any past or current Miss Universe contestant.  Some cis people accuse trans women of having "unfair" advantages because we don't have to worry about cellulite or some of the other conditions that plage some cis women, and because we've "gone under the knife."  Well, guess what?  Cis contestants--some, anyway--have also had surgery.  If not, they've probably had other treatments that are no more natural than the refinement of petroleum into gasoline.

The only advantage we have over cis women is that we have had to question the way we were defined at birth, and to claim our selves as women.  I'm not saying that makes us better people, but it is a kind of advantage.  How that gives someone an unfair advantage in a Miss Universe contest, I don't know.

24 April 2012

Outings: From Mike Wallace To Ellen De Generes

Today, when you mention Ellen De Generes' name, people think of her talk show and Cover Girl commercials.  Some still recall her season as a judge on American Idol, in which she replaced Paula Abdul.

But I can't recall the last time I heard anyone refer to her sexual orientation.  I take that back: I am remembering the time she hosted the Academy Awards show in 2001.  It had been postponed twice in the wake of the 11 September attacks over CBS networks' concerns that a lavish show so soon after the tragedy would appear insensitive.  Finally, in November, it aired, after its producers and Ellen realized that it would need a more somber tone that would still take viewers' minds off the tragedy, if only momentarily. Her performance, which brought her several standing ovations, included her now-famous line, "What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a pantsuit surrounded by Jews?"

It's hard to believe that only four years before that, in February of 1997,she caused a stir when she revealed her sexual orientation on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Two months later, on 30 April, her title character on her sitcom Ellen "came out" to a therapist played by Oprah. Ellen's viewership declined after that, and the show was canceled after the following season.  

So, only a decade and a half ago, Ellen risked her career by revealing, ironically, something that many people had already known, and many more had suspected, about her.  Still, her situation was better than that faced by some of the first gay people to appear on network television.  Three decades before Ellen's disclosure, when gay characters appeared on television series, they were almost always jealous, devious characters, or they lived in the fear of being blackmailed because of their orientation.  Lesbians and transgenders were hardly mentioned at all; the latter were likely to be conflated with transvestites.

In 1967, Americans were already getting much of what they knew (and believed) about a wide variety of topics from television.  In such an environment, a documentary about a controversial topic--as homosexuality was, and still is in some quarters--was bound to incite strong reactions.  It was in that milieu that, on 7 March of that year, an episode of CBS Reports on the topic would air.  The recently-deceased Mike Wallace hosted it.   

The program included interviews with several gay men, pyschiatrists, legal experts and academics.  Some of the gay men were shown in shadow or with their faces behind potted plants; some went by pseudonyms.  In fairness to Wallace, he presented some of the more pro-gay comments, not only from the gay men themselves, but from a Federal judge who suggested that the United States ought to re-examine its laws on homosexuality.  Wallace himself also discussed some of the legal aspects of homosexuality and noted that England was preparing to de-criminalize homosexual acts.  

However, Wallace undercut all of that with his own disparaging commentary of homosexuality, most of which echoed the prevailing notions of devious promiscuous gay men and most of the medical and psychiatric community's view of homosexuality as a mental illness or pathology.  (As late as 1995, he said that gays "could change their orientation if they really wanted to.")  

The result is--well, that depends on who you listen to.  At the time, the New York Times, Washington Star and Chicago Daily News praised the show simply for bringing up the issue. The Chicago Tribune and others trashed it for the very same reason.  A small minority--including George Gent of the New York Times--criticized the anti-gay bias of the show.  History has been less kind to it; in his 2003 book Unmasking the Truth:  Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth, LGBT activist Wayne Besen called the broadcast "the single most destructive hour of anti-gay propaganda in our nation's history."

There were no Cover Girl--or any other--commercials for anyone involved with the broadcast.  In fact, there were no advertisements of any kind on the broadcast:  No sponsor of the network's other shows wanted to be associated with a topic that was considered taboo.  Instead, the "commercial breaks" were filled with public service announcements from the Peace Corps and the Internal Revenue Service.  And one of the gay men Wallace interviewed lost his job after his identity was revealed. 

At least Ellen's career rebounded--or, I should say, took a new and more interesting direction--after the backlash against her "coming out."


21 April 2012

Why They Should Say No To ROTC

A while back, I talked about the campaign to bring a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program to York College.  

Well, it seems that York is not the only school where there's at least some interest in starting or restoring an ROTC program.  In spite of the media's portrayal of colleges as bastions of left-wing politics and anti-militarism, there has been more support for the programs--and the military in general--since 9/11.  Even in schools like Harvard, where the few students enrolled in ROTC have to go to other colleges for their "leadership" classes, some students and faculty members thank the ROTC cadets even though, as one pointed out, "we haven't served yet."

The support 9/11 has generated for the military seems to have been aided, at least on college campuses, by the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  However, no one should be fooled into thinking that the Armed Forces have suddenly become bastions of tolerance.  For one thing, we all know that a change in policy doesn't necessarily translate into a change in attitudes, let alone culture.  From what I have read and heard, homophobia is still just as strong as it's ever been, and known gays and lesbians face harassment and worse.  While it's been reported that the harassment that drove Army private Dan Chen to his suicide was motivated by bias against his ethnicity, there are also rumors that it was motivated by the perception of him as gay.

Even I have overstated the level of homophobia to be found in the military, there is still the fact that transgenders still aren't allowed serve.  At least, we can't transition while in uniform.  And, to the best of my knowledge, no branch of the Armed Forces will allow someone to enlist if he or she has already transitioned. 

Of course, there are other reasons not to have an ROTC program on a campus.   But if any school claims to support the rights of all, and to oppose discrimination, its administrators are being duplicitous, or simply hypocritical, in having the military in any form--including ROTC--on campus.

20 April 2012

Too Good To Be True

Today I had a late lunch-early dinner with a friend of mine who's transitioning from male to female.  I remarked upon some of the changes I've seen in her appearance:  the growth of her breasts, the elongation of her facial lines and such.   She has been thinking about facial surgeries, she says.  We mentioned some of the surgeons who do the work she wants, and she said she's ruled out one in particular who's well-known in the field.  "For one thing, he's getting old," she said, "and I'm not sure I'd trust his hands."  I can understand that sentiment;  I ruled out one surgeon whom I'd considered for my GRS/SRS for that very reason.  

However, my friend made another point--one I agreed with--about the plastic surgeon she'd ruled out:  "I looked at his results.  They all look like Barbie dolls."

What's really interesting, to me, about her observation is that before I started my transition, I would have wanted some version of the "Barbie" look.  Although I knew, deep down, that I never could look that way, I thought it was a sure-fire way to "pass."  And, those who made the transition in the early days of hormone treatments and surgery aspired to such plastic perfection.  Some, like Christine Jorgensen, almost seamlessly transitioned into it.  Others tried.

However, what my friend--and I-- want is to ---.  She described a recent trip, during which she dressed "androgynously" but was still addressed by female titles and pronouns.  "I want to be able to wear men's clothes and still be addressed in the same way," she says.

Perhaps that's the best any of us can hope for.  After all, looking like a Barbie doll would leave a trans woman just as vulnerable to scrutiny, ostracism and worse as she would be if she looked like a man in a dress.

19 April 2012

LGBT Scholarships

Today one of my students asked about scholarships that might be available to her.  Now, I don't know about very many of them off the top of my head, but I know that there are scholarships available for members of her race, and for people who have lived through some of the circumstances that have formed her life.

"What about a scholarship for gay and lesbian students?"

She had, in one of her writing assignments, revealed her orientation to me.  So the question was a surprise to me only because no one else had asked it, and I'd never thought about it.

Turns out, there are such scholarships available. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) maintains one of the most extensive lists of them.  Many of the awards are intended for LGBT students who want to pursue studies in a particular area, such as law or public policy, or who have shown a commitment to activism and other areas deemed vital to the LGBT community.

While the number of LGBT scholarships is nowhere near as great as it is for scholarships targeted to other groups of people, it is still greater than what was available when I was an undergraduate.  As far as I know, none were available then.  I'm not even sure any were available when I was in graduate school.  Then again, I was so deeply in the closet that I would not have applied.  In fact, I didn't know any self-identified trans people all through school.  

So, while the availability of such scholarships is a positive sign, I have to wonder how many students who might qualify for them won't apply because it would mean "outing" themselves.  I guess, as the activists say, the work of change is never done.

18 April 2012

No "Outing" Today

Today I rode my bike to work. On the way, I stopped at a diner to use the bathroom. (I shouldn't have had that second cup of tea before I left my apartment!)  Anyway, on my way out, I heard a snippet of conversation between two seemingly-heterosexual young men.

Anyway, it seems that they saw the panel discussion I mentioned the other day.  One of them found it "interesting" and "educational" and said that cis people (He didn't use the term, but he was referring to them.) "really need to understand more about [transgender people]."  His friend, on the other hand, still seems ill-at-ease with the whole idea.  I wasn't upset with him:  After all, being "in the closet," as I was for most of my life, is an expression of such unease.  And, in spite of the rejections I've faced and ignorance I've encountered, I still hold out hope for young men like him.

But I found myself in a dilemma:  Do I "jump into" their conversation and try to shed a bit more light on the topic? Even if that act didn't by itself arouse his or other people's suspicions, I probably would have outed myself for no other reason than I probably would have found it impossible to argue with someone like him without mentioning my own experiences.

Although I would like for people to understand why we make the sorts of choices we make, I also would like to live in peace (as much as that's possible in this world) as a woman.  I can't even remember the last time a stranger gave me a suspicious glance or addressed me as anything but "Ma'am" or "Miss."  And, yes, that is what I have always wanted. 

I didn't get involved in the conversation of those young men.  I rationalized it with the fact that I was on my way to work.  Time wasn't an issue:  I was actually running a bit early.  I simply didn't want to "out" myself, even though I didn't sense that doing so to those young men would have been dangerous.

And, the one who was expressing his unease may have been on his way to greater understanding. Or so I hope.

17 April 2012

Fake Butts And Real Troubles

Last week, when I was in Florida, the "Fake Butt Doctor" was in the news.

Oneal Ron Morris was accused of injecting patients' backsides with a mixture of cement, mineral oil, Fix-a-Flat tire sealant and Super Glue.  I don't think I have to say that the mixture is toxic; even if it weren't, I don't see how any but the most desperate of people would ever let themselves be injected with such a mix.

I was struck by two things about this story.  One, which the media played up, is the fact that Morris is a transgender woman.  One one hand, I was appalled at the news reporters for mentioning it.  After all, if she were a cis woman or man, no one would have mentioned it.  Also, if she'd been a gay man, lesbian or bisexual, I doubt that any reporter, at this late date, would have mentioned it.  On the other hand, I felt even more upset at Morris herself.  As a transsexual woman myself, I could only ask myself how she, who surely felt as desperate as her victims, could have so exploited them.  Given that some trans people who feel they have no other recourse will submit themselves to the risks of "doctors" like Morris, I couldn't help but to wonder whether some of her patients were trans women.

The other thing her exploitation of those people highlighted, at least for me, is the very desperation I've just mentioned.  I can't give you exact numbers, but I know that there are probably thousands, if not more, trans people who, for various reasons, cannot get cosmetic surgeries, let alone GRS/SRS.  Some will do just about anything to get those procedures:   That is one reason why many trans people, particularly the young, turn to sex work.  

However, even if they had access to the money they'd need for the surgeries, they would have to go through a lengthy and expensive screening process.  Many would be rejected for hormone treatment and surgery. Some should be.  But there are many others who have such adversarial relationships with physical and mental health care providers that they simply can't bear the thought of going through the screenings.  Also, some--again, the young in particular--see having surgeries as a "cure" for the emotional (and sometimes physical) scarring they've incurred as a result of repressing themselves, bullying or even banishment from their families and communities.  

Now, I don't know exactly who Morris' patients/victims were, so I do not know which ones might have fit the profiles I've sketched.  Still, I believe that no matter how scarred she might be from her own experiences, she should have been able to understand how desperate some of her patients/victims were.  To exploit that, as she did, is unconscionable.

The worst thing about this story, though, is that she's far from the only "doctor" to so take advantage of such people.  She is merely one of the latest, and her identity as a trans woman makes her a more sensational story than the others. 

16 April 2012

A Cis Ally And A Trans Panel On MSNBC

Yesterday, Melissa Harris-Perry presented a panel on MSNBC to discuss transgender issues. 

She was motivated to do this--and, in her words, to become "a better cis ally for the work of trans communities"--after seeing a video of the now-infamous beating of a trans woman in a suburban Baltimore fast-food restaurant. 

The fact that Ms. Harris-Perry is using her position to make herself such a visible ally is most welcome.  So is her presentation of the panel.  Part of me says that they tried to cover too many topics in the time they had.  However, one thing I have learned is that, even at this late date, I or any other trans person might be the "first impression" many people have of us.  And any time any of us talks about issues related to our identities and lives, there is a good chance that we will end up giving whoever is listening to, or reading, us a "primer" on what it means to be transgendered.

That is exactly what the panelists, who included Kate Bornstein, from whom I got some of my early education and encouragement.  I met her, albeit briefly, just as I was starting my life as Justine.  If she doesn't inspire you to live as your true self--whatever that means for you--there aren't very many other people who can. 

I am glad that MSNBC, which has such a large and wide audience, aired the panel--and that we're getting allies like Melissa Harris Perry as well as cis people who aren't nearly as well-known.

12 April 2012

A Simple Life?

Normally, I'm happy to get home from a trip to Florida.  These days, I'm happy to see my parents, in part because I don't know how many more years they'll be in this world.  But, apart from them and some lovely bike-rides (The good and bad news is that they're all flat!), I have almost no motivation to go to Florida.

Since I got back last night, though, I'm feeling a little wistful. I think the feeling started on Monday, when I rode down A1A through Painters Hill and Flagler Beach.  Along the way, I stopped, for no particular reason, in one of those stores that sells things made out of seashells.

The proprietress was one of those friendly, helpful and sun-bleached people you meet by the sea, though not necessarily by the trendy beaches.  "Anything I can help you with, let me know," she intoned in a voice of sunshine and sea salt.  She wasn't one of those surly, hipper-than-thou storeclerks you see working in trust-fund enclaves.  She probably wasn't making a lot of money, but she also, most likely, didn't need to. 

I imagined myself in her place, but with my cats and bikes.  I imagined myself closing the store and riding Tosca up and down A-1A or along any number of other roads.  It used to amaze me there weren't more fixed-gear bikes in Florida; this time, I saw a pretty fair number in and around St. Augustine.  Of course, their riders were young, or seemed to be:  I don't expect a senior citizen who hasn't been on a bike since he or she was a teenager to hop on a track bike.

Anyway, I'll be back to my normal rides, work and such soon enough.  One day, if I can afford it and don't have to worry about property values, I might have a house that looks like this (ha, ha):

10 April 2012

When I Wasn't Thinking About What Could've Been

Yesterday it was lunch with Mom and her friend. Tonight, after I took a bike ride, it was out to dinner with Mom and Dad.  We went to what is easily my favorite place to eat in the town in which they live:  Mezza Luna

The place is closed on Mondays.  The other day was Easter, and this week is Spring Break in much of the country.  So, the restaurant was full when we got there: We had to wait about fifteen minutes for a table.  In the meantime, Mike, the owner, offered everyone who waited free slices of pizza. And, the waiters and waitresses, who apologized for "backlogs" in the kitchen, brought pieces of dough for kids to play with.

Situations like the one I've described are interesting becuase I don't spend a lot of time around kids or, for that matter, families other than my own.  Sometimes it's hard for me to look at kids, even if they're friendly to me, because I find myself thinking about how I might be different if I had lived as a girl.  But today, I didn't find myself thinking about that.  I also didn't think about what my life might have been like if I'd had kids or if I had the same spouse or partner for most or all of my adult life.

For that matter, I wasn't even thinking about what my relationship with my parents might have been like had I grown up as a girl, or even started my transition at a younger age.  Instead, I enjoyed dinner on a warm, pleasant evening with Mom and Dad.  Perhaps this was one of the reasons to have taken the path I have followed.

09 April 2012

Why I Enjoy Lunch With Them

Today I went to lunch with Mom and a friend of hers.  The town in which they live is a bit different from my neighborhood, where I have two Chinese restaurants (one Halal) as well as Mexican, Italian, Greek and Japanese/sushi establishments--not to mention a nice little bakery/cafe that isn't Starbuck's.

Most of the restaurants here are franchises of chains.  We went to one of them: Ruby Tuesday's.  I didn't mind:  The food is better than what's served in most other chains, in my opinion, and the service is professional and friendly.

Probably the only people in Florida who are happier than she is to see me are my mother and father.  And I really enjoy her company.  Today, I understood why:  I don't feel like I'm explaining myself or rationalizing (or, worse, defending) things I've done.  I simply feel like I'm having a conversation with another woman who happens to be sympathetic and empathetic.  And, knowing her as a friend of my mother's makes me feel closer to my mother, which is something I appreciate. 

In some ways she is like my mother:  She doesn't have a lot of formal education, but she is very intelligent and wise.  Her religious faith is also important to her, as it is for my mother.  Both are what people would call "practicing Catholics":  They go to church, observe all of the religious holidays and pray.  Plus, they are what some people would say are the "true" adherents:  They defer judgment to the God they believe in, and try to be loving and helpful to people.

As it happens, I have another friend like them:  Millie, who  rescued Max.  With her, with my mother, with my mother's friend, it's not a matter of being "accepted as" a trans person or a woman.  I simply feel like a whole, integrated person around others to whom I can relate, and who understand me.  I'm not a case study or a subject for experimentation--or, worse, someone who fits, or doesn't fit, into what they saw in some textbook in a gender studies course or manual from a workshop. 

That said, I do have friends who are educated in the sense that most people mean.  And they have accepted me on my own terms.  But I don't think their friendship has much to do with their schooling.  By the same token, I don't think whether I can become or remain friends with someone has much to do with that person's religious beliefs, or whether or not she or he has them. I take that back:  I've actually encountered love, acceptance and pure-and-simple helpfulness from people who were motivated, at least in part, by such beliefs. 

Back to my mother and her friend:  The time I get to spend with them will make me at least a little sad, for a little while to go home.  At least I know I can have similar experiences there--whether by having lunch, going for a bike ride or just talking with someone to whom I don't have to defend anything I've done.

08 April 2012

A Judge Had To Make UPS Deliver

In most states--New York included--if you undergo hormone therapy and gender-reassignment surgery, you can remain married to the person to who whom you were married.  In most states--not including New York--if you and your spouse should split up after your changes, you can only marry someone of the gender "opposite" the one in which you are living.

So, if you are a MTF who married a woman while you lived as a man, you can remain married to her.  However, if you and her should divorce after your legal status is changed to that of a woman, you have to marry a man if you ever want to get married again.

However, the way corporations treat transgender unions is another story. Specifically, a MTF married a man after her changes, but was denied her husband's UPS medical benefits for other, non-transgender-related, procedures. A federal judge in Minneapolis ruled that she can be so denied.  UPS, for its part said that the denial was due to a "clerical error."

Perhaps it wasn't a deliberate omission on UPS's part. But I can't help but to think of how many other organizations are denying benefits to the transgender partners of their workers, not to mention transgenders themselves. 

06 April 2012

My Thing Is Bigger Than....Well, Never Mind!

I'm going to break a promise to myself.  I didn't make the promise to anyone else, so I guess it's okay to break.  Kinda sorta maybe?

Anyway...The soap opera about Miss Universe continues.  First Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, said he's all right with Janna Talackova competing as long as she meets the requirements.  But the Miss Universe organization tried to bar her, claiming that she would violate the rule that all contestants must be "natural born" females.  

So Talackova hired Gloria Allred, the famed civil rights attorney.  Allred said Talackova "did not ask Mr. Trump to prove that he is a naturally-born man, or to see the photos of his birth, to view his anatomy, to see that he was male.  It made no difference to her.  Why should it make any difference to him."

I always knew Trump was a boor.  But he went beyond that:  He turned into a cross between Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.  "I think Gloria would be very, very impressed with my anatomy," he said.

The only thing worse than a guy who has to prove to all of the other guys that his thing is bigger than theirs is a guy who has to prove his thing is bigger when there aren't any other guys in the room.  Was Donald Trump born that way, or did somebody or something make him so?

05 April 2012

Coko Williams, Murdered In Detroit

"Her throat was slashed and she was shot."

A friend of mine read that sentence to me during our phone conversation.  "If that sentence had appeared all by itself," this friend said, "I would have guessed that a transgender woman had been murdered."

This time it was in Detroit.  Coko Williams' body was found during the early hours of Tuesday morning, in an area of the city known for sex traffic.  However, authorities say they're not certain as to whether Ms. Williams was involved in any sex work.  According to those who knew her, she was never involved in prostitution or any other kind of work that would have sexually exploited her.

From what I've been hearing and reading, there's been an epidemic of violence against LGBT people--the T's in particular--in the Motor City.  If that's true, then it's evidence that something I've feared, even before I undertook my transition, may be coming to pass.  

Detroit is a desperate city.  Many people have already left--It now has fewer people than it had in 1900--and many of those who have remained are unemployed and will never again have jobs, or have never had jobs in the first place.  The anger and frustration of such people is reason enough to fear:  While most won't turn it outward and against other people, some will.  And the ones who get the brunt of their anger are almost invariably those who have even less power than they have.  

The situation there makes people in nearby areas fearful.  They are afraid that the violence and other problems--of which they have little to no understanding--will spill over into their communities if it isn't checked.  Right-wing politicians knead and stretch this fear, and stir some brand or another of religious fundamentalism into the fold, making for a volatile mix.  

Ronald Reagan based his political career on doing exactly what I've described.  His "moment of opportunity" came with the riots in the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.  The following year, he was elected Governor of California.  In the ensuing years, violence against blacks and Chicanos increased.

Now we have politicians like Rick Santorum, and their followers, who are convinced that marginalized people are nothing but sponges for their tax dollars, and that any violence against, or disease contracted by, LGBT people is "God's retribution" or some such thing.   People who are afraid of losing their communities and countries to "others" are receptive to the messages of folks like Santorum, who may actually beat Mitt Romey--whose father was a Governor of Michigan--in the State's Republican Presidential primary.

Such an atmosphere cannot make things safer for any member of a "minority" group, especially trans people.  The irony is that the people who are convinced, or can convince others, that we are some Levitical "abomination" that will destroy the fabric of this society also see us as expendable and will attack us rather than others who are more numerous and have more resources.  

I really hope that neither Detroit nor any other city will experience another murder so brutal and senseless as that of Coko Williams.  Hey, I hope not to be the next Coko Williams!  And I hope the authorities in Detroit take the investigation of her murder more seriously than their counterparts in other places have taken the brutal, grisly killings of too many of our sisters.

04 April 2012

Zeke Swim Teaches His Doctors

I have to say that I've been rather fortunate in my experiences with health-care providers.  I have a doctor and gynecologist treat other transgender patients in addition to me, and other providers I see regularly, such as my opthamologist and dentist, are well aware of my history and have treated me well.  Also, my recent work with a physical therapist was a positive experience.

In addition to all of that, my surgery was done by the surgeon I believe to have been the best available, both in terms of her surgical skills and the ways she could understand how I felt.

Not all trans people are so fortunate.  For one thing, not all trans people who want the surgery can get it, mainly because of the cost and, for some, medical issues.  What is probably even worse, though, is that some trans people can't find doctors or other providers who are even familiar with the sorts of needs they have, let alone able to put themselves in the shoes of their transgender patients.  In fact, some even face open hostility and ridicule from providers, as I did from two nurses at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary during the early days of my life as Justine.

As difficult as it has been for many male-to-female transsexuals to find competent and respectful care, I think the situation may be worse for females-to-males.  I was reminded of this sad reality when I read this account of University of Iowa student Zeke Swim's experiences, and his reflections on it.

Although some would argue that the transition is easier (though still not easy) for FTMs, I think that getting the proper medical care is more difficult because even fewer providers have knowledge about, and experience with, them than they do about and with MTFs.  Plus, the technological state of surgeries and other procedures is not nearly as advanced for FTMs as it is for MTFs.  

I am glad that Swim is advocating for better care.  It seems that he is experiencing what I've experienced:  Most providers actually want to help.  I am fortunate in that I found professionals who had experience with transgender issues, or were at least willing to learn about them--whether from me or their own research.  

What I really like about Swim's approach is that he is more interested in seeing individual doctors do what they can to make a transgender patient more comfortable than in talking about sweeping changes in the policies of hospitals or other health-related institutions.  I have always believed that change starts with individuals; from there, changes can be made to institutions or, if necessary, new institutions can be created.

What I hope is that Swim--who's less than half my age--will live in a time when a transgender patient doesn't have to be lucky or unusually diligent or wealthy to get the care he or she needs.  I know that in many ways, my transition was easier (though not easy) than it was for most who did it before me; it's certainly easier than it would have been if I'd done it when I was Swim's age.  I believe that Swim and others (myself included) are working to see an age where he doesn't have to explain his condition to doctors and nurses.  As the saying goes, may he live in interesting times.  Interesting and good.

03 April 2012

It's Against The Rules--Whatever They Are

"It's against the rules."

"Which rules?"

"You know, the rules."

"Which ones?"

"I dunno.  But I know it's against the rules."

"Where can I find them?"

"Get outta here!"

Somehow I can imagine Jenna Tackalova having such an exchange with Donald Trump or one of the executives of the Miss Universe contest.  At first, contest organizers told her she couldn't participate.  Then, in an official statement, they told her she can compete, provided she meets "the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions." 

Talk about a weasely, waffling, wishy-washy answer! Worse, the statement did not elaborate on what the standards are.  Trump, who owns the Miss Universe competitions, at least said she could enter Miss Universe-Canada because under the laws of that country, Tackalova, a Vancouver native, is a woman.  However, Trump also said that each country has its own rules for the competition and that under the rules for the Miss Universe competition, contestants must be "naturally born-females."

Those rules are not posted anywhere on the Miss Universe website. Furthermore, no one seems able to find a copy of them.  Now Gloria Allred is calling on Trump to give "a clear answer--not a wimpy or wishy-washy type of answer."  She wonders whether he "will eliminate this abhorrent rule"--which no one can seem to find in print or online.  

Jenna Tackalova still is left to wonder whether or not she can compete in the Miss Universe-Canada contest, and what rules might be preventing her from doing so.

01 April 2012

The Dumbest Things Ever Said About Us

Gay marriage is like 9/11.

Gay sex causes men to need diapers.

Adolf Hitler was an active homosexual.

"Glee" is part of a plot to undermine America.

I wish all of those statements were April Fool's jokes.  However, they were uttered, in all earnestness and seriousness, by public figures, including one who is running for President.

You can read more of "The Dumbest Things Ever Said About Gay People" here.

Hmm...I wonder what dumb things they've said about trans people.  What are the dumbest things you've heard?  I'll tell you one I've heard:  that terrorists could undergo a "sex change operation" to slip "under the radar" and wreak havoc.  I actually heard that from a government employee when, before I had my surgery, I tried to get a new passport.