31 May 2012

A Fine Article About Trans Kids And Their Parents

Jesse Green's S/He, in the most recent issue of New York magazine, is one of the more interesting articles I've read in a while.

It's also one of the fairest and most nuanced pieces of writing about transgenderism I've seen from someone who isn't trans.  

Specifically, it's about transgender children and the choices their parents face in raising them.  On one hand, we don't want kids or parents making decisions they might regret later on.  On the other hand, we also don't want to see those kids (or any other) commit suicide or do any harm to themselves.  All of the research done on the topic indicates that transgender teenagers have, by far, the highest suicide rate of anybody. The research also confirms what almost any of us can tell you:  Those of us who kill ourselves don't do so because we're trans.  Rather, we do it because of the ostracism and even violence we face too often.

So, some parents realize that starting a hormone regimen before, or just as, their kids reach puberty might save their lives.  And, as one parent of a male-to-female kid said, "I'd rather have a live daughter than a dead son."

What really makes Green's article stand out, in my mind, is that he understands that transgender kids aren't crossdressing or "experimenting" in any way.  He also realizes that it's not a form of "rebellion" or "pushing boundaries."  Instead, he seems to realize--if he doesn't state outright--that a person's gender is subconscious and will surface sooner or later in much the same way a bubble held underwater will rise to the surface.  

What that means--again, he doesn't state it, but from reading the article, I think he understands and intends--is that notions like "gender is performative" and other such nonsense taught in Gender Studies classes simply won't work for the parents or kids.  The parents seem to understand their kids' gender expression is not a "performance" (as if the kid were in a Broadway show), but a natural expression of what he or she is, or at least feels at that time.  This means, of course, the parents have to be as open to the idea that the kid might decide, at puberty or later, that he or she is not really transgender, or may simply decide (for whatever reasons) that he or she doesn't want to go through surgery and other advanced parts of the transition.

Also, the article shows that "liberal" parents wouldn't actually be helpful for such kids.  The parents who believe in the fluidity or ambiguity of gender simply aren't going to be helpful to a kid whose birth certificate is marked "M" but insists on having her bedroom painted lavender and festooned with Hello Kitty and Hannah Montana memorabilia.  In fact, the parents Green interviewed come off, in some cases, on the conservative side--both politically and in their view of social mores.  

Some of the comments that followed Green's article were thoughtful.  But there were others, predictably enough, that expressed ignorance or even hostility toward the kids and their parents.  But what really bothered me were the stupid ones--namely, the ones who carped on Green's pronoun usage and other such details.  I think he did the best he could and tried to follow the wishes of the kids and parents as much as he could.  Almost anyone who's gone through a transition can tell you that, at least early in the transition (which is where most of the kids are), they'd rather hear the wrong pronoun but be treated decently otherwise than to be called the right pronouns by someone who is otherwise untrustworthy.

30 May 2012

SEIU Seeks Transgender-Inclusive Health Insurance

One good thing about working for the City University of New York is that it offers pretty good health insurance policies.  Mine didn't pay for my surgery; then again, not many policies do.  But I haven't had difficulty in getting other care I've needed, including follow-ups to my surgery.

On the other hand, other trans people don't have it so good.  For one thing, too many of us don't have jobs at all.  And among those of us who have one (or two or three or more part-time jobs!), too many don't have health insurance.  Some have been categorically denied insurance because they are transgendered.

At least one large labor union is looking to change that.  Yesterday, at their national conference in Denver, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) passed a resolution saying that local groups and individual members will bargain for transgender-inclusive health-care coverage in their contract negotiations with businesses and employers. 

That resolution is significant because the SEIU is one of this country's largest unions, with 2.1 million members.  It's also meaningful because it shows that SEIU is aligning itself with organization--some of which are transgender or LGBT-specific--that are working to get organizations and companies to offer trans-inclusive health policies. 

Paying for follow-up care, as my plan does, is a good first step.  But, ultimately, we need to have policies that cover, not only surgeries, but psychological therapy and counseling as well as such things as hormones and other medications.  (For trans people, hormones are indeed medications, not recreational drugs.)  I'm not a financial analyst or accountant, but I would think that such inclusions wouldn't be as expensive for the insurers as some might expect.  For one thing, the number and percentage of people who actually go through with the therapies and surgeries is quite small, and will remain so even if the "gates" to them are opened up.  Finally, as one doctor said about gender reassignment surgery, "You only get it once."

28 May 2012

Memorial Day Without DADT: No Difference For Transgenders

Today, Memorial Day, LGB people have one more right than they had at this time last year:  They can serve openly in the military.  During the past year, as you know by now, the odious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy ended.

While I am glad to be rid of DADT, the new non-discrimination policy does not cover transgenders.  So, while a gay man, lesbian or bisexual can't be discharged or denied enlistment or promotion (at least not officially, anyway) on the basis of his or her sexual orientation, transgenders can't remain in the Armed Forces.  In fact, even expressing one's gender identity issues can keep a person who wants to enlist out of the Forces, and result in a discharge for someone who's already in.  And "coming out" after leaving or retiring from military service--as Autumn Sandeen did--can cause problems in dealing with the Veterans Administration.  

What makes changing the military's current ban on transgenders, or others with gender-identity "disorders", difficult is that the ban isn't a law.  It's a mandate defined in the Defense Department's "Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment or Induction in the Military Service." (See p. 33, paragraph 3-35.)  So it can't be ended by popular vote, or even a Congressional mandate.  Only the Pentagon can change it, and it's a body that doesn't tend to be swayed much by public opinion.  On the other hand, DADT was a Federal law and could, as such, be voted out of existence by Congress.

This isn't to say that the ban on transgender people won't be repealed.  I just think that it's going to be difficult, in part because we're a much smaller community than lesbians, gay men or bisexuals, but also because doing so will require a change in the administrative culture of the Armed Forces.  Having a President or other elected officials who favor such a change wouldn't hurt, but wouldn't, in and of itself, be enough.

22 May 2012

She Called Herself Lorena; The Times Called Her "Curvaceous"

Sometimes people don't understand why words are so important to us.  Actually, they're not any more important to us than they are to anyone else.  Some people think we're more "sensitive" to what we're called and the pronouns used to refer to us because they are not aware of the amount of respect for their dignity and persons they receive that trans--and, too often LGBT and other--people don't get.  

An example of what I'm talking about can be found in a NY Times article about a fire that killed a trans woman on Saturday night.  In the first sentence, Lorena Escalera was referred to as "curvaceous."  These days, even the NY Post does better than that.  I thought the Times stopped that sort of thing--if they ever did it--decades ago.

But it gets even worse.  The article says she was "called" Lorena.  Even the police report lists her name as Lorena; so did other documents referring to her.  If she is not legally known by that name, she is, for all intents and purposes, Lorena.  Why couldn't the Times recognize that?  Or the fact that she was living as a woman--that, in fact, she is a woman.  Al Baker and Nate Schweber, who wrote the article, simply had to say she was "born a male."  No, they didn't even have the guts to say it themselves:  They had to mention that "neighbors" said it.  

Worse yet, Messrs. Baker and Schweber simply couldn't stop themselves from indulging in some cultural stereotyping.  The noted that a debris pile outside of the apartment ravaged by the fire "contained many colorful items."  They included "wigs, women's shoes, coins from around the world, makeup, hairspray, handbags, a shopping bag from Spandex House, a red feather boa and a pamphlet on how to quit smoking.  

Baker and Schweber ended the article with a brief mention of another fire on the same night.  In fighting that blaze, firefighters found the body of a man on whom the fire seemed to be concentrated.  Around his charred remains, according to the reporters,  were "a shopping cart, spackling buckets and clothing."  Somehow I think Baker and Schweber made that list simply to highlight the "tranniness" of the belongings of someone "called" Lorena.  And, oh yeah, we mustn't forget:  This person called Lorena was curvaceous.

21 May 2012

Re:Acting Fairly And Accurately

The political right has its so-called Accuracy In Media.

Now, I am happy to say, I've found a site that takes on, not only the transphobia in the media, but also the inaccuracies (if unintentional) in the way we're portrayed.  It also analyzes some of the hysteria found in coverage related to LGBT issues, particularly crimes and other prejudice against us.

The other day, Re:Act To Your News critiqued the coverage of the Dharun Ravi trial.  Whether or not Tyler Clementi's suicide is a direct consequence of Ravi's actions, it is still a tragedy, and Ravi doesn't seem very moved by his former roommate's death.  However, as the Re:Act piece shows, the very same mentality and processes that led to Ravi's conviction in the media are also, now, portraying him as a victim.  As the Re:Act post shows, neither portrayal of Ravi--as a villain or victim--is completely accurate.  

Why is that important?  Well, if he's seen as the victim he isn't, he won't be punished as he should.  On the other hand, portraying him as more of a monster than he actually is will lead to an over-zealous prosecution of him, which could result in his being punished for a crime very different from the one he committed.   That, ultimately, will not lead to the justice we are too often denied in cases bias-motivated crimes against us.

I am adding Re:Act to my "to read" list of blogs, and encourage you to do the same.

20 May 2012

Miss Congeniality

Tonight I'm seeing a lot of reports saying that Jenna Talackova "lost" the Miss Universe Canada beauty pageant.

First of all, I don't think anybody who enters such a competition "loses."  After all, there are plenty of women (including moi) who will never be in one.   

Second, I have to admit that I feel it's a victory for me and lots of other people simply to see her in such a competition. After all, she had to overcome a lot of hassles and stonewalling to get there.  Officials tried to bar her from the contest, even though there is no written rule--at least for Canada's contest-- stating that transgender women can't compete.  So the officials who tried to keep her out were, to be charitable, afraid of something that even they couldn't explain to anyone.  If I didn't want to be charitable, I'd say they're pure-and-simple bigots.

Judgments in such contests are subjective.  So who's to say who is really the most beautiful, or most representative of Canada (or the universe) in such a contest?  That said, I don't see how anyone could not find Ms. Talackova at least a little teensy weensy bit attractive.  

Plus, she is articulate and outgoing.  She seems friendly and intelligent. So it's no surprise that they crowned her Miss Congeniality.  I've always suspected that pageant judges gave that title to the one they really wanted, but couldn't bring themselves, to crown Miss Universe (or Miss whatever).

So I declare her a winner.  After all, we all know Miss Congeniality is really the one you want to know better!

19 May 2012

Christine Gets Married

It is most likely, as the Times reported, the highest-profile same-sex marriage to date.

Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council (basically second only to the Mayor in the New York City government power structure) married her longtime partner Kim Catullo.

Congratulations to both of them!  While I think the legalization of same-sex marriage is not the direct route to equality that some believe it is, I am glad we have it.  Given the current social and legal structure, it's the best we can do. And, if Christine and Kim want to be married, I'm glad they've done it.  I can only wish them happiness.

18 May 2012

What Motivates Him To Learn?

One thing I have to say for my students is that they have almost uniformly been good to me. My identity is known, and I think I'm no longer a curiosity:  I don't think anyone is taking my classes so they can find out what it's like to have "the tranny prof."  Now I'm just another boring professor--which, I believe is what they expect, and even want.

Anyway, one of my courses includes readings from science and history as well as a memoir.  Of course, the subject of gender has grown prominent in our discussions, especially in light of some of the writing we've read by female historians.   That leads the class, at times, into discussions of the differences between male and female.

One student seems particularly interested.  Other students have taken notice and have even wondered aloud why he's read as much as he has on the topic.  "How can you not be interested in it?," he implores them. 

He is a bit different from the other students.  For one thing, he's older than most of them.  For another, he's lived in a few more countries, and even served in the armed forces of one of them (not the US).  And, he has other experiences most other students don't have--and some that I may never have.

However, I rather doubt he is thinking about a gender transition.  It would even surprise me if he were gay, although I think he might have an issue or two when it comes to relationships.  (He's mentioned two marriages and children.)  Still, he is  better-versed in gender transitions and surgery than most lay people I've met, and seems interested in knowing even more.   

I wonder whether he's found this blog.  Actually, it would surprise me if he hasn't.  After all, if you type my name into a Google search bar, you'll find an entry to at least one entry of this blog on the first page of search results.  If he's curious enough to learn what he's learned, I'd guess that he'd also be curious enough to do a Google search on me--and to check out this blog.

This could be interesting--for me and for the class, as well as for him.  

17 May 2012

The Whole World's IDAHO

"You learn something new every day."  At least, that's what my mother always says.  

At least it was true for me today.  I found out that this is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), and that it's being marked all over the world.  Following such initiatives as the National Day Against Homophobia, which was launched in the Canadian province of Quebec in 2003, IDAHO, French university professor Louis-Georges Tin launched an initiative to create an Day Against Homophobia that would be international in scope.  He prooposed that the Day would be observed on 17 May to commemorate the World Health Organization's decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. His efforts led to the first IDAHO in 2005, when a number of organizations and famous individuals signed the "IDAHO Appeal."

I am glad that this day, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, are observed.  However--to paraphrase what some have said about Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving and other holidays--every day should include efforts against homophobia and transphobia, and a commemoration of those who were killed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

It's especially important to keep homophobia and transphobia--and the violence they generate--because of misconceptions some people still have. "Whenever I raise these issues, some complain I'm pushing for 'new rights' or 'special rights' for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," says Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  "But there is nothing new or special about the right to life and security of a person, the right to freedom from discrimination."

16 May 2012

What Will The Rest Of Her Life Be Like?

Last year, a video of the beating of a transwoman in a suburban Baltimore McDonalds went viral. 

Chrissy Polis said she wasn't even going to tell anyone her story because she was so embarassed.  Instead, it was told for her, in images, on YouTube.

The video thrust her into a spotlight she never sought.  She said she never even wanted to be involved in transgender causes.  Now, she shuns offers of help from strangers because she fears they are only trying to "use" her for a "greater cause." 

It's gotten so bad that she's afraid to go out of the house, according to her roommate, Heather Hock.

On top of everything, she has people calling her "sick," "in need of professional help" and worse.  In essence, they say, she had it coming to her.

All of this reminds me of what commonly happened--and still sometimes happens--to rape victims.  And, of course, the root of violence against Polis is the same as that of violence against any other woman:  misogyny.  Until that is rooted out, none of us are completely safe.

15 May 2012

Will GENDA Pass This Time?

Ten years ago, New York City amended its Human Rights Law with language to forbid discrimination in housing, employment and city services on the basis of gender identity and expression.  At that time, seventy-four jurisdictions had such laws.

Now, New York State is considering something similar.  Sixteen other states and 143 cities and counties--in all parts of the country--have such laws.  Lest you think that Empire State lawmakers have suddenly been enlightened, think again.  The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act  (GENDA) has been up for vote for years now.  It usually passes in the State Assembly, in which Democrats have long dominated, but fails in the State Senate.  At various times, the Senate has had Republican majorities, but even when that party didn't have the numbers, it had influential leaders, like Joseph Bruno, from conservative upstate areas.

After Bruno chose not to seek re-election in 2008, many of us thought the Act had a greater chance of becoming law.  Our optimism was further stoked by the "tipping" of the Senate to a Democratic majority, however slight it may be.  Plus, in Andrew Cuomo, we now have a governor who's willing to sign the Act into law.  

What disheartens us, though, is that the State continues to be "late to the party."  In the same year the City amended its human rights laws to protect transgender people, the State finally passed the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act.  Insiders say that it passed only because the provisions encoded in GENDA were left out of it.  It seems that, as distasteful as gay rights may have been to some conservatives, lesbians and gays had become too large a voting bloc to ignore.  (They tend to vote at higher rates than the population in general.)  On the other hand, the numbers of transgender people are much smaller, and we tend to be poorer than gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.  Plus, the fact that so many of us--especially our young--are unemployed, or even homeless, makes it harder for us to organize campaigns.

I hope that the State finally does what sixteen others have already done--and what it should have done ten years ago, when the City recognized gender identity and expression in its human rights laws.


13 May 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

To all of you who are mothers--and those of you who love yours, or someone who was one to you--Happy Mother's Day.

My mom is great. But she hates being photographed, and I've been able to take the few photos I have of her only by swearing I would never share them.  Since I do believe in honoring my mother and father (which is not always the same as obeying them), you will not see her photo on my blogs.  However, I'll give you the next best thing--to me, anyway. Here's a photo of a mom riding with her kid in tow:

From Public

12 May 2012

Where Are They Really "Gender Blind"?

Many people assume that gender equality is more readily found in large cities and institutions than in smaller ones.  It's not hard to understand why this belief exists:  After all, here in New York I have met young women who have told me they were working the kinds of jobs, and making salaries, that they simply would not have had they remained wherever they were born or raised.  Women in cities like Washington, DC and San Francisco have been saying similar things for decades.

However, it's not commonly noticed that in highly-populated regions, there are still areas of endeavor in which women lag behind men--or are not even playing on the same field.  This is especially true in the ranks of high-level executives in certain industries, and in such areas as politics. While we have seen women such as Hilary Clinton rise to become Secretary of State after representing New York State in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi become Speaker of the House of Representatives after years of representing San Francisco in that body, women have not served as governors of their states or as mayors of the largest cities in their states.  On the other hand, Nikki Haley is currently the Governor of South Carolina, which has about as many people as Brooklyn and Manhattan, or Los Angeles and San Francisco.  And she's a Republican, which would seem to give lie to the notion that Democrats are better at achieving gender equality.

I got to thinking about the things I've mentioned thus far in this post after this, which a friend passed along to me.  It talks about "gender blind" sports programs in small upstate schools.  Being small schools, they have fewer students from which to choose in assembling their teams.  In some schools, there simply aren't enough students to assemble separate men's and women's teams in sports like tennis.  Also, there isn't enough money to field separate teams for boys and girls.

In essence, those schools mirror the situations in small towns and states where women have risen to positions of power.  There aren't as many people from which to choose in those places--and, as a friend from rural West Virginia tells me, the women are often more educated than the men and, in some cases, have better jobs (or have jobs at all when the men don't). I'm also thinking now about something a woman from a rural area in a Latin American country told me: In her town, and others like it, women are, in essence, acting as the priests.  They are doing all of the jobs in the church women "aren't supposed to do" and even ones expressly forbidden by the Church. 

But I think it's not just a lack of qualified men that gives women opportunities in such backwaters.  In one sense, it's easier (though not easy) for a woman to rise in such places because it doesn't take the same amount of money, or access to it or the networks that go along with it.  That could explain why South Carolina has a female governor but neither New York nor California has had one.  Also, the organizations and hierarchies through which women would have to work aren't as big, entrenched or, in some cases, as sclerotic as those in larger cities and states.  It's easier to rise past ten than a thousand men (or any other kind of person).  And, I think, frankly, once a woman rises through such a small network, there is less resistance to another than there is in a larger and more established community.  You might say that, even in the relatively conservative atmosphere of many small towns and states, there's actually less sexism, in practice, than there is in the establishments of large cities and highly-populated states.  

Thus, there may well be more resistance to co-ed sports teams, for example, in large city high schools than in smaller ones in small towns and rural counties.  So places like Utica will have "gender blind" sports teams while New York City high school teams remain segregated.

11 May 2012

Mitt Bully, I Mean, Romney

Over the past few days, there have been media stories of how Presidential candidate Mitt Romney bullied classmates--including one who turned out to be gay-- at his prep school nearly half a century ago.  In those days, though, his behavior wasn't considered bullying:  It was "just boys being boys," especially in the milieu of schools like the one he attended. 

So, in one sense, those (mostly right-wing) critics of those who broke the stories are right:  No one should be judged for the behavior of his teen years.  I'll admit that I am speaking out of self-interest:  I did a bit of bullying myself.  However, I was also bullied and although I don't think I want to see my old tormentors again (for reasons other than the bullying), I expect, or at least hope, that they have grown out of such behavior and the attitudes behind them. 

However, it seems that Romney hasn't progressed much, in his attitudes or actions, since his teen years.  If anything, he's worse now because he has a greater platform and more resources to perpetuate his repressive and predatory actions.  For starters, he looks like a champion of gay rights only in comparison to Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and others who ran against him for the Republican Party's nomination to the Presidency.  It's one thing to oppose gay marriage. (I favor legalizing it only because it's the best we can do in the current legal system; I actually believe the government should play no role at all--save, perhaps, to set a minimum age--in determining who should be allowed to be married.)  He also opposes civil unions. Still, that's not the worst of his positions:  He supported, until its repeal, Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Worse still, in 2006 he rescinded the support he gave to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act twelve years earlier, saying that it would "unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges." 

But Romney's grown-up bullying doesn't end with his blatantly homo- and trans-phobic policies.  He also will throw workers and even managers under the  bus.  Bain Capital, which he headed, was known for buying companies and running them into the ground to make money.  Along the way, they'd fire workers, including managers, and install their own managers, most of whom knew nothing about the industries or products of the companies they were running. And Bain would charge exorbitant management fees.    Really, what they did was the corporate equivalent of a home invasion.

So, in a way, he hasn't changed since he was a teenager:  He is perfectly willing to exert force on people less able to defend themselves than he or his cohorts are.  The only difference is that now he doesn't use physical force.

If you want to read about more examples of what I've just described, look here, here, here and here

10 May 2012

Argentina Gets It

Many, many years ago, I read Jacobo Timerman's wonderful (but disturbing) Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A NumberIn it, he recounts his arrests, torture and other trials and tribulations endured during the so-called "Dirty War" in  Argentina during the 1970's and 1980's. Although he was arrested, interrogated, tortured, incarcerated and, finally, deported, no formal charges were ever brought against him.  From what he says, he may have been lucky:  others were "disappeared" or simply murdered outright for such vague reasons as "financial ties" or other "connections" to "Israeli terrorists."

Now, three decades after Timerman's book was published and he was able to return to his home country, Argentina has taken a step no other country has ever taken in advancing human rights.

Last night, the Argentine Congress voted unanimously for a law that, in essence, allows people to change their gender because they want to.

No longer will anyone have to endure what Karla Oser had to in order to become one of only forty people to have gender reassignment surgery in the hospital at La Plata.  She had to present judges with testimony from two psychologists, a psychiatrist, a gynecologist, a urologist and an ear-nose-and-throat specialist.  Even after her surgery, she couldn't get her gender updated on her national identity card.

Now there are government doctors ready to perform the surgery, no questions asked.   

But it gets even better:  One doesn't have to go through the surgery, or even alter his or her body in any other way, in order to change his or her official gender identity.  

Passage of the new law--and the one that legalized gay marriage two years ago--didn't come without opposition.   After all, Roman Catholicism is still the official state religion, and the vast majority of Argentinians identify themselves as Catholics.  However, church attendance has been in steep decline, and the Church doesn't hold nearly as much sway over public life as it did during the time of which Timerman wrote.  In fact, the ties between Church officials and that government (which resulted, some believe, in Church officials aiding and abetting the "disappearances") are a major reason why the Church has less influence over people's lives than it did during the time of the "Dirty War."

As happy as I am over the Argentine government's decision, I'd like to know what prompted it.  Did they all come to the realization that a person's true gender is in his, her or hir mind and spirit?  If so, how?  Even if they didn't have such a realization, they have done the most enlightened thing any political body has ever done in terms of gender rights and equality.

09 May 2012

Les Amies de Place Blanche

Place Blanche in Paris is perhaps best known as the site of Le Moulin Rouge, where the can-can dance is said to have originated, at least in its present form.

Not so long ago, it was also--along with nearby Place Pigalle--part of the City of Light's red light district.   Blanche in particular was known for its transgendered prostitutes.  Most were working to save money for gender reassignment surgery.   However, they had as much of a chance of ending up in the bowels of La Sante as in George Burou's basement.  In the conservative atmosphere of Charles deGaulle's France, they were routinely arrested--and, as often as not, beaten and otherwise abused by the police--for the offense of being, according to the law of that time, les hommes habilles en femme en dehors du carneval.

In that milieu, Christer Stromholm did something that was almost as risky as living as one of those trans women:  He befriended tem.  However, he wasn't a social worker or miisionary.  He was a photographer, born in Stockholm, who moved to the Blanche district around the time de Gaulle returned to power and formed le Cinquieme Republique.  Stromholm stayed in Blanche for a decade and took some remarkable photographs, which will be on display at the International Center of Photography starting on 18 May.  I probably don't have to tell you that I plan to attend.

08 May 2012

Against Me! Singer Tom Gabel Speaking For Us

These days, I don't look at Rolling Stone very often. But I might check out the upcoming issue.  In it, Against Me! singer Tom Gabel will reveal plans to start living as a woman.

She said she will take the name Laura Jane Grace and remain married to her wife Heather.  She says, understandably, that the "most terrifying part" was wondering how Heather would accept the news.  "But she's been super-amazing and understanding," Laura relates.

As far as I know, no other rock star has come out as transgendered.  She is making a point of speaking openly about her identity and transition. "I'm going to have embarrassing moments," she says, "and that won't be fun."  But, she says, as she speaks out, "I'm hoping people will understand  and hoping they'll be fairly kind."

07 May 2012

The Day After The Super Full Moon

The other night we had a "super full moon." Higher-than-normal tides usually come with it. What that means is that when the tides recede, they leave even more sandbars exposed than are usually seen when the tide is out.

These above photo, and the ones that follow, come from Point Lookout, where I rode yesterday.


It seemed that everyone there was happy. Why wouldn't they be? The overcast sky opened to bright sunshine, and everything seemed so peaceful. I pedalled into some wind on my way out there, but that meant an easier ride home.

Isn't that what everybody wants?

04 May 2012

Finding The Moves Within

A friend of mine is teaching me Tai-Chi.  

I'll admit I'm a terrible student--in most things, not just Tai-Chi.  Really, I am:  I'm a very slow and very poor learner.  I'm neither proud nor ashamed of that fact, for it is simply that: a fact.

Anyway, this friend has come to my place for the last couple of Fridays because, as small as my apartment is, I can clear enough space for us to have our "classes."  She cannot do the same in her apartment.

Notice that my instructor is female.  She's a trans woman.  I really don't think I could learn Tai-Chi any other way, at least not at this point in my life.  It's not that I think being a trans person makes her better than other instructors, although I think she's pretty damned good.  Rather, I feel that my ability to learn the moves, and the ways of thinking and visualizing that underlay them, could only be tapped by someone who has had to relate to her body in much the same way as I have had to relate to mine.

For all of the training I did when I was younger, and especially considering the high level of physical fitness I enjoyed for a time in my life, I really felt that my body was entirely graceless.  I have always felt clumsy, and believed that my ability to pedal or run fast (at least, relatively speaking) for long periods of time was in spite, rather than because, of my body's (in)abilities.  

My friend insists that Tai-Chi moves are "natural."  They don't feel that way to me.  Perhaps they will, with time and practice.  She says that the body, my body, really wants to make the kinds of moves she is teaching me.  I want to believe her--no, I do believe her.   I somehow understand that those moves, and the ability to move through the world with more confidence, is within me, much as Michelangelo's David was, as he said, already within the block of marble he sculpted and all he had to do was find and bring it out.

I can say something like that about my femaleness.  I am sure that no one besides Michelangelo saw David in that block of marble before he started chipping away at it.  In fact, I'd bet that no one could have seen David until Michelangelo's work on that piece of rock was well under way.  Likewise, only a few people would have guessed that I was about to undertake a gender transition before I started; and it took some time before strangers addressed me as "Ma'am" or "Miss" even when I wasn't wearing makeup or feminine clothing.

Perhaps those Tai-Chi moves are within me, and my friend is trying to help me clear away all of those things that are keeping them from coming out.  At least, that's what I hope.  Could it be that underneath everything, there's a Tai-Chi Tranny just waiting to enter the world?

03 May 2012

The Shooting Of Brandy Martell: Whether Or Not It's Hate, It's Still A Crime

Some people--conservatives, mainly--that there should not be a separate legal category of "hate crimes."  They argue that all crimes are "hate crimes" because, in their definition, all crimes are acts of hate.

They might be right.  However, I would say that "transgression" is a more accurate word than "crime" to describe an act of hate, simply because "crime" is a legal definition.  Also, not all crimes are committed against people or other living things, and people usually act out of hate only against animate beings.

But there is one good reason to have a separate legal definition, and set of penalties, for hate crimes.  Some people are targeted for such crimes simply for being who they are.  If everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then crimes that deny people those rights (especially for reasons that are not of their own making) should be considered exceptional, or at least different, from others.

The tricky part, of course, comes when police officers, lawyers, juries and judges have to determine whether or not a rape, beating or killing was motivated by a person's identity--whether by race, sexual orientation, gender manifestation, ethnicity--or was simply the result of a robbery or other crime gone wrong.

Such is the case of Brandy Martell, who lived in the San Francisco Bay community of Hayward.  She was in the driver's seat of a car she and three other transgendered women rode into Oakland on Sunday morning.  Three men had approached them and there ensued an argument that ended with the shooting death of Ms. Martell.

Her friends say she was targeted because of her identity.  Although I know nothing more about her or the case than what I've seen in news reports, I'd be inclined to believe it.  However, I cannot be certain.

Whatever his motives, I hope that Ms. Martell's shooter is brought to justice.  Too often, those who attack and kill transgender people aren't.

02 May 2012

Prophecies Of Hate On The Campus Walls?

Last night, a friend told me that there has been a rash of "hate" graffiti on the campus where she teaches.  Most of it has been anti-Semitic, but there have been scrawlings against gays and other groups of people.

Based on my own none-too-scientific observations, I'd say that there's more such graffiti, and it's in a greater number of places, than there was a few years ago.  I wouldn't say there's more graffiti overall, although I have seen it return to the subways after an absence of nearly two decades.  However, the kinds of graffiti I'm seeing give me pause.

In Sounds of Silence, Paul Simon wrote, "The voices of the prophets are written on the subway walls."  In other words, graffiti is often an echo of what people will say when they're not in "polite" company.  While I won't venture an opinion as to whether more people are prejudiced, or whether people are becoming more prejudiced, I think that current conditions are causing some people to murmur, if not say out loud, what they've been thinking.

For all that we hear about "tolerance," it's the people who feel more or less secure that express acceptance of people different from themselves.  In other words, it's the people who haven't slipped into the underclass, whose jobs haven't been outsourced or made redundant.  And they're the same people who can rely on their social and professional networks if things get a little rough.

However, there are whole communities that are being displaced, even in this so-called economic recovery.  In previous economic upheavals, it was mostly the unskilled and semi-skilled workers who lost their jobs and never got them back.  Now we're seeing professionals and managers exhausting their unemployment benefits without getting new jobs.  And the industries in which they worked are disappearing--or moving to other countries, or online--in much the same way the steel industry all but vanished during the past three decades.

According to Bob Marley, "a hungry man is an angry man." People--particularly men who were conditioned to expect a well-paying job--fester with resentment when they lose what they believe to be their rightful place in society and the economy.  Too often, that resentment turns into hatred and violence against members of "minority" groups, who are seen as privileged.  All it takes for that hatred and anger to turn into a full-blown pogrom is a fiery, charismatic leader.  What I am describing, of course, happened in Nazi Germany:  Hitler channeled the misery and desperation of people whose lives were ravaged by hyperinflation and a worldwide depression by scapegoating Jews, Gypsies, gays and other marginalized groups of people.

It's really disturbing, though, that such hate is being expressed so openly on a college campus.  I often hear students express little or no faith in the future:  They realize that they could end up unemployed, and unemployable, even with a degree.  If they start to feel real despair, and that is channeled into hatred against some group or another, who else will fall prey to the sort of rhetoric that equates prejudice with social justice?

01 May 2012

A Surprise In One Of My Classes

In one of my classes, students have been reading various essays and articles about gender and sexuality.  I've assigned them a paper based on those readings.  

Last year, I had a self-imposed moratorium on such readings and assignments.  I wanted to teach things that had nothing to do with those topics.  I started this year with the same moratorium but I found that, ironically, my students led me back to them.  They wanted to express their thoughts about gender identity and sexuality. Some of those thoughts included were about the inseparability of gender and sexuality from many other topics, including some that I hadn't anticipated, such as science.

Anyway, in the class in question, one student whom I thought to be a cocky teenager, expressed the opinion that "everyone has rights."  At first I was skeptical; I thought he was saying what he thought I wanted to hear.  However, as I read on, I realized that he had been thinking a lot about the issues in the reading.  He said, in essence, that he'd be disappointed if he had a son who expressed interest in "changing" genders.  However, he said, he would support that son's right to do so if he made that choice as an adult.

But what came after that assertion was, perhaps, the most interesting and gratifying part of all.  He wrote about one of his school-mates, with whom he had been friends since both were five years old. This friend had a brother who was several years older, and whom my student saw almost as often as he saw the friend.  This friend's older brother, according to my student, was sullen and testy (Those were his exact words.) and had a few incidents with cops and authority figures.

However, my student noticed a change in him.  This friend's brother began to "mellow" out, and even volunteered his time.  My student, of course, had no idea of what brought about the change--that is, until one day, when he noticed other changes.  "His face looked different.  His body was starting to look different."  What my student was describing, of course, were the effects of taking hormones.  

This friend's sibling has since had gender reassignment surgery.  My student says he can't imagine such a thing for himself, and he hopes that any son he may have wouldn't want to do the same thing.  However, he says, "it just might be necessary.  And that is why I would support his right to do it."

I wonder if his buddies in the class--who seem like even cockier teenagers than I thought him to be--saw that paper.  Actually, I hope they did, and that he's talked about it with them.