30 November 2012

Andy Marra: Moving Ahead With Two Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 November 2012

Lighting The Way Home

Well, it's that time of year again.

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

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

28 November 2012

Stacie Laughton Resigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 November 2012

Healthcare And The Transgender Lost Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 November 2012

Cycling After The Tide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope they can all go home soon.

24 November 2012

Fox News Celebrates Transgender Day Of Remembrance

Perhaps I should pay more attention to Faux, I mean Fox, News than I do.  After all, in its own way, it's brilliant:  It whips up resentment against everyone in the world except the ones who are making the lives of their viewers more difficult.  Of course, the reason for that is that Fox is owned by the sorts of people who make their viewers' lives less tenuous.

A friend of mine alerted me to an egregious (even for Fox) example.  When the first Transgender Days of Remembrance were held, Fox executives and producers could honestly claim they were unaware:  Hey, I was, too!  However, I don't think that they could make such a defense of themselves now.

Certainly there's no defense for what they did on Tuesday, the 20th:  They started their day's "news" broadcasts with an alert that mocked transgender Massachusetts inmate Michelle Kosilek's request for electrolysis treatment.

Whether or not you believe that she had a "right" to such treatment, I don't think you can defend the network's timing.  I, for one, cannot see it as anything but a cynical ploy that shows Fox executives and producers have as much contempt for their audience as they do for those against whom they try to fan the flames of resentment.

22 November 2012

Sixteen Months And $18,000 Later

In New York City, it costs $160.  In Oklahoma, it costs $18,000.

You read that right.  Oh, but it gets even better.  The thing I'm talking about takes about one month in New York versus 16 in Oklahoma.  

Plus, in the Sooner State, you have to fight for it in ways that no one in the Empire State has had to fight, at least for the past two decades or so.

So what is this thing I'm hinting at?  If you've been reading this blog, you might have figured it out:  a transgender's name change.

The $160 figure I've quoted included the filing fee, the cost of having my court order published in the Legal Notices section of The Village Voice and the certified copies of the order the court clerk made.  And one month (actually, a couple of days short of that) is the amount of time that elapsed from the time I filed until the day the court received notice that its order had been published.

Then again, the Civil Court in downtown Manhattan, where I filed, doesn't have a great master of jurisprudence like the eminent Bill Graves.  In a country that supposedly still recognizes a separation between church and state, and faith and the law, the Honorable Mister Graves has used the Bible as his basis for denying trans people the right to change their names.  

Then again, who am I to criticize a judge for using The Good Book in making his decisions?  After all, he learned everything he knows about genetics from it.  I'll be the first to admit that he knows far more about it than I do, and probably ever will.  "If you're born male, you say male, according to the study I've done on DNA," he advised someone who petitioned to change her name.  "And if you're born female, you stay female."

Christie Ann Harvey had the chutzpah courage to challenge the learned judge. She filed an appeal after the judge, as he did in the case of Angela Renee Ingram, cited the Bible and his trove of knowledge about the human genome to deny her request to change her name from Steven.  Ms. Harvey's efforts resulted in an order from the Civil Court of Appeals that reversed Judge Graves' decision.  The Court also said that Graves abused his discretion in citing the Bible instead of Oklahoma law in making his decision.

One of the most bizarre aspects of this story is that, not long after Judge Graves denied Ms. Harvey's petition, she was allowed to change her gender, but not her name, on her driver's license.  It's one of the reasons why, she says, she was "living in limbo."  Not surprisingly, she's "happy" that she can now take one more step to living a normal life in the gender of her mind and spirit.  

If anyone is living in limbo, I'd say it's the Honorable Judge Graves.

19 November 2012

First Transgender Representative Elected in Cuba.

Her own father reported her to the Cuban authorities.  During the 1980's, she spent two years in prison for her "dangerousness."

This month, she was elected as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the province of Villa Clara.  Her office is more or less equivalent to that of a city councilor in the United States. Now she is eligible to be selected as a representative to the Cuban Parliament next year.

Adela Hernandez is now the first known transgender person to be elected to public office in Cuba.  Although she is known as a female to those who have worked and lived alongside her, the Cuban government still classifies her as male, for she has not had gender reassignment surgery.

Even so, her election represents a change in attitudes about homosexuality and gender variance that simply would have been unimaginable through much of Fidel Castro's regime.  Interestingly, although Castro allied himself with the Soviet Union and turned himself, and his country, to Communism, his persecution and imprisonment of LGBT people has more in common with such right-wing military (or militaristic) dictatorships as those of Franco in Spain and the Perons in Argentina.

Interestingly, Spain became one of the first countries to legalize same-sex unions.  And Argentina not only did the same; it passed what may be the most liberal laws regarding gender identity in the entire world.  Were she in Argentina, Ms. Hernandez could have herself classified as male and would probably be allowed to have gender-reassignment surgery, for which the government would pay.

To be fair, I should point out that Cuba's national healthcare system has been providing gender-reassignment surgery free of charge since 2007.  I don't know why Ms. Hernandez has not had it.  Perhaps the screening process has even more hurdles than it has in other countries.  Or, perhaps, she has some other mitigating circumstance, or simply wishes to live as the woman she has always known she is.  (She's been living as female since she was a child.)

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see what, if any, influence her election has on the lives and treatment of transgender people in Cuba.

17 November 2012

For Lou Rispoli, RIP

Far too many people are killed simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, for crossing paths with the wrong person or people.  Any murder is tragic; any seemingly out-of-the-blue slaying on the street should provoke grief and outrage.

Whenever the victim is gay, lesbian or transgendered--or seems to be--we cannot help but to believe that--or, at least, wonder whether--the killing is a hate crime.  And when said victim is a well-known activist, it's hard not to feel that the killing was an assassination and, perhaps, part of an attempt at genocide.

And so it is with the murder of Lou Rispoli.  Details of the crime are sketchy, but it seems fairly certain that two stick-wielding young men beat him while another kept watch in a nearby car.  Rispoli was killed around 2:15 am on 20 October, on 43rd Avenue near 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens.

It's not much more than a mile from where I live.  In fact, I've passed that spot dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  It's a quiet, almost quaint, neighborhood of prewar apartment buildings and row houses that abuts Sunnyside Gardens.  Like much of Queens, it is very diverse, with old Irish immigrants and their children, Italians and their children who came a bit later and more recent immigrants from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and several South American countries.  And, like a few other Queens neighborhoods--notably neighboring Woodside and Jackson Heights--it has a population, if not community, of gay male couples (Rispoli, in fact, had lived with his husband, whom he married just last year, for more than three decades.) that lives under a sort of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  

The good news is that in such neighborhoods, one's identity or orientation is almost never questioned, at least openly.  Most people tolerate, if not accept, their LGBT neighbors.  The bad news is, of course, that the revelation of a gay, lesbian or trans person's identity leaves him or her very vulnerable to haters, or simply to aimless young (mostly male) people.

Somehow I suspect Rispoli's attackers are from the latter group.  Whoever they are, they have left a man without the partner with whom he's spent most of his adult life, and two daughters without one of the people who raised them.  And from many other people they have taken a friend and ally--and robbed everyone of his humanity, which I sensed very strongly in the brief encounters I had with him.  That is what everyone recalled when they marched  and held a candlelight vigil in his memory this afternoon and evening.

15 November 2012

Trans Woman Tasered In Her Groin

I used to think some of the most ignorant stuff I'd heard and read was published and broadcast as "news" in the New York Post and on Faux (I mean Fox) News.

Now it seems that some of the ones who post comments on New York Daily News articles--especially ones about trans people--are giving the Posties and Foxies some competition, whether or not that is their intention.

Just take a look at what some of them said in response to the report of Brooke Fantelli being tasered in the groin by a Bureau of Land Management Agent who asked for her ID.  You have probably guessed what happened next:  The agent--identified as J. Peter-- looked at her license, which still identified her as male. The politeness and courtesy which he'd shown her up to that moment turned to hostility and aggression:  "Ma'am" and "Miss" became "Sir" and "Dude."

From a video I've seen, and other accounts I've read, Ms. Fantelli was compliant.  She had been shooting some video and drinking beer with a friend in the desert near Los Angeles.  But she was not trespassing on or destroying property, or harming other people or wildlife--or, as far as anyone could tell, breaking any laws.  Even if her blood alcohol level had been over the legal limit (no test was administered), it is not likely that she was guilty of any offense, for she was not driving.  

Even if she had been drinking and driving, or trespassing (which doesn't seem likely because, as far as anyone knows, the land was neither restricted nor private), there was no reason to taser Ms. Fantelli.  For that matter, there was no reason for "J. Peter" or anyone else to use any sort of physical force against her.

In other words, if "J.Peter" would have been a civilian, he'd be guilty of a hate crime.  Some of the folks who comment on Daily News articles seem to think it's justice.

14 November 2012

What I Missed: Gender Clinics

Sometimes I think about the things I missed out on as a result of transitioning after the turn of the century rather than, say, in the 1980's.

One of those things is a visit to a gender clinic.  In She's Not There, Jennifer Boylan reports seeing a sign for one in London when she was there during her junior year in college as a young man named James.  He was tempted to check it out.  It's probably a good thing he didn't.

You see, "gender clinics" were the gatekeepers to the world of medical and psychological help for people whose gender identity and expression differed from those that are accepted in society.  They operated from utterly regressive notions of gender and sexuality.  Among those notions is the one that defines women, in part, by their sexual attraction to men.  In the universe of those clinics, a male-to-female transsexual who wanted to remain married to her wife, or who wanted to continue having sexual relations with women, was not a "true" transsexual.

As for female-to-male transgenders:  They were barely on the radar of those clinics at all.  

Perhaps the most notorious of those clinics was the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.  It was originally named the Clarke Institute; before it was renamed, it was known as "Jurassic Clarke" in the trans community.  CAMH exists today but, it seems, is no longer offering "services" to the trans community.  If such is the case, we should be thankful.  

The Clarke Institute was named for Charles Kirk Clarke, a Canadian psychiatrist whose goal of "keeping Canada sane" was to be accomplished, in part, by increasing the psychiatric profession's influence in making medical and political decisions.  After overseeing Canada's two largest mental hospitals, he co-founded the Canadian National Commission for Mental Hygiene, now the Canadian National Mental Health Association.  

During his time as head of the Commission, foreign-born patients made up more than 50 percent of Canada's institutionalized population.  So, perhaps, it's no surprise that he used a psychiatry-based rationale to advocate for more restrictive immigration laws--and for eugenics.

Perhaps it's even less surprising that an institute bearing his name would offer services to, among others, "those who wish to manage their cross-gender feelings and expression of those feelings while remaining in their original gender role."

Now tell me:  How does this differ from the "reparative"  or "conversion" therapy for gays commonly offered by psychiatrists, or people claiming to be such, who are Christian Evangelicals and Fundamentalists?  (One such practitioner is the husband of Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Congressional Representative and former candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination who is his partner in a clinic.)  

Given what I've just presented, it should also come as no surprise that, during the last years of his professional life, Ray Blanchard ran the Clarke Institute.  In brief, he based his work on a now-mostly-forgotten "disease model" of gender identity that he mainly cribbed from Magnus Hirschfeld. 

The result was that at the Clarke Institute and other clinics like it, those who entered its doors were treated more or less like sex offenders.  Even those who were approved were treated with suspicion and, at times, outright hostility.  The fact that they turned away 90 percent of the people who came to them was bad enough; one can only imagine the damage they caused to those whom they approved.  

They, wittingly or not, helped to make the "Lost Generation" of transgenders I've mentioned in earlier posts.   Rigid notions about gender identity, and the mistaken notion that it's intertwined with one's sexual orientation, were reinforced for those who managed to get treatment and transition.  Those, like me, who transitioned later in their lives are not seen as "true" transgenders by such people and those who treated them.  This is one more reason why it's been difficult to pass on the lessons previous generations of trans people learned--and, perhaps, the ones they might have unlearned in a more tolerant environment.

13 November 2012

How A Misguded Moral Crusade Victimizes Trans People

I am glad that attention has been paid to the discrimination and violence transgender people too often face.

There is a related issue that receives a lot of notice but is almost never discussed as a transgender issue: prostitution and human trafficking.

I am not a lawyer or policy-maker.  However, before continuing this post, I will do my best to distinguish prostitution from human trafficking, as the terms are often used interchangeably.

As I understand it, human trafficking involves the transportation of people--mainly young women and girls--from one place to another for the purpose of employing them as sex workers.  Prostitution is the sex work itself:  sexual acts performed for money, whether for one's self or (as is more common) a pimp or other boss.  It is the demand for the work of prostitution that fuels human trafficking.

However, both are transgender issues because trans people--particularly young male-to-females--are disproportionately involved in sex work. We disproportionately have the "risk factors" that can lead to becoming involved with such work--and vulnerable to human trafficking.

Though there are some who become sex workers voluntarily (We've all heard about young women who do it to pay for college.), the vast majority have left homes, schools communities or nations where they were sexually exploited or otherwise abused.  

Young trans people are more likely than others to experience such conditions. And when some young trans or gay kid runs away from home to escape bullying or other kinds of abuse, he or she finds him or herself as a stranger in some place or another with no educational or other credentials (Many don't finish high school.) and few or no marketable skills.  How many options for legal employment are available to such people?

So they turn to sex work.  I admit, I am glad I haven't had to make such a choice:  I'm not sure of how long I would have survived if I had. And I don't condone the demand for such services.  However, no one has ever been able to eradicate it. Attempts to do so are, as Noy Thrupkaew has written, misguided moral crusades.

Such crusades are not only misguided. they are destructive to the very people who are exploited by human trafficking and prostitution:  the sex workers themselves.  It seems that whenever some "get tough on crime" politician decides to go after the "Johns," it's the sex workers themselves who end up in the criminal justice system.  And, of course, we know which gender makes up most of each category!  

As Thrupkaew points out, there are a few who are sex workers by choice and would not want to go into any other line of work.  However, most want to get out of the trade; most can't.  The only ways out for most are arrest or death.  Either one precludes the possibility of a "normal" life after sex work.  Most of those who are arrested return to the work they were doing before the cops picked them up.  If it's so difficult for a high-school dropout with no marketable skills to get a job, imagine how much more difficult it is with such disadvantages combined with the burden of a criminal record.

The only way to improve the lives of people, especially transgenders, who become sex workers, is to make it possible for them to leave the trade.  If they can complete their educations in places where they don't face the daily threat of harassment or worse, and get safe places to live and  jobs that will allow them to pay for their housing and other experiences, they would be much less likely to turn to, or stay in, sex work.  

12 November 2012

DD 214: An ID Problem For Transgender Veterans

During the Presidential campaign, I wrote about how Voter ID laws were a hindrance to transgender people.  This is particularly true for those who are in the early stages of their transition:  They may be living completely or part-time in the gender of their minds and spirits but do not yet have ID to reflect their identities.  Some haven't yet changed their names; others live in places where they can't change their names, let alone the gender designation on their drivers' licenses or passports, without having gender-reassignment surgery.

For all the attention I paid to the issue, I still can't believe I missed another, related, issue.  It also has to do with identification and vital records.

Since Veteran's Day is being commemorated today, you might have guessed that it has something to do with military records.  If you did, you're right. Specifically, it has to do with form DD 214:  the document uniformed members of the Armed Forces receive upon their discharge or retirement from the military.

"You have to produce it for almost everything you do in life," says Bridget Wilson.  She is an attorney who has been representing transgender people in military and civilian matters for two decades.  She explained that that veterans have to show their DD 214s when they apply for college or to take the exams for law or other professions.  They also need it when they apply for jobs with large employers, some of whom get benefits (or simply "brownie points") for hiring veterans.  Military retirees also must have the form in order to provide their dependents with medical benefits or to access some of the privileges, such as shopping on military bases, the had when they were on active duty.

Nearly all of the 300,000 transgender veterans underwent their gender transitions after leaving the military.  This means their DD 214s show the names and genders by which they were identified when they were in uniform.  The Department of Defense treats the form, and other documents as "historical records," which means that military officials aren't allowed to change the information of them.

The result is that transgender veterans are routinely turned down for services and, of course, can't use their status as veterans when they apply for jobs and colleges.  According to Wilson, it would take only Defense Secretary Leon Panneta's signature to change the situation.     

As Wilson said, the issue may exist simply because "it wasn't on the radar" of Defense Department officials.  One reason for that is that most transgender veterans have transitioned in recent years and, even a decade ago, the numbers of trans veterans weren't as great as they are now.  However, as the situation of transgender veterans becomes better-known, there may be reluctance to change among those same officials--in part because transgenders still can't serve in the military, even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

After all, isn't everyone who served entitled to the same benefits?

11 November 2012

Transgender Veterans

Today is the real Veterans' (Armistice) Day.  So I thought it would be interesting to share something I found on You Tube.

Monica F. Helms--who, interestingly, created the Transgender Pride Flag--is a transsexual Navy veteran who began her transition at about the same age that I began mine.  She made two videos tracing the history and contributions of transgender" and "transgender-like" people who served in the Armed Forces, from the American Revolution to the Gulf Wars.  

She uses the term "transgender-like" because, as she points out, the term "transgender" wasn't invented until the mid-20th Century.  While there are accounts of people who crossed gender lines and served in the military, the records and details of their lives are often sketchy, particularly about their lives after the military.  Some "transgender-like" people may have crossed gender lines (as you might expect, from female to male) in order to enlist and returned to living in their birth genders after taking off their uniforms for the last time.

I suspect that in some of the earlier wars, gender-crossing might have been more common than people realized:  a Union Army nurse during the Civil War estimated that she had seen 400 cross-dressing women in blue uniforms.  There are accounts of women who lived as men, both in and out of the military, whose "secret" wasn't revealed until they went for medical treatment, or even until they died (as happened to the jazz musician Billy Tipton). However, by 20th Century, records and medical tests had become more accurate, so there are fewer accounts of female-to-male soldiers and sailors in the two World Wars than there were even in the Spanish-American war.

Anyway, Ms. Helms did a great job, I think, especially when one considers how much difficulty she must have had in getting the material for her documentary.    For one thing,  military and medical records from, say, the War of 1812 are  far from complete.  (Even in more recent times, records were destroyed in fires, floods and such.)  Also, many families--and, I am sure, the Army and Navy--managed to keep secret the identities of many who served, particularly as spies.  And, of course, one has to wonder whether very many people who were in a position to help--let alone the Armed Forces--were helpful.

Part 1:

Part 2:

10 November 2012

Fate And Hunger

Here is another part of the work of fiction I am writing.  (Some other parts have been posted; they are in italics.)

Foregone conclusions.  Perhaps the only one, or at least the first one, is the knowledge that they exist.  And that each of us has a different time, place or way of learning about them.  Some people do not come to that knowledge until the moment of their deaths.

Me, I learned about inevitability--about marching with fate-- one cool, damp, overcast Sunday afternoon.  In those days, I always knew what day of the week it was because I was expected to.  That's how it seemed, anyway:  Someone would decide that I had to be in a certain place at a certain moment.  Or I knew that it was Sunday because I saw people going to, and coming from, church and the store down the block was closed.

People walk differently when they're drawn by the impossibility of taking a different step from the ones they've been taking.  They don't walk like people who are doing "what they have to do," such as when they're going to work or the dentist.  On Sunday afternoon, at least on this block, there is only one repetition of fate:  people going to have lunch, dinner or fights with those people they're bound to see:  family members and in-laws, or their equivalents or proxies.

Really, they're not any different from the people who spend an overcast afternoon indoors because it rained in the morning.  They're drawn by the momentum, the inertia of density, like amusement park rides that continue to run even when nobody's riding them. It was on such a Sunday afternoon that I learned some things couldn't be stopped or steered any more than the forces of life--or death--on this block.

I think there's always a moment--I'd've called it a decisive moment but for the fact that I don't believe in a humanoid god--when a person begins the desperate run from this block or takes the first steps in the march to death.

I was chopping onions (and, oddly, tears weren't running from my eyes--it must have been a very sweet onion) for the huge bowl of salad that would accompany the two big pans of lasagna mother was making even though none of her friends or neighbors was coming over that day.  They decided they didn't want to go out in the rain, even after it stopped.

But we made that big Sunday dinner anyway, even though neither of us got hungrier on Sunday than on any other day of the week--or at least not hungrier enough that either of us noticed. There'd be leftovers for the rest of the week, at least.  Not that I minded:  I'd rather eat my favorite foods (and I've never eaten anything is more satisfying than that lasagna) days after they were made than something I like less even when it's fresh off the stove.

But leftovers weren't the reason why my mother went ahead and made that big dinner anyway: She'd've made a huge Sunday meal no matter what.  She always had and, I realized that day, always would.

She always did.  After I left this block, she'd always tell me what she was cooking whenever we talked.  For a long time, I wondered whether she was trying to entice me into coming back event though she knew I wasn't coming.

She was going to make those meals, not matter what.  Before I started helping her in the kitchen, and long after she knew I'd never be there again, she cooked.  We'--or she--'d eat them, or whatever portion we could, whether or not we were hungry.  That's what we and everybody else on this block did in the presence of a big Sunday meal.

Hunger is the reason to eat; the hunger of several people is the reason to cook a big meal. I realized that was how I'd live--it'd be my philosophy of life, if you will.  Talk when there's someone to talk to, broadcast when you're trying to reach a lot of people.  It's not a matter of what you're trying to say, or whether you have something say; it's all about saying to speaking to fill the void between you and whoever is there.  Likewise, if you're really hungry, you'll eat just about anything to fill the pit in your stomach.  Of course spinach and mineral water are better for you than hot dogs and soda, but you don't think about that when you're truly hungry:  that is to say, when you're not thinking about the vitamins or other substances your body breaks down when...I was going to say, when you no longer experience hunger.  But for all I know, there might be more of the same after death.

Mother cooked, no matter who was or wasn't there.  Adam talked--to me, to anybody who'd sit still for a while--even though he didn't have anybody to talk to.  They died on this block.  So did Grap, the football player who attacked me  at the end of my last day in school.  He got into a fight with some guy who hadn't "stolen" his "girlfriend", didn't "look gay" and hadn't looked at Grap the wrong way; he fought because, well, he hadn't looked at Grap in the  wrong way and couldn't be accused of provoking him.

Of course, on that gray mirror of an afternoon when I learned about fate, I couldn't yet know what propelled Adam to his death or what he'd share with anyone who'd died and would die on this block.  I knew only that I wasn't going to die, at least not there or here.  I couldn't.  I didn't know why.  I just knew I wouldn't.  That knowledge terrified me as much as--possibly more than--knowing that I'd have to make a choice not to.

And--I didn't know how I knew this--I could never be a man, not even a very young one--on this block.  Not a woman, either.  So I wouldn't've been  able to stay in the kitchen, with mother, for much longer.

09 November 2012

The Yankees Get It

Disclaimer:  In spite of its title, this post has nothing to do with baseball.   (By the way, I'm a Mets fan!)

I am referring to natives of New England.   They always seem to be ahead of the rest of the country (save, perhaps, for San Francisco) when it comes to legislation and policies that help to bring about equality for LGBT people.

Massachusetts, of course, was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Now that voters in Maine have approved such unions, the only New England state in which same-sex couples can't get married is Rhode Island.  However, the Ocean State recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Last year, Massachusetts Governor Patrick Deval signed a law that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in employment, education, housing, credit and lending.  It also makes violence against transgender individuals a hate crime. Now similar laws are on the books in all New England states, with one exception:  New Hampshire.

However, the situation in the Granite State may change.  As voters in Maine were voting in favor of same-sex marriage, New Hampshire's voters elected their first transgender lawmaker.

Stacie Laughton beat out two Republican challengers for one of three seats in the Granite State's House of Representatives in Ward 4.  She says she hopes that her victory will inspire others in the community "to get into politics, or into any other position, for that matter".  On the other hand, she says, "I don't want being transgender to be a focal point," and that she can "work between party lines and not let political partisanship hold us up when it comes to the important matters before us in the Statehouse."

She seems to understand that, aside from discrimination, those matters are the same for transgender people as they are for everyone else:  jobs, the economy, healthcare, education and such.   Would that others understood!

07 November 2012

A New Sundance Series And The Lost Generation Of Trans Men

The Sundance Channel has just list of original scripted series for the 2013-14 television season.  Among those new shows is one about a trans man dealing with his new life as a male and his past as a lesbian activist.

That outline also defines the lives of a few trans men I know.  They, like me and many trans women I know, transitioned in their 40's or 50's.  Some have had gender-reassignment surgery, as the protagonist of the Sundance series has.  Others took hormones and managed to "pass" well enough to live as male.  And I know of two who looked so masculine they didn't need to take hormones or have surgery.

The ones who lived as "butch" lesbians and were activists also described a common experience:  rejection.  One trans man I know was a lesbian activist for about three decades before he finally transitioned.  Once he started living as male, he lost  friends and allies with whom he shared hunger and meals, apartments and homelessness, and even jail cells.  An organizer with one organization flatly told him he was no longer welcome; others shunned him or simply stopped returning his calls and e-mails.

When he tells people of such experiences, he's often told the same thing I often hear:  "Well, they weren't really your friends, were they?"  While that may be true, losing the companionship and emotional "safety net" such people once provided still hurts.  And, for many of us, their support was a lifeline, literally as well as figuratively.  That is especially true for those whose families and communities cast them away, and who lost jobs or were kicked out of schools or other institutions because of their non-conformity to accepted gender roles and mores about sexuality.

Also, most of the people who think they're consoling us, or simply giving us good advice, have never had their friendships similarly tested. Most people don't ever have to know whether or not their friends are as true as they believe them to be.  Knowing who your friends is, of course, invaluable. But you can pay a terrible price for it.

The trans men (and trans women) who have transitioned in middle age during the past fifteen years or so are, as I have mentioned in previous posts, part of the Lost Generation of Transgender people.  These trans men and women share the experience of being cut off from earlier and subsequent generations of trans people.  Many of our contemporaries who transitioned (or, at least, started dressing and otherwise living as members of the "other" gender) when they were young are dead now. Others are broken in various ways.  And then, of course, there are those who never transitioned or who lived "underground." 

Those of us who survived long enough to transition in middle age were sustained, in part, by whatever relationships and organizations we had in our lives.  I was living as a male in the straight-to-bisexual part of the spectrum of sexual orientation; thus, even though I had gay male friends and acquaintances, I really wasn't involved with LGBT political or social movements.  But other sorts of relationships with individuals and groups, some of which I lost during my transition, sustained me.  Those who were involved in LGBT movements--particularly trans men who were lesbian activists--may have depended on them for emotional, intellectual and spiritual sustenance, or even their very identities to an even greater degree than I had to depend on my involvements and entanglements.

So, when those trans men transitioned, they had to build new friendships, communities and other support networks, much as I had to do when I did in my passage from living as Nick to life as Justine.  Sometimes young trans people are willing to be friends or at least allies, and I love them for that.  However, they don't understand what it's like to be the person who is nearest, rather than the truest, to what they are.  The ones who are transitioning while they're in college, or in other relatively supportive (or at least non-hostile) communities, aren't going to understand what it's like to give up those to whom they have given, and who have given to them.  And they won't have to experience those people giving up on, or rejecting them.  

While I am happy that those young people may not have to face the same kinds of loss and rejection my trans friends and peers have faced, it's sad to know that they'll never truly understand that the gaping chasm of loss, rejection, abandonment and death that stretches between them and us.  I am glad that Sundance plans to fill at least some part of that gap.

04 November 2012

Light At The End Of The Storm

I don't mind cloudy days.  Actually, I like them, especially for cycling, particularly along a seacoast.

However, during the past few days, clouds have spread a thick gray curtain between us and the light of the day, even though Sandy had passed.  

Today, though, those clouds gave way to the less ominous overcast skies one often sees in coastal areas.  And we saw something that might have been reported as a UFO, given recent conditions:  the sun.

In fact, near the end of my ride this afternoon, I saw a sunset that caused me not to rue the fact that it came so early as a result of turning the clocks back an hour:

I captured the light as best I could with my cell phone from the Unisphere.

03 November 2012

What Would Donald Trump Say To This?

I hope that the winner of Brazil's transgender beauty pageant was crowned quickly enough so that she could make it to Thailand.

There, Kevin Balot of the Philippines won the Miss International Queen contest.  Its contestants have to submit proof--with a birth certificate or a doctor's verification--of having been born male.  Otherwise, it is patterned after the Miss World beauty pageant, with contests in the national costume, evening wear and swimsuit categories.

Now I am going to do something I never, ever do:  I'm going to be snarky.  Here goes:  I wonder what Donald Trump would say if a non-trans, cisgender woman were to enter the Miss International Queen contest.

02 November 2012

The Catholic Connection

A former co-worker once accused me of being a "self-hating Catholic."  She--who was attending a seminary while she worked with me--claimed that I would defend Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or just about any member of any ethnic group or race, before I would stand up for Catholics.

She was wrong about the "self-hating" part.  However, she might have been right about the other part of her claim.  As I pointed out to her, there aren't many places left--at least in the Western world--where the rights of Catholics have to be defended.  In most of the currently or formerly Judeo/Christian parts of the world, whatever discrimination Catholics suffer has to do with their race or ethnic heritage.  Francophone Canadians, nearly all of whom are (at least nominally) Catholics, are examples of what I mean.

Also, as I pointed out to her, I don't think of myself as Catholic, simply because it wouldn't be proper for me to do so.  I go to church only for funerals, weddings--and the occasional Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which I attend for the music.  (Actually, I don't think of the latter as "going to church", any more than I see going into a cathedral to look at the stained glass or sculpture as church attendance.)  Furthermore, I don't participate in any other aspects of church life.  

I don't even factor my disagreement with much of Church doctrine into my non-identification with the church, for many Catholics--including some who are  relations and acquaintances--attend Mass and partake in other parts of Church life even though they disagree with even more of the ecclesiastical mandates than I do.

And then there are those who probably no more consider themselves Catholics than I do, but who agree with pronouncements from the College of Cardinals that are bigoted or simply illogical.  Their arguments--such as they are--can be summed up in such as this post.  

I guess I shouldn't be too shocked.  After all, Elijah Muhammad and George Lincoln Rockwell agreed that the races should be segregated.

But here's what I find interesting:  Three of the most prominent writers and activists in so-called Second Wave Feminism--Janice Raymond, Cathy Brennan and the late Mary Daly--have their origins in the Catholic Church.  Janice Raymond was a Sister of Mercy.  Daly,  a longtime professor of theology and feminist ethics at Jesuit-run Boston College, got all of her schooling in Catholic institutions.  And, to my knowledge--I am still researching this--Brennan also studied in schools and colleges connected with the Church.

And their fellow-traveler (at least when it comes to transphobia) Germaine Greer studied in a convent school before going to the University of Melbourne. I suppose her schooling gave her a lesson or two in standing up for her principles:  Shortly after she was appointed as a special lecturer and fellow at Newnham College of Cambridge University, she opposed the election of her transsexual colleague Rachael Padman to a fellowship.  Greer lost that fight and resigned after the case generated negative publicity.

I plan to explore the topic of this post in more detail, in later posts and, possibly, in other venues.  It isn't enough to merely equate the transphobia of the Church heirarchy with their transphobia.  After all, the Church is not the only institution whose leaders espouse homophobia, and hardly the only such institution to have schooled large numbers of people.  Also, there are plenty of people--including at least two whom I love dearly--who are practicing Catholics who were educated in Catholic schools but do not share in the transphobia expressed by the likes of Greer, Brennan, Raymond and Daly.

Learning more about how and why such trans-haters came from Catholic backgrounds is of more than passing or personal interest.  Those so-called Radical Feminists are, I believe, among the reasons why we have the Lost Generation of Transgenders I have mentioned in other posts.  They helped to create the climate of fear and paranoia--which dovetailed quite nicely with the agendae of the so-called Moral Majority and other right-wing religious zealots--that led to a generation of trans people opting not to transition or delaying their transitions--or, worse, dying horribly as a result of violence, homelessness and AIDS.  I want to hold them to account for that, but I also want to further understand how they became the sorts of people who complained about their own repression while doing everything they could to aid the oppression of people who have suffered at least as much discrimination as they have.

01 November 2012

Brazil's Transgender Beauty Pageant

A few days ago, I wrote about the murder of a Brazilian transgender woman who went by the name Madona, and how it is just one example of the endemic violence against trans women--and women generally--in that country.

On the other hand, the country's health-care system provides free gender-reassignment surgery, with this caveat:  Those approved for surgery have to be approved by clinicians who, basically, have the same notions about gender, sexuality and transsexualism that their American counterparts abandoned at least twenty years ago.

And, as I mentioned, only a few legal occupations are open to trans people.  Those jobs pay so poorly (if they pay at all) that many trans people in them double as prostitutes--or sex work becomes part of their unwritten job descriptions.

So, in this environment of paradoxes about gender and sexuality, is it a surprise that Brazil has just hosted its first transgender beauty pageant?

On its face, it seems like a positive step for trans people.  Most of the more "progressive" countries on gender issues have not hosted such an event.  Some would argue that hosting the event could be a sign that at least some segments of Brazilian society are willing to accord respect and dignity to trans people.  Others might see it simply as an expression of a culture in which, perhaps more than in any other, physical beauty is celebrated.

But the contest could also be seen as a sign of segregation.  After all, in May, Jenna Talackova became one of the twelve finalists in the Miss Universe Canada Pageant.  Her victory did not come without a fight: Pageant organizers challenged her right to be in the competition although there was no written rule forbidding her entry.

Now, I've never been to Brazil.  I suspect, though, that if I were going to leave the US, I'd rather live in Canada than in Brazil (or most other places). I'd probably feel even more strongly about that if I were still transitioning, or if I were planning on getting married to another woman.

Having said that, I am glad that Brazil held a transgender beauty pageant.  It's one of the best things they could do at this point in their history.  Of course, if and when things change, the pageant may be unnecessary.  Then again, I think beauty pageants in general are obsolete institutions if, in fact, they ever had any meaning.