31 January 2013

A New Harlem Renaissance?

If you ask almost anyone living in New York City to name a "gay neighborhood", you will probably hear "Chelsea" or "Jackson Heights".  Those who are LGBT, or have ties to the community, will probably mention Astoria (where I now live), Woodside and possibly Bushwick.

If you ask someone my age or older, or someone who studies LGBT history, he or she will probably mention "The Village", Park Slope (where I lived before I moved to Astoria), Brooklyn Heights--and Harlem.

Most people don't realize that at the same time the area around Christopher Street was turning into a "gay ghetto," Harlem was also developing its own LGBT community.  It can be argued that queer people--lesbians and bisexuals in particular--did much to make the Harlem Renaissance possible. 

Another thing most people realize--and many people don't want to admit--is that LGBT people have never left Harlem.  More precisely, there have always been a lot of gays,lesbians and transgender people living there.  

One reason for that is that Harlem has long been home to people of color from every social and economic class, and from the entire spectrum of human endeavor.  Even in its worst times, the neighborhood could claim to be the residence of artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, scholars and other creative and educated people, as well as every other type of worker imaginable.  With such diversity, it's not surprising that there would be a gay presence there.  

And, another reason why so many LGBT people, mainly of color, call  Harlem (as well as other uptown Manhattan neighborhoods, and the Bronx) home is that neighborhoods like The Village, Park Slope and Chelsea have gentrified, so many people of color simply cannot afford to live in them.  There is also a reason people in those neighborhoods and Caucasian LGBT people will almost never talk about:  People of color feel, or sometimes aren't, welcome in those neighborhoods.

Finally, even when LGBT people of color meet sympathetic white people, there are some things they simply couldn't talk about, even if both sides were willing.  I can empathise, at least to some degree, with anybody who has experienced prejudice; I've been told that I'm "not like other white people".  If only that last statement were true!  The fact is that whatever prejudice I've experienced is, in some ways, different from what someone experiences on account of the color of his or her skin.  And I simply can't imagine what it's like to experience that at the same time one is incurring hate over his or her sexuality or gender identity and expression.

As much as I appreciate The Center and Callen Lorde (They were my lifelines as I was looking into, and started, transitioning.), I have long argued that Harlem and the Bronx need equivalents to them.   Not surprisingly, Carmen Neely, the president of Harlem Pride, feels the same way.  

So, she and her group have started an online petition to garner support for the creation of what she calls "The Community Pride Center."  Although she's spearheading the drive for a center, the center itself will not be a project of Harlem Pride.  She says the center will be the effort of collaborative work between several LGBT groups and leaders.  They hope to have the center open by 2015.

"Our time is now," she says.  "It's needed in this community.  It's been way too long."


30 January 2013

Maryland Bill To Outlaw Trans Discrimination

New Year's Day was the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

So, it seems appropriate that just over the border from where President Lincoln made one of the most important speeches in the history of this country, a bill has been introduced to ban discrimination against transgenders.

Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno, who is gay, and his fellow Senator (and Democrat) Jaime Raskin are the ones who introduced the bill to the Terrapin State's legislative body.  

The good news is that Maladeno and Raskin have twenty co-sponsors, including Republican Allan Kittleman.

The bad news is that the proposal for it died in committee last year.  Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, a Democrat, reportedly blocked a vote on it.  But now he's on board with Madaleno, Raskin and Kittleman.

Because of their diligence, Dana Beyer, who is Excecutive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, says the trans community "should be very hopeful this is the year."

Her optimism is not baseless.  Maryland, like neighboring Washington, DC, has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and DC also has laws barring discrimination against transgenders.

29 January 2013

Valentina Verbal Runs For Chilean Congress

Last year, Argentina passed a law that said, in essence, any Argentinian aged 18 or over can be whichever gender he or she chooses.  No surgery is required, and for those who want it, the government will provide it free of charge.

Now neighboring Chile may go where neither the US nor any of the other countries seen as avatars of human rights has gone:  It may elect its first transgender member of Congress.

Valentina Verbal has just announced her candidacy for election to the position in November.  She realizes she has an uphill battle in a country where "If you're male, you have to be masculine. If you're female, you have to be feminine.  If you're not, it's weird."  

One of the things she wants to do, if she's elected, is to change the country's gender-identity laws.  "When a person has a card or national identity card that doesn't reflect their social sex, in practice it means they are undocumented", she says.  "We have to change the law so that it recognizes the identity of transgender people without the state obligating them to have an actual sex change."  Changing the law is necessary, she says, because when an identity card says one sex, but the person appears as another, "it can be difficult to find employers who don't see it as a problem".  This makes it difficult for such a person to find work, which she calls "a basic human right".

Her platform is not limited to identity cards or other issues of concern to transgender people.  She wants to help create "a more citizen-based democracy, not just a democracy run by political parties of so-called 'professionals'".

While she has received support within her party, she still has to defeat two multi-term incumbents in order to receive her party's nomination.  Then, of course, there is the general election.  She acknowledges she is "taking a risk" but vows to "try anyway."

You can read an inerview with her here.  

28 January 2013

A Date With Jazz

In case you missed Barbara Walters' latest interview with "Jazz", an 11-year-old transgender girl whose story Ms. Walter has been following for the past five years, here it is:


I think most of us who are transgendered can identify with Jazz's "awkward moment".  How do you tell that person to whom you are attracted, or who is attracted to you, about your history?

She mentions the heartbreak she experiences every time she looks below her waist:  She was born with a boy's body, but she knows she's a girl.  That is indeed a source of great sadness and anger.   Having surgery ends at least some of those feelings.  However, those of us who transition in our 40's and 50's still feel sad and, at times, frustrated that we could not have lived our entire lives in our true genders.

I applaud both "Jazz" and Ms. Walters for continuing to share this story with the public.  And I hope "Jazz" gets the boy of her dreams!

27 January 2013

How Much Is A Transgender Woman's Life Worth?

If you fire shots into a car with three transgender women, what kind of a sentence you should expect?


If you're a police officer in Washington, DC, you can expect to get--are you ready?--three years of supervised probation, 100 hours of community service and a $150 fine.

So, a transgender woman's life is worth one year of probation, 33.3 hours of community service and $50.  The next time I go to DC, I'll be very happy to know that I'm such a valuable commodity.

Actually, our lives are worth even less than that:  Those transgender women were accompanied by friends.

Officer Kenneth Furr received the sentence I mentioned for shooting into the car in August 2011. While drunk, he approached a transgender prostitute for sex.  When she refused, he followed her into a CVS store and pointed a gun at her outside the store. After Furr drove away, the woman and her friends followed him until he stopped and fired his gun at them.

Furr claims he was acting in "self defense".  Right.  Just like Matthew Shepard's killers acted out of "gay panic".   

At least Furr has been suspended without pay.  Even if that hadn't happened, Furr would have a harsher sentence than others who have committed similar crimes against transgender people.

26 January 2013

Why Is The Catholic Church Fighting Gay Marriage?

I'm sure you've read--or heard-- Queen Gertrude's observation in Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." 

It's often misquited:  People often move "methinks" from the end to the beginning of that line.  But more important, most people misuse the quote. "Protest", in Shakespeare's time, meant "avow" or "affirm" rather than "object" or "deny".  

Whether it's used as intended or misused, the quote is apt for at least one current situation. Once again, the Catholic Church is spending lots of money and other resources to oppose same-sex marriage.   In fact, earlier this month, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago launched a last-ditch effort to convince the lame-duck Illinois legislature not to legalize unions between people of the same gender. Whether or not his efforts were a factor, the vote in the Land of Lincoln has been delayed and the bill will be re-introduced after the new legislature is seated.

Why do you think the Church is so adamant in its opposition to gay marriage? Well, some will say that it's a matter of Church doctrine.  As it's hardly an area of my expertise--and because I'm sure that my reading of the Bible is very different from that of any member of the College of Cardinals--I'm not going to discuss that.  Those anti-gay priests may well be motivated by what they believe to be divinely-inspired tenets of the faith.

Being a, shall we say, very lapsed Catholic, my view is a bit different.  You might say it's more cynical.  Here goes:  Much of the Church's opposition to same-sex unions is, I believe, a smokescreen.  They have far, far more serious problems to consider right now, including the elephant in the Vatican chambers:  pedophile priests.  

The damage they've done is incalculable.  You begin to realize that when you hear people talking--for the first time--about they experienced two and three decades earlier. When you're a small child, you simply don't have the language or frame of reference to tell anybody about such an ordeal.  I know this from my own life:  I was well into my thirties before I talked about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child.  

For most children--especially altar boys--being sexually abused by a priest  has to be even more devastating than molestation by anyone else because many kids are taught to trust men of the collar even more than they trust any other adult, save perhaps for their own parents.  Even if nobody tells them they should hold priests in such esteem, a lot of kids learn to do so through implication and osmosis.  That is to be expected when you realize that young children are capable of believing and trusting more completely in God or anyone who is supposed to represent Him.

I don't know how many children have been so damaged by priests, but I'm sure that for every one we hear about, there are many, many more.  I don't think the Church will ever die out completely, but I wouldn't be surprised to see dioceses in the United States (and, possibly other countries) go bankrupt and parishes close because of lawsuits on behalf of the victims.  Plus, the church is in trouble in other ways:  It's in decline in much of Europe because the populations of such predominantly-Catholic countries as Spain, France and Italy aren't growing--or, if there is growth, it's in non-Catholic populations.  Plus, people in those countries and the US aren't attending church, or sending their kids to Catholic schools, nearly as much as they have even in the recent past.

And the Church is spending its spending its money to fight gay marriage?

You know what they say about gay marriage:  If you don't believe in it, don't marry a gay person.  Likewise, all the Church has to do is what it's done for 2000 years. More precisely, it doesn't have to start doing what it hasn't done in that time:  perform gay marriages.  Let Illinois and Rhode Island and other states join New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and the other states that have legalized gay marriage.  As those states are still part of the United States, they still have (at least in law) a separation between Church and State.  So, no matter what laws are passed in those or any other states, no Catholic priest is going to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies--not in the confines of a consecrated church building, anyway.

25 January 2013

What We Experience

For a decade, I've been getting my healthcare and referrals from the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.  At times, they can be maddeningly disorganized.  But every health care provider and other staff member I've encountered there has made great efforts to be helpful.   Plus, Richie Tran is the kind of doctor I always wished I could find before my transition.  Well, maybe such doctors were out there, but I wasn't ready to talk to any of them, even if they could have heard what I wanted to say.

It seems that Callen Lorde's equivalent in Boston is Fenway Health.  They do a lot of outreach--at least, every time I do a web search for anything related to LGBT health care, I come across something or another they've posted.  And it's all been useful.

They really seem to like infographics.  That's probably a good thing:  Not everyone likes to read, or has the patience to do so, I guess.  Fenway's stuff is eye-catching, and often appealing.  If nothing else, they get their point across, as they do in this one:

If you can enlarge the infographic, look at the row of statistics to the left of the US map:  Discrimination In Public Accomodations.  Thirty-seven percent of us report having been harassed or disrespected in retail stores; three percent of us have been assaulted.  For hotels and restaurants, those statistics are very similar:  35 and 2 percent.  

I am one of the 29 percent of trans people who's been harassed or disrepected by the police, and the 29 percent who've had such experiences in health care settings.  Fortunately for me, I haven't been assaulted by police officers or in health care settings, though two and six percent, respectively, of trans people have had such experiences.

And other trans people have had it worse.  Much worse. 

24 January 2013

Passing Into The Lost Generation

In yesterday's post, I started to describe some of the ways in which spending so much time and effort on "passing" has harmed trans people individually, and as a community.  I talked mainly about the ways in which it has held us back from gains other people, such as African-Americans, cis women and gay men, realized from the Civil Rights movement.  

Now I want to mention some of the ways in which society's demand to pass (which is also turned against us) helped to create a Lost Generation of Transgender People.

When I was younger I, of course, read everything I could find about Christine Jorgensen.  At that time, she was one of only two transgenders (the other being Renee Richards) of whom I'd even heard.  In my reading, I stumbled over the newspaper headlines and stories about her.  "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty", screamed the New York Daily News headline.  Others were more salacious, or simply more vicious.  They all, however, seemed to focus on her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe and other blonde movie stars of the time.  

What I have said, and will say about Ms. Jorgensen and her role in the history of transgender people is in no way meant to disparage her.  She was indeed a beautiful woman.  More to the point, though, she was also a very intelligent, talented woman who took great pains to educate herself, and always exuded dignity and class. On the other hand, she fit into every notion of womanhood that prevailed in 1950's America.  It was a time, of course, when the standards of beauty and glamor were almost always blonde and blue-eyed.  They also had hourglass figures with impossibly small waists.  Jorgensen fit that image to a "T".

What's more, though, she declared herself as attracted only to men--and, in fact, married one.  And, although she worked as a photographer before her surgery, she wanted to settle into a quiet life as a housewife.  Perversely, the very same sorts of people who would have demanded that she, or any other woman, lead such a life were the same people who "outed" her and kept her story in the public eye, to the point that she almost had to become the entertainer she would be for much of her adult life.

In other words, people accepted, or at least tolerated, Christine Jorgensen--who was probably the first transsexual of whom most of them had even heard--in wholly heterosexist terms. Some of those people may have been perfectly well-meaning; they may have "wanted to do the right thing" but had little to no understanding of what it meant to be transgendered or transsexual.  However, their understanding--and the way Ms. Jorgensen had to conform to it, whether or not she waned to--gave people a very limited way of understanding, not only transgender people, but of their own gender and sexuality.  

As I write this, I finally realize why the alliance--however tense and strained it may be--between trans people and lesbians and gays is not only beneficial, but necessary.  Trans people will never have equal rights, let aloneopportunities,  as long as there is so much pressure to confirm to traditional roles of one gender or the other.  

In some people, this understanding of gender and sexuality, as well as their expectation that trans women would conform to "traditional" female roles, were really just very thinly-veiled homophobia.  

So, three decades after Christine Jorgensen became a "blonde beauty", the pressure to "pass" was even greater than it was at the time she started her transition.  The AIDS epidemic had, by that time, exploded in Castro, The Village and other gay communities throughout the United States.  During that time, right-wing talk radio and other media grew exponentially in popularity. They famously advocated quarantining gay men, or even killing them:  One commentator went so far as to compare gay men to the rats that carried the fleas that caused the Black Death.   

In such an atmosphere, the pressure to "pass" must have greatly intensified. Who would want anyone else to know that he or she had  been, at any time in her life, a man--let alone a gay one.  

Having such heterosexist (and,I might add, Eurocentric) ideas about gender meant that only trans people who looked like Barbie dolls would be approved for hormones or the surgery.  It also meant that only those who met such standards would have any hope of affording it--or of marrying someone who could support her after she became a "traditional" housewife.

The conditions I've described had much to do with the Lost Generation of Transgender people, and how people (including cis ones) continued to hold onto their notions of gender and sexuality,and teach them.  So, during my first year of living as a woman, a prof who knew I was going through my transformation said I was "the last person she expected" to be trans because I had expressed interest in women--including her.

I wonder how many trans people gave up on their dream of transitioning as a result of what I've  described---or, how many people delayed their dream, or simply gave up on it altogether. And I wonder how many were beaten, killed or simply demonized because they were thought to be one of the vectors of disease--or because they simply didn't fit into feminist organization, let alone the white heterosexual organizations they represstn.

23 January 2013

"Passing" Does Not Mean "Equal"

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, previous generations of transsexuals tried to go "stealth" as much as they could.  That meant, not only looking and acting as if they were members of their "new" genders, but also erasing their pasts, often to the point of creating wholly fictitious histories (Is that an oxymoron?) for themselves.

I've pointed out some of the fallacies and pitfalls of doing so.  For one thing, amnesia is not healthy; self-imposed amnesia can only be worse.  Also, as Victoria Brownworth says, a person who "passes" is trapped:  He or she believes the lie or is caught in it.  Yet, as long as we're not caught, society will reward, and even demand, such fabrications.

We see one of the major problems in "going stealth" or "passing" when we look at the law.  I used to believe that if I were to "pass" well enough, I would never have to worry about transgender equality:  If I had to throw my (all-too-considerable) weight behind a movement, it would be feminism.

Well, I still tell anyone who knows about my history that there's nothing like becoming a woman to turn you into a feminist.   While I may not have to worry about daycare (unless, of course, I adopt), I still have to think about other women's workplace and lifestyle issues because they affect me.  

One of those issues is discrimination. While a prospective employer may know nothing of my history from seeing me, and nothing of my experience of life from my resume and cover letter, he or she could always find out about those things without searching very long.  Even if I never wrote this blog, or any of my articles or essays about transitioning or living as a woman, a prospective employer could do a simple background check.

So, for that matter, could a health insurer, or any health-care provider.  Or prospective landlord or lender.  Even trans people whom other people simply cannot imagine in their birth genders run into discrimination and other difficulties as a result of having had to live their previous lives.

Those are reasons why I now realize that I simply cannot ignore the issue of LGBT rights, or think that including protections for transgenders in civil rights laws is not as important as some other issues.  Simply distancing myself from my old life will not insulate me from it.  I made my transition and had my surgery so I could live as the woman I am, but there is no point in denying that some of my experiences are different from those of other women.  More to the point, my body has a different history from those of other women:  Even if I am no longer at risk for, say, prostate cancer, I may still need treatment for some residual condition.  (Trans men encounter this when they need screening for cervical or breast cancer.)  On top of that--as I learned early in my transition--there are some medical care providers who won't treat you, give you inappropriate treatments or will harass and humiliate you because of who you are.

Those are just some of the reasons why, no matter how good we are at "passing" and how little semblance our current lives bear to our former ones, we still need to work for equality, whether it's by getting language added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act or our employers to adopt fair and equitable policies.  As someone who's spent more than her share of time in classrooms, I can tell you that simply passing doesn't mean that you're equal to anyone else.  At least, you haven't gotten there yet.

21 January 2013

MLK And LGBT People

Sometimes President Obama seems to think he's channeling Martin Luther King Jr. when he doesn't think he's a reincarnation of President Lincoln.  I guess he can do worse for role models although, aside from his being black and his stated belief in civil rights, I don't see much connection between Barack and MLK.  The latter was a visionary, a prophet.  Whatever his merits, Obama is a politician.  That means MLK adopted views that aligned with what he perceived and exprienced; Obama is thinking about votes and donations.

I don't mean this as a condemnation of Obama.  After all, he did change his position on gay marriage.  However, it's hard not to notice that he opposed it during his first campaign for the Presidency; he finally came out in support of it after Vice-President Biden expressed his.  

On the other hand, he did voice his support.  Plus, even though he could have been more proactive, he's done more to support transgender people than all of the presidents before him did.  Then again, the best of his predecessors did nothing; the others did what they could to make our lives more difficult.

But, as I said, Obama deserves some credit.  And, perhaps, he can claim MLK's mantel after all.  Nobody knows for sure whether King would have supported LGBT equality, as he was slain more than a year before the Stonewall Rebellion.  But we do know that he never said anything negative about queer people, and didn't countenance a "literal" or "fundamentalist" reading of the Bible that interprets Leviticus and other books of the Bible as injunctions against loving people of one's own sex.

Furthermore, King allowed Bayard Rustin, a friend who happened to be openly gay, to serve as one of his closest advisors.  Plus, he when he wrote an advice column for Ebony magazine, he responded in a sensitive (though, not surprisingly, pastoral) way to a letter from a boy who confessed his feelings toward other boys.  Given the time--1958--it was a very tolerant and forward-thinking response.

Still, some insist that King would not have considered LGBT rights the next logical step in the civil rights movement.  One of them is his own daughter, Rev. Bernice King.  In 2005, she led a march her father's grave while calling for a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. During a speech at a church meeting in New Zealand, she said her father "did not take a bullet for gay marriage."

But King's widow, Coretta Scott King, vocally supported gay rights.  One of her closest aides was gay.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?)  Furthermore, the FBI tapped his telephone conversations, and he was one of the most surveilled people on the planet.  Yet no one could find a conversation, sermon, speech, lecture or letter of his that expressed any sort of anti-gay sentiment.

Given what I've seen and read, I think that if MLK had lived longer, he would have made LGBT equality part of his civil-rights platform.  After all, he didn't turn away anyone else whose rights were denied or trampled.  I suspect that, being a preacher from the South in the time in which he lived, he simply didn't think much about LGBT people because, well, they hadn't made it onto his radar yet.  The same could be said for any number of other people of good will from that time.

20 January 2013

When You Can Get Away With Murder

Kudos to Kelly Busey of Planet Transgender (one of my "must read" blogs) for posting this story about Fernanda Carrico da Silva, a transvestite who was murdered in Brazil.  

Even though police officers witnessed her killing, no suspect has been captured.

I was able, from my knowledge of Spanish, French and Italian, to understand (more or less) the article in the original Portuguese.  However, I don't think you need to know any of those languages to get the message of its fourth paragraph, which I will render here:

When a parent of a heterosexual family dies, people notice.  When a rich man dies, people rally around him.  For the death of a gay person who has money or is "high society," people weep and gnash their teeth to decry homophobia.

But when a transvestite, a hustler dies, it is no more important than the death of a cockroach.

People sometimes wonder why such things happen in Brazil, a country with the most celebrated transgender or "womanless" beauty pageants. I've never been to Brazil, but I have talked with a few Brazilians.  From what they tell me, Brazilians have a well-earned reputation for partying and celebrating sexuality precisely because it is still, mostly, a conservative Catholic country. Extravagant shows of cross-dressing, ostentatious displays of sexuality and the seeming celebration of the beauty of trans women is, along with the fetishization of drag, confined to a few tightly-defined areas and time frames, such as certain beaches and during Carnival.  From what my Brazilian acquaintances tell me, expressions of sexuality and gender identity that differ from societal norms are not welcome outside those places and times.  

What makes this situation even more precarious for male-to-female transvestites or transsexuals are the prevailing attitudes toward violence men commit against women.  To put it bluntly, men literally get away with murdering women.  In fact, until 1991, it was not even considered a crime when a man killed his wife.  To this day, men who kill their wives still escape prison time or worse by claiming that the wives were unfaithful.  

When such violence is tolerated, you can be sure that people are allowed to do--and get away with--worse against trans women or transvestites.  

19 January 2013

The State Of My Commute

From Bike Commuters

This post is a response to a comment Kiyomi made on "The States of Bicycle Commuting", a post on my other blog (Midlife Cycling). 

About ten years ago, I would have turned my nose up at any bike with upright bars.  In fact, about the only kind of bike I'd ride without dropped bars  (like the ones on road-racing bikes) was a mountain bike: I was a fairly active off-road rider and sometimes commuted on off-road bikes.  

I also wouldn't have been caught dead on a bike with an internally geared or coaster brake hub, a steel frame that wasn't chrome-moly (i.e., Tange, Ishiwata or Columbus) or maganese-moly (Reynolds or Vitus) tubing.  And I certainly would not have tainted any of my bikes with--gasp!--a kickstand.

Now, the latter accessory simply couldn't have fit on some of the racing bikes I've had.  But even on the bikes I've had with more relaxed geometry (my off-road, touring and cyclo-cross bikes), there would have been a practical reason not to have a kickstand:  It might not have been a good idea to clamp one onto such bikes, which tend to have thinner tubing than more utilitarian machines.

But, over the past decade or so, my life changed in a few ways.  Some of them had to do, of course, with my gender transition.  When I started, I wanted a women's or mixte bike because, well, they were "women's" bikes.  (At no point, though, did I consider giving up my diamond-framed, a.k.a., "men's" bikes.) Also, I wanted to continue riding to work. In the old days, I used to ride in bike shorts or tights and jerseys/jackets because I didn't want to ride in anything else.  Sometimes I would ride in a pair of khaki or corduroy trousers, depending on the weather, and a button-down shirt to which I could add a tie, vest or jacket (I used to keep those things at work) as needed. I also used to keep a pair of shoes, in case I was too lazy to carry, or forgot, a pair into which I could change from my bike shoes.  

When I started living and working as female, though, I found that I had to be better-dressed than I was when I worked as a male.  (Truthfully, I also wanted to dress better:  In those days, I was still experimenting with different looks).  That meant more time to get dressed.  Also, I'd begun to wear make-up, and I was starting to take more care of my hair.  So, making myself "presentable" for work was taking me at least twice as long as it did when I was working as Nick.

Also, in those days, I would sometimes shower and change in the men's locker room before starting work. Of course, once I started my transition, that was not an option.  I wouldn't have wanted to do that, anyway--I never liked being naked (and vulnerable) in a men's environment.  

As buoyant as I felt when I started my transition, I still wasn't quite ready to change in a women's locker room. I take that back:  If anything, I wanted to shower and get dressed among other women.  But I hadn't yet had my surgery--it would be several years away--and I wasn't ready to deal with the possible repercussions of being met by campus security officers if someone who objected to my being there called them.  

So, I wanted to ride in more or less the same clothes in which I worked.  I was willing to bring a change of shoes, and maybe an accessory or two as well as a couple of cosmetic items. But I didn't want to go through the intricacies of having to, essentially, make myself over once I got to work.

It was around that time that women's and mixte frames started to appeal to me. Some of the commuters I rode in days past were equipped with fenders, usually because I added them.  So fenders were nothing new to me; however, they had more appeal to me when I stared to ride in skirts or even women's pants (which, I found, were more delicate and soiled more easily than men's pants).  I also started to appreciate chainguards.

I also rode a couple of bikes with internally-geared hubs.  Even though I had a three-speed in my pre-adolescent years, I couldn't quite cotton to one--or to a five- or seven-speed internally geared hub. They felt clumsy and inefficient compared to hubs with cassettes, freewheels or fixed cogs.  Plus, at least one never quite shifted right, in spite of the efforts of three mechanics whose work I've always trusted.  

So now I'm commuting on Vera, a Mercian mixte with a lively, pleasant ride. Just for the heck of it, I've ridden her in shorts and enjoyed it, but I can wear just about anything short of a wedding gown (which I don't plan on wearing) and not have to worry about ruining my clothes or being constricted.  

I had been riding her with an upright bar that's a bit like a flipped-over North Road bar. But over the past few months, I've been riding her with a Velo Orange Porteur bar, on which I'm not quite as bent over as I am with my dropped bars, but not quite as upright as on, say, a Raleigh three-speed.  

If you're used to riding lightweight bikes with dropped bars, or even mountain bikes with flat bars, the best way to get a commuter, I think, is to find a bike that has a geometry and ride that's at least somewhat like a bike you currently ride and to change the handlebars and seat, unless the geometry of the bike is such that it will not ride well with those changes.  

Enough about the bikes.  The whole point is to ride--or at least to continue with your journey, wherever and on whatever vehicle it takes. you.

18 January 2013

Over Time: A Transformation

In researching something on the Web, I came across a time-lapse video of an Australian's transgender's change from male to female:

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16 January 2013

No More Forced Sterilizations In Sweden

Almost a year ago, I wrote about the Swedish law requiring transgender people to be sterilized before changing sexes.

Well, that forty-year-old law was repealed last week.

One result of that law was that many transgender Swedes delayed their sex changes, waiting until they already had children.  Another is that while some people are celebrating the change, others are preparing for a legal battle.

Now, if what I've just described were in the United States, you'd expect me to say that some right-wing religious fundamentalists were going to fight to keep the law on the books, or to outlaw sex changes altogether.  However, the ones who are preparing for the lawsuit are working on behalf of 90 transsexuals who underwent sterilization from 1972, when the law was enacted, until 2011.  During that time, 865 Swedes sought a legal sex change.

Ulrika Westerlund, who heads the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) said she is hoping that lawmakers will pass a law outlining damages and prevent a costly and painful legal fight.  She says the RFSL is ready to accept 200,000 Swedish Kronas (about 30,700 USD) for each person who files as a "fair" settlement.

15 January 2013

Safer, But Not For Trans People

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, in seemingly every speech he makes, reminds his listeners that New York is "the safest big city in America."

I have lived in The Big Apple for a long time.  I don't doubt that it is much safer than it was, say, 25 years ago--at least, if you're in the right neighborhoods.  And, I might add, if you're the right race and socioeconomic class--and gender.  Or, more precisely, if you express your gender identity in approved ways.

While overall crime rates may indeed be dropping, the amount of violence against transgender people is on the rise--in New York and everywhere else.

While New York City recorded fewer murders in 2012 than it did in any of the past 50 years, and the murder rate may be decreasing in other cities and countries, the number of murdered transgendered people has increased:  from 162 in 2009 to 179 in 2010 and 221 in 2011. That's an increase of 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, and of nearly 25 percent for the following year.

Now, some could argue that more such crimes are being reported, just as there is evidence that some of the reported decrease in overall crime can be explained through re-classification (or, in some cases, non-reporting) of some offenses.  However, whenever I talk to trans people--trans women, especially--and people whose work involves helping us, I hear more stories about violence and more fear of it.  

While many people are learning more about us and realizing that we're not child molesters or drag queens in overdrive, and accepting us, there's another segment of the population that makes us the butt of jokes or the scourge of society.  An unattractive woman is compared to a "tranny"; an angry, frustrated cis woman tried to cloak her transphobia in a defense of women.

As long some continue to accept such bigotry, the world will not become a safer place for trans people. 

13 January 2013

Charlie, One Year Later

Today was mild for this time of year.  Although it didn't rain, or even drizzle, the air felt damp, as it has since the rain we got the other afternoon and night.

It actually wasn't a bad day to ride, in my book.  It's nice to ride on overcast days sometimes: I have fair skin, so a lot of time in the sun tires me out as well as leaves me at risk for sunburn and other things.  Still, I was feeling sad.  

While riding, I saw one of those billboard signs that shows the time, temperature and date.  I then realized why my mood was darker than the sky:  Today is the 13th.  

Last year, this date fell on a Friday.  Now, I'm not normally superstitious, so Friday the 13th doesn't mean much to me. But I recall the one that came in January of last year for one reason:  Charlie died.

Although Marley is adorable and sweet, he can't replace Charlie.  I didn't expect that he would; he just happened to come into my life a little less than two months after I lost Charlie.  Max took to him very quickly; he was always a very affectionate cat.  But Max, like Charlie, was with me during a very special time in my life:  my transition and surgery.  One simply can't replace the kind of relationship one had with an animal during a time like that.  

At least Max is still here and will be for years to come.  And, I believe, Marley is special in his own way, and I am developing a relationship with him that's different from the one I have with Max, or the ones I had with Charlie or the other cats who came before him.  Needless to say, it's also different from the relationships I have, and have had, with people in my life.  I guess that was the point, at least for me, of taking Marley into my life.  That, and the fact that he's ridiculously cute.

11 January 2013

A Generation of Elders Who Are Novitiates

Writing about the Lost Generation of Transgenders, as I did yesterday and in a few earlier posts, got me to thinking about my own situation.  Although I have had my surgery and I rarely have to talk about having lived as a man (although sometimes I still do so by choice), I consider myself to be part of that generation.  That's because I missed living decades of my life as a woman; others never had the chance--or had only a very brief time--to live their lives whole.  Some, of course, never transitioned; others lived in a ghetto (which was mental and spiritual as well as physical) of substance abuse, violence and AIDS that cut their lives short.  

On the other hand, my history has left me in a position in which very few people find themselves:  As a transsexual person, I am still fairly new or, at least, young. After all, I began my transition a decade ago, began to live as Justine a year after that and had my surgery three and a half years ago.  Chronologically, my current life is only as long as that of a child who has yet to reach puberty.  But I am also an elder, if you will.  Many people my age have grandchildren; a few even have great children.  And many of us reach the apogee of our careers or other trajectories in our lives.  If nothing else, we come to an understanding of ourselves and others and some--like me--start to feel we don't have the time, energy or patience for cant, hypocrisy and evasion.

So, even though my time of living as a woman is relatively brief, I am indeed one.  I am a woman who happens to be a good bit older than all of those young people who are transitioning  and even some of the later-in-life transitioners.  What that means is that when I'm talking to a younger trans person, an older one who's doing what I did a couple of years ago, or someone who isn't trans but wants to learn more, I am--for lack of a better way of describing this--teaching what I learned only recently.  That includes a sense of what we've come from and where we've been.  Many transgender and transsexual people who could have taught those things died along the way or ended up too broken to teach themselves, let alone others.  

So the burdens--and joys--of passing on what this community has learned, collectively as well as from and among individuals--fall to those of us who are surviving members of the Lost Generation of Transgenders.

10 January 2013

Health Care Professionals And Lost Generation Of Transgenders

In several posts on this blog, I have mentioned some of the difficulties transgender people have in getting appropriate medical and psychiatric care.  One of the main reasons is, of course, the high percentage of trans people who are poor, uninsured and even homeless.

As bad as the situation is now, it was much worse during my youth.  The poverty and homelessness, and the lack of insurance, probably were even bigger problems for trans people thirty or twenty years ago than they are now.  However, there was yet another factor that made it difficult, or even impossible, to get the necessary therapies and treatments, and helped to create a lost generation of transgender people

That factor is a trait of a particular group of people--the ones who were, in essence, "gatekeepers."  I'm talking about medical as well as psychiatric professionals.  They, like nearly everyone else, were inculcated with their culture's notions of gender and sexual norms.  That is to say, nearly all of them believed in the "male-female" gender binary and the normalcy of being a heterosexual.

What that meant, of course, is that nearly all such professionals were deeply homophobic to one degree or another, whether consciously or not.   (I will admit that I shared much of that homophobia.)  So, for example, a female-to-male transgender who wanted hormones and surgery could not give even any indication of sexual attraction to women.  She also had to exhibit what were considered "feminine" traits and desires.  Worst of all, she had to commit herself to living a life of denying her past.  In other words, she had to re-invent her life as that of a woman growing up to become a girl, in the name of "passing."

Victoria Brownworth has written, "Passing never works; the lie distances you from those who aren't a party to it.  Society may reward the lie, may even demand it, but the passing person is punished for passing--either by being caught in the lie or believing it.  Every closet is a prison, whether it is a construct of sex or class. Passing kills; it annihilates who we are and keeps us from who we could be."

About the only beneficiaries of this emphasis on "passing"--which is to say, living in an enforced closet--were the Four Horsemen of our community:  AIDS, drugs, suicide and violence.  They all reached staggering proportions during the 1980's.  Although good, let alone exact, statistics on trans people from that period are nearly impossible to find, I would guess that an even larger percentage of trans people died from those causes than are claimed by them now.  In a literal sense, they are the reasons why we have a lost generation of transgender people.  But even the survivors of that generation--who include me--had to endure decades of depression, isolation and, in many cases, substance abuse, as a result of not seeking the care we needed until much later in our lives.  That left us as isolated from each other as all of those transssexuals who "passed", or tried to, were from each other.  The result was that, really, we didn't have a community for at least a decade, and could therefore not offer each other the advice, mentorship and other help we so desperately needed.

In other words, even those of us who wouldn't begin our transitions for another two or three decades had to live with the same lie as those who told doctors, psychiatrists, endocrinologists and surgeons what they wanted to hear.  They, of course, told those lies because the health professionals themselves believed, if not the lies themselves, then in the homophobia that made them necessary.  Those of us who survived are still dealing with the aftermath, and will probably do so for the rest of our lives.

09 January 2013

It Took 30 Years, But They Found A Way To Fire Him

In the winter class I'm teaching, the students are about to read Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.

It seems like an amazing coincidence, if not a synchronicity, given something that's just happened in a school directly between the one in which I work and my apartment.

St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, Queens has--justifiably or not--an excellent academic reputation.  However, according to a few acquaintances of mine who happen to be alumni, it's as big and impersonal as any city public high school, and people of different races and cultures coexist but don't really interact with, let alone accept, each other.

So far, it doesn't sound too atypical for a high school in that part of Queens.  However, the fact that it is run by Franciscan brothers means that some people will most likely never be allowed as students, let alone teachers, there.

It doesn't matter that someone has taught there for more than three decades. If that teacher changes him or her self in form, his or her excellence as a teacher will not be enough to keep him or her on the school's faculty list.

That is what Mark Krowlikowski has discovered.  In his 32 years of teaching at St. Francis Prep, he has received numerous accolades for his work, which has included leading students in a musical performance for Pope Benedict XVI.  But, last year, the parents of a ninth-grader complained about him.

Specifically, they took issue with his appearance.  He was always neat and well-groomed and routinely wore suits and neckties to work.  However, he started to wear earrings and nails manicured in a feminine style, according to court documents.  

He was summoned to the office of the principal, Brother Leonard Conway who called the transgender identity Krowlikowski revealed to him "worse than gay."  During their meeting, Conway told Krowlikowski he could no longer appear at public events if he came dressed as a woman.

The school's lawyer claims that Krowlikowski was fired for "appropriate non-discriminatory reasons".  Interesting that it took the school 30 years to find such reasons.

06 January 2013

Who Belongs To The "Club"?

Over the years, there have been many definitions of "transgender" and "transsexual", apart from the ones in the textbooks.

According to at least one trans person I know, you become a transsexual when you "go under the knife."  She was talking about SRS/GRS--which, until recently, served as most people's line of demarcation between transsexuals and everyone else. 

A friend of mine is scheduled to undergo that procedure next year.  Yesterday, she sent me a text message announcing that she was in a hotel room, recuperating from facial surgery.

I congratulated and welcomed her.

05 January 2013

We Won't Come For What They've Built In The Beaver State

Once again, I've Kelli Busey to thank for the latest news about what's available to trans people.

She reports that in order to comply with the state's non-discrimination laws, health-care insurers cannot have riders that categorically exclude all transgender patients.  Also, the state's mandate for coverage of mental health services must also apply to transgender patients.  Furthermore, the designation of a policyholder as male or female can no longer have any bearing on the types of treatments that are covered.  So, for example, a female-to-male who is documented as male cannot be denied coverage for ovarian cancer screening.

So far, it all sounds really good, right?  Then this part will sound, at first, even better:  Insurers cannot deny coverage of treatments for transgender patients if those same treatments are covered for cisgender patients.  Therefore, if an insurer pays for a cis woman's breast reduction to lessen her back pain, it also must pay for the same treatment if it's undergone by a female-to-male transgender.  

Think about that for a moment.  It sounds good until you realize that sex reassignment procedures procedures are not done on cisgender people.  To my knowledge, no cis man has ever asked to have his genitals cut open and reconstructed as a vagina, and no cis woman has ever demanded to have an artificial penis constructed (to the extent it can be done) in place of her vagina.  Also, I don't know of any insurer that pays for cis women's breast augmentations; under the new regulations, they wouldn't be required to do so for male-to-female transsexuals.

But all of this leads to an even slipperier slope:  Insurers could still change their policies as to what they will and won't cover for cis people.  So, an insurance company might decide that it will no longer cover breast or penile implants for anyone, cis or trans.  

Somehow I don't expect to see trans people hitching their wagons to mules for cross-country treks to the Beaver State--not yet, anyway.  

04 January 2013

What The Repeal Of DADT Won't Change

When "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed, I pointed out--on this blog and to people I know--that it wasn't an unmitigated victory for LGBT who are in, or want to join, the military.

For one thing,  I expressed concerns that DADT's repeal could actually make LGBT people in the military more vulnerable to sexual, and other kinds of, harassment than they were when DADT was the official policy.  Under DADT, some gay servicemembers were "flying under the radar," so to speak, and other servicemembers could only make assumptions about the sexual orientation (or, in some cases, gender identity) of other servicemembers.  No one wants to go through the embarrassment and humiliation, not to mention the legal problems, that could stem from assuming that someone was gay and harassing him or her.  With DADT gone, gay servicemembers can be more easily identified--and harassed or worse.

Also, the repeal of DADT did not clear the way for transgender people to serve in the Armed Forces.   One who identifies as such cannot join; anyone who comes to identify as such, and begins a gender transition, after enlisting is not allowed to remain in uniform.

There is still another problem that the repeal of DADT didn't, and couldn't, address:  The culture of the armed forces is not, and probably never will be, tolerant, much less accepting, of people who are not identifiably heterosexual and cisgender.  The very sorts of traits and values valued and promoted by and in the military are not exactly hospitable to diversity in gender expression and sexuality.  Plus, the emphasis on creating "traditional" families (ironic, when you consider that military families have some of the highest rates of divorce) will probably ensure that the military brass won't be welcoming toward LGBT people.  That Pentagon computers block any website they deem to be LGBT-friendly, while allowing unfettered access to such as Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, ought to tell you something about the military commanders' real attitudes toward LGBTs.

Plus, I'm not optimistic about the outlook for LGBT people in the military now that almost everyone expects Senator Chuck Hagel to be nominated as Secretary of Defense. While he says he is "committed to LGBT military families", his track record suggests otherwise.  In 1998, he opposed then-President Bill Clinton's nomination of James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg on the grounds that Hormel was "aggressively gay"--which, according to Hagel, would prove an impediment to doing the job.  He finally apologized for his slur two weeks ago.  But he still hasn't apologized for derogatory comments he made about Congressional Representative Barney Frank.  

I'm waiting to see just how "committed" Sen. Hagel will be to LGBT military families.  

03 January 2013

Palais d'Hiver

This photo from Let's Go Ride A Bike made me think of something I wrote some years ago:

                              Palais d'Hiver

                               dry whispers 
                                in a house 
                                 where I 
                                no longer 

02 January 2013

The City Of Ladies

Here is another excerpt from the work of fiction I've been writing. In this piece, a trans woman who's about to have surgery has to return to her old neighborhood, which she hasn't seen in many years, for a funeral.  Remember that this is a work of fiction, so I don't want you to try to infer too much from it.

(If you want to read some other excerpts, check out What We Become, Fatigue, At The Beginning and The End  and Stories of Men and Women.)


I'm sure that if I stay on this block after her funeral, after her burial, and someone were to realize who I am, someone'll blame me for mother's death.  People'll say that my absence, through all these years, put too much strain on her heart, her spirit.  (The one is a physical organ, so their accusations would make no sense.  As for the other:  What is it, anyway?)  I'd be accused of selfishness.  I suppose that, in a way, that would be right, if not fair.

I haven't been here for a long time because I've been worried about my own safety, and how mother'd react to me.  Even though she could sense that I'd changed--sometimes she said as much when we talked over the phone--I'd had no idea of how she'd react to my hair, the nails, the new clothes, the changing shape of my body.  And, even though sh'd told me, "Everybody's gone" time and time again, I still wondered whether I'd get off this block alive if I came back.  Until recently, I wasn't entirely confident about my transformation.  When you're not among the community of which you've become a part, whether by birth or choice, whatever image you try to project has to be created and transmitted even more seamlessly than when you're among your own.  When you're not in one of those neighborhoods where people in transition congregate, or are at least accepted or tolerated, it's all the more important to pass--in other words, to be unnoticed.  So, I wondered how I'd navigate the wake, the funeral, the burial. 

I must say that until today, it had been a while since anyone had given me a second glance or stared.  Now only the operation to give me the genitals I should've always had separates me from the next stage of my life, whatever that may hold. Older men--and sometimes younger ones--hold doors open for me and let me pass in front of them.  But once they let you through "their" space, they insist on standing or walking closer to me than they did before I started my transition.  So you've no choice but to walk into them, or to walk away from them.  Either way, you run that they will accuse you of "sending mixed signals" or of inciting their aggression.

In one sense, I'm lucky:  At the end of the day--which, sometimes, is really the end of the morning--I don't have to navigate them.  When I go home--or, more precisely, when I get to wherever I'm going to lay my head for the next few hours--I am alone; I don't have to navigate their hostility.

Most women aren't so fortunate.  Just last week, the woman who's shaped my hair as I've grown it slid the hem of her skirt up her thigh, revealing a scar and two bruises the father of her three-year-old daughter left.  She knew what I was about to tell her.  "As long as I don't set him off, he'll get better,"  she sighed.  

After I was gone a while from this block, mother'd begun to tell me about the brutality of the men there. Although I was well aware of it, I listened as if she were giving me the latest news.  She never mentioned names, but I knew that one of them had to be my father.  All the more reason to find him, to find out about him.  He left her bitter and angry: spent, even though she had to--or, at least, felt that she had to--continue living and working for my sake.  A man hit her, pushed her head against a wall.  And she never could recall what she did next, but the next thing she remembered was seeing him, doubled over with his hands gripping his crotch.  She doesn't know how she could have kicked or punched him after he knocked the wind, and very nearly the light, out of her.  At that moment, she was thinking of me, she said:  She wasn't going to let him to do me what he did to a baby girl--hers?--who supposedly was a "crib death", whatever that is.

I remembered those conversations, and our days in the kitchen with other women, no men anywhere in sight.  And the things mother used to say as if she were instructing me rather than answering a question or making a point.  Mother never wore--in fact, as far as I know, never even owned--any polo or T-shirts, sneakers or any other shoes or articles of clothing she was brought up to believe were men's.  Pants were the exception:  She almost always wore them, long, and only with completely enclosed shoes.  No sleeveless tops, always a jacket, even on warm days.  Only her house slippers had open toes and backs, and sometimes she'd wear something that looked like a cross between a housedress and a smock if she didn't have somewhere to go.  

But one day she put on a black silk dress that skimmed her breasts and curves down to her knees.  I didn't know she owned it, or the black pumps on she slid into.  Though the dress and shoes were out of style--actually, nobody on the block is ever in style; some of the women are simply en vogue--she seemed elegant, even pretty, if a bit severe.  I didn't have to ask.  "A lady wears a dress to a funeral," she intoned.

That was all I needed to know for today.  The fact that I don't have a dark men's suit or even a sportcoat is beside the point.  For that matter, I no longer own any ties, or anything that resembles men's dress shoes.

A lady:  the only kind of person who could attend her funeral.  Mrs. Marland, the woman who seemed not to talk to anybody besides my mother, and the woman whose name I never knew--when my mother talked about them, the were "ladies".  So were other females of a certain age.  As in, "the lady up the street" or "the lady with the black dog".  They were the only ones she talked to, who talked to each other, about each other.  The ladies:  The Crossing Guard Lady, The Redheaded Lady .  "Go to the lady at the newsstand and get  change for this $5 bill."  All my life, as a kid, I was always directed from one lady to another by my mother or some other lady.

So who else could come to see her at the end of her life but other ladies?