28 February 2013

Her Integrity Excludes Her

How many of you went to your high school prom?

I didn't go to mine, even though I was on the committee that planned it.  When fellow committee members and our faculty advisor realized I wasn't going, I told them I had broken up with my girlfriend and didn't have a date.

Truth was, I didn't have a girlfriend to break up with.  Or a boyfriend, for that matter.  I simply didn't date anybody in high school, and well into my college years.   Now, if I had been dating another boy, I couldn't have brought him to the prom.  But even if I'd had a girlfriend, I'm not sure that I would have gone.

But, in a way, those issues were academic (pun intended).  I didn't want to date anybody.  I take that back:  I'm not sure that I could have dated anybody.  Whether I was with a boy or girl, I would have been dating as a boy.  And I hated and feared that prospect.

I later dated--and had a couple of long-term relationships--as a "man."  I never felt right about that, because I never felt quite like a man.  Still, I continued in those relationships in the hope that, through love, I would find my maleness, if not my manhood.

Because of what I've just mentioned, I am happy that there are young trans people who--in some places, anyway--can attend their proms in the gender in which they identify.

The Spring Independent School District in Texas is not one of those places.  In fact, as Lone Star State native Kelli Busey (of Planet Transgender) says, trans people there are "discriminated against in all phases of transition."  Although nothing in the Spring ISD student conduct and dress code specifically mentions transgender people, it still leaves a lot to the discretion of the principal.  

That means Tony Zamazal cannot wear a dress to her prom.  What's really sad about that is that she'd just recently come to terms with her gender identity and was beginning to express it, or as we like to say, live as her true self.

So, instead of becoming a celebration of a major milestone in her young life, her high school's prom is something from which she will be excluded for living as the person she truly is.  What kind of a message is that to send to a young person?

27 February 2013

Who, Exactly, Is Committing Fraud?

I should look up the definitions of "fraud" and "deception" and, perhaps, do a post on them.  I could discuss the common, linguistic, legal and other definitions of those words.  More awareness of them is certainly necessary.

I say that because it seems, at times, that being transgendered means being rewarded for committing fraud and concealing our identities.

Before we "come out", we live the lie of the "M" or "F" on our birth certificates and other documents assigned to us.  Many of us know that our very survival, let alone anything like acceptance from peers, families, other authority figures and communities, depends upon presenting ourselves as someone we know, within ourselves, to be untrue.  I know that presenting myself as a masculine and fairly athletic guy saved me from a pretty fair amount of harassment and abuse--and, later, discrimination.  That's not to say I didn't experience those things:  I simply didn't endure as much of them as I might have otherwise.

When we finally do "come out" and live as the people we actually are, much of our ability to survive, let alone be accepted, depends on the degree to which we conform to other people's ideas about the gender in which we're living.  In the past, many trans people--especially male-to-females--took those notions to the extreme, sometimes with the encouragement of their therapists and others who were guiding them through their transitions.  It's no accident that, for example, Christine Jorgensen's beauty  was often compared to Marilyn Monroe's:   While they naturally had some similarities in their features, I can't help but to think that Ms. Jorgensen tried to emulate her.  But, at the same time, she didn't seek Monroe's celebrity status, and settled--to the degree she could--into the quiet life of a suburban housewife, which conformed to another trope about womanhood and femininity common in her time.

On the other hand, when someone who had been unaware of our transgender history learns of it, we are accused of fraud and deception for presenting ourselves as the people we actually are.  

That is what happened to Domaine Javier.  In August of 2011, California Baptist University expelled her after she revealed, on MTV's "True Life", that she is biologically male.  When she applied to the university, she indicated her gender as "female", as she should have, on her form.  She has identified as our gender since she was a toddler, she said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the private religious university doesn't see her her way.  Their documents say she was expelled for "fraud, or concealing identity".       

Now Javier is suing the university, and the California Superior Court is seeking $500,000 in damages for breach of contract and violation of the state's anti-discrimination laws.  Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Javier, maligned her name by making the accusation.  

While some laws don't apply to private institutions, Southwick argues that because Cal Baptist is open to people of all faiths and most of the degrees it rewards are in secular fields (like nursing, which Javier was studying), it's really a business establishment offering services to the general public and is therefore not the same as a seminary or private Bible college.

Whatever the legal interpretation of their institution, I hope that the administration of  learns what fraud and deception, and who its perpetrators, actually are.


26 February 2013

The Genderbread Person

Some of you may have already seen it.  I came across it for the first time just recently:  The Genderbread Person:



Aside from its cuteness, one thing I love about it is that it doesn't posit male and female, gay and straight or trans- and cis-gender as polar opposites, as many other models do.  Although I know women and men are different in many ways, we also have many (perhaps many more) similarities, and are not necessarily from "Venus" or "Mars".  Likewise, I realize that gay and straight are different, and so are trans and cis, but they are also not opposite poles in the world of sexuality and gender identity.


Instead, the model depicted seems to go from less sexuality to more, and from less gender-ness, if you will, to more.

It may not be the "right" model, but I think it makes more sense than the binaries about gender and sexuality we've been taught and that too many scholars, educators, and other often well-meaning people propogate, sometimes unwittingly.

25 February 2013

"He's Such A Nice Guy"

Yesterday I showed what anti-discrimination laws can, and can't, do for trans people, at least in terms of employment.  Today I will tell you about one of those instances in which no law would have helped me.

At the time, I was about three years into my transition:  I was taking hormones, had changed my name and was living as female.  The job in which I was working at the time would ultimately be eliminated as the department was reorganized; I had been alerted to the likelihood of that and was preparing for it.


I'd gotten a call for an interview at Lehman College, which is part of the City University of New York system.  The deputy chair of the English Department, Steve Wyckoff, interviewed me.

However, as the interview proceeded, he wasn't the only one interviewing me. I don't recall any interviewer taking so many calls as he did during the time I was in his office.  I also don't recall another interview in which another person came into the room in which the interview was conducted after each call the interviewer took.

I also noticed that whatever professional demeanor he and the others (who, for all I know, may not have even been other faculty members) displayed upon meeting me turned into mocking, and even salacious, grins.  You've seen that look when someone is looking at you and imputing all manner of sexual perversions and over-availability to you.  

I wish I'd had a video camera with me that day.  In those days, I still thought that if I held my head high and conducted myself in a professional, ladylike manner, people would treat me as the talented and educated woman that I am.  Some people will do that; the others are sometimes found in places where most people wouldn't expect them--like the academic world.

Now I make it known that I will not submit to any interview or meeting with anyone who has the power to make any decision that can affect my life unless I bring in a recording device and a witness.  Of course, that will close (and probably already has closed) a few doors for me.  But I have seen how people who fancy themselves as liberal, tolerant people and talk as if they are will become, in essence, bullies when given half the chance.  The ones whom everyone describes as "such a nice person" will, if you are trans and alone with them, reveal themselves as the bigots they actually are.

Before I went to that interview, I always heard about what a "great guy" Professor Wyckoff was, and what a great place Lehman would be to work. From what I saw on Rate My Professors, his students love him.  

Need I add that he never contacted me after that interview, and that he never responded to my phone calls.  Those same people who talk about what a "good guy" he is also tout his "professionalism".

If only they knew... 

24 February 2013

Keeping Honest People Honest

"Locks keep honest people out."

I forget who said that.  That person certainly had the right idea.  Also, I think he or she could have substituted the word "Laws" for "locks" and "honest" for "out".

That's what I find myself thinking every time I hear about a trans person who loses a job or, worse, applies for a job only to be told that it's already filled, yet the employer keeps the job listing posted.  Or, we experience something nearly every educated African-American or white person from a working-class background has encountered:  would-be employers who say we wouldn't "fit in with the culture" of the organizations in which we're applying for jobs.  The academic world loves to use that excuse.

Those sorts of things happen in places where there are gender identity and expression are covered in human rights laws.  In places where no such protection exists, interviewers laugh in the faces of trans people.

I was reminded of what I've just described by Diana, who has experienced her own troubles in getting a job.  She also posted a link to an insightful (at least to the readers of CNN Money) article by Blake Ellis.  It describes what we already know:  that we're far more likely than anyone else to be unemployed, homeless, engaging in sex work or to live in homeless shelters or with relatives (if they haven't disowned us).  But it at least gives some specific stories that illustrate--and, more important, humanize the phenomena described.

All of them are heartbreaking or infuriating, depending on who you are and your temperament. Jennifer Chavez has 40 years of experience in the auto industry, yet she has been blackballed by all of the auto dealerships in the Atlanta area, where she lives, as word about her transition got around.  Her former co-workers stopped talking to her and her former employer told her that a would-be employee turned down a position because of her.  Finally, after 300 applications, she got a commission-based job as a technician with Pep Boys, where she has the potential to make, at best, half of what she made on her old job. She's just barely holding on to her home.

What's really terrible is that her story is far from the worst case, even of the ones described in that article.  And, in addition to employment, medical expenses are a problem because almost no employer-provided health insurance covers the costs of transitioning (therapy, hormones and such), let alone surgery.

23 February 2013

Victor Imperatus, Lost Classics And Transgenders' Lost Generation

One of my students, who is very articulate and rather feisty, brought up the subject of bias in history.  "No matter where you go to school, the history they teach you is completely slanted", he averred.

He cited some examples from wars.  "What German kids learn about World War II is completely different from what we learn", he explained.  "And what French kids, Japanese kids and British kids learn is all different, too."

I told him that, while I haven't read enough history books from other countries to know, I suspected that what he said is true.  That, I suppose, was the Properly Professorial Thing To Say.  However, I know--intuitively as well as experientially--that the principle behind what he said is one of the truest things ever expressed.

He's the sort of bright student we sometimes see in City University schools:  very smart, literate and verbal, and from a home where there are probably few, if any, books and a family of few, if any, educated people.  He's the sort of student who mispronounces words he reads in books because those books are the only places in which he sees those words:  He has never used them in a conversation.

I was something like him.  Sometimes I feel I'm still like him:  I mispronounce words or use ideas out of context (or, at least, in ways they aren't normally used) because I've encountered them on my own, in isolation, rather than in bull sessions with people who seem to have spent their entire lives around holders of advanced degrees.

Anyway, I mentioned the phrase Victor Imperatus and explained that it's not the name of one of my neighbors in Astoria, but rather the notion that history is written by the winners--or, at least, those who have power and privilege.  To illustrate what I meant, I described my own experience as an undergraduate just over three decades ago:  None of the histories I read were written by women or African-Americans.

Or transgenders.

I didn't mention the lack of trans history simply because I didn't mention my gender identity at all, and don't know whether I will.  (It's still early in the semester.)  But I know that there's very little, if any, history--or, for that matter, much of anything else--written by trans people that's in print.  I don't think it's because we don't write (Just look at this blog); if anything, we might write more, per person, than other people.  However, much of what we've written was published before we transitioned or was written by people who were trans but, for whatever reasons, lived in the gender to which they were assigned at birth.  I'd bet that some writers were never published or read again after they started to live in their true genders, and that some continued to publish under the names they received at birth, or under pseudonyms.

One result of what I've just described is that, save for a few books and other works we've written about our experiences, there is very little--in literature, history, science or any other area--written with a transgender perspective.

When you're part of a privileged group, you don't have to think about a perspective or point of view.  "History" is about you and your people; "African-American", "Women's", "Hispanic" or "LGBT" History are about other people, who are not considered "mainstream".  When I was in school, we did not read books (whether histories or works of fiction or poetry) by any of the people I've just mentioned; I would later learn that some works, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story "The Yellow Wallpaper" were out of print and forgotten for decades.  After such works were rediscovered, they were ghettoized into "Women's Studies" (or, later, "Gender Studies), "African American Studies" or whatever.   

I don't know whether there are transgender "lost classics" waiting to be rediscovered.  I somehow believe that they are.  Until we find them and start writing more stories of our own, the "lost generation" I've described in previous posts won't be our only one.

22 February 2013

Two Women In Love And A Man Who Understands Journalism

I don't remember voting on straight marriage.  So why is gay marriage an issue?

Ah, there's the Question of the Week.  In a nutshell, it tells you everything you need to know about straight and cisgender privilege:  If you are both, and you are over 18 years old (in most state's, anyway), you don't need anyone else's permission to get married.  However, if you are over 18 and not hetero (and, in some cases, if you're not cis), whether or not you can get married to the one you love depends on whether or not the honorable legislators of your state are magnanimous enough to allow you such a right.

The person who uttered the two sentences that opened this post obviously understands.  So does the editor of the newspaper in which they appeared.

So, where do you think you would find such people?  You might, understandably, come to my home town or look in some of the circles of people with whom I associate.  You wouldn't expect to find people like the one who didn't vote on straight marriage or the news reporter who quoted her almost anywhere south of the Potomac, would you? 

Among those states, the only question is:  Which will be the last one to legalize same-sex unions?  Some of you might pick Mississippi.  Some of you might say that it's the last state in which you would expect to find the woman who posed the Question of the Week, or the reporter who quoted her, much less the editor who published the story.

However, it did indeed happen in The Magnolia State. Better yet, the woman quoted--one Jessica Powell--actually married her longtime lover, Crystal Craven (You've got to love a name like that!), who has been battling brain cancer.  Their families and friends, and Craven's doctors attended the ceremony, held in a town called Laurel.

Mississippi, not surprisingly, doesn't even recognize domestic partnerships,let alone same-sex marriages.  So, as best as I can tell, there are no material benefits to their union:  If Ms. Powell has health insurance, her policy wouldn't cover her wife.  Plus, there are a whole bunch of other benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples that will not be available to Ms. Craven and Ms. Powell.  As best as I can tell, they married for the one and only reason I can see for anyone--straight or gay, cis- or trans-gendered, to get married:  They want to be together for life.


Whether or not Jim Ciegelski, the owner of the Laurel Leader-Call supports same-sex marriage in principle, he at least seems to respect Powell and Craven's decision to tie the knot.  Even more to the point--for the purposes of this story--he seems to understand what real journalism is.  (The same, sadly, cannot be said for many other who purport to practice it.)  And he has the courage, not only to allow it in his newspaper, but to defend reporter Cassidi Bush  in the face of many hateful criticisms, subscription cancellations  and even threats they received via mail, phone, e-mail and on Facebook.

The best thing about Mr. Ciegelski is that he did not publish the story because of his views on gay marriage, which he doesn't divulge.  Rather, he sees it as his job to publish something about an historic event (at least for Jones County), just as Ms. Bush saw it as her job to write the story as she did, her views notwithstanding.

In his editorial defending his decision to cover the story, he wrote:  

Most of the complaints seem to revolve around our headline, "Historic Wedding," and the fact that we chose to put the story on the front page.  You don't have to like something for it to be historic.  The holocaust, bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Black Sox scandal are all historic.  I'm in no way comparing the wedding of two females to any of these events (even though some of you made it quite clear that you think gay marriage is much worse).

Even though we're talking about Mississippi here, I still believe (or at least hope) that one day, it won't be necessary for reporters like Cassidi Bush to write stories about same-sex weddings as if they were historic events, or for publishers like Jim Ciegelski to print them.  Then they will have to find history elsewhere. Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem for them.


 

21 February 2013

Waking Max From His Dream?


As you may have noticed, I've written fewer posts during the past week or so.  You see, I've been under the weather. I thought I was coming down with the flu, and I expected the doctor to chastise me for not getting a flu shot. Turns out, I didn't have the flu:  It was a low-grade upper respiratory infections.  As its origins are viral, he couldn't give me an antibiotic.  

I'm not coughing as much as I was a few days ago, but I've been feeling very tired.  Good thing I have company:




It seems that when I made my bed this morning, I didn't notice that Max had crawled under the cover.  As I was leaving, I found him lying where you see him now.  He'd dozed off, and taking his picture woke him up.


When I go to bed, I think it will take a lot more than that to wake me up!

18 February 2013

Why Should A 100-Year-Old Art Show Matter To Transgenders?

I believe that one reason why so many transgender people are involved with, or at least interested in, the arts is that envisioning and re-envisioning ourselves is not merely an intellectual exercise: it is an act of survival.

Through the years that we spend living in the "wrong" bodies, in whichever sex is indicated our birth certificates, we keep ourselves together with the hopes and dreams of the people we know ourselves to be, no matter how much they're buried in the costumes we don to get through our days.  Those visions might change over time, especially for those of us who do not begin our transitions until our fourth, fifth or sixth decades.  It's one thing to imagine yourself as a woman who looks like Rihanna when you're in your twenties; such a fantasy is silly or worse after we mature and encounter new definitions and images of womanhood.

In other words, we start to understand the essence or life force of the gender in which we want to live.  The great artists, I think, have always seen people in terms of such forces.  That is the reason why, I believe, photographic "realism" is not always the best depiction of a human being:  You might say that I'm one of those people who believes that an artist's job is to reveal, not to depict or represent.

Such notions have made one art show in particular controversial, even one hundred years and a day after it opened.  When the works of some 1200 artists--most of whom are familiar to us today, but of whom few Americans had heard up to that time--exhibited in the 69th Armory Regiment on Lexington Avenue in New York City, spectators were confronted with depictions of the human body that some thought shocking or even obscene.  And it had nothing to do with nudity.

You see, at the Armory Show, as it's now called, people were confronted with such works as Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending A Staircase", Henri Matisse's "Blue Nude" and Pablo Picasso's "Head of A Woman."  None of these works reflected, in any way, classical depictions of the human body seen in the Renaissance (or, of course, ancient Greece and Rome) or the more symbolic representations seen in, say, medieval art. Instead, artists like the ones I've mentioned and sculptors like Rodin were more interested in the ways human bodies move and change across time and space, and how certain energies possessed by the people who inhabited those bodies changed, or didn't.

In other words, the people in those artists' works weren't static, in the spiritual as well as the physical sense.  They were moving toward something or another; they were in a state of becoming--or, if you like, evolving.  And, really, what better describes the process of transitioning from a life in one gender to living in another?

I'll end this post with an interesting historical note:  World War I broke out the year after this show.  The US got involved in it three years later, and the Versailles Treaty was signed a year later.  Mustard gas and other chemical weapons were used for the first time, which led to some never-before-seen neurological as well as physical disorders. (In the years after the war, medical journals were full of references to "shell shock," which is more or less what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)  These developments led to a lot of research in neurology and endocrinology, which were new sciences at the outbreak of the war. One of the researchers who started to work in those nascent fields around that time is someone you've all heard of:  Dr. Harry Benjamin.

16 February 2013

It's About The Bathrooms, Again

When I was in school, I very rarely went to the bathroom.  That wasn't because I ate an unusual diet or had extraordinary self-control.  Rather, I was just too damned scared to use the boys' bathrooms. To me, they were the most dangerous parts of the school:  If I were harassed or beaten, there would be nobody to stop it.  

In elementary school, all of the teachers were female.  In high school, we had some male teachers, and most of the security guards were men, but their bathrooms were separate from the students'.    



I was always a target for bullies because I was considered a "sissy" or "girly" boy.  In fact, some--and, I would later learn, a couple of teachers--actually referred to me as a "girl".  Ironically, they were right, but in school that put me in danger.   After I started to work out and play sports, the school thugs no longer punched me in the face in the hallway or body-slammed me into lockers.  However, the bathrooms were like black holes:  Kids quite literally disappeared into them.

If it was so dangerous for me even though I was a fairly athletic teenager, I can only imagine what it would have been like had I been living and dressing as a girl, or even if I'd been more androgynous than I was.  

Even after I left school, male-only bathrooms terrified me.  Whenever I had to use a toilet while away from home, I sought out bathrooms that weren't gender-specific.  That meant going to a pizzeria, coffee shop or store that had a single bathroom or toilet stall for all customers.  Even the filthiest, smelliest ones didn't frighten and repulse me as much as male-only facilities.

I think of those experiences whenever any government or other institutions is crafting transgender-inclusive policies, or at least rules that don't discriminate.  It seems that most people don't object until it comes to the part about bathrooms.  That is where people's acceptance of diversity in gender identity and expression stops.  People who were all for equal rights adopt "boys are boys and girls are girls" attitudes that could make any fundamentalist preacher seem like the director of PFLAG.  

Not surprisingly, that's happening in Massachusetts right now.  The Bay State's Department of Education has just issued a list of directives for handling transgender students so that schools are in compliance with the 2011 anti-discrimination law to protect transgender people.  Included are policies that allow students to use bathrooms or play on the sports teams designated for the gender by which they identify.  


While resistance to these policies has been, perhaps, not as strong as opposition to similar policies in other parts of the nation, it has been not only present, but almost entirely predictable. 

How predictable?  It uses the same trite and misinformed arguments as other objections to such policies.  Here's another maddening similarity:  the name of the group leading the opposition.  In this case, it's the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Why is it that so many transphobic and homophobic groups have the word "family" in their names?   My cynical self says it's a smokescreen.  However, people who oppose the kinds of policies adopted in Massachusetts almost always are sincere in the belief that they support "families"--or, at least, their concept of them.  They usually make voice their objections in religious terms: "The Family" is, in their view, based on differences in gender that are ordained by God.

However, I cannot understand how anyone can purport to be advocates of families or "The Family" if they are not concerned with the safety and well-being of children.   Trans kids need to be in an environment where they can learn without unwarranted threats to their physical beings and emotional health.  In that sense, as in many others, they are exactly like all other kids.  

I can understand the discomfort some might feel over someone they perceive to be of the "other" gender in their bathrooms.   Most of us feel the need for privacy as we take care of our needs.  Most school bathrooms provide that, at least to some degree:  The ones I've seen all have stalls.  (When I was living as a male and using men's bathrooms, I used the stalls even if I had only to urinate:  I didn't want to stand alongside other men at the urinals!)  Others are worried about the potential for rape and harassment.  I have looked long and hard, and I have yet to find any report of a male-to-female transgender of any age harassing a woman in a bathroom.  We don't go to bathrooms for that reason; still, we are conflated with "peeping Toms" and pedophiles.  

I have found that most people understand what I've just described if it's explained to them, and they actually get to know a trans person or two.  On the other hand, those who belong to "Family" organizations seem to cling to their phobias, no matter what facts are presented to them.

14 February 2013

Le Beau Marriage: C'est Probable En France

On Valentine's Day, it's nice to have the kind of news I'm going to relay.

The other day, the Assembly, which is the lower house of France's Parliament, approved a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow same-sex couples to adopt children.  The vote was 329 to 229.  In order to become law, the bill has to be approved by the Senate which, like the Assembly, is controlled by the same Socialist party of which President Francois Hollande is a member.

The good news is that in poll after poll, the French overwhelmingly favor same-sex marriage, but their support weakens when it comes to allowing gay couples to adopt children.  Having a pretty fair amount of time in France, I can tell you that, as in most countries, the provincial, rural areas are more conservative and religious than the cities or towns, so there is certainly opposition in those regions. Also, in les banlieues around cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille, there are sizeable communities of fundamentalist Muslims and ultra-Orthodox Jews who certainly don't favor same-sex marriage or gay adoption.

However, it's hard not to feel that the bill will pass, and not only because of the political affiliations of parliamentarians.  Although the issue was rarely discussed until recently, French people have long known that some of their most prominent citizens--particularly in the arts and in intellectual endeavors--are gay or gender-variant.  Also, while there are still many conservatively religious French people, the Church does not have the same grip on politics or public life that it once had.  I think a line from one of Alberto Moravia's characters in The Conformist more or less applies to France:  "Ninety percent of the people who go to church today don't believe."  That may have been an exaggeration, but it does reflect one salient fact:  In France, you simply don't find the kind of religious zealotry (at least among Catholics or other Christians) that you can easily find here in the US.

Plus, while the French like to think themselves as independent of world opinion (and, in fact, they sometimes are), I would think that with gay marriage legal in  two of their neighboring countries ( Spain and Belgium) and in nearby Netherlands, and with same-sex unions recognized by two of their other neighbors (UK and Germany), they realize that the time has come for them to move forward.  Or, at least, they don't want to see as more retrograde than any of their neighbors.  

Plus--call me naive for saying this--I can't help but to think that if any of the European countries want to keep the EU together, they will have to work together on issues like same-sex marriage.  As an example, if a Belgian EU officer is married to her girlfriend and is posted, say, to Latvia , where the law says that marriage is between a man and a woman, there could be complications, to say the least.

But I think that if France legalizes gay marriage--as I believe it will--most of the remaining European countries will.  If Spain--which was one of the most conservative and Catholic countries not much  more than a generation ago-- can legalize it, and equally-conservative and -Catholic Ireland can recognize same-sex partnerships, what's to stop France or any other European country (save, perhaps, Poland) from doing the same?

 

12 February 2013

Dr. Torrey Might Have A Good Idea, But What Does It Mean For LGBT People?

This morning, I caught a segment of C-Span's Washington Journal in which Libby Casey interviewed psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.  

Recently, Dr. Torrey wrote about John F. Kennedy's proposal, 50 years ago, that the Federal government would fund community mental health centers (CMHCs) to replace big mental hospitals run by the states.  (Willowbrook in Staten Island, New York was one of the most infamous examples.)  At the time, most people thought this was a good idea because institutions like Willowbrook were, in essence, warehouses for the mentally ill that often made their patients worse.  Also, the first effective treatments for mental illnesses were becoming available around that time.

However, as Dr. Torrey pointed out, the nature of some of those illnesses--including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder--were not understood as the brain diseases they are rather than as problems that could be talked away through therapy.  So, the de-institutionalization of thousands of mental patients that resulted from JFK's proposal had a terrible, if unintended, consequence:  Many people who need treatment are homeless, in prison or, worse, committing violent crimes.  (He said, in essence, that the last few episodes of mass murder, including the Newtown and Aurora massacres, were "predictable".)  He asserts--correctly, I believe--that some mentally ill people need to stay in a hospital or some similar setting, at least for some period of time and that they need medication or some other form of treatment.  Also, CMHCs were not interested in (and, in many cases, didn't have the wherewithal for) treating the severely ill patients who were released when large state mental hospitals closed down.  Rather, they focused on helping what are sometimes called "the worried well".

Dr. Torrey believes that the Federal government should get out of the business of treating mentally ill people and turn that responsibility back to the states.  He believes that because mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are better understood than they were 50 years ago, and better treatments are available, the states now have the know-how to do a better job than they did back then.  He does advocate Federal oversight, but thinks the states should run the programs.


On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.  However, I find one potential problem.  I'm not quite sure that I completely agree with Dr. Thomas Szaz's notion that there's no such thing as mental illness, but I agree that, at least to some degree, it's whatever people define it to be.  The DSM is an example of this:  According to the DSM-IV, I am mentally ill, but in the upcoming DSM-V, I am not.  

So, if transgenderism--or male homosexuality, or lesbianism--could be re-classified from one edition to another of a reference guide used by clinicians and insurers, who's to say that different states won't have their own definitions of "mental illness"?  Many LGBT people who aren't much older than I am can recall friends, siblings or colleagues who were committed--and even received electroshock treatments--for expressing their love for people of their own gender, or the fact that they aren't the genders indicated on their birth certificates.  In fact, at least two I know personally were institutionalized and were subjected to shock  and drug "therapies".  Who's to say that such things won't happen again--or that we won't be criminalized outright and incarcerated, at least in some states. 

I don't think I'm expressing irrational fears, or even far-out fantasies: After all, sodomy and even wearing things that are considered inappropriate for one's gender are illegal in some jurisdictions.  Dr. Torrey might respond that Federal oversight might ensure consistent standards.  He might be right, but I can envision certain states resisting, in whatever ways they can, any Federal incursion into what they believe to be their domains.

In any event, I think his ideas are certainly worth exploring.  For the most part, I agree with him when he says the states can't do worse than the Federal government has done on the issue.  At least, I know some states can and will do better.  Given its track record before JFK's proposal, I'm not sure that New York, where I life, is one of those states


10 February 2013

Going Through It Again


Today I was talking someone who’s related to me but not part of my “nuclear” family.  (I won’t get into the implications of that term!)  He’s a couple of years younger than half my age.  We talked about one thing and another; he mentioned some high-school friends he’d recently seen.  Then, he told me something I was not expecting from him, or anybody:  “I’d really like to go through puberty again.”

As someone who experienced puberty “again”, I didn’t know whether to laugh, argue with him or react in some other way.  Before I started my transition, I simply could not imagine myself going through puberty—or, more precisely, what it meant for me—again.  For a long time, I wished that I didn’t have to experience it at all.

The difference between the way I used to feel about my puberty, and his wish that he could experience his again, could be summed up as follows:  He told me that in his puberty, he experienced his first attraction to a girl.  “I knew I was straight.  Nothing has ever made me happier,” he claimed.  On the other hand, my puberty meant—to my horror—that I was becoming a man. 
For a long time, I was angry about that.  Not only did I have to become a man—at least by the definitions that were accepted at that time—I had to deal with sexual feelings that I couldn’t reconcile with being a man or a woman, at least as I understood those terms at that time in my life.  Because I didn’t have what academics call a “frame of reference” and a vocabulary to describe my feelings in a way that would have made sense to anyone I knew at the time, having those feelings was even more bewildering and terrifying than seeing my pubic hair grow around a sexual organ I didn’t want.

I wouldn’t want to go through any of that again.  However, I am thankful that I did.  When I went through my second puberty, in my 40’s (when I started taking hormones), much of what I felt made more sense to me—and was even cause for joy—as a result of the changes that came during my early teen years.

One of the things I realized was that in puberty, the emotional and mental changes are even more important than the physical ones.  So, while I was happy to see my breasts grow and the lines in my face soften, I was even more thrilled to not only experience the giddiness and crying jags, and new depths of feeling about everything from songs I heard on the radio to a Shakespeare play, and to feel my senses open in ways I never imagined on walks and bike rides.  Best of all, I had ways of understanding those things, and the fact that I wasn’t developing new sexual feelings as much as I was able to more thoroughly experienced the ones I’d had since my first puberty.

Still, even though I am glad to have experienced my “second” puberty, I cannot understand why my relative, or anyone else, would want to re-experience his or her pre-teen puberty.  Then again, my first puberty brought me into a part of my life I’d never wanted to experience, while my relative got what he’d hoped for when he experienced what will most likely be his only puberty. At least I got what I’d hoped to have from my second.

09 February 2013

My Life With Charlies

About four weeks ago, I wrote about the first anniversary of Charlie's death.

He was sweet, adorable and smart, and accompanied me through some of most intense and, sometimes, wonderful times in my life.  

Charlie came into my life on this date in 2006.  My friend Mildred rescued him a few months earlier from an area of metal fabrication shops.  There are a few houses among them; still, the area is usually deserted after dark.  That's why people--and I use that term quite loosely--dump animals there.

Millie told me that as soon as Charlie saw her, he scampered toward her.   That meant, of course, that he was not a feral cat; he must have had a home only recently.  The vet said as much, and determined that he was about six to seven years old.  

She wanted to keep him, but she had other cats in her house and yard.  I said I would take him as soon as I was ready.  She didn't rush me; she understood why I couldn't take him right away.








He is the reason why.  You might be thinking that he looks like Charlie.  In fact, he is Charlie--just not the same one I've been talking about.

The cat in the photo--let's call him Charlie I--had been in my life for nearly fifteen years, from the time he was a kitten.  Only members of my family and a few friends have had, or had, more years with me.  

In addition to being adorable and sweet, he was smart and, it seemed, prescient.  You know he's intelligent from that photo:  He's in front of an Oxford English Dictionary.  Some people might believe that he read more of it than I did!


Another way I knew he was smart was the way he looked the camera.  He seemed to realize that I was photographing him, but he also seemed to know that it was simply impossible for anyone--even  yours truly!--to take a bad photo of him.



When I first met him, he was with the other kittens in his litter.  He half-walked, half-waddled to me on his little legs and looked into my eyes.  Somehow, he seemed to know all about me, and that he was going home with me.  I didn't even have to make the decision.

What's even more interesting, though, is that he preferred women to men and girls to boys.  Whenever I talked with a woman on the phone, he was at my side.  When a woman came into my apartment, he simply had to meet her.  And he and Tammy got along famously.

Someone suggested that he acted as he did the first time I met him because he knew that I'm a woman, even though I was still deep into my boy-drag phase!  For a few months, around the time Charlie I was a year old, I shared my apartment with a fellow graduate student.  Late one afternoon, Charlie I made a beeline for the door as I turned the key.  My roommate joked, "Charlie, Mommy's home!"

So, Charlie I was with me for that part of my life, through graduate school and a few jobs, in five different apartments (including the one in which I lived with Tammy) and, most important of all, through my last, desperate attempts to live as a man and the beginning of my life as Justine.



Now, you may be wondering why I named Charlie II Charlie.  The truth is, he was already so named when I brought him home.  Millie had given him that name and I didn't want to change it.  And, even though Charle II had a slightly different personality from Charlie I, he was sweet and loving. He was, not a clone of, or replacement for, Charlie I, but a continuation of him.  Sometimes I think it's exactly what I needed.

08 February 2013

Anna Grodzka: World's First Transgender Parlimentarian

In earlier posts, I've commented on how countries that had been very conservative and Catholic have led the way on LGBT equality.   Examples include the legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain and an Argentinian law, passed last year, that essentially says that any person over the age of 18 can live in the gender of his or her choice.

Now we have, in the land of Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa (who wears a pin of the Virgin Mary in his lapel and is a staunch opponent of abortion) an elected official who's transgender.  Anna Grodzka, elected in 2011, is the only transgender member of any parliament in the world.  Recently, she had the chance to be the deputy speaker for her left-wing party.  However, last Friday, lawmakers voted to keep the incumbent in that post.

Still, the mere presence of Grodzka is seen as emblematic of the changes that are taking place in Poland. The rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders was in issue suppressed during the Communist regime.  The fall of the Berlin Wall did little, if anything, to change that:  In fact, some argue that it made, until recently, an even more oppressive atmosphere for LGBT people as many Poles--including Walesa himself--saw the Church as a powerful ally in the fight against Communism.

It's often been said that Poles' relation to their church is much like that of people in another country that was, until recently, conservative:  Ireland.  There, people saw their Catholicism as one of the few forms of identity they were able to keep (if in secret) during centuries of British occupation.  While the situation for gays has improved in Eire, it's still very, very difficult to be trans on the Emerald Isle.

The optimist in me says that things could improve for Irish trans people.  I am certain that better days for trans people are coming in Poland, if for no other reason than Ms. Grodzka's indomitable spirit in the face of the backlash she's incurred.  "I am above all trying to be a normal politician, like any other person, maybe even better", she explains.

07 February 2013

Brendon Ayanbadejo Gets It--Almost

Kelli Busey's Planet Transgender has become one of my favorite transgender-related blog.  Actually, it achieved that distinction not long after I discovered it.  She's usually on the right track and on point, and manages to be both assertive and gentle.

She shows all of those qualities in her most recent post.  In it, she mentions the support  Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo's attempt to express his support for transgender rights, as he understands them.  The only problem is that he understands them in the same way too many other well-meaning but misinformed people understand them:

If a woman wants to wear a man's clothes or if a man wants to wear a woman's clothes or you feel like you're a woman on the inside and you're really a man. Who cares? Let's just treat everyone equally. Let's move on. Let's evolve as a culture, as a people.”

My impulse is to be charitable with him. Some of us who are members of the gender-variant community, and some who spend a lot of time around folks like us, would excoriate him for showing that he seems not to understand the difference between a cross-dresser and a transgendered person.  Perhaps he doesn't understand such a distinction:  Somehow I don't think he doesn't know a lot of trans people or cross-dressers and doesn't spend a lot of time around people who are familiar with us.  That's all right:  Most people probably don't know any trans people, either--or, at least, they don't know that they know us.

Plus, I somehow get the impression that his heart is at least in the right place.  Basically, he's saying that we should try to get along and to realize that we're all in the same world, in the same struggle, together, and that we can and must move forward.

I don't go to Facebook very often.  However, I'm going to post a comment on his fan page.  In it, I will praise him for saying that we should treat everyone equally and "evolve as a culture", while pointing out the difference between transgenders and cross-dressers.

06 February 2013

Why I Am Not Passing Now

I am not boasting when I say that it's been a while since I've had to think about "passing".  Any time I meet someone, whether a tourist asking for directions, a store clerk or guests at someone's dinner party, I am addressed by female salutations and pronouns.

In a way, it's ironic.  The reason I say that, is not that I was born in a male body and lived the first 45 years of my life as a boy/man.  Rather, I say that because I have less anxiety about some "secret" of mine being discovered than I did when I was living as male.

Perhaps even more important, I felt more like I was trying to "pass" as male--or, at least, the idea of male that most people seemed to have--than I have felt that I was trying to "convince" someone that I'm a woman.

What's even more ironic is that I felt less like I was trying to "pass" even at the very beginning of my transition.  Even during the time I was working as male and doing almost everything else in my life as female,  I didn't feel as much anxiety about being "read" as I felt when I was living as male and worrying that someone would realize that I wasn't male after all and that there would be a terrible price to pay for it.

Don't get me wrong:  I've lost friends, relatives and other things in my life because of my transition.  When I started my transition, I knew those were possible consequences.  The only surprises, really, were that some of the people I lost weren't the ones I expected.  On the other hand, people from whom I didn't expect support gave it to me, and gave me types of support I never expected.

Somehow it was easier to imagine those things than it was for me to envision the consequences of someone finding out that I wasn't that masculine (almost hyper-masculine) guy I was presenting to the world.  I guess I was still thinking of how I was "exposed" as a "sissy" when I was a kid, and the seemingly-endless grief I got as a result.  I could imagine only an adult version of those things.  Otherwise, I couldn't foresee what would or could happen to me as a result of being "exposed". 

I did, however, have a more specific fear:  that my gender-queerness (as much as I hate the term, I don't have a better one) would be construed as an extreme form of homosexuality.  As a matter of fact, some people took me for a gay man, even if they had never seen me with another man.  Although I had been living as a heterosexual man, I knew very well how virulent and misdirected homophobia could be:  Part of my "defense" consisted of homophobia and some gay-baiting.

In other words, I feared that I would be harassed, beaten or even killed for something I wasn't.  It's bad enough to incur someone's bile or wrath for something you actually are, but I could imagine few things worse than dying over a case of mistaken identity.  I imagine that once you're dead, it doesn't much matter how you died, but I still think I'd rather not die an unjust death.

But now I am living as the woman that I am; if someone commits any sort of violence (physical, mental, spirtual or otherwise) against me because he or she finds out about my past, at least it's based on something that's at least factually true.  It doesn't make any violence committed against me more just, but at least I know that I have been true to myself and I have not denied my past.  In fact, I have not had to deny anything at all.  

That last sentence might sum up the reasons why I have not felt like I am "passing" or even have to try to do such a thing.  The effort to "pass" as someone else's idea of a man or a woman invariably involves denial; simply living as the man or woman (or member of some other gender) that you are is, as one person admiringly told me, the essence of integrity.

Well, living as the woman I am--as opposed to someone else's idea of a woman-- is as much integrity as I am capable of living.  It's the truth as I understand it, and I really don't have anything else (aside from, perhaps, a belief in a greater power) that I can use as a principle for living my life.  As a result, I may not pass perfectly, but I seem to pass well enough--and better than I ever did as the man I was trying to be.




03 February 2013

India's Response To The Death Of A Woman Who Was Gang-Raped

In much of the world--including, at times, my hometown of New York--rape is still treated as "just" a sexual offense rather than the violent crime it is.

What that means is that sentences are relatively light.  For example, in India, rapists faced seven to ten years in prison.  Granted, I wouldn't want to spend that much time incarcerated.  However, compared to other violent offenses, rape wasn't punished harshly.

That may change.  Unfortunately, it took the death of a 23-year-old woman who was brutally gang-raped for this change to come about.

Because of a "gag" order, the victim and her family cannot be identified.  However, Indian media has reported that she was a physiotherapy student who was attacked by six men on a bus.  She died in Singapore hospital, where she was sent for treatment, nearly two weeks after the attack.

In response to this awful crime, President Pranab Mukherjee assented to new laws proposed by cabinet ministers.  According to the new ordinances, the sentences for gang rape or rapes committed by police officers or other persons in authority will be doubled and can be extended to life without parole.   The law also includes a new set of offenses, including voyerism and stalking.  

There has even been discussion of the death penalty for the young woman's attackers.  Although Indian law provides for capital punishment, officials say that it is used "only in the rarest of rare cases". Three months ago, the last surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks was hanged.  It was the first state execution in eight years.

While the new laws, if passed (even without a provision for the death penalty), will punish some rapists more severely than perpetrators of similar crimes have been penalized in the past, women's rights advocates still don't think it goes far enough.  They say that, while the provisions for longer sentences are welcome, the law still doesn't have the teeth to fight sex crimes against women.  Others criticized the government for not holding a public debate or hearing on the law.

According to a defense lawyer, the court will start hearing evidence from witnesses next Tuesday and that verdicts will be handed down "very soon" on five of the perpetrators.  The sixth is being tried in a juvenile court.

02 February 2013

A Thorn In The Side Of The Rose City T-Girls

One thing any trans person can tell you is that there are some things that even the most trans-friendly communities and the strongest anti-discrimination laws can't prevent.

They include, among other things, plain-and-simple bigotry.  Such is the case in Portland, Oregon.  

The Beaver State passed its Equality Act, designed to protect the rights of LGBT people, in 2007.  This week, the State's Labor Commissioner, Brad Avakian, filed the first complaint submitted under the law.

The complaint alleges that Chris Penner, the owner of the Twilight Room Annex (formerly known as the P Club), asked the Rose City T-Girls, a group of transgender patrons, to stop patronizing his establishment.  According to them, he said he didn't want his place to be known as a "tranny bar."

Penner described himself as "shocked and baffled", saying that he's not "against gay or transgender people" and has LGBT employees.  He also says his bar has even hosted same-sex weddings and Pride events.

However, he claimed that that the Rose City T-Girls were driving patrons away on Friday nights, when the T-Girls were congregating there, because they left the stall doors open and toilet seats up in the women's rest rooms.

Investigators reported that they could find no evidence that the T-Girls were "disrupting business", as he claimed, and concluded that he did not talk to them about their behavior before barring them.

A hearing is set for 19 March.

(I couldn't help but to notice this irony: The bar owner shares the same last name with an award-winning sportswriter who came out as trans, lived and worked as female, then quietly returned to living as male and committed suicide.)


01 February 2013