31 May 2013

Gay Marriage In The Land Of Il Conformisto

France has legalized same-sex marriage, the UK will do the same this summer, and Germany is awaiting a vote on the matter from the Bundestag.  That leaves Italy as one of the few Western European countries where the matter is not at least under consideration.  In fact, it's one of the few countries in the area that still doesn't even recognize same-sex civil unions.  

Some Italian cities--including Milan, but not including Rome--have legalized such unions.  But, as a recent Times article noted, the rights of gay couples end at their cities' limits. 

Some people blame the Vatican for the situation I've described. However, as Same Love founder Alessandro Bentivegna noted, "Ireland is just as Catholic, yet they're 100 years ahead of here."

If anything, the Irish have been more Catholic than the Italians for at least a couple of centuries. As in Giulia in Alberto Moravia's The Conformist observes, "Ninety percent of the people who go to church today don't believe. The priests don't, either."  Although the situation is changing, for many Italians, the Church is something like the Royal Family is to many British:  They can't tell you, exactly, what it's for or about, but they cannot imagine life without it.

On the other hand, Ireland had, arguably, the most fervent believers in Europe.  That, I believe, is a result of the British attempt to destroy their religion.  For a long time, Irish would-be priests were trained in France by disciples of theologian Cornelius Jansen, who emphasized human sin, depravity, predestination and the need for divine grace.  One result is that they preached through fiery sermons that could make even Jonathan Edwards blush.  

One thing about fundamentalism--whether of the Christian, Islamic or Jewish variety--is that when people break away from it, their actions are more decisive and climatic than of those who simply drift away from more moderate churches. So, while Italian Catholics--even those in the countryside--aren't much more religious than their peers in France or other countries, they are also less likely to bread away from Catholicism altogether.  That is why people attend church even when, as Giulia said, they don't believe in it.  

This attitude about church extends to other areas of Italian life:  People--especially politicians--cling to beliefs, rituals and traditions even after they have lost meaning.  That, I believe, accounts for the lack of urgency among Italians concerning a number of social issues that are debated vigorously--and, sometimes, acted upon--in other countries.  

A typical Italian attitude goes something like this:  Yes, gay couples should have the right to marry and have al of the other rights heterosexual couples have.  But they can go to Belgium or someplace else to get married.  So why is it so important to legalize it here?  Why is it such a big deal? If you can find a way to live your life the way you want to, why should you change anything?  As an Italian professor once told me, "If the Bastille had been in Rome, it would still be standing."

Also, politics are very different in Italy.  Here in the US, the far left and the far right are the most vocal in their views, and the latter is better able to transmit them because it is backed by some very wealthy individuals and corporations.  On the other hand, the center-left and center-right not only dominate Italian politics; they are also the most vocal proponents of their points of view.  And, those views, as often as not, are about preserving the status quo rather than making dramatic changes--as has happened in Ireland and Argentina--or in "returning" to some idealized version of what the "Founding Fathers" stood for, as we see in the US.  

In other words, Italians don't have the sense that they have to "save" their country, as the American right has, or that there has to be  a social revolution, as is occuring in Ireland, Spain and some Latin American countries.   That may be the main reason why Italy may not legalize same-sex unions--let alone marriage--for a while.

30 May 2013

Bachmann Overdrive

By now, you've all heard that Michele Bachmann is not seeking re-election.

I'm going to miss her.  After all, it's an accomplishment to make Sarah Palin look sane--and, at times, relatively coherent.  I mean, it's not just anyone about whom we can say that her insistence that gays can be "cured" is one of the least kooky things she says.

Plus, as you might know, her husband is a "Christian therapist" who runs an "ex-gay" clinic.  I'm sure he can tide her over until she transitions into the next phase of her life.  She might be getting a little old to work on Faux News (Rupert Murdoch interprets "child labor laws" to mean that no one over the emotional age of eleven should be hired.) but there may be a future for her with Glenn Beck, if he ever gets his own satellite network.  Or maybe she can be a regular guest on the Springer show. 

Anyway, I came across an interesting survey about ex-gay clinics from an author who spent time in one.  When Jallen Rix, who is also a facilitator at Beyond Ex-Gay, asked alumni of ex-gay "clinics" what good, if any, came of their experienced, 50 percent said "none".  Others said it helped them "come fully out of the closet", "feel less alone", leave religion or meet a same-sex partner.

In other words, for many alumni, their experiences of ex-gay "therapy", or whatever its practitioners call it, had affected them in ways that were exactly the opposite of what was intended.  

Moreover, about three-quarters of all participants said they quit the ex-gay movement didn't make them straight.  Twenty percent said they quit because of a nervous breakdown.  

And nearly all of them said, in different words, what one respondent wrote:  "I saw that NOBODY was being changed, and some of those guys had a lot more faith than I did," he wrote.  "The only ones I ever met who claimed to have been changed were the leadership.  And one of them was always hitting on me."

Nearly all of the respondents said that they were still paying for the experiences in more than one way.  "The financial cost of the ex-gay ministry  is not what I paid during the experience (which was nothing)," one wrote, "'but the thousands of dollars I have spent for therapy to get over the experience."

Hmm..Is that the legacy Ms. or Mr. Bachmann, who purport to be Christians--and to be pro-family--want to leave?  Perhaps they don't see the irony in it.  At least, she doesn't.  After all, she says things like "The founding fathers wouldn't recognize America today."  Indeed they wouldn't:  The fact that she was in Congress would surprise them in more ways than one!

29 May 2013

Argentina Won't Cry For Him

One year ago, Argentina took the unprecedented step of, essentially, making it legal for anyone over the age of 18 to choose his or her gender. To date, no other country has even come close to allowing such freedom in gender identity and expression.

Two years earlier, the country became the eighth to legalize same-sex marriage. That law, perhaps, caused even more surprise than the one allowing people to choose their gender identity.  Argentina, like its neighbor Chile and other countries in the region,  was emerging from a cell of brutal authoritarian government (in Argentina's case, a military dictatorship) and Catholic Church authorities that colluded with the country's political and military leaders.  

Arguably the worst of such rulers--or, at any rate, the worst Argentina ever had--died on 17 May.  Jorge Rafael Videla participated in the coup d'etat on 24 March 1976 and served as the de facto president of the nation for five years.  During that time, about 30,000 people--including gays--were "desperaciados," or disappeared. Notice that "disappeared" was used as a verb:  Those people, in essence, were made to vanish from the face of the Earth; the fate of many is still not known.

Jacobo Timerman, who edited a newspaper critical of the government, was among them.  He was arrested, held without a trial date and, after months in prison, was abruptly put on a plane to Tel Aviv.  His excellent Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number recounts those experiences as well as others who were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sometimes murdered.

As wonderful as Argentina's new laws are, and as happy as I am for Argentinians, I think they--and we--should not forget Videla, if only to remember what life was like only a generation ago for gays, transgenders, Jews, dissidents and others in Pope Francis' home country.

26 May 2013

The Best States For Transgender Student-Athletes

It's actually easier to be a transgender student-athlete in Nebraska than it is in New Hampshire--or New York.

Yes, you read that right.  At least, in Nebraska, a trans girl who wants to play on her school's volleyball team--or a trans boy who wants to play basketball--has more legal rights and protections than his or her peers in my home state or the one whose motto is "Live Free Or Die."

What makes this all even weirder is that New York and New Hampshire have both legalized gay marriage, while very few people expect Nebraska to do the same any time soon.

Or would it?

Rhonda Blanford-Green, the executive director of Nebraska School Activities Association, had previously worked in neighboring Colorado, which has had a policy trans-inclusive non-discrimination policy for five years.  She decided to introduce something similar in the Cornhusker State.  It passed the NSAA board unanimously during the winter.  However, as it is a school policy and not a state law, it attracted little attention.  So far, nobody has invoked it.

On the other hand, the Empire State, which was among the first states to include language to protect sexual orientation in its human rights laws, and the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage, has been behind the curve in helping transgenders.  There is still no language in the State's anti-discrimination laws to protect gender identity or expression.  Former Governor David Patterson issued an executive order banning discrimination against State workers.  As I understand, there is no time limit on it; however, it could be rescinded by Andrew Cuomo's successor.  

New York City passed its own laws banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in April of 2002, but 74 other cities--including, interestingly, upstate Rochester--beat them to it.

When one considers this history, perhaps it's less surprising that New York is less progressive than Nebraska when it comes to trans student-athletes. Then again, some might argue that Nebraska's policy is the work of one particular person (even if it did pass unanimously). Others might say that it passed just because people pay more attention to school sports in the Cornhusker State than in New York.  

Here is a map showing which states have specific policies for student-athletes (in dark blue), which ones have overarching athletic or educational  policies that cover trans people , and which ones have no protections (lighest shade) at all:

25 May 2013

The BSA Gets It Half-Right

I wasn't going to comment about the decision to allow openly gay boys to become Boy Scouts.  But I've found myself thinking about it, partly because--you guessed it--I was a Scout many, many years ago.

Now, before I talk about the decision, I'm going to share a little story.  I was a Scout for a year or two when the Boy Scouts of America decided to make some changes to the uniform.  Back in the old days, the standard uniform included a flat or "garrison" hat similar to the kind worn by soldiers in many countries.  But, the Boy Scouts' leadership decided to offer other kinds of headgear and allow troops and their leadership to choose.  One of the options was the old-style garrison hat; the others, as I recall, included a visored baseball-type cap (which seems to be what most Scouts wear today) and a red beret.  Most of the boys in my troop voted for the baseball cap, and our Scoutmaster seemed to like it, too.  It was all right but, as you may have guessed, I wanted to wear the red beret.

Anyway, having been a Scout, I can tell you that there have been gay scouts, most likely since the organization's founding.  Back then--and even during the time I was a Scout--one never heard of a boy (or, for that matter, a girl) "coming out" much before the age of twenty.  Matters of sexuality weren't widely discussed in those days; most kids' sexual education consisted of the "facts of life" talk from the parents.  Some kids didn't even get that.

But, of course, gay kids knew that they were somehow different.  Sometimes other kids knew, too, and taunted or even bullied them.  As bad as it could be, it usually wasn't as bad as the treatment the gay (or perceived-to-be-gay) kid got at school, in the community and, sometimes, at home.  Perhaps my view is colored by having had a Scoutmaster who didn't tolerate bullying.

I suspect there were, and are, others like him.  In addition to modeling good behavior, people like him are often the father-figures (or parents) many young people lack.  What about the gay kid who's been kicked out of his home and is living with other relatives--or some place else?  Doesn't he need at least one stable presence in his life?

Now, I haven't forgotten about the sex-abuse scandals that rocked the BSA.  While I'm sure that some men have become Scoutmasters because it gave them easy access to boys, I don't think they were in the majority.  (The same thing could be said about youth-league coaches.)  I think that far more scoutmasters, like the two I had, try to be the guides and role-models that too many young men lack.  

Having been through the sex-abuse scandals, and had to deal with declining membership for at least a decade and a half, the BSA is understandably worried about its image.  I think that might have been the reason why, while voting to allow gay Scouts, they also decided against allowing gay men to become Scoutmasters.  I suppose it was  the BSA's "compromise", or at least an attempt to mollify those parents who, rightly, worry about their kids' safety.  At least, I sort of hope that was their motivation.  Otherwise, they allowed their choice to be guided by a misplaced belief in a mistaken idea that had too long of a shelf life, so to speak.

In other words, if they weren't capitulating to pressure from vocal parents and church groups, BSA's leadership made a decision based on the notion that men who molest boys are gay.  Having been molested as a child--and having talked to others who were--I know how mistaken that notion is.  I know for a fact that one of my molesters never had sexual contact with any post-pubescent male, and was a married man.  I'm almost entirely certain that the other man who molested me also never had any interest in adult males.

But, the ban on gay Scoutmasters does gay Scouts a disservice for another reason.  Lots of boys--gay, straight and otherwise--join because it is one of the few structured environments in which they can be safe and validated. Think of that boy who joined when he was 12 or 13 and, a year or two later, realizes that he's gay. Imagine that he has no adult in his life with whom he can talk about it.  Don't you think that one of the best things that could happen to him would be for his scoutmaster to say, with complete honesty, "I know how you feel."

Now, I'm not saying that only a gay Scoutmaster can give a gay Scout the support he needs at a time like that.  I'm just saying that it's one situation in which a just-out gay kid needs an adult who is true to him or her self--in short, one with integrity.  Plus, if I'm not mistaken, the Scout Oath and Law both mention honesty.

So, the BSA got this issue half-right.  Perhaps one day they'll get it completely right.  

24 May 2013

Why Are Gay Families In Salt Lake City?

According to a recent study, the US city in which the highest percentage of itsr gay couples is raising children is in a state that I wouldn't expect to legalize same-sex marriage in my lifetime.  In fact, two of the next three cities with metropolitan areas  of a milion or more are in such states.

The winner in that category is Salt Lake City.   Next is Virginia Beach, followed by Detroitand  Memphis. Jacksonville, FL is another place where more than one in four gay couples is raising children..  Of those cities, only Detroit is in a state in which there seems to be any chance of legalizing same-sex unions any time soon.

Mind you, New York, San Francisco and Boston have larger overall numbers of gay couples raising kids. But the percentage of such couples is actually much smaller than the cities I've mentioned--or the California communities of Visalia and Porterville.

The researchers who conducted the study say that the main reason for this phenomena is that members of gay couples in Salt Lake City and the other seemingly-unlikely hubs were in heterosexual marriages before coming out as gay.  They had kids in those unions and brought them into their new domestic arrangements.

The terrible irony of this is that in such places, gay people often feel more external or internal pressures to get married and have children--whether to mollify members of their families or churches, or in an attempt to silence their own inner voices.  A young person who's grown up in Park Slope or Chelsea or Castro or the Back Bay is less likely to feel such pressures and thus more likely to come out earlier--and less likely to enter into a heterosexual marriage.  On the other hand, I can only imagine how it feels to grow up gay or trans in a place where the center of life is a fundamentalist church.

Now, I don't want to depict all of those places where gay people are raising kids as backward or imprisoning.  Rather, I want to point out that the very same social milieu that causes people to avoid living as themselves--or simply not to be aware of their true natures--is also, in many ways, more conducive to raising families than what we find in larger and more cosmopolitan cities.

One, of course, is economics.  One almost has to be very wealthy to raise kids in New York, where I live, or in San Francisco, Boston or Washington.  At least, one has to be wealthy if one wants his or her kids to be safe, attend good schools and get good health care--and find kid- and family-friendly facilities.  What that means, of course, is that one has to have independent wealth or the sort of career that both pays well and has policies that allow parents to take time off to care for kids and such without losing a day's pay--or risking his or her job.  Contrary to popular perception, not all LGBT people are in such careers.

Also, while there is more than likely plenty of homo- and trans-phobia in the smaller cities and towns, those kinds of hatred are not absent in the Big Apple, the Hub or the City by the Bay.  In fact, gay, lesbian and transgender people from other places have expressed, to me, their surprise at how much homo- or trans-phobia they found here.  One reason for that, I think, is that New York is a much more segregated city than most people realize.  Many people live in neighborhoods populated mainly by people who come from their country or culture, or share their religion.  And, in another contrast to public perception, there's religious fundamentalism in this city.  We may not have snake-handlers and such here, but there are people who belong to various fundamentalist churches.  And, of course, there are ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who, although they barely communicate with anyone else in this city, have a disproportionate influence on public policy.

(To my own surprise, in my early transition, I didn't encounter prejudice from religious Muslims or Catholics, even those who come from "macho" cultures.  The latter may have to do with my own Catholic upbringing and the fact that I speak Spanish.)

So, really, I'm not surprised that so many gay couples by the Great Salt Lake or along the Virginia coast or across the river from Windsor are raising kids.   To me, it means that simply legalizing same-sex marriage or adding protections for LGBT people to civil-rights laws--as important as those things are--aren't enough to ensure that any kid with gay parents (or, for that matter, LGBT kids) will have the same access to the benefits of a good family and community that their peers (some of them, anyway) have.  

Kudos to all of the people in those places--and in my hometown and the other gay "capitals"--who are doing what they can to understand (and, hopefully, accept and support) same-sex parents and their kids.  If they are doing so out of their concern for children, as I suspect they are, that is as good a starting point as any.  

18 May 2013

Denying A Wolfe At Red Lion

Last month, people all over the United States were shocked to learn that, in their own country, there are still high schools that hold separate proms for white and black students.  So, students who have spent hundreds of hours with each other in classrooms, played on sports teams (or cheered them on) together, fought, hugged--and, in some cases, dated--could not dance with each other as they were about to graduate.

One such school was in Wilcox County, Georgia.  The state in which I was born (but spent only the first seven months of my life) has, to be sure, been one of the most atavistic when it comes to race relations.  It was one of the last states to repeal Jim Crow laws, and only in Missisippi were more African-Americans lynched between 1892 and 1968.  Still, it's hard to believe that even in such a place, such a frankly barbaric practice as a segregated prom could continue.

That is, until its students dragged out of the 19th Century and into the 21st.  Four girls--two white, two black--took it upon themselves to organize a prom to which all of their classmates were invited.  Roughly equal numbers of students of both races attended, and DJs, photographers and other people came from as far away as New York to volunteer their services.

I mention this story becuase it is, after all, prom season, and another group of people is facing discrimination.

I'm talking about transgender students who aren't allowed to attend in the gender in which they identify.  In one of the most egregious examples of this, Mark Shue, the principal of Red Lion (PA) Area  High School, changed Isaak Wolfe's bid to become the prom king to one to become the prom queen.  He did this without notifying Isaak.  Moreover, he said that Wolfe's female name would be read at graduation.

Shue's rationale for his actions is that Isaak Wolfe's name has not yet become legal.  He is working on that change, and he has been living by his male name--and in his male gender--for some time.  I don't know anything about Pennsylvania law, but I would think that it may well be possible that Wolfe's name change won't become official until he turns 18.  Still, if Wolfe has been living as a boy, with a boy's name--and that is how his classmates, teachers and family know him--he should be allowed to attend the prom and campaign for a title as the person he is.  As he told reporters, had he known Shue would change his petition, he never would have competed.  "It's humiliating," he said.

I call it bullying.  

I say that as someone who didn't attend her prom, and participate in many other activities and rituals that are normal parts of most people's lives, because I couldn't do so as the person I am.  Not being able to live with such integrity, I came to see rejection, exclusion and pure-and-simple meanness as normal.  You've probably heard songs about how love was for other people.  That is how I felt, and still feel sometimes.  When you are subjected to such treatment throughout your life, you have a more difficult time starting or maintaining relationships, or even believing that they are possible.  In other words, you internalize the bullying and bigotry to which you're subjected.

Principal Shue has already humiliated Isaak Wolfe.  I hope he realizes the error of his way and doesn't contribute to a cycle of alienation and despair that has claimed far too many young people.

17 May 2013

Put On Purple And Ride Your Bike To Work

Today is national Ride Your Bike to Work Day.

I just found out that it's also "Put On Purple" Day.  The Lupus Foundation of America has so designated this day to raise awareness of one of the most pervasive and severe conditions most people don't know about.  

One reason for the lack of awareness, I believe, is that many people perceive--as I did, until recently--that the disease only affects African-Americans.  Another reason is that 90 percent of its victims are female.  Illnesses that affect mostly women and girls are given the short shrift vis-a-vis those that affect males because medicine, as we know it, is a partiarchy.  Not only are the vast majority of doctors still men, so are and were most of their medical-school professors.  Said professors, like their counterparts in any other field, teach their students what they learned.  Given that--because, until recently, nearly all doctors and researchers were men--most research was done on conditions that mostly affect males, and the "baseline" sex in medicine has been male.

Anyway, if I had known that Put On Purple and Bike To Work Day converged as they did today, I'd have organized a ride in which everyone wears a purple jersey or T-shirt. And, of course, I'd be on it, riding one of my purple bikes (actually, Mercian finish #57)!

Here is someone who would definitely belong on such a ride:

16 May 2013

First Transgender Marriage in Hong Kong

A little less than two years ago, same-sex marriage was legalized here in New York.  Since then, Maryland, Maine, Washington State, Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota have followed suit, bringing the total number of US states that permit such unions to twelve.  And, of course, other countries--including, most recently, France--have passed such legislation.

Outside of those US states and Canada, all except one of the nations that have legalized same-sex marriage are in Europe or, interestingly enough, South America.  On the other hand, the fight for same-sex marriage has been more difficult in the Asia-Pacific region, where only New Zealanders have that right.  In Thailand, where more gender-reassignment surgeries are performed than in any other nation, same-sex civil unions, let alone marriages, still aren't legal.  In fact, gay Thai people aren't even allowed to donate blood!

In this region, it seems, it's a victory simply for trans people to be recognized in their "new" gender, even after having had surgery.  Now, for the first time, Hong Kong is allowing a trans woman who underwent surgery five years ago to marry her boyfriend. Although the British returned control of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997, the island still maintains a separate legal system from that of mainland China, where transgender people have been allowed to marry in their "new" gender--but only to members of the "opposite" sex--since 2003.

In Australia, there is pressure to legalize same-sex marriage.  I think it will happen soon:  After all, New Zealand did it.  Also, while there are vocal conservatives and religious people--and, as some gay Australians have told me, more than enough homophobia to go around--religion probably plays less of a role in politics than it does here in the US.

If and when Australia legalizes gay marriage, will that be a "tipping point" for the rest of the region, as some have suggested?  Will Hong Kong, China, Thailand and the other countries of that region allow people to be married as the people they are to the people they love?


15 May 2013

Minnesota, Brazil And Michelle Bachmann's Stepsister

As you've probably heard by now, Minnesota has become the twelfth US state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Governor Mark Dayton signed the legislation yesterday, and the first gay weddings in The Land Of 10,000 Lakes will take place on 1 August.

This development really comes as no surprise.  After all, say what you will about him, Jesse Ventura voiced his support for same-sex marriage when he was the State's governor.  Also, Minnesota has a long history of progressive politics.  For example, it was one of the first states to pass laws to improve the welfare of farmers and laborers, and was one of the leaders in civil rights legislation.  Minneapolis was one of the first cities, and Minnesota the first state,  to include protections for gender identity and expression in its human rights laws.   

Plus, it's a neighbor of Iowa, which was legalized same-sex marriage two years ago.

One of the things that makes this victory so sweet and ironic is that Minnesota (or, more precisely, its 6th District, which includes the northern sububurbs of the Twin Cities) has also elected our good friend Michelle Bachmann--who ran for the Republican Presidential nomination last year--to Congress three times. She famously predicted that same-sex unions would become legal in her home state. 

The fact that her prediction has come to pass means that Helen La Fave is planning her wedding.  Who is Ms. LaFave?  She's none other than the lovely Ms. Bachmann's stepsister.  

Hmm...Maybe something is in the air or water.  At almost exactly the same time Governor Dayton was autographing his state's newest law, Brazil's National Council of Justice decreed that the country's notary publics must register same-sex unions as marriages if the couples so request.

Right now, same-sex marriages are legal in fourteen of Brazil's twenty-seven states. However, conservative evangelical legislators have derailed the Brazilian Congress' efforts to legalize gay marriage in the entire nation.  

I know little about the country, but I suspect that their situation parallels that of the US in one way:  There is a divide between the cosmopolitan coastal cities and the more homogeneous and conservative rural population of the interior.  On the other hand, in nearby Argentina and Chile--both of which have legalized same-sex marriage nationwide--most of the people are nominally Catholic, but the Church has little (and evangelicals have almost no) influence on national politics.

Still, I suspect that allowing same-sex marriages nationwide will happen sooner in Brazil than it will happen in the United States for one simple reason:  Rural Brazilians are moving to the cities in search of work.  On the other hand, religious and social conservatives in the US are moving to states that already have large populations of like-minded people, which means that those states will be even less likely to allow same-sex marriages, or even civil unions.

14 May 2013

She Knows What's Best For Your Kids

Dear Reader, 

I'm very, very sorry for making your little Johnny think he's Jane.  It never, ever was my intention.  

From now on, I will depict my own transition in the most negative light possible.  I will do the same for my friends who have changed, or are changing, their genders from the ones they were assigned at birth.  And I will show all of the transsexual celebrities I've mentioned on this blog to be the depraved, sick individuals they actually are.

After all, you are not raising Johnny to be Jane, and I wouldn't want to complicate your task by putting subversive ideas into his pretty little head. 

Now, if you've been reading this blog, you know that I did not mean a single word of the above "letter".  But, I suspect that Linda Harvey would wish that I did. 

She's a conservative Christian radio talk-show host.  I've never listened to her:  In fact, I don't know whether she can be heard on any stations here in New York.  Apparently, though, she has influence elsewhere. 

In one of her recent broadcasts, she argued that gay-friendly websites are dangerous to impressionable--and hormonal--young minds because they act as a kind of gateway to hard-core gay porn.

Now, when I was impressionable and hormonal, there weren't any gay-friendly websites. Well, all right, there weren't any websites.  On the other hand, there wasn't much that was gay-friendly outside of a few bars and clubs in a few cities.  But, frankly, what I did see of homosexuality and transgenderism didn't entice me to explore those things within myself:  The notion that I could be either or both, frankly, scared the hell out of me. 

All right, so maybe I wasn't a typical kid, whatever that is.  Then again, Linda Harvey isn't typical, either, even for a right-wing Evangelical broadcaster.  

If you want to hear another of her pearls of wisdom, check this out:

12 May 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Here in the US, today is Mother's Day.

A very happy day to all of you who are mothers--whether you have birthed children, raised them or simply cared for anyone who has needed your love and support.

And I want to make a special wish for my own mother.  I am very fortunate that I am as old as I am and she is still in this world.   During my transition, she stood with me as others abandoned me.  

Every trans person should have a mother like mine.  No, forget that.  Everyone should have a mother like mine.

11 May 2013

Misgendering, Misogyny And Murder

A week and a half ago, I wrote about the way Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter John Canigilia maligned murdered transwoman Ci Ci Dove, and how his editors wrote a headline that further trivialized her death.  

As Dana Beyer points out in an excellent Huffington Post article, Caniglia and the Plain-Dealer's errors are not merely breaches of rules laid out in the AP Stylebook or lapses of decency and respect.  As Beyer writes, "Misgendering has implications beyond murder and is often used by religious and feminist fundamentalists to dehumanize trans persons." She correctly identifies it as the root of "the 'bathroom bill' meme", which fosters fear about "men" in women's bathrooms. It's also the basis of the "gay panic" defense men invoke after beating or killing women whom they discover to be trans because, they believe, being attracted to trans women makes them gay. 

At the bottom of such misgendering is (ironically, given its use by feminist fundamentalists) misogyny.  One researcher found, in the words of an interviewee, that "transgender is just a long word for 'gay'."  To people who share such a belief, a cisgender man who makes love to another cisgender man is no different from a post-operative transsexual like yours truly.  Each is seen as a man who behaves in a "feminine" manner, which means that we have violated the code of masculinity.  In such a system of belief, a man who fails to be a man is a failed human being who deserves, at best, contempt or, worse, the kind of brutally violent death that claims too many of us--and struck Ci Ci Dove.

10 May 2013

Hijras: From Scorn To Running For Office

The first thing I read--a long time ago--about hijras made it seem as if they were accepted, or at least tolerated, in their native South Asian cultures until said cultures were "corrupted" by Western/Christian influence.

I wish I could find that book just so I could quote it more accurately and learn more about who wrote it.  I think he or she was a cultural anthropologist who somehow was warped by one of those gender theorists who said things like "gender is performative".  Or, perhaps, he or she was one of those gender theorists but was trying to pass him or her self off as a cultural antrhopologist.

Whatever the case, I thought it was suspect then.  Now I realize my instincts were right.  For one thing, Indians and Pakistanis I've met have told me otherwise.  Their stories have been confirmed by other readings I've done on the subject.

"Hijra" has been translated as "transgender."  Until recently, people used "transgender" as a  catch-all term  to include post-operative transsexuals, hermaphrodites, people who were born male but live as female and  cross-dressers.  That is more or less the way "hijra" has been used, which is probably the reason why it was so translated.

In India and Pakistan, they have long faced scorn, ridicule and even violence.  They live apart from the rest of society, as non-citizens, and have traditionally worked as circus performers, sex workers, dancers and beggars.  Sometimes they are paid to perform at wedding ceremonies, bless babies (In India, their prayers were considered especially powerful.) or simply to stay away from "respectable" communities.  But it has been rare to find any employed in the same ways as other members of society.  

Standing for elected office was out of the question--until now.  Last year, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that hijras could obtain identity cards that identified them as neither male nor female.  In essence, a "third gender" was created under law, and people could register to vote, work--and run for office--under it.

Now, a handful of hijra candidates are running for local and national offices in elections that will be held tomorrow.  "Before, no one cared about us.  There was no benefit for politicians in paying us any attention," says Naina Lal, one of the candidates.  "But now they are calling me, asking what we want and how they can help."  

It's heartening to see that Lal actually has support in a conservative Muslim country like Pakistan.  It's even more of a sign of change that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, one of the most conservative elements in Lal's hometown of Lahore, are courting Lal and other hijra candidates.

But somehow it's not surprising.  After all, Lal and other hijras are campaigning on issues like the high rate of HIV infection, skyrocketing food costs and frequent power outages: things about which hijras care just as much as everyone else.

09 May 2013

I'm Married To A Woman, But Only One Of Us Is A Lesbian...

Don't worry:  I'm still single.  Jennifer Finney Boylan (who else?) uttered the title of this post.

She did a great job of explaining the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation to Joy Behar.  Boylan told her to imagine she'd just become a man. "Do you want to sleep with women?"  Behar--not surprisingly--said "no."  

"But you're still you."So now you're a gay man!"  I've always enjoyed watching Joy Behar, and figured that she was, if not trans-friendly, at least educable on the subject.  Her interview with Jennifer Boylan confirmed that for me.

The most important thing Boylan said, of course, is that even if you "change" your gender, "you're still you." And, as she pointed out, "gender is  not who you want to go to bed with; it's who you go to bed as."

You can see the interview here:

08 May 2013

What If I Were A Black Trans Woman?

I do not believe that I am boasting or exaggerating when I say that I encounter more black men than most white women of my age and level of (formal) education.

Of course, that is largely a consequence of living in a large urban area in the United States and doing the kinds of work I do.  But I can also say, in all honesty, that I try to be an open-minded person who is a good listener.  I guess some of the black men (and women) I meet sense that, which may be a reason why some of them will tell me, a complete stranger, about their experiences and feeling.

I had one such encounter last week.  I'd ridden my bicycle to the Borough of Manhattan Community College.  I was astounded to find an indoor parking facility in Fitterman Hall that rivals the emenities found in many gyms in the surrounding neighborhood, where Robert De Niro and other celebrities live.

As I was locking my bike to the rack, a black man, whom I guessed to be about ten years younger than me, wheeled in his machine.  We exchanged greetings and small talk about the weather, the changes in the neighborhood and other things.  

"Can I ask you something?"

I was wondering whether, at this late date, he'd "read" me or , perhaps, seen me somewhere before.  In spite of my anxiety, I said, "Sure."

"Did the guard ask you for ID?"


"Well, he stopped me and asked for it.  And I'm a student here--I come here every day."

"Was he a new guard?"

"No, he's seen me before."

"That doesn't sound good."

"Maybe it shouldn't bother me."

"Don't apologize.  If I were in your shoes, I'd probably be upset, too."

"Why do you think he stopped me?"

"And he didn't stop me?  Well, I can think of one thing."

You probably know what that thing is:  He is black and rather young-looking.  On the other hand, I'm a white woman in late middle age.  I told him as much.

"So you feel the same way?," he wondered.

"Listen, I've heard plenty of DWB (Driving While Black) stories.  If even a fraction of them are true, I have reason to be upset, and you have reason to be outraged."

"The worst thing of all," he explained, "is that the guard is black."

"Talk about internalized racism!"

"Yes.  We even get it from our own!"

At that moment, I realized that in some ways I am very fortunate:  I rarely, if ever, am looked at with suspicion.  As I once joked to somebody, "Security people look at me and think, 'Grandma doesn't have a bomb in her bag'."

I didn't mention any of that to the man I encountered in the bike parking room.  He thanked me for listening and "understanding," as he said.  What he probably doesn't know is--as I've mentioned in other posts--some experiences I had during my transition helped me to understand the bigotry and hostility people of color face.

The more likely one is to face prejudice and other forms of hatred, the more likely one is to become a victim of violence or other kinds of crime.  In other posts, I've talked about the dangers trans people face every day:  We are sixteen times as likely as anyone else, and twenty times as likely to experience a violent assault.  We are also far more likely than other people to encounter harassment, and even violence, at the hands of police officers.

So I can only imagine what my life would be like if I were a trans woman of color.  When I think of the times I've been harrassed by police officers--once on the street, the other time in my local precinct station--I imagine how much worse those encounters could have been were I Black, Hispanic or even Asian.

What I didn't tell the black man I met last week at BMCC is that, because I've had the experiences I've described, I was able to give him at least some of the "understanding" for which he thanked me.  I gave him my e-mail address "in case you want to talk," as I told him.  Whether or not I can help him, I can at least sympathize.  I think he knows that, even if he doesn't know why.

06 May 2013

Georgina Beyer Gravely Ill

In 1999, Georgina Beyer became the first openly transgender member of any parliament in the world.  She won election in a normally conservative district of Wairapa, in New Zealand, and served until 2007.

She was about to announce her campaign to be elected the mayor of Wellington when she was diagnosed with kidney failure.  If Ms. Beyer, who is 55, doesn't get a kidney transplant, she will need dialysis four times a week for the rest of her life.  She has not confirmed that she will no longer stand, but,she says, "I'm sure as hell not going to sit back and think 'woe is me'."

She had her gender-reassignment surgery in 1984, which definitely makes her a survivor of the Lost Generation of Transgenders.  Before her surgery, she acted on stage, in Australia as well as in New Zealand.  Before her surgery, she was also a radio host and was part of Wellington's gay club scene.  However, she also fell into a line of work that claimed too many members of our Generation:  prostitution.  

However, she was not merely a "first"; she was one of those rare people who has managed to be a sort of visionary as well as a canny, shrewd politician.  As an example, during a 2004 speech at the UniQ: Queer Students Association conference at Waikato University, she warned that gay and lesbian New Zealanders would face a turbulent time, in which rights they gained from the homosexual law reform of 1986 would be questioned and attacked. She also expressed her support for a civil-union bill, since she believed that gay marriage wouldn't become legal in New Zealand "for at least twenty years."  At least that prediction didn't come true:  her country passed same-sex marriage legislation last month.  

I hope that Ms. Beyer gets all of the support and care she needs.  We still need her.

04 May 2013

Ladies, It's Your War, Too!

I have said that it takes balls to be a woman.  One of the things I've learned is that as a woman--especially one who lived as a man and boy--I have to fight for some of the things men take for granted.

I've also learned that while we can do the same things men can, we can't (and shouldn't) always do them in the same ways.  And, as more than one woman who has balanced a career and a family has said, "You can have it all; you just can't have it all at the same time."

But I digress.  It may be hard for young people to believe now, but at one time, people (including many women themselves) believed that women had no place-- except to care for the wounded or, perhaps, to cook-- in any military organization.

During World War II, some military commanders--however reluctantly--began to change their thinking.  The need for manpower, I mean personnel, was so great that men could no longer do everything.  And, as at least one commander noted, there are many jobs women can do as well as, or even better than, a man can.

Although Hitler is gone and Europeans enjoy most (some would say more) of the same freedoms our soldiers fought for, there is still a war.  And, yes, ladies, it's your--I mean our--war, even if we aren't wearing those uniforms!

03 May 2013

Cherry Blossoms Bloom; I Exhale

Very few things in this world make me as happy as I am when I see cherry blossoms in bloom.

This year, they seem especially full and vibrant.  Perhaps it's because they opened their flowers a bit later than they normally do (or so it seems).  Or, they may seem so bright because Spring came late and the winter, though not exceptionally cold or snowy, seemed interminably gray.

Anyway, I didn't have my regular camera with me when I rode to work today.  So, I used my cell phone to capture the radiance of these cherry blossoms:

02 May 2013

Wrapped In Lavender Paper

"He's not our President. He's not a Black President."

So said an African-American student of mine.  He believes that Obama has "sold out" black people on issues like immigration.  Also, he says, the President is "in the pocket" of banks and other financial service companies. "Who has profited more than they at the expense of black people?," my student wonders.

In brief, "it's no longer enough for a candidate simply to be black," he says.  

I'm thinking of my conversation with him after reading an article in this week's Village Voice.  In it, Steve Weinstein points out that not all LGBT people are happy that Christine Quinn will most be elected (in a landslide) the Mayor of New York City later this year.  Part of the reason for this is that many LGBT people will vote for her because she is "one of our own": essentially, the same reason why 95 percent of black voters pulled the lever for Obama in 2008 and last year.

However, as blogger Joe Jervis--a.k.a. JoeMyGod- points out, "In New York City, even Republican candidates are right on about gay issues".  Indeed, one of that party's Mayoral candidates, Joseph Lhota,who previously served as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a Deputy Mayor for Rudolph Giuliani, has publicly supported Federal legalization of same-sex marriage. "The best part of New York City is its diversity," he says. " You gotta celebrate it.  You really do."

Now, of course, there's more to being in favor of LGBT equality than supporting same-sex marriage.  (As I've said in previous posts, I support it only because it's the best solution available under the current system. I really believe that governments should not have any power to define marriage and bestow benefits based upon it.) It also means being on the right side of a number of other issues which aren't specifically labelled as "LGBT issues" but nonetheless affect our lives. And that is where Christine Quinn, during her term as Speaker of the City Council, has failed.

For one thing, just as she and a host of other Council Members--and Mayor Michael Bloomberg--were reaching the end of their term limits.  After that vote, she could no longer even pretend to be "adversarial" toward the Mayor or other city power brokers.  Instead, her pandering to him not only brought him and her a third term in office; it also meant that he would help grease the wheels that could carry her into City Hall.

From then on, she also made, or helped to make, deals with some of the city's realtors and financial services companies that have further accelerated the displacement of poor, elderly and "minority"--including LGBT people.  It led to, among other things, the closing of St. Vincent's hospital, which will be turned into luxury housing. 

And, along the way, she also committed what is, in my book, one of her worst sins:  She supported the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy. Its critics point out, rightly, that young black and Latino males are disproportionately stopped.  But so have transgender people, especially male-to-female. I have talked to more one MTF who was stopped and harassed early one afternoon as she was waiting for a bus in a Greenwich Village residential area and have heard similar stories from others.  Indeed, one hot day early in my life as Justine,I was stopped as I was riding my bike home from work.

She has also done other things that some could (with justification, I believe) see as "selling out" the LGBT community, especially trans people.  For that reason, they (and I) concur with veteran gay rights activist Bill Dobbs, who calls her "a classic old-style machine politician wrapped in lavender paper".


01 May 2013

Murder, Then Character Assassination

Have standards at journalism schools declined even more than I'd imagined?

I'm asking that question after seeing the way a major metropolitan newspaper--one that was once one of the most respected in all of journalism--covered the murder of a transgender woman.

For starters, Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter John Caniglia used male pronouns in referring to Cemia "Ci Ci" Dove.  He also referred to her as "Carl Acoff" in his dispatch on 29 April. The male pronouns have since been removed but, in the story, she is still identified as "Carl Acoff."  Mr. Caniglia very cleverly got around having to use female pronouns by referring to her as a "self-identified transgender woman."

Oh, but it gets better.  This Caniglia person simply had to tell his readers that Ci Ci was dressed in a Betty Boop tank top, three black bras and a light hooded jacket. As if this isn't enough to trivialize her, he also mentions that she was naked from the waist down.  I don't think I have to tell you what sort of picture he and his editors were trying to paint.

Also, he mentions some previous criminal activity.  I neither condone nor excuse such behavior, but trans people--especially the young--are often driven to desperate measures, especially if their families and former friends and acquaintances have disavowed them. I suspect that such was the case for Ms. Dove for, as Caniglia reports, attempts to contact her family were unsuccessful.

After such sensationalism, the fact that she died so brutally and lay at the bottom of a pond for, probably, a month or more, is almost lost by its placement later in the article.  What's really sad is that, as awful as it is to be repeatedly stabbed, tied to a block of concrete and dumped into a freezing pond, it doesn't even come close to being one of the most gruesome attacks ever committed on a trans person.

To add insult to injury, it wasn't bad enough for Caniglia to simply be sensationalistic and to trade in stereotypes.  His editors brought the quality of his story even further down with this headline: "Brutal Slaying Marks Clevelander's Fight for Acceptance."

What the fuck?  The stabbing ended Ci Ci Dove's life, at age twenty.  I mean, if we follow that editor's line of reasoning and have his or her command of the English language, we would say that the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 marked the end of his Presidential campaign.

What the hell are they teaching (or not teaching) in J-schools these days?