29 June 2013

What Does The Supreme Court Ruling On Proposition 8 Really Mean?

Last night, I volunteered with the Anti-Violence Project.  Two fellow volunteers and I were doing an outreach in the Village. At the end of it, we found ourselves by the Stonewall Inn.  Exactly 44 years earlier, on the night of 28 July 1969, drag queens, street hustlers and other patrons of the bar resisted an NYPD raid on the premises.  

A crowd commemorated that event.  They also celebrated the Supreme Court ruling that, in essence, rendered Proposition 8 null and void.  Some proclaimed  that there was indeed "marriage equality".

I didn't want to be a party-pooper.  So I didn't tell anyone what I was thinking:  "Not so fast!"  Yes, same-sex marriages can resume in California. But it still means that only fourteen states allow such unions.  Admittedly, those states include two of the three most populous, and all of New England. Still, we cannot talk about "equality" at this point for a number of reasons.

Same-sex couples who are married in New York, California or any other state that allows such unions still have to think about what they would do if they were to move to a state that doesn't even have civil unions.  If one member of the couple has a job with benefits, he or she probably would not be able to name his or her partner as a beneficiary.  Also, what if one of them gets sick? Would the other be able to visit him or her in a hospital?  

Actually, the couple wouldn't have to move to face the hospital visitation dilemma:  All they'd have to do is take a vacation or other trip to one of those states.  Or, what if they have a kid and that kid manages to get lost or otherwise separated?  Would authorities in such a state rule that the couple weren't really the kid's parents and not return that kid to them?

Things are even more complicated for us transfolk.  Idaho, Tennessee and Ohio only recognize the gender to which people are assigned at birth:  They will not even amend a birth certificate (let alone issue a new one) to ratify a gender "change."  Not surprisingly, those states don't allow same-sex marriages (or even civil unions).  So, what if I were to marry a man and one of us were to get a job in, say, Columbus or Memphis?  For all intents and purposes, we'd be nothing more than roommates. So, for example, if I were to get a job in a university, my husband could not be a beneficiary on my health insurance policy.  Or, if he were to buy or rent housing, my name could not be on the deed or lease.

And what if we had a kid?

In brief, the Supreme Court decision, while an important step, doesn't even come close to bringing about equality.  I believe it will be achieved one day, but I'm not sure of how.  Will the Federal government grant same-sex couples all of the same benefits and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual married couples?  Will it recognize gender identity in the same way as, say, New York now does?  If so, could the Supreme Court rule that all states have to adopt the same standards?  If the Court were to do that, I can imagine some states putting up quite a fight.

27 June 2013

They're Pediatricians, Not Pedophiles!

Sexual-minority youth should not be considered abnormal.

At first glance, it just seems like a fancy way of saying "Queer kids ain't weird."

But that statement means so much more, especially since it was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As you can imagine, a lot of self-styled "pundits" are now convinced that the medical profession is being used to promote homosexuality among kids. Oh, right: Folks who take the Hippocratic Oath specifically to help kids are going to encourage them to adopt a "lifestyle" that leaves them vulnerable to ostracism, bullying and worse.  Just like Janice Raymond--and a onetime friend of mine who takes her words as gospel--got it right when they said people like me "change" genders because we want to take all of those women's studies faculty positions that should go to "real" women.

I'll admit that I don't know anything about the practice of medicine, let alone pediatrics.  However, I think I wouldn't be too far off in assuming that most practitioners are interested in healing and making their patients whole.  Telling said patients that they're sick or immoral because of whom they love is really going to help accomplish that, isn't it?

It seems to me that reactionaries are feeling the heat, now that trans people are not deemed mentally ill in DSM-V and a slightly-right-of-center judge wrote the Supreme Court's opinion that the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act is unconstitutional.

I still remember when relatively mature and sane people actually thought that all lesbians, gays and transgenders were trying to "recruit" kids.  Recruit them to what, exactly?, I used to ask myself.

At least I haven't heard that canard in a while.  What it means, I guess, is that haters and other lunatics will come up with new bogus arguments in their attempts to win the day.  But they can only win one day, and another, and another.  Eventually, those with the facts on their side win the (instead of "the", "this" or "one") day.  It just takes a while sometimes.

24 June 2013

Pride Week

“Pride Week” has begun here in New York.  It will culminate in the march that begins in Midtown Manhattan and follows Fifth Avenue, Washington Square and Christopher Street for about two and a half miles (four km) to the Stonewall Inn, where the modern LGBT movement began.

I will be involved with two events related to “Pride” (as nearly everyone here calls it) and will most likely march.  This will be my first Pride involvement in four years.  I marched in 2009, a mere nine days before my surgery, with a group of LGBT people I know from work.  After my surgery, I distanced myself from Pride and related events, and even LGBT organizations because I felt—as so many post-op people do—that I was no longer part of the “queer” community and was, in fact, more aligned with cisgender women.

Somehow, I still feel that way.  However, I also see that my life as a woman is taking a different direction from any I could have anticipated when I was living in anticipation of my surgery.

Although I could not see myself living a life like that of Christine Jorgensen or any of the early post-op women, I still believed that I would live the life of a cisgneder heterosexual woman and would fit into society’s standards of behavior and lifestyle—if not beauty—for such women.  In that sense, my life is what I expected:  I can’t remember the last time anyone looked at me askance and, unless I reveal my history (which I don’t do unless I’ve known someone for some time or there’s some other compelling reason), people treat me as if I’m a middle-aged (or perhaps slightly younger) woman.  Even after they know about my “secret”, people treat me as the woman I am. 

Still, I came to realize that my life could not be like that of any non-transgender woman or, for that matter, like that of the man I once was or that of any other man (not that I wanted the life of a man).  Only recently, though, have I come to realize some of the reasons why this is so. 

One, of course, is the fact that I lived as long as I did as a male.  Had I begun my transition at an earlier age, as another Trinidad “alumna” did, perhaps I could have re-written my history, as Christine Jorgensen and early transsexuals were advised to do.  Had I begun to take hormones and undergone gender-reassignment surgery before my puberty (as, to my knowledge, no one in my generation did), perhaps I could have denied that I had a childhood as a male.  Then again, I’m not so sure that such a denial would have been healthy.


Perhaps the best analogy I can find is in the academic world in which I have worked for more than a decade.  Some become faculty members or administrators after lives that were a “straight path”:  They went to elite private schools and colleges and, perhaps, one or both parents were professors.  On the other hand, there are those who, like me are a minority:  We grew up with no concept of what being a professor meant or, perhaps, that such a job even existed.  Our parents may not have finished college, or even high school:  Perhaps they didn’t even speak the language of the country in which we were raised, went to school or became faculty members.

Members of the latter group have, in essence, two choices.  They can deny their pasts and disavow their families and other people and things from their pasts.  I’ve met people who did that:  At best, they became very cold, detached people, which in some cases helped them advance—but only to a point.  Then there are the others who simply became warped or diseased.

Their other choice is to find new ways to forge identities as professors, scholars and educators, and to use those experiences that seemed not to prepare them for the lives on which they embarked. Some do so by incorporating their lives (or those of someone else) as children of blue collar, immigrant or racial “minority” families, or as kids who had to grow up with gender identities or sexual orientations that didn’t mirror the ones presented to them in their schools, families, churches, or in the media or the culture at large.

Even if you have the most supportive environment, there is little about your life in the gender to which you were assigned at birth—or even in your transition from it—that actually prepares you for your new life in the gender of your mind and spirit.  This is not an indictment of the counselors, therapists and doctors who guide our transitions.  Rather, it has more to do with having come into our womanhood or manhood (or however we express our gender identities) through means for which there is no guidebook, if you will—and, in many communities, no will to prepare someone for coming into one’s own self.


Also, I’ve come to realize that my life as a woman is taking a different turn because, ironically, of an experience too many other women (and men) have:  An intimate partner abused me.  Other women with whom I’ve shared the experienced have given me support, and even empathy, for which I am grateful.  I’m sure that some have experienced abuse that was even more intense and destructive than mine.  However, they have not experienced something I endured in my relationship:  a partner who used my very identity, and tried to turn my sense of self, against me.  

Now, I know that far too many women have had to deal with scrutiny, skepticism and worse when they reported the abuse they endured.  Even some female police officers and medical professionals treat female victims as if they somehow lacked credibility or, worse, as if they somehow “brought on” their abuse.  But my partner used my very identity—the fact that I lived for more than four decades as male, and that I transitioned—to portray me as a sexual predator.  Well, that’s what he tried to do, anyway.  Other trans women have endured similar treatment.

My experiences with law enforcement authorities had at least one parallel with those of gay men and lesbians who endured bias crimes:  We are seen as less credible, and less worthy of the help on which other people can depend, because we “brought it on ourselves” by choosing our “lifestyles”. 

A man who wakes up every day and puts on his suit and tie, or overalls, and who mounts his wife (or girlfriend) after dinner and libations is not seen as pursuing a “lifestyle”.  Nor is the woman who puts on her pearls and pumps, or her cocktail waitress uniform and, at the end of the day, allows the man to mount her after he’s given her a dozen roses.   So why is our natural expression of ourselves so dismissed?

That I must ask such a question is the reason why—for better and worse—I cannot completely separate myself from the LGBT community, at least not yet.

23 June 2013

Why Crimes Against LGBT (Especially T) People Are Under-Reported

Whenever the number of assualts and other crimes against LGBT people increases--as it did for several years in the first decade of this century-- some observers minimize it by attributing it to "greater willingness to report" such crimes to the police.  However, when there is a decrease, as was reported from 2011 to 2012, the same reason is often given:  Increased reporting, it is said, leads to greater awareness and prevention.

While either, or even both, of these explanations may be plasible, the National Association of Anti-Violence Projects points out that LGBT people are disproportionately targeted for discrimination and violence.  The risk of experiencing everything from slurs to slaying increases exponentially if you are transgendered (especially MTF) or of color.  

Whether the rate is increasing or not, and whatever factors may be in play, it's still difficult not to think that crimes against LGBT people--especially trans women and those of color--are grossly underreported.  Some are mis-categorized--as, most famously, the death of Marsha P. Johnson was ruled a suicide while evidence indicates that she may have met her fate at the hands of one or more haters on the old Christoper Street pier, where someone saw her body floating in the Hudson River.

Recently, I have volunteered as an outreach worker for the Anti-Violence Project here in New York.  My own impetus to do so came from my own experience.  I did not experience physical violence in a relationship in which I was involved; however, my now-ex beau used my identity as a trans person to spread false rumors and outright lies about me.  He threatened more of the same if I didn't let him back into my life.  In doing so, he also exposed me to the threat of physical violence from others:  Too many people are willing to believe that trans people are committing all manner of sexual crimes, and more than a few are willing to kill us over such notions.  

I mention my experience not only to show that violence and abuse need not be physical in order to cause harm, or even death, to a trans person. Yet the very notions too many people--including the ex--have are one reason why many of us are reluctant to report the abuse and other crimes we experience.  Too many people--including many police officers, including all except one I encountered in my local precinct--believe that we "had it coming" to us for being who we are.  And some of us even experience harassment from police officers, as I did the first time I went to the local precinct.

I had to go to that precinct three times before anyone would even take a report from me--and they did that only after I went to the court and a counselor advised me on what to do.  (That counselor was also very sympathetic and supportive.  She is black; I wonder whether she also experienced threats and other abuse.)  And, to give more credit where it's due, the court clerks and officers were very helpful to me. Still, I can't help but to wonder, though, how many other trans women--and other LGBT people--had experiences like mine, and whether any gave up after experiencing such official hostility only once.  Even more to the point, I wonder how many people simply didn't report abuse, assaults or worse because they'd heard horror stories like mine about dealing with the police.

Whatever the year-to-year statistical fluctations are in anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, I believe that such violations will be under-reported for many years to come. Only after changes in training law enforcement officials and societal attitudes have influenced a generation or two of people will more of us feel confident that we can report the offenses against us without having to worry about experiencing more prejudice and even violence from those to whom we report those crimes.

22 June 2013

Transgender Employee of Desperate Housewife's Restaurant Attacked

Eva Longoria may one day have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  For now, she has a restaurant--Beso--along the Boulevard.

Vivian Diego was a barista in Beso.  Around 2:15 am on 31 May, she was leaving the restaurant when four men attacked her.  One of them, Nicol Shaknazaryan (Note the last five letters of his surname!) has been arrested.  The others are still at large.  At least the attack was caught on a surveillance tape:

Ms. Diego is transgendered, so the attack is being investigated as a hate crime.  

Now, even if none of the attackers yelled anti-trans slurs or say that they were motivated by the fact she's trans, I'd still say it's a hate crime.  After all, when four men attack a woman--trans or otherwise--what is it but hate against women, or against anybody?

Whatever happens to them, I hope Ms. Diego recovers from her wounds, both physical and psychological.  Of course, the latter ones will take much longer to heal.

20 June 2013

Protections In The Blue Hen State

Delaware's license plates refer to it as "The First State".

It was indeed the first to ratify the Constitution, on 7 December 1787.  

Lately, it hasn't been first at many things.  However, it's ahead of most other states on two issues that matter.

Not long ago, it became the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Now Governor Jack Markell has signed legislation that would outlaw discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, insurance and public accommodations.  The Blue Hen State thus became the 17th state to pass such legislation.

The State's Senate passed the bill, but the House didn't until the bill was amended.  After language specifying how a person could establish his or her gender identity, and to prevent people from using "gender identity" as an excuse to enter an opposite-sex changing area for an "improper purpose", 11 of 21 House members voted for the bill Governor Markell signed.

Now we have just 33 more to go!


19 June 2013

Faux Humor About Trans People

Almost everyone I know whose politics are anywhere to the left of David Duke's complains about, or scoffs at, Faux News.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that Faux News is known to most of the world as Fox News.  Most of my work colleagues, friends and acquaintances abhor its sensationalism as well as its to-the-right-of-Genghis-Khan political views.  

But us trans-folk have all the more reason to dislike Faux:  It doesn't like us.  Or, more precisely, it foments hate against us. 

In the last thirty years or so, no other news outlet anywhere in the US could have gotten away with making such mean-spirited and bullying comments as Faux commentators make about trans people.  Perhaps the worst part is that their crass, mean-spirited jokes about us are spontaneous and unscripted, which reveals the level of hate folks like Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson actually harbor:


There's plenty more hate where that came from.  You can find a few samples here.

18 June 2013

Trans Man Runs For New York City Council

Could Mel Wymore become the next City Council representative from the Upper West Side?

He seems to have the credentials to be elected, or at least to ensure a good run:  He's a very well-respected member of his community board who's active in a number of other community affairs.  And, he's a well-educated, successful professional.

Oh, and one other thing:  He used to be named Melanie.

Yes, he lived as a woman and lived through the narratives many of us had to endure, all in the hope of reconciling ourselves.  He worked at an aerospace company in Arizona but moved to New York for a relationship that became a marriage.  However, at age 35, he realized something was "missing" and came out as a lesbian.  A decade later, in spite of his reluctance to go through another "famliy-disrupting, life-changing transition", he began surgical and other changes to live as a man.

While most of his colleagues and family accepted his transition, there were some alienating or simply awkward moments.  They made him, he said, more determined to fight for the disabled and other people who are excluded.

Of course, I am happy that Mel has chosen to run in his district's Democratic Party primary for the City Council seat.  However, I have to wonder how his story might have been different if the orders of "Melanie" and "Mel", and "F" and "M" had been reversed in his life.

17 June 2013

Half Are Without A Home

Chances are, you've heard of Covenant House. It operates shelters in 22 cities (including New York, where I live) that aim not only to get and keep teenagers off the streets, but to help them overcome some of the things that render them homeless.  Those things include, of course, drug addiction and mental health problems. But, as the folks at CH have recognized, those problems are usually just the symptoms: The kids run away from home because they've been bullied or experience abuse or other kinds of violence at home.   Or, they are kicked out of their homes for "coming out".  And, of course, such young people--with no credentials or marketable skills, or any means of support--too often turn to drugs and sex work, among other things.

Jake Finney, the anti-violence project manager at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, is very familiar with his city's Covenant House.  Take a guess at how many of its residents are transgendered.

All right, I'll tell you:  Half.  Yes, fifty percent.  One in two.

Now, what percentage of the US population is transgender?  Depending on whom you believe, it's anywhere from 0.3 to one percent of the population:  In other words, anywhere from one in a hundred to one in three hundred thirty. 

To put it another way, a resident of Covenant House-Los Angeles is fifty to a hundred sixty times more likely to be transgendered than someone in the larger population.  

Of course, we all know that it's difficult to get accurate numbers for anything pertaining to transgender people. Part of that has to do with how trans people are defined, but equally important is the fact that many of us live (as I did) in our birth genders for much or all of our lives.  Also, many trans people--such as the ones who become homeless--"fall off the grid."

15 June 2013

Documenting Us

Nearly all of us who are gender-variant have faced, at one time or another, this dilemma.

We apply for a job, to school or for benefits.  We have been taking hormones, living by the gender of our minds and spirits and have, in various ways, changed our appearance, style of dress and demeanor to reflect that gender.  And we've changed our names.

So we have driver's licences, passports and other IDs with our new names and photos of ourselves.  But there's one problem:  the "M" or "F" box still reflects what we presented to the world before our changes.

If we're lucky, the person who asked for our documents is confused.  If we're not, we face ridicule, discrimination and even violence. Either way, we've been "outed" and are forced to explain our stories to audiences that can be none-too-sympathetic.

A cisgender person does not have to so explain him or herself to go to school, get a job or benefits or even to rent or test-drive a car.  So why should we be expected to do that?

At least the author of this article seemed to understand, to some degree, our dilemma.  But the comments were full of people trying to sound snarky but who ended up looking stupid and/or hateful. I mean, who changes his or her gender to commit identity fraud, hijack planes or commit other crimes.  Because there is a "paper trail" (or, perhaps, digital footprint) of our transition, we would be easier to track than most other people.

Some states and municipalities--including, thankfully, the ones in which I live--have come to understand what I've just said, and have changed policies accordingly.  But there are still three states--Idaho, Tennessee and Ohio--that won't change the gender on a birth certificate, even after a person has had gender reassignment surgery. 

I can see that progress has been made even during the time of my own transition.  But, as I can also see, there is still much to be done.    

14 June 2013

Google Searches That Dare Not Speak Their Names

Long, long ago, and far away, I took Psychology.   I know I've forgotten much of it, but I can tell you at least one of its basic principles:  When you forbid something, people want it--or are at least curious about it.  That, of course, makes it profitable for someone.

How is it that the "soldiers", if you will, in the War On Drugs don't understand something so basic?  Most of them have college degrees and, I would assume, took Psych 101:  Probably the only course more college students take is English Composition, as nearly every college requires it.

But I digress.  Once you are aware of the basic psychological principle I've just mentioned, a news story I saw today makes perfect sense.

Here it is:  According to studies--and nearly every human rights organization--Nigeria and Pakistan rate at or near the top of the list of homophobic countries.  At any rate, they have some of the most draconian legislation against same-sex relationships and against people living in, or even expressing the characteristics of, the gender to which they were not assigned at birth.  

Yet Pakistan is "by volume the world leader for Google searches for the terms "shemale sex," "teen anal sex" and "man fucking man", according to a Google Trends report.   I find it interesting, to say the least, that "shemale" comes up so often in searches from Pakistan.

Both Pakistan and Nigeria rate in the top five for searches of "anal sex pics" and "gay sex pics".  Kenya, another notoriously anti-gay nation, rates first in  both categories.

The Huffington Post article in which I first encountered the story attributed such high volumes of LGBT-related searches in those countries to the fact that in those countries, most LGBT people are--not surprisingly--in the closet.  Also, the article alluded to the fact that because homosexuality is not discussed or is denied in the countries I've mentioned, many men have sex with other men--and seek out gay porn on the Internet--without considering themselves gay. That phenomenon seems like a mirror-image of the "down low" in the African-American community.

While "love that dare not speak its name" probably has much to do with the high level of gay and transsexual porn searches on Google in Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria, I somehow don't think that it explains all of the searches, as the article seems to imply.  As I mentioned, whenever something is forbidden, the people to whom it is forbidden will often develop a fascination, even an obsession, with it.  I think now of the news dealer in Park Slope, where I used to live, who sold porn videos.  Although a lot of lesbians were living in the neighborhood back then (the 1990's), he couldn't recall one buying lesbian porn. "The men--the straight ones, I think--buy it all." 

When I thought about it, it made perfect sense.  Probably nothing is more "off-limits" to a straight man than two women having sex.  Most straight men will never see it, so it is left to the realm of their fantasies.  And, to admit a fascination with it to anyone but another straight man was--and, to some degree still is--a cultural taboo.  

To be so obsessed with such a sexual fantasy ultimately renders the object of obsession as a lurid fascination.  The people involved in such a fantasy, whether they are lesbians, transsexuals or cross-dressers, become freaks--and, thus, all the more an object of obsession--in the mind of the one holding the fantasy.

When you think of it, pornography is a culture's freak show, one that contains whatever is forbidden in the families, communities or societies of the people who look at it.  If I were to meet that newsdealer today, I might tell him that lesbian porn really isn't porn at all for lesbians--or, at any rate, it's nothing more than men's fantasies about what women do when they enter a room and close the door.  And, what can pornography be for straight people but other people--whether they're straight, gay or bi; cis- or trans-gender--doing whatever they can't or won't do in their relationships?

Really, finding out that there are so many LGBT-related Google searches in Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya is no more surprising than having a woman whom men used to pay for S&M tell me that some of her most frequent customers were clergymen and other men who were considered "pillars" of their communities and had to keep up squeaky-clean reputations. 

William Blake put it best in his "Songs of Experience":

Prisons are built from stones of law,
Brothels from bricks of religion.