31 August 2013

Rights Are Not Mandates; Geography Is Not Destiny

Here in New York, many people--particularly among those with whom I have worked and otherwise spent a lot of time--attribute progressiveness or backwardness to geography.  When they hear about hate crimes and oppressive laws, they are quick to dismiss them as vices of people who live south of the Potomac and between the Appalachians and Rockies.  Some think that the line between civilization and barbarism is the Hudson River.

I'll admit that I've fallen into that sort of (non)thinking from time to time.  However, today I came across an article that makes an extremely intelligent and informed observation of gender rights and equality.

The piece in question comes from the Battle Creek Enquirer.  Now, the first thing I think of when someone mentions Battle Creek is the Corn Flakes I ate yesterday morning or the Rice Krispies the morning before that:  The Michigan town, of course, has long been the headquarters of Kellogg's cereals.

(In case you're interested:  I ate both cereals with fresh blueberries.)

The article appeared in commemoration of Women's Equality Day, which came last Monday.  Ninety-three years earlier, on that date, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, passed.  The writer of the article, Bill Schroer, noted an interesting irony:  The day before WED was Go Topless Day.

Well, it's an irony to folks like me who would never, ever set foot in Hooter's (or, at least, would never admit to doing such a thing).  But, Mr. Schroer doesn't see it that way.  After all, he says, if men can take off their shirts on hot days, why shouldn't women have the same right?  As he points out, it's done all the time on beaches and in parks in Europe.  And in New York, the State Supreme Court affirmed that it's unconstitutional to require women to wear tops where they're not required of men.  Judges in Ohio and in some places in Canada have come to similar conclusions.

The arguments against women going topless (In most states, it's still illegal for women to publicly breast-feed; in other places, it generates bewildered or hostile stares.) have been, as Schroer points out, couched in morality, or someone's idea of it.  The same was true for men taking off their shirts:  Until the 1930's, it was illegal for them to do so almost everywhere in the US.  The sight of a man's nipples was believed to be ungodly; the same pseudo-religious prohibition still binds women in most parts of this country.

As Schroer so astutely explains, a right is not the same as a mandate.  No one is requiring women to go topless; he and others are simply calling for the right to do so.  Most of us have rights we never exercise; for many women, going topless could be one.  

That is the very essence of an equality movement:  People gaining the rights that other people have.  For example, whenever a suffix is called for, I use Ms.  That is not required of me; I could just as easily use "Miss" and, if I were married, "Mrs."  Many women I know--some younger than I am--continue to use those titles; I use "Ms." out of personal preference and because, I'll admit, it's a bit more socially acceptable among educators, artists and other people around whom I spend much of my time.

Likewise, I often wear skirts and dresses out of choice.  Had I been a biological cisgender female born twenty, or even ten, years earlier than I was, I would have been required to wear such garments to school and, most likely, on whatever job I worked.  In fact, depending on where I lived, I might have been required to wear them any time I ventured outside the confines of my living space.  But now I have the choice to expose my legs (which, many people have told me, are nice) on warm days, or to cover them in trousers when the weather is colder or on other occasions when I can't go bare-legged but don't want to deal with pantyhose or tights.

Sartorial selections may seem like relatively small matters. But, as Bill Schroer points out, they are emblematic of the state of gender equality, or lack thereof.  Leave it to a man from Michigan to understand that.  

Then again, I shouldn't be surprised that someone from the Great Lakes State should have such an understanding of human rights.  After all, New York is third among all states (trailing only Texas and Virginia) in the number of recorded executions.  On the other hand, in 1846, less than a decade after Michigan became a US State, its Legislature became the first English-speaking government in the world to abolish capital punishment.  That law has never been repealed; to this day, Michigan is one of the few states never to have executed anyone from the day it was admitted to the Union.

30 August 2013

Taking Over

One of my favorite cartoon series of all time is Pinky and the Brain.

Every episode involves an attempt, by the remarkable rodents, to take over the world.  In nearly every episode, their efforts fail.

One of the exceptions comes in "It's Only A Paper World".  The resolute ratons use prodigious amounts of papier mache to construct an alternative world.  After they finish, they lure Earth's inhabitants to it with free T-shirts. That, of course, leaves our entire planet for our long-tailed heroes.

Paul Craig Cobb reminds me of them, except that he's not quite as endearing.  In fact, judging from his intentions, he's anything but--and, perhaps, dangerous.  But he had a similar plan:  Take over a place where there were no people (well, almost no people).  

However, while Pinky and the Brain try to take over the world because, well, that's what they do, the Cobb fellow had a less noble purpose:  He wanted to create a White Supremacist haven in Leith, North Dakota. 

He moved into the town--which had 16 residents in the 2010 Census--last year and bought more than a dozen plots of land in the area.  Now town officials are using the town's codes and ordinances to crack down on his holdings, most of which are rundown.  According to mayor Ryan Schock, there is even talk of the town dissolving itself and ceding its power to the county.  "He would still own his property," Schock explained.  "But he can't control the city if there's no city government."

If that happens, Cobb could find himself pretty lonely.  That's how Pinky and the Brain felt after they had the whole world to themselves, but nobody to rule.

29 August 2013

Always The Same: Revelations And Changes

Parisians and psychotherapists disappear for the month of August.  Sometimes I think of myself as a Parisian in spirit,even though I haven't been in eight years, but I have no illusions of being a psychotherapist.  So what's my excuse for being somewhat conspicuously absent this month?

Well, I've managed to be busy with other things, including writing projects.  Hopefully they'll remunerate me; for now I find them rewarding.  And, frankly, when I haven't been doing those things--or riding or playing with my cats--I've felt drained, spiritually and emotionally exhausted.  The pastor of the church I started attending a few months ago says I'm healing. She's right.

Still, I've managed, in the past week, to ride to Point Lookout (Nothing like a few hours riding Arielle to make me feel lithe!) and to take a few shorter rides--and to record a few things along the way.

I'll start with something I saw on my way home from some volunteer work:

Sometimes I think archaeology is the step between destruction and forgetfulness.  At least, that's how things seem to work in New York. Sometimes, when a building is torn down, a long-concealed sign,  like the one in the photo, is revealed.  

What particularly intrigued me was the bottom inscription:  "Separate Waiting room for women."  Talk about a relic!  My undergraduate college went co-ed only four years before I enrolled in it.  And, boys and girls entered my Catholic elementary school through separate entrances:  a practice that was abandoned a couple of years after my family moved away.

Given that I lived as a male until ten years ago, it's hard for me not to wonder and imagine what my life would have been like had I entered through the girls' and women's doors.  Of course, had I lived in such a world, I would not have attended the college from which I graduated.  In fact, I might not have attended any college at all.

In those times, I probably would not have witnessed this:

The stretch of Brooklyn waterfront between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges has been turned into a lovely park.  Not long ago, it was off-limits, as the neighborhood around it--DUMBO--still consisted of functioning and recently-ceased manufacturing and warehousing.  This stretch of waterfront, like so much of the rest of New York's shorelines, was used in various ways by those industries.  In fact, most New Yorkers had little or no inclination to spend any time by the water, as it was associated with rough trades and characters.  Fifth Avenue became Manhattan's most-desired address in part because, of all of the island's avenues, it is furthest from the East and Hudson Rivers.

Ah, but some things don't change:

That's one reason why I--and Arielle and, on occasion, Tosca--like to take a spin to Point Lookout.

22 August 2013

Trans Woman Killed Across From Police Precinct

When's this shit gonna end?

A couple of days ago,  I wrote about one hate crime against an LGBT person and a person of color. Now there's another.  The only difference is, the LGBT person and the person of color are the same woman.  And she's dead.

On Saturday night, 21-year-old trans woman Islan Nettles was out with a friend in Harlem when they were confronted by a group of young men. 

I haven't been able to find details, but from what I've learned, an argument ensued after the young men learned that Ms. Nettles was born male.

One of the young men yelled anti-gay remarks, and punches were thrown.  The friend ran to find help, and the young man was on top of Nettles. 

When she arrived at the hospital, she was still conscious but soon fell into a coma and was declared brain dead.  She was placed on a ventilator so family members could pay their respects and, tonight, police told NY1 that she'd died.

Police have arrested a 20-year-old male in connection with the case, but have not released his name because of a pending upgrade in the charges against him.

Now, I'll tell you what might be the most outrageous part of this killing:  It happened right across the street from a police precinct house.  

What does that tell us when haters and other thugs can assault and kill trans people with such abandon?

21 August 2013

Hung In The Middle

One of my comments on my Huffington Post article about Don Ennis came from Alana Sholar.

It just happens that she's written a book, "Hung In The Middle", about her own story as a transgender woman in rural Kentucky.

She is a great example of something I've long said:  Nothing will do more to help people understand us than hearing our stories, whether in person, in print or elsewhere. Even the least articulate among us can, I think, have a greater effect (if a person is open-minded) than taking, as someone else so eloquently put it, "Remedial Trans 101 for the eighth time".

I intend to read Ms. Sholar's book.

20 August 2013

The Interracial Couple And The Phantom Gay Male Friend

A few years ago, blocks of abandoned industrial buildings that rimmed the East River were razed to build rows of "luxury condos" and glass-and-steel bars and restaurants (or, at least restaurants that look like they're made of glass and steel). 

This is all reminiscent of what happened in the Meat Packing District and the area just west of Lincoln Center.  The difference is that the place I mentioned in my first paragraph isn't crawling with cavorting celebrities, as the Meat Packing District so often is.  

Still, I think it's fair to say that most of the people who've moved into those condos and who frequent those bars and restaurants have a pretty fair amount of disposable income.  And most of them probably have no idea of what the neighborhood was before they came along.

But I know about it because I've witnessed its transformation. I frequent the area around it, which includes a pier with one of the best views one can find of the Empire State, Chrysler and UN Buildings.  Photographers, painters and other artists frequently do their work there for that very reason.  That pier is only a ten-minute bike ride from my apartment.

I'm talking about the far edge of Long Island City, near Hunters Point.  While it is certainly a well-kept area (as was the surrounding residential neighborhood, which was populated mainly by blue-collar Italian-Americans).  The newly-polished surface of the area, and its increasingly vibrant night life, give some the feeling--or, shall we say, illusion--of tranquility.

But an incident over the weekend revealed that the surface may be, as it is in so many other places, a veneer.   

Interracial couple Jacob and Billie James-Vogel discovered when left the Shi restaurant and club--one of those new glass-and-steel places--with a gay male friend whose name was not disclosed.  The assialant yelled the "N" and "f" words while attacking Jacob and throwing Billie to the ground when she tried to shield him.

I don't know what, if anything, happened to the gay male friend.  In fact, I learned about him only because of an acquaintance who lives nearby and was there when the police showed up.  This acquaintance is not the sort who embellishes or sensationalizes stories, so I am confident in mentioning the gay male friend.  Of course, that would account for why the assailant used the "F" word.  That begs the question of why that detail was reported but not the gay male friend.

If so many outlets can be so sloppy in their reporting, I guess it's too much to ask them to probe why such attacks occur when and where they happen.  Then again, knowing such things might prevent some of the attacks, which would put some of the so-called journalists out of work because they would have fewer sensational stories to report.

19 August 2013

Smaller And Meaner

When we have the most reason for optimism, we are in the most danger.

I came to that conclusion after writing my Huffington Post article about AB 1266 in California--and hearing the remarks of San Antonio (TX) Councilwoman Elisa Chan.


The more people realize that giving us--I mean, all people who don't confirm to societal, cultural or religious notions of gender and sexuality--the same rights as everyone else won't bring down this country or bring on the Apocalypse, the more bigots will resort to mendacity, belligerence and even violence to continue a battle they can only lose.

Ms. Chan, though, is even worse than all of those people who trot out their far-fetched "what if" scenarios (for which they can never provide even a single concrete example) to keep trans people from using public bathrooms designated for the gender in which they live.  Those people, at least, can be seen as merely clinging to an irrational fear.  Chan, on the other hand, is trying to be a local version of Ann Coulter:  Because she cannot think, let alone form a rational, cogent position, she is trying to build her career on hate and fear-mongering.  (At least, that has always been my theory about Ms. Coulter.)  As one of her advisers tells her, "It's not an economic argument; it's not a small-governnment argument; it's a social-cultural argument and you'll get the most points by taking a stand".  

While Chan herself admits that publicly saying that she finds LGBT people's lives "personally disgusting" would destroy her career, she says that she's willing to lie about her "confusion" about trans people in order to take a position against adding language that would protect them in local ordinances.

Chan is an example of something against which we need to gird ourselves:  As the number of our opponents dwindles, they will grow meaner, more dishonest, more vicious and, in some cases, more violent. They will ultimately lose, but I (and, I assume, you) want to be alive and well to savor our victory.  So, be aware!


13 August 2013

Are You Surprised?

I promise not to say "I told you so!"

But, really, are you surprised that Faux News would plumb new depths of insensitivity and just plain ignorance when it came to AB 1266?

12 August 2013

What AB 1266 Really Means

I can just hear the bloviators at Faux News now...

Governor Jerry Brown has just signed AB 1266 into law.  It means that transgender students will now be a "protected class."

It seems that any time a new law to protect trans people is passed, discussion goes into the toilet.  I mean, literally: Somehow, it always ends up being about the bathrooms.

So, to hear the right-wing sages, a kid could just one day decide he wants to be a girl--or she wants to be a boy--and use the bathroom he or she "chooses".

Let me tell you:  It doesn't work that way.  I know of no boy who wakes up one day and decides he's a girl--or any girl who begins a new day by trying on the guy thing.  If anything, 99 percent of boys don't want, in any way, to be perceived as feminine (as they understand it), much less as girls.  Even kids like the one I was will  do whatever we can to avoid hearing that we run, throw, kick or do anything else "like a girl." 

Girls, on the other hand, are less anxious about being perceived as boyish.  Still, not many--if any at all--ever "decide" to be boys.

Those of us born with male bodies do not merely "believe" we are female or choose to be so; we know that is what lies at the essence of our beings.  The same can be said for male beings born into female bodies.  

AB 1266 is not about allowing kids to use "whatever bathroom they want."  It's instead a way of fostering an environment in which a kid can actually learn about who he or she is, and to be given the means (which others will also be given) of understanding it.

When I was growing up, neither I nor any other kid--nor, for that matter, most of the adults--had the means of understanding--the language, if you will--gender identity and expression.  One of my earliest school memories is of a hall monitor telling the boys to stand on one line and the girls on the other.  If you're reading this, you know which line I stood on, and you can imagine what the consequences were. Telling that monitor--or, most likely, any teacher or the principal in that school--that I was indeed a girl was met by incomprehension, as if I'd spoken a dialect they'd never before heard, or hostility toward what they perceived as my insubordination.

What's really frightening for me to realize is that, in spite of my isolation and the alienation it would engender, I probably had an easier time than other kids with my predicament.  What I hope is that AB 1266 and other initiatives will help to ensure that kids growing up today won't have similar experiences.

11 August 2013

More On Huff Po

Just to show you that I've been spending my time in more-or-less productive ways, I'm providing links to two new pieces on The Huffington Post.

Why Don Ennis Hasn't Failed

Why Can't I Marry Max--Or Marley?

No pay yet.  Hopefully, that and a regular column are in the cards!

04 August 2013

Still Here

I know that in the history of this blog, I’ve rarely gone more than a few days without posting.  Today I realized it’s been a week since my most recent post.  I’m not abandoning this blog; I simply was occupied with other things.

During the past week, I’ve spent much of my time with the volunteer work I’d been doing once or twice a week.  Also, the work I’d been doing with one organization led me to drop in on another, related, organization.  As it has to do with bicycling, I’ll say more about it on my other blog, Midlife Cycling.

Meanwhile, I am working on other writing projects that, I hope, will lead me to wider audiences and pay. One of those pieces of writing has just appeared on the HuffPost Gay Voices blog. Instead of reproducing it here, I’m providing a link to it—which, of course, is a cheap, sleazy trick ;-) to increase the number of viewers there.