31 October 2013

Reporting On An Attack Against One Of Us

I guess we should be thankful for small things...as in, news coverage of the attempted murder of a trans person.

Normally, it seems as if we're vampires:  We're noticed only if we're dead or demons.  In either case, the truth is not told about us.

So it seems almost like progress when a murder attempt is made against one of us and it's reported without the implication that we "had it coming" to us.  That's what almost--almost--happened today.

An Associated Press story in the Naples (FL) News reported that 16-year-old Tavares Spencer was found guilty of attempted murder.  According to Tampa police, he met up with--and shot--23-year-old Terrience Mc Donald in April.

So far, so good (at least from a journalistic point of view).  However, the first paragraph AP story said that Spencer was found guilty of murdering a "transgender man".  Then, later in the story, the AP described Mc Donald as a "man who dressed like a woman".

In other words, the AP contradicted itself, probably without realizing it.  And, one might argue that there was an implication, however subtle, that Ms. Mc Donald brought her attack on herself.  

Still, the report is better than most others we see.  

29 October 2013

What Lou Reed Means

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Lou Reed has died.

I won't write accolades for his musical legacy:  Others have already done that, and I can do little more than to corroborate what they say.

In some ways, I think he is the music world's version of Allen Ginsberg:  He will be remembered, I believe, as much as a cultural icon as an artistic luminary.  However, I think that Reed's artistic footprint might be more deeply embedded than Ginsberg's, if for no other reason than more people have listened to Reed's music, and the work influenced by it, than have the poetry of Ginsberg or his acolytes.  Moreover, I think that more people will continue to listen to the music Reed inspired, while the so-called Beat Generation will survive mainly in a few poems of Ginsberg's and a few of Gregory Corso's and, perhaps, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's.

Also, while Reed was less overtly political than Ginsberg, I think he is influencing people who probably don't even realize that some of their favorite music owes something to him.

One reason for that, I believe, is that while Ginsberg and the Beats could be shockingly (for their time) confessional--sometimes to the point of being exhibitionistic--I think Reed's lyrics and music were more self-probing.  The result is that, while he may not have uncovered any great universal truths, I feel an almost-intimate sense of cameraderie with him, as he expresses himself, than I do through most of Ginsberg's poetry, as much as I appreciate its rhythms and, at times, its lyricism.  

Also, I always had more of a sense of Reed's struggle to be who he is, and of his empathy with those who had similar battles.  Perhaps it has to do with his experience of having been forced to undergo electroshock treatments in an attempt to "cure" him of his attractions to other males.  I'm sure Ginsberg didn't have an easy time coming of age as a gay man (I can say that with confidence, having talked with him.), but I never felt, in a visceral way, his struggles or even the love and attractions he so celebrates.  As an aside, I can feel those things--and a reverence for the human body--practically pulsing through the poetry of Allen's idol, Walt Whitman.

I think Reed's struggles--and the ways in which he came to terms with himself, and others--are seen in his most famous song, Walk On The Wild Side.  His portrayal of a transsexual is sensitive and moving, especially given that when the song came out--in 1971--varying from society's scripts about gender and sexuality was even more difficult, even dangerous, than it is now.  While he romanticises transgender Candy Darling, he is not at all sentimental or mawkish--It's clear that the she is a prostitute--and he does not make her the butt of a joke, as too many performers did if they mentioned trans people at all.

He also didn't use the trans woman as a receptacle for his own hang-ups about his manhood, as the Kinks' Ray Davies did in Lola a year before Walk On the Wild Side came out.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing, though, is that when trans people weren't punchlines, they were completely ignored.  As a result, almost nobody noticed either Davies' or Reed's portrayals of trans people--or even the fact that there were trans people in those songs.  As long as Lola's story stays "under the radar", people will continue to listen to, and perhaps enjoy, the song.  On the other hand, the sorts of people who notice Candy Darling's identity are also likely to see the overall artistry of Lou Reed's music and will, I believe, keep it in the public's consciousness for much longer.

20 October 2013

My Job: "Coming Out"

On Thursday, I'm going to participate in a panel discussion on "coming out" in the workplace.  It will be held at the Borough of Manhattan Community College from 12:00 until 1:00 in S-410 of the main building.

When I agreed to be a panelist, I realized that a decade has passed since I "came out" at work--and, for that matter, to my friends and family.  Reflecting on those days led me to write my latest piece for The Huffington Post, which was published the other day.

Check it out:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-valinotti/my-job-coming-out_b_4119867.html

14 October 2013

Pat Robertson Compares Trans People to His Horse

A conductor--I forget who--once said that Wagner's music had "great moments and awful half-hours".

I don't agree with that assessment at all, though I will grant you that you don't play the "Ring" cycle or "The March of the Valkyries" in a dentist's office.

I mention that comment about Wagner, though, because it applies, in a way, to this segment from Pat Robertson:

In two minutes of sheer loopiness and cluelessness, the Good Reverend had a moment of lucidity:  He said he had no problem with someone getting gender reassignment surgery.  But then he compares trans people to his horse.

What's truly scary is that the host of the show on which he appears is even more clueless about trans people than he is, if such a thing is possible.

Someone's comment on the You Tube video sums up what I've always thought about Pat Robertson:  He is a gay man trapped in a gay man's body.  I wish I'd said that!

11 October 2013

New Trans Teen Clinic In Toronto

I remember what a revelation it was for me--in my 40's--to learn of the existence of the Callen Lorde Community Health Center.

I've been going there ever since I began counseling for my gender identity issues.  To this day, my primary care doctor and gynecologist are based there.

When I started going to Callen Lorde, I was happy to learn of their program for LGBT youth. In fact, I referred a couple of young people who were in my support groups to it, as the program was available to those up to the age of 22.  "I wish there'd been something like that when I was their age," I mused.

Now, in Toronto, there's such a program for transgender teenagers, based in the Sick Kids Hospital.  There had been two other clinics for trans teens in Canada's largest city, but they provided only mental health care.  The clinic in Sick Kids is the first to provide medical care, including hormones for some.  

Most important, those who have created the Sick Kids clinic seem to understand that trans kids and teenagers have specific medical issues that, if left untreated, can lead to risky behavior such as unprotected sex, substance abuse and even suicide attempts.  I know all about such things, believe me.

Some may think that such programs "confuse" kids or "push" them into transitioning.  If they're anything like the programs I used at Callen Lorde and the LGBT Community Center, I doubt very highly if such a thing would happen.  If anything, I found the screening to be rigorous though supportive.  I hope--and somehow suspect--that the folks at Sick Kids will be like that--and that they will provide an atmosphere in which young people who may believe they are trans (or simply know they don't fit into the gender and sexuality boxes their schools, communities and, in some cases, families have given them) can look for information and guidance.  


08 October 2013

Name Changes Made Easier In California

Sometimes it's hard to believe that four years have already passed since my gender reassignment surgery.  It's even more difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I began to live and work full-time as a woman ten years ago last month.

Two months before embarking on my current life, I changed my name.  Actually, I applied in June, and the process took almost a month.  It actually wasn't as difficult as I expected, in part because of the help I received from Lambda Legal. Still, there was at least one anxious moment for me.

Here in New York, as in most places, the law requires that the name change be published in the legal notices section of a newspaper.  In New York, that newspaper must have a circulation of 100,000 or more.  I'd heard that some judges allowed publication in the Irish Echo or other ethnic newspapers.  I hoped that I could do the same:  Somehow I didn't think readers of such newspapers looked at the legal notices.  Besides, few if any readers of those papers would know me.  

Also:  It's less expensive to publish in those papers than in, say, the New York Times.

I didn't get to publish in the Echo or the Il Gazzetto or any of those papers.  But I got what was probably the next-best thing:  I was ordered to publish my announcement in the Village Voice.  Not as many people read the its legal notices as those of the Times  or even the Daily News, and it's less expensive to publish in the Voice than in either of those. 

Even though I experienced no negative repercussions of publishing my name change, I know that other trans people have.  Essentially, they're "outed" to all sorts of people who are, shall we say, not very understanding.  Also, being so "outed" can make it more difficult to gain--and easier to lose-- employment and housing.

So, I applaud California Governor Jerry Brown for signing a bill that would allow a trans person to change the name on his or her birth certificate without getting a hearing in open court or publishing the request in a newspaper.  Only a doctor's note indicating that the person has undergone a gender transition is necessary.  

This law helps trans people in California in another way:  Court-ordered name changes are necessary in order to change a person's name on a drivers' license and other legal documents.  Also, a trans person needs only a doctor's note indicating that a gender transition has occurred in order to change the gender marker on his or her birth certificate.

Now, I hope the Governors of New York and other states will sign similar bills into law so that law-abiding trans people (the vast majority of us) do not need to fear for our safety and well-being when we undertake the changes we need in order to live with integrity and dignity.


05 October 2013

The Ride of the Material Girl

In the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar, Madonna recounts, among other things, some terrifying experiences as a 20-year-old native of Rochester, Michigan living in New York.

OK, I'll admit it:  She's one of my heroines.  If I could have been born female, I would want to be like her.  Whatever you think of her singing, her "material girl" persona, love life or study of the Kabalah, you have to say this for her:  She follows the beat of her own drummer.  She's daring and, at times, courageous in ways I never could have been.

Anyway, I also know she's done some cycling over the years.  Here she is preparing for a ride in Malibu in 1989:

From About.com

And, more recently--this past August, in fact--she was seen pedaling with her adopted daughter on la Cote d'Azur:

From the Daily Mail

Somehow it doesn't surprise me.  After all, she and I are the same age, and we both come from similar milieux.  I continued to ride my bike as my peers abandoned theirs the day they got their drivers' licenses.  And she was, well, Madonna.  Neither of us could help but to be who we are; both of us ride bicycles.

04 October 2013

I Am Luckier Than Nathan Verhelst

I have lost relationships with relatives, people who I thought were friends and former colleagues because of my gender transition.  I have also lost a job and had to move out of an apartment because Dominick used the prejudices and other notions some people have about transgender people to spread false rumors and otherwise slander me.  (He was also abusive in other ways.)  

Still, I consider myself very, very lucky.  Certainly I am more fortunate than Nathan Verhelst.

He began hormone replacement therapy in 2009 and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and phalloplasty.  However, he said "My new breasts did not match my expectations and my new penis had symptoms of rejection."  When he looked in the mirror after his operations, he was "filled with self-loathing."  

"I do not want to be...a monster", he said.

Perhaps no amount of hormones, surgery or anything else could have alleviated his self-loathing.  "I was the girl nobody wanted," he related.  "While my brothers were celebrated, I got a room above the garage as a bedroom. " 

Perhaps even more damaging to his self-esteem were his mother's words:  "If only you had been a boy." He was "tolerated and nothing more", he said.

Earlier this week, with the permission of his native Belgium's government, he ended his life via lethal injection.  The doctors attending him said he "passed peacefully".   

How did his mother respond?  "Her death does not bother me," she declared.  She summed up her relationship with her child thusly:  "When I saw 'Nancy' for the first time, my dream was shattered.  She was so ugly.  I had a phantom birth."

There have been times when my mother was, understandably, exasperated with me. But she never would have said anything so awful to or about me or my brothers.  In fact, for much of my life, she has been among the few people with whom I could talk honestly about how I felt about anything.  And she has been about as supportive as anyone could have been in my transition and my new life.

Nathan Verhelst was a much better-looking man than I am a woman, or I was as a man.  I don't know much else about him, but I am certain than I am far more fortunate than he ever was.

03 October 2013

The Lady Doth Protest...

Dennis Jurnigan's "ministry" has included opposition to the Hate Crimes Bill.  His preaching and singing, he says, are inspired by his experience of being "delivered".

From what, exactly, was he "delivered"?  Homosexuality.


If he's an "ex-gay", then I'm the King of Prussia.

01 October 2013

Qu'ils Mangent Buitoni

I really should be upset with Guido Barilla.  Some people are, and I don't blame them.  

If his last name looks familiar, you shouldn't be surprised:  You can find it on your supermarket's shelves--in the pasta section, to be exact.

Yes, he's that Barilla. Specifically, he's the CEO of the company.  Recently, he said something that would have upset me at one time.  But now his declaration merely makes him look ridiculous.  And he managed to follow it up with another utterance that was even more foolish.

On a radio program, he said he "would not do a commercial with a homosexual family".  Now, such a claim doesn't make me happy, but it's no more offensive than others I've heard.  More than anything, it was a very stupid thing for him to say.  After all, plenty of LGBT people have been buying his pasta.

But someone like Signor Barilla doesn't know to quit before the foot he's put  in his mouth starts down his esophagus.  After telling us what we won't see in his company's next ad campaign, he said that if gay people don't like it, they can "eat another brand of pasta".

Qu'ils mangent de Buitoni!  Let them eat Buitoni!  Or Ronzoni.  Or Luigi Vitelli.  Or whatever brand you care to name.

Does this guy really want to be the Marie Antoinette of the pasta industry?