31 March 2014

Why We Are The Future Of Faith

Lately I've found myself thinking more and more about an issue that I ignored and had assumed I would always ignore:  that of the relationship between transgender people and religious communities.

You see, for a long time I told myself I wanted nothing to do with any religion.  Most of the time, when people asked about my faith, I'd say I didn't have any (unless, of course, I grunted "It's none of your fucking business!").  It's a lot easier to say you don't believe in a supreme being or power, or anything beyond this physical world, than to get into arguments about what it is, isn't or might be, or why I don't subscribe to someone else's belief.

Even so, I couldn't help to notice that more than a few trans people are involved with religious communities.  Some, like Eva-Genevieve Scarborough and Joanne Priznivalli, write about their experiences on their blogs.  Outwardly, I expressed astonishment that any trans person would want to be a participating member of a church, synagogue or other organization, let alone study or train to be a cleric.  I told myself such people were misguided, at best.  Sometimes I wondered whether they suffered from advanced cases of Stockholm Syndrome.  What else could explain their desire to identify with institutions and members that, very often, told them they were vile sinners or that they simply didn't exist?

One thing I could not fail to notice was that they--and some trans people who weren't overtly religious--often described themselves as male or female "in spirit" and their processes of "coming out" and transitioning from living in the gender they were assigned at birth to life in their true selves as "spiritual" experiences.

Yes, those words came up a lot:  "spirit" and "spiritual".  I even used them to to describe my own journey.  And on the night after my surgery, I had a very long, detailed and intense dream that, for me, could not have been evidence of anything else.

Perhaps my perceptions were colored by the fact that most of the support groups I attended, and most of the trans-related activities in which I participated, involved people who were beginning their transitions--or simply exploring the possibility of doing so--in the middle of their lives, or even later.  Not a single one of them spoke of their wishes merely in terms of changing their body parts; they all spoke of making their corporeal forms more reflective of their "true selves" or "spirits."  I have come to believe that if you have reached a certain age before embarking upon the requisite counseling and medical treatments, you really can't see your change in any other way.

(To those of you who are young--say, under 40--I hope I don't seem condescending.  If you really understand your identity and why you want to change your body to reflect it, you are more mature than most other people.  On the other hand, I have seen very young people who see the transition only in terms of hormones and surgeries.  They will say or do whatever they think they must--including sex work--to get them.  The consequences are often tragic.)

Anyway, I realize now that the revulsion I expressed at religious institutions was, in part, a response to my own earlier experiences with them.  I grew up as a Roman Catholic and spent several years in a school affiliated with the church.  I was even an altar boy!   Although the Church was, and is, repressive and I had some rather unpleasant (to say the least) experiences with priests and nuns, I have to admit that I received a better education than I might've otherwise had.  And, truth be told, for all of the bigotry that's part of its doctrine, I was safer there as a sensitive and possibly effeminate boy than I was on, say, sports teams or ROTC (both of which I would later participate in).  And, as Richard Rodriguez points out in A Hunger of Memory, there is less socio-economic class prejudice in the Church than in other parts of society.  Growing up in blue-collar Brooklyn, I was aware of that fact, even if I couldn't articulate it.  

And now, it seems, there are some religious leaders--and their followers--who actually understand that following the precepts of their faith means treating as they would other people.  Love thy neighbor--whether trans or cis--as thyself. Thou shalt not kill--whatever the identity of the person.  

Perhaps even more to the point, some are starting to realize that if their faith communities are to have any future at all--let alone carry out their missions--they must include people of all identities.  Actually, it goes deeper than that, as Joy Ladin points out:  Judiasm, of which she is an adherent, as well as Christians, Muslims and others cannot continue to confine themselves to the gender binary. It's not just a matter of the survival of religious institutions; it's a matter of allowing all people to participate in life as fully realized beings.  That, as I learned during my own transition, means understanding the spiritual dimension--forget that, the spiritual reality--of a person's identity.

30 March 2014

When Transgenders Self-Medicate

For about nine months before I began to live and work full-time as a woman, I was taking estrogen and Spironolactone.  For about a year and a half before that, I was attending support groups and participating in various activities related to the community, some of them at the LGBT Community Center in New York City.

At a Center event, I met a trans woman who was probably a few years older than I am now.  I don't know whether or not she ever had the surgery, but it was easy to see that she'd been living for a long time as a woman--and, most likely, taking hormones.  I also suspected that she had--or might still have--been involved in sex work.

I haven't seen her in a long time, but early in my transition, I was bumping into her everywhere--or so it seemed.  She always had advice--some of it good--on some aspect or another of the life on which I was embarking.  Thankfully, I ignored what was probably the worst advice she gave me.

"Forget about the doctors, clinics, even--what's that place you go to?"

"Callen-Lorde", I said.  

"Yeah, forget about them.  Forget about all of that.  You have to go through so much to get your hormones."

"I've got them."

"But those horomones will take forever to work on you."

"Well, I am on a low dose now.  So far, so good.  As long as my next tests are good, my doctor'll up my dosage."

"Still, it's going to take years and years for them to work."

"Well, I've had to wait years to get to this point..."

"Don't you want to have a woman's body soon?"

"Yeah. But..."

"Well, I can get you some German hormones."

"German?  What's the difference?"

"Well, you know, German girls are bigger.  So they get stronger hormones."

I squinted at her.   She pulled a package from her bag.  I know a few dozen words of German, but somewhow I knew, just from looking at that label, that ingesting those hormones wouldn't be a good idea.

Later, I learned---from where or whom, I can't recall--that a lot of trans women--especially young ones engaged in sex work--buy those German hormones, which are meant for livestock.

I mention this incident because I came across this article advising trans people not to self-medicate with hormones.  Turns out, there are a lot of discussion groups about that very subject, including some on how to go about getting hormones from outside the medical establishment.

The temptation to do so is great, especially for young trans women, many of whom have run away from abuse at home or bullying at school and have no medical insurance or other resources and are scarred by prejudice and hostility they experienced from health-care professionals.

Self-medication is generally a bad idea for anybody.  But the risks are even greater for trans people because the precarious situations in which too many of us live leave us even more vulnerable to exploitation by "professionals" with questionable--or no--credentials.

That might be the biggest hazard trans people face, after the discrimination and violence to which too many of us fall victim.


29 March 2014

Israel Protects LGBT Students

Last week, the Israeli Knesset passed a law prohibiting discrimination against students based on gender identity or sexual orientation.  The law is actually an amendment to laws pertaining to the rights of the student.  Still, it is significant because it actually identifies gender identity as one of the ways in which one can be discriminated against.

What's especially gratifying, apart from the fact that it passed in a country that has laws based on religion, is that such a wide majority voted for it.  Only two of the twenty-seven members of the Knesset opposed it; the other twenty-five said "yes".

And Dov Henin, who introduced the bill, said that its purpose is "to protect not only the students in the LGBT community--it is there to protect us all".

I know Israel is only the size of New Jersey and has half the population. Still, I have to ask:  If Israel can do it, why can't this country?

28 March 2014

Department of Justice To Train Police To Work With Transgender People

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I had to go to my local precinct--the 114th in Astoria, Queens, New York--three times before they would even take a complaint from me regarding the harassment and bullying I experienced from Dominick.

Simply being brushed off, as I was the first time, was bad enough. But the second time nearly pushed me over the edge: two out-of-uniform officers harassed me on their way out of the gym, after a workout.  They made air-smooches, asked me (in a mocking yet menacing way) whether I wanted to "take a ride" with them and, finally, threatened me if I didn't respond to them.  The desk sergeant sat only a few feet away and watched it unfold but claimed to see nothing.  Then, as I was unlocking my bike from a parking meter on the next block from the station, two officers barged in front of me.

"You're not supposed to park there!," one of them bellowed. "This spot's only for officers."

"I'm sorry, I didn't see a sign..."

"Just shut up and go, " the other one yelled. "And if you know what's good for you, you won't come back."

As it was dark and everything happened so quickly, I didn't see the officers badges--or, indeed, whether they were not wearing them or had covered the numbers on them.  The cops who harassed me on their way out of the precinct gym didn't have their badges.

That came about seven years after I'd been stopped and frisked by two men who might or might not have been cops (They were in an unmarked van.) as I was riding my bike home from work on a hot day.

I don't know whether the stop-and-frisk incident had to do with my being trans:  They claimed I was in the projects (which I wasn't, but "so what" if I were) and demanded to know what I was doing there. But I have little doubt that what happened during my second visit to the 114th had to do with my identity if for no other  reason that I mentioned that fact about myself in all of my visits, as Dominick was using it to impute all of the old sterotypes to, in order to spread false rumors about, me.

As you can imagine, I've had no love (not that I had much before), and lost whatever respect I had for, the police until recently.  The only reason why I am now willing to even entertain the idea of revising my opinion of them is that I've met a detective in my church who is nothing like I expected any officer to be.  I think she really means it when she expresses her sorrow over my experience.

We need more like her.  Even for those who, like her, became cops because they wanted "to help people" or "be a positive force in the community", understanding of people whose gender or sexual identities might be different from their own are developed.  (The same is true of most people, I believe.)  

That is why I am glad to see that the Department of Justice has just launched a program to train local police departments to better respond to transgender people.  It is, if nothing else, a good first step:  a recognition of a need. 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole understands that one result of mistreatment is that too many of us simply don't report harassments, assaults or other violations against us.  As a matter of fact, even after that third visit to the 114th, when an officer finally took a statement from me, I vowed to never again report any crime, against myself or anyone else, to the police.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll reconsider.

27 March 2014

Dreaming Of Going Dutch

I try to keep myself in the moment and to appreciate where I am.

Still, it's not hard to want to be on a bike in Leiden, Netherlands when I see this:

From Bicycle Dutch

26 March 2014

On A Hater's Death, From His Son

As I mentioned a few days ago, Rev. Fred Phelps senior--he of Westboro Baptist Church fame--has died.

I am happy to know that I'm not the only person who has asked that we don't express the same sort of hate toward him that he showed us during his life.   Such a plea has come from no less than his estranged son, Nathan Phelps.

Recovering from Religion has issued this statement from him:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 24 2014 – On behalf of Nathan Phelps, son of former Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, Recovering From Religion issues the following official statement:
“Fred Phelps is now the past. The present and the future are for the living. Unfortunately, Fred’s ideas have not died with him, but live on, not just among the members of Westboro Baptist Church, but among the many communities and small minds that refuse to recognize the equality and humanity of our brothers and sisters on this small planet we share. I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been. I deeply mourn the grief and pain felt by my family members denied their right to visit him in his final days. They deserved the right to finally have closure to decades of rejection, and that was stolen from them.
Even more, I mourn the ongoing injustices against the LGBT community, the unfortunate target of his 23 year campaign of hate. His life impacted many outside the walls of the WBC compound, uniting us across all spectrums of orientation and belief as we realized our strength lies in our commonalities, and not our differences. How many times have communities risen up together in a united wall against the harassment of my family? Differences have been set aside for that cause, tremendous and loving joint efforts mobilized within hours…and because of that, I ask this of everyone – let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.
The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.”  Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.”

I am very moved by the humility and compassion behind Nathan Phelps' statement.  It's especially touching given the pain I'm sure he feels over losing a loved one with whom he'll never have an opportunity for reconciliation.  
Ironically, the young Phelps may provide the only lasting legacy of his father's work.  An organization like Westboro Baptist Church that's built upon hate can only destroy itself over infighting from its members. (Living and dying by the sword, anyone?)  The fact that Nathan has chosen not to follow in his father's "God Hates Fags" campaigns or protests at the funerals of military service members killed in combat shows that, at some point, bigotry and other kinds of ignorance must, inevitably, end.

25 March 2014

A Timeline Of Our Visibility

I have not forsaken my promise to write more about the Lost Generation of Transgenders.  Sooner or later, though, I think it will turn into a project that will extend well beyond the boundaries of this blog.

With LGT in mind, I thought I'd post this Transgender Visibility Timeline:

24 March 2014

Sleepless As What's Under Them

The other day I got out for a bit of a ride.  On my way home, I passed through the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn.  

The Heights abuts the waterfront and the Hill is next door.  Both neighborhoods have been the home of a number of writers, especially poets--including the ones everyone's heard of like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane and Marianne Moore and ones only readers of this blog have heard of, like yours truly.

Anyway, much of the Heights gentrified decades ago--in fact, one of the first landmarked districts in the United States lies within the neighborhood.  Cobble Hill is also turning into an enclave of young professionals and families.  

One result of those demographic changes--and shifts in the city's, nation's and world's economy--is that much of the city's maritime history is disappearing.  I know about those developments firsthand:  Two of my uncles were maritime workers and their union headquarters once occupied an entire square block, and a good part of another, in South Brooklyn.  One of my early birthdays was celebrated in its reception hall; so were milestones in the lives of other family members of longshoremen and other workers.  Now that square-block sized building is occupied by the largest Muslim elementary school in America and the maritime workers are relegated only to a couple of offices in the other building.

One of the last remaining vestiges of the work those men (almost all of them were male) did is seen on this building I passed on Atlantic Avenue, near Clinton Street:

The former headquarters and workshop of John Curtin's sail-making operation is now condominums, with a restaurant and Urban Outfitters store in its street-level studios. 

Riding through the neighborhood made me think of this passage from Hart Crane's masterwork The Bridge:

 Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

23 March 2014

Gender Grammar

As a writer who's spent many years teaching English, I found this interesting:

From Planet Deafqueer


22 March 2014

Chelsea Manning Seeks To Make It Official

Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning is requesting a formal name change.  On 23 April, a judge in Kansas--where she is currently incarcerated--will hear her petition.

Prison officials say that the judge's decision will have no bearing on her detention status.  According to George Marcec, a spokesman for Fort Leavenworth, prison officials don't see Ms. Manning's case as "a gender thing," but instead view it as "just him changing his name."  Therefore, whatever the outcome, Manning will be detained with other men.  Male inmates in cases like hers are detained in Army garrisons like Fort Leavenworth, while females are held in civilian federal prisons.

Manning has also requested hormone treatments but is not now interested in gender-reassignment surgery.  Also, she has not requested a transfer to a women's prison.   According to a statement on the Pvt. Manning Support Network website, she "has made friends at Fort Leavenworth and wishes only to live as herself".

An Army judge sentenced her to 35 years in prison for one of the biggest leaks of classified information in history, but did not find her guilty of the most serious possible charge:  aiding the enemy.

21 March 2014

Socially Relevant Messages From A Moral Monday

The days of graffiti "taggers" using New York City subway cars as their canvases, if you will, are long gone.

However, that doesn't stop "taggers" from leaving smaller, less-graphic--though sometimes more provocative--marks in less conspicuous places in the system.

The West Fourth Street station, with its multiple levels and mazelike corridors, offers a wealth of such nooks and crannies.  As if those features weren't enough, the station is in the heart of the Village and--are you ready for this?--has no exit or entrance to West Fourth Street.  You can enter or exit at West 8th or West 3rd Streets, or Waverly Place--but not the eponymous thoroughfare.

So it just figures that, the other day, on the platform for the A, C and E trains, I would find this:

The MTA is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system. However, I have absolutely no idea of who "Moral Monday" might be. My curiosity is piqued.

20 March 2014

Fred Phelps Is Dead

This is a sort of update to an earlier post.

Fred Phelps is dead.

We all knew this was coming. After all, he had been in ill health and recently moved into a hospice.

Now, I am one of the last people in this world who would ever defend him.  Still, I hope that nobody pickets his funeral as he and his congregants did at the funerals of Matthew Shepard and soldiers who died in Iraq. After all, do we want our community (or any level) to descend to the level of non-civility exhibited by the Westboro Baptist Church?

But, as awful a legacy as he left with his "God Hates Fags" protests and campaigns, he actually did quite a bit of good. Believe it or not, he was once a civil-rights lawyer who fiercely advocated on behalf of African-Americans who experienced discrimination in schools, work and the American Legion, and abuse at the hands of their local police. He also sued President Ronald Reagan after Reagan appointed--for the first time in US History--an American ambassador to the Vatican. Phelps argued that the appointment violated the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state.

Then, of course, there are his family members, some of whom were excommunicated and others, like his son Nathan, who left the Westboro church. They mourn the loss of a father, grandfather and uncle, even if they came to disagree with his teachings.

The life and death of Fred Phelps Sr. should, if nothing else, help us to remember that tragedy begets tragedy. Somewhere along the way, a sense of righteous anger turned into resentful hatred that caused him to be estranged from the very community he built around it.

19 March 2014

Where Lesbians Get Off But Gay Men Are Cut Off

Could lesbians actually benefit from misogyny?

That question, on its face, might be the most preposterous you've ever heard.  But one has to wonder whether why, in 25 nations, male homosexuality is illegal (sometimes punishable by death) but lesbianism isn't.

I should qualify my previous statement:  To my knowledge, none of those countries has a law that specifically legalizes sex between women.  Rather, there simply is no law against such relations.

The simple question is, of course:  Why?

Given that most of those countries are either in the Caribbean or Africa, and some are ruled (or at least dominated) by religious fundamentalists, my guess it that women are so invisible that the men in charge simply don't think about women doing it with women.  Or, as others might suggest, it's their secret vice:  They might find men having sex with men repugnant but have their stashes of lesbian porn.

(When I was living in Park Slope, a newsdealer I frequented also sold porn.  He told me all of his lesbian porn was purchased by men and women rarely, if ever, bought porn. I always figured that the reason is that most lesbian porn depicts men's notions of what women do.)

In more religious societies were men are seen as vehicles of God's or Allah's or whatever-supreme-being's will, and women are seen as incubators of men (ideally), it's probably considered more important to protect the moral purity of males.  In such places, women are seen as evil and thus beyond protection, let alone redemption.

And there are a good many men--including some in this country--who simply believe that it isn't possible for a woman to have sex with another woman.  That, of course, means that their notions about sexual relations are completely phallocentric.

I would love to know whether any woman has ever been punished in any of those countries for having sex with another woman.  Or, upon discovering that his wife or girlfriend is doing it with her best friend, does a man charged with upholding the law simply watch and enjoy?

18 March 2014

A Day Begins With A Setting Cloud

Yesterday's post on Midlife Cycling ended with a pot of gold over the rainbow.  Well, sort of.

Today's post begins--as my day did--with a cloud moving across the cityscape. 

From its path between these buldings, it "sets":

Then it recedes, eventually disappearing behind one of the buildings:

17 March 2014

Why We Have The Golden Rule

At times like this, I understand why the Golden Rule exists.

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, is said to be on death's doorstep.

When he started it nearly six decades ago, Westboro was seemingly another small Kansas church. However, he turned it into a worldwide symbol of people who hate those who are different themselves--and the world generally--more than the God they purport to serve.  

Some people--including the writer of a New York Daily News article--are gloating over the way his life and mission are ending.  The man who started the custom of showing up for the funerals of victims of homophobic and transphobic violence with signs reading "God Hates Fags" was , according to at least one source, excommunicated from his own church several months ago for advocating a "kinder, gentler" approach than the one he espoused for so many years.

If that's true, it's a reason to be sad.  Perhaps he learned, too late, what the results of hate are.  You might say it's a case of someone dying by the sword by which he lived.  

In any event, I'm not going to celebrate his ill health or impending death because doing so would only perpetuate the very worst things to which he devoted too much of his life.  And I can only feel sorry for someone like his son Nathan, who left the church in 1977.  "I'm not sure how I feel about this," he wrote on his Facebook page.  "Terribly ironic that his devotion to God ends this way.  Destroyed by the monster he made.  I feel sad for the all hurt he's caused so many." 

Perhaps he can help to destroy the "monster".

16 March 2014

Why Do We Need A Parade For Our Journeys?

Is Brazil one of the world's most progressive countries when it comes to attitudes about gender and gay rights?  Or is it a conservative Catholic country that's just another fuel shortage away from returning to the military dictatorship it endured for two decades?

According to an article in yesterday's New York Times, it's both.

As Taylor Barnes points out, drag shows were popular in Rio de Janiero during the 1950's and 1960's.  However, as we have seen, people's willingness to go to shows in which drug-addled men don garish clothes and layer crude makeup on their faces has little, if anything, to do with how much those same people would accept their children if they "came out" as gay, lesbian or transgender.  In fact, sometimes the same people who go to drag shows commit violence--whether or not it's physical--against people who don't fit their culture's gender norms.

Then, of course, there is Carnival, which may well  be the greatest concentration of men in drag as well as flamboyant gay men in the world.  (Interestingly, in celebrations like Carnival or the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, one rarely, if ever, sees women dressed as men or butch lesbians.)  And, as Barnes points out, the careers of transgender models are prospering in Brazil, perhaps more than in anywhere else in the world.

Same-sex marriage is legal in about half of Brazil's states, and laws about gender identity, while not quite as advanced as those in nearby Argentina or Uruguay, are still more in line with current knowledge about gender identity and expression than the laws in most US states.  However, those states that allow same-sex marriage are--not surprisingly--the ones that include the country's largest metropoli.  On the other hand, more rural areas still hold to their conservative beliefs (often based on the local priest's or politician's interpretation of faith) about sexuality and gender.

Now, I've never been to Brazil, so I can't tell you whether it's "better" for trans people than other places.  However, at every Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration in which I've participated, a fair number of the victims' names we read were Brazilian.  To be fair, plenty are Americans, too.  But I can't help but to think that transgenders face as precarious a situation in Brazil as we do anywhere.

And I don't know how much things will improve if people continue to associate us with the gross misinterpretations--or perhaps unintentional parodies--of womanhood exhibited by the drag "queens" of Carnival or Mardi Gras--or, for that matter, the Pride March.  As long as we're seen that way, we are in the same situation of African Americans in the days of Sambo.

15 March 2014

Add "Insincere" To "Ignorant", "Obnoxious" And "Bigoted"

I've become my mother.

All right, I'll admit, I was well on my way to becoming like her long before I started my gender transition.  After all, we have similar tastes in things ranging from food to TV shows and personalities.

A few years ago, during a holiday I spent with my parents, my mother and I were talking about something--I forget what, exactly.  I mentioned that I'd recently seen someone who hosted her own show.  "I can't stand her," I said.  "She's ignorant and obnoxious."

"Wendy Williams!" my mother interjected.

So it came as no surprise when I learned about her opposition to Chloie Jonnson's lawsuit against Cross Fit, which denied Jonnson the right to enter as a female in its fitness competition.

The video of her offending remarks, and the panel discussion during which she made them, has been removed from her website and YouTube.  She was covering her tracks (or someone was doing it for her), just as she was with her "apology".

I mean, doesn't every bigot try to deny who or what he or she is by claiming to be an "ally of the community" or some such thing?

14 March 2014

Monica Jones Goes On Trial for WWT

Some of my male students--and other young men I know--have been pulled over for a "charge" they refer to as "DWB", or Driving While Black.

Even adult black men are not exempt from such treatment, particularly if they drive late-model Mercedes,  BMW or Lexus cars.

I wonder whether any of them has ever been stopped for WWB:  Walking While Black.

It seems that somewhere there's a law on the books for WWT:  Walking While Trans. At least, that's what some police officers seem to think.

Last May, officers in Phoenix (AZ) arrested Monica Jones, an activist and social work student at Arizona State University.  She was speaking out at a protest against Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited), a controversial collaboration between the University's school of social work and the Phoenix Police Department. 

In Project ROSE, officers pick up people they suspect of "prostitution" and bring them--often in handcuffs--to a church.  There, ASU staff members check them in and match them with volunteers, some of whom are former sex workers.  These volunteers offer the arrestees a chance to enroll in a 36-week program in which they're given medical, mental health and other service if they quit sex work.  After completing the program, charges are dropped.

However, if the arrestee refuses to enter the program, doesn't qualify or is ineligible, he or she can expect to be summoned to court, where he or she could face prison time under Arizona's harsh sentencing laws.

You may not think that the program is such a bad deal.  After all, it offers services to people who might not get them otherwise and gives them a chance to get out of "the world's oldest profession."  However, if someone who has never been involved in sex work has been swept up, he or she can end up in prison for refusing to participate in a program for which he or she has no need.

That seems to be the case with Monica Jones.  She had no prior record of arrest, and from all evidence, has never been involved in sex work.  But the worst thing about this case is that if she is convicted, she will be sent to a men's prison notorious for human rights violation.  Plus, it goes without saying that her life would be in danger as would the life of any trans woman who ends up in a men's prison.

She is set to go on trial today.  More about her story as I get word on it.

13 March 2014

Kitty Genovese, Fifty Years Later

Fifty years ago today, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death just steps away from her apartment in Kew Gardens, NY.

That building is just a few minutes away from my apartment.  I've passed it any number of times.  So have countless other people.

That, of course, is one of the reasons why her murder is still discussed and is studied by students and scholars in sociology, anthropology, psychology and criminal justice.  It gave rise to what people in all of those fields call "The Bystander Effect" or "Kitty Genovese Syndrome", which says that as the number of witnesses increases, the less responsibility each one feels to act.

It's accepted as the standard explanation of why, according to accounts published ever since the day of the crime, thirty-eight people said they heard screams or other commotion, or otherwise sensed that a disturbance was taking place outside their windows, and "did nothing".  One witness said, in a phrase that's become almost a cliche, "I didn't want to get involved".

Recently, the number of people who "didn't want to get involved", or who were even awake at the time of the stabbings (between 3 and 3:30 am) has come into dispute.  What's not in dispute, though, is that when police got word of her stabbing, it was too late to save her life.

But I don't want to get into an argument about that now.  Instead, I want to talk about how Ms. Genovese's victimhood has been portrayed and another aspect of her life that was not revealed until a decade ago.

I was five years old on that cold, windy early morning when she died almost literally on her own doorstep.  I often heard about the murder as I was growing up.  For a few years, she was portrayed, probably correctly, as an innocent victim who had the misfortune of crossing paths with a homicidal maniac.  After all, Winston Moseley would say "I went out that night intending to kill a woman.  When I got such a thought, it remained with me regardless of what else I might be thinking".  And he has remained unrepentant ever since.

However, as time passed, I noticed that some people questioned "what sort of woman" Kitty actually was.  They wondered "what she was doing" when she parked her car and made that fateful walk toward her apartment at 3 in the morning.  That seemed to be a central question in a TV movie that was aired when I was a high school senior, if I recall correctly--probably around the time of the ten-year anniversary of her death.  The movie was fiction, but was not-too-loosely based on Ms. Genovese's case.  In one scene, a police detective (I think) working on the case stops a woman he sees walking home and chastises her for walking alone at night in a skirt that was "too short".

It seemed that whatever people could get book deals, tenure or fame from milking such a claim had gotten what they wanted--and that other people realized that bar managers (Ms. Genovese's line of work) and others who work in such establishments and restaurants often come home at odd hours. More important, the notion that women who are so brutalized are not "asking for it" and don't "have it coming to them" (I can remember when other women used to say such things about girls who'd been raped.) was discredited. So the notion that it was her fault that she'd been attacked by a man who stabbed her, fled when he thought someone else had seen him, and came back to "finish the job" went where it belonged--to the dustbin of history..

Now it is widely accepted, rightly, that Ms. Genovese was an extremely unfortunate soul. However, there is one other aspect of her killing to which a few people alluded a decade ago, but has rarely, if ever, been mentioned again.

As far as their neighbors knew, Mary Ann Zielonko was a friend of Kitty's who shared their apartment--you know, the "2 Broke Girls" scenario. Everyone, apparently, liked both of them, but saw more of Kitty, the more outgoing and friendly of the two. What no one realized--or simply did not say--is that Ms. Zielonko was her girlfriend. No, not in the sense of two young female friends sharing an apartment. They were partners, lovers, or whatever you choose to call them.

Ms. Zielonko did not reveal this aspect of their relationship until she was interviewed on the 40th anniversary of her girlfriend's murder. Of course, there was no reason why she should have. After all, attitudes about same-sex relationships were, to put it mildly, very different from the ones we (some of us, anyway) have now. But what if their union had been public knowledge? How might it have affected the way the case was portrayed?

More important, might Winston Moseley have been aware of it? He has never given any indication, at least verbally, that it played any role in his choosing Kitty as his victim. However, it's hard not to wonder if he approached her sexually and she said--or gave some other indication--that she was gay and therefore had no interest in him. Could that have been a factor in the viciousness of his attack?

Whatever the answer is, or isn't, to those questions, I hope that more people remember that, in the end, Catherine Susan Genovese was murdered because  she was a woman.  Too many of us have met that same awful fate.

12 March 2014

How People Like Him Get Away With It

More years ago than I'll admit, I taught in an Orthodox Jewish school.  In those days, I was still living as male and it was an all-boys' school so, of course, I would not be allowed to teach there today.  In fact, the only female there (unless you count me) was the secretary.  She was the head rabbi's mother.

Anyway, I mention it because not long after I was hired, the head rabbi told me something I hadn't expected to hear--from him, anyway.  "Orthodox famiies have all the same problems as other families," he said.  "We have substance abuse, domestic violence, you name it."

A long silence.  Then, as if he'd read the question in my mind, he continued:  "The problem is, for too long, we've swept it under the rug."

"I guess when you're a minority, you have to, " I responded.

His eyes widened.  "Yes!  We try so hard to present a united front, a clean image, that at times we hide all of the things for which we need help, whether from within our own community or outside."

I mention that experience because in the early part of my transition, I heard nothing about domestic violence--or any other kind of abuse--in LGBT relationships.  In fact, even though I was involved with the LGBT Community Center in New York as well as other organizations and projects involving the community, I never heard about abusive relationships in the LGBT community.

That is, until the issue hit home.  Literally.

You see, I didn't know it at the time, but someone knew that as happy as I was about starting my new life, I was also very, very vulnerable.  No matter how good an experience you have of "coming out", no matter how well your transition goes, you are going to be extra- (sometimes too) sensitive in some areas.  And people like the one I've mentioned can always figure out where your sensitivities are.

Early in my transition, I had also just come to terms with having beat up--with the help of two classmates--a gay man (or, at least, a man we thought was gay) when I was a teenager.  And I was also dealing with some of my own experiences of having been bullied.

The person I mentioned knew how to play on those things--and the fact that my parents were clearly making an effort to understand what I was experiencing.  He figured, correctly, he could use my relative good fortune to make me feel sympathy for him because he'd grown up in an extremely dysfunctional family.

About his family, he wasn't lying:  I saw the home in which he'd grown up, and in which he was still living, firsthand.  And he also figured out pretty quickly that although I'm not the most sensitive or caring person in the world, I am capable of a pretty fair amount of sympathy, if I do say so myself.

Little did I know I was walking into a trap. I've since learned that countless others--in and out of the LGBT community, some much more intelligent and sensitive than I am--have walked into the very same trap, in much the way I did.  

He also knew that he could exploit an old stereotype--the trans person as sexual predator--to his advantage.  Whenever I said "no" to him, stories would circulate about my having sex with students or others.  I have never done, and never would do, such a thing; in fact, I never did or would even before my transition.  

Just last spring, a year after I last heard from Dominick, I learned that his behaviors are typical of abusers in relationships with trans people, especially with trans people having their first relationships since starting their transitions.  Vicki, a counselor at the Anti-Violence Project, clued me into those patterns of behavior as we did other work on the aftermath of my realtionship with Dominick.  He never struck me with his hands or used any other physical violence.  However, he used various threats, including ones to make my life "so miserable that" I'd  "think living in a cardboard box is good" and to tell people "who'd believe me and not you," in his words, that I am a racist, sexual predator (Yes, he used that term!) and criminal.  

Probably the one "silver lining" in all of this is that he was stupid enough to write such threats in e-mails and text messages.  So, when I had to move out of an apartment and lost a job over "anonymous" complaints, guess who was the most likely suspect?  Even so, I had to go three times to the 114th Precinct, and to two courts, before anyone would take action against him.

Still, that's better luck than I had with LGBT organizations--including ones in which I volunteered--or individual people in the community I knew at the time.  One of those organizations is set up to provide legal assistance to trans people, but its founder/director thought my case was "too controversial."  And, of course, none of this city's gay publications wanted to run my story, or even to investigate it.

They were doing, it seems, exactly what the head rabbi of my old school described so many years ago.  I get the feeling that the directors of LGBT organizations didn't want to give homophobes ammunition.  And my old landlord and employer didn't want to risk the "controversy" of having someone who was even suspected--even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary--of living up to the worst stereotypes (which they, deep down, still believed) in their midst.

Dominick knew people would act and react that way.  That's why he got away with what he did for so long.  And nobody who meets him would ever suspect he could behave that way--just as I didn't when I first met him. Finally, he knew--still knows, I'm sure--that just as he can bully someone else as he bullied me, he can count on at least a few people in the community to sweep his behavior under the rug--and would throw his victim under the bus, as they did with me.

As a post-script, I want to say that I've since met other gay men, lesbians and trans people who've been far more sympathetic and helpful.  Some are part of the Anti-Violence Project; others are part of the church (say what you will about it!) I now attend.

Post-post script:  The last time I wrote about my experiences with Dominick, he sent me a threatening text message that began with "It has come to my attention that..."   In other words, he couldn't even admit that he was trolling this blog!

11 March 2014

Three Years After Fukushima: Women's Issues

Three years ago today, a tsunami resulted in a catastrophic failure at the Fukushima-Daichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

I am not surprised to learn that the consequences of that catastrophe are still unfolding.  I am also not surprised to see that the Japanese government is still downplaying the effects of the failure.  After all, the Soviet government did the same thing after Chernobyl, just as American authorities kept a lid on the negative publicity about Three Mile Island.  If nothing else, we should have learned that in such emergencies, it doesn't matter whether the country is democratic or authoritarian, capitalistic or communist (or something in between).  Any country that develops a nuclear power and/or weapons program also develops a class of people whose careers and lifestyles depend on it, not to mention a military complex surrounding it.

What also does not shock me is that Fukushima disproportionately affects women.   We (Yes, I include myself.) are more vulnerable to breast and thyroid cancers caused by radiation.  And, for most non-trans women, there is also the risk of ovarian cancer.  However, the perils we face from radiation are not limited to our physical health.

Every woman who has given birth since the disaster has to wonder what she passed in utero to her child. Even though 28 years have passed since Chernobyl--and the area was evacuated--there are still many cases of birth defects and congenital diseases as well as pre- and ante-natal deaths. Even though the authorities were able to move people away (and many left on their own accord), nobody could stop the flow of radiation through groundwater, wind and other means. At Fukushima, of course, contaminants are also riding Pacific tides and inside fish in the ocean. Last month, higher-than-normal levels of radioactive isotopes were found in Pacific Ocean water on the coast of British Colombia, Canada. Scientists expect those isotopes to spill onto the beaches of California, Oregon and Washington State next month. One has to wonder what that could mean for the health of women and their babies from Alaska to Baja.

Also, in the area around Fukushima, many women--some of them single mothers--were farmers. They have lost their livelihoods and means of supporting their children; three years later, they are still living in concrete prefab dorms. And those who were married and not farming were not immune to suffering and loss: As often happens in the wake of catastrophes (Think of Hurricane Katrina, as an example.), hospitals and crisis centers are overwhelmed by the numbers of women who are beaten, raped or otherwise abused by husbands and boyfriends (and, in some cases, male blood relatives) who lapse into depression as well as alcohol and drug abuse. And, of course, some of the women also become depressed or start drinking too much, or fall into other kinds of addictive and compulsive behavior.

Perhaps, then, it is no suprise that we, women, have long been far more opposed than men are to nuclear power and weapons. After all, as with many manmade disasters, women have to bear a disproportionate share of the fallout. (No pun intended.) As with other disasters, women "become responsible for all of the work, while dealing with physical illness and raise their young alone", according to Maria Vitigliano of the Green Cross's social and medical outreach program. "When the economy is oppressed, the children grow up and leave them alone", she concludes.

10 March 2014

LGBT People Leave The GOP. Why Should We Be Worried?

In January, GOProud co-founder Jimmy La Salvia defected from the Republican Party.  A lot of people wondered what took him so long to figure out the party is "brain dead" on LGBT and other issues.  They even wondered how he could remain "every bit as conservative as" he "ever was", in his own words.

Although I am registered as a Democrat--mostly for the same reasons he left the Republican Party--I can understand his position, and even agree with it to some degree.

What a lot of people missed is that he wasn't upset only about the Mike Huckabees and the Tim Santorums and all of the other homophobes who cloak their bigotry with a sham of religious belief and fealty to the "framers of the Constitution".  La Salvia, in his public exit statement, also slammed "big government 'conservatives' who have taken over the party".

Now, I am not one of those people who wants no government at all or, worse, anarcho-capitalism.  However, I also think that freedom is not achieved by passing more laws or starting new agencies. I like to think of myself as at least somewhat aligned with what I call the "conservative" side of Malcolm X, who said that African-Americans will be free from the effects of racism only through creating their own culture and economic enterprises, not by petitioning for it from a white ruling class.

While I am glad that there are laws against discrimination in employment, housing and such, and that more states are legalizing marriage equality, I think that we have to do more to determine our own destinies.  After all, there are always ways around laws:  A would-be employer could claim he or she didn't hire you for a variety of non-provable reasons.  (Some have flat-out lied, to me and others.)  And marriage "equality" still leaves the authority to determine who can marry and who can't with the same people and institutions that have discriminated against us.

I am mentioning all of this after seeing an article from the Los Angeles Times describing the "rift" that is developing within the Republican Party over LGBT equality.  Truth is, that "rift" is more like a purge:  Even though people might be leaving the party (or simply not voting for its candidates) on their own accord, they are, I believe, reacting to their perception that the hard-core social conservatives don't want them in the GOP.  

Such a development might not be so disturbing if those "conservatives" weren't so disingenuous and ruthless:  They rail against "Obamacare" as an example of "intrusive" government yet support massive military and "security" spending as well as any project or agency that will give cushy jobs to their campaign supporters.   And they will use any sort of smear tactic against the Edward Snowdens, Chelsea Mannings and others who are fighting against the Surveillance State, as well as to anyone else deemed a threat in any way.

(By the way, I have--and continue to be--against "Obamacare", though for reasons entirely different from those of the "conservatives" I've described.)

So, while some might think that the "rift" will blow up the party, I wonder whether the defections will turn the GOP into a fringe party, which would be far more dangerous than having them as a center-right party that gets between 45 and 55 percent of the vote.  Fringe parties and movements, while small, can be very dangerous because they often consist mainly of the angry, the scared and the otherwise unhinged.  It doesn't take very many of such people to create hysteria over some invented bogeyman:  That, to me, is the real lesson of the McCarthy era.  (Remember that Joe Mc Carthy waved his infamous "list" in front of a Republican Women's Club at a time when his party--the Republicans--lost the previous five Presidential elections and numerous Congressional seats, governorships and local elections.)   So, while I think that, ultimately, legal same-sex marriage will eventually be the norm, if not ubiquitous, the fight will become nastier and more vicious as the right loses its LGBT allies.

09 March 2014

Gender Inequality and Food Security

In the spirit of yesterday's post, I think this is interesting and disturbing:

From Prafulla.Net

08 March 2014

It's Not "Just A Girl Thing"

In today's post, I will simply convey an open letter to men and boys from Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Executive Director of UN Women.

Dear Men and Boys of the World,
When we fought against apartheid in South Africa, which the United Nations declared a crime against humanity, the whole world took a stand. All self-respecting people—leaders of nations, religious institutions, commerce and sports—crossed the line to be on the right side of history.
The unity and purpose of the people of the world played a major role in ushering in freedom for South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela, in whose cabinet I had the honor to serve. In Mandela, a force for good was unleashed, not just for South Africa but for all of humanity. He inspired those of us who worked with him, and countless millions around the world, to stand up for a just cause.
Now it is time to marshal the same conviction, energy and cooperation on behalf of the 3.6 billion women and girls in the world. You, the men of the 21st century, can make your mark by crossing the line united and joining women as a powerful force for gender equality. It is the right thing to do. In the words of Mandela, “for every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women.”
This isn’t just a female cause. We have rising evidence that everyone, not just women, benefits from gender equality. Did you know that if women farmers had the same tools and fertilizer as men in agriculture, we would reduce hunger by up to 150 million people? Fortune 500 companies with the most women managers were found to deliver a 34 per cent higher return to shareholders. Discriminating against women comes at a cost to humanity and nations and denies women and girls their inalienable rights.
Yes, women are strong, bold, and brave, but men and boys also have a big role to play in ending gender inequality. It is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. It’s time to influence change in society. I know many of you desire a better world for women and girls and more than a few of you are actively working on bringing about positive changes. But there is much more to do. We need your action and your voices to be louder and to help us change some of the hardships women face.
More than 60 million girls worldwide are denied access to education. One in three women in the world is a victim of physical or sexual violence, the most humiliating and dehumanizing form of discrimination. Most of this violence happens at the hand of a partner or relative within her own home. Today two-thirds of the global illiterate population is women. If trends continue in this way, poor girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach universal access to primary education until 2086.
These are your sisters, mothers, wives, partners, daughters, nieces, aunts, cousins and friends. They have hopes and beautiful dreams for themselves, their families, communities and the world. If many of their dreams were to come true, the world would be a much better place for all of humanity.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, I issue a call to men and boys and invite you to take action wherever you are and support the SHE Imperative, a new global initiative to bring women’s issues to the forefront and effectuate change through civil engagement, corporate commitment, and policy changes worldwide.
SHE has three key components: First, make sure SHE isSecure and Safe from gender-based violence. Second: Make sure SHE has her Human rights respected, including her reproductive rights. And third: Ensure that SHE has Economic Empowerment through Education, participation and leadership.
This sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet if we applied this imperative, the world would be a very different and far better place. SHE would enjoy equal opportunity, access to education and no longer be the face of poverty, and her gender will not decide her status and place in society.
I invite you to join me and the women and men of the world who have led many long struggles for the gender equality. In Africa, we have a saying that I want to leave with you: ‘If you go alone you go fast, but if we go together, we go far’. Let us go far together.
You can find more about the SHE initiative and ways to help at www.heforshe.org.

07 March 2014

Fit To Compete As A Woman

In 1976, male-to-female transsexual Renee Richards was denied entry into the US Open.  The United States Tennis Association based its ban on a "women-born-women" policy of which, it seemed, no one was aware until the USTA cited it.  She won a suit against the USTA and competed for several years, rising to as high as #20 in women's tennis rankings.

The controversy over whether MTFs should be allowed to compete as women has continued through the ensuing decades and over different sports ranging from golf to mountain bike racing.  Now the battle has reached fitness competitions.

Yesterday, personal trainer Chloie Jonnson-- who has lived as a woman since she was a teenager, had gender reassignment surgery in 2006 and has been taking female hormones--filed a discrimination suit against the Cross Fit company in Santa Cruz, California. She sought--and was denied--the right to compete in last year's Cross Fit Games, which determine the fittest man and woman. 

The suit alleges that one of Jonnson's teammates asked about the eligibility of transgender competitors in an anonymous e-mail to the game's organizers. (Anonymous e-mail.  Hmm...Sounds familiar.)  In response, the Game's organizers determined that athletes have to compete in the gender to which they were assigned at birth.

None of the news accounts I've seen mention any previously-written policy on the matter.  Some things don't change in four decades, I guess--namely, the level of knowledge about transgenders possessed by organizers of some athletic events. According to every scientist and doctor familiar with transgender patients and issues, someone who was born a male and takes hormones for several years has no advantage in strength or endurance over female athletes.  Even the International Olympic Committee, not exactly known for its progressivism, allows transgender athletes to compete in the gender by which they identify as long as they've had sex-reassignment surgery.

One thing that makes Jonnson's case particularly interesting and disturbing is that Cross Fit is based in California, which has some of the strictest laws barring discrimination based on gender identity.  I'm not a lawyer, but I would guess that fact alone should compel Cross Fit to allow Jonnson to compete. Or so I hope.