30 April 2014

The Bathrooms, Again....

Another day and another...instance of hysterical reactionaries distorting reality, or simply lying, to keep a group of people from having the same rights everyone else enjoys.

This time it's happening in Maryland.  There's this funny little law that expresses the utterly radical notion that transgender people should not experience discrimination in housing, education, employment or the use of public facilites on account of their gender identity expressions.  It's, you know, one of those rights that cisgender heterosexual people (well, those of certain races and classes and, ahem, one gender, anyway) take for granted. It's been voted in; Governor Martin O'Malley has said he will sign this piece of legislation, which is scheduled to take effect on 1 October.

But a group of lawmakers who oppose the lawee that was signed into law last year are now looking to overturn that law.  They are seeking a referendum that would put the question of repealing it on the ballot this November.

And how are they scaring, I mean appealing to, voters whose signatures they need for the referendum to make it to the ballot?  You might have heard of this tactic before:  They're referring to the law as "the bathroom bill", just as they did when they tried to keep it from passing.

From hearing those legislators, you'd think the law was about nothing else--or, more precisely, the "right" of "men in dresses" to enter women's bathrooms so they can harass (or even sexually assault) the women and molest young girls.

Well, the right to use the bathroom appropriate to the gender by which you're identifying and living is just one part of the law.  But magnifying it wasn't enough for those elected officials:  They have pandered to the crudest stereotypes (trans person as predator) and the most exaggerated, baseless fears in order to convince some people that, essentially, bigotry is good social and legislative policy.

Never mind that cross-dressers and people who are transitioning from one gender to another--or simply presenting themselves as one they weren't assigned at birth--use bathrooms for the same reasons everyone else does.  And, to put it bluntly, we simply want to pee in peace, and let others do the same. 

29 April 2014

Some Of Us Are More Equal Than Others

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

If you've read George Orwell's Animal Farm, you will remember that proclamation.  The pigs, who controlled the government in the world depicted in the novel, made it.

No gays are equal, but some are even less equal than others.

Of course, Orwell didn't write that in his novel.  But it's a pretty fair summation of the situation LGBT people face in Europe, and the rest of the world.

This map from ILGA Europe illustrates what I mean:

Map can also be seen here.

The percentage shown for each country indicates the degree of equality LGBT people have with everyone else.  As a region, Europe probably offers the greatest degree of equality in the world.  Still, there are great variations within it and some depressing (but not surprising) realities.  For example, the worst country for equality--the Russian Federation--scores 7 percent, and other countries in that region have very low ratings.  On the other hand, northern and western European countries fare best, with Great Britain scoring highest at 77 percent.  Belgium comes in second at 67 percent (two-thirds), while Norway, Sweden, Spain, France, Portugal and the Netherlands trail closely, all coming in at over 60 percent.

It would be interesting to see a similar map for the United States.  Would it reveal any surprises in comparing the states?

28 April 2014

"It's Only Words" Unless...

Maybe I don't get out enough.  That could be the reason why I don't know anyone who identifies as a "she male". 

I never identified that way--or as a "drag queen", "chick with a dick" or any of the other terms they use of porn websites and ads for sexual services.  For that matter, I don't know anyone who describes him or her self with those terms.

And--not to seem sanctimonious--I never would identify anyone in those ways--except, maybe, drag queen, and then only if he were to so identify himself.

Point is, those terms are almost always used in derogatory ways, much as "Nigger" and "Faggot" were until recently.  Now some young blacks and gay men so describe themselves, but most of them did not grow up hearing it as a slur or experiencing the discrimination and violence their forebears incurred.  

So, perhaps, one day non-gender-conforming males will take on the mantels of "she male", "chick with a dick" or "drag queen"--perhaps ironically, as many young people use the "F" and "N" words.  But for now, they cannot be seen as anything but derogatory, especially when they come from the likes of people who ought to know better, like RuPaul:


27 April 2014


Does your gym offer amenities like this?


26 April 2014

Declaring His Grandson An Equal

This 80-year-old man just did something I've never done and probably never will do.  

No, I'm not talking about having grandkids, although I don't, in fact, have any--and probably won't.  Rather, I mean something that, honestly, I've had even less inclination to do:  get a tatoo.

So why did "Grandpa Frank" get himself poked and inked?  Well, the design might provide a clue:  It's an equal sign--the symbol used by Marriage Equality acivists.

No, he didn't get hitched with one of his buddies.  "Grandpa Frank" got the image tatooed onto his wrist as a sign of support for his grandson, who recently "came out" and had the same image etched onto his wrist.


25 April 2014

Une Parisienne Manquee

When I came back from living in Paris, family members, friends and other people asked what I did there.  A few asked what I thought about, what I felt, usually beginning or ending with, "Were you ever homesick?"

No matter how much you love a place, if it's not home, you will be homesick. Yes, I lived in Paris and even considered it my home for a time.  But there were still times when I thought about the bed in which I used to sleep, a favorite jacket I left in New Jersey, my grandmother, bike rides alone and with friends (Don't get me wrong:  I did some great rides in France.  I just couldn't forget the ones I did before them), my mother (and her lasagna!) and other people and things.

One thing I never told anybody, though, was something that occupied much of my imagination while I was there:  I pictured myself as a Parisienne, a woman of style and grace as well as substance in the City of Light.

So I felt as if I were looking at a manquee version of myself when I looked, again, at these images photographer Christer Stromholm captured in Place Blanche during the 1960's:


24 April 2014

Off-Limits To Christians. And I'm Responsible.

I suppose that if I were a different sort of person, I'd be amused when I hear second-wave feminists (and their acolytes) making the same sorts of false, desperate claims as the LGBT-phobic Religious Right.

But such people affect my life and those of friends, allies and peers of mine.  So I am not amused. 

Someone who was once a really good friend but who later saw fit to disavow me--and claim that she never wanted anything to do with me in the first place-- said that I was "changing" genders so I could go to some university and get a job teaching Gender Studies (or Women's Studies) that should rightfully go to a "real"--that is to say, genetic and cisgender--woman.

She also asserted that I and other trans women are trying to usurp the other roles and jobs women have available to them. She never specified what those roles and jobs might be, but I don't recall trying to take any job away from any woman, or applying for one in the hope that I would displace what someone like her would deem a "real woman".

Of course, such facts will not dissuade her any more than any other relevant fact would cause American Family Association President Tim Wildmon to rethink his claim that LGBT folk are keeping good Christian people like him from making a living.

(Don't you just love it when hate groups use "family" in their names?)

According to him, the LGBT community seeks to "destroy the personal business and career (sic)" of Christians who don't support same-sex marriage and other forms of equality for LGBT people. (Of course, he doesn't think of them as "equality"; to him and his ilk, such things are "special privileges.) He cited such examples as Vermont's Wildflower Inn, which no longer hosts weddings after it was fined $30,000 for turning away a same-sex couple and Washington florist Baronnelle Stutzman, who faces a lawsuit from her state's attorney general after she refused to create the floral arrangements for a same-sex couple. He also referenced Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes By Melissa, whose owners cited their religious beliefs in their decision not to prep a cake for a gay couple's wedding.

He uses such examples, and others, to claim that seven common careers have become off-limits for Christians. They include those of the photographer, baker, florist, broadcaster, counselor, innkeeper and teacher/professor.

It sounds like "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," from the way Wildmon tells it. All right, I confess: I am here to take over your career!"

All right, so that was a joke. To me, anyway. But not to folks like Wildmon--or that erstwhile friend of mine--who, apparently, has been teaching Gender/Women's Studies at the College of Staten Island in the City University of New York. What's really scary about that was that I teach on the premise that knowledge is power and that my budding faith is showing me that I don't have to be beaten down by this world. Yet that old friend of mine--her name is Elizabeth Pallitto--and Mr. Wildmon are painting themselves and those who listen to them as victims.

To be fair, I have to say that Wildmon's rhetoric is more reprehensible because he is, in essence, using his and his followers' privilege (which, of course, they don't see as such) as members of what is considered the mainstream in America to push members of minority groups back into the margins. In other words, he's inciting bullying. All Professor Pallitto and her ilk are guilty of, really, is that they stopped learning after they read Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire.

23 April 2014

A Woman Who Rode With A Koala

If you've been following this (or my other) blog for a while, you've probably noticed that I like to tell stories about myself.  You've also probably noticed that I like to tell stories about other people, and times and places other than my own, especially if those stories have been untold or forgotten.

That is one reason why I've written posts about (or in which I mention)  Beryl BertonNancy BurghartSue Novara, Rebecca TwiggJeannie LongoPaola Pezzo and other prominent female cyclists.

And, yes, this post will be about another. But it will also touch upon a topic--a nation and culture, really--I've never mentioned:  Australia.  This omission does not come from any sort of bias; it has mainly to do with the fact that I've never been anywhere near the world's smallest continent or sixth-largest country, depending on how you look at it.

Nearly everything I know about it comes from reading and chance encounters with Australians in other parts of the world, including my own home town.  One of the few things I know is that the Aussie population--about a tenth of that of the US, even though the two countries are roughly the same size--includes a disproportionate number of long-distance cyclists.  That's not so surprising when you consider Australians' affinity for sports and outdoor activities and the fact that so much of the country is undeveloped.

One of those riders was someone named Billie Samuels.  I have been trying to find some information on her, to no avail. I guess I have to look in actual book (I think I can still do that) of Australian cycling history.

I learned of her only through stumbling over the photos I've included here.  Whoever she is, I want to know more because, hey, how could you not want to learn about someone who starts a ride from Sydney to Melbourne with a koala mascot on her handlebars?

(The photos in this post come from Vintage Everyday.

22 April 2014

How To Be A Trans Ally

I am a transwoman. And a writer.  And an educator.  Yet I'm still trying to figure out what to say to people who really want to know me, and other trans people as people.

This infographic has some interesting and useful ideas:

From Rebloggy

21 April 2014

Not Again: Mrs. Doubtfire

In 1992, I came out.

I'm not talking about my sexual preferences or gender identity.  What I mean is that after coming about as close as I've come (until this past summer) to having a nervous breakdown, I talked for the first time about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child.

I was ready to do so; even more to the point, some people in my life were ready to hear it.  And in American society, more people understood that a kid or a woman who is sexually molested or assaulted did not bring it on him- or her-self.  In fact, I found a pretty fair amount of sympathy from those with whom I discussed my experience.

However, at that time I also felt the submerged bubble of my gender identity rising to the surface of the river of my life.  And I popped it, at least to the degree I could.  

For all that doing so cost me (emotionally, that is), I had good reasons.  You see, most people still believed (and I told myself) that so-called trans women were gay men who wouldn't admit it to themselves. Someone who ended his friendship with me after I began my transition said as much.  

And, to most people who were not in the "spectrum" gay and trans people cared about nothing but sex, and therefore were "asking for it" when they were raped, molested or even murdered.  About two decades earlier, most men (and many women) had similar attitudes about women.

So, while not coming out about my trans identity was not a calculated decision at the time, it probably was best, at least in some ways.  Even from sympathetic people, I might have gotten some really bad advice, and I probably would have ended up in the office of some therapist who still believed that a man molesting a boy was simply a result of repressed homosexuality on one or both sides.  The fact that one of my molesters was a married man who, to my knowledge, never had any liaisons with adult males would not have been considered.

Even more to the point, a lot of people still saw transgenderism as nothing more than a person of one gender wearing the clothes of, and aping the behavior (actually, cariactures) of the other.  This attitude accounts for the wild popularity of a movie that came out that year:  Mrs. Doubtfire.

Now, I don't want to paint all people who laughed at it as transphobes.  I saw it and laughed at Robin Williams' antic comedy, as I do whenever I see him in a comic role.  However, most people--including many critics--actually thought the idea of a man wearing women's clothes was just plain funny or, at best, an example of "gender bending."

Even the premise too many saw as novel was ancient in the time of Greek theatre:  Someone dons a disguise to win, or win back, the person he or she loves.  And the idea of a man putting on a dress and makeup to get a job was treated much more skillfully in Tootsie, not to mention in Richard Wright's acerbic short story A Man Of All Work.

Still, there's no idea so cliched or simply outdated that Hollywood won't try to recycle it.  That's why there's a sequel of Mrs. Doubtfire in the works, with Robin Williams reprising the lead role.

I hope he reconsiders.  After all, I always thought he was thoughtful and informed when it comes to gender, sexual identity and other issues.  Also, I don't think that any remake, no matter how well-done, will be as well-received as the original was.  A lot of people's notions--including my own and those of people in my own life--have changed, thankfully, since then.  Of course, there are still a few who will laugh at the same jokes and sight gags.  Even such people probably wouldn't want to see a remake more than once, or a sequel.  That can't be good for Robin Williams' career--not that it needs a boost.

20 April 2014

19 April 2014

How To Protect Yourself In The Workplace

I have met Professor Jillian Weiss at Transgender Day of Remembrance events as well as on other occasions.  She is a most interesting and engaging speaker, and the work she does for our community is invaluable.

Therefore, I urge you to go to the main chat room of her Transworkplace on Tuesday evening.  There, she is hosting a chat on how to protect yourself legally.

Even if you live in one of those states (which don't include, ahem, New York) that has an all-inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act, you need to learn what will be discussed in that chat.

18 April 2014

No Apple In The Eye Of Those Who Want Equal Rights

New York is all but surrounded by states with laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression.  Pennsylvania doesn't even have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey all prohibit that as well as discrimination against transgender people.

I'm sure this surprises many of you.  If it does, you probably don't live in the Empire State and are therefore unfamiliar with its landscape as well as its politics.

You see, New York is not, and has never been, a "progressive" state.  We not only have conservative, even reactionary people living in the rural upstate areas; we also have them right here in New York City.  The Big Apple isn't all Chelsea or Jackson Heights; we have communities of recently-arrived immigrants as well as conservative white people who have the same prejudices--some of which people rationalize with their religious beliefs.

One result is that while the State Assembly is dominated by Democrats, most who are more or less progressive, the State Senate is the province of reactionary Republicans.  The result is--as we have seen in Washington--gridlock.  But even when relations between the two legislative bodies, and between them and the Governor, are relatively harmonious, there is always a Sargasso Sea of tangled red tape bound by pure-and-simple inertia.  (By the way, I think that's one of the reasons why New York has not legalized marijuana for medical use, while its neighbors--again, with the exception of Pennsylvania--have done so.

17 April 2014

A Late Spring, But I'll Take It

Yesterday's ice melted; I got out for a while.  Though still cold for this time of year--and windy--it was a rather lovely day.

One thing I've noticed, though, is that everything seems to be budding and blooming later than it has in other years.  I'm not complaining, though, especially after seeing this tree:

or this patch near it:

16 April 2014

A Third Gender In India

Quite possibly the most revolutionary piece of legislation regarding gender identity and expression was passed two years ago in Argentina.  In essence, it says that any Argentinian aged 18 or older can live as whichever gender he or she chooses. It also authorized doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals to provide the necessary care for those who chose not to live in the gender to which they were assigned at birth.  And, for those who couldn't afford those treatments and therapies, the government would foot the bill.

Now something arguably as radical--or, perhaps even more so--has happened in India.  A couple of days ago, that country's Supreme Court ruled that transgenders are a third gender.  So, for starters, all official forms must allow for trans people to indicate their gender as such, just as males and females check off the boxes that correspond with their sex.  It also allows transgenders to receive government benefits and partake of the social programs to which the rest of the country's citizens are entitled.

On one hand, I am pleased with this development.  Although I identify as female, and would continue to do so even if I were offered the option now available in India, I do not believe that people should be bound to the gender binary if they feel it's inappropriate for the way they identify and express themselves.  

On the other hand, given India's history with transgender people, this development could be troublesome.  I am thinking specifically of the hijra, who are both venerated and stigmatized in the subcontinent's cultures.  

Traditionally, hijras lived outside of the gender norms of Indian society and were believed to have special spiritual (and paranormal) abilities cisgenders don't have.  So, they were often called upon to officiate at weddings, funerals and other ceremonies and to cast, or cast away, spells.  But, even with such a status--which, for the most part, they've lost as India has become more influenced by the West--they were still very poor and begged or even engaged in sex work.   To this day, people give them money simply because they don't want to take the chance that a spurned hijra will send some dark enerty their way.

Given such a history, I have to wonder whether India's new ruling might actually further stigmatize the hijra, as well as other trans people.  I can't help but to think about a trans woman who was a hijra in India and was seeking asylum here.  From what she told me, even though some people still believe hijras have special powers, they can be killed with little or no penalty to those who kill them.  And, according to this trans woman (who will remain nameless, for obvious reasons), many men in her native country "accept" trans people insofar as they can use us sexually, or simply as lurid curiosities.

I guess time will tell what how the Indian Supreme Court's ruling will affect the lives of trans people. 

15 April 2014

Harvey Milk Postage Stamp

Getting one's image on a postage stamp is, I reckon, a bit like the Nobel Prize.  Whenever I hear about someone being honored with one or the other, I have one of two responses:  "What were they thinking?" or
"What took them so long?"

I had the first response when Obama got the Peace Prize.  (For that matter, I was even more perplexed when Henry Kissinger got it.)  But I had the latter reaction today, upon finding out that the US Postal Service is issuing a stamp with Harvey Milk's image. 

As many of you know, he was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.  His career was tragically cut short--along with that of his boss, then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone-- by Dan White, who had recently resigned from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, on which Milk served at the time White shot him.

A number of motives have been ascribed to White.  The one with the most empirical evidence is that White, a former San Francisco police officer and firefighter and a Vietnam veteran, represented a conservative district on the southeastern edge of the city.  Residents there were said to be resentful toward the city's growing homosexual community whom, of course, they--and probably White himself--saw embodied in Milk.

Another plausible explanation--implied in the 2008 film in which Sean Penn played Milk--is that White was a closeted homosexual who was jealous and resentful of the accomplishments and accolades that came Milk's way.

Whatever the explanation, I'm glad to see Harvey Milk so honored.  Even though his political career spanned only a few years, his work gained a lot of momentum.  I wish that he could have lived to see--and perhaps partake--of some of the fruit it is just starting to bear.

14 April 2014

What Do We Become? Some Medical Effects Of Our Transitions

Anyone who has taken hormones can attest to the changes they make in the body and mind.  Our doctors (for those of us who get our hormones through legitimate means) tell us about some we can expect.  For example, those of us who are male-to-female are advised that our breasts will develop (usually, to one cup size less than our mothers'), the hair on our heads will grow more rapidly and become finer while the hair on our faces will grow more slowly, the lines of our faces will soften and fat will re-distribute itself in our bodies.  Females-to-males learn that they will grow facial hair, their voices will deepen and their faces and bodies will fit into straighter lines.  

I also learned that I was at greater risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis, though my risk for either would probably be no more than for most women who were assigned the female gender at birth. I was also advised that I might gain weight and have a harder time losing it (Did that ever come true!) because estrogen causes the body to store fat more than testosterone does.  As a result, my reactions to some medications and other substances might be different from what they might have been when I lived as a man.  (I say "might have been" because I very rarely took medications--even the over-the-counter kind.) And then, of course, there were the emotional changes.  

Now I've come across an article saying, in essence, that women process alcohol differently than men, so the effects on their bodies are different.  Of course, any woman who is, or plans on becoming, preganant has to be concerned with the effects of drinking on her child-to-be.  Perhaps even more important, women are at greater risk of liver damage and other diseases associated with excessive alcohol consumption because their bodies break down alcohol more slowly and store it for longer periods of time.  That is related to a fact I mentioned earlier:  We store more fat, as a portion of our body weight, and keep it for longer, than men do.  That same fact is also one reason why women are at greater risk of heart attacks and diseases as a result of drinking.

(Of course, there are other hazards women face, such as an increased risk of experiencing sexual assault, as a result of alcohol consumption.)

Any time I read or hear about the medical differences between women and men, I can't help but to wonder how I will be affected.  I share some of the same medical and psychological difficulties--and rewards--of being a woman that cisgender females experience from the time they're born.  But, in other ways, my body still acts and reacts like that of a man.  The reverse of what I have just described holds true, of course, for female-to-male transgenders.

Now that we have three or four generations (depending on how you count) of people who've made medical gender transitions (as opposed to earlier trans people who lived or merely dressed as the gender of their minds and spirits), I think we're just starting to learn about the ways  in which we become and don't become--medically and psychologically--more like the gender in which we live than the one we're assigned at birth.  Also, the fact that hormone treatments and surgeries are different from those available to earlier generations, and the fact that more of us are living longer, will reveal more about the degree to which we take on the hazards and the benefits of our true, spiritual genders.

13 April 2014

A Message Like No Other

When you cycle in an urban area, you see more graffiti than the average person.  More important, you see it at closer range than someone riding a bus or cab, or driving by.

Even while seeing so closely, you don't remember a lot of it.  After all, so much of it, frankly, looks alike.  But every once in a while you see "tags" that stand out for their use of color, artistry or simply their overall size.  And, sometimes, you see a graffito that's a true work of art.  I am fortunate in having lived, for years, not very far from Five Pointz--whose days are. lamentably, numbered.

But this piece--on the side of a Barrow Street building, just west of Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, is like no other I've seen:

12 April 2014

Something That Hasn't Changed (Unfortunately)

Last night, I stopped by the LGBT Community Center.  I hadn't been there in a while, but early in my transition, I sometimes felt as if I were living there.

Anyway, I bumped into a few people I haven't seen in some time. One of them is someone I'll call Lorna.  She participated in two of the support groups I attended early in my transition.  Back then, she was still living as male but was exploring her gender identity and sexuality.  After a few other life-changing events which I won't reveal, so as not to run the risk of outing her, she recently began her transition.

I was reminded that more than a decade has passed since we attended those support groups.   A lot has changed since then, but something--disturbingly--hasn't:  Apparently, desperate trans women are still buying "German hormones" on the streets.  Someone offered them to Lorna; she refused.

 When I started my transition, it was undoubtedly easier to get hormones through legitimate means--and get the other care I needed--than it was for people who made the transition a decade before me, or the ones who transitioned a decade before them.  Still, then--as now--some trans people, especially the young, cannot access mainstream healthcare for all sorts of reasons, the most common being a lack of documentation.  Very often, young trans people are kicked out of, or run away from , their families or are bullied out of their schools and communities.  Or they are fleeing countries where they are likely to be incarcerated or murdered, sometimes by the very people who have the power to imprison them.

As long as such conditions prevail, we're still going to have lots of trans teenagers who won't make it to the third decade of their lives.  I don't think any society would stand for such a mortality rate in any other group of people.  But, as long as there are barriers to access of the improved health care, young (and sometimes not-so-young) people will continue to buy (or trade sex for) "German" hormones or other black- and gray- market substances and treatments.

11 April 2014

Myths About Women And Cycling

Given my life experiences, it would surprise few people to know that I think about some of the differences between female and male cyclists, and the experiences each of us has.

I have also become more aware of just how male-centered the cycling world--in everything from the social contexts of rides to equipment design to the attitudes of some bike shop employees.  Also, I am shocked at how much of that male-centeredness--as well as some out-and-out misogyny--I helped to perpetrate.

So I guess it's not surprising that some old myths about women and cycling still persist.  I was aware of some, and learned of a few others from this infographic that recently came my way:

From Biking Toronto

10 April 2014

An Open Letter To A Young Victim Of Homophobia

For two years, I co-facilitated a weekly group for LGBT teenagers and young adults.  I was a volunteer and had to stop because of changes in the scheduling of my paid work.  However, I wonder how much longer I would have continued as a co-facilitator.  Few things I've done were more rewarding. However, few things are more  heartbreaking than to see a fourteen-year-olds who were cast out of their families or bullied out of their schools and communities because they were--or people perceived them to be--members of the LGBT communities.

I can only imagine how I would have felt had I known Zachary Dutro Boggess. He is the four-year-old boy whose mother thought he would become gay. "He walks and talks like it.  Ugh," Jessica Dutro wrote to her boyfriend, Brian Canady, whom she instructed to "work on him".  

Work on him they did.  Someone should have seen this tragedy unfolding, as Ms. Dutro had a history of abusive behavior toward other kids and her message to her boyfriend was not her only or most virulent expression of homophobia.

Now Rob Watson--himself a gay father--has written this open letter to Zachary, whose life ended so terribly:

Dear Zachary,
Goodbye. We, the world, have failed you little one. You came to us, bright and full of promise, and we left you in the hands of one who did not appreciate your brightness, and in fact, she sought to make you suffer for who she thought you might be.
I am sorry. I did not cause the force that killed you, and in fact, I fight it daily. You are dead, however, and for me, that means that I did not fight hard enough, not nearly hard enough.
You were killed by homophobia, my child. It came through the hands of parents, through the very hands and arms that should have been there to grab you, and hold you and love you. It was the force of homophobia that killed you however, not just those physical blows that delivered it. While your parents embodied that hatred, it was not created by them, it had been given to them in many ways from the world around them.
I am sorry you were born in a world where too many voices tell you not to be you. No one should have to fight for the right to be themselves, least of all, a 4-year-old child.
I am sorry you were born into a world where so many feel that the ability to physically make a child is more important that the ability to love and nurture one. Where people are writing court papers vilifying parents who do not physically procreate, they should be writing briefs condemning parents who do not love. Birthing a child is merely bringing it to life. Loving a child is truly giving it a reason to live.
I am sorry you were born into a world where people believe in misinterpreted Bible passages and tired dogmas. They hold onto them only so they can rationalize hating something they don’t understand. Something they see in you, even in your innocence.
I am sorry for all the beauty, magnificence, talent and life that you represented that is now gone. I miss the adult you were to become: the father, the artist, or the hero. I mourn the children you did not get to raise and the better world you did not get to help build.
A man named Fred Phelps died a few weeks ago, two years after you did. He lived his life being hateful, trying to get people to be more homophobic. He failed and his efforts made people not want to be like him. Homophobia lost. You lived your life being loving, and your efforts made two people hate you. Homophobia still lost however, because I will never ever forget you.
I pray that your short life is held up as the horrible cost of the homophobic mindset. That mindset is not an opinion. It is not a right to religious beliefs. It is a deep and ever-present danger that kills the innocent. I pray that your life robs homophobia of its glory and helps shame it into non-existence.
Nothing will replace the life we lost in you. You were our child and we allowed our world to inspire your fate. You deserved so much better.
With you in our hearts, little man, I promise you, we will do so much better. We will shut this intolerance, this indecency down even harder. We can’t give you back your life, but through your memory, we can take back our own lives and this world.
We have the power to make this world one of love, fairness and peace. You have reminded us why we need to do that for all the future little boys and little girls just like you. We owe it to them. We owed it to you. We will not fail again.

09 April 2014

Why The Fact That An Adjunct Teaches Your Class Is A Feminist Issue

Someone passed this very interesting article from the Feminist Daily News  to me:


Adjunct Faculty Demand Fair Pay and Benefits

Prompted by a homeless adjunct professor's one-woman protest outside the New York State Department of Education in Albany, adjunct professors across the nation took to Twitter over the weekend to call attention to the low-wages and exploitation of adjuncts working in higher education.

Mary-Faith Cerasoli went to Albany during Spring Break to protest working conditions for adjunct college professors. Cerasoli is an adjunct at Mercy College in New York where she teaches a full courseload, but makes only $22,000 per year before taxes. Ineligible for public assistance, Cerasoli relies on friends for shelter but is sometimes forced to live out of her car - a gift from a used-car dealer in Westchester, NY. Cerasoli has no office, no health benefits, and a sizeable debt-load thanks to unpaid student loans and medical bills. "They call us professors, but they're paying us at poverty levels," she said. "I just want to make a living from a skill I've spent 30 years developing."

Cerasoli is not alone. Adjunct professors - the majority of whom are women - are contract employees usually paid per course taught, and the pay is low. The average adjunct is paid less than $3,000 for a typical three-credit course, but one study found that adjuncts at several colleges reported earning less than $1,000. The vast majority of adjuncts do not receive health insurance, retirement benefits, or sick leave, and many must cobble together a living, often by traveling miles to teach at multiple campuses. In terms of annual compensation, then, adjuncts earn between $18,000 and $30,000, without any benefits, for the equivalent of full-time work, compared to "tenure-track" professors who earn between $68,000 to $116,000 plus benefits.

Some adjuncts have joined labor unions at their institutions in order to organize for better pay and working conditions, but the average adjunct professor is still a source of cheap labor for many colleges. And the use of adjuncts is more widespread than ever. Adjunct professors now make up approximately half of all college faculty.

"I had this idea that I could get a job so that I could have a good income to support my son, and it didn't work out that way," explained Nicole Beth Wallenbrock, an adjunct professor featured on PBS NewsHour. "I'm a precarious worker. I have no job security."
Media Resources: Minneapolis Star Tribune 3/31/14; PBS NewsHour 3/31/14, 2/6/14; New York Times, 3/27/14; The Nation 7/11/13; The Chronicle of Higher Education 1/4/13

The issue of adjunct (i.e., paid as part-time) instructors in colleges and universities has been getting some attention in the media lately.  But this article is the first I've seen that framed the adjunctification of higher education as a feminist (i.e., women's; a.k.a., gender) issue.

And it is exactly such an issue--unless, of course, you believe that the fact that faculties have gone from having almost no adjuncts thirty years ago to having adjunct majorities today and the fact that women constitute the majorities of many departments is purely coincidental.  Or that the fact that every trade and profession that has ever gone from being mainly male to mainly female has lost respect, let alone prestige, not to mention pay relative to the consumer price index.  Or that the least-respected professions--and the ones avaricious managers try to bully--are the ones that employ mainly women.

08 April 2014

Too Unconventional

Maspeth is a Queens neigborhood only two miles from my apartment.  I pass through it frequently and even stop once in a while, as one of my favorite Italian-American bakeries--the Russo Bakery--is there.

For a long time, it was a conservative blue-collar enclave inhabited mainly by immigrant and second- and third-generation Italian and German families.  More recently, Poles and Albanians have moved there, fleeing the poverty of their native lands.  It is a quiet neighborhood, long regarded as safe. 

However, it has not been terribly welcoming of diversity.  Along with the Poles and Albanians, Mexicans and other Latin Americans have been moving there, to the displeasure of some longtime residents.

It's also been a religious--mainly Roman Catholic--enclave.  On Sundays, the churches are full and, during services, streets are deserted.  Once the masses and services end, families throng down the streets or flock into their cars for long Sunday brunches or dinners at the homes of family members and friends, or in the local restaurants.

In such a milieu (Such a word would never be uttered there!), it's not surprising that not many gay people, let alone couples, move in.  Or that a young woman is told she can't bring her boyfriend to the prom because he's too "unconventional".

Actually, Anais Celin was informed that Nathaniel Baez's gender transition was "too unconventional" for the pastor at Martin Luther High School.  The school is affiliated with the Missouri Synod, as are most Lutheran churches in the eastern United States. While the Evangelical Lutheran Church has allowed the ordination of non-celebite gay clergy members and has consummated same-sex unions for the past five years, the Missouri Synod does not permit either.

Even though Maspeth has remained a largely conservative community, it's still part of the most diverse county--Queens, as in the borough of New York City--in the nation.  I cannot understand how a school in such a setting, even if it is affiliated with a church that takes the stance it does on homosexuality, can deny a young woman the right to bring her boyfriend to the prom because his gender identity and expression are "too unconventional".

Then again, Maspeth is next door to Ridgewood, where trans woman Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar was brutally murdered four years ago. And the school is named for Martin Luther, a notorious homophobe, even for his time and place.

07 April 2014

Yearning For A New Journey

I am itching to go to France, to Europe, again.  Actually, I really want to do what I did as recently as 2001, just before 9/11:  Buy the cheapest round-trip ticket to Paris I can find, bring my bike with me and decide where I’m going to ride once I get there.

The first time I did that, I didn’t come back for a long, long time.  (Actually, I bought an open-ended round-trip ticket to London.  Are such things still available?) I rode through the English countryside to Dover and took the ferry to Calais, from which I rode through Belgium, the Netherlands and back into France, where I stayed for as long as I could.  Other times, I pedaled to Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland or the Netherlands and back. 

When I took such trips—even the first, my first outside North America—I never felt like a tourist.  Even though my French—or, for that matter, English-- wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was after the classes I took, I felt (with much justification, I believe) I was experiencing the countries, the cultures and all of the architecture and art I’d seen in books and classrooms in ways that those who followed trails emblazoned with American Express signs never could.

On the other hand, when I went to Prague three years ago, I knew I was a tourist.  It didn’t have anything to do with the way people treated me; for that matter, it didn’t even have to do with the fact that I knew nothing of the Czech language.  Many residents of Prague speak German—of which I know a little-- nearly as well as they speak their own language, which is not a surprise when you consider that the area’s history.  And I found it surprisingly easy to find people who spoke English, or even French.  But I stayed in a hotel and rented a bike which while, enjoyable enough to ride, was nothing like the ones I brought with me on previous trips.  In contrast, in all of my other trips, I usually stayed in hostels.  Sometimes I’d camp, and once in a while I’d stay in a pension or inexpensive hotel if the other options weren’t available or I was too tired or lost to find them—or I simply wanted to treat myself.

During the first years of my gender transition, I wasn’t thinking about taking a trip like the ones I took every other year or so.  Then, for a few years, I told myself I didn’t want to take such trips—or so I told myself—because I saw them as part of my life as a male being, which I was leaving in my past.  I also figured that I couldn’t take such trips, which I usually did alone, because I believed that travelling solo as a woman would not be safe.

But I realize that other women have taken bike or other trips by themselves.  More important, I think I still have the same ability to function on my own that I had when I was younger, and male. If anything, I can function better on my own, in part because I have a better sense of when I need to ask for help, or when I want to do things with other people.

Now I see two barriers to doing a trip like the ones I did in my youth.  One is cost.  The past few years have been more difficult for me, financially, than those years of my 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s.   Even if my income were keeping pace with the kind of money I made in those days—or if I came upon the serendipities that sometimes came my way—it would be harder to take such a trip because it’s much more expensive.  Back in the day, my biggest expense was the plane fare:  Once I got to Europe, I could live cheaply and relatively well, even when exchange rates weren’t so favorable to the dollar.  But, since the introduction of the Euro, everything has gotten much more expensive.  Europeans I know say as much.

The other is that I wasn’t in the kind of physical condition I was in those days.  Some people have told me it’s to be expected, simply because my age.  Also, more than a decade of taking hormones and my surgery left me with less physical strength and endurance than I had in those days.  Plus, as much as I love cycling, I don’t do as much of it as I did in those days. That, of course, may have something to do with my physical changes.

Still, I would love to take the sort of trip I used to take, and to experience it as the person I am now.  Some might say that’s an unrealistic hope.  But, until someone can show me that it’s empirically impossible, I’ll continue to hold out such a hope—and to do what I can to prepare for such a trip.

06 April 2014

Where We're Covered

Right now, laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender identity or presentation are in effect for jurisdictions in which 47 percent of the US population lives.

Of course, that means if a couple more states or some more cities pass such laws, the majority trans people will be protected.  Still, there will be large "deserts" in this country.  

What is most troubling, though, is only pockets of New York and other states are covered.  Granted, cities with such laws are home to vast majority of the Empire State's people. Still, it's troubling that such a supposedly progressive state is not fully on board with transgender equality.

Of course, laws by themselves don't protect us against discrimination.  Too often, we are fired or hounded out of our jobs on spurious, trumped-up charges.  I'm not using the "imperial 'we'" here:  I know from whence I speak.

05 April 2014

Bad For Our Health

A recent report shows a dramatic increase in the  number of suicides among City Public School pupils this year.

Nearly all researchers--as well as teachers and school administrators--say that the vast majority of kids who commit suicide have been bullied.  And a large portion of them are LGBT, or seem to be.

Those who don't kill themselves carry the scars, physical as well as emotional, for years to come.

This infographic from the folks at Fenway Health illustrates the point:


04 April 2014

A Year In Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life

I know it's Spring.  And it's time to ride and be joyful. But I think there's something else that bears mentioning.

On this date in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated in Memphis.  I was a child at the time and, until that day, knew nothing about him. However, I think I understood, for the first time, what the word "tragedy" means and that it isn't the same as mere sadness or grief.

He was cut down one year to the day after making what might have been the most important speech of his life--and one of the most important in American history.

Before an audience of 3000 in New York's Riverside Memorial Church, the greatest leader this country has ever had declared, "My conscience leaves me no other choice."  Then he described the terrible effects of the Vietnam War on this country's poor as well as Vietnamese peasants.  Thus, he concluded, he could not continue to fight for civil rights and address the myriad injustices--all of which had to do with race, class and gender--that existed (and still exist) in the United States without opposing the war his country was waging in the former French Indochina.

Here is a video of that speech:

03 April 2014

One Way To Explain The Difference

Here's an answer to a question just about all trans (and more than a few cisgender) people are asked:

02 April 2014

When An Enemy Of Trans People Is A Friend of Labor (Or So He Thinks)

A colleague is petitioning the college to build or designate transgender bathrooms.  "A male-to-female is taking her life into her hands when she goes into a men's bathroom!," she exclaimed.

"Tell me about it!"  I didn't go into detail, but I told her about an incident early in my transition in which a security guard harassed and outed me for using a women's bathroom.

The problems of shared public space are not, of course, limited to bathrooms.  In many other venues, the risk to transgenders of incurring violence or worse is great when they are forced to use facilities intended for the gender in which they are not living.  Though the dangers are more pronounced for male-to-female transgenders, female-to-males are not immune.

For trans people, perhaps no place is more dangerous than a jail or prison.  Almost everyone, except for the most physically intimidating, is potentially a victim of rape or other kinds of violent assault.  If a male-to-female is incarcerated with men, the warden may as well attach a target to her back.

That is why Texas Governor Rick Perry's refusal to comply with the Federal Rape Prevention Act is unconscionable.  

One of his rationales is that a provision of the act prohibits cross-gender searches.  About 40 percent of all guards in male prisons are female.  So, according to Perry, turning the Act into a law "may mean the loss of job and promotion opportunities".  

Ah, yes.  Rick Perry is a friend of labor.  So much that he has to compromise the lives of trans people.

And to think that he ran for President!

01 April 2014

Dignity In Death

Too many trans people face the dilemma of being defined by a document issued when they were born while they are living their lives their true selves.

I was in such a dilemma for several years:  I was living as Justine, a woman, but my birth certificate still said I was a boy named Nicholas.  That could have been problematic had I had a medical emergency or worse.  After all, I could have been buried as a man. (On top of that, I don't think I want to be buried.  But that's another story altogether.)

For too many trans people, the obstacles involved in changing their birth certificates are prohibitive.  In some states and countries, the procedure is endless and expensive.  And, in many jurisdictions, changing birth certificates for any reason is simply not allowed.

That is why I was gratified to read about this latest development from California:

Sacramento, CA – The Respect After Death Act (AB 1577), authored by Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins and sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, passed the Assembly Health Committee today by a bipartisan provisional vote of 17-1. The bill is designed to help ensure transgender people have their authentic gender identity reflected on their death certificates.

The Respect After Death Act will mean that death certificates reflect the authentic lived gender of the deceased, with various forms of proof accepted under the law, including written confirmation of the deceased’s wishes, updated birth certificates and driver’s licenses, or medical records of gender transition.

“Transgender people deserve the same dignity and respect in death as everyone else,” said John O’Connor, executive director of EQCA. “This bill provides much needed legal guidance that

“Every person deserves to be treated with dignity after their death, including having their death certificate accurately reflect who they are,” said Speaker-elect Atkins. “AB 1577 will provide direction to officials for determining the wishes of the deceased with respect to their gender identification. I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support of my colleagues on the Assembly Health Committee.” will make it easier for authorities to do their jobs. It also ensures that when California remembers transgender people who have passed, it remembers their authentic selves.”

Current law requires death certificates to list personal data such as name, sex, and race, and there is no legal guidance about how the official filling out the death certificate should determine a transgender person’s sex. The lack of guidance sometimes results in cases where the information on the death certificate is not consistent with the deceased’s lived gender. This can put funeral directors and coroners at risk of liability if the friends and family of the deceased believe that they listed the incorrect sex.

“Too often, the identities of transgender people are disrespected, especially when we are unable to speak for ourselves. Gender identity represents a core part of who we are as people and this identity should be recognized even upon our deaths,” said Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “When a loved one is not honored as their authentic self upon their passing it is extremely painful for the family, friends, and community.”