26 July 2014

No Bicycles Were Harmed (At Least, Not Physically) In Making This Movie

I am going to make a confession:  I simply could not get through Fifty Shades of Grey.

I tried. I really tried.  You see, I am not at all averse to erotic fiction.  And, every once in a while, I need a mindless diversion.

It's not as if I was expecting FSG to be the next Lady Chatterley's Lover or even Histoire d'O.  But--call me a snob--I have some standards when it comes to writing.  FSG started off well below them and sank with every page I managed to read.  

How bad is it?  How can anyone, with a straight face, write or publish a novel that has both of these sentences:  "Her curiosity oozes through the phone" and "My mom is oozing contrition"?  Worse, those aren't the only passages containing some form of the verb "to ooze".  The only time someone should use any form of that word more than once in a piece of writing is when he or she is writing about a volcanic eruption.

That's not even the worst offense I saw in what I managed to read.

I don't think I have to tell you I won't be seeing the movie.  

Apparently, a trailer for the flick, which is scheduled to be screened--when else?--next Valentine's Day, is on the web.  Someone named "Christine B." who has a stronger stomach than mine or is getting paid for her troubles, posted the one and only scene that might even be mildly interesting.  That's because it features the only credible character, if you will"  a bicycle.

25 July 2014

Gay Rights = Loss Of Religious Freedom. Haven't We Heard That One Before?

New Orleans is often called "The Big Easy."  While that nickname might depict life--at least some aspects of it--in the Crescent City, it doesn't apply to the state--Louisiana--of which it is a part.

Interestingly, New Orleans extended its anti-discrimination laws to protect gender identity and expression in 1998, four years before New York City managed to do the same.  And, of course, New Orleans was known to have a lively gay culture and "scene"--even if much of it was underground--long before it held its first "official" Pride event in 1978.  

Even with such an environment, there were reminders--some of them truly awful--that the "N'awlins" is indeed located in Dixie.  On 24 June 1973, the UpStairs Lounge, club that provided meeting space for the city's first LGBT-affirming congregation, was set ablaze in an arson attack. Thirty-two people died as a result.  Rodger Dale Nunez, the only suspect arrested for the attack, escaped from psychiatric custody and was never again picked up by the police, even though he spent a lot of time hanging around in the French Quarter neighborhood surrounding the UpStairs Lounge.  He committed suicide in November 1974.  Six years later, the state fire marshal's office. lacking other leads, closed the case.

I mention this to give you an idea of what a formidable task some folks in Baton Rouge, the state's capital, are trying to do:  pass a "Fairness Ordinance" banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in their city. Not surprisingly, it's meeting with fierce opposition from people who claim that passing such an ordinance will inhibit their religious freedom?

How many times have we heard that argument?  How many more times must we hear it before everyone realizes how bogus it is?

20 July 2014

Sunday Sailing

I admit this photo hasn't much to do with gender identity or any related issue. I took it on Point Lookout, one of the places to which I rode my bike last week.

But somehow it seems right for a Sunday afternoon in summer.  And I suppose it has something like composition and a balance of tones in it.  Even if it doesn't, I hope you like it.

19 July 2014

What Do They Mean By A "Transgender Tipping Point"?

Sometimes I despair over National Public Radio.  While it's certainly more balanced (or, al least, broadcasts fewer out-and-out falsehoods) than right-wing radio talk shows or Fox News, it's still, shall we say, lacking in cojones sometimes.  

But this exchange between Dr. Julie Eastin, Mara Keisling and host Diane Rehm looks as if it might have been interesting, even lively.  I'm not exactly sure of what Ms. Rehm means by a "tipping point." I'm not even sure she knows.  But I have little doubt that the editors of Time magazine hadn't the foggiest notion of what they were saying. I think they just liked the alliteration:  Transgender Tipping Point.

Anyway, I give credit to Ms. Rehm for bringing Ms. Keisling and Dr.Eastin on her show, and doing what seemed to be a good job of moderating.

18 July 2014

Two Ships Didn't Pass Or Collide. One Swerved..

Late yesterday afternoon, I was riding my bike in another part of Queens, a few miles from my apartment.  Conditions were nearly perfect:  a little less warm, and a lot less humid, than we can normally expect at this time of year.  High clouds swirled around the sun; a light breeze twirled leaves and petals.
I stopped, not because I was tired, but to immerse myself in the wonder of the day.  (Make what you will of that statement; at one time in my life, I would have sneered at someone who made it.) Also, an old favorite pizzeria was nearby.  Somehow I felt a slice would be a worthwhile deviation (i.e., cheat) from the kinda-sorta diet.  

So I bought a slice—plain, old-school Neapolitan, with tangy slightly acidic sauce and oozing, almost unctuous cheese—and a small bottle of San Pellegrino.  Then I crossed the street to a triangle “park” fenced off from the three streets that intersected.  I sat in one of the pastel-colored metal park chairs and rested my paper plate and bottle on a matching table painted in Pepto-Bismol (or Mary Kay) pink. 

Although I savored every mouthful of that slice of pizza, I finished it before I drank half of the bottle of Italian fizzy water.  I sinuously sipped from the curvaceous green bottle and languorously crossed my legs.

All right, any sinuousness or languorosness (Are those real words?) was unintentional on my part.  Or unconscious, at any rate.  That is, until I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a man eyeing me.

Much to my surprised, he walked over to me.  Even more to my surprise, he tried to start a conversation.

“You are a beau-ti-ful woman.”

I pretended not to hear him.  But he repeated himself, moving closer:  He was even less convinced by my pretense than I was.
He must have been at least a decade older than I am.  I didn’t mind that:  After my experience with a certain younger man, and one before him, I have come to appreciate the virtues of age.  

But I am still not ready—or, to tell the truth, willing—to acknowledge the virtues of men, or a man, at least in a certain kind of relationship.  He wasn’t bad-looking, at least for what I thought to be his age.  His green eyes—a color somewhere between sage and olive—refracted a wisdom borne of experience and reflected a vision of his own mortality.  I didn’t tell him that, but he told me I have beautiful eyes.

He was trying to escape, not merely from his loneliness, but from gazing into the abyss and seeing nothing—not the wife he lost to cancer, to the children he never had or even himself. Or perhaps he saw only himself. I cannot help anyone confront that, or even to turn away.

Perhaps he understood that. Or perhaps he simply realized that, while I thought he was nice enough, I simply could not feel about him the way he claimed to feel about me.  I think he also knew that I’m too emotionally weary, or simply old, to have a fling with him or anyone else.  It’s not even that I’m looking for commitment, necessarily:  Actually, he might have wanted that.  

I simply wished him a good evening.  It was all I could do. 

17 July 2014

Young LGBT People Of Color

A gay Dominican man describes where he lives--the South Bronx--as a "major gayborhood".

When I was spending a lot of time in the LGBT Community Center in New York, I noticed a lot of young African-American and Latino were coming in.  Some remarked that they felt unwelcome, as the Center was run by whites (mostly gay men) and is situated in a neighborhood that was whitening.  They all told me that there are "lots of" gay and trans people in their communities, even though outsiders don't associate them with the rainbow, so to speak.

And all of those young black and Latino and Asian people told me they faced difficulties both within and outside their home turf.

So, the information in this graphic did not surprise me:


16 July 2014

Trans Woman's Body Found This Morning

Just before 6 this morning, someone found a body in an alley.

The murder victim had suffered severe trauma.

Does it surprise you that she was transgender?

Does it surprise you that someone wants to give her killer a key to the city?  Or that someone used the occasion as an excuse to say that Obama is coming out and admiting that Michelle is a "tranny"?

The victim identified herself as Mia Henderson. Her government-issued ID bore the name Kevin Long.

Police in Baltimore, where Ms. Henderson's body was found, said they couldn't yet tell whether her murder is related to a similar one committed a month ago.


15 July 2014


Sometimes I wonder whether I'm performing some sort of service by calling out someone by Peter LaBarbera.  Or, by mentioning him, am I merely lending him dignity he doesn't deserve?

Perhaps I should feel sorry for him.  After all, he must feel some terrible emptiness if he really can't find anything better to do with himself than to spread hate and bile about anyone who isn't cisgender and heterosexual.

I must give him credit, though:  He can pump out more bilge in one talk-show appearance than most people can in a year.  I guess that takes some sort of talent, not to mention dedication.

Listen to him slam doctors who perform gender-reassignment surgery and President Obama's "obsession" with homosexuality--and use legal reasoning skills that would leave Learned HandBenjamin Cardozo, Sandra Day O'Connor, Thurgood Marshall and even John Jay speechless in talking about the Hobby Lobby case.

14 July 2014

I Always Thought They Were Better Than This

Even when I wanted nothing to do with religion and was denying my spirituality, I had respect for the Quakers.  For one thing, they played important roles in helping to end slavery in the US.  For another, they have always been (officially, at least) pacifistic.  Plus, they were among the first congregations to accept LGBT people.

And now they are running a modern version of the "Underground Railroad" to help LGBT Ugandans the harsh sanctions and punishments their country imposes on them simply for being who they are.

So how do any of these things square with what's happening at George Fox University?

The Quaker-run school is denying a student named Jayce the opportunity to live with his male friends on campus.

Because you're reading this blog, you've probably deduced that Jayce is a trans man.  Having undergone his transition process, both the governments of this country and his home state (Oregon) classify him as male.  His birth certificate, driver's license and Social Security card say as much.

But, for some reason, the folks who run GFU don't see it that way.  In fact, they even lobbied for, and got, a religious exemption that allows them to deny Jayce his housing choice.  Worse, they made their request without notifying Jayce or his lawyer.

School officials have offered him the choice of living in a single on-campus apartment. However, he says, such a living arrangement would cut him off from the social life and much else he likes about the college. 

Now tell me:  How can a congregation with such a long history of welcoming people do something that further marginalizes someone from a marginalized group?  Given that many other people, organizations and communities are doing the same, and worse, is it any wonder that trans people have such high rates of depression and self-destructive behavior?

I always thought better of the Quakers.  And now I don't think I'm out of line in expecting better of them.

13 July 2014

"Where Are You Riding Today?"

Sometimes, when I’m about to mount my bike, someone—almost invariably, someone who doesn’t ride—will spot me and ask, “Where are you going to ride?”

Sometimes I have a specific destination in mind.  But, as often as not, I have no particular itinerary, let a landmark toward which my trek will be directed—when I lift my leg over my saddle.

Sometimes I lie:  “I’m going to the park.”  Or the beach.  Or some other seemingly-plausible terminal or turnaround for an hour or two or more on my bike. But, other times, I tell state the undeniable fact: “Oh, I don’t know.  I’m just going to ride for a bit.”

Perhaps paradoxically, I am most likely to take a “pointless” ride when I have a set amount of time—say, an hour or two—to ride.  At such times, I simply want to use my legs as something more than props for keeping me upright on a chair or standing in front of a classroom.  Or I simply want to experience sun, wind, clouds, heat or cold, or the sounds of leaves opening themselves or tires hissing on pavement without the filter of a window or the barrier of walls.


Sometimes I have a vague idea of where I’m going to ride—say, a general direction.  But my ride is just as likely to be directed by things that have absolutely nothing to do with my conscious mind. 

Sometimes my itinerary has to do with the day’s weather or season.  It could also be determined by the day of the week or the time of year:  I might decide to ride, or not, toward the ocean because a lot of other people might decide, or not, that it’s the perfect day to drive that way.  Or I might ride in a loop that will take me into lightly-trafficked or well-lit areas because there isn’t much daylight left.  I have lights for my bikes, but I still prefer to ride in daylight whenever possible—unless the night is lit by a bright moon or is simply more pleasant than the sweltering summer day.

But there are times when my ride is determined by things even less concrete or more intuitive, depending on your point of view, than anything I’ve mentioned so far.  Sometimes it seems as if my bike, or the ride itself, is determining my route.  It’s hard to explain to people who don’t ride, unless they’re writers or artists or other creative people.  Then, I can draw on my own experience of writing: My poem or essay or whatever I’m writing might start off as a work that’s ostensibly about some subject or topic or another.  But, as I immerse myself in writing, the piece I’m writing takes on a life of its own and develops, if you will, its own will, its own wants and needs. An image or even the sound of a word—or the rhythm or syntax of a line or sentence—can take my work in a direction I hadn’t envisioned, let alone imagined.

Sometimes I write, or ride, simply because it’s what I want to do, and nothing else will do.  The destination and scenery don’t matter, only the journey does.

12 July 2014

An Early Role Model

I have never thought myself as a particularly good model of anything for anybody.  Maybe that explains, at least partially, some of the ambivalence I’ve often felt about teaching.  I am sure that it’s a reason why I have been reluctant to take on some of the other roles people have wanted me to fulfill.
Also, I often think that if anyone sees me as a role model, he or she is likely to realize that I embody at least as much of what he or she doesn’t—or shouldn’t—want to emulate as I am an example of what he or she can be.
Why am I thinking about that now?  I realize that about a dozen years have passed since I attended my first support groups for people who were trying to figure out their gender identity, exploring the possibility of making a transition or who’d made up their minds that they were indeed going to live their lives as a gender not assigned to them at birth and who wanted to find out how to go about it.

The very first group—and a later one—in which I participated were co-facilitated by a post-op trans woman who, at the time, was seen as something of a leader, if not an icon, in the community.  She was attractive and had developed a fine reputation for her work as a therapist, social worker and activist.  I think I wasn’t the only one who looked to hear as the sort of woman we could become.

I haven’t seen her in some time, so I don’t know how she looks.  But the work she did remains important to me personally as well as to the community.
However, I would come to realize that so much of her energy was focused in being a transgender poster girl, if you will, that it stunted her emotional and spiritual growth.  I sensed her anger early on; over time, I would realize that it would keep her from being anything more than an icon in a small community—a ghetto, really, because she lived and worked within the confines of a groups of people like herself who distrusted, resented and even hated anyone different from themselves.

I couldn’t help but to wonder what was the point of undergoing a gender transition if only to put one’s self in another box and to continue writhing with the same pent-up ire as people whose lives were constricted by their inability to live authentically.

11 July 2014

One Of Our Own Might Win The Prize

I haven't watched television in more than a year.  That means I probably pay less attention than most other people pay to the world of entertainment.

So, if you've already heard about this, I apologize.  Still, I feel the need to tell it:  Laverne Cox has just become the first known transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy Award!

09 July 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case You Didn't Hear About

We've been hearing a lot about the Supreme Court decision that allows Hobby Lobby, and other "closely held" businesses, to use their executives' religious beliefs to deny women coverage for birth control, the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding.

In an earlier post, I mentioned some of the other possible effects this could have on employees' health coverage.  For example, what if a company's president cites his religious beliefs in denying coverage for a blood transfusion?  Or what if the company's owner is a Rastafarian, Christian Scientist or a member of any religion that doesn't allow some or all medical treatments?

There is another Hobby Lobby case that only recently has come to light.  This one doesn't involve medical insurance.  But it does involve a transgender employee.

When Meggan Somerville began working as a framer for Hobby Lobby in 1998, she was still living as a man.  Five years ago, she began her transition.  A year later she changed her name, and after that, her birth certificate.  She didn't have any problem keeping her job, and her insurance paid for hormones but her office visits.  But they made her life--at work, anyway--more hazardous in another way:  She wasn't allowed the women's restroom.  In fact, she was written up for doing so.  She then filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.  Her suit against the company is still pending.

The fact that she was taking hormones and living as female was enough reason for the state of Illinois to change Meggan Somerville's name and the gender on her birth certificate.  But, I guess the Hobby Lobby brass defer to a "higher" authority. Let's hope that the IDHR doesn't.

08 July 2014

Old Enough To Remember

I have lived only a fifth of my life as a woman.  Still, I've lived as Justine long enough--and as Nick before that--to remember when being gay, lesbian or even bisexual was a big deal, even subversive.

Did you notice that I didn't mention transgenders?  That's because, while attitudes are changing in some quarters, in others,  being trans is still considered everything from an oddity to a crime against God, nature and whatever else people think is right and good--or whatever they simply like.  Unfortunately, the latter quarters sometimes include segments of the gay and lesbian communities.

That is the point Jesse Monteagudo makes in Gay Today.  Here is a particularly pithy segment of his  "Jesse's Journal" column:

I am old enough to remember when being gay was a Big Deal. When I came out (in 1973) to be gay was to rebel against the universe. To paraphrase the gay writer and film director John Waters, to be gay back then meant you did not get married, have children, or serve in the military. Nowadays, of course, all that lesbians and gay men want to do is to get married, have children, or serve in the military. I am not surprised. Like most other people, most lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are conservative, and if society treats them fairly their natural instincts would come forth. Besides, there is nothing our society values more than marriage, parentage and military service. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people become more acceptable when we incorporate those values, not as pretend straights but as openly lesbian, gay or bisexual people.

You notice that I left out transgender people from the previous paragraph. This is because being transgender is still a Big Deal. Today trans* people are in the same fix, minus AIDS, that LGB people were twenty years ago. It is still illegal for Ts to serve in the military. Legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation often ignores discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Trans* people, especially transgender women of color, are often victims of violence, more so than those of us who are lesbian, gay or bi. Transphobic prejudice is more prevalent than homophobia, even among members of our LGBT community.

Thank you, Jesse!

07 July 2014

Five Years Since My Surgery

Today marks five years since my surgery--and six since I started this blog.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have less and less to say about the surgery and my transtition.  And life as a woman has become a fact rather than a hope or dream for me.  I am still learning about it, and finding adventures (and pitfalls) I could not have anticipated.

I don't anticipate stopping this blog, though my posts may become less frequent over time.  I'll probably post more on my other blog.  Plus, I have other projects I want--and feel I must do. They involve writing, and other things.

But, as a famous Austrian body builder-turned actor-turned Governator growled, "I'll be back!"

06 July 2014

A Failed Attempt To Disguise Hate As Comedy

Looking back, I’m not surprised that Joan Rivers attained the peak of her popularity during the 1980’s.  After all, it was a time when everyone from the President (Ronald Reagan) to the actors in, and producers of, popular television programs like Dallas and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous were teaching people to identify with the rich and powerful and to despise those who made the mistake of being born the wrong color or the wrong gender, in the wrong country or social class, or to love the wrong people.  And those avatars of the culture managed to convince people that adulation of the more fortunate and hatred of those less so was really an affirmation of their own heroic struggles to survive in a world where the less-fortunate were given “special treatment” with laws that kept them from getting fired from (or not hired for) jobs, or from being evicted from apartments or refused services simply for being who they are while corporate executives who bought companies simply to blow them up and shipped jobs overseas were “oppressed” by taxes and environmental regulations.

In such an environment, “gay” or “lesbian”—not to mention “transgender”—are derogatory terms rather than mere adjectives or nouns.  And a woman like Ms. Rivers can put a man down by making a claim, however baseless, that President Barack Obama is gay –in her world-view,less than a man--and his wife is a “tranny” –in other words, not really a woman, for who else would be with a man who’s not really a man.

Mind you, I’m not a fan of the First Couple.  They are two of the most disingenuous people ever to occupy the White House:  They talk about human rights while taking money from the very banks and corporations that have done more to widen the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” than any other individuals or institutions ever could have.  After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack—who was a Constitutional Law Professor—continued two illegal wars and arrogated unto himself the right to assassinate anyone anywhere in the world, with or without cause.  And Michelle’s hobby horse is an anti-obesity campaign that she finances with contributions from the very companies that have contributed to the epidemic that has, among other things, led health officials to reclassify what used to be known as “Adult Onset Diabetes” to “Class II Diabetes” after it developed in eight-year-old children.

Perhaps Ms. Rivers is unaware of such facts.  Otherwise, I believe (or hope) that she (or, at any rate, her writers) could have come up with more trenchant ways of criticizing, or even merely poking fun at, the Mendacitor In Chief and His Enabler.