31 December 2014

An Interesting End To An Interesting Year

Whoever said, "May you live in interesting times" would have loved 2014.

Of course, all sorts of wonderful and awful (sometimes depending on your point of view) happened this year.  This year has been so interesting that it's ending with Pope Francis demoting the highest-ranking American in the Vatican.  

The Pope has removed Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke from his seat as the head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's supreme court.  Now Father Burke is the chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a position that carries much less responsibility than the one from which he was just removed.

Now, it's not the first time a Pope has removed a cardinal from such a high perch, although the move doesn't happen very often.  However, when a Pontiff removes a prelate from a high position in the Vatican, he usually assigns that priest to another post with a similar level of responsibility.  It's very infrequent for the head of the church to demote someone of Burke's power in the way Pope Francis has done.

What makes this move really unusual, though, is the Pope's reason for it.  Are you ready for this?:  The Pope thought Cardinal Burke's stance on homosexuality was too hard-line.  Even for a man who said "Who am I to judge?" when asked about gays, demoting a Cardinal for his views on the issue is at least a little surprising, if not a shock.

How conservative is Father Burke?  Seven years ago, he denounced a Catholic charity for allowing pro-choice advocate Sheryl Crow from performing at a benefit concert.  Needless to say, he also wasn't too happy with her advocacy of stem-cell research.

How ironic is it that the Pope is now showing more tolerance and even acceptance of LGBT people than so many anti-LGBT lawmakers and activists in--let alone the man who had been the highest-ranking Cardinal from--the United States?

These are interesting times, indeed!


30 December 2014

The Murder Of Leelah Alcorn

I find it interesting that my most-read post has become "A Lifespan of 30 to 32 Years, And A Lost Generation"--and that, in fact, there's been a spike in the number of people who've read it.  

While the figures came from Argentina, they are probably applicable to many other countries.  What those numbers tell us is, among other things, that too many of us die too soon, and for the same reason: hate.

Even in countries with trans-friendly laws and policies--like Argentina--or those where there is a high level of education and awareness among many sectors of the population, or those with advanced medical care, the life expectancy of trans people is shorter, often by decades, than it is for the rest of the population.

Much of the reason for this is the discrimination and other forms of rejection that leave too many of us unemployed and homeless--or, in the cases of many younger trans people, selling drugs or their bodies on mean streets and desolate back alleys.  Resorting to such things to survive means, of course, that death--whether by a needle, bullet or knife, or from within--can come at any moment.

But for every one who dies that way, there are others who die by their own hand.  I can't even begin to count how many times I contemplated suicide when I was living as male.  And I know that two friends of mine killed themselves because they could not deal with the conflict between what their minds and spirits told them, what their bodies indicated and what expectations they tried to fulfill--and the rejection, shame, ridicule and pure-and-simple meanness they faced in spite (or, perhaps, because) of their efforts.

Add to those numbers Leelah Alcorn of Kings Mills, Ohio.  The 17-year-old left this on her blog, Lazer Princess

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

"Please don't be sad, it's for the better."   If a line like that isn't a gut-punch, I don't know what is.  "The life I would've lived isn't worth living in"--wait for it--"because I'm transgender."  As I relate that line, I am not fighting tears, but I am fighting the anger I feel roiling up from within me.  

She felt that her life wouldn't be worth living because she was transgender.  I felt the same goddamned fucking way when I was her age, and before that, and long after that.  (I will curse through the rest of this post. I make no apologies.)  It's been a long time since I was her age, but from reading her note, I have to conclude not one fucking thing has changed.  Not one.  

The only difference is that she experienced, overtly, the sort of hostility I might've faced had I "come out" as a teenager.  As it was, I experienced taunts and innuendoes.  But she at least had "friends" on social media who were supportive.  However, she lost them for five months because her parents pulled her out of public school and forbade her from using social media.  

Now, if I had a trans child, I might take him or her out of public school for one reason:  bullying, whether it came from other kids, teachers or administrators.  I would educate that child myself, or hire people who could. And I would not allow anyone to wreck whatever self-esteem my child might have.

Unfortunately, Leelah's parents didn't think that way.  They fancied themselves as devout Christians and, from what I've read, it seems that her mother in particular was particularly judgmental and un-accepting.  She enrolled Leelah in "Christian" school and sent her to "Christian" therapists, who told her she was a selfish sinner who should simply let God help her become the man He intended her to be.

Notice that I used the word "Christian" in quotation marks and said Leelah's parents fancied themselves as Christians.  Well, I have a good reason for that.  If you've been following this blog, you might recall that I started going to church about a year and a half ago.  Sometimes I struggle with it precisely because of people like Leelah's parents--of whom, fortunately, there are none (that I know of, anyway) in my parish--and folks like the Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.  I don't claim to have the "right" interpretation of the Bible or of Christianity.  Then again, I'm not sure anybody does.  Still, I cannot understand how anyone can call him- or her-self a Christian when he or she is using faith and the Bible to rationalize hate and intolerance. 

If you think I am being harsh, take a look at what Leelah's mother wrote:

"My sweet 16 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to Heaven this morning.  He went out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck."

Bitch, are you fucking clueless, or what?  Your daughter walked in front of a truck on I-71 after writing the post telling us that her life would never be worth living.  She didn't "go out for an early morning walk" any more than my friend Corey was measuring the height of his ceiling when he hung himself from the rafter.

Whatever else happens, I hope that Leelah's last request--that all of her belongings be sold and the proceeds donated to transgender civil rights and support groups--is honored.  And I hope, Mrs. Alcorn, that you understand what agape and philia are and that, if you can give to your daughter, now, what you couldn't give her in life--and that, if you have other kids, you can give it to them.

If you can't, I hope others will.  I will, as best as I can.  That is one reason why I won't abandon the faith I re-discovered so recently in my life. 

29 December 2014

She Just Wants To Walk Home Night Without Watching Her Back

Even though I am happy to hear that an anti-sodomy law has been overturned, or some government or another has added language to its civil-rights laws to protect transgender or gender-variant people (or "gender identity and expression"), I long ago realized that laws and policies are not, by themselves, sufficient to protect us from physical harm, let alone bias.  And a country's laws and policies are no guarantee of a person's rights or safety in any particular part of that country.

Indonesia is a case in point.  Even though the nation, which is an archipelago straddling the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has no laws against homosexual acts--and its people are generally tolerant--there are parts of the country that are simply dangerous for LGBT people.  In a way, that's not surprising when you consider that Indonesia's population, the fourth largest in the world, includes more Muslims than anywhere else in the world, and among the Islamic community are conservative enclaves that live, in essence, under Sharia law.

One of those areas is the Aceh province, which was so devastated by the tsunami that struck exactly a decade ago this past weekend.  Less than a year later, the province gained autonomy in a special treaty that ended a three-decade old insurgency.  As a result, Aceh can create its own laws, including the one banning homosexual acts, which passed in September.

Authorities have said they'll wait until the end of 2015 to start enforcing it, ostensibly to allow people time to "prepare for it".  But haters don't need that time: Already there have been beatings and gay and trans people have stopped going out in public as couples.  Three years ago, a transgender makeup artist in Banda Aceh was stabbed to death after she held up a stick in response to a man's taunts.  And, Violet Gray, the area's main LGBT organization, began burning documents in October out of fear that they could be raided and put the area's close-knit LGBT community--estimated at about 1000--at risk.

Aceh is often said to be the most conservatively Muslim area of Indonesia:  That is no surprise when one considers that is where the Islamic faith first came to the area.  However, many fear that such restrictive laws and a dangerous climate will not be limited to that province, and that other conservative areas like South Sumatra and East Java could follow Aceh's lead.  Teguh Setyabudi, the Aceh Home Ministry's head of regional autonomy--and a Violet Gray member--expresses hope that the new Aceh law will be overturned (under newly-elected President Joko Widodo) and stop other provinces from enacting similar laws.  

All she wants, she says, is to be able to walk home without watching her back in fear.  "Being like this is a fate, not a choice," she says. "What makes people wearing a jihab and peci"--the woman's traditional veil and the traditional cap worn by Muslim men--" feel so righteous that they can condemn other people as sinful?"

What, indeed?

28 December 2014

Israel To Help Transgender Recruits

Israeli has what may well be the tightest conscription laws in the world.  Essentially, every Israeli aged 18 and up is subject to be drafted into the Armed Forces unless he or she can prove a physical or mental disability or is a non-Druze Arab citizen.  Young Israelis typically receive their first draft notice at age 16.

(About twenty years ago, a co-worker of mine who was born in Israel but came to the US at age two went back to visit relatives.  He was just shy of 35 years old.  While waiting to board his flight back to New York, Israeli military police pulled him aside and said that he had to fulfill his requirement of military service.   Fortunately, he was able to prove that he was a US, not an Israeli, citizen.  Still, he nearly missed his flight.)

I won't get into a discussion of Israeli military policies:  That would take up this blog, and a few others!  However, I find it interesting that Israel was one of the first countries to allow gays and lesbians and, later, transgenders, to serve openly in the military.  And now the Israeli Defense Force is taking a step that may well be unprecedented anywhere in the world:  It has adopted a policy aimed, not only at helping transgenders already in the IDF, but also to assist draftees in their gender transitions from the time they receive their first draft notice.

Yes, you read that right:  The IDF will help draftees transition, fully or partially, upon entering the military service.  Teenagers who have not yet begun the process will be recruited according to the sex on their birth certificates but, upon enlisting, will receive assistance with everything they need for their transition--up to an including surgery--and will be addressed according to their preferred gender.

Now, some might say that the Israelis are making such a move out of necessity:  They live in a country about the size of New Jersey, there are about half as many of them as there are Jerseyites and the are surrounded by hostile countries whose populations far outnumber them.

Even if such is the case, the IDF is to be commended.  Probably more than in any other country in the world, military service means integration into society in Israel.  And allowing trans people to serve as the people they are is, in such an environment, a form of validation.

27 December 2014

Stranded For Coming Out

People sometimes tell me I'm lucky to be a writer and in the academic world.  They believe--with more than some justification--that "educated" and "creative" people are more receptive, if not welcoming, to transgender people.

Now, if you think I've used a lot of qualifiers in the preceding sentences, you're right and I have good reason for doing so.  On the whole, I probably fared better after "coming out" and starting my transition than I might have in other work environments.  Still, there were people who said and did things that were inappropriate and reflected ignorance if not outright hostility.  Interestingly, I never experienced such treatment from students or fellow writers.  A few faculty members chilled toward me, but most of the difficulties I experienced came from administrators. That may have had more to do with the particular administrators in question than with any general principle.  

Fortunately, I have good relations with my current colleagues.  Some have known me "from the beginning", if you will, while others I met during and since my transition.  

So, perhaps, I can say--as Dan Savage likes to tell LGBT teenagers who are being bullied--"It gets better!"  At least, I'd like to be able to say that to Meredith Talusan.

I've never met her.  In fact, I learned of her only from a news item posted on ABS-CBN News yesterday. She's a graduate student in literature at Cornell University, where she recently applied for a professional position.  As a scholarship student, she's entitled to free on-campus housing and meals.

But now she may lose those--and, perhaps, her scholarship and standing as a student.  No, she didn't fail a class or miss a deadline.  Rather, she had the temerity to protest the harassment she experienced from her housemate and, apparently, others in the university community.  She says people heckle her with comments like "You're a man dressed as a woman!" and "You lost your penis!"

What makes her situation all the more disconcerting, at least for her, is that she's thousands of miles from her home in the Philippines. During an impromptu protest she and some friends staged against her mistreatment, they chanted, "This is what democracy looks like!"  

Like so many who come from faraway countries to work and study in the US, she works hard toward her goal of "a better life".  But her path to that life has been detoured, at least for now, as she was suspended from the house in which she'd been living and has been denied access to meals.  But she has refused to leave and has filed an appeal.


26 December 2014

Happy Goodwill Day

Today, the day after Christmas, is celebrated as Boxing Day everywhere in the English-speaking world--except here in the United States.  With our so-called War of Independence, we threw off every vestige of Britain (as George Bernard Shaw quipped, the US and England are two countries separated by a common language) except, of course, the class system.

The first time I heard of the holiday, I wondered whether people went to go and see fights--or, perhaps, they fought each other.  Actually, plenty of Americans fight on this day, especially their family members and intimate partners, especially after the various mishaps and and aftermaths of Christmas Day.

South Africa, like most other former British colonies, observed Boxing Day until 1994.  This day is still a holiday there, but twenty years ago it was renamed the Day of Goodwill.

Hmm...I always thought Christmas was supposed to be a day of goodwill.  Still, I like what the South Africans did.  We should emulate that example--every day!

25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas--and thank you for reading this blog!

A Loud And Proud Greeting

24 December 2014

A Spin Of The Wheel Brightens A Child's Christmas

Yesterday, in my other blog,  I made light of that lie people tell kids about Santa Claus and his reindeer. 

That story may not be true. (OK, it isn't.)  But, yes Virginia, there are Santa Clauses in real life.  Some of them just happen to be in North Carolina.

Twenty years ago, two friends in the Tar Heel State started the Spokes Group.  This year, the organization will give about 3100 brand-new bicycles to needy children through its chapters in Charlotte and other parts of the state.  Over the years, more than 36,000 bicycles are so distributed.

Since there are never enough bikes and helmets to give to all of the kids who need them, recipients are determined by the spin of a bazaar-style wheel.


I salute everyone who helps out with the project--and is responsible in any way for acquiring, assembling, fixing and distributing bikes to kids through similar programs all over the US--and, I imagine, in other countries.

I also salute anyone who brings other gifts, food, clothing or companionship to anyone who is in need, alone or simply sad at this time of the year.  (I think now of a dear friend who lost her husband and brother within months of each other this year!) Their work is never done.

23 December 2014

Can The FDA Do What The Roman Catholic Church Can't?

Ever since the Second Lateran Council of 1139, the Roman Catholic Church has required priests to be celibate.  We can all see how well that worked.

To be fair, other religious traditions require their clergy to abstain from sex, and they were no better able to enforce such a rule.  Still, if the Roman Church hasn't been able to enforce such a thing for nearly a millenium--and, for about half of that time, it was the single most powerful organization on the face of the Earth (some argue that it still is)--how can any American governmental agency, even one with the expertise and resources of the Food and Drug Administration, do it?

Maybe I shouldn't ask.  The fact that they think they can is incredibly naive or monumentally arrogant--or just plain creepy.  And funny, in a warped, if not dark sort of way.

So, who does the FDA want to be chaste?  Blood donors.  Let me qualify that:  They say they're willing to lift the three-decade-old ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood (enacted just as the AIDS epidemic was gathering steam) on the condition that they are celibate for a year before parting with their blood.

I really want to know how they expect to enforce such a policy. Will phlebotomists have to ask men their sexual orientation?  If so, how would they do that--orally, with a written questionnaire, or in some other way?  Or will background checks be conducted on would-be donors?


22 December 2014

An Anatomical Fact

It's something I've noticed ever since I first moved back to New York.  It irked me then, and seems even more maddening now that I've transitioned.  Other bloggers have taken notice, and videos of it are on YouTube.  Now, even the New York Times has devoted an article to it.

It's often called "manspreading". You know, when some guy sits in a crowded public space and spreads his legs even further apart than you thought was humanly possible.  

I've seen it most often on subways.  Perhaps the reason is that few places get more crowded, and in such claustrophobic environments certain males feel the need or imperative to claim territory for themselves. I've even seen dudes trip people or blocking them from getting out of the seats next to them.

Some guys claim they "need" to spread their legs wider than the Grand Canyon.  They never say why, but I am always tempted to say that I know for a fact that no man has anything big enough to need that much room! 

18 December 2014

Title VII Includes Us Now--For Now

The US Department of Justice will now interpret Federal law to explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender people.

Yes, you read that right.  It was announced in a memo just released by Attorney General Eric Holder. 

Holder's memo means that the Justice Department now can bring legal claims on behalf of people who say state and local employers have discriminated against them based on their gender identity. 

It also means that the Justice Department is reversing its 2006 statement that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars sex discrimination, does not cover discrimination based on gender identity.

While I welcome this change, I wish that Title VII could be amended or otherwise changed--or another law written altogether--with language that specifically protects gender identity and gender-variant people.  After all, a DoJ led by an Attorney General appointed by a future President more conservative than Obama could reverse today's ruling just as it reversed its 2006 ruling.

17 December 2014

The Day Begins; It Is Dawn--For Whom?

This semester, I've been teaching early morning classes.  When the term began, I was pedaling in bright, often shadowless, pre-dawn light.  But as the season deepened into fall, I was seeing sunset and, after Daylight Savings Time ended, I was getting to work just as the sun was rising.  

All of that has meant seeing what people don't.  I've written about some of them on my other blog.  Some of the sights were just lovely; others had their own grittier kinds of poetry.  This morning I saw an example of both:

Speaking of gritty poetry:  As I took this photo--with my cell phone, on Randall's Island near the Bronx spur of the RFK/Triboro Bridge--some verses streamed through my mind:

La aurora de Nueva York gime
por las inmensas escaleras 
buscando entre las aristas
nardos de anguista dibujada.

It's the second stanza of Federico Garcia Lorca's "La Aurora" ("The Dawn") and can be translated something like this:

The dawn in New York grieves
along immense stairways
seeking among the groins
spikenards of fine-drawn anguish.

Perhaps recalling those verses was a harbinger of what I would see as I descended the ramps on the Bronx side of the spur:

I've seen him before.  Actually, I've never seen him:  I've only seen the blanket and recognize the way he swaddles himself in it.  Once, I got a glimpse of his face poking out of his bundle.  I don't think he knows:  He was still sleeping, as he was today.

Usually, he's in the corner, curled up as if he were in the womb, his first--and, perhaps, only--home.  I had never seen him unfurled until this morning.  And, even though he was less than a meter from his usual spot, it was startling to see him there.  I can't blame him for moving there:  It rained heavily a couple of hours after midnight, and spot is probably the driest place he could find outside of a building that wouldn't allow him in.  

At least it wasn't difficult to see him.  So, I was able to stop, dismount, lift my bike and tiptoe around him.  I did not want to wake him, let alone rend one of the few shreds of dignity he has left.

Unfortunately, he's far from the only homeless person I see during my commutes.  He's just the one I've seen most often, I think.

16 December 2014

Paint The Town...Purple

I have influence in my community.  I am going to prove it:

Like nearly all fireboxes, this one was red.  But I used my special powers as a trans woman to have it painted purple.  And the white lettering sure does look nice on it, don't you think?

All right, I confess:  I had nothing to do with it.  But some people who know me might actually believe I made it happen, or even that I painted it myself.  After all, it is my favorite color! 

(The firebox is on the southwest corner of 29th Street and 28th Avenue in Astoria.)

15 December 2014

The Kiss

I was just in a store where the TV showed some silly show...like Sex and the City without the sex.

To counter that, I've decided to post this:

In The Galleria Mall

14 December 2014

She Can See What He Can't

Until now, I had never heard of Rod Liddle.  Having heard of him, I'm glad an ocean separates him from me.

He's an associate editor of The Spectator (UK) and the former editor of the BBC 4 radio program Today.  Apparently, he has a reputation for making incendiary or simply outrageous comments because, well, he can. 

It's ironic that the British press has more of a "no holds barred" policy than its counterpart in US, which prides itself as a bastion of free speech.  Whatever the laws or policies, I defend anyone's right to express an opinion, no matter how much I disagree with it. 

However, I won't defend someone who makes personal attacks, whether they are motivated by hate or simply by ignorance.  Liddle's comment about Emily Brothers falls into that category.

Ms. Brothers recently came out as transgender, just as she was beginning a campaign that she hopes will lead to her becoming a Member of Parliament.  That makes her the Labour Party's first transgender candidate to run for a seat in Westminster--and, quite possibly, the first blind transgender candidate to run for a major public office anywhere.

Instead of being a good British gentleman and congratulating her, even if he disagrees with her politics, Mr. Liddle instead decided to display his ignorance or mean-spiritedness:  "[B]eing blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex?"

To paraphrase someone who responded to Mr. Liddle:  When he's in a dark room, how does he know he's a man?  He, like every other man in the world, cis- or trans-gender, knows he's a man whether or not he can see himself.  The same goes for every woman in the world:  We know what we are, whether or not we can see our genitalia or any other part of our body.

And that is exactly the point:  Those of us who know we're not of the sex we were assigned at birth...well, we just know.  In other words, to (perhaps over-) simplify what we know about gender:  It's in the mind and spirit. 

Ms. Brothers did not have to look in the mirror to know. But she sees well enough to know that while she wasn't bothered by Mr. Liddle's comments, other trans people (in particular, the young) might be.  So, instead of denouncing him, she's called on him to have the "good grace" to apologize and retract his comment.

Here's Emily Brothers at a Labour conference in September:

12 December 2014

Their Education, And Mine

These days, I rarely talk about my gender identity or transition.  After all, my goal in transitioning was to live as a woman, and for my gender identity to be a non-issue.

But last week, a young woman in one of my classes mentioned a male-to-female relative who lost her job and was, in essence, hounded out of her profession, of which she was a part for many years.  She had to go into another and start at the bottom, along with recent graduates.

“As terrible as that story is, she’s lucky,” I responded.  “At least she was able to go into something else.  Other people in her situation end up with minimum-wage jobs, or no jobs at all.  Or they end up doing illegal things to support themselves.”

By that time, the whole class was rapt.  For at least some of the students, it was the first time they heard anyone talk as I, or the student with the trans relative, did.  Some of them think I’m pretty smart, if I do say so myself.  But I think they were surprised to hear someone talk as if she knew about such things viscerally—I could tell they sensed it—rather than merely learned about them in a theoretical or even vicarious way.  

Perhaps they could see I was on the verge of tears.  Actually, at that moment, it would have been easier to talk than to hold back the flow.  So I took the easy way out.  “Her story is mine,” I intoned.  “It’s one of the reasons why I’m here, standing in front of you now.”

There wasn’t even a moment of silence. “Thank God!” another student shot back.  “I’m glad you’re here,” another said.  “Whoever got rid of you, whoever got rid of you, it’s their loss,” another pronounced.

Before that day, I enjoyed teaching that class:  Those students seemed to have a good rapport and chemistry with each other, and with me.  And I feel present for them in a way that I never realized I could be for any students.  

I don’t know whether this means my experience will play a greater role, or at least a more direct, role in my teaching and other work.  Could it mean that I’ll end up as a gender educator, a role I’ve been resisting?  Or could it mean that I’ll do other kinds of writing from what I’ve been doing or—Dare I say this?—that I’ll have another role in education or in my church?

I’m not even sure that this story is instructive in any way.  But at least I feel good about the way it’s unfolding, so far.

11 December 2014

Transphobia Is Hazardous To Our Health

When some people are bulied, harassed or otherwise intimidated, they become more determined to fight, to move toward their goals, to do whatever they need to take care of themselves.  And they might even be motivated to help others in situations like their own.

Still others take out their anger on the world.  If you get close to such people, you are likely to bear the brunt of their rage. I know:  I was in intimate relationships with two such people.

Then there are those who retreat and withdraw.  I've seen trans people who go from their homes to their cars and back--never venturing even into the immediate environs of their homes and neighborhoods, let alone the larger world.  Some of them even forego health care and other services they need because they feel so beaten down by the prejudice they experience.

That last category of hated-upon folks (transgenders, specifically) is the subject of this infographic from Fenway Health:

tam graphic

10 December 2014

Lifting The Ban: Will It Fly?

The day when transgenders can serve in the US Armed Forces seems to be drawing closer.  Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says as much.  The ban on transgender people in the military "is likely to come under review in the next year or so," she says.  "Times change."

When asked whether dropping the ban will affect military readiness, she had this to say:  "From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve."

While lesbians, gays and bisexuals were able to "fly under the radar" (pun intended) during the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", transgenders did not have such an option.  Even those who'd already had the surgery and were living full-time in the gender of their minds and spirits are not allowed to enlist; the military could find such information easily enough even if would-be enlistees did not disclose it themselves.  And, of course, declaring one's self trans and starting a gender transition while in uniform is grounds for being discharged, most likely dishonorably.

Somehow I'm not surprised that Ms. James is the first secretary of a branch of the Armed Forces to voice support for transgenders joining the military.  For one thing, of the twenty-three people who have held her current position, she is only the second woman.    She is also the only female secretary of any branch of the armed forces.

Also, I think her statements might be motivated by the possibility that, of all of the branches of the Armed Forces, the Air Force could benefit most from allowing transgenders to join.  We (I mean transgenders) are a community of extremes:  We have the highest levels of kids who drop out of school because they were bullied--and the unemployment and homelessness that too often result from it-- but a higher percentage of us than of the general population earn college degrees.  The Air Force was probably the first of all branches to recruit significant numbers of people with bachelor's or higher degrees; if I'm not mistaken, one has to have a college degree in order to fly.  And, contrary to some commonly-held stereotypes, many trans people have training, or work, in technical and scientific fields.  It just happens that the AF is more dependent on people with scientific and technological skill than any other branch of service.

Whether or not that was her motivation, I applaud Ms. James for making her statement.  Although I don't generally encourage people to join the military, it is a part of our world and offers one of the few opportunities for stable employment and advancement to many young people from less-than-privileged backgrounds.  And there are trans people, just as there are other people, who want to serve their country and believe that joining the military is the best way to do so.

09 December 2014

Now You Don't Need Surgery To Change Your Birth Certificate (At Least, Here In NYC)

I have some good news today:  Here in New York City, a person won't need to have gender-reassignment surgery to have the gender changed on his or her birth certificate.

Yesterday, the City Council voted 39-5 (with three abstensions) to pass a bill which does away with the requirement for surgery.  Now, all a trans person needs is for one of a long list of health- and social-service providers to certify that he or she identifies with a gender other than the one on his or her birth certificate.  This policy is said to be one of the most liberal in the United States.

What makes this particularly good news here in NYC is that we have a large (or, at least, larger than just about anywhere else) population of poor and homeless trans people, especially youths, who need the services provided by city and state agencies, not to mention medical care.  Too often, they can't access those services because their IDs (which usually indicate the same gender and name as their birth certificates) don't match up with what is seen by the receptionist, clerk or other person to whom that ID is presented.  Or, too often, such trans folk (again, especially youths) don't have ID at all.

Also, most people don't realize that our ID dilemma makes us more vulnerable to identity theft and other kinds of fraud committed in our name.  Nobody seems to have statistics on this matter, but I would venture that it happens to us more often than most people realize--and, contrary to a common perception, far more often than we commit fraud to get ID with our true genders and the names by which we identify ourselves.

I think most of us knew that, sooner or later, the surgery requirement would be scrapped.  What made the process perhaps a bit longer and more arduous than it is in some other places is that here in NYC, birth certificates are issued by the Department of Health and Mental Hygeine.  It's a bit more difficult to pass legislation that mandates their policies than it is to tell a court or department of vital records (the entities that issue birth certificates in most places) what to do.

07 December 2014

Don't Talk To Me About "Bulding Bridges" With The Police

Now that thug, I mean NYPD Officer,Daniel Pantaleo got away with murder, I mean was acquitted by a grand jury, I don't want to hear anything more about improving the transgender (or lesbian or gay or any other) community's relations with police.  It's simply not possible. 

So you think I'm being extremist and incendiary.  Well a report from Al-Jezeera---Yes, Al-Jazeera--provides confirmation of something I've been saying for years:  The cops profile trans people.  I'm sure the NYPD has a file on me as I write this.  And I'm sure they put something in it that said I was complicit in the abuse I reported to them two years ago, or at the time I was stopped-and-frisked.

Andrea Ritchie, an attorney specializing in police misconduct says, "I think most people are familiar with racial profiling.  But I think people are less familiar with how gender is really central to policing in the United States."   It's based, she elaborates, on expectations of "how women are supposed to look, how men are supposed to look, how women are supposed to act and how men are supposed to look".  

When people don't conform to those expectations, the police "often read that as disorder and perceive that person as already disorderly, already suspicious and already prone to violence," she says.

In other words, cops expect us to be criminals.  And, as I discovered, they simply can't deal with it when they realize one of us isn't.  

What exacerbates the gender profiling is that poverty and homelessness are considered criminal acts, rather than states into which too many of trans people fall because of bigotry or because they ran away from home rather than endure more beatings and other abuse from classmates and family members and thus didn't get the education or skills necessary for the workplace.

Sometimes simply being in the path of the cops means that you will get harassed, arrested, beaten or worse.  As Dean Spade, an attorney and one of the founders of the Sylvia Rivera Law Projects put it, being trans means "you're more likely to be poor and on the street, which puts you in the path of police."

A black man I know was explaining to me that he learned, at an early age, that if he's pulled over, he should turn on the light inside the car and put his hands on the steering wheel--and make sure his license is on the dashboard.  "The light is so they can see that no one is in the back seat," he explained "and that my hands are on the dashboard.  And the license is where they can see it, so they don't get anxious about me reaching into the glove compartment."

He insists that such actions are necessary to ensure that worse things don't happen.  But law-abiding young black men have been doing such things for a long time, and it seems that the police only continue and amplify their harassment.  And he, whether he realizes it or not, has internalized the notion that he is a criminal until he proves himself otherwise.

I don't want to see things come to that for trans people.  If I am not doing anything criminal or even merely offensive,I should be left alone.  And if I am being victimized, I should be helped. My expereinces with the police have shown me that they seem to think otherwise and that, if anything, they are turning the fact that I do, mostly, what most people do every day and the fact that I went to them for help as reasons why I am a potential criminal.  I cannot count such people as allies, as people with whom I--or any LGBT person--should cooperate.

04 December 2014

Eric Garner's Killer Not Indicted; Why I Am Upset But Not Surprised

As you've probably heard by now, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

Almost anyone who's seen the video of the incident can't understand how the jury came to such a conclusion.  If you know anything about Staten Island, it's the most suburban of New York City's boroughs. Among the island's 472,621 residents (out of 8.406 million in all of New York City) are many NYPD officers. Even if none were uniformed men or women, there was probably more sympathy for the police in that jury than there would be in a group of jurors in, say, the Bronx.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the middle-class and affluent white residents, whether or not they are members of the NYPD, come into little or no contact with the island's black and Hispanic residents, almost all of whom live in a couple of neighborhoods between the Bayonne Bridge and the former Naval Station in Stapleton.  Standards of political correctness seem to fall precipitously as one disembarks from the Ferry in St. George or descends from the arc of the Bayonne, Verrazano or Goethals Bridge. 

To put it bluntly, white residents do not see non-whites as human being; they see people of color as a plague that, if unchecked, will spread across their island.  The people of color, penned up in the projects, see police officers as members of an occupying army employed, commanded--and, to a large degree, staffed by whites, and therefore do not trust them.

Given my own experience with the police, I can understand that distrust very, very well.  Having been harassed and bullied by cops on the street and in a precinct house (the latter when I went to report the abuse I was experiencing from Dominick), I know that the men (and, sadly, women) in uniform will not do anything to ensure my safety, let alone my rights.  I know that none would hesitate to use force against me, whether or not I violated any laws, never mind whether I'm threat to anyone's safety.  

In brief, I cannot see the police as part of a system that defends or ensures justice--at least not for me.  They are little more than the bodyguards of the wealthy and powerful, the bouncers hired to push me out of sight whether or not I was intruding or in anyone's way.  In such a system, I and other trans people are always in danger, whether or not we "pass".  Being in danger destroys your ability to trust, especially those who are entrusted with force that can be turned against you for no reason.