31 January 2015

We're Not "Confused"

I have often been asked whether I "always felt that way",

The answer is, of course, yes.  Actually, I have to qualify that:  I always knew I was a girl.  I managed, with varying degrees of failure, to suppress my identity and be the man I was "supposed to" become by playing sports, taking lots of math and science courses, dating girls, getting married, being in the Army and any number of things you can think of.

Some have asked me whether I was "confused".  Had I expressed, when I was very young, a desire to transition--if indeed I knew what that was!--I probably would have been told I was confused.  Some would have said it in a condescending way, others in an imperative tone and still others with belligerence.  Actually, I experienced all of those things when I started my transition in my 40s, so I can only imagine how things would have been in my twenties or teens.

The answer to whether I was, or am, confused is "no".  Even when I was doing well at "manly" things, and being praised and rewarded for it, I did not take it well.  If I was, and am, confused about anything, it's about getting positive feedback for anything because, so often, I got it for being inauthentic.

But, as far as my gender identity goes, I am clear about that.  And that's why I don't regret my transition or my surgery, though I wish I didn't have to experience some of what I've gone through since then.

According to an article in Medical News Today, I am typical. ("I am typical":  When did I ever think I would say that?)  That article reported a new study, soon to be published in Psychological Science, saying that the gender identity is "deeply held and consistent, rather than the result of confusion as many have previously maintained".  

The study used implicit measures as well as conscious self-reporting in an effort to understand the identity of transgender children.

According to that study, a child's transgender identity is not the result of "pretense" or a desire to shock or rebel.  

Now, of course, that doesn't mean that every boy who tries on his mother's clothes is a trans woman, any more than it means that a trans girl's femaleness can be beat out of her.  It means that those who are trans will identify that way, whether or not they have a means to express it and, by implication, those who are "experimenting" will quickly "grow out of it".  At least, that's how I read the results of that study.

I hope I cleared up some confusion with this post!

30 January 2015

Faith And Hope In The Face Of Rejection

Some people believe they can overcome anything with their faith.  Perhaps that's true; I have no doubt that belief in God (or whatever they choose to call Him/Her/It) or simply supernatural forces helps them to deal with difficult situations and painful emotions.

Diego Neria Lejarraga is such a person.  "I never lost faith, ever," he said.  "But the other thing is the rejection."

A few days ago, he had a private audience with Pope Francis I.  This meeting was a first for any Pontiff because Diego was born a girl in Spain, where he is a civil servant. 

What makes this all the more interesting is that Lejarraga is not an activist and, he didn't go into his meeting with any notion that he would change the church.  But, he said, he was impressed with how Francis "loves the whole world" and does not have "any discrimination against anyone."  But, Lejarraga added, he was "speaking about him, and not the institution".

Still, he holds out hope that "if this Pope has a long life...I think things will change".

Perhaps some day I will have that kind of faith.

29 January 2015

Maybe He's A Cop In Ohio

Dominick used to talk about becoming a cop.   He was about as suited for that work as I am to be an accountant.  I always suspected that his wish had something to do with being bullied as a kid:  As a cop, he would've had a weapon and the authority to inflict on others what was inflicted on him.  

Maybe he realized that dream after all, though not in New York.  

In Lakewood, Ohio, a transgender woman was arrested for shoplifting. During her questioning, an officer played Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like A Lady."

Hmm...When I ended my relationship with Dominick, he called every day and played that song.  When I didn't pick up his call, he left the song on my voice mail.  In doing that, of course, he confirmed one of the reasons why I broke it off:  his immaturity.  And he revealed what I always suspected to be his real attitude about me, and trans people.

Everyone told me to ignore him.  I did, but he escalated his harassment for the next two years:  The dumb jokes and slurs turned into spreading false rumors about me and threatening that he would make my life so miserable that a refrigerator box would seem like the Waldorf-Astoria.

Well, if he's in Ohio or someplace else, I should count my blessings--but pity the next trans person who crosses his path.

28 January 2015

Workers' Rights=LGBT Rights

Some would argue--and I would be inclined to agree--that the most important speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave was "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam".  Delivered one year, to the day, before he was murdered, it expresses something that had become more apparent to him throughout his life:  All struggles for justice are related. As he said, you can't oppose racial prejudice in the United States (or anywhere else) and support killing people of a different race in another country.  Likewise, if you believe people deserve to be treated fairly and equally, whatever their race or gender or religion or sexual orientation, you also must believe  that people deserve to be paid a fair living wage for doing a day's work.

That is why something I came across would have made perfect sense to him:  Workers' rights are tied to LGBT rights, and vice-versa.  I am not simply repeating a nice ideal:  There are statistics to prove it.  Those numbers indicate that union workers are three times as likely as non-union workers to have domestic partner health care coverage and twice as likely to have survivor benefits for their domestic partners.

From National LGBT Taskforce blog

27 January 2015

Ontario Inmates To Be Housed According To Gender Identity

I'm no expert on criminal justice, so take what I'm about to say for what it's worth.

Here goes:  I think that any society that imprisons people has to decide what the purpose of incarceration is.

In the US, as in many other countries, we call our system "corrections".  From what I understand of psychology, such a term implies that the system is behavioristic in its approach:  The behavior of the person arrested is to be corrected.  Or, more ideally, some underlying condition or issue that led to the behavior will be corrected.

Those familiar with the system--inmates as well as wardens and guards--say that it almost never happens.  Somehow that doesn't surprise me, but that's a discussion for another blog (or book or class!) led by someone more knowledgeable than I am.  

Anyway, in other places and times, imprisonment was more frankly a means of vengeance.  In the 18th and 19th Centuries, prisons were called "penitentiaries", or places of penance--in other words, a kind of purgatory where the inmate worked off his or her sins.

So why am I talking about these things on this blog?  Well, it matters greatly to transgender inmates, most of whom are arrested for doing sex work or other relatively minor crimes.  If the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate or reform someone, the inmate's humanity must be respected.  Just as a doctors who don't respect their patients have no hope of helping them heal, any system that dehumanizes the people who enter it cannot make those people better than they were when they were brought into it.

Yasir Naqvi understands this.  He is the Correction Services Minister in the Canadian province of Ontario.  Yesterday, he announced that inmates will be placed in Ontario prisons according to the gender by which they identify themselves rather than their physical sex characteristics.  So, for example, someone identified as male on her birth certificate will be incarcerated in a women's prison if she identifies herself as such.

I know that some believe that prisoners are not human beings and will howl that such treatment is "coddling".  But they should think about how their tax money is being spent.  If something might help prevent recidivism, why not try it--especially if it doesn't cost any more money than doing something that doesn't work.

26 January 2015

A Harder And More Necessary Lesson Than I Imagined

For a long time, I simply didn't think about whether there was anything beyond or after this life.  That spell was interrupted, at times, with my denial that anything of the sort existed.  It was easier, really, than trying to reconcile the possibility there could be a deity with the fate I had been dealt in my life--which, of course, includes my gender identity--let alone the fates of other people who suffered all sorts of cruelties and injustices.

For years, when people asked about my beliefs and I couldn't find a way out of answering, I replied that I was an atheist.  It was easier to argue non-belief to a believer--actually, it still is, for me--than it is to reconcile the interpretations I usually read and heard about the divine or the supernatural with anything I had seen in my life.

For much of my life, I didn't want to believe, even if a way to reconcile belief with reality (as I understood) had been explained or revealed to me.  People tried to convince me that their way was right or that they accepted people (i.e., me) but not the things they did.  Or they spewed what I thought was the most awful and absurd line:  "God loves you.  God loves everyone."  That, to me, was a sure sign that the person uttering it hadn't the first idea about what love is.  Hey, there were times when I thought that love itself is a delusion.  Sometimes I still wonder...

For the past year and a half, I have been attending a church.  I'm still uneasy about it.  It's not because, as one parishoner suggested, I'm worried about what other people think.  (I stopped worrying about that when I realized that too many people simply don't think!)  Actually, there is still a part of me that doesn't want to be convinced that there is a God (or whatever name you want to give) and that s/he (or whatever identity) loves me, or anybody.  And, in spite of what I have experienced over these most recent months, it's still hard for me to believe, sometimes, that I've met people who are actually Christians or adherents to any other faith, let alone clergy, who don't think I need to be changed or "cured".  Actually, one of the priests in my church has asked me a lot about my identity and story because this priest admits, "There's still a lot I don't know."  This same priest has listened to me talk about all sorts of other things and has helped me in other ways.

Yes, there are all those verses--mainly in the Old, but sometimes in the New--Testament that warn against "a man lying with a man as with a woman" or whatever.  But, as a student of literature, I know that all sayings, all words, come from specific places and times.  Some of our greatest writings contain notions that are outdated or simply quaint, and portrayals of people that we today consider to be bigoted.  Some things were forbidden because of conditions that prevailed at the time (for example, in the time Exodus was written, it probably was important to produce as many children as possible) and the tenets of Judaism and Christianity developed in a context of notions about gender and other cultural mores that most of us (well, at least most people I know) would find abhorrent or simply incompatible with life as we know it.  

But, whatever prohibitions there are in the Bible, the harshest utterances of Jesus himself--at least, the harshest ones recorded in the Bible--were not directed at gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders.  In fact, the Bible, as far as I can tell, says nothing at all about trans people. (Some interpret "a man shall not appear as a woman" as an injunction against us.  But those of us who are trans women would argue that we are not men.) Nor were they directed at those who suffered any sort of prejudice or oppression.  Rather, he reserved his most scathing indictments for the Pharisees, those religious teachers so focused on rules that they forgot what mattered, namely mercy and compassion.

Mercy and compassion.  Learning that people actually try to practice such things, as best as they know how, to people like me--and not only because we're trans or whatever--is a harder lesson to learn and accept than I could have imagined--almost as hard as the struggle with my gender identity. But it seems that I have no other choice but to learn it.

25 January 2015

Whatever He Is, He Isn't A Joke

For too long, too many people have seen transgender people as a joke.

Through my childhood, the punchline was "Christine Jorgensen."  Later, Renee Richards became the trigger to the laughtrack.  

By the time I started my transition, Michael Jackson would fill that role.  Even though almost nobody thought he was transgendered, the first thing most people think of when someone mentions trans people is "surgery."  Cosmetic surgery, to be exact, as if it were all about altering our appearance.  

Now, it seems, the new punchline is Bruce Jenner.  Rumors have swirled that the 1976 Olympic Decathlon champion and reality TV star has begun to transition.  Not surprisingly, entertainment and gossip magazines have published Photoshopped portraits of Bruce.  One such publication has a cover of him in pink lipstick  a blowout hairdo, a silk scarf--and former Dynasty star Stepanie Beacham's body--grafted onto his head.

I will not speculate on whether Jenner is actually going through a gender transition.  Whether or not he is, he needs and deserves to be left to live his life in peace.  And, even though he is the stepfather of children who have made a career of being famous for, well, being famous, he should not be the newest butt of jokes about transgender people.

(Please don't take my use of male pronouns in reference to Jenner as a judgment on whether or not he is transitioning or even transgender.  As long as he doesn't announce that he is trans or transitioning, or any intention of living as a woman, he should be referred to as "he" and "him".)


24 January 2015

What We Couldn't Share

By now, you've read of Leelah Alcorn's suicide--whether from me, another blogger, the media or some other source.

The pain she expressed in her blog--which was deleted at the request of her mother--is all too familiar.  The tragedy is, of course, that she was so young and couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel.  But what angered me, and many other people, is the way her family, especially her mother, denied who and what she was in death as they did during her life.

As terrible and familiar as her story is, there are many other trans people who've killed themselves, not because their families and friends wouldn't accept them, but because they couldn't "come out", sometimes even to themselves.

"Calie" returned from a long absence from blogging to relate such a story about someone she knows:  "He was a good boy and had become a good man." 

So why did Calie use male pronouns in referring to her now-departed friend?  Well, the person in question never revealed her gender identity to anyone--not even to her family or to Calie--in life.  Only the note she so carefully left behind (It wasn't spattered with her blood) told of the conflict and pain he was ending with the bullet in his head.

But one thing makes this story even worse than any other I've heard before:  The young person who committed suicide was the child of a transgender parent.  A macho-guy father, to be exact.  Of course, you know why he was such a macho guy:  the same reason I trained and played sports as hard as I did for so many years, or why other would-be trans women become cops and soldiers or get involved in any number of other "manly" undertakings.

Of course, a day may come when he realizes he can't keep up the facade anymore.  Then, he will have two choices:  transition or die.  I am not exaggerating:  I had such a moment thirteen years ago.  I knew that in transitioning,  I could lose my life as I knew it and I had absolutely no idea of what could be in store for me were I to transition.  But I also knew that I would not live for very much longer if I didn't transition.  

I had that moment at age 43.  I don't know how old Calie's friend or his (I'm using the male pronoun in the same way Calie used it) father were and are.  I suspect the father is close to the age I was when I had my moment of truth.  If he is, I don't know how he's gone on for as long as he has.  I don't know how I lived as long as I did with my conflict.  When I came out to my mother, she said the same thing.

And now, again, I'm remembering Corey.  I spent what would be the last night of his life with him.  We were both in our mid-20s at the time; when he called me, I knew he was in a very bad way.  Even though we were good friends, I didn't know what I could possibly offer him that someone else could have.  But he insisted that he simply had to talk to me.

You might say that night is the one thing for which I haven't forgiven myself, and probably never will.  Of course, at that time, I wasn't "out" to anybody, including myself.  But he wasn't waiting for me to come out:  He just knew.

From what Callie says, her friend never knew that his father is trans.  Corey knew I am, just as he was.  I didn't know how to acknowledge, much less do anything, about it.  Or perhaps I was just too much of a coward.  Whatever the explanation, I think of what Corey and I could have shared with each other, and how he might be alive--as a she, of course--and I might have spared myself decades of frustration and pain.

All I can do now is to hope that the father of Calie's friend will end his pain and frustration, though not in the way his child did.  And I hope Calie and all of the other people who can't, for whatever reasons, be who and what they truly are will one day be free.

23 January 2015

All Are Welcome--As Long As....

One of the reasons why we become jaded, blase or even cynical is that we didn't start out wanting to be those things.   

I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know.  Still, I think it bears telling in light of a story that came my way.

Greg Bullard is a senior pastor in his local church.  He and his husband, Brian Copeland, have won awards for their service to families in their home state of Tennessee.  That service includes running the only LGBT food pantry in their state.  Said pantry serves more than 200 families every month and addresses a problem--poverty in the LGBT community--that is often overlooked.

Whatever their sexual orientation or family configuration, one would expect that their son would be welcome in any school.  OK, maybe not "one".  I would expect that. I imagine you, dear reader, would, too.  So would many other people.

And, being that Greg is a senior pastor, I would expect--or, at least, hope--that his son would be welcome in a Christian school, even if that school is not affiliated with the same denomination as the one that includes Greg's church.  

Turns out, the school--the Davidson Academy--is not affiliated with any particular denomination, though it was "founded by Christians and operates in the Christian tradition based upon clear tenets of faith and practice."

Where did I find that verbal morsel I quoted in my previous sentence?  Where else:  in the letter the school sent to Greg and Brian.

Now, that clause can be interpreted in all sorts of ways.  But, it seems that interpretation of what "Christian" means, what the "Christian tradition" is and what constitutes "clear tenets of faith and practice" is dependent, at least to some degree, on geography--at least here in the good ol' USA.  And, since we're talking about Tennessee, it's not surprising that it was interpreted in a way to exclude the son of two pillars of the community--one of whom happens to be a senior pastor.

Really, I don't want to be snide and cynical.  But it's hard not to be because it's not surprising to learn that Christianity is interpreted to practice hate and exclusion in a particular part of this country where such things seem to happen more often than in other places.

Then again, I would expect--or, at least, hope--that even in Tennessee, there is a school with a supportive environment and high academic standards that would be glad to have the son of Greg Bullard and Brian Copeland walk into its doors.   

One can hope.


22 January 2015

He Knows The Words. But When Will He Play The Tune?

The other night, Barack Obama used the words "transgender", "lesbian" and "bisexual" in his State Of The Union address.  While he has used those words in other speeches, it was the first time they were uttered in any SOTU address.

Notice that I said "used the words".  That was a deliberate locution on my part.  What we have to remember is that he is a politician, and he is thinking about his life after the Presidency.  Like any skilled politico, he knows what to say and when to say it.

It's commonly forgotten that Obama had to be prodded into concerning himself with LGBT issues.  Dick Cheyney voiced his support for same-sex marriage before Obama did.  So did more than a few other Republicans--and Joe Biden, Obama's Vice-President.

I still have to question his true commitment to transgender--or lesbian, gay or bisexual--equality when he accepts as much money as he does from financial-services institutions. After all, they have done more to make and keep people poor--and thus vulnerable to bigotry and violence--than any other institutions, let alone people.

In other words, he is a corporate Democrat who is thinking about the boards he will sit on and the six-figure speeches he will make after he leaves office.  The banks and other financial institutions that support him employ a lot of gay men--more specifically, the kinds of gay men who hijacked the LGBT equality movement with their single-minded commitment to same-sex marriage at the expense of all other LGBT issues.

To me, he's only slightly more credible than a Secretary of the Interior who sells Federal land to mining companies.


21 January 2015

Defining The Terms

A few days ago, in talking (actually, writing) to someone, I mentioned that I'm a transsexual woman.  This person asked me to explain it, and all of the other trans- and gender-related terms he'd heard.

Perhaps coincidentally, I came across this:

From Visual.ly

20 January 2015

I Am A Crime With A Fine Of $2500

I am an offense that carries a $2500 fine.

No,  you didn't misread that.  It's true of me, and every other trans person--most of all transgender kids in the state of Kentucky.

How can that be?, you ask.

Well, Bluegrass State senator C.B. Embry Jr has just sponsored a bill that would allow a student to sue his or her school for $2500 if he or she were to encounter someone of the opposite biological sex in the bathroom.

It is intended as a way to enforce another part of the proposed law:  that students must use the bathroom designated for the sex indicated on their birth certificates, not the one by which they identify.

The bill would also allow students to ask for special accomodations such as unisex bathrooms.  But how many kids would actually do such a thing?  Some simply wouldn't know enough to do so; others would feel intimidation, especially if they are in hostile--or, at least, non-supportive--environments. Nothing is more humiliating and embarassing for a kid than feeling singled out, which is usually what happens when a kid gets "special" accomodations for anything.

So, in essence, the bill would criminalize trans kids simply for existing and fine their schools for it.  That is going to promote the safety and welfare of children...how?

19 January 2015

One Way To Commemorate This Day

Today, on Martin Luther King Day, I thought it would make sense to share something I learned just recently:  He actually gave his "I Have A Dream" speech--albeit in a slightly different form-- for the first time in Detroit, some two months before the whole world heard him deliver it from Washington.

It's interesting that such a fact has been all but lost to history, especially when one considers how much sense it makes.  After all, he made his speech in Detroit right around the time it became a majority-black city.  Also, King had, by that time, realized that the struggles of the labor movement were part of an overall struggle for justice, and no city has ever been more emblematic of the American labor movement than Detroit.

It's thus fitting that there's a "Tour  de Troit" taking place today. If today's weather in the Motor City is anything like what it normally has at this time of year, I give "props" to whoever rides it.  

The name of the ride is kind of funny.  The name of the city itself means "strait" in French; Francophone settlers who came by way of Quebec named the then-settlement for "le detroit du lac Erie", which separates it from what is now Windsor, Ontario.

(If you are under-age, or of delicate sensibilities, please skip over everything else in this parenthetical element.  The second syllable--"troit"--means "narrow" and is pronounced the way Anglophones pronounce a vulgar term for a part of the female anatomy.  In fact, it's believed that British soldiers in World War I introduced the term in to the English-speaking world.)

Anyway, congratulations to everyone who is riding today. And thank you for everything, Dr. King!

18 January 2015

Love Sick--Or Sick Of Lovers?

Sometimes it seems that half of the TV shows and movies in this world are about people falling in love, trying to find love or who can’t decide between would-be lovers. 

I’m thinking about that as I can’t get Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” out of my head.  A few nights ago, someone played it on the radio.  I hadn’t heard it in a long time. At the time it came out, I actually liked the music better than the lyrics—a feeling I don’t normally have about a Bob Dylan song.  But now the lyrics—or, more precisely the sentiment—resonates more now than it did circa 1997.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m now about the same age he was when he made that song. More to the point, though, I simply have no desire, right now, to get involved in anything resembling a “love”—or, more precisely, romantic or sexual—relationship.  I don’t even feel that I want anything more than friendship from anybody, and there really aren’t that many people from whom I actually want it.

A few people have suggested that I lack confidence in myself and, by extension, in my ability to attract anyone I’d want, let alone anyone who can give me a nurturing, fulfilling relationship.  That might be part of the answer: I don’t feel very attractive right now and I’m still learning what kind of a woman I am, and am going to, be.  Others, including one priest in my church, have said that I’m afraid to open myself again.  They’re right:  Being sensitive and vulnerable has led me to not merely pain but, at times, outright ruin.

Plus, to be perfectly honest, I don’t miss the intimacy—to the degree that I experienced it—in the relationships I’ve had.  I don’t miss having to listen to two-hour-long monologues from a self-absorbed man-child who’s never lived anywhere but the house in which he was born or raised, or the abuse to which he subjected me whenever I told him what he didn’t want to hear.  I don’t miss the accusations, the slander, the expectations that I will be available for sex or whatever else the other person wants.  For that matter, I don’t really miss sex.  

I have to wonder, though, how much of what I’m feeling actually has to do with the experiences I’ve had in relationships.  I know that many people say their libidos wane when they get to be my age, or they just get tired of a lot of other things in their lives.  I also know that, in the old days, one of the costs of gender-reassignment surgery—apart from money—was the loss of physical sensation in that area.  That has not been a problem for me.  The electricity is working, so to speak.  So is the plumbing, if you will.  But, to extend that metaphor, the bedroom is empty and I don’t feel the same urgency that other people seem to feel about filling it.

17 January 2015

Why Do Trans People Need To Be Protected From "The Vagina Monologues"?

It's a cliche, but I'll say it anyway:  Sometimes the smartest people do the stupidest things.

Now, I realize that stupid people get into elite colleges and universities.  But, on the whole, I would suspect that most students in faculty members in prestigious liberal arts colleges like Mount Holyoke are pretty smart people.

I would even include whoever makes the programming decisions for their theatre.  And I would say as much even after, as student spokesperson Erin Murphy announced, it was cancelling plans to host a production of The Vagina Monologues, which had been performed there every year since Eve Ensler wrote it in 1996.

Mount Holyoke, one of the last all-female colleges in the US, began to admit transgender students last year.  Hence the rationale for the misguided decision to cancel the play:  Someone decided that it could offend trans students.

Why?  According to Murphy, "At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman."

All right.  I respect Murphy for trying, as best as she knows how, to show respect for her new classmates.  However, that attempt is seriously misguided.  More specifically, it stems from a very flawed reading of the play.

I've seen several performances of Monologues, though I admit that I haven't seen one in a few years.  Never did I think that the play said, or even implied that being a woman means having a vagina, or vice-versa.  To be sure that neither my memory nor reading is flawed, I did a quick search and found out that Ms. Ensler herself has never advanced such a definition of a woman, and did not write the play with such a definition in mind. 

To me, in the play, the vagina represents a woman's power and vulnerability, her oppression and the ways in which she must be aware of herself and men do not. I saw the play while I was still living as Nick, during my transition and after my surgery. I admit that I identified with it more closely the more I lived as a woman, but even before I started my counseling and therapy, I felt the play resonated with the vagina within me, so to speak.  

And every trans person must be or become aware of the ways we are, have been and can be subject to violence and exploitation, as well as the paths of awareness that open to us, because of our physical (as I now have) or metaphorical vaginas.  That, I believe, is as much a part of a definition of womanhood as anything else I can think of.  

To deny the new trans students at Mount Holyoke--or trans people anywhere--the opportunity to learn those things, or simply experience the power of the play itself, is a disservice.  I don't know Ms. Murphy, but I'll assume that wasn't her intention, or that of the theatre board that voted to cancel this year's showing of The Vagina Monologues.  

In short:  We need it. We don't need to be protected from it. 

15 January 2015

Driving Us Out

Perhaps Vladimir Putin is trying to prove that he's the world's most hateful head of state.  Or, perhaps, simply one of the most retrograde.

It seems that every week he finds new ways to curtail the rights of gay people--or, at least, comes up with an excuse for doing so.  For example, he signed a law allowing police to arrest gay tourists--or tourists who are believed to be gay--and detain them for fourteen days.  He rationalized that, and other antigay moves, in the name of "defending children."

Now, we know that a gay, lesbian or bisexual is no more likely to molest children than anyone else.  In fact, most of the cases of child molestation or sexual abuse that I've heard of--including my own--were perpetrated by heterosexual men.

All right.  Maybe we can forgive someone who's not a specialist for not being up-to-date on the latest research.  Hey, I can even understand not knowing the difference between a "disorder" or "disease" and an "impairment".  It seems to me that the latter might be a good reason to keep someone from driving.  The other two, not so much.

Such distinctions seem to be lost on Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.  On 29 December, he signed a bill that prohibits anyone with any condition cited in the World Health Organization's list of personality and behavior disorders from driving.

So, while the law doesn't specifically mention transgender people, it's clear that part of the law's purpose is to keep us from driving in Russia.  Even though I never planned to do any such thing if I should ever visit that country,  the law gives me another reason not to go.

Interestingly, the WHO doesn't list male homosexuality or lesbianism as a disorder.  So, perhaps, Medvedev is playing "good cop" to Putin's "bad cop", or vice versa.  One can claim not to have acted with prejudice against gays or lesbians, while the other can claim not to have done any harm to trans folk.  That's a pretty neat, if perverse, trick.

Although the bill was signed on the 29th of last month, it wasn't released publicly on the Russian government's website until last week.  And, predictably, it didn't get much attention in the US media.

11 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie, Nous Sommes Charlie

For today, I am going to forget what I normally write about on this and my other blog--sort of.

In terms of content, this post will not resemble others I've written.  However, It will express concern for everything that makes this blog, and others, possible.  In fact, some of those things even make it possible for me to do the very thing I write about on this blog:  ride a bike.

You see, in some cultures, women aren't allowed to ride bicycles--or go to school, read, write, teach or do much of anything besides bear a man's children and submit to his demands.  In such places, someone like me doesn't have the right to be a woman--let alone a cyclist--at all.

That is the reason why I am writing today to express my solidarity with all of those people who rallied in my home town as well as London, Tokyo, Istanbul, Montreal, Berlin and many other cities around the world--and, of course, in France, most prominently in Paris.

I have lived in the City of LIght.  So have some people I've loved and with whom I've worked.  They've been native-born French people--some of ancient Gallic and Frankish heritage, others born to families who emigrated to France from other places in this world.  They've been Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and people who didn't adhere to any formal religion or philosophy, or who believed in nothing at all beyond this life.  They've been wealthy, poor and, mainly, in-between.  

The thing is, they all knew that their right to be any, all  or none of the things I've mentioned was protected under the laws of their country.  And, while some expressed resentment or condescension toward America--or, more precisely, toward our misconceptions or simple unawareness of our position in the world, they all have expressed respect, admiration and sometimes even wistfulness for the openness of our society and the generous spirit of Americans they've met. 

A man holds a giant pencil as he takes part in a solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris, 11 January 2015
Demonstrators hold up pencils to express ther support for freedom of expression.

The rallies, like funerals and memorial services, are about grieving those who died in the attacks on the Chrlie Hebdo offices and the kosher supermarket in Paris.  But, just as important, they are a reminded of what we--I, the people I've mentioned, and everyone else--need to do:  to live, as the people we are, free to pursue our dreams, honor or values, to love those we love--and, always, to speak the truth, whether through simple facts, irony, images, humor or in some other way.  We can't let those who murdered seventeen Parisians during the past week take that liberty, that right, away from us.

Je suis Charlie.  Nous sommes Charlie. 

10 January 2015

Myerson Agonistes

I’ve just learned of the death of Bess Myerson.  In fact,  members of the media didn’t know about it until a couple of days ago, even though she passed on the 14th of December.

This is the first time I—or, for that matter, most other people—have heard anything at all about her in at least two decades.  I would venture that most young people—including my students—have never heard of her.

I met her once, briefly, at a ceremony in which Poets In Public Service, in which I worked, received an award for arts in service to the community.  Ms. Myerson was the Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the founder and president of PIPS, Myra Klahr, apparently knew her—well enough, anyway, to introduce me.

Myerson was in her 60s and looked even better in person than she did in the photos I saw, which is saying a lot.  Tall and elegant, she was often described as “regal” in her bearing.  I could see why, though I think “imperious”—one word I would use to describe to use Klahr—would have fit equally well.  Ms. Myerson was pleasant enough to me, but I had no illusion that, even if I’d had more contact with her, I would ever know her any better than I did at that moment.

Of course, getting to know Ms. Myerson wasn’t the reason why I was at that ceremony.  Actually, there was no particular reason for me to be there except for the fact that I was one of the poets who worked for PIPS.  Oh, and I think it was the second or third time I wore the one suit I owned at the time.

I don’t actually recall the ceremony or much else about my brief encounter with Bess Myerson.  But I recall what I recall because of what would follow just a few weeks later.  Those events would, in essence, end Myerson’s public life.

Those events can be said to be a result of her involvement with Edward Koch, the mayor at the time of the ceremony.  Yes, she was his DCA Commissioner.  But it seemed, at times, that they had their pinkies hooked around each other.  He half-jokingly referred to her as his “designated date” when she worked on his campaign.  You had to be comatose not to see that she was his “beard”:  Whether or not he was actually gay, he had to suppress the rumors that he was in order to get elected, and re-elected. 

She was perfect for the role:  From the day in 1945 she became the first Jewish woman—and the first New Yorker—to be crowned Miss America, she was loved by about as many people as anybody was in the Big Apple.  Plus, the careers as a concert pianist and as a radio and television personality that followed her pageant win lent glamour to the campaign and mayoralty of Koch who, before his election in 1977, was little-known outside Greenwich Village.

What did she get in return?  Well, she got to continue the career in public service that began in 1969, when newly-reelected Mayor John Lindsay made her the first Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, an agency he’d just founded.  To her credit, she initiated some of the laws on unit pricing, product safety and deceptive retail practices that people all over the US—and in much of the world—now take for granted.  However, four years later, Abe Beame won Lindsay’s office and she never became a part of his administration.  Koch re-ignited her career in public service, which she tried to use a springboard into electoral politics.   The result was her one and only campaign—a Democratic primary loss to Elizabeth Holtzman, who in turn would narrowly lose a bitterly-fought election for a Senatorial seat won by Alfonse D'Amato.

Even with that loss, Myerson remained in the spotlight, thanks to being the chair of the DCA and her residual popularity, particularly among the pre-Baby Boom generation.  But, as she often complained, no matter what she did, she was always identified first and foremost as Miss America.  Of course, few others who’ve won the crown have managed to trade it for as many other—and as gaudy—hats as she wore.  But, as she said, given the gender politics of her time, she probably would not have accomplished the other things she did had she not won the title, her intelligence and other qualities notwithstanding.

And, it could be said that her title—or, at least, the beauty that won it—led to her undoing:  It led her to make compromises, to make deals, that simply wouldn’t have even been available to other women.  Moreover, for all that she cultivated the image of the sophisticated, urbane, independent New York woman, her rise was buoyed by powerful men, just they led to her fall.

About the latter:  She got involved in an affair with Carl A. “Andy” Capasso, a married man more than two decades her junior.  Even by the murky standards of the Koch administration, Capasso’s ethics were as putrid as what his company built as a contractor for the city:  sewers.  He divorced his wife and, some say, influenced Myerson to do what led to her downfall:  She hired Sukhreet Gabel, the daughter of the judge who reduced Capasso’s alimony payments from $1500 to $500 a week.  

Capasso went to prison and the judge stepped down.  Bess Myerson didn’t suffer such fates, but she was disgraced and seemed to become unhinged.  Not long afterward, she was arrested for shoplifting in Pennsylvania.  She claimed that she “forgot” to pay for the items found in her bag when she “absentmindedly” walked out of the store.

To be fair, she may well have had a mental lapse, as she wasn’t known as the most stable person in the world.  And she died from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, more than a quarter-century after the shoplifting incident—and the last most people, including me, had heard of her.