28 February 2015

The Bravest Among Us

Now that listings for poetry readings, concerts and apartments for rent are available online, I rarely pick up a copy of the Village Voice, even though it’s free.  For that matter, I don’t look at the Voice online.  The number of pages in any print edition is maybe a third of the number one would find, say, thirty years ago.  And the amount of sustenance in any issue has fallen even more.

But this week, something on the front cover caught my eye.  There was a photo of a tall, rawboned trans woman with the headline, “New York’s Bravest”.  That’s the nickname of this city’s Fire Department. (The police are known as “New York’s Finest”.)  On the left-hand side of the cover was this caption:

By Gender
Males: 10,000+
Females: 44
Trans:  1                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Now, whenever someone categorizes gender in that way, it upsets me even more than someone trying to squeeze everybody into the “M” or “F” box.  Most of the time, when I see categorizations like the one on the front cover of the Voice, I think the categorizer could just as well have called us “it”:  Such a person thinks we’re not really one or the other, or anything human at all.
So, of course, I picked up a copy.  Actually, I might have anyway, as the cover story recounted the saga of Brooke Guinan, the city’s first known trans firefighter. You might say that she has taken up the family trade:  Her father is a current FDNY captain and her grandfather retired as a lieutenant.  Had she become a firefighter as a male, she would have been like thousands of other firefighters who followed their fathers, grandfathers, uncles or other relatives into the department.

Ironically, I liked the article more than I expected, and for a reason its writer (Irene Chidinma Nwoye) probably didn’t intend:  Ms. Nwoye covered, however briefly, Brooke’s struggle to come to terms with who she is. 

Being tall and burly isn’t the only way she doesn’t fit the stereotype of a trans woman.  As a child, she loved her dolls, but she loved comic books just as much.  In fact, she was drawn to one particular genre: that of superheroes, her favorite being Marvel’s X-Men.  Not surprisingly, her mother thinks that being a firefighter is, for Brooke, like being a superhero. 

But in other ways, she was the effeminate boy who got picked on by other kids.  And—here’s something I could really relate to—for years she identified herself as gay because she wasn’t like the boys but was told by many people that she never could become a woman.  She was effeminate, yes (and, not surprisingly, got picked on for it) but, in the eyes of others, not feminine because of her appearance and voice, among other things.

Attempts to get her involved in sports failed almost comically.  However, she was very drawn to theatre and performing.   In fact, she went to college as a theatre major but switched to sociology and gender studies. One of her professors, impressed by her communication and other interpersonal skills, tried to encourage her to get advanced degrees in gender studies and become a professor.  Her mother saw her as a teacher.   When she and her husband couldn’t dissuade Brooke from signing up for the FDNY, they tried to convince her to “butch up” on the job. (By that time, she had gone back, briefly, to living as a gay male.)  But, she was determined to go into the Fire Department on her own terms. 

She’s been there for seven years now.  She won’t talk about the medical aspects of her transition or her relationship status.  I can understand that.  However, being on her journey has inspired her to help other trans people with theirs. “I can’t enjoy my life if there’s all kinds of other problems that other people like me are facing,” she says.  “I can’t live with the guilt of ignoring that.”

Spoken like a true super-hero!                                

27 February 2015

Signs That It Gets Better

For a young LGBT person, the road ahead can seem long, winding and arduous.  We are always looking for signs that things will indeed get better.

From Student Affairs Women Talk Tech

26 February 2015

Perhaps Senator Plett Should Move To Florida

I have long thought that Canadians are more sensible people than we (well, some of us, anyway) are in the US.  They legalized same-sex marriage and got rid of slavery before we did.  And, while I'm sure there's bigotry north of our border, it didn't seem to taint social policy or civil discourse--not to mention politics--as often as it does in my home country.

But, it seems, they're not completely immune to our insanity.  

Yesterday, the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-279, which adds gender identity to Canada's Human Rights Act.  Here in the US, there are still states in which someone can be fired from a job or evicted from housing simply for being  transgender (or, for that matter, lesbian or gay).  Ironically, in some of those states, same-sex marriage is legal--at least technically, for the moment, due to statutes against the practice being declared unconstitutional by Federal judges.  So, in such an environment, it's not much of a surprise that no one has even introduced a bill to protect the rights of trans people nationwide.

So, given what I've said, the fact that C-279 passed the Senate makes Canada look like a progressive country, doesn't it?  Well, there's a catch:  Just before the vote, Conservative Senator Donald Plett added an amendment mandating that people can use only those public facilities (like washrooms and crisis centers) designated for their "biological" gender.

He claims that his amendment is a "public safety issue".  He explains his rationale for his amendment thusly:  "The issue I have is that many elements of society are separated based on sex and not on gender — shelters, change rooms, bathrooms, even sports teams. They are not separated based on internal feelings but on sex, physiological and anatomical differences".  (Italics mine)

Hmm...You have to use facilities designated by your biological sex.  And which facilities you should use should be determined by anatomy.  Where have you heard that self-contradicting argument before?

Well, if you read the Huffington Post, you might have seen an article I wrote.  In it, I show how Frank Artiles, a Republican in the Florida House of Representatives, makes the same arguments, almost verbatim, to introduce a bill that would do, essentially, the same things as the amendment to C-279.  He, like Senator Plett, introduced legislation saying that people must use public facilities according to their birth (They both use the word "biological" instead, probably because it sounds more scientific or is simply longer.) sex.  Then they say that anatomy should determine where we pee.  And they claim that their legislation is intended for "public safety".

As best as I can tell, about the only difference between Plett and Artiles is that the latter claims that his actions are motivated by his Christian faith, while Plett doesn't mention his religious beliefs, whether or not he has any.

I know that lots of Canadians have moved to Florida.  Perhaps Plett should, too.  

25 February 2015

Her Family Behind Her

Some commentators are calling this the "transgender moment" of history.  Bruce Jenner is transitioning, and TV shows and movies have transgender characters--portrayed by trans people.  I have found that revealing my identity doesn't raise eyebrows the way it did even a few years ago.

Perhaps the best thing about all of this is high-profile parents and grandparents can publicly support a child's or grandchild's transition.  Congressman Mike Honda of California has recently tweeted that his 8-year-old grandchild Brody is becoming Malisa.  And his daughter, Michelle Honda-Philips, has often "stayed up into the wee hours" researching transgender issues as she watched her asked for ballet lessons and permission to wear a pink tutu and carry a "Hello Kitty" lunchbox.  

Because of her work, and her observation that her child is "insistent, persistent and consistent" in expressing her female identity, she decided to support her transition because, as the elder Honda said, "It's not a phase."

One sign that it isn't is that Malisa is not only attending school as a girl, she's also on its anti-bullying committee.  You might say that she's already become her mother, who also campaigns against bullying.


24 February 2015

New State Department Envoy for LGBT Rights

Normally, I am skeptical when the government--or, for that matter, any other organization--creates a new post with an impressive-sounding title.  But on the matter of which I'm going to write, I'll give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt.

On Monday, the Department of State named Randy Berry its first-ever envoy charged with advocating globally for the human rights of LGBT people.

In this new role, Berry is responsible for advancing government initiatives to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world.  In that capacity, he will also be able to use the State Department's Global Equity Fund, created in 2011 to provide short- and long-term help in protecting and advancing the human rights of LGBT communities in countries where there are particularly severe laws and sanctions against them.

Even if I weren't trans, I would think (or, at least, I would like to think that I would think) that the new position makes sense, given that such issues as women's rights have been getting more attention and that, really, you can't talk about gender equality without LGBT equality.

22 February 2015

Trans Lives Matter

The other day, MTV news ran a story, written by Katie Speller entitled, 6 Transgender Women Have Been Murdered in 2015 And No One Is Talking About It".

The title says it all.  I wrote about two of them--Penny Proud and Taja DeJesus--in this blog. They were the two I heard about.  If I do say so myself, I follow the news of crimes against transgender people a bit more closely than the average person.  So, even though I'd only heard of two out of the six victims, that's still two more than 99.9 percent of other people knew about.

I will follow the lead of MTV news and post the photos of each of the victims.  Remember:  They are all someone's sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, friend and possibly girlfriend.

Here is Ty Underwood, who was shot to death in North Tyler, Texas on 26 January:

Ty Underwood 

Five days later, on the 31st, Yazmin Vash Payne was fatally stabbed in Los Angeles:

Yazmin Vash Payne 

The following day, the month of February began with Taja DeJesus being stabbed to death in a San Francisco stairwell:


On the 10th of this month, Penny Proud was shot to death in New Orleans:

 Penny Proud

Five days later--the day after Valentine's Day--Kristina Gomez Reinwald was found dead in her Miami home.  Originally her death was ruled a suicide, but it is now being investigated as a homicide:


Then, on the 17th, Lamia Beard was shot to death in Norfolk, VA.  As happens too often, the local media misidentified her gender.

Lamia Beard 

Lamia's death made me think of the slogan "Black Lives Matter".  It's so good and righteous that we should appropriate it:  Trans Lives Matter.

21 February 2015

50 Years After Malcolm X

On this date fifty years ago, Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom.  Today the site of the Audubon, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, is a laboratory for Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.  I have ridden by it many times and, in fact, once went inside the Ballroom.  Every time I passed or visited the site I thought, however briefly, about his importance, not only to the history of the US and the world, but in my own life.

I first read Malcolm’s autobiography when I was about twenty.  It was around the same time I discovered African-American writers like Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston—and when I first heard Bob Marley.  In one way or another, they all not only expressed the burning desire to be free, but also made oppression—which is to say, the things that turn people into slaves of all kinds—clear and vivid.

I identified with their wishes and feelings for, as it turned out, reasons very different from theirs.  How could mine not be different?  After all, as difficult as my grandparents’ lives were, nobody brought them here in chains.  Even more to the point, I knew who my grandparents and their grandparents were, even though I had never met the latter.  So, even though I knew that so much of what I learned in school was a whitewashed (Yes, I am conscious of that word choice!) version of the truth, I wasn’t—couldn’t be—conscious of it in the profound way that Malcolm and all of those black writers and artists were. 

So, in my own clumsy way, I reacted to the injustices that persisted long after Malcolm’s murder and the deaths of the others I’ve mentioned though their polemics, rhetoric, rhythms, intuition and sense of irony.  What I did not understand was that they could use those tools or gifts or whatever you want to call them because they mastered them in ways that exact terrible, terrible costs.  (Baldwin has written that any people who has a language of their own has paid dearly for it.) What I could not understand was that I was paying my own dues, as it were, but I did not yet understand what I was paying for.  So I borrowed anger, grief, pain and a very dark kind of humor in my own feeble attempts to come to terms with why I could not live the kind of life for which I was being trained—or why anyone should want that kind of life.

So why am I mentioning such things on this blog?  Well, for one thing, being a cyclist has freed me from a lot of things.  I think of all of the time and money I didn’t have to spend on buying, fueling, maintaining and parking cars.  That is part of the reason why I have been able to live in New York and spend time with things I love:  I didn’t have to work in some job or in some business that would have destroyed my psyche or other people’s lives.  Being a cyclist when it wasn’t fashionable also, I think, has made me less vulnerable to propaganda and groupthink, if it hasn’t made me a better critical thinker or more creative person (though I think it’s done the latter for me).  

Of course, for me, freedom has meant living as the person I am.  Anyone who cannot live with integrity and with dignity is a slave or a prisoner or worse.  One way I identify with Malcolm is that it took him as long as he did to truly come into his own, even if he accomplished a lot else before doing so.  His descent into slavery, as it were, came when, in spite of his academic success and oratorical skills, his eighth-grade teacher mocked his dream of being a lawyer. When he, as an inmate in the Charlestown (MA) Penitentiary, became a disciple of Elijah Muhammad, he found a voice.  However, it took him much longer, I think, to find his voice.

Our voice, if you will, is how we express our authentic selves in the world.  For some, it is in their careers or vocations.  For others, it is in creative work or performing:  I think of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar as his voice.  Others express it through a passion or relationship.  Actually, I think that for most of us, our “voice” is a combination of the things we do and are.  Whatever it is, if it isn’t authentic, we’re still slaves or prisoners.  For me, that is the real importance of Malcolm X’s life and work.

20 February 2015

Love Is Love Is Love

Sometimes I have to explain, even to  people who are or consider themselves to be accepting of LGBT people, that gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things.  In fact, just a few days ago, someone asked, "Why did you become a woman if you're attracted to them?"

The fact of the matter is, I can be attracted to any gender, really.  I have been attracted to males and females, sometimes both at the same time. And I have been attracted to people who don't fit traditional notions of gender expression, such as "butch" lesbians and even very masculine straight women.

Anyway, I haven't been looking for anybody, but if someone captures my heart, I don't really care what gender that person might be, though I have a feeling she will be a very different sort of woman--or, perhaps, a trans man.

Whoever he or she is, as long as the relationship we have is love, I'll be happy, I think.

From Rebloggy

19 February 2015

Riding Again At Sunset

I'm so happy to be back on my bike again.  Late the other day, I took a ride that wasn't a commute for the first time in weeks.  I was going to meet some people for dinner in the Village, which meant I would have to lock my bike on the street.  And I knew that there was still a lot of ice and sand on the streets. So I took my LeTour, as its tires are the closest things to snow and ice treads I have.

It wasn't a long ride, but enough to stimulate my senses.  I got this glimpse of dusk on the Hudson River near Christopher Street in Manhattan.

And this--with the relatively rare sight of ice on the Hudson--just north of 14th Street:

I did what I could with my primitive cell phone. But I think I captured something of what the light, if not the cold air, felt like!  If nothing else, they're whetting my appetite for more riding.

17 February 2015

Stonewall To Campaign For Transgender Rights

Well, I guess I shouldn't be too hard on the Human Rights Campaign.  Turns out, they're not the only gay-headed organization that's been throwing trans people under the bus.  Nor are they the first to do so:  Jim Fouratt and his cohort seemed to take the first possible opportunity to kick Sylvia Rivera out of the Gay Liberation Front, which she helped them found in the days after the Stonewall Rebellion.  

Nor, for that matter, is the US the only country in which leaders of gay and lesbian organizations have ignored, or even openly disdained, transgender people.  Ironically, a British organization called Stonewall--yes, after that Stonewall---has excluded trans people since its founding in 1989. Now Ruth Hunt, its chief executive, has announced that the organization will change its policies and start campaigning for transgender rights.

To be fair, Stonewall--an organization devoted to charity and education--has always billed itself as an LGB organization.  Unlike HRC and other organizations in the US, it didn't hypocritically append a "T" to the other letters of the community it purported to serve.  In other words, it neither solicited from, nor claimed to represent, transgender people.  And, I might add, Stonewall wasn't a single-issue (i.e., same-sex marriage) organization that the HRC, in effect, became.

On another note:  Wouldn't Jim Fouratt and Janice Raymond make a lovely couple?

16 February 2015

Bri Golec: Murdered By Her Father, Misidentified By Him And Local News Media

People have told me that I'm a good storyteller. Whatever may narrative skills may be, I don't think they account for the tears some people shed when I told them about some of the young people who participated in a group I co-facilitated for two years.

They were young trans people, most in their teens but a few in their early 20's.  Some had begun to take hormones; others had literally just gotten off buses or vehicles on which they hitched (or performed acts no one should have to do to get) from Alabama and Nebraska and other places I can scarcely even imagine.

Some had been kicked out of their homes when they "came out" or simply were caught wearing clothes or engaging in behaviors not considered appropriate for someone of their birth gender.

And they were the lucky ones.  Others were assualted, raped or otherwise endangered by family members. One literally ran out the door steps ahead of a mother who chased him (a trans male) with a knife.

That is why stories like that of Bri Golec enrage, but do not surprise, me. The 22-year-old was stabbed to death in Ohio by her father, who told investigators that his "son" belonged to a cult and that members invaded his home and attacked.

But Kevin Golec wasn't the only one who misidentified the gender of his child.  So did every local media outlet, according to the Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog.

15 February 2015

Murdered Trans Women Of Color Remembered On Valentine's Day

Depending on which sources you trust, a transgender person is anywhere from 10 to 116 times as likely to be murdered as a typical person in the US.

I don't know how likely the 116 figure is.  But I would bet that 10 times is a low number, given that crimes against transgender people are disproportionately unreported.

As if those numbers aren't bad enough, a trans woman of color is (again, depending on who you believe) anywhere from twice to twelve times as likely to be murdered as any other trans person.

One reason for the risks trans women of color face is that, in addition to bearing the double stigma of falling outside accepted gender norms and being of the "wrong" race, they disproportionately live in high-crime areas such as impoverished urban neighborhoods and parts of the South where there is easy access to guns.

Parts of cities like St. Louis and New Orleans happen to fit into both categories.  So it's unsurprising (though still tragic) that Penny Proud, a black transgender woman, was found shot to death early Tuesday morning in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

Thus, it's heartening to see that yesterday, Valentine's Day, a group of people gathered in the Central West End of St. Louis to honor transgender women of color and denounce the violence against them.

Even with greater public acceptance of transgender people, the violence against us continues and, for trans women of color, seems to be escalating.  In 2014, thirteen transgenders were murdered in the US.  In the first six weeks of 2015, five transgender women of color have already been killed in this country.

Some might argue that the numbers are higher because more crimes are being reported, or because more of the victims are identified as transgender and not solely by their assigned-at-birth gender, as has been the tradition.  Even if that is the case, though, we are being disproportionately attacked and killed, and it's even worse for trans women of color.

14 February 2015

All Hearts Day Cards

For some of us, today, Valentine's Day, can be as depressing as other holidays that are centered around heterosexual love and family relationships.  In some ways, this day can be even worse than Christmas and Thanksgiving are because almost all of its trappings are based on cis- and hetero-normative (I promise not to use that term again for a long time) rituals and behaviors.  And the same sorts of people who accuse us of wanting special treatment make a point of being as obnoxious as possible when fondling each other in places that charge too much for oysters and champagne.

Plus, this "holiday" is even more commercialized than the others.  I take that back:  The others were hijacked by corporations to make people feel guilty for not buying their useless, overpriced shit and giving it to people they pretend to care about.  Even so, most people have some vague notion of what those holidays are supposed to celebrate.  On the other hand, Valentine's Day as we know it, is entirely a creation of the greeting-card, candy, lingerie and other industries, almost nobody realizes that this day was originally a feast day for St. Valentine, who has almost nothing to do with the notions of "love" fetishized on this day

To counter this, artist Alexandra Dean Grossi has created a set of free e-cards celebrating "All Hearts Day":