31 March 2015

Why Was Rachel Tudor Fired?

Discrimination cases aren't filed, let alone won, nearly as often as most people imagine.

Filing any sort of case takes a lot of time and money.  That stacks the deck against any individual bringing a case against an organization, especially a large one.  

Also, as any lawyer will tell you, such cases are difficult to prove.  There are rarely witnesses to acts of discrimination, and when the word of one individual is weighed against that of an organization, who do you think a judge is more likely to believe?  

Furthermore, almost nobody is stupid enough to say they've fired, or denied a job, promotion or tenure, to someone because of his or her race, gender, national origin or religion, even in those places where it's still legal to discriminate against, say, gays.  Instead, they find--or, in some cases, fabricate--another reason.  Or, if a qualified candidate "aces" an interview, the person or committee making the hiring decision will say the candidate was "not a good fit with the culture of this organization" or some such thing.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University has probably done what I've described in the previous paragraph, at least in the case of Rachel TudorIn the summer of 2007, she announced that she was transitioning and would start presenting as female on her job, as an English professor, during the 2007-2008 academic year. She continued to work there until she was denied tenure, and terminated, in 2011.  According to her lawyer, it was the first time an SOSU English professor's application for tenure and promotion was denied after a favorable tenure recommendation from a promotion committee and department chair.  Moreover, according to the suit, she experienced retaliation after she had the temerity to complain.

Now, I know I don't have the full story, but there's good reason to suspect that she was wronged.  I really want to find out what SOSU's rationale was for firing her.  

Whatever it is, it--to be fair--probably isn't half as mean-spirited as some of the comments on the article I've linked.

30 March 2015

Nothing Like Knowing What You're Voting For, Is There?

I'm all for making things as simple as possible.  At least, I think that way when it comes to procedures.

Of course, some things can't be made simple, like the issues on which people vote.  But that doesn't stop some people from trying.

Believe it or not, the car bearing this bumper sticker was parked by the projects in Brooklyn.  

Although I don't agree, I can understand why someone would be anti-Obama.  But can anyone explain to me how being pro-gun makes somebody pro-life, let alone pro-God? 

29 March 2015

Danielle Hunter Made To Sleep On Floor Of Mental Health Facility

A relative of mine spent a number of years as a patient in a mental hospital.  I have known other people who have spent time in various hospitals and institutions.  From their experiences, I have come to the conclusion that here in the US, we take better care of animals we slaughter than of mental-health patients.

It seems that when you go for mental health care, you surrender all of your rights--including your right to saftety, let alone the right to be who you are.  At least, the case of Danielle Hunter could tell us as much.

She is a transgender performer who was admitted to Lakeside Behavior Healthcare in Orlando, FL on 24 March after attempting suicide and, while recuperating in a hospital, saying that she would try again.  The following night, she was removed from her bed and made to sleep on the floor in front of the nurse's station.  

When she asked why she was treated that way, a nurse told her, "If you would like to sleep in a bed, you can sleep in with the men."

What's even more galling about this is that Ms. Hunter has a Florida ID that lists her as female.  

Fortunately for her, she is well-known in the Orlando area--and, apparently, beyond--and therefore has some people with "juice" advocating on her behalf.  That begs the question of what would happen to her if she were some anonymous street kid--or, for that matter, me.

28 March 2015

When We Get What We Need

One of the more depressing things to write about is the poor state of mental health and high rates of suicide among trans people, especially our young.

We don't go crazy or kill ourselves because we're trans, any more than people become unwell or off themselves because they're Black, Latina, women, physically disabled or anything else.  Rather, it's the stress of living in an inhospitable world that drives us to, or over, the edge.  

And, as with any other group of people, we do just as well as anybody else when we have what we need--including medical and mental health care.

As this graphic from Anti-Media shows, our suicide rates plummet--and or overall mental health improves--when we get the care we need.  And it even saves Medicaid money!:


27 March 2015

What Kind Of Lesbian Cyclist Am I?

Five years ago, as I was recovering from my surgery, "Velouria" of Lovely Bicycle! suggested that I start a bike blog.  (Now you know who to blame!;-)) At the time, I had been writing  Transwoman Times for a bit less than two years.  When I started Midlife Cycling in June of 2010, I thought TT would run its course and I'd keep it online for posterity--or, perhaps, revisit it from time to time.

Well, nearly five years later, TT is still going.  I can't seem to let it go.  That may be because its focus shifted from my own experience of transitioning, surgery and starting my new life to LGBT-related subjects in general.  Not only that, I can't seem to keep trans (or L, G, or B) themes out of this blog any more than I could keep cycling out of Transwoman Times.  

Once again, those aspects of my life are going to meet--in this post.  You see, I came across something from The Most Cake, a blog by and about young and hip lesbians in London.  

While I've noticed a number of young lesbians and genderqueers (or people who simply don't fit into most accepted definitions of gender and sexuality) at bike-related events and establishments here in The Big Apple, it seems that there is a more prominent subculture of lesbian cyclists in the British capital.  At least, that's the impression I get from The Most Cake and from things I've heard from people who've been in London more recently than I've been. I can't say I'm surprised, really.  

Anyway, according to the author of the post that caught my eye, there are five distinct types of lesbian cyclists in The Big Smoke

1.  Aggressive girls in Lycra
2.  Eco-warrior on self-built touring bike
3.  Feminist cyclist with a cause
4.  Fixie lesbian with tatoos and piercings
5.  The catch-all lesbian cyclist who cycles because she likes it and it's better than public transport or walking or micro-scootering.

 They're on bikes. Sorry just found it we were like okay

Hmm...Had I been living as female earlier in my life, I definitely would have been 1, possibly 3 and/or 4.  Of course, if I'd started living as a woman when I was 20, I wouldn't have been wearing Lycra, as it wasn't yet available.  But I would/could have been the equivalent of type #1.  

If I had to classify myself today from any of those types, I'd say I'm number five, with some of number three thrown in.  And, perhaps, number two--after all, I've built a touring bike of my own and I try to do what's environmentally sustainable.

But I don't plan on getting any tatoos or any more piercings than I already have (on my earlobes).  Or to wear Lycra again, even if I lose weight.  But I do plan to keep on riding.  And, perhaps, I'll meet Ms. Right.

26 March 2015

Blake Brockington: Another Trans Teen Suicide

Last year he was a homecoming king.  

Now he's dead, an apparent suicide.

What went wrong?  The one-word answer: hate.

Blake Brockington transitioned during his sophomore year in East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In January, he recounted his struggles of coming to terms with his identity and finding acceptance.  "When I got my period," he recalled, "my aunt told me, 'Welcome to womanhood'.  I was like Nooo!"  He was forced to wear dresses to church and family events.

He "came out" to his teachers and stepmothers.  "My family feels like this is a decision I made," he said.  "They think, 'You're already black, why would you want to draw more attention to yourself?'" But, he explained, "It's not a decision. It is who I am.  I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

Things got so bad that he moved in with a foster family.  With their support, he got counseling and started his transition.  But, it seems, the damage had already been done.  Even being crowned the homecoming king had its price:  "Really hateful things were said on the Internet."  It was hard, he said, to "see how narrow-minded the world really is."

Blake, though, experienced something worse than the narrow-mindedness of the world:  narrow-mindedness in his family.  In that, his story parallels that of Leelah Alcorn, the Ohio trans girl who, at age 17, killed herself in December.

W.H. Auden wrote, "We must love one another or die."  He knew, as well as anybody, that hate kills.  That is why I will now call the deaths of Leelah Alcorn and Blake Brockington what they are:  murders.  They were killed by those who hated them, even if those people didn't lift a finger to hurt them.  Those same people did not give them the love and support they needed, and that we all need.

25 March 2015

Who's Against Letting Trans People Serve In The Armed Forces?

A few days ago, I compared the backlash that often follows progress to Newton's Third Law of Motion.

It seems the Armed Forces are manifesting that law again.  After Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said he's open to the idea of trans people serving in the military and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James expressed her support of lifting the transgender ban, unnamed officials have expressed "concern" about allowing trans people to serve.

And what might those concerns be?  Apparently, they include some of the "usual suspects", if you will:

"Much of the opposition centers on questions of where transgender troops would be housed, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together."

Housing?  Morale?  Haven't we heard those questions before--about women, blacks and gays?  And somehow those questions were worked out, I think.

And then there's that old familiar bugaboo--bathrooms.  Ah, yes, bathrooms. They're so powerful that they're keeping the mightiest, most technologically advanced fighting force in the history of the world from doing what Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the United Kingdom have done.  Yes, all of those countries allow trans people to serve openly in their Armed Forces.

Perhaps Israel's membership in this club is most ironic of all.  After all, some of the most pro-Israel lawmakers are also some of our most homophobic and transphobic. 

Perhaps they can explain how it's OK for this country to help pay the salaries of  transgenders in the Tzahal while keeping trans people out of our own armed forces.

24 March 2015

On What Planet Does Her Complaint Fit ?

I guess it had to happen sooner or later.

For years, those of us who had the time and resources--or access to very dedicated volunteers--have filed complaints, and even lawsuits, about policies that discriminated against us.  Some of what we've done (Yes, I've filed complaints and a lawsuit that ended with a settlement that was donated to a non-profit organization) has resulted in everything from laws that bar discrimination in employment, housing and education to granting access to facilities appropriate to the gender in which we live.

Now Planet Fitness is being sued for having a nationwide policy allowing people to use the lockerrooms designated for the gender by which they identify.  

In Midland, Michigan, Yvette Cormier complained to several other gym members about  a transgender woman using the lockerroom.  When Cormier identified the trans person as a man, an employee corrected her, telling her the person in question is indeed a woman.  After she continued to complain, Planet Fitness cancelled her membership.  Now she is suing.

Carlotta Sklodowska has come forward as the trans woman in question.  She says she, on two separate occasions, merely entered the lockerroom to hang up her coat and purse and, later, to retrieve them.  

Ms. Sklodowska admitted that she's not a member and that she visited the gym as a guest of a friend who is.  Both times, she was dressed in leggings and a baggy T-shirt. She admits that people tell her she looks like a man--"it's obvious, even from the back"--and could see why Ms. Cormier would see her body structure as masculine.  However, she says she uses women's bathrooms "all the time" and that "no one has complained yet".

But she also says she didn't observe anyone in the lockerroom who looked distressed about her presence.  She heard about the complaint and lawsuits from friends and realized she was probably the trans woman to whom Cormier was referring because, "As far as I can tell, I'm the only one in Midland".

I'd bet, though, she's not the only one who goes to Planet Fitness gyms.  And, according to their policy, she's welcome in them and, as an employee told her, "You use the lockerroom that corresponds with how you are dressed."

And now Yvette Cormier is suing Planet Fitness for that.  Ms. Cormier, in the unlikely event that you're reading this, I can assure you that Ms. Sklodowska is being completely honest when she says she wants to make it clear that she's not looking to harm anyone.  I know lots of trans people, and not a single one has ever tried to do anything besides "take care of business" while in a bathroom, lockerroom or other public facility.  

23 March 2015

Kill 'Em All! Let Matt Sort 'Em Out!

Some have said that the Bible should be the "law of the land".  That's a bit like saying an encyclopedia should guide your interests.

Somehow, though, it seems that "the Bible" always means one or two books within it.  In the case of California lawyer Matt McLaughlin, it seems to be Leviticus and Paul's letters to the Romans and Corinthians.

What exactly does McLaughlin, who lists his address as Huntington Beach, want to do?  He wants to execute anyone who commits sodomy.   

But, to be fair, the man is not as paleo as he seems at first glance. You see, he does not want to limit the method of snuffing out sodomite' lives to the old-fashioned way.  He wants anyone who touches a member of his or her own gender for sexual gratification to be "put to death by bullets to the head or any other convenient method".

Convenient?  Well, I guess the man deserves some comfort and ease.  After all, he brought $200 of his hard-earned money and a copy of his "Sodomite Suppression Act" to the Office of the Attorney General last month.  Here it is, in all of its glory:


Never mind that, last June, a Federal judge declared California's death penalty unconstitutional.

22 March 2015

Dating A Trans Man

I know I shouldn't generalize, but here goes:  The trans men (a.k.a. female to males or FTMs) are all really nice, interesting, smart people.  Some of them are really cute, too.

Perhaps one day I'll date one.  In case that happens, I'll be prepared, thanks to this comic I found:

From DeviantArt

21 March 2015

The Third Law: What Haters Will Do Next

Newton's Third Law of Motion says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

There is a parallel to that, I believe, in the struggle for LGBT equality.

Now it is legal for same-sex couples to marry in 36 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia.  People who, not long ago wouldn't be caught dead uttering the word "gay"--let alone "lesbian" or "transsexual" (most didn't know the word "transgender"--are now speaking up in support of gay family members, co-workers and neighbors.  I know, personally, two people who beleived that "the lifestyle" is against their religious beliefs and are now advocating for the rights of LGBT people.  One has even become a counselor to them--and to parents who face the same struggle she had when her daughter "came out".

According to every recent poll, the majority of Americans think that there should be no legal bars against same-sex marriage and that lesbians and gay men should be protected under civil rights laws.  Expressing hate against gays is taboo in many quarters; in others, people simply wonder whether the hater hasn't got better things to do and more important things to think about.

What this means--in keeping with Newton's Law, as it were--is that the remaining homophobes are becoming more virulent in their hatred or simply more ludicrous in their expression of it. For example, there are lawmakers--like one from Texas (who looks like she's having a fantasy or two involving Rick Santorum)--who want the "right" to refuse to do business with or employ, or other wise discriminate against, LGBT people.  Why?  They believe that anti-discrimination laws somehow infringe upon their right to religious freedom.

That argument's absurdity is equaled only by its lack of originality:  It was used as a rationale for racial segregation and slavery itself.  Oh, yeah, and discrimination against women, too, which makes it all the more ironic that it's being used by women.

The good news is that where laws like the one Donna Campbell has proposed in Texas have been put to the vote, they've failed--even in states like Kansas, which is about as conservative and Republican as they come.  That tells me that even those who don't care much about LGBT equality can see how ridiculous and just plain wrong (I doubt that even Antonin Scalia thinks it's constitutional!) it is.

What that means is that Campbell and her ilk will just become even more illogical and delusional until the campaign funds dry up.  Then they'll give up or get voted out of office.  

Even when that happens, though, we'll have another reaction to contend with.  You see, the non-officeholders who've been fighting against same-sex marriage and LGBT equality--I'm talking now about groups like Focus on the Family  and American Family Association (It's always about protecting "family", right?)--are turning their hatred, I mean attention, toward transgender people.  And they will fight us with the same virulence and belligerence they used against lesbians and gays.  

The bad news is that as our lives and struggles become more familiar to more people, those groups will become more truculent and, possibly, violent.  The good news is that it will last only for so long.  But we have to be prepared in the meantime--and to keep our allies close to us.

20 March 2015

Pope To Lunch With LGBT Prisoners In Naples

Even though I've had positive experiences in a church, and with some religious people, it's still feels strange sometimes to praise someone who occupies a high position in the heirarchy of a long-established religious institution.  Most such sects and denominations have their histories of prejudice, persecution and violence against women, LGBT people and members of minority groups who aren't represented in local (or, in some cases, worldwide) congregations.  Oh, and let's not forget those who challenge--with facts--long-held tenets of said institution's dogma.  

Sometimes they seem--at least to me--disingenuous when they preach tolerance and inclusiveness or when they say that their faith really is compatible after all with what science has taught us.  And, sometimes, when the leaders of those institutions make such pronouncements, I have to wonder what they were doing when their religious bodies were collaborating with secular authorities that kidnapped, tortured and murdered people simply because they happened to be of the "wrong" ethnicity, gender or political affiliation.

The previous sentence summed up what I thought when Francis became the Pope nearly two years ago.  In his native Argentina, Church officials collaborated with--or did nothing--when the military regime was "disappearing" those deemed a threat.  There doesn't seem to be any record of open or even covert opposition on his part though, to his credit, he was working with the poor, something he has done throughout his career as a priest.

That work is one of the reasons why I have become more and more willing to believe the Pope when he expresses acceptance ("Who am I to judge?") for LGBT people.  Said expression is not only in his words:  He has actually met with gay, lesbian and trans people.  From what I've read and heard, all have come away convinced that he is "for real".

Now I see more evidence of Pope Francis' commitment to the spiritual principles that, supposedly, Jesus embodied in living among the poor, oppressed and despised.  Tomorrow, he is going to have lunch with 90 prisoners at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center.  Among those inmates will be some  from a ward housing gay, transgender and HIV-infected detainees.  They were selected through a raffle from among 1900 inmates at the center.  

After the lunch, the Pope will meet with each of the prisoners individually.  

What's most impressive about this, at least to me, is that none of it was originally on his schedule.  He requested the lunch and meetings, and used the occasion to reiterate the Church's official position that no crime deserves the death penalty.


19 March 2015

Not For Women--Or Anybody

When I was writing for a newspaper, a police precinct commander sold me something I haven't forgotten:  "Lucky for us that most criminals are stupid."

For many perps, their folly begins in thinking that they'll actually get away with what their misdeeds.  But for others, their foolishness shows in the ways they execute--or don't execute their offenses. 

I got to thinking about all of that because I think there's a parallel principle in making works of "art".  We are lucky, I believe, that most of the truly offensive stuff--you know, things that are racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise show contempt for some group of people that did nothing to deserve it--is purely and simply bad.  And that is the reason why it is usually forgotten.

So why am I pontificating about virtue and virtu on a bike blog?, you ask. Great question.

Yesterday "The Retrogrouch" wrote about a bicycle displayed at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS).  Its builder, Allan Abbott, dubbed it "The Signorina."

With a name like that, you might expect a nicely-made women's city or commuter bike with some Italian pizzazz.  Instead, it's a not particularly well-made (for a handbuilt bike, anyway) machine that's supposedly built in the likeness of a naked woman.


So far it sounds like a silly novelty item, right?  But it doesn't seem like anything to get worked up about. Or does it?  

Now, I'm sure there are places where such a bike could not be ridden because it would offend the sensibilites of some people.  I'm not one of them:  I have no aversion to nudity, although I have to wonder whether anyone in his or her right mind would want to see me naked.

But I digress.  If you're going to use a human form, au naturel, in one of your creations, at least show it in all of its imperfect glory--the way, say, any number of painters, sculptors, photographers and writers have done.  Whatever its gender, size, colors, shape, age or state of alertness or weariness, make it a reflection of what we are, and aspire to.  Above all, make it living, human and organic.

The supposedly female form in Abbot's frame is none of those things.  If anything, it's plain creepy:  The "signorina" is on her "hands" and "knees"--and headless.  I'm sure there are people--a few of whom are cyclists or collectors--who are turned on by such degradation.  I guess I'm philistine and reactionary:  I'm not one of them.

But, to be fair, if "Retrogrouch" hadn't described it, I might have needed time and an extra look or two to discern the nude female form straddling the wheels.  Call me slow or un-hip if you must.  Even after reading about it on Adventure Journal  as well as Retrogrouch's blog, I'm still not convinced that the bike in any way--realist or abstract, linear or Cubist, Classical or Impressionist--evokes a female, or any other human, form.

In other words, it doesn't work as art.  Perhaps we should be thankful for that.  

Somehow I get the impression it's not such a great bike, either. 

17 March 2015

We're Catchcing Up,,,To Boston

Hey, we're catching up!

By "we", I mean my hometown, the City of New York.  We're supposed to lead, but on some matters we've actually been following in the tracks of--or not even on the same road as--some other cities, namely Boston.

The other day, LGBT Irish groups marched for the very first time in Beantown's St. Patrick's Parade.  Joining them was Martin J. Walsh, the city's first mayor in two decades to walk the South Boston parade route in two decades.

Last year, Walsh tried, unsucessfully, to persuade South Boston Allied War Veterans, the group that organizes the parade, to allow an LGBT group to march.  Finally, two weeks ago, they relented and invited OUTVETS, a group of LGBT veterans of the Armed Forces.

Now an LGBT group will march down Fifth Avenue along with various organizations representing Catholics, police officers, firefighters and others.  Last fall, parade organizers announced the invitation of OUT@NBCUniversal, an employee resource group affiliated with NBC's parent company (which broadcasts the parade) to participate in the oldest and largest St. Patrick's celebration in the US.

But, unlike Walsh, New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio will not participate in his home burg's parade.  He is still not satisfied with the level of LGBT inclusion in the parade.  However, beer-maker Guinness, which withdrew its longtime sponsorship of the parade last year, has decided to recommit itself.  

De Blasio, for his part, participated in the St. Pat's for All parade--which lives up to its title by not excluding anybody--earlier this month where, not surprisingly, he was warmly received.  

16 March 2015

The Man In A Case

March, as you probably know, is Women's History Month.  Does that mean that we don't have a history for the other 11 months of the year?  And what about Blacks?  Not only do they have only one month, but they got the shortest:  February.  So for 337 other days of the year (338 in a leap year), they don't have a story?

All right.  I'll stop ranting.  When I  think about WHM--or women's history or rights in general--I am reminded that in the early days of cycling, riding a bicycle was something a "proper" lady didn't do.  In some parts of the world, that's still the case:  One of my colleagues, who hails from Ethiopia and is in her sixties, has never learned how to ride.  And there are places, I understand, where a woman or girl on a bicycle is not only frowned upon, it's illegal.

From Women's History: About

But back to the early days of cycling:  During that time, Anton Chekhov wrote a short story,  The Man In A CaseDuring the 1970's, Wendy Wasserstein turned it into a one-act play (with the same title) about a marriage between Varinka, a "pretty girl of thirty" and Byelinkov, a much older Latin and Greek professor at a university near Moscow.

You can see how cautious and traditional he is in this exchange:

  VARINKA (takes his hands.) We will be very happy. I am very strong. (Pauses. ) It is time for tea.
  BYELINKOV. It is too early for tea. Tea is at half past the hour.
  VARINKA. Do you have heavy cream? It will be awfully nice with apricots.
  BYELINKOV. Heavy cream is too rich for teatime.
   VARINKA. But today is special. Today you placed a lilac in my hair. Write in your note pad. Every year we will celebrate with apricots and heavy cream. I will go to my brother's house and get some.
  BYELINKOV. But your brother's house is a mile from here.
  VARINKA. Today it is much shorter. Today my brother gave me his bicycle to ride. I will be back very soon.
  BYELINKOV. You rode to my house by bicycle! Did anyone see you!
   VARINKA. Of course. I had such fun. I told you I saw the grocery store lady with the son-in-law who is doing very well thank you in Moscow, and the headmaster's wife.
  BYELINKOV. You saw the headmaster's wife!
  VARINKA. She smiled at me.
  BYELINKOV. Did she laugh or smile?
   VARINKA. She laughed a little. She said, "My dear, you are very progressive to ride a bicycle." She said you and your fiance Byelinkov must ride together sometime. I wonder if he'll take off his galoshes when he rides a bicycle.
  BYELINKOV. She said that?
  VARINKA. She adores you, We had a good giggle.
   BYELINKOV. A woman can be arrested for riding a bicycle. That is not progressive, it is a premeditated revolutionary act. Your brother must be awfully, awfully careful on behalf of your behavior. He has been careless-oh so care-less-in giving you the bicycle.
  VARINKA. Dearest Byelinkov, you are wrapping yourself under curtains and quilts! I made friends on the bicycle.
  BYELINKOV. You saw more than the headmaster's wife and the idiot grocery woman.
  VARINKA. She is not an idiot.
  BYELINKOV. She is a potato-Vending, sausage-armed fool!
  VARINKA. Shhh! My school mouse. Shhh!
  BYELINKOV. What other friends did you make on this bicycle?
  VARINKA. I saw students from my brother' s classes. They waved and shouted, 0Anthropos in love! Anthropos in 'love!!"
  BYELINKOV. Where is that bicycle?
  VARINKA. I left it outside the gate. Where are you going?
  BYELINKOV (muttering as he exits.) Anthropos in love, an thropos in love.
  VARINKA. They were cheering me on. Careful, you'll trample the roses.
   BYELINKOV (returning with the bicycle.) Anthropos is the Greek singular for man. Anthropos in love translates as the Greek and Latin master in love. Of course they cheered you. Their instructor, who teaches them the discipline and contained beauty of the classics, is in love with a sprite on a bicycle. It is a good giggle, isn't it? A very good giggle! I am returning this bicycle to your brother.
  VARINKA. But it is teatime.
  BYELINKOV. Today we will not' have tea.
  VARINKA. But you will have to walk back a mile.
   BYELINKOV. I have my galoshes on. (Gets on the bicycle.), Varinka, we deserve not to be different. (Begins to pedal. The bicycle doesn't move. )
  VARINKA. Put the kickstand up.
  BYELINKOV. I beg your pardon.
  VARINKA (giggling.) Byelinkov, to make the bicycle move; you must put the kickstand up.
  (Byelinkov puts it up and awkwardly falls off the bicycle as it.moves. )
  (Laughing.) Ha ha ha. My little school mouse. You. look so funny! You are the sweetest dearest man in the world. Ha ha ha!,

15 March 2015

How To End The "Problem"

We all know that the best way to avoid a problem is to stop it at its source. Right?

LGBT Rights

14 March 2015

Speaking Up For Her Daughter

She denies it now.  Still, I think there had to be times when it couldn't have been easy for my mother to raise me.  Given the circumstances--the ones inside my head as well as those around her--she did a great job, I'd say.

There were times she defended me.  Sometimes I needed it, other times I didn't.  And there were times I deserved it, and times I didn't.  But, even though I wasn't an angel, I'd say that most of the times she stuck up for me, I was the sinned-against rather than the sinner, if you will.  Heck, there was even a time--in eighth grade, I think--when a teacher told me to restrain another kid who was acting up in the cafeteria, knowing full well that kid would start a fight with me if I did.  Even the other kid admitted as much to the principal and the teacher got a reprimand from that principal--and an earful from my mother.

But one thing she never had to do was to defend my right to use a bathroom.  Actually, my using a bathroom in school was usually a non-issue because I didn't use the facilities in school if I could help it.  To me, the boys' bathrooms were the most dangerous place in the school besides the locker room, depending on which gym teacher was on duty.  And, of course, I would not have been allowed to use the girl's bathroom.  Nor would it have occurred to me to ask, given the times.   And, to my knowledge, there weren't any gender-neutral bathrooms in the school, and I don't think I would have been allowed to use the one in the principal's office.

Does any mother--or father--ever think that defending a kid's right to use a bathroom--i.e., the one appropriate to the gender by which the kid identifies--is in his or her job description?  Then again, does any parent have any idea of what he or she is in for if the kids' transgender?

Such are the dilemmas faced by Jennifer Surridge.  Her 11-year-old, who identifies as a girl, attends school in Sodus, a rural town on the shore of Lake Ontario, about halfway between Rochester and Syracuse.  Parents there are upset that her daughter is using bathrooms and locker rooms intended for other girls.  At a school board meeting this week, Ms. Surridge had to explain to those parents that her child's gender identity is not a "choice":  She was born a girl, albeit in a boy's body, and she would be in danger in male facilities.

"Transgender is not a choice," she explained.  "I don't care what anyone in this room says, it is not a choice.  Nobody would choose to live this kind of life."

Spoken like a great mother.  Trust me, I am familiar with the species.

13 March 2015

Trans Men Face Discrimination And Harassment In Healthcare Serviices

In this blog, when I've written of Transgender Experience rather than my own individual transgender experiences, I have concentrated on male-to-female transgenders.  After all, that is what I am, so that is the experience I know best.

But my own personal point of view isn't the only reason why my discussion of trans experience is so slanted. Turns out that most of the research on trans people--as little as there is--focuses on male-to-female trans people.  There are probably a number of reasons for that.  One that I can think of off the top of my head is the perception that we far outnumber female-to-male transgenders.

Now, since I don't know all of the research, what I am about to say is conjecture.  Here goes:  There probably are more MTFs than FTMs.  However, I don't think we outnumber FTMs as much as has been commonly assumed.  I think we don't hear as much about FTMs because there is, I believe, less stigma attached to a "woman becoming a man" than a "man becoming a woman", just as masculine females aren't ostracized as much as feminine males.  Also, I think that because the vast majority of violence against trans people is against MTFs--especially those of color--our struggles have become more visible than those of FTMs.

Still, violence and discrimination are committed against FTMs.  And the latter happens in an area in which we, MTFs, are all too familiar with it:  in health care

Wayne State University researcher Deirdre Shires and  Kim Jaffee recently co-authored a report based on a study of 1711 FTMs throughout the US in 2008-09 and recently published in the journal Health and Social Work. Most of those surveyed were aged 25 to 44 years old. Three-quarters were living full-time in their non-birth gender and a similar proportion had undergone,  or were undergoing, some medical aspect of gender transition.  

Of those surveyed, 42 percent reported some form of discrimination--ranging from verbal abuse and unequal treatment to, in a number of cases, physical assault.  The report doesn't specify which health-care professionals (doctors, nurses, technicians or others) perpetrated the discriminatory and abusive behavior against the FTMs.  

The study's authors cautioned that their findings may not apply to the entire transgender community.  Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, a psychiatrist with New York University may have given one reason why, though perhaps not the one the study's authors had in mind.  She says, "the sample was skewed toward white, young, college-educated people with jobs and private health insurance".  That bias is probably not the fault of the researchers, for Dr. Erickson-Schroth was describing the sort of person most likely to answer (or, in the case of the trans community, even know about) surveys like the one Shires and Jaffee conducted. 

Thus, "If 42 percent of that group is reporting discrimination, the number may be even higher for others," according to Erickson-Schroth, who edited the book, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding of all is that 65 of the study's participants said they never accessed care in a doctor's office or hospital at all.  Some may do so because they don't have insurance. But a more likely explanation--and one I've heard from both FTMs and MTFs--was articulated by Shires:  "I can't help but to wonder whether they avoided care completely because they feared harassment or discrimination".  If such is the case, I can understand:  Few things feel worse than being mocked, called names or, worse, being denied care or given inappropriate care by someone who's taken a professional oath to help. I say this from a couple of experiences I had early in my transition.

The taunts and intimidation I experienced came from two nurses in a specialty hospital where I was referred. I told the receptionist I was leaving and would seek my care elsewhere.  She called a doctor, who apologized and talked encouragingly to me before performing the work for which I'd gone to that hospital.

So, my advice to any trans person who experiences discrimination or harassment is to first report it to someone in the office, clinic or hospital.  If no one is available, or no one is wiling to help, then it should be reported to an organization like the Transgender Law Center, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund or the National Center for Transgender Equality.

12 March 2015

More Jazz: A New Series On TLC

Oh, the lives we could have led...

I think about that whenever I hear about some young trans person who's living in--or, at least, transitioning to--her or his true gender.  It seems that their declaration of themselves is just the beginning:  They always seem to be doing other interesting things I--and most trans people of my generation--could not have imagined at their age.

Jazz Jennings is one such young trans person.  I talked about her in an earlier post, just after her "I Am Jazz", the transgender children's book she wrote, was published.

Now TLC network has announced that it will air The New Face of Transgender Youth, an 11-episode "docuseries" showing her daily life as she enters high school, approaches dating and avoids male puberty--and her parents encouraging her to be who she is while worrying about what's next.

Not only is she a reminder of the lives we could have led, she's also the example we could have had!

11 March 2015

A Blueprint For Bringing Transgenders Into The Armed Forces

It's looking more and more like transgenders will be allowed to serve in at least one branch of the US Armed Forces.

In August, the Palm Center--which has been doing some excellent and interesting work in the field of gender and sexuality in the military as well as other current issues--released the Report of the Planning Commission on Transgender Military Service.  It's definitely worth reading.

10 March 2015

Moving Through (And, Hopefully,Beyond) The Ruins

It was bound to happen, I guess.

A new friend of mine lives in the same neighborhood as Dominick.  On Saturday, I rode out there.  Really, unless I ride around the world and enter the back door (which is a temptation), there isn't another way to get there from my place.  Besides, if he could "pass through" my neighborhood and call to say, "I'm coming over now"--as he did several times before I took him to court--I can pass through his neighborhood if I'm minding my own business.

Anyway, you can probably guess what happened next.  I was a couple of blocks from the friend's house when a red SUV pulled up behind me.  A voice taunted me through the window, "Are you coming to visit me?"

Has he learned anything?  I could tell, just from the tone of his voice, that he is as arrogant, presumptuous, disrespectful and abusive as he ever was.  In other words, he's the same thug--coward--that he was when he slandered me to my employer, co-workers and other people, and when he called and texted me 11,518 times in two years after I said I didn't want him around me anymore.

After the things he did, there's simply no way I can have him anywhere near me.  Perhaps I'm supposed to be more forgiving, but I can't be.  I take that back:  I don't want to be.  He takes forgiveness, or anything that isn't retaliation, as a license to escalate his harassment and abuse. 

In short, I not only don't believe he's changed; I don't believe that he ever will change.  As long as he can continue living in the house in which he's lived since the day he was born, he'll have no reason to take responsibility for himself.  In his mind, no matter how he behaves, other people are wrong in the ways they respond to him.  Anyone who tries to hold him accountable for his words and actions is being "unfair"; anybody who tries more than once is an enemy who must be retaliated against.

In short, he hasn't grown up, and probably never will.  So, when he made his mock-invitation from his grandmother's van, I ignored him.  All I can do is to move through--and, hopefully, beyond--the wreckage he left in my life.

08 March 2015

Army Chipping Away At Transgender Ban

Could it be that a tide is eroding discriminatory laws and policies?  

(If it is, what were those laws and policies made of?)

While transgenders aren't allowed--yet--to serve in any branch of the US Armed Forces, the day we are allowed in might be in sight.

Last month, the Army approved of hormone treatments for Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier charged with divulging classified documents to WikiLeaks.  Around the same time Air Force Secretary Deborah James said that she favors lifting the ban against letting transgenders serve.  And Ashton Carter, the new Defense Secretary, said he is "open minded" about transgender troops, adding that whether or not a person can serve should be based on nothing more than his or her ability to serve.  According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, President Obama endorsed Carter's comments.

Now the Army has issued a directive saying to protect transgender soldiers from being dismissed by mid-level officers. Instead, the decision to discharge is placed in the hands of the service's top civilian for personnel matters.

In essence, it means that any officer would have to explain his or her decision to discharge a transgender soldier to a high-ranking civilian leader.  Most officers would be reluctant to do that, as it can be damaging to their careers.   
What's interesting is that the Army is doing essentially the same thing the Pentagon did when it was backing away from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":  It required a review, by the Department of Defense's top lawyer and service secretaries, of decisions to discharge gay and lesbian soldiers.  As a result, no more gay and lesbian soldiers were dismissed and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was overturned.

The times, they are a-changing.

07 March 2015

I'm Sure She Would Approve

In the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper, "girls just wanna have fun"!

From Equality Network

To this, she would also say--as only she can--"gotta love it!"

06 March 2015

Related By Blood?

We've all heard the "nature vs. nurture" arguments.  In other words, some people believe we're born to be what we are, but others believe that our environment and other factors make us.

I'm old enough to remember when otherwise wise and erudite people believed that LGBT people chose to be what they are and that someone could "turn" someone else--usually younger--gay.  Some had the notion that gay men were made through molestation (Trust me, it ain't so!)  but I never heard that claim made about lesbians.  I did hear, though, that predatory dykes "raped" the innocent wives of upstanding men and, as a result, the wives no longer wanted the men.  What such a story says about the men, or anyone else, is something I won't get into in this post.  Maybe some other time.

Well, if we're born gay or trans (as I think most of us on the "spectrum" are), some say, perhaps we'll be able to know whether the kid about to be born will be gay, just as we can know his or her gender beforehand.

Hmm...Maybe phlebotomists can perform the test:

This button was created by JRollendz.

05 March 2015

Who Built The Better Ark? A Woman, Of Course: Kea Tawana

I saw The Ark in my youth.

No, I'm not talking about a drug-addled experience.  Nor am I referring to any sort of religious or supernatural vision.  I actually saw The Ark.

Moreover, I saw it in Newark, New Jersey.  Yes, that Newark, New Jersey.

I know it's not a city mentioned in the Bible.  But The Ark was really there, circa 1985.

To be exact, it stood in the parking lot of the Humanity Baptist Church in the city's Central Ward, not far from the Newark Museum and New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Because it was perched on a hill, even in its skeletonic state, it cast an austere kind of majesty to the immediate area.

Like the Biblical ark, it was an attempt to salvage from a land rendered into ruins.  The creator of The Ark began salvaging materials from abandoned and burned-out buildings shortly after the city's devastating 1967 riots.  For more than a decade, the self-taught artist and artisan accumulated wood, metals and other materials and finally began to build the 30 meter (100 foot) long ship in 1982.

The ark's builder, who never went to school beyond the sixth grade, believed that life on land was becoming untenable.  Many other people have felt the same way and have gone to sea in houseboats or yachts.  However, the builder I'm mentioning wanted to have the ability to defend the ship and its crew as well as to be capable of supporting the lives of those on it for six months or more at sea.  

Given what much of Newark was like in those days, it's not hard to understand why someone would be disenchanted with life on dry land.  But the builder also wanted to go to Japan in that boat to lay wreaths on ancestral graves.  

Construction of The Ark continued for several years.  As one might imagine, it polarized people:  Some saw it as a symbol of Newark's fight to save itself, while others saw it as an intrusion, a fire hazard and worse.  Whatever it was, it was illegal.  Its builder, a church caretaker who lived in a self-made shelter on the grounds where The Ark stood, fought for more than a year against attempts to raze it, even signing an agreement to dismantle  and relocate it if a suitable location could be found.  But, of course, the city never found such a location.  Finally, conceding that there was nothing that could be done to keep The Ark standing, the builder destroyed it in the summer of 1988.

(To tell you the truth, I have always thought the city officials' attempts to destroy the ark had more to do with image and politics than fire safety codes.  I think those officials, and much of the public, wanted to forget the riots.  Building something from the rubble--two decades later--was a reminder of that the city hadn't recovered.)

Now, after reading this story, I want you to tell me what you would surmise about the builder. 

I would bet that a lot of you, as enlightened as you are, would say this person had to be a man.   And, in fact, the very first article I read about the Ark--around 1983 and, if I recall correctly, in the Star-Ledger--identified the builder as a man.

Kea Tawana, with her cat, during the time she was building her ark.

But Kea Tawana was born, according to her own accounts, around 1935 in Japan to Japanese mother and an American father who had been working there as an engineer.  According to Tawana, her mother and sister were killed in a bombing raid late in World War II.  After the war ended, she, her father and her brother were brought to "a camp with barbed wire around it" near San Diego, CA.  

She says her father was killed when camp guards fired into a crowd to break up a disturbance.  She and her brother were placed in an orphanage, from which they taken in by a foster mother in Flagstaff, Arizona.  She was bullied in school for being half-Japanese, she says, though I wouldn't be surprised if her masculine appearance had something to do with her difficulties.  Plus, if even half of what she says is true, she and her brother must have been suffering terribly with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That probably would have made things very difficult for the foster mother, who sent them back to the orphanage from which she ran away when she was twelve.  She never saw her brother again.  

She carried clothes in a burlap bag, ate from farmers' fields and hopped trains across the Southwest and South, and by 1953 found her way to Newark where, she said, she "heard there were a lot of jobs".

Over the years, she taught herself everything from woodworking and electrical systems to how to make stained glass windows and use a gun.  She gained a reputation as a reliable and meticulous, if eccentric, craftsperson.  A few questioned her gender identity, but more often than not, she was taken for a man.

After The Ark was razed, I never heard about Tawana again.  I thought about The Ark for the first time in years after passing through Newark on a bike ride in November.  After that, I began to look for more information about Kea's Ark, as she dubbed her creation, and Kea herself.  I found a few articles about the boat, but nothing about Kea's life after she demolished it.  I hope she's still alive and doing well:  I admire her as much for living in her own gender identity (She said she didn't mind when people identified her as a man) as her attempt to create a new ark in Newark.

04 March 2015

03 March 2015

Ash Haffner: Transgender Teen Commits Suicide

As if it wasn't bad enough that transgender women are being murdered simply for being who they are, transgender teenagers are taking their own lives for the same reason.

More precisely, they are killing themselves because of the bullying, harassment and other mistreatment they incur because others don't accept them.  And trans women are being murdered by people who hate them.  It's almost as if their killers are those schoolyard bullies, a bit older and with more brute strength and lethal weapons.

The difference is, of course, that the trans women I mentioned were killed by someone else, while the trans teens--including the one I'm going to tell you about--killed themselves.

Ash Haffner stepped into oncoming traffic near his North Carolina home this past Friday. That, of course, is the way Leelah Alcorn killed herself in Ohio.  Like her, 16-year-old Ash left a suicide note.

However, their messages were very different.  This is what Ash left on his iPad:

'Please be WHO YOU ARE... Do it for yourself. Do it for your happiness. That's what matters in YOUR life. You don't need approval on who you are. Don't let people or society change who you are just because they're not satisfied with your image.' 

I wish he could have continued to live by his own advice.  But, I have long reckoned that any human being can only take so much.  And, as we know, it's harder for a 16-year-old to believe "It Gets Better" --which, of course, is the reason why Dan Savage does everything he can to bring that message to young people.  The bullying, intense as it was, got worse after he cut his hair and asked to be referred to as "he".

According to the report I read, his mother supported his transition but continued to use the pronoun "she".  Some may say she didn't help his self-esteem.  But I know, from experience, that when someone has known you all of your life in the gender and by the names you were given at birth, it's difficult for that person to switch names and pronouns. Sometimes that person will "slip up" even long after the rest of the world sees you as being of the gender in which you're living.  Somehow I think Ash understood this and had no intention of implicating his mother or family.

But at least Ash's message is some attempt to give others the hope he lost.  That is in marked contrast to what Leelah, a year older, wrote in the last post of her blog, which her family deleted:

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

More than anything, her message reflects the lack of whatever support Ash had.  Leelah ends her message about what needs to be done in society, but has resigned herself to not seeing it. Still, her blog post, like Ash's note, is an example of what Miguel de Unamuno meant by "Hombre muere de frio, no de oscuridad" (Man dies of cold, not of darkness.)  Both teens killed themselves because they were left out in the cold.  All we can do is take them in, take in their spirits and take in those who are left.