30 June 2015

If It Can't Be Used To Help Trans Girls, The Girl Scouts Don't Want It

It's great to know that some organizations actually stand behind their stated principles.

One such organization is the Girl Scouts--specifically, the Queen Anne Offices of the Girl Scouts in western Washington State.

Not long ago, a $100,000 donation came their way.  But in May, in the wake of all of the publicity surrounding Caitlyn Jenner, the donor sent a letter with this request:  Please guarantee that our gift will not be used to support transgender girls.  If you can't, please return the money.

That donation would have represented a quarter of the office's annual operating budget, and would have been enough to send 500 girls to camp.  For many people, that would make for a wrenching decision.

But not for CEO Megan Ferland.  Shortly after receiving that letter, she returned the money. For her, the reasoning was simple:  "Girl Scouts is for every girl."  She added, "Every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout, if she wants to."

Thank you, Megan Ferland!

29 June 2015

For The Community, A Victory. For You And Your Partner, Maybe Not So Much.

As I have said in earlier posts, even though I support marriage equality, I would much prefer that the government got out of the marriage business altogether, save to set a minimum age at which people can enter into a union.  And it would be exactly that—a union.  It would allow couples visitation and inheritance rights and specify custody and other responsibilities. It would also allow one member of the couple to add the other to her or his health care policy and apartment lease agreement or title to the house. However, there would be no tax benefit for getting married. 

One reason why I believe in such an arrangement even more firmly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling became apparent to me today.  Now same-sex marriage is legal throughout the US, employers will be required to allow workers to add their same-sex spouses to their health insurance policies.  This begs the question:  Will employers stop offering domestic-partner benefits?  Will they require couples, whether hetero- or homo-sexual, to be married in order to share in the benefits the company offers?

One of the great ironies of my life is that I was once included in a partner’s health-care benefits—when I was still living as a man with a female partner.  We had a domestic partnership agreement, which New York City was offering to all couples at that time (late 1990’s and early 2000’s).  If I were still with her—whether in my former or current identity—would she be allowed to include me on her health insurance? 

I’m guessing that the answer would be “yes” just because this is New York City and her company had a surprisingly (to me at the time, anyway) enlightened view of such things.  But what if we’d been in one of those states where same-sex marriage—and even domestic partnerships—weren’t legal before last week’s ruling?  It’s hard for me to imagine that a company based in a state that didn’t have domestic partnerships would allow partners’ benefits, especially if it was compelled by court order to offer insurance to same-sex couples.

Somehow I think the battles not only aren’t over; they haven’t even begun yet.

28 June 2015

Body Language And Marriage Politics

Four years ago, marchers in New York City’s Pride March—and revelers on the streets and in parties during and after the event—celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Empire State, which had come to pass only a few days earlier.

This year, there was similar jubilation because, just the other day, same-sex marriage was legalized in all of the United States.  The cool wind that blew drizzle and rain into this city through much of the day didn’t seem to keep very many people away from the march and other celebrations.

Something I saw after this year’s march bears a striking similarity with something I observed four years ago.  In most years, one sees LGBT people and their allies, alone or in groups, walking around with their rainbow flags and other regalia.  One also sees couples, but many of them have a certain tentativeness that can be seen in the almost-truncated ways they hold hands, put their arms around each other or simply walk with each other.  It’s almost as if some of them know that they can display their affection so publicly for that one day.

But this year, I saw none of that furtiveness.  The couples I saw—young old and in-between; men with men, women with women and cis people with transgenders—walked with more confidence and less of the ostentation people display when they know their moment of bliss can be rudely (or, worse, violently) interrupted.  In other words, they seemed to enjoy the sense of security—Nobody can take this away from us—most cisgender heterosexual couples don’t even realize they take for granted.

I was noticing change in couples’ body language and, it seemed, in their sense of time itself, not on the Christopher Street Pier or in Chelsea clubs or Jackson Heights bars.  Rather, I observed them in the South Bronx, where I rode my bike to meet a friend after the festivities.   I also noticed it later in my own neighborhood of Astoria—which, while it has a fair-sized LGBT community living openly, isn’t exactly Chelsea or even Jackson Heights.  Somehow I imagine that had I gone to other neighborhoods in Queens or Manhattan or the Bronx—or Brooklyn, or even Staten Island—I would have seen something similar.  In short, everyone was breathing a little freer today—even more so than we were four years ago.

27 June 2015

A Black Woman--Like Me? Like You?

You may have noticed that, until today, I hadn’t commented on the woman of Czech, Irish, Swedish and Native American ancestry who claimed she’s African-American and became the president of an NAACP chapter.  Frankly, I haven’t been thinking much about it, partly because I think the whole idea of classifying people by race is silly.  We’re All African; Get Over It!

But this morning I heard someone echo the canard conservative talk-radio personalities have been parroting:  If she wanted to portray herself as Black, it must mean that there’s no such thing as “white privilege”.  (If anything, those talk-radio guys show us that there’s no such thing as “white superiority”.)  People like them believe that laws to protect people of color, women, LGBT people and others are “special privileges”; never mind that white men have enjoyed such privileges since the day this country was founded.

It reminded me some things a few people told me when I was starting my transition.  “Oh, you’ll have it made,” said one.  “Men are going to hold doors open for you.”  Oh, sure, I transitioned for that.  And it more than makes up for the times I’ve been slandered (in particular by Dominick, but also by others) , accused of things I didn’t do, rejected and passed over for jobs. 

And then there was Elizabeth—who, I have since realized, resents anyone who is happier than she is—who accused me of transitioning so that I could “go to the top of the Affirmative Action food chain” and get a job that should go to her or some other “real” (Yes, she used that term!) woman. 

Uh-huh.  I took hormones and abuse, and underwent surgery, just so I could teach gender studies or gender theory or some such thing.  I can just imagine what someone like Elizabeth—who, I also realize, wants to be a Second Wave Feminist with a man who will support her—would, if she were black, say about Ms.

What I’m saying is that I made my transition so I can live my life—which, I suspect, is the reason why Caitlyn Jenner made hers.  In fact, I’d say that’s the reason, or at least an important reason, why most trans people go through their process of becoming who and what they are.  Really, there aren’t many—perhaps any—other reasons.

I suppose Rachel Dolezal  is claiming blackness for the same reason.  However, contrary to what some believe, that is about the only comparison that can be made between her and transgenders.  I’m not saying that a person couldn’t have been born in the “wrong” race; it’s simply something I don’t understand because I’ve never experienced it (though I’ve often felt I should have been French, which is a cultural—for me, anyway—rather than a racial identity).  On the other hand, I understand how it feels to have been born in the “wrong” body—which is still how most people define transgenderism.  More important, I understand what it’s like to be brought up, educated and acculturated in the “wrong gender”.  Most important of all, I have experienced growing up with the mind and spirit of a gender different from the one in which I was living and presenting to the world every day for the first 44 years of my life.

Hmm…Maybe I do understand a little more of Ms. Dolezal's dilemma than I thought.  But just a little.  Whatever the case, I find no reason to worry about whether she claims she’s black, white, Martian, Tralfamadorian or whatever.  All I can say is that it’s very, very unlikely she’s claiming blackness just so she can teach Black Studies or be the President of an NAACP chapter.  After all, as a white woman, there are all sorts of other things she could do—even though she wouldn’t have the same access and other privileges white cisgender men enjoy. 

26 June 2015

Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal Everywhere In The US

An old man walks, with some trepidation, into an old house.

It's dark, there's lots of dust and the floors creak with each step he takes.  But he' not really worried (or so he tells himself) until he hears:

Boooo.... I am the spi-rit...of same-sex marriage...Woooo!

The old man screams:  Oh, no!  There goes the threat to our democracy.

Now, of course, neither that house nor that ghost exists---except, of course, in the fantasies of that old man.

And who is that old man?, you ask.

Why, he's none other than our good friend Antonin Scalia.

Yes, that Antonin Scalia.  The one who's been on the Supreme Court for nearly three decades.  

Now, to be fair, he didn't specifically say that same-sex marriage is the threat.  Rather, he blasted the Supreme Court--or, more specifically, five members of it. In calling them the threat to democracy, he probably came as close as he could to saying that he's against same-sex marriage without saying it.  He's like all of those people who say "states' rights" as a code phrase for their opposition to laws protecting racial equality.

Those five judges--Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the opinion), Stephen Beyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan--marriage is a right of all same-sex couples, regardless of where in the United States they live.  The other four judges--Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas--each wrote their own dissenting opinions.

From the tone of this, you can tell that I'm pleased with the ruling. However, I still don't believe that granting same-sex marriage rights is the best solution.  I believe that, ideally, governments should have nothing at all to do with marriage other than to set a minimum age.  I also don't believe that religious institutions should be vested with the power of marriage.  If people want to have ceremonies in their houses of worship or prayer or whatever, that is fine.  But such a ceremony shouldn't legalize a person's union.  I'm no Constitutional lawyer or scholar, but it seems to me that the situation I've described--i.e., the one we have--conflicts with the Constitutional separation of church and state. Today's ruling does nothing to change that.

Still, though, today's decision is better than second-class citizenship, which is what too many same-sex couples now have.

25 June 2015

Why Did She Heckle The President?

It's all but impossible to determine how many transgender people there are.   For one thing, definitions of "transgender" vary:  Some would count cross-dressers; others would include only those who have had gender reassignment surgery.  For another, not all trans people self-identify, or are readily self-identifiable.

Interestingly, the easiest setting in which to count the number of trans people is detention centers for illegal or undocumented immigrants.  Trans people, more often than not, flee their native countries because they are transgender and will say as much on applications for documentation--or simply for release from prison.

According to one report, about one out of every 500 detained immigrants is transgender. Yet one out of every 5 cases of sexual abuse in such facilities is committed against transgender detainees. 

Those numbers are a reflection of what Jennicet Guiterrez had in mind when she heckled President Obama at a White House reception for LGBT pride month.

"I saw the President come in speaking about gay pride and the progress that's been made," says Guiterrez.  The activist at Familia TQLM, an organization that serves LGBTQ Latino/as says she's spoken to "trans women who were released from detention centers" and told about "the abuse and torture they're facing in detention."  Hearing their stories, she said, made her want to give them a voice.

Secret Service police escorted her out of the reception but didn't arrest her.    And Obama's self-congratulation--whoops, I mean celebration--continued.

23 June 2015

When Will Trans People Live Cisgender Lives?

I was rather pleasantly surprised by this article in the New York Post. Its author, Eric Hegedus, seems pleased that more trans actors are appearing in films and television series.  On the other hand, he points out that there is a danger of trans actors being typecast if they are called upon to play nothing but trans characters. 

To me, an actor is someone who can step into a role, even one completely different from his or her own experience.  Of course, by that definition, there aren't many true actors.  But the day is coming, I think, when we'll see just how good some trans actors are when they play cisgender characters.

I had to laugh, though, at the title of the article:  "When will we start seeing transgender actors in non-transgender roles?"  Fact is, it's happened, at least once.  And the trans actress I'm thinking of played a cis woman all the way back in 1981.

Back in my previous life, I would sometimes go to the movies with my father and brothers (My mother has never been much of a movie-goer!) and, later, with male buddies or co-workers.  Some of the most popular "guys' night out" movies (I almost typed "films") are the James Bond flicks. I think the last one I saw was For Your Eyes Only.

And, yes, that was the one that featured the trans actress:  Caroline "Tula" Cossey, who played the obligatory "Bond Girl" in the movie.  To promote the movie, she also posed for Playboy magazine.  She was probably the first trans woman to do that as well, although nobody--at least, nobody in the general public--knew about her identity at that time.

However, a year later, News Of The World, a British tabloid, "outed" her.  For the next decade, she fought for transgender acceptance and worked to educate people.  In 1991, she approached the editors of Playboy, who did another pictorial of her. 

Now 60 years old, she lives in the Atlanta area with her husband.  She says she is happy that there is more acceptance for trans people, though she was still shocked when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn before the eyes of the world.   Ms. Cossey empathises with Caitlyn's pain and suffering, so she knows just how difficult the road ahead could be for Caitlyn, in spite (or perhaps because) of her fame and fortune.  

Even with such changes, and with the love and support she's received, "Tula" says doesn't know whether she'll ever "stop feeling like a second-class citizen".

Unfortunately, even her looks and talent aren't a shield against internalizing the hate and meanness that was directed at her.  So,  I believe, the question shouldn't be about when we will see trans actors play cis parts.  Instead, we should find when people who just happen to be a little different from what society deems "normal" will be able to  grow up and live without bullying, shame, discrimination and the threat of death for simply being who they are.

(Aside:  Angelina Jolie was offered a role as a "Bond Girl" in Casino Royale.  She turned it down.  "I'd rather be Bond," she said.  Now that, I would pay to see!) 

22 June 2015

Is She Better Just Because She's One Of Us?

The second-most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives is a staunch advocate of LGBT rights.  You are LGBT, and you live in his district.  

Chances are that you voted for him.  And you probably will vote for him when he runs again.


As it happens, someone is running against him in the Democratic primary.  As the district is heavily Democratic, the winner of that primary would probably win the Congressional seat.  But the incumbent is extremely popular, so the odds of his losing the seat, let alone the primary, seem very long.


The person running against him in the primary is a former Navy SEAL who was deployed 13 times.  This candidate hasn't made LGBT issues a campaign priority and, while supporting same-sex marriage, believes it and other issues should be "left up to the states" and not subject to the broad Federal regulations the incumbent favors.  Such a stance does not endear the challenger to the LGBT community and may make the incumbent's re-election all thoe more likely.


All right.  I'll tell you about that challenger.  Kristin (nee Christopher) Beck transitioned from male to female two years ago, after retiring from the Navy.  She's talked about staring down Taliban warlords and knocking down doors to capture insurgents only to, after coming home, get beat up outside a bar for wearing a dress.  

Of course, her candidacy begs the question of whether we should replace a proven ally of our community with someone who just happens to be a member of the community.  

That's a bit like asking whether a Ben Carson presidency would be better for African-Americans than Lyndon Johnson's was.  Actually, that comparison might be a bit extreme, but it's still doubtful that Kristin Beck would be better on LGBT (or even just trans) issues than Hoyer has been.

21 June 2015

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day!

I offer this wish, not only to those of you who are male parents in the traditional sense, but also to any of you who have taught your child, or any young person, an important life lesson or skill.

And I offer it especially to all of you trans women who helped to raise children while you were still living as men.  You also were husbands (or partners) to the biological or adoptive mothers of your children.  I commend you for all of the strength you have in holding yourselves, your marriages and your families together.  Now I hope that you can enjoy loving, supportive relationships with the people you married and the ones you helped to bring into this world.

If you no longer have relationships with those people, I hope you will find others that will give you and share the love you deserve.  

Happy Father's Day to all!

20 June 2015

"Tolerance" Of Transgender People Caused The Charleston Church Massacre: Erick Erickson

It seems that any time there's a manmade tragedy or natural disaster, we are somehow blamed for it.

By "we" I mean LGBT people.  Usually, the blamers use "gay" as a catch-all term to include anyone who doesn't conform to accepted norms of gender and sexuality.  It's actually relatively rare that one group in the spectrum--e.g., gay men, lesbians or transgenders--are specifically indicted for one of the world's evils. 

Well, this time is one of those relative rarities.  Transgender people are being blamed for something terrible.  Actually, we're not being blamed for the tragedy itself; rather, someone is attributing it to acceptance of transgender people.

Yes, you read that right.  The mere fact that because of society's acceptance of trans people--or, more specifically, Caitlyn Jenner--people don't know what's right anymore.

Erick Erickson, the founder and editor of the blog Red Neck, I mean, RedState, had this to say on his radio show:

“We can’t have the conversations we need to have in this country about mental health and evil. We cannot have those conversations. It is impossible to have conversations like that in a society that can look at a 65-year-old male Olympian and say ‘Hey, he’s a girl now. We have to start calling him Caitlyn.’”

Now, if you read yesterday's post, you might have guessed that he was blaming the fact that "we cannot have those conversations" for the massacre of nine members of a Bible study group in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina. 

OK...Calling Caitlyn Jenner who she is caused Dylann Roof to sit with those churchgoers--all of them African-Americans--and blow them away.  To be fair, Mr. Erickson is not a scientist or clinician, so perhaps he can be forgiven for some gaps in my knowledge.  And I'll admit that at times, my logic has been even faultier than his.

But I try not to repeat my mistakes.  Apparently, Mr. Erickson makes no such effort--or, again to be fair, he may have been unaware of his error.  Or he must have a very, very wide mouth that's impervious to pain:  He put his foot in it again when he repeated his sentiments in a post he wrote on his RedState:

"As a nation, when these things happen, we never have the conversation about real evil. We also never have the conversation about mental health.

Instead, we descend into partisan conversations where everything is political and neither side can concede or acknowledge the other's points. Everyone and everything gets blamed while ignoring the actual person who killed.
A society that looks at a 65 year old male Olympian and, with a straight face, declares him a her and "a new normal" cannot have a conversation about mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good. Our American society has a mental illness -- overwhelming narcissism and delusion -- and so cannot recognize what crazy or evil looks like."

So let me get this straight (pun intended):  It's tolerance that caused a young white man to kill nine African Americans because he believed that the races should be separate and black men "rape our women".  Hmm...I guess the word tolerance doesn't mean what I've always thought it meant.  If anything, I thought tolerance was more descriptive of those nine people who let him join them in their Bible study group before he killed them.

But, hey, what do I know?

19 June 2015

Massacre In South Carolina: The Confederate Flag Still Flies

Today I’m not going to stick to the topic of this blog.  Instead, I want to talk about something that, I’m sure, you’ve heard about by now:  the massacre inside the Emanuel AfricanMethodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina .

One of the cruelest ironies is that members of a Bible study group—including the church's pastor, who also happens to be a  South Carolina State senator—in one of America’s oldest historically black churches were gunned down by a young white man who sat with them on the eve of Juneteenth— a few days after the 800th anniversary of King John issuing Magna Carta.

And the Confederate Flag flies in front of the State Capitol.

A century and a half after slaves in South Carolina and Texas and other states got word that they were free men and women, a young man hadn’t gotten the message that the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees all citizens, regardless of their skin color, the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments (a.k.a. the Bill of Rights).  Heck, he didn’t even get the message thatthere’s no such country as Rhodesia anymore.  He was simply acting from the same sort of ignorance, the same sort of hate, that left earlier generations of young African Americans hanging from trees or at the bottoms of rivers.

And the Confederate Flag flies in front of the State Capitol.

More than a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, in the state in which the opening shot of the US Civil War was fired, a young man entered a Bible Study group and waited for the “right” moment to shoot someone nearly as young as he is, people old enough to be his parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents.  He shattered the peace and sanctity they found in what, for many generations of African-Americans—and, perhaps, for those members of the Bible Study group—has been their closest-knit, if not their only, sanctuary.

And the Confederate flag flies in front of the State Capitiol.   

From the church's website.

A pastor was killed along with a deacon and laypeople.  Families lost sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers; friends lost friends and people lost spouses and other loved ones.  They loved and were loved; they raised families and were raised by families.  And they contributed to the lives of their communities through their professional and volunteer work, and the loves and interests they shared with those around them.

And the Confederate flag flies in front of the State Capitol.

Dylann Storm Roof, in an instant, ended the lives of Rev. (and Sen.) Clementa Pickney, Mira Thompson, Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, De Payne Middleton, Ethel Lance and her cousin Susie Jackson. All of them, one hundred and fifty years after Juneteenth.