31 July 2015

He Tried To Kill In The Name Of God

When it comes to LGBT equality, Israel has one of the best--if not the best--record in the Middle East.  

That makes what happened in Jerusalem yesterday all the more distressing.

Yishai Schlissel, an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, stabbed six marchers in the city's Pride parade.  Two of the victims are in serious condition.  Not long after he attacked, Schlissel was pinned to the ground and arrested on a central Jerusalem street.

He had just been released from prison after ten years of incarceration.  He was locked up for a very similar attack not far from where he struck yesterday.  In his rampage a decade ago, three marchers were stabbed.

The Jerusalem Pride march is smaller than the one in Tel Aviv.  But, the one in Jerusalem attracts more ire from ultra-religious Christians and Muslims as well as Jews, who see homosexuality as an "abomination", as Schlissel put it and the march as a "defilement" of their sacred city.

They probably think what Schlissel said out loud:  He'd come to the march to "kill in the name of God."

Haven't we heard that one before?

30 July 2015

Hetero Pride: A Parade Of One

It's been a long time since I've taken a course in mathematics or economics.  But I think I still remember the basic concept of a zero-sum game accurately: When one person gains, another person loses.  So, if you order a pizza pie to share, each slice one person takes is one less slice for everyone else.

Some people seem to think that human rights are like that pizza pie.  The people who seem to think that are those who don't realize how much they take those rights for granted.  Whenever laws are passed to prevent people from being fired from, or denied jobs because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, they think something has been taken from them.

Even an expression of self-esteem from a black or transgender person raises their hackles.  They see the main streets of their cities being closed to allow  a parade or march for "pride" (unless it's for their group of people, e.g., the St. Patrick's or Columbus Day parades) as "special treatment".   They're the ones who whine "White lives matter, too!"

So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that someone organized a Heterosexual Pride parade. I'm a little surprised that it was held in Seattle.  Then again, I guess nothing will raise some people's hackles more than living in proximity to the ones they believe are receiving "preferential treatment".   

Then again, Seattle is full of enlightened people.  How do I know that?  Well, for one thing, Marci Bowers has lived and practiced obstetrics and gynecology there for decades.  For another, they stayed away from the "parade".

Yes, parade organizer Anthony Rebello was all by himself.  Not even his girlfriend showed up.

Well, whatever else you want to say about him, he knows a thing or two about damage control.  Knowing he had egg on his face, he declared that his Parade of One was just a "warm up" for next year's event.

Mr. Rebello:  There are all sorts of other things you can do by yourself!  And you don't have to do them in public!

28 July 2015

LGBT Foster Kids

When I was co-facilitating an LGBT youth group, I couldn't help but to notice how many of those young people had lived, or were living, on the streets or in shelters.  The reasons for that were, of course, that they were kicked out of their homes upon "coming out" or they faced abuse from family members (and, too often, bullying in school) and ran away.

Those phenomena have since received attention in the mainstream media as well as in LGBT policy circles.  However, there is another phenomenon I noticed--nearly a decade ago--about which I've still heard or read very little:  LGBT kids who spend time in foster care.  It's more common than people realize, essentially for the same reasons why too many queer kids end up on the streets or in shelters.  Worse yet, they sometimes face the same problems in their foster homes to which they were subjected when they were living with their biological families.  And, of course, they get bullied in school or in their neighborhoods.

With those things in mind, Shaun Osburn of Equality California created this infographic to bring some of the cold, hard numbers to life:

27 July 2015

The Boy Scouts Are Getting There....

As of today, the Boy Scouts of America has lifted its ban on openly gay Scoutmasters, other adult leaders and employees.  This comes a little more than two years after the ban on gay Boy Scouts was ended.

However, BSA will still allow Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout dens chartered by religious organizations to exclude gay adults from serving as leaders or camp counselors.

This change is important and necessary for a number of reasons.  One is that in certain areas, such as small towns and the countryside of the Midwest and South, the local Boy Scout troop or Cub Scout den is one of the few places besides school where boys can meet other boys their own age.  And, in many communities, especially the inner cities, Scoutmasters and other adult leaders are among the few adult male role models many boys have.

Study after study has shown that isolation kills.  The last thing kids who might feel isolated and alienated need is to be further isolated and alienated through exclusion from one of the few social outlets available to them.

Moreover, the old stereotypes about gay boys are dying.  They're not all effeminate and they don't all lack interest in sports or outdoor activities.  And they will probably strive for the same sorts of careers and (mostly middle-class lives) their straight peers want.   So, they need the same sorts of adult role models.  What could be better for a gay kid if that adult is also gay?

Finally, as a former Boy Scout, I can attest that there are a surprising number of ways boys of all kinds can express their talents and pursue interests.  For example, I earned merit badges in reading, writing,scholarship (basically for keeping up a B average) and photography.  Unless things have changed dramatically, there are a number of other merit badges in areas that most people wouldn't associate with Scouting.  

And, finally, there were community service requirements, if I remember correctly, for advancing from one rank to another.  There's certainly not a lack of interest in such things among gay kids--or adults.  

So the Boy Scouts of America is getting it right, I think.  Notice that I said "getting":  It's still a process.  Next....transgender scouts.  If the Girl Scouts can allow trans girls, why can't the Boy Scouts allow trans boys?

26 July 2015

Another Path Of My Past

Yesterday I pedaled along a route I rode often when I was a Rutgers student more than three decades ago.  I hadn’t taken that ride since I graduated and left the area.

The ride—along the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath—was even more familiar than I expected it to be.  It was also, even more surprisingly, easier, in spite of my age and weight—and the fact that the testosterone in my body has been replaced by estrogen.  

When I am truly recalling or reliving something, my senses are engaged.  Sights and sounds—and, particularly, smells and tastes—return to me.  However, on yesterday’s ride, yet another sense filled me and reminded me of why I rode along the path back in the day, and why I was riding it yesterday.

In those days, I cycled even more than I do now.  Needless to say, I was stronger and faster.  Somehow, though, the ride seemed more effortless for me than it used to be. 

Now I believe I know why.  In those days, I was cycling, as well as lifting weights and engaging in other sports, in part as an attempt to free myself from the constraints of my body.  Sometimes I would pedal, run, lift, kick or fight until—and sometimes after—I couldn’t do any more.  When I’d physically exhausted myself, I was no longer appalled at my body because I had, if only momentarily, beaten it into submission:  I was punishing it for keeping me in a prison of maleness.

Yesterday I felt no such constraint, let alone the anger that festered when I was in it.  Without trying, I passed cyclists who were younger and fitter than I am.  The path was not something to be ridden over; it was something to ride, to ride along, to ride with.

On my way back, a dog crossed into my path.  Back in the days, I would have cursed the dog—and the woman who walked her.  But I stopped and stroked the dog, who licked my hand.  The woman apologized.  “It’s OK,” I demurred. 
A man—her husband, I presume--followed with another dog. He echoed her apology;  I repeated my deflection of it.  He stretched out his hand.  “Can I offer these as penance?”

He had just picked the blackberries.  I don’t remember anything that tasted so good.

24 July 2015

Let Us Celebrate And Be Watchful

After writing about India Clarke’s murder yesterday, I got to thinking about “the state of the union”, if you will, for transgender people.

Lots of people—including yours truly—said that Caitlyn Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer and photo shoot for Vanity Fair was a “turning point” for us.  I still believe that:  By transitioning as late as she did in her life, declaring that she’s never been attracted to men and saying that she is (ahem!) a Republican, she shattered a few stereotypes about us.  

Still, it’s hard not to think about these facts:  She is rich.  She is famous.  And she is white.

All of those things insulate her from some of the harsh realities too many of us face.  Although I don’t expect her, or any individual or even any number of transgender people (let alone cisgender public figures) to change any of those facts, they remain:  A transgender person is ten times as likely to be unemployed and sixteen times as likely to be murdered as an average American.  Those figures rise for a transgender person of color—especially if she is a male-to-female transgender.

I must say, though, that she is not immune to the backlash against the increased attention she, and we, have received in recent years.  Some might claim that the increase in the number transgender people who are murdered or victims of other violent crimes is a result of better reporting.  I wouldn’t dispute that, any more than I would argue against the notion that an increase in the number of rapes could be, at least partially, a result of the increased willingness of victims to report such crimes against them.

But it still can’t be denied that the haters are growing more hateful—and sometimes more violent.  All you have to do is look at the comments left in response to online articles about anything having to do with transgender people, whether it’s Caitlyn’s “coming out” or India’s murder.  Their language is growing more phobic and even violent.  So are the proclamations of more public figures who use warped interpretations of their religion—or pure and simple hate—to denounce us and our allies.

In short, we should be happy—and cautious.

23 July 2015

Some Respect For India Clarke

Some people suffer violent deaths.  Worse yet, they suffer other kinds of violence after their deaths.  Such is the case for too many trans people, like India Clarke.  

Yesterday morning, a park employee found her battered body just outside of the University Area community center in Tampa Bay, Florida.  While her death has been ruled a murder, officials are not calling it a hate crime.  

Given the way, and by whom, most transgender murder victims are killed, it's hard not to think Ms. Clarke's death was motivated by bigotry. Still, I can understand why officials won't come to such a conclusion just yet:  More than likely, they can't, until they at least have a suspect.

But I can't understand why, in this day and age, some journalists and public officials don't identify victims like India Clarke by the names they used and the genders by which they idenitified.  In fact, some make it a point of misgendering victims or identifying them by the names assigned at birth. 

The Tampa Bay Times--which proudly announces that it has won ten Pulitzer Prizes on its front page--identified India as Samuel Elijah Clarke and said "the victim was dressed in female clothing".  And Hillsborough County spokesman says officials will not be identifying her as "transgender." 

What most people don't realize is that referring to trans people by the names or gender assigned to them at birth doesn't only hurt the feelings of other transgender people.  It can also impede an investigation.

I hope never to meet a fate like India Clarke's.  But let's say someone was to find me lying on the ground somewhere, beaten up or otherwise hurt.  If an investigation were to begin by identifying me as male and by my old name, some of my records wouldn't turn up, as all of my records now identify me as a female with my current name.  Mis-identifying me could keep someone from accessing my medical and insurance records, which could result in my not getting care--or, if I were identified as male, in getting inappropriate treatments.

Misidentification could have even more dire consequences for those who are in the early stages of transition:  Such people might be living in their true gender and chosen name, but their records might still be in the gender and name assigned to them at birth.  I know:  I was in that situation for about two years.  But even then, some people knew me only by as a female named Justine; they did not know my former name or, in a few cases, even that I had lived as a man.  Asking such people about me under my old name and gender would have drawn blanks--as they would from most people who know me now.

So, identifying us by the names and genders in which we live isn't just a matter of respect or dignity:  It can also be a matter of our lives. 

India Clarke, I hope that, wherever you are, you're getting the respect and dignity--and have the peace and security--you didn't experience in your death.

21 July 2015

The Provocateur as "Victim"

The other day I got into an argument with someone who watches Faux, I mean Fox, News for hours on end and echoes their whines about "the liberal media."  Now, I'm no fan of Hilary or Obama, but I don't think the "liberal media" has gone easier on them than it did on George W. Bush or Dick Cheyney.  After all, the so-called LM allowed them to get away with leading this country into two wars over lies and allowing the CEOs of large banks to, in essence, drive the world's economy off a cliff.

Also, the so-called liberal media is not all fawning over Caitlyn Jenner, as the Faux Folks might have you believe.  One of Faux's compatriots in duplicity, Breibart News, engages in all sorts of thuggism so that it and its reporters can complain about being "victims" of the LM.

It started when Breitbart  Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro made a point of insulting the trans community by refusing to refer to Caitlyn Jenner by her preferred pronoun.  Then he deliberately provoked transwoman Zoey Tur by asking her, "What are your genetics, sir?"

Tur responded by placing her hand on his shoulder and saying, "You should cut that out now, or you'll go home in an ambulance."  Shapiro claims that after the show, Tur said the two should meet in a parking lot.  From there followed a stream of tweets between Shapiro, Tur and their followers that led to Shapiro making the ludicrous assertion that Tur is an anti-Semite. 

All of this ended with Shapiro filing battery charges against Tur.

From what I know about the incident, Tur was wrong to threaten Shapiro.  However, he and is fans conveniently ignore his complicity in creating the hostile environment in which she made the threat. And he is perpetuating such an environment by re-tweeting all of those who sent him approving tweets.

If anything, the fact that he was allowed to insult a trans woman on national TV for ten minutes before Tur threatened him should put lie his and his ilk's notions about the "liberal media" or about themselves as "victims."

20 July 2015

The Charges: She's Black---And Trans

So what is life like for a black trans woman?

The sad tale of Meagan Taylor might tell us more--and worse--than most people could have imagined.

She checked into a Des Moines, Iowa hotel room with a friend who is also transgendered. The staff were "acting really funny" around them, she said.  Then the police showed up at their hotel room.

Now she's sitting in a cell of the Polk County Jail Medical Unit while officials try to figure out what to do with her.  Her bond is set at $2000.  Were she a Polk County resident, she could pay a tenth of that.  But, being from out-of-state, she would need someone local to co-sign, and she doesn't know a soul in Iowa.  She doesn't even have a lawyer.  All of this means that Taylor could be in that cell for months.

So what, exactly, is Meagan charged with?  Well, the hotel clerk who called the cops described "two males dressed as females", with the implication that they were prostitutes.  The cops could find no evidence of that.   They did, however, find a bottle of spironolactone hydrochloride.  in an unmarked bottle in her purse.  I used to take that same drug with estrogen tablets before U had my surgery but, apparently, the cops didn't believe her when she told them it's part of her hormone therapy.   So, she was charged with having a prescription drug without a prescription.

And, to be fair, she did give a false name and Missouri ID.  It’s not clear as to how she got that ID, but it’s hard to understand why that should have led to a charge of “malicious prosecution”, an aggravated misdemeanor.
While arresting her, a police officer ran a check and found she had an outstanding probation violation in her home state of Illinois: When she was 17, she was charged with credit card fraud. She says she did her time for that but admits she still owes $500 in fines.

All right.  You might say that Meagan Taylor is no angel.  But who among us is?  And young trans people often do, out of desperation, the sorts of things (like credit card fraud and using fake IDs) other young people do out of stupidity or arrogance. 

I don’t think most people would want to keep any young person locked up for such offenses.  Incarcerating such people rarely does them any good and costs a lot of money.  So why do Polk County officials see fit to keep Meagan Taylor, a low-level nonviolent offender, behind bars?

18 July 2015

Inspired By Caitlyn To Tell Their Stories

Equality will have been achieved when all trans (or gender non-conforming) people can enjoy the same right to live as the people they are, without fear of losing their jobs, housing, families, relationships or lives, as cisgender people have.  In other words, we'll all be equal when we don't have to be rich and famous to, not only transition, but to be seen as a role model for doing so.

Caitlyn Jenner understands this.  Yesterday I applauded her for mentioning Sam Taub, the Detroit-area transgender teenager who committed suicide.  Now, Ms. Jenner's example is encouraging some of us, who transitioned long before Ms. Jenner, to tell our stories.  And the New York Daily News featured a few of them today

Caitlyn Jenner said she couldn’t wait to hear the stories of her transgender sisters. Well, the Daily News is providing three gripping tales from men who transitioned long before it became a reality TV show.
Like the 65-year-old Olympic gold-medal champ, this trio has struggled with doubts, fears and tears — including ones shed from the joy of finally embracing a life that’s been in limbo, in some cases for decades.

Each personal journey is unique, but share common threads. The road to transitioning reaches back to childhood — as early as first grade. Experimenting with cross-dressing came long before these women’s brave decisions to live authentically.

Discussing their lives wasn’t an invitation for tell-all revelations about surgery, genitals or sexual mores. But in reading each story, you get intimate portraits of the people living them — and the challenges that face all transgender Americans.

Actress Shakina Nayfack James Keivom

Actress Shakina Nayfack

Transgender actress Shakina Nayfack tells of her incredible journey from being a young Jewish boy bullied by high school classmates to an outspoken theater veteran. "I’m a white trans woman playing the Statue of Liberty in a show about illegal immigration," she says. READ THE STORY.

Willa France Aaron Showalter

Willa France

Willa France was at the top of her career as a lawyer when she transitioned to being a woman in her 50s. The East Harlem resident talks to the News about her own transformation, keeping her marriage intact and a defense of Jenner's fashion sense. READ THE STORY.

Patricia Harrington Bryan R. Smith

Patricia Harrington

Patricia Harrington says her transformation into her "authentic person" has been a series of small victories since trying to stand on the girl's line as a six year old boy. "It took another 35 years or so to open up," she says. " I’ve come so far in my life." READ THE STORY

Veronica Vera  Photo by Emma

Veronica Vera 

Meet Veronica Vera, founder of the Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, who has helped countless men transition into women from her center in Chelsea. The once-repressed Catholic girl came to New York in the 1970s to explore her own sexuality, which led to her becoming her adopted home town's bbt. READ THE STORY.

17 July 2015

Sam Taub

One of the best things Caitlyn Jenner did in her acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Award is to mention Sam Taub.

Until Caitlyn mentioned him, I'd never heard of him.  I would be that almost no one else had, either.

You see, she is one of those people who could have been another statistic--another transgender teenager who committed suicide--had Jenner not mentioned her.

The Detroit-area teen came from a troubled background:  His parents split up and his father got sole custody of him.  His father at least tried to support him when he said he was living in the wrong body. As an example, they went on shopping trips that resulted in a complete turnover of his wardrobe.  His mother, on the other hand, while saying that she had nothing against trans people, wants him to be remembered in death as a "happy little girl" named Samantha who "loved ice-skating and music and having her hair done and shopping".

Since I know neither Sam nor his mother, I will not blame her for his taking his own life.  Nor will I say that what the father did was "too little, too late".  More important than assigning blame to anyone--if indeed there is any to assign--is to understand how overwhelming it is for anyone, let alone a teenager--even with the most loving family and friends--to come to terms with, and negotiate a way of living in, the gender of her or his mind and spirit.

It's hard enough for any teenager to learn who she or is, even under the best of conditions. Even the most confident and resilient of young people don't have the emotional resources to deal with being what most of society still considers to be a freak--or the perspective to realize that it can get better, never mind that it does get better, as Dan Savage assures us.

Frankly, I don't know how I made it through that part of my life. Or my twenties.  Or my thirties.  Or the first few years of my forties.  There were good times, to be sure.  But sometimes it seems that the scars of rejection and alienation will never heal, especially to a teenager.

So, Caitlyn Jenner, thank you for another valuable service you've performed.  You couldn't save Sam Taub's life--or Leelah Alcorn's, or that of any other trans person who's committed suicide.  But at least there's less chance that their deaths will be in vain.  

16 July 2015

15 July 2015

It's All Good, But We Need More!

Over the past few days, I’ve written about the most transgender-inclusive companies and the events that seem to be leading toward ending the ban on transgenders serving in the US Armed Forces.

While those are welcome developments, they also indicate how much more needs to be done to approach equality.

For one thing, not everyone—trans or cis, straight or gay, male or female—is suited (pardon the pun) to work in a large corporation or to be in the military.  Even those who have the skills, education, talents and temperament to work in such environments may not want to do so.  I think that anyone who has something to contribute should find the best avenue for it.  And I think that many of understand that not all necessary change comes from working within established institutions or power structures.

Perhaps more to the point, though, it seems to me that the changes corporations are making, and the ones the Armed Forces seem to be in the process of making, will benefit those who are already in those organizations and are embarking upon a gender transition.  I’m not sure that much will change for those who have lost jobs, or never had jobs in the first place, because of gender identity or expression.  How does the new protocol at Company X or in the Army help young trans women or men who are homeless or doing sex work because their family disowned them or bullies drove them out of school?

Also, I can’t help but to think that most trans people who will benefit from the latest developments are white and come from at least middle-class backgrounds.  To be fair, this is probably more true for the corporate world than for the military.  But even in the uniformed services, most who would be in a position—that is, those who have attained enough seniority and rank—to serve openly without reprisal are white college graduates.     

So, while I am glad that corporations and the Armed Forces are trying to be more open to diversity, I don’t think those who are making the decisions realize how their efforts are skewed—and how much more needs to be done.  For that matter, I don’t think most of the public does, either.