Sometimes politics, like life, is just not as black and white as we often like to think it is, especially for those of us who perpetually inhabit gray space.
Thursday night, I interviewed Hilary Rosen on my radio show. While I had no expectation or desire for a real fight, I did think it would at least be a pretty adversarial interview just because she works with and has been a member of the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign. I expected Ms. Rosen to staunchly defend the HRC view of things, and I prepared for the interview based on that assumption. The thing is, people aren't the organizations they work for, they're people, and people can surprise you.
I can't help but let my thoughts drift back to August 2004, and a silly little joke that taught me a lot about the nature of the battle we find ourselves engaged in today. It happened during the second protest of the year outside HRC's Washington, DC headquarters. We knew HRC's Executive Board would be taking a vote that day on whether or not to support only transgender-inclusive federal legislation in the future. A team of the best and brightest transgender activists our community could muster had made a presentation to the board, and those of us protesting outside were now waiting to find out the result of the vote.
It was midday, and the lunchroom on the ground floor of the building was filled with people we could see through the floor to ceiling windows eating a sumptious meal as we stood outside on the sidewalk with our signs. I have no idea who started it, but at some point several of the protesters stepped onto the sloping, grassy area along the side of the building with their protest signs in front of them, and began slowly creeping toward the windows. They made it about three quarters of the way to the windows before someone inside noticed them. This game was replayed several times over the next few minutes, with some inside even writing numerical scores rating an approach attempt that they showed us through the window.
At the time, it seemed almost surreal. Here, in the middle of a protest, protestors were playing a silly, lighthearted game with the very people we were protesting, and those inside were having just as much fun with it as we were. Everyone was smiling and laughing, even though we disagreed politically with each other so much that we felt compelled to stand in front of their building and speak out against their politics. The moment evaporated soon afterward, however, when then-HRC Executive Director Cheryl Jacques came out of the building to tell us that the board had voted that HRC would only support fully inclusive federal legislation from then on.
While just a silly little pastime in and of itself, the experience taught me a valuable lesson as an activist and as a community media creator: Political disagreement need not always include personal animosity and anger. You can respect and even like someone you disagree with politically, even someone you are actively opposing. It's not always possible, of course, but far more likely, far more often, than many of us seem to think. It's not, or at least it doesn't have to be, an either/or proposition.
So often when I read the words of fellow transpeople speaking out on the political issues of importance to our community, I see the same automatic assumption being made over and over: If an individual works for, works with, or donates to an organization or politician that's unpopular with our community, regardless of their position or actual level of responsibility for the actions taken by that group or individual, they must be held directly and personally responsible for the actions of that group or individual, and be just as popularly despised within our community as the original offender because of that association.
Certainly there are times when drawing such a connection is justified, as in the case of current HRC Executive Director Joe Solmonese's either shockingly deceitful or stunningly stupid promise to the transgender community at Southern Comfort last year that HRC would not support any legislation which is not fully transgender-inclusive. Either Solmonese knew full well he couldn't keep such a promise but made it anyway, or he made his promise not really knowing if he'd be able to keep it or not. Either way, it's dirty pool and underhanded politics. No matter how you look at it, Joe Solmonese was wrong to do what he did, and in fact so very wrong that you have to wonder how any political lobbyist who could publicly misrepresent himself and his organization so badly could credibly be the Executive Director of anything...unless, of course, he knew exactly what he was doing right from the start and he did it intentionally. That Solmonese fully deserves whatever backlash he and HRC receive as a result of this escapade is abundantly clear. The only real question left is whether he lied to us knowingly, or if he simply said what he thought the crowd in front of him wanted to hear, even though he really had no idea if what he was saying was actually truthful or not.
Barney Frank? Same thing. This is a man who did everything within his power to derail, demean, and disempower an intensive lobbying effort by the transgender community and our allies, up to and including denouncing his own bill and our activist community's efforts at attaining equal rights and treatment for Transgender-Americans speaking on the floor of the US House of Representatives. This is a man who proactively uses his power and position as a US Congressman as a club to publicly bash Transgender-Americans with to clear the way for straight-looking gays and lesbians to be protected from discrimination in the workplace while the rest of us are left behind to fend for ourselves. Frank knew exactly what he was doing and not only did he do it intentionally, but even enthusiatically, as evidenced by his demeanor during the many interviews he's given to LGBT community media on the topic. For the first time in our collective history, the American LGBT community rose up and spoke out, almost with one voice, to demand equal rights for everyone, with no exceptions and without concession to political convenience. Barney Frank, through his actions in Congress in stripping gender-variant Americans from ENDA and doing his best to convince his fellow members of Congress to support him in doing so, spit on that effort and denegrated the courageous men and women in our activist community and our allies in Congress who stood up and spoke out for what they knew was the right thing to do. Like Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank bears direct and personal responsibility for the damage he has done to our community and our movement, and like Solmonese, he too richly deserves all of the community backlash that comes his way as a result of his actions.
Yet, there are also times when the connections aren't quite so clear cut. Take Hilary Rosen for example. Yes, she's on the board of the Human Rights Campaign Fund. Yes, she works closely with the organization and its leadership. Yes, she's been the Chair of an organization that's probably even more despised by working, lower, and middle class folks than HRC, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). I've written reams about my problems with HRC and how they operate, and it was natural for me to structure my interview with her with that uppermost in my mind. Like many of us, I too fell victim to making assumptions about Hilary Rosen as an individual because she's so closely aligned with HRC, the Democratic Party, and big business.
What I wasn't prepared for is how many of my assumptions about Hilary Rosen proved to be either somewhat off-base or just plain wrong. Sure, there's plenty we don't see eye-to-eye on and probably never will, but you know what? I like her. I had a great time interviewing her, and I hope we do it again soon. I'm not just saying that as a radio host seeking another interview, but also that she's the kind of person I think I'd enjoy talking with over a drink in a bar as much as I enjoyed having her on my show. Regardless of where we each happen to come down on the issues, I just think she's cool people on a personal level, a terrific example for young women in general and for young lesbians in particular.
I can say all of these things about Hilary Rosen and still disagree with her politically, because when you get right down to it, our real disagreements are about the details, about how we best go about achieving our goals, not about the goals themselves. We all agree that all LGBT Americans should be protected against discrimination at the federal level. We all agree that every American should have the right to legally marry the person they love. We all agree that we should do whatever we can to discourage and prevent hate crimes. What many of us vehemently disagree on is the path we should take to accomplish these things.
Those on both sides of the ongoing debate over the future direction of our movement would be well-served to keep this in mind: For the most part, the actions against our community which we fight against are taken collectively, by HRC, by the Democratic congressional leadership, by anti-equality groups, by the Republicans, and on and on. Is it, therefore, truly fair in all cases to saddle an individual with all of the sins of the organization they are affiliated with?
Personally, I believe there are times, perhaps even more often than not, when we need to be able to separate people from policy and individuals from organizations. We can stand against HRC and their transphobic political games without blaming every single person connected to the organization in some way for everything they've ever done that we don't like. We can stand against the Democratic Party leadership and those members of Congress who are known to be directly responsible for promoting civil rights legislation that could ensure the continuation of legally-sanctioned anti-transgender discrimination in most of this country for as much as another generation or more without tarring the entire Democratic Party with that same brush.
As this election year wears on, and we look toward a hopefully brighter future for all of us, it's incumbent upon us to remember that there's a time to speak out against the injustice, discrimination, and politicial cowardice of those who have failed us so miserably, and a time to remember that if we ourselves resent being lumped into a large, homogenous, and disparaged minority group and would prefer to be dealt with and respected as individuals with our own ideas and beliefs that are all our own and not solely reflective of those we choose to align ourselves with then we must also extend that same courtesy to others when it's appropriate, no matter what we might think of the politics of the organizations they work with.
When all is said and done, underneath all the politics, the lies, the venom, the misrepresentations, and all the rest of the surface drama, there lies one simple fact: We call it the LGBT community, but at the core we're really a family, and because we're family, we never really stop caring, no matter how angry we may get with each other. We know we all want the same things, even if we disagree about how to get them. For all of the heat and all of the anger, there is no hate. There is no violence. We can be loud enough and angry enough to peel paint off the walls and righteously so, but this is a family squabble and we have to remember that and treat it like one.
For all of you who are now thinking to yourselves that you couldn't possibly ever consider the Human Rights Campaign as family, I'd agree with you. It's not the organizations themselves, regardess of how they're popularly perceived, that should have the right to expect that kind of consideration from any of us, but rather it's the people, the unique individuals who make up the memberships and staffs of these groups, who do deserve to be seen as part of our greater LGBT family every bit as much as we ourselves do, and who deserve to be judged on their own merits, not solely on the record of the organizations they work with. If we are to demand inclusion and respect for ourselves and for others like us, then we ourselves must go out of our way to extend that offer in the other direction just as fiercely.
No matter how much we fight, call each other names (valid or not), make accusations (valid or not), and refuse to be drawn onto the path the other is taking, at the end of the day family is still family, regardless of how much we might sometimes wish otherwise. If and when we again reach a point in the future when the true battle lines in this movement are once again drawn and we must re-engage in direct and public combat on a grand scale with those who are truly the enemies of the goals we strive for, we're going to need each other. It's not only in the gender-variant community's own best interests, but also in the best interests of the greater LGBT movement in general, that we take this time before the election and before the prospect of the passage of ENDA looms before us once more, to do what we have to do to get our own house in order and prepare ourselves to fight the war we know is coming sooner or later together, as one, unifed community.
It's only when we recognize these realities and come together as one, as the family we truly are, that any of us, regardless of how politically potent we might like to think ourselves, will ever have a real chance of winning. There's something to be said, a lot in fact, for setting a good example.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Sometimes politics, like life, is just not as black and white as we often like to think it is, especially for those of us who perpetually inhabit gray space.
I say “may,” because there are still too many unknowns and hurdles in this new relationship that we cannot be certain of. Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs and any one of them could end our relationship in a heartbeat. For now, we move forward.
Karen and I met at the Tucson IFGE Conference on a Wednesday when the hotel was providing snacks and finger foods for the attendees that night in the bar. I saw her walk into with her friends and was instantly drawn to her beauty. But, I suspected that someone as good looking as her already had a special person in her life.
As the evening progresses, I went to get some food, but when I got to the table, the main dishes were gone and they were bringing out more. I waited patiently for them to bring out the food and as I did, Karen walked up, so we struck up a conversation. I found out she lived in Austin, Texas.
Shortly into the conversation, she made an interesting comment that still makes us both laugh today. She said, “I identify as a lesbian.” Now, I hadn’t even traveled down that road of conversation, so I found the comment rather perplexing, to say the least.
“So do I.” I smiled. “My friends and I plan on going to a lesbian night club at ten. Would you care to go?”
“I’d love to.”
Thus started a journey on a trip that culminated into one of the most fantastic conferences I have ever experienced. We spent as much time together at the conference as was possible. We had dinner together, danced together, stared at the stars in the crystal clear desert night, and we felt the joys of passion together. It was magical.
But, as we all know, the awe of magic soon fades and reality takes its place. We both didn’t want the only reality for us to be those three days in Tucson, so we stayed in touch. One of the ways we communicated was through the modern technology of web cams. Not only could we talk, but we could see each other. We laughed, we cried and we played our favorite music for each other. To see each other in such a fashion helped to maintain the spark we felt at the conference.
It quickly became obvious that we had to get together once again, so the plan was for her to fly to Atlanta for a three-day weekend. It was to take place six weeks from the time we first met in Tucson. The wait was excruciating. We counted down the days.
What would we find on this next weekend? Would we see that the time we spent in Tucson was nothing more than two ships passing in the night? Or, could we at least capture what we had six weeks earlier? Fear filled my heart. I wanted to see her once again. I wanted to hold her once again. I wanted to kiss her once again.
The day came and I picked her up at the airport. My heart soared when I give her a hug and a kiss, right on the curb of the terminal. It was only the beginning of what would turn out to be the most amazing weekend in my life. She felt the same way when it was all over.
What is this new and outstanding feeling I’m experiencing here? I have had other girlfriends in the past and had a great time with them. What makes Karen so different? I have felt love many times in my life, but why is it so intense with Karen? Am I finally getting the chance to experience what REAL LOVE is? If so, I don’t want it to stop.
Karen and I connected in ways that the English language still hasn’t created the words to adequately describe how we feel about each other. We touched each other’s souls so deeply that our hearts beat in harmony. Just a light touch to the arms or the face redefines the word “sensuality.” Her kiss sends shivers down my spine and through my whole body. All of our senses intensify with every movement our bodies touch. Songs are written about finding heaven on earth. I now know that it is possible.
I truly love Karen and I cannot stop saying that. But, reality keeps us from enjoying a full life together. Both of us have good jobs and many responsibilities in the cities where we live. Our roots run deep in the Georgia red clay and the brown soil of the Texas plains. We do not see any possible way to snap those roots . . . at least for now. One never knows what other things can change our fortunes in the future.
For now, we have resigned ourselves to seeing each others whenever we can, based on finances and time off. Long distance relationships are not known to work out, but I have heard exceptions to that. We are both hoping that Time will show us the way to a happy life together. Yet, Time can also show us the futility of our love. “Love conquers all,” the saying goes. Will time and distance trump love? Not if we have anything to say about it.
We will work in fighting to keep our love strong. In the meantime, Karen and I will see each other on the 4th of July weekend and on other weekends in the future. Let’s hope that love can truly conquer all. I asked in the title if Karen is “The One.” After all the times I had my heart broken, its time I found The One, and I see Karen as that person.
I love you, Karen.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Someone once aptly described privilege as the luxury not to have to think about things. Like the way most men are blissfully unaware of the safety concerns that are reflexive for most women venturing out at night. In a far more minor way, I had a reminder last Friday about how being gender variant means not being able to take things for granted.
It was insanely hot for May here in the Bay Area, with record-breaking heat near 100 degrees. So it would've been nice to wear sandals to work because they would've been cooler than shoes and socks. One nice thing about working for a tech company is that the dress code is extremely casual and although a guy in sandals is a bit casual even in that environment, a lot of people were wearing shorts or sundresses that they wouldn't normally have worn because it was so damn hot.
There was just one issue: I've got painted toenails.
Unlike a lot crossdressers who "underdress" I don't wear nail polish because of the feminine symbolism, I wear because I like how it looks. To paraphrase (our patron saint) Eddie Izzard, it's not women's nail polish, it's my nail polish. I guess in that regard I'm just a metrosexual gone too far.
Now most of the company knows I perform as a drag queen, and a smaller number number know that my presenting myself as a woman is more than just for stage, it's also to express a part of myself that society deems "feminine." So it wasn't likely that my co-workers would freak out. Besides, my toes were an almost-sort-of-manly shade of bronze, and outside of work I've got no problem with walking around in sandals and shorts exposing my shaved legs and painted toenails.
There's always the not knowing how people will react, and if nothing else, I had a lot to do that day and just didn't feel like dealing with the conversations that might result. So I put on my shoes and went to work. It's trivial in the scheme of things I know. But it's another one of those subtle remainders about how I've forfeited my "straight" card now that I'm embraced being a gender variant guy.
During one of my first forays out in public while crossdressed, I was walking down the street in San Francisco when an extremely flamboyant gay man flounced up to me and shouted out, "Hey Mary, you're looking fierce! Work it girlfriend, work it!" (Yes I still remember the exact words.) Now he probably thought I was extremely drab drag queen, since I was dressed the way an ordinary woman of my age would've been, and undoubtedly he meant well and was trying to be friendly. But I was absolutely mortified. It had taken close to three decades to work up the courage to go out of the house while crossdressed, and consequently up to that moment I'd been ecstatic that not only had I not been beaten to death by sticks, but that -- although I was getting the occasional stare -- for the most part people seemed not to notice the guy in the dress in their midst. That confidence was crushed in an instant. I fought back the tears and just tried to get the hell away from him as fast as possible.
Ironically, I've since discovered that it's LGBT spaces, ones that usually thought of as "safe spaces," where I'm most likely to get "read." In part it's because LGB are simply more aware of trans people, but I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that when it comes to how people think about "being out," the LGB and T communities are like two nations divided by a common language (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde).
In the gay and lesbian communities it's usually presumed that being out is a Good Thing, and anyone who isn't is someone who's quivering in the closet. At the extreme, anti-assimilationists condemn those who are "straight-acting" for not being visibly queer, and milder forms of this thinking are behind the disrepect bisexuals often get for supposedly being "unwilling to commit" and "closeted when convenient." But in the T communities being "visibly out" has far different connotations. Over at the My Husband Betty forum, we've had a serious discussion about what we've half-jokingly called the "rules of engagement" -- i.e. if someone sets off your transdar, do you greet them as one of the tribe? In other words, do you overtly or subtly try to see if they're trans too. It's an issue gays and lesbians faced during the long years of needing to be discrete, and they evolved numerous subtle ways to identify each other without the straight population knowing what was going on: whether it was wearing red ties, asking if someone was a friend of Dorothy or mentioning you'd read "The Well of Loneliness." (Sometimes it wasn't subtle. Crossdressing (in part or in full) to signal one's homosexuality goes back at least as far as the "Molly houses" in the early 1700s.) All these were ways of trying to (safely) communicate to others who one really was.
Trans people have the same desire -- but the difference is that we usually want to be seen as the gender we're presenting ourselves. So for transsexuals being "visibly trans" means being seen as a trans woman or trans man, and for crossdressers it means being seen as a "guy in a dress," rather than being simply being seen as women and men. "Passing" (or as I prefer to think of it: "blending in") is something that most trans people -- at least those who aren't gender queer -- have usually thought about a lot during some point in their life. In fact, some people obsess over it. (Ironically it's often those who are most likely to blend in -- those of us with bodies that fall far outside the statistical norms for the height and build of our desired genders end up just having to make our peace with that.)
Now there's some very logical reasons for wanting to blend in. The first is one that LGB people are familiar with: safety. Being visibly gender variant means being a potential target, and not just from transphobes -- homophobes don't bother to inquire about my sexual orientation (If they would they've find out I prefer women.) The few times I've been harassed, people didn't yell "tranny," they yelled "faggot." Plus, higher percentages of trans people are victims of hate crimes than the LGB people -- at rates as high as 16 times the national average (a figure all the more striking because many jurisdictions still don't report hate crimes against trans people) -- so it is it any wonder we seek to avoid attention? Even if there's not a safety issue, constantly being an object of curiosity can just be wearying. Sometimes I just want to have an ordinary, boring day.
Another big reason -- one that lesbian and gays don't experience -- is how your identity is too often disrepected when you're "visibly trans." Transsexuals often are treated with double-standards when they're perceived as as trans men and women. As Julia Serano talks about in her excellent book "Whipping Girl," trans woman who act "too masculine" are accused of really being men (or at least of having "male energy"), and those who act "too feminine" are accused of aping women -- "unenlightened" women at that. Likewise, it seems like the current fetishization of trans men (most famously by Margaret Cho, who's bi) in some lesbian circles stems in part from trans men being perceived as deliciously masculine without the icky side-effects of being, well.. you know... actually men. (I can only imagine how these same folks doing the fetishizing would react if a similar disrepect was shown towards their own sexual identity as is shown in the implicit assumptions about trans men's gender identity.) As a crossdresser, I can tell you that the reception I get in some lesbian circles can be downright chilly, while gay men just assume I'm one of the boys.
Finally, there's a serious emotional component as well. I'd venture the most staight-acting "virtually normal" LGB people still would like to be do things such as be able to mention their partner when people ask about their weekend, or to be able to put their partners' picture on the their desks. In other words, to be seen as the person they see themselves as. Trans people want that too. I see it close-hand with one of my best friends, who transitioned a few months ago and who's thrilled that she's met new friends who see her simply as another women. But when we're "read," we're seen as not who we want others to see ourselves as -- just as I was on the street corner -- and that can be emotional devastating.
Now don't get me wrong. These days I'm both regularly out in public, and fairly publicly out -- most of my company knows I perform as drag queen. (Yes I went from fleeing attention to seeking to be the center of it -- after those long years in the closet there's something extremely liberating about that.) Some of my co-workers also know that I also crossdress off-stage to express a part of myself that society deems "feminine." I'm on various online forums for trans people and I see how being closeted eats away at people -- particularly the vast numbers of crossdressers (probably ten for every transsexual) who make up the "dark matter" of the trans spectrum. I dearly wish my peers could step free of that closet.
But it's still tricky at times. For the reasons mentioned, the consensus over at My Husband Betty was that one not let on that you think someone might be trans, and even dropping hints that you might be trans (like gays and lesbians of yesteryear) could be problematic -- since the only people who would get the hints would know that they set off your transdar, that they didn't blend in. It's also a widely-held belief in the trans communities that two trans people together are far more likely to get "read," (and three trans people together even more so), so there's an additional factor that the other person may react badly because of their fears about that. All of which is tragic in a way, because it leaves people isolated. It's not for nothing that people who disappear from the trans scene after transition call it going "deep stealth" -- and some of these folks who do quietly dip their toe back into the trans-world feel a fair amount of anxiety about their past being discovered, in part because they may not be out to their partners. These are problematic issues, and that's something the trans communities need to deal with.
However, these "rules of engagement" are, for better or worse, the rules most of us intuitively play by, and they can be hard for LGB people to grasp -- particularly since their own gender-bending (whether it's being a full-time nelly or butch, or whether it's just for play on Halloween or at a Pride parade) is often done in part as a statement about their being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Likewise, these rules are often misunderstood as being somehow ashamed of who we are, instead of recognized for what it is: just wanting to be seen as the person you see yourself as, and simply being able to live your life in peace. The difference for trans people is that not being "out" doesn't inherently mean one is "closeted."
Probably the best advice that came out of the discussion also was the simplest -- if someone sets off your transdar, just approach them and get to know them the way you would with any other person. If they're comfortable acknowledging to you that they're trans and they feel it's relevant, they'll do so. If the guy on the street corner had complimented me on my outfit and asked me about my day in the way he would've done with someone who was born female, would I have guessed that he probably had read me too. Yeah, probably. But I would've gone on my way with a smile on my face instead of tears on my cheeks.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
This is cross posted from My Husband Betty's message board. I've paraphrased a couple of the comments of some of the referenced posts in an attempt to tie their thoughts to my comments. I hope I've kept their comments true to their intent.
A few weeks back, the center of the City was shoved into midday darkness when a big transformer was KO'd by a construction worker. At my office, we ran the battery backups down and my laptop was nearly dead, so I sent everyone home. But at my house I pulled out my camping stuff, yep my solar panel and right now I have my laptop and wireless running on sun power.
I wasn't going to post, but since I can't get into the office server, I thought I would share some thoughts. In each instance, the event was almost a non-event, but its funny how serendipity sometime unifies.
About 12 hours ago, I read a couple of posts and their responses, to this article, that dealt with the arrogance of men in assuming that women are not smart enough and have to have things explained to/for them, even though they may be experts in the subject matter. Central to many of the responses was that 'spotting this sort of sexist crap is difficult, that many women may not even notice it, because they're conditioned to just accept being treated as second class citizens. The responses further hypothesized that it may take transitioning to really point out the inequality, to underline it, in bold type, with exclamation points.' This all struck a common nerve in me, how male privilege is commonly expressed in certain fields. As I have said, in some circles, it is much more likely now a days that people I meet do not of my past and, as a result I think, its much more common now a days that I get 'spoken down to'. Not that I can do much about it, or as my sweetie is fond of saying, 'be careful what you ask for!'
Later last evening, my wife had a friend over and I agreed to split, so the two of them could talk privately, taking miss O with me. We went for a bike ride and as we went by one of our neighborhood parks, we noticed a large crowd and miss O suggested that we stop and check it out. It turned out to be the terminus for the march from the university to Take Back the Night, an event to show solidarity in the face of sexual assault. There of course were many women, but there were also many kids. A couple of girls approached miss O and asked if she wanted to play with them, she did. So as I sat, watching the girls run through the park, it dawned on me that the majority of people in attendance were women of color and when one of the speakers mentioned that, in our town, women of color are 5 times more likely to face sexual assault than women of the dominant culture, it really hit home. Perhaps one of the most disturbing points mentioned was how young girls, young girls, miss O's age are now facing this threat. Why, no how can someone so young have to even think about this.
Miss O was having a good time, eating ice cream and hot dogs, running with the girls. We stayed until it was nearly time for her to go to bed and by then she was part of a pack of girls about a dozen strong. I called her out and as we were getting our helmets on, she looked up to me and asked, 'Papi, what is rape, they said I was too young to understand'.
What could I say. I told her to take off her helmet and we need to talk. We did and as I looked into her face, it made me sad to see a little bit of her beautiful innocence disappear.
I went running this morning and from a weather point of view, right now is my most favorite season in which to run. The mornings are slightly cool, giving me a little chill, but within a few blocks, I've warmed up to a comfortable temp, the result of a beautiful balance between temperature, sweat and 5% relative humidity. This was the first morning since last fall that I was able to run in my summer garb, running shorts, sports bra and athletic tee. Yea, its skimpy, but heck its 5 am, I'm still half asleep, over 50, gray headed and dressed to run, nothing else.
So what happens? My annual spring shit with some guy in a beat up old pickup truck (with a chain saw and gas mixed among the beer cans in the bed) following me. Three times, he'd pull to the side of the road, wait for me to pass before starting talk at me and then pulling forward to do it again. The third time he tried, I stopped and pulled out my cell phone. He immediately went over to the left turn lane and took off.
So what is it with men? Why do we have to put up with this crap? Who's dad told their son that this was the way to treat other people? (I'm not really asking, just pissed)
Damn, why does my sweetie have to be so smart.
Dr. Marshall Forstein, Chair of the Work Group on Practices Guidelines on HIV Psychiatry for the American Psychiatric Association (not to be confused with the American Psychological Association), has written a reply to the drive to have Drs. Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard removed from the Work Group developing the revisions for "Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders" for the planned DSM-V. In it, he writes:
"I hope that what I have written makes us pause a bit before we do something to alienate even our supporters and friends in the American Psychiatric and the American Psychological Association who have been very pro-gay and pro-trans in their deliberations so far. There will always be a vocal minority that claim otherwise, but the process is vetted by many people committed to scientific integrity and evidence."
I and others have been accused of scaremongering in the ongoing debate(s) surrounding this issue. Dr. Forstein has some excellent points for us to examine. Some of the other aspects and debates, though, I still stand behind.
In the later part of the discussion on "Uh-oh," along with the article here on "Destigmatization Versus Coverage and Access: The Medical Model of Transsexuality," Henry Hall accuses me of scaremongering with regard to my concerns about removing any diagnosis of GID from the DSM, without some better model to replace it. He writes:
"Those who claim that an end to the GID pathology will mean an end to treatment of transsexualism are merely scaremongering. trying to frighten people into a continued acceptance of being abused and controlled.
Medicine is evidence-based and patient-satisfaction driven. Perhpas there was a time when psychiatry was needed to justify endocrinolgy and surgery for transfolk. That time has passed. It is now well-accepted medicine that hormones, surgery and change of legal sex work as treatment.
they are not going to go away merely because some shrink's teory is debunked at last
Instead some other justification will be found to continue treatment that have proven their value and are known to be highly successful. We have nothing to fear from the removal of transgender diagnoses from the DSM except fear itself."
I don't mean to single out Mr. Hall specifically -- there are a number of similar thoughts circulating in discussions elsewhere, including those that have taken place at Gender_ID_Coalition. His comments, however, are the most direct ones to respond to.
As a "baby activist" (that is to say, relatively new on the scene, roughly about 2 years as a trans advocate), it has quickly become apparent to me that the current DSM diagnosis is a powerful and underused tool in our arsenal. While addressing the medical community, for example, in a bid to widen both understanding of transgender people and to widen the pool of "transgender-friendly" resources, the diagnosis becomes a firm foundation to build upon. Scientific breakthroughs in the study of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and other biological validations of transsexuality would provide a better basis, one that stands firm outside the realm of "mental health" issues, but they're not conclusively proven, yet. So for now, I have the DSM.
I'm also fortunate to live in an area where there is coverage of genital reassignment surgery by public health care. It exists because of the DSM, and with talk of funding possibly being delisted here in the next few months, the DSM provides the most stable basis upon which we can fight such an action. Similarily, the DSM has provided bases for cases which have fought for funding in the military, in prisons, in other situations in which medical care must be provided, and it provides the potential (however remote it might seem) for battles for coverage in any public health care system, including ones that are being postulated for a potential national health care program in the U.S. The recent restoration of funding of gender reassignment surgery (GRS) in Ontario simply underscores this point.
I am not fearmongering: I am saying, don't cut the trapeze rope until we know that the next bar is within reach.
Hall later says that:
"To suggest otherwise is mere scaremongering and an attempt to perpetuate bogus mental illnesses for financial and power gain."
As a transgender advocate, I have no reason to want to "frighten people into a continued acceptance of being abused and controlled" -- in fact that is the very thing I would logically fight. I also have no means to gain financially and in terms of power from the continuance of the current diagnosis. AlbertaTrans' budget continues to be my pocket, and with not enough people interested in forming a board of directors, I don't expect to be able to fundraise any time in the near future, either. My motive continues to be the betterment of the community that I care about, and nothing more.
What I will grant Mr. Hall is that treatment options would likely remain available for those who are able to pay for them. Trans-friendly doctors and therapists will still be out there to be found (although it sometimes takes some searching). GRS surgeons would continue to provide GRS -- hell, it's a good living for many of them, and they will face the same criticisms for providing this service from others in the medical community, regardless of if GID is in the DSM. The status quo would mostly remain, perhaps somewhat reduced (especially in terms of financial coverage, where it exists), without the GID diagnosis.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm not content to stick with the status quo. Which is why I appreciate having the DSM to stand on.
As mentioned earlier, though, Dr. Forstein has a stronger statement to make about the larger issue of Drs. Zucker and Blanchard being involved with the revision of the DSM classification.
Now I admit to being more than a little panicked, myself, right from the first moment I'd read in Lynn Conway's updates that these two doctors were potentially charting the future of GID treatment. The only thing that I could think of was, "uh-oh" (hence the title of the crossposted blog article). That, of course, was "uh-oh" to the same understated degree of Egon Spengler's "bad," from "Ghostbusters:"
Dr. Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.
Drs. Zucker and Blanchard are persons with controversial and chequered reputations in the transgender community. The fact that treatment of transsexuality in the province of Ontario is filtered exclusively through their clinic has resulted in the Province's restoration of funding for Gender Reassignment Surgery being considered by many to be a bittersweet and "hollow" victory, rather than what should be a massive win. While we acknowledge that they may feel that they have our best interests at heart, historically, their practice and writings have been a source of great anxiety to transgender people. The American Psychiatric Association needs to realize that giving these personalities any degree of authority and validation will invariably stir up a significant amount of consternation and apprehension within the transgender community.
That said, Dr. Marshall Forstein has made an important statement:
"Sexual orientation is NOT even an issue for the DSM committee to consider. Transgender Identity is a bit more complicated, especially in childhood. The DSM work group will struggle with these issues in coming up with criteria for what to diagnose as a true gender identity disorder. I WANT TO EMPHASIZE THAT TREATMENT RECOMMENDATIONS ARE NOT A PART OF THIS ENDEAVOR.
Any treatment recommendations that the American Psychiatric Association makes are the result of significant process of creating EVIDENCED based research.
I am currently the Chair of the Work group on Practices Guidelines on HIV Psychiatry for the American Psychiatric Association, and so am intimately aware of the process. Guidelines go through rigorous research review for controlled studies in order to make recommendations. Hundreds of people review these guidelines before publication, and the same will be true of the criteria set forth by the work group on the DSM gender identity subcommittee.
EVEN if there is literature out there that disturbs those of us who are comfortable with the concepts of transgender identity, unless it meets peer review by legitimate journals ( i.e. non religious based periodicals) it will not be considered in the development of criteria for diagnosis or treatment."
I can admit that my own personal panic led me to overlook the fact that the DSM itself does not recommend treatment. I was wrong and my inexperience got the better of me. This is not a small point, and we need to take some comfort in that. Scaremongering? Perhaps, though not intentionally.
I do, however, remain concerned about what I repeatedly admit is a projected model of what Drs. Zucker and Blanchard are likely to propose based on their history, on four counts:
1.) The possible transformation of the definition of the paraphilia "Transvestitic Fetish" into Dr. Blanchard's theory of "autogynephilia," even if not in name.
2.) A likely diagnostic division made between "homosexual transsexuals" (male-bodied androphiles and female-bodied gynophiles) and "autogynephiles" (which include all other orientations). The current treatment at the CAMH (Clarke) in Toronto, where Dr. Blanchard is Head of Clinical Sexology Services and where Dr. Zucker practices, distinguishes between transsexuals based on their sexual orientation, and considering point #1, there is a potential for this seperation to affect a great number in our community, redefining them as paraphiliacs ("autogynephiles" / "transvestitic fetishists") by diagnosis, rather than as persons with GID.
3.) A possible division of diagnosis between transsexual youth and transsexual adults. I do still wonder if Dr. Zucker's appointment in the first place is a fearful response to the public controversies surrounding revolutionary new treatments of transgender youth in recent years.
4.) Even if they do not write treatment into the DSM-V, being the authorities behind the diagnosis can be seen to legitimize them as being authorities on the treatment. Perception speaks volumes.
Taking the panic out of the equation is crucial to moving forward and conversing with the medical community. But I still do feel that this dialogue is necessary. It is reassuring that the process is designed to be screened carefully. Some of that reassurance seems iffy to us simply because we really have no idea if we have allies within the APA to advocate for us, or how many. It would also be reassuring if the American Psychiatric Association's position on "reparative therapy" could be expanded to specifically include transgender persons.
Dr. Forstein closes with: "Please let me know how I can help to keep the issues clear." I would be interested in further discussion, and appreciate whatever involvement he is willing to have in the conversation, as I would any other moderates and allies within the APA. I also do believe that he would find me -- and many other trans community advocates -- to be reasonable, and as willing to listen as to talk.
(crossposted to The Bilerico Project, Transadvocate, DentedBlueMercedes and by email to Dr. Forstein)
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Hi all - despite several years of life in online forums I am still lousy at the whole "introductory post" thing. So rather than being brilliant or thought-provoking, I'll stick to the basics for now.
My fem name is Erica Foley. I am a 38 year old TG. I spend about 15% of my non-work time en femme, so I sometimes describe myself "serious crossdresser". That's mostly tongue in cheek, because (1) I have a bugaboo about self-segregation in the trans community and (2) I'm not a serious person generally.
Other biographical stuff (not trans related): I live in New York and work as a lawyer in New York City. I am happily married (wife knows) and heterosexual. I have two young children and no pets.
Until recently I kept a fairly active blog on Yahoo 360. With the near-demise of that site I am casting around for my next online home. Although most of my blog entries are either personal or of the "what I wore out to the bar tonight" sort, I do occasionally try to broaden my emotional or intellectual horizons a bit. When I do, I'll cross-post.
And I look forward to reading more here! And that's probably enough for now.
PS: Thanks to Helen for the invite!
Monday, May 12, 2008
5/14 update: I've added a few new writers who I'm happy to have on board, so I won't be adding anymore for a while. Thanks everyone for your interest.
I'm looking for new writers for this Trans Group Blog - either established authors or ones who are up & coming. I'd like especially to see people who already have kept their own blogs for some time.
Much needed: FTM spectrum authors, partners, allies. You are free to cross-post anything trans related to your own blog at this one, since I've always intended this blog to be a little like the magazine Mother Jones - more of a compendium of what a lot of different kinds of trans people are writing.
I'd prefer writers who write more in the essayist tradition, about political & other issues concerning the trans community, and not so much of the "personal journey" type blogging that is more typical in trans land.
Put your recommendations in the comments, or email me privately: helenboyd (at) myhusbandbetty (dot) com.
Many things have happened since Southern Comfort, 2007. Transgender people have been taken to extreme heights of hope and depths of despair, all in a very short time. Words flowed back and forth between both sides of the issue, many that were not very pleasant to hear. We said them and they filled pages and pages of blogs and web sites across the WWW. History will judge us all harshly when that time comes. Are we prepared for what will be found? We can only speak for ourselves, individually.
That is why I am writing this letter. I have to speak for myself, as an individual, and not as a so-called leader in the transgender community. I have struggled these past months; with images of disadvantaged trans people I have known flooding my mind. I need to start following the teaching of Jesus, because in His words I find comfort. I need to settle with you, HRC.
I discovered that in order for me to better serve Jesus and do what He has set before me, whatever that may be, I have to forgive those who have hurt me. I have resisted for a long time the need to forgive you, because the hurt is so very deep. I keep seeing Alice Johnston in my mind. Because HRC was not willing to fight for total equality,
I have carried my anger toward you for a long time and I have acted foolishly because of it. I cannot be expected to do something out of love for the transgender community if I carry around anger toward those who have hurt me. Anger and love cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It is against the laws of physics. It is also hypocritical to my faith.
I know that it will be difficult for some of my friends in the transgender community to understand why I am forgiving you. It is the risk I have to take if I am to be about justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God. Each person has to settle this with their God in their own way, including any of you on the Board of HRC who saw fit to support removing us from equality. It is not my place to judge.
There will be times in the future where you will once again anger the transgender community. I cannot let those moments detract me from what I am doing and what I can do to help my community. The relevance of your organization has been minimized by the greater good of my community. My God will always guide my heart and my soul on the path of inclusion, no matter what the cost.
I only hope that all of us, the HRC Board included, can be shown a way to do justice that includes all the letters of our community. When you fall short, I will be there to remind you. When you step ahead, I will be there to honor you. I hope you will forgive me for my harsh words and judgment as I have forgiven you for excluding the people of my community from your process. I pray that one day, you too will see that equality is for all and not just for those who pass as “gender normal.”
So, I forgive you and I hope you have a peaceful life.
It seems like whenever LGBT people try to get anti-discrimination laws passed, the religious bigots invariably trot out the argument that we're somehow seeking "special rights." So my hypocrisy alarm went off when I heard that a conservative legal-advocacy group is looking for a church willing to be a test case to challenge IRS tax laws against using the pulpit to endorse political candidates. Now the thing is, churches are perfectly free to engage in pulpit partisanship -- as long as they're willing to give up the exemptions from taxes that the rest of us pay. (A principle even Reagan-appointee courts have upheld.) So who exactly is seeking "special rights"?
While we're on the subject... It's not uncommon for religious bigots posing as "reasonable people" to argue that protections for LGBT people are "different" (i.e. less legitimate) than those against racial protections because LGBT people supposedly chose their "lifestyle," as the bigots usually put it. Sadly it's too-often an argument put forth by bigoted people of color.
Sadly too, the "it's not choice" argument we in the LGBT communities too often buy into ourselves, sometimes invoking contorted personal histories to reassure ourselves and others that "it's not my fault" that I'm [insert descriptor here]." Now before everyone starts firing up the flamethrowers, I do think both sex/gender identity and sexual orientation can -- and usually do have -- a biological component; and I recognize that the "born that way" argument is in part driven by the way U.S. civil rights law is written -- since it generally (and I'll come back to that point in a minute) holds that innate characteristics are protected and personal choices aren't. But the thing is, both sex/gender identity and sexual orientation are spectrums -- even though our society generally views them as binaries -- and while there's a hard-wired aspect about where one falls on that spectrum, biology isn't destiny. Which is why the "it's not a choice" argument always has an Achilles Heel: there's just too many examples of people choosing to act in ways contrary to their "nature" -- from "political lesbians" (some of whom weren't necessarily sexually attracted to women) to men who engage is same-sex act when they aren't women available (in prison, among immigrant populations, etc.) to people who choose to remain closeted about their sex/gender identity and/or sexual orientation (even if they pay a heavy emotional cost for doing so).
So we'd be a lot more honest if we acknowledge that choice can play a role in how one's sex/gender identity and sexual orientation gets expressed. But religion is a choice too and we still see fit to protect people from religious discrimination. Now the religious bigots in the United States would point out that's because those protections are written into the Constitution. And they're right. In fact protections against religious discrimination predate by decades (if not centuries) protections against discrimination based on race, sex, pregnancy, national origins, disability or age. But the common thread among all of these is that they involve aspects that are so central to who someone is that we consider them worthy of protection.
If the Framers were willing to protect a "chosen" part of one's core identity, why shouldn't we?
Sunday, May 11, 2008
On the Task Force, named as Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Chair, we find Dr. Kenneth Zucker, from Toronto infamous Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH, formerly the Clarke Institute). Dr. Zucker is infamous for utilizing reparative therapy to Ccure gender-variant children. Named to his work group, we find Zuckers mentor, Dr. Ray Blanchard, Head of Clinical Sexology Services at CAMH and creator of the theory of autogynephilia, categorized as a paraphilia and defined as man paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman. Also Dr Ann Lawrence, a supporter of his JUNK SCIENCE.. is understood to be in consideration as an alternate member.
We, the undersigned hereby object to their inclusion on this committee, and object to the hurtful theories they promote. In order to have any credibility in the field of gender identity, the DSM must not include discounted theories or junk science. We ask that they be removed at once as members.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
For those who are concerned about the establishment of an adherent to reparative therapy (Dr. Kenneth Zucker) and another seeking to entrench "autogynephilia" (a pathologization of treatment of non- "homosexual transgender" transfolk) in the DSM-V, there have been some new happenings.
One letter writer reports receiving an email from the APA which states that:
"The Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group, chaired by Kenneth J. Zucker, Ph.D., will have 13 members who will form three subcommittees:Additional information has come in about other participants in the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group (which, of course, oversees the entry for GID and several other conditions). Of these, Dr. Cohen-Kettenis appears to have a trans-positive reputation, and has reportedly pushed for liberalizing the WPATH standards of care. She has studied neuroanatomy and looked particularily at differences between male and female brain patterns.
* Gender Identity Disorders, chaired by Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, Ph.D.
* Paraphilias, chaired by Ray Blanchard, Ph.D.
* Sexual Dysfunctions, chaired by R. Taylor Segraves, M.D., Ph.D.
While it is encouraging to know that we have a possible advocate on this panel, we continue to be concerned. Zucker is still directing the work, and Blanchard still retains the ability to entrench "autogynephilia" as a paraphilia in the DSM-V via his position.
Other members of the Work Group have mixed backgrounds and usually some kind of tie to the Clarke-Northwestern group (as the cadre including Zucker, Blanchard, Alice Dreger, J. Michael Bailey at. al. is often called, drawn from the clinics where some of them practice). Dr. Niklas Langstrom has treated mostly sex offenders and co-authored work with Zucker about transvestitic fetishism. Dr. Jack Drescher is the editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy (where Anne Lawrence publishes) and involved with the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), which in turn supports the Clarke-Northwestern clique via Dreger) -- although he differs with Zucker in that he opposes reparative therapy (or at least with regards to gay and lesbian persons). Others have unrelated fields, or, like Dr. Heino Meyer-Bahlburg, are completely ambivalent to whether transgender people should even receive treatment.
Organisation Intersex International (OII) has become active early on, and openly opposes the Clarke-Northwestern approach, which has continued to push for "normalization" of intersex infants. Zucker himself still adheres unflaggingly to Dr. John Money's ancient theory that gender is entirely socially constructed via conditioning -- despite David Reimer's tragic story (alternate link), and other evidence to the contrary.
TransActive Education & Advocacy (TAEA) has issued a press release which is not yet on their website, but could appear there shortly. In it, they write:
TransActive strongly opposes the appointment of Dr. Kenneth Zucker toChairPhiladelphia's Trans-Health Conference is planning a gathering for Friday, May 30th to discuss a plan on the GID Reform issue. The meeting will be facilitated by Kelley Winters and Jamison Green.
the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders work group that willrevise and develop
the fifth edition of the American PsychiatricAssociation's (APA) Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (DSM-V). This position is based upon his
approach toclinical treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming
identityin children & youth.
Dr. Zucker, along with colleagues Dr. Ray Blanchard (also appointed
tothe DSM-V workgroup) and Dr. J. Michael Bailey are proponents of thetheory
that, in the vast majority of cases, gender non-conformingidentity in children
and youth is merely an indicator of an eventualhomosexual identity in
... Again his distinctly cissexist consideration oftransgender identity
in children and youth as a 'behavior-centric"issue rather than an core identity
issue is deeply troubling.
Arianna Davis, of TAVA (which is also likely to weigh in on the matter) and Trans Mission International (in development) has developed a group, GenderID Coalition, to bring individuals together.
Additionally, a petition has been set up at The Petition Site.
What I don't yet see are our GLB and medical community allies (PFLAG, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, etc.) displaying interest, but this is still the early stage. Even the national trans organizations are still formulating their response. Hopefully, our allies are interested in adding a strong voice to ours.
Destigmatization vs. Coverage II
There has also been a renewal in the drive to remove the diagnosis of GID from the DSM altogether. This is something I've cautioned about on a few occasions, most recently in Destigmatization Versus Coverage and Access: The Medical Model of Transsexuality.
Make no mistake, the current entry is NOT perfect. What I believe that we need to do is push for an improvement on the existing model, in preparation for when the physical evidence is there (which I am certain that it will one day be), so that it can then be recategorized as a physical affliction (which shifts it to an entirely different caretaker, out of the APA's hands -- this is worth looking into down the road, as to how it would be treated as a biological issue). However, unless science really steps up research (which is unlikely, because the interest and $ aren't there), the ability to categorize transsexuality as a physical medical issue is not likely to be there by the time the DSM-V is expected to be published, in 2012 (for those who've seen me write "2011," the APA has corrected me on that). Which would leave at least some kind of gap in treatment (I also believe that when a biological trigger(s?) is found, it will be hotly contested for some time, so acceptance will not be instantaneous).
My concern is that the existing entry in the DSM-IV provides us basic access to medical services, from GPs to therapists, from HRT to surgery which could swiftly dry up without there being some medical acknowledgement whatsoever. Without legitimization in the medical community, our entire treatment becomes a "cosmetic" issue, and some could make the case that things like HRT are "harmful behaviours." Additionally, without the existence of GID as a possible diagnosis, we will see more of our sisters and brothers (particularily the youth) diagnosed with other inaccurate things, such as Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Additionally, many of the rights and protections that we have, the financial subsidizations that we have in places of HRT meds, and those few places where surgery is covered or has a chance of becoming so -- these mostly exist because of the counsel of the DSM, which is then given modern context for the legislators or accountants who address these things.
I do recommend that people consider how hamstringing a total removal can be before pushing for this. Also keep in mind that these texts often reign for decades, so it's not simply a matter of "a little discomfort until a biological trigger is found."
Thursday, May 08, 2008
In an utterly unsurprising move, the lawyer for Lawrence King's accused killer continues asserting that it was everyone's fault except his client's.
Educators should have moved aggressively to quell rising tensions between the two boys, which began when King openly flirted with McInerney, said Deputy Public Defender William Quest.
Instead, administrators were so intent on nurturing King as he explored his sexuality, allowing him to come to school wearing feminine makeup and accessories, that they downplayed the turmoil that his behavior was causing on campus, Quest said....
School Supt. Jerry Dannenberg strongly disagreed with such allegations. "School officials definitely were aware of what was going on, and they were dealing with it appropriately," Dannenberg said Wednesday. King was constitutionally entitled to wear makeup, earrings and high-heeled boots under long-established case law, Dannenberg said.
At the risk of appropriating identities... I thought there's a good connection to be made about how this argument is similar to the arguments made about how it's supposedly the responsibly of victims of rape/sexual harassment/gay bashing/lynching not to "provoke" their attackers.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Those darn kids... They make me want to cry (in a good way).
It wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision that drove Brewster High School student Michael Loscalzo to go to school dressed as a girl.
"Years of taking judgment made me decide to stick up for myself," said Loscalzo, 17. "All my life, people either said I was weird or that I was gay."
The Brewster High School sophomore recently revealed his secret about his desire to become a woman by going to class wearing makeup and feminine attire. His choice has reverberated through the halls.
Loscalzo said school officials warned him Friday that he could be suspended if he continued to cross-dress, a claim that administrators denied yesterday.
In a show of support, several students have organized an "Equality Protest" this week, by showing up to school dressed in garments of the opposite sex.
Yesterday, about a dozen teens gathered at a local deli with boys wearing skirts, wigs and dresses and girls donning caps, cargo pants and T-shirts. They said about 60 students cross-dressed yesterday, though school officials said the number was far less.
"We want Mike to feel more comfortable in his surroundings," said senior Shannon Dodd, 18, one of the organizers. "We're letting the student body know that it's OK to dress this way."...
Monday, May 05, 2008
By Monica F. Helms
At the last minute, I didn’t know if I could attend the Atlanta HRC Dinner protest in front of the Hyatt Regency, May 3, 2008. Work had me signed up to do 2 hours of overtime right in the middle of when the protest was scheduled. Luckily, I was able to trade the hours to a co-worker.
On Saturday, I had to formulate a plan to talk with the most people I could at the dinner. But in order to do that, I needed to go inside the “Belly of the Beast.” Being a former submariner, I was familiar with submarine war tactics, which have helped me as an activist in the past. You sneak into an enemy’s port, lay a few torpedoes in the sides of their ships, then slip silently away. They never know what hit them.
For this dinner, I needed a disguise, in other words, a “duck blind.” When hunting ducks, the hunters have to blend into the environment, so they build a camouflage enclosure where they can see the ducks, but the ducks cannot see them. For this, I would wear my long evening gown that had no back. It’s also how spies blend into a fancy party. “My name is Bond. Jane Bond.” I was ready to do some shaking AND stirring. Of course, I probably blew my cover when I wore my “Trans and Proud” and “TAVA” buttons.
I knew that I would not get into the dinner without a ticket and I had no intention of buying one. However, they always had their Silent Auction before the dinner and you didn’t have to have a dinner ticket to go in there.
When I arrived at the Hyatt, two people were already handing out flyers and holding signs. Sir Jesse was outside and Anneliese was just inside the hotel door, handing out flyers as people came in. Others who arrived later were Jamie, Jae, Marisa, Dante, Betty and a friend of hers, Ghetto Gospel.
I heard earlier from Betty that on Thursday, May 1st, Joe Solmonese had a meeting with a half dozen transgender people here in Georgia. I wasn’t invited, nor was a few other transgender people who have worked at the national level, such as Dana Owings, Kristin Reichman and Cole Thaler from Lambda Legal. I’m willing to bet it was not accidental.
I was told that Joe “. . . apologized for misspeaking at Southern Comfort . . .” and that “. . . had he known what was going to have happen, he wouldn’t have said what he had said.” To me that translates to “HRC has no integrity when it comes to speaking to transgender people and I have the backbone of a jelly fish.” George Orwell would be so proud.
Once inside, I strolled into the Silent Auction like I belonged there. In reality, if HRC was more supportive of transgender people and their needs, then I would have indeed belonged there. But, I was nothing more than an interloper in the game of intrigue. Okay, so I’m getting a bit melodramatic.
The first thing that I noticed was that in a city that has a large population of African Americans, the crowd looked distinctly white and distinctly male. There were some attendees who were People of Color and there were attendees who were female, but where I saw the most diversity was with the “hired help” and the volunteers. Interesting enough, one of the dinner’s co-chairs was an African American woman.
The theme for the evening was a Las Vegas casino, complete with the bright lights, Vegas showgirls and an Elvis impersonator. I mingled with the crowd, talking to various people there, some who openly admitted they were part of HRC’s organization. I spoke with one woman who touted HRC’s “wonderful” Corporate Equality Index, having no idea I would be the wrong person to try and convince their CEI was so “perfect.” I proceeded to point out that my 100% company screwed me over simply because I’m trans when I needed a medically necessary operation that others in the company can get.
I told the woman the bar for transgender medical issues was set so low that an ant could jump over it. HRC does that to falsely inflate the numbers on the 100% list and to placate the corporations by allowing them to medically mistreat their transgender employees, just as long as their gay and lesbian employees are treated fairly. Transgender people don’t need to be treated fairly, by HRC’s standards.
During my journey through “Never-Never Land,” I had a chance to speak to the Beast Master himself, Joe Solmonese. I was nice and I complimented him on how appropriate the casino theme for the dinner was. “This is such a perfect theme you have here, Joe. It’s all about gambling . . . and you’re gambling with people’s lives.” I suspect he didn’t appreciate that.
Of course, I wasn’t going to stop there. I informed him about the Transgender Veterans Survey, conducted by TAVA that had just ended and it had 827 responses to it. Besides the military and VA-related questions in the survey, we had a great deal of general questions. I said he needs to see how many of our transgender veterans were unemployed and under-employed, and how many have been discriminated on the job. It didn’t seem to faze him. Ask me if I’m surprised.
Interesting, the number of transgender veterans who took our survey far surpasses the number of responses on the questionable survey HRC conducted to see if transgender people should be in ENDA. Also, you have to factor in the small population our respondents came from to really get the impact.
Then I asked Solmonese why I didn’t get an E-mail inviting me to the meeting on Thursday. He said, “I don’t know who put that together.” Ah, really? Does he expect me to believe he’s that clueless on something as important as a meeting? He then asked me, “What did you hear of the meeting?” I responded by saying, “That it took place and I wasn’t invited.” Also, the media wasn’t invited. I guess he doesn’t want to take a chance of going on record with what he says to transgender people. I wonder why.
The one thing that really set me off was when I had a chance to speak with a person I thought was a friend. He is an effeminate gay man who is the partner of a lawyer who I know through SLDN and the American Veterans for Equal Rights. He proceeded to tell me about his four-hour session at the spa to get ready for the event. I told him I was there to educate people on the need for a fully inclusive ENDA.
He said, “Oh, I don’t support that at all. They said there aren’t enough votes with transgender people in the bill. Besides, we need a win.”
I was pissed. “So, you want a win on the backs of millions of transgender people?” He tried to say something, but I continued. “You are an effeminate gay man and without Gender Identity and Gender Expression in ENDA, you’re just as fucked as transgender people. You and butch lesbians will be screwed, just like me.” He didn’t respond to that. Besides, he had his sugar daddy, so to hell with everyone else. I walked away.
The best thing I found out was when I went back outside to join the protest. Betty, a member of the Atlanta Pride Committee, informed me that they just had a vote that day to turn down HRC’s offer to be a sponsor for this year’s Pride. In a year where the expenses have increased in putting on Atlanta Pride, they turned down $5000 from HRC because of their stance on ENDA. I always knew I loved the people on the Atlanta Pride Committee, but this made me love them even more. I hope others will take that stance with HRC at their pride events. Betty also informed me that a trans man will be the Grand Marshall for the Pride Parade.
So much for the
(crossposted in several places, and people are welcome to forward this on freely to others in the transgender and GLBT communities, as I see this as being very serious — Mercedes)
A short time ago, I’d discussed the movement to have “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID, a.k.a. “Gender Dysphoria”) removed from the DSM-IV or reclassified, and how we needed to work to ensure that any such change was an improvement on the existing model, rather than a scrapping or savaging of it.
Lynn Conway reports that on May 1st, 2008, the American Psychiatric Association named its work group members appointed to revise the Manual for Diagnosis of Mental Disorders in preparation for the DSM-V. Such a revision would include the entry for GID.
On the Task Force, named as Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Chair, we find Dr. Kenneth Zucker, from Toronto’s infamous Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH, formerly the Clarke Institute). Dr. Zucker is infamous for utilizing reparative (i.e. “ex-gay”) therapy to “cure” gender-variant children. Named to his work group, we find Zucker’s mentor, Dr. Ray Blanchard, Head of Clinical Sexology Services at CAMH and creator of the theory of autogynephilia, categorized as a paraphilia and defined as “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.”
Drs. Blanchard, Zucker, J. Michael Bailey (whose work has even gone so far as to touch on eugenics) and a small cadre of others are proponents of dividing the transsexual population by sexual orientation (”homosexual transsexuals” vs. ”autogynephilic”) and have repeatedly run afoul of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly HBIGDA), and openly defied the Standards of Care that WPATH maintains (modeled after the original SoC developed by Dr. Harry Benjamin) in favor of conversion techniques. Blanchard and Bailey supporters also include Dr. Alice Dreger, who re-stigmatized treatment of intersex, controversial sexologist Dr. Anne Lawrence, and Dr. Paul McHugh, who had set out in the begining of his career to close the Gender Clinic at Johns Hopkins University and has been one of our most vocal detractors.
An additional danger that gay and lesbian communities need to be cognizant of is that if Zucker and company entrench conversion therapy in the DSM-V, then it is a clear, dangerous step toward also legitimizing ex-gay therapy and re-stigmatizing homosexuality.
I am not familiar with others named to the Work Group. It would be worthwhile looking into any history with WPATH that they might have, to know if we have any positive advocates on board, or just more stigmatizing adversarial clinicians. They may be appointed primarily to address other listings categorized as ”Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders,” I don’t know. They are:
- Dr. Irving M. Binik, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
- Dr. Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam
- Dr. Jack Drescher, New York Medical College, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY
- Dr. Cynthia Graham, Isis Education Centre, Warneford Hospital, Oxfordshire, UK
- Dr. Richard B. Krueger, NY State Psyciatric Institute and Columbia University, NY
- Dr. Niklas Langstrom, Karolinka Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
- Dr. Heino F.L. Meyer-Bahlburg, Columbia University, NY
- Dr. Robert Taylor Segraves, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland
The APA press release states that for further information regarding this, to contact Rhondalee Dean-Royce (email@example.com) and Sharon Reis (firstname.lastname@example.org), though it’s possible that they may govern the press release only, rather than have any involvement in the decision to appoint Zucker. The APA itself is headquartered at 1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825, Arlington VA, 22209. Their Annual General Meeting is currently being held (May 3-8, 200 in Washington, DC.
I’m poorly situated (Western Canada, with no travel budget) to lead the drive for this, which I see as a very serious danger to the transgender community. So I am calling on the various Transgender and GLBT organizations to band together to take action on this, and will assist in whatever way that I and AlbertaTrans.org can.
I am also calling upon our allies and advocates in the medical community and affiliated with WPATH to band together with us and combat this move which could potentially see WPATH stripped of its authority on matters regarding treatment of transsexuals.
– Mercedes Allen, May 5, 2008