Monday, June 30, 2008

What if they held a march and no one covered it?

JoeMyGod has a great post about why Pride events still matter, which in turn made me realize that yet again the San Francisco Chronicle had no coverage of the Trans March, aside from a brief listing in "upcoming events" stories and a passing reference or two in other stories -- just as they've had no coverage of the event itself ever. (The first year, there was a pre-event story, but that's it.)

Despite the fact that both the Dyke March on Saturday and Sunday' parade both get extensive coverage and the fact that draws thousands of people.

This from a newspaper that proudly features an annual "Big Gay Issue" of its Sunday Datebook section, with wall-to-wall pre-Pride coverage. I'm an ex-reporter, so I know it's not a question of deadlines. If they can cover Saturday night's Dyke March, which starts at the same time, they could cover the Trans March.

I didn't catch the TV news Friday night, so I don't know whether they covered it.

Thinking about JoeMyGod's piece... forget about Pride now being more about "it's our party, darlings" because we're here every year and people are used to it -- trans people don't even seem to merit visibility.

HRC once again tries to put ENDA down the memory hole

At Sunday's Pride I was hit up for donations by the inevitable swarm of HRC (Human Rights Campaign) supporters. With the first one I was angry, but polite -- pointing out I'd support HRC when they've proven they actually mean it when they say they support trans rights and won't sell us out again, like they did with ENDA last year. The second one tried to sooth me by saying that HRC wouldn't stop working for an inclusive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). And that's when I lost it.

Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off drag queen. While I made clear to the volunteer that I wasn't angry at her personally, I let her know loudly and in no uncertain terms that HRC's president, Joe Solmonese, made a promise at the nation's largest trans conference that HRC would only back ENDA with protections for gender identity and expression (which I might add also protects anyone -- gay or hetero -- who's not straight-acting) just a few weeks before HRC broke its word and backed a version of ENDA without these protections. So after being lied to like that, why exactly should I believe them now?

Both supporters looked embarrassed and couldn't really give me a good answer, other than asking to "express my concerns" to the folks at the main HRC booth. HRC apparently must have anticipated folks like me -- their recent beatdown by local LGBT groups and the nationwide boycotts of their annual fundraising dinner by many local LGBT (and non-LGBT) leaders and the fact that San Francisco Pride nominated HRC for a Pink Brick (for people or institutions that have "done significant harm to the interests of LGBT people") might have clued them in that a lot of other people are still furious with them. In fact, the volunteers had been given special fliers to hand out to folks like me.

It's really good thing for the folks at the HRC booth that because I was volunteering to work the gates to the Pride Celebration (collecting donations for various LGBT groups) that I didn't get a chance to read the flier until I got home. Because once again, HRC is rewriting history. The letter from Solmonese and two HRC board members says they're sorry, oh so sorry, that political expediencies exigencies left them no choice to support an neutered ENDA because the House was going to vote on it anyway and that "all of the LGBT groups involved agreed that a losing vote on gender identity would set back progress for the future."

The problem is the letter fails to mention a few teensy, tiny little things:

The thing is, I'd actually had some hope that HRC was beginning to learn from their debacle. I was heartened that they were quick to speak in the case of Duanna Johnson (a trans woman who's beating by police in custody was captured on video) and that they provided extensive coverage on their website of the first-ever Congressional hearing on trans employment rights. It's really no different than if you've felt betrayed by a friend or lover. Actions speak louder than words. But part of those actions is owning what you did. HRC's fend-mending tour has been a series of a non-apology apologies. In its letter, HRC insisted that "our time to unite as community is long since overdue." I agree. But continuing to spin the issue to look blameless and hope people forget what actually happens only flames that divisiveness.

That's not say I won't work along side HRC when our interests overlap. The point of alliances is that you're joining forces toward a common goal with folks that you may not like, nor may not agree with on other issues. Protecting marriage equality is an important issue -- one that affects trans people too -- so I'll be putting my time and money into fighting California's marriage discrimination initiative this fall. Plus the reality is that HRC is the 800-pound gorilla of LGBT lobbying groups on Capitol Hill (and seemingly works just as hard at crowding out other LGBT groups as it does lobbying Congress). So any future lobbying efforts on ENDA or hate crime protections will have to take them into account.

But as long as HRC continues to piss on me and then tell me that it's raining lemonade, they shouldn't expect me to trust them -- let alone donate time or money to them.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Keeping Gendered Jobs

As transpeople, I think we many of us become hyper aware of those who transition around us. I don't think its out of a morbid fascination of the carnage that often accompanies our transitions, but more for the shared and often unique learning experiences that we can relate to.

I have wondered what it is that, so often transitioning folks change not only their sex and/or gender but also their jobs. Sure, I understand that there are some jobs in which being of one sex or gender may be hold some advantages in successfully completing the work, but I'm having a hard time thinking of any. No, I do think that most work can be equally achieved regardless of sex or gender. That's not to say that there are many, many jobs that have been traditionally held to the gender binary. I also understand that sometimes a job that one has worked for many years and just wasn't fulfilling is worth changing when the right opportunity occurs. I'd be the first to jump on the bandwagon and say 'go for it'. Unfortunately, these issues just don't answer why it is that so many M2F's also seem to transition their job as well and transition to a job that often is associated with women.

I'm a landscape architect and when I started in my field, it was predominately male. Thirty years later, the field has become mostly female if only by a percentage point or two. I am meeting and working with more women at all levels of practice. The difficult part however, is that in the upper echelon's of practice and its organizational politics, the old (white) boy's club is still firmly in power (and in my field, it is sad that still, minorities are very underrepresented). For what its worth, many there at the top are openly fearful of the changes that have been occurring, that they are losing their dominance, in a 'place of privilege', to women, of all people.

I remember, early in my career, male practitioners ridiculing the entry of women into this field. Of the women in my undergraduate class and concurrently in the master's program, it seemed that a significant number of the women were older, perhaps married, and many had established families. I also remember how often the men mused that the only acceptable avenue for their future practice was to 'put on a face' on a clients home or residence. This demeaning attitude for their perceived contributions to our field earned the women the anachronism, PPP's or posy pushing practitioners (or for those special occasions, posy pushing pussies).

Looking back I can clearly see that their reference was the humanistic design point of view women often brought to the field and the fact that many were splitting their time between family and work, in between dropping off and picking up kids from school and not 'focused' on a male driven career track. As a result, many of these early practitioners did focus on residential design, an area of practice often looked down upon as less challenging than commercial or public works, with little regard to understanding a short project makes it much easier to manage time and to sharpen skills thru repetition. I would also go as far as saying that the perception of the home as a women's place, as a symbol of femininity, certainly affected the male viewpoint and the early ability of women to move beyond the boundaries that male practitioners then assigned to practicing women.

Which brings me back to my pondering, why so many transitioning women transition out of their pre-transition professions. (std. PC disclaimer: Of course, all of what I will be saying comes from MY experience, in MY profession and others may have different experiences from their industries.) I am someone who transitioned in place and as a result of that very visible transition, I have become quite visible as openly Trans. A consequence is that I have become a sounding board for folk, in my profession, on Trans issues and concerns. For these reasons I suspect there are a couple of other issues that may influence whether a transitioner stays in her original field. (I need to say that I have never met a practicing transman in my field, though I'm sure they do exist)

Perhaps one aspect that is not widely explored is the fact that there are transitioners that do stay in their fields, however they chose to start or start over while remaining stealth. Lynn Conway's story is a well known example of someone who followed this path. In my field, there are presently only two of us that are openly out. She and I have shared some of our experiences and we each have a handful of contacts with women who have come out to us, but are still stealth to the rest of their world.

The stealth women that I know all are close to my age, have achieved professional recognition since transition AND transitioned while young, early in their careers. In essence, by giving up their male privilege so long ago, they pioneered the gender inroads in my field with the rest of the our practicing natal women. Their career paths were full of the same obstacles that all women had to endure and those obstacles were imposed on them by the dominant culture of professional white men. I also suspect that being stealth, being well established in their practice and perhaps more importantly, in their private lives, they have little to gain from coming out and lots to loose. Unfortunately, by not become visible as trans, they perpetuate the stigma exceptional gender and they offer little as a role model to those who would like to keep their workplace history intact and professionally moving forward.

The other point I've noticed is this, not only are the two of us the only out transwomen in our profession, we are also people of colour (interestingly, we are both Native American). People of colour are not unfamiliar to being 'othered' and having to fight for any kind of positive recognition. In my graduating class of over 50 classmates and of that, no more than a dozen being women, there were only two people of colour. We also were the only people of colour in the entire department, two of six in the entire college. Mike, who was black, shared with me another commonality, we were both the first in our families to go to college. Our families encouraged and supported us, to be proud of who we are, not just as people, but culturally proud as well, to fight for our rights and to excel in whatever we pursued. The support we received was not limited to that that came from our families and extended families. We also received support from our communities as well. As but one example, Mike mentioned that every summer his church sponsored a BBQ and that the proceeds of that BBQ went to help young people like him meet the costs of going to school. We were held up and perhaps more importantly, pointed out (or outted), by our communities in a way that made not succeeding in our goals not only not an option, but also a very public process.

None of the stealth practitioners that have come out to us are people of colour, all are white, economically middle to upper class women. These are women that not only experienced male privilege but also some degree of dominate culture and financial privilege. Now they still experience the same dominate culture and financial privilege as white men, that has never been taken away from them (and I'm purposefully omitting second class status applied to all women, that is for another post). Which brings me to wonder if a fear of, or the unpreparedness in, being part of a less privileged social class (women) supports a culture of stealth or professional transition after transition? Is there something about always being the other that makes it easier for minorities to go ahead and stay in their field and even do so in place? Since people of colour already know that we will have to prove that we are just as qualified as a member of the dominate culture, regardless of our gender, are we less willing to give up what we already have fought for so hard to win? I am very aware that history is often written by the victors and looking back I can now say that all those little battles I fought and won are adding up to my own personal victory. I'm no longer afraid of who I was and I certainly am not afraid of or hiding from that history.

I also wonder why, in choosing a field outside of their former male field of work and moving to a more traditionally female profession, that there is an expectation that some or all of their former male privilege will transfer into their new profession? Is 'Hey, now that I'm a woman, I'll still rise to the top of this field too', part of a transferring of the male privilege workplace mantra? I don't know if I will ever know.

I will concede that where late transitioners are concerned, there may be other influences in play. I understand how the concept of the mid-life crisis can be linked to transitioning and what it could be like to try something that you have always wanted to do but never had the opportunity. Transitioning is something like that and when combined with so many of the other changes that occur during transition, starting a new career doesn't seem too far out of line. I have been accused of taking my 'midlife crisis' to far by way of my transition and have also pondered a similar scenario, going back to school and starting over in an other profession. I no longer respond to my transition as the midlife thing because its not relavent. I always wanted to change, but didn't know how to change THAT much back then. But changing profession, I don't think so, because I still really enjoy that part of me, and since I've already tackled some pretty big challenges, any other change that I try would have to be a piece of cake!

Finally, I would like to digress for a moment. On my ma's side of the family, it is also interesting it was the women of my grandparents, a traditionally maternalistic patronage, that wanted to improve their lives. My ma, was the first one to come north and then she hosted 4 more sisters and two female cousins in their efforts to do the same. I was the first of the grand children to go to college and I have been told that I was a role model for many of my cousins. Again every one of my female cousins went on to college, two receiving their masters. Not one of the male cousins went beyond high school. I'm not sure what that says except that we come from a long line of very strong women and my miss O certainly seems to be following in their foot steps. I am also especially proud of one of my cousins recently telling me recently that as she was growing up and was looking up to me as a role model, she saw the problems that I overcame and that was when she knew that she would be able to survive as well. Now she realizes that it all makes sense, that I too am yet another one of the strong women of our family.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Congress to Hold First Ever Hearing on Transgender Issues

Today is America's first Congressional Hearing on transgender issues. The hearing, "An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace," is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 10:30 am in room 2175 of Rayburn House Office Building. Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) called the hearing as Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor. Witnesses have not yet been announced.

"I am really proud of the role that NCTE played in getting us to this historical day. This is not only an opportunity to be truly heard by our fellow Americans, it will help to build the foundation for significant changes in federal laws protecting transgender people from discrimination," notes Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE.

Committee hearings are open to the public and you are welcome to attend in person if you are in the area, but please be aware that space is limited. Some hearings are broadcast on CSPAN and streamed live through their internet site. You can stay up-to-date by checking NCTE's blog.

WATCH: If you would like to watch the first Congressional Hearing on transgender issues, you may be able to watch it through the committee's live webcast at http://edwork.edgeboss.net/wmedia-li...eam_070124.asx

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Is it safe yet?

Geez, you'd think finishing a MA degree, working almost but not quite full-time, and doing an internship would leave a guy some time to write regularly for a group blog, wouldn't you?

My degree is finished, and the full impact of the ridiculous amount of student loan debt I have is starting to hit home, so now I have the leisure and the desire to distract myself from my financial woes by writing here and introducing myself. My name is Kerrick, and I live in the SF Bay Area. I grew up and started my transition in Florida. I am fortunate enough to have fewer horror stories than allies to be grateful for, which is possibly why you will too often see me morph into Wrath of Khan over the many slights trans people are subject to—I've never become inured to it.

In the SF Bay Area there's a lot of celebration right now. Pride this weekend is expected to be big—bigger than big—downright huge—and that's not just the assessment of the baskets of goodies those attracted to men expect to see strutting down the street. Last year when I was doing my safety monitor training, if I am remembering it correctly, I was told that SF Pride is the largest event in California—bigger than the Rose Bowl. For a weekend, the city I live in (well, near) is going to absorb a quantity of visitors approximately the population of Disneyland, if everyone in California decided to go to Disneyland at once*. It feels like everyone in the area is going to be forced to don rainbow and force-marched out to the parade site. I'm a resister. I'm definitely gay enough, I just get panicked in crowds. I had planned to go to the relatively small and well-behaved Trans March at least, but my classmate is having a low-key farewell party and alas, I feel I must attend. My partner will have to represent me; he has marched in Trans March every year for the past mumble, while I've only been involved every year for the past year.

Trans March, unlike Dyke March, welcomes all who want to march. I've never heard of anyone drummed out of TM for not being Trans Enough. That's important to me as someone who's never quiiiite felt trans enough to prove that yes, I do actually deserve to have my gender acknowledged as legitimate as everyone else's gender, no matter how I described it in the past. "Trans Enough" boundaries among trans people fragment us and keep some of us from accessing health care and social support. Further, it's been a source of strength for many trans people to see non-trans allies marching with them, when so often we receive the message from the media, from the legal system, and from our supposed lobbyist friends in Washington that everyone is against us. I wish for Dyke March participants to have their space free of domination by non-dykes and also the security to erase Dyke Enough boundaries so that all dyke-identified people feel welcome, so they can see that their numbers are even greater than they thought, their diversity even richer—not only in terms of gender history, but in terms of race and ethnicity, ability, class, and sexual persuasion. I would always self-exclude from the Dyke March so long as they ask non-dykes not to take part; unlike many of my fellow trans men I have never been dyke-identified.

At any rate, it seems like the hype is even huger this year because of the marriages. About which I am very excited. It's not about being happy for my non-trans gay allies. I identify as a gay man. Same-gender marriage is for me, too.

Or at least it could be... if there weren't a presumption of monogamy and normativity that I'm not drawn to. I've been a little taken off guard when some of my coworkers, classmates, and casual acquaintances have asked me "Are you getting married?" We've been together two years (Brucha at Yah); were you ready to marry your boyfriend/girlfriend after two years? We weren't going to let the state tell us when we couldn't get married, and we sure aren't letting the state tell us when we should. Besides, if we'd felt that strongly about it we'd have taken advantage of my legal document procrastination and gotten married already. Instead, I participated in this historic occasion by helping with the celebration this past Friday when three couples, one men, one women, and one mixed, together received the seven blessings of marriage from the rabbi of my synagogue (oops, "Jewish spiritual community") in full view of G-d and everyone. We are really lucky; some people's faith of their childhood won't even let them walk in the door. I'm new to Judaism, but have been around long enough to realize that my Woo-Jew community is by no means representative (some local Jews call us the ashram, referring to the fact that we started out as a meditation center). It's just one of the many things that makes me feel holy, along with evolution, the expanse of the universe, pagan seasonal festivals, and the complexity of the living earth—how about you?



(*all figures brought to you courtesy of Hyperbole.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Heart Will Go On

“My Heart Will Go On” is the title song to the blockbuster movie “Titanic,” sung by Celine Dion. Today, the title is more profound than ever. Today, I have to tell myself, “My heart will go on.” It is what I have to hold onto.

If a person is to live a long enough life and never really find their one true love, then they will, no doubt, find many loves in their lives that give them a glimmer of hope. Others will find their true love at an early age and grow old and be happy the entire time, like our community’s heroes of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who, after more than 50 years, finally were allowed to get legally married in California.

These days, a glimmer of hope is what I seem to be given, only to see it die out in an instant. But, my heart will go on. It has to. I call it the “Shark Syndrome.” Sharks have to constantly move through the water to stay alive, otherwise fresh water will not pass over their gills. They don’t have the mechanism to pull in water over their gills like fish do. Seems to work, since sharks are one of the oldest species to have lived in the sea. I have to keep my heart out there, constantly moving through the sea of women, or it too will die.

It can be hard for my gay brothers and sisters to find that right person to spend their lives with. The chances for trans people, straight or otherwise, are reduced even more. As a lesbian, just finding a woman who is okay with me being trans can be a challenge worthy of becoming a sequel to “National Treasure,” or “Indiana Jones.” Let’s see. How about, “Monica Helms and the Lost Amazon Tribe of Brazil?" Works for me. At least I got the fedora.

On the 23rd of June, it will be my 11th anniversary of living full-time as a woman, and 3 days later, it will be the 11th anniversary of getting my name changed. In that time, I have had six very strong relationships with women, one lasting for nearly 4 years. The others were from a few weeks to five months. The recent one didn’t fair much better. Each has taught me more about myself and more about being in love as a woman. It’s the training I missed by not being born a woman. All but the one in early 2001 still makes me smile when I think of them. Even the recent one. But, they each have left a hole in my heart. Some bigger than others.

As I keep saying over and over and over again, trans people have to continue to put their hearts out and take a chance. We took the biggest chance ever in changing our sex. Society is usually against us on that. Taking a chance with love is a piece of cake compared to that. Over the years, I have seen so many beautiful hearts, imprisoned behind a wall of pain and fear. I have loved and lost, and I will love and loose again. But, these wonderful trans people will never get that chance to love just once. They won’t give themselves that chance. It saddens me more than the pain I go through loving and losing over and over again.

My pastor told me that I move at a pace faster than most. It frightens people away. It happened once again. He even pointed out the obvious, that I’m Italian and they are an emotional people. I’m only half Italian, but I’m beginning to realize that it’s the emotional half. I do everything in high speed, so I let my emotions out in high speed. I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m eighty before I slow down to the speed of someone in their forties.

In the eleven years I’ve lived as a woman, activism has taken me to the top of Mt. Everest and thrown me to the depths of the Mariana Trench in a heart beat, then back again. The constant successes and failures I have witnessed in the LGBT community across the country have done that to me. The marriages in California surely qualifies as a Mt Everest moment. But, love has also sent me on a similar journey, not always in sync with the highs and lows of the LGBT community.

So, as wonderful same-sex couples take our community to see the world from the top, I write this piece, sitting seven miles below the ocean’s surface, in the darkest reaches of the Mariana Trench. Yes, there is life here, but also coldness. It is the coldness that has gripped my heart. Of course, this is not unfamiliar territory. I guess it’s time to swim back to the surface. I’ll throw a kiss to the Titanic on my way up.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An open letter to today's happy newlyweds

First let me offer my congratulations on this joyous day. It's been far too long in coming.

Now I hope you'll indulge my taking a moment to note that it was a trans man who was the lead attorney in the marriage equality case, the one who made the oral arguments to the California Supreme Court that marriage won't be worth less if more can take part in it. More importantly, I'd ask you to remember Shannon and his dedication to this cause when ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) comes up for a vote in Congress again and the "virtually normal" gay and lesbian crowd claims that trans and gender variant people (who can also be LGB or even hetero) should be excluded because supposedly we haven't done jack to deserve anti-discrimination protections. In the spirit of the day let me mention:

Something old
Trans people have part of the LGBT communities – and fighting for LGBT rights – for decades. As the authors of "Gay L.A." noted:"We choose to call our book Gay L.A. because, as our older informants told us, 'gay' in the 1930s, '40s, '50s, and '60s was the term that included homosexual men, lesbians, transgenders, and even bisexuals." A few highlights:

In 1895 a group of New York "androgynes" organized The Cercle Hermaphroditos "to unite against the world's bitter persecution" – two years before the world's first gay liberation organization, nearly 30 years before the first known gay activist group in the United States and nearly six decades before the first long-lasting gay and lesbian rights groups.

In the 1960s, trans man multi-millionaire Reed Erickson was the major funder (to the tune of $2 million -- more than $1 billion in today's dollars) of ONE Inc., one of the first gay rights organizations, which won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In 1965, Dewey's Lunch Counter in Philadelphia was the target of the first LGBT sit-in, after the diner refused to serve young gay and trans patrons in what were euphemistically called "non-conformist clothing." In 1966, trans woman fed up with police harassment turned into "screaming queens" and rioted at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco. In 1969, trans woman and drag queen Sylvia Rivera threw one of the first bottles at Stonewall and later was a tireless advocate for queer rights.

Despite Rivera's efforts, within a few years New York's gay rights establishment dropped drag queens and trans people from its civil rights agenda and Rivera was physically prevented from speaking at the 1973 Stonewall commemoration. Sadly this was part of a larger anti-trans backlash within not only the gay communities but also among lesbians, where trans women – such as Beth Elliot, who had been vice president of the pioneering lesbian rights group, the Daughters of Bilitis – were systematically outed and purged from lesbian feminist circles, and where Janice Raymond's notoriously transphobic 1979 book, "The Transsexual Empire," became lauded reading.

Still, trans people continued to fight for the gay and lesbian communities. Connie Norman was a nationally known AIDS activist during the 1980s, who also pioneered the first commercial radio talk show programs on gay and lesbian issues.

Unfortunately, people like Norman weren't enough to change these widespread transphobic attitudes. In 1993, the gay and lesbian organizers of the "March on Washington" – one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in history – decided to include bisexuals, but refused to include "transgender" as part of the name of the protest. And when the 1999 murder of soldier Pfc. Barry Winchell was turned into a gay rights cause celeb, forcing President Bill Clinton to order a review of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," gay activists and the gay press suppressed a critical, but inconvenient truth – Winchell wasn't killed for being gay, but because he was a heterosexual man in love with trans woman (which Winchell's killers assumed made him gay).

Something new
By all accounts, when ENDA is reintroduced next year it will be stripped of protections for gender identity and expression. This isn't a "trans-less" ENDA as it's often referred to – it's an ENDA without protections for anyone (even heteros) who isn't straight-acting enough. Employers may not be able to fire you if you're gay or lesbian, but they'll still be able to fire you for being too nelly or too butch. In fact, a GenderPAC survey found that a third of gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents who suffered workplace discrimination said it was due at least in part to their gender expression and another 10 percent said it was due strictly to their gender expression.

Something borrowed
From a July 1990 flier by Queer Nation: "We are Queer Nation. We are here to promote unity between all people—some of whom are like us, most of whom are not. We do not necessarily expect to understand the differences between our cultures, our desires, our beliefs, but we do seek to increase respect and acceptance for all our differences so that we may move into the twenty-first century with joy and dignity."

Whether the "virtually normally" crowd likes it or not, gender variance is, for the foreseeable future, going to be linked to sexual variance. That's the thing about being "othered," you don't get any choice in how others perceive you. No matter how straight-acting folks like Andrew Sullivan like to portray themselves, the haters are still going to invoke the specter of diesel dykes and flaming nellies. No matter how loudly a few (sadly homophobic) trans people insist they're heterosexual-I-said-heterosexual-dammit, the haters are still going to call them queers.

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people are all minorities. (Just for the record, a number of trans people are also lesbian, gay or bisexual.*) We have to work together to move our causes forward. We also have to rely on allies who aren't LGBT. Just as trans people, being a minority within a minority, have to rely on the LGB communities as allies. As Ben Franklin once said, we can either hang together or we can be hanged separately.

Something blue
I know that a number of you from states without marriage equality are irate about the "go slow" request from the ACLU and a half-dozen major LGBT organizations, asking people not to file lawsuits in your home states to have your marriages recognized there. (These groups fear that losing court cases outside California will set back the cause.) I hope you'll remember those feelings of disappointment, dismay and anger when the incrementalists like Barney Frank and John Aravosis once again tell trans and gender variant people to step aside and wait patiently for anti-discrimination protections "because the public just isn't ready." Which is an odd argument really, since surveys show far more support for protecting trans and gender variant people from discrimination than for marriage equality.

I suppose that's why the other canard is that trans people haven't done enough lobbying work – ignoring the fact that we've been working for anti-discrimination protections since 1980. If we weren't part of the "official" campaign for ENDA until a few years ago, it was because we had to spend at least a decade convincing gay and lesbian lobbying groups that our rights matter too, and that we should be allowed to join their efforts. Nonetheless, we still helped the LGB communities win a number of state and local anti-discrimination measures that included not only protections for sexual orientation, but also gender identity and expression.

Anyway, I don't mean to be the ghost at the wedding banquet. This is your day, savor it in the fabulicious style that I know you will.

Best wishes, and may you have long and happy marriages,
Lena


Note: Thanks to historian Susan Stryker whose research provided many of the historical examples.

* It's often easier to talk about whether trans people are attracted to men or women (or both), because their perceived sexual orientation changes with their perceived gender. Those who transition from male-to-female early in life typically are attracted to men and most female-to-male transitioners are attracted to women, so they go from being seen as gays and lesbians to being seen as hetero women and men. Transsexuals who transition from male-to-female late in life typically are attracted to women and female-to-male transitioners who are attracted to men go from being seen as hetero men and women to being seen as lesbians and gay men. So the vast majority of transitioners find themselves seen as homosexual at some point in their lives.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I know this is supposed to be a blog for serious issues...

...you know, deep heavy posts, scientific discussions, well-reasoned critical thinking and all that.

But I just have to say that I have been reading about the marriages being performed, legally, in California right now, and I am just so happy for our friends, brothers, sisters in that state who are getting the chance to truly and legally commit their lives to one another.

Every now and then, the good guys win one. That is what keeps us coming back to the fight! For now, let's just share the joy of relationships being bound in law as they are in spirit.

Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Body Presentation and Sexual Attraction

Over the last ten years, I have been privileged to be invited to speak in front of psychology classes, sociology classes, human sexuality classes and social work classes at various universities and junior colleges, both in Arizona and Georgia. It seems that when they reach the subject of transsexuality, it helps the students to better understand if they have a live subject to grill. One of the first things I tell them when I start my presentation is, “I’m not afraid of the questions you ask me, as long as you aren’t afraid of the answers I give you.” It let’s the students know that every question is fair game.


Over the course of the years, I have developed visual aids to help in explaining various aspects of the human condition related to the subject matter. One of the things I would tell them is that Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Sexual Orientation and Physical Sex are four completely individual and separate aspects to a person’s life. Each is represented by a line and a person can fall any place on those lines.

As time went on, I made some adjustments to the categories so they would better reflect the lives that transsexuals lead and the changes they face along the way. I changed “Physical Sex” to “Body Presentation,” to reflect how the transsexual appears without clothes on, as opposed to “Gender Expression,” which reflects how a person presents themselves to the world with clothes on.

I also changed “Sexual Orientation” to “Sexual Attraction,” because in the case of many transsexuals, they don’t stop finding the same sex attractive, even though they have changed their body and documents to live in the gender opposite of their birth. In my case, I never stopped finding women attractive, so I went from a heterosexual man to a lesbian. Only society’s labels for me changed. Here is the basic chart:

The next two charts show where the “average” straight men and women fall on these lines. Notice that women are allowed to express themselves with styles of dress that give them more flexibility on how they want to look, whereas men are confined to a much stricter selection. (I placed the word “average” in quotations, because I don’t really like using that word, but I have to here for a clearer explanation.)
The next two charts show that gay men and lesbian women appear to have a broader range in expressing themselves when it comes to an outward appearance. This also covers body language. The charts don’t reflect the “average” gay man or lesbian women, but are designed show that within the gay and lesbian population, there can be a larger variety of how the men and women identify or express themselves then in the straight population. As an exercise, people reading this may wish to figure out where they fall on each line.

The next eight charts are more complicated, because they reflect the experiences of some transsexual people. On the next two charts, they reflect children who have a Gender Identity different from their biological sex. As you can see, many of the parents force the child to present as their biological sex, which can cause problems in later years. However, there have been a growing number of parents who understand when their child says they are not a girl or a boy. This can be attributed to the increase of exposure on television and in the news about transsexuality.
With the next two charts, we see how a transsexual falls on the lines just before starting their transition. For sake of clarification, I’m going to say that when a transsexual “starts transition,” it means when they start living full time, but many will use other points in their life for when they start. Like everything else, it is up to the individual. For some people, these charts can represent a period of years, while for others, it could mean weeks or just days. There is a lot of variation in this.

Notice that on these charts, the Body Presentation is slightly off from the end. This reflects the changes transsexuals start making to their body that may not be evident to others. The men may start taking testosterone grow body hair and start bulking up. The women may start electrolysis, shave their body hair and develop breasts if they started on hormones. How far off the end their body becomes depends on how long they stretch out the pre-transition process. For transsexuals, sexual attraction can fall anywhere on that line.

I would also like to note that for most MtF crossdressers, their chart would look similar to the MtF transsexual chart shown here, with the exception that their identity will be at the other end of the scale, or slightly off that end, and they would more then likely be attracted to women.

Just after starting transition, in the next charts, we see that the body changes of transsexuals make them much further away from the end on the Body Presentation line, but their Gender Expression has very little variation. In the early stages, many wish to present closer to the gender stereotypes to reflect the new direction in their life. Again, I have to keep emphasizing that this does NOT reflect all transsexuals. How individuals fall on these lines vary drastically.

The last set of charts show trans men and women once they have settled into their lives. The reason why the men’s Body Presentation is further from the end then with the women is that a large majority opt not to have any form of bottom surgery. There are many reasons why the women are not right at the end. This can be things like lack of hips and waist, larger hands, height, Adam’s apple, plus not all of them get bottom surgery. Yet, there are so many who look nearly perfect that the “average” MtFs overall fall closer to the end.

These charts can be useful if ever any of you stand in front of college students, giving them an overview of transsexuality. The great thing about the human race is that people can fall anywhere on those lines. I recall one time where a college student challenged my linier thinking for gender and suggested that these categories should be placed on a sphere. I think he is absolutely right, but I’ll let him create the next generation presentation for this subject.

Friday, June 13, 2008

GenderVision: Trans Partners: Gender & Relationship

Now available, an extended, in-depth interview with well-known transgender advocates Helen Boyd and Betty Crow. Helen is the author of the book "My Husband Betty", which explores the relationships of crossdressing men and their female partners, as well as a follow-up, "She's Not the Man I Married", a more serious and expansive examination of gender roles in relationships. Betty Crow is a professional actor who has appeared on daytime TV in "All My Children" as a transgender woman, who also works as a web designer and 3D animator.

Helen & Betty's profound love and respect for one another shines as they share their insights and experiences about the complexity of gender, gender identity, sex, love and marriage. Helen talks about her own experience in being partnered with a trans person, speaking from a feminist perspective about transgender identities and negotiating relationship while navigating the spectrum of gender expression. Betty talks about the importance of their marriage to her, of her desire to "grow old" with Helen, and how doing so requires a commitment on her part to a partnered approach to her transition. Together, their refreshing candor and evident love for one another make this a not-to-be-missed program.

Both parts of this program are available for immediate viewing at www.gendervision.org.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Calling all ENDA defendas?

OK, so here I am in my first serious post at transgroupblog. What better way to start than by probably alienating 99% of the readership?

I have been thinking about ENDA and the implications of a version of ENDA that protected against employment discrimination based on gender presentation. And I have some concerns. I'll start by hedging a bit: I do perceive the need for workplace protection. I am also a firm believer in the legal aphorism "hard cases make bad law". So by presenting some hard cases, I might not be giving a fair shake to the fundamental tenets and overall protection of an ENDA-type statute for transgenders.

So let's jump right into the worst fact pattern. We have a totally unpassable (genetic male) crossdresser who, while sincere about being a CD, makes no effort whatsoever to hide her masculinity. I won't bother drawing the mental picture; you have all seen her. Let's not kid ourselves: many TRANSGENDERS cringe to see her out and about in public, unless at a gay bar or similar environment. Presenting en femme, this person would alienate customers, disrupt businesses, anger colleagues, worry the person in the adjoining bathroom stall. To be protected?

We can vary the facts, and we probably vary the intuitive "right" outcomes. If the person is in a back office environment, problems of appearance and presentation seem less damning. If the person is transitioning to full-time female, one might be expected to accept an imperfect degree of passability that might not be acceptable in the case of a part-time crossdresser. If the person is terribly masculinized in features but flawless in deportment, or is only missing a feminized voice, or on the other hand wants to work as a Vegas cocktail waitress...well, I think each of those presents a possible difference in the legal protection that seems appropriate.

And maybe not. If you say "yes - protection for all of the above!", kudos to you for an admirable degree of consistency. But at the same time I suspect that position is so far outside the mainstream as to have little likelihood of ever being legislated into law, much less implemented in fact. (Yes, I am aware one could call this an implicit "bigot's veto". That, however, is a difficult argument to win when the bigots are as numerous as they are here.)

If we assume that there are some expressions of gender identity on the job that are not going to be fully protected, the alternatives that immediately leap to mind are disquieting. I can imagine four - and would like to hear other suggestions:

1. Protection should be accorded to transitioning/transitioned transexuals only. I don't mean "surgery required" or anything like that - rather, a requirement that the person in question has effected a full-time, public, socialized transition to the other gender. Not helpful for CDs or people who eschew the gender binary, but I would still venture to assert (with no proof whatsoever) this would be more intuitively socially acceptable to the population at large.

2. "It's the thought that counts": subjectivity is what matters. A person who is sincere about needing to vary gender presentation in an employment context gets the protection. This might result in segregating out purely fetishistic trans folk. Doesn't really seem to help anything though, and as I have made clear I hate this sort of "us versus them" divide based on a TG's motivation.

3. We're protecting gender identity only, not gender expression. This is a cop-out, not a solution. Telling a person it's ok to be trans, but not to manifest that identity in any external sense? C'mon...

4. Some sort of passing privilege becomes the de facto, if not de jure, threshold requirement for protection. In other words, if the transgendered individual gets the cumulative presentation package "close enough" for the applicable workplace context, they get protection. If not, they don't. I expect/fear this is what would result by default from an ENDA statute that includes gender identity/expression. Maybe it's better than no protection at all, but it still seems deeply unsatisfying as an answer.

So what do y'all think? Is this a case where the perfect is the enemy of the good, and we should take whatever protection we can get? Do we take it on faith that cases like this will be few and far between, and it's not worth worrying about the hard calls? (If so, how do we ready ourselves for an onslaught of arguments from opponents who will have a field day stoking fears about the worst cases?) Do we allow the law to divide us up by criteria that many of us consider unacceptable segretations within our own community? Do we tilt at the windmill and seek the fullest protection for the least among us, knowing there's no way in hell we'll succeed? Is there an alternate approach or path that I am missing that threads the needle successfully?

Fire away!

Erica

Friday, June 06, 2008

Can We Really Define “Man and Woman?”

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force map, 40 states have some form of law or amendment that limits marriage to a man and a woman. California recently declared their law unconstitutional, so that leaves 39 others. Out of the remaining states and the District of Columbia, California and Massachusetts have full marriage equality, four have civil unions and four others plus DC recognizes same-sex couples in other ways.

The heart of all of the laws, decisions and amendments we see the statement, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” From the very first time I heard that statement, I had to ask, “What constitutes a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’?” There are no legal definitions for these two words, and as we will see, the dictionary definitions don’t provide much help. No matter how you wish to define man and woman, there will always be exceptions to those definitions, shooting holes into the anti-same-sex laws and amendments.

Before I get started, many transgender and intersex leaders would rather I keep quiet about the lack of definitions for man and woman. Their point is that if the opposition wants to put a legal definition on them, they would more than likely pick the worst possible definition. Their concerns have validity. But, with the changing political climate, we may get to see some of those laws and amendments overturned. A definition becomes less of an issue.

First, let’s look at the dictionary definitions of man and woman, taken from the dictionary.com. We already see the laws against same-sex marriage starting to unravel. There are 15 different definitions for “man” and six for “woman.” I like #2 for man, “A human regardless of sex or age; a person.” If a marriage is suppose to be between a man and a woman, and a man is a “. . . human regardless of sex . . .” then how can ban same-“sex” marriage? I doubt bringing this up to a marriage license clerk would change anything, but it sure begs a chance to question the law.

Also notice the definitions from man and woman are strongly attached to the words “male” and “female.” For “male,” the person has to produce “spermatozoa for fertilizing ova.” If a man cannot do this, does it mean he is no longer male, thus no longer a man? You also see on the # 2 definition, “Virile; manly.” You have a situation where one word defines another and visa-versa. It doesn’t seem right to do that.

If you look at the definition of “female,” you also see, “Of or denoting the sex that produces ova or bears young.” We can ask the same question we asked for the male definition. “If a woman can no longer produce ova or bear children, is she no longer considered female, thus no longer a woman?” Based on reading this, I come to the conclusion that there is no clear-cut, solid definition for male, female, man or woman in the dictionary. How can they continue to limit marriage to a man and a woman? But, there’s more.

Let’s talk about the physical differences between men/males and woman/females. It’s generally accepted that women have ovaries to produce eggs and breasts to feed the young. They have a vagina that is designed to take the male’s penis in order to receive sperm to fertilize the eggs. A male/man has a penis and testes to produce sperm, usually rougher skin, more aggressive personalities, more hair and a different brain structure.

The problem is that humans don’t come in neatly arranged physical packages as described above. Physical anomalies abound. According to the Intersex Society of North America, one in every 100 births in the world are people whose bodies differ from standard male or female in one form or another. If you look through the various issues listed on that page, you will see that it is a combination of visible and internal differences, to sex chromosome differences.

Portions of the population are born with genitalia that make it difficult for doctors to determine the person’s sex. For the longest time, doctors decided what sex to assign the child, but they had a 50/50 chance of being right. Today, the American Pediatric Association has modified that procedure to take into account what the child identifies when they get older and make proper surgical decisions at that time.

Making the wrong decision on what sex a person should grow up to be is drastically demonstrated in the “John/Joan” case of David Reimer. David and his twin brother both had been circumcised after birth, but because the doctor was using an inappropriate procedure, he burned off David’s penis. The well-known psychologist, John Money, at Johns Hopkins University suggests they could make David a girl and raise him as one.

This didn’t work and David grew up realizing something is wrong with his life. He found out later what the problems stemmed from and lived the rest of his life, until he committed suicide on May 4, 2004. David was 38. This shows that gender identity is in the brain and what parts the body was born with makes no difference. It’s another flaw in trying to define man and woman.

One of the chromosome conditions is called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS, which occurs in approximately 1 in 20,000 individuals. Those with AIS are female-bodied individuals who have XY sex chromosome. There are also male-bodied individuals who have XX chromosome, which can be caused by various conditions. In this area, there is a lot of overlapping of issues facing these individuals, which can include Progestin Induced Virilization, Swyer Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, and Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

On this page from About.com :Biology for Sex Chromosomes Abnormalities, you can see on the chart six other sex chromosome patterns besides the “normal” XX and XY. If you notice, these are assigned a particular gender, but the physical traits can blur the person’s presentation. So, what “sex” are they really?

I also discovered that in the future, there may no longer be a Y chromosome. In the research done by Dr Jennifer Graves, Research School Biological Sciences, ANU, Canberra, Australia called “Human Sex Chromosomes and the Future of Men,” she says, “The human Y chromosome is running out of time. At the rate it is degrading, it will lose its last 45 genes in just 10 million years, even taking complicating factors into account.” We won’t see it, but I thought it was an interesting piece to bring up.

The case of “Littleton vs. Prange” was a prime example of what can happen when the courts make a decision based on they think a person has for sex chromosomes. In this well-known case, Christie Lee Littleton’s husband of seven years, Jonathan went into the hospital for what was suppose to be a non-life-threatening issue, but ended up dying. After a time of grieving, Littleton decided to sue for wrongful death.

In the course of the trial, the defending lawyers discovered that Littleton had been born with male body parts, and even though she had received all the necessary procedures to be considered a female in the State of Texas, three of the judges assumed she was not really a woman because of her chromosomes. But, throughout the entire trial, they never once checked what sex chromosomes Littleton or her husband had. If Christie didn’t have XY chromosomes, then the case could have been thrown out.

Because of this decision, in the ten counties that this local district court covers, birth certificates will not be changed for transsexuals who have had SRS. However, a post-op trans woman can marry a non-trans woman or a trans man can marry a non-trans man and it would be considered legal. By doing this, it means the trans person would have to identify as their birth sex for the marriage to be considered legal. I wouldn’t consider changing my identity just to get married. Thanks to California, I don’t need to.

The other problem in using chromosomes as the way to determine a person’s sex is the cost. It can be from $600 to $900 to have a person’s sex chromosomes checked. Can you imagine if a state defined man and woman by their chromosomes what a financial burden it would be on couples wanting to get married. Many couples wouldn’t be able to afford the cost. And, I can just see a loving religious right couple getting their chromosomes checked, only to find out they both have XX. You can bet they would be screaming about dropping the amendment they fought so hard to pass.

The next way man and woman can be defined is by what is on their birth certificate. However, there are several ways that this is not 100% possible either. Many Americans cannot get access to a birth certificate because of natural disasters that destroyed the place they were stored at, long before a state could transfer them to computers. Some people in rural areas may not have ever had one issued. Many naturalized citizens cannot get a birth certificate from the country they were born in for various reasons. Also, I have heard that some people were issued a birth certificate that didn’t have a sex one it, some because of the genitalia situation.

In 46 states and the District of Columbia, a person can get their birth certificate changed after receiving a form of sex altering surgery. Idaho, Ohio and Tennessee and parts of Texas are the exception. This usually means a Phalloplasty or Metoidioplasty for trans men and Sex Reassignment/Gender Reassignment Surgery for trans women. However, it can also be changed in most of those states when a trans woman gets an orchiectomy, or the trans man gets top surgery or a hysterectomy. If the letter is worded correctly, the state will more than likely change the birth certificate. For more detailed state-by-state information on the procedure in your state or Canadian Provinces, visit Dr. Becky Allison’s page for instructions.

As we can see, the different ways to try and define “man” or “woman” all have flaws and exceptions making it difficult to create a legal definition that would cover every human in the country. If the various states picked one definition to try and keep same-sex people from getting married, they would cause problems for many opposite sex couples and create loopholes that same-sex couples could take advantage of.

This means that we are stuck with laws that are based on undefined terms, keeping same-sex couples from enjoying the same rights as opposite-sex couples. If anyone were to push the issue, then the end result would cause more problems then it would fix. One of the biggest problems would be to invalidate legally married transsexuals, like Christie Lee Littleton, and hundreds of others who stayed married after one person in the marriage changed their sex. We would be damned if we did, but we remain damned because we don’t.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Christian Siriano retires "hot tranny mess"

I was all set to write a happy little post about Christian Siriano retiring his catch phase, "hot tranny mess." Apparently someone clued him in that it might be offensive after he compared drag queens and trans people to "white trash." Maybe the light went on after hot pissed-off trans actress Candis Cayne ripped him a new one after he used the phrase on stage at the Logo NewNextNow Awards that she was hosting. Maybe he even read my open letter about why it's so not fierce when "tranny" is used by someone who isn't trans.

I was willing to overlook that it was one of those not-quite-an-apology "I wish that my words were not taken in that way" apologies that's all too common with public figures these days. And yes, he even mentioned that some of his best friends are trans. (BTW Christian, if you're reading this, just a heads-up, we trans people don't exist solely to provide you with fashion inspiration.) As I said before, I think it just never occurred to him that as a self-described "very flamboyant gay man" that he could say something that's considered derogatory speech, and I'm willing to overlook all that because I'm just glad that he publicly said he'd stop and maybe, just maybe, that would get other people to think twice about using it as a catch phrase.

What's got me not-so-happy are the comments on various gay blogs about how trans people are overreacting and picking on poor little Princess Puffysleeves. How come you're so humorless? Gawd you're so P.C. Can't you see it's a just a joke? What's the big deal anyway? We call each other faggots all the time, it's no big deal. Get it over! Not to mention, I'm sick of being hounded for not being properly appreciative of T people.

Funny how those arguments sound oh so familiar. I've heard the exact same things when I've asked clueless straight kids not to use "that's so gay" as a put-down. Or when women ask not to be called "bitches" and "hos." Or when the Sambo's restaurant chain was pressured to change its name.

To be honest, I had more respect for the out-and-out haters – did you know I'm a "breeder with a mental disorder"? – because at least with them there was no pretense. They'd probably get along swimmingly with the conservative bloggers (who I won't dignify with links) who had these recent headlines: "Shame on Dennis Hastert for joining tranny lobbist firm" and "Boycott NBC and its tranny sympathizers." (Companies that value LGBT diversity, the horror!)

And of course there was this: don't you have bigger things to worry about?

Well, yeah, actually I do. Trans people face hate crimes at a rate up to 16 times higher than gays and lesbians, yet we have to fight to be included in anti-hate crime laws. There's some segments of the trans communities where only one in four trans people have a full-time job and more than half live in poverty, yet we're asked to step aside so straight-acting gays and lesbians can get employment non-discrimination protections. Even when formal "transgender" protections are offered, crossdressers like myself are often excluded from them, and out in the every-day world they're too often ignored anyway.

The thing is, those are huge issues that are going to take time and effort to overcome. Whereas not referring to someone by a term they find offensive is a small thing. A simple thing. The human thing to do.

But evidentially even that is too much effort for some people.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Incrementalists Dirty Little "Secret"

The Human Rights Campaign hopes you're not paying attention. Barney Frank hopes you'll look the other way. John Aravosis is crossing his fingers that you won't draw the only logical conclusion. These folks and those who think about basic civil rights protections like they do don't want you to know the truth, a truth that has been obvious for years now, proven accurate in every state in this country that has enacted anti-discrimination protections for their LGBT citizens except for one:

Protecting the transgendered and gender-variant from discrimination enjoys substantially more support among American voters nationwide than same-sex marriage does, or probably ever will.

We saw that reality played out yet again this week in New York. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), the bill that would protect transgender and gender-variant New Yorkers from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accomodations statewide, was passed by the New York State Assembly yesterday by an overwhelming vote of 103-33. Same sex-marriage was passed by this same legislative body last year by a vote of 85-61. Doing the math, we discover that a little more than 56% of the 150-member Assembly voted in favor of the bill. Comparing the numbers on GENDA, however, we see that a whopping 68% of these same legislators chose to vote in favor of protecting transgender and gender-variant New Yorkers from discrimination, about 12% higher than voted in favor of the marriage bill.

Many similar stories can be told as well. Here in my home state of New Jersey, for example, state legislators fell all over themselves to pass civil unions in order to comply with the state's high court ruling that gay and lesbian New Jerseyans must be guaranteed the same rights as heterosexuals, but not actually grant the real equality the court intended to ensure for all state residents by legalizing same-sex marriage. Shortly thereafter, however, New Jersey's State Senate voted unanimously, 35-0, and the state Assembly voted by an almost equally overwhelming margin, 65-10, to add protections for transgender and gender-variant citizens to the state's existing anti-discrimination law.

Even back in 2002, over 60% polled in the conservative state of North Carolina supported protecting transgender people from employment discrimination, according to an HRC survey conducted that year, and support for these protections has only grown over that time, even as state after state passed laws and constitutional amendments preventing their states from recognizing same-sex unions. To my knowledge, while some states have chosen not to enact protections for transgender and gender-variant citizens when they were voted on, no state has ever voted to enact a law or amend their constitution to prevent such protections from being enacted in the future.

The conclusion here is inescapable to anyone really paying attention: There's far more support in this country for protecting transgender and gender-variant Americans from discrimination than there is or ever has been for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Yet, what we see and hear coming from HRC, Barney Frank, and so many others is the opposite of what has been conclusively proven over and over to be reality, that rights for transgender and gender-variant Americans is somehow less palatable to the American public at large than the right of same-sex couples to be married.

I'm not trying to make value comparisons here. Both goals are supremely worthy, both deserve to become the law of the land as soon as is humanly possible. My issue is with the hypocrisy of those like HRC and Barney Frank especially who continue pounding the drum for same-sex marriage while at the same time advocating for the exclusion of transgender and gender-variant Americans from basic civil rights legislation, claiming that there's not enough support for it to pass. Were they truly honest and consistant in their advocacy for LGBT equality, they'd acknowledge that it's far more likely to be able to pass anti-discrimination laws in the near future which would protect all LGBT Americans than it is that we'll see same-sex marriage become legalized at the federal level.

The numbers don't lie, only those who are willing to sacrifice the truth in the pursuit of personal and political gain are doing that here. It's time for us to focus on these realities, speak truth to power, and make sure everyone knows and understands what is true, what has always been true, that more Americans support basic anti-discrimination protections for transgender and gender-variant Americans, the goal these people refuse to fight for fairly and honestly, than support same-sex marriage, the goal they continue to advocate for with every erg of effort, energy and political clout they can possibly muster.

If these people truly believe in the kind of incrementalism they claim is the only way to advocate these issues, let's see them bow to the reality we all know to be true because the numbers prove it to be. Let's see them get in line and wait patiently their turn to attain their goals as they'd have us do. If they really do believe their own rhetoric, that incrementalism is the only way to achieve these goals, let's see Barney Frank, HRC, and all the rest of the same-sex marriage advocates adhere to the political logic they try to impose upon us and willingly accept their proper place in the incrementalism line, behind us.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Jan Morris: Marriage, Then Civil Union

Jan Morris has gotten a civil union with the wife she married when she was male. They had five kids together, and only got divorced due to Morris’ transition.

I kinda love that. It’s good to know, too, the world has changed some since they got divorced, though of course UK laws still require the dissolution of a heterosexual marriage when/if someone changes their gender marker while married.

Label, Label, Label

“Yer a cute girl.”

“I’ll let our mechanic take a look at this.”

“You still have a penis? Then you’re not really a woman.”

Yes, in order to communicate as a human being, we need to label things to give other people a better understanding on what it is we are talking about. If it weren’t for labels, we wouldn’t find the right foods in the grocery store. We have to have labels to take the correct drugs, in the correct combination and at the correct time. Harsh chemicals need labels to keep us from thinking we can use them in our mix drinks. Labels not only help make our lives easier, but safer.

I’m sure the label “trannie” has a different meaning for an auto mechanic then it does for a transgender person. However, there can be a bit of confusion when the mechanic is also a transgender person.

This need to label everything extends to labeling people. If you thought about it, it would take you a long time to write down all the labels associated with you over the course of your life. For those who believe that life starts at conception, then you can say you were labeled a “fertilized egg,” all the ways through to now being labeled “an old codger.” Are you part of a family? Then you could be a parent, father, mother, brother, sister, child, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, and in some cases, all of those.

Because of how important labels are in our lives, it is the mindset of all humans that everything has to have a label and it seems that the label they give that object is the absolute defining one as far as they are concern. It doesn’t matter that the object has a different label for it in every language on the planet. “My label is the right one, damnit, because I’m speaking English!” Okay, no one really says that, but I get the impression some think it.

It appears to me that humans have a natural undying urge to label people and put them in various boxes for their own benefit and not out of respect for those people. Because of that, many people think that you have to accept the boxes they put you in because they say it’s the absolute defining label for you. This inflexible mindset has the most profound affect on the transgender community, affecting our core identity on a daily basis.

This being a highly patriarchal society, gender labels hinge on the present of a penis, or the lack there of. “Iffin’ ya got one, yer a man or a boy, and iffin’ ya don’t, yer a girl.” (Notice the word “woman” doesn’t even factor into this patriarchal way of thinking.) This is so strongly engrained in our DNA that there are a lot of trans people today who have bought into this patriarchal garbage hook, line and sinker. Some people seem to think that they get to decide what label you get saddled with based on a four-ounce body part no one in public should see. The person’s gender identity or expression has nothing to do with it.

If a person wants to label me something, does that mean I have to live with their decision? Will I die if I’m called a man? I’m not talking about transgender hate crimes, which can result from people who hate those because of the labels they assume we have. Labels by themselves cannot kill me, nor am I stuck with living my life based on what labels others call me or think of me. Labels cannot harm anyone else either, yet, I get the impression all the time that a label can destroy other people’s lives simply by its existence. I have not seen that happening to anyone as of yet. Maybe some labels have C4 attached to them. Does that mean terrorists will start using label for IEDs? “Incoming label!”

Let me pick a label out of thin air to use as an example. Let’s see . . . how about “transgender.” No one ever talks about that label. In some languages, the word “transgender” translates to their version of “transsexual.” (See: http://babelfish.yahoo.com/ and try various combinations.) When reading a translated description of a transsexual murdered in a Spanish speaking country, I noticed the label “travesit” or “travesits,” a derivative of “transvestite,” is used a lot. To them, it’s not a derogatory label. A prime example of this is the name of the trans advocacy organization in Argentina, called “Asociacion Travesits Transexuales TransgĂ©nero.”

There has been a successful movement by LGBT people to reclaim and embrace the label “queer.” Hate groups can no longer use queer as a slur to most of us, so they used other labels for their nasty comments. I doubt there will ever be a movement in the American transgender community to reclaim the label “transvestite,” especially since many transsexuals don’t even like the label “transgender.”

I have read reams and reams of web pages on why the label “transgender” is such a harmful word that should never be used, none of which can be substantiated. This stems from the widely accepted definition of the word, “transgender,” which serves as an umbrella term for ALL people who have or are currently crossing the gender lines, either permanently or temporarily. When use that way, some groups don’t like the idea of sharing space with people who are not labeled like them. One person once told me, “Define the label, but don’t let the label define you.” Some people must think this label defines them, yet they have full control over all of this. In my opinion, by getting upset with something like a label relinquishes their control over their own identity and gives that control to others.

Some people also based their hatred toward this label on the fact that a 100 year-old crossdresser supposedly invented it, which makes it flawed. She didn’t invent it, but she used it a lot. Sadly, when it comes to the origin of certain labels, history gets blurred and changed far too often. History, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

I have also read where the label “transgender” should be used in certain context, but not in others, and that we all have to abide by this hard, fast “rule.” in the use of this word. Why? It’s just a label. I read where one person said that if a crossdresser did not go out into public, then they were really not a transgender person. Where did they get that? A label only means something to those people who seem to be obsessed with treating them like battering rams, swords, or poisonous insects. “No! Don’t go into the transgender light!” Too late.

Labels have their place in our community, as long as people don’t get married to them. When a person commits to using one label over another, they have a tendency of spending a lot of time defending their decision and chastising those who don’t use the label in the same fashion they do. This is where those extended comments occur on certain postings, most of which are not on subject. This reminds me. Are you aware that trans people are masters at trigonometry? They like to go off on tangents. Pythagoras must have been trans. (That was my intentional tangent or this article.)

To me, labels are part of my “activism toolbox.” Like other tools, I use a label to perform a certain job and when I’m done with it, I wipe it off and put it back in the tool box. I have found that when talking to some people, they understand the word “transsexual” better than “transgender,” so that’s the tool I use. With others, I have to switch their use. I also use “transgender” as an adjective and not a noun, like the words “transgenders” and “transgendered.” Transgender American is a good label for me. But, no matter what I use, I’m not married to that label like others seem to be, nor do I let it define me.

This is a subject that will be hashed over long after I’m dead. Some people will insist that a label is “evil,” while others will spend gigabytes of web space trying to tell others what labels are to be used, for which people and under what circumstances. Seems a waste of time. The only label that really means anything to me is “Monica,” since I paid money for it. And, the best time I like hearing that label used is when my girlfriend calls me to bed. At that moment, I could care less what other labels people want to attach to me.

“Coming, dear.”

Monday, June 02, 2008

NYS: GENDA Set for Assembly Vote

From Dick Gottfriend, the prime sponsor of GENDA:


The GENDA bill is set for an Assembly vote this Tues., 6/3 - that’s TOMORROW. The Assembly session is scheduled to begin at 3:30PM in the Capitol in Albany , and GENDA should be the first bill taken up.

Visitors can watch from the fourth floor gallery. If you are coming, you need photo ID to enter the Capitol and will go through security, so remember to leave your Swiss Army knife at home ;-) .
To watch the Assembly session live, go to the Assembly website, click on “Live Coverage of Legislative Proceedings” on the left. The url is http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/av/

If you go to that page, you will also see a link of cable systems that carry the proceedings and air times.

Thanks to all the members of the community who helped get the bill to this historic vote.

Very truly yours,
Dick Gottfried

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Blogging for LGBT Families



This year, to blog for LGBT families, I want to highlight the fantastic new work by COLAGE called the Kids of Trans Resource Guide (pdf). I'm not sure if I can express how desperately this guide was needed nor how happy I am to see it published. It includes not just tips for people who are children of trans people - whether they are still children or have become adults - but it also gives great advice to trans people who are parents, as well, including this gem:

"As a parent, remember that your children come first and your transition comes second. Transition is an inherently self-focused process, as you align your body and appearance with your gender identity. The best way to be a responsible parent during transition is to make your children a major priority throughout the process. Sometimes this means that you have to compromise your ideal time frame for your transition in order to keep relationships with your family healthy."


Shock and revelation! Trans people are parents, children, spouses; they have families, extended families, and can adjust their transition goals to help the people who love them transition around them. How much does that rock? You can also access COLAGE's Kids of Trans pages on their website.

(cross-posted to Trans Group Blog)