Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Make Me One With Everything

A friend of mine who spends a lot of time in the far East said the following when he found out I'd changed genders. "Well, I'm glad she's happy, but, you know-- isn't that bad Zen?"

I've had occasion to reflect on this comment recently as I read Liz Gilbert's delightful memoir, "Eat Pray Love." (currently number one on the NYT paperback bestseller list, I believe.) Gilbert's book is about a quest for fulfillment--she gives herself over to pleasure, mostly in the form of pasta, in Italy; she lives in an Ashram in pursuit of divine love in India; and seeks equilibrium--and find romance--in Indonesia. The India part of the book ("pray") is the most serious, and gave me reason to think over the connection between zen and harmony and all the trans stuff.

What my friend meant, I think, with his "bad Zen" comment was that it's escape from the demands and the "attachment" of the body that we seek in meditation; that true "divine love" and harmony means letting go of our bodies altogether. And so, to "give in" to this mismatched sense of spirit and body through the business of transition--and surgery in particular--well, that, one might think, is not the path to enlightenment.

I'll quickly say that I'm about as sarcastic and cynical a person as you're likely to meet, and when people start talking about their gurus and their yoga and their "practice" I can get very fed up with it all. I hate the idea that some people either are, or might be considered to be "more enlightened" than others, and that the only way to attain enlightenment is through some crazy set of hurdles; I would like to feel that we all have equal access to god-- or whatever you wish to call it.

Still, I'll also say that I am indeed seeking for "divine love," if you'll pardon the expression. And that I wonder, now and again, how the path I am on connects to that search.

I would like to say you can't find solace in your soul if your body is aching. And sure; sometimes I have a very biological approach to gender disphoria, at least in the way I experienced it. I am not ashamed to compare what I suffered as akin to someone who was blind, who had an operation by which her sight was restored. There's a way in which I don't feel that zen enters into that at all.

But there are other ways in which sometimes I wonder about the body and its demands. I do feel that the more selfless I can be, the more focused on All Things Not Me, the happier I am. Or maybe it's a sense that I am connected to all things, and that I am here, ultimately to serve something so much bigger than myself that the only place it can reside is inside me. OR, as Gilbert quotes one yogi as saying, "God lives inside you, AS you."

And when I think on my trans embodiment in this manner, I feel funny. As if all of the effort and sturm and drang had, in the end, exactly zero to do with the quest for divine love.

But I also know that I am happy now, and that gender issues are not so much at the center of my life. Like a lot of people, I have found that the long journey brought me to a place where I was free of gender. And by "free of gender" I mean two contradictory things: on the one hand, free like, I understand how random and contructed gender is now; but yes, I also mean free of gender like most other women are-- free in the sense that most of the time I DON'T THINK ABOUT IT CAUSE IT'S NOT AN ISSUE.

I am realizing this post might seem a little demented to some of you, in which case, I hope you'll forgive the gnostic mysticism of it all. I was raised in a Christian Quaker tradition, and I don't have any problem squaring that belief system with trans issues. But the zen stuff, the desire to be selfless, all-one, everywhere. That's a little harder.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I Now Pronounce You A Return to the Bad Old Days

There's not been much discussion of racial oppression on this blog, but it need hardly be said that racism and transphobia intersect. Trans persons of color tend to experience higher rates of unemployment and HIV than white trans people. Multiple factors are involved and the demographic reality is complicated.

... and then there's just raw, undiluted nastiness. It's bad enough that a movie like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry relies on nauseating gender and sexual stereotypes, but heck, throw in some yellowface -- why not!

Apparently, just as it's still "comedy" in TV and films to mock trans people or cross-gender expression expression ("hey, let's put a man in a dress for laughs!"), it's still ok to play Charlie Chan. Anti-trans attitudes and anti-Asian sentiments are supported by similar forms of caricature and their continued cultural permissibility.

The following commentary comes from the very astute blog, Angry Asian Man:

"So... I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was somehow the number one movie at the box office last weekend. I mentioned this movie a few months back, when folks caught of glimpse of Rob Schneider doing some kind of crazy yellowface in the trailer... the word on the street is, the movie pretty much manages to offend anybody and everybody. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Whatever gay stereotypes exist in this movie -- and they probably number in the hundreds -- the writers of the comedy are much tougher on morbidly obese people, hot women, the homeless, mailmen, unattractive women and particularly Asians. Even the band Journey probably deserves a bigger apology from the makers of "Chuck & Larry" than anyone in the gay community."

Note that the producers didn't invite any Asian American groups to check out the movie, which features Rob Schneider as an Asian minister who is a racially offensive Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt come to life.Schneider appears to be the Jewish/Asian owner of a wedding chapel who married Chuck and Larry. And it's bad. How bad? Bad:

"But the most appalling aspect of "C&L" is Rob Schneider, who plays the owner of a wedding chapel and offers up the most offensive Asian caricature since Mickey Rooney's notorious yellow-face performance in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." What were they thinking? Simple: They weren't."

Never mind the fact that Rob Schneider is actually half-Filipino. Doesn't really seem to matter, does it? Here, he's got some kind of makeup job going on to look super, over-the-top Asian. Recalling Breakfast at Tiffany's Mickey Rooney is an appropriate comparison. Somebody, please revoke this guy's card to the club."

Trans Partner Advocacy

Recently on the mHB message boards, the partner of someone who was transitioning posted about her very last day with her male husband. She was sad, she was mourning, and she was feeling both loss & resentment.

Sometimes the larger trans community seems to view feelings like that as anti-trans; that a partner isn’t throwing the big coming out party for her transitioning companion is seen as less than enthusiastic, and the difficult feelings are interpreted as saying ‘trans is bad.’

But the thing is, it’s part of the gig. There’s a lot of change involved in transition, which every trans person with half a brain admits. I mean, that’s the point. Change is a difficult thing for most people - all people, really - and it is stressful even when the change is a good thing, like getting a better job or getting married or having a baby that you’ve long wanted.

But to miss the old, worse job, or thinking fondly about the time when you were single or childfree, doesn’t mean you don’t want the new change in your life. You do. But you can’t just tell your mind not to think about how it once was, either.

& Sometimes I think that’s what’s expected of partners, that we never have a time to say, “I did love him as a man.” We can’t admit that we liked the cocky or shy guy we first fell in love with, & the partners of FTMs aren’t supposed to mourn the loss of breasts and smooth cheeks that they loved to touch.

But the thing is, as any trans person should know, repressing a feeling of loss or sadness is really bad all around; repression poisons the groundwater, in effect, and everyone feels it. So while I don’t advise partners make themselves miserable longing for the past (just as I wouldn’t advise trans people to think the future will definitely be rosy simply because they’ll transition), expressing the more difficult feelings associated with transition is healthier, in my opinion, in the long run. Not easy to hear as the trans person, for sure, but from what I hear from same trans people, they too may need some time to mourn the loss of their own former self.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Curve Interview: Helen Boyd & Julia Serano

In Curve magazine’s current issue (Vol. 17, #8), there’s an interview with me and Julia Serano aptly titled “A Queer Three-way.” The interviewer was Curve editor Diane Anderson-Minshall.

Candidates Debate on GLBT Issues

HRC and Logo have announced a Presidential Forum on GLBT Issues:

"On Aug. 9, presidential candidates will gather in Los Angeles to debate issues affecting the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the United States. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, Melissa Etheridge and esteemed journalist Jonathan Capehart will appear as panelists at the event. The historic two-hour forum, moderated by Margaret Carlson, will be televised live on the Logo network and the Logo website on Thursday, Aug. 9 starting at 6 p.m. Pacific time and 9 p.m. Eastern."

An online form is available to submit questions.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Trans Scholars

I just wanted to congratulate genderwarrior & trans activist Joelle Ruby Ryan for having won a scholarship from the Point Foundation. She was one of four trans people to win one this year.

The Point Foundation gives scholarships to LGBT students - 38 this year, all told.

Four of this year’s scholars identify as trans:

Daan Erikson, from Providence, RI, originally from Bridgewater, MA, is majoring in both Entertainment Media and Gender & Sexuality Studies at New York University in New York, NY. While he came out as a lesbian in high school, he came to understand and identify himself as a transguy and as transmasculine during his first year at New York University. A strong work ethic and support from his dedicated dad has allowed Daan to confidently transition without compromising his studies. Daan’s high level of self-comfort and openness about being trans has contributed to his work on campus: he served as a Peer Educator in Residence at a first-year residence hall this past year, and he will be a Resident Assistant next year. Through his studies at NYU, Daan plans to improve realistic representations of queer people in the entertainment media world.

Joelle Ruby Ryan
is working on her Ph.D. at Bowling Green State University, and is Point’s very first male-to-female transgender Point Scholar. Born into a working-class family in New Hampshire, Joelle received a scholarship to attend the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy for high school. While a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, she came out as a transgender woman and suffered familial disapproval, employment discrimination and frequent verbal assaults and physical threats. Joelle is currently working on her Ph.D. in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University. A self-identified transgender warrior, Joelle plans to dedicate her future to teaching, engaged scholarship, and grass-roots activism.

Zak Sinclair
was raised in Houston. In a starkly gender-divided Southern culture, Zak was forced to conform to a highly feminine gender role and to push his transgender identity and sexuality deep into the closet. Despite his family’s financial instability, Zak attended Brown University on scholarship and excelled academically. Losing his father at 19, Zak came out as transgender to his mother and was cut-off from her until she died suddenly two years later. Inspired to action, Zak spoke out about transgender youth issues, taking visible national leadership at a time when these issues were largely unknown and misunderstood even within the LGBT community. Zak is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Psychotherapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies and plans to address the impact of trauma in the activist community. He will work with LGBT leaders in the broader context of their organizational and social change work, as well as providing much-needed services to LGBT youth, especially transgender youth.

Emily Williams
, from Minneapolis, MN, is pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing at Yale University School of Nursing in New Haven, CT. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and after graduation, Emily spent five years as a volunteer rape victim advocate and also worked full-time as a direct service provider for families dealing with domestic and sexual violence. Through these experiences, she developed an understanding of the close connection between homophobia and violence against women: both are the direct result of our damaging binary gender system. As a genderqueer individual, Emily is constantly forced to choose between condoning ignorant assumptions and taking on the personal risk of challenging them. Emily is committed to changing constrictive attitudes toward gender - including those held inside the LGBT community. Emily’s goals are not only to practice sensitive and empowering health care for all people with limited access to care, but also to explore a better clinical paradigm that does not rely on destructive gender roles.

There’s Something About Transphobia

I'm continually amazed at the hatred and bigotry shown by the Fox Broadcasting Network. Their fall lineup includes the inherently transphobic series, "There’s Something About Miriam." The series first aired in the 2004 in the UK and features six men who try to win the affection of 21-year-old Mexican model Miriam. In the final episode it is revealed to the suitors that Miriam is a preoperative transsexual woman.

The series originally ran in the UK and was widely condemned by the media as "the cruelest reality show idea yet." The contestants sued claiming that Brighter Pictures had committed conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

The show portrays transgender people as deceitful sexual perverts who get their jollies by preying on unsuspecting men. It's the same type of voyeurism and "gotcha" exploitation that killed Scott Amedure. Amedure appeared on a taping of the Jenny Jones Show, revealing his "gay crush" on Jonathan Schmitz. Three days later Scmitz bought a shotgun and went to Amedure's home and murdered him. In the trial that followed, the defense tried to blame Amedure for his own murder. This type of panic strategy was also used in the murder trial of a transgender teen, Gwen Araujo.

When media giants like Fox use transgender people in such a "Jerry Springer" kind of way, it serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes that will have a negative impact for years after the program airs.

H/T to NG and Roger Catlin

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

R We Family?

I've been home a little over a week from my vacation on the R Family Vacation summer cruise to the Bahamas. I've had a week to sit back and reflect on the trip.

For those that don't know, R Family Vacations is the brainchild of Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli O’Donnell. It's billed as a cruise for GLBT families.

From the R Family Vacation website:

R Family Vacations is truly the most inclusive GLBT vacation offered. All of our vacations are designed for gays, lesbians, their families, and their friends. Everyone is welcome — singles, couples without children, couples with children, groups of friends, grandparents, and almost any other family configuration you can think of. We have hosted three-month-old babies and 80-something grandparents. R entertainment and programming is designed for various age groups. Some exclusively for adults, some just for teens and kids, and some for everyone. We are mindful that our guests are people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and sexual orientation.

On our vacations, there is sincere acceptance. Please join us and experience the GLBT vacation that everyone is talking about. Be a part of r family.

To see a ship full of gay and lesbian families concentrated in one place was amazing. I had a wonderful time, and the entire trip was empowering. But one thing has lingered with me since I got off the ship was the lack of visible transfamilies.

On a ship of 2200 people, I only saw one transgender family on board. I think it's vital that transgender families be visible. When people know us and our issues, it becomes something bigger, something personal.

Since I got back, I've been trying to figure out why there was such a lack of representation.The first thing that jumps to mind is money. Some estimates of transgender unemployment are as high as 70 percent. But even with high unemployment, I know quite a few doctors, lawyers, and health care workers that make more than a living wage. What is stopping transgender families from cruising?

Another possible answer could be the actual numbers of transfamilies that are intact. Divorce after gender transition is not uncommon, and in less progressive areas the courts can be pretty one sided.

While I do think that some of the lack of representation stems from the nature of the transgender experience, the marketing of the cruise is also an issue. While appearing to be GLBT focused, I found it to mainly focused towards gays and lesbians.The seminars on board were mainly pointed toward gay parenting and all that comes with that process. Even seminars that weren't necessarily parent focused, seemed lacking. I attended a seminar on blogging. It was lead by Dana of Mombian (a lesbian mother) and Terrance of Republic of T (a gay father). I also eavesdropped on the seminar that was given on gender. While the transgender experience was mentioned, it seemed more about educating gays and lesbians about gender and transgenderism.

Do I think Rosie and Company are transphobic? Hardly. On the way back up the coast, I read one of Rosie O’Donnell's books, "Find Me." I really connected and understood some of her childhood struggles. There are many intersections between gender and sexual orientation, and Rosie really appears to gets that. Additionally, I saw Rosie on "The View" interview Jeffery Carlson. She explained how Jeffery's character on "All My Children" could change genders and still be attracted to women. Maybe it's her friendship with Kate Bornstein, but she really does seem to understand our experience.

I'm not sure if the vacations will ever focus more on transgender families, but I do know of a way to affect change. I'm going to take my family and be present and visible. My son is gay, and I want him to experience this. I want him to see positive, happy G and L families. And I want gay and lesbian families to see what happy transfamlies look like as well. Besides it's a wonderful vacation. I hope to see you all on board in March. Maybe my passport will be here by then. ;)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Finding the balance

I asked Helen for a topic to write about, and she sent me the following suggestion: How to help someone who is not transitioning "come out" in ways that are healthy but still respectful of their possible concerns re: privacy.
Whether a person transitions physically or not, the issues remain the same. Is it stealth, or is it a closet, if a person chooses to not disclose their journey? Can a person retain their self-esteem and sense of self-worth if they feel compelled to keep the fullness of their true selves a secret? The differentiation to make is between privacy and living a lie. There is nothing wrong with being private about how we live our lives; this is another way of saying there is nothing wrong with having boundaries.
However, boundaries are about behavior. There is nothing wrong with a person being private about precisely how they have sex with their partners, for instance. However, if they are gay/lesbian/bi, to never share their sexual orientation with others, to live in the closet, is being private about one's identity rather than about behavior, and this is something to examine closely. Is the point of such privacy maintaining a job, or being able to earn a living? Or is the point more to do with shame, or guilt? Are there valid contextual reasons for being out in some arenas and not in others? The motivation for not being out is critical. A motive based in shame will probably lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression, while motives based in privacy and maintaining healthy boundaries may enhance self-esteem. In this day and age, it's hard to tease apart, but the process of taking oneself seriously enough to consider being out can itself enhance self-esteem.
A number of my clients self-describe as "genderqueer," and the issue of disclosing their gender identity has been tricky for them to navigate. They are primarily young (usually closer to 20 than 30). Most are either working their first jobs, or looking for their first job, bumping up against workplace expectations of gender conformity. What most conclude is that compromising on their dress in order to earn a living is acceptable, as long as they differentiate between compromising on gender expression (behavior) as opposed to compromising on their gender identity. This allows them to retain self-esteem, and to gain experience with boundaries.
Within personal relationship, the boundaries are different than in a workplace context. I advise my clients to establish good communication with their gut. I tell them, "If you tune into the message, that place in the pit of your stomach will let you know when it's time to tell someone your true identity, when you've reached a point of closeness in a relationship that to go further without disclosure will feel dishonest." Many friendships are casual and never reach this point of intimacy. But for those that do, to maintain the illusion of gender normativity is a barrier to true intimacy.
The language people use for disclosure can disarm many negative reactions. There is such cultural misunderstanding and negativity associated with terms like "transgender" or "transsexual" or "cross-dresser," it can be helpful to explain one's identity without resorting to words that may trigger some knee-jerk reaction. For instance, I don't say, "I'm a transsexual" when I'm disclosing to someone new in my life. I lead up to the disclosure, using language such as, "When I was born, I was assigned a female gender. But as I grew older, I eventually realized that wasn't the right gender for me, so I've transitioned to male." I said that to a classmate when I was in grad school, and she looked confused for a moment, then said, "Oh, you're a transsexual." Most people, however, have such misperceptions of what "transsexual" means that they still don't apply that label to me even after the explanation. I may eventually use that term to describe myself to those folks, but only after they've gotten to know me, so they don't apply their misperception of "transsexual" to me and never move beyond that.
Some of my clients have come up with creative self-descriptive language. One of my clients is a cross-dresser who dresses female the majority of the time, yet has no intention of transitioning physically. She describes herself as femme of center. I tell people that I didn't transition from female to male, I transitioned from female to not-female. I call myself a guy, but not a man. It can be helpful to move beyond the standard terminology of gender and find a self-description that captures one's essence. Not only can this be helpful in disclosure, but also allows each of us to define and describe our gender journey on our own terms.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not Queer Enough

There's an event happening in San Francisco (of course) called "Not Queer Enough" on June 27th. Among the speakers are people like Max Wolf Valerio & Julia Serano.

I wish I could be there.

My own feelings of being "not queer enough" I've mentioned at various times, usually when I've felt shunned at an event or gathering, or been made to feel otherwise square for being married or monogamous or heterosexual. Shoot, I've felt "not feminist enough" for being heterosexual & married, too.

& I'm very very certain that plenty of trans people feel "not trans enough."

But not queer enough? What defines someone as queer? Their politics? Being visibly queer? Their worldview? Their haircut? Who they have sex with?

I don't know. But I'd like to be in San Francisco that night to hear other people talk about their experiences.

Here's the event details:

NOT QUEER ENOUGH: An evening of readings and screenings looking at interaction between the GL and the B and the T. From screenings of work that has been censored or rejected by the "GLBT" community as too straight, to readings from Bisexual and Transsexual writers on the shifting ground in the larger queer community, this night is relevant... and should be fun.

When: Friday, July 27th
Where: Fine Arts 101, The Coppola Theatre /Main Campus, San Francisco State University
19th and Holloway Ave
Reception: 6:00pm
Reading/ Screening: 7:00pm


The participant line up will include:

  • Amy Larson,Founder: Chasing Amy Social Club
  • Julia Serano,Author: Whipping Girl, a Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
  • Gina de Vries, Bisexual and Youth Activist
  • Clare Marie Myers, Masters Candidate in Creative Writing on her experience as a Bisexual Scooterist in a pack of Dykes on Bikes
  • Max Valerio, Author: The Testosterone Files
  • Peggy Munson, Author: Origami Striptease -Peggy's DVD, censored at the San Francisco Public Library as "too straight", will be screened
  • Marsha Lanier, Adventures of A Former Fundamentalist: What happens when a Republican soccer mom discovers she's bi?
  • Plus a clip from Ray Rea's film, The Sweet New, deemed "not queer" by the recent Frameline panel

Federal Hate Crime Legislation: The Tip of the Iceberg

At the federal level, there's a lot of attention being paid to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. If it passes, it will be a good set of legal and public policy changes. It allows for federal assistance in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes in state and local jurisdictions that are unable (ie. because of a lack of funds) or unwilling to effectively enforce their existing hate crime laws. It's a good balance between federal and state rights, while also encouraging action by law enforcement where it's urgently needed: at the state and local level. Also it incorporates trans people into hate crime statistics collection, which, while very flawed at the federal level in general, is an important reform, nonetheless.

Of equal importance is the activity and organizational reality semi-visible beneath the water. This legislation it has drawn together a large, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-faith, cross-class and disability rights alliance: for example, supporters include the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Interfaith Alliance, UNITE, and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. The LLEHCPA represents an important new phase in the growth of the transgender movement: the creation of a coalition-based movement whose allies now extend beyond lesbian, gay and bisexual groups. LGB groups remain vital, not least of all simply because lesbian, gay and bisexual trans people exist. But they are not our only allies, anymore.

This change also marks the fact that it is no longer viable for the transgender movement to build organizations or develop agendas without a clear commitment to anti-racism, economic justice, religious tolerance and equality for persons with disabilities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

NCTE Says: Keep Calling!

NCTE has reported today that since they sent out their alert for calls to your senators to support The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act more senators have signed on to support it!

So keep calling! Tell your friends to call!

You can find your senators’ contact information through NCTE.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Argentina: ATTTA.ORG and more

The posting below about a positive ad by Banco Provincia in Argentina made me want to make visible an important Argentine activist group: Asociacion Travesti Transexuales Transgenero Argentinas . A.T.T.T.A. has done a lot of important organizing against poverty, violence, and HIV. And done it in the face of enormous odds, including state-sanctioned violence. Paisley Currah and I will have the honor of publishing some of their writings in an upcoming CLAGS publication titled Transgender Justice.

Additionally, two important activist voices from Argentina are Mauro Cabral and Paula Viturro (both are published in Transgender Rights). Mauro has been an important voice in international human rights work around gender and sexuality. Mauro is also a co-translator of PFLAG's Spanish language version of Our Trans Children (Nuestros/as Hijos/as Trans).

So... this is my way of recognizing and thanking these folks for their vital work.

Travolta & Turnblad, Topsy-Turvy

John Travolta’s turn as Edna Turnblad in the film of Hairspray has provided the occasion for more than a little awkwardness in the press recently.

The part, which was of course orignally written for, and embodied by Divine in the oriignal John Waters film, has also been played by Harvey Fierstein, who won a Tony for his version of Edna on Broadway.

“Fox News’ story on this turn of events, back in March of 2006, was entitled TRAVOLTA TO TURN TRANSVESTITE FOR ‘HAIRSPRAY.” The fact that the term ‘transvestite’ is now considered a perjorative (at least in this country) apparently had not reached the editors there. (Generally ‘cross dresser’ is considered a bit less incendiary, but then, it also depends who you ask.)

There have also been more than a few raised feathers given the fact that Scientology has an allegedly anti-gay bias, thus making Travolta a curious choice for this most iconic gay role. The controvery was addressed in a piece in the July 15, 2007 Sunday New York Times. The Times piece, by Jesse Green, is actually very good, and focuses largely upon Travolta’s process as he prepared for the role.

Still, one thing that got my attention in the Sunday NYT piece was Travolta’s repeated line about how “he didn’t want to play Edna as a drag queen; he wanted to play her as a woman.”

This line of course, in countless variations, is exactly the line spoken by thousands and thousands of MTF transsexuals, who, as they come out, want to be seen as women, not as transsexuals.

I said as much my own self when I came out. I wanted people to know that the woman they saw before them was an authentic soul. I still want that.

But I’ll also admit that lots of transsexual women make a big deal of coming out as women, and not as TS, because they look down on cross-dressers, and people doing drag, as individuals somehow not as exhalted as their own selves. It’s a prejudice I hear all the time– including from a number of very visible trans-women in the public eye right now– that they are all for fighting for their own civil rights as gender variant individuals, but at the same time, drag queens, cross dressers and other fellow travelers make them uncomfortable. The division between transsexuals and cross-dressers, sometimes, echoes the old division between transpeople as a whole and the gay and lesbian movement. That is to say, everyone is afraid that these other characters, these “lesser beings” will somehow “make them look bad.”

And so here comes John Travolta, playing one of the most iconic gay drag characters in film history– and what does he want? He wants to be seen as a woman, not as a drag queen. Cause, like, if you’re a “drag queen,” oh that is so very bad, but if you’re a WOMAN, well hey. You’re Good Old Mister Normal.

This subversion of drag strikes me as so nutty I can hardly write about it: it’s like the entire point of drag is to subvert, to make us challenge our ideas bout gender. Plus, have some fun. So instead, here’s Travolta NOT DOING DRAG, but being an ACTUAL WOMAN because its– “ACTING!”

I don’t consider my own life as a woman an act of drag; but it is an act of transgression, I suppose. And sometimes I do think of Ru Paul, who said, “We’re all born naked; everything else is drag.”

Travolta not doing a drag part as drag means he’s doing it as An Actual Woman which means you can Be an Actual Woman and Still be a Man as long as it’s Acting and Not Be Gay.

No wonder Fox news got all confused with its headline. And they’re usually so cutting edge on GLBT issues.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Far better than a free toaster

Yes, I got a bit teary-eyed watching this television commercial, titled "Perla," from Argentina....

[Man interrupts two women who are engaged in a conversation in a small-town sidewalk]
Perla (surprised): "Don Luis, strange to see you around here.."
Don Luis: "I wanted to know... when they gave you the loan from the bank to open your hair salon, did they ask for ID?"
Perla: "Yes"
Don Luis: "The document says that you are a man..."
Perla (turning less friendly): "Yes."
Don Luis: "They still gave it to you."
(woman nods)
Don Luis: "It's the same bank that gave me the loan for the car..."
Perla: "Hm."
Don Luis: "It made me think.. and it made me come to ask for forgiveness for having treated you badly all this time. For not knowing how to treat you... Take this, keep it" (hands the woman a figurine of a ballerina)
Perla (surprised): "For me?"
Don Luis: "Forgive me."
Perla (smiling warmly): "Thanks so much, Don Luis."
Don Luis: "Good-bye."

Caption: Your life changes when there's a bank that dared to change.

Voice-over: "You have a life, you have your bank."

Bravo to Banco Provincia and their ad agency El Cielo Buenos Aires!

(Thanks to Blabbeando for the translation and thanks to Autumn for spotting it.)

Princess Amygdala

How do we know with transness that there isn’t just something in the brain that’s mistaken? I don’t mean that in a bad way. I say that from the position of someone whose body was gender variant due to a hormone imbalance. When I see people’s before/after photos, I see FTMs who are physically quite feminine (i.e., normatively physically gendered), with no excess body hair, few large jaws or big hands, who get regular periods, etc. Likewise with MTFs: pre transition can be quite masculine, with very male skeletal structures, musculatures, a lot of body hair. I see such externally “gender normative” bodies I’m even jealous, though of course there are trans people whose bodies are gender variant, in various ways, too, who have ovaries or testicles that don’t function right, or make too much of the “wrong” hormone, etc.

It’d certainly be simpler if trans people all had physical evidence of their gender variance but obviously that’s not the case. All people who have physically gender variant bodies due to hormone imbalance are not trans, either, of course. But when I read that a lot of FTMs have PCOS like me, that makes perfect sense. Or when MTFs have gynecomastia or no body hair.

Here’s what got me wondering: I was diagnosed with PTSD, which is when this one part of your brain, the amygdala, keeps telling you you’re in danger when you’re not. It sends the adrenaline rushing through your body but because you’re not actually in a ‘fight or flight’ situation it just backs up, becomes an anxiety disorder. It’s not fun to have, & there’s no quick “fix” for it at all. But basically your brain - this one speedy part of it, the amygdala - is really just mistaken. It’s wrong. Somehow it goes on hyperdrive, & messages that should be sent to your rational brain go instead to this part that’s about having an immediate response (not necessarily a rational one).

So I’ve been thinking that maybe whatever it is in the brain that tells a person their gender is just wrong. For whatever reason. & I’m not positing a reason, or insanity, or mental illness, or anything like that: maybe just one part of the brain got an insufficient hormone wash or something. It could very well still be biological or genetic as far as I’m concerned.

With PTSD, some people get it when they experience trauma & some people don’t. Even in the same situation, the same risk to life & limb. & They don’t know why some amygdalas are quick to go into hyperdrive & others keep functioning normally. So in some ways there’s a genetic or chemical predisposition that can be “triggered” by trauma. Basically, no one who doesn’t have PTSD knows that they’re predisposed to it until they’re exposed to trauma & then they find out. There is no cure for it, except anti-anxiety meds and deep breathing and yoga and things like that - something more like maintenance than a cure, per se.

So maybe transness is something like that? Something like a predisposition that’s triggered by something environmental?

& Of course I’m not positing that transness should be “treated” any differently than it is now. Not being able to locate the “cause” of something doesn’t mean it’s not real. I’m also not trying to imply that transness is a kind of trauma; I’m just letting you all know what things I’m thinking about caused me to wonder this way.

(you may write all this off as the ramblings of a post-traumatic in an empty apt for the first night my lovely betty is away, & who is cursing being one of those people who has a fucked up amygdala. i’m not going to get any goddamn sleep tonight, i don’t think.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gendercator-centered dialogues

As most of you probably know, a film called The Gendercator was recently selected and then subsequently pulled from Frameline (an SF-based LGBT film festival). It was a supposed sci-fi short produced by a lesbian filmmaker that depicts physical transitions from one sex to the other (i.e., transsexual transitions) as being imposed on gender-variant people by a rigid patriarchal/heterosexist society, thus implying that transsexuals are the “dupes” of an oppressive gender system.

Anyway, because the film was pulled (due to outrage from the trans community over the fact that a film with such blatant anti-trans stereotypes was showing as part of the LGB-and-apparently-sometimes-T Pride festivities) there have since been accusations of “censorship” (despite the fact that a blatantly anti-gay/lesbian film never would have seen the light of day at Frameline). This has resulted in a growing movement of late to 1) show the film, and 2) follow it with a panel designed to discuss the issues raised by the film. In theory, this would (*hopefully*) lead to a respectful dialogue that would heal the community.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned as a trans activist, it’s that I should immediately be suspicious of oppositional binaries. And to be honest, I see one forming around this Gendercator film, one where a trans activist can only ever be depicted as either a narrow-minded advocate of “censorship,” or as a progressive, open-minded person who understands that showing and discussing the film is the best course of action. Now, I think that having a dialogue between trans & cis (ie., non-trans) folks in our community over this and other issues would be very timely and potentially bridge building, but the idea of centering such a dialogue around the Gendercator film is highly problematic for reasons that are typically overlooked.

What follows are excerpts from two emails I wrote in response to a group who invited me to take part in a meeting to discuss the potential format of one of these Gendercator-screening-followed-by-a-discussion-panel events. My purpose for posting my responses publicly is not to embarrass or “trash” this group for putting together such an event (as these seem to be sincere about creating a constructive dialogue), but rather to articulate why a feel so uncomfortable about the idea of a Gendercator-centered trans/cis dialogue.


Thanks for thinking of me. While I appreciate the invitation, I respectfully decline for the reasons stated below.

As a transsexual, one of the most common ways in which I am marginalized within gay/lesbian and feminist communities is by the accusation that I (and other transsexuals) transition either because we are "dupes" (who are misled into transitioning by a patriarchal/heterosexist medical establishment) or as “fakes” (who are so distressed by our own exceptional gender expression and/or sexual orientation that we are willing to go to the extreme lengths of surgically altering our bodies and unquestioningly embracing sexist ideals in order to fit into straight, mainstream society).

These accusations are an attempt to portray transsexuality as a "false consciousness" - it is the exact same tactic used by the religious right when they claim that same sex relationships are merely an "alternative lifestyle." Such accusations outright dismiss the possibility that the person in question has a better understanding of who they are than their accusers do.

If you invited me to participate in setting up a showing of a film that portrayed same-sex relationships as an "alternative lifestyle" to be followed by a discussion afterwards, I would decline. My reason for doing so is that it has been my experience that 1) people who use the "alternative lifestyle" tactic never want to engage in actual dialog (if they did, they wouldn't stoop to using the false consciousness tactic in the first place), and 2) it is downright demeaning to put any person in a position where they have to defend the legitimacy of their own identity and life experiences from an entitled person who has not shared that identity and experience.

For the same reason that I would not participate in a homosexuality-is-an-alternative-lifestyle film screening, I cannot participate in a Gendercator screening, as I would only be enabling cissexism within the LGBT community. Crouch has turned down numerous attempts to engage in an actual dialog with trans folks about this (this option was even offered by Frameline, but she declined), so it is disappointing to me that so many cissexual queer folks are so willing to offer her a soapbox. I honestly don't see what good can from this other than exacerbating the divide that already exists between transsexuals and cissexuals within our community.

Respectfully yours,

(2nd message)

Thanks for your reply. From your email, I get the impression that you are trying your best to create a respectful dialogue. In my last message, I was not trying to insinuate that you were purposefully trying to enable cissexism. But what does concern me (and what I will try to explain better in this message) are some of the unarticulated problems inherent in the idea of creating a trans/cis dialogue around a screening of the Gendercator.

I am assuming that the proposal to show the Gendercator as part of your series arose out of the controversy surrounding the fact that the film was selected and then subsequently pulled from Frameline. If this is the case, then let me ask you this: If the film was pulled for a different reason – for instance, if Frameline pulled it because it promoted racist stereotypes – would you go out of your way to show the film as part of your film series? I would suggest that you probably wouldn’t. And if you chose not to, it wouldn’t be because you advocate “censorship,” but rather that you would not want your series to be associated with racist sentiments, or to be misconstrued as tacitly endorsing those views. And if you did decide to screen the film anyway, and you invited folks of color from the community to take part in a panel after the film (where equal numbers of racists & folks of color would discuss the issues raised by the film), do you really think that most people would view this as an entirely fair, unbiased and open dialogue? And would this really be the best way to heal divisions with regards to race within the community?

What I hope the above scenario demonstrates is that airing a “debate” or a “controversy” is not automatically an unbiased proposal. For instance, if I made a point of giving equal time to both a doctor and a tobacco company executive to “debate” the issue of whether smoking causes cancer, or a climate researcher and an oil company lobbyist to “debate” climate change, it would be rather obvious that I was not being completely impartial. After all, by giving equal time to both sides of the “debate,” I would tacitly be validating dubious viewpoints (i.e., I’d be legitimizing the view that smoking *doesn’t* cause lung cancer & that carbon emissions *don’t* cause global warming).

Let me ask you this: doesn’t it bother you when the media covers some important gay/queer issue and they invariably include someone from the Traditional Values Coalition to provide the opposing view, you know, so that both sides of the “debate” get equal time? The reason why that’s so frustrating is because 1) it ignores the fact that the “opposing view” is in fact a majority view in our culture, 2) that viewpoint regularly marginalizes gay/queer people (whereas gay/queer viewpoints do not reciprocally marginalize straight folks), and 3) it insinuates that gay/queer people’s identities are up for “debate.” In other words, instead of discussing what needs to happen in order to ensure that gay/queer identities are considered just as legitimate as straight identities, the media instead creates a “debate” about whether gay/queer folks deserve to be seen as equals in the first place.

The viewpoints forwarded in Crouch’s film – i.e., that transsexuals are gender “dupes” or “fakes” (as I described in the last email) – are the views that have historically dominated within the gay and lesbian community (who make up the majority of the LGBT community). They are regularly used to dismiss, undermine and ridicule transsexual identities & perspectives, even today. A trans/cis dialogue that is centered on Crouch’s film (and the stereotypes therein) is one where transsexual identities and experiences are deemed questionable and up for debate from the get-go (in a way that lesbian/gay identities are not). In other words, the very premise is delegitimizing and alienating to transsexuals.

I know a lot of cissexual queers in the community feel that showing this film might help create a discussion about these issues, but I would suggest that that viewpoint is enabled by the fact that they don’t ever have to deal with cissexism – constantly having other people insist that one’s gender is “fake” or “illegitimate,” or being accused of “reinforcing heterosexist/patriarchal norms” when one is simply being themselves. I think that if more of them had that experience day-in and day-out, they would realize that a screening of a film that promotes such cissexist stereotypes is probably not the best way to begin this dialogue, as the very premise serves to alienate trans folks and legitimize anti-trans bigotry.

I think that a lot of trans folks (myself included) would love the opportunity to engage in a cissexual/transsexual dialogue about this and other issues. But such a conversation should begin with the recognition that our identities are not up for debate (any more than cissexual queer identities are). And we shouldn’t have to sit through an anti-trans film in order to participate in that conversation either. So I implore you to reconsider whether a screening of the Gendercator is truly the most constructive way to address differences between cissexuals and transsexuals in our community, or whether it will only serve to exacerbate divisions that already exist between us.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Drag: Not Just Men in Heels

Tomorrow I'll be glamming it up for the premiere of a new documentary "Drag: Not Just Men in Heels," directed by Amir Jaffer, which takes a look at a variety of San Francisco female impersonators, drag queens, drag kings and faux queens. Being a mere drag-princess-in-training, I'm not in the film myself, but I do know several of the people featured, and the movie looks quite promising, judging by the trailers and other excerpts posted online. Unfortunately, the premiere appears to be sold out -- but if it's as good as word-of-mouth says it is, hopefully it should be appearing on the film festival circuit.

Speaking of drag kings, San Francisco's 12th annual Drag King Contest is coming up on Aug. 18.

Urgent from NCTE

Today Senators Kennedy (D-MA) and Smith (R-OR) introduced the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585), which is being debated in the Senate this week and next. This amendment could be voted on as early as today. In short, today transgender people are one giant step closer to gaining federal hate crimes protections!

The language of today's amendment is identical language to that of S. 1105, which the Senators introduced in April.

But to ensure that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act becomes law, you must contact your Senators now and urge them to support this life-saving legislation.

As you read this, the Radical Right is mobilizing their base to oppose the federal hate crimes bill. They're using scare tactics and flat-out lies in hopes of killing Kennedy's amendment. Make sure that your Senators hear your voice and the true importance of this bill.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would:

1. Extend existing federal protections to include "gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability"
2. Allow the Justice Department to assist in hate crime investigations at the local level when local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to fully address these crimes
3. Mandate that the FBI begin tracking hate crimes based on actual or perceived gender identity
4. Remove limitations that narrowly define hate crimes to violence committed while a person is accessing a federally protected activity, such as voting.

Find your Senators' contact information.

The time to act is now! Call your Senators today and urge your friends and family to do the same!

(I've got a sample letter to your Senator posted at (en)gender, where this info is cross-posted.)

Welcome Susan Stryker

& Susan Stryker has now joined this motley, smart group.

Transforming Community Anthology

I'm up at my usual ungodly hour having just finished a piece for an upcoming anthology called TransForming Community: Stories from Merging Trans and Queer Communities which will come out on Suspect Thoughts Press next year and is being edited by Michelle Tea and Julia Serano.

It comes out of a spoken word series Michelle Tea started a while back; Julia Serano recently reported on her experience at one.

My piece is on queer heterosexuals, specifically crossdressers/transvestites and their female partners, and how we do or don't fit into queer community, or straight community, or trans community, depending.

It's also about how to tie your shoes.

When I have a final edit, I'll put an excerpt of it up here.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cold Showers and Statistics

I've just finished compiling national and statewide statistics on anti-transgender discrimination and violence for the non-discrimination work that we're doing in Massachusetts. I enjoy the work, intellectually and as an activist. It's also the equivalent of taking an arctic cold shower: sobering and very effective for putting things in perspective.


A study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 of 194 transgender individuals found a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually.

Nationwide, the rates of employment discrimination against transgender people are consistently high. A Williams Institute review of six studies conducted in cities and regions on both coasts and the Midwest, showed the following ranges for experiences of discrimination based on gender identity:

13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
13%-47% had been denied employment
22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace


A large number, possibly a majority, of transwomen are likely to have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.


GLSEN's 2005 School Climate Survey, which surveys 1,732 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from all 50 states and Washington DC, reports that, because of bias against their gender identity or expression:
40.7% of students felt unsafe in their own school
45.5% had been verbally harassed
26.1% had been physically harassed
11.8% had been assaulted

Health Care:

Draconian and irrational exclusions from health care coverage are still the norm. It is difficult to attribute transgender health care exclusions to anything other than a mix of transphobia and ignorance. The City of San Francisco, a self-insuring employer, provided coverage for SRS from July 2001 to July 2004, at the cost of an additional $1.70 per month per enrolled individuals. At the end of July 2004, the City had collected an additional $4.3 million while paying out only $156,000 on seven SRS claims.

… more statistics are available, and the situation becomes at once more complicated and clearer when you break things down by race, gender identity, and location. Transwomen of color face severe oppression across the board. The interconnectedness of oppressions both at a specific point in time and across a lifetime becomes clear.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Was King Hatshepsut Trans?

Egypt's most famous female pharaoh, alternately called Queen or King Hatshepsut by 21tst century media outlets, ruled ancient Egypt from 1473-1458 B.C. S/he was apparently well known for wearing a false beard--although it's not known if s/he really wore it all the time or just had depictions of her/him done with the beard in place to more closely resemble the previous pharaohs.

National Geographic says "Art from this period shows her wearing feminine garb but capped with the headdress of a male king. Eventually Hatshepsut was depicted in statues and wall carvings as afully male ruler: bearded, bare-chested, and without breasts."

National Georgraphic also calls Hatshepsut "the gender-bending queen." But is it really accurate to use our modern terminology to describe someone who existed before those words were invented? Especially when we don't know if the motivation for those actions were the individuals gender identity or desire to be taken seriously as a ruler?

Fresh Meat Festival & SF Trans March

Last month Diane and I made it to this year’s Fresh Meat Festival as guests of director Sean Dorsey. Dorsey, a critically-acclaimed dancer and choreographer, created Fresh Meat Productions to showcase the talents of trans and queer performers and artists. Though I’d interviewed him and his partner trans rocker Shawna Virago and written several articles about them, I’d never had the chance to meet him in person or see him in action.

San Francisco’s Fresh Meat Festival is a three day event presenting new work from some of the hemisphere’s leading trans and queer artists including Dorsey, Colombian Soul, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, Taiko Ren, Imani Henry, Miguel Chernus-Goldstein, Shawna , Julia Serano and Ryka Aoki de la Cruz.

For this year’s festival, Dorsey challenged performing artists to re-imagine traditional forms—like Hula dancing, taiko drumming and Afro-Colombian dance—from trans and queer perspectives. We went on opening night and were delighted by the diversity of the performances—everything from spoken word to dance, from aerial gymnastics to drumming.

We particularly enjoyed the taiko drummers and Freeplay Dance Crew’s hiphop style dance numbers. Freeplay features Joshua Klipp a trans musician who who Diane offended when he came to our book release party and she called him the guy who sings in two different voices. Although he did have one song that featured both his pre- and post-transition voices, it isn’t his usual manner of performance.

Klipp has unusual breadth as a musician, setting down standards at San Francisco’s old Jazz clubs, putting out the pop EP Patience and touring with trans hip hop artist Katastrophe. A bit of a Renaissance man, Klipp also holds a degree in law, teaches dance, directs the Freeplay, provides promotional photography for local artists, sits on the board of directors for Youth Speaks (a poetry and spoken word organization) and founded San Francisco Bay Area Artist Development and Support to help artists develop “the business and professional infrastructure they need to propel their artistic ambitions.”

If nothing else, this year’s San Francisco Trans March made us glad that we’d been to the Fresh Meat Festival. A number of the performers from Fresh Meat brought their acts to the Dolores Park stage but it was really a waste of their talents. Unfortunately acoustic problems made it almost impossible to hear the performers and the audience seemed more interested in chatting with each other anyway. The poor MC couldn’t even muster applause between artists. Every fourth performer or so the acrostics would kick in long enough for us to put down our stuff and stay awhile longer, and then it would go out again.