Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Lost A Friend Yesterday

I lost a friend yesterday.

He wasn't my best friend, or my oldest friend. He wasn't a drinking buddy, golf partner, wingman, school chum, former lover, next door neighbor or casual acquaintance. He was just my friend.

Ian was a special guy. Everyone knew that. You could see it. You could feel it. And if he let down his guard a little, you became even more aware of how remarkable he was.

I've always thought of myself as a pretty smart gal. Quick with a quip...know a little bit about a lot of things...informed just enough to have an opinion on just about everything. But I always suspected that Ian knew something I didn't. I believe Ian was smarter than me, and I don't say that out loud about too many people.

Ian was taller than I am. Taller than most people, in fact. As a result of that, I think he always slouched a little bit, to try and not take up too much space, or stand out anymore than necessary.

Ian had better hair than I do. It was long and wavy. He looked much more like a rock star than I do...and I have, in fact, been a rock star at various times in my life. Ian would have been completely at home on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with a smokin' hot, candy apple red Gibson Les Paul in hand. Except for the fact that he was painfully shy.

Ian was painfully many things. Painfully intelligent. Painfully sensitive. Painfully aware of the world he lived in. Painfully different. Painfully inquisitive. Painfully lonely. Painfully courageous. Painfully transgender.

Ian was also deeply loved. His mother, herself an unassuming yet confident woman, loved her son with all her heart. She loved him precisely for who he was, not in spite of who he was. She loved him for being her child. And she worked hard to prepare this world for Ian, because it was clear in so many ways that no matter how hard she and others tried, Ian was not prepared for the world.

Ian's father loved his son too. It was harder for him to come to grips with having a son, rather than a daughter, but he tried his best. And through it all, he loved Ian.

And Ian's younger brother loved him. He loved Ian the way most younger brothers love an older sibling. It wasn't all hugs and kisses...but it was always love and support. He loved Ian no matter what his friends might think or say. He loved Ian for looking out for him. He loved Ian for showing him that people come in all different kinds of packages, and that is a good thing.
Ian's brother loved him...and I love Ian's brother for that.

I didn't know Ian for all that long. And we didn't spend much time together. We did, after all, live more than 2,000 miles apart. But we understood each other.

Ian and I walked simultaneously through much the same space and since Ian was shy, the fact that not many words needed to be exchanged was an added bonus. As with all things, we didn't share everything in common...in fact, on the surface we couldn't have been more different.

I'm older, Ian was...well...less older. I'm a transwoman, Ian was a transman. We both were raised in the snowy cold Midwest, though I came from a dysfunctional, poverty stricken family while Ian came from a loving, nuclear upper middle class family.

Ian was a gifted student. I was, let's just say, less than gifted at the whole attending school thing. Ian had the support of his family and extended family and friends while I had none of that.

Ian had what most other people would consider to be a future. I'm not sure you would have found many people with the same feelings about me at his age.

And yet...here I am writing about my friend Ian while he is...lost.

I didn't misplace my friend. I didn't lose track of him in the woods while we were hiking, or forget where I set him down while I was cleaning house. But I lost him just the same.

Ian was 16 years old. Ian was a transman. Ian committed suicide on Monday.

We all need to find forgiveness in our hearts. We all need to realize that each of us is not just special, but irreplaceable and valuable. We all need to recognize that perfection is unattainable, because there is no standard to measure ourselves against. We are unique....we are already perfect.

We need to forgive ourselves for being transgender. I think if Ian had been able to do that, my friend might not have gotten so lost that he just disappeared.

There are so many children and youth like Ian that can be saved. But like the oxygen masks on an airplane, we must first save ourselves before we can save our children.

This year, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I'm going to rededicate myself to saving myself, so I can save others. It's an appropriate day to do that for all of us. But it's especially appropriate for me...

You see...November 20th is my birthday.

I loved you Ian. I always will.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

The First Man-Made Man (review)

So I read The First Man-Made Man by Pagan Kennedy not long ago, and I’m going to ‘fess up: this book really bothered me. The research seemed solid. The topic was interesting & book-worthy. But it was also somewhat repetitive, and I felt the plot arch was mis-played; you find out too much of the story upfront, & so there isn’t so much story to keep up the second half of the book.

But that’s not what bothered me so much: the tone of the book was remarkably condescending. The interview with the monk at the end just felt like a dick joke. & A lot of the time, the narration made me so uncomfortable I really just wanted to read the actual manuscript the first trans man wrote, instead. (Although from what I hear, no one seems to know if a copy exists at all anymore, or not.)

Don’t get me wrong: this is a valuable & interesting book & really gets at how remarkably new the tech was; I especially enjoyed the section on the early practitioners of plastic surgery. But it just felt to me that the author never really believed he was a guy at all, which strikes me as a remarkably unsympathetic way to write about not just transness, but about a trans man who was so inexorably alone as a trans person. Michael Dillon strikes me as a remarkable soul who had a tremendous amount of integrity and bravery, and frankly, this book gives you just enough about him to know that the book didn’t do him justice.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

waiting for my Colbert bump...

So sometimes when I'm on Wikipedia, I search using my own name to see if anyone is referencing anything I've written. For the longest time, the only result was on the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival page where my essay Bending Over Backwards: an Introduction to the Issue of Trans Woman-Inclusion is cited. But today, a second result came up: the Colbert Report page. After searching through it (it's a *humongous* webpage) I found myself mentioned under Criticisms of the show:


Jokes targeting transgender people, particularly transwomen, are a recurrent theme in Colbert’s repertoire. Examples of this include warnings about gender-variant pandas,[59] suggesting that a woman guest was a “she-male,”[60] and a reference to “trannies” as “dangerous characters” from whom soldiers need to be protected.[61]

Despite the obviously satirical nature of the show, members of the trans community have spoken out about these and other perceived negative impacts of Colbert’s show;[62]there has been no response from Colbert himself. The transphobic jokes often rely on the myth of the deceptive transwoman who lures heterosexual men into danger. Author Julia Serano has described how many in the media use this image as a plot twist, and how this portrayal affects transwomen’s lives.[63]

btw, that reference is to the web version of my essay Skirt Chasers: Why The Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Lipstick and Heels.

I'm glad people are talking about this, because I'm sick of screaming at the TV screen every time he evokes trannies. It's particularly frustrating because I otherwise love his show...

One final question: does one get a Colbert bump for being mentioned on his Wikipedia site?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gendercator re-visited

To be honest, I'm having trouble juggling all of the various anti-trans controversies these days. The ENDA issue has of course (for good reason) been the focus of much of the trans community's energy. Then there's the whole Bailey/Dreger debacle (which I am currently writing madly about). And now, unfortunately, it seems like SF's upcoming Gendercator screening has been orchestrated so that there is little room for an actual community dialogue (which was supposedly the original point in doing the screening). Anyway, here's the forwarded post:

Please attend transphobic filmmaker event this Friday in SF!

Supporters of ENDA have threatened to exclude transgender people from employment protections. Every other month, a letter runs in the local LGBT newspaper expressing disdain and disgust for transgender people. At last summer’s “Transforming Community” event in the SF LGBT Center, a gay man walked into trans community space and began distributing flyers against “Transsexual Mutilation,” claiming he simply wanted to start “dialogue.”

And this Friday at 6:30 p.m, Center Women Presents at the SF LGBT Center will be hosting the Midwestern filmmaker whose most recent statements equate gender transition with violence, social ease, and political apathy. These positions have been framed as a “difference of opinion” in the SF community. It is incredibly important that you attend this event and speak your truth. You may need to get there early. You may need to buy tickets for friends. You may need to bring copies of her statements. And you may need to brace yourself for a frustrating evening. But please, do not allow a transphobic outsider to the community frame what an actual respectful dialogue about community tensions looks like.

On Friday, Oct 26 at 6:30 p.m., Center Women Presents will show Catherine Crouch’s “The Gendercator,” the film that SF’s Frameline decided to pull last summer after community concerns about Crouch’s public statements against trans people and, for those who saw the film, the depiction of trans people as coercive right-wing anti-gay villains whose very existence was a threat to queers. If you missed the Frameline film fest uproar, Crouch's original publicity said that "lesbians alter themselves into transmen" ... "instead of working to change the world." She then clarified that to say she "never mentioned" trans people--just women who take hormones and have surgery in order to be read as male. Of course, all of this was said, she explained, to "spark dialogue."

Shortly afterward, the LA film fest pulled “The Gendercator” from its scheduled program and showed the film by itself along with a panel; this event, said Crouch, was “unsafe,” because it allowed people an open forum to challenge her and her ideas. Subsequent events have decided not to include Crouch on their panels due to her divisive positions. Friday’s “Center Women” event in San Francisco while initially well-intentioned-- has made great efforts to make sure Crouch feels “safe,” and during the process for this panel, organizers expressed concern for Crouch’s safety and respect. To that end, they have added a full panel of speakers to address everything from censorship to Crouch’s full body of film work – and not just that pesky topic of transgender marginalization within our own communities. Additionally, questions will be "randomly drawn,” increasing the chance for transgender ally “censorship” and discouraging any emotional members of the public from adequately expressing themselves. Crouch’s damaging public statements (which I’ve included below) are considered by many of the panelists and organizers to be irrelevant.

Again, it is incredibly important that you attend this event and speak your truth – this is our Center and our community, and if it takes civil disobedience or printed materials to be heard, it is important for that to happen. It is also important that you go to witness and document the event and not allow history to be distorted, as Crouch’s “revised statements” keep attempting to do. Like all communities, not every trans person agrees with Frameline’s decision to pull the film last summer, and not every lesbian or queer woman is sympathetic to Crouch’s positions. Some have emphasized that pulling the film was “censorship,” while others believe the film and Crouch’s statements are not transphobic. Others say that Crouch has valid positions because they do know one or two people who fit her criticism of an entire population. Such sentiments, however, ignore the real issues: our SF community frequently does respectfully and productively criticize one another without resorting to hateful rhetoric; there is also the undeniable reality that we would not be bending over backwards to give a safe space and an open mic to anybody who made similar anti-gay or anti-lesbian statements. Although Crouch keeps revising who she “meant” to target, the issue is not who or what she meant, but the ethics of judging people’s lives and bodies as cowardly or not queer enough--especially in our own venues.

Below are Crouch’s most recent public statements. From CatherineCrouch.com:

Director’s Note - Things are getting very strange for women these
days. Barbie dolls and lesbian women altering themselves into
transmen. Our distorted cultural norms are making women feel compelled to use medical advances to change themselves, instead of working to change the world. This is one story, showing one possible scary future. I am hopeful that this movie will foster discussion about female body modification and medical ethics.

This remark is not about transpeople. It is about women. My
understanding of transsexuality is that it is a rare condition, a medical condition of gender dysphoria. A person’s exterior body does not match their interior sense of self, causing serious social, sexual, and mental problems. This person is a transsexual, not a woman or a man. My statement was not meant to question the validity of this condition, but to call attention to the increasing number of young women who are taking testosterone or undergoing voluntary mastectomies to enhance their masculinity. These are women who formerly identified, or would be considered by the lesbian community, as butch lesbians. If we situate this in terms of the larger culture’s misogyny, it seems to be a rejection of the female part of the masculine female. Why does a woman do this? Most often, the reasons given are: to avoid harassment, rape and ridicule as a gender variant. It seems to me that what is also going on, but has not been explicitly addressed, is the desire to avoid being perceived by the world at large as female. Or to avoid the label of lesbian. Some may do this because it enables their sexual fantasies.

From a Movie magazine interview:

What I said was that cultural norms are making women feel compelled to use medical advances to change themselves instead of working to change the world. This remark is not about the trans people. It’s about women. My statement never referred to transsexuals, but some took it upon themselves to assume it was all about them. It seems to me that what is also going on but is not explicitly addressed, is a desire to avoid being perceived by the world at large as being female, or to avoid the label lesbian. But I think we need to acknowledge that it has become a trend among some young people who formerly identified as, or would be considered by the lesbian community, as butch lesbians. The rigid binary of a larger culture enables this violence and harassment of the masculine woman or effeminate male. It’s harmful to everyone, that their safety and identity is defined by conformity to this Ken and Barbie model. This is what The Gendercator is all about.

Aravosis Crow Pie: House Delays ENDA Vote

Just yesterday John Aravosis said:

"Time for some crow.

I wrote a few weeks back about how odd it was that George Bush's White House was being so quiet about its views on ENDA, and that it was odd that neither Bush nor his staff were even hinting at a veto. Some raised the point that formal veto threats often aren't issued until right before the vote, but still, the White House's silence struck me as odd."
But according to the Washington Blade:
"Democratic leaders announced they have decided to postpone a vote in the House of Representatives this week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. The announcement came several hours after the White House issued a statement saying that senor advisers have recommended that President Bush veto the gay rights measure if Congress were to pass it."
Aravosis boasted that:
"I wrote repeatedly about my inkling that ENDA could very well become law this year, in spite of the naysayers who said that Bush would definitely veto, that there was no way around his veto, and that I was either naive or a liar (in addition to being a racist, misogynist, native-American hater, bigot, rich, white, transphobe, homocentrist). Well, the religious right doesn't appear as unequivocal about that veto, and neither does the White House."
So much for the gay conservatives continued belief that President Bush will somehow stop his attacks against GLBT people and worry about his legacy.

But really, isn't worrying about the Presidential veto is a bit premature? For the life of me, I can't see how this would ever pass in the Senate. The Matthew Shepard Act passed by ONE VOTE, how could anyone in their right mind think that this bill has a snowball's chance in hell of passage?

Hopefully this smack in the face will wake up Congress and "conserva-queers" enough to join the rest of the community in passage of a United ENDA. Until then, crow pie anyone?

cross posted from Transadvocate.com

Bush advisors recommend ENDA veto

After a wingnut report that the White House had secretly helped draft parts of ENDA-lite (expanding religious exemptions) got pro-bigotry forces up in arms, the Bushies confirmed what pretty much everyone knew, Bush plans to veto ENDA regardless of whether it contains protections for gender identity.

So can we all agree that this year's vote is symbolic and drop the rhetoric by some pundits that insisting on an ENDA with gender identity/gender expression protections will somehow "hold hostage" LGB rights.

That said, even though tomorrow's vote is symbolic, it's still important -- laying the groundwork for a future votes when we have a president who won't vote it. So if you haven't done so, visit, call, email or fax your Congressional representative today.

Monday, October 22, 2007

ENDA vote Wednesday - call now

The House is scheduled to vote on ENDA Wednesday. The current version leaves out protections for gender identity and gender expression -- potentially leaving a huge loophole, and not just for trans people, but also for gays, lesbians and yes... heteros. As Lamba Legal put it: employers may not be able to fire you for being gay or lesbian, but they could fire you for being too effeminate or too masculine. Fortunately, Rep. Tammy Baldwin will be submitting an amendment to restore gender identity protections to the bill. Now is the time we need to make clear that there's support for an inclusive ENDA.

Pick up the phone and dial 202-224-3121.It's the number to Congress, and your zip code will connect you to your Representative's office, where an aide will register your request. If you don't feel comfortable calling, then email them -- you can always use a pseudonym if need be (the important thing is the make clear that you vote). Congress.org has quick way to find your local representative, just enter your ZIP code and on the resulting page, click the link under "Write your elected officials."

If you're not sure what to say, here's some talking points:

- It is unprecedented for Congress to pass civil rights legislation that is not supported by the community the law is supposed to protect. Nearly 300 LGBT organizations representing over 2 million Americans actively oppose any employment nondiscrimination legislation that does not include gender identity.

- HR 3685 does NOT provide sufficient protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. As Lambda Legal, NCLR and other legal organizations in the trenches of anti-discrimination cases have pointed out, ot only does this bill completely fail to protect transgender people, but it also fails to protect lesbians, gay men, bisexual, and straight people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. Their experience in the last few years has been that this is -- and would be -- a huge loophole used by employers, their attorneys and conservative activist judges, to justify discriminatory firings.

- HR 3685 is morally and strategically wrong. Not only is it morally wrong to leave part of the LGBT community out of this bill, but it is also strategically wrong. We have learned from our work in the states that it is far easier to include gender identity in civil rights legislation the first time it is passed than it is to try to go back and add it in later.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Call for Transsexual Narratives

I am currently working on a paper (which I plan to submit to a peer-reviewed psychology journal) that challenges psychologist Ray Blanchard’s causal theory of “autogynephilia” (which has recently gained attention via J. Michael Bailey’s book The Man Who Would be Queen). This theory posits that all transsexual women who are not exclusively attracted to men transition to female because we are sexually aroused by the idea of being or becoming women. Many trans women (including myself) find this theory to be flawed because it mistakenly confuses/conflates sexual orientation, gender expression, subconscious sex and sex embodiment, and it unnecessarily sexualizes the motives of countless trans women who transition to female for reasons other than sexual arousal.

To refute the assumption that lesbian/bisexual/“asexual” trans women are the *only* transsexuals who experience pre-transition fantasies about being/becoming their identified sex, I am hoping to collect applicable narratives from the following groups:

1) FTM transsexuals: narratives that discuss/describe any pre-transition sexual fantasies you may have experienced that primarily centered on you physically being or becoming male rather than on the physique of another person.

2) MTF transsexuals who are exclusively attracted to men: narratives that discuss/describe any pre-transition sexual fantasies you may have experienced that primarily centered on you physically being or becoming female rather than on the physique of another person.

To refute the assumption that “autogynephilic” fantasies *cause* transsexuality, I am hoping to collect applicable narratives from MTF transsexuals who are lesbian, bisexual or “asexual” in orientation and who:

1) were stereotypically feminine and girl-identified as young children and transitioned during late teens/early adulthood

2) never experienced pre-transition sexual fantasies that primarily centered on physically being or becoming female

3) did experience such fantasies, but only after consciously recognizing/realizing that you wanted to be female

4) regularly engaged in such fantasies pre-transition, but then experienced a sharp decline or a complete absence in those fantasies over time. (Note: if you fall into category #4, please include any reasons/explanations as to why such fantasies no longer arouse or appeal to you).

Narratives should briefly describe the pertinent details in 1 to 4 short paragraphs. There is no need to be overly graphic or detailed - just the basic facts will suffice. Please be sure to include the age at which you first became aware of your cross-gender identity/desire to be the other sex, and the age at which you first experienced such fantasies (if applicable). Narratives that are germane to the points I wish to make will be compiled onto a single webpage that will be used as supplemental data for my article. I can assure you that YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFO WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED OR SHARED WITH ANYONE. Obviously, other people will be reading these narratives, so be sure to omit any unimportant info that you feel might place your anonymity in jeopardy (e.g., where you live or work, names of partners, etc.)

For those interested, please send your narrative to me at hi@juliaserano.com - be sure to paste the narrative into the body of the email (no attachments please). Along with the narrative, please include the following information:
1) whether you are an MTF or FTM transsexual
2) whether you are sexually oriented toward men, women, both or neither
3) a statement along the following lines: “I certify that all of the provided information is true to the best of my knowledge, and I give Julia Serano permission to permanently post this narrative on her website and to include and/or excerpt it in her forthcoming article.”

The purpose of my article is not to discount or discredit trans women who self-identify as autogynephilic, but rather to finally take into account the experiences of the many trans women for whom sexual arousal was not a primary motivation for transitioning. In other words, this study aims to clarify the psychological literature on this matter, not to distort it further. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you be completely honest and open in the information you provide. If I have reason to suspect that any narrative I receive is fabricated, I will not include it.

Feel free to cross-post this call for narratives on any trans-focused websites/email lists at your discretion. It is also available on the web at this link: http://www.juliaserano.com/artifactualAG.html

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at hi@juliaserano.com

Thanks in advance!

Transgender Families on Oprah

I just wanted to thank the couples, and their children, who were on Oprah the other day for the Transgender Families show.

They were all articulate and well-spoken.

So thanks Joan & Sydney, and to Fran & Denise. You made us all look good today.

I'd also like people to read Monica Roberts' letter to Oprah about having some trans POC on her show.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Incremental progress

Don't let up on your ENDA lobbying. Tonight Rep. Tammy Baldwin announced she'd gotten an agreement from the House leadership to introduce an amendment to H.R. 3685 (ENDA-lite) to restore gender identity/expression protections after it leaves committee. (BTW, Baldwin has really been our champion here, so also be sure to let her know that you appreciate her efforts.) Obviously, it's not as ideal as moving forward with the inclusive ENDA (H.R. 2015), but just remember, only a few days ago Pelosi, Frank and company had no plans to even hold a vote on the inclusive version of ENDA. With the committee vote not until Thursday, there's still time to make yourself heard.

BTW, one ray of light amidst this whole mess has been the support shown by gays, lesbians and bisexuals, who've been unwilling to leave us behind, such as these eloquent words from by Pastor Paul. Can I have an Amen!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's the Day

From NCTE:

ACTION ALERT on ENDA from the National Center for Transgender Equality

House committee meets Tuesday to decide whether or not a version of ENDA that cuts out protections for transgender people will advance in Congress.

Your Representative needs to hear from you TODAY.

The House Education and Labor Committee is holding a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the strategy proposed by some House leaders to pass an ENDA that cuts out protections for transgender people. A committee vote on the bill is tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

A list of Committee members is available at http://edlabor.house.gov/about/members.shtml

Your Representative needs to hear from you TODAY about your opposition to the flawed strategy of advancing a bill that leaves transgender people behind.

Call your Representative right now at 202-224-3121, even if you have already called him/her already about this issue. Tell him/her to oppose advancing H.R. 3685, the bill that leaves transgender people behind. Tell him/her to push for a vote on H.R. 2015, the transgender-inclusive ENDA, instead.

Please call today. You have been asked to do a lot in the last few weeks to support transgender nondiscrimination protections. The action you take today might make the difference.

Friday, October 12, 2007

ENDA and misogyny

speaking of ENDA...

there is an interesting post on Christine Simone's Trans Feminist blog in which she discusses how the most vocal critics against including gender identity in ENDA tend to be gay men, and how the rhetoric they use is often steeped in misogyny/trans-misogyny/femiphobia...


Thursday, October 11, 2007

ENDA loopholes

Today two more legal groups that are in the trenches fighting discriminatory firings added their critiques of ENDA-lite, being the latest to say it's only likely to protect those who are straight-acting. "[It's] a bill no competent attorney representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community would ever support" said the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders said: "As GLAD knows from the calls we get on our InfoLine, the discrimination experienced by many gay men, lesbians and bisexuals is based not directly on their sexual orientation, but on their presentation — their gender identity or expression. They are "too feminine" or "too masculine" and they make employers uncomfortable — and they're fired."

The butch who was thrown out of the Caliente Cab Co. restaurant in NYC (on Pride Day no less) because a bouncer thought she was too butch to pee in the women's restroom is an example of how gender expression affects gays and lesbians without "passing privilege." BTW, it's notable that the main thrust of the lawsuit she filed is that the restaurant violated NYC's protections on gender expression. While the lawsuit also alleged violations of sexual orientation, want to bet the restaurants lawyers will argue they didn't because (and admittedly I'm assuming here) there were other lesbians in the bar. Which is, as GLAD noted, the same argument employers can and do make today.

Employment law professor Jillian Todd Weiss has a detailed look on her blog at the case law on this issue, as do the ACLU, GLAD (PDF link), NCLR and Lambda Legal (PDF link) on their sites. If you don't want the legalese, this post illustrates how ENDA vs. ENDA-lite would play out in real-life scenarios.

To those critics who've challenged these legal groups to point to case law that's problematic is states that only have sexual orientation protections, NCLR points out that: "We know from our own firsthand experience that LGB employees who have experienced discrimination that might be characterized as based on gender nonconformity have a very difficult time finding a lawyer to represent them in those states because of the uncertainty as to whether the law prohibits this type of discrimination. Moreover, even if an LGBT employee finds a lawyer to file such a case, most employment discrimination cases settle and never result in an appeal that establishes precedent. Experienced lawyers thus have to read the case law not just for what it expressly states, but for what it shows is likely to happen in other litigation. What has happened in the federal courts under other anti-discrimination laws shows why we, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, GLAD, and the Transgender Law Center are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of a sexual orientation-only bill."

Bottom line, gender identity/expression protections protect everyone, not just trans people.

On Enda, On National Coming Out Day

This is the text of the talk I gave in Denver on Tuesday. It probably won’t surprise anyone that I’ve been busting at the seams wanting to have a say in all of the dialogue going on about ENDA. At least I don’t think it should surprise anyone, not by now.


First, let me thank Ed and Jordan and all the students who asked them to bring me here. It’s a pleasure to be here in celebration of National Coming Out Day, a pleasure to see all of you gathered, celebrating who you are. Thanks to all the crossdressers, the gays, the lesbians, the genderqueers, the trans men & women, MTF and FTM, & to their partners. Thanks to all of you who are family, or friends, or allies, for being here.

Betty and I have been on tour a lot this year because I had a book published in March, and we’ve gotten a chance, once again, to meet a lot of people and to talk to a lot of trans people and partners, and this year, we’ve met more gay and lesbian people who aren’t trans than we did before. And it’s been a pleasure all around in hearing people’s stories of their own gender variance, or the stories of how they came out to loved ones, or of their first big crush or the moment when they realized they were trans or gay or lesbian or how they came to understand the first identity they understood themselves to be was not quite accurate in the long run. What I love to hear the most is about how queer people find one identity fits for a while and then not at all; like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ chambered nautilus, queer people build themselves bigger chambers, bigger categories, labels that are not so confining, over time.

That’s how it’s been for us, certainly. By the time people get used to what we’re calling ourselves our identities have shifted a little, changed usually by experiences we never expected and wouldn’t trade for anything.

We went to Cleveland this spring over Memorial Day weekend, and while we were there, we went to a fundraiser for a local gay group. We had a nice time exchanging jokes with one of the guys for a few hours in someone’s backyard; he’d never met us before and we’d never met him before and we were there as just two friends of a friend, with no mention of my books. He hadn’t clocked Betty as trans. So at some point during the afternoon, maybe after noticing we were the only women present, he leaned over and asked, “So you two are lesbians, right?”

And we both nodded yes.

Later in the day, because we were there for a fundraiser, I donated a copy of my book, She’s Not the Man I Married, and the host read the copy on the back. And one of the men, who was trying to wrap his head around the idea that the lesbian couple he’d been speaking with were not quite who he thought we were, asked for clarification. “So you guys are really heterosexual, then?”

And we both nodded yes, though then we clarified with a “kinda, but not really, well we used to be…” and for a while he was more confused than he’d been before. Our identities are not really something to introduce once someone has had a few drinks.

It’s only by explaining who we were & how we came to be who we are as a couple that we get to see the light bulbs go on over people’s heads, where they start to understand not just trans, but queer, and then they see, slowly, how trans people really screw up the tidy binary of Same Vs. Opposite which summarizes the way we think about sexuality.

The thing is, we met when we were presumably heterosexual. And I say presumably because Betty, even when she presented as a guy, was the nice guy, the guy her straight women friends talked to about the jerky guys they were dating. And she was the kind of guy the gay men she acted with assumed was in denial. And me – well let’s just say I’ve always been assumed to be a lesbian even when I was dating men, and that friends of mine told me I was queer long before I met Betty and long before anyone could put their finger on how exactly I was queer.

So we met, and we fell in love – I asked her out, of course, which made us kind of odd for a straight couple to start with – and not long after Betty told me that sometimes she dressed as a woman and sometimes she wished she’d been born one. And I thought to myself, like the guy at the end of Some Like It Hot, “well, nobody’s perfect.” Because the idea of falling in love with a man who was really a woman was such a remote, impossible idea. It wasn’t that the idea of gender transgression was new to me: I’d known plenty of men who did drag. I had a close friend who was butch identified. I’d grown up a tomboy, & I’d been a faghag. But gender transgression and transition were entirely different things to me, and the idea that the man I fell in love with might want to live as a woman was about the equivalent of someone telling me I’d be living on Jupiter in a few short years. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was willing nonetheless. I thought I had met a man who was confident enough in his masculinity to play with gender, and really, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was only over time that I realized exactly how wrong I was, that Betty’s gender wasn’t about transgression or rebellion but about being who she felt herself to be. And like a lot of partners of trans people I wished it were different, that her transness didn’t cause her so much pain, or cause our relationship so much change, and – ultimately – that the world wouldn’t suck so much when it came to people who weren’t normally gendered or as mean to the people who love them.

Because even the people who thought Betty was nuts saw it as her problem, and reserved their real judgment for the looneytunes who’d stay with someone who was so obviously nuts. That is, me. But I knew, like a lot of trans partners know, that trans people are not crazy, that they’re sometimes confused – as are we all – and sometimes they’re depressed – as are we all – and sometimes they’re angry – as are we all. And they had their reasons, and in fact were astonishingly rational considering the hand of cards they’d been dealt.

So not long after we met, I found myself being seen as a lesbian by other people, or just plain crazy by people who knew Betty when she looked like a guy. That is, I discovered, as a lot of partners of trans people have, that I was often more than one thing at a time, that I had come to occup multiple identities at once. One partner of an MTF I know likes to use “nickel” – spelled NQAL – for “not quite a lesbian.” I’ve met femmes who met their dream butch only to find – after that butch transitions – that the world has started to see her as straight and has taken away her hard-won femme identity. We partners find ourselves privately feeling like one thing – in my case, that was something like heterosexual – and find ourselves being seen as another entirely – again, in my case, as a lesbian. That is, our own experiences start to echo the trans person’s before they express their internal gender, or before they crossdress or transition. You find the world seeing you as something you don’t think of yourself as. For me, I was fine with queer, since I’d never been what anyone considered normal. Believe me, meeting Betty explained a lot of things about me that had confused my friends – and me – for years.

But the thing is, there’s plenty of people out there who are like that 2nd gay man we met at the fundraiser, who hear we are still genitally configured as Tab A & Slot B, and think, “heterosexual.” But the thing is, even if Betty thought of herself as a transvestite, or a crossdresser, and I as her wife, we still wouldn’t be straight. Heterosexual, kinda. We make a distinction between the two terms – straight being something more like a political identity, the way queer is, and heterosexual just being a description of what our sexual orientation looks like. And straight is a much narrower category – as any out crossdresser & his wife can tell you, losing straight privilege is a long walk off a short cliff, once that you can’t get back onto no matter what kind of mental gymnastics you do, which is why most crossdressers and their wives aren’t out, of course. You lose so much, and yet you find yourself not really anywhere at all.

Because there are plenty of people who think of queer as same sex, only. A film by Ray Rea called “The Sweet New” was deemed not queer enough by Frameline – the LGBT media organization – because the storyline concerned a trans man’s exploration of his own immigrant family’s story of assimilation into America. Another book, Origami Striptease, by Peggy Munson, got deemed “too straight” for featuring a romance – and hot sex – between a bisexual woman and a trans man. A part of me, when I heard about both of these stories, didn’t need to question anymore why Betty & I could be made to feel uncomfortable in certain queer spaces, or why we felt like we were nowhere at all for a time before Betty identified as female fulltime and before I got my head around not mentioning my heterosexual history.

And yet, you know, there’s just a part of me that has to mention it in queer spaces, because I’m perverse that way.

And because that’s what trans has done in ways both large & small to queer spaces. Because if you define queer as same sex and straight as opposite sex, then a lot of us in trans spaces don’t belong in either category. We’re not straight. For those trans guys who are coming from lesbian identities, who date femmes or butches or soft butches or other trans men, they live queer. They breathe queer. If they’ve lived as masculine women in the world, they know queer. And you don’t just get to toss all that, even if you’d want to, once you start masculinizing your body and changing your ID if you can.

For the other end of the trans family, MTFs who’ve started out straight guys who crossdressed sometimes who had to tell girlfriends about their crossdressing and who start to pluck their eyebrows and at best pass as metrosexual – well, they’re not quite straight ever, either. I mean, straight guys don’t think about what kind of mascara their girlfriends use or how they manage to put on their lipstick without a mirror, and emerging MTFs do. When I called Betty to ask her out for the first time, she had the phone in one hand & an eyeliner in the other. And believe me, I can guarantee that’s the only time I’ve ever asked a guy out that that’s been true. J Guys who are really women who date women who feel safe in drag bars and at fetish events aren’t really straight in the way the Family Values folks think of it, let me put it that way.

So trans has created this whole group of people, often going in opposite directions, who aren’t straight and aren’t “same sex” queer. But queer? Yes, the lot of us are. When you, as the partner, are tripping over pronouns and don’t really know which gender most of your friends identify as, you’ve left straight land. Like I said, it’s a steep drop off a short cliff, that one.

On a recent radio show, our femme host said plainly, “Because when you’re queer, the world isn’t made for you, so your day is about making decisions about how to be in the world every minute.” And in that sense, trans couples – whether they’re trans/trans, or trans plus female, or trans plus male – are about as queer as queer gets. Because even the queer world, half of which thinks the whole gig is about being same sex, doesn’t get us. The straight world doesn’t either. So in some senses we’ve got two worlds that aren’t made for us, & no matter which one we’re in, we have to decide who to be & how to be in either. In queer spaces I can play down the guys I’ve dated and leave out being legally married & monogamous, because none of those things are cool there. They’re like demerits, really. And when we’re in straight spaces, we can’t talk about our sex life and how we decide when and if we can hold hands in public, because those are demerits there and because – well, because straight people don’t want to hear about it a lot of the time. So what we end up with is not getting to be who we are in either space.

I know partners of trans men who fit in fine with straight women when it’s time to talk about makeup or shopping but not when it comes to sex. And MTFs who go home & revel at the sight of any breast development but who bind those budding breasts in order to go to work in a suit and hope no one notices their lack of facial hair. Any version of gender transgression you can think of is out there, living quietly a lot of the time, with only a few close friends – often other gender transgressors – cued into what they’re doing, how they’re living, & who they’re dating.

Because the thing is, what Betty used to get asked a lot – before we got asked if we were lesbians – is if she was gay. And in a bar, where you can’t hear above the thump of the music, she’d say yes, she was a lesbian. It summarized two big chunks of who she was – she likes girls, and she thinks of herself as female. And people could get it in a way that a half hour conversation trying to clarify exactly what they thought of as a lesbian & who got to use that label and what makes a person a lesbian or a woman… well, you can’t do all that over the thump of the music in a club, can you? So she’d say yes, because it was easy, but she wouldn’t necessarily say she was a lesbian around lesbians because she doesn’t like to step on toes, and neither do I.

Which is why we told that guy at the fundraiser yes when he asked. But the reality is that Betty has never dated women as a woman, and I’ve never dated women as a woman. We’ve both kind of arrived at lesbian through the trans tunnel, so to speak.

But interestingly, if you take someone like Rosalyne Blumenstein, or any number of trans women who grew up identifying as gay men, who often lived in drag communities and had drag mothers and who hustled as boys first and stripped as girls later, they’re not really queer enough either once they find husbands or boyfriends and want to get legally married. Which they can, sometimes, in some states, depending on the state and its laws about how they recognize gender and how they feel about same sex marriage. Roz Blumenstein explains her identity by calling herself a woman of transsexual experience, which is what lead me to call myself a queer woman of heterosexual experience. But you know, that’s a mouthful too. & Most people, really, just want to know who’s doing who, and whether or not they have a chance with you if they try barking up your tree.

Sometimes in a bar it’s a lot easier for both of us to say we’re monogamous instead of trying to clarify either of our genders or sexual orientations, because what we like and who we are takes – well, how long has it taken so far? 45 minutes? J to explain.

My experience talking to a lot of partners of trans people is that we become queer, not because we were or intended to be or because we’ve been repressed or in denial or anything like that. We become queer because all of a sudden gender becomes this amazing selection of genders, way beyond male and female, with endless variations and exceptions and bodies that come in so many different shapes and types and sizes. So we realize – as I have – that once you’re with a trans person, you don’t see things the same way again. You start to see the world differently, and you see sex differently, and you definitely start to see identity differently. You see how easy it becomes to be more than one thing at the same time, even categories that are mutually exclusive, like “queer” and “heterosexual.”

So you could say we’re queer heterosexuals or queers of heterosexual experience or you could just say we’re a trans couple, and if anyone you’re talking to knows anything about trans couples they’ll know they don’t really need to know all the details. We have complex relationships because our identities are complex and often feel like more than two people, but certainly there’s more than a few gender roles at play, no Cleaver family roles going on here, except maybe for fun & when I want to see Betty in pumps. But eh, she’s getting so liberated these days she barely wears anything sexy anymore… which is the kind of thing I think when I’m watching TV waiting for her to be ready for a night out, wondering when exactly I became her boyfriend.

But I did, somewhere along the line. Now when I tell people I asked her out on our first date, and I expect the kind of nervous titters I used to get when I said it, people just kind of nod, wondering when the weird part kicks in. Because now when people see us, it seems perfectly normal for me to have asked her out. What was once eccentric bordering on unnatural and immoral is now completely – well, exactly what people expect.

Mostly when I talk about feeling not being part of either world, straight or queer, I’m talking more about our social lives and what we make of them, how we fit in or don’t in various kinds of spaces. It’s about the kind of support we’ve felt from others, the kind of community we do or don’t feel a part of. But suddenly on the national level, not being straight and not being “queer enough” have become incredibly important. Because right now, in DC, lobbyists and trans people and feminists and gender variant types of all sorts are trying to convince the very “same sex” minded Barney Frank that we need employment discrimination protections. And suddenly what felt like a private matter – of who we hung out and which bars or music festivals we felt welcome in – has become a very public matter, and a matter of which LGBT community we want for ourselves, for our peers, for our queer friends and neighbors. Because right now the intention of Barney Frank is to present a stripped down version of ENDA that would remove all the “gender identity” stuff they think people – and congress – are too ignorant to understand.

So let me explain a little about ENDA.

A lot of LGBT organizations worked together to have the bill be inclusive of gender identity protections. That version, HR 2015, was the one that was supposed to be voted on a week or so ago. But at the last minute, Barney Frank decided to split the bill into two bills – one that would only offer protections based on sexual orientation, with the other to protect based on gender identity. The idea of the first, inclusive bill is to keep people from being fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender variant, genderqueer; for being femmes or butches or queens or tomboys or bulldaggers or sissies. It was supposed to protect all the beautiful variations of queer – and gender – we can come up with.

The second version – HR 3685 – would only protect gays and lesbians and bisexuals. But even that, only theoretically. Because when a femme-y man who happens to date men gets fired, his employers can easily explain he wasn’t fired for being gay – of course not, we’d never do that! there’s federal protections for gay people, he was fired because he just didn’t dress right, you know, he didn’t act or look or dress enough like a man, they’d say. We don’t care who he dates, they might explain, but we do have dress codes, and we expect men to – well, act and look and dress like men.

And the new version of the bill will offer him no recompense whatsoever, exactly because he didn’t get fired for being gay. Theoretically, at least.

I understand the gay male classifieds are full of calls for straight-acting gay men and that some of my femme friends who are partners to trans men have an easier time passing as straight than I ever did. But how hard is it to understand that the people who are most vulnerable to being fired for being gay and lesbian are the people who “look” gay and lesbian, or whose gender is non-normative? If the fabulous Rufus Wainwright felt uncomfortable in his clogs at Millbrook, are we really going to conclude the place wasn’t gay-friendly, or that it just wasn’t okay with a man who was so unapologetically not straight-acting? Crossdressers have been fired for crossdressing – not on the job, but on their own time. Don’t they need the protections too? & Does Barney Frank really believe they’re not queer enough to need laws on their side?

Because what’s happening, and what has happened, as historian Susan Stryker has pointed out, is something like revisionist history. Lee Brewster isn’t around to remind us all of the way drag queens were not so politely asked to be quiet and get into suits for the sake of gay liberation – nor is he here to tell us how much he wasn’t having it. It’s pretty much accepted that a butch woman was the one who first resisted arrest at Stonewall, and that her resistance sparked the drag queens around her to up the ante of their own resistance, which lead in turn to Sylvia Rivera throwing that first bottle. But sadly she’s not around to remind us of that, either, nor of the way she was asked not to speak at the 1973 commemoration of Stonewall.

But even if you’re skeptical of the way a complicated event like Stonewall is reported, by people who were there & maybe by some who just knew someone who was – the very fact of it is that cops at that time went into gay bars and arrested people for BEING CROSSDRESSED, that is, for expressing their gender variance. The law at the time was that men had to be wearing at least three articles of men’s clothing, and women three articles of women’s clothing. That is, the gay bars were targeted by police not for the homosexual activity going on in them but for the gender transgressives who went to them.

And as someone who has passed as a lesbian for most of my life, I can tell you that I was never clocked as a lesbian because I had a woman on my arm. Now, sure. But not then – then, it was because “I looked like a lesbian” and that means – to the people who don’t understand the difference – a woman who looks like or acts like a man. And then, well, I wore combat boots and flannel and shaved my head a lot.

One of the reasons that’s often given for removing gender identity protections from ENDA is that trans people haven’t been involved in the rights movement for long enough, or visibly enough, but you know: Lee Brewster tried, and they didn’t want him involved. And Sylvia Rivera tried too. And so did the other people who rebelled at Stonewall, as did the people who rioted at Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966 – and at Dewey’s Lunch Counter in 1965. Trans people even did their own thing, forming organizations like Tri Ess in the 1950s, which was formed by and for crossdressers and which separated itself from the gay movement of its own accord, and by the 1970s there were the Radical Queeens in Philly and the Queens Liberation Front in New York and a bunch of other organizations as well. Trans people were getting organized around the same time, but the thing is – same as now – we are a tiny percentage of the larger LGBT. Tiny. We have always needed allies, and as of the 1970s – the era of difference feminism, the beginnings of backlash from the rebellions of the 60s – trans people lost all their allies. Trans women were kicked out of lesbian orgs and drag queens were asked to step down. The logic was that if gay and lesbian people didn’t act so weird and maybe wanted kids and homes in the suburbs – that if they acted straight – they might one day be considered citizens.

Sadly, that’s what we’re seeing all over again, that trans and gender variant gay and lesbian people and gender variant people who are straight are just not worth protecting.

If we go even further back in history, we’ll see we’ve all been in the same boat the whole while. The fathers of the homosexual rights movement – Karl Heinrich Ullrichs and Magnus Hirschfield – put us all together. Ullrichs called us “Urnings” and Hirschfield used “intermediaries” – meaning people who were intermediate between sexual orientation and gender role norms – but we were all in the same boat according to them. Even then, there were people who didn’t want to be in the same boat; there were gay men who didn’t like the implication of gender “inversion” implied in their theories. But both of them – as do most of the Family Values set – seem to see homosexuality as, oh, the biggest, baddest of the gender transgressions possible. Sometimes, you know, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, no? Sometimes it’s easy to tell who’s on your team by knowing who else the people who beat you up like to beat up. By that logic, the LGBT as a boat for both sexual orientation and gender variance, makes perfect sense. The one thing I’m sure of is that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are willing to sink it, and all of us with it.

But there is this: there was a long time when Betty and I were riding the front of that boat, enjoying the spray and the sunset, completely oblivious that we were on any boat at all, & that there had been people working to keep it going the whole while. We had to become aware – to become conscious of who we were & where we were, & of our community – to realize that all we had to do was ask what we could do. & That, in turn, was what gave us our sense of an LGBT community, of feeling part of something larger than us, and larger than trans too.

For us, that act of saying, “What can we do?” meant coming out. And as much as it’s great that there is a National Coming Out Day, most people who come out know you don’t do that in a day. You do it more like every day, or when you meet someone who needs to know. And this week, this month, with the gender-inclusive ENDA hanging in the balance, people need to know. Voters and congresspeople and Senators and their aides need to know. Your local gay and lesbian orgs need to know; social justice organizations like the ACLU need to know, and so do your feminist orgs and professional associations and unions. Everyone needs to know that we – as a group of American citizens – can still be fired for who we are and how we look. And that is un-American. I don’t think there’s a group left besides the LGBT who don’t have federal employment anti-discrimination laws in place. And while it’s great that we finally have a national law protecting us – or our families – from those who would commit violence against us – we also need jobs. Believe me, you’ll find out when you have to pay your student loans back.

So this year, for National Coming Out Day, we have one really good reason to be out. You don’t have to write an op-ed to your local paper announcing how queer you are. You don’t have to say anything about yourself at all. But what you do need to say is that LGBT Americans not only deserve discrimination protection based on their sexual orientation but based also on their gender identity. And once you say that out loud, or write it somewhere, on a blog, in the cafeteria, at your church or temple or at work, you start to realize there are people all around you who are terrified of coming out because they can still lose their jobs if they do. Which is, of course, exactly the reason to say it out loud.

Betty and I came out because we could. We’re legally heterosexual. We also both work in worlds that are – if not precisely trans-friendly – then eccentric-friendly. Artistic careers are good for that, even when they don’t pay the rent. So when we looked around, & realized we were dyed in the wool bohemians, who live in a neighborhood jokingly referred to as “dyke slope,” we knew we could be out. We didn’t have conservative jobs to lose, or children to feed. We only had us. We had the keen sense of our former straight privilege to guide us; we know, as they say, how the other half lives. And there are a bunch of trans couples going in the opposite direction, who have gone from being visibily and publicly queer to feeling invisibly queer and publicly straight – who know too how huge it is to go from straight to queer or the reverse. They know, as well as we do, what it is not to feel like you’re counted, to not feel like you belong, and to feel, that if someone knew who you once were, that you, too, could be out of a job.

I’ve never been someone who would advise anyone throwing caution to the wind or coming out because it’s some kind of moral or political imperative. I’m just not that sort. I think people come out when they can, if they can, as much as they can. & Really, that’s all anyone can do; we all have lives and careers we want to protect, we want to thrive and flourish, and someone, after all, has got to fund the organizations that fight for our rights. But like I said, coming out is never just a simple thing of announcing yourself as gay or lesbian or trans or queer. It’s about redefining the space you live in, the community you want to be a part of, and about creating a society that will allow us bigger and bigger categories and labels that will begin to feel like they aren’t labels at all. It’s about recognizing who your allies are and who wants you to have your rights as much as you do.

In the past week or so we’ve seen 150 groups who only recently added the T to the names of their organizations speak up against Barney Frank and against expediency and in favor of a larger, more inclusive community. And all the naysayers I’ve known over the years – people who say there is no trans community, and no LGBT community, or no queer community – really must not be paying attention. No, we’re not all best friends. Some of us want suburban lives with children and pension plans, and some of us want artist collectives and revolution and to queer the binary every chance we get. But the reality is none of us want to be second-class citizens. Betty and I work for gay marriage because we’re married by a legal loophole – really, because our genitals are heterosexual – and we don’t believe anyone should be denied that right whether they want it or not. And it turns out, as of this week, that a lot more gay and lesbian people have figured out their own gender variance, or that of their friends; they’ve figured out that not only do they know trans people but sometimes they fall in love with them or give birth to them or are their children. Feminists – among whom there’s an awful history of transphobia – have thrown themselves into this fight. Gay groups. Lesbian Groups. Trans groups. It is, as Nadine Smith of Equality Florida just wrote, The Moment of Truth. It’s this moment where we get to decide whether we’re all in this together, whether we’ll let the divide and conquer strategies that have divided us, win, or not.

It’s about deciding who we are, not as a community, not even as activists or as citizens, but as people who have historically wanted social and legal justice for people who are not like everyone else, but who do have something in common with each other: we don’t have federal protections against discrimination. If there is nothing else we have in common, there’s that one, & that’s exactly what ENDA would provide – for all of us.

Doris Lessing, Trans People, and Feminism

Okay, first off, the news, which you probably already know:

Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Doris Lessing, the novelist whose deeply autobiographical writing has swept across continents and reflects her feminist engagement with the social and political issues of her time, today won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” The award comes with a 10 million Swedish crown honorarium. (from the New York Times)

Okay. So first off-- I'm glad Doris Lessing has won the Nobel. She is the eleventh woman to win it, and one of the most articulate voices for feminism. That's fantastic.

I remember reading "The Golden Notebook" when I was 21; I'd been given it by a good female friend, one of those people who may have had some fundamental understanding of my trans nature without our having an intimate talk about it.

What I remember is a profound sense of sadness from Golden Notebook, and particularly a scene in which the heroine finds her flat-mate, Ronnie, in the bathroom, using her moistureizer. It's not clear to me if Ronnie is meant to be trans, or a gay man, or some combination of both, but our fightin' feminist heroine is, in any case, repulsed, grossed out, and contemptuous of him.

"... Anna, speaking out of her disgust, was ashamed of doing so before the words were out. Good Lord! she thought, to be born a Ronnie! to be born like that-- I complain about the difficulties of being my kind of woman, but Good Lord! I might have been born a Ronnie!"

So. There you have it. The Nobel Prize winning feminist author weighs in on trans folks.

Today I will join in with other feminist women around the world in being glad for Doris Lessing, and glad for us all.

Except: I wonder if anyone, in the accolades which are sure to shower down on her in days to come, will note this cruel swipe at trans people? And feel bad about it? In just the way I felt bad about it, as a twenty-one year old feminist transwoman, looking for someone who might give voice to the things I felt in my heart, and heard, from my heroines, only disgust and shame.

I know that Doris Lessing represents, perhaps, an earlier kind of feminism, and that in the 60s and 70s there were plenty of feminists who found trans people perplexing and some kind of affront. I know that things have changed, mostly.

But the spirit that is in this small moment of the book (and it IS a small moment) lives on. And as long as it does, my joy for the progress women have made will remain muted.

In the Feminist Mystique, Betty Freidan wrote of "the nameless problem of modern women." I remember, in 1975, reading this work and knowing even then that Betty Freidan probably didn't include me among that nameless problem's sufferers. But you should, Betty, I thought. You should.

Doris Lessing's heroine said that the only thing worse than being born female is "to have been born a Ronnie!" and I don't know. Maybe she's right. But what makes it hard to be born this way, in part, is not the condition itself; it's being put down and belittled by the people you hoped were your sisters, your allies, and your friends.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A reminder why gender expression protects gays and lesbians too

The butch who was ejected -- on the same day as New York City's Pride Parade -- from the women's restroom of a restaurant for looking too masculine sued the Caliente Cab Company today on the grounds that it violated the city's gender expression protections, and New York state's protections against sex stereotyping.

Yes, the lawsuit also argues CCC violated sexual orientation protections -- but wanna bet the restaurant's lawyers will argue that it didn't because (I'm assuming here) there were other lesbians in the bar. This is exactly the sort of "we're not firing you because you're gay/lesbian, we're firing you because nelly/butch" loophole that Lambda Legal has warned about (PDF link) if ENDA lacks gender identity protections.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

ENDA Links

For more reading about ENDA than you might ever want, I've put together a bunch of the articles, essays, & blog posts on the topic since it was introduced in April:

(Thanks muchly to the smart members of the mHB boards for these links!)

Both Sides Now.

Cross posted from the MHB site. There is a current discussion of "What have you lost during gender transition?" The folks over there have a variety of experiences-- some of them appear to have lost nothing and improved their lives; others have lost family, jobs, homes, the Full Monty. My thoughts follow:

• Most people I know have lost something in transition.

• in my case, among other things, I lost a sister and a good friend.

• Although I do not know if that loss is forever.

• And the nature of my relationship with the woman I love has been altered. In some ways for better, in other ways, not.

• Trans people are often told they should EXPECT to lose many precious things.
Sometimes this happens.

• But it doesn't always happen. Often, the things that are lost--like the things you keep-- are not what you expect.

• But I get tired of the focus so often being on the bucket of blood which is loss of family, loss of jobs, loss of house, water on the knee, lockjaw and arthritis. It's not always that.

• To some degree, what you lose--or keep-- is a direct result of HOW you transition, and WHAT your expectations are. This is a fact that many trans people refuse to own up to. Here are some things that have been done by people I know who tend to have suffered the most losses: 1) starting a transition without consulting loved ones; 2) secretly sucking down hormones off the web; 3) expecting loved ones to be happy for you; 4) issuing ultimatums; 5) refusing to accept how hard a transition can be on those that love us; 6) being blind in so many ways.

• To some degree this is true at work as well. People that I know who have lost their jobs have done some of these things: 1) started surreptiously x-dressing at work on some level-- wearin' scanty underthings; wearing makeup or piercing the unexpected== all of this without a clear transition plan; 2) expecting people at work to be thrilled about it all for you. 3) Using the "new" restroom and being blind to how this might even give open minded people the creeps. In some circumstances. And so on.

• I think people frequently lose control of their transitions, and thus their stories, through their own indiscretions-- like "telling just one person" who winds up being a person who does not keep that secret for you. Next thing you know, the story is out all over town, and you're toast. Ask Susan Stanton about this. Better yet, don't.

• Having said that, the OPPOSITE is true as well: I know people who have lost their families and jobs no matter how carefully they planned; no matter how kindly, patiently, and competently they tried to share the news, spill the beans, bring people along. I know wise, sweet people who have bent over backwards in every way only to wind up flat on their faces, abandoned by exactly the people they reached way out for; fired by their so-called open minded bosses for reason oh-so-supposedly unrelated to trans stuff.

• And the opposite of the opposite is also true: People who have behaved like complete, thoughtless imbeciles at times have Done Very Well Anyhow. (And I would describe myself, and almost every trans person I know as at least occasionally falling into this category.) Sometimes this is dumb luck; sometimes this is because it's all actually less of a big deal sometimes, and in some situations, that we think; sometimes it's because people are given the opportunity, over time, to be forgiving. Sometimes it's because people's love turns out to be unconditional; or nearly so. Sometimes it's because It's Never Really Over; and life itself provides plenty of mulligans. Or, if you like, do-overs. And being Trans is not the most shocking mulligan that there is.

• the people who may have been most supportive of my transition are my nonagenarian conservative Christian mother and my then-tiny children; some of the people who have been least supportive have been politically liberal; some of the people grasping the issues least succintly are gay and lesbian.

• It is fair to want to wonder "are the losses worth it all?" And this is a Very Good Question to Ask. Too often, Trans People don't think about the consequences of their actions; they hurtle along like asteroids on fire, and as they fall they scream out, "Hey, I'm becomin' my true self! Be happy for me!"

• And yet at the same time, it's like asking, "if you'd known how much dialysis was going to suck, would you have CHOSEN kidney disease?"

• I can't make sense of all this but if there is any one thing I believe in,--and not only in trans matters-- it's "Be The Change You Wish To See."

• some of the people most annoying or draining or least insightful about the issues are other trans people.

Like me.

Respectfully submitted,

Jenny B.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

An Honor Bestowed

Hello Family, Friends & Allies,

It is an honor for me to announce my recent election to serve a two- year term on the PFLAG Transgender Network (TNET) Board of Directors.

Since the early 1970's PFLAG has been pre-eminent in their support of equality and justice for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. TNET, having been founded in 1995, officially joined forces with PFLAG in 2002 as a "Special Affiliate" chapter and began working together to advocate on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

TNET Mission Statement:
The purpose of this chapter shall be to support the mission of PFLAG; to promote the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.

PFLAG TNET focuses on support for transgender people and their parents, families, and friends; education on transgender facts and issues; and advocacy for equal rights for the transgender community at local and national levels.

I have also been appointed TNET West Coast Sector Coordinator. Among my responsibilities in that role are to oversee the efforts of Regional Coordinators and PFLAG Chapter Coordinators and to assist wherever and whenever possible in outreach, education and advocacy initiatives.

Many of you who know me will understand that I've accepted this honor and responsibility in order to make a difference.

As evidenced by the recent maneuvering in Congress over whether or not to pass a trans-inclusive version of ENDA, we are at a point in transgender community history where it has never been more important to educate and inform people (including our allies) about the damage that prejudice, homophobia, marginalization, ignorance and violence can do to transgender people, especially children and youth.

My dedication to working on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming children, youth and their families will continue to remain my #1 priority and I will continue that work along with other Associate Advocates through my organization TransActive Education & Advocacy, much as I did in my role as Founder and Past President of TransYouth Family Advocates.

I look forward to continuing to receive your support and cannot begin to thank you enough for that support through some very difficult times.

I have learned so very much from this journey I'm on. Sometimes I get a gold star, sometimes I get a "time-out" and sometimes I get a rap on the knuckles from the teacher we call Life. And even though I sometimes get rapped on the knuckles when I don't deserve it (and also receive un-deserved gold stars), I learn something from each of those experiences.

The most treasured lesson I've learned is that true friends are the rarest of commodities. True friends stand by your side in the dark, even though they are terrified too. True friends are able to move beyond disagreement and pain into compromise and joy. True friends are family.

I hope that I can always be a true friend to each of you. It is my great good fortune to be able to say that so very many of you have been true friends, and family to me.



Jenn Burleton
West Coast Sector Coordinator
Portland, Oregon

PFLAG Transgender Network (TNET)

Donna Rose Resigns from HRC

A Statement from Donna Rose, Community Activist on the Human Rights Campaign’s Position on ENDA:

“An impressive coalition of local and national organizations has lined up to actively oppose the divisive strategy on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would leave our transgender brothers and sisters without workplace protections. This effort has galvanized community spirit and commitment in ways few could have imagined, and it has demonstrated to those who would divide us that anything less than full inclusion is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – a group of which I am the first and only transgender board member – is not part of this group. Their recently issued statement indicates while it is not preferable, they will not actively oppose a version of ENDA which is not fully inclusive.

Because of this unacceptable position feel compelled to resign my position on HRC’s Board of Directors.”