Monday, December 31, 2007

Crossdressers Needed

A couple of weeks ago I posted a survey by TAVA, the transgender veterans association, and they are especially needing to hear from crossdressers. I know you’re out there, so please do respond to the survey!

on the words transsexual, transgender & queer

Happy almost 2008 everyone!

This morning I posted an entry in my blog-born-blog about how (and why) I used the words transsexual, transgender and queer throughout my book Whipping Girl. Some people had issues/disagreements with my use of these terms, so I felt some clarification was in order. The post can be found here.

It touches on some of the same issues as Jenn's recent post, so I thought it would be of general interest to folks here. Also, I decided not to post the entire text here (just the link) as it is about 2000 words long and I didn't want to be a space hog...enjoy!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Very Happy New Year!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... so was 2007 for the trans community, what with ENDA. Jacob Anderson-Minshall did a wrap-up of the year for The San Francisco Bay Times.

I'm looking forward to a long break from being quite so public; book tours are great fun, enabling you to meet tons of people who you wouldn't normally meet, but they're also exhausting because of all the travel. I'll pass the torch to Jennifer Finney Boylan, whose new book I'm Looking Through You, comes out 1/15. (Website by Betty!)

I'll be traveling to Wisconsin to teach Gender Studies - and a course in Transgender Lives - at Lawrence University, while Betty stays in Brooklyn. This will be the first time in our decade together that we'll have been separated for so long, but she is driving me there, probably visiting in February, and then coming to gather me again at the end of March. But I'm sure we'll manage, but to answer the forthcoming questions: there is no reason for us living apart besides employment issues.

All best to you all in 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Trans Politic, Trans Police

This is my response to a post someone made re: my recent appearance on a radio show discussing how families can best support a transgender family member. I like the way it turned out...thought I'd share it here.

The original post is intact, including spelling and punctuation. To listen to the original radio broadcast this post refers to, click on this link:

* * * * *


Thank you for listening to the interview, your thoughtful comments and for sharing your sense of self-identity with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. Please see below for my response to some of the points you raised.

"--- In, 'R' wrote:

Some thoughts as to what I thought as I heard the show.
Curious, why the constant use of the term transgender for everyone else?"

The reason for the use of the umbrella term "transgender" is that it is commonly utilized to address a wide-range of gender identity expression. My goal (and the point of the show) was not to define or represent a segment of the gender non-conforming population, but rather to reach out to families of individuals (particularly children) who may find themselves at many different points on the gender continuum.

I had, roughly, 15 minutes max to introduce myself, talk about the work my organization does with children and youth and then, somehow, couch it all within the framework of the show's topic. Transgender is an inclusive term that aptly describes the vast majority of our potential audience, particularly children & youth.

"Myself that's not a term which I in anyway use as part of my identity other then the fact I am lesbian therefore transgressing what society considers "normal" gender behaovour. But just because of being transex or transexual it does not make me or those friends of mine, TG."

It is my opinion that terminology is out there for people to use. My use of the word transgender in the advocacy work I do in no way implies a requirement that you identify with that word.

In order to not get bogged down in the ever-shifting sands of "PC" verbiage, I use transgender to reference people who have a gender identity that is, in some way or other, inconsistent with their assigned birth gender. That gender identity may, or may not, also be in conflict with their anatomy.

I use the term "cisgender" to reference people whose gender identity is congruent with their assigned birth gender and anatomy. I do my very best to not use words like "normal" in regards to anyone because it is simply a synonym for "conformity".

I support you in your stance that another person's use of the word "transgender" does not make you or your friends, per se, transgender.

"I was also kind of surprised to hear your talk on the typical idea of boy or girl type toys, ie barbie and GI Joe and trucks. To me the message there should have been toys are toys and both can enjoy playing with either."

I completely agree with you about toys themselves not having an innate assigned gender. And of course, I agree that children (and adults) should be allowed to choose, play with and enjoy any toy they desire. That being said, the focus of my participation on the show was to communicate with people who may have children who are gender non-conforming in some way, not to elucidate my personal beliefs regarding non-gendered toy selection. We agree on the point, but we simply disagree on what is a proper forum to discuss the point.

"For me barbies were not a huge thing in my life, same with others I know. I would have been more like a tomboy in that sense along with my child hood friend."

"Yes some kids who are trans may enjoy barbies others trucks but just the same other male listed children who are not transexual also enjoy barbies."

Nor were Barbie's a major component of my childhood. I neither longed for one, nor spent much time thinking about them. I draw no particular conclusions from that observation other than it was simply my personal experience.

On the other hand, the vast majority of female identified gender non-conforming children (age 5 & up) that we have worked with do show a distinct interest in traditionally feminine toys & objects (Barbie & Bratz dolls, Little Mermaid, jewelry, make-up, etc.) The opposite is true of male identified gender non-conforming children we have worked with.

The reality of the situation, from our perspective, is that children who are visibly gender transgressive in their interests get noticed more than children who are not. And the degree to which they get noticed is directly correlated to the societal double-standard regarding gender expression.

As you self-described, a "tomboyish" 8-year old will not set off that many alarm signals, because we allow female assigned children far more leeway in their gender expression than we do male assigned children. And tomboyish behavior in a male assigned, female-identified child will appear to others as, well...gender normative to some extent.

This is one reason why many transmen first identify as lesbian, rather than trans. Their "tomboyish-ness", while somewhat transgressive, falls within the range of tolerated female gender expression...albeit on the "more masculine, probably going to be a lesbian" side of that barbed-wire fence. Gender transgression in birth assigned boys however, is a far more anarchic act. It gets noticed immediately and is subjected to exponentially more negative cultural and familial blow-back.

My goal in doing the interview was not to express my own wide-ranging opinions on gender identity oppression, gender identity suppression, terminological misappropriation, post-op transsexual identity vs. pre-op/non-op gender expression, lesbians (as opposed to dykes, femmes, butches, queers, genderqueers, etc.), trans-dykes, trannyfags or any of the myriad other boutique identities we all encounter and embrace for ourselves. Each of those subjects (and more) are certainly worthy of their own forum and deserve to be explored in depth.

At the end of the interview, my goal was simply to have been a voice of support to parents, family, friends and allies of transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly children and youth. To have given them something to think about with regards to loving each other and to have opened a door perhaps to families who are just now recognizing the struggle their child may be facing with regards to their gender identity.

I love having gender 201, 301, 401 and up discussions and theoretical exchanges. This radio show, in my opinion, was not the place for that discussion.

"Just my two cents


Your thoughts are worth far more than that. Thank you for them, and for providing the catalyst for me to respond. Have a rewarding and wonderful New Year.


Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Friday, December 21, 2007

Where's Our History?

by Dallas Denny

[An editorial written for, but never published in, Transgender Tapestry magazine; published here with the author's permission.]

Until 1990 or so, the transgender community had little sense of its history — I suppose because we were so very busy defining ourselves. Outside of the hands of private collectors and the occasional gender-bending article or item in gay and lesbian archives, there was nothing. Even collectors had little idea of the value of something like a 1955 program book from Mme. Arthur’s cabaret in Paris, or a 1915 postcard of the famous female impersonator Julian Eltinge, or a program from the First International Symposium on Gender Identity or an issue of Virginia Prince’s early magazine Transvestia.

I remember, in fact, way back in 1993 discussing this with Ms. Bob Davis (then plain old Bob Davis) over the telephone. We decided that if we were patient, a market would develop and would determine values. Today, thanks largely to eBay and the emergence of booksellers who specialize in transgender materials, Ms. Bob and I have notions of what transgender historical materials are worth. One might expect to pay more than $400 for the Mme. Arthur’s program, for example, or $425 for an early copy of Transvestia, or $65 for an Eltinge postcard, or $50 for the rare, but rarely collected, symposium program.

The new century has brought increased interest in transgender historical materials. Year 2000 started out with a bang, as the new nonprofit Gender Education & Advocacy (formerly the American Educational Gender Information Service) sought proposals from other nonprofit agencies to receive its National Transgender Library & Archive (see Tapestry #109 for an article about the disposition of this collection; it went, after a rigorous decision-making process, to the University of Michigan). Also in 2000, Rikki Swin, under the auspices of the Rikki Swin Foundation, purchased the private collections of early transgender activists Virginia Prince and Betty Ann Lind and the archives of the International Foundation for Gender Education. Swin subsequently purchased a personal collection from Ariadne Kane, one of the founders of Fantasia Fair and another early transgender activist.

At the 2001 IFGE conference in Chicago, attendees were whisked in chartered busses from their hotel to a building in the center city, where they trudged up three steep flights of steps to view the purported future home of Swin’s collection, (A Rikki Swin Foundation press release claimed the building had been purchased by Swin for some three million dollars). The rooms were empty, but guests were assured the collections were stored elsewhere in the building.

At least one person I know (Ken Dollarhide, if you must know) say they actually saw the shelved collections. Swin took out full-page ads on the outside cover of this magazine, prominently featuring her expensive building, paid for the expenses of medical professionals at various transgender conferences, and then—nothing.

By nothing, I mean nothing. No one seemed to know what had happened to Swin or her institute. The building had reportedly been emptied, the collections vanished. The RSI phone number has long been out of service.

Considerably later, Swin reportedly resurfaced in Victoria, British Columbia—for the geographically challenged, Canada’s westernmost province. I managed to suss this out by working my network of acquaintances. It’s probably true (I trust my network), but for the past five years, there has been no official word from Ms. Swin about her foundation or about the collections she has acquired. No word about our history, in other words.

Certainly, Swin isn’t in possession of all of our history—there are other collections, after all—but she does possess a significant part of it—most importantly, personal papers of Virginia Prince and Betty Ann Lind which document the history of early transgender organizations and of which there are no other copies. She has been absolutely irresponsible by not keeping the community informed of the collection’s condition and whereabouts. It could, for all we know, be poorly stored, shredded, or lost.

Ms. Swin, where is our history?

Note from the author:

According to Aaron Devor, the collection has arrived at Victoria University in British Columbia.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Trans Christmas

I received a wonderful present yesterday, a CD recording by Alexander James Adams, who used to be Heather Alexander. As Heather, he had a 20-year career as a professional musician.

His "transitional" recording Winter Tide is a great holiday compilation, with him singing all the parts. He recorded the female parts before the hormones changed his voice, then went back and harmonized with himself.

As a singer myself, I love this CD, and as a transman, I have other reasons for admiring Alexander's work! Here's a sample of the lyrics, I suspect this song was chosen because it's how Alexander views his transition process:

It's in every one of us to be wise
Find your heart, open up both your eyes
We can all know everything
Without ever knowing why
It's in every one of us to be wise,
by and by

You can order this CD on the following page on Alexander/Heather's website. Don't click on the sidebar link for ordering CD's; this one is too new to appear on the list yet. You can order from this page on his site.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happy Holidays

A very happy holiday season to everyone out there!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

TG Veterans Survey

New Transgender Veterans Survey
Immediate release. Please post this everywhere.
Transgender American Veterans Association
Contact: Monica F. Helms, President

A new survey has been created to achieve a more accurate picture of the state of the transgender American veteran population. Many of the issues facing transgender veterans are no different than those facing the rest of the transgender community. However negotiating healthcare thru the Veterans Administration and dealing with the Department of Defense poses its own unique set of challenges. This survey is also for those transgender people who are still serving in the military and those veterans who identify and are diagnosed as intersex.

The detailed survey of 117 short questions only takes between ten and twenty minutes of your time and it is the first of its kind to be undertaken. Many of the questions have several choices to them, but just a few will take multiple answers. A large percentage of the questions are a simple “Yes/No.” Some require a written response. While transgender veterans who do not, or have not ever used the VA for their medical needs, can skip that entire section.

The survey can be accessed at:

TAVA would appreciate as many transgender/intersex veterans and active duty service members to take this survey as possible. If anyone knows of a transgender veteran who does not have access to a computer, then please help them log on at a local library or community center so TAVA can obtain their responses as well. The answers to this survey will not only help veterans’ organizations in providing assistance to their transgender members, but it will benefit other organizations from the answers not having to do with the military. Since there are no questions about personal contact information, this survey is completely confidential. For additional inquiries about this survey, please contact the Transgender American Veterans Association at:, or go to our web site at

Founded in 2003, the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) is a 501(c)3 organization that acts proactively with other concerned civil rights and human rights organizations to ensure that transgender veterans will receive appropriate care for their medical conditions in accordance with the Veterans Health Administration’s Customer Service Standards promise to “treat you with courtesy and dignity . . . as the first class citizen that you are.” Further, TAVA will help in educating the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) on issues regarding fair and equal treatment of transgender individuals. Also, TAVA will help the general transgender community when deemed appropriate and within the IRS guidelines.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sunday, December 02, 2007

TG 101

The Gender Identity Project (GIP) Center here in NYC has created a 20-minute film called Transgender Basics. It's not necessarily thorough - it's only 20 minutes! - but it does cover what it needs to for an introduction to the idea. You can view it on the Center's website.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


cross-posted from

The Washington Blade published a story, "Experts question HRC's ENDA survey", in which an HRC survey methodology is denounced as obviously biased. If you'll recall, in the 11th hour of the US House maneuvers that led to the passage of a trans-exclusive ENDA, HRC announced the results of their poll showing that 68% of GLBT folks supported passing a trans-less ENDA. This survey is exposed as prejudiced.

Clearly, this is evidence of less-than-ideal behavior at HRC. Fortunately, none of the rest of us have ever behaved less than ideally, so we can all rise up in righteous indignation. How dare they!

Any movement such as ours is bound to run into such snags. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to maintain our pressure on HRC to do the right thing, while looking forward to, and strategizing over, how we can ALL get the results we want, or are we going to watch as our hard-won movement disintegrates into self-righteous polarization?

I just hate to see the GLBT community - my community! - being torn apart by this. The women's movement foundered in the 70's over stuff like this, and suffered great setbacks thereafter. We need to keep looking forward, put our energy into progress, not recrimination, or else, guess what?

We've been divided and conquered.

This past year has seen tremendous gains in visibility and recognition of the legitimate needs of all people of diverse gender expression and identity. Let's not blow it like Bush did, wasting the gift of public support by going on the attack against the wrong folks. Instead, let's build on the good that has happened, while keeping up the pressure on HRC - and the money behind them - to do the right thing. There's a lot of education yet to be done, and we can't do it while we're frothing at the missteps, or even betrayals, of allies.

Safe Home

Cross posted from MHB, as well as that newfangled This is perhaps more personal than a lot of the material we present here, but maybe this story of family, time, and change will shine a light on stories other than my own.

Saw my sister last week for the first time in seven years. You can read about that here.

That first night ended with my dancing with my sweetie and my good friend at a wedding reception to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family".

I got all my sisters with me.

And I thought about how not all of my Sisters are my sister. And that some of my sisters are not even women.

(Jenny pauses on the Millenium Bridge above the Thames in an Unnamed European City, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben visible in the background.)

We walked home through the lovely city and slept the sleep of the dead.

Then we went to Ireland, where I met all of the folks I'd hung out with ten years ago, when I was visiting faculty at UCC. And they were all generous and sweet. I can tell you that Ireland is a strange mixture of the progressive and the regressive, so i wasn't sure what to expect.

But as always, people were "relieved" that "it was only me." My dear old friend whom I think I call Eoin in She's Not There-- my drinking buddy, a professor at UCC was lovely to me. I think it works like this: plenty of people , including him, can't quite get their minds around the whole transgender business. But that wasn't necessary. He saw it was me, and his love for me, and mine for him, was unchanged. And so we picked right up where we left off. He got his pronouns wrong, once, and he apologised profusely, which was hardly necessary.

It made me think about how we always think that if others can simply feel what we feel, know what we know, the light will go on and they'll feel compassion and sympathy and understanding for us. But over time I've come to accept that most non-trans people can never know or feel that. But what CAN happen is that some people are simply given to being compassionate or loving, or can at least be coaxed into being so, and that is a more realisitic, if less satisfying goal to shoot for. And so it was.

There was a saying that Eoin used to say to me. He'd pause, usually after a drink, a cigar in hand, and look at the ceiling, and say, with satisfaction: "is there anything quite like it?" And several times he said this to me once more, and we all laughed.

I gave my lecture the next day, a little nervous that my jokes and schtik which are tuned to an American audience would fall flat-- but I seemed to make the leap, and I had that Irish audience well in hand. At the end, great applause (my friend Eoin said I received "a standing ovulation.") And a handful of Irish trans people came up to me afterwards and said Thanks.

(Herself on the college green at University College, Cork)

Later I got an email from someone who'd come all the way from Dublin to see the talk, but who couldn't bring herself to make contact with me in person; too scary, too much fear. And I was moved by that, deeply, remembering what it was like to be afraid, back in the day, to have your cover blown.

That night we went to a pub I used to go to where there was a "session" on. I was looking forward to a few drinks and seeing some fiddle bows waving through the air and listening to the music going deedle deedle dee. I'd gone to this same pub ten years ago and had hung out there (and elsewhere) with a big crowd of musicians then. So I was looking forward to hearing the music.

Only: I found out that day that the guys at the session would be the SAME GUYS who used to be there. So I was feeling very nervous, because like: would they recognize me? Would they be freaked out? I didn't really want to go into it with them, but I don't know. I wasn't sure what it'd be like.

It was kind of like the panics I used to find myself in back in transition, seven years ago. I'd forgotten a little bit what this was like.

And there, into the pub, strode my old friends. I avoided eye contact with them at first because I didn't want to weird anybody out. But eventually some of them said hello-- and clearly didn't remember me-- which was fine.

And then they started to play. It was a DADGAD guitar player, a guy playing Irish box (button accordion) two fiddle players, and a four string banjoist. And the notes came just about as fast and free and wild as you could hear them, jigs and reels and hornpipes, and the pints of Murphys and Beamish flowed. My old friend Johnny, the guitar player, even threw his head back and sang a few songs. Hearing that old familiar voice, in this place, with all the changes in me and them, was incredibly moving. I remembered sitting on that stool in 1998, with the Irish rain coming down outside, a pint in my hand, listening to Johnny sing and feeling the mournfulness of my soul, not knowing how I would survive my life, feeling the twin strains of terrible sadness and yet also the hope for joy inherent in all that old Irish music.

AT one point Johnny sang a song of his called Albatross:

Albatross, O Albatross I wish that I were you.

Finally I leaned forward to Johnny and asked him to play a song he used to play ten years ago-- it was called "The Wobbling Man." And he paused and gave me a hard look, and said, "No one has asked for that song in a long, long time." (OBI-Wan Kenobi? now that is a name I have not heard in a long time.) I said I used to come in and listen to the band, many years ago. And he nodded, and he said he thought he couldn't remember it. Noodled around for a while, talked to the other musicians. Then he started to play it, and sing it.

"I laughed unknowingly when I was a boy.
The Wobbling Man was like a toy.
You'd wind him up and watch him go,
And watch him wobble to and fro.

But soon I learned to laugh no more,
I'd hear the key turn in the door,
The silence came, no one would talk,
Around on eggshells we would walk."

Well, this is a song about Johnny's alcoholic father. But as I listened to it, it struck me as a song about dear departed James Finney Boylan too. The Wobbling Man. My eyes filled with tears and they hung on my lashes.

Johnny couldn't quite remember the whole song, but they played it. Then he said, you know, back in the time when we played that tune. They were happy days.

(Barely visible shot of the boys playing guitar and box accordion at the session)

It was time for Deedie and I to leave, so we nodded to the band, and headed out. And they all looked at us hard, their eyes bright, and Johnny said what he used to say at the end of a session, back in the day, "Safe home."

Did they know? Did they remember? Does it matter?

And so Deedie and I walked back to the hotel through the wet streets, arm in arm, as the Irish rain came down.

Momma, momma, I can't but cry
I'll wash the salt tears from my eyes
Your time has come, you've found your peace,
From the Wobbling Man you've been released.

There is a glass of Guinness in front of me in this photo of herself in the pub. I raise it to all of you and wish you safe home too.