Friday, February 29, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival's trans "humor" (the sequel)

Over at Bilerico someone posed the question about whether I was being ashamed of trans hookers and couldn't the ad be viewed as a message of tolerance, i.e. "hey it's OK to be a lawyer by day and a crossdressing part-time hooker by night."

For the record, I don't think sex work is something to be ashamed of, nor should we be ashamed of trans hookers.

But the premise of the joke was that the mom with her kids was utterly blase about something that we the audience are supposed to find freakish and probably shocking. You could've substituted a talking dog and the premise would be the same. Ever in my rewriting of the ad, the joke remains premised on the crossdressing lawyer being a "freak," but at least my version tries to show something unexpected about someone who's perceived that way. Similar to a "Sex and City" episode I once saw where one of the characters was upset about the boisterous trans hookers outside her window, but through some plot twist that I don't remember, she ends up befriending them and discovers they're human too.

It's true the ad could be viewed as "hey there's nothing wrong with that" and if there was a lot of other kinds of protrayals of trans people in the media I might agree. Or had the scene been played straight and not for laughs. But let's be honest, the vast majority of Americans (even New Yorkers) do see prostitution as disreputable -- otherwise "whore" wouldn't be an epithet -- and the ad clearly seems to be making the lawyer a hooker for the additional shock value.

But the other part of what makes the ad problematic is that it's trafficking in stereotypes, i.e. if someone's trans, we obviously they must be a hooker.  It's similar to historical complaints about blacks and Latinos only getting roles that depict them as crack dealers and gang members, gays only getting roles that depict them as stereotypical caricatures, etc.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival's trans "humor"

While this ad for the 2006 festival (which recently resurfaced on YouTube) was undoubtedly meant to be edgy and funny, it's belittling and reinforces stereotypes that all trans people are prostitutes. The key is that we're not laughing with the lawyer/hooker, we're meant to be laughing at her.

And yeah, it hurts more when it comes from folks who undoubtedly would be horrified at equivalent humor aimed at minorities. Do you think they would've done an ad showing a black lawyer who moonlights as a crack dealer? Or a female attorney who moonlights as a hooker? I thought not.

The truly sad thing is that the ad's joke about jaded New Yorkers could have just as easily been accomplished with a positive portrayal (and just a few minor changes in the script). For example, the crossdressing lawyer could have been out for a walk with her wife, who she introduces to the the mother with her kids, who's just as blase about it all.

OK, maybe I'm being humorless, but having two trans people (Cameron McWilliams and Simmie Williams) and a gender-variant kid (Lawrence King) who might (or might not) have later come out as trans gunned down in apparent hate crimes within less than a month kind of leave me not in the mood for this sort of "humor."

Tragedy After Tragedy

If the killing of Lawrence King wasn't sad enough, there are too many other stories -- all murders of trans POC that took place this year.

This article from The Root has a list.

And this murder, committed a little while back, has recently come to more widespread attention, as has the murder of Simmie Williams.

My students have asked, because they're reading Stone Butch Blues, if the violence against gender diverse people is still as bad as it was then. And what can I say? Ask Lawrence King? Ask Adolphus Simmons? Ask Sanesha Stewart? We can't. They've all been killed as a result of trans/homophobic violence. The daily threat might not feel so great for many of us. But that doesn't mean people who don't conform to gender norms aren't at greater risk.

I so long for a new president who will get gender identity included in Federal Hate Crimes protection, whether it does any good or not. What I want is to see articles written about people like Sanesha Stewart that at least respect their choice of pronouns, as well as articles that don't ask what the person was doing at the time - as if what a person is doing at the time she's murdered makes it more acceptable for her to have been murdered! When are the powers-that-be going to understand is that sometimes all you have to "do" is be queer to be killed?!

The news also came through this week that Gabrielle Pickett, twin sister of Chanelle Pickett, was killed during the summer of 2003. Chanelle was killed in 1996.

I'm just tired this week. Tired of counting the dead. Tired of feeling so sullen and leaden with grief.

RIP Steve Dain - FTM Pioneer

So, I found out recently, that Steve Dain died of cancer at the age of 68. Steve Dain was an FTM who transitioned in the late 70's and lost his teaching job, he was a gym teacher in Union City. This was a big scandal and made the San Francisco papers, including the gay paper that was then -- "Coming Up" instead of "The Bay Times". I remember being 24, in late 1981, and reading about Steve in the local gay paper "Coming Up" and feeling an odd mixture of shock, excitement and queasy fascination. I remember accounts of him changing his ID, and speculation by the lesbian and gay press as to his motivations for changing his sex from female to male. Of course, I had heard of sex change, even female to male sex change. but what I had heard was vague. Later, I saw a picture of Steve, it was scratchy and dark in the San Francisco Chronicle. I had never, ever seen a photo of an FTM before in my life. I found it disturbing and unspeakably magnetic.

Those two articles were about Steve Dain and his fighting for his job as a teacher, a battle that he lost. Although the court would eventually decide in his favor, and allow him to go back to teaching, he was not able to find a school that would hire him.

After hearing about Steve, I did not hear of female to male sex change for another 7 years. The next time I saw anything about transsexual men would be in "On Our Backs", the lesbian sex magazine in 1988. There I spied the tiny ad that Lou Sullivan placed in the back pages for a support group for "Female to Male Transsexuals and Cross Dressers". He also offered information with a newsletter and handbook. I wrote to the address he listed in time, and began my own transition.

Later, I would meet Steve Dain. Steve had been Lou's hero. In those days, most trans men in the Bay Area went off on a pilgrimage to meet him as we entered medical transition. Lou had met with Steve years before when he began his transition, and Jamison Green would meet him a short time before I did. It was nearly a ritual, a rite of passage to meet with Steve. There were no trans men that we knew of who had come before him, Mario Martino was on the east coat, living in a safe obscurity, although some were in communication with him, and Rupert Raj was in Canada. Steve was nearby and our most visible example, and someone who each one of us hoped would confer wisdom, and a kind of blessing or validation. I think we all were a bit awestruck. And, Steve didn't let us down. I know he didn't let me down. I still remember meeting him in Union City, he picked me up from BART and I was taken with his easy and total masculinity. He was hirsute, and handsome, confident and kind. He was sensitive to each question I asked and his answers would influence me for the entirety of my transition.

I am so sorry that he is gone; time goes by quickly. He was about my age now when I met him, and now, was 68 when he died -- of cancer recently on Oct. 10, 2007.

Here is a clip of Steve Dain from a film he was in called, "What Sex Am I?"

"What Sex am I?" was ground-breaking in its time, even with its confusion of "female transsexuals" and "male transsexuals" -- and when I saw it in 1988 at an FTM support group meeting, I found it informative and enthralling. However, I remember that the film also had what a friend described as "hospital music" and the narrator was omniscient and oppressive with a tone of medical pathos; I wanted the documentaries I was in later to be dramatically different, and they were, starting with "Max" filmed in 1991. However, this film was not made by Steve, and its faults are not his. He was one of two FTMs in the film, and his presence was calm and confident -- he even had a bit of a swagger and a palpable pride in his masculinity. I owe him a great deal as does every trans man who came after him.

Rest in Peace Steve- and thank you, thank you so very much for being yourself and being brave enough to share that, with me, with other FTMS, and the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I decided to post this because of a recent article my friend Monica Roberts posted about finding out that Gabrielle Pickett was murdered in 2003. She was the twin sister of Chanelle Pickett who was murdered in 1997. The loss upset her so much that she wrote an article for her blog called "I'm Pissed."

In 2004, the Atlanta Pride Committee had a contest to write a true story about someone in the LGBT community and I was moved to write one about my friend Alice, who took her life after being unemployed for 15 months and was turned away from from homeless shelters for being a transgender woman.

I wrote this story at the initial length they asked for and they accepted it. However, they wanted me to trim it by a few hundred words, so I did. After that, they wanted me to trim it even more and completely remove the ending. That I wouldn't do. The ending IS the story. I hope Joe Solmonese gets to read this.

(The following is a first person account of the last fifteen months of my friend, Alice Johnston’s life, as if she may have told it. The events in this actually happened. – MFH –)

Alice 2

by Monica F. Helms

I stared at the television screen in disbelief as one of the World Trade Center buildings crumbled into dust, then the next one. The horror I witnessed would haunt me for the rest of my life and the news estimated that over 3000 people lost their lives that day. What they didn’t say – or know – was how many more lives would become impacted by that fatal day. I would soon find out that I, Alice Johnston, would be one of them.

A few weeks after September 11, 2001, the reality of a less secure world and a devastating disaster hit home for me. My boss told us all that he would have to close the doors and let us all go. Business had dropped to near zero and his small company couldn’t absorb the loss. My roommate also worked there with me.

This news scared both my roommate and me because we’re both pre-operative transsexuals. The prospect of finding a job for many people after 9/11 looked grim at best, but for two transsexuals in Georgia, prospects looked grim even in the best of times. Discrimination runs ramped and is even seen as acceptable by most politicians and employers in the state when it comes to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. They would rather have us on the welfare rolls putting a drain on the state’s treasury than to have us as employed, tax-paying citizens. Drawing unemployment was how my roommate and I had to survive over the next several weeks. I have learned over the years that out of the entire human race, transgender people seem to be considered the most disposable in society. And yet, we have a lot to offer if people would only give us a chance to prove it.

Both my roommate and I had marketable skills to offer potential employers. She has training in computer repair and has extensive experience in warehouse management and I am a computer technician and programmer, plus I have a degree in Library Science. On top of that, I’m a decorated Army veteran of two wars. Someone was bound to hire me, or so I thought.

Over the next several months, my roommate and I applied for hundreds of jobs, but as soon as they found out – or guessed – that we were transsexuals, all bets were off. No one would call us back for a second interview. Even when we got that sacred second interview, we would be told things like, “You’re over-qualified,” or, “We’ll call you,” or, “We have other applicants to interview.” What they really wanted to say was, “Get yer sorry faggot ass out of my office!” I would have accepted that much better than their lies and deceit.

The time came when my roommate and I had to move out of our apartment and put our things in storage. We still had some weeks left on our unemployment, so that would help a little. I planned on moving in with a friend and my roommate decided to see if Iowa would provide her better opportunities than Georgia. I love Georgia too much to want to move.

Packing my things was a terrible time for me. I enjoyed my video collection and my music, but I wouldn’t be able to take them to my friend’s house. When my roommate and I finished packing and moving everything into the storage unit, we shut the door and locked it. I had a strange feeling that I would never see my things again. Sadness came over me and I began to cry. People I helped in the past rejected helping me. The transgender community of Georgia turned their backs on me. I lost my job and had no prospects and I would have to rely on the kindness of a person I hadn’t known very long. My roommate and I hugged, then parted ways.

The woman I moved in with had a very interesting profession. She was a Madam at an established bordello in the Atlanta area. One wouldn’t think a bordello could survive in the heart of the Bible Belt. But, since hypocrisy abounds in police departments throughout the South, the concept becomes a bit more plausible. The Madam probably paid protection money to keep her business open.

At first, I survived by doing side computer work for several people and to help keep the bordello’s computer system running. I also helped them maintain their security system and elaborate camera setups. It felt satisfying for a while, but I wasn’t making enough money to get out on my own. Something else needed to be done.

I continued applying for jobs in the computer industry, but they were getting harder to find, even a year after 9/11. The odd jobs I did couldn’t keep me in money, so I began doing something I never thought I would ever do. I started working at the bordello as a hooker. At first, the customers found it intriguing to have sex with a real live transsexual. I didn’t enjoy it, but the money was better than nothing. However, the novelty of having sex with a transsexual soon wore off with the regulars and the men stopped asking for me.

My personal relationships with the Madam also began to deteriorate. I really liked her, but she stopped finding me interesting any longer. One day, after a heated argument, she threw me out of the house. Luckily, another friend took me in and he tried to help me find a job. That never went anywhere. I began feeling helpless and alone. Many of my friends had either stopped calling or turned their backs on me. I heard from my old roommate that she got training as a truck driver and found work with one of the large carriers. She tried to talk me into going into the same business, but I could never picture myself as a truck driver.

Not too long after moving in with my friend, he had to move and I couldn’t stay with him. In December 2002, I realized I would soon become homeless for the first time in my life. The prospect of being homeless frightened me. “Why is this happening to me?” I asked myself. “I didn’t ask to be a transsexual. If I didn’t have a choice then why are people treating me so badly?”

I felt truly alone. No place to go. No friends to turn to. No hope. Only despair. I can do many jobs, but no one will hire me because I’m a transsexual. Where can I turn to?

The last chance I had was to see if a homeless shelter would take me. I began calling around to all the women’s shelters in Atlanta, but I had to be up front with them. Each time I told them that I was a pre-op transsexual they would tell me I wouldn’t be accepted in their facility. I called a few men’s shelters to see what they could tell me and they said they would accept me only if I presented as a man. They wanted me to deny my identity and lie to them and myself before I would be accepted. Even then, I could easily become a victim of rape or violence once they found out I was a transsexual. My options had run out.

My friend gave me access to his computer one last time, so I put an automatic message on my Yahoo E-mail address. The message said, “I will soon become homeless and since homeless shelters won’t take in transsexuals, I’m a goner.”

Where is my family? They have all abandoned me. Where are all my friends? What friends? The transgender community here in Georgia never wanted to help me. I didn’t fit their narrow viewpoint of what a transsexual is supposed to “properly” do to transition. Others who still say they’re my friends are either gone or in a situation no better than mine. Is this what I have left after all the things I’ve been through? Nothing? I was safer in Iraq during Desert Storm. At least I was treated better there.

My car still worked, just barely. I have only one thing to do. Time for a road trip. After driving for 45 minutes I arrived at my destination, the Chattahoochee River. My jacket kept me from freezing. I could hear the water moving and the moonlight reflected off of the ripples. No one else would have dared to be out on a night like this. But, I had a plan.

As I unwrapped the towel, I revealed my one last true friend, my trusty .357 Smith and Wesson. I felt its cold steel and its well-balanced weight in my hands. Out of everything I gave up in the last fifteen months, I could never part with my .357. Now, it has become my last piece of pleasure in my lonely, miserable life.

“Why am I a transsexual?” I screamed. The trees dampened my voice. “Why am I a transsexual?” I whispered. I got no answers. Tears flowed from my eyes as I cocked the hammer. “All I wanted to do was to live my life as me.” My .357 seemed lighter somehow. “I didn’t ask for this life.” I lifted the gun. “I just wanted to live.” I felt the cold steel barrel pressing against my temple. “But, they wouldn’t let me.” My hand shook and I lowered the pistol. “This is what they wanted me to do.” I raised the .357 once more. “They’re getting their wish.” My finger tightened around the trigger. “They got what they wanted.” I pulled my finger back. “They got me . . .”


On December 17, 2002, Alice was found along the Chattahoochee River, a .357 slug had shattered her skull. This happened two years after the City of Atlanta passed a non-discrimination law that covered transgender people and included public accommodations, such as homeless shelters. Not only did homeless shelters break the law and failed to help her, but so did the rest of society.

Alice was my friend and I failed her, too.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Too Many

Another gay-identified, gender variant teen, Simmie “Chris” Williams, was killed this week. Our thoughts are with Denise King and her family.

Another gay-identified, gender variant teen, Simmie “Chris” Williams, was killed this week. Our thoughts are with Denise King and her family.

I’m amazed that the article focuses on whether or not she was a prostitute and not on the two men who (apparently) killed her. I’m so tired of this switcheroo, this bullshit blame-the-victim crap when it comes to trans people.

What a pretty girl she was.

Too many.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Trans Timeline

I’ve been putting together a Trans History Timeline for my Transgender Lives class. The idea was to give them an idea of the events that lead up to the modern Transgender Movement (such as it is).

* 1910 Magnus Hirschfeld coins “transvestite” (& "transsexual" in 1923)
* 1919 Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research given housing
* 1930 Lili Elbe undergoes five surgeries, the fifth of which kills her in 1931
* 1933 Institute for Sexual Research burned by Nazis
* 1939 – 1945 WWII
* 1945 Michael Dillon has first FTM surgeries
* 1951 Roberta Cowell transitions in the UK
* 1952 Christine Jorgensen headline, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell”
* 1959 Virginia Prince starts Transvestia
* 1961 VP starts Heels & Hose (12 crossdressers!)
* 1964 Reed Erickson founds the Erickson Institute
* 1966 Harry Benjamin publishes The Transsexual Phenomenon
* 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, SF
* 1969 Ist Gender Symposia (becomes HBIGDA)
* 1969 Stonewall, NYC
* 1973 First Introduction of ENDA (US)
* 1975 Fantasia Fair starts in Provincetown, founded by Ariadne Kane
* 1976 Tri-Ess formed
* 1976 Crossdressing becomes legal in SF
* 1977 HBIGDA becomes an org
* 1979 Sandy Stone leaves Olivia Records due to attacks in Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire
* 1980 Crossdressing becomes legal in Houston, TX (due to Phyllis Frye’s efforts)
* 1986 FTM Int’l started by Lou Sullivan
* 1987 IFGE formed
* 1990 AEGIS started by Dallas Denny
* 1993 Mosaic web browser
* 1994 Death of Brandon Teena / Netscape web browser
* 1995 “All FTM Conference of the Americas” organized by Jamison Green & Jason Cromwell (with grant from Dallas Denny)

I was teaching Jamison Green’s Becoming a Visible Man at the time, which is why it ends where it does, but I’ve been adding to it since, & will continue to do so.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A great, much-needed and overdue article on the intersections of transness and race by Daisy Hernandez at ColorLines:

Louis Mitchell expected a lot of change when he began taking injections of hormones eight years ago to transition from a female body to a male one. He anticipated that he’d grow a beard, which he eventually did and enjoys now. He knew his voice would deepen and that his relationship with his partner, family and friends would change in subtle and, he hoped, good ways, all of which happened.

What he had not counted on was changing the way he drove.

Within months of starting male hormones, “I got pulled over 300 percent more than I had in the previous 23 years of driving, almost immediately. It was astounding,” says Mitchell, who is Black and transitioned while living in the San Francisco area and now resides in Springfield, Massachusetts.

This essay might be an interesting read to compare to Jacob Anderson Minshall’s essay in “The Enemy Within: Becoming a Straight White Guy” which details what it’s been like for a feminist to transition to male. It’s in the new anthology Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power.

(via Feministing, where you will also currently see a blog ad for She’s Not the Man I Married)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kilroy Was Here

> Feministe, USA
> Feb 17 2008
> A saner era? Myths about trans kids in schools, courtesy of FOX News
> Posted by: Holly
> For starters, if you have questions about young trans kids (and many people do) an excellent
> resource is the TransYouth Families Advocates FAQ. This group was started by four mothers > with transgender children...

I want and need to clarify this posted statement that appeared in TransgenderNews and the Feministe Blog.

TransYouth Family Advocates was envisioned and founded in late August of 2006 by a transwoman named Jenn Burleton (me) who also happened to have been a foster parent of two transgender teens.

The organization was originally named TransKidsPAC and then changed to TransKids Family Coalition before finally adopting the current name after some of the adolescents we were working to assist made it clear to us that they didn't want to be identified as "kids". :)

Very shortly after the founding of the organization I was interviewed
about the organization on GenderTalk by Nancy Nangeroni and Gordene
McKenzie. I discussed the creation of the organization and was joined
on the air by co-founder Kim P. and her son. That original interview
broadcast on September 9, 2006 can be heard at the following link:

The introduction to our segment of the show begins at 00:03:15 and ends 00:05:05 and the actual interview begins at 01:38:00 and runs through 01:59:00.

I was at the helm of the organization as Executive Director for the first 8 months of it's existence. I authored or edited the vast majority of the organization's original literature (with the
assistance of the three parents who co-founded TYFA).

I wrote and refined the organization's Mission and Vision Statements, (again with input from the others) and designed and created the intial educational and advocacy outreach programs and presentation materials for use in schools and the community. I designed the organization's logo as well as all of the graphic design for the products TYFA sells through its CafePress merchant site. As with everyone else in the organization at that time, all of this was done on a volunteer basis.

I led (along with the three co-founding mothers of trans children) the organization as it moved from being a program affiliated with the PFLAG-Transgender Network (TNET) to being an independent, non-profit organization in late 2006, early 2007. Upon the incorporation being final, in early April of 2007 I was elected the first President of the Board of Directors.

In April of 2007, I, along with Kim P.'s son represented TYFA in footage that was shot for the ABC 20/20 Barbara Walters show about transgender children and youth. While the vast majority of that footage was not used in the final broadcast, there is a very brief glimpse of Kim's son and I at the 00:39 second point in the clip that can be seen at the above link. He is wearing a shirt that reads "What Kind Of Man Are You?" and I am to his left.

In late April of 2007, I chose to leave TYFA for personal reasons and went on to found TransActive Education & Advocacy in Portland, Oregon.

I wanted to develop an organization that not only served the needs of gender non-conforming youth and their families, but that employed more directly the skills, opinions and energies of those youth in the advocacy work. I also wanted an organization that more effectively
made use of the experiences of those who had been trans children and youth themselves. I applied what I had learned from the development of TYFA to TransActive.

From the beginning, TransActive has been committed to collaborating with any and ALL organizations that are dedicated to improving, advocating and unequivocally supporting trans and gender non-conforming children and youth.

I remain extremely supportive of the work that TYFA does and will be forever proud of the role I played in bringing my vision for helping these children and their families to national visibility through TYFA.

I loved working with the other three women, the parents of transgender children. I loved being their friend, co-worker, sister-in-arms...sister. We were family.

The envisioning and building of TYFA was simultaneously among the most difficult times of my life and, in the end, one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences of my life. And it led me to where I am now with TransActive, which has been and promises to be even more of an
amazing and rewarding experience.

You will find no specific reference to me or my contributions to the birth, growth and development of TYFA on their website or in any of their literature. Personally, I have no problem with that, and have not ever spoken publicly about that over these past several months.

My motivation in mentioning it now and clarifying the original posted statement is not to seek glorification for my role in the founding of TYFA. I have found though both my trans advocacy work and my previous career in the music and entertainment industry enough "glory" and "attention" to last a lifetime. Most of it positive...some of it cruel and painfully negative.

My motivation in clarifying this is completely in line with one of the goals that TransYouth Family Advocates was founded on.

The idea of not only supporting these amazing children and youth, but to show their parents, families & communities that being transgender need not sentence their child to a life on the fringes of our culture. To work to break-down trans stereotypes. To demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that trans people, like ALL people, can give back, particularly to our children so that they may have it easier than some of us did.

I always believed that my role as visionary and co-founder of TYFA would serve as another example of what a trans person can accomplish once they are able to turn their energies outward, rather than inward.

We need more positive trans role models. We need to stem the tendency of cissexist culture, either through intention, circumstance or by accident to write trans people and our accomplishments out of our own history. Indeed, as was made tragically apparent this past week in Oxnard, California, some people want to simply remove gender non-conforming identity altogether.

Trans adults...there are many of us that can work with others to do things for our children, bringing our unique perspectives to this vitally important task.

Trans children & youth...many of your parents will fight for your right to be yourself. They are your best and most important allies. But please also know that there are those who were once walking in your shoes, living and surviving your fears, mysteries and questions who not only WILL step up on your behalf, but who already HAVE stepped up in support of you.

It's not about taking credit. It's about taking ownership of our trans identities, and being true to those who have and may yet contribute to trans history.

In the end, it's about making sure the world knows that we were here, we contributed and that trans lives matter.

Peace & Unity,

Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two Lives :Two Stories

Dear Family, Friends & Allies,

This has been a week of tragedy in our schools. Most people are aware of the shootings on the campus of Northern Illinois University in which 5 students were murdered and many others wounded. But there was another school shooting this past that has gone unnoticed, under-reported and almost forgotten after the initial reports came out.

At 8:30 AM this past Tuesday morning, 22 students at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California entered a computer lab for their first class of the day. Within moments of arriving, 14-year old Brandon McInerney came up behind 15-year old Lawrence King and shot the youngster once in the back of the head and then once again in the back. On Wednesday, Lawrence King was pronounced brain-dead but was not taken off life-support as those who knew Lawrence were sure that Lawrence would want to be an organ donor. Following the harvesting of Lawrence's organs, life-support was removed and Lawrence was pronounced dead on Thursday.

Brandon McInerney, 14-years old, is about to be charged, as an adult, with premeditated murder. The prosecutor plans to also charge him with committing a hate-crime. As a result of this, Brandon will be facing a mandatory 50+ years in prison.

The reason Mr. McInerney is being charged with a hate-crime, and I believe the reason the story of a fatal killing in a middle-school stopped being covered by the media, is that it quickly became clear to everyone that Lawrence King was shot...executed really, because Lawrence was not only gay, but transgender.

The story of both of these young lives, and the influences and prejudices they encountered deserves to be told. This did not have to happen,. Not only did this not have to happen, it was an obvious inevitability to anyone paying attention that it would happen and sadly, will happen again if we don't take this seriously.

Please read the newspaper report below related to this tragic event, and then please look for a follow-up from me soon with additional information and a request for help in telling this American story. It is a story we all will face and must face every day.

Peace & Unity,

Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

West Coast Sector Coordinator,
Board Member, PFLAG-Transgender Network

Recipient: The Ingersoll Center "2007 Service Award"

Slain teen remembered as fun, quirky at Rainbow Ventura County Star - Camarillo, CA, USA
Alliance candlelight vigil
By Anna Bakalis, Cheri Carlson
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blue was Lawrence King's favorite color eye shadow.

Along with his signature black, high-heeled boots and varying shades of lipstick, friends say he wore dramatic makeup and dressed more flamboyantly in the last two weeks before he was shot to death by a classmate at an Oxnard middle school.

The cosmetics added a quirkiness to his personality, friends said. But they didn't define the 15-year-old boy Melissa Castillo knew.

"He didn't know he had a lot of friends," Castillo said. "We all thought he was funny but not in a mocking way. We all really liked him. I wish he knew that."

Castillo was standing with four of her friends at a candlelight vigil to honor Larry King, held in Ventura Friday night.

The 15-year-old E.O. Green Junior High School eighth-grader was perceived by classmates as a gay or cross-dressing student who had been bullied.

"He didn't have to tell me; I saw it. We all saw it," Castillo said.

The shooting on Tuesday has brought scrutiny to how middle schools in Ventura County address and prevent discrimination that can lead to violence toward teens with different sexual orientations or gender identities.

In the days leading up to his death, King was helping Castillo get ready for the school Valentine's Day dance, she said. Castillo is the co-president of the Associated Student Body.

"He'd come up to me with different ideas for the dance," she said. "He thought about getting a photo booth."

Castillo said King had been transferred to her gym class — from eighth to sixth period — because he was getting picked on. In gym class, he would wear regular clothes with sneakers, she said.

'Wanted to respond'

The Ventura County Rainbow Alliance sponsored the vigil at the Art Barn where about a hundred people gathered, some with candles to remember King.

"Our community wanted to respond to express and honor him," said Alice Woods, a coordinator with the Rainbow Alliance.

"Any 15-year-old is finding out who they are. It's normal to experiment in any direction," she said.

King was shot Tuesday morning inside a computer lab at the school. He was declared brain dead on Wednesday and taken off life support Thursday night. Prosecutors have charged a classmate, Brandon McInerney, 14, with first-degree murder and committing a hate crime and want him tried as an adult.

Students have said King was teased because he was gay. Some classmates also reported a confrontation between the two boys in the days before the shooting.

Authorities have not released details on a motive, and prosecutors have declined to elaborate on the hate crime charge. A hate crime is defined as an illegal action taken toward a person based on any of several criteria, such as race, religion or sexual orientation.

School officials in Ventura County said Friday they have several programs designed to teach middle school students about tolerance and acceptance. But schools need to do more, said county Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis.

For example, he said, schools need to have more mentors and other adults who can help students find constructive ways to deal with their emotions.

"I wonder, if this kid had an outlet for his anger or his fear, whatever it was, whether this would have happened," Weis said of the shooting. "I really feel one of the reasons kids in large schools act in a variety of ways is they don't have caring adults to reach out to."

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, whose district includes the 1,168-student Oxnard school, wrote a bill that took effect Jan. 1 and prohibits discrimination in the classroom based on gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

"The fact that he (King) was being harassed indicated to me there was a larger danger looming for him," Kuehl said. "Words can lead to violent actions. And very often, if no one says, This will not be tolerated,' then nothing stops it."

Middle school "is a difficult age to teach tolerance," said Jerry Dannenberg, superintendent of the Hueneme School District, which includes E.O. Green School.

An effective program works with kids beginning in kindergarten, he said, and follows them throughout school. Hueneme schools use such a program, called Second Step, which focuses on violence prevention and social and emotional learning.

Schools cannot work on this issue alone, however. Tolerance education has to come from all aspects of society, Dannenberg said.

Students have started gay-straight groups in 640 high schools throughout California, including a dozen in Ventura County, according to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

That's nearly 50 percent of high schools in the state, said network Executive Director Carolyn Laub, a statistic that speaks to growing support and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in upper grades.

Only 14 middle schools in California have such clubs, and none are in Ventura County.

Laub said it has become clear that sexual orientation and harassment issues need to be addressed in middle schools. "Young people are coming out at earlier and earlier ages," she said.

Many tolerance programs in middle schools have traditionally focused on racial and religious discrimination. For the most part, Laub said, teachers, administrators and students haven't had as much training on how to create a safer school climate for students dealing with sexual identity issues.

Some surveys show students report higher rates of harassment in middle school than in high school, she said.

'Not died in vain'

According to the California Healthy Kids Survey by WestEd, a nonprofit research group, 10 percent of Ventura County seventh-graders, 9 percent of ninth-graders and 7 percent of 11th-graders reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

"Finding ways to talk about differences as part of the regular curriculum is very important," said Debra Chasnoff, a San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker working on creating tolerant and inclusive learning environments.

"There are students like Lawrence in every school. To be gender nonconforming, you don't do it lightly at that age," Chasnoff said. "There had to be something powerful going on inside of him."

Middle school is a harder time than high school for many students as they try on different roles and personalities, said Mary Galvin, operations director of the Ventura Charter School of Arts and Global Education, a K-8 public charter school. Galvin said there's also pressure to raise test scores, and the money is not there to hire more counselors.

Teachers, administrators and students all need more training to solve conflicts on campus, Laub said.

"I hope Larry has not died in vain," Laub said. "We need to grieve, and then we need to look at this so that this doesn't happen again."

— Staff writers Jean Cowden Moore and Kathleen Wilson contributed to this report.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Protest, HRC, and My Investment Portfolio

I like to think of my advocacy/political work in much of the same way as I think of how to invest my money. I see activism as an investment in my community and my future. With that in mind, I have to say that I don't see the benefit in protesting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). There are so many national organizations that support transgender people and support gender identity in ENDA (National Stonewall Democrats, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Pride At Work, for example), I think it's a waste of time to try and get an organization to love us, that has shown repeatedly that it doesn't.

Protests do have their place. I totally supported the HRC/Nancy Pelosi Dinner protest because ENDA was pending in the House. The media exposure could have had an effect on the outcome of the legislation. But I don't see the same result from these kind of protests/boycotts.

The best thing transgender people can do to move legislation forward is to be diverse in their activism, and support those who support gender identity inclusion. Instead of buying 100% percent of HRC stock, DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY!

Speaking of support, according to PageOneQ, Barney Frank is going to be on the Michealangelo Signorile Show to respond to Matt Foreman's comment that Barney Frank "has always been pretty squeamish on the trans issue."

It'll be interesting to hear what he has to say. Frank's "penises in showers" outburst in 2000 is legendary in transactivist circles.

Regardless, it'll be interesting to listen to. Frank and the Human Rights Campaign are in an odd position. Two out of three possible candidates for President of the United States support inclusion of gender identity in ENDA, but the most senior gay House member doesn't.

cross posted from

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The High Road?

--- The following was posted on a group I subscribe to:
> Recently, on a group that focuses on HRT for TS people a post from a
> classic transgender received a couple of interesting replies.
> The post was a stupid; "I want young boobies and a big butt. I'm age 49 and I also want
> erections too."
> The reply included; "It's people like you that cause people like us problems." That post was
> seconded by another member in her late 20s.
> There is a new generation of TS women who are not going to accept the TG agenda either.
> I am so proud!!
> There is hope indeed

I needed to respond to this on several levels, all of which I hope are respectful of everyone.

The use of the phrase "a classic transgender" is clearly meant as either a pejorative or an attempt to dehumanize the person who created the offensive post...or both. If we are offended by people referring to women or men of transsexual experience as "a sex-change" or "a post-op/pre-op" rather than as a person, then we should not do it to other people. The high road needs to start somewhere, it might as well start here.

Like many people, I found the statement offensive, misogynistic, fetishistic, inappropriate, sexist, self-obsessed, destructive and just plain silly. I say that having felt this way about such statements 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago and still today.

There have ALWAYS been women of trans experience who disagree with that sort of auto-erotic, auto-gynephillic objectification of not just women in general, but transwomen specifically. And while there may now be more awareness on a gender politic level of the misogyny inherent in such statements, it is by no means "fresh" to the current younger generation of trans-identified women.

I must also share that MANY people who identify as transgender to some degree or as BOTH transgender and transsexual would agree that such statements are not only offensive to all women, but harmful to many of us when those expressions receive media exposure.

As someone who works primarily with children and youth who are gender non-conforming, I am particularly sensitive to the negative impact this can have not only on the children, but on how adults react to and treat these children. I spend far too much of my time working to overcome the "Jerry Springer-ization" of trans identity and expression.

All that being said...let's not take 'low road' lessons from the Moral Majority and Authoritarian Right by implying that there is some "Transgender Agenda". We do not want others defining for us what 'they' perceive to be a "Transsexual Agenda" or a "TransFeminist Agenda" or any other gross generalization or implication of how a diverse community thinks and acts.

I certainly would have (and frequently do) expressed my opinion to this person's post in a way that was similar to the young woman who responded. However, I would never for a moment assume that their personal ideas, clearly shared by other (predominantly) late-transitioning, misogyny-poisoned male-bodied people somehow reflect a vast, "transgender" agenda/conspiracy.

I am proud when those of us who have been victimized by cissexism, misogyny, misplaced or real homophobia, generalizations and violence rise above joining the voices of intolerance.

I am proud when we take the high road and attempt to shed light, rather than drive full-speed into the darkness.

Dividing NEVER conquers. It only divides.


Jenn Burleton
Portland, OR

Monday, February 11, 2008

Press Release: NCTE Mourns the Loss of Congressman Tom Lantos

Lantos was thought to have introduced the first pro-transgender effort in the U.S. Congress - the resolution he introduced would have condemned, “all violations of internationally recognized human rights norms based on the real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual.”

The only survivor of the Nazi Holocaust ever elected to the U.S. Congress, Rep. Lantos was a strong supporter of human rights for all people. He was a co-sponsor in 2007 of both the federal hate crimes bill that passed the House of Representatives and of the unified and inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 2015) that was eventually abandoned this fall.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of this brave leader.

For more about Lantos, do check the Mercury News article about him.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

And A Child Shall Lead Them...

Freedom of speech (in all its forms) is, perhaps, the most valuable human right of all, and the implied freedom from oppression as a result of that speech is equally important. I cherish this freedom and would not ever want to restrict another person's right to do so under any (do NOT yell "Fire" in a crowded theater!) circumstances. I say and believe all this while balancing copies of the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta on my head as I type.

That being said, it has occurred to me that blogs are like assholes...everybody has one. And some of them are written by HUGE, incontinent assholes.

One such blog is called "The Right Rant" ( It is produced (I hesitate to say 'written', since it's content seems to be more intestinal than cerebral) by this guy named Ed.

Recently, Ed decided to "produce" some of his ideas about a gender non-conforming third-grader in Colorado who is in the process of transitioning with the support of family, friends, school administrators and an organization I founded but am no longer affiliated with.

Here is some of Ed's "product", as well as follow-up comments by some of Ed's ummm....fellow floaters.

"It's bad enough when schools indoctrinate our third graders with radical liberal dogma...but seizing the opportunity of a (transgender) kid who likes womens' clothes to proselytize third graders into accepting alternative-lifestyle pedogogy is beyond abhorent."

"If you are a discerning reader, you probably are asking yourself, why are they using the term "transgender" when the 9 year old did not have a sex change? The author of the article wants you to think that men who prance around in womens' clothes are comletely normal and they didn't choose to be cross-dressers."

"Third graders being indoctrinated into believing that literally any perversion is the norm and should not only NOT be judged, but embraced."

'Floater' Kevin commented:
"Do you know why we shouldn't treat this boy like normal boys and girls? Because he isn't normal! I'm sorry but if i went to school with that kid, I would probably make fun of him... until he graduates from high school and goes to work at a women's clothing store full time."

To which Turd-In-Chief Ed responded:
"Who knows if the kid is gay or not, or if he just likes womens' clothes. At 9, you can't tell. Only as he approaches sexual maturity can one determine orientation. Until this kid reaches adulthood and chooses to have a gender reassignment surgery, he remains a dude and must dress like one.

What kills me is this kid's indulgent parents who don't say, "Life blows put on some pants!"

It was at this point that I decided to exorcise (not a typo) my freedom of speech on Ed's blog and "produce" some ideas of my own. I tried my very best to generate these thoughts from the top floor of Jenn Central rather than the bowels of my corporate sub-basement...though I cannot tell a lie. There were audible rumblings from the boiler room.

I wrote:

Why are insults, stereotypes and prejudice your first reaction to something you don't understand, or need more information about? This is a CHILD we're discussing here, not some pawn to be moved around to suit yours or anyone else's political or social agenda.

The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of evidence that gender identity in ALL people is formed by age 4. That it is completely separate from anatomical sex (though most frequently they match to one degree or another) and that is has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

You have no idea of the pain these children experience when they are not supported and loved for who they are rather than for who others want them to be. This is not an illusion, or a whim, or an obsession. These children are not crossdressers or transvestites. CD's & TV's do what they do occasionally for various reasons. This child does not want to switch back and forth...this child identifies as female.

You can not "beat the girl" out of her or psychologically abuse her into being what you might consider "normal". And if you endorse teasing, humiliating or bullying these children in school, then quite frankly, you will be an accessory to their potential suicide...which 50% of gender non-conforming children at least consider, and far too many succeed in doing.

Just because YOU don't understand it does not make it wrong, anti-Biblical or the work of Satan.

If you'd like more accurate information about this issue as it relates to children, then please contact our organization. If not, then please at least do not continue to assume you understand this enough to endorse and inflict further abuse, intolerance and psychological harm on this child, her family and others like them.


Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

That was pretty reasonable, wasn't it? Mature? Measured? Coherent? Respectful? I think so.

Now, I need to tend to the 'Boiler Room'. It's about to go China Syndrome on me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hillary Commits to Inclusion on ENDA

Posted on under her own name, Senator Hillary Clinton has stated for the record that she supports a fully inclusive ENDA:

"We have so much work to do. When I am President, we will work together to make sure that all Americans in committed relationships have equal benefits and that nothing stands in the way of loving couples who want to adopt children in need. We're going to expand our federal hate crimes legislation and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and assure that they are both fully inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. And finally, we will put an end to the failed policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice – the traits that define our men and women in uniform – have nothing to do with sexual orientation. "

The underline is from her text, and was added, along with the words "sexual orientation and gender identity and expression" after it's initial publication, to clarify her meaning.

See Pam's House Blend for the full story.

Followup 1/8: Marti Abernathy points out that Obama has already stated support for trans inclusion. Thanks for the correction, Marti.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Defend Drag in Dupont Circle?

Surely it can’t be true that a neighborhood association in one of the gayest neighborhoods of the US is taking issue with a local club’s drag show? Surely not. There must be more to it.

(Or there might not. Via feministing.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jenny Boylan Book Tour Minute

Here's a short film featuring the antics of herself at readings in New York City and Atlanta.