Monday, October 27, 2008

LGBT Students & Allies Targeted at WSU

LGBT students, and now their allies, have been targets of violence at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

Please, stay safe!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Venus Envy Returns

Venus Envy, one of my favorite transgender webcomics*, has returned from a long hiatus, and is just starting a new storyline. If you've been a reader before, now's the time to get back involved. If you've never heard of it, now's a good time to start.

The comic centers around a young trans woman getting a start at a new high school in a new town. It's not so different from her old school, except that her parents have been persuaded to move here to let her attend as a girl... and the soccer coach is ex-KGB, and one of the teachers is inexplicably a chicken. Zoe gets involved in the soccer team, not entirely consensually becoming their star player after a soccer ball ricochets off her head to score the winning goal, and her luck just keeps getting better from there. Her first date goes... really well, considering, I guess... she tackles trans support groups, angsty FTMs, drama class, and the high school football team's version of The Game. But the comic's been running—off and on**—for five years, so there's too much to recap. Right now, Zoe's getting ready for a stressful period at school. The big soccer game is in two weeks, which is the same time as the school production of "Romeo and Juliet" that Zoe is (due to an unfortunate accident) starring in. You'd think after an episode of physician-induced acute paranoia, Zoe would be ready to handle that. And I guess we'll see.

Happy reading!

*Full disclosure: I know the author, and she'll kill me if I say otherwise. If she doesn't kill me for posting this in the first place. (This is not a paid promotional spot. I might need to pay Erin when she hears about this, in fact.)

**"I heard that!"
"Sorry Erin!"

James "Cora" Birk on Transition and Regret

I would like to thank Helen for inviting me to post here. I'm sure she's aware that some people might not like what I have to say, but I'll try to play nice, and I hope we can disagree respectfully. Here's a post that I just put up at my own Trans Blog, but since it fits in with some recent posts here, I'm cross-posting it.

In the light of the recent news that sportswriter Mark Penner has detransitioned, I went back and looked at an earlier post on regret on my personal blog. I noticed that I had linked to Cora Birk's writings on her partial transition and subsequent de-transition, but that they have since been removed from the site.

However, Birk's columns are still available via the Internet Archive, and since the last one, especially, is particularly well-written, I would like to share some excerpts:

It is still (and always has been) true that I want to be female. However, somewhere along the way, I appear to have convinced myself that this desire was much more than a simple, harmless wish — that it was a yearning, that if I didn’t get what I wanted I couldn’t possibly go on. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, though I do suspect an intense psychological imprinting experience sometime in 1998.


I embraced transsexuality, I think, because I was extremely uncomfortable with the other terminology I was hearing. If I was merely a crossdresser of one kind or another, I was nothing more than a largely misunderstood pervert with an extensive makeup collection. But if I was transsexual... then I was validated. I could be helped. I could go on hormones and one day have sex reassignment, all under the protection of politically correct GLBT activists who would see my condition as something to be proud of. I could hold my head high in parades, and everyone around me would put aside their native discomfort with the situation and use all the right pronouns.

My take on this is that the decision about whether or not to transition would be a lot easier if we didn't have to deal with rigid categories and arguments based on destiny. In recent, very thoughtful posts and comments here, Helen, Julie and Marlena all allude to the question of whether Penner is "really a transsexual." To their great credit, they refuse to consider it, but their use still implies that they believe it's a valid question, and that people who are "really" transsexuals should transition.

Let me put this out there: if we assume that there are "true transsexuals" and "false transsexuals" out there, isn't it possible that there are "true transsexuals" who would turn out to be happier in their birth genders, and "false transsexuals" who would manage to be quite content after transition?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The road not taken

In early 2007, Los Angeles Times sports columnist Mike Penner was one of two high-profile transitioners to hit the new. Unlike former Largo city manager Susan Stanton, who was run out of town, Penner's story had a happy ending. The Times stood behind Penner, who rechristened herself Christine Daniels, even giving her a blog to chronicle her transition. While I'm sure neither Stanton nor Daniels wanted to be poster children for the transsexual communities, they nonetheless became ones.

Now comes news that Penner has de-transitioned and quietly returned to work as Mike. The blogs by Daniels have all been removed from the Times' website.

The news has been a bit of a shock to the transgender communities, even if Penner is far from the first person to de-transition. It's left me feeling a variety of things -- mostly sorrow. I'm sorrowful that I'm sure Penner's de-transition will be misused by Christianist fundies to argue in favor of discriminating against trans people. But mostly I'm sorrowful for Penner. In interviews and her blog posts, Daniels seemed so happy and full of hope -- maybe a little naively -- about her future. Whatever has transpired over the past 18 months, Penner must have become pretty miserable to have reached the point of deciding to go back, and even if he has no regrets about doing so, I'm sure he's still hurting at the moment.

If deciding to transition is one of the hardest decisions someone makes in their life, deciding to de-transition is arguably even harder. But the point of "real life experience" as it's known is precisely to find out whether living as a different gender is something you want to to do for the rest of your life. Sometimes you only figure things out by trying them. People make life-altering decisions in all sorts of ways. People get married, get divorced, take jobs and quit them, they move cross-country. Sometimes it's a bad decision, sometimes it's a bad decision that others can see but the person involved can't, sometimes it's what seemed like a good idea at the time, sometimes it's was a good decision that had unexpected consequences.

Why do people de-transition? Sometimes male-to-female transitioners can have unrealistic expectations about what life is going to be like as a woman, the sexism they have to live with -- in addition to the homophobia they can also encounter if their attraction to women means they go from being seen as straight men to being seen as lesbians. Needless to say the sports world probably wasn't friendliest place for MTF transitioner. Sometimes trans men discovered that while becoming men bring privilege it also brings burdens they'd never imagined. Likewise, they can under-estimate the hostility they encounter from some lesbians who angrily denounce them for switching teams. Likewise, sometimes people get stuck in being seen as trans woman not women (or trans men, not men). All of which can be too painful to handle. After all the point of transitioning is usually to make life easier, not more difficult.

Some do so because they can't find jobs as their desired gender, especially if there are children involved. Presumably that wasn't an issue in Penner's case, so I'm guessing he had other reasons for doing so. While I don't know Penner's reasons, I know friends of Penner who assure me that it's a exceedingly painful decision he made with a lot of thought and counseling.

It's possible Penner still sees himself as transsexual, but decided other things in his life -- such as a relationship -- were more important than transitioning. I know people who transitioned at a glacial pace, or who de-transitioned because of this.

It's possible Penner realized that he's a crossdresser, not a transsexual, and living as a woman part-time satisfies his needs. Part of the problem is that it's so difficult to explore gender. Crossdressers easily outnumber transsexuals 10:1, but the vast majority are so incredibly closeted they're the "dark matter" of the trans spectrum. For most crossdressers, life is akin to being gay or lesbian pre-Stonewall. I was exceedingly lucky that 1) I never felt guilty and shameful about my crossdressing like so many of my peers are; and 2) that when the need to express that side of myself that society deems "feminine" came on stronger than ever before in my late 30s -- like it does for so many others -- I was single, living alone and mostly working out of the house. Which meant I could more-or-less spend as much time en femme as I wanted to. For me, I discovered that after a certain amount of time en femme I hit a saturation point, and I'm happy to go back to being a guy. A friend of mine who firmly believed she was also "just a crossdresser" was in similar circumstances and ended up transitioning after realizing that she was essentially living full-time as a woman outside of work.

I hope one lesson people would learn from this is that it's OK to experiment with your gender; that it's OK to be uncertain about your gender; that being convinced you aren't gender A, doesn't inherently mean the only alternative is to become gender B. Because sadly, even within the trans communities, there's not always a lot of space between.

Crossdressers and other non-transitioners are all-too-often on the receiving end of the same sort of disrespect from transsexuals that bisexuals get from gays and lesbians. We're afraid to commit. We don't have the courage to come out. We're the little sisters tagging along and embarrassing them in front of all their friends. Etc. Etc. Announce that you're planning to transition and there'll usually be a round of "You go girl!" You rarely hear similar cheering when someone says that they've thought it through and figured out that they're "just a crossdresser." Likewise, I've heard comments that "oh, she must just not be ready," or that "she just needs more time." Which leaves me livid. Because it presume to know more about Penner's gender identity than he does, in the same way that some sports fan snarked about Daniels being a "man in dress." In the same way some transsexuals presume to know where I am on the gender spectrum. Sadly it's the people who've made the biggest messes of their own lives who seem the most determined to have their own choices validated in the lives of others, and who are the most vocal in encouraging others to follow blindly in their footsteps.

Which is precisely why I think that regardless of Penner's reasons we should salute him for the courage to make the hard -- and I suspect humiliating -- decision to change course after he decided transitioning didn't make sense for him. It's his life after all. Because question really isn't about whether one should transition or not -- the question to ask oneself is: what kind of life (one the addresses my transness) do I want, and who will be part of it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Learning Experience In Workplace Diversity

That's the way I'm trying to look at it anyway.

Last Friday, I was fired from my job. This was, unfortunately, not a surprise. I'd known for some time by then that I wasn't a management favorite and that fact was going to negatively impact my chances for promotion. It wasn't that I was actively disliked personally (at least I don't think so) but I do think management was scared shitless of me for reasons that had nothing to do with my job performance.

Best Buy, the company I'd worked for since March, hired me almost immediately when I applied. Why not? They were getting almost 30 years of retail industry skills and experience for an entry level pay rate. The problem came in when I watched as employees less than half my age and with not even 1/10th of my skills and experience were repeatedly promoted over me. Finally, after the third time in a row I'd been passed over for a promotion in favor of someone far less qualified, I said something. I went to my direct supervisor and asked him why I was not being seriously considered for promotion. This, as you might expect, was not well received. He didn't say it in so many words, but his attitude seemed to indicate to me that he believed that I should just shut up and be happy in whatever position they put me in because I should be grateful they chose to hire me at all. Since I didn't get a real answer from my boss to my question, I decided to try to use other means to get my answer.

Doing my own investigation into the matter, I discovered that this was a common management practice at Best Buys in general and it wasn't really about me, my years of experience, or my skills. What was apparently going on was that when a new position opened up in our store management would decide for themselves who they wanted in that position and then use their authority to disqualify other viable applicants such as myself from being seriously considered for the position. I watched the woman who preceded me in my position get promoted twice, despite the fact that her customer service ratings in that position weren't even close to mine. While she certainly has the skills to do the job, I also believe she was promoted over me and other qualified applicants mainly because of one skill none of the rest of the applicants (that I know of) could match her in: She was (and still is as far as I know) a major league management ass-kisser.

That was only part of the story, though. Because her ass-kissing was so blatant, so far in excess of anyone else in the store I knew of, what I'd learned really only told me why I wasn't chosen over this particular woman for those particular jobs. The real answer I was looking for was the one that dealt with me directly, the one that explained why I'd not only been passed over for the jobs this woman got, but why I continued to be passed over for other positions as they opened up. After a time, I believe I discovered that answer as well. This one hit closer to home, but it not only explained why I continued to be passed over for promotion but it fit the facts and my own experience as neatly as the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

Best Buy is by no means the first company I've worked for that will happily hire a transsexual woman to run one of their cash registers or work in another entry level position, but would put on the brakes when asked to consider promoting one of us above that level. While Best Buy as a company is far too large to presume that all of the management teams in its 850-something stores operate this way, it became quite clear that at least in the store I worked in there's a glass ceiling for transwomen, that Best Buy embraces diversity but only to a point. If you're a transwoman, they'll hire you and put you to work, but don't expect to considered a viable candidate for promotion, no matter how skilled or experienced you are. They want nice, normal-looking, acceptably diverse (read: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation) management and supervisory candidates and on that score, most transwomen just don't qualify and never will.

Granted all this is my own personal opinion, but I think the facts support it quite neatly. It was when I realized that the very same things I'd done successfully at other companies to prove myself and make myself a viable candidate for promotion just weren't working at Best Buy that I started to get suspicious in the first place. The attitudes and policies of various companies can and do vary widely, but there are at least a few expected constants, one of which is that you'll be judged solely on your abilities and work performance when being considered for a promotion. I don't believe that happened here.

I can make these kinds of strong statements because the evidence so clearly points to one, and only one, conclusion. As an example, one person promoted above me was less than half my age and had absolutely zero experience in the department he was to work in as a supervisor. Conversely, I had extensive experience in that department at Best Buy and at other stores, and was fully trained and well-experienced in all of the duties the job required. The person who was chosen for the job is a good kid. In fact, had I been the manager making that choice (and not also considering someone with my resume for the position) I'd have made the same choice. Nevertheless, I can't forget we're talking about someone who was still in diapers when I was in my first retail management position, and someone who had never even worked in the department he was to supervise nor had any experience in most, if not all, of the duties the position entailed.

The one inescapable conclusion with these kinds of blatant disparities at play is clear: My superior skills and training didn't matter nor did my decades of experience when I was being considered for promotion at Best Buy. The other candidates for this promotion (I knew them all), as well as others I was potentially up for, did not, could not possibly, have possessed the level of qualification for these positions that I do, yet I was passed over anyway.

When I started asking questions, things got worse. Suddenly, I found myself being written up (having a disciplinary notice placed in my file) for the pettiest of infractions, such as having a bag of candy in my pocket or for saying something innocently that would later, sometimes even weeks or months later, be turned into a reason to write me up for misbehavior. These were the kinds of things that few if any other employees were ever written up for as far as I can tell, but eventually it got to the point where this sort of thing was so frequent that when they'd call me into the office my first thought was always what I'd be written up for this time as I rarely had any idea what the write-up excuse du jour would be until they told me.

Finally, I went to the company's Human Resources Department about the issue, only to discover after about a month of trying to resolve things through that route that not only wasn't HR going to help me, but they were actually an outsourced company, not even an actual part of Best Buy, and had no authority whatsoever to effect positive change in any way within Best Buy itself. At this point, I had a choice to make. I could just drop the whole thing, keep my mouth shut, and just forget about ever being promoted, or I could keep fighting it out and take the next step, escalation to the District Manager. After long and hard consideration, I decided to fight for my job and for my legally-protected right to be judged based on the same basis as everyone else.

In retrospect, this was a mistake. Just as those making the decisions at my store weren't really interested in playing fair, so too did I discover that this attitude was also prevalent further up the ranks. The District Manager talked a great line, but within a few weeks of the time I'd brought this to his attention and discussed it with him, it became clear that I wasn't going to get any help there either. Once I knew that, I also understood that my time at Best Buy was limited at best because my store's management team was going to be able to do whatever they wanted to do with no interference from corporate.

By the middle of last week, I was making predictions as to when they'd finally can me. I'd read the writing on the wall and knew it was only a matter of time, probably no more than days, before they found something to justify my firing, at least in their minds anyway. Early that week, I'd gotten a call from HR in which I heard that I'd basically been accused of physically threatening a manager, a man at least a full seven or eight inches taller than myself. I denied it of course, it wasn't true. The manager who claimed I'd done this had been my direct supervisor and made my life hell for about four and a half months, but no one seemed interested in questioning his integrity or veracity in making this accusation (or others he'd made previously...this had not been the first time there'd been ample reason to question his credibility), only in whether I would admit to the charge.

By the end of that phone call, I knew what was going on and what was about to happen, that I was being set up to be fired and the company was trying to protect itself from a lawsuit and/or perhaps from having to pay my unemployment benefits by gathering "evidence" of misbehavior to use against me should they need it later. I'd been down this road before and knew it well enough to recognize the signposts. At this point, there was really nothing left for me to do except to wait for the axe to fall.

And fall it did, six days ago. It's taken me that long to compose my thoughts on this before putting them down in print. I guess the lesson I've learned here is one that after almost 30 years in this industry I should have remembered and kept in mind going into my time with Best Buy: Go with the evidence of your eyes and ears, not what you're told by the company. I made the mistake of fully buying into the corporate rhetoric I was fed when I was hired, that Best Buy was committed to diversity, that there was opportunity for advancement available for those who seek it (and there is, just not for someone like me), that I could depend on the company and the resources it provides to make sure that I'd get as fair a shake as any other employee. What I discovered, much to my disappointment, was that for all their diversity-promoting corporate rhetoric Best Buy is really no different from most of the companies I've worked for since transitioning, the kind of company that talks a great line at the corporate level but looks the other way when this kind of thing goes on at the ground level, far away from the shiny corporate ivory towers where the inclusive diversity rhetoric flows so freely.

It's my own fault really. I'd heard Best Buy was a great company to work for before I applied. I checked them out online and read much the same things. I accepted those assertions as fact and operated on the premise that all I had to do to be successful at Best Buy was to demonstrate that I was qualified, competent, and conscientious to be considered a viable candidate for promotion. I made the same key mistake so many of us do, presuming that a state law on the books protecting me from discrimination in hiring would also protect me from discrimination in being considered for promotion as well, as it was intended to. Clearly, it didn't work out that way.

Could I pursue this legally? Sure I could, what they did here (assuming I could prove my case in court) is against of New Jersey State anti-discrimination law. As many of us have discovered, however, knowing the law has been violated is one thing, proving it to the satisfaction of a judge or jury can be quite another. Add to that the expense of even exploring the possibility of taking this to court, and I'm already pretty sure that it's just not worth it for a low-paying entry-level job at an electronics store.

That said, I do have a couple of calls in to people who hopefully will be able to tell me exactly what my options are here and if it's worth making the effort to continue to pursue this. At this point, unless I hear something unforeseen that totally changes my opinion here, I fully expect that probably the best thing for me to do right now is move on, find another job and make the same kind of effort as I did with Best Buy to prove myself, hopefully with a more receptive audience next time.

And I know some of you are wondering, so I'll just address it directly: Was I the perfect employee? No, not hardly, but then I don't know who is. I'm not even sure there is such a thing. I do think I was at least as good at my job as most of the store's employees are at theirs, significantly better than at least some, and this was backed up by the perceptions of my co-workers to a large extent. I wasn't happy in my position, but I was quite good at my job. In fact, I never really had a problem at Best Buy with any non-manager which came to be seen as significant based upon anything other than the opinion of management. Things that I never gave a second thought to when they occurred because they seemed so insignificant at the time suddenly became major issues weeks or even months later when I'd find myself written up for them. These were things I'd never heard of any other employee being written up for or even questioned about, and in some cases I even personally witnessed employees doing exactly the same things with impunity which I'd been disciplined for right in front of the very same managers who had written me up for those infractions.

In the end, none of it mattered. It didn't matter whether or not I was right and they were wrong. It didn't matter that there's a law on the books that's supposed to protect people like me from being treated this way in the workplace. I didn't matter that I'd proven myself competent and capable. In fact, I strongly suspect that my resume and work record, as solid as it is, was just further motivation for them to find more reasons to justify passing me over for promotion in favor of more normal-seeming candidates. They couldn't find that justification in my work record, so they manufactured it in the form of disciplinary notices, just as other companies I've worked for have done when trying to protect themselves from charges of discrimination as they prepared to fire me. Were there a few that were justified? Sure, but I know of at least one manager with more legitimate write-ups than I had and they certainly didn't get in the way of his promotion to management.

And so, I move on. As I look for and eventually find myself a new job, however, there's one lesson from my experience with Best Buy I'll carry with me: For a transperson, and especially a transwoman, getting hired is only part of the struggle. The far more significant part is getting treated fairly once you're already employed, being able to enjoy the same opportunities and chances for promotion that non-trans employees do and being judged by the same measures.

In my estimation, Best Buy fails that test, despite all the inclusive rhetoric they like to spout and which the Human Rights Campaign happily laps up like a thirsty dog when assigning ratings in its Corporate Equality Index. When corporate higher-ups talk a good line about diversity for public consumption but then look the other way as illegal discrimination is practiced under their banner at the ground level there needs to be accountability. While this isn't being written as an attack piece on HRC, since they do publish the widely-accepted CEI I believe they do have a certain responsibility to look beyond the corporate diversity rhetoric and take into account actual ground-level experiences like mine when determining the ratings of these employers. Perhaps if this kind of thing could actually cost a company points on its CEI score we'd see companies like Best Buy making more of an effort to ensure that their publicly-touted diversity principles are actually put into practice when and where they really matter.

What disappoints me most of all here is the lack of honesty. While Best Buy as a company may seem pretty open, accepting, and above-board to the casual observer, once you actually work for them and understand how their system works, you also understand that Best Buy's real commitment to diversity is limited to only those kinds of difference which seem the most normal and accepted for anyone looking to move up in the ranks, or at least that's how it is at the store I worked at. While I hesitate to tar every Best Buy store management team with that brush, I also know that this kind of thing can't happen as easily as it did to me without Best Buy corporate allowing it to happen, whether by actively facilitating it or by turning a blind eye when they're made aware of it. Their excuses for not promoting me were manifold, the valid and verifiable reasons not so much.

What happens next? Who's to say? At this point, I'm focusing on finding myself a new job and not much else (another reason why it took me six days to write this), but a lot will depend on what I hear from those far better skilled in taking on these issues legally than I am.

There's one last thing I want to say on this topic, at least for now. Despite all the problems I endured while I worked for them, I liked working for Best Buy. With one or two notable exceptions, I like the people I worked with. I liked the atmosphere. I brought a lot of enthusiasm to that job because it was a place where I believed that my skills and my experience would enable me to succeed, that in the end it was all up to me and how much I was willing to put into it. Yeah, I bought that company line, hook, line, and sinker, so I guess it isn't so surprising that I was totally unprepared for Best Buy to be no different from any of the other companies I've worked for since transitioning. My biggest mistake wasn't in making the effort to be successful there, it was in accepting the Best Buy corporate rhetoric as anything more than just that, in believing that Best Buy was a different, more progressive kind of company than those I'd worked for in the past.

They say you learn something new every day, and I believe that's true. Thing is, sometimes you learn things that you wish you'd known before, back when they'd have still been useful. This was not my first encounter with the glass ceiling so many transwomen bump up against in the working world and it probably won't be my last. Still, I'll take the lessons learned here and apply them next time. In the end, knowing what I know now will only make it that much less likely that it'll happen again, or at least, that when and if it does happen again I'll be that much more ready for it and able to see it coming that much sooner.

When you get right down to it, given the realities of being a working transwoman, that's about all I, or any of us, can reasonably hope for.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


okay, so this has nothing directly to do with trans issues. But it does have to do with the upcoming election and the attempt by many on the right to disenfranchise already marginalized voters. The whole "Acorn" story has taken off in the mainstream media, where it has received some of the most distorted coverage I have ever seen. Here is a video that attempts to set the record "straight" (no pun intended):

please feel free to pass the link onto anyone who needs to see it...


GenderVision: Gender, Race, and 2008 Presidential Politics

From simply rude to dangerously racist, Florida Atlantic University Professor Jane Caputi's collection of bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts, buttons, hats and other paraphernalia from the current Presidential campaign, illuminated by her brilliant insights, are as shocking as they are disturbing. Evidencing a deep disquiet within the American soul, these images serve as testimony to work yet to be done in the business of healing divisions across lines of gender, race, and generation. Join hosts Gordene O. MacKenzie, PhD, and Nancy Nangeroni in "Gender, Race, and 2008 Presidential Politics" as they interview Dr. Caputi and view samples of her collection, probing for meaning in the disturbing imagery.

GenderVision also releases its newest DVD, "Transgender-Friendly Public Policy", which presents an extended interview with Gunner Scott, co-founder and director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), detailing changes to public policy that are needed in order to create a truly transgender-inclusive society. MTPC is currently the lead sponsor of a statewide legislative initiative to provide protections for all people against discrimination in employment, education, credit and accommodations based on gender identity or expression. The DVD can be purchased at or from

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back to Mike

It looks like the person we’ve all come to know as Christine Daniels is de-transitioning, and has returned to work as Mike Penner.

Kevin Roderick of highly-respected reports late Monday that “Eighteen month after writing a column about becoming Christine Daniels, veteran sportswriter Mike Penner has quietly returned to work at the Los Angeles Times, according to multiple sources close to the LAT’s Sports staff.”

Anyone know any more than this? All of the articles/blog posts written by Christine Daniels are gone - sports ones, as well as the ones about the transition.

If anyone has more information, let me know. As far as I know, this is the most famous person to de-transition I’ve ever heard of, and it’s surely going to cause additional confusion to people who are just starting to get why people transition in the first place.

So - why do people de-transition? I’ve met people who did because they couldn’t find a job as a female, especially if/when there were dependents in the picture. Others realize they weren’t transsexual - and that is the point of RLT, after all, & that means it’s working. Any other reasons people have come across?

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Lot Has Changed in 40 Years

By Monica F. Helms

In 2009, I will be attending my 40-year high school reunion, so it got me thinking about all that has transpired in the last 40 years. Ah, yes, I’m from the Class of ’69. What a wonderful number. But sadly, I digress.

Next year, there will be a lot of celebrations in the LGBT community. After all, the Stonewall Riots took place in late June, 1969. I can easily bet that LGBT blogs across the internet will be lit up like Christmas trees with articles about the Stonewall riots and other related events in the month of June. Because of the incoming flood of articles, I don’t need to elaborate here in this article. However, I can’t wait to see what others will write.

On July 20, 2009, it will be the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Hard to believe it was that long ago when Armstrong said those famous words, “That’s one small step for man . . .” You know the rest. Since then, NASA has lost fourteen astronauts on two Shuttle disasters, four of the original seven astronauts have passed away, leaving just two left. Gus Grissom died before the Apollo 11’s mission, but John Glenn got to become the oldest man to fly in space when he went up in the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

We have seen spectacular far-distant photos from the Hubble Telescope and dozens of missions to the outer planets, found planets orbiting other stars, found water on Mars and many other wonders that still amaze us. We continue to add onto the International Space Station, but . . . we have not returned to the moon or gone to Mars. Am I disappointed? Yes. I wanted to see a person walking on Mars before I die, and it doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Another thing took place in 1969 that will forever be remembered, at least by my generation. From August 15 to 18, in a tiny rural community near Bethel, NY, nearly a half million people attended what would be a defining moment in the history of rock music. Woodstock. The music, the groups, the people, the drugs, the rain, the mud and all that made up the “hippie” culture of the era came together to celebrate and define who we were. Many music events have happened since, but none that will be remembered like Woodstock.

1969 brought a lot of pain and sorrow, and a lot of joy and love. We had lost Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King a year earlier and the deep pain of those events still lingered. The Vietnam War waged on, with no end in sight. The battle of Hamburger Hill took place in May of that year. In January, The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records. Hurricane Camille hit the coast of Mississippi during Woodstock, killing 248 people. The My Lai Massacre and the Chicago Eight trial took place in September. The first draft lottery since WWII happened in December, as did the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. Wendy’s and Wal-Mart started in that year. One of the best things to come out of 1969 was the premier of Sesame Street in early November. The year will always be memorable for many reasons.

As the world changed, so did I. What can I tell my classmates from the Class of ’69 about my life today? In 1999 on our 30 Year Reunion, I surprised the hell out of them when they discovered that one of their male classmates had become a woman. At the time, I had only been living in my new life for just two years, so I did not a lot to tell them about this change or what I had experienced. Also, I wore a name tag that didn’t give away who I had been in high school.

At the Friday event, some would come up to me and say, “You look familiar, but I can’t remember what classes we had together.” I stepped closer to them and whispered in their ear, “I’ll give you a hint. I used to be a guy.” Their eyes got big and their jaws dropped.

Another way I would befuddle them would be to open the page of the yearbook I was on – which had about 20 pictures – and tell them I was on that page. Since I changed my last name, they had to try and pick me out by facial features. I also came to the conclusion that the ones who treated me badly at the reunion would have also acted like jerks had I remained a man. But, I also made new friends at the reunion.

On the Saturday night semi-formal event, I wore a sexy, low-cut dress. One of my male classmates walked up to me, looked down at my breasts, then looked up and asked, “Did you get that dress for the reunion?”

“No. But, a girl has to show off her best attributes.” He rolled his eyes and walked away.

Later, I approached the only person who was “out” in high school, Chris. We didn’t hang out together, but we did have some of the same friends. I came up to him and said, “Chris, you may not recognize me, but I used to be . . .” His eyes got big and he said, “I want to dance with you.”

After the DJ started playing music, I requested Cher’s “Believe,” because of its popularity back then. When he started playing it, I went out on the dance floor and motioned Chris to join me. Hell, he was a fantastic dancer! He twirled me around, moved me across the floor and we danced as if we had been doing it for years. We were the only two on the dance floor. No one else dared to come out. It felt great, and I had to laugh. The class’ only out gay man and the only known transsexual were dancing together. I later found out that in order for him to work his way through college to become a brain surgeon in New York City, he taught dance lessons. It showed.

That was ten years ago. I walked away with the award for the “Most Changed.” (Duh?) But, what can I expect in 2009? I have no idea. I hadn’t advanced much in my transition, but now, I have done a lot to help others . . . or so they tell me. I have made history and observed history being made, but it came with a price and a lot of sadness. Three of my friends committed suicide and one was murdered. Yet, I am semi-successful and I have many more friends than any other point in my life.

A few people go to reunions to rub their success in their classmates’ faces, usually being the ones who had been treated like shit in school. No one treated me like shit, so I have no motivation of revenge. I go because some of them had been my friends and they need to see the person I kept hidden away for 46 years. They need to know that trans people are real and not crazy like some may believe. They need to see for themselves.

Next year will be a big one for many reasons. If the election polls are correct, we will see the swearing in of the first African American as President of the United States. Again, I get to observe history being made. The LGBT community will be celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Stonewall in many unique ways. MTV will probably have a special on Woodstock, while Baby-Boomers who attended may wander back to Yasgar’s farm to revel in the nostalgia. The History Channel will have a lot of space-related programs, ending with a big one about Apollo 11. They will probably also have programs about My Lai and the Battle of Hamburger Hill, while the Weather Channel will show us footage of the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Camille.

For me, I will be heading back to Phoenix, alone, yes, but proud of whom I have become. I have taken on a huge challenge and came through successfully. But, it has taken a lot out of me. I’ll be 58 at my reunion, and I sometimes feel it. The dancing will be slower and the conversations will be deeper. But, like everything else I do these days, it will be an opportunity to educate. I can’t wait.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two-Sprit Funding

I have not been reading a lot of what is sent to me since the passing of my brother. Mostly its been a way for me to begin to heal, to absorb his loss, but it also has been hard for me to focus. Not a good thing for a gemini! I mention this not with puppy eyes looking for support but as a way to explain the 1800+ emails that have accumulated in my mail box. Usually I just go to the inbox looking for emails from work or clients, then I quickly look for those that came from friends. The rest - into the file marked 'luego' or 'later'.

So today I came across a forward from back in May. After reading it, I wasn't surprised.

Two recent national philanthropy reports have released information indicating that Gay Funders contributed $37 million in one year to GLBT organizations across the United States. Native American Two Spirit People, the poorest of all the GLBT communities, received only 4 small grants of about $2,500. The average grant to gay organizations nationally is $16,000 a year. Gay funders have a mission to serve all equally, but it's time for a summit with the Two Spirit People here in our ancestral domains to help the funders achieve their mission. Two Spirit People have significant spiritual and ceremonial roles in our Native cultures, and Gay Philanthropy has a significant role to play in realizing a vision of funding-justice and social justice with our people.

People of colour learn very quickly where their place is in the dominate culture, especially if you're not economically blessed. Hand me downs, commodity foods, under performing schools .... are not far removed from our lives. So considering that in 2006, 37 million dollars was donated nationally to GLBT funders and for each dollar donated, 0.0003 went to Native American LBGT projects, I'd say that the big dogs learned very well how to apply the lessons of old, pass out beads and take New York.

I could easily recite how serious HIV/AIDS is among Native People. How often our LGBT youth are at risk for violence, not only in the streets but at home as well. The compound effects of discrimination, as a Person of Colour and GLBT. The appropriation of Our Culture to fill a romantic notion in the minds of those who know not their place of emergence. In my youth, these outrages would bring anger to my heart and I would be one of those to go to the streets to let them know I was angry.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

I've learned some of the wisdom of the Tortoise and the Hare. Sometimes its worth the effort to slowly but diligently attack a problem. Since the days of my youth I see a little more progress towards wider acceptance of people of colour, especially from the young people. I see thru the eyes of my daughter that a time is approaching when she and I will be judged more on who we are than by the coulor of our skin.

So I ask for your help in supporting a request to more equitably fund Native American Two Spirit LGBT programs and projects.

A petition is posted here.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stonewall and Julie Bindel

It's a good thing that UK human rights organization Stonewall's website says "Equal Rights for Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals" at the top, because equal rights for trans people of any sexuality sure does not seem to be on their agenda.

On their shortlist for Stonewall 2008 LGB Journalist of the Year is Julie Bindel, best known for her trans-bashing in The Guardian and the BBC. In the face of strenuous objections from UK trans activists, Stonewall refuses to denominate her, arguing that to do so would be to undermine the transparency of their selection process, and that anyway they don't represent transgender people.

Stonewall's Chief Executive, Ben Summerskill, asserts that the nominations were voted upon by 70 randomly-selected Stonewall members and the shortlist then passed on to the judging panel, and that to denominate someone now would make it seem that the organization was arbitrarily disregarding the wishes of the voters. He says that Stonewall does not necessarily condone or support the views of the nominees outside the realm of the work for which they are being nominated. He also says that Stonewall England has received feedback from the trans UK community that they are not wanted in trans activism work.

With support like this, who could blame UK trans folks for asking Stonewall not to participate in trans issues? It's plain that they don't consider trans people members of their community, regardless of their sexuality. When the potential hurt feelings of some Stonewall voters takes precedence over the hundreds of UK trans people whose personhood is delegitimized in favor of Bindel's bigotry by her nomination, it becomes clear that Stonewall feels no sense of responsibility towards trans people, and there's no reason to think that would change if UK trans activists welcomed them to the table. As far as Stonewall not endorsing Bindel's outside opinions, if her transphobic screeds wrongly assigned the name of lesbian feminism and published in the Guardian and aired on BBC radio do not count as part of her journalistic oeuvre it would be news to me. I fail to see how the transphobia that is part of how she has made her name in the totality of the LGBT community is irrelevant to her award by a LGB "human rights" organization for journalism. Stonewall bills itself as a human rights organization—surely trans people are human, and therefore a part of their remit whether or not they assume the T at the end of the acronym.

Should Stonewall denominate her? Not doing so is a slap in the face of LGB people who are also trans or who object to Bindel's public hatred of trans people.

There is a demonstration scheduled for the Stonewall Awards, Thursday, November 6, at 6:30 pm outside the Victoria and Albert Museum at Cromwell Road, in London.

Edit: I neglected to do this earlier. I sincerely apologize. All of this comes to my attention by way of plumsbitch and blahflowers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

At the bus stop....

This morning, I was walking my 8 year old daughter out to her bus stop, here in our suburban wonderland. On the opposite corner is the stop for the high school kids. As we are waiting for the bus - me and the other 3rd grade moms (I never see any of the other dads out there, but that's another post) - I see one of the high school boys walking toward us, on the way to his stop across the street.

I have to re-check my vision, because he's wearing a skirt. He's wearing it over some sort of athletic leggings, but it's unambiguously a skirt.

As he gets a little closer, one of the moms asks if this is some sort of hazing or prank? He mumbles that it's something for school - but no blushing, no cringing. Everyone at the bus stop is very cool - no laughing or anything, even among the 8 year olds there! Another mom adds that he looks very nice, but that's it and there's no giggling or anything at all.

Even more interesting was that the boy was a little uncomfortable, but clearly not mortified.

Anyway, my daughter's bus comes, I kiss her goodbye and start walking back to our house. And sure enough, here comes another boy in a skirt. All I want to do is send a positive message. I look again; he is looking at me and plainly awaiting the reaction. I say "Morning!" and continue on my business. Again, no blushing, stammering, anything.

Over my shoulder as I am getting to my house, I hear the boys at the corner, along with a couple other high school girls that are there. I sneak a quick look. They're chatting... two girls, two boys wearing skirts. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. I sneaked another look. Those boys were NOT embarrassed.

Now look: on an intellectual level, I understand perfectly well that the taboos against transvestism are purely a social construct. Peer pressure writ large and nothing more. But I don't think anything has ever crystallized that point like seeing what I did this morning. I don't know what the hell the lesson was about - though my estimation of the school system here has gone up quite a bit! And of course I know that these boys had the luxury of knowing that their transvestism was temporary and, in all likelihood, not part of their real existence. But seeing that moment at the bus stop, where two adolescent boys in skirts simply did not represent an issue, was both freaky and hopeful.

And a reminder that I should definitely have a cup of coffee before going out to the bus stop in the morning.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Irresistible Temptation:Exploiting Our Dead

Last year I wrote Photo Ops, Donations, And The Selling of Our Dead, when the Human Rights Campaign tried to hijack the Washington D.C. Transgender Day of Remembrance.

To refresh your memory, the founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Gwen Smith, said of the day:
"The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence."
Apparently that scope isn't wide enough for the folks in Orlando, Florida. They've set out to expand the day to Transgender Day Of Remembrance and Inspiration. Part of that "inspiration" is to fundraise for the Orlando Youth Alliance. I'm sure it's an oversight, but the Orlando Youth Alliance's website asks:

  • Are you curious about your sexuality?

  • Are you having problems dealing with the issues of your sexuality?

and states that:
Almost every GLBTQ youth has questions about their sexuality at some point in their life.
and their donation page, a goal of their fundraising efforts is to help build a:
24 hr safe house for those who have been kicked out of their homes due to their
Transgender children generally are kicked out of their homes for their gender presentation, not thier sexuality.

Another ironic aspect is that one of the sponsors is Tri-ess. Tri-ess describes itself as:
an educational, social and support group for heterosexual crossdressers, their partners, the spouses of married crossdressers and their families.
One only needs to look as far as their email list descriptions to get an idea of how transsexuals are viewed within Tri-ess:
Those of you with strong, militant transsexual attachments, please move on. This list is not for you. For the purposes of this list, those with "militant transsexual attachments" are defined as those who actively promote transsexualism.
Most of the people aren't on the TDOR list are transsexuals (or people living full time in their chosen gender), not crossdressers.

The Day of Remembrance isn't a day for inspiration or fundraising. It's a solemn day that should be revered as such. It's not a day to sell our dead for money or motivation.

Cross posted from

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

SCC Failure

A recent blog post written by someone who attended SCC reminds me, again, that whoever is in charge of partners' events at SCC isn't doing their job.

The only thing that I attended that did not live up to my expectations was the Comfort Zone, a group for SOFFA (significant others, friends, family and allies) of MTF trangender women. I qualified for the group as a wife of a MTF. The group was predominately made up of wives of cross dressers with about 4 of us being partners or wives of transgender people. It appears we all left before the meeting was over. The next morning Sarah and met two young women who had not been eligible for the group since their partners were FTM. They were in happy relationships. We exchanged email address and may try to put something on the internet for happy partners and wives of trans people.

This really thrills me. Two years ago a partner of an FTM was told she wasn't welcome because she identified as lesbian, & this year they just don't allow partners of FTMs into the partner support group.

It's not hard to run an inclusive partner group. I've done it tons of times. I offer every year. I don't need to get paid, just to have my costs covered. I would be willing to go down there to train some locals as to how to be inclusive of all partners.

Whoever is doing this workshop needs to be asked not to do it. The isolation most partners experience is quite enough, but isolating them further - at a trans conference! - is entirely unacceptable.

Please, SCC organizers, please. You have no idea what a knife in the heart it is, as a partner, to get to a conference and feel like no one bothered to care that you have a sense of community, too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ruby Molina

The body of the transgender woman who was found in the American River in Sacramento last week has been identified by police as Ruby (nee Fernando) Molina. The police are citing it as a "suspicious" death and need more information:

Anyone who knew the victim, the victim's recent whereabouts, or who has other information about this case is asked to contact the Sacramento Police Department at (916) 443-HELP. A $1,000 reward is currently being offered.

Please, if you know something, let the police know. She deserves to have her murderers caught, as does her family.

(thanks to Angus/Andrea Grieve-Smith for the info.)