Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Greg Grunberg Responds...and So Do I

Early yesterday afternoon, I received a email through the Bilerico Project from "Heroes" star Greg Grunberg about my recent post about his tweeting about Chaz Bono. It read:

My comments about Chaz Bono letting himself go had NOTHING to do with the transgender issue. NOTHING. Chaz is overweight as am I and people have jokingly told me that we look alike. I was merely poking fun at that notion. I hope you realize I meant nobody any harm. Lighten up and take good care.- Grunny

I decided to write back, because I wanted to explain to Grunberg why what he did was not only hurtful but could even prove actually harmful. I spent a considerable amount of time on this letter, but when I went to send it in reply to the email address his email was indicated as having been sent from, I got a delivery failure notice saying that his email address doesn't exist. This isn't too surprising really, and I don't blame Grunberg for it. Since Grunberg is a major star, I'm sure NBC takes steps to ensure that his personal email isn't inundated with fan mail. I made attempts to locate a valid email address for him throughout the day, even at one point tweeting him directly and asking for one, without success.

Since I have no way to contact Greg Grunberg directly, and since I believe that it's important that he see my response, after waiting for a day to see if I was able to establish direct contact with him I've decided to post his email and my reply publicly, where I hope he will see it. While I'd originally intended this part of the conversation to be more private, it's far more important to me that Grunberg be able to read what I have to say to him than it is for it to be said privately.

Here's what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Grunberg,

Thank you for contacting me. I understand your position and I can appreciate it, but I'd like to try to help you understand mine and why I wrote and published that piece. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but there's a lot to say and I hope you'll bear with me.

Mr. Grunberg, Grunny, I am a transsexual woman. I lived the first 35 years of my life in my male birth gender and transitioned to living as a woman full-time in 1997. In those days, I worked a low-paying grunt job in a Blockbuster video store. I was well-liked and on the short list of management candidates, but within two weeks of the time I told my employer I would be transitioning, I was out of a job, just like that. No reasons given, just coming into work one day to be told by my boss that I was fired and to pick up my check on Friday. When I tried to hire a lawyer to fight back, not one would take my case. I live in central New Jersey, and so I contacted the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for help. After taking a full year to consider my case, the NJDCR determined that it wasn't in the state's interest to protect me from discrimination.

That incident began a six-year unbroken stretch of unemployment for me. Fortunately, unlike in the cases of many of my transgender friends, my family did not turn their backs on me. So, I am able to write you today from a warm and comfortable home in Central New Jersey instead of living in poverty, on the streets, or perhaps even dead. It is estimated (through anecdotal evidence and the few studies that have been done on this) that about 50% of all transsexuals do not survive long enough to transition. By far, the most common reason is suicide. It's also estimated a transgender person like myself currently has a 1-in-12 chance of being murdered in a hate crime in the US.

Three years ago, New Jersey's legislature passed a law protecting transgender and gender-variant citizens from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. It did become easier over time for transsexuals to find and maintain employment in the state, but by no means can it be said that it became easy. Then, when the economy began tanking, it once again became as hard as it's ever been for a transperson to find and keep a job in this state. In addition, I can tell you from personal experience that while it may have become a little easier to get hired as a transperson in New Jersey for a while, being promoted above entry level once hired, regardless of one's level of experience, skills, and competency, still remains completely unattainable for many of us just because we're transgender.

Just a few weeks ago, the US Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and it was signed into law by President Obama. For the first time in the history of our nation, our country's body of federal law now acknowledges transgender and gender-variant Americans and defines us as a protected class.

Another bill before Congress right now, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace nationwide, has been around for over thirty years in one form or another, once failing to pass by only a single vote. Despite a multitude of promises made to us by President Obama and Congressional Democrats, ENDA has been removed from this year's Congressional agenda and we've been told it will be taken on next year. Of course, considering how many times we've heard that only to discover that Congress really intended nothing of the sort but only wanted people like me to shut up about it for a while, not too many of us are taking it on faith that this time will be any different.

That's the world I live in, Grunny, and it's the world my transgender sisters and brothers live in as well. I use my own example here because New Jersey is popularly considered to be one of the most politically liberal states in the nation (NJ went for Obama by fifteen points). If someone like me can experience this kind of treatment here in New Jersey, can you imagine what it must be like for those of us who live in states like Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, and other ultra-conservative areas? I've heard their stories and have presented them in the media I make, and I can tell you they are often nothing short of just as horrific as you might imagine.

Grunny, when you make jokes about Chaz Bono, even though your intent is to joke about his weight, that's not what a lot of people are going to take from it. Mixing gender pronouns in reference to a transgender person as you did in one of your tweets is considered deeply offensive in our community, disparaging to Chaz's gender identity, and by extension to the rest of us as well. I know you don't see it that way, but that's how I feel, and it's how many other transgender people and allies feel as well.

As a media professional yourself, you must know that what Chaz is known for isn't his being overweight, it's for being the darling little girl from "Sonny and Cher" who came out a while back as lesbian and then became a guy. With all of the recent media play he's gotten, when most people think of Chaz Bono they don't think "fat", they think "transsexual" or "transgender", and that, in a nutshell, is the problem and a big reason why I felt compelled to write and publish that piece.

Also, there's something else I want to say, something a little more personal:

One of the other reasons I felt I had to make this public is because I'm angry with you, not just for what you said on Twitter, but because I'm a fan. "Heroes" is one of my very favorite shows and I think you're amazing in it. "Heroes" has always held a special place in my television viewing because the story can be so relevant to my own life in some ways. No, I've never been stalked by a super-powered homicidal maniac, but I know as well as anyone what it is to live a life where you're treated badly by your government and those around you just for being different from everyone else. "Heroes" is special to me, and I feel like you've tarnished that for me. I feel like I'll never be able to think of "Heroes" again without also thinking of this, and yes, I'm angry and incredibly disappointed in you for that.

Maybe I'm an idiot for thinking some actor I've never met nor probably ever will meet cares about people like me or what happens to us, but my disappointment was further compounded when one of the people who commented on my post at Bilerico mentioned that you're active with epilepsy charities because of your son. As a lifelong epileptic myself, on medication for it since childhood, your efforts there are something I'm very inclined to laud and support.

I'd ask you to imagine that instead of Chaz Bono, some famous actor got on Twitter and started making jokes (intentionally or not) about epileptics. How would you feel, Grunny? My bet is that you'd feel about the same as I do about this (and I would feel just as strongly if it actually were about epilepsy), and you'd likely feel as compelled to stand up to it as I do in this case.

So, that's it. I've said my piece, and I hope you can understand where I come from on this, why wrote and published the piece, and why I will continue to speak out against this kind of thing whenever I see it. As a transgender writer, blogger, and Internet radio host, I've dedicated myself to working for the day when every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender American will have the same rights in this country as everyone else takes for granted, and I am as committed and dedicated to my work as you are to yours.

I did not write the piece to hurt you or the show, Grunny. That was never my intent or my desire. I wrote and published it because for all the reasons noted above we must speak out against transphobia in the media, each and every time it happens, even if not intentional, because we cannot afford the social, cultural, and political backlash that can result if left unanswered, and especially not now when we are still actively engaged in fighting for our basic civil rights as American citizens.

I hope you understand, and thanks for listening.


Rebecca Juro
The Bilerico Project

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