Saturday, December 04, 2010

Trans Woman Attacked in TN Kohl's (warning: Triggery)

It sounds like it's going to be just some holiday shopping insanity, but then:

When store personnel unlocked the doors to the store, Akasha Adonis and her mother of Humboldt, TN made their way to one of four entrances where there was no line. As they were entering the store, a girl from another entrance where there was a line ran up to Akasha's mother and another woman and attempted to ram through them into the store. When Akasha stepped between the girl and her mother to protect her, the girl jumped into Akasha's face and began cussing at her. At the same moment, a man attacked Akasha and another woman at the entrance. The assailant hit Akasha and pulled out her hair as he pulled her through the door into the store. The man then shoved his hand in her mouth with his thumb, tore three of her teeth out of socket, and broke her jaw as he forced Akasha to the ground. The assailant then stood up and walked into the store to shop as Kohl's staff stood idly by greeting other shoppers.

What the fuck is wrong with people?

On top of it, a comment made by a Kohl employees make the bias obvious, and the police, as well, have been insensitive, bigoted jackasses:

Akasha's mother posted about the incident on her Facebook page. A Kohl's employee posted a comment in response which read: "no it happened before I got there. i got there at 5 AM. they said it was a guy and a guy dressed up as a woman . they said the he/she/it got its wig knocked off and some teeth knocked out."

An officer describes a broken jaw & the loss of three teeth as "no serious injuries."

Read more if you can without your head exploding.

(Thanks to Marti in TN for the tip.)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves Call for Interns

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is looking for interns for the positions listed below. The deadline for submission of applications is December 1, 2010.

Internships begin December 15, 2010. Their end date depends on the particular position. The survey and chapter interns will likely complete their work by the end of the Spring. The website and publicity interns will continue on through the book’s publication, tentatively next Fall.

Undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to apply. The book’s editors are willing to work with your school to obtain credit for your internship. Unfortunately we do not have funds at this time to provide payment to interns. All interns will be recognized by name in the final book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trans Partners: Come Out , Come Out, Wherever You Are

Hey, lovers of trans people! Come out about your desires today for National Coming Out Day! Celebrate the beauty of trans bodies and souls, no matter their shape or size or color.

There’s not enough of us out.

Here’s an exercise I ask trans partners to do when they’re feeling isolated: imagine you are Professor Charles Xavier and you’ve got that fabulous helmet — except instead of finding mutants, it helps you find other partners of trans people.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nibblerspeak: Why The LGBT Community Doesn’t Believe Anything Democrats Say Anymore

Did you catch Tim Kaine’s new video, supposedly about the progress the Democratic Party is making on LGBT issues? Like a lot of what comes out of official Democratic Party channels these days, it’s simply unbelievable. Not amazing, exciting, or surprising, but quite literally not believable.

Most notable is Kaine’s assertion that Democrats are “working hard” to pass ENDA. Really? Current whip counts (our own) show that there’s more than enough support to pass ENDA in the House at least, but despite this well-known reality it’s delayed, and delayed, and delayed, until it seems it’s once again fallen off the calendar entirely. Even more ridiculous is Kaine’s statement that “LGBT equality can’t be achieved overnight.”. Has this guy been living in the same country or even on the same planet as the rest of us for the last four or five decades?

Also, let’s be honest, the Dems could have chosen a far better messenger than Tim Kaine to speak to LGBT Americans about our rights on behalf of the Party. Kaine’s wishy-washy “support” of LGBT equality as Governor of Virginia came in the form of weak, watered-down executive orders that his rabid conservative successor Bob McDonnell wiped out almost instantaneously when he took over as Virginia’s Governor, just as the next Republican President will likely do to most of the so-called “progress” on LGBT rights made thus far during the Obama Administration. Perhaps most telling of all is that when Republican Bob McDonnell rolled back those protections, Democrat Tim Kaine couldn’t even be bothered to comment in the media on the loss of those rights for LGBT Virginians. And this spineless ball of fluff is the public voice of the Democratic Party, the guy they roll out to speak on their behalf to the American LGBT electorate? Seriously? It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad, and so very costly to LGBT American workers and to the true progressive movement in this country. Let’s make sure we never forget that it was Tim Kaine, as Virginia’s Governor, who signed that state’s same-sex marriage ban into law.

Simply put, Tim Kaine is not a credible spokesperson or advocate for progress on LGBT rights. History teaches us that Kaine and other fair-weather “progressives” in the Party are not the solution, but rather one of the biggest obstacles to achieving real equality for LGBT Americans.

When we call out the Democrats for being completely out of touch with the LGBT community, our lives, and the issues that matter to us most, it’s exactly this kind of ignorance and lack of substance we’re talking about. Tim Kaine knows better. He has to. Kaine is the poster child example of what happens when a political leader makes a half-hearted, let’s-not-rock-the-boat-too-much effort at making things at least a little easier for LGBT’s during his tenure, only to see all of that “progress” quickly wiped out by a Republican successor because he took the easy, politically convenient route of issuing executive orders instead of working to pass actual legislated law, which of course is much more resistant to attempts to eliminate. That should tell you about all you need to know about Tim Kaine’s “support” for LGBT rights. He’s actually the perfect mouthpiece for the Democrats. Like most of the Democratic Party leadership, when it comes to LGBT equality Tim Kaine talks a good game but folds in the clutch because just like Obama he’ll always prioritize taking the path of least resistance for himself and his political allies over doing what he knows is right for LGBT Americans.

In the interest of clarity and truthfulness, here’s some popular Nibblerspeak lines and their real-world translations:

“Democrats are working hard to pass ENDA.” = “Get back under the bus and wait a few more election cycles until we decide it’s politically advantageous for us to fight for you.”

“I’ll be a fierce advocate…” = “I’ll mention you in a speech or two when it serves my purposes, but don’t expect me to actually fight for you or for your rights. Remember, what I actually do fiercely advocate is that you continue to be denied the right to marry. Even though I used to publicly support that right as a state senator in Illinois, I flip-flopped on same-sex marriage when I ran for federal office because that’s what’s politically convenient for me and my Party. You can expect me to back-burner ENDA and anything else LGBT-related that proves inconvenient for Democrats because the political entities I’m always going to protect first and foremost are myself, my Party, and my Administration. Just be thankful I’m not Bill Clinton and I probably won’t end up actually making things worse for LGBT’s like he did because it’s no longer profitable or good politics for Democrats to campaign on anti-LGBT bigotry in most areas of the US.”

“More education is needed.” = “There are still too many unchallenged bigots like Ike Skelton in the Democratic Party to guarantee passage of LGBT equality bills. We’re not going to make any effort to challenge them publicly because we care far more about protecting the seats our Party cronies hold in Congress than we do about protecting LGBT Americans from discrimination.”

“ENDA will be introduced…” = “Forget ENDA becoming law, at least for the foreseeable future. We keep giving you dates and then moving them further and further back because it’s an election year. We need the LGBT’s who still buy our bullshit to be hungry for justice and flock to the polls in November to vote to keep us in power in the hope of finally being treated decently someday. It’s how we keep Gay, Inc. in line and continuing to come up with votes, donations, and volunteers for us. As long we keep feeding you lies and you keep coming back for more every time, why should we ever pass ENDA into law and cut off our own gravy train?”

“ENDA is a top priority for Democrats.” = “ENDA is, in fact, a top priority for Democrats. Not the actual passage of the bill into law, mind you, but rather being able to dangle it in front of LGBT voters every election season like a carrot on a stick to drive you to the polls to vote for us yet again, despite our consistent failure to keep even our most basic promises to LGBT Americans (see above). That’s worth its weight in gold to us and we’re not ready to give it up. The truth is that ENDA is worth far more to the Democratic Party politically as an unrealized goal than an actual accomplishment so we’re going to milk it for all it’s worth, or at least until you people finally wise up and stop making it so easy for us. As always, protecting our own jobs is far more important and urgent to the Democratic Party than protecting the jobs of LGBT Americans will ever be.”

“Make me do it.” = “Piss off…but don’t forget to vote, donate, and work to re-elect Democrats, ‘cause, y’know, things would be so much worse for LGBT’s under the Republicans…really.”

Got some Nibblerspeak translations of your own? Post ‘em in the comments!

Monday, August 16, 2010

David Bowie and "Gayface"

by Jenny Boylan.

so i wrote, and posted here, a piece about David Bowie; I've been thinking about him over the weekend, having suddenly remembered how much I liked his music (and saw him live at the Tower Theatre in Philly during the Ziggy Stardust tour). I wrote about feeling a little betrayed that--apparently--Bowie's androgyny was really all play, and that he's really straight, and that all of That was just theatre. It made me feel grumpy about him.

But in the hours since I wrote and posted this piece, I've had occasion to wonder if it matters whether or not Bowie was "really" bisexual, or translike, or anything. Maybe what matters is the theatre, and the music.

Like I said, I want to think about it a little more now. So I've taken down the piece i wrote so I can do that. More soon.
jenny b.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trans People, "MSM" and HIV Study and Outreach

There is a serious problem in HIV study and outreach when it comes to trans people -- and especially transsexuals -- in studies of high-risk populations. Many of late have been doing so by trying to include them under the term "MSM," or, "men who have sex with men." I've heard the creation of this term attributed to the Center for Disease Control, but it's widely used now by United Nations -affiliated organizations and more.

This past Spring, I'd had one such study request forwarded to me by someone who was apparently on one of the mailing lists that I forward communications to. A few days later, he wrote me, irate that I'd not forwarded it to my trans networks. I'd pointed out (feigning ignorance) that while a few trans men might qualify and be interested, much of what was being discussed in his email didn't really fit FTM configuration, especially pre-surgical. This resulted in a missive which started off with "you know what I mean" and launched into an accusation that I'd be "guilty of the murder of" every transsexual woman who perished from HIV who might have benefited from the study. And yet, the survey was written so thoroughly to exclude those of female gender identity, I can't see any way that any self-respecting trans woman would be able to sit through the whole thing without becoming thoroughly incensed at the obvious refusal to dignify her as who she is.

I get it that effective terminology must be given to identify target high-risk groups for the sake of study. I get it that the terminology needs to be both simple and encompassing. I get it that HIV is a serious issue and relevant to the trans community, though not all trans sub-groups are high-risk. I get it that penile-anal intercourse (PAI) risk groups can include trans women (indeed, we're upset when we're not). What I don't and will not get is the gay community's insistence that transsexual women are "really men" and how it's such a bother having to state otherwise in order to be inclusive. To be fair, there are many folks in HIV study and advocacy who don't feel or act that way, but the prevalence of MSM-exclusive study sure reinforces this impression.

MSM reportedly came to be because of a need to include males who identify as straight rather than gay or bi, but by circumstance still had or have sex with other males. It also takes out of the equation people who identify as gay or bi, but who aren't currently sexually active with men. What's interesting is that even though MSM terminology was apparently devised in order to respect various mens' identities and transcend the cultural and historical contextual constructions built around terms like "gay," often no such accommodation or respect is given to trans female communities. To justify this, sometimes people will point to other cultures where trans women are more inclined to identify themselves as "really male" so that we Westerners seem the odd ones out and explainable by cultural context -- a situation that exists mainly because outside Western societies, trans people in most cultures have not yet had the freedom to develop a language with which to self-identify, and therefore accept whatever language is available to them.

Admittedly, it doesn't help that "trans" covers such a widely diverse set of people, including male-bodied people in a stage of bodily transition to female, female-bodied people in a stage of bodily transition to male, male-bodied people who view themselves as both genders / neither gender / somewhere in between, female-bodied people who view themselves as both genders / neither gender / somewhere in between, people who identify as the same gender of their birth assignment but who sometimes crossdress for a variety of reasons, people who don't like or fit social rules of gender, and although trans doesn't encompass them, sometimes people who are physically intersex are relevant to trans-related medical study. Notice that I didn't address operative status -- post-operative transsexuals no longer need to identify as trans in any way, and for the sake of HIV research should only be classified as men and women. It also doesn't help that there is little consensus within trans communities on what the various labels mean, and that many people affected by trans issues do not identify as trans. However, when it comes right down to it, the issue looks a lot more complicated than it really is.

MSM terminology actually does include some of those trans identities when male-identified, though they're sometimes dismissed from studies as not the intended target trans group (it's interesting, for example, that people will sometimes be familiar with lesbian- or bi-identified trans women, but not grasp that there can be gay- or bi-identified trans men). Where MSM fails spectacularly is specifically with female-identified, male-bodied persons (usually transsexual), by insistently identifying them as male.

As simple as this fact is, it seems to get dismissed because of cisgender (that is, non-transgender people) failure to recognize how much of a barrier and how disrespectful this is, feeling that it's simply easier and more expedient for us to "just get over it." Those folks, of course, can be classified as ignorant @$$es -- not because they identify as such, but just because it's more convenient for me to do so.

This is one of those things that it would seem to me to be obvious, but frankly, transsexual women are typically not going to participate in a study that willfully disrespects them as women, or is phrased in ways that would not even seem to be applicable to them. Those kinds of things generate a barrier not only to the studies in progress but willingness to consider future studies, regardless of inclusion. Add this to a medical framework where distrust and an expectation of prejudice and inconsistency from medical professionals abounds, and the reluctance rises exponentially.

Recognizing that that the terminology needs to be simple and encompassing, it seems to me a small thing to expect a "& TFSM" ("and trans female-identified people who have sex with men") acronym added where MSM appears.

That's a first step. And it means nothing if it's accompanied by inconsistent gender acknowledgment throughout. Because as much as I want to do what I can to address HIV issues among trans people, increasingly the tools to do so are being branded with a moniker that at best says "this isn't for you," and at worst is completely insulting.

(Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trans + Jewish

Prof. Joy Ladin on what it means to be transgender and Jewish:

Friday, July 02, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

So it was 40th annual Pride celebration here last weekend and the San Francisco Chronicle published its usual slideshow filled with fierce and fabulous people having fun at the installation of the Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks, at the Dyke March, at the Pink Saturday in the Castro, at Sunday's parade, at the official celebration party that takes over blocks around the Civic Center.

But guess what was missing? As usual, any photos from -- or any mention of -- the annual Trans March and celebration on Friday.

Now I realize the Trans March only draws thousands, not the tens of thousands that the Dyke March does, nor the hundreds of thousands that the parade does; and I realize that in San Francisco there's somebody marching about something pretty much every other day. But you'd think a crowd like this marching down Market Street might attract a bit of attention.

It just would be nice that in one of the most trans-friendly cities on earth, the local paper of record would see fit to mention that there's a T part to LGBT Pride. Especially this year, when the Pride organizers specifically invited several trans contingents to lead off the parade (after the Dykes on Bikes and the "official" floats). Especially when one of the contingents -- the Sacramento Gems -- were decked out in Southern Belle hoop-skirts that proved to be irresistible photo-bait to the folks I saw cramming the sidewalks.

But we did get a crumb. The Chron did focus on a trans couple in a regular Sunday article where couples get to tell the story of their relationship.

Lose some, win some...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cincinnati Pride or Privilege?

Cincinnati Pride is approaching, and this year issues have gone beyond the usual problems with Pride. Pride is a clusterfuck or issues, visibility, consumerism and corporatization, access, politics... but this I guess it was bored of the old problems and wanted something new. One issue vexing Cincinnati Pride this year is location. Pride has moved from its ‘gayborhood’ home to Cincinnati's downtown center, a change which has sparked some controversy. But there is another issue that is less obvious, and far more serious.

The project of Pride has been picked up by the Gay Chamber of Commerce, an organization focused on gay business success and representation in Cincinnati. “Doing pride fits right in our mission to promote the city and support our businesses." stated George Crawford, 45 year old local gay business owner, member of the Gay Chamber Commerce and the Chairman of Pride. Support our businesses? But what about our community? The queer community is not made up of businesses and their owners, its made up of everyday people. He confirmed that the Gay Chamber of Commerce was using a project called Equinox Cincinnati to run Pride. Equinox formed last year to host a party for the purpose of, in Crawford's words “to show the changing climate” of Cincinnati as a gay friendly city. (From where the rest of the community stood, it was a gay VIP rich folk only event.) I was surprised to learn Cincinnati had changed into an equality focused queer friendly city because as a visibly queer trans person working in the activist community, I figure I would have noticed if Cincinnati magically transformed into a mini-San Fran. When I asked about those who still did not feel safe, Crawford's thoughts were that it was the queer community’s fault that they didn’t feel safe in Cincinnati. "We have the chip on our shoulder and scars... we need our community to get on board..." Get on board for what? He made a decent point in saying "We can't continue to hide in a safe neighborhood like Northside [gayborhood]… we need to get out on the main streets.” I can’t help but agree with the on the streets part, but I'd like to know what I'm “getting on board” for, with who, and why. Crawford repeated words like “image,” “profit,” “income” and “reputation” - something very relevant to a business making money, but not very relevant to a community in need of resources.

According to Crawford, the goal is to make an “image” for the city as a good place for “gays” to live. Which is a nice idea, but what gays are we talking about here? I asked about visibly queer folks, trans folks, and people of color, and while Crawford stated that "Pride belongs to everybody"stressing the importance of diversity. When I asked him to expand upon efforts for diversity, however, his answer was "We didn't do as well as we could have, but there are always going to be people you miss." Honestly, I think the numbers are a little high for a menial oversight, though he did give a shout out to "transsexuals and drag queens" which was hard for me to appreciate.

Speaking of visibility, lets discuss the name Equinox Pride. When Pride was taken over by Equinox, Crawford said anonymous organizers thought it best to keep the name Equinox because it would bring in money. “People see “Pride” and they go ‘ew’ and don’t give it money.” said Crawford, “But with a name like Equinox they are more likely to fund it…We’re trying to re-brand our Pride.” He spoke of other cities that had ‘de-prided’ Pride, extensively removing the queer visibility from the event. Isn’t the point of Pride to be out and visible so everyone knows its queer? “Re-branding” seems a little counter productive to me, unless you’re trying to appeal to a fancy audience that is more interested in social acceptance than identity visibility. Crawford stressed that his committee only worked with queer supportive businesses that saw us as more than numbers and money, but that doesn’t meld with his statements about “re-branding” Pride.

Issues have also arisen from the communities of color, drag kings, burlesque performers, and lower income communities about inclusion and accessibility. When I approached Crawford about issues of transparency and accessibility he aired his frustrations stating that it “must not be in [kings, femmes, people of color's] priorities to know what was going on," and that was why people could not find the contact information. He then listed several articles and posts with contact information starting back in October, but when I went looking, including in the specific publications listed I could not find them in any archives. He also said that there is submission information on the site for volunteers and performers, but no such forms exist nor has there been clear information about how to get involved. Several people, myself included, have experienced problems and even rejection while trying to get information or getting involved. I asked Crawford directly if drag kings contacted him or the Equinox organizers. “They [ the drag king community] have not approached us...” he said, lamenting over his suffering as an organizer and the audacity of the kings to feel “slighted." But upon speaking to people in the drag king community I found several people from various troupes who had directly spoken to Equinox organizers about drag king performance options. One troupe was told that they could not perform because there would be no local performers this year, but when talking to me Crawford stated that "85% of [Equinox Pride] talent is local."

Maxx Lixgood, founder of the well known hip hop drag troupe The Lixgood Family, spoke with Crawford himself several times about performing online and on the phone. Repeatedly Maxx was told that organizers would get in touch with him with more information, but no one ever did. After months passed, Crawford contacted Maxx in hopes of reconciliation but by that point Maxx had given up.

"They aren't advertising to black people or low income... drag kings..." Maxx said in reference to Equinox, "We're urban, they don't care about us. They don't want me or my people, and this isn't just me. This is how our community feels. Black people aren't gonna go to Pride."

Maxx also stated that Crawford specifically requested that he leave a comment on the Equinox Pride Facebook page to publicly show that they had spoken - Crawford also instructed Maxx on exactly what to say. This leads us to another serious issue. Censorship and image control.

Much of Pride's advertising and networking has been happening on Facebook. In online organizing/writing/blogging it is generally understood that comments are a style of dialogue and unless they are seriously abusive, they are to be left as a method of documentation regarding whatever it is you're reading, be it a blog or public community organization's Facebook page. There have been several comments (including some made by me) on the Equinox Pride's page that were less than positive about the event, but none were malicious or abusive. All of these comments have been deleted. One comment about drag kings on the main Facebook page resulted in a somewhat heated conversation of an anonymous Equinox Pride representative. Over the past day over half of the comments in this discussion have been deleted, leaving only the more positive feedback, and none of the negative or comments contradicting Equinox's public statements. Crawford, who runs the Facebook page, stated that "to my knowledge we have never deleted a comment.” and “Personally I have never deleted a comment; and all admins can’t act without approval from me." He went on to say that there was a glitch on Facebook that was causing comments to not show up, or to disappear, but even the worst glitches on Facebook wouldn’t delete comments that were there for weeks, and then only delete parts of conversation threads but not all, not to mention it would be a site-wide problem, and no one else is having issues. If Equinox Pride was a person or a private organization it would be within reason for them to monitor feedback on their page, but it is not. It is a public event for the queer community and deleting constructive feedback, dissenting or not, is censoring the community.

One idea suggested that the Gay Chamber of Commerce using business model, which would automatically lead to less transparency and a more PR oriented method. It is clear to me that this is indeed the case. When a non-profit was running things, all meetings were open and it was well advertised who organizers were. From a business standpoint, you hide all negative feedback about your product so people will think it is perfect. You manage things quietly so people can't steal your ideas and create a fantastic front making your product out to be the best there is. No matter how consumer-based Pride becomes, it is about community, not cost, it is about PRIDE, not products.

Transparency is essential. How can we stand together if we can not trust each other. I legitimately believe that the Equinox organizers are well-intentioned people who care about their community. That said, I do not think they understand who is in their community and what we need. ? Withholding information, providing false information, censorship, and essentially creating a VIP club of rich gay folks, no matter how well intended, is manipulative and problematic. It cannot be taken lightly. The new organizers may be business profiteers, but Pride should not be a business, operating behind closed doors. This is a community event for the community, not for businesses and not for city image. It is for the people, all of our people.

“I don't think people look at the big picture." Crawford says, but I think its Crawford and Equinox who are not looking at the big picture, or at least, their “big picture” is not big enough. I have little interest in turning Cincinnati into a gay-money paradise when we still don't have basic community resources and education. The opinion of Equinox seems to be that less visible communities should be doing the work to fight our way through their power so we can be seen, like it’s so easy for us to push our way to the front. I understand change is necessary, I understand money is necessary. However, I do not think that making Pride bigger is synonymous with making Pride into an ablist, classist, racist, and elitist gay shame party for the benefit of the moneymakers from the pockets of our community. To quote a friend: "We need to expand, I agree. However, let's expand in the right way and be inclusive." I truly believe that Crawford and Equinox thinks they are being inclusive, and have openly admitted they need improvement and even have made mistakes, but the gross attempts at cover-up and misinformation erases all of that well-intentioned regret making me feel that the confessions aren't so much about actually caring about inclusion as much as they care about looking good and making money.

In addition to the Equinox Pride, local organizers have put together an event called Northside Pridefest as an additional event to take place in Northside in August, but I was unable to get any information about it for this post. There is more to be said in this conversation, and I am interested to see where Pride goes. Surely more posts to come – and they hopefully won't be so crazily long.

Update: several people have requested a plan of action or response -Post this article on your Facebook page and Twitter. Spread the word!

Visit the action event page to make your voice heard!



Saturday, June 12, 2010

At Last, The Rebecca Juro Show Returns! Live Test Show Sunday June 13th, 7pm Eastern

It took a while longer than we'd anticipated, but it's finally here! The Rebecca Juro Show returns to the cyber-airwaves for a live one-hour test show tomorrow, Sunday, June 13th at 7pm eastern, and we need your help!

We've got lots of new and cool things planned for our big premiere, but this test show is mainly intended to give our new studio setup a workout. We want to know how it looks and sounds to you, our listeners. We're going to ask you to call in and help us test our phones lines, tell us how we sound and how the video looks, and basically let us know if all the tech Engineer Mike Scott and I have put together is working the way it's supposed to. Along with that, we'll be having a full hour of talk, fun, and maybe even a few surprises. If it all goes as we hope, we're planning on an official full-on premiere for this coming Thursday, June 17th, 7-9pm eastern.

How to tune in:

48K audio stream:

Our show page with video:

Watch for more info before the show, including (hopefully) the link for our high-quality 96K stream.

See you tomorrow night, Sunday, June 13th, 7pm eastern! Trust me, this is gonna rock!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Can An E-Cigarette Really Help You Quit Smoking?

That's what I'm going to find out, very soon.

When people tell me, as they so often do, that I should quit smoking, I like to joke that I'm an expert on quitting smoking since I've done it seven times already.

For me, the real problem is that I've never been able to make it stick. I've tried gum, lozenges, patches, cold turkey, cutting down...with the exception of prescription medication (and the expensive necessary blood test to see if I can take it) which I just can't afford, you name it and I've probably tried it at one time or another. Sometimes it works for a while and sometimes it doesn't, but all cases I've failed over the long term.

The best I've ever done was a couple of weeks smoke-free on the patches, but the glue on them made my fair and sensitive skin break out in itchy hives all around the areas of my body I'd stick them to. Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore and within hours of the time I'd stopped using the patches I found myself with a butt in my hand and a pack in my purse.

It doesn't help that as a transperson I'm a member of a community which seems to have an inordinately high percentage of smokers. The way I fell off the wagon when I stopped using the patches was that it just happened to be the same day that I attended a transgender film festival at the William Way Center in Philadelphia.

The audience was made up mostly of transfolks, and when there was a break between films, about 90% of the audience got up from their seats and went outside for a smoke on the small outdoor patio separated from the room where the films were being shown only by large windows and a door that drew in the smell of smoke every time someone went in or out. I'd been doing fine until that point, but once I smelled that smoke with no patch to cut the craving, I caved.

I went out on the patio, bummed a cigarette from someone, and that was the end of that. After the film festival, I hit the first convenience store I found on my way back to my car, bought a pack, and smoked myself right back into a full-on habit on the way back to Jersey.
The Right Motivation

It hasn't been for lack of motivation. One thing you discover when you do talk radio and podcasting is that you end up spending a lot of time listening to recordings of yourself talking. Since resuming my podcasts, I've found myself liking the sound of my voice less and less, and I know why.

As time goes on and I continue to smoke, my voice becomes rougher and deeper. For a woman, and for a transwoman especially, this is not a good thing just in general, and it's especially bad for someone relying solely on her voice to present herself to listeners.

Thing is, there's a cure but it has an expiration date. Quitting smoking will definitely improve my voice substantially if I do it soon, but that won't always be the case. As I get older, it becomes less and less likely that my voice will fully come back to its natural tone once I stop smoking. I know that if I want my upcoming live talk show to really be the best it can be (and of course I do) I need to stop smoking, and I've been considering different options for a while now. I've now decided to try approaching the problem from a completely different angle.

I'd first heard about e-cigarettes from a tweet by noted transgender author Kate Bornstein. She'd tweeted that she was going to try it and I warned her against it, believing that breaking the actual habit of smoking is just as important as ending the physical dependence on nicotine. Now, with the show coming, not being happy with the sound of my voice, and no other untried ideas that seem realistic at this point, I decided to do a little research and see if an e-cigarette might just be the answer for me.
What Is an E-Cigarette?

I discovered, frankly much to my surprise, that this may actually make sense for me, at least as a temporary solution. An e-cigarette doesn't produce any actual smoke. There's nothing to light, no actual tobacco to burn, and therefore no smoke. An e-cigarette uses a battery to heat an atomizer, which turns a liquid (referred to by users as "juice") containing flavoring and nicotine into a vapor which is then inhaled like real smoke.

According to the information and reviews I've read, the vapor is almost entirely water but it looks like real smoke, tastes like real smoke, and gives you the nicotine your body craves, but it isn't actually tobacco smoke so you get none of the tar, carcinogens, and other super-unhealthy stuff that can make you sick or fuck up your voice.

Another nice advantage of e-cigarettes, although not necessarily something that will help in quitting, is that because the "smoke" is actually water vapor which has no smell and doesn't linger, it can be used in places where tobacco smoking is banned. It doesn't stink up a room or your clothes and hair, there's no secondhand smoke for others to have to deal with, no ashes to get all over everything, no butts to dispose of, and no burning coal at the end to burn anything or anyone with.

On top of all that, there's the cost factor. One e-cigarette company, Blu, offers a starter kit containing everything you need to get started, including a carton of cartridges that provide the vapor and nicotine equivalent to 375-500 (depending on how they are "smoked" by an individual user) tobacco cigarettes, all for $60. Additional cartons of 25 Blu cartridges sell for $25, making the actual price equivalent to paying $1 a pack for the same amount of puffs and nicotine as tobacco cigarettes.

Through more research I discovered that there is another e-cigarette company, Volcano, which sells cartridges that are compatible with the Blu e-cigarette for even less, bringing the cost down to around 65 cents a pack as compared to tobacco smokes. If I want to save even more money, I can buy the juice separately from a variety of companies in many different flavors, and use it to refill old cartridges (though doing this will void Blu's one-year warranty) or fresh unfilled ones that I can buy from Volcano, a technique referred to by e-cigarette users as "dripping". Needless to say, the ability to cut my cigarette budget by 75% or more is a very attractive feature.
Do Your Homework

One thing I'd strongly suggest to anyone considering trying e-cigarettes is to do your homework. As with a lot of new products, there are plenty of scams out there and I almost got caught in one of them. I ordered one that seemed to offer a free trial for just $4.95 shipping and handling, but then I discovered well-hidden in the fine print, which was pretty well-hidden itself, that what they actually send you is a full kit which they then charge you an arm and a leg for, plus they subscribe you to a monthly shipment of their overpriced cartridges.

When I tried to cancel the order they gave me the runaround, so I went to my bank and blocked them from accessing my account. I'm out the shipping charge but I'll eat that as the price of my mistake. Once the package does arrive, it'll be returned to sender post-haste. I'd rather keep smoking Marlboros than pay these people another nickel of my money. For about three seconds I did consider keeping it and then giving them the same kind of runaround they gave me, but I've decided it's easier to just send their stuff back and be done with it, and them.

I was notified by email yesterday that Blu has processed my order and it will ship within 48 hours. I'm really looking forward to trying this, though obviously I really have no idea if this is actually going to work for me. Blu is not marketed as a way to quit smoking, but cartridges and juice can be purchased with varying amounts of nicotine, from as strong as any tobacco cigarette on the market all the way down to flavor and smoke but no nicotine at all. I know that many have used e-cigs as a way to quit by starting with high nicotine cartridges and then decreasing their nicotine intake over time.

Interestingly, there seems to be a real subculture forming around these things. There are many e-cigarette forums as well as informational and review sites, and I've learned a lot from them. Tricks and tips on how to get the most vapor out of an e-cig, modifications that can be made to improve airflow, flavor, operation, stretch the useful life of the hardware, and a lot more. Again, I strongly recommend anyone considering trying e-cigs do their homework before ordering because you'll find a wealth of useful information at these sites if you dig deep enough. Just throw "e-cigarette" or "e-cig" into Google and you'll find plenty of good resources, but of course use your judgment. As with all information available online, some sources are significantly more credible than others.

I chose Blu because of the price and because of the consistently high ratings and positive reviews I've seen. Sure, there were also some dissatisfied customers, but most of the complaints I read seemed to be about delayed shipping from around a year ago, when e-cigs were still brand-new and the FDA was stopping shipments coming into the US, claiming it was a drug delivery device. Apparently that's no longer the case. I've read, albeit through sources I'm not quite certain of the reliability of, that since this is a vaporized nicotine delivery system e-cigs have now been classified as a tobacco product and the FDA has no authority to regulate tobacco products (it's under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).
No Excuses

Of course, I've never "vaped" before, so I still have no real idea if this will actually work for me, either as a substitute for real tobacco or as a way to completely quit smoking for good. I'm hoping for the latter, but I'll settle for the former. Either way, if I can successfully get off tobacco using an e-cigarette I'll be ahead of the game and will be able to accomplish at least my most immediate goal, getting my voice in shape for my show. Right now, at this moment, that's what I really care about most. I'll deal with breaking the nicotine addiction after I get my vocal range back.

One thing you hear all the time about quitting smoking is that without the right motivation the chances of failure increase dramatically. This time around, motivation isn't a problem, but as always, my weak point is the nicotine. I was able to last a couple of weeks smoke-free with the patches, but the moment I no longer had that crutch, the cravings came right back. With an e-cig to provide me with nicotine to stave off those cravings whenever I need it, I'm hoping that this time it'll stick.

I have to quit smoking. It's getting in the way of being the best I can be at what I love doing. Not this time. Smoking has held me back from doing a lot of things over the years, but it's not going to happen this time. I won't allow it. If an e-cigarette can do what I need it to do for me, then there are no longer any excuses. I'm gonna do it this time.

Eighth time's the charm.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Let's Call The Democrats What They Really Are: The Nibbler Party

Have we had enough yet? I don't know about you, but I certainly have.

This past Sunday, I went to Asbury Park and attended Jersey Pride. As is the norm for this annual event, the heat was oppressive, the festival was crowded, and LGBT's were lauding Democrats for doing exactly nothing useful to protect our basic civil rights and equality. The single actual politician I saw there is one of the good guys, Congressman Frank Pallone. Congressman Pallone has always been an ally of our community. He's marched with us, and he's always on the right side of our issues in Congress. It would be great if we had another 534 members of Congress just like him, but unfortunately we don't. What we do have is a White House and a Congressional leadership that say all the right things, issue plenty of oh-so-supportive-sounding press releases and proclamations, but then run the other way when it's time to back up all the pretty words with real leadership and action.

The hate crimes law, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the provision of a few benefits to federal employees, the appointment of a handful of LGBT's to government posts, these are all good things, important things, things we should appreciate and be thankful for, but any LGBT American who thinks this is credible support for our equal rights and treatment under the law is kidding themselves. Time after time, year after year, session after session, Democrats make promises to this community, throw us under the bus, delay action on our rights into oblivion yet again as soon as the going gets even a little rough, and then toss us what amounts to crumbs to soothe our anger in an effort to win our votes and support for the next election.

The Democratic Party, you see, really isn't very democratic at all.

Wikipedia, admittedly at times a questionable source, offers what I believe is a pretty good partial description of democratic principles as "...reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power...". It certainly sounds like the rhetoric we hear from the Democratic Party, but it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the country we actually live in nor to the way these people actually legislate. If the Democratic Party as a whole really believed in the principles of democracy and put them into action, if they legislated as if they really believed these things, LGBT equality would be a no-brainer.

Yet, that's clearly not what we see from those who call themselves Democrats, so I believe it's time we started calling them by a name that truly reflects the principles that guide the way they actually legislate: The Nibbler Party. It's far more accurate description of the way the Democratic Party approaches the rights and equality of LGBT Americans, managing to protect only relatively minuscule, politically-convenient handfuls of LGBT Americans from discrimination and offer them just a paltry few benefits. Incremental baby steps that do little or nothing to help the vast majority of unemployed and underemployed LGBT Americans, with Blue Dogs whining all the way and a Party leadership which still clearly lacks the spine to really get serious about treating all Americans fairly and equally.

So I say from now on, let's call 'em the Nibbler Party. It'll remind us when we go to vote that we can't really expect Nibblers to seriously fight for LGBT Americans if it inconveniences the Nibbler Party in even the slightest way, nor can we expect Nibblers to expend any serious political capital on our behalf. We'll know and understand that when it comes to LGBT equality the only constituency we can count on the Nibbler Party to protect is itself, and the only jobs Nibblers will be really concerned about protecting in the end are their own. It'll help LGBT and allied voters understand that the best we can hope for from the Nibbler Party isn't real progress toward a better life for all LGBT Americans, but only these minor, easy-to-deliver legislative and regulative crumbs which look good on election season mailers, handouts, and Pride Month proclamations, sound great mixed with their empty rhetoric, unkept promises, and valueless sloganeering from HRC dinner podiums, but in reality offer little if any real help to the vast majority of LGBT Americans still unemployed or underemployed as a result of the rampant unchecked anti-LGBT bigotry and discrimination that remains so much a part of modern American culture, a community still suffering what is nothing less than a full-blown employment and economic crisis in most of the US.

An informed electorate is always a good thing, and so we should do our best to make sure that LGBT and allied voters understand that if they cast their votes for Nibblers instead of working to replace them with actual leaders, what we'll keep getting is merely nibbles, small, half-hearted, pathetic attempts to look like they're taking on our issues, but without ever actually delivering anything truly significant nor really helping to improve the lives of any LGBT's except for the tiny numbers who make up the most politically convenient and advantageous sub-segments of our community for the Nibblers themselves. We need to make sure that rank-and-file LGBT voters know before they go to the polls that Nibblers aren't really leaders on the issues that matter most in their lives, they only want us to believe they are so that we'll vote for them and fund their campaigns, enabling them to go back to Washington, nibble some more, and then come back in a couple of years at election time and tell us yet again that it's progress.

Perhaps if we begin injecting some honesty into how we describe the legislative behavior of the Nibblers when they're called upon to act on their stated principles we'll be able to convince more of them to start acting like they deserve to called Democrats.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Insightful Yet Still Blind: MSNBC Just Doesn't Get the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

I mean, what else could it be? How else can you explain the logic involved in presenting the kind of excellent coverage MSNBC has been doing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the virtually absolute silence from the network on its "Big Sister" bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

Surely, it can't be about the policy itself. Both efforts if successful would do essentially exactly the same thing: Open the workplace to more LGBT Americans (it should be noted that the repeal of DADT would allow gay and lesbian but not transgender soldiers to serve (read: work) openly in the military, while ENDA's protections for civilian workers would cover both sexual orientation and gender identity). It can't be about the relative impact (and therefore potential audience interest), either. If we're talking sheer numbers, it's absolutely ludicrous to even try to compare those who could be potentially directly affected by the repeal of DADT against the rest of the United States LGBT workforce, most of which would be impacted by ENDA to varying degrees depending on current state and local laws.

Could it be that MSNBC really isn't quite as progressive as some of its pundits like to make it out to be? Well, first and foremost, as with all commercial media, MSNBC exists to make money, to keep you entertained long enough to sit through the next block of commercials, and the next, and the next. That said, however, MSNBC, like Fox News, has chosen a side. While MSNBC is infinitely more even-handed and comprehensive in how they present the news to their viewers than Fox, their choice of which commentators and perspectives run on their air speaks as much to the audience they're seeking to attract as Fox's choices do to theirs.

So what's the real difference between DADT and ENDA for MSNBC? When you get right down to it, there's really only one: On DADT, MSNBC has their very own ratings-generating rock star, Lt. Dan Choi. Lt. Choi came out publicly to great media fanfare on The Rachel Maddow Show, and since then has become the recognized public voice and face of the effort to repeal DADT. Choi and other gay and lesbian soldiers actively or formerly serving in the military have appeared on the network numerous times to tell their stories, thus effectively promoting that effort but also apparently unintentionally ensuring that whatever MSNBC airtime might be devoted to covering the LGBT civil rights movement is virtually exclusively devoted to covering DADT, no doubt to ensure (what NBC believes will be) the maximum ratings boost from the coverage.

When Keith Olbermann got his viewers to donate millions to fund nationwide heath care fairs, MSNBC demonstrated that they understand that the real impact of government law and policy (or the lack thereof) isn't felt most deeply at the highest levels of Washington, but rather at ground level, by the true victims of these failures of government, by average Americans still being squeezed to the bone financially by this "economic recovery" of ours.

What's most interesting here is that it seems that when an issue directly impacts the lives of average Americans like health care or the BP oil spill, MSNBC takes its coverage to "the streets", covering in great detail the efforts being made to help Mom and Pop America deal with this ongoing problem, but when the issue at hand is one that chiefly concerns LGBT Americans, MSNBC heads straight for the big shiny like a crow on meth.

Average Americans in desperate need of health care get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans serving in our nation's military and in need of civil rights protections get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans in our civilian workforce, a far larger group of American citizens who are just as desperately in need of civil rights protections as our soldiers, don't get so much as even a causal mention from MSNBC.

How does this make any sense at all? How is it consistent? How is it credible? How is it comprehensive? Most of all, how can it possibly be considered progressive?

We in the LGBT media often treat DADT and ENDA as separate stories in our coverage because we cover these issues in far greater detail and with far greater frequency than is generally seen in any straight mainstream newsmedia. Despite that, we know and understand that both of these efforts are really just two aspects of the very same issue: Ensuring full equality in the workplace for all LGBT Americans.

How can it be that MSNBC gets it on health care, gets it on environmental issues, gets it on DADT, gets it on so many important issues, but doesn't get it on ENDA, nor apparently understand how completely it intertwines with DADT? You have to ask yourself if anyone at MSNBC has ever thought to investigate exactly what kind of lives these soldiers will come home to once they've left the service.

All that said, I want to make it clear that this isn't an attack on MSNBC. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a loyal viewer of both The Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and MSNBC is always my go-to channel for coverage of big stories. It's precisely because MSNBC has demonstrated that they can consistently meet such a high standard that I feel compelled to call them out on this and ask why this standard isn't being met in their coverage of the LGBT civil rights movement. In short, we know MSNBC can do better than this because they already are doing better than this on any number of the important issues which fill their airtime. The question that must be asked is why aren't they doing better here?

In the end, it comes down to just one point, one which I hope will resonate with the folks at MSNBC should any of them actually read this, and that point is this: When you focus solely on the shiniest, sexiest part of a story and completely ignore the rest of it, the dirty, unpleasant parts where there are no brass buttons shining in the sun or American flags flying proudly in the background, just the unattractive, unsexy daily lives that most LGBT Americans struggle to live, you then become that which you spend so much of your airtime condemning: Hypocrites.

If it's sauce for Fox, it's sauce for MSNBC.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

JB interview in the School Library Journal..

The School Library Journal did this interview with herself, posted today. I'm hoping it's relevant to what we talk about here. For me, the interesting balancing act is discussing "adult" issues like trans stuff in the context of children's literature. I think the blogger (NYPL librarian and all around mensch Betsy Bird) did a very nice job:

I don't often host folks who've appeared on Oprah, Larry King, The Today Show, and a Barbara Walters Special (just to name a few). Few of the authors I speak to in my interviews have been portrayed on Saturday Night Live by Will Forte. And fewer still are on the judging committee of the Fulbright Scholars. But that's the thing about Jenny Boylan, you see. She keeps you guessing. You don't know what she's gonna do next. Like, say, for example, write a middle grade novel about a boy who, at the onset of adolescence, discovers that he's turning into a monster. That's the premise of Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirroron one level. On another level you have a story within a story that I think a lot of kids are going to be able to identify with. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my supreme honor to introduce to you the newest voice in the children's literary sphere. One, I assure you, that you have not encountered before.

Fuse #8: You are, to the best of my knowledge, the only transwoman to successfully publish a work of children's fiction with a major publisher in the United States under her own name. To say that you are groundbreaking is to put it mildly, and this is but one of your many accomplishments. You've written for numerous periodicals, appeared on multiple television shows, taught creative writing as a professor, and on and on it goes. Care to give us the full background and lowdown on who exactlyJenny Boylan is?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: Well, that makes me sound quite fabulous, I must say. But I guess I just see myself as a storyteller. I know I'm seen as some sort of spokeswoman for civil rights but the only thing I really know how to do is tell stories. Still, that's a good day's work, isn't it?

It's true that being trans has given me the opportunity to tell a particular kind of story that hasn't generally been told, at least not by someone trained as a writer, and I'm grateful for that. It seems to me that we can break through to people with stories in a way that we can't in any other way. My mother has a saying, "It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." And so I have tried to tell stories of people who are

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The VA has a New Directive on the Treatment of Transgender Veterans

By Monica F. Helms

The VA has a new directive on the treatment of Transgender Veterans, BUT they won’t release it. This is becoming a theme with the Obama Administration. Tell LGBT people that their issues are important then do nothing to make them a reality. Transgender veterans have decided not to be quiet about this issue any longer.

First, a little history. In January of 2003, the Transgender American Veterans Association was formed with the primary mission to work with the Department of Veteran Affairs to have their medical facilities treat transgender people with dignity and respect.

In 2008, TAVA created a survey where 827 transgender veterans gave us information on all kinds of issues, especially their treatment at the VA. One third of those who took the survey had used a VA medical facility at one time of another. More than twenty percent of them had been mistreated by staff members, other patients, nurses and even doctors. The survey ended on May 1, 2008, and the raw data became public record. The Palm Center put out the White Papers in August.

TAVA was told by a VA insider that the raw data from the survey had reached the Veterans Health Administration, the medical department of the VA, and in June of 2008, they began drafting a directive to rectify the problem. In March of 2009 (after the Obama Administration took over,) the VHA sent a draft of their proposed directive to a few VA medical facilities for review by their transgender veterans. They didn’t contact TAVA or NCTE on this. The draft had misinformation, inaccuracies, incorrect descriptions and disrespectful definitions. It looked bad.

TAVA spent the next month communicating with some of the new people in the VA, some of whom had previous experience with transgender people and their medical issues. They agreed that the problem of mistreatment of transgender veterans needed to be fixed. TAVA felt hopeful that these new people now leading the VA would help us.

In May of 2009, the VHA sent a draft of their proposed directive, called “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” to NCTE to have them be the point organization in assuring the directive’s language looked correct in every way. With the help of trans lawyers and TAVA, NCTE put together a wonderful directive that would greatly improve how transgender veterans will be treated. The VA received our corrected version in July of 2009.

What the directive does cover is all the things that are available to other veterans, such as psychotherapy for PTSD, mammograms, prostate exams, pap smears and other important medical services, which had been denied to many transgender veterans in the past. This directive does indeed ensure that transgender veterans will be treated with dignity and respect.

I will not show the entire directive, because it may not be the final version. It has three pages total, with one page of definitions, a half page of references and the rest covering what the VA can and cannot do for transgender veterans. The language we will show you is from the draft of the directive we sent to the VHA and may have some tweaking before they release it. Sounds like we stepped into the ENDA territory.

Here are some of the important parts as they appeared in the revised draft:

-- This directive does not apply to patients who receive benefits under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).
-- A diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is not a pre-condition for receiving care consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.
-- All staff, including medical and administrative staff, are required to treat as confidential any information about a patient’s transgender status or any treatment related to a patient’s gender transition, unless the patient has given permission to share this information.
-- Diversity awareness training, (which educates staff on providing unbiased, respectful care to ALL Veterans) is available to supervisors and employees.

The following has to be said in bold capital letters for the good of those who will try to spread lies about this new directive. “THE DIRECTIVE SAYS THAT THE VA WILL NOT, DOES NOT AND CANNOT COVER SEX REASSIGNMENT/GENDER RECONSTRUCTION SURGERY.” That particular restriction is written into the Public Law that the VA has to follow in order to provide health care for veterans. It cannot be overridden by a simple directive change. However, it might be affected by other recent federal rulings. We’ll have to see.

As I stated, the VHA received our changes in July. They told us we would see it come out in August . . . then October . . . then February . . . and here it is May, a year from when we started making the changes, and still no directive.

To those LGBT people fighting for the repeal of DADT and the passage of ENDA, does this sound familiar? The difference is that this is not something Congress has to vote on. It’s a directive that can be implemented in a heartbeat and not a law that takes time to pass the House and the Senate. What is with the Obama Administration’s VHA when they hold back a simple directive that will instantly help part of the veteran community? I’ll let the conspiracy theorists play with that one. All we ask is to stop sitting on this and put it out to the VA medical facilities. It that so hard?

Since July of last year, when the VA had this directive in their hands, several transgender veterans have contacted TAVA saying that they had been treated badly at the VA, so we know that it could have prevented this if it had been introduced. And, even if these issues happen after implementation of the directive, the veterans would finally have it in hand to give them more clout when talking to the VA Patient Advocate. What is holding up the process? Who in the Administration is preventing this from coming out?

TAVA hasn’t been sitting idle since July. We have faxed a letter to the current DVA Secretary, retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and his secretary assured us he read it. Nothing happened. In early March, I personally presented the problem to the top administrator for Rep Joe Sestak, a retired Admiral and a champion for veterans’ rights, and Rep Sestak read the information. Sestak then sent me a letter saying he was “investigating and will respond soon.” Since then, he entered the final stages of a Senate race to replace Senator Arlen Specter and won. We hope to hear from him soon.

Other people have spoken to Representatives and Senators on our behalf, including NCTE, but still nothing happens. We wait for people to do the right thing, while transgender veterans have their basic health care denied. This issue will probably not cause a blip on the LGBT radar, and no one will be handcuffing themselves to the front doors of the DVA building. The transgender veterans will have to go it alone on this, as they have all along. The directive will eventually come out. We just hope it’ll be sooner than later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RIP Chanel Larkin

I just received some sad news from Michael Munson of FORGE about a local woman who was killed in Milwaukee not even two weeks ago.

Chanel (Dana A. Larkin) was murdered on May 7, 2010. The person who killed her was caught and charged. Chanel was an African-American transwoman who was 26 years old. She was killed in the middle of an exchange of sex for money - shot three times, the fatal shot to her head. It was totally a hate-motivated crime. The person in custody who has admitted to killing her has part of their interaction recorded on his cell phone and the violence definitely ensued after she revealed her trans status.

There was a vigil for her a week ago (5/10/10), a fundraiser to help cover burial costs (5/13/10) and a funeral and burial on Friday (5/14/10).

The funeral was attended by 200-250 people and was rich, kind, respectful, honoring of all aspects of who she was. Her family was there (Grandma is definitely the head of the family and the person she was closest to).

Chanel was an active member/leader in SHEBA (a Milwaukee-based organization for African-American MTFs who have emerged from the gay men's community -- and communities of houses and balls).

You can make a donation to FORGE and indcate how you'd like the funds used.

Here are the two local news reports, both of which suck so bad it's ridiculous: WTAQ radio, TMJ Channel 4.

Today in my Trans Lives class, it just so happens that we were finishing reading Stone Butch Blues in class and discussing Boys Don't Cry; it's the day I usually teach TDOR, its origins, the intersectionality of sex work and race with transphobic violence, disclosure/dating issues, the problems of a hegemonic, violent masculinity based on homophobia, and, of course, the utterly crap way these cases are presented by journalists.

I have to remind myself that I teach this stuff so that it will stop.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Current ENDA Language Regarding Transgender Workers Revealed, Concerns Mount

During his show Sunday night, TransFM founder and host Ethan St. Pierre received a call-in from International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) Executive Director Denise LeClair, who revealed for the first time what the current language regarding transgender workers and bathroom usage currently being considered by the Congress may mean in a practical, everyday sense.

Among the key points:

* Employers will not be permitted to force a transgender employee to use a bathroom that is opposite of their gender identity, but they also will not be obligated to allow that employee to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, as long as (currently undefined) reasonable accommodations are made. In other words, employers will be allowed to segregate transgender employees and create the modern equivalent of "Whites Only" and "Negro" bathroom facilities specifically intended to exclude Transgender-Americans from the rest of the workforce.

* These rules may only be applied to transsexual employees who are currently transitioning, and those who have already completed the transition process will not be affected. What we don't yet know here is what will be the requirements to be considered as fully transitioned. There is concern that if Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is required in order to be considered fully transitioned this will create a situation where those who are healthy enough and can afford SRS will enjoy at least some protections in the workplace, while those transpeople who cannot afford SRS, don't want it, or are not eligible candidates for SRS for medical or other reasons will continue to be denied full civil rights as Americans in perpetuity.

Right now, this is really all we know and it should be pointed out that none of this is carved in stone, all of it is negotiable and probably is being negotiated right now in Congress. This is just a read on what they're currently talking about.

For more of my take on this, check out my new podcast, #13.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Response to the APA's New GID

Callen-Lorde and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, both of New York, have written a response to the APA's revised DSM diagnosis for Gender Identity Disorder -- which is now being re-named Gender Incongruence. They make a few important and valid points in a statement which is tidy, well-written, and well-argued. I'm impressed & will be added as a signatory.

Re: Comment on the proposed "Gender Incongruence" in the draft revision of the of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5

American Psychiatric Association:

The undersigned providers of and advocates for medical and mental health services to transgender and gender non-conforming communities welcome this opportunity to offer feedback and comment on the American Psychiatric Association's draft revision diagnosis for Gender Identity Disorders (GID), "Gender Incongruence" (GI).

The lead organizations facilitating this response are Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of New York City. Each of these organizations started providing community services in 1983 and together serve over 2,000 people of transgender experience with primary health care and hormone care as well as substance abuse, mental health, and community building services. Our organizations, as well as the other signatories to this letter, represent the largest settings providing health and social services to transgender and gender non-conforming people and their families in the United States.

We appreciate the APA's proposed "Gender Incongruence"(GI) diagnosis is an effort intended to de-stigmatize gender non-conformity and improve transgender-identified people's access to mental health care. We agree with the intention behind this effort; however, we endorse an alternative viewpoint, based on our years of collective practice knowledge. We believe GI will continue to inappropriately pathologize gender non-conformity, maintain barriers to medically necessary health care, and lend justification to gender based stigmatization and discrimination.

Prior to addressing the reasons behind our recommendation, we would like to respectfully address the process by which the APA undertook this effort.
From the vantage point of LGBT health and community centers, the conceptualization of "Gender Incongruence" occurred without valuable and necessary input from community providers who serve and are accountable to significant numbers of people affected by this diagnosis. The November 2008 Report of the DSM-V Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group indicates that the "sub-work group has addressed feedback from interested advocacy groups and other stakeholders. Surveys were sent to more than 60 organizations." While other agencies have provided feedback in this process, we are concerned that the institutions that provide the bulk of medical and mental health services to transgender people nationwide were not asked for input. We have reached out to LGBT community health centers and LGBT community centers; none of these key, high-volume, client-centered, community-driven stakeholders seem to have been included in the research or vetting process. Without input from a representative sample of such organizations and their clients, the conclusions of the sub-work group regarding GI cannot be considered generalizable.

Our specific concerns regarding the validity and utility of the proposed inclusion of GI are as follows:
- Gender non-conformity is not a mental disorder: The proposed definition of a mental disorder in the DSM-V expressly prohibits the inclusion of diagnoses that are "primarily the result of social deviance or conflicts with society" (APA, 2010). The "Gender Incongruence" diagnosis inherently contradicts this tenet. Whereas the criteria for other psychiatric diagnoses are lists of symptoms that impair functioning, the proposed criteria for GI are a list of characteristics of gender non-conformity. There is no evidence or need for treatment that decreases gender non-conformity or crossdressing, as noted in "Transvestic Fetishism." The GI diagnosis obfuscates the root cause of the distress many transgender people experience - pervasive discrimination. It is commonly acknowledged among mental health providers that being gay, bisexual or lesbian is not a disorder, but that the social impact of stigma, discrimination and homophobia can cause the individual great distress. GI falsely assigns dysfunction to the gender non-conforming person, rather than within the social environment.

- An inappropriate pathway to transgender-specific medical care: There is legitimate community concern that removal of a mental health diagnosis would limit access to transgender-specific medical care. While a minority has succeeded in using the legal system or in fulfilling their insurer's requirements for coverage to access care, the majority of people needing transgender-specific medical care are denied coverage. GI maintains these barriers to care. Medical interventions are better substantiated by the use of medical diagnoses, not psychiatric diagnoses. Access to transgender-specific, medically necessary care can be directly and more effectively addressed by utilization of a revised medical diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The psychiatric needs of transgender people are better addressed by existing psychiatric diagnoses.

- GI lays the groundwork for unethical and harmful reparative therapy: A GID diagnosis has historically been misused to justify treatment of "pre-homosexual" children in the hope of preventing or delaying the development of a positive and healthy gay or lesbian identity. With adults, transgender-specific medical intervention is often offered only if reparative therapy fails to relieve distress and improve social functioning.
The GI diagnosis will continue to lend false credence to interventions that foster shame, encourage children and adults to betray their true selves, and delay healthy identity development. This practice is harmful and unethical.

In summary, we propose all diagnoses addressing gender non-conformity and identity be eliminated from the DSM-5. The mental health needs - when present - of gender non-conforming people are addressed by existing diagnoses. We ask the APA to formally renounce reparative therapy addressing gender non-conformity in children, adolescents and adults. We acknowledge that a diagnosis must exist for those who require medically necessary transgender-specific care, and ask the APA to advocate for a viable transgender-specific medical diagnosis in the ICD. Finally, we respectfully request that the APA include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender healthcare institutions and community centers in these processes.


Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City

Co-signing Institutions:

  • CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, New York, NY

  • Brainpower Research and Development Services Inc

  • Brooklyn Community Pride Center, Brooklyn, NY

  • Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, Albany, NY

  • Center on Halsted, Chicago, IL

  • The DC Center for the LGBT Community

  • Equality Ohio, Columbus, OH

  • The Gay Alliance in Rochester NY

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Colorado, Denver, CO

  • L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Los Angeles, CA

  • Legacy Community Health Services, Houston, TX

  • LGBT Community Center Coalition of Central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA

  • The LOFT LGBT Community Services Center, White Plains, NY

  • Malecare, New York, NY

  • Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia, PA

  • Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Milwaukee, WI

  • National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), New York, NY

  • National LGBT Cancer Network, New York, NY

  • New Mexico GLBTQ Centers, Las Cruces, NM

  • New York City Anti-Violence Project, New York, NY

  • New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO), White Plains, New York

  • Out With Cancer – The LGBT Cancer Project, New York, NY

  • Pride in Practice, Silver School of Social Work, New York University, New York, NY

  • Rainbow Heights Club and Heights-Hill Mental Health Service South Beach, Psychiatric Center Community Advisory Board, Inc, New York, NY

  • Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, Sacramento, CA

  • San Francisco LGBT Community Center, San Francisco, CA

  • Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), New York, NY

  • Spectrum LGBT Center, San Rafael, CA

  • Third Root Community Health Center, Brooklyn, NY

  • YouthPride, Inc., Atlanta, GA

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Petition Pelosi to Move ENDA

I know this whole TOTWK controversy is fascinating, but ENDA isn't on the floor yet, & no matter how you feel about the term "trannies" or about exploitation films, or about gay men, trans women, & hate crimes, we all really need ENDA.

Just saying.

More than 16,000 people have signed the petition to get Nancy Pelosi to move ENDA to the House floor for a vote.

There are growing indications that ENDA will move to a markup and a vote in the next two weeks. It is important that we have as strong a showing as possible on the petition in order to demonstrate to wavering members of Congress that there is support.

Please add your name before the petition is delivered by hand next week:

Dear Speaker Nancy Pelosi --

With health care legislation passing, now is the time to institute workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Rep. Tammy Baldwin says she believes that we have the votes to pass ENDA, and Rep. George Miller has said the bill is ready to come out of committee now that the health care bill has passed. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, we call on you to act boldly and decisively and bring ENDA to the floor for a vote now.

*First Name

*Last Name



Cell Phone**

** You may receive text messages or calls from Standard text messaging charges will apply.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Like Horsradish and Hot Fudge: "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" Fails, as a Movie and as a Concept

It's rare that a three-and-a-half-minute trailer tells you just about everything you need to know about a movie, but in the case of "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" the movie is everything you see in those few minutes but more...and worse.

First and foremost, this is a really bad movie, but clearly intentionally so. The film is artificially "aged" and made to have a look similar to the "blaxploitation" films of the early 70's, complete with low-budget production, film imperfections, and missing reel notices.The overplayed transgender stereotypes are blatant and ludicrous, but it's the titling and the marketing of this film where the biggest mistakes have been made.

Anyone who sees this movie understands something about it in very short order: This isn't a movie about transgender women, it's a movie about drag queens. Not that any confirmation is needed once Pinky La'Trimm, Emma Grashun, Bubbles Cliquot, Tipper Sommore, and Rachel Slur (no, I'm not kidding) are introduced to the viewer, but there's even a scene in the movie where one of the characters defines herself and the other queens with her as "gay men in dresses".

Immediately after seeing this movie I remarked to someone who'd already seen it that if they'd titled this movie "Ticked-Off Drag Queens With Knives" probably no one would have batted an eye, but thinking about it now I'm not so sure. The biggest problem with this movie is that the concept just doesn't work, no matter what perspective you view it from. You can make a campy movie about drag queens or you can make a film about hate crimes, but you can't do both in the same film and expect it to be seen as credible on any level.

Director Israel Luna's attempt to meld these completely and utterly disparate elements into the same film results in nothing short of disaster, with the campy, comedic scenes undercutting and perhaps even completely discrediting whatever anti-hate crimes message he may have been hoping to convey. At the same time, the graphic and gory hate-motivated violence ruins whatever comedic value the film might otherwise have had. Hate crimes, after all, just aren't funny, not ever. For all too many, that bloody baseball bat has been real. Including graphic depictions of anti-transgender hate violence in a movie that's clearly being played for camp and comedy comes off as complete ignorance of the reality of anti-transgender hate violence at best and outright mockery and denigration of transpeople and the hate violence perpetrated against us at worst.

The transgender community's reaction to this film is understandable. This low-budget hackfest employs just about every tired transgender stereotype out there and doesn't even do a decent job of mocking itself as you'd expect a film like this to do. Despite the mostly generic hairstyles and clothes that are presumably supposed to reflect the styles of the early 70's, the queens are seen in a late-model convertible that couldn't have been built more than than a few years ago. This film fails even the most basic tests of consistency and good writing.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is so bad on so many different levels that it's even schlock when compared to other schlock. It's almost like Israel Luna set out to do an early John Waters film (right down to the Divine-like "mama queen") but just didn't have the chops to pull it off. The hate crime element, while perhaps well-intentioned, seems more like a written-in afterthought than anything else, just an excuse for the drag queens to comically kick some ass rather than an attempt at any sort of truly serious statement about hate crimes. This aspect of the film comes through clearly even when watching the trailer so it's not surprising that many transpeople and allies find it disparaging and offensive.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" tries to succeed as a comedy while making a statement about something as deadly serious and unfunny as anti-transgender hate crimes, and therefore fails miserably at both. Honestly, I wonder what the folks at the Tribeca Film Festival saw in this disjointed, poorly-made mess of a movie. Fortunately, real transwomen can take heart that this film is such an unremitting and unadulterated piece of shit that once the Tribeca festival ends it's highly likely that this film and its director will quickly fade back into the obscurity they so richly deserve.


Two weeks ago, a campaign to boycott Israel Luna's film "Ticked Off Trannies With Knives" began, and within days GLAAD had joined the cause with a call to action on the GLAAD blog. The facebook group currently boasts over 1,700 members. I have seen this film and I am writing this letter today to support it, and to encourage people to stop protesting it. As a transsexual, and as a filmmaker, this boycott saddens me deeply and I hope that this letter encourages folks to disengage from what I believe to be an attempt at self-promotion by a group of professional transgender activisits, not artists, not concerned members of the community.

First, and really the letter should end with this statement as well, censorship is never the answer. Ever. And if you believe that pulling a small, low-budget independent film, that features trans people as main characters, does not constitute censorship, you have never tried to make art about trans people in America in the 21st century. Activists succeeded in removing a film called "The Gendercator" from the line-up at the Frameline Film Festival in 2007 after it was deemed by "community leaders" to be transphobic. Who elected these trans community leaders? Not me, not you--but whoever they were, they had no qualms about speaking on our behalf. This pattern is sincerely troubling to me, as it brews a climate of fear among trans film and video artists and people looking to make work about trans people. Censoring these films is a step in the wrong direction.

Ok, assuming that you agree with me about censorship, but that you think maybe sometimes people SHOULD be afraid to make work about trans people, let me tell you, I agree with you. There are actually many trans characters in mainstream film and television--they often appear in gay and lesbian films to help the gay or lesbian protagonist out of a sticky situation, for instance. On television, transsexual characters are overwhelmingly the victims of violence (usually sexual) and/or they are perverted perpetrators, such as on Law & Order SVU, which received a GLAAD media award in 2009. The other trans character you're likely to find on TV or in a movie is what I like to call the "liarsexual"--that is to say, their "lie" about their gender usually propels the plot in some way. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is not in that genre.

All of those types of trans characters appear all the time and (a) they suck and (b) no one is protesting them. In fact, when L&O SVU puts out a casting call for trans people for an upcoming episode, my friends stampede to the studio, eager to claim their $100 check and a chance to see what Chris Meloni is like in real life.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" has none of these characters. Not the secondary characters who exists to help a non-trans protagonist (Better Than Chocolate), not a victim of violence (Boys Don't Cry), not a perverted perpetrator (Silence of the Lambs) and not a liar-sexual, who propels the plot of the film by concealing his/her "true" identity/gender until a dramatic reveal causes another, more important character, to change and/or grow (The Crying Game). Even the (GLAAD-award-winning) Transamerica, which has a trans character as a protagonist, situates the trans character completely alone and in a thoroughly heterosexual context (reconnecting with her son). "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" has three main characters--all transwomen--who have their own character arcs and their own motivations.

The boycott organizers, and GLAAD, cite a main issue with the content of film--that it fails to represent the lives of "real" transgender women. This argument disturbs me because that means that either #1 GLAAD and the boycott organizers believe that there are a limited number of ways to express being a "real" trans person or #2 trans character can only appear in dramatic works that are in the "realism" realm. Without getting into a history of filmmaking, it is safe to say that this particular stylistic complaint is severely misguided and limiting to trans artists. Non-trans filmmakers are allowed a wide-range of cinematic styles with which to portray their lives, and filmmakers working with "authentic" trans characters should be allowed the same. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is satire and camp and action/adventure all rolled into one feature film. Within these genres, the protagonists are a commanding prescence and an inspiration to the audience. No viewer of this film would mistake this for being a "real" movie--the film is highly stylized to invoke the experience of watching a B-movie from the 70s--from 16mm film artifacts added in post production to a placard reading "We're sorry but some of the reels of this film may have been lost."

Which brings us to the other reading of that argument--that there is one way of being a "real" transwoman. The feministing article about the film complained about the transwomen's use of the word "balls"--which apparently rings as insulting and inauthentic. Maybe some transwomen bristle at this, but I can assure you that this feels "real" to some people. If you're wondering how this can be true, think of how many times you've heard a trans guy talk about pussy (his own or someone else's). It's true, that this is a particularly difficult joke to make in front of non-trans people. I don't walk into a room of straight people and start talking about my vagina, for instance. But I might, if the room were filled with my trans friends. And that's the remarkable thing about this film: it features transwomen (five of them at one point!) talking to each other about their lives in an informal (and let's just say it) "real" way. And viewers have very few examples of this peek into (what I consider to be) my world. Trans people with trans friends, who talk about their real lives openly and stick up for each other when the shit hits the fan.

What seems to be at the heart of this argument is that the organizers feel comfortable only with the narrative films that include trans characters as victims (GLAAD cites "Boys Don't Cry" as a "good" film as opposed to this "bad" film) or documentaries about trans people that feature their "changes." I don't hate most of those movies, but any trans artist will tell you, this is a very limiting rubric if you're looking to make work about trans people. Eventually, being a transsexual gets very boring. The sex change operation is over, your body stops changing and you have to just get on with the rest of your life. Limiting trans work to the sex change operation is the equivalent of telling gay filmmakers that they should only make movies about "coming out" stories. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is the ACT/UP Fight Back response to the transgender victim of all those other films--what if every gay movie was (that terrible Oscar-winning trash) "Philadelphia"? What if every gay character was an asexual "AIDS victim"? That would be depressing, right?

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is a film that I would have been proud to make
, and that I connected to because it is what it says it is--a revenge fantasy. Every time a trans woman (and let's be honest, most of the violence towards trans people is directed at trans women) is murdered, I want to pick up a knife and kill the guy who did it, and then set his body on fire, and then hang it in City Hall park to warn the rest of them that if they fuck with trans people, they will pay. But that doesn't happen. Because that would be wrong, and counterproductive and violence (like censorship) is never the answer. But am I glad that in this movie, for a couple hours, I finally do have the opportunity to get revenge? To stand up against the people who brutalize trans people? Absolutely.

So how do you evaluate a film for its transgender content? First, seeing the film can be especially helpful (the great majority of the people trashing TOTWK have only seen the trailer). After that, it's really a personal decision. Here's the rubric I use:

#1 Is there just ONE(1) trans character? If there is only one, the trans person is probably just there to serve some purpose for the protagonist/screenwriter. If there are two or more, there is a better chance that they are "real" characters. (Are you a trans person? Do you have at least one trans friend? Yeah, me too.)

#2 Do you see before and after pictures of the trans character? If there are before/after pictures, or a mention of their old or "real"/"legal" name you are watching a BAD movie or TV show. Start the facebook group and trash the producers, pronto.

#3 Is the dramatic question "Will s/he get the sex change operation that they desperately want?" and/or does the trans person die at the end of the film? If the plot is about getting "the operation" you're probably watching the product of a filmmaker/screenwriter/producers's fantasy about fascinating transsexual people. There ARE brutal murders of trans people in "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives," but this event propels the revenge action, and the other characters fulfill their arcs as mighty warriors rather than as pitiful victims.

Essentially, the boycott was proposed by people who have very little experience with reading and comprehension of media and representations of trans people in film, perpetuated by GLAAD, an organization that is no friend to trans people who is seeking to jump on what it sees as an opportunity to curry favor with what it sees as a grassroots movement because it is too lazy to do any real work on trans issues. The "movement" is actually mostly a facebook group that has grown in size because of the lack of effort required to "join" a movement online (what I call single-click activism) and I predict very low turn out for tonight's "protest."

I encourage you all to take your friends, see the film, and write and share your own thoughts.