Saturday, March 27, 2010

GLAAD's "Ineffective" Campaign And Doing The Right Thing Even If It Isn't Easy

Some time ago, I received an email in my inbox asking for people to get involved in a survey about HIV risks for men who have sex with men (MSM). It was very specifically about penile-anal intercourse (PAI) and very specific about the kinds of participants that were wanted. While there are are some transmen in our community who have male partners, it was clear that they weren't who the survey was about, so I forwarded it to a couple crossdresser group lists but otherwise ignored it.

A week or so later, the survey request arrived in my inbox again. Also ignored.

A few days later, the sender followed up with an email asking me why I hadn't forwarded the MSM survey information on to the trans networks I'm involved in. I replied (in nicer words) that if they were interested in transwomen participating, they could have at least bothered to make the effort to word the request more inclusively. To me, the heavy emphasis on MSM and PAI terminology made it clear how participants would be regarded and treated. At this, the sender flipped out, accusing me of being homophobic and saying I'd be guilty of the genocide of every transsexual woman (which was not the terminology he used, but by this time that was obviously who he meant) who contracted HIV as a result of my "knowingly suppressing" information about it.

In the Alberta communities, I've kept myself at an arm's length from mainstream LGB(T) groups, participating somewhat, but not getting enveloped in LGBT culture. I do believe in an inclusive community (and am a bisexual in a lesbian relationship, so am affected by and do get involved with LGB issues), but I also believe that trans-specific advocacy needs to be first driven by trans people, regardless of where we come to in the "should we include the T" debate. And while I've found the vast majority of LGB advocates to "get it" about us at least enough to respect trans identities -- many very earnestly wanting to help despite the occasional fumble in doing so (yes, including Bil Browning) -- every so often the patronizing "you're just deluded, I know who you *really* are" attitude bubbles up from someone, and the arm's length is useful to keeping it from blowing up into a fight that leaves everybody bitter over trans inclusion. Aside from when I'm "knowingly suppressing" information for MSM, that is.

I don't bring this up to drive a wedge between groups, but to make a point. There has been a growing sentiment in the online community, as people in the US started realizing that even with a Democrat congress, senate and "fierce advocate" President, an inclusive ENDA was going to be a difficult sell, and it was our fault. I saw it in comments around the web as people complained about the potential liability we were via the growing bathroom debates, in the complaints that we saw ENDA as more important than same-sex marriage, in the drop-off of trans writers in LGBT arenas (some who've made similar observations), and even as far back as the protests about being tired of angry trannies venting about the HRC. Trans people are being increasingly resented because the greater community signaled with UnitedENDA that a bill that dropped transfolk wholesale was no longer acceptable. By the time a blog controversy hit that my readers will probably be familiar with, it seemed more like an editorial sea change to embrace this growing readership than anything that was just out of the blue (which may not have been the case, but at any rate, it's done). In the context of all this, the rumours of a caveat being written into ENDA to... well, we don't know just yet, but it has something to do with concessionary language about transwomen and restrooms... is unsurprising, and worries me that some of our own "fierce advocates" will ultimately embrace the same roll-over-and-take-it approach they perceive in a legislator they are now decrying.

It's time to call for, support and thank those who continue to do the right thing, even if it isn't easy or a guaranteed win.

And that includes GLAAD, who campaigned against the Tribeca Film Festival's inclusion of a transploitative film that would have probably been simply another badly-acted bit of visually caricaturish B-grade schlock masquerading as "camp" if it hadn't tried to co-opt some very real tragedies in the murders of Angie Zapata and other trans-identified or trans-affected (i.e. apparently in the case of Jorge Mercado) people, and then pass itself off as the voice of our community's anger.

GLAAD which is now being criticized and called "right up there with the Human Rights Campaign in its irrelevance" for speaking out against the film.

In reply to Queerty's 8 points:


So? If we focused only on easy targets and ran away at the first sign of difficulty, we'd still be fighting to decriminalize sodomy. We don't advocate for people because it's easy.


And also guaranteed that it will be accompanied with the knowledge that the community it's allegedly supposed to be about are protesting it as an inaccurate representation of who we are. Silence is tacit approval.

Maybe next year, Tribeca will remember this and seek to be inclusive by choosing a film from a now better-educated standpoint. I'd call that an eventual win, if it happens.


While exploitation of real tragedies could be considered a matter of "taste," blatant misrepresentation of a community that is then dismissed with indifference when it protests goes a little deeper. Sure, GLAAD fell for the FoF Superbowl ruse -- we all did -- but drumming up the mistakes when someone does something right isn't exactly the best kind of encouragement to stay focused on the objective.


I have a story I'd love to turn into a potentially powerful film. Is there anyone willing to produce and fund it?

This attitude is all well and good, but doesn't change the fact that if one community makes an exploitive film that claims to tell the story of another, the latter has the right to be angry if it's misrepresented.


Neither will defending a film whose portrayal is just really bad.


Tell that to Traditional Values Coalition and their flock. This might hold water if there weren't large swaths of people who already really believed it.


Such as the tragedy of running mascara during fight scenes? It's obvious that the film didn't take anti-trans violence seriously if it turned it into the vehicle for comedy, so why should anyone else?


Trotting up someone who doesn't realize how she's being exploited (sorry Krystal, but it's true, and it's disappointing to have to point it out) isn't representative of large swaths of the community.

Thank you to GLAAD for doing something right, even if it wasn't an easy win.

I hope many of our inclusive organizations will be ready to do the same when the new ENDA wording is unveiled.

(crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

GLAAD Petition to Remove Trannies With Knives

GLAAD has now seen Ticked Off Trannies with Knives and is asking that Tribeca Film Fest remove it. You can sign a petition.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Looks like the movement for LGBT equality is finally getting interesting again.

Last Thursday, we saw two gay soldiers chain themselves to the White House fence to protest DADT, dual sit-ins staged at both the DC and San Francisco offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to protest the lack of action on an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and a massive blogswarm which produced not only dozens of blog posts on the topic of ENDA, but also enough calls to the Speaker's office to jam up her office phone lines for at least part of the day. All that in just one day, along with all of the ensuing fallout of these actions, but that's not all.

It seems the balance of power in American LGBT advocacy is finally shifting back to where it should have been all along. Apparently, the Human Rights Campaign actually locked down their headquarters last Thursday afternoon, fearing protesters...LGBT protesters. Why? No doubt at least in part because of the refusal of HRC President Joe Solmonese (documented in both video and print) to join DADT activist and spokesperson Lt. Dan Choi on his march to the White House after indicating he would earlier. It illustrates where the vast majority of our community is now culturally and politically, and how very far outside of that mainstream HRC has drifted. Most importantly, it demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that HRC knows it too.

Remember how it used to be? We transfolks would be screaming bloody murder about HRC and their self-serving political games, but none of the LGB media really paid us much attention, did they? Now it's even the monied elites who once ignored us who are screaming for HRC's collective head, as loudly and insistently as we ever have.

Note to non-trans LGBs: I hate to say "We told you so.", but...

Let's not forget that aside from the initial rally Lt. Choi appeared at, no major organization, not HRC or any other, had any formal sponsorship or participation in any of the actions that took place on Thursday. We did all of it ourselves, and while it can't be said that it went off without a hitch, I think it certainly can be said that it proved that we can stage significant, impactful, coordinated actions on and offline that don't require the financial support or the sponsorship of a major civil rights organization in order to be effective.

If we really want to change the way LGBT advocacy is done in this country and by whom, this is our chance.

If there's anything it seems that HRC is just completely unwilling to do in the service of LGBT rights it's getting their hands dirty with real face-to-face street-level activism, the kind that involves civil disobedience, police, media attention, arrests, and press conferences. On Thursday, the LGBT activist community clearly demonstrated that there's plenty of us who don't have that problem, and that we're a much larger and more active group than anything HRC can muster.

To me, this pretty much says it all, everything we've been saying all along, everything that needs to be said, about the Human Rights Campaign:

When the call went out to the LGBT activist community for real street-level action instead of merely words in the fight for LGBT equality, instead of joining with their LGBT sisters and brothers on the front lines the Human Rights Campaign leadership ran away and hid, locking the door behind them.

It's probably fair to say that I'm at least a little biased as a political analyst, but even from the most centrist perspective I can muster this one fact stands out above all others: When the community called, HRC ran the other way. Real leaders, if they truly wish to be considered as such, just don't do that. HRC, by their behavior, has acknowledged their new lesser status within the movement, and the reality that it is now the collective community of politically-active LGBT's, connecting for the most part online without the sponsorship or oversight of any major civil rights organization, who are now beginning to take the lead in our movement's major political actions and demonstrations.

The reins of this movement's advocacy efforts are ours for the taking, and take them we should. We have to make it clear to the politicians from Obama on down that speaking at an HRC event doesn't count as speaking to the politically-active LGBT community anymore, no more than speaking at a meeting of rich business owners counts as speaking to America's union members.

The Human Rights Campaign has had thirty years of continually leading this movement into a ditch politically with quiet and polite pleading and negotiation. They've failed us, plain and simple. Money, after all, can only take you just so far. It's time for a different way, a way that says to people "Hey, we're not kidding around here, this is life and death for us, particularly in this economy. We need our basic civil rights and we need them right now, not next year, next month, or even next week, but right now and we're not going to shut up about it until we get them.".

If we really want change, we have an opportunity to make some ourselves, for ourselves, right now. Last Thursday's actions proved we can do it, and they showed us who we can depend on to be there for us and who we can't. Now, we have to prove we can do it well.

I don't know about you, but personally I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why The Transgender Community Had To Take Out Susan Stanton

It's something you hope you'll never have to do, but you do it when you have to.

I watched "Her Name Was Steven" on CNN Saturday night, and it's taken me until now to decide how I want to discuss this documentary and revisit this story. I found myself somewhat closer to this story than most when it happened, in part because I'd actually met Susan Stanton at an event here in New Jersey, and because when she did an interview with the St. Petersburg Times she said some pretty awful and disparaging things about her transgender sisters and brothers and I'd blogged about it.

Not surprisingly, the reaction to the interview was swift and direct from myself, Marti Abernathey, and many others. What may have seemed to some like a "pile-on" or an aggressive attack against Susan Stanton was really, in essence, self-defense. Stanton, a transwoman, had just told the world that transgender people weren't worthy of being protected against discrimination in the workplace. Many of us felt compelled to say just as loudly that she was wrong, that Stanton's own story, not to mention so many others like it, is crystal-clear evidence of why transgender and gender-variant Americans need to be legally protected against discrimination.

Some knew or suspected what was going on right from the start, and many more figured it out as this story played out over time. The Human Rights Campaign and certain members of Congress wanted to see the passage of a non-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007 and they apparently felt that a celebrity transwoman like Susan Stanton could be persuasive in advocating for that bill, presumably demonstrating support for it among transgender people.

When I saw that interview, I knew I couldn't stay silent, even though I also knew that speaking out would entail directing some rather sharp words toward a fellow transwoman. When the choice is to either bash a fellow transperson or increase the chance of incalculable damage to the movement for transgender equality as whole by not doing so, there's only one reasonable choice I and so many others could make. When push comes to shove, I value the ongoing movement for transgender equality and its potential success far more than I value the personal comfort of any one individual, and I think that's true for a lot of us.

Citizen lobbyists from NCTE and Garden State Equality (yay, home team!) have been visiting offices of members of Congress this week to lobby for ENDA. Even now, two years later, we're still struggling to get this bill passed, even just for it to remain on the agenda. Now, just imagine if we'd simply allowed Susan Stanton disseminate her views in the media without challenge or comment. What might that have done to the chances of an inclusive ENDA ever seeing the light of day? On the other hand, what we did see was quick and direct public condemnation of Susan Stanton's political positions from the transgender community, coupled with the ongoing protests against HRC's support of the non-inclusive bill throughout that year. This freight train was already rolling down the tracks at full speed when Susan Stanton made the mistake of stepping in front of it...but perhaps she was pushed?

HRC, and surely the Dems as well, had to know that we'd never let Susan Stanton's public statements on transgender rights go unanswered. As much as we may not like some of the things they do, we also know that these people are just not that clueless. Therefore, it's fair to conclude that it was known going in at least by some that they were setting up Susan Stanton as a sacrificial lamb. The apparent plan seemed to be that they'd put her out there, use her statements as evidence that a significant portion of the transgender community supports the passage of a non-inclusive ENDA, and then hope that Stanton's notoriety and status as a transwoman would shield them from the brunt of the negative backlash from the trans community and the allied progressive left which they had to know was sure to follow.

The problem for these folks was that virtually none of the politically-conscious transgender and allied community bought it. We've been doing this for far too long not to recognize a cheap political parlor trick when we see one. Susan Stanton has no credibility as an activist leader in our community, yet she was being promoted as one by HRC and the straight media. We called her out and publicly discredited her because we had to, before her fifteen minutes of fame gave her words and opinions a veneer of credibility and of representing the viewpoints of a persecuted minority group with whom she apparently sees herself as sharing little in common with save the physical experience of transitioning.

Is there a better idea? Well yes actually, and more than one in fact. First and foremost, there's what's going on right now, directly lobbying members of Congress. Second, there's the Internet and other trans-inclusive media. While there's often much success to be had by meeting with your member of Congress face-to face, there's even more potential success waiting for those who can extend their reach through the media outside their own circles. In order to accomplish that, we need good media messengers. What we don't need and can't tolerate is someone like Susan Stanton blundering in and shooting her mouth off without taking the time and effort to understand the players and playing field, particularly when there's so much at stake.

Celebrity, even "Z-list" celebrity, can go a long way toward opening doors that may be closed to others, but it can also paint a target when public opinion turns negative. Susan Stanton reveled in her minor celebrity status, but she didn't understand that simple notoriety can only get people to listen, it takes a lot more than just having been featured in the media a few times to get people to actually rally behind you. Just being well-known isn't enough, especially when you're speaking out against treating a minority group you ostensibly represent fairly and equally.

The transgender community rejected and disempowered Susan Stanton as a community spokesperson because Stanton herself left us with no other choice. She used her notoriety to promote the idea that transgender people are unworthy of equal rights and treatment under the law, that we aren't ready for equality, as she put it. Leaving aside the obvious question of how any persecuted minority group can not be ready to be treated fairly and equally under the law, Stanton's clear disdain for her fellow transpeople and her elitism in separating herself from the rest of the community, "men in dresses" as she sees us (I wonder what she thinks of FTMs? Is she even aware there is such a thing?), set the stage for both an angry personal response from many transpeople as well as a necessary public refutation of her statements in the media.

I'm disappointed that we had to take down Susan Stanton, but not at all apologetic. We have nothing to be sorry for. Our movement was attacked and we defended it. The fact that the attacker came from within our community is irrelevant. We used the very same weapons she did, only ours were sharper and cut deeper. We did what had to be done to defend our movement and the progress we've made, what we will no doubt do again and again, when and as the need arises. The price of doing nothing is just too high.

The passage of an inclusive ENDA will hardly solve all of our problems, but with non-discrimination as the law of the land, things cannot help but get better immediately in the short term as workers who are unjustly discriminated against finally have recourse to the law, and over the long term, as the standards of the law become the cultural norm, much as has happened for racial and ethnic minorities. Failing to speak out against Susan Stanton could have potentially threatened transgender inclusion in ENDA by offering political cover, thin though it might have been, to skittish Democrats who hadn't yet worked up the political will to protect the basic civil rights of all American citizens to take the easy way out and vote for the non-inclusive bill.

The lesson to be learned here is that we can and should be speaking for ourselves. We can and should be choosing our own leaders and our own spokespeople. We can and should be promoting our own agenda, in our own way, and in our own voices. We can and should include among those voices not only military heroes and business leaders, but also parking lot attendants and grocery clerks. We can and should be doing a much better job of showing America and the rest of the world the true depth and diversity of who and what we are. We can and should be using the media, all forms of media, to tell our stories and present our perspectives much more effectively than we have been until now.

The rise and fall of Susan Stanton teaches us that you can't be accepted as a credible transgender spokesperson or leader unless you've actually got the goods, no matter how much media buzz you generate. The community just won't allow it. It also proves we've got some more slots we need to fill in that regard.

In a community where it's common to shun the spotlight, it seems we're running a bit short on people willing or able to step into it right now. Here's hoping that changes as time goes on. Mara Keisling and a relative handful of transgender activists and online mediamakers can't and shouldn't be doing it all.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In Defense of the Town Tranny

From my friend Susan:

There is an implied attitude that "real" transsexuals are stealth, or make every effort to be so.

Not all women are from a cookie cutter mold, neither are all men, but some how nobody is telling super butch women that they should be acting more like the cookie cutter variety of women, and the same is true for the varieties of men, i.e. drag queens, CDs, and effeminate straight men, etc. Yes, I know, straight assholes, who are threatened by gender diversity, do like to make a lot of noise. But when it comes to the transsexual community, why is diversity in transsexual expression ridiculed.

Not every transsexual person is capable of going stealth. So, does that mean that s/he should not bother. Perhaps it is better for them to stay in the closet so the rest of us don't get embarrassed by their existence.

My neighbors and friends are always telling me about the television show they watched about transsexuals. Often the same shows have caused us to get plastered because of the "tranny drinking game." I see nothing wrong with the fun and humor of the tranny drinking game, if it is understood that it is an "in house" joke, and that in reality we have compassion for those who are doing what they feel they need to do.

Anyway, my neighbors and friends tell me how much they learned from the different shows, and I have never heard anything negative from them about any of the shows. Of course, I don't know anybody that watches Jerry Springer or that ilk. I'm thinking more of shows put on by Oprah and Barbara Walters.

If it were not for these transsexual people willing to step forward, many of us would still be in the dark thinking that we were the only ones. These people that talk to the media, write the books, make the movies, and live daily lives being open about their transsexual history are the ones that are making it easier for the rest of us.

Now days, most people have heard of transsexuals, but only about 20 years ago, nobody had heard of them. There are many historical parallels that can be drawn when comparing transgender people with gays, blacks, and other minorities. Some of us remember how the straight looking gays shunned and put down drag queens, but it was the drag queens, by their being open and out, launched the gay pride movement.

When I hear about people like Dr. Deborah Bershel, Jenny Boylan, and others, that are willing to step forward, and not keep their transsexual history in the closet, I, for one, am really grateful.

Because of many circumstances that are often beyond a person's control, many people transition late in their lives. For some this makes going stealth virtually impossible. But, this does not mean they are "failures" at being trans women. They are simply a different variety of trans women. It is this attitude that "true" transsexuals want to be seen only as women, and that to choose otherwise makes them suspect of not being truly trans.

I am a transsexual female person. Whether I am a woman or not, that is something others may decide. I know that I am female to the core of my being. I make no pretense about trying to pass. Sometimes I get startled when I realize that I have been passing, but to be perfectly honest, I really don't care whether I pass or not, as long as I'm not seen as a man. Being seen so would be an anathema to me. That may seem like a contradiction, but it is not. If I am seen as a transsexual woman, I am not being seen as a man. I may not be being seen as a woman, but being seen as a woman was never my goal. My goal is to be me. My goal is to live my life as who I am. For us late transitioners, that may be the only goal that is attainable.

Many late transitioners are never going to achieve stealth, but we can still enjoy being who we are. I get to wear what I want; I get to express my femininity, and I never get treated as a man. I honestly think men just don't see me as the same "species," which is fine with me. So, why the "failure" label, or why make snide remarks that we go around showing our surgery photos. I don't feel like a failure in the least bit, and I have never shown any surgery photos. I have given several talks on transgender 101 for various classes and for several different diversity weeks, and plus I have spoke several times in church. None of these times did I feel a need to talk about any details of vaginoplasty--mine or anybody elses. I am not defined by my genitals any more than anybody else is. I am a unique person, and if my existence does not fit in somebodies worldview, then I know where they can stick their worldview.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

One of these things is not like the others

I can definitely understand why L.A. School Superintendent Ramon Cortines was upset that students were carrying pictures of O.J. Simpson at a Black History Month parade. The man is widely believed to be a brutal murderer, and is currently in prison for robbery and kidnapping. I can also understand why Mayor Villaraigosa was upset that the children were wearing pictures of Dennis Rodman, who was recently in rehab for alcohol addiction and has been convicted of spousal abuse. However good they were as athletes, they are not good role models like the other choices, who included President Obama and Dr. King.

Like Calpernia Addams, I'm very disturbed, however, by the fact that Cortines, Villaraigosa and NAACP branch president Leon Jenkins seem to be just as upset that the students were looking up to RuPaul Charles. A school district spokesperson implied that the administration believes RuPaul, like Simpson and Rodman, is not "appropriate for Black History Month." Jenkins is quoted as saying, "These are not the people we want our young people to emulate or believe these people represent the best of the African-American community."

I honestly haven't seen too many other Black drag queens, but RuPaul is one of the best I know of any ethnic group. More importantly, aside from his talent, he has a reputation for being professional, hardworking and an all-around decent human being. I've never heard about him being involved in any instances of drug abuse or violence. Children of any race could do a lot worse than to emulate him. In that regard, he's a much better role model than Michael Jackson, who died of a drug overdose and was accused of pedophilia.

RuPaul has been something of a role model for me, too, over the years. He can look glamorous in a dress, but is comfortable being seen in men's clothes. He doesn't sweat the pronouns. His presentation is wild, sexy and provocative without being clownish or degrading. And for a guy who's pushing fifty, he still looks damn good, even without the airbrushing.

It remains to be seen whether this was a deliberate racist joke on the part of three white teachers, or a fumbled attempt to appeal to things that impress kids. But I know that if I were a kid at that school grappling with transvestite or homosexual feelings, and I heard people like Leon Jenkins lumping RuPaul in with O.J. and Dennis Rodman, I'd be pretty crushed. No wonder the suicide rate is so high.

I would like to see Cortines, Villaraigosa and Jenkins retract their condemnations of RuPaul. I hope that TBLG leaders will let them know that this kind of homophobia and transphobia is not okay. I hope that some national Black and Hispanic leaders will also come out in support of RuPaul, and of cross-dressers everywhere. We can be good role models.

Update: the World of Wonder blog has more on RuPaul and the homophobic Ramon Cortines. I should also point out that Rodman has done drag too, much more clownishly than RuPaul.