Interview: Ashley Altadonna & Helen Boyd, Pt. 2

ashelen

Here’s Part 2 of the conversation between me and Ashley Altadonna, the filmmaker.

Ashley: What do you wish trans partners knew more regarding their cisgendered partners?

Helen: That we feel all the stigma, too, and feel personally at risk as a result of being with someone trans. My sense is that they, in some ways, are understood – they are fixing a thing that is wrong, being their true selves, however you want to put it, while we’re just being dragged along for the ride. That is, we’re stigmatized for choosing to be with you. Mostly, though, I’d want them to know we’re often doing our best, and we don’t get a lot of compassion, and we can’t really complain to friends because of the stigma against trans people, so we tend to bottle things up, often to explode later.

Which I think is something trans partners and trans people have in common, yes?

Ashley: I’ll be the first to admit that being transgender can easily become a navel-gazing endeavor, especially early on in one’s transition. When you’re dealing with all the emotions that go along with gender dysphoria, trying to assert your gender identity to yourself and others, having new experiences… it’s easy to lose focus of any stigmas that your partner might be going through as well (not that that is an excuse). Since both of us are coming at this from a “male-to-female” transition perspective, I’m curious how true this is for those dealing with “female-to-male” transitions in their relationship.

What do you wish partners of newly transitioning trans/cross-dressing folks knew?

Helen: That some of them will need to go. And that blaming the gender stuff for everything is a mistake. Some people aren’t goodpartners or are, but neither has anything to do with their genders. Try to make that distinction: what are the issues that concern gender, and which aren’t?

What about you?

Ashley: Coming out to your partner might be the one of the most difficult and terrifying things about being transgender. The fear of rejection from someone you are emotionally invested in is real. I ended several good relationships, prior to meeting my wife, because I was afraid of telling my partner I was transgender. I would remind partners to keep this in mind when their partners come out to them. A partner transitioning doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship has to be over, but I’ll agree that both parties need to realize that some relationships won’t last transition and that ultimately, that’s okay.

The trans community has really come more into the political, social and cultural forefront in the last few years with celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner & Laverne Cox, Bathroom Bills, and most recently with the Justice Department standing up for trans folks.  What has most surprised you? What do you see as being “next” for trans folks?

Helen: As I wrote during some of the bathroom bill madness – I think what’s next is a sense of relief, that so many of these attacks have been fought back, that an upcoming generation is fine with it, that you are the gender you say you are. Honestly. What’s next moreso is not about transitioners, per se – it’s about the genderqueer, GNC people, all of those who are even less understood than those who transition from one binary gender to the other. But I also think we have not yet even begun to address intersectional issues.

Is there anything that was very surprising for you? Any victories or losses that particularly made you happy or upset you? Moreso, what is the connection between your personal issues and these ‘writ large’ versions? Where does the personal and political meet for you?

 Ashley: What’s intrigued me most the way a “trans-narrative” is starting to be presented as trans folks gain more attention and recognition.

This idea that trans people know from a young age that they weren’t the gender that society assigned them at birth certainly wasn’t my story.  I identified as a guy for nearly twenty years, before coming out as transgender.  Making room for all trans, GNC, genderqueer folks will be vital as our community moves forward.  Remembering that there are just as many different types of trans identities as there are those claiming those identities is crucial.  There are still a lot of basic rights like, employment & housing protections, and access to reliable appropriate healthcare that need to be established for transgender individuals, but I’m hoping society can also recognize that we aren’t all Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner or Chaz Bono.

If you had to describe the focus of your new book, what would you say?

Helen: I’m honestly taking a step back from writing about trans issues. I think when I came along – which is more than a decade ago now – it was important for a cis, liminally trans person to make the arguments, especially feminist ones, for trans inclusion, rights, and power. But now, trans people have that well in hand. I will still be writing about gender, and about bullying, and all sorts of related issues, but in different ways that the previous books. One of these days, though, I’d still like a grant to do follow-up research on the last generation of crossdressers who were closeted. They still fascinate me the most, to be honest, because they’re so misunderstood even within trans community. I have often been encouraged to write about what it’s been like to be a cis person doing trans work, to write a bit more about being an ally, but often when I think about it, all I come up with is “shut up, do the work, try not to be a dick, expect to be a dick, and apologize when you’re called out.” Not much book there, is there? But mostly it makes me uncomfortable to claim allyship, and while I’m very thankful many trans people seem to think I don’t suck, I know my very presence upsets others. & Often I’m just too tired, and trying to just do the work, to get into the arguments, and I’ve lost any urge to defend what I do or why I do it. So gaining a bunch of visibility for a new book on trans issues is exhausting to even think about.

And your next project?

Ashley: Honestly, I am trying to figure that out for myself right now. I am about 70% through production on my documentary “Making the Cut”, which I’ve been working on since 2009. This is my first attempt at a documentary and a feature film and it has been a learning process. I’m working with a new producer and hopefully they will give me the push I’ve needed to get this project done. I’m also working full time as a sexuality educator and hoping to create an online transition guide for male-to-female trans folks. I’m working on some writing projects for www.tallladypictures.com and I’m playing in a band again called The Glacial Speed. We’re releasing a digital album later this fall. My wife and I just bought a house this summer and tying to have a baby so, you know, there’s plenty to keep me busy for quite a while.

(Thanks for reading!)

Trans Actors, Trans Stories, Trans Lives

More than a decade ago, the most talented actor I’ve ever known gave up acting. She needed to transition, and her acting career was the hardest thing she had to give up, but she didn’t want to be a pony show, a novelty, gag casting. She had played so many amazing roles – Henry V, Algernon, The Chocolate Cream Soldier, even Larry Foreman – and despite what people think about acting, playing men on stage requires a lot of gender. She couldn’t grow her nails or her hair or go on hormones that would change her face or physique too much. She squeaked by for a few years by starting her own theatre company with friends and colleagues, and without much of a thought, came out as trans in The New York Times while doing so.

(Honestly, I still remember when she came home from doing the photo and interview for the story, because I remember saying, “You did what?” “I came out.” “In The Times?” “Well I figured since your book is in Walmart, how much more out could I get?” Turns out: quite a lot more.)

So when Jeffrey Tambor said this at the Emmys last night, I thought two things: I am glad things are changing so that people like my wife don’t feel that they have to give up their careers in order to be who they are.

Now, listen to me. … I’m not going to say this beautifully. But to you people out there, you producers and network owners, and agents, and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television. We have work to do. I love you.

I also thought: those of us who come to work with you and know your stories almost always become your biggest supporters, and that doesn’t surprise me even a little.

We have been lucky and willing to leap: so much so that she took a part in a film this past year, and finally, after years of not going to see theatre and really trying hard not to think about acting at all, she is back to knowing that she is better at acting than at everything else.

I’ll add another thing: when I first wrote my books, a lot of people thought I should sell the rights, but often that came with my own suspicions about letting anyone else tell our story. We knew what it was like to deal with TV producers who wanted to cast us as tragic, and we were rejected by Oprah for being a little too urban and a little too weird. And we wanted our story told not by people who would see us as foolish or crazy or sex-crazed but only by people who would tell the story itself, not sell us as exotic or exploit us. So of course we didn’t sell the film rights – how could we, in the environment that existed a decade ago? So that other piece that Tambor said, about letting trans people have their stories, is as important a part of what he said as the piece about actors. There is a reason that the best media – print, film, video – has trans people and trans family members involved.

These are good stories, and we are good storytellers, and it’s about fucking time that someone paid some attention to that.

Interview: Ashley Altadonna & Helen Boyd, Pt 1

ashelen

My friend the filmmaker Ashley Altadonna and I recently decided to interview each other; we’ve had an ongoing conversation about the nature of relationships vis a vis transness for years now, and every time I talk to her I discover new things about how I feel being the cis wife of a trans woman; she, on the other hand, always provides me with new insights about what it’s like to be on my wife’s side of the equation. So we put this interview, or conversation, together, in order to share some of the dialogue we’ve had, and we hope you find something maybe affirming but otherwise interesting in the mix.

Ashley: You’ve been involved with the trans/cross dressing community for a while now. Before you met Betty, how much did you know about trans folks and cross-dressers?

Helen: Not much, to be honest. I knew one person who had transitioned and one who was considering it when we met. But crossdressing… well, I always had myself, and was always aware of gender. The 80s were a safe place for that in some corners, after all, and I am a kid of the 80s.

How much did you know before you started transition?

Ashley: That depends on what you consider the beginning of my transition. When I was 13 and sneaking into my mother’s closet to try on her clothes and putting on her makeup, I knew nothing. I’d seen transsexuals and cross-dressers on daytime T.V. shows like Jerry Springer, but I’d never met anyone who had transitioned. Dressing was a compulsion for me.  It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I even remember reading the word ‘transgender’ and saying, “Oh that’s what I am!” Even then, I wasn’t 100% sure what being transgender meant. It just felt like the label that fit me best.

You’ve said Betty’s transition made you question your own femininity in ways you hadn’t felt was necessary before. How so? What did you do about this?

Helen: I have never felt feminine in any organic way – that is, in any way that was natural to me. There are things about me that you might deem feminine – I’m soft spoken, for instance – but most of my feminine presentation was learned. Again, in the 80s, even makeup was gender neutral. So the way Betty had such enjoyment in feminine expression was troublesome to me as a feminist and as a person. Her ease with it underlined what I thought of as my own failure to be that. So in some ways, her gender stuff exaggerated my own struggles, made me go back to the drawing board, as I’d accepted being gender neutral, or a tomboy, or whatever you want to call it, when we met. And suddenly I felt like a failure at it again. I saw nothing to celebrate about femininity, to be honest, and it’s still something I struggle with.

I’m curious if trans women ever realize how many cis women have to learn gender, if that’s something that could maybe create solidarity instead of animosity. Your thoughts?

Ashley: Prior to transitioning, I don’t think the idea of either gender having to “learn gender” ever occurred to me. I remember feeling as if everyone else inherently knew how to perform their gender, and I was somehow the weirdo who didn’t get the memo on how to act “like a man”, or at the very least enjoy it. After transitioning, and talking to other women (both cis and trans) I’ve heard countless times, that they never felt comfortable doing whatever supposed universal feminine cliché. The reality is that we all have to learn gender or even unlearn gender to varying degrees. I think if people recognized that gender is something everyone might struggle with from time to time, it would go a long way towards how we understand one another whether trans, cis or otherwise.

Did you feel like your identity changed as a result of being with Betty? If so, how?

Helen: I wouldn’t say it changed: what I’d say is that she was the first person I dated where I didn’t feel a need to put on an act, to be more of a “regular” woman. She liked that I felt powerful and sexy – and maybe even feminine – in trousers and a fedora. The troublesome part was that she gendered these clothes – where for me, they were just what I wore. They were my clothes, not men’s clothes. Being involved in trans community forced me to think about some things as gendered that I had ceased gendering. And it made me kind of nuts, to be self examining every move, from whether I kept my wallet in my back pocket or in a bag. But that made me sympathetic to trans experience in a deeply personal way, too – seeing how engrained these things are, how hard it is to break out of habits.

Was there anything in particular that you think of as masculine that you kept doing, despite transition?

Ashley: It’s funny, every time I try to classify something as either masculine or feminine I can usually find an exception that disproves the rule. There are things that certainly ‘felt’ more like masculine activities – playing in a band for instance. Shortly after I transitioned, I tried starting a new band but nothing ended up coming from it. I took a break from songwriting and focused on filmmaking instead, which also traditionally has been seen as a masculine endeavor.  Despite countless female musicians and filmmakers, those are two areas that have traditionally been male-dominated. Transition showed me that an activity isn’t necessarily gendered just because we as a society deem it to be. About two years ago I started a new band, and in many ways it’s been better now, but I think that has more to do with age than with what gender I identify as.

I think a lot of people think once your partner comes out to you as transgender it’s a death sentence for your marriage, but both of us have been with our partners for what I would certainly call a decent amount of time. What do you account for your relationship’s longevity?

Helen: We are equally weird, equally difficult, and equally stubborn. We are both, also, deeply loyal human beings. Did I mention stubborn? And once we were confronting transition, we decided we’d do best if we focused on being each other’s best friends, and not so much each other’s spouses – especially because those roles are gendered, and have so many expectations built on gender. I realized, as anyone’s good friend, I’d be the one who dragged someone to the doctor or therapist and helped with their transition, and if I couldn’t do that for her, then I wasn’t exactly being her best friend. Likewise for her in listening to me and being compassionate about what I was losing in the process – also as a friend and not as a spouse, per se. It was an important distinction for us.

What about you guys? What was the most challenging piece, do you think? (Also, my readers knowabout our relationship, so I’d love to hear more about who you both are, how you identify, etc.)

Ashley: The most difficult thing for us has been me dealing with my own insecurities regarding my transition. Despite the fact that I’ve been fulltime as female for over a decade, had surgery, and am now legally female, I’ll still ask my wife if, she thinks I’m feminine enough. It’s embarrassing for me to admit that, and I try not to be obnoxious about it.  Hopefully she feels I’ve gotten better as the years have gone on. There was also a period where I was really questioning my sexual orientation after transitioning, which I wrote about in Morty Diamond’s anthology “Trans/Love : Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary”.  Feeling attracted to men was a new sensation for me, and I wasn’t sure what it meant for our relationship. The idea of being in a heterosexual relationship would’ve make it clearer what my expected gender rolesin the relationship were, was somewhat appealing but I also didn’t think I could live up to those preconceived expectations.  I also was already in love with Maria and didn’t want to end our relationship. I ultimately chose her and ended up identify as a bi-curious monogamous lesbian.

Do you consider your marriage/relationship (successful/happy/fulfilling)?

Helen: Ha! What a question. Some days. We’ve been together 18 years now, so sometimes I’m not sure if how our marriage has become is about the time together or about the transition or about both. I do know that we continue to be each other’s greatest support and we have a deep, deep understanding of each other. That said, our relationship is not what I expected marriage to be, but I am also pretty sure a lot of people who have been together as long as we have feel that way. That said, why I don’t feel fulfilled had little to do with her transition but had everything to do with her realizing she was somewhere in the ace spectrum. That has become a way bigger issue than her gender ever was, to be honest, because sex is vital for me and it’s not for her.

How long have you two been together? I really think there are certain periods that are difficult for couples, depending on what the deep issues are. If you don’t mind answering, what are yours?

Ashley: We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, but we’ve been together for over 12 years at this point. We have our issues like any married couple. I feel like we’ve been fairly lucky with our relationship.  I can’t recall ever having an extended period of being upset with each other that lasted more than a few days. Having to deal with my transition so early in our relationship probably helped us to be a better couple. It forced us to both consciously try to work on is our communication with each other. We constantly ‘check in’ with each other on how each of us is doing. Sex is somewhat an issue with us. My sex drive definitely went down quite a bit after estrogen, but now our drives are slightly more matched so, in some ways, it’s sort of worked for us.

(Stay tuned. We’ll post the 2nd half on Tuesday.)

Your Wife is Trans? And Other Boring News…

So I kinda love this brief piece on Medium which is kind of a big yawn’s take on someone’s spouse turning out to be a woman, and yet I kinda don’t like it too.

Let me explain: there have always been partners of trans people who are a-okay with their partner’s transitions. It’s not news; there doesn’t have to be tragedy; some people adjust and move on.

For others, not so much.

And sometimes when I read pieces like this one, by any partner, which flourishes the NBD as a kind of fanfare of its own, I wonder: why? Were you forced to write the piece? Do you need to point out that those pitiful wives who do have a hard time making sexual and other adjustments just aren’t as liberated and groovy as you?

Mind you, these are all things I have been accused of. I’m in a glass house here — I’ve heard many times that I am (1) a cheerleader, (2) a gatekeeper, (3) an exploitive asshole, (4) a doormat. (I’ve never worked out how I  can be all of the above, to be honest, if anyone wants to help me work that out.)

So yay! It wasn’t a big deal for you. Trans women in particular should know that it’s not impossible to transition from within a relationship. I will honestly say that my wife and I wouldn’t have made it – not only because I was already gender-y or because I’m awesome (she would say I’m both) but because my partner valued our relationship to such a degree that she was willing to include me in her decision-making around her transition.

That is, it’s not so much about winning the partner lottery for the trans woman; often it’s about the trans person considering the other person and the relationship as much as they consider themselves. And sometimes it doesn’t work out because it doesn’t; relationships don’t, a lot, and that’s okay. A big change like transition is a lot to get through together. No one has failed if it doesn’t work out.

More narratives by more partners, please. And let’s all honor each others’ stories, struggles, and lack of struggles.

RIP Lady Chablis

Heartbreaking news from Monica Roberts: The Lady Chablis, aka The Doll, aka Brenda Dale Knox, had died at the young age of 59. She became famous by playing herself in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, after which she wrote her amazing autobiography Hiding My Candy.

When I first started teaching Trans Lives as a class, there was a huge lack of work by or about trans women of color. Ditto for those who transition out of drag identities. Hers was both: an important book that talked about her upbringing, about the South, about race, about what it meant to become a woman after working as a professional drag queen. Its entire sensibility differed from all the other narratives by white trans women (and men) – it brought a sense of humor, a stunning fighting instinct, and so much dignity in the face of too much difficulty.

This woman has long been a heroine of mine, and I’m sad to see that she’s died younger than she might have. Still, I’m sure she was always surprised that a million things along the way didn’t kill her, either.

Thank you, Lady Chablis, for all the pleasure and beauty and glamour you brought so many. You will be missed.

Surveying Gender

It’s back to school and students everywhere are looking at a form that asks them to choose M or F.

Some have changed it to include Transgender, or Other, and still others add a “don’t care to answer”.

I’m glad to see there’s a few more options than there used to be, but there’s still a few things I generally don’t see addressed:

  1. the additive model. I’d like an O for Other and an F for female and I don’t want to choose between them. Likewise, many trans men might want both an M and a T. If the average trans woman has to choose between F or T, she will choose F. You wind up with no stats on trans populations.
  2. explain. For that matter, why do you want to know my gender? Maybe explain what you’re doing with the information; if it matters to your school or workplace to know how many trans people are in the mix, then say so. Many trans people are reluctant to respond if they don’t know why you’re asking.
  3. pronouns. In addition to a gender choice, maybe add a pronoun choice. That will give you a little more data.
  4. caveat. If you have to, by law, ask for only an M or F, then simply point out that you are having to follow federal/state/city guidelines for data collection. A simple note that says “hey, this isn’t what we’d choose, but we are required to gather this info” goes a long way in making your place more welcoming and inclusive.

There are a lot of ways to make trans/GNC students welcome, but the very first – and sometimes the most distressing way NOT to do so – are the endless checkboxes of gender on forms. Do away with them where you can, finesse them when you can’t, and otherwise design forms that express the spirit and intent of your school as welcoming and inclusive.

New Author Photos

I try to update my pics when there’s a significant change of whatever kind. Kind of necessary this time around.

hbk author photo 2016 shades

hbk author photo 2016

Jen Richards Lays It Out

Jen Richards carefully laid out the argument for why cis men should not play trans women on Twitter recently, in response to the news that Matt Bomer took the role of a trans woman recently in a film called Anything, which is a Mark Ruffalo project.

BOO because I really like Bomer and Ruffalo but honestly, boys, it’s over. Cut it out. No more cis men playing trans women, and FFS, please get your scripts read and reviewed by trans people. Welcome to 2016.

There is so much good in her argument, but I think I loved these two points the most:

I’m not some screechy activist. I mean all this literally. It’s happening all the time. The stakes are life & death. Our women are dying.

and

Having trans people play trans people allows for more informed, subtle, authentic performance. It makes for BETTER ART, which is the point.

I’ll add, as someone who has been interested in trans stories for a hella long time, it’s awesome when new allies get on board, and awesome too when they feel inspired enough to tell trans stories. But I’m very tired of every new dude (it’s mostly dudes) who comes along and does this kind of squee about trans women and we wind up with these exploitative stories of sex workers. So I’ll say it again: if you’re new to trans lives, stories, and identities, please try to remind yourself that there is an entire community – hell, an entire infrastructure – of professional trans people out there who can help you tell these stories well.

Gay Crossdresser

Every once in a while I get an email from someone who is in the middle of reading MHB for the first time, and they either want to tell me their whole story or feel under represented in some ways. Recently, this was the case with Corey, who wanted people to know that (1) gay crossdressers exist, and (2) a little bit more about their experience.

In Corey’s own words:

Being a homosexual man, who believes he is really a woman, it should therefore follow that I am a heterosexual female. Even when I would go to gay bars in my late teens (errr…I mean after I was 21!) I wasn’t attracted to anyone, really. I never got “picked up” or “cruised.” (Yuck.)

I am very lucky I found my husband when I was 21. No, he wasn’t nor isn’t anyone’s ideal of masculinity, yet he also isn’t flamboyant. (Think Niles Crane, and you get the idea.) He and I have been together for just over 25 years. He’s amazing. He works hard. He’s the funniest person I’ve met. He’s good-looking. He’s all the things a husband should ideally be. I’m a lucky man.

But therein lies my problem. He and I have not had sexual contact with each other in 11 years. It’s like both of our libidos died at the same time. But all that time, I was still crossdressing whenever I could. He knew about this. I told him before he moved in with me that I liked women’s lingerie. Exactly as you describe, at first he thought it was fun and a bit taboo.

As the years went by, I could see his acceptance turn to mild tolerance. Then, came the stony silences. At this time, I had rotated out my boxers and briefs for panties, until the drawer looked like a display at Victoria’s Secret. He knew I wore panties underneath my male clothing. He hated that. He was always worried that someone would see. Eventually, I purged my drawer and returned to boxer briefs.

But a weird thing happened about 16 months ago. My libido came to life! With that change, my desire for women’s clothing and lingerie skyrocketed. I acquired all new panties, pantyhose (like your husband, I do not wear stockings). Now I am wearing bras, and camisoles, too. I used to consider myself an “underdresser.” Now, I want to be more open. I’ll purposely wear a plain white women’s Old Navy oxford with a dark blue satin camisole underneath. I’ll walk around downtown Chicago and unbutton my blouse down to my waist, revealing the blue satin underneath. I get mani/pedis with soft pink polish. I cut and dyed my hair in a more androgynous look.

Then it hit me. I’m transgender. All my life, I’ve been the wrong sex. Finally, everything made sense. It explains what I’ve been feeling. Crossdressing was never simply a sexual thrill. It has always just felt right, as the cliché goes. I’ve been doing it since I was 5, and that’s only as far back as I can remember.

Yet, the huge problem remains. I love my husband with all my heart. But I know that he’s simply not attracted to me sexually. It sounds harsh, but it actually goes the other way, too. I’m not attracted to him. Why is this? The best answer I can come up with is that I’m attracted to straight men. My husband is gay. He’s attracted to homosexual men. I’m a heterosexual girl.

Does any of this make sense? Where can I go, other than my therapist, to get answers? I believe there’s a solution, and that involves an open relationship. On one hand, that might solve everything. On the other hand, it scares me to death.

Yes, most crossdressers are hetero males. But just like the general population, there’s a percentage of those males who are gay. And of those, there’s a fraction that I believe I fit in with; gay men who are really women who want a man who isn’t gay. My husband doesn’t want to have sex with a man who believes he is a woman, and dresses the part. He wants to be with a man.

So…what is the answer? I haven’t figured it out. I do know that surgery and ‘coming out’ AGAIN is not what I want to do. I want to keep my parts the way they are.

And I know this is an unusual case. But maybe…maybe it’ll help CDs or spouses realize, “Hey. It could be worse.”

That’s intended as a joke. With the help of people like Helen Boyd, I know I can make it through this.

Biblically Gendered

“The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture. The four-Hebrew-letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for “He/She.” Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”

– from “Is God Transgender?” by Mark Sameth in The New York Times, 8/12/16 (bold is mine)

#BlocktheBeast: Nico Hines Should Be Fired

Straight and married journalist Nico Hines decided to use Grindr to attract same sex attracted Olympiads and publish the results.

But same sex contact is illegal in 74 countries and punishable by death in 16 — and that doesn’t even include the non-governmental violence and threats to safety these athletes could face.

So I’m joining the chorus of voices calling on The Daily Beast’s editors to remove the article (not append it and add a note, as they have already done) and to fire the journalist.

This is careless, irresponsible, unethical (generally, but also specifically as journalism), potentially deadly, and honestly, US-centric in a way that makes me ill.

Five Years: August 8th

August 8th, 8am, relieved dad had survived emergency surgery on his aorta. The hospital staff sent mom home after we’d been up while she waited. We did the rosary together, which I had to look up on the internet because I’d forgotten. It made us both feel better. We both, at long last, went to bed after that overnight vigil.

August 8th, 10am, woke up and got the news that he’d died.

Every August 8th since, I’ve called her. Until this one.

 

The one thing I’m sure of is that mourning is fucked. It’s as if you’re okay all the time except you really aren’t there. It’s easier to be unhappy with how things are; it’s easier to be tired.

The hardest thing for me is feeling like nothing really means much at all. How could it? You spend your life bringing home good grades, good news, bad news, news – everything is about collecting apples in your skirt to show your parents that you are okay, that you love them, that you’re managing. So who now is there to show?

When my grandma died so many years ago, my mom and I bonded over that. When my father died we did again. But now, you know? There isn’t that person anymore, the one who is like me in their loss. My mom and I had that in common, and she knew how deep my pain gets. The last week I spent with her, she told me to go back to Wisconsin, to be with my students. She excused me from that pain of watching her dwindle, of watching her disappear. She talked mostly to my father, to other people who weren’t there; the line between her dreams and waking life softened, broke, until there was no line at all. There was so little blood moving her body the muscles of her mouth and eyes didn’t work; she would listen attentively but couldn’t get her eyes to stay open. All systems were failing.

For hours at a time I held her hand. I learned what temperature washcloths needed to be so she wasn’t shocked by the hot or the cold of them. She didn’t really remember any stories; instead, I told them to her and she nodded along. She lived a lot of trauma but a lot of joy, too. Her father used to beat her, her mother, her sister, until he died when she was 18. She helped her mother raise her two younger siblings, and at 20, she met a man whose own father had died when he was 18, who was also the eldest of three. That must have been one hell of a first date, or third, or whenever it was that they figured out that they had all that in common.

He asked her to marry him seven times before she said yes, and he wasn’t that kind of egomaniac. He was barely confident, and it’s always been a mystery to me that he managed to persist so stubbornly. He just knew she was his wife, I think, in a way that superseded any failing on his part or on hers.

I am relieved she doesn’t have to miss him anymore.

I am not relieved I will miss them both for the whole of the rest of my life.

Five years ago today the colors of the world changed for me. Nearly three months ago their brightness faded like old construction paper on a grammar school wall. Mourning is looking around at all the things and seeing absolutely nothing that’s there but only what they used to mean, how they used to feel before, how little they signify now. It is waiting to bestow things with meaning again and knowing it isn’t time yet if ever. There is this: what is beautiful is beautiful in ways it never was before, and what’s ugly doesn’t matter half so much as it once did. I’ve stopped caring if anyone likes me or calls me because most of the time people spend their time complaining about things that don’t matter at all.

My love to all of you who have lost all of the parents you ever had no matter who they were or how they were or what they were to you.

Support Trans Writers

My friend Tom Leger over at Topside Press is doing a cool thing: he helped create a one-week workshop for emerging trans women writers with two well-known authors – Sarah Schulman and Casey Plett – and because it’s sliding scale they’re raising funds to offset the difference for those who can’t afford it.

This is an awesome way to support trans writers.

Donate if you can. (The budget info is here, if you need to know that sort of thing before donating.)

Read more about it here.

Finally, here’s an essay by Zoey Wolfe about why writing is important to her.

 

More Music: #mile4 #MileofMusic

It’s that time of year in Appleton, when hundreds of musicians flood the town for the Mile of Music festival and there is music happening everywhere from 10am until 2am and beyond, along with an assortment of galleries showing art, public murals, and even our very own shoe shine boy.

It’s an amazing time to be here, although I do like to warn people visiting that Appleton is not like this year-round.

Still, it’s about as close to perfect as three days can get. Here’s a little from USA Today about it. Honestly, I can’t recommend it more.

Hill & the DNC

I wrote this after watching Clinton’s speech at the DNC this past week (but was traveling & didn’t get a chance to post it until now):

This woman had negotiated gender in ways that astonish and amaze me: to find enough strength to be taken seriously as a (male) candidate but to do so with enough gentleness to be ‘acceptably’ feminine at the same time.

She’s drawing both on the concensus quality of women & the (masculine) bombast of patriotism.

Honestly, it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to gender presentation, but this woman is now a master.

Go Hill. Change the game. Fuck the patriarchy.

And Then There Was Eve

As it turns out, my lovely wife auditioned for a role in a movie called And Then There Was Eve… and got it. So after a decade away from acting, she is back to doing the thing she does best.

Here’s the announcement from the movie folks on FB:

We are thrilled to announce that Rachel Crowl will play the title role in the psychological drama And Then There Was Eve. Rachel is a seasoned stage actress and multi-talented musician who brings her dynamic talent to the complicated role.

It’s very exciting, a little nerve wracking, and the kind of curve ball we hit best.

Third Party Candidates

I’m going to preface this by saying: I was a Nader supporter. I know, boo hiss. But I also absolutely only voted for him for President because I lived in New York, where my vote would not cost the Dem the presidency.

I believe in third parties. I voted for Bernie in WI because I wanted the DNC to get the message that they need a more progressive agenda. I have been tired of corporate politics for a long time now, and it’s only gotten worse since Citizens United.

But PLEASE people, we have a two party system in this country, and that is that. Third parties push and pull how our two major parties work – honestly, the Tea Party has been more successful at making a wreck of the two party system than any other – but we have to elect Clinton. We just do. Electing Trump will not cause a fucking revolution. What it will cause is what Dan Savage points out here:

Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters — pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.

I’m going to add this: there are a lot of reasons to want to vote Third Party. It’s cool, for starters. I’ve always had a boner for that kind of fuck you to the establishment. But there’s nothing radical about it. The ideas, the conversations, the motivation and energy they bring are awesome. The actual electoral results? Not so much. I saw Ross Perot do it, I’ve seen Nader do it, and if Jill Stein does it we are all going to be very, very sorry.

There, I’ve said it, inspired by Dan Savage (start at 21:40 if you want to listen), who is as frustrated as I am right now, sounds like. But Trump & his boys are a fucking disaster for everyone, and WE NEED TO STOP HIM.

Trump’s Anti-Semitism: Guest Author Mark A. Michaels

Today’s guest post was written by my friend Mark A. Michaels in response to a recent Trump statement that tapped into the long and disgusting heartbeat of anti-Semitism that is still alive and well in the US. I thought it was direct, sincere, and thorough.

A Fourth of July Plea from My Jewish Heart

Regular readers of my feed will know that I’ve tried to avoid political discussions for quite some time. They tend to generate a lot of heat but little that’s productive. Over the last few weeks, however, I’ve found it impossible to remain silent. I’m writing this very personal essay in hopes that it will change a mind or two.

Trump’s latest display of bigotry (anti-semitism this time) and his lame attempts to deny it have left me distraught, devastated, and enraged. They’re no worse than some of his other atrocities, but they have forced me to examine some issues that I’ve tended to ignore or minimize, even as I’ve always known that a certain soft hum of anti-semitism pervades American society. It’s usually more subtle than other forms of bigotry, but it’s present nonetheless. It’s present in the people who assume that all Jews are rich or adept at managing money; it’s present in those who desperately hope they have some Jewish ancestry, for whatever reason; it’s present in some (but not all) criticisms of Israel; it’s present in much conservative Christian support for Israel; it’s present in complaints about the so-called “war on Christmas”; it’s often present in populist attacks on perceived centers of Jewish power – Hollywood, Wall Street, and the banking industry. And it’s present in Trump’s latest atrocity, with its obvious implication that “corrupt” Hillary Clinton is a tool of moneyed Jewish interests.

A commenter on a friend’s Facebook page had this interesting observation: “Antisemitism is unique among racial/ethnic hatreds in that it supposes not an inferiority of the subjects of its hate; but rather a surplus of what we would today call ‘privilege’.” There’s a lot of truth in this observation, though I think it’s an oversimplification. Most American Jews face far fewer obstacles than members of other minorities, and most of us are less vulnerable to the resurgence of white supremacy fomented by Trump than are members of other more visibly different groups. Nevertheless, we remain marginalized and vulnerable. The FBI’s most recent hate crime statistics are chilling: Jews comprise just 1.4% of the American population but were the target of 57% of the religious hate crimes, and when “you include other groupings by ethnicity, race, or sexuality, Jewish people are still at the top. They are more than three times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than any other group.”

I grew up in a secular, assimilated (Ethical Culture) home, ensconced in the strange bubble that surrounded upper and upper middle class Jews of my generation. I don’t know the numbers, but my private high school probably had a higher percentage of African-American and Latino students than white Christian ones. Some of my Jewish classmates were religious, but most were not or were nominally so. Many, myself included, were descendants of German Jews who arrived in the U.S. during the 19th century; a much smaller number were the children of Holocaust survivors. Notwithstanding the proximity of the Holocaust, anti-semitism seemed like an abstraction before I went to college. I can look back at two instances when I was beaten up by older Catholic school kids – one while petitioning against the Vietnam War and the other while campaigning for McGovern – that may have had an anti-semitic component.

It was only in college and after that I became aware of just how pervasive casual and not so casual anti-semitism can be. A few incidents spring to mind – the way some people in my dorm at the University of Michigan talked about the town of Southfield; the lead singer in a band I was thinking of managing referring to someone as a “Jew bastard” (I walked away); the time I stayed at a motel in the Florida Keys and the owners took a liking to me and took me fishing, only to reveal their Klan sympathies and anti-semitism while we were out on the boat (I kept my mouth shut, one of the advantages of not being visibly different); subtle displays of attitude from a couple of professors when I was in grad school at Yale (I think I could distinguish between bias and run-of-the-mill professorial arrogance).

But to return to my formative years, in my deracinated home environment, there was some unease with being Jewish. I remember talking about Israel with my mother when I was a young teenager and being troubled by the fact that it was a country set up for one group of people. This seemed to be at odds with the secular, universalist values I’d imbibed at home and at school. I can’t remember her exact words, but the essence of her response was indelible and seems especially important given the rise of Trumpism –

You’ll always be a Jew if another Hitler comes along.

There’s some backstory I didn’t learn about until adulthood but that is very much on my mind this week.

My maternal grandfather was born in New York in the early 1890s. He came from a family of cabinetmakers, and he never finished high school. He started his own furniture business in the 1930s, the Depression notwithstanding. By 1937, he was prosperous enough to get several relatives out of Germany. My mother recently told me he also paid their rent and provided them with basic necessities so they could get started in the U.S. My grandfather’s ancestral town was a fairly important center of Jewish life in western Germany. Of the the Jews who remained there in the early 1930s, 21 escaped, but at least 44, some of whom were undoubtedly my kin, were killed in Buchenwald and Theresienstadt.

When I say that Trump’s bigotry offends and frightens me, it’s not because I’m hypersensitive; it’s not because I’m demanding political correctness or because I’m hypervigilant about anti-semitism. If anything, I’ve been insufficiently conscious of it. And when I say that abstaining or voting for anyone other than Hillary is being complicit, I hope you’ll think long and hard because “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stonewall National Monument