US Trans Survey Now Out

Today, the most recent US survey of trans people is out.
Tune in at 1PM EST for a live launch event. Register to watch it.

Here are some of intitial findings, about bathrooms:

  • 59% have avoided bathrooms in the last year because they feared confrontations in public restrooms at work, at school, or in other places.
  • 12% report that they have been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the last year.
  • 31% have avoided drinking or eating so that they did not need to use the restroom in the last year.
  • 24% report that someone told them they were using the wrong restroom or questioned their presence in the restroom in the last year.
  • 9% report being denied access to the appropriate restroom in the last year.

  • 8% report having a kidney or urinary tract infection, or another kidney-related medical issue, from avoiding restrooms in the last year.

A recording of the event will be made available after the launch for those who are unable to watch live.

love notes for america

A colleague from Boston published a horrible letter sent to a mosque there – I’m not going to reprint it, but it was filthy and evil – and my immediate thought was to send them a letter of love, of welcome, of inclusion.

And I mentioned that. And another colleague ran with the idea and created this amazing website that provides you with the places that have received this hateful letter and others like it. She’ll send a postcard for you if you’re out of stamps, even.

So in these days where the constant question is: what more can I do? Here’s another answer. I’ve already sent out a bunch.

#AlwaysNYC

Thankful

This year it is a little harder to be thankful because of the worry in my heart and in my head. I’ve had nightmares for weeks now, and I see how utterly deflated and shattered so many people I love look. The joking on Facebook and in person all feels a little hollow, a little forced, but I’m glad for it all the time. So let me do this little thing, take the moment to see what is, what isn’t yet, what may never be.

I am thankful tonight to have been invited to a thanksgiving dinner by queer friends with their families. I am thankful to have a too-full belly, a warm house, a life companion, and four bundles of fur who share my home. I am thankful I will see more people I care about on Saturday.

I am thankful for the right to dissent.

I am thankful for the social justice activists in my life, especially the elders who haven’t lost hope and who know how to buckle down and get things done. I’m thankful for those younger than me, their energy and fire and keen sense of justice.

I am thankful for those who went to Standing Rock to support the Protectors, and I am very, very thankful for the Protectors.

I am thankful to have time to sit down and think about what I’m thankful for, that I am not so overworked that all I can do with my time off is sleep and eat.

I am thankful to have people in my life who look to me to help them through, and I am thankful for those who get me through in turn.

I am thankful for the love and support people have shown my wife as she embraces a new adventure.

I am thankful to have the memory of the decent people who raised me, my mother and father and grandmother, all of whom I miss every family holiday, but in whose memory I try to make the world a little less mean and a little less scary. I am thankful that both my parents exited this world while Obama was president, and that they were the kind of people who were overjoyed that we had managed such a remarkable thing.

I am thankful for anyone and everyone who has made room for me at their table in this place where I have no family but my wife. I am thankful for everyone who is gracious in being alone or lonely this holiday, and my heart goes out to you. I am thankful to the older man who walked by my house today, who I wished a happy thankgiving to, and who looked at the heart in my window and smiled and winked back at me.

I am thankful for all of you who have had to gather your resources and senses in the past few weeks, who have tried to understand what happened, who have called on me and others like us not to give in to despair. I am thankful for every hug offered or requested.

There are so many things to be thankful for. May we all remember in these coming months that we have enough for everyone to have a little peace and a little joy.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Poetry: Revenge by e.c.c.

(I am not the poet. The poet is someone called e.c.c. Just found this one re-posted on a friend’s FB, & e.c.c.’s tumblr said you could share as long as they’re credited. So they are.)

Revenge

Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way? But now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies.
With fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars,
my legion of hapa babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing,
and that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common ground with us in the way
you bootstrap across us both,

oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.
But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.

-e.c.c.

Guest Author: Gwen Smith, TDOR’s Founder

From Gwen Smith, who founded Transgender Day of Remembrance back in 1999:

I Remember.

The 20th of November is a day set aside to honor those who we have lost due to anti-trans violence and hatred.

This year, we honor roughly 300 people from around the world. There’s likely many others we do not know, erased by their killers, and further erased by police, media, families, and others.

Anti-trans violence affects us all, trans or not. We need everyone to stand against it. Our right to exist is on the line. Anti-trans violence is also anti-black. It is also anti-sex worker. It is also anti-woman. Be intersectional.

In the U.S., we face a rollback on our rights, and face future laws against us, in the name of “safety.” We need to stand up & fight for *our* safety, our right to exist, our protections. We need to not let those we’ve lost die in vain.

In the United States, there have been as many as 27 known anti-trans murders since the last Transgender Day or remembrance.

• Monica Loera of Austin, Texas. Murdered 22 January, 2016.
• Jasmine Sierra of Bakersfield, California. Murdered 22 January, 2016.
• Kayden Clarke of Mesa, Arizona. Murdered 4 February, 2016.
• Veronica Banks Cano of San Antonio, Texas. Murdered 19 February, 2016.
• Maya Young of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Murdered 21 February, 2016.
• Demarkis Stansberry of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Murdered 27 February, 2016.
• Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson of Burlington, Iowa. Murdered 2 March, 2016.
• Quartney Davia Dawsonn-Yochum of Los Angeles, California. Murdered 23 March, 2016.
• Shante Isaac of Houston, Texas. Murdered on 10 April, 2016.
• Keyonna Blakeney of Rockville, Maryland. Murdered on 16 April, 2016.
• Tyreece Walker of Wichita, Kansa. Murdered on 1 May, 2016.
• Mercedes Successful of Haines City, Florida. Murdered on 15 May, 2016.
• Amos Beede of Burlington, Vermont. Murdered on 25 May, 2016.
• Goddess Diamond of New Orleans, Louisiana. Murdered on 5 June, 2016.
• Deeniquia Dodds of Washington D.C. Murdered on 13 July, 2016.
• Dee Whigam of Shubuta, Mississippi. Murdered on 23 July, 2016.
• Skye Mockabee of Cleveland, Ohio. Murdered on 30 July, 2016.
• Erykah Tijerina of El Paso, Texas. Murdered on 8 August, 2016.
• Rae’Lynn Thomas of Columbus, Ohio. Murdered on 10 August, 2016.
• Lexxi T. Sironen of Waterville, Minnesota. Murdered on 6 September, 2016.
• T.T. of Chicago, Illinois. Murdered on 11 September, 2016.
• Crystal Edmonds of Baltimore, Maryland. Murdered on 16 September, 2016.
• Jazz Alford of North Carolina. Murdered in Birmingham, Alabama on 23 September, 2016.
• Brandi Bledsoe of Cleveland, Ohio. Murdered on 12 October, 2016.
• Sierra Bush/Simon Bush/Sierra Simon of Idaho City, Idaho. Murdered on 22 October, 2016.
• Noony Norwood of Richmond, Virginia. Murdered on 5 November, 2016.

Today, honor those we have lost. Tomorrow and every day, fight for them and all others. Remember Our Dead. #trans #tdor #tdor2016

Trans Day of Remembrance 2016

This is an extraordinary year for trans Americans in particular: we are at a moment in time where too many hard-won battles may be reversed in the coming years by our newly-elected federal government. While we can’t say we’ve had it good, we have had better federal protections than we’d ever had before. So many are worried that so much of that will be taken away, whether it’s because the ACA will be gutted or ID laws will become more complicated or because transness itself will be re pathologized.

And I’m worried about the future. I worry that by this time next year, we will need a Trans Day of Resistance, instead.

But I did want to say this: many of you are feeling worried and scared and vulnerable in a way that you have not felt before. And for that reason I have to say: if you can’t do it this year, DON’T. Take care of yourself. Live another day. Remember another day. The violence that is part and parcel of TDOR is hard every year, but this year – with too much evidence of the kind of hate we always know is out there – it may be too much for you to manage.

Do find each other. Do reach out. Do tell the people in your lives if and when you are feeling vulnerable. As we all wake up from the shock this election caused the country and caused many of us as individuals, remember that there are millions of us out here who are also shocked, saddened, and scared for what the future may bring.

Know this: you are loved and valuable and amazing in so many, many ways.

Help Fund My Wife’s Next Step

The person you all originally met as Betty landed an acting gig in a movie called And Then There Was Eve this past summer. I wrote a little a while back about how she’d given up acting for a long time because she had to transition, and well — this movie and the current climate for trans roles has her wanting more.

I can’t begin to explain how talented she is as an actor. It’s really what she’s best at.

So she’s going to Hollywood to see what she can see, and she needs a little help paying the bills. If you can, donate.

I’m staying put in Appleton – too much work to be done here – and it will continue to be our home until at least 2020. But I am so proud of her, & as she likes to joke, we are “advanced married” so we can handle this just as we’ve handled so many things thrown our way.

We are very, very grateful for all of your support over the years, and appreciate how much gratitude comes our way for what we’ve done.

This Year’s Fun Home Lecture

There’s a little message to all of the LGBTQ+ people at the beginning of this one, around 2:47-5:30 or so.

Fuck the Fear.

Fuck the fear. I’m not having it.

It is obvious tonight that America is not ready for the future, for progress, for inclusion. America just pushed back, and hard.

I was born of the white working class and raised by my anti racist, Catholic parents who were born in the middle of the great democratic experiment known as New York City.

And I am worried about the fears of white working class people – Christians and heterosexuals, for the most part – who are scared about the changes, who are scared of people like me and my wife, who are scared of Obama and smart black people, who are scared of faggots and immigrants and Muslims.

It’s because they don’t know us. It’s because they don’t know there is a way to live, to create community and art and love and ethics and beauty despite difference. They don’t know the awesome world we live in, and instead, they live in fear of who they think we are instead of who we actually are.

I have been white and heterosexual and Christian and I was raised, like most of us are, to denigrate queer folks and non-Christians and non whites. So many of us were. What changed me? What changed any of us? It was having the opportunity to be put in situations where I realized fear was something that limited me, that made me mean in ways I didn’t want to be. It gave me faith in things that had nothing to do with my worth – my skin color, my sexuality, my dominance as a Christian American – and so I could make space to welcome more kinds of people, more kinds of living, more kinds of beauty and community.

I also know that marginalized people are who create the world, over and over again. I teach the idea that those of us who do not have dominant viewpoints know not only what we know but also what the dominant folks know: women know how men think because we have to, because it keeps us safe. Black people know how racist white people are because it can keep them alive. And what we know, all of us who live on some liminal edge in this culture, is that we are up against it all the time.

Nothing has changed. Patriarchy, white supremacy, American exceptionalism, homophobia, capitalism and its woes – all of those things were with us yesterday and are still with us today.

We will find ways to persist, to create, to love, to keep each other safe. We will find new ways to combat suffering, to bring beauty and peace to the world.

Because the world, after all, is ours: the underdogs, the marginalized, the hated, the feared.

We know who we are. We know what it means to love deeply, to need beauty, to feel compassionately.

Those are the things that defeat fear. Those are the things that create community, that push progresss, that allow us to live with meaning, to practice love and patience and empathy.

We are it, folks. And we will prevail. Fuck fear. Love deeply, make art, create community, and ORGANIZE. We are better than their fear of us.

And the rest of you? Who voted out of fear, out of racism and misogyny and who are terrified of change, who are so awash in your own arrogance that you can’t even see our humanity? Get over yourselves; the future is coming and your goddamn vote isn’t going to stave it off much longer.

The future is ours. Try to get used to it.

I’m With Her #imwithher

Teaser Clip: And Then There Was Eve

The first teaser from Rachel’s movie And Then There Was Eve:

What’s Left To Do This Election

They just killed a young man in Wisconsin. In Menominee. He was attending college at a UW. He was Saudi. He died of his injuries.

I don’t need to be told it was a hate crime.

A father of three killed two Des Moines police officers while they sat in their cars. He was upset at the way he was treated at a game when someone stole his confederate flag.

I don’t need to be told he was white or mentally ill and had easy access to guns.

I am scared for these United States, scared for my students of color, for the visibly queer, for Jewish friends, and for women.

I am scared for what will happen no matter who wins the Presidency or how they do.

I am immobilized by the fear that there is so little I can do besides offer some sanctuary, some reassurance, that most Americans are better than this. I am immobilized by how mean the world is getting.

But lately, I’m not so sure myself that these things are true.

I am sad to see anyone talking about the “lesser or two evils” or shaming any progessives for voting for Clinton. Sometimes it is heroic to tow the line, to maintain the status quo. Sometimes it is all we have. Presidents are rarely actual Dems, rarely progressive, almost never Left, and yet there are people out there playing radical politics, more radical than thou shit, who will tell you that a vote for Clinton is a vote against the Pipleline Protestors. Newsflash: Of course it is. The President is still an American, and they are all capitalists, and now, neoliberals. This is not news, Bernie supporters. This is not news, young progressives. My entire life I’ve voted for Not the Other Guy. You’re a little spoiled; you grew up under the only president I’ve been happy to vote for, in good conscience. But Obama is the exception, not the rule.

What is news is that we are right now staring down a fascist America that does not resemble any vision of the world we want. They are burning black churches and the Klan has endorsed Trump. They don’t even need their hoods now; they’ve come out of hiding and they’ve Made America Hate Again.

& Sadly, this bullshit about emails means that Trump now has a path to victory. I’ve never read any news that made me more sick than that.

So if you want to do the radical thing: watch people’s kids if they need the time to vote. Ask all your friends directly, and without flinching, when and where they are voting. Bring a few friends with you to vote. Help them register. Bring snacks and water for people waiting on long lines, or camp chairs or coffee.

GET OUT THE VOTE. It’s the most radical thing you can do this year.

The Thing About Being Trans – Scott Turner Schofield

“The thing about being trans is, since the beginning, I haven’t known who I am, which makes it hard to be alive sometimes. To make decisions, to feel totally solid – at a core level. The Voice Of Gender echoes forever in me: “You are not what you know you are.” I do pretty well, but I doubt I’ll ever say “nuh-uh” loud enough.

Who I really am may forever be a mystery to me, but mystery is art, mystery is something I’ll never get tired of appreciating. Living in mystery is not being lost.

I don’t have to know the inventory of who I am so long as I am always someone who loves. If I love me, and I love you, and I choose love always, that’s all any of us need to know about who I am. That’s all I need to know about how to live.

The thing about being trans is, you get to have epiphanies like that.”

– Scott Turner Schofield

My Wife Tells That Story…

There’s a cool Moth-like event here in Appleton called StoryCatchers, and my wife volunteered to tell a story at its second happening because the theme was “the first time”. Some of you will recognize the story – of her going out as a woman in a denim skirt for the first time.

This is her version, in which she calls me a superhero, and is otherwise touching and hilarious and 180% her.

It’s also shown up in a new online magazine here called River + Bay.

just saying.

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(via Diana Nieves-Oake)

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.