Author:

helenboydhelen boyd is the author of My Husband Betty (Thunder's Mouth, 2004) and She's Not the Man I Married (Seal Press, 2007).

NYT Gets Tipton Wrong

Posted by – January 25, 2015

The NYT reviwed Nellie McKay’s show about Billy Tipton. The title of the review is “Exploring a Jazzman and Gender Identity” which is all well & good, but the subtitle, “Nellie McKay Plays the Drag King Billy Tipton at 54 Below,” is what made me roll my eyes.

I mean, really? Tipton lived his entire life as a man, so much so that all three of his wives had no idea he was assigned female at birth. He died at home to avoid going to the hospital so that his secret might not be uncovered.

That is NOT the behavior or life experience or someone who was doing drag.

That doesn’t mean that passing women – that is, masculine women who lived in the world as men – were all trans. I’m sure plenty weren’t – that despite being taken for male by others and appreciating some of the advantages of passing as a straight man and not as a lesbian provided – that they were comfortable being women. Their wives and lovers often knew even if no one else did.

But Tipton? Nothing I’ve ever read about him convinces me he knew himself to be a woman – even as a woman who passed as a man.

I don’t know what the show is like but I know the image of McKay in an oversized suit struck me as comic and playful – clownish, you might say – in a way that upset me. The name of the show is “A Girl Named Bill.” And that makes me sad and tired and angry.

I don’t really know what her take is as I haven’t seen it, but the historical record – including Middlebrook’s bio – keep regendering Tipton using female pronouns. It doesn’t seem right.

Tipton lived his whole life as male and used male pronouns for himself when he was alive. Without getting into a taxonomical bullshit argument about the differences between passing women and drag kinds and trans men, can we all, maybe, just maybe, respect the pronouns he did use and the life he lived and not re-gender him based on what gender he was assigned at birth, to stop making his life some kind of curiosity, some stupid gender experiment or performance?

His gender probably allowed him a career in jazz that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. And that’s all. His life wasn’t lived so someone could come along and make some kind of feminist point with it. It just was. And if we come to know that jazz was too sexist for a woman to make it in as a result, we can thank him for that without disrespecting his life choices.

 

UCBoulder Call for Workshops

Posted by – January 12, 2015

The good folks at University of Colorado @ Boulder are gearing up for their next TRANSforming Gender conference – to be held in March 2015 – and are accepting workshop proposals until the end of this month.

 

SOFFA Jill Soloway

Posted by – January 11, 2015

Jill Soloway just gave an acceptance speech that was awesome in recognizing Leelah Alcorn, all the trans people who die too young, her parent/moppa, and the larger trans community.

Kick ASS.

Go cis allies!

8:40PM, Edited to add- Jeffrey Tambour thanks the trans community for courage, inspiration, patience, and for letting the cast and crew of Transparent be part of the change while thanking, by name, Jenny Boylan, Rhys Ernst, and Zachary Drucker.

 

Afterword: Partners

Posted by – January 10, 2015

So, partners, I’m finishing up an Afterword for a book of writings by us, and what I want to know is this:

  • What is it essential that I mention?
  • What are the things that no one ever says about us?
  • What don’t we get credit for?
  • What do we need from the larger trans community?

Be quick about your answers; I’m nearly done already.

Emma Holten’s Consent

Posted by – January 6, 2015

Here’s a smart piece about consent and revenge porn, in which a woman who was a victim of it decided to get new photos taken & publish them herself in order to establish her own agency & autonomy.

She doesn’t advise it for everyone, but she does say some smart things about the nature of sexualization and objectification. Such as:

Then, suddenly, I noticed that this dynamic – sexualisation against her will – was everywhere. Take ‘creepshots’, a global phenomenon which entails photographing women without their knowledge or consent, in order to share them in a sexual context online. On similar sites, people link to Facebook pages asking if anyone can hack or find more pictures of the girl. Here, again, women are used as objects whose lack of consent, of participation, provides the reason and allure of their sexualisation.

This dynamic is a commonplace online and is a concrete manifestation of a larger discourse around the female body, the notion that it is erotic to sexualise someone who is unaware. We all know the tropes: the sexy teacher/student/nurse/waiter/bartender/doctor. All jobs, if staffed by women, can be sexualised. What is sexy is not the job, not even the woman, but the fact that while the woman is just doing her job you are secretly sexualising her. She has become public property by simply being?

Do go read the whole thing. She is straightforward, pro sex, and thoughtful. It won’t solve the problem, but it feels empowered — dignity in the face of a shitty, sexist world.

Great New Resource for Grief

Posted by – January 2, 2015

There’s a new PDF up at FORGE’s site for self care in the aftermath of a tragedy. It’s got some great stuff, including the immediate list of self care (am I eating? sleeping? have i relaxed?) as well as ways to contend with grief in positive, life affirming ways – by calling someone, or taking someone out for coffee, or just holding someone’s hand. There are also tips on longer-range things to do, such as kinds of activism you might engage in.

We are an awesome community. Take care of each other out there.

#LeelahsLaw Against Reparative Therapy

Posted by – January 2, 2015

Go, sign it.

California was the first state to make it illegal. Let’s get the rest to do as well.

#RealLiveTransAdult

Posted by – December 31, 2014

My wife is a #RealLiveTransAdult who is 45, works at at university, and would love to take your photo.

#RealLiveTransAdult, which was started by none other than the amazing Red Durkin, is making the rounds on FB and on Twitter and I’m borrowing it because there are so many people out there who would have helped Leelah and who still want to help others like her.

It’s a great response to what is heartbreaking news: this young girl who knew she was trans and whose parents dismissed her and cut her off from all possible support by pulling her out of school, taking away her phone and any/all access to the internet.

Leelah, we love you.

Sadly, her parents have now been doxxed and no doubt are already receiving hate mail. I can’t say they don’t deserve it – they do – but they were, we have to remember, acting in what they thought were the best interests of their child. They were terribly, tragically, wrong, but they were acting, too, no doubt, on the advice of Christian therapists and other people who Still Don’t Get It, people who think that if you are stern enough, or determined enough, you can force your child to be some other way, to be not trans.

This beautiful young person is dead and her parents, who are, no doubt, grieving the loss of this beautiful child, are getting hate spewed at them by people who know better.

The only way through this and the only way to get through to people is love.

If you are alone and suicidal, you can call The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 or the newly-minted Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.

Merry Happy

Posted by – December 25, 2014

bumble xmas

NYC

Posted by – December 13, 2014

I’m on my way to spend most of the holiday season there because I can. My mom is 84 and not in awesome good health (that said, she hasn’t been for nearly a decade now) so it’s nice to be home and feel like I’m home and go visit her when I can.

Otherwise, just friends and bagels and decent slices and a lot a lot of walking.

I’ll still, of course, be making calls for The December Project and otherwise trying to get some work done, but I may not blog much.

#blacklivesmatter

Posted by – December 9, 2014

Oh, #alllivesmatter people, please, just listen for a minute.

For those of us in communities that are targeted for violence – from both people who hate us and often the police who are supposed to serve and protect us – we’re aware that our lives are supposed to matter. We know our own lives matter.

But for LGBTQ people, that is not often the case.

For trans people, it is rarely the case.

For Hispanic people, it is rarely the case.

For black people, it is almost never the case.

The reason #alllivesmatter is an insulting response to a racial problem is because it whitewashes the problem. Being more humane doesn’t work; racial prejudices and homophobia go so deep historically, personally, unconsciously, that unless we pay special attention to the kinds of hatred that fuels the killings of trans women and black men, trans women of color in particular, young black men in particular, our systems don’t get any better.

Look, the hippies tried loving everyone and that was a long time ago, and if the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner teach us anything, it’s that people refusing to call our national race problem a race problem is part of it.

Please. Of course #alllivesmatter. But as Orwell once wrote, the problem is that some lives matter a hell of a lot more than others, which is why we need to highlight that #blacklivesmatter and #translivesmatter and #queerlivesmatter.

Step away from your white privilege. We are part of a system that kills black men and imprisons them and throws them away. “Universalizing” is exactly what disappears black lives in the first place.

Arthur Leipzig, Photographer

Posted by – December 6, 2014

NYC has lost one of its greats – Arthur Leipzig, photographer. So many of the classic shots of NYC are his – kids playing stickball, the opening night at the opera, sunbathers at Coney Island. He was 96.

Mr. Leipzig’s 1943 photograph “King of the Hill” — in which two Brooklyn boys square off atop a mound of dirt — was chosen by Edward Steichen, director of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department, for his celebrated “Family of Man” exhibition of 1955. The show’s theme was the universality of human experience.

To look at these pictures today is to catch intimations of the evanescence of both youth and a city. In his 1995 book, “Growing Up in New York,” Mr. Leipzig called himself “witness to a time that no longer exists, a more innocent time.”

“We believed in hope,” he wrote.

These are two of my favorites, but there’s more and more and more.

The December Project 2014

Posted by – December 5, 2014

Hello there!  For the fourth year in a row, we are doing THE DECEMBER PROJECT.  The plan is simple.  If you are trans– or if you love someone who is trans– and you need a friendly voice, email us and we will call you on the phone.

Jennifer Finney Boylan began this project in 2011 because she had been thinking about how hard the holidays can be for people– but they can be especially hard for trans people and their families.  Charles Dickens had it right when, in the CHRISTMAS CAROL, he suggested that it’s Christmas, not Halloween, that’s the most haunted of holidays.  Our memories are heightened at this time of year– we think back to our childhood, to our many struggles.  For some of us it’s a time when we’re acutely aware of how cut off we are from those we love.  The world is full of transgender people who are unable to see their children, their parents, their loved ones, all because of the simple fact of who they are.

We cannot undo all the hurt in the world.  But what we can do is CALL YOU ON THE PHONE and remind you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  You don’t have to be in crisis to take advantage of this project.  All you have to do is want a friendly voice.

The project this year will be run by five people – four to make calls, and one to organize the emails. Dylan Scholinski, director of Sent(a)mental Studios; Helen Boyd, Professor at Lawrence University; Allyson Robinson, pastor-teacher, and Brynn Tannehill, journalist and educator. We are two trans women, a trans man, and a spouse of a trans woman.  Between the four of us, we have heard many different kinds of trans narratives.  If we can help you, we would be glad to do so. Our fifth person, who will receive your emails and get the right ones to us callers, is Donna Levinsohn, a lawyer and old, trusted friend of Helen’s who has been involved in trans activism for years.

How do you get us to call you? By emailing decemberproj@gmail.com. If (1) you have a particular preference to talk to one or the other of us, let us know– although I can’t guarantee that you’ll always hear from the person you request.  Also (2) please tell us the time of day and the date you’d be free for a call; you might want to give us a couple of options.  And of course, (3) tell us your phone number.  WE WILL KEEP YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENTIAL.

We will start with calls as soon as possible after December 1, and keep this going until New Years.

Sound good?  I hope so.  We hope we can help, even if just a little.

Three other caveats I should mention at the end here:

1) First, no one in the December Project gets a dime out of it.  This is a shoestring operation, largely consisting of four people trading phone numbers.  If you want to support our causes, you can let us know, and we’ll tell you how to give.  But this is not about that.

2) If you are in serious crisis, please bypass us and go directly to the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. WE ARE NOT TRAINED AS THERAPISTS or as counsellors for individuals in crisis.  If you need something more serious than a “friendly voice,’ please call the lifeline.

3) For the moment we are content with this project consisting of only a few of us;  in past years, we have been a little overwhelmed (and yes, deeply touched) by the many, many of you who have wanted to join us.  While we thank you for your grace and your love, it’s also overwhelming for us to sort through the requests; we hope you’ll understand if we ask that folks writing us be primarily those who want a call. There are many ways you can get involved in your own community, and we heartily encourage everyone who wants to spread some love around to do so in their own way, starting right at home.

Thanks so much!  Wishing you all the best for a positive, hopeful, loving holiday season!

Sincerely,

Helen Boyd, on behalf of the December Project

Tidy Your Room, Kai

Posted by – December 2, 2014

Yes, it’s real.

The December Project is Coming

Posted by – November 27, 2014

As with previous year, I’ll be participating in The December Project, the brainchild of Jennifer Finney Boylan, who, because of all the email she gets and all the sadness she sees on FB, decided that we, as a community, need to find ways to make the holiday season a little easier on us all. She enlisted four of us — JFB herself, me, Dylan Scholinski, and NCTE’s Mara Keisling — to call anyone who wanted to hear a friendly voice.

This year there will be a few changes – for starters, Jenny Boylan won’t be able to organize things this year (due to moving and a super booked December), but the rest of us will, and we’ll have a few happy additions to help us do our work: Brynne Tannehill & Allyson Robinson, for starters.

So stay tuned. We’re getting the thing organized so that we can get it up and running for December, but know that we’re here, and we care about each and every one of you, even if we don’t even know your names yet.

In the meantime, if you’re in a bad way and need to talk, there is this amazing new Trans Lifeline service as well as other call lines:

  • Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860.
  • For LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) contemplating suicide, the Trevor Project Lifeline can be reached at 1-866-7386.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

Love and thanks for the honor and privilege of working for and in this amazing trans community.

On Robin Williams & Giving Thanks

Posted by – November 26, 2014

Robin Williams was in my dreams last night.

Robin Williams was in a movie, maybe, in my dreams last night.

He was playing someone like himself or like one of so many characters he played – like Perry Williams in The Fisher King – a disappointed but joyful romantic of sorts, wound up and anxious but reluctantly hopeful.

And he was with a woman – I don’t know who, but the kind of actress who could play against his manic energy with something like bemused compassion – and she had finally told him she was his.

Their figures were framed by a mountain range, romantic, sunny, cold. Every word they said could be seen by the breath that encased it. I think they were the Grand Tetons, because my brain has its own sense of humor. I don’t think she said anything but waited, instead, for him to understand that they were for each other, and he did, and he realized it the way only he could have acted that scene – with a dizzying monologue about how he had always wanted and always known and disappointment had taunted him and kicked him but fuck you disappointment and he looked at her and pulled her shirt up and exclaimed, loudly, “boobies!” with that kind of barbaric yawp that he was such a master of.

There are still a lot of days when I think about him, his life’s work, all that joy and enthusiasm he kept throwing up against despair. He must have terrified so many people all his life – I don’t mean most people, who just laughed at his antics and didn’t seem to know he was a depressive – how could anyone not have known? That look in his eyes all the time – he looked like a good, honest kid who has just discovered how cruel people can be, how depraved the world is – and it is. It’s as if his whole career was about that second of realization, of knowing how beautiful it can all be and delighting in it only to realize cars hit dogs and deer and people act in the shittiest ways most when they’re scared. It’s only as a kid you realize how fragile and beautiful a bird is and that you probably know someone who seems perfectly normal who would kill one just because they can.

There are days when the burden of enthusiasm is too much for me; I can’t imagine what the weight he carried was like if he had to conjure such amazing energy and fun against it. I have always felt fortunate that I can live in the world something like sober most of the time and that I have never needed a whole lot of illusion for what is and what isn’t, what can and can’t be. I had a Buddhist once tell me I was a natural Taoist; the world is bad and that’s just how it is: people kill birds because they can, and beat children, and rape women, and bash queers, and all of what they do is about suffering and feeling insubstantial and alone and scared, and everything the rest of us do in response is, too.

You can’t really teach gender studies – which is, after all, the study of oppression – and not go through life knowing exactly how fucked up things are. They are. It’s not okay, and it’s never going to be okay. Sometimes, in darker moments, I expect that things are going to get worse as our resources become scarce, but then, too, I know we will see remarkable acts of kindness and generosity at times when you’d expect the opposite. Look at every hurricane, tsunami, bombing: you see extraordinary acts of love and the heroic. You see what Mister Roger’s mom called “the helpers”. Disasters are some of the only times that people can actually live as hugely, as passionately and compassionately as they want to all the time. Most of us aren’t Robin Williams; we are self conscious and want to fit in, keep our jobs, not freak out the neighbors. We want quiet kinds of joy, maybe a contented happiness, instead of the extremes that lead to or are expressions of depression and euphoria.

But wow does his memory make me want to live harder and happier and with far more defiance in defense of what I know to be right. With joy and wild enthusiasm, wild, untamed, amazing enthusiasm, I would like to be able to live in the world as that child who can see how amazingly, stunningly, unbelievably beautiful every single thing is but who knows how all of those things are only ever tentative when they’re not momentary.

That kitten you hold in the palm of your hand will be the cat you will bury if life goes according to plan, Neil Gaiman once wrote. Whose plan? What plan? What the fuck kind of plan is that?

I woke up this morning stuck somewhere between a sob and a laugh. The holidays are upon us. I miss the innocent, joyful ones I used to have. I have no family nearby but for my wife this year; no lover; two of my friends I’ll spend Thanksgiving with are very ill; a third won’t be around because his parents are. And that’s it, isn’t it? I know there are people who have so many things – their parents still alive, their spouses’ parents, beautiful children, heterosexual privilege – and I can’t imagine it anymore. I had a couple of years like that, when I was partnered and then married and everyone I loved was still alive. Some days it makes me want to try again, to go back to being heterosexual so that I can have again the luxury of complaining about having to spend time with my family. Now? It breaks my heart that I can’t, not just because of geography but because my family of origin is estranged within itself, and my family of choice is everywhere all over the globe.

I’ll go to a north Wisconsin town and drink with writers and queer friends. I’ll get into a hot tub, maybe, if I can get past my own self consciousness and feel safe enough to do so, and I will feel very, very lucky and full of gratitude that there are people whose sense of thanks includes me.

I wish all the same to all of you out there. Boobies, like the dream Robin Williams said. Let your joy fly in the face of your disappointment.

No Justice, No Peace: UVA & Marisa Alexander

Posted by – November 25, 2014

A first year student was gang raped at UVA, and it took a Rolling Stone article (TW) to get anyone to pay attention.

It turns out UVA doesn’t even expel people who have admitted to rape.

Those of us who teach gender studies are assumed to be pessimistic at best and paranoid at worst, but you read two facts like that and wow, we’re just right.

Or you read that Marisa Alexander – the woman who fired a warning shot because she feared for her own life after her husband barged through a door she had locked herself behind and grabbed her by the neck – and all that 9 days after she’d given birth – was convicted and given 20 years in prison. She managed to plea down to 3, but why is she serving any time at all? She didn’t, mind you, kill or injure anyone.

Jeff Severs, a friend of a friend, after reading Wilson’s testimony about Mike Brown – which is something like a compendium of the racist imagination of black bodies as monstrous – wrote that “Brown’s body is bound to bear so horribly, impossibly much”.

As was that student’s, as was Marisa Alexander’s, and in none of these cases is there any justice, any condemnation of the objectification and othering of these bodies and the lives they carry.

I hate being right. I hate that my view of the world as unjust-by-design is so obviously, patently true. You can explain away Grand Jury history (well, actually, you can’t) or you can point up the peculiarities of the criminal justice system, but really, when university administrators are ignoring rape confessions and a woman who was defending herself is found guilty and given 20 years to serve – and who was, mind you, statistically more likely to die at her partner’s hands precisely because she was pregnant or had just given birth – that is, she had a better reason for self-defense than most, and far more than Darren Wilson ever needed – you have to know this system was designed to keep most of us in our places.

Bill Hicks was right, too, except they don’t even bother to tell you to pick up the gun anymore. They don’t have to.

No Justice, No Peace

Posted by – November 25, 2014

We knew, but we hoped. America never finds an armed white man guilty of killing an unarmed black man. There are a few, rare exceptions – Jordan Davis’ killer got time – but not usually.

It’s so heartbreaking.

But if you think the system didn’t work, and that’s what lead to this travesty of injustice, maybe you just don’t realize that this IS the system, how it was designed to keep black people scared for their lives, to control white allies, to keep all of the interlocking systems of oppression well-oiled.

This wasn’t a miscarriage of justice. This was exactly how it was designed to go. And don’t you forget it.

#TDOR

Posted by – November 20, 2014

tdor 2014Update: found here.

I don’t know where this comic comes from, so I’m asking forgivness from its creator for putting it up without express permission. I’m happy to take it down if necessary, but wow, it hit me between the eyes. We don’t see stuff from family/partners for TDOR, and this is just heartwrenching and beautiful.

Thank you, LaBelle, whoever you are.

Leslie Feinberg, Hero, Has Died

Posted by – November 17, 2014

It doesn’t matter if you know it’s coming – the death of someone you admire is never, ever expected.

I can’t begin to say how much I admired Feinberg. One of the best things to have happen to me, like ever, was having Feinberg tell me they liked my work. That’s the kind of thing that still sustains me, to this day.

Oh, to all of you trans elders and butches and femmes who loved Leslie as a friend or lover, my heart goes to you, and especially to Minnie Bruce Pratt.

I’m pretty sure ze didn’t believe in heaven, but everything ze ever did here on earth made this place a little more in its image.

What a remarkable, heartfelt, compassionate, dedicated, consistent life of activism, writing, and speaking.

We will miss you more than anyone can say or anyone even realizes.