Guest Author: Jolie Laide on TDOR

This is a guest post by my friend Jolie Laide, who blogs at Dances With Gender.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance — an occasion that honestly I have very mixed feelings about.

Not that we shouldn’t remember our dead. On the contrary. At least 23 transgender/non-binary people have been killed so far this year in the U.S. As usual, almost all of them were trans women, the vast majority were WOC (mostly black trans woman), a number of them were street sex workers. I point out the latter not to denigrate sex work, rather that they were so marginalized by society that the only way for them to survive was to engage in a highly risky profession.

A partial list of our dead from around the world is on the TDOR website. Many of them were killed with extreme brutality — what criminologists refer to as “overkill,” which is an indicator of extreme rage and hatred toward the victim.

There were undoubtedly more. Usually they were people who couldn’t afford to change their name and gender on their legal ID — or lived in states where social conservatives intentionally passed laws to make it difficult/impossible to do — and consequently when their bodies are found, they usually suffer the final indignity of being misnamed and misgendered by the police and the media. It’s only through people who knew them that we learn who they really were.

They deserve one final recognition as their proper selves.

#SayTheirNames
Mesha Caldwell, 41
Sean Hake, 23
Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28
JoJo Striker, 23
Tiara Richmond, also known as Keke Collier, 24
Chyna Gibson, 31
Ciara McElveen, 26
Jaquarrius Holland, 18
Alphonza Watson, 38
Chay Reed, 28
Kenneth Bostick, 59
Sherrell Faulkner, 46
Kenne McFadden, 27
Kendra Marie Adams, 28
Ava Le’Ray Barrin, 17
Ebony Morgan, 28
TeeTee Dangerfield, 32
Gwynevere River Song, 26
Kiwi Herring, 30
Kashmire Nazier Redd, 28
Derricka Banner, 26
Scout Schultz, 21
Ally Steinfeld, 17
Stephanie Montez, 47
Candace Towns, 30

OTOH, for years TDOR was the only time trans people were publicly recognized. If you were gay or lesbian, you had Gay Pride — an event, even if less and less political over the years, still has an attitude of celebration and defiance. As gay writer Joe Jervis summed it up in his must-read essay about the value of Pride: “They wish we were invisible. We’re not. Let’s dance.”

For us, not so much. Pre-Laverne Cox, pre-Janet Mock, pre-Caitlyn Jenner, the only public occasion for trans people was one marking our persecution and deaths. Fortunately, that’s changing with the  Transgender Day of Visibility, on March 31, which is intended to celebrate living members of the transgender community, has been gaining traction, as has Trans Awareness Week, which is the week directly preceding TDOR.

As Daye Pope eloquently said:

“Transgender people are real, and vibrant, and powerful, and beautiful, and resilient, and enough. Despite every obstacle stacked against us we rewrite the rules, beat the odds, defy expectations. I believe with all my heart that we have a bright future, because we will build it together.”

So today mourn our dead, tomorrow fight like hell for the living. In March, celebrate our fabulous selves.

They wish we were invisible. We’re not. Let’s dance.

Paisley Currah on the WH’s Rescinding of LGBTQ Protections

from Paisley Currah, in response to the news that the WH is looking to remove LGBTQ protections from healthcare:

“Don’t believe everything you read about the Trump’s administration’s inability to govern. In the regulatory arena, Trump is really getting things done–look what’s happening at the EPA. There’s also Sessions’ stated intention of ending the Justice Department’s oversight of post-Ferguson reforms regarding excessive fines and fees. When it comes to trans people, they are viciously efficient. They’ve rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance on trans students. Trump tweeted that the Defense Department’s policy on trans service members would be reversed. And now they’re planning to get rid of rules–of critical importance to trans people–that ban discrimination based on gender identity under the Affordable Health Care Act. The Justice Department is also deciding whether or not to support Obama-era rules that used the Prison Rape Elimination Act to protect transgender prisoners from violence. And there’s still a bunch more policy changes out there awaiting the eye of Sauron. Trump/Pence have 3.5 more years to do a lot of damage.’

Guest Post by Patrick Califia

Patrick Califia posted this yesterday on Facebook, and I thought it was vital to share.

I did something today that was really important. It was embarrassing, stressful, maybe even traumatic. But it was still very important for me to make sure that I showed up so that it could happen. And I want to urge ALL of my friends who share some of my anatomy to listen to what I have to say about it.
I’m talking about getting a Pap smear.

I’ve been going to get these damn tests ever since I had access to medical care, sometime in my twenties. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, being visible as a dyke meant that I got universally shitty treatment from doctors. For some reason, gynecologists were the worst. It didn’t matter if they were men or women, either. Female doctors seemed to feel that they had to be as homophobic and mean as their male counterparts to prove they belonged in the boys’ club of medicine.

Josephine Butler referred to the speculum as “an iron penis.” She was a Victorian feminist who agitated against laws that allowed the police to confine women under suspicion of prostitution and keep them confined indefinitely. Women arrested under these laws were subjected to pelvic exams, often with dirty speculums that might have transmitted the very diseases they were accused of harboring. At the time, diagnosis of a “venereal disease” was not accurate, and there was no treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea–unless you count taking compounds made from mercury that could be life-threatening. She succeeded in arousing working-class men to support a women’s cause by using this kind of colorful rhetoric.

Today, speculums (the medical instrument that allows a doctor to open and look inside a vagina or rectum) are made out of plastic. My doctor today showed me how she could insert a flashlight into the one she was using, to illuminate my cervix. She made sure to use the smallest one that would do the job. She told me what was going to happen before she touched me, and there was no unnecessary probing or infliction of pain. I find the test painful anyway just because I don’t like it, and when the long Q-tip is taking a tissue sample from the os or opening of the cervix, it makes me feel sick to my stomach, it hurts that much.

It is even painful for me to write about my own anatomy. I don’t like the fact that I have these internal organs. I have never wanted to have this anatomy. It messes with my sense of my own gender to know that there are unwanted, female organs inside of my body. I am concerned by how many of my readers will be disgusted with me for talking about them, or see me as less of a man because I am being open about possessing them.

Still, this is my body. My body that gives me pain every day from fibromyalgia. But my body has also been with me through every part of my life, and it has never let me down. My body survived being hungry during childhood, and being abused. It survived years of queer-bashing, awful underpaind jobs, poor housing, and street harassment. My body has taken me on amazing journeys outside of the United States and within the realm of sexual exploration. My body has been like a wonderful machine, supporting my consciousness, always following my mind when it wanted to have a particular adventure. I love my body for being there for me no matter what illness, overwork, educational endeavor, or trip through the world of pleasure that befell me. I am so lucky to have a body inherited from strong people who basically walked across the United States so they could live out their religious principles. Nothing stopped them–not poverty, violent persecution, illness, malnutrition, and the crushing labor of establishing a new territory. (These people also did a lot of things I am ashamed of, but that is a topic for another article.)

How do you feel about your body? How far would you go to take care of your physical self, or what acts of gratitude would you commit to let your body know you feel grateful and loving toward your own flesh? That was what I did today.

Listen to me. Cervical cancer is an AWFUL disease. I watched my mother die of breast cancer because she found a lump in her breast and ignored it for ten years. Don’t let yourself contract a fatal disease that can be treated if it is detected early enough. That is what a Pap smear is for. It is to save your life. None of us–no matter how gender dysphoric we are–none of us deserve to have our lives shortened because we are different.

I have lost track of how many butch dykes, gender-queer people, and transmen I have taken for their first Pap smear. I have held people’s hands while they cried because they hated the test so much. I have gotten them high before the test and taken them home for consoling sex after it happened. I have listened to stories of childhood abuse so awful it would scorch your soul to listen to it. We are singled out for humiliation and mistreatment because people think if they break us or beat us down, we will stop trying to “act like men.” Of course, it doesn’t work, the only thing they can do is make us shut up about how we feel toward our own genders. We can never stop feeling the way that we do.

Coming out as a trans person was the hardest thing I have ever done. I felt more ashamed of myself for being trans than I had ever felt about being gay or even being a sadomasochist. I think in part this was because I could not explain WHY I felt this way. I had to confront a lot of negative messages I heard about myself as I was growing up to be able to replace that shame with pride and self-validation. it may seem ironic to you, but one of the ways I know that I was able to accept myself as a man and publicly come out as trans is the medical test I got today.

Maybe it took five minutes, maybe it was ten, I lost track of time. I disassociated. Writing about it now is one of the ways I can come back into my adult self and feel like I am okay in the present. Why would I encourage anybody else to go through something that was this upsetting?

Because I want you to save your own life.

Yes, it is that simple. Please save your own life. Okay, so you don’t feel happy or comfortable in the body that you got when you were born. I understand that. And, at the same time, if we are going to be activists for life, building community, that life needs to be as long as possible. Goddess knows that 80 or 100 years is not enough to shift public ignorance and malevolence toward sex- and gender-minority people. But in the 63 years I have been alive, I have seen HUGE social change. That is the reward of activism. You get to find out that standing up to “the system” works. So it’s worth it to stick around, my younger friends. It really is.

And if you need somebody to get you to the appointment, be your advocate while you get examined, and soothe your fears or your upset after it is over, you know how to find me. I care about how it feels to be violated by a medical procedure. But it’s worth it. Because none of us deserve to die in pain just because we are differently-gendered. Right, my brothers and non-sisters? Take care of the body that you live in now, because that body has been through a lot, and needs somebody (you) to be loving toward it.
Finally, I want to thank my doctor at Outside In for making this experience as simple and non-traumatic as possible. She is a saint as far as I am concerned. I look at her tired face and wonder how much human misery she witnesses every day, at a clinic that specializes in homeless people and trans folks. And so I think somebody should just tell her, job well done. You made it possible for me to do this, and I am so grateful to be touched by medical hands that are not full of hatred. Blessings upon you and your house.

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

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.

Guest Author Peter Jacobs on Bowie

My friend Peter Jacobs wrote this cool piece about Bowie. I thought I’d share it for anyone interested.

Six days ago, something happened that I never even considered, not once. Never, ever even thought about it. Something so sudden and so unexpected that it felt as though the moon had just cracked into pieces and floated into the Sun, while we all stared in awe, open-mouthed, gawking, and feeling very small and vulnerable indeed.

David Bowie, the incredible, amazing, inspirational, creative, ground-breaking David Bowie, died.

The Timeless had finally run out of Time.

If you knew of, but didn’t love, admire, and respect David Bowie, now might be the right time to reconsider. If you barely or never heard of him, discover him now. You won’t regret it.

If you did love him, you could probably express nearly everything I’m about to say, a million times better. I can only do what I can do, which might not be much, but I’m certainly going to try.

I owe it to him.

Bowie had an incalculable influence on me. He has been present in the general background radiation of my life for as long as I can remember, pretty much. I was just a kid in the 70s, Bowie’s greatest decade. I wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate that body of work at the time, but I’ve never stopped absorbing, re-experiencing and re-interpreting it ever since. Of course, he’s done excellent work since then as well, including his most recent music, right up to his very last, released just two days before he passed. Yet the 70s albums hold a special significance for many, myself included (so those of you considering diving into his oeuvre for the first time and are wondering where to start, start there).

It’s daunting to even begin to describe the difference Bowie made, and for that reason, I promised myself I would keep this as succinct as possible. Let’s see if I stick to that promise.

I have an uncle who was of the perfect age and inclination to be captivated by the arresting shock of Ziggy Stardust, in 1972.   The Starman himself invigorated a generation of misfit kids who didn’t even know they were waiting for something, they just recognized when that something had arrived.  By the time I came along, that initial fervor had subsided, perhaps, but my uncle was still a fan, and Bowie was still putting out fantastic music, all of which was at my fingertips.

My uncle didn’t just passively allow me to paw through his collection; he deliberately exposed me to it. Thank goodness. He’d show me albums, put them on, answer my questions, play my requests. I have memories of pouring over my uncle’s records and being endlessly enthralled by the covers, the lyrics, the sounds, the feelings, the inexplicability of it all. There were a lot of albums, but my attention always came back to David Bowie.

The earliest I can ever remember experiencing “edginess” was with Bowie. He was so unlike anything or anybody else I had ever encountered that he was scary. Just genuinely, challengingly scary. Not in a RUN AWAY kind of way, rather, What is going on here? Is something happening to him? Is he crazy? What makes him act like that? Why does he move like that? Where is this coming from? Why do I feel so strange?? Even the way the camera moved in his videos, the angles of the shots, even that was strange.

Remember, I was just a little kid, perhaps seven, eight. But I’d like to think, I believe he’d have had a similar effect on me even if I’d been twenty-five, at the time.

He was scary in a way that made you want more. Scary in a way that made you want to figure it all out, although you realized you might never figure it out. He truly seemed alien, so different, not from here. Not from anywhere I knew, that was for sure.

Bowie affected you in so many ways, provoking the same odd, unusual sensations whether you were listening to his music, looking at his picture, or watching him in a video. So complete, so whole, so thorough an entity he seemed, you ceased to be aware he was performing. He was just being.

It was nearly impossible to believe that anybody even remotely like that could exist. But he did exist! He existed with a vengeance, with a vibrancy, vitality, and passion unmatched by virtually anyone.

I found that, ever since then, since those early days, consciously or otherwise I would forevermore compare other musicians I encountered to that template of David Bowie. It wasn’t necessarily direct, specific, imitative, point-by-point comparison, such as “Does he sound like Bowie? Does she also remind me of a space alien?” Rather, it was more “Is this great? Original? Challenging? Creative, resonant, vivid, complete?” Does it drive me to discover more, see more, feel more, want more, expect more? Does this force me to reconsider what is possible, and frighten me a little in the process?

At the age of twelve, I was introduced to new wave and punk. We called it new wave then, or new music, college radio, I think the term “alternative” was even sometimes used all the way back then. It was like finding affirmation, confirmation. It was absolutely a life-changing experience. There was a spirit of fun, adventure, excitement, creativity, and playfulness that other contemporary radio stations utterly lacked, and yes, I had been searching. Searching with no idea whatsoever if I’d ever find what I was looking for, not even entirely aware what I was looking for. I wanted music that moved me, in mind as much or more as in body. Only later did I fully realize I was looking for something more than just music.

Finding this window onto an alternate universe was nothing short of revelatory. Over time, I came to learn many if not all of my new heroes were inspired in various measures by David Bowie. Interview after interview, they all said basically the same thing: There was before, and then there was after. Bowie had changed their lives. These artists, in turn, changed mine.

Naturally, few individuals ever achieve such heights. Bowie set the bar so incredibly high that surely only someone superhuman such as he could ever come close. At the same time, no matter your shortcomings, it also made you want to try.

I will forever appreciate him for raising my standards, thereby enriching my life. It’s hard to settle for frozen fish sticks once you’ve had fresh lobster tails. Knowing there is something better, why accept the inferior? Why eat junk food when you could have nutrition?

Absorbing Bowie was like breathing pure, sweet air and feeling giddy from it, after previously and unwittingly sucking in smog. It was an overload of oxygen filtering through the brain and bloodstream, boiling away pollutants and causing an exhilarating sort of mental bends.

I do not mean to dismiss entirely the influence and inspiration of other artists, not by any means. The Beatles were in fact my very first intensely magical, mysterious music experience and I still cherish them beyond logic. When I was very little I would wake up some mornings, before anyone else in the house, just to have sole access to the turntable. I’d put on Beatles records with the volume set as low as possible so not to awaken anyone, and lie with my ear pressed against the speaker, devouring their sound and fusing it with my soul. Yet I was always aware the Beatles had already come and gone. In fact, they broke up within days of my birth. It mattered not, how fervently I desired for them to regroup. They were done. My love for the Beatles was always tinged with whatever sense of received nostalgia a seven year old could possibly feel, a longing for something just out of reach, unattainable no matter how immediate the experience was of dropping the needle on the record and listening, whenever I wanted.

Bowie, on the other hand, felt like now. Like mine. He was active, alive, intense, current. He was in the present, but was moving fast.

Looking back, almost as soon as I first felt the tremendous power of Bowie, I think I must have been seized by some kind of urgency, a form of desperation. I realized he, too, had already produced work dating back to before my existence, already passed through amazing phases that I had missed out on, and that whatever he was doing in the present would also soon slip away, out of my mental and emotional grasp. I also felt an indescribable envy that my uncle had seen him live, years before.

It seemed as if my eyes, my mind, my heart couldn’t possibly open wide enough to take in all the possibilities Bowie revealed and implied. I didn’t even have anywhere near the vocabulary, the tools, the concepts to describe what was happening inside me. I feel like I still barely do, all these decades later.

If we could say with words everything we felt, there’d be no need for music, would there?

I’m also very grateful I’m not using a manual typewriter, given the number of times I’ve already changed, deleted, edited, entirely re-written sections of this piece…. and how many more times I will before I consider it done.

It’s going to be difficult, I can tell, to decide when to consider this “done,” exactly. Five minutes after finishing, I’m sure I’ll have new thoughts, other memories, different feelings to fit in.

Of course it will be that way. That’s why I made that promise at the start, to do my very best to keep this as succinct as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t bet money on whether or not I’d keep that promise.

So let’s wrap it up then, shall we? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ will do.

Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, David Jones. Thank you Thin White Duke, Ziggy, Cracked Actor, Man Who Sold the World, Lazarus…. thank you so much for everything. Too bad you didn’t turn out to be like that last namesake. I think the only person who wouldn’t have surprised me by coming back would have been you.

You didn’t turn out to be immortal like the Supermen of whom you sang. Honestly, it shakes me to my very core to know you’re actually, definitively gone.

So…in the end, you really were human after all.

Well you know what? I think that makes you even cooler.

Somehow, you’ve managed to become even more inspirational than you already were.

Guest Author: Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn, My Top Manager is a Transwoman

I first met Kristy after she had been working for a month at one of my El Pollo Loco restaurants in Thousand Oaks, California. Kristy is a tall dark haired Latina, transwoman in her late twenties.  While observing her, the first thing I noticed was a caring and good natured attitude with our customers.  She was our first transgender employee and I was anxious to meet her. The manager who hired her put her front and center at the cash register, which is where she belongs. She is great with customers. As we got to know each other she told me the story of what had happened at a previous job with Taco Bell.  Kristy had worked at a Taco Bell in the Ventura County area. Though she clearly identified as a woman, the manager told her she must use the men’s bathroom. While using the bathroom one day, she was sexually molested by a customer. Her employer’s response was to tell her, she could use the women’s room but only when no other women are inside. One time, while using the women’s restroom, a female customer entered after Kristy was inside. This customer complained to her husband about a man dressed as a woman in the ladies room. Her husband pressured store management into firing Kristy. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. I have heard so many stories just like hers from other transwomen.

The basic need for any transgender person to get a foothold in this world is to have a decent job. Today transwomen are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty. There are considerable barriers both social and legal to obtaining a job as well as to transition while on the job. More than 3 of 5 transgender persons work in states that have no protection for gender identity in the workplace. Based on six studies done between 1996 and 2006, 20 to 57 percent of transgender respondents said they experience employment discrimination, including being fired, denied a promotion or harassed. Though even more difficult to measure, transgender people also face considerable barriers in the job application process.  Even in California, which has laws in place against gender discrimination in the workplace, transgender workers are often treated at best as second class citizens.

In Kristy’s situation, over a year had gone by and it was past the statute to file a lawsuit. I was disappointed.  I wanted Kristy to have justice. We also need high profile lawsuits to let employers know there will be severe punishment for gender discrimination in the workplace. In the end though, it is possible that the transgender success stories told by employers, will bring about the greatest change.  Kristy has done extremely well with us. Our customers adore her. Today she is the general manager of our busiest restaurant and I could not be more proud of her. In fact the restaurant she manages is ranked number two our of over 400 units in the El Pollo Loco chain for quality and customer service. We are now at six trans-employees and growing. Two others have made it into management. I am quite certain there will more success stories to follow.

Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, ‘Transgender Cinderella’

What an awesome little excerpt from my friend and author Zoe Dolan’s book about what it’s like to date as a trans woman. Probably NSFW, and not for the faint hearted.

Once I was living as female, but before sex change surgery, my dreams were bounded by what I came to identify as the Cinderella Syndrome. I loved to go dancing, since on the dancefloor I could sink into the beat and movement around me. Men would come and go, drifting toward me and away, and sometimes closer and closer until we were dancing with our hips together. I felt the heat of their breaths upon my skin and the beads of sweat on the back of their necks as I ran my hands along their spines and floated up into a kiss.

But I always dreaded what I sought most: a moment of intimacy. At that point my coach would turn back into a pumpkin and my gown would disappear in an instant.

When I was studying abroad in Leiden, Holland, during law school, I met a handsome Italian whom I’ll call Adriano. At a get-together with other students, he stared across the room at me the whole evening. I tried to ignore what was happening, to no avail. I could not sustain conversation with whomever I was talking to. After a few minutes I got up to leave; but he intercepted me. The next thing I knew, I was in a conversation with him, trying to catch the breath he was taking away.

Adriano was tall and broad-shouldered, with curly dark brown hair and clear golden brown eyes. He spoke fluent English with a slight Italian accent. He had recently decided on law as an undergraduate major. He had the opportunity to come check out the Netherlands and thought he’d take the adventure north to broaden his mind. Basically, he was perfect. Continue reading “Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, ‘Transgender Cinderella’”

Guest Author: Ashley Altadonna, Letter to Myself 10 Years Later

I’ve put Ashley Altadonna’s writing on this blog before and this piece, in particular, is so amazing. It’s also so great to hear from trans women and men 10 or more years post transition; so often trans community is made up of people who are about to transition, transitioning, or only have recently, so getting some perspective from those who are further along the road and deeper into their lives post transition is particularly useful, and Ashley is particularly heartfelt. 

Dear Ashley,

Congratulations on reaching this next step in your gender journey! I am so proud of you! I wanted to give you a little heads up on what’s coming your way over the next decade. You never quite made it to Eagle Scout, but you know, ”Always be prepared.”

You are going to love and hurt and laugh and cry more than you ever imagined you were capable of. For the first few weeks, maybe even months you’ll feel sort of like an imposter, like everyday is Halloween and you’re the only one dressed up. It’s sort of exciting getting to be a whole new person but eventually that feeling will fade and you’ll just be you again, only the real you this time.

Lady friends will give you a ton of clothing and make-up advice early on. In fact, most of your friends will take your transition amazingly well, except for one from high school, who after hanging out with you twice as Ashley, will stop talking to you completely, and you’ll never really know why. That other friend, the one who told you that you’d be a social outcast and that people would throw bricks through your windows…he’ll come out as gay six years later.

Your family is very supportive. Even your 78 year-old Grandma tells you she loves you no matter what. True, your father has some difficulties with your new gender at first. He’ll be nervous about you meeting his side of the family, which in turn makes you nervous. When you finally do, it’s fine. Your cousin will tell you she cried for the boy you used to be. You will tell her you envied her girlhood growing up.

You will talk to you ex-girlfriend, the one you first came out to. She tells you, that after she told her mother about your transition, her mother said it was almost like the boy you used to be died. You will feel that way too, like you sort of killed yourself, to live. You will grieve for the guy you were at times.

A few months later it actually will be Halloween. You’ll be a friend’s party. Some drunken dudes will debate your gender right in front of you, questioning whether you’re a “woman or a man”. (They will not be the last people to do this, btw). You’ll be about to tell them they can just ask you when one of them will grab your breasts, laugh and say, “Oh my God, I can’t tell!” You will know what it feels like to be objectified.

You’ll go to a club for 80’s night. While dancing you’ll see a girl you used to have a crush on. She asks you why you’re dressed like that. You tell her you are transgender. She’ll say, “Thank God I never went out with you!” Another night at the same club you will be very drunk and a guy will pull you by the arm down on a couch next to him and his friend. You’re surprised by the force he uses. He’ll ask you if you do this all the time, or if tonight was just “something for fun”. You tell him you do this all the time. He’ll say, “You’re pretty cute!” as he slides his arm around you. Your friends will pull you away and tell you it’s time to go.

Both gentlemen and assholes will hit you on. You will face harassment and mockery from random strangers on the street, honking car horns, and indecipherable words yelled at you from speeding cars. In one particularly frightening instance, a middle aged asshole on a motorcycle will pull up to you as you’re waiting for a bus, tell you he’s, “seen you around the neighborhood,” and ask you if you’ve been “fixed”. He will proposition you for anal sex. You will actually fear for your safety.

At the time, you’re still working at the bank and bookstore. The bank will transfer you to a different branch, one with a single user bathroom just so no one has to share the restroom with you. Human resources will also create a policy where no one is allowed to talk about “personal business” on the job, out of fear that someone will say something offensive, and you’ll sue the company. They will forget to mention this to you, so you’ll assume that everyone at your new branch hates you. Who knows? Maybe they do.

At the bookstore the difference is like night and day. Your bosses and co-workers are very welcoming to your new gender identity. For the most part they politely ask questions, and tell you how great you look. You use the women’s restroom everyday and no one cares. Eventually, your transition is a non-issue. You’ll quit the bank 3 months later ‘cause who needs that stress?

A few years later you end up working for a nationally renowned feminist, progressive sex toy store. Your job is fun and you get to help people have better, healthier sex lives. You also help a ton of trans & genderqueer customers get the products they need to be and feel better about themselves. You convince your bosses to start carrying more products for trans ladies and even teach some classes on transitioning.

You’ll wait in longer lines for the bathroom. You’ll never know what to do with your hair or reliably find shoes in your size. You never stop biting your nails no matter how many times you try and give up and try again. You’ll learn to try on every item of clothing when you go shopping, because a size 14 in one brand does not mean a size 14 in another. You will know the torture of high heels and stabbing pain of broken underwire bras. You will try to learn to follow while slow dancing and suck at it.

You will eventually play onstage and have band again. When you see a picture of yourself from the show you’ll be struck by how similar you look to the female rocker you revered in high school and college.

You will be excited for your first Pride event only to have an older butch lesbian tell you, upon trying to enter a “lesbian-only” space that you don’t, “really count as a woman” and will refuse to let you in. This notion of “womyn-born-womyn” only spaces and the belief that trans women are somehow “fake women” will be archaic notions long before you began to transition, but are still sadly a thing 10 years later.

You’ll witness a rapid revolution of trans rights and activism, seeing trans folks gracing the covers of magazines, starring in TV shows, being granted benefits, and opportunities that you thought would be impossible just a few years before. At the same time, trans women (especially those of color) will continue to be killed at a rate much higher than the national average. Politicians will keep introducing discriminatory bills, and blocking legal protections for jobs, housing, healthcare and more. You’ll wonder why your friends and family aren’t more appalled and motivated to help, but you’ll come to realize they are dealing with their own struggles and causes, and this one is yours.

You end up making some short films about gender and your transition and they will play at LGBT film festivals all over the Europe, Australia, and the U.S. Your films will be picked up for distribution. You even start a film company, Tall Lady Pictures. You’ll share phone calls, emails and even Christmas cards with a wonderful trans woman from North Carolina you’ve never met, but sincerely hope to one day.

Actually, you meet a lot of trans women after transitioning, and find even though they are nice people; you find you have little in common with them besides your gender identities. You feel a connection to a few, but they tend to move away or go stealth and stop talking to you. A lot of times you’ll feel alone. Other trans ladies tell you that you inspired them and that they look up to you.   You’re grateful to have helped them while wishing more folks had been there for you.

You will question you femininity a lot. Like a TON. You will doubt your looks and your ability to be female more than you care to admit. You know part of this is the impossible standards society sets for women, but that doesn’t help. Every time someone misgenders you it makes it that much worse, especially when those people have known you as Ashley for years. Struggling with body image and feeling like you aren’t feminine enough to be considered female, is probably be the hardest, most frustrating part of your transition and the part nobody really prepared you for.

Your girlfriend, however, will be your blessing through all of this. She is always there for you, supportive and incredible. She is your best friend, who makes you laugh like nobody else. She comforts you when you are sad. She takes care of you when you are sick. Sometimes she gets jealous of the attention your transition receives. You are able to understand her needs better than when you were a guy, because you know the irrationality of hormone-based mood swings and feeling upset for no real reason. You two will travel the U.S. and Europe together. In Paris you’ll want to propose to her, but you’ll wait another year.

You’ll finally get married after 7 years of dating. Your father will walk you down the aisle. Your brother will make you cry with his best man speech. Marriage equality is another 4 years in the making, so you marry as man and wife; though essentially you have a legal “gay marriage”.

In 2013, over 15 years after you first came out as transgender, you will finally have your gender confirmation surgery. You are eternally grateful to all the friends, family, therapists, doctors and organizations that helped you reach this milestone.

In preparing for surgery, you will undergo more awkward/embarrassing situations than you could’ve ever imagined. You’ll spend hours on hold and fighting with insurance companies. When the day of your surgery arrives, you’re so nervous you can’t stop shaking as they prepare to wheel you into the ER.

Your surgery is a complete success. You at last have the lady parts you always wanted. You will in no way regret your decision to have surgery, and bonus: the female rock star you idolized will email to congratulate you! You know this isn’t the end of your transition. In reality, it feels like the beginning of the rest of your life.

Love you lady,

Ashley

 

Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, When Political Correctness Hits Below The Belt

Here’s a controversial piece from Zoe Dolan, lawyer, author, and friend, in a smart piece about why, when it cones to dating – amongst other things – talking about genital surgery is important. I have always reserved the right to talk about these things with trans people and with trans partners because I do a lot of work around sex and relationships, but I stopped a few years ago in any public forums because of the ridiculous obsession – especially with penises – when trans stuff comes up. (I’ll be posting something a bit later about the term “political correctness” because I really, really can’t stand it.)

The conversation goes like this:

Him: Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

Me: Yes, I have a vagina. Yes, I have a clitoris, and also labia majora and labia minora. Yes, I feel sensation and I can have orgasms — both vaginal and clitoral. And yes, I self-lubricate; but who ever said no to a little coconut oil?

Him: Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you for being so open. I’ve been curious but afraid to ask.

I’ve written before, and I maintain: my view is that there’s no shame in the human body. We all have one.

Nevertheless, a politically correct script of deflection dominates public discourse when it comes to sex change surgery. This condescension shames people into believing that questions arising out of natural curiosity are somehow overly intrusive, and that inquiring about the medical aspects of being transgender is wrong.

Take, for example, John Oliver’s Transgender 101 that recently went viral.

The monologue began with a discussion of “dumb mistakes” that the media make. His point was, apparently, that “[i]t is no more okay to ask transgender people about their sex organs than it would be to ask Jimmy Carter whether or not he’s circumcised.”

He concluded, “[T]heir decision on this matter is, medically speaking, none of your [bleep]ing business.”

While the privacy that others may choose deserves respect, there is fallacy in the proposition that everyone should know better than to pursue understanding of a subject to which they have yet to be exposed. Continue reading “Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, When Political Correctness Hits Below The Belt”

Guest Author: Darya Teesewell, “Hollywood Takes Care of its Own,” Unless You are Trans

In response to my HuffPo post, we have our first crosspost, by my friend Darya:

A young trans friend of mine in the Hollywood film industry, a union member, spoke to me recently about a conversation she had when she asked an individual representing the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan about health care for herself. She began with the most basic question; will they pay for hormones? The answer was a flat and simple no.

Page 63 of the Active MPI health plan states that “gender change” is excluded from coverage. Some of us would argue that we aren’t “changing” so much as “restoring” genders, but let that be, for now. On her own, my friend found that that there was another plan available to union members, an HMO, that did indeed cover all aspects of trans health care including Gender Reconfirming Surgery with an excellent provider in Arizona.

Even then, she found she had problems with representatives of the provider depending on where the offices were located. The Hollywood/Los Angeles office was helpful and knowledgeable, while other offices seemed perplexed, as if she were requesting something no one had ever heard of before.

If you are a trans person seeking health care, you are no stranger to this. In spite of a groundbreaking state law in California that prohibits insurers from excluding trans-related care from health plans, many insurers still push back against providing it, subtly, or not-so-subtly.

Continue reading “Guest Author: Darya Teesewell, “Hollywood Takes Care of its Own,” Unless You are Trans”

Trans Actors?

A guest post from my good friend Darya Teesewell, who has worked in Hollywood for a very long time, and who had a few things to say about the news that Elle Fanning will be playing a trans guy (and Eddie Redmayne a trans woman):

So both Elle Fanning and Eddie Redmayne will be playing Transgender characters in new films.Both fine actors and I’m sure the Directors felt they were sound choices, but really, it’s time to kick up a bitch about this; why not make a bolder choice and cast trans actors, and while we’re at it, hire a trans writer or two. There also many trans below-the line workers who hide themselves, but that’s another topic. I’ve spent 40 years in “The Industry” and detest parts of of as intensely as I love and respect the magic that happens when they unintentionally create art.

Honestly, intra-trans bitch fights frustrate the fuck out of me, but this is not that. This is about daring an industry to ignore the iPhone-swiping little Fucks who protect the bottom line(I can say that as a below the line grunt) and get in on a wave that has begun to build thanks to people like Shadi Petosky , Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, Lana Wachowski and Laverne Cox, and pioneers before them like Calpernia Sarah Addams , Candis Cayne and A’leisha Brevard.

Both actors, no doubt, would do a superb job in these parts, but it really is exactly like the 1950’s bullshit that had Mexicans playing Japanese (Ricardo Montalban), Europeans playing Native Americans, Mexicans, Asians (Mickey Rooney-*shudder*) and whatever the studio wanted.The bold Directors and producers were the ones who hired authentically. I just found out today that Paul Newman was producing a film in the 60’s in which a male running coach falls in love with one of his runners. The studios wanted to make the runner a woman, and he told them shove it. The bold choice lost again to the studio fucks.

Film is a grimy, tedious ruthless business that occasionally, like alchemy, turns that lead in gold in the form of images and performances. The hacks won’t hear this message, but the Artists will; cast a trans woman to play a trans woman and let’s see what magic happens.The guys in their Teslas who have to answer to boards will fret; they want a bankable name, multi-pic pac, wings to Gotham, Boffo numbers, but they just fucked all that up this summer, didn’t they? Time for bold choices.

I understand: if I’m artist, and you tell me who I should cast in my movie, I’m going to resent that; but if you are a fellow artist asking if I’m settling for a safe choice over a bold one, that’s a valid question.

Below the line is another conversation for another time; this is not an LGBT friendly industry, in spite of what a few high profile jobs might have people think.

Being silent does nothing.Time to call Bullshit, and it is indeed Bullshit.

I will add one more thing: why can’t women play women and men, men? Why do cis people always think trans women should be played by cis men? It perpetuates this idea that trans women are *really* men, and they’re not. Let’s move on, folks, can we?

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger was still a virgin at 22, and he was angry that he was because too often, men’s value is in their ability to “get women”. There are a lot of good articles out already – Slate’s & The Belle Jar‘s & Jess Zimmerman’s in Medium’s Archipelago are standouts – all of which have pointed out that Rodger was not a madman because he didn’t need to be. He only had to be a man, full of entitlement and male privilege – entitled to women’s bodies and to sex. His connections to various groups who persist in thinking that “game” is what convinces women to have sex with men, and that women are only attracted to jerks – never to a “perfect gentleman” as Rodger thought he was – has been well documented, despite those groups and online communities having scrubbed any and all of his posts. I assume they don’t want to be held responsible for failing to recognize someone who wasn’t just blowing off steam but planning to kill.

And what always strikes me about these kinds of complaints is the thing that I had to explain to my wife as she was transitioning: there are men who can yell that they want to do you across a crowded street and it’s a compliment, even if totally inappropriate, and there are others who can shake your hand politely who fill you with caution if not fear.

When I have made this observation (here on my blog and elsewhere), invariably someone who is male – or who used to be – says something about how the real difference is whether or not the man is attractive or handsome or whether the come-on is welcome.

That is not the case.

As Jess Zimmerman points out in parentheses:

“If women‘s mysterious disinterest drives you to consider murdering them, consider that you may be terrifying. Women are smart enough to notice that you’re the kind of guy who’s driven to blood rage by simple rejection.”

And I would add, not only do women pick up on someone who hates them enough to threaten or commit violence; they can, too, pick up on a more subtle and less violent misogyny as well. And that is what I feel is the difference between the men I’ve just mentioned: using “gentlemanly” manners to cover a deeply felt hostility or hatred toward women will not work.

And as someone who has hung out with kinky folks – for whom fulfilling a woman’s fantasy of rape, degradation, or humiliation is not uncommon – I know there are men who respect and adore women enough that even these difficult fantasies do not change their respect for the women they top.

By no means am I saying that only when men respect women enough do they “get” to exert power over them; that is the illusion, not the fact. The fact is that what comes first – what gains a man privilege into a woman’s trust – is their respect and understanding that only once their misogyny is something they have become aware of, worked on, realized and acknowledged does it go away.

It strikes me that this is not unlike racism, or transphobia, or ableism or any of the other kinds of blind hatreds are culture teaches us. And we are all taught them; women in a patriarchy can also be misogynists who do not trust or like or respect other women the same way that even gay men can hate themselves and other gay men because we are all raised in the stink of homophobia.

But the thing about Elliott Rodger is this: so many men who want to date or have sex with or marry women figure it out. They realize they love their moms or their sisters or their daughters and realize the women they are dating or sleeping with or marrying deserve the same respect as the women they know and love. Gay men, on the other hand, especially those who live in a very intense masculine homosocial environments, can express a misogyny that is raw and unchecked. That is, they haven’t had to do the work necessary to realize that women are awesome. Those gay men, I might add, are very, very rare, and getting rarer by the day. The only time their misogyny is still apparent is in the disrespectful, violent attitudes they occasionally express toward trans women, which many, many people have witnessed in these recent uproars about RuPaul and Trannyshack.

What I’m saying, ultimately, is that people – not just women – are wise enough to pick up on someone who hates you for who you are. The white kid who loves rap but who hates black people will never feel welcome by blacks socially. Gay men and lesbians often know when someone who is truly a homophobe is in their midst.

And women, like all of these other groups, know deeply when a man hates them for being women. They may not know it enough to articulate it, but they know it enough to keep their distance.

No amount of chivalry or good manners or “game” will perfume over the stink of that kind of misogyny. In this time when we hear a lot of talk about how accepted gay people are, or how “post racial” we are, or when we hear a gay man talk about how much he really loves trans people but doesn’t want his language policed, we might do well to remember what Elliot Rodger accidentally taught us: that it’s only in owning and dismantling these kinds of systemic, taught, culture-wide hatreds that we free ourselves of them.

“Farewell ‘Tranny'”

An old friend of mine, sometimes known as Minerva Steele, wrote a piece on Facebook about his own, queer relationship with the demise of the word “tranny” and the surrounding culture of language policing. I wanted to share it because his opinion is, at this point, one that is not often heard from but one that’s still needed. Often, in any social movement, it is the angriest, most militant voices heard from most often, and, as he said in conversation, voices like his often aren’t heard from “because we don’t care enough to be angry; we already see transpeople as our sisters and brothers and just go on our merry way.” I would add not only that, but there are plenty out there who lived at the edges of subcultures where all of these identities mixed and were valued and respected, even if there were differences in language and worldview. I hate the idea of shutting down people whose identities come with some historical and individual complexity only because the new paradigm doesn’t fit their experience very well.

Recently I posted a link to a video by Alaska Thunderfuck, who appeared on the 6th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It was seemingly created in response to the retirement of the “you’ve got she-mail!” segment announcement on the program, due to increased negative feedback from the trans community. The program has also ceased using the term “tranny” for the same reasons. RuPaul’s producing team was painted to be insensitive to the trans community by using these terms, inasmuch as the context in which they were being used was specifically drag queen oriented. I thought this concession to pressure was a mistake, but I see the logic of not alienating any part of their demographic, however misguided anyone might find their reasons for objection. In any case, I thought Alaska’s video was hilarious, biting and brilliant, typical of that queen and very satisfying for me personally. I posted the following link with my two cents, “I needed this. Can’t say “she-mail”, can’t say “tranny”…what the stinkin’ hell? Used to be this queer community was fun.”

A new friend of mine responded with a polite yet firm opposition,

“Please keep in mind those are slurs that get thrown at trans women on a regular basis, often with threats of violence or rape (or in addition to violent attacks or assault). Sorry to be a wet blanket on a post that might have been made in jest, but as a person who worked with and is close to the trans community, we as Cis people, need to understand those slurs are not ours to throw around for comedy’s sake.”

I sincerely respect where she’s coming from, the topic is hardly unknown to me. One of my closest friends teaches gender theory on a university level and we talk this subject constantly, but my familiarity doesn’t start there: as someone who has spent most of his life with gay, lesbian, bi, queer, drag, and all flavors of pansexual genderfuckery, I hardly come at these hot topic terms as an outsider. For decades I’ve been very comfortable referring to myself among friends and family as a “tranny,” and it’s never been anything but a term I respected and celebrated, and I’ve never thought of “she-male” as a slur…how can I when I’m clearly in that continuum myself? Perhaps I rarely bring the high drag anymore, but I’m still as queer as ever. Why queer? It’s about the best umbrella term I can settle on for anyone who’s deviated enough from the decidedly square and heteronormative model to become interesting; I honestly don’t know what the fuck I am if I really have to break the terminology down, but I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago and I’m much happier for it…which is a lighthearted way of acknowledging the position that most of us are somewhere on the trans and/or queer spectrum, whether we can see it/recognize it/embrace it/explore it in earnest/reject it outright and deny it exists within us because we’ve been rigidly indoctrinated by exterior forces/condemn and even endanger others who oppose our mindset.

Continue reading ““Farewell ‘Tranny’””

TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 3

The problem isn’t just trans exclusion. It’s gender exclusion. Feminism is for everyone:

#19 ONE OF THE GIRLS

People sometimes ask me when I knew I was transgender.  Usually I say around the time puberty set in and the differences between me and the girls I knew began to become more apparent.  I can recall wanting to play with the girls as far back as elementary school.  However, the girls at recess didn’t have much interest in an awkward geeky boy hanging around.

I have always considered myself a feminist.  By feminist I mean someone who believes women are just as equal to men and deserve the same rights and respect.  As I began to experience my own womanhood, feminism became even more important to me.  I am very fortunate to have some seriously stellar lady friends in my life that have been instrumental in my development as a female.  These inspiring women go all the way back to high school and have helped see me through college and my transition.

With all this awesome girl power and female bonding going on around me, I was seriously taken aback when I learned that there are a number of women and radical feminists who refuse to recognize transwomen as women. What is confounding about many of these women is that while they don’t believe that “biology equals destiny”, yet they judge transwomen on what we have/had between our legs.  They claim that we were raised with male privilege and no amount of hormones, electrolysis, or surgery will make us “real women”.

A big matter of contention among this crowd tends to be the issue of transwomen in “women only” spaces.  By their reasoning transwomen are invading (and some…ahem, Janice Raymond…have gone as far as saying “raping”) women’s bodies, safety, and comfort when transwomen dare to be part of female groups and activities.  Yet a lot of these women will welcome trans-masculine people openly into their organizations and events.  This is trans-misogyny plain and simple.

Transwomen have a lot to offer feminism and indeed it is crucial that transwomen be part of the feminist conversation.  Those who denounce transwomen as fake and refuse to recognize our femininity are like those girls elementary school who wouldn’t let “boys” be part of their game.

I love her take on this, too:

#20 TRANSGENDER PEOPLE DON’T REINFORCE THE GENDER BINARY

I have read that some individuals take issue with trans folks because we supposedly “reinforce the idea of a gender binary”.  Their view is that through our transitions trans individuals are somehow trying to fashion themselves into an idealized image of what a “real” man or woman should be, and therefore supporting the notion that men and women should look and act a certain way.  This is notion is flat out ridiculous.

While it is true that for many trans folks attempting to gain access to hormone therapies and surgeries, portraying themselves as overly feminine or masculine is a means of dealing with gatekeepers.  This does not mean that we are reinforcing the gender binary. Instead, this is an unfair burden placed upon trans folks to work within the restrictions imposed by the Standards of Care.

What really debunks this concept is that it holds trans people to a higher standard than cisgender individuals.  If a transwoman is reinforcing the gender binary by wearing make-up and a dress then by the same thinking ANY woman wearing make-up and feminine attire would be reinforcing the gender binary.  Any man who chooses to sport a tie would be reinforcing the gender binary as well.  In other words, if trans people are reinforcing the binary, then we all are.

Because well, yes, we all are, we all do. We make concessions to binary gender because it’s fucking easier, and there’s no good reason trans people have some special mission to deconstruct the binary so that cis people can be liberated from it.

TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 2

Not basing your gender presentation on TV, movies and magazines seems like sound advice for everyone – not just trans people.

#9 OVERDOING GENDER

From my own experience and from other’s transitions I’ve witnessed; a lot of trans folks tend to overdo it when it comes to the gender presentation choices they make they begin to transition. I look back and cringe a little when I see some of the outfits and make-up decisions I wore early on. I think the reasoning for this is two-fold.

  • I was trying my best to signal to the world “I AM A FEMALE NOW!” So I picked the most stereotypical feminine over-the-top outfits available. I’ve also seen a lot of younger trans men who express their newfound masculinity in a parade of suits and muscle tees along the same lines.
  • I believe a lot of this is because as trans people we base our gender presentations on what media and society has deemed a male or female person to look like. If you are basing your wardrobe/hair/make-up choices off TV, movies and magazines…you’re going to look a little off.

It takes a bit before we become comfortable enough in our own newly established genders to start expressing them in more realistic/traditional ways.

I’ll add that I think there’s a huge difference between emphasizing your gender because you’re expressing an internal sense of it as opposed to emphasizing your gender because you’re worried about what people think of you. To me, it’s self expression in the first case, but self consciousness (at best) in the second.

I hope, by now, everyone knows I hate hate hate the term “passing”. I do. I come to hate it more every year.

#10 THE PROBLEM WITH PASSING

“Passing” is a term rife with complications and innuendo. Originally “passing” was a term used to describe gay or lesbian persons who didn’t seem to “act homosexual” (whatever that means). For trans folks “passing” means to be seen as socially/physically as cisgender (i.e. non-transgender).

I’m fortunate that I tend to “pass” fairly well. People read me as female when they meet me and as a result I tend to have an easier time (i.e. less harassment, humiliation, discrimination) than many of my fellow transgender brothers and sisters. However, not everyone is able to pass due to physiology or lack of access to HRT and other costly aesthetic procedures.

The problem with passing is that it implies that there is a “correct way” to present as either male or female, and that this ideal is cisgender. It also suggests that transgender individuals are somehow attempting to fool or trick people into thinking they are cisgender. This sets up an “us and them” situation with trans folks on one hand and cisgender folks on the other, and those who pass are like spies in the house of gender normativity.

There is no right way to be male or female. At most, some of us tend to look/act in ways that we as a society deem as “feminine” or “masculine” most of the time. Trans people who don’t live up to that standard shouldn’t be penalized or victimized for not living up to our culture’s false standards.

The other implication, of course, is that trans people are not actually the gender they’re being read as when they “pass”. But I am *still* looking for a way to express this idea without using this godawful word. I’m open to suggestions and coinages that express the idea that someone, anyone, is having their gender interpreted correctly by those around them, and this is true for trans and cis people alike.

TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 1

There’s a great post by filmmaker Ashley Altadonna about the things she’s learned as a result of transition. I’m going to do a brief series featuring some of her observations as I think it’s useful for those who are about to transition to read the perspectives of those who just have.

Here are a few examples:

#6 HORMONING

Before I started taking estrogen, I read online from other trans-women about how wonderful it was. Colors seemed brighter, sounds were clearer. It sounded like turning into a vampire in some YA paranormal romance. That was all bulls**t. In reality, my body hair thinned, my fat moved to new locations, I got breasts, and my skin softened…all changes I was hoping for. As an added bonus, what little acne I had at the time cleared up.

However my voiced cracked from speaking in a higher register and there were mood swings, hot flashes and insomnia. One of the most interesting things I noticed about being on estrogen was an increased sense of smell. (Note to guys: That why girls dig dudes with good hygiene habits!)

When I recently went off estrogen for a few months, all those wonderful girl attributes started to reverse themselves. More body hair, acne, my skin became rougher feeling, more mood swings and hot flashes. It was like being a teenage boy puberty all over again complete with an embarrassing overly active libido. I’ve never been so glad to be back on estrogen again.

I love when anyone calls bullshit, but I particularly love the way she shuts down the Technicolor Trans Hormone Dream and then outlines what hormones actually DO.

This next piece I found interesting because it’s not something we hear very often. Instead, trans people are constantly reminded of the risks of hormones (which exist, of course), but that there is a difference between the way you might care for a body you like living in and the lack of care you might have for one you can’t stand… well, DUH, but it’s a point that I’ve never read from a trans woman before.

#8 TRANSITION HAS MADE ME HEALTHIER

When I was ready to begin my hormone replacement therapy I hadn’t been in a doctor’s office in nearly a decade. Now I go at least once a year for my annual check up, though part of that is to keep my HRT prescription. I knew I wanted to take my hormone treatment seriously. I quit socially smoking, and cut back on my drinking due to estrogen’s effect on the liver.

Since going fulltime I’ve also tried taking better care of myself in other ways. I exercise more often and try to eat better. Being female and paying more attention to my appearance, I also take better care of my skin and have tried to improve my posture. I’m not always successful at these things, but I have noticed an overall improvement in my general wellness the past few years. Sometimes it just takes the right motivation.

I’ll feature a few more in upcoming days.

A Situation Like This

Here’s a cool piece by Finn Enke of University of Wisconsin, Madison, inspired by Chelsea Manning’s coming out as trans.

I Am a ‘Situation Like This:’ Names, Pronouns, and Learning from Chelsea Manning

As a trans person and educator, I am grateful to Chelsea Manning. She is not the only famous person to come out as trans, nor is she the first military person to do so. But because her coming out coincided with her internationally high-profile trial and her impending incarceration, she has provided an opportunity for institutions and communities to recognize transgender existence. As Socrates observed long ago, learning is often painful because learning requires us to change. Manning is making most of us have to work a little harder, finally.

Here’s what’s close to home for me, as an educator:

Julie is a 23 year-old trans woman trying hard to stay in college; she has dropped out of many classes and can’t use most restrooms on campus. Family, health, and economic factors have thus far made substantive steps toward legal or medical transition inaccessible. Julie’s university lacks a preferred name and pronoun policy, so class rosters list her as Robert. Most days, Julie has to decide whether to ask people to call her Julie and use female pronouns, or to try to quietly pass as the man many assume her to be. Many days, Julie stays home instead.

Tomas is a 35 year-old trans male who medically and legally transitioned ten years ago; his identity documents read male, and his appearance conforms to common expectations about that. However, most students enrolled in his classes at University X assume they will be meeting a female instructor by the name of Tessa. Tomas chose not to legally alter the name (Tessa) that his parents gave him at birth, and most workplaces have honored Tomas’s preferred name. University X is an exception, insisting that only people’s legal names may be used. Tomas will have to come out to his students on the first day of classes, to explain that he is Tomas and is as he appears: a man.

Continue reading “A Situation Like This”

Guest Post: Trish Mifflin

Trish Mifflin recently wrote a short review of the book True Selves that she posted on our community forums, and I thought it was worth posting here for others to read. Do you agree? Disagree? I know this has been a very important book for many people, but I’d love to hear more about what people think of how it has, or hasn’t, held up. – hb.

True Selves Revisited – by Trish Mifflin

When people are trying to learn about transgender issues, they’re often referred — by IFGE  and others — to a 1996 book called True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism for Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals, by Mildred Brown and Chloe Rounsley. It’s gained something of a reputation as a “Rosetta stone” for explaining transgender issues to people.

I’ve owned True Selves for years, but for one reason or another, I never got around to reading it, until last week, when — on a whim — I pulled it from the shelf and started going through it.

Well. To put it nicely, I don’t think it holds up. I guess, being generous, I would call it “quaint.”

To put it not-so-nicely, I think it’s a terrible book to give to anyone who has a loved one who is transgender, or to someone who may be transgender, transsexual, gender-queer or otherwise non-binary conforming.

True Selves — and I know I’m oversimplifying here — pretty much says that unless we’re seeking genital surgery, we crossdressers (I’m one) and gender-queers are disordered people with sexual fetishes.

And if we are seeking permanent gender re-assignment, True Selves tells us we will have strife-filled, heart-breaking, miserable lives.

These are not exactly the messages I would want to give my family and friends if I wanted them to understand my feelings. Continue reading “Guest Post: Trish Mifflin”

Guest Author: The Tyranny of “Happily Ever After”

Kimberly Kael, a regular poster to our forums, wrote this recently & I thought it really stood repeating:

Here’s a question that has been bothering me lately and that I’ve been trying to put into words: does the social emphasis on happily ever after as the canonical goal for relationships do more harm than good?

Sometimes the notion of true love feels like the platonic ideals of male and female – it serves as an interesting point of reference but taken too seriously it becomes a source of frustration because none of us can really live up to the implied expectations. That’s not to say there isn’t merit in aspiring to a durable relationship. I’m sure it’s been reinforced in many ways. There are relationships that look perfect and effortless from the outside. There are times in our lives when we’ve had that kind of connection and we want to hang onto it forever.

Of course there are also good economic and emotional reasons to encourage stability by giving people an incentive not to split at the first sign of trouble. Indeed, I’ve never been in a rewarding relationship that didn’t involve working through rough spots. On the other hand, how many people fall into the trap of expecting love to be free of these kinds of challenges? I guess that’s a notion most of us take with a grain of salt by the time we get a little experience in balancing the needs of a partnership.

What’s more insidious is that society encourages us to make a lot of explicit or implied promises about the distant future that we simply may not be able to keep without making ourselves and everyone around us miserable. That sets unrealistic expectations for everyone involved, which evolve into a sense of entitlement: “Where’s my happily ever after?” It seems fundamentally implausible that so many relationships end in divorce and yet when people wind up there it seems to come as a complete surprise. They have no backup plan and only an incomplete set of life skills beyond those specialized for the role they played in the relationship.

At the root of it all is that unlike the male/female dichotomy there’s no spectrum implied by a single point. Where are the other archetypal relationships? Okay, so there’s the affair. The one-night stand. But is there anything else that doesn’t have a strong negative connotation?

I’ve personally been talking to an old friend about this idea a lot as she’s been unhappy recently & wondering if the source of her frustration was her relationship or the compromises it implies. That is, she wasn’t necessarily unhappy with her partner himself, but unhappy at the kind of compromises she’s made due to being in a relationship at all, with anyone. Her “pattern” – if she has one – is one of serial monogamy: relationships of several years that end when the compromise:satifaction ratio starts to fall short.

As someone who once was poly – although initially somewhat unwillingly & eventually quite happily – I’m not sure why we persist in believing that one person can be all that we need emotionally, sexually, romantically. We often expect someone (1) we have good sex with, (2) get all tingly around, (3) whose conversation & company we enjoy, and (4) with whom we can build a life, a home, a family. It’s kind of a lot, no? I remember many years ago, before meeting Betty, at feeling astonished I could manage even two of those with the same person in a short period of time — but over a lifetime? In speaking with more & more poly people, and perusing Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up, the way that people “use” poly in their lives seems endlessly variable & creative. Still, though, it generally means to people “having sex with whoever you want.” Which I know, poly folks, is not what it means at all – but that’s still the popular perception.

I know, for someone like me, no one really bats an eyebrow if I mention missing having a male husband. Betty & everyone else knows I intended to be in a relationship with a man. So while Betty & I are still happy as two peas in a pod, there are days when what I’ve lost, and what I miss, is pretty acute. I don’t suspect I will ever stop missing having a male husband, even if the missing grows less acute and less chronic over time. As someone who has always had strong emotional relationships with men – the adoptive “older brothers” I talked about in She’s Not the Man – I miss some kind of masculine energy in my life (and not just sexually, you big perverts). This stuff is gendered because I’m the partner of a person who transitioned from within our marriage, but it strikes me that there are about a million things that a person might miss, or need, over time.

Continue reading “Guest Author: The Tyranny of “Happily Ever After””