RIP Lady Chablis

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

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

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

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

Surveying Gender

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

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

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

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

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

New Author Photos

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

hbk author photo 2016 shades

hbk author photo 2016

Jen Richards Lays It Out

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

Gay Crossdresser

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

In Corey’s own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblically Gendered

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

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

#BlocktheBeast: Nico Hines Should Be Fired

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

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

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

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

Five Years: August 8th

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support Trans Writers

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

This is an awesome way to support trans writers.

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

Read more about it here.

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

 

More Music: #mile4 #MileofMusic

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

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

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

Hill & the DNC

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

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

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

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

Go Hill. Change the game. Fuck the patriarchy.

And Then There Was Eve

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

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

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

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

Third Party Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fourth of July Plea from My Jewish Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stonewall National Monument

#weareorlando

If you’re waking up today and wondering why you can’t stop crying, that’s the shock of it wearing off. Now comes the sadness, the grief, and somewhere in there, the fear will happen too.

For straight people everywhere: please try to make some room for your LGBTQ colleagues, friends, and family. We are all a wreck, some of us barely keeping it together. I hate to say this, but we really don’t want to hear your opinions right now. We know this is about gun control and Islamophobia and all the rest, too, but this minute? It’s hard to be reminded in such a brutal, violent way that some people hate us very, very much, and that we live in a world, still, that debates our very existence, our rights, our humanity.

And maybe if young men didn’t grow up so steeped in homophobia promulgated to the left and to the right, every single damn minute, there wouldn’t be this much violence against us.

Also, fuck you to every politician who is telling people to pray but do nothing otherwise, to every talking head who has tolerated a conversation about who should pee where, to anyone who doesn’t shut down jokes about us.

Oh, right, and then there’s the anger.

Take care of yourself, readers. Reach out if you’re hurting too much. Hang out with animals. Step away from the computer. Listen to music. Do what you need to do to give yourself time for all of the emotions.

And then, hey, let’s go after gun control laws the same way we went after marriage.

Orlando

Yesterday I saw students graduate who have been out and proud for most of their young lives; others are still shy around their families of origin but also full of pride in their own queer selves; some I did a small tutorial with this past Spring on pre Stonewall identity where we learned how important bars have always been – as safe space, as community, as political rallying cry. I am happy to know they are armed with that little piece of history that might help make some sense of this. I say that as if there is any to be made.

Another student who is a deep thinker, big hearted and logical, wrote to ask if I thought maybe at least this violence would be pivotal.

I had to say I didn’t know. I do know that somewhere a parent has just called their queer kid to tell them they love them for the very first time in a long time. I also know there are people whose hate burns so hot that they are happy one of these shooters finally found “a worthy target”.

I know that that hate, and that love, may appear in equal measure.

For those of us who live and work and love on the trans end of things, this news is not as shocking as it should be. We are too used to violence, fatigued by it.

I do know that the love and art and community we will create around this wound will knock our socks off; it’s how gay people live; it’s how we have lived through so much. As Solomon Georgio tweeted: the gay agenda has always been “enjoy every moment you can before a hateful person takes it away” and that is only more true today.

Take some joy in some small thing. Cry. Keep finding beauty and joy in places others don’t look. Find each other, at vigils and rallies and, yes, in bars. Dance. Give someone else safe harbor, a hug, a thought.

I keep thinking about Esqualita and the abuelitas who would come to see their queer grand kids walk and I know there is no consoling them and there shouldn’t be. We should live in a world where they are safer.

Love to all of you today. I am so, so tired of crying.

 

 

WI Trans Employment Survey

This just in:

Volunteers needed for online survey-must be employed in Wisconsin and be transgender.

Please forward to those who may wish to participate. This anonymous online survey focuses on the job satisfaction of transgender employees in the workplace. It takes about 6 minutes to complete. Participants must be: 18 years or older; employed but not self-employed; working for a Wisconsin-based employer; individuals who identity somewhere on the transgender spectrum.

Participation is voluntary.

Stacie Christian is conducting the research. A summary of dissertation results will be posted on Stacie Christian’s Facebook page and available at organizations who posted this flyer (IRB approval #05-25-16-0318253).

Casting Call

I’ve just received this interesting casting call for a trans female actress to play a trans woman. Here’s the description:

EVE POOLE – 30-40. an exceptional transgender female jazz pianist. She is centered, even keeled and attentive. She is beautiful and captivates a room. Eve used to be a musicology professor but now is a performance jazz pianist.  She has trouble communicating and too often is more altruistic than serving her own needs. She eventually realizes that there is dishonesty in silence. (Actors submitting do not need to play the piano.)

Learn more about the film at: www.evethemovie.com

contact: evethemovie2016@gmail.com

So if you know someone who might fit the bill, feel free to contact the filmmakers directly.