Guest Author: Joie de Vivre #TDOV2021

Today is the annual Trans Day of Visibility, and for trans folks (and our non-binary/gender non-conforming siblings) its both the best of times and the worst of times.

I mostly post about the latter because the effort to eradicate — and I don’t use that word lightly — trans people from public life is hateful, alarming and requiring direct action to combat. The on-going hate-crimes murders of trans people, usually almost all trans women, usually almost all women of color, usually the vast majority Black trans women. The demonization of trans (girl) athletes — because it’s almost always trans women/girls who are targeted — by an unholy alliance between social conservatives and purported “feminists,” who are really Feminist-Approriately Reactionary Transphobes. (Because if you’re “feminism” aligned you with the Immoral Minority, then you’re doing feminism wrong.) State legislatures proposing — and passing — laws to criminalize providing trans-related healthcare to trans kids, to allow doctors to deny healthcare in general to trans patients.

Like the attack on voting rights, even when they fail these efforts are meant to intimidate us. They force us and our allies to expend time on effort that could go to more worthy purposes — such as reducing the shockingly high rates of suicide among trans teens. In a 2018 study, 85% of trans teens reported “seriously considering suicide,” while over half of them attempted suicide. Because life is that fucking tough for them. In another study, 78% of respondents reported being harassed, 35% attacked and 12% sexually assaulted. Trans adults have suicide rate comparable only to combat vets suffering PTSD, because yes, life is that fucking hard for too many of us as well. I only post about a fraction of this stuff, not only for my own sanity, but to prevent myself from becoming Janie One Note. Trust me, there’s a lot of other things that I’d rather be posting about. So if you know a trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming person, today is a really good day to show them some love, because although there’s now a lot of good things happening, there’s still all too much threatening and scary stuff going down.

It’s also the best of times. Like for many other minorities, the existential terror of The Former Guy’s administration is now gone. The current administration has our backs, and they’re walking the walk. They’re rolling back the hateful policies of the prior administration. The Biden administration became to the first to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility, while also today the Pentagon reversed the military’s trans ban. That’s a big Joe Biden Deal. (Even if presidential executive orders mean my rights are at the whim of who’s in power.) The love shown to Elliot Page shown when he came out. The increasing visibility of, and support for, trans men, who’ve traditionally flown under the radar (for better or worse).

Dr. Rachel Levine getting confirmed by the Senate as Assistant Secretary of Health — the first trans person to do so. Dr. Levine’s accomplishment is a double victory, because like a lot of later-in-life transitioners, including myself, she’s “visibly trans” due to the unwanted changes testosterone wreaked on her body. Previously the high-profile trans woman activists, like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock were less threatening: they fit the cisgender heterosexual norms of beauty, they’re attracted to men. Which is not to knock their activism, far from it. But life is different when you look like, well Laverne Cox. I still regularly get “sirred” by store cashiers and others. I’ve resigned myself to always being “sirred” on the phone. I’ve learned to let roll off my back since it’s often not worth correcting them, but for part of me it’s still always another slice in the death of a thousand cuts. (If you don’t think pronouns are important, try misgendering a cisgender person’s pet.) I don’t know Dr. Levine’s sexual orientation, but since she was married to a woman (the married didn’t survive transition), I suspect that like many later-in-life transitioners, including myself, she’s attracted to women. (Sexuality attraction being independent from gender identity.)

Dr. Levine doesn’t really have a choice whether she’s visibly trans. Myself, I blend in more often than I’d hoped for, and for the most part I’m treated as the woman I am. But I still choose to be visible for those who can’t be. (Yes, I’m one of the examples that yes, it does get better, and I have enough privileges to be visible.) But I’m hoping that being trans ends up being the third or fourth most-interesting thing about me. That said, not everyone can be, or wants to be visible. (If you don’t think you know any trans people, trust me you do.) There are many reasons. Some don’t feel safe doing so, some are trying to keep jobs or preserve marriages, some feel it’s nobody else’s damn business. But regardless of the reason, it’s totally cool, and they’re just as trans (or non-binary or gender non-conforming), just as valid, as those who are out. But in the spirit of visibility, I’d encourage you to check out FORGE’s series of short videos where trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming folx share their experiences and feelings about being seen. In particular my friends Helen Boyd and Rachel Crowl. (Helen is an incisive thinker about gender, an amazing writer, and fierce advocate — buy her books!, and check out her Trans 101 talk. Rachel is a bad-ass actor, musician and photographer who got stellar reviews for co-starring in an award-winning indie film, and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — cast her!)

To my trans sisters and non-binary, and gender non-conforming sisters, brothers and siblings, to their partners (who are too often unsung heroes), to their families, and our fierce allies, I see you, I love you, I celebrate you. I’d also like to give a shout out to all those on the trans spectrum who don’t socially transition and therefore never go public for various reasons (most don’t feel the need to transition and are happy being “just a crossdresser” etc.), and often are deeply, deeply closeted—there’s probably 10 of them for every public transitioner, making them the vast dark matter of the trans universe. Unfortunately many of them are looked down upon not only by society at large, but also too often by other trans people. Yes, I see you, and yes, you’re “real enough” too. To quote Helen, you’re amazing and you’re awesome. Love to you all. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Trans 101

The Fox Cities Book Festival recently chose the book George by Alex Gina as a community read, and as a result they asked me to do a Trans 101. It’s been up on Facebook but they were nice enough to get me a copy to be shared, so here you go:

PTSD: What It’s Like

I wrote a longer post about having a panic attack as someone with PTSD today. It’s not something I write or talk about often, but after this year, I’m realizing I probably need to share more of what it’s like, what it’s been like, how you learn the shape of your own trauma, how you negotiate with it.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Today’s panic started around 2:30. It’s just past 6:30 now and I’m coming down which is why I’m able to write about it. I’ve always wanted to and I honestly don’t know (also don’t care) if this explains how it works. This is just my version of PTSD; everyone experiences it differently.

In this case, too, there was resolution to the thing that caused the panic within an hour of the stimulus that set it off.

So: panic stimulus – stop breathing – stomach goes weird – fingers go cold – head comes off.

That all happens in about a minute.

I had a reason, an actual direct cause, to stop panicking maybe a half an hour after that.

Yet here I am, four hours later, typing this because I can’t get back to my work because I can’t focus. Because once it starts, you’re kind of just a passenger while the whole of you goes off the rails for a while. You wait. You watch symptoms once you’ve learned them – and that takes years – and you do the things that help a little, whatever they are, but mostly it’s just about passing the time until the brain can wrest control back, once telling yourself “you’re okay” actually starts to sink in.

So yeah. That’s what PTSD is like. I’ll be a little weird the rest of the day, a little queasy, a little angry, a little jittery. Eventually I will tell myself it’s okay to go to bed and I’ll take a pill for it, the kind I have an “as needed” prescription for, and mostly I’ll wake up feeling like myself tomorrow.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Trans People and Sports

As many of you know, I am not a sports person.

What I am very enthusiastic about, however, is girls doing sports. I was a tomboy, remember, and had to compete with boys a grade older in order to lose some races. I dropped out of sports for a variety of reasons, but that’s a different story for a different day.

But I’m even more enthusiastic about trans inclusion in sports, because it makes sense. And with this rash of bills making their way around the country – one is supposed to be introduced here in Wisconsin – I thought I might gather a reading list on the issue for those who want to know more.

First, this great article by the ACLU about the common myths surround trans inclusion in sports.

This piece by the ACLU about why we’re seeing this rash of state bills right now and what’s behind it. (And this additional one on the same topic by Dawn Ennis for Forbes, too.)

Completing the ACLU trifecta, Chase Strangio’s annual tracker of trans bills on Twitter.

My friend Quince Mountain on trans inclusion in sports and on being able to play sports doesn’t necessarily have to do with winning at sports., a project of Chris Mosier’s, which has a ton of information, from the basics on trans and sports, and an action center.

Dr. Veronica Ivy on Twitter regularly writes about sports and champions trans inclusion.

Here’s a great piece about how, if you want to protect girls in sports, you should probably worry a lot more about sexually predatory coaches (and not about trans people).

To close, I’m going to say a few things. When someone you know contacts yourself, ask yourself a couple of questions: (1) has this person ever cared about women and girls in sports before? (2) has this person ever expressed any interest whatsoever in feminism and “leveling the playing field” ever before? and (3) where is this person getting this information?

Because if the answers are (1) no, and (2) no, and (3) who the hell knows, you might want to send them this list so they can do some research and get back to you.

I’ve got 20 years of experience doing this work and no, I can’t boil it down to a meme or 5 basic issues. This rash of bills is an attack on trans people, plain and simple, and it is hateful and unwarranted and a waste of time.

But while they’re out there trying to pass these state by state by state, trans people you know are suffering, scared, and already dealing with so much prejudice and discrimination. Be kind to them, and argue with your friends for them as often as you can.

(I’ll keep adding to this list, so feel free to send me more resources.)

added: Utah op-ed by Max Chang which makes great arguments.

added: This Nancy podcast called “When They Win“.

added: this NYT article about Rachel McKinnon.

added: Vice article on the physical changes transition brings.

added 3/19: American Progress article on the importance of trans participation in sports.

Trans Day of Remembrance 2020 #TDoR2020

It feels so different this year with Monica gone.

It feels so much the same this year, seeing all the photos of the beautiful people taken by violence because they were trans.

It feels so different this year with 250,000 families mourning a loved one who died from Covid.

It feels the same to realize that there are still people who think a person’s gender identity is a good reason to hate them.

It feels so different this year because President Elect Joe Biden not only marked today as Transgender Day of Remembrance, but he made trans and non binary people a promise to respect their dignity and human rights.

I was talking to a fellow partner of a trans person recently about how terrifying it can be to negotiate other people’s attraction to your partner. On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone realize that they find a trans person attractive for the first time. On the other: really? I mean, there are a million billion examples of beautiful trans people. But the dynamic for someone who is surprised by that attraction is so, so complicated. I’ve had people walk up and tell me how hot my wife is, and sometimes they are so proud of themselves for validating her gender and beauty. Other times it’s just creepy and weird.

But partners always live with that fear that exactly the wrong person will find your person attractive, or find their gender an affront, and so we live with that fear all the time of the person we love being hurt because of who they are, but moreso, because the wrong person’s dick got hard.

It sickens me over and over again to see the beautiful people who were killed maybe because they slept with the wrong person or just because they were walking home from work late at night. Maybe they were doing sex work. Maybe they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s still a reality that a trans person can be targeted for doing absolutely nothing at all but existing.

So when we have these “theoretical” conversations about what gender is I never hear a conversation about gender. What I hear instead is a conversation about whether my beautiful wife deserves to be treated with respect, her life and autonomy protected.

And honestly my heart hurts these days, hurts with the piles of grief. It hurts because I miss Monica and still can’t quite believe she’s done. And it hurts with the fear I have for others’ safety, the frustration when I realize how little I feel like I can do, have done.

So this year I’m inviting you to celebrate or thank a trans person you know, to send them a card or a gift or pay a bill that needs paying.

If you’ve got suggestions for organizations that specifically help trans people, let me know.

Here in Wisconsin there’s FORGE and Diverse & Resilient. Today, consider a donation.

Do more. Read a book. Watch Disclosure. Support trans candidates for office.

Sometimes what bothers me most about TDOR is that I am reminded that a bunch of my friends are trans because their being trans isn’t the important thing about any of them and never fucking has been.

But we mark the day to respect the dead, to say their names, to say: violence is not okay.

I just really hope, someday, there is no need for TDOR because there is no violence against trans people.

The 19th Article on Trans Candidates

I got interviewed for this article which focuses primarily on Sarah McBridge but also on the history and reasons so many trans people are running for office. I think the most important point I made was this one:

“The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has spurred trans people to consider elected office instead of just local community organizing and advocacy, according to Helen Boyd Kramer, an author and instructor of gender studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. She said trans people understand the unnecessary politicization of bodies, choice, and medical care “in deep ways.””

First Trans Delegation: 2004

Homemade pins, made by Babs Siperstein and Monica Helms, for the first trans delegation in 2004. Much thanks to Christina for supplying the image.

Yesterday, for the trans/GNC and LGBTQ caucuses, the Jane Fee award was given to Babs (Barbara) Siperstein, who died last year.

This year, there are 35+ trans /GNC delegates to the DNC, and they, of course, are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Jane Fee was the solo trans delegate, at age 73 – the first ever out trans delegate- to the DNC in 2000.

By 2004, there were 7 trans delegates:

Monica Helms (who also created and designed the trans pride flag and TAVA, the first trans veterans org)

Vanessa Edwards Foster, who created the trans lobbying org, NTAC

Barbara Siperstein, who was so awesome she now has a law named after her

Kathy Padilla, who helped pass Philly’s trans rights law

Melissa Sklarz, who has been a moving force in NYC trans rights since forever, and

Christina Ocasio (whose current focus is her awesome music).

They were joined by trans journalist Roslyn Manley and by Mara Keisling of NCTE, who has gone every year in one role or another.

Stay tuned for more info about the current crop of trans/GNC delegates, info about their races, and how you can support them.

Covid Wash: New Piece on Patreon

I’m not managing to write very much – same thoughts over & over, to be honest, most days – but a kind gesture by a friend causes me to write this piece. Here’s an excerpt (and a new photo taken by my very talented wife).

There are moments in this pandemic when the enormity of it all hits you for a second. It’s usually, for me, a banal moment when I’m telling my cat she has already had dinner or I’m trying to find a lighter or I’m pulling wet laundry out of the washing machine. My heart feels cold for a minute. My breath stops. An overwhelming feeling of nausea and dismay washes over me in a wave, a series of waves. I feel as if I’m about to vanish in a puff of smoke and then… it’s over again, and my hand is pulling on the wet towel that’s wrapped itself around the agitator. I can feel the cool sweat on my forehead or upper lip – evidence that something happened; my stomach clenches, and I cough or sigh to re start my breath because I’ve been holding it without realizing. It has passed, that feeling of dread, that panic attack, the nausea of this reality. It’s almost as if I’m not there for a minute or ten, and I don’t know how long I was gone. I don’t know why it hit just then, no matter what it was I was doing or saying or looking at. Like a wave picked me up and dropped me back down but not an ocean wave – instead a sinister wave of fear, death, panic, dread, sadness, grief, anger.