RIP Alison Laing

It doesn’t matter if you know it’s coming or not – the news of the death of someone you loved and respected is always hard to hear.

From Dallas Denny:

Alison played a huge role in the forming transgender community. She was a co-founder of Renaissance Education Association, author of a book on voice, and served as Executive Director of the International Foundation for Gender Education. Alison and spouse Dottie we long-time supporters of Fantasia Fair, and both served as Director for multiple years, and both earned the Fair’s highest awards.

There will be a memorial for Alison and Dottie in Provincetown, Massachusetts during Fantasia Fair week, October 20-27, conducted by their daughter Betsy.

I met Alison and her wife Dottie when I was first doing the research for My Husband Betty and in later days when I was doing readings and workshops at various trans conferences mostly in the NE. They were good, weird days, but those two were always a delight. Dottie passed a few years ago.

Here’s are some pieces of an interview Alison gave after Dottie’s death, about why she came out, how she thought about sexuality. (warning: that site is a hot mess of ads)

Here’s a cool photo essay The Advocate did of her early photos, from the 1960s and beyond.

What a beautiful, kind couple they were – such an inspiration to this young ballbuster. Alison was always one of the people who said: keep on saying what’s true.

I’ll miss you, friend. Thank you so much for your support during those early days.

Life Coach: Kate Bornstein

I just recently found out, during a brief trip to NYC, that Kate Bornstein has started doing life coaching! How cool is that?

From Kate’s website:

What is Heart to Heart Coaching With Kate?

A coaching session is you and I talking about your life in gender. You decide what issue(s) you want to work on and what results you’d like to achieve. My job is to help you…

  • get clear about what you want
  • identify and name areas of your life where gender is causing you to suffer
  • find some immediate relief from that suffering
  • identify blocks or beliefs standing between you and the happiness you’re looking for
  • take positive action by giving you a plan tailored for your who you are, how you live, and whatever resources you’ve got in terms of available time, energy and health.

How cool is that? I’m thinking about taking her up on it myself, to be honest.

You can read more or contact her if you know you’re already interested:

Men I Have Known (Excerpt)

I started writing this piece back in 2011 after my father died — with the intention of writing some stories about him, but then I started dreaming about other men I’d known – my first boyfriend, a star crossed love, a former boss, etc., and it was very different writing from other stuff I’d done. Here’s a taste — right now, this is how that work starts. 

At the age of 43 I’ve found myself bereft of men. They’re dropping like flies, sneaking out fire escapes, receiving lethal injections. For a while they were everywhere with their opinions and shaving cream and dirty underwear. For a while, they were in my bed and on the couch, at the kitchen table and hanging around my stoop. Like roaches in jeans and t-shirts, they multiplied. And they disappeared like bugs do, too, all of them at once & all of a sudden, and I didn’t notice any one of them was missing until all of them were.

I’ve put more of it up on Patreon, of course.

TDOR 2018

For this year’s TDOR, I want to highlight a beautiful piece by none other than S. Bear Bergman, who writes about being scared in the dark and gathering light by drawing both on trans experience and on Jewish experience.

This fall was a rough one for trans people and for Jewish people with the news out of the WH and the Tree of Life shooting, so I just wanted to affirm the beauty that is transness and the beauty that is Jewishness.

My life would be so much darker without these two communities who know how to hold fast in the dark.

Love to all of you. Let Bear’s words inspire you and keep you warm today:

“I hope that someday trans people too have the moment to call such a signal light out of darkness, that we too can celebrate our resistance with friends and family. I would enjoy it very much. But until then, we are going to have continue to resist, and we are going to have to get better and smarter and more cohesive and more compassionate and more resolute and more fabulous in our resistance. That is the light that we can call out of this darkness. We are the light that we can call out of this darkness.”

Gay Trans Men

I asked friends on Facebook recently for stories, memoir, or narratives of whatever kind about gay trans men negotiating sex with cis gay men.

Here’s what we came up with:

If anyone knows of any others, do let me know or add others in the comments.

That Novel

You know what they say: every writer has a novel in a drawer somewhere that they mean to re write. I’m pretty sure they are correct.

In honor of NaNoWriMo – during which I’m actually trying to write my 3rd book, the trifecta in the series about my marriage – I thought I should dust off that old novel in my drawer and see if anyone was interested.

I’ve put up the first chapter on Patreon and will publish the 2nd, and so on, once I’m up to 90 patrons.

& Let me tell you: pulling it out and dusting it off – metaphorically, of course, since mine was an old .doc file – is pretty painful. It took me a long while to work out that my strength as a writer wasn’t fiction, and yet… the few people who read this novel back in the day seemed to think it was okay, including one very impressive agent.

It is about an angry young woman in her 20s who lives in NYC and who meets some people and sleeps with some and is trying to sort out her sexuality and her anger and friendship and loyalty, etc. It’s a coming of age novel, transparent to me now.

For me, in particular, it stands as a kind of love letter to a New York that no longer exists, or that only exists in the memories of the folks who were there, the NYC that reveals its own past selves in park lamp lights and ads for discontinued products and places fading on the sides of buildings. It’s a New York before cell phones and 9/11 and before a long line of Republican mayors. Some of my favorite places make an appearance: the Audubon Ballroom of Washington Heights, Cafe Reggio, and, of course, the statue of Joan of Arc hidden in Riverside Park at 93rd Street.

Enjoy, if you would. 

In Response To The New York Times’ October 21 Story “Trump Administration Eyes Defining Transgender Out of Existence”

from Mara Keisling of NCTE:

“This proposal is an attempt to put heartless restraints on the lives of 2 million people, effectively abandoning our right to equal access to health care, to housing, to education, or to fair treatment under the law. This administration is willing to disregard the established medical and legal view of our rights and ourselves to solidify an archaic, dogmatic, and frightening view of the world. This transparent political attack will not succeed administratively, legally, or morally.

In the name of preempting some misinformation, let’s talk about what this proposed rule would not do. It would not eliminate the precedents set by dozens of federal courts over the last two decades affirming the full rights and identities of transgender people. It would not undo the consensus of the medical providers and scientists across the globe who see transgender people, know transgender people, and urge everyone to accept us for who we are. And no rule—no administration—can erase the experiences of transgender people and our families. While foolish, this proposed rule deflates itself in the face of the facts, and the facts don’t care how the Trump administration feels.

To transgender people: I know you are frightened. I know you are horrified to see your existence treated in such an inhumane and flippant manner. What this administration is trying to do is an abomination, a reckless attack on your life and mine. But this administration is also staffed by inexperienced amateurs overplaying their hand by taking extreme positions that ignore law, medicine, and basic human decency.

With each awful headline like this, remember that you are far from alone. NCTE and other organizations are continuing to fight against this bigotry. Remember that there is an entire human rights community that not only stands with us but will always fight back—and fight hard. Thousands of us have devoted our lives to protecting you and your families, and our ability to do so is nothing short of a privilege. And we will not lay down now.

Transgender people have fought rules like this one in federal and state court and won. We have stood toe-to-toe with administrators, legislatures, and executives who would agree with this rule and yet we won. We have fought and will continue to fight for The Equality Act, a bill currently in Congress that would explicitly enshrine civil rights protections for transgender people—Congress must pass this long overdue bill now. We know how to defeat this, and we will do everything we can until every transgender person feels secure in their rights under the law.

At the heart of our work at NCTE is the belief that no one should have to suffer just to be true to themselves. And yet transgender people are still often forced from their homes, fired from their jobs, harassed at their schools, and denied the most basic level of dignity by a broken system. Knowing this, millions of transgender people wake up every day and step into an uncertain world. This is the most common trait shared by transgender people: A strength and resilience for hard and difficult times. If this administration is hoping to demoralize us, they will be disappointed. If they are hoping we will give up, they should reconsider the power of our persistence and our fury.”


Once More and Then

A month later and here I am again, finally on my way back to Appleton from Ashland after being out there much longer than intended – my 8/24 flight was canceled and then it was hard to choose a new date and then it was Labor Day weekend and then we slept through our alarms and overslept yesterday’s flight. Groundhog Day or a Twilight Zone but as it was as if all that was left was this surreal world of theatre in Ashland, as if all the rest of the world beyond the ring of mountains might have disappeared entirely.

It hasn’t. Maybe contrary to my own wishes: there it is below us, the foothills of the Rockies near Denver and before that the barren beautiful land around Salt Lake. Soon the tidy farmed rectangles of Nebraska. There is an awful lot of the US – so much room, so much land, so much beauty. We are such greedy morons.

This enclave of actors and theatre magic felt good for a month; it’s been a long while since I have been in and around actors and stage techs and directors. I like them. First, they are almost always talking about the work. There is something about how communal an art it is, I think, but I can’t name another kind of artist who, as a whole, talks out all the details. Certainly not my kind. We’re pretty much useless on that front. We’re the well steeped and already cold on the counter kind of tea. It’s weird and lonely to think and sit and talk to yourself – which is what writing often is, at least while you’re doing it. So actors are good company for an awkward, earnest type like myself. Words give them their jobs, of course, and give me mine too.

Acting, as an art, strikes me as both illusion and truth – the acting part is obviously pretending, intentionally false, fiction. Yet in the words are the soul an actor speaks and expresses; there is a depth there, a truth that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

This production of Henry V was so, so good. Spare and perfectly cast: there is no better thing than a cast that can deliver Shakespeare as if it’s modern English, who can get the meaning across even when you get lost in the verbiage. What a joy. I wish I could write about every single actor’s performance because they all that moment on stage that burned bright and as a whole, there were no cracks. Every aspect was consistent with the whole vision of the thing and the talent was all in service to that whole.

Which is to say that’s what this Henry V struck me as, most notably in Daniel José Molina’s Henry. I saw the play 3x from 3 different vantages and as I got used to it again – as with a familiar stretch of road – tennis balls, traitors, the breach, siege, fatigue – here is a funnier moment – but still this play is never actually funny, just uncomfortable. And all of the talking Henry does – only fewer lines than Hamlet, IIRC – there is this irresistible movement toward the inevitable, with Henry alternately dragged by or dragging the cart. In this production, during the speech in Act II when Henry walked like a kind of slow motion silent film, or a sepia print of WWI come to life – picking up the weight of those he carried; oh the weight of a king, as it’s often played. But this Henry – there’s so much young brash man to this portrayal, shaved head and all, that you are never either amazed by this Henry and you never feel sorry for him either. He is, like the peasant he describes in that ceremony speech, just working his day and his fate as does everyone else but with less sleep and almost no friends.

And this is where I’m not sure where my experience of the thing was more than the thing than was there, but my god, the ceremony speech. It’s not the most famous speech of the play but it is the best: when a king doesn’t envy his own place but doesn’t exactly value it either. It just is what it is; I am/have become this person who carries others, the kingdom, myself, and yet he’s really only ever carrying his own gloves, less often the crown, while all the soldiers around him grunt with actual heavy lifting.

This scene was the whole play for me maybe because the actor plays Henry as a less austere young man – informal, nearly, easy to smile and fucks right back but better than anyone who fucks with him. He’s a punk, amused by others’ stupidity and his own. This is the character who wakes up one day and realizes all of his friends are assholes – the people who used to be fun, who he found a home with. The punk rock king has to grow up, but still, fuck the system. Ceremony. Smoke and mirrors that will mess you up, confuse and disorient. You don’t get to be a person when you’re a king; you are no longer symbol but only signifier.

No doubt this is all obvious to those who love this play but it hit me sideways because I carry plenty myself and the moments when I wonder how I wound up here on the eve of a battle when I can’t even have too long to think because it’s too important to everyone else that I show my face so that they, in turn, can find the moment to show up too. It struck me that there is no shrugging (fuck off Ayn Rand you shitty melodramatic hack) for a king, or for me, or for any of us. We carry what we carry and that is all.

Before my wife gets too jealous of the lead – a lead she also once played, in a disastrous production that pretty much ended her acting career and maybe her life as a man – let me say that she does Pistol in a way that makes him – yes, I said him – exactly that. An anachronistic play on words, because Pistol is a punk, the older brother/role model sort, the kind that’s full of swagger and danger and is not, for a moment, a clown. He’s that guy you used to think was cool until you find out he’s actually a prick, all swagger and no actual core. Rachel’s Pistol is bitter, angry, opportunistic; his affection turns on a dime of the ‘are you with me or against me?’ variety, with loyalty to his own small cadre his only virtue, everyone else be damned. He doesn’t believe in a damn thing.

By the time Fluellen is teaching him some manners you really do want to see Pistol get his ass kicked. Even though you know he has lost every single one of his friends. Even though his love is dead. Even if. It’s the only way Pistol makes any sense, a kind of older shitty cousin to Henry, knights on a chess board. The Dauphin, the French king – these aren’t Henry’s enemies; Henry’s own past, Pistol and his old gang, are, and the victory is more in how he carries his own self forward, having pulled himself out of the petty, bragging, dishonest version of the person he might have been. Pistol is Henry’s ‘but for the grace of God’ who, we know, Henry gives all the credit to. Perhaps this is part of why Henry knows he’s got luck or divine grace just in not having become who he might have been.

Pistol, mind you, was cross gender cast in this production. Rachel could very well have played Pistol as a woman and there isn’t anything to say she isn’t. But after finding herself on as an understudy and then taking on the role permanently, she had to decide: use a decade + of acting skill developed while playing men on stage and in real life or not? Why waste all of that, all the time she lived as not her own self? She put that shit to good use; it was acting that helped her survive being trans and so it follows being trans might return the favor. Why ignore the tools in a toolbox you’ve had to carry all these years anyway? May as well use them.

While I know there will be plenty of people who have a problem of some kind with my wife playing a man onstage – because they think they get an opinion when they do not – I found it disturbing and nostalgic. I watched her play man after man after man onstage after all, cycling through them as if she might find one worth being. She never did, and it was only after playing Henry in repertory with Wilde’s Algernon that she finally collapsed and couldn’t go on. Henry and Algernon are, after all, the pillar and post of English masculinity, no? Faced with that combination, coming home every night to the work I was doing on crossdressing, she finally found a way to stop, her exhausted ‘no’ more an expression of fatigue than of knowledge. We didn’t know she’d transition then. She retired on a Sunday night in January, and the next day I found out my proposal for My Husband Betty had been accepted for publication – I hadn’t actually written it yet – and our lives took an entirely different turn. She got to rest, and think, and fade a little, while I did interviews and research and spent my days and night putting together a book that would eventually turn us into Helen and Rachel.

Rachel took over the part of Pistol 15 years to the month that My Husband Betty was published and a few months after she ended her career playing Henry. This is what 15 years is to a trans couple; this is what 15 years have been for us: we landed back at where we started before we took the turn to work out her gender, our careers, and our marriage, and somehow one of the most beautiful English plays about masculinity bookended those years.

Once more into the breach indeed.

Not 1 in 6 (Excerpt)

I’ve got a piece up on Patreon that I wrote last week in response to the Kavanaugh interview, by which I’m thoroughly disgusted.

When will we get to the point where we believe women?

They say “1 in 6,” but I don’t believe them. The numbers are much, much higher.

I believe that because almost no woman I know who has been raped has pressed charges. Maybe they went to therapy. Maybe they wrote about it. But none of them – zero – reported it or pressed charges.

When or if they talk about it one or two things is true: (1) they didn’t know it was rape at the time – and maybe even don’t while they’re talking about it, and (2) it had been years since it happened.

That’s why we believe her.

Because women all know the women who were groomed, the girls raped as children, the so-called slut in high school who was raped (which was, of course, what made her a slut, because that’s how this shit works), the woman who went to an interview before or after regular business hours, the woman who went to a male friend after being raped by a boyfriend, who was then also raped by the friend (or vice versa), the woman who told her dad and who was punished for it, the woman who.

Later in the piece, I talk about what it’s like to be a woman who has not been raped.

So let me make it clear to the doubters, for the men who don’t believe, for the men who think all rape is caused by boys who are “too drunk” to hear the word “no,” who think most men are good men who don’t communicate well, and that men want to protect their mothers and daughters and wives, and for the women who think it’s something other women are bringing on themselves: Not so fast. Rape is such a common experience of women that I have spent most of my life feeling categorically different from other women because I never was.

Let me repeat that: Not having been raped makes me feel like I’m not the same as other women. The only other thing that makes me feel categorically different from other women is the desire to have children (whether or not they have) because I never wanted my own.

Please call your senators and tell them to vote against this rapist.

For Aurora

Aurora, the cat we found at sex camp many years ago – 2006, I think – died this past December. In my arms. We still don’t know exactly how old she was but she had to be at least 14.

I wrote this piece about her – about getting used to things – that was published in a tiny literary journal in maybe 2008, and I only read it out loud once or twice, so I thought I’d share it so more people could read it.

The full piece is on Patreon, but here’s the excerpt:

Once we left the room to do our workshop on gender roles and sexuality, it was hard not to look around, and the minute you look around wide-eyed in a place like that is the minute you know you can’t close your eyes for a second. We tried not to stare. Masochists and sadists, daddies and mistresses, swingers, pagans, nudists, and queers all gathered at dusk to eat smores around a bonfire. One submissive admitted to me shyly that he needed to learn how to make a smore because his mistress wanted one, and I had to admit I didn’t know how to either. Camping – at least the kind that involves trees and lakes and dirt – has never been my thing. If camping was good enough, we wouldn’t have invented houses. What I didn’t admit to him was that I’d never met a mistress before, and I had no idea if only he was supposed to call her Mistress So & So or if everyone did and I should too. I saw her later eating the tidy smore he’d made her by the fire. She was naked but for a rubber corset. It was a kind of unexpected partial nakedness; usually people are topless, not bottomless, and I wondered why you’d wear a rubber corset if you were only going to wear one thing, and then realized for some people the reason was probably obvious.

When we finally got to our vet, she told us the cat was probably very old and that we’d probably serve her best by putting her down. She had stopped eating or drinking. We took her home and got water into her by pumping it into her mouth with a syringe. Then we’d squeeze high calorie food into her mouth right from the tube. She would gargle her complaints, glugging meows of objection. It was pathetic, but it was hard not to laugh, too. She was not having it, and fought us all the way. But she was a tiny four-pound cat who should have been closer to seven pounds, so she didn’t have that much fight in her, either. We won.