Saturday, January 17, 2009

". . . really a man."

Hi! Happy to see you again! I've been stewing about this for quite awhile and was just recently reminded, once again, about a basic assumption that lies beneath much of the transphobia we see in this country and, indeed, around the world.

On the heels of a double murder involving a trans woman and her partner in Indianapolis over the past holidays, we have news of another atrocity, less violent but still heinous, coming out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana who ruled that a transitioning woman was justifiably fired for violated her employer’s dress code . . . for men! Once again a judicial body denied the reality (and the supporting science) of what it is to be a transsexual person and it seems to me that this denial, the idea that “what you are born as is what you are, no matter what” is at the bottom of much, if not most, of the prejudicial discrimination we have to deal with in our lives.

In Creed v. Family Express Corporation (2009 Westlaw 35237), Chief Judge Robert L. Miller ruled that a transitioning trans woman was, for the purposes of the law, really a man. That Family Express Corporation’s actions because Ms. Creed didn’t follow the male dress code (from what I understand, she did follow the female dress code) her dismissal was justified and allowable.

Those three words, “really a man” are, some of the most hateful things I can hear because it completely flies in the face of my experience and personal narrative. It completely disregards my right to define myself and essentially insists that I’m a liar when I present myself in a feminine social role. This adds irony to injury when I consider how mendacious I felt when I still pretended to be a man. It was that sense of living a lie that provided a huge motivation behind my decision to transition.

When trans people are assaulted and murdered, trans panic defenses are grounded on the statement that, “I found out he/she/it was really a man and I freaked out because of that and I couldn’t help myself and . . . and . . . , etc.” The thought that the poor victim was “really a man” is held forth as justification for the violence. After all, it’s not OK to hit a woman! This idea is also the driving force behind the hateful TV ad that “Citizens for Good Public Policy” ran to lobby against the non-discrimination law in Gainesville, Florida. If someone thinks that trans women are really men in disguise it makes perfect sense to fear them, after all they are being dishonest about who the really are! Who knows what other crimes and perversions are in their minds?

When portions of the feminist community institute rules denying trans women’s entry to “woman only spaces,” justifying their prejudice using the “womyn born womyn” meme , and when we read trans women being described as “male to reconstructed females” it’s based on the fact that we were born male and that we are, “really men in disguise.” Again, a total denial of the validity of trans women’s experiences and lives, not to mention a violation of their deeply held belief that biology does not equal destiny. When gay men insist that a trans woman should just stop pretending and get over the fact that he’s gay, they fall into the same assumption: That the trans woman in question is really a (gay) man, not who they say they are.

If I meet someone new and they start talking to a mutual acquaintance about me, if that mutual acquaintance tells them, "yeah, but did you know she was really a man?" and then I get assaulted and/or murdered for supposedly deceiving people (because that piece of gossip was just tooo juicy to keep to one's self) it's the "really a man" belief that drives that anger. After all, if I was really a woman, there would be no reason to even discuss me in those terms.

When I’m out with my spouse and we meet someone who knew us before transition, it often happens that I’ll get a handshake and she will get a hug. Or I’ll get a hug and she will get a hug and a kiss on the cheek. This even happens with people who are dear friends, who support us and love us. Yet they cannot get that “really a man” thing out of their heads so they treat me other than the way they treat my partner. I’m not sure they realize when they are doing this or even consider how much it hurts and I’m not sure if they did realize it, that they would be able to change the behavior. That “really a man” thing seems to sit very deep in a person’s paradigm.

That basic assumption, the belief that men are men and women are women and they can try to be but aren’t “really” the opposite gender, is what drives all too much transphobia. Combine that with the misogyny that we see mixed in and it becomes impossible to not realize that we need more than just job protection under ENDA. We need Congress to amend Title VII itself to specifically and unambiguously include sexual orientation, expression and identity. Once that happens, we may still be considered really men in the eyes of many, but it will be, at least, illegal all over the country for them to hurt us because of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bratwüst, Sauerkraut und Kartoffel

Welcome back! What's that smell? It's my sauerkraut simmering and I was just getting ready to fry the bratwurst.

My parents immigrated to the US from Germany in 1953, a year and a half before I was born so German food and culture were always a very large part of my growing up. Our neighborhood, Ridgewood, NY, located right on the border between Queens and Brooklyn, was heavily populated by German speaking immigrants. We thus had a good number of stores in the neighborhood that were run by other German immigrants and catered to the local German tastes. There were at least three German butcher shops, wurst (sausage) being an integral part of German cuisine - over 1500 varieties, I read once - at least 2 or three German bakers and more than a few delicatessens. One of the dishes my mom made was Bratwürst, Sauerkraut und Kartoffel. The sauerkraut was not just unceremoniously dumped from the jar into a pot for heating, not by a long shot. She had a specific way of cooking it that made it taste so much better. I use her recipe and have added a thing or two as the years have gone by.

First of all, I use Bavarian style sauerkraut. You can tell it's Bavarian if it has caraway seed in it. I buy it in a jar, I think it's 15 oz. I put it in a saucepan and add 1 jar full of water. Some people who don't like it to be too sour may rinse it a bit in a strainer (but not too much!) before placing it the pan but I like it the way it comes out of the jar. I then add one container's worth of water to the pot.

I start that up on medium heat and while it comes to a boil I roughly grate a medium to large sized carrot and toss that in. If there's some in the house I often use a medium carrot and add about 3/4 cup chopped sweet (like a Vidalia or Mayan sweet) onion too. Once it comes to a boil I reduce it to a simmer and go to peel the potatoes.

I use regular white potatoes. I peel, cut into halve or quarters and boil them in salt water. That's all that needs to be done with them. One small, or a half of a larger potatoe is reserved. I grate it using the next to last smallest side of my 4 sided grater. The finely grated potatoe is added to the sauerkraut to cut the sourness and to slightly thicken the water it's cooking in. A little more simmering, a pinch of sugar to balance the sourness and maybe a bit of salt, both to taste, and it's ready for the next step.

While the kraut is simmering I start frying the bratwürst. In my old neighborhood we could get authentic German sausages in more than one place. Nowadays, the closest thing I can find to those bratwürst are locally known as Johnsonville Brats. I like to fry at least three to 5 of them over medium heat in a rather large pan. The pan needs to be large enough to hold the sausages as well as the sauerkraut. A braising pan would be ideal, I guess, but I haven't got one. I fry the sausages and might even pierce them in a couple places to let some of the fats run out. When they are well browned and thoroughly cooked, I push them to the side of the pan and dump the pot of sauerkraut in. After the noise and steam quiets I stir and deglaze the pan with the sauerkraut.

I serve the sauerkraut over the boiled potatoes, mashed by a fork on the plate, with a brat or two on the side. Beer is almost a requirement as an accompaniment.

I've received many advantages from my bicultural upbringing. I'm bilingual and have the benefit of being able to live within and compare two vibrant cultures. The local "Bund" (get more than 2 Germans in one place and they form a Bund, lol) offered classes which taught me basic reading and writing in German, even though I hated the classes by the time I was a preteen. My peers in school and in the neighborhood had similar backgorunds, yet through it all I never felt as if I was like them, although I deperately tried to be. I never had the words to express it though, I never knew what kept me from feeling truly included. By the time I hit my teenaged years I was lost but still couldn't figure out what made me do and like the things I did, things that I "knew" other guys didn't do. Puberty was devestating in many ways, especially at its beginning, but I had no clue why. All because I had no frame of reference, no knowledge or vocabulary to describe who I was. It wasn't until I was 20 years old that I finally figured out, I had "a womans soul even though my body was male." Of course, in 1975, this was not something that was talked about except in sensationalistic and derisive ways. I can remember reading about Nancy Hunt and Jan Morris and feeling a bit envious and then quickly telling myself that I would never, could never, be like that. The only strategy that I could envision was to push this thing deep, live with it the best way I could and never, ever, ever tell a living soul about it.

I've transitioned from male to female now and have been living as my true self for more than a year already. I fit in so much better with women than I ever did with men yet I am still painfully aware of the fact that my past was so different from theirs. It makes me wonder if I will ever feel truly a part of any group, other than a group of people with similar histories yet I do know that I have done the right thing, that this was what was meant to be for this life and I cannot even imagine the prospect of never having transitioned, or having to transition back to being male.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Have you heard about that thing in Gainesville, Florida?

C’mon in, stay awhile! There’s fresh coffee in the machine over there and hot water for tea, if you like. There may even be a cookie or two left in the jar, help yourself! Have you heard about that thing in Gainesville, Florida? You know, the petition drive to repeal a nondiscrimination law? They ran an ad on TV that showed a kinda scruffy looking man going into a public ladies room after a cute little blond white girl had gone in. As if he was gonna go in and hurt that poor little thing. It was really scary, that ad, and I got all upset until the thought stuck me: How does this have anything to do with protecting marginalized people from discrimination? Here, you can watch it for yourself:

Seems to me that any position that has to stoop to that level of dishonesty is morally bankrupt right from the start. Gay and trans people are no more likely to molest kids than any other person. The so called “scientific” studies that reportedly proved that they did have bee thoroughly discredited, You can see that here, Another thing that puts the lie to that sort of propaganda is that it simply doesn’t happen! First of all, there’s no law that would keep a criminal out of a public opposite sex restroom if they wanted to go in there, dressed in opposite sex clothes or not. Criminals, by definition, break laws. Yet these ads never give any examples of when and where it happened before! The reason for that is they can’t. There are anti-discrimination laws that protect GLBT people in may places around the country. I doubt I’d be far off in saying that the “bathroom issue” was raised every time these laws were considered. And since these laws have passed, there have been no instances of a trans person molesting someone in a public bathroom! You can be sure if there were, we’d be hearing about it over and over again from the people who want to keep their prejudicial discrimination privileges intact. I guess those people figure the ads are so emotionally intense that people won’t think much past their false assumptions. I sure hope me and mine are smarter than that.

The most ironic thing about ads and propaganda like that is that female to male people, trans men, would be forced to use public ladies rooms if the opponents of this law had their way. (How to enforce a law like that is another whole topic. Can you imagine??) A person who looked just like the man in that ad could be forced to use a ladies room because he was born with a vagina! Ridiculous, isn’t it? And, I have to wonder, if a trans man were forced by some kind of law like that to go into a ladies room, I’ll bet he’d be careful and kinda sneaky looking just before he went in too because he’d be the target of a lot of trouble, maybe even more than a trans woman in a public men’s room. The net result is that trans people would be kept from using any bathroom, I guess. It’s happened just last week, in Texas

Seems some people will say or do anything in order to push other people around, or get their way. Tsk! Sigh.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Welcome to my kitchen!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my kitchen!

I like to talk while I'm in my kitchen, maybe about politics, maybe about philosophy, perhaps even swapping a recipe or two. It's a warm and friendly place for me and I hope it will be for others too. Why a kitchen? Certainly not to promote stereotypes. I think the kitchen is a place where community can truly be formed. Within families, with friends, with neighbors. The combination of good food and drink along with conversation, both serious and silly, seems to me to be the most conducive to making, maintaining and nurturing relationships.

I suppose I ought to introduce myself. Here's what I tell people about myself when I'm in a chat room that I help moderate:

Emelye is a woman who is pretty much done transitioning (except for one last annoying detail - grrrr!) and who lives her mundane life with her spouse, and an orange cat named Jeeter, in Southwestern New York State. She started living full time as her true self in August of ‘07. She has a wide range of interests and will talk about almost anything. She loves to answer questions because it makes her look smart!

So yeah, I am a trans woman. I'll talk a lot about that, I'm sure. I'm also married to a wonderful woman who has stuck by me through my entire transition. I'll be telling some stories about what we've gone through these past three years as I have transitioned. It's mainly for her sake that I use a pseudonym, Emelye Waldherr is not my legal name. I've found that people have been very willing to vocally condemn and abandon her as friends (and family) while at the same time being unwilling or afraid to come to me directly, something that has alternately made me weep with frustration and guilt or shake with anger. As with many (most?) spouses who stay with their transitioned partners, she has suffered the greatest loss, one she never could have imagined when we married. To have her suffer this addional inequity often makes my blood boil.

That said, we have now been able to work our way through to new life that is significantly different from our old one in many ways yet strikingly similar to the "old days" in even more ways. I still go to work. She still stays home. We still have friends and family even though the composition of that group has changed markedly. We still try to make our way through life much the same way as we did before. Funny that, go figure.