Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hints for the Cisgender
upon meeting a Trans* person

1)             Do not run screaming from the room.  This is rude.
2)             If you must back away, do it slowly and with discretion.
3)             Do not assume they are attracted to you or anyone of your sex.
4)             Do not assume they are not attracted to you or anyone of your sex.
5)             Do not expect them to be as excited at meeting a cisgender person as you may be about meeting a trans* person.
6)             Do not immediately start talking about your genitals to prove you are cisgender or asking about theirs.  Keep your mind out of their crotch.
7)             Do not ask them how they got that way.  Instead, ask yourself how you got the way you are.
8)             Do not assume they are dying to talk about being trans*
9)             Do not expect them to refrain from talking about being trans*
10)       Do not trivialize their experience by assuming this is a lifestyle choice only.  They are the sex/gender they say they are 24/7/365, not the one they were assigned at birth.

Cisgender: A person whose innate gender identity matches the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.
Transgender: A person whose innate gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Transgender Day Of Remembrance

I wish I could avoid this day,
I wish I could avoid its meaning,
I wish I could avoid the reality,
I wish I could avoid the necessity,

But I can't.

Can't stop remembering why,
Can't stop remembering how,
Can't stop remembering who.

     We choose life, optimism, that things will be better when we live authentically, when we stop lying and truly reveal who we are.
     We just want the same dignity and respect that is denied us while being granted without question to others.
     We remember the dead today to remember our task to fight the ignorance, fear and hatred.

We dedicate our work to those who were lost,
     We celebrate the living and those of us to come.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act passes yet again in the NY Assembly

Bill A0446, the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) was passed by the New York State Assembly, for the 6th time, last Tuesday.  My Assembly representative, Andrew Goodell, voted against it.  This is what he voted against (lifted from Autumn Sandeen's post in TransAdvocate, "7 Goals of Trans Activism" because she says it better than I could):

Employment antidiscrimination protections.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)/Task Force report Injustice at Every Turn A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, trans and gender non-conforming respondents experienced double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
And, trans and gender non-conforming respondents experienced widespread mistreatment at work: Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it. Forty-seven percent (47%) said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming, and twenty-six percent (26%) had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming.

Housing antidiscrimination protections.

According to the previously referenced NCTE/Task Force report, 19% of surveyed trans and gender non-conforming respondents reported having been refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity/expression. And, one-fifth (19%) of trans respondents reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or gender non-conforming.

Public accommodation antidiscrimination protections.

Public accommodation for transgender people isn’t primarily about bathrooms. It’s often instead about being able to buy a cup of coffee and a cheeseburger at your local restaurant; it’s often instead about being able to go to government agency and be treated as a full citizen.
And again, according to the previously referenced NCTE/Task Force report, fifty-three percent (53%) of trans and gender non-conforming respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies.
Also, one fifth (22%) were denied equal treatment by a government agency or official; twenty-nine percent (29%) reported police harassment or disrespect; and twelve percent (12%) had been denied equal treatment or harassed by judges or court officials.

In addition, GENDA contains protection for trans people under the state's hate crime laws.  Mr Goodell voted against that too.

When I spoke to him last year about GENDA he replied with the same, tired, old right wing talking points about bathrooms and locker rooms and how the definition of gender identity was too vague, etc, etc., as if these arguments had any kind of valid logic behind them.  I got the message, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't care if I'm victimized by irrational prejudice and harmful discrimination.  He doesn't care that trans people living under his jurisdiction are vulnerable to egregious harm for which they have little to no legal recourse.  He doesn't care.

When I spoke with my state senator, Cathy Young, last year, I got exactly the same message.

So, while it's ironic that  I was unable to attend the 2013 Empire State Pride Agenda's Equality & Justice Day lobbying effort in Albany this year because I can't afford the gas money to drive to Albany, or even to Buffalo to catch the ESPA bus, I doubt it would have done any good in swaying my legislative representatives.  They need to be fired.  Vote them out!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

"She’s Not There, A Life in Two Genders” by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a review.

Well no one told me about her the way she lied
Well no one told me about her how many people cried
But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know why should I care
Please don't bother tryin' to find her
She's not there . . .

Facebook is one helluva thing, innit?  A few weeks ago I saw a notice on my “news feed” from a Facebook friend, a woman I’ve never met except through her writing but really admire, Jennifer Finney Boylan.  She was announcing the imminent publication of a tenth anniversary edition of a book she wrote, titled, “She’s Not There, a Life in Two Genders” with an invitation to trans bloggers to write a review in return for free, advance copies.  “Free books?” I thought to myself, “Cool!  Free is a good thing, especially when it’s about books!”  So I sent a Facebook message to Ms Boylan telling her about my rarely updated blog and my willingness to give this reviewing thing a try.  “Finally,” I thought, “my minor in Literature pays off!”

I only half expected this to bear fruit.  I figured my blog was too obscure, with too small a readership to interest a big publishing house like Broadway Paperbacks, a division of Random House no less, so I was pretty surprised when it showed up in my mailbox about a week ago.  They also sent me a copy (hardcover!) of her latest, “Stuck In The Middle With You, A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders.”  Schweeet!  I’ll write about that one when I finish reading it.

So I started rereading “She’s Not There” from the new edition.  I'd originally read this book back in 2006, the year I started therapy and, eventually, hormone therapy.  I remember reading and identifying with the things she wrote even though the circumstances of my life were so different from hers.  I puzzled about this a bit but didn’t pursue it.  I certainly had a lot of other, more important things to deal with back then.  I do remember thoroughly enjoying the read.  I’ve always loved books and the escape they offered back when I was a kid but this wasn’t so much of an escape, because it rang so true to me.  The cure to that, however, was that she is so damn hilarious.  There's a lot in there that is really funny.  In a good way, one that doesn't hurt people.

I used a more critical eye this time.  After all, that was the assignment!  One of the first things that struck me was how rereading the stories and vignettes still deeply reminded me of my emotional state before and during my transition.  This is one of the things Prof Boylan does very well in this book.  Each chapter in Part 1 very effectively illustrated an aspect of the dysphoria that so many transgender people feel.  Fear, of being relegated "into a life of lurid marginality.”  Longing, playing “Girl Planet” in the woods.  Self loathing and depression.  Despair. “People can’t have everything they want, I thought.  It is your fate to accept life being someone other than yourself.”  Same stuff I went through.  It’s uncanny.  She wrote it well enough to trigger the same, to engage my emotional memory of the time before I made my choice to live rather than end it all, and after.

One of the most common complaints from trans people is that cisgender people (cis being opposite of trans) “just don’t get it.”  Pretty much all cis people find it impossible to imagine what it would feel like to have a mind that sees itself as a sex/gender that isn’t reflected in their physical selves.  There’s no frame of reference available to them, a mismatch like that is incomprehensible.  Richard Russo, in his afterword that was included in the original edition, describes one of a novelist’s gifts as being able to imagine and bemoans the fact that his imagination seemed to fail him, and Jenny, when she first came out to him.  Imagination, however, still needs a basis, even if it’s a flimsy one, to build upon.  “She’s Not There” truly succeeds in giving that basis, and provides an escape from the stereotypes that so demean and dehumanize trans people, by carefully and accurately illustrating the emotions that come with being trans.  That’s why the book struck so close to home for me even though our lives were so different and I think this aspect of her stories will give cis people a foundation on which they can build their imagination and understanding, if they’re willing to do the work.

The most endearing part of this book is, as Russo noted, that it’s a love story above all else.  Like a true romantic, Jenny wishes and believes love will cure her.  When she finds Grace she feels that she’s finally found the love that will save her, and it does save her, but not in the way she thinks it will.  My wife was devastated when I came out to her, much the same way as Grace was, if not worse.  It’s very true that when a person transitions, there’s nothing but loss for their spouse.  It’s sad, the way Greek tragedy is sad, people flailing away trying to make reality work and losing almost everything anyway, with apparently no one at fault.  Reading “She’s Not There” back in 2006 gave me the hope that my relationship will survive, that our love would prove stronger than the forces that would inevitably beat against it.  Rereading it now, 7 years later and still married (we celebrated our 25th anniversary last September) I look back with gratitude at the hope and grace the book gave us.

Richard Russo’s afterword was a brilliant addition to their story.  His thoughtful analysis along with his narration of the dramatic events after Jenny’s genital surgery added a point of view that would have left “She’s Not There” incomplete were it not included.  I love his writing anyway, and this is a definite bonus.

Prof Boylan’s new epilogue updates the book to cover the ten years since she transitioned.   Happy endings all around, it seems.  Yet this is one of the things that I thought could have been done better.  She writes with a comedic voice; the humor is ever present and makes for an easier reading of a complex and potentially oppressive subject.  But, like in all comedic work, it seems she wants everyone to have a sense of “happily ever after,” even though many, many trans people, trans women and trans women of color especially, live far from “happily ever after” lives.  Boylan mentions this in the original afterword, noting that she “blithely skips over unpleasantness.”  In this she does a certain disservice because many in our community have to deal with unpleasantness, sometimes ugliness, even from those who should love them the most, on a daily basis.  I think it would do people good if they could feel a little bit of that for themselves so they could more understand the costs of being trans.  She makes little over the huge amounts of privilege she’s been granted.  It isn’t until Russo’s afterword that we see a juxtaposition of her privilege against someone who has very little.

Well let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she'd act and the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there

Revisiting a book I read long ago is not something that I avoid.  I love going back, sometimes, visiting old friends, even if they’re fictional.  I really enjoyed visiting with Jenny and her family once again, just as I enjoy reading the posts she writes about her family on Facebook.  Her story is one of hope, and love and optimism.  Indeed, I think a gender transition is one of the most potent manifestations of optimism there is.  It’s an, “It Gets Better” video in paperback and in that way gives a great deal of value to the trans community, but it's much more than that.  Prof Boylan’s genius is how brightly she illuminates the emotional turmoil that transsexual and other transgender people have to deal with, giving a clear window into what is so hard to imagine and understand by so many outside the trans community.  On that basis alone the book is very worth buying.  In addition, she shows that love and commitment, and a healthy sense of humor, can indeed create a permanent thing out of an iffy chance, to make real the girl that wasn’t there.


“She’s Not There” written by Ron Argent, ©1964 by Marquis Music Co. Ltd., admin. In USA by Parker Music (BMI)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How Not To Sound Like A Transphobe

Or, how to use language to not hurt trans people.

Transgender people, in the widest definition of the word, are really very different kinds of people with a few unifying characteristics.  It’s like birds.  We know that eagles and ducks and parakeets and blue footed boobies are all birds even though they are quite different in many ways.  With transgender people we might be talking with a Female to Male (FtM) transsexual man, a drag queen or a straight cross dresser.  It could be someone who is between genders, and doesn’t identify as either male or female.  With these kinds of variables it’s hard to know what to say, how to talk to these people without accidentally offending them.

Of course, half the battle in any situation of this kind is knowing the jargon.  The internet is full of good and bad sources for definitions used by the trans community.  They aren’t all agreed to, some are still very fluid.  Not much we can do about that now.  We can, however, look at commonly accepted and used definitions.  This little article is too small to include a glossary but you can go to a few websites to give you some Trans 101 instruction which clears up a lot of the specialized words trans people use to talk about themselves.  Try Susan's Place Transgender Resources, and check the Trans 101 section in their Wiki.  There’s a “Terms & Definitions” section in the forums on that site as well.  If you want some additional sources, doing a search on “Trans 101” will bring up some good sites as well.

But what if you haven’t had a chance to do this research and you are suddenly introduced to a person whose gender expression seems confusing, or not quite right, or perhaps is even introduced to you openly as a trans person?  How do you talk to them?  How do you react?

The first rule is to please not run screaming from the room.  Many would consider this rude.

Ha ha!  All joking aside however, some people do have rather emotional responses when they first knowingly meet a trans person.  If you are one of them, it’s OK!  Trans people know that they are rather exotic creatures, rarely encountered by cis people (“cis” is short for “cisgender,” which is the opposite of transgender) in daily life.  It’s also common for people to just be confused.  The thing to do is to forget they are trans, if you can, and just relate to them as you would to any other person you’ve just met.  All trans people really want is the same respect and dignity you would grant anyone else.

So if the person is obviously presenting themselves as a woman, use female pronouns, treat them like any lady you have just met.  Vice versa for a person who is obviously presenting as a man.  “But what if I can’t tell,” you may say?  “What do I say or do??  Obviously standing there silently with a dumbfounded or confused look on your face isn’t going to work.  The secret is this: Ask them!  If you’re not sure if the person you just met is male, female or something in between, ask them what pronouns they prefer.  This is not a faux pas.  Most, if not all, trans people would be happy to get that question instead of being referred to with an inappropriate pronoun.

Some trans people, those who don’t identify with either of our binary genders, do present a challenge.  They may prefer non-gendered pronouns, little used neologisms like “hir” instead of him or her, or “zhe” instead of he or she.  If you’re uncomfortable with these unfamiliar terms, or if you are really self conscious about asking, use what’s called the “singular they.”   Use the word “they” instead of the gendered pronoun.  It might be a little awkward at first but you’d not be causing anyone any pain. (Yes, being mis-gendered hurts trans people.  They may not show it but believe me, it hurts.)

If you make a mistake, and it’s easy to do – even trans people screw this up now and then – don’t make a big deal over it.  Just say, “Oops,” correct yourself and move on.  The last thing trans people want is for you to make a big fuss over it.  Doing so just highlights a difference they’d rather not dwell on.

Trans  people identify as their target gender,  In other words, a trans woman is someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a woman.  A trans man is someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as a man.  NEVER the other way around.

It’s rarely appropriate to ask about surgeries a person you just met might have had in the past.  This is especially true when the surgeries may have involved portions of their body that aren’t commonly discussed in polite company.  The polite thing, therefore, is to avoid asking a trans person about their surgical status.  I know you may be burning with curiosity but still, please refrain.  It’s unfortunate that so many trans people have been asked this question that there are a good number of snappy comebacks floating around.  Things like, “Why, are you asking me for a date?” or, “Please get your mind out of my crotch!”

The other thing to avoid asking is about how they, or trans people in general, have sex.  I know it seems shocking to see this on paper but it happens far too often, sometimes in public places!  (It happened to yours truly once while standing at the counter in the local cable TV office, with people waiting in line behind me.)  This goes back to what I wrote earlier – trans people want the same respect and dignity you would grant a stranger on the street, or someone you just met.  You wouldn’t as a cis person  such personal and invasive questions, please don’t ask trans people either.

Most people have learned how to be polite and act in appropriate ways in social situations as they were growing up.  The education in manners most of us have received was geared only to cisgender people, however.  Transgender (not “transgendered,” by the way – it’s an adjective, not a verb or a noun) people just weren’t part of the picture.  It’s time they become visible.  I hope these few tips will have informed you about some of the pitfalls to avoid when speaking with trans people but if all else fails, you won’t go wrong if you follow the simple rule: All trans people really want is the same respect and dignity you would grant anyone else.  Talk to them with that in mind and you can’t go wrong.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hi again!  I don't often do this, well, this is a first, but I so enjoyed a blog written by Matt Kaily in his blog Tranifesto about five attributes he considers important for trans allies, that I want to reblog it and maybe add a thought or two myself.  Here it is:

Five Attributes of Trans Allies

handshakeLast week in my Transgender Studies class, and also at a Diversity Day presentation that I made on the Auraria Campus, we talked about allies.
In my opinion, allies are an important component of any group. They add numbers, they add voices, and in some cases, they bring a certain amount of power that is lacking because of the way that a particular group is seen in the “mainstream,” where the group is trying to gain at least equality, if not acceptance.
That last contribution is unfortunate, but true. Without allies, many groups would not be able to move forward as rapidly and as successfully as they do with outside support. Allies are an important component of any movement. I have written about allies before, but I think it’s always a good time to revisit the topic, so I would like to outline what I consider to be five important attributes of trans allies:
1. A trans ally acknowledges his/her/hir own power and privilege and is aware of it, but also acknowledges ours. In other words, a trans ally understands that we are not victims and don’t need rescuing, but also understands that the support of allies is beneficial to our community.
Trans allies prefer to help us develop and utilize our personal power in situations where they have it and we don’t, rather than take over and wield their own power while we are silenced. I have done many co-presentations with non-trans allies (who are all fantastic, by the way), and a couple of time, I have felt almost used as a poster child to make a point about the injustices to which trans people are subjected.
While I appreciate the recognition of those injustices, and while I appreciate that non-trans people just learning about the topic might be more open to receiving this information from another non-trans person, I also feel that this drains my own personal power and removes my voice – and I do have one – from the conversation.
Of course, not all trans people have the same level of personal power, and for each of us, the amount of power we have depends on the situation at hand. But when we do have it, we need to be able to use it.
2. A trans ally speaks up for us, but doesn’t speak for us. No matter how many trans people an ally knows and no matter how long he/she/ze has been involved in the community, an ally understands that trans people need to speak for themselves and that we are the best ones to describe our own experiences.
At the very beginning of my transition, I was on an LGBT Advisory Board to a particular organization. When we were doing some “LGBT advising,” someone asked what “transgender” actually was.
Being the only trans member of the group, I should have been the one to field that question. Instead, the group’s leader, a gay non-trans man, took it upon himself to do so – and he got some of the information wrong. It’s hard to believe now, but I didn’t speak up. I had not yet found my voice. But it did teach me a lesson about who is truly an ally and who would rather just see themselves as important.
Regardless, we definitely need other voices, people who have our backs, and people who will speak up for us, particularly when we aren’t present. A chorus of trans and allied voices creates perfect harmony (I can’t believe I just wrote that corny cliché).
3. A trans ally utilizes books, websites, films, conferences, and other resources to learn about the trans community, in addition to asking questions of trans people when it is appropriate. Learning about the trans community should not be an effort for an ally. An ally is truly interested in learning the information.
I have had prospective allies say to me, “I would like to be an ally, but I know nothing about this. What can you tell me?” In an educational setting, where my purpose for being there is to teach about trans issues, this is entirely appropriate. But when I’m at a party or dinner or just hanging out, I would rather not “start from the beginning.” I think most of us would prefer that a would-be ally do some self-education and then ask us to fill in some blanks or clear up some misunderstandings.
4. A trans ally works for inclusion, not just diversity. In other words, adding a “T” to your organization’s name or displaying photos of trans people on your website might reflect diversity, but it does not reflect inclusion.
Diversity involves diverse populations being visible and represented in your organization. Inclusion involves all those diverse populations working on behalf of your organization, including in positions of leadership, power, and influence. You can’t have inclusion without diversity, but you can definitely have diversity without inclusion. Both are necessary.
How many trans people have gone to an “LGBT” organization, only to discover that there are really no services for trans people, and the “LG” (rarely B) people there don’t know much, if anything, about trans issues or resources? It happens every day. Don’t stick a representative picture on a poster and assume that your job is done. Diversity and inclusion are two different animals.
Look at it this way: Diversity is “I’m throwing a party and everyone’s invited.” Inclusion is “Let’s throw a party.”
5. A trans ally works to forward trans equality even when trans people aren’t around. Trans rights and trans equality are part of an ally’s life, and that concern exists even when no trans people are present and even when no trans people are aware of what the ally is doing. Being an ally is something that you live, not something that you turn on and off depending on the situation.
We should recognize and thank allies. That’s extremely important, and when we take them for granted, they can easily disappear. Allies don’t have to hang around. But a true ally doesn’t do it for the recognition. The notion of trans rights and equality is simply incorporated into their being. They live it and they act on that value day to day. In other words, an ally’s work is never done (another corny cliché).
There are certainly plenty more characteristics of a trans ally. These are just a few of my favorites. And I think that these apply just as much to trans people who want to be an ally for a group of which they are not a member. We need to remember what we want and need from others, and then take it upon ourselves to bring those characteristics and actions to our own life and our own roles as allies.
Readers, what else would you like to add?

I have little to add, actually but I'd like to note what seems to me to be the common theme behind these five points.  It's obvious that they all stem from the recognition that trans people should receive the same dignity and respect given to anyone else.  An ally recognizes trans people's basic humanity, they recognize and acknowledge their power.  An ally respects a trans person's right to speak for themselves and doesn't denigrate them into voiceless victims.   Allies respect trans people's feelings and don't intrude at inappropriate times.  If they have a question that might be difficult for a trans person to answer, they ask in private and don't assume that any subject is OK at any time.  An ally will give more than just lip service because they know trans people deserve the dignity of inclusion and equality in all the ways cisgender people are.  

It all boils down to the things that trans people are too often denied: Respect and Dignity.  That's all we really want.  That's all anyone really wants.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

No, I'm still breathin'!  :)

 I've been cooking and baking while in my free time I've been working with local TLBG organizations, as well as my own support group (which is what the DONATE button is for, just to remind people) and helping my spouse who has been dealing with increased cerebral palsy disability because of her age.  I've also changed jobs at Susan's Place Transgender Resources, moving from Wiki Administrator to the Chat Administrator position.  

One of the things I'm doing this coming May is being a panelist on an LGBTQ Panel forum, talking about how community members can take action and make interpersonal changes to support equality for LGBTQ individuals. I'm hoping this forum will be attended by many cisgender and straight people as well as members of the LTBG community.  Education and exposure are two of the best ways to create change.  Here's the poster for the event: