Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Future of Trans in Genetics?

Recently scientists have found that a specific gene can be altered to make a female body begin functioning as a male, and another to make a male function as female. Now, I am not a molecular geneticist, but my parents are, so I feel entirely capable of talking about this situation by summarizing what other people wrote. ;)

If you remember your 6th grade science class, it has been commonly thought that physical sex is determined by X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes (XX, XY, XXX, XYY etc). The research for this new study, published in the journal Cell, challenges that concept. The genes known as FOXL2 (active females) and SOX9 (active in males) are found on a non-sex chromosome that is in both the male and female sex. The new discovery states that genes are all that stand between changing the female sex (XX) into the male sex (XY), and ovaries into (non-sperm producing) testes. Long story short, FOXL2 and SOX9 are the light switches between the male and female sex.

When active FOXL9 bonds with estrogen and "blocks" high levels of testosterone from being produced. When working with mice, scientists found a way to artificially "switch off" FOXL2, un-blocking the testosterone (along with other elements) making an otherwise female sexed body function as male. The body begins to produce testosterone at the levels of a healthy male and eventually turns the ovaries to testes. FOXL2 and SOX9 both exist in males and females, but if FOXL2 is on, SOX9 is on. (Apparently Dr. Seuss is a geneticist.) For the female sex to become male, turn FOXL2 off which will turn SOX9 on. The research also suggests, or is interpreted, to show that FOXL2 is continually fighting to keep ovaries as ovaries, resulting in several articles titled "Battle of the Sexes," along with some cute ones like "Minnie to Micky..." and the poorly written mess in "Gene Stops Ovaries from TESTIfying"

What does this mean for humans, you may ask? The researchers are hoping for this information to be useful in understanding and treating medical conditions such as premature menopause in women and, less in my favor, disorders of sexual development AKA intersex conditions which can lead to more problematic, non-consensual "fixing."

Another possibility especially relevant for us trans folks is that this can help us in physical transition. If scientists can "switch off" this gene in humans, it would trigger the growth of secondary sex characteristics, like facial hair or breasts, and and chromosomally transform human ovaries into testes and testes to ovaries.The body would begin to naturally produce testosterone or estrogen, which means bye-bye needles and pills. Hormonal transition would be entirely internalized. In addition, the research found no adverse health effects and a normal lifespan, something we can't say for current hormone therapy. Sterility would still be an unhappy result, but the overall process would be significantly less invasive, healthier, and possibly cheaper in long term.

Sounds great, right? Honestly, I think it does, as long as we keep things in check. There are many ways the institution can flip this around and make it totally inaccessible to all of us... but lets try to be optimistic for a minute. I'd like to have some hope for a minute.

xposted MidwestGenderQueer.com, QueerToday, GenderBlogs,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Open Thread: Ronald Gold & Bilerico

If anyone would like to send me a guest post about the Ronald Gold piece at Bilerico, please do. Feel free to post here in the comments too.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Pass ENDA Now!

By Monica F. Helms

The following is a plea to Congress and the President to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) HR-3017, which is currently stuck in the House Committee for Education and Labor, Chaired by Rep. George Miller.

LGBT Americans want to help get this country back on its feet, but can't as long as most of the country can still legally discriminate against them. We need ENDA and we need it passed NOW! There is no excuse to discriminate in the work place any longer. None.

Greg Grunberg Responds...and So Do I

Early yesterday afternoon, I received a email through the Bilerico Project from "Heroes" star Greg Grunberg about my recent post about his tweeting about Chaz Bono. It read:

My comments about Chaz Bono letting himself go had NOTHING to do with the transgender issue. NOTHING. Chaz is overweight as am I and people have jokingly told me that we look alike. I was merely poking fun at that notion. I hope you realize I meant nobody any harm. Lighten up and take good care.- Grunny

I decided to write back, because I wanted to explain to Grunberg why what he did was not only hurtful but could even prove actually harmful. I spent a considerable amount of time on this letter, but when I went to send it in reply to the email address his email was indicated as having been sent from, I got a delivery failure notice saying that his email address doesn't exist. This isn't too surprising really, and I don't blame Grunberg for it. Since Grunberg is a major star, I'm sure NBC takes steps to ensure that his personal email isn't inundated with fan mail. I made attempts to locate a valid email address for him throughout the day, even at one point tweeting him directly and asking for one, without success.

Since I have no way to contact Greg Grunberg directly, and since I believe that it's important that he see my response, after waiting for a day to see if I was able to establish direct contact with him I've decided to post his email and my reply publicly, where I hope he will see it. While I'd originally intended this part of the conversation to be more private, it's far more important to me that Grunberg be able to read what I have to say to him than it is for it to be said privately.

Here's what I wrote:

Dear Mr. Grunberg,

Thank you for contacting me. I understand your position and I can appreciate it, but I'd like to try to help you understand mine and why I wrote and published that piece. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but there's a lot to say and I hope you'll bear with me.

Mr. Grunberg, Grunny, I am a transsexual woman. I lived the first 35 years of my life in my male birth gender and transitioned to living as a woman full-time in 1997. In those days, I worked a low-paying grunt job in a Blockbuster video store. I was well-liked and on the short list of management candidates, but within two weeks of the time I told my employer I would be transitioning, I was out of a job, just like that. No reasons given, just coming into work one day to be told by my boss that I was fired and to pick up my check on Friday. When I tried to hire a lawyer to fight back, not one would take my case. I live in central New Jersey, and so I contacted the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for help. After taking a full year to consider my case, the NJDCR determined that it wasn't in the state's interest to protect me from discrimination.

That incident began a six-year unbroken stretch of unemployment for me. Fortunately, unlike in the cases of many of my transgender friends, my family did not turn their backs on me. So, I am able to write you today from a warm and comfortable home in Central New Jersey instead of living in poverty, on the streets, or perhaps even dead. It is estimated (through anecdotal evidence and the few studies that have been done on this) that about 50% of all transsexuals do not survive long enough to transition. By far, the most common reason is suicide. It's also estimated a transgender person like myself currently has a 1-in-12 chance of being murdered in a hate crime in the US.

Three years ago, New Jersey's legislature passed a law protecting transgender and gender-variant citizens from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. It did become easier over time for transsexuals to find and maintain employment in the state, but by no means can it be said that it became easy. Then, when the economy began tanking, it once again became as hard as it's ever been for a transperson to find and keep a job in this state. In addition, I can tell you from personal experience that while it may have become a little easier to get hired as a transperson in New Jersey for a while, being promoted above entry level once hired, regardless of one's level of experience, skills, and competency, still remains completely unattainable for many of us just because we're transgender.

Just a few weeks ago, the US Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and it was signed into law by President Obama. For the first time in the history of our nation, our country's body of federal law now acknowledges transgender and gender-variant Americans and defines us as a protected class.

Another bill before Congress right now, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace nationwide, has been around for over thirty years in one form or another, once failing to pass by only a single vote. Despite a multitude of promises made to us by President Obama and Congressional Democrats, ENDA has been removed from this year's Congressional agenda and we've been told it will be taken on next year. Of course, considering how many times we've heard that only to discover that Congress really intended nothing of the sort but only wanted people like me to shut up about it for a while, not too many of us are taking it on faith that this time will be any different.

That's the world I live in, Grunny, and it's the world my transgender sisters and brothers live in as well. I use my own example here because New Jersey is popularly considered to be one of the most politically liberal states in the nation (NJ went for Obama by fifteen points). If someone like me can experience this kind of treatment here in New Jersey, can you imagine what it must be like for those of us who live in states like Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, and other ultra-conservative areas? I've heard their stories and have presented them in the media I make, and I can tell you they are often nothing short of just as horrific as you might imagine.

Grunny, when you make jokes about Chaz Bono, even though your intent is to joke about his weight, that's not what a lot of people are going to take from it. Mixing gender pronouns in reference to a transgender person as you did in one of your tweets is considered deeply offensive in our community, disparaging to Chaz's gender identity, and by extension to the rest of us as well. I know you don't see it that way, but that's how I feel, and it's how many other transgender people and allies feel as well.

As a media professional yourself, you must know that what Chaz is known for isn't his being overweight, it's for being the darling little girl from "Sonny and Cher" who came out a while back as lesbian and then became a guy. With all of the recent media play he's gotten, when most people think of Chaz Bono they don't think "fat", they think "transsexual" or "transgender", and that, in a nutshell, is the problem and a big reason why I felt compelled to write and publish that piece.

Also, there's something else I want to say, something a little more personal:

One of the other reasons I felt I had to make this public is because I'm angry with you, not just for what you said on Twitter, but because I'm a fan. "Heroes" is one of my very favorite shows and I think you're amazing in it. "Heroes" has always held a special place in my television viewing because the story can be so relevant to my own life in some ways. No, I've never been stalked by a super-powered homicidal maniac, but I know as well as anyone what it is to live a life where you're treated badly by your government and those around you just for being different from everyone else. "Heroes" is special to me, and I feel like you've tarnished that for me. I feel like I'll never be able to think of "Heroes" again without also thinking of this, and yes, I'm angry and incredibly disappointed in you for that.

Maybe I'm an idiot for thinking some actor I've never met nor probably ever will meet cares about people like me or what happens to us, but my disappointment was further compounded when one of the people who commented on my post at Bilerico mentioned that you're active with epilepsy charities because of your son. As a lifelong epileptic myself, on medication for it since childhood, your efforts there are something I'm very inclined to laud and support.

I'd ask you to imagine that instead of Chaz Bono, some famous actor got on Twitter and started making jokes (intentionally or not) about epileptics. How would you feel, Grunny? My bet is that you'd feel about the same as I do about this (and I would feel just as strongly if it actually were about epilepsy), and you'd likely feel as compelled to stand up to it as I do in this case.

So, that's it. I've said my piece, and I hope you can understand where I come from on this, why wrote and published the piece, and why I will continue to speak out against this kind of thing whenever I see it. As a transgender writer, blogger, and Internet radio host, I've dedicated myself to working for the day when every gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender American will have the same rights in this country as everyone else takes for granted, and I am as committed and dedicated to my work as you are to yours.

I did not write the piece to hurt you or the show, Grunny. That was never my intent or my desire. I wrote and published it because for all the reasons noted above we must speak out against transphobia in the media, each and every time it happens, even if not intentional, because we cannot afford the social, cultural, and political backlash that can result if left unanswered, and especially not now when we are still actively engaged in fighting for our basic civil rights as American citizens.

I hope you understand, and thanks for listening.


Rebecca Juro
The Bilerico Project

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Heroes" Star Greg Grunberg Tweets Transphobia

Since I started using Twitter several months ago, I've built up quite the list of personal friends and acquaintances as well as media folks and celebs who I find interesting. In addition, I'm always looking for new and cool tweeters to add to my list. In using Twitter, I've found that I can often glean new insight into the kind of person a Tweeter really is through their 140 character posts. In most cases, what I've learned makes me like and respect that Tweeter and their work all the more. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.

Last night, I noticed a tweet arrive from renowned transgender author Kate Bornstein. It was directed toward the Twitter feed of Greg Grunberg, one of the stars of the hit NBC television series "Heroes" (in the role of telepathically-powered policeman Matt Parkman), and it said:

"I admire the warmth u bring 2 the characters u create, but the wording of ur post on Chaz Bono hurt many of us. Did u know that?"

Of course, I had to know more. I clicked on the link to Grunberg's feed, scrolled down a bit, and found this:

"Saw a pic of Chaz Bono today. Man, did she let himself go!!"

I subscribe to his feed and a little later, another Tweet from Grunberg arrives:

"Big Casting News: Sadly, in the film version of #Heroes, Matt Parkman will be played by... Chaz Bono!! YOWZA!!"

Yeah, sounds great, Greg. Real nice coming from the star of a show that focuses on the trials of living a life where something that makes you special and different from the rest of the world can also make you feared, hated, and an outcast. You'd think Grunberg would at least have learned something from the scripts of his own television show, if from nowhere else.

Let's be fair here, though. Greg Grunberg is an actor, not an activist, a politician, or a political pundit. He has every right to say whatever he wants and he has no social or political obligation to gain our support or approval first. That said, Grunberg is also a star on a top-rated primetime television drama, and as such is a celebrity who's public words and behavior not only reflect on himself, but also on his show and fellow "Heroes" actors (regardless of whether or not they share his views), and on NBC as well.

Greg Grunberg has over 1.3 million subscribers to his feed. When he tweets this kind of transphobic "humor", hundreds of thousands will read it. Furthermore, because Grunberg is a major television star and thus has a certain influence on those who enjoy his work, his words and opinions will likely have a lot more traction than the average Tweeter's.

Thus, I do not call out Greg Grunberg here for being a transphobic jerk. That's a determination each viewer and reader must make for themselves. What I call Grunberg out for here is irresponsibility, for shooting his mouth off publicly, apparently completely unaware of the potential impact of his transphobic "jokes", not only on us, but also on his show (which I enjoy immensely and have followed since the beginning) and on his network.

In my opinion, people like Greg Grunberg, celebrities who have an impact on our modern American culture, also have an obligation to use that notriety judiciously and carefully, knowing and understanding that what they say or do in public can and often does have an impact outside of their own personal sphere.

Or to put it another way in keeping with the theme of the series, Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee said it best a long time ago:

"With great power comes great responsibility."

Monday, November 30, 2009

The risk of suicide

Assigning blame for someone's suicide is always tricky business. The only clear-cut cases are if the suspect intentionally drove the victim to suicide. Everything else is just speculation, although we can identify group trends. The harassment and discrimination that most gay men, lesbians and bisexuals have to deal with is quite likely a cause of the higher suicide rates in those groups. Similarly with transgender people of any variety.

One thing that I've always accepted as a background truth is that some people commit suicide because they can't bear to live as their current gender and their life circumstances prevent them from transitioning. Several trans people have told me that they've considered suicide in the past, and that they decided to transition because they believed that for them it was "transition or die." For anyone who is truly faced with that choice, a satisfactory transition is of course the better choice.

In the past I've soft-pedaled my concerns about the value of transitioning for a number of reasons. I don't want to make blanket pronouncements about something I really don't know that much about - not that that stops a lot of trans people, but it's important to me. I also don't want to start unnecessary fights, especially not in the online transgender community. But a big reason is that I don't want to support anyone who would discourage a "transition or die" person from transitioning, thereby forcing them into a situation where they feel their only option is to die. I don't want that on my conscience.

The recent death of Mike Penner (as far as I know, that name and male pronouns were his most recent preference for how he wanted people to refer to him) from an apparent suicide should make us all wonder about whether transition should be the default path for any transgender person. Of course it's possible that his suicide had nothing to do with transgender issues at all. Unless he left a note or talked to anyone, we'll probably never know. I've seen speculation that he killed himself because someone forced him to detransition, but there's no evidence for that.

What's at least possible is that Penner was dissatisfied with his transition, but couldn't detransition to his satisfaction. We know that transgender regret exists; even Lynn Conway has acknowledged it. In the previous post, Sara Davis Buechner told us how disheartening transition can be at times even for people who don't come to regret it.

We've accepted the possibility that there are people who will kill themselves if they don't transition. What if there are people who will kill themselves if they do transition? Do we want that on our consciences?

Sara Davis Buechner: On Mike Penner / Christine Daniels

On Mike Penner / Christine Daniels
30 November 2009

About two weeks ago I was the subject of a New York Times profile, published in connection with an important piano recital I gave on November 11 in New York City. I had transitioned from David Buechner to Sara Davis Buechner in 1998, and my life since then was the focus of writer Mike Winerip's article. I'd like to add that Mr. Winerip struck me as a very fine writer, an extremely nice (straight) man, and that one of his motives in writing about me was to applaud the younger American generation's healthier sexual attitudes, acceptance and inclusiveness.

In many ways I do agree with his thesis, and my own story mirrors some of that. In some ways I disagree as well, and readers of that profile will note it was in Canada and not the USA that my life improved immeasurably in terms of being able to marry, obtain a job appropriate to my skills, and to gain a daily healthy lifestyle -- by which I mean simple things like holding my spouse's hand while walking anywhere in the city of Vancouver without a second thought (I don't do this in New York except for the Village). I can't say that I feel as though I owe the United States too many thanks for helping me out over the years.

I'm joining this blog discussion from the standpoint of still answering about 200+ e-mails, primarily from folks of the LGBT community who contacted me to tell me that my story gave them hope and inspiration. I was very touched by the words I've read about me here on this website, too -- thanks very much (I am very grateful for a site like this people can find REAL information, sensitivity and insight). Acting as a role model is a new experience for me. I am used to playing the piano in front of people, enjoying music together, bowing to applause and greeting people afterwards for a few kind words. But I've pretty much left discussion of my TG experience on the back burner for a number of years. I've not addressed it much. Mostly that's from the good fortune of living in a country where it doesn't seem to matter (I think that trickles down from the government establishing equal marriage for all, by the way).

Anyway, I've been in a very positive frame of mind for the past few weeks, until yesterday reading about Mike Penner / Christine Daniels. That story hit me like a ton of bricks. And I felt suddenly that I wanted, even needed, to say something about it, and that's why I'm writing.

I read the story on the LA Times website, but also online from the NY Daily News and NY Post -- all accompanied by comments by posters ranging from sympathetic to rampantly hateful.

Suddenly I'm not in a very positive frame of mind anymore.

I never knew Mike/Christine, and I'm referring to him/her dually here -- as I never do otherwise -- because I've not seen it clearly articulated yet what his/her final wishes on the subject of chosen gender were. Please correct me as may need be; of course I am sensitive to correct address and I want to do the right thing, properly and respectfully.

I see Mike/Christine as an accomplished person in the media field -- it's not really the arts but a close cousin in journalism -- making the change publicly in midstream. Not in a famous Today Show entertainment business way as with Chaz Bono, but well-known enough in a chosen professional field, and that's why it seems very similar to my own tale.

In the midst of my transition ca. 1997-98 I remember well going to support groups and meeting people addicted to drugs, drink, people selling their bodies for sustenance. I had never met people like that before. "There but for the grace of God go I," I often said to myself, even as paying my own rent and making ends meet became tough. Out of loneliness mostly I did a few marginal activities in the darkness of the Manhattan downtown too. At least I always had a bed, a roof, and some food. Yet I too would sometimes drink for days on end, or wildly swallow every pill in the medicine cabinet, or just sink into profound depression for days on end. It's hard to transition, just plain hard. Hard when young, hard when old, hard when poor, hard when rich, hard whatever color or station, wherever, whenever. And of course, even after living as Sara for a year or two or even three, there were times when I thought: "shit, life was easier before, even if I was miserable. Who needs this?"

And worst of all, I remember how embarrassed I felt. Embarrassed that, at age 40, I didn't look like 20 for sure, and nobody's pin-up. My boobs weren't great, my nose and chin are still too damn big, my first vagina was a mess (second operation fixed it mostly). Embarrassed by my fucking voice (I still get "sir" on the phone all the time but I don't give a damn and I'm not getting my vocal cords sliced up). Embarrassed by the looks of all my old male friends whose eyes and attitude told me: I know you're really just turned on wearing panties and a bra, you cross-dressed cocksucking pervert. Embarrassed and ashamed by ex-lovers (hated), ex-friends (lost), ex-employers (fired), ex-family (gone). People called my poor parents to tell them how sorry they felt for them. I was often embarrassed just walking down the street and riding the subway. The looks, the comments, the constant sense of condemnation. "There but for the grace of God go I," I sensed some people thinking. Fair enough, maybe, a good lesson in judgement for me.

In Japan, it's called "losing face," and it's understood that you SHOULD off yourself if your face is lost.

It's absolutely true that none of us should make any pronouncements about Mike/Christine. I have no knowledge of his/her individual situation, or what caused the suicide. It may have been wholly non-gender related. Of course, in my gut, I doubt that -- because I have been there, and done that. And I can say from experience, I know how close it was, how just a bad day or two, a few words from someone who was once a friend or family, can make a difference. In terms of making a decision and taking action that cannot be re-thought.

And I guess my main thought today is -- let's shelve some of that NY Times self-congratulatory "Look how far we've come talk" for a while. Just read those ugly comments on the websites. Look how far we need to go, to get past a society where there is such pontificational opinion, such condemnation, such busybodyness about others. To the point of hatred and violence. To where we are mocked and maimed and killed for walking on the street. To where we can't hold hands with loved ones, out of fear. To where intelligent and accomplished people like Mike/Christine have to endure so much to be true to their heart. You know, in a better world, that news of change would and should have been just a big nothing -- no news at all. "Oh, Mike is now Christine. And how's her column about the Dodgers today?" Or "Christine is back to Mike now. What's he got to say about the Lakers?"

We need to aim for the day that we really can embrace the fullness of our humanity and celebrate the kaleidoscopic ways in which we are made. I pray it comes in my lifetime. But as I said, I don't feel very positive about it today. Nonetheless, I'll be stubborn and choose to celebrate the life of Mike and Christine as one of incredible courage and accomplishment. What a proud and beautiful human being.

Sara Davis Buechner
Osaka, Japan

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RIP Mike Penner (Christine Daniels)

Mike Penner transitioned a couple of years ago and started using the name Christine Daniels only to start going by Mike Penner last year again.
He was found dead in his apartment, apparently of suicide.

How much does this break a person's heart? Plenty.
Our love to his family and friends.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Call for ENDA

Tomorrow, Congress needs to hear from us very clearly about why LGBT people need protection from the widespread discrimination that we continue to face in the workplace. In the Transgender Discrimination Survey we conducted with The Task Force, we found that 97% of the respondents had been harassed or mistreated on the job and 26% had been fired. This cannot continue. Taking action to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a critical step in making it the law of the land that this kind of discrimination must never be tolerated. We need you to work with us to pass ENDA now and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

NCTE is participating with a wide range of civil rights groups in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights call in days in support of ENDA. Our day to call is Wednesday, November 18. We hope you'll be a part of this important effort and you'll encourage your friends to call. We need your voice to be heard on Capitol Hill as you tell your lawmakers to pass ENDA now!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Coming Out to Kids as Trans

I was asked recently for resources for trans people with children. Honestly, there's never very much, but here's the list I sent her:

If anyone has any newer resources I haven't yet seen, please do add them!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The International Oppression Spreads

It has finally happened. Gender Identity Disorder (GID) has infiltrated Thailand. GID was previously only in countries whose mental health coding was determined either by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) or the ICD (the International Classification of Diseases, whose GID diagnosis directly based off of the DSM's language). Now GID is now making moves East.

Countries like Thailand have been one of the last harbors for those seeking gender confirming surgeries without GID and without the high price. The Medical Council of Thailand has now moved to following similar requirements to those in the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care where psychiatric evaluation(s) and "one year life experience" are demanded to prove the legitimacy of a person's identity. Thailand also requires that foreigners looking to have gender confirmation surgery there must get approval from a psychiatrist in their home country AND one in Thailand before being approved. The Medical Council of Thailand representatives state that "at least two psychiatrists must give guarantees" in order for someone to be allowed access to services. What kind of guarantees are they looking for?

Like the person mentioned in the article, by the time a person is ready for a gender confirming surgery they have already been living as themselves, some for over 20 years. Some people don't have the luxury to live as themselves because it isn't safe where they live, and some people live in ways that doesn't match with what GID describes as "real life experience." And apparently the concern isn't for our well being alone. We also need to worry about the society we live in.

"Sex reassignment surgery would affect the physical body (of the person undergoing the operation), as well as people's mental health and society around them."

Well, Hella forbid I upset someone else with my identity. If I ever wanted to have surgery, not only am I sure that my life would not be considered "real" male experience, I am certain that I would not be considered a promoter of society's mental health. Does that mean I'm not trans? Who makes the decision? Apparently they do. Silly me for thinking I should know myself. Do I even need to continue my rant here? Or should I just write out a big FUCK YOU. In the wise words of Cartmen I say,"Whateva, I do what I want!"

I do want to point out that I don't think that greater regulation of these procedures isn't needed. Many people have experienced serious problems due to the lack of regulation of surgeries in ALL countries. My interpretation of that is that the lack of accessibility is forcing people to put themselves at risk. Spreading the malice of GID is not the answer to bettering out lives and our access to transitional medical care. What we need is accountable AND accessible care that doesn't force people to die of infections or bleed out on tables because they don't have the money or the means to access the system's care.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Transgender Workplace Discrimination Stats

I don't remember hearing anything about this study, nor that the results were in, but I thought others might want to check it out.

The key findings are:

  1. Survey respondents reported twice the unemployment rate of the population at large.

  2. 97% of respondents reported harassment on the job.

  3. 47% reported an adverse job situation (firing, lack of raise/promotion, not hired).

  4. 15% of transgender people lived on $10k a year or less.

I expect my usual skeptics to be surprised by these stats, and to want to know more about how the survey worked & who responded. It was done by NCTE and The Task Force, and included participants from all 50 states.


It's not sexy, but it's great news from NCTE:

(October 21, 2009, Washington, DC) The National Center for Transgender Equality praises the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its announcement today that it will ensure that its programs are available to all, including LGBT people. Today's announcement is historic, since HUD is the first federal agency so far to officially propose guidelines that would explicitly address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The evidence is clear that some are denied the opportunity to make housing choices in our nation based on who they are and that must end," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "President Obama and I are determined that a qualified individual and family will not be denied housing choice based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Why Maddow Matters

The first time I ever listened to Rachel Maddow on the radio for any length of time was when she guest-hosted for Michelangelo Signorile on his Sirius OutQ afternoon drivetime show a few years ago. It wasn't that I didn't have an interest, mind you, it was that Rachel's own show was live early in the morning, not what you'd call prime talk radio listening time for me and not on a station I could receive well on my car radio from Central New Jersey. Still, I knew who she was and I always looked forward to hearing her on the air when I could catch her. When she filled in for Signorile, though, was when I truly became a fan not only of her and her work, but I also came to understand that she and her success represent a lot more than many of us realize.

During that show, Rachel told a story of how she'd been hassled at the airport getting on a plane because of her gender-variant appearance. As I was listening, it occurred to me that this was a story that none of Sirius Out-Q's regular, conventionally-gendered hosts could have told in the first person, but I had no doubt that for scores of transpeople and gender-variant gays and lesbians it was a very familiar one. For me, it underscored the point that even in mainstream media specifically intended to serve the LGBT community there's really still precious little out there that speaks directly to and from the experiences of the unconventionally-gendered.

After Rachel's appearance on Out-Q, I began playing closer attention and when she started on MSNBC I instantly became a loyal viewer. Over the time she's been on MSNBC, she's referred to her partner Susan a number of times and she's made jokes about her non-classic-feminine body image on her show. The most important part of all that is really the fact that when she mentioned these things there was a massive earth-shattering yawn. No one except those on the farthest reaches of the right-wing care that she's a lesbian. No one's freaked out because she doesn't present an ultra-feminine on-air figure ala Norah O'Donnell or Andrea Mitchell. What matters is that she's great at what she does and viewers love her...and that's all that matters.

This is actually a bigger deal than some may realize. Aside from Rachel and Ellen Degeneres, how many openly LGBT mainstream television or radio hosts can you name? If you're having trouble coming up with names, there's a good reason for that. There just aren't very many, and the few of us who actually are out there can generally be found online, emanating from non-mainstream sources and usually working for free.

While I do chastise myself for being such a cynic, I must admit that Rachel Maddow has become successful in television despite my expectations. As Dr. Laura, Michael Savage, and so many others have taught us so well, that which is perfectly acceptable on radio may well prove intolerable on television. Michael Savage can denigrate LGBT's all he wants on his radio show, but when he does it on the third night of his MSNBC television show he's out of there, end of story, no questions asked. Dr. Laura may lose all of her sponsors and hence her television show because of reaction to her anti-gay views, but those same sponsors will continue eagerly writing checks for ad spots during her still highly-rated radio show.

That being the case, I fully expected Rachel Maddow to remain a strong and respected voice in left-wing talk radio. It never occurred to me that she'd ever have a shot on television because of her butch presentation and because she's an out lesbian. Traditional commercial media in general is notorious for being unwilling to take risks and break new ground, and I expected Rachel would be just too much of a departure from what had come before for her to get a television show. Not only did she get the show but MSNBC's bet on her has paid off bigtime. She may not be the number one show on the air but she's a major player, on a par with any and every other pundit out there.

Yes, it matters, even though it shouldn't. No one would think to judge Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, or Bill O'Reilly by anything other than by the quality of their work and their record of delivering the viewing audiences their sponsors are seeking to attract. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, the reality is that a gender-variant and openly lesbian host is likely going to have a tougher time of it and have to put up with a lot more crap than a middle-aged heterosexual white guy, regardless of their politics.

Luckily, Rachel Maddow seems more than up to the task. Despite the criticisms of some, she doesn't cast herself as a cheerleader for LGBT rights issues, but she does take them on from time to time on her show as they arise in the news cycle, including features and interviews regarding Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other LGBT-relevant topics. In my opinion, that's a very good thing. There are plenty of people like me, like us, who are creating shows and other media by, for, and about ourselves. That's critically important, and we need that kind of media to be and to remain a vibrant, healthy, and informed community. Yet we also need people like Rachel Maddow who are mainstream pundits taking on mainstream issues who just happen to be LGBT but don't make that their focus. If we truly want to be an integral part of modern mainstream America, we won't get there by continuing to talk only amongst and about ourselves.

In Rachel Maddow I see reason to hope that sometime soon she and Ellen won't be exceptions anymore, that we may eventually live in a world where you'd be as likely to find someone like Rachel or Ellen or even me as you would to find a middle-aged white guy when you turn on your radio or television. It may still be a while off right now, but the success of the Rachel Maddow Show on both radio and television portends well for the future, not necessarily of LGBT media per se, but certainly of media made by LGBT's.

From a personal perspective, as a transwoman with a fairly feminine appearance but a rather masculine speaking voice who's been trying to land a paying gig in radio for the better part of a decade now, I can't help but hope that Rachel Maddow's success has pushed the door open at least a little wider for those of us who exhibit some form of sexual or gender variance and are still trying to land their first (or first big) media job.

It may be years longer before the playing field begins to level for us in any detectable way, but it's no longer a given that hiring an openly LGBT person for an on-air position on a mainstream media network is a bad idea. In fact, not only has it been proven that it's not always a bad idea but also that it can be a very good and highly profitable idea if done correctly.

The best news about Rachel Maddow is that she's not news. It's the quality of her work and the loyalty of her audience, not her sexuality or her gender presentation, which define her to her audience and to the public at large. For openly LGBT and gender-variant people trying to break into this industry, those of us who hope to perhaps follow her into mainstream media someday, that has to be the very best news of all.

The Four Transitions of a Transsexual

By Monica F. Helms

There has been a lot of talk lately about transsexuals and the procedure known as “transitioning.” However, it seems that the only segment of a person’s transition which many want to focus on deals with just one part of this intense process, the physical transition.

The physical transition only encompasses the “technical” aspect of a transsexual’s life, where changes are made to the body to finally become the person they should have been born as. Some call their transsexualism a “birth defect,” while others consider it a blessing. But, no matter how one views it, making the physical changes are very important, but it does not mean they have completed their total transition.

Since much has been written about the physical transition, I’m going to focus on the other three, which in some ways could be more important. They are the “emotional transition,” the “psychological transition” and the “spiritual transition.”

The psychological and emotional transitions are so intertwined that I will talk about them together. These two transitions can be a life-long process, based on all of the factors in a person’s life and their personality, affected by all that preceded their physical transition. Their family history, job history, relationship history, social history, and even their military history can affect the psychological and emotional transitions that a transsexual goes through.

Some transsexuals experience fear, anger, paranoia, jealousy, selfishness, narcissism, depression, violence and even self-destructive tendencies. Drug use, alcohol abuse and unsafe sex happen often in the lives of some transsexuals. Some feel sad, some feel lonely and others think the whole world is out to get them.

One reading this might think that transsexuals can be a truly screwed up bunch of people. That would be far from the truth. Transsexuals can also be happy, content, giving, up beat, helpful, loving, generous, considerate, kind and caring. Our course, like the complexity of the human race, transsexuals usually have a mixture of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph and in this paragraph.

Many trans people came from loving homes, have a spouse and children who love them, even after the physical transition ended. Many become active in the local community, the community at large, political organizations, their places of worship, their schools and their jobs. And yet, too many experienced sexual, physical, emotional, mental and even religious abuse as young children. Like non-trans people who have also had those experiences, the scars follow them through life.

Hey! Transsexuals can have all the same personality traits, psychological issues and emotions problems as found in the rest of the human population. A person’s gender issues can, in some cases, enhance some of the problems mentioned above, or have no affect at all. All of human nature has to go through various degrees of psychological and emotional transition to make it through life. Transsexuals are no different in many respects.

When people try to put highly complex humans in neat little boxes, they fail miserably. Even if a person places themselves in a box, their psychological and emotional transitions may cause them to have to expand that box, or move to a completely new one. “Change” remains the only constant in people’s lives.

A life in stagnation leads to issues that will usually enhance the negative aspect of a person’s psyche and emotions. Moving forward – transitioning – allows growth in many areas. Transsexuals pride themselves in how well they make things happen in their physical transition. Some even brag about it or belittle others for the slowness of their transition, or the lack thereof. Sadly, many fail to put the same effort into their psychological and emotional transitions as they do in their physical one. Have they really transitioned at all? Does their anger really make their transitions more fulfilling? I wonder.

I saved the fourth one for last. One also needs to make a spiritual transition to truly complete the journey they started as a young child. This usually becomes a very complicated transition, one that can be as diverse as human beings themselves. A spiritual transition may involve an established religion, maybe a form of internal spirituality, or something as simple as being one with oneself or a higher power. Spiritually comes from within and does not need to ever be expressed to anyone else. However, some feel more spiritual in comfortable surroundings with others.

I have a good friend who identifies as an atheist, yet through the strife she has experienced in her life, she has become more spiritual without the need to believe in an omnipotent being. She says “Love” is her higher power. I have to say that because of that specific higher power in her life, I have seen her transition in a spiritual way that has made a big difference in her life. Others may not need such an intense spiritual transition, but this change worked for my friend. Her spiritual transition has opened my eyes at all of the possibilities that exist.

Through all of these four transitions, where do I place myself? As far as the physical transition, it’s been not so satisfying at best. I have no difficulty passing, and have been accepted in women’s spaces very easily for the last decade, but I am selective on where I will go and under what circumstances. I haven’t stopped this transition, by no means, but Fate has stopped it for me. It can’t stop me forever. A majority of transsexuals understand my dilemma and frustration, but others don’t. Their opinion is not MY problem, but theirs.

However, when it comes to my psychological, emotional and spiritual transitions, I am in a far better place than I have been in my entire life. Many people helped me transition in those areas, and they continue to help today. Even though I am the happiest I have ever been in my life and have come a long way, I’m willing to admit I will never be totally done with any of those transitions. No one ever finishes those three. Only death stops the process . . . except maybe . . . the spiritual transition.

For any transsexual who says they are done with their (physical) transition, they forget that life has much more in store for them. Like all other human beings, we never stop “transitioning,” because that’s Life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ohio License Doesn't Require Surgery, Just Insanity

It’s official. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ no longer requires a letter stating a person has had gender-confirmation surgery, an amazing victory. Now people are able to correct their licenses gender marker enabling them safer, more accurate identification. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

This past week I was sent the unofficial, pre-press printout of the new BMV form. I was thrilled, like a kid on Christmas. My head was swimming with the possibilities, not just for myself, but for so many others. I opened the PDF and started to read.

“To be qualified, the medical professional must attest that the transition is being conducted in accordance with World Professional Association for Transgendered Health (WPATH) Standards of Care. This change is only to be made as part of a permanent, full time gender transition.”

My heart sank. I could see the image of that laminated M disappear. I can’t get my marker changed because I don’t follow the standards of care.

Every six months I drive five and a half hours to Chicago to get my trans-health care because I refuse to be diagnosed with gender identity disorder. My identity is not mentally disordered. I refuse to be labeled as such simply because queer gender does not conform to what is considered normal. If you had the right doctor, you could maybe swing something, but good luck finding a doctor who’s willing to break out of the box. Remember, this is Ohio. Could I get a letter? Maybe I could, but in order to do that I have to bow to a system of standards that oppress me, that oppress my people. I don’t look like a woman, I don’t sound like one, and I don’t belong to the F marked on my license but that isn’t enough to get it changed. I have to be legally diagnosed as mentally disordered- I have to be certifiably “transsexual” and apparently I’m trans enough to count. I understand that GID is on the books, and as long as it is I shouldn’t expect our community to get anything but the bare minimum, and as a genderqueer I shouldn’t expect to get anything.

Diligent, amazing activists worked hard to make this change as comprehensive and accessible as possible, but as long as we are inside a system that supports the pathologization of gender non-conformity our community is still controlled and oppressed. We are all trapped in this system, and if we ever want these first steps take us anywhere, the system itself must be changed. My dear friend wrote about change happening from the ‘bottom up.’ To me, it isn’t just about grassroots activism; it is a statement that this is the bare-minimum. We started with nothing, now we have a something, but we have a long way to go. Other movements have left us out but we cannot leave each other. Any gender transgressor is in our community and deserves to fight and to be fought for. No genderqueer left behind.

x-posted MidwestGenderQueer.com
x-posted Amplify Your Voice

Intro Post

Hello All,
I'm the newest contributor, JAC Stringer, commonly known as Midwest GenderQueer. I'm a trans-genderqueer community activist, performer, and writer. I focus the majority of my work on bettering Ohio and the Midwest for queers and genderqueers alike. I have founded several organizations focusing on activism and education, such as GenderBloc, The Queer Peer Education Program, The Queer Canon Zine, the GenderQueer Coalition where I currently serve as director. I'm also a co-manager and performer in the internationally recognized drag troupe The Black Mondays. In addition to activism I'm pursuing independent research in sexology and gender studies focusing on non-pathologized gender variance, GID reform, and queer sexualities. I'm very excited to take part in this excellent blog project. Thanks for having me!


Friday, September 18, 2009

DNC governing body gets first trans member

Good news:

The Democratic National Committee voted last week to welcome a transgender woman to its ranks, the first time that a major U.S. political party has appointed an openly transgender person to its national governing body.

Transgender activist Barbra Casbar Siperstein, president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, a statewide LGBT organization, was among six new LGBT people nominated Sept. 7 by DNC Chair and Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine for at-large seats on the 447-member DNC.

The six LGBT nominees were among 75 at-large DNC nominees that the full DNC approved Sept. 11 during a meeting in Austin, Texas. The additions bring the total number of LGBT people sitting on the DNC to 25, up from 15 in 2008, and boost the membership of the DNC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Americans Caucus to its highest level since the party officially recognized the caucus in 1998. full article

The Colonic

Sunday, September 13, 2009


NCTE held a conference call tonight about ENDA & they've put a recording of it online (.mp3). The deadline is rapidly approaching. They've got a bunch of resources up (.pdf), and on Facebook, Jillian Weiss is posting daily actions.

This is for all of us - LGBTQI & all our families & allies.

No one should lose or not get a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Make those calls, send letters, emails, and forward this info to your friends & families so they do the same.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

protecting our trans communities: CA and the Equal ID Act

Nice work, California:

California State Senate joined the Assembly in passing the Equal ID Act by a 22-14 vote. The bill, AB 1185, sponsored by Equality California (EQCA) and introduced by Assemblymember Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), expands legal protections for transgender people born in California. If signed by the Governor, the new law would allow qualified transgender people born in California to return to the county of their birth and obtain a court order reflecting their correct gender and an accompanying name change, if applicable. The court order is then used to obtain a corrected California birth certificate. full article

The Colonic

Saturday, August 22, 2009

if it walks like a duck: sports and the regulation of female bodies

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...it's a duck.

Substitute woman for duck, and one has illuminating insight as to what our culture finds appropriate femaleness, as well as the absence of wiggle room.

Just ask South African athlete Caster Semenya. Muscular body? Deep voice? Stellar athletic performance? Must be a man.

Top it off, Semenya now needs to take a "gender verification test."

News flash: gender is not a more sophisticated or politically correct term for sex. Sex refers to chromosomes and genitals, and gender refers to social performance. Therefore, a person whose biological sex is male may have a female gender performance.

This brings about another issue: how do members of trans communities participate in sports teams? I'd love to get some feedback.

The Colonic

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How I Found Out I Was Sexist

I wrote this piece for On the Issues magazine, and it's since been picked up by Bilerico and by AlterNet, so I thought I'd post it here, too.

It's been a surprise to find out what a sexist I really am. I've been calling myself a feminist for two decades, and surely was one for the two decades before that.

I'm a woman who found myself with a female husband - the man I married is trans and currently transitioning to living as female in the world. She has been doing so socially for some time and only now has decided to make it official with a name change and all the legal ballyhoo. I've been surprised by a lot of aspects of this process, not least of which is our relationship surviving it.

People can't and don't just change their sexual orientation because they want or need to, and partners of transgender people are no exception. I can't magically become a lesbian, no matter how useful that would be. I am seen as one by most other people when I am holding my female spouse's hand.

If I were categorically heterosexual I wouldn't have managed this transition at all, which is one of many reasons I think of myself as simply queer.

I never played a heterosexual woman very convincingly, but I tried. That's one of the reasons I didn't expect any sexism in my own attitudes about gender in relationships. I was a tomboy growing up. As an adult, I was always a little too forthright and ungiggly for most straight guys. I preferred buying my own dinner and drinks in order to avoid any expectations later in the evening. I didn't play along, reflecting them at twice their natural size, as Virginia Woolf once so famously put it in A Room of One's Own. That said, as the woman in a straight relationship, you're assumed to be the more feminine of the two of you - even if you aren't.

What has surprised me the most are the expectations I had first of a male husband - and what the loss of "him" meant - as well as my more recent expectations of having a female wife. I use both husband and wife because both are true: legally, she is my husband, but socially, people see her as my wife. It is one thing for someone to become "not man," which is more like subtracting visible markers of masculinity, both physical and social. And it is quite different for someone to become a "woman" - which involves something far trickier.

When it came down to it, I feared my partner's transition because I expected her to become a woman, but what I didn't expect was how differently I would see certain things she did.

It wasn't about her femininity. As I noted, she was always more feminine than me, even when she lived in the world as male. My own gender, and our relationship, makes a lot more sense to people - what the gender theorist Judith Butler would call "cultural intelligibility" - now that we live in the world as a lesbian couple. Because I'm a tomboy, mentioning a boyfriend meant conversations would grind to a halt while I waited for people to make sense of what I'd just said. Now, when I mention a female partner, people just keep on talking, underwhelmed by the detail.

I'm sure that there are plenty of women like me, who are regularly surprised by the subtle ways our culture has of telling women to take it down a notch. A friend of mine had someone chide her about how openly she tells her husband how much money he can spend on drinks when they're out. A few years ago a bunch of college guys said they didn't want to marry women who had more money or more impressive jobs than they did, and women who make a lot of money or who have a lot of authority in the world have found that being in relationships with men who don't wear the pants in the relationship still want to be treated as if they do, as Carrie Fisher once pointed out to Maureen Dowd.

But at home, I wanted her to stop doing Lewis Black impersonations and playing air guitar. At the time I'd convinced myself I was just trying to help her fit in - something some transgender people value very much. In other ways, I was shielding her from the kind of admonishment any tomboy is sensitive to. I didn't want her to hear the snide comments I'd heard as a kid, and as a teenager: you're too angry, you don't smile enough, or, why don't you wear heels or dresses or more makeup.

She was - due to the demands of her own internal sense of gender - a tomboy too, but the kind who wears heels and beats everyone at pool. I found myself discouraging her from being the kind of woman who kicks ass and takes names, all for fear she might be clocked as trans.

What's funny is that I never shielded her from the jokes about how "whipped" she was. She heard these regularly when she was my boyfriend. But that was about my gender and my feminism. It was okay for her to call and see if I was cool with her hanging out with co-workers when she was a guy, because that was considerate. As a woman, I found myself embarrassed by her being so considerate because it seemed "clingy" instead.

It astonishes me that that was all it took: same person, same decision, same expression of her love for me, but my own sexism kept me from seeing how much the same it was.

When "he" used to get us both drinks, it was gentlemanly; but once she became female, it was hard not to see it as subservient. "His" humility can look more like a lack of confidence; "his" graciousness can be read instead as self-sacrificing.

All of what she does looks like something else because she's a woman.

I should have known better. My own decision to stay with her as she transitioned to a woman has been categorized as either the worst kind of self-effacing, "stand by your man," doormat codependency, or as evidence of my own radicalized choice to reject gendered expectations.

Feminism is in the eye of the beholder, apparently. I just never expected my husband to be the one whose gender would let me know I needed an optometrist.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Writer's workbench: On the ecstasy of the home stretch

Writers’ workbench: On the ecstasy of the home stretch


This is actually a re-tweet (sic) from my own blog, www.jenniferboylan.net, and the content here has not much to do with trans stuff. But as writers, and allies-of-authors, I'm hoping this resonates with somebody.

So here I am, late summer, deep in the heart of the first draft of a new book. I’m in that euphoric, terrifying, mysterious frame of mind that arises when the end of the draft is almost in sight. I try to write about 1000 words a day, which translates to about four pages of double-spaced manuscript. I’m on about page 350 of a book that feels like it will be around 450 pages long. Everything’s set up for the ending, all the characters and clues and tools are in place, and now mostly I have the feeling of standing back, watching the storm I have created roll through the village.

I don’t know if people who are not writers can relate to this at all, but I wanted to linger over this moment with you here. Right now, the world of the book I’m writing is really all I care about. It’s what I can’t wait to do once I get up in the morning, and when I’m doing it, I”m about as happy as I can be, and when I’m finished, I start to think about what I’m going to write tomorrow. Each tiny block of pages brings me closer and closer to the end. I know a lot of what’s going to happen, but not exactly, and there’s still room to be surprised, both for better and for ill. But this particular place– the home stretch–is such a delight.

I have hopes to be done with this first draft by summer’s end, which would truly be impressive (and tidy, since it means I wouldn’t be dragging summer projects into the academic year.) I am such a confused flibbertygibbet of a writer that I really have to go through two drafts, just to have a first draft, because even at my most careful, I am still capable of writing, “A hole fell out of the wall.” (The HarperCollins copyeditor actually caught this one recently; with deep chagrin I had to change it to, OF COURSE, “a stone fell out of the wall, leaving a hole.”) And so on. It is so easy to get blind, in the whirlwind of this part of writing.

Steve King encourages writers to write 2000 words a day, if possible, and to spend no more than 3 months on a first draft. I’m a fast writer, but i’ve never been THAT fast. Still, these fantasy books I’m writing have come faster, and been more fun, than almost anything I’ve ever done. The problem is that, every 200 pages or so, I have to completely stop and go back and fix all the things i’ve screwed up because only writing the story lets me know what the story is. And while this might well be a crazy way of writing (rather than planning it all out in advance), I’ve NEVER been able to do that; for me it’s always writing blindly but with hope, and then going back, and fixing it, and fixing it.

So coming down the home stretch is especially exciting because the options narrow, and I’m less likely to go off down a blind alley. AT this point, I’ve been down so many of them that the number of false moves has been reduced– because I’ve already taken so many of them.

This particular project, by the way, is FALCON QUINN AND THE (SOMETHING SOMETHING) (we’re keeping the something something secret for now). It’s book two of the Falcon Quinn project, and i’ve just learned that book one, FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR (the cover for which is here) is now slated for April publication. I’ve had such a ball with these books, and even now I am still doing what I started doing two years ago with book one– doing a morning’s writing, and then reading the day’s work to my boys at day’s end. Zach and Sean continue to be some of my best critics, especially with this book, which I’ve written for (and in many cases, with) them.

It’s funny, though, I will end book Two before Book One has come out yet, so I wont’ know whether there will be books Three and up (and yeah, I have a pretty specific idea of how many of these there will be) when I have to hand them in. So I have to come up with an ending for Book Two that will end the series if we end at two, but also provides an opening if we go more than that, which I surely hope we do.

At any rate, I am not at all sure that this makes me a very fun or pleasant person to be around right now, because my mind is really drifting away to Shadow Island and the world of the story all the time. Deedie is long suffering and patient about this, having long ago decided that the best way to deal with a writer-spouse is to pretend I’m normal. The boys, meanwhile, want to CONSTANTLY talk about the latest twists and turns in the story. It’s such a fun and fulfilling place to be.

There are times I wish I could stay in this frame of mind forever. But that’d be no fun, because then I’d never find out how the story ends. And I’d be denied the even scarier, even more amazing prospect, of staring something new.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On Breaking up With Myself

I wrote the following very short entry for the Penguin Blog in support of my story, "Trans," in the anthology LOVE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD, which is about broken hearts and breakups. The entry I post herewith; the blog itself you can visit here, if you want, and read more from the other authors about this subject, and their own stories.

Breaking Up With Myself
by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Nine years ago, I made a big stack of all the clothes I had ever worn and gave them to the homeless. This included wingtip shoes, three-piece suits, Grateful Dead T-shirts, ties, belts, cotton shirts and boxer shorts. Pffft, down the chute. A moment like this is one of the rites of passage for transsexuals in transition, or can be. It was for me.

And yet it was not without a bittersweet pang that I hauled the bags of clothing down to Goodwill. What I realized was that I was saying farewell not only to the Perry Ellis suit and the Timberland jacket, but to the man I had been when I had worn them. In some twisted way, I was breaking up with myself.

Fifteen years earlier, I'd broken up with Allison (an account of which appears in Love is a Four Letter Word). I was glad to be done with the endless bickering, (like the night after my friend Tim died, and she said, "I'm glad he's dead! He was so annoying!") On the other hand, Allison was the person I'd been closest to when my father died, when I lost my first job, when I got my first short story published.

It was Allison who'd held me in her arms, when I was twenty-five, on the day that the dog I'd gotten as my eleventh birthday present was put to sleep.

So when we broke up, I wasn't only losing her. I was losing the person I had been during the time we were together.

It's like that Hopkins poem, "To a Young Child," when our man tells little grieving Margaret, "It is the doom that man was born for; it is Margaret that you mourn for."

I think the same thing is true of breakups. When we lose someone we've loved, it's not only that relationship we mourn. It's the loss of our own history, a connection to the people we have been.

I was so glad when I left the world of being James, and began the world of being Jenny. In its own way, it was a miracle. Still, after I gave away my clothes, I thought: Who would know that the stains on that striped shirt had come from the Beaujolais I drank the night I got engaged? Who would know that that green tie was the one I'd worn that day in high school, when I wrecked my parents' car?

I think about the man I used to be, now and again, with fondness, and bereavement, and wonder idly, what ever became of that dude? I look at photographs of my younger self, and heave a sigh, and think the thing we all think as we grow older, and our former selves recede: You never call. You never write.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


One of the things I've always liked about Vanessa Edwards Foster is that she doesn't lose sight of the goal: actual equality. I agree with her that our standards are low when it comes to justice for the trans people, and their families and friends, who are murdered. I agree that "manslaughter" is not murder, and that shooting at someone who is basically a sitting duck in a car can't possibly have been an accidental killing.

But what I don't agree with is the vitriol directed at the LGB leadership of the organizations that called the ruling on Teisha Green's murder a victory.

Our standards are low because we are too used to seeing no justice at all when it comes to people who intentionally hurt and kill trans people for being trans. There are too many cases that break your heart. There are too many families who have had to hear the most hateful bullshit about their trans loved one. There are too many cases that are simply not solved, nor investigated.

But that the jury came back to rule her death a hate crime is a good thing.

What bothers me about the politics between the LGB & T is that there are plenty of other gay bashings and hate crimes experienced by the LGB that the trans community pays little attention to, such as Sean Kennedy's. If you want an example of an absolute failure when it came to our legal system, that's it. It's horrific. Every time I see that young man's beautiful face, and think about his parents' loss, I wonder where exactly the trans community has been in raising awareness of that horrible injustice. No, he wasn't gender variant. He was a young adult who was out and proud about being gay. But he's dead just the same as Teisha Green is, & for the same reason: someone hated him for what he was.

Do we know Michael Scott Goucher? Richard Hernandez? Satendar Singh? Ryan Keith Skipper? Jeremy Waggoner? Daniel Yakovleff? These are the names of gay men who have been murdered for being gay in the last couple of years. I didn't know most of their names.

Community goes both ways. We all have more than enough mourning to do.