Friday, January 30, 2009

The only moral use of an epithet is my own...

To the Life+Style Editor of a gay newspaper petulantly defending his right to call people "trannies"

Dear Faggot:

Now I know you won't be offended by me -- a hetero crossdresser who also does drag -- calling you that, since after all we're all about reclaiming terms, right? Just like you getting RuPaul to "rule" that it's OK to call trans people "trannies." The thing is, as far as I know, RuPaul identifies as a gay man, so asking his/her opinion on this issue is a bit like asking a white person whether it's OK for other white people call black people... well you know the term I mean.

The thing is, reclaiming an epithet is something that only gets to be done by the people who've been targeted by it. There's a big difference between members of a stigmatized group reclaiming a term as a way of saying "yeah I am a [insert derogatory term here], wanna make something of it" -- and quite another when someone outside that group decides to fling that term around carelessly. And no, we're not "already there" in reclaiming tranny as a cuddly term of endearment -- Christian Siriano's catchphrase "hot tranny mess" was clearly meant as a putdown in exactly the same way as clueless straight kids use "that's so gay."

As far as using "drag queen," I've got no problem with using that term to describe people who are actually drag queens -- i.e. people who are crossdressing for performance. Some of whom may also be trans. But using it to describe trans people off the stage is implying their gender identity is just for show, akin to straight people who tell you that you're not really gay, you just haven't found the right woman yet. Think I'm kidding? I've seen gay men tell transwoman: "No really, what's your real (i.e. male) name."

I do agree with RuPaul that one does need to take intent into account. I've got gay friends who've thrown around "tranny" -- but when I've gently mentioned that it's a term that a lot of trans people find problematic when used by people who aren't trans (or friends and allies), guess what, they stopped using it. But no, you had to go pissily justify your right to use the term and accusing people who complain of "Nazi-like" rigidity. That's hardly "coming from a place of love and respect" now is it? The place that comes to mind is: asshat-ism. Because bottom-line, if you have to have to ask yourself whether a term you're using is offensive, that's a pretty good clue that it's not a good idea to use it.

Words may never hurt me, but they can piss me off -- and I think RuPaul might also have something to say about the folly of getting on the wrong side of an angry drag queen.

<snap> <snap>


Just to be absolutely clear, since the use of irony can go over people's heads...

"Faggot" is a vile, hateful term -- and it's one that I'm all too familiar with. I was taunted with it as a boy who wasn't sufficiently manly for the school bullies. I've heard it muttered at me when I've been out en femme and in drag. I've had it screamed at me by potential gay bashers.

Which is why I didn't use it lightly. In fact it's the first time I've used it in more than 30 years (the last time was back when I was a school kid who didn't know any better). Why? Because I've lost patience with (some) gay and lesbian writers and editors who, when asked stop using a term that a number of trans people find equally problematic when used by non-trans people, not only continue to use it, but then go on to arrogantly proclaim their right to decide what's offensive to others, and belittle those who asked them to stop as being "overly sensitive."

My use of the term was a shock tactic intended to goad these folks into thinking about what they're saying, using a stark example that's close to home for them, since they've been utterly unwilling to put themselves in other people's shoes. I.e. "how would you like it if I took it upon myself to call you a faggot in the same way that you take it upon yourself to call trans people 'trannies'." Perhaps I could've more clearly posed it as a hypothetical, i.e. "how would you like it if I called you a..." But unfortunately, the experience of myself and others is that subtler arguments made in the past have just been blown off by these folks. So sometimes it takes a 2x4 between the eyes to get people's attention.

Those in question, including this particular editor, come across as being willfully oblivious. As someone aptly put it elsewhere -- in the case of the "pro-gay" radio DJ defending his right to call gays "fags":

When someone says you're doing something that hurts them, you could either a) stop doing it, or b) continue. Why would you continue? If you accidentally step on someone's foot in a crowd, and they say "Ouch!" would you apologize, or would you try to convince them that it really didn't hurt because you didn't mean any harm?

I understand if you're angered by my use of the term. But I hope you understand why I feel angered by those who insist on using a term they know that a number of trans people feel hurt by.

Incidently, I also meant the title of the piece ironically, inspired by the title of this article about hypocrisy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is It Justice Yet?

Nope, not yet.

So here we are, as of this writing just over one week into the Obama Administration. While it would be insane to expect anything to get done legislatively on much other than the economy at this point, what's reasonable to expect on LGBT rights in at least the semi-near future?

By Barney Frank's estimate, it's pretty fair to expect that by this time next year we should be protected from discrimination in the workplace and covered by a federal hate crimes law. Yet, we all know it's just not that simple, don't we? How many times have we heard such promises before only to discover the truth later on? And yet, despite the history here, we also know that the cards are now stacked in our favor like never before. For the first time since Bill Clinton's first couple of years in office, we've got a significant Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress and a supportive President...but we also know how it turned out last time.

So, it's quite fair to ask: What do we do now? Do we blindly give Democrats the benefit of the doubt once again when their record of standing up for us is so downright abysmal? But if we do withhold that overt support would it negatively impact the reception in Congress of any attempt to actually get anything done on our issues this year?

What to do, what to do...

Don't expect any help from our friends in DC on this one. They're much too busy trying to rescue the economy at the moment, as well they should be. I'd bet we're not going to hear more than the barest peep about action on our issues until at least April or May at the earliest. In the meantime, we need to figure out our own next moves. As you might imagine, I've got a few ideas in that regard.

1. HRC Needs To Put Up Or Shut Up

It's really no more complex than that. Since the "Great Sellout of '07", the Human Rights Campaign has been for the most part notably silent on ENDA and hate crimes, aside from the occasional lukewarm expression of support for inclusion once it became clear that Barack Obama (and not the candidate they threw their support behind, Hillary Clinton) was likely to become our next President. At the same time, HRC still has not yet publicly withdrawn their support for a non-inclusive version of ENDA.

Clearly, one of two things needs to happen: HRC must publicly come out firmly in favor of inclusion and only inclusion as well as openly demonstrate their commitment to that ideal in a concrete way, or the rest of us, the vast majority who believe wholeheartedly in inclusion and in acting inclusively, must from now on actively exclude HRC from our greater movement's political efforts. As an organization that has repeatedly proven it cannot be trusted to interact honestly or reliably with the greater community, without a public commitment there is no valid reason to consider this organization to be one working on behalf of the interests of anyone other than extremely wealthy, white, non-gender-variant gays and lesbians.

According to Donna Rose
, we shouldn't expect much. She writes on her blog:

"...HRC really isn’t interested in rebuilding the relationship with the broader trans community. Sure, they’ll take it if they can get it but they’re not willing to do anything to earn it. Rather, they’ve got a small group of transpeople who provide the illusion of inclusion and that’s as far as they’ll go."

Assuming Donna's right (and in my experience, she usually is), trying to work with HRC now is just a waste of our time. We know who our true allies are and it's in our own best interests to keep the protests going. What's more, since HRC is clearly trying to convince others that they are inclusive without being willing to make any real effort to actually act inclusively, it's important for the rest of us to counter that message publicly with the truth. Just as the right has been extremely successful in using LGBT's as boogeymen to generate support and donations, so too are we using our own self-defined black sheep to strengthen our own side. The more public and active we are about pointing out the inherent unfairness of exclusion, which we can illustrate extremely well using the behavior of HRC as an example through protesting their events and speaking out against them, the more progressive grassroots support we'll gain.

As a community, it's time for all of us to say to HRC, once and for all, "You're either with us or you're against us.", that they need to pick a lane and stay in it. And if they are against us, then they don't get to credibly call themselves or be seen as LGBT activist leaders because in the end they're really leading no one but themselves anymore.

Enough with these people and their petty political games. It's time to move on.

2. Build More And Stronger Bridges

We've made amazing strides in this over the last couple of years, but there's more work to do. Let's grow those budding relationships with progressives and organized labor into solid working alliances. Let's bring them and their influence with us when we go to lobby Congress, and let's continue including them as we continue protesting HRC dinners and events. We need to make it clear to Congress, in no uncertain terms, that when a Democrat turns his or her back on treating transpeople fairly, they're also turning their back on a lot more than simply a relative handful of minority votes. There's a reason why the Mayor of Los Angeles refused to cross that union picket line in San Francisco and we should not hesitate to capitalize on it. Our new alliances with liberal and progressive activists and causes are powerful tools we've just recently been handed. Let's use them to best effect to benefit ourselves, and let's also not forget to return the favor when the opportunity arises.

3. Lobby, Lobby, Lobby

As things seem to be getting better politically for us and money starts getting tighter, it's easy to come up with good reasons for not going to DC to lobby. After all, for some of us (like me) a trip to Washington is simply unaffordable right now. While I'd argue it's probably better in terms of impact to make the trip to DC if possible, if for no other reasons than networking and to be able to show up at a Congressman's office with more than just oneself, visits to a Congressman's local office and appearances can and will help immensely as well. The more Congress sees our faces, hears our stories, and truly understands who we are, what we need from them, and why we need it, the harder it will be for them to say "No" again.

4. Get Out There

Not just to Congressional offices, but everywhere. If your local LGBT or transgender organization has an event or happening, make sure your local community newspapers, websites, and other media know about it. If you're contacted for a media interview and you believe it won't portray yourself and the rest of us in an exploitive way, go for it. Publicly challenge media which fails that standard. Blog, write letters to the editor, know the drill. Help keep us and our issues in the public as well as the political eye. Don't be afraid to speak up, even if you feel you must do so anonymously.

5. Don't Give Up

Remember, the election of Barack Obama brought with it probably the single greatest political slap-down in the history of of our movement, the stripping of basic civil rights from California citizens through the passage of Prop 8. Obama can't save us, nor do should we really expect he'll make any effort to try. As he's demonstrated by his repeated flip-flops on marriage equality over the years, Obama is not above turning his back on his publicly-touted principles in order to score political points. Obama has also taught us, through his promotion of anti-LGBT hatemongers Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin, that when push comes to shove supporting LGBT rights and fair treatment under the law ranks pretty low overall on his agenda, especially now that he's President.

If there's anything that's abundantly clear, it's that if we are to finally gain full rights as citizens of this country we must continue to demand them relentlessly until we succeed because if we don't we can be damn sure that no one else will. The many supportive members of Congress notwithstanding, if we are to win this we will have to ensure that the political price that might be paid by some members of Congress for supporting us and giving us what we deserve will be nowhere near as steep as it would be for them to continue taking the coward's way out. Yes, we need to force the issue, and we need to follow-up if we don't get what we want. If we need to actively and publicly shame reluctant members of Congress into doing the right thing, then we must not hesitate to do so.

The way I see it, what we must do now is not as much about waging war on those who may oppose us as it is about showing Congress and straight America in general that we've grown up as a movement and as an American minority constituency. Congress needs to understand that we will not consider it a win unless all LGBT Americans can share in the victory. Those not fully on board with that ideal must be disempowered and left behind as the majority of our movement charts a new inclusive course for all of us.

There can be no more equivocation, no more excuses for cowardice or failure to act. The time to stand up and demand our proper place as full and equal citizens of this country is upon us and we must not shirk that responsibility. The political stars are as aligned as they are ever likely to be in our lifetimes. It's now or quite possibly never. We've got about three months or so, more than enough time to do what needs to be done.

The time is now. Let's bring it home.

Finding Freedom from Fear


For our weekly Family Popcorn & Movie Night last night we watched a cute little movie called Finding Rin Tin Tin. It's a children's version of the story of the famous German Shepherd who was adopted by an American soldier during World War I and went on to become a beloved screen star in the 20's and 30's. It was a cute little film--the rare live action kiddie tale that can keep the interest of our whole family, from our four-year-old right up through Mom and Daddy.

This telling of the story has a sub-plot that centers on a French orphan boy, Jacques, who becomes separated from his parents when Paris is bombed. Rendered mute by the trauma, Jacques is placed under the care of the ruthless camp cook, who abuses him and even tries to sell him into slavery before the plot is uncovered by Rin Tin Tin. In the film's final scene, Jacques is reunited with his parents as Rin Tin Tin prepares to leave France with the victorious American forces.

As my wife and I were laughing about the unabashed sappiness of that scene, my seven-year-old daughter, who was watching from a pile of pillows on the floor, turned around and started to climb into our laps. That's when I noticed that she was crying. In fact, she was wracked with sobs--so much so that I assumed one of our boys, sitting on the couch behind her, had kicked her in the head and hurt her. (These things occasionally happen in our house.)

"What's wrong, honey," I asked. She was crying so hard it took her a few seconds to respond.

"Tears of joy, Daddy," she sobbed--at which point all our cynicism about sappy movie endings dissolved and my wife and I joined in. Before the credits had finished rolling, the whole family was weeping tears of joy together, cuddled on the couch, relieved that after all he'd suffered, the probably fictional Jacques would have a chance to live happily ever after with his family.

I've taken pride in the past that my wife and I are raising children who are so in touch with their feelings and so unashamed to let them show. But when I shared my daughter's story with a colleague this morning, she helped me see it in a way I hadn't before. "I was just thinking about all that time you spent separated from your wife and kids while you were job hunting," she said. "I wonder if she was remembering that."

It hadn't even occured to me to make that connection, but as I've thought about my friend's observation, it makes perfect sense. Longtime readers may remember that our family was separated for almost ten months while I searched for a job after finishing grad school and transitioning. In order to minimize expenses, my wife and kids lived with her parents in Montana; because they did not approve of my transition and would not allow me to live with them, I stayed in Arizona with my mom. Though we did all we could to stay connected while we were apart (we spoke on the phone daily and I wrote letters to the children almost as regularly), it was still incredibly hard on us all. As my daughter's sobs seem to show, the anxiety it created in my children lingers, almost a year later. I wonder how long it will last?

I know we're not the only family that's had to endure a long separation--families do it every day, and it has nothing to do with being trans. And yet I can't help but think that it was avoidable in our case. If only my in-laws were more accepting, if only their church would speak from a place of compassion for trans people and not one of domination and oppression, if only it weren't so hard for trans people to find meaningful work through which we can support not only ourselves but our loved ones as well...if only.

It has been said that all politics is personal. I think it's truer still that all activism is personal. My reasons for doing the work I do are very, very personal. My daughter shouldn't have to worry that our family will have to endure long-term separation again just because her daddy is transgender. Nobody's child should. Nobody's wife or husband should have to worry about the social cost of supporting a transitioning spouse. Nobody's parents should have to be afraid of violence against a transitioning child. No trans person should have to be anxious about finding a job or a place to live or walking into a public rest room.

These anxieties have a very real psychological impact on a person and, I would argue, a spiritual impact that is just as real. They can cripple you, hold you back, hold you down, hinder you from fulfilling your beautiful, awesome, awe-inspiring potential. For me, turning my anxiety into action has helped mitigate those negative effects. By making my own small contribution to healing this hurting world, I heal myself. Not only that, but I help make it possible for my kids to grow up in a world that is a little less scary.

(Cross-posted at my personal blog, Crossing the T.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cynthia Nicole

Human Rights Watch is asking Honduras authorities to investigate the murder or transgender activist Cynthia Nicole, who was murdered on January 9th, 2009.

As a leader in Colectivo Violeta - an organization working to defend the rights and health of transgender people since 1995 - Nicole had a long record of outreach work on rights with transgender sex workers in Tegucigalpa. She provided information about HIV/AIDS and human rights, and represented her community at various national conferences and before the media.

"The transgender community is terrified," said Indyra Mendoza, director of the Honduran lesbian and feminist organization Cattrachas. "But these attacks will not silence the community in Honduras, and we will continue to work to ensure that the rights of transgender people are recognized and protected."

Apparently this violence has been going on for years, with little or no response from Honduran authorities.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

1st Trans Officer of State Dems

From National Stonewall Democrats:

Washington, DC – Today, the Stonewall Democrats congratulated Laura Calvo upon her election as Treasurer of the Democratic Party of Oregon. Calvo, a seasoned Democratic operative, becomes the first openly-transgender officer of a state Democratic party. A member of the Board of Directors for National Stonewall Democrats, Calvo also serves as Chair of the Oregon Stonewall Democrats and as Treasurer of the Multnomah County Democrats. Multnomah County, which includes the city of Portland, is the largest county in the state of Oregon.

"Laura is a tremendous asset to the Democratic Party, and her election as Treasurer will only grow our Democratic gains as we move into the 2010 election cycle," said Jon Hoadley, Executive Director. "I've known Laura as both an advocate and as a friend. Like so many of our Stonewall Democrats members, she knows that the relationships we build on the local level enable us to create national change. The benefits that we will see from a Democratic Congress will be largely due to the substantial success of Democratic advocates like Laura Calvo."

Calvo maintains a long history of activism on behalf of the Democratic Party and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In 2008, Calvo served on the national LGBT Steering Committee for the Obama/Biden presidential campaign and as an elected delegate for Hillary Clinton to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. That year, Calvo also served as a policy advisor to the campaign of Senator Jeff Merkley, who defeated Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in one of the most substantial upset victories of the senatorial election cycle.

"I've counted Senator Merkley as a friend since the time that we both served together in local Democratic politics," said Calvo, referring to freshman United States Senator Jeff Merkley. "I tell friends that the most effective way to pass legislation on the national level is to have elected officials who first know us as friends back home. That's why our community was so passionate about electing Senator Merkley. Our friendships and activism in Oregon helped to shape his elected service on the state level, and those relationships continue after he has moved into the halls of Congress. Stonewall Democrats has built those types of relationship across the country. Democratic activism is a way of shaping the direction of pro-equality issues and as Treasurer of the Democratic Party of Oregon, I not only get to shape the direction of pro-equality issues, but the direction of my state party as well."

Calvo now joins Democratic Party of Oregon Vice Chair Frank Dixon as the second openly-LGBT party officer currently serving that state party. Calvo previously served the state party in various fuctions, including as the secretary for the Democratic Party of Oregon's convention. Thanks to her work and that of other Oregon Stonewall Democrats, the state party platform mandates strong support for issues of equality, including the freedom to marry.

To congratulate Laura Calvo upon her election as Treasurer, Stonewall Democrats is encouraging its members to donate directly to the Democratic Party of Orgeon on Calvo's behalf. Donations made this week (through Friday) on the party's LGBT caucus page will be credited as being raised by Laura Calvo.

To congratulate Calvo, and to donate directly to the Democratic Party of Oregon, visit:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Trans Year in Review 2008

Here's Jacob Anderson-Minshall's now annual "Trans Year in Review" article, which covers a lot of interesting people and events and media in the trans commmunity for 2008.