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.