Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stealth / Closeted

Autumn Sandeen recently wrote an article about Mike Penner / Christine Daniels called "The Closet Kills" for PHB. A woman who transitioned quite a long time ago responded to it, and her take on Sandeen's ideas about stealth seemed like exactly the kind of opinion we don't often hear in the larger / activist trans communities. So here it is:
Sandeen writes:

So first of all, there is a difference in trans community in living closeted and living stealth.

Then a couple of paragraphs further down, confuses stealth and closeted:

However, I didn't chose (sic) stealth; I instead chose (sic) to live out of the closet.

This is such a common misconception. It drives me nuts. This stealth = closeted thing.

Here's how I see it. In order to be happy and harmonious and generally get on well in life, you've gotta present to the world at large as how you identify. When I was assigned male and self identified as female, I was fucking miserable.

So then I transitioned, and started presenting as transsexual. I was still fucking miserable, because people still didn't see me as the gender that I saw myself, which is female. For the most part, they still gendered me as male, doing some sort of "act". Often they were really complimentary about my act. "Oh, I would never have known!" (that you were really a bloke). Not terribly helpful.

So then I stopped telling people about my trans past, and allowed them to gender me correctly. Guess what? My identity and presentation are aligned. I'm a happy camper. No act.

So this Autumn Sandeen clearly identifies as trans. She gets to to the point where her self identification and presentation match, and she's happy as an out (in all capitals, apparently) trans woman. Good for her. Only there's a hitch. It appears she identifies all trans women as being just like her, and is somehow disappointed/distressed/off her weetbix because some of us are "living in a closet".

Apparently my life can't ever be fulfilling, because I'm not disclosing.

Now here's how I see stealth and closet.

Closeted is where you hide some aspect of yourself. Something you do. Whether that's fucking with other men or dressing up as a woman on weekends.

Stealth is where you fail to disclose an irrelevant past that would cause people to gender you incorrectly. There's no ambiguity, because you present how you identify.

Totally, totally different things. If you're living stealthily because you identify as female, despite being assigned male as a kid, then you're certainly not living in a closet. You're showing people what you actually are, not what somebody arbitrarily assigned you once.

I have no idea what set Penner/Daniels off. It could be that he was a CDer who got caught up in the pink mist and ended up transitioning and regretting it. It could be that she ID'd as female, but made the mistake of a very public transition, so found that she was never able to reach escape velocity and actually be seen as female. Either way it was a fucking tragedy. Either way he/she was in torment. Obviously.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Republican Candidate Paul Scott Targets Trans Folk

Paul Scott, republican candidate for Michigan secretary of state released his platform last week and was kind enough to include transfolks in his agenda. Among his desired changes of immigration restrictions and traceable RFID chips inside state IDs he has included a statement for us trans folks too:

" I will make it a priority to ensure transgender individuals will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver’s license in any circumstance." -Official Paul Scott Weblog

Now, the average person doesn't know a thing about trans-related issues in any scope, let alone specific ID policies. So how can such an issue be of public interest? As with all discriminatory smears it is surely a scapegoat to screen the state's real problems. But out of the potpourri of things that conservative right-wingers hate, why pick on the genderqueers? Honestly, I think that Scott wanted to pick something that would shock people in a "look what the dirty liberal government did behind your back" kind of way. By bringing trans elements to the forefront he is gaining attention via a conservative fear mongering crusade. And with abortion being way overused and therefore unexciting, he had to find something that would appall people more than dead unborn fetuses. Enter transSEXuals, cause they aren't just out to get fetuses, they're out to get everyone.

Scott has made statements about his opinions being an issue of "social values", clearly implying that if you have good values you will agree with him, and if you don't you are a horrible person contributing to the moral downfall of society. However, Scott goes further to say that his main drive behind policy change is “preventing people who are males genetically from dressing as a woman and going into female bathrooms.” What value system does this relate to other than that anyone who is not normal by specific definition is therefore a violent threat? And because gender is involved sexualization comes into play and turns a genderqueer into an automatic sexual predator. It's the age old stereotype that men are going to put on dresses just so they can sneak into women's bathrooms and rape every female in sight... cause that has totally happened before. (FYI never been one report (TransgenderLawCenter, Peeing in Peace)). Promoting this false fear of transfolk attacking women is all part of the bigger picture of society's default appeal to heterosexist, transphobic attitudes which have no actual standing scientific or otherwise in creating a safe, equal-value based society.

Another reason why Scott's position is such a great concern is that the secretary of state is the primary government official who deals with issues like document and ID changes. For this reason, among others, having an anti-trans person in that position is clearly more than just problematic. Along with being a human rights and equal treatment and access issue, in many cases a change in documents can be a huge protection from discrimination, threat, and death. Clearly Scott could care less about Midwest transfolk's right to stay alive.

I'm going to be looking into any activist movements being formed around this issue, as my no being in or from Michigan makes it difficult to head up such a project alone. Here's hoping there will be updates on progress.

xposted, AmplifyYourVoice

Thursday, January 14, 2010

GenderQueer in the Midwest

Documentary about being a trans activist in the Midwest by Hunter Stuart at Stuart Productions

You can also access the video on YouTube. Please help us to SHARE this video by RATING it (the five little red and grey stars), COMMENTING, and SENDING to your friends and coworkers!

The Midwest is crawling with queers. Not because of any strong presence but in the more literal sense. Queers are crawling because we do not have the space to stand up. We do not have the resources that would enable us to live full, healthy lives. We, like so many others, are isolated in our homes, in our towns, controlled and confined by others, longing for life and being unable to live it.

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. When I came out as trans I didn’t know anyone who was like me and I had no way of finding them. The city‘s “gay“ scene was practically extinct and no trans or queer scene it had never existed in the first place. There was no space for me, so I decided to try and make one.

xposted -

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Transphobia In Mainstream Media: Are The Right-Wingers The Real Problem?

It seems like all too often when you tune your radio or television to mainstream news and talk shows these days, there's good reason to be at minimum pretty annoyed, and sometimes even genuinely pissed off and angry if you're a transgender person or ally. Despite decades of progress made in the area of LGBT acceptance and representation in mainstream media, the problem of transphobia in mainstream media remains pervasive and seemingly virtually unchecked in some quarters, even in media specifically directed toward politically progressive and left-leaning audiences.

While there are probably few on either the left or the right who'd find it unusual for pundits and their guests on Fox News or similar media to enthusiastically bash transgender and gender-variant people, it amazes me how this kind of thing is all but completely ignored by just about everyone when it happens on a show popularly considered to be liberal and/or left-wing.

Let's take "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" as an example. On a broadcast last year that took place shortly after the incident, Keith's guest, author and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, was humorously bashing Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean for her negative response to pageant judge Perez Hilton when asked if she supported same-sex marriage. Toward the end of the segment, Musto jokingly offered that in addition to her breast enhancements, the Miss USA pageant officials also paid for Prejean to "cut off her penis, sand her Adam's apple, and get a head-to-toe waxing.", along with other transphobic insults which followed. Olbermann's reaction, as far as I could tell, was to simply chuckle right along along with Musto's transphobic jokes.

No one I'm aware of in our community media or our advocacy organizations, mainstream or otherwise, took any notice of Musto's transphobic spewings on "Countdown" that night. As a loyal "Countdown" viewer myself, I suspect that many did what I did when I saw the original broadcast live, which was to think to myself "Michael Musto is sooo last century. Why can't Olbermann have someone good on, at least someone who doesn't look and sound like he just time-warped in from 1985?". Unfortunately, that's all I did. I didn't write about it, I didn't call it out, I didn't use my platform at the Bilerico Project to make people aware of it. I just acknowledged my disapproval of Musto's blatant transphobia internally and moved on. I was wrong. I should have done more.

Then there was the hate crimes bill, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. When Rachel Maddow reported on its passage on her show, she mentioned that the bill covered gender identity, but she never mentioned that this meant that transgender and gender-variant citizens were protected as well. In fact, a viewer who was hearing about these issues for the first time on that show would have learned that this new law would cover gays and lesbians in the event of a hate crime, but nothing about anyone one else. In fact, the only thing in the entire segment to even allude to the inclusion of transgender and gender-variant Americans in the protections of this new law was a quote from Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese who used the word "inclusive" to describe it.

This, of course, is a very different issue than the one with "Countdown". On that show, Musto's transphobia was blatant, intentional, and not only unchecked but even validated and encouraged by Olbermann's laughing along. In the case of "The Rachel Maddow Show", however, we're really talking about a sin of omission. Still bad, and still worthy of challenge, but also unquestionably not as transphobic or as potentially damaging to the public image of transgender and gender-variant people as Musto's bigoted and unchallenged diatribe on "Countdown". What we saw on "Countdown" was transphobia, pure and simple, as well as open disregard and disdain for transgender and gender-variant people and the way we live our lives, presented to "Countdown"'s audience as acceptable humor by Michael Musto and promoted and validated as such by Keith Olbermann. It's frankly amazing to me that a man who delivered one of the best commentaries I've ever heard in favor of same-sex marriage could be so utterly insensitive when it comes to topics and issues affecting transgender and gender-variant people.

What happened months later, in the aftermath of these incidents, is instructive as well.

When Olbermann hosted Michael Musto on "Countdown" again, he brandished a hotel-style desk bell and warned Musto he'd ring it if he went over the line. While this may or may not have been inspired by Musto's transphobic jokes during his previous appearance, Olbermann's turning the situation into an on-air joke for his viewers certainly sent a pretty clear message about what he thinks of the problems some of us have with Musto and his on-air behavior. Interestingly, the bell remained silent as Musto joked this time that one of Carrie Prejean's goals was to "prevent Chastity Bono from transitioning".

"The Rachel Maddow Show" was a different story entirely. Rachel covered President Obama's appointment of transwoman Amanda Simpson to a position at the Department of Commerce recently, and it was everything we could have hoped for. Rachel's commentary was brilliant, striking right to the heart of the issue and skewering those who actually deserve it, those on the right who are up in arms over Ms. Simpson's appointment because she's a transwoman, despite the fact that she's supremely qualified for the position she was appointed to.

To me this dichotomy is nothing short of stunning. I'm a loyal viewer of both shows, but how they've dealt with trans-relevant topics and issues on their shows are so diametrically opposed to each other that if someone wrote a book on the topic they could define those differences as "The Right Way" and "The Wrong Way".

Does it matter that Rachel Maddow is a gender-variant lesbian in her thirties and Keith Olbermann is a middle-aged straight guy? My bet is that it does, at least a little.

When Rachel's show essentially erased transgender people from a segment about the hate crimes law, I (and I'd bet many others) wrote to her and let her know that we weren't happy. We sent her stories to cover (I personally sent her the piece about Amanda Simpson from ABC's website that she used in the segment, as I'm sure many did), and we told her why it mattered to us. When the opportunity presented itself, Rachel rose to the occasion and gave us a terrific segment, not only on Amanda Simpson but also on the new anti-discrimination regulations protecting gender identity and expression in federal employment recently put into place by the Obama Administration.

My guess is that many like myself were moved to write to Rachel, far more than probably wrote to Keith Olbermann about Musto, in the expectation that she'd understand because she's family. I believe it very likely that many LGBT viewers who enjoy "The Rachel Maddow Show" on its own merits also feel a connection to Rachel and want to cheer her on and support her because she's one of us. I know that for me at least, Rachel being who she is certainly made it seem worth the effort to write her in the hopes of better transgender coverage. Olbermann on the other hand, didn't inspire me with the same kind of confidence, not because he's straight or traditionally-gendered but because of his laughing along with Musto. In short, while what I know about Rachel Maddow inspired me to contact her and express my views, what I saw from Olbermann during the Musto segment said to me that it wasn't worth the bother. I probably should have written him anyway, but it was just hard to see a point to it. I strongly suspect I wasn't the only one who felt this way.

As far as I can detect from simply watching "Countdown", Olbermann still doesn't seem to realize that there's a real problem here. Musto's appearances on "Countdown" have the feel of two middle-aged white guys wisecracking and denigrating whatever doesn't fit into their own limited worldviews. I find this especially striking and hard to accept because as regular viewers know, Keith Olbermann is a true progressive liberal, the kind of person who puts both his money and his media influence where his mouth is to help accomplish good works such as the health care fairs funded by donations from "Countdown" viewers and promoted on his show. He presents compelling progressively and liberally-oriented commentaries on a variety of important issues, including our own.

Yet, it seems that for Keith Olbermann while gays and lesbians such as Michael Musto and Rachel Maddow can and should be protected from discrimination and are a cause worthy of speaking out on behalf of, transgender and gender-variant people are still appropriate objects of humor and derision on his show, and it's also still acceptable to publicly denigrate an object of liberal and progressive distaste and disgust such as Carrie Prejean by defining her as a transsexual. .

To my way of thinking, this is where the real problem lies. Everyone expects the right-wingers to bash progressive and liberal causes. No one's shocked when Matt Labash calls Rachel Maddow a man on Tucker Carlson's new website, but when Michael Musto bashes transgender people on "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann snickering along it's a very different story. Those paying attention to Carlson, Beck, Limbaugh, and other right-wing pundits probably aren't going to be in our corner politically anyway, but when someone like Keith Olbermann presents and validates transphobia on his show it can have a much greater and far more damaging impact because it's the people watching his show who are the ones we're going to have to depend on to support us and our equal rights politically when the time comes.

Personally, I believe we have the right to expect, and in fact to demand, that those who define themselves as liberal and progressive pundits in mainstream media actually practice what they preach, at least during the time they're actually on the air. If it's wrong and, as Olbermann put it in his Special Comment on the topic, "horrible" to pass a law taking away the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry in California, it's just as wrong and just as horrible to present disgusting, offensive jokes about transpeople by defining an anti-gay beauty queen detested and vilified by those on the left as a transsexual. It reeks of a sad time in our nation's history when when political figures and others of note were often defamed by their opposition in the media of the time by accusing them of having Negro ancestry. Such attacks not only define the target as unworthy of equal rights and fair treatment, but also reinforce the idea that the minority group the target is accused of belonging to isn't worthy of such considerations either.

Understand that I'm not saying that I believe that Keith Olbermann is transphobic or personally responsible for Michael Musto's transphobic outburst on his show. As an online pundit and Internet radio host myself, I know there have been many times when a guest has said something on one of my shows that's just made me cringe. The difference here is that not only did Olbermann let Musto continue spewing his transphobia unchallenged, but he also chuckled right along as he did so. As liberals, as progressives, as those on the loyal left who make up a significant part of his audience, I think we have the right to expect better than this, both from a pundit with the progressive and liberal credibility of someone like Keith Olbermann, and from a cable network with the liberal constituency MSNBC boasts.

Also, I want to make it clear that this isn't about bashing Keith Olbermann, "Countdown", or MSNBC. Just as in the case of Greg Grunberg, I believe that Olbermann simply didn't realize that Musto's comments would be seen as truly offensive by some of his viewers until after the fact, and honestly, there's still no real evidence that might lead us to conclude that he understands this even now. My issue with Keith Olbermann centers mainly around the fact that someone as demonstrably tuned in, knowledgeable, and staunchly liberal and progressive as he is would not only laugh along with Musto's comments in first place, but then would later mock the concerns of those of his viewers who have been offended by Musto by turning them into minor comedy skit on his show, complete with prop and sound effect.

What this is about is asking the kind of questions that need to be asked every time we see something like this in the mainstream media, and particularly when it concerns pundits speaking to the political left: Why doesn't Keith Olbermann know better? Why doesn't he see the positive, progressive, and inclusive political values he represents on his show as applying to transgender people as well? Most importantly, why should we, as loyal "Countdown" viewers and part of the show's audience, be willing to silently accept it when it happens just because Olbermann speaks to the political left instead of the right?

The answer, of course, is that we shouldn't stand for it. It's time we started calling out stuff like this publicly, every time we see it, on the blogs, on Twitter, all over online media, no matter what network it happens on or who the host happens to be. It's time we put the mainstream networks on notice that when they allow unchallenged bigotry like this on their shows, we're going to make sure politically-conscious LGBT's and our allies know about it just as quickly as when a politician says something stupid in front of a video camera and it ends up on one of their shows.

The truth is I don't like having to write this. I'm a fan, a loyal "Countdown" viewer, and I watch the show just about every weeknight. Yet, at the same time, I also have to ask if we can't even get shows on the political left in mainstream media like "Countdown" and hosts as left-wing as Olbermann to treat us and our issues decently, how is it reasonable for us to expect Congress to do it?

We can no longer sit and wait quietly, hoping this will finally be the year that the networks figure this stuff out on their own. With Twitter, the blogs, and so many other ways to communicate and interact with each other online, and with the participation and promotion of GLAAD and other like-minded organizations and activists involved in these efforts, we'll finally have what we need to make our voices heard at a level of reach and impact that's never been possible before now.

It's time to start leveraging the power of our community and what we can accomplish when we join together to make it happen. It's time to stop simply asking for positive change in our mainstream media and start demanding it. It's time to use the tools at our disposal to force the issue and make it one the networks can no longer avoid or ignore. We need to start calling out those on the left when they fail us just as eagerly and as enthusiastically as we do those on the right. Nobody on the right or the left is going to care much if Glen Beck is popularly seen as transphobic, nor probably even Michael Musto, but I doubt the same can be said for Keith Olbermann.

Nobody (I know of) really wants to attack media pundits who they enjoy watching or listening to and agree with the vast majority of the time, but just as we can't hesitate to call out Democrats who fail their constituencies, the same must be equally true here. Just as we may speak out about problems we have on some issues with politicians who nonetheless still get our votes at election time, so must we also be willing to call out our favorite shows and pundits when they fail to measure up. We may not like having to do it, but it's only by calling these things out publicly and doing it consistently, regardless of the source, that we can be even reasonably assured that any success we may have in the short-term will have a chance of evolving into a long-term policy of respect for and fair representation of transgender and gender-variant people in mainstream media.

While we've obviously gotten through loud and clear to some, others have not yet demonstrated that they too understand that you can't really call yourself liberal or progressive when you're facilitating and promoting what essentially amounts to transphobic hatespeech on your show, even if you personally find it funny. There's a lot more work to do here, and it's up to us to do it.

Turn on the TV and fire up the Twitter. Our basic civil rights are on the table this year, and it's time to get serious about this.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Not Just Amanda Simpson

From the "there goes the MTF end of things sucking all the air out of the room again" division: in fact there were two trans people appointed by the Obama administration in late November.

The difficulty arose because Simpson is a former NCTE Board member, & so they sent out a press release noting their former board member's new job, which is what caused all the hullabaloo.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Just Say Sorry, David Letterman

Ox Freeman of the Alabama Gender Alliance just posted the info from GLAAD about the stupid joke that was made on David Letterman about Amanda Simpson, and with it he commented that, "Trans people will not be safe from hate violence until it is safe to be attracted to us, to love us, and to regard us as human."

He's entirely right, of course, and it's nice to have someone else articulate exactly why I do what I do.

Betty and I are both for trans people having more of a sense of humor, but we both agree: this joke is not even a little funny, exactly because this reaction to finding out a woman is trans is the same reaction that causes the heart-breaking violence trans people -- and especially trans women -- face.

As Allyson Robinson of HRC put it in an article by ABC News:

"Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day," HRC's Allyson Robinson wrote in the letter.

Robinson said the punch line of the bit has "been used as a defense in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial." She cited two cases in which individuals suspected of murdering transgender people claimed they did so in a rage after learning about their victims' gender identity.

So now go to and bug CBS, or do the same thing via

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Drag History Month: No boys allowed? Or is it no girls?

Apparently January is the 2nd annual National Drag History Month. A month-long event that “salutes the richness of drag culture and pays tribute to the courageous queens & kings who have fought for equality while inspiring, educating & entertaining us all.” Sounds cool right? But when you click the link you may feel the same disappointment I did in seeing that “drag history month” is nothing but a LOGO ploy for programming (also see excellent blog by Queerty). You may become depressed at the fact that the link itself has the word “franchise” in it. Or you may just be downright confused how there is not one mention of any female-bodied or gender transgressive/genderfuck performers. I guess National Drag History Month is for girls only… or is it for boys only because they are drag queens? Either way, WTF? Do drag kings have no history of doing anything? Not that LOGO would know either way because no actual history is ever talked about in the programming.

It is a common misconception that drag kings and genderfuck performers don’t exist, but we actually do. It isn’t like we aren’t out and about. Now days its hard to hit up a lesbian bar without finding some trace of drag kings or go to a queer space without at least some knowledge somewhere of genderfuck performers. Female bodied gender performers have been gaining speed and spectrum, in the past ten years especially, but still we get thrown to the back of the bar. Why? I remember when I was first getting into drag and I told my sister about a drag king show. Her response, not knowing any better at the time, was “Drag king? But isn’t the point of drag being flashy with sequins and glitter? Boy clothes are boring.” I responded with a very humble, “Well… but… I wear sequins too…”

Male bodied gender transgression has always been more visible, either because of guarding masculinity or simply because they are a lot taller. As a result so many female bodied performers have busted their asses with character, choreography, and costume and still never gotten to top the bill when queens are around. Now don’t get me wrong, I have some very dear friends who are queens, drag or otherwise. Some of my favorite performers are drag queens. That said, the constant removal of non-male bodied drag and gender performers from the drag movement, or even the queer movement, is fucking bullshit. Drag queens have long been a trademark representative of visual queerness, not because they are better in any way, but mainly because of the cultural dissonance caused by any male person “giving up” their masculinity for the less than desirable feminine presentation. I’m not saying drag queens having been around the block, fighting the good fight. I’m just saying they weren’t the only ones there. Another element that I feel may contribute to the muffling of drag kings is the stereotyping of female-bodied queerness. it isn’t just straight porn projecting “straight looking” women fucking each other anymore. Shows like the L Word promote a gender-normative, hyper-sexualized female queerness that leaves no room for anything or anyone else. Who decided that genderfucked female bodies weren’t sexy? Homonormative, HRC pumping queer gentrification rears its ugly head again.

x posted,