Monday, April 19, 2010

Response to the APA's New GID

Callen-Lorde and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, both of New York, have written a response to the APA's revised DSM diagnosis for Gender Identity Disorder -- which is now being re-named Gender Incongruence. They make a few important and valid points in a statement which is tidy, well-written, and well-argued. I'm impressed & will be added as a signatory.

Re: Comment on the proposed "Gender Incongruence" in the draft revision of the of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5

American Psychiatric Association:

The undersigned providers of and advocates for medical and mental health services to transgender and gender non-conforming communities welcome this opportunity to offer feedback and comment on the American Psychiatric Association's draft revision diagnosis for Gender Identity Disorders (GID), "Gender Incongruence" (GI).

The lead organizations facilitating this response are Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of New York City. Each of these organizations started providing community services in 1983 and together serve over 2,000 people of transgender experience with primary health care and hormone care as well as substance abuse, mental health, and community building services. Our organizations, as well as the other signatories to this letter, represent the largest settings providing health and social services to transgender and gender non-conforming people and their families in the United States.

We appreciate the APA's proposed "Gender Incongruence"(GI) diagnosis is an effort intended to de-stigmatize gender non-conformity and improve transgender-identified people's access to mental health care. We agree with the intention behind this effort; however, we endorse an alternative viewpoint, based on our years of collective practice knowledge. We believe GI will continue to inappropriately pathologize gender non-conformity, maintain barriers to medically necessary health care, and lend justification to gender based stigmatization and discrimination.

Prior to addressing the reasons behind our recommendation, we would like to respectfully address the process by which the APA undertook this effort.
From the vantage point of LGBT health and community centers, the conceptualization of "Gender Incongruence" occurred without valuable and necessary input from community providers who serve and are accountable to significant numbers of people affected by this diagnosis. The November 2008 Report of the DSM-V Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group indicates that the "sub-work group has addressed feedback from interested advocacy groups and other stakeholders. Surveys were sent to more than 60 organizations." While other agencies have provided feedback in this process, we are concerned that the institutions that provide the bulk of medical and mental health services to transgender people nationwide were not asked for input. We have reached out to LGBT community health centers and LGBT community centers; none of these key, high-volume, client-centered, community-driven stakeholders seem to have been included in the research or vetting process. Without input from a representative sample of such organizations and their clients, the conclusions of the sub-work group regarding GI cannot be considered generalizable.

Our specific concerns regarding the validity and utility of the proposed inclusion of GI are as follows:
- Gender non-conformity is not a mental disorder: The proposed definition of a mental disorder in the DSM-V expressly prohibits the inclusion of diagnoses that are "primarily the result of social deviance or conflicts with society" (APA, 2010). The "Gender Incongruence" diagnosis inherently contradicts this tenet. Whereas the criteria for other psychiatric diagnoses are lists of symptoms that impair functioning, the proposed criteria for GI are a list of characteristics of gender non-conformity. There is no evidence or need for treatment that decreases gender non-conformity or crossdressing, as noted in "Transvestic Fetishism." The GI diagnosis obfuscates the root cause of the distress many transgender people experience - pervasive discrimination. It is commonly acknowledged among mental health providers that being gay, bisexual or lesbian is not a disorder, but that the social impact of stigma, discrimination and homophobia can cause the individual great distress. GI falsely assigns dysfunction to the gender non-conforming person, rather than within the social environment.

- An inappropriate pathway to transgender-specific medical care: There is legitimate community concern that removal of a mental health diagnosis would limit access to transgender-specific medical care. While a minority has succeeded in using the legal system or in fulfilling their insurer's requirements for coverage to access care, the majority of people needing transgender-specific medical care are denied coverage. GI maintains these barriers to care. Medical interventions are better substantiated by the use of medical diagnoses, not psychiatric diagnoses. Access to transgender-specific, medically necessary care can be directly and more effectively addressed by utilization of a revised medical diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The psychiatric needs of transgender people are better addressed by existing psychiatric diagnoses.

- GI lays the groundwork for unethical and harmful reparative therapy: A GID diagnosis has historically been misused to justify treatment of "pre-homosexual" children in the hope of preventing or delaying the development of a positive and healthy gay or lesbian identity. With adults, transgender-specific medical intervention is often offered only if reparative therapy fails to relieve distress and improve social functioning.
The GI diagnosis will continue to lend false credence to interventions that foster shame, encourage children and adults to betray their true selves, and delay healthy identity development. This practice is harmful and unethical.

In summary, we propose all diagnoses addressing gender non-conformity and identity be eliminated from the DSM-5. The mental health needs - when present - of gender non-conforming people are addressed by existing diagnoses. We ask the APA to formally renounce reparative therapy addressing gender non-conformity in children, adolescents and adults. We acknowledge that a diagnosis must exist for those who require medically necessary transgender-specific care, and ask the APA to advocate for a viable transgender-specific medical diagnosis in the ICD. Finally, we respectfully request that the APA include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender healthcare institutions and community centers in these processes.


Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City

Co-signing Institutions:

  • CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers, New York, NY

  • Brainpower Research and Development Services Inc

  • Brooklyn Community Pride Center, Brooklyn, NY

  • Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, Albany, NY

  • Center on Halsted, Chicago, IL

  • The DC Center for the LGBT Community

  • Equality Ohio, Columbus, OH

  • The Gay Alliance in Rochester NY

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Colorado, Denver, CO

  • L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Los Angeles, CA

  • Legacy Community Health Services, Houston, TX

  • LGBT Community Center Coalition of Central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA

  • The LOFT LGBT Community Services Center, White Plains, NY

  • Malecare, New York, NY

  • Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia, PA

  • Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Milwaukee, WI

  • National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), New York, NY

  • National LGBT Cancer Network, New York, NY

  • New Mexico GLBTQ Centers, Las Cruces, NM

  • New York City Anti-Violence Project, New York, NY

  • New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO), White Plains, New York

  • Out With Cancer – The LGBT Cancer Project, New York, NY

  • Pride in Practice, Silver School of Social Work, New York University, New York, NY

  • Rainbow Heights Club and Heights-Hill Mental Health Service South Beach, Psychiatric Center Community Advisory Board, Inc, New York, NY

  • Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, Sacramento, CA

  • San Francisco LGBT Community Center, San Francisco, CA

  • Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), New York, NY

  • Spectrum LGBT Center, San Rafael, CA

  • Third Root Community Health Center, Brooklyn, NY

  • YouthPride, Inc., Atlanta, GA

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Petition Pelosi to Move ENDA

I know this whole TOTWK controversy is fascinating, but ENDA isn't on the floor yet, & no matter how you feel about the term "trannies" or about exploitation films, or about gay men, trans women, & hate crimes, we all really need ENDA.

Just saying.

More than 16,000 people have signed the petition to get Nancy Pelosi to move ENDA to the House floor for a vote.

There are growing indications that ENDA will move to a markup and a vote in the next two weeks. It is important that we have as strong a showing as possible on the petition in order to demonstrate to wavering members of Congress that there is support.

Please add your name before the petition is delivered by hand next week:

Dear Speaker Nancy Pelosi --

With health care legislation passing, now is the time to institute workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Rep. Tammy Baldwin says she believes that we have the votes to pass ENDA, and Rep. George Miller has said the bill is ready to come out of committee now that the health care bill has passed. As Speaker of the House of Representatives, we call on you to act boldly and decisively and bring ENDA to the floor for a vote now.

*First Name

*Last Name



Cell Phone**

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Like Horsradish and Hot Fudge: "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" Fails, as a Movie and as a Concept

It's rare that a three-and-a-half-minute trailer tells you just about everything you need to know about a movie, but in the case of "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" the movie is everything you see in those few minutes but more...and worse.

First and foremost, this is a really bad movie, but clearly intentionally so. The film is artificially "aged" and made to have a look similar to the "blaxploitation" films of the early 70's, complete with low-budget production, film imperfections, and missing reel notices.The overplayed transgender stereotypes are blatant and ludicrous, but it's the titling and the marketing of this film where the biggest mistakes have been made.

Anyone who sees this movie understands something about it in very short order: This isn't a movie about transgender women, it's a movie about drag queens. Not that any confirmation is needed once Pinky La'Trimm, Emma Grashun, Bubbles Cliquot, Tipper Sommore, and Rachel Slur (no, I'm not kidding) are introduced to the viewer, but there's even a scene in the movie where one of the characters defines herself and the other queens with her as "gay men in dresses".

Immediately after seeing this movie I remarked to someone who'd already seen it that if they'd titled this movie "Ticked-Off Drag Queens With Knives" probably no one would have batted an eye, but thinking about it now I'm not so sure. The biggest problem with this movie is that the concept just doesn't work, no matter what perspective you view it from. You can make a campy movie about drag queens or you can make a film about hate crimes, but you can't do both in the same film and expect it to be seen as credible on any level.

Director Israel Luna's attempt to meld these completely and utterly disparate elements into the same film results in nothing short of disaster, with the campy, comedic scenes undercutting and perhaps even completely discrediting whatever anti-hate crimes message he may have been hoping to convey. At the same time, the graphic and gory hate-motivated violence ruins whatever comedic value the film might otherwise have had. Hate crimes, after all, just aren't funny, not ever. For all too many, that bloody baseball bat has been real. Including graphic depictions of anti-transgender hate violence in a movie that's clearly being played for camp and comedy comes off as complete ignorance of the reality of anti-transgender hate violence at best and outright mockery and denigration of transpeople and the hate violence perpetrated against us at worst.

The transgender community's reaction to this film is understandable. This low-budget hackfest employs just about every tired transgender stereotype out there and doesn't even do a decent job of mocking itself as you'd expect a film like this to do. Despite the mostly generic hairstyles and clothes that are presumably supposed to reflect the styles of the early 70's, the queens are seen in a late-model convertible that couldn't have been built more than than a few years ago. This film fails even the most basic tests of consistency and good writing.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is so bad on so many different levels that it's even schlock when compared to other schlock. It's almost like Israel Luna set out to do an early John Waters film (right down to the Divine-like "mama queen") but just didn't have the chops to pull it off. The hate crime element, while perhaps well-intentioned, seems more like a written-in afterthought than anything else, just an excuse for the drag queens to comically kick some ass rather than an attempt at any sort of truly serious statement about hate crimes. This aspect of the film comes through clearly even when watching the trailer so it's not surprising that many transpeople and allies find it disparaging and offensive.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" tries to succeed as a comedy while making a statement about something as deadly serious and unfunny as anti-transgender hate crimes, and therefore fails miserably at both. Honestly, I wonder what the folks at the Tribeca Film Festival saw in this disjointed, poorly-made mess of a movie. Fortunately, real transwomen can take heart that this film is such an unremitting and unadulterated piece of shit that once the Tribeca festival ends it's highly likely that this film and its director will quickly fade back into the obscurity they so richly deserve.


Two weeks ago, a campaign to boycott Israel Luna's film "Ticked Off Trannies With Knives" began, and within days GLAAD had joined the cause with a call to action on the GLAAD blog. The facebook group currently boasts over 1,700 members. I have seen this film and I am writing this letter today to support it, and to encourage people to stop protesting it. As a transsexual, and as a filmmaker, this boycott saddens me deeply and I hope that this letter encourages folks to disengage from what I believe to be an attempt at self-promotion by a group of professional transgender activisits, not artists, not concerned members of the community.

First, and really the letter should end with this statement as well, censorship is never the answer. Ever. And if you believe that pulling a small, low-budget independent film, that features trans people as main characters, does not constitute censorship, you have never tried to make art about trans people in America in the 21st century. Activists succeeded in removing a film called "The Gendercator" from the line-up at the Frameline Film Festival in 2007 after it was deemed by "community leaders" to be transphobic. Who elected these trans community leaders? Not me, not you--but whoever they were, they had no qualms about speaking on our behalf. This pattern is sincerely troubling to me, as it brews a climate of fear among trans film and video artists and people looking to make work about trans people. Censoring these films is a step in the wrong direction.

Ok, assuming that you agree with me about censorship, but that you think maybe sometimes people SHOULD be afraid to make work about trans people, let me tell you, I agree with you. There are actually many trans characters in mainstream film and television--they often appear in gay and lesbian films to help the gay or lesbian protagonist out of a sticky situation, for instance. On television, transsexual characters are overwhelmingly the victims of violence (usually sexual) and/or they are perverted perpetrators, such as on Law & Order SVU, which received a GLAAD media award in 2009. The other trans character you're likely to find on TV or in a movie is what I like to call the "liarsexual"--that is to say, their "lie" about their gender usually propels the plot in some way. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is not in that genre.

All of those types of trans characters appear all the time and (a) they suck and (b) no one is protesting them. In fact, when L&O SVU puts out a casting call for trans people for an upcoming episode, my friends stampede to the studio, eager to claim their $100 check and a chance to see what Chris Meloni is like in real life.

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" has none of these characters. Not the secondary characters who exists to help a non-trans protagonist (Better Than Chocolate), not a victim of violence (Boys Don't Cry), not a perverted perpetrator (Silence of the Lambs) and not a liar-sexual, who propels the plot of the film by concealing his/her "true" identity/gender until a dramatic reveal causes another, more important character, to change and/or grow (The Crying Game). Even the (GLAAD-award-winning) Transamerica, which has a trans character as a protagonist, situates the trans character completely alone and in a thoroughly heterosexual context (reconnecting with her son). "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" has three main characters--all transwomen--who have their own character arcs and their own motivations.

The boycott organizers, and GLAAD, cite a main issue with the content of film--that it fails to represent the lives of "real" transgender women. This argument disturbs me because that means that either #1 GLAAD and the boycott organizers believe that there are a limited number of ways to express being a "real" trans person or #2 trans character can only appear in dramatic works that are in the "realism" realm. Without getting into a history of filmmaking, it is safe to say that this particular stylistic complaint is severely misguided and limiting to trans artists. Non-trans filmmakers are allowed a wide-range of cinematic styles with which to portray their lives, and filmmakers working with "authentic" trans characters should be allowed the same. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is satire and camp and action/adventure all rolled into one feature film. Within these genres, the protagonists are a commanding prescence and an inspiration to the audience. No viewer of this film would mistake this for being a "real" movie--the film is highly stylized to invoke the experience of watching a B-movie from the 70s--from 16mm film artifacts added in post production to a placard reading "We're sorry but some of the reels of this film may have been lost."

Which brings us to the other reading of that argument--that there is one way of being a "real" transwoman. The feministing article about the film complained about the transwomen's use of the word "balls"--which apparently rings as insulting and inauthentic. Maybe some transwomen bristle at this, but I can assure you that this feels "real" to some people. If you're wondering how this can be true, think of how many times you've heard a trans guy talk about pussy (his own or someone else's). It's true, that this is a particularly difficult joke to make in front of non-trans people. I don't walk into a room of straight people and start talking about my vagina, for instance. But I might, if the room were filled with my trans friends. And that's the remarkable thing about this film: it features transwomen (five of them at one point!) talking to each other about their lives in an informal (and let's just say it) "real" way. And viewers have very few examples of this peek into (what I consider to be) my world. Trans people with trans friends, who talk about their real lives openly and stick up for each other when the shit hits the fan.

What seems to be at the heart of this argument is that the organizers feel comfortable only with the narrative films that include trans characters as victims (GLAAD cites "Boys Don't Cry" as a "good" film as opposed to this "bad" film) or documentaries about trans people that feature their "changes." I don't hate most of those movies, but any trans artist will tell you, this is a very limiting rubric if you're looking to make work about trans people. Eventually, being a transsexual gets very boring. The sex change operation is over, your body stops changing and you have to just get on with the rest of your life. Limiting trans work to the sex change operation is the equivalent of telling gay filmmakers that they should only make movies about "coming out" stories. "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is the ACT/UP Fight Back response to the transgender victim of all those other films--what if every gay movie was (that terrible Oscar-winning trash) "Philadelphia"? What if every gay character was an asexual "AIDS victim"? That would be depressing, right?

"Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives" is a film that I would have been proud to make
, and that I connected to because it is what it says it is--a revenge fantasy. Every time a trans woman (and let's be honest, most of the violence towards trans people is directed at trans women) is murdered, I want to pick up a knife and kill the guy who did it, and then set his body on fire, and then hang it in City Hall park to warn the rest of them that if they fuck with trans people, they will pay. But that doesn't happen. Because that would be wrong, and counterproductive and violence (like censorship) is never the answer. But am I glad that in this movie, for a couple hours, I finally do have the opportunity to get revenge? To stand up against the people who brutalize trans people? Absolutely.

So how do you evaluate a film for its transgender content? First, seeing the film can be especially helpful (the great majority of the people trashing TOTWK have only seen the trailer). After that, it's really a personal decision. Here's the rubric I use:

#1 Is there just ONE(1) trans character? If there is only one, the trans person is probably just there to serve some purpose for the protagonist/screenwriter. If there are two or more, there is a better chance that they are "real" characters. (Are you a trans person? Do you have at least one trans friend? Yeah, me too.)

#2 Do you see before and after pictures of the trans character? If there are before/after pictures, or a mention of their old or "real"/"legal" name you are watching a BAD movie or TV show. Start the facebook group and trash the producers, pronto.

#3 Is the dramatic question "Will s/he get the sex change operation that they desperately want?" and/or does the trans person die at the end of the film? If the plot is about getting "the operation" you're probably watching the product of a filmmaker/screenwriter/producers's fantasy about fascinating transsexual people. There ARE brutal murders of trans people in "Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives," but this event propels the revenge action, and the other characters fulfill their arcs as mighty warriors rather than as pitiful victims.

Essentially, the boycott was proposed by people who have very little experience with reading and comprehension of media and representations of trans people in film, perpetuated by GLAAD, an organization that is no friend to trans people who is seeking to jump on what it sees as an opportunity to curry favor with what it sees as a grassroots movement because it is too lazy to do any real work on trans issues. The "movement" is actually mostly a facebook group that has grown in size because of the lack of effort required to "join" a movement online (what I call single-click activism) and I predict very low turn out for tonight's "protest."

I encourage you all to take your friends, see the film, and write and share your own thoughts.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Transgender and Transgender-Like Veterans - Part 1

By Monica F. Helms

This is my most ambitious video project yet. It's called: "Transgender and Transgender-Like Veterans - Part 1." Besides doing it in widescreen, I used several techniques I have only experimented with in the past.

This is a documentary of those individuals who crossed gender lines to serve their country, from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish American War. The video has stories of interesting people, like Deborah Sampson, Albert Cashier and Cathy Williams. It didn't turn out too bad for what I had to work with.

I wanted to do a tribute to all of those transgender and transgender -like people who served this country proudly. It was amazing what I found when researching the information for this video. I hope you like it.