Category: transgender

Retreating Forward — Newest Trans Spirituality Resource

David E. Weekley (photo above,) an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, came out as a trans man almost 10 years ago. He had transitioned decades before, but felt it was time to let the church know. He believed that his faith community was ready. He hoped they would learn and grow into a community that embraced transgender people and opened up the church and the ministry to include all.

It didn’t exactly go that way. In many ways they failed the test he set before them. The road has been tough for transgender people of faith like David. In response, David decided to return to seminary to research how he could better serve the transgender community. He also wanted to create resources that would strengthen the faith experiences of transgender people and build community.

His new book Retreating Forward–A Spiritual Practice with Transgender Persons explores a retreat experience that David organized for a group of transgender and gender non-binary people. I had the honor of serving has a helper on the retreat, assisting David as he built community and opportunities. The book does an exceptional job of providing the background to the retreat and the theory behind everything he did. David had a vision and pursued it. Now he shares the insights he discovered.

David’s book is now available from Morningstar Press.

Transgender people are among the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in the world. Misinformation, lack of education, and lack of experience among cis-gendered persons often result in forms of violence and abuse directed towards those perceived as transgender or gender non-conforming. Such violence and abuse are not restricted to secular culture but expand into faith communities and essential forms of spiritual care and support. When transgender people of faith share the reality of their gender identity they often experience rejection by the very communities that should provide support, encouragement, and practical ministries of hospitality. Retreating Forward: A Spiritual Practice with Transgender Persons is an educational and practical resource for individuals, spiritual leaders, and faith communities seeking to provide practical and spiritual sustenance. The retreat model included in this text proved transformational for those involved.

Powerful public statement concerning Black, trans, and gnc community

On Twitter my friend, Jed, sent me a link to Radical Faggot’s post about the recent murder of TT Saffore and the public statement issued by a coalition of Black, trans, and gender-nonconforming community members. In addition to highlighting the pain and injustice Black, trans, and gnc people face, they put out a clear statement of what the community needs right now.

I hear many say they wish to stand in solidarity with Black, trans, and gnc people. You may be an LGBTQ community leader, clergy, lawmaker, student leader, or citizen and want to know what needs to be done to end this violence. Take time to read the following statement and see where you can go deeper in your support and action.


On September 11, 2016 TT Saffore, a young, Black, trans woman was found murdered in a park on Chicago’s West Side. Today, a coalition of Black, trans and gender-nonconforming community members have organized a vigil and march in the Lakeview neighborhood to honor her death. Here is their public statement:

Another Black, trans life has been violently taken.

Last month TT Saffore was killed on Chicago’s West Side. Her passing marked the 20th trans murder of 2016. Today, members of the Black, trans and gender-nonconforming community of Chicago and our allies join together not only to mourn the loss of a sister, but to collectively imagine a future for Black, trans people free from violence in all its insidious forms.

We know that the state does not mourn the loss of Black lives. We know the names of Black women lost to violence are held up even less than those of Black men. We know queer, trans and gnc deaths are often hushed by Black communities in addition to being ignored by the state. We accept none of these realities.

Less than a week after TT was stolen from us, Crystal Edmonds, another Black, trans woman was shot and killed in Baltimore, MD. Bresha Meadows, a fifteen year-old cis, Black girl currently sits in jail in Warren, OH, charged with murder after defending her mother from an abusive partner. The epidemic of violence against trans and cis Black women and girls must be treated as an emergency, and a charge for the entire Black community to take up.

State violence is more than just police shootings. It is the policing and prison systems themselves. It is the criminalizing of sex work, of the survivors of abuse. It is a legal order which treats Black, trans and cis women who defend their lives as insolent, in need of punishment. It is homelessness. It is the calculated impoverishing of Black communities. It is the closing of public schools and mental health clinics, the slashing of HIV prevention and other healthcare services, while militarization devours the lion’s share of public funds. It is gentrification. It is the poisoning of natural resources. It is all the structures—including the police and prison systems—which uphold and depend on violent masculinity, reinforcing the disposability of women and femmes, of trans and gnc communities, of the earth itself.

Today, we are gathering in the Lakeview neighborhood to love and support each other, but also to flex our collective power. The choice of location is not coincidental: Though this area of the city is one of the most accessible to the trans community–and where some of the only trans-specific resources are centralized–it is also the site of the hyper-policing of queer and trans homeless youth, the racist displacement of poor, Black and Brown communities, a meeting place for the crossroads of oppression at which Black, trans women find themselves.

We are here not to showcase our pain–though we will express it–but instead to make our demands audible to all our Black, trans and queer family members. This is what the Black, trans and gnc community needs right now:

  • Education On Our Issues – Pronouns are not enough! A massive project of education is needed to teach our employers, our neighbors, community members and other activists about the oppressions faced specifically by Black, trans and gnc people. We demand our people dedicate themselves to learning about Black, trans misogyny, and the unique barriers that keep Black, trans people from living full lives.
  • Employment – We support the Fight For 15, and demand living wage jobs for Black, trans and gnc people in all fields of employment, especially in leadership roles within organizations that claim to fight for trans issues.
  • Safer Spaces – Black, trans and gnc people need inclusion in existing movement spaces, but we also need spaces of our own. We demand resources be allotted to projects and organizations run by Black, trans people for Black, trans people.
  • Housing – We demand shelters and affordable housing designated specifically for trans youth and elders, in the neighborhoods in which they choose to live.
  • Free, Affirming, Accessable Healthcare: We demand free access to hormones, needles, gender affirming surgeries, STI testing, and all our other basic health needs, provided directly in the neighborhoods where we live. We include in this free access to mental health services–provided by other trans and gnc people–which view us as in need of healing, not fixing.
  • Decriminalize Sex Work – We reject the criminalizing of Black, trans and gnc people for choosing their own means of survival. We demand the decriminalization of all sex work. We include in this vision the revoking of anti-sex trafficking laws–disguised as feminist endeavors–which target trans and cis Black women, resulting in their incarceration.
  • End Solitary Confinement – Solitary is torture, not protection. We support the national #PrisonStrike, demand trans and gnc inmates stop being held in solitary under the guise of safety, and that solitary be ended as a practice for all incarcerated people.
  • Abolition Now – We demand that, to make these other demands possible, money be cut from police, prisons, detention centers and the military, and invested back into Black, trans and gnc communities.  We demand the police, prisons and military be defunded, disarmed, and ultimately disbanded, replaced with resources that support Black, trans growth.

Every time a trans person is murdered, it is an act of state violence, no matter who commits the act. The legal stigma of sex work, the denial of housing and worker’s rights, the shaming of those who love and are attracted to trans people, and the endless cutting of needed services all send the constant message that Black, trans lives aren’t worth protecting, aren’t worth fighting for. We are here today to reject that message.

The New Orleans-based trans youth empowerment organization BreakOUT! has a well-known slogan: Give us our roses while we’re still here! We are tired of mourning Black, trans deaths. We are here to celebrate Black, trans life, and remind ourselves of the power we have to fight for a world where trans murders are as obsolete as the police, the prison system, and the order of social, economic and environmental exploitation that relies on them.

We will see that world. We are strong and numerous enough to build it.

#TurnUp4TT

#SayHerName

#BlackTransLivesMatter

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Safe, Legal Place to Pee

You have the right to urinate! (some restrictions apply)

The recent spate of laws limiting access to public restrooms must sound ridiculous to many people living outside of the USA. The bizarre talking points put forward by proponents of these so called “Bathroom Bills” would be funny if they did not create such a serious situation and deepen existing oppression.

My favorite preacher lady sheds some light on this subject as she reveals the sinister side of American bathroom stalls. Well and the silliness of them too.

Or watch it on YouTube

 

Driving While Transgender

northcarolina-bathroomlawA friend of mine recently travelled from Florida to Pennsylvania by car. She is transgender and is open about her gender history. The most direct route to PA takes her through theNorth Carolina. Because of the NC law demanding people use public restrooms based on their biological sex as stated on their birth certificate, my friend circumnavigated around the great big state of North Carolina, and went another way.

It took time and gas money. But she wanted to be safe. She also did not want to contribution to North Carolina’s economy.  No one wants to travel alone long distances with the looming fear that some great harm will happen when stepping into a restroom.

Broken Justice and Flimsy Stalls

bathroom_women_getty_1368181365452_413147_ver1.0_320_240Elizabeth Jeremiah, one of the characters that haunts my brain and my performance work, is an Evangelical preacher woman. She has a completely different take on the issue.

In the comic video above, replete with flushing toilet sounds, she points out,

“I think the problem is not the people; the problem is the bathroom. Because I don’t know about you, but I feel mighty exposed when I am in a bathroom stall.”

Made in America–the See-through Stall

**CORRECTS DATE TO SEPT. 17 ** The stalls in the men's room at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport where U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was arrested June 11 by a Minneapolis airport police officer., are shown Monday Sept. 17, 2007. The Idaho Republican pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Craig has since said his guilty plea was a mistake. "It's become a tourist attraction," said Karen Evans, information specialist at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. "People are taking pictures." AP Photo/Andy King)

The stalls in the men’s room at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport where U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was arrested June 11 by a Minneapolis airport police officer., are shown Monday Sept. 17, 2007. The Idaho Republican pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Craig has since said his guilty plea was a mistake. “It’s become a tourist attraction,” said Karen Evans, information specialist at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. “People are taking pictures.” AP Photo/Andy King)

After seeing Elizabeth Jeremiah’s video, Lisel, a friend from South Africa advocates for trans rights got a flashback to her first encounters with public toilets in America.

I remember my utter shock slash understanding the first time in 2008 being in the States and saw for my self these toilette doors that literally just cover from the lower edge of the seat to the height of a medium length-person’s head. Oh, yes and the sides were kinda open.

I was both amused, shocked and immediately understood the many posts and articles, blogs I read by trans* people always complaining or lamenting about how people will see if they stand or sit, even when they are in stalls. I could not really understand the issue (me being used to SA public bathrooms) – I thought they are dramatizing the issue. Until I used for the first time a public bathroom in the States. I already thought way back in 2008 – ‘that is the solution: change the cubicle doors’ – that’s all!

Supporting Transgender Leadership

I am a huge fan of the work being done by the Trans Justice Funding Project. They are a trans run organization that provides grants to trans people and organizations. According to their website:

Over the last three years, we have received 354 applications and given away 174 small grants totaling $400,000. This work has been possible because hundreds of donors have joined us and because our communities have supported us in so many ways. Let’s continue to dream big and fund even more trans justice work in 2016!

18272129efccda4d41ec54c514b99c62-form_assembly_bannerThere is a lot we can do to stand in solidarity with transgender people as they too work to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the best way to help is to support groups like Trans Justice Funding Project–give those American dollars.

Declaration of Bathroom Independence

While American citizens celebrate the declaration of independence from tyrannical British rule, I need to remind myself that not all Americans are equally free. Systemic, legal discriminations against Black Americans, immigrants, and trans people need to be exposed and challenged. Everyone deserves to move freely, to congregate without fear of retaliation, and to safely sit for a nice private and challenged-free pee and/or poop.

And maybe it is time that we question the need for gendered bathrooms at all. There are plenty of people who do not identify as male or female. Enough with putting people into boxes and gendered stalls. Let’s construct proper walls around our stalls and open up the bathroom area so we do not have to maintain two separate facilities.

Oh, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

 

First Person: A Life in Transition a new play premieres in Twin Cities

A Golden Age of Storytelling

We live in a golden age of storytelling. With podcasts like The Moth and This American Life and slam poets like J Mase III weaving art with autobiography, we have so many examples of good storytelling.

Of course the performance memoir has been a feature of American alternative theater spaces and even mainstream theaters since the 1980’s. Queer performance artists in the USA have a long history and lineage.

A new queer voice and body in performance

Photo credit: 20% Theatre FB page

Photo credit: 20% Theatre FB page

So I was thrilled to hear about JamieAnn Meyers new show, First Person: A Life in Transition. It will run May 13-15 as part of 20% Theater Twin Cities Stage series of emerging artists. In an interview JamieAnn talks about her identity as a “trans elder” and the ever evolving aspect of her identities.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

The primary aspect of my queer identity that I want to emerge is that it has evolved over the entirety of my lifetime and this evolution is ongoing.  I’m what many would call a “trans elder.”  I came out in my late 50’s and am now 70 years old.  People often ask me “when did you transition?”  My answer is “from when I was a fetus, until long after my death.”  (Peoples’ memories of my life will evolve after my death as their own personal and societal contexts evolve.)

It’s been a lifetime of discovery, of peeling back the many layers of my identity and expression, and discovering the seeds that have grown into who I am today.  When I first uncovered my childhood feelings of gender difference in middle age, I realized that I was part of the transfeminine spectrum; I later identified myself in therapy as bi-gender.  When I began my social transition, I identified in the binary as female.  My recent gender confirmation surgery has finally liberated me and enabled me to come out as fluid.  I’ve also been enabled to claim my orientation as bisexual.  And the journey continues.  What identity will I claim in another five years?  I don’t know.

Twin Cities and Beyond!

JamieAnn hopes to take this show on the road. I hope she does because after having met her last year and experiencing her presence, her enthusiasm, and her artistic vision, I felt immediately that she has both the skill and the drive to create a show that tell stories that will not only educate the public but help up better understand ourselves and the world around us.

Embodying Our Stories

What I am most excited about is how she embodies her stories. For many of us queer people, our bodies have been the scene of trauma and battle. She is someone rooted in her body and skilled to use it as she tells her stories.

If you live near the Twin Cities, I urge you to check out JamieAnn Meyers’ show

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FIRST PERSON: A LIFE IN TRANSITION

Created by & starring JamieAnn Meyers
Directed by Shalee Coleman
Also featuring Zealot Hamm, Erica Fields, Beckett Love, Suzi Love & Pearl Noonan

Each of us has a different story, and “FIRST PERSON” is one transwoman’s unvarnished truth. It’s the story of her life-long transition, a life that’s being lived “halfway up, halfway down,” in-between, and her claiming CHANGE as her identity.

WARNING: Adult language & content, nudity
______________________

SET “B” ft. A.P. Looze & Gender Tender
May 20 at 730pm – opening night party
May 21 at 730pm – post-show discussion
May 22 at 2pm

20% Theatre Company

Get your tickets now!

Also check out what else is playing

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BENT/STRAIGHT

Directed & Choreographed by Syniva Whitney
Featuring Will Courtney & Syniva Whitney (aka Gender Tender)
Installation Art by Madeleine Bailey, Music by Ariskany Records

Two non-binary bodies in queer love are willing to get into any position necessary to make it work. Dance and acting collide in this Gender Tender performance as Will Courtney and Syniva Whitney make a fictitious home for themselves in a world made up of black and white stripes, binary investigations, drag inspired relationship building and imaginary home renovation.

–AND–

THE GRIEF EXPERIMENTS

Created & Performed by A.P. Looze
Also featuring Lisa Marie Brimmer
Directed by Zoe Michael

Grief is in the room. What do you do? You could avoid it. You could crack a joke about it. You could run away from it, pretend it’s not there, tune it out. You could sheepishly wave, or even greet it with a warm hug and say, Hello. Join A.P. Looze and their Most Honored Guests in a series of experiments that examine the limitless depths of grief and its ability to become your most intimate companion.

WARNING: Adult language & content

Q-STAGE is made possible through support from the California Institute for Contemporary Arts (CICA) LGBTQ funding program.

 

Beyond Marriage Equality: Transgender people and criminal justice

Have you read any of the New York Times’ series of editorials on transgender lives and issues? Transgender Today presents essays that have highlighted equality, workplace related issues, access to public restrooms, romance, transgender people in the military, and visibility. While my non-violent, anti-war Quaker sensibilities get ruffled by pieces entitled, Transgender in the C.I.A., I find it encouraging that the New York Times is devoting so much space and thought to transgender issues. These are not just guest op-eds either; rather these pieces come with the byline: The Editorial Board. The views represent the opinions of the newspaper’s editors. And while they expound on critical issues, the writers also focus on individual stories.

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poster during the campaign to free CeCe McDonald

The most recent editorial in the Transgender Today series is about incarceration and transgender people. Prisons and Jails Put Transgender People at Risk.  The editors write about Estrella Sánchez:

Ms. Sánchez, a 28-year-old transgender woman from Mexico, was held in immigration detention for nearly a year, beginning in 2012. She was placed in solitary confinement for a month, solely because of her gender identity. At every place she was held, inmates directed slurs at her in front of guards, who routinely laughed. The harassment she faced in detention was a cruel reminder of the abuse she suffered in Mexico, which she had hoped to escape when she came to the United States in 2005.

They go on to graphically outline the abuses Ms Sánchez experienced in detention then give us a small window into what her life is like now that she has begun a new life in the US outside of prison.

They then outline myriad issues affecting most transgender people confronted by the criminal justice system.

In the United States, transgender people are routinely subjected to harassment, but few are as powerless as those in prison. As more have become vocal about their safety and their rights, prison systems that segregate inmates along conventional gender lines are facing mounting challenges. While a few have changed housing policies, the vast majority have not.

Transgender people are much more likely than the population at large to be imprisoned at some point in their lives. They are at high risk of police discrimination and abuse; many transgender women have been searched or arrested on suspicion of prostitution based on little more than their appearance. Transgender people also face widespread employment discrimination, and many turn to illegal activities to support themselves.

When they are in custody, transgender people face disproportionate risks. According to a 2011-12 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 39.9 percent of transgender prison inmates and 26.8 percent of transgender jail inmates reported unwanted sexual activity with other inmates or sexual activity with prison staff members, which is always considered nonconsensual under the law, in the previous year — 10 times higher than for the general prison and jail populations.

img-thingAs a white, cisgender, married gay man, I am easily shielded from the harsh realities regularly faced by immigrants and inmates–most of whom are people of color. I run the risk of rejoicing in marriage equality then leaving off the fight for queer justice as I settle into domestic bliss. This is why diversity in our LGBTQ spaces  and organizations is so important. The movement becomes sound and just when we hear a variety of stories and experiences. People’s needs get revealed.  Just like lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists for marriage equality relentlessly and rightfully forced straight folks to hear stories about lesbian and gay relationships, families, discrimination, and dreams in hopes that these would move straight folks to action and justice, similarly hearing stories about the challenges faced by transgender and gender queer people can and should dislodge cisgender lesbians, bisexual, and gays from a comfortable place of ignorant complacency.

We fought for our rights, but we also benefited from those who stood alongside of us in solidarity. We must now educate ourselves about other LGBTQ folks with different experiences than our own so that we engage in the same work for justice we insisted straight people pursue. A good place to start right now is this New York Times editorial, Prisons and Jails Put Transgender People at Risk. You can read a variety of articles over at Huffington Post. Deepen your understanding and explore the National Center for Transgender Rights.

Featured image: Estrella Sánchez, a transgender woman from Mexico.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

Transgender in Kindergarten. Avery Found the Perfect School

07TRANSGENDER-master180Usually it is a horror story. A child reveals to parents and a teacher that she is a actually girl regardless of the male sex assigned at birth. This little girl is not at all confused about her gender. Typically this is when all hell breaks loose.

But not always.

When filling out the get-to-know you forms for the first year in kindergarten, the grandchild of a friend of mine said, “Mom, we need to tell them. That I’m really a girl.” She choose the name Avery to replace the male name that had been given to her at birth. Fortunately her parents love Avery more than her gender. And Avery’s new school became a place of joyful acceptance. Avery’s mom writes:

The Center School in Greenfield, Massachusetts has rallied for our family and our daughter Avery from the moment we met.  As soon as we enrolled they took action: creating a supportive environment that actively addressed her needs and refused to compromise her integrity.  Avery’s story inspired the school to change from gendered bathrooms to all-gender bathrooms and focus on gender-inclusivity in their socially responsible curriculum for students from preschool through 8th grade.  The administrators started a “Raising My Rainbow” book club to help educate parents and staff members about gender variance, brought the author of that book, Lori Duron, to the area to present her work, attracting over 200 people from the general public, and hired a highly reputable therapist who specializes in gender education to train the entire staff.  All of these efforts began within a month of Avery’s enrollment without ANY pressure or even suggestion from Avery’s parents.

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This is a great school. One where Avery thrives. Check out this video to learn more about Avery’s story and the thoughtful, creative, and really useful ways the adults in her life responded.

But there is one problem. A small private school like Avery’s costs money to attend. Avery’s mom writes:

Due to changes in our family structure, we can no longer afford to send our daughter to her beloved school. Avery has blossomed at the Center School and needs your support to be able to continue her education at this progressive, social-justice school.  Although The Center School has established a new scholarship for Avery and families like hers (what we call trans*families), in its fledgling state, it can not yet offset Avery’s tuition.  Please help us send Avery and two other children from trans*families to The Center School for the 2015-16 school year AND help us begin our new venture: to find more safe schools like The Center School (and train schools who hope to become “safe”) for gender non-conforming children and their families.

bewhoyouarebook-300x300Lots of people talk about being allies to trans* folks and the LGBTQ community. It is wonderful when those in solidarity share articles on Facebook and Twitter, when people favorite and like posts that support trans* people. But the role of the ally is one that also requires cost. The privileged often have a little (or a lot) more that they can share with the community.

If you got this far in this blog post and are moved by Avery’s story and want to help her and other children like her have a place in the Center School, please donate something, even just $5.00. Pass on your latte or dinner and a movie, and show your support as an ally. Join in making the world a better place for Avery and kids like her.

Click here to learn more and to join me in donating.

Guest Post: Ryan speaks at Transgender Day of Remembrance

This year for Transgender Day of Remembrance I happened to be on a campus in the Midwest and heard Ryan give a short and moving speech about his gender journey. A recent college graduate finding his way in the world, Ryan raised profound questions about identity as he publicly meditated on his path so far.  Ryan also beautifully considers how cross-cultural travel has helped him discover himself. For my blog he has given me permission to share his speech with you. It is well worth reading. Thanks to Ryan for being willing to share and for providing the accompanying images.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

by Ryan

I want to start by thanking each of you for coming here tonight; for coming to honor our fallen trans brothers and sisters who were not allowed to live their lives authentically.  Or rather, they were not allowed to live, period.  As a transgender man myself, I have walked the lonely road of gender transition, but seeing all of you here tonight reminds me that I’m not alone; that transgender people aren’t alone, even though society often tells us that we are so, so very alone.  But today and every day, you are society, and you are telling us that our existence is valid and respected.  Right now, each of you is forging the way for a better future for transgender people, and maybe one November there won’t have to be a list of names to be read aloud anymore.  So, to each of you I say “thank you” for accepting us, supporting us, and sometimes, like tonight, for remembering us.

My transgender story starts during childhood.   I was raised as a girl, but I could never shake the feeling that I needed to be a boy.  Specifically a gay boy.  But how does a 7 year old kid explain that to his parents, or even to himself?  The following 15 years of my life were spent in a constant state of muddled unhappiness and irritation because something was wrong and there didn’t seem to be any solution.  As far as I knew, little girls didn’t just magically transform into little boys.

Puberty came and went, but the awkwardness never left me.  My body had become something to be ashamed of, and I remember feeling obsessively jealous as I watched my male classmates mature into handsome young men, while it seemed like my own body was transforming into that of a monster’s.  I felt helpless as biology besieged my body.  My biggest obstacle at that time was simply not having access to trans-related information.  I didn’t know other people felt the same way or that there was anything to be done about my feelings except to carry around their heavy weight in my heart.  Thus, I didn’t start my transition until I was 23 years old.

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After graduation from college I spent a year in China, and an incredible thing happened there – people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or girl.  For the first time I was able to cross the gender line and get a taste of living as a guy in public, even if just for a moment at a time.  It was an amazing feeling to realize that gender transition was suddenly within my grasp.  That year abroad was the most difficult year of my life as I came to terms with my gender identity and began imagining a future for myself as a man and all the struggles I might face because of that.

There were so many difficult questions to wrestle with: Who am I, essentially?  Is my true self female, which is the way I was born, or is my true self that which I aspire to be?  Or put another way, can I create and mold my own identity or was it chosen for me at birth?  Is gender transition just running away from my natural self or is it an act of authentic self-realization?  The answer I have for these questions today is that my longing to be male is as much of my identity as any other aspect.  It’s something that’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and that longing has not gone away in my 25 years of life.  I believe that in becoming the person I aspire to be, I am not forsaking my past.  I stand here today happier than I have ever been with myself, and it’s because I finally feel at home in my gendered body.  My decision to transition came from a place deep within myself, and it’s a real part of my identity.  I am the person I am today, and I’m also the man I will be tomorrow.  And I suppose in some way I am also the girl I was yesterday, but that doesn’t invalidate the boy I am today.

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Now, some transgender people don’t have childhood memories of having been born in the wrong sex; they may develop those feelings later in life during adolescence or even adulthood.  Are they still transgender?  Absolutely.  There is no right or wrong way to be transgender, and there is also no right or wrong way to transition.  While some people may decide to pursue hormones or surgery, others may only need to do a social transition, which is where they live as their true gender in society, having people use their preferred name and pronouns.  It may also involve changing one’s clothing, hairstyle, or mannerisms.  Still other people find that the simple realization that they are transgender is enough for them.  There are as many ways to be transgender as there are transgender people, and all of us are equally valid in our identities.

Unfortunately, though, the one thing that still remains a shared experience for most transgender people is discrimination.  It seems like there’s always some sort of hurdle to jump over.  For me, the biggest difficulty was, and continues to be, my parents.  They don’t agree with my transition.  They hate it.  We don’t talk about it very much anymore, but I see the hurt in their faces and hear it in their voices.  Their pain pierces my heart every day.  I’ve also faced backstabbing talk at work and friends who have told me I’m going to hell.  I’ve been lucky that these are the only bits of discrimination I’ve experienced.  Some of my trans brothers and sisters have faced much, much worse treatment.  The obstacles are endless:

  • Workplace discrimination

  • Job loss

  • Sexual and/or physical assault

  • Restroom accessibility

  • Obstacles in changing legal documents to reflect a new gender or name

  • Lack of accessible healthcare

  • Refused medical treatment

  • Parental or familial emotional abuse

  • Family disownment.

The list goes on.  Suicide.  Murder.  We’re here tonight to voice the names of those who paid the ultimate price for their gender identity, and it’s not okay that such a price had to be paid.  It’s not okay.  So tonight, let us join together in spirit to honor those trans men and women who lost their lives to ignorance and intolerance.  Let us continue to honor them tomorrow and the day after by remembering them and by standing up for injustice against transgender people.  Let us show others that this kind of treatment against humankind is not okay.  It’s not okay, but we’re going to make tomorrow a better day together.  Thank you.

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What Do I Look Like? Gender Rule Breaking, Identity, and Appearance

A fellow queer Quaker, John Calvi, has provided much comfort through the years to folks who have experienced trauma. His gentleness, humor, grace, and deep insights have benefited me directly. I often think of an afternoon I spent with John in Vermont when he wore a big floppy hat and slung a large bag over his shoulder as he sashayed into a busy restaurant where he was greeted and adored by the staff. Then over our meal we spoke as colleagues talking about life on the road, the importance of self-care, and discernment for next steps.

The other day he wrote a piece that he shared with other Queer Quakers from the FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Concerns.) His reflection on how his own body and gender are perceived by others struck a cord for lots of folks, both trans* and non-trans*.  John agreed to allow me to republish it to share with you.


 

What Do I Look Like?

by John Calvi

A while ago I was sitting in a waiting room when a small boy about 4 or 5 came in. He looked at me briefly, came over to me, and asked – Are you a boy or a girl?

Having people wonder at my gender or mistaking me for a female has happened many times in my life. I’ve never found it offensive – except once when my ass was pinched by some drunk in a straight bar. I usually find it humorous and have made a habit of waiting for the individual to observe me better and assign me correctly in their own thought process. Sometimes they apologize as if they had thought something less of me.

When this child asked the question, I stifled a laugh and just smiled. After a few moments gazing at me he said – You’re a boy, very pleased with himself to sort out such a mystery.

This brings two thoughts to mind. On the one hand we live in a tight binary culture that clings to walls and boundaries like castaways that fear drowning in seas of multiple choices. And society teaches us to seek and become one or the other in ourselves and others.

I also think it is true that walking down the street and seeing someone down the way and looking to see if they are male or female is a response that happens in a very old part of the brain assessing how much danger is at hand. Males are and have been more dangerous forever.

But the other thing that comes to mind are all the good people who are squeezed and suffer because they didn’t follow rules. In my household growing up working class Italian
immigrant, I was not allowed to learn cooking or to cook myself. This was because women had too little power and were not going to share it or lose it to a man. Now that is a tight and nasty little knot of rules.

So many people bump into or run head long into so much more intense rule breaking. From clothes to who we love to how we name our lives, there is no end of trouble to get into.

And so I am thinking this night and holding close the many I’ve known who’ve been wounded by the rules and the rule keepers. Whether it was leaving the church or wearing make-up or other deeper changes in identity, many received refugee status and were set adrift – family-less, community-less, and abused for mere ideas.

Blessings on all of us who built new homes and found places to be. And blessings on all those who never made it to shore, still feel adrift, and have not found a replacement embrace. Our loving is made more important each day by the inhospitality of the world- too true, too true.

John Calvi

John Calvi

 

Two Deaths: Jennifer Laude and Gloria Casarez

Strange how stories about the deaths of people we don’t even know can move us to tears. I have been thinking and feeling about the deaths of two women: Jennifer Laude and Gloria Casarez.

I was surprised that our local Central Pennsylvania newspaper, The Daily Item, ran a piece about  25 year-old Jennifer Laude, a filipina woman murdered in the city of Olongapo.  A US Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, has been detained and charged with the crime.  Jennifer transitioned to female some time ago, and her death has sparked protests demanding rights and protections for transgender people in the Philippines. I have since read that Jennifer was engaged to marry Marc Sueselbeck, a German who will travel to Olongapo to be with the grieving family. 

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Jennifer’s mother, Julita Laude, is crying out for justice while US officials as high up as Secretary of State John Kerry try to assuage fears that American-Filipino relations will not be harmed by the incident. In response to the murder of Jennifer Laude and a rise in violence against LGBTQ people in the Philippines,  filipino senator, Bam Aquino, is pursuing hate crime legislation, saying, “We should impose heavier penalties so that these discriminatory and inhumane acts will be eradicated.”

While hate crime legislation is an important step, it is only one of many that societies need to take to understand and value women who happen to be transgender. Lesbian, gays, and bisexuals who are not trans* can play a role by educating themselves about trans* issues, pursuing justice and rights in solidarity with trans* people, and by being truly inclusive in our organizations, legislative goals, and concerns.

Julita Laude: 'She had so many dreams and that killer destroyed them all' (credit Pink News)

Julita Laude: ‘She had so many dreams and that killer destroyed them all’ (credit Pink News)

The other woman who died is Gloria Casarez from Philadelphia. After a fight against breast cancer she died today surrounded by friends and her wife, Tricia Dressel. Casarez, age 42 was liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and according to the Philadelphia Daily News was  “a woman who fought for the rights and dignity of everyone who she felt had been marginalized by society.”

In an April 2010 interview, Suzi Nash of the Philadelphia Gay News asked Gloria,

PGN: What’s a situation that really moved you in your work?

Gloria Casarez: There are so many people that have inspired me. When I was younger and doing grassroots work, I was moved over and over again by women who were poor but always put their families first and tried to make things better. People who in the media were characterized as downtrodden but who rose to the occasion to fight for their families. We did housing takeovers, which can be dangerous, but they were fearless. Watching that mama-bear instinct was inspiring.

Gloria Casaez, (credit Philadelphia Gay News)

Gloria Casaez, (credit Philadelphia Gay News)

May those who grieve the loss of Jennifer and Gloria find comfort in memories of their lives, and may justice prevail in Jennifer’s death and in the lives of trans* women who experience so much violence in many countries including the USA.

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The Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20th, is not the only we recognize trans* people, but it is the day we say the name of those murdered over the previous 12 months. We  mourn their loss but also recommit to address the violence and build a better, safer world that is not merely tolerant, what an insult, but that provides the same rights, equality, and affirmation of trans* women of color and all trans* people as it does to whites and cisgender people.

Joe Stevens: Making Music as a Trans* Man

Sue Kerr interviews singer/songwriter Joe Stevens for HuffPost. Tonight Joe and I will share the stage in NYC for A Queer Response to Climate Change. I’m thrilled to hear some of his new stuff.

Here is a teaser from Sue’s article:

I spoke with Joe about his perspective on Pittsburgh, his queer identity and his relationship with the dyke community, and his music. His candor and wisdom, especially with regard to seeming contradictions, struck me on a personal note after a very trying week. I realized that I don’t have to take on other queer women who think I’m anti-lesbian. I can continue to do what I do and promote artists like Joe to take care of people around me. It may not make me the absolute bravest ally to the trans community, but it is authentic.

 

Read the complete article in Huffpost