Category: transgender

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

On genital surgery and hypocrisy

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Some religious folks embrace God-sanctioned genital surgery, performed on infants without their consent.

Yet when a trans* person wants surgery, the same folks FREAK:

“You can’t mess with what God gave you!”

 

Josephine: A retelling of Joseph and that bad ass coat

My good friend, J Mase III, has created a stunning spoken word piece based in part on my scholarship from Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. There is a whole lot of gender transgression going on in the story of Joseph in Genesis.

Join J Mase III, Rev. Nancy Wilson, Joe Stevens, and me as we talk about a Queer Response to Climate Change next month in NYC.

Peterson’s Quickie Interview–Marlo Bernier 3/3

This week I have had the joy of connecting with Marlo Bernier and hearing her answers to my questions about her career in film and tv and learning about her latest project, Myrna. Marlo is raising  funds to create a television pilot for a comedy/drama about Myrna, an actress who later in life and after a full career in the entertainment business, transitioned from male to female. While this storyline has some similarities with Marlo’s own life experiences, it is not pure autobiography.

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Yesterday Marlo talked about the differences between her and and her character, Myrna. Today Marlo gets more personal as she answers the final question in my Quickie Interview series.

Question: Marlo, thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us. Here’s my final question for you, well it’s actually two in one. What part of this project feels vulnerable and risky for you? In light of the risks, why do you still pursue it?

Answer: The part of this project, Myrna that makes me feel excruciatingly vulnerable is the simple fact that I had moved on from referring to myself as a “transgender woman”, or a “trans-woman” – and that “moving-on” for me had less to do with that I had (at least for me) completed my voyage from male-to-female, than it had to do with the fact that for more than a few years now, let’s say approximately two-thirds way through my transition I no longer felt “gender dysphoric”, I was (now & at that point) feeling and owning myself in the gender I had always been, since birth. And let me clarify by stating that gender and (anatomical) sex are two completely different parts of the human equation. By that I mean, that when someone were to pose the question to me thusly; Are you the same gender you were born? I would answer, yes. If, on the other hand, they were to ask; Are you the same sex you were born? I would answer, no.

So at this point in my life and for some time now I have (gratefully) been received as a woman, no matter the circumstance. And when I contemplated bringing Myrna (the tv series) back into production, I knew that I would (again) be “leading with that foot”, and it shook me a bit, because the press, the media will be referring to me as “Marlo Bernier – Transgender Actress”, and I’m not saying that I am ashamed of this title, or label in any way. But, I’m putting myself publicly back out there for the sake of the show. Because Myrna (the character) is still in the throes of her transition and so there will be those situations within the show, within the various episodes where that issue (of being tagged and labeled) will be exposed. Shown and told with all the pathos and humor we can muster. And I’m not trying to say that I’m being all altruistic in my endeavor, either. But I do want people, our audience, to see, to listen, to comprehend this version of a person’s coming to terms with who they really are.

And at the end of the day, I will still gently, but firmly proclaim; “Though it is impossible for me to escape my past, this does not mean however, that I must continue to reside in it.”

And remember, please remember this, if nothing else, “One’s Gender Identity is invisible to everyone,…except you.”

Thank you, Peterson for talking with me about our show, about our shared respect for the craft and art of acting and for asking me some really unique and insightful questions.

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Very special thanks to Marlo for submitting herself to my questions and for answering with so much heart and depth. Now I want to take the train to LA and hang out with her for the rest of the day.

Marlo’s fan-based fund raising campaign is doing very well and getting close to its target. Join in and take part in this historic endeavor. Also you can follow Marlo on Twitter: @Marlob59 and follow the Myrna TV Show on Twitter as well: @MyrnaTvShow

Do you have a suggestion about who to interview next? Let me know in the comments or find me on the many social media platforms that I haunt. 😛

 

Peterson’s Quickie Interview: Marlo Bernier 2/3

Actress, producer, and writer Marlo Bernier has embarked on a new project, a television Dramedy in which she plays Myrna. Here is a synopsis from the project’s fundraising page: (Donations keep growing–how about you add to the pile to make this project happen?)

After a successful career in front of the camera and on the stage, an actor is willing to sacrifice everything when she finally confronts her true gender identity and transitions from male-to-female. We follow Myrna as she struggles to find work as an actress, wrestles with a manager who still wants to send her out as her former-famous self, Michael and deals with the drama of her friends’ reactions as they make an effort to come to terms with Myrna and her life-altering transition.

Yesterday I asked Marlo about her craft as an actor and why she keeps at it. Check out Peterson’s Quickie Interview w/ Marlo Bernier 1/3. Today I focus on her new project.

Question: In your latest project, you will play Myrna, a woman who like you was assigned male at birth and raised as male and then transitioned to female later in life. How is Myrna unlike you, and what might you express or explore through her as a character that you have not experienced in your own life?

Answer: This is an amazingly difficult question to answer, at least the first part because I’m not sure yet in-part due to the way I came up in the theatre as an actor. I studied for a few years with mentors who had themselves studied under Hagen and under Adler. So I (hope I) was getting an 2nd generation education. Looking back, I’m certain I did. And in a kind of “The Method” sort of approach; score the role, employ “substitution” (when necessary), etc.

And I loved that. I mean I really loved that approach and they’re all so intertwined and connected anyway and I’m certain they all stole from one another.

But somewhere during my career, I’m pretty sure that it was during Love! Valour! Compassion! And there was this scene in Act III, where I had to be on stage as both John & James (the Jekyl twins 🙂 god, McNally, I mean, really?) and though I had always committed to being in “the moment”, there were some nights when I just couldn’t “bring it”, that huge emotional scene, full-on breakdown by them both, you know? I mean, I would feel compelled to employ all the “tricks” I had learned years prior, but the stage is a harsh mistress and if I didn’t (feel) that I had delivered an amazingly perfect performance, I would oft times find myself backstage, beating myself up. I won’t repeat the names I’d call myself when I was unable to “get there”. (I’d invent new swear words and euphemisms – a mixture of Greek and German)

Then something magical happened. I fell onto a book by Mamet called; True and False – Hearsay and Common Sense for the Actor. (and p.s. Mamet stole most of the stuff in this book from Chekov and Meisner (and I’m certain Anton and Sandy stole some of their stuff from someone else as well) – thieves, all of them! And that’s their best character trait.

I won’t belabor it, but this book saved my life as an actor and it was from this book that I learned what works for me best, which is first and foremost to; Deny Nothing. Invent Nothing. Tell the Truth.

And also something that I now live by, regardless, be it on the stage, or on set and it’s this; We (actors) do not go to the theatre to exercise our emotions, rather it is the audience who attend and pay good money to exercise theirs.

And lastly, stay in the moment and bring it from the text – that text, that dialogue, monologue, what have you, was written by someone with a different “job title” than you – and my job as an actor is to “act as if…” period. End of story. At least for me.

And once that cooked in my brain for a bit, I relaxed and I became liberated to a degree I hadn’t yet experienced and one of the best plays ever written (for my money) is Kushner’s, Angels in America, in which I was cast to play Roy Marcus Cohn – Parts I & II. And because I had fully digested the Mamet book, I was able to simply let go and “act as if I were Roy” – I no longer had to become him. I just acted as if I were him and listen, when the writing is that slick, that sharp, etc, one’s job as an actor is “cake”.

So in a way, I will play Myrna, as if…her life is an embellishment of and on my own, of my own making. Did most of these things happen to me? Yes. But we’ve taken theatrical license in order to deliver the point. And also this, and this is the toughest bit for me, I can’t tell you how incredibly hard it is for me to first, write for myself and second to then play that role, that character that I’ve written. I am for the first time in my career on both hallowed and shaky ground and I am truly cognizant of that and I will be leaning on my director, colleague and good friend, Ted Campbell to guide me in a way I’ve never been directed before.

Peterson’s Quickie Interview: Marlo Bernier (1/3)

Welcome to the newest feature on my blog, Peterson’s Quickie, in which I interview someone who interests me and is engaged in the world. I’ll feature folks involved with any number of pursuits that hold my attention: queer stuff, gender issues, faith, climate change, (and likely gardening since I am so obsessed these days.) I’m thrilled that the very first person I have interviewed is Marlo Bernier.

Likely you have seen her before on Television or in the movies. (She was in the Cecil B DeMented film! I love how in that movie Patricia Hearst plays the mother of one of the “cinema terrorists.”) Even though you watched Marlo on the screen that doesn’t mean you would recognize her if she passed you on the street. For most of her screen and stage work as an actor, writer, and producer, Marlo Bernier is credited as Mark Bernier and has appeared in male roles. About seven years ago Marlo began a transition process and today lives openly as the woman she knows she has always been.

Now Marlo has embarked on a new project, a television Dramedy in which she plays Myrna. Here is a synopsis from the project’s popular on-line crowd source fundraising page: (It’s not too late to donate!)

After a successful career in front of the camera and on the stage, an actor is willing to sacrifice everything when she finally confronts her true gender identity and transitions from male-to-female. We follow Myrna as she struggles to find work as an actress, wrestles with a manager who still wants to send her out as her former-famous self, Michael and deals with the drama of her friends’ reactions as they make an effort to come to terms with Myrna and her life-altering transition.

While this plot line may sound purely autobiographical, Marlo is quick to point out differences between her and her creation. We sat down for a fun and moving interview. Here is the first of three questions and Marlo’s answers.

Question: Marlo, you have been in theater, TV, and film for some time now (yet still look young and fresh) what initially drew you to acting, and given the nature of how challenging a profession it is, why do you keep at it?

Answer: I’ll be brief (but I’m a broad who loves to talk – HA!) but you knew that already 🙂

Why, thank you, Peterson – you’re the first person to ever refer to me as (still) “young”, but I’ve been called more than “fresh” forever.

Yes, I have been acting since I was in Junior High School where I had my first exposure through what was called; Prize Speaking. In 7th Grade, I delivered an “I Speak for Democracy” speech and in the 8th Grade, I delivered Poe’s “The Raven” and it’s been all uphill from there – HA!

I think for me, having started in the theatre, it was the place that was safest, the place where I was allowed to grow and a place that was less judgmental as to how particular roles in which I was fortunate to have been cast were open to me, as in when I did Roy Cohn in Kushner’s Angels in America, the twins John/James in L!V!C! and Alan Berg in Steven Dietz’ God’s Country. Those roles are a few of my best memories and ones in which I most likely wouldn’t have been cast, had they been film roles.

But I love film and television work too and I’ve been also fortunate to have been on both sides of the lens. And as an actor, I love to work with other actors from a director’s perspective, because (and I can only hope the feeling is mutual) I have a kind of “short-hand” when talking with actors on set. And nothing excites me more, than watching actors from behind the monitor, delivering killer work. There’s just nothing like it, for me.

I hope I continue to do this for the reason I began doing it (decades ago) and that would be because the theatre, film and television are places where we “tell the truth” within the parameters we’ve (or the play, script etc) created. We suspend (our) “disbelief”, so that the/our “Audience” is allowed to suspend theirs.

Simply, I remember as a kid that when I played “Make Believe”, I truly believed I was “that person”, going thru “those events”.

And I hope and pray that I never stop believing.

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That’s my first question with Marlo Bernier. I’ll post question two tomorrow. Check out the Myrna project page that has a funny video with Marlo chatting about it.
And if you know someone who would be a good candidate for a quickie with me (a quickie interview that is) let me know.

Doin’ It at Home

“It” meaning my perforamnce work. I live in Hartford, CT, but I rarely perform there these days. That will change this week.

After a whirlwind surge through the US (Tue in Seattle, Wed in Miami, Thur in Hartford) I return home. Tomorrow morning at 9:00 am I will be on our local public radio station WNPR for the ‘Where We Live’ program to talk about my Transfigurations play. Scott Turner Schofield will also be featured to discuss his upcoming performances next week in Hartford. The Hartford Advocate did a piece on the two of us–queer performance artists doing transgender related theater (see http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=14514 )

Tomorrow evening I will perform Transfigurations in Hartford, technically a CT premiere after nearly two years of presenting it throughout the US, and in Canada, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Malta and South Africa.

I feel excited about presenting it to folks in the city where I live.