Category: transgender

Photo Shoot & a Sexy Bear

Earlier this week when I was in Denver, I sat for a photo shoot. Along with fellow ex-gay survivor Daniel Gonzales, I will be featured in a national article that explores the ex-gay movement. (I am not at liberty to give any more details about the article at this time).

The photographer really did a fine job of calming us down and getting us to act natural. Christine Bakke, who sadly was not interviewed for the piece (seems many reporters are just interested in hearing from former ex-gay men), asked me to take a photo of the studio which with the late afternoon light gave it an other-worldly feel.

Then Christine, Daniel and I joined Eugene for Ethiopian food, which since first having it with Mike Airhart and Steve Boese in DC some years ago, has turned into the official cuisine of former ex-gays and critics of the ex-gay movement.

I returned to Hartford to work on Transfigurations, (which is going soooo well) and expected to stay home, but I found out about S. Bear Bergman, a butch trans man leading a writing workshop at the Stonewall Center at UMASS (thank you Elliot for the heads up). Being a person without a car, I frantically called and e-mailed friends and quickly heard back from blogger and recently fully out trans woman Diana, (one of my queer blogger spawns, whose poetry has been featured on this blog here).

The workshop consisted of instructing us about Gender Neutral Pronouns (GNPs) like Ze for he & she and Hir for his and her. We then each wrote a short story using these GNPs and read a few aloud to see if we could note the gender clues in the stories. Even with GNPs, we have been programmed to assume certain activities and ways of behaving belong to either males or females. The workshop was fine and interesting, but I wanted to hear more from Bear. Bear spoke in such an artistic manner with words filled with meaning and dripping with humor, irony and an edge. Kinda sexy. But then trans guys are hot!

In case you were interested, I am still stuck in my sweet brown rice food loop. I do limit myself to one bowl of it (a large ONE) per day and my current garnish of choice is chopped dandelion greens. Yum!

Oh and this is too good. The Onion’s video report on Gays Too Precious to Risk In Combat.

‘Gays Too Precious To Risk In Combat,’ Says General

Soaking in a Gender Bath

My time this week and next will be filled soaking in the stories and lives of transgender and genderqueer people. That is how I work as an artist. I soak in the stories, the narratives, the theories and then I let them infuse my work.

I’ve made some wonderful breakthroughs with my new Transfigurations performance piece. I have unearthed some things in the Bible that have thrilled me that I have never seen before. You will be surprised to see the amazing Transgender Bible heroes lurking on the page right before your eyes.

I have looked to many resources to help me begin to understand the many different sides and issues of the transgender umbrella and the amazing people under that umbrella. The greatest education has come from simply sitting and listening to transgender people as they tell me their stories. But I have also found other resources to be helpful. I list some of them below. PLEASE share yours with me!

Here is Trans Family’s Gender 101

Why Don’t You Tell Them I am a Boy, a mother’s story about embracing her FTM son.

Transition in the Workplace

I recently picked up Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s book Omnigender and have Riki Wilchins book Queer Theory, Gender Theory–An Instant Primer nearby to dive into when I want to go deep.

I also have been very much helped by the words of Kate Bornstein

The Transsexual Person in Your Life, some frequently asked questions/frequently held concerns.

Gianna Israel has a wonderful collection of articles she has written, including
Talking with you Children about Gender Identity Issues
Contentious Family Issues

Also check out:

The FTM Guide

FTMs in History

Survivor Project’s Trans Basics page

Trans-Ponder Podcast

Here is the first video in a long series by Erin, a 23 year old trans MTF lesbian who moved to NYC from Utah. In this piece she talks about why she had to leave Utah and the results of transitioning. Really great stuff–moving, personal and insightful.

Please share with me any websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, books or magazines that you have found helpful in exploring trans issues.

Disappearing Actor

You all will not hear too much from me during the month of November. I am in the last stages of creating a theater piece that looks at gender-different people in the Bible, those folks who transgress gender yet remain some of the most important people in the stories in which they appear. (Wanna know who? Wait to see Transfigurations!)

In meeting and speaking with transgender folks this past year, I have grown to understand levels of oppression towards them perpetuated by straight people who represent the gender-normative society as well as by gay and lesbian people who also demand gender-normative presentations. I view the Bible as a mirror to help us see each other and ourselves in a way that can and should transform our thinking.

And for non-trans folk (gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight) in regards to trans folks, I see that the challenge is to no longer conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This process so often comes through listening. The same challenge exists for many people of faith who support and promote anti-gay worldly values in the name of religion.

Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are

On the road I meet loads of people who live partially out of the closet. They do have some queer friends, especially on-line. They may have someone in their lives “who knows” but they tell virtually no one on their job, in their family, or in their place of worship that they may be lesbian or gay or bisexual. (I don’t mention transgender people because I can understand many of the healthy reasons to be silent about the trans experience).

And I can see why many LGB folks silence themselves about their orientation. I get the e-mails and talk to folks who perceive that to come out would be mean loss–colossal loss of relationships, jobs, housing, financial support for college, and even expulsion from precious faith communities. In most states in the USA, one is not protected on the job in regards to sexual orientation (and it is worse for trans folks).

Then there is the physical danger. Even in parts of liberal NYC, to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex provokes violence–verbal and physical.

So yes, we experience real impediments to coming out, some external, but for most of us the biggest obstacles remain internal. Through years of living under the weight of homophobia and in a society that insists that heterosexuality is the ideal norm, we build up storehouses of shame and fear and self-loathing. We may even express disgust at what we view as “the gay lifestyle” mirroring what our oppressors say about us.

The Coming Out process takes time. It takes courage. It takes building a network of safe people. It means that our lives may turn upside down, or even more surprising, that things won’t really change that much at all.

When we walk around with shame about who we are, we send out the message that it is okay to treat us shamefully. When we embrace the depth and beauty and uniqueness of who we are, even if people do not like us, they will treat us with respect.

People often remark to me that when I speak in public about my life, one of the things that sticks out for them is how comfortable I appear in my skin. They say it disarms people the way that I express my contentment with who I am as a gay man, as a Christian, as a Quaker, as a vegan, as ME. I don’t see it myself with all of the various insecurities I carry, but I do know that the coming out process for me has contained much more than simply announcing “I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!”

The process has become more than just coming out gay. Rather it has meant coming out as ME. In a world that claims to celebrate individuality and uniqueness, we experience tremendous pressures to conform, be it in the conservative church, the gay party boy culture, the Quaker meeting house, the lesbian drum circle or a thousand other groups that draw us.

The act of self-discovery, leading to a fearless willingness to truly be ourselves, creates conflicts and challenges for those around us. But with the potential difficulties, it also brings much needed wholeness and health.

I became a born-again Evangelical, fundamentalist, conservative, Republican Christian at the age of 17 (even though I presented as a flaming homosexual without even trying). That is when I went to war with parts of myself. At the same time I began to suffer lower back problems with my back going out almost every six months, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. The problem continued and grew worse. It happened the week before I got married. I ultimately developed a herniated disc that hurt so much, I could only lie down or sit for 20 minutes at time before having to stand or walk to relieve the pain. I never got surgery for it and just endured the pain for six months until it began to heal.

Once I came out and worked through years of gunk I piled on myself, my back stopped going out. My body sent me a message all those years. Something is out of whack. My body mirrored the imbalance inside me. Today even with all the plane travel and the many different hotel beds, my back stays solid and has not gone out in over seven years.

Today is National Coming Out Day. At his blog Journeyman notes how dark the closet can be. Even if you can’t imagine fully coming out and you feel you must keep a foot in the closet (or more) turn on some light and invite someone into your life. As the 1980’s AIDS activists taught us Silence=Death. And we experience death in the closet in thousands of ways. Similarly waiting for us outside we will discover thousands of ways to live.

Lesbian Attacked in Jackson, TN

Jim Burroway over at BTB mentioned an attack on a lesbian in Tennessee.

A Jackson, Tennessee-area woman was left partially blind and possibly brain damaged from an attack at a club. The fight broke out when a patron thought she looked like a man and assumed she was gay when she started dancing with a male friend. When he told her to leave using a gay slur, she replied that she was a woman, but yes, she’s a lesbian. Her assailant then punched Amanda in the face and jabbed her in the left eye about four times with the bottom of a beer bottle before smashing the bottle over the back of her head.

So her attacker first went after her because he thought she was a gay man, and then when she identified as lesbian, he still went after her. I wonder what part of the attack had to do with her not being gender-normative. She looked like a man to the assailant. Since she didn’t fit the mold, it seems like he punished her.

I hope she has a speedy recovery and that this attack doesn’t affect her life too deeply. I hate that people can’t be safe simply because of how they look and how they are perceived and who they are.

Another Homeless Gay Teen

About once every six weeks I get an e-mail about a young person in Connecticut who needs a home because their parents no longer want them in the home because the teen is transgender or bisexual or lesbian or gay or even just questioning. Families are complicated, and no doubt other reasons come into play, but in almost every case the deciding factor to eject the child from the home is because they are too queer for mom or dad.

Robin McHaelen, the director of True Colors, sends out the requests via email. I just received one yesterday about a 16 year old lesbian who needed a home (and as a result of Robin’s efforts, the teen has found two homes to choose from!). I just received another request today.

This young man just turned 18. He is bright, responsible, caring and homeless. His mom listened in on the phone last week and heard him come out to someone. The mom’s response was to put him out. He has been staying with a friend since then, but can’t remain. We would love to find him a place in Windsor Locks or very close so he can finish school (He graduates later this month).

(If you live in Connecticut and are queer, you know how to contact Robin).

My mom spoke to me a few times about parents and how I need to be patient with them around LGBT issues. They grew up in different times when it was not imaginable to be a happy, healthy homosexual. And that most queers get the snot beat out of them every other day. This advice has helped me a great deal when speaking with worried parents who fear their children will end up lonely and unhappy and in trouble. These concerned parents often need to hear new stories to replace the assumptions they have.

But I cannot understand a parent who feels so strongly against same-sex attractions and gender differences that s/he would actually push their child onto the streets. Of course not all parents respond the same way. Some force their children onto the streets, others into ex-gay programs, and others keep their sons and daughters within reach.

A friend of mine in Boston has worked a lot with youth and is a licensed sex educator for the Boston Public School system. She said she noticed a pattern in responses by parents of LGBT children when the parent has a problem with having a queer child.

She said among parents who are white, the response has typically been something like, “You might be gay (or lesbian, etc), but not in MY house!” Then they kick their kids out. The young people stay with friends for awhile, going from house to house, but in many cases they end up on the streets. Among Black parents the response is different: “You are not lesbian (or gay, etc) and you are going NOWHERE.” The son or daughter stays in the home, watched carefully and perhaps silenced, but not destitute.

Last week I received an e-mail from a FTM transgender friend of mine. He is still college-age and is only just coming out to his parents. When he shared with them that he is trans and that he hopes to transition, their immediate response was to withdraw all financial support.

Again I understand how a parent may have concerns or be confused or need educating, but to react by impoverishing your offspring troubles me. Is this what we learn from living in a capitalist society that teaches people can and should be manipulated by money? How about talking? How about spending time together trying to understand each others’ needs and concerns? Rather some seek to silence, contain and disenfranchise their loved ones..

I wrote about parents and their fears in my post, Can My Gay Child Change? The short answer is YES. If you treat them like dirt, if you disrespect them and push your agenda on them without opening your heart about your real fears and concerns and listening to theirs, your child will grow distant from you and even hostile. Then when they need you the most, (and you need them) you will have positioned yourself far far away.

Homophobia and Ex-gays in Sweden

Like many people raised in the USA, particularly with an Evangelical church background, I always thought of Sweden as a place where gays and lesbians were freely accepted by a society that had done its work to embrace all of its citizens. And really it is an amazing place with progressive laws for many of its citizens. But anti-gay sentiments can still run deep regardless of laws. Anti-gay messages still get into the public’s minds through preachers, neo-Nazis and just plain ignorance.

In September when I visited Sweden for the first time, I felt shocked to hear about homophobic attacks in major cities like Stockholm and that most offices of the RFSL (the national LGBT organization) could not put signs up in front of their offices and meeting places because of anti-gay vandalism. At that time I also learned about people who felt compelled to live double-lives in order to find acceptance within their families, communities and churches.

In regards to the ex-gay movement, many Swedes told me that nothing like this happens in their country. That pleased me to hear, but I had my doubts. Sometimes ex-gay ministry happens under the radar through independent churches where youth ministers and pastors, influenced by US doctrines, engage in practices that most of the public never hear about.

During my most recent trip I heard from a teen who attends a charismatic church in the Stockholm area. At a gathering this month of teens they had a special speaker, a woman who says God delivered her from homosexuality. She used to be a lesbian, but not anymore, well not so much. She did go onto to say that she doesn’t really enjoy kissing men so much and still has some struggles. (Alex heard the same account, so perhaps he can add more details if I got them wrong or if there is more to add)

Who knows why the church chose this speaker? Perhaps one of the young women among them showed signs of lesbianism (what exactly are the signs anyway?) The organizer’s message came through loud and clear though that the “lesbian lifestyle” was not within God’s perfect plan and therefore the faithful must resist, repent, reform. I sense from the teen telling me the story though that most (but perhaps not all) of them saw through the ruse.

But what other messages do they transmit to these young people in Stockholm? If being lesbian is out of God’s perfect plan, then what does that make lesbians and gays? Sinners? Enemies of God? Enemies of society? Evil?

Where does violence against gays and lesbians and transgender people arise? I find it curious that Neo-Nazis and certain types of heterosexual Christians spend so much time attacking lesbians and gays. They use different weapons, but to me their hatred and intolerance comes from the same spirit. A spirit that proclaims, You are wrong, sick, flawed, a threat, and therefore you must be dealt with in this life or the next.

Alex sent me a link to an article about a horrific attack on a lesbian at the offices of the RFSL in Stockholm this week. It reminds me of a similar attack that took place near Boston not too long ago.

A woman thought to be in her forties was struck in the head with an axe in central Stockholm on Monday afternoon.

The attack took place at the offices of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) on Sveavägen just after 3.30pm.

Police arrested a man around fifteen minutes later in connection with the incident. He was still carrying the axe when he was apprehended.

RFSL chairman Sören Andersson has confirmed that woman was an employee of the organization. He is in no doubt that the crime was motivated by hatred.

“It’s obvious that this can’t be anything other than a hate crime directed at our organization,” he said.

“This clearly shows that the work done to counteract hate crimes has not been sufficient. More needs to be done. It is dreadful, really dreadful, when staff cannot feel safe at work,” he added.

The woman has been taken to hospital where the seriousness of her injuries is not yet known.

The former lesbian speaking to a youth group and a man attacking a lesbian in the same city are unrelated. But are they really? If you inform young people that it is wrong to be gay, outside of God’s will, even a threat to society like many anti-gay ministers proclaim, isn’t it possible that the result would be that someone reacts by hurling anti-gay slurs, vandalizing LGBT centers, or by physically attacking lesbians, gay couples or trans people?

How responsible are we for the words we speak, the messages we transmit? What happens when ex-gay leader teaches that gays are outside of God’s perfect plan while at the same time the same leader insists that he takes a public stand against homophobia? Can’t they see how they contribute to homophobia and operate under the same umbrella as people who violently hate gays?

Sticks and stone may break your bones, but words, well, they often the fuel the violence.

Blogging from London

I am blogging from the Friends Center bookshop and cafe across the street from Euston Station. They have wifi and free computers for anyone to use off the street. I love that.

Not much time. I have to prepare for my talk/presentation tonight at the Courge UK meeting here in London (at an undisclosed location. They are funny about letting people know where they meet. I feel so covert.)

My presentation will center around some of the research I am doing for my next play Transfigurations, which will look at the lives and stories of transgender, genderqueer and gender different people in the Bible. In addition to performing the gAy,B,Cs from Queer 101, I will share some of what I have unearthed about trans folks in the Bible. So much wonderful information about trans people who were utterly essential to the stories in which they appeared.

Many people ask, But who are these trans people in the Bible??? I’ve never seen them.
Of course many of us have not seen them. We have been trained to look the other way, the gender normative way. Just the stories of bisexual, lesbian and gay people in the Bible seem to have gone missing, but at closer inspection, with lavender lenses, suddenly we see they have always been there.

Sorta like our own world today. Folks in the “mainstream” can miss out on the reality of all sorts of other folks who are not represented in media, elected offices and in ministry. Takes some asking, seeking and knocking.

You’ve Been SMYRC’ed

Tonight in Portland (PDX) I got to revisit SMYRC, the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center. A youth center started by youth some years back, it is a safe space for LGBTQ youth to hang out, play video games, enjoy Dance Dance Revolution, do hair, work on theater, and just be with friends and caring adult volunteers.

They do a GREAT job at keeping the young people safe with very clear guidelines about appropriate, respectful, acceptable behavior. The room filled this evening with all sorts of Queers–goth, butch, fem, genderqueer, latino, Black, bisexuals, questioning, transgender and whatever.

When I attend the True Colors Conference each year, I hear folks in my generation (Generation X) say how they wish they had something like this when they were growing up, it would have made all the difference. Yeah, I tend to agree. If I had SMYRC growing up, I think I would have found myself so much sooner and would have saved myself and others years of turmoil and heartache.

Last January I presented Queer 101 to the group and during the Q&A session we talked about faith and spirituality. The young people really connected with the topic, one that at times does not get much airplay in the LGBT press or community discussions. In large part because of that discussion in January and the resourcefulness of Mark Middelton, one of the adult volunteers, they now have a weekly spirituality group.

Together they are going through a book by Cherie Carter-Scott called If Life is a Game, These are the Rules. The first rule that they have looked at and discussed together is:

You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it’s yours to keep for the entire period.

They’ve been talking about body image and that intimate relationship with self. Over coffee at
Pix, (heavenly evil all in one cafe) Mark and I reflected on those queer people who refuse to come out of the closet and be real in front of their friends and family. Mark noted that we have to be the first people to love us and then model it for others. Where was Mark when I was a teen? (Okay, he wasn’t born yet).

You can read more of the rules here.

Tomorrow morning at the Q Center I lead a talk called Faith, Families and Queers: Surviving, Thriving and Having Fun. I actually have no clue what I will say. I know some about faith and some about fun, but the family part…hmmm. We’ll see. I would like to share some of the transgender people I have been finding and communing with in the Bible. Their stories astound me, so hidden, yet so essential.