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It’s not often that a bonafide famous person steps into Walla Walla, much less a celebrity known for being an intelligent, interesting thinker and speaker, specifically Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the redux of Cosmos. Rather, living in a town as conservative as Walla Walla it was pretty unsurprising that Susanne and I would jump at the chance to see him give a ninety-minute talk, even if the tickets cost $50 each. The seal on the deal was the reality that we don’t go on dates all that often, what with two children under the age of three—so between presumed smart lecture on science, sitting in a hall with other less-than-Tea-Party people, and Date Night, it was a no brainer (see what I did there?) to spring for the tickets. And just like I thought would happen, we saw all manner of acquaintances and like-minded comrades. There were many school-age kids there, which was nice. At least at first.
I admit I felt some excitement rumble through the auditorium when the lights were lowered and an older man rambled onto the stage to give Dr. Tyson’s introduction. Except it wasn’t an introduction, so much as a self-congratulatory speech about bringing Dr. Tyson to Walla Walla. Of course we were all happy to see the good doctor—we’d bought $50 tickets to prove it, after all. He called up Dr. Maxood, a local cardiologist, to the stage, and then that good doctor told us about his “long shot” plan to get Dr. Tyson here to speak. I looked at my watch, mostly ignoring their remarks, but increasingly annoyed that we were listening to this and not either opening comments about the host of Cosmos nor the speaker himself. And then a third man took the conch, I mean, microphone, to tell us about his grand work raising $20,000 so that 356 local students could come and hear the lecture. Wait. Someone had to raise money for the students to attend? They weren’t simply let in? If the money hadn’t been pulled together, they wouldn’t have been let in?
Susanne and I opened up the programs we’d been handed in the lobby. While the event was a production of Main Street Studios, it was actually coordinated within the nonprofit arm of the Main Street Studios organization, which has only been in existence since late 2013. Now we had questions about how the math worked—what was Dr. Tyson paid to speak, and who got the proceeds from the speaking engagement? If Man #3 on the stage had raised $20,000 to send 356 students to the lecture (which comes to $56.18 per child, so the ticket cost plus the fee, which appears not to have been waived in order to send a higher number of students to the lecture), where did that $20K go? To the nonprofit arm of the organization or to Main Street Studios? And what are the ethics of using a nonprofit organization to support a for-profit venture, if that’s where the money went?
Feeling unsettled, Dr. Tyson at last took the stage. Things went downhill from here. Read More…
In Part 1 I outlined the HRC President’s apology to trans activists at the annual Southern Comfort conference, suggesting that looking at the entirety of trans lives would provide a better starting point for getting behind trans civil rights than staying the HRC course of a new, albeit now-trans-inclusive, ENDA bill. Beyond the general, “what do children, adults, and elders need in the way of trans rights” question, there are critical services and support systems that more vulnerable trans people also need and often don’t get, in part because they’re trans, and in part because they may have other overlapping statuses that limit their access to those services. Specifically, I am talking about trans prisoners, transgender people with moderate to severe mental illness, drug addiction, and trans sex workers. So today I’ll outline my ideas around what these vulnerable groups need that in large part, they are not getting from our society and its infrastructure. And if HRC would like to fund the programs that are in place across the nation, well, that money could make a real difference.
Trans Prisoners—Intersecting transphobia with societal hostility toward people convicted of a crime, transgender prisoners are especially vulnerable to abuse in the criminal justice system, from the earliest stages of a police investigation, through the pre-trial process, trial, sentencing, and throughout their term in the prison system. Data are incomplete but suggest that transgender prisoners are more often placed in solitary confinement, both as punishment and due to the dearth of alternatives for housing them while they serve their terms. Further, while no studies or analyses have been conducted regarding whether transgender people accused of a crime are treated fairly in the initial stages of an investigation, the CeCe McDonald case certainly highlights that extreme injustice can and does occur, and is very difficult to remediate through the criminal justice system itself. Trans people in prison are much more often than not denied hormone therapy or other trans-related health or mental health care. Organizations like the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal, and transgender prisoner advocacy groups are relatively underfunded and already working on these issues and could use a significant funding boost. Read More…
Late last week HRC President Chad Griffin offered a keynote speech at the Southern Comfort transgender conference acknowledging his organization’s failure to support the transgender community and its history of obstructionism (see here, here, and here) against trans civil rights. I and others called it a problematic apology, because he seemed to couch his understanding of HRC’s mistakes as one of simply not knowing enough about us (which has not always been the issue), and he framed his new approach in a paternalistic way, instead of asking us what HRC should be working on or how they can help.
People in the LGBT movement have for years been wondering amongst themselves just what will happen when the infrastructure that has been set up (to funnel money into the same-sex marriage movement) doesn’t need the same focus anymore. Will the donors move their money to a new issue? Buy yachts and celebrate the institution of marriage? Fund political campaigns?
I’m not here to argue about whether HRC is anti-trans or not (I’ve certainly made my views clear), not in this post, anyway. Instead I’d like to point out that Mr. Griffin’s idea that HRC will include trans-specific protections in the next anti-discrimination omnibus bill is far, far from what transgender and transsexual and gender non-conoforming people need, as civil rights movements go. Nobody is against anti-discrimination bills, especially if they include “gender identity or expression” as part of their protected classes, but it’s too easy for LGB activists to throw that clause in there without a real understanding of what protections for trans folk would look like. Well, let me ask us to reframe these considerations, in this way:
Let’s look at the trans person’s life cycle, from cradle to grave. What might we need to support our lives and experience that cisgender people would never need?
1: Childhood—In part because trans people have been more visible in the last generation, today’s children more often understand themselves as trans and ask the people nearest them (read: their parents and teachers) for support. A public policy for supporting trans kids would do some or all of the following:
- Offer trans-supportive mental health/social work services for trans kids so they have objective partners in their process
- Offer family support through identification of a trans identity (because you know, parents don’t automatically support their trans kids or know how to) into and through transition (if that is what the youth wants)
- Educate school systems, administrations, and teachers to provide a hostility-free learning environment for trans children, including using a child’s chosen name even if that name is not their legal name
- Readily identify trans-related bullying and help trans youth find alternative paths toward a high school degree if their primary school becomes an untenable place to learn
- Ensure that after-school and extracurricular activities are trans-friendly and accessible to trans youth
- Change rules around school sports to ensure than trans children can participate in a way that comports with their gender identity or expression
- Modify existing law around custodian care so that if only one parent is supportive of a trans child, they can still help direct their care and services
- Relax rules around emancipated minor laws for older trans teenagers who may need to leave their parents’ home
- Train crisis care counselors, suicide hotline managers/call centers, and any local government-run mental health care workers in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Educate physicians on hormone blockers, hormone therapy for adolescents, and the medical needs of trans youth
- Change laws so that trans-related care is included in health insurance policies
- Train youth homeless shelter staff in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Enforce rules changes with a resource/response board to hear complaints and advocate for trans youth
Cooper Lee Bombardier tagged me in some author chain mail thing, and normally I’d avoid a meme but first, he’s a really nice fella, and second, it’s about writing, so heck, I could bloviate about that all day. Here are my answers to four questions he posed:
I took one of those online hearing tests last night, the kind that test the upper Hz frequencies that only the young people can hear. I dropped out after 12,000Hz and tried not to be depressed by my 44-year-old inner ears. Middle age is here in my life, even if it doesn’t come in the form of a Gregorian Chant. (Although maybe it should.) In all fairness, it’s not really much of a loss, that 12,005Hz and higher range. I don’t need to hear squeaky buzzing, right? (Maybe, if Emile and Lucas decide to use them as ring tones on their someday cell phones.)
But there are some sounds I haven’t heard in a while due to lack of proximity, circumstance, or attrition. Here are a few of them:
Ocean foam—I didn’t make it to either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean this summer, so I haven’t been listening to waves. But more than the sound of furious crashing surf, I love the sound at the very end of the wave, when the bubbles aerated into the ocean water explode and leave the liquid, making a quiet hiss before the tide is drawn back into the sea. It’s a sound that requires one be right on the shoreline, that one be quiet, too, because any sound smothers the foam hiss. I can hear a glimpse of it if I put my ear next to a stream of seltzer water running over ice; there’s that same bubbling up and collapse. It’s like a sigh from water, and when I can listen to it and see the horizon of the ocean in front of me, I feel at peace.
Quiet cat footfalls—I love hearing Emile trotting down the stairs or along the hallway on the main floor of our house. It’s often closely followed by a question, a calling of “Mommy” or “Daddy,” or a declaration like, “My belly is hungry.” These sounds are terrific and often amusing. But I also adore less assertive steps, like my sweet first cat Willie used to produce when I’d come home from school. It was a thump as he jumped off the couch in the family room and a dot-dot-dot-dot as he’d bounce over to me, and by the end of his jaunt he would have assumed an air of nonchalance, as if we both didn’t already know that he was totally excited to get a pet and a scratch behind the ears. Read More…
“That’s My Secret. Holding Still”: A Review of Zoe Whittall’s Novel Holding Still For As Long As Possible
Nice review, principled criticism.
Originally posted on Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian:
Reading Zoe Whittall’s Toronto-set novel Holding Still For As Long As Possible is kind of like reading a wittier, more exciting version of my urban early-to-mid-twenties queer life in the 2000s. It was fun and nostalgic for me to jump back into this world, but it is uncanny to read a book featuring characters that are so much like you and the communities you’ve known. I mean, in a good and a bad way: these are white, bike-riding, middle-class background, artsy, educated, FAAB queers. Unfortunately, both people of colour and trans women are pretty absent from the world of the book, although this is something that was mostly true in my experiences in similar communities in Halifax, Victoria, and London in that stage of my life.
What I’m saying is that what Whittall is doing in this book is limited, but she’s doing it really, really well. Like, I can’t…
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In 1983, I was 13 when Halloween rolled around, and instead of worrying about the exact placement of my zombie blood on my face, I was listening to my parents talk about the Tylenol tampering cases, and how I needed to inspect my candy wrappers before I ate any of it. It was a lot of discipline for a young teenager, but the message came at such a high frequency of fear that I heeded their proscription.
In 1982, the cover of our Time Magazine subscription screamed about herpes and how many people were walking around with such a horrible, dirty virus. By 1985 the virus emergency had shifted to HIV, replete with all of the horrifying ways in which it possibly traveled to other people. (Mosquitos! Swimming pools! Soft drinks!)
The mid-to-late 1980s had us fearing crack cocaine,* the last throes of the Soviet Union, and what would happen if we elected Gov. Dukakis instead of Vice President Bush. Not a year has gone by that I can remember in my lifetime in which we didn’t have some huge bogeyman to fear as presented in the US media.
PCP. PCBs. Iraq (the first time), and then soon after, Desert Storm Illness. Terrorists, welfare recipients, inner city youth, trade unionists were all out to get us. We couldn’t even celebrate the new millennium without fearing that all of our computers were about to implode with bad programming. Read More…
Just a bit of what I’m working on this month:
Reginald runs down the hallway, his sneakers squeaking on the tired linoleum. It’s Joe in B14 again. Alzheimer’s dementia, sometimes gets combative. Reginald is the only orderly on this shift who knows how to calm Joey down. He wouldn’t have to beat a trail to the door so often if the fucking doctor would get this guy the medicine he needs, but hey, ole Reg is here to take care of things.
He bursts into the room. Lime green walls, plastered with random bits of newspaper articles because Joe insists that’s how people stay on top of current events. Someone pays for Joe’s private room because his insurance certainly doesn’t include that, but nobody knows who this sugar momma or daddy is. And why don’t they ever come visit?
Joe is screaming at the mirror in his bathroom. It’s full of streaks and a lot of the silver on the back side of the glass is missing so it doesn’t even but half-reflect a person anymore. But Joe is a stubborn bastard, so when Reginald runs in he finds Joe leaning on the sink, staring at himself and screaming.
“This mirror is broken,” he says.
“Come over here, Jocelyn. It’s okay.”
“What evil did you put in this mirror? Why are you doing this to me?” Read More…
I just jumped into DC this weekend after an absence of a few years, taking a quick flight from Detroit while we’re still on vacation to attend an LGBTQ book festival on U Street. It’s been truly fantastic to see old friends and have the kinds of sincere conversations that are hard to find with people one meets in one’s forties instead of in one’s more vulnerable youth. I suppose we erect sturdy fortresses in the interim, but I’m not sure why or if that’s helpful for us.
The OutWrite festival was successful, and here it is only in its fourth year. It would have been nice to know before I left Walla Walla that I’d be responsible for bringing my own books to sell, because then I’d have had more than my reader’s copy with me. (Crossing fingers the Internet pulls through for me and people shop online to get them.) I was grateful to see so many familiar faces, people I’ve known from when I lived in the District and did earlier activism there, and get to meet some new folks who are doing interesting work in LGBT literature. Read More…
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me in the spring or summer knows that I am no fan of insects. Maybe bees and dragonflies get a pass, and ladybugs. (But not those ladybug knockoffs.) But beetles, spiders, roaches, silverfish, millepedes, ants, I don’t want them on me or even near me, as impossible as I know that is. We’re very outnumbered by the insect world, and I super don’t enjoy thinking about that reality.
But there is a special level of ugh I hold for stinging insects like wasps and hornets and yellowjackets. I can deal with the fact that honey bees and bumble bees sting because heck, they need some kind of defense for themselves and they only use them as a last resort before dying. But those OTHER stinging insects are like extremist NRA members wearing their Glocks on their hips for a trip to Walmart, ready to shoot anyone around them and then keep on shopping like it’s no biggie. So when I see not one, but two hornets’ nests under construction on my newly acquired car port (otherwise known as the place where I park the family car four times a day), I have to take action. Especially when said construction includes laying the foundation for the next generation of venomous bugs.
A neighbor suggested I go to the hardware store at the eastern edge of Walla Walla, which turned out to be a ranch and home supply store. Here I could get a feed bag for my horse, any kind of Carhart gear my heart desired, or fake eggs to dupe the hens in my coop to lay more eggs. Or a can of thick poison guaranteed to kill on contact. I explained that I had a bee sting allergy thing and that I wanted to make sure the hornets would never get near me once I bamboozled them with my noxious elixir. The small man, his Vietnam Veteran ball cap pulled low over his forehead, squinted at me. Read More…