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Honestly, I have a lot of other things to get to this week, and within that, a lot of other pieces to write. But I have been so ubiquitously harassed by national-level Democrats that hey, I’ll take some time out this afternoon to respond to their litany of email.
Dear Representative Pelosi—
Perhaps there was a time in my life when receiving an email from the former Speaker of the House would have been at least a little thrilling, but the bloom is off the rose now. I don’t really even think you care about me, what with all of your messages—which are too many, honestly, it’s getting embarrassing—addressed to me as <FRIEND:VALUE!>. It feels half-hearted, Representative Pelosi. I know you are well networked in the legislative scene over on Capitol Hill. I used to see you around town from time to time when I still lived there. Okay; that’s a lie, it was Dennis Kucinich whom I saw, and mostly at the Greek restaurant on Pennsylvania SE that has sadly closed down. What I don’t understand, however, is how with all of your knowledge and connections and wealthy campaign contacts, you haven’t come across anyone who has mentioned even in passing that the Democratic National Committee’s strategy on getting donations for these midterms is abysmally bad. Here are the subject lines of just a few of the HUNDREDS of messages I’ve received these past few months:
- painful loss
- we. fell. short.
- Friend we’re BEGGING
- B O E H N E R wins
- all hope is lost
The content in the actual email isn’t any better. Read More…
My first move toward transition was to explore online, mostly on LiveJournal, MySpace, and a now-defunct bulletin board called strap-on.org. It was split into discussion rooms that resembled the identity politics of the new millennium—a POC exclusive space, a transgender umbrella board, an area to talk about popular culture and feminism, a space for survivors of violence, a femme area, as well as specific discussion rooms for BDSM, a wide open anything goes space, and I can’t even remember what else. If a dozen years earlier I’d gotten obsessed with online gaming (known as MUDs), now I was headlong in the waters of my own subjectivity. It was fascinating, in that terrifying way. I was nothing but my persona. But wait, I was my persona? I had to ask large questions of myself that were way more vulnerable-making than the entirety that had come before. I was afraid of my own narcissism, but my foray into hyperspace was already a leap, and I couldn’t force myself backwards because I falling somewhere very deep.
Then real people emerged from the brightly lit pixels on my screen. I drove five hours to New York City to meet people I would never have to see in the material world again if I didn’t want to (read: if I was a big transgender flop). That went okay, even as it provided evidence that I was very much out of the politically correct loop for how to interact with other trans people. I struggled in my romantic relationship with a person who was himself transitioning and who was strangely territorial about the process. He declared that I wasn’t allowed to go to DCATS, the transmasculine group in DC, even if he’d gone only to a couple of meetings himself. So I stayed away. But I learned of another group that met in Glen Burnie, Maryland, of all places. It was way too suburban for my boyfriend to be caught dead there, so I drove out the dark highways to a Friendly’s restaurant, and met half a dozen trans men who liked to chat over fried clams and sundaes. And that is where I met Kitt Kling. Read More…
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about offensive Halloween costumes and how they send the wrong message to children, mocking people who look different or who come from communities on the margins. The commercialization of Halloween, like the commercialization of every American “holiday” is so focused on profit that there is little left to authentically celebrate. But Halloween has seen a surge in popularity in pop culture and it seems like every year the offensiveness quotient is ramped up another notch or two. Despite campaigns against appropriation for Halloween, there are far more instances of using other cultures as dress up or as object of mockery than resistance against such moments.
Halloween also puts pressure on parents to buy the best, most professional costumes possible lest their class status appear too low. A casual glance at children’s costumes on the Web reveals that if one looks for something beyond a plastic costume and mask, prices start in the mid-$30s and range past $100. This puts children in the position of announcing their parents’ financial resources just to participate in the evening’s festivities (unless they’re in a very cold weather region and the costumes are tucked under coats, perhaps).
Then there’s the fear. Trick-or-treating, once the duty and delight of kids when I was a child, has declined due to concerns about tampered candy and nighttime predators. Parents who do let their kids go door to door follow them around on the sidewalk, or children are corralled into events that take place at the local YMCA or city block. And while I may love kids, I cannot handle having 3,000 small costumed children banging into each other and screaming over the last Snickers mini-bar.
There may still be some glory left in what was once a harvest holiday. If neighbors can agree to have some candy and entertain kids for a few hours, one can get to know those neighbors a little better and get to know the neighborhood more. If children are encouraged to share their candy, get out and walk around and laugh with their friends and family, I see a glimmer of fun in the experience. But certainly there is a lot to wade through to get past the hype, blinking skulls, fake spider webbing, and plush DisneyTM/Sesame Street/PowerRangers/Transformers costumes to get to the fun.
And hooray, Columbus Day is next week. Don’t get me started on that one.
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…