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Why It’s a Pain in the Ass to Be Trans in a Small Town, Or A Simple List of Stuff People Have Said to Me
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She comes in, won’t make eye contact with me. I have to hold my breath so I can make out what her mumbles mean. But before I’ve had time to process the low tones of her language, I know why she’s in my office: She wants to get tested for HIV.
There’s definitely shame in the eyes of the people who come here looking to exchange their used syringes for new ones, but oftentimes they’re so desperate to be done with me that there’s nothing halting about their speech or presentation. The folks worried they’ve got the granddaddy of sexually transmitted diseases well, they have a reason to put off the potential certainty of a diagnosis. Those exchangers are all too anticipatory, and it is a readily accessible difference that I can assess inside of five seconds.
No matter the need of a given individual, I put on my most reassuring face. Get professional, avoid any hint of judgmental snark or attitude. In most engagements, they’ve spent copious amounts of time beating themselves up for their behavior, their mistakes, their bad decisions. I’m not one for piling on. Read More…
Life this winter and spring has been less about balance and more about fulcrums. You know, like when you’re moving up and down a lot but not getting anywhere. At least a roller coaster has forward momentum and a few thrills along the way. A seesaw just lifts up and crashes down with a jolt at the end of each direction. Nearly all of the endeavors I’ve made since last fall have come with commensurate concussions. Case manager is leaving for a full-time job. Hire new case manager. Send in manuscript to potential agent and wait. . . finally getting rejected by potential agent (but in the nicest way possible). Move office to other side of town, deal with people yelling on the phone that the office has moved. Start new manuscript, get sidelined by a different project. Apply to literary contest, fail to make the finals. Apply to writer’s workshop with no hope of getting accepted.
Then gasp at the screen when reading the acceptance letter. Read More…
Let the inner monologue begin.
- Hey, did you see that article in the newspaper about that transgendered couple? Yes. I subscribe to the newspaper. It’s easy to read, too, because it’s only 12 pages long.
- Hey, do you know the transsexual couple in the paper today? Yes. I’ve met them, mostly by chance. It’s a small town. I’ve met the mayor more times than them.
- Oh my God, was that you in the paper today about being trans? Only if I’ve been blasted with a reverse-aging gun, and shifted my entire skull structure. I hope someone lets me in on it if that’s what happened. Do you have a mirror I could borrow?
- Hey, there’s a high school student/college student/totally grown adult who is starting to transition. Could you talk to them? I mean, I haven’t talked to them yet to find out if they’d like you to do that, but you know, could you do that? Of course I’ll talk to them. It’s a small town and starting transition is way beyond difficult. But they get to have the last say in whether they sit down with some middle aged guy from New Jersey. I really hope that’s clear. And for the record, I am not the spokesperson for Transgender America. That would be Chaz Bono.
- I’m a great ally, but I’m not really out about being an ally. So please don’t go telling people I think it’s okay to be trans, all right? By definition, that makes you NOT an ally. Go home, fake ally, you’re drunk.
- That’s a nice idea and all, but you know this isn’t DC, right? You’re right–let’s not have any expectations for people in Walla Walla, that we can support each other, pass things like anti-discrimination regulations, and help LGBT people in crisis. Let’s leave liveability to people in big cities. But when we do that, Dan Savage wins. We can’t let Dan Savage win!
- You sure talk about being trans a lot. Like, aren’t you happy just being a man? I’m so far beyond happy it would blow your tiny little mind. But I feel a need to be open about my history, you know, so all the closeted and other allies can ask me to be a resource for others, or tell me that Walla Walla isn’t the District of Columbia.
- You might have a hard time finding a job here, because you’re overqualified. You know, that happens to men. Wow. I’d never heard of that before I transitioned in 2004. Thanks for cluing me in!
- What was your old name? Buy the book to find out.
- Do you know the pregnant man? Nope, but I know like 7 pregnant men who were pregnant years before him, and who didn’t feel the need to go on Oprah.
- Hey, did you hear the pregnant man is getting divorced? Yes. And he’s seeking this claim even if it means possibly hurting future transgender-related marriages in the future. One guess how I feel about that.
- Did you make that baby with Susanne? Let me refer you to WebMD.
- Does it bother you that your baby isn’t related to you? No, but I bet it bothers you that you aren’t related to such cuteness.
- Why do all trans men have such crazy facial hair? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
- Do you mourn the old you? No, but I mourn the loss of knowing you before you asked that dumbass question.
- Do you ever think about going back to being a woman? Not until just now. Excuse me, I feel a wave of laughter coming on.
- I was just wondering, do you have phantom breast sensations? Tell me, do you have phantom intelligence sensations?
- Hey, do you know <<INSERT FAMOUS TRANS PERSON’S NAME HERE>>? Yes/No/We just hung out last night! How’d you know?
- Does it feel weird to take your shirt off in the pool? I mean, I hate that wave of cold water as much as the next person…huh?
- I understand how hard it is to find a doctor in town. My mom had <<INSERT DISEASE HERE>> and she had to drive to Seattle to find a specialist. Was this after the physician here insisted on giving her a prostate exam? Because that guy is really on my shit list.
- Is it like, totally weird living in a small town? Why, does nobody ask you how weird your city is?
- Are you interested in giving the newspaper an interview about being trans in Walla Walla? I’m hanging up now.
Insert your comments and responses here.
Why It’s a Pain in the Ass to Be Trans in a Small Town, Or A Simple List of Stuff People Have Said to Me
- Hey, did you see that article in the newspaper about that transgendered couple?
- Hey, do you know the transsexual couple in the paper today?
- Oh my God, was that you in the paper today about being trans?
- Hey, there’s a high school student/college student/totally grown adult who is starting to transition. Could you talk to them? I mean, I haven’t talked to them yet to find out if they’d like you to do that, but you know, could you do that?
- I’m a great ally, but I’m not really out about being an ally. So please don’t go telling people I think it’s okay to be trans, all right?
- That’s a nice idea and all, but you know this isn’t DC, right?
- You sure talk about being trans a lot. Like, aren’t you happy just being a man?
- You might have a hard time finding a job here, because you’re overqualified. You know, that happens to men.
- What was your old name?
- Do you know the pregnant man?
- Hey, did you hear the pregnant man is getting divorced?
- Did you make that baby with Susanne?
- Does it bother you that your baby isn’t related to you?
- Why do all trans men have such crazy facial hair?
- Do you mourn the old you?
- Do you ever think about going back to being a woman?
- I was just wondering, do you have phantom breast sensations?
- Hey, do you know <<INSERT FAMOUS TRANS PERSON’S NAME HERE>>?
- Does it feel weird to take your shirt off in the pool?
- I understand how hard it is to find a doctor in town. My mom had <<INSERT DISEASE HERE>> and she had to drive to Seattle to find a specialist.
- Is it like, totally weird living in a small town?
- Are you interested in giving the newspaper an interview about being trans in Walla Walla?
Walla Walla’s Washington State Senator, Mike Hewitt, is not known in progressive circles for being a friend to the queers. Trans people aren’t even on his radar. His office caused a ruckus in the blogosphere (a.k.a. The Huffington Post in this case) when some as-yet-unnamed staffer told an angry caller that gays should “grow their own food” if, under his co-sponsored bill, any business owner decided to deny service to LGBT people because of “a sincerely held belief.” The “grow their own food” was apparently an option if any LGBT person living in a rural area with few grocery stores (as is actually the case in large swaths of Washington State) was denied as a customer by store owners.
Of course this was an angry caller from Seattle, not Hewitt’s district. Of course this was a stupid off-the-cuff remark from the staff member, not the Senator himself. And to further contextualize things, this Senate Bill 5927 is in response to a florist from a nearby city who refused to serve a couple looking to get gay married. She is now being sued. But that’s the point of anti-discrimination statutes. A florist is not a church. And flowers seem unimportant–as in, they’re not food–but even small moments of ignorance and bigotry cast wide ripples. For SB 5927 doesn’t limit lawsuits, it opens the floodgates for any individual with a product or service to refuse access, solely on the basis of dislike. It’s a total negation of including sexual orientation as a protected category in the state, setting up a hierarchy of communities based on which ones have unstoppered protection and which ones fall under this proposed law’s exception.
Certainly this isn’t the first time some sort of “philosophical” exception has made its way into the laws of the land. Extreme right-wing organizations actively recruit close-minded people into medicine and pharmacy now in order to have more “soldiers” on the front lines of the battle over reproductive rights in order to use their “sincerely held beliefs” to say they won’t supply Plan B to women, or offer pregnancy termination when it’s requested (or hey, needed). There is now so much room around these moral objections that the very notion that any of us in the general public finds these exceptions problematic is itself an assault on religious freedom. Read More…
At first I wasn’t sure that what I was hearing existed in the outside world. It could have been an echo of a dream, or a misinterpretation of a real sound by a sleepy, 5AM brain.
And then it happened again. And again. I strained to figure out the identity of the sound. My mind compared it, I suppose, to every other sound that came in striking distance of this one. It was a rap. No. It was a wham. No. The sound, skipping like a record player but slower, was somehow tamped down. It had multiple parts that chimed at once–it was like a sharp thud. What the hell is a sharp thud? How could anything sound like that?
When deconstructing a sound, there is complexity. The start of the sound, the middle (this is optional) and the finish. Every sound pushes against air, creates something from nothing and then travels out in all available directions until a fraction of that creation reaches our ears, where it is funneled down to our eardrums. And then when our tiniest bones rattle our experienced brains quickly sort through our dendrite-supported memory and label those sound waves. A dog barking. Glass shattering. A soda can opening. There may be individual differences among those canines, windows, and pops, but they’re similar enough that it doesn’t take us very long to assess and categorize what we hear. All things being equal, of course.
But here I was, the clock relaying the early hour to me, and the sound. The sound. The sound.
It’s unusual for someone in their 40s to hear a completely brand new wave. (Ha. I wrote new wave.) And yet, I couldn’t place this on listening alone. So I got up–clad in boxers and a faded t-shirt. My hair was pillow-conformed. I forgot my eyeglasses on the bedside table, so I wasn’t great at seeing anything in front of me, either. (Rookie mistake.) I stood in the dining room, swaying a little, waiting for the next eruption. Read More…
Let’s pretend violence is incomprehensible. Let’s pretend that the problem with guns isn’t about a lack of background checks or the extreme availability of weapons but with crazed madmen and an unabridged desire to kill people. Let’s pretend there is no relationship between NRA public relations and gun lobbying on Capitol Hill and the fact that Congress refuses to change gun laws even though 92 percent of Americans want to see universal background checks.
Let’s pretend that bombing the finish line of a marathon is a great time to check to make sure that Tagg Romney is okay. Let’s pretend that the well funded news machine isn’t in competition with people’s photos posted on Twitter and Instagram. Let’s pretend that it’s okay to put out any garbage about the calamity still happening in Beantown and call it news–unchecked, unverified, unconnected with any journalistic integrity. Let’s pretend that social media doesn’t morph into one huge trigger for the survivors of 9/11, Newtown, Aurora, the London Underground, or the Madrid bombings. Let’s pretend though that the sight of blood on the sidewalk in those Twitter photos is even more gruesome to American viewers because our regular news is so sanitized, while bombings are a near-daily occurrence in places all over the world.
Let’s pretend that we’re not about to descend into politicized name-calling from both parties about Patriot Day and intelligence failures and President Obama’s failures as a leader. Let’s pretend that there won’t be spotlighted Senate hearings at taxpayer expense to examine how bombs could go off on US soil while we were celebrating achievement and American exceptionalism. Let’s pretend we’ll have a helpful conversation about violence and what fuels such anger among some people that they would take to calculating explosions at a sporting event. Let’s pretend those conversations will get us anywhere better as a people.
Let’s pretend this will never happen again. Let’s pretend we can avoid telling our kids about what happened today, lest their worlds be interrupted by bombs and selfishness and dismemberment and bloody shards of glass. Let’s pretend we have some hope of healing and not descending into finger-pointing and a series of cruel memes on the Internet.
Let’s pretend it’s yesterday, or the day before PanAm 103 exploded in the air over Scotland. Let’s pretend we can stay in the 5 minutes after we woke up this morning where all we were thinking about was our first cup of coffee and the lovely feeling of hot water streaming out of the shower. Let’s pretend we can turn off news of this tragedy and just look out at the spring day and the tulips across the street even if all we can muster is a weak smile.
Let’s pretend these families will find solace and recovery and strength from their communities, and when they lobby their elected leaders to improve the lives of the rest of us, that we listen to them because they earned their position of advocacy in the hardest way.
Let’s pretend to be a country with interest in each other.
And maybe then we can move on to someplace new.
Last winter, after a 2-year analysis of whether they should lift their policy excluding gay scouts and scout leaders, the Boy Scouts organization declared that the ban would stay in place, and then backtracked a little to take up the issue again in the summer of 2013. Sorry, boy scouts in America, your leaders are more invested in protecting your parents’ archaic judgmental attitudes about sexual orientation, at the expense of your potential future happiness and self-worth.
Worse, I would argue it’s going to leave you more vulnerable in the case of a zombie attack. Here’s why.
1. Their promises–Both groups have similar core mission statements that they make, though the Boy Scouts call it an “oath” and the Girl Scouts a “promise.” Boy Scouts also swear to be “morally straight,” meaning they’ll have strong character and live their lives with honesty. Go Girl Scouts, who won’t waste energy ensuring they’re justified in defending themselves, can just orchestrate a response to a mass invasion and get on with it.
2. The Girl Scouts’ Inclusivity–Beyond the feel-goodness of multiculturalism, there is the strength in having a diversity of experience on the table when a community needs to take action or set policy. If social positionality affects our lived reality, and if we are capable of learning from our experiences, then the Girl Scouts’ history helps them here. Admitting girls (and scout leaders) of all racial and ethnic heritages, sexual orientations, and gender identities ensures they’ll have a broader base of experience to bring to moments of crisis. And in a zombie apocalypse, they’ll need all the help they can get. Read More…
My older sister Kathy has always loved the “It’s a Small World After All” ride at Disney World. Every time we’ve gone to the theme park she gets giddy while she’s standing in line for the ride, gesticulating with gusto, talking in between squealing giggles like she’s transported her emotional self back to age 11. When we’re locked into our slow-moving seats the waterworks starts for her, somewhere between the smiling children from Holland and the colorful children from Africa. For me the ride is three notches above the moldy animatronics of Chuck E. Cheese, but for Kathy, it’s a gateway to our connectedness on Planet Earth. Every. Single. Time. For one quadriplegic rider at DisneyLand, however, getting stuck on the ride for eight hours was enough to sue the company. I don’t think even my dear Kathy would want to be subjected to the ear worm for eight hours straight. Everyone else got off of the broken ride, but Disney had no evacuation procedures in place for individuals with mobility issues. And whoever thought that sending Mickey and Minnie Mouse over to him to perform while he was stuck has lost their sense of perspective.
I find life like a broken, singing roller coaster a lot of the time, these days anyway. Is my family in town this week? Are we hosting a guest? Do I have a deadline to meet? Has the baby discovered a new activity that could destroy our house? Is the car still working? Fortunately for us there’s not a single simple tune playing in the background through all of this, nor a series of wooden Stepfordesque children smiling an endless smile in our general direction. Read More…
I’m in airports a lot these days. A lot a lot. Getting anywhere from Eastern Washington, in the age of regional carriers means lots of legs to get to my final destination, making air travel something of an airport crawl without the really good beer. I’ve been stuck in Salt Lake Airport on Christmas, stranded in Minneapolis multiple times due to weather or mechanical trouble, on the tarmac in Spokane waiting for an overbooked deicer to get to our plane, and of course there was that time in San Francisco when we were told we’d missed our flight even though it was an hour until takeoff. I continue to stand by my United boycott after that bull hockey. Still, as the 14-hour drive home from SFO pointed out, flying is faster than ground travel. And because I often have faraway places to go (I mean, seriously, everything is far from Walla Walla), I wind up spending copious hours of time in airports. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the more time I spend in airports, the greater the opportunity for unusual things to happen to me while I’m there. Read More…