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The Rhetoric of Trans According to Popular Culture

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide and violence toward trans people.

This week the Williams Institute at UCLA released further analysis from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted a couple of years ago with the National Task Force (formerly NGLTF). The point of analysis? Transgender suicide attempts, which the survey found had occurred in forty-one percent of the more than 6,000 responses. This would mean that suicide ideation—thinking about suicide or considering suicide—would be even higher (but these data weren’t captured in the survey itself). The Williams Institute analysts, Ann Haas, Philip Rogers, and Jody Herman (a dear friend of mine), looked at other correlations in the data in order to find any drivers for suicide attempts. You can read their full analysis at the link above.

In the context of this month’s completely inappropriate article in Grantland.com, in which an aspiring sportswriter outed a trans woman and in which that outing led to her suicide, it was declared by Bill Simmons, Grantland’s Editor-in-Chief, that they should have known better than to run the article in part because trans people have “an appallingly high rate of suicide.” I would argue that these carefully analyzed data show the reverse emphasis to be true—that transpeople are exposed to repeated instances of rejection, alienation, harassment, threats, and violence, and that suicidal ideation and attempts are a direct consequence of such stress. In other words, transgender and gender non-conforming people suffer from an appallingly high rate of abuse, including invasive journalism, as it turns out.

Given these data, I feel compelled to trace out some of the narratives and rhetoric around transition and about the trans community that lend to this sense of disrespect, vulnerability, and hopelessness. Read More…

An Open Letter to America

IMG_5181I don’t understand us humans. No really, I don’t get it. Maybe I’m getting dumber in my middle age, but it could be that we really have stopped making sense. If Emile texted me while I was in a movie theater, I would totally text him back. And I would expect not to get shot just because I told my kid “hi” while I was away. Why can’t we have a respectful conversation about guns and gun control? Why don’t the rank and file NRA members stand up and say, enough is enough, there has to be a way to balance our Second Amendment rights and public safety? And why are we so unwilling to admit our mistakes and where our public policies have gone wrong? We agreed to make legal opiates available to the general public (in the form of Oxycontin and Percoset, etc.) knowing that some percentage of people would become addicted to them, and disabuse ourselves of a comprehensive program to help them out of addiction?

Why are we so willing to throw away people after they’ve made mistakes, imprisoning heroin and pot users, or devaluing individuals, like telling poor people we won’t give them food stamps, telling poor kids they should have to work for that free breakfast at school? Why didn’t we pass a background check law last year when 90 percent of Americans wanted it? Why are we okay when a natural gas company contaminates the drinking water for 300,000 people in West Virginia? Why are we not talking about the shooting of schoolchildren in Sandy Hook after Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, asked us to have a one-year moratorium which is now over? Why did we even have to entertain the notion of armed guards at every school in America? Read More…

Not All Opinions Are Equal

Credit: Amnesty International

Credit: Amnesty International

There, I said it. Of course, this itself is an opinion. But give me the honor of a clarification first, and then we can debate the premise of my argument.

While it may be ethical to treat all people equally, provide equal access to resources, equal responsibility under the law, and equal opportunity to basic human rights (which are all debatable concepts, I know), people’s behavior, ideas, and attitudes are not in an of themselves equal. For example:

I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-life.

These are not equal sentiments, even if they are held in equal strength of passion by the individuals espousing each one. Yes, they are opposed, but the definitions of each of these stances makes them unequal to each other. One opinion allows for women to make their own choices with regard to their health and their lives. The other opinion holds that because life begins at some point before one’s birth, that women do not have the prerogative to make any “choices” once they become pregnant, and sometimes it means that women should not have the prerogative even to prevent unwanted pregnancy itself. Thus the effect of these opinions is to approve or denounce specific rights for women. Read More…

Best and Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2013

BeyonceTwo weeks until 2013 is in the dust bin with all of the other expired calendars from years past. So much has happened, including a drawn-out government shutdown, the death of Nelson Mandela, and the Lady Gaga/Muppets Christmas special, among other low points. On the bright side we’ve also witnessed the breakout hit Orange is the New Black, Wendy Davis’s filibustering prowess, and a thrilling conclusion (or even a conclusion) to Breaking Bad. It’s been a year of oh…forget it, don’t let me descend into platitudes. Here’s my best and worst list for the year.

Best Stuff

New Kickass Women in Congress—Yes, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren were elected at the end of 2012, but they took office this year. And already they’ve gotten involved in issues that have been twisting in the legislative wind for years now.  They sent a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services to end the ban on gay men donating blood. They’ve also taken on big, systemic issues, maybe most notably with Senator Baldwin co-sponsoring a bill to end to phone tapping by the NSA, and Senator Warren tackling banking regulation, the lack of which got us into the 2008 financial crisis. They’re happy to let us think that this Congress is unable to get anything done, because that’s just when they’ll squeak through urgent changes under the radar. Read More…

What’s Wrong with Transgasm.org

UPDATE: Jody and Buck have ended Transgasm before it even started, due to pushback from the trans communities. On their site they now call people with critiques full of “hate.” My question is, if Transgasm couldn’t last one week under pressure, what was this project really about?

Somewhere between the endless Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, health care reform, and frequent trans community infighting, it had to happen. I mean, it couldn’t go on forever that the huge disparity in supply and demand for gender identity-related surgeries didn’t motivate someone to come up with a scheme touted as the solution to all of our troubles. Yes, there have been top surgery parties for years, and the swath of crowdsourcing applications seems to continue unabated, but these are at the initiative of the person seeking a surgical procedure. On Friday last week, Buck Angel and Jody Rose launched Transgasm.org, which sounds like a porn venture, but has nothing to do with the “gasm” spectrum.

Transgasm markets itself as a positivist campaign to fund trans-related surgeries. From their site:

Transgasm.org is an organization that will fully fund surgeries in the FTM and MTF transsexual communities and help to create income for the transsexual community, its supporters, and for anyone else who identifies the way they choose to identify.

Still following?

Putting aside the conflict and issues with definitions like “transsexual” and “the way they choose to identify,” there are some clear points in the sentence. Things like “fully fund” and “organization” are specific terms, even if “anyone” and “create income” are not. And the vagueness in the FAQ for the site, which is supposed to be the page where questions are clarified, winds up being real cause for concern. Here are the issues I have with Transgasm.org: Read More…

Misunderstanding Pro-Choice

Last year I went to the 31st Annual Walla Walla Wine Auction to benefit the regional Planned Parenthood, and was amazed at how much fun it was. Every year they have a theme (last year’s was the speakeasy), and the Marcus Whitman Hotel is transformed for the occasion. Grafting a live auction with wine is a brilliant stroke, because as one’s inhibitions plummet with all of the tastings (there are more than 30 wineries pouring their product there), the number of bids one puts in on the silent and live auction items rockets. When we came to the 6-bottles of Leonetti cabernet sauvignon in 2012, I kept my paddle in the air, thinking I was bidding someone else up, and instead won the wine. This year I knew better, darn it. Also Susanne looked at the ready to grab my arm and get our purse strings out of any melee. I admit I was also excited because this year’s theme was all about a steampunk version of the wild west, and I was curious to see if people would dress up beyond finding a pair of driving goggles and sticking them on a cowboy hat.

WWofW LogoOnce again we weren’t disappointed with the decorations—the line in was drawn by a hitching post, flanked by a building that read “Jail,” and then we walked under a gate to the trading post, where the wines were in mid-pour. I waved at two of the people I knew working for wineries in the first room, then took a look at the wines assembled for the “cork pulls.” Thirty bucks got donors a grab at the bucket of corks, which corresponded to the bottles on the display. It was a less fancy display than last year, but I saw some great wines on the table. Susanne has great luck with these, and in a flash, she had won a magnum from Dunham Cellars. I pulled a rose. I hate rose. But it will make someone happy at a future gathering, I guess.

We wandered around and found our favorite wineries, me sipping the tastes with our friend Leah, Susanne sniffing at the glasses and snagging a few things from a long table of charcuterie. Then we looked at the silent auction items, promising ourselves that we’d limit our household to two items. We made a bid on two magnums from Rotie (a northern and a southern blend), and another magnum from Waters—Forgotten Hills. I sampled popcorn made with nitro-infused flavors, watched a chef carve meat off of a whole pig, shook hands with folks I knew, and sashayed up to a wall of ice that held tiny bites of seafood. I love you, seafood wall. I’ll see you again, someday. Read More…

What the Hell Is Wrong with This Country (Part II)

Primary school government classes in the United States explain the ideals of representative government—that our democracy supports the election of (often ordinary) people who then keep access open to their constituents so that the needs in their local districts and states will have a voice in the voting body. Unfortunately, in many districts, this is not really how elections and governing operate anymore. Consider:

  1. From The Campaign Finance Institute

    From The Campaign Finance Institute

    Congressional elections averaged $1.4M for House elections in 2010 and and more than $1.5M in 2012. Senate races averaged nearly $9M in 2010 and more than $10.3M in 2012. The total cost for all congressional races for the 2014 midterm elections is estimated to run $3.5B. That’s billion. These extreme costs narrow the possibilities of who can run for seats, limiting elections to well networked or party-sponsored individuals, the independently wealthy, or people running on a cause that garners a lot of grassroots support. (See Table at the right.)

  2. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United has put a lot more money from organizations and corporations into elections, even local-level campaigns. Between 527 groups, PACs and SuperPACs, even small congressional districts see a lot of monetary input, often from groups outside of the state or district in contest. If candidate fundraising doesn’t come from kissing babies and shaking constituents’ hands anymore, then…
  3. Issues taken up by office holders may reflect the priorities of big donors and organizations rather than the general public. At the least there is evidence that so much corporate money spent in SuperPACs has been used to wage negative campaigns against the presumed opponent (SuperPACs are not allowed to raise money for a particular candidate). Thus candidates now must raise money to get their messages out and to defend against the negative campaigns from 527s and SuperPACs (hence the rapid rise in average campaign costs). Read More…

The Watchers and Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis screen capture filibusterThis news out of Texas was quickly supplanted by the SCOTUS decisions around marriage equality today, the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman trial, and somehow, by continued coverage of Paula Deen’s racism. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the 11-hour filibuster by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis because it was a moment that perhaps can give us some lessons to remember for future political battles—which will inevitably will come our way. Or say, next month.

1. The filibuster was well planned and executed—Wendy had several things going for her, including a thick binder of germane content to read on the floor of the chamber, testimony from women that had not been allowed during earlier hearings on SB5, a Web page collecting more on-point testimony, and apparently, a big old Depends undergarment. She also had clearly prepped on the rules of the Senate filibuster allowances, and while she was abruptly ended by the Senate President for getting off-topic, talking about how SB5 would harmfully interact with an earlier passed law on sonograms was arguably still germane to the discussion. Dr. Gunter outlines the argument why that’s the case. But that she held the floor so long, despite extreme bending of the Senate’s rules on the part of the GOP supermajority makes this moment a prime example of successful governance. Big-ticket issues like a woman’s right to choose should be filibuster material, especially when the stakes are the closure of 37 out of 42 abortion-providing clinics in a state with 26 million people. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 1)

I call myself a humorist. I make a piss-poor trade in identifying the funny stuff in the midst of garbage, sadness, strife, etc. I find humor to be life-saving, especially when it bubbles up in the midst of a gender transition, say. So I went into the jury summons process with an eye toward spotting the bits of funny. And somewhat paradoxically, the criminal justice system, even in the tiny universe of Walla Walla, has its side-splitting moments and instances that are absolutely chilling.

jury duty ecardIt started with a perforated postcard in the mail, back in early April, saying I was on the docket for June 2013. Walla Walla’s Superior Court uses a system in which jurors need to be on call to make an appearance on any given date during the month. Opening up the sealed card, one will find a short questionnaire which is supposed to be mailed back to the court right away. It tells the court if there are dates one can’t serve (I said I’d be out of town after a certain date in June), if one is or is not a United States citizen (Susanne gets out of all her jury duty for being Canadian), a resident of the county, and older than 18. It asks if one can read, speak, and write in English (illiterates need not apply?), and asks things about whether one is currently employed, and if so, what kind of work it is. There were other things on there, but I’ve forgotten them. Read More…

Responses to Random Comments from Others

Let the inner monologue begin.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. What was your old name? Buy the book to find out.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Did you make that baby with Susanne? Let me refer you to WebMD.
  13. 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.
  14. Why do all trans men have such crazy facial hair? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.
  15. Do you mourn the old you? No, but I mourn the loss of knowing you before you asked that dumbass question.
  16. 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.
  17. I was just wondering, do you have phantom breast sensations? Tell me, do you have phantom intelligence sensations?
  18. Hey, do you know <<INSERT FAMOUS TRANS PERSON’S NAME HERE>>? Yes/No/We just hung out last night! How’d you know?
  19. 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?
  20. 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.
  21. Is it like, totally weird living in a small town? Why, does nobody ask you how weird your city is?
  22. 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.

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