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The thing that drives me

Here There Be Puppets: My Experience as a Delegate to the 2016 Washington State Democratic Convention

I have voted in every election since I came of age in 1988, with one exception in 1989 because I didn’t file for my absentee ballot by the deadline and I couldn’t vote in New York State as a college student. I’d never really considered myself very into the Democratic Party per se, but I’ve voted for progressive and left-of-center candidates my whole adulthood. I can’t say I have a primary issue because in my mind they all vie for attention—reproductive rights are very important to me, but so is ending the death penalty (if I’m being honest I’m a prison abolitionist but there are no candidates calling for that), and so are trans civil and human rights, and then I’d really like to see a sea change on green energy investment. See what I did there? I hate the welfare reform passed in 1996, I hate the 1994 crime bill, and I think the Affordable Care Act fell far short of what we need for all humans in the United States to access the care we need, no matter our legal status or which identity categories apply to us. Friends have said I am “left of Chairman Mao,” and thus I recognize that I do not fully fit into any party’s platform.

13501624_1768465986772825_4679976232767497587_nThis year I decided to take the plunge and see what immersing myself into the Democratic Party would be like. I wasn’t excited because of the ruckus between the Clinton and Sanders camps, but I did support Hillary in 2008 and I did have to come around to Barack Obama, who has both delighted and significantly disappointed me (23,000 drone bombs just last year) since then. Still, I can remember needing to suck it up when Clinton conceded in 2008 and so I can sympathize with Sanders supporters now. It’s a difficult space in which to exist, especially after a primary as painful as this one has been. I’m ready to move on from the “Berners are all sexists” and the “Clinton supporters are not real progressives” reductivism of the past several months. Read More…

Orlando United Vigil in Walla Walla, June 15, 2016

This is the transcript of my piece said during the vigil.

IMG_1969I’m sorry. I’m sorry that 47 years since the Stonewall Inn riots, 43 years since being gay was no longer listed as a mental disorder, and 13 years since the Supreme Court decriminalized being gay, that this tragedy at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando has occurred. I’m sorry that in the many years since Brandon Teena’s murder and Matthew Shepard’s murder and since Tyra Hunter was refused life-saving medical care, we are here tonight, mourning the loss of so many good people. I’m sorry because I thought that after the AIDS crisis where tens of thousands of gay men passed away while our leaders made inappropriate jokes, that we were moving through the worst of this hatred for us. I thought that the quiet anti-discrimination legislation enacted by more than twenty states, and that seeing marriage equality become the law of the land meant we were entering an era of acceptance. I thought my generation would be the last to face disparate levels of depression, suicide, unemployment, and harassment.

I was wrong. I am sorry.

I stand here tonight shocked—again—at how easy it seems to take away dozens of lives in the manner of a few minutes to a few hours. I stand here, wondering which of the hateful things I’ve heard over the past two decades may have lead to this moment. Was it the refusal by extremists to sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples? Was it the preacher who interprets scripture to mean that killing LGBT people is a holy mission? Was it the lawyer who argues that discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is simply an act of religious freedom? Was it the national organization that insists transgender people in bathrooms are a danger to the public and to our children? Was it the candidate who called immigrants rapists and refugees a threat to national security?

I am angry and inconsolable that people who expected they could be themselves in the confine of a nightclub, traditionally a space where LGBT people could find temporary sanctuary, died there. And yet we see triumph even in that hell—the mother who, dancing with her gay son, saved his life with a final gift by blocking bullets with her body. The Indian American former marine who helped 70 people survive by breaking open an exit door. The young Latino man who used a bandana to staunch a neck wound of his friend. Stories will continue to emerge about our strength in the midst of tremendous pain, and this is how I understand our collective journey.

All of us are stronger than hate. All of us are more resilient than a lobbying organization. We reject the false narrative of abomination and perversion and we embrace our pride, our community, and our shared journey.

We are determined. We insist on ending garbage pronouncements about what LGBT lives mean for our society or our morality. We are determined to make this world better for our youth. To our youngest LGBT members: your elders and your allies sincerely care about you. We see you and we know there is a lot of chaos and pain that comes your way. We are here for you, just as we are here to honor the people we have lost. We will find our way together, in solidarity. Peace to you all.

Vote NO on Initiative 1515!

Movement Study: Allies, Backlash, Meaning

In just the last two months we’ve gone from the hurried lawmaking that pushed through North Carolina’s HB2 that halted Charlotte’s city ordinance against discrimination of transgender people, to a moving speech by the Attorney General suing the Governor over the law. But just to recap, here is a quick overview of the moments between those points:

  • Wednesday, March 23: HB2 is introduced in the chamber, debated for approximately 90 minutes, voted on and passed, and that evening, signed into law by Gov. McCrory. [Eleven Democratic representatives voted for its passage; all of the Democratic senators walked out of the chamber refusing to vote at all, so it passed the senate chamber 32-0.]
  • Friday, March 25: The NBA releases a statement saying it may move future playoff games from the state if HB2 is not reversed or voided.
  • Monday, March 28: The ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality NC file a lawsuit on behalf of three transgender and queer people who are employed by the state government, against HB2. The Governor goes on local news outlets to support the new law.
  • Thursday, March 31: The list of businesses and organizations coming out against HB2 grows to more than 300.
  • Wednesday, May 4: The Department of Justice sends a letter to Gov. McCrory telling him not to enforce HB2 or face further action from the federal government. The letter gives North Carolina until Monday, May 9, to show it will not enforce the law.
  • Monday, May 9: The Governor’s office sues the DOJ, in North Carolina’s eastern district of Federal Court, insisting that its interpretation of “sex” (e.g., sex assigned at birth) is correct, and not the federal government’s interpretation (gender/sex identity and expression)
  • Monday, May 9, about six hours later: Attorney General Loretta Lynch and head of the Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta announced that they had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.

Much of Ms. Lynch’s remarks spelled out not just the legal foundation of the government’s case, but also the Obama Administration’s stance on ensuring civil rights for all transgender Americans, a series of sentences that had never been so clearly expressed in the history of any country towards the transgender community:

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself.  Some of you have lived freely for decades.  Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead.  But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that  we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.  Please know that history is on your side.  This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time.  It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.

There is much to unpack in this part of her statement, not the least of which is whether the rule of law is adequate to support an emancipatory or even radical politic for transgender people. I wouldn’t ever expect a federal institution to call for radical change, because that would be like expecting a snake to eat itself. What this statement does do, however, is make direct reference to earlier civil rights struggles, a tumultuous legal and social history that depending on one’s textbook, might not be covered in primary or secondary school. It’s a government looking at itself and its role in supporting all Americans, and in a polarized, political environment like we have right now, in which the Republican Senate leader can somehow decide to not do his constitutional duty to confirm a Supreme Court justice, in which all it takes is one senator to decide Flint residents shouldn’t get the federal emergency funding they need to remedy their catastrophic municipal water problem, and in which more than twenty states have come out with legislation that basically calls transgender women sexual predators despite all evidence to the contrary, such a statement is incredibly important. If we can agree that a law like HB2 puts trans people who are on the edge at risk of suicide and harassment, then what do we make of a statement, bald and assertively pronounced, that the government is standing behind those vulnerable people?

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 4.52.24 PM.pngI make of it that it is life-saving. I really do. I have known—I have been—people who needed a sign that they weren’t an incarnation of wrecked evil or humanity. That they, we, have a purpose. That being trans isn’t a horrible disease. That it can in fact, be wonderful, or mundane, or present us with fascinating opportunities, or help us become better people because we are more us.

It is a commonly held belief within the broad LGBT contingent that these anti-trans bills are an intentional backlash and attempt by the far right that is still licking its wounds over losing the same-sex marriage fight. It’s easy to call this fight intentional, as it is clearly financed by the same organizations that fueled the push against marriage equality. And while the reactionary push against trans civil rights is well funded (even if it turns out to ultimately be futile), several LGBT equality groups shut their doors after the SCOTUS ruling. This has left much of the support for trans rights to transgender groups and to non-LGBT allies who work on civil rights. But what work they’re doing—with today’s two events shoring up even more support for the trans community.

This morning, the Obama Administration made two announcements: first, the President sent a letter to every public school district in the country (wrap your mind around THAT mailing) that they must let transgender students use the rest room and locker room that comports with their gender identity, or face a revocation of federal education funding.

BOOM.

There are more than 14,000 school districts in the United States today.

The scale of that statement boggles my mind. But then later this morning, another declaration came out. The Administration directed health insurers across the country that they could no longer reject coverage for people simply because they are transgender.

CRASH.

Conservatives are ranting across hyperspace, in social media and on right-wing media outlets, but they do not have the force of law behind them. This ally work from the highest office in the land means something very important even if it is not revolutionary. It is still affirming, validating, critical, systemic, and a clear kick in the pants to the wave of legalized harassment that we’ve seen in the way of “religious freedom” and “bathroom bills.” It means something huge that the trans civil rights movement has had these broad statements made three times in three days, in a time when the top court in the federal system is missing a deliberator.

I cheer these moves from the President and his staff. And I turn to our allies within the LGBT coalition and say, what will you do now to help the trans community?

 

 

Quick Thoughts Regarding Our Political Morass, or Why the HRC Needs to Get into the Anti-Trans Legal Fight

1: It seems anathema to a supposed democracy that the death of one conservative should shift our nation’s highest court toward such a more liberal position. The consequences of the court’s rulings have such far-reaching effects it terrifies me a little that out of 300-plus million people in the US, the seating or not of a single jurist should make that much of a difference. Of course there’s a much larger judicial system underneath this court, and I understand that the rule of law has been designed with a final decision point of a supreme court, but given what it debates—civil rights, reproductive freedom, our basic rights to assemble and speak—Scalia’s presence or absence to tip the balance on these critical points is frightening. And so on this level I can understand the Republican Party’s fear that the court will liberalize away from their priorities. They should be afraid, as Scalia was holding together their agenda for the entire judiciary and it is not as easily rigged as say, their games with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Sir Lady Java holding a sign that reads, 2: We are so acclimated to fear tactics in general that it is simple to deploy them against transgender children and young people. In what other context could we watch grown men scream about the safety of women as if they are their priority and rant about the dangers posed to public safety from children themselves? The entire game would be exposed were it not for the hatred America holds toward trans women, gender nonconforming people, and queer people. And still I see this as a last gasp from the right to reassert control in a country where more and more areas have affirmatively voted in LGBT protections. They won’t give up without a fight, but trans people will ultimately prevail.

2a: However, the battle over trans bodies is certain to enact violence against gender nonconforming people who are more on the margins, like trans women of color, trans folks who live in poverty, trans elders, and trans youth, especially those dealing with primary and secondary education systems, where there is a judicial precedent for certain infringements into privacy and speech. There is a good reason why the spate of hateful anti-trans legislation targets students, because they are subject to things like locker searches without a warrant, to controls like detention and suspension, and they are under constant surveillance from adults who can easily control things like bathroom access.

2b: This is why I think the Human Rights Campaign needs to step up and take head-on the anti-trans hate wave. It sounds unreasonable at first, but think about it: they’ve already designed themselves to identify issues within the court system across the country, they’ve already amassed a team of lawyers who know how to write amicus briefs in their sleep, and they have just “completed” a decade-plus-long struggle to win marriage equality in the United States. They won. THEY WON. I and many people of my queer generation never thought we’d see legal same sex marriage, and yet, here it is, despite Justice Scalia’s protestations and rhetoric, no less. Further, the HRC owes transgender people a debt after their earlier resistance to including the trans community in the LGBT equal rights bill in Congress, a bill that has still not come back to debate in any meaningful way. HRC has the deep pockets to fund the push against anti-trans legislation, the knowledge of the adversaries, since they’re largely the same groups who funded the anti-equality marriage fight, and the national contacts. They ought to take this on, and they have to get rallied quickly because it won’t be that long before a number of states have bills, referenda, and laws to contend with as part of the general election. And yes, they need to get trans women and gender nonconforming people involved, at all tiers of their leadership.

3: We are losing al-Jazeera America and that is a shame because they took pains not to be an echo chamber for a major political party, and not to be as devoid of substance as say, CNN. Too many of our media outlets are slanted toward one or the other political pole, and this has become a real problem for understanding what is happening in this primary election cycle. We’ve walked away from the journalistic standards that structured how facts were identified apart from opinion for nearly a century, in deference to ratings and the constant stream of sound bites. Paris is bombed and the media vomits speculation as news. Trump says something ridiculous and reporters feed it to us as if it is anything other than garbage—it certainly isn’t presidential. Web sites pretending to be media outlets Photoshop pictures and reports about coin tosses and it takes an entire news cycle to parse the reality out of the fantasy. I’m not telling the kids to get off my lawn, but we need a reckoning here because our current international conglomerate owned news food chain is full of pulp and no substance, and it is hard enough figuring out what the consequences of each Representative seat’s election could mean for their constituents. We need a consumer-driven change to the industry.

 

 

The Anti-Trans Bathroom Bills Are the Real Abominations

I admit it, I don’t really care for testosterone. Oh, I like the secondary sex characteristics and all, though my beard twelve years into this whole exploration of identity is still sparse and a bit laughable. But I don’t care for the skittishness that comes with taking T on a regular basis, even if it is preferable to the monthly bouts of increasingly despondent depression that I had on estrogen. I can get okay with a stable mood, especially if I’m no longer paying for a Lexapro prescription, but in all honesty I’d prefer to need neither of the sex hormone alternatives. At 45 my ovaries are still cranking out a little bit of estrogren and progesterone, and I can tell when I’ve missed a T shot the same way I can tell between shades of blue on a topology map…because that’s how gradients work to show a shift from one degree to another.

It’s been an intense few months—the final gear up for Susanne’s tenure file to be delivered to the provost was drama-filled with the kind of pettiness people often ascribe to academics. Emile and Lucas adjusted to a half-day schedule at a local preschool after only knowing life with a part-time nanny in their own home (or hers). I waded full Monty into the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Expansion at work, trying to tie down new revenue streams for my nonprofit, even as I made slow headway on two book projects for which I supposedly dedicate ten hours a week. We made the hugely intelligent decision to stay home for the holidays so that gave us something of a breather, since holiday air travel is excruciating and expensive. Then this winter an old friend, a genuine, snarky, brilliant, generous, curmudgeon with emotional walls thicker than whatever Trump wants to put between us and Mexico, killed herself. I thought I would be better at handling her death, but I’ve been more on an emotional edge than I’d like to be. And whether I stay on top of my T shots or not, I keep thinking about her and all of the emotions that an unexpected, intentional death bring up. Thanks a lot, sex hormones, for not giving me any relief. Read More…

Getting Real on the Nonsense

Let’s say it occurs to you that you can’t make it in this world living as the sex you were born with. It could be a big revelation, or a series of small ones, or something else entirely, like a haunting doubt, for a few examples. And let’s presume that you need some degree of connection to other people (YMMV, I know), so at some point, if you decide to transition to somewhere else on the gender spectrum, you’ll probably come into contact with another human being who notices you look/sound/etc different than you were before, even though (and this is not always a given for people observing someone’s transition) you’re still the same you in like 97% of other aspects of your identity and corporealness.

Now you have to tell some stranger–either through the health care system, mental health system, or gray market drug retail system–that you want hormones.

And you have to consider how to deal with the following:
• changing your name(s)–which means getting a judge in a court to authorize this change, and running your name change in a newspaper so you can ensure people you’re not trying to get out of a debt
• changing your gender marker and name on your birth certificate–which means petitioning the vital statistics group in the state where you were born, which all have their own rules around when/how/if they’ll make such a change, and if you’ll get a “clean” new birth certificate or one that says “amended” (or if you’re from Ohio, for example, not getting a new BC at all for ANY reason, forever and ever amen) Read More…

We’re Talking About All of the Wrong Things

cartoon of calvin from calvin and hobbes arguing with a playmateWhen I was a teenager, I was impressed that my father read the newspaper every morning, listened to NPR in his car, and watched the evening news every night. He told me that keeping up on current events wasn’t just an interest but his civic duty. He didn’t use those words, but look, it was a long time ago and I’m left with just the takeaway if not the precise quote. Now my dad was born in 1928, a child through the Great Depression, and one year shy of getting to enlist and fight in World War II (he lied about his age and went to work as a postal carrier instead, and they were willing to take him because they needed people). Duty and attachment to our neighbors has certainly shifted from then until today, and barely anyone reads a newspaper anymore. Our media outlets have grown, merged, super-merged, and drifted from the journalistic standards once popularized by people like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. For example, Fox News broadcasts verifiably true stories only twenty-two percent of the time. Rachel Maddow is better, but not much, at thirty-eight percent.

But in addition to the truthiness of mainstream news outlets, we have a problem with how subjects and topics are framed. Take the recent letter by forty-seven Republican Senators to Iran’s leadership, suggesting that their ongoing negotiations with the United States (and several other countries) won’t be worth the paper it’s eventually signed on. The debate frame is set up around whether these Senators are traitors or patriots, whether they should be recalled or heralded. Clearly they’re not traitors, as they didn’t call for the overthrow of the United States, didn’t send classified information to a foreign government for same effect, and didn’t attack the United States. (They didn’t even violate the Logan Act, but that’s another issue.) Read More…

Empathy as a Radical Act

I didn’t post much to this blog in 2014, though I’m not much surprised given that it opened with a new baby, in addiction to our rambunctious toddler. I’ve mulled over a lot during the interim of the last ten months, including:

  • Our national inability to ameliorate gun violence through legislation, education, infrastructure, and community
  • Why we’re not having a nationwide conversation about police procedure and the role of police in the twenty-first century
  • How small civil rights strides for trans people could exacerbate an emerging hierarchy of care and support for trans people
  • How to support our queer and trans youth better

None of these issues have gone away, so I will spend quality time thinking and writing about them in 2015. I think my days of burger reviews and snarks against reality television (which is in a death spiral anyway) are over, at least for now. This year I’ve got to tie up my next memoir project and get moving again on two fiction projects. Blogging may continue to be on the sparse side, but I’ll make more than 44 posts this year, I’m sure. In the meantime:

It strikes me that in the context of deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of their respective local police forces, in the state-level pushes against welfare recipients, within the curtailing of reproductive rights that further restrict abortion, and that cut off insurance coverage for contraception, and in the effort to talk about the state of the US economy, we have already dug into our respective positions and are quite unwilling to listen to the perspectives of others. If there is a silent majority center in the US, it is extremely good at staying silent. In the meantime, we hear a lot of noise of folks at the ends of the political spectrum, and while we may believe in our own talking points in earnest, the other side thinks we are paying attention to the wrong message, that our evidence is full of errors, and that we’re too stupid to see the situation realistically.

I’m not asking everyone to go watch FoxNews and msnbc or crossover their favorite media sources to the presumed opposition. Rather, I’m wondering if we can find a way to disengage from the polarization of these hot button political issues, especially as the tug of war approach results in very little movement toward a new or caring society.

For example, in thinking about the very recent suicide of Leela Alcorn who posted her suicide note on her Tumblr account (which has since been taken down by her parents), it is easy to fall into a visceral hate for her family who according to Leelah dismissed her gender identity and were hostilely unsupportive of her to the point of forcing her into a trans conversion therapy program. Let me be clear: I agree with the American Psychological Association’s longtime stance (they passed a resolution against it in 1997) against the practice and stand by the mountain of evidence that shows such attempts at behavior and identity modification are ill-advised, harmful, and wholly ineffective at achieving their stated goals. Clearly, Leelah’s parents weren’t on board with her requests for transition support, socially or medically. But demonizing the parents belies a whole series of issues and ideas that bear some reflection, including:

  • How can an individual (a parent in this case) live with the cognitive dissonance between loving their child “unconditionally” as was stated by Leelah’s mother, and refusing with all of their ability, to fulfill that child’s repeated requests for support?
  • Why has Christianity become so popular as a rationale for explaining the world when it has such a long history of harming the people it is mandated to serve?
  • Why has the idea of “religious freedom” moved toward shutting down dissent and a diversity of opinions and people  in a country supposed founded on the twin freedoms religion and speech?
  • How can we work to liberalize Christian teachings to move communities of faith away from such bereft practices of isolation, shaming, and conversion and toward acceptance of young people, no matter their sexual orientation and gender identity?
  • Why do so many trans-identified people consider suicide early in their transition and what can we do at a personal, community, and infrastructure level to support them and minimize suicide?

Shouting at people, writing in all caps online, trolling religious right web sites—these may be laudable tactics for some, but I don’t see them changing minds. If we’re invested in progressive or radical change, it behooves us to think about what outcomes we want to see, and remember that for the majority of people, they are doing what they think is their best. We may not agree with them, but that’s how they go to sleep at the end of every day. If we are to truly communicate with people who are different from us, we will need to see the world at least a little from their perspective.

The Dos and Don’ts of Protesting

I’m not an expert on anything. I used to be a quasi-expert on usability analysis, and then I left the field and in the meantime, it emerged as its own real subject area with doctorate programs and certifications and I’m far enough back now that I’m not even in the dust. I write books, because I’m somewhat good with words, but I don’t consider myself an expert in writing, per se. I tend to take a commonsense approach to most topics, I try to get involved beyond the standard dabble when the issue resonates with me, and I’m no longer surprised that a Catholic girl raised to be a conservative republican has somehow become instead a progressive man who doesn’t attend any church. What I am pretty good at doing—though again, not an expert—is spotting contradictions in culture and rhetoric, and I think I owe my skill to some badass teachers from my youth, and my own tendency to complain.

marchflyerIIwebSo that said, I am not an expert on protesting. I don’t know the intellectual lexicon of the protest theorist, or whatever they call themselves (all due deference to protest theorists). I’ve been involved in organizing protests for twenty-two years, was taught specific protest tactics and de-escalation techniques by some of the women who invented them, and have personally taught three dozen people how to eat fire. I’ve gone to some of the biggest protests ever seen in Washington, DC, and been one of three people holding signs on a street corner when nobody else cared enough to show up. So along the way I’ve heard some things that are a kind of best practices regarding protests, namely: Read More…

How HRC Is Botching Its Apology to Trans People (Part 2)

feat-hrc-clickIn 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…

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