Tag Archives: CeCe McDonald

2013, Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

DSC_0089I only wrote 75 blog posts in 2013 (well, 76 considering this one is on the last day), partly because parenthood and partly because I was working on so many other things. My second child is due to arrive on March 1, my second book sometime before that (wish I had a date, ahem), and life at work is full of advocacy, budgeting, negotiations, and paperwork. I’m pretending I’m not stuck in the middle of a new novel project, because I can’t really call it new anymore if I’ve been working on it since 2012. I joined a board of directors for a former prisoner transition program that was desperate for funding before it was awarded nearly a million dollars in a settlement with AT&T for price gouging. I continue to field calls from people looking for resources or lawyers or therapists or a shoulder to lean on, and I wish I was a better connector for them. I would love to find some new music, or find music in a new way because Spotify’s recommendations can only take a person so far.

I’m doing my best to fit into Walla Walla and its tiny machinations of power and prestige, but I still dream about relocating all of us to a more metropolitan area where I won’t want to squeeze every person of color I see on the street and where we can meet other people like us who aren’t also urgently trying to find a way to leave. I keep having the sense that I’m in the middle of something, which is better than feeling like I’m at the end, I suppose. Maybe this is what middle age is—the experience of the mud in the middle. When I was 23 and dirt poor and on the edge of eviction, I dreamed that twenty years from now I’ll have it all handled, I’ll own a house and have a well paying job, and instead my future hasn’t met those class aspirations. I do value stuff a bit differently these days, which is either by design or by cause of condition. I get so much time with Emile and I have no regrets about that. Read More…

Chelsea Comes Out, Internet Loses Its Mind

The individual sentenced to 35 years in Federal prison for leaking diplomatic telegrams has officially come out as trans this week. Chelsea Manning, at the very, very least, has had a hell of a week. As if there weren’t enough invective around her role in Wikileaks, a military counselor’s office where she formerly sought therapy released a private photo of her in a wig and makeup. Or rather, they leaked it and said it didn’t come from them. Now with Manning’s statement that she intends to start hormone therapy and requests people to use feminine pronouns for her, she has taken what little agency she has and reframed such images of her. I fear the nuances of this reframing, however, will be lost on the general public, who in the margins of mass media’s online article comment fields have brought out every little bit of transphobia they can muster.

Seriously. Never read the comments. Never.

We’ve also seen a number of stumbles from mainstream news outlets, including from the Today Show (and CNN, and The Guardian, and The New York Times) which I linked to earlier in this post. It may very well be that journalists want to make sure their readership understands that Bradley Manning and Chelsea Manning are the same person, but the AP has come up with half-decent guidelines for reporting on transfolk, so why can’t they just refer to those? It is not actually the case that “Bradley” Manning made an announcement about “his” gender identity, especially if we read the announcement itself.

Her name is Chelsea. HER name. And whatever we think of Pvt. Manning’s role in the Wikileaks scandal-thingy, it would be nice if we could leave her gender identity alone. But now of course popular culture and mainstream America’s weaknesses to understand difference will have a hard time parsing apart Ms. Manning’s new prisoner status, health care needs, traitor label, and so on, not to mention what this means for the average tax payer (I call it the “I have to pay for what?” syndrome). Whenever anyone enters into a direct relationship to state support—be it welfare, disability, the prison system, etc.—culture presumes that everyone not in that support system has a right to judge that individual. So on top of people’s comments related to leaking diplomatic cables and other not-public documents, on top of all of the invective around Manning’s trial and sentencing, and on top of the sensationalized imagery of an American soldier in lipstick, we now have Chelsea Manning making an open statement about her feelings for the rest of her life. It may be too much for our media, who love maintaining the facade of a polarized environment, to be able to let her move on in peace. And I’ll note with some irony that in the midst of our collective shock that Russia hates gay people, we never stop to ask ourselves where our limits are in supporting LGB—and especially T—people.

In any case, for today at least, there is one more famous trans person than Chaz Bono. But I don’t think the country will be watching her on Dancing with the Stars anytime soon, and I don’t expect to hear any news show talking head cheering her on for her quote-unquote bravery. Except maybe Rachel Maddow. But she’s a lesbian, so she doesn’t count.

NOTE: Chelsea has asked for letters to be sent to her in prison. She received a 35-year sentence. Individuals can get her correspondence address and the addresses of other trans and queer prisoners here.

UPDATE:  Pvt. Manning’s current address is—

Attn: PFC Bradley Manning
239 Sheridan Ave, Bldg 417
JBM-HH, VA 22211

You should use “Bradley” on the envelope and Chelsea in the letter itself, to ensure proper delivery and respect of her identity.

What the CeCe McDonald Sentencing Says to Me

Leslie and CeCeTurns out, the 41-month sentence that CeCe McDonald plead to this spring, at the dawn of her trial for second degree manslaughter in Minneapolis, was in fact her sentence today. That’s 3-and-a-half years or so, apparently because she pulled scissors out from her purse, while running away from an attacker, and held them in front of her while he fell against her. In his words to Ms. McDonald at her plea bargain, Judge Daniel Moreno stated that in introducing scissors into the altercation–which was not the first weapon brought into play, as she’d already been lacerated with a broken beer mug–“You realize. . . you endangered other lives.”

This is the kind of twist in logic that turns the criminal justice system into a sick Mobius strip where people on the margins can’t win. In an interview with PrettyQueer.com last month, Dean Spade remarked that once she came into contact with this system, the options for justice for CeCe McDonald were extremely limited or altogether absent. That the police looked at this case and made an arrest of Ms. McDonald over and against arresting the woman who sparked the attack in the first place, Molly Flaherty (who was finally arrested last month) is testament to the inadequacy of hate crimes law and the derangement of criminal investigative process. And we thought it was all like CSI. Read More…

Where Do We Go from Here? More Thoughts on CeCe McDonald’s Case

me holding the first DCTC banner on DCNow that I’ve settled down from most of my anger (trust me, there’s a lot still in here because her situation is so completely unjust), several other thoughts about what we can do as a community of gender non-conforming people have occurred to me. To paraphrase Leslie Feinberg from earlier this week, it is outstanding to see so many of us organized to support CeCe even against such massive institutions like criminal jurisprudence and the prison complex. For years now I’ve seen a small but growing voice articulating its concern about the annual Day of Remembrance–and it asks how we can come together to do proactive work in addition to mourning the violent losses of trans women and other trans-identified people. While we are outraged about CeCe’s forced “choice” to take a plea deal, we should also acknowledge that we’ve shown some measure of grassroots-created power against these corrupt systems. With collective power in mind, I humbly offer the following:

1. In your local community, organize a letter writing campaign for CeCe. Yes, people are writing letters to her now en masse. At some point in the next weeks or months, these will slow down to more of a trickle, in all likelihood. So schedule the letters among your group, so she is receiving mail not just this May but when autumn is approaching, through the holiday season, and at the anniversaries of her trial and sentencing. If we say we won’t forget CeCe, let’s set ourselves up for success on that promise. Next week I’m going to visit an LGBT youth group and I’ll bring along 50 blank cards and stamps. And markers. Dang, I love markers. Black and Pink has a list of LGBT prisoners who would love to have pen pals! Read More…

The Bigots Are Winning

I know there’s a space between us, sometimes in the realm of sliver, and other times a reaching chasm, but it persists no matter its degree in any one moment. You have questions for me, even if you read my memoir which attempted to answer most of them. Or maybe it feels like fascination because changing your gender is “just” something you can’t get your head around.

I admit it: on a day like today, I don’t care if you can’t find a way to understand my identity, or life, or choices. On a day like today I’m enraged.

Forget rose-colored glasses. I’m wearing goggles of red, and I’ve glued them to my face.

CeCe McDonald took a plea today–41 months in prison for stabbing a drugged up, Neo-Nazi with a documented history of violence, who was chasing her down the street after she’d been assaulted by him and several of his friends. During her statement to change her plea, in which she had to recount the events of that night in June, the judge explained condescendingly how it was unlawful of her to endanger the life of her attacker.

Now there’s a concept I have trouble understanding. I fail to comprehend what the legal course of action would have been.

Bumbling into Body Hair is dedicated to two people–a young trans man I’ve mentored and Tyra Hunter, a trans woman of color who was hit by a car in DC in 1995. When the EMTs arrived on the scene, they tended to her until they realized she was a preoperative transsexual. And then they laughed at her and made jokes instead of delivering care. She died at the scene.

What has society learned since Tyra’s death? What do we do differently?

Just this week a trans woman was cited and fined for using the women’s room. Certainly peeing in the street would have also been illegal. What are her options? I have been chased out of rest rooms (men’s and women’s), yelled at, and instructed not to use them. How? I can’t will away my bladder.

Why are we okay with making transsexual people illegal? Why is this so-called Christian nation so at ease with its incessant judgment about so many people? Do I blame the Puritans? Fox News? Grover Norquist? Planned Parenthood’s eugenics roots? I can’t shake my fists in enough places.

I’m tired of being agreeable, of playing the diplomat. I’m on my reserve tank of patience for this completely unhelpful argument between transsexual separatists and people who use “transgender” as an umbrella term for all gender non-conforming people. While we squabble with each other, CeCe sits in jail for defending her very existence. Does it matter to her trial or sentence how she personally identifies? Is the injustice she faces any more palatable if she calls herself one label or another?

The bigots are winning. Our representatives argue on Capitol Hill about who should receive tax cuts and which programs for poor people they should eliminate next. And our progressive front in those hallowed halls lets those conversations continue. When Republicans take to the opinion pages to say that they themselves are the problem for the bad sentiment and gridlock in Congress, I take notice.

Billionaires feel entitled to expand their already overwhelming fortunes, in the nastiest ways possible, to boot–Koch brothers destroy unions, multi-state lobbying groups like ALEC (funded in large part from those brothers) go after voting rights and public safety regulations; rich people behind NOM spend money across the country to fuel homophobia in the guise of “protecting” marriage. And the conversation about reproductive rights has spiraled down into anger at any woman who for any reason even wants to take the Pill.

It’s not surprising to me that such rampant misogyny against nontrans women includes more misogyny against trans women. But there are other intersections of hate at play that we haven’t even begun to unpack, and judging from the Tyra Hunter and CeCe McDonald cases (not to mention the scores of other people I could mention), those intersections have dire, disastrous consequences. We are so far past the point where we need to be pushing back against these hate mongers.

I do not believe that all conversations are equal. The pro-choice and anti-choice sides are not equal. The pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage sides are not equal. Pushing to extend civil rights and pushing to withhold them are not equal and opposing standards. Positions have substance, and substantively, positions have material effects. We can downplay them all we want, but they persist and contribute to a national mean-spiritedness, even within our own LGBT ranks.

I do not believe that Dan Savage should have a soap box he can stand on where he gets to call Bible-thumpers “pansy asses,” and tells people that it’s the blacks who brought about Prop 8 in California when he knows it not to be true, and tells people that the very conservative Attorney General in Washington State is really a female-to-male transsexual, and OMG that’s a reason for removing him from office. We must demand principled leadership of a civil rights agenda that is not geared for assimilating us into the institutions that hate us. We must look for coalitions with our sisters and brothers in other marginalized communities—for they also have queer and trans individuals, and we as LGBT people are diverse in every way possible.

I want to ask where we go from here, how we can best help CeCe, how we respond to the death upon death of trans women and men across America, and how we can work against the stereotypes that plague us (of men in dresses and girls pretending to be men, and all the confused people “in between”). When do we get our non-discrimination act? When do we get appropriate health care and insurance? When do we get more than lip service that we are deserving of civil rights?

When do we get enough respect from society that people will stop asking us invasive questions?

When do we get to just live our lives?

All my best thoughts to you, CeCe.

Justice of Opportunity

UPDATE: You can call Michael Freeman at 612-348-5540 and Marlene Senechal at 612-348-5561, the prosecutors in CeCe McDonald’s case. Tell them you are calling as a supporter of Ms. Chrishaun McDonald and are concerned about her case.

CeCe McDonald poster from RacialiciousThe United States tells its citizens and residents that it is a nation governed by the Rule of Law–that everyone is equal under the eyes of these laws, and that our system of jurisprudence and law protects us as individuals and collectively. And yet even laws that look simple on the surface; say–speeding on a roadway–are experienced very differently across intersections of race, class, gender, and gender identity. Does the driver receive a citation? A warning? Is the driver asked to exit the vehicle? Is the vehicle searched? Is the driver asked to prove citizenship or residency status? Does the driver’s ID match their gender presentation? Is the vehicle presumed to be street legal? What level of suspicion does the officer presume about the driver?

Laws, after all, are written by people, and people come to the act of writing laws with their own sets of intent and motivation. People also are fallible. How else to explain the state of Kansas’s overreaching to restrict voting rights based on some observed “need” for security, when there is next to no evidence that individuals cheat the voting system, nationally or in Kansas specifically? Or as Dr. Jen Gunter notes in her pro-choice blog, how do we explain the non-medical, non-scientific, non-rational laws written to restrict reproductive rights for women? Read More…

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