Friday, October 26, 2007

The Transgender Holiday

It's Halloween Time!

You may think that Halloween is all about ghosts and goblins and scary things in the night. (And please, let's spare the ultra-conservative rhetoric about this day). You may think that Halloween is all about tricks or treats. And you may think that Halloween is all about donning a costume and having a good time. And you would be right.

Except for the transgender though. For us, Halloween is a time when it becomes acceptable for us to openly, yet still very secretively, be who we really are.

I'm not talking about those who have transitioned. This is a most special day for those still very much living solely in their hearts, their thoughts and their dreams.

I wrote in an earlier essay about my trip to the Esprit Gala in Port Angeles, Washington in 2001 as the "second time" I had ever been myself in public. The first being a support group dinner with the Northwest Gender Alliance the month earlier - and that's a story for another time! In truth, my first time in public was at a Halloween party outside of McMinnville, Oregon in 1977.

My then wife had discovered some makeup under the driver's seat of my car one weekend while I was out of town. She knew it wasn't hers. And she was pretty certain I didn't have a mistress. The ensuing discussion was most 'interesting', but the end result was that I would occasionally get made up for some bedroom fun. And at the time, this was quite enjoyable - beyond the sex, which was fun as well. So it was that we came upon the chance to join my radio station co-workers for a Halloween party at the Flying M Ranch outside of the nearby small community of Yamhill.

The decision was that I would go as "her" and she would go as "me". I hated shaving, in fact I had trouble with ingrown hairs frequently, so I sported my usual scraggly beard. The plan was that I would carefully crop the whiskers, then we could affix them to my wife's face with spirit gum. We were about the same size, so wearing my suit and slacks and tie was not a problem. She actually looked pretty good! Most of my co-workers, and it was a small station so we knew all the spouses, partners and children, didn't recognize her.

I, of course, got to dress up! I already had a rather lengthy wig, but needed some quick breasts. I found some styrofoam balls at a local store, cut them in half and Voila! Not terribly realistic, but certainly rounder than what I had. I donned a long dress, did my makeup and away we went!

As it was night and my preparation took a little longer than anticipated - those damned fake nails - we barely got there through the twisty rural roads in time to join our friends. Most humorously, another of my co-workers had also come as a woman! Paul, however, still sported his beard and was built a bit like a linebacker. And his skill with makeup certainly wasn't as adept as mine - after all, I had been practicing for quite some time. I was 5'7" and weighed a svelte 125 pounds. I'm still 5'7". Paired next to Paul, I looked stunning! Well, maybe not quite that stunning. My makeup skills, truthfully, were rather rudimentary.

Yet, lo and behold, I got asked to dance by a guy I did not know that was with another group also enjoying the festivities. Wow...what fun! Eventually the evening ended and we faced the trip home. I hope none of the pictures of that night survive today. I really don't want to know the "truth" of my appearance. But in my memory, I was the Princess and I soaked in every minute.

Halloween offers a safe chance for the hidden transgender to be "real" for just one night. While none of my co-workers had a clue about my true feelings, they all let me be Me for that one night. No guilt. No recrimination. No condemnation. No unwanted questions.

Lest you get the idea that every guy who attends a Halloween party in a dress, or woman who wears a tie is secretly a "T", then remember my co-worker Paul. He remains in radio broadcasting today at a station not all that far away from where I live now. He is decidedly Paul, though I don't know if he's ever donned another dress for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Ugly Truth

Trans Community? What Community?

It's tough enough to out oneself, but to out your "community" is a bit more challenging. Yet, that is what this commentary is about. You probably learned to "put your best foot forward", to "put on a Happy Face", to hide your "dirty linen". But that hides the truth...and for the transgender community an Ugly Truth.

I'm often amused by that phrase anyway "community". When I transitioned, it's not like I got a card welcoming me to this "community" and explaining its rules. And all "communities" have rules. No one gave me the "agenda" that is so often derisively mentioned by naysayers. There is no monolith called Transgenders.

There are actually two Ugly Truths. The first is a self imposed hierarchy of acceptance within the trans community (I'll be polite and drop the quotation marks for awhile). This hierarchy is based upon where one falls on the gender identity spectrum. At the top of the charts is the Post-Op transgender. This is the highest of all trans life forms. Post-Ops are admired for their determination, their courage and their status. There is actually a subset to the Post-Ops caste which is based on who did your surgery...or where, since many travel to Thailand or other places outside North America.

The next rung on the Trans Hierarchy comes the Non-Op. These are people who have not had, and do not plan to have, genital surgery though they live fulltime in their needed gender role. And again there are two subsets. Those who cannot have the surgery due to economic or health reasons. It is easy to sympathize with a "Post-Op" who can't. The undergroup here are those who do not have the surgery by choice. They are happy with who they are regardless of genital appearances. Still, those on the higher rung look at this as a cop-out. After all, why would someone go this far and not "complete" the process? Answer: because it's not our journey, it is theirs.

This brings us to the Crossdresser. When I first started to locate chat rooms in which to find friends - and, yes, flirt a bit - I was frustrated when someone would mention that they were "just a crossdresser". Just? You ARE a crossdresser, nothing wrong with that. Yet, the higher ups view crossdressers as "wannabes" or pretenders or really trans but don't want to admit it. And since crossdressers have no need or impetus for body congruity, its suggested they are only "playing", whereas the Post-Op is Real. Hogwash. Crossdressers have found their peace on the Gender Journey by expressing themselves in this manner. The whole notion of Gender Identity issues is finding one's inner peace - not a peace prescribed or defined by others.

Of course, you can't have a hierarchy without the lowest of the low - the Transvestite, the one who wears frilly stuff for sex. See...even in the Trans Community, we can get all wiggy about someone else's sexual pursuits just like anyone else.

This High/Low status comes in a group that is, perhaps, one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Sad isn't it, that we then marginalize others within our group? And this hierarchy of Transgender has often caused rifts in various support groups, occasionally leading to their demise.

And there's a more recent schism within the "community" (thought I'd put the quotation marks back in for emphasis) - the issue of being Out or being Stealth. Stealth is the term applied to transgenders who try to live in their needed gender without telling anyone. "Passing" in the needed gender is critical to living stealth. Many transpeople struggle with passing. There are those who are Out - or who cannot live Stealth - who feel those living their lives quietly, below the radar, only serve to help foster the myths about transgenders. Afterall, if we are not "seen", how can we combat those misconceptions?

Thus, those who are Out deride those who are Stealth. Those who are Stealth chastise those who are Out - and who advocate for legal and social changes to benefit transgenders - fearing a backlash against all. I was personally amazed when I identified a situation in my home state that I felt should be changed. The change would help especially those in the Real Life Experience (that very vulnerable period in which we must live fulltime in our needed gender without the benefit of surgeries. I had engaged an ally in government who might be able to help facilitate the change. When I mentioned this to the local community, there was more than one who felt doing so might cause undue attention, and thus unwanted removal of the few "rights" we have.

Living stealth is increasingly difficult. Most current day background checks will yield former names used by an individual. Kinda hard to explain how "Ron" came up on "Donna's" background check. And the pending implementation of the Real ID act may actually out some who have been stealth for many years. It may also make life difficult for those who are Out, but still need to align all their personal documentation.

I don't know why we have this need to segregate, to marginalize those within our "community"...we have plenty of those who are from outside the group to do that for us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Songs of a Second Life

Lyrics Heard Through A New Heart

Early in my awakening, in the spring of 2001, I was able to attend a wonderful gathering of transgenders and crossdressers called Esprit Gala which is held annually in the unlikeliest of places, Port Angeles, Washington located at the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It was only the second time I'd been in the "real world" as Donna...and a life altering experience as well. It was truly where I was able to finally see myself, meet myself, experience who I truly was.

There are many activities that go along with the week's schedule. I'd scanned the program and had a pretty good idea of some classes I was planning to attend. Then I ran into my "Big Sister", Teri, whom I had met the month earlier at the support group dinner in Portland. "Have you signed up for Blue Monday?", she asked. "No, I was wondering what that was....", I said. "Honey, we all have to go back!". The conference would end on Sunday. Many sisters had experienced a difficult time on the Monday in which we would return to our other lives. Depressed. Sad. Blue.

I managed to avoid a Blue Monday. I hit the wall heading home that Sunday afternoon instead. I was listening to the radio when a song started up. I'd heard it plenty of times before, but frankly had never really listened to the lyrics. As the song continued, I heard the words. I felt the words. I cried. The song is "I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden. Now the song is clearly intended as a paean to "love at first sight", when a guy first spots a girl and is deeply smitten. Imagine, though, how these lyrics would impact the transgender woman who had just experienced her "first sight" of herself.....

"I Knew I Loved You"

Maybe it's intuition
But some things you just don't question
Like in your eyes
I see my future in an instant
and there it goes
I think I've found my best friend
I know that it might sound more than
a little crazy but I believe


I knew I loved you before I met you
I think I dreamed you into life
I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life

There's just no rhyme or reason
only this sense of completion
and in your eyes
I see the missing pieces
I'm searching for
I think I found my way home
I know that it might sound more than
a little crazy but I believe

[repeat chorus]

A thousand angels dance around you
I am complete now that I found you

[repeat chorus to fade]

Yes, I knew I loved me before I met me...but until I saw me, how would I would I feel? And yes, it does feel as though I was dreamed into life. For it was years upon years of dreams in which I had existed. Now I had become real. I was complete now that I'd found me.

The trip was nearly four hours, so there was yet another song that caused me to pull over and cry. It's "Don't Know Much" sung in a loving duet by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville. Once again, a moving storysong about two people in love who have nothing much except their love for one another as their foundation. In the context of the transgender, one who has finally seen herself, breathed on her own for the first time, the reflections, the implied struggles, the hoped for future expressed in the lyrics are extremely meaningful.

"Don't Know Much"

Look at this face
I know the years are showin'
Look at this life
I still don't know where its goin'

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

Look at these eyes
They've never seen what mattered
Look at these dreams
So beaten and so battered

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

So many questions
Still left unanswered
So much I've never broken through

And when I feel you near me
Sometimes I see so clearly
The only truth I've ever known
Is me and you

Look at this man
So blessed with inspiration
Look at this soul
Still searching for salvation

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be All I need to know

I was nearly 48 by the time I went to Esprit Gala. The years were showing on my face. And at this point as I looked at this life, I still didn't know where it was going. These eyes had never seen what mattered. There were still many questions unanswered. I was still a soul seeking salvation. I didn't know much, and yet I knew one thing. That I knew I loved (the new!) me. And that was All I Need to Know.

By the time I had returned to Portland, I knew that transitioning was where I wanted to do, needed to do. It would now only be a matter of how and when....not the lifelong dream of If.

The two songs are played much less frequently now. But when I do hear them, I pull the car over, stop surfing on the internet, stop whatever I'm doing. And cry. It's a good cry, a cry I hope I never lose.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Family Joy

It was the Thanksgiving weekend of 2001. I had asked my daughters to my house. This would be The Talk, the time had come for me to tell them who I am, who I would become. I was scared. I had gone over what might happen with my therapist a dozen times - both would continue to be with would reject me, the other wouldn't....the other would reject me, the first wouldn't (I used to call them the Salt and Pepper sisters to describe their frequent differences)....both would leave. I love my daughters dearly, so the thought of losing either or both was terrifying. And I had come out to just one other person so far.

Both knew something was up...but neither had a clue about what would come next. "I'm transgender", I said. And then proceeded to tell them what that meant, what I needed to do. It was no longer a question of What...but a decision as to When.

My oldest daughter was a puddle of tears. The younger daughter tried her best to be resolute, to try to understand, but I could see she was a puddle of tears inside her shell as well. And it was she who declaimed "but who will walk me down the aisle?", a reference to a traditional role for the Father. And I would no longer be their "father". As my oldest daughter would say later, "Dad, as Dad, is gone".

While both of them struggled to understand, both have continued to be in my life and for that I'm very thankful. that question. The answer is, it wasn't me. This past week, my youngest daughter got married to the wonderful man with whom she's been together for the past few years. And yes, I was invited to attend. I met the in-laws, a terrific family. We shared stories at the rehearsal dinner. I joined my daughter in her preparations along with the other bridesmaids and flower girls. The box containing my wrist corsage read "Bride's Other Mother". And we all cried. She was absolutely gorgeous.

As I said, I would not walk her down the aisle. That was done by her brother-in-law, who is married to her half sister, the eldest of the three girls. I was escorted by the minister to begin the procession. We were followed by the groom's mother, then my ex-wife (the girl's mother), my daughter's grandmother (ex-wife's mother), and then all the groomsmen and bridesmaids. The three flower girls, who were most darling, preceded the bride.

The ceremony was lovely - though plans to hold it outdoors were dashed by a persistent drizzle. The reception was a lot of fun. I was deeply privileged to take part, to simply witness this glorious day in my daughter's life.

Many transgenders lose family members. I am blessed with two amazing daughters. I cherish their love more than they may know. Now, two families have become one - and I am part of that new union. This is A Family Joy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What Now?

No Rose for HRC

One of my favorite lines from the movies is at the end of the film "The Candidate". The lead character, Bill McKay (Robert Redford), is an upstart and largely unknown Democratic challenger to the well-heeled and longtime incumbent Senator Jarmon (Don Porter). McKay's campaign catches wind and with the final push from his father, ex-Senator John McKay (Melvyn Douglas), he actually pulls off the upset.

In his hotel room, awaiting the election results, the final word is declared...he is the winner. And after months on the campaign trail, dozens of speeches and policy statements, he looks beseechingly to his campaign manager Lucas (Peter Boyle) and asks "What now?". Having never the initial thought of winning...and not having any time to consider that during the hectic campaign, the newly elected Senator was without a plan.

And that seems to be where things sit with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the recent attempt to remove Gender Identity from the bill's provisions and the waffling response of the Human Rights Campaign to the development outlined by Rep. Barney Frank - one of the bills original authors - and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Two things should be immediately noted: The vast majority of all other LGBT advocacy organizations roundly criticized and opposed the maneuver. And so did one of the bill's other sponsors, Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

News now that HRC's first and only openly transgender member of its board, Donna Rose, has resigned. You can read her detailed, impassioned letter here and a subsequent entry on her personal blog here. I would recommend reading her blog entries from September 29th through October 3rd. Actually, read the entry before the 29th and you get the idea that she was completely blindsided by the action of the HRC leadership.

What Now? At this point, HRC has no transgender presence on its Board of Directors, no transgender presence on the Foundation Board, no transgender presence on the Board of Governors and, to my knowledge, no transgender members on staff. Thus is the example from the "one of the largest and most successful political action committees in the country" (their words, not mine). This must be fixed.

What Now? As it turns out, taking Gender Identity and Expression out of ENDA may actually be more harmful to many gays and lesbians. Oft-times they are targeted not so much for their choice of partners, but there appearance as too "feminine" for gay men, or too "masculine" for lesbian women. And there was also a softening of language around the exception for religions, which may have rendered much of what was left riddled with loopholes and not protections. This must be fixed.

What Now? Unfortunately, transgenders face a challenging situation. If ENDA (trans inclusive) is offered to the House and is shot down, then we will be held "responsible" - that is the position that Rep. Frank and Speaker Pelosi have cast. It couldn't possibly be poor leadership and stewardship of the bill by Rep. Frank and Speaker Pelosi. And if they decide to hold back ENDA entirely, pending a more "willing" House, then transgenders again will be held "responsible" for the delay. And if ENDA (no trannies allowed) is offered and is defeated, then transgenders will be held "responsible" because of all the hoohaw we created. I have no clue as to how to fix this.

LGBT? GLBT? LGB and T? LGB or T? LGB no T? It's your choice.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I began this blog to talk about transgenderism and spirituality, but now I need to include politics. Fresh from the glow of passage of the Matthew Shepard Act in the Senate, comes the news from Rep. Barney Frank and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would be stripped of transgender inclusive language. It is their belief that with Gender Identity in the bill, it will not have enough support to pass the House. This is not the first time that the T has been thrown off the wagon to benefit the LGB. What is galling is that the Human Rights Campaign is supporting this maneuver.

I offer my Thanks to the many "LGB and T" organizations that have loudly decried this idea: PFLAG, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, National Stonewall Democrats, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO) and others. These organizations understand that "victory" at the expense of others is wrong. And especially since the political reality - the same "reality" leading Frank/Pelosi/HRC to remove Gender Identity - is that it won't work anyway.

Reality: President Bush will veto ENDA whether it includes Gender Identity or not. While there may be enough votes to pass ENDA (No Trannies Allowed), there are not enough to override the veto. There is the same concern about the Matthew Shepard Act - which Bush will have a harder time vetoing since it is buried in a war-machine spending bill. If he does veto this bill, any takers on whether transgenders will be taken out of this bill, too?

So to Speaker Pelosi and to Representative Frank - you've lost me as a loyal Democrat. I'm gone. For ANY Democratic candidate anywhere. I cannot trust you.

To HRC - I will now not support any of the LGB issues that do not pertain to me.

Marriage? I can marry anyone I want! That great bastion of idiocy, the state of Kansas, has a court ruling that says I can only marry a woman. Most other states say I can only marry a man.

Adoption? I've already raised my children, adoption is something that doesn't concern me, so why should I care about you?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I'm well past my days of possible military service. Frankly, I do not advocate military service for anyone, why should I care if you want to serve or not?

How can I ever expect HRC's support for issues that are transgender specific??????

I never asked that the T be tied to the LGB. It actually helps foster the prevailing stereotypes and mythologies about who the Transgender are. And isn't it curious that the T is always, always, at the end of the acronym - which is sometimes LGBT and sometimes GLBT? Makes it easier to cut us loose, I imagine....

I have many friends who are lesbian, gay or bi - my commentary is not directed personally at you. I know your hearts, I appreciate your loyalty. But the final reality is that the transgender "community" is too negligible to make a political impact on it's own. That takes People, Power or Money, we are short on all three. Righteousness or Justice has never succeeded in American politics. We need allies from all quarters, so when the leading LGB political organization in the country casts me aside, I get the message.