Saturday, January 26, 2008

Planes, Trans and Automobiles

On Invisibility and Vulnerability

OK, admit it, you either read "Trains" in the title of this essay or you thought I'd made a typographical error. Gotcha! :-)

Part one of this entry concerns how invisible society places us, or how we place ourselves. People simply do not want to see us, want to know about us. We are fired from our jobs, disconnected from our families, abandoned by our friends and shunned by many religions. We do our best to "blend in" so that others don't "see" us, but it isn't always possible. "Passing" is a sad reality for transgenders, especially male-to-females.

As noted in an earlier essay, many of us prefer to go "stealth" in our lives. I'm not into forcing people to live their lives to my standards, but stealth transgenders, for me, acquiesce to these societal pressures and deny other transgenders a possible role model and deny the general society to actually "see" us. We are not ogres and monsters.

I also wonder just how much of the LGB part of the "community" wishes we were invisible as well. The non-gender ENDA flap exposed some very deeply help - maybe even widely held - transphobic sentiments with the other parts of the acronym. Recent attempts to patch things up indicate a continuing lack of respect, understanding or esteem for the T part.

Part two has to do with our legal identity. Most people don't understand that transgenders lose legal standing and rights in our country when they transition. For instance, a person cannot be discriminated against in employment if they are male or female. Yet it is perfectly legal in most of the country to discriminate - even terminate - those that must change from one to the other. How did that happen? Transitioning itself isn't illegal. Only those that commit crimes are denied some citizenship least that's what we learn in Civics classes.

As our nation progresses inexorably toward a national ID system, many transgenders will get caught in the middle. That means we would likely be prohibited from flying on passenger planes - our ID may not be suitable or complete. (Legal identification change is a complicated and qualified process, not an all-at-once design). Similarly we could likely be denied driver's licenses, or at least required automobile insurance.

Amazing isn't it? You do nothing illegal. In fact, you do precisely what the law says you can or should do. In fact, you do precisely what Medicine says you can or should do. And you become less of an American. I don't get it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Two Leaders, Two Friends Moving On

Thank You Matt Foreman and Keith Jennings

The LGB and T community this week is facing the loss of two key
leaders for equality, Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force and Keith Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight
Education Network (GLSEN) - both of whom announced their
resignations from their positions effective later this year.

In five years as the Executive Director of the Task Force, Foreman has
directed unprecedented growth for the organization, both in terms of
financial ability and in national esteem. The Task Force has done much,
through the Creating Change program, to empower and energize
advocates and activists on the local, regional and national levels. I'll also
include the fact that despite the name - which they are slowly morphing
into simply The Task Force - Foreman did understand and accept the T.
His was probably the most valued voice in opposition (quickly and firmly
expressed) to the Frank/HRC Dump The Trannies ENDA effort this fall.
Foreman will continue to work on behalf of the community as the head of
the Haas, Jr. Foundation, which according to the Task Forces' press
release provides more financial support to the community that is the
largest "non-gay" identified foundation in the nation. He will end his
time with the Task Force in April.

Jennings not only is the Executive Director of GLSEN, but also it's
founding spirit. GLSEN has done an outstanding job developing - and
fighting for - high school and college students to organize support clubs
at their educational institutions. Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA's)
continue to grow on campuses throughout the nation, despite frequently
encountering hostile administrators and/or parents. By law, GSA's
(which sometimes are forced to adopt non-identifiable titles) are
permitted at any school that accepts federal funds - which covers all
public schools and many private ones. Today there are over 3,700 such
clubs which help foster a more secure and safe atmosphere in which
LGB and T identified students may study and succeed. I think one of
the saddest statistics I've ever seen comes from the annual GLSEN
survey that said more than one in four LGB and T identified students
will skip school in the next month because they don't feel Safe from
physical harm. Jennings will end his service in August, he is not
specific about his future plans.

Both deserve our sincere gratitude for their outstanding work.
Both understand LGB AND T.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Truly Remarkable Story....

...that's, remarkably, True!

Of the many challenges Transgenders must face in their transition, the
last - and for some most important - is The Surgery. For those that need
to fully bring mind and body into harmony, this fulfills the lifelong
dream. One has already negotiated the outing process. One has already
negotiated the transition into the Real World. One has spent this last
year, or more, waiting for permission from their therapist and
psychologist to finally become congruent. And one has had to figure out
how to finance this life saving and life fulfilling journey - insurance is
of no help. Surgeons demand "cash on the barrel head" before performing
the task.

Some are fortunate enough to have resources to fund this outright. Most
scrimp and save, and max out credit cards, incurring a debt that can
sometimes linger for many years. Some have no means of ever being able to
afford it - and it is they who become at risk for self mutilation or self
destruction. Payment is a challenge usually borne alone.

Her name is Gayle. She had been in a very conservative part of her fairly
conservative faith denomination. I'm sure she had heard the voices of
condemnation, until she heard another voice. Her voice. "It's time."
You see Gayle wasn't always Gayle, she is transgender. And she has heard
the voice we all hear. "It's time."

Gayle is married with six children who range from elementary school to
college. She is a nurse. A steady, but not spectacular income. One that
provides for the family, but also offer no luxuries either. Gayle is
blessed with a loving spouse who is determined to remain with her. The
children, to her blessing, are also committed to their unique parent.
Gayle transitioned a year or so ago. Her Last Challenge, the surgery, is
scheduled in early June in Bangkok.

It is here, that this story begins.

Realizing the congregation to which she and her family belonged would
not be supportive, would certainly ostracize her and might even oust
her and her family, she reached out and was able to locate a more
inclusive congregation still within her faith denomination which is
Community of Christ. Community of Christ accepts the Book of Mormon,
though they clearly distinguish themselves from the LDS church based
in Salt Lake. Most of the distinction is in polity, but there are some
theological variances as well.

For the most part, Gayle and her family have been well received at the
new congregation. A few knew Gayle prior to her transition. Most are
aware of their first transgender constituent. And it is through these
friends in fellowship that an act of kindness and love - a miracle if
you will - has been nurtured.

Knowing the financial strain facing Gayle and her family that will ensue
following the journey to Bangkok, several members of her congregation
have banded together with others from different congregations and
different faiths to raise gifts to help defray the costs of surgery,
travel, housing and lost income. The goal is $10,000. To date, $4,000
has already been collected, largely from the core members of the Friends.
I am sincerely honored to be one of the Friends.

In my seven years as a member of the transgender community, I've never
encountered such an effort for one of us. That this has been nurtured by
people of Faith, as an expression of their Fellowship, demonstrates not
only the Spirit of their Souls, but must be the work of the Spirit we call

This is Truly Remarkable.

Blessings to these Friends.
Blessings to Gayle and her family.
And Blessings to You today....

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Based on What?

Catholic Hospital Refuses Transgender Surgery

Reports from the Bay Area this week have detailed the situation faced by Charlene Hastings, a 57 year old transwoman who desired breast augmentation. She had engaged the services of a plastic surgeon, Dr. Leonard Gray, who was willing to provide the procedure, but the hospital to which he was affiliated, Seton Medical Center, balked.

Seton Medical Center is a Catholic institution run by the Daughters of Charity and they hold that providing any surgical procedure for a transgender is “against their religion”.

Now, I don’t want to get into a battle of beliefs, nor demean those beliefs expressed by the Catholic church – which is notoriously unfriendly to transgenders – or the hospital. But my question, as should be the question asked every time someone cites their faith for a reason for their actions, is “Based on What?”. In this case, where is it in the Bible that prohibits gender transformation?

The best argument that is usually offered is that 'God made you a Man' (or Woman) and that’s that! And yet, if you’ve perused and considered the Lessons offered through this blog, you will find that there is nothing in the Bible that says one can’t change, that the Bible is incomplete regarding gender and that there may even be citations for encouraging and supporting gender transition. In reality, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John relate narratives that are entirely about transformation.

Ms. Hastings has engaged the services of an attorney and is suing for discrimination. According to Kristina Wertz of Transgender Law Center, California law – which in general is the most supportive for gender identity or expression – allows religiously based medical facilities to deny abortion services, but there is no such “exemption” for denying transgender surgeries. And it should be noted that, in this case, this isn’t “The” surgery (i.e. Gender Reconstruction Surgery), which may also factor into the legalities.

What other procedures would Seton deny Ms. Hastings based on her status as a transgender woman? Probably not an appendectomy – that happens to anyone. But what about a mastectomy to deal with an estrogen-fed breast cancer - that isn't likely to occur to a male?

In a larger sense, I keep reading and hearing that phrase – “its against my religion”. When you hear that, ask the person, “based on what?” and wait for your answer. There is a lot in the Bible that we no longer follow. Most people have no idea what “their religion” truly says.