Thursday, February 28, 2008

And Then There Were None?

Another Life Lost

When will it end? I borrowed the title of the famed Agatha Christie novel because it's beginning to feel that way right now. I learned this morning of another murder of a young transgender soul. This was Adolphus Simmons. The death is slowly coming to light. It occurred over a month ago in North Charleston, South Carolina. Adolphus was shot several times as he took out the trash from his apartment. And like the shooting of Larry King, the alleged shooter is quite young. Additional arrests involving a 19 year old and another 15 year old have been made.

In the story, Adolphus is described as being well-liked by neighbors and friends, even if he was a bit different. He is described as a gay male who wore women's clothing and styles. I don't know if this is an attempt at denying his existence as a transperson or not. Frequently media, with the complicity of family members, don't include a transgender's name, only the "past" identity. It is rather demeaning to be denied your existence even in your death.

By my count, this is the sixth...the SIXTH...transgender murder in 2008 and there's yet another day to go before we exit February. The average in the United States over the past several years has been around one transgender murder per month. It's even been a little less than that the past couple of years. In just two months, we've tripled that average. I most sincerely pray it doesn't continue.

The 19 year old that was arrested, Jackuez Witherspoon, charged as an accessory after the fact. Police say he tried to conceal the assailant's identity. What is troublesome is that his minister came rushing to his defense, "He was around the corner with some boys and they heard shots and ran over to see what happened," Rev. Clary Samuels said. "He's a good boy. I can vouch for him. I don't know how he got pulled into this." Witherspoon is also a suspect in the break-in of Adolphus's apartment earlier in the month. My guess is that Witherspoon isn't an innocent as the minister suggests. I hope I am wrong. I also hope I am wrong about my gut feeling regarding Rev. Samuels.

I wish I had met Adolphus. He was described as jovial, a jokester, always laughing, someone who wanted to pick up your spirits. Those are the people I would like to know, not the moralists who preach that Adolphus and me and all those with non-conforming gender presentations are of no value.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sometimes It Is Hard

Why Him and Not Me?

I read a story this week about Kaing Guek Eav (or Khang Khek Iue according to Wikipedia), who is now 66. He who was a leading torturer of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that terrorized Cambodia at the end of the 1970's. Known as "Comrade Duch", he facilitated the torture and murder of thousands of people at Tuol Sleng, a former high school converted to serve his heinous purpose now a museum establish to always remember the cruelty committed there.

"Duch" is now on trial for his complicity in the regime and this story tells of his return to Tuol Sleng and how he fell to his knees is tears and prayer as he toured his home of horror. The story then mentions that "Duch" is now a Christian.

For four years, the Khmer Rouge killed, tortured or forced into deplorably harsh slavery people they considered to be "enemies". This included professionals, intellectuals, anyone connected with the former government, suspect agents of other countries, ethic Chinese or Vietnamese trapped in the country, Muslims, Buddhist monks and yes Christians. Oh yeah, LGB and T people, too. In all, nearly two million people lost their lives. The Oscar winning movie "The Killing Fields", is a vivid, true depiction of that incredibly horrible time.

I am glad that "Duch" is finally facing justice. I am also glad that he has experienced a profound changed in his once black heart. This is, in fact, part of the Christian belief...the concept of powerful transformation of the soul.

What bothers me, though, is that somewhere, someone - a Christian or a Christian church - had to accept this murderer into their care to minister the Christian way to him. I'd be willing to bet that there are those who would hold up his conversion as testament to God's power to forgive, to transform, to love. But why him and not me?

I have killed no one. I have tortured no one. I have done my utmost to lead and live a responsible, caring and involved life. And yet in so many thousands - millions - of Christian homes, I would not be welcome, I would be - and am - specifically excluded. There are those that will suggest that I will be headed to Hell in eternity, but because "Duch" has somehow magically made his atonement that he will find the Pearly Gates open.

This is the part of Christianity - my faith - that I don't understand. I must accept "Duch" now as a Christian. In fact, I must Welcome him. Sometimes it's hard.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembering Lost Lives

For Larry, Ian and Cameron

Tonight I attended a vigil to remember the life of Larry King,
the young gay/transgender 15 year old murdered by a classmate
in Oxnard on February 12th. Some of thehigh schoolers here in
Kansas City organized the event held at a very caring church,
Broadway Church. If I were to need a second faith home, this
engaging congregation would be my choice.

I was humbled by the endeavor undertaken by our youth and I was
embarrassed to stand with them as it is my generation that has
failed them. We must remember that Larry's murderer, a 14 year
old, had to have been taught this hate, this fear, this
disregard for someone unlike himself to have acted in such a
violent manner. For that, I apologize to the youth of my
community. It will be up to them to take on Larry's courage,
the courage he had to be openly gay and wear makeup and heels,
to work for the end of such hatred.

And as we added Larry's name to that of Brandon Teena, Gwen
Araujo and Matthew Shepard, all young lives cut so tragically
short, but now not forgotten, I recalled two other transgender
youth whose lives ended within the last few months and whose
names you are likely not familiar. They both died at their
own hands - but to me this only reflects the pain inflicted
upon them by our society's continuing harrangue for those
who are different.

The first is Ian Benson, a 16 year old who had wonderful
family support. His mother is a founder of TransYouth Family
Advocates. His suicide was seemingly a surprise, he left no
note of explanation. But we've all felt the overt condemnation
- and thus it is no surprise. TYFA has now started the Ian
Benson Project and the Amethyst Ribbon Campaign to raise funds
and awareness for transgender youth who are at an alarmingly
high risk for suicide.

The other is Cameron McWilliams. Cameron lived in South
Yorkshire, England where support for transgenders is about
on par with that here in the United States. According to
Cameron's mother, he had been interested in girls things for
most of his life. He was quiet, shy and mostly a loner with
few friends. Caught once wearing some of his half-sisters
clothing, the harrassing began. His mother did by him some
girls panties to wear underneath his outwardly male clothing.
But he recently pressed for more - to wear makeup, to be a girl.
His mother, who had little knowledge of her child's true needs,
declined the plea. Last week, Cameron was found hanged in his

Cameron was only 10 years old.

It may take a village to raise our children, but it is
that same village that is killing some of them, be it by the
hands of others or the actions of themselves. We can no longer
afford to fail our youth. We can only hope our youth will do
better than we have.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Not a Dis

On Being Used to Demean Others

I don't know when this happened, but it has now become commonplace to question someone's gender identity as a means to debase or discredit them. I first came across this with some liberals questioning the gender status of conservative harpy Ann Coulter. Now, I'll make it clear, I am no fan of her politics or her methods of expressing those views. But I've read commentaries on the anonymous blogosphere that suggest she is transgender. I've even seen a picture with a highlight window focused on her throat - ostensibly pointing out an "Adam's Apple", which, for most women is not prominent while is it usually very prominent for men, hence "Adam" and not "Eve's" apple.

Why is this a dis? Why is my existence so horrible as to suggest something inherently wrong or evil or whatever as to be of value as a measure of something deplorable in someone else? And it's not just liberals ranking on Coulter. I have also read the same thing offered by conservatives aimed at Hillary Clinton during this presidential race. Again, this isn't a question of politics, I'm not particularly fond of Mrs. Clinton either. But it is frustrating that it seems like the "perfect" slam, particularly on a woman, to suggest or joke that she is transgender. Ha, Ha, Ha...that was a "good one"!! Why?

Neither Ms. Coulter nor Mrs. Clinton are transgender. And neither is Lisa Jeynes, a British model who participated in the reality television production Big Brother 4 in 2003. The program places strangers together into a large living arrangement, then week by week one or two is eliminated by the others, a format that is at the basis of Survivor, The Great Race, Apprentice, etc. It seems that as part of the build up to the fourth season of Big Brother, there was "rumor" that one of the participants was a transgender. Interesting that the automatic assumption was that it was one of the women.

She sued a British publication - many of whom put the New York Post to shame for outrageousness - Love It! because they "quote" her as having her "fake boobs" falling out on a date with one of the other participants. They also called her a "geezer", a term I don't think connotes gender identity issues. Against the backdrop of the transgender rumor, she felt this meant they were labeling her as trans. Now her suit was tossed out by the courts - they cited it was a big stretch to take that comment and tie it to being labeled as a tranny - but the point remains why would this be "libelous" in the first place?

I guess in some ways I should be complimented many people find one, two or all three of these women attractive. And this, I guess, demonstrates that people are becoming more aware of transgenders, which is also an improvement from years past. But by being used as a "dis" its obvious there is much more education to be done.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Opportunity or Tokenism?

The Other Side of Inclusiveness

This is one of those essays where I need to "think" out loud. But this has been bugging me for the past month or so, spawned by three invitations to participate with LGB and T efforts. There was a commonality to those invitations. They wanted "a" transgender involved. "A"? As in One? And Only?

Now, I'll be honest in acknowledging that I am truly honored to be someone who has been sought out to join these efforts - all three are most noble and needed. I did join two of the efforts - one an advisory council, the other a temporary situation on updating a inclusiveness statement. And I really would have like to have been involved in the third one, I think the effort is one where much good can be done for the LGB and T community, but I needed to put a limit somewhere to what I can take on.

And I'll acknowledge that Transgenders are clearly the minority within the minority. There just isn't that many of us, and thus those of us who can or do serve community needs are in high demand. Organizations that say they are "LGBT" are realizing that they need to have a T component to their boards, councils and staff. I also understand that many transgenders wish nothing more than to disappear into their new life, but it further reduces the number of those who are getting involved. Yet more need to come forward.

I have long admired those who perservered in the pursuit of justice and equality. The thought that I could do such work never really presented itself until after I transitioned. But I'm getting tired, I'm getting burned out, I simply can't be a "professional tranny"....I, too, wish to sometimes simply disappear into my life.