Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ministry of Sheila

Lessons Lived

We had to put her to rest last week. Medication had severely damaged her kidneys. She had not eaten for two weeks, hadn't held any food down for nearly three. I held her head in my hand, gently caressing her, as it quietly dropped into permanent peace.

The beginning of her life was filled with abuse and neglect. We never knew her actual age, the shelter which saved her estimated between five and nine. At the very least she'd spent five years in the company of people who either didn't care....or worse. This was a soul that had every reason to be wary - even vengeful - of humans. And she wasn't anything of the sort.

The day we visited the shelter, she was in the first kennel to our right. We were there to visit a couple of other dogs - she seemed too old. Yet she quickly came to the front of her run, seemingly smiling to see us. My wife bent down to give her a quick pet through the chainlink to say "Hi". We moved on to the other pens, one other border collie we wanted to see was horribly aloof and hyperactive at the same time. Probably not a good choice for us. The rhodesian ridgeback, was courteous enough, but seemed disinterested in us the second we left. And as we moved about, there was Sheila, still at the front of her pen, still watching us with a glint of hope in her eyes and that seeming smile still there.

So we went back to her. The note on her pen door indicated she might be younger than what the website had listed. That gave us a little more thought about her. But it was those eyes, that smile, that melted away any concerns about her age. We took her to the back area for a little play. She would run between us - though she had a bit of a labored gait to her. She responded to our calls, she was eager to engage us both. And so it was that we finally realized that it was she who was adopting us, not we who were adopting her.

She was painfully shy that first day at home. She wouldn't enter a new room unless I entered first and called her in as if to give her permission. Just what was her life like before? Most dogs are eager to scour and sniff every corner of every room in a new surrounding. Sheila acted as if ultimate doom would ensue by just being in the house, let alone exploring it. Then it was another hour before she would venture to the main floor of our split level home. Was upstairs even more of a taboo?

Baths were a challenge. She was so spooked of the bathroom that she wouldn't even enter the room. She could get within a whisker of touching the lineoleum or tile without actually making contact. We had to chase her around the house, pick her up and plop her into the tub just for a bath. But with care she learned to love baths, she would come running as soon as I would start the water in the tub. A rather remarkable change, based in her faith in us to do her no harm.

And that is the point of this entry, Sheila's faith...her ministry. The first time my wife laid down on the floor with her and gently petted her, Sheila would ever so delicately touch her paw onto my wife's nose to encourage more caresses. A dog has claws that can tear flesh, yet she was so careful as to not cause a scratch let alone a gash. Why didn't she feel anger toward humans? Why didn't she feel fear from humans? I'd like to think that she had innately the soul we all profess to have as Christians. She was at ease, willing to engage, even embrace her tormentors, she was indeed a messenger of Peace. She lived by example, if only we could all do the same.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pretty Pathetic If You Ask Me

The Internecine Tranny Wars

The cancerous division caused by the betrayal of trangenders in the ENDA vote last fall continues to spread. Only the cancer is eating our own more and more each day.

Clearly the Human Righ*s Campaign's decision to back a non-inclusive ENDA was the catalyst for a lot of transphobia within the LGB part of the LGB/T community to come to the fore. Some of the most egregious things written about transgenders were from some of the LGB blogs and publication editorials. HRC's maneuver gave authenticity to others to also cast the transgenders overboard. So it is no surprise the hurt and anger continues to fester for many transgenders. The next question though is "What now?".

For some, it is baying at the moon, calling for boycotts, challenging everything that is touched - nay, tainted - by the long reach of the HRC. For some, it is trying to figure out how best to re-engage HRC into a better acceptance and advocacy of our lives.

But for the past week or so, the transblogosphere has been engaged in a terrible maelstrom of who is "right" who is "wrong" who is a "sellout" who is "real" who is "wimpy" and the like. Unfortunately the commentary hasn't always been polite, sometimes involving profanity and needless personal attacks. And it has involved many noteworthy transgender leaders - Donna Rose, Monica Helms, Marti Abernathy, Vanessa Edwards Foster among the more prominent. All are transgender people of note, of character and of achievement. For each there is must esteem sincerely earned for their endeavors to improve the condition of transpeople.

In a way, all of them are right - yet each has made their own contribution to the nastiness, the divisiveness and the rancor. Its embarrassing to read and is certainly discouraging to local people simply trying to do their best for the sisters and brothers in their communities. If the "big" people can't get along, why should us "little" people dare to try to get involved. And I've seen that happen.

Yes, HRC is to be fairly taken to task for abandoning part of its avowed constituency. As a former Union steward and negotiation team member, I know the importance of staying together, of not providing for the "many" if a few - or even one - is left out. As a former coach of girl's fastpitch softball, I steadfastly held to the notion that winning and losing was a team result. The hero that hits the winning home run in the final inning only got there because of the work of her teammates. The player who drops the fly ball allowing the winning run to score and beat us was put into that position by the collective effort of the team to that point. I feel I speak with honesty and integrity about sticking together.

But much like the terrorists of the World Trade Centers in 2001, we are letting HRC's betrayal have a lingering and more deleterious effect on our community than their initial stab in the back could have ever done by itself, after all let's face, ENDA still isn't law now is it? Post 9-11 we have lost privacies and freedoms and protections all in the name of "security". We've lost our moral compass allowing our government to invade countries not involved in the heinous attack and allowed that government to torture people in our name. And we've done so - at least in the collective majority - willingly.

Let us as the transgender community not delve into that same fear and willingness to abandon our principles and civility only because someone else did it to us first.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Gathering in New Orleans

Many Stories, One Voice

It was three years ago this past week that my wife and I arrived in Kansas City, she anxious to begin a new, exciting job, me having jettisoned a lifelong career in radio broadcasting for something I knew not what - but somehow sensed the move would be good for me as well. Who knew????

As we arrived, there were a lot of things on our To Do List - the most pressing was finding permanent housing after not one, but two offers had to be withdrawn due to poor inspections. Not on the list, not even as a footnote after the bottom, was locating a suitable church. I wrote earlier, I was not religiously engaged and had no plans to seek any spiritual home.

What an amazing journey it has been and now comes a trip to New Orleans after the Labor Day weekend to attend "Many Stories, One Voice" a broad, ecumenical LGBT faith gathering organized by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Institute for Welcoming Resources along with many co-sponsoring organization. And a special "pre-event" called "For Such a Time as This" has been organized for Transgender and Faith that will feature: Rev. Erin Swenson who tranisitioned in 1996 as an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA); Dr. Julie Nemecek who was fired by Spring Arbor University, a "Christian" college, when she tranisitioned in 2006; and Chris Paige, the founder of TransFaithOnline among others. I am excited at the chance to meet all three of them.

The main gathering will be keynoted by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu - what an honor it will be to hear him speak. The list of leaders and presenters is incredible, perhaps even too much - like a grand buffet in which everything looks wonderful, but you just don't have enough time or tummy to experience everything. But I'll try. High on my list will be the closing worship led by Bishop Yvette Flunder, the guiding light of City of Refuge Ministries in San Francisco which gave hope and a home to the Transcendence Gospel Choir.

The hotel reservations at a special rate are available through Monday, July 28th. If you decide to attend, I hope to meet you!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It's a Baby!

The New Addition to the Thomas Beatie Family

He caused such a stir, "The Pregnant Man". Chronicled by The Advocate, a ratings-busting appearance on Oprah. News now that Thomas Beatie has delivered a healthy child. Yay! And whew! Deliveries are usually a "whew", I know that was the case for both my daughters - even though one got instantly whisked away for treatment of a pneumothorax caused by a hole in one lung. Congratulations! And...well since you just gotta know...the baby is a Girl. That's always our first questions isn't it? Boy or Girl? Why should it matter? But it does.

Thomas' pregnancy caused a lot of discomfort in the transgender community and news of the Beatie Bouncing Baby continues to be noted with some disturbing commentary from transgender leaders, in particular Mara Keisling, the male-to-female head of the National Center for Transgender Equality and Jamison Green, the female-to-male author and advocate.

Both are quoted in this article from Salon.Com that suggests they’d both prefer that Thomas and his family simply disappear. Ms. Keisling is quoted:

"The media hasn't gotten a message yet that they ought to get a life," she snaps. [and]
"The only positive thing that's come out of this is that the Beaties get to have a baby,"

And in the same paragraph, Judith Halberstam, who is a gender theorist at the University of Southern California:

"I don't see this as a cause for celebration among transgendered people," Halberstam concurs. In fact, she's worried that Beatie's publicity may have endangered people's abilities to access hormones or sexual reassignment surgery. His story may allow doctors to point to him as an example of why such surgery isn't even necessary or advisable. "I don't see how this helps anybody except to publicize that [people like Beatie] exist," says Halberstam.

Jamison Green seems a bit more supportive, but not really:

Green, however, is slightly more enthusiastic, and believes the story will lead to some positive changes. For the time being, though, he thinks Beatie should stop focusing on the media and starting thinking about himself. "The best thing that Thomas Beatie can do for the trans community is live his life as honestly as he can, and worry about what his immediate neighbors think of him, and how successful he is in his local community." Green adds, "If people go back to accepting him as a man, that would be a big plus."

Well, there ya go folks - the truth about the trans "community" bared for all to see - even though you probably don't see it. So here goes Donna on an expository rant.

The hidden reality of the trans "community" is that we aren't as supportive of each other as many have you believe. There is a division between the transwomen and the transmen (notice it was MtF Keisling who held the more shrill commentary) and there is a division between those who have had surgery and those who have not and there is a division between those who are "passable" and those who are not and there is a division between those who are college educated and/or authors and those whose lives are much more common or spent continuing to live on the margins.

First, regarding Penn State/Harvard educated Ms. Keisling. In my opinion she completely misses the point - and has with some other issues regarding our individuality - the Beatie pregnancy isn't about our "community", its about Thomas and his wife living their lives as authentically unto themselves as THEY choose - PERIOD. This was one of the great mistakes, IMO, about the Feminist Movement of the 60's and 70's. Unless you cast off your bra, scraped the makeup off, wore jeans and held antagonistic chats with men, you weren't an "authentic" Feminist. For me, Feminism - and now Transgender existences - is about letting us MAKE OUR OWN DECISIONS, not blindly bending to the constraints of society.

If a woman CHOOSES to be June Cleaver that's fine by me. Of course, there were those who didn't understand WHY someone would "chose" that perfectly acceptable role in life, so they declared it wasn’t really a “choice”. In this situation, Thomas CHOSE to keep his reproductive abilities while it appears that both Keisling and Green would have preferred he bend to their constraints and definitions about what represents an "authentic" transman. If transgenders are challenging society's definition of male/female gender roles by simply accepting another definition (one imposed by the trans "community"), then we have gained absolutely nothing.

Our lives are, and should be, OURS to live according to our own sense of self and comfort. I live my life as I need, not as defined by or in the pursuit of the acceptance of Ms. Keisling, Mr. Green or anyone else for that matter.

As for Mr. Green's comment about "the best thing can do for the trans community is live his life as honestly as he can, and worry about what his immediate neighbors think of him, and how successful he is in his local community.", it sure looks like Mr. Green is trying to dictate by which Thomas must now live his life. Green, an author of his own story, should recognize his intent and should recognize the right that Thomas has to write (or publicize in his own way) his own story not leaving it to others.

Thomas owes nothing to the trans community - he owes everything to the people in his life, regardless of how he lives that life. There is this pervasive sense that transgenders "owe" something to the entire community as if it is a debt that must be somehow repaid. I certainly have great appreciation for those that made my path easier and Ms. Keisling and Mr. Green are among those that are, and will continue to be, among in that group, but I am not required to repay that "debt". That I choose to do so in my own, small way, is MY choice not a remittance of a bill like the one I receive each month from the local utility company.

Mr. Green concludes with ""If people go back to accepting him as a man, that would be a big plus.". It sure looks to me that Mr. Green is trying to stuff Thomas back into the closet - just a different one. Why must people "accept" Thomas as a "man"? Why can they, WE, simply accept him as "Thomas"? If we who transcend the concepts and barriers of gender in our daily lives are then inhibited by different concepts and barriers of gender, then we will not make any progress in our lives or in society.

Halberstam, an academic, seems to regard Thomas as something of an anomaly to be discarded or disregarded, except for the baseless declaration that his life will somehow destroy health care options for all transgenders everywhere. Pish posh. Worry more about the Zucker/Blanchard cabal and the upcoming revision of the DSM.

I think my own daughter said it best with an amazingly loving note she sent me last November following her attendance at her very first Transgender Day of Remembrance. She wrote: "You have a strength inside you that most can't even touch. You have faced your friends, your family, and your community and said, "This is who I am." You put yourself out there to be mocked, loved, ridiculed, but above all, you've put yourself out there. You stepped out of the shadows and have stood basking in the sun as your self--not the self so many others would have you be."

Wow..."not the self so many others would have you be". For Thomas I offer my genuine congratulations and I wish you and your family all the best. Live as YOU choose not as others would have you be, even if those "others" are also transgender people.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We Don't Exist

Not even in our Death

In her book "Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and in People", Dr. Joan Roughgarden offers:

“By looking at how the universal human rainbows of gender and sexuality fit into the social categories of other societies around the world and at other moments in history, we may glean some ideas about how our own institutions may function better….Instead, many are surprised to learn how wide spread homosexual and transgender expression are among the peoples of the world and throughout history. Indeed, we’ve never been told.

Indeed...we've never been told. And there are those that continue to deny our existence yet today. It is most tragic when we are denied our true selves even in our death.

The picture is of a lovely transgender woman, murdered this week in Memphis, Tennessee. Her body was found lying in a grassy area with a gunshot wound. The newspaper and television stories barely, or backhandedly, acknowledge her transgender existence. One headline reads "Man Dressed as Woman Found Dead near Daycare". The story mentions only the name of "Rodney Whitaker". My guess is that, as presenting in the picture above, she had a female name - so what is it? Why only refer to her as "Rodney"?

Another publication, "Out and About", a Tennessee LGB/T newspaper at least got the headline right - "Transgender Woman Murdered in Memphis" - but also referred only to a male name. One article in yet another cited that she sometimes used a different last name, not bothering to mention a possible different first name.

For a moment let's forget that the murder rate of transgender people is estimated by some to be twelve to fifteen times higher than the general population. For a moment let's forget that the rate of solving transgender murders - thus bringing their killer(s) to justice - is abominably low. For a moment - just one moment - could we at least provide us with the dignity of our existence even in our death?

Ms. Whitaker was 20.