Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kinda P-oed

Two Stories

As someone who tries to advocate and educate about the transgender experience, I try my best to keep up to date with the new of and about our community. Sometimes it's not an easy read. Yesterday, two stories wound up in my news box that caused a lot of frustration and anger.

The first came out of Bulgaria via a story in Der Bild from Germany which reports that a murderer of a transwoman has received a seven-year sentence for causing that death:

"A 20-year-old Bulgarian man has received a seven-year sentence for killing a transvestite by stabbing him 40 times and smashing his head with a video recorder. The judge at the Hamburg court referred to the murder as an "absolute desire to exterminate", although he had "no motive". The man allegedly chased his 31-year-old victim through his apartment with a 30cm-long knife after an argument. He then started stabbing him, and when the body continued to move he smashed his head with a video recorder."

Seven years? Is that all our lives are worth? And "no motive"? I'll admit I'm not up on the nuances of Bulgarian law, but what is "no motive" when he chases her around the room, stabs her FORTY times and then bashes in her head with a video recorder. Don't think this is unusual or just some expression of prejudice from Bulgaria, these incredibly light sentences - if any is given at all - are also prevalent here in good ol' America as well. And don't think the brutality of this murder is anything unusual either - in fact, its quite typical. What is it about our lives that causes so much anger and violence? Sad.

The other story that got me down was from Illinois in which the state will apparently allow a transperson's birth certificate to be authoritatively changed only if their genital surgery was performed here in the United States. According to this story, the law that permits obtaining a corrected birth certificate was inaugurated in 1961, but four years ago an "administrative rule" changed the process to limit it to "Buy American" surgeries only. Again, WHAT?

Where a person has their surgery should have absolutely no bearing on this part of our transitional journey. Like the women in the story, I had my surgery in Thailand as well. The surgeons are talented, the care is professional, the cost is substantially less and most use a "one-step" process. Most surgeons in the United States do the surgery in two steps - a vaginoplasty, then three to six months later the labiaplasty. This is an unnecessary process in my view, increasing cost, travel issues and risk. So why would my surgery not count, but those done by surgeons here do? It's a bit reminiscent of the fallacy of the early estimates of the prevalence of transgender lives about thirty years ago. It was based on those who had "Buy American" surgeries only. Under that definition, I wouldn't be counted - and neither would those who, for their own legitimate reasons, do not have surgery.

I am thankful the ACLU of Illinois is aiding these women in their effort to gain authenticity. For what its worth, the ACLU has been most diligent in its efforts to obtain legal justice for transgender people. My local chapter aided a dear friend when she was arrested and jailed overnight for getting married.

Tomorrow will be another day, perhaps with some uplifting news from the transgender community - perhaps not. I just wish the difficult news wasn't so tragic or unnecessary.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

May I Have the Audacity to Hope?

President Obama's Inauguration Speech

There is no doubt, today is an historic day and a day in which I am truly proud to be an American. The inauguration of an African-American as our 44th President is an amazing thing to witness. I am truly moved to tears of joy this day. And yet.....

It has been a lesson learned first hand, as a transgender woman, that I am not always included. Political advocates have dropped me rather than carry me across the threshold of equal employment provisions. Social service groups have cast me aside rather than take me in from the cold - may sister Jennifer Gale now find warmth in the arms of Jesus. People of faith have not only suggested I have no place in God's house, but have built multimillion-dollar organizations to vilify me and my lesbian and gay brothers and sisters.

I heard your words today, Mr. President:

"The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that
all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

The emphasis on
all was yours spoken fully and forcefully. Does that include me? May I have the Audacity to Hope? Once bitten, twice shy am I. And its really more than once bitten.

Mine is a journey I wish upon no one. I followed the best advice of expert emotional therapeutic care. I did the same for physical medical assistance. I did everything by the book, and by the law. And I find a nation willing to let me be fired from my job, deny me my identity, take away the very rights and privileges conferred upon the people of our nation at birth that I had the audacity to believe would remain my heritage as I transitioned. Foolish me.

I do not seek sympathy or pity, I am genuinely happy and secure in who I am, who I have become and who I will always be. But I do seek justice and fairness and equality. Those are the very ideals upon which our nation was founded. Just give me the chance to continue participate fully in the richness and opportunity of the American experience. Show me I can have the Audacity to Hope. Does your "all" include me?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thoughts on the "hope" of 2009

Losing Focus

I attended a meeting at my church for our Open and Affirming Task Force. The group was established a few years ago as an outreach of the congregation's declaration in the late 90's to be Open and Affirming, which is the official declaration in the United Church of Christ for welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Its lain dormant the past couple of years at the church underwent a lengthy process to call a new pastor, and we've lost a few actively engaged members as a painful part of that process.

So the meeting was to re-energize the group. One issue for the coming year will be how to formally include transgender people into the original Open and Affirming declaration written about 15 years ago. Back then, we weren't on the radar screens of discernment. As the church's first openly transgender member, there's been a slight red-face about the lack of inclusion and we're finally getting around to resolving that. You can have as many guesses as you'd like as to who will be leading that subgroup.

The other big deal is the establishment of a Marriage Equity Defense Fund, which I guess we've had for awhile now. The fund is filled by using a portion of the fees charged non-members who use our church for their weddings. Like many churches, you don't need to be a member to host your wedding at our place. The imp in me adores the fact that we are using money from straight marriages (and this is disclosed to them) to help in the struggle for Marriage Equity for all. The activist in me is deeply disappointed.

Ever since the California Supreme Court ruled that limiting marriage to straight couples was an act of discrimination - which, of course, roused the fundamentalists into action again, which led to Proposition 8, which led to the historic - and extremely lamentable - vote to take away the rights of certain peoples - it seems like the entire focus of the LGB political machine as been on marriage only.

Now, I am all for Marriage Equity. I have a friend who was arrested and jailed for her marriage application, so this is an extremely serious matter for transgender people. Another transgender woman was arrested a few years ago, strip searched and demeaned by the local authorities in Leavenworth, Kansas. I don't know of any lesbian or gay people who have been jailed. And yet, my guess is that marriage is rather low on the needs, wants and priorities of the "T" constituency of "LGBT".

First, we CAN marry - and can marry anyone. It is only a matter of where we do so. Some states allow (or at least don't formally prohibit) me to marry a man, some (like Kansas) allow me to only marry a woman. Still, there are enough uncertanties involving marriage (am I still married?) that this would clear up some potential snags - and future arrests. But for many transgender people marriage is a luxury. We need jobs, we need medical care, we need safety, we need housing...we need simple equality in all aspects of citizenship in our country. It has amazed me that I can do something the law allows, following the best medical advice I can obtain, and somehow I lose legal standing in this "Land of the Free".

Yet, we remain the minority in the minority. The L's and, more specifically the G's, so vastly out number us - and many of them don't like us anyway - that it looks like all of our political eggs are lumped solely into the marriage basket.

What do I want?

1.) A fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) at the federal level. Let me keep the job at which I transition - after all I've already proven I can do the job. Let me fairly compete for any future job in which I am adequately qualified. Let me provide for myself and my family just like anyone else. Let me have the dignity that comes in this society with being self-sufficient. I am ready, willing and able to do so. Yes, there are many state and local jurisdictions that provide this fairness and I happen to live in one of those local jurisdictions. I also happen to live just two blocks away from that jurisdiction's city limits - where I could be legally fired or discriminated against. That doesn't make sense.

2.) Passage of The Matthew Shepard Act with meaningful punishments involved. The hate crimes statutes in my state are, according to one former prosecutor, largely a toothless tiger. As such, most prosecutors either won't file enhanced hate crime charges, or do so under federal laws - which exclude all of the LBGT community. These laws don't insulate anyone from becoming a victim due to their status, but it does send a powerful message to those who are thinking of engaging in those types of crimes. A person's safety is central to all that follows in life.

3.) Fully inclusive Anti-Bullying statutes for all of our schools. The annual surveys by the Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN) report that one in four LGB/T identified students will skip school within the next month because they do not feel safe from actual, physical harm. If we can't keep our children safe, we can't expect to be safe throughout our enitre lives.

At this point, I'll pause to point out that these first three issues would positively impact and improve the lives of ALL the "LGBT" community, not just some. And actually, they would provide coverage for all people regardless, as often straight and/or non-trans people are victimized because someone thinks they are gay or trans.

As for the T part only....

1.) GID reform. The inclusion of "Gender Identity Disorder" into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association has done more harm than good to our lives. I have been a bit cautious in finally coming to this conclusion, but I now most assuredly feel it is time to take our "mental illness" out of the DSM. Lamentably, the revision committee has already been empanelled for the upcoming DSM-V due in 2012 and its membership is stacked with people who have historically been less than supportive of caring and appropriate courses for helping us resolve our inner conflict. Worse, is that all health insurance companies, base their coverages on what is contained in the DSM. Which leads me to...

2.) Full health insurance reform. Cover our emotional therapeutic counseling. Cover our hormonal regimens. Cover our surgeries. And don't charge us extra for being transgender. I had an employer tell me that the individual health policy they would help underwrite for me would have cost a little less than $300 per month as a male, a little more than $300 per month as a female...but a whopping $525 per month as a transwoman. And I've already had my surgery!

3.) Repeal - or at least significant reform of - the Real ID Act. How can I lose citizenship status in this country for simply following medical protocol? Few people realize how negatively this law will impact them, trans or not. Bringing ALL of your legal idenfication documents into alignment sounds like a proper thing to do, but it can become a bureaucratic nightmare. With some states allowing "amended or corrected" birth certificates - but some not - then not all trans people will be able to live authentically in their current lives. With nearly all states who do allow for change requiring one be post-surgical, then the many who cannot or do not desire to have surgeries will be stuck as well. We've already seen Homeland Security out several trans people to their employers. Just ask Phyllis Frye.

4.) Nesting in with the Real ID act would be standardization of name and gender change laws. Currently this system is really in chaos - the processes are different not just state by state, but county by county. And there is too much latitude that permits judges to imperiously deny our applications. As long as we meet the basic level tests for a name change (essentially that we not be doing so to avoid criminal or civil court issues), this should be a rubber stamp.

The famed jazz singer Peggy Lee's last - and maybe most memorable - hit was "Is that all there is?". It seems to me that should now be the defacto theme song of the LGB political movement. Yes, Marriage Equity is important - as is repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act which has posed some impediments to trans people, too - but Marriage isn't the only, or even most important, battle to wage - not just for lesbians and gays and certainly not for the transgender.