Making Faces.

MakingFacesfavA few months ago I talked about body shapes, and the gendered differences between them that lead us to conclude “That’s a man,” or “That’s a woman,” when we see someone for the first time. “Sexual dimorphism” is the technical term for these differences.

This time I’m going to talk about sexual dimorphism in faces, and what it means for transgender people. There’s more to talk about here, because the differences are less obvious until you get in close. Bodies are unsubtle in their shapes; faces are all subtlety.

I’m an expert at reading faces. We all are, unless we suffer from prosopagnosia (face blindness). Almost all of us have a powerful ability to distinguish one face from another. It’s probably humanity’s most amazing talent. Look at these two faces:

BenAffleckHenryCavill

It’s obvious these are two different faces. Most of you will recognize the individuals in these photos as movie stars Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck—or at least, since Affleck’s more famous, you’ll recognize that they’re Ben Affleck and someone else. The two co-starred in the same super-hero movie blockbuster this year.

There’s very little difference in looks between the two men. Both are Caucasian and have short dark hair. In these shots, both have a little stubble. Neither has a distinguishing scar or mole. They even both have clefts in their chins, although you can’t see Cavill’s very well in these shots. If you walked up to both men with a pair of calipers and a ruler, the dissimilarities you’d be able to document, before they pushed you away and called the police, would be measured in just millimeters, at most.

And yet, even when their characters weren’t in their iconic costumes, I’m certain no moviegoers had any trouble telling one from the other. It’s how we’re wired. Our brains devote significant processing power to the task of telling one face from another. Those tiny distinctions in shape and features add up to an enormous gulf in recognition.

You can test yourself on this ability. Go to imdb.com and look up the cast of a movie you’re familiar with. Even if you cover up the actors’ names on your screen, you’ll be able to identify most of them just going by the tiny thumbnail images of their faces. It’s really an astonishing ability. Those thumbnails are only a handful of pixels wide, and yet we can both tell the actors apart and usually identify them by name. It’s really an astonishing ability we have, when you think about it.

Martian_face_viking_cropped

Not a face on Mars.

We aren’t only good at spotting one face from another; we see faces everywhere we look, even when there’s no face to see: in coconuts, in light sockets, and in a colon next to an open or close parenthesis symbol. This phenomenon is called pareidolia, and it’s why some idiots think extraterrestrials have been building monuments on Mars.

In addition to identifying individuals, this super-power lets us tell other things about people, too. Age, for example. We can look at side-by-side photos of a person at 20 and the same person at 30 and 40 and usually tell which version is which, even if the person has aged pretty well and we can’t point to any specific differences among the faces. The same goes for spotting familial relationships, and sometimes even a person’s ethnicity.

And it’s especially true for determining the gender of a face. When we see a face for the first time, dozens or hundreds of small indicators flood into our brains through our optic nerves, and they add up into a conclusion that’s usually “male” or “female.” Our brains are resistant to concluding “a little of both,” or “possibly neither,” and despite our best intentions, will try to reject any data that conflict with that initial conclusion.

This is a source of consternation for transgender people, and for well-meaning allies. Most transgender people work hard to make our faces match our gender identity; to look “cisnormative,” for reasons of safety as much as for vanity. But it’s often very difficult, even with surgery. Here are some of the major ways male and female faces look different that most people never realize, or even think about:

A man’s eyebrows are usually lower, closer to his eyes.

In profile, the septum of a woman’s nose usually describes a right or obtuse angle with her upper lip; a man’s septum more often points downward in an acute angle.

Men’s faces are wider, and their heads are larger in proportion to their bodies than women’s.

A woman has a lower forehead, and her hairline is more like the top of an oval. Meanwhile, a man’s hairline (if it hasn’t begun receding) is shaped vaguely like a capital “M.”

Men’s upper lips are flatter; a woman’s lip is likelier to have a “bee-stung” appearance.

Women have more vertical foreheads, while men’s foreheads slightly slope back.

The most obvious difference, the one that most bedevils trans women, is the beard shadow. It’s the single most powerful indicator of gender, and it’s almost always visible—no matter how light in color are the whiskers and no matter how recently and close one has shaved. And when people see a beard shadow, their brains tell them they’re seeing a man. No other indicator of gender is so powerful.

It sort of works the other way for transgender men who haven’t developed facial hair, but it’s usually more understated and therefore unconscious. People don’t realize they’re not seeing a beard shadow, specifically, but it does seem to them there’s something feminine about the face that they can’t put their finger on.

It’s why I was willing to spend thousands of dollars and endure dozens of hours of painful electrolysis having mine removed; it’s why I never even considered presenting as female full time until it was completely gone. Nothing gets a transwoman “clocked” like a beard shadow, and when a transwoman is clocked, her life is in danger.

Think about this post the next time you look in a mirror. What is the face you wear saying about you?


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Pryor Restraint.

Pryor restraintA few days ago, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump released a list of jurists he claimed would be his short list of potential appointees to the Supreme Court if he becomes President next year. The list is not composed of progressive individuals, if the reaction from the liberal Internet is to be believed. If the contenders were gathered together in, say, a cantina, it might be fair to state that, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” But in the case of at least one of the names on the list, I might humbly suggest that such judgment (no pun intended) may be premature.

William Pryor is a 2005 George W. Bush appointee to the federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor, nicknamed “Wild Bill,” is infamous for certain homophobic statements, and for arguments he has made in legal briefs. I’ll cite two examples.

Before his nomination to the federal bench, he was Alabama’s attorney general, and in that role he filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas. Lawrence is the case that led to the overturn of all state laws against gay sex. Attorney General Pryor’s brief urged the Court not to declare “homosexual sodomy as a fundamental constitutional right,” arguing that acceptance of “a constitutional right that protects ‘the choice of one’s partner’ and ‘whether and how to connect sexually’ must logically extend to activities like prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia.”

That’s pretty strongly indicative of Pryor’s thoughts about gay people, especially when you consider his brief was an amicus (“friend of the court”); Pryor didn’t directly have a dog in the fight—although presumably Alabama also had a sodomy law that would have been (and was) invalidated by Lawrence‘s win.

After eight years of Dubya, followed by several more years of a Republican-controlled Senate stonewalling many of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the Eleventh Circuit had taken on a considerable right-wing tinge.

Second, during the contentious U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on Pryor’s nomination to the Eleventh Circuit, he mentioned that as a result of “a value judgment,” he and his wife rescheduled a family vacation to avoid the annual “Gay Day” at Disney World.

Kevin Cathcart, who was the executive director of Lambda Legal when Pryor was nominated, said at the time, “William Pryor is the most demonstrably antigay judicial nominee in recent memory.”

I knew all these things about Judge Pryor when Lambda Legal and I won our lawsuit at the federal district court level in July 2010 and defendants Sewell Brumby and the State of Georgia appealed to the Eleventh Circuit. And I was worried. Pryor wasn’t on the record with anything about transgender people, and to be homophobic isn’t necessarily also to be transphobic, but it’s rare for a person to be one and not the other.

At the time there were a dozen or so judges on the court, and our case was going to be heard (and ruled on) by a randomly selected panel of three of them.

After eight years of Dubya, followed by several more years of a Republican-controlled Senate stonewalling many of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the Eleventh Circuit had taken on a considerable right-wing tinge. While no cases had yet tested the court on LGBT rights specifically, there had been recent decisions unfavorable to civil rights generally and to employees’ rights specifically. And Pryor had joined the majority vote in at least one of those cases. He was the personification of everything we imagined could go wrong with our suit. The lower court win could be reversed, and all the years of struggle would be for nothing.

The year 2010 came to an end and 2011 began to grind along. We didn’t know when oral arguments in the appeal would be heard; it could’ve been months or years. The only thing I did know was that with each passing day it was incrementally more likely that the date would be announced. I became an obsessive watcher of the Eleventh Circuit, reading up on the backgrounds of the judges, checking the progress of potential Obama nominees, and reading each new decision as it came down. I was in a constant state of nervousness. The odds were not in our favor.

Finally, in late October, my attorney Greg called with the news that we had a date for the oral arguments (early December), and our panel had been assigned.

I took a deep breath and held it as Greg said, “I have some bad news and some good news.”

“First the bad news,” he said, followed by his own long inhalation. “We got Judge Pryor.”

“Quickly, Greg,” I said, paraphrasing Peter O’Toole from the underappreciated classic, King Ralph, “The good news!”

The good news was much better: our other two judges were Rosemary Barkett and Phyllis A. Kravitch, two amazing women with long, solid track records for progressive judicial temperaments. I was immensely reassured; with these two on our panel, I felt confident of a 2-1 vote in our favor.

But a two to one vote is exactly as much as I expected. Everything I’d learned about Pryor told me he wouldn’t be on our side.

It was on the day of the arguments that I began to wonder otherwise. When Brumby’s attorney rose to defend their side, he was eviscerated. Figuratively, that is. Before he could get his first sentence out, Judge Pryor interrupted to say, “You have a big problem with Price Waterhouse.” Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins was the main precedent our lawsuit was premised upon.

The attorney stammered and stumbled through the next few minutes, enduring constant interruptions from Pryor and Judge Barkett (Judge Kravitch remained largely silent). He was trying to make the case that firing me for transitioning was somehow different from firing me for being transgender. The panel was having none of is, and Pryor finally advised the man to “take it up with Congress” if he didn’t like the current state of the law. Barkett then offered to “put [him] out of [his] misery” and let him sit down. She was laughing as she said it. The defendants’ attorney was laughed off the lectern. Literally.

The ruling, which came down a lightning-fast six days later, was 3-0. Whatever negative opinions William Pryor may have about LGBT people personally, in my case, at least, he didn’t let those thoughts cloud his judgment.

Which makes me wonder if his inclusion on Trump’s list was a mistake.


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A Sharp ReDuke!

It would be hard to remake The Dukes of Hazzard today, because much of the iconography of the classic TV series is evocative of the racist past of the American South.

I think I’ve hit upon a solution: move the story to England!

It will be called “The Dukes of Hampshire.” Beau and Lucas are actual dukes, and their cousin Margaret’s denim shorts are neatly hemmed and creased.

Their car is still a Dodge Charger. But the steering wheel is on the right, obvi, and instead of being named General Lee, it’s called Field Marshal Montgomery. A Union Jack is painted on the roof.

A constant thorn in the Dukes’ side, despite their “never intending any distress,” is Council Leader Hogg and his crony, Police Constable Coltrane.

The theme music’s lyrics, rather than calling the young troublemakers “good ole boys,” describes them as “right jolly chaps.”

You may all thank me in the comments.


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Transgender characters in comic books.

alters72dpiThe New York Times recently reported about Alters, a new comic book from a new comic book company, Aftershock Comics, that’s launching in September.

Normally, this isn’t the sort of news that would hit the Times. The hook here is that one of the main characters is transgender. She’s college student Charlie Young, who is just beginning her transition; everyone in her noncostumed identity knows her as male. She only presents as female when she suits up to be the super-heroine, Chalice, who is able to fly by “manipulating gravity.”

Characters who change gender or sex are not new to comics. Most comic books, after all, are science fiction or fantasy by genre, and transformations, either into a differently aged person, an animal or animals, a mythical creature, an extraterrestrial, or from a man into a woman or vice versa, are quite common in science fiction and fantasy, and they can be found all the way back to the earliest days of the medium.

The earliest sex-changing comics character I know of is a Superman villain, a mad scientist who called himself the “Ultra-Humanite.” In an Action Comics storyline beginning in the December 1939 issue, Ultra-Humanite has his brain transplanted from his old, crippled male body into that of a beautiful, fit young actress.

I don’t know if it was ever explained why he chose a female body over a male one, but obviously Ultra-Humanite wasn’t transgender as we understand the term today, i.e. a person with gender dysphoria. His stated objective was to trade up from his aged and frail original body, regardless of gender. The veracity of this interpretation is strengthened by the character’s brain’s later transplantation into the body of a giant, presumably male, albino gorilla. The gender change was simplyultra-humanite3 part and parcel of the escapist strangeness that defines super-hero storytelling, and this was the motivation behind all sex-changing comics characters for the next several decades.

The earliest character I’m aware of in mainstream (Marvel and DC) comics that could truly be described as gender dysphoric is Wanda Mann, a transwoman in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series for Vertigo. Vertigo is a mature-readers imprint of DC Comics. Wanda’s storyline was published in 1993. For the most part, Wanda was an informed and respectful portrayal of a transwoman, although in some ways she did embody the sad, “pathetic transsexual” stereotype described by transgender author Julia Serano in her book, Whipping Girl. Due credit to Gaiman, but we still had a ways to go.

Most of the comics by the “big two” publishers I read nowadays are by DC Comics (including Vertigo); I only follow a handful of Marvel books, so I’m not familiar with any trans characters who may be appearing there.

DC Comics has Alysia Yeoh. She’s a supporting character in Batgirl; she was for a time the roommate of Batgirl’s alter-ego, Barbara Gordon, and is still in the book as the CEO of Barbara’s tech startup. I’m glad that DC has added an openly transgender character to the lineup, but I have to say, paraphrasing Gertrude Stein regarding her hometown of Oakland, that there’s very little “there” there.

Alysia came out to Barbara in a way many of us will recognize: hesitantly, timidly revealing, “I’m transgender, Barbara.” Barbara immediately smiles and hugs her, as any true super-heroine and friend would. And that was the end of it. Her gender identity is never mentioned again.alysiayeohcomposite

Alysia’s face and body look completely cisnormative, which is true for many transwomen, but not most. Storylines involving Alysia have never shown her dealing with transphobia, family or friend nonacceptance, identity document hassles, gender-affirming health care, finding clothes that fit, or any of the myriad other issues that are part of the daily lives of transgender people. It’s like DC wanted credit for filling in the “transgender” box on a diversity checklist, but wasn’t interested in actually telling stories about transgender people.

You could push back on this criticism with, “Alysia is a supporting character. Going into such details would take storytelling time away from Batgirl herself.”

Sure, that’s true—up to a point. I’d respond that it doesn’t take much to establish such details, even for a minor character: stray bits of dialogue here or there; a telling object or item of clothing in the background of a panel. I mean, heck, it has been established that Alysia is a lesbian (and she recently married her fiancée in the book), is originally from Singapore, and has impressive technological and business skills. Narrative real estate could easily have been borrowed from those attributes to tell readers something interesting that arises from Alysia’s transgender status. Especially since the creative team did find room to bring in a villain that was an embarrassing, transphobic stereotype (who never interacted with Alysia).

And yes, Batgirl isn’t about Alysia; it’s about Barbara/Batgirl herself, of course. We wouldn’t want it to be about another character, and Batgirl isn’t transgender.

There is another version of Alysia who appears in DC’s digital-only comic, Bombshells, written by Marguerite Bennett. This Alysia is a teenager during World War 2, and although she’s only one of a much larger cast than Batgirl‘s, Bennett has managed to elaborate on her transness in some of the ways lacking in Batgirl. But digital-only comics are still a novelty, accounting for a tiny fraction of annual comic book sales, and they’re not heavily promoted.

That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Alters. The writer, Paul Jenkins, is a cisgender straight man, but from interviews I’ve read, he seems dedicated to telling Chalice’s story with knowledge and maturity. He shows each of his scripts to a panel of transgender people for feedback, and a transwoman is part of the Alters creative team (the colorist).

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

Another important thing to consider with transgender characters is how they’re drawn. I wrote above that Alysia Yeoh’s appearance is cisnormative, while that’s not always true for transgender women in real life. This is a big part of why we complain when cisgender men or women are cast as transgender women in movie and TV roles. The portrayal usually either hews close to the “man in a dress” stereotype, for male actors, or puts silly prosthetic makeup on female actors, as with Felicity Huffman in Transamerica.

Neither course hits the mark; trans people tend to look androgynous in a unique way that’s hard for any cisgender person to mimic. But it should be doable in comics, as long as the artist uses appropriate reference models. Based on the promotional art that’s been released so far, Chalice is drawn to look like the standard conventionally-attractive cisgender woman typified by all super-heroines. Maybe there will be an explanation for that within the story itself; I’ll wait and see.

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Gender dysphoria is nothing like anorexia.

NotAnnNoTextYet another piece of … writing, this time by Moira Fleming at right-wing blog The Federalist, has tried to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia. In making this particular argument, Fleming’s post joins a tall stack of similar half-assed blog posts and position papers from transphobic “pundits” in recent years. Here’s the crux of Fleming’s piece, which is headlined “Why Is Transgender An Identity But Anorexia A Disorder?”:

The certainty that one is a woman despite being born a man sounds awfully similar to the conviction that one’s body is overweight even when body-mass index is at starvation levels.

You can almost see the wheels turning in the minds of people making this argument: “Anorexics think they’re fat, even though they’re really thin; transgender people think they’re women, even though they’re really men.” And everyone who says this seems to think it’s some brilliant revelation, and they’re the first to ever think of it.

Fleming, like former doctor Paul McHugh, Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, the Witherspoon Institute, and many other “experts” who have asserted this gender dysphoria = anorexia correspondence, makes a critical error. Ablow even goes so far as to assert that gender dysphoria is an “exact parallel” to anorexia nervosa (the clinical name for the condition).

The type of anorexia these “pundits” are describing (the condition presents differently in different people) is the delusion that the sufferer is fat or is at risk of becoming fat, when she (they’re almost always women) is actually thin. She looks at her body in the mirror and sees something that is at odds with reality.

Transgender women (Fleming doesn’t seem to be aware of transgender men) are not delusional. You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional. When we look

You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional.

at our bodies, we see them correctly as being biologically male, not female. Indeed, that’s the problem. If we truly were delusional, the OEM genitals and contours wouldn’t be a problem, because we wouldn’t recognize their maleness. We’d believe we already looked like Marilyn Monroe, or Beyoncé, or whoever our personal ideal of womanliness happened to be.

To be transgender is to be acutely aware of our biological birth sex, and to be sufficiently unhappy about it to want to change it.

Now, the difference between how an anorexic woman sees herself and how a transwoman sees herself could conceivably put down to semantics. Maybe the people making this equivalency are talking less about self-perception and more about outcomes. What happens when an anorexic’s belief about herself is indulged and supported, versus the result when the same is done for transgender women?

In a sense, it’s not a fair fight, because I’ve never heard of a woman with anorexia whose loved ones and friends told her, “yeah, totally, you’re fat! Let’s take some pounds off,” while it’s the standard treatment paradigm to accept a person’s well-diagnosed gender dysphoria and recommend they embrace their gender identity.

But there certainly have been many people with anorexia who persisted in their beliefs and continued to shed weight, despite the efforts of those around them. Here are some famous examples.

Karen Carpenter
The singer of the 1970s brother-sister duo, The Carpenters, lost a dramatic amount of weight and died of related heart failure at the age of 32.

Christy Henrich
Henrich was a world-class gymnast in the 1990s. Her weight dwindled to 47 pounds before she died of multiple organ failure.

Michael Krasnow
Author of the memoir, My Life As A Male Anorexic. The 5′ 9″ American weighed 64 pounds when he died at age 28.

There’s another case, which is looking to turn out better than those three; that of Rachael Farrokh, a 5′ 7″ actress in her thirties whose weight dwindled to under fifty pounds. I’m not linking to any of the stories about her, because most of them contain some shocking photos of her ravaged, wasted body. You can Google her forewarned.

Ms. Farrokh is on the road to recovery, but only because she managed to break the hold her disease had on her and began gaining weight. She was on the brink of death before then.

Now, here are some transgender people whose self-perception was validated:

Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan transitioned over ten years ago. She is a respected novelist, college professor, and New York Times columnist.

Laverne Cox
Since transitioning, Cox has become a motivational speaker, activist, and an Emmy-nominated actress.

Jamison Green
Green is an academic, activist, and author.

All three of these individuals are affirmed and respected in their gender identity, and all are thriving, by any objective standard. Yes, this is an anecdotal list of names that I selected myself. Yes, you’ll be able to find transgender people who haven’t done this well after they transitioned. Poor outcomes include detransitioning and suicide. But the evidence is overwhelming that transitioning makes the vast majority of transgender people happier; in almost every case where it hasn’t, the reason is likely to be transphobic persecution, which originates outside the person, or that the person was misdiagnosed with gender dysphoria in the first place.

But finding transgender people who haven’t thrived isn’t necessary for the analogy to fail. If even one transgender person transitions and does well, it’s bullshit to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia, because anorexia’s sufferers always, 100 percent, grow weak and sick. Either they overcome their disorder, or they die. Every single time.

Show me even one verifiable counterexample of a person with anorexia flourished after she came to believe she was overweight when she wasn’t, and I’ll start taking this claim seriously. It’s not going to happen.

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Hanging Together.

LGBT 5sansLast year an anonymous,* cisgender gay man started a change.org petition urging Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, The Advocate, GLAAD, and several other LGBT organizations to disassociate from the transgender community and become simply “LGB” organizations.

It’s an idiotic, ignorant petition, full of hateful statements and outright falsehoods about transgender people and the trans agenda. Some of the claims are cribbed wholesale from religious right organizations.  Most of the parties to whom it was addressed quickly and categorically denounced it. Including Lambda Legal, of course. If you’ve been following my story for any length of time, you know that Lambda Legal’s attorneys, two of whom were transgender themselves, represented me in my lawsuit, and the organization has always been an unstinting champion of transgender rights.

The nut of the “drop the T” argument is this: to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual is about sexual orientation, while to be transgender is about gender identity. Two different things, with different needs for medical care, legal protections, and advocacy—but they’ve been lumped in together as if they’re all the same. You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! In addition to the cisgender gay men and lesbians trying to push us off the Pride float, a few transgender women and men have also argued for cleaving the rainbow, but there are very few transpeople trying to make that case. This argument mainly comes from the cisgender members of our movement.

It’s difficult not to see the argument as meanly selfish. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has fallen for LGB people, and marriage equality is now the law throughout the country. The “gay agenda” could justifiably be declared a complete success, if it weren’t for us pesky trans people lagging behind. Some probably want to cut us loose like a sick branch from a tree. Others, in fact, have already proceeded as if we don’t matter: The New York advocacy group, Empire State Pride, disbanded last year, standing on a metaphorical carrier flight deck and claiming, “mission accomplished.”

If you hadn’t already guessed, I think it’s a really bad idea to uncross these streams. Yes, there are many technical and societal differences that divide the LGB from the T, but there’s one much bigger similarity that overrides all those differences. Sexual orientation and gender identity are both about gender nonconformity.

The presumption that a man will be sexually attracted only to women is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a woman will be sexually attracted only to men is a gender stereotype. The presumption that a person’s gender identity will match their biological sex is a gender stereotype. All LGBT people confound these stereotypes.

Transgender people benefit from LGB advances that don’t obviously have anything to do with them. Marriage equality is one example. Before the Obergefell ruling, a transgender lesbian b2675e6a34e8586fcf67532b43who legally changed her sex on all of her identity documents might have been unable to marry another woman. Or, a straight transgender woman’s marriage to a man might have its validity denied, as happened to Nikki Araguz Loyd and many other people before last year.

Likewise, LGB people (and sometimes even straight people) always benefit from advances that seem, on the surface, to be about transgender people. My lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, obviously was a transgender issue—but the major precedent my attorneys cited in their briefs was Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, in which a woman, Ann Hopkins, was denied a promotion at her job because she didn’t look feminine enough. Hopkins wasn’t transgender (she wasn’t even lesbian), but the precedent her case set, which was extended by the win in my case, then extended still further by the following year’s Macy v. Holder, protects all females who suffer for seeming too masculine, and males who seem too feminine, whether they’re trans or not. Think about the words “butch,” “nelly,” and “sissy,” and you’ll understand how this precedent protects cisgender gay men and lesbians.

But the most important reason why we all need to stay in this canoe and paddle in the same direction is because the haters will always put us in the boat together regardless. Remember the story about two transwomen who were attacked on a MARTA train a couple of years ago? Here’s a quote from their assailant, interviewed after he was caught:

“I don’t hate gay people at all,” he said. “That’s not in my character at all. But when you are a gay guy and you come on to a straight guy and I tell you I don’t go that way then just let it be.”

It’s clear from that statement, and from others he made in the linked interview, that the man had zero awareness that there’s a difference between gay men and transgender women. It’s a very common misconception. Transwomen are called “fags” all the time. We suffer more violent hate crimes than the rest of the community combined. Our assailants may know we’re transgender women, or they may think we’re “gay men” trying to “trick” them. The difference is unimportant to them.

Such violence is what brought this topic back to my mind. Specifically, the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Several of the victims were transgender women, and one account I’ve read leads me to think the shooter also wasn’t aware of or didn’t care about the distinction between gays and lesbians and transgender people.

As it was succinctly put in a comment section I once read: we’re all hated by the same people, for the same reasons. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. We’re all fighting the same fight.

“We must all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow delegates in the Continental Congress when he signed the Declaration of Independence, “Or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Franklin was a boss.

*He said he remained anonymous for fear of reprisals. Which is cowardly troll-speak used by trolls.

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Invisible Targets Don’t Get Shot.

Back in the 1960s, the great novelty singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer had a hit with “National Brotherhood Week.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

The song wryly observes that during the titular seven days, groups that usually hate each other embrace and pretend to be BFFs. It name-checks practically every religious or racial demographic you can imagine.

There isn’t a word in the song about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. We were an invisible minority in the United States back then; if all your information came from network TV shows, studio-produced movies, and radio-played music, you’d have no idea we even existed. Nobody was trying to ban same-sex marriage or exclude transgender people from public restrooms, because it never entered most people’s heads that those were things which could happen in the first place.

Obviously that changed. We began to assert our existence and demand our civil rights. The Stonewall riot of June 28, 1969, is considered the watershed event that started the ball rolling. The New York Times covered the riot in a story the next day; it was half a column on page 33.1times2a

The next several decades were a long, slow crawl out of the shadows and toward level ground with our cisgender and heterosexual peers. Today, we can marry whoever we want, and can celebrate and openly discuss those marriages in most workplaces. Gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, and (fingers crossed), transgender people will soon join them in uniform. More and more employer-provided health plans cover the costs associated with treatment for gender dysphoria. Openly gay, lesbian, and transgender politicians are winning elective offices all over the country. Transgender high school students have been crowned homecoming kings and queens.

In 2004, support for LGBT rights was a wedge issue; Republicans were united in opposition, while Democrats were split. Today, it’s a wedge issue again, but in reverse: Democrats are united in support for us, while Republicans are split. They’ll come around when they finally realize they’ve lost the culture war, and will continue losing elections until they stop fighting it. Our community has entered the mainstream of American life, and isn’t leaving. If Lehrer had written his song today, there’s no question we’d be in that list of demographics. We’re here, we’re queer, and as Lisa Simpson says, everyone is “used to it.” Like it or not.

Which brings us to last week’s horrific event in Orlando. We’ll never fully know what drove that man to end 50 lives and ruin dozens more. Some blame his religious faith. Others think it’s internalized homophobia.

Of course some sort of homophobia is the root cause (religion-motivated or not), but there was more going on than that. I think the improved status of LGBT people today was itself a contributing factor to the killings. Twenty, or even ten years ago, a bigot might harbor the most virulent, hate-filled opinions about gay people imaginable, but the objects of his hate were largely out of sight and therefore out of mind.

He wouldn’t have known which of his coworkers were gay because they’d never mention it; they certainly wouldn’t have photos of their sweethearts on their desks. He wouldn’t see his neighbors out on the sidewalk (or “out” on the sidewalks) holding hands, or hoisting Pride flags next to their front doors.

If you think LGBT people are abnormal, it must be galling to look around and see them being treated normally. I’m no psychologist, but I don’t doubt society’s growing acceptance of us is like tinder (not Tinder) feeding the flames of violence inside these individuals’ heads.

And when they choose to act, they know where to find us. The Pulse nightclub isn’t a dingy speakeasy without a sign that opens onto an alley; it’s a huge complex that advertises heavily and has reviews in general-interest travel publications. The killer knew where to find his victims. We were safer in our closets.

But I don’t mean we should retreat back into our closets. Our lives are better out, and being out is the best way to end homophobia and transphobia in the long run.

In the short run, this is going to keep happening. Orlando won’t be the last Orlando. Get ready for more.

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Bathroom Laws Are About Insufficient Femininity, Not Being Transgender

Recently, in the wake of all the high-profile nonsense about restrooms in this country, a friend of mine (who is a gay attorney, just to set the table) messaged me on Facebook with this:

“I am in regular communication with lots of ‘Republicans’ and others who would self-describe as conservatives. I frequently hear people say, ‘I don’t have a problem with anyone being transgender.’ And when they elaborate, what’s clear is that their problem is with people who ‘look like’ they have transitioned—i.e., people who, for whatever reason, have external visual identifiers that indicate that they were formerly presenting as male/female. And I just think that that sort of thing is:

1) classist (not everyone can afford procedures like facial feminization, etc.) and

2) not really any different than other sorts of bigoted thinking—why should it really matter what someone looks like?”

There’s a good bit to unpack in that comment. Let’s start with his statement that’s really at the heart of the matter: “their problem is with people who ‘look like’ they have transitioned—i.e., people who, for whatever reason, have external visual identifiers that indicate that they were formerly presenting as male/female.”

Of course that’s true. You could even narrow the focus a little further and state that conservatives’ problem is with transwomen who look (to them) like men; it’s “men in dresses” going into women’s restrooms that conservatives care about, not transmen in men’s rooms. I presume this is due to a sexist attitude that men can take care of themselves, but dainty, defenseless women and girls need protection from burly, scary transwomen.

But it’s basically a tautology to say that masculine-looking transwomen are the ones conservatives care about, because the ones who don’t look masculine—who look like every other woman in the loo—are never “clocked” as transgender in the first place. Transphobic conservatives don’t discriminate against them because they don’t know they exist. They recognize the transwomen they recognize.

I made posts here about physical differences between men and women, both large and small. “Passing” (the term I prefer is “having a cisnormative appearance”) as one’s correct gender identity is difficult or easy for transwomen, depending on the individual. It can be achieved via:

a. Makeup. Just like cisgender women.

b. Hormone replacement therapy. Results vary, but estrogen can redistribute fat in the face to soften masculine angles.

c. Electrolysis or laser hair removal. No other single trait looks as male to most people as a beard shadow.

d. Surgeries to feminize the face and body.

Not all masculine-looking transwomen go for these therapies and procedures. They can be dangerous for some; many people have health concerns that preclude surgeries, and others risk thrombosis if they take estrogen supplements. And, as my friend surmised, the treatments are very expensive, and until quite recently they usually weren’t covered by government or employer-provided health insurance. It is absolutely correct to say, as my friend did, that discrimination against masculine-looking transwomen can be discrimination against the economically underprivileged.

However, my friend missed one very important fact. When I followed up with him, he confessed it hadn’t even occurred to him: not every transgender woman cares about “passing,” or at least, not enough to go to all the effort and expense required to do so.

Seems strange, right? When we first learn about transgender women, we assume looking and acting feminine is the whole point. But transgender women are women, and women may choose to look however they want. They may be short-haired and tall; prefer pants to skirts; own no makeup. I’m sure you know cisgender women who describe themselves as “butch.” There are transgender women who do as well. Having a female gender identity does not automatically equate to being a cartoon of womanliness.

The assertion by conservatives that women should be feminine, and indeed must be so to be allowed to participate in society, is at the heart of the “bathroom bills”; and why they’re doomed to fail. Drafted to single out transgender women for harassment, they’re certain to have their greatest effect on butch-looking cisgender women instead. It’s already happening:

  • Cortney Bogorad in Detroit is suing a restaurant after a security guard threw her out of the establishment’s women’s restroom for looking “like a man”
  • In Dallas, Jessica Rush was followed into a hospital restroom by a diligent officer of the gender laity because she was “dressed like a man
  • CNN contributor Sally Kohn is 6′ 1″ and short-haired; she repeatedly has unpleasant encounters of this nature

All three of those women are cisgender, and it’s worth noting that none of the localities where they were harassed, to the best of my knowledge, have passed any “bathroom bills.” The concept is in the Zeitgeist now, so it’s emboldened the idiots and jerks regardless of the laws. And these are just three examples; there are already many, many more. Google “mistaken for transgender” if you want more evidence, and have a high tolerance for outrage.

I haven’t seen any stories about transmen (or effeminate cisgender men) being mistaken for women yet. It may or may not ever happen; as I wrote above, the touch point for the transphobes is having to share women’s rooms with masculinity. Transphobes like former ACLU employee Maya Dillard Smith, who related this story on Fox News:

I have shared my personal experience of having taken my elementary school age daughters into a women’s restroom when shortly after three transgender young adults, over six feet [tall] with deep voices, entered. My children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer.

The simple answer to Ms. Smith’s children, “those people are transgender,” apparently didn’t occur to her at the time. And note that she doesn’t give any reason in that story why she or her children should have been afraid of those three young adults, or how she knew for sure they were transgender.

Laws regarding who may use which public restroom are nothing new and accomplish nothing good. They’re tools of hatred and hurt people in categories far beyond their intended targets. Fight them and end them.

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Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet, 2016.

This past Saturday was the annual Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet (spelling bee), which I compete in whenever possible.

Normally held at Manuel’s Tavern, this year it was at Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta, just down the road from our home, because Manuel’s is in the middle of renovations. I think this depressed turnout; I estimated only about a hundred competitors, whereas usually I think it’s twice that.

The format of this competition is not like the Scripps-Howard competition for schoolchildren that we’re all familiar with. This battle, restricted to adults, happens with pencil and paper, and victory is judged by the total number of words spelled correctly rather than by a sole survivor of a single-elimination process.

I captured the words to a separate list during the competition, and I’ll share them here. Where I misspelled a word, I’ve presented my spelling in strikethrough, with the correct spelling to the right.

Round One

  1. emoji
  2. cocoon
  3. shriek
  4. daquiri daiquiri
  5. muumuu
  6. chisel
  7. dromedary
  8. meh
  9. sriracha
  10. noseeum
  11. pumice
  12. ruff
  13. salmon
  14. turmeric
  15. accommodate
  16. breach
  17. breech
  18. chapparral chaparral
  19. syllable
  20. cypher (cipher*)

Notes on Round One:
I misspelled two words. This is very unusual for me; I almost always ace the first round (my college-era self would be particularly disappointed that I misspelled “daiquiri”). But this year, I was in good company; no one aced the round, and the best score at this point was 19.

Also, my spelling of “cipher” was judged wrong by the committee, but I successfully argued that the “y” spelling is an acceptable British variant. I was a little surprised, because the committee strives not to include words with multiple spellings, and I think “cypher” is a pretty common variant, even among non-Anglophiles.

But at any rate, my score after Round One was 18, good enough to advance me to the second round. Some of these words are unusual enough that I’ve made each of them into links to their definitions online.

 

Round Two

  1. derailleur
  2. betise
  3. rhombus
  4. blepharospasm
  5. cloture
  6. materiel
  7. antipodean
  8. neti pot
  9. racquis raki
  10. torii
  11. monopsony
  12. dirk
  13. gimbol gimbal
  14. peccarino pecorino
  15. ren ibi renminbi

Notes on Round Two:

You can see it was getting tougher for me, as is typical for the second round. I usually get 11 of the 15 right, and I was true to form this year. My misspelling of “raki” shows how I overthink it sometimes; my misspelling of “gimbal” shows how long I’ve been out of the Navy (the big compass on the bridge of a ship is mounted on a gimbal ring).

I got lucky with “betise.” I hadn’t the slightest idea what what that word was.

I never had the slightest chance with “renminbi.”

After Round Two my score was 29, good enough to qualify for Round Three.

 

Round Three

  1. capoera capoeira
  2. chitoignant chatoyant
  3. grellein ghrelin
  4. propedudic propaedeutic
  5. anypsychonia aniseikonia
  6. calc calque
  7. sporran
  8. rhoticize rhotacize
  9. ecium aecium
  10. myrmidon

Notes on Round Three:

The third round is usually the hill my hopes for victory die on, and this year was no exception. As you see, I only spelled “sporran” and “myrmidon” correctly. They were the only two words I already knew, and the way the enunciators pronounced “sporran” was so odd-sounding that I’d have misspelled it too if I hadn’t recognized the definition.

For “rhotacize,” I almost spelled it without an “h” until remembering that it’s probably Greek-derived and therefore should be spelled like the Greek letter “rho.” That the ending might be “-acize” rather than “-icize” never even occurred to me.

With only 31 words spelled correctly up to now, I did not advance to Round Four. But I went ahead and played for funsies anyway.

 

Round Four (Funsies)

  1. glisterizine glycyrrhizin
  2. litwee lechwe
  3. bai wa baihua
  4. cephology psephology
  5. scaient pschent

Notes on Round Four:

Yeah, I had no chance with any of these.

Next year will be my year!


Cisnormativity.

In my last post, I talked about Caitlyn Jenner’s recent unfortunate statements about transgender people, in which she suggested we have a responsibility to look “authentic” and to “play a role”—in a word, to be cisnormative—in order to put cisgender people at ease. She was rightly condemned for these remarks by many opinion leaders across the Internet, because nobody has a responsibility to put others at ease by the way they look. People look the way they look, as I wrote in that post; nobody has the right to prescribe another’s appearance, and no one’s gender identity is beholden to what someone else thinks it should be.

That said, it’s also true, speaking very, very generally, that transgender people strive to look cisnormative, and furthermore, that most of us don’t look as cisnormative as we would like to. That’s simply a fact of life for most people with gender dysphoria. The reasons we feel this way probably would (and probably have) filled books on sociology and psychology, but simply put, transgender people were born and raised in a predominately cisgender society, so we’re freighted with the same biases and assumptions toward the gender binary as cisgender people. We flipped the script, but we still play by it. Maybe we shouldn’t want to, but that doesn’t make it not the case.

Which raises a fair question: what is cisnormativity? That is, when we see a new person and mentally assign them a gender, what are we seeing (or failing to see) that informs that assignment? Most cisgender people never think much about this—why would they? I know I didn’t, until 2005, when I embarked ardently on my transition. Pretty much every gender nonconforming person has given this a lot of thought. Today, and later in a follow-up post, we’ll take a closer look at the matter. It’s kind of a doozy.

Obligatory male/female sign.

Obligatory male/female sign.

In the 1970s, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 probe. It surveyed parts of the outer solar system (mainly Jupiter and its moons), then charged on out of the solar system into interstellar space. It carries an illustrated metal plaque containing information about our planet, in case the spacecraft is ever found by extraterrestrials (friendly extraterrestrials, we hope, although if they turn out to be enslaving monsters, don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos).

The plaque includes a line drawing of a nude man and woman standing side by side. The man holds his right hand up in a wave, as if to say, “Hello from Earth! If you’ve been receiving our TV signals, please don’t get any ideas from that ‘To Serve Man‘ episode of The Twilight Zone!”

These drawings are meant to be archetypes of adult humans. As such, they present a handy example of what we mean when we talk about cisnormativity. So let’s use them for a thought experiment. Let’s imagine you’re outdoors on a wide, flat plain. You see the man and woman from the plaque far in the distance. They’re silhouetted against the horizon, walking toward you. As soon as they become more distinct than hazy blobs far away, you begin to notice how their bodies differ. The closer they get to you, the more gender-distinguishing features you’ll spot.

First, you’ll see that the woman is slightly shorter than the man, and she has longer hair. The man is broad-shouldered compared to his waist; his torso is roughly an inverted trapezoid. The woman’s torso has more of an hourglass shape. Her waist is much smaller than her hips and shoulders.

From just these cues you’d probably already have a guess that one figure was a man and the other a woman. But you wouldn’t be positive; every characteristic you’ve seen so far can vary widely from person to person. As the couple draws closer to you, finer distinctions begin to emerge.

"Hello from Earth!"

“Hello from Earth!”

The way they walk is different. The woman has a lower center of gravity than the man, and since she’s also shorter overall, her legs are also shorter, which gives her a shorter stride, which makes her walk look different.

Another factor: while this archetypal pair is naked and therefore barefoot, as I’ve said, most people wear shoes, and women wear high heels more often than men. This also visibly affects a person’s walk; you can usually tell if someone’s wearing high heels, even if you can’t see their feet.

So as this couple continues toward you, their movements give you information about their gender identities. After a while they’re much closer than the horizon, and you get a better look at their bodies and how they differ.

The man, due to the muscle-building effect of testosterone, has greater muscle development than the woman. Women can also exercise, lift weights and get toned, of course, but generally they don’t get the bulked-up muscles testosterone makes available to men.

Men also have more body hair than women. The Pioneer 10 archetypes are hairless, for some reason, but this is true generally. There’s usually hair on a man’s chest, and maybe on his belly as well. It may be sparse, but it may also be quite thick (as anyone who’s seen Robin Williams in the movie The Fisher King can attest). There’s also hair on his arms and legs, usually sparser than that on his chest. The thickest hair below his neck is at his armpits and pubes.

2pxPioneerplaquehumansWomen have body hair too, but not as much. There’s usually none or very little on her torso, and it’s wispy and sparse on her arms. There would be wispy hair on her legs, too, but in the West women usually shave their legs. The same goes for women’s armpits. Only the pubes will have thick hair, and the recent vogue for Brazilian waxes means that may not be true either.

Speaking of the pubes, the couple is probably close enough now for you to see their secondary sexual characteristics. The woman has a vagina, although that’s not so apparent for Pioneer 10 woman, and on her chest are two nippled breasts. The man has nipples, but no breasts, and between his legs, like the constellation Orion, he clearly has a dong.

Okay, they’re only a few yards from you now. They’re so close you can see the man has an Adam’s apple, but the woman doesn’t. Finally, you have a good look at their faces.

I could devote an entire post talking about the faces. And I will! Stay tuned.


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Jenner Again.

Caitlyn Jenner, the most famous transgender person ever (so far), has put her foot in her mouth again. In a recent interview with TIME magazine, she said:

I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.

Outrage came from all corners, including the transgender community itself. Jenner gets a taste of her pedicure with practically every sentence in that quote. If you haven’t done much thinking or reading about these matters, it may not be obvious why these words were so inflammatory. I’ll take each misstep in turn and unpack them for you.

“I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role.”

Jenner meant by this that life is easier for a trans woman or trans man if his or her looks conform to what the general public assumes cisgender women or men “should” look like. What she described as “authentic” is more often called having a “cisnormative” appearance.

authentic_stamp

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

There’s no such thing as “authentic” when it comes to a person’s gender expression. People look the way they look, and there’s nothing wrong with that, cisnormative or not. A woman with broad shoulders and narrow hips (and there are cisgender women shaped like this) is no less “authentically” a woman than a petite woman with an hourglass figure (and there are transgender women shaped like this), and to imply otherwise is to indulge in the reductive biological-sex-equals-gender essentialism that’s at the heart of transphobia, especially phobia against trans women: i.e., “you don’t look like a woman to me, so you’re really a man.”

But the biggest howler in that sentence is the three words, “plays the role.” Jenner seems here to conflate transgender people with drag artists. Trans people are not “playing a role.” Our gender is not a costume that we peel off when we arrive at home after a long day of applying for jobs, arguing with an ex-spouse over visitation rights with our children, or giving testimony in the trial of punks who assaulted us. Transgender women are women, down to their bones and 24/7. Transgender men, to paraphrase West Side Story, are men all the way. Caitlyn Jenner knows this, or at least should know it, after a full reality-show season of being lectured on such matters by Jenny Boylan and other luminaries.

“[W]hat I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease.”
“[I]f you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.”

I assume by these statements Jenner means that she strives to present herself to be as cisnormative (feminine) as she can manage. There’s nothing wrong with this; many transgender women present themselves in a hyper-feminine way, either by nature, or as a celebration of the identity they’ve finally learned to embrace, or—maybe more often—as a survival tactic, because transgender women who look cisnormative are less likely to be victims of physical assault. As Jenner said, it puts people at ease.

But it’s not the job of transgender people to put anyone at ease. It’s a free country, as the saying goes, and if the way we look makes people uncomfortable, that’s their lookout, not ours. To say otherwise is nasty and ignorant, the same as telling women not to dress in a manner provocative to rapists, or asking someone with a chronic disease to cover up her medication port, or suggesting a Sikh leave his turban at home because he might be mistaken for a Muslim and shot. Who we are is only our own business, and if haters are gonna hate, they’re welcome to suck it.Caitlyn_Jenner

Naturally, Jenner quickly walked back these remarks and apologized after the predictable backlash. Good on her for that; she has always been contrite after her podiatric oral intrusions. I don’t fault her for saying such foolish things; she’s new into her transition, and that’s a time of learning for all trans people.

The problem is that, newly transitioned or not, she’s looked to by the media as a leader, icon, and spokesperson for all transgender Americans. Her pre-transition fame makes that inevitable. She’s the person people will turn to for keynote speeches, diversity awards, and sound bites, and when she says something ignorant or dumb, the general public will assume she speaks for all transgender people.

This is something of a pattern with transgender people who get a little bit of notoriety early in their transition. Back in the middle of the Aughts, Susan Stanton made similar “man in a dress” remarks in an interview.

Susan Stanton was the city manager of Largo, Florida. She was quietly and privately transitioning when she was unwillingly outed and then fired by Largo’s city council, in an outrageous (and never punished) act of transphobia. This thrust her prematurely into the public eye, and reporters sought her out for interviews and quotes before she’d had time to work out for herself what it means to be transgender, or how to talk about such matters with sensitivity and grace.

Susan Stanton.

Susan Stanton.

When Lambda Legal accepted me as a client and we launched our lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, one of the organization’s conditions was that my interactions with the public had to go through their media relations department. This frustrated me at the time, because Lambda Legal was very careful about choosing which interviews and public events would be good for me or for the case. I wanted to talk to everyone about the unfairness and pervasiveness of the kind of discrimination I had suffered, but I wasn’t allowed to.

That parsimony is probably part of why the important legal precedent we set is still little-known today, but on the flip side, Lambda Legal definitely saved me from committing howlers like Stanton and Jenner’s. During those four years, I listened more than I spoke; I wasn’t thrust unprepared into a leadership or spokesperson position.

By dint of her pre-transition fame, Jenner didn’t have the option of a quiet, out-of-the-spotlight transition, even if she had wanted one (and, with the second season of her reality series greenlit, she doesn’t seem to want one). Like her or not, gaffe-prone or not, she is American media’s reigning go-to transperson, and will remain so until and unless someone even more famous transitions.

Her position of wealth and privilege, her political myopia, and her naiveté add up to the certainty that she’s going to continue to screw up like this.

As I’ve written before, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has been enormously important for the transgender community, and has accelerated the cause of civil rights and public acceptance, probably by years. That shouldn’t be denied. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t highly problematic at the same time. Her position of wealth and privilege, her political myopia, and her naiveté add up to the certainty that she’s going to continue to screw up like this, and give cisgender America an impression of our lives that is at best inaccurate and at worst dangerous.

Which puts the rest of us on alert. We need to stand ready with our metaphorical mops and buckets, ready to leap into action and correct the record the next time a Cleanup on Aisle Caitlyn is needed.


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006: Epilogue.

(Read the first two parts of this excerpt here and here.)

To say I was dismayed would be like saying Louis XVI owned a supply of wig powder. I’d been working at the Capitol for over a year, and it had never crossed my mind that any of my bosses might have a problem with my transition. It was a government workplace, I reasoned, and I had always believed governments in the United States didn’t discriminate against their employees in that way. That belief had been a big part of the reason why I left the corporate world, with its unpredictable caprices, for the Office of Legislative Counsel. It’s the trade I thought I was making, in exchange for the much higher salary I’d been making in the IT industry.

In hindsight, I know that sounds naïve. I didn’t predict how conservative and xenophobic Sewell Brumby could be, or that the lack of written and agreed-to office procedures meant he could be an autocrat with great leeway to run his fiefdom however he saw fit.

But hold the phone: Sewell and I were living in different realities. On that day I was a transitioning gender-dysphoric person expressing her true self on the job for the first time. But as far as Sewell Brumby could see—as far as anyone had told him—I was simply one of his male employees who had costumed as a woman as a lark for Hallowe’en.

He was definitely, if unfortunately, within his bounds to send me home for that reason if he didn’t like it. But maybe, I later reasoned, he would have had a different reaction if he had fully understood the situation.

I clung to that possibility for most of the next year.

In the fullness of time, after Sewell fired me and I initiated my lawsuit, I didn’t think the “Hallowe’en 2006 Incident” counted for much. Since he hadn’t known I was transgender at the time, and didn’t fire me then, I thought his sending me home for wearing a costume he didn’t like wasn’t relevant to my case. I almost didn’t even mention it when my Lambda Legal attorneys interviewed me during their fact-finding phase.

The incident was, in fact, of critical importance to the case.

It made all the difference that other people also came to the office in costume that day. Sewell may have seen Barbara in her witch costume, but he definitely saw Eugie in her phouka drag—and he did not send either of them home or tell either of them to remove their costumes. This showed that it was not the wearing of a costume itself that he objected to, but the specific nature of my costume. As Sewell put it three years later when my Lambda Legal attorneys deposed him:

“When I looked at Mr. Morrison, I did not see what to me was a Halloween costume. I saw what to me appeared to be a man who had cross-dressed with some degree of apparent practice and expertise in doing so.”

I saw what to me appeared to be a man who had cross-dressed with some degree of apparent practice and expertise in doing so.

Sewell Brumby was unable to explain why my “apparent practice and expertise” was a problem, so my attorneys explained it to the courts on his behalf, and over his protests: he was creeped out and disgusted by gender nonconforming behavior.

Throughout the lawsuit, Brumby and his attorneys had maintained that he had no problem with gender nonconformity; that it was my transition itself, and the disruption to his workplace that he believed it would cause, that forced him to fire me. But the Hallowe’en affair, which happened before he even knew I was transgender, indisputably put the lie to that claim, and both of the federal courts that ruled on our case got this.

Anyway, on that day he told me to go home, so I went home, shocked and a little heartbroken. And fearful. Sewell hadn’t said, “Go home, change your clothes, and return to work.” All he’d said was, “Go home.” I wasn’t sure if I had just been fired or not.

I decided to act as if I hadn’t been fired. This meant I should return to work, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. Although there were still some doughnuts left. When I got home I changed back into boy mode and then drove back to the Capitol, arriving around noon. I considered going to Sewell’s office and confronting him, but I’ve never been good at confrontations. I avoid them when I can.

Besides, he’d obviously been seethingly angry when he sent me home. I didn’t want to poke a hornet’s nest; I thought it wise to avoid him until he’d cooled down a little. I went directly back to the editors’ office instead, using the mezzanine stairs. Odds were low that I would encounter Sewell again before the end of the day.

I didn’t see him again that day. A few coworkers asked me why I’d changed out of “costume”; I told them candidly it was because Sewell had told me to. They all looked disappointed; especially the ones who’d heard what I was wearing but hadn’t had a chance to see it yet.

They were puzzled, too. They didn’t understand Sewell’s reaction any better than I did. This reinforced the opinion I’ve always held, and which turned out to be true: Sewell Brumby was the only person working in that office who would ever have a problem working with a transgender person.


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 2.

This s Part 2. Find Part 1 here.

Hallowe’en fell on a Tuesday that year. I woke up much earlier than usual, and for the first time in my working life I dressed in a way I would one day dress routinely. I put on black tights, a black pencil skirt, knee-high black boots with a moderate heel, and a red turtleneck sweater. I took my time applying my makeup; it was complete, but understated. I didn’t carry a purse; I was already in the habit of bringing my essentials to work each day in a messenger bag I’d received from WABE 90.1 FM during a pledge drive, so I just stuck with that.

I looked as professional, as normal, as ordinary as any other woman working in the Office of Legislative Counsel. No one would have looked twice at me outside the work context.

When I was ready to leave the house I realized I’d allowed much more time than I needed, so on a whim, I drove to the Krispy Kreme on Ponce and bought two dozen doughnuts for my colleagues. It wasn’t the first time I had brought doughnuts to work. I’m not sure why I did it this time. I guess I was a little nervous, so maybe I hoped they’d be a distraction. “Good morning! Yes, it’s me, Glenn, dressed as a girl. Hey look, a fresh hot glazed!”

When I got to the Capitol I passed the first hurdle. Obviously, my “costume” didn’t look like a costume—I looked like a woman, as I did every day outside the workplace. But my employee badge had my photo on it, and I didn’t look like a woman there. And the state troopers at all the entrances check badges. I didn’t know how to play it.pumpkin-157050_960_720

I decided just to motor through. I clipped my badge to the bottom edge of my sweater, shouldered my messenger bag, and took the doughnut boxes in my arms. Just inside the basement entrance, I confidently strode toward the troopers, bypassing the conveyor-belt scanner which non-employees are obliged to use. The troopers looked at me, nodded, and let me on past. Maybe they recognized me and realized I was in “costume;” more likely, they saw my badge but didn’t bother to examine it, and just assumed I was an employee because I had a badge and acted like one.

I usually climbed the grand marble stairs up to our office. This day, since I was carrying precious cargo and wearing heels, I took the elevator. This put me half a floor too high, since our level was a mezzanine, but it was easy to walk down a few stairs than to walk up twice as many. Make gravity your friend whenever possible. I live my life by that maxim.

Once inside the office I went to the kitchen/break room to drop the Krispy Kremes on the dining table. Two of my coworkers were already there. Jimmy, one of the attorneys, was making the morning coffee. He wasn’t in a costume. Barbara, a legal secretary, was putting candy on the table. Barbara was in costume.

Barbara was wearing a voluminous black dress, a pointy witch’s hat, and a witch mask—one of those cheap ones with the elastic band they sell at Target and Party City. She was really camping it up, too. I want to say she was carrying a broom, but I wouldn’t swear to it. She definitely was making with a manic wicked-witch cackle of a laugh, and threatened those present with various fearful transformation spells. She really committed to the Hallowe’en spirit.

Sort of like this one.

Sort of like this one.

She and Jimmy both failed to recognize me until I told them good morning. Then they both knew it was me, and both laughed. Jimmy’s laugh sounded a little nervous, but Barbara was delighted and praised my look.

I headed on back to the editors’ office. Eugie was already at her desk; she was almost always there first. Today she was also in costume. Like Barbara, she was wearing a black dress; unlike Barbara, Eugie’s dress was fitted, and she was also wearing what appeared to be a pair of black rabbit ears.

She looked up in delight when she saw me enter the office. I’d told her about the plan, and she thought it was a good one. And she liked my outfit. I complimented her costume, then asked her what kind of rabbit she was supposed to be.

Turns out she wasn’t wearing a rabbit costume. She patiently explained to me that she was a phouka, a mischievous spirit from Irish folklore, like the title character in the Jimmy Stewart movie, Harvey. I accepted the distinction with a nod. Eugie was nothing if not idiosyncratic, and she reveled in obscure cultural references. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one who made that mistake today.

The workday began normally at 8:30. I should mention that Beth was out sick that day. Over the next couple of hours, several other coworkers (most of them secretaries, but a couple of the attorneys as well) ducked into our office to take a look at me. None of them seemed freaked out or disapproving; the general take was amusement, or even admiration. “He makes a better woman than we do!” said one of the secretaries, all of whom were women.

Eugie looked nothing like this. Source: stefi-heartlilly.deviantart.com

Eugie looked nothing like this.
Source: stefi-heartlilly.deviantart.com

I should note that most of the around 30 people who worked at the Office of Legislative Counsel were not in costume that day. There was no strong tradition of wearing Hallowe’en costumes at the Capitol. But several of us were in costume, and there were no official rules against wearing costumes on special occasions.

There were no rules whatsoever, for that matter. The OLC had no employee handbook. There was no dress code. No code of behavior of any sort, and no human resources department to vet such a code if it were ever created. As I’ve said on many other occasions, the OLC was like an office out of the 1950s, where traditional values and conformist behavior were simply presumed and counted upon. In the short run, this lack was not a fact that favored me.

Around 10:30 Sewell Brumby walked through the door of our office. As I noted before, he never did this. Ever. Inside our department there were many stairs and a long hallway between his office and ours, he was a chain smoker, and he was rumored to have a heart condition. In all the time I’d been there, he’d never found it necessary to enter the editors’ domain.

Yet here he was, striding straight across the room to my desk, glaring at me through narrowed eyelids. He stopped at the corner of my desk, and without any preamble, said, “Glenn, the way you’re dressed is inappropriate, and you need to go home.”

I was dumbfounded. My mind had trouble processing the presence of Sewell in our office in the first place; adding in his state of such extreme agitation at such a small provocation, and I didn’t know how to react at all. My mouth gaped.

[T]he way you’re dressed is inappropriate, and you need to go home.

I blinked and glanced over at Eugie, who looked every bit as shocked as I felt. Sewell followed my gaze over to Eugie, then turned back to me, the anger in his face unchanged. He must have taken in Eugie’s costume, but he gave it no thought at all.

“Are you serious?” I finally asked. He was obviously serious, but it was all I could think to say.

“I’ve never been more serious in my life,” he said back, and I don’t think he was being hyperbolic. “Go home.”

He turned around and stomped out.

I knew better than to defy him. I gathered up my things and left.


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 1.

In October of 2006 I was happily ensconced in my job as a legislative editor at the Georgia State Capitol and about a year and a half into my transition. I worked in a faux-wood-paneled, L-shaped room with three other editors: Larry, Eugie (who had been hired over the summer), and another woman. Our office was next door to the office of the senior editor, Beth Yinger.

I was still presenting as male, of course, but my transgender-and-transitioning status was essentially an open secret to my peers. Larry and Eugie had both been my friends for years, since well before any of us worked at the Capitol (Larry began there first, then recommended I apply when there was an opening, and then I got Eugie to apply when there was another opening). I hadn’t officially talked with the other editor about what was going on, but the room wasn’t that large, and I did talk about transition-related stuff with Eugie, within earshot of the that woman, and often at times when one or another of the legal secretaries were passing through. My therapist, Erin, called this deliberate recklessness “systematic desensitization.” I called it “unfurling my freak flag.”

My therapist, Erin, called this deliberate recklessness ‘systematic desensitization.’ I called it ‘unfurling my freak flag.’

Beth, as the senior editor, was our immediate supervisor. Since she sat in a different office from us, I figured I should have a semi-official conversation with her to explain what was going on with me. Naturally, I wanted to fully transition in this workplace someday, and the channel I’d go through would begin with Beth.

I didn’t make up a pseudonym for Beth, because that would have been pointless. Her name’s all over the various briefs and filings that constituted Glenn v. Brumby. Depositions of the parties to the suit all include mention of her, and she was deposed herself. She’s bound up inextricably in the narrative; pretending to preserve her anonymity or indemnify myself by giving her a fake name would be like ignoring an elephant in a room. Or some more flattering metaphor.

But there’s not much to say about her here, anyway. My work relationship with her was pretty straightforward. She was originally from West Virginia, had been at the Capitol as a legislative editor for almost thirty years, and had been senior editor for more than a decade. She’s the person who interviewed and hired me, and over the past year she’d given me mostly complimentary feedback about my work. She was generally easygoing, an avid reader like the rest of us, never got visibly angry, and often wore Crocs to the office.

She was also our sole intercessor with Sewell Brumby. All directives from or feedback to Mr. Brumby went through Beth. We never spoke to him directly unless we edited one of his bills, and then he rarely offered more than a curt “thank you” when we returned it to him. He never entered our office, which was separated from his by a flight of stairs and a long hallway. I don’t think I was formally introduced to him even when I started the job. If he needed something communicated to the editors, he communicated it to Beth.

I decided to have my conversation with Beth on October 11th, which is “National Coming-Out Day” (I’m often motivated by arbitrary symbolism; don’t judge). Also, this was during the nine months of the year when our office wasn’t very busy, so she’d have time for a téte-a-téte without being distracted by work.

I got up from my desk and walked out into the hall. Beth usually left her door open, so I stood in the doorway and lightly rapped on the jamb with my knuckles, just to get her to look up.

Source: sdsmt.collegiatelink.net/organization/lgbtservices

Source: sdsmt.collegiatelink.net/organization/lgbtservices

“Got a minute?” I asked. “I need to talk with you about something.”

“Sure,” she said. “Shut the door.” I closed the door behind me and sat down in the chair in front of her desk.

If I’d hesitated, I would have lost my nerve. I knew this was a ripping off the Band-Aid situation. So I just blurted it out. “I’m transgender,” I told her. I’ve been taking female hormones and doing other related things for some time now, and eventually I’m going to start coming to work as a woman.”

She nodded slowly, not looking very surprised. “All right,” she said. “I think I noticed something was going on.”

“I hope that’s okay,” I said. In hindsight I’m a little angry that our society was in such a place at the time that I felt the need to say something like this. Imagine an employee asking her boss if it was “okay” that she had psoriasis, or diabetes.

“Of course it’s okay,” she said. “I don’t think there will be any problem with that around here. After all, it’s a medical condition, right? I don’t know why anybody would have a problem with that.”

I didn’t hide my sigh of relief. I’d had no reason to doubt she’d be supportive; she was socially progressive, and also kind. But gender stuff is at the edge of the envelope, even now; you can’t always predict how people will react when you come out to them. Not everyone is as broad-minded as they believe themselves to be.

Beth took the news fully in stride, assuring me this was no big deal to her. Not for the first time or the last, I was dealing with someone who went out of her way to assert her hipness bona fides by demonstrating how accepting and well-informed she was about this sort of phenomenon. “I used to live in Midtown,” she said, with a knowing nod.

What "Midtown Atlanta" means to most people. Source: Georgia Voice

What “Midtown Atlanta” means to most people.
Source: Georgia Voice

We talked for another ten minutes or so. We mostly talked about administrative stuff: my legal name change and adjusting various work-related documents.

I told her my rough timetable, which was to begin what’s clinically known as the “real life experience” the following spring, sometime after the General Assembly’s annual legislative session. She was relieved I didn’t intend to do this during the legislative session. I never would have done that; the session was a grueling three- or four-month interval of long, stressful days; transitioning during that season would have been harder on me than on anyone else.

And one more thing. Beth and I both recognized that my coming-out to the rest of our department would be more complicated than coming out to her, and I couldn’t do it one at a time. With Hallowe’en coming soon, I suggested it would be a good opportunity for us to gauge our coworkers’ reactions to the idea of a transgender person working among them. I would come in to the office en femme that day, when many others among us would also be in costume.

She liked this idea, and gave it her blessing. As I got up to leave, she reassured me again that everything was going to be all right.

“Nobody’s going to care, and it’s none of their damn business even if they do.”

At the time I had no reason to doubt her.

Next: a reason to doubt her.


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Autobiography: In Therapy, Part II.

That first session wasn’t actually the commencement of our “talk therapy;” I spent the whole first hour with Ms. Smith (still not her real name) filling out forms and discussing treatment goals and taking care of other such administrative matters. It wasn’t until the second session on the 26th, also a Wednesday, that we got down to business.

I drove down to her office after work, as before. I was excited. I’d been taking steps toward transitioning for several months, as I mentioned last time; these steps had consisted mainly of superficial things like learning about makeup and women’s clothes, although I was also enduring my excruciating first sessions of permanent hair removal via electrolysis.

That’s as much as I felt I could do on my own, but I was impatient. I wanted to receive an official, medical diagnosis, in accordance with the Standards of Care (SOC), so I could begin taking official, medical hormones. Ms. Smith could do this for me, just as she had done, she’d reassured me during our first session, for many other patients.

In her office for that second session, I eased down into the chair opposite her desk and shifted my weight around, finding the most comfortable pose. This was a historic occasion; I wanted to be as completely at ease as possible when I began sharing these thoughts I’d never spoken aloud before.

Ms. Smith sat at her desk chair and picked up a notepad and pen. I nodded in recognition informed by 142 reruns of The Bob Newhart Show. Yes, psychotherapists use notepads and pens. This seemed legit.

Source: blog.transgenderzone.com

Source: blog.transgenderzone.com

She wrote something at the top of her pad, probably my name and the date, then drew a horizontal line straight across. Then she spoke.

“So tell me,” she said, “When was the first time you remember feeling a sexual attraction to another man?”

If I were a filmmaker, and indulged in clichés, here’s where I’d add the sound effect of a needle being dragged across a vinyl record. My jaw fell open.

“Uh …” I said. My eloquence failed me. I was astounded. If I’d made a list of twenty questions I thought were likely to be the first thing my gender therapist asked me, this would not have been one of them. The question practically dripped with ignorance.

If I’d made a list of twenty questions I thought were likely to be the first thing my gender therapist asked me, this would not have been one of them. The question practically dripped with ignorance.

Nothing else she could have said would have filled me with more dismay. I’d embarked on this relationship confident I was putting my fate in the hands of an experienced professional, and with her very first question I realized she didn’t know shit about gender dysphoria or transgender people.

“I, uh …” I continued. Seriously? I thought. She’s really asking me this question?

Maybe some of my cisgender readers don’t understand what the problem was. Probably not many of you, if you’ve been reading this blog for long, but I’ll explain. “Gender dysphoria” describes an individual whose gender does not match the sex he or she was assigned at birth. “Sexual orientation” refers to whether a person is gay or straight or something else. Put simply and universally, “gender identity” is who you want to be, while sexual orientation is who you want to be with.

So a person assigned male at birth, but who is transgender, may be attracted to men, like heterosexual women, or may be attracted to other women, like lesbians. I don’t know the percentages, but they’re not important. What’s important is that sexual orientation and gender identity don’t track with each other; one doesn’t predict the other. That’s a Transgender 101 fact.

Ms. Smith’s question revealed not only that she was unaware of this, but moreover, she took it for granted that, as a person raised male who was seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, I must naturally be sexually oriented toward men. And that this “fact” was somehow so basic to my nature and so necessary to a diagnosis of my condition that it was the very first thing she asked me about.

“Never,” I finally answered. “I’ve never felt sexual attraction toward men. Why would you ask that? That doesn’t have anything to do with my gender identity.”

Now it was her turn to look shocked. “Uh …” she said.

Inside my head, I was spiraling into dismay. Since the epiphany I’d experienced the previous summer, transitioning was all I could think about. I was impatient to begin the medically sanctioned component of my transition. I wanted it done yesterday. But the SOC was both gatekeeper and keymaster—without an official diagnosis, there would be no Dana (or Vandy Beth), only Zuul. It was almost February now; if I left this “professional” and sought out another therapist, it could delay me another month or more getting the help I needed.

Gratuitous Ghostbusters references are always in order. Source: tashasthinkings.blogspot.com

Gratuitous Ghostbusters references are always in order.
Source: tashasthinkings.blogspot.com

“I thought you said you’d treated this kind of condition before.”

She nodded vigorously. Her tone of voice was defensive. “I have, yes! And, I—you mean to say you’ve never been attracted to another man?”

Oh, brother, I thought. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

I decided to keep seeing her rather than start the process over again, but we didn’t have the therapeutic relationship I had expected. I spent most of our sessions explaining the transgender experience to her instead of the other way around. In addition to the gender identity/sexual orientation blind spot, she admitted she’d never even heard of the SOC. I ended up printing out a .pdf of the latest version I’d found online and giving her a copy.

Of course I was irritated. I understand the need for “gatekeepers;” a gender transition wreaks great changes in a person’s life, and while it’s uncommon for a person to misdiagnose him- or herself, it does happen. It’s valuable to have an infrastructure in place like the SOC.

But that’s just it: the procedure is badly flawed, if therapists who don’t really know what they’re doing, like Ms. Smith obviously didn’t, can advertise that she has expertise in these matters. It can ruin lives.

Still, I got what I needed from her. About a month and a half after our first session, after four or five sessions total, she wrote what’s called a “referral letter.” This was a letter addressed to my primary care physician, printed on her letterhead stationery, confirming my self-diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” (which, again, is what it was called at the time).

We finished that session, and I was done with her. I would resume psychotherapy some time in the future, but never again with Ms. Smith. I would only see her one more time, and that wasn’t for psychological reasons.

Links to other excerpts in this series are gathered together on this page.


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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Autobiography: In Therapy, Part 1.

In my last post, I shared a correspondence from an acquaintance who wanted guidance answering the question, “Am I transgender?” You can read my reply at the link provided.

My acquaintance followed up with a question about next steps:

When looking for someone to talk to about these matters, should I seek out an analyst who specializes in transgender issues, or is a therapist with a more general practice focusing on all sex issues sufficient?

Of course, as before, I paraphrased the question’s actual wording to help preserve my correspondent’s anonymity. But you guessed that, since nobody uses the word “analyst” outside of Woody Allen movies. And inside Woody Allen movies, analysts charge too much.

This is a difficult question to answer. No one’s sure ahead of time what one’s needs are in the psychological treatment realm; that’s part of the point of seeking treatment in the first place. It’s hard to know if the therapist you choose is going to be able to meet those needs. And your choice of therapist is going to be limited by what you can afford and who’s available under your health insurance umbrella.

So as a way of dodging the question entirely, I’ll just share my own experiences with mental health professionals as they relate to my gender identity journey. Maybe that can itself be instructive.

I’ve written before about my aborted “first transition” during my Navy years on Oahu. My second, successful transition began in late 2004, when I realized transitioning was the only way I’d have any hope of a happy and fulfilling life in the long run. I began looking into how to begin transitioning, and my research showed me that gender identity treatment in the United States (and in most of the world) was mediated by the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (and it still is today, but now it’s more generally known as the WPATH Standards of Care. Any medical or surgical steps toward asserting my true gender, if I wanted to do it the legal and aboveboard way (as opposed to seeking out black-market hormones or silicone injections), would have to be in accordance with the Standards of Care (SOC).

That meant I had to find a psychologist or other mental health therapist and receive an official, medically-approved diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, or GID (as it was called by the DSM-IV at the time; now it’s “Gender Dysphoria”). I liked to imagine therapists had this phrase written on a rubber stamp with wide-serif capital letters, and when they accepted my self-diagnosis, it would be stamped on my chart in red ink.GID

I decided to wait until early 2005, when the new year’s health plan kicked in, before seeking treatment. During the open enrollment period in the fall of 2004, I made sure I selected options that would offer me the most coverage for the kind of treatment I thought I’d need.

In January 2005 I began to browse listings of in-network providers from my desk at work, seeing who had the specialty I sought. There was nothing illicit about this, generally speaking, but given the nature of my inquiry, internalized transphobia, and the general state of transgender acceptance at the time, I twisted my body into an unnatural, awkward position to hide my monitor from view of any passing coworkers. You know, because that wouldn’t raise any suspicions itself.

I found two or three counselors whose practice descriptions claimed they had experience with gender matters. None were close to my workplace, but one was way south of town, easy to get to from my house. She didn’t have a doctorate, but there were several letters after her name, which was Ms. Smith (note: her name was not Ms. Smith). I called her up and asked if she could help me. I spoke just above a whisper, my hand cupped over the receiver.

Two-thirds of her responses were, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that? I can barely hear you.” But she sounded confident she knew what she was doing and could help me. I made an appointment for late in the afternoon on the twelfth of January; a Wednesday. I would leave work early so I could just go home afterward.

I arrived early on the day; I’d left work way early in case the traffic was bad, but it hadn’t been. The walls of Ms. Smith’s (empty, except for me) waiting room were covered in inspirational posters, like that cat that’s been clinging to a bar since the early 1970s. On her coffee table, amid the months-old issues of Newsweek and People, were various brochures and pamphlets related to beating substance abuse. I realized that addiction counseling must be the main part of her practice. This didn’t ring any alarm bells; many therapists, I knew, have special interests. It doesn’t mean they can only treat one kind of patient, or that they’re ignorant of a variety of diagnoses. There aren’t many transgender people, so GID probably isn’t the main focus of most therapists. 

There aren’t many transgender people, so GID probably isn’t the main focus of most therapists.

After I’d been in the waiting room for twenty minutes or so, the door to Ms. Smith’s office opened. One woman walked out and headed for the exit, glancing at me only furtively; another woman, middle-aged, kind-faced, wearing a khaki skirt suit, stood in the doorway.

“Are you Glenn?” she asked. I nodded. “Come on in here, then.” She grandly waved me toward the office. She turned and headed back to her desk ahead of me; I followed.

There was no couch, because this was a real therapist’s office, not a New Yorker cartoon. Instead there was a comfortable chair positioned to face her desk chair when the latter swiveled away from the extremely cluttered desk. On the floor, next to the desk, was a white-noise generator, which Ms Smith turned on as she sat. Its purpose was to keep any Nosy Parkers in her waiting room from listening in on her sessions. Of course it wasn’t necessary now; I was her last appointment of the day.

As I sat down I noticed on the wall opposite my chair was a crumpled-up, empty pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, in a frame and captioned with the date of Ms. Smith’s last cigarette.

Aha! I thought. Like the Hair Club for Men president, she’s not just an addiction counselor; she’s a former addict herself!

This made a certain sense; many people with problems draw hope from knowing the person helping them has overcome the same sort of problem. Idly, I wondered what would be hanging in a frame on the wall if Ms. Smith had triumphed over being assigned the wrong sex at birth.

To be continued.


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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


I Get Letters.

I recently let it be known on social media that I welcome questions about the transgender experience, and that such questions can be anonymous if that makes correspondents more comfortable. Among other responses, I got an anonymous email from someone who says we’re acquainted on social media, but aren’t friends otherwise. The question the person asked is reproduced below:

I cross-dress. In the last several years, it’s dawned on me that, in part, this predilection stems from a childhood incident wherein I was sexually abused.

How would I determine if my crossdressing is just a fetish or if I’m farther along the spectrum?

You can probably guess that I’ve paraphrased the language of the question a little to further preserve the individual’s anonymity. Normal people, unlike me, don’t use words like “wherein.”

Below is my reply. I hope you readers may also find it helpful, or at least informative:

You say you believe you’re a crossdresser, in part, because you were molested as a child. I’d be interested to know if you have you been told this by a therapist or psychologist. I’m not a mental health professional myself, so I don’t state this with any sort of authority, but it’s my understanding that such a one-to-one correspondence between a childhood trauma and an adult paraphilia is a myth. In other words, if you crossdress, that’s probably just something you happen to be into—the way you’re wired. I very much doubt that your crossdressing is related to what happened to you as a child, even if that was a part of what happened to you.

(And by the way, my sympathies over having had that experience. That shouldn’t happen to anyone, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to go through that.)

As for whether your crossdressing is “just a fetish” or if you’re elsewhere on the spectrum, I don’t know if I have much to tell you about that either.

For starters, I wouldn’t say anything is “just a fetish.” “Fetish” isn’t even the right word; the technical term for this behavior is a “paraphilia,” if you want to do an in-depth search of the psychological literature. But

whatever you call it, it’s a part of who you are. A small part or a larger part (TBD), but it’s valid either way. There’s nothing wrong with it, it doesn’t make you dysfunctional or bad, and you should embrace it. And celebrate and acknowledge it, if you can do so without putting your safety or livelihood in jeopardy.

To your question about whether you’re “farther along the spectrum”—well, the spectrum model has its uses, but sometimes it’s better to think of the variety of gender identities not as a spectrum, but a road. Let’s say Point A is a gender dysphoric person who lives full time in his or her sex as assigned at birth, never crossdresses and has taken no outward steps toward transition.

Point B would be a gender dysphoric person who has legally changed his or her name and the sex marker on all legal documents, lives openly and full-time in the gender they were not assigned at birth, is on a regimen of hormone replacement therapy, and has availed him or herself of all possible transition-related surgeries and medical procedures.

Very few transgender people reach Point B. Point B is a long way from Point A. Most transgender people don’t have the resources they’d need to get there. But here’s the point too many people miss: not everyone even wants to get there. It’s an arbitrary goal, and one that doesn’t define us.

Therapists and pop culture tend to assume we all want to go to Point B, and it’s common to internalize that assumption. But you can stop and pitch your tent anywhere you want along the road. Returning briefly to the spectrum model, you’re trying to find your personal wavelength.

If occasional crossdressing satisfies you, then be satisfied with it. If you decide later that it’s not enough, and you want to spend a larger percentage of your time presenting as the other gender, then go with that. If you later come to want people to call you by a name more associated with the gender other than your birth sex, do that too. Etcetera. Maybe you’ll reach a place where you’re completely comfortable and don’t need to make any more “progress.” That’s fine, and it’s a process that all of us have gone through.

There’s no wrong way to be transgender. Look at Stu Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, Oregon. His journey doesn’t in any way resemble the iconic model of “transitioning” put in our heads by the likes of Renee Richards, Jenny Boylan, or Caitlyn Jenner. But Stu seems happy with who he is, and that’s the only standard he or you or I ever have to meet.

Put simply, don’t overthink it. What matters in your transition is that it’s your transition. And you are transitioning; by occasionally crossdressing, you’ve already left Point A. Your eventual destination is entirely up to you.


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The Thousand Days.

I’m a big fan of the BBC period TV series, Call The Midwife. I particularly like the 1950s slang and Britishisms spoken by the nuns and nurses[1] on the show. There’s one that I hear a version of approximately eleventy times per episode: “every day God sends,” or “all the hours God sends.”

I like the thought behind this expression; the idea that the day after this one isn’t guaranteed; it’s instead a fresh packet of time, constructed as-needed by the Creator and sent down to us so we can get on with the next little bit of the future. It puts me in mind of a locomotive chugging down a track that’s being built right in front of it. It can’t go forward another length of rail until the next pair of rails has been laid.

I began a daily running streak on February 17, 2013. I’ve blogged before about the reasons why. Since that date, running every day has become an essential part of my life, and I no longer feel any angst or worry about breaking the streak due to laziness or fatigue, or simply forgetting. It’s easy to plan my days around my runs, to find the minimal motivation required, and to deal with the unforeseen. When I get busy with some project, or am called out of town, or have a medical emergency (as over the summer, when I broke a finger), I find a way to accommodate the daily run. I’ll do it. Every day. #RunningEveryDay, if you follow hashtags.

Where all the magic happens.

Where all the magic happens.

Yesterday I reached a minor milestone: Run 1,000. It looks like a bigger deal than it is. Yes, I’m now in the quadruple digits, and it took a long time to get there (999 days, to be precise), but it really wasn’t so hard. According to the United States Running Streak Association’s Official U.S.A. Active Running Streak List, any streak under five years is still “Neophyte” level (some of the runners on that list are in the quintuple digits). And while people often use “a thousand days” as a synonym for “three years,” this milestone isn’t even that; my third anniversary is still three months away.

Still, I’m going to take some pride in this. I’ve loved running most of my adult life, but there isn’t much that distinguishes me, among all the world’s runners. I’ve never been very fast, and these days I’m embarrassingly slow; thanks to age and estrogen, it’s rare that I get below a ten-minute mile anymore.

And the time of long-distance runs appears to be behind me. I logged a marathon many years ago and have lost count of all the half-marathons and 10ks I’ve run, but these days it’s very uncommon for me to reach ten or even eight miles. I’d love it if I could run another marathon one day, but I don’t think it’s likely. I no longer have the juice.

So I do slow, short runs (although never less than three miles anymore). Nothing special, nothing to impress. But I do it every day. That’s my thing. I run every day.

I know that eventually something will break my streak. That’s inevitable. I’ll break an ankle, or have another medical emergency, or get trapped in an elevator, or some other crisis will befall me. It’s only a matter of time, whether it’s in a month or 10,000 days from now: eventually, the streak will be broken.

So I don’t take it for granted, ever. When speaking of tomorrow, I always say “if I run,” not “when I run,” because I can’t be certain the run will happen, and someday it won’t.

Until then, I’ll continue to get up each morning and only plan to run that day. Every day God sends.


[1] New role-playing game!


Autobiography: Anchors Aweigh, Part One.

“How long is Newport Bridge, indoc?”
“Sixteen long, long weeks, sir!”

I was way out of my depth, no pun intended, when I boarded the one-way flight to Providence, Rhode Island, heading for Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport. It was a Thursday evening in June, many, many years ago. I didn’t know anything about military training, except for what I’d seen in movies about it, like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Full Metal Jacket.” The printed literature my recruiter gave me wasn’t very informative. Written descriptions of curricula and photos of pensive young men in white uniforms holding binoculars didn’t tell me much about the impending four months of my life.

Furthermore, there wasn’t any Navy experience in my family. I hadn’t been in ROTC. I’d never even lived on the coast. Would I be up for the challenges, physically and psychologically? Would the physical readiness requirements put me in the hospital instead of that white uniform? Would my inveterate smartassery send me into the brig? Would sadistic drill instructors insult my manhood, and then force me to do a hundred pushups? In the rain? In Greenland?

I had no way to know the answers to any of those questions. I comprehended less about the experience I was about to have than almost any of the other men and women who would become my classmates the following morning. I’d arrived at the head of a whirlwind. Just 24 hours prior to boarding that white Department of Defense van in Providence, I’d had no clue that in 24 hours I’d be boarding a white Department of Defense van in Providence.

Nearly a year earlier, after going through the application process, I’d heard nothing more from my recruiter until the phone call earlier that day. I received a last-minute

My new home. Photo source: www.navydads.com

My new home.
Photo source: www.navydads.com

appointment to this OCS class when another candidate dropped out. If I’d declined, I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. So I said yes. I had nothing better going on in my life at the time. I quit my temp job, threw some clothes into a gym bag, and headed to the airport.

The guy next to me in the van was Dave, from Pennsylvania. He had a degree in statistics; I was to learn many of my classmates were from a background like this. He was headed for a career in naval nuclear power. He was the product of a program I’d never heard of before: he hadn’t been ROTC in college, but the Navy had paid for his education in exchange for a commitment to attend OCS and serve for at least five years after graduation. The program was only for nuclear power engineering candidates. I suppose people with that kind of high-demand talent aren’t willing to forego the usual collegiate carousing for ROTC.

Dave had known he was headed to this OCS class, on this date, for many months. Asking everyone else in the van, I learned that my whirlwind whisking away, my Shanghai surprise, my ambush appointment, was unique. Everyone else had received their appointments months earlier, and seemed to have a much better notion of what was in store. They probably even read the printed literature.

It was after dark when we stumbled out of the van in front of King Hall, a barracks at the Naval Education and Training Center. King Hall perched on a cliff overlooking Narragansett Bay, and was within sight of Newport Bridge, the massive metaphor for the 16 long, long weeks ahead of us.

In miles or in weeks, it's a long way across.

In miles or in weeks, it’s a long way across.

The course was divided into two eight-week “semesters,” and each term overlapped the next; my classmates and I were about to begin the “junior” semester, overseen in part by the candidates in the class ahead of us, who were just beginning their senior semester. The mission of OCS is to teach people to become leaders, and candidates get their first experience of that by managing the class right below them.

School wouldn’t officially start until the next morning, and the new officer candidates (or “O.C.s,” but we were called “indocs,” short for “indoctrinees,” our first week) had been arriving throughout the day, in waves. You should excuse the pun. We were a mix of men and women—I’d guess at least a third of us were women. We were from all over the country, and ranged in age from a 20-year-old Doogie Howser type who’d finished college early to a 28-year-old enlisted radioman who’d come to OCS from the fleet after finishing college in his spare time. He was married and had three kids; at 28, he looked 40.

The senior O.C.s manning the quarterdeck (in the civilian world, this is called a “lobby”) berated us for arriving so late, knowing full well we hadn’t had any control over that. They made it clear that our tardiness plainly indicated we lacked what OCS required of us, and would soon “D.E.” or disenroll and be sent home in shame and disgrace. They were embarrassed, the seniors said, to see the poor quality of the incoming class. The nation was clearly going to fail, if the likes of us were who it looked to to defend it. I felt certain they couldn’t yet have sufficient information to make this sort of judgment, but decided not to say anything.

Next they gave us sheets and blankets, told us our room assignments, and marched us to our beds.

Mine never looked this good except for inspections. Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Mine never looked this good except for inspections.
Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Except beds were called “racks.” The Navy, I was learning, had a different word for everything. We were two to each room, and our names were already printed on cards taped to our doors. Except for mine, that is; my name was hand-written on every label and roster, when it appeared at all.

I said King Hall was a barracks. That word may call up a picture of the Quonset hut Gomer Pyle’s platoon resided in. Really, this was a dormitory, just like a dorm anyone who’s been to college has seen. King Hall housed the student body, called a regiment: all officer candidates in the two classes. It had four floors (which we called decks); each deck was occupied by a battalion. Each battalion’s deck was further divided into three halls, or passageways, or p-ways, of rooms. Each p-way was a company.

I found myself assigned to Alfa Company, on the first floor with Bravo and Charlie companies. We were the 1st Battalion. Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot companies were on the second floor in 2nd Battalion. On the third floor, 3rd Battalion consisted of Golf, Hotel, and Juliet companies. Kilo, Lima, and Mike lived in the penthouse as 4th Battalion.

Yes, there was no “India” company. We do not speak of it!

My roommate’s name was Luke. That’s all I remember about him. After introducing ourselves, we didn’t talk much that night; it was already after taps when we’d arrived, and reveille was at five the next morning. Besides, what was there to say?

It took a long time to get to sleep that night. My mind was a churning sea of emotions. Nevermind the pun.


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Autobiography: Congress, Part 2.

Wait, yesterday’s post was wrong. I didn’t speak first; Representative Barney Frank did:

(You can see me sitting behind Frank’s right shoulder; my attorney, Cole, is to my left.)

He went first because he had somewhere else to be. He spoke, then left. He wasn’t a member of the committee, anyway.

Frank’s testimony was much anticipated and scrutinized, because the last time ENDA had come before Congress, in 2007, he had allowed transgender protections to be stripped from the language of the bill. He justified this change by saying the bill couldn’t have passed the House of Representatives if the transgender language remained in it.

This was a bullshit argument. In 2007, the Senate was in the hands of a Republican majority that would not have passed any version of ENDA, and living in the White House was a bigoted Republican President who would not have signed any version of ENDA. So there was no reason not to swing for the fences with the House’s wording of the bill. Compromising on a bill that had no chance of passage anyway served no purpose other than pissing off almost every national LGBT rights group (except the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); its director at the time, Joe Solmonese, was always ready to throw transgender people under the bus) and changing the perception of Barney Frank from that of an ally to a villain.

As you can hear if you listen to the video above, in 2009 Frank’s remarks had an unmistakable “transgender employees, yay!” quality to them.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin also spoke. At the time, she and Frank were two of only three gays in Congress at the time; the third, Jared Polis of Colorado, didn’t speak, but I think he was there as a committee member.rsz_enda_hearing1

Then it was my turn. Cole had written my testimony, as I’ve noted. Most people assume I wrote them myself, but I try to remember to give Cole the credit he’s due. Sure, I’m also a writer, but for this purpose Cole brought certain skills to the task that I didn’t have. With only five minutes to work with, my words had to have maximum information content, yet still tickle the committee’s compassion bones in a way that convinced them that passing ENDA would help people like me.

The words were all accurate and true to my experiences, and the break in my voice was all me.

Several of my coaches at NGLTF the day before had wanted some mention of my Navy experience in my testimony, because letting it drop that you’re a veteran always plays well in the cheap seats. I successfully argued against that, on several grounds.

For one, my Navy service was a pretty important and formative time in my life, but it was still only four years out of my life, and they didn’t have anything to do with my case or with ENDA.

Secondly, I wasn’t a very good officer, so it felt wrong to try to make hay out of that experience.

Third, and most of all, it feels like a cliché to me to mention a transgender woman’s military service. The media loves to find the irony in a story, and since serving in the military is often characterized as the epitome of masculinity, they can’t resist contrasting it apparently going to the other extreme. This angle goes back at least as far as Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s, with “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty!” and similar headlines. I wanted no part of it.

ExGIBlondeBeauty

Thank you, but no.

My testimony did its job nonetheless. Chairman George Miller of California (not the director of the Mad Max films) seemed genuinely stunned that anyone could be as callous and closed-minded as Sewell Brumby had been. Several other committee members also seemed moved. They didn’t ask me many questions, though. Beyond my testimony, there wasn’t much else to say.

After I spoke, the other witnesses took their turns. One was a pro-equality rabbi; another was Stuart J. Ishimaru of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Craig Parshall of the National Religious Broadcasters predictably spoke against the passage of ENDA. I didn’t know of him, but his wife was asshole radio host Janet Parshall.

The committee spent most of its time talking with Ishimaru about the nuts and bolts of implementing ENDA: how it would affect American workplaces, what accommodations would need to be made, how many people would stand to benefit from it, etc.

They were pretty much done with me now. Mara Keisling of NCTE had encouraged me to insert myself into the conversation wherever possible, to help focus the attention on the specific needs of transgender people and to remind everyone just what’s at stake. But I wasn’t able to; the hearing became very technical, very quickly. I had neither the credentials nor the knowledge to contribute anything further.

And then it was all over. The hearing adjourned. The aftermath is all a blur. I remember shaking the hand of Dennis Kucinich, who praised my bravery (in 2009, everyone I met praised my bravery). David snagged my notes and grabbed my nameplate off the witnesses’ bench. “For history,” he said. I think he may still have them.

Back at … somewhere, I was handed a phone and told a reporter from the ABC News website, Devin Dwyer, wanted to interview me. He’d been watching the committee’s feed in some

This was the guy with all the answers.

This was the guy with all the answers.

Capitol press room. This is the story he wrote. Like all journalists who’ve ever interviewed me, he got several of his facts wrong, but since one of his errors was to say I was 30 years old, I’m overall pleased with his reportage.

Then David, Cole, and I found ourselves in the office of Rep. John Lewis, chatting with Lewis and his chief of staff (whose name I’ve forgotten; sorry!). Cole and I both lived in Lewis’s Congressional district, which we were proud to tell him. He hadn’t been able to attend the hearing, but he was, and is, and always has been a strong ally. In his mind, he told us, the fight for civil rights for LGBT people is exactly the same as the fight for equality for African-Americans and every other minority.

He gets it. He has always gotten it. We spent half an hour chatting with him, and it was the only time that day I felt star struck.

No time for sightseeing. After we left the Capitol, Mara ordered up a Zip car and drove us all back to the airport. We boarded our plane and I went almost immediately to sleep. I don’t even remember takeoff.

And why shouldn’t I sleep? I’d helped convince a Congressional committee that ENDA was necessary, and it enjoyed support among the majority in both houses of Congress and the sitting President. I still didn’t know whether I’d win my lawsuit, but I could rest easy knowing that, by the end of 2009, the discrimination I’d endured would be illegal.

Yeah, I was an idiot.


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