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.


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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Autobiography: Congress, Part 1

Here’s another post in my ongoing autobiography project. If you like reading these posts, please consider helping me out financially; I’m crowdfunding this project via my Patreon account. You can read more about my ambitions here.

Today, September 23, is an important anniversary for me. It’s the day I became the first openly transgender person to testify before a Congressional committee. Here’s the first part of the story.

In mid-September 2009 I got a call from my attorney, Cole Thaler. He had a proposition for me. The Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives was preparing to convene a hearing where it would receive testimony about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would extend federal employment protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Several versions of the bill had languished in Congress for over fifteen years; now, with a friendly President, friendly veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate, and support by wide majorities in issue polls, equality-minded progressives had decided it was time to finally pass it.

This hearing would be the first step. Testimony would be given by the usual policy wonks and attorneys, but they also wanted a witness whose life had been adversely affected by the lack of ENDA. A call was put out nationwide by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF, but they’re now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force) to find such a witness, and the powers that be at Lambda Legal had asked Cole to ask me if I was interested.

During the course of my lawsuit, Cole (and my other attorneys, Greg Nevins and Dru Levasseur) asked me to make appearances at several public events, and whether or not I accepted was governed by these two questions, in order:

1. Will it be good for the LGBT community?

2. Will it be good for our case?

If the answer to #1 was “yes,” I always accepted. (If the answer to #2 was “no,” they usually didn’t bring the idea to me in the first place, but I tried to do everything I could that was good forNCTE-logo the community, even if it might be bad for the lawsuit.)

This time I said “yes,” of course. This one was a no-brainer. The passage of ENDA would make what Sewell Brumby had done to me illegal, nationwide. If my testimony could help make that happen, there’s no way I could say no.

There were three other people under consideration for the role. I don’t remember the details, but I believe they were all also transgender, and their stories were also compelling. I think the committee wanted a transgender person, because we stood even closer to the front lines of this fight than lesbians and gays.

At that time, our lawsuit had been filed about 14 months previously, and over the summer our district court judge had turned down the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss with a lengthy, point-by-point refutation of their justification for firing me. He hinted broadly that, if everything we’d alleged was true (and it was), he would eventually rule in our favor.

Counterintuitively, we suspected this would make the committee less likely to choose me as a witness: if I was on track to win my lawsuit, it sort of suggested I didn’t need ENDA, right? Certainly hundreds of LGBT people are fired from jobs every year, and most of their circumstances didn’t give them the option to sue that Lambda Legal and I had pounced upon. It seemed likely that one of these other three candidates had more woeful tales of woe.

I’ll probably never know, since I wasn’t privy to the decision-making process. But in the end, they did choose me. I had to keep it a secret until the day before, but I wasn’t telling anyone then, because I spent that day traveling.

Cole and I flew up to Washington together early on TuesdayTF_logo_pos_arrow morning, the 22nd. My best friend, David Deriso, came along on his own dime. Mara Keisling of NCTE met us at the airport and drove us into the district, where we were installed in a hotel near the Congressional office building where the hearings would be held. Then walked a few blocks to the headquarters of the NGLTF.

Cole had written my testimony, which was strictly limited to five minutes. We spent all afternoon at a conference table. Some of the biggest names in LGBT political activism told me what to expect from the hearing, how I should respond to questions, and how best to comport myself. I may or may not have walked the length of the room balancing a book on my head.

I memorized my testimony, although I’d also have notecards the next day. I rehearsed it over and over as Mara timed me with her iPhone’s stopwatch app. By the time we were done, I was hitting within a few seconds under the five-minute mark.

Finally, I was as ready as I was going to be, and we knocked off to go relax a little. We found ourselves at a nearby restaurant/bar in what I was told was one of D.C.’s many gay neighborhoods.

While there, I saw a face out of the past. At a booth near the front door was my old shipmate, Trey, dining with another man. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years. I wanted to go say hello to him, and to this day I regret that I didn’t, but at the time my thinking was that there would be more explaining to do than I had the excess emotional energy for. I did Google him later that night, and learned that after he’d also left the Navy, he joined an association for gay Annapolis grads. And the wheel keeps turning.

I didn’t sleep well that night, but I was so adrenalized and nervous the next morning that it didn’t matter. We took a taxi to Congress and went into an antechamber to the hearing room. It was here that I met Tico Almeida, who at the time worked for George Miller, a California Congressman and the chairman of the committee. It was Tico’s idea to bring a victim of discrimination to speak at this hearing. He later founded Freedom to Work.

This was the panel of witnesses (h/t bilerico and my friend Jillian Weiss). You can see a couple of anti-equality conservative names there, added by the Republican vice chairman. I don’t know why he insisted, since not a single Republican committee member showed up for the hearing.

Each of us gave our testimony, then took questions. I went first:

Tomorrow: Part 2.

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Autobiography: Underway Replenishment.

Here’s another new excerpt from my in-progress autobiography. This page contains information about how you can help me out financially with the project. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy this!

We were part of an aircraft carrier battle group, doing training exercises in the Pacific a few hundred miles east of Taiwan. Today, we were not doing a training exercise. Our cruiser approached the Navy tanker ship, or “oiler,” from astern, on its starboard side. The oiler had slowed to just five knots; we were doing seven knots to overtake it. I had the conn, but the captain was also on the bridge to supervise; I hadn’t done this many times before. The oiler had fuel and our ship needed fuel; an underway replenishment, or UNREP, was about to commence.

Down on the port side of the main deck, at about amidships, one of our gunner’s mates held a rifle. It wasn’t loaded with standard ammunition; it had a “monkey’s fist” attached to the tip of its barrel. A monkey’s fist is a tightly knotted ball of light rope; sometimes it has a ball bearing at its center. It’s good for throwing or, in this case, shooting.

On a signal from the bridge, the gunner’s mate aimed his rifle at the air above the oiler’s main deck and fired. The monkey’s fist arced over the churning sea between the two ships, dozens of yards of line trailing behind it like a streamer. This was the “shotline.” The ball hit the oiler’s deck and bounced; a dozen of the oiler’s seamen scrambled to catch it. In short order they did, and secured it to a bitt. Then several of them began to haul on the line while the boatswain’s mates at our end paid it out.

The shotline, which was light enough for ballistics but too light for anything else, was spliced into a heavier line, which was spliced into a still heavier line, until finally a heavy, load-bearing ropeMonkey's_fist with a pulley and winch apparatus connected our two ships and the real work began.

Once the connection was secure, the first item passed between the ships, supplied by the oiler, was the “P and D” or phone and distance line. As soon as we received our end, a seaman hustled it up to the bridge and delivered it to me.

The phone part of the term was a sound-powered telephone, a truly ingenious invention that the Navy has used for many decades. It works like a regular phone, except that, as the name implies, it’s powered by the pressure of the sound waves of each speaker’s voice. The waves are converted into electrical signals that travel across the wire to the other speaker’s headset, tin-can style; no external power is needed. I used this phone to communicate course and speed directly to the conning officer of the oiler, as well as to my own helmsman and lee helmsman.

The distance part of the P and D line is determined by the flags hanging from it, each 20 feet apart and color-coded in the order Green, Red, Yellow, Black, White, then starting over with Green again. The mnemonic for remembering the order is the relatively demure, by sailors’ standards, “Go Rub Your Balls With Grease,” but the order isn’t as important as remembering to keep the line taut with at least seven flags, or 140+ feet, between the ships. My captain told me that when he was a young ensign, the standard gap between ships was only 80 feet, but in the years since, the powers that be decided, as he put it, that “life didn’t need to be that interesting.”

My ship, like all U.S. Navy vessels, used UNREPs because it’s easier and cheaper to resupply a ship ata1800 sea than to send her into port every time she needs gas, food, ammunition, or anything else. And we didn’t stop for UNREPs because, dead in the water, we’d be at the mercy of wind and wave. So instead, as on this day, we pull alongside supply ships and match course and speed before the shotline is fired across.

It’s a dangerous operation. If we veered toward the oiler or vice versa, we’d collide before anyone could stop it. The danger of this occurring is compounded by something called the Bernoulli effect, a physical force in fluid dynamics that tugs on two ships steaming side by side, trying to draw their bows into each other. The helmsman, on orders from the conn, must always fight with the rudder to prevent this from happening.

However, if the opposite happened, perhaps through a hypercorrection or a steerage failure, and we turned away from each other, the cables and lines could snap and recoil with deadly speed. Fiber lines that part can kill, dismember, or decapitate any unlucky sailors in their paths. Wire ropes that part unravel their strands as they recoil, becoming metal propellers that shred anything they touch, including people.

Or, if the lines are strong enough not to part, they become the pivot points of a giant bola, sending the ships’ sterns crashing together.

If any of this happened during our refueling and gas hose parted along with the lines, it could spray fuel all over, starting fires or causing explosions on either ship’s deck. A hose malfunction could happen even if the ships behaved, which is why smoking and flammable materials are strictly forbidden on deck during a refueling exercise.

These dangers explain why I was in direct communication with the oiler’s conning officer, and why I was constantlyoiler calling out course and speed corrections to him. When I say “course corrections,” I mean one or two degrees at a time—three at the most. And when I say “speed corrections,” I don’t mean in knots; I mean in revolutions per minute of the ship’s main drive shafts. That’s how precisely in tune we had to be.

This day we were two weeks into a month-long exercise with the carrier group. We were the aft AAW picket, which meant we were stationed 100 miles behind the bird farm. No other ships were ever in sight, but thanks to radar and radios everyone always knew where everyone else was.

A thick fuel hose with an unfortunately phallic nozzle on the end was run out across the amidships cable from the oiler to our ship, where it slammed home and locked into a pipe with an unfortunately yonic receptacle for the hose on its end. A man stood by this junction with a sledgehammer; the apparatus was designed to break clean and seal itself in an emergency.

These refueling operations took up to an hour to complete. One or more of these oilers, and other supply ships, traveled with carrier battle groups, and their crews spent all day, every day, doing UNREPs like these. Sometimes they did two at once, with one ship on each side.

Throughout the operation, extra lookouts kept their eyes on the water dividing us, ready to spot any sailor unlucky enough to fall overboard. This patch of sea roiled and churned like rapids in a shallow river; the Bernoulli effect at work again. If a man fell overboard during this, he’d probably get sucked under a hull or into the spinning screws.

My ship was a guided-missile cruiser with the primary mission of anti-aircraft warfare. IUNREP_Refuel_probe didn’t serve during wartime, so all the “action” we saw was in the form of training exercises. In the Combat Information Center, we looked at a scope and pretended to fire a missile at an icon representing a fake blip on our radar. If the icon disappeared, the pretend missile had destroyed the pretend enemy aircraft. If the icon didn’t disappear, it meant we had pretend-missed the pretend-aircraft. Either way, someone would write up an after-action report. Yee haw.

Stressful and scary as UNREPs were, I looked forward to them as one of the few really exciting things we got to do as a matter of routine.

When our tanks were full, we began what’s called the “breakaway.” We cast off all lines and accelerated to twice our speed while the oiler held steady. When our stern drew even with the oiler’s bow, I ordered “right full rudder,” and we carved ocean away from the oiler in a long, majestic arc. Every ship traditionally plays “breakaway music” over its weather deck speakers to assert some personality and signal a thank-you to the replenishing ship. My captain, who loved classical and symphonic music, always had us play Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

It was exhilarating. I loved every moment of these operations. When we were clear of the oiler I turned to my helmsman, smiling ear to ear, and said, “On days like these you just want to give back your paycheck, right?”

His expression didn’t change. “Maybe you do, sir.”

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

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:


Thank you!

Autobiography: 20th Century Man, Part Three.

This is the third part of an excerpt from my in-progress autobiography. You can find Part One here, and Part Two is here.

If you can help me financially with this book project, I’d be very grateful. A Paypal “donate” button is at the bottom of this post, and my Patreon page is here. Additional funding channels are on their way. Thank you so much!

I spoke to Lorraine for a good half hour, sharing all the details I could remember. Yes, I had the audio recording, but I’d turned the recorder off in the stairwell while marching back to the editors’ office, and there was much that wasn’t captured in the audio. Had I been asked to sign anything? Would I receive severance pay? Was there any advance indication things would go down this way? How did my coworkers react? Who escorted me from the building? And so forth.

I answered all her questions as patiently and completely as I could. It wasn’t easy. The day was crowding on 1 p.m. now, and I really just wanted to get on home. But I knew this phone call was very important to my future, so I stuck it out and kept answering questions until Lorraine was satisfied she had all she needed. Finally, she told me she’d speak to the attorneys in the office and someone would get back to me. Then she hung up.

She seemed more surprised than pleased that I’d recorded the conversation. She didn’t really know what to make of it. Most people don’t think to do such a thing, and in many states it’s illegal.

It’s legal in Georgia; Georgia is a “single consent” state, meaning a conversation may be recorded if at least one of the parties is aware it’s happening. I learned that in my communication law classes at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism. If Mr. Brumby had fired me over the phone, calling from a different state, or had used a voice over IP line that had routed the call through overseas servers and then back to my desk phone, that would have complicated the legality of a secret audio recording. But we’d been face to face. Legally, in Georgia, it wasn’t a gray area. But use caution before trying it elsewhere.

The lavaliere microphone I used was clipped to the inside cuff of the left sleeve of my sweater. The cord ran up the sleeve, down the left side of my torso, and into the left pocket of my khakis, where it plugged into the recorder. The setup had been waiting in a desk drawer for weeks, and when Brumby called me down to his office that morning, I stopped in the restroom on the way and wired myself up.

In a time to come, when I was deposed for the lawsuit, Brumby’s attorney snidely asked why I didn’t reveal beforehand that I was recording the conversation. I answered, a bit glibly, that “I didn’t want to put artificial limits on Mr. Brumby’s impulse to be candid.”

I really wasn’t expecting to capture a “smoking gun” moment with the recording. Again, this was 2007, when the weight of existing court decisions in the United States was still very much against the notion that transgender people had a right not to be fired for their gender identity and we had a President who spoke openly in favor of a Constitutional amendment to outlaw marriage equality. Also, I was in Georgia, deep-red politically and an anti-union, “right to work” state, where employers brag about how easy it is to fire people for any reason they like. If Brumby fired me for being transgender, he was probably secure in the knowledge he was on solid legal ground to do so.

But there are other ways to fight injustice, especially since the Internet was invented. Even back then, most people who weren’t well-informed about the law thought it was illegal to fire people for being gay or transgender, and I had it in the back of my mind that, if I had no other recourse, maybe I could go the Woodward and Bernstein route with the recording and at least shame Brumby in the court of public opinion.

In short, whatever happened next, I’d want an accurate record of the events of this day, and I know enough about human memories to know how faulty they can be. I’d forget details, even critically important ones, but an unedited recording of that fateful encounter would have all the words, pauses, inflections and nuances, true and accurate.

“At about 11:30 this morning the senior attorney called me into his office and fired me because I am transgender.”

I pulled out of the CVS and drove the rest of the way back to my little bungalow in East Atlanta Village. I fell into my desk chair and reported the morning to my LiveJournal, as was the custom in those days. It was a one-sentence post:

“At about 11:30 this morning the senior attorney called me into his office and fired me because I am transgender.”

I called or emailed a few select loved ones. I only called a one or two people before switching to email; I found I couldn’t hear their replies, “We’re sorry, and we love you and will support you,” without bursting into tears.

Some friends offered to come over to take me out to eat, or drown my sorrows, or just sit with me for a while and let me vent. I appreciated all the offers, but I wasn’t ready. That day, what I needed was to be alone (with my cats), and begin to process the trauma.

Not to overstate the case, but these three may well have saved my life in that dark time.

Not to overstate the case, but these three may well have saved my life in that dark time.

It was a very long day. In a sense, it’s a day that never ended; the emotional effects of Brumby’s callous dismissal come back to visit me from time to time. My subconscious brain is always making connections between things I see, read, or hear, and dredging up memories that relate to them. Usually I don’t even consciously know what the spark was. So October 16, 2007, often comes back and hits me unawares. The shock, the humiliation, the despair, the anger—all periodically come back in a wave, and it’s a while before I can put them back down again. Especially the anger. The anger still burns hot. No amount of vindication will ever douse it. There is no forgiveness. The flame will char the fringes of my soul until my final breath.

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

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:


Thank you!


I’m writing my autobiography. My life (so far) has included many adventures, and I think it would make a good read even if I weren’t also transgender.

Everyone looks happy on Decatur Square.

Everyone looks happy on Decatur Square.

But I am also transgender, and that fact has given me much more to write about. Like so many other people with gender dysphoria, I lost my job over it. I was able to fight back, and I won a groundbreaking federal lawsuit—in the Deep South, no less—against the man who fired me. During the long years of that experience, I became the first transgender person to testify before a Congressional committee. This book (tentatively titled Unsafe At Any Speed, but something tells me that title may not be available) is about all of that, plus much more.

As I write, I post excerpts to my blog. Links to these excerpts are gathered below for “one-stop shopping”; if you bookmark this page, it will always be up to date, so you won’t have to search through my blog for them. I don’t write in chronological order, but that’s how the excerpts are organized.

I’m a freelance writer and editor, but I’d love to be able to work on this book full time. Please help me do this with a monetary contribution! I can accept Paypal funds here:

I also have a Patreon page. Additional fundraising channels will be added later. I’m brainstorming possible rewards, such as bonus content or coffee mugs (who doesn’t like coffee mugs?), that I can offer if you send me money. Suggestions are welcome! What sort of bennies would you like to get in exchange for helping out?

If you are an agent or publisher, or if you know one who may be interested in this book, please contact me!

In any event, thank you for your interest, and for reading this far. I appreciate it!

The story so far:

Rock In the Stream. In which, as a small child, my imperturbability is made manifest.

Underway Replenishment. Filling the gas tank is complicated for a Navy ship.

Paradise Glossed. I discover a strange new world on the island of Oahu.

Paradise Glossed, Part 2. Stranger still.

2003. I feel like an astronaut while working in the third-oldest profession.

20th Century Man, Part One. I’ve had good days and bad days. This was one of the worst days.

20th Century Man, Part Two. Amid the wreckage, a sliver of hope.

20th Century Man, Part Three. And on into evening.

Congress, Part 1. I enter the history books.

Congress, Part 2. Ms. Glenn Goes To Washington.

Perspective. When all is said and done, we sit on a convertible and wave.

Autobiography: 20th Century Man, Part Two.

Here’s Part Two of this excerpt from my in-progress autobiography. Part One is here. If you’d like to help me crowd-fund this project, please click the “Donate” button at the bottom of this post, or visit my Patreon page. Thank you!

I got up and left, Beth following behind. I moved briskly, despite my mood. I was glad it was lunchtime and most people were out; I didn’t want to encounter anyone on my way back to the editors’ office. I liked my coworkers, every one of them, and seeing them would have punctuated what I had just lost, and cost me the composure I was barely hanging on to. Now that the worst-case scenario had come to pass, I wanted to escape the Capitol as soon as possible and go commiserate with my cats or a bottle or both.

At the landing halfway up the stairs, while briefly out of Beth’s sight, I stuck my left hand into my trouser pocket for a moment, then quickly withdrew it.

I shouldn’t have been shocked by what had just happened. All the evidence, beginning with the incident on Hallowe’en the previous year, had pointed to this action as inevitable. I’d had no reason to believe Brumby would act according to compassion or empathy. Or, if he’d fired me because he thought it would please his “bosses,” as he called them, the conservative Republicans who ran the General Assembly, I’d wrongly credited him with a courage and loyalty to his subordinates that he obviously lacked.

Either way, in firing me, he’d revealed himself to be small-minded and mean, entirely deserving of a name like a villain in a Charles Dickens novel.

"I don't believe this guy." SOURCE: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens

“I don’t believe this guy.”
SOURCE: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens

Back in the editors’ office, I sat down at my (now former) desk to pack. I took a breath and willed myself not to rush. I’d been caught off-guard, but I was going to do this right and protect myself as well as I could. While I doubted I could find an attorney willing to take a case like this in deep-red, “right-to-work” Georgia, I was going to do everything I could to preserve as much of a chance for myself as possible.

I opened Outlook and forwarded to my personal email account any and all messages I thought might conceivably relate to my job, my work performance, my relationships with my colleagues, or my gender identity. Then I trashed my email file and browser history and cleared my browser cookies. I didn’t think there was anything questionable among those items, but I didn’t want to have to worry whether there was. Not that it would have occurred to anyone to tell the IT department to examine the machine; I have no doubt the Acer desktop was reformatted and issued to someone else by the end of the week.

Beth stood next to my desk, arms crossed, a look of deep unease on her face. Larry and Eugie were looking at us querulously from their desks.

“Tell them what just happened,” I told Beth. Her lips parted, but she didn’t say anything. In that moment I realized Sewell must have admonished her to be reticent. It was my first hint he was in any way concerned that firing a transgender employee could come back to haunt him.

“They deserve to know,” I persisted. Put on the spot, Beth finally spilled it.

“Sewell has just fired Glenn.” She stopped abruptly, like she knew that wasn’t a complete answer, but was afraid to continue it.

“Tell them why,” I prodded. She hesitated again.

“For … the obvious reason.” Eugie bit her lip and looked shocked. Larry didn’t show any emotion. He wasn’t surprised.

Done flushing my electronic files, I shut down my computer and looked around my desk. I’ve always been too much of a pack rat, but I was still surprised at all the things I’d accumulated in just two years. Pens, pencils, cartoons tacked to the wall, a page-a-day calendar, a few books, paperweights… In the drawers were employment-related documents: tax forms, direct deposit paperwork; plus a few blocks of ramen and cans of fruit. “I’m going to need a box,” I said. An empty printer-paper carton appeared from somewhere. Larry produced a second and placed it on top of my inbox.

It took me at least ten minutes to empty my drawers and stuff everything into the boxes. I was systematic and thorough. I wanted to be gone, but I wasn’t going to leave anything behind; again, if I hoped to ever win justice for this outrage, the more material I retained in my possession, the better. I couldn’t see any reason to hurry.

Clearly growing impatient, Beth tried to hurry me along. “I think Sewell wants you out of here as soon as possible,” she said urgently.

Despite myself, I nearly burst into laughter. Why would she think I cared what Sewell wanted? He wasn’t my employer anymore; was he going to call the Capitol Police to drag me away? But I didn’t say anything.

The founder of Georgia does not approve. SOURCE: georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/statues_monuments

The founder of Georgia does not approve.
SOURCE: georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/statues_monuments

Once I had all my belongings boxed up, the four of us left the office via the mezzanine door. I carried my jacket and my messenger bag; Larry and Eugie each had one of my boxes. We went halfway down the divided main steps to the bust of James Oglethorpe, then down the rest of the way to the basement. I looked morosely at Oglethorpe, and at the other familiar monuments and embellishments. I saw everything with the certainty that it was for the last time. No matter what happens now, I remember thinking, Even if I can sue, even if I win—I’ll never work here ever again. It was the saddest thought I’d had all day.

We went out the doors and across Capitol Avenue to the employee parking deck and my truck. I put my things in the front passenger seat, handed my badge and key to Beth, and shook her hand. “It was great working with you,” I told her. I meant it.

“Good luck,” she replied. “I’ll give you a minute to say goodbye to Eugie.”

I shook Larry’s hand. Eugie and I hugged. She smiled at me sadly. I think I wanted to say something to her, but I don’t remember what. It didn’t matter anyway; Eugie and I were friends before we were also coworkers, and that was never going to change.

I got in my truck and drove out of the deck.

A mile away I pulled into a space at the Grant Park CVS Pharmacy and parked. I got out my phone and called Lorraine at Lambda Legal. I’d spoken to her a couple of times before. She was one of the legal assistants, and she’d given me general advice about how to protect myself, but couldn’t do more until I’d actually been fired. Part of her job was to be a gatekeeper for Lambda Legal’s attorneys; they were overworked and didn’t have time to discuss hypotheticals. If and when I got fired, then they’d have something to respond to.

Lorraine answered.

“It’s happened,” I said. “My boss just fired me for being transgender.” I transferred my phone to my right hand and dug into my trouser pocket with my left.

“It’s happened,” I said. “My boss just fired me for being transgender.”

I heard her reach for a notepad. “Are you sure that was the reason? Did he put it like that?” Work like Lambda Legal’s requires rigorous attention to detail.

“That’s definitely the reason,” I answered, “but those weren’t the exact words he used…”

“We need to know his exact words,” she said.

“No problem,” I replied as I pulled the tiny electronic device out of my pocket and unplugged the wire of the lavaliere mike tucked inside the cuff of my left sleeve. “I recorded the whole conversation.”

Posts in my ongoing Autobiography Project:
Rock In the Stream.
Paradise Glossed.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.
20th Century Man, Part One.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:

Thank you!

Autobiography: 20th Century Man, Part One.

Continuing my autobiography project. These posts will be chapters when collected into my book. If you’d be interested in helping me crowdfund this project, please let me know!

It was late morning on Tuesday, October 16, 2007. We weren’t busy; no bills or resolutions were in our inbox. I was at my desk. My office phone rang. I picked up the receiver.

It was Sewell Brumby. “Would you come down to my office for a minute, please?”

As casually as I could manage, I told him I’d be right there and hung up. I turned to Eugie.

“Sewell wants to see me in his office. Looks like this is it,” I told her as I stood. She smiled reassuringly.

“It’ll be all right,” she said. Despite her generally cynical assumptions about human nature, Eugie had always been relentlessly bullish on the bet that Sewell wouldn’t fire me. Of course I hoped she was right, but I never shared her optimism, especially after the previous year’s Hallowe’en incident.

“Good luck,” she added. I smiled back and left our shared office. I walked slowly down the narrow, low-ceilinged hallway with its institutional blue carpet and awful 1970s-era faux wood paneling. Half the distance to the stairs, I stepped into the restroom and closed the door behind me.

Moments later I stepped back out, straightening the oversized cotton sweater I wore to work most days; taking care to shake the wrinkles out of the sleeves. I continued down the hall, went around the corner, and marched down the stairs to the main floor.

Another few steps and I was in Sewell’s corner office. He was behind his desk, on which a single sheet of white paper lay. Two chairs were in front of the desk. Beth, the senior editor and my supervisor, sat in one of them. Sewell gestured at the other.

“Have a seat, please,” he said. I sat, crossed my legs, and carefully placed my left arm on the chair’s armrest.

Mr. Brumby got right to it. “Glenn, do I understand correctly from Beth that you have formed a fixed intention of becoming a woman?”

"Wisdom, Justice, Moderation."

“Wisdom, Justice, Moderation.”

I could write here that, from Sewell’s tone of voice, I could already tell where things were heading, but that wouldn’t be true. He spoke completely without affect. He could have said anything at all next, and it wouldn’t have surprised me.

My belly was churning. I felt like a lemming in a Disney nature film, driven to the edge of a cliff by a production assistant. Whatever happened next was completely out of my hands. My life would divide here; everything after this meeting would belong to the “post-October 16, 2007” chapter. Now that it was here, I wished we were discussing anything, anything else. In a panicked flash of daydream, I imagined pivoting the talk onto some less fraught subject.

“Yes, sir, I intend to become a woman. Can you believe the prices in the cafeteria these days?”

“Yes, sir, I’ve been transitioning since early 2005. Hey, that’s a funny word, isn’t it: ‘transition’? I believe it’s from the Latin for “to cross over …”

“Yes, sir. Say, you sure have a lot of law books here.”

“Yes, sir,” was all I really said.

“Well, Glenn,” he said, in that same matter-of-fact way, “I wish you well, but that just can’t happen simultaneously with your employment here, and I have to dismiss you.”

There it was, in the precise, calculated words of an attorney. My heart fell to my feet. Yes, I’d figured this was the way things were likely to go down. That didn’t make it any easier to hear. I sat in silence for a moment, then replied.

“Could I understand why, please?” I knew I wasn’t likely to change his mind, but I did want him to elaborate on his reasons. I wanted to hear him justify his discrimination. Also, I thought, in desperation, that maybe if I could prolong this meeting, keep him talking, I might get an inspiration—come up with an argument that would save my job.

He cleared his throat. “Yes, uh, my motivation for dismissing you at this time is your stated intention of becoming a woman … I just don’t think that can appropriately happen in this workplace.”

At this moment I began to despise the word “appropriate.” He’d used it when he sent me home the previous Hallowe’en. “The way you’re dressed is not appropriate,” he’d said then.

“But,” I said now, “I don’t work with the public. I don’t even work with the legislators.”

“[Y]our stated intention of becoming a woman … I just don’t think that can appropriately happen in this workplace.”

“That’s certainly true,” he said simply. Like he understood that was a relevant point, but didn’t care.

My brow furrowed. I’d expected him to at least try to make a reasonable case. “I don’t see how it is ‘inconsistent with my employment here.’ I understand it would probably cause a sensation for a few days, but I don’t see how it would … how it could be a problem with the rest of the employees here.”

Sewell was unmoved. “Well, I hear what you say. I understand your point of view. But, at the same time the appropriateness of it is ultimately not just your judgment; it’s my judgment. I think it will be something that will be judged, not just by people in this office, and not just by me, but by many other people in this building. And it’s not something I’m doing hastily, Glenn. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it … and I found it to be a very difficult decision.”

“I understand it’s unusual.” I kept plugging away. I was desperate, terrified. I wasn’t ready to lose my job. I loved this job. “It’s certainly not something I picked for myself.”

He cleared his throat. “Well, I understand that; I understand that your motivations have to be very sincere to go down the road that you’re talking about going down, and I, you know, I wish you well. But at the same time, after a lot of thought … agonizing over it, again, I don’t know a better way to say it: within this particular workplace, I don’t think that can happen appropriately in this workplace.”

The scene of the crime.

The scene of the crime.

That word again. I swallowed. “Is there no compromise that can be reached, no accommodations that can be made?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. If you have something you would like to explore, we could talk about it.”

There was a long silence. I couldn’t think of anything, of course. It’s not like I could work from home, or continue to present as male, or … well, I don’t know. I still can’t think of anything else, and at the time I didn’t think of anything at all. Over a year and a half later, Sewell’s lawyers would point to his suggestion here as if it indicated he was willing to be persuaded, and I was the one being stubborn and inflexible. But he had been planning this meeting for over a month, and knew exactly what he was going to say to me. I’d only had a few minutes’ warning. Of course I couldn’t think of anything.

“I don’t know what to suggest,” I admitted.

He drew a weary sigh. “Well, I don’t either, Glenn. As I understand it properly your course of action is to become a woman surgically, and in dress, and in virtually every respect. What kind of accommodations we could make to make that transaction something that I would think appropriate for the workplace, I don’t know of any.”

“Are you concerned with how I will look?” Many people have an image in their heads of trans women who are tall, broad shouldered, and look like an embarrassing caricature of a drag queen. I thought Sewell might be worried I’d resemble this caricature. The photo album I’d provided Beth to show him a month ago had been calculated to allay this fear.

“No sir … I am not.”

“Are you concerned with how I would behave?”

I'd become another statistic. Source: "Injustice At Every Turn," report of a 2011 survey by NCTE and NGLTF.

I’d become another statistic.
Source: “Injustice At Every Turn,” report of a 2011 survey by NCTE and NGLTF.

He shook his head. “No, I mean it’s … it’s … I think the answer to your question is ‘no’ … I think that it’s just the nature of that transition, from male to female, that I don’t think is appropriate within our workplace.”

That word again. “You say ‘appropriate,’ but I’m trying to think of a practical effect that this would have that would be deleterious to this office, and I can’t think of any.”

His look turned patronizing. “Well, I can think of a number of deleterious effects, Glenn. For one thing, it would make some of our employees very uncomfortable just to share a workplace with someone going through that transition. I think it would make a number of my bosses, and I call the members of the General Assembly ‘my bosses’ … some people would see it as something immoral.”

I didn’t know it at the time, and Sewell definitely didn’t, but with that statement he had made two very big mistakes.

“So your mind can’t be changed?” I asked. My dismay was at its peak. In most situations like this one, I’d be on the verge of tears. This time I wasn’t. I don’t know if it was adrenaline, or a certain emotional numbness. But somehow I kept my composure.


I kept trying anyway. We went back and forth like this for several more minutes. Finally I realized there was no point in continuing.

“Okay,” I said softly. “I guess that’s all there is to it.”

“Is there anything upstairs that you need to get immediately?” Sewell asked then. “Keys or something of that nature?” Clearly he wanted to hustle me out of the capital ASAP.

“Yes. My bag, and several personal effects.”

He nodded. “Beth can help you go do that.”

Only now did I realize that Beth hadn’t said a word since I’d entered. I never learned how hard she had tried to save my job. If at all.

End Part One.

Posts in my ongoing Autobiography Project:
Rock In the Stream.
Paradise Glossed.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:

Thank you!

Autobiography: 2003.

Regrets I’ve had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
—from the song “My Way,” made most famous by Frank Sinatra

Got something in your eye, Frank?

Got something in your eye, Frank?

Ol’ Blue Eyes lived such an enviable life—wealth, fame, a successful career, parenthood, success in romance—it’s hard to imagine he had any regrets. It might be fun to speculate what they may have been. And we can only speculate, of course, since he doesn’t mention them.

I have a closet full of regrets. It’s the same closet I came out of, but unlike the truth of my gender identity, my regrets aren’t secret and hidden behind a closed door; they mewl and grumble, wafting through the house like the smell of a cracked sewer main.

At the beginning of 2002, I was working in IT support at a company I won’t name, but it’s an international beverage manufacturer based in Atlanta. I was a software and hardware technician, helping employees solve problems with their computers; I talked them through error messages, got their files to print, showed them how to recover unsaved documents (or held their hands if the documents were gone forever), reconnected them to the network, and fixed broken parts (most often cracked laptop displays; beverage salespeople have tempers). My logical mind helped me figure out what was going on. My calming demeanor helped bring my clients back from the brink of losing their shit. I was good at this work, but I wasn’t happy doing it. In fact, I was miserable every moment I was there.

Not even slightly.

Not even slightly.

This was the career I fell backwards into after the Navy instead of making use of my degree in journalism and my lifelong interest in writing. I’d let myself get sidetracked, seduced by the security the job provided. I wasn’t fulfilled, but it looked at the time like IT would always be an in-demand vocational path, and the money was really good. After just a few years, I owned a house, carried no debt, had significant savings, and I went abroad for vacations every year. I was safe and content. I hated my job, but, I told myself, aren’t you supposed to hate your job? That seems to be the theme of most of Western culture, from Bob Cratchit, to Dagwood Bumstead, to the movie Office Space. My path seemed acceptable. Even somehow pro-American.

But the path ran out of pavement, you should pardon the tweeness of the expression. First the dot-coms foundered, and then the horrible attacks on New York and Washington transpired, taking the country into a recession that hit the digital industry especially hard. It caught up with me, and I was laid off in September 2002. I’d seen it coming, but I was still pretty lost when it happened. I marched out of my office cube that day carrying a great heaviness on my shoulders—emotional and psychological heaviness; not just the weight of stolen office supplies.

Once I got home, had a good cry, and bolstered my spot on the couch with cats, I did some overdue soul-searching, trying to figure out what was important to me. No, I didn’t consider transitioning. I still held up the bargain I had made with myself years ago in Honolulu, and the gender tinnitus continued to ring only faintly inside my brain. This crisis was about what I wanted to do, and I thought I found some clarity that afternoon.

Julius Dithers: Lumberg before Lumberg.

Julius Dithers: Lumberg before Lumberg.

In the past year I’d been trying to scratch the itch my job didn’t reach. I’d been helping my monthly neighborhood paper with its copy editing and proofreading, and I had written, produced, and performed two puppet shows (the second one paid and professional) at the Center for Puppetry Arts. These avocations were really satisfying, and they well received by publishers and patrons, respectively. So when the beverage company that sells products all over the world and has the most recognizable corporate logo in history, which I won’t name, cut me loose, it didn’t seem unlikely that I could turn these into a paying occupation. I resolved never again to work in computer support. My next job would use my real talents: writing and editing. I would do what made me happy.

Easier said than done. I thought my writing talent and my background in IT would make me a shoo-in for a technical writing job. Nope. Technical writers are the canaries in the coal mine of IT. When the job market spoils, they’re the first milk to curdle. A company with three programmers and two technical writers lays off both technical writers and one of the programmers, counting on the remaining programmers to write their own documentation.

That’s what I faced in my job search. Tech writing wasn’t the only work in the field I tried to find. Nobody was hiring copy editors and my published writing wasn’t the sort anyone would pay me to do. Moreover, it was hard to be creative while burdened by my fears for the future. I submitted an idea for another puppet show during this time, but it was rejected. It wasn’t very good.

By early spring I was getting desperate. My unemployment ran out, and it hadn’t covered my bills anyway. I was draining my savings and running up my plastic. So when my friend, Bean, who built decks for a living, invited me to help him out, I took him up on it. I knew it would be temporary, and the money wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. And I’d always had a hobbyist-level interest in woodworking and other construction projects. I’d designed and made furniture, refinished walls, put a floor in my attic, and tiled surfaces. I knew how to do this. I figured it would be fun.

It was fun! At first I was just an extra pair of hands, holding up the other ends of boards so Bean didn’t have to reenact vaudeville sight gags to get them from his truck to the jobsite. But I soon learned what I was doing, and within days I was measuring, cutting, leveling, bolting, and wielding a nail gun with alacrity. I was able to work unsupervised at most tasks that didn’t require both of us.

It was exhilarating. I created new locations where before there had been void. Bear with me here; this will seem like a bit of a stretch, and maybe it is, but it was real enough for me: building decks made me feel like an astronaut colonizing space.

We added on to the back walls of houses, often working dozens of feet up from the ground. Once the ledger board had been anchored to the structure and the joists and band were in place, it was easy to forget the ground was below. Then I’d perch carefully on a joist while I nailed on the floorboards, as if assembling a space station module on an EVA from a spacecraft. I was no longer on the surface of the Earth. I was defying gravity; creating a new world. Houston, we have a platform! For a lifelong nerd like me, it was living a childhood daydream.

I did this work for most of the summer, and had a great time. My financial situation improved slightly. I lost weight. I got as much of a tan as my pasty Caucasian-ness would allow (mostly I freckled). My muscles toned up, and they even began to show a little definition.

You might think this last effect would have cranked the volume of my gender tinnitus to panic levels. Surprisingly, it had an opposite effect. Slinging 2 x 8s and 4 x 4s around every day pumped my pecs as never before. My usual work outfit was a tank top with denim overalls; when I flexed just right, I could see cleavage. My pubescent daydream joined my childhood daydream: I could imagine I had breasts. In one of the most male-gendered professions, I found a way to experience my femaleness.

I was impressed by the sheer variety of shapes and configurations possible with decks, balconies, and other backyard features. We built a multilevel porch that flowed down a hilly Atlanta backyard to the creek at the property line. We extended an existing deck, lacing new floorboards in with old to preserve necessary strength. We wrapped a new deck around the rim of a woman’s existing swimming pool and koi pond, matching their curves in a sleek, sinuous way I’d never imagined you could do with wooden planks. And the techniques of the trade were fascinating. The way wood and nails come together to make a walkable surface isn’t always intuitive, but it always works. High school algebra and geometry in action. I learned more on that job than during entire terms during college.

I had an unexpectedly sad moment one day. A customer decided she wanted more shade over her deck, so Bean and I came out to add a partial roof to it. We found a wasp nest attached to one of the posts, and obviously we didn’t want to get stung. So we destroyed it; we sprayed it with bug killer, then knocked it off the post into a bucket filled with water. Once it was gone, we started work.

Hours later, a wasp flew into the yard. It had apparently been foraging; it carried some small green berry in its mouthparts. It went right for that post, then flew around the yard—searching? grieving?—when it couldn’t find its home. I know it was just an insect, but it still broke my heart. It was a fellow astronaut, hanging in the abyss, and its spacecraft had been destroyed.

I knew I would eventually have to return to Earth myself. I hadn’t stopped looking for more fitting employment. I sent out resumes, trawled monster.com, joined professional organizations, and attended networking events. No one was hiring entry-level technical writers.

At a party in August 2003, I bumped into my friend Bob. I hadn’t seen him in a while. When I told him I was looking for work, he said there was an opening at his company. I expressed interest, and he told me where to apply.

I got the job; it was at a large medical technology and software company. I was a software and hardware technician, helping employees solve problems with their computers; I talked them through error messages, got their files to print, showed them how to recover unsaved documents (or held their hands if the documents were gone forever), reconnected them to the network, and fixed broken parts (most often cracked laptop displays; medical technology and software salespeople have tempers).

I should have kept looking.

Posts in the ongoing Autobiography Project:
Rock In the Stream.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.
Paradise Glossed.
Untitled First Blog Post.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:

Thank you!
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You Should Read All The Others, Too.

The New York Times has added my story to its Transgender Today feature, which is a collection of personal experiences by transgender people all over the world.

Photo by Bo Shell.

Photo by Bo Shell.

Here’s a link to it.
And here are links to entries in my ongoing Autobiography Project:
Rock In The Stream.
Paradise Glossed.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.
Untitled First Blog Post.

If you’d like to support my writing efforts, please consider making a monetary contribution:

Thank you!

Ten Things I Learned From Speed Racer Cartoons.

1. Snake Oiler and Tongue Blaggard are perfectly ordinary names.

You're fascinating, Mr. Blaggard, but tell us more about your henchman there.

You’re fascinating, Mr. Blaggard, but tell us more about your henchman there.

2. Race-car-mounted rotary saws can instantly cut down thick trees and even remove the stumps.

3. If your name is Rex Racer and you want to hide your identity, put on a mask and call yourself Racer Ex.

4. A car’s trunk can be opened without keys by a small boy and his pet chimp.

5. The first letter in the name “Trixie” is “M.”

"I never even thought about it!"

“I never even thought about it!”

6. Cars can drive up vertical surfaces.

7. If you’ve stolen a fortune in gold and need to sneak it out of the country inconspicuously, have it built into a 200-yard-long “mammoth car” with a crew of dozens and enter it in a televised race.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. Please move along.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. Please move along.

8. A good way to show your youngest son that you love and respect him is to dress him the same as his pet chimp.

"Hello, Child Protective Services?"

“Hello, Child Protective Services?”

9. The first initial of the name “Speed” is “G.”

"Pot, kettle, Trixie."

“Pot, kettle, Trixie.”

10. “Speed Racer” is a perfectly ordinary name.

11. Racecars are equipped with watertight cockpits and periscopes, because racecars are also submarines. Apparently.

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Autobiography: Rock In The Stream.

(Here’s another excerpt from my autobiography in progress. Links to other excerpts are at the bottom of this page.)

I’m often told I have a calming effect on people. Once, for example, I was Christmas shopping with a friend, and he told me he has mild panic attacks when he goes to malls, especially during the holiday season, but something about my company soothed him and kept him relaxed. I hear that sort of thing often.

It’s true; I’m uncommonly imperturbable, and my placid demeanor is catching. This trait serves me well in emergencies, and especially so when my job was to provide phone support at an IT helpdesk.

Yeah, like one of these.

Yeah, like one of these.

People who call for help with their computers are often in their worst mood and ready to vent their rage at the first available target. This would have been me, but I was usually able to cool them down enough so they could help me help them solve their problems, and by the time the call was over they were happy and grateful. I began these conversations with a Tyrannosaurus rex on the other end of the line; when they ended, I said goodbye to a gentle duck-billed hadrosaur, as torpid and satisfied as if she’d just eaten a hearty meal of tree ferns.

(Yes, I know a T. rex couldn’t have held a phone receiver with its tiny arms and hands; obviously in my analogy the prehistoric carnivore is wearing a headset. Don’t be a wiseass.)

"Grrr! Tell me how to download my Outlook files!"

“Grrr! Tell me how to download my Outlook files!”

I’ve had this super power, this preternatural tranquility, for as long as I can remember. I recall an incident from my childhood. I was just a wee tad when it happened; certainly no older than six or seven.

My family and several families we knew from church went camping at a Georgia state park. I think it was Hard Labor Creek State Park, but that’s probably wrong and isn’t important. Someone brought an enormous canvas tent. It was shaped sort of like a squatting rhinoceros (without the horn), and was easily big enough for all of us to share: 12 or so adults and a similar number of children.

Supper was a picnic. The meat was grilled on one of those big disposable aluminum pans you can buy at a grocery store; this pan was filled with red-hot charcoal briquettes.

I don’t know why the campsite didn’t have a proper grill, like all campsites do at state parks today. Maybe it did have one, and we just decided not to use it for some reason. But the moms prepared the meal, which we ate, and then everyone played board games and talked and threw a Frisbee around and did all the usual camping things for the rest of the evening until it got dark.

At bedtime, we all went into the tent and piled into our sleeping bags. Someone left the aluminum pan and its hot coals on the picnic table. There were so many grownups, I assume it must have been one of those situations where everyone thought someone else was going to take care of it.

The tent was long, but not especially wide. Only the two campers closest to the front could exit without having to step over other people. My family’s share of the floor was about halfway back.

A yurt would have been much cooler. Who doesn't like yurts?

A yurt would have been much cooler. Who doesn’t like yurts?

The next morning I was the first to awake, and consciousness returned accompanied by a powerful call of nature. I was sleeping next to my mother. I quietly slipped out of my sleeping bag, stood up, and stepped gingerly between each of the sleeping bodies, kids and grownups alike, to make my way to the flap at the front of the tent.

I emerged in my pajamas and bare feet, blinked at the bright morning light, looked at the picnic table, and then walked on the dewy pine straw over to the edge of the woods, fifty yards away, where I tended to my morning business.

After this was done I returned to the tent, re-entered, tiptoed again past all the slumbering grown-ups and kids, then slid carefully back into my sleeping bag next to her.

Then, finally, I put a hand on my mom’s shoulder and gently shook her awake. “Mama,” I whispered softly in her ear, “The picnic table is on fire.”

Autobiography Project:
Paradise Glossed.
Paradise Glossed, Part 2.
Untitled First Blog Post.

Bruce Jenner.

Here’s a panel from Mad Magazine’s parody of the 1970s “Incredible Hulk” TV show, which appeared in issue No. 204 in 1979:


Wait long enough and everything becomes ironic. Last Friday, April 24, after months of gossip, speculation, and some rude and unkind jokes, Bruce Jenner came out as a transgender woman in an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News. It’s a big deal.

The viewing audience was told Jenner prefers to use male pronouns until he begins presenting as female in public. That’s what I’ll go with here.

Jenner is not the first famous transgender American; there’s a small crowd of them now. But he’s the most well-known by far, especially within that small club who transitioned after they were already famous. Apart from Jenner, I can only name three: Alexis Arquette, Lana Wachowski and Chaz Bono.

It’s silly even to call these three “famous” compared to Jenner. I’d bet everyone who reads this will have to look up at least one of those names. Bruce Jenner has been in the public eye for decades, and is better recognized than anyone else I’ll mention in this post, including Diane Sawyer. He’s known as an Olympic gold medalist, businessman and TV star. That’s why his journey has garnered such intense scrutiny. We’ve never seen this scenario play out on this level before.

Source: US Magazine

Different days.

Many LGBT people I know, especially in the transgender community, are enraged by the attention, and hurry to observe how easy his transition has been.

It’s true; Jenner has every advantage one could wish for. He is white, wealthy, surrounded by supportive family (even his ex-wives have been spirited cheerleaders), and resides in the most progressive state in the nation. His transition will be smooth sailing from start to finish.

He won’t have trouble meeting transition-related medical or surgical needs. He won’t be hassled by a county judge when he goes to complete his legal name change. The TSA will never single him out for a humiliating body cavity check if he tries to fly while his identity documents don’t match his appearance. If his children were still minors, their other relatives wouldn’t try to take them from his custody, citing his gender dysphoria as the sole and sufficient reason.

His circumstances don’t put him at higher risk for suicide. He has the means to protect himself, so he has no reason to fear homicide at the hands of violent transphobes.

He won’t get fired from his job. In fact, he’ll probably make money off his transition, if his new reality show is a hit.

All those horrors have happened, and continue to happen, to less fortunate transgender people—especially the ones who are women, or impoverished, or nonwhite minorities—or who are all three. Follow the links. After the interview aired, while Lady Gaga and other celebrities were tweeting their praise to Jenner for his “bravery,” Ashley Diamond, a black transgender woman, continued to languish in the Georgia men’s prison system, where she has been mocked and misgendered by other inmates and corrections officers, denied hormone therapy, and repeatedly raped. In the unlikely event Jenner must do prison time for the fatal accident he caused back in February, it’s a certainty his straits will never become as dire as Ms. Diamond’s. The two may as well live in different universes.

Source: General Mills

Were the photos really in black and white back then?

Life isn’t as bad for all of us as it has been for Ms. Diamond, but it’s bad enough, for enough of us, that to call Jenner brave is like praising my cat for all her hard work in curling up on a warm cushion and sleeping all day. It’s not right that we’re so taken with him, so impressed, when so many others are forgotten or maligned or thrown away to die.

And yet, that’s exactly why Bruce matters so much. Yes, of course the public should care more about transgender people who aren’t white or famous or rich. But they don’t. That’s human nature. We sympathize better with others we perceive as being like us. For the white, middle-class majority, that’s someone like Bruce Jenner. Because he’s like them, they can’t dismiss his transition as some bizarre, foreign otherness; something only “those people” do. He’s bringing gender dysphoria into the suburban house next door.

The male image of Bruce Jenner is in people’s heads. Soon it will be joined by the female image. People will be forced to reconcile one with the other, and to comprehend that all the things they appreciated about the previous version are still there in the update.

Everyone goes through this process when a friend or relative comes out as transgender. Now, through Bruce, everyone who hasn’t had that experience will have it by proxy. And when they realize it’s okay for him to be transgender, they’ll realize it’s okay for everyone else as well.

This is what we’re striving toward: a society in which being transgender by itself isn’t remarkable, and we can earn distinction instead through our unique achievements. As author Jennifer Finney Boylan says, we’ll know the fight for acceptance is over when “[W]e are as boring as anyone else.”

A version of this post also appears this week as a column in Georgia Voice.

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Autobiography: Paradise Glossed, Part 2


This is the second part of the excerpt from my memoir-in-progress that I posted last week. You can read that part here.

It’s fair to ask why I began to explore my gender issues after joining the U.S. Navy. This was the time of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, after all, and even prior to that the U.S. military had never been an especially welcoming environment for LGBT individuals. Not even the Navy, despite any jokes that may be forming in your head right now. “Rum, sodomy, and the lash”? More like “powdered fruit punch, misspelled tattoos, and ‘the Department of Defense neither endorses nor condones the lyrics to any Village People song.'” Why was this the environment that fostered my first transition? The answer is “Oahu.”

Source: AllBum.Art - Alternative Art-Work for Album and Single Covers

Don’t call us, we’ll call … oh, let’s not kid each other, shall we?

As I recall, in those days the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) technically outlawed “homosexual acts,” not being gay as such; but if you self-identified as gay, that was good enough for the brass. Maybe they counted the declaration itself as a homosexual act. And like most straights, then and now, they made no distinction between the “LGB” and the “T.”

I landed at Pearl Harbor after I’d been in the Navy for over a year, and it wasn’t Plan A. As far as I knew at the time, Hawaii was just another U.S. state, and the main reason I’d joined the Navy was to have strange adventures in exotic foreign lands. At Officer Candidate School in Newport, when I’d filled out the form for my preference of duty station, the U.S. base in Yokosuka, Japan was my first choice. I grew up in the Atlanta suburbs and went to college at the University of Georgia. I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean before, and my travels abroad to date had been to Europe. Asia and the Pacific region were as exotic and foreign as lands could get.

So I was excited when my orders came back and I learned I was headed for a ship homeported in Yokosuka. After completing my training in San Diego, I got my shots, flew over the ocean, reported aboard … and immediately learned my ship would be changing its homeport to Pearl. To say I was disappointed would be a big understatement. Not only would I not be living outside the country after all, but I was attached to a vessel that would be decommissioned and up on blocks, like a hillbilly’s Econoline van, for over a year and a half.

We’d be busy, mind you; during an overhaul, a ship’s crew oversees the shipyard workers who do all the welding and plumbing and degaussing and caulking, and also goes to more training to learn about all the upgraded systems. But working ashore in an industrial hard-hat workplace isn’t what I’d signed up for.

My life as a bohemian expat in the Far East was stillborn.* I wouldn’t learn Japanese through immersion; live off-base in an apartment with rice paper walls and a tatami mat for a bed; flirt with kawaii local girls; learn the bushido code of honor; become proficient with a katana, join six other stalwarts to save a village from bandits, earn the respect of the shogun through my wise counsel, or capture super-powered monsters in tiny red and white balls. Akira Kurosawa films, James Clavell novels, and imported anime had convinced me all these things were likely to happen.

But now the homeport change nixed those sure bets. I was heading back “home.” Hawaii was the 50th U.S. state, but to my mind it was “just another state,” with driving on the right, McDonald’s, the Roman alphabet, infomercials, and morning radio personalities with nicknames like “Bobcat and the Perv.”

Source: http://www.hungry.com/~jamie/fuji.html

Come to Japan and don’t climb it, you’re a fool. Climb it twice and you’re a bigger fool. Three times? You’re a Marine.

It wasn’t happening right away. I had several months left in the Land of the Sidewalk Vending Machine, and although I lived on the ship to avoid the hassle of renting an apartment for such a brief span, I made the most of it and had a few (mis)adventures. Someday I’ll tell the story of getting locked in an outhouse at the summit of Mt. Fuji.

In due course, after a brief WestPac deployment, we arrived in our new home. I settled into life as a kama’aina, in a cozy Kalihi apartment makai of Nimitz Highway. It was five miles east of Pearl Harbor and five miles west of Waikiki, and my downstairs neighbors were a jolly Samoan motorcycle gang.

I soon realized that beyond the superficial similarities and beyond the tourism culture, Hawaii was different from every other state I knew—dramatically different. The state was once a Polynesian monarchy, and its culture was still more similar to other Pacific island nations than to the rest of the United States.

This was true in big ways—an entire island was reserved for people of the indigenous Hawaiian ethnic group—and in small ways: the local McDonald’s offered poi as a side item.

Also, the place names have too damn many vowels.

Source: http://www.to-hawaii.com/oahu/beaches/kaaawabeachpark.php

I mean, come on. Apostrophes do not equal consonants.

Most importantly, indigenous Polynesian culture, which was still very alive and present on Oahu, is more accepting of gender nonconformity than many other societies. The Hawaiian language even has a word for males who live their lives as women: mahu.

In the pre-Captain Cook era, this word referred to a person in a specific and well-described role in Hawaiian society, but by the time I lived there it had become more generic in most contexts; a catchall term for transsexuals, cross dressers, drag queens and anyone else who was gender-nonconforming. It was the umbrella term there and then that “transgender” is today in most of the country. I even heard a few people employ mahu to simply mean “gay,” but that was uncommon and never done by people who knew better.

In Waikiki there was a drag bar called Garbo’s, but if you really wanted to know the world of the mahu, you went to Elsie’s Club Polynesian on Hotel Street in Chinatown. Here, gender nonconformity was celebrated. Most of the employees were transwomen or were males who presented as female much of the time.** So were most of the clientele, and also, it seemed, everyone else who lived or worked in the few blocks of Chinatown surrounding the place. It was a transgender town within a neighborhood within a city surrounded by the world’s biggest ocean, and Elsie’s was its city hall.

And they were all “locals,” or were otherwise Asian or Pacific Islander in heritage. All the transgender women I’d (knowingly) seen up until that time were tall, broad-shouldered, and had beard shadows—the opposite of conventionally understood femininity, and embodiments of the stereotype.

I think it’s fair to say the two biggest obstacles for most transwomen hoping to “pass”—to be seen and accepted as belonging to one’s preferred gender—are height and facial hair. I hope it isn’t controversial to further state that the Asian ethnic types populating Hawaii tend to have less of either, compared to Caucasians and African-Americans.

“Passing” was an obsession for me. Nowadays, transgender people who admit they’re concerned about “passing” are gently scolded, or harshly derided, within the community. As a civil rights matter, I agree this shouldn’t be a priority; we have a right to be treated as who we are, regardless of whether we meet some arbitrary standard of what men or women should look like.

I didn’t know that back then, of course, and anyway it’s not that simple, even today. Transgender women who get “clocked” as men can be in real physical danger from violent transphobes or homophobes, so passing isn’t simply a question of vanity. It’s a survival strategy. I’d never tried to relieve my dysphoria by cross-dressing, because it never entered my head that I’d be able to pass, and I had no stomach for the thought of living my life under the stigma of being seen as a man in women’s clothes. I wanted to know I was a girl, and for everyone else to know it, too. If I couldn’t pass, I wasn’t willing to transition at all. Of course that reads as shallow. At the time I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car; of course I was shallow.

Source: http://www.tripadvisor.com/

Like everything else in the world, I’m sure Hawaii’s Chinatown is very different today.

But the mahu I met in those days seemed really good at being girls. They didn’t merely pass; they were objectively pretty, like Frieda, and they radiated the confidence that came with knowing it. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them to show me possibilities I’d never dreamed of.

So that’s why it all came together for me then, on that hot island, at that stage of my life. I was about as far geographically as it was possible to be from any friends or family I’d have to explain my behavior to. I’d found a micro-culture of individuals who were supportive and understanding of the need I’d been trying (unsuccessfully) to purge from my mind for most of my life. And they were modeling a level of authenticity (I don’t like that word here, but I can’t think of a better one) I began to think I could reach for.

My time had arrived.
*Yes, I recognize that as a U.S. military officer, I was about as “pat” as an expat can be, and no more bohemian than…uh, something that’s really not bohemian. That’s a hard word for metaphors.

**But not Elsie herself. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there was an “Elsie.” I should have written this stuff down at the time, but I was always afraid of being discovered.

Transparent Lost.

Last year the Amazon Prime Video original series, Transparent, held a nationwide competition to find a transgender woman writer for its second season. Applicants were asked to submit their résumés and an original flash fiction story.

I didn’t win, but that’s okay. I’m developing my own sitcom now.

Below is the story I wrote for my application. It contains no transgender themes; I assumed all the other applicants would be doing that, and I wanted my entry to stand out. I focused instead on crafting a strong narrative and making it funny. Judge for yourself if I’ve succeeded, and let me know! Comments are at the bottom.

Her Ten O’Clock

“What’s your greatest strength?” she asked. She knew the question was a cliché, but she had been out late last night at the Last Supper Club and blew off her usual diligent preparation. By the time she had walked to her car, driven home, and removed her disguise, she was too tired to do anything but go to bed.

Besides, she liked to see where applicants went with the question. She respected a candidate who didn’t humblebrag and gave a solid, confident response.

This young man was ready.

“Definitely my observational skills. I’m good at noticing things; even the smallest details.” He nodded along with his answer, as if he’d practiced it. She almost smiled at his enthusiasm. Did she detect an accent? She looked down at his name and wondered if it might be Spanish or Italian. HR must have thought he’d be a good diversity hire. She decided to go a little harder on him.

“It’s certainly not that you’re punctual. You were 15 minutes late for this interview.”

He smirked; still eager, but unabashed. She’d seen the same smirk, for an instant, when he entered the office and made eye contact. It puzzled her then; this time it annoyed her. “I had to choose just the right shirt.”

He was wearing a wrinkled white Oxford with frayed cuffs. If this was the “right shirt,” the wrong one was probably a Santana tour T-shirt from the thrift store.

She scanned his resume. University of Phoenix (restaurant management); retail clerk, Starbuck’s barista, waiter: “Fairest Game Catering.” Why did that name look familiar? Had they done the Orcas Forever fundraiser last month?

“I see. All right then. Tell me why you want to work here at Animal Protection League? Your background shows no activism, and this is not an entry-level job. Normally we’d want someone with several years of experience with other advocacy groups.”

He crossed his hands over his lap. “That’s easy. I don’t want to be a waiter forever, you know? The pay’s bad, and there’s no respect. Nobody ever even looks at you. Also, I have a deep interest in endangered species.” That smirk again. “You could say it’s a consuming passion.” He lowered his voice, leaned in. “I think you know what I mean.”

What does he mean? She thought. She opened her mouth to ask him to explain and a stentorian belch escaped.

Her hand flew up to cover her mouth as her face flushed. The smell of last night’s meal expanded into the under-ventilated office. Her embarrassment churned with panic. Could he smell what she’d eaten? No. Impossible! She quashed her paranoia, smoothed her expression. Almost no one could recognize the aroma of baked Sonoran desert plover, and after last night, no one would ever have the opportunity. She’d watched the species go extinct, and then eaten the evidence. She smirked herself, behind her hand, savoring the memory of the delicious wrongness.

He had raised an eyebrow.

“I’m so sorry! Something I ate last night.” She lowered her hand and waved it dismissively. “It’s nothing.”

“Well,” he said, smiling broadly, “You never know when a meal’s going to repeat on you.

Especially if it’s something you never had before. Or ever will again.”

“Something I never…?” Her eyes went wide. The caterers…

He sat back in his chair. “‘Can I get you a glass of water, ma’am?'”

The shock on her face lingered for only a moment before changing to resignation. She sighed, pushed back her chair, stood, and extended her hand.

“Welcome to the Animal Protection League.”

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A Little Light Reading.

About a year and a half ago I participated in a book for Bloomberg BNA about LGBT employment law. The title of the book is Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: A Practical Guide.

I wrote Chapter 6, which is about my case from my perspective, and which is titled “GLENN v. BRUMBY: FORTY YEARS AFTER GROSSMAN.” The editor, Christine Michelle Duffy, rejected my choice of title, inspired by our lawsuit’s conclusion at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals: “Gone To Eleven.” I continue to believe there should be more references to This Is Spinal Tap in legal writing.

You can download my chapter here. I’m very proud of it.

You may purchase the entire massive, 1,700 page tome directly from Bloomberg at the link above or from Amazon.com here.

The price is $410. Obviously the book wasn’t written for the consumer market, and I don’t expect any of you to go buy a copy. But several other chapters and sections have also been made available as .pdf files online, and I’ve aggregated the following links where you can download them:

About the Editor-in-Chief, Christine Michelle Duffy

Summary Table of Contents

Detailed Table of Contents

Contributors (by Chapter)


Foreword 1: Unfinished Business, by New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long (ret.) and National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Asaf Orr

Foreword 2: With Fairness for All, by Delaware Governor Jack Markell

Chapter 13 : Catherine E. Reuben, Why I Support Transgender Rights: An Employer-Side Lawyer’s Story

Chapter 19 : Suzanne B. Goldberg, Terra Hittson, and Kevin Hu

Chapter 46 : Julie A. Greenberg, Interacting in the Workplace With Individuals Who Have an Intersex Condition

Happy Monday, everyone!

Autobiography: Paradise Glossed.

Following is an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress. All names have been fictionalized, but all the people are real. Suggestions and other feedback are welcome!

“What can you do about arm hair?” someone asked. Looking back from today, across the stretch of so many years, I don’t remember which of the seven or so people in attendance that evening had posed the question. In my mind’s eye, I look around the tiny living room of Rochelle’s high-rise Waikiki condominium and try, and fail, to attach a face to the question.

It's really hard to find public-domain photos of the streets of Waikiki.

It’s really hard to find public-domain photos of the streets of Waikiki.

The condo was a snapshot of 1970s Hawaiian kitsch; more like a room at Graceland than a fin de siècle home on Oahu. Paintings of plumeria and birds of paradise adorned the walls. A floor lamp wore a hula-skirt shade. The furniture was wicker, dominated by the corner papasan where Rochelle held court. The coffee table was a cross-section of trunk from a koa tree. Whenever I visited the place, I half-expected McGarrett to knock on the door and ask us which stairwell led to the roof.

Maybe “Dani,” the tall, sad-faced, thirty-something Japanese-American, had asked the question. I probably spelled her name wrong; she pronounced it like the standard diminutive of the man’s name, but she used an affected, feminized spelling: D-A-capital N-I, or D-A-N-N-I, or D-A-N-N-I-E, or some variation like that. Actually, maybe her name was Gabby.

It definitely hadn’t been Frieda who’d asked. Frieda, young and pretty, was a “local,” which I understood to mean her ethnicity was multifarious; a blend of all the Asian peoples, plus Portuguese, who’d been brought to the islands as plantation labor over the centuries. Frieda was cheerful, funny, always dressed to flaunt her figure, and effortlessly feminine. She had begun her hormonal and surgical transition when still a teenager. Hairy arms had never been a concern, and a female presentation held no mysteries for her. In her early twenties, she was already an actual beauty pageant winner. She “passed” invisibly, and in this support group, she was a bright ray of possibility, however remote, to the rest of us.

And Margaret hadn’t asked. In fact, in hindsight, it was probably Margaret to whom the question had been put. A haole like Rochelle and me, she claimed to be content in her maleness, but was still more comfortable and happy to dress and act as a woman. And unlike most of the rest of us, she was able to do so at all times—even at her job as an accountant, where her request to begin presenting as female had been met with assent and a shrug by her employers.

Mos Burger is a Japanese ripoff of McDonald's. Its Honolulu location was popular because Japanese tourists were plentiful.

Mos Burger is a Japanese ripoff of McDonald’s. Its Honolulu location was popular because Japanese tourists were plentiful.

Huh, I’d thought, when she’d told me that. The famously easygoing Hawaiian workplace goes a long way beyond aloha shirts on Fridays.

Come to think of it, maybe I myself had been the one who asked about the arms. This was only my first or second meeting. I’d found the group, Honolulu Transgendered Outreach, through a classified ad in Honolulu Weekly. That had led to a phone conversation with Margaret, then a one-on-one meeting with her in person, and now this.

I was not attending en femme. The very thought of dressing in women’s clothes and trying to put on makeup filled me with terror. I was ignorant of most of the practical considerations inherent in placating the dysphoria I’d known myself to have since hitting puberty. I knew nothing about shoe sizes, hosiery, leg shaving, concealing my Adam’s apple, padding my chest, hiding my beard shadow, seeking a medical diagnosis, hormone treatments, or any of the hundreds of other things I knew I would need to learn. I was a baby transsexual. “What can you do about arm hair?” was just the sort of question I would have asked at one of my first meetings. I’m fair-skinned and dark-haired, and while I was never what anyone would call swarthy, there was enough hair on my arms to belie any attempt I made at passing as a girl.

Today, when I refer to “transition,” people assume they know the era in my life I’m referring to. It’s the transition from male to female that began here in Georgia in the middle Naughties; the one that led to the loss of my job, a federal lawsuit, Congressional testimony, a groundbreaking legal precedent, and fame (in certain circles) and notoriety (in others).

Usually, that’s the correct assumption. In the ways that matter in the narrative of my life, that span of years was my Transition (very much with a capital T).

This wasn't my ship, but I think we were in this dry-dock. Once the gate closed, it was like draining a bathtub. I expected to find a giant mat of hair and shampoo left behind.

This wasn’t my ship, but I think we were in this dry-dock. Once the gate closed, it was like draining a bathtub. I expected to find a giant mat of hair and shampoo left behind.

But over a decade earlier and half a world away, I’d begun another transition, one that I eventually abandoned. I was a Navy ensign stationed on a ship undergoing overhaul in the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard; our dry dock can be seen in some photos of the aftermath of the 1941 surprise attack, holding two devastated destroyers lying alist on their blocks.

Away from the base, I lived a lonely existence in a bare Kalihi apartment. For various reasons I’ll elaborate on later, I’d decided this was the time to explore whether I had the moxie or chutzpah or fortitude or spunk (“Mr. Graaant!”) I would need to become the person I—knew? suspected? hoped?—I always should have been. That decision had led me to this cramped living room on this night.

“Well, I don’t recommend Nair,” Margaret (it was probably Margaret) answered to whoever had asked. “It smells awful, and it kind of burns. You could shave, I suppose, but the stubble is prickly, and I don’t know how that would fly on your ship. Your fellow sailors might notice.”

They would definitely notice, I thought to myself. When I pulled duty every fourth day, meaning I was bound to the ship area for at least 24 hours, I showered in the officers’ head on the administrative barge that was our crew’s workplace during the overhaul. I already lived in fear I’d have to explain to someone, least preferably our dictatorial XO or the captain himself, why my toenails were painted Parisian Pink.

Obligatory shot of Diamond Head that by law must accompany all narratives about Waikiki.

Obligatory shot of Diamond Head that by law must accompany all narratives about Waikiki.

“But you can just wear long sleeves when you go out dressed,” Margaret assured me. That was certainly true. Although Oahu is in the tropics, most of the outings I would be able to go out on in this furtive guise would be at night, to the drag clubs or gay bars here in Waikiki. Long sleeves wouldn’t be uncomfortable or suspicious after sunset, and obviously I wasn’t going to be basking at Ala Moana Beach in a bikini.

Rochelle broke in. “Or you can just wait until your arm hair turns white, and no one can see it anymore,” she said cheerfully, demonstrating by pulling back the sleeve of her own long-sleeved, age-appropriate frock. Rochelle, the owner of the condo and our hostess, was at least in her sixties. I gazed at her arm with a mix of perplexity and despair.

“That would be a long wait,” I said.

They’re Still Killing Us.

Last week was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. It happens all over the world, every November 20. I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeated mention, if anything about the transgender experience does.

At a TDOR (as it’s usually called; “T-door”), event, a list is read aloud of the names of every transgender person who was murdered in the previous year, if they were murdered because they were transgender. The reading is preceded by speeches or prayers, and sometimes there’s a potluck. It’s often social, but never cheerful. It’s a grim task, but the dead deserve no less, especially from those, like me, who have had the luck or privilege (so far) to avoid the sort of violence that ended the lives of these victims.

Discrimination beyond transphobia is a factor in the murders of transgender people, just as it is with most violence. Women become victims more often than men. Poor people and minorities become victims more often than middle-class whites. Transgender people whose appearance is less “cisnormative” definitely become victims more often than those who “pass.” That’s a tautology, in fact, because transphobic violence only happens in the first place because the victim has been identified as a person who transgresses gender norms.

This year the official death toll is 226 lives. That’s as of early last week; there are new names nearly every day of the year, so the list is always out of date by the time it’s read.

Furthermore, it’s notoriously difficult to compile an accurate list. This is the case for several reasons:

  • It’s not always obvious that transphobia was the motive for any given homicide. Transgender people also get murdered for the same reasons as everyone else, so the authorities and reporters may assume other motives were operative when they assess the crimes.
  • Transgender people are often misgendered postmortem, either because their corpse or their identity documents don’t match their gender.
  • Often the cause of death is so savage and brutal that even identifying the victim and learning his or her gender is impossible. This year, for example, five individuals on the list were burned to death, or their bodies were burned afterward.

Gays and lesbians suffer physical violence disproportionately, too, and often it’s for the same reason: a gay man’s appearance isn’t masculine enough, or a lesbian’s is insufficiently feminine. This drives some people nuts; they find gender nonconformity repulsive on a deep, visceral level. My friend Brynn Tannehill examined this phenomenon earlier this year. It’s about transgressing gender norms. It’s the most important reason why we’re the LGBT community, not the LGB community and the T community, and any LGB person who believes we aren’t all fighting the same fight hasn’t thought about the matter deeply enough. Their struggle is ours, and vice versa.

It is a basic instinct for humans (most species, for that matter) to dislike anyone we find strange. We hate “The Other.” That’s a necessary survival trait for small tribal groups on the antediluvian savanna, but in the modern world, with billions of people, it becomes racism, ethnic cleansing, sectarian clashes, and jingoism. It’s natural to have such feelings, but we’re better than our nature, on the whole. The attackers are the ones who fail the nurture over nature test.

There’s probably something else also going on than simple “you’re different from me” Othering in the case of transphobic homicides. If I were feeling contemplative today, I’d probably email one of evolutionary psychology friends and try to figure it out. Maybe I’ll still do that, and turn it into another post.

For now I’ll just leave this where it lies. I am transgender. It’s not a condition I asked for or wanted, but it’s an amazing experience that teaches me more things about myself and the world every day, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I pay a price for this experience in many different ways. Every year, across the world, some pay a much heavier price. Never forget them.

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