Category Archives: discrimination

The Transgender Outing On Survivor

Two weeks ago on Survivor, one of the contestants, Zeke Smith, was forcibly outed as transgender by another contestant. It made the news, or I wouldn’t have heard about it. Outing people without their consent is a majorly uncool thing to do, and the incident prompted me to watch my first episode of Survivor in at least a decade.

Several initial thoughts come to my mind before I address the matter of the outing. I’ve itemized them.

  1. How is Survivor still a thing? Does it have any relevance today? Do people actually watch it? I see from Wikipedia that it still draws decent ratings, although they’re miniscule compared to those of the first few seasons. I don’t know that I know anyone who still watches the show, but obviously it’s still profitable. I watched Survivor faithfully in its early seasons. The season I remember best is the second one, set in Australia. I liked the aw-shucks charm of boy-next-door Texan Colby Donaldson, and had a major crush on the contestant who, sadly, later became a talking head on The View and revealed herself to be a right-wing buffoon.
    After several more seasons, the show had become so repetitive, with the tropical island watersports challenges, the predictable deal making and backstabbing, that I’d had enough. By the middle of the Aughts, I no longer watched the show. The last season I watched was the season nicknamed “Survivor: Race War,” in which contestants were sorted into tribes of white people, black people, Latinos, and Asians. For reals. Despite all the exotic locales the show has visited, it has struggled to find moral high ground.
    Apparently Jeff Varner, the wrongdoer in this recent incident, had also been a contestant in the Australia season that I remember so fondly. I have no recollection of him.

    Zeke Smith, the aggrieved party.

  1. This season is titled Survivor: Game Changers, and all the contestants have competed before. Is every season now an “all-stars” kind of thing? After 34 iterations, has the show run out of new people who are interested in competing on the show? And speaking of which:
  2. Thirty-four seasons? How ridiculous is that? Those are numbers you associate with Meet The Press or 60 Minutes, not a show that has only existed during this millennium. Does Jeff Probst aspire to do nothing else? Does he like spending two months of every year primitive camping on tropical islands that much?

I’ll say one thing for the show: it has stuck with what must be a winning formula. Even the dialogue is unchanged. Jeff Probst still beckons the tribes in to the challenge areas with “come on in, guys,” with exactly the same wording and inflection he’s always used.

The reward challenge, with some minor treat symbolizing the comforts of civilization at stake (in this episode, it was ten pizzas accompanied by cold soda), is the same as it’s always been. The immunity challenge, with immunity from tribal council at stake, also has not changed.

What also hasn’t changed is that both challenges were done and dusted before the episode was half over. The rest of the episode’s running time was consumed by the losing tribe’s members scheming, wheeling and dealing about the upcoming vote, and by the tribal council itself.

The contestants all had moments alone with several of their tribemates, including Zeke, and also some time alone with the camera. I might have followed everyone’s strategy talk better if I had been watching this season all along, but there’s really not a lot of variation in these things. There’s always a group of contestants who talk about loyalty and honesty; there are others who say all’s fair in “the game,” and that they’re “not here to make friends.” Still others act as if they’re above the politics and claim they just want to go along to get along.

Jeff Varner, the villain.

And then there’s always one guy—it was legendarily Machiavellian Richard Hatch in the inaugural season of the show—who juggles his team’s feelings like bean bags, promising everything to everyone while clearly only caring for himself.

This character was personified by Jeff Varner in this episode. Varner discussed his plans with the camera like Iago to his audience in Othello. He said he liked Zeke, but that he thought he knew something about Zeke, some secret that Zeke hadn’t told anyone, and that while he didn’t want to have to use this secret against Zeke, he wouldn’t hesitate to do so if it looked like he (Varner) would be on the short end of the torch at tribal council.

In hindsight it’s obvious what he meant. Not obvious is how what Varner was hinting he’d be divulging could in any way save him from being voted off the island. Was he thinking his teammates would be so disgusted by the presence of a trans person in their midst that ejecting Zeke would override any other concerns? We can only guess.

Before the vote, Varner continued to play the standard villain role. He told several of them that Zeke and another player, Ozzie (a veteran of the show starting with the Survivor: Race War season) were plotting against them, and they appeared to believe it. Again, it’s astounding that the show can still find people this naïve to be contestants. Even I, dropping in on this one episode, could easily see Varner wasn’t to be trusted. And apparently everyone on the show this season had competed before, so it’s a fool-me-twice situation for anyone who gets bamboozled by another player.

At the tribal council, Varner acknowledged that he would likely be voted out, but still tried to make the case for voting out Ozzie instead. Standard desperation ploy.

But then his argument took an abrupt turn. He told Jeff Probst:

“There’s deception here. Deception on levels, Jeff, that these guys don’t even understand.”

He paused then, and Probst asked him to continue, which he did.

Varner turned to Zeke, and without further ado, asked bluntly, “Why haven’t you told anyone you’re transgender?”

I knew that outing was going to happen—it’s the only reason I was watching in the first place. And yet, I still found the outing so shocking I had to pause the episode and take a moment before continuing.

Transgender men, in general, enjoy a privilege that transgender women, in general, do not. That is, trans men are more likely to look cisnormative, which means they get to choose whether or not to live their lives in “stealth” mode. It’s up to them to disclose their transgender status, and if they keep it to themselves, no one’s the wiser.

I don’t know how Varner figured out that Zeke was trans; as a gay man himself, maybe Varner has met more transgender people in his life than people outside our community, and so recognizes subtle clues. That doesn’t make what he did in any way okay. He should know himself what a horrible act of psychological violence it is to out another person. Even worse, the phrasing of his question made it seem Zeke had some obligation to disclose his transgender status to the rest of his tribe.

Let’s be clear about this: Survivor is a game show. It requires a much larger commitment than The Price Is Right or Jeopardy!, but it’s still just a game show. While there are a small number of situations in which a transgender person could reasonably be expected to reveal their transgender status to others, none of those situations are likely to arise in the course of competing on a game show.

There are zero situations in which it’s reasonable for another person to out a person as transgender without that person’s consent.

Zeke looked shocked when Varner outed him, and he didn’t answer or respond in any other way.

To the great credit of the rest of the tribe, they immediately rose up against Varner.

“That’s personal!” one dark-haired woman said. “That is so wrong of you to bring that up!” the older Asian man shouted.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Ozzy told Varner.

To a person, the tribe rejected Varner’s premise that Zeke was in any way “deceiving” people, or had done anything wrong. To a person, they were livid.

Even Jeff Probst, who typically adopts a pose of objectivity at the tribal councils, essentially told Varner he was being a creep. It really was a sight to behold.

In the face of this backlash, Varner folded like a broken umbrella, expressed regret, wept, and begged Zeke to forgive him. He did seem sincerely contrite. I can say that much for him. But I wonder if he would have backpedaled if the tribe hadn’t been so quick to condemn him.

Prompted by Jeff Probst, Zeke turned this clusterfuck into a teachable moment about living one’s truth; he said that he had only ever wanted to be “Zeke the Survivor contestant,” not “Zeke the trans Survivor contestant.” Now that it was out, he shrugged, and said he hoped living his life “out” from this moment on, before the millions of viewers of the show, could help bring solace and courage to some kid watching who’s contemplating their own transition.

He was a class act, in other words.

Varner then left the show in a voice vote, which I’ve never seen happen on the show before. In his exit confessional during the closing credits, he told the camera “No one should ever do what I did,” then buried his head in his hands.


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The Trans List.

Atlanta’s LGBT film festival, Out On Film, is going on right now, and on Monday evening I went to a screening of The Trans List at Landmark Midtown Cinema, on the edge of Piedmont Park. The film will be broadcast on HBO later this year.

It’s not feature-length; it runs about an hour, and features interviews with 11 prominent transgender Americans. The interviews were conducted by fashion editor Janet Mock, although we never see her on screen after her brief introduction. The subjects are presented alone on the screen, talking about their lives, with a few intercuts to home movies and childhood photos.

The interviewees run the gamut of the transgender experience in the United States. They’re black, white, and Hispanic; teenage through senior citizen; men, women, and nonbinary; famous and virtually unknown (to me, at least, and I like to think I keep up). I won’t recap all the interviews here, but I’ll touch on some of them.

Kylar Broadus was up first. He’s an African-American attorney, and a few years back he addressed a U.S. Senate committee about the importance of passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He briefly told his story about growing up an awkward tomboy in Missouri, usually “mistaken” for a boy even when his parents managed to get him into a dress—years before he transitioned for real. He spoke with a quiet dignity, and it was hard not to be moved by his struggles with the double whammy of being both gender-variant and black in a world that’s too often both transphobic and racist.

Nicole Maines’ segment helps illustrate the better world that all of us are creating by being out and proud in the 21st century. She’s still a teenager, but she has been out and an activist since she was very small; she never had to endure (and then undo) male puberty. Her family, including her (formerly?) identical twin brother, are accepting and supportive. Nicole has fought her high school for her Title IX right to use the correct restroom. Could a story like hers have happened 20 years ago? I find it unlikely; the information, the understanding, and the role models to help such a young person simply didn’t exist until quite recently. Nicole’s is an inspiring story of possibility.Borrowed from bambysalcedo.com

Shane Ortega is an Army non-commissioned officer, and one of the first U.S. military members to transition on active duty. Another transperson of color, he’s charming, very good-natured and funny, and a veteran of two combat tours. As a veteran myself (though not of combat), I’m proud to know he’s out there, fighting for every transperson’s right to serve. Transgender people historically have joined the military in numbers far higher than the general population. Thanks to people like Ortega, soon we’ll be able to do so openly.

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy was the most colorful personality interviewed. She was at Stonewall and was a leader in the riots. She’s had a long life full of activism.

Rounding out the list were Alok Vaid-Menon, a writer with a nonbinary gender identity; Amos Mac, photographer and founder of “Original Plumbing” magazine; Buck Angel, the porn star famous as the “man with a pussy”; Bamby Salcedo, a Mexican-American activist and organizer, Caroline Cossey, model, former Bond girl, and current Atlanta resident; and Laverne Cox, internationally-famous television star.

Oh, and finally, Mock interviewed Caitlyn Jenner. I’m glad Jenner was included, because I don’t think the former Olympian and Kardashian-by-marriage has received much media attention since she transitioned last year.

This points up the biggest flaw with The Trans List: it’s much too short, or else there were too many subjects. For the really famous interviewees, like Cox and Jenner, I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know about them. For the more obscure ones, like Amos Mac, I learned enough about them to know they’re interesting people, but got nothing really substantial to take away with me. They’re superficial sketches of personalities that deserve in-depth portraits.

Maybe that was the purpose behind the film. In an era when we all have Google in our pockets, I guess a project like The Trans List only needs to put names in front of us. If we want to know more, we can go learn more on our own.

If that’s the case, I’d call the movie a success, because I’ve certainly done that with many of these fascinating individuals. I hope there will be more; maybe this could become a series.


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Senators Debate “Religious Freedom.”

Tuesday night at Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown Atlanta, state senators Greg Kirk (R), of Americus, and Vincent Fort (D) of Atlanta kicked off a series of four debates that will take place around the state on the subjects of “Religious Freedom, the Pastor Protection Act and the First Amendment Defense Act.”

The other debates will be on the same subjects, and will take place (or have already taken place) this week in Macon, Tifton, and Savannah.

Senator Kirk, a former Baptist preacher, was the introducer of the “First Amendment Defense Act” during the last Georgia legislative session. He was also a proponent of the “Pastor Protection Act” and the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Parts of all three bills were incorporated into HB 757, which was vetoed by Governor Deal this past spring.

Senator Fort, the minority whip in the upper chamber, is a former history professor who has been a strong supporter of the LGBT community for many years. I saw him speak at an event while my lawsuit was ongoing; he recognized me without introduction, gave me his card, and encouraged me to reach out to him if there was anything he could do to help.

You’d think Deal’s veto would mean that we’d seen the last of these anti-LGBT bills in the Peach State. You’d be wrong; Kirk and fellow Republican Sen. Josh McKoon have both pledged to re-introduce such bills during next year’s legislative session.

Turnout to the debate was light; there couldn’t have been more than sixty people in the pews. I should note that Saint Mark is a liberal Methodist church in the heart of Midtown, so its leadership and congregation are either LGBT themselves or are solid allies. I think the debate wasn’t promoted well; I learned about it from a Georgia Equality email, and after the fact some people told me they wished they’d known about it.

What’s next? Polygamy? —Sen. Greg Kirk

Content was also light; if you’ve been following the emergence of these “religious freedom” bills as they’ve been festering in statehouses around the country, you know what they’re about, and you wouldn’t have learned anything new at this event. Below are some quick takes, borrowed from my own live tweets during the debate. Any erroneous details are due to my own poor recollection.

Sen. Kirk claimed the “Pastor Protection Act” would ensure that clergypeople cannot be forced to perform a wedding they object to on religious grounds.

Sen. Fort retorted that no pastor can be forced to perform any wedding he or she doesn’t want to, on any grounds, religious or not.

Kirk argued that bills such as these are simply “common sense”; they’ll protect the religious without affecting anyone else.

Fort’s retort was that they offer no protections that aren’t already guaranteed by the Constitution and they will expose Georgia to boycotts and other economic harms like what’s happening in North Carolina in the wake of HB2’s passage.

When a moderator asked Kirk if same-sex couples should be a protected class under the law, Kirk admitted that post-Obergefell, that is a matter of settled law. But then he did the usual “slippery slope” scaremongering by asking, “What’s next? Polygamy?”

In the question and answer portion of the program, an audience member asked, “Senator Kirk, you keep saying ‘traditional marriage.’ Define that.”

He took the bait, and said “traditional marriage is marriage as defined in the Bible”; the questioner pounced, reminding him that the Bible pretty much celebrates polygamy. Kirk backpedaled, explaining that he’d meant traditional marriage is what most Christians believe it to be. Slippery slope, indeed.

Senator Fort won raucous applause when he declared that Georgia needs a comprehensive antidiscrimination law. This was definitely his crowd. I wonder how his message will be received in Tifton.

I’ll close by noting that Fort and Kirk were both unfailingly polite to and respectful of each other, of the moderators, and of the audience. Anyone who turned out hoping to see a Republican primaries-style uglyfest would have been disappointed.


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Mara Keisling Visits Atlanta.

This week Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) came down from Washington to speak at the Philip Rush Center in Atlanta about the current state of transgender rights and advocacy in the United States. I was excited to attend and see Mara again; I’ve known her since 2009, when she was instrumental in getting me to speak before the House committee on labor on the importance of passing ENDA. She’s a hard-working and dedicated advocate who has improved all our lives in her time at NCTE.

Mara spoke for about two hours, and I live-tweeted the event. I’ll paraphrase and flesh out my tweets in this post, but don’t think this is all-inclusive; I didn’t catch everything that was said. This is just all that I tweeted or remember of the meeting. Any errors or omissions of fact are my own.

After stressing that NCTE is not a political organization and cannot endorse candidates for office, Mara noted that the Obama Administration has been quite good for the transgender community. If I heard her correctly, under President Obama there have been 111 discrete actions by the federal government that have made life a little better for transgender Americans.

While the so-called “ENDA executive order” is a famous example, there have been many others most people don’t even know about, and some that came as a surprise even to NCTE. A bulletin last week from the General Services Administration, for example, mandated that transgender people may use the restroom matching their gender identity in all federal buildings (the GSA’s job is to manage federal buildings), and Mara said nobody told NCTE ahead of time that would be coming.

She talked for a while about identity documents and the gender markers that most of them have. Medicare, for example, apparently has “F” or “M” in big letters in the center of the cards recipients use. This means some transgender Medicare recipients have no choice but to out themselves to their medical providers.

Gender markers are also used on the DD 214 forms that all military veterans receive upon discharge, and which are needed to obtain VA medical care and all other veterans’ services. They’re also on passports, and of course they’re on all our driver’s licenses.

NCTE is lobbying hard to get [gender] markers removed from most or all identity documents

NCTE is lobbying hard to get these markers removed from most or all identity documents, since they serve no function except to invite discriminatory behavior. Someone in the audience noted that gender markers are an artifact of the time when such documents didn’t incorporate photographs; now that they do, they’re no more needed than is information about eye and hair color, which are pretty much gone from IDs today. Mara thinks it will take several more years of lobbying before gender markers will be removed.

The “bathroom bills” like HB2 in North Carolina are a direct result of the achievement of nationwide marriage equality last year. Denying LGBT people the right to marriage equality was the central front in the culture war for many years; now that it’s lost, the religious right has set its sights on the transgender community instead.

Texas will probably pass a bill like HB2 next year. It will be the next state to do so, but it won’t be the last. Expect the religious right to be very creative in the ways it finds to attack, humiliate, and restrict the rights of transgender people in the near future. While life has steadily improved for us in recent times, and will continue to in the long run, the next few years will suck while we’re in the crosshairs.

In 2010, NCTE worked with other organizations to produce Injustice At Every Turn, a comprehensive nationwide survey about being transgender in the United States and the discrimination and other ills we face. An update is in the works this year, and there have been over 28,000 respondents. The results will be out next year.

For the 2010 survey, a question about suicide was included at the last minute, and results indicated that 41 percent of transgender Americans have attempted suicide during their lives. It was discovered after the fact that the question was poorly worded, to the extent that the responses were unlikely to be accurate. This time around a similar question was carefully designed with a suicide prevention group with expertise in these matters. The results were about the same.

Mara was in the news last year when she (and other activists) used the restrooms in North Carolina’s Capitol as a protest against HB2, intending to get arrested. Mara said NAACP members who are veterans of the 1960s civil rights era, including Rep. John Lewis, coached her in how to get arrested.

Most of the money funding used by transgender rights groups comes from gay groups. Mara didn’t offer speculation as to why this might be the case, but it seems obvious to me: most trans people are too broke to be donating to nonprofits.

A trans movement, Mara declared in conclusion, must also be antiracist, antipoverty, anti-incarceration, pro-immigrant, feminist, and pro-worker.

Summary: life is incrementally better for us in 2016. But strap in for a tough ride to come.

It was good to see Mara again. It always is.


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Making Faces.

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

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

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

BenAffleckHenryCavill

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

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

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

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

Martian_face_viking_cropped

Not a face on Mars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Pryor Restraint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Transgender characters in comic books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

Promotional art of Chalice from Alters.

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

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

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Gender dysphoria is nothing like anorexia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hanging Together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franklin was a boss.

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

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Invisible Targets Don’t Get Shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bathroom Laws Are About Insufficient Femininity, Not Being Transgender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. Makeup. Just like cisgender women.

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

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

d. Surgeries to feminize the face and body.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jenner Again.

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

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

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

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

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

authentic_stamp

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Stanton.

Susan Stanton.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006: Epilogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 2.

This s Part 2. Find Part 1 here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort of like this one.

Sort of like this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned around and stomped out.

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


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Autobiography: Congress, Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ExGIBlondeBeauty

Thank you, but no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the guy with all the answers.

This was the guy with all the answers.

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I was an idiot.


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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: 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.

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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.
2003.
20th Century Man, Part One.
Perspective.

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.

“No.”

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.
2003.
Perspective.

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


Thank you!


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:

ElloBruce

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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