Category Archives: Words

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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Bernie Wrightson, RIP.

Legendary comic book artist Bernie Wrightson (sometimes spelled Berni Wrightson) died of brain cancer over the weekend. He was 68.

Today the name most associated with the DC Comics character, Swamp Thing, is Alan Moore. He revamped and revitalized the old monster type, the “swamp monster,” in the Swamp Thing comic book in the late 1980s. This new version of the book led to the creation of other characters like John Constantine and Lucifer, and eventually resulted in DC’s horror/dark fantasy imprint, Vertigo.

However, Alan Moore didn’t create the Swamp Thing. The character got his start at the hands of writer Len Wein, with art by Wrightson, in the early 1970s.

Bernie Wrightson was an amazing artist. All the more so, since he was mainly self-taught. It’s not easy to do horror in comics, and this was especially true back then. The limitations of cheap newsprint paper and a limited color palette meant that it was much harder to get the realistic detail you’d want for convincing gore and viscera.

Wrightson made it look easy. Swamp Thing was set in the Louisiana bayous. The title character was Alec Holland, an unfortunate scientist who was beaten, thrown into the swamp, and left for dead by mobsters (after they’d also killed his wife). Because reasons, Alec survived, but changed into a powerful but horrifying creature, more plant than animal—the description usually found in the pages of each issue of the book was “a moss-encrusted mockery of a man.”

Every panel oozed with atmosphere. You could practically smell the rot; hear the gases bubbling up out of the peat moss. Wrightson’s use of shadows imbued the series with mood and texture, and he could scare the shit out of me even in scenes where nothing particularly scary was going on.

The comic’s word balloons, which Wrightson also drew, were unlike any I’d seen in a comic book before; they were yellow or green, and appeared to be dripping with muck and slime. You could practically smell it. His art was amazing. The Alan Moore era was great, but the Wein/Wrightson original flavor was also uniquely terrific.

After Swamp Thing, Bernie Wrightson is probably best known for his character, Captain Sternn. Captain Sternn appeared in several issues of the comics magazine Heavy Metal, and he also appeared in a segment of the animated Heavy Metal movie from 1981.

Here’s a page spread from an adaptation of the Frankenstein story that Wrightson did. This shows you what his work looked like, and how amazing it was. He did all this with a pencil!

If you look at Wrightson’s credits over time, there’s something you may notice. In the oldest Swamp Thing comics I’ve acquired, he was credited as “Berni Wrightson,” with only the one “e” in his first name. This is how he’s credited throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Then, sometime in the 1990s, I began to see his name spelled more conventionally, as “Bernie Wrightson.”

I had the great fortune to meet Bernie when he came to Dragon*Con one year. I didn’t remember the year, but when I heard the news of his death I looked it up: 1995. It seems insane that it could have been that long ago, but I know it must have.

At the Marriott Marquis, one of Dragon*Con’s host hotels, there’s a tenth floor lounge that people, both con attendees and guests, often congregate on after hours. In 1995, wandering through that lounge one night, I met Bernie Wrightson. Kate Worley, co-creator of Omaha, The Cat Dancer, was also there, and I joined the two of them and several other comics fans in a late-night gab session.

I remember Jim Steranko had given a talk that day, and Kate and I talked about how unctuously charming we found him to be. This is how I know the year must have been 1995; it’s the only year Bernie Wrightson, Kate Worley, and Jim Steranko were all there. (In one of the strangenesses that life is woven from, Jim Steranko, the oldest of those three comics professionals (he was born in 1938; Bernie was born in 1948 and Kate in 1958), is now the only one still alive.)

Anyway, Kate and Bernie both turned out to be warm and kind, eager to engage and share ideas with the fans. From some of the horrifying pages he drew in his lifetime, you might not have expected that. The small conversation group sat up and drank and chatted until the wee hours.

When I met Wrightson and realized who he was, there was a first thing I wanted to know. I began our talk like this: “Could I ask you a question?”

He smiled at me. “You’re going to ask me about the spelling of my name, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He told me. He had always been “Bernie Wrightson,” but then in the late 1960s, shortly before he began working in comics, an American diver from Denver, also named Bernie Wrightson, began winning diving contests (meets?) at a high level. He won medals at the Pan American Games in 1967, and then took several gold medals at the 1968 Olympics.

It seemed to the comics artist at the time that the diver was going to become one of those crossover athletes who became more generally famous, like Sonja Henie or Esther Williams. So, rather than actually change his name, he just dropped the “e” from his first name.

The diver turned out not to have big crossover appeal after all. Today, when you read “Olympic diver Bernie Wrightson,” you say, “who?”, and people were already saying that in the 1980s, so eventually the comics artist reclaimed the original spelling of his name.

It’s not much of a story, but it’s charming nonetheless; it’s one of those little grace notes that crosses your mind when you think about a person.

I’ve met many creative people over the years. I’m glad Bernie Wrightson was one of them. Cancer is a terrible disease, every bit as horrible as the fictional horrors he illustrated. I wish it were similarly fictional.

Rest in peace, Berni(e).


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Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet, 2017.

This past Saturday, February 18, 2017, my partner, her mother, and I arrived at Manuel’s Tavern for the annual Atlanta Orthographic Meet (spelling bee) at just before six.

I compete in this competition every year; I’ve been a runner-up, but I haven’t yet won. Here’s my post about last year’s meet.

This was our first visit to Manuel’s since its renovation last year, so I was eager to see the new place.

It isn’t all that much different.

Our friend Ed Hall beat us there, and had already reserved a four-top for us. We ordered supper; I got the veggie burger, which is now a house-made patty that was terrible. The old menu’s black bean burger was much better.

But we weren’t there for the food. After getting the usual preliminaries out of the way, the Committee launched into Round One just after 7 p.m. As usual, Round One consisted of common words that can be tricky to spell, plus topical words, one of which this year was right up front. I’d guess there were 200 people competing in the first round this year.

The Atlanta Orthographic Meet isn’t like the Scripps-Howard spelling bees, where contestants spell words aloud and are eliminated with their first miss. For this, the Committee sounds out the words, which we then attempt to spell on paper. Advancement is based on the total number of words spelled correctly.

Where I’ve misspelled words, I preserved my wrong spelling with a strikethrough and put the correct spelling next to it.


Round One
  1. emolument
  2. oxygen
  3. epistolary
  4. anomaly
  5. cisgender
  6. vertiginous
  7. circuitry
  8. lichen
  9. eponymous
  10. cosplay
  11. obelisk
  12. prosecco
  13. algae
  14. cravat
  15. disrhythmia dysrhythmia
  16. elision
  17. plummet
  18. delectable
  19. apochryphal apocryphal
  20. latke

Early in the day on Saturday I predicted that “emolument” would be the topical word this year. For the 2009 meet, one of the first-round words was “stimulus.”

I wrote “dysrhythmia” correctly before second-guessing myself. “Apocryphal” I simply missed; it looked more right to me with the additional “h.” Still, eighteen correct was good enough to advance to Round Two with fifteen other competitors, including Ed.


Round Two
  1. minodiere minaudiere
  2. adipocyte
  3. transhumence transhumance
  4. occuba aucuba
  5. melisma
  6. hansom
  7. loblolly
  8. macaron
  9. bowline
  10. chissop hyssop
  11. cadastral
  12. lamasery
  13. oakum
  14. twall toile
  15. baobab

When “adipocyte” was defined as “fat cell,” I knew how to spell it, since I already knew “adipose” is fat and “-cyte” is any type of cell.

“Transhumance” I’d spelled correctly, then second-guessed myself into the wrong spelling again. Which is okay, because I spelled “cadastral” correctly through pure good luck.

In this round some people, including Ed, let the Committee psych them out: when “loblolly” was read, it was defined very specifically as referring to a type of gruel, not the pine tree. I went ahead and spelled it just like the pine tree anyway and got it right. Ed deliberately spelled it differently, on cue from the Committee, and missed it.

With a total of 28 correct over the first two rounds, I made it to Round Three. So did Ed, whose score was running a word or two ahead of mine now.


Round Three
  1. beccarel becquerel
  2. retticella reticella
  3. phalanstery
  4. psoteriology soteriology
  5. rheophilous
  6. bluchers
  7. schnecke
  8. entrepogh entrepôt
  9. wryton rhyton
  10. toromachy tauromachy

I got lucky again; every word I spelled correctly in Round Three was a guess. I now had 32 correctly spelled words out of the 45 so far presented, which was just enough to take me into Round 4—but only barely; I had the lowest score of the five who advanced to the final round. It was now very unlikely I could win.


Round Four
  1. temesis tmesis
  2. guimé guillemet
  3. alii aalii
  4. felsynmere felsenmeer
  5. tip typp

Okay, I didn’t get any right in this round. I know the word “tmesis,” but I forgot there’s no letter between the “t” and the “m.”

And I maintain, as a former resident of Hawaii, that if the reader had pronounced “aalii” correctly (the Hawaiian language has no diphthongs), I’d have spelled it correctly.

This round should have ended the contest (Ed was in third place; congratulations, Ed!). But the two women who outscored him had the same score, so we went now into “sudden death” overtime. I was out of the running now, but I spelled along just for funsies.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round One
  1. geraint gerent

Both contestants misspelled this word (as did I, as you can see). A second round was required.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Two
  1. furbelow

I thought this word’s spelling was straightforward, but the two competitors missed it. They had to try again.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Three
  1. skua

I’m familiar with this word. The last two combatants apparently weren’t. Onward.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Four
  1. claimant clamant

What I spelled is a different word. “Clamant” is related to “clamor.” Still no winner.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Five
  1. cerack serac

Apparently no one at Manuel’s Tavern at the time knew how to spell this word. Another round.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Six
  1. chuff chough

I’d have been well chuffed, as the Brits say, if I’d spelled “chough” correctly. No doubt the two final spellers felt similarly.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Seven
  1. acai

Meaning the berry that’s all the rage in health food circles these days. The problem with this word was that everyone spelled it correctly, so there still was no winner.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Eight
  1. chiapeen chopine

Yes, obviously I was just throwing letters down at random. It’s just as well I was out of competition by this point. The battle continued for the last two spellers.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Nine
  1. combings

The way I spelled it above was the spelling the Committee wanted. However, as I recall, the two remaining women each spelled it a different other way, and all three are correct. Still no winner.


Sudden Death Spell-Off Round Ten
  1. capgnocchio catenaccio

This round didn’t yield a winner either, and “catenaccio” was the last of the words the Committee had prepared for this year. So, for the first time in the Atlanta Orthographic Meet’s forty-plus year history, a tie game was declared. Both women were declared First Place winners, and both will receive engraved beer steins at next year’s competition.

A good time was had by all. And next year, I’ll win!


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My 2016 Books.

At the end of 2015, I observed that I’d only read ten books for the year, including graphic novels—a record low number since I’ve been keeping a books diary. I had been reading, a lot, but it had mostly been blogs, magazine articles, and single issues of comic books. I resolved to pick up the pace in 2016.

Mission accomplished. I read 26 books in the year just concluded, including graphic novels (but only eight graphic novels, so it’s a pretty substantive list).

The predominant takeaway for the year’s reading is that 2016 was the year I discovered The Expanse. After watching the terrific first season of the television show, I began reading the James S.A. Corey novels on which it’s based. I read the first four, as well as two of the ancillary novellas and a short story also set in that world.

I highly recommend the series to people who enjoy hard science fiction, even though technically I wouldn’t say that’s what The Expanse is. The Expanse is sort of “science fiction science fiction”; the series begins two centuries in the future in a populated solar system that’s a fair extrapolation from the technology we have today—until a particular thing happens that violates physics as we understand it. You’ll know it when it happens, and it’s a thing that will continue to influence the story, but the human characters and institutions react and adapt to that thing as they would in a hard-science fiction universe. It’s all very relatable, and super fun to read.

Each year I try to read a few literary classics that I’d never gotten around to. This year, that project led me to read Dracula, The Wind In The Willows, and Little Women.

I was surprised and delighted by how modern Dracula seems. It’s an epistolary novel, consisting of letters between Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina, Dr. Van Helsing and his colleagues, etc. But the story’s also told via newspaper stories and diary entries. It’s a common storytelling technique today; I’d had no idea authors were using it in the nineteenth century.

I liked The Wind In The Willows, that classic of English children’s literature, but now that I’ve read it, I’m astounded that any children could enjoy it. It’s almost entirely devoid of action, and spends most of its pages exhaustively describing Mole and Rat’s picnics and boating excursions.

If Dracula seemed like fashion-forward writing for the Victorian era, Little Women is entirely of its time. I’m glad I read it, and I took some pleasure from the story (that Jo is a real firecracker!), but Twain and Poe were taking much bigger chances, and stretching the bounds of literature. Louisa May Alcott’s writing is safe. I’ve heard she and Twain hated each other’s writing, and I’m not a bit surprised.

In addition to those literary classics, I also read three classics of science fiction: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, and Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, I had never read Neuromancer. I can’t read everything within 30 years of when it comes out; give me a break.

Lest Darkness Fall is about a Latin-speaking archeologist who slips back in time to the era of the late Roman Empire, and begins inventing modern tools centuries ahead of their due dates (Arabic numerals, including “0”; the printing press; telescopes) to try to prevent the Fall. I love a good alternate history story, but here’s the thing: de Camp wrote Lest Darkness Fall in the mid-1930s, so reading the book today is like a form of time travel for me as well as the protagonist, because his “present-day” perspective, while much more enlightened than that of the Romans and Goths he meets, still embodies many racist and sexist assumptions that are cringe-worthy today. Which is, for me, another reason to read it. I love to see how the wheel keeps turning: up-to-date becomes old-fashioned in such a short span of time. Reading is itself a sort of time travel.

I had a similar experience reading The Man Who Folded Himself. I also found it to be profoundly creepy, and I’ll say no more about it.

Two short story collections I read in 2016 were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Complete Pat Hobby Stories and Aimee Bender’s The Girl In The Flammable Skirt. I knew about failed, skanky 1930s screenwriter Pat Hobby because of an adaptation of the stories starring Christopher Lloyd that I caught on PBS a few years ago. I love Fitzgerald, and I love stories of the golden age of the silver screen, so it was a no-brainer that eventually I’d absorb this volume. It’s a stitch! The stories are sort of a prose version of the “cringe comedy” seen in TV shows like The Office. Although the style is somewhat dated, I often found myself laughing out loud.

My partner recommended the Aimee Bender book to me; it’s part of her library. The absurdist stories reminded me of those of the late Amanda Davis in her collection, Circling The Drain. According to Google, I’m not the first person to make that comparison. Davis was funnier, though, and at times Bender gets just a little too fey for my tastes.

I closed out the year (more or less) with my annual reread of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I love it—we all know the story, but Dickens’s prose is a joy that’s lost in most TV and movie adaptations. It’s still the only Dickens book I’ve ever read. I resolve to read Bleak House in 2017.

I further resolve to read more books by and about Charles Darwin in 2017.

Not included in the list below, because I spent all of June reading it and am still only a third of the way through it, is Steven Pinker’s doorstop, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. My final literary resolution for 2017 is to finish reading this fascinating, if voluminous, volume.

For those who take an interest in such things: 14 of the 26 books on this 2016 list were read on my iPad using the Kindle app.

==========

January

  1. From Personal Ads to Cloning Labs; More Science Cartoons From Sidney Harris by Sidney Harris
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  3. Justice League Volume 4: The Grid by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, & Joe Prado.
  4. Justice League Volume 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke, and Rod Reis.

February

  1. Forever Evil: Blight by J.M. DeMatteis, Ray Fawkes, Mikel Janin, Fernando Blanco, Francis Portela, & Vicente Cifuentes.

March

  1. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

April

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker.

May

  1. Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp.
  2. Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion by Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Patrick Zircher, and André Coelhou.
  3. The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

July

  1. Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey.
  2. American Vampire Vol. 5 by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Dustin Nguyen.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

August

  1. [Citation Needed] 2: The Needening: More of The Best of Wikipedia’s Worst Writing by Josh Fruhlinger & Conor Lastowka.

September

  1. Gods of Risk: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey.
  2. Ame-Comi Girls Vol. 3: Earth In Crisis by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Eduardo Francisco, et al.
  3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling et al.

October

  1. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold.

November

  1. Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey.
  2. The Complete Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  3. The Churn by James S.A. Corey.

December

  1. Justice League Volume 6: Throne of Atlantis by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier, and Tony S. Daniel.
  2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
  3. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini and Joe Quinones.
  4. The Girl In The Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender.
  5. Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey.

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My 2016 Movies.

I saw 80 movies in 2016.

Movies of every sort can be viewed in all manner of ways now. The list below includes new releases in the cinema, classics on DVD or Blu-Ray, public domain oldies on YouTube. Personally owned films. Titles streamed on Netflix. I watched the Charlton Heston adventure, Secret of the Incas, via YouTube, on my iPad, for a few minutes at a time each night while falling asleep.

In an easy walk, the worst movie I saw in 2016 was Independence Day: Resurgence. Everyone associated with this movie, from director Roland Emmerich, to the cast, to the baker who supplied bagels to the craft services table, deserves to be chased out of Hollywood with torches and pitchforks.

The best movie I saw isn’t as easy to choose. Limiting myself to 2016 movies, I’ll offer the caveat that I didn’t see too many of them. My film diet mainly consists of Netflix discs and streaming experiences; my partner and I don’t get out to the cinema as often as we’d like. We do sometimes see recent releases once they’ve hit Redbox.

All that stipulated, Arrival was probably the best of the thirteen 2016 movies we slogged out to the cinema to see. Amy Adams is a personal favorite actor, and I just love science fiction that’s smartly written, eschews tedious chase or fight scenes, and isn’t afraid to present big ideas without spoon-feeding them to its audience. Arrival provided all of this, and it’s the one movie of 2016 that I was still thinking and talking about days after I’d seen it. It was sticky in my head. I ate it up with a spoon.

A close runner-up was Sully. I don’t know how much truth is in this “true story” of the commercial pilot who dead-stick landed his plane on the Hudson River with zero fatalities, but it’s a terrific white-knuckle adventure story regardless. Tom Hanks perfectly embodies another real-life captain (after Captain Phillips in Captain Phillips and Captain Lovell in Apollo 13), and Clint Eastwood never disappoints. I loved every frame of Sully.

Another “true story” we saw this year was Snowden. Again, I don’t know just how true it is, and it doesn’t matter. Joseph Gordon-Levitt did his career best in it, conveying all the odd mannerisms and speech patterns of Ed Snowden as well as showing us his inner moral turmoil.

Another year, another brace of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I really enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. Doctor Strange was time well spent, but it’s heartbreaking to see Rachel McAdams as yet another Oscar-worthy actress relegated to playing “the girlfriend” in a Marvel movie (after Gwyneth Paltrow in the Iron Man films and Natalie Portman in Thor). We need a Marvel super-heroine movie! Or a half-dozen of them!

In a year in which Krysten Ritter killed it on the small screen in Netflix’s Jessica Jones series, is it too much to ask that female-starring super-hero films can become a more regular thing? I don’t think it is. Yeah, I know Captain Marvel is in the works, and that’s great. There still should be a Black Widow movie. And maybe a She-Hulk movie? Wouldn’t that work? I was shocked to discover, today, that the last super-hero movie starring a woman was 2004’s Catwoman with Halle Berry. No one remembers that one fondly, if at all. Maybe when DC’s Wonder Woman breaks the drought this year, we can hope for more female-centered comic book projects.

I saw Zootopia, like everyone else, and thought it was hilarious. I saw Ghostbusters, like many other people, and did not find it hilarious.

The Accountant was fun, but dumb. It had plot holes you could drive an Airstream trailer through, and it pretty much wasted the talents of Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow.

Atlanta-filmed Passengers (which, clearly, wasn’t set in Atlanta) was thought-provoking, as long as you don’t think about it too much. The “what would I do in that situation?” questions can lead to lively conversations, but the “why would a ship with 5,000 souls aboard it only have one autodoc?” questions just frustrated me.

Whit Stillman only comes around every few years. In 2016 he brought Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny with him in Love & Friendship. It’s like every other Whit Stillman movie: if you like this sort of thing (as I do), you’ll like this.

I only made it out for one movie of this year’s Out On Film festival, and that was the documentary The Trans List. Janet Mock interviewed 11 prominent transgender Americans about their lives. I wish she had interviewed fewer people and spent more time with each of them, because I hadn’t heard of several, and their stories of activism and triumph over discrimination were well worth exploring. Stonewall activists, immigrant-rights crusaders, and legal pioneers were among them. Oh, and Mock interviewed Caitlyn Jenner for the film, which is good, because I don’t think Ms. Jenner has gotten much press coverage since she came out and transitioned.

Rounding out the list of 2016 movies we saw in 2016 were Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and La La Land. I liked them both, neither was perfect, and I’ve nothing interesting to say about them.

In addition to feature-length movies, I saw many shorts in 2016. My partner and I always go to Landmark Midtown Cinema to see the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts each winter, to get ready for the Academy Awards. There are always some gems there. Also, she got me the Blu-Ray boxed set of Les Blank’s quirky documentaries for Christmas in 2015. I’ve spent the past year dipping into them whenever I’ve had a few minutes to share. Blank’s movies are a lot like Stillman’s in their idiosyncrasy: If you like them, you’ll like them. Personally, I love them.

Anyway, here’s my full list:

January

  1. The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary. Personally owned Blu-Ray.
  2. Holiday (1938). Directed by George Cukor. Starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Netflix DVD.
  3. Nothing (2003). Directed by Vincenzo Natali. Comedy starring David Hewlett and Andrew Miller. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Last Waltz (1978). Directed by Martin Scorsese. Documentary about and starring The Band. Netflix DVD.
  5. Smitty (2012), Directed by David M. Evans. Starring Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, et al. Netflix DVD.
  6. Summer of Sam (1999), Directed by Spike Lee. Starring John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, et al. Netflix DVD.
  7. Spellbound (1945), Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Netflix DVD.
  8. Back In Time (2015). Directed by Jason Aron. Documentary.
  9. The Music Box (1932), Directed by James Parrott. Short. Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. YouTube.

 

February

  1. Life Itself. (2014). Directed by Steve James. Documentary. Netflix streaming.
  2. All The Little Animals (1998). Directed by Jeremy Thomas. Starring Christian Bale and John Hurt. Netflix DVD.
  3. Lambchops (1929). Directed by Murray Roth. Starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. Short. YouTube.
  4. Ave Maria (2015). Directed by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  5. Shok (2015). Directed by Jamie Donoughue. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  6. Alles Wird Gut (2015). Directed by Patrick Vollrath. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  7. Stutterer (2015). Directed by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  8. Day One (2015). Directed by Henry Hughes. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  9. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957). Directed by Chuck Jones. Short. Starring the voice of Mel Blanc. dailymotion.com.
  10. Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941). Directed by Edward F. Cline. Starring W.C. Fields. YouTube.
  11. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015). Directed by Sanjay Patel. Short. Starring the voice of Brent Schraff. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  12. World of Tomorrow (2015). Directed by Don Hertzfeldt. Short. Starring voices of Julia Pott and Winona Mae. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  13. Bear Story (2014). Directed by Gabriel Osorio Vargas. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  14. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (2014). Directed by Konstantin Bronzit. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  15. If I Was God… (2015). Directed by Cordell Barker. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  16. The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (2015). Directed by Camille Chaix, Hugo Jean, et al. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  17. The Loneliest Stoplight (2015). Directed by Bill Plympton. Short. Starring the voice of Patton Oswalt. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  18. Catch It (2015). Directed by Paul Bar, Marion Demaret, Nadège Forner Pierre-Baptiste Marty, Julien Robyn, and Jordan Soler. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  19. Prologue (2015). Directed by Richard Williams. Short. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  20. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  21. Like Dandelion Dust (2009). Directed by Jon Gunn. Starring Mira Sorvino, Cole Hauser, and Barry Pepper. Netflix DVD.
  22. Ex Machina (2015). Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  23. Westworld (1973). Directed by Michael Crichton. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

March

  1. Children of the Century (1999). Directed by Diane Kurys. Starring Juliette Binoche. Netflix DVD.
  2. Bridge of Spies (2015). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Zootopia (2016). Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush. Starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. The Big Short (2015). Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Directed by Robert Wise. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

April

  1. Brooklyn (2015). Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan, et al.
  2. The Grey Zone (2001). Directed by Tim Blake Nelson. Starring David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, et al. Netflix DVD.
  3. Cloverfield (2008). Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring T.J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Lizzy Caplan, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.

 

May

  1. Waitress (2007). Directed by Adrienne Shelly. Starring Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly, and Nathan Fillion. DVD.
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Directed by the Russo Brothers. Starring Chris Evans, et al. Redbox.
  3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.
  4. Galaxy Quest (1999). Directed by Dean Parisot. Starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, et al. Netflix streaming.

 

June

  1. Trainwreck (2015). Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  2. Trading Places (1983). Directed by John Landis. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. Captain America: Civil War (2016). Directed by Russo Brothers. Starring all the people. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  4. Creed (2015). Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. Redbox Blu-Ray.
  5. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009). Directed by Sam Liu. Animated. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  6. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy. Netflix streaming.

July

  1. The Red Shoes (1948). Directed by Powell/Pressburger. Starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook. Netflix DVD.
  2. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring CGI. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Love & Friendship (2016). Directed by Whit Stillman. Starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. Regal Tara Cinema.
  4. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013). Directed by Jay Oliva. Animated. Netflix streaming.

August

  1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1984). Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, Catherine Hicks, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. Ghostbusters (2016). Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Kristen Wiig et al. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  3. Men With Guns (1997). Directed by John Sayles. Starring Federico Luppi. Netflix DVD.
  4. The Dirty Dozen (1967). Directed by Robert Aldrich. Starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, et al. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  5. The Lobster (2015). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Redbox DVD.

 

September

  1. Snowden (2016). Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  2. Sully (2016). Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. AMC North DeKalb 16.

October

  1. The Trans List (2016). Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Documentary. Landmark Midtown Cinema.
  2. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Batfleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  3. God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (1968). Directed by Les Blank. Documentary short. Blu-Ray.
  4. Strange Days (1995). Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett. Netflix DVD.
  5. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015). Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen. Documentary. Netflix streaming.

 

November

  1. Rescue Dawn (2006). Directed by Werner Herzog. Starring Christian Bale. Netflix Blu-Ray.
  2. The Accountant (2016). Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick. Regal Hollywood 24.
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Denholm Elliott. DVD.
  4. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987). Directed by John Hughes. Starring Steve Martin and John Candy. Netflix DVD.
  5. Arrival (2016). Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Abbott and Costello. AMC North DeKalb 16.
  6. Doctor Strange (2016). Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. AMC Sugarloaf 18.
  7. Secret of the Incas (1954). Directed by Jerry Hopper. Starring Charlton Heston and Thomas Mitchell. YouTube.
  8. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969). Directed by Marcel Ophüls. Documentary. Netflix DVD (2 discs).

 

December

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne. Regal Hollywood 24.
  2. Love Actually (2003). Directed by Richard Curtis. Starring all the Brits. Netflix streaming.
  3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1993). Directed by Brian Henson. Starring Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog. DVD.
  4. Passengers (2016). Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence. N. DeKalb 16.
  5. La La Land (2016). Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Regal Tara Cinema.
  6. Goodbye, Lenin (2003). Directed by Wolfgang Becker. Netflix DVD.

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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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Atlanta Maker Faire 2016.

This past Saturday my partner and I attended Atlanta Maker Faire 2016, which was actually held next door to Atlanta, in Decatur (if you’re a local, you know that makes a difference). It was like Atlanta Pride, the Inman Park Festival, and various other annual events, in that relevant businesses and clubs from all over the area gathered to set up booths and tables and show off their various wares and services. Most were set up on Decatur High School’s football field, covered in artificial turf, which seems vaguely appropriate.

There were blacksmiths. Model plane and drone hobbyists. Several robotics teams from colleges and high schools. A guy was in attendance who builds canoes and sailboats skinned in Tyvek insulating fabric. And there were many, many 3D printers, owned by organizations that offer 3D-printing services or offer to help people build their own printers.

As interesting as the Faire was overall (and as annoying as is the precious silent “e” in the name), it’s the 3D printers that really grabbed my attention. They’re a curiosity now; an expensive toy for most people. But in the very near future they’re going to completely revolutionize our world. Pretty much everything we wear and use on a daily basis will be printed at home: clothes, food, silverware, eyeglasses, replacement parts, pets—and it will seem as normal to us as buying things in stores does today.

Even larger items will be 3D printed. Today we have home printers for small jobs, but still go to Kinko’s if we need a big production collated and bound. Three-D printing will be the same; we’ll print whistles, shoes, and ukuleles at home, but go to Kinko’s analogues to pick up our freshly printed couches, or automobile tires, or for that matter, automobiles.

This decade has seen a lot of hand-wringing over Amazon.com and other etailers driving big brick-and-mortar stores out of business. The etailers dominate today, but they will be the next to go, or at least change radically, because we won’t need them once 3D printing technology has matured. The only physical objects we’ll need to buy is the raw stock of plastic, protein, metal, and other materials that our printers use. If the etailers survive, it will be because they’re selling these materials, or they’re selling the patterns that our printers use to deliver the finished products.

Of course, we’ll be making our own patterns, or modifying downloaded patterns to suit our own tastes. The world of pervasive 3D printing will be a bespoke world.

What do you think about this near future? Leave a comment and let me know!

Below are some links I gleaned from my visit to the Faire. There’s some fun stuff here; enjoy!

Creative Solar USA
Solarize Decatur-DeKalb
Creative Solar USA is a company that evaluates residences for their suitability for solar power systems, then installs them. It’s working with the Solarize Decatur-DeKalb coalition.

A solar power installation will be paid off in around ten years, with current technology. The system will last for 30 years, so a homeowner would have free electricity for 20 years before having to replace the system. Presumably by 30 years from now the technology will be cheaper and last longer.

3D Printing Tech
This company sells 3D printing services and consultations in the area.

Kennesaw State University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team
These guys were KSU students who had built what looked like a tiny submarine built into a transparent bento box. I’d have loved to see it in action, but it was broken down when I visited their booth. “We’re waiting on a part,” they told us.

Decatur Makers
Decatur Makers maintains a “maker space” for members to use. According to their mission statement, “Decatur Makers is a welcoming, family-friendly community of inquisitive, motivated people who work together in a safe environment to discover, understand, design and create interesting things.”

Decatur Makers have a “MakerBot Replicator 2” 3D printer. It retails for around $3,000. I found it for sale here at Amazon.com.

3d Orchard
This is an online, crowdsourced catalog of 3d-printable patterns.

Freeside Atlanta
To be honest I’m not sure what these people are about. I can’t get their website to load.

Maven Makers
These folks offer another makerspace, like Decatur Makers.

Nanofarming
Growing produce in tiny glass-walled biospheres!

TSI Solutions
These are your people if you want extruded metal frameworks.

Makercise
These folks have plans on their website that show you how to make your own propane-powered aluminum casting foundry out of a metal cook pot and other items. It would only cost a few hundred dollars; my partner is encouraging me to go for it.

I Made 3D
On display at this booth was a “JellyBox” homemade 3D printer. I doubt it’s as versatile as the MakerBot printer mentioned above, but it’s much cheaper, at about $800. The IMade3D people were selling kits.


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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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Invisible Targets Don’t Get Shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bathroom Laws Are About Insufficient Femininity, Not Being Transgender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a. Makeup. Just like cisgender women.

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

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

d. Surgeries to feminize the face and body.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Atlanta Open Orthographic Meet, 2016.

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

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

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

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

Round One

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

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

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

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

 

Round Two

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

Notes on Round Two:

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

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

I never had the slightest chance with “renminbi.”

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

 

Round Three

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

Notes on Round Three:

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

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

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

 

Round Four (Funsies)

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

Notes on Round Four:

Yeah, I had no chance with any of these.

Next year will be my year!


Cisnormativity.

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

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

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

Obligatory male/female sign.

Obligatory male/female sign.

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

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

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

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

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

"Hello from Earth!"

“Hello from Earth!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Jenner Again.

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

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

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

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

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

authentic_stamp

Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Stanton.

Susan Stanton.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 2.

This s Part 2. Find Part 1 here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sort of like this one.

Sort of like this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned around and stomped out.

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


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Autobiography: Hallowe’en 2006, Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: sdsmt.collegiatelink.net/organization/lgbtservices

Source: sdsmt.collegiatelink.net/organization/lgbtservices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the time I had no reason to doubt her.

Next: a reason to doubt her.


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Autobiography: In Therapy, Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

Source: blog.transgenderzone.com

Source: blog.transgenderzone.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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