Monday, June 1, 2015

Some Thoughts About Caitlyn Jenner

After what felt like endless speculation, today the Gold Medalist in the 1976 Olympic Decathlon announced via twitter that she will now be known as Caitlyn Jenner. She also revealed that she looks pretty damn awesome, particularly for a woman in her 60s. 

I've written about her multiple times, and I'm sure I'll continue to write about her as events warrant. As I've said before, I think that her vast wealth and privilege makes her experience vastly different from that of most other trans women, and I am deeply disappointed by her continued support of the Republican Party and their anti-trans agenda. However, those aren't the issues I want to focus on today. 

For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Caitlyn's journey has been observing everyone's reaction to it. The bigots are outing themselves, and while that's annoying and painful to watch, it also lets us know who to avoid, ostracize and expose. Thankfully, the reaction has been largely positive, and Jenner's coming out gives us an opportunity to educate people who are open to it. So here's some knowledge I'd like to lay out for all y'all cis folks... 

Please avoid describing Caitlyn Jenner as being "born a man" or "born male." Caitlyn Jenner was coercively designated male at birth, but that wasn't a decision she had any control over. She was always a woman- It just took her some time to figure that out, and some more time to start, as we say, "living authentically." As a "late transitioner" myself, a male identity was something I was never comfortable with. Even before I had any inking that I was actually trans, I chafed against manhood. I did the absolute minimum to "pass" as a "normal" straight guy, and I was still miserable. I tried to rationalize away my feelings of gender sadness, but they just got more intense as I got older. Finally, in my 30s, I took steps to align my appearance and my physiology with my true identity. I was always a woman- I was just DEEP undercover for a long time, like a Directorate S Illegal from The Americans. 

Please refer to her with female pronouns (and as Caitlyn), even when discussing her life pre-transition. Intentionally misgendering a trans person is a form of violence against them. It is beyond rude- It denies their basic humanity. Cis people often wonder "what's the big deal" when it comes to misgendering. Well, you've never had people constantly referring to you with the wrong pronouns, have you? 

Yes, we know that you might "slip up." I for one feel like I can tell the difference between being tripped over and getting kicked. However, most trans people have had the experience of people in their lives reverting to the incorrect pronouns or their pre-transition name (deadname) when they are upset with them. Calling us by the right name and using the right pronouns aren't privileges that are OK to revoke when you are mad at us.

 Just last week a clerk at Ulta referred to me as "he" to a manager while I was trying to return an item, and it knocked the wind out of me for the rest of the day. It's easy for anyone to say that I should get a "thicker skin," but every social interaction I have is potentially hazardous and fraught with psychological peril. Even in Columbus, a relatively trans-friendly city, I sometimes feel like the air and the soil are radioactive to me. Unfortunately, they don't make dosimeters for transphobia yet.  

Coming out is a terrifying process for any trans person, and Caitlyn Jenner has done so in the most public of manners. Yes, that fear is cushioned by her vast wealth. Yes, her transition is being commodified and monetized in a manner that makes me more than a bit queasy. However, I still applaud her, because I know first hand how absolutely overwhelming fear becomes when you are on the cusp of coming out. 

Like many trans folks, I came out in stages to increasingly large numbers of people over an extended period of time. The "coming out" moment that scared me more than I expected? Coming out on my Seahawks blog. I was convinced that I'd be buried under an avalanche of hate mail, and that my readership would plummet. When I finally took the leap, it was around the same time that I started going out in public "presenting as a woman." I had been on hormones for a year, and "going full-time" was still six months away. 

Here's that original "coming out" post. The comments floored me, because they were overwhelmingly positive and supportive. If I had to put a percentage to it, I'd say only 5% or less of the reactions on social media were overtly hostile or hateful. Even better- My readership didn't dwindle. It GREW. I had reason to believe that it WOULD get better. 

I believe that Caitlyn Jenner's transition and the public's reaction to it, despite all the caveats thoughtful folks can rightly apply, should be cause for celebration. Even in the face of backlash from the Christian Right and the Fox News crowd, the momentum for trans rights in the United States continues to grow

One fresh example? In 2014 Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed into law a bill protecting trans folks from discrimination based on their gender identity. He's now running for President, and his support of trans rights is unlikely to be an issue for him in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination. In fact, all three current Democratic candidates for President have openly stated their support for transgender rights. Would any or all of them expand on the massive gains made during the Obama Administration? Who knows? But this sort of open support for trans rights would have been politically self-destructive just a few short years ago. The only people attacking O'Malley's support for trans rights seem to be coming out of the transphobic Fox News Fever Swamp

The struggle for trans rights is far from over, and I think it's important to remember that our fight needs to include those who fall outside the gender binary, too. In the same manner that the fight for gay rights won't end with victory in the war for marriage equality, the fight for trans rights won't end with recognition/protections that only apply to binary trans folks. Us binary folks need to educate ourselves on the issues facing non-binary folks (especially older people like me), and we need to work hard to make sure our movement doesn't leave them behind. At the TransOhio Symposium this past weekend, I was struck by how many younger attendees fell under the non-binary "umbrella." As tough as the issues I face as a trans woman are, non-binary folks face different/additional problems of their own. If our cause is one in pursuit of individual autonomy and social justice, we must include our non-binary friends. 

I hope that Caitlyn Jennner uses her fame and fortune to make a tangible difference in that fight. "Visibility" is important by itself, but it definitely falls into the "necessary but not sufficient" category.   

What does everyone else think on this momentous day?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Well, This Pissed Me Off Today...

That's a tweet from earlier today from Frank Conniff, who was a key contributor to what I'd argue is one of the best shows to ever air on television: Mystery Science Theater 3000. I adore his work, and our political views strongly overlap. I'm very predisposed to like this person.

Then he tweeted that. Ugh.

Ann Coulter is a detestable figure, whose right-wing ravings often verge into something resembling performance art. I understand why she provokes frothing rage on the left- I really do. What I've never understood is the widespread impulse among liberals to look at Coulter and think "Wow! You know what would be a hilarious diss/slam/burn? If I pointed out that Ann Coulter looks like she might be transgender!"

I expect this sort of bigotry from the right. Go type "Michelle Obama Transgender" into a google search and stare slack-jawed at the disgusting fever swamp of racism and trans-misogyny they've spawned. They sure aren't saying "Michelle Obama is a t---y" as a compliment, are they? But once again, I expect as much from a group of people who are actively working to make the lives of transgender people more difficult and dangerous. I've given up on them. I just hope we can keep them out of political power until "generational replacement" inevitably alters public opinion on transgender rights.

But all too often, some on the left seem eager to throw us trans folks under the bus. It's stunning to see people celebrate progress for LGB rights one moment, then make lazy transphobic jokes the next. Conniff himself is a fierce advocate for same sex marriage. It's particularly disappointing to see people who should know better spouting what amounts to hate speech against trans folks.

Let's break down that "joke" for a moment. First of all, liberals have been hurling this insult at Coulter for over a decade. Aren't there about a MILLION much worse things about her you could make fun of? But you pick "She kinda looks like she might have been a dude!" What does that say about how you REALLY feel about a deeply marginalized, vulnerable population? At best, you reveal that you don't actually view trans folks as "real" people. You've never taken the time to consider them as a variable in your world. At worst, you reveal your own ugly transphobia (like LGB fave Roseanne Barr has done more that once).

This is a symptom of a larger problem, and it goes deeper than transphobic attempts at humor aimed at political enemies. We see the same mentality when trans-exclusionary radical feminists work with the Duggars of the world to keep us from going to the bathroom in peace- Or when trans men are allowed into traditionally women's colleges while trans women are excluded- Or when prominent LGBT organizations give the trans community at best lip service and at worst active neglect.

The message? Trans women are not full citizens, not fully human, not really women.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty fed up with this shit. I'm not going to suffer this silently. I hope you won't, either.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: "Pitch Perfect 2"

In a epoch dominated by the notion of "franchise-building," where the goal is to create film dynasties that evolve into perpetual motion cash machines fueled by reboots and sprawling "cinematic universes," it's almost quaint to happen upon an old-fashioned sequel- One that was greenlit simply because the original film became an unexpected hit.

Pitch Perfect was a modest box office hit back in 2012, but then found a gigantic and fiercely loyal following via home video/incessant cable showings. Like Austin Powers 15 years earlier, what began as a cult classic spawned a sequel that outgrossed the ENTIRE run run of the original in its opening weekend- Unlike the second Powers film, Pitch Perfect 2 largely recaptures the magic of its predecessor, despite sounding a handful of badly off-key notes.

The first hurdle PP2 has to surmount is the most basic of sequel problems: The first film is a solidly self-contained story with coherent character arcs and conflicts that are decisively and satisfyingly resolved by the time the credits roll. How do you demonstrate that there is another story that needs to be told? The opening sequence is a pale facsimile of the pre-credits scene that jolted audiences to attention during the first film- What happens resets the Barden Bellas as underdogs, and ratchets up the stakes (if they don't win the Acapella World Championships, the Bellas will be permanently disbanded... Long story.), but lacks the visceral punch/shock value of Anna Camp's complete and total barf-o-rama in PP.

22 Jump Street wrung huge laughs from pointing out and deconstructing every sequel trope in the book last summer, and PP2 takes a stab at similar insights while refusing to go as "full meta" as Lord & Miller's smash hit. The film is surprisingly effective at delivering the enthralling musical numbers fans demand while simultaneously whispering "Hey, it's kinda ridiculous that all these people are treating singing mash-ups of hit singles like it's a life-and-death struggle, aint it?" Even the German group that is set up as the Bellas' main antagonists are less villainous than possessed by a Richard Sherman-level of confident intensity. One of the film's best running gags is Beca's repeated attempts to insult her counterpart in "Das Sound Machine," only to hear odd, flirtatious compliments spill out of her mouth at every turn.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson stand out positively from the ensemble cast even more than they did in the first film, and the movie loses momentum when its focus wanders away from them (particularly due to a handful of new characters that largely fail to make an impact- The big exception is Keenan-Michael Key as an exasperated music producer). First-time Director Elizabeth Banks is given a largely thankless job: Give the fans what they want (Big musical numbers! Snarky/PG-13-ish smutty humor! Female bonding!), without the result feeling like a retread of the original film. On balance she succeeds, but not without a few significant missteps: There's a pointlessly transphobic gag (ugh), and a new Latina character veers into laugh-free ethnic caricature. The first film wasn't exactly free from racially questionable humor, but the sequel regrettably fades in the wrong direction.

The massive box-office success of an entertaining, well-made, woman-centric film is heartening, though. Male characters are de-emphasized in PP2, and largely exist as current or potential love interests for the Bellas. The boys in Pitch Perfect 2 are primarily relegated to cheering on and supporting the Bellas, which is an oddly satisfying inversion of the gender dynamics typically seen on the big screen.

If you enjoyed the original film, there's no reason to wait until the inevitable basic cable replays to see Pitch Perfect 2. It's solidly entertaining and just distinct enough from the original to justify its existence- Though it does beg the question: Who will the Bellas face off in the inevitable Pitch Perfect 3? Will they have to defeat space aliens in an epic riff-off to save humanity?

Oh God. That's going to happen, isn't it?

Grade: B

Sunday, May 17, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW- "Mad Max: Fury Road"

The single, seminal movie that would define my taste in films came in the mythical Summer of 1982 (a spectacular season that saw gave us Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Tron, Conan The Barbarian, Poltergeist and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among others). I was only seven years old back in '82, so I wouldn't see films that would become obsessions for me until later (Blade Runner, for example). The movie that captured my imagination and forever molded my taste in film would be E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Steven Spielberg's blockbuster deeply resonated with me, to the extent that I made my parents take me to see it SEVEN TIMES. I became so obsessed that I became angry at Mohandas Gandhi when E.T. lost out in the race for Best Picture. Not mad at the film "Gandhi," but mad at the actual historical figure (I wasn't the most level-headed child). To this day, I cry every time I see it. E.T. falling ill still just WRECKS me, and the emotional catharsis at the end is still overwhelming. 

The larger effect of E.T. on me was the creation of a life-long fixation on that rarest of film achievements: The successful combination of big-budget spectacle with an emotionally arresting, well-told story. Say what you will about Spielberg (especially in terms of his problems with endings), but at his best he's the MASTER of this tricky alchemy (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Minority Report all spring to mind). I am capable of enjoying low-budget indie films, and even occasionally empty effects-laded blockbusters, but I was beginning to think that this was becoming a lost art (even the recent Champion of this sort of wizardry, Christopher Nolan, faltered with his recent misfire Interstellar). 

In a larger sense, I had started to worry that I was losing my ability to be truly awed by films any more. I could make coherent arguments about why this was happening: Television as a story-telling medium is ascendant, and the major Hollywood studios have become obsessed with creating massive multi-film franchises and wringing every last monetizable cent out of any familiar property they can get their hands on. This, combined with an overabundance of computer-generated effects have robbed big studio films of any sense of unpredictability or danger. 

When you watched Avengers: Age of Ultron, did you have any sense that any of the main characters were in actual danger? When you know there are a dozen related Marvel films yet to come, you also know that there will be no concrete resolution to any of the movie's conflicts. The stakes plummet. The mayhem on screen starts to look like a particularly well-done cut scene from a video game. A depressing sameness sets in (Don't believe me? Behold that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy have the EXACT SAME ENDING). To paraphrase Christof in The Truman Show, we've become bored by special effects. At least that's what happened to me. The last Hollywood film I truly loved was Her. I started to believe that at age 40 I had become a sour, curmudgeonly bitch. 

Then a reboot/sequel (it's never explicitly laid out) made by a 70-year-old director came along and totally renewed my faith in the creative potential of Hollywood. Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action film of the decade so far, and easily the best film of 2015 (it might just hold onto that crown all year- It's that good). It's not just a mesmerizingly blood-spattered, nitro-fueled, two-hour demolition derby- It's a capital-I Important film that subverts expectations and subtly delivers a deeply feminist/humanist message. 

Another film from the Class of '82 was George Miller's The Road Warrior, the 2nd film in his original Mad Max trilogy. The movie made Mel Gibson an international superstar, thrilled audiences with its death-defying stunts, and created a cultural short-hand for "post-apocalyptic wasteland." Another sequel would follow in 1985, but plans for another Mad Max film stalled after that. Miller's focus wandered to children's films like Babe: Pig in the City and the Happy Feet movies, and Gibson's star fell after he revealed his sexism and antisemitism to the world. Miller struggled to secure backing for another tale of the Wasteland, and finally got Warner Brothers to shell out $150 million for a new film starring Tom Hardy in the role of protagonist Max Rockatansky. 

The film is ambiguous about whether this is a "reboot" of the Mad Max story or a sequel to the original films. but Miller pointedly kept Global Thermonuclear War as the apocalypse that "Killed the World." Post-Cold War that seems like a retro choice, but it turns out to be crucial in at least one character's arc. The big surprise? While Hardy capably fills the role of Max, he's not the main character in the film. That's Charlize Theron, as Imperator Furiosa. She's a trusted lieutenant of local warlord Immortan Joe (Never let it be said that Miller doesn't have a flair for names), and is sent on a mission to retrieve fuel and ammunition for Joe's "Citadel." Joe controls the local population by monopolizing the water supply and via an army of "War Boys" who are brainwashed into suicide-bomber levels of fanatical loyalty. The Immortan's prize possessions are his five "wives," who are enslaved as "breeders." When it dawns on him that Furiosa is actually on a mission to help the wives escape, the chase is on. 

And what a glorious chase! The vast majority of the film consists of elaborately staged automobile chases across the irradiated Australian outback (actually filmed in Namibia), and Miller is constantly upping the ante without losing narrative cohesion. The chases are breathtaking and (relatively) free of CGI, which lends them the feeling that the actors on screen are in actual danger. The effect is exhilarating, but Miller's most impressive trick is that the viewer is never left thinking "Who's that? Why are they doing that? Huh?" Just based on its technical merits, this is one of the best action films of all-time... But Fury Road delivers much more than one long mind-melting chase. 

Theron gives one of the best performances of her career (it's hard to reconcile that she was also the vapid Mavis Gary in the brilliant Young Adult), and hopefully she'll get an Oscar nod like Sigourney Weaver did for her work in Aliens. Furiosa instantly stands with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner among the best female characters in the annals of action/sci-fi cinema, and anchors one of the most blatantly feminist films to ever come out of a Hollywood studio. 

While most Hollywood films struggle to even pass the Bechtel Test, Fury Road goes far beyond that and deconstructs/implodes the typical structure and visual language of male-centric, testosterone-fueled action films. Without giving too much away, the film takes a sledgehammer to patriarchy and sexism. A question asked more than once is "Who Killed The World?" Fury Road's answer seems to be: Boys stunted by Toxic Masculinity

Importantly, Miller makes it clear that this toxic culture poisons EVERYONE. It doesn't just harm the women who bear the brunt of its effects- From Immortan Joe to his War Boys to Max himself, sexist assumptions lead to catastrophic decision-making. Another common refrain in the film is "We are not things." It is only when the characters work together collaboratively and view others as people rather than things do they succeed- Max is described as being motivated solely by survival, but he quickly figures out that lone-wolfing it action-hero style is a losing play.  

The shorter version: Come for the astounding action, stay for the astonishing gender politics. 

The stunning contradiction at the heart of Fury Road is that even though it's a throwback component of a decades-old franchise, it feels like a huge gulp of pure oxygen. It feels vibrant, new, and one is left with the feeling that every big summer blockbuster that hits theaters for the rest of the summer will be left looking superficial, superfluous and downright silly. How can I take Jurassic World seriously after this? How you gonna keep them on the farm once they've seen Fury Road? 

Grade? A

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mother's Talk

I didn't celebrate Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is a rough holiday for untold legions of trans women. They might have tenuous or even abusive relationships with their own mothers. They might lament their inability to carry a child of their own, or even contribute their genetic material to the creation of a pregnancy. As a trans woman who has already "fathered" children, but transitioned afterwards, I face my own unique set of challenges.

On social media, multiple people offered me warm "Happy Mother's Day" wishes. I appreciated those gestures, but I was still deeply uncomfortable with them. My 5-and-9-year-old children still call me Daddy (while doing their best to switch to female pronouns). They have slipped up and called me "Mom" more than once (and my son has started occasionally calling me "Ramona," which is both encouraging and something I need to check him on), and while that's awesome in some ways, it also makes me wince. I didn't carry them for nine months. I didn't have the difficult pregnancies that my ex-wife endured. I'm not the custodial parent. My ex-wife shoulders the VAST majority of their care, and she's doing an excellent job. My children are bright, friendly, and loving- For that, their Mom deserves an immense amount of credit.

So I viscerally recoil from being called "Mom." If I'm being honest, I don't feel like I "deserve" it. But that's my own mental hang-up- If you think about it, I have every RIGHT to want to be called "Mom," even if I personally find the idea psychologically uncomfortable. Here's why...

One of the most pernicious ideas out there is gender essentialism, which is the idea that there are innate, biologically encoded traits that separate men from women. This is the main notion that motivates trans-exclusionary radical feminists like Roseanne Barr, and it has myriad negative effects on everyone under the transgender umbrella. It has been the engine behind efforts to prevent trans people from going to the bathroom in peace and the (thankfully collapsing) efforts to exclude trans women from women's colleges. It's also behind the coercive mutilation of intersex children- Our society is so invested in the idea that vagina = women and penis = man that those who fail to conform are shoved (often violently) into one box or the other.

Sidebar: You wouldn't believe the mountain of shit I've had to put up with from people (including other trans folks) who can't fathom that I don't want "bottom surgery." It's so ingrained in people's minds that surgery is the holy grail for ALL trans women that I'm often made to feel not just that I'm "not a real woman" if I don't get surgery, but also that I'm "not really trans" if I don't want surgery. Ugh.

Julia Serano has basically smashed the underlying assumptions of gender essentialism to pieces. She persuasively argues that given "variation among people of different genders and a lot of overlap between the genders...  biology, culture, and environment all come together in an unfathomably complex way to create the gender diversity that we see all around us." (Both of her books- Whipping Girl and Excluded- are essential reading, by the way)

It's harmful and exclusionary when we make assumptions that genitals = gender. It may seem benign to a cis person to assume that everyone who needs to see a gynecologist is a woman, for example- But that ignores the reality that "women's health" issues can (and do) also impact many trans men. Trans men can (and do) get pregnant and bear children (and face very specific problems during their pregnancies), so to assume that pregnancy + bearing a child = motherhood is not just problematic but inaccurate.

Beyond that, as a society we have decided (rightly) that women who adopt children, or use a surrogate to carry their child, or are the partners of a woman who bear the couple's child, are "Moms." If you ran into someone who claimed that a woman who adopted, raised and nurtured a child had no right to claim the title of "Mother," you'd rightly be labeled a raging asshole. The same principle applies to trans women, I believe.

I remember when my son was born- It was only months after I had come out to myself as trans. When my ex-wife was pregnant, I thought to myself "Having a child will make you 'normal'." After he was born, I held him. I expected to feel like a father. I expected it to snap things into place for me. It didn't. It just heightened my dysphoria, because the immediate connection I felt with him, the boundless love that bloomed in my heart the second I held him in my arms, felt more like motherhood. It was a moment that was simultaneously the best of my life and one of the most terrifying- Even this gigantic life moment of "becoming a father" didn't make feel like I could live an authentic life as a man.

I am evolving every day, and so is my relationship with my children. Eventually they'll probably both decide they want to call me something other than "Daddy." I don't know that I'll ever be comfortable with them calling me "Mom," but I know that's because of my own personal shit rattling around in my brainpan. To my trans sisters: Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't be a Mom.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Liminal States: On Pronouns, Names, and the Mechanics of "Coming Out."

To a lot people, including many in the trans community, one of the most puzzling aspects of Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer was his assertion that although he was a woman "for all intents and purposes," he still asked to be called "Bruce" and to be referred to with male pronouns for the time being.

I'll admit that I can't understand how Jenner could be trans and a Republican (Hoo boy... That's a can of worms I'll pry open in another post sometime), but I COMPLETELY understand where he is coming from on this, because I've been there myself.

In general terms, it's important to remember that the community of trans women is as diverse as any other population you can imagine. If the general public has any picture in their heads of a trans woman's life story, it's a tale of someone who "knew" at a very early age, was stereotypically feminine as a child, transitioned/got hormones/surgery in their late teens-early 20s, and is heterosexual. As Parker Molloy pointed out in a recent article, this narrative does not apply to a large chunk of the trans-feminine population.  Less than 25% of trans women transition before the age of 24, less than a quarter self-report being at the "heterosexual" pole of the Kinsey scale. and less that 1/4th have had "the surgery" (though 25% report having had an orchiectomy, and 21% report having undergone a breast augmentation).

I'm part of the 40% of trans women who transition between the ages of 25 and 44. I'm part of the 48% who identify as bisexual/pansexual/queer. Finally, I'm part of the small minority (about 10-15%) who don't want ANY surgeries. Like Bruce Jenner, my transition was a long, grueling, torturous process. To paraphrase Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill Vol. 1, my transition was not a straight line... It was a forest, And like a forest it was easy to lose your way... To get lost... To forget where you came in.

I've written before about how I wasn't completely sure I was trans until around age 30. I didn't experience any kind of epiphany- It was more like my defense mechanisms and rationalizations finally lost the war of attrition against my "gender sadness." Even then, it was three more years until I came out to my (now ex) wife, my parents, and a very select group of friends. I came close to transitioning back in 2008, but scrambled back into the closet when it looked like transitioning would end my marriage. I don't regret that decision because my precious, brilliant daughter was born afterwards in 2009- But I was just delaying the inevitable.

Me in 2005, around the time I came out to myself, and me in 2009, after I came out to family and a few friends.

In the summer of 2012 my divorce was final. I also had the support of the love of my life- My current partner. She made me feel like I would be loved no matter what I decided to do transition-wise. I had no excuses left, and the fear of someday being an elderly man crippled by regret became too much to bear. In July of 2012, I started hormone replacement therapy. My girlfriend knew, and later that fall I came out (again) to my family and select friends. However, I wasn't comfortable at that point asking anyone to refer to me with female pronouns, or by a more feminine name. Why? 

Once again, it's important to remember that there is an almost endless variety of trans experiences, and mine isn't any more or less valid than any one else's. Some people ask to be referred to by a new name or with new pronouns before hormones, surgery, or any attempt to "pass" as their "target gender." These are perfectly valid desires, and they should absolutely be respected by others. Those were not my desires or experiences, though. 

I started HRT at age 37, and my goal was to be "done" with transition by age 40. My attitude was to "give myself every advantage." I continued to present as male and use my birth name/pronouns for an entire year before I even attempted to go out in public "en femme." I also believed that a more gradual transition would give the people in my life a better chance to adjust, and increase my chances of a "smooth and successful" transition. 

Me on the day I started HRT in 2012

At that moment, I felt RIDICULOUS asking anyone to refer to me as a woman, or to use female pronouns with me. I was so far away from where I wanted to be that the idea of being referred to as woman felt like a pathetic joke. There was a disconnect between how I was supposed to feel (that my appearance didn't define whether I was a woman or not), and how I actually felt (that until I had an appearance that matched up more closely with my self-image, I would remain "undercover"). Finally, in the summer of 2013, I felt like I was ready to go out in public "dressed as a woman" for a trans support group.. Shield your eyes...

The first time I went out in public "as a woman" in July 2013

At this point, I was still going to work and living my day-to-day life "as a guy." That October I found a more trans-friendly living situation. I started getting increasingly "read" as a woman even in "boy mode,"and by December I was ready to go "full-time" (after being prodded by my girlfriend and my therapist that the moment had finally arrived). 

First day "full-time" in December 2013

It was only then, less than a year-and-a-half ago, that I started insisting that people use female pronouns when referring to me. On top of that, I changed my mind about my name, a decision people in my life are still getting used to (originally I just was going to change the spelling of my first name, but it was less than a year before I realized that was unsatisfactory- And then I started going by my middle name: Ramona). 

I deeply admire trans folks with the courage to cannonball into transition with gusto, but I just wasn't mentally equipped for that. I stuck a toe in tentatively, and then very gradually slid myself into the waters of living authentically. It was an approach that worked very well for me, but it isn't for everyone. 

There aren't many things I have in common with Bruce Jenner, but I can totally relate to the desire to slowly roll out one's transition to the world. Hopefully one of the good things to come out of Jenner's big reveal is greater understanding of the multiplicity of trans perspectives and experiences. Now we just need to work on Jenner's political re-education... Seriously? Ugh. Liberals believe in the Constitution too, girlfriend. 

What does everyone think? I'm very curious to hear about how different people have handled the process of coming out as trans. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

I am Bruce Jenner/I am not Bruce Jenner

Barring some stunning turn of events, Bruce Jenner is expected to come out as a trans woman on national TV tonight. I'll happily join the chorus of people exclaiming "Good for her!" I'll leap to Jenner's defense when the inevitable volley of transphobic and ignorant comments is loosed. I'm already girding myself for battle on social media. Any and all snide comments and jokes at Jenner's expense will hit me personally. Those who take such cheap shots will end up on the wrong side of a blindingly bright line: They'll be corralled onto the "transphobes" side of the gargantuan dodge ball court of my mind. Consider yourselves on notice: I am Bruce Jenner. Insult Jenner's gender identity and you're also insulting me and every other trans person. We'll all be paying close attention to how y'all cis folks react to this.

At the same time, I'll do my best to educate those with open minds and sincere questions. On balance, it's a good thing that Jenner is coming out. Given that less than 10% of the US population self-reports that they "know a trans person," greater visibility for us is an essential component of our efforts for trans equality.

Then why am I filled with much more dread than joy about tonight's big announcement? 

Jenner will instantly become the most famous trans person in the United States. Jenner is not only a revered former Olympic Champion/National Hero, but also a reality TV "star." Overnight, Jenner will be seen as representing trans women (if not all trans people) by a wide swath of the population. 

But Bruce Jenner does not represent me. I am not Bruce Jenner. Jenner has undoubtedly faced immense challenges and should be commended for having the courage to finally start living authentically, but there's a major factor that separates the decathlete from the rest of us trans gals... 

Bruce Jenner is worth $100 million

One hundred million dollars. 

Bruce Jenner doesn't need to worry about affording hormone replacement therapy. Legions of trans folks can't get the medications they need because of a terrible cocktail of widespread employment discrimination and a lack of health insurance than covers trans health care. Bruce Jenner won't have to engage in survival sex work to get money for hormones, therapy, rent or food. Bruce Jenner doesn't have to worry about what a trans friend of mine is going through right now- She moved to the US from Canada to teach at a university, and her new doctor in South Carolina refuses to renew the existing prescription for her hormones... which is, shockingly, perfectly legal. 

If Bruce Jenner wants facial feminization surgery or gender confirmation surgery, it'll happen. Because of the lack of health insurance coverage for such procedures, thousands of less affluent trans men and women aren't as lucky (while the Obama Administration has enacted significant reforms that have helped trans folks, they're falling short here. Obamacare doesn't require health insurers to provide full trans-inclusive coverage.).  

Bruce Jenner can afford a phalanx of bodyguards to provide ample protection from any sort of physical threat. Most trans people, particularly trans women of color, live in an environment of constant threat- We face some of the highest rates of violent crime, sexual assault, and murder in the country. 

Bruce Jenner won't have to worry about ending up homeless and on the street. In 31 states, it is entirely legal for landlords to evict you simply for being trans. Jenner isn't likely to be confronted/assaulted/possibly even arrested when trying to use the women's restroom (remember... bodyguards), but that's still a real possibility for trans folks in every corner of this country. 

While production is evidently on hold for now, rumors swirl that a reality show centered on Jenner's transition is in the works. If that happens. is Jenner going to use that as a platform to inform the public and further the cause of trans rights? Or will it be nothing but a voyeuristic sideshow feeding America's insatiable hunger for all the reality pablum that Kroll Show parodied? I'm not optimistic about it being the former. After the media hype around Jenner finally crests, these real problems will still exist for trans folks who aren't fortunate enough to be fabulously, obscenely wealthy. 

So I'm left to take shelter before Super Shitstorm Jenner makes landfall.. But our struggle will continue until all trans folks enjoy the opportunities and freedom that can be purchased with Jenner's affluence. 

What are your thoughts in the last moments before this whole thing goes supernova? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview with Vox

I was interviewed for an "oral history" piece on transgender folks in Vox. Read it all, but the parts labeled "Ramona P." are all me.

Check it out here and here, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


In 1976, the Seattle Seahawks were born as an NFL expansion team, and their first home was King County Stadium- better known as the "Kingdome." For the mid-70s, it was an architectural marvel. It was the largest concrete domed structure in the world, and it would allow the NFL's Seahawks and then the Mariners of Major League Baseball to avoid playing in the near-constant Seattle drizzle. In 1983, when I was eight years old, I went to my first Seahawks game at the Dome. I was absolutely intoxicated by the entire experience. The Kingdome was awe-inspiring to my young eyes, and I buried the visiting New England Patriots in noise every time they touched the ball, along with 65,000 other Twelves (that's what us Seahawks fans call ourselves). My favorite player scored a touchdown, the Seahawks won, and they clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history. I was hooked, and I thought I'd be going to games in the Dome for the rest of my life. 

At that time, I had no real understanding of my true gender identity. I knew I was "different" from other boys, but that was about it. I was a sensitive, emotional kid. I had soft features and shaggy hair, but it didn't really bug me when I was mistaken for a girl... But I didn't KNOW I was girl at that point. As I grew up the Seahawks sunk further and further into the mire of mediocrity, and the Kingdome became notable only for its ability to concentrate crowd noise and confuzzle the enemy. The Dome itself was a dim, dank place with narrow hallways, cramped restrooms, and uncomfortable bench seating. It was a spartan, practical facility with absolutely no charm beyond the home field advantage it gave to the Hawks.

The Seahawks were one of the few interests I shared with my father and the rest of my family, so it was encouraged aggressively. I was allowed to skip church to watch the Seahawks, and eventually the rest of the family stopped going and joined me in the One True Faith of Twelvedom. During the season, I was allowed to turn the basement/TV room into a Seahawks shrine. Beneath that veneer of normalcy, I was holding onto dark secrets. I would raid my Mother's wardrobe (along with those of my older sisters) during the long stretches when I was left home alone. I would try on their clothes and make-up, and then try to put them back EXACTLY as I found them before anyone came home. I didn't know WHY I needed to do that. I didn't understand what it meant. I was simply compelled. 

As I hit puberty, I realized that I was attracted to girls- But I also realized that transgender women existed (sadly my introduction was via blisteringly transphobic daytime TV shows), and I became utterly obsessed with everything about them. In the early days of the internet, I dove into the transgender message boards on Prodigy. It was another unspeakably dark secret that had to be hidden at all costs. When I left for college, I told myself "You're just a little freaky-deaky. Yeah, you kinda like wearing women's clothes. You are attracted to trans women. But you can't be trans. Nah." 

Meanwhile, the Seahawks were hitting rock-bottom. They had a stretch of abysmal seasons in the early 90s, and attendance at the Kingdome plummeted. They also had been bought by a California real-estate developer named Ken Behring, who stumbled into a huge opportunity: A few of the insulating tiles clinging to the inside of the Kingdome's roof fell after an earthquake, and Behring used it as an excuse to attempt to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles (claiming the Dome was unsafe). At about the same time in my personal life I was recovering from falling in love with my best friend and being rebuffed. Later on I'd realize that the intensity of my feelings for her were (to some degree) rooted in the fact that I wished I WAS her. I also started furtively dating trans women, while denying to myself that I was actually trans. Of course, I was living vicariously through the trans girls I was dating and/or hooking up with. My rationalizations were legion... 

"You can't be trans. You like football, video games, sci-fi flicks, and girls." 

"You aren't trans. You just like occasionally dressing like a girl and you are attracted to trans women." 

"You can't be trans. You don't hate your penis enough." 

"You can't be trans. You would have known when you were 4 or 5 years old." 

And on and on and on. On top of all that internal sturm und drang, I was stressing about my Seahawks abandoning Seattle. Thankfully, Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen stepped in and offered to buy the team- With the stipulation that a new stadium be built in the space the Kingdome currently occupied. After a statewide referendum narrowly approved the new stadium, the Dome was slated for demolition in March of 2000. And fairly spectacularly, it imploded: 

Years later, I would finally admit to myself that I was indeed trans, and that I needed to transition. I was crippled by an overwhelming sense of fear. I was afraid of losing my family and friends. I was afraid of being left by myself. I was also strangely afraid of what I assumed becoming a woman would mean: That I would have to remake myself into an entirely new person. 

The funny thing was that I never really enjoyed all that crossdressing I did back then. It never made me feel better. It felt fake. It felt like artifice. I was afraid that actually transitioning would mean doing that ALL the time. I was worried that I'd need to wear dresses and heels and grow my hair out longer than I wanted to. I was afraid of swapping out one mask for another. 

Then salvation arrived via a couple of fronts. I read Julia Serano's essential text "Whipping Girl." Beyond all the knowledge Serano provided, she also gave me a blueprint for the kind of transition and life that I actually wanted. Serano wore jeans, tshirts, and sneakers. She liked sports. She dated women. She eschewed surgery. I felt struck by lightning: "Wait.... YOU CAN DO THAT?" I truly didn't even know that was on the menu. 

My mind also kept wandering back to the destruction of the Kingdome. I remembered reading that 90% of the Kingdome's rubble was recycled for use in the construction of Seahawks Stadium. The Dome was largely a dim monument to drab 8-8-ness, but now it had been transmogrified into the most modern and beautiful venue in the NFL (and on a personally significant note, the new stadium now hosted my new duo of favorite sports: Football and soccer. Just as the Stadium supplanted the Kingdome, soccer had replaced baseball as my 2nd favorite sport). It also became the LOUDEST, giving the Seahawks an almost insurmountable home field advantage. In their new home, the Seahawks finally, gloriously became Champions

If the grey cavernous Dome could be recycled into a Catherdral of Victory... Why couldn't a sad, miserable guy be recycled into happy, authentic woman? Why couldn't I keep the things I LIKED about myself, and change the rest? 

This cartoon has been floating around online for a while. I had an epiphany the moment I saw it. I didn't want to look or dress like the trans woman "after." I wanted to look and dress like the trans guy "before." And... Holy shit... That pretty much nailed it: 

As I make more and more progress in my transition, I've noticed a curious phenomenon: as I get more confident about how I look, I'm deciding that there are some traditionally feminine things I just flat out don't get psyched about doing. Painting my nails? Meh. Wearing earrings or jewelry? Feh. Going out in a skirt? Really only when it's super hot and/or I wanna show off my blindingly pasty legs. Wearing high heels? Hard pass. Hard pass. If I felt I could do it without opening myself up to a spike in misgendering, I'd probably want to cut my hair even shorter than it is now. 

I'm a femme tomboy. I'm Sporty Spice. And I know, finally, that this is the REAL me. 

My point is that if you are trans, you don't need to adhere to the expectations of others- Not even those of other people in the trans community. You don't need to abandon your pre-transition interests because they don't conform with what people associate with your authentic gender identity. You don't need to femme it up or butch it up (unless that is what you sincerely want). You get to choose your own adventure. 

What do y'all think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mad Men: The Thematic Connection Between Don Draper's Journey and the Trans Experience

Mad Men is my favorite television drama of all time. Millions of critics and normal folks agree with that sentiment, and with good cause. It’s one of the best written and acted shows to ever appear on television in any era, and it doesn’t hurt that 90% of the cast is scorching crazy-hot. I have my own, more personal reasons for my Mad Men obsession, though... and my own hopes for where the show will end up at the end of this final batch of episodes.


First, it’s one of the best depictions of patriarchy’s awful toll on society I’ve ever seen in popular culture. Beyond the obvious harm patriarchy inflicts upon women (even successful ones- One line from Peggy after being dumped by Ted in the season six finale, “It must be nice to have decisions,” cut down to the marrow), Mad Men also captures the corrosive effect patriarchy has on men. It alienates them from their loved ones and friends, it alienates them from their own emotions, and it can deny them any hope of true self-actualization- Of, as we like to say in the trans community, “an authentic life.”

Secondly, while Mad Men doesn’t DIRECTLY deal with trans issues, it constantly deals with questions of identity. Yes, we’ve seen a number of gay and lesbian characters on the show (I could do a whole separate post about Bob Benson alone), but it’s been Don Draper’s journey that has most closely paralleled the trans experience in a lot of ways.

Draper carries a knapsack full of dark secrets, and the biggest one is about his basic identity: He is not Don Draper but Dick Whitman, the son of a sex worker who died giving birth to him. He was raised in a squalid whorehouse by people who not only didn’t love him, but barely even tried to hide their loathing and contempt for him. He stole the identity of a man who perished during the Korean War, and built a new life- Unfortunately, this life, while financially and professionally successful, was filled with deceit, self-loathing, and self-destructive behaviors (that have shredded the lives of his family, friends and co-workers).

Every trans person, on some level, can relate to Don/Dick. I have had a lot of the same feelings, and sadly engaged in a lot of the same self-destructive behaviors. Every trans person longs to hear what Don’s friend Anna told him before she succumbed to cancer: "I know everything about you, and I still love you."

Thus, even when Don is blowing himself up (along with anyone unlucky enough to be in his blast radius), even when he’s been a loathsome asshole, I have hoped for his redemption. In the season six finale, we might have seen Don’s first major steps towards salvaging his soul- towards living a more authentic life.

The episode started with his usual moves. Hey, I’ll drink! Hey! I’ll flee from my problems! However, during the Hershey’s pitch, he snapped. He told one final lie about his childhood, looked at Ted’s forlorn face, and couldn’t take it anymore. He finally laid down his burdens and told his partners and the Hershey’s executives the brutal truth about his harrowing childhood. He lost the account. He lost his job. His relationship with his daughter was severely damaged, and his 2nd marriage was frayed beyond repair.

My decision to finally start my transition came under similar circumstances. I was in a place where I had little to “lose” anymore (in a traditional American middle-class sense). My marriage was over. I was relegated to “weekend Dad” status with my children. I had no property, no real assets, no full-time job, no benefits, etc. Those things are all still true, but every day I’m a bit more honest with myself. Every day, my life becomes a bit more authentic. I lost all those exemplars of “success,” but I’m happier and more fulfilled than ever.

The season six finale ended with Don taking his children to see the rotting husk of the whorehouse he grew up in. It was a monumental step in his self-actualization, analogous to the moment when I came out as trans to my children last summer. Since then, it's been a journey from my son initially not wanting to speak to me to us now being closer than ever, bonding over shared loves for the Seattle Seahawks and Mario Kart. Since then, it's been an evolution from my daughter incessantly telling me "I wish you were still a boy," to her drawing a picture of her, her brother, and I, with me in a dress.

In season 7.1, we witness Don gaining a previously absent sense of humility- Humiliated by his demotion/sidelining, he rebuilds his intermittently dazzling working relationship with Peggy Olson. Over the final stretch of episodes that start tonight, can Don find the "peace" that Sylvia longed he'd discover in back in season 6? Remember the preacher in the flashback who said "The only unpardonable sin is to believe that God cannot forgive you?" I'm an atheist, so I'm not buying into that, but can Don finally, sincerely love and forgive himself? That's an important question in any person's life, but trans folks have no choice but to peer DEEPLY into that psychic chasm. We have to live the examined life, or we meet a particularly nasty end. Either before our times at our own hands, or decades later, consumed by regret that we never even tried to live authentically.

I don’t think we’re headed for a traditionally “happy” ending to Draper’s saga, but I hope the show concludes with Don finding some of that "peace." I hope that he shows that he can continue to grow and evolve, because I want those same things for myself.

Share your thoughts about Mad Men in the comments. please!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No Outline Will Ever Hold Us (Sleater-Kinney and Me)

(Sleater-Kinney and Me: 1999 v 2015)

I grew up in the 1980s in Eastern Washington (the politically and socially conservative tumbleweed-strewn area of the Evergreen State), and on the surface, I must have seemed "normal" for a while. I was a good little Republican kid. Alex P. Keaton and Ronald Reagan were my idols. I would cut pictures of Reagan out of Newsweek and plaster them on my bedroom wall like he was some kind of boy band superstar. I was following the script for my life as a suburban white boy.

But as I grew up, the cracks in that image multiplied and deepened. I started refusing to go to church so I could watch my beloved Seattle Seahawks. I soon realized that I didn't really believe in God, but I kept that to myself. I embraced "Weird Al" Yankovic so aggressively that Hawaiian shirts became a regular part of my wardrobe. In almost every picture of me as a kid, I was in a Hawaiian shirt or a Seahawks jersey. 

(Me in 1987-1988)

Politically, my awakening began at age 14 when I saw "Do The Right Thing" and got obsessed with the music of Public Enemy. But by then I was already carrying around what felt like a shameful secret that I felt had to be hidden at all costs: When I was home alone, I would sneak into my mother's bedroom (or my sisters' rooms), and try on their clothes and makeup. I didn't know what it "meant." I didn't think "Oh, I'm trans." I just knew that it was incredibly liberating to get dressed up and sing along to my Madonna records at full volume. I also knew that NO ONE COULD EVER KNOW what I was up to. 

I hit puberty, and brief questions about whether I was gay were emphatically quashed by the reality that I was extremely attracted to girls. That's "normal," right? Whew. I pushed my occasional attraction to boys to the back of my mind. I tried to eradicate from my brain the fact that in my fantasies about boys... I was a girl. In the very early days of the internet, I discovered trans message boards. I became obsessed with them, and realized that I was attracted to trans women. But was I trans myself? Hell, no. Yet another dark, sticky secret to lock away... 

In college, I got a part-time job at the campus radio station. My musical tastes weren't super-adventurous in the mid-90s: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Beastie Boys and R.E.M. were my favorite artists. The only female artist I was really into was Liz Phair. However, as a DJ at a college radio station, I had some degree of hipness forced upon me. Two of the people I worked with at KUGS-FM would go on to form Death Cab For Cutie, for example. That's where I was introduced to bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Modest Mouse, and Built To Spill. There's NO WAY my suburban douchebag ass would have found those artists back then if I wasn't working at KUGS. One band I discovered there won my heart forever, though. 

In the Spring of 1997, we got a new record from an all-girl punk rock trio. I had to listen to it to see if I could find any tracks I wanted to play on the air. I remember the first song immediately grabbing my attention, and then the rest of the record refusing to let go... 

I freely admit that I was totally ignorant of the whole "Riot Grrl" movement/scene. My visceral reaction to this record was "Holy shit! These girls ROCK!"

For a spell that's all it was. But I found that something about Sleater-Kinney resonated with me. I went back and bought their first two records. Even though at the time I didn't yet realize I was trans, the opening cut of "Call The Doctor" hit me with sledgehammer force.

They want to socialize you
They want to purify you
They want to dignify, analyze and terrorize you

This is love and you can't make it
(Look out they want what you know)
In a formula or shake me
(Steal a kid break a heart steal the show)
I'm your monster I'm not like you
(Peel back the skin see what's there)
All your life is written for you
(I'll never show you what's in here)

Your life is good for one thing
You're messing with what's sacred
They want to simplify your needs and likes
To sterilize you

This is love and you can't make it
(Don't need you to explain the pain)
In a formula or break me
(I can prove to you it's all fake)
I'm your monster I'm just like you
(She's dead but she can stand she can walk)
All my life is right before you
(Call the doctor miracle she can talk)

Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor
Call the doctor

This is love and you can't break it
(This is not really me at all)
In a formula or make me
(Stunt girl daring twirls watch me fall)
I'm no monster I'm just like you
(Carbon copy same body different hearts)
All my life is right before me
(Can't tell anymore the real parts)

As you can probably easily tell, it's not difficult to take those lyrics and apply them to the experience of being trans. While Public Enemy awakened my consciousness on racial issues, Sleater-Kinney kick-started my feminist awakening. I also could relate to them on a personal level. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein were both from the pacific northwest, and both were barely older than I was. Carrie even attended Western Washington University for a year before I began my studies there. The resonance I felt with them sprung in part from the fact that they were speaking directly to me, long before I consciously understood that reality. 

I eagerly anticipated their 1999 album The Hot Rock, and it cemented their place in my personal pantheon of rock deities. "Get Up" is still my all-time favorite song in their discography...

In the fall of 1999, I moved to Columbus for graduate school, and I felt like a Sleater-Kinney missionary of sorts. I introduced anyone who was remotely interested to their music, and found a willing convert in my friend Natalie. She came to S-K shows in Cleveland and Columbus with me, and at the show in early 2003 at Little Brothers in the Short North I actually had a brief conversation with Corin and Carrie. I bought a bumper sticker from them, and managed to talk to them about anti-war protests in Seattle and Columbus rather than just blurt out "YOU GUYS RULE SO HARD!" It was a proud moment of non-embarrassment for me. The word was spreading about the band. They were getting mentioned on The Daily Show and on Six Feet Under. There was a write-up about them in Time Magazine. I felt like MY band was about to become everyone's. 

Sleater-Kinney would release "The Woods" in May of 2005, and by then I had reached a point of critical mass in my consciousness as a trans woman. I had been married since 2002, but I was miserable. I hated myself, and I looked for validation anywhere I could find it. Regrettably, one way I did this was tumbling into an addiction to internet porn. I also had numerous extra-marital affairs (mainly with cis women, but also with trans women, who I can now see I was trying to live vicariously through). I was absolutely suffocated by shame and buried by secrets.

May 2005: Not loving life. 

I was in Fort Collins, Colorado grading AP government exams when I had my chance to pick up a copy of "The Woods." The record still stands as the band's masterwork (and my favorite record they've made by a wide margin). It's perhaps the best record of the '00s, and it's a master's course in rock bombast with soul. "Jumpers" and "Entertain" are two of the band's best songs, and they sandwiched the track that gives this blog its name...

My baby loves me, I'm so happy
Happy makes me a modern girl
Took my money and bought a TV
TV brings me closer to the world
My whole life
Was like a picture of a sunny day
My whole life
Was like a picture of a sunny day
My baby loves me, I'm so hungry
Hunger makes me a modern girl
Took my money and bought a donut
The hole's the size of this entire world
My whole life
Looks like a picture of a sunny day
My whole life
Looked like a picture of a sunny day
My baby loves me, I'm so angry
Anger makes me a modern girl
Took my money, I couldn't buy nothin'
I'm sick of this brave new world
My whole life
Is like a picture of a sunny day
My whole life
Is like a picture of a sunny day
My whole life
Is like a picture of a sunny day
My whole life
Is like a picture of a sunny day

Once again, the song wasn't directly about being trans... but that line "My whole life is like a picture of a sunny day" WRECKED ME. I started sobbing in my spartan dorm room at Colorado State. The song was about inauthenticity and the incoherent storm of sadness and rage living inauthentically can create within a person. At that moment, I was living a life of sad artifice. I remember going to Sonic with my friend Natalie and seeing a visibly trans woman drive up to the restaurant. For reasons I didn't understand at the time, I started to panic. One thing was clear: Something had to change. There was never a single epiphany-type moment for me in coming out to myself as trans. It was more like waves slowly eroding a rock formation until it crumbled. In that long process of attrition, "Modern Girl" was a bigger wave than most. Only a few months after that near-tsunami, I finally came out to myself as trans.

Then they broke up. While they were fronting the Corin Tucker Band, and forming Wild Flag, and starring on Portlandia, I was finally starting my transition. When I first got into the band, I was a callow college boy who was mainly only attracted to their music because it "rocked." By the fall of 2014, I had completed my transition and was finally living authentically. I understood the lyrics to their songs in ways I really didn't before. I felt personally connected to them in a way I couldn't before. Corin and Carrie were openly bisexual women from the northwest who came of age in the 1990s, just like me. Their perspective was my own as well: Righteous anger, but rage leavened with a sense of optimism that since we are all connected, we can also make change happen by working together. Their lack of ironic detachment and cynicism won my undying devotion long ago... It also doesn't hurt that they DO INDEED rock, and that their songs are catchy as FUCK.

Then they came back. More accurately, they ROARED back with the triumphant comeback album "No Cities To Love." As if they were attempting to prove they were INSIDE MY HEAD, they made a video in conjunction with one of my favorite television shows...

This wasn't a money grab by a 90s act looking to just play their old, familiar favorites for long-time fans who now had disposable income. It was new, vital material that didn't suffer from comparison with the band's previous work. To trot out a tired cliche.. They've still got it! Importantly, they proved that they had a second act in them, and what is my transition other than the second act of MY life? I can look back now and realize that part of what drew me to them was that they were who I wished I could have been had I been born a cis woman. They are my role models, and they have touched my life in ways that I don't yet fully comprehend.

Thanks, Corin, Carrie and Janet! :)

Please share your thoughts on Sleater-Kinney and their larger significance (or personal significance to you) in the comments! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Benjamin's Worth of Difference

The news is fairly dominated by terrible news for the transgender community lately. We are enduring a horrifying spate of murders (which has overwhelmingly targeted trans women of color). The youngest members of our community are committing suicide at an alarming rate, spurred by what they see as hopeless futures. It's very hard to avoid looking at reality through that lens, particularly when facing life in hostile and often abusive households. Even if trans teens are lucky enough to have family and perhaps even friends who are supportive and accepting, they still face a larger world that to a great degree treats them as pariahs. Beyond the banal but brutal threat of bullying by peers, or casual misgendering and discrimination by strangers, is this bracing knowledge: There is a political party who is committed to making their lives more difficult and more dangerous.

As the Republican Party's final, total defeat on same-sex marriage draws closer with each passing day, and as it becomes less and less socially acceptable to be openly homophobic in polite company, the Party of Fox and Fear has found a new target: The transgender community.

Sadly, we are the perfect boogeyman for conservative white America. We are the definition of "otherness" to them. We threaten conventional gender roles and traditional norms of sexual behavior. We've become more visible in recent years, and our demands for legal and social equality have become louder and harder to ignore. We are, in short, evidence that America is going Hell in a handcart for the wide swath of the population more apt to enjoy American Sniper than American Idiot.

For Republican politicians, this creates an opportunity to score easy, cheap points with their base. For Fox News, it creates an opportunity to boost ratings and profits. Thus, a perfect storm is created in which Fox News Channel regularly, viciously attacks the trans community, and opportunistic GOP leaders push an agenda that criminalizes our existence.

In Florida, a bill has been proposed that would send us to jail for using the bathroom. A similar bill is under consideration in Kentucky, and across the nation both the rhetoric and the legislative efforts against transgender equality are ratcheting up. Republicans aren't just opposed to trans Americans pissing and shitting in peace- They also loudly oppose efforts to protect transgender people from discrimination in employment and housing practices. under the banner of defending "religious freedom." It's become blatantly obvious that the platform of the Republican party is to deny the basic humanity of transgender people within the United States.

That's pretty bleak portrait, but there are rays of hope. While the Republicans actively fuck with us, the Democratic Party has quietly stacked up a surprisingly large number of substantive accomplishments that help trans folks in their day-to-day lives. While President Obama's performance has been less than ideal (more on that later), he's done more good for the trans population than all previous Chief Executives combined... and it's not just lip-servicey stuff like mentioning us in the State of the Union Address. Let's stack 'em up!

-Obama directed the Social Security Administration to no longer require proof of surgery in order to change gender markers. This is why I'm legally female in the eyes of the Federal Government. Under previous Administrations, I couldn't have done this.

-Obama also was the first President to appoint transgender people to high-profile government positions, and issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity within the Federal bureaucracy.

-Obama signed hate crime legislation that became the first federal civil rights protections for transgender people in U.S. history.

-Obama has issued executive orders to make it easier for trans folks to update their passports, obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and get treatment at VA facilities.

-Under Obama's directives, government-contracted health insurers (as well as Medicare) can cover gender reassignment surgeries for federal employees, retirees and their survivors.

-The Department of Education now interprets Title IX as a prohibition upon discrimination based on gender identity/expression in US public schools.

-Just this week, Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signaled their support for allowing transgender Americans to serve openly in the military.

At the state and local level, there's also been measurable progress in the fight for trans rights. California, as usual, leads the way. But even in midwestern cities like my home of Columbus, Ohio, there are local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Add all this up, and a conclusion becomes obvious: If you are trans, or if you consider yourself a trans ally, or even if you simply respect the basic personhood and humanity of trans people, there is a moral imperative to vote Democratic.

Americans tend to labor under a delusion that party control of the different branches of organs of government "doesn't matter." Some even believe, as George Wallace once famously opined, that there "wasn't a dime's worth of difference" between the two major parties. For the trans population, whether Democrats or Republicans control legislatures, appeals courts, or bureaucracies directly impacts their quality of life, and in extreme cases, the length of their lifespans. Much of the progress at the Federal level has been made through executive orders, which are much more likely to be upheld by Hillary Clinton than Jeb Bush. Judges appointed by Clinton are FAR more likely to be trans-friendly than those appointed by Bush, too.

I know it's fashionable to be disillusioned with Obama and the Democratic Party. I don't support NSA surveillance or Obama's drone program, either. I also wish the President had dealt more forcefully with Wall Street from day one, and that he had pursued a more progressive economic agenda overall. In my perfect world, our next President would be Elizabeth Warren. It's highly likely I'll have to set aside my concerns about Hillary Clinton and back her campaign, though- Because if it's a choice between her and ANY Republican, I have a VAST personal stake in her victory.

The two-party system sucks, but the response to that problem isn't to vote 3rd party (like I did in 2000) or to stay home on election day. As long as we elect representative using Single-Member Districts, we're stuck with a two-party dominant system (thanks for nothing, Duverger's Law!). Want more and better choices at the ballot box? Fight for reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting, Proportional Representation, or a Mixed-Member Proportional system like they utilize in Germany. While you do that, get out there on EVERY election day and vote Democratic.

Our lives kinda/maybe/sorta depend on you doing so.