Friday, November 15, 2013

Define Epidemic

[As published in Baltimore OUTloud, 11/15/13]

November is a curious month for Trans persons.  The days around the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), November 20th, are often difficult ones for many in our community.  Add Thanksgiving, with some trans folk being estranged from their families, and you can have a pretty potent emotional mix for trans folk.  I personally do not like the TDoR.  I am not sure I know a single person who really does.  It is not a happy event.   Invariably these observances have a reading of names, and more recently, a detailed and graphic description of the person’s demise.  I usually find myself in tears.

Although these events typically spotlight those who are the victims of crimes, they occasionally will reference those who have taken their lives by their own hand.  I say occasionally because unless the person was “out” to somebody within our community we probably had no idea that there was a linkage between the person’s gender identity and that suicide.   I contend if you read or hear of a suicide of a 40-something male who by all other appearances did not have any other issues, you may be looking at a trans person.  I know; I was one such person.

The numbers are appalling.  According to a joint NCTE ( and NGLTF( study ( 41% of trans persons have attempted suicide.   Not merely thought about it, but actually have tried to kill themselves.   Looking at the national figures for comparison tell the true tale for us.   The rate of suicide is 1.6% for the general population.  Recently, the U.S. Military has had an uptick of suicides in which their numbers about double that of the general public (3.2%).  This increase is described as an epidemic (  Last year there were a total of 350 military suicides.  As a result of this crisis, great forces, funds and energy have been poured into seeking solutions ( to military suicides.  And for trans persons with a 41% attempt rate? Not so much.

You might ask why such a disparity between the trans community and the general public?  The reasons that persons seek suicide as a “solution” are many, but there are key indicators that are common.  Depression, of course, being the primary factor.   Despite advances in civil rights for trans persons the stigma of being trans continues to be devastating to many trans persons of all ages.  And although we are making forward progress, that progress is slow.  In the recent ENDA vote in the U.S. Senate almost all of the opposition was centered on trans persons. 

In California opponents of AB1266, which allows trans identified students the right to access facilities for the gender they identify with, has found nearly a half million signatures in an attempt to put the matter on a ballot referendum.  The number of those signatures alone indicates clearly why such protections need to exist in the first place. 

Congrats to the LGB folks who have made progress; it is now OK to be gay!  But trans, that is still way too weird.  The “ick factor” still seems to dominate thinking of opponents.  Fabricated tales of indiscretions of trans persons, and trans kids are flowing freely in the conservative media.  And we wonder why we find some of these kids killing themselves in response to this hate.

Many will argue that trans persons are mentally ill and that such a high rate of suicide attempts proves that.  This is, of course, debunked by the evidence and the mental health community does not believe this to be the case either.  I contend that many trans persons are saner than the rest of the population given the rigid scrutiny one must navigate to obtain any medical intervention.  I suspect astronauts may be the only population vetted more thoroughly.   The issue faced is not an internal one but rather external coming from outside forces, prejudices, and phobias.  It is not uncommon for a trans person to reach a limit where suicide looks like an attractive option.

What resolves this problem?  Time probably.  That and if we could be much more visible in the world.   I am not talking about sticking out like a sore thumb; I am talking about not hiding.  Our LGB peers figured this out.  Now they are the couple next door. 

We need to have an assertive campaign to educate, just like our LGB peers have done with marriage.  They made it the new normal.  When you have those kinds of numbers of trans folks opting to take an early exit, I would contend that clearly defines an epidemic in our LGBT community.   This TDoR take stock that for every name read there are likely many others not read and let us make sure we honor them as well.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Suspenders and a Belt

[As published in Baltimore OUTloud 9/20/13]
When I was a kid there was this joke.  “Q: Why does a fireman wear red suspenders?  A: To keep his pants up.”  Later I learned that suspenders were a perfectly reasonable and fashionable way to hold your pants up.  But it did pose a question to me when I would see people wearing suspenders and a belt.  I cannot recall ever hearing somebody say, “My suspenders broke, thank goodness I was wearing a belt as a backup.”   Moreover I don’t think I ever saw a person who would refuse to go outside with only suspenders for fear of losing their pants.  And those who might insist on both before leaving the house might have an issue if they had only one or the other.  But this is exactly the situation we see today with employment rights for trans persons. 

In 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Macy v. Holder ruled that discrimination in employment against trans persons is sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  That means this is the case in the entirety of the USA—everyplace—regardless if it is in Nebraska, Nevada or New York or whether there is a state or local statute or not.   This decision by the commissioners was unanimous and included GOP appointees,   indicating to me that this was not a partisan decision.  Since then there have been a number of cases brought before the EEOC including from Maryland with respect to this matter and to my knowledge, all have been settled in favor of the trans person.  For purposes of our discussion I am calling this decision our “suspenders”.

You might think this would be the biggest news in history for trans rights.  And for my money you would be right.  It should be!  After all, Title VII sex discrimination is settled law with the Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.  And so there should be shouting from rooftops, victory parties, parades, and fireworks in celebration.  With our national LGBT rights organizations crowing from every podium, from every talking head on TV, posting in social media, and any venue they can, “It is no longer OK to discriminate against trans persons in the United States in employment!!!”  

Alas no.  That news is relegated and buried to pages and paragraphs deep in reports, the Nth slide in presentations, three or four clicks deep in websites or qualified into oblivion.  Put another way, they have buried the lede.  If you were a trans person seeking guidance as to how to file a claim or even that you have the right to do so, your search might come up flat.  Or worse, be told you do not have rights in your state or locality.  And one has to ask, “Why are we not out educating our people, employment lawyers and human resources professionals about this?”  I think I know why, and it has to do with a “belt” called ENDA.

The Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) is up for consideration in the U.S. Senate.  This time, unlike its stripped down 2007 predecessor, it includes not only gay and lesbian folk but trans folk too.  In fact any gender non-conforming persons would be covered under Title VII.  So what does ENDA add for trans persons?  Little.

Here’s the problem.  ENDA might indeed pass the Senate before the end of this year.  And when it arrives in the house it will likely be DOA with the GOP.  Meaning there is no real expectation that it will make it through the house until there is a change in management there.  That would likely not happen until January 2015, or 2017, or whenever.  Maybe never.   

Our national leaders are not serving us in this matter.  They are saying suspenders are not good enough to hold up your pants.  You apparently need a belt and suspenders.  They are not saying we have won a huge victory and should be enshrining it in corporate handbooks and winning case after case.  In fact, they are afraid that such cases might find rulings to the contrary.  If that was the mindset in Marriage Equality where would that movement stand today?

The bottom line:  We do not have to wait for ENDA to exercise our rights, we can do so today.  And I for one would not be satisfied with a story that says, wait your turn, with a pat on the head.  Ask that organization that claims to represent you where they stand and what are they doing to promote the EEOC decision.  If you get anything other than an enthusiastic “We are spreading the word and promoting it” then you should probably ask them why do we need a belt and suspenders?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Call Me?

[As published in Baltimore OUTloud, 9/6/13]

The past month or so there has been a lot of noise in the media about pronouns. Some of it most assuredly from the trans community but the bulk of it seems to be coming from the greater LGB and mainstream media. Of course, the instigation of this is Private Chelsea Manning’s very public self-declaration, following her sentencing, of a new name and preferred pronoun and the immediate rush and pressure by many to “embrace” this person whom none of us have seen or interacted with save for a “selfie” portrait.

I’ll not revisit my last column which chastised that soldier’s explanation that in some way being trans caused so much emotional distress that she had to release classified information—an insult to any trans person who handles classified today. The issue here now becomes one of identification, interaction, and self-declaration. How do I address you? What do you call me? Who gets to decide that?

I’ve attended functions and conferences where gender variance is the norm. And in those limited settings it is not uncommon to come across folks in various states of socially “unacceptable” gender ambiguity. You see we all have some set notions on gender expression. Note I said expression, not identity.

Perhaps a modest tutorial is needed here. Gender identity is who you believe you are with respect to your person. Some identify as female, some male, some as both and some as neither. Gender expression is how you show your identification to others. Clothing, hairstyles, makeup, manner, speech, etc. all play into what others perceive as your expression. It is quite possible to have a gender identity that is incongruent with one’s gender expression, as perceived by social norms. And this is where we end up with problems for some.

For example, a trans woman who appears in a forum, group or conference, who has a gender identity of female, who has not physically presented socially as female, may still be known by a female name and request feminine pronouns in those settings. This is not uncommon. This person, however, is often living in the closet outside of that venue. And if you were to approach them on the street they would likely use their male name and pronouns. So are they he? Or she? And some, including the person in question, might say, it “depends.” Confused yet?

One of the protocols in Transdom is you often ask a person how they identify and what pronouns they prefer. I have had to do this on occasion when meeting someone new; sometimes even after meeting them again as they often change their mind. Personally, I frequently have this issue with persons on the trans masculine, female-to-male, spectrum because sometimes frankly I just cannot tell.

The same holds true for those who identify as genderqueer for me. Rather than assume and insult the person, I ask the identity and pronoun questions. However as a person who has gone to some effort to actively present socially and physically as a female, if I get asked those same things I am frankly a bit insulted. I mean really? But I guess it's like any other middle-aged person getting carded buying beer. You don’t really need to, but you do it for everybody so nobody complains. My answer to the question on pronouns lately has become, “Gee. What do you think?”

And so now we come back to our self-declared gender variant persons. I fear we are headed to a world that every conversation with a person we meet for the first time will need to begin with, “How do you identify?” And, “What names and pronouns do you prefer?” I guess for those of us not quite tuned in we will probably need to adopt some kind of color-coded name badge. This is, of course, absurd in practice.

Those folks who have rejected the gender binary need to stop being quite so angry if somebody mis-genders them upon meeting them. Our brains are fundamentally wired to recognize gender by physical and learned social cues. Even if the person in question prefers to be referred to as “they” rather than he or she. Most assuredly this is the case when all evidence appears to be to the contrary.

Why do I care about this you ask? Because just as our gay and lesbian peers learned that by being gender conforming they could get traction in the mainstream for all in the movement, we in the trans movement have similar challenges. And so we enter the confluence of identity and the law which likes clean and tidy definitions like male and female. Nobody can see your gender identity. What they do see, and make determination of, is your expression. And based on that expression we have classes of persons who fit particular legal constructs with regards to protections.

And while I personally believe that you should not be discriminated against regardless of your gender expression (lesbians and gays, I am talking about you too), this becomes a very hard sell to move some lawmakers who fear that equality for trans folk equals ambiguity in such things. And this is the difference between politics and the law, especially if they have no idea what to call you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Man Bites Dog!!!

A brief note:  Due to deadlines for print, this piece was written prior to Chelsea Manning's disclosure of her intent to transition.

Each time I prepare to write this column I am concerned there will not be material to work with. But like the Daily Show I always find that news arrives with enough absurdity that there seems to always be plenty of source material to work with; this past several weeks were no exception.  It would seem there were several trans folk in the public eye and not a one was particularly positive story of note.

You see these were stories that had been grabbed by the mainstream and LGBT media for their sensationalism and little else.  It’s always interesting how we seem fascinated by the exception rather than the rule in such matters.  “Man bites dog” is a story, the other way around, not so much even if it is the more common, mundane and dare I say boring case.

The first instance was the case of a well-publicized trans person who several months ago with great fanfare announced their transition from Male to Female.  This person works in the media so you might expect they would have some understanding of how their own business works but apparently not.  The transition decision by August was no longer a story really.  What made it one anew was the decision by that same person to de-transition and return to life as a man. 

In a very small number of cases, usually less than 1%, this happens, for any number of reasons.  Transition is likely the hardest thing a human being can undertake, there really are few people who are standing by cheering, encouraging and actively supporting a person in transition.    The truth of the matter is there are many impediments, including marriage, children, family, employment and other concerns that make the decision to proceed with transition difficult for anybody.  And frankly not everybody can, or in some cases should, get there.  It is hard.

What makes this matter and a few others like it this past month most troubling is that rather than owning the de-transition these folks sought to blame it on other factors.  That somehow it was not their fault.  That there was a medical condition, or I had amnesia or I just stopped my hormones.  I get that these folks had a different road to travel, and that is OK, but when you elect to de-transition as a news headline and then offer a story that is something other than simply “transition was not for me” it weakens the entire community.  Doing so very publicly makes it worse.

Here’s the rub, most folks who transition go on to leading useful lives in their chosen gender expression, few de-transition and most of those who go that path do so for reasons that often are associated with personal angst, be it marriage, family or livelihood.   Period.   Stop blaming other things and just own it, it is ok we will not think less of you, in reality we will think more of you.

The second hubbub was regarding an Army PFC, who presently says she is trans, who also happens to have been recently convicted of multiple counts of espionage.    Regardless of your feelings about the PFC and what materials were divulged the simple matter is that classified info was disclosed and that is against the law in the USA.  Period.  This person was convicted of doing so but coincident with the sentencing we hear again about the PFC Manning’s gender identity “issue” as a primary force in creating a situation where she “had to” release classified materials.  Bullshit.  There are many trans persons, including this author, who have or had security clearances.  These trans folk have been in pre-transition, transition, post-transition and non-transition states with respect to their job, or service, which allowed them the privilege of having a clearance.   Contrary to the belief of some, being trans has no impact on your clearance unless you try and keep it a secret.  And to suggest that being trans makes you mentally ill, and as such no longer trustworthy with secrets is an insult to those who work and serve in that community or the military. 

Both of these stories will be used by our opponents to describe reasons why we are not worthy of our civil rights.  It is unfortunate that people in our own community who construct these stories to rectify or explain personal behavior seem to have no notion of the greater impact they have on perpetuating stereotypes with respect to trans people.  I certainly hope they all get the counseling and guidance they need.  But the rest of the world needs to know that these are “man bites dog” stories and need to be treated accordingly.

[As published in Baltimore OUTloud 8/23/2013]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rational T-hought Returns

Back in 2011 when I was first getting organized with thoughts of activism and making forward progress I started this blog.  I've let it sit dormant for some time now as I had originally viewed it as a campaign.  At the time there was a deep community argument regarding incrementalism and civil rights legislation for the T in LGBT.  That battle ended up being called by the MD Senate President in the bottom of the 9th with bases loaded for the home team.  I have left those posts up here because I think you need to keep a history of where you have been.  My thinking and methods have changed some since that time and I have managed to be a part of passing comprehensive legislation in 2011 and 2012.

Today some of those same issues exist, and we have made great local and national progress and I have been writing about this for some time in Baltimore OUTloud for a while now.  I have decided to start placing a copy of what I write on this blog for posterity and to insure timely web publication.  I know some of you follow me on OUTloud or Facebook but now and again the OUTloud website does not get updated and I want you to enjoy the fruits of my wisdom (just kidding).

Bear with me a bit as I try and move/copy things here, it will take me a while to get it sorted out.  But you can read my latest post here

Occasionally I will post here on matters that do not go to publication with OUTloud but those might just be commentary. 


Friday, July 26, 2013

Broken Record

With the recent events of the Supreme Court and marriage the LGBT community has much to be happy about.  Yes there is work to be done in states where marriage laws need to be amended, struck down, or repealed.  Organizations like Lambda Legal are on the case filing suits all over the country on behalf of couples who want to see progress made.  What is alarming is that it seems to be the only song that is playing on the “LGBT radio.”  Marriage, marriage, marriage.  It would seem almost twenty-four hours a day, one song.  And I have to pose the question, what about everything else?

Am I surprised? No.  In fact I kind of foreshadowed it.  And the sad part is the media has played along.  There have been some pretty momentous changes for Trans folk in the past few weeks but I doubt few know of it.  Certainly the fact that a handful of the reactionaries in congress are trying again for a one-man one-woman marriage amendment to the constitution seems to have overshadowed that news, or some legal activity that essentially codifies what SCOTUS has set into motion seems to be much more important out there.  It’s OK; I will use this space to catch you all up.

This past week Gender Rights Maryland announced that in a letter to the LGB Caucus of the Maryland state legislature that the key Maryland state offices responsible for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA a.k.a. “ObamaCare”) have agreed to insure that Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation anti-discrimination protections in the act will be put in place in Maryland as of October 1, 2013.  Maryland will now join California, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia with such a policy.  I know some are going “eh” but the reality is for transfolk this is huge.  You see it has been quite common for insurance companies to deny any kind of coverage for transfolks just because they were Trans.  Meaning that therapies they use for other folks would be routinely denied.  For example, hormone therapy.  This now means that if coverage is offered to anybody it must be offered to everybody, Trans or otherwise.    This is a big step for equality for Trans persons in Maryland.  It’s ok, you can shout about it and have a celebratory party later.  But for once Maryland is not playing catch up here with the rest of the country.

The other matters concern the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Last year the commission determined that Trans discrimination was sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The case, Macy v. Holder, found that the ATF had discriminated in not hiring Mia Macy for a position they had previously offered her.  Macy is an MtF Trans person.  The Department of Justice, (DOJ) was instructed to correct those issues and this week did so by offering her back pay with interest, legal fees, and a job.  It remains to be seen if she will actually take the job.  I know how it is when you have been told they don’t want you someplace, you are usually reluctant to go back there.

In light of this another case brought in the private sector by Freedom to Work and Lambda Legal reached a settlement on another trans discrimination case with a Maryland defense contractor.  That marks the first time such a thing has happened in private sector EEOC matter.  This is also huge.  The message is clear.  It is no longer OK to discriminate against trans persons in employment.  Anyplace in the U.S., period.  Unfortunately there are legal naysayers who say it is not binding and that the Supremes have yet to see a case on such things.  And so we should not vigorously pursue cases with the EEOC.  Rubbish.  That kind of argument could be applied to any matter, and if it was you would not have seen DOMA go there.  

This reinforces the fact that the EEOC is now taking your employment discrimination claims nationally, with, or without, a local or state law that protects you for gender identity discrimination.   My take is this is a new “right” we have right now, and we need to stop waiting for the future protections and embrace what is in front of us in the present.  Rights, when not exercised vigorously atrophy from disuse.  Nothing in these advances suggest we should not pursue things like the Employment Non Discrimination Act or other state level statutes but it does say get moving now!  Go file your complaint, if you have one, now, today.

As to that broken record out there of the same song being played over and over again (marriage, marriage, marriage).  I suggest you adjust your tuner, there are a lot of other stations to listen to.

As published in Baltimore OUTloud, 7/26/2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Out in the Rain

Out in the Rain
Pride events tend to be a mixed bag for trans folk. I dare say that even though we generally are welcome “it is not our party.” Even though many of us may self-identify as LGB many in the LGB crowd have us pre-labeled with the “T”. Sometimes that “T” fits comfortably and others not so much.

For me the reality is over the last few years I find I occasionally want to be at arm’s length from some events and people. There are aspects of Pride that have always made me uncomfortable. I’ve never attended or participated in a Pride parade despite having probably been in nearly 100 parades in my youth (I was a self-identified marching “band fag”). And you would likely not find me within a tactical nuke of a high-heel race. And I do not participate in or watch drag, period. Never have, never will.

Recently there was a dust-up online about the folks that run the BET awards asking their host B. Scott not to wear heels and makeup during the awards. I would have thought they should have known about Scott in advance. Scott, who identifies as a gay male, regularly appears in public “en femme”. What surprised and irked some was the headline on the matter which read “Trans Media Maven B. Scott…” (

In recent years the term transgender has been morphed to trans or trans* as a way of pleasing those who do not identify as transgender. I know that just sounded oxymoronic to some of you but many who identify as “transsexual” are not comfortable being lumped under the transgender “umbrella”. So asking B. Scott to “represent” for persons like me is problematic. Is he transgender? Indeed, by the accepted definition he is. Do I want him, or Ru Paul, as a role model and person whom others equate with me and who I am? No. No more than I want any other gay man to do so.

My dear friend Diego Sanchez, fellow trans person and former staffer for Rep. Barney Frank, shared the following wisdom with me: 
“While transgender is an umbrella term used to describe an extensive variety of people, I believe you will find that many transsexuals prefer to be out in the rain rather than under the umbrella.”

You see that umbrella covers drag queens / kings, crossdressers, transsexual, and many other gender-variant people. Not all are happy living under that framework. transsexuals in particular have issues with such things. Let’s presume the following: You are a male-assigned person who identifies as female. You may have gone to some effort to effect that change be it medication, hair removal, and/or possibly various surgeries. You have likely changed your name, your documentation, and your general appearance to get to a place of comfort. You may have a partner or spouse who also sees you as a woman,regardless of your orientation. You live life as a woman. So, are you still transgender, or just a woman? I would say arguably you might not be trans anymore. Congratulations you are “cured”.

Many trans folk who get to that place would rather stand in the rain than under the umbrella – the rain being the world outside the “T” or even the LGBT community. What is interesting is the schism that results from that mindset. Some trans persons go “stealth,” blending into the woodwork and living lives where they have little interaction with other “Ts”. And the “why” is confusing to many. The problem: public perception. You see the media and many in the LGB universe, tend to go for the extremes, and this is the perception of what transgender means in homophobic America. Not those of us who live in the mainstream world. Those “part-time” persons create a distorted set of assumptions about the rest of us.

Why does this stuff rub some many transsexual persons so wrong? Partly because for those of us who identify as such you will find that on Monday morning going to work or school we will look, act, and be attired as the same person we were on Saturday night. And when you are one of the other categories you have the option to fall back to your “regular” gay, straight, and/or gender conforming persona and that cultural safety net, no matter how small, is still there for you. For those who have transitioned not so much. Who and what you are is ever-present, often even with a casual glance by others whether or not you have an umbrella overhead. Oh look, it’s raining again.
As published in Baltimore OUTloud