Friday, March 7, 2014


[As published in Baltimore OUTloud 3/7/14]

I am writing this post the morning after the Academy Awards where Jared Leto won for best supporting male actor…  for playing a Trans woman.   I have to say I am dismayed at this development.  Right now there are probably a hundred blogs or social media threads running on “how great that is” to “how could this happen?”  I am not going to rehash their arguments other than to say this portrait of a drug addicted hooker seems to be the only popular role for any Trans character in film or television.  It really is down to others writing and presenting the Trans community as they see us and is done so in a manner that objectifies and thus allows us to be dehumanized.  We are “those” people.  And I am thinking it is time we start to own that discussion.

Are there Trans drug addicts? Yes there are.  Are all Trans persons addicts? Not by a long shot.  Don’t most Trans people engage in sex work? No.  There are some who do, but most do not.  If I had asked those questions of any other minority you might be offended.   The problem we have is of image.  And that, in part, is of our own doing by not being out.  The notion that our value in the world is actually as a burden or parasite for the rest of you to bear seems to be the norm.  The reality is otherwise.  Trans persons do participate in all levels and aspects of society.  And we have many such persons who have contributed greatly to the lives of all of us on the planet.  You just are unaware that they do.

I personally know Trans doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers, software developers, IT and database administrators, filmmakers, musicians, business executives, social workers, government workers, authors, professors, graphic artists, teachers, fire fighters, law enforcement professionals and yes, even hairdressers.   Are there some sex workers out there? Yes there are but my take is that Trans persons represent so much more than that.  We are real people (remember that Leto’s Rayon is a fictional character), doing real jobs, with real families and friends.

Lynn Conway
I am going to cite two examples of how Trans women have likely directly touched your life.  For a moment I am going to presume that you have some kind of electronics in your possession.   A computer, laptop, pad, phone or any other modern device, like your TV, will count in the exercise.  You owe a debt of thanks to a Trans woman for all of those things.  You see, she developed and invented the underlying technology in those devices -- Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI), which allowed complex integrated circuits to be developed.  She literally wrote the book on this technology.  Lynn Conway, who transitioned in the late 1960’s, is a pioneer on par with Edison or Tesla and is largely responsible for the technology we enjoy today as part of our everyday world.  Share that knowledge with somebody you know today. 

Martine Rothblatt
My second example is Martine Rothblatt.  If you use satellite radio in any capacity you can thank Martine for that.  She started Sirius Satellite Radio in 1990 along with a number of other satellite broadcasting companies around that same time.  For many of us that would be enough of a success but not in her case.  In the late 1990’s one of her children was diagnosed with life a threatening pulmonary hypertension disease.  She was told there was no cure.  In response she pivoted and reeducated herself in the life-sciences and started another company to find a cure for her daughter.  Today that company, United Therapeutics, occupies several blocks of downtown Silver Spring Maryland.  And yes, she found the cure.

If we are going to seek icons or examples for Trans persons why can we not use examples like these women?  Either story would make for compelling entertainment for the public.  Yes, they are not tawdry or titillating stories that fit a preconceived notion of Trans women put forward by Hollywood.  But unlike Leto’s rendition they are real people, leading real lives and representing our community with excellence.

Friday, February 21, 2014

There Must Be 50 Ways

Some 39 years ago Paul Simon recorded the iconic 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (yes, 1975!).   This was of course in the pre MTV age so we had to listen to the lyrics to get the images portrayed.   You could “Hop on the bus, Gus” or “Slip out the back Jack”.  I find it interesting that those contemplating a hasty departure all seemed to be men. I suspect it was merely an artifact of the times but it also spoke to whom Simon wrote the song for.  

This past week the folks at FaceBook gave us another 50 ways.  Actually, more than 50.  This time though it was ways to express your gender on FaceBook.  I had many friends pinging me about this in an excited way saying “Isn’t this great!” or “Wow what progress”.  When I responded with less than unbridled enthusiasm they seemed very perplexed.

Let me start off by again reiterating my feelings regarding labels.  Last week I wrote about how labels seem to be defining LGBT candidates as opposed to what their positions are.  I think this is the same kind of thing except worse.  Let me be clear, I am all for you self-identifying any way you wish.  By all means please do so.  Realize, however that in doing so you allow others to also define you and what those labels mean.  In our already fractured, stratified and diminutive population I fear it creates the opportunity for abuse, discounting and a caste system of sorts. 

A few columns back I expressed concern about names and what we call ourselves. This FaceBook change once again brings that forward. Now, a “knowledgeable” Cisgender (non-transgender) person can assert his/her Cis-Pride (or privilege) by declaring they are a Cis Male or Female.  And the rest of the world who largely only know “Cis” folk and now point with indifference to those who are “other”.  By “other” I mean some 50+ others such as Bigender. Gender Fluid, Neither and Neutrois.   And somehow “other” can translate to “less worthy”.  I am not saying it has to, just that it can.

I think there is a natural human tendency to use taxonomy and categories to help us understand the world.  We like tidy boxes for things:  Republican/Democrat, Fat/Thin, Rich/Poor, and more recently Gay/Straight, and of course very traditionally Male/Female.  We do the same in the wild with things such as Mammal/Reptile or Fish/Fowl.  Of course nature is not so binary, so “black and white”.  Yes we get tossed things like the Duck Billed Platypus, or carnivorous plants, or human tinkered photosynthetic fish.  We somehow view those things as exceptions but they happen to humans too.  There are intersexed persons, and trans persons, and gender non-conforming persons as well.

I personally view myself as female.  I made some effort to make that so.  It is what is marked on my driver’s license and passport.  I do not view female as any one thing.  I enjoy watching baseball, working with wood, fixing my own car, launching rockets, working with robots, etc. etc.  There is no male monopoly on that stuff and if you tell me otherwise then I would be probably be looking at a misogynist.   When pressed, or asked about my history, I sometimes will say I am a woman of Trans history (not one of the gender options on Facebook).  That differentiates who I am today vs where I came from.  I recently had a business meeting where a colleague asked me in a roundabout way about such things and I stated that we all have interesting histories but that such matters were not pertinent to the business we were discussing.  He left it at that.

There is a lot more to say on this topic but let me get to my immediate concern.  Legislators.  You see, as I have previously mentioned some of them have hang ups with names and conventions. We have worked hard to get them to comprehend Trans, as a nice “black and white” perspective that there are male and female and there are some persons who must make life changes and may be “in between”.  Of course some of you are going to charge me with only supporting the gender binary. I am not. But if we make too much fuss about all the other variations we lose the legislator’s attention or scare them.  Let me be totally clear -- Gender identity legislation includes all of those people on the FaceBook list but I am concerned that offering too much detail here, which may add to their confusion, is just 50 ways to lose your legislator.    And in this case we only need one Senator to have concerns, and two did and expressed so in the last Senate JPR hearing on SB212.  Just sayin’.