Posts tagged “transgender

Halloween Horrors: The Ghost of Prop 8 Returns…

Living in Southern California, where we don’t get a lot of seasonal variation, one of our treasured fall rituals is our annual family trek to Julian, CA.  Each year, Russ and I pile the boys into the car and head to the picturesque mining town just northeast of San Diego, where we indulge in all of the sights and senses of autumn, eating more than our share of apple pie.  It is a journey I cherish, but this year, instead of being festive and restorative, the visit brought to mind the more recent horrors of Halloweens past, as the ghost of Prop 8 unexpectedly came rushing back in the most unwelcome of places.

Privacy for all StudentsWe’d just arrived, stepping onto the charming main street, when I spotted it: a line of people standing, waiting.  At first I thought it was a backed-up line of customers pouring forth from one of the town’s many restaurants, but as we got closer, I was able to spot a card table, with two small, simple signs affixed, “Stop Co-Ed Showers in Schools” and “No Opposite Sex in School Bathrooms.”  It was then that I realized that the hordes of tourists were not waiting for pie, but for their chance to add signatures to the growing petition list hoping to topple California’s new transgender rights law.

As an LGBT advocate and gay dad, I was both sickened and saddened.  Not only was I immediately and emotionally transported back to those divisive fall days leading up to the November 2008 election, when front yards across the state were littered with both fake gravestones and political signs, but the thought of fighting yet another brutal battle, and one we’re likely to lose, put an abrupt end to my autumnal revelry.

For myself and many other LGBT people, the stigma of being thought of as “sick” and “abnormal” has shadowed me, making me work diligently to be viewed as good, “normal,” and a person of value.  I’ve been on the front-lines, time and again, battling for the rights that should, in America, be a given.  During the Prop 8 campaign, it was incredibly demoralizing to work planning our anti-Prop 8 rallies, only to drive through a sea of yellow pro-8 signs as we headed back home.  In conversations with voters, they would say, “Oh, we’re not voting against you; we’re voting to protect our children.”  Um, protect them from whom, exactly?  Me?  I’ve spent years fighting for basic treatment under the law, and being dismissed as less than can take a personal toll on one’s psyche.

Happily, for gays and lesbians nationwide, we’re finally seeing the political results of such efforts, as in both courts of law and public opinion we’re steadily being given the same rights and responsibilities as most everyone else, moving the “LGB” in our movement one step closer to actual equality.

In our various campaigns, we’ve been joined time and again by our transgender allies, yet I wonder if the “LGB” members of community will this time stand up for the “T.”  Too often, trans people and their concerns are largely relegated to the back of the bus.  Within the LGBTQIA community, there are divisions, particularly as while we share the common goal of equality, for some the root is sexual identity and for others it is gender identity.  For gays and lesbians, who perhaps have been told that the butch dyke “wants to be a man,” while the effeminate guy “really wants to be a girl,” joining forces with those who in fact may identify with a different gender can be confusing. Indeed, I’ve even heard some gays and lesbians refer to transgender people as “sick” and “abnormal”–using the very same arrows slung by others to demoralize and dehumanize gays.  This lack of compassion, as well as a general lack of curiosity as to who trans people are, makes me wonder who among us will stand alongside them when this battle comes…

Actually–correct that: the battle is here.  The anti-gay, anti-trans troops from NOM are on the ground, mobilized, and using many of the same strategies which proved effective for them on Prop 8.

This petition is being sold to the California public as a way to protect children, with the accessible and sensible title of “Privacy for All Students.”  Who, after all, can articulately argue against the right to privacy?  Respect for individual freedom and privacy seems inherently American, making the signing of a petition which says just that seem fairly reasonable.  Come to think of it, isn’t individual privacy an essential element of the LGBT equal rights movement???

“Stop Co-Ed Showers in Schools.”  Gosh, sounds like we need to stop some wild parties, huh? Check–petition signed!

“No Opposite Sex in School Bathrooms.”  Again, that seems like a sensible request–so why not sign the petition???

Unfortunately, the thousands of people who do sign these petitions will not explore the law in any further depth than just reading the poster taglines.  And when these petitioners gather the necessary 500,000 signatures, those same effective messages will be used to engage voters on the proposition’s behalf.  (While they have very few days remaining in which to gather the necessary signatures, if the enthusiasm I witnessed in Julian is any indication of momentum elsewhere, they’ll have no problem meeting their quota.)

Given all the similarities to Prop 8 messaging, it’s no surprise that the National Organization for Marriage is behind this petition drive, or that Prop 8’s chief strategist, Frank Schubert, works on this campaign as well.  As NOM has cleared demonstrated in each of their campaigns, being truthful in their quest is less important to them than winning.

The law as written was created to ensure that transgender students feel safe at school, and that the way in which they view themselves is in sync with how they live their lives, enabling them to dress and go about their day as they identify (including going to the bathroom or playing sports.)  You’d never know that, though, from the petition drive. Here, the majority of California’s “innocent children” are under attack from a vile, twisted bunch hoping to ogle the opposite sex in the bathroom. Just as in Prop 8, the LGBT community is being equated with pedophiles.  That tired old “abnormal” and “sick” paint brush is being used collectively on the trans community, as if simply being different makes one unworthy of equal treatment under the law.

Of course, the petition drive doesn’t mention that there are already laws in place to prevent bad behavior, violence, or voyeurism.  Instead, it creates the impression of a lawless land, a World War T where the only way to defeat the “trans zombies” is to build barriers, lest their “infections” spread to the general populace.

I’m curious to see what the LGBT organizations have up their sleeve in order to combat this eventual proposition; I hope it involves actual transgender people.  Real people with real stories make for compelling testimony, but my hunch is that, just as in the anti-Prop 8 commercials, we’ll instead be treated to our straight allies waxing obliquely about equality and respect, with trans people themselves deemed “too icky” and “risky” for public consumption.  But it is exactly the personal which helps open hearts and transform minds.

We’re friendly with one family at our church who has a transgender child who self-identified as a girl and has dressed as such since she was very young.  (I interviewed her mother here.)  In every move, gesture, as well as in appearance, she is indeed a girl.  If it were not for her activism and willingness to speak to the media, no one would ever think differently.

But imagine if this girl, wearing her pretty pink dress, were to enter a boys’ bathroom?  Or be forced to play on the boys’ team, in disregard to her preferred gender?  Wouldn’t, at the very least, questions be asked?  How could her privacy as a transgender person–let alone safety–be ensured?  This bill simply allows her to participate in sports as a girl, use facilities as a girl, and–in essence–live her life as she so chooses.

Critics point to the old California law as being “fair,” which provided trans students with the ability to use private facilities, but such attempts only furthers stigmatization and “outs” the trans person as such. (For a list of common misconceptions around this new legislation, visit American Progress.)

While it may be easy for NOM to make transgender people seem the boogeyman in this fight, there is something much scarier at work.  In this petition drive, there is dishonesty and misrepresentation of transgender people at the expense of their esteem and perhaps even their personal safety.  During the Prop 8 battle, some pointed to an increase in anti-gay violence as attributable to the bruising fight, which makes me wonder and fear for the safety involved in this battle as well.

Though this petition drive is occurring now, we’ll see the results of their labor next fall on the November 2014 ballot.  And once again, next Halloween will be an unsettling mix of both fake ghosts, hung from trees, and the very real ghosts of Prop 8, played out like a bad scary movie to which we already know the ending: ignorant masses will be riled up by fear and bias in order to pass a ballot measure at the expense of a largely-defenseless minority.

Happy Halloween.

Kergan Edwards-Stout can be found via his website, Facebook, and Twitter. His new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, can be found at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.

Photo credit: Privacy for All Students


Band of Thebes’ Best LGBT Books of 2012

With LGBT bookstores shuttering and the consolidation of gay media resulting in reduced promotional opportunities for publishers and authors, few venues remain for discovering literature reflecting the gay experience.  Happily, Stephen Bottum continues to provide one of the best sources for LGBT publishing news on his blog, Band of Thebes, which he began five years ago.

His site has garnered a devoted following of authors, publishers, and readers, with Band of Thebes providing a wonderful mix of book reviews, posts on LGBT authors, and the latest in literary news.

In 2009, he began asking authors to share their favorite LGBT reads of the year, in all genres — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics —  leading to the creation of an annual author survey of the Best LGBT Books of the Year.  His eagerly-awaited list for 2012 has just been released, and Stephen graciously took time to share with me more about his inspiration for starting the website, his love for literature, and his annual list of the year’s best.
Stephen, Sacred Band of Thebes refers to an army of 300 men in ancient Greece, which was comprised of 150 male couples.  The theory was that by fighting alongside one’s partner, the desire to succeed would be stronger.  What was it about that story which inspired you to select it as the name for your website?

As far as I can remember, the first men I understood to be gay were of an old school, Paul Lynde-ilk, who at the time frightened me with their snideness. My coming out was prolonged in part by not wanting to join the bitchfest. So the idea of gay warriors fighting for each other was very appealing, minus the mayhem and slaughter. My aim was to create a site to highlight queer writers and filmmakers and artists, and enrich an eager audience who might miss them in the mainstream media.

Where did your love for literature begin?

I terrorized my parents by giving up on books around nine or ten and refusing to read anything other than movie ads and TV listings. Then, at fourteen, I quit tennis, my friends started pursuing girls, and suddenly I discovered those gray blocks surrounding the cartoons in The New Yorker held words. After a few stories by Ann Beattie and Peter Cameron, I was hooked.

What prompted you to start your blog?  Was there a void you saw that you wanted to fill?

Much as I’d like to take credit for reversing the mainstream’s shortfall of gay coverage, I’m sure it was my partner’s idea. Desperate for a way to shut me up, he kept saying, “Hey, you have all these opinions about books and movies, you should blog.”

You’ve been compiling your “Best Books” lists for a few years now.  When you begin the process, do you have a strategy?  A certain mix of authors to approach?

Maligned as she is, Tina Brown is absolutely right that a great magazine should be like a really good party, and the survey is the same: poets rubbing against porn stars, with the added challenge of balancing the L, G, B, and T, and fair representation of ethnicities. Beginning each spring, I keep a wish list of authors to approach, and I was very, very thrilled this year to have about 24 new participants, including  Lisa Cohen, Ellis Avery, Rick Whitaker, Tendai Huchu, Ivan Coyote, Farzana Doctor, the cartoonist Justin Hall, Nick Krieger, whose memoir deserved all the attention Chaz Bono’s received, and young Scottish novelist Kerry Hudson, who is going to be the next Jeanette Winterson.

How do you feel about the mix of the contributing authors?

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Mother of Transgender Child Speaks Out

While audiences nationwide became acquainted with Sarah Tyler and her family following their appearance on Anderson Cooper’s talk show, I got to know them in a completely different manner: at church.  Living in conservative Orange County, CA, and being gay men with children, it was important that my partner and I find a church family where every single person is welcome, which we found at Church of the Foothills.  One of our pivotal moments as a congregation occurred when we learned that Danann Tyler would be transitioning from boy to girl, which prompted me to bring in a speaking panel from the Orange County Transgender Coalition to help educate our members.

As would be expected, having a child undergo such a transition caused numerous issues within the Tyler family, at school, in their community, and at work.  Sarah Tyler graciously took time to share with me the journey her family has traveled, including not only the many challenges they’ve faced, but also the joyful child the transition from male to female eventually revealed.

Sarah, thanks so much for agreeing to chat. 

I’m so honored you even think we’re worth writing about!

I’ve been impressed with how gracefully you and your family have not only handled what would be, for most, a difficult situation, but also how you then took that next step, advocating on behalf of your child and transgendered people on a national level.  Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable taking such a public stance.

When it’s your child being mistreated, simply for being different, it’s easy to become an advocate.

Many people may not be aware of your family’s story.  First, tell me a little about your family, and what it was like prior to discovering that Danann was transgender.

Well, I’m a yoga instructor, and a bit on the liberal side, and my husband, Bill, is a police officer, definitely more conservative, and we have two children.  I was always told I couldn’t have kids, but I’m the kind of person who, when told I can’t do something, immediately wants to do it.  I knew that, somehow, we’d have them.

So your eldest, James, how did he come about?

He was a total fluke! (laughing)  But Danann was planned.

Tell me about your pregnancy with Danann.

I was absolutely positive, when I was pregnant, that I was going to have a girl.  I just knew it.  But, in all honesty, I was rather hoping for a boy.  You know, already having one, there were some benefits to having another, such as not having to buy any extra clothes, etc.  Still, when they told me I was actually having a boy, I felt that they were wrong.  The pregnancy with Danann felt entirely different than with James.  With James I had no morning sickness, but with Danann, I was sick for the first six months.  I kept thinking the doctors had it wrong, but then, at delivery, they told me that I’d had a boy, and I was like–cool!

What was Danann like as a baby?

I’ll use the male pronoun, because pronouns for transgender people can be tricky.  But when Danann was a he, he was a really happy, calm baby.  He was serene, loving, content–we called him our little Buddha.

When did you first notice that all was not as it seemed?

My husband and I took James on a trip, when Danann was two, and left Danann with a friend for the weekend, who had a young girl.  When I went to pick Danann up, he was standing there in a dress, with nails painted and everything, and just looked so happy–the happiest I’d ever seen him.  I was sure my husband was going to freak out, so I asked Danann to change.  He started crying and got very angry.  And from that day on, things were different. (more…)


A New Anthology of “Letters to My Bully”

With bullying and teen suicides continually in the spotlight, I was honored to have been asked to write a preface for a new anthology, Letters to My Bully, which examines this topic in great depth.  My own Letter to My Bully was incredibly difficult to write, as was the video to make, as it took me back to those difficult days of high school, where I was nervous just to walk across campus.  How someone deals with such experiences can shape their adulthood, for better or worse.  I asked Letters to My Bully editor Azaan Kamau if she would be willing to share her inspiration for the collection, as well as her views on other issues the LGBT community is facing, and am grateful  that she took the time to talk.

It was your vision that led to the creation of this anthology, Letters to My Bully.   What inspired you to compile people’s stories?

Back in October 2010, I wrote and published a book called Got Homophobia.  I was so outraged by the staggering numbers of youth who felt they had no choice but to commit suicide, and felt it was time for us to start the healing process. As adults we subconsciously carry our childhood baggage into adulthood, and that baggage shapes us.  Letters to My Bully was born of necessity to heal the bullied, addressing the issue head-on instead of sweeping it under the rug.  I wanted to send the message that you can survive this–that there are other options beside suicide.

Were you yourself the victim of bullying?

Yes, and I share some of those experienced in the book’s introduction. (more…)


Even in Failed “Worldwide LGBT Equality March,” a Grassroots Effort Finds Seeds of Success

The LGBT community would be nothing were it not for the many and varied grassroots efforts which have sprung up throughout our history, spurring us forward in the name of equality.  While our national organizations may serve a purpose in terms of presence and lobbying, in my view, most of the monumental changes have occurred as the result of groups outside the mainstream.  Whether it be Lt. Dan Choi and GetEqual helping to bring about an end to DADT, or ACT-UP in demanding resources and awareness during the AIDS epidemic, or the small but laser-like focus of the American Foundation for Equal Rights in working to bring marriage equality to California, these smaller groups have often been able to affect change where our national organizations can’t–or won’t.

I came of age during the days of Queer Nation and ACT-UP, and every rally, march, or benefit I’ve attended or organized has helped instill in me the belief that power, indeed, lies with the people.  Last  year’s Occupy movement further reinforced that conviction: on a local level, a band of committed individuals can move mountains.

Washington, D.C., April 21st, 2012

In February, I wrote about a planned “2012 Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March”, slated for April 21.   The idea for the march had sprung from a facebook group called Let’s Reach 1 Million People Campaign, and the group’s founder and lead organizer, Joseph C. Knudson, asked if I would write an article about their efforts.  I agreed, but as I began to look more closely at the event, I realized that I couldn’t deliver the promotional piece they’d desired.  The article, What if They Threw a Worldwide LGBT Equality March, and No One Came?, noted my concerns around the planning associated with the effort, and questioned if the event was truly designed for success.

The article prompted a firestorm of protest in the comment sections on both Huffington Post and Bilerico Project, primarily from those organizing the event, and included accusations of inaccuracies, questions about my motives, personal attacks, and even resulted in a rant about me on Knudson’s blog.  And yet, despite each of their energetic volleys, the questions I raised were never fully answered by the event organizers.

Instead, I and others with questions were simply urged to read the group’s disclosure document, as if the answers to each of our varied questions could be found in that single document.  While some have speculated that this event was simply a promotional effort, designed to draw attention to a book Knudson had written, it was assured time and again that the Worldwide LGBT Equality March had no connection to his personal endeavors.  But where, you might ask, is the group’s disclosure document located? Not on their website, as one would expect.  Instead, a link redirects you to Knudson’s own site, where the document is posted beneath links to his book trailer, author page, and book press release.  A minor point, perhaps, but hardly the kind of thing which eases concerns about either his motivation or the separation between the two endeavors.

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Disqualified from High School Contest, Gay Teen Speaks Out

Kearian Giertz is the gay Fullerton, California, 17-year-old who made national news headlines last week, following his disqualification from a school contest for his statement supportive of marriage equality. During an annual rite of passage at his high school, known as the Mr. Fullerton Contest, Kearian was asked, in front of an audience, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?,” and expressed his desire to find his life mate and be legally wed, only to find himself disqualified by a school administrator, who had his microphone cut off.  Upon hearing his story, several elements stood out to me as intriguing.  First, compared to my own angst-ridden life in high school almost 25 years ago, it was refreshing that this young man felt comfortable enough to proclaim his desire to wed another man.  Second, I was impressed by how quickly the high school responded to his disqualification, firmly supporting Giertz’ right to free speech and calling the administrator’s actions inappropriate.  Lastly, I was struck by how, upon being disqualified, instead of reacting with the expected anger and hostility,  the teen and his friends chose a more peaceful option, turning this disqualification into a teachable moment.

Having recently written my own letter to my high school bully, I was curious as to how today’s youth were coping with harassment on campus, as well as in their daily lives, and sat down with Giertz, fellow out-teen Blake Danford, and heterosexual, LGBT-supportive Katy Hall, all friends since 7th grade and now Fullerton Union High School seniors, to discuss what it is like to be out and gay in school, as well as the event which propelled them into the headlines.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:   First, let’s start with you, Blake.  When did you first realize you were gay?

Blake Danford:  I first realized I wasn’t really attracted to girls around 4th grade, but came out as gay in 8th grade to a girl in my English class, who was a lesbian.  Eventually, I told a few others, about 5 people total, but it wasn’t until my freshman year I began telling even more people.

Edwards-Stout: At what point did you tell your family?

Danford:  I came out to my mom in my sophomore year.

Edwards-Stout:  And she’s been supportive?

Danford:  Definitely.  I think it was actually harder for me, as I was expecting her not to be.  It was almost like, “Wait, are you really okay with this?” Her support almost seemed fake to me. My parents divorced when I was three, so I’m still not completely out to my dad’s side of the family, as we don’t see them.  Anything out of the norm is not okay with them.  I’ve had them tell me, directly, that if I ever “became” gay, they’d kill me on the spot.  And I assumed that was how everyone would be, so my mom’s support really threw me.  But I’m really glad her support was genuine.

Edwards-Stout:  Kearian, what about you? Did you always know you were gay?

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Chaz Bono: The Sum of His Parts?

In all of the hubbub over Chaz Bono simply showing his face (and spiffy dance moves) on “Dancing with the Stars”, I feel like something has been lost. He is talked about as if he were no more than a collection of body parts, put together at will. He has been demonized for making a choice that feels right to him and his emotional state — a state to which the rest of us are not privy. And yet the conversation, as dictated by the media, misses the main point: Chaz Bono, like him or not, is a person. A full-fledged, living, thinking, feeling human being.

That the comments made toward him are — in large part — derogatory is almost to be expected. (The show itself is basically a circus, anyway, just in fancier dress.)  But by reducing the conversation to merely his physical state negates the other varied elements of his personae.

Many of us are afraid of those who are transgendered. We don’t understand them or their choices, dismissing them as “weird” or “other.” Yet we are all the same — creatures made by God (or your creator of choice), with a multitude of nuances, in incalculable varieties.

Within the gay community, there are many who believe that the transgendered should not be included within the LGBT umbrella, as being transgender is not an issue of sexual identity, but of gender identity. While I can see their point, and used to feel that way myself, as I evolve, I begin to see the bigger picture. It is not so much about gay, straight, bi, transgendered… It is about human.

One of the books which opened my eyes to this is the really terrific “Trans-Sister Radio”, by Chris Bohjalian (author of “Midwives”). In it, he creates a character transitioning from male to female, and follows how that process affects not only the character, but those around him.  It poses the question, if you’ve fallen in love with a man, how would your affection be altered — or would it — if that person transitioned to female?

By letting you into the character’s world, we see humanity, in all of its forms, attempting to grapple with something as fundamental as identity.  And following this particular character’s journey brought me greater understanding and empathy for those on similar paths.

In life, I believe that it is our job to keep growing, to become whomever we’re meant to be.  That means following your passion.  But how can you follow your passion if — at your very core — there is a disconnect between self-perception and biology?  As Steve Jobs noted, our “time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Be who you are.  Own it, live it.

We have a transgendered child at our church, 7 year old Danann (featured in the video below), who is transitioning from male to female.  While she has already experienced much discrimination in her few years on the planet, all I have to do is watch her happily singing with the choir to know that this is the right choice for her.  And I need to support her, and all other transgendered, because — as the song notes — “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

How can someone take one look at Danann — or Chaz Bono — and even think anything else?