Friday, March 31, 2006

Why 'The Gurls' Hate On Each Other

One of my TSTB members posted to the list last week a comment about how surprised and shocked she was to see how some African-American transwomen treat each other.

It's nothing new.

The way some of 'The Gurls' negatively interact with one another is a long-term observation of mine that has exasperated me over the two decades I've been around the African-American transgender community.

WARNING: What follows are my personal observations. If they hit too
close to home, nothing personal. To borrow the words of the late DJ icon Jack 'The Rapper' Gibson, I'm tellin' it like it 'TIS' is.

We're basically split into six factions. The Street Girls, the Stealth Girls, The Club Girls, The Pageant/Show Girls, The Crossdressing Girls, and the Real World Girls.

Some of the Street Girls either HATE on everybody that's in the other
four groups or harbor deep suspicions about their transsistahs.
They've had hard lives and resent the fact that in their eyes,
the 'rest of us have it easy' or 'we look down our noses at them'.
They feel like everything should be handed to them on a silver
platter since they've had to struggle for everything they get.

The Stealth Girls blitzkrieg through the transition process, get their surgery, and then disappear never to be seen again in the transgender community. They are women now and they believe that they are better than pre-ops because they don't have that pesky male organ between their legs. Some of them cut off all contact with out transgender people and won't be caught dead at a drag show or GLBT club. They don't want even a hint of suspicion from the people that are in their new lives that they're transgendered.

The Club Girls lives revolve around the various GLBT clubs sprinkled across the nation. Some are well into their transitions while others are crossdressing until they can get to that point. They hang out trying to pick up `husbands' to validate their new gender identity or `trade' to make a fast buck. They are hostile to any other t-girl that comes into their turf that's prettier, smarter, younger, more popular or `fishy' looking than they are.

The Pageant/Show Girls lives revolve around the various transgender beauty pageant circuits that are held across the nation and the drag shows in various GLBT clubs. They are a fairly tight knit sorority. Some of them have interests outside that world, others don't.

The Crossdressing Girls are the ones that are either in the early stages of discovering whether they are transgendered or just dress in women's clothes for the fun of it. There's some friction between them and the t-girls because they remind the t-girls too much of where they came from and wish to forget.
The Crossdressing girls sometimes forget that t-girls AREN'T guys on `mones, we are emotionally women. When they treat t-girls as one of the fellas they resent it. T-girls have pissed off crossdressers by making snide comments about their ability to pass as women, which is a sensitive subject with them.

The Real World Girls are the ones who are so far out of the closet it would take a bulldozer to shove them back into it. They're the activists and the peeps who are out and about in the community. They annoy the other groups on various levels. The street and club girls consider them uppity and elitist. The stealth girls wish they would quit 'rocking the boat' with their activism so that they can continue hiding and living their lives as women. The pageant girls are indifferent about it and the crossdressers have split loyalties on the subject.

Is it any wonder why we've had such a hard time building a cohesive community with all this Hateraid between the various groups?

The bottom line is that our enemies hate all of us no matter what faction we belong to. We are all potential victims of hate crimes because of who we are. If everybody would take a deep breath and realize that we all have something substantive to bring to the table as we build a community, there's no telling what we could accomplish pulling together.

Black America's Infatuation With Butch Men Up in Heels

By Jasmyne Cannick
February 24, 2006

While images of Black men dressed as woman have become a popular part of Black American culture in entertainment, does the success of the Black actor who plays a role in drag depend on that actor's heterosexism in real life?

True story.

I was in a theatre in a predominately Black part of town and there was a poster for Madea's Family Reunion up in the lobby of the theatre. Several Black women who looked to be in their 40s and 50s had gathered around the poster and were remarking how they were going to see the film when it came out. Just then a Black transgendered female walked through the lobby and one of the women remarked to her girlfriends, "Look girl, a he-she," and they all started giggling like teenagers.

On more than one occasion Black America has rushed to the box office to see Black men dressed in drag and with the national release of Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, Black audiences will again embrace the idea of a man playing a female role on screen.

On more than one occasion Black America has rushed to the box office to see Black men dressed in drag and with the national release of Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, Black audiences will again embrace the idea of a man playing a female role on screen.

When Tyler Perry debuted his character Madea Simmons, a 68 year-old witty gun toting grandmother from the hood, his biggest audience was Black Christian evangelicals. In fact, it was Black Christians that launched him to where he is today, packing in and filling up theatre after theatre as he toured around the nation with his plays. With a spiritual message included in all of his productions, Perry allowed Black Christians to feel good after seeing him prance around the stage dressed as woman.

But before Madea, there was Andre Charles, better known as RuPaul. In the early 90's, RuPaul gained fame and success with his single "Supermodel (You Better Work)" a tribute to the divas of the fashion. The single placed in the top 30 on the Billboard Pop Charts and the music video was nominated for Best Dance Video at the 1994 MTV video music awards. Through the years, RuPaul has appeared in various movies and music specials. He was honored as in 1999 with the Vito Russo Entertainer of the Year Award at The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) media awards for challenging the limits and breaking boundaries in becoming an openly gay individual who has achieved excellence in the field of entertainment and furthering his visibility and understanding of the community through his work. Still, RuPaul's fame and acceptance has come from mostly white audiences, even though he is a Black entertainer.

So why is it that Black audiences can embrace a man playing a female role on the silver screen, but still have problems with real life Madea's in their own communities and families?

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals and cross dressers.

In the Black community, very little attention is focused on the transgender community. Common practice is to group transgenders with gay men, even though they are their own community within an already marginalized group.

Even in the gay rights movement, transgender issues have been pushed to the bottom of the list for fear that Americans, who are barely able to deal with the idea of marriage between gay and lesbian couples, could even begin to understand the issues plaguing the transgender community.

Madea is a man dressed as a female, plain and simple. No matter how many feel good religious messages Tyler Perry feeds his audiences, Black Christians are embracing cross dressing as a form of entertainment, which is not problematic, except for the fact that Black Christians are known for their homophobic views towards anything remotely gay.

But what if Tyler Perry were gay? Would Madea continue to be as popular among Black churchgoers? Probably not. At least with his assumed heterosexuality, Christians can rest at ease that they are not supporting anything gay because after all, it is just a role. RuPaul, while a great performer, was openly gay and therefore never found the wide spread acceptance and fame that Madea has. Famed actor Wesley Snipes gave us Noxeema Jackson in the 1995 film To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. While heterosexual himself, Snipes' character was flamboyantly gay. Martin Lawrence first introduced us to Big Momma in 2000 and was so successful that's he's back with a sequel. He too is heterosexual. And who could forget "Men on Film" on In Living Color, featuring Damon Wayans and David Allen Grier who played the very gay film critics Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather. Again, both Wayans and Grier are heterosexual and went on to do great things after the end of the series.

Blacks have no problem with cross dressing and transgenderism as a form of entertainment. It's only after the lights go off and the camera stops rolling that it becomes an issue if the dress and heels are still on.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Life after Gwen

An Op-Ed piece that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sylvia Guerrero
Thursday, January 26, 2006

I am not sure how I expected to feel at this point. When my daughter Gwen, a transgender teenager, was brutally murdered on Oct. 4, 2002, I was sure that I would never feel whole again. Looking back, I didn't yet know exactly what "transgender" meant or how to fully embrace my child's identity. But I knew one thing: I wanted justice for my child.

I thought that maybe I'd feel better on the day when the four suspects in her murder were brought to justice. More than three years and three months since Gwen's murder that day is finally here. On Friday, these men are being sentenced to prison terms for their actions, two of them convicted of second-degree murder and two taking plea bargains for voluntary manslaughter. I guess I hoped that once we got to the sentencing date, the pain would end and I could get back to my life. But it hasn't and I can't.

No amount of justice can return the part of me that these men took when they killed Gwen. The closure that people keep talking about hasn't come. It would be so much easier to write that it had. After all, that is what most people want to read: The system worked; my family is whole; the story is over. It would be comforting and allow us to get on with our lives. Of the many things I'm feeling, closure isn't one of them.

I'm angry. Angry that Gwen's brothers and her nieces and nephews won't get to grow up knowing her the way her aunts, uncles, older sister and I did. Angry that instead of celebrating her birthday, we get together each year to commemorate her death. Angry that, in both trials, the defendants tried to blame Gwen for her own murder. Angry that other young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender kids continue to face the discrimination she did in our public schools and our workforce.

I'm also grateful. Grateful that my family and our friends rose to the challenge and sat through two gruesome and explicit criminal trials to make sure that everyone knew that Gwen was loved for who she was. I'm grateful for the support we've all received from perfect strangers who have told us in-person and through e-mail that we are in their thoughts and prayers. I'm grateful for the remorse that two of the defendants and some of their family members have expressed to me and my family.

And I'm sad. Sad that I'll never get to see Gwen grow into the beautiful woman she would have become. Sad that four men chose to end my daughter's life, and throw away their own simply because they thought they were acting like "real men." And sad that other transgender women have been killed since Gwen's murder and that we don't have a realistic end in sight to that violence.

Within this mix of emotions, though, the one that I hold onto most dearly is hope. Since that tragic night, my own family has grown by two beautiful grandchildren. More and more parents are supporting their transgender children. California has become the country's most protective state for transgender people. And just this month, a new law has been proposed in Sacramento, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, authored by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, and sponsored by Equality California, an LGBT civil-rights lobbying group, to protect people from being blamed for their own murder.

Maybe the reason I don't have closure around Gwen's death is that there is still work to do. If I've learned anything since Gwen's murder, it is that hope alone is not enough. Each of us who hopes to live in a state where our families are protected needs to work toward making California that place. For instance, boys and girls in schools throughout the Bay Area need to hear, firsthand, how important it is to be themselves and to respect each other's differences.

None of us can change the way the world was on Oct. 4, 2002. But each of us now has an important role to play in creating a state where we can celebrate more birthdays and commemorate fewer murders.

Sylvia Guerrero is the mother of Gwen Araujo and an activist for LGBT civil rights. She speaks at schools around the Bay Area through the Gwen Araujo Transgender Education Fund administered by the Horizons Foundation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Finer Specimens of Human Beings

One of my guiding principles ever since I started transition in 1994 is that I want to be BETTER than the genetic women around me.

It's not because I think that I'm superior to other people. Far from it. I'm human and I do make mistakes from time to time. But I've had to work hard to become the Phenomenal Transwoman that I've become and I'm a human being that has the unique gift of having lived on both sides of the gender fence. So I don't take my femininty for granted. I have also been blessed with the God-given gifts of intelligence and the ability to articulate my thoughts in written word.

I realize that in a community that desperately needs positive role
models, I have to lead by example and be prepared to explain to our
fellow African-Americans and others what an African-American transperson is really all about beyond the stereotypes.

It's a committment to excellence. It is as old school as the guiding
values of our people that we brought from Africa and it's past time for them to be applied to our subset of the African-American community.

If you're going to be a female illusionist, be the best damned one you
can be. Like it or not, you are a representation of our community.
That also applies to the rest of us. Whatever your profession is, be the best at it.

The Houston GLBT community has a saying that is posted in several Montrose bars:

What I do reflects on you. What you do reflects on me. What WE do
affects the ENTIRE gay community.

When I pick up my Trinity on April 7 I will be representing not only
myself but the TSTB list and our commmunity. Dawn was representing us
when she did her radio/TV interview last month. Tona is on the road
representing us right now in her quest to become a 21st century
Leontyne Price. Joshua is about to start a church. Jeana is in school
representing us on the other side of The Pond. There are other African-American transpeople that I hopefully will get to meet that are making similar strides to forever destroy those negative stereotypes of what African-American transpeople can and cannot do.

Am I dreaming? Damned skippy I am. But as someone once said 'If
your mind can conceive it you can achieve it.' There is power and a
wonderful sense of accomplishment when you conceive something and it comes to fruition. No one was happier than I was last fall when I walked around the Galt House and realized that my dream of an African-American transgender convention had just come true. We're now taking that to the next level and building a community.

I don't ever want another African descended transkid to grow up like
we all did in terms of not having role models or not knowing their history.
Our transkids need to know that being trans is not the end of their life but the point when they can become the finer specimens of human beings that God intended them to be.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Invisible Trans

Back in 2001 an African-American transwoman friend of mine went to Washington DC to lobby. She decided to concentrate on Congressional Black Caucus members in her efforts to garner support for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and ENDA. (The Employment Non Discrimination Act). When she arrived at her first CBC office she was given an enthusiastic welcome. The story was repeated at the next several CBC office visits. When she mentioned the warm greetings she’d received in another CBC member office later in the day she was told why.

Caucasian transgender activists had been visiting those offices on their various Capitol Hill lobby days. When they were asked where are the African-American transpeople, the staffer was told by a well-known transgender activist “They don’t exist.”

With the recent release of the Oscar nominated movie Transamerica once again the publicity spotlight is focused on transgender people. A diverse array of media outlets ranging from documentaries such as ‘Transgeneration’ and ‘Southern Comfort’, television, radio and newspaper interviews to CNN”s Larry King Show have discussed the movie and the individual lives of transgender people. While l welcome the attention being paid to transgender people there’s one glaring problem with it: The people being discussed and profiled are overwhelmingly white.

This isn’t a new dilemma. Ever since Christine Jorgensen stepped off her flight from Denmark to the glare of the media spotlight in February 1953 a disproportionate share of media attention has been allocated toward white transgender people.

It’s not like there’s been a total blackout (pardon the pun) of news and information about us. It’s that we have the same problems getting coverage as our mainstream African-American brothers and sisters. You could read about Black transgender people in occasional Ebony or Jet articles through the years. In those cases their coverage of us was more enlightened than the mainstream media coverage. For example, a 1979 Jet article on Detroit’s Justina Williams used the proper pronouns to describe her two decades before the AP came out with its 2000 Style Handbook guideline for GLBT people.

Recent research done by the University of Michigan’s Dr. Lynn Conway indicates that one out of every 250 births in the United States is a transgendered person and the study’s results have been replicated in Britain and Thailand. Out of the 34,772,381 people that identify themselves as African-American about 1 million of them are transgender. So we definitely exist despite the comments of that white transactivist.

The invisibility has had a cost. I can remember growing up in the 70’s seeing people like Renee Richards and a long list of Caucasian transpeople and wondering ‘Where are the people that look like me?’ It wasn’t until 1999 that I met another out African-American transgender person who was working in corporate America like I was at the time.

That’s important because unfortunately many of the images you see in conjunction with African-American transgender people are either female illusionists or sex workers. If you are a reasonably intelligent African-American kid with a gender identity issue and you don’t see any positive role models to counteract the other images, that’s a problem. You end up with a situation in which this person thinks that they’re the ‘only one’ or believe that those are the only avenues open to them as a transperson. It’s a contributing factor to the distressingly high body count documented on Gwen Smith’s Remembering our Dead List, a website which tracks anti-transgender violence. About 70% of the more than 200 names on that list are African-American or Latina

Those who transitioned in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s were told by their therapists to blend in and never reveal their transgender status. So an opportunity was lost for transkids like myself to see positive role models or know my African-American transgender history. It also kept us from building a viable national transgender community the way white trans people have done.

So where are the African-American transgender people such as myself that are college educated, well-adjusted and doing things in their community? You’ll find us out and about in the world working, playing and just living our lives to the best of our ability. Many of us are managers working in various fields and even married and raising kids. We're sick and tired of the negative images we are disproportionately saddled with.

I decided to start a Yahoo list called Transsistahs-Transbrothas in January 2004 to talk about it. The meetings of like minds on that list led to discussions that culminated in the first annual Transsistahs-Transbrothas Conference that was held in Louisville, KY in September 2005. During this four day gathering African-American transmen and transwomen spent the time networking, strategizing and attending workshops and seminars on various issues of importance to African-American transpeople such as HIV/AIDS, spirituality, hate crimes, community building and the lack of media visibility. The second annual TSTBC conference will take place in Louisville October 18-22 and expand on many of those topics.

TSTBC is a start, but the onus on ending the visibility problems of the African-American transgender community is on us. We must take the lead in writing, producing and telling our own stories. We must build our own community and network with other African-American transactivists and allies building community on a local scale.

We need to have African-American media outlets and personalities take the lead in educating our people on gender issues. We must do it not only for ourselves but also for the African-American transkids coming behind us.

We cannot, must not and will not be invisible any longer.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Come On Out to the Ballgame

From an August 2004 TransGriot Column
Copyright 2004, THE LETTER

One of the things that amuses me about the trans community is the lengths that we'll go to reject anything thought of as 'masculine' (unless you are a female to male transsexual). I'll get strange looks whenever I'm around some of my transgendered friends and start talking sports with a genetic male or another T-sports fan. The other people in that group will roll their eyes and inevitably come back with a lame comment such as 'I hate sports' or 'women aren't sports fans'.

Women aren't sports fans? Please. My former coworker Lucy Schroeder rivals my intensity in terms of being a sports fan. My mom loves the NFL, and my late grandmother Tama faithfully tuned in to Astros games. My late friend Glenda Baker used to give me a run for my money when we fired sports trivia questions at each other. If you take a trip to any stadium, NASCAR track or arena you'll discover that sometimes the most rabid fans are women. I'd see women screaming louder at the refs over bad calls than their boyfriends, sons or husbands.

I usually can't wait for the NFL and college football seasons to start. Admit it, some of you feel the same way, too. Liking football is part of a Texan's DNA just as a person born in Indiana or Kentucky gets misty eyed about basketball. I'm a college basketball fan, and don't get me started about March Madness. I love it except when they show repeats of a certain slam dunk from the 1983 NCAA Championship game with my beloved Cougars that makes me sick to my stomach.

I embraced the WNBA when it began play in 1997. I'm an NBA fan but hate the corporate crowds that treat going to the game like attending a golf tournament. The WNBA's affordable ticket prices allow Joe and Jane Fan to see a pro ball game with the best women players in the world. The other interesting aspect of the league is the number of GLBT people that attend games. The league estimates that ten percent of its season ticket base is GLBT.

I can confirm that. I had Houston Comets season tickets for several years until I moved to Da Ville and make a trip to Indy every summer to see my girls play.
There's a post op girl from my old gender group that had her season tickets in the same section as mine ten rows up from my seats. A lesbian couple sat on the row immediately in front of me, and another one sat behind me. I saw GLBT folks when I walked the Compaq Center concourses. We were joined by mothers and sons, fathers and daughters and entire families. We were united in our love for the Comets and our dislike of the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty. You also had the sense of history unfolding in front of you.

Watching those games helped me get over the height hangup I had when I started transition. I couldn't gripe about being 6'2" after seeing Tina Thompson on the court. There are even taller women in the league such as the LA Sparks 6'5" Lisa Leslie and 7'2" Margo Dydek of the San Antonio Silver Stars. I discovered that many WNBA players have double digit shoe sizes such as Sheryl Swoopes and Washington's (now LA Spark) Chamique Holdsclaw. I don't complain as much when I'm hunting for fashionable shoes. I'm in good company.

It's time for us transgendered sports fans to come out of the closet. There are numerous ways to express femininity and being a sports fan doesn't detract from that. Whatever your favorite sport was growing up, enjoy and embrace it. It's okay to let your inner sports fan out.

Oops, gotta go. Sportscenter's on.

March 2006 TransGriot Column

Faith Based Homophobes
Copyright 2006, THE LETTER

photo-Rev. Bernice King, Bishop Noel Jones

African-American author Ralph Ellison once wrote in his novel ‘Invisible Man’ that ‘I am invisible because they refuse to see me.’

It seems as though that’s the attitude that some peeps in the African-American community have taken towards GLBT people. Many of them either want to deny that we exist or implore us to keep it quiet so that we don’t ‘embarrass the race.’ Being GLBT is one of those ‘dirty little family secrets’ that Caucasian people aren’t supposed to know about us.

Well, that secret’s out along with another one: We can be just as homophobic as the rest of America. It was one of the reasons the GOP made that alarming 4% gain of the African-American vote during the 2004 presidential election. (12% versus 8% in 2000). The Republican Party for years has been desperately searching for a wedge issue to use that would resonate with African-Americans and they struck pay dirt with this one.

While the rap music world has been saddled with much of the blame for this state of affairs and rightly so, the Black church is equally responsible. An institution with a long history of battling bigotry and oppression is unfortunately taking cues from its White fundamentalist brethren. It’s picking up where rappers like Jamaica’s Beenie Man and friends left off. We have a group of GOP leaning homophobes who are groveling for faith based bucks from the Bush administration. They hang out with Lou Sheldon and James Dobson professing their support for the worst president in US history and polices that adversely affect their congregations. It also explains some of the odious anti-gay tirades that have come from their pulpits recently that would make Fred Phelps proud.

Rev. Gregory Daniels of Chicago stated in February 2004, “If the KKK opposes gay marriage then I'd ride with them."

Rev. Willie Wilson of Washington DC suggests during a July 3, 2005 sermon that “Black women are becoming lesbians because they are making more money than their black counterparts and that "lesbianism is about to take over our community." The sad part about Rev. Wilson’s comments is that he was once considered a friend of the Washington DC GLBT community.

That list of anti-gay preachers unfortunately includes Rev. Bernice King, the baby daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King. You needed to have more frequent chats with your late mother Coretta about where your father would’ve stood on this issue. I’m willing to bet that it wouldn’t have been at the side of Atlanta’s Bishop Eddie Long leading an anti-gay march that started at the foot of your father’s grave. .

Then there’s Bishop Noel Jones of LA. The brother of disco diva Grace Jones took a November 2004 trip to Jamaica to implore them not to bow to pressure from US based gay-rights groups to change their anti-gay laws. He’s been divorced for a decade and is a running buddy of unmarried ex-gay New York gospel singer and pastor Donnie McClurkin. McClurkin was quoted on the CBN website in 2004 as saying "I'm not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children." I wonder if one of the songs Rev. Donnie has been singing when his friend Noel visits is ‘Pull Up To the Bumper’?

Frankly Donnie, I’m not in the mood to put up with homophobic bigotry from the pulpit of Black churches. What pisses me off is that they are climbing in bed not only with the Republican Party but White fundamentalists that were front and center (and still are) in actively opposing the Civil Rights Movement.

Time for y’all to check the alarm clock and wake up.