Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sick Of The 'Shemale' Label

TransGriot Note: In addition to being the founder and head diva of Transsistahs-Transbrothas, I'm on a few other Yahoo Internet discussion lists. We got into a discussion on Black Transsexual Love about the 'shemale' term. A few peeps made their feelings known about it. This commentary had its genesis from my original post to the list.

I'm BEYOND sick of the 'shemale' label. To me it's a step below the n-word.

That shemale term was created by one of the transgender community's biggest enemies during the 70's and beyond, radical feminist professor Janice Raymond. It was picked up unfortunately by the adult film industry.

Janice Raymond is largely responsible for transpeople being excluded from Medicaid and Medicare and much of the insurance industry exclusions for SRS as the author of a not well publicized early 1980s paper. The paper was part of a study commissioned by the federal government on the topic of federal aid for transsexual people seeking rehabilitation and health services. It effectively eliminated federal and some states aid for indigent and imprisoned transsexuals.

The private health insurance companies then followed the federal government’s lead in disallowing services to transsexual patients for any treatment remotely related to being transsexual, including breast cancer or genital cancer, as that was deemed to be a consequence of treatment for transsexuality.

So why would ANYONE define themselves by a term created by their oppressor? Sadly, too many younger transpeople and some in my generation who should know better but who don't know the history behind the 'shemale' label do.

I'm an African-American transwoman and proud of it. I'm tired of the image of me and my sistahs being defined by my enemies, escort sites and adult films. There is a gross imbalance of negative images that need to be corrected immediately with positive ones. I'm beyond ready to forge the links with other positive transwomen, transbrothas and allies to do just that.

We are much more. Yes, we are beautiful. We come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, hairstyles and genital configurations. We are intelligent. We eagerly embrace our African-American womanhood and are respectful of the history and sense of mission that comes with it. We are proud of our African heritage and are ready to do our part to uplift not only the transgender community but the African-American one we belong to as well.

I'm gratified to see that I'm not the only transwoman concerned about what kind of legacy we will leave behind to the transkids who are now in elementary school.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

GOP Postpones Vote to Renew Voting Rights Act, Senate May Follow

By Laurie Kellman, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Republican leaders on Wednesday postponed a vote on renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act after GOP lawmakers complained it unfairly singles out nine Southern states for federal oversight.

"We have time to address their concerns," Republican leaders said in
a joint statement. "Therefore, the House Republican Leadership will
offer members the time needed to evaluate the legislation."

It was unclear whether the legislation would come up this year. The
temporary provisions don't expire until 2007, but leaders of both
parties had hoped to pass the act and use it to further their
prospects in the fall's midterm elections.

The statement said the GOP leaders are committed to renewing the
law "as soon as possible."

The four-decade-old law enfranchised millions of black voters by
ending poll taxes and literacy tests during the height of the civil
rights struggle. A vote on renewing it for another 25 years had been
scheduled for Wednesday, with both Republican and Democratic leaders
behind it

The abrupt change of plans in the House could affect the renewal in
the Senate, where an identical bill was set for consideration next
week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Chairman Arlen
Specter, R-Pa.

"There's less pressure to do it if the House is not doing it,"
Specter said in a telephone interview.

The shift came after a private House GOP caucus meeting earlier
Wednesday in which several Republicans also balked at extending
provisions in the law that require ballots to be printed in more than
one language in neighborhoods where there are large numbers of
immigrants, said several participants.

"The speaker's had a standing rule that nothing would be voted on
unless there's a majority of the majority," said Rep. Lynn
Westmoreland, R-Ga., who led the objections. "It was pretty clear at
the meeting that the majority of the majority wasn't there."

The legislation was approved by the Judiciary Committee on a 33-1
vote. But despite leadership support, controversy has shadowed the
legislation 40 years after it first prohibited policies that blocked
blacks from voting.

Several Republicans, led by Westmoreland, had worked to allow an
amendment that would ease a requirement that nine states win
permission from the Justice Department or a federal judge to change
their voting rules.

The amendment's backers say the requirement unfairly singles out and
holds accountable nine states that practiced racist voting policies
decades ago, based on 1964 voter turnout data: Alabama, Alaska,
Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and

Westmoreland says the formula for deciding which states are subject
to such "pre-clearance" should be updated every four years and be
based on voter turnout in the most recent three elections.

"The pre-clearance portions of the Voting Rights Act should apply to
all states, or no states," Westmoreland said. "Singling out certain
states for special scrutiny no longer makes sense."

The amendment has powerful opponents. From Republican and Democratic
leaders on down the House hierarchy, they argue that states with
documented histories of discrimination may still practice it and have
earned the extra scrutiny.

"This carefully crafted legislation should remain clean and
unamended," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who worked on the original
bill, which he called "the keystone of our national civil rights

By his own estimation, Westmoreland says the amendment stands little
chance of being adopted.

The House also could bring up an amendment that would require the
Justice Department to compile an annual list of jurisdictions
eligible for a "bailout" from the pre-clearance requirements.

That amendment, too, has little chance of surviving floor debate.

Other efforts to chip away at the act have faltered under pressure
from powerful supporters.

One such measure, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, sought to
strip a provision that requires ballots to be printed in several
languages and interpreters be provided in states and counties where
large numbers of citizens speak limited English.

However, Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.,
called that logic an effort to mix the divisive debate over
immigration reform with the Voting Rights Act renewal. Three-fourths
of those whose primary language is not English are American-born, he

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pageant Lessons

A Commentary about TG Beauty Pageants

Last night I was given the honor of acting as a judge for the inaugural Miss Imperial Diva 2006 Pageant here in Louisville. I had a great time watching it and seeing the talented Indianapolis, IN sista that eventually ran away with it, Vanessa Ross. I also liked watching special guests Amelia Black and Terri Vanessa Coleman perform and enjoyed meeting them

I've always loved watching pageants. I learned from my one night performance stint on stage (a favor to a Latina illusionist friend of mine who was dying of AIDS) that performing is no joke. It's also hard work. I have a deep apprreciation of what it takes to not only compete and win in pageants but the effort involved in becoming an elite level female illusionist.

After the show ended Joshua, Akilah and I had a general conversation about pageants in general. During our discussion we covered some things about pageants that echo real life.

It takes a lot of hard work to reach your goals.

If you want to be Miss Continental or hold a similar prestigious title, be prepared to put in a lot of work, spend a lot of money and fight your way through the stiff competition you'll have to face in order to achieve your goal.

You can be the best at what you do and still not win.

That's definitely true in the pageant world. In any event that has subjective scoring, (the Olympic gymnastics and figure skating competitions are notoriously legendary for it) you can have a flawlessly realistic look, wow the crowd with your presentation, have a killer talent, and STILL lose because you either blew an interview, had something out of place that the judges picked up on, were flat out screwed by judging or a point tabulation error.

Looks aren't everything.

While this is a visual society and beauty does give you a leg up in it, you can still get beat by peeps that may not have your killer beauty but work smarter and harder.

Be a classy winner and a gracious loser.

The hard part. I've seen too many peeps storm off the stage in anger after the judges decision has been rendered and it didn't go the way that the person wanted it to. Conversely I've seen some less than gracious winners and that's a turnoff too.

Some of the other reasons that I like pageants are simple. As a writer I love drama. Pageants are chock full of them. They are entertaining. It's also the competitive nature of them that gives them the feel of a sporting event.

Will the veteran title holder win tonight or will a fresh face newcomer emerge to take the crown? Vivica St. James won last month's Miss Fly Sista International prelim. Will she continue her winning ways tonight at Miss Sophisticated Diva or will her bitter rival Erica Iman snatch the crown away?

Well, you get the drift. Let the games begin. And may the best diva win.

June 2006 TransGriot Column

Shirley Q. Liquor: It’s STILL a Minstrel Show.
Copyright 2006, THE LETTER

Out of all the TransGriot columns that I’ve written
over the last two years, the one that plucks the most
nerves and has generated the most criticism (and still
does) is the May 2005 one I wrote blasting Shirley Q.

Exhibit A: A comment on my TransGriot blog from
Marshall (who when I clicked on his profile was too
cowardly to leave contact info in it):

You really need to get a life! If you don't like it,
don't listen to it! Ever watched In Living Color? A
show produced by black folk who did it all the time
themselves. The reason racism is still around is
because people like you and the protestors in NY wont
let it! You are full of it!

My response:

Gee Marshall (if that's your real name) did I strike a

Sounds like you're another one of Shirley Q's fans who
get their panties in a bunch every time ANYONE calls
him out for his 21st Century minstrel show which is
demeaning and racist to African-American women.

Racism is STILL around because your ancestors
encouraged and practiced it for 400 years.

And by the way, I still have the first four seasons of
In Living Color on VHS. Shirley Q ain't even in the
same league with the Wayans family, much less Jim

I’m bringing Shirley Q's racist act up again because
of what recently transpired on the Eastern Kentucky
University campus.

Someone in the EKU Pride Alliance decided that it
would be a wonderful idea to bring Shirley Q. Liquor
to Richmond for an April 29 on campus performance.
I’ve already documented in the May 2005 column what
African-American GLBT peeps think about Chuck Knipp’s
brand of comedy. To us it’s about as funny as a heart

After a firestorm of protests the event was canceled.
It didn’t help that Shirley’s visit was going to occur
just as the firestorm over Jason Johnson’s expulsion
from the homophobic University of the Cumberlands was
happening. It was a public relations disaster in the

We already have major problem with homophobic Black
preachers. Once they had gotten wind of this
performance it would have poured gasoline on a fire
that GLBT African-Americans are already struggling to
try to put out in terms of gay-bashing from our

By the way Shirley Q. defenders, please spare me the
latest defense spin about her performance is just
honoring the Black women who raised her. I just ate.

I don’t know ANY African-American women who wear
blackface, an Afro, wear multihued eye shadow in the
colors of the African-American flag (red, black and
green) brag about being a ‘welfare mother with 19
chirren’ or name their children after venereal

It ain’t performance art, it’s a minstrel show for the
new millennium. Trotting out RuPaul or any other
African-American to defend her ain’t gonna change

And if y’all are trying to defend Chuck on the ‘he’s
not racist’ tip, then check out the ’12 Days of
Kwanzaa’ ditty that got played on several Deep South
radio stations. It’s a favorite tune of white
supremacists everywhere.

The point I’m trying to make once again is that
blackface images still carry a lot of pain for
African-Americans, even in the early 21st Century.
Spike Lee tried to satirically use them in his 2002
movie 'Banboozled’ to lampoon the way Hollywood
disrespects the images of Black people and he was
savagely criticized for it. The loudest protests came
from fellow African-Americans.

So if Spike Lee can’t get away with using minstrel
show images, what makes a white gay male named Chuck
Knipp think that he can?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Different World

A few nights ago I was watching my DVD set of the first season of A Different World. I have been a huge fan of the show ever since it aired on September 24, 1987 and I'm anxiously awaiting the releases of the DVD sets for Seasons 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. With the passage of time and after watching the show in syndication I have come to appreciate just how groundbreaking and special A Different World actually was.

A Different World introduced us to Jasmine Guy (Whitley Gilbert), Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne Wayne), Dawnn Lewis (Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor), Charnele Brown (Kimberly Reese), Cree Summer (Winifred 'Freddie' Brooks) and Darryl Bell (Ron Johnson) as students of Hillman College, we got an opportunity every Thursday night to see young African-Americans portrayed in a positive light on their local NBC stations.

While I was overjoyed to see representations of my generation on TV, it was glaringly obvious during Season One that the unique flavor a HBCU (Historically Black College and University) has wasn't being replicated onscreen. After that first season Bill Cosby brought in Howard University alum (and Houston homegirl) Debbie Allen as producer to shake up the show and make it more relevant to our culture.

To accomplish that task, she drew upon her experiences at Howard and instituted a yearly trip to Atlanta's Morehouse and Spelman colleges for the show's writers. During those trips they got the opportunity to talk to professors, administrators and students. During those conversations several story ideas came out of them.

In addition to fostering an increase in HBCU enrollments A Different World was an incubator for a generation of African-American writers and directors such as Gina Prince-Bythewood and Yvette Lee Bowser. It also launched the careers of Jada Pinkett Smith, Allen Payne, Sinbad, Gary Dourdan, Kim Wayans, Jenifer Lewis, Eriq LaSalle and Halle Berry and provided quality work for others. Blair Underwood, Phylicia Rashad, Thomas Mikal Ford, Khandi Alexander, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, Kristoff St. John, Tisha Campbell, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Obba Babatunde and the late Tupac Shakur are some of the long list of people who made guest appearances on the show.

We also got a chance to see long time African-American actors get introduced to a new generation. Ron O'Neal of Super Fly fame played Whitley's father Judge Mercer Gilbert. Richard Roundtree played Kim Reese's father. Glynn Turman played Colonel Bradford Taylor, Hillman's military science and math teacher. Lou Myers played Vernon Gaines, the elder statesman of The Pit to whom all the Hillman students turned to for advice at one time or another. Roscoe Lee Brown played Professor Foster. Robert Guillaume and Rosalind Cash had recurring roles as deans.

And who could forget the legendary Patti LaBelle endlessly bragging about her 'Chipmunk' and spoon feeding Dwayne her infamous prune cobbler in her role as Adele Wayne? Diahann Carroll playing Whitley's socialite mother Marion Gilbert?
Even Debbie Allen had a recurring role as therapist Dr. Langhorne who advised her clients to 'relax, relate and release'.

It was definitely 'Must See TV'. Nestled in a timeslot between NBC powerhouses Cosby and Cheers, A Different World was ranked Number 2 in its first season and was a Top 5 show for five of those six years In its final season it was ranked number 18. It tackled topics such as AIDS, date rape, race relations, pledging, the LA riots, apartheid and the South African divestiture issue that was raging on college campuses at the time.

It garnered numerous NAACP Image Award nominations, earned Jasmine Guy a 1992 Image Award and set a standard for excellence that future shows featuring African-American casts would do well to imitate.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tyra Banks

Another installment in my ongoing series of articles on transgender and non-transgender women who have qualities that I admire.

"Black women have always been these vixens, these animalistic erotic women. Why can't we just be the sexy American girl next door?" -Tyra Banks, on her status as a sex symbol.

Tyra Lynn Banks exploded into prominence in the modeling world about the same time I was beginning to transition. Not only was this sista tall at 5'11", this Inglewood, CA girl is intelligent, down to earth and drop dead gorgeous to boot.

Unless you're Naomi Campbell, what's not to like about Tyra?

I admire her for representing us in the fashion area. She was the first African-American woman to be featured on the covers of GQ magazine, the Victoria's Secret catalog, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. After picking up a copy of her book Tyra's Beauty Inside and Out, I realized just how special she really is and in a sense how close her life was to mine.
(no she's not a t-girl, but she did play one once on an episode of UPN's 'All of Us')

Here was a skinny kid who blossomed into a stunningly sexy woman. She's made the People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list twice. She decided to become a model and was turned down by four agencies before she signed with Elite at age 17 a few weeks before she was to begin her freshman year at Loyola Marymount College.

I liked the fact that she wasn't the stereotypical model. She has curves. She's proclaimed her love of fast food, ribs and chicken wings. She's quick to point out that most of what you see in her pictures is the result of makeup tricks and the revelation on her talk show that drag queens taught her how to do her makeup.

She's done movies and had a recurring role on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She produces America's Next Top Model and since retiring from the modeling business does her own talk show. She gives back to our community, is a determined driven lady and a wonderful role model.

Even for a Phenomenal Transwoman like myself. ;)

Happy Birthday to His Royal Badness

Break out that copy of 'Purple Rain' and toast it with some grape juice. Today is Prince Rogers Nelson's birthday. The rest of the world knows him as Prince. His fans call him 'His Royal Badness'.

Prince is one of my favorite artists. His first album 'For You' came out when I was a high school junior. I was amazed to find out that he played several instruments on the album in addition to producing it himself.

His sound continued to evolve during the 80's. It melded elements of rock, punk, and soul with sometimes controversial sexually-tinged lyrics like on 1980's 'Uptown' albumn. It was dubbed the 'Minneapolis Sound' and later groups such as The Time and Vanity 6 would form. Singers Alexander O'Neal, Cherrelle, Karyn White and the SOS Band would later ride the producing talents of Time members James 'Jimmy Jam' Harris and Terry Lewis to hit status. In Janet Jackson's case she became a superstar thanks to these gentlemen.

But back to the birthday boy. I still laugh about a 1981 Prince concert I attended in which he broke into a rousing encore version of 'Controversy' that was rocking The Summit (later Compaq Center). This particular concert was scheduled on a Sunday. When he got to the part of 'Controversy' that includes the Lord's Prayer and implored everyone to pray with him, the up until that point raucous crowd became quiet. The gentleman that had the seats next to mine and my date said to us, "Prince is my boy, but I ain't playing with God."

Turned out Prince's spiritual side wasn't an act. Songs such as 'I Would Die 4 U' and 'The Holy River' gave some insight into that side of his persona. He's also done some songs with political commentary such as 'Ronnie Talk To Russia', 'Sign O' The Times, and 'Cinnamon Girl'.

Speaking of acting, 1984 saw the release of the movie 'Purple Rain' which I and my brother attended the day it opened wearing a purple '1999' T-shirt along with the other faithful Prince fans that packed the theater. After that Prince wasn't an R&B fan's best kept secret. The movie became a big hit along with the movie soundtrack.

His battle with Warner Brothers over control of his master tapes and for increased artistic freedom led him to change his name to an unpronouncable symbol for a few years and perform concerts with the word SLAVE written on his face.

He has come back better than ever with 'Musicology' vaulting him back into musical prominence. In my eyes he never left that status.

Happy birthday, Prince.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

See Tom Be Jane

The country's youngest transgender child is ready for school. But is school ready for her?

by Julia Reischel
The Village Voice
May 31st, 2006

It's a spring break morning, and by 11 a.m. at the Anderson home, chaos is erupting. School is out for the week, and the twin boys are throwing a ball inside the spacious, two-story house. Upstairs, the preteen daughter pretends not to hear her mother calling. Lauren Anderson, a tanned and well-dressed stay-at-home mom who seems incapable of sitting still, cajoles her offspring to behave as she waits for a babysitter to arrive.
Her youngest, Nicole, five, is frowning. Nicole's face is framed with delicate brown braids, and her fingernails are painted a rainbow of colors. She plans to go swimming with a friend at the community pool, but at the moment, she doesn't like the way her dress feels. She yanks the hot-pink halter-top over her head, telling her mother, "This is poking me. I want to change my dress."

Minutes later, she scampers back, now as naked as a jaybird except for her underwear. Without the dress, you can clearly see her penis, tucked carefully into her pink patterned panties.

Born a biological male whom the family named Nicholas, Nicole today dresses, acts, and lives like a girl. She's been insisting she's female since she could talk, say the Andersons, who asked that their real names not be used for this article. "He has always been attracted to the flowers, the bright colors, his Barbie dolls, and his beloved mermaids," Lauren says, using the male pronoun for her child. In fact, talking with Lauren, who fully supports Nicole's desire to live as a girl, it's clear that the family is still working out the grammar of how to refer to its youngest.

"As a young toddler, he wouldn't let me snap her onesies together because she wanted to wear a 'dwess' like his sister," Lauren says, mixing pronouns like he and her interchangeably.

Lauren admits that the family is feeling its way down a path very few families find themselves navigating. Although it's common for young boys to play with dolls or paint their nails—what parents classically refer to as "a phase"—it's much rarer for a child to so completely identify as the opposite sex. And what to do about it has been the subject of fierce debate for decades.

Nine years ago, a Belgian film, Ma Vie en Rose, explored the most common reaction to a young boy's decision to live as a girl. In other words, the parents panicked. So did the rest of the neighborhood, who shunned and ridiculed the boy's family until they felt compelled to move away. In real life, meanwhile, another famous case in 2000 ended even worse. When Zachary Lipscomb's parents attempted to enroll him as a girl named Aurora in an Ohio school at age six, a state child protection agency took the child away.

Some therapists insist that such children should be discouraged from living as the opposite sex because, they have found, the large majority of such children grow out of it. Studies show that many end up as gay adults. But a growing coalition of therapists, scientists, and activists disagree and refer to such children—even those as young as three years old—as transgendered, insisting that the child's new identification shouldn't be discouraged.

The Andersons are in the latter camp, encouraging Nicholas to be Nicole. Experts consulted by this reporter say the Andersons are the only family in the United States supporting a five-year-old's choice to live as the opposite sex. This fall, the Andersons plan to enroll Nicole in a Broward County, Florida, kindergarten class as a female. They are convinced that's the only way she'll be happy.

That decision has rallied much support for the family's side. There's attorney Karen Doering of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, for example, who represented Michael Kantaras, a female-to-male transsexual, in a widely publicized 2004 victorious custody battle in the Florida Supreme Court. Kantaras, who won joint custody of his two children when the court ruled that his parental rights were not nullified by his sex change, was the first transsexual parent to win such a high-profile victory. Doering is advising the Andersons as they wait to hear from school officials, who so far have given no indication of how they plan to prepare for Nicole's enrollment.

And that's where Nicole's story veers even further from the ordinary. Because trying to pressure school officials to address the Andersons' concerns is a person who could be either a big help or a big distraction.

Mark Angelo Cummings, a man who once was a woman, has become something of a Spanish-language television talk-show phenomenon. Cummings's outspoken appearances, which have wowed Latino TV hosts with stories of his transformation, are leading to a new openness about transsexuality in the Latino community. And Cummings plans to use his celebrity, such as it is, to promote Nicole's cause.

This fall, whether it's ready or not, the Broward School District will make some sort of history. Thanks to a showboating transsexual guardian angel and the little boy who insists he's a girl.


On a recent morning, it takes a lot of coaxing to tear Nicole away from watching The Ten Commandments to tell a reporter how she feels about being a "special girl."

"Do you know why you're a special girl?" her mother asks.

"Because... I have a girl brain in a boy body," Nicole says, lowering her usual penetrating voice to an almost inaudible sigh.

"What does that feel like? Does it feel good? Or is it hard?"

"Hard," Nicole says.

When her mother asks her if she's happy with the way she looks, she says no.

"What would you change about yourself?"

"Mm... my penis," Nicole murmurs.

"What would you do with it?" her mother asks.

"Um... cut it," Nicole replies, very softly.

"And what would you do with it then?" asks a surprised Lauren, who later says she's never before heard Nicole express dislike for her penis.

"I would hammer it," Nicole says.

"What?" Lauren says.

"Hammer it," Nicole insists more strongly.

Later, Lauren says she constantly feels as if she's flying by the seat of her pants. "There is no protocol," she says. "Nobody knows of anybody. No five-year-olds who go to school fully transitioned. There's no book called How to Raise Your Gender Variant Preschooler."

Nicole "carried like a girl" when Lauren was pregnant, but when Nicholas was born, he was definitely a baby boy.

"So we dressed him all boyish," Lauren says, as she fondly turns the pages of a fat baby album. There are pages and pages of little Nicholas—with his family smiling at his bris, dressed in a tiny football uniform, being hugged by his older siblings. Nicholas looks happy. But Lauren says his desire to be treated like a girl was constant.

"At first, I thought it was cute," she explains. "I don't have a problem putting nail polish on a little boy. I don't have a problem if my son plays with dolls. His older brothers went through a similar period of doll playing and asking for nail polish on their toes. There's no reason to say no to a phase. I never once said 'no.' A phase is a phase."

So baby Nicholas was allowed to wear high heels. To play with Little Mermaid and Barbie dolls. To grow his hair a little longer. But instead of being satisfied with these concessions, Nicholas always asked for more. One day, he asked for something his parents weren't expecting.

Lauren was sitting at her computer working when two-year-old Nicholas, who, like all the Anderson children, had a frank understanding of anatomy, came to her with a request: "I want the fairy princess to come and make my penis into a vagina," he said.

Lauren mentioned Nicholas' strange demand to his pediatrician at the child's three-year birthday checkup, expecting to be told that the behavior was part of the phase. "She got a concerned look on her face," she says. "This was not the reaction I was looking for." The Andersons were advised to look into Nicholas' desires with the help of a therapist.

Frightened, Lauren says she turned to her college copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and looked up something called "Gender Identity Disorder," the clinical term for transsexualism. It seemed to describe Nicole's behaviors exactly.

The Andersons called Marcia Schultz, a psychologist in Coral Springs. One session with Nicholas, who was then three, convinced Schultz that he had a form of GID.

"Nicholas is a transsexual who wants to be a woman," Schultz says.

Through Schultz, the Andersons met Heather Wright, a jovial and frank male-to-female transsexual with a hearty handshake who lives in Green Acres with her female partner and their three children. They took Nicholas to see her. Wright immediately noticed that little Nicholas seemed uncomfortable in his body.

"He was definitely very quiet," Wright remembers. "He definitely wasn't happy with having to wear the clothes he was wearing. One of the things he was upset about was he wanted to wear girl clothes. All he got away with was getting Little Mermaid flip-flops."

After meeting with Schultz and Wright, the Andersons began allowing Nicholas to act and dress like a girl in the safety of their home or in the anonymity of the grocery store or at Disney World. That summer, Nicholas' camp even allowed him to wear a girl's bathing suit. But at preschool, Nicholas remained a boy and seemed satisfied with relegating his girl time to afterschool hours. Until he turned five.

"Right at the age of five, it was like 'boom,' " Lauren says. "Since he hit five, he totally rebelled and refused to wear boy clothes. Every single day was a fight. By the end of the school year, she looked like a totally different child."

Today, Nicole gets to be all girl at home and is supposed to be "neutral" in public at her preschool, where many of her friends, all girls, call her "she." But every day, Nicole chips away at the vestiges of her boyhood.

"I try to do the neutral thing, and it doesn't work," Lauren says, "Slowly, every day, a new article of clothing will come out of the closet. And we end up looking like a girl."

Nicole has settled on a gender, but there's little else that's settled when it comes to Gender Identity Disorder. Even the name itself—that a child like Nicole has a "disorder"—is contested.

Until 1973, homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder; then it was removed after intense debate in the psychiatric community. And many transsexuals believe GID should have been tossed out at the same time. For some, however, GID continues to be a useful diagnosis that helps determine whether a person is a good candidate for sex reassignment surgery.

Politics about transsexualism permeates any discussion of GID. The only long-range scientific study conducted by psychologists, harshly criticized by transsexual activists, shows that many boys diagnosed with GID as children grow up to be gay males and that only a few continue to identify as female. Studies by endocrinologists, on the other hand, have uncovered some biological similarities in the brains of transsexuals, a finding that suggests that transgenderism is not something one can merely "grow out of."

All of which means that there's little anyone can agree on when it comes to treating five-year-old boys who want to be girls.

"There are three basic types of attitudes about this," says Heino F.L. Meyer-Bahlburg, director of the Program of Developmental Psychoendocrinology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. "There are people who are strictly anti-trans kids who always try to modify the behavior. There are people who are strongly supportive, who from the outset would strongly encourage a transgender identity. Then there are the people sitting on the fence."

Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist who has treated hundreds of young Gender Identity Disorder children at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, is a well-known proponent of modifying behavior. He advises that children with GID undergo therapy to work through their hatred of their bodies before being accepted as transsexuals. His clinical research shows that he has an 80 to 90 percent success rate of steering young GID children away from living as trans adults. Gay and transsexual groups are harshly critical of Zucker, saying that his work encourages religious-right organizations that seek to "cure" gays of their homosexuality. But Zucker himself has taken pains to separate himself and his work from those organizations.

Told of the Andersons and their plans to enroll Nicole in school as a girl, Zucker says he's concerned that the Andersons have been swayed by an activist transsexual agenda and are ignoring the possibility that Nicole might simply be a troubled child. "Let's see if there are ways to try and help this child work this through," he says. "Instead, they're going to cement this in more and more." He says that what the Andersons are doing could be considered "some type of emotional neglect."

Meyer-Bahlburg is more ambivalent. "Force doesn't really work very well. On the other hand, I don't feel clear about strong encouragement in the transgender direction, because the vast majority of kids fall out of it," he says. When he treats GID boys, he advises his patients to beef up boyish activities and play with carefully selected male playmates.

The Andersons, however, side with experts who consider children like Nicole transsexuals. Lauren attended the annual Philadelphia Trans-health Conference this January, where gender-variant children was a main topic and the subject of panels such as one titled "How Young Is Too Young?" Most parents at the conference seemed to agree that it's never too early to support a child as a transsexual, even at age five.

"I would never want to force any person to be something they're not," says Tom Anderson, Nicole's father. "This is different from 'It's time to stop drinking chocolate milk from a baba' or taking away a blanket. This is the essence of the person."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Harmonizing Her Gender

It took Tona Brown years to develop her voice - and identity

By Chris King
of the St. Louis American

Tona Brown belongs to a sensitive, mysterious, misunderstood minority group.

She is an artist - more specifically, a musician, a classically
trained vocalist and violinist. Her repertoire favors art songs by
neglected African-American composers, Negro spirituals and the European classics. She recently performed at Washington University’s (St. Louis) Ursa Cafe as part of the Tranny Roadshow.

The Tranny Roadshow? Oh, yeah. Tona Brown is also transgendered - she
was born into the wrong gender. The Tranny Roadshow is a traveling
variety group with a rotating cast of artists who began their lives
in that troubling, at times horrifying predicament, then did
something to change it.

The Roadshow, Tona said, marks her first set of performances when she
comes advertised "as gay or trans." At age 26, she has lived as a
woman for three and a half years. "I don't broadcast it to the whole
world all the time," she said of her gender transition.

She pursued the opportunity to broadcast her identity, at this point,
with an activist's sense of mission.

"I think it's imperative for others to know we can do everything,"
she said. "Trans people fulfill every occupation. I want to let
people know, you can be who you are, no matter what it is."

It is a life or death issue. Suicide is relatively common in the
transgendered population, as are self-destructive life choices, such
as drug abuse and prostitution.

"People tend to learn very young, and they are very confused," she

"Their family abandons them. They have no role models. You have to be
very careful."

Tona should be an enviable model to transgendered youth. Judging by
her publicity photos, her transition has been very successful, and
her family and peers were unusually understanding.

"I was extremely fortunate. God blessed me with a talent that
transcended the normal boundaries," she said.

"Those who know me and who have been interested in watching me
develop have supported me, with no qualms about it. They kind of knew
all along there was something different about me."

She grew up and still lives with her mother, Sharon, in Hampton
Roads, Virginia, having studied music in Northern Virginia and
Rochester, New York. She started in her field while identified as a
man, and she said her transition "hasn't hindered me at all."

"I'm a dramatic soprano and a high mezzo," she said of her vocal
range. "That's really awkward, for a male. I always wore long hair, I
was always androgynous. When I did decide to transition, it wasn't
that hard for everyone."

If anything, she said, the hard part came before she made the
switch. "I struggled before," she said.

"I was very, very feminine, and men always thought I was female
anyway. When I transitioned, it was just, `Oh, you're beautiful, and
we need a violinist.'"

Appropriately for a musician, her transition began, in a sense, with
one of her instruments - her voice.

"I used to sing Mariah Carey, a very, very high soprano. Then, at 16,
my voice dropped, and I had this huge, rich soprano," she said.

"I used to be very light and birdy. People didn't know how to address
me. They'd say, `Yes, ma'am,' and I'd have to correct them."

Like so many black children raised in the South, she came up in a
very religious family, singing in the choir.

"I was an alto," she said. "It was very awkward, at the time. People
didn't realize there is no gender stamp on your voice."

Her problems adjusting to expectations persisted, initially, when she
studied voice with Patricia Woolf at the Shenandoah Conservatory of
Music. "She would have me try to sing tenor, and my voice would
always crack - upwards," Tona said.

A breakthrough came when they were working together on Mozart's opera
The Marriage of Figaro. At one point, her teacher closed the book in
frustration and said, "I honestly don't know what you could do."

Tona remembered, "I was very androgynous. I wore heels (boots, then,
not pumps). Neither she nor I could deny there was something
different, not only with myself but with my voice."

Finally, her teacher handed Tona the role of Cherubino, a lyric mezzo
part that has (both ironically and appropriately, in this case) been
a "pants" role, performed by a female dressed in male clothes.

Asked to sing a high part typically taken by a woman (in costume as a
man), she found her natural voice. "It felt so good," she said. "All
this sound came out of me." From there, it was only a question of
time, courage and dedication.

"It takes a lot of courage to get up," she said, "and use your God-
given instrument, something as fragile as a voice, to continue to
train and take ridicule and to develop your voice." Or, for that
matter, your proper gender.

Friday, June 02, 2006

NBJC Joins Black Leadership Forum

From Jasmyne

It’s official. The National Black Justice Coalition is now a member of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc, making NBJC the first same-gender loving organization to be invited as a member.

Based in Washington D.C., the mission of the Black Leadership Forum (BLF) is to promote creative and coordinated Black Leadership, diverse in membership but clear on its priority, to empower African Americans to improve their own lives and to expand their opportunities to fully participate in American social, economic and political life.

Founded in 1977 in Washington, D.C., as a confederation of civil rights and service organizations, by a nucleus of 11 leaders of organizations which included the National Urban League, National Urban Coalition, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, National Council of Negro Women, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Martin Luther King Center for Non Violent Social Change, Congressional Black Caucus, National Conference of Black Mayors and the National Business League.

NBJC is a national civil rights organization of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and our allies dedicated to fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia.

NBJC advocates for social justice by educating and mobilizing opinion leaders, including elected officials, clergy, and media, with a focus on Black communities. Through educational initiatives we promote policies that support racial justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans.

NBJC envisions a world where all people are fully empowered to participate safely, openly and honestly in family, faith and community, regardless of race, gender-identity or sexual orientation.