Friday, November 30, 2007

My Might Have Been New York Life

There are times in your life in which decisions you made or didn't make affect your future either negatively or positively. There are also times that decisions your parents make can affect your life as well.

Sometimes I reflect on one of those parental decisions that may have taken my life in another direction. A while back my dad told me about a job offer he'd gotten in the 70's from a New York radio station that he seriously thought about taking. For peeps in the radio world, while my dad's AM drive time show in H-town wasn't exactly bush league, working in a major market such as New York is a big deal.

It had gotten to the point in my parents decision making process that they were researching the cost of homes in Brooklyn and other areas of New York. Mom was making inquiries about what the New York State requirements were for continuing her teaching career there. Dad, like myself is a native Texan and native Houstonian, and he thought long and hard about the pros and cons of it before he said no.

There are times when I watch Paris Is Burning and play the 'what if' game. I start thinking about how different my life would have been if Dad had said yes to that job offer.

I probably would have been spending my teen years in Brooklyn or somewhere in the New York metro area. I could see myself hanging out on the Chelsea Piers in Greenwich Village, just like I hung out in Montrose after my high school graduation. I can see myself being drawn to and probably getting involved in the ballroom scene instead of reading about Carmen Xtravaganza in a mid 80's Village Voice article on a Houston bookstore.

Then again, just as I wonder from time to time what my life would have been like if I'd been born female, all this is doing is exercising my brain cells. A lot of what makes me the Phenomenal Transwoman I am was shaped by the fact I grew up in Texas. Taking me out of Texas in my teens alters some of the life experiences that form my worldview and how I look at the world.

Being in New York for the emergence of hip-hop and house may slightly alter my music tastes, but I don't get to experience the denial of my voting rights in 1984 that fuels my passion as an activist. I trade seeing Kirk Whalum live in Houston jazz clubs and trips to New Orleans for the pleasure of seeing Phyllis Hyman perform live in the Village. I don't get as much face time with my grandmothers and my godmother who are important to the development of my love for Black history, my spirituality and political views. But that negative development is offset by the Schomburg Institute being a subway train ride away for me.

When I was trying to decide in my senior year where to attend college, Howard was one of my final two schools but I opted to stay home and attend UH. I probably end up at Howard since I'm now a five hour drive down I-95 or an Amtrak train ride from that campus instead of halfway across the country. And probably because I'm in Washington on a premier HBCU campus I get more immersed in politics and have opportunities to work as a congressional aide.

So yeah, sometimes I think about those interesting permutations my life could have taken, but the end result is that I most likely would have still ended up being the TransGriot and blogging about my life experiences as a proud transwoman.

They just would have been from a New York perspective instead of a Texas one. ;)

Thriller...25 Years Later

On November 30, 1982 an album was released that would make Michaal Jackson an international superstar and break ground on so many levels.

That Quincy Jones produced album was called Thriller. It was Michael Jackson's sixth album, and boy was it a monster. 104 million copies sold worldwide. It spent 80 weeks in the Billboard Top Ten Chart, spent 37 weeks total at the number one spot and 17 of those weeks were consecutive. It was the first album to spawn seven Billboard Top 10 singles (the others are Springsteen's Born in the USA and his sister Janet's Rhythm Nation 1814) and the only album to be the top seller in the United States for two consecutive years (1983-84).

It also spawned videos that forced MTV to break their embargo on African-American artists and reintroduced African-American artists to mainstream pop radio stations for the first time since the 70's.

In 1984 Jackson won a ton of awards thanks to Thriller. He was nominated for 12 Grammys and won eight. Seven were for Thriller including the Best Album of the Year, the eighth was for the ET Terrestrial Storybook. He also took home eight American Music Awards and three MTV Video Music Awards.

Thriller is ranked #20 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and in 1989 was rated #7 on their list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.

I agree, that album was the bomb on so many levels. Twenty five years later I'm still jamming to it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Experts Question HRC's ENDA Survey

TransGriot Note: Seems like the TransGriot isn't the only person who thinks that the HRC survey that came out in the middle of the ENDA debate is shady and bogus.

Researcher says methodology 'doesn't make sense'

By JOSHUA LYNSEN | Nov 28, 4:47 PM
from the Washington Blade

Polling experts are questioning a recent Human Rights Campaign survey that asked gays about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The survey's results, circulated last month by HRC when many gays were locked in heated debate over the measure's lack of transgender protections, show most people who responded support the bill as written.

But John Stahura, who specializes in survey research and directs the Purdue University Social Research Institute, said the survey's methodology is problematic.

"They're playing games," he said after reviewing survey excerpts at the Blade's request. "It doesn't make sense."

Conducted for HRC by Knowledge Networks, the survey shows most respondents believe national gay groups should support ENDA despite its lack of protections for transgender workers "because it helps gay, lesbian and bisexual workers and is a step toward transgender employment rights."

According to survey excerpts, about 68 percent of respondents chose that scripted statement among three offered lines to best represent their "point of view."

Another 16 percent of respondents indicated national gay groups should oppose ENDA "because it excludes transgender people," and 13 percent wanted groups to take a neutral stance "because while it helps gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, it also excludes transgender people."

About 3 percent of respondents refused to answer the question. The survey offered no margin of error.

Stahura said he "never would" structure a survey to include such explanatory clauses "because what you're asking people to evaluate is the because."

"I don't know why they didn't go with a straightforward, 'Here's the act. Should we support it, should we oppose it, or should we take a neutral stance?'" he said.

Brad Luna, the HRC communications director, said each scripted statement included explanatory clauses to focus respondents on the measure's omission of transgender protections.

"With complicated proposals such as this, if you don't link opposition to a reason, you might get people opposing for a variety of reasons," he said. "We chose this method because we wanted to know specifically if people supported or opposed ENDA because of the transgender exclusion."

The survey, conducted Oct. 2-5, polled a roster of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and were previously located by Knowledge Networks through random-digit- dialing methodology.

Among the survey's 514 respondents, 246 are male, 262 are female, five are female-to-male transgender and one is male-to-female transgender. Survey excerpts provided to the Blade by HRC did not disclose the sexual orientation breakdown among the respondents.

Luna said HRC is confident in the work that Knowledge Networks performs.

"While all surveys have limitations, Knowledge Networks surveys are very high in quality," he said. "They have a stellar reputation, and I have full confidence in their work."

But experts said the survey could have been done better, and the excerpts released earlier this month by HRC left some questions unanswered.

"I don't know based upon this response that you could say how the community — the gay, lesbian, bisexual community — feels about the legislation, " Stahura said. "I don't think those questions give you that answer."

Christopher Barron, a Washington political consultant Log Cabin's former political director, who is gay and does survey interpretation, agreed. He said the methodology, which he described as "bizarre," might not allow the results to be projected nationally.

"It may be that it's completely and totally sound," he said. "But there's nothing there that tells us that it is, so you can't assume it's a nationally representative sample."

Luna told the Blade this week that the survey is nationally representative.

Barron and Stahura, who reviewed a two-page memorandum and three data sets prepared by Knowledge Networks and provided to the Blade, also noted they could not determine whether the survey is scientific. Both experts said that lingering question would preclude them from using the survey's findings in their work.

"I would not approve it for publication, " Stahura said. "I think with the 'becauses,' you're really pushing people toward particular responses in this instance."

Luna disagreed. He said there was "never any intent to influence survey respondents. "

"We wanted to gain an understanding as best we could of where people were on the issue," he said. "A number of voices were claiming to speak for the LGBT population, but no one in fact had done the research to know."

Joshua Lynsen can be reached at

A Little Girl's Christmas

As much as I love the Christmas season, I have to admit that sometimes I do get a little down during the run up to that magic December 25 day.

Part of it is because I miss my family back home. I get homesick during the holidays, and it seems as though the 1000 miles between Houston and here are measured in light-years instead of interstate highway markers.

But that's not the only reason I feel down. One of the regrets I have in terms of transition pops up during this period. Just as I will never get to experience my high school prom as a female, I'll never know what it's like to experience a little girl's Christmas for myself.

Because I have two sisters, I did get a sample of what I missed out on as part of the Santa's Helpers Corps. I ended up losing sleep assembling their Barbie Dream Houses, their bicycles, hunting through multiple toy stores for African-American Cabbage Patch dolls or Barbies, and driving Mom to various Houston area malls in search of additional gender specific gifts and clothes for them.

And feeling envious and jealous at the same time,

I got my fair share of Christmas goodies back in the day, so I'm not complaining about that. It's just when I look back on it I wasn't feeling being a 'boy' at the time. I was simply playing one for public consumption.

On one of the nights it was my turn in the rotation to do KPFT-FM's 'After Hours' with Jimmy and Sarah, she mentioned on-air what her sweetie had done for her one Christmas.

After a major knockdown drag out argument with her father, she was depressed for a few days. C-Day arrives and Sarah is urged to get out of bed by her partner. She grumpily complies, and after turning the corner into the living room is blown away by the surprise that was unleashed on her.

The tree was decorated with ballerina and Barbie ornaments, pink ribbons and other feminine trimmings. She opens one of her gifts and its a Barbie doll. All her gifts had a feminine theme to them and after she hugged her partner she started crying. Needless to say Sarah forgot about whatever drama she'd had with her father a few days earlier.

For the most part I muddle through my day to day life as a Phenomenal Transwoman okay despite the occasional slings, arrows and shade. But every now and then I long for and am envious of my genetic sistahs who got to experience things in their childhoods or young adult periods that I unfortunately never will.

Christmas is a not-so-subtle reminder of that as well.

Christmas Songs With Soul

One aspect of Christmas I enjoy is getting to hear all of my favorite Christmas songs with soul.

Whether it's Nat 'King' Cole's classic version of The Christmas Song, Eartha Kitt's diva Christmas anthem Santa Baby (one I rewrote in 2006), Merry Christmas Baby by Charles Brown, This Christmas by Donny Hathaway, a pint sized Michael Jackson singing about mommy kissing Santa Claus or Kurtis Blow's Christmas Rappin', it's four and a half weeks of auditory pleasure and repeated trips down the memory lane of Christmases past.

Those classics have been joined by albums from newer artists such as Destiny's Child, Christmas albums by my favorite gospel singers such as Yolanda Adams, or new renditions of the classic Christmas songs by old and new school artists.

To me it just isn't Christmas unless I'm hearing these songs in heavy rotation on my fave R&B-classic soul station, be it Majic 102 or KYOK (before it got bought by Disney, boo hiss) in Houston or Magic 101 here in Da Ville.

It's a reassuring sign that no matter how old I get, how much the world changes for better or worse, or how the words 'some assembly required add a new layer of terror and stress to my holiday, I can flip on the radio or stereo and hear Christmas songs that not only reflect my culture, but take me back to those carefree days when my only worries were would the toys I wanted be under the tree when me and my brother got up at 4 AM to open Christmas presents.

Now I'm up until 4 AM wrapping presents instead of opening them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Schoolin' Rev. Coleman

Guest commentary by Jaison Gardiner
This was printed in the Louisville Courier journal November 27, 2007

Rev. Louis Coleman of the Justice Resource Center was quoted in the November 16 issue of the Courier-Journal that 'he worries that expanding our school district's harassment and employment policies to protect against sexual orientation discrimination will open the door for gay and lesbian employees to push their beliefs onto students.

"I just don't think policies should be put in place to protect habits or behaviors."

That's news to me since he was a Fairness supporter back in the day.

Fellow Frank Simon-flunkie Rev. Charles Elliott said that the fight for equal rights for LGBT people is nothing like the struggles of black folks during the civil rights movement. "We were fighting a race problem back then, not a habit or behavioral problem… Being (gay) is a choice. We didn't have a choice to be black, we were born that way,” he insists.

Being LGBT isn't a 'choice' as he disrespectfully put it either.

Mike Slaton, organizer for the Fairness Campaign of Louisville, said no one is suggesting that anti-gay bias is the same as racism. "Hate hurts no matter who it is directed at. We all deserve fairness regardless of our race, sex, creed, sexual orinetation or gender identity. No one chooses to be the object of discrimination."

While Mr. Slaton’s attempts at mitigating the gay rights movement are admirable, he is only half right.

Anti-gay bias is indeed the same as racism, sexism and the other isms. The fact is that all oppressions are linked and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

In our society, the heterosexual, middle-class, white Christian male is the benchmark against wich all others are measured. Generally speaking, the less one of us measures up to this standard, the lower we find ourselves on the totem pole of social justice and public opinion.

As long as some people believe its okay and have the misguided idea that their religion makes it's okay to discriminate against people, then it will be necessary for political leaders to pass civil rights protections for the low people on the societal totem pole.

Changing this negative paradigm demands that we all work in coalition with others (yes, even gay folks) in the social justice movement without leaving anyone behind.

LGBT people have no more of a choice in deciding our identity than black folks, heterosexuals or women. The only 'choice' we make is either to hide who we are or to live openly as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Religion and political affiliation are choices that are currently protected by JCPS nondiscrimination policies, so why are Coleman and crew getting upset about the proposed addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to those policies?

I’d like to point out to Rev. Coleman and those who think like him the story of Bayard Rustin, an influential black civil rights activist who did much of his work behind the scenes. Rustin was the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington in which Dr. King delivered his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech.

Bayard Rustin injected Gandhi’s non violent protest techniques to the Black civil rights movement and helped sculpt Dr. King into the iconic Nobel prize winning national symbol of peace and nonviolence that he would became.

Only one problem. Bayard Rustin was gay.

Some of Rustin’s contemporaries in Dr. King's inner circle decided that Rustin’s audacity to be true to himself as an openly gay man overrode his blackness and diligent work for the movement and was a liability. Then-Senator Strom Thurmond and the FBI attempted to raise public awareness of Rustin’s sexuality and even circulated false stories that Rustin and King were romantically involved -- all inan effort to undermine the civil rights movement.

Those scare tactics worked in 1963. NAACP Chair Roy Wilkins wouldn’t allow Rustin to receive any public credit for his major role in planning the March.

It’s time that black LGBT people stand up and refuse to be the Rustin to Frank Simon’s Thurmond and Louis Coleman’s Wilkins. It’s time that black LGBT people
refuse to be silenced, bullied, overlooked disrespected or disregarded simply because we have the audacity to live in our own truth.

Black LGBT people need to recognize our individual and collective power as a community. Gay and straight folks alike need to recognize that black LGBT people have always played and will continue to play important and indispensable roles in the struggle for the rights of all people, whether it be the labor movement, women's liberation and, even for the rights of blacks and Latinos in America.

It’s time that religious conservatives stop skewing the Bible to justify their hatred, fear and loathing of LGBT people.

And time’s up for all the cowards who sit idly by and don’t speak up against injustice and bigotry in our country. After all, as Edmund Burke eloquently said, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

A year before Bayard Rustin died in 1987 he said, "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."

Actually, I think it’s both communities that are human rights barometers, and there are more similarities in their struggles than either would care to admit.

An Ugly Win

And I do mean ugly.

There were 50 speakers on both sides of the issue, a cantankerous overflow crowd of 400 people and hostile comments from both sides, but in the end a little after midnight the sexual orientation addition to JCPS policy passed on a 4-3 vote.

While I'm not happy we got cut out of it, I still got my shots in for gender identity coverage and some snide shots at the Reichers as well.

This was a long day for me. I went to the Fairness office to participate in a 3 PM EST press conference, then headed over to the Van Hoose Education Center to prepare to do battle with the Forces of Intolerance and their faith-based hatred.

Hater Tots were on the menu for the anti side, washed down with 55 gallon drums of Hateraid. Rev. Jerry Stephenson slithered out of his cave along with several other Black ministers on the anti side. Of course I got my chance to speak 40 people into it and laid the verbal smackdown on the anti side and their selective use of scripture. I also pointed to the irony that the kids were more enlightened on the issue than the adults were.

The anti sides speeches were the usual gaybaiting Reicher talking points that I won't waste valuable bandwith repeating. Every time I heard on the anti speakers, I closed my eyes and imagined that I probably would have heard these people say the same thing about Black people 40 years ago.

Strike that. Many of this crew were the 'necks from deepest darkest Okolona and the South End of Louisville. Many of them forgot their pointy hooded choir robes.

This was more entertaining than some of the reality shows on TV, but sadder still because the raw hatred and ignorance of many peeps was on display tonight.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Showdown At The Van Hoose Education Center

I haven't been posting much over the last few days because I've been doing research getting ready for the big school board meeting tonight at 7 PM EST.

Tonight the Jefferson County school board votes on whether to expand the employment protection policy to cover sexual orientation. There are 5 votes according to the Louisville Courier-Journal to pass that part of it. Larry Hujo, Joe Hardesty, Linda Duncan, Debbie Wesslund and Steve Imhoff (my rep) told the C-J they will support the proposal. Carol Haddad said she is undecided and Ann Elmore, who is the lone African-American member of the board and is part of the committee that recommended the policy change, did not want to comment.

"I believe it is my obligation as an elected school board member to provide a safe workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination," Hujo said. "Harassment and discrimination in any form is intolerable in today's society."

Superintendant Berman told the C-J's Antoinette Konz that he thinks the district is behind the times on this issue.

"This is not new, and it is something that has been a long time coming."

The problem is the gender identity part. We want it to cover gender identity so that transgender employees are covered as well. Dr. Berman and a few board members are wavering on that part.

We've pointed out that out local Fairness ordinance covers gender identity, the language has been tested and upheld in the US Sixth Circuit Court, the most conservatiove of the US federal circuit courts, so I fail to understand why they don't used that language to cover 'errbody'.

The Forces of Intolerance will definitely have more people there tonight than the nine people they had at the hearing back on November 13th. One of the people that's on the anti side is a disappointment, the Rev. Louis Coleman.

He has been on the front lines for decades here in Louisville for social justice issues, but he joined the wrong side for this one.

Rev. Louis Coleman of the Justice Resource Center wrote in the November 16 issue of the Courier-Journal that 'he worries that expanding our school district's harassment and employment policies to protect against sexual orientation discrimination will open the door for gay and lesbian employees to push their beliefs onto students.

"I just don't think policies should be put in place to protect habits or behaviors."

Excuse me? You helped PASS the Fairness Ordinace back in 1999.

Despite the nattering nabobs of nekulturny negatism, here's hoping that the JCPS board does the right thing and votes to covers all of us.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Becoming A Man

from The Huffington Post blog
by Nick Mwaluko
Posted November 20, 2007 | 04:07 PM (EST)

All I wanted from this country was to live as a man.

I grew up in a rural Tanzanian village with no electricity. We couldn't go to school unless we fetched water from the river, milked cows, let them graze for the day. Our chores reminded us that we were disciplined but poor so school was a privilege. School took place in the late afternoon, children of all ages sat under a tree into the early evening learning lessons that had little if any relevance to our daily lives. My father could not afford the mandatory uniform so every year I went to school for three weeks in the semester until the teacher dismissed me.

I didn't care; well, I did but I didn't let it show. I hated poverty; I hated its limitations. Stupid me because all around were golden fields of wild savannah, the sun set against the plains.

In those days, I knew I wanted to live as a man so I walked with my shoulders hunched so my chest was hidden deep into my back. My father scolded me, thinking I was ashamed because we were so poor. He told me to take pride in what little we had so that future blessings would shower our lives in the next life, if not this one.

I was never ashamed of him, ever. I loved him deeply. He was all I cared about but there was no room to say such things to your father. Respect meant little or no eye contact; speak only when spoken to; measure your words carefully with pointed, brief answers. One side-glance from my father ensured all pretense was lost: I straightened my back, held my head high, chest forward, hoping some day he might respect me, too, maybe even love me as a man in much the same way I loved him for being one.

Then the voice of God came to me, reassuring me that I'm already a man. But by nine my chest betrayed me and, more importantly, betrayed (my) God. By 13, my whole body was in revolution. Blood came between my legs once a month; little hills spurted into huge mountains on my chest. I couldn't afford a razor so I shaved my chin with dry leaves. Still, very little hair grew and the hair that did was faint, wispy compared to the mane on my father's handsome face. My sisters -- over six feet tall and less than one hundred pounds -- were all arms and long legs with little or no hips. I looked more like my brother: short, stubby, limbs stunted by family standards with no sign of future growth besides a slight bump from a permanent potbelly. Worse: boys walked barefoot until twenty-five to make sure their sisters wore sandals, "Jesus slippers" we called them in my language because they opened at the mouth. The slippers were an aphrodisiac to showcase the streamlined beauty of a woman's feet; they made me wear them.

Enough was enough. Rather than go to the edge of the village to consult with the witchdoctor -- a spiritual mediator between this world and the next -- I broke with tradition, going directly to my mother's grave for answers. I figured my body was going crazy because she was jealous that I looked nothing like her. My large chest, high-pitched voice, smooth delicate skin was her violent attempt to embarrass me into womanhood. So I waited. Nothing: stillness at her grave. So I asked my other ancestors. What did they do? Send a torrential downpour of such magnitude that I thought about wearing a dress for months.

I was scared but made plans to leave for the United States because I knew I could live as a man when there. I knew the money I made would help my family get electricity, running water at home, regular school fees for the kids, no more worries about the basics: food, clothes, shelter. Yes, I could play the man who provides for a family in need in much the same way African men abroad bankroll their families on the continent with comforts they could not afford otherwise. In America, I could have control, independence to manipulate money how I wanted.
Maybe marry American, buy a house, a dog, build a kidney-shaped swimming pool in my big backyard.

So when I arrived in the States my first thought was to get a job, which I did but left, right and center people referred to me as "miss," "she," "her," and "lesbian." I was baffled: were these people blind? My manly spirit, my quiet resolve, the firm will that dignified my actions were undeniably male. All they saw were the curves on my hips and chest that butchered the man in me.

I needed money but I also wanted to be seen as a man by society. With the little money I saved, I did the unthinkable, broke all ties with my family for hormone therapy for years. I sent small trickles of money here and there when I could, but I made sure I always had enough for my shot, a needle of testosterone taken bi-weekly, the cost amounting to school fees for two children in my village. Every month I robbed my village; every month I became the man I am today.

Am I selfish? Or should I live life miserable in the wrong body to support a family that will never support me? Make no mistake, no monthly contribution is large enough for them to accept me should I decide to return to Tanzania today in my new body. So I stay stuck to the same concerns I had as a child: where can I find my home? Not in white America where little old ladies hold their handbags the moment I come close. By home, I mean a place where memory is butchered by the present and future so the past sticks to my shadows, stays dead. And now I know something of death and resurrection, now that my old body died to give birth to a new one. With that experience comes an intense yearning for a resting place, a home where my new body can settle in peace, a village full of people from my tribe who are the same but

On November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I embrace my transgender brothers and sisters in an adopted family in an adopted land and I acknowledge what it means to be part of a diverse social fabric. I do so because their struggle for acceptance touches me like a love-song, one that provokes sincere discomfort and deep joy. I listen for their music: silence. Then one note, neither male nor female but golden, separates itself from the sonic pack to rise higher and higher. Now look -- heaven.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Remembering our Dead

TransGriot Note: Ethan's aunt, Debra Forte is on the Remembering our Dead list.

by Ethan St Pierre
from the Bilerico Project
November 21, 2007

There are many things in my activist life that I am passionate about and I often wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to the people in our community and the way we are often treated by society at large and our own Government. During the impassioned speech delivered by Barney Frank on the House floor during the ENDA debate, Frank was right about one thing: it is personal. I must admit that while being removed from ENDA was like a punch in the stomach, nothing can compare to the impact the Remembering Our Dead web project and the Transgender Day of Remembrance has had on me.

Prior to 2002, I had visited the Remembering Our Dead website while searching for specific information but it wasn't until 2002 that former NTAC Chair, Vanessa Edwards Foster recruited me to work on a project with her, which entailed going through the whole website and reading the details of each and every horrible murder. The impact brought me to my knees and yet it didn't end there. Each year I add more than a dozen names to the statistics, all lost to unspeakable acts of violence, all of whom had families, friends and lovers.

My aunt, Debra Forte was a transsexual woman who was murdered in my home town of Haverhill, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1995. Since her murder there have been 155 others in this Country alone. That's 155 families who suffer the grief of knowing their loved one was taken from them for no other good reason than the fact that they were, or perceived to be transgender.

Every year when I attend a transgender day of Remembrance and I am surrounded by my community, surrounded by the people I love, I truly feel the power of their support and the commitment to not tolerate violence committed against us as a consequence for being who we are. Please attend a Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Remember those we have lost and comfort those who are still alive.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Battlestar Galactica-Razor

I can't wait for this two hour movie to be televised at 9 PM EST on Saturday night and I'm definitely getting the DVD when it comes out December 4.

I was checking out the prequel flashbacks on the SciFi Battlestar Galactica website that featured a rookie William Adama during the First Cylon War. The best part was it had a battle scene with old school Cylons and old school Cylon Raiders in them.

BSG-Razor will not only will be the backdrop for many of Season Four's events, which unfortunately will be the last season for Battlestar Galactica unless some peeps change their minds, it also fills in some backstory from previous BSG seasons as well.

BSG-Razor takes us back to the day of the Cylon surprise nuclear attack on the Colonies, but tells the survival story from the viewpoint of the Pegasus and Admiral Helena Cain. The Pegasus was undergoing a refit and upgrade and was docked at the Scorpian Shipyards. The ship survived the Cylon nuke attack on the yards because its computers with Baltar's CNG program (that Number Six wrote a backdoor into that crippled Colonial defenses) were offline and Admiral Cain ordered a blind jump from the Scorpian Shipyards.

It will introduce us to a few new characters, bring back not only Admiral Helena Cain but Colonel Jack Fisk as well. It will give us some background on why Admiral Cain hates the Cylons with a passion. She especially hates Gina, the Cylon that infiltrated the Pegasus for an interesting reason. Speaking of passion, the rumors are flying that Admiral Cain will be coming out of the closet during this movie.

So I'm looking forward to checking this one out. I'll have plenty of popcorn on hand and leftover turkey sandwiches to munch on while I check out this movie on the SciFi channel.

Can't wait for Season Four of Battlestar Galactica to start, too. I want to find out what time period Earth is in when the Galactica arrives and if the Cylons are hot on their tails when they do.

Why Transgender Issues Matter to Members of Faith Communities

From the Wimminwise blog
by Ha Qohelet

About 15 people, not counting panelists and others, gathered in the Women’s Center Tuesday to talk with 3 panelists from the local area about the relevance of transgender issues to people in general and to members of faith communities in particular. The Women’s Center is deeply grateful to Beth Harrison-Prado and colleagues who took time from their schedules to make the panel discussion a reality.

One point that came through particularly clearly in the discussion was that transgender people are not the only people who chafe under a rigid binary gender regime, in which there are two and only two genders, masculine and feminine, which are supposed to be determined by a clear and unambiguous physical or anatomical profile, and which in turn are supposed to determine lots of other things in turn - behaviors, attitudes, interests, sexual attractions, skills and aptitudes, . . .

Transgender people demonstrate the inadequacy of that gender regime pretty dramatically, but many many other people and phenomena demonstrate it in smaller ways. Little girls who want to be boys because “boys get to play sports.” Well-wishers who want to know immediately whether the child on the way is a girl or a boy “because we want to know what to buy” - since there are girl gifts and boy gifts, and it would be wrong to give a girl gift to a boy and vice versa. Little boys who want to wear pretty, colorful clothes, which for some inexplicable reason always turn out to be girls’ clothes. Women who are in various ways unfeminine, men who are in various ways unmasculine. . . .

The witness of trans-folk shines a bright light on all the variance masked by the culturally approved gender standard. Which difference is permitted, which prohibited varies from place to place and time to time, but the differences that challenge the simplicity and ruliness of gendered humanity surface over and over.

Transgender people don’t create the inadequacy of the rigid gender binary, but transgender people do bring that inadequacy into sharp focus. And the Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us, among other things, that we all live in a world in which some people would rather commit murder than permit the inadequacy of the notion of the clear, natural male-female structure of reality to be seen clearly as such. Trans people die because they call attention, in a particularly vivid way, to something that most people could observe in their own lives: the limited, restricted models of gender that we work with do not describe most people. Instead, they seem to operate to keep people within bounds, to keep things simple (easier to understand; easier to administer; easier to ignore).

Another theme that surfaced in the discussion was honesty. Transgender awareness and openness to transgender information, learning, and acceptance, has to do with building communities in which people can live safely and at the same time openly and honestly, rather than having to sacrifice safety for honesty, or honesty for safety. The reality of domination - who makes what rules, for what reasons, about what is allowed and not, what will be acceptable and what not, to what end - lies not-always-so-clearly behind and below the question of who may live their particular path in life out loud, and who must remain silent, or else risk much, perhaps even life itself.

Faith communities have, at times, participated in setting some stringent and rejecting rules around gender. Faith communities have also, at times, participated in breaking down rigid barriers and transforming the world so that more lives can be embraced and lived humanly and fully, in relationship with others. Faith communities always have to make a choice.

So we learned again that there is a deep connection between the values people affirm at the heart of their faith, and the practice of accepting transgender people, learning about the particular struggles and choices faced by transgender people, and having the conversations necessary to meet one another as human beings with reciprocal demands, responsibilities, gifts, and qualities.

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving TransGriot readers! Hope your turkey turned out like this one.

May you have a happy, healthy, stress free, blessed and peaceful day. If you can't be with your blood family, then go get your grub on with the family you've created. ;)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chanelle Pickett

In November 1995, Chanelle Pickett, an African-American transsexual woman, was strangled to death at age 23. At her service, Chanelle's twin sister, Gabrielle, also a transsexual woman, remembered her as a vibrant person, "full of life... high-spirited... with many goals."

Chanelle Pickett's murder illustrates why we fought so hard to stay in ENDA. When we say having gender identity language as part of ENDA is a life or death situation, we ain't kidding. Chanelle's murder graphically illustrates the connections between violence and pervasive employment discrimination.

This tragic story begins in 1994, the year prior to Chanelle's murder. The sisters and New York natives were both working steadily at NYNEX in Brookline, MA, (now Verizon's Northeast Bureau) until they were outed in November 2004 as transsexuals. The outing made both of them targets for harassment.

Chanelle sought help from a supervisor for relief but was ignored. She transferred to a different department, but the harassment continued openly and unabated until she and Gabrielle were terminated six weeks later in February 2005 because she got fed up and started standing up to co-workers who subjected her and her sister to gender harassment.

Stunned, unable to find work, feeling hopeless and desperate, having exhausted their options for legitimate employment elsewhere, and free falling toward a desperate poverty, Chanelle finally turned to the risky and dangerous last resort for young and beautiful transwomen trying to survive: Prostitution.

All because she and her twin sister were harassed out of a good job.

Then came the fateful meeting at Playland with William Palmer, a 34 year old computer programmer. Prior to that November 20 night, according to Newsweekly, Chanelle told Natoyear Sherarrion, her friend of eight years, that she had been having nightmares that someone was going to hurt her. They were similar to the fears that another transmurder victim, Amanda Milan would express five years later.

Playland, which opened in 1937 was one of Boston's original gay bars. Until it closed in 1998 it was located in the Combat Zone on Essex Street and had evolved to include a multicultural crowd. While William Palmer tried to deny that he knew Chanelle was transsexual, or that he enjoys the company of transsexuals, he's as familiar to the Boston transgender community that frequented the bar as Norm from Cheers was. He not only knew what and who a transsexual was, he frequently dated them.

Chanelle and Palmer had been seeing each other for some time and they had met at Playland on a number of occasions. Friends say that she really liked Palmer and wanted to have a more serious relationship with him. Palmer had written a letter to Chanelle not only expressing his affection for her, but had promised to help her get back on her feet and to take care of her.

On this particular night Chanelle, Gabrielle and Palmer went to the twins Chelsea area apartment first after leaving Playland and spent 90 minutes trying to convince them to have a three way with him. For some reason Chanelle agreed to go with Palmer to his home in Watertown, MA where he strangled her to death in the early morning hours on November 20. Palmer slept for six hours with Chanelle's dead body lying beside his bed before he turned himself in to a lawyer who informed the police.

According to the coroner, Chanelle's body was found with "bruised face and lips," and her "brain was badly swollen, the neck muscles were bruised, and there was hemorrhaging in the eyes."

With this overwhelming evidence, the letters to Chanelle and being seen in the company of her and other transwomen prior to the murder, Palmer's defense attorney came up with a then new variation of the 'homosexual panic' defense. He claimed that he'd never met Pickett until the night of the murder and because she didn't reveal her transgender status to him, he was overcome with such an uncontrollable rage that he killed her.

In other words, what he was arguing was that his attraction to Chanelle, and Chanelle's very existence as another human being on this planet, upset his white-collar sensibilities to the point where her death was both justifiable and necessary.

Psychologists, the denizens of the Playland, who corroborated the fact that Palmer was their version of Norm from 'Cheers' and the evidence debunked that, but the defense is designed to stir up whatever anti-GLBT feelings are in the juror's minds. In addition to that race reared its ugly head in this trial.

Palmer was portrayed in the Boston media as an average white-collar guy who was an upstanding member of his community. On the other hand, they saddled Chanelle with all the negativity directed at African-American transwomen. They never once pointed out her side of the story or thought of her as a human being who was a valued member of society.

One Boston Herald front-page story at the time described Palmer as a polite, clean-cut preppy. The article went on to describe the murder sympathetically as the only natural reaction any self-respecting, red-blooded, heterosexual man would have.

Despite the strong physical evidence against Palmer, unbelievably the 'trans panic defense worked and he was found not guilty of murder in April 1997. Palmer was convicted only of assault and battery. He received 2 years of jail time, a longer sentence than the prosecutor had requested, with Judge Robert A. Barton acknowledging the particularly "vicious" nature of the killing.

On the heels of the May 15 Deborah Forte strangulation killing and what happened to Tyra Hunter only three months later in August 1995, the verdict outraged the Boston and national transgender communities. Prior to the sentencing a month later, about 45 demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse and handed out leaflets that read "Jury Upholds Death Penalty for Transexualism" and carrying signs with pictures of Chanelle and saying "Justice: A Rich White Man's Game" and "End Violence Against Transgenders". The judge requested a copy of the flyer by courier, and was accommodated by the activists on the scene.

The judge sentenced Palmer in May 1997 to 2 years incarceration (2 1/2 years with 6 months suspended) and 5 years probation. In delivering the sentence, Judge Barton commented bitterly to the defendant "Mr. Palmer should kiss the ground the defense counsel walks on." Judge Barton also cited the gruesome pictures of the victim which, by his own ruling, the jury did not see, leading some observers to speculate that the judge had made an error in not allowing the jury to see the photographs.

Gabrielle Pickett gave moving testimony to the judge, saying "it's hell being transsexual", and "Chanelle wasn't just a sister, she was my best friend. We grew up together, took hormones together, transitioned together..."

While William Palmer successfully avoided contact with the press, outside the Middlesex County Courthouse, Gabrielle declared to reporters, "This isn't the end of it. I will continue to work to end violence against transgender people." She later told reporters outside the courtroom "There was some satisfaction in the sentence, but it doesn't make up for the fact that the verdict was only assault and battery."

Then GenderTalk radio host and activist Nancy Nangeroni told the reporters gathered outside the courtroom, "The judge, by this sentence, has made an unmistakable statement about the injustice of the verdict."

It's a theme that we have seen far too many times in this community. The discrimination that transgender people face leading to loss of employment that exponentially amplifies their vulnerability to violent crime.

Chanelle's sudden fall from life with a steady job and a bright future into poverty, desperation, and violent victimhood is a shocking story that is faced by far too many transpeople, and especially too many transwomen of color. The ever growing Remembering our Dead list and the TDOR's have depressingly pointed out this fact over the years.

Sherarrion sums it up in her comments to a Newsweekly reporter when she said, "She was a good, sweet, loving person. She didn't get her chance to shine. God didn't take my Chanelle, he [Palmer] did...and he won't get the punishment he deserves."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TDOR..My Thoughts

Today's TDOR is 48 hours away from Thanksgiving Day. Short of having good friends, some family members in my life, a good job, a roof over my head, food to eat and relatively good health I don't feel like there's much to be thankful for.

We've been 'gayjacked' out of an ENDA bill that our community desperately needs and told because we fought tooth and nail to stay in it, we're going to get frozen out of federal civil rights legislation until 2013. We also paid $20K of hard earned T-bills for the privilege of getting screwed by HRC, and we already have some elements of the transgender community with short memories trying to say that we need to work with an organization that repeatedly screws us. Here in Louisville the JCPS is prepared to go forward with protections for GLB workers, but not transgender ones as the Forces of Intolerance gear up their faith based hatred and lies to stop it.

The weather here in Da Ville is warm and sunny, but it doesn't match my mood at all on this day. I know I shouldn't be letting this depress me, but it does because I care. I look at the pictures of Riley, Jazz, Rochelle, Kim and all those other transkids now in elementary, middle or high school and wonder if they will still be facing the same bull we are dealing with ten, twenty-five or fifty years into this century.

On this TDOR we're adding another dozen names to the ever growing list of people killed by anti-transgender violence. I think about the night I almost joined that list back in 1996.

I think about all the drama that has transpired over the last two months and how it's going to indirectly fuel the negative perceptions that will lead to more deaths of transgender people for the remainder of the year and into 2008 as well.

I think about the ignorance being spouted about transgender people from folks in my own community. People who should know better than anyone what it's like to be reviled for who you are and have compassion for this situation. It also saddens me to know that 70% of the people on this list are people of color as well.

But as Dr. King so eloquently stated, while we must accept finite disappointment, we must never give up infinite hope.

Those are the words that I hold on to along with my unshakeable faith that this situation will turn around in my lifetime. I believe that the day will comme in which we transgender people are seen as God's children and valued human beings, not the punchline to a joke or targets of irrational violence and faith-based hatred.

I pray that we will be able to unleash our spirituality, creativity, work ethics, pride in who we are and competitive drive to make better lives not only for ourselves, but uplift this society as well.

I also want to see the day that killing a transgender person is not seen as socially acceptable behavior and the person who does so gets the same level of punishment as someone who kills a non-transgender person.

I also hold out hope that one day the TDOR ceremonies won't be needed. But alas, I fully expect that we'll be doing this again at the LPTS and other locales around the world next year.

And Now, A Word From An Ally

TransGriot Note: I mentioned on a previous post that the LPTS Women's Center is the host of our TDOR ceremonies in Louisville and we have a five year relationship with them. This is what they had to say about why they sponsor the TDOR from their Wimminwise blog.

Ten Reasons the Women’s Center Observes the Transgender Day of Remembrance
by Ha Qohelet

One friend of mine in particular has been challenging me to say why the Women’s Center spends any of its clearly finite time and energy on organizing an observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. That question no doubt deserves some extended reflection and comment. Here, however, are some preliminary thoughts:

Because this year some people died too soon, because someone hated them to death because of their gender, or how they lived it.

Because transgender people are real people, created in the image of God, and because every person’s life is unique and precious to God, and because anti-transgender murder denies both those things.

Because the killers of transgender people often go to great lengths to obliterate the memory of these people, so preserving that memory is an act of solidarity and resistance.

Because we affirm that no one’s life is disposable or not worth mourning and honoring.

Because whether or not we are transgender ourselves, transgender people are our neighbors, relatives, friends, colleagues, students, teachers, parishioners, pastors - that is, valued and valuable members of our world.

Because the “gender” in transgender concerns everyone; gender issues are women’s issues.

Because we are working for a world in which no one becomes the victim of deadly violence for refusing to conform to someone’s expectation of what is proper for a man or a woman.

Because difference is not defect; because the idea that there is a right and a wrong way to have or live gender, and that the current norm is that right way, is a mistake.

Because it is not yet totally obvious enough to everyone why the Women’s Center supports the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Because we are working for a time when the reasons the Women’s Center would support the Transgender Day of Remembrance are obvious, but the observance itself is no longer necessary - because people no longer die from anti-transgender violence.

There's Something About "Deception"

November 19, 2007
by Julia Serano

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 20th will be the 9th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes those who are killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Trans people are often targeted for violence because their gender presentation, appearance and/or anatomy falls outside the norms of what is considered acceptable for a woman or man. A large percentage of trans people who are killed are prostitutes, and their murders often go unreported or underreported due to the public presumption that those engaged in sex work are not deserving of attention or somehow had it coming to them.

Some trans people are killed as the result of being denied medical services specifically because of their trans status, for example, Tyra Hunter, a transsexual woman who died in 1995 after being in a car accident. EMTs who arrived on the scene stopped providing her with medical care and instead laughed and made slurs at her upon discovering that she had male genitals.

Much of the violence that is directed at trans people is predicated on the myth of deception. For example, straight men who become attracted to trans women sometimes erupt into homophobic/transphobic rage and violence upon discovering that the woman in question was born male.

Perhaps the most well known of such cases is that of Gwen Araujo, who was bludgeoned to death by a four men, two of whom she had been sexually intimate with. Despite the fact that the men plotted her murder a week in advance, defense lawyers insisted that the murder was merely manslaughter because the defendants were victims of Gwen's
"sexual deceit."

In the spirit of "deception," Fox as been airing the British reality series "There's Something About Miriam" all this past weekend (and one of these airings actually falls on Transgender Day of Remembrance).

For those who unfamiliar with the show, it follows a group of bachelors who try to court a young attractive woman. The catch is that in the very last episode, she comes out to them as transsexual. The original 2004 UK broadcast of the show was delayed for several months because the bachelors threatened to sue the show's producers, alleging that they had been victims of defamation, personal injury, and conspiracy to commit "sexual assault" ’·this last charge apparently stems from the fact that several of them had kissed and hugged Miriam. The affair was eventually settled out of court, with each man coming away with a reported $100,000.

Few attempts to blame the victim are more blatant than when trans people are accused of "sexual deceit" or "sexual assault" simply because other people have chosen to express their attraction toward us. In reality, it is they who are guilty of cissexual/cisgender assumption (when one presumes that every person they meet is nontrans by default). Trans people simply exist, we are everywhere, and the rest of the world has to start recognizing and accepting that.

Programs like "There's Something About Miriam" not only reinforce the stereotype that trans people's birth sex is "real" and our identified/lived sex is "fake," but they perpetuate the myth of deception and thus enable violence against us.

Julia Serano is an Oakland, California-based writer, spoken word performer, trans activist, biologist, and author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity.