To continue our remembrance of Leslie Feinberg, who passed away earlier this week, we put together a short list of recommended books—essential reading by some of the most unique and beloved voices from the transgender community, including Les hirself, to help to raise awareness of transgender issues and perspectives.
Those who were fortunate enough to hear Leslie Feinberg speak in person know how powerful and inspiring s/he was. Trans Liberation gathers a collection of Feinberg’s speeches on trans liberation and its essential connection to the liberation of all people. This wonderfully immediate, impassioned, and stirring book is for anyone who cares about civil rights and creating a just and equitable society.
Transgender Warriorsis a fascinating, personal journey through history. Leslie Feinberg uncovers persuasive evidence that there have always been people who crossed the cultural boundaries of gender. This is is an eye-opening jaunt through the history of gender expression and a powerful testament to the rebellious spirit.
I don’t care for the current labels that we have for sexual orientation. I think they are confusing and confining, and I don’t think they truly represent the broad range of sexual and romantic attractions that actually exist in the species.
While labels such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, and even pansexual, omnisexual, and queer can help with self-definition and the formation of communities, they can also result in shame, guilt, or concern when someone’s attractions happen to fall outside of the label that the person has adopted, or when someone is told that his, her, or hir attractions are wrong.
Regardless, it appears that these labels are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and I am willing to go along with both their intended meanings and the meanings that each individual ascribes to them as he, she, or ze defines his/her/hir own sexual identity. However, I simply can’t accept the notion that “ex-gay” is a sexual orientation.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (how original – could they not come up with something on their own without stealing from the marvelous organization PFLAG?) are calling for the reprimand of a Maryland school superintendent, saying that his statements broke the school district’s own nondiscrimination policy regarding sexual orientation.
It seems that PFOX sent flyers home with students telling them that no one is “born gay,” and that gay and lesbian students can change their orientation if they want to. Apparently the superintendent criticized the flyers, and now PFOX is complaining that he violated the district’s nondiscrimination policy because ex-gay is a sexual orientation, too!
Sorry, PFOX, I don’t buy it. If a gay or lesbian person can truly change his or her sexual orientation, then that person is no longer gay – right? That’s what “ex-gay” means – right? So if a person is “ex-gay,” then he or she is “straight” – right?
And if an “ex-gay” person is not straight, then, given the dearth of labels that we currently have available to us, that means that he or she is gay – right? So there is no such thing as “ex-gay” – not really. Is that what you’re saying?
Or maybe what you really mean is that we should expand our labels to account for all possible sexual identities and orientations. If that’s the case, then you would certainly support the labels “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” and “queer” – right?
Or maybe what you mean is that we should just get rid of labels altogether and allow each individual to love whomever he, she, or ze happens to fall in love with – no questions asked, no judgments made, and no labels needed.
If that last one is where you’re going with this, PFOX, then I would support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that I’m a little off base.
But I think you’re grasping at straws with your “ex-gay is a sexual orientation” argument. It’s not – not unless you are willing to move outside of the categories that we have now, and doing that is going to be dangerous for your side.
Be careful what you let out of the box. You might not be able to get it back in.
As International Transgender Day of Remembrance grows near, it appears that this year will, unfortunately, be no different from years before – we will be adding names to the list right up until the actual memorial services take place.
Our society reinforces these heinous acts of violence in many ways – through misogyny, institutionalized racism, and second-class citizenship for trans people, along with a generalized violent ideal that permeates the culture itself. The causes are many, the solutions must be many, and change is slow to arrive. There appears to be nothing on the horizon to indicate that we will not be holding TDORs for many years to come.
But there are steps we can take to reach people, and the sooner in life we reach them, the better. I support education on sexual orientation and gender identity beginning in elementary school and woven naturally into the topics of study, so that LGBT and queer people are seen as equal contributors in every area of life. I support LGBT and queer teachers and administrators being out with no threat of losing their job, and with education and training for straight and non-trans school personnel. And I support LGBT and queer functions and organizations at every school. But I don’t kid myself that this is going to happen anytime soon, or even in my lifetime.
However, I’m buoyed by some of the things that are happening at Red Rocks Community College, where I teach part-time. As with many colleges, Red Rocks has an LGBT student organization that is responsible for putting on various events throughout the year. The college also has out LGBT faculty (including myself), staff, and students.
Last week, I attended a Rainbow Registration event, designed to introduce students to LGBT and LGBT-friendly instructors and allow them to sign up for these particular instructors’ classes if they wanted to, in subjects ranging from psychology to math, and from composition to foreign languages. For many LGBT students, just knowing that their instructor is also a member of that community, or supportive of that community, makes all the difference.
This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event will feature a panel made up solely of the school’s trans instructors and students (or I should say “instructor and students,” since I’m the only trans instructor at the school). The purpose of the panel is to educate students about TDOR and about trans people, and some instructors are offering extra credit for their students who attend.
Red Rocks is not unique in this regard. There are plenty of other college campuses planning memorials and other TDOR educational activities, and there are plenty of other colleges that support LGBT and queer faculty, staff, and students. But there are plenty more who do not. And it is this type of education and visible support that sends open-minded students out into the world – students that might one day be influential in changing laws and policies that affect trans people.
This kind of atmosphere and these kinds of programs are not just the purview of colleges and universities. Trade schools, apprentice programs, online training programs, high schools (when they are allowed to) and, of course, businesses of all kinds can adopt a welcoming attitude and incorporate a variety of educational resources and events into the fabric of their organizational culture. In fact, schools, businesses, and local government entities are usually way ahead of the federal government on these types of issues, and these local venues are generally where the real changes are taking place.
So as we enter this very solemn week, I’m not going to offer platitudes of optimism – not when we have recently seen several horrendous incidents of violence against trans women, and when, statistics tell us, we will probably see at least one more over the next few days.
But I am going to say that there is some hope out there for the future, however minimal it might seem right now. There is the possibility for change, however far away it might appear right now. And hope might seem even more tangible when we hear what is going on in the readers’ schools, organizations, and places of business that might bring about positive change.
Tonight, a new season of Dancing With the Stars begins, featuring Chaz Bono as one of the most-talked-about contestants (sorry, Carson Kressley). Author Matt Kailey couldn't help noticing that amid all the chatter was a current of concern.
The uproar hasn’t stopped since it was announced that Chaz Bono will be one of the cast on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, which premieres tonight.
While there are many people who are supportive of Chaz and his appearance, plenty more crawled out from under their rocks to be shocked, appalled, and offended in the comments section of the DWTS website.
Of course, there are the usual yawners harping about chromosomes and destiny, but in addition, a whole new group has materialized – parents who aren’t going to watch the show because they don’t know how to explain a man dancing with a woman to their children.
The Dancing with the Stars website is littered with these concerned comments – How am I going to explain this to my five-year-old? What will I tell the children? We’re not going to be watching this season, because I don’t want my children to see this!
I understand. It is concerning when children are exposed to heterosexual dancing. At best, a man dancing with a woman seems just a tad bit edgy – and worst-case scenario, it’s just plain immoral. After all, you know what dancing leads to! I believe they covered that a long time ago in the movie Footloose (when today’s concerned parents were kids).
So I want to offer the following tips to those parents who are worried that their children will lose their innocence by watching this season’s DWTS:
Before the show starts, sit down and explain to the kiddies that sometimes boys and girls see each other across a crowded gymnasium at prom, and while the senior high band plays their special rendition of “Back to Black,” they are all simply compelled to get up and dance – with each other! Tell the kids that someday they will understand – the dancing and the words to “Back to Black.”
Pick out an innocent song from your own youth – say, “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper or “Little Red Corvette” by Prince – and start dancing with each other. There’s no better way to break the kids in than to have them witness their own mother and father spinning around the living room together. When you’re finished, explain to them that when grown-ups fall in love, it’s natural for them to want to dance together. Someday, unless they grow up to be perverts, they, too, will be dancing with members of the opposite sex.
Go on YouTube and find old clips from American Bandstand. Show them that heterosexual dancing on television is nothing new. The only difference is that it’s now available in full color on the big screen. If they’re grossed out and scared, assure them that Dick Clark will not be hosting Dancing with the Stars.
Find the video of President and Mrs. Obama dancing together at his inauguration. When they can see that even the president and his wife dance together, in public, and on television, they will come to realize that this is perfectly normal and natural and nothing to be concerned about. It really is a beautiful thing.
Once you have done all these things, turn on Dancing with the Stars. If they start to wiggle or become uncomfortable when the various couples come out and dance, remind them of everything you have shown them.
Hold each other’s hand and sway gently to the music so they can be comforted by the image of the two of you enjoying the show. As each couple takes the stage, say, “See? It’s okay.” Soon your children will realize that there is nothing disgusting, sinful, or immoral about a man and a woman dancing together.
Matt Kailey is the author of Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He is also a nationally recognized speaker, trainer, and writer dealing with transgender issues. He can be reached through his website and blog at www.tranifesto.com.
I'm not sure what people thought would happen when Allums played basketball as a man, but his playing ability has likely not changed. He has already said that he would not start hormones as long as he is on the team, due to concerns that testosterone might disqualify him from play by giving the team an unfair advantage.
Of course, I doubt that they have tested the testosterone levels of the women on the team, and, as we discovered when South African athlete Caster Semenya was dragged through the mud simply for being a superior runner, testosterone levels vary tremendously from woman to woman – as they do from man to man.
The subject of trans athletes is nothing new. Renee Richards broke ground in 1977 when the New York Supreme Court ruled that she had the right to play professional tennis as a woman after transitioning from male to female. But the controversy over who can play what sport remains ongoing.
When I heard about a new makeover reality show where the subjects are unhappy and insecure, the makeover artists are trans women, and the whole premise is that the trans aspect of the makeover team is a big surprise, all I could think was, "Houston, we have multiple problems."
In VH1's new reality show, TRANSform Me, unhappy women send in a videotape explaining why they need a makeover. Those who are chosen are told that the makeover artists will arrive at their home on a certain day and time to transform them. What they don't know is that the three members of the emergency makeover team are all transgender women (I would call them transsexual women myself, but over the last few years, the two terms have become synonymous, so I use the language that the women themselves use).
The show was conceived by Laverne Cox, a trans woman who has been on several television shows and has won a GLAAD award her appearance on I Want to Work for Diddy. The other trans team members are makeup artist Jamie Clayton and model Nina Poon. Needless to say, these three women are gorgeous and incredibly sexy, and they play it to the max.
Even though I have never been opposed to makeovers, unlike many other feminists I know (yes, I consider myself a feminist), the two major problems that I foresaw were: 1. that the "surprise" of the show was that the makeover artists were trans women, setting up the possibility that the makeover subjects would be freaked out or repulsed, much to the delight of non-trans viewers, and 2. that the whole show revolved around the premise that unattractive, unhappy women could be transformed into happy, confident women simply because they suddenly looked "beautiful."
I basically saw an army of offended trans people protesting that the show exploited trans women by making them a possibly unwelcome "surprise," and an army of offended activists, both trans and non-trans, upset that the show objectified all women by making physical beauty the gold standard for happiness. And there may be an offended army out there, but I'm not one of the soldiers. I love this show.
And now for the latest transsexual travesty (there’s at least one a week nowadays, isn’t there?): a transman is pregnant. Female-to-male transsexual (born female, now male) Thomas Beatie is bearded, breastless, and with child, and although he is not the first transman to become pregnant, nor will he be the first to give birth, the situation is causing a major blip on the media’s sensationalism sonar. Beatie has been interviewed on Oprah, told his story to The Advocate, and had his picture passed around like a bottle of Boone’s Farm all over the Internet, with his pregnant abdomen prominent below his reconstructed chest. He’s been called everything from “freak” to “fabulous,” and everyone with an opinion has made it known. Forgive me if I yawn.