From high school student to trans icon

Gavin Grimm is in the news again. The Virginia student was recently named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People. Just 15 years old when he transitioned, his case attacted national attention when some parents complained to the school board because he was born a girl but was using the boy’s restroom. I blogged about the outcome of his intial case here. The case went all the way to the country’s highest court before the Supremes sent it back down to the lower courts to reconsider.

Gavin is now only 17 but his name is known throughout the world, in part thanks to Laverne Cox. The transgender actress used her acceptance speech at the Grammy awards to shine a light on Gavin and his case. And now that Time has recognized him as the face of justice for the transgender comunity, he stands as a reminder to us all. Time had this to say about including him on their list:

His case…has implications that extend far beyond bathrooms. It’s about a greater sense of belonging for us all

Way to go, Gavin. You didn’t set out to change the world but your courage and your bravery are paving the way for others to live a more authentic life. That’s a hell of an accomplishment for someone who’s only been able to legally drive for a year.

Make Yourself Visible!

Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility!

This is new to me, but it’s an annual holiday on March 31. Today is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide. 

If the past year of writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s taught me that the trans community faces an unequal balance of visibility and invisibility. They’re invisible in many ways, like when it comes to being forgotten, ignored and dismissed.

But they sure are visible when it comes to discrimination. So many people are so quick to shun those who are trans! (The North Carolina bathroom bill and Gavin Grimm come to mind.) How can this community be so misunderstood?

Learning about the LGBTQ+ community has definitely been a journey for me. I look forward to continuing to try to understand and educate others to live a life of inclusion, acceptance and love.

Meantime, be visible and go shine your light today!

How Young is Too Young to Transition?

The topic of trans children is a hot-button issue. I’ve blogged about it a bit, talking about how schools can prepare for this wave of change that’s coming, and unfortunately how sometimes they’ve handled it badly.

You may have guessed this post is inspired by last week’s Boy Scouts of America decision to allow transgender children who identify as boys to enroll in scouting programs. That’s a BFD, and a huge step forward for an organization that not so long ago was on my crap list.

Personally, I think we all know our hearts at a pretty young age. My own belief is that outside influences often confuse us; perhaps we should put more faith in our own gut instinct. But that may just be me. I have no experience in this realm – I’m a complete outsider who is just speculating.

But others seem to agree with me. I found a good article that shows why it’s okay for kids to start transitioning at a young age. And I’ve been following a new friend’s blog that I strongly encourage you to check out … she details her young daughter’s journey. She’s a warm and affable writer and it’s easy to relate to her, and her daughter’s, experiences.

What do you think … is there an “appropriate age” for children to transition? Do you think they’re any more likely to be “going through a phase” than adults are?

 

Transgender Casting: Nashville Got it Right

Who’s better equipped to play a transgender role in movies and on TV – a cisgender or a transgender? I’m hearing more about this argument lately, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the TV show Nashville has cast the first transgender actress on CMT. Jen Richards will play the role of a transgender physical therapist when the show starts its fifth season.

Good for them!

It makes a lot of sense to me. I’m an actress, and I’m capable of playing different roles. That’s what acting is all about. But when there’s someone who’s closer to the role for some reason – age, ethnicity, physicality, etc. – it’s understandable that they get cast instead of me. (It does’t mean it doesn’t sting, by the way, but I get why the director made the decision. It’s better than not getting cast because my audition sucked, right?!)

So the director of Nashville cast a transgender actress to play a transgender woman. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Contrast that to the backlash Mark Ruffalo recently faced after casting Matt Bomer as a transgender woman in his upcoming film, Anything. GLADD’s director of Programs, Transgender Media, said this about the move:

“The decision to put yet another man in a dress to portray a transgender woman touches a nerve for transgender people. It’s yet another painful reminder that, in the eyes of so many people, transgender women are really just men.”

And that’s the crux of it, I’m afraid. While maaaaaybe there is a bit more acceptance – and that’s a big maybe – there is still a huge lack of understanding. Like, a Grand Canyon-sized hole where understanding should be.

I do think we’re making progress, and taking baby steps toward understanding the trans life. But clearly there’s still room for improvement, both within Hollywood and society as a whole. All you have to do is read any article on HB2, the so-called “Bathroom Bill,” or read some of my earlier blog posts, and you’ll readily find where understanding is missing.

Like any major shift, this takes time. I’m thrilled to hear about Nashville‘s newest cast member and hope it will be the start of a new trend in casting … and understanding. I remain hopeful. And I might even start watching the show, just because of this casting decision.

As we say in theatre, break a leg, Jen!

(Logo source: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47802456)

 

 

 

Today’s Version of the Scarlet Letter

Did you hear the one about the transgender high school boy who was told to wear a green wristband at school so everyone knows he’s trans?

Sadly, it’s not a joke.

16-year-old Ash Whitaker is suing the Kenosha Unified School District for planning to make him and other trans students wear a bright green bracelet, identifying them as transgender students.

The Wisconsin school district had proposed this was a way to alert teachers to stop Ash from entering the boys bathroom, since he was born female. Hello? Did we learn nothing from North Carolina? Or Virginia?

In my time learning about the trans community, one thing has been made pretty clear: trans people don’t want to stand out… they want to blend in! They don’t want the spotlight. They’re not in your face about their identity. They simply want to be who they feel they were born to be, usually as quietly as possible.

Forcing them to wear a green wristband is about as subtle as a Scarlet A.

In Ash’s case, fellow students know he is trans. In fact, he was nominated for prom king – a nomination that school officials blocked until protests forced them to change their mind. Officials still refer to him with female pronouns and use his female name, despite his requests that they do otherwise.

Other trans students may not be as open, and these green wristbands “out” them.

The lawsuit Ash filed states that school officials must treat him, and all trans students, as their preferred identities and stop any discrimination against transgender students.

I have middle-school aged kids and for years have watched their schools make huge proclamations about bullying: how it won’t be tolerated, how everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

How is forcing these students to wear wristbands not a form of bullying? You’re not treating them equally. You’re not respecting them. You’re singling them out, and making them bigger targets for those who are just looking for someone to pick on.

Shame on you, Kenosha Unified School District. I hope Ash wins his lawsuit. And I hope someday, you’ll get a good, old-fashioned lesson in acceptance. You sure need one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Another Word for “Ballsy?”

Guts. Chutzpah. Cahones. There are plenty of words to describe bravery. Who knew I’d be using them in this post to talk about children?

We hear about more people becoming comfortable with leading their authentic life and transitioning after years of feeling like they were born in the wrong body. I cringe to think of how uncomfortable that must have been for them, waking up each day and feeling like they just didn’t “fit.”

Which is why I’m so impressed when I read about young people who are figuring it out, and doing something about it, sooner. Like Jazz Jennings, star of TLC’s reality show, “I am Jazz.” Born a male, she’s a 14-year-old transgender female who’s been living as a girl since kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN! At such a young age, she knew! Her parents have been by her side the entire time, helping her to transition and be as comfortable as she can as a female.

And my sister just sent me a link to this article about Coy Mathis. Coy is now nine years old and featured in Growing Up Coy, a new documentary chronicling the Mathis family’s life. Coy was born a male but figured out pretty quickly she was supposed to have been female. She was six when she asked to use the girl’s restroom at her elementary school in Colorado. Six. I think at that point I was still trying to tie my shoes. (I’m slow sometimes.)

First, I’m in awe of these kids who know themselves so well at such a young age. I’m still figuring out who I am as a full-blown supposed grownup. Did I mention I am slow sometimes? These young people have a much better sense of self than I ever hope to have. And they’re a helluva lot more adorable besides.

I’m equally impressed with their parents for being incredibly supportive of a situation that they may not quite understand. That takes guts in a culture that often ostracizes, fears and shuns anyone who doesn’t fit the expected “norm.” Think about it: parents want to protect their children from hurt, harm and hate. And yet, by embracing their child and helping them to feel comfortable in their own skin, these parents are blamed by an often-judgmental society who not only spurns their child but also accuses them of coddling or confusing their kid. Wow. Talk about a tough spot.

There is plenty of sensitivity about this topic, and I’m beginning to understand why members of the trans community are reluctant, hesitant or even downright terrified to live their authentic lives. Fear of persecution is a pretty strong deterrent. I applaud those who choose to do so, whether they’re 8 years old or 80. Maybe if more young people choose to live their authentic lives, they’ll give others the courage others to follow suit. And if and when they do, I wish for them acceptance at every turn, from self-acceptance to inclusion.

I’m gonna wrap this up with a quote I love by Jessica Lange:

 “Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness. Those are life-altering lessons.”

I can’t wait for us all to learn.

And I can’t believe I used “ballsy” in a headline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient ancestors had it right

You know how they say we can learn from the past? That applies to so many things. War. Economics. Fashion. And yes, even gender.

Maybe, just maybe, previous generations were on to something. Like the Native Americans, who recognized five genders. FIVE!

I find that fascinating. I learned so much in a  great article my sister shared with me. (The whole article is here.) In a nutshell, many many years ago, Native Americans recognized these five genders: male, female, Spirit male, Spirit female, and transgendered. They weren’t just inclusive … the article said people then were REVERED for being different:

In fact, people who had both female and male characteristics were viewed as gifted by nature, and therefore, able to see both sides of everything.

Sadly, that acceptance went by the wayside when European Christians got into the mix and started enforcing their own gender roles onto others. Religious influence brought prejudice with it, and forced openly androgynous people into choosing to live as either male or female.

Know another interesting thing? The Native Americans weren’t alone. Other older cultures were also more open minded than we are today, and seemed to live in harmony that way for eons.

Check out an article in the New York Times about how a Mexican town recognizes three genders, and has for generations. “Muxes” are people are born into male bodies but who identify as neither male nor female. They’re not only not ostracized, they’re also recognized as special. And they have been accepted as part of the everyday culture for years. According to the article:

A mixed-gender way of life was accepted in several pre-Columbian communities across Mexico, according to anthropologists and colonial accounts. It is unclear when the muxe tradition originated in Juchitán, or how it endured.

Unfortunately, like our own recent news, a bathroom controversy is brewing in this small Mexican community. Students at a local university there have recently complained – claiming hygiene issues – and now muxes are left without a bathroom when they’re at school. I am intrigued by the fact that muxes are mixed on whether having a third bathroom is a solution. Some think it’ll ease tensions; others feel it will create a bigger divide.

That’s something I haven’t seen discussed much here in the US. It’s easy to assume that labeling a bathroom as ‘non-gendered’ would fix our recent fights and calm the fears.

But would it? Or would it simply serve to further ostracize a group that already feels like outsiders, often even in their own bodies?

I’m sad to think this small Mexican community, which for generations has accepted its own for who and what they are, now has had even a slight shift in how it views its mixed-gender residents. I can only hope that they’ll consider the past … and rethink the future.

I guess I wish that for all of us.

 

 

Lessons I’m learning from kids I don’t know

My recent blog posts have been lopsided. I’ve been completely focusing on the adult view of transgendered people and now I am reminded that I have neglected to consider things from a child’s view. Consider that changed.

Allow me to introduce you to “T,” a transgender 9-year-old in Los Angeles. Yes, you read that right… nine. Born a male, the third-grader wears dresses and feels “like a girl, not a boy.” T is the first openly transgender student in her school. (And thanks to Kim for making sure I knew about her!)

Surprised? Don’t be. I predict you’ll be hearing many more stories like T’s. Like Sam Moehlig, who was born female but identifies as male. Unlike T, Sam has undergone gender reassignment surgery to further his transgender journey. And there’s 18-year-old Eli Erlick, who was born a boy but began publicly identifying as female at age 8. She said it wasn’t a decision, but a realization.

“You don’t choose gender,” she said. “Why would someone choose? It’s not a choice.”

T, Sam, and Eli have plenty of company. Just a decade ago, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles saw about 40 transgender and “gender nonconforming” youth. Today, the same center sees about 600 transgender patients between the ages of 3 and 25. I can only imagine as people become more comfortable with the concept, that number will rise.

As a parent, I’d like to think that I’d support my child if one of them came to me and said they were trans. I know I’d sure try. It must be challenging as hell to get used to the idea, but making sure my kids are physically and mentally healthy and well-adjusted as possible is my goal: which includes wholly loving them if they’re any one of the LGBTQ alphabet soup.

There are those out there that think these kids’ parents are crazy for supporting their children’s trans journey. Arguments against it range from “they’re too young to know better” to “it’s a phase” to “messing with God’s plans.” But considering the significant suicide statistics among trans people, I applaud these parents for being supportive of their child’s feelings. Parental support promotes better self-esteem and helps act as a buffer against the bullying and discrimination these kids are bound to face from a world that doesn’t understand. Btw, here’s a very cool article with other stories of trans kids and their families’ reactions, if you’d like to read more.

I am pretty confident that T, Sam and Eli – along with their parents – won’t ever read this blog. But if I ever had a chance to talk to them, I’d say this:

Your journey is your own, as are your struggles. No one knows what it’s like to be in your shoes, and no one can define you but you. I applaud you for honoring your authentic self, and am grateful that you have your parents’ love and support to do so. I am sure this journey is not easy and there will be challenges as the world fails to understand who you are. But know that there are some of us out here who are trying, and who want nothing more than for you to live a life in which you feel accepted. You’re showing more courage at a young age than some do in a lifetime. Thank you for teaching us. I’m grateful to learn.

Excuse me, that’s not your stall.

Quote

Fair warning: Expect potty humor in this post. A shit-ton of it.

The bathroom debate has opened up some new ways of thinking. It’s been interesting to watch the discussion develop, with both sides equally convinced they are right on the mark. There are those who say they are concerned for their safety, and those who say everyone should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. (Excuse the dangling participle, please. Better than a dangling dingleberry, right?)

In thinking about this whole issue, let’s put the seat down on the debate for a second and consider exactly how this could work. (Consider it stalling, if you will.) If it’s mandated that people have to use the bathroom of the gender that is on their birth certifcate, how would that that enforced?

My college professor, Joyce Dodd, came up with the answer below on Facebook and agreed to let me share it here. She’s identified a possible solution that not only ensures that people use the correct bathroom, but creates jobs too! (Insert Joyce-approved sarcasm here.)

Assuming there will be no return to outhouses, which were all gender, how about this? Businesses hire sex identity checkers for each of two restrooms. A male checker would be in a little stall outside the men’s room and those entering would be required to show their private parts before entering. After passing the check, a token would be given to the person who would give it back after going to the bathroom. A female checker also would be placed in same type of stall to check female privates to ascertain female parts. Same token protocol. Checkers would have to qualify themselves via a 20-page background probe, including fingerprints and appropriate swabs. A Ph.D in anything or professional practice in a related field would be a minimum requirement. This opportunity would be golden with the ratspatootie economy being what it is. Whether this would be a federal or state program would have to be decided by the federal or state governments.

 Tax payer dollars for genitalia identification. Seems like someone could make a hell of a campaign slogan out of that somehow. Like, “No pee gets by me!” Or “Penis or Venus – put stalls between us!”  Chime in and comment if you’ve got an idea for it. Maybe you’ll see it in the November election!

In all seriousness, I’m really curious about how this would be enforced. Do you have any suggestions – sarcastic or otherwise? How do you propose enforcing the correct gender for each bathroom?