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!

Homeless and poor and trans, oh my

Just read an article about a Virginia Beach woman who helped a trans man who was about to be homeless. He’d moved here from Florida and had no place to stay, so she opened her home and her life to him. It’s a great story and I encourage you to check it out.

More than the story caught my eye. The article included some sobering statistics about being transgender in Virginia.

According to the U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015 …

  • 6% of trans people in Virginia were unemployed
  • 23% of them were living in poverty
  • 26% had been homeless at some point in their lives

Read that again, if you’d care to. I’ll wait.

Nearly a quarter of them couldn’t make enough to live on. 26% had been homeless at some point in their lives. More than one in four. 

And sadly, 15% of those surveyed said they’d avoided staying in any kind of shelter, despite not having any other options. Why? They were afraid they’d be mistreated for being trans. (Note: this survey was done before the current administration took office, during a time that was considerably more hopeful within the LGBTQ+ community.)

I can’t imagine not having a home. (I blogged about the issue of homeless transgender youth before.) I also can’t imagine not staying in a shelter because it didn’t feel safe. Choosing to stay out on the streets because the shelter was potentially dangerous? What kind of hell must that feel like?

I don’t have a grand plan or a glorious solution to solve this. I just know that it’s unacceptable to me that anyone is homeless or living in poverty for any reason, lifestyle included.

I’m hoping that by calling attention to this problem, maybe we can find a solution. There is assistance available. In Virginia, check out the Transgender Assistance Program. I’m sure other localities have similar programs. If you’re interested but don’t know where to turn where you live, let me know – I’ll do some digging for you.

Meantime, hats off to the kind soul in Virginia Beach who helped out the trans person from Florida who needed a safe place to say. She did more than help someone within the trans community; she helped a fellow human being.

Love and light to you, fellow human beings. May we all remember we have the power to change the world.

 

First, do no harm – unless you think it’s okay to discriminate

We hear a lot these days about the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.” There’s one particular section of the legislation that I want to write about here … the section that deals with LGBTQ folks.

Let me say this upfront: I don’t know how this will be affected when the incoming administration nixes the AHA as it is already in the process of doing. With that question momentarily out of the way, here’s what I’ve learned about 1557 and what a win it is for the LGBTQ community.

Section 1557 says all LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in health insurance coverage and health care. That in and of itself is wonderful, in my opinion. (Of course, I think they should be protected from discrimination in any form!) So, by law, doctors must treat someone who’s LGBTQ the same way they’d treat someone who isn’t. While that should be a no-brainer, unfortunately, it’s not. Many in the LGBT world avoid going to do the doctor for fear of discrimination or hostility based on their lifestyles. How sad is that?!

Another cool part of the law? Trans patients must be allowed to be housed in a room according to the gender they identify with, not the gender of their birth.

I’m all for that.

Think about nursing homes.  Until section 1557, someone who’s trans would’ve been forced to share a room based on the gender of their birth certificate. So a woman who transitioned to become a woman 20 years ago had to share a room with a man because her birth certificate said she was born male. Doesn’t matter that she’s identified as female for two decades — she was born with a penis and therefore housed with a man. Period.

Section 1557 changes that. She’s now free to room with another female.

However, it could create an interesting scenario… say you’ve got a trans man sharing the same nursing home room as a CIS man. If the CIS guy has a tough time comprehending the idea of a transgender man, it could be an explosive situation. Talk about forced integration!

But it could also potentially help the CIS patient to better understand how he and his roommate are similar, and better understand their differences. (I am guessing that the trans guy probably already has a decent sense of that.) I know I might sound like Pollyana, always hoping for the best in every situation, but I love the idea that perhaps this ruling could do more than protect LGBTQ rights. Maybe, just maybe, it could help some of teh more close-minded people grasp where someone else is coming from — and that the LGBTQ community poses no threat.

Imagine how much we could learn about each other if we were forced to treat a patient or share a room with someone we didn’t understand.

If you wanna learn more, here’s a fact sheet and an article for your reading pleasure.

I’ll post an update if I learn whether Section 1557 will go the way of the dodo bird when the rest of the ACA is repealed. Fingers crossed it will remain untouched.

Reflections

It’s been a week, folks. I’ve had highs and I’ve had lows. I’ve undergone surgery, celebrated Christmas, struggled just to get a shower, fought nausea (and lost), and mourned the loss of some of my generation’s biggest icons. I’ve thought alot about what I’d like to change for 2017.

And it’s only Wednesday.

I’ve thought about those facing discrimination for just trying to be who they are. Those who just want to use the restroom in peace. Those who want nothing more than to marry the love of their life. Those who want the same things we all want – love, self-worth, and acceptance.

It sounds so simple. And yet, it’s anything but for so, so many people. I’ve read so many stories (on a secret FaceBook page) about how difficult the holidays have been on the LGBT community. How a traditional holiday meal turned into a sermon. How some walked out on family – or didn’t even attend in the first place – because they knew the rhetoric awaiting them around the dinner table.

But I’ve also read about so many people standing up for themselves! Those who couldn’t wait to marry their significant other, and did so in the face of a government that threatens their right to do so within a few short weeks. Those who boldly put loved ones in their place – perhaps causing permanent damage to the relationship but determined to be true to themselves regardless.

Acceptance shouldn’t be seen as a gift. It shouldn’t have to be earned. It shouldn’t be dangled like a carrot that can be snatched away whenever the mood strikes. It should be something we all just take for granted, like the sun coming up in the morning or the changing of the seasons.

So that’s my wish for 2017.  I just wish people could learn to coexist peacefully – accepting each other for who we are, celebrating our differences, and honoring the beautiful soul inside each of us.

I’m going to spend the rest of this year – what’s left of it – thinking about how I can personally help make that happen.

This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than you. But if we all work towards it – a common goal – we can make progress. And that’s a wish worth working for.

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)

 

 

 

Do Women Belong in Prison With Men?

I’ve never been behind bars, but I gotta figure it sucks. And if being in jail weren’t bad enough, this woman is fighting for more than her freedom. The 29-year-old trans woman is battling for her rights to be jailed with other women.

Athena Cadence has been on a hunger strike since June 1 (more than 55 days now), hell-bent on convincing prison officials to house her in the women’s cell block.

Athena was convicted on three counts of  misdemeanor assault. She is one of three trans women currently being held in men’s housing. The three of them are in a pod together in the men’s section, which is in strict violation of a policy announced within the last year.

Last September, the former sheriff of the San Francisco County jail announced that transgender women would be housed with other women rather than alone. It was a step toward integration…but it hasn’t happened yet. Athena is demanding that be implemented by refusing to eat. (She’s been on a self-imposed liquids-only diet since June 1.)

She’s got plenty of public supporters and a hashtag: #LetWomenIntoWomensHousing. She just doesn’t have the support of the prison system despite starving herself. Because, hey, what’s food?

Here’s my point: it’s pretty well known that prison is a less-than pleasant place. One might even call it violent. (Insert sarcasm here.) It’s also well known that people in the trans community face more violence than the average joe. So why is this so hard to figure out?

Women don’t belong in the men’s section of a prison. Period. If Athena was female at birth, she’d be housed with women, no questions asked.

When I started researching this story, I saw that Athena was supposed to have a court date yesterday (July 25). I can’t find any information on what happened in court, but I’ll update this blog when I do. In the meantime, I hope prison officials in San Francisco and elsewhere reconsider how to handle their trans population.

The trans community suffers enough as it is. Treatment like this is simply more unnecessary, and possibly deadly, discrimination.

(photo from SF Examiner)

 

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.

 

 

When “Counting” Means More than Numbers

I recently read an article about why the government cares about the number of Americans who are LGBT. It discussed how having an accurate count of the number of LGBT Americans could expedite changes in military policies, health care, grant funding and more. Important reasons, without question. And it makes perfect sense to me — after all, how can you adequately care for a population without knowing how large that population is?

BUT.

It also misses a crucial point, in my humble little opinion. Knowing how many of our fellow Americans are part of the LGBT community could mean recognizing that they are not some small, separate, segregated group that’s too inconsequential to matter. Dollars to doughnuts, I’d bet that if there were true, accurate and all-encompassing data available, the numbers of the LGBT community in this country are far greater than anyone realizes. Many of these people have chosen to stay silent for many, many reasons. Fear of discrimination. Fear of alienation. Fear of repercussions from family, friends, employers or places of worship. Fear of being attacked. Fear of being harassed about something as basic as using a bathroom.

Which means that too many of them haven’t felt the luxury of being honest about who they are. Luxury being the operative word there.

How sad is it that anyone in this day and age has to hide who they are for ANY reason? We like to think we’ve come so far as a society–and in many ways we have–but not in this one basic, HUMAN way. What if redheads were ashamed to let people know they had red hair and wore wigs to blend in? What if anyone with brown eyes wore sunglasses simply to hide their eye color because they were ostracized otherwise? These aren’t choices – they’re how we’re born. Those in the LGBT community are no different.

In my last post, I carelessly used the phrase “choose to live an alternative lifestyle.” I was mistaken for phrasing it that way, and I’m grateful a friend pointed it out to me. Those who are lesbian, gay or trans don’t CHOOSE to be so, anymore than I chose to be straight. They are who they are, just as I am. The difference is, I don’t have to hide it. Many of them don’t have that luxury … which is why the numbers that good ol’ Uncle Sam is trying to collect are not likely to be accurate any time soon.

I love that the government is trying to get this data, don’t get me wrong. It’s crucial that those who are LGBT be recognized as a legitimate community, with the same rights and benefits as the rest of us. Having those numbers can go a long way toward making that reality. I just venture a guess that the data the government comes up with won’t be truly representative, because so many people still feel they simply can’t speak up.

To those who do identify as any one of the letters in the LGBT world, my greatest wish is that, some day, you’ll feel the luxury of living your authentic life. If not, I understand why… I’m just so sorry you don’t feel you can. Uncle Sam’s numbers or no, I count you as important. You matter.