Breaking the Gender Barrier

In my ongoing quest to learn about the LGBT community, this was a new one for me. (Duh, Lynn, that’s why it’s called “learning.”)

I read an article in Time magazine about a trangender who was born female, who’d always wanted to a) transition to male and b) still have a baby.

So he did.

Wowza! Talk about breaking a gender barrier, and not gently, mind you, but SHATTERING it.

Let me be perfectly clear here. I LOVE that he transitioned because that felt natural. I LOVE that he still wanted to have a baby. I LOVE that he did, in fact, have said baby. I’m not against this in any way.

I’m just a little … mind blown, I guess.

This could be our new norm. As we work (for some it’s more work than others, I guess) to accept gender fluidity, we come to terms with some of the more basic principles and they become a little easier every day. Someone wants to transition, so they do. We (hopefully) acknowledge it and adjust pronouns accordingly, and welcome (hopefully) them into our lives with their new gender.

That seems pretty simple to me. You see someone who’s trans and you think, “Hmm. I bet they’re trans.” Or better yet, you don’t even notice or think twice about it.

But when you take it a step further – “Oh look, that man looks like he’s due any day” – then the sheer unconventionality of that takes a moment to get used to.

I’m not sure how long it will take before that becomes as unsurprising as say, the mail truck or the long lines at Disney. I suspect it’ll be awhile before it’s commonplace.

But this guy’s taking baby steps (!) toward making it happen and I applaud him. It takes guts. And conviction. And a whole lotta Pampers.

Congratulations, Evan, on your bundle of joy. Wishing you a baby who’s a good sleeper!

 

Covermodel or Scapegoat?

Here‘s a doozy … 

National Geographic magazine put a transgender person on its cover for the first time and the special issue is making waves, as you’d expect in today’s environment. Titled “Gender Revolution,” the January issue examines the shifting landscape.

The topic is (sadly) controversial in and of itself, but the photo has drawn out naysayers in big numbers: it’s a pic of 9-year-old Avery Jackson, who was born male but identifies as female.

Now we have a perfect storm of all the controversial elements:  the topic of transitioning, a trans CHILD of all things, gracing the cover of a credible, world-renowned publication. Nat Geo says they put a trans child on the cover because they hope the gender stories…

“will spark thoughtful conversations about how far we have come on this topic-and how far we have left to go.”

The naysayers are having a field day, as you might imagine. It’s enough to make their poor, close-minded heads explode.

BUT!  Duh-duh-dunnnn…

One response in particular caught my attention. This guy, Walt, who transitioned from male to female for 8 years, and then transitioned back.

Walt calls Avery “a cross-dressing boy.” He says that cross dressing a young boy is a form of emotional and pyschological abuse that should be stopped, not celebrated. And he says that putting Avery on the cover will…

“encourage a child to question his or her gender and sex and act out accordingly.”

I’m at a loss. Yes, the cover may encourage a child to question his or her gender – but I gotta believe only if they were already questioning it. It’s difficult for me to think that someone would look at a magazine cover and suddenly be interested in transitioning to the opposite sex if they weren’t already inclined to do so. I don’t look at GQ and think, “Geez, now I wanna be a man!”

Ludicrous, in my mind. Mr. Walt Heyer, I’m truly, honestly, sorry you were confused in your childhood. I’m equally sorry you felt that you made a mistake by transitioning, and I’m glad you transitioned back to what felt right to you. I hope it made you happy and feel at home in your body.

BUT!

Please, remember…

Life requires a lot of introspection to figure out who we are … and who we are changes as we age. I’m not the same person I was at 15, 25 or 35. I personally never had occasion to question my gender. I’m not saying that Mr. Heyer didn’t have reason to. I’m just saying it’s a shame that someone who, at one point, understood the need to physically transition can’t afford others the same opportunity without calling it “abuse.” I’m stumped at his reaction and really, just kinda left mystified by it.

Whaddya think?

1.  Is Avery a brave, young girl acting on her instinct who should be applauded for breaking down barriers?

2.  Is she being duped or misled into transitioning?

3.  Is transgenderism — as Walt Heyer puts it —  “B.S.?”

We gotta talk about this. Wherever you fall on the yay/nay spectrum, this is real. This is life. And THAT is why Nat Geo put a trans child on the cover.

Time to get those thoughtful conversations going… please start one here by commenting on this post.

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.

What’s Behind Curtain #2?

I’ve had a few folks ask recently about why I’ve started this blog. In case you’re interested, here’s the scoop:  I’m working on a new book. (Yes, I published one before. It’s here, if you’re curious.) 

It’s too early to get into details about my new work but it  deals with – surprise! – LGBT issues.

So this blog is helping me to learn more about the LGBT community. So that’s it – no big announcements from me or anyone in my family. It’s just research!

I’ve learned so much in this process. While I’ve always accepted lesbians and gays, I didn’t truly appreciate all they go through. I’m sure I still don’t (can anyone who doesn’t walk in their shoes?), but I’m closer to understanding. I celebrate their ability to legally marry and I hate the ongoing discrimination they face in so many other instances.

And I had almost no knowledge of the trans world so this has been eye opening, for sure. I’ve met some terrific people through this journey who’ve been willing to share some pretty personal experiences with me in hopes of helping me get a better sense of their world. I’m saddened by what they go through on a daily basis just to try to be themselves, and am so humbled that they’d tell me – a total stranger – about their struggles in an effort to help me understand.

So there you have it: my big secret. It’s a book!

I’ll continue to share my experiences here and I welcome your input, ideas, and inspiration for blog topics that relate to the LGBT world.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for coming along as I learn!

 

 

They’re Not Just Numbers

Homelessness bothers me. A lot. My heart breaks a little inside every time I pass someone holding one of those small, handwritten cardboard signs. I wish I could help every one of them by offering them a safe, warm space to live. My family and I have started a tradition of putting together supply bags that we hand out, giving them toiletries, water, and a gift card for food. But I haven’t ever given them a home.

Who’s behind that sign? The faces are usually weathered. Tired. Defeated. Sometimes the face is younger; fewer wrinkles maybe, but the eyes still carry that same beaten-down hopelessness. And when it’s a young person, somehow it hurts a bit more… it’s hard enough to be a youth in today’s harsh world, but these kids — no more than children, really — don’t even have their own bed to sleep in, something I take for granted each night.

When you see a homeless young person, there’s a very good chance they’re LGBT. While these kids only make up 7% of the general population, LGBT youth represent 40% of all young people who are homeless. FORTY PERCENT. Nearly half of those kids out there without a home are LGBT.

That’s just staggering to me. According to a few articles I’ve read, LGBT youth are often homeless for different reasons than non-LGBT kids. Often, it’s because their family has rejected them.

And the harsh reality is that the world in general has too – and will probably continue to for their lifetime.

I’m grateful we’re making strides toward inclusion. They’re small steps, in reality, but there’s a tiny spot of awareness in this world that these people exist, and they matter. Forget for a moment about job discrimination, lack of services, and hate crimes. Think instead about the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the recent White House decision that says school students can use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

Baby steps, for sure. But they’re steps that are at least moving in the right direction. And for these homeless LGBT youth — out there with no direction at all — at least baby steps are better than nothing.

 

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)

 

 

 

Does the Golden Rule Always Apply?

golden ruleI don’t know many people who enjoy going through security at an airport. (I probably don’t know ANY, but I haven’t asked everyone I know so I’m erring on the side of caution here.) It’s a cumbersome and time-consuming process, and if you have to go through a pat-down, it feels downright invasive.

I imagine for someone who’s trans, it can be even more uncomfortable.

This article talks about how the TSA got it right when Amanda Sapir was in the airport. Machines marked her as a man, but the security agent on duty handled the situation well when Amanda told her she was female and trans masculine. Amanda probably expected her to react negatively. But lo and behold, the agent was kind, courteous and non-judgmental. And perhaps one of the nicest parts of the whole exchange was the agent’s comment when Amanda thanked her for being so cool about her situation. The agent said:

I love people. We should be kind to everyone.

Isn’t that the truth? Such a simple philsophy. Be kind. To everyone.

Why is that so difficult?

It’s easy in theory. Be nice. Most of us learn The Golden Rule somewhere around kindergarten – treat others as you’d like to be treated. It shouldn’t matter if they’re the same age as you, the same income bracket, or work at the same company. The Golden Rule doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t say, “Except if you disagree about politics.” There’s no addendum about, “Unless they’re redheads with green eyes.” No clause about laywers, drug addicts or janitors. And it sure doesn’t say, “Except if they are LGBT.”

And yet we find ways to be unkind to others all the time. Maybe it’s undertipping a server. Or the driver who passes a homeless person and yells, “Go get a job!” Even those who cut ties to someone on FaceBook because they support a different candidate. They’re all forms of being unkind to another human being.

And those who are LGBT face it every day. Judgement. Job discrimination. Violence. Why? I cannot wrap my head around it. They’re just doing their thing. They’re not hurting me. It doesn’t affect my life one little bit if they’re sleeping with their own gender, in a same-sex marriage, cross dressing or taking hormones. They’re living their life and I’m living mine. Just like the janitor. The drug addict. The redhead with green eyes. Even the lawyer.

How much better could this world be if we just took that TSA agent’s comment to heart and lived it every day?

We should be kind to everyone.

Even those who support a different political candidate. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

 

Who’s In, Who’s Out?

In my continuing quest to learn more about the LGBT community, I’m often surprised at what I find out. (‘Cause let’s face it, you don’t know what you don’t know. Surprises are to be expected.)

For instance, I recently learned about the … hesitance … resistance … of those who are L or G or B to include the T in this group. There are apparently many who don’t feel that trans folks belong in the LGBT community.

Wow. Okay. I didn’t see that coming.

Their argument is that those who are transgendered don’t really fit within a group that’s really more about sexual preferences than genders.

One one hand, I guess I can see that. On the other hand … how and when did the “T” get added to this collection of acronyms anyway?

I don’t live within this group – I am just trying to understand more about it, and perhaps to educate others if they’re interested in what I’m learning. With that said, I gotta say it never crossed my mind that transsexuals don’t belong in the LGBT world. Maybe I got used to seeing these letters together and just assumed they fit. But I think it was more that I figured each person who identifies differently was kind of in the same boat. Misunderstood, mistreated, and misjudged. Marginalized by a culture that likes things neat and tidy, with too little room for those who don’t “fit the norm.” I guess I thought there’d be solidarity for those who feel on the outs with society.

I was wrong.

Or maybe those who want to keep trans folk out are the ones who’re off base?

I’m not calling anyone out here, I promise. I’m also not trying to start a debate. I am genuinely curious to hear from people on both sides of this argument, so I can better understand the thinking. I have no dog in this fight, as they say. (And who is “they,” anyway? I’ll save that for another blog post.)

What do you think … does “T” belong in “LGBT” or no?

Who Transitioned With You?

When someone transitions, they’ve no doubt put a whole lotta thought and heart into the decision. It’s a commitment that will affect the rest of their lives.

While they’re the ones who undergo the physical changes to alter their gender, they’re not the only ones affected. Family and friends are impacted, regardless of whether they agree with the choice.

I read a great article about this today and I thought I’d share it here. It discusses the story of Dade Barlow and Tiffany Grimes who were married as a same-sex couple before Barlow,  born female, transitioned to become a male. It’s a fascinating tale of watershed realizations and true love.

One of Barlow’s quotes struck me:

If you don’t recognize that your partner is having a process as well, your relationship is not going to work. It’s affecting both of you, so you need to pause and give breathing room.

It’s so true. While Barlow’s wife didn’t transition, she did ‘have a process,’ as he stated. Grimes said she actually “grieved” the loss of her wife before she could accept her new husband. She had to come to understand this was not a choice … it was who he was meant to be, and she needed to come to terms with that before she could move forward by his side.

The couple remained married and now has a child together.

For every story like this (and there likely aren’t many), there are hundreds more in which the partner couldn’t accept the decision and the couple split up. And then there are parents who can’t – or won’t – accept a child’s decision to transition. In these cases, the loved ones’ lives are altered in different ways, but impacted nonetheless.

For anyone who’s transitioned, I’d love to hear about how those around you “had a process,” whether it is a parent, spouse, or friend. Please feel free to share your story by commenting below or privately messaging me, if you prefer.

And for those who’ve gone through a loved one’s transition by their side, bravo for supporting them. Whether you agree or even understand, you embody the words “unconditional love.” And these days, that’s no small feat.