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!

Who’s got their back?

I attended a gathering last night that really spoke to my heart. Could be because I’m a mom (or maybe because I’m human) but the folks at Side by Side Virginia made a big impact on me.

Side by Side Virginia is an LGBTQ+ support group for youth that includes counseling services and support, but is also just a place where kids can come and be themselves with no fear of judgement or recrimination. I don’t have the quote in front of me, but they shared a comment from one of their members that said something along the lines of, “Side by Side is where I can come to be restored, and to just be myself.”

Wow.  Imagine feeling like you had to hide who you are nearly all the time. How draining that would be!  Now imagine feeling like that as a KID.

Side by Side started a trans support group in 2011, and now trans youth make up more than half of their members. The group has had a middle school program for trans youth aged 11-14 in Richmond since 2013, and hopes to start one in  Charlottesville this summer. I find that wonderful! The more support we can offer to children facing the challenges of transitioning, the better. And I have to believe that the younger that support starts, the easier (hopefully) the transition will be.

This program is headquartered in Richmond and has a Charlottesville branch, and I believe is connected to a couple of other locations within the Commonwealth. They not only support the youth, but they help train organizations on how to best assist these kids and how to help others support them. The Boy Scouts of America called them after last week’s announcement, and wanted their opinion on how they could help LGBT scouts!

Thanks for opening my eyes to a great way to assist the LGBT community, Side by Side — and thanks for all you’re doing on their behalf!  You have a fan in me.

If you know of any young LGBTQ+ folks who need a hand, their Youth Support Line is 888-644-4390. 

#writeourforewordellen

Time to find a publisher!

I’ve been working on a book for the past year and it’s time to share it with the world!

It’s tough to find an agent in the publishing world, so I’m crowd funding this instead.

The gist of the story is this: real-life couple Jennifer and Marc weren’t always Jennifer and Marc. They were Jennifer and Marika. They were happily married for six months when Marika announced she wanted to transition.

Jennifer was completely blindsided, and unsure whether she could stay married.

This book details her struggles to accept the situation, to understand her spouse’s decision, and to come to terms with her own reaction.

It’s a deeply intimate look at her journey and I truly believe others will benefit from reading it.

If you’re a member of the LGBT community or have a friend or loved one who is, please consider preordering a copy! Or two, and give one as a gift!

Please visit this link and consider pre-ordering my book. Each order gets me closer to landing a publisher.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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.

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)

 

 

 

Update: She’s Out

AthenaI promised to update this blog when I learned more about Athena Cadence, the trans prisoner who was on a hunger strike because she was being housed in the male pod of a California prison.

She’s free.

Here’s a quick reminder of her story: Cadence was sentenced for misdemeanor assult. She started a hunger strike to fight for a change in her housing situation. At this particular penitentiery, trans prisoners are housed together, but within the men’s housing area of the jail – which is against jail policy. During her two-month stint of not eating solid foods, Cadence lost 40 pounds and went to the hospital three times. A judge released her last week and she went straight back to the hospital to start being reintroduced to a regular diet.

Cadence complained several times about harrassment by prison staff. The grievances she filed did nothing to change things during her stay, but jail officials say they are investigating her complaints.

There are two other trans inmates still being held there. I hope that while Cadence’s hunger strike didn’t change things for her personally, perhaps her actions will help them and future trans prisoners.

I’ll keep you posted!

 

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. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.