Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Telling Our Stories

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Given the myths, stereotypes and half-truths that abound in the world today regarding the LGBTI community, one of the tools we can use towards dispelling them is to build bridges between ourselves and the community at large. I have found that the “telling of our stories” cannot only be cathartic for us, personally, but is the perfect vehicle for communication and bridge building. When we relate to others what it means to be lesbian, or gay, or transgender, we open ourselves and display a vulnerability. The very essence of such risk taking creates a relationship between us and those with whom we are conversing. Such letting down of our guard not only puts the other person at ease, but establishes a commonality which can serve as a foundation for trust.

When we undertake this opening up of ourselves, we become ambassadors who can create goodwill and who are able to work the miracle of education. I think that every one of us is familiar with the formula that ignorance leads to confusion, confusion leads to fear, fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to violence. As ambassadors and educators, we are able to prevent or remedy ignorance and keep the cycle from developing. Each person who is able to relate to us and to what it is like to be LGBTI becomes, potentially, a future advocate and ally, someone who may eventually stand up for us. We gain understanding, acceptance and a sense of unity. We have built a bridge.

After accepting myself as being transgender, I was determined to live my life 24/7 as the woman I felt more accurately mirrored the person inside. My first challenge was to find work. In the aftermath of my divorce, I lost virtually everything, including my ability to earn a living. I came to understand the stark reality that I was, essentially, unemployable in this rural, central Carolina county. That was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise because it served as the catalyst that has impelled me into the world of LGBTI activism.

I made the decision to return to school with the intention of becoming a paralegal. My “big picture” thinking was that we needed to effect change on the inside, as participants in the legislative, judicial and political process. I was determined not to live my life in stealth and to be the first openly TG student at my local community college. This was the true advent of my determination to tell my story. I began with my instructors and gave them leave to discuss it with the administration. I was open with my fellow students who have been curious and have asked an unimaginable breadth and depth of questions. Those with whom I have interacted come from all walks of life…divergent ethnicities, religions, prior levels of education and economic backgrounds. I cannot think of one student who has been unfriendly or abrasive. Each and every one of them seems to appreciate my openness and honesty and many have become close friends.

There have been those persons whose background, one might suspect, preclude them from being able to relate to me…specifically, those from the conservative and fundamentalist right. In virtually every case, my suspicions were incorrect. Each of these amazing persons has accepted me as an individual, as a woman, and as a friend. I can state with complete confidence that any one of these persons would stand up for the LGBTI community and for in their respective churches. Any disparaging comment would be met with something like this: “I know a transgender person and she has similar goals, dreams, likes and dislikes…she treats others the way she would like to be treated…she is JUST LIKE ME.”

Allowing others to glimpse our humanity and to understand who we are and what makes us tick gives them every reason to WANT to like us and to WANT to accept us. Each one to one relationship cultivates fertile ground for the seeds of love, tolerance and support. Each represents the fruit of living one’s life as an ambassador and another bridge built.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Christian Church IS Compicit

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a letter to the editor I wrote in response to the assertion that the Church does not promote hate:

With respect to Mr. Soles letter of Nov. 17, 2006 and his assertion that the "Christian Church" is not culpable for violence directed towards the LGBTI community, I must take exception. Perhaps they were not physically complicit, but the tone of the rhetoric we have often heard is nothing short of inflammatory and adds fuel to the fires of hatred. As evidence, I cite a few statements that have been made:"Expect confrontations that will be not only unpleasant but bloody...Institutions will be plunged into wrenching change...when it is over, I am conviced God's people will emerge victorious." Pat Robertson, 1992. And, "I really believe that the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle...I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this (9/11 attack)happen'." The Reverend Jerry Falwell, Sept. 2001. And, one last citation from from Terry Randall (1993), director of Operation Rescue, reads "I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called on by God to conquer this country."

I have great difficulty in accepting that these words achieve anything but to promote hatred and to encourage others to take matters into their own hands. They act as goads, egging others on to commit heinous acts that further their homophobic agenda.The blood of innocent gays and lesbians may not be on their hands physically, but it certainly is figuratively. Yes...I think we can safely assert that the Christian Church and those who profess to speak for it share much of the blame. They are NOT innocent!


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Random Post-Election Thoughts

Saturday, November 11, 2006

We have finally made it past the Midterm elections and can, thankfully, breathe a sigh of relief that we no longer must be subjected to political advertisements and inflated rhetoric. As a Democrat, and a liberal (I never shy away from the truth that I AM a liberal), the results of this election are, of course, satisfying. And, as a member of the transgender community, specifically, and the LGBT community at large, it is my hunch that our newly elected Congress, along with many newly elected Governors, will have a more supportive stance regarding LGB and T issues. Many acknowledge the support of HRC (Human Rights Campaign) as a major factor in their win, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, for example, and, despite the rantings of a few conservative pundits, we must rejoice in the first woman Speaker of the House. Additionally, we recognize the first openly TG school board electee in Hawaii. Perhaps hate crimes legislation and ENDA will see an end to the stalling and some actual progress. It remains to be seen if the "T" will be sacrificed to benefit the "LGB", but we can hope that our legislator's and the gay and lesbian lobbies realize that, as long as one group is deprived of equal treatent under the eyes of the law, any progress we think has been made is truly ephemeral. Accordingly, I implore all organizations and elected officials to think "inclusive" when they approach these pieces of legislation.

The elections were largely a referendum on two issues...the preemptive war in Iraq and Congressional corruption, incompetence and malfeasance. Regarding Iraq, the first step the Administration took was to unburden itself of Secretary Rumsfeld. Many of us applaud this action but sense a measure of deceit in its execution. Yes, it was a gesture to this new Congress and, perhaps, opens the door for a bipartisan resolution of this conflict. After we learn the determinations of the Iraq Study Group, the possibility for a new direction with a new Secretary of Defense is on surer ground. Nevertheless, and I beseech the reader not to view this as carping, it seems odd that the President was SO SURE of Secretary Rumsfeld only a few days before the election and that in the aftermath he can have changed his mind so radically and quickly. I have heard rumblings in the news that many in the President's party feel disenchanted that he had not made this appropriate decision some six months prior. Their chances for election or reelection hung in the balance. Nevertheless, what is done is done and it behooves us to look forward at this juncture.

Congressional behaivor was the other source of electorate dissatisfaction this season. The plethora of scandals...Jack Abramoff and "K" Street, ex-Congressman Cunningham, the Rep. Foley todo...these were but a few of the instances of corruption that have stained Congress. The inability to enact legislation, the give aways to big business that accompanied those pieces of legislation that WERE enacted, the paltry attendance of actual days on the job, the lack of oversight which is not only a Congressional right but their sworn responsibility...Americans level of dissatisfaction with Congress had, perhaps, never been lower, with a meager 19% approval rate. That is deplorable and inexcusable. We must anticipate and demand a different kind of that has a sense of ethics and actually passes ethical reforms, one that takes it's job seriously and decides to show up for work, and one that represents we, the people, and not big business, the corporate world, or it's party cohorts in the White House. One of the slogans of the midterm campaigns was a call for a new direction and it is obvious that such a course change is necessary.

It has been said, and it is undeniable, that the burden now lies with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate to SHOW that they are capable of leadership. They must walk a thin line. On the one hand, the elections showed that the public is disenchanted with the air of partisanship and that it would like to see a greater sense of compromise. On the other hand, the new Congress must demonstrate an ability for oversight. These two concepts need not be mutually exclusive, but, of course, also depend upon the Congressional minority and the Administration to see any fruition.

We are at a crossroads and can embark upon a new era of bipartisanship that supports a strong middle class, does not marginalize the less fortunate, and attempts to restore the good name of America that we used to enjoy throughout the world. We can be prosperous, and ethical, and strong. We can affirm the wonder of diversity and not marginalize many of our citizens merely because they are different. We can protect our borders, work for a sense of world trade that is predicated on human values, and rebuild a strong economy. It is no longer productive to coddle the corporate world. They, too, are a partner in this new era but they must see fit to not sacrifice everything in the name of profit. We all must strike a balance and I am fervently optimistic that this new Congress, along with Speaker Pelosi, can help this country to reestablish the values that have made the United States the great country that it once was and can be again.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

I Am SOOOO Confused!!

Sunday, November 5, 2006

I Am SOOOO Confused

A few years ago, at Charlotte Pride, an evangelical protestor informed me that I was very confused regarding the true meaning of the Bible as interpreted by him and his cohorts. At the time, I did not feel that confused, but…today…I admit to an inability to comprehend the Christian fundamentalist perspective and its relationship to government and to politics.

What are the sources of my confusion?

Firstly, it has been my understanding that the founding fathers advocated a federal government rather than a pure republican democracy. The latter system advocates the methodology of simple majority rule. The former contends that majority rule will not guarantee minority rights and is thereby a flawed system. James Madison, in his Federalist Paper of May 17, 1787, eloquently makes the case against majority rule. His argument rests on a two-pronged basis. He avers that the basis for flaws in the concept of majority rule find their root both in the nature of elected representatives and in the people themselves.

Let us examine each of these two prongs separately.

Motivation to participate in a representative government, according to Madison, is threefold: ambition, personal interest, and the public good. He goes on to state that the first two prevail. It will be helpful to quote from Madison’s text. He states that such elected officials, “forming often a majority in the legislative Councils, with interested views, contrary to the interest and views of their constituents, join in a perfidious sacrifice of the latter to the former.” Minority rights are sacrificed for the alleged “good of the majority”.

The second prong in his view that majority rule constituted a flawed system was vested in the attitudes of the people themselves. Again, from this specific Federalist Paper penned by James Madison, “A still more fatal, if not more frequent, cause lies among the people themselves. All civilized societies are divided into different interests and factions, as they happen to be creditors or debtors--rich or poor--husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers--members of different religious sects--followers of different political leaders--inhabitants of different districts--owners of different kinds of property &c &c. In republican Government the majority, however composed, ultimately give the law. Whenever therefore an apparent interest or common passion unites a majority what is to restrain them from unjust violations of the rights and interests of the minority, or of individuals?”

With regard to those restraints, he gives three potential motives:

1) That honesty is always the best policy, although he states that this often goes unheeded.

2) That strength of character will prevail…again, Mr. Madison attests to the fact that this is seldom found in practice.

3) The power of religious conviction. This is of specific interest regarding the source
of my confusion. A strong sense of religious values might be expected to restrain the excesses of the majority. This, however, may not be the case, as James Madison points out. “Besides as religion in its coolest state is not infallible, it may become a motive to oppression as well as a restraint from injustice. Place three individuals in a situation wherein the interest of each depends on the voice of the others; and give to two of them an interest opposed to the rights of the third? Will the latter be secure? The prudence of every man would shun the danger. The rules & forms of justice suppose & guard against it. Will two thousand in a like situation be less likely to encroach on the rights of one thousand? The contrary is witnessed by the notorious factions & oppressions which take place in corporate towns limited as the opportunities are, and in little republics when uncontrolled by apprehensions of external danger.”

Given the opinion expressed by James Madison, one of the most influential and persuasive of the founding fathers, it is evident that majority rule is not the best system when it comes to guaranteeing minority rights. It is also obvious that the founding fathers wished to protect the rights of minorities, regardless of their size, from the excesses of a majority unrestrained.

If we apply this doctrine to current controversy regarding the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender persons, the source of my confusion becomes apparent. Our constitution prohibits the establishment of any religious doctrine as the law of the land. Of course, it does protect one’s right to worship as one chooses, but there is quite a difference between the right to practice ones faith and the right for a majority to impose their faith upon a population at large.

The second source of my confusion is the assertion, on the part of Christian conservative fundamentalists, that this is a Christian nation, based on the tenets of Christianity. It is well known that many of the founding fathers not only eschewed organized religion, but that many were Deists and did not subscribe to Christian doctrine whatsoever. They pointedly refrained from institutionalizing religion and joining it with the government they were building. It was their distinct recollection that King George had been both monarch and head of the Church of England and they most assuredly did not want to incorporate that within the framework of our Constitution or our government.

Furthermore, we as Americans take pride in calling our country a melting pot, with divergent races, ethnicities and religions. It goes against all reason to posit one group as the model and the rest as fringe elements worthy of no more than cult or sect status. Our Constitution, as stipulated in the First Amendment, guarantees not only the right to freedom of worship, but debars the establishment of a state religion. The position taken by modern and radical Christians negates both of these provisions. They would insist that their religion be the only one of substance and they would prefer to impose it upon every American citizen. This marginalizes every other faith and religious institution…Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, just to mention major spiritual faiths, and this does not include the plethora of other particular and specific ways of expressing one’s spirituality.

I am taken aback by the arrogance displayed in such a position. This comes from those who would espouse the importance of humility, no less. The hubris they engender goes beyond the pale of my sensibilities and I find myself in disbelief that this has become not only accepted but also encouraged by the current President and his administration. It is as though this doctrine has now become state policy, which completely belies the intent of the founding fathers.

I can only imagine that those who promulgate this false religion, this blasphemy, hope that most of us disbelievers will either knuckle under or just go away. I can tell them that this will not be the case. We adhere to true egalitarianism, as envisioned by the framers of our government, and will not let the egos of madmen hijack our government. We will hold true to the tenets that all voices must be heard, that minorities may not be legislated out of existence, and that the bullying by self-appointed zealots will not prevail.

I guess I am really not that confused after all…


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hypocrisy Lives!!

My local newspaper recently ran a letter to the editor which so inflamed my sense of right and wrong that I have felt obligated to respond. Below is part of the text of that letter form a "James Kestler" from High Point, NC.

"Government, courts infringe on Christians' rights to worship"

"The Democrats have been leaders in promoting homosexual rights, rights for a woman to abort(murder) her unborn child, and for same-sex marriage with man to man, and with woman to woman, which the Bible calls abomination. No amount of white washing can change that."

"The liberals carry to extreme the freedom of speech, even to the exclusion of many of our people. I'm speaking of the second clause of the First Amendment-prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Christians are being denied their right to practice their religion, with the OK from their government and their henchman-liberal judges."

There is more to his diatribe, but I think the gist is self evident.

The following is my letter to the editor of the High Point Enterprise in response to this hateful and vitriolic nonsense:

"I am writing in response to James Kestler's letter of Oct. 26, 2006 specifically and, generally, to the profusion of letters written to the Enterprise on the subject of the evils of gender and sexuality variance. I would make the observation that I have often read letters supporting and advocating homophobia innthis publication, but rarely have seen a letter defending the rights of those in the GLBT community. Does this show a bias on the part of the Enterprise regarding its selection of letters that will reach the local press?"

"Mr. Kestler asserts that the government has infringed upon Christians' rights to worship. I remind Mr. Kestler that the language of the first amendment guarantees the right to worship as one chooses but, equally, debars the federal government from endorsing any religious platform. I would further make the case that it is not within the federal government's bailiwick to pass or deny legislation of a religious nature. He should reread the first amendment and pay attention to the "Establishment" clause."

"Mr. Kestler is evidently confused in his interpretation of the second clause of the first amendment...just because Congress passes legislation on secular issues does not imply any denial of the right to practice ones' faith. The Bible is not an official U.S. document and carries no weight when it comes to legislation and to the judiciary's role of review."

"It is not apparent to me how the government or liberals, in their extreme interpretation of the freedom of speech, have prevented Mr. Kestler from practicing his faith. Nor is it apparent that any of his rights have been denied in any regard. He has not been forced to marry another man. What others do in their personal lives is neither his nor the government's business. When he says he is not free to practice his religion, what he really means is that he is not free to impose his religious values upon society at large."

"The hypocrisy in Mr. Kestler's diatribe is clear. He advocates his entitlement to civil rights while denying them to a subset of the American population. And, Mr. Kestler is evidently not alone in his elitist and exclusionary vision for this country. His vitriol belies everything the founding fathers understood as the spirit of their new country and it's constitution."

"Furthermore, my understanding of the teachings of Jesus evokes a compassionate and loving disposition, not one filled with hateful and judgmental rhetoric. His condemnation of the GLBT community as an abomination in the eyes of the Bible is not only not compatible with my understanding of spirituality, but is reprehensible to any sense of tolerance or true Christian belief. I suggest that Mr. Kestler and others of his ilk take a long look in the mirror of life and see if they can truly abide the hate living within. Their predilection for misogyny and homophobia are entirely appalling and represent what is really deviant in our world."


Friday, November 03, 2006


Friday, November 3, 2006

Bittersweet is the word that always comes to mind when the holiday season approaches. Leaves are falling from the trees, the days are getting shorter and the vibrant greens are turning to reds, golds and browns. These are harbingers for the changing of the seasons, a metaphorical and actual slowing down as the earth prepares for hibernation. We instinctively celebrate the temporary death, as is our wont, just as we celebrate the rebirth of life in the Spring. As is often the case, we experience a coincidence of opposites…perceived endings infused with joy. We mark these changes in life with celebration and revelry. Out tastes and desires are prompted and fulfilled by get- togethers with family and friends, by the sampling of the fruits of a bountiful harvest, and the general comradery the season engenders.

For many in the GLBT, and specifically, the transgender community, however, the holiday season has its own unique and bittersweet patina. We, too, welcome the changing of the seasons. We, too, enjoy the tastes and sounds and smells…music, food and intoxicating aromas and perfumes. But, the unfortunate reality is that many in the GLB and transgender communities have lost the embrace of family and the comradery of friends. The sad truth is that many families and former friends have ostracized those who could no longer live the life of denial. Yes…we understand that transition is never easy for the families, but because of the prevailing winds of society, many transgender persons have no one with whom to celebrate at this time of the year. They are, in more ways than can ever be expressed, truly alone.

In light of this bittersweet state of affairs, I am celebrating my second annual Thanksgiving bash, which is open to all who find themselves with nowhere to go and with no one else to celebrate. It is my hope for this to become a yearly tradition…not just in my house, but in households everywhere… and that no one need ever be alone. We can fill our bellies, partake of the spirit of the season, and celebrate our magnificent individualities and the wonder of life’s diversity. We can feel the warmth of human companionship without judgment and open our hearts and minds to each other. No…it may not be the same as that to which we had been accustomed. And, again, it may not be the ultimate substitute for the family we no longer have around us. But, there is a kinship and a solidarity we enjoy which is substantial and, not in the least, ephemeral. We are a people who have cut across the boundaries society has drawn and who can revel, not just in what the holiday season has to offer, but in the freedom of an open ended sense of perspective.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and of sharing, it is my hope that those in our community will, likewise, open their hearts and their homes. Each of us, undoubtedly, knows a person, a friend, who has suffered the rejection of their family. Each of us has either been down that road or knows someone who has. We are surrogate sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers. We can be a new family that eschews judgment and embraces all. We can be the nucleus of a new sense of community. And, we can help to separate the bitter from the sweet this holiday season.