Monthly Archives: April 2014

UPDATE: Social Security Administration Officially Updates Transgender Spouse Policy

I originally reported on January 31 of the case of Robina Asti, who was fighting to receive benefits from her deceased husband’s Social Security, but was denied because Social Security didn’t recognize her marriage. I also posted an update on February 25 where she had received her first benefits payment, although no official announcement had been made by the Social Security Administration.

Well it’s official now, and the Social Security Administration has issued updated guidelines regarding the eligibility of transgender individuals for survivor’s benefits. HOWEVER, residents of Kansas should take note of the following:

There are still seven states where the SSA will conduct additional legal review: Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. This is due to a belief by the SSA that state marriage laws regarding transgender individuals are unclear, making the existing case-by-case review process necessary.

I assume that this is due to the confusion over the Kansas Supreme Court decision In re Estate of Gardiner, 42 P.3d 120 (Kan. 2002), which can best be summarized as “transsexuals can NEVER change their gender with respect to marriage. Original equipment is all that matters.”

As promised before (and I kept my promise), I’ll keep on this to see if there are new developments regarding Kansas and the other states listed above.

Social Security Administration Updates Transgender Policy | Advocate.com.

Art Imitates Life For Transgender Artists

Rhys Ernst is transitioning from female to male. Zackary Drucker is transitioning from male to female. Both are in love, and both are telling the story of their relationship through the transition process by a photo series, which they’ve titled “Relationship.”

At the site linked below you can find an interview with the artists, as well as a slideshow from their project. Within the interview, I found this quote right near the lead compelling:

Drucker: “The amazing thing about being a human is that we are transformative material, and we change from one moment to the next. Being transgender is a more visible manifestation of that because we are literally changing the way we are presenting ourselves to the world.”

Ernst: “The photographs sort of chronicle this amazing crystallizing of an identity we had always longed for.”

I really like that concept – that human beings are transformative materials. Not only do many (but not all) of the cells of our body constantly replace themselves via normal metabolic processes, changing even cisgender bodies constantly, but age, wear, our own actions, and the actions of others transform our bodies as well.

Our minds are of course what transform the most about us. When combined with our ever-changing bodies, the sum is a slowly different person to the world each and every day.

Art Imitates Life For Transgender Artists | New Hampshire Public Radio.

Fiona and Friends Participate in Trans-Law Seminar at KU

Madeline, Amanda, Fiona, Debi and Rachael at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Seminar at KU

Madeline, Amanda, Fiona, Debi and Rachael at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Seminar at KU

On the 26 March, a group of people came together to attend a session of a law course at the University of Kansas (KU).  The course is  the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Seminar” and it is a new course this year, created by David Brown.  David reached out to a friend in the Trans community, Julie, because many people know LGB people but not many know trans people – or know that they do as so many are stealth.

Julie asked her friends to help and a group of people responded, some trans, and some related to them – Madeline and Rachael, fully out transwomen, Amanda in the “Middle Ground”, Debi, the mother of a transdaughter, and Fiona, married to a transwoman.

We met at the law school and attended the first hour of the session, a student led discussion of the relevant topic, where issues such as bathroom usage, whether imprisonment in an opposite gender prison is cruel and unusual punishment, changing legal documents and discrimination by police, prosecutors, juries and judges was discussed.

For the second hour, it switched to a question and answer format, where we introduced ourselves and then the students asked us questions regarding our experience and issues with the law.  Madeline spoke about her life and her law practice and transitioning as a lawyer, and provided citations for the students when the rest of us could only reference cases by story; Amanda spoke of living in the middle ground, and the fear of discrimination caused by the patchwork of anti-discrimination laws that doesn’t cover the whole country. Rachael spoke of the issues affecting immigration and the climate in the UK, Debi spoke of issues affecting parents and schools, various state Family Services and custody of children, and Fiona spoke of issues regarding effective same-sex marriage in Kansas, social security benefits, name changes and the number of documents to change, and the EEOC focus on discrimination against trans people.

After the class ended, there was pizza, which is always a good thing, and many of the students stayed behind to thank us for coming, or to ask additional questions.  It was a really good experience and I would happily attend next year too.

Pizza and after class discussion at KU.

Pizza and after class discussion at KU.

Transgender Substitute Teacher Upsets Lumberton, Texas Bigots

Sometimes I wonder about whether I would have been a good mom. Whether I would have raised my children properly and taught them how to respect others, be courteous and conscientious, be open to other cultures and new experiences, and face the world guarded yet unafraid to step up and do the right thing.

And then I read about “concerned parents” like the ones in this article, and I snort and think “well hell, I can’t do worse than them.”

The basics of the story, which my friend Danna (a transgender schoolteacher herself) pointed me to are simple and sadly familiar.

Act 1 – Invasion: The transgender teacher, also known as “the Satanic Succubus in Clouds of Sulfur (SSCS),” worms her way into the classroom to “teach” her unholy agenda, telling such lies as the South lost the American Civil War and the Earth is NOT 6,000 years old.

Act 2 – Discovery: Brave soldiers of goodness and light uncover the SSCS, and bring her into the light of Jesus. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to burn her at the stake (thank you very much, evil liberal Supreme Court!), but they can ensure that she will never work again!

Act 3 – Counterattack: The SSCS enlists her unholy allies – the transgender “activists,” the “ACLU,” the “Southern Poverty Law Center,” and (gasp!) the EEOC of our Muslim conqueror, Sultan Obama.

Act 4 – The Final Battle: the forces of good and light gather throughout the state, and ultimately chase the evildoers back to New Sodom (California). Texas secedes from the United States. No one notices any difference.

Transgender substitute teacher upsets Lumberton ISD parents – 12 News KBMT and K-JAC. News, Weather and Sports for SE Texas.

Appleton, WI elects Transgender Man to City Council

Gypsy Vered Meltzer, a transgender man, has been elected to the Appleton, Wisconsin city council. The first openly transgender person to be elected to public office in Wisconsin, Gypsy is making a major contribution to public awareness and acceptance for our people.

Also interesting within the article is a list of many other transgender persons to hold office in the US and other countries.

Appleton, WI elects transgender man to City Council.

Transgender Models Around the World

Arisce_WanserA short article with photographs of 9 female transgender models (and a link to the recent Barney’s catalog featuring many transgender models), which is probably work-safe. There’s not much I can add to it at this juncture; it delivers what it promises.

GayNZ.com Trans models around the world.

Meet Claudette, An Intersex Sex Worker From Switzerland

Every week or so I read a really powerful story on the web, or offline, which I simply must highlight. In this case my friend Elle pointed me to such a story, which is highly unusual and may be a little disturbing to some of my readers.

The story in question is a photo essay on the Huffington Post about Claudette, a 77 year-old intersex prostitute from Switzerland. The story is incredible for several reasons:

  • The fact that she is honestly intersex of course is the primary reason. Few intersex persons will open up so much about their lives as she has in this short photo essay.
  • The fact that she has willingly chosen sex work as a profession, something which is vanishingly rare among intersex persons.
  • The fact that she is 77 years old. All mention of her being intersex aside, you rarely come across stories of elderly sex workers in any context.

From the article:

To fully play with the possibilities and ramifications of gender roles, Claudette turns to prostitution. “Prostitution becomes a source of self confidence,” Claudette explained, “for people who see in prostitutes the ultimate femininity and who assume this role with happiness and a sense of relief.”

Though her unconventional gender identity and choice of profession are commonly associated with trauma and shame, Claudette wears both aspects of her life with pride and joy. Refusing to be pitied for what other people may be uncomfortable with, Claudette displays the immense power that accompanies a deep love for oneself. With honesty and bravery, she creates a life for herself on her own terms — a life that, despite the more unconventional details of her existence, is made up of the universal components of work, family, memories and love.

“Claudette unnerves some people because she lives a happy and coherent life while denying a fundamental moral precept,” Delrieu[the reporter] said.

Her story at the link below is short, and I would really love to read an autobiography. There are a few photographs which are NOT work safe, so be careful about clicking the link.

Meet Claudette, An Intersex Sex Worker From Switzerland (NSFW).

Book Review – Painted Ladies

Jasmine Frame is a former police officer who served under the name Jim Frame, until she underwent a gender transition. Her transition cost her a career she enjoyed, and facing an impending divorce, ostracism from family and friends, and a struggle to finish her transition, she’s trying to make it in world on her own as a private detective. Unable to drum up enough business, when the police ask her to help with a case involving a brutal murder of a crossdresser she jumps at the opportunity, and quickly finds herself in the nightmare of trying to catch a serial killer targeting crossdressers.

The tension mounts when Jasmine is asked to be a decoy to draw the killer out, which also leads to serious conflict within her as she must pretend to be a male crossdresser. Will she catch the killer before she becomes the latest victim? Read and find out (although the fact that there’s a sequel in the works sort of tells you that she lives…)

Much more about the book, and my review of it, can be found at the link below.

Book Review – Painted Ladies | Transas City.

Should Transpeople or Gay Men be Happy with Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig?

Hedwig1
A few weeks ago I was chatting with an acquaintance who is an author and entertainment historian, who exclaimed to me exasperatedly “Really now! Can any transperson or gay man actually be happy with having Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig?” And that’s the topic of this post.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch has come to Broadway, and most transgender people I know are pretty disgusted with it. In case you haven’t heard of it, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a film about…well, let me allow Wikipedia to summarize it:

Hansel Schmidt is an East German “slip of a girly boy” who loves rock music, and is stuck in East Berlin until he meets Luther Robinson, an American Soldier. Luther falls in love with Hansel and the two decide to marry. This plan will allow Hansel to leave communist East Germany for the capitalist West. However, in order to be married, the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Hansel’s mother, Hedwig, gives her child her name and passport and finds a doctor to perform a sex change. The operation is botched, however, leaving Hansel – now Hedwig – with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, the eponymous “Angry Inch”.

Hedwig goes to live in Junction City, Kansas as Luther’s wife. On their first wedding anniversary, Luther leaves Hedwig for a man. That same day, it is announced that the Berlin Wall has fallen and Germany will reunite, meaning as material gains go, Hedwig’s sacrifices have been for nothing. Hedwig recovers from the separation by forming a rock band composed of Korean-born Army wives.

“Internationally ignored” Hedwig and her band of Eastern Europeans, the Angry Inch, are forced to support themselves by playing coffee bars and strip mall dives. Throughout the film, these gigs are performed at a chain seafood restaurant called Bilgewater’s. Hedwig is following Tommy’s tour in order to pursue a copyright lawsuit. She tells unsuspecting diners her life story.

Hedwig2

I’ll let you read the rest. A small number of transgender women I know think the movie is artistic and philosophical enough to survive on those merits; most who have seen it tell me it’s disgusting, revolting, and disheartening.

I’m not passing judgment on it – I haven’t seen it, so I’m reporting what transgender friends and acquaintances of mine tell me their opinion is. I will note that I am biased against it for no other reason than on one internet message board I was once hounded with posts calling me “Hedwig” by a group of angry transphobic trolls. Reading several different plot summaries, it appears that fundamentally Hedwig is intended to be making a statement about how most people exist without being true to themselves, and create illusions of their lives in many ways, including gender identity.

NeilPatrickHarris
And this brings us to Neil Patrick Harris. Despite having the LGBT “cred” of being a gay man in Hollywood, he has a somewhat poor record of transgender sensitivity. For example, this site catalogs some of the transphobic screenplay and situations he has portrayed or helped portray on his hit show How I Met Your Mother. Now you may say “but he has no control over that,” but that’s clearly bunk. As my acquaintance tells me, actors who are of any status at all can easily make minor changes in the script, or at a minimum push a program to be more sensitive on a topic. Or they can just flat out refuse to participate in transphobia…

The problem becomes more apparent outside of character acting, where Harris has been guilty of throwing the “tranny” word around. Although he did apologize for it very promptly, his apology was met with suspicion by some in the community.

So what are we to make of a Broadway production which focuses on a transgender woman with botched SRS who appears to be completely insane and who in the end of the production is portrayed as a streetwalker, calls herself a misfit and loser, and appears to be incredibly gender-confused? Portrayed by a gay man with a questionable history regarding transgender sensitivity? And for the record, not a transgender actress; although the controversy over Jared Leto and Dallas Buyer’s Club has taught me, some transgender people believe that it’s OK if no transwomen get parts as leading characters in major media productions right now, and we should bide our time…

It’s not difficult to see why some transgender folks would have some serious reservations.

Neil Patrick Harris is barely recognisable in drag for Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch | Mail Online.

At a TED Talk, Model Geena Rocero Comes Out as Transgender

If you haven’t heard of TED Talks, they are a series of videos and podcasts which feature inspirational speakers from the fields of science, technology, education, social issues, and entertainment. The sponsoring organization is nonprofit and limits the speeches to 18 minutes or less to make them easily digestible. They are typically done in front of an audience and sometimes with props or performance art.

At a recent TED talk model Geena Rocero “came out” to the audience as a transgender woman (my understanding was that her status was previously known, although not widely), whereupon she was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation.

Rocero then announced the launch of Gender Proud, a campaign designed to bring awareness to the fact that only a fraction of the world’s countries allow transgender individuals to update their gender markers without first having to undergo forced sterilization or other forms of genital surgery.

It’s an inspirational speech, and I recommend watching it and checking out Gender Proud to learn about the challenges our sisters and brothers face around the world.

WATCH: Model Geena Rocero Comes Out As Transgender, Launches Gender Proud | Advocate.com.

RuPaulGate Continues, as ’Drag Race’ Comes Under Fire for Transphobia

RuPaulDragRace
I’m sorry, but I’m liking RuPaul less and less the more that I investigate his history and see clips of him throwing around the “trannie” word, and claiming such things as that the only difference between a transgender woman and a drag queen was “$25,000 and a good surgeon.”

In this latest churning of the saga, RuPaul is coming under more fire for alleged transphobia in his Drag Race program. Commenting on RuPaul’s apparent inability to cease equivocating drag performers and transwomen, blogger Rafi D’Angelo, who was carried on Slate, posted the following, which I think all of you should read.

“Part of the problem with this little game is that a drag queen is not, in fact, a ’psychological woman.’ A drag queen is a drag queen. A drag queen goes home at night, takes off the wigs and makeup, and is still a man. You can be the most feminine queen in drag, but, at the end of day, you still enjoy the privileges of being a cisgender man. Trans women don’t have that option. They are women every day, and that comes with the threat of ridicule, exposure, and violence. True, there are male-to-female transgender folks who gravitated toward drag as part of their journey through gender identity, but that’s a limited case. Generally speaking, to put drag queens, who pretend to be something like women as a profession or hobby, in the same category with trans women-which is to say, real women-is offensive.”

RuPaul has not personally responded to the growing criticisms, but rather has relied upon joint statements from the show’s team of officials to respond thus:

“We delight in celebrating every color in the LGBT rainbow,” RuPaul Charles, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, Tom Campbell, Steven Corfe and Mandy Salangsang said in a joint statement via NewNowNext. “When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.”

And next we have two transgender contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who have come out to criticize the program. The first one is model Carmen Carrera, who states:

“I am certain ’RuPaul’s Drag Race’ didn’t mean to be offensive, let this be a learning experience. I think the show has opened up and educated the minds of many people who were ignorant to the world of drag and has made equality and respect a possibility for those involved, not only as equal beings, but as phenomenal artists. There has always been a huge presence of trans artists in the drag scene. ’Shemale’ is an incredibly offensive term, and this whole business about if you can tell whether a woman is biological or not is getting kind of old. We live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise. ’Drag Race’ should be a little smarter about the terms they use and comprehend the fight for respect trans people are facing every minute of today. They should use their platform to educate their viewers truthfully on all facets of drag performance art.”

CarmenCarreraCarmen Carrera

Strong words. Also strong are the words of Monica Beverly Hillz, who stated:

“After my experience of being on the show, I would say that, to me, the use of the words ’she-male,’ ’ladyboy’ and ’tranny’ are not cute at all,” she said. “I have fought, and still am fighting, for respect from society — to be accepted as a woman and not referred to as a ’tranny’ or “’she-male.’”

“People don’t understand the daily struggle it is to be a transgender woman. Some days are great and some days I can’t be around anyone because I have so much anxiety, so much on my mind and just feel alone in this world.

After being on TV and coming out, it is very difficult to live a normal life. So when you see a show that you look up to and have been a part of, it kind of sucks hearing them use those words.

I will say that RuPaul and the entire cast and production team were amazing. To this day they still check up on me, so for that I am forever grateful.

However, maybe some things need to be changed about the show, because it’s not just a drag show anymore. We have beautiful transgender cast mates paving the way for all transgender showgirls.”

Many of my friends will disagree with me, but I’m stunned in just the relatively short time that I’ve been an activist in the growing gulf between trangender persons and crossdressers and drag performers. I may have to do some research on this.

’Drag Race’ Comes Under Fire for Transphobia, RuPaul Responds :: EDGE Chicago.

South Korea: GRS Surgeon “Corrects God’s Mistakes”

Harisu
This is a very interesting article, written a little thoughtfully, on the little-known world of transgender surgery in South Korea and the lead surgeon in that nation. Transgender people are still somewhat taboo in that country, although some reports from human rights advocates claim that transgender people are actually more accepted in South Korea than lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

The surgeon in question is Dr. Kim Seok-Kwun, a veteran of about 320 GRS procedures. His reason for choosing this mission in life, in a country mostly hostile to transgender people, is given as:

The devout Protestant known as the “father of South Korean transgender people” once wrestled with similar feelings.

“I’ve decided to defy God’s will,” Kim, 61, said in an interview before the monk’s recent successful surgery to become a man. “At first, I agonized over whether I should do these operations because I wondered if I was defying God. I was overcome with a sense of shame. But my patients desperately wanted these surgeries. Without them, they’d kill themselves.”

When Kim first started doing the surgeries in the 1980s, his pastor objected. Friends and fellow doctors joked that he was going to hell if he didn’t stop. He now feels a great sense of achievement for helping people who feel trapped in the wrong body. He believes he’s correcting what he calls God’s mistakes.

“Some people are born without genitals or with cleft lips or with no ears or with their fingers stuck together. Why does God create people like this? Aren’t these God’s mistakes?” Kim said. “And isn’t a mismatched sexual identity a mistake, too?”

The lead photo is of Harisu, South Korea’s most famous transsexual entertainer, who is the featured surgeon’s most famous patient.

BUSAN, South Korea: SKorea sex change doc: I correct ‘God’s mistakes’ | Health | Columbus Ledger Enquirer.

Police Blotter – April 2, 2014

Captain Roberta MonellIt’s pure coincidence that I have two Police Blotter posts in a row – it seems like there have been several law enforcement-related transgender stories lately.

This post features one positive and two negative stories. Let’s lead with the positive one, the story of Captain Roberta Monell, who is also our featured main photo today. Twenty years ago the 49-year-old Roberta – born Robert – started dressing female while working as an investigator at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. She bravely used the more feminine version of her name, ignoring criticism and losing her job. She went bankrupt, then became a truck driver for five years. In 2000 she reapplied to the police department but was rejected. She took them to court and won, was hired, and fought through the ranks to eventually become a captain in the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office. Facing mandatory retirement after a solid career she enjoys, she said:

“I wanted to prove that transgender people are just as normal as everybody else. We just identify with the opposite gender,” she said. “But we’re still human beings.”

Toilet_Terror
Next, we have a negative item – the case of a transgender student who allegedly was harassed beyond all belief by campus security at a North Carolina Community College. Why would I report what right now appears to be a “she-said-and-the-other-side-can’t-get-its-story-straight” piece? Because her story is very believable – I’ve seen verified cases where the same thing has happened to other transwomen. I think reading about the Keystone Kops routine of the school administration could be useful for being forewarned about how “trans toilet terror” can turn really ugly even in a professional setting.

Amira_Gray
As negative as this story of a transgender woman being harassed by police during a routine traffic stop is, what is heartening is that she’s standing up for her rights and suing their asses. Amira Gray, a 26 year-old transwoman from New Jersey, alleges that she was:

…was pulled over while driving through North Bergen six months ago, she was humiliated, she said, by the police officer calling her “Mr.” And “sir.”

Almost three weeks ago, Gray sued the North Bergen Police Department, saying she was a victim of discrimination, targeted because of her sexual orientation, and accused of driving on a suspended license despite proof that it was not suspended. Police impounded her car.

Unfortunately the article does not talk much about Ms. Gray’s case, but there is a video with her and her attorney which is worth viewing quickly.