Friday Night Fun and Culture

I’ve been reading April Ashley’s second book The First Lady.  It’s a bit dishier and more scandalous than the first that came out in the 1980s.  But way back when April took a young transchild name Peki D’Oslo, who went on to become Amanda Lear.

Amanda Lear was huge in Europe during the Disco Era.  I give her big credit for simply getting out there and doing it.

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Click Moments

Perhaps I should first explain what a click moment is.  I first heard it used in I believe it was one of the early issues of Ms Magazine and IIRC by Gloria Steinem.

A click moment is one of those aha flashes of insight when something that has been obscure suddenly become clear.

I came out in 1969, the very fact of my favoring that term over I started transition in 1969 is a result of the time and culture I was part of and it even tells people of the path I followed and steps I took as part of the process.

It has meant that some concepts are rather alien to my thinking.  I’m having one of those ultra clarifying dialogues with Lisa Harney over on Questioning Transphobia

Because I work in retail and this is the crunch season it will probably take me a few days to work up a piece I will cross publish, perhaps including some form of dialogue with Lisa.

You see I have had a profound click moment of the sort I had with some one named Robyn on a mailing list some 10 years back.  Robyn was my demographic twin, down to having lived around the corner from me in 1968, a point where our paths diverged with me coming out at that point and her coming out in middle age.

The often painful dialogue led me to the conclusion that those of us who get SRS all have the same “thing” at the root but that if one person does ABC starting as they gain the independence of adulthood and the other does XYZ pretty much determines when someone will come out.  And it has nothing to do with psychiatric bullshit and far more to do with becoming a parent.

Well yesterday in a series of posts to the aforementioned thread on Question Transphobia I had one of those Click Moments when I realized that we were probably not talking about the same period of history when sisters who have come out recently talk about having to play strict gender roles to get what they needed and that I could continue to argue that this was just a myth.

Or I could get together with some people and work up a historical time line that included those points when thinking on transsexualism and transgenderism changed.

I have had another Click recently when I had the insight hit me that often times it hasn’t been those treating us who have given those not conforming to some rigid stereotype the most shit but rather our peers.

Women Born Transsexual as a blog entered its eleventh month today.  I hope to continue building it and using it to help end all the fighting has become a nasty waste of time and energy as well as creating a lot of emotional damage.  I realize that much of the nastiness has come from certain individuals and that they do not reflect the majority of those people in their peer groups be those groups transsexual or transgender.

Watch for the Friday Night Fun and Culture later today….

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Riki Wilchins’s ”one trans show” takes her from serious to stand-up, but her mission stays the same

[Mangina?  Gee Riki thanks a lot for undermining everyone’s credibility with your post-modern Judy Butler crap]

From Metro Weekly

Interview by Will O’Bryan
Published on December 10, 2009

Two transgender rabbis walk into a bar….

Wait, scratch that.

Riki Wilchins, among the most prominent voices in America’s gender-identity discourse, has taken a new turn — to comedy. But it’s not the sort of routine that might play in the Catskills, circa 1950.

Instead, the D.C.-based Wilchins, who headed the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) through the first decade of the century and was lauded by Time magazine in 2001 as a civic innovator, is playing for laughs politically with her “one trans show,” The MANgina Monologues.

“I’m angry,” says the self-identified “gender queer” activist. “It’s just that the anger is coming out in humor. If you’re angry, you can yell at people, or you can get people to laugh at your anger. I’m choosing part two. It opens up a lot of doors.”

Onstage, Wilchins’s humor doesn’t sound too angry. She mocks the hoops the medical establishment forces people seeking gender-reassignment surgery jump through. Perhaps rhinoplasty candidates should be forced to live a couple years in the role of a small-nosed person before being eligible for that nose job.

Or, as Wilchins walks her audience through world of such surgeries, she segues into genuinely educational material about intersex babies and the clitoris. It could be tragic, but we’re back to laughs: “As a woman, I can now confirm personally, most guys couldn’t find the clit without help if you put landing lights on it. Which my surgeons actually considered. I loved the idea of a better sex life, but didn’t think I could handle the big electric bills.”

This line of levity might come as a surprise for some who recall a much more serious Wilchins. Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign, remembers sparring with Wilchins over policy in years past. Now she’s a fan of the funny lady.

“One can always count on Riki Wilchins to go where no person has ever gone before,” says Birch. “Now she’s bringing that same courage to stand-up…. Everyone’s dying to ask a transgender person, ‘What’s it like?’ Riki brings it all up and puts in on the table. She brings her colorful and wry sense of humor to the stage, and it’s very funny.”

So far, Wilchins has performed her act just twice, with another show to follow Saturday, Dec. 12. There’s talk of possibly bringing the act to the D.C. Jewish Community Center come spring. Really, it’s still a matter of Wilchins trying stand-up on for size and seeing if it’s a good fit.

But with a chance to get her message out, Wilchins seems more than satisfied, both with reaching an audience and with her own evolution.

“To some extent, being known as a transgender comedian is the point of the exercise. Which actually is a pretty big turn when you think about it, because when I transitioned, my doctors were very big on ‘You have to pass to be a successful woman.’ So if you made fun of me 20 years ago for not passing, I would’ve broken down in tears. Now I go up there and out myself all night and make jokes about it. It’s a pretty big shift.”

METRO WEEKLY: Tell me about that first performance. How was it?

RIKI WILCHINS: Scary. My college speaking, which is supposed to be about theory, had degenerated into pretty much stand-up. At a certain point, I started thinking, “Why not just do it as stand-up?” But I’d never actually done stand-up comedy. The scary thing is, if you’re giving a speech on theory and you make a joke and nobody laughs, you just go back to talking theory. No one says anything. With stand-up, they expect to laugh. And if they’re not laughing in the first five or 10 minutes, you’re in trouble. That’s the scary part: You have to be funny.

MW: So why do it?

WILCHINS: We’ve walked on eggshells so long with trans stuff. In some cases, for good reason. But I think there’s a time when it’s okay to laugh. We’ve reached that tipping point. I can make a lot of the points I want to make about transgender experience by getting people to laugh, instead of standing up and being angry and edgy.

When I started trying to work the material into an act, I didn’t realize how hard that is. It looks so easy when you see comedians do it, but it’s a lot of work. Like I told a friend of mine, you not only have to be a playwright, but you also have to be an actor, and in addition you have to be funny. It’s three different hats you have to wear simultaneously — and they all have to be good.

MW: And comedy audiences can be particularly harsh. It’s a venue that welcomes heckling. Have you experienced that?

WILCHINS: That hasn’t happened — yet. I’m getting prepared for that. You get heckled in this business. The first time, I’ll probably break down in tears and leave the stage. But the next time I’m up there, it’ll be part of the routine and I’ll make fun of it.

MW: How have your audiences responded to The MANgina Monologues?

WILCHINS: The first audience was, I would say, at least half friends. In that way, it was less intimidating. [Wilchens’s dog barks.] I hope you won’t quote her.

The first audience was less intimidating because I knew I had a friendly crowd. The second one, which we just did, we actually forgot to publicize it till the last minute. But people did come. We packed the room. We had 80 people. It was standing-room-only. But I only knew three people in the room. There wasn’t a laugh to be heard for the first five minutes. You could hear a pin drop. I’m telling my best jokes and crickets are chirping. It took them at least five minutes to figure me out, to figure out it was okay to laugh. And then the room was rocking. Toward the end, we were just having a blast. But it took ’em the first five minutes to figure out it’s okay to laugh at the trans jokes.

MW: Did you have to find some new courage to make this move to stand-up?

WILCHINS: No. People have been telling me for years to do stand-up because I love entertaining people. For years, I’ve said I’m not interested. You have to develop material, you have to practice. It’s a profession. It’s not something you can do just casually: Oh, I’ll just do an hour’s worth of stand-up.

What finally gelled for me was realizing I had a topic that was bigger than me, and wanting to communicate it. Right before I got up there, I was getting nauseous — as I do before every single time I speak in public — and then I thought, “You know what? I don’t care if they laugh. I have a story to tell and I’m going to tell it.”

I read a whole bunch of books on stand-up, because I never studied it formally. The best piece of advice I read was, “Have something to say.”

I realize I can’t do regular stand-up: bump-bump-joke, bump-bump-joke, about my mother-in-law and how women shop. I’m up there because I am passionate about transgender politics and transgender experience and transgender oppression. That’s why I want to be up there. It’s a way to educate people about how gender-queer folks get hurt.

On another level, when they didn’t laugh when I got up there, I was upset. But I just looked at them and said screw it, you’re going to hear this anyway. Even if you don’t laugh at anything, you’re going to hear everything I have to say, because it’s message material for me. It’s not just telling a joke about something. It’s a way to communicate. This is a way to educate people. They’re laughing, but they’re getting the message.

Someone came up after and said, “I laughed, but you made me think. I learned a lot.” And that’s the whole point. If you can get up and get people upset, you get a limited audience and people are like, “Oh, that angry tranny Riki Wilchins.” But if you can get people to laugh, you get a much bigger audience of people. Especially this last time, there were a lot of straight people. They walk out going, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know that happened to intersex kids.” That’s what I want. I want them to hear it and get it and not feel put off by it.

MW: Reading about stand-up and what goes into this, are there other comedians, specifically, whose work you admire? What you’re trying to accomplish reminds me of Lenny Bruce.

WILCHINS: He’s an inspiration. I must’ve read How to Talk Dirty and Influence People three times. I’ve always wanted to be Lenny Bruce. I’ve just never had a topic that made me as passionate as he was about racial and sexual hypocrisy in America in the ’50s. This I’m passionate about. I never found that trigger to get up there, grab the microphone and talk to people about it.

MW: Till now. What changed?

WILCHINS: It’s a really great question. I think things happen at particular points in time for reasons. Can you use the word weltanschauung? It’s part of the zeitgeist, if you will.

Riki Wilchins
(Photo by Todd Franson)

You know, 10 years ago I was at a courthouse in Falls City, Neb., holding a vigil outside the trial for the murder of Brandon Teena. [Gay press] wouldn’t even cover Brandon Teena because the story wasn’t “gay.” That was 10 years ago. That’s where the movement was. People wouldn’t say “transgender.” There was this huge fight. It wasn’t covered in the gay press. It wasn’t covered in the straight press. It’s not that people are dying at a slower rate — if anything, I think people are dying at a slightly faster rate. The thing is, it’s out there. There’s coverage. People know about it. Even the president said at one point, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” addressing the [Human Rights Campaign] National Dinner. The wheel has turned. The question is what’s the next step? I think the next step now is getting it out to a wider audience. The stand-up is a way to address a wider audience.

MW: Revisiting the past decade, there was your role heading the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC). Has that completely wound down?

WILCHINS: GenderPAC has basically transitioned out of existence. I think what happened was that things we did 10 years ago that were cutting edge, basically they succeeded. Now, 200-some corporations include gender identity and expression in the EEO policies. We used to have a “congressional diversity pledge” to sign because there was no [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] that included gender [identity]. Now ENDA’s up there. We had 11 national lobby days on Capitol Hill. A key focus was hate-crimes legislation. The president just signed it. We wanted to energize college youth, because kids are so on top of this gender thing, and we’ve built a network of over a thousand college chapters. YP4 (Young People For) now runs that. We did a hate-crimes report to track all of the murders, 50 Under 30. That’s now integrated as part of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project report in New York.

These things that 10 years ago no one was doing them, they were completely cutting edge, have become mainstream inside the movement. Now it’s time to look at ways to address people outside the movement. Humor and comedy is a way to invite a larger audience.

MW: Do you plan to tailor the act much? Will a mainstream audience need more Trans 101?

WILCHINS: The whole routine is a Transgender 101. It tracks the arc of a transition. It starts out with doctors, and then changing your name, then having to live in the role, having the surgery, coming out to your parents and so forth.

Most of it starts out making fun of me. Then inside of it is a sting: It goes back and makes fun of the gender system that makes all these ridiculous things necessary to live as a transgender person in America in the year 2009. You learn what it’s like from my experience, and you learn how crazy the system is. But you do it by laughing instead of someone up there yelling.

MW: Are there aspects of transgender identity that might be too sophisticated to turn into comedy?

WILCHINS: There’s just stuff that’s really painful. I’d love to do something that informs people about [anti-]transgender violence. I haven’t figured out a way to do that, to honor it and yet still get some kind of humor out of it. That’s something probably Lenny Bruce could’ve done. He found a way to make racial prejudice funny and get people to think about it. I haven’t found a way to do that. I can’t do it with transgender violence, yet I feel that’s something that needs to be part of the act. One day, maybe I’ll figure it out, but it has to be funny. This is a comedy act. It all has to be funny in the end. And it has to make people think while they laugh — not just think.

I think gay people are ready to laugh at trans. We’ve taught them to walk on eggshells and be politically correct for 10 years. That’s part of the reason they laugh. They’re ready to laugh when they find us, because we’ve all been painfully correct about learning the whole discourse around transgender.

MW: Some of your material is mined from pretty personal stuff. I always regarded you as a fairly private person.


MW: But now you’re onstage talking about gender surgery and orgasms.

WILCHINS: The stage is the best kind of privacy. There’s nothing more private than being onstage with a microphone. It’s just you and the microphone. I can’t explain it. I love talking with audiences. It’s totally intimate. It’s a conversation. I don’t really view stand-up as comedy per se. It is comedy, obviously — you’re talking and they’re laughing. But it’s a conversation with friends. You’re talking with them about really intimate stuff. But they have the same problems I do, in many ways. They just don’t know it. They think that trans people are this strange thing out there. If you looked at a lot of the experiences, a lot of people have had various parts of the same experience. They just don’t talk about it.

They may not have had the experience of having sex-reassignment surgery, but they’ve probably had the experience of being humiliated by a doctor who asked them to jump through ridiculous hoops when all they wanted was help. Or having to explain something difficult to their parents, or getting wanded by airport security. These are common experiences. You just have to mine the humor. That’s part of the genius of comedy: It allows you to see the commonality. People don’t laugh at things that are different. People laugh at things that are the same.

And I’m not afraid of a microphone. A microphone is a very comfortable place. I have a lot of affection for audiences, for people. In some ways, it’s more comfortable to be up there talking. It’s actually harder for me to be in a room of five or six people, talking face to face. I have no idea why.

On a stage, you’re in control of it. You can’t control whether they laugh or not, but you’re in control of the material. They’re not asking the questions. I’m posing the questions myself and I decide how to answer them.

MW: You told me earlier that one of the people advising you on your act is Elizabeth Birch. How has she been helpful?

WILCHINS: Elizabeth suggested you have to use terminology the audience will understand. She said to me, “Part of the reason people don’t get you is they don’t know how to take you. You’re not showing up in ‘high femme’ or trying to appear as something. You have to kind of get them over that hump.” She’s an inspiration. She’s given me a lot of ideas. She’s critiqued part of it. She was in the front row for the first performance, which is a marvelous bit of serendipity, since 10 years ago I was yelling at her from across the table at HRC.

MW: The topic?

WILCHINS: ENDA. I was very full of myself and self-righteous, and I was yelling at her. So it was really cool for her to be there.

MW: Self-righteous? Has that edge mellowed?

WILCHINS: I suppose we all mellow with age. I think I’ve learned to try to be more effective. There are only a limited number of venues that will have you when you yell at them. There’s a lot larger number of venues that will have you when you make them laugh. You can be equally angry, you just get a larger audience.

I think I was partly at fault for making people walk on eggshells. [Laughs.] I did a lot of protesting and picketing back then.

MW: Do you wish somebody had suggested back then that you lighten up?

WILCHINS: They did.

MW: What was your reply?

WILCHINS: “Fuck you.” [Laughs.] Anger is a completely appropriate response to some questions. Anger is a way to open doors. As doors start to open, we need to find additional avenues to engage people. One way to engage people and to get them to sing your song without realizing it is to get them to laugh. When they laugh, they’re on your side.

Even if they don’t agree with you, or they’re not sure they got everything, if they laugh they’re on your side. And that’s the whole point of this: to get people on our side, and to get people thinking about the gender system and why it’s so crazy and why it hurts queers and gay people and kids and women — everybody. That’s the universality of this. When you go back to the pain of trans people, it’s a universal pain. We all get shit on by the gender system at some point, and we all have to deal with it. Trans people are just the most extreme and most visible instance of it.
That’s why the jokes in the routine are universal. It taps into something we’ve all had to deal with. And it needs to be talked about. I don’t mean talked about in the sense when every comedian gets up there and goes, “Men and women are so different, ha ha ha,” and tells 20 jokes. This is about the bullshit.

MW: What invitation do you have for readers to come see you perform The MANgina Monologues? What can you promise them?

WILCHINS: I promise them they’ll laugh. They’ll have a good time. They’ll know more about gender than when they walked in. What I hope that people really do at the end is feel they’ve connected. Transgender experience is often way out there — the Jerry Springer-ization of it. Hopefully they’ll feel they connected in some way, and they’ve heard something that relates to their own experience. We’re all in this gender system together. We created the craziness, and we can also tear the craziness down. We just have to have a good laugh first.

Riki Wilchins peforms The MANgina Monolgues, “A One Trans Show,” Saturday, Dec. 12, at 11 p.m. at Busboys and Poets, 1025 5th St. NW. Suggested donation is $5. Limited seating. A preview has been posted on

Sara Davis Buechner: On Mike Penner / Christine Daniels

Reposted from Transgroup Blog with the kind permission of Sara Davis Buechner

Original post is at:

On Mike Penner / Christine Daniels
30 November 2009

About two weeks ago I was the subject of a New York Times profile, published in connection with an important piano recital I gave on November 11 in New York City. I had transitioned from David Buechner to Sara Davis Buechner in 1998, and my life since then was the focus of writer Mike Winerip’s article. I’d like to add that Mr. Winerip struck me as a very fine writer, an extremely nice (straight) man, and that one of his motives in writing about me was to applaud the younger American generation’s healthier sexual attitudes, acceptance and inclusiveness.

In many ways I do agree with his thesis, and my own story mirrors some of that. In some ways I disagree as well, and readers of that profile will note it was in Canada and not the USA that my life improved immeasurably in terms of being able to marry, obtain a job appropriate to my skills, and to gain a daily healthy lifestyle — by which I mean simple things like holding my spouse’s hand while walking anywhere in the city of Vancouver without a second thought (I don’t do this in New York except for the Village). I can’t say that I feel as though I owe the United States too many thanks for helping me out over the years.

I’m joining this blog discussion from the standpoint of still answering about 200+ e-mails, primarily from folks of the LGBT community who contacted me to tell me that my story gave them hope and inspiration. I was very touched by the words I’ve read about me here on this website, too — thanks very much (I am very grateful for a site like this people can find REAL information, sensitivity and insight). Acting as a role model is a new experience for me. I am used to playing the piano in front of people, enjoying music together, bowing to applause and greeting people afterwards for a few kind words. But I’ve pretty much left discussion of my TG experience on the back burner for a number of years. I’ve not addressed it much. Mostly that’s from the good fortune of living in a country where it doesn’t seem to matter (I think that trickles down from the government establishing equal marriage for all, by the way).

Anyway, I’ve been in a very positive frame of mind for the past few weeks, until yesterday reading about Mike Penner / Christine Daniels. That story hit me like a ton of bricks. And I felt suddenly that I wanted, even needed, to say something about it, and that’s why I’m writing.

I read the story on the LA Times website, but also online from the NY Daily News and NY Post — all accompanied by comments by posters ranging from sympathetic to rampantly hateful.

Suddenly I’m not in a very positive frame of mind anymore.

I never knew Mike/Christine, and I’m referring to him/her dually here — as I never do otherwise — because I’ve not seen it clearly articulated yet what his/her final wishes on the subject of chosen gender were. Please correct me as may need be; of course I am sensitive to correct address and I want to do the right thing, properly and respectfully.

I see Mike/Christine as an accomplished person in the media field — it’s not really the arts but a close cousin in journalism — making the change publicly in midstream. Not in a famous Today Show entertainment business way as with Chaz Bono, but well-known enough in a chosen professional field, and that’s why it seems very similar to my own tale.

In the midst of my transition ca. 1997-98 I remember well going to support groups and meeting people addicted to drugs, drink, people selling their bodies for sustenance. I had never met people like that before. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I often said to myself, even as paying my own rent and making ends meet became tough. Out of loneliness mostly I did a few marginal activities in the darkness of the Manhattan downtown too. At least I always had a bed, a roof, and some food. Yet I too would sometimes drink for days on end, or wildly swallow every pill in the medicine cabinet, or just sink into profound depression for days on end. It’s hard to transition, just plain hard. Hard when young, hard when old, hard when poor, hard when rich, hard whatever color or station, wherever, whenever. And of course, even after living as Sara for a year or two or even three, there were times when I thought: “shit, life was easier before, even if I was miserable. Who needs this?”

And worst of all, I remember how embarrassed I felt. Embarrassed that, at age 40, I didn’t look like 20 for sure, and nobody’s pin-up. My boobs weren’t great, my nose and chin are still too damn big, my first vagina was a mess (second operation fixed it mostly). Embarrassed by my fucking voice (I still get “sir” on the phone all the time but I don’t give a damn and I’m not getting my vocal cords sliced up). Embarrassed by the looks of all my old male friends whose eyes and attitude told me: I know you’re really just turned on wearing panties and a bra, you cross-dressed cocksucking pervert. Embarrassed and ashamed by ex-lovers (hated), ex-friends (lost), ex-employers (fired), ex-family (gone). People called my poor parents to tell them how sorry they felt for them. I was often embarrassed just walking down the street and riding the subway. The looks, the comments, the constant sense of condemnation. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I sensed some people thinking. Fair enough, maybe, a good lesson in judgement for me.

In Japan, it’s called “losing face,” and it’s understood that you SHOULD off yourself if your face is lost.

It’s absolutely true that none of us should make any pronouncements about Mike/Christine. I have no knowledge of his/her individual situation, or what caused the suicide. It may have been wholly non-gender related. Of course, in my gut, I doubt that — because I have been there, and done that. And I can say from experience, I know how close it was, how just a bad day or two, a few words from someone who was once a friend or family, can make a difference. In terms of making a decision and taking action that cannot be re-thought.

And I guess my main thought today is — let’s shelve some of that NY Times self-congratulatory “Look how far we’ve come talk” for a while. Just read those ugly comments on the websites. Look how far we need to go, to get past a society where there is such pontificational opinion, such condemnation, such busybodyness about others. To the point of hatred and violence. To where we are mocked and maimed and killed for walking on the street. To where we can’t hold hands with loved ones, out of fear. To where intelligent and accomplished people like Mike/Christine have to endure so much to be true to their heart. You know, in a better world, that news of change would and should have been just a big nothing — no news at all. “Oh, Mike is now Christine. And how’s her column about the Dodgers today?” Or “Christine is back to Mike now. What’s he got to say about the Lakers?”

We need to aim for the day that we really can embrace the fullness of our humanity and celebrate the kaleidoscopic ways in which we are made. I pray it comes in my lifetime. But as I said, I don’t feel very positive about it today. Nonetheless, I’ll be stubborn and choose to celebrate the life of Mike and Christine as one of incredible courage and accomplishment. What a proud and beautiful human being.

Sara Davis Buechner
Osaka, Japan

The ENDA Stall

The thrill is gone.

I voted for Obama, even contributed to the campaign thinking a Corporacrat was better than a Corporacan.

I was never all that thrilled about him as he always seemed too conservative and corporate.  I knew he was deep in the pockets of the Christo-fascists like Rick Warren.  That he wasn’t as much of a friend to the LGBT/T communities as people thought he was.

I feel less inclined to attack our own such as HRC, NGLTF etc for playing the lobbying game, even though I am not too sure that we have much chance of winning that one. Considering how one side of the corporate power structure loves using us as scapegoats and how in spite of a 60/40 majority the “liberal” side of the corporate power structure seems unwilling or unable to actually change much of anything.

Perhaps they will dole out change in drips and dabs.  Things like the hate crimes bill were easy since they love the prison industrial complex.  ENDA is harder because we have seen very few civil rights laws protecting minority groups passed on a nation wide basis since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which cost the Democrats rule for over 40 years.

Do people remember what was going on in the 1960s that brought on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It was as much “Burn, Baby, Burn” as “I have a Dream”.

Now they have ratcheted down the controls and we live in a police state where demonstration tactics that were misdemeanor malicious mischief are now felony terrorist acts but maybe it is time to roll out the non-violent protests of marching and sitting in.

Demanding equality rather than paying lobbyists to beg for it.

Maybe it is time to join with other groups and form one big movement with lots of demands, real demands like economic justice and equality for all and not just our one particular “community”. We have let identity politics divide us when we need to put those aside and unite to win on issues like Nationalizing Health Care, Saving the Environment, Ending Discrimination.

I haven’t seen very much talk among the TS/TG communities regarding the Health Care debate, yet so many of us are among the under/unemployed and totally with out health care.  Perhaps this is due to many outspoken people on the internet being relatively privileged or perhaps it is due to taking for granted that we will be used as sacrificial lambs and that SRS is as radioactive as abortion.  But just as women’s health care issues in general do not began and end with abortion our special needs do not began and end with SRS.

Transsexualism/transgenderism is very much a gray area matter that would be all too easy to classify as a pre-existing condition.

Health Care is the topic of current debate and we should be yet more voices for a government run single payer public option that can not discriminate against TS/TG folks.

The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for employees to form unions that would help protect workers from capricious firings and end the tyranny of employment at will where the employer can fire for no good reason.  There is power in a union and TS/TG folks could very much benefit from being part of the union movement.

I am from an era when we took to the streets, a time when being an activist did not mean being part of a corporate “activist” organization.  It meant grassroots organizing and direct action.  Not sending a soft spoken, well dressed supplicant to Washington to beg favor from some one bought and paid for by vastly rich and often very conservative corporations, the very  corporations represented by a corporate controlled mass media.

I have heard grumbling among some ENDA Activists that the Same Sex Marriage Issue is taking too much energy and our focus should be on the passage of ENDA.  Yet ENDA is a battle actually being won, if not on a national level, then on a local one.  Thinking globally and acting locally has resulted in a large number of cities passing anti-discrimination laws that are trans-inclusive.  The same can be said of many corporations adopting trans-inclusive non-discrimination language in their employment policies.

It often seems that we see little in the way of results from the national organizations.  When one looks to these organizations and answers ads to become an organizer one all too often finds that the title “organizer” has come to mean at the low end anyway “professional beggar” or fund raiser, cold calling asking for pledges to support the salaried Washington Lobbying staff.

Maybe instead of quietly wining and dining people who throw us under the bus, treating them to dinner and campaign donations in far away DC we should instead make noise in the local party activities as their constituents.  Such activity might stir us from our complacency and result in more positive movement in a favorable direction than we have seen in recent years as a result of the professional activism by our national organizations.

Too often any complaints about the failure to show results have been treated as ingratitude by the various national organizations such as HRC.  Now HRC represents someone, but some how I am always left with the feeling that the someone HRC represents is not a working class LGBT/T person but rather an upper middle class person  considered a target demographic when selling advertising for publications such as Out or the Advocate.

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LGBT/T Americans Outraged At Delay In Basic Job Rights

Press Release – December 4th, 2009


Washington, DC – In light of continuing delays in the House of Representatives, we must state clearly and unequivocally: Passing basic job protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people must happen now. At a time when our government is deeply focused on the critical issue of employment, it is inexcusable to delay action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Each and every job lost to prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity needlessly compounds the unemployment challenges facing our nation. We call on Congress for the immediate passage of ENDA.

For decades now, we have called upon Congress to pass legislation to address the basic right of LGBT people to work free from discrimination at our jobs, and now Congress tells us we must wait another year. In 29 states, it remains legal to fire people based on sexual orientation and in 38 states, discrimination based on gender identity remains legal. In failing to take swift action to pass ENDA, our government allows unfettered bigotry to go unchecked, leading to the loss of jobs, fear in the workplace, economic instability, and personal hardship, while allowing employers to lose competent experienced workers. ENDA is urgently needed by our communities.

The majority of Americans consistently state their support for employment protections and voters have affirmed similar state and local measures. There is absolutely no reason for Congress to continue to delay this non-controversial bill or drop LGBT issues to the bottom of their agenda. We will not be denied basic rights any longer.  Nothing is more important than protecting peoples’ jobs so ENDA must pass now. Further delays are absolutely unacceptable.

Matthew Coles & James Esseks, Co-Directors, American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project

Terry Stone, Executive Director, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

Toni Broaddus, Executive Director, Equality Federation

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director, Family Equality Council

Lee Swislow, Executive Director, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders

Jarrett Tomás Barrios, President, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Joe Solmonese, President, Human Rights Campaign

Rachel T. Niven, Executive Director, Immigration Equality

Earl Fowlkes, President/CEO, International Federation of Black Prides, Inc.

Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director, Lambda Legal

Christian Berle, Director of the Log Cabin Republicans National Office

Sharon J. Lettman, Executive Director/CEO, National Black Justice Coalition

Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights

Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality

Rebecca Fox, Executive Director, National Coalition for LGBT Health

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund

Michael Mitchell, Executive Director, National Stonewall Democrats

Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition

Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates

Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National

Jo Kenny, Interim Director, Pride at Work AFL-CIO

Masen Davis, Executive Director, Transgender Law Center

Additional organizations may be added.


Jenna Lowenstein

Director of Communications


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Friday Night Fun and Culture

This week a Two-Fer

Gloria Gaynor— I Will Survive

Sister Sledge— We Are Family

Suicide Prevention and the Need for Support Beyond Transition

I’m sort of shaken this morning by a letter I received from someone who read yesterday’s post.

I feel the same sense of powerlessness I felt back in 1987 when I quit taking drugs and told a number of my very self destructive friends not to come to my apartment or even call me when they were high, which basically meant severing my friendship with them.  I couldn’t continue to be around users and get clean.

It took years more for me to get sober.  In a few weeks it will be nine years since my last drink.

I didn’t find a transsexual/transgender NA/AA.

Most support groups are all about transition.  If they approach self destructive issues such as substance abuse or sex work they do so the way my friend, Shirley Bushnell’s center did and address those issues in terms of harm reduction.

Popular wisdom is that we shouldn’t have much to do with each other and that having friends who are TS/TG is a sign of failure.  That all our friends should be normborns who are clueless regarding what we have gone through and continue to go through.

Remember what I said about John Rechy saying that LGBT/T people are the only oppressed minority born into the family of the oppressor. Damn it like Sister Sledge sang, “We are Family” and it would highly behoove us to stop tearing each other down and especially stop with the tearing down of the people trying to do something to better all of our lives.

Some wrote to tell me how strong I was and how I may be rough around the edges and not sugar coat word but that I speak the truth. Those made me feel good.

But the letter that left me shaken told me of  a life filled with pain and emptiness and plans to end that pain with suicide.

I do not know this person in 3D.  Only a name from a mailing list of someone who reads but does not post for before blogs mailing lists were places people went to read the interchange of ideas from a few who wrote the bulk of all the posts.

I do not know of an on line or 3D suicide prevention unit I could suggest that is staffed with TS/TG people who understand the issues.

The old National Transsexual Counseling Unit wasn’t political.  I oftten think that is why it was a historical blank space.  Like the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center it offered support and services.  I know all the arguments about how so many of us are only part of any sort of transsexual community for the period of transition.  It is as though we think we are much better than others like ourselves.  we come from solitude and shame and return there.

The few activists do what they can and burn out by being overwhelmed by those who need so much, ask for so much and have so much pain discourages most of us from becoming helping professionals.

I don’t have an answer.  Perhaps someone reading this will and will post of places one can seek this sort of help.  I will pass any information to the person who wrote.

Suicide: Christine Penner’s and Others

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Day of Remembrance.  On one hand it seems important to remember those who were victims of often horrendous violence and yet it often seems that in death these victims become tools to be used for political gain.  Especially true when so many were sex workers living outside middle class support systems.

But then again over the years I have lost more friends to suicide than to violence.  So many that I often wonder if we shouldn’t have a Day of Rememberance for those who kill themselves

But there is something else.  I’ve been out and known people associated with various trans-prefixed words for well over 40 years. Many of the sisters I knew in the 1960s and 70s are dead now, way too many committed suicide either quickly or slowly.

At first I didn’t recognize that a sister who repeatedly overdoses on downers doesn’t really have a drug problem but really is, to quote the title of a Rolling Stones song, “Dancing with Mister D”.

Depression, drugs and death.  Suicide quick and suicide slow.

In 1973 I met a sister in LA, probably transgender although we did not use that term yet.  I fell in love with her.  She was so vunerable, so hurting.  Her name was Stephanie Johnson.  She was Cuban, brought to the states in the first mass immigration of Cubans leaving after the revolution.

I met her at the Speak 39, a dive Hollywood Drag Bar for trannie hookers that didn’t bother to pretend to be anything else.  Quaaludes were popular then as was mad indiscriminate sex.  She asked me what I was doing there (I was being paid by a writer to show him around the scene) and didn’t I know that the Speak was a drag bar.  I told her I was a sex change and she waned to see.  We wound up having sex in the rest room.

Over the next year I was constantly trying to keep her out of trouble, keep her alive.  Like me she had been raised in a Catholic family.  Her’s far harsher than mine.

She over dosed and died on Valentine’s Day 1974.

This year I lost another friend, she was from Europe.  A brilliant professor, perhaps the top person in the world in her field. Post-SRS with seemingly everything going for her.

About 15 years ago Riki Wilchins had a list of some 20 things you shouldn’t say to a T to F transsexual.  One of them was:

“You must have had a lot of courage to face surgery.”

To have the actual surgery, I just had to be able to breathe deeply, count at least partway backwards from 100, and fall asleep with some semblance of dignity. In all of these tasks I was reliably aided by enough I.V. anesthetic to subdue a small water buffalo. It would also have helped, had I $10-20,000 in spare change (See #1 above) about my person. Unfortunately, while I was thus drifting majestically off to sleep, I found I also had to be able to watch my friends, most of my lovers, all of my family, and any lesbian who used the term “politically correct” in any context other than a Lily Tomlin joke, fade out of my existence forever. Also, I found that I woke up to endless refrains of DON’Ts #1 – 7, above. That is the hard part; the surgery I could probably do again before breakfast.

Even those of us who are the most envied because we came out young and pretty have to face unbearably harsh lives.  Being transsexual or transgender is not for sissies and takes unreal levels of courage.

Most of us endured years of physical and emotional abuse as children.

We grew up in isolation, thinking we were the only one. Parents protecting us from the knowledge that there were others like us and that we were every bit as entitled to decent lives as anyone else.  John Rechy says that LGBT/T people are the only minority born into the families of their oppressor.

So many of us have childhoods that are considered extenuating circumstances in criminal sentencing procedures.

So many of us commit suicide as children because we are told we are hated abominations so often by so many that death seems a better alternative.  We pray to an imaginary god to make us whole without realizing the version of the Epicurean Dilemma we are participating in.  The version that goes like this.  Would a loving caring god tolerate having children born something that is an abomination by the very rule laid down by that god?  If so would such a god not be cruel and capricious?  Would a god not hear the pitiful prayers of the child wanting to be whole and not an abomination?

My answer was.  No god.  The contradictions destroyed the whole idea.  But then I’m a rebel and a fighter.  How many of us let that harsh label of abomination put on us by a misogynistic system of superstition be a major source of pain?  Even if one becomes an atheist the way I did, convincing the rest of our family and friends that there is no god and that their foolish book of taboos has a whole lot of forbidden things that they ignore while picking on us for a particular passage, is near impossible.

We have people like Bailey and Blanchard spewing all sorts of garbage. Perversifying our lives with “theories” regarding why some of us come out young and others in middle age.  All of which seem to ignore the reality of relationships.  Love, marriage, children.

About ten years back I did an internet performance piece called “If”.  I rewrote an APA announcement regarding homosexuality that said even suggesting that homosexuality might be a mental illness creates stress that can lead to psychological issues.

At the same time we have to live with an APA dictum that says we have GID.  And not have issues.

So now we are psychically disordered abominations.  Shit, writing this is enough to make me depressed.

At this point I should point you to Donna Rose’s book, Wrapped in Blue: A Journey of Discovery.

Let’s look at coming out a little older, after having become a parent.  One is very fortunate if one is able to stay partnered and a parent.  All too often the pattern is a disastrous divorce and no contact with your children.

One of the most hateful things my parents told me as an obvious transkid, who had been busted for both dressing up and being too obvious was, “No on will ever love you. Not a man, not a woman, not even queer men or women.  You will have no one and will be all alone.”  Pretty harsh?  Yet almost all of us grew up being the only one with our problem.

Disowning is so common.  My family disowned me.  I’ve known sisters who didn’t get SRS because they feared being disowned.  Others wait until their parents are dead and their children grown

Unlovable, disordered abominations…  Do the answers start coming out yet?

Subject to job and housing discrimination.  Loss of career.  Steep medical costs.  All these factors.

I’m going to add one more.  When I started this blog I declared a moratorium on gratuitous name calling.  Not because I think transsexual and transgender are the same thing but because I started seeing I was part of the problem and not part of the solution.  I was adding internalized transphobia  by trashing transgender people when in the 3D world some of the people I cared about the most were transgender.

Why should I add to the problem?  Of course several people who seem to troll the internet denounced me and that strengthened my resolve because I really am not like them.

I actually care about those who are living and struggling with the weight of all the bullshit laid upon us.  I think that caring is the best way I can remember those friends who killed themselves.

In the dissecting of Christine Penner’s suicide I see all sorts of avoidance of the real issues that drive people to kill themselves.  Better to dismiss her as a CD who got carried away as though that will keep the demons of despair brought on by bigotry and transphobia away from our door, as though that will quiet our own inner demons that tell us we are abominations, mentally ill, unloved and unlovable.

Maybe we should try being a little kinder to each other and show more concern when one of our own seems to be showing signs of being in trouble.

Tina did that for me some 9 years ago and I am here to write this.  Friends kept me alive through some pretty dark periods of despair.

If my words can convince others to act kinder towards each other then I have done my part to create change.

The real revolution is within each of us.  If we start seeing transsexual and transgender as just something we are and not a competition that only a few of the prettiest and most supported can win perhaps we will lose fewer to both suicide and violence.

Why Is Our Community Silent on ENDA?

From Bilrico

Filed by: Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

December 1, 2009 11:30 AM

The rumors of problems with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act havebeen circulating for weeks now <> ,
and yet there has been little response by the LGBT community and the wider progressive community. The markup of the bill has been postponed with no reschedule date by Representative George Miller, chair of the House Committee where the bill is currently languishing.

It is pretty obvious even to casual observers that ENDA’s passage will occur “no time soon,” in the words of Jewelle Johnson, head of the diversity committee at national labor law firm Fisher & Johnson in today’s edition of Human Resource Executive Online <> .

Every DC-knowledgeable person I have spoken to is telling me that postponing the House vote until February means ENDA will be pushed to the bottom of the Senate list, and its likelihood of passage is greatly lessened. But there are more than enough votes in the House, and the Senate is missing only a few. The missing Senate votes could be obtained by notching up the momentum and working on the 9 holdouts.
So what happens? The motor is switched off.

Where is Congressman Barney Frank, the most powerful U.S.  Representative? Where are Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis? Senator Jeff Merkley, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill?
President Obama? And, more importantly, where are Y-O-U, LGBT community and media? I’ve not seen many stories about ENDA in the LGBT media, let alone the progressive media. Michelangelo Signorile, I’ve not heard from you. I’ve not seen community organizations stepping up to the plate and asking their Congressmembers to demand a markup of  the bill now. HRC, NGLTF, NCLR – where are you? Bloggers – Andy Towle, Joe My God – almost complete silence.

We have a community conference call scheduled for today to discuss emergency action on ENDA <> , and how many people are registered? 70.

70 out of 30 million LGBT people in this country. For shame.

Perhaps if we understood why the community is silent, if we understood the problem, we could redress it.

Perhaps if we understood why everything else is more important than ENDA, which was called the “keystone” to LGBT rights by John Berry, the highest ranking Administration official, we could get our community and the progressive community and our media and the Congress and the Administration moving.

Perhaps if we understood why discussing Adam Lambert is more interesting than discussing our civil rights, we could shift our emphasis.

Perhaps…but “understanding” is the booby prize in this fight.  “Understanding” our silent complicity in shunting our rights aside, that is driving with the rear-view mirror. We need ACTION. We need those who hold the levers and dials of action in our community to stand up and speak. We need our LGBT media, and our LGBT organizations and our LGBT officials to start going against the great tide of lethargy washing over our so-called “movement.”

We are going gentle into that good night, in the words of the poet Dylan Thomas.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I have some questions I would like us to consider as a community:

1. Why is our community silent on ENDA?

2. Why isn’t our high rate of job discrimination, and the bill designed to fix it that has an excellent chance of passage, page one news in our own community’s media and among our politicians?

3. Why aren’t you demanding that your community organizations and your media and your politicians speak up on ENDA?

4. Are we ready as a community to grab the brass ring of civil rights, or are we content to drift?

5. Why aren’t you calling and discussing and spotlighting the three politicians <> needed to move ENDA forward right now?

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National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Alert

Tomorrow is the day to speak up!

Everyone deserves health care.
Be sure your senator votes to cover women’s health care needs.

Yesterday the Senate started debating their version of health care reform. Choice USA is organizing a National Call to Action tomorrow! Help make sure our senators take our voices to their fights on the floor.

The Stupak-Pitts Amendment passed at the last minute in the House version of health care reform. We don’t want the same thing to happen in the Senate. If language like Stupak’s makes it into the Senate bill, abortion will become all but impossible to access. We deserve better than this. Health care reform should increase our access to care, not further restrict it. Here’s what you can do to keep the Senate from Stupaking:

  • Join Choice USA‘s National Call-In! Call your Senator at 1-888-423-5983. Step one: ask them to keep an anti-choice Amendment like Stupak’s from ending up in their bill. Step two: remind your Senator to strike down the Hatch’s abstinence-only funding Amendment. Our legislators need to know we’re still watching. Click here for a Call-In Day script and check out these tips on how to use Facebook and Twitter to amplify your voice.
  • Head to an event in your state. Check out what’s happening near you!

We deserve to be fought for on the floor. Let’s not allow the Senate to negotiate their bill by sacrificing the comprehensive health care women and young people need!

See you on the phones and at rallies around the states tomorrow!

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D.C. Council votes to legalize same-sex marriage

The D.C. Council has voted 11 to 2 to legalize same-sex marriage in the District.

Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8 ) and Yvette Alexander ( D-Ward 7) were the only two members to vote against the bill.

The council will have to take a second vote in two weeks before the bill goes to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has pledged to sign it.

December 1, World AIDS Day

In the Summer of 1981 I was dating a woman , who lived on Delores Street in San Francisco across from Mission-Delores Park.

It was just a few months into the Reagan Regime and the war between sex positive and pro-censorship lesbians was just on the horizon.  I was going to school in Santa Rosa and would hang out with her on the weekends as well run around with a gay male friend of mine who lived up on Twin Peaks.

It was a hedonistic time.  I was still in Shane mode (L-Word reference) and loving freely.  I was having unprotected sex with one sister who was a sex worker and another sister who was also promiscious, mostly with women.  My main girlfriend had been in a relationship with Kim, a sister I knew from the days we were both in the program at Stanford.  If this all sounds like the plot to a Michelle Tea book…  Well.. Valencia Street is only a couple of blocks away from where my girlfriend lived.

That summer gay men started getting sick, by fall they were dying of a disease that had no name.  One of the men who lived down stairs from her died and his partner was dying.

As summer faded the few cases turned into many cases and as winter set in they started calling it “the gay cancer”.  Soon it would become GRID or (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).

By Pride Day 1982 I would be more or less celibate, yet marching bare breasted in S/M leather with the women of Samois, a sex positive lesbian group that both opposed censorship and was at that point just about the only lesbian group that was openly supportive of women born transsexual.  My leather was more punk than S/M but the defiance was the same.

“And the Band Played On”  (see both the Randy Shilts book and the film).  As the number of deaths passed a thousand gay men still fought to defend the hard won sexual freedom of the 1970s.  And President Reagan never uttered the word AIDS as the disease had come to be named.

By 1985/86,  San Francisco had become like Camus’ Oran, a city of Plague where death walked stealing friends and co-workers, leaving those who were HIV- with address books filled with scratched out names.  A city of mourning, yet the research dollars trickled instead of flowing.

A grim joke at the time was, “What is the hardest part of having AIDS?  Convincing your parents you are Haitian.” Because AIDS was never only a gay male disease. Haitians, drug users, hemophiliacs and women, people who had blood transfusions.

Yet I would go to offices to service computers and ask where so and so was only to hear he had died.  I stopped asking and started drinking more often.  A sign in the Metro said “We all have AIDS Now”.  I tried to deny that one, but then I one gray day I saw a group of men gathered around one of their friends who had collapsed in the street and died, just as the rescue crew was arriving.

I fled the City for Los Angeles.  San Francisco’s compactness had made it all too claustrophobic, in LA even though there were far more people with AIDS the size of the city meant that it was less concentrated. I still got the phone calls.  Bear died, Kim too.  In LA it seemed as though half the queens I had known who were sex workers or performers at the C’est la Vie were either sick or dead.  But mostly though it seemed as though  post-SRS women had by and large escaped the disease, at least among my circle of friends.

Now we have lived with AIDS for nearly 30 years.  It isn’t an automatic death sentence.  It is “manageable” for those who can pay the thousands for the “cocktail”.  Some times it seems as though Larry Kramer is the only angry prophet left voicing outrage at how this disease has become yet one more profit stream for the drug corporations to use as an instrument of control.

Perhaps we need to ask some Krameresque questions:  Who is being controlled, and who is doing the controlling?  Who is profiting?  Why?  Who is still dying?  Why?

Why does it seem as though every disaster becomes a corporate money stream?