We Were Here

Last night KERA, our local PBS station aired  the documentary We Were Here on its series, Frontline.

We Were Here is a powerful documentary about the worst years of the AIDS Crisis in San Francisco.

In early 1980, I left Los Angeles to move to the Santa Rosa area about 50 miles north of San Francisco.  I went there to go to Santa Rosa Junior College where I studied electronics and computer science.

San Francisco was a place I went to for recreation.

It was two years after both the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone, two years after Jim Jones and the People’s Temple self-destructed.

I was friends with a gay man who lived up on Twin Peaks and a sister who  lived on Powell St up the hill from Union Square.

In the spring of 1981, I became involved with a woman, who lived on Delores St. across from the Mission and Delores Park.

She rode a Honda 450 and had a beautiful tattoo of a golden carp swimming up stream.  It was a very Japanese tattoo done by Lyle Tuttle.

She shared a flat upstairs over two gay men.

Life was very gay and lesbian although the radfems had made transsexual and transgender lesbians uncomfortable in the political context we still went to the bars and discos.

We were like a circle of friends and friends often slept with friends and lovers went around the circle.  My lover had been lovers with Kim, a sister who went through the Stanford Program about 9 months before I had, she had also gone to bed with the sister I knew on Powell St as well as my artist friend, Jamie, a sister who lived in Noe Valley.

The Pride Day Parade that year went on forever.

That summer one of the gay men who lived downstairs from my girlfriend became very sick and died… He was in his early thirties…

That summer Kim was very ill.  She had been an IV Drug user and I thought maybe that was why she was ill.

I broke up with my girl friend before Christmas.

By that time a number of gay men were dying of a disease that didn’t yet have a name and had a wide variety of lethal symptoms.

They called it the “Gay Cancer.”

Then it became GRID for Gay Related Immune Deficiency.

I was living in the Silicon Valley.

While lesbians weren’t getting sick the concern was that AIDS had been an invented disease and was being used to exterminate gay people.

Now there was talk of it being sexually transmitted and some people were concerned about being close to me, because I had loved very freely and had sex with transgender sisters, many of whom were also dying of AIDS.

I hated life in the Silicon Valley and moved up to the city in the summer of 83.  I had an apartment on Duboce  near Church.

I was working at a computer store on Montgomery near the Trans-America Pyramid.

I was servicing machines through out the Financial District.

I quickly became aware that I was surrounded by death.

When I went to Castro Street so many of the young men who had been so handsome and alive a few years prior now looked like photographs of the survivors of the Nazi Death camps.  They were skin and bones, with sunken cheeks and bulging eyes.

The same was true on Polk Street…

The husband of the woman who ran the computer store was a hemophiliac and had AIDS.

The city became like Oran from Camus’s book The Plague.

Going on among so much death became so hard and I started drinking more and more.

One day I saw a poster in the subway station. It said, “We all have AIDS Now!”

Although I shook my head and said, “No we don’t.”  In truth all our lives were touched.

So many deaths. Incredibly talented and wonderfully amusing people were dying.

Our friends and relatives.

And Ronald Reagan couldn’t bring himself to say the word AIDS.

Reading the Bay Area Reporter became painful.  People stopped asking the standard greeting of, “How are you?”  Afraid of the answer.

The man at the bookstore, the magazine stand.

Some of my friends were sick and dying.

I had given up sex and then I started preaching safer sex.

I became so depressed I lost the ability to function.

Finally at the end of 1986 I fled San Francisco.

I had seen too much death.

Perhaps it was seeing the men gathered around the body of one of their friends who collapsed and died on Castro Street a few doors down from the hardware store.

I went to Los Angeles where I discovered a number of my transgender friends, sisters I had photographed in the 1970s were dead or dying.

Surprisingly less so among sex workers than among the sisters who were performers and who had prided themselves on not getting paid for sex.

My preaching of condom use often fell upon deaf ears and yet I continued to preach it until my friends started using them and stopped having sex without them.

In the late 80s I learned that Kim had died of AIDS.  Then a cousin, only my relatives tried to say he died of a heart attack.

LA had more cases of AIDS but living there and dealing with it was more manageable because there were so many more people in LA and because drugs were starting to come available.

In 1994 I was very sick with something that wouldn’t go away. I was tested and came back HIV negative.  I had a drug resistant pneumonia that required some serious antibiotics to cure.

Occasionally someone I knew would become HIV Positive and a couple developed full blown AIDS and died but the worst was over.

People started talking about living with HIV and it became manageable.

As much as I hated that poster for the truth that it spoke…

I see the pictures shown on that documentary and remember the sunken face of the corpse like men who wandered the city of Oran by the Bay and I am haunted by the memories.

I guess I wasn’t as wild as I thought, I never shot drugs and I guess I was lucky to have lived through those times when so many around me were dying.

I am still angry with Reagan and the Republican indifference.

I am still angry with those who called this horrible disease a sign from some evil god.  Furious with those who abused the sick and dying.

So many of those sweet, talented loving gay men were so much better than any hate spewing religious fanatic or right wing scum bag politician.

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Exit, Don’t Enable the Roman Catholic Church

From Truth Wins Out:   http://www.truthwinsout.org/blog/2012/06/26340/

by Wayne Besen
Posted June 19th, 2012

Reposted with Permission

If there is one thing that irks me, it is having the Roman Catholic Church preach to me about sexual morality. It is a religious sect led by a virulently homophobic Pope that goes out of its way to trash my family. Yet, my family hasn’t spent a cent defending itself against nonexistent charges of child rape, while the Vatican has spent $2.5 billion on legal fees, prevention programs, and settlements relating to the sexual abuse of minors.

Exactly why should I listen to what these “holy” men have to say? I’ve been out of the closet for twenty-four years, during which time I worked in the center of the LGBT movement, but can’t think of a single friend or colleague arrested for child molestation. None of the people I associate with have shielded, shuffled, or offered severance packages to pedophiles to protect the institutions that they work for. But such obscene behavior is precisely what the Vatican did, all the while turning my loved ones into scapegoats to obscure their criminality.

The latest preoccupation of the Catholic Church, as well as their brethren in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community, is fiercely lobbying state legislatures not to lower the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.

“Even when you have the institution admitting they knew about the abuse, the perpetrator admitting that he did it, and corroborating evidence, if the statute of limitations has expired, there won’t be any justice,” Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cordozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, explained to the New York Times.

It seems the hierarchy is only interested in saving its own skin, instead of paying a price for those whose skin it violated. For a church built on a human sacrifice, there is scant evidence of noble virtues as the church lies and litigates against its victims.

Which brings us to a burning question: Why do liberal Catholics continue to support an intolerant, homophobic, misogynistic institution capable of covering up heinous crimes against children?

I’m not the only one asking this pertinent question. On June 1, the Freedom From Religion Foundation placed a full-page ad in USA Today headlined, “It’s Time to Quit The Catholic Church.”

According to the ad: “If you think you can change the church from within – get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research – you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

New York Times columnist Bill Keller also urged moderate Catholics to find a new church: “Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause…Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go.”

It does seem as if diehard liberal and moderate Catholics are not fighting so much as being beaten to a pulp by ideologues. If this were a boxing match, it would have been stopped many rounds ago. Indeed, attacks from the right have become so extreme that the Church is even going after American nuns. If nuns aren’t Catholic enough for these fanatics, liberal Catholics sure aren’t going to be embraced any time soon.

This whole debate reminds me of when gay people from conservative backgrounds complain to me that they can’t come out because of the environment in which they were raised. One says, “I grew up in a traditional Chinese household, so I can’t tell my parents.” While another person says, “I grew up in a Pentecostal family, so I can’t tell anyone.” And yet another proclaims, “You wouldn’t understand, it’s not that easy coming out because my parents are from a rural area.”

Everybody has an excuse or explanation, and, no, it’s never easy to come out – but at the same time, it really is a simple process. Saying “I’m gay” works like a charm every time and frees a person to be their authentic self.

Similarly, it may be incredibly difficult to leave the Catholic Church. But, it is also as easy as going to a computer search engine and typing “church” or speaking into your iPhone, “Siri, find me a church.” Within moments dozens of alternatives will pop up – many of which are more concerned with spirituality than the statute of limitations.

Are you tired of being treated like an abused dog by the Catholic Church? Then drop the dogma and quit. After all, they quit you, your family, and your moderate belief system a long time ago. Exit, don’t enable.

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That’s What She Said

From Pretty Queer: http://www.prettyqueer.com/2012/02/27/that-what-she-said/

By Jack Radish
February 27, 2012

Reposted with Permission

Sometimes I wonder whether trans men writing about transmisogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery and how much is sucks is the new spoken word poetry.  Every time I’ve written anything about how trans dude culture can get pretty gross in the way it appropriates the experiences and oppression of trans women, I have gotten tons of great feedback and had so many people tell me I was so smart and sensitive.  I don’t know, I’d love to think that is all true because being smart and sensitive are both things that are important to me in life but at the same time, I have to acknowledge that every time I’ve written something like that, someone has pointed out that I hadn’t written anything that any trans woman had not been saying (and having quickly ignored or dismissed by queer and so-called-trans communities) over and over again for years.  But that suddenly, when it comes from a trans man, someone gives him (me) a fucking medal and he gets hella laid for it.  (For the record, I live in Detroit where no one gets laid for anything, but I’m sure it’s contributed to my getting laid a fair amount of times over the years nevertheless.)

So I want to set the record straight a little.  My contempt for trans-man-douchebaggery and the whole culture that supports it is a sincere and driving force and among the most precious values in my life.  It’s something I think about a lot and it’s something that influences my judgement of character when it comes to friends, lovers and heroes more than most factors.  But it’s definitely not something I just came up with on my own!  It’s something I’ve learned from the badass trans women who have been my mentors, peers, lovers, role models, crushes and best friends throughout my entire adult life and I’m actually pretty sure that without them, I would have ended up just another *aydyn doing bad spoken word poetry at the Trans Day of Remembrance and aspiring to be on the cover of Original Plumbing.

I started transitioning 8 years ago, back when trans dude culture was still feeling pretty antsy about an overall sense of invisibility within larger culture.  That was way before Chaz Bono and before Daniela Sea played a trans man on The L Word (ugh)—back when people would have thought that the idea of having a trans man on The L Word was this totally radical thing and just eat it up.  Trans dudes felt invisible, but also felt oppressed in this way that was kinda hard to define because the people who oppressed us didn’t really even know what a trans man was and usually lumped us in with fags or dykes when choosing insults.  Trans guys wanted to be visible, so they started writing embarrassingly personal essays and presenting them as scholarly articles and publicly presenting trans women’s (usually trans women of color sex workers’) stories as trans people’s stories in kind of exploitative performances they called spoken word poetry.  I think it came from this need to feel visible as a distinct oppressed group by the larger queer community, and to that end, it totally worked.  Every time a trans man opened his mouth or picked up his pen, he was praised as being brave and revolutionary and it became this thing that everyone wanted to fuck a trans guy (any trans guy!)  Within a few years, trans guys were not invisible and as far as the currency of getting laid in queer communities goes, we had a ton of privilege.  But we basically didn’t stop doing those obnoxious things we did a few years earlier in a desperate need to be noticed and for the most part, queer communities have never really stopped eating it up.

When I first came out as trans, I realized pretty early on the danger of becoming a misogynistic douchebag, but I also longed for the company of any other trans person.  Shortly after beginning transition, I went to Camp Trans and was excited to be around a lot of other trans people irl for one of the first times in my life.  I quickly found my awkward early stage in transition and being fat made the trans bro elite reluctant to accept me, but my resolve to learn to resist being a douchebag (even when I wasn’t that great at recognizing what that meant) put me completely on the outside of being part of the cliquey group of trans men that dominated Camp Trans at that point.  Instead, I found what we used to call Camp Awkward—back before awkward was the new sexy—and a few smart badass trans women and other CAMAB trans people and that was the first time I really found somewhere I wanted to belong.

Over the years, that small group of friends who initially saw something in me that they liked and wanted around when no one else would grew into a much larger group of mostly trans women who challenged me and were patient with me and would go to trans events with me and sit in a corner complaining about all the douchey trans men everywhere.  Back when I still thought it was okay to “reclaim” the word “tranny” as a trans man, it was one of these women who was patient enough to have it out with me about it until I figured out that I probably shouldn’t say it anymore and should probably join her in lovingly but firmly challenging other trans guys’ use of the term.  It was a few of these women who called bullshit and lovingly supported me when a group of trans guys at Camp Trans totally humiliated a close friend and I when they told us we “weren’t on the list” for this trans guy only make-out party they had just invited us to (not sure why we wanted to go to that party in the first place, but live and learn).  I’m not sure why they decided I was the trans guy they kinda liked, but these badass women were (and still are) the people I loved and respected and wanted to be and wanted to know and they were the friends and lovers and biggest crushes and heroes who made me into the person I am.

I have never had trouble taking a stand against transmisogyny and other trans-man-douchebaggery, but maybe that’s because my general trans misandry runs pretty deep and it’s been a long time since I had any stake in what most trans bros thought of me.  At this point, I’ve found that if I ever venture into trans man only space (something I generally avoid), I can yell as loudly as I’d like against transmisogyny and no one will listen because I am quickly labelled as an outsider, but the second anyone is watching, the trans bros will start eating up whatever I say in a way that they would not if it were coming from anyone other than another trans man.  There is some sort of social pressure to oppose transmisogyny that kicks in as soon as the larger queer community is watching and suddenly my voice is seen as really important in those spaces, even though I’m not saying anything differently than what my trans women friends and heroes have been saying for years and what I’ve tried to say privately in trans man only space for years.

Recently, I’ve started to notice a few other trans guys getting attention for writing or speaking about transmisogyny amongst trans guys and general trans-man-douchebaggery and being treated like we are saying something completely new and revolutionary when we say it.  I just think it’s important to talk about the fact that we are not.  I think it’s amazing that this stuff has seemed like it’s getting more attention lately because it’s so important to talk about.  I’m also really happy that, if I’m going to use my privilege as a trans man for something, getting people to talk about transmisogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery is the thing that I can use it for.  But it’s still indicative of a huge problem in our community when folx will listen to this stuff coming from a white, college educated, twenty-something trans man ally to trans women, but it is still largely dismissed when it comes from the trans women who experience transmisogyny every day in a way that I never will, and when the community does stop for a second to pay attention to trans women saying this stuff, it is generally those trans women who share similar race, class, age and other privileges as me.

This is why I sometimes wonder whether writing about trans misogyny and trans-man-douchebaggery is the new spoken word poetry amongst trans guys and whether those of us who do it are the new *aydyns.  That’s never been the reason I’ve written stuff like this, but I feel like I often get a similar reception as early 2000’s trans guys doing spoken word.  I don’t think I could ever stop talking about this stuff because it will never stop being important to me and feeling like the right thing to do as long as queer communities are ripe with transmisogyny that they will only think this stuff is important if it comes from a trans man.  But I still think that’s messed up and important to point out.

So I want to use my privilege as a trans man right now to encourage people reading this to listen to trans women when they say all this important stuff that you all eat right up when it comes from a trans guy.  I want to encourage queer folx to search ourselves and examine why we do this.  I want to encourage our queer communities to create space for dialogue about whose voices we privilege or exclude and how we can change this.  And if you don’t think you do this, humour me and search yourself a little anyway because you have probably done this at some point—if not to trans women, then to someone else in your community.  And to my fellow trans man proponents of “the new spoken word”,  my fellow “new *aydyns,” don’t forget to give credit to the badass trans women you learned it all from—cause I know you didn’t just think all this up on your own!

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Everybody’s Trans: Gender Oppression Hurts All of Us

From Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laverne-cox/everybodys-trans-gender-o_b_1605314.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices


When I was bullied as a child, called names, chased home from school, and sometimes physically attacked, it was because of my gender expression. The way I acted was way more feminine than how most of the people around me thought a boy “should” act. Though I was often told I acted like a girl as a child, I was also usually called anti-gay slurs, like “sissy” or “faggot.” I was bullied because of my gender expression, but everyone called it “gay” years before I knew I liked boys, years before I understood I was trans.

I can’t even count how many times I have been interviewed and had to explain that “gay” and “trans” aren’t the same thing, that being gay is about whom you’re attracted to whereas being trans, transgender, or transsexual is about how you see yourself and how you identify your gender and is separate from whom you’re attracted to. They aren’t the same thing. But even though “gay” and “trans” are distinctly different and separate concepts and identities, we can’t fully eradicate homophobia without eradicating transphobia, as well. I was reminded of this last Wednesday, when I sat on a panel, organized by the Stonewall Democrats and the Manhattan Young Democrats, called “Now What: An Activist Life After Gay Marriage.” It’s a fact that trans folks’ issues are often subjugated to those of gays and lesbians. This is evidenced by how trans and gender-nonconforming folks were basically axed from the gay and lesbian civil rights movement in the 1970s, despite the fact that it was mostly trans and gender-nonconforming folks who started the movement with the Stonewall riots in 1969. This tradition was continued when trans folks were dropped from inclusion in the New York bill that would become SONDA (the Sexual-Orientation Nondiscrimination Act), which added sexual orientation to the protected classes in the state’s human rights laws. This bill was passed in 2001 without trans inclusion. The leadership at the time said that they would get back to trans folks. Eleven years later we’re still waiting for gender expression to be added to protected classes in New York. The bill that would do that is called GENDA (the Gender-Expression Nondiscrimination Act).

Speaking at last week’s “Now What” panel, I was reminded that we do ourselves a disservice when we think of fighting for our civil rights piecemeal. In a patriarchal culture, we can’t really fully talk about eradicating sexism without talking about eradicating homophobia, as well. So much systemic male domination has occurred because the patriarch doesn’t want to appear “soft,” which in the homophobic, sexist imagination means “gay,” which, within that oppressive logic, also means “like a woman.” Historically, many patriarchal men have oppressed women so as to not seem “gay,” which, for the patriarch, means, in part, having his masculinity called into question. The patriarch has also oppressed gay folks for the same reason. Based on this oppressive logic, the patriarch has to not only embrace but enforce very rigid gender constructs regarding what it means to be a man or a woman. We can see the links between sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, and at the heart of it all gender oppression.

Continue reading at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laverne-cox/everybodys-trans-gender-o_b_1605314.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices

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Transgender woman sentenced to men’s prison in Minnesota killing

From The LA Times:  http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-transgender-woman-sentenced-to-mens-prison-20120618,0,7339203.story

By Matt Pearce
June 18, 2012

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, 24, and some friends, all of whom were black, were walking outside a Minneapolis bar last June when four white people began calling to them using racial and other types of epithets.

McDonald, who was born a man and is transitioning to a woman, later testified that she and her friends tried to walk away. But, authorities say, one of the bar patrons, Molly Flaherty, smashed a glass of alcohol against McDonald’s face, cutting her.

A fight broke out. At one point, Flaherty’s ex-boyfriend, Dean Schmitz, said: “Look at that boy dressed like a girl,” according to McDonald’s testimony.

He subsequently pulled McDonald out of the melee. Then he put a hand to his shirt and said, “You stabbed me,” according to a witness. To which McDonald replied, according to the witness, “Yes I did.”

With a pair of scissors, in the chest.

Schmitz, a father of three, died on the scene.

The aftermath of the June 5, 2011, killing has been a controversial one in Minnesota, with the transgender community rallying to support McDonald.

Continue reading at:  http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-transgender-woman-sentenced-to-mens-prison-20120618,0,7339203.story

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9 U.S. senators to Harkin: Time to move on ENDA

From The Washington Blade:  http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/06/19/9-u-s-senators-to-harkin-time-to-move-on-enda/

By Chris Johnson
June 19, 2012

A bipartisan group of nine senators is backing the idea of having the Senate panel with jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act advance the legislation to the floor by a committee vote.

The group is asking for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, to hold a markup on ENDA in the wake of the panel’s hearing on the legislation last week and the senator’s remarks to the Washington Blade immediately afterward that he wanted “to poll the committee” about moving the bill forward.

In the week after the hearing, the Blade solicited statements from the offices of all 22 members of the Senate panel on whether they want to see the committee move the legislation to the Senate floor. Those who responded affirmatively were spokespersons for Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s lead sponsor, as well as Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the only Republican on the panel who responded to the Blade’s inquiry.

All 12 Democrats on the panel — as well as Kirk, an original co-sponsor of the bill — are among the 41 total co-sponsors of ENDA, so the bill should have no trouble moving out of committee. The legislation would bar employers in most situations in the public and private workforce from discriminating against workers because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sanders’ office accompanied his call for a committee vote on ENDA with a statement saying the time is now to pass ENDA to end workforce discrimination against LGBT people.

“As I’ve said many times before, discrimination of any kind is not what America is supposed to be about,” Sanders said. “Yet only 16 states, including my own state of Vermont, and D.C. currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I will fully support Sen. Merkley and Chairman Harkin in their efforts to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act out of committee, because no Americans should have to live with the fear of losing their jobs simply because of who they are.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.washingtonblade.com/2012/06/19/9-u-s-senators-to-harkin-time-to-move-on-enda/

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“Bible Believing” Response to Gay Documentary Promotes Anti-Transgender Violence

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