Monday, June 18, 2007
Robert Schwanhausser's life has two big chapters: one as a man and now one as a woman
NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Bobbi Swan today and, in inset, as Ryan Aeronautical Vice President Robert Schwanhausser. "What an experience to have had two" genders, Swan said during a recent visit to San Diego. "That is remarkable. That is quite a gift."
At San Diego's Ryan Aeronautical, Vice President Schwanhausser cut a dashing figure. He launched spy drones over China in the '50s; slipped in and out of Saigon; sipped champagne at the Paris Air Show; briefed generals and presidents.
He led a team of the best and brightest, technical division. They are retired now, but they remember their chief as a beau ideal, the engineer as man of action.
“It was an exciting career,” said Erich Oemcke, who came to work on Ryan drones in 1960. “Bob Schwanhausser made it possible.”
Schwanhausser's own career was brilliant and turbulent. For Teledyne Ryan – the companies merged in 1970 – he led subsidiaries in Alabama and Ohio. He traveled a traditional executive career path, serving on local boards, joining the Navy League and the National Rifle Association, donating to Republican candidates.
But he never rose to the presidency, for reasons that may have seemed obvious. There was the bruising clash with a well-connected superior. The womanizing. The boozing. Swany did little to hide any of this; he focused on containing other, more damaging, secrets.
When he lived alone, which was often, he would draw the curtains in his condo and slip on women's clothing.
In January 2003, he flew to Thailand for surgery. When the three-hour gender reassignment operation concluded, Robert Schwanhausser no longer existed. In his place was a woman, Bobbi Swan. . . .
One Abdur Raziq contributes June 9 a brief account to the open-posting website Ground Report ("Where You Make the News") of the Taliban crackdown on elements of traditional Pashtun culture which are considered "un-Islamic" in Pakistan's Tribal Areas—Lakhtai dancing boys and "eunuchs." These latter are not necessarily literally castrated, but what we call "trans-gendered" in the West. However, an entry in the Things Asian website informs us that a eunuch caste known as the hijras survives in India. We have noted before Taliban intolerance of the region's indigenous gay culture and music.
"Lakhtai dancer boys in Laki Marwat and Tank are vanished now, because, of pressure from Taliban, dancer boys of tribal areas in NWFP Pakistan are called Lakhtai in Pashto language, it was an oldest institution in NWFP, young boys up to the age of 12 years were employed to dance before the audience, their family members used to accompany them as musicians and instrument players, each Lakhtai (dancer boy) ends his career as dancer when his beard and moustaches start growing on his face, it means his career as dancer starts from the age of 12 years and ends when he becomes 17 years old. These dancer boys of tribal areas are not Eunuchs, at the end of their career as dancer they got married and raise their children, boys among their children become dancer boys when they reach the age of twelve years, each dancer boy is taught drum (Tabla) or Harmonium," an orakzai tribesman Mr. Inayat Orakzai has said.
"A fifteen years old dancer boy Naseem was killed by his lover Waheed Afridi in Gul Abad area of Peshawar during the holy month of Muharam, Waheed was annoyed because dancer boy Naseem was not willing to do sex with him, now the accused killer has paid three hundred thousand rupees to the parents of Naseem, as compensation money for his crime, and compromise has reached between both parties," a Eunuch of Teera Bazaar Kohat Mr. Arshad has said. . . .
Over the near-decade since I started to catalog anti-transgender murders, I've found it harder and harder to be shocked by what happens in these murders. Every one of them, it seems, is gruesome. Each has examples of poorly written media coverage. Many, if not most, include a police department or district attorney's office that does not know what to do with these cases.
It's wrong for me to grow callous, but after a while it becomes hard to be shocked. After you read about people being dismembered after being forced to drink dishwashing liquid, beaten with a hammer, and having their breasts burned with an iron, it's hard to feel. One's senses end up in a complete shut down at the hand of such barbarity.
Nevertheless, these cases continue to happen and continue at rate of roughly one anti-transgender violent murder every two weeks. To run the math, that's 26 a year, and 260 people a decade.
Our community is not as small as many might think it is, but one person every two weeks is still a significant number of people to lose no matter how big the community. Let us not forget, too, that each number is a person, someone's son or daughter, a child's mother or father, another's lover, or a trusted friend.
Also, when they suffer, and when they are disrespected, we all are. Any time a person is murdered simply because someone had a problem with their gender identity or expression, we all suffer. It could be any of us, after all, that might face the same consequences at the hand of another.
This is something I've given a lot of thought to lately, as I've looked over some of the recent cases and thought about those already chronicled. We as a community need to be aware of what we really face out there and those who would be plenty happy to see us dead.
On March 22, a 20-year-old African American transwoman in North Philadelphia named Erica Keel, was run over. Eyewitnesses saw Erica ejected from the car, and the driver of the vehicle – Allegedly a Mr. Roland Button – strike her a total of four times. The medical examiner's report agrees with those eyewitnesses.
This seems like a simple case to you or I. Vehicular homicide, they call it.
But the police seem to think otherwise. They are simply considering this nothing more than an accident and not worthy of investigation. Button is charged simply with a "hit and run" not a homicide. More than this, police have been more than resistant to pursue further in spite of pressure from the community.
I wish I could say this was somehow an anomaly, the police not wanting to study this case further, but I know better.
A female to male by the mane of Emmon Bodfish was found dead in his home in Orinda , Calif. , in 1999. He was struck repeatedly by a blunt object to the rear of his skull.
His case was declared a suicide.
Marsha P. Johnson, one of the instigators of the Stonewall Rebellion that helped lead to the modern LGBT rights movement, was also labeled a suicide by the NYPD. She was found floating in the Hudson River one morning after she was seen being harassed the night before. The police made three brief phone calls before closing the case,
Sherrif Charles Laux did not wish to investigate the rape of Brandon Teena, preferring instead to question the victim about why he "pretended" to be male. This reluctance may well have led to Brandon 's death. Laux also seemingly did not want to pursue the rapists who became murderers.
Perhaps most important in the case of Erica Keel is the "accidental" death of Roberta Nizah Morris, who died in 2002. Police claimed her death was an "accidental bludgeoning," in spite of the medical examiner's report listing her death as a homicide. Police in her case were also very reluctant to do any sort of investigation, in spite of community pressure. There was also the issue of another police officer having given Ms. Morris a "courtesy ride" shortly before she was found bleeding to death.
Like Ms. Keel, this happened in Philadelphia .
How does this happen? Why must we die due to anti-transgender violence, and why must we have a police force – those sworn to protect and serve us – treat us as disposable? Why must we be treated this way?
Or must we?
The community will rise up against those who call Erica's death an accident, just as the community rose up for Roberta, Brandon, and so many others. We will continue to do this, and fight on for our right to exist. We will strive for police and others who serve all the people, not just those they somehow feel more comfortable serving.
I, too, will continue to press on. Not for me, but for the Ericas, the Emmons, and the Marshas who have been killed — and for those who might come after them, who will also need people to stand up and never let them be forgotten.
It is not an easy job to do. Change never comes easy. Yet it must be done, and all of us need to play a part. We need change. We need a world where the police don't call our murders "hit and run." More than this, we need not be murdered.
Let's make a change, because it matters.
Gwen Smith feels that calluses only belong on feet, and usually after a Pride march. You can find her on the web at www.gwensmith.com.
Kimberly Nixon is a male-to-female transsexual whose volunteer peer counseling work at the Vancouver Rape Relief Society was terminated. The organization decided that since she had not been raised as a female she could not fully understand women's oppression, and therefore could not work at a feminist, woman-only service. Nixon had been living as a woman for 16 years and had undergone surgery five years prior to this incident.
Many women's organizations took opposing sides. And both sides claimed they were standing up for "women only" spaces, a hard won concept emanating from the earlier days of the women's movement.
The case led to some interesting discussion of issues among the women-serving and victim-serving communities in British Columbia. Vancouver Rape Relief, a pioneer women's organization in Canada, serving victims of sexual assault, argued that women have to have a life-long experience of being a woman in order to understand women's oppression and women's needs.
The argument was taken one step further by at least one representative of the organization, who asserted, "If the situation had involved a female-to-male transsexual, it would have been different, because the individual would have that shared life experience with women." One is led to question the logic of such an argument, which would have people currently identifying and presenting as men, providing services to women victims in an all-women organization.
Similarly, Rape Relief argues on its web site that "...sexism, racism and classism are oppressions experienced from birth, and in that way differ from other disadvantages, such as those relating to disability and sexual orientation." Rape Relief appears to be arguing that a person born with a disability can effectively understand and serve others with disabilities, but that a person who acquires a disability later in life cannot.
The implications of such an argument are enormous, particularly when one considers the intersectionality of oppressions which many individuals and organizations are now struggling to address. Can only the poor serve the poor? Can middle class professionals effectively serve only other members of the middle class? How early in one's life does one have to experience an oppression in order to be able to help others address its impact? Can victim service workers who have never experienced a serious crime be effective in supporting victims?. . .