Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Inmate's Sex-Change Demand Draws Scrutiny

Murderer's Bid To Have The State Pay For His Sex Change Is Bogged Down In Federal Court

BOSTON, June 26, 2007
Robert Kosilek, en route to the county jail following his arraignment on drunken driving charges in New Rochelle, N.Y., 1990. Right: Robert J. Kosilek, now known as Michelle, is seen in this file photo taken in a New Bedford, Mass. courthouse, 1993. (CBS/AP)

Fast Fact

Kosilek was convicted of strangling his wife in 1990. He claimed he killed her in self-defense after she spilled boiling tea on his genitals.

(AP) A trial that opened more than a year ago has become bogged down in Boston federal court. There have been hundreds of hours of testimony from witnesses, including 10 medical specialists paid tens of thousands of dollars. The judge himself even hired an expert to help him make sense of it all.

The question at the center of the case: Should a murderer serving life in prison get a sex-change operation at taxpayer expense?

The case of Michelle — formerly Robert — Kosilek is being closely watched across the country by advocates for other inmates who want to undergo a sex change. Transgender inmates in other states have sued prison officials, and not one has succeeded in persuading a judge to order a sex-change operation.

The Massachusetts Correction Department is vigorously fighting Kosilek's request for surgery, saying it would create a security nightmare and make Kosilek a target for sexual assault.

An Associated Press review of the case, including figures obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews, found that the Correction Department and its outside health care provider have spent more than $52,000 on experts to testify about an operation that would cost about $20,000.

The duration and expense of the case have outraged some lawmakers who insist that taxpayers should not have to pay for inmates to have surgery that most private insurers reject as elective.

"They are prisoners. They are there because they've broken the law," said Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, who unsuccessfully introduced a bill to ban sex-change surgery for inmates. "Other folks, people who want to get these types of surgeries, they have to go through their insurance carrier or save up for it and do it independently. Yet if you are in prison, you can do it for nothing? That doesn't make a lot of sense."

But advocates say in some cases — such as that of Kosilek, who has twice attempted suicide — sex-change surgery is as much a medical necessity as treatment for diabetes or high blood pressure. . . .

Jim Bailey as Judy Garland (2007), singing "After You've Gone" and "Swannee"

Illusionist Bailey sings all songs in character.

In Profile: Jim Bailey
— By Bruce Vilanch (taken from Advocate Magazine)

I once saw Jim Bailey perform in Las Vegas. The audience was from a plumbers’ convention. When he was introduced as Judy Garland, the illusion was uncannily realistic. One plumber turned to his wife and said, “I thought she was dead.” “She is,” the wife replied, “This is the daughter.”

See Jim Bailey's web site: http://jimbaileyweb.com/index.htm

Jim Bailey as Judy Garland sings for Charles and Diana in London

Illusionist Jim Bailey as Judy Garland, singing "'Ol Man River"

POV: Being Transgender in Taiwan

by Rachel Kronick

Being transgender is tough, but being transgender in Taiwan, where I am, is even harder. Taiwan has a culture which gives little room for self-expression or even self-respect, and allows even less to transgender people.

Taiwan is not really Chinese, though it does share a lot of the cultural mores of China. Some of these include a very strong sense of the division between male and female, and a very different type of moral system than we usually see in the West.

In the US, a person is worth something regardless of their relationship to you. Even if you don’t know someone, you owe them respect as a person. Of course, people don’t always accomplish this, but this is the ideal. In Taiwan, though, the ideal is quite different. In Taiwan, the degree of respect you owe to a person is almost entirely dependent upon the person’s relationship to you. If they’re your grandfather, you owe them more respect than just about anyone else. If they’re a friend, you owe them an entirely different kind of respect, and a different amount. If they’re someone you don’t know, you don’t owe them respect at all, at least not necessarily.

I’m always amused by government ads in Taiwan which try to promote such things as traffic laws or obeying building codes. They often try to show people that doing so will benefit others, and they’re always at pains to demonstrate that doing so will benefit our own selves. However, the proof always seems strained, and I get the feeling that they are struggling uphill. Taiwanese people in general do not feel a need to take strangers into consideration, so much so that I sometimes wonder if they understand other people as people at all.

Another example which comes to mind is the simple example of walking on the sidewalk. Due to the vast amounts of motorscooters, streetside vendors and poorly constructed buildings, the sidewalks are severely limited in size – often only a foot or two wide, even on major streets. To make matters worse, Taiwanese people walking on the sidewalk simply do not take other pedestrians into mind while walking. They meander, hold bags across the entire sidewalk, hold hands and walk abreast with their four-person family even when the sidewalk is narrow, etc. etc. This kind of behavior in New York, for example, would result in either being forced out of the way or a fight or something else. However, Taiwanese people take this as normal, which it is in their culture, and accept it.

In the West, training oneself not to care about others is a pragmatic necessity, but it is not an ideal in any way, at least not in my experience. If you say, “Group X is the object of violence, but they always will be because they are inherently weird and different from the rest of us,” people will label you Machiavellian. This kind of thinking goes on all the time, of course, and is necessary in a world with limited resources and limited time to think about others. However, this kind of thinking is not idealized in the West.

In Taiwan, though, this kind of thinking is the cultural norm. To put someone off to the side of one’s thinking because they are not closely related – in order to pay more attention to the closest relations in one’s life – is the Confucian ideal. Though many Taiwanese people would say that Confucius was a humorless blowhard, they are in fact laboring under his systems and even supporting them.

One of the best examples of how people are pushed off to the side is transgender folks. There is a common myth in the West that Asia is a land of mystery where transgendered people are accepted far more than they are in the West. Many people in the US, for example, seem to imagine some sort of enlightened Shangri-La where transgendered people are seen through enlightened eyes. This is far, far from the truth, though.

Transgender people in Taiwan are accepted in one small way: when they keep to their socially-prescribed niche, and do not try to break out of it in any way – in other words, when they allow themselves to be the objects of disrespect from the culture at large. They are allowed to be club performers or hostesses, but if they try to gain true acceptance or equality, the culture at large quickly labels them freaks and walks away.

Of course, this is not purely a problem experienced by Taiwanese people. Handicapped people, non-Chinese citizens (did you even know there are aborigines in Taiwan?), gay and lesbian folks, women – there are so many groups in Taiwan who are so far from any kind of equality.

But the kind of oppression experienced by transgender people in specific is so strong, so massive, it’s hard to even express it. In Taiwan, it is of course completely legal to fire someone for such things as being transgender or being gay. Even protecting the rights of pregnant women is still far away. Naturally enough, the consciousness of the society at large is far from focused on the harms visited upon TG folks. . . .

Transgender Athletes Get Into The Game

My love of sports also includes me participating in them as well. I played Little League baseball as a kid and was on my high school's varsity tennis team my senior year. I also played basketball pick up games, tennis and bowled until I started transition. After I moved to Louisville I played softball on my church team in 2002 and recently started bowling on a regular basis again.

So as a transgender sports fan I was pleased to hear about the International Olympic Committee's decision to allow transgender athletes to participate in the Olympics starting with the 2004 Athens Games. Under the Stockholm Consensus, the IOC allows transgender athletes to participate in their new gender two years after they've undergone genital surgery. If the operation took place before puberty, the athlete's gender will be respected.

In the case of a post-puberty gender transition, the athlete must undergo complete genital surgery and get their gonads (their ovaries or testes) removed before they can compete. They also have to get legal recognition of their chosen gender, complete hormone therapy to minimize any sex-related advantages and wait two years before they can become eligible to apply for a confidential IOC evaluation.

While most transwomen are okay with the new policy, transmen understandably bristled at the genital reconstruction requirement. Jamison Green in a 2004 CNN.com interview criticized the genital reconstruction completion requirement.

"I don't think that needs to be a criteria," said Green, who sits on the board of directors of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. "Many female-to-male people can't afford to have genital reconstruction, so I think that's an unreasonable penalty."

That thought is echoed by Keelin Godsey(left in photo), who is a transgender track and field star at Bates College has a goal of making the US Olympic team and competing in Beijing next year. The transman is delaying his transition in order to make it happen.

Transgender athletes are not a new issue. Stella Walsh, the Polish-born 1932 100-meter Olympic gold medallist and 1936 silver medallist dominated women's sprinting during the 30s and 40's. The naturalized American citizen was revealed by an autopsy to have male genitalia and XY chromosomes after she was killed by a stray bullet during an 1980 armed robbery in Cleveland.

Renee Richards battled the USTA during the 70's and filed suit in 1977 for the right to play at the professional level as a woman. Mianne Bagger recently underwent the same struggle in the golfing world. Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq has been on the receiving end of biowomen complaints, Hateraid and petition drives to bar her from competition after she started winning races.

The IOC, dogged by persistent rumors in the world press of dominant Eastern European athletes such as Irina and Tamara Press of the Soviet Union being men competing as women and fears of women being fed male hormones for competitive advantage like the East German women were during their 70's and 80's runs of international sports dominance, instituted a mandatory gender verification test starting with the 1968 Mexico City Games. It was interesting to note that the Press sisters, despite winning gold medals in Rome and Tokyo and setting a combined 26 world records never again competed for the Soviet Union at the international level once the gender verification test was made mandatory.

The IOC gender test was initially a gynecological exam that evolved into a chromosomal test called the Barr Test. It was invasive, unreliable and was scrapped before the Sydney Games in 2000. It led to some awkward situations such as 1964 Olympic gold medalist sprinter Ewa Klobukowska from Poland being ruled ineligible for the European Cup women's track and field competition in 1967 because of 'ambiguous genitalia'. She was stripped of her Tokyo Games gold and bronze medals by the IAAF but gave birth to a child years later.

A year later 1966 Austrian downhill skiing world champion Erika Schinegger failed it after it revealed she was chromosomally male, making her ineligible for the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Erika later transitioned and reemerged on the international skiing scene as Erik Schinegger. In December 2006 at the Asian Games being held in Qatar, 800 meter silver medallist Shanti Sounderajan from India failed a gender test and was stripped of the medal she'd earned.

Some of the issues against transgender athletes stem from ignorance or jealousy. In 1996 a Thai volleyball team made up primarily of gays and transgender people nicknamed the 'Iron Ladies' won the Thai national championship and was immortalized in two Thai films of the same name. Thai governnment officals barred two of the transpeople from joining the national team and competing internationally out of fears and concern for the country's international image. Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq is constantly accused of having an 'unfair advantage' by biowomen especially afer she began to frequently win events on the Canadian mountain biking circuit.

The 'unfair advantage' argument is actually a bogus one and medical science is increasingly backing that up. Even though a transwomen grows up with testosterone coursing through her body, hormone replacement therapy takes the muscle building advantage away over time. A genetic female skeleton is lighter, so a transwoman has the handicap of lugging around basically a heavier skeleton with FEMALE musculature.

The IOC was followed by the Ladies Golf Union (Great Britain), the Ladies European Golf Tour, Women’s Golf Australia, the United States Golf Association, USA Track and Field, and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association in crafting policies governing transgender athletic participation in events sponsored by their organizations. The Women’s Sports Foundation, United Kingdom and the United States-based Women’s Sports Foundation have issued policy statements supporting the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport. Other international governing sporing federations have followed the IOC's lead when it comes to determining eligibility of transgender athletes in their sports. . . .

Sean Dorsey: Dancing on Razor’s Edge

By Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Published: June 14, 2007

When Sean Dorsey confesses, “It’s scary breaking new ground,” it’s hard to believe. After all, Dorsey is a critically-acclaimed dancer and choreographer who has been honing his craft for years. He’s the creator and director of Fresh Meat Productions, an organization whose very name reflects the transgender man’s commitment to showcasing new talent, and the powerhouse behind San Francisco’s annual three day event, which, in its sixth season, promises audiences not one, not two, but nine world premiers.

This is the guy who’s intimidated by trailblazing?

Before Dorsey founded Fresh Meat Productions in 2001 there was nothing else like it, and transgender artists often struggled for years in vain attempts to gain recognition and support from traditional art institutions. Fresh Meat was created to overcome those kind of barriers and it’s been extremely successful in doing so, creating an infrastructure to support transgender artists, promoting unique works and gaining visibility through year-round arts programs that explores the transgender experience.

“This year, over 16,000 people will attend Fresh Meat’s events,” Dorsey boasts. “We are giving an artistic voice to transgender experiences in a way that’s never happened before.”

In addition to producing and commissioning original work for the annual Fresh Meat Festival, the organization sponsors Dorsey’s internationally renown Dance Company, co-presents TrannyFest (San Francisco’s transgender film festival) and curates art exhibits throughout the year.

Promoting trans artists may be the primary function of Fresh Meat Productions, but the impetus behind Dorsey’s work is a commitment to trans activism. “At heart, I’m an activist and an artist—they’re inseparable for me. It’s a political and revolutionary act to stand up for transgender rights and expression—[especially while] we are still being mocked, killed, sexually assaulted, fired, evicted and silenced because of who we are.”

He says Fresh Meat’s work is transformative, arguing, “That’s how real change happens: when we are empowered to bring our voices forward, to speak positively and authentically…about our experiences as transgender.” . . .