Friday, October 05, 2007
Leslie Webb, director of the diversity education center at Central Washington University, shares her story:
Chris walked into my office yesterday afternoon to talk with me about the upcoming visit he had planned for the weekend. He was heading over the mountains to talk with his mother about identifying as transgender and discuss the fact that he is about to start the outward transitioning process. The trepidation he was experiencing was due to a number of different factors, and coming out to his family—both sides—was not going to be easy.
Chris and I have known each other for several years and have connected repeatedly about gender identity and gender expression. Chris has been dealing with gender identity for a long time and has begun a full fledged coming out process. He recently self-disclosed to his co-workers in an on-campus work environment as a female to male transgender individual. While this was difficult, he was met with support, care, and open minds. His friends have been tremendously supportive as well. Chris also has a support network on- and off-campus, which is crucial given what the next few months are going to look like for him.
While this may not be a typical experience on college campuses for a student dealing with identity issues, I am proud to say it is not the first positive story I've encountered over the past five years. In March 2005, Central Washington University added gender identity and gender expression to its non-discrimination policy in an effort to be inclusive of all our students. At the time, it was the twenty-third college in the nation to do so (according to transgenderlaw.org), and dozens of institutions across the nation have since done likewise.
However, supporting the transgender population goes above and beyond policy—although that is an important first step. What are we doing to support this emerging population? How do we create inclusive campus environments that model acceptance and, at the very least, tolerance? What does that mean exactly—an inclusive student, faculty, and staff non-discrimination policy? Support services available through health and counseling centers? Advocacy programs like Safe Spaces or Bias Response Plans? Co-curricular educational programming that mirrors the populations we serve? I'd answer yes to all the above, and more. Several universities that have created living and learning communities specific to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students have implemented "transgender-friendly" training programs for faculty and staff, have created gender-neutral restrooms, or have added gender identity and expression to their anti-harassment policies (www.lgbtcampus.org).
Definitions may be useful. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest GLBT advocacy group in the US, "transgender" is "an overarching term that includes those expressing gender characteristics that don't correspond with characteristics traditionally ascribed to the person's sex or presumed sex." Many times, the terms "transgender" and "transsexual" are confused or combined, but they are separate concepts. While being transsexual does not necessarily denote a desire to alter one's physical self through hormone therapy and surgery, the term is often used to mean so, even by those in the transgender community. Gender variance, from transgender to transsexuality, is distinct from sexual orientation in that it is not about sexual expression but gender expression; in other words, it is about presenting a gender identity, a feeling of being feminine or masculine, rather than an expression of sexuality.
What we need to recognize and understand is that definitions are fluid. When it all boils down to it, our students do not want to be put in boxes by us. Many students want to self-identify and sometimes that identification changes throughout a given period of time. I've learned over the years that rather than attempting to find meaning, empathy or understanding in a definition or a box, getting to know the student as they are, as they identify, and as they grow and change is important.
I talked with Chris about writing this article and sharing his nervousness about approaching his mother that weekend. He wanted to share with you an anecdote about how the conversation went. . . .
Sound off! Gay
Friday, October 05, 2007
Re: “ENDA hits a snag over trans inclusion” (news, Sept. 28)
Rep. Barney Frank’s action to carve gender identity from ENDA may be politically expedient, but the result will not offer protection to gays or lesbians, either. The absence of gender identity in ENDA means that I, as an employer, may fire a gay person for being effeminate or a lesbian for being overly butch. Transgender people need ENDA more than any other identity group. It is common to find transgender people with doctorates and master’s degrees working for minimum wage. Frank’s claim that not enough education has been done is a canard. Transgender people have been lobbying the Hill since 1995 for inclusion in ENDA.
Barney Frank is really Barney Fife. When is Andy going to come to the rescue and save Barney from shooting himself in the foot? Rep. Frank, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and HRC’s Joe Solmonese are way out of line if they believe that they have the duty or the right to split up our community.
As a united community, we can better demand our basic human rights. If we are willing to exclude others, we are as guilty as the bigots entrenched in mainstream society. Divided we will fall. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Leaving transgender individuals out of ENDA is placing our most vulnerable “queer” segment at greater risk. Thank you, HRC, for maintaining your principles and refusing to accept such an ineffective bill.
I think that those in the “community” who drop trans people like me at the first opportunity should expect no help, money, votes or sympathy. What are you thinking? To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, a house divided cannot stand.
If ENDA can only pass without a transgender provision at this time, then our community should still support the measure and not abandon it! We’ve had to wait much too long as it is to get this chance to have ENDA come up for a vote at all. If we fail to support the measure now, then 2009 is a long way off and we have less certainty that the Congress or White House will back ENDA then. Transgender people should not be selfish and expect us to kill the bill simply because it cannot be passed with them now. Let ENDA become law first and we can all then fight to pass a standalone transgender bill in the future.
Susan Stryker, a historian, filmmaker and theorist whose work has been influential in determining the direction of the emerging field of transgender studies, will visit Bryn Mawr next week.
After meeting with students in two seminars in the College's program in gender and sexuality studies, Stryker will present and discuss her award-winning documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 4:30 p.m. in Carpenter B21.
Screaming Queens tells the story of a little-known uprising by transgender people in San Francisco's Tenderloin district in 1966, three years before the famous Stonewall incident in New York.
The Tenderloin was a red-light district and a ghetto for gender rebels who were subject to regular harassment by police. In the summer of 1966, a budding transgender-rights movement focused on the neighborhood tensions that burst out at Compton's Cafeteria one August night.
The cafeteria was populated by its usual clientele of drag performers and street hustlers when the management summoned police to subdue a noisy crowd at one table. But on this occasion, a drag queen surprised police and onlookers by throwing her coffee in an officer's face.
The melee that ensued, Stryker says, was a pivotal moment in the history of transgender activism.
The film examines the incident through the first-person narratives of people who were present: drag performers, prostitutes and police officers.
It also presents the story of Stryker's rediscovery of the hitherto unrecorded uprising and the research that allowed her to document it.
Placing the riot and the transgender-rights movement that grew out of it in the context of other social-justice movements of the period, Screaming Queens notes the "dramatic changes in medical practices, urban politics, neighborhood geography and public consciousness" that followed it.
Stryker herself is an important figure in transgender activism. After earning a Ph.D. in history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1992, she created a performance piece that grew out of her work with Transgender nation, a direct-action advocacy group. A text adaptation of the piece, titled "My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix — Performing Transgender Rage," appeared in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies in 1994 and quickly became a staple of gender-and-sexuality-studies reading lists.
Since then, the prolific Stryker has produced a number of important works. In 1998, she edited the "Transgender Issue" of The Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, a watershed in transgender studies. Among the books she has published are Gay By the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions From the Golden Age of the Paperback, and The Transgender Studies Reader. She was featured in Monika Treut's film Gendernauts and was scenarist and scriptwriter for Brandon, Shu Lea Cheang's online multimedia installation examining gender, embodiment, violence and media at the SoHo Guggenheim.
October 4, 2007
The portrayal of transgender characters on television these days seems to be sort of a glass-is-either-half-empty-or-half-full situation. For years television has presented a steady stream of “transsexual” prostitutes, murder victims, and other assorted minor characters that usually appeared for one episode and were portrayed as little more than a collection of stereotypes to advance the plot or get a cheap laugh.
A recent example of that aired this past summer on HBO’s hit show Entourage. In the episode “Sorry, Harvey” a secondary storyline centered on Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) trying to get the sad sack mayor of Beverly Hills (played by Groundhog Day’s Stephen Tobolowsky) hooked up with a beautiful woman in order to curry his favor. At a bar to which he takes the mayor, Drama thinks he has succeeded with a woman named Anika — at least until he learns that she is actually transgender.
The mayor turns out not to mind, but the show portrays this as due more to his being so pathetic rather than a message of acceptance. This impression is further underscored by the main characters’ clearly being repulsed at the idea of a transgender person, and by the episode’s big “reveal” when Anika’s male genitalia are shown during a panty-less Britney Spear’s-type incident.
On the “half-full” side of the equation there is ABC’s Ugly Betty. Last season the hit dramedy included Alexis Meade, a transgender character portrayed as self-accepting, not desperate for the approval of a man, and who wasn’t a prostitute. Audiences loved the character.
Already the most diverse network when it comes to LGBT representation, ABC deepened their diversity with two new transgender characters introduced this fall, one each on Dirty Sexy Money and Big Shots. Neither are regulars at this point, and while the Dirty Sexy Money show continues to build on the progress of Ugly Betty, thus far Big Shots is a throwback to more stereotypical portrayals of transgender women. (There are no transgender men – female to male – characters currently on network TV.)
Despite setbacks like the recent episode of Entourage, Mara Keisling, Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, believes things are improving when it comes to transgender representations on television. “I’m really, really optimistic. Things are changing so much so fast. Oprah has had so many sensitive shows. Montel has done some good shows. Larry King does show after show, and that’s just really educating the public.”
As to what is driving that change, Keisling stated, “It’s just natural that as there are more and more trans people visible in public, that’s going to be reflected in popular culture.”
That includes Dirty Sexy Money’s Carmelita (Candis Cayne), a transgender woman having an affair with Patrick Darling (William Baldwin), a wealthy man soon to be a U.S. senator. Though their affair is illicit, Darling does seem to love Carmelita and they are even shown in bed together after having made love. The fact she is transgender is not treated as a punch line or “revealed” as something disgusting or shocking.
Though Donna Rose resigned as the first and only transgender member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Directors on Wednesday, she has no hard feelings toward the organization.
“I really believe that the board feels as though they have the best interest of the LGBT community in mind even though the end result doesn’t appear that way,” she told The Advocate, adding that work she has done with HRC has provided some of her “proudest” moments.
But on Monday, HRC’s Board met for four “very emotional” hours, according to Rose, and issued a statement saying it would not advocate for passage of an Employment Nondiscrimination Act that lacked protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity. The original, trans-inclusive ENDA was split into two separate bills last week by Rep. Barney Frank, an out member of the House of Representatives, because he feared the inclusive bill lacked the votes for passage.
The HRC board’s statement posted Monday read, “HRC will not support the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill.” But the real controversy erupted around what wasn’t said -- HRC’s statement never indicated that it would oppose passing the “sexual orientation” only bill.
“I could not fulfill my obligations as a board member to support that tepid stance,” said Rose.
Most insiders believe the creation of two bills will lead to passing the non-inclusive ENDA through both chambers of Congress perhaps this year (though President Bush may very well veto it), while leaving the “gender identity” bill to languish for an untold number of years. A non-inclusive ENDA was passed in New York, for instance, in 2002, while five years later, its gender counterpart (GENDA) still has an uncertain future. . . .