On restrooms and allyship

[Image: lauren Ornelas, Pax, and Aph Ko at the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary party, April 2017. Photo by Deborah Svoboda.]

Yesterday my friend lauren Ornelas, founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (a vegan food justice organization), posted a blog entry about a simple but important act of allyship; please read her post before continuing. I want to express my gratitude and explain the significance of this action, especially in an era of trans-antagonistic “bathroom bills”.

As a transgender person of color who attended the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary celebration, I wanted to highlight the importance of labeling the restrooms as gender-neutral. I last visited the Mission Cultural Center in April 2014, when I was performing there with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. At that time I had only been on hormone therapy for a short time, and was very frequently misgendered as female. (While I identify as agender, I have transitioned from female to male for legal and medical purposes.) This caused me a great deal of stress whenever I needed to use a restroom.

Once I began my hormonal transition, I decided to use mens restrooms exclusively in places where no gender-neutral facilities were available, such as the Mission Cultural Center. So I stood outside the mens room there, literally shaking with nervousness, waiting until no one was coming in or out before entering. I stood there for a good ten minutes before finally working up the nerve to enter that restroom. I finished my business without incident, fortunately.

To this day, three years later, I am still nervous when using a gendered restroom, especially in an unfamiliar place, even in San Francisco, where people are legally entitled to use restrooms matching their gender identities. (As of March 2017, California law mandates that all single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral, but this venue had only multiple-stall restrooms available to the public.) So I was delighted when I attended the F.E.P. party to see the gender-neutral signs on both restrooms. I still used the one that was ordinarily designated for men, but I felt safer knowing that whichever one I chose, I belonged there.

Ally is a verb, as lauren and her staff at F.E.P. demonstrated at this event. I am grateful for their act of allyship.

I sing out, authentically

[Image: The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco performs at MCCSF. Photo by Ziggy. More photos are available on Flickr.]

This month I sang in a concert with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco for the first time in three years. I was pleased to be selected to lead off our performance with a short solo on “I Sing Out” by Mark Hayes. The title of this concert was “Here I Am: Living Authentically”, and short, original pieces on that theme were read in between the songs. I was not a part of the chorus when these readings were solicited, but if I had been, I would have submitted this:

How many folks can say they’ve sung in three different sections of the same chorus? I have that rare honor and privilege thanks to a supportive environment that helped me ease me into male puberty in middle age. Confused? Let me back up and explain.

I entered the chorus as an alto in 2012, at the age of 42. Having grown up in a musical family, I’d sung and played instruments for my entire life, but most recently had performed mostly rock music. And I realized that although I was living as a woman, almost every song I’d chosen to sing was written for a man, and I felt most comfortable in musical groups consisting mostly of men—gay and bi men, preferably.

Now, I was in a chorus with plenty of gay and bisexual people, but almost everyone in my section was a woman. These were women of all kinds, to be sure, from femme to butch to everything in between and none of the above. And yet, I felt out of place.

Our director, Billy, was great about addressing the chorus with gender-neutral terms, even changing gendered lyrics in our songs as appropriate. But sitting in the alto section, I still felt the growing sense that “I am not one of you”. I wasn’t sure that I was a man, exactly, just that I was not a woman.

These feelings didn’t start with the chorus, but crystallized there. When they grew too loud and large to ignore, I decided to do something about it. On August 23, 2013, I announced to the world my new name and non-binary gender identity.

I e-mailed Billy that I was planning to start on testosterone therapy in January, and would likely not be able to stay in the chorus as my voice would drop. He replied that I should stay and switch to the tenor section. This was wonderful news; not only could I keep singing, but I would now get the melody line occasionally!

I sang happily as a tenor for several months, before dropping out for awhile. I am now back, three years later, singing as a baritone in our bass section. I miss singing as a tenor, but what’s important is that I have taken steps to live a more authentic life. I am grateful to the chorus for giving me the space for this realization.

May Day, May Day!

[Image: Protesters stand in the street, fists raised and chanting, holding a banner reading “Unite Here – All races – All religions – All immigrants.”]

The phrase “May Day” has a number of meanings. It is associated with spring festivals, the pagan Beltane holiday, and International Workers’ Day. When uttered three times in a row, “Mayday” signals an emergency situation.

An emergency situation is exactly how I’ve come to see the presidency of Donald Trump. My ire and disgust at the tens of millions of US-Americans who voted for this man has turned into real fear that this incompetent bigot will not only set back civil rights by several decades, but actually start a world war.  Thus, despite my flagging energy, I continue to attend protests and document the resistance.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters holding large signs stand in an intersection, blocking traffic.]

On Monday, I attended two demonstrations in San Francisco, out of many protests, rallies, and marches that occurred throughout the country. The first was outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building. When I arrived about twenty minutes before the 8 a.m. scheduled start time, only a handful of people were milling around. But that quickly changed, and soon all of the streets around the building were filled with sign-carrying activists.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters sit on the sidewalk with arms linked in front of the ICE driveway.]

May Day SF protest[Image: Activists sit in front of the ICE driveway, holding a large banner reading “No ban no raids no wall”.]

Some of the protesters sat on the sidewalk with arms linked, blocking the driveways to the ICE buildings so that buses carrying immigrants about to be deported could not leave. There was no violence and no arrests, though police (and police observers) were definitely present and watching.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters paint a large circle with the word “Resist” in the middle of the intersection.]

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters paint a large circle with the words “Resist” and “No Wall” in the middle of the intersection.]

A number of those present, including several children, helped paint a large circle in the middle of the intersection, with the word “Resist” in the middle and “No Ban No Wall” around the outside.

May Day SF protest[Image: The Aztec ceremonial dance group Danza Xitlalli‎ performs at the demonstration.]

The Aztec ceremonial dance group Danza Xitlalli‎, who I’ve seen at many local events, performed during the demonstration.

May Day SF protest[Image: Activists speak from atop a truck at the demonstration.]

Several people spoke from the truck that served as a stage. One was very emotional about her sister who had been detained by immigration authorities.

After an hour and a half or so at this rally, I headed over to nearby Justin Herman Plaza to take a break before the start of another rally and march. Danza Xitlalli‎ performed again, and then the group from the first rally marched into the plaza.

May Day SF protest[Image: Protesters march into Justin Herman Plaza, carrying large signs and a banner reading “Sanctuary for all”.]

The rally featured a number of speakers, including several members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. As with the March for Science last month, the plaza was soon completely filled with people.

May Day SF protest[Image: A crowd of people fills Justin Herman Plaza.]

May Day SF protest[Image: May Day marchers head up Market Street from the Ferry Building.]

At noon we made our way out to Market Street for the march to Civic Center. I made it as far as Powell Street this time before bailing out due to fatigue and the unseasonable heat. Before heading home, I paused at the cable car turnaround to take some photos of the oncoming marchers. Upon spotting my camera, one of the marchers flipped their sign around and made sure that I saw it:

May Day SF protest[Image: A May Day marcher holds a sign reading “Impeach the racist, lying, abuser, terrorist occupying the White House.”]

I nodded in solidarity and agreement.

My full set of photos from the protest is available on Flickr. Some of the photos are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside photos uploaded by others. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!