Honoring our trans elders from Compton’s

[Image: Dolores “Dee Dee” Yubeta, a regular at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, smiles while holding a mic on an outdoor stage. Rainbow pride and American flags fly behind her.]

Yesterday I headed to the Tenderloin in San Francisco to attend a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, an uprising against police harassment that predated the Stonewall Riots by three years. This event was created by Felicia “Flames” Elizondo, a trans Latina activist who frequented Compton’s and was present at the riot; she also gave yesterday’s keynote address. I recognized her and several of the other organizers and speakers from other trans-focused events I’d attended in the past year, including the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Day of Visibility, Tranform California, and the Trans March.

Felicia "Flames" Elizondo[Image: Felicia “Flames” Elizondo speaks into a mic on an outdoor stage. A rainbow flag is in the background.]

Lyle J. Beckman[Image: Lyle J. Beckman of the San Francisco Night Ministry speaks into a mic on an outdoor stage. A Spanish translator provides interpretation.]

While this event was focused primarily on our elders in the trans liberation movement—trans women of color in particular—a variety of speakers and performers were included. Dani Castro and Akira Jackson served as emcees. The event opened with Lyle J. Beckman of the San Francisco Night Ministry. Ronnie Lynn, a popular female impersonator in the 1960s and a close friend of Felicia’s, also spoke.

Activist Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya called for everyone to work for black liberation alongside trans liberation. Other speakers included Compton’s Cafeteria regular Dolores “Dee Dee” Yubeta (pictured at the top of this post), trans pioneer Veronika Fimbres, and trans elder Jasmine Jubillee Gee.  ASL and Spanish interpretation were provided for all speakers.

Singers of the Street[Image: Singers of the Street perform on an outdoor stage, with Jasmine Gee on clarinet.]

Sheena Rose[Image: Drag queen Sheena Rose performs on an outdoor stage.]

Musical performances included Singers of the Street, with Jasmine Gee on clarinet. Drag queens Sheena Rose and Donna Personna also performed.

Felicia "Flames" Elizondo with cake[Image: Felicia “Flames” Elizondo smiles while holding a cake with a “Screaming Queens” logo and picture.]

Gwen Park and Dani Castro with proclamation[Image: Organizers Gwen Park and Dani Castro hold a framed certificate from state senator Mark Leno.]

This community event was mercifully free of political speeches. Politicians were represented only in the form of a resolution honoring the event from state senator Mark Leno, a brief appearance by mayoral advisor Theresa Sparks, and commendations given to trans elders from the board of supervisors.

My full set of photos is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Spread the money, spread the word

[Image: Pax Ahimsa Gethen | queer * black * trans * vegan * atheist | blogger * photographer | gender & animal liberation | pronouns: they * them * their]

I’m posting today with a special request. tl;dr: If you like my work, please give me some money. If you can’t afford to give or already have, please post a link to my blog on social media and ask your friends to give me some money.

I have not been taking many photos lately, partly because depression and dysphoria have kept me mostly housebound, but also because I’ve been discouraged by the lack of support for my work. And for me, photography is work, as is writing for this blog, particularly when I discuss sensitive issues like racism and trans-antagonism that affect marginalized people like myself.

I am grateful to those who have sponsored me on Patreon and sent tips, but after more than a year of requesting funds for my work, I have only six monthly patrons and less than $50/month in funding. This is not even enough to get to the second of the fundraising goals I set—upgrading the hard disks that house my images—much less approach my stretch goals of getting a new lens and replacing my aging camera. In between those goals is a funding level that would allow me to publish a new edition of my Walls to Walls photo book with my new name, which would be a lovely (belated) gift for my third nameday.

I recognize that many photographers pay for their expenses from a second job, but I can’t work a day job right now. My partner Ziggy’s income allows us to live comfortably, but only because I am frugal with my own expenses. Regardless, if my work is valuable to people, it is not unreasonable to expect compensation for it; this applies to my writing as well as my photography.

Unlike many fundraisers, I do not offer tiered incentives for contributions. I do appreciate those who give more, but I don’t want to privilege or be beholden to folks with higher incomes, and I don’t have any products or services to offer other than what you see on your screen. I would rather folks who have ten dollars a month to contribute spread those dollars out to multiple worthy causes than give it all to me. That’s how I’m distributing my own Patreon contributions; I’m currently supporting four people at levels for one to three dollars per month, and occasionally making one-time contributions to campaigns on other fundraising sites.

I know that the money is out there, and I also know that people find a lot of value my work. I just need your help to connect the dots. If you agree that my work is valuable and worthy of funding, please post a link to my Patreon page on your social media platform of choice, and ask your friends to support me. Optionally, please let folks know I also accept Paypal tips for those who don’t want to make a monthly pledge. If you are posting on Facebook, please tag my page Pax Ahimsa Gethen aka funcrunch, not my personal profile. If you’re posting on Twitter, I’m @funcrunch on there.

Thanks again to those who have supported my work, and thanks in advance to those who will support me in the future.

Naming and deadnaming

[Image: Self-portrait of Pax wearing glasses with red and black frames.]

Three years ago today, I announced my new name, Pax Ahimsa Gethen, to the world. While my legal name and gender change didn’t take place until nearly a year later, that was just a formality as far as I’m concerned. Pax has been my real name since August 23, 2013.

While it took awhile for friends and acquaintances to get used to the change, anyone who still deliberately refers to me by my previous name at this point is basically being an asshole, and should be treated accordingly. I have no tolerance for intentional deadnaming, which is not only disrespectful but an attack on the trans community. It doesn’t matter what politics, privileges, or personal qualities the individual being deadnamed has, and it doesn’t matter if they laugh or shrug it off. Not all trans people can laugh in the face of verbal violence, and asking marginalized people to ignore oppression is itself oppressive.

I’ve been fighting this battle on Wikipedia, where some editors complain that avoiding deadnaming is historical revisionism, even if the trans person did not become notable before their gender transition. They complain of political correctness, social justice warriors, and attacks on “free speech“, when I’m just arguing for trans people to be treated with respect and dignity.

While I’m not currently notable enough to have a Wikipedia article, my deadname is all over the Internet, as I’ve been active online for over 20 years and have never made an effort to conceal my identity. I could never hope to go stealth, but I do expect people who learn of my previous name to respect my wishes to avoid using it. Seeing it is triggering, and people who deliberately deadname me to cause emotional distress are, again, being assholes.

Even though my deadname is easily findable online, nearly all of my official documents have been updated with my current legal name and gender for over a year now. One of the few exceptions is my birth certificate. Part of the reason is that the state I was born in, Pennsylviania, required proof of surgery for a change in gender until very recently. That requirement was lifted just this month, which is great news.

But I’m still not sure if I want or need to update my birth certificate. I almost never see this document, so it’s not triggering to me, and I haven’t needed it to change any of my other IDs, including my passport. I don’t blame my parents for choosing the name they did, and I don’t blame the hospital for assigning a female sex to me based on the available evidence. Ideally, however, I would prefer that newborns not be gendered at all. A notation of their genital arrangement—which is normally the only criteria for saying “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”—could be part of a sealed medical record.

Updating my birth sex wouldn’t be “historical revisionism”; it would be a correction to an arbitrary and incorrect assumption about my gender. My current name, on the other hand, is not one that I had until three years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to deadname me, but it would be just as inaccurate to say that I was “born” Pax Ahimsa Gethen as it is to say that I was “born” female. If I were trying to go stealth or needed to update my birth record in order to get other official documents changed, this would be a much easier decision, but as of now I’m not really sure it’s necessary. I’m just glad that at least it’s an option now, for those of us who have not had surgery.

In any case, happy nameday to me! I’m not doing anything special to celebrate, though Ziggy, who is working long hours today, did make my traditional birthday breakfast of champurrado (Mexican chocolate porridge) yesterday. As my transition progresses, I expect to de-emphasize my birthday, which has a number of unpleasant memories attached to it, in favor of recognizing this nameday, and celebrating my authentic self.

Running while trans

[Image: Pax runs while smiling and making a “V” sign with their fingers. Photo by Ziggy.]

Content note: Exercise and fitness discussion.

Watching the Summer Olympics inspired me to make another attempt at recommitting to a regular exercise schedule. As I miss racing, I’ve decided to run a minimum of three miles, six days a week. I’m doing a brief warmup in the morning and some yoga stretches in the evening, but otherwise not committing to any other fitness activities at this time. I’ve registered to run the Bridge to Bridge 12K in October and the Kaiser Half Marathon in February.

So far I’ve stuck to this schedule for a week, usually rising before 6 a.m. so that I can get out and back before too many people are out and about. These early run times will also be helpful as daytime temperatures rise in September and October; sweating under layers while cis men run bare-chested makes me seriously resentful and dysphoric. Even this morning, overcast and 55 degrees, I was sweating in a light windbreaker, but didn’t dare take it off to reveal my white T-shirt with nothing hiding my breasts underneath. While I hope to lose some of the fat I’ve accumulated on my chest and midsection, I will likely never be able to run topless safely, as I’ve written about before.

Reading the debate over South African runner Caster Semenya made me think about my own experience of running before and after starting testosterone therapy. While the gender policing of elite athletes is highly problematic and based on dubious or nonexistent scientific evidence, I have no hope or desire to compete at that level, and am no longer competing against women in any case. I noticed a marked improvement in my running times after starting my physical transition, but I’m now wondering how much of that was psychological as opposed to physical, as I didn’t come close to realizing my athletic potential when I had an estrogen-dominant body.

Regardless of my finishing times, one of my main motivations for running, aside from improving my physical health, is to make sure I get out of the house at least a few hours a week. I’ve sunk so far into depression and introversion that it’s been unusual for me to leave the apartment more than a couple of times a week. Spending most of my days sitting in front of the computer or TV hasn’t made me feel good. I remember a quote from ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes: “Somewhere along the way we confused comfort with happiness.” Getting up at 5:30 a.m. and dealing with fatigue and aching, atrophied muscles is uncomfortable, but it’s just what I need right now.

Of course, this “pain is good” philosophy can be taken too far. When I was in marathon training back in 2012-2013, I read the autobiographies of Karnazes and several other ultrarunners: Scott Jurek, Marshall Ulrich, Rich Roll, and Christopher Bergland. As this was not only before my transition, but also before I was “woke”, it didn’t dawn on me at the time that all of these books were written by white cis men. Most of them had faced personal losses of some kind—divorce, death of a spouse or family member—which had motivated  their efforts. But aside from Bergland, who is openly gay and was assaulted for it, none have faced the kind of daily microaggressions that come with being judged for your very existence, as those of us who have brown skin and/or trans bodies know all too well.

The challenge of just surviving in this body is enough that I don’t want to burden myself with unrealistic athletic goals. My long runs got less and less rewarding the further I went beyond 13.1 miles (half marathon distance). I don’t relish the idea of spending hours and hours training for a full marathon again just to see if I can beat my pre-transition finishing time. The 26.2 mile distance is arbitrary and totally unnecessary for fitness purposes, which I knew well before I accepted the challenge from Karnazes to complete it. It’s great for Karnazes that he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, and that he, Jurek, and Ulrich have all completed the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley multiple times, but I don’t need to attempt anything like that to prove myself.

Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m capable of, mentally or physically. I have a transsexual male body, which is a configuration relatively few people have experienced. I use the term “transsexual” deliberately despite it falling out of favor, and will continue to defend its use by trans people who chose that identifier for themselves. Regardless, I can’t just look at charts that presume a male/female binary to assess or predict my performance. I’m charting new territory with each step. I can only hope to find some enjoyment and fulfillment in the process.

Black Vegans Rock and effective activism

[Image: Black Vegans Rock poster, designed by EastRand Studios.]

As I mentioned in a recent entry, I’ve been managing the Instagram page for Black Vegans Rock for the last month. Since Aph Ko launched the BVR web site in January, I’ve enjoyed reading the diverse stories and experiences of black vegans from all over the world. To date, we’ve featured over 130 individuals from all walks of life: Students, doctors, musicians, scholars, athletes, chefs, and more.

Working with Aph on Black Vegans Rock (I’m on the advisory board) has changed my thoughts about animal rights activism. I see a common theme in many of the stories we feature: The individual adopts a vegan diet initially for health reasons, and then later comes to appreciate the inherent worth of our fellow animals for their own sake. Not all follow this path, of course; some go vegan for ethical reasons from the start. But many black folks do adopt a vegan diet to address health problems.

While a vegan diet is definitely not a cure-all and no one should be  shamed for illness, I believe we do need to acknowledge and address health issues in a non-oppressive way as part of our activism. Dairy products, for example, are particularly damaging to the health of black folks, the vast majority of whom are lactose intolerant. This is one of the many reasons why I will not promote vegetarian, “flexitarian”, or “reducetarian” diets. We only feature vegans on Black Vegans Rock.

Proper education about nutrition is so important and so lacking in a society dominated by advertising and lobbying groups from the animal slaughter industries. I recently watched a TV show that featured black vegan weightlifter Kendrick Farris, the only male weightlifter representing the USA in the 2016 Olympics. He and the interviewer went to a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, and the interviewer, having apparently never been to a salad bar, said “So this is like ‘Build-A-Bear’ with vegetables!” After the segment, the host marveled that Farris could get enough protein without eating “beef and chicken”, also saying “You learn something new every day.”

Most of the episodes of this show about the Olympics have featured restaurants that serve copious amounts of animal flesh. Of course, there’s been no mention of the decimation of the Brazilian rainforest by animal agriculture, nor of the 1000+ activists killed in that country over the issue.* Veganism as decolonialism is another approach relevant to blacks and other people of color, and has also been a part of the story of several of those featured on Black Vegans Rock.

Discussing the health or environmental benefits of veganism does not preclude talking about ethics, or engaging in demonstrations or (in some cases) direct action. Many different types of non-oppressive activism have a rightful place in the animal rights movement. But no vegan should feel pressured or shamed into compromising their health or safety “for the animals”.

My own philosophy remains that animals are people, not property, and I approach animal rights activism primarily from that perspective. But Black Vegans Rock has helped me understand that other approaches still have a lot of value, particularly when it comes to marginalized communities.

* See the Cowspiracy facts page for more information.

We are a nation of violence

[Image: San Francisco police stand behind a barrier reading “S.F.P.D. Police Line – Do Not Cross.”]

Note/reminder: I am affiliated with no political party and endorse no presidential candidate at this time.

For the last several years I’ve rarely watched movies in theaters, but I’ve seen every Star Trek movie since Generations (1994) during the first few weeks of release. So this Monday Ziggy and I saw Star Trek Beyond in 3D. You can read my lukewarm review (contains spoilers) on the IMDb site.

The reason I’m writing about going to the movies on this social justice oriented blog is because of the incredible amount of violence I saw in the pre-movie trailers. Out of the six I remember*, four consisted mostly of people shooting at people, beating the shit out of people, or blowing shit up.  Here are three of them:

The Magnificent Seven:

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back:

Keeping Up With the Joneses (doesn’t look violent at first, but keep watching):

I’m thinking about this glorification of violence in relation to the remarks Donald Trump made yesterday, which were widely interpreted to be a suggestion that supporters of Second Amendment rights shoot and kill Hillary Clinton or one of her appointed judges, should she win the election. Just as I was appalled at Trump’s desire to beat up “little guys”, it should hopefully go without saying that I join the bipartisan chorus of condemnation of his latest expression of macho bullying.

But despite some saying that this is the final nail in the coffin of Trump’s candidacy, I still won’t be surprised if he wins. We are, fundamentally, living in a culture of killing. We claim to live by a creed of “Thou Shalt Not Kill“, but come pathetically short of living up to it. We trust police to use guns responsibly, while they kill black and brown folks with impunity. We talk about “controlling” lethal weapons, but never seriously consider getting rid of them altogether. Even the national security analyst who wrote a scathing op-ed against Trump insisted that we must have nuclear weapons as a deterrent, even though we never want to actually use them.

As I’ve posted before, I’m not suggesting that we ban violent movies or video games, and I know that we cannot exist without causing some harm and death, even if unintentional. I just want to stop living with the assumption that violence is a necessary and inevitable part of civilization.

* Two less violent movies that looked possibly worth watching were Sully, about the Miracle on the Hudson (and starring the talented Tom Hanks), and The Space Between Us, about a kid who was born on Mars (though I wasn’t really interested in the romantic theme of the latter).

Black lives matter on Wikipedia

[Image: Dr. A. Breeze Harper speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Black vegan feminist writers Aph and Syl Ko have explained that it’s important to celebrate black life, not just mourn black death. This is part of the motivation behind Black Vegans Rock. While Aph has been updating the web site, Facebook page, and Twitter on a daily basis since we launched in January, I’ve been updating our Instagram page for the last few weeks. It’s great amidst all the violence and anger in the world to see positive, photographic representation of black folks celebrating food, animals, and each other.

Another way I’ve been helping celebrate living black people is to improve coverage of us on Wikipedia. While anyone can create a profile on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter easily, Wikipedia has higher standards and barriers to entry and participation. I’ve written before about issues concerning sexism, racism, and cissexism on that platform. On Wikipedia and in this blog, I am focusing my writing and photography on people other than cisgender white men.

So in the last two months, I have created new articles for the following black folks:

I’ve also made significant improvements to the existing articles for:

I’ve also contributed images to Wikimedia Commons for Harper and Rhue, as well as opera singer Breanna Sinclairé and several other black LGBT and anti-racist activists.

On Ajamu Baraka: When I read last night that he had accepted Jill Stein’s offer to be her running mate, I immediately searched for his name. I found a brand-new Wikipedia page with about five sentences on it. This is a man who has been campaigning actively for human rights for decades, and served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Amnesty International. Why did he not have a Wikipedia page before now?

The collaborative—and sometimes combative—nature of editing Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience, but it’s very important to me because Wikipedia entries figure so prominently in Google and other search engine results. Just as I don’t want a young non-binary trans person to search for information about their gender and find a vandalized page stating that they are mentally ill, I don’t want journalists and voters to search for information on the new Green Party VP candidate and find inaccurate, misleading, or outright racist content.

If you have the time, you too can help improve Wikipedia. There are numerous local meetups and edit-a-thons that welcome and teach new editors. Help make this online encyclopedia more truly representative of the diverse world we live in.