Tag Archives: trans

Journey Beyond the Binary: Pax on Huffington Post

[Image: Headshot of Pax next to the words “Journey Beyond Binary—Huff Post”. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich, text and layout by Alyssa Spatola.]

I’m pleased to announce that my essay “Men in Skirts“—featuring a photo of my partner Ziggy—has been selected for a new blog series in the Huffington Post: “Journey Beyond the Binary.” An editor for HuffPost’s “Queer Voices” section contacted me after seeing the story on Medium (though it was originally posted here on this blog), and I agreed to contribute.

huffpost-queervoices-20160609[Image: A screenshot of the Huffington Post “Queer Voices” section for June 9, 2016. A headline reading “Journey Beyond the Binary” appears above a photo of a rainbow; the text below reads “Introducing HuffPost’s Brand New Blog Series!”]

The series is featured right now on the Queer Voices section, and linked from the front page of the Huffington Post web site. I am glad to contribute my voice to trans and non-binary visibility.

Ziggy in Seattle[Image: Ziggy reclines on a sculpture, wearing a purple shirt and colorful tie-dyed skirt.]

Congratulations Ziggy, you and your skirt are now famous! 😉

Dear marginalized vegans: You are enough

[Image: Section from a panel of a Robot Hugs comic. Words at the top read “No one benefits from being told that their pain is unimportant, or non existant [sic]!” Below the words is a scale with a lighter weight reading “Not Harm” and a heavier weight reading “Harm.”]

This post is addressed to vegans who are marginalized due to their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or other factors. This post primarily concerns vegans currently living in the USA.

In light of certain animal rights disruptions in the news, you might be feeling pressured to “do something” for the animals. You might be reading that having vegan potlucks and the like without committing to activism is being selfish and ineffective. You might be reading that our fellow animals suffer more than any humans do, so whatever your personal situation, you have a responsibility to fight for animal rights.

You might be hearing this from any or all of the following:

The list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

As a queer black trans vegan who suffers from significant depression and dysphoria, I am here to tell you this:

You are enough.

You are enough if all you can do is have a vegan potluck.

You are enough if all you can do is buy prepared vegan meals from a non-vegan restaurant or supermarket.

You are enough if all you can do is share photos of farmed animals on social media.

You are enough if all you can do  is cuddle with your companion animals.

You are enough if all you can do is get out of bed in the morning.

If you can do more than this, great. But the fact that some marginalized vegans are able to be activists for the animals does not obligate you to do so.

It’s a violent world out there. Let’s take care of each other.

Trans education: Telling our own stories

[Image: Screenshot of the Transgender Today section of the New York Times, featuring images of and quotes from many people, with the headline Transgender Lives: Your Stories]

Last week I participated on two panels of trans and non-binary people, educating graduate therapy students in the San Francisco Bay Area. These presentations were arranged and conducted by Sam Davis, a queer and trans psychotherapist. We were compensated for our time, and it was an empowering experience.

I hope to do more of this sort of work, as I become more comfortable speaking about these issues in public. Especially following my presentations at the Intersectional Justice Conference and the Bay Area WikiSalon, I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of trans people telling our own stories, rather than letting the mainstream media shape our narratives.

While my public speaking experiences thus far have been positive, I realize that not all audiences will be receptive or respectful. A recent article by Kai Cheng Thom and Ivan Coyote illustrates some of the challenges faced by trans educators that cisgender people might be ignorant about. Safe travel is a particular concern of mine, due to the TSA screening process that penalizes “traveling while trans“, and the trans-antagonistic bathroom bills being proposed in many states.

Trans and non-binary people have always existed, and we are here to stay. Making more people aware of that fact through face-to-face meetings is a necessary component of trans liberation.

Transforming California

[Image: Trans activists Pau Lagarde, Kris Hayashi, and Elliott Fukui at the Bay Area launch of Transform California in San Francisco. Kris Hayashi is holding a sign reading “Nuestras Voces, Nuestro Futuro” (Our Voices, Our Future).]

Yesterday I attended the San Francisco launch of Transform California, a campaign founded by the Transgender Law Center and Equality California to fight discrimination against trans and gender-nonconforming people in California. Speakers included Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi, Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur, SFUSD Board of Education President Matt Haney, and longtime trans advocate Felicia Flames, who was present at the Compton’s Cafeteria riot.

Rexy Amaral at Transform California rally[Image: Trans advocate Rexy Amaral speaks at a podium in front of the high school from which she recently graduated.]

Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola at Transform California rally[Image: Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola speaks into a microphone. A sign on the podium reads “Our Voices, Our Future. TransformCalifornia.com”]

Transform California rally attendees[Image: Attendees at the Transform California rally stand and sit on the steps, holding signs. One seated holds a sign reading “Disabled trans folks gotta piss too!!!”]

Transform California rally[Image: Reporters, camera operators, and onlookers watch the rally from the sidewalk.]

The rally was racially diverse, with a strong representation from the Latinx community, which befitted the Mission District location. Local news stations covered the event.

Felicia Flames at Transform California rally[Image: Trans advocate Felicia Flames stands in front of a pledge she just signed to make California safer for trans people.]

At the conclusion of the event, everyone was invited to sign a pledge (also available on the Transform California web site) to oppose discrimination of trans and gender non-conforming people in California.

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

Flushing America down the toilet

[Image: A restroom sign showing the stick figure of a person wearing a skirt and the word MEN underneath.]

Eleven states are now suing the federal government over trans people using restrooms. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin join North Carolina in asserting their right to discriminate against trans people performing basic bodily functions.

That’s over 20% of our state governments, spending taxpayer money on the right to police peeing and pooping.

Even Donald Trump, despite his flip-flopping on numerous issues, must realize that this makes no business sense. Unlike Ted Cruz, who openly condemned trans people as perverted abominations of God and nature, Trump won’t even admit what he personally believes on the issue, just repeating the party line: “Leave it up to the states.”

We must be the laughing stock of every civilized country on Earth right now.

DSE 50th Anniversary 5K

[Image: Pax runs while smiling and making a “V” sign with their fingers. Other runners and the Golden Gate Bridge are in the background. Photo by Ziggy.]

(Content note: Medical  issues.)

This morning, Ziggy and I ran a 5K to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our running club, Dolphin South End Runners. I’d been racing with this club since 2009, so I was really looking forward to the race. Unfortunately, a recent injury almost prevented me from participating.

Due to ongoing depression and recurring illness, I had not run in nearly two months before this week. A slow three mile run on Tuesday left my muscles sore the next day. So when I did my biweekly injection of testosterone, the combination of the sore thigh muscle and being tense led to a normally almost-painless procedure causing lingering pain that made walking difficult.

I did not see any obvious swelling or discoloration, so hoped it wasn’t an infection (which I always worry about, even though I take care to disinfect and wear gloves when doing my shots). Ziggy, who had recently recovered from an injury himself, figured it was probably a grade two quad strain. I rested and applied ice packs, and when I went to pick up our race bibs at Sports Basement on Saturday, I bought a pair of compression tights.

I figured since I managed to walk several miles to and from the pickup location without collapsing in agony (though I was constantly aware of the pain) that I would at least be able to walk the race, if the pain didn’t get any worse. But I really wanted to run, as I have in every race I’ve ever done, no matter how slowly I needed to jog. So I decided to do 5 minute/1 minute run/walk intervals, which I’d been using for  longer runs.

I walked about three miles to the race start, arriving in plenty of time. Unlike most DSE races, all runners were pre-registered, so I didn’t need to worry about being misgendered at the registration table for once. The day started out overcast, but the sun soon came out, and I felt reasonably good during the race. The pain was still present, but subsided to more of a dull ache.

The interval strategy worked, and I managed to finish over a minute per mile faster than I expected, given my injury.  I even managed to do my usual finishing sprint. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised at my time, as since I started on testosterone, most of my race finishes have been faster than expected for the level of training. Regardless, I’m glad that I was able to participate, even though I’ll likely be quite sore again tomorrow.

Ziggy finished with a very good time, and it was great that he was there for companionship and support.  Looking forward to more DSE races in the future!

Ziggy and Pax at Crissy Field
[Image: Ziggy and Pax pose with their race medals. Photo by Ziggy.]

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

[Image: San Francisco City Hall, lit in the pink and blue colors of the transgender pride flag.]

Today is the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Originally created in 2004 as International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), transphobia and biphobia were added to the acronym in 2009 and 2015, respectively. It is good to see an organization acknowledge the oft-forgotten B and T in the LGBT acronym.

I’d been using the words cissexism, trans-antagonism, and heterosexism in preference to transphobia and homophobia in recent years, because discrimination is not always based on fear, and also because of concern about ableism against people who have phobias. But I’ve been using transphobia more recently, because the bathroom legislation dominating the news is specifically rooted in fear-mongering. I’ve written numerous times about the ridiculousness of the bathroom laws already, but it bears repeating.

Allies can help by calling out any instances of bigoted or antagonistic comments that you hear from friends or acquaintances, either in person or on social media. There are a lot of false news stories and rumors about trans people spreading around, so make sure to check Snopes to verify anything questionable.

Thanks to Google for alerting me to this event by adding a link to this video from their home page, showing people fighting for justice and equality all over the world.

Cissexism and community standards

(Disclaimer/reminder: I am registered with no political party and endorse no presidential candidates at this time. Please do not shill for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton here, thanks.)

I’ve been listening to the words of Donald Trump a lot more carefully since he’s become the presumptive Republican nominee. Like it or not, he may well become our next president, and I will have to live with that somehow. As much as I fantasize about moving to another country—for a variety of reasons, not just the threat of a Trump administration—realistically, I know that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So I want to prepare myself.

I’ve also been watching CBSN a lot, not because I prefer that network, but because they have free 24/7 live streaming that I can watch on my TV via Roku. (We don’t have an antenna, cable, or satellite.) So I’ve noticed that Trump has hired some women to be spokepeople for him, no doubt in response to the (very legitimate) charges of sexism against him.

In this interview, spokesperson Katrina Pierson explained Trump’s response to the bathroom battles, saying that the decision should be left to the states. That much didn’t surprise me. What disturbed me was her explanation that “the federal government’s hands should be tied” because “this is a republic, not a democracy.” (Also disturbing, but not surprising, was her assumption that we were too small a constituency to matter, because in some places, “there may not even be a transgender in that area.”)

It’s been a long time since I studied history in high school and college, but I was under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that civil rights were an issue of national concern. Pierson seems to think civil rights aren’t at issue here because Title IX does not define what gender is. I could write (and have written) many essays on the subject of gender, but that would be missing the point. The point is that these restroom restrictions are being enacted by bigoted, transphobic people whose concerns about the safety of (cisgender) women and children in public facilities have no basis in reality.

I didn’t feel comfortable living in a country where one’s marital status could be invalidated by crossing state lines. The Supreme Court ultimately handled that in Loving v Virginia in 1967 for interracial couples, and in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 for same-sex couples. Perhaps the right of trans people to use facilities in accordance with our gender identities will go to the Supreme Court as well. But however that court fight turns out, I am still bothered living in a country where so many people seem to think “community standards” should trump (no pun intended) basic human rights.

Here’s a sample of what community standards look like: A public comment session at a Board of Education meeting in North Georgia where attendees used their Christian faith as an excuse to hurl vile insults at trans people. “Gays and transgenders are genetically wired to have sex with children,” said one parent. “We need to stand on God’s truth in this perverse situation,” said a pastor. “I drive a Ford pickup. If I take the bumper off of it and I take the hood off of it and I put a Chevrolet bumper and Chevrolet hood on it, is it a Chevrolet? No it is not,” said another attendee. Fortunately, some others (cis and trans) in attendance stood up for trans people, but the transphobic remarks were cheered.

This is not just about Georgia, or North Carolina, or Texas, or any of the other states that are loudly and publicly trying to deny the rights of trans people to live in dignity. But the idea that a trans person’s—or any person’s—civil rights should be dependent on something as arbitrary as the soil they are standing upon runs counter to everything I believe in. I am ashamed to live in a country where people use religion and politics to enforce bigotry. (Note: Do not write “Not All Christians” in response to this post.)

With visibility comes violence, and the entire country is waking up to the fact that trans and non-binary people exist. We have always existed, and many cis people have had interactions with trans people without even knowing it. Cis-passing trans people have been quietly using public restrooms in accordance with their identities all along, and most will continue doing so, regardless of the local laws. But now we are all in increased danger, as self-appointed police spy on us and spread hateful lies on the Internet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, allies can help by sharing the words of trans and non-binary people who are affected by these issues. The Transgender Law Center is a good place to start, as they are an organization created by and for trans people, and are up to date with the latest legal developments in this country. The TransAdvocate is another trans-run organization, and a good alternative to mainstream media. Please help make this a country where everyone is treated with dignity, fairness, and equality, regardless of gender identity.

On bathroom battles and allyship

Since my previous post on the potty wars, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has officially weighed in on the transphobic North Carolina Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2. She announced a federal civil rights lawsuit to declare the restroom restrictions are “impermissibly discriminatory,” and specifically addressed the transgender community, saying “we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

In further news, today the federal Justice and Education departments are sending out a letter to all public school districts, declaring that trans students must be allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identities. The letter states, “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

These are definitely positive developments. I particularly appreciated Loretta Lynch speaking directly to trans people, and acknowledging that we are moving “haltingly” toward inclusiveness for all people. Her speech was needed and on point.

Here’s the thing though: I have seen a disproportionate amount of praise for allies like Lynch—and I do consider her speech a true act of allyship—compared to the trans people who are actually impacted by this legislation. I even saw one headline refer to her speech as the trans movement’s “Rosa Parks” moment.

Sorry, no. A “Rosa Parks” moment would be a trans woman who does not “pass” as cisgender defiantly using a women’s restroom in North Carolina, against the direct orders of a security guard or police officer. Loretta Lynch is extremely unlikely to be “gender-checked” in a women’s restroom, in any state. As a North Carolina native herself, she may be very upset over her state’s legislation, but she is not personally facing violence from its enforcement.

Allies shouldn’t be held up as heroes, or expect undue praise for their efforts. Ally is a verb. Cis people should perform acts of allyship with trans people simply because that’s the right thing to do. Trans people—and trans women in particular, as they are the primary targets of transphobic legislation—are the ones whose voices need to be heard most in this ridiculous battle over our private parts.

A news clip I saw on CBS about the North Carolina bill was typical in its exclusion of trans voices. Dominated by cis people on both sides of the debate, one trans woman got a 10-second sound bite, where she was introduced as being “born a man.” (Fortunately, the accompanying text story mostly corrected this to say “trans-woman.”) Mainstream news coverage, like the rest of society, is cissexist, and it will take much more public exposure to trans people from all walks of life to make serious progress on gender equality.

Help defeat cissexist and transphobic legislation by elevating trans voices. We all just need to pee.

Dismantle rape culture, not transgender rights

[Image: A sign with multiple gender symbols and the words “Inclusive restroom.”]

Content warning: Rape and childhood sexual abuse.

I’ve been quiet for a few days because I’ve come down with yet another cold. I’ve been sick so often lately that I’m worried about my immunity, and wondering if my physical as well as mental health is being affected by all the transphobia in the news lately. This is news that I can’t ignore, as it affects me personally whenever I leave my apartment.

I’ve been collecting links on the bathroom battles, and this latest incident made me angry enough to break my posting silence. In short, a cis woman using a restroom at Target was spied on by a self-appointed restroom policewoman who was concerned about “men and homosexuals” being in there, and was “making sure you were a woman.”

If this sounds scary for a cis person, imagine how a trans person would feel in that situation. I might be less likely to be subject to such treatment when using a men’s room, but it is still a terrifying thought every time I use a stall.  I hunch over and get my business done as quickly as possible, being careful not to make eye contact with anyone on my way in or out. The transphobic wave of hate and fear-mongering has now made me feel even more like a furtive criminal rather than someone just trying to take care of basic bodily functions.

Some insist that they aren’t against “real transgenders” using the restrooms appropriate to their identities; they are just trying to prevent (cis) men from pretending to be women in order to gain access to these spaces. It’s been pointed out in many other articles (which I don’t have the energy to search for and link to right now) how unlikely this is, how a sign on the door won’t keep predators out, and how most victims of sexual assault know their attackers. And yet, the fear-mongering continues.

What these bathroom police can’t or won’t understand is that sexual assault thrives not because of gender-inclusive spaces, but because of rape culture. As this essay on Medium points out, the possibility of a woman being attacked by a “man in a dress” in a restroom is just about the only time women are not being blamed for their own rape. Everywhere else, it’s their fault for dressing too seductively, or being out too late, or they’re shamed for ruining the reputation of their rapist.

While I’m not a woman, I lived as a girl/woman for 43 years before my transition. And like many girls, I was the victim of sexual assault by someone I knew; a member of my extended family. My attacker wasn’t a trans woman or a man in a dress, and he didn’t assault me in a public place. He was a cisgender man, upper middle class, conservatively dressed, and respected in the community. I was sexually abused in his own home, for years, nearly every time I visited without my parents.

As I wrote in my blog about this abuse, the repercussions of how my revelation was handled ultimately resulted in me distancing myself from my entire birth family, likely permanently. This has made days like today, Mother’s Day, a particularly painful time to be on social media. Regardless, my point is that my experience is much more typical than the hypothetical man lying in wait to jump on a woman or girl in a public restroom.

If you really want to stop men from raping women and girls, do it by teaching them not to rape, not by punishing trans people for using public facilities. Listen to victims (and survivors); take them seriously, don’t automatically take the side of the abuser or preach about forgiveness. Stop blaming trans women for what cis men are getting away with in your own homes, unchecked and unchallenged, year after year after year.