Category Archives: Political

Check the Math

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

[There are] lies, damned lies and statistics.  –Mark Twain

It will not surprise you to hear that I follow a number of transgender news feeds.  Staying abreast of happenings within one’s broader demographic requires some discipline, particularly when one’s “broader demographic” is rather narrow.

As with news in general, transgender news reads a bit dark.  Violence makes good television, at least if ratings are any clue.  Following this trend, it has become increasingly common for transgender murders to be not only reported, but counted, as in, “This marks the ___th murder of a transgender person this year.”  The final tally last year, according to The Advocate, was 27.

I understand what The Advocate and others are trying to do.  Shining a light on anti-transgender violence is part of the process of curtailing it.  Further, each death represents a grim loss–first and foremost for the individual, then outward to their families, friends and society in general.  I applaud that they are individually remembered and lamented.  I feel their deaths somewhat more closely than the average murder because I identify with the class struggle which often lies beneath it.

But let us not too quickly get lost in the numbers or gloss over ridiculous phrases such as “the average murder”.  The reason that some of you might not have choked on these words the first time I used them owes largely, in my opinion, to the fact that murder is anything but rare.  In 2015, there were 16,000 murders in the USA, and by all accounts the final numbers for 2016 look to be higher.

Each one of the victims reflects an epidemic of violence that we, as a nation, have done little if anything to address.  Indeed, we tend societally to respond to rampant violence by buying guns, a remedy which has been proven to double the likelihood of being murdered and triple the chances of dying by suicide.  Of course those stats don’t apply to us, right?

Let’s do the numbers:  27 transgender murders.  16000 total.  This means that, if reported accurately, transgender people, who represent perhaps 0.3% of the population, account for less than 0.2% of US murder victims.  The problem isn’t necessarily that we have a transgender violence problem specifically, but rather that we have a violence problem in general.

By all means, let us mourn and remember the dead, not just as numbers, but as individuals bursting with unrealized promise and potential.  Let us feel the outrage inherent in the fact that someone was killed for being who they are.  Nevertheless, let’s not get too parochial about it:  Trans people really are killed for being trans, but likewise children are killed because they are children.  Women are killed because they are women.  The poor are killed because they are poor.  Murder is the ultimate affront to egalitarianism.  Somehow, somewhere, someone was deemed to be expendable.

That.  Let’s stop that.


Vote Trans 2016

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Vote Trans 2016

What a difference a year makes.  At this point last fall, I predicted that anti-transgender bills would continue to proliferate (as they did in 2015) and that transgender rights would remain a contentious issue in state and national politics.  Instead, 2016 has become a referendum on economic and racial grievance as well as an increasingly nauseating contest of personalities.  Yippee!  We’re off of the hot seat, at least for the time being.

I’m sure that your political views, like mine are a conglomeration of a variety of opinions to which you give degrees of weight as you approach election day.  Trans issues, as you might expect, are weighted rather strongly in my calculus.  That you are reading this at all leads me to expect that you assign some importance to transgender politics, but what, if anything, does that mean in a practical sense as one enters the voting booth?  In other words, what might it look like to “vote trans” in November if nothing else mattered to you?


Four candidates remain for the Presidency.  Reading “from left to right”, their positions on transgender issues are as follows:

Jill Stein–thoroughly on record in favor of LGBT rights, she also states explicitly that transgender rights fall under the heading of existing protections against discrimination based on sexual identity (similar to the declaration in the Minnesota Human Rights Act of 1993, which defines transgender identity as a sexual orientation).  Some trans advocates chafe at this designation.1  Nevertheless, this approach works has resulted in durable human rights protection for trans people wherever it has been enacted.  In other words, there is a semantic quibble, but no broad concern on policy direction.

Hillary Clinton–consistently supportive of transgender rights and inclusive of trans people within her circle of advisors.  As Secretary of State she changed changed the internal policies to prevent anti-trans discrimination and re-wrote the procedures for issuance of a passport such that trans people do not need to prove a history of genital surgery prior to changing their gender marker.

Donald Trump–apparently personally disinterested in LGBT rights as a political issue.  There is no evidence that he discriminates against LGBT employees in his business.  His only public comment on trans rights during the current campaign indicated a belief that transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom facilities with which they felt comfortable.  Due to a reaction from his party, he subsequently walked this back, saying that he would “leave it up to the states.”

Despite managing to insult nearly everyone during this campaign, he has not made any truly inflammatory remarks against trans people.  He somewhat famously said that if Caitlyn Jenner came to his hotel, she could use the women’s room.  During primary season, his relatively easy-going attitude about the LGBT community stood in stark contrast to the nearly daily anti-trans pronouncements of his closest Republican rival, Ted Cruz.

That said, trans people have some cause to be wary of Trump’s candidacy, if not his personal opinions.  First, trans people aren’t generally comfortable with dealing with transgender rights at the state level.  During a recent business trip, my stopover was changed from Phoenix to Dallas/Ft Worth.  On landing, I could not recollect whether using the women’s room was illegal, and I believed (with some cause) that the local culture in which I found myself was substantially more hostile than the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  When, in the past, we have left civil rights up to the states, the end result has tended to look like a historical re-enactment of the Confederate succession.

Second, Trump nominated Mike Pence to serve as VP.  Pence was the pioneer of so-called “religious freedom laws” at the state level (as governor of Indiana) which were written in such a way as to open the door for sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people.  True, he ended up walking back this stance after threats of a national boycott, but he established the template that North Carolina, Mississippi  and others would subsequently follow.  The media have tended to interpret the appointment of Pence steadiness to counterbalance Trump’s erratic nature.  LGBT people see Pence as a dog whistle to culture warriors.

Third, Trump’s publish list of potential judicial appointments (which was lifted wholesale from a pre-existing RNC list), includes a number of justices who have already voiced opposition to gay and transgender rights.  Whatever Trump’s personal tolerance toward LGBT people, he shows no reluctance whatsoever to throw us under the bus to appease his base.

Gary Johnson–supports LGBT rights in general, stating a libertarian desire to “keep government out of the bedroom.”  Although he has not said much about transgender rights, he was early, at least among conservatives, to support marriage equality.

In summary, a voter prioritizing candidate stances on transgender rights above all else would have most cause to trust Clinton, but might comfortably end up backing Johnson or Klein as well.  Trump the man doesn’t seem to harbor any personal animus against trans people,2 but Trump the candidate has taken on associates and policies far more hostile to the advancement of LGBT rights in calculated moves on the pathway toward his election.

In the grand scheme of things, however, the trans-conscious voter probably would not sweat the Presidential election too much, if at all.  The reason for this you have already guessed:  the battle lines in the battle for transequality are drawn not so much in Washington DC as in the state houses, city councils and school boards.

As I mentioned, the wave of specifically anti-trans legislation (mainly bathroom bills) we saw last year seems to be losing a bit of energy.  There are a few reasons for this.  First and foremost, the corporate response to such legislation was swift and unambiguous.  Companies will halt expansion or worse in states that pass bigoted laws.  Transphobia, like homophobia is bad for business.

Second, in anything beyond the reddest of states, voter backlash is a real problem for those facing election.  I have previously written about the 2012 Republican implosion in Minnesota after their bigoted crusade of 2010.  More recently, Governor McCrory, the architect of North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom law is poised to lose his re-election campaign, and there is concern within that state’s GOP that the backlash against McCrory might spill over into the Presidential election, essentially blocking Trump from any chance of victory.  If McCrory loses, which seems increasingly likely, his political career is over.

Finally, state and federal courts are ruling against such laws.  There is a growing sense that the issue of transgender equality will be resolved much in the same way that marriage equality was in 2015.  Both pro- and anti-equality advocates suspect that a game-changing ruling is coming, making expenditure of political capital on what will likely prove to be temporary legislation does not make sense.  Instead, each side is nationalizing the fight, hoping for a more favorable court.  Meanwhile, trans-conscious voters can become more savvy voters by carefully listening for the dog whistles within the broader campaigns.

The most shrill is that religious freedom is under attack.3  Of what does this attack consist?  If the “corrective” legislation is any indication, the threat is that it is becoming more difficult to discriminate against others with impunity.  In addition to anti-trans proposals, there are growing movements to favor “European”4 and Christian immigration despite the fact that the most severely oppressed refugees are brown and Muslim.  Churches still pay no taxes, enjoy broad protections to discriminate in their hiring/firing practices even when it violates federal law, and polls regularly demonstrate that Republicans would sooner vote for Democrats and vice versa far more readily than either would vote for an atheist.

Lately, an even louder chorus is booming: we must protect our children.  Not from poverty, inadequate education, measles, air pollution, racism or school shootings.  No–our children are threatened by transgender kids, who are willing to subject themselves to anxiety, social ostracism and daily abuse in hopes of seeing your kid partially naked before gym class.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

At the beginning of this post, I enjoined you into a thought experiment in which you would vote based on transgender issues alone.  Let us put that thinking aside once again.  I do not advocate one-issue voting.  Nevertheless, if someone you know is transgender, or if trans people simply matter to you in general, elections are a time of great angst and greater opportunity.  I would ask you simply to factor our concerns into your electoral calculus.  Whatever your political assumptions, please do not leave your voting decisions until the afternoon of November 8.  Read.  Ask.  Contact.  Consider.


Outlawing Trans

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Outlawing Trans

Enough already.

North Carolina is not an outlier.  More than 30 anti-transgender bathroom bills have been proposed since the first of the year, and this week the shameless carnival came to my not-so-red state of Minnesota.  Locally, the proposal stands little chance of passing the legislature and none of escaping the Governor’s veto, but such pragmatic considerations were insufficient to prevent high-profile hearings, during which Republican sponsors publicly equated transgender women with voyeurs, pedophiles and rapists.  As is often the case in election years, the viability of legislative proposals is beside the point.  Of course they are delighted when a bill succeeds, but the viral proliferation of anti-trans proposals is more about messaging:

Fear not, culture warriors.  Stick with us through one more election.  Marriage equality was a setback, not a loss.  The front may have shifted, but the larger campaign goes on.  

2016 is open season on transgender Americans.

The ostensible justification for banning transgender people from restrooms corresponding to their identity is the privacy and protection of women and children.  Opening the bathroom door to transfolk will, we are told, unleash salivating hordes of predators and peeping toms upon unsuspecting innocents.  To be sure, protecting the vulnerable whenever possible is certainly a right and proper function of government; it simply has nothing whatsoever to do with the bills in question.  Transwomen have been using women’s restrooms all along.  There have been no reports of either transwomen harassing others in the privy, nor of non-transgender predators posing as transwomen to gain access to the Ladies’.  Where was the public safety crisis in 2010?  2005?  2000?

Further, every danger imagined by opponents of transgender bathroom access is already a crime.  Harassment, indecent exposure, assault, invasions of privacy, rape–all are fully prosecutable under existing statutes, and a transgender person committing such acts would face the same consequences as anyone else committing such an act.  Creepy behavior in a public restroom is illegal because it is creepy behavior, not because of who does it.

The implication of anti-transgender bills is that transgender people enter public restrooms as predators.  There is simply no evidence for this. We go to pee, and the facilities already equipped with private stalls, in which the chances of seeing anyone else in a state of undress is essentially zero.1 We do not go to to make a sociopolitical statement, but rather to relieve ourselves so that we can get back to what we are doing as soon as possible.  We are not–I must stress–not, “men in the ladies’ room,” because we are not men.  The genitals that we were born with demonstrably do not prevent us from acting in a civilized manner toward others, and whether or not we have left them surgically unaltered is frankly none of anyone’s business.  They are called private parts for a reason.

All of you, both men and women, have shared public facilities with transgender people many times in the past.  Most of the time you probably didn’t notice, and in any case you were done no harm.  Nevertheless much harm can come to transgender people and others when they are forced, as the bills prescribe, to use the bathroom associated with the sex on their original birth certificate.  It was not only because I was being ridiculed and occasionally threatened in the men’s room that I switched.  Some men who encountered me would visibly panic when I walked in, whether they were sure I was in the wrong place or worried that they were.  The nicest confrontation I recall was a guy who was walking out as I was walking in.  As he saw me, he froze, checked himself, then said.  “Miss?  You’re in the wrong room.”2

I quite agree.  However, what seemed obvious to both that poor guy and me is lost on an increasing number of conservative politicians.  They are not seeking to protect the privacy of women,3 but rather to make it legally difficult for us to function socially or professionally.  Their seething, absurdist rhetoric casts little doubt that they see us as delusional sociopaths.  Don’t be misled by them, my friends.  Dehumanizing transgender people does not make anyone else safer.  It just makes us feel like shit.

I am NOT Cait.

Published / by rmaddy / 4 Comments on I am NOT Cait.

I love medical students.  They’re just crazy enough to do what I did 25 years ago, but haven’t yet had the idealism beaten out of them.  They are young, driven, and honestly, a hell of a lot smarter than I was at the time, let alone now.  Meeting with them, I see their stars rising as mine slowly sets, and yet they afford me opportunity to feel on top of a social situation.   “You know that thing you want to do?  That you are betting your entire future on?  That you think about, dream about and obsess about until you can nearly taste it?  I’ve been there.  Done that.”1

So, when my psychiatrist asked if he could interview me in front of his medical students, who were studying gender and sexuality, I allowed as how it sounded like a lot of fun.   I was expecting a handful of students, but ended up with the entire first year class–50 or so–a much better number for me.  I am substantially more comfortable in front of a crowd than I am within an intimate circle, and I was definitely going to need to get comfortable.  I understood going in that I was a rara avis to be dissected, and that their scientific curiosity would express itself in some very personal, intimate questions.

The hour did not disappoint.  One student’s brilliant question2 gave me early occasion to point out that, contrary to worn cliché, there is such a thing as a stupid question.  Without further clarification on my part, the students artfully avoided the most cringeworthy ones.  Still, this was a psychiatry class, and they did ask tough, personal questions.  When did I know?  Were there earlier inklings?  How had my sex life been affected?  How did we manage to stay together as a family?  Was I having problems at work?  And what do I think about Caitlyn Jenner…

Just as in 2016 all Americans are expected to have an opinion on Donald Trump, so also must all trans-people be ready with an opinion about Cait Jenner.  I tell you now what I related to them then–that coming out is hard, and that coming out in front of a billion or more people must be harder still; that I recognize that she is a shameless self-promoter, but that I am old enough to know that this has been part of her DNA since at least 1976; that trans people don’t undergo personality transplants.  We work out gender shift within the context of who we already are.  I think she has made some missteps, but that so have we all, and I wouldn’t call her out.

Until this headline…

Caitlyn Jenner Wants to Be ‘Trans Ambassador’ for Ted Cruz

WTF.  I mean seriously…what the fucking fuck?

Being Ted Cruz’s transgender ambassador would be roughly equivalent to being the Teletubby ambassador to Mordor.  Cruz regularly equates transgender people with sexual predators.  He makes appearances and receives support from pastors who are not just anti-gay, but thoroughly on record as wanting to rid the nation of LGBT people.  He devotes particular political energy to railing against protections for transgender children.  That his five year old “knows there is a difference between boys and girls” is a regular punch line in his smarmy stump speeches.  Some people are beyond persuasion.  The best thing one can do regarding Cruz on transgender issues is to fight like hell to make sure he never gets elected.

I empathize with Cait as a fellow sojourner…a late-transitioning MTF transsexual who managed for a long season to bear the unwelcome burdens of masculine expectation, always longing for a different one to carry.  I understand that she needs to be her own person and follow her own beliefs. Nevertheless, I cringe when she has four minute conversations with notoriously bigoted pastors, then acts as if some major breakthrough has occurred.  Or when she visits with urban underclass women facing pressures she could never imagine, helpfully suggesting that maybe they should just “get a job.”  Now she expresses her immense admiration for Ted Cruz and wants to help him on transgender issues.

There are good reasons why transgender people are wary of the GOP.  Without a single exception, proposals to limit transgender rights have arisen from Republican legislatures or executives.  We understand the codes.  “Protecting our children” means kicking trans kids out of sports, clubs or bathrooms.  “Defending the family” means legally invalidating trans or gay partnerships.  “Defending religious liberty” means enacting laws which allow people to justify discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their beliefs.3These things are not just coming from the far right fringes.  They are mainstream Republican policies.  They want judges who will “strictly interpret the Constitution,” by which they mean bolstering the 2nd Amendment (guns) and gutting the 14th (equal protection under the law for all citizens).  Candidates for major office actually promote their hostility to transgender rights as positives, egged on by their rank and file.  I’m sure just as many trans people come from conservative backgrounds as from progressive, but it’s damned hard to stay there if you are paying attention.  Cait clearly is not.

Through no fault of her own4, the general public sees Cait as a leader if not the leader of the American trans community.  Well, I’m not Cait, and many within the trans community are becoming frustrated with the extent to which she does not seem to grasp the issues which bear on us most acutely.

Why should she?  This is all new for her.  Coming out for Jenner has brought social promotion, positive attention and a resurgence of financial potential.  It usually does the opposite.  She is totally unconstrained by the often prohibitive costs of medical care.  Although I certainly recognize her courage, no other trans person I know has ever received an award for it.  For most of us, being trans isn’t a series of road trips and adventures with our posse in The Mystery Machine.

My best guess is that her path is horrible.  From time to time I wish she’d spend a bit more time figuring herself out before she opines to the press.  Then I remember that the only difference between her microphone and my blog is the number of people paying attention.  She relishes the spotlight, but I doubt she could escape it either.  I take a breath, continue to wish her well and give her due props for enduring transition under the microscope.  Still, I can’t sit quietly when she backs a smug, ill-tempered, transphobic bigot for our nation’s highest office.  Even from a sister, this is unforgivable.

Well, almost.


Religious Liberty Laws

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

One would have to be positively comatose to not realize that an election cycle is upon us.  For the moment, personalities are trumping1 the issues, but eventually our national discourse will turn to the latter.  When they do, expect to hear a lot more rhetoric about protecting religious liberty.  My task today is to explain how religious liberty intersects with LGBT interests, and what I, as a trans person, hear when a candidate starts making promises to defend it.

The average queer American is somewhat religious, and probably becoming more so even as the national population moves in the opposite direction.  A Pew Research survey in 2015 found that while fewer LGB Americans aligned themselves with a faith than the general population (60% vs 80%), the percentage of homosexuals identifying as Christians increased from 40% to 48% since 2013 even as the percentage in the general population decreased from 78% to 71%.

It would seem, therefore, that LGBT folk have every reason to be interested in the preservation of religious freedoms.  Even post-religious, reprobate, demon-spawn heathens like me are all for such liberties.  Let people believe what they will.  Why then, do LGBT groups get in a lather when candidates pontificate on religious freedom or legislatures propose laws guaranteeing it?  The answer is that recent calls to “restore religious freedom” have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting religious freedom and everything to do with perpetuating discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

Up until last year, an ideological struggle over the meaning of marriage raged throughout the nation.  Then, in June, the Supreme Court ruled2 that prohibitions against gay marriage were unconstitutional.  The battle ended overnight.  Or not.  Within months, Republican legislatures in 22 states proposed “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRA).  Proponents asserted that churches with doctrinal objections to homosexual marriage should not be forced to sanctify such marriages.  Almost nobody would argue this point, but unfortunately the proposals do not stop there.

Broadly speaking, RFRA bills hold that LGBT persons may be denied goods, service and access if the individuals or businesses deny these things based on moral objection to homosexuality/transgender variance.  A baker who sells wedding cakes need not sell one to a lesbian couple.  A hotel which caters receptions need not rent out its space for a gay wedding.  Restaurants need not seat or serve transgender patrons.

Paradoxically, as gay marriage has become legal, discrimination against gays is actually increasing in some states.  It is still perfectly legal to fire someone for their sexual or gender identity in 28 states.  “Married on Saturday; Fired on Monday” is altogether too common.  In several bills, the state specifically nullifies any municipal bill which offers greater discrimination protection within its city limits.  In other words, if Minneapolis enacted a law which prevented housing discrimination against trans people, Minnesota could pass an RFRA law which rendered the city’s protections void.  Fortunately, Minnesota is not a state where such bills enjoy success.  In the Bible Belt, however, it is a different story.

Deliberate deception characterizes the public promotion of these laws.  Proponents opine that religious freedoms are “under attack”.  Churches, they say, will be forced to accept teachings that they cannot accept.  Preaching against homosexuality will become illegal.  Parents will be prevented from teaching their kids to abstain from pre-marital sex.  Such propaganda has worked to get RFRAs passed.  The end result is codification of discrimination such that a janitor can lose his job cleaning school classrooms or a nursing assistant be fired by an assisted living facility which objects to the fact that she has a girlfriend.  Unsurprisingly, RFRA proponents demonstrate little or no sympathy for the idea of laws protecting the practice of any religion but their own.  Donald Trump wants to stop Muslim immigration.  Ted Cruz states we should accept Christian refugees, but send Muslims to other countries.

The moral of the story is “Be careful what you wish for.”  I don’t want to live in a country where the government can tell a preacher what to say, but that is not really what is at stake here.  Instead, cover is being given to businesses that openly discriminate against non-straight clients.3  I choose to believe that we are better than this.

Moral bankruptcy

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

It’s come to this–we are bombing hospitals.  MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers, aka, Doctors Without Borders) reports at least 23 dead from a US airstrike including women, children, nurses and physicians.  Medical staff watched helplessly as 6 patients burned alive in the ICU.  Although the US has admitted the bombing was a mistake, military spokesmen quickly floated a trial balloon alleging that Taliban had occupied and were firing from the hospital.  MSF emphatically denies this is the case.

Whom should we believe?  Should it be the US military, authors of My Lai, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the malicious prosecution of selfless truth teller Edward Snowden.  Or, should we ascribe credibility to MSF, who succeeded in the struggle against Ebola in West Africa in the wake of a pathetic response by the World Health Organization?  Whose 1999 Nobel Prize was totally legit, as compared to the sham sequel given to Obama in 2009?

The US will quickly drop the claims about hostile combatants inside the hospital for the festering pile of bullshit that it is, but that is as far as they will go.  The Air Force will investigate itself, and claim that no harm was intended for the innocent.  “Smart” bombs so routinely hit the unintended that “collateral damage” is just another way of saying “damage”.  If another nation did this to us, we would be breathing fire and demanding accountability for war crimes.

The Middle East air campaign during the Clinton administration, before the birth of my 16 year old son.  Since then, countless sons and daughters have been sacrificed on the altar of American fear/vengeance.  Only a complete idiot would claim that we are more safe today.  US military and foreign policy is predicated on overwhelming force and lopsided victories.  By my accounting, the last such victory we could genuinely celebrate was 70 years ago.

MSF, which stared down Ebola and won, is now leaving Kunduz.  They are the finest medical charity in the world, and one that never, ever proselytizes for a religion.

Give to MSF (Doctors Without Borders) here.

Potty Politics

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

Merely 100 years after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the new Norman/English nation, led by King Henry II, extended its reach into Ireland, seizing a large swath of land starting at Dublin and extending northward up the Irish east coast.  For centuries they tried (and ultimately failed) to preserve this area as a distinctly English enclave, separated from local blood, customs and language.    They marked the contentious boundary between their lands and those of the native Irish with a series of stakes demarcating the territory that they claimed and were prepared to defend.  Collectively, the stakes lent their name (Latin:  palus) to the English lands within, although the stakes themselves gradually gave way to a series of defensive ditches and hedges which could not even restrain livestock.  Nevertheless, psychologically the English separated themselves from the great unwashed–the uncouth, uncivilized heathens living “beyond the pale”.

This quaint historical echo of English condescension resurfaced last month when New Jersey governor and playground bully Chris Christie referred to a bill changing the requirement for gender-corrected birth certificates for transgender New Jerseyans as once again, beyond the pale.  Existing law allows such a change only for those who have had genital surgery; the new proposal, which Christie has now twice vetoed in consecutive years, amends this to those who can document “appropriate medical therapy.”  This year as last, Christie cited the possibility of fraud as justification for rejecting the bill.

While I don’t believe for a minute that he actually believes such a bill would result in significant identity fraud, I am hardly surprised that, given his aspirations for the Republican Presidential nomination, Christie is not an early adopter of transgender rights.  What caught my attention was not so much that he is unconvinced such a measure is right for New Jersey.  He could have said that such an idea was “beyond the Hudson” without arousing much more than a confused shrug from those who slept through their high school geography class.1  Christie aroused my ire and news outlet scrutiny not because of his predictable conservative stance, but rather because he seems to have laughed derisively at the bill in public comment, misrepresented it as requiring nothing more than a capricious feeling on the part of the applicant, and casting it as somehow ridiculous, employing the colorful Anglo-Irish metaphor which merely two paragraphs ago inspired our rapt attention.

The extent to which Christie’s meager 1% support in the polls owes to his stance on transgender rights is dubious.  However, it is increasingly clear that in 2016, Presidential contenders will, at the very least, need to have a stance on such rights.  To my upraised finger,2 this represents a huge shift in the political winds.

I digress.  Thanks to my own nativity in the State of Confusion3, I already have a reissued birth certificate.  It felt important at the time for me to obtain it, but it is my driver’s license which daily proves my name/gender, and my passport which put an end to the extraordinary rate of rescanning, patting down, and in one case barely disguised groping I used to experience at TSA security.  One year and a dozen flights later, they have not laid a hand on me since.  Documents really do matter.  Nevertheless, the signature battle for transgender rights will not occur at a government desk, but rather in your local restroom.

Transgender bathroom bills are all the rage this year.  Culture warriors increasingly rally troops bruised by losses on gay marriage by pivoting to a front where they still feel like they can win–the legitimization of transgender discrimination.  Whatever.  Christie and other state/local officials may obstruct on birth certificates, but practically speaking, one usually isn’t required until something is needed to staple to the equivalent death document.  I expect to have to pee long before then.  Transphobic activists are working overtime to put an end to such excretory nonsense.

Until I got to know more transgender people I wondered if I was becoming a bit lavatory-obsessed.  Writing my Bathroom Song was the first sign.  Then came the (unrecorded as far as you know) Garth Brooks spoof,4 riffing on the same theme.  Was I stuck in a rut?

Well, it turns out that I have absolutely nothing on the fanaticism of transphobic activists and legislators.  They propose laws which explicitly discriminate, well…indiscriminately against both FTM’s and MTF’s, although honestly they don’t seem to have heard of the former.  MTF’s themselves are cast not as women in any sense, but posers and pretenders faking an identity crisis to justify legalized voyeurism.  “The clothes make the man?” Pshaw…it’s all about the naughty bits, and they are coming after your daughter.

The central assumption of anti-trans bathroom legislation is that a short and slippery slope exists between transgender identity and sexual predation.  Further, the only way to prevent such acts of sexual violence is to ensure that people use the bathroom corresponding to those parts of their bodies which are unquestionably the least likely to be seen by others in a public restroom.  Or, the hypothetical discomfort of born men/women with trans men/women in the Gents/Ladies5 is sufficient cause to compel transfolk to use facilities where they are actually uncomfortable and genuinely at risk for assault.

I have been called selfish for using the Women’s room, but honestly never by anyone inside of it.  Maybe no woman has ever had the heart to tell me.  However, I suspect that the truth of the matter is that once I reached the point when I was thought it was more appropriate to use the women’s room, most reasonable people agreed with me.  Think about it.  Is this or this really more comfortable for all parties concerned?

I’ll wager that beyond some threshold of minimum facility cleanliness before dropping your drawers/lifting your shift you don’t have a Bathroom Strategy, let alone one that rates capital letters.  I’ll let you decide if it reveals a potential threat to the common good or if it’s merely neurotic as hell:

It starts with intelligence gathering. Are the rooms multistall or locking singles?  Are there just the two options, or is there a door number three?  How philosophically compromising, on a scale from 9 to 10, does door number three feel today?  Can I tell which side the stalls will be on by the distance between the men’s and women’s doors?  I look for temporary lulls in traffic like a golfer trying to time a shot between invisible gusts of wind.  Wait, it’s intermission…perhaps I can dart in quickly after they flick the lights to signal the rest of the patrons back to their seats.

Time to move. Eyes downcast, or at least distant and unfocused, I enter the bathroom hugging the wall.  One stall will be larger–this time the handicapped designation doesn’t seem to goad me.  Being 6’3″ in a room full of ridiculously low toilets is handicap enough.  Sitting down on one of those little toadstools captures 90% of the essence of falling ingloriously on one’s ass. I might never rise again, and they’ll find me stuck here during third shift cleaning.  I bee line for the taller seat if available, but if not, then closest port in a storm.

Dear God, no…there’s a line.  Please, please, please don’t talk to me.  Maybe I can pretend I’m 20 and just stare at my phone.  How convincingly can I say, No habla ingles? It’s not too late to turn back.  Two and a half hours…surely I can hold it for two and a half hours.

No, I can’t.  Hopefully there’s somewhere else to stop on the way home–a gas station preferably.  Good ol’ single rooms.  Fair odds in a fast food joint too.  Not the roadside, though.  There is no way in hell I’m going to be written up in the local paper as the transvestite[sic] cited for public urination.  I go through life bouncing from one embarrassment to another, but some humiliations are simply beyond the pale.


Soapboxing on “Passing”

Published / by rmaddy / 4 Comments on Soapboxing on “Passing”

My favorite London site may be found near the northeast corner of Hyde Park.  No, not the Marble Arch.  Walk about 100 yards further south to where the grassy fields begin.  What you will find there is a living monument to free speech, assuming that you look on a Sunday morning when the weather is nice.  It is Speaker’s Corner, and it comes to life whenever someone begins speechifying alongside the wrought iron fencing.

These days, speakers tend to bring a small aluminum step stool or a portable chair, but in bygone days they might stand upon a soap box, giving us the origin of that colorful metaphor.  They are ideologues and orators, advocates and crackpots.  They gather crowds of listeners, and if you’re lucky, a few hecklers (aka “quality control”).  Dire Straits immortalized the venue in their non-hit “Industrial Disease”:

Two men say they’re Jesus; one of them must be wrong

There’s a protest singer singing a protest song

My favorite scene at Speaker’s Corner opens with a Muslim mother and daughter, the former in beautiful hijab, and the latter in “western dress”.  They (and I) are engaging an anti-feminist orator when the father steps in awkwardly, touches his wife’s elbow and motions for her to move on.  She whirls on him and says, “This is Speaker’s Corner, and I will speak.”  As dad slinks away with his hands in his pockets, the daughter beams a face bearing the hope of mankind.

The modern blogosphere owes as much debt to Speaker’s Corner as contemporary musicians owe to JS Bach, Robert Johnson and Frank Zappa.  There sits, or better, there we are, our own most sacred shrine.  Join me, therefore, as I step up on my virtual soapbox to opine on the concept of transgender “passing”.

To “pass” means to be perceived as the gender with which a transgender person identifies.  In my case, I would be said to pass whenever I am seen as female.  The opposite of pass is “read” or “clocked”.  These terms might apply to FTM’s or MTF’s, although FTM’s, as a general rule, tend to pass quite well if they are on hormone therapy, as masculinizing the body post puberty is much easier than feminizing.  Common reasons why MTF’s are clocked include depth of voice, facial structure, skeletal size (height, hands/feet) and socialization.

Passing is important to some trans people.  If you buy into the dominant cultural narrative, it is pretty much all that matters to/for trans people.  Don’t.

I was browsing through the headlines the other day and clicked on a headline alluding to the difficulty Bruce Jenner1 might have transitioning.  My inner voice said something along the lines of “hell yeah”, having some personal experience with the difficulties of forging a new sense of self after burying part of one’s essence for decades.  Instead, the article discussed his cheekbones, flat chest and hairline.  Really?  If that’s what transitioning is all about, Jenner is likely in better shape than 99.9999% of transwomen.  $40K of nip and tuck can set those right in two weeks, including suture removal.  He’s certainly got $40K, whereas the rest of us live on varying degrees of constraining budgets.  His greatest challenge, in my opinion, will be dealing with deeply private matters under public scrutiny by a scandal-hungry nation which has a well-formed memory of him as the epitome of masculinity.

As important as passing is to some transpeople, it is even more so to the patriarchy, loosely defined as that segment of society which holds that women exist for the service of men.  Seeing passing as essential for transpeople is analogous to seeing physical beauty as essential for femininity.  Can’t we just round up all the uglies and non-passers for the convenience of window shoppers everywhere?  Passing is certainly seductive, as is beauty.  It opens doors and eases social interactions.  Until.

In 2003, Gwen Araujo was brutally murdered in California after her assailants ascertained her gender identity.  “Trans panic defense” has been used in at least 45 cases nationwide with varying degrees of success.  Transpeople who pass may, if they so desire, go through life “stealth”, but getting close to others almost always involves sharing past as well as future.  Passing does not remove the threat of violence, nor anxiety of being non-violently “discovered”.  I know transpeople who live lives paralyzed by fear of being known as trans.  “When should I tell?” becomes an enduring crisis.

The concept of passing reinforces the idea that transpeople are inherently deceptive.  Passing is getting away with something.  Fooling someone.  Being mistaken for a woman.  Transpeople who pass and transpeople who don’t have one thing in common: they are being themselves–expressing their inner reality in an outwardly visible way.  Janet Mock, who passes flawlessly, has become a leading voice against the concept.  We are not passing, we are being.

Passing needs to go away.  Transpeople have dignity and value right now, regardless of the extent to which we can “hide in plain sight”.  Obsession with passing must be replaced with a more inclusive concept of personhood, embraced by transpeople and society alike.

I know that I still have a bumpy road ahead, but I have transitioned successfully to the extent that I value myself as a transgender person.  Yes, I may make physical changes if they make me more comfortable in my own skin, but I openly denounce any procedure or medication as necessary for transition.  Further, I affirm that all drugs and all surgeries, not just transgender ones, thwart nature.  That’s what medicine is, and there is nothing less dignified about treating gender dysphoria than there is about treating cancer.  My choices are just that–my choices.  My gender is female, not because I pass but because I tell you that it is.

Quality control welcome.


Off to battle

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment


Minnesota National Guard members heading to Liberia (link)

Why?  Why is the US sending US troops to this area?  Why are we spending 6.8 Billion US dollars in this area?  Where is the UN? Where is the WHO?  Why?  Did our Senators Al and Amy volunteer our MN National Guard members for this duty?  Exposing MN citizens to Ebola?  Why?  Why?

–comment on the linked article

Taking a break from transgender navel contemplation, I am going to attempt to answer this question and address the most frequently stated objections, from the silly to the merely skeptical, to military intervention in the Ebola crisis.

The first part of this response is easily stated:  deployment of military troops to West Africa is justified by a) a credible threat to national security and geopolitical stability, b) a moral imperative for action, and c) a reasonable expectation that military deployment will positively impact the situation.  Now for the objections:

1.  This is not our problem.  From a here-and-now standpoint, there is an element of truth to this.  There are no active cases of Ebola in the United States, as of today, given the tragic death of Dr. Martin Salia in Nebraska.  That said, the current outbreak of Ebola is by far the largest on record, and the risk of significant spread to the US remains high until it is extinguished.  The more Ebola spreads in parts distant, the more potential avenues it has to enter the US.

Further, we have been thoroughly burned before by inconsistent application of moral principle in international affairs.  We justified the first Gulf War in 1991 by framing it as an international response to “naked aggression that will not stand”, yet turned a blind eye to even greater aggression in the subsequent Rwandan genocide.  While the US certainly cannot intervene in every humanitarian crisis, we have a nearly undeniable habit of invoking the language of humanitarian crisis disproportionately in regions where we have economic interest.

2.  We can keep this out by blocking all inbound traffic from West Africa.  This is not even true at the moment and will be less true in the future.  Thomas Eric Duncan entered the United States through Belgium.  Clearly, merely stopping direct traffic from West Africa will not suffice.  What lies just beneath the surface in this argument is the idea that West Africans themselves should not travel.  Even if we put aside the moral difficulty with imposing restrictions on others that we would not likely accept on ourselves (i.e. if Ebola were ravaging Minneapolis, the number of Minnesotans who opted to get out of town for awhile would not be insignificant), the idea that we can keep Ebola out of our neighborhood by building a metaphorical fence around such a large piece of territory as Africa is far-fetched.

Ebola has now spread to Mali.  How did it get there?  It walked over the border.  The instinct to want to contain Ebola isn’t wrong.  It simply ignores the eventuality that unchecked disease will continue to move out in a widening circle which will become increasingly hard to isolate.  How much will it matter that we stop flights from Africa if disease clusters break out in India, China, or Europe?  Containment is only likely if it is aggressive, active and local in the areas of outbreak.

3.  Deployment of troops places them in harm’s way.  This one falls apart as quickly as it is articulated.  Going into harms way for the good of national security is what troops do.  The Star Tribune article plays shamefully on this idea by attaching a photo of Guardsmen looking concerned and bewildered, inviting the inference that they are particularly disturbed about being sent to Liberia.  It is actually a file photo from 2008 taken upon news of deployment to Iraq.

I suppose one could argue that Ebola poses no threat to national security, but this argument is generally being advanced by the same people calling for closing the borders with an entire continent.  Is it a threat, or isn’t it?

4.  There is not a military matter.  Part of this objection rests on the implication that the troops are being sent to directly treat patients.  This is not the case.  Most if not all of the Guardsmen being sent have no training in this.  However, they do have expertise in security and logistical support.  These are skills which can productively be brought to bear in efforts to contain the movement of infected persons.

Additionally, stating what I think to be obvious, Ebola has immense potential to be used as a weapon of terror.  If religious fundamentalists are able to persuade volunteers to strap explosives to themselves and walk into a public market, how difficult will it be for them to persuade volunteers to deliberately contract Ebola, then walk around shaking intentionally soiled hands with as many people as possible in various densely populated cities?  It is definitely within US strategic interests to exercise military control the areas of outbreak.

5.  The CDC and WHO don’t know what they are doing.  I think a case can be made that they haven’t been particularly good at effectively communicating what they are doing in the face of a muck raking press.  Still, while there has been some evolution in their guidance and field response, active monitoring of persons at risk generally works.  Dr. Craig Spencer (NY Ebola case) is exhibit A.  Despite hysteria about the risks to New Yorkers brought on by his movements prior to developing symptoms, there were no secondary cases.  Meanwhile, quarantine hawks such as Governors Cuomo and Christie have potentially done significant damage to efforts to combat Ebola in Africa by advocating scientifically unfounded extra restrictions on aid workers that will likely lead to decreased volunteerism.

6.  We can’t afford this.  Although I fully expect the price tag to inflate, the $7 billion or so that we currently have earmarked for the Ebola is  outbreak less than 0.2% of the cost of our military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think most reasonable people will now agree that these wars were an abject failure, apparently accomplishing little more than fanning the flame of Islamist extremism.  It remains to be seen whether the Ebola outbreak will prove to be an instance where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but the likely cost of an epidemic 10 or 100 times greater than current levels would be staggering indeed.

7.  Why the National Guard?  This is not a completely unreasonable question, but again, the full-time military has been more than a little busy lately.  I recently reflected on the fact that we have constantly been at war since my son was three.  He will test for his driver’s license next week.

8. Obama wants to bring Ebola here.  I hate to even bring this up, except that this sort of ridiculous thinking seems pop up with extraordinary frequency.  All Presidents have historically been criticized and simplified.  Carter was a wimp.  Reagan was a dotard.  Bush I was a waffler.  Clinton was too busy schtupping interns to take care of business, Bush II was a bumbler.  Getting splattered with poo goes with the job.  That said, the incessant characterizations of Obama as un-American or even anti-American are unprecedented.  Personally, I think he’s had a C+ presidency at best and has opened himself up to many legitimate gripes, but those who cast him as someone who hates his country locate themselves far beyond the grasp of reason.

We are more than one year into the current Ebola outbreak.  We now know that we were too sluggish to respond, assuming this outbreak would, like preceding outbreaks, rapidly die out on its own.  So far, it shows no signs of doing so, and there are reasons to be concerned that it is still accelerating.  I predict that no effort we have made thus far, including the coming military deployment will be regretted in the long term.  I only hope we are doing enough.

Back to school

Published / by rmaddy / 2 Comments on Back to school



When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school

It’s a wonder I can think at all

                                        –Paul Simon, “Kodachrome”

There’s crap, and then there’s crap.  Christian brought home this smoldering turd from his social studies (now “Growth of America”) teacher this week:

“Some day your generation will have to pick up the mantle of battle just like the generation before you, and just like the generations before them.”

Apparently it no longer suffices for those who don’t know history to be doomed to repeat it (Edmund Burke).  Here we find a history teacher simply skipping the first clause altogether and proceeding directly to prognostications of eternal warfare.

It is quite true that we have not yet broken our war addiction.  The US has been in a perpetual state of war for 13 of Christian’s nearly 16 years.  The Middle East is demonstrably more fucked up now than when we started, and instead of cutting bait, we are recommitting troops to Iraq.  Still–can’t we hope and instill hope that the next generation would refuse to perpetuate the cycle?  Einstein famously quipped that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again, expecting different results.

I hope the teacher was simply making a provocative statement to kindle a dialogue, secretly hoping that one student would have the guts to say “bullshit”.  Whatever the thinking, Christian was clearly disturbed by the statement, having taken it as a flash of nationalistic bravado.

I suggest that we teach our children about the war–the hundreds of thousands killed, the dismal track record of “nation building”, the trillions of dollars spent with no end in sight.  Then, we should ask them the question that our generation has failed to address:  “Is it worth it?”