ENDA is Up – Again

What to do about ENDA? The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is up for committee hearing next week – again. It will likely pass out of committee on July 10, as all the committee dems (12) are sponsors and even one Republican is on board. We’ve been here before folks. It’s a long, hard road to pass a bill – think, “There’s a bill up on Capitol Hill.”

ENDA, originally introduced in 2007 by Sen. Ted Kennedy, has never enjoyed significant congressional support, however. And nothing appears to be much different in that old house. So, the efficacy and life of ENDA seems still doomed to be stalled in the Senate chute.

Ironically, ENDA is viewed by some as more of a transgender bill, largely because trans women have represented the historical sticking point – think Barney Frank. Yet, the twist here, is that trans people represent a class that has at least some discrimination protection under law since the EEOC decided Macy v. Holder in May, 2012 (recognizing transgender discrimination as a type of gender discrimination under Title VII). Sadly, if you are gay, lesbian or bi, you can still be fired or denied housing and public accommodation merely because it is so in states that offer no state or local protection. If you are transgender and you are fired you at least have a federal remedy.

Yes, ENDA is about LGBT Equality!!! So, what can we do to get this law passed? Some have suggested re-branding:

Following up on that bit of news, Michelangelo Signorile quotes former Bilerico editor Michael Crawford talking his ideas on how to get ENDA actually passed: rebrand it. I couldn’t agree with him more. Ditching the name ENDA and expanding the scope of the legislation would give LGBT federal nondiscrimination legislation some nice forward momentum.
‘When we talk about it as discrimination, it’s about bad things that are happening vs. reframing in a more aspirational way, framing it as freedom to work,’ he explained. ‘Everyone wants to be able to work and take care of their families. Framing it as something the general public can understand and connect to.’…

~ Filed By Bil Browning, Bilerico, 7/03/2013.

Good idea! But, regardless of how the law is framed, now is the time for all people concerned about LGBT Equality to get behind it.

I have mentioned before that I am concerned about the post-marriage victory let down amongst our movement. Will it be, or will we seize upon the momentum we seem to have accumulated over the last few years and extend it beyond marriage equality? I hope it will be the latter for the sake of those who have lost or been denied employment or associated benefits. And I can think of several people I know right off the top of my head who have endured these struggles right here in Southwest Montana. I can only imagine what it is like in larger urban areas of the country.

So, here’ my pitch: Don’t let down! Don’t stop! All the same cliches about equality and justice not being so until they are so for all remain true and unfulfilled. Please do your part to help pass ENDA.

THE GREAT TRANS LAMENT (AGAIN)

In a landmark moment for lesbians and gays in America, another amongst many over the last few years, “the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of gay marriage, and it allowed gay marriage to resume in California.” http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/26/19151971 As the LGBT world’s collectively held breath exasperates in a crescendo of joy, it is difficult still to catch a glimpse of perspective. It is hard to know, as the euphoria winds down, just what it all means and what I should feel.

I am of course elated for Edith Windsor, and hope she feels the sense of vindication that I feel. I hope also that the IRS is forced to pay her estate taxes back, together with penalty and interest in a like amount to what she would have to pay had the tables been turned. I am tickled pink-er, for gay friends in Butte, America, who announced their engagement only this week. I am ecstatic for the LGBT Equality Movement, and its ever escalating advancement toward full justice and inclusion.

Yet, for me, something is missing. I have this niggling sense that for all the good that is happening around me, and the excitement that it brings me, it is not really meant for me. While I may share the joy, I may not reap the blessing. For it brings to mind yet again the great trans-lament, and just how far we still have to go. Who will accept me enough into the full fabric of society to love me? Who will lie next to me, hold me close and keep me safe? Who will share their life with me? Who will marry me?

It is a struggle that not even the LGBT community collectively can get their head around, let alone the broader world of which I am equally a part. For example, some of the larger world remains blissfully ignorant of even the larger LGBT struggle. In my exuberance this morning I burst in on a co-worker and said, “DOMA is unconstitutional!” In truly Ozzie-esque fashion she replied, “What’s DOMA?” If the larger world is not even aware of the LGBT struggle for marriage equality, how on earth will they understand the trans struggle to even get a date?

It begs the question: What is equality? And just what is its genesis? We can say that we seek to be equal in our application of the laws of the land, and we should. We should scream it from the rooftops. But, what about ideas, philosophies and judgements? Should we not seek an even playing field with these too? Let me put a finer point on this that might sting a little.

I have been playing the field of the on-line dating scene off and on for the last year or so – with absolutely no degree of success. That’s right – not a single date from the on-line sites including Planet Sapho, Cupid, Tagged and Are You Interested. Planet Sapho is more like planet scamo. Cupid and Sapho are related I’m pretty sure. Tagged is for people who take vicarious pleasure through sending e-porn back & forth, and for foreigners who look for love in all the wrong places (like 1000s of miles away where dates are literally impossible). Are You Interested is yet another way for Mark Zuckerberg to suck the ever living advertising dollar out of the world before we all get fed up with Facebook.

The faults and foibles of these sites notwithstanding, my experience has been remarkably repetitive on way too numerous occasions. I have been scammed, slammed, avoided, evaded , judged and condemned – everything but loved. Here’s what happens. Gay guys may think the world of me, but they are gay, okay. Straight guys always call me dear right off the bat – I mean in the very first message. And I know immediately where it is headed. They will profess great and enduring love for me, for my picture, my smile and my wondrous beauty, then evaporate when I reveal my transgender nature. And reveal it I must for the tragic potential of omission. Plus, all I have to do is Google my name to see that there is absolutely no potential to live in stealth.

Then there is the lesbian reaction which is perhaps the most deflating and discouraging of all because, for reasons we shall see, I identify as a lesbian. First, the story. I have loved women all of my life, and I have felt in heart and soul for just as long that I am a woman. Before I ask you to do the math, let me ask you to consider what determines our gender? It is physical or, God forbid, merely our genitals? Or does it include the way we think, feel and believe? Can a manly woman be a man despite the lack of a penis? Can I be a woman despite the lack of reproductive organs? I do not hold the answers to these questions, but this I know; If I was not always a woman I defy anyone to deny me that description now. I have at the very least become a whole woman in body, mind and soul. Yet, when I come out to a would-be suitor, she turns me down flat every time, unless of course, it’s a scam. I do not get it.

I know my way around a woman, really! As a dude, I was all that and a bag of peanuts, or something. I always had dates. I dated many girls in high school and college, even married a couple. Once, with my ex-wife, we counted up the number of people we had made love to. I suppose it was in the interest of full disclosure prompted by the pre-marital blood test. I do not think that I have made love to fifty women, but, I know it was more than thirty. This is not about conquest, and I write this just to say that I do know how to make love to a woman. I know what works, and what does not. I know how to give and take love, to have, hold and help her . . .and the weird thing for me is that I was always a woman even though she thought she was with a man.

Yet, though I live and love as a woman in all respects and am capable of great emotional support and attachment, and sexual pleasure, I am somehow off-limits to lesbians. I cannot figure it out, and that is the trans-lament. I belabor this point to demonstrate an even greater and more fundamental point – discrimination and prejudice lie much closer to the heart than most of us are willing to admit, for to do so would mean that we must cast it aside. I suspect few of us are prepared to do so.

My greatest fear as we secure marriage equality (it appears ever increasingly certain that we will) is that many if not most LGB activists will abandon the movement. They will stop pressing for other rights and greater equality. So, I write this rant. I reveal myself to the possibility of disagreement and perhaps ridicule, not out of self pity but as a plea. Please do not let the pendulum stop swinging.

AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

Today, the Colorado Human Rights Division got the transgender bathroom thing right in the Coy Mathis case. “This is the first ruling in the nation that holds that transgender students be allowed to use bathrooms that match who they are. There are thousands of families like the Mathises who are feeling relieved and vindicated that the commission ruled that Coy is a girl just like any other girl,” said Michael D. Silverman, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/agency-says-district-discriminated-against-transgender-student.html

How can I tell you how this feels, how my eyes begin to well with salty tears at the thought of being aloud to grow up in a world that matched who I am? I cannot fully explain, not really, because I was not aloud to be in that world. I have never lived in a world of acceptance and affirmation. And perhaps none of us have. But I suspect that some of us grew up with more rejection and fear than others, and bear deeper scars and wounds for having survived the battles – mostly waged within.

I want to tell you, but I struggle with the words. I am reminded from my own recovery experience to tell you just that – my experience. I always wanted to use the girls bathroom, and not for some prurient interest either. Six year olds do not have prurient interest, do they? I did not. But, I could not tell you about the bathroom. I wanted to wear a dress, but I could not tell you. I wanted to smell the pretty lotions and potions and such, but I could not tell you. So many things I could not tell, that come trickling back to me slowly, like a leaky faucet dripping secrets I had all but forgotten. I was afraid that you would not like me. You would not approve. You would not let me be. You would hurt me. So, I could not tell you about the daily battle inside my head that seemed to never end or go away. So, I hid it and I hid it well.

We are as sick as our secrets, it seems, and I became mightily ill. I hid myself away and swished it all around in booze, perhaps to wash myself away. But in hiding and drinking I could never come clean. And now a brave little girl shall lead us. She is showing us how to tell, to be. I want to wear a dress. I want the pretty things. I stubbornly must be.

Coy Mathis has a family who allows her to be authentic. I have tried to express what it was like for me in an effort to describe what, perhaps, it means for this child to have this chance. I do not know what Coy will be, but, I suspect that she will not grow up enmeshed in fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt, shame and ambiguity about something as fundamental as self. She has no doubt, no fear. She has a family, and now a tribunal that will support her. Perhaps someday soon, the rest of us shall follow where this child leads.

AM I REAL?

While I continue to struggle to get along in the world with my GID (Gender Identification Dysphoria), articles like an opinion piece in the Washington Times today, displaying its JID (Journalism Identification Dysphoria), do not help. On a day when another headline read; “Ex-gay Christian ministry closes, apologizes to LGBT community,” I was also entreated to lines like these:

Real girls and their parents reacted with the outrage that anyone not blinded by political correctness would have expected.”

“Sixteen states and the District have similar laws, according to something called the Transgender Law & Policy Institute.”

“The rights of the majority — in this case, for real girls not to have real boys use their toilet facilities — are subordinated to a vanishingly small minority, albeit one with political clout way out of proportion to its numbers. School restrooms are just the start, with locker rooms and showers after phys-ed next on an agenda that’s all about breaking down the real and traditional differences between the sexes.” http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/19/transgenders-and-toilets/#.UcM8JqIlSC4.facebook. (Emphasis added by the author).

Clearly, the Times does not know weather to wax sensationally or rationally. Or, perhaps this is the whole problem with the political right – they just don’t know how to talk about people with whom they take issue without relying on insulting, inflammatory rhetoric like that above. I apologize ahead of time if the right is able to prove me wrong on this. In any event, a professional journalist should be held to a higher standard, even in their opinions, although I must forgive “THE WASHINGTON TIMES” (Only By line) its professional lapses, given its apparent internal confusion about journalistic integrity and its own identity.

So, what is a “Real girl” Mr. Washington Times? (Oh, did I just make an assumption that a man wrote this article? You bet!) Is a “Real Girl” defined only physically, by her appearance, by her genitals? Or is it the heart, mind and soul that make a girl real? Is it a combination of the physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual? Perhaps. I know what my biases are, but, for the sake of Pete, does the Washington Times really want to limit gender to a static, stereotypical definition? Do I have to be barefoot, pregnant and subservient to a husband in order to be a “real” woman? The Washington Times might as well print their publication on papyrus in cuneiform. (Really ancient, as in pre-dating the dark ages).

Now, of course, the existence of “real” women suggests the existence of “real” men too. And what do they look like? I won’t even hazard a guess. But, I will bet it is “traditional.” Well, at least the Washington Times definition of traditional “real” men and women that it can trace for about the last century and to its Puritan, Anglo-Saxon cultural roots only. In truth, the differences between genders anthropologically speaking is much more fluid. (See, http://genderoutlaw.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/transgender-warriors-by-leslie-feinberg/)

Now, the Washington Times prints that trans people have some kind of “political clout.” Never mind that trans people are routinely excluded from health insurance policies for health related circumstances, and that they the are often the most highly discriminated against class of people. (See, http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/hrcTGguide.pdf). Heck, even local ordinances designed to provide anti-discrimination protections often have transgender exceptions – especially when it comes to bathrooms. So, what political gain does this imagined “clout” provide to a trans person?

And what about me – a post-op trans women? If I can not fit the Washington Times definition of a “real” woman or a “real” man, am I real at all. The IRS thinks so. So does the DMV, the local Election Administrator, the DFWP, my bank, my church, my work, my friends, and even all two of my enemies. Heck, I even have a credit score. Yes, I’m real, and I wish the Washington Times would get there too.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ME

Yes, I am a father, and will always be a father even though I do not celebrate this special day. A friend intimated that there is a special kind of hurt when she said that I must have some way of dealing with this occasion, of coping with the loss of my relationship with my children. She is right.

She also wondered aloud what feelings my children experienced on this day. They must think about it – think about me, right? I don’t know, but I appreciated her conclusion that she would pray for them. I will too.

Many people feel a sort of angst when I tell them about this circumstance, about how my children could not make the transition with me from man to woman. Out of concern for me, they are often perturbed with the negative reaction of my children to my gender transition. My children have completely rejected me and think of me as dead. We have not spoken in nearly seven years.

It is harsh, but they are not entirely to blame. Their self-centered reaction is a reflection of their self-centered father. It is a function of the way they were raised, for children learn what they live.
Parents are responsible, at least in part, for the character defects of their children. Teach your children well.

So, my way of coping with the loss of familial association (as we lawyers would put it) on Father’s Day is one of understanding, responsibility and compassion. It must also be one of humility and acceptance. With humility serenity is certain to follow.

I am posting this blog because, not only many trans people, but I suspect many of the LGB folks as well, have a similar experience when they come out to their grown children. Well, not the Ls on Father’s day, but there is Mother’s Day too. The simple fact is that some children do reject their parent’s attempts to become authentic.

I suppose there is some stage of grief in which a person becomes philosophical about their loss, but I do wonder about the state of “familial association” in the LGBT universe. Do people have a natural inclination to resist change in the ones we love? I mean there is a whole childhood wrapped up in parents remaining the same – forever. Is not much of a young adult’s security attached to the stability, such as it is, of their parents? We like our parents the way they are, however they are. It is what we know. When they go changing stuff it shakes up our world. Sure, there are some who are mature and secure enough to focus altruistically on another’s health and wholeness, but many of us often focus on own feelings and needs first. Especially if you are self centered like me.

But, I have changed. Well, duh-uh! I have changed inside too. I now understand that my self centeredness is a character defect that I can grow beyond. In stead of drowning in self pity over the loss of my children, I can focus on their health and happiness. I can be happy for their happiness. I can be proud that they have their own lives, filled with the things that young people do and have. They have relationships and work and play. They are okay, and just as I am responsible in part for their character defects, I too can take some ownership in their successes.

And when Father’s Day is done I can wish me a Happy Father’s Day.

BIBLICAL OBEDIENCE

I had the opportunity to join the United Methodist Yellowstone Annual Conference in Billings, MT this past weekend. It was a little bit of a retreat for me, with a room full of clergy and wonderful people whom I have grown to love since becoming a member of ST Paul’s, UMC in Helena a few years ago. We sang songs at morning services and even danced a bit. And, I sold a few books.

I learned a new phrase too, “biblical obedience.” When I first heard it, that same old fear came creeping up the back of my neck, and I wondered if I really wanted to be there. I immediately thought of all the evangelical Christians who would condemn me to hell for their literal reading of certain selected passages of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. As I sat amongst the members of the Reconciling Ministries Committee, I stifled the urge to fight or run. I knew they did not accept a literal reading of scripture that conflicted with Jesus’ command to love one another. I listened instead.
As I sat in a meeting of predominantly clergy members, I began to understand that it was they who would assert “biblical obedience,” and Jesus’ command was exactly what they were referring to. They would obey this command, rather than the Methodist Book of Discipline, which states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” ¶ 304.3. In fact, many of the Conference’s retired pastors have publicly resolved to perform same sex unions.
One Pastor, my friend, Lyle Hamilton, has written a poem echoing this sentiment called When Persons Reach out Heart to Heart. It concludes:

They honor truly who they are
As ones marked by God’s grace;
Deep love looks though the lover’s eyes,
and looking back – God’s face.

Not only is this kind of “biblical obedience” new to me¸ it is, in one form or another, a common theme emerging amongst many Christian denominations. As pastor Marianne wrote in Sunday’s bulletin, they “effectively ‘come out of the closet.’” They are Episcopalian (http://www.integrityusa.org/#), Catholic (http://www.fortunatefamilies.com/), Lutheran (http://www.reconcilingworks.org/#), etc. (see also, http://www.gaychurch.org/Find_a_Church/find_a_church.htm).
I guess we are changing the world!

WELCOMING ME HOME

It was my pleasure to sit behind retired Methodist Pastor, Lyle Hamilton in the basement of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena, Montana for an All Church Conference to discuss a proposed Reconciling Congregation statement.  The Conference Superintendent led the meeting and asked the fifty or so assembled to speak what was on their heart.  And a few did.

UMC Logo

UMC Logo (Photo credit: RoyJr)

The meeting, however, was anti-climatic.  Their was a strong sense that the statement of inclusion and affirmation of groups of people who have formerly felt shunned and excluded was merely a reflection of the already imbedded character of St. Paul’s anyway.  In fact, a few people described how they had heard comments over the previous year of meetings, discussion and classes leading up to this moment to the effect of “duh-uh!  Don’t we have that already?”

Yet, there was also a sense of importance, of critical mass, of mission, purpose and rightness of call.  My friends, John and Vicky Wieda, had painstakingly spearheaded the effort in that vain with deliberateness.  So yes, when it came time to reach consensus as a congregation there was little to detract from an outcome which seemed certain.  St. Paul’s would become a Reconciling Congregation.

So, why do it?  I mean, why all the fuss if St Paul’s, with its open minds, hearts and doors, has already established inclusiveness as part of its character?  Isn’t it really much ado about nothing?

Pastor Lyle gives a clue about the answer in this post on his Facebook page:

Late yesterday afternoon, at an all church conference, St. Paul’s UMC in Helena officially became a Reconciling Ministries Congregation by a consensus vote. We have now publically declared ourselves to, in fact, be what the community of Helena and most of our congregation has long felt is both our calling and our reality: “All truly means all,” and everyone has a place in this community of faith.

Our incarnated statement, that is imbedded in our soul, is as follows: “St. Paul’s United Methodist Church welcomes all people of any age, gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, or disability into the full life and membership of this congregation.”

May God bless us, every one . . . as we move forward with grace and compassion toward all!

The oft repeated statement over the months of examining this issue that “All truly means all,”which, as Lyle says, is “imbedded in our soul,” is not just a statement.  It is in many ways transcendent, like a lighthouse beacon shining through the storms and rough seas of understanding and reconciliation between who we are and what we believe, between what we believe and the world around us, between the world around us and the one within where Jesus calls with open arms and his profound and unconditional offer of love.

To proclaim that “All are welcome here,” and mean it,  is to shine the light of Jesus’s love through all the violence and hateful rhetoric in the world around us for those, like me, who else would have no place to go for the communal understanding, practice and experience of that love.  I would have no congregation, no church.  For some, perhaps, it is possible to live as a Christian without church.  For me, from the day I walked into St. Paul’s almost seven years ago in my first week of gender transition on “Welcome Home Sunday” to this moment,  it is not.

Christianity is a communal practice.  God speaks to me in many ways, some far, far away from books and buildings.  But God also speaks to me through other people – through you.  And I can find few better places to hear God speak and feel God’s presence than in the company of other Christian believers – through congregation and communal worship.  Thus, as a Christian transwoman, it is vital for me to have a Christian community to call home.

Last night I was reminded, as I spoke what was on my heart, of the day I became a member of St. Paul’s.  It was my birthday and the whole congregation sang Happy Birthday.  I stood there, dumbfounded, with a tear in my eye and my flesh all goosey.  I knew then, as publicly affirmed by this Reconciling Statement that I have my congregation and my church.  Thank you St. Paul’s for welcoming me home.