Montana HIV Men’s Retreat Scheduled For September

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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.

“Where Would I Begin?” Reflections on the Historic filing of the Crawford Case

The historic litigation in the case of M.C. has profound significance for many in the intersex community. Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC) is publishing a series of personal responses to the M.C. litigation. The first in this series is by longtime intersex activist and former AIC staff member Jim Ambrose (formerly Jim Bruce). This piece originally appeared on AIC’s blog, June 5, 2013.

“M.C. will spend the rest of his life paying for his caretakers’ actions.” – Erica K. Landau, Huffington Post

Where would I begin? I asked myself that question every other hour after AIC asked me to submit my reaction to the filing of the Crawford case. Hell, I’m asking it right now. I worked for AIC from 2009 to February, 2013 so I knew this case was coming for a while. That said I had a feeling it wouldn’t get filed, that it’d slip away or rather be taken away. I wasn’t alone in feeling that simply filing the lawsuit, just filing it, would be monumental. Looking back it was kind of like when an 8 year-old thinks Christmas is an oasis (7 months away!), too far off to comprehend day-to-day and so the kid resigns himself to childhood drudgery. Because, come on, nothing exists that far in the future least of all everything you ever wanted.

But, on the morning of May 14, 2013 The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Advocates for Informed Choice issued a press release detailing how a group of professional adults irreparably harmed a child in South Carolina. I gazed at my laptop as a press conference took place right in front of some giant brick courthouse. Attorneys representing a child called M.C. stood in a semi-circle behind a podium, and there was Anne! Anne, who will argue breathlessly that ‘They Might Be Giants’ was the greatest band of the 20thcentury, was right there on the Primetime Live at 5 Eyewitness News! Ever-measured Anne gently explained what she knows she can prove: That what happened to M.C. was unnecessary, arrogant and brutal.

You see, for me, the most difficult aspect of intersex advocacy is making this complex issue understood by any audience. Intersex stuff is nothing but sprawl. It gets everywhere: sex, genitals, going to the bathroom, hormones, clothing, fitting in, not fitting in, showering, sports, inclusion/exclusion, sex again, interpersonal connection, how we all sleep at night, self-determination, the opportunities we give ourselves and take from others and contentment. You know, the basics. These items are hardly approachable because most educated folks often fail to even understand the difference between sex and gender. So tell me how a kid is to know what a numerator is if they struggle to count to 10?

So, then two of the bravest people I may ever know did something most intersex advocates (myself included) thought could never happen. They stood in front of cameras, on record, in their son’s hometown and demanded justice. Pam and Mark Crawford denounced the needless removal of their son’s genitals and reproductive organs as “a careless and reckless action,” and that the State of South Carolina “disfigured (M.C.) because they could not accept him for who he was.” When I glanced down to watch the seconds peel away on the web clip I noticed my hands and knees were trembling. No. I was shaking all over. That’s when I realized Pam bears a passing resemblance to my own mother. My mother has that red hair, those sturdy-yet-stylish eyeglasses, and a voice that tells a careful listener suffering is something you do alone.

The thing is M.C. and I (along with many intersex people) share a similar childhood narrative. We both endured early years of ghastly cosmetic genital surgery, the loss of our reproductive organs and silence. But, M.C. was adopted by the Crawford family. I never saw the inside of an orphanage. M.C. has a sense of self and of his safety. My sense of self was gray, disoriented. I did not feel safe. M.C. has a voice that he uses. I had a voice too, but if I’d shared that voice with my parents I would have told them I was lost. M.C. used his voice to inform his family that he is a boy.

Pam projected her voice. I can hear it as I type: “The adults involved are sending him the message that your body is not acceptable and has to change in order for you to be loved.” I know how true those words are. I, and many intersex advocates, have articulated versions of them to those in power for the past 20 years. But, hey, why should highly-educated clinicians listen to a handful of surgical ingrates? History tells us that appeals for mercy through testimonials of truth and suffering have never been enough to effect institutional change. Those words from a proud and committed mother of an intersex kiddo in front of most of the world are not an appeal for mercy. They are a shot across the bow.

Pam’s unshakeable words found a spot in me I thought I’d grieved out. Out and away. I’d say it was unbearable save for the fact that I knew thousands of other intersex people were witnessing the Crawfords’ demonstration of love and belief in their son. I shared May 14, 2013 with many people, especially the ones no longer with us. And, frankly that experience reminds me how alone I was for so long, how alive I am now and, finally that resilience brings liberation to those residing on the right side of history.

Jim Ambrose is a worker bee at The Interface Project. #justice4mc

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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.

Here I am, Lord

As a disenfranchised Catholic, I cannot help but be intrigued and even a little hopeful about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.  I do not like Benedict even though I love the church.  I grew up Catholic, was both an altar and choir boy, and even considered becoming a priest.  I can’t imagine how that would have turned out.

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, the American/Roman Catholic culture became my culture.  My friends were Catholic.  We attended the Catholic grade school and church at the corner of my street.  I later went to a Catholic high school and college (University of Dayton).  I especially loved the new music in the church, and played and sang those songs in a church music group for years.  I even came to appreciate the deep meaning and spiritual significance of the Mass and other Catholic traditions.

I miss those parts of being Catholic because they are so much a part of who I am.  However, like so many others, I can no longer tolerate both the fact of clergy child sexual abuse, and the church hierarchy’s cover up of the same.  Neither can I abide the church’s homophobic positions, philosophy, and teaching.  Did you ever notice when Benedict has discussed these, he does not refer to scripture, nor even mention Jesus, let alone his teachings about love and lack of judgment.  Perhaps this is because the gospels, ostensibly, have also sanctioned the power of the Vicar of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter (“I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” Matthew 16:18, New American Standard Bible (©1995), emphasis added), as well as his minions, to assess judgment upon sinners.

Purportedly, this power, conferred by Jesus himself in John 20:23, New American Standard Bible (©1995)  (“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained”) takes precedent in the minds of the Church over Jesus’ direct order:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” John 15:12, New American Standard Bible (©1995).  And, what about this rather direct admonishment?  “Do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. . . .”  Luke 6:37, New American Standard Bible (©1995).

I have never heard an explanation for this elevation of one of Jesus’ principles over that of others, and would love to read the apologetics which justifies this doctrine promulgated by the self perpetuating (and protecting) hierarchical system known as the church.  But, that is perhaps another matter.

Be that as it may, apparently not all church members agree with these judgmental policies.  “Equally Blessed, an LGBT-inclusive Catholic group, issued a statement upon Benedict’s announcement and said members were ‘grateful that Pope Benedict XVI had the foresight and humility to resign his office for the sake of the church to which he has given his life.’

The organization added that the Roman Catholic Church now has the opportunity to change the church and overturn oppressive, homophobic policies.

‘We pray for a pope who is willing to listen to and learn from all of God’s people. We pray for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe. We pray for a pope who will lead the church in looking the sexual abuse scandal squarely in the eye and make a full report on the complicity of the hierarchy in the sexual trauma inflicted on children around the world. We pray for a pope who is willing to make himself vulnerable on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.’”  http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2013/02/11/pope-benedict-xvi-announces-resignation.

I wish I could be as genial and hopeful, but, sadly, I must acknowledge as have others that many of the Cardinals who will select Benedict’s successor (and from whose ranks he will be chosen) were handpicked by Benedict himself.  Thus, it is very likely that they share his views and support his policies.

I pray from the depths of my soul for a pope who will truly believe these words from a popular Catholic hymn*:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart

*Written by Daniel Schutte and recorded by Daniel O’Donnell in 1981 after Vatican Council II. Its words are based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3. The song was then published by North American Liturgy Resources which later was purchased by New Dawn Music, a subsidiary of Oregon Catholic Press. It’s been used at many Papal Masses.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Citations omitted).

Is This The Year Montana Comes into the 20th Century?

To put it lightly, Montana’s legislature has not been exactly progressive on LGBT issues. In fact, as far as I can tell, there has never been a pro-LGBT law that has EVER passed the legislature to be signed in to law.

With a bright shiny new legislature sworn in and a Democrat holding on to the governor’s office, is it possible that 2013 will be the first legislative victory for LGBT people in Montana?

As many folks know, here in Montana we still have a law on the books declaring that homosexual acts are a form of criminal behavior. While this law has been struck down by the courts, the law has remained on the books, despite the fact that it has been unenforceable for nearly 2 decades.

During the 2011 session, a bill to remove this language from the books actually passed the Senate, and received a majority of votes in the House, but because it had to be “blasted” out of the disastrous House Judiciary Committee it required 60 votes, which it didn’t receive.

With Democrats picking up 7 seats in the House, along with one or two clearly equality-minded Republicans being elected, it seems that if the bill can pass the House Judiciary committee it’ll almost certainly pass into law, and even if House Judiciary tables the bill, there is still a decent chance it would receive the 60 votes necessary to be blasted out of that committee.

While, I don’t want to count chickens before they’re hatched, but it appears that the bill is poised to pass the Senate again easily, so I’m going to focus on the House. Judging from past votes, sponsorships or statements, here is how I see the current vote break-down on the issue in the House:

“Yes” votes: 45

B. Bennett, Boland, Brockie, Calf Boss Ribs, Clark, Coffin, Court, Curtis, Dudik, Eck, Fitzpatrick, Gibson, Gursky, Hill, Hollenbaugh, Hoven, Hunter, Jacobson, Lieser, Lynch, McCarthy, Neill, Peppers, MacDonald, McChesney, McClafferty, McNally, Mehlhoff, Miller, Noonan, Pease-Lopez, Pierson, Pomnichowski, Price, Schreiner, Schwaderer, B. Smith, Squires, Steenberg, Swanson, Whitford, Williams, Wilmer, Wilson, Woods

Likely “Yes” votes: 8

Ankney, Connell, Cook, Cuffe, Greef, Knudsen, Lavin, Welborn

“No” votes: 27

Bangerter, G. Bennett, Berry, Blasdel, Blyton, Brodehl, Edmunds, Ehli, Flynn, Hansen, Harris, Hollandsworth, Howard, Ingraham, Kary, Kerns, McNiven, O’Hara, O’Neil, Osmundson, Randall, Regier, Reichner, C. Smith, Vance, Warburton, Washburn

Likely “No” votes: 5

Doane, Fiscus, Laszloffy, K. White, Wagoner

Unclear: 15

Ballance, Galt, Glimm, Hagan, Hagstrom, Halvorson, Hertz, D. Jones, Lang, Lenz, D. Moore, Redfield, Salomon, Shaw, Zolnikov

Organizations such as the Human Rights Network and the Montana ACLU will be working hard all session long to get as many votes as possible for this bill. You can help by contacting the legislators that are in the “Unclear” category, or in the “Likely Yes” category to urge them to remove the stain of this law from our books.

Removing this law from our books would be a small victory, but it is a victory nonetheless and it is a good way to get wavering legislators to get a pro-equality vote under their belt.