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“A Boy’s Life” in The Atlantic

The November 2008 issue of The Atlantic magazine contains an article called “A Boy’s Life.”  It’s a comprehensive exploration of the topic of transgender children:  where it comes from, the struggles that parents and children experience as they strive to find ways to deal with it, and the difficult choices they must make in that process.

I’m not sure how I feel about this article.  Much of it is troubling, since I wish the whole topic of the origins of being transgender and how best to treat it to be neat and simple, but it just isn’t.  In the end, I believe that children should be allowed to make their own decisions to the extent that’s feasible.  (Obviously, that’s a huge loophole, but, for the moment, I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to define my position any further.)  If a child typed as a boy at birth wants to live as a girl, she should be allowed to do that with her parents’ support.  At the same time, her parents need to make clear that either choice is OK.  If she later decides that she wants to live as a boy, that too should be allowed.  Will it be more difficult then?  Yes, of course.  Every choice we make has consequences and, as much as we might like to, we cannot insulate our children from the consequences of their choices any more than we can avoid the consequences of our own.  But I believe that the challenges of returning to life as a boy, after living as a girl for weeks or months or years, will be less traumatic than growing up never having had the chance to have that experience and to make a more informed decision about her future.

Eventually, she will be faced with decisions that will have permanent, physical consequences — whether to begin cross-sex hormones, whether to have SRS.  That is where the use of hormone blockers has the greatest benefit, since they delay the onset of changes that will make living in her affirmed gender infinitely harder until she has the maturity and the information she needs to make that momentous decision, while retaining the option of allowing her puberty to proceed as it would without intervention.  In the end, however, it must be her decision, not her parents’, not her doctor’s.  None of can know what is truly best for another person, even our children.  All we can do is ask Spirit to guide our choices and the choices of our children and then trust that She will respond to our calls.

(Crossposted from my personal blog.)

Review – “BBC America Reveals: Sex Change Soldier”

I was a little apprehensive going into the latest episode of “BBC America Reveals” – titling it “Sex Change Soldier” made it sound like a tawdry tabloid exposé rather than a serious documentary on one person’s journey from male to female. But I knew they’d done previous respectful treatments of a young transman and three partners of transvestites, so I approached it with an open mind.

Captain Ian HamiltonThe format was a little different in that the female documentary-maker (unnamed, and unseen) gave a narration that showed she became a true friend to Jan Hamilton during the filming. Apart from a few interactions that Jan has with people in her life, we don’t get to see or hear from others during the hour-long show. From the start, when we see footage of “Captain Ian Hamilton” of the Elite Parachute Regiment hiking through the jungle, Jan is on-camera almost all the time.

We are introduced to Jan, who tells us that she is a 42-year-old woman trapped in a man’s body. The narrator informs us that Jan will be the first officer in the (presumably British) armed forces to “undergo a sex change” – transition. She continues on to say that during the making of the documentary, she came to fully understand the price that Jan must pay to go through this.

Jan takes us through her daily routine of voice exercises, putting on makeup, tucking, and – after she shows us her thinning hair – putting on her wig. “I’m still Ian when I wake up.” Each morning she jogs four miles, in an effort go from 224 lbs and 14″ biceps, down to 154 lbs. Despite only having dressed in public for four months, Jan is ready to go to Thailand for FFS, “to have my face rebuilt to make me look like a woman”.

Jan Hamilton“I hid behind this big wall of being a paratrooper … I hated myself and I hated the world and I hated being in the world.” Jan had an overpowering sense of the wrong person, the wrong body.

Continue reading

Gender Bias in the Workplace

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times: Before That Sex Change, Think About Your Next Paycheck.

You might expect that anybody who has had a sex change, or even just cross-dresses on occasion, would suffer a wage cut because of social stigmatization. Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Turns out it depends on the direction of the change: the study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.

As a cisgendered female who has always worked in traditionally male jobs, I find this interesting, but not surprising.

I was also amused (but not surprised) by the last two paragraphs:

Ben Barres, a female-to-male transgender neuroscientist at Stanford, found that his work was more highly valued after his gender transition. “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today,” a colleague of his reportedly said, “but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Dr. Barres, of course, doesn’t have a sister in academia.

Diane Schroer’s Recent Title VII Win and ENDA

Jillian Weiss, an attorney and law professor who writes an excellent blog on transgender workplace issues recently posted an excellent article on The Bilerico Project with her thoughts on last week’s decision by the federal district court in Washington, D.C. in Diane Schroer’s sex discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress. In a landmark decision, Judge James Robertson held that the Library violated the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment (contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) when it withdrew its previous offer to hire David Schroer, an anti-terrorism expert and former Special Forces officer, as a terrorism analyst when they learned that she intended to complete her transition and begin work as Diane. Among the arguments that the Library made in its defense was the claim that the exclusion of gender identity and expression protections from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House of Representatives last year proved that Congress never intended the ban on sex discrimination to protect against discrimination based on gender identity. Fortunately for all of us, the court rejected that argument. However, the argument that Judge Robertson used to reject that claim is weak and, as Zoe Brain pointed out in her comment on the same article, not very convincing. There are, however, much better reasons to reject the Library’s claim, which I put into my comment on Dr. Weiss’ article:

I’m an attorney and my practice is limited to appellate work only (criminal appeals in my case, but the rules for interpreting statues are the same whether you’re talking about civil or criminal law). The argument that the exclusion of gender identity and expression from ENDA last year indicates Congress’ understanding, and intention, that sex discrimination under Title VII doesn’t cover gender identity discrimination is an obvious one. In the end, however, it’s completely bogus.

Ask yourself, how is the belief or understanding of a completely different Congress almost 45 years after Title VII was enacted relevant to what Congress intended sex discrimination to include back in 1964? It’s not the job of Congress to decide what laws they’ve already passed mean. That’s the job of the courts.

Two other important factors further undercut this argument. First, if you review the congressional record from 1964, you will see that sex discrimination was added to Title VII with the explicit intent to defeat it by convincing the majority of Congress that it was too radical to vote for. So, there’s no evidence in the record that Congress intended sex discrimination to mean anything, let alone evidence as to whether they intended “sex” to apply only to biology or to include gender identity.

Second, what happened last year was simply that a single committee of the House of Representatives sent a bill to the floor of the House that didn’t include gender identity and that the House passed that bill. It was never passed by the Senate or signed into law. Consequently, while it may be proper to say that the House Labor Committee didn’t think that gender identity discrimination should be illegal, there is no evidence that the full House or the Senate agreed, since they were never given the opportunity to vote on that question. Divining legislative intent from Congress’ *failure* to do something without any explicit up or down vote on the issue is a perilous business.

Finally, I’m no conservative by any measure, but I agree with Justice Scalia that the first place we have to look in determining what Congress intended is what they actually said. It frustrates me to no end when the courts here in Arizona agree with prosecutors that, despite the explicit language in a statute, the legislative history shows that they meant something entirely different. At some point, what the legislature or Congress actually said has to mean something.

This is not an argument that, if Congress didn’t think about the problem in 1964, Title VII shouldn’t apply to it. As one person involved with the Schroer case (it may have been Sharon McGowan, the ACLU’s lead attorney) recently said to a reporter when asked if Congress intended Title VII to apply to trans women and men, the framers of the Constitution weren’t thinking about TV either when they talked about freedom of the press in the First Amendment; does that mean it shouldn’t have the same protections as newspapers?

Change is a natural process that preexisting laws must continually adapt to. It is the difficult but absolutely necessary job of courts to determine how those laws should be applied to situations that the people who adopted them never contemplated. That doesn’t make the process illegitimate; it just makes it very, very hard.

A Lesson in Trans Etiquette

OK all you little boys out there. Here is your chance to better yourself. I am going to make this quick and simple and attempt not to offend anyone too badly.  Based on a true and very recent event.

If a woman walks into the room, be it a business or otherwise and you read her as TG/TS. Be polite and treat her as any other genetic woman. If you want to start a conversion with her, the first words out of you mouth had better not be “do you hang out at [a known ‘and nasty Tranny’ Bar]”. The woman is likely to take a great deal of offense at that as I DID. However being the polite and caring woman that I am, I chose not to get all pissed about it.

So why would I be offended by that question? . . . I am going to tell you.

It is about the same as someone walking up to a suspected gay man and asking him if he is a FAGGOT. Just because I am a TS is not an automatic ticket for me to hang out in “certain places”. I am NOT a “Tranny” and I DONT hang out at “Tranny” bars. I cannot say anything nice about the place I was asked about, so I won’t

I know I am a big woman and I know I get read. But do not rub it in my face by asking me or any other TS person that question or one like it if you do not know them or anything about them. And heaven help you if it is your conversation starter. I guarantee it to be a short conversation and I WON’T buy anything in your store.

Just because I or any other person is a transsexual (M2F or F2M) does not give you the right to call us out, especially in public. Treat me like women please and treat us with respect. And we will return that in kind.

The Few Who Shine

What’s with some people?

There are the kinds of people who can only handle a limited amount of pressure in their lives and then crumble and fall under the heavy weight. They are the ones who, even when the little black cloud that once hovered and rained over their every deed, refused to turn their face to the clear blue sky and become encouraged by the sun’s warmth.

These are the people who, in an auto accident, completely freeze and though may remain uninjured, are worthless in coming to their feet to help out others who are in worse shape. They end up becoming an added burden to the problem instead of rising up to shine over others. If they are witness to the accident, they may pull over but only stare in awe and amazement while others risk their lives to pull the injured to safety.

Why do some people’s fatalism make them indifferent in pursuing a path toward happiness?

Then there are others who, no matter what life throws their way and regardless of their economic status, their positive spirit rarely fades. Though they have their share of adversity, nothing except death eventually befalls their enduring spirit.

Their spirits illuminate the darkness that surrounds them.

Take for example, a recent visit I had to my state’s Department of Economic Security. I had an appointment with the state acting on behalf of a less fortunate relative who needs the state’s help in receiving healthcare and monetary assistance. The building is typical for a large government facility, its massive brown rectangular shape outside opening to reveal dozens of cubicles on the inside for its employees. Upon entering, I had to take a number and wait my turn among the many downtrodden and disadvantaged people.

The playfulness on the children’s faces was a sharp contrast to the sullen droopy faces on the adults who nervously awaited their turn. Oh to be a child without worry again!

After several minutes of waiting, I was finally called by an employee to follow her back to her tiny square with desk and chair inside the bright fluorescent monolithic room. As I sat down, Maria greeted me with a warm round smile. I explained to her that I was not the person on the application but was present and acting on her behalf because she could not be present for the meeting.

While answering question after question, I began to take notice of Maria’s cubicle. Its 7′ x 7′ space was full of bins and folders full of applications requesting state aid, but it was surprisingly clean and tidy, and there were awards posted in frames all along the inside walls. Yet the awards were given to her by her employer for “Most Organized Employee” and “In Recognition to Your Years of Service to the State.” Also on the walls were hand written certificates drawn by her three daughters in crayon like “Best Mommy in the World” and “Mom is #1.” One would think she had not accomplished anything substantial, but I began to see differently.

Throughout the meeting, I would ask her questions about her working with a state agency for eleven years and about her children. All the while she maintained a posture of grace and had an amazing bright smile despite her having to deal with the less fortunate on a daily basis.

“Doesn’t it get to you? I mean, working for the government like this, and having to deal with so much despair and people demanding assistance?” I asked her politely.

“No, it doesn’t. Management sometimes gets to me,” she joked. “But I love living in this community. I love taking care of my daughters, and I love helping people. I even love my job and I take pride in my area here. My coworkers always laugh at me because I’m so tidy.”

Just then, the phone rang and she answered what seemed like very direct questions with a stern “yes” and “no.” Then she told the person on the other line who I was and gave them the case number. She promptly hung up and looked over at me with a sigh.

“Who was that?”

She sighed again. “It was someone from the state at their headquarters in a different city calling us at random to find out what we’re doing and making sure we’re staying busy.”

I was bothered by that. I thought she would be too. But she seemed to shrug off the inanity of a micromanaging agency and completed the paperwork cheerfully. As I got up to walk out, I thanked her for her kindness and encouraged her to never let anyone or anything take that away from her. I told her that I knew her simple smile and gentle spirit would be a tremendous source of comfort to those who sat in my chair. My words seemed to impact her with an affirmation she wasn’t used to hearing.

There was clearly something different about Maria that blew me away. Her teflon-coated optimistic spirit really made me think about my own personal difficulties, and I wondered what I could do to walk with the same light she had in her life.

Maria, and those with kindred spirits like hers, give me purpose in my circumstances.

I may struggle with transition. My circumstances may create chaos in my life. No one ever said being true to myself would be easy. No doubt there will be days where I’m tempted to give in to sit on the curb and watch the accidents surrounding my life injure and terrorize my family, my friends, and me. But I am alive, I’m still breathing, and I need to find that same illiminous spirit that has lurked in the shadows of my heart for too long.

It’s time to be like Maria.

It’s time to get off the curb.

It’s time to shine.

CBS Sunday Morning: The Sex Change Capital of the U.S.

On Sunday, September 7, CBS Sunday Morning did a fairly long story on Trinidad, Colorado, the home of Dr. Marci Bowers, one of the leading sexual reassignment surgeons in the U.S.  I don’t like the phrase “sex change” but the story is pretty straight forward and not at all sensationalistic.  I was in Trinidad in July to support my friend Mari through her surgery.  It’s a nice little town, similar to many other mountain towns I’ve visited in the West; the people were friendly; and the care at the hospital was, for the most part, excellent.  Marci is friendly and personable but, like most doctors, entirely too busy. From what I’ve seen, the surgical results were excellent, with only a few minor complications.  Here’s the video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’d like to learn more about Trinidad and how it has dealt with the attention that having a leading SRS surgeon (actually, for many years, the only SRS surgeon in the U.S.) in its midst, there’s a new documentary out called Trinidad that is now touring the U.S.  Look for it at your local LGBT film festival.