Posts Tagged ‘lgbt

13
Feb
14

“Transparent” A transparent Trans review.

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I just finished watching the pilot episode for “Transparent” the latest attempt out of Hollywood to portray the trans experience. And Wow. I mean, really, wow. That was not what I expected.

And I mean that as high praise. At least kind of. But let me explain.

I would be lying if I said I had gone into this without expectations. I’ve been hearing about this show for quite some time now. First rumours. Then confirmation. Then hints through the trans pipeline about the behind the scenes production.

It took very little detective action to take a look at who was working on this. It even turned out that I was connected to the director, Jill Soloway from about 20 different directions. Including the husband of the first woman I ever had a crush on at summer camp. Who I recently reconnected with when she asked if she could take some naked pictures of me! (They’re on the internet, if you really want to know that much about me. And they’re quite nice really!)

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Seriously, so much enduring love to my queer friend who saw through the facade of “straight white guy” and gave me her copy of this to read.

So that’s my full disclosure of a sort. And I went in with split expectations. On the one hand, some of the people I was connected to the director through are people whom I admire a great deal. Including my mentor and friend, the amazing improviser, David Razowsky. I also was very impressed by the work Soloway has done previously. Including as a producer and writer of the series Six Feet Under and director of a section of a film based on the autobiographical novel Valencia by queer author Michelle Tea. A book that was really quite inspirational to me when I read it out in L.A. just previous to my transition.

On the other hand. Hollywood hasn’t been doing the most bang-up job of representing trans people lately. There have been close steps, almost okays, but then they invariably fail.

With only a couple of exceptions, the late night television roster seems to have been a veritable factory of faux-pas and insensitive portrayals lately. And in primetime, we are still far too often portrayed as sex objects, psychos or the as punchline for jokes that were already old when Milton Berle was putting on a dress for laughs.

So I’ll admit, when I saw that the pilot for Transparent was out on Amazon Prime, I pressed play with a great deal of skepticism. If perhaps skepticism tempered with a bit of hope.

And right from the first moment, I was surprised. First of all, the titles. These weird, throwbacky, seventies sitcom style titles. A font that looked lifted straight from The Jeffersons.

As a child whose favourite babysitter growing up in the Seventies and Eighties was our little black and white tv, I was hooked instantly on a wriggling worm of nostalgia. So, imagine my surprise when the very next shot is of a couple in bed and, and….

Waitaminute! They’re showing that woman naked!

This isn’t the seventies anymore, this is how people actually sleep in their beds as couples!! Naked, with sheets partly thrown off. Because it gets hot in L.A.!

Holy heck!

Already I knew that whatever expectations I might have where going to be up for grabs. Still, I watched each scene, waiting for the reveal, ready to be all clever and know-it-all trans advice columnist and say, “Ah ha!” I knew the hammer was about to drop!! There it is! There’s the awful, cheap joke about a guy in a dress!

But it kept not happening.

Now, I don’t want to give too many spoilers here. I suggest that you watch the show yourself. Give it your own attention. If I were to tell you too, too much it would spoil what I liked most about it. Which was that I found it consistently surprising.

What I will tell you is that Jeffrey Tambor was quite sensitive in his portrayal of a late-middle-aged father in the beginnings of male-to-female transition. I consistently liked how he played each scene he was in. And his relationship with his three children was very real feeling to me.

Also, it’s a great deal more adult than what you may be used to on network tv. There’s nudity and there’s sex. Quite a lot of it actually for a half hour sitcom.

If that’s not your thing, you might want to steer clear. I know I have one friend who is not at all prudish personally, but who consistently fast-forwards through love scenes, because she just hates them! She’d get a nice short film out of this episode.

As for myself, I liked the more adult theme, mainly because I think it gives the writers a lot more leeway to explore genuine human stories. It opens up far more avenues than traditional sitcoms are able to explore. Which in turn, I hope, will allow the cast and writers to flesh out (Ha!! Sorry, I couldn’t resist…) a more authentic portrayal of the trans woman of the title and the characters around her.

F--k Yeah Jim Croce!!!

F–k Yeah Jim Croce!!!

There were a few other touches I liked personally. The music was one of them. There is a very nice scene where the daughter and son of the main character are going through their dad’s record collection and they stop to comment on a Jim Croce album that they loved.

The whole scene reminded me very much of my own father and his record collection. Which included that same Croce album, which I loved as well!

For me, that allowed me to flip perspectives and identify also with the kids of this trans parent. Their characters being much more of my own generation, than Tambor’s trans character.

As for Tambor himself, I also harboured very conflicted feelings. I really, really like Jeffrey Tambor as an actor.  And though he’s perhaps better known for his roles in Arrested Development or The Larry Sanders Show. I was a huge fan of the show, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future when I was a geeky punk teenager. In fact, in many ways it was pretty seminal to the person I became. It still inspires what I aspire to be. “Live and direct.”

But picturing Tambor’s character from that show, a harried, perpetually stressed out television producer named Murray, as a trans woman, was causing me a bit of dissonance, to put it mildly. It was a little hard to shake.

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But Murray!! Your mustache is so epic!

Also, I’m really tired of seeing cis people (Someone who identifies as the gender they were identified as at birth. Ie., not trans.) play trans in tv and movies. Still, Tambor does an excellent acting job here, and given the early transition time period of this show, I found the casting to be actually appropriate.

To the producer’s credit, there appeared to be several authentic trans people playing smaller parts. And I have it on fairly good authority that if this show gets picked up for more episodes, they plan on casting a credible ensemble of genuine trans people. Fingers crossed.

So, would I recommend this show? Though I know the sort of trouble I could get in to with my more radical friends for saying this; yes, yes I would. I think it’s worth at least giving a chance to.

Transparent is currently available on Amazon Prime as an Amazon Original Pilot. A “Test Pilot” if you will! (I know, I know! Listen, I was a comic before I was a radical trans activist okay?? A girl’s just gotta get these things out sometimes.) And if enough people watch it and tell Amazon that they like it, the show will get a go at more episodes.

I rather hope it does. I’m curious to see where they go with this story and these characters. I’m hopeful they might even do it right! Certainly if they can continue to be able to surprise my jaded media-analyzing self, they’ll be on the right track.

And finally, I personally hope it gets picked up because, speaking frankly, I’d love to be part of that cast! This queer trans, activist, adventurer and pageant queen is ready to balance out all the marching and saving the world stuff with a little more of the making people laugh scene again!!

Slainte!

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19
Nov
13

Preserving the Transgender Day of Remembrance: A memorial for our dead

Our Transgender DeadTonight I went to the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial in Boston. The city where this sad tradition was started in honour of Rita Hester, a local transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. And honestly, I’m having kind of a hard time. TDoR is always difficult for me. Surprisingly, I haven’t cried yet. But I usually do and I can feel the tears at the back of my eyes.

I go to a lot of trans events. And as a rule, I really try in my own work and activism to focus on the positives. I think it’s important for people to hear the good things about being trans. For trans people themselves to be given hope and even perhaps a little bit of joy in our shared experience.

But TDoR is a different thing. Transgender Day of Remembrance is the time to remember our struggles. To speak the names of our dead. To remind ourselves that no matter how far we have come, there is still a vast mountain to climb.

For the past couple of weeks I have been wanting to write something about Transgender Day of Remembrance, but not known what it is I should write about. Something that was said to me by a friend before the memorial tonight planted the seed though. I mentioned how difficult I often find TDoR to be. He responded with something to the effect that they were going to try and be a little more positive this year. So many people were being “triggered”.

It’s not the first time I have heard discussion of how people have a hard time coming to TDoR events. They’d rather celebrate life than focus on all this death. Talk about moving forward, rather than dwell on the past. I even hear more and more people every year, people I care about and love, talk about simply not going anymore because it’s just too depressing or they feel they’ve moved on with their own lives and transitions.

It all got me to thinking, and here’s the thing. I’m not sure I think it’s the worst thing that people find Transgender Day of Remembrance “triggering” or depressing. It should be “triggering”*. It is depressing. We are reading the names of trans people; transsexual, transgender and gender variant; whose lives have been tragically cut short.

These are our sisters and brothers. This is our family. But for little more than luck or accident of circumstance and privilege any of our names could be on that list. We need to remember that first and foremost, this is a memorial service. Transgender Day of Remembrance is for mourning our dead. Remembering each of these lives, so the deaths of our sisters and brothers do not go unmemorialized.

We take note of the available details surrounding their deaths. Every year as the names are being read, I make it a point to focus. To truly hear each name, take note of where they died and if it is available, their ages and the circumstances of their deaths. Realize this is more than just words being read. These were vital, vibrant lives ended.

And though I keep referring to these people as “our sisters and brothers who have died”. Let me be more specific and more frank. These are primarily our sisters, transwomen of colour, more often than not; who have not merely died, but were murdered. It’s important to keep that fact in mind.

It’s far, far too easy to become numb to these memorials. To go through the motions, because by now it’s a valuable community tradition that many of us have gotten used to. But let us not forget what this is about.

It is about pain and tragedy. The loss of human lives to the spectre of blind hate and pervasive ignorance. This IS dark. This IS painful. That is as it should be.

It is NOT a time for celebration. Unless it’s an Irish style Wake for the dead, cocktail parties are not an appropriate event. It is also not an LGBT “Holiday”. Though these deaths represent a common point for trans people and our allies to come together over. Let’s not forget these are trans deaths. This one is Big T, little lgb. If you have not involved trans people as leadership in your Transgender Day of Remembrance event, you’re doing it wrong. And if you have forgotten trans people of colour, specifically trans women of colour, you probably haven’t even gotten the point.

And yes, I think it’s important for all of us, no matter where we are in our transitions, to be there.

The rest of the year, let us focus on moving forward. Tell our stories about how it can be wonderful to be trans and proud. Work on coming together, building our community up. Laugh and sing and dance even!!

But this one day. Let this be for our dead. Plan on being upset. Don’t try to fight the tears. Really listen to the names. Whether it’s in a voice strong and powerful or quavering with sadness, read out the manner, place and date of their murders. And also, try to step back and let our trans sisters of colour be our face and our voice. Truly think about how we can stand together, but still give focus where it needs to go.

We acknowledge death so we may remember why it is so important for us to live! Why it is so vital that we never give up the fight!!

With our tears we water the garden of our future.

  • My use of the word “triggering” here, with parentheses added for emphasis, is not meant to criticize those for whom the word trigger has a stronger, more medical meaning. For instance, folks suffering from moderate to severe PTSD, or victims of violence, often with resulting panic attacks. It is instead directed at the growing usage, co-option if you will, of the word to indicate things that folks simply find deeply upsetting or difficult or that they prefer to avoid. It is also worth noting that the people I hear expressing a desire to avoid these memorials are not the folks I know who suffer from these genuinely distressing issues.
05
Nov
13

Tammy’s Twist – A Trans-Tastic Evening Of Comedy

Come on everybody!

Let’s TWIST!!!

 

twistcomic

Hi there! It’s Lorelei, you know, the weird tall woman who writes a newspaper column called “Ask A Transwoman” and purports to be a bona-fide pageant queen. (It’s true! Honest! Miss Trans New England 2009!! W00t!!) The Transproviser her very-own self!!

Anyway, the other thing I do, and did for years and years before I became the fabulous transgender activist I am today, is Improv and Comedy! This is relevant because I’m co-hosting a show in NYC next Saturday with the amazing trans stand-up comic Tammy Twotone. And I’m really hoping you, my dear faithful readers, will go!! Or if it’s totally unrealistic for you to make it, maybe you could encourage your friends to go.

SingingTandLcropBut why is this so important, besides being a super-funny night of some of the best comedy on the freaking planet?!?! It’s important because this is what we’re always talking about. It’s transpeople making our own media. Telling our own stories (and jokes!). We’re not waiting for Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry to catch up, we’re doing it ourselves.

And we bring a heck of a lot of talent to the table. Tammy has been doing standup for decades. Perfecting her craft and paying her dues, until she got to the point where she has finally been trusted with producing her own show. This show.

As for myself, I spent years studying improv and sketch comedy at Second City in Chicago and LA. Performing with a number of different groups, and on any stage I could get up on, all over the country. I was also the showroom manager at The Hollywood Improv for several years, studying and getting to know some of the greatest comics working today. (As well as a lot of the not-so-greatest…  Gods help me.)RedDurkinNY

Beyond that, we also have the amazingly funny and smart trans comic (TransComic?) Red Durkin joining us. For my money, Red is one of the best up and coming comics working today. Trans or otherwise.

Tammy, Red and I all come from pretty different comedy backgrounds, so it’s not often you will see the three of us sharing one stage like this. This is special. And not just because of our collective transness! We also have quite a line-up of cis LGBQ comics joining us as well as some totally straight cisfolks! (CisComics?) They bring credits as diverse as “The Chappelle Show”, “Louie”, MTV and even freakin’ Nick At Night!!

But for this to be successful we need to pack the house! Show ‘em we’re not just awesome, but we’re a viable market. Trust me, if there’s one thing The Industry values above all else, it’s the ability to bring a crowd!

Now is the time to stop talking about how there needs to be more transpeople being represented. We will be representing loud and proud this coming Saturday, 10pm at The Broadway Comedy Club in NYC!!!  All you have to do is show up!! (And buy a ticket and two drinks of course.)

See you there!!

The Broadway Comedy Club 318 West 53rd St., New York, NY 10010

Tammy Twotone, – Producer/Host

Lorelei Erisis -Second City, LA Improv

Coleen Scriven – NYC Fringe Festival

Kim Deshields -Nick at Nites’ Funniest Mom

Rick Crom – ‘Louis’, ‘Chapelle Show’

Micah Sherman -Second City

Red Durkin -PrettyQueer.Com

Harrison Greenbaum -MTV Comedians to Watch

Emma Willmann

Danny Palmer

Stacy Kendro

The Silent Opera

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the door. There is a 2 drink Min.

For res. call 212-757-2323

28
Aug
13

“Provincetown and the Devil”

As any of my regular readers might know, I grew up on Cape Cod. My father was a fisherman, for a time he even had his own commercial fishing boat and dragged for scallops out in Buzzards Bay.

Growing up down Cape, I’ve always been fascinated by the sea and by stories of Olde Cape Cod.
As a result of this, my intimate, long-steeped ties to the people and places of Cape Cod, my own experience of Provincetown is somewhat different from those in the LGBTQ community who think of it solely as a gay resort destination. I remember hanging out there as a Punk Teenager and being fascinated by the juxtaposition of “Here and Queer” gay people and “Salty Old Fishermen”.

This story I came across recently in a book called, “A Treasury Of New England Folklore”, published in MCMXLVII (Arabic numerals being apparently too new-fangled for the good Yankee editors.), aptly combines both perspectives on old P-Town. And it goes a long way to show how little the town has changed in it’s spirit!

It’s a tale of Olde Cape Cod called…

“Provincetown and the Devil”

PROVINCETOWN from it’s earliest days has been freer, richer in life than it’s neighbors. Back in 1727 Truro asked to be severed from Provincetown because of the goings-on there. Provincetown gloried in this separation and laughed to itself. Truro sitting discreetly in the folds of her moors looked down her nose at Provincetown and still does. The Cape early wrote, in legend, it’s opinion of the folk on Land’s End.
Captain Jeremiah Snaggs lived up the Cape and he did not die in the odor of sanctity. The story is he tried to escape the devil by various devices. He dodged the devil in Barnstable, he eluded him in a hollow tree in Orleans, he escaped from him in Wellfleet by putting a jack-o-lantern which looked like him in a tree, but in Provincetown the devil caught up with him.
“Well,” said Captain Jeremiah, “you caught me fair and squar’. Whar do we go from here?”
“Go?” Said the devil. “Nowhar. Ain’t we to Provincetown?”

Yep. Hasn’t changed a bit!

11
Mar
13

“She’s Got A D!%k” A TransComic Analysis

So, if you’re trans, by this point in the news and social media cycle, you will have heard about the Justin Timberlake starring trailer for a faux romantic comedy called “She’s Got A D!%k” on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And you probably already have, or are trying to form, an opinion.

The first I heard about this sketch myself was just this evening, on a Facebook thread in which my opinion as a Second City trained Sketch Comic and Improviser was solicited. And I resisted reading any of the comments before I watched, so I could get a fresh take on it.

What I got was at least two good chuckles, one of which was a Eugene Levy reference, which, was really just spot-on. Also, a couple of “Awwws.” And the thought, that afterwards I read reflected in various comments, that, gosh, I’d really like to actually see this movie!! It would probably even become a guilty favourite.

There has already been at least one pretty insightful blog post by a transperson, written by Antonia D’orsay who is the Executive Director of This Is How. And though I don’t agree with everything Ms. D’orsay has to say about the subject, it is well worth a read for it’s pretty in-depth analysis of the deeper issues.

So, that being the case, I’ll stick with looking at the sketch from the point of view of a comedy professional who also happens to be trans.

I could break down the technical details of the sketch for hours, but basically what you need to know is, despite the title of the movie, it’s not really a sketch about trans people. Or rather more specifically, the subject of trans people is incidental to the main joke. That joke being, how formulaic romantic comedies are.

Take one “meet cute”. Flavour with any randomly contrived conflict (spin the magic wheel and it lands on…. “Woman with a penis”) that’s only ever really a matter of characters being honest with each other. Add a pinch of concerned authority figure (Eugene Levy!). Stir in a quirky friend (The magic wheel lands on…. “Funny black guy”). Separate the obviously meant to be together couple for a really unacceptably dumb reason (the aforementioned penis), that makes the audience want to scream at how dumb they’re being. Bake for 70 minutes or so and then let the characters finally get over the contrived conflict and get together.

Que the audience reacting with, “Awwwwwwwwwww, that was sooooooo cute!!”

Heck, if anything was offensive, my pick would be the borderline stereotyped black character. Not that I think anyone will complain. It worked and was funny. Which sounds simplistic, I know. But my experience with what people will or will not be offended by in comedy is that’s usually where the safe side of the line lies.

I'm ready for my close-up Mr. Michaels!

I’m ready for my close-up Mr. Michaels!

As for it being a cis woman playing trans . Yes, this usually bothers me in lots of other things. However, the requirements of sketch comedy are such that it is common for members of an ensemble to play all sorts of characters they quite clearly aren’t. And I thought that the lovely and talented Nasim Pedrad did an excellent and rather sympathetic job. So, while Lorne Michaels is more than welcome to call me anytime he needs an authentic trans person (Please call me Mr. Michaels!!! Please, please, pretty please with a token trans woman on top!!!), the only way I’d have a problem with this is if they actually made this movie for reals. In which case, it damned well better be a trans actress playing the part!

Finally, I have to say that I find it to be a fairly positive thing that mainstream comedy shows like SNL feel their audience is familiar enough with trans people to use us as a comedic reference in a way that isn’t just the old “hairy guy in a dress” trope that was already a standard when Milton Berle was using it (yeah, I’m looking at you Craig Ferguson!). This may not seem at first blush to be so significant or even positive, but I assure you it is. Comedy, especially sketch comedy, tends to play to the reference level of its audience. So, for a show as broadly appealing as SNL to produce a sketch with this level of sophistication in its reference to transgender people and our lives, it has to be assumed that the bulk of the unwashed masses will actually, “get it”.

So, there you go. I liked it. It was okay, not great, but well done and funny. And possibly even slightly positive!

Possibly. Maybe. I hope.

27
Nov
12

Killer Kosilek, Part Deux!

Well hello dear internetizens!  As many of you will have noted, a few weeks back I wrote a blog about Michelle Kosilek, the transsexual woman and murederer who won her case to have her GRS provided for her while incarcerated for life, which I concluded with a plea for folks not to add fuel to the media fire.  And although the story has died down just a bit, it seems that the embers keep bursting back into full flame.  With the ensuing roaring pyres of comment threads that you might expect.

Well, at least I know I’ll never be a transgender issues writer who finds herself lacking for material…  Just today I ran a across a fresh thread of vitriol spewing off the posting of a spanking new opinion piece about the case from the blog of a Boston area radio station.

And either because I’m apparently a masochist or I’m just an idiot who likes to stress myself out unnecessarily, I read through the comment thread and the piece it sprang from.

Basically, I saw nothing new.  But since it seems the flames from this unpleasantly ongoing case will not die down, I was inspired to sit down and write out a couple of things worth considering, in addition to what I have written previously.

To begin with, do any of you realize how much the state is paying to fight this?  I’ll give you a hint.  The surgery costs in most ranges I’ve seen reported go from a low-end of $7,000 (the most likely, bare-minimum cost that the prison system would provide) to a high-end of $20,000 (unlikely that an inmate will get the ‘premium’ surgery).

Also, Kosileks lawyers had offered to waive their fees, which are substantial, if the state did not appeal. Since an appeal was called for by some important folks in high positions, it proceeded before the lawyers could even meet. Therefor negating the fee waiver.

How much are those fees? Right now, including out of pocket costs for Kosileks legal team (paying experts, etc.), they stand at around $800,000 altogether, of which $644,573 would have been waived.

But that’s not all!!  Since this appeal is apparently going through, that means we, as taxpayers are not only on the hook for previous costs, we’re going to have to foot the bill for even more!  I believe the proper internet lolspeak expression to insert here would be: FACEPALM.

So, who does this benefit?  Well, Scott Brown for one.  Soon to be former Senator Brown was one of the loudest voices calling for the condemnation of this decision and for the State to begin appeals.  Brown, it might be noted, was in the middle of very tough fight (that we now know he lost) to hold on to his Senate seat.  And this sort of issue was just the perfect thing to fire up his base of support.  If you doubt me, go check the comment threads about how this is, “… an example of why the right hate liberals.”  Also, see all the comments from folks saying they are liberal but don’t support this.  Nothing like firing up that swing vote.  In fact Brown desperately needed it.  Interestingly, it should be noted (again) that the judge who made this decision is himself quite conservative and a Reagan appointee!

But, you say, what about Governor Patrick?  He backed the decision to appeal.  And he’s even been a vocal supporter of trans rights!  Good point.  Same idea though.  As the defacto top Dem in Massachusetts, Patrick needed to look tough and appeal to those same, “I’m a liberal, but don’t support this” swing voters for the party to come out on top in this very important election year.

Want more?  Okay.  Remember the Drug Lab Scandal?  You know, the one that was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in overturned convictions and force the state to retry all those cases?  Yeah, that one.  How long has it been since you heard about that?  Want to take a wild guess about which juicy, issue and opinion-triggering story kicked it out of the headlines?

Given the topic of this blog, you can probably guess.

I could go on about ratings and page-views and other behind the dirty scenes media tricks and tropes, but you seem like intelligent folks, I’ll let you make that leap yourself.  I could also mention how there are a lot of people who are very upset about the passage of the recent Trans Civil Rights Law in Massachusetts, who are gearing up to fight us on the remaining issue of Public Accommodations.  And how stirring up all of this incidental anti-trans sentiment is very useful to them.  How this issue lets them get under the skin of otherwise very well-meaning folks.

If you doubt this, look at any of the threads on this topic and read the comments from people who say they have no problem with transgender people, but then go on to throw around ugly slurs and misconceptions, deliberately use the wrong pronouns and generally question the whole validity of transsexualism, transgender people and the medical need for Gender Reassignment Surgery.  Oh, and that’s not even getting into the folks who go on to compare transgender folks to pedophiles.

It’s all given a very thin veneer of, “This is not about transgender people, it’s about a killer.”  But as a writer, media analyst and member of the media myself, I can tell you pretty comfortably that the broad generalizations that follow easily give the lie to this excuse.

And yes, trust me, the headline on the piece that inspired this blog is pretty leading.  I write headlines, I know.  The author is deliberately putting you in a mind to question the validity of gender reassignment surgery.  As someone who writes a regular opinion column myself, I stand her no judgment for that.  But readers need to be aware, it’s not a journalism piece, it’s an opinion piece.  Frankly that’s what the headline is supposed to do.

So, what am I saying?  I’m saying, come to your own conclusions.  Read my previous piece about the case itself if you want to hear a reasonable argument from a bona-fide transgender person.  But please think, ask questions.  Ask yourself, who stands to benefit and what are they trying to get you to think?  And most importantly, what are they trying to get you NOT to think about?

Slainte!

17
Nov
12

Santa Monica Boulevard Through Hollwood

As I sit  here in my room in Springfield, MA, typing these words, I have tears running down my face.  It’s the week when we observe the Transgender Day Of Remembrance and I’ve just read another news story about a transgender woman who was murdered.  Honestly, I read a lot of these types of stories.  Not just this week, but all year.  I’m an activist, a speaker on transgender issues and I write a regular column (and this blog) about transgender lives and people.  These stories are always sad to me, but some very specific stories always hit me particularly hard because they bring the horror so very close to home for me.

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, I’m not.  But you read so many stories of horror and violence and even for someone constantly reminding others that we are human, other people with lives and loves; there is a distance to the stories that necessarily desensitizes them.  An intentional distance that makes it possible sometimes to simply get through the day and do the work that needs doing.

But every so often, like just now, I read a story of violence committed against a transgender woman in Hollywood.  Specifically the strip of Santa Monica from Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood to Vermont Avenue in East Hollywood.  And it tears my heart out.

Because this was my neighborhood.  90% of my life in Hollywood was lived out against the backdrop of this very strip.

I worked, played, performed and drank at The Improv and The Second City in West Hollywood and lived for several years, first by the intersection of Highland and Santa Monica, a block or so from, what some locals refer to as, “The Tranny Taco Stand” (and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center) where Transgender Sex Workers would often congregate at night.  Then by the intersection of Santa Monica and Normandie, which roughly bracketed the other end of the stroll informally/formally designated by the LAPD as the Trans Sex Worker Strip.

I was not an average Angeleno by a lot of respects.  For one thing, besides my ethnically Irish disdain for the sun, I lived in LA for 8 years without a car.  I walked, biked and took the bus everywhere I needed to go.  I was also very good at “scamming rides”, sometimes with virtual strangers.

I did not, as many Angelenos do, see the city as a blur through the car window.  I knew it from close up, the pavement under my feet.  The people I passed by, aware of me, as I was aware of them.  I closely interacted with the city, I knew it’s smells and patterns and the other denizens.  It is how I prefer to know the world.  I’m a writer and a storyteller, I live for and actively soak up the details.

And it was also during this period that the man I was still trying to be was actively ripping apart at the seams and I finally began my own transition.  It was where I went, in a very short span, from actively repressing my gender issues to occasional cross-dresser to part-time, transitioning transwoman to “Full-Time” Me.

And so very much of that journey was so intimately tied to this strip of geography.

For one thing, I have always been fascinated by the underbelly of The City.  The red-light, sex worker districts, the ghettoes and the decaying downtowns.  The City that lives when all the “good, decent folks” have gone home to their houses in the suburbs.  The City of Night, to borrow a phrase from John Rechy.

I’ve wandered the “Combat Zone” in Boston at the very end of it’s days.  Known the darkened streets of some of Chicago’s more ill-advised neighborhoods.  Lived in a dilapidated Movie Studio at the very boundaries of New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, after Katrina.

So it should be little surprise that I was drawn to Santa Monica Boulevard running through Hollywood, like a moth to a flame.  Even before I found myself living in that area, I would walk the strip from West Hollywood to Highland late at night.  Fascinated, wanting desperately to figure a way to talk to the transwomen I saw there.  To connect with them somehow.  Or as I later discovered, really to connect with myself.

I had the oblivious attitude of a very tall, white skinned person, used to being perceived as male.  And also, a definite disregard/active neglect for my safety.  I carried so much guilt for so very long, I think sometimes I wanted to be punished, to be hurt.  To commit a sort of a “soft-suicide”.

Let me be very clear, I do not/did not actively believe there was/is anything wrong or in need of “punishment” about being trans.  And I am extremely fortunate to have been able to come out the other side of these feelings to a bright new world, physically unhurt, if a little bruised and battered psychologically.  But intellectual belief and subconscious fucked-up-edness can be two totally different things.

As I passed through my own journey, finally accepting myself, deciding to do something about it and then breaking through my own self-imposed barriers of identity, Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood was my backdrop.

I went from being a furtive tourist to a part of the landscape.  Though I had little direct interaction with these transwomen who were also living out their lives in this same geography, when I began transitioning myself, I came to greatly value the little nods of recognition.  The eye contact we would make in passing that said, “I know”. 

As I began to recognize specific people, transwomen who lived in my neighborhood, who waited for the same bus with me, those little acknowledgements where the first time I began to feel myself part of a community.  Part of a family.  These were my sisters.

I don’t want to appear to place myself all that far apart from them either.  I was not merely a tourist.  I did my own small share of sex work.  Not much, as I was always skittish of sex work and extremely fortunate to have a network of support and people who took care of me.  I never had to work the street.  I did a little as a dominatrix and mostly as a dominatrix’s assistant.  But don’t let anyone’s semantics fool you, it was sex work nonetheless.

And though I had to work through a lot of repressively puritan issues myself (I am a Yankee Girl from Cape Cod…), I have neither regret, nor shame.  It was part of my own journey and I have many friends who are proud to be sex workers and own it as their profession of choice.

I also know that, while some actively choose it, sex work is often the last option left between starvation and survival for many women, especially transgender women.  It baffles me when I hear folks in my community expressing disdain for our sex worker sisters.  When I know they know as well as I do, the massively institutional discrimination we face.  How much harder it is for us to find employment, housing and support, just to live our lives.

And I well understand the fetishization of trans bodies .  The cold looks that turn us all into sex objects, that imagines there must be an access price for our sexuality, whether we have done/are doing sex work or not.  I will readily admit, I have been guilty of the same.

But these are our sisters.  These trans women I came to noddingly know, the community of the streets.  The trans women who lived and worked in and around my old neighborhood through Hollywood, on Santa Monica Boulevard were the first to acknowledge me as ME.  They accepted me far more readily and unquestioningly, on the basis of little more than a nod and a glance, than did many more “respectable” members of our community, by whom I often felt judged.

So, this is why, when I read these stories of violence, it is the ones from my old neighborhood, East to West Hollwood; Santa Monica Boulevard; South of Sunset and North of Melrose, that are the stories that tear me apart.

Every murdered trans woman I see on the news from that area, every time I hear about another attack, I look at the picture and I think, “Did I know her?”  “Was she the woman who would smile at me when I would ride the #4 bus home from work late at night?”

These are not just stories.  Not merely news items or statistics.  These are our sisters.

There, but for nothing more than blind good luck, go I.
Here is the post I was reading when I began this piece, from the excellent blog, Planetransgender:  “LAPD Task Force Looking For The Western Transgender Murderer




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