Posts Tagged ‘News

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

03
Nov
12

My Mom, Joe Biden and I all agree, Transgender Discrimination is the ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’

The Vice President of the United States of America giving my Mom a great big bear hug!

So, as many of you might know, my incredibly adorable and emotionally opinionated, old hippie Mom made quite a splash this week.  She had the chance opportunity to meet Vice President Joe Biden, who was coming out of the Democratic Party Headquarters in Sarasota Florida when he spotted my Mom’s big blue eyes and made a bee-line to her to give her a big old bear hug!  It was just serendipity that my Mom was next door at her hairdressers when VP Biden was in town.  She didn’t even know the Dem Headquarters were in that building!

But when my Mom saw the Secret Service guys and found out who they were there to protect, she put on a fresh coat of lipstick and talked her way through the checkpoints.  We’re a lot alike that way.  It’s little coincidence that I became a genuine Pageant Queen (Miss Trans New England 2009), or that I’ve got a lot of opinions myself, that I am never afraid to say and say it LOUD!  It’s just how I was raised.

The further details of this encounter are easy to find.  The last time I googled, “Biden + Transgender” the results were hovering around one and a half million, with over 600 ‘news’ hits.  Suffice it to say though that my Mom, when she had the opportunity to say a few words to the Vice President of The United States of America, spoke of her transgender daughter and the imperative need to help transgender people achieve full civil rights!

My Mom posing proudly with her blonde curly locked transgender daughter.

I know that the resulting statement from Biden that “Transgender Discrimination Is ‘The Civil Rights Issue Of Our Time’” was somewhat surprising for most of the world to hear. In fact he is not far from correct in his statement.  Though even as a trans woman whose main focus is on the struggle for FULL Transgender Equality, I would remind folks that the fight for trans rights is ultimately about a fight for Human Rights for all who are oppressed.  Even so, it was surprising for most of the world to hear the VP make such a strong statement in support of transgender people.

But it wasn’t surprising to me folks!  This is the woman who raised me!  The woman who, when I was a baby and she was asked to be the featured speaker at a Feminist Rally, angrily declined when they expressed discomfort at her male-bodied child being present (In hindsight, seriously ironic…).  This is the woman who built the house I grew up in with her own freaking hands!!  And who convinced our local Rep, Speaker Of The House, “Tip” O’Neill to help her get in the program that allowed her to do so.

My Mom standing excitedly by my side moments after I won the title of Miss Trans New England.

My Mother is a woman who has never been afraid to speak her mind.  Something she also raised me to do.  A woman who, when she has something that she cares passionately about, and there’s nothing she cares more passionately about than her transgender daughter, is very good at getting people to do what she wants.  So no, I was not surprised to hear that Joe Biden, after being drawn in by my Mom’s Irish Eyes a-Smiling, said exactly what she wanted him to say!

I have been very proud of my Mom not only for being so supportive of me and working so very hard to raise me to be the person I am today.  But also for the tireless efforts she puts in to try and be a friend and ally to the whole trans community.  And when she encounters those who are alone and rejected by their own families, she never hesitates to be as much of a surrogate family member to them as health and distance allow her to be.

Though I am an only child myself, through my Mom’s Love I have found a growing network of Brothers and Sisters (and Zisters!).  Her example reminds me constantly that we are not simply a community, we are a Family!

And yes, I’m pretty much bursting with pride that my Mom, Linda Carragher Bourne, changed the world just a little bit this week.  Proud that she made the public discourse over the issue of anti-transgender discrimination just a little bit louder by getting the man who holds the second highest office in the country to amplify the heck out of it!

And with that dear readers, I duly turn my blog over to my Mom.  Who has something she would like to say directly to all of you.  I’d strongly recommend that you listen.  Not that you have any more choice in the matter than even the Vice President of The United States!

Good Evening, Friends! Hope you’re enjoying your Friday “reprieves!”

Now. We have PRECISELY FOUR DAYS until Election Day. That’s not much at ALL.

I shall be putting together a Blog very soon, but, time is of the essence, and I shall not wait one single more minute to say what needs to be said!


Yeah. Luck was with me, this week, at the Democratic Headquarters here in Sarasota. I got to “catch the eye” of Vice President Joe Biden. I got to SAY to him, basically, “Our Transgender Population, which includes SO VERY MANY Loved Ones & Friends, is NOT reaping ANY Benefits of Constitutionally Affirmed Civil Rights, HUMAN RIGHTS!”

Biden, in turn, responded that Transgender Rights is “a (or “the,” depending on which news source you are reading; personally, I can’t exactly recall. Just being honest here, Friends.) ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time.” It was a wonderful moment, for me, personally, for my trans daughter, my countless number of Transgender Friends! It was also, let’s be frank, kind of adorable. The Hug. The sweetness of “it all.”

K. That’s DONE now, Friends. That’s YESTERDAY’S NEWS! I cannot stress that point ENOUGH! I was blessed with the HUGE opportunity to Speak OUT for Trans Rights. I was, apparently, “heard,” evidently agreed with.

Now. This Old Granny Rabble Rouser was lucky enough to “light the match.” However, the Community Organizer, from past days, rises up in me and SHOUTS: TIME’S AWASTIN’!!! We need ACTIONS! We need them more than EVER! We need them RIGHT NOW!

I am here PLEADING with each and every one of you to whom ANY Human Rights are held dear, most especially to those who are working day & night to achieve RIGHTS for Our Precious Transgender Population (which is MUCH larger than “folks” want t’ know!), to GET OUT THERE! TO MAKE SOME NOISE! To share YOUR STORIES! Wherever, However, with the Largest “audience” that you can REACH!!! This is CRUCIAL, Peeps!

I want EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU (yes YOU!!!) to be at YOUR Local Polling Place on this coming Tuesday, with your voices, with your willingness to share YOUR TRUTHS…and, yes, with your SIGNS! The ones that will inform EVERY SINGLE “about to vote” voter that YOUR LIVES and LIVELIHOODS ARE AT STAKE in this Election.

The SOLE possibility for Transgender Rights being ANYWHERE near supported, endorsed, at the Federal Level, lies with an Obama/Biden “Win.” There is ZERO possibility for anything but fewer rights, more violence, more untethered bullying and Hatred (Hate CRIMES! Loss of LIVES!!!) if their Republican Opponents are inducted into the Office of Presidency/Vice Presidency of OUR United States. ZERO. ZIP. NADA.

So. GET OUT THERE, Lovies! Make a NOISE! Be your SweetSWEET selves, but, BE HEARD!!! It’s, honestly, and quite tragically, Our Only Hope…

Yes. That ‘s precisely what I feel, what I (at 60) KNOW! Pretty eyes be damned. That’s simply an Old Hippie “Theater In The Streets” bit, Friends. Ya use what ya GOT. THEN! YOU ORGANIZE YOUR ASSES OFF!!!

Just. DO IT!!!

Love OUT! Fist Raised HIGH! Your Always Lin
Power To OUR People!!!! That includes ANY disenfranchised “group,” but my Heart is Specific here. I know a zillion of yours are too!!!

-Linda Carragher Bourne

Trans Rights Now!

If you’re looking for more on my Mom meeting the Vice President, check out these links to The Huffington Post, Advocate.com, my own paper, The Rainbow Times and The SF Weekly.

If you find yourself inspired to get involved in the fight for Trans Civil Rights, I strongly recommend checking out and contacting the following organizations to find out how!  The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

For much more in depth information about the discrimination that transgender people face daily, I urge you to read over the results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey performed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

And of course, don’t forget to get out and vote for Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate for President, Barack Obama next Tuesday!!!

06
Sep
12

Why the Michelle Kosilek ruling is not a terrible, horrible, awful thing (even though she might be).

It’s been quite a week for me.  Without getting into details not relevant to the subject of this post, suffice to say it was one filled with all kinds of trans community related drama.  So when I got home tonight and noticed there was some sort of controversy raging around a transgender inmate here in Massachusetts, I’ll be honest, I did everything I could to ignore it.  I’m just about on trans-issue overload as it is.

I made dinner, chatted with my roommates, watched part of a documentary about Johnny Carson until it stopped working.  Then watched some stuff about the great Improv director and teacher Del Close.

Then I made the mistake of going over to Facebook.

Why, oh why do I do these things?  Of course all the drama was right there, flooding my feed.  There were even a couple of messages from my Mother in my inbox, practically begging for my opinion.  So, finally, mainly for my Mom and because, okay, I’m a transgender advice columnist, so it’s sort of what I do…  I broke down and started surfing stories about Michelle Kosilek a convicted killer incarcerated right here in Massachusetts for the 1990 murder of her wife.

Kosilek, I should note for clarity, is also a transgender woman.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered her story.  Kosilek started her male to female gender transition while in the custody of the State 12 years ago.  She has also mutilated herself genitally and twice attempted suicide.  Without going into too many details, what is important to know is that her Doctor diagnosed SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) to be a medical necessity in her case.  A Federal Judge agreed with this earlier today and ordered the surgery to be provided by the State.

It will be completely unsurprising to anyone who has ever turned on the TV, Radio or Internet, or spoken to other human beings about anything out of the ordinary, and most especially about issues related to transgender folks, that this decision has caused a storm of controversy.

Those are the facts you need to know up front.  And yes, you can bet I have an opinion all my own.

I will say that the controversy seems to break down along much less partisan lines than I usually see in trans related debates.  I have seen both trans- and cisgender people who are shocked and appalled by this taxpayer funded freeloading surgery.  And I have seen both cis- and transgender folks agreeing that this is a reasonable and progressive decision by the court.

Everybody though seems to agree that it’s a very uncomfortable controversy.  “Wicked” uncomfortable even, this being Massachusetts.  I mean, look, this a person who killed their wife and is serving life in prison for the crime.  Not a nice individual.  A criminal.  A murderer!!  And if I’m going to go ahead and be really bitchy and judgmental about it (hell, I am a Pageant Queen, I’m allowed bitchiness occasionally…), kinda friggin’ creepy looking.  I mean, those eyes….

Anyway.  The one thing that’s for certain is that no one who cares about trans issues wants Michelle Kosilek to be our postergirl.  You can just almost picture the folks who have worked to oppose trans civil rights gleefully cackling like a Bond Villain, steepling their fingers while watching tonight’s news.

For our opponents, Michelle Kosilek must seem like the human embodiment of all the “Bathroom Panic” commercials used to scare people away from thinking critically and positively about Transgender Rights.  Either that or as sure proof of the Immanentizing of the Eschaton (go ahead, look it up, it’s a fun surf).

But what does it all really boil down to?  My dear readers who think so carefully about all things and never jump to hasty conclusions.  I can hear you asking!  What do you think Lorelei?  Is this taxpayer funded freeloading?  Enlightened legal progress?  Guide us!

Ooooooooookay, since you put it that way.

First, let me be clear, like many of you, I’m ragingly jealous!  Why should this murderer have surgery that I’m not sure I’ll EVER be able to afford myself, provided by our tax dollars?!?!?!  Why, when most insurance plans routinely deny this necessary surgery to perfectly law abiding transgender folks, should an incarcerated felon get it for free???

Well, I’ll tell you why.  Did you notice that phrase, “necessary surgery”?

Yeah, that’s really the only important thing here.  Forget the heinous crime.  Forget the super-creepiness of Kosilek herself.  And remember only that a Medical Doctor has given a diagnosis that without this life-saving surgery, an incarcerated human being under the enforced care of the State is at risk.

You see, inmates aren’t allowed to provide for their own medical treatment.  Or much of anything else for that matter.  While they are incarcerated, and Kosilek is for life, we as “The State” are required to take care of their basic needs.  We must feed them, house them, clothe them and if they are sick or broken, we have to try and fix them, make them healthy again.

For all of you who could give a Rat’s Ass about Trans Rights, this is the argument for you.  If we are a just and fair society, we must support the decision of the trained medical personnel who care for our prisoners.  If a Doctor deems a treatment necessary to the health of a person whose freedoms we have forcibly curtailed, we must not oppose that.  For that way lies a slippery slope.

If we, as laypeople, can say our taxes will not save this life.  Then where does it stop?  Wouldn’t it ease the taxpayer burden to allow those awful rapists to be consumed by cancer?  Should we really mend the broken hand of a sticky-fingered thief?  What about the junky drug dealer who contracted Hepatitis from a dirty needle before he was even arrested?  Do we save a few bucks off the ever-increasing deficit and say, “Sorry, no help for your suffering.”

No, I for one do not wish to live in a society that does not care for the least among us.  Though it could be argued that is the case already…

Michelle Kosilek’s prison appointed Doctor has deemed this a necessary procedure.  Therefor the Judge made the only ruling that was just and proper.

Not enough for you?  Okay, this next argument is for my trans-peeps who are upset that a prisoner is getting treatment they themselves have been denied.  Who hate that this heinous murderer is being handed the surgery we want so badly and so often struggle to attain.

I want you to breathe.  Listen to me.  Ready?  Receptive?

Okay.  This is legal precedent.  Which is good.

Very good.

A Federal Judge just said that a transgender/transsexual woman MUST be provided with SRS because it is a Medically Necessary Procedure.  That’s HUGE.  It opens up all kinds of avenues for good lawyers to argue that Insurance companies should cover SRS for all transgender people because a federal court has already ruled it medically necessary.  And if it’s a procedure that’s considered life saving for an inmate, then how can the insurance companies properly justify denying it to regular law-abiding folks like you and me?

And I’m quite sure if I can see this argument, there must be some of our opponents of Transgender Civil Rights out there who see the same thing and are very, very nervous about the outcome of all this.  Who will scream and fuss and cuss and do their damndest to strike this ruling down.

We may not much like our new postergirl.  If you’re like me, she may actively give you the willies!!  But we cannot have it both ways.  If we are trying to tell people that SRS is something we need.  Something we must have to be healthy, happy and whole.  Then we cannot deny the necessity of this procedure for anyone.  Even Michelle Kosilek.

So, I beg you to stop shouting at each other.  It will only make the work of our opponents in the overall struggle that much easier.  If we are already tearing at each other over this decision, they need hardly lift a finger to set us back.

I’m not asking you to like it.  I’m not even asking you to go to work tomorrow and tell all your coworkers how awesome it is that this Convicted Wife Murderer is getting SRS…

I’m just asking you to think about it carefully and rationally.  Think it all through.  And if you agree with me, then at the very least, please don’t throw any more wood on the media fire.

Thank you.

20
May
11

An open response to Gregory Kane of the Washington Examiner

The following blog entry began, as these “Open Letters” often do, as a reaction to a piece of venomous anti-trans bile I stumbled across in the wilds of the internets. I find that I start to write a “comment” and as the word-count climbs I realize I have much more to say than is appropriate for that kind of forum. Thankfully, I have a blog of my own.
I had been intentionally refraining from writing anything about the recent beating in a Baltimore McDonald’s of a woman named Chrissy Lee Polis, who as it happens is also transsexual. The reason for this is that I felt much had been said about the incident already. Her tragedy had been claimed and counter-claimed by various people and groups all purporting to know just what this woman was going through and using the publicity generated by this tragedy as fuel for their own fires.
I don’t judge necessarily, I’m a politician and an activist I know how it works. Some of these have been noble causes. Some not so much. But for myself, I decided to stay mostly silent.
It seemed to me that most everyone was forgetting that there is a woman who has been hurt and scared at the center of all this. A woman who has had all shreds of anonymity ripped away from her by sudden and unasked for internet celebrity. Who can no longer walk around her own neighborhood without being recognized and “outed” as transsexual.
And I suppose by writing this now; I am perhaps no different than anyone who has written about this horrifying incident before me. I offer only the small justification that I do not claim to have any more personal knowledge of Ms. Polis’ personal feelings than anyone else. Only that I recognize her ordeal as one which has sadly been shared by countless other transpeople who have suffered similarly, if less publicly. It is for all those of my sisters and brothers who suffered thus that I speak up now.
Also, as a blogger and a newspaper columnist myself, I felt compelled to respond to the column entitled: “’Hate crime’ justice is no justice at all” by Gregory Kane of the Washington Examiner. Perhaps I have not yet been nominated for a Pulitzer, as Mr. Kane has, but I try to be as well informed and balanced in my opinions and writing as I am able. And I found Mr. Kane’s bigoted and pointedly mean column to be quite lacking in these qualities.
This then is my response to him. I hope that he reads it.

Dear Mr. Kane,

You sir, are an ass.
However you have inadvertently provided an almost pitch perfect example of why hate crime protections for and education about transpeople are absolutely necessary. The sneering manner in which you refer to Chrissy Lee Polis as a “woman” and insist on the fairly pointed usage of male pronouns throughout, indicates to me that you neither know, nor care about the struggles of those who are not so fortunate as yourself. Who have not been lucky enough to be born in a body they were comfortable with. Who were “gendered” in a way they found discordant with their own self-knowledge. Who, in the attempt to align their own public identities with that self-knowledge, often find themselves marginalized, hated and abused with little available recourse.
Ill-informed hatred like that you spew forth from this column is the very engine that drives this abuse. Yours are the words that justify the beatings.
That said, I am going to assume by the fact you have been nominated for a Pulitzer, that you are an intelligent man. And I would like to point out to you, and to those of your readers who might be similarly misinformed, exactly why hate crime protections are called for and indeed vitally needed.
It is not, as you seem to assume, to achieve more excessive criminal punishments than are already called for. In point of fact if most crimes against transpeople were simply punished with the same severity as are similar crimes against most everyone else, it would be a step in the right direction. As it is, even the most heinous crimes, murder for example, when committed against transgender, transsexual and intersex folks, are often punished with little more than a slap on the wrist.
We are not looking for more stringent punishments than those against non-transpeople. We are simply hoping for some degree of equity with anyone else.
A sentiment which was, I believe, shared by the wise Founders of this country. In the interest of brevity I’ll refrain from direct quotes and assume you’re familiar with a rather important document called, “The Declaration of Independence”. At least I hope you are.
The real reason we need Hate Crime protections have little to do with the whinging “political correctness” you accuse us of. It has everything to do with being counted.
This evening I attended a meeting of local activists in which one member was presenting information on the recent beating of the woman you refer to in your column, Chrissy Lee Polis. Who I would like to remind you is more than just fodder for another week’s column, to be sneered at and denigrated. She is a real flesh and blood person. And a citizen of these United States who has been brutalized while others simply stood by and watched. (How Un-American is that!?!?!)
The person giving this presentation admitted that there was precious little in the way of hard information or statistics to be found regarding crime and discrimination against transpeople. Even the F.B.I. came up flat. This is because as a community we are often not counted. Ignored even in the national census. There are few crime statistics because the way the system in this country is set up, the only crimes against minority groups that are counted, tracked and dealt with are those which are registered as Hate Crimes. Everything from funding to prevent such violence to programs to help the victims, are determined by these numbers.
Without Hate Crime protections we may as well not even exist as far as some law enforcement and governmental bodies are concerned. Without Hate Crime protections, as well as other basic Civil Rights which we are also fighting for, we will continue to be beaten, killed, denied basic dignities and generally pushed to the margins of society.
And that sir is why we are standing up in ever increasing numbers to demand that we be treated with the same dignity as anyone else. Why we ask for Hate Crime Preventions and Anti-Discrimination Laws. Why I get so angry when I see men like you, men who have power, privilege and position; belittling and demeaning people like Chrissy Lee Polis and myself who have to watch our backs every minute of the day and fight for every step up we can get.
Think about that the next time you settle into your chair and begin another column with a full stomach and an unharmed body. And thank God for your great good luck.

Slainte!
Lorelei Erisis

11
May
10

Let’s All Pull Together To Pass A Trans-Inclusive ENDA Now!!!!

What do we want?!?

Trans-Inclusive ENDA Now!

Okay folks, I just got off the phone from a nationwide conference call with some of the best minds and hardest workers in the trans community discussing ENDA.  We discussed the realities and the misleading falsehoods, the details and the broad scope.  It was a lot to take in quite frankly and I’m still trying to process a lot of what was discussed.

But since I’m an improviser and I believe in being in the moment and going with your gut to take you where the truth is, I wanted to share with you some of my initial impressions.

A lot of what was discussed were political details.  Hows and whys and the procedures to make this happen.  Good stuff and absolutely fascinating to a political junkie like myself, but not necessarily easy to convey without some additional study.

Basically what I got though was that this version of ENDA stands a very good chance of being passed and being passed as a Trans-Inclusive Bill!  It is not perfect, nor will it be.  There are problems with ENDA.  Not insurmountable problems though.  And certainly nothing as catastrophically bad as the conjectures that have been making the rounds of the interwebs for the past few days would seem to imply.

There will be no “Genital Inspector General” appointed and no spot checks at the restroom.  The provisions in regards to bathrooms don’t make me especially happy, but it’s nothing we can’t work with and it actually is an improvement on the current workplace situation.

Mind that: “Workplace Situation”  ENDA will not affect the restroom transgender people may use when they go out to Mackey D’s or at The Courthouse.  It governs only workplace related issues.  Basically the situation is this.  An employer will not be able to force you to use the “wrong” restroom.  Though they may be able to prevent trans employees from using the “right” restroom IF it is a multi-stall restroom and they have provided an alternate solution.

That’s important.  They must make a reasonable accommodation.

I agree, not ideal and not happy.  It still gives employers the ability to single us out and create a “separate but equal” situation.  It IS better than the current state of affairs though.  Where first of all, we have no actual employment protections anyway.  And second of all, as it stands today, employers in many states MAY actually force transgender people to use the “wrong” restroom

And that brings me to my next point.  ENDA will not be the end all be-all.  It’s not even going to be all that great.  I mean, if you can describe historic friggin’ legislation as “not all that great.”….  But it will be, as Gunner Scott aptly put it, “the floor that we’re starting on.”  It will be a building block on which to base state level protections and education about transgender issues.

And that is good.  That is excellent.

We will still need to pass laws at the state legislative level to provide stronger, better protections for our community.  But these stronger, better laws will have a national precedent to help us springboard them.  And once we can get them passed they will trump the weaker ENDA.  Meanwhile, ENDA will still provide at least some protection for transfolks in places that do not currently have any protections at all!  And some protections are a heck of a lot better than the no protections at all we have right now.

Yes, it’s true, it will be a bit of time and probably several stages before we see any actual language.  There is a lot we do not know about the final form ENDA will take.  But that’s just how it is in politics folks!  That’s how every bill gets passed.  The legislative process requires us to take some risks.  To take chances.

Right now, as a community, we are going to have to take a leap of faith!!!

ENDA needs our support to happen as well as to stay Trans-Inclusive.  It’s time to stop bickering among ourselves and pull together as one, unified and powerful community.  This bill must pass and it must pass this year!!!  We will wait no longer.

So get out there and call your Congress People.  Call your Reps and tell them that you as their constituent, as their VOTING constituent, need them to help pass a Trans-Inclusive ENDA now!  Then call your Senator, so we can get them buttered up and ready to throw on the grill once the Bill comes out of The House.

There’s a tremendous amount of energy out there in the trans community right now.  If we can focus that and join ranks with a single purpose, there is nothing we may not accomplish.

Now Go!!!!  It’s time to get to work and there is not a second to waste!!!

ORIGINAL IMAGE AND CAPTION REMOVED BY REQUEST

ENDA Now!

ENDA Rally at City Hall in Northampton

People Come Together!!!

( To look at the Bill yourself, go here:  The Library Of Congress: Thomas Jefferson Legislative Information Section And search for Bill Number HR3017 )

Northampton Trans-Inclusive ENDA Rally News Segment

Northampton Trans-inclusive ENDA Rally Article in The Socialist Worker

Photos by Madeline Burrows and Elle St. Claire (Amazing Shot, but Sadly Removed -LE)

19
Apr
10

Tribeca’s Controversy Kerfuffle

Here we go.  Good morning and good afternoon dear readers, I have a few somethings to say.  It’s possible, if you’re a regular follower of this blog that you read my recent post in support of the boycott of Ticked Off Trannies With Knives.  It’s also likely, if you are a follower of this blog that you are at least passingly familiar with my activism in support of transgender rights.

Now normally, I try to stick to the brass tacks real world, food, shelter and basic human rights kind of activism.  I wade into the contentious fray of language politics and media representation only with trepidation and care.  There are plenty of other folks who make a mission of being the watchdogs of our image as transgender/transsexual folks.

I care a great deal about these things myself, but I lived and worked in Hollywood for too long and know too much about the media machine in general, to often get behind that uphill-bound boulder.  I generally let Sisyphus handle that thankless task hirself.

But my friends, sometimes there are things about which I feel compelled to speak up.  Things that represent too much of a tipping point to ignore.

The whirlwind of controversy that has been surrounding TOTWK is one of those things.  If you’d like to read details of what I’ve had to say about the film itself, please see my previous post “Ticked-Off Trannies With Blogs”.  In summary though, after weighing the positives and negatives of the film and it’s presentation, I found it not to be “transploitation” so much as simply exploitative of trans people and the very real dangers we face.

I realize that I have based this assessment simply on the trailer that is available online and the commentary offered by those who have seen it or who were involved with the production.  That said, c’mon, we all have seen movie trailers that made us exclaim afterwards, “Well, guess I’ve seen the whole movie now!” or “D—n!!  I’m glad I didn’t waste 12 bucks and two hours on that piece of s—t!!”

And don’t tell me all you armchair Eberts out there haven’t said even worse on less info!  The simple fact is, we all do it all the time.  There is such a barrage of information and “entertainment” that we are bombarded with almost every minute of every day, that the only way to survive in this data cloud of a world is to make constant snap judgments about what we like and what we don’t like.

Quite enough is presented in the trailer for and the media representation of TOTWK for me to say with confidence that it is offensive to transfolks and insensitive to the issues we face everyday.  And besides all that, it’s really the media presentation of the film and the image that it is trying to project that are the basic problems for me.

If this movie was called “Dangerous Drag Divas With Daggers”, I’d probably even shell out my 12 bucks to see it!!  I like some cheesy-ass movies y’all!!  John Waters is an idol of mine!  And one of my all time favorite movies is “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka”!!  Not exactly high art.  And heck, I absolutely love Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies!  Raging gore fests and great fun!!!

But TOTWK tries to rep itself as a “fun” message movie.  A retro camp, “…homage to the exploitation films of the ’70s and ’80s….Inspired by the devastating increase in brutal hate crimes against people in the transgender community…” – Roya Rastegar in the Program Notes for the Tribeca Filmguide.

An argument could be made for the artistic merit of this movie as the much respected transgender actress Alexandra Billings has done on her blog, and reprinted on the website for TOTWK.  And I’m afraid she has the advantage on me of having actually screened a copy of the film.  Nonetheless, I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Billings.

As I said, I believe this film represents a dangerous tipping point in the public image of transgender people.  Simply by it’s inclusion in the Tribeca festival it has gained a notoriety that virtually guarantees it will be viewed by a great many potential allies who have never previously had any experience of an actual flesh-and-blood transgender person.  The image presented of transgender women in TOTWK will contribute to the shape of their impression of us as a whole.  And it is a false one.

If there were a wealth of positive images of transgender people out there already, this would not be such an issue.  But there is not.  Even now, I still often meet people whose primary knowledge of us comes from Jerry Springer.  Who assume that just because I tell them I am a performer that I must do a killer Judy Garland impression and have a wardrobe filled with rhinestones!  I’m a pretty fabulous woman mind you, but I don’t do Judy (or Streisand or Madonna or Marilyn…) and I have kindly requested that if any of my friends ever spot me in rhinestones that they simply shoot me on sight.

I have seen it asserted that at least 3 of the 5 lead roles in TOTWK are played by actual transgender women.  I have no reason to deny this or attempt to disparage the “authenticity” of these women.  In fact as an actor I congratulate them on getting a paying gig.

Just because they are authentic transgender women however does not mean this is an authentic representation of the transgender experience.  It does not necessarily lend credibility to the filmmaker or the whole cast and crew.  It simply means they got cast in the flick.  Which, okay, is big all on it’s own, but that’s another issue.  Just because an actor gets cast does not mean the film is going to be good or the roles respectfully written.

See, for example, almost every role written for African –American actors in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Or check out the book “The Celluloid Closet” for a great history of the roles that were available for Gay and Lesbian actors for much of the history of cinema. Also it is worth noting that while these transgender women acted in the film, the words they speak belong to the writer.  A cisgender gay man.

I’m sure the actors had some artistic input, but the overall content sprang from the mind of Mr. Israel Luna.  I cannot fault them for or assign merit to the content based on these women’s presence in the film.  Gods know, I’ve done some stuff myself that I thank my lucky stars everyday has not yet seen an audience larger than would fit in a living room….  Those are the hazards of being an actor.

My impression of this movie is that despite the presence of 3 transgender actors, the parts they play are very much Drag Characters.  Again, no dis-respect to drag artists, it’s a perfectly legitimate art-form.  But it does not represent the actual experience of transgender women.  Drag Queens are fabulous, entertaining and bigger than life.  But they are generally based on caricatures of women.  And more often than not, they identify as men who are playing women.

Which brings me to Willam Belli.

In all the controversy swirling around this movie what I was finding missing was the voices of the actors actually playing these transgender women.  I read the comments from the filmmaker Israel Luna, himself a proud gay man.  But what I wanted to know, as an actor and a transgender woman myself, was what these actors who represented TOTWKs sole claim to community authenticity had to say.

The first comment I came across was a fairly reasonable statement in the New York Times by Krystal Summers who identifies as a transgender woman and is one of the lead actors in the film.  I found her portrayal of GLAAD’s involvement with the film to be somewhat misleading, but sympathized with her point in asking people simply to see the film before passing judgment.

Again, I sympathize, but do not necessarily agree.  Still, it was nice to read her point of view.

After that, my own life went back into high gear and I lost day-to-day track of the controversy.  I do a great deal of outreach and activism in and for the trans community.  I serve on the boards of a couple of non-profit orgs.  I perform whenever I can.  I write a regular column in an honest-to-gods printed on paper LGBT newspaper that distributes throughout New England.  I have a day job to pay the bills.  And I also make appearances as Miss Trans New England.  Plus all the business of friends and family and just life as a transwoman trying to get through the day in an often hostile world.

Basically I keep pretty busy.

So the next time any of this came back into my consciousness, aside from the odd facebook update, was when it was pointed out to me by a regular reader of my blog that I might take a look at this Willam Belli guy and the things he’s been saying all over the interwebs.

Willam Belli it turns out is one of the actors in TOTWK.  You might also know him from his star-raising performance in Nip/Tuck.  He is not a transgender woman, as you may have guessed by the sudden appearance of male pronouns associated with his name.

I was curious, so I started surfing links.  He’s got a pretty solid website and the IMDB page of a hard working actor doing everything he can to break out and up.  Some pretty decent roles in stage and film, a lot of gay male characters and Drag Queens.  I liked his reel.  I remembered his performance on Nip/Tuck as being pretty good.  It certainly f—ked me up when I watched it.

From there he seems to have made a big push to play more transgender characters, continuing to develop a very drag queen-esque persona.

I’ll be honest with you friends, as I poked around his work and personal website, I was kinda starting to like the guy.  This, despite the fact that I had been told he was attacking friends of mine in the community.  I even kind of enjoyed some of his work.  A clip of his cabaret act called “Choose your Own Adventure” was cute and funny.  Additionally, he seems to be well-liked by several transwomen whom I greatly respect.

Then I watched the trailer for a show pilot called “Tranny McGuyver”, that is described on YouTube as being “conceived by Willam Belli … & Patty Wortham.”  On his IMDB page he is listed as Writer (Creator) and Executive Producer.

However in the comments section of the YouTube page, apparently as part of a discussion of the word “tranny”, under the screenname “noextrai” he has this to say: “maybe that’s why it never made it to series. i didn’t write it or come_ up with it. just acted and improved in it. Tranny is derived from the word TRANSVESTITE (which most drag queens are), not Transsexual. it’s not meant to offend anyone”

This flatly contradicts the description below the video, which was also apparently uploaded by “noextrai” so presumably he should fix that if it is indeed false.  But since it also contradicts almost everything else I found about “Tranny McGuyver” I’m guessing his statement was simply “creative reality”.

As for his statement that, “Tranny is derived from the word TRANSVESTITE … not Transsexual.”  Really?!?!!?  I’m kind of a word geek myself, I used to read the dictionary for fun when I was a kid and to this day cannot look up a word without becoming fascinatedly side-tracked.  And just to be safe I did a quick Google search for “tranny etymology” and got not one single definition that agreed with this statement.  In fact few of them completely agreed with the others either.  Most defined the word as coming from transsexual, transgender and/or transvestite.  But I digress.

Getting back to “Tranny McGuyver”.  I’ll let the dialogue from the opening of the trailer speak for itself:

Female uniformed officer speaking to a distraught woman: “Ma’am, can you please describe the assailant?”

Woman: “He was tall.  Athletic…”

Officer Mac (Belli’s character): “He sounds cute!”  (Woman begins to sob)

Officer Mac to Woman: “Pull it together Rapey!” (Then speaking to the female officer) “She’s a girl, you talk to her.”

“Rapey”!!?!?  Really?!?!?!  I’m not exactly the PC Police myself, but in what universe is that okay or even funny?????  I think even Lenny Bruce would have frowned on that.  If a line like that was delivered onstage in a live show, I’m sure the audience would do that quiet look around awkwardly and shuffle in their seats thing I’ve seen happen during uncomfortably offensive moments.

The rest of the trailer left me simply nonplussed.  Even if it had been absolute genius, I doubt I’d have enjoyed it after an opening like that.

From there I went link surfing, looking up all the things Mr. Belli had to say in regards and response to the controversy surrounding TOTWK and the conversations going on around it.  What I found was quite a bit of ugliness.  Belli is quite prolific in his commentary.  He seems to have taken up the torch of Defender of TOTWK and manages to comment on just about every mention of the movie I have found.

As I started pouring through all the rants, discussions and diatribes, I tried to remember to put myself in Belli’s shoes.  This seems to be his highest billed role to date.  In a film that is being featured in Robert friggin’ DeNiro’s much respected and influential Tribeca film festival no less!!  I know I’d be excited!

And now his big break is suddenly being threatened with criticism coming from all directions.  Is it any wonder that he’s a little defensive?  He’s backed into a corner.

To be quite honest, speaking not as activist Lorelei but as Lorelei the actor, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the movie myself if I had had the opportunity.

I felt like he was being a little bit of a bully in his commentary though and the more I read, the more I thought this.  There wasn’t any one instance where I could say he was completely out of line.  He seems savvy enough to avoid that.  But overall, the tone and tactics of his comments did not paint a pretty picture.  More often than not, he shuts down his opponents with sarcasm and bitchiness rather than intelligent argument.  I could quote any number of comments, but nothing I could quote is really specifically damning.  It’s more of an overall tone to his remarks that got under my skin.  I encourage you dear reader to fire up Google and check it out for yourself, his comments are easy to find.

Still, I was having difficulty deciding whether to say anything.  I had begun writing this piece, but was stalled.  I have little desire to find myself in the middle of all the nastiness and name calling flying around.  I also don’t want to appear as if I am attacking anyone myself.  Willam Belli did go after a number of my friends and associates pretty viciously I thought.  But on the other hand, they did put themselves in the line of fire.

Further, I myself have defended the use of the word tranny.  I use it myself and I like it.  I believe in the repurposing of words that have been used against us.  However I also know that many other people find it offensive and I think it’s important to respect that.  I actually got a question during a live Q and A I did last week about whether “tranny” was okay to use or not.  My answer boiled down to, “When in doubt ask.  And then use it accordingly.”

I do not believe that the film TOTWK, the filmmaker Israel Luna, or Willam Belli has followed this guide themselves.  Metaphorically speaking, they have never asked whether “tranny” was okay.  They have dictated terms themselves.  They have said, essentially, we are using this word whether you like it or not.  Rather than respect the experience of transgender people and the realities of our day-to-day existence, they have proclaimed themselves grand arbiters!  They will control the horizontal and the vertical, so get in line or get off the boat!!  At least that’s how it seems to me.

By this evening I had pretty much talked myself out of finishing this blog posting.  There are simply so many variables.  I have supported the boycott, and feel that there is good reason to do so.  But I’m not totally comfortable with having not seen the film myself.  I could be totally wrong about it.  I’ve been wrong about things before and I’m likely to be again.  Maybe it’s actually awesome and empowering or at least too much fun to seriously protest.  I doubt it, but it’s possible.

But then tonight I read a particularly well thought out and insightful negative critique of TOTWK on Advocate.com by transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox, star of “Transform Me” on VH1.  She makes some great points.  And apparently she’s seen the movie too!

Then, low and behold, right down at the bottom in the comments section is a remark from Willam Belli, following just the same pattern as his other comments.  It was time for me to say something.  Thanks for the push Willam!

Finally, I want to encourage you dear friends and loyal readers to check out the available information about this movie yourself.  Watch the recently re-edited trailer (thank you Mr. Luna).  Examine the opinions so dynamically expressed on both sides of this issue.  Most of all, Think for yourselves.

If after doing that, you find this film and the arguments supporting it to be lacking, join the protest.  Write your own blogs.  Tell your friends.  And if you can, go to NYC on April 23rd and join the Opening Night Education Rally being organized by trans-advocacy group MAGNET!!

And then follow the best advice I have seen from people on both sides of this issue.  Get out there and make your own movies about transgender people!  Make art about the trans experience!!  Write or produce TV shows about all things trans!!  Just go do it!

If you need an actor, you know where to find me!!!

Slainte!




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