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An open note to my stealth family on the Transgender Day of Visibility

March 31, 2018
The transgender pride flag, superimposed with the words "March 31/ International Transgender Day of Visibility"

…yeah, you. I might not even know you, or know that you’re transgender, but I’m talking to you.

Some cisgender folk say they can spot one of us a mile away, but that’s rubbish. Sometimes we can’t even spot each other in a crowd, and that’s okay. Somehow, you’ve gotten very good at hiding. You have your reasons, and it’s not my place to question that at all, so I won’t.

Maybe it’s just inconvenient to be out; it’s just easier if people don’t know. That’s fine, actually. You might not have the mental energy or ability to be out. Being out means automatically that you’re an unintended activist, like me and many others. I support you not choosing the path that I have chosen.

Maybe you’re scared; I’m here to tell you that your fears are justified. Out transpeople in some places put themselves under threat of violence or death, putting themselves on the line just going to the grocery store, or to work. We put our livelihoods on the line working for bosses who just don’t get it. And you…don’t.  And that’s okay. Really, it is. Protect yourself. I support you, and if things got ugly when someone outs you, I’d have your back, if you just ask.

I made a conscious decision eight years ago, to be out and visible. I had a twenty-year career that I didn’t want to give up and go full stealth, and frankly wasn’t sure how I’d do it in the first place. So here I am, out and proud and visible. And I care about you, almost as much as I care about myself. I’ll put it out there for everyone to see, and answer the nosy questions that the Muggles are forever bringing to us, and yell about it when people tell untruths about us in the halls of government, churches, and the press.

I do that for all of us. I’m visible, not only for myself and the people I love who are transgender, but for all of you brothers and sisters and others who are having to hide who you are in order to get along with your own version of the world we inhabit. I’ll keep pushing, keep working toward a day when you don’t have to be stealth in order to survive, when you can confidently and safely tell everyone around you who you really are. It may not come in my lifetime, but it’ll come. And some of you, I hope, will get to see that day.

A little catching up to do…

March 31, 2018
A group of daisy flowers is arranged in a heart shape atop a large tree stump.
Pixabay user congadesign, CC0.

Have you missed me? Things got a little crazy for me there for a few weeks, and I had to spend some time making hard choices about what I actually had time and energy for in my life.

I think, probably, most of us have these sorts of decision points in our lives, but I had put it off, and continued taking new things aboard, to the point that my life had just turned into a chaotic mess, where almost nothing was actually getting done.

Depression? Oh, probably, at least a little bit of it. But I’ve tossed a few things overboard, parked a few things on the back burner, and knuckled down to get a few higher-priority things off my list. I’m not caught up yet, but I’m able to get my head above water, at least. Thanks bunches to the people I’m close to who have helped me, been patient with me, and made that possible.

FreeBSD finally gets an effective Code of Conduct

February 17, 2018

I spotted on Slashdot this morning that the FreeBSD Project has finally implemented a detailed Code of Conduct.  I’ve spoken rather a lot in the last year or two about Codes of Conduct, so it’s of interest to me. Their prior code from 2015 had a number of weaknesses, largely in that it used vague terms like “be civil,” a question-begging instruction that leaves room for a lot of problematic behavior.

This comes a bit more than two years after Randi Harper (formerly FreeBSDGirl) publicly left (archived link) the project over a bunch of drama that included her being SWATted, of all things. The reactions she got for posting about her departure were kind of predictable. Let’s unpack some of the new Code, which Slashdotters and Redditors are, of course, reacting badly to.

For one thing, it’s got a lot of detail in it–lots of examples of bad behavior, which the prior version simply did not have. I’m pleased to note that deadnaming and outing are *specifically* included in this list. What’s not here, that should be: doxxing and SWATing, which could nominally be covered under “Threats of violence” or “Deliberate intimidation,” and ad hominem attacks and name-calling, which is potentially covered by “Sustained disruption of discussion.”

I’m impressed with the reporting instructions–there’s a contact address, there are detailed instructions as to what must be in your report, and there is advice that you should hear back within a set amount of time (48 hours). I’m also impressed with the detailed list of possible outcomes. The Code of Conduct team has a broad selection of options they can take to deal with any problems, and that’s good. Some Codes only allow for expulsion or nothing, and some teams may be loath to do that except in the most extreme circumstances.

This is a decent Code, in my mind. Time will tell how the project does under this new policy. I’d like to see something very similar in the communities I participate in, myself (are you listening, Perl?).

#4: Celine Walker

February 11, 2018
Celine Walker, via Facebook
Celine Walker, via Facebook

Celine Walker, 36, was found shot to death in an Extended Stay America Hotel in Jacksonville, FL, last Sunday, February 4. Police and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department are seeking information and witnesses, but no suspects have yet been identified.

As usual, she was deadnamed and misgendered in the original reports of her death. Her friend Naomi Michaels said on Facebook that she had talked to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department, and they do not, as a matter of policy, identify victims as transgender, ever.

More right-wing nut-jobbery, of course; we’re real, we’re here, and we’re being murdered…and such a policy does not help. Not only is it disrespectful, it also can hamper the investigation to go around asking possible witnesses about a man that was murdered, when the victim was a woman.

I’ll update with more details, as I hear about ’em.  But between the nature of the crime, and the bungling Keystone Kops-esqe treatment of the victim by the JSD, justice is less likely.

But we’ll remember, Celine.  We will.

#3: Tonya Harvey

February 10, 2018
Tonya Harvey, via Facebook
Tonya Harvey, via Facebook

Tonya Harvey, a 35-year-old transwoman, was shot and killed in Buffalo, NY, in the afternoon of Tuesday, February 6, becoming the third transgender person murdered this year. Original reports from the Buffalo Police Department and The Buffalo News misgendered Tonya, but they have since corrected their reporting.

The Erie County District Attorney’s office is working with the Buffalo PD to investigate this as a “possible hate crime,” which is more attention than many such cases receive. The police department told Mic that they were investigating some possible leads.

More on this story as we learn it.

Another Republican-led legislature tries for a “bathroom bill.”

February 5, 2018
Iowa State Capitol
Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Iowa legislature has before it House File 2164, which would exempt entities from the state’s Civil Rights law, in particular with restroom access.  As usual, they’re trotting out the same tired old trope about protecting women and girls. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sandy Salmon, was quoted in the Des Moines Register as saying, ““What the bill just says is that schools and businesses are allowed to take action to protect women and girls by preserving access (to toilet facilities and locker rooms) based on biological sex.”

It also cleverly removes the requirement that religiously-motivated discrimination be actually based on a “bona-fide religious purpose,” lowering the bar substantially for the permissiveness of discriminatory behavior that is driven by “religious purposes.”

As usual, this law is based on a fantasy, a complete fabrication.  A slanderous, scandalous lie, the trope that says that I and my transwoman sisters are predators. We aren’t, and no amount of posturing from Republicans will ever make us so.

Aime Wichtendahl, a city council member in Hiawatha who is serving as the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, unpacks this for us in plain English:

“This is an answer in search of a problem…The gender identity protection in the Civil Rights Act has been included for more than a decade. Has there been a problem of people harassing women in the bathrooms since then? No. This is simply a tactic of the extreme right who will use any excuse they can to harass and intimidate us out of public life.”

“Equality” organizations like HRC Iowa and One Iowa have been slow to respond; the bill was filed January 31st, and as of Sunday night (February 4), neither has anything on their websites about this awful bill. As usual, they will likely trot out the same tired argument about such discriminatory legislation being “bad for business.” While true, this argument is not compelling to much of anyone, certainly not to rank-and-file voters. If the bill fails, as happened in Texas, the “equality” orgs will take credit and crow about how their argument worked. If it fails (North Carolina), they’ll crawl back under their rocks and not fight all that hard, looking for “incremental progress going forward.”

When will they step up and use the true and more-compelling argument that goes thusly: “Iowans, your legislators, the sponsors of this bill, are lying to you. They are telling a bald-faced untruth about your fellow Iowans, people who deserve just as much dignity and respect as you do. That thing they tell you to be afraid of? It’s never happened, ever, anywhere. They’re lying to you. And you shouldn’t let them do that to your neighbors, just because they’re different from you.”

But maybe I’m expecting too much of HRC Iowa and One Iowa.

They, like other “equality” organizations all pay lip service to supporting transfolk, but when push comes to shove, like all lobbying organizations, they are here to support the needs of the people who write their largest checks–mostly, white gay men. Transgender people, being subjected to a much larger threat of unemployment and poverty through discrimination, aren’t the ones who can afford to support these organizations, by and large, so our voices simply are not heard as much as they should be.

…and the lies continue to come out of Republican legislatures all over the land.

Religiously-motivated hatred is still hatred, and I’m sick of it

February 4, 2018
The interior of Missionary Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Flickr user Matthew Paulson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This week, a couple of articles cropped up in my feed describing recent hatred and violence against LGBT people. In both cases, the hatred was motivated by faith–Islam in one case and Christianity in another.

Before you clutch your pearls and cry “outlier,” Christian readers, know that this is not an isolated problem.  Nearly every week, I see another headline, another person using their faith to justify awful behavior toward LGBT people.

This is going to sound a little harsh, but I am tired of people getting hurt and killed because of your “faith.” I took 15 hours of Bible in college–at many colleges, this would be called a “minor,” though my school didn’t have those designations. Nowhere in scripture are Christians called upon to wreak violence and pain upon people with whom they do not agree. It’s simply not in the Bible, anywhere. But the violence goes on.

St. Augustine made a point. Scripture “teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of Scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” In other words, if your explanation of Biblical meaning includes anything that promotes anything less than complete love for all of humanity, you are doing it wrong. Full stop.

Many rank-and-file Christians are probably, as they read this, quite horrified that I would lump them in with the awful humans who perpetrate and encourage the murder and violence against LGBT folk that rages all around the world. And they should be! But that’s really too darn bad. Pay attention:

You enable them. You pay them. You encourage preachers and pastors and popes and each other. If a preacher on television is advocating violence and hatred, don’t watch their program. If a minister in your church is speaking violence against LGBT people, fire them and find another. If your fellow parishioner is speaking out advocating unequal treatment or threats, don’t have anything to do with them. And tell them why.  Any officer, of any church, from the Pope down to the lowliest usher in a country church, should know that their behavior is wrong and unacceptable, by their immediate removal from their office. Their interpretation of Scripture is illegitimate, and in violation of God’s commands, and you should not tolerate them in a leadership position!

For me, this has become a rather black-and-white issue, with the hatred and abuse that I myself have been subjected to at the hands of “Christians.”  Either you’re working to reform your faith, and making it what it is supposed to be–and you are therefore doing something about those elements in your faith that are advocating against LGBT people–or you’re allowing it to continue by your inaction, and therefore supporting it.

So, which is it? You’ve sat in the non-existent “middle ground” for too long, Christians. Get off your tails and do something, before someone you love gets hurt or killed by a “Christian.”

 

Back from Amsterdam!

January 21, 2018
The main stage, from which I spoke at the RAI
Photo by Ruth Holloway, CC BY-SA 4.0

I spoke last Thursday morning at Booking.com‘s annual employee meeting, on the subject of empathy and how it can transform your work and your life–and how crucial it is that we as a species get more on board with embracing empathy and compassion.

I had a lovely trip, despite departing in a heavy ice storm. My KLM flight was cancelled, so they helpfully rebooked me on United, departing a half-hour later, at 4 PM.  A slight delay at the gate, then a *four hour* delay on the tarmac waiting our turn to de-ice, and off we go.  Booking put me up in a decent-but-nothing-fancy hotel, conveniently right across the street from the RAI, where the conference was to be held.

The conference team was wonderfully well-organized, and the technical team for my presentation (eight people!) was smartly professional about everything, and (of course) it went off without a hitch.

My talk was well-received. As is usual for this talk, I got swarmed by folks coming down front after the talk, to tell their own stories, to thank me, to collect hugs, and (in a couple of cases) to cry on my shoulder or ask advice about dealing with unempathetic people in their own lives.

One was a young Syrian man, probably in his late 20s. He told me that one of his brothers had disappeared in the civil war there, and part of his family was in a city that was surrounded, in an attempt to starve the people out. A pair of young women came to me asking whether they should give up the path of empathy because of criticism from a colleague (No!). Several more told me stories of the pain and loss in their own lives, and how my presentation encouraged them to open up to their peers, and find the people who care about them in their own communities.

One sent me an email, which I read that night at the hotel. He thanked me for opening his eyes to the shortcomings in his own use of his natural empathy in recent months. The wake-up call sent him onto a phone call with his partner for an uncomfortable conversation, which left him “sad and exhilarated,” and he thanked me for the brutal honesty.  His story was so touching and beautiful, I had a long, hard cry after reading it–the realization finally hit, and hit hard, that I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives.  It’s a wonderful, scary feeling.

I spent Friday touring Amsterdam and reconnecting with friends, and getting interviewed for an upcoming podcast (keep an eye out for that soon!). I met so many wonderful people in Amsterdam, including several other outside speakers (hat-tips to Penny Locaso, Dorie Clark, Daniela Papi, Yossi Ghinsberg, and Adam Conlon). Each and every one of them is a top-shelf pro, and an amazing person, and I’m honored to have gotten to meet them.

…but I’m glad to be home.

#2: Viccky Gutierrez

January 13, 2018
Viccky Gutierrez

Viccky Gutierrez, a Honduran immigrant with no family in the US, was killed in the wee hours of Wednesday, January 10. Her badly burned body was found at the scene of a fire in Los Angeles’ Pico Union district. She was a member of the LA TransLatin@ Coalition, described by her friends as ‘the nicest girl in the world.’

In the Los Angeles Blade article reporting on the murder, Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition, raises the possibility that Viccky was killed while engaged in sex work:

Amongst themselves, the mourning trans community also wonders if Gutierrez, who engaged in survival sex work, may have been killed by somebody who may have come to visit her. “There’s a strong possibility it came from work. It’s what we have to do. But we just don’t know. We asked the LAPD to check her cell phone but everything was burned,” Salcedo says.

The joint LAPD-FBI Fugitive Task force arrested 29-year-old Kavyn Ramirez for the murder in the evening on Thursday, January 11. Ramirez, who according to the TransGriot admitted to investigators that he killed Gutierrez, is being held on a $2 million bail. The LAPD is still trying to find concrete identification on Viccky’s body, and money has been raised to pay for funeral expenses and transportation of her remains to her family in Honduras.

More on this case as it develops!

#1: Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien

January 13, 2018
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien

It only took five days in January before we had the first US murder of a transgender person in 2018. Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was killed on Friday, January 5. Her husband Mark Steele-Knudslien walked into his local police department in North Adams, Massachusetts, and confessed to the crime, claiming he had “snapped” before killing her. He was arraigned for the crime of first-degree murder on Monday, January 8, where he entered a “not guilty” plea. He is being held without bail, as of this writing.

Christa was 42, and had been a prominent member of the New England trans community for years, having founded The Miss Trans Northampton beauty pageant in 2009, and the Miss Trans America pageant in 2014.

Watch for updates on this crime as I find out about them.

The vast majority of transgender persons who are murdered every year in this country are trans women of color, and most are younger than 40. Christa’s death should serve as a reminder that none of us should consider ourselves completely safe from violence and hatred.