Congratulations, Andrea Jenkins

November 8, 2017
Andrea Jenkins for Ward 8 Campaign

In other election news, Andrea Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis, MN, City Council last night, to become the first out African-American transwoman ever elected to anything in the United States. Her win was solid: 73% of the votes, and with a lead of 4,000+ votes on her nearest competitor.

Being out about who you are is not, as some may have surmised, the kiss of death for a political career any more. This is a good thing.

Congratulations, Danica Roem!

November 8, 2017
Danica Roem, via Facebook

Last night, I got news that Danica Roem handily beat her Republican opponent in Virginia to become the first out transgender state legislator in the United States. This is a huge, huge victory, and she earned it, running a campaign on the issues while her opponent, a notorious homophobe, kept waving the transgender-panic flag. She out-funded her opponent and ran an aggressive ground game. She said in multiple interviews that she wanted this election decided on the issues, but was always open to answer questions about her own life.

Delicious Irony Department; her opponent, Robert Marshall, was the author of multiple anti-LGBT bills in Virginia, including a bill very similar to North Carolina’s disastrous HB2.

…and he was beaten out of his job–with a good margin–by a transwoman, one of the very people he wanted to discriminate against.

This means a lot to me, for a lot of reasons, for the same reason seeing women CEOs or amputees like Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) at the top of the food chain means a lot. Representation matters, folks; Danica Roem made all the right moves, and it’s paid off–hearty congratulations to the Delegate!

(Note: Ms. Roem is not the first transgender state legislator in the US–that title belongs to Althea Garrison, who was seated for one term in Massachusetts from 1993-1995. But she wasn’t out and open about her transition.)

Transition Tales: The Perils of Healthcare

November 7, 2017

Gayly published an article talking about trans healthcare which shines a light on a problem I’ve experienced–healthcare providers and insurance companies that reject transgender people for service because they are transgender.

Obviously, the gross level of this is to simply refuse service–I’ve had this happen to me once; I was new in town, and had developed a case of strep. I called a doc, hoping I could set up a regular primary-care thing as well, and the staff made me an appointment.

When I got there, and filled out the paperwork, and paid my co-pay, I was getting strange looks from the front-office staff. They took me to an exam room, and the nurse was taking my blood pressure and said, “so, you’re transgender, right?”  “Yes, I am,” I replied. “Well, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave. We don’t serve transgender people.”

For strep? No, they don’t, because the doctor’s Christian faith would not allow it. They had talked to her with their suspicions, and she’d given the order to toss me out on my ear; I never saw her. They even wanted to keep my $60 co-pay–I kicked the gong about that, and refused to leave until they refunded my money.

A few months later, I’d found a seemingly-decent doctor who had treated my strep, and was renewing my hormone prescriptions. I’d given her the address of the clinic where I had started my transition, as I was pretty sure they’d have some good guides on ongoing care that they’re willing to share with other physicians.

But I was stuck in the dumps, and was worried that my hormone levels were not right (they weren’t, I found out a year or so later), and went to talk to her about the depressive episode, and see if we could adjust my dosage, or get a mild anti-depressant just to get me over the hump. She said, “That’s the choice you made. I can’t do anything.”

Clever woman that I am, I glibly responded, “huh?”

The choice to be transgender, you see.  That’s what she’s talking about.  So I blew my stack at her, pointing out that for me–as with a fair number of us–it’s a choice between transition or dying, and aren’t you glad I made the choice I did, now get off your duff and treat me like a human!

…so I had to find another doctor. Again.

Don’t even get me started on insurance…at one point in my life, I was buying open-market, and was basically uninsurable because I’m transgender. “Pre-existing condition” rejections were still legal, then, and my life is apparently a pre-existing condition. Even as great as my current employer is, our insurance does not cover surgical needs of transgender people.

This stuff happens to transgender people all the time, and it’s not just a rural problem. So much so, that when my current doctor wanted to refer me to a specialist, my first question was, “are they trans-friendly?”  We shouldn’t have to worry about that, but there it is. Trans people delay treatment for conditions far too often, and the reason is frequently because they fear harassment or rejection from medical professionals. They fear that because it happens. A lot.

By the way, if you’re in the Houston area, and need a recommendation for a fantastic doctor who works with LGBT patients, drop me a note–she already says she owes me a toaster, I’ve sent so many people her way. The hubs and I are holding out for the fondue pot, I replied.

Another young person, killed by hatred.

November 6, 2017
Giovanni Melton, via Facebook

LGBTQ Nation reported yesterday on the case of 14 year old Giovanni Melton, who was shot and killed on Thursday.

By his father.

Because he was gay.

Let that sink in a minute.

Lots more going on there, of course. Abandoned by their mother, with a very-absentee abusive father with a lot of issues. But that’s unfortunately common in America today. Killing someone because they are LGBT is more common than it should be. But a teenager, killed by a parent…picture me shaking my head.

The father has, of course, been arrested on multiple charges, and Giovanni’s younger brother taken into state care while things get sorted.

It reminds me a little of the case of 16 month old Roy Antonio Jones III, beaten to death in 2010 by his mother’s live-in boyfriend by being struck because he was acting “like a little girl.”  A child that young doesn’t have much of a gender identity yet, I don’t think–but even if they do, if it’s the wrong one, that’s a reason for violence?  (Aside: Roy’s killer, Pedro Jones, got 16-to-life for the murder.)

I just do not understand that kind of attitude; I just don’t.

I can’t say it enough: accept your LGBT kids, folks. It’s just that simple. It can make the difference between life and death for them. As much as 40% of all homeless persons under the age of 18 in the US are LGBT, and homeless because they are LGBT. It doesn’t have to be this way, if families just learned to love their kids, just as they are.

Learn the difference, please!

November 5, 2017
S Pakhrin, via Wikimedia. CC BY 2.0

Eric Edward Schell, whom I met a while back when he took my portrait for his Pride Portraits project, has written a piece on Medium that provides some food for thought. In it, he points out:

Recently, gay men have heavily contributed to transphobia, an issue we have seen a lot of on the national level in current events. By invalidating trans people, we in turn silence and erase their existence.

#Notallgaymen, certainly, before you start jumping up and down and screaming at me. But it’s not just in the larger gross transphobia where gay men–often without intending to–can debase my existence as a transwoman. “Problematic language,” Schell mentions, and that’s a big part of it. But there’s another area he doesn’t talk about in the piece, that I’d like to take a quick look at.

I’ve said often enough to folks that I have an uncomfortable relationship with drag. Now, before you get all upset–seriously, gurl, calm yourself–know this: I admire the hell out of drag performers. It takes a hell of a lot of moxie to get up there and do what they do, and enjoy it like they seem to. The problem, and where I get uncomfortable, is that an awful lot of people, including a fair number of gay men, can’t seem to tell the difference between me and a drag performer.

When it’s the straights, I’ll cut ’em a little slack; they’re Muggles, and may have been living in a cave since Paris is Burning came out or something. But gay men, you oughta know better! Here’s an example:

My grown daughter and I went to a charity event at one of the local bars in Montrose. There was a silent auction, some nibbles and drink specials, and a drag show was planned, where the performers had committed to contribute some part of their take to the charity. Sounds fun, so we went. We had to park some distance away, so I got out the wheelchair that I use for distances like that, and we went in.

Leaving aside that the silent-auction tables were so close together that I could not maneuver, and the buffet nibbles were in a raised area with no ramp, I was happy to watch the drag show–from far in the back, since there were steps…

My daughter had gone to get us drinks, when I was suddenly hugged from behind around the neck and shoulders (not a safe thing to do to me, ever, so don’t get any ideas, please), and this very drunk, very flamboyantly gay man asked me when I was performing. I told him I wasn’t a performer, and he really needed to learn to keep his hands to himself. He said, “whatever, gurl!” and wandered off.

See what I mean? It’s not just “problematic language.” There are problematic behaviors and assumptions that transgender people–particularly trans women–must put up with in order to hang around our gay friends. As a member of a local leather club (its only active woman full member, at this writing), I get this All. The. Time, and it’s why I don’t spend as much time with the club as I’d like to, and why I won’t go to any bar on a night when there’s a drag show. I just won’t, because I feel singled out for this kind of crappy behavior.

One final reminder, since some folks seem to need one.


60 years of life in space

November 4, 2017
Public domain, via Wikimedia

On this date sixty years ago, Russia made history by launching the first macro-sized living organism from earth into orbit: Laika, a mongrel dog found as a stray on the streets of Moscow.

In those heady early days, science (Russian or American) had not figured out how an orbital spacecraft could re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, so they didn’t even plan to try; Laika’s flight was a one-way trip. She died a few hours after liftoff, when the capsule overheated, but most of the world didn’t find that out until 2002. The Soviet Union asserted for a long time that she was euthanized prior to running out of oxygen on day 6. The capsule re-entered after orbital decay on April 14, 1958, almost five months after launch.

It’s an interesting footnote to the history of space travel, to me. I’ve always been interested in space flight, and even wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid, until I realized that there wasn’t any way they’d ever take an amputee.

Transition Tales: “Are you a boy, or a girl?”

November 2, 2017
Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, via Wikimedia, CC-BY 3.0

Fairly early on in my transition, when I was living in the Washington, DC area, I had boarded a Metro train to go into the District. I don’t remember what for, any more, but I was dressed en femme, so I wasn’t going to work; it was before I came out at work.

Anyway, at the stop after mine, two adult women and two young girls boarded the train, and both little girls were saucer-eyed, watching me. Now, at this point, I still didn’t know a whole lot about how to dress myself, or makeup, or any of that, so I was not a pretty sight, and I knew it. The two women were admonishing the younglings, saying, “don’t stare!”

I told them, “no, it’s okay; if they have questions, let them ask.” There was a whispered conversation, then the youngest, about 6, came over and asked me in a tiny, shy voice, “are you a boy, or a girl?”

I suppose I should not have been surprised, but I was. I thought for a minute, scrambling around in my head for some kind of sane, age-appropriate answer to that simple, honest question, and said, somewhat conspiratorially, “Well, when I was born, the doctors thought I was a boy, and they put that on the papers. But my brain thinks I’m a girl. I dress this way to make it feel better.”

She went back to her party, and told them what I’d said.  The younger of the two adult women looked up thoughtfully, and introduced her family–her daughters, and her mother, the girls’ grandmother. They were from West Virginia, and to their knowledge, had never met a trans person before. She said, “would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

What followed was a 20-minute conversation on how I figured out who I am, and how the news distorts who we are to make us look bad, all the usual questions. I got off the train before they did, so I haven’t a clue where they were going, or what they talked about later.

Did it change hearts and minds? I’ll never know. But when they hear about an ordinance in their town or state that wants to allow discrimination against me and my trans brothers and sisters…they’ll remember. I could have been closed-up and private, or fled the train car, or something…but that’s not how I wanted those two little girls and their mother and grandmother to remember me.

You never really know the impact of the stories of your life. All you can do is live them, and do all you can toward a good impact. You won’t change the world overnight that way, but you’ll make a difference.


People who say they support kids, but only if…

November 1, 2017
Flickr user “Pictures of Money”, CC-BY 2.0

LBGT Nation reported yesterday on a Big Brothers Big Sisters of America chapter in Raleigh County, WV, that lost $80,000 in funding, when staff members took LGBT awareness training. The chapter is being forced to not accept any new kids into their mentoring programs–programs that are long-term, proven successes, as an awful lot of people can attest. It’s also well-documented that a great many LGBT kids end up homeless, through family rejection or bullying. Any bit of help that BBBS can give those kids, to maybe help them get through, is desperately needed, and staff need to know how to appropriately respond to those needs.

Maybe I’m just being obtuse here, but it seems breathtakingly callous to me to say, “I support these great programs for young people,” by donating a ton of cash, but then jerking the rug out when they *actually* do so, for a population that needs the help A LOT.

BBBS Raleigh’s not saying so, but it seems pretty likely to me that we have a case of religiously-motivated animus behind this. Some large business or church–or group of them–that regularly donates, has decided that if BBBS is gonna actually do anything for Those Gays, then they can’t have the money. Which proves, to me, that their “caring for kids” was a farce in the first place.

It gives me pause for thought–in the case of the organizations I support, do I really care how they accomplish their mission, or do I want to have some input into how they do their job? I’d like to think that I trust those organizations to do the best things to serve the goals I believe in, but it’s worth reviewing, from time to time. It’s a double-edged sword, in one sense–by insisting, for instance, that programs be inclusive of transgender youth, does that count as “telling them how to do their job?” When the push is toward greater fairness and equality, is that a bad thing?

An open source life

October 31, 2017
Ruth Holloway, CC-BY-SA 4.0

I’ve been a writer, I suppose, for a few years now. There’s really not some moment in time that I could point to and say, “after this thing happened, I was a writer.” But I am now. Writing is like long hair, or getting older, or falling in love–you realize, at some point, that you’ve been there for a while, and then you have to deal with it. I suppose I should blame my friend Nicole, or the team, since I’ve been writing there for over two years now, and that’s all their fault. But it’s not just that. I just felt like, for some reason, I had something to say, and started saying it. And here we are.

Somewhere along the way, as I approach my 50th birthday, I realized that living openly and honestly in all aspects of my life was, for me, the path to happiness. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but being honest with myself requires that I then be honest with the people around me, and open about who and what I am.

I’ve lived in the tech trade for my entire adult life. I’ve been a software developer, a system administrator, a hardware geek, a network admin, even a manager for a bit. I’ve been in open source communities for a decade now, and find that I feel comfortable with open source teams.

I’ve been a transgender woman now for 8 years. That, too, I have done openly. When I transitioned, it was still somewhat common that transfolk would try very hard to “go stealth,” change their name and career, and start over. But I had a long career at my back, and people I cared for, so that wasn’t an option for me. I decided instead to be open, to be that person who will unflinchingly answer those hard, embarrassing questions, while reminding you that asking others those same questions might not be the best idea.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. Hard lessons, easy lessons, inspiring lessons, lessons that made me cry. But every one of them was valuable. The most valuable, perhaps, is this one: people matter. People always, always matter. And the greatest currency anyone can have or earn or give is kindness and empathy for other people. Furthermore, you can spend it, and not run out. It’s not pie.

All of these lessons and experiences of a half-century of muddled up existence on this wild and crazy world of ours–I’ve learned from them, and want to share them, in the hopes that someone else will benefit by them, grow from them, or avoid the same mistakes I made along the way. So that’s what my blog here is about. I call it “an open source life.”

How did I get to be where I am now? What makes Ruthie the person that she is? Just ask. I’ll tell you. And I’ll speak from my heart, and show you how it feels to be me, just as easily as I’ll tell you the nitty-gritty facts.

I’m glad you’re here, reading this. I’ll be talking about an assortment of things–technology, LGBTQIA+ activism, living in Houston…could be anything; you just never know what’ll come up on any given day. So follow along, join in…and hang on. My life is many things, but boring is rarely one of them.