Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for Activism

My Transgender Day of Remembrance Remarks

Tonight my church hosted the twelfth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Boston. I was one of the speakers, welcoming folks on behalf of my church. Here are my remarks:


Good evening. Thank you for coming, and welcome to my home.


I showed up on these steps four years ago, less than six months after my transition, and I was welcomed as an equal sister. I drum here, and I worship here. The Crossing community has prayed for me and laid hands on me during my process. They have marched with me and lobbied with me. This past Easter Bishop Shaw received me into the Episcopal Church as I delivered the sermon during the Cathedral’s Easter Vigil. I feel blessed and humbled to be a part of The Crossing community, and I am profoundly moved that my family is helping to host this Transgender Day of Remembrance.


As you know, this is a somber time, when we remember those that have been lost in the last year to violence. Sometimes the price is high when one lives an authentic life. There is fear, and misunderstanding, and hatred. Whatever the number of people we recognize this evening as lost during this last year, I suspect that the true number is higher. We simply are the victims of violence far more often than could be explained by mere random chance. We are targeted.


I have a dear friend who wonders why we do this every year, I believe she says something to the effect that we are celebrating our victim hood. And I admit that the heaviness of this day weighs upon me, even though this is only my fifth Transgender Day of Remembrance. It might be easier to just let this day slide by with barely a notice, to pretend that a day to remember our dead was unnecessary. But then the easy thing isn’t always the right thing. So while I’m very happy to have been involved with a special open mic night co-hosted by The Crossing and Transcriptions as part of Trans Awareness week, which was far more positive and celebratory, I think the importance of this night can not be overstated.


This past August, I volunteered at the inaugural season of Camp Aranu’tiq, a camp specifically for trans and gender-variant kids between the ages of 8-15. I got pretty attached to those kids, and I’m sure I’ll be back next year. Those kids were amazing, and it was a joy to be around them. This is our next generation. Many of them were experiencing the thrill of being themselves for the very first time at camp. Those kids just want to live happy lives being the people they truly are.


But the reality is stark. And the world that exists presents all sorts of difficulties for those who are perceived as different from some arbitrary standard. I want the world that those kids grow into to be so much closer to perfect than the world I grew up in, and yes, even the world as it stands now. I want those kids to grow into a world where they won’t have to go to a camp to be met with unconditional understanding and acceptance. My mother, when I was very little, taught me to always know that I am no better than anyone else, and I am no worse. I believe that we can all live together, celebrating each others similarities while basking in our uniqueness.


And so it is on this night, more than any other, that it becomes of paramount importance that we stand to fear and hatred, whether from within or without, and refuse to be anything less than our full selves. It is on this night that we should embrace the rich diversity that exists within our world of community, allies, supporters, friends, family, and loved-ones. It is on this night that we must change the world.


Thank you for joining us!


The Project of Laramie

So, the other day I saw a live performance of The Laramie Project. It was the first time I had ever seen it in any form. I also got to see the ten-year epilogue, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Both plays were extremely moving and very well directed and performed. I cried lots. The first play I attended alone, while for the ten-year follow-up I was accompanied by the Darling Boyfriend.

I confess that I vaguely remember the play when it first was done. I certainly remember Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder, but I was still so confused and hiding in 1998 that I couldn’t fully connect with any efforts to make the world better, even from afar simply as a spectator. I was also a little old; I’ve been amazed at how many young people saw the play (or performed in it) in their high schools. Truly amazing. But in 1998, when Matthew Shepard was killed, I was still agoraphobic, repressed, depressed, and even though I at the time thought I was bisexual, I was in deep denial about being trans (even though I knew, ya know? I suppose that’s what “denial” means), and I had never connected with, or really felt connected to, the queer community. So I felt horrible when Matthew Shepard was murdered, but I didn’t connect fully with the fact that I too could be ~hated~ like he was.

Now I joke that, even though I’m a straight woman, my history of transsexualism grants me a lifetime all-access pass to the queer community. That might sound glib, and I really hope it doesn’t. But in some respects I do find it interesting that it was only after my transition that I have felt comfortable embracing the queer community. And while in some respects I feel more like a straight ally, there’s no denying that my history gives me a certain perspective. I have a place in the world that it is what it is, and for me that means a connection to the queer community that will always exist.

And so the plays hit me very strongly. Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay. We’re approaching the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we remember folks who were killed in the previous year in hate crimes. I feel that I live a pretty safe life, yet there’s no denying that some people are terrified by my existence. I believe that most hate comes out of fear, and that the unknown is often the scariest thing around. [That’s why, as much as I used to think I would gradually live a fairly stealth life, I’m still telling my story so often and so publicly: if folks are afraid of the unknown, I want them to know that people like me are just ordinary people, and being so open seems the best way for me to do that.] But the reality is that I could be a victim simply because of who I am. I don’t live in constant fear or anything, but it is a sobering thought.

Anyway, the first play tells the story of Matthew’s murder. We meet Matt, members of the community, and the murderers. It is a very complete picture. There are reports from the young man who found Matthew, tied to a fence, clinging to life (Matthew died six days after the attack), the first officer on the scene, and the Emergency Room doctor. The play is a dry account of the townspeople’s words, but it is anything but flat. The words weave together into a compelling narrative. Laramie is a portrayed as a pretty normal town, the proverbial “any town,” with its own character, of course, but a sense of community that is strong and vital. The play introduces us to several gay townsfolk, almost all of whom find Laramie a mixed bag of a place to live. Perhaps my strongest emotional reaction was when the play introduced Matthew’s father.

It feels impossible to give the play a fair synopsis, beyond simply saying that it tries to tell the very complex story of how two young men brutally murdered another simply for being different than them and the community’s reaction to that crime.

The follow-up play, created ten years after Matthew’s murder, tells the story of the town now. I was saddened but how much some of the town’s residents have rewritten history. There are rumors of drugs and robbery (there were no drugs found in any of the three young men’s systems – and the investigating officers were livid at such assertions). There is the sense that the “New York Media” fabricated the hate crime to push their agenda. There is a protectiveness about the town by its residents: they don’t like Laramie being known for a hate crime. The problem with their thinking, to me, is that by saying “it could have happened anywhere,” they’re missing the point that, yes, it could happen anywhere, and that’s why we need to work to end hatred – everywhere.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the second play is the 20/20 report from 2004 which planted the seeds for all the false rumors about Matthew’s murder. The circumstances of the show, it’s obvious agenda, it’s treatment of the real evidence of the trial and investigation, which amounted to ignoring facts in favor of salacious rumor-mongering and victim-blaming was just shocking. At one time I watched 20/20 pretty regularly. I was disappointed that anyone considered a journalist would so distort the truth. Really sad.

There was a very touching part of the second play, when a bench at the University of Wyoming was dedicated to Matthew Shepard, and his father spoke. He had an obviously broken nose, and he told how when Matthew had been alive the two had an informal “competition” going to see who would break their nose more times. His father said that when Matthew had died he was ahead 3 to 2, and that now he had evened the score. And oh how I cried.

Both plays were powerful beyond anything I was expecting. It is so sad that we can let our fear and our hate so get the better of us that we can be driven to such horrible acts. Just sad.

As part of the plays production there were a couple panels organized. I actually sat on one. It was called “Be Part of the Solution” and we talked about ending hate crimes and programs and such. I ended up talking a lot about the camp for trans youth that I was a part of this past summer. The panel included some real heavy-hitters (someone involved with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, someone from GSLEN, someone from GLADD, the director that put on the first high school performance of The Laramie Project, and a couple others). It was sitting on that panel, and realizing that I belonged with the heavy hitters, that I finally realized that I have indeed become an activist. It was a heavy realization.

“Penny Larson, activist for transgender equality.”


Trans Camp

So, a couple weeks ago I was a camp counselor at a camp for gender-variant and trans kids. It was a sleep-away camp that lasted for a week. I’d never really gone to a sleep-away camp, so I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. Also, it was the first time ever for this camp (or, I believe, even for a camp like this anywhere), so we were all sort of learning as we went.

I can’t begin to say what an amazingly positive experience it was for me, to say nothing of what it meant for the kids. The kids were stellar, and it was just really special to be in an environment where everyone got it, and everyone could just be normal. I swear that I got as much or more from the experience than the kids did.

I even got to teach drumming to the kids!

Just a brief note, because there is too much to say that words can’t encompass.

If you want to make the world better, work with kids. They are the next generation…

Now it’s ~our~ story

So, last week the Darling Boyfriend and I did a video interview for a video being produced for All Gender Health. I was really glad we did it. The Darling Boyfriend continues to amaze me; several of his answers to questions just made me incredibly proud of him – he is a truly special man, and I am lucky beyond anything I could deserve to have him. The interview lasted about two hours, and it was awesome to be able to tell our story in a way that feels like it might be helpful and meaningful to folks. A couple things did strike me. One of the questions dealt with how I identify, and I had to be honest and say that I identify as a straight woman. I added that of course I have a transsexual history and that I identify as transgender politically, but my core identity is what it is (and actually, it’s drummer first and foremost). Next was how, when I explained the study to my mom she basically insisted that we should not be doing it because “you’re a woman now, why are you doing something for trans women.” And I see both sides, but I stand by my decision to do it, and the producers decided that I was a good fit, so there it is. It was nice to be part of telling such a positive story. Trans folk can fall into feeling unlovable and broken very easily, and I was glad to be telling a story in which I went from feeling that way to not only feeling lovable and desirable, but also being loved and desired. And telling the story along with The Darling Boyfriend really did make it ~our~ story. And that’s just kind of AWESOME! 🙂

Watching the Anger Flow

I usually stay out of transgender / gender identity / identity politics discussions on my blog. There are a few reasons for this. The most important thing is that I try to keep this blog very much about ~my~ story. This a place for me to work things and out and just be sort of a journal. It’s cathartic, it’s not intended to be a place for grand social statements. But also, those discussions so often get ugly beyond all sorts of reason, and I don’t like to wade into such harsh water.

But I’m tired of watching, as I say to my Darling Boyfriend, people going batshit at each other, so I figured I’d write about it. I figure this post has the potential to upset everyone I know (well, not everyone, but lots of folks that I consider friends). But these are just my opinions. I’m making no claim of “truth,” or divine knowledge. I am also not speaking for anyone but myself. I am not claiming to speak for others with any sort of “everyone knows” or “most people feel” kinds of statements. I own all of this.

It won’t surprise me (if anyone even reads my blog) if I trigger some harsh words. I guess I’ll just have to take what may come.

So, with the caveats out of the way (I love caveats)…

I’m really tired of watching folks who seem like such obvious allies be so hateful to each other. I have so many thoughts that I’m not even sure where to start.

First, I’ve started to realize lately that there are so many things that get conflated it’s difficult to keep everything focused. It seems to me that so much of what falls under transgender issues is just as easily described as sexism. Men and women have assigned roles and even in the 21st century those roles can be rigidly enforced. Men and women have different standards of dress, different expected professions, different goals, different ways of acting, etc. The list of differences, both politely expected and societally enforced, is quite long. I always knew that the world was different for men and women, but when I transitioned it became clear to me just how sexist the world really is. And yet, clearly, part of that makes sense to me on at least some level, because even though I think men and women are ~equal~, if there were no ~difference~ then why would I have needed to transition in the first place?

“Men and women” is a simple binary. Most people are comfortable with it, fit into it, and never realize that there are folks for whom the binary doesn’t work. It doesn’t make them evil or transphobic, it means that they’re comfortable enough with the status quo to take it as it is. One of my best friends recently had a baby, and I was amazed by how repeatedly his sex was reinforced (“You’re a big boy”; “Are you mommy’s good boy”; “Such a happy boy”). But it’s just about universal. Whether a baby is a boy or a girl is the first question people ask, even before they ask if the baby is healthy. This works for most folks. To ask them to change is asking a lot. To ask them to understand is a bit different. Understanding is something people should be able to offer.

Let me tackle the gender binary at this point. The binary works for me. I feel no need to destroy the concept of a binary, and I don’t see it as particularly helpful (or possible) to attempt it. I recently read a blog post that stated it more clearly than I can giving an example of how binaries aren’t intrinsically bad. I fit very well in the binary, and it seems like most folks do too (“even” most trans folk). I sort of think of it like an inverse bell curve. Most people are on either end, with some folks approaching the middle, and as it gets dead center there being fewer and fewer folks there. There are folks in the dead center of the binary, but that doesn’t invalidate the binary. Actually, I think that the evidence is that it works for the vast majority of people. The sexes are equal; but the sexes are different.

But what about those folks in the middle? I’d be lying if I said I completely understand them. I try. And many of my friends are more in the middle than it turns out I am. I consider some of them some of the most special and valuable people I know. One of the most difficult things with these folks can be what pronouns they prefer. I have it easy on the pronoun issue. I look like I prefer “she.” I sound like I prefer “she.” And I do prefer “she.” Lots of folks have a tougher time; their visual presentation doesn’t do an accurate job of communicating their preferred way of being referred to. I’ve seen over and over again the suggestion that people ask someone their preferred pronoun before using any pronoun. I think that’s unrealistic, and more so, I find it personally invalidating. I worked hard to make it ~visually~ clear that I prefer to be referred to as “she.” Just because I fit into the binary at this point I see no reason for invalidating my desire that my preferred pronoun~is~ assumed from my appearance. I understand that for some folks it’s not so simple. I even read a post recently by a person who wrote about folks who prefer to be referred to as “it.” I also understand the pain of being referred to by pronouns that are wrong. I think this is one place where a little understanding on both sides would just be helpful. I have exactly one friend who never misgendered me during my transition. I know how difficult it can be to stand up and explain that your preferred pronoun might not match the one expected just from your appearance. I have become as diligent as I can be about remembering and respecting peoples preferred pronouns. I think the nature of the binary is that asserting a preferred pronoun that is unexpected based on preconceived notions of appearance may be necessary, but respect for the preferred pronoun should be the norm. Being mildly surprised that someone prefers to be referred to as “it” is fine; refusing to use “it” to refer to that person because you don’t think it’s valid is not.

So, fine, let’s respect the binary but also respect the malleability of the boundaries, and the arbitrariness of most of those boundaries. Even though I’ve settled nicely on one side of the binary, I am in no way threatened by folks who traverse the binary or exist in the very center. I don’t get too upset at the folks trying to destroy the binary because I understand that it is a reaction to the sometimes unnecessary rigidity of the boundaries between the two sides of the binary, and also because I know that the binary is here to stay.

Next I want to talk about legislation. I think it’s important and right that gender identity and expression is added to hate crimes laws. It would be great to live in a world where “murder is murder” and hate crimes legislation wasn’t needed. I don’t live in that world. Not only are people targeted for violent crimes specifically because they transgress the gender binary, the crimes are also not taken seriously. A way to help remedy that is to specifically state in law that a crime against someone because they don’t look like they’re “supposed to” is not only an actual crime, it can not be minimized because the person was “asking for it.” Hate crimes laws help to eliminate specious claims such as trans panic. Trans hatred and violence can strike anyone, even folks who are years past transition and blend perfectly, and even non-trans people. Making a specific legal statement that violence against people who transgress society’s gender norms is a good thing. I think we all, every single one of us, benefits from that.

The second part of that is anti-discrimination legislation. I think this is important as well. I’ve seen too many people kicked out of homes, lose jobs, and face all sorts of unnecessary and wrong-headed things just because they don’t look like they’re “supposed to.” I think that’s wrong, and I think a law would be helpful.

A part of this that no one wants to address is the restroom issue (the gender-identity and expression hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill in Massachusetts is deridingly referred to as “The Bathroom Bill”). It’s incredibly trivializing to diminish all of these issues to where one goes potty. I don’t understand the extreme emotions that are generated around this. I do have my feelings about it, but I’m not super high charged about it either. I do understand the confusion when folks who are non-gender-normative have to use a public restroom. It’s tough on both sides. During my transition, when I wasn’t sure I was blending yet, I spent months going to great lengths to never (and I mean ~never~) use a public restroom. I just felt more comfortable that way, but I don’t think that’s a realistic solution for folks. Now I just go pee and don’t think about it, like most women do. I don’t think even the most nutty people are seriously suggesting genital-checking before entering a restroom (well maybe a couple are, but that’s not most peoples concern in my experience). When I began my transition, one of my guy friends asked what was to stop him from using the ladies room if he said that he felt like a woman. I never did have a good answer for him. And I know that the reality is that it really doesn’t happen. But there are people like Jasper, who wonders why it isn’t all about what’s in their head. And I have to confess that I would be at least mildly uncomfortable if Jasper followed me into the ladies room. The reality of this part of the issue is that it seems like most people don’t really notice who else is in the restroom with them. I scope people out very generally, because the restroom is a place of vulnerability, but for the most part I’m tuned out as I usually am.

Jasper brings me to the “this is all in our heads” issue. Well, where else would it start? If I’m a woman now, then to me I always was. But that means at some point I was a woman with a penis. There’s a whole debate about women with penises (I’ll get to that next). I was a particularly depressed person, and my life since transition does seem like I have really figured out something that enabled me to live an actual life. So I clearly believe in transition and surgery. But if Jasper causes issues for me, I’m admitting that I have a line somewhere that it feels difficult, if not impossible, for me to cross. Once I’ve admitted that there is a line, where the line is becomes the important question. I think this is a complex and nuanced issue, and acting like there are easy and pat answers in any direction isn’t helpful.

And there’s this pending national ENDA legislation in the US. It’s looking like it will be trans-inclusive but only in so far as someone has or has not had surgery. Stuff like this really makes me wonder about the whole condition of transsexualism. I see surgery as the easiest big decision I ever made. It was the perfect thing for me. I am amazed at how much my vagina has become a part of me in a way that I can’t really imagine a time before surgery. But is my having had surgery really the thing that validates me? My mom described me as “all woman now” to the neighbors (!) after I had surgery. A friend of mine said that my decision to have surgery demonstrated a certain level of commitment to my transition. Clearly surgery matters to people. It remains amazing to me that anyone (beyond my Darling Boyfriend) really cares what I have in my panties. What if I had born 200 years ago? Would I not have been transsexual just because the best thing I would have been able to do would have been to remove my testicle? What are people going to think in another 200 years when as yet undreamed of surgical interventions will exist? Will they look back on us as pretenders or wannabes? It’s become a catch phrase for the “surgery makes you a woman” camp that “women don’t have penises.” Well, they don’t have prostates either (the prostate is not removed during SRS). If I am a woman (and I know with every ounce of my soul that I am) it was not surgery that made me a woman. I was a woman and I had surgery to stop my brain from hurting so much (and it worked). But if we’re going to play the “physicality makes you what you are” game we’re going to leave out most transsexual men, at least for now, because they don’t have the surgical options that transsexual women do. I’m not down with leaving out transsexual men. So I don’t think surgery can be the end-all-be-all when it comes to legal status. Again, it’s complicated and nuanced – and laws suck at that.

I’ve been presented with a lot of “loving the body God gave you” imagery lately, mainly out of the movement away from being the perfect little size 4 Barbie doll (as if I could ever…). And I see how complicated this issue really is. For someone with transsexualism, learning to love the body God gave you may never be possible. Surgery was the only thing that worked to make me stop hating myself and my life – and it has worked incredibly well. But surgery isn’t the right thing for everyone.

One of my best friends is a woman who has chosen, for now, to “not decide” whether SRS is the right choice for her. To me that doesn’t diminish her value, or her conviction, or her womanhood. She is one of the most thoughtful, special, and powerful people I know. I wouldn’t for a second push her to have surgery or judge her if she decides to never have surgery. This isn’t a contest. I’m not trying to be “more woman” than anyone else, I’m just trying to be authentically me. I wish everyone the peace of mind that I’ve found, whether that means surgery or no, full time or part time, “he,” “she,” “they,” “sie,” or “it.” I value people as individuals. And I judge people as individuals. I’ve known folks that are jerks and folks who are lovely in all walks of life and of all genders and sexes.

So I understand that ENDA may ignore folks whose expected genitals don’t match their presentation. Especially in the United States we’re pretty conservative about sexuality and genitals. I’d be comfortable with unisex restrooms as the easiest way to solve a lot of these issues, but I know most of my fellow Americans aren’t down with that. I hope there’d be more understanding on all sides, but it seems like that isn’t the case.

I haven’t even really talked about labels, because I’m tired of them and they just cause fights. I’m finding labels difficult to discuss even amongst some of my closest friends. Everyone finds the way to define themselves that works for them, and I’m a big supporter of that.

My mommie told me when I was very little: “You’re no better than anyone else, and you’re no worse either.” I believe that. It’s a small planet, and we’re all in this together. Disagreements are bound to happen, but they don’t need to degenerate into name-calling and anger and hatred.

Be excellent to each other…

Learning the Language

Tell me about the man who became a woman.
— ten year-old to Bishop Tom Shaw after he received me into The Episcopal Church
Did you used to be a guy?
— The Darling Boyfriend right after I told him about my history of transsexualism

I’ve been talking a lot lately to a lot of people. I’ve been meeting new people. I’ve been reconnecting with old friends. I use specific language to tell my story when I speak with people, but other people make a muddle of all the words and concepts that they have for transsexualism, transgender, intersex, genderqueer, and queer folks. I’m not talking about people who think I’m some sort of freak or abomination; I’m talking about folks who are very new to the concept that a woman could be born with the wrong body – or that someone might not be comfortable with our easy little binary of “man ~OR~ woman” – or that someone might dress like what is perceived to be their opposite sex for either fun or profit – or that someone might feel more comfortable identifying with the opposite sex but might not need or want medical interventions. I’m talking about folks who are eager to understand, but don’t yet. And maybe they can never fully grok the experience, that’s fine. The very fact that they’re asking questions and interested in understanding as best they can is something that is really lovely.

All this expansion has taught me that I need to let go of my rigid sense of self when it comes to other peoples word choice. What does that mean? Well, I’m a woman. I get that. I was born with a birth defect. I get that. I’m heterosexual and so is my boyfriend. I get that. I’m my mother’s daughter. I get that. I’m infertile, and my infertility bites at me just like it would at any woman. I get that.

But I didn’t always have words to describe it. I don’t know anything now that I haven’t known for my entire life. But when I was six I didn’t have words – I just hurt myself. And when I was 12 I didn’t have words – I just tried to figure out why I felt like I might be a girl even though I had a penis. And when I was 16 I didn’t have words – I just knew I hated the effect testosterone had on me. And when I was 18 I didn’t have words – I just knew that I wanted to have sex with men. And when I was 20 I didn’t have words – I just knew that I wanted to wear feminine clothes. And when I was 25 I didn’t have words – I just wanted to paint my fingernails. And at none of these points could I see the whole picture. I was glimpsing pieces of the puzzle, never able to fully accept or process what I was seeing. What seems so annoyingly obvious in retrospect was completely confounding at the time – in the moment.

And so, if I didn’t always have the words for it ~while I was living it~, how can I possibly hold others to a higher standard than that? Why was it ever difficult to be patient with others? Maybe it was an expression of my own frustration finally coming out. Maybe I’ve been militant about language simply as a reaction to my own inability to find the right words for so much of my life. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

It was the bishop telling me about that question the 10 year-old asked him: “Tell me about the man who became a woman.” Six months ago my skin would have crawled and I would gotten all language-police about it – yes, even with a ten year old. But in the moment when the bishop said that I finally put it all together. I fully support the people who live very quietly about their medical history, but I think it’s important for the world to understand transsexualism and transgender and intersex. I think it’s important because people still misunderstand and hate and hurt. I believe that the world can be a better place. And so for me, right now, what I need to do is, as I said in my last post, tell my story.

For that ten year old, the words he has are “the man who became a woman.” For my Darling Boyfriend it was “used to be a guy.” Another thing I’ve heard from people is that I “decided to be a woman.” There are many more misconceptions and poor ways to word things, but almost always it seems like it’s done more from ignorance than hatred.

And so I have decided to make a conscious effort to not take the way anyone else describes me personally. It won’t always be easy, I’m pretty sensitive after all. But most people seem to be just curious and they’re doing their level best to understand. It’s tempting to react with Calpernia Addams’ “Bad Questions” when people are ignorant in ways that cause some discomfort, but I’m feeling like I don’t want to do that. I’m very lucky in that I blend really well, so nobody ambushes me with these questions anymore, and that is a help. I’m consciously putting myself out there from a position of strength to be a tool for education. Few people know the answers to these questions better than those of us living it; I think it makes sense for me to be answering those questions – even when they’re really personal. Who better, right?

So, while I will maintain my own focus and integrity with my story and will endeavor to be even more clear with my choice of language, I will also allow for the fact that many other folks will be learning things that they may have never considered before. They will need time, space, and patience to learn the correct language. It makes it especially difficult because there are several different ways to say so many of these things; there are so many different ways to tell the stories. I can offer my story, and I will do it sincerely, openly, and gently.

Let’s all educate each other…

Clarity and Being Open

“I still struggle with it. I remember when I was little trying to figure out if I was a boy or a girl – I mean, I know I’m a man…”
— a friend
“You’re Tranny Famous.”
— another friend

It’s become clear to me lately that I’ve made decisions in the past couple years that have lead to me being fairly public about my history of transsexualism. It shocked me when I realized that I could walk through the world as a woman. I never expected to have the choice to be secretive about my history.

I still remember the very first moment when the world made it clear to me that it saw me as a woman. A few years ago I was teaching an at the time new student, and I mentioned to her that I had a trying week as I had just had the court date for my divorce. And without missing a beat she asked, “Oh, and was he a musician too?”


It hit me really hard in an amazing way. I suddenly really, ~really~ got that I was seen as a woman, and that people would assume that I was a straight woman (which I am). I had officially entered the “normal” part of the gender- and hetero- normative world. It was strange at first. It felt like the ultimate acceptance and recognition all at once. I managed to stammer a “no” at my student (because my ex isn’t a musician) – I couldn’t see a value in telling my student that my ex was a she and not a he.

And so I realized, to use the term we use, that I pass. I amble through the world and everyone sees me as the woman I am. It’s about the best feeling ever. I never, ever take it for granted. After all those years of being an almost-person, living a life horribly askew, I was given a very clear insight that the world agreed with me – I’m a woman.

And yet, for some strange reason, I keep outing myself. Over and over again, I tell my story in more and more public ways. That second quote at the beginning of this post was made about me. I understand the decision of so many women to keep their histories more private than I do. It’s tiring; answering the same questions over and over again, having assumptions made about me, my boyfriend, my ex-wife, my friends, it just gets heavy sometimes. I often think that maybe I should keep myself more private and go about the task of living my nice normal little quiet life.

And then I hear people say things like the quote that began this post. Someone said this just the other day. And I remember why I’m doing this. I’m doing this for all the time that I struggled with my transsexualism. For all the times that I beat myself up, pushed other people away, and just lived a life that wasn’t my own, I feel a need to be open about my history. I’ve come to the point where I feel like this was part of the deal I made with God. I often say that my transition was as much about me giving up and stopping fighting against reality as it was a conscious decision. I now view that more clearly as giving in to God’s plan for me, and part of that plan is evidently for me to be involved in education. I certainly can’t speak to the science as well as some people, and I’m not a political firebrand like some of my friends, but something I’ve been practicing doing since I was very little is telling my story.

It took me a very long time to finally put all the pieces together. I’ve talked several times about the reasons for that. Yet now I have a clarity that I find an amazing blessing. The pieces of my life finally fit. I can look back at my early years and I can understand so many of the decisions I made, so much of the confusion I faced, and so much of the anxiety and depression I lived through.

I’m not saying all the answers, far from it. But I’ve been blessed at this point in my life with a great deal of clarity. I see things that I never saw. I understand things that baffled me before. I have experience and skills I only dreamed of before.

And when I see someone express the confusion that I used to live with, it breaks my heart, and I want to reach out to them, and help.

And even further, I know that the only way I have of possibly helping folks is to just talk to them and tell my story. My story is unique, because all of our stories are unique, but I believe there is value in more stories being told, so I will add my voice to the chorus.

And I will tell my story with my words.


I’ve seen so many folks labeled under the Trans umbrella talk about duality, as in they feel the duality of both sexes inside. That’s not the kind of duality I want to write about today, for I don’t feel that duality. I feel 100% woman (whatever the hell any of these words mean – what I mean is, now that my soul and my brain and my body all “match,” there is no feeling in me that ever makes me question my womanhood). I am not a third gender. I am a woman who was born with the wrong body. Honestly at this point I feel fairly unremarkable (besides the drumming, I’m awesome for the drumming).

The duality I want to write about is my ability to see merit in both sides of almost every argument or disagreement (as a side note, The Darling Boyfriend is really great at this too, and I think it’s one of the things that makes us so compatible). I’ve joked that I’m nothing but gray. It’s funny, because lots of my closest friends are ~very~ black-and-white. I just can’t dismiss anyone’s point of view. I am trusting and naive, and I believe that what people say is what they really think. I give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that people are all basically good and just want to live happy lives. Those last few things actually get me in trouble sometimes, as the world tries to show me sometimes that they’re not true, but I still firmly cling to my beliefs about the goodness of all people, even when we disagree.

I’ve always been a peace-maker. I simply do not understand why people are horrible to each other, and I never have. This is a tiny world, and we’ve got to share it. I’ve always thought the best way for that to happen was for us all to get along (yes, I channel Rodney King, sorry).

And so the manifestation of this duality I want to write about today is a rift that exists between some folks who were also born with similar issues to my own [it’s hard to say “the same,” because there are so many variations that both the physical and neurological inter- or trans- birth anomalies can take that it seems nearly everyone has their own physical and historical experience and perspective and I don’t intend to minimize anyone’s individual story]. Duality might not even be the right word, as it seems there are several different points of view. I know lots of folks, and I read several blogs, and I read other resources on-line. I’d like to be specific, as it would make some of my points easier to follow in some ways, but I don’t want to single anyone out so I’ll keep this a bit general.

There are those who want to put their medical history behind them and live quiet lives. I sympathize with them. I read their blogs and I agree with so much of what they say. This group of folks isn’t too happy with any label or modifier being attached to their womanhood, and I really understand that (like ~really~). I didn’t do anything special to have a label. I was born with a birth defect. I had surgery when I was three, and another one when I was 38 to correct this birth defect. It’s not really an identity, it’s just a medical issue. My medical history is not what makes me special; the way I have lived my life makes me special. I didn’t sign up to be anyone’s poster-child just by being born and living my life. These folks talk about maintaining and protecting their privacy, and I completely respect that.

And then there are those who are out and proud about their history. I know many folks who proudly proclaim themselves as transgender. I confess that I do understand these people as well. Just as there was nothing I could do about having been born with the wrong body (and I certainly had no say in that genital surgery when I was three), short of having that wrong body surgically corrected, so too I have nothing to be ashamed about. I remember how completely alone and misunderstood I felt when I was six, and twelve, and seventeen, and twenty-three. I wish I had seen other people like me out in the world willing to talk about their stories. I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to be open and vocal about their histories.

And then there are people whom I don’t claim to understand, who feel more comfortable expressing some form of androgyny. I find these folks fascinating (and often they’re the strongest people I’ve ever seen), but I confess to not fully understanding their experience. Which is perhaps why I hang around with them and feel drawn to them, because I hope to understand their unique stories.

Let me stop and say that I recognize “transgender” as a flawed term. It is both a specific and a general. It specifically means folks who cross-dress and live full time as the opposite gender without hormonal or surgical intervention (usually), but it has also been gradually taken to mean anyone who has any sort of gender or sex-diversity. It’s sort of what it would be like if tomorrow we decided that we’d use the label “Chinese” not only to mean people from China, but also all Asian people. That wouldn’t work – neither, really, does “transgender.” It’s a flawed word, and it creates a flawed way that people who are lumped under the “transgender umbrella” are viewed. It annoys people to be labeled as something they are not (call a Vietnamese person Chinese, and see if they don’t correct you), and the word transgender forces that. I hate the word transgender. I’m not trans anything. I was always a woman. I was born with ambiguous genitalia and I had surgery to have it corrected. And don’t even get me started about all the misconceptions people have about the word transgender. I hate all the baggage and hate and misunderstanding that is attached to the word. And yet, at least for the time being, transgender is the word I have. I didn’t vote for it; I didn’t pick it; I don’t endorse it, but someone, somewhere, decided that this was the word that made sense, so until something better comes along, this is the word I’ll use. So, whatever, I hate the word, but I use it because even as flawed as it is, it is useful at this point to convey things in a general sense.

So, there are folks who eschew the word transgender, or any label that would add a qualifier to their womanhood (or manhood), and there are those who proudly embrace the term transgender and its derivatives such as “trans woman” and “trans man.” And I understand where all of them are coming from. But they all seem to think each other is wrong, and irredeemably so. They fight and troll and yell and call names. And it makes me very sad. I’ve met hateful people of every stripe, and I’ve met beautiful and sweet and lovely people of every stripe. I wish people could just judge each other on their individual merits and only take as interesting details what group someone is a part of. I like to mention the fact that I’m Swedish as a comparison to my medical history. There could be a time and place when being Swedish might be seen as a negative (Sweden occupied Finland for quite a while, and were fairly unkind to the Fins, and the Fins rightly felt pretty negative about Swedes), but I would hope that people would still see me as the person I am, with any modifiers attached to me as mere details. My merit as a human being wouldn’t change just because peoples perceptions of Swedes could change.

I sort of walk this middle-ground between the two sides, and I hope that I still can. I’m very supportive of people living quiet lives of privacy where their medical history fades into the background. I recognize their desire to just live a normal life (and I have a similar desire). And I’m also very supportive of people who are out and proud, and I recognize their hopes for the world. I’ve seen people act with grace and dignity whether they’re living quietly or openly, and I’ve seen people act poorly, whether they’re living quietly or openly. It seems like the way they choose to deal with the greater aspects of their lives aren’t necessarily pertinent in how they choose to act when interacting with others. I just try to tell my own story, and live my own life, and only once in a great while will I even talk about general stuff like this anymore. It’s much more fun blogging about drumming or the Darling Boyfriend or sci-fi conventions.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this whole examination process on my part has been the recognition that I admire so much people who so vehemently disagree with each other.

I think it might be relevant that I see myself as a straight ally to GLB folks. I’m also a monogamous ally to Polyamorous folks. I’m a fan of equality. But that seems like a separate point for another time.

And so I’ll continue to talk about my medical history, and I’ll continue doing it as a seeker. I’ll get frustrated with myself and others. I’ll still see the merit in both sides when others disagree. I’ll still naively hope for reconciliation. I’ll still believe that I can make the world a better place, especially for those born with similar issues to my own (here’s two of my pet issues: leave babies’ genitals alone {no non-emergency genital surgery on anyone before the age of consent} and insurance coverage of sex-affirming surgeries). I’ll still hope to make the world understand.

I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

(Yes, I’m aware that I’m unrealistically optimistic, it’s just my nature – as someone said last night: I’m very New Age. But I believe in a perfect world, and I believe we can create it together.)

Trans Lobby Day 2010

“I might have to become politically active.”

I said that to my Gram about five years ago, when I first told her that I was trans.

I was never one to stand up for myself. I was never one to separate myself from the crowd. I was never one to be political. And yet here I am, going to meet with my state legislators to urge them to support the Trans Civil Rights Bill in Massachusetts.  My words to my Gram have come true, and I’ve become politically active.

Of course, it’s been building for a while. I met my state senator about two months ago and urged him to help move the bill out of the judiciary committee. I’ve volunteered a few times with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. I marched in the Trans Pride parade in Northampton. I marched in the Pride Parade in Boston. I organized an open mic night at my church to support Trans awareness. I went to The Day of Remembrance. I blog. I tease and pretend that I’m not really that active, or that I don’t do too much, but I guess I really am pretty out there.

And so it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t go to the Lobby Day today; it was just something that I knew I would do.

It was an amazing day. I saw so many people I know, and so many people that know me. This really is my community – not because we share some connection to the “trans-umbrella,” but because these are my friends; these are lovely people; these are special people. These are people that I am proud to call my community.

I listened to the speakers at the rally, and there were many, and they were moving. I was surrounded by members of my church, including my priest, and I was moved to tears several times. Hearing folks talk about the discrimination they had faced simply for not conforming to what society thinks a man or a woman is supposed to be was heart-breaking. Hearing some of the legislative co-sponsors of the bill speak helped to balance that heaviness with positivity.

After the rally I went off to see my legislators. I saw staff members in both offices. My Representative, A. Stephen Tobin, is a co-sponsor of the bill, so I offered my thanks. My Senator, Michael Morrissey, was on vacation somewhere warm (smart man). He is a supporter, though not a co-sponsor, so I again offered thanks and urged his staff member to have him write a letter to the judiciary committee to help move the bill to the full houses of the legislature for a vote.

I also made a new friend who lives about a mile from my house. That’s pretty cool!

From chatting with folks, it seems like Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, the chair on the house side of the joint judiciary committee, is holding the bill in committee. And it seems the issue, as it seems to always be, is scary trannies in bathrooms. It makes me really frustrated that the issue is framed this way. In my experience, people who are trans tend to get in and out of the restroom as quickly as possible to avoid any stir. When I was in the midst of my transition, for example, and wasn’t sure whether I would be seen as an intruder in the ladies room, I went to great lengths to avoid using public restrooms at all. I would purposely dehydrate myself so that I wouldn’t have to use a public facility that everyone should take as a public accommodation. When I would go out to gigs I would refuse to use the restroom out of fear that someone might make an issue of me being in the “wrong place.” I often ended up in great physical discomfort, and I’m sure it’s possible that I did some damage to my kidneys, but I was that terrified of using the ladies room. I finally got over it when I flew to Iowa for some gigs. When I was at the airport I had to pee, so I went and peed – I even stood in line. And the world didn’t end. I had been living full-time for eight months by that point, and I had still been too scared to use the proper restroom. It’s just so sad that something that most trans folk are terrified about is turned around and used as if we are just trying to get into public restrooms to cause mischief. *sigh* I have yet to see a report of a trans person causing trouble in a public restroom (short of “causing trouble” by merely having the temerity to exist). It’s just so sad.

So, I feel positive about the day, and my activism. But I also feel sad that it seems so easy for others to hate and fear people whom they don’t understand.

Trans. Rights. Now.

Meeting my Senator

So, I’ve been super-busy these last few weeks (as regular readers would notice), but I’ve got to try to catch up a little bit, as so many amazing things have been happening.

A couple weeks ago I met with my state senator to urge him to support the transgender civil rights bill before the legislature. I can say whatever I’ve said about labels, both my own and others, but I feel very strongly that no one should be discriminated against based on how the world perceives the rightness or wrongness of their gender expression. And so I think this bill is important. To say nothing of how much easier (and earlier) I think my own transition could have been in a world that understands the diversity of the human condition.


I met with the head of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition before the meeting, and also met a wonderful couple who went with me to meet our senator.

We didn’t get to see the senator for long, as he was late for a caucus, but we did sit with him for a few minutes. I told him that we were there to ask him to support the transgender civil rights bill, and he said that he would. It was sort of weird, because I had been lead to believe that he was a little more luke-warm on support than he seemed. He looked me right in the eyes and said that he couldn’t see why he wouldn’t support it.

So, yay!

I was pretty damned nervous going into the state house, but the day became a very empowering experience.

I am amazed at the person it turns out I am.

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