Queer Genocide


As I discussed in my last post, there were a very rough estimate of 15,000 gay men who were sent to concentration camps, marked with Pink Triangles, who received some of the most cruel and terrible treatment of any non-Jewish group. This doesn’t account for the numerous lesbian women who were also sent to concentration camps, but were considered ‘asocials’ along with prostitutes and mentally ill people. Further, unlike other groups, once the Pink Triangles were freed from the camps, they were often tossed back into jail, since homosexuality was still illegal in Germany and most of the Allied nations.  This post dives deeper into what happened to the Holocaust survivors after the war, and how this was a crucial turning point that humanity only part way followed through with, as well as theorizing how our world could have been different.
After World War 2 ended, the word “Genocide” was officially coined to describe the atrocities against the Jews in the Holocaust. Prior to that, the word did not exist, though there were events that could be classified as genocide prior to World War 2. In 1948, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) to ensure such atrocities would never occur again in our world. The convention defined Genocide as follows:

“Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group; 

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The convention went further to define and clarify which actions are punishable. It is important to note that, while actually committing mass-murder genocide is obviously punishable, any sort of conspiracy to commit genocide, attempts to incite genocide, or even being complacent to allow genocide were all punishable. Some examples include creating laws and policies to push the concept of genocide, restricting marriage, or separating and isolating certain groups of people. The following quote comes from Article 3  of the convention:

It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Article 3 goes on to expand on each point of Article 2. I think their explanation of “(d) Prevention of births” is very poignant:   

Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
It is important to stress that, according to the UN, the action of mass murder is incredibly heinous, but the intention of eliminating a group extends further than just physical death  Isolating a group, classifying them as lesser and deserving of lesser rights (causing mental harm), banning marriages, or forcing sterilization are all qualities of a culture leading to genocide. The parallels to the current day oppression of LGBT individuals are obvious. Many politicians still call us unnatural, disgusting, prevent us from being married, prevent us from adopting, and block anti-discrimination policies. Anti-gay camps still conduct medical experiments on humans to try and eliminate the gay gene or pray away the gay. Much has changed, but much more still needs to be done.
Unfortunately, the CPPCG specified only four protected groups as protected internationally from genocide; each a group that was targeted for genocide by the Nazis in the Holocaust:  national groups, ethnic groups,  racial groups. religious groups. It would be a logical extension to include LGBT individuals in this list, since they were also a group specifically targeted in the Holocaust, but due to the politics and the overwhelming homophobia, the plight of the Pink Triangles was brushed under the table. This can be seen as an extension of the Nuremberg War Trials, where the queer Holocaust victims was entirely ignored, where doctors who conducted inhumane experiments on living queer people were never prosecuted, and the world at that time and for decades after knew nothing about queer people being targeted. While it is not surprising that queer victims were silenced and ignored, given the rampant homophobia at that time, it is still a crucial moment where we could have, as a united group of humanity, decided that torture of any of our brothers and sisters was wrong, we instead decided to qualify that only some sorts of hate were not acceptable. At that time, we as a world society decided that trying to outright eliminate certain groups was unacceptable, but other groups might be okay to be washed away. It makes me wonder what would have happened, had the CPPCG not qualified only certain groups, or used more broad qualifications, where would we be now? It was not just queer groups who were left out; numerous social and political groups were discluded, which drew significant criticism to the CPPCG. 
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been freed and acknowledged like all the other groups of victims, what would that have changed? If “homosexuality” was included as a group protected by the CPPCG, what would be different? There would obviously have been greater justice, peace, and healing for the queer Holocaust survivors. But beyond that, governments around the world would have had to re-evaluate their anti-sodomy laws and other homophobic policies. Theoretically, there could not be any laws on the books that explicitly banned gay marriage, nor adoption of children, and there could be no restriction on gathering of homosexuals, if a nation was to abide by the UN’s guidelines preventing genocide. This would have put LGBT rights decades ahead of where they are now. Had this happened in the 40’s, LGBT rights may not be a controversial topic today. Of course, this is all theoretical, and even if the queer people were protected by the CPPCG’s definition of genocide, there would have been ways around the new standards and laws. Take for instance the plight of the African American community in the early 50s. 
In the early 50s, it became apparent to numerous African American rights groups that the standards set by the CPPCG preventing even the intention of genocide were actually not being met here at home. Jim Crow laws cruelly separated African Americans, inter-racial marriage bans put a limit on reproduction, politicians frequently debased and devalued the “Negros”. The parallels between what the CPPCG defined as pre-indicators of mass-murder genocide were often met in America under Jim Crow. In 1951, a petition entitled “We Charge Genocide” was presented by  the Civil Rights Congress, a pro-African American rights group, considered by some to be an extreme fringe group. They claimed that Jim Crow laws, lynching, and other forms of assault all qualified as punishable precursors to genocide, according to the CPPCG’s standards.  Their tactic, in part, was to publicly embarrass the USA on a global stage in efforts to force change at home – how could the USA claim genocide was atrocious while committing those same actions at home? While this petition was never adopted by the CPPCG, likely due to the UN’s relatively limited power at the time and the importance of keeping America as part of the UN, this tactic was later used by numerous civil rights groups. Pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom while stealing freedom from certain citizens proved to be an effective strategy to put pressure on politicians, and while this petition was dismissed, it still brought the issue to an international and very public stage in a way it had never been before. A similar strategy was used in the 60s to bring more pressure for equal rights for African Americans, and played a part in the legislative changes which came later.
Overall, it is hard to say what exactly would have happened had the LGBT victims of the Holocaust been recognized at the Nuremberg War Trials, and further as part of the definition of genocide and thus having the protection of the UN. However, we would be much further along than we are now. The world recoiled from the extremism of the Nazi Holocaust and made a decision at that point we would never allow such a heinous tragedy to occur again. Even if the movements were largely symbolic, a decision was made then that we would as a human race would grow past that and never again try to utterly exterminate any group of our brothers or sisters. However, we only went part of the way to that ideal. Because it was too difficult, only some groups were considered worthy of being protected. In many ways, it seems like a missed opportunity. While it was a monumental and historic occasion for the human race, we backed away because it was too hard. Perhaps its time to revisit the definition of genocide?
Some may say this has no relevance today, but queer genocide is a real thing that is really happening in our recent history, especially the intention to commit genocide, though actual mass-murder of queer people has occurred quite recently as well. Darfur and Uganda are two examples of modern mass-murder ‘genocide’ (though neither met the technical criteria issued by the CPPCG). Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws will throw people in jail (isolating them) solely for supporting queer rights. The justification used in Russia is the exact same as Nazi Germany, “homosexuals jeopardize the moral purity of Russia”. 
To a lesser extent the same genocidal intentions are present here in the USA. Conservative American politicians push the exact same dialog as the Nazis and the Russians to justify their positions; LGBT rights are immoral and acknowledging them lessens the value of the straight majority. The sort of dialog pumped out by these conservatives meets numerous of the criteria for genocidal intention. The sodomy laws and explicit bans on gay marriage violate the CPPCG’s standards. LGBT rights have come a very long way in the past few years, but we still have a long way to go, if the treatment queer people receive in US in 2014 could still be classified as precursors of genocide. 

The Invisible Queer Victims of the Holocaust

A few weeks ago, I went up to Cedar Crest College to speak on the last day of a week-long series of events focusing on the Holocaust, hosted by a very good friend of mine. At first, I had some hesitation over agreeing to the topic. While I knew queer people suffered during the Holocaust, I wasn’t sure how I was an appropriate person for such a presentation, but after preparing for my speech, I learned so much more about how the queer Holocaust victims received the worst treatment of any non-Jewish group, and unlike any other group in the Holocaust, even after being freed from concentration camps, the hatred faced by queer Holocaust victims continued for decades. I learned that while the Nazi Holocaust is long past, the genocides in Uganda and Darfur, as well as Russia’s new anti-gay laws show we may not be as far from repeating these mistakes as we would like to think. I wanted to share some of the story of what happened to gay people in Germany during this period in time, and highlight how many things have not changed in the past 80 years.
As a sidenote for some historical context, Transgender as a term did not even exist until the 90s. A transgender person living in the 1930’s and 1940’s would likely be considered to be gay, at this time. Even the label gay doesn’t quite fit, as it has a specific definition present day that doesn’t always match up with how people may have thought throughout history. As gender roles and cultural norms shift, behavior that we might think is “gay” may have been considered perfectly normal for a straight man at a certain time in history to do. That being said, “homosexual sex” is usually the big issue, and often focuses on male + male penetrational sex (often defined as sodomy, though technically the term refers to any non-procreational sex) being the truly heinous offense.
Prior to World War 2, things were relatively good for gay people in Germany compared to other European countries. While there were sodomy laws that made male + male penetrational sex illegal, the standard for conviction was very high, so it required a great deal of evidence to convict anyone of that crime. Gay social groups were allowed to exist so long as they did not actually admit to having sex. As the Nazis took power in the early 1930’s, that radically changed. Hitler and his regime practiced a strict policy of homophobia. In 1935, “Paragraph 175” of the Germany Criminal code, which up till then banned sexual deviants such as pedophilia and beastiality, was ammended to make male gay sex a punishable offense of up to 10 years in jail, lowered the standard of conviction significantly, and later gave judges the power to order compulsory or voluntary castration (which many were coerced to undergo anyways). While lesbian sex was not considered illegal under Paragraph 175, lesbians were considered asocials, since they did not meet the “German standards of womanhood” such as being a good wife and mother, bearing kids for your husband, etc. Other asocials included prostitutes, chronically unemployed, mentally ill, handicapped people, and more.
In February 1937, Henrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS, gave a speech in which he declared that <b>homosexuality threatened the moral purity of Germany</b> as well as the racial purity of the Aryan race. He also announced that, under his authority, any homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 would be sent to concentration camps once the court had finished with them. Informant networks sprung up, with kids informing on teachers suspected of being gay, gay groups being raided, having their membership lists used to identify more homosexuals, and all books relating to sexuality were publicly burnt. The program to send homosexuals to concentration had a slogan of “Extermination Through Work.”Men convicted under Paragraph 175 and sent to concentration camps were marked with a downward-pointing pink triangle (just as Jews were branded with a yellow Star of David). Lesbian women were branded with black triangles, marking them as asocials.
Life in the camps for the Pink Triangles was more awful than any other non-Jewish groups. They were strictly monitored 24/7 to ensure no men had sex. They were completely isolated in their own block, immediately killed if they so much as talked to a prisoner from another block. The Nazis were terrified the Pink Triangles would seduce the other prisoners, which was ironic, since homosexual sex was much more prominent in any other block which was not as strictly monitored. Not only did the Pink Triangles experience abuse from their Nazi jailors, but they experienced the same discrimination and hatred from other prisoners due to widespread homophobia; gay prisoners were even beaten to death by other homophobic prisoners. For every other group, the camps were made up of two groups, the Prisoners VS the Nazis, which gave all of the prisoners a sense of commrodery which helped many make it through the terrible period. This was not true for the Pink Triangles, they had no support, no group, no safety at all. Everyone was likely to want them dead. This complete isolation, even by other prisoners, had a terrible affect on the Pink Triangles’ psyche.
Pink Triangles were considered the lowest of lows, below the criminals, often not allowed to hold any sort of position of responsibility. If a homosexual man went to the sick bay, they were not likely to ever return. The Pink Triangles were the first to be taken for experimentation. This was especially true for numerous doctors who tried to <b>discover and destroy the gay gene</b> and <b>cure the gay disease</b>. Pink Triangles were forced to undergo 10-13 hours in grueling, backbreaking, pointless work meant to break their spirit and crush their hope. An example of this would be taking the first half of the day to move snow from one side of the road to the other using their bare hands, then spend the second half of the day moving it back to the original side of the road. Death rates of Pink Triangles was susptected to be 3-4 times higher than any other non-Jewish category of prisoner.
The torture for gay Holocaust victims did not stop after World War 2. As the Allied forces liberated the concentration camps one after another, most people were freed and sent home, many eventually given some monetary compensation or pension by the government for their suffering. Pink Triangles, however, were often taken out of concentration camp only to be returned immediately to German jails, since homosexuality was still illegal under Paragraph 175. Their time in concentration camps was sometimes counted as time served. Further, many other European countries (and America) still had laws banning sodomy, so even the liberators of the camps considered the Pink Triangles lower than criminals. The targetted torture of the LGBT people was not recognized at all in the Nuremberg War Crimes, which took place after the war ended to hold key Nazi officials responsible for the atrocities they commited during the war. Many of the doctors who committed atrocious experiments on humans to try to cure the gay gene lived and died as free men after the war. It wasn’t until 30+ years later that the German government officially repealed the part of Paragraph 175 banning gay sex in 1969. Even then, it was not until 2002 that the German government offered an official apology to the gay community. The last known gay Holocaust survivor died in 2008. Because of all the homophobia that was rampant throughout the area and the techniques used to silence gay Holocaust victims, nobody really knows how many gay people were in the concentration camps. Most reports range from 5,000 to 15,000 Pink Triangles in the concentration camps. Other reports site over 100,000 gay people being arrested and taken away. Over 60% of the people wearing Pink Triangles died after they arrived in the concentration camps.
Historically, this is a very sad story and a part of our story as LGBT individuals in a world full of hate and homophobia. But the ramifications of this event in our past are still only now being understood. For so long, gay victims of the Holocaust were invisible, it has only been in the past 30 years they have even been acknowledged, and only in the past 10 they have been officially recognized as victims of the Holocaust. I believe it is important for us as queer people to claim this part of our history. This is the end result of the homophobic speeches given by numerous conservative leaders to incite the masses against their queer brothers and sisters. This is where policies like those in Russia, where they are rapidly identifying and isolating any homosexuals, this is where those policies lead. Queer rights aren’t some new special thing, but the exact same rights conservative governments have tried to take from us for centuries. We are not some new movement that came from nowhere, we are a culmination of centuries of pointless hate, and we won’t take it anymore. Claiming our history is, in my opinion, a big step for advancing our identity as queer people, and an amazingly powerful driving force to make us not only crave equality and justice, but to know we deserve it.
Had the queer victims of the Holocaust been recognized immediately after the war ended, had they be part of the Nuremberg Trials after the war, I believe we would be living in a radically different and much more equal world. I will get into why I believe that in my next post, but I wanted to first explore some of the historical facts about the Holocaust.

Going Out and Being Outted

This past weekend, I went out to a bar with several good friends, to see one of our very close friends playing guitar for a funk show. Overall, the show was great, they had good energy, and my whole table was up and dancing most the night. For some reason, most of the rest of the crowd just sat back, took out their phones, and took pictures of us all dancing instead of joining in. Of course, we did not let this phase us and just enjoyed the show anyways; we weren’t letting anyone ruin our good time!

During the show, when we were dancing, a guy came up and started dancing with me, which was fun and exciting. I did have a quick moment of anxiety, wondering if this guy somehow knew I was transgender, and if he didn’t, what would he do when he found out? We danced, and his hands were on my body, and I was afraid but excited, and enjoying myself. Then the song ended, and I went back to my table. After that particular moment, I let go of the anxiety, I let the situation just slip from my mind as I enjoyed my time with friends at our table.

After the show, my friend who was performing joined us at our table, and we were all hanging out enjoying a pitcher of beer. The guy who had danced with me came up and joined us, reflecting on the show with my friend who played guitar. However, I noticed now this guy was using male pronouns for me. He even pointed right at me and said “That guy” more than once. I wasn’t exactly sober by this point, so it took me a minute to really understand that he thought I was a man. Several of my friends at the table noticed, but nobody was sure exactly what to do. It’s a situation most people will never encounter, what do you do when someone starts to assert your transgender friend is not really the gender they are presenting?

Many people I have been around when things like this have happened do not notice, or give the other person the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a slip up. After all, we all mess up pronouns sometimes, myself included. There is a difference, however, between a slip up, and intentionally asserting someone is not the gender they present as. A slip up happens inconsistently; if someone uses the wrong pronoun over the course of several distinct sentences or thoughts, I consider it intentional; not a mistake. This night, it was repeated, and intentional. It was not a slip up of a pronoun, but this man directly asserting to me and everyone at my table that the person in my chair was a guy. This would have been humiliating with most people. If anyone did not know at that point I was transgender, they now did, or at least would suspect this.
There are a lot of possible consequences in a situation like this. First off, this situation could be dangerous for the transgender person, especially if they are alone. There are countless stories of something like this happening, and when the other person realizes they have been flirting with a transgender person (which, to them, means the trans person is the sex they were born, not how they identify or present), they get angry they were “tricked” into being attracted to someone outside of their sexual orientation, and lash out in anger. This could (and often does) result in verbal harassment, beatings, rape, or death. Luckily, I was with many friends, so even if this guy was angry, he could not lash out at me. This behaviour often comes from straight men, but I’ve experienced such lashing out when a lesbian flirted with me, until she realized I was trans, after which she turned to her friends and started mocking me in front of everyone.

There are more than the physical dangers though. The emotional distress that can be caused by situations like this is significant and just as dangerous, though much less immediate. Being forced out of the closet in a public situation itself can have direct results (the typical dangers of being outted… being fired/denied opportunities/rejected by family or friends, etc). But there are indirect results too. Everyone in this world has the right to define themselves however they see fit. In these situations, someone else is invalidating a transgender person’s identity, asserting that they are not actually the gender they present as, and often puts transgender people in a lower category of person, which can make a transgender person feel isolated and helpless It may make a transgender person doubt themselves, or consider themselves not good enough. A transgirl like me may have spent a lot of time and energy to look pretty, like fixing my hair, applying make up, putting on a cute skirt, and wearing uncomfortable heels, and to have someone come publicly declare you are male makes that effort seem fruitless. Situations like this may result in the transgender person isolating themselves and avoiding social situations, especially out in public where this humiliation and danger could repeat.

If the transgender person is surrounded by friends or family who let this happen without intervening or defending them, the transgender person may feel like their issues don’t matter, that their friends don’t really support them, making it hard to trust them, which makes the trans person feel even more isolated. If you are a friend of a transgender person and this happens, my advice would be to use the right pronouns assertively. When some stranger says “that guy” correct them that there is no guy there, just a girl (or whatever pronouns your friend uses). It doesn’t have to to be confrontational, you can be polite about it, or give the person funny looks and laugh at their inability to comprehend a person’s gender.

Of course, trans people like myself deal with this sort of situation often, and we get better at dealing with them. Most times, you can ignore what some random person on a street says, or when some conservative nutjob says we’re monsters. But sometimes, it slips in passed all the armor we put up and truly hits us at the core. A person can cause damage our self-esteem and confidence in our gender expression. Even after we build all of that back up (which we learn to do in order to survive), there may be a lingering fear that the situation will be repeated the next time we go out. It’s a struggle not to let situations like this bring you down and prevent you from exploring new opportunities and situations.  I do believe that we are all individually responsible for our own happiness, but that does not mean we are completely unaffected by the things that happen to us.

For me personally, I was very lucky to be with friends who supported me that night. My friends stood up for me and laughed at the guy when he called me a man. The guy who was causing problems was driven home, and I had friends to support me afterwards. Still, it definitely impacted me, and reminds me why I try not to go to bars alone. It also leaves me wondering how this person knew, and what I could do to avoid it happening again, both questions for which I don’t have any answers and cannot change, nor prevent from repeating.

Returning

I haven’t written anything for this blog for several months. This past October, I lost someone whom I loved very much. It has taken me a while to grieve and recover, and during that time I really had no drive to write. I still miss this person, and think about him often, and I know he wouldn’t be happy to know I haven’t been writing, since he was also a writer. Besides that, I’ve truly felt like there is so much I’ve wanted to say and share that I have not. So rather than try to catch up for the past few months, I’m just going to start fresh and begin posting whatever comes to mind. Thanks for giving this post a look, and expect more soon!

The Mess We Are In and Why I Have Hope

This past month has been utterly insane in our country. We were only hours away from defaulting on our loans, utterly up-ending the global economy, and crashing the value of the dollar. This was all caused by a group of die hard conservatives who believed, if the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) went into effect, the Republicans would never win a presidential race for a generation. The ironic part is all of their efforts to stop this prophecy from happening led them directly into their feared outcome.

The rest of this post is a mixture of history, current events, speculation, and opinion. Take it for what it is worth, research everything, and start a conversation.

The Republican party currently is the majority in the House or Representatives. During their tenure, they have pushed things through such as voter restriction (voter ID), and redistricting (which is to say, they redrew the lines of where districts lines are in order to ensure it would be easier for only Republicans to win). These two things made it so certain conservatives were “safe” from challengers on the left, the Democrat simply could not win the race for House seats, and the reds were safe. This allowed these Republicans to be more and more extreme, which is why they can get away with the absurd amount of obstructionism. The conservatives feared that, once the Affordable Care Act (AFA) went into effect, the American people would be dependent on the government, and would never vote for a Republican wanting to take away the “free gifts” so the Republicans would never again win a presidential election. So the October 1st start date for the AFA meant this was their very last stand before they thought they would lose for good.Ironically, their desperation not to lose is what damned them more than anything.

The shutdown totally backfired, costing the US about 24 Billion dollars. On top of that, we may still have our credit rating downgraded. Worst of all, we have, in many ways, lost the respect of the world. How can we be trusted in business decisions if we might shut down the government any day? This will continue to have diplomatic implications in the future, but for now we have things such as the Chinese government-controlled news source saying we need to form a “new world order” and move to a “non-Americanized” global economic system. The entire game of political chicken left both sides bruised, but the Republican party were the ones who insisted on shutting down the government and threatening the world economy over a law that was inspired by the President, passed by the Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court, and re-affirmed in the 2012 presidential election. Because of that, they are the ones who ended up with more of the blame. I’ve seen polls now placing approval for the Congress down to 5%, with a +/- 5% margin of error. Meaning, anywhere from 0%-10% approved of Congress. That is disgusting.

A government without the approval of the governed, cannot govern. I feel this will more and more become an issue in our country. I talked recently with a friend, about why it is this bad, and I have a theory. My entire generation, born in the mid 80’s, have only ever lived under the idea of trickle-down economics. Our entire life, politics has been about the government getting out of business’s way, and giving as much as possible to the “job-creators” or the 1% or whatever you want to call them. That is the only America my generation has ever seen, we are the byproducts of Reganomics. But that is not the only America. Before Regan, we still followed FDR’s New Deal, which was an effective safety net binding together the American people, a form of egalitarianism. It was not perfect (it was full of racist tendencies), but the New Deal has been, piece by piece, torn apart over the past half-century, until very little remains standing. If this generation had grown up under the New Deal, we wouldn’t feel so jaded towards politics, which seems to only care about giving to the very most richest Americans. Countless court decisions have stripped away to protections for the people, and given more and more rights to corporations and millionaires to shield them from paying taxes, and allow them to harm the American populace. If we look a little further back at history, the New Deal was a reaction to almost the same sort of corporate takeover of America which occurred before then, with monopolies controlling more and more of American life. This shows me America moves in cycles, which means we can do the same thing again; we can make another New Deal, and change the way government is viewed by our generation from corrupt and worthless, to safe and beneficial. The federal government is not supposed to be controlling our every day lives, but providing for us a safe and stable place in which to live our lives.  That is not to say it will be perfect, but it could be better than it is. We have swung the pendulum from one extreme to another, and it can change again.

There are many potential paths all of this could follow in the next year. My hopes is that the 2014 midterm elections will see the Republicans who most fiercely pushed us past shutdown and towards defaulting held accountable for their actions. If we saw the Republicans removed from the House of Representatives, and continue with a blue Senate and Presidency, we could see radical change in the American future. The main obstacle holding back things such as student-loan forgiveness, environmental protection, income inequality protection, better healthcare, better investment on education, technology, green energy, even a big infrastructure project to jump start the American economy and fix our 50-100 year old road system, are the same obstructionist Republicans who shut down the government. If, in reaction, these people lost their power and we saw a wave of blue in return, we could at least take some steps towards a better, more compassionate society. It will NOT be perfect, and it will take time, but if we saw the Teaparty Republicans removed for their extremism, all of those things could take place, we could see movement towards a better future.

And so, I have hope. Nothing is set in stone; it is just as likely to fall apart as it is likely to get much better. However, I’m choosing to put my energy into hoping it gets better. I’d still like to find a better way forward, but for now, I have hope.

Broken

Recently in my life, I have come across several profoundly “broken” people, primarily women, but some men as well. I know these words might be hurtful to some, but it is true. We are “broken” not because we are weak, or because we are bad people, but because we have endured such terrible, cruel things in our life, that we are damaged. I’ve been alarmed to find so many broken girls, girls who struggle daily with panic attacks, with fear, who make bad decisions over and over, all rooted in the way they have been treated throughout their life.

As a woman who has endured through much of what I see in the people around me, I can’t help but be sympathetic. There was a point when I was so traumatized by what I have been through in my life, I was nearly non-functional. Panic attacks, flashbacks, constant fear, all plagued me daily, until I made some really hard decisions to change my life. I was lucky to have some really amazing friends to help me through that time. But they didn’t fix my problem, they just provided me guidance, support, and stability when I had none. No, looking back I can see that I was the one who overcame my own issues, I endured through the panic attacks so bad I was sure there would be no tomorrow, and I found that, not only is there a tomorrow, but it is full of unlimited potential, and it is beautiful. I don’t claim to be fixed, I know I am still, in many ways, healing, but now I see how far I’ve come, and I share what I have learned. My experience was unique, and I recognize that; I had to deal with transition and overcoming the childhood trauma, one right after another, if not simultaneously. But I still think the lessons I’ve learned might help others, so I wanted to share.

The most important lesson, and it sounds incredibly cruel, but in the end, you are entirely responsible for yourself, and you cannot rely that anyone else will take care of you. If you find someone who can help you, that is fabulous! But in the end, at the end of the day, it is you who are responsible for yourself, for your bills,  and your happiness. If you do not pay your bills, you’ll find your power and phone shut off. If you cannot make yourself happy, you might find yourself depressed and spiralling. If you can find a way to claim your own happiness, you can always stop your spiral, and when people are there for you, you’ll be even happier and stronger, but you will not need them to save you whenever anything is wrong.

The next most important lesson, is that all things have a start and all things have an end. Even if you are in the middle of the worst panic attack in your life, you can rationally point to when and where it started, maybe even why it started, if you’ve experienced enough of them. And, logically, you know every prior panic attack you have had has had a beginning and an end. So a safe conclusion can be drawn that the current panic attack started, and it will end as well. In this way, it is possible to get through any panic attack, because you know it will eventually end and you will be back to normal again. And once you recognize there is a start and an end to it, you can push towards that end faster. You can learn to take steps to make the panic attack go away faster, deep breathing, meditation, a stroll in the woods, a good cup of coffee, whatever it takes.

There is a commonality in both these pieces of advice. Both are about you taking control of your situation, and you improving it. It is all about you. It’s hard, but it’s true. And, its good. You take power of your life. You are empowered to fix your own issues. And once you can fix these problems, its easy to see how you can change other things in your life. Afterall, if you can overcome the most terrible terror and fear, something like climbing a mountain, riding a roller coaster, getting a new job, even something so mundane as paying taxes, it all seems so much easier in comparison. You take control of one part of your life, and it empowers you to take control of more. Then you can get yourself out of your difficult situations, and prevent yourself from getting into more bad situations, and slowly you can take control of your entire life. It’s hard work, but its more rewarding than any other work I have ever done, and the results are unlimited potential in a future I never expected to have.

Maybe this is just the ramblings of my caffeine-riddled brain, but tonight I got a really good picture of how far I have come since graduating college, and with how many people I see enduring the exact same thing I went through, I just wanted to share my thoughts. There’s a lot more to say, but for now, I hope this advice helps someone out there!

Lavender Graduation

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Lavender Graduations (also sometimes called Rainbow Graduations)  are special ceremonies held in colleges and even sometimes high schools specifically for the queer students who are graduating. This smaller ceremony is usually held a few weeks prior to the actual graduation ceremony, and serves as an opportunity to recognize not only the exceptional students who went above and beyond, either with their academic achievements or their contributions to the LGBTQIA community on campus, but to acknowledge the shared struggle of all the LGBTQIA students of being queer on campus. Students are usually given a rainbow or lavender cord to wear with their robes at the official commencement, to signify our shared struggle. It’s a somewhat new movement that has been rapidly gaining popularity over the past few years, which I think is amazing.  My college did not (and still does not) have a Lavender Graduation ceremony, however, a few of us queer grads were given rainbow cords to wear at commencement.

I was honored to be the keynote speaker for Bloomsburg University’s Lavender Graduation this year. It was my first experience at a Lavender Graduation, and it went really excellent. I wanted to share some of what I spoke about here as well.

I started college in 2005. At that time, there was 1 state that had legal same-sex marriage. Today, 10 states have legal same-sex marriage. Then, there was hardly any legal protection for queer people in PA. Now, more and more counties and cities are passing ordinances to protect the rights of LGBT individuals. Then, there was no discussion of transgender people in the media, except on Jerry Springer. Now, gay rights are discussed on the news all the time, then gay characters were still largely jokes. And now, polls show more than half of Americans believe queer people should have all the same rights and protections as straight people, which includes marriage. This is a struggle, for visibility and acceptance, that all queer people are part of. Whether you are a devoted activist, or you just support all of your friends who are queer, or you are out, or you are an ally, we are all part of this struggle together.

Finding employment as a queer person is often one of the biggest struggles, especially for any gender variant individuals. In the workplace, especially in white collar workplaces, you are expected to conform to certain standards, be it dress code, language, or even behavior. Often, these narrow standards have no room for variant individuals. It was something I in particular struggled with out of college. Luckily, at that point, I had been on hormones for about two years and passed fairly well, so it was easier for me to blend in. When I was outted, or outted myself, it often did create problems, especially around using the bathroom. But I was never ashamed of myself, and I was always honest. It helped a great deal to have a few allies in work who would either stand up for me, or support me when I stood up for myself. Overall, everyones’ experience will be different .

Depending on your field or even on your company, it may not be at all an issue to be queer and be out. On the other hand, some jobs will all but require you to be in the closet. It is important to decide for yourself how much you can put up with. Research your company’s discrimination and harassment policies. Find ways that you can be out comfortably without making it a confrontation. Maybe a picture of your partner on your desk or a rainbow flag or somthing. Many people in the “real world” haven’t encountered out, proud queer people. They may need time to figure out how to deal with that. Be patient, and try to educate others where you can. When you feel safe and comfortable, answer questions they ask; sometimes they will come out rude but often they don’t mean it. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt and clear up their misconceptions, but if they are being offensive you have every right not to answer and to politely ask them to stop.

Every time we educate a straight person, teach them to be more accepting and understanding of us queer people, it has a larger effect than we often see. That straight person, who may have never thought about what a transsexual person is, will be more understanding of other gender variant individuals they meet. If we can make an ally, not an enemy, we can make a big change. Its not just for the individual though; the more people we educate, the more people understand, the faster the entire LGBT movement moves forward. Indeed, the struggle of every individual queer person is always a part of the bigger struggle for equality, since the people we educate and help understand will undoubtably interact with more than just one queer person in their life. And if, later in life, their child comes out to be gay or their best friend transitions, they will be more able to understand, love, and support these other people.

We truly are striving together, and we are making progress. Every time a queer individual fights for their protection and equality, they are simultaneously promoting those rights for all queer people. And the person whom they educate will often be an advocate in some way, down the road, even if its something so small as using proper pronouns for a gender variant person or as big as shouting there is no difference between that gender variant person and themselves (one of my coworkers at my first post college job did just this – yelling at some maintenance person who called me disgusting). Its progress that we are all making together. We endure in hopes the next generation will not need to. We are changing the world for the next generation. But in order to make that change, we need to practice self care. Self care is essential for all of us, and getting a job that will allow you to be stable (while not driving you too insane) is essential. So the last piece of advice I shared with all the grads was this: You have so much to be proud of, and you have many struggles ahead. Take care of yourself, make sure you are stable and strong enough to face whatever comes your way.

Day in the Life: Passing

Last week, I met a new friend, who I know is very comfortable with transgender people – she has had many friends who are trans in the past. She said something to me that was very surprising to me, “You don’t look like you were ever a boy.” It was absolutely flattering, to hear that I ‘pass’ so well that even people familiar with transgenderism wouldn’t guess I was trans. It also made me reflect on my current situation of being to the point I pass more often than not now.

Its an odd sensation; after years of walking around somewhere in-between the two genders, of having the wrong pronoun used, of having to use my former male name, I am now at a new stage. My gender marker, my name, my appearance, and my mannerisms all point to the fact I am female. I walk down the street and am read as female. I go to work where nearly all of my coworkers only know me as female.

I used to absolutely dread going to bars; I would have to flash an ID that outted me immediately, which I knew (depending on the bar) could lead to embarrassment, teasing, and potentially much worse. Now, I hardly give it a second thought. There is still risk and I do recognize that, but I usually do not get outted unless I decide to do so myself. I can walk around the bar and blend in with most other girls.

I believe this gives me an amount of privilege; I really can blend in. If I want, nobody has to know I’m trans unless I want them to. Now that I am in this position, I understand why so many transwomen chose to go stealth at this point. Going stealth means transitioning, then living your life as your chosen sex entirely, doing what you can to hide the fact you were ever the other sex. I’m not quite there; SRS is a big missing step, but I am close enough I can see the temptation.

It isn’t the path for me; I like talking about being transgender, and I think it is important I continue to talk about it. If all transsexual people go stealth after transitioning, there would be nobody to guide the younger trans people just starting out, just as I was helped by several in-transition and post-transition women when I was starting. There would be no one to show the people just starting that yes, it does get better. Its often these people who have transitioned that can make some of the biggest impact in advocacy for trans rights. Because of all this, I don’t think I can ever go completely stealth.

Right now, I am really enjoying the position I’m in. I pass well enough I can live like an ‘average’ person when I want, but I can also stand out when I want, and I do, often.I feel empowered, it is my decision now.

Tweezing

Something I haven’t really told people, but I was quite self conscious about my eyebrows lately. I wanted to get them waxed or something, but the timing never worked out for various reasons. Part of it was some sort of weird anxiety about doing something so distinctly girly alone. I think it is not uncommon for a transgirl to feel that sort of anxiety from time to time. Its not that I don’t think I will pass, or that is wrong for me to do it, I just have a little hesitation sometimes about the most random of things for whatever reason.

I was having this anxiety, and so I decided to do something about it. At a local pharmacy, I saw a set of tweezers, and decided to take care of my problem myself. It took a while when I got home, and was more painful than I expected, but I took care of my problem; I tweezed my brows back to a manageable shape.

I guess the reason I wanted to post this very simple story was this: Sometimes we get anxious about stuff for whatever reason. We think, “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” and instead we shut down, we restrict ourselves from doing things. We think it would be easier, or safer, to just leave things how they are instead. Or that, we need a group in order to do it. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to stand up and do it anyways, sometimes its good to empower yourself, and resolve your issue on your own in a responsible way.

Most of all, I’m saying, we all have things that make us scared, so we can all move forward and overcome our ordeals

Defining a Gay Relationship

When someone says they are gay, it is often implied to be a simple meaning. If they are a man, that menas they’re into men. If they’re a woman, that means they are into women. However, with our new defnitions of gender, that becomes more difficult. What about someone who is between genders? What about transsexual people who are both?

I was once talking with a lesbian woman who I liked very much. We were flirting a little, but in the end, she said she was only interested in real women, with vaginas. For a long time, I was offended by this, despite the fact she was my friend. Is having a vagina her prerequisite to being a woman? Which led me to ask, is a lesbian relationship about two vaginas, or two women? How much of the relationship is about genitalia and how they interact? When its spelled out so bluntly, I think it sounds rather silly. But it all comes back to, how do we define man and woman?

Being a few years older and a few years wiser now than I was when I talked to this woman, I do understand now, sometimes people have a preference for being with someone with certain genitalia, and that is perfectly reasonable. People have their own sexual preferences. However, the question is, is this the same as being gay or straight?

For instance, a genetic female (a person who was born a woman and defines themselves as a woman) dates a transgender woman (who was born male but identifies as female), is that a lesbian relationship? What if the transgirl is pre-op or non-op (either before, or not intending, to get Sexual Reeassignment Surgery(SRS), and still has a penis), is that still a lesbian relationship? What if two transgirls were together? Would they be in a lesbian relationship only after SRS? Is it gay if they are both pre-op?

I have the unique experience of being a transgender woman who has dated other transgender women. Whenever I dated transgirls, there was a sense of shared experience. We both knew what it was like to deal with hormone replacement therapy. We both knew about makeup to cover stubble, we both knew about tucking, about re-learning to speak, about feeling suddenly self conscious about passing. We don’t even have to speak about it, it is just something we both share. We often tease, this must be how “normal” gay  couples feel when they start dating someone of the same sex, this sense of shared experience.

In the end, I find it hard to define what a gay or lesbian relationship is. I think the best way to go about it is to define the relationship based on the gender identity of those involved, but since gender isn’t a binary, often even those definitions are too limited.

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