Gender Expression

I get a lot of weird questions when I’m presenting to LGBT groups about trans issues. Usually the top of the list ¬†of most commonly asked questions have to do with my genitals or my former name. But one of the questions I always found the most odd were when the queer audiences would ask why transgender rights were advocated alongside gay and lesbian rights. On some level, I could understand why they would ask that; on the surface, trans rights may seem very different from gay/lesbian rights. But it still seemed odd to me, and I’m quick to point out to others, a gay man doesn’t get beaten up because he is attracted to men; he gets attacked because he expresses in a way that is outside of the typical expectations of a man; he is not being ‘man enough.’

Likewise, a lesbian woman doesn’t draw discrimination from being attracted to a girl, but by expressing those feelings, by not wanting to wear makeup or being more aggressive than women are ‘supposed to be’ in conversation. Maybe its something physical, like walking down the street holding her girlfriend’s hand. Regardless, it is not the internal feeling of attraction that draws discrimination; its the expression of these feelings. In fact, one of the most common arguements against gay rights is that we want to be so “in people’s faces with our gay-ness” which means, we wont just quietly love eachother in the closet; we want to come out.

The LGBT community has fought for 50+ years to earn the right to express ourselves. We do not want to be afraid to walk down the street. We do not want to lose our homes, our jobs, our families. But when we are forced into the closet and we cannot express ourselves, we suffer as we have for decades if not centuries in the past. We have, in the last 50 years, earned the right to express ourselves. By being free to do so, we can live fuller, happier lives. Whether you want to express yourself as a gay man, a bisexual genderqueer person, or a straight transsexual person, the fight is for the right of expression.

I think its time we as a movement consider that idea; gender expression is the glue that binds the LGBTQIA community together. It’s the thing we all strive for together, and its an objective we can all fight for, united.

The Up and Coming LGBT Leaders Summit

This Wednesday was the LGBT Up and Coming Leaders dinner at the Vice President’s estate. I could write for hours and hours about the details, but let me sum it up with one word: Amazing! In a few more words, I’d like to share some highlights with my readers!

Early in the morning, I was part of a tour of the White House. It was really fascinating seeing the history and culture of America for myself; to walk through the rooms where diplomats and dignitaries met for almost two centuries. It was absolutely breathtaking. And I got one of those classic activist photos of me in front of the White House, as seen above.

Next, we were brought into one of the nearby offices where several prominent figures in DC politics and policy talked with us about the progress made for LGBT people in America. First, we talked with one of the most senior LGBT people in the President’s administration about the general direction of acceptance and our progress over the past few years. Then there were several presentations by a wide range of panelists, ranging from specialists in HIV/AIDS prevention/study, international LGBT rights, LGBT youth advocacy, and homelessness in the LGBT community. They let us ask the panelists a few questions, though the time was extremely limited. However, I was able to get up and I asked a woman from the Department of Health and Human Services about a subject very dear to me: what is being done to ensure resources that are supposed to help out struggling Americans are there for LGBT people? Specifically, I talked briefly about my experience of being turned away from a domestic violence shelter because I was transgender, and asked what was being done to educate these various groups and shelters of the needs of LGBT victims. Sadly, there wasn’t much to be said about what was being done, but it is definitely an avenue they wanted to pursue, and it became the main topic I talked about with others for the rest of the day.

We leaders were then given a few hours to meet with national LGBT leaders. I went with some others to a brown-bag lunch with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We learned of some of the specific accomplishments of each group, as well as their immediate plans moving forward. More than anything else, this was our opportunity as driven young leaders to meet with the people who will one day pass the torch onto us. During this meeting and a few others I had over the next 24 hours, I was able to actually sit and work with the major movers and shakers in the LGBT community, which gave me a chance to plug in and lend my voice to the movement, and gave me a great deal of perspective on how I can further my activism moving forward. In addition to meeting with NCTE and the Task Force, I was able to meet one on one with people from some other major groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, Think Progress, and Campus Pride.

Later that night, I arrived at the Vice President’s estate, greeted by a huge motorcade of about 10 motorcycle cops and several limos. His estate was absolutely gorgeous, and huge. This was the best time to connect with the other leaders, and I made many new friends and contacts with some absolutely amazing people from across America. Vice President Biden and his wife Jill Biden came and greeted us and each gave a brief speech talking about how amazing it was for them to see so many young, energetic leaders . They took great strives to make it clear, this event was about us, the next generation of leaders in America. VP Biden told us an amazing story about how he believes the work of the LGBT community is critical for America, not just because we fight for the rights of queer people, but because we fight for the soul of America itself. If not for the LGBT movement making the straight community question it’s values, America as a whole would still consider beating/humiliating/killing queer people “alright.” Because of the work the queer community has done, the straight community has been enriched and is wiser, and we can move forward as a freer, better, and more enlightened society. I cannot even begin to express how amazing it was to have one of the most powerful people in the world look me in the eye and say “Thank you, your work has made America a better place.”

This event was an amazing opportunity to make connections, to further my work as an activist for the LGBT community, but even more so, it gave each and every one of the leaders gathered a chance to see the bigger picture; to see the fight that we as a people face, not just the fight that we people face. While the event is over, the friendships made and the message left will stay with all of us for a very long time. This was the first time the US Government has ever done something like this for the queer community, and I was incredibly honored to be there. If any of the coordinators of this event happen to read this post, I just want to say thank you publicly. Engaging young leaders in such a positive, productive way was absolutely amazing, a new way to pull talent into the larger movement, and I truly hope more events like these happen in the future.

Ashley Hope in the News Again!

Tomorrow is the big day of my trip to Washington DC to attend the LGBT Up and Coming Leaders dinner at the Vice President’s estate. While in the area I’m also going to be meeting with several national queer groups, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, Parents for Lesbians and Gays, and Campus Pride.

I’ve already had two interviews this past week about my upcoming trip, and I know there is at least one more for after the trip, but I wanted to share the article that was published this morning in the local paper, Easton Patch. I think they did a really fabulous job!

In less than 24 hours, I will be in the White House! Wish me luck!

9/11 – A Reflection Eleven Years Later

11 years ago today, I was a kid in highschool, on Long Island, New York. I was about 30 minutes from the city. Around this time in the morning, I was pulled out of science class by family just before the news reached the school. I went home to see the towers on TV crumbling. Over the course of hours, I watched as thousands of people who died; I watched as my friends and classmate’s parents and relatives were killed. I was sheltered away, and didn’t go to class for several days after. This event single-handedly tore apart so many of my classmate’s and neighbor’s lives. And the strife didn’t just stop after the attack. For days, emergency responders, firemen, police men, etc, were going into the rubble and trying to save lives, and many of these brave men and women also died, either immediately or years later from inhaling all of the toxic substances during that period.
I was just a child, it was hard for me to wrap my head around the magnitude of what just happened just so incredibly close by. Its still hard for me to understand how many lives were irreparably changed because of that one day when I was 14.
9/11 was a terrible and horrible tragedy, the likes of which America rarely sees. But it is sadly not a very rare tragedy. This sort of attack happens all too frequently around the world. Look at Syria alone, where an estimated 30,000 people have died during the Syrian Civil War. The way we as a nation responded to the situation over the past 11 years was extreme. We started 2 wars that specifically were not paid for in order to get revenge. Stores around America took up the slogan “Buy a car or the terrorists win.” We went from a several trillion dollar surplus to a massive deficit. We turned international opinion on us in many cases. Even us Americans started mocking ourselves, with movies like “Team America: World Police.”
There was a great deal of good that came after the attacks as well. We, a nation of diverse individuals, came together in many way. There was a sense of unity and patriotism among a broad range of people. And this was because we all had a shared experience of suffering. Everyone could empathize with everyone else about what happened. People from Texas to New York were brought together and supported each other. Massive amounts of food and resources were funneled from around the country to those suffering the most. Even if a particular person did not lose a love one, one of their loved ones probably had. Everyone had suffered directly or indirectly from the terrible attack, and it drew us as a community closer.
Some of my frequent readers might recognize an expression in my last paragraph, the “shared experience of suffering.” The fact that every person went through this tragedy, we came together and supported each other. As a transsexual woman, this is the same principle I describe when I am asked why makes the LGBT community different. We have all endured oppression and discrimination. We empathize with eachother because we each have dealt, directly or indirectly, with suffering and tragedy.
Eleven years after 9/11/01, I think it is important to look back and reflect on what happened. We are all just individuals in this nation, but it is our choice whether to follow the path of revenge and anger, or the path of unity and empathy. Or maybe we shouldn’t pick one or the other, and continue moving forward doing both at once?

A Transgirl’s Perspective of the First Day of the DNC

Those of you who know me know that I am very interested in politics. I have lost many an hour watching MSNBC, reading a wide range of bi-partisan or non-partisan articles, keeping a finger on the political twitter pulse. Heck, I once called off a date to sit at home and watch the Republican primaries (luckily, the guy was a good sport and ended up coming and watching with me). Being a bit of a politics junky, I faithfully tuned into the coverage of the Republican National Convention last week.

The RNC featured vitriolic rhetoric about how terrible the president is and how we need to go back to the good old days. There were also several humorous observations, such as most of the speakers forgetting to mention Mitt Romney till more than half way through their speeches, and Clint Eastwood talking down to a chair with his hair looking like he just rolled out of bed. However, the planners of the convention did do their job well. Many of the speakers were women, and there were even a few Latino speakers. The RNC put forth a face of diversity. However, when the camera panned to the audience, there was NOT much diversity in the crowd. The vast majority of the people there were white, mostly middle aged and up, many men (though there were a good deal of women), a very uniform looking group.

The DNC (Democratic National Convention) started today, and being a liberal, I was incredibly moved by the energy, the passion, the pride, and the hope each of the speakers displayed. Tonight’s keynote speaker was Michelle Obama, the First Lady, and her speech was exceptional. It was personal, moving, made a strong connection to the people, humanized the president, etc etc etc. Lots of good things! However, what really struck me was when the camera panned to the crowd to see their reactions. There, at the DNC, perhaps the most public and broadcast platform the Democrats will have, the crowd itself was incredibly diverse. There was no overwhelming majority in skin color of the audience; there was a good mix of all the minorities. There was no overwhelming majority of age, or even gender. In fact, it was the gender thing that really struck me. During Michelle Obama’s speech, the camera panned to a woman who was clearly (to me at least) an African American Transsexual woman, literally in tears, since she was so moved from the speech. This was the nationally broadcast coverage shown from coast to coast, and there was the reaction of a real transsexual person, not as an activist or a cause, but as a person. It was just a few seconds of air time, but that alone highlighted EXACTLY what the difference between the RNC and DNC is, and what the election is really about.

I know, to most viewers, this was an insignificant few seconds, but to this transsexual activist, this “Up and Coming LGBT Leader,” this showed what the Democratic party is becoming more and more every day. The Republican party is largely concerned with the rights and privilege of a specific set of Americans, in very broad strokes, upper middle to upper class Caucasian people. The Democratic party is the group of everyone else, and of the ones who chose to work with the ‘other’ rather than just protecting themselves. The Democrats are FAR from perfect, but on this point at least, I am just wowed.

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