Archive for the ‘Pride’ Category

Transgender 101: 15 Things to Know

Because I run a camp for transgender youth, Camp Aranu’tiq, I end up interfacing with parents soon after they have found out that their child is transgender. These parents are looking for resources for not only themselves but their family and friends. In my effort to help these parents find solid answers to the questions they face, I searched for resources. Most of the literature I came across was geared specifically toward helping professionals who already have a baseline understanding of transgenderism. Therefore, I decided it was time to write a book that could be used by parents, teachers, family, friends, professionals, and students alike.

I began to write down what I thought people should know about transgenderism if it was their first foray into the area. I supplemented my knowledge with research and interviews and tried to keep it light. Yes, transgenderism is a serious issue to those who are trans, and to their family and friends, but I know from my own experience that if there is a void of levity, one can end up feeling hopeless, especially given the lack of understanding in the American public surrounding trans issues.

The approach of Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue is easy and conversational. When writing the book, I thought about the following: if you were sitting in a room with me, and I was explaining what “transgender” means in the simplest terms possible, what would I say? For instance, one of the chapters in the book, “Gender vs. Sexual Orientation,” explains in laymen’s terms the differences between gay or bisexual people and transgender people, and how they may overlap, but how they may not. I felt that this was one of the many areas that needed attention, because I constantly hear people use “transgender” and “straight” (“heterosexual”) as mutually exclusive terms, which they are not. The book also details what it means to come out, to transition and live as one’s true gender, to live in between genders, to face daily discrimination, and more.

15 essential things to know:



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Lady Gaga won the outstanding music artist prize at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) media awards in Los Angeles on Saturday (03-24-12).

The eccentric star picked up the prize for her album ‘Born This Way’ – which encourages people to accept themselves whoever they are – and although she did not attend the ceremony, tweeted she was delighted because it helped represent “equality and change”.

She wrote: “I’m so proud to win ‘Outstanding Artist’ for Born This Way album at GLAAD Media Awards. Thank you so much to your organization.

“Lets remind the world that the zeitgeist continues to beckon for equality + change. The relevancy of freedom, the ying yang of hatred + love (sic)”

Other winners at the event at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square included TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ which won outstanding reality program for featuring transgender contestant Chaz Bono, the son of singer Cher.

‘Chicago’ and ‘Hairspray’ producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan won the Vito Russo award – named after the late gay rights activist and presented to an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professional who has made a contribution to promoting equality – and both paid credit to their sexuality.

In an acceptance speech, Zadan said being gay was “part of who I am, so it impacts on the work that we do”, while Meron added the pair had spent a long time trying to “fight, persuade and manipulate” negative cliches in the entertainment industry.



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Why Are so Many Kids Changing Sexes?

Here’s why:


It’s not about rebelling or being different


Some transgender kids are forced into rebelling, when parents (or teachers or classmates) don’t accept them as their preferred gender. But most of them actually fear the consequences of transitioning; Nov. 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, is set aside to honor the memories of the many transsexual persons who have been killed as a result of hate-based violence.


Very few states and countries have legal protections for transgendered persons, meaning they can be legally denied employment or housing because of their gender identity. Partly because of this, many transgendered persons live in “deep stealth,” presenting as a member of their preferred gender at all times without ever saying what sex they were born as. To do so, they learn to conform to society’s norms for that gender — the opposite of teenage rebellion.


It’s not about scaring others


A common fear is that accepting transgendered kids will mean letting boys join the Girl Scouts or use the women’s restroom and harass people. But the real danger is to the transgirl, who could be subject to violence and prejudice or kept from using the restroom if she were found out.


Bobby Montoya, the 7-year-old transgirl who was finally allowed to join her local Girl Scout troop, is frequently subject to teasing and bullying because of the way that she dresses and acts, according to Dean Praetorius of the Huffington Post. Her experience is the norm, not the exception.


It’s not about sneaking into the girls room


Not only are transgirls in danger from the people around them if they are found out, the medical treatments they receive to cure their dysphoria make them less capable of causing harm to others even if they wanted to. A teenage transgirl who takes female sex hormones will lose both muscle mass and libido, becoming effectively chemically castrated.


Needless to say, there aren’t many reports of asexual women assaulting others in the restroom. There are, however, reports of transwomen being brutally attacked there, such as when Chrissy Lee Polis was kicked and beaten and spat on at a McDonald’s near Baltimore, Maryland. The attack was recorded by a male employee who did nothing to help her, and the video was republished on places like CBS News.


Transgendered people who need to go to the hospital are often denied medical care, and referred to as a “thing” by doctors, as in the case of Erin Vaught in Muncie, Indiana. Few laws exist which protect them.


Why would they choose to subject themselves to this?


The best way to find out why a child identifies as transgender is to ask them. But the reasons most transgendered persons give involve simply not feeling right in their bodies. They don’t want to behave like a person of the gender they identify as, necessarily; they just want to be one. And just as boys and girls, and gay and straight people can be born in any household, they can be any kind of person and have any sexual orientation, regardless of which way they want to transition.


Once they begin their transition, they will be part of one of the most discriminated-against groups in the country. The parents who are helping their kids go through with it understand this, and are doing their best to make things as painless as possible.



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Chances are you’ve seen a YouTube video featuring _______ (fill in a celebrity’s name) telling America’s gay teens that “it gets better.”

There are a slew of them promising that the bullying will eventually subside and that life will improve, if teens can just hang in there.

It’s a fitting campaign in light of suicide sitting third on the list of causes of death among young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for young people who happen to be gay, it’s even a bigger threat. They’re four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

When it comes to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens from considering suicide, a study involving about 250 of them has identified several risks and one major protective factor.

“This is the first data pointing us to where we can act,” study author Brian Mustanski tells Shots. “This is the first study to look at the thoughts and behaviors of suicide. It lets us look at what those predictors are.”

In the study, the LGBT participants who had an impulsive personality and a history of suicide attempts thought about killing themselves more often. And, in what should be abundantly clear these days, young people who were harassed for their sexual orientation were more likely to consider suicide, the researchers found.

So what stopped death from popping into the participants’ minds? A strong support system of family and friends acted like a protective mental shield against perilous thoughts. The teens who knew they could open up to their parents about their problems seemed to fare better by having a positive influence on their thoughts.

The findings — specific to LGBT youth — could help health care professionals, teachers, family members and friends pick up on the precursor signs of suicide contemplation.

The results appear in the latest issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Previous research on LGBT adolescents has only looked at their risk of actually attempting suicide, he says, not the predictors that make them vulnerable to it or protect them from it. Mustanski, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, kept tabs on the LGBT volunteers, ages 16-20 at the start, in the Chicago area for 2 1/2 years. About one-third of the group had attempted suicide before.

Those attempts shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Some people don’t want to take [suicide attempts] seriously, but our research suggests that making an attempt is predictive of the future,” he says. That means more suicidal thoughts and attempts may lie down the road.

Mustanski stresses the importance of that safety net of family and friends for a teen to fall back on. That net starts being woven when kids come out to their parents. A reaction of acceptance and not judgment lets the kid know that his or her parents are approachable and love them, he says.

This support comes in handy should the kid feel rejected at school or become the target of bullies. “Those experiences are toxic,” he says. A family that stands behind its son or daughter, as the study shows, is a key deterrent to suicidal thoughts.

To help improve the environment at school, Mustanski suggests an expansion of educational programs and school clubs, such as Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Gay-Straight Alliance. He says that these groups can help LGBT youth feel less vulnerable and more accepted. They may also curb bullying on campuses, he says, and that, in turn, could reduce the frequency of suicidal thoughts among LGBT students.

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I’ll never forget the day that I went for a cake tasting with a pair of my brides. We arrived to a bakery where I’d been plenty of times before and had great experiences. When she saw us, the assistant who greeted us that day said, “So, which one of you is the bride?”

I get it. Three women. Surely one of them must be the bride, another the Maid of Honor and the third a sister or the planner — or anyone but another bride. Right?

I was fairly horrified, even though I knew my clients would ultimately have a good experience if they did choose that cake (they didn’t). I was horrified because it’s my job to make sure this doesn’t happen, and that day I failed myself and my clients. I should have called ahead to remind the bakery that the appointment was with a same-sex couple, even though I mentioned it when making the appointment. I should have and I didn’t.

Fortunately my clients were very cool and forgave both me and the bakery. This kind of thing actually happens all the time, though — wedding professionals who assume that there’s one bride and one groom. I hear from grooms who tell me about approaching a vendor and hearing, “So, where’s the bride? ” or “What’s the name of the bride?” — as if it’s not obvious when there’s not one!

I know very well that this kind of oversight does not necessarily equal homophobia or discrimination. Often it’s just an accidental oversight that carries through on forms, contracts, websites and marketing materials and in employee training. But it can be a very expensive accidental oversight for businesses who cater to the fairytale wedding and unconsciously turn off potential same-sex clients. Some couples are forgiving and others are not.

I talk about this kind of stuff all the time when I train those in the wedding industry about gay weddings through my workshops and webinar course. I get that the laws are changing and there’s a lot of catch-up to do. But ultimately gay weddings are good for business. They might not make you rich but even if your business is just seeing one or two gay weddings a year, that can still end up being significant. And if gay weddings are not legally allowed where you live, then you might get some commitment ceremony business — it’s still good to be ready.

If there are 2.3 million straight weddings a year, gay weddings will never come close to touching that number. But nevertheless, gay weddings are here — and here to stay. Isn’t it time your business caught up?

I wish I made this stuff up but here are 10 real-life examples of things wedding professionals should NOT say to engaged same-sex couples!

“Where’s the bride?” (to two grooms)
There may be one bride, two brides or no brides! Be careful not to make assumptions!

“Is one of you going to wear the dress and one of you wear the tux?” (said to brides and grooms)
Gender roles are archaic and potentially offensive to couples. Ask open ended questions instead, like “What are you going to wear to your wedding?”

“That’s not what happens at a real wedding!”
Who’s to say what happens at a real wedding? What is a real wedding anymore? Don’t invalidate this couple’s wedding planning decisions.

“How do your parents feel about all this?”
Their parents may be over the moon, completely horrified, or a little of both. Ultimately it may be none of your business.

“I’m so thrilled to meet you. You know, I was bisexual in college!”
LGBT people hate to be tokenized. Don’t try to relate to us by saying things like that. Just be yourself and treat LGBT couples with respect.

“I’m thrilled to be supportive of your alternative lifestyle!”
Being LGBT isn’t a choice – so please don’t make comments which imply that it is.

“Oh, is that even legal?”
Whether or not the marriage will be legal is irrelevant. If the LGBT couple wants to plan a wedding, fantastic!

“Which way do you swing?” (inappropriate sexual question)
Stay away from anything even remotely sexual…it’s none of your business!

“Yes, we will plan homosexual weddings here.”
The word “homosexual” has all kinds of negative connotations related to the early days when it was actually considered a mental disorder to be gay. Stay away from that term!

“So will there be drag queens and show tunes at this wedding?”
Maybe. Maybe not. But just because it’s a gay wedding doesn’t mean that you should assume that all of the cliches are true.


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I am Human NOH8 Campaign PSA

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CHICAGO — Dan Carmichael had barely taken his first breath when a doctor announced his gender: “It’s a girl.”

That’s where gender identity begins for most. A pronouncement at birth, a quick glance at the genitals revealing a person to be either male or female.

If only it were that simple for Carmichael. He was raised a girl — then named Danielle Sosin — grew into a woman, served in the Iraq war, yet never quite felt comfortable.

“I felt like an impostor,” said Carmichael, now 33 and living as a man, the gender he always identified with. “But who do you become when you’re not really sure who you are?”

Carmichael is part of a once-hidden demographic that now feels freer than ever to show itself, even while faced with widespread discrimination and misunderstanding of what it means to be “transgender.”

Unlike gays and lesbians, who in some substantive ways have been assimilated into modern American culture, transgender people remain on the fringe, often stereotyped as “trannies” and sensationalized in movies and television shows.

The recent appearance of Chaz Bono, a transgender man formerly known as Chastity Bono, on the television show “Dancing With the Stars” caused an uproar among some conservative groups like the American Family Association. And “Work It,” a new ABC comedy that premieres Jan. 3, is being widely protested by transgender groups for its premise: Two men dress like women to get jobs.

Transgender activists have been on the front lines of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement since before the riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn in 1969, but only fairly recently has the transgender community felt empowered to speak up and demand recognition and rights of its own.

Across the country, legislative efforts are under way to make it easier for people to change the gender on their birth certificates and align identification documents — including driver’s licenses and passports — with their gender identity. Many jails and prisons, including the Cook County Jail in Illinois, have implemented rules to accommodate transgender inmates. And legal advocates agree that while gays and lesbians continue to fight for marriage and other rights, the next significant wave of legal action will involve transgender people.

On Dec. 6 in Georgia, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was fired from her state job in 2007 after telling her boss she planned to transition from male to female. In the court’s ruling, Judge Rosemary Barkett wrote: “An individual cannot be punished because of his or her perceived gender nonconformity.”

In October, the Illinois Department of Public Health, pressed by a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, said transgender Illinoisans could change the gender on their birth certificates without undergoing genital-reformation surgery.

Also this year: the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Wisconsin ruled it unconstitutional to deny transgender prison inmates hormone therapy; Connecticut became the 15th state to protect transgender people from discrimination; and Wal-Mart made changes to its employee nondiscrimination policy to protect workers based on both gender identity and gender expression.

“I think it has been a good year,” said M. Dru Levasseur, transgender rights attorney for the national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender legal rights group Lambda Legal. “I think the key thing — and it’s very similar to the change that happened in the movement with gay and lesbian people — is that many people thought, ‘Oh that’s a choice, that’s a lifestyle.’ When people come to understand that this is who someone is, I think that’s when they can really take it into their hearts.”

Despite progress with civil rights, transgender people still face considerable discrimination in public and in the workplace. The impact of that is crystallized in a national study released this year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The survey of more than 6,000 transgender and gender nonconforming people found that 41 percent of respondents had attempted suicide, compared with less than 2 percent in the general population.

One of the primary psychiatric terms linked to transgender people is “gender identity disorder,” although it has been proposed that the term be changed to “gender dysphoria” in the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

“People with severe gender dysphoria, there’s a very high incidence of suicide if it’s not addressed,” said Randi Ettner, an Evanston, Ill.-based psychologist who specializes in gender conditions and wrote the book “Gender Loving Care.”

Whether it’s Joan of Arc — executed in part for routinely wearing male clothing — or the Native American “berdache” — gender-variant people revered in certain tribes as “twin spirits” — the world has a long history of gender roles being blurred.

Some cultures accept people whose gender identity doesn’t match their anatomical sex. A tribe in Samoa, for example, has a third gender made up of men who perform tasks otherwise reserved for women. But in America and most parts of the world, the binary system of gender identification is not friendly to those who don’t fit in.

Experts like Ettner agree that the term “transgender” means, in essence: people who want to spend all or part of the time presenting themselves in a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. That said, sex researchers have found that there is tremendous diversity in the transgender community, so much so that many now view gender identity not simply as “male” or “female,” but as points on a spectrum between masculine and feminine.

For Carmichael, who was serving as a woman in the Army National Guard, the time to think about gender identity came during the Iraq war. When a close friend was badly injured, the thin line between living and dying prompted him to address the confusing feelings that had plagued him since childhood: “I had hard questions to ask myself. And I did it.”

While still in Iraq, Carmichael began, in his head, referring to himself using male pronouns. It felt right. After the war, he spent time reading extensively about what it meant to be transgender. He considered his lifelong journey — being a young girl who felt awkward in traditionally feminine roles; coming out in high school as a lesbian, hoping the disconnect he felt was a matter of sexuality; then recognizing that the problem was actually one of gender identity.

When he decided to transition and began living his life fully as a man, Carmichael, at last, felt right.

“I’m very comfortable being a trans man,” he said. “I’m sort of reveling in the idea of finally being content.”

— — —


Q: How many transgender people are there?

A: It’s not a question asked on the U.S. census, and even if it were, many in the transgender community are hesitant to open up about their gender identity. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that 0.25 percent to 1 percent of the population is transgender, a range in line with estimates from sex researchers.

Q: Is being transgender a mental illness?

A: Gender identity disorder is a psychiatric condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. However, most transgender people bristle at the thought of having their identity pathologized. There is a push in the transgender community to have gender identity disorder removed from the DSM, much as homosexuality was removed decades ago.

Many researchers say gender identity disorder is not a psychiatric illness that can be cured with treatment, but is a rarely occurring medical condition that has a strong psychological component. For most transgender people, a psychiatric or medical diagnosis is the only way insurance plans will deem hormone therapy and surgical procedures medically necessary. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued a statement in 2010 saying: “the expression of gender characteristics, including identities, that are not stereotypically associated with one’s assigned sex at birth … should not be judged as inherently pathological or negative.”

Q: What is a transvestite?

A: The term “transvestite” is now considered offensive as it implies that a person wears opposite-sex clothing as a sexual fetish. The term “crossdresser” is more appropriate. Cross-dressers are people who wear clothing associated with the opposite gender not for sexual arousal but because it gives them a sense of fulfillment and allows them to express a part of their identity. Though they dress in opposite-sex clothing, cross-dressers may identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Q: How do I know what pronoun to use with a transgender person?

A: Never make assumptions. If you aren’t sure, ask the person which pronoun he or she prefers you use.

Q: Is it OK to ask transgender people whether they have had any surgical procedures done?

A: Never. Those are deeply personal decisions that transgender people make. Also, many transgender people don’t feel they need surgery to be comfortable living in the gender they identify with.


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