A few transgender characters have recently appeared in Prairie Home Companion skits, I haven’t found these characterizations very flattering to transpeople. You can hear the shows I cite (and read scripts) at their online archive, search by date to find them. I don’t know if they’ll publish my letter, so I’m sharing it here.
Dear Mr Keillor,
I was listening to the April 25, 2009 broadcast of Prairie Home Companion yesterday. A transsexual character appeared briefly during the Guy Noir segment. It was mentioned that she happened to have transitioned twice, first from male to female, and then back to male again. Her reason, bad timing becoming a woman just in time for menopause. I often enjoy the show, however I’m sorry to say that I didn’t find this depiction of a transgender woman to be positive or respectful to transgender people. It minimized what transgender people go through to transition.
This reminded me of hearing the Feb 21, 2009 show on which there was a sketch titled “Adventurers” including a character named Gene who suffered from “chronic androgyny". In my opinion, the androgynous character seemed to embody the least desirable traits of either binary gender, in an attempt to elicit laughs. I meant to write about this previously but didn’t get to it. I’ve just listened to this sketch again to see if I might perceive it differently. My opinion hasn’t changed since hearing this a few months ago, so I’m writing about it now.
Transgender people are among the most marginalized in our society. Often when a person re-transitions, it isn’t due to not having been transsexual, but because of extenuating circumstances when they transitioned such as loss of family, friends, marriage, employment, career, housing, etc. In addition, transgender people are too often victims of violent hate crimes or murder because of living openly. Among the transgender community, there are some people who identify as androgyne. Some androgynes consider themselves to be a mix of male and female, others, such as myself, feel ourselves to be neither binary gender.
I transitioned male to female, and after a year living in my preferred gender, re-transitioned. Not back to male, but to a gender space somewhere between. Perhaps my experiences and sensitivity to transgender issues is why I didn’t find these two segments funny, and even found them bordering on offensive to an oppressed minority. I believe your show can do better than this. You have an opportunity to present transgender people in a way that is both humorous and educational to an audience who would be receptive to learning more about us.
If you wish to know more about transsexuals who re-transition and also people who identify as androgyne, I invite you to read the following three articles about these topics posted on my blog:
Thanks for listening. I look forward to hearing future depictions of transgender and androgyne people on Prairie Home Companion that celebrate who we are in a positive manner.
I’ve given considerable thought to the economic crisis and have come up with a solution for creating new jobs that will also effectively deal with another important issue. I’ve been following various news reports and blogs from sources as diverse as the Christian Right and Classic Transsexual women regarding an epidemic of transgender invasions of public restrooms.
These transgender terrorists are taking over colleges, churches and businesses nationwide, with their incessant demands for gender free restrooms, locker rooms and dormitories. Men wearing dresses, clutching handbags, with visible Adam’s apples and 5 o’clock beard shadow, striding into the ladies room in their heels, scaring the bejeebus out of law abiding, binary gender conforming women. There have also been reports of butch lesbians and pre-op transmen using the women’s room. No restroom is safe!
We need to take action right away. I hereby propose that Congress pass The Protect Our Toilets from TrannY (POTTY) Act. The POTTY Act will train and hire special forces of bathroom personnel. Gender Guards ™ will be stationed at each and every restroom throughout the United States to make sure that these men in dresses can’t use the women’s rooms. If anyone of indeterminate or questionable gender presentation shows up trying to enter the women’s room, Gender Guards ™ are standing by. Armed with state of the art Penis Detection Devices (PDD), they will hunt down the evil perpetrators before they can “do their business” in the presence of your wives and daughters.
Think about it, how many public restrooms are there nationwide? Millions. With a capable Gender Guard ™ in every one, this will not only protect our citizens, but also go a long way towards providing good jobs for out of work Americans and rebuilding our economy!
A few days after celebrating New Year’s Day, as marked by our modern calendar, I would like to reflect a bit on the past year and think ahead to the coming year. I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, it was a pretty good year. I can’t complain, however that likely won’t keep me from kvetching once in a while. After all, to kvetch is part of my genetic makeup as a feygelah (loosely translated here as queer Jewish transgender fairie).
After many years contemplating writing about my experiences and perspectives as a transgender person, I finally started blogging last year. While I didn’t find time to write as often as I’d like, it was a good start. Among my primary resolutions is to write more, both here on my blog, and also to plow forward on finishing a book/performance piece. As my fellow writers know, procrastination is a high art. It’s all too easy to find distractions. Check email, answer email, read all the great LGBTIQ blogs out there, post a few responses, google and read LGBTIQ news online, visit transgender forums, read and contribute to various threads, sneak in some actual work, eat lunch, take a walk, check email, answer email, and the whole endless cycle of distractions repeats itself again. Next thing I know, it’s time to cook dinner and no new blog entries or book chapters have magically materialized. So, this coming year, I’ve got force myself to stare down the evil blank page on my computer screen, and continue writing. Every day!
Although I’d generally rather get a root canal than talk to complete strangers on the phone, I volunteered with our local Democratic party to campaign for Obama and various state candidates. I went out canvassing, made phone calls, and held signs at a busy intersection. While I am overjoyed with our victories on election day, I was disappointed that we lost Democratic seats in the State House and Senate, and I was devastated by the passage of various anti LGBTIQ propositions nationwide. Obviously we have a lot more work to do. Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next phase. Full equality for all or bust!
On a personal level, various progress was made in my Never Ending Transition ™. I came out to various friends and people in my life. My partner and I did a couple of Trans 101 presentations. I outed myself at our local UU church as part of educating people about Transgender Remembrance Day. It still feels like an uphill trek though. It’s an ongoing challenge to fully express and integrate who I am as a non binary transperson into my daily life, while continuing to find employment and stay safe from anti trans discrimination.
Here at the start of 2009, I’m just starting to embrace new (to me) phenomena such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. I look forward to using these tools to network with other LGBTIQ activists in the coming years. Zythyra comes out of hir cave, blinking in the bright sunlight, marveling at the technologies of the 21st century. I’m holding out though, I still don’t have a cell phone
As always, this is a difficult day. I’ve been aware of Transgender Day of Remembrance since its first year, and have always commemorated it in some way each year. Sometimes attending an event if there was one in my region, often lighting a candle at home, and in the last few years, saying something about it to the congregation of our local UU during a Sunday service.
Every death hits me hard. For any transperson, I think there is always a feeling of “there but for the grace of G-d/dess go I". I transitioned and did over a year long full time real life test in a rural southern town in 1993. No HRT, nada. If angels exist, there was certainly one at my shoulder, for I passed perfectly… as a man with long hair and a baritone voice wearing women’s clothing and jewelry. For the most part, people treated me with respect and used my new name and pronouns however I had a few close encounters during that time in which my possible last moments in this earthly plane were staring at me rather harshly.
As I’ve written previously, I later re-transitioned, and since that time have lived in between or outside binary gender. I don’t live in the same small town, but am still in a rural area. Some people might look at me and automatically perceive male simply based on birth sex characteristics, however if one is observant to subtle cues, they’re fairly likely to perceive something very different. I’m often mam’ed. But if I speak, I see the looks of confusion, and then the quick switch to sir. They’re obviously wondering what I am. Male? Female? Maybe genderqueer? Gay? Transgender? It is an extremely vulnerable place to live, and yet I must be true to myself.
And so, every day is a question for me. As it is for many others in our LBGTIQetc community. Any day could be my last. Today I could become the next person added to this list. Another hate crime statistic. This underlying feeling is pervasive in my psyche. Even when I’m not paying attention, it is there, and I think it affects every choice I make, large or small. What to wear today? Might this clothing be flaunting my difference too much? What to say? Have I just outed myself as transgender to someone who is transphobic? Have I just outed myself to someone who will no longer employ me for my services? And so on. It is a constant stress. This is my constant reality.
Someday, I want to see an end to the need for this day. I want to see a year where I’m not reading news items each week or month of yet another transgender sister or brother who has lost their lives to violence. This Transgender Day of Remembrance should always exist, and I will always honor it, but I want to do so from the vantage point of the way things used to be in some distant past, not the way it continues to be in our present. But until that time, on this day today, and every year hence, I will light a candle and say the names of my trans sisters and brothers and remember their gifts to all of us. Blessed be their memories. And today I will be glad that I have managed to live another year as who I am, and that my name isn’t among them.
Like many LGBTIQ Americans, I was both elated and devastated by the election results this past week. I am absolutely elated that President-elect Barack Obama won the election. I feel like a great weight has been lifted from our collective shoulders and that after eight years we finally have hope for a better, more compassionate America. But it was a bittersweet victory. Like many others I was devastated by the passage of the various anti LGBTIQ bills across the country including Prop 8 in California. I was also devastated by some in the LGBTIQ community casting blame at other minorities, especially African-Americans, for our failures at winning these.
I don’t have a TV and thus am not a regular watcher of Countdown, but I did see Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment online last night. It was among the most moving things I’ve heard this entire week since Prop 8 was passed and it gives me hope that someday, hopefully sooner than later, we’ll achieve our rights.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our struggle for equality this past week, and thinking about what it will take to achieve our goals of full equality. I’ve always been annoyed by the fact that an oppressed minority has rarely gotten their rights until people who weren’t members of that minority joined the struggle. But, if that’s what it takes, then we need the majority to join us as allies. Right away!
We can’t just sit around and wait for cis-sexual and heterosexual people to decide to join us as allies, we need to become pro-active in recruiting allies. We all need to talk to our neighbors, friends, employers, coworkers, families, church members, ministers, etc. We need to educate them about our lives, tell our stories, and inspire them to become active in our struggle. We need to help them understand how they are affected by our rights. We need to remind our allies that in previous struggles for equality, white people joined the march with people of color, men joined the march with women, etc. We need them to march with us now. We also need to continue to listen to our allies about their current struggles, and join with them as well. It isn’t a one way street.
I hope that every straight person that heard Keith Olbermann’s comments is moved to action, and will join us immediately as allies in our struggle for full equality. Not just to passively support us around the dinner table, but to become active in working with us to achieve our rights. They also need to talk to their neighbors, friends, employers, coworkers, families, church members, ministers, etc., adding more allies one by one.
And while we’re at it, let’s not only ask them to join us for achieving marriage equality for same sex couples. Let our allies know that we need full equality in employment, housing, military, immigration, anti-discrimination laws, hate crime laws, etc. Let them know that all of these are not only needed for sexual orientation, but must also include gender identity and expression.
We can’t do it alone!