11 December 2009

Dear Bilerico....

I hate you. Please go away, and take your smug cissexual "allies" with you.

I really can't muster many words at the moment. After hearing about [TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of epic transphobia] your latest failure, I'm heading home for the afternoon for some hot tea and a soothing bath. Maybe I'll hide under the covers for a while.

Seriously? This shit [I'm not linking to it, wade over to the original piece at your own risk] is a hazard to my mental health. I can't be the only trans person who feels this way. I'd add that your shit is also a hazard to my physical health, given the logical consequences of having yet another public "dialogue" about such "challenging" issues.

And yes, I do struggle with mental illness, and yes, I am seeing people about it. Look, I know a substantial portion of the population hates me, views me as broken, defective, deviant, and dangerous. I know that there are plenty of folks out there who, either through privilege or active hostility, want to hurt me and my family. I know this, because it's fucking happened. And yes, I know that plenty of supposed cissexual "allies" speak harshly about me. This shit can be hard to deal with, you know?

Surely, you know what it's like to live on guard. You've had practice steeling yourself against the next, unpredictable blow in a society that most of the time barely tolerates your existance. You know it's stressful and painful. I know this, because prior to several months ago, I regularly read many of your posts and the accompanying comment threads. Ironic is not the word I'm looking for. Cruel, perhaps.

Stop digging. I don't want to hear you talk about fostering dialogue (on whether my identity is valid), or challenging readers (about whether bigotry is acceptable), or about how you're not a safe space (Good for you! It must be so fun and "edgy" for you guys to not have to worry about people who aren't you). This is all so last week for me. And every week.

Thus, I ask you to STFU already. Seriously.

H/T: C. L. Minou, via Shakesville

N. B.: Hate is a strong word, and I'm not entirely sure that it's the correct word for what I'm feeling. I need time to process. Lest anyone Bilerico apologists take this as evidence of my hateful, unbalanced nature, permit me to remind you that I'm not the one passing off hate speech as part of a "debate".

30 November 2009

Why I love the internet

Here's a demographic breakdown of imdb.com ratings for a documentary on roller derby that I'm waiting to see. I was a bit shocked to see that it had a rating of 3.7 stars, especially considering I'd heard great things, including nice reviews from the two commenters. Then I looked at the breakdown of ratings. Notice anything?

20 November 2009

It's almost as if the Democrats have problem with the ladiez

As pretty much every person in the United States has noted, there are problems with the health care legislation under consideration in Congress. The bills assume women are aquaria, and that people who don't have insurance are lazy jerks who need to be punished (and here I am, thinking that being denied a basic human right is punishment enough). Minor issues.

However, the Senate Democrats have given me yet another reason for outrage. Under their bill, elective cosmetic medical procedures will be subject to a 5% tax.

Here, in a nutshell, are my main objections:
1) Women and transsexual men are the primary market for elective cosmetic medical procedures.
2) The people who get to decide what medical procedures are "elective" and "cosmetic" are typically cissexual men.

I understand the rationale for this tax. Democrats don't have the spine to make good people pay taxes. Why collect taxes from hard working folks who eek out a living speculating on real estate. If anything, they deserve a hug-- it must have been hard laying off all those people. Can't we just make the cast of The Hills pay for everything? Those folks are so annoying-- especially the superficial women. I suppose I should applaud the Democrats' creativity. Normally I'd expect them to raise taxes on cigarettes and Taco Bell, but they've found an even better target for their hatred than smokers and fat people.

I'm sure the Democrats counted on this being a non-controversial item. After all, only rich snotty women have elective cosmetic medical procedures. Except, as I alluded to above, there's a rich history of considering women's health issues to be tangential, even cosmetic, compared to real health problems.

I know I'm supposed to be placated by the fact that there's an exemption to the proposed tax for people who really truly need it. But again, who decides what is medically necessary? And where have I heard that term before? Oh, right... every time someone denies healthcare to transsexual people.

It's not enough that I already pay through the teeth for insurance that doesn't cover most of my medical bills. Never mind my eminent bankruptcy, due in part to the cost of past "elective cosmetic" medical procedures. And forget the fact that I've spent a great deal of time in the past several years trying to figure out how to pull tens of thousands of dollars out of thin air. And the fact that these medical bills aren't tax exempt, like "normal" medical bills for "normal" people. I'm sure I can always just pick up another job to pay the extra tax, just like I did that one time-- er, until I got fired for not having already completed the medical procedures I was trying to save for. But still, better to tax people like me than to make hard working, decent, normal people pay taxes. Thank guys, it means a lot. I'd write you a large check for your next campaign, but, well, you know.

As it turns out, someone over at one of those big blogs for normal feminist women was on the case, too. Apparently this isn't such a big deal, as lots of commenters noted that real feminists wouldn't ever have this kinda of icky surgery. Apparently this tax is downright progressive. At least the author has confirmed that she really wasn't considering trans people when she wrote the thread. Also, people with disabilities are icky.
Blogroll revised.

04 November 2009

They're Coming to America

Apparently immigrants are totally coming to America for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the world-class health care that we just give away to anyone who shows up at a doctor's office. And of course, this is a huge problem, because then a bunch of healthy foreigners are going to be roaming our streets.

From the New York Times:

Under some plans being considered by Congress, more than one million legal permanent residents and about seven million illegal immigrants who currently have no health insurance would be excluded from coverage, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

Under all plans under consideration, immigrants who are excluded from new programs, including illegal immigrants, would still be required to buy health insurance.

and it goes without saying that:
Democrats broadly agree that illegal immigrants should be excluded [from participation in government health care programs]


30 October 2009


I’d like to totally undercut my credibility by mentioning that I hadn’t heard of this particular case prior to today. I’d be grateful to hear from folks with knowledge of asylum policies. I’m especially interested to hear how the US compares to other nations.

I ran across an absolutely better-than-bad, and in many ways good [trigger warning for descriptions of domestic violence] story in the New York Times this morning. The Obama administration has recommended that the US grant political asylum to Ms. Rody Alvarado Peña, who entered the country after escaping from an abusive husband in her native Guatemala background here. According to the Times, activists are hopeful that Alvarado’s case will set a precedent for abused women seeking asylum, and that it will ultimately lead to a coherent, humane asylum policy. If a Federal immigration judge goes along with the administration’s recommendation, Ms. Alvarado will be allowed to stay in the US, rather than being sent back to a potentially deadly situation. This is good news.

Not to be a buzzkill, but this story reminds me of something Angela Davis brought up a couple of weeks ago when she was giving a lecture out here. She mentioned the understandable happiness that many New Yorkers were feeling when Governor Paterson signed a measure that prohibited the shackling of pregnant prisoners during delivery. Clearly, the legislation in question was good, but a couple of things come to mind. First, it’s shocking that action from the legislature and Governor was a prerequisite to treating women like people. Second, New York became the sixth state to ban this practice (the Federal Bureau of Prisons did so last year). I’m pretty sure this doesn’t call for an “in your face, Jersey!,” ya’ know? Third, Davis said (a quick scan of the internet didn’t produce any links) that this piece of legislation had languished in Albany for 9 years, presumably because somebody was concerned about with the cons of not shackling pregnant prisoners.

Back to Ms. Alvarado’s case. She’s been in the United States for fourteen years. She’s also been in-and-out of immigration court for most of that time. While Ms. Alvarado has been living in limbo, her two children have grown up in Guatemala. As in the case of prison shackling, nobody (as far as I know) is debating the veracity of Ms. Alvarado’s story. The hand-wringing has been about whether the government should actually care enough to intervene. The US doesn’t have a policy in place that allows victims of domestic violence to seek asylum here. This case also doesn’t appear to be about whether we might, you know, create such a policy. Rather, Ms. Alvarado’s case turns on the issue of whether we can interpret existing statutes that protect politically persecuted classes to include her.

America’s policy towards battered women (or at least those who are being battered by spouses in foreign countries) appears to be getting better. As a result of slow deliberations, the U.S., according to the Times headline “May be Open to Asylum for Spouse Abuse.” Certainly, this is a step in the right direction, but also cause for us to consider our government’s hesitancy. I see two big stumbling blocks.

First, American society writ large seems to be concerned that people might actually want to come live here. Which people? For lack of a more nuanced way of putting it, plenty of Americans seem worried that poor brown people or other folks who totally don’t deserve the awesomeness that we have built for ourselves with our own hands and Godandthebibleandpickuptrucksamen are going to start coming here. Thus, we put would-be immigrants in the position of having to defend their right to live here. In the case of Ms. Alvarado, this means that rather than simply saying that she wants to be here, she has to give us a good reason. Moreover, someone, somewhere, gets to pass judgment (I believe the person in question is often called a judge, for obvious reasons) on whether that reason really is “good” (not in a philosophical sense, of course, but rather in the sense that it jives with how someone chooses to interpret the laws and policy that someone else has chosen to make).

Second, our distrust of certain foreigners and our concern that folks might actually be able to claim asylum has led to painfully deliberate policy. Ms. Alvarado and women like her can only claim asylum if someone in the American government decides that abused women are a politically persecuted class. The fact that the U.S. government may actually recognize that abused women constitute a politically persecuted class is interesting in its own right (and is yet another reason for a half-hearted parade). By the way, do you smell the lawyers yet? Fourteen years worth of lawyers? Obviously, there is an appeals process in place, ostensibly to protect applicants like Ms. Alvarado, who the government has ruled against. Still, it is Ms. Alvarado who is on trial here, not her abusivehusband. While in theory, our asylum policy is set up as tedious to minimize the number of people sent back to dangerous situations, as far as I can tell, the reality is just the opposite. Using this case as a benchmark, it appears (shockingly, I know) as though the American immigration system functions to minimize the chances that the wrong people might accidentally end up legally living in the United States. How else does one explain fourteen years and counting?

[crossposted at Shakesville]

Syracuse.com: Making our city scarier, one post at a time

Dear Syracuse.com:
In regards to your newspaper’s website, would you do the world a favor by not including space for public comment (or at the very, very, least, provide some degree of moderation) on posts where you report the occurrence of crimes? On the increasingly rare occasions when your paper publishes crime details in a professional manner, I find it very troubling to see anonymous commenters speculating upon why the victim deserved to be have a crime committed against them (Too black? Too poor? Too queer? Too female?), contemplating future crimes against other supposedly deserving victims, and generally joking about how incredibly awesome they think rape, assault, and murder are. Today’s example comes from the online version of your article “Court papers: Vicious dog used to force woman to have sex with Syracuse man.” I know the First Amendment gives people the right to voice their opinions, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the job of journalists to silently observe, or worse yet, foment hate speech. I’m not sure what you expected to achieve by allowing the public to comment on police and court reports. What you have managed to accomplish is to increase the shame and terror that crime victims feel, as well as making Syracuse feel like an even more threatening and unwelcoming place. Seriously—I’d consider patronizing any of your many sponsors, but I’m terrified that I may run into some of your readers. Well done.
Addendum: The Post-Standard's prompt response: "In every story there is a link that says "Inappropriate? Alert us." Please use that and fill out the necessary information every time you see something inappropriate. It will go directly to our Interactivity Group who evaluates comments and determines whether they should be deleted, and if the user needs to be blocked." This is about what I expected. Of course, the odds of me having the time and interest to personally help moderate every thread on Syracuse.com is about the same as getting a productive response to: 'a woman in Syracuse was raped. Discuss anonymously."

20 October 2009

About Morehouse's Appropriate Attire Policy...

Here's some background and personal thoughts to accompany my recently posted letter to Morehouse administrators.


As some folks are already aware, Morehouse College recently announced a new “Appropriate Attire Policy.” According to CNN, the policy prohibits several things, including "the wearing of “women's clothes, makeup, high heels, and purses” by members of the all-male student body. In public comments about the policy, Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. William Bynum implied that “about five” students were particularly problematic, in that their wearing feminine attire and "gay lifestyle" did not fit the college’s vision of Morehouse men. This latest incident does not come out of the blue. As Reverend Irene Monroe writes, there has long been tension within the Morehouse community about the possibility of gay or bisexual Morehouse students.

I have seen a few blogs carry this story, as well as CNN. I haven’t yet seen anything in The Chronicle of Higher Education, perhaps because there isn’t anyone in their offices who has the vision to see this as one of the top 10-20 stories in higher education on any given day. Hopefully this will change. The Morehouse gay students’ group, Morehouse Safe Space, hasn’t spoken out against this policy—reports are that they largely supported the new dress code. As a white woman, life-long northerner, and a transsexual woman who constantly has to fight for her right to be included in women’s spaces (and not relegated to men’s ones), I’ve had to overcome my worries about having my voice dismissed on this issue. However, more people need to speak out.

This policy isn’t about some imaginary, tangential issue that we can push into someone else’s inbox. This isn’t about whether people who wear feminine clothing belong at a men’s college. While the majority of people who wear “women’s clothing” are women (either cissexual or transsexual), other possibilities exist. It is possible to imagine a world, this world, in which wearing “women’s clothing” is not synonomous with identifying as a woman. This isn’t about whether single-gender colleges are right or wrong. Indeed, I see the value of spaces restricted on the basis of race (another discussion that’s come up before in the context of Morehouse), or sex, or gender, or sexuality, or age, or any number of personal characteristics. Rather, this is about how those in power choose to systemically disenfranchise and dehumanize those people (not blacks, not gays, not women, not some other stylized, codified, imagined, and homogenized group, but actual human beings in flesh and blood) who threaten the dominant group’s status as the powerful, normal default against which all else is measured. This is about an institution that celebrates its mission to fight for justice as it uses its might to kick undesirables to the curb.

I’m worried that this issue is going to fade away. I don’t want to let it. I’m still thinking about those Morehouse students singled out by administration as problematic. Like them, I cross dressed in college (although that’s not how I like to refer to it, nor do I know how they think of it). It’s not easy to summon the courage to be yourself in a world where allies are scarce. It’s not easy facing bureaucracies that are unaware of your existence, that don’t care about your needs, that leave you struggling and alone. It can be terrifying. Unfortunately, these Morehouse students do not face institutional indifference.

I am not inclined to react to hostility with indifference. Rather, I remember a particularly scaring incident shortly after I came out. I was standing on a street corner in relatively modest, uninteresting dress when a young man came up to me, pointed, and begun to laugh. Soon he was bending over at the waist with excitement. I barely heard him. What I did hear was the silence of the midday, downtown crowd. I heard the dozens of people on that street corner that didn’t feel that this was enough about them to bother speaking out.

I don't want to leave these students in that same void. I don't want them to endure the silence of whites too indifferent or too sheepish to speak out against the actions of a traditionally black college. I don't want them to suffer the silence of transsexual women who consider women's clothing an issue for women's colleges, nor the silence of gender-normative gays who are worried that these students' behavior is somehow unfair to the "good" gays. I don't want them to suffer the indignity of hearing the silence from women, from straights, or from any other group that thinks it can afford to not relate to people who are like that. If we all need to wait for someone just like us in order to fight for our own humanity, where does that put us?

18 October 2009

Open Letter to Morehouse

18 October 2009

Dr. William Bynum

Vice President for Student Services

Morehouse College

830 Westview Drive SW

Atlanta, GA 30314

Dear Dr. Bynum:

I hope this letter finds you and the Morehouse College community well. It is in part due to the respect I have for your institution that I am compelled to write to you today in regards to Morehouse’s recently announced “Appropriate Attire Policy.” While I have many personal and professional discomforts with dress codes, I indulge you to consider three issues with the portion of the attire policy that prohibits the wearing of clothing typically associated with women.

First and foremost, I am gravely concerned with the impact of this policy on gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of the Morehouse community. This policy tells some of your community’s most vulnerable members that they should be ashamed, and that they are not welcome. As an educator, I find this stance counterproductive. As a queer woman, I find any policy that fosters the self-hatred I so often see my brothers and sisters struggling under to be abhorrent. As the Morehouse College administration is well aware, self-hatred is not the only form of violence facing GLBTQ Morehouse students, faculty, and staff. This policy would appear to condone further hostility towards my family at Morehouse, notably the roughly five students you have referred to in public statements. I am as fearful as I am confident that this policy is a step in the wrong direction.

Second, while you are justifiably proud of Morehouse’s tradition of producing leaders of the black community, I ask you to reconsider who that communities includes. When your community included Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., did it also include Bayard Rustin? Does your community include Moses Cannon and his late sister Latiesha Green, who were both shot because a young man objected to who they were, as they sat in a car in our city of Syracuse? Is their family part of your family? LGBTQ people of color have leadership to offer your community. In the face of oppression, they and I need leaders of our own. Will Morehouse graduates provide them?

Lastly, I ask you to consider the economic, psychological, and physical violence that all women, particularly women of color face. Women will not be able to end this violence on our own. The letter of a white, female college professor will not end this violence. In addition to our own collective strength, we need men who are willing to be leaders in their communities. We need Morehouse men. How does a policy that encourages the hatred and fear of femininity and feminine accoutrement bring my sisters and me closer to equality and safety?

I am sure that you have received many passionate pleas on this matter. I anticipate and appreciate your patient consideration of the needs of our respective communities.

Warmest Regards,

Katherine J. Forbes, Ph. D.

CC: Ms. Melissa McEwan

Rev. Irene Moore Monroe

Ms. Monica Roberts

Ms. Pam Spaulding


18 October 2009, 930pm

My apologies to Reverend Irene Monroe for completely and inexcusably getting her name wrong in my initial post. I really do read her online work, and find it troubling that I didn't get her name correct.

29 September 2009

I Get Paid to Renounce my Lesbianism

...or I get to keep more of my money due to my newfound heterosexuality.
...or I can be lesbian, feed my family, but not both.

It finally came this week.  My family and I had just returned from a free (unless you count the jewelry we pawned for gas money) weekend vacation with queer family.  Waiting in the mailbox, was a sweet taste of heterosexual privilege, in check form, no less.  It was a lovely, and totally expected gesture.

Me and my newly hetero lover debated how to spend the money.  Vibrators?  Glitter?  As subversive (although I understand the my straight, er, fellow straight friends also use such things) and fun as those ideas are, we decided to use the money to deal with the latest disconnect notice from the utility company.  Indeed, our inability to pay our bills and provide for our daughter was the impetus. We simply couldn’t afford to be lesbians anymore.

At this point, I probably should explain things.  My family has health insurance through my employer.  In addition to my daughter and me, my family includes my partner, who is, er, was, a lesbian.  While the State of New York extends health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of its employees, federal regulations make the accounting a bit bizarre.

Health insurance is really important and essential (although not essential enough that everyone automatically gets it), that employees’ contributions to health insurance premiums are tax-free.  Usually.  If you’re the domestic partner of an employee, your sweetie pays for your health insurance premiums after income tax is taken out of hir check.  Also, any employer contribution to your health insurance premiums counts as income, because your health insurance is a bonus.  This whole set up is to protect the children.  Or something.

If you turn your domestic partnership into a federally approved (heterosexual) marriage, a few things happen.  You pay fewer taxes to the federal government (due to differences in withholding, it’s not yet clear to me what this means in my case, but my bi-weekly take home pay appears to have risen by a three digit amount).  You get to file taxes jointly, which has its benefits.  If you’ve already overpaid the taxes on your new spouse’s insurance benefits, your employer might end up sending you a check in the mail, like mine did:

There are all kinds of benefits to marriage, which plenty of other folks have cataloged.  These include deeply personal rights, like hospital visitation, as well as any variety of financial benefits (including the costs of not having to pay a lawyer to secure some of the benefits that go along with marriage). 

One assumes that straight couples regularly turn their domestic partnerships into marriage.  In our case, I happen to be transsexual, which by the very bizarre logic of the federal government makes my lesbian relationship hetero (more on this later).  Of course, the big point is that most gay and lesbian couples can’t just choose to receive these benefits for their relationship.  That, and I got a check in the mail for not being a homo.


One of the many reasons I don’t like talking about the fact that my sweetie and I are married is that I’ve seen random people use transsexual people’s relationships as punching bags far too often (regularly, even).  I don’t want to have to defend my lesbianism, nor my partner’s, to accusations based on what other people thought about me at my birth.  We don’t identify as a married heterosexual couple—we never have, for that matter.  I feel strongly enough about my identity that I’ve tried not to claim my marriage for tax purposes.  However, I can’t afford not to be “straight”.  I need to use my marriage to protect my family—which is one of the main points of marriage in the first place.  The problem is not so much with my decision, but with the ludicrous laws that required me to make it.

I feel responsible to fight for equality, including marriage equality (although I will be among the first to argue that equality goes far beyond marriage).  However, I don’t feel any special dispensation as a transsexual lesbian to suffer for the cause.  I’m not any more a part of the problem than all of the other married couples who’ve refused to take the hits that come along with domestic partnership.  Rather, the problem lies squarely with those people who insist on privileging certain relationships over others.

I’m not going to go into the laundry list of all the many, many privileges that, as a transsexual person, I don’t enjoy.  However, given the long history of accusing transsexual women of flaunting their supposed straight, male, privilege, I need to point out the oh-so-many ways in which I still don’t enjoy hetero privilege.  There have been plenty of court decisions invalidating marriages involving transsexual people—my marriage is always subject to extra scrutiny.  At this point, I should add that many of my transsexual brothers and sisters are unable to marry anyone, and frequently enough, can only marry members of the same sex.  My marriage basically gets me the same thing that one of the special pre-Prop 8 same sex marriages gets Californians, with two exceptions.  First, because my marriage is technically straight, I don’t need to live in one of the handful of states that recognizes same sex marriages to enjoy marriage benefits—I just need to convince authorities that I’m straight.  Repeatedly.  Second, I enjoy federal recognition for tax status, which lets me keep more of my money than homosexual couples (particularly those where one partner's employer provides the other partner with health insurance).

These are no small benefits, and feel pretty terrible that my other gay and lesbian friends don’t enjoy them.  However, day-in and day-out, my partner and I deal with the same things other lesbian couples do.  Our household combines the awesome earning power of two women.  People assume we’re sisters (the kind that look nothing alike).  Random clerks just know that we’re not married, and won’t accept the fact unless we show them plenty of documentation (and even then, that can be iffy).  In short, I don’t want to hear any of the same old BS about how trans women are totally privileged, and are totally taking advantage of the system while “real” gays and lesbians are suffering, m’kay?

The important thing is that I got a check for deciding to not be a lesbian—and that’s something that needs to be talked about.  Not me, and my family, but rather the obscene way in which society (in this case, the Federal government) punishes most gay and lesbian couples, and the contorted ways in which we have to manipulate our legal identities just to get by.

20 September 2009

You seem like a cool guy, but...


Look, most of us have issues with Governor Paterson, but until you set up a front organization downstate, don't tell the dozen or so guys from the boroughs how to run the Democratic Party in New York State.  Some of us would like to choose the elected officials who will take our money and ignore us for the sake of our their own careers.

Also, how long have you lived here?  A year-and-a-half less than me?  Several years less than Hillary Clinton?  I'm not saying I'm going to support Paterson, but have you seen the other options?  It doesn't take long in these parts to see that the local Democratic party has even worse problems than the DNC-- they certainly are much deeper than the Gov.  Please, leave us to pick our own poison.  K thx by.

19 September 2009

Did Science Kill Annie Le?

But thanks for playing.
On second thought, get bent, CBS.

Earlier this morning, the CBS morning show-Saturday edition aired an interview (link forthcoming) with a former colleague of Yale lab tech Raymond Clark III.  New Haven police recently arrested Clark, who they've charged with murdering Le.  But enough about her, what about Clark?  What possible injustice could have driven Clark to the brink?

Did I mention that Clark was a lab tech?

So, this is pretty much where my head explodes.  The interview covers some really important ground.  Working in a lab is stressful.  Given the very real threat of vandalism and violence from animal rights protesters, there are security concerns to be mindful of.  In part as a result of society's concern for animals' welfare, there are strict protocols to follow.  Also, there's science afoot, so it's important to be very precise, lest you mess up the one experiment that was finally going to cure all that cancer.

But wait, there's more!  There's a nasty power hierarchy in science and the academy.  Presumably there's a rich, good-looking professor at the top, who drives a brand new Beemer to the office in order to decide what top-flight journal to publish in, and maybe answer the occasional inquiry from the Nobel committee.  Punk 20-something grad students and post-docs with college degrees, who may come from money, who may or may-not have social skills do most of the sciency-bits.  And of course, they're the ones supervising the techs-- who may not have a college degree, are probably fairly likely to come from working class backgrounds, and may well be older than the grad students who are totally on their way to becoming big shots in their own rights.  Yet the lab techs are doing a lot of the work.  They're making $8.50 an hour.  And people refer to them as janitors, despite the vital role of lab techs in making bio-medical research possible.

These are all very real, very important points.  We should totally have a discussion about them in the near future.  Perhaps we can air it on CBS.  But fortheloveofgod, not in the context of explaining why some poor guy needed to kill a graduate student.

As for Clark's potential motivations, let's review the circumstances:
"Went off" doesn't quite cover the nature of the relationship.  As the NY Post puts it, Yale Lab Tech "Forced" Ex into Sex.  (which is rape, but as always, I thank the Post for the quotation marks and paraphrasing). 
Ms. Le was murdered on her wedding day.
And this one's important: working as a lab technician is not a justification for violence.

As has been the case with lots and lots of recent horrible acts of violence, this case shines a light on a culture that at times gives a wink-and-a-nod to violence against women.  And while I haven't seen a lot of folks waving pom-poms for sexual violence, by trying to make Le's murder an understandable act caused by a nice guy's(TM) misfortune, CBS certainly isn't helping the next victim.

17 July 2009


As many people are aware, this morning the jury reached a verdict in the trial of Dwight DeLee for the murder of Lateisha Green.  That verdict was that DeLee was guilty of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime, and of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.  I am relieved that the trial ended, and I hope that this verdict brings some small degree of closure to Green's friends and family, who have suffered tremendously in the months since Lateisha's murder.  I'm pleased to see that they have taken some solace in the ruling.

Personally, I am glad to see that the jury recognized that hatred against queer people (although the statute as written and interpreted applies only to actual and perceived sexual orientation) was behind this horrible crime.  I'm not a big fan of the manner in which our society uses prisons as a way of dealing with crime.  I don't feel that longer sentences deter crime.  However, I am tremendously upset that the jury did not recognize this crime for what it was-- murder.  In my opinion, pointing a gun inside a car window and firing represents an intent to kill somebody.  Further, while the jury did find Dwight DeLee guilty of a hate crime, I'm still concerned that the identity of the car's passengers may have impacted the way they viewed the crime.  I'm not a legal scholar, and am not aware of cases of other people who have been shot and killed in a similar manner, but I'd like to think that their cases brought murder convictions.

I don't share the excitement of many trans and LGBT organizations about hate crimes legislation.  I think that it's incredibly important that law enforcement gives a high priority to crimes committed on the basis of bigotry.  There is a long history of law enforcement agencies failing to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes against members of disadvantage groups, or even being complicit in those crimes.  Thankfully, that was far from the case in Syracuse, as it was in Greeley.  I also want the courts, the media and society to acknowledge the violence that occurs against minority communities.  However, I am less enthusiastic about arbitrary and extended sentences that the justice system may misuse.  We must not measure justice in the years of incarceration, but rather in the ability of all people to reach their full potential.

One of the things that struck me during this trial was the state's tremendous ability to wield power over arbitrary matters.  The judge was able to expel people from his courtroom at will, including Lateisha's mother, and just prior to the trial, a baby that was softly whimpering.  There were multiple armed court officers present to enforce the rules of the court.  The judge did not want people sending text messages from his courtroom, and his will was done.  Not only did a court officer demand that I remove my coffee from the courtroom, he also instructed me that it was unacceptable to return with my empty travel mug.  I saw officers confiscate water from members of the gallery.  In fact, the only way for those of us in the gallery to get water was to have a coughing fit, upon which time the judge might nod to an officer, who would pour and deliver a paper cup filled with court approved water to the parched observer.  Inside the courthouse and inside the courtroom, it was clear who held the power.

Everything that I mentioned above is, in my opinion, defensible at some level.  I don't mean to paint a picture of anything other than seasoned, courteous officials who were executing their duties.   Rather, my point is that there were lots of arbitrary rules, and that the county invested individuals with the power and resources to ensure that people followed those rules.

There was one rule that struck me as indefensible.  This was the insistence by attorneys, the judge, and government witnesses in referring to Lateisha Green by her legal name and male pronouns.  I understand that this practice wasn't personal per se.  As the victim of this crime, Green wasn't present, and official documents listed a name and gender that by all accounts, she didn't identify with.  However, identity is personal, almost tautologically so.  The whole business might have struck me as a silly game, were it not for the impact that it had.  Because of the bizarre legal requirements set up by a cissexual establishment, Lateisha Green all but vanished from a trial about her very death, and yes, very identity.  I find it tragically ironic that during the very trial where a young man was found guilty of killing Lateisha Green because of his profound disrespect for her identity, the legal system disrespected Ms. Green in its own way.  This delegitimizing of Lateisha's identity certainly did nothing to dissuade much of the local media from insisting on using her birth name and refusing to accept her womanhood in its coverage.  To me, the whole trial consisted of one big mixed message-- what I took from the government witnesses, the attorneys and the judge (whatever their intent) was that they believed killing a human being was wrong, regardless of how "different" they might be.  I suppose this is progress for trans people, but it's hardly an out-and-out victory.

As I've said, the authorities have shown that they are capable of displays of power for multiple ends, be it maintaining an orderly courtroom, or ensuring the sanctity of legally acceptable identities.  The issue is that real justice often isn't found in a courtroom.  Lateisha Green's family complained that she had been bullied and harassed throughout the four years following her coming out.  They had complained to school officials, and others, but I'm not sure that anyone ever lifted a finger to stop this bullying.  Green's mother reported hearing nasty comments in the courtroom.  I heard rumors of the harassment of LGBT friends of the Green family in the hallway outside of the courtroom.  I saw that the news media has footage of a fight between the Green and DeLee families outside of the courthouse.  What I did not hear about was any of numerous court officials stepping in to stop this harassment.

Don't get me wrong, the district attorney is looking into allegations of witness intimidation.  They appear to be taking Mark Cannon's statement that he was threatened with a gun seriously.  This morning, there was a very visible police presence outside the courthouse, presumably to prevent any violence.

It's not that people in power aren't doing their jobs, it's that their job descriptions are wrong.  Prevention of violence needs to be proactive, not reactive.  Those in power need to use their actions to affirm the value of all human beings.  This means taking bullying seriously.  This means speaking up.  If we're ever going to get to the just society that so many people surrounding this trial spoke of, we're going to need that same establishment that so ably controlled the flow of courtroom water to respect people's identities.  We need school teachers to take bullying seriously, rather than participating in it.  We need citizens to speak up when they see injustice.

I know that there are court cases to be heard and legislative battles to be fought, but let's not wait that long.  Justice isn't just about using the system to protect ourselves-- it's about fighting to replace an arbitrary system with one that values the dignity of all human expression.  Judging from the leadership that Lateisha's friends and family and members of the near-Westside community have shown, we're already on the road to that point.

I may add links later; at this point I'm looking for (and writing because) I need a certain degree of closure myself.  I definitely need to take a break (starting now) to spend some time with my family, my hobbies and my career.  However, watching these painful events unfold has certainly galvanized my desire to become a more effective advocate for change within our community.

16 July 2009

Comments for Thursday A.M.

As of this writing, the trial of Dwight DeLee has gone to the jury for deliberations.

Laura Vogel of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TDLEF) has been posting thorough summaries of the testimony.  At the moment, I'm not inclined to discuss much other than pointing folks to the summaries, which describe in graphic and uncomfortable detail the events of November 14.  Here are links to TDLEF's summaries for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here are a couple of observations for future consideration:

In both the defense and the prosecution's closing statements, attorneys referred to Star using a male name (presumably her birth and/or legal name) followed by her name.  All attorneys used female pronouns in reference to her.

The defense attorney stated that on the evening of November 14, Lateisha Green [referred to using her birth name] was wearing nothing "that says this is a person a different sexual orientation."

Chief Assistant DA Doran reminded the jury that the hate crimes statute is written to include crimes based both on actual and perceived sexual orientation: "It's not about whether [Lateisha Green] was gay (we know he [sic] was)."

I need to let a certain amount of time pass before I write anything substantial, but I do want to make the observation that there is no reason why attorneys could not simultaneously respect Lateisha Green's identity while simultaneously seeking a hate crimes conviction on the basis of perceived sexual orientation.  The lack of nuance on the part of those who ridiculed Mark Cannon, Teish, and Star is neither inconsistent with the application of a hate crimes enhancement, nor is it justification to disrespect Lateisha Green's identity.

My perception is that the attorneys' decisions to refer to Lateisha Green as if she were a gay man is either strategic or related to their interpretation of their duties as professionals.  I find the whole situation infuriating, and at some point may make more pointed comments about the judge and attorneys, and a legal system imbued with cissexual privilege.  I want to challenge that privilege and those who perpetuate it, but I also am convinced that all parties involved were acting in a highly professional manner, and in a very respectful manner (within the context of that privilege).
Also, I want to voice my annoyance at seeing the local media refer to Lateisha Green as a transgender person or transgender individual.  These statements are true, but it offends me to see media outlets avoid referring to her as a woman, either through ignorance or otherwise.

15 July 2009

Trial Notes, Day 3 am

Just some quick notes before I need to head to work for the day:

Prior to the start of the day's proceedings, Judge Walsh addressed the gallery to express his displeasure with a melee that occurred yesterday. He said that the event was a disgrace to the life and legacy of the victim (using her birth name), who was 'a peaceful man.'

In testimony from Erica Allison (I'm unsure about the spelling of her last name), one of the prosecuting attorneys asked her about Lateisha Green's sexuality (using her birth name). Ms. Allison replied that 'he was a female.' The prosecutor then attempted to clarify this statement by asking 'so, he was a man dressed as a woman?' Ms. Allison answered yes. An identical exchange occurred with respect to Star, a trans woman who was in the car seated behind Mark Cannon and Lateisha Green.

During cross-examination, the defense asked Ms. Allison if Green was 'dressed as female' the night of the 14th. Ms. Allison responded in the negative, stating that Green (using her birth name) was wearing a t-shirt, pants, and a head scarf and that his[sic] hair was not done up nice as it often was.

Personally, I'm upset to see the Judge erase Lateisha Green's identity. This morning's comments were part of a continuing pattern that I've seen from the prosecuting and defense attorneys, as well as witnesses. My blood pressure spikes at the term "man dressed as a woman", particularly in this context. I understand that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals have diverse ways of vocalizing their identities, and as I've previously noted, I never met Lateisha Green. However, I find these exchanges deeply troubling. Lastly, I'm upset about what I see as a trend within the trial that mirrors society's double standard with respect to trans women and clothing. As other folks have repeatedly elaborated, a shirt and pants is standard dress for many, many women. Expecting trans women to dress in erotic, flashy or "flamboyant" manners, confounding trans identities with homosexual ones, and confounding these identities with offensive stereotypes of gay males is, well, offensive.

I need to run, and won't be at the trial again until tomorrow. I assume TLDEF will post a thorough summary of the proceedings tonight.

14 July 2009

Limited Personal Comments on Day 2 of the Lateisha Green trial

I’m going to be fairly limited in what I post about the trial for a number of reasons.  First, I don’t want to overshadow the public statements of Lateisha Green’s friends and family by replaying the minutae of the trial.  Along those lines, there are a number of non-profit, activist groups who are putting out responsible, carefully-worded and important statements about events surrounding the trial.  Second, I don’t quite feel right about retelling all of the details of the evening of November 14, 2008 to the broader world.  Frankly, I don’t enjoy hearing most of the details.  I’m fairly sure that all parties touched by the events aren’t particularly thrilled about reliving that night, much less about having the details retold over-and-over on the internet.  I would rather leave it to those more intimately tied to the murder of Lateisha Green and the subsequent criminal proceedings to post any such details, were they to deem it appropriate.

Before I make my limited observations, I’d also like to comment about my presence at the trial.  I wrestled with whether or not to attend the trial, and whether or not to blog about it.  I’ve been attending the proceedings because I take the murder of Lateisha Green personally.  I’ve dealt with adversity in my life as a trans person—far less adversity than many (if not most) transsexual people deal with, yet far more than is acceptable.  I’m familiar with the sobering stories of many trans friends, acquaintances and strangers.  Listening to accounts by Green’s family, I am struck by how much love and support she was surrounded with, and how full of life she must have been.  Based on what I’ve heard, it seems to me that in many ways Lateisha Green had a support network that many trans people would be envious of—the sort of support than all human beings deserve.  Yet this was not enough to protect Lateisha from harassment and violence.  I cannot tell you how much this saddens me.  I am attending the trial because I’m hoping that the addition of one more person in the gallery will be a small gesture of support to Lateisha’s friends and family during this difficult time, and because my publically taking notice of the trial sends a message to the community that one more person takes violence (violence writ large, violence against trans people, and violence against a trans person, Lateisha Green) seriously.  I also want to verify that the criminal justice system not only takes the tragic taking of Lateisha Green seriously, but also that those involved do justice to Lateisha by respecting her identity.

Here are comments on three things:

The use of names and pronouns

Throughout testimony for the prosecution that I witnessed (prior to 3:30 p.m.), authorities (multiple police officers, an EMT, and a medical examiner) referred to Ms. Green by her birth name, and used male pronouns in reference to her.  The prosecution and defense did likewise.

I’m not sure what I’d expect, given that Ms. Green’s birth name was also her legal name.  I never met Ms. Green and am loathe to ascribe her with an identity based on my experiences, although given statements from her family that she had been living as Teish for 4 years, and their consistent use of female pronouns in reference to her, this use of names and pronouns troubles me.  I don’t want to speculate about the degree to which the usage of names and pronouns is due to cissexual perspectives on gender, or the degree to which the hate crimes designation is a consideration in how the prosecution has treated Ms. Green’s identity.


When asked by the defense whether he noticed anything about Lateisha Green in respect to her sexuality, a police officer refered to her as a man dressed “flamboyantly” and as ‘a man dressed as a woman.’  During cross-examination, the defense discussed the specific clothing Ms. Green was wearing when the officer was observing her medical treatment, and stated that the clothing was not “flamboyant.”

While discussing the external portion of the autopsy, the chief county medical examiner gave a description of Lateisha Green’s underwear, followed by the observation that the sizing of said underwear was consistent with a woman’s undergarment.  The defense objected to this statement, which led to a conference at the bench, after which the prosecution and witness moved on to other subjects.

I’m not going to deconstruct all of this, but again, I personally find all of the above statements troubling.  In my opinion, popular depictions of trans women frequently pay undue attention to details of clothing, particularly undergarments.  The term "flamboyant", and phrase 'man dressed as a woman' are, in my opinion, very loaded.  Presumably, much of this testimony and the back-and-forth about it is related to the hate crimes charge.

A point about an EMT

One of the police officers on the scene testified that an EMT who was treating Ms. Green hesitated after cutting away her shirt revealed a bra.  The officer testified that he told the EMT to keep going, and that Ms. Green was a man.

It’s important to note that the hesitation that the witness mentioned was inconsequential in terms of the medical treatment that Ms. Green received.  There was no discussion of or elaboration on the length of the presumably momentary hesitation.  Again, in light of other testimony during the trial, I see this hesitation as inconsequential with respect to the trial, and Ms. Green's death.  However, as a transsexual woman living in Syracuse, I find this testimony deeply troubling.  I see obvious parallels (and differences) with the death of Tyra Hunter.  Again, I don’t want to make mountains out of molehills, but I’d also prefer to believe that one’s gender identity and expression does not impact the quality of emergency medical care that one receives.

There were lots of other developments today, but I’m assuming that TDLEF or others will touch on them.  I’m not in a mood to discuss all of the minutiae of the trial, and I also don’t want to discuss things that I’m not prepared to discuss in an unemotional manner.

12 July 2009

Hope and Community in Syracuse

I'm in an optimistic mood this weekend, and much of it is because of two community events. In my experience, online community can bring people together, but to me, it can also make me feel isolating. I'm not sure what the rules are forming online communities, but they seem much more structured than offline ones. Online communities are often founded on common values. Offline, I often find myself in communities that are determined by proximity. Anyhow, here are two uplifting community responses to anti-LGBT bigotry in Syracuse.

Over last weekend, someone defaced a local art gallery by writing "There is no such thing as a proud queer" on a window. This isn't the first time I've seen bigoted graffiti in my neighborhood, nor the first the gallery was vandalized. In any case, Rose Viviano, the woman who runs the gallery, decided to mount a community response. Amit Taneja and Laura Hannahs organized a website for queer Central New Yorkers and their allies to send in pictures. On Friday, the gallery held a community gathering, where volunteers hung copies of the pictures sent in to the blog.

On Saturday, friends and families of Lateisha Green held a celebration of her life.  It was inspiring to see the mix of people in attendance, all to stand up against injustice and to celebrate the value of life.  One of the biggest things I took out of the event was the importance of showing up, and standing up.  To paraphrase the woman who was leading the events (and it kills me that I can't remember her name), it's not always important to have a polished message or to have a master plan-- what is important is to stand up and not let injustice pass unnoticed.  Doing so creates and strengthens community, and allows us to get through the tough times.

10 July 2009

Coming in 2011

Meg Ryan gets no solace from a turtle tortoise hand puppet:

Judd Apatow tells charming off-color jokes to his daughter's rabbit, over beer:

I save you $8.50

Mel Gibson has announced that his next movie will involve a depressed man who finds solace in putting a beaver on his hand.

I can has Oscar?

09 July 2009

Notes from Syracuse

This is difficult for me to write about, and I really hope I strike the right tone. I really, really appreciate the hard work that everyone in the trans, LGBTQ communities and our allies have placed on publicizing the senseless violence that takes places against trans people. I love that much (albeit not all) of the discussion has kept the humanity of the victims front and center. Nobody deserves to be murdered, much less to have their identity stripped away after the fact by the media, and by defense attorneys looking to justify the taking of a life. Lateisha Green’s murder troubles me deeply. I’m a transsexual woman and a mother. Talking about the taking away of somebody’s child because of who they makes me nauseous. I won’t be surprised if I spend much of the next week trying to stay away from news of the trial, because I simply can’t take it. I understand the need to focus on the horrifying consequences—and the need to prevent homophobia and transphobia (yes, the two are intertwined, and yes, that’s a discussion that’s been ongoing elsewhere).

Something about the response to Lateisha Green’s murder troubles me, though. I live in Syracuse. My friends and neighbors live in Syracuse. I feel the need to point out that crimes like Lateisha’s murder don’t happen in a vacuum. Furthermore, while violence against trans and gender non-conforming people is one of “my” issues, something I take very personally, I also care about all of my friends and neighbors, be they cisgender or transgender. When I see people from around the country speaking up about one of my neighbors’ lives being treated as disposable due to her identity, while remaining unaware or ignoring the rest of my city, I feel uneasy. I live here, and this city’s issues are my issues. How can I expect my neighbors to fight for my rights, when people like me seem hesitant to fight for my neighbors’ rights?

Don’t get me wrong—anti-LGBT bigotry is an important fight for all of us. Community leaders in the near-Westside neighborhood where Green lived (including Green’s mother) are working to provide LGBT youth of color with a space safe from all the hostility and violence they often face. Just this week, my neighborhood is participating in a constructive response to anti-queer vandalism (for a look at what some folks are willing to say anonymously to get a rise out of people, check out the comment thread on the newspaper coverage of the incident).

However, it’s also important to address the perceived disposability of other parts of the community. Upstate New York is not disposable. Syracuse is not disposable, nor are other urban areas. The poor are not disposable. People of color are not disposable. People with disabilities are not disposable. Young people are not disposable. This shouldn’t be news to readers, yet on many levels, power structures treat the above groups (and many other) like garbage. This needs to change. A focus on the issues of LGBT people is important, but it’s not enough to fix our communities nor is it all that is required to give many trans people the quality of life that they, like all people, deserve.

Why am I so upset? Well, here’s part of what I see in my city: I see rampant violence within groups of young men. I recall rerouting a recent trip out due to a massive brawl in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day. The issue here isn’t that I was inconvenienced. However, things seem to have gotten far too out of hand when violence is creating a traffic hazard, in addition to less frivolous concerns, such as the loss of a life earlier this week. A neighbor of mine who is about to be redeployed to Iraq complained that our neighborhood was more dangerous than Baghdad, and confessed his hesitancy to leave his loved one behind. I sense a heavy dose of hyperbole. Still, it is troubling when you hear someone emptying a magazine across the street from the playground where you take your child. While I’m not behind the drug war, I’m not at all torn about having to kick drug paraphernalia out of the reach of my daughter when we’re on walks, or about the strung out junkie who broke into a neighbors’ locked apartment and began rifling through her couch while she slept, only to be chased off by her mother. It’s painful to watch a city that at times seems on the verge of an outright race war, with epitats of all types clouding all parts of the city; the sidewalk, the grocery store, the playground, the post office. Regardless of your race, you simply can’t escape the threat of racially motivated harassment if you spend any time here. Of course, you can’t always escape violence, either; earlier this year a 14-year old sniper shot and killed a man as he got in his car to start the second shift.

There’s no single reason why so many of us experience such futility and violence. The economy certainly hasn’t helped. The latest recession has cost greater Syracuse some of its last manufacturing jobs, with Syracuse China and New Process Gear moving jobs out of the country, and Crucible Materials preparing to fold in the face of a disastrous market for American steel. As an Eastern outpost of the rust belt, this is simply an extension of a decades-long decline, marked by previous blows such as Carrier corporation’s foreign outsourcing. Speaking of the lack of media coverage that the media has given Green’s murder, economic considerations led Syracuse’s CBS affiliate (arguably the most community oriented station in town) to close its newsroom and effectively merge with our NBC affiliate, costing us jobs, and limiting the number of corporate perspectives of current events.

In addition to the economy, Syracuse is faced with the same crises as many other cities. We can measure the distain in which the powers that be hold us in slashed school budgets funded by unfair mechanisms, the environmental degradation of poor neighborhoods of color (and yes, segregation is an issue), in underfunded and borderline useless mass transit systems and the general lack of effective health and human service programs for many folks not privileged enough to live outside of the city’s South side (or the North side, or the East side).

What’s being done to allow all of the chance of upward mobility, or at least to be treated with dignity while we live in poverty? Thanks in large part to Gerrymandering, a city Republican and two conservative Democrats from outside Onondaga county are supposed to be representing us in the State Senate. Of course, if you’re playing along at home, you know that the Senate is (or until this evening was) in deadlock, as members of both parties court a tax cheat who openly flaunts campaign finance laws and a man indicted on two felony counts for beating his girlfriend. This whole schism largely seems to have been paid for by the former richest man in New York State, who recently moved his official residence to Florida in order to avoid paying his fair share of taxes. Of course, it’s not entirely clear that his tax dollars would have gone to help the majority of Syracuse residents, considering the incredible corruption in New York State government. While hundreds of millions of dollars of tax breaks went to help a developer build a “green” shopping mall (that may never be completed) finding the means to create *actual* jobs that pay a living wage has been elusive.

You could write a book (and people have) about what’s behind the violence within the poorer pockets of this (or any other) city, particularly among young men. Certainly, there are problematic issues with outdated, violent visions of respect and masculinity, and it takes strong families to keep children on the right path. However, it’s all too easy to blame violence on laziness or otherwise imperfect families, and doing so misses a massive part of the story. We as a society systematically disrespect the poor and people of color. The power structure in this country helps ensnare people in poverty. While violence is never excusable, much of our country seems to leave young men with very few outlets with which to make a living, or which to gain status within a community. This is complicated stuff, and discussions of it are fraught with peril—particularly discussion that involve a diverse audience. However, if we don’t all engage in a critical analysis of our actions and force ourselves to engage in dialogue on the tough issues, we’re merely enabling a culture where lots of human lives, LGBT or otherwise are treated as disposable. To me, the tragedy of Latiesha Green’s murder lies not only in the taking away of a human life for no good reason, but with my fellow white LGBT’s repeated unwillingness to consider the countless other lives snuffed out in Green’s neighborhood, or the rest of my city, or all of urban America, for no good reason. This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum.