Yes, and Transgender People Too

It could be hard following this blog which is one minute about silly stuff and the next about something serious, like addiction or giving away your power in sexual subservience. What I’m saying is that on Sunday I wrote about Marilyn Monroe’s terrible struggle. Then yesterday I talked about trying to drive home from the eye doctor’s after having my pupils dilated. (OK that’s not really a picture of me; I keep my whiskers trimmed closer. ha ha.) And now I want to tell you how great it is that the Board of Selectmen of my town has just now voted to include the words “gender identity” in our official Human Rights Statement.

Three of us were allowed to speak in favor of this motion.

This added language echoes the intent of a state law that went in to effect here just last month that makes Massachusetts the 16th state in the nation to add non-discrimination laws for gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, K-12 public education, and credit.

Additionally, Massachusetts Hate Crimes laws were also updated to include gender identity. This law  is a very good thing, since transgender youth in particular are now being targeted in the same vicious way gay youth were once targeted (and still are targeted in many quarters.)  The child born male who knows even at three years old that his outsides don’t match the way he feels inside is not rebelling against anyone; this is that child’s deep reality.

I heard Jennifer Finley Boylan speak when  She’s Not There first came out, her first book on the experience of being transgendered.  I remember her telling the audience how she remembers crouching under the ironing board and watching as her mother pressed her father’s shirts.

“Someday YOU’LL go to work dressed in a shirt like this,” her mother said to Jennifer who the world then called James.

“Oh no I won’t!” she remembers thinking, even at that tender age. Ms. Boylan is a 12-time author, professor at Colby College, and good friend to that quintessential Mainer Richard Russo who gave the world among many other books Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool and whose friendship with Boylan is part of that book’s narrative.

The board of my town’s Multicultural Network on which I serve had this to day in a letter to the editor last spring:

For most of us, our gender identity and gender expression are straightforward—our physiology, our outlook, the way we choose to dress, our mannerisms, our relationships are in harmony within ourselves and with societal expectations. For others of us, the physical characteristics we are born with are in conflict not only with societal expectations but also with our internal sense of self–at all levels: physical, emotional, behavioral. Moving through myriad choices in resolving personal wholeness and harmony is a daunting task in itself. Transgender and gender non-conforming people deserve the right to enjoy the same non-discrimination and civil rights as other Massachusetts residents.

In Massachusetts, 76% of transgender people report harassment in their jobs. Thirty-one percent of transgender youth, in grades K-12, experience physical assault.  Passing through an airport body imaging scan or undergoing an annual physical at a medical facility can become unimaginably difficult, especially when dealing with under-educated personnel. Transgender individuals suffer depression, anxiety, health issues, and job discrimination at an increased level.  A Massachusetts Department of Public Health report (July 2009) recommended that “Support of non-discrimination protection for transgender persons could help reduce stigma and, by extension, improve health.

The three of us who spoke last night just spoke from the heart. And we spoke to a body of people who saw the wisdom in this motion: They passed it unanimously so here is how our town’s Human Rights Statement will now read:

 “Winchester is a community that is grounded in respect for every individual and, therefore, protects all residents, employees, business owners, students and visitors in the enjoyment and exercise of human and civil rights. It is town policy to ensure equal treatment and opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, ideology, socio-economic status, health, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, military status or disability.”

I feel so proud to live here. I feel so proud of my townspeople too for doing as Gandhi recommended and being the change they wish to see in the world.

Brave Girl, Good People

I live in a town that was once mostly white and mostly Christian, with almost no Jewish families. Word is, when the great waves of immigration began 150 years ago the townsfolk just about died of apprehension. I do know that when David and I first got here in the late ’70’s, an otherwise kindly elder told us that it was all a whole lot nicer before these nouveau Italians moved in. (I guess she hadn’t caught our last name.)

Today, though, things are different. Today, African American, Asian and Latino families have added richness and depth to our community; there are some 50 households headed by same-sex couples; and folks attend worship services of every kind, including those held at a synagogue with a 300-member congregation.

These changes are part of why the town’s Multicultural Network decided to host a special day-long event, to which people from every segment of town life came. They came to celebrate our new diversity, build bridges and plan together to make this an ever-more-welcoming place to live, work or play. As a Network Board Member, I facilitated four table discussions where I met among many others (a) a single parent who described how it feels to live in a place where most people are coupled up, (b) a Catholic priest so warm you would want to have him at all your holidays dinners, and (c) a woman who told what it’s like be part of the new group, whom people appear to fear and misunderstand. “We need to stand as allies to one another,” one person said. “We need to make the invisible visible,” said someone else. There IS hunger in this town; there’s even homelessness. We need to SEE more!”

Here is something we all saw, right at the day’s start when people were invited to rise and share their own stories:

The college freshman you see here is named Angie. She was the first to stand and speak. She told about moving here after her junior year in high school. As a gay person, she had been targeted daily by her classmates in her former community. Now here she was at a school with an actual Gay Straight Alliance. She said it seemed like Heaven to her.

But, she also said, it was very hard to see the suffering of her new best friend, who all her life has wanted nothing more than to transition from male to female, as now, with the help of  the medical community and her family, she has begun to do.

Near day’s end, after we all had talked and listened and made lists of action plans, one attendee turned to this college freshman who had spoken so openly. “How is your friend doing now?” she asked kindly.

Angie smiled and leaned back. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? “ she said, indicating Gen sitting beside her.

Gen did not know Angie would speak of her that day but she was delighted with what had happened. I know because she said so when I drove them home. They seemed to feel both happy and peaceful.

I guess that’s how you do feel when you gather with others and speak truly about your own journey, and realize, perhaps for the first time, that you are not alone on it.

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As I say, that’s Angie at the top, who rose and spoke of her friend. Underneath here are two of the children who danced for us and three members of the morning panel,those photos courtesy of Caroline Hirschfeld. And under THEM? A picture of Angle and the loving dad who gave her all that courage.