Preserving Our Stories: Today and the Future of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

Of all transgender events, none has brought us together more and none has been more commonly held sacred than this one.  It’s easy to see how the International Transgender Day of Remembrance has made such an impact:  an appeal to conscience, a sense that each of us could be next to be murdered, and now in the age of Trump, a furthering of resolve to survive against a social order that calls for our erasure.

Those who want us to not be remembered regard our blood as cheap.  After all, we’re stereotypically hypersexualized fiends, profligate sinners, and every one a filthy prostitute (despite the fact that only 19%, fewer than 1 out of 5 of us, have had any part in the sex industry whether for money, food, or shelter,1 and most transpeople really do hold positions of responsibility).  It’s a cheapening in the public mind on the basis of stigma, fueling panic defenses in the courts, and leading to reduced sentences upon those who kill us.  But our blood must not be cheapened.  We need the truth to be told.  The Day of Remembrance, for all of what it has lacked, has brought out more of that truth than has been available to previous generations.  Now, we need to take new steps to advance its message.

 

A VOICE AT UNITED NATIONS SQUARE

This writer, in response to an invitation received through correspondence from the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force and Transgender San Francisco, stood at United Nations Square near San Francisco City Hall on a cold and windy night, November 20, 2000.  This event wasn’t the first Day of Remembrance.  One had been held previously at the Castro District on a drippy night.  That Day of Remembrance was much like any street protest.2

This one at United Nations Square offered the same outrage, but with added dimensions.

Rita Hester and those for whom she stood vicariously in 1999 weren’t the focus of this Day of Remembrance.3 We had a list for a reading of the names and a bell to ring in a public memorial, months before similar traditions of remembrance after the Attacks of 9-11.  That evening we had barely a dozen names to remember.  Today’s global networking for the collection of victims to be remembered didn’t exist then.  Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the event Founder, told that evening’s that the Day of Remembrance will be held every year for as long as our people continue to be murdered in hate crimes.

With those words, we knew something special was happening.  The wind blew fiercely through the urban canyons, blowing out candles, but everyone was eager to offer a relight.  The cold wind threatened our lights like the societal winds of hate threaten us.  Defiance was in our hearts even while we shivered.  We could hear those laughing in mockery as they passed by.  But we didn’t care.  We were witnessing history and affirmed the goodness of the message.

Those of us who went to our homes that night took the event with us.  The Transgender Day of Remembrance spread throughout the country the following year, and thereafter, the world.

 

THE CURRENT YEAR OF BLOOD

This year we’ve seen various news sources speak of 2017 as the deadliest year on record for transpeople.  However, news sources in the United States don’t usually offer the worldwide picture.  They specifically focus upon the United States.  Yes. We have 25 murdered in the United States in 2017 including some you may have known yourself on Facebook or your local support group.

The advantage the U.S. media offers consists of a greater interest in how the victims lived.  The real legacies of the victims emerge in those stories.  Some great societal contributors have been killed including Alejandro Polanco Botero of, Risaralda, Colombia, a known attorney, shot 4 times by a hit man.  Most of us haven’t risen to his status.4

Have we seen sex workers murdered?  Certainly.  But others had higher level jobs.  Sex workers typically have higher aspirations than sex work too.  We include them because they shouldn’t have had to live as sex workers.

Have we seen drug addicts and alcoholics murdered?  Certainly.  But most weren’t addicts.  Most addicts would prefer a better life too.  We include them because they deserved help and often found exploitation and rejection instead.

Have we seen transgender homeless murdered?  Certainly.  But most weren’t homeless.  Those who were didn’t necessarily have addictions or were mentally ill.  More and more of today’s homeless have degrees, even Masters degrees.  This writer has seen evidence of this who also suffered 2 years of homelessness.  More of us have fitfully slept on cold concrete in the presence of rats and vermin than admit.  Anyone, trans or not, who thinks he’s immune from this may well experience a rude awakening.

Too many of us feel compelled to work in the underground economy because of rampant and now legally sanctioned discrimination, often in the name of religion.  Sometimes the same kinds of religionists are clients.  That compulsion doesn’t cheapen their blood, even if others self-righteously think that their non-involvement in the underground economy somehow makes their blood better.  It doesn’t.  Given similar conditions, most of us would probably find ourselves in similar occupations.

What we demand of society instead is to change the status quo that excludes us from opportunities to live in peace, a status quo that heaves us down again and again and again.  It’s a status quo that delights to impose an impenetrable stigma, relying upon lies such as “they’re sick and self-destructive because they’re transgender, therefore they can’t be trusted but should be summarily incarcerated or otherwise destroyed.”

How many have we seen murdered worldwide this year?  Transgender Europe (TGEU) has for many years now compiled lists through the Trans Murder Monitoring Project (TMM) and earlier this week released its list for the 2017 Day of Remembrance.  The number murdered this time:  325, up from 295 in the 2015-2016 cycle.5

Some of the murders are especially outrageous, even gruesome.  Some, including some whose identities remain concealed, had faces ripped off their heads or otherwise disfigured.  Others, like Amna and Meena were tortured in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “packed in sacks and thrashed with sticks” after police arrested them.  Some like Sherlyn Montoya of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, went missing.  Sherlyn’s body was found in a sack with signs of torture.  Vanessa Valenzuela of Nina del Mar, Chile was attacked by 5 people with hammers and sticks while yelling, “kill the fag!”  Kenneth Bostick of New York City was living in a homeless shelter when beaten into a coma with a metal pipe, dying more than a week later at Bellevue Hospital.  Some, like J.R.P. Mangalili of Bulacan, Philippines were disrespected in death, buried in a manner inconsistent with their gender identities.  The body of Rubi Guerrero of La Altagracia, Dominican Republic was found dismembered.   Gwenevere River Song of Waxahachie, Iowa, was non-binary, but shot and killed by their own father.  Others were shot, stabbed, stoned, burned, beaten, decapitated, or some combination thereof.6

 

FILLING IN THE GAPS

325 is an astonishing number.  The number includes those killed from October 1, 2016 to September 20, 2017.  For the official list from TMM, click here.

TGEU has been unexcelled in this kind of service and to them we owe a great debt of gratitude.  Of course, there are some natural limitations to its lists, even apart from reports arriving with little information, sometimes not even a name.  TGEU has in the past published a list a couple of weeks in advance of the Day of Remembrance followed by an update a few days before observances.  More recently they simply published a list.  We’re entering the Day of Remembrance with a month and a half gap which would have to be filled the following year and with little for event organizers to assimilate in barely a week’s time.

Likewise we haven’t regular updates of those being remembered in the International Transgender Day of Remembrance website like we’ve seen in previous years, though it was recently updated for the 2017 event.7  Nor can we reasonably expect it.  It may be that these and other sites dedicated to remembering our dead need a broader base of support and we haven’t given them these sites the support they really need.  That need goes beyond site maintenance.  If you can contribute to site maintenance, by all means, contact the owners.

But with regard to reporting and distribution of information, we should look at what has worked and what still needs to be done.

Transgender Europe doesn’t do the Trans Murder Monitoring Project on its own. It partners with other networking organizations, most notably in Latin America.  Among these are:

  • APTN, Covering Southeast Asia, most specifically the Philippines
  • Centro de Apoyo a las Identidades Trans, covering Latin America, primarily Spanish-speaking regions
  • Rede Trans Brasil, covering the Portugese-speaking regions of the Americas
  • Wajood covering the Subcontinent8

Though these networks have provided excellent service year after year, we obviously show gaps with respect to coverage.  We have nothing from the Russian Federation, Central Asia, China and Mongolia, the Middle East, or Africa except meager press reports.  We can expect that the 325 would be a much higher number if we had better, sympathetic coverage.  The Day of Remembrance website has relied upon the press, and so naturally has produced a smaller number to be remembered than what has come through TGEU and its partner organizations.

We need more regional partnerships like them to fill in these gaps, whether connected to TGEU or some other organization with similar service.  Up till 2015 we had a U.S. based site for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) doing work parallel to that of TGEU and purported to open case numbers for follow-up.  When it ran, any subscriber could obtain an update only days old.  However, that site has closed and nothing in the United States has replaced it.

We need to expand the role of support organizations in a way that might not have previously been considered.  They can provide its members a repository for their stories available to others, even if they must be embodied by alternate names in those parts of the world particularly known for religious and political oppression and whose identities must be guarded carefully. By doing so they would gain greater incentive for people to take memberships.  Every officer of a support group could potentially become a liaison to a larger network who could not only report cases of murders, but also tell us how those people lived, what they can teach the rest of us, and possibly to draw patterns as to how to prevent murders in the future.

It is, in a way, a repository of souls.

 

HOW IT MAY WORK

For that matter, murders committed as hate crimes only represent part of the general milieu of calamity that can befall transpeople, each of whose stories could be easily overlooked or expunged. Some of us go missing.  Some become exploited in the underground economy.  Some face incarceration in which a person may or may not be able to communicate with the outside world.  Some cases should become known to law enforcement providing those authorities will not be inclined to inflict harm upon transpeople in the first place.

Part of the responsibility of remembrance rests upon the individual.  Some of us already have written our stories and distributed them to trusted individuals.  Some of us even put them on personal websites and Facebook pages.  These same profiles can be registered with a member of a support organization entrusted with secretarial duties, either to a paper file or to a laptop that could be secured separate from personal computers, especially in politically hostile areas.

Larger support organizations typically register members with 2 naming criteria:  the name to be used for mail and the name the individual prefers to be known in that group.  The reason for this is a matter of security with respect to confidentiality and expediting mail service.  If we know a person as “Sarah” and the post office knows that person as “Thomas”, a post office may at times reject mail as undeliverable because mail to person under a different name would technically be considered a form of mail fraud.  If everyone knows what the deal really is, it hurts nobody and a local postmaster may be sympathetic.  Others demand an ID in the preferred name.  But no support organization can count on postmaster sympathy.  Neither will a support organization want to expose a transperson to a hostile household member unwittingly.  That would go against their mission and ethics.9

An individual needs to make such profiles a part of a system of notifications that can be updated periodically in the same way other vital notifications need periodic updating as part of emergency packages.  They include:

  1. A Last Will and Testament: This document does more than list executors and property to be dispensed. It also addresses the dispensation of other accounts.  Mine, for example, is set up in such a way that updating information is done with attachments clipped to the Will.  These attachments pertain to lists of people to be notified and how to notify them.  They include the most current information on intellectual property with  copyrights and other publishing codes including job numbers, organizations being used in publishing and marketing, usernames, passwords, and current representatives.  They also include Internet accounts with current usernames and passwords that change from time to time, changing frequently after a cyber attack.  By using attachments for this purpose with the Will referencing those attachments, there’s no need to change the Will itself.  That way I don’t have to go through the pain of rounding up a new set of witnesses every time I change a password or marketing service.10
  2. A Living Will: This document directs any medical facility concerning who can make medical decisions for the maker in case the maker becomes incapacitated but remains alive. It does this through a Durable Power of Attorney.  It also provides Advance Directives to that facility concerning life-sustaining treatment and other preferences for medical treatment.  It addresses extreme conditions like coma or extreme brain damage.  It addresses issues of feeding, hydration, experimental treatments, mental illness, transfusions, RFID implants, and harvesting of organs for transplant as well as how closely these directives must be followed.  These advance directives become part of the patient’s Chart and may be the only thing that stands between a decision for no heroic measures in medical treatment and possibly being kept alive for years against the patient’s wishes while draining the patient’s estate.  Some facilities want a notarized Living Will.  Others accept any signed Living Will with 2 witnesses.  Some, like medical centers run by the Veterans Administration, have a particular form for Living Wills.  But even a VA facility may regard a Living Will using a different format as authoritative so long as it addresses the same set of concerns.  Consult your local facility or facilities concerning their requirements, noting that the range of ambulance services for your area might not reach your preferred facility.11

Accompanying these documents I also propose adding a postcard notifying a support organization.  It would work best if the support organization uses a post office box with the card addressed to the “Post Office Box Holder” or “Occupant” if addressed to an office other than that of, say, a physician or attorney.  The card would be marked with a Profile Number connected to a profile previously registered with the secretary and may be the same as a Membership Number.  The card information would be titled, “Vital Notification” or something to that effect.  It might have a brief checklist that includes:

  1. “Deceased”
  2. “Missing”
  3. “Incarcerated”
  4. “Date Deceased, Missing, or Incarcerated”
  5. “Communications Allowed If Incarcerated?” (yes or no)
  6. “New Address of Incarcerated” to be filled in by household representative.
  7. “Does the personal or household representative wish to be contacted?”
  8. “Representative Contact Information (optional)”

A Profile Number not only would be indexed to a registered profile telling the story as a transperson, it would be indexed to other existing information of a member including a legal name and possibly other names used.  It would also be indexed to a document not all support organizations include in their membership rolls:  Advance Notification Directives, a statement on how further notifications may be carried out by that organization.  This would also need to be referenced in a group’s Privacy Statement that should accompany an Application.  In a sense, Advance Notification Directives function much like Advance Directives do to medical facilities to assure confidentiality and follow-up.  If a member is in trouble, how can the trans community help?  Who in the trans community needs to be notified?  Will a liaison need to work alongside law enforcement?  To what extent should information be released to the press?  Do pre-existing threats exist?

You can see how this elevates the purpose of a support organization.  It becomes more than just a group one attends once a month for psychological warm fuzzies.  It takes the proportion of genuinely contributing to the safety or its members, and potentially, society at large.

Specifics concerning these documents need to be addressed by the officers of the support organization in their meetings because they have practical and possibly legal ramifications.  There should also be a designated liaison to communicate with the household representative, law enforcement, or any other interested agency and who understands how to exercise discretion.  That may include investigating circumstances of incarceration, whether justly applied for a crime or unjustly due to abuse of psychiatry.   That may include investigating circumstances behind murder and cooperation with law enforcement helps in advancing good relations with cities and counties.

The information obtained at the local support group level should become linked to any existing report in the local press which may or may not actually identify a victim as transgender.  It may reveal that a transperson not being respected after death through internment as a member of an imposed sex inconsistent with gender identity.  The local liaison notifies a regional networking organization with monitoring of murders in its mission.  The regional network communicates with organizations including TGEU who compile worldwide lists of deceased transpeople.  This can also be expanded to include lists of those being exploited or unjustly incarcerated.  It may even be used to address issues behind suicide, most specifically bullying and doxxing.

 

WORKING AROUND LIMITATIONS

Of course, not all places in the world can operate like this.  While this may suffice for transpeople in more enlightened areas like Johannesburg, Beirut, Shanghai, or Ho Chi Minh City, it may be too dangerous a practice for places like Kampala, Tripoli, Basra, or Bishkek.  Personal information may be too sensitive to entrust to one person and profiles may not be linked to any address in any way at all.  They may not even contain images that can potentially identify an individual not yet deceased.  Wherever transpeople manage to form associations, they need to address how to best preserve safety for one another and exercise discretion; and nobody knows better how to do this in a particular locale than its own residents.

It’s part of what makes a community a community.  Remembering our dead and the lessons of their lives is part of our honoring one another.  When we remember on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, we must also honor those intrepid gatherings of transpeople whose voices have been squelched by intolerance but still persist:  in counties like Egypt, Turkey, and the Russian Federation who continue to face state-sanctioned oppression.  Their resilience is a lesson to us all, and future networking partnerships may indeed arise from such groups.  We may yet find new ways to communicate instead of standard channels monitored by local or state officials and need to be watchful for networking opportunities with transpeople struggling in those countries and beyond.

It may test our patience, but patient we must be.  While we evolve in response to world conditions we realize afresh with the Day of Remembrance that there are some things that do not change for as long as humans exist:  people are born, they suffer, and they die.  For as long as our people die because of meanness, we remember, with faith in prospects to come of alleviating suffering, and giving greater meaning to the dead.

______________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  A month of a list of murdered transgender individuals in the current TDoR cycle, sourced from The TvT research project (2017), hereafter cited.

  1. James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality, p. 158.
  2. Theresa Sparks “1st Transgender Day of Remembrance” YouTube (November 8, 2008, accessed November 18, 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-lTsu9SQXM.
  3. (n.a.) “About TDOR” International Transgender Day of Remembrance Website (accessed November 18, 2017) https://tdor.info/about-2/.
  4. TvT research project (2017) “Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TDoR 2017 Update”, Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide. TvT project website: http://transrespect.org/en/trans-murder-monitoring/tmm-resources/
  5. The site also includes past lists.
  6. Ibid.
  7. International Transgender Day of Remembrance Website (accessed November 18, 2017) https://tdor.info/.
  8. Op. cit.
  9. The author relies upon her experience with the post office and firms that sell post office boxes. She also relies upon her experience with support organizations.
  10. The author speaks from experience. For specifics concerning a Last Will and Testament, plenty of examples can be found on Internet for simple Wills.  For Wills involving complicated estates and other issues, consult an attorney familiar with probate.
  11. The author speaks from experience.  For specifics concerning a Living Will, plenty of examples can be found in Internet.  For help, contact the social worker or chaplain at your local medical facility or an attorney

What’s Next? Looking Ahead for 7 New Trans Officials

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

Elation peeled in shouts, high fives, embraces, and jubilation throughout the trans community.  Historic wins in California, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia aroused great celebration and deep pride.  We would have been elated if only 1 happened to win office.  But 7 won instead.  Has the trans community truly found its place in society?  Not yet, but we may be on our way.  Questions remain.  Now that the 7 won, what’s next for these people and for the trans community?

 

VICTORIES MORE THAN NAME DEEP

In case you might not have been following this story, here’s a list of the winners:

  • Doraville GA City Council: Stephe Koontz, a businesswoman and church administrator, also serving on the Board of Directors at the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.1
  • Erie PA School Board: Tyler Titus, winning as a write-in candidate. He’s a licensed professional counselor, working in public and private schools. He’s a known youth advocate, and public speaker.2
  • Minneapolis MN City Council, Ward 8: Andrea Jenkins, winning with a whopping 73% of the vote against 3 other candidates in her district. She had been a campaign aide to other city council members for 12 years.  Her objective as councilmember is to make Minneapolis a better place for marginalized minorities, especially African-Americans.  She wants to create more affordable housing, promote police accountability, promoting economic development3
  • Minneapolis MN City Council, Ward 4: Philippe Cunningham, winning by a closer margin than Andrea Jenkins so his election wasn’t called till the following day. He ran on a platform that stressed housing as a basic human right and expansion of business in the 4th4
  • Palm Springs CA City Council: Lisa Middleton who won one of 2 seats, both winning 30% of the vote. Middleton previously served as a Planning Commissioner and other groups for the City of Palm Springs and worked for California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund (Worker’s Compensation).  Her win makes her the first elected non-judicial trans official in California.5
  • Somersworth NH School Board: Gerri Cannon, retired carpenter on call and public speaker at Freedom New Hampshire.6
  • Virginia House of Delegates, 13th District: Danica Roem, a journalist against whom the Republican opponent produced ads attacking her trans status. She defeated her opponent by 9% of the vote.7

None of these candidates claim to be the first elected trans candidate anywhere in the world.  We’ve known people like Stu Rasmussen, who was not only elected Mayor of Silverton OR but kept getting re-elected to municipal positions.Looking across the Pacific, Christchurch, New Zealand elected Georgina Beyer as Mayor in 1999.9  Victoria Kolakowski was elected in 2010 as a Judge of the Superior Court in Oakland CA.10 But all of them rightfully claim firsts for their own localities as those openly transgender. Others claim first in other ways.  Andrea Jenkins was the first elected transwoman “of color” in the United States,11 followed by the first elected transman “of color,” both of whom will serve together on the Minneapolis City Council.12  Danica Roem of Virginia took the highest prize of all as the first trans candidate elected to a state legislative position.

Delegate Elect Roem’s win is especially significant in another way.  Her opponent was Robert G. Marshall who had written and sponsored anti-transgender legislation in Virginia.13  Virginia still reels from the attack of Alt-Right organizations in Charlottesville last summer in a wave of racism and sexism emboldened by Donald Trump’s election the previous year and his anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT divisiveness.14  Delegate Elect Roem’s victory has been noted by a number of news organizations to be a rebuke against the agenda of Donald Trump.15

It’s not just Trump’s agenda they rebuked either.  The rebuke has hit the prevailing agenda of the Evangelical AllianceTime this week noted this comment on Twitter by Andrew T. Walker, the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Director:

“Christian parents, the nations [sic] first transgender elected official enters into American history tonight.  What are you doing to prepare your children for this new world?”16

His tweet demonstrated ignorance of the history of trans officials currently in office, and now, winning elections across the United States.  But his comments also struck a chord with many religionists, with rebukes tweeted from everywhere.  They included pointed references to his bigotry from parents, individuals, rabbis and other ministers, even a Jesuit.  They didn’t mince words either, possibly a harbinger of things to come after Twitter doubled its allowable characters from 140 to 280.17

Rebukes from those not transgender made the wins that much sweeter, for it shows that many to whom trans-activists have appealed over the years really do get it.  While much much more needs to be done, activists to date can point to such responses as the fruit of labors where they have sought for people to understand.

 

THE TERMS TO COME

So what lies ahead for these elected officials now?  Not one of them can harbor any illusion of a political cakewalk to come.  The hard work of running for office is meant to prepare for the even harder task of making good, for these officials must be able to make deals with other officials, many of whom staunchly hold views opposed to their own.

Consider the case of an existing trans official.  Jess Herbst is Mayor of New Hope, Texas.  Mayor Herbst had already been elected when she announced her transition.18 Did New Hope convulse with a major backlash?

To set the context of Mayor Herbst’s constituency, we must understand that Texas has been a battleground state on trans issues for many years.  The Texas judicial decision in Littleton v. Prange in 1999 invalidated the heterosexual marriages of transpeople, declaring them to be same-sex unions on the basis of the presumption that the chromosomes of a transwoman must be 46 Karotype XY and those of a transman must be 46 Karotype XX.19  This precedent was later successfully challenged by Nikki Arguz in 2007.20  But these court battles underscore what has been a running philosophical conflict among Texans and legal experts on both sides.

Conflict reached a fever pitch this year in the Texas capitol of Austin in which the governor, known to be hostile to the rights of transpeople and especially trans kids, called the legislature to special session in an attempt to push through anti-transgender legislation.21 The action sparked waves of protests, not only by transpeople, but by allies in faith communities of various sorts.  Mayor Herbst joined these protests.22

Texas’ “bathroom bills” and other pieces of anti-transgender legislation failed in the current legislative session.  These measures are dead, at least till the next legislature.  But after all that political turmoil, what repercussions existed for Mayor Herbst that might apply to the newly elected officials?

Mayor Herbst has found it to be “business as usual,” at least for now.  The New Hope City Council has continued its work, seemingly indifferent to whether the mayor is trans or not.23

 Trans Muse Planet asked Mayor Herbst concerning what the 7 new officials are likely to face in their terms of office.  She responded:

 

“I think Danica will face the biggest issues. Being a delegate, she faces the largest number of peers and thus possibly animosity. She will be the only transgender woman her legislative colleagues have dealt with. I think the first few months will go smoothly as they study her for strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, Danica will have to deal with a possible 50/50 split in the house, a difficult situation in any case.

“For the city council members it should really be business as usual. Trans people are not unknown in local government, so as long as [they] stick to city business they will do great.”24

 

It’s a view echoed in her own philosophy as a public servant.  Mayor Herbst advises:

 

“Public office is not about you.  It’s about the people you represent.  It is your job to lead, but also make sure no one is left behind.25

 

Leaving certain people behind has become a mark of Dominionist officials who aggressively wear their religiosity on their sleeve.  Attempts to undermine the rights of transpeople at the state and federal levels in the past 2 years have also become a theme for the current U.S. administration.26

The fact that transpeople understand minority struggles better than rabid Dominionists who reek of White supremacy, religious bigotry, and sexism marks them as better potential leaders precisely because they don’t want to leave others behind.  Dominionists, on the other hand, crave political power to compel people to either accept some “acceptable” form of Christianity or face ostracism from work, home, and potentially every other part of society.

Dominionists have long urged its members to run for school boards and municipal offices in an attempt to control the educational process and facilitate proselytizing while shielding schoolchildren from understanding minority communities.  Schools like that often present LGBT peoples as inherently “wicked”.  Intersex people are ignored, instructors pretending they don’t exist and would also re-define transpeople out of existence in an agenda of erasure if they could.  They trivialize science while the Bible as interpreted by local clergy becomes the full and final authority for everyone.

How much this Dominionist fervor plays out should make a difference in the level of difficulty these officials will face.  It could be “business as usual,” to use Mayor Herbst’s terms.  Council chambers can also become hotbeds of contention.  Municipal offices aren’t usually partisan offices, even though officials typically do belong to political parties.  They also typically consist of odd numbers of only a few seats, preventing stalemates in voting.  They’re configurations conducive to getting things done.

Delegate Elect Roem’s challenges in that 50/50 partisan split that Mayor Herbst described should be examined further because the Dominionism that has fueled the GOP in recent years may also infect some Democrats.  On the other hand, not all Republicans are Dominionists.  Not all would share the snarkiness or arrogance we might expect from someone representing a district in Lynchburg with connections to Liberty University.

Those differences will matter for the Delegate Elect.  After all, legislation incorporates the art of deal-making.  As a journalist, she understands issues and argument.  Her skills as a negotiator will be tested.  Not only will others “study her strengths and weaknesses” as Mayor Herbst described, the Delegate Elect will also study those of other delegates.

But the likelihood of anti-transgender legislation in Richmond has diminished for a key reason other than the election of Danica Roem.  Virginia also elected a Democrat, Ralph Northam, as Governor.  He denounced the message of hate and disunity that has typified the Trump era.  Anti-transgender legislation will be doomed to veto and proponents can’t expect sufficient votes to override it.27

Delegate Elect Roem’s term may also be compared to the terms of early Black Congress members during the period of Reconstruction.  There was an influx of Black politicians serving at the federal level.  Then Jim Crow laws put a damper upon them through suppression of Black voters.  That kind of suppression has also raised its ugly head in the 2016 election and every voter must give attention to newly imposed requirements and overcome them lest our voices be shut out again as were Blacks before the Civil Rights Era.  A closely split state like Virginia can easily see-saw from Left to Right.  Southern GOP bosses will be inclined to perceive a minority candidate as vulnerable.  No doubt, they will invest in a war chest for a challenger in the next electoral cycle.  The Delegate Elect must understand this very well and likewise make preparations while performing well for her constituents.

 

LOOKING TOWARD 2018

This midterm victory for the trans community has emboldened not a few.  We may expect to see many more transpeople seeking public office in the 2018 midterm election.  Many with political aspirations have felt held back, not taken seriously in the mounting milieu of anti-transgender fervor from many sides.

But we can think again.  Many of us are very astute at debate and should perhaps think about running for public office who might not have considered doing so in the past.  We’ve been like gropers in the dark.  But might we have been looking for the wrong thing, a light at the end of a tunnel of struggle or should we seek the light of a hallway we inhabit leading from disorder to an order of cooperation?  It may be that all of us are far closer to that reality than we think and that we have more available at hand to make change happen than we had imagined.  These 7, shining like the 7 ancient planets, have already taught us the latter case through their successes.

It’s good to start with local offices too.  In doing so our future candidates learn the procedures that make greater things happen, unfolding from the obscure to the more influential.  For the challenges increase with those higher levels, and electorates love those with greater experience and accomplishment.  Local offices include school boards.  After all, scientific and religious literacy need to maintain a balance, for both contribute to make humans human and to make inquirers more cunning.

For transpeople not so inclined to enter the political arena, it makes sense that we should support those who have those inclinations and who have a history of instruction, law, and bringing people together.  A mere 7 can become 14, then more.  Eventually Americans should understand that gender identity is no more a criterion for rejection than race, sex, or ethnicity.

What’s next for the 7 echoes what’s next for the rest of us:  the prospect of a bright future, but a fight to maintain it.  We have one distinct advantage in terms of voter anger.  Donald Trump won partly because of anger on the Right.  Now we’re witnessing a corresponding anger on the Left for oppression of minorities and anger .  We even see anger in the Center for the impending restriction of civil rights of the sort that resembles the Jim Crow South more than the America in which we grew up.  As divides within the GOP deepen on the fissures we’ve noticed in that party since Tea Party Republicans felt their oats after 2008, we can discover a new optimism through a newfound unity.  The most oppressed of minorities, transpeople, may become symbolic of that unity too.  We can only hope as we get busy.

_____________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: A cluttered hallway leads to a bright light, fragmented into the colors of the transgender flag.  From the author’s archives.

  1. Stephe Koontz. (Website, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.stephekoontz.com/about .
  2. Candy Woodall. “Tyler Titus wins seat to become first transgender person elected in Pennsylvania” PennLive (November 7, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/11/tyler_titus_wins_seat_to_becom.html
  3. Ashley May. “Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, more: Is this election a moment for the transgender community?” USAToday (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/11/08/election-moment-transgender-community/843385001/ .
  4. Philippe Cunningham. (Website accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.cunninghammpls.org/ .
  5. Dan Avery. “Palm Springs Elects Trans Candidate Lisa Middleton To City Council” NewNowNext (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.newnownext.com/palm-springs-transgender-lisa-middleton/11/2017/?fb_ref=fbshare_web.
  6. Gerri Cannon. (Facebook page, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.facebook.com/gerri.cannon .
  7. Antonio Olivo. “Danica Roem of Virginia to be first openly transgender person elected, seated in a U.S. statehouse” Washington Post (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/danica-roem-will-be-vas-first-openly-transgender-elected-official-after-unseating-conservative-robert-g-marshall-in-house-race/2017/11/07/d534bdde-c0af-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?utm_term=.426f80edc35e .
  8. Stu Rasmussen. (Website accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htmreference .
  9. Kathy Marks “Georgina Beyer: The double life of Georgie” The Independent, UK (July 18, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/georgina-beyer-the-double-life-of-georgie-184803.html .
  10. Malaika Fraley. “Meet Judge Victoria Kolakowski, nation’s first transgender judge” East Bay Times (March 14, 2007, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/03/14/meet-judge-victoria-kolakowski-nations-first-transgender-judge/ .
  11. Marwa Eltagouri. “Meet Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the U.S.” Washington Post (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/08/meet-andrea-jenkins-the-openly-transgender-black-woman-elected-to-public-office-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.8ade533ecd66 .
  12. Chris Johnson. “Phillipe Cunnignham first trans man elected to U.S. public office” Washington Blade (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/11/08/phillipe-cunningham-first-trans-man-elected-u-s-public-office/ .
  13. Mark Joseph Stern. “Transgender Democrat Danica Roem Makes History, Defeats Notorious Anti-LGBTQ Incumbent” Slate (November 7, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/11/07/transgender_democrat_danica_roem_defeats_bob_marshall.html .
  14. Maggie Astor, Christina Caron, and Daniel Victor. “A Guide to the Charlottesville Aftermath” New York Times (August 13, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-virginia-overview.html .

  1. David Smith. “Democrats mark anniversary of Trump’s election with night of sweeping victories” The Guardian (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/08/democrats-election-victories-anniversary-trump-virginia-new-jersey .
  2. Andrew T. Hoffman, Tweet November 7, 2017 6:00 pm, quoted by Ashley Hoffman. “Christians Took to Twitter to Rebuke This Man’s Tweet About a Transgender Politician” Time (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://time.com/5015153/danica-roem-reaction/?utm_campaign=time&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&xid=time_socialflow_twitter
  3. Brett Molina. “So long, 140, Hello, 280: Twitter doubles its character count on tweets” USA Today (November 7, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/11/07/so-long-140-hello-280-twitter-doubles-character-count-tweets/839604001/ .
  4. Christine Houser. “Texas Mayor Announces That She Is Transgender” New York Times (February 1, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/us/texas-transgender-mayor.html .
  5. “Littleton v. Prange” FindLaw (October 27, 1999, report accessed October 5, 2017) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1079164.html.
  6. Francesca Acocella.“An Affirmative Decision for Transgender Marriage in Texas” Jurist (September 16, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.jurist.org/dateline/2014/09/francesca-acocella-transgender-marriage.php .
  7. Madison Park. “’Bathroom bill’ fails to make it out of special session” CNN (August 16, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/16/politics/texas-bathroom-bill-dead/index.html .
  8. A. Crunden “Activists rally for transgender and immigrant rights in Texas” Think Progress (August 4, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://thinkprogress.org/texas-trans-immigrant-rights-rally-6e0a472d2813/ .
  9. David Taffett. The completely nonexistent story of a transgender mayor’s transition” The Dallas Voice (October 27, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.dallasvoice.com/the-completely-nonexistent-story-of-a-transgender-mayors-transition-10244717.html .
  10. Response by Mayor Jess Herbst to the author on November 9, 2017.
  11. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Dominionist Collapse” Trans Muse Planet (July 22, 2017 , accessed November 10, 2017) https://thetmplanet.com/the-dominionist-collapse-when-transpeople-face-theocracy/
  12. Eric Bradner. “5 takeaways from the Democrats’ big night” CNN (November 8, 2017, accessed November 10, 2017) http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/07/politics/5-takeaways-election-virginia-governor-trump/index.html.

It Cannot Pass Without Notice: Intersex Awareness Takes New Significance

Painfully, too few took notice of an important event that took place on October 26.  Intersex Awareness Day was observed across the globe but with much less of the fanfare offered to LGBT people during Pride season.  While November may be Transgender Awareness Month, only a single day has been set aside to remember the issues of intersex people.

This year Australia led in recognition of intersex issues with the First Federal Parliamentary Forum hearing from intersex activists in Canberra.1 This hearing might be compared to the first Congressional hearing on transgender rights in Washington D.C. which took place in 2008.But this isn’t enough for intersex people.  It’s shouldn’t be enough for the rest of us either, transgender or not, who have not been diagnosed with an intersex variation.

Intersex experience, despite differences from transgender issues per sé, overlap transgender issues and we must not ignore them in recognition of that overlap if for no other.  But even apart from this, intersex experience deserves the attention and respect from all people, and the international, multi-generational cruelty inflicted upon intersex individuals should be regarded as inflicted upon all humanity.

 

HISTORY OF INTERSEX AWARENESS DAY

Intersex Awareness Day became an annual event sparked by a protest against the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on that day in 1996.  Tony Briffa calls it the “Intersex Stonewall.”3 Tony Briffa was the first openly intersex elected official, becoming Deputy Mayor of Hobson Bay, Melbourne, in 2011.4

The American Academy of Pediatrics was conducting its session in Boston in 1996.5  Boston also gave us Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett, whose deaths  in the years following sparked the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance to be held later this month.6  Two intersex activists tried to address the conference.  They challenged the persistent treatment of intersex children, which still feature infant surgeries and other permanent interventions to ‘normalize’ genitalia.  The AAP responded with pure intolerance, removing the activists from the conference.7

Why would the American Academy of Pediatrics so readily reject this message?  Was it just because the academy only offered speaking positions to academy members?  If that was the case, then members of the AAP should have acted as spokespeople, with the activists as visible examples, because the message is a valid and long suppressed issue.  But that didn’t happen.  The conference officials literally quashed their message, opting instead to favor enforcement of a binary of sex and gender that runs roughshod over self-determination, advancing a cause favorable to the propagation of patriarchal dominance.

But the actions of the AAP in 1996 unwittingly laid a political foundation for a human rights observance that deserves to rise above obscurity.  It gave impetus to the movement for intersex rights, and transpeople as allies need to pay attention.  Movements for transgender rights and intersex rights have long paralleled one another and at times intertwined.  Intersex people have supported transgender rights and we would be amiss not to recognize their contributions over the years and to embrace their cause as they have supported ours.

 

SOME INTERSEX STATISTICS

We can’t realize any true discussion of intersex rights without understanding the physical phenomena intersex people face.  Intersex variations happen far more often than people admit according to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) whose website still exists for educational purposes after Accord Alliance replaced it in 2007.  Chances are, you’ve met an intersex individual.  You might unwittingly be intersex yourself.  Some intersex variations may be that subtle.8

Intersex variations present as anatomical and chromosomal anomalies pertaining to physical sex and may require specific attention in medical treatment.  Some of statistics include:

 

  • Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female: 1 in 100 births

  • Not XX and not XY: 1 in 1,666 births

  • Klinefelter (47 Karotype XXY in males and females): 1 in 1,000 births

  • Vaginal Agenesis: 1 in 6,000 births

  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 13,000 births

  • Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: 1 in 13,000 births

  • Ovotestes: 1in 83,000 births

  • Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 130,000 births

  • Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance: 1 or 2 in 1,000 births9

 

We might note some others not mentioned in the ISNA list: Swyer Syndrome (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females”, De La Chapelle Syndrome (46 Karotype XX), noted in “males”, 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females” external phenotypes but with internal male gonads, Chimerism, and Turner Syndrome (46 Karotype XO).  Other variations occur besides these and can be found at http://oii-usa.org/1124/intersex-variations-list/.

But ambiguities in external genitalia have garnered the most attention for Pediatrics.  A clitoris might resemble a penis or vice versa.  For that matter, one might not be able to determine the sex of an infant at all because the ambiguity may leave a medical practitioner guessing.  Determination of sex has overwhelming legal implications and few jurisdictions allow recognition of anything outside the gender binary.  It follows the classic belief that anything other than male or female cannot exist apart from “birth defects,” maliciously branding intersex people “abominations” or “monsters” and many pretend they don’t happen even so.

What has been the overwhelming treatment of choice among pediatric surgeons?  They’ve typically chosen surgery to assign a sex out of their own medical and legal convenience.  In most cases these surgeries have rendered infants as “female” because it’s easier for a surgeon to surgically fashion female genitalia than male genitalia and upon this convenience perpetrating doctors have declared the legal sex of 1 or 2 in 1,000 births without any consideration for the patient’s actual gender identity.

That’s a problem for those intersex individuals who realize they aren’t who they had been assigned by the surgeon to be.  It compels such patients to seek corrective surgery, called Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS) as opposed to Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) offered to transsexuals.  For intersex individuals this isn’t so much about gender dysphoria driving one to cross over from one sex to another as an issue of the quality of life and righting a crime perpetrated by societies and their institutions.

  

A COMMUNITY SEPARATE AND DISTINCT

In the past, intersex people have worked with transgender organizations to advance the cause of human rights.  But our part as transpeople has been insufficient for intersex needs.  Intersex people are now determining their own path independent from ours.  Tony Briffa told Gay Star News that events like Intersex Awareness Day give intersex people the opportunity to speak with legislators about changes they seek to protect intersex children and support the work of “intersex organizations run by and for intersex people.”10

This level of activism kicked into gear in Darlington, Australia in March 2017 when members of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations issued a joint statement directed primarily toward those nations, but also to allies worldwide.  The Darlington Statement consists of 59 points in 9 pages, addressing issues of human rights and legal reform, health and well being, peer support, allies, education, awareness, employment.11

The Darlington Statement acknowledges the historical ties of intersex people with LGBT and other peoples:

 

“We also acknowledge intersectionalities with other populations, including same-sex attracted people, trans and gender diverse people, people with disabilities, women, men, and Indigenous – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Tangata Whenua – and racialised [sic], migrant and refugee populations.”12

 

However, the statement makes this assertion of distinction from LGBT communities:

 

“That the word ‘intersex’, and the intersex human rights movement, belong equally to all people born with variations of sex characteristics, irrespective of our gender identities, genders, legal sex  classifications and sexual orientations.”13

 

The Darlington Statement made this declaration as an independent community and calls upon us all to recognize it as such:

 

Allies

“47. Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising [sic], or co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends. “Nothing about us without us.”

“48. We encourage all organizations [sic] and bodies that support the intersex movement to recognize [sic] this Darlington statement.

“49. We call for intersex people, and the intersex human rights movement, to be allies to the LGBTQ, disability, Indigenous, anti-racist, and women’s movements.

“50. We call on intersex people to recognize [sic] our own diversity, and call for intra-community dialogue and mutual support.”14

 

Click here for the full text of The Darlington Statement.

 It’s clear that the intersex community has made itself a distinct community and the rest of us must recognize the fact.  We must now support them as allies, and no longer as a branch of our own community.  To recognize the latter would be a form of “instrumentalizing.”

 

IMPLICATIONS OF THE DARLINGTON STATEMENT

This development also raises a historical specter of difficulty transpeople have had with the mainstream gay and lesbian community.  On the bases of our own intersection of issues with the issues of gays and lesbians we have typically asserted that we as transpeople must remain linked as LGBT people.  The Darlington Statement has now weakened that argument.  Trans and intersex people no longer stand as a united community.  We only stand together as allies.  Consequently, we will most likely find ourselves standing with mainstream gays and lesbians as allies as well, no longer as a united community.

It’s sad that the unity many of us have sought has become unattainable, though the position taken in The Darlington Statement is understandable.  With this, other forms of fragmentation of the trans community may become inevitable.

The trans community has long been noted as a schismatic community.  Transsexual and transvestite have long been at odds.  In the 1990’s, “transgender” has been an umbrella term to include both as well as intersex individuals as in this statement from San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission:

 

“‘Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed [sic] individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.”15

 

This definition of “transgender” set a legal standard throughout California.  It got civil rights efforts done.  But since that time, the definition of “transgender” has shifted to apply to transsexuals exclusively with the word “transsexual” being regarded as a pejorative.  Not a few cross dressers have decried this redefinition, excluded as a people not being “trans enough.”  Has this shift likewise alienated intersex people to the point where they have now decided to go their own way?  Possibly.

The “nothing about us without us” argument has implications for arguments attacking the trans community as well.  Trans activists have long challenged religionist claims that transwomen are not women and transmen are not men with genetic facts including the understanding that the Y Chromosome does not alone determine maleness and that intersex variations abound among transpeople and others.  We can no longer offer this argument without “co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends,” specifically our own.

The Darlington Statement demands something else, lest civil rights interests fall like dominoes.  Transpeople now need to renegotiate with its own factions, recognizing each as a separate ally community as we now must with the intersex community, each ally community deserving the same level of respect.  It means recognizing a separate and distinct cross dressing community, a separate and distinct drag community, and so forth.  Only by doing so can we now continue to make civil rights assertions to the world.

We would be amiss if we didn’t offer that level of respect to others.  After all, with massive imposition of divisiveness and rhetoric from the far Right designed to set emotion over fact in order to further divide humanity, unity is key.  Separate communities cannot overcome without that level of respect.  We must take more than a day to give intersex people the attention they deserve.  Survival really does depend upon it.

_________________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: the Intersex Pride flag, its circle rising like the sun above the words declaring its desire as a community of its own.

  1. Tony Briffa. “Intersex Awareness Day: Commemorating the intersex version of Stonewall” Gay Star News (October 26, 2017, accessed October 26, 2017) https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/intersex-awareness-day-commemorating-the-intersex-version-of-stonewall/#gs.WOqpLcQ.
  2. House Hearing, 110 Congress. An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace:Hearing before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Tenth Congress, Second Session (U.S. Government Printing Office, June 26, 2008, accessed online December 31, 2013) http://www.gpoaccess.gov/congress/house/education/index.html. A video series of these proceedings available through NCTEquality. “Congressional Hearing on Transgender Discrimination” YouTube (June 28, 2008, accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYglCClCsYM.
  3. Op. cit.
  4. Daniel Villarreal. “The Amazing, Heartbreaking Story of Tony Briffa, The World’s First Openly Intersex Mayor” Queerty (December 12, 2011, accessed November 1, 2017) https://www.queerty.com/the-amazing-heartbreaking-story-of-tony-briffa-the-worlds-first-openly-intersex-mayor-20111210 .
  5. Op. cit.
  6. Leveque, Sophia Cecelia. TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith (Winston-Salem NC, Library Partners Press, ZSR Library, Wake Forest University August 1, 2017) ISBN-13: 978-1618460448 , p. 42.
  7. Op. cit.
  8. (n.a.) “Frequency” Intersex Society of North America (accessed November 1, 2017) http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency
  9. Ibid.
  10. https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/intersex-awareness-day-commemorating-the-intersex-version-of-stonewall/#gs.WOqpLcQ.
  11. Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations and independent advocates, including the Androgen Insensitivity Support Syndrome Support Group Australia (AISSGA),1 Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ),2 Organisation Intersex International Australia (OIIAU),3 Eve Black, Kylie Bond (AISSGA), Tony Briffa (OIIAU/AISSGA), Morgan Carpenter (OIIAU/Intersex Day Project4), Candice Cody (OIIAU), Alex David (OIIAU), Betsy Driver (Bodies Like Ours), Carolyn Hannaford (AISSGA), Eileen Harlow, Bonnie Hart (AISSGA), Phoebe Hart (AISSGA), Delia Leckey (ITANZ), Steph Lum (OIIAU), Mani Bruce Mitchell (ITANZ), Elise Nyhuis (AISSGA), Bronwyn O’Callaghan, Sandra Perrin (AISSGA), Cody Smith (Tranz Australia), Trace Williams (AISSGA), Imogen Yang (Bladder Exstrophy Epispadias Cloacal Exstrophy Hypospadias Australian Community – BEECHAC5), Georgie Yovanovic. “The Darlington Statement” (issued March 2017, accessed November 2, 2017) https://oii.org.au/darlington-statement/
  12. Ibid, p. 3, point 3, bold per the document.
  13. Ibid, point 4, bold per the document.
  14. Ibid, p. 8, points 47-50, bold per the document.
  15. Human Rights Commission. “Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination; respecting San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, 12C; and San Francisco Municipal Police Code Article 33” City and County of San Francisco, 1998, p. 2.

Rites of Passage: Welcoming New Trans Friends

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

Rites of passage seem like a silly affair to many people.  They certainly can be, unless they awaken to deeper, transcendental truths concerning one’s identity and existence.  When it comes to welcoming new transpeople to the “tribe”, few have welcomed with any kind of rite.  They can be as simple or as ornate as you wish.

Welcoming rites have been alleged to have taken place in New York City before Stonewall.  There are many ways to conduct such rites and there’s no right or wrong to it so long as they don’t rely upon hazing or anything that would cause public humiliation.  Instead, what matters is to provide what’s the most meaningful experience to the person you want to welcome to the “tribe”, something to which they can look upon later in life and smile.

Most of us didn’t have the benefit of such a welcoming rite.  Not everyone would find such a rite useful.  Those who may benefit from such a rite are those with convictions concerning trans identity but who still question what it all means.  For such people, a rite of passage can fixate truths from which the neophyte transperson may draw for years to come.

Holly Boswell designed a beautiful welcoming rite in her work as an activist which remained on the Kindred Spirits website till her death earlier this year.  Holly’s rite was based upon a Native American-Wiccan format with the quarters divided between male to female, female to male, intersex, and gender non-conforming.  But her rite had a serious limitation.  It required several people to make it happen.  Holly had the Kindred Spirits staff. Most of us don’t have such a luxury.1

So here’s a sample rite of my own designed for one or more officiants which you can use in whole or in part as you deem appropriate or simply generate ideas for your own rite.  Italicized portions pertain to what the Officiant speaks and the Candidate follows accordingly.  It’s built upon the idea that transpeople are essentially a people of dreams and connects with early trans history.

I’ve long held to the belief that transpeople are essentially a people of dreams despite the fact that many transpeople have determined to shut them out, something which I believe is a serious mistake detracting from the cultivation of natural innocence.  After all, dreams and dreaming have a purpose for health and individuation to which a person must awaken on a practical level to fully grasp.  But like most rites, it should be approached as if the candidate being received enters an intense semilucid dream.

 

PREPARATIONS

The paraphernalia associated with a rite can be as simple or as ornate as you wish.  For most of us, simple is better.  For those of us who may have spent years with one tradition or another, it’s desirable to set certain items aside as dedicated to that purpose.  Doing so can add to the specialness and energy of a rite. But this isn’t absolutely necessary.  Here’s a list of items applicable to this sample rite:

  • A central table as a Telestrion that you can fit with candles for illumination.
  • A small unlit torch wrapped in a transgender flag.
  • A cup of water with a sprig of hyssop or some other means of sprinkling.
  • Incense: sandalwood, frankincense, sage, or rose are all good.
  • A plate of bread and salt like that used in the countries of the Russian Federation for welcoming.
  • A cup of wine or grape juice.
  • A lamp or thurible.
  • A box with rose petals and cinnamon or cassia.
  • Food and drink to use afterward.

If you have 4 smaller platforms (trays are adequate for this purpose), they can be set to each of the quarters: North, South, East, and West.  The bread and salt would be placed at the North, the cup at the West, the lamp at the South, and the box at the East.  If those platforms are unavailable, they can be placed at their corresponding positions at the Telestrion.  The small torch wrapped in a transgender flag can occupy the center between them all.

If more than one person officiates in any capacity, they can contribute in the roles of the guardians of the dream gates at each of the 4 quarters and join in the celebration in the waters.

The Candidate changes into loose clothing he/she/eir doesn’t mind getting wet and takes a shawl for veiling.  The face is covered for much of the rite because the Candidate is accounted as one yet to be born.  Most of the Candidate’s preparation, however, is internal.  A Lakota maxim states, “Silence is the mother of truth.” As the Officiant prepares space for the rite, the Candidate would do well to quiet the mind.  Transcendental meditation is an excellent exercise for this, though one who cannot bring himself to do it can simply wait in the softness of lamplight with only his thoughts.  But meditation is easy to do and the Officiant can lead the Candidate into a simple light meditative state if the Candidate wishes, even if such is unaccustomed to traditional postures of meditation:

Sit upright, spine erect, feet flat on the floor.  Close the eyes and take two deep cleansing breaths.  Then breathe in through the nose to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4, exhale through the mouth to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4.  Repeat.  Let the Candidate allow the count to fade into a general rhythm and let meditation take its natural course.

The Officiant asks the Candidate in who’s name he/she/eir wishes to dedicate this rite.  The Candidate may state any deity held sacred or simply declare “Truth”.

While the Candidate waits the Officiant prepares the circle.  When ready, the Officiant comes to the Candidate and takes him by the hand, saying, “Arise, Child of Dreams.”

 

ENTERING

The Candidate is halted at the edge of the circle.  “Unpurified and unconsecrated, you cannot enter this circle.”

The Officiant takes the cup of water and sprinkles the Candidate.  “Child of Dreams, with water you are purified that your heart may be awakened against guile.”

The Officiant takes the incense and censes the Candidate.  “Child of Dreams, with fire you are consecrated that your heart may burn with love of your people and of liberty.”

The Candidate is led to the central Telestrion.  “Child of Dreams, you have been brought to the sacred center a symbol of the center of your psyche.  From your center you awaken to the truth of your identity which as yet shall remain unnamed.  But your journey will take you through many dark places with ordeals that will test you to the utmost for such has been the way of transpeople and others not conforming to gender.  Do you wish to continue?

If the Candidate answers negatively, then the rite is ended and he is led out without prejudice.  If he answers in the affirmative, continue.

“Then I ask that you make a solemn promise witnessed in this circle that your journey will be for the seeking of the highest good for yourself and to others.  Will you do this?”

If the Candidate answers negatively, then the rite is ended and he is led out without prejudice.  If he answers in the affirmative, continue.  It is fitting that a decision to enter a transgender path should exhibit an early connection to the cultivation of moral agency.

“Repeat after me:

 

 “In the name of (the chosen deity or “Truth”)

I declare before all that I seek the highest innocence

and to that end I affirm

with the clarity of my mind

and the integrity of my heart

that I shall seek the highest innocence for others.

I will not consent to debase my mind

for the nefarious purposes

of others who would seek to subvert it

by manipulation,n

that I and all in my charge

will remain free moral agents.

To this end I reject the unbalanced use

of drugs, alcohol, sex,

or any other device

of enslavement or exploitation.

I dedicate myself to the unfolding of truth

and the advancement of liberty,

knowledge, charity, and wisdom

within myself

and for others

to the best of my ability

and the pursuit of the highest

with the love to all sentient beings,

as many who are willing to accept it in good faith.”

 

“Arise, new friend, and enter the gates of dreaming.  Remember your promise, for it will assist you in your passage.”

 

ENTERING THE DREAM GATES

The Candidate is led in a clockwise circle, then stops at the North.

“Child of Dreams, you cannot pass the gate of the North unprepared for I am the Guardian of the First Gate of Dreaming, of the gravity, solidity, the Crystallization of Ideas in the process of Creativity, and Empedocles’ element of Earth.2  I am Prithivi3 and the volcanism of Muladhara.4  I am the mythic Chavah of the Anima, 5 the Man of Physicality of the Animus,6 the Twin heroes,7 and the final Heh of the Tetragrammaton.8  I am the Assinnu, Kugarru, and Kuluu who remembered Assushunamir in the release of Inanna from the underworld,9 and the Enarees who thrived in the Northern Steppes.10 Have you declared yourself to be a Child of Liberty?”

The Candidate answers in the affirmative, though may need to be prompted to remember the promise made at the central Telestrion since the experience may seem too strange and overwhelming to connect.  The Officiant takes the bread and salt and circles them around the head of the Candidate.

“Let repose be balanced with industry.  Let attraction be balanced with charity.  Watch for your hands in your dreams and use your gaze as a vehicle from dream to dream.11  Pass now through the gate awakened and continue to the Second Gate.”

The Candidate is led again in a clockwise circle, then stops at the East.

“Child of Dreams, you cannot pass the gate of the East unprepared for I am the Guardian of the Second Gate of Dreaming, of the force of winds, lightness of gases, the Articulation of Ideas in the process of Creativity and Empedocles’ element of Air.  I am Vayu12 and the opening of Ajña.13  I am the mythic Helen of the Anima, the Man of Action of the Animus, the hero of the Red Horn cycle, and the Vav of the Tetragrammaton.  I am the Hijra and Mukannuthun who, though untouchable, served in the highest estates of the East.14  Have you declared yourself to be a Child of Knowledge?”

The Candidate answers in the affirmative.  The Officiant takes the box with rose petals and spices and circles them around the head of the candidate.

“Let reason be balanced with innocence.  Let analysis be balanced with compassion.  And in your visions, let the images change and let yourself maintain mindfulness in your sleep.  Pass now through the gate awakened and continue to the Third Gate.”

The Candidate is led again in a clockwise circle, then stops at the West.

“Child of Dreams, you cannot pass the gate of the West unprepared for I am the Guardian of the Third Gate of Dreaming, of the floods of desire, the flow of liquids, the Nurturing of Ideas in the process of Creativity, and Empedocles’ element of Water.  I am Apas15 and the Hara of Svaddhisthana.16  I am the mythic Mary of the Anima, the Word-Giver of the Animus, the Hare cycle of the hero, and the Heh of the Tetragrammaton.  I am the Qedeshtu and Gallae who served Aphrodite, and the Magna Mater on many waters of the West, and remembered the travail of Hermaphroditos at the spring of Bodrum and the temples of Paphos.17  Have you declared yourself to be a Child of Charity?”

The Candidate answers in the affirmative. The Offriciant takes the cup and circles it around the head of the Candidate.

“Let love be balanced with steadfastness.  Let dreaming be balanced with detachment.  And in the energy body look upon yourself and know, moving about with intent.    Pass now through the gate awakened and continue to the Fourth Gate.”

The Candidate is led again in a clockwise circle, then stops at the West.

“Child of Dreams, you cannot pass the gate of the South unprepared for I am the Guardian of the Fourth Gate of Dreaming, of the flames of passion, the dance of plasma, the Flash of Ideas in the process of Creativity, and Empedocles’ element of Fire.  I am Tejas18 and the fortitude of Manipura.19  I am the mythic Athena and Sapientia of the Anima, the Man of Spiritual Truth of the Animus, the Trickster of the hero cycle, and the Yudh of the Tetragrammaton.  I am the Megabyzes who served Artemis in wisdom and beauty in the land of Philosophy’s birth and the Sekhetu-Cnaedi who danced for Aset in Egypt and other lands of Africa.20  Have you declared yourself to be a Child of Wisdom?”

The Candidate answers in the affirmative.  The Officiant takes the lamp and circles it around the head of the Candidate.

“Let passion be balanced with responsibility.  Let sexuality be balanced with virtue.  And let your dreams be filled with intent, intending others in your travels.  Pass now through the gate awakened and continue to the Telestrion at the sacred center.”

The Candidate is led again in a clockwise circle, ending at the central Telestrion, having completed the circle 7 times.

 

THE KINDLING

 “Know, Child of Dreams, of Liberty, Knowledge, Charity, and Wisdom, the unfolding of dreams in the course of individuation happens in patterns of four, but gates remain beyond.  To the 4 you have been awakened.  But at the feet of virtue you will continue to learn and to gain cunning.  Know, Child of Dreams, that the gates of dreaming are thresholds that advance the cultivation of innocence as you cultivate impeccability.  Cherish them forever and you will continue to know their blessings and they will add to who you are as a transperson, a representative of a People of Dreams.”

The Officiant unwraps the small torch from the transgender flag and spreads the flag over the Candidate.

“The gates beyond the 4 demand sacrifice, and renewal in dying and rebirth, for the energy body overcomes the physical body.  The Baptai knew this in Thrace, for all who approached likewise passed beneath the waters.21  In the waters are death and renewal as one becomes as it were a fetus in the womb.22  But in that renewal is the kindling of life as a flame in a passion of service to others and the highest aspirations of the heart.”

The Officiant takes the hand of the Candidate and together they kindle the flame of the torch.  The Officiant leads the Candidate out of the circle, to a suitable place of immersion, both holding the torch.  Preferably this is a natural body of water, but a pool or any vessel will serve the purpose.  The flag is removed and kept dry.

 

ENTERING THE WATERS

The Officiant, holding the torch with the Candidate continues to lead into the water, then removes the torch from the hand of the Candidate.  If others participate in the rite, they join hands in a circle around the Candidate with a second person holding the torch with the Officiant.

“That which takes place ritually are archetypes of internal truths that will continue to awaken in you in the future.  Know that this is not an act any of us can do for you but we can support you in your endeavors any way we can.23  Enter beneath the waters like the fetus about to be reborn, and re-emerge as one to reveal your new name.”

The Candidate immerses.  When the Candidate comes up again the Officiant takes the torch and circles the head of the Candidate before the Candidate takes hold of the torch.  The Officiant lays hands upon the Candidate, offering blessing in the Officiant’s own words of welcome.

 

GATHERING, REVEAL, AND NAMING

The Officiant leads the Candidate to the a private chamber to prepare for the reveal and naming.  The Officiant instructs the Candidate to dress as his, her, or eir true self and to knock 3 times on the door when ready.  The Candidate retreats to a chamber alone or with an assistant, removes the veil and all wet items, dries, and dresses according to the identity to be revealed in the Naming.  The bread and salt, box of spices, lamp, and cup are brought out from the circle if a dedicated place is different from the place of feasting, otherwise they remain.

When ready, the Candidate knocks.  The Officiant leads the Candidate to the place of feasting.  The Officiant announces upon re-entry, “I (We) stand for the one who walks anew among us.”

The Candidate emerges.  The Officiant asks, “By what name shall we know you?”

The Candidate reveals his/her/eir name.

“I (We) welcome you, (use the name given).  Let this name be known among us all as your true name.”

If others are present, the Officiant announces, “Let us all commune together in the feast of receiving (name of the Candidate) as our own.  May the bonds of affection and unity demonstrated this day never dissolve.”

The rite is ended with feasting and embraces of acceptance.  Any tokens of the event are presented at this time.

 

DESIGNING YOUR OWN RITE

Rites can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish.  They may follow this tradition or another.  It really doesn’t matter.  What counts are these principles:

  1. Overall quietness of the mind.
  2. A dreamlike experience.
  3. Connections of the rite with history of the demographic.
  4. Connections of the rite with strong archetypal ideas.
  5. Application of the rite to a new beginning.
  6. Connection of the rite with ethics.
  7. Revealing of the true self.
  8. Love and acceptance.
  9. Celebration and joy.
  10. Sharing of food and experience.

So if your sensitivities follow a more Abrahamic approach, by all means, write your rite of acceptance accordingly, but maintain these 9 principles as you do.  You won’t go wrong.  Your success should be measured in what happens with the person you receive after many trials, years from the present.  The energy of a rite can empower and fixate those internal truths, not only for that person’s health, but as a springboard for greater levels of creativity.

_____________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: Providing no toxic chemicals have been used, or other hazard precludes use, an artificial pond like this can do well for a rite like this.  But most any body of water will work, whether natural or artificial. (Photo by the author)

  1. Kindred Spirits Website: http://www.trans-spirits.org/who_are_we.html.
  2. The Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles was the first to advance the formal idea of the universe consisting of the elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. They still provide popular motifs for the 4 quarters.  Empedocles’ idea was that Earth consisted of cold and dryness, Air of heat and moisture, Water of cold and moisture, and Fire heat and dryness.  However, today’s understanding would apply these elements to the 4 states of matter: solid, gas, liquid, and plasma. DHWTY. “Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: Empedocles of Acragas – The Pre-Socratic Philosopher with a Sense of Style” Ancient Origins (October 28, 2018, accessed October 26, 2017) http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/earth-air-fire-and-water-empedocles-acragas-pre-socratic-philosopher-sense-020596
  3. Prithivi is the Tattwa applicable to the element of Earth and its earliest source is Hindu. It’s represented as a yellow square and used in meditative trance.
  4. Muladhara is the Root Chakra located at the genital region. It’s associated with Earth, gravity, and volcanism.
  5. Pronounced cha-VAH, “ch pronounced as in the German “ich”. If the Hebrew is objected to, one may use the English equivalent, “Eve”.  For information of the fourfold unfolding of the Anima, see Jung, C. G. “Man and His Symbols” (1964) Doubleday Anchor, NY ISBN: 0-385-05221-9, pp. 184, 185
  6. For information of the fourfold unfolding of the Animus, Ibid, p. 194
  7. For information of the fourfold unfolding of the Hero Cycle, Ibid, 110-113.
  8. The association of the letters of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) with the 4 elements is well established in multiple traditions.
  9. The Assinnu, Kugaru and Kuluu are early Mesopotamian transgender priesthoods Asushunamir (Pleasant Looks or Good Looks) was created by Ea to rescue Inanna from Erishkigal and the Underworld. Launderville, Dale.  Celibacy in the Ancient World: Its Ideal and Practice in Pre-Hellenistic Israel, Mesopotamia, and Greece.” (2010) Liturgical Press, ISBN:  P. 337
  10. The Enarees were Scythian transpeople who were known to have developed treatments for feminization. Lynnea Urania Stuart.  “The Enarees” Transpire (August 29, 2017, accessed October 26, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2017/08/29/the-enarees/
  11. For details on this version of the dream gates, see Castaneda, Carlos. “The Art of Dreaming” (1993) Harper Perennial, Publisher. ISBN: 0-06-017051-4 (cloth)
  12. Vayu is the Tattwa for Air and represented as a blue circular shape.
  13. The Ajna Chakra is located at the forehead, the “Third Eye” and has been associated with Air.
  14. Hijra consist of communities of various sex and gender variant people in India. Many of their existing estates were bestowed by the Moghul rulers they served, attaining high positions.  Lynnea Urania Stuart. “The Subcopntinent’s Sacred Record of Transgenderism” Transpire (August 5, 2016, accessed October 27, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/the-subcontinents-sacred-record-of-transgenderism/ Mukannuthun have been transgender Arabs known at the time of Muhammad and still exist today.  Some have served as chamberlains to regional rulers like Al Dalal served Sulayman Ibn Abd-Al Malik.  Iqra Mehmood.  “Mukhannathun – Unfolding the Concept of Transgenders in Islam” Parhlo (June 22, 2017, accessed October 25, 2017) https://www.parhlo.com/mukhannathun-unfolding-the-concept-of-transgender-women-in-islam/.
  15. Apas is the Tattwa for Water and is represented by a silver crescent.
  16. The Hara is located just below the navel and an important Tantric center, applied also in meditations associated with Bellydance. It’s the same as the Svaddhisthana Chakra, associated with Water.
  17. Qedeshtu are those transgender priests associated with Astarte at Apheca in what is now Lebanon. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “The Pillars of Gender” Transpire (July 29, 2016, accessed October 26, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/the-pillars-of-gender/. Astarte later became Aphrodite who, despite her Phoenician origins, is more closely associated with Paphos on the island of Cypress and the Greek island of Cythera.  Images of Hermaphroditos (Hermaphroditus to the Romans) may be found at Paphos today, though the actual Spring of Hermaphroditos is believed to now be located below sea level at a military base near Bodrum, Turkey.  The story of Hermaphroditos comes to us today through the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet, Ovid, whose exile very likely put him in contact with Enarees of Scythia.  Gallae (the name preferred by them today) are transgender priestesses of Cybele [pronounced ku-BEY-ley].  Modern worshippers of Cybele have a website at www.gallae.com.
  18. Tejas is the Tattwa associated with Fire and represented with a red triangular shape.
  19. The Manipura Chakra is located at the Solar Plexus and is associated with Fire and internal fortitude.
  20. Megabyzes were the transgender priestesses of Artemis at Ephesus, known for their beauty and wisdom. Ephesus was the principle city of Ionia and near to Miletus where also we trace the roots of Philosophy.  Lynnea Urania Stuart. “The Pillars of Gender” Transpire (July 29, 2016, accessed October 26, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/the-pillars-of-gender/.  Sekhetu (Egyptian) and Cnaedi (Latin) were transgender servants of Aset (Egyptian), also known as Isis.  Romans knew these people after Isis became the consort of Serapis in Rome.  But Aset appears to derive from an earlier African deity. Hubbard, Thomas K. (ed.), “Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook of Basic Documents.” (2003)   Berkeley:  University of California Press, Pp. xvii, 558; ills. 26.  ISBN 0-520-23430-8.
  21. The Baptai were a cross dressing priesthood of Kotys in Thrace. They were so named because they also immersed candidates they received. Senelick, Laurence. “The changing Room” (2000) Paychology Press. ISBN: 9780415159869,   25
  22. The association of immersion with rebirth has been employed by many traditions besides Christianity including Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions who use it regularly and not as a “once for all” experience commencing a Christian journey. The rite use here has no Christian connotation but takes a more generalized, classical approach.
  23. In most immersion rites of the world a person immerses himself. Only Christians require one “baptizing” another, emphasizing that a Christian cannot be a Christian on his own, but must receive conversion as a gift.  The transgender path, however, isn’t like that.  One must make the decision to live one’s truth as a transperson by himself/herself/eirself.  Therefore, if a group participates, the others form a circle around the Candidate as a matter of support.

YECH! The Return of a Pest that Can Drain You at the Worst Time of Transition

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

They can drain you in more ways than one and represent more than Halloween creepiness.  If you get the hint from the featured image, I think you’d feel a healthy sense of natural revulsion unless you’ve spent too much time catering people with strange appetites.  That detail isn’t a jack-o-lantern through I wish it was.

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are costly in terms of time and money to eradicate.  They can upend transition schedules and potentially contribute to disease.  They’re being addressed by municipalities in various locales nationwide after the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control reaffirmed in a 2010 statement that they’re a public health pest.1

A bug bomb won’t work on those hemophages. In fact the bed bug issue and misuse of bug bombs have caused some localities to consider ordinances to take bug bombs off the local market.2

“Prepping”, consisting of removing property into a state of quarantine while moving furniture away from walls, can turn into a protracted effort.  A professional will cost about the amount of several hours of electrolysis and that’s a problem for those of us who often live on the edge of disaster, thanks to the rising tide of discrimination after the Attorney General declared that Title VII protections don’t apply to transpeople but “religious liberty” trumps all other human rights (pun intended).3

Face it.  The current rebound of bed bug cases since the discontinuation of the insecticide DDT demands planning and prevention.4  We might even see expanded insurance demands in the future of tenancies if costs spiral out of control. It’s no longer the stuff of filthy people deemed too dumb to tell the difference between a bedbug and their own spilled pepper.  Social stigma attached to bed bugs is misplaced because a pregnant female can hitch a ride on anyone.  They enter through bags and clothing from most any public place:  the bus, the train, the library, even the local hospital lobby.  Even your most sacred sports jacket isn’t immune.

Too often when you discover a bed bug in your home you’re already infested.  They’re a big deal to property managers.  Letting them go carries legal liability.  This is a scourge to be understood.

 

I TAKE THIS PERSONALLY

Why do I write about this now?  It’s simple.  I had my first episode of staring down those blood-suckers just this month when I felt something on my leg, grabbed it, and stuck it in a jar for identification by someone with some entomological experience.  There it was, something that could as easily been taken for a carpet beetle or a tick crawling around in listless circles while wondering what he did to deserve this.  But sure enough, the declaration that it looked like a bed bug sounded like an impending prison sentence.

What sealed that sentence, though, was an inspection of my chair.  Inverting it, I inspected the undersides, lifting the edges of upholstery, and sure enough, I was shocked to find a colony of a couple dozen bugs packed together under the edge I unfolded.  These bugs had been feeding off of my body for weeks or months and I had no idea it was happening because I never experienced any reaction to their bites.  I sprayed, spray painted, and discarded that chair, then signed an order for an exterminator with the property manager.

It meant taking down all the books, CD’s, and DVD’s and sealing them in plastic bags in a hot garage.  Clothing and bedding had to be laundered hot with 30 minutes on a hot drying cycle.  Even clean items still needed that hot drying cycle to kill any eggs and even then only those items to be immediately used may be brought inside during that period of prepping.  Food and utensils get emptied from cabinets.  It’s campout time but we’re doing it under the ceiling instead of under the stars, literally living out of garbage bags.  I almost felt like a homeless person again.

Perhaps the bed was the least of our worries because we already had our mattress and box springs encased in plastic consistent with the requirements of property management.  I didn’t find evidence of bed bugs in the bedroom.  Neither did the exterminator when he did his initial inspection.  But I wasn’t about to wait for them to appear.   I pulled the bedding for hot laundry treatment with each of the exterminator’s applications.  I dismantled the cheapo headboard that had already snapped when moving the bed.  But it’s just as well.  Bed bugs are known to typically enter a bed from the headboard because it has broader contact with the floor than the casters do.

 This happened at a bad time too.  It meant missing out on a number of pending writing projects.  But what else can I do, especially when it comes to family health and potentially that of the neighbors?  I could only be thankful this happened after “completing” transition, because had this happened in the months prior to surgery, I may have had to put it off.

 

HEMOPHAGES AND DISEASE

Bed bugs have been suspected in the transmission of 41 human diseases but none have to date been proven.  An infected blood-sucking insect isn’t necessarily a vector for transmission.  One research group detected Human Immumodeficiency Virus (HIV) in bedbugs for up to 8 days after exposure to highly concentrated virus in blood meal.  A South Africa study found groups of bed bugs testing positive for Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and the Hepatitis B Surface Antigen (HBsAG) has been detected in bed bugs for at least 7.5 weeks after experimental feeding.  But none of these studies have proven actual transmission of these diseases, at least not yet.5

Does anyone want to volunteer as a subject for a study to prove disease transmission from bed bugs?  I know I don’t.  But these blood-borne pathogens cause me concern about impacts upon the trans community because HIV and hepatitis have been diseases we’ve faced more often than we admit, especially among those who have felt compelled to enter sex work.

But perhaps the biggest toll is psychological.  Bed bugs can interfere with sleep and if a person reacts to the bites with itching and welts they can drive a person batty.  Entomologist Jerome Goddard, PhD, of Mississippi State University told The Atlantic he examined website posts and compared them to a checklist of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  He found 81% of people on those sites described similar effects:

  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Paranoia
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Depression6

I suppose I fit.  Whenever I feel something tickling I’m ready to slap myself and know how dangerous my making this personal fact public can be.  I inspect floors and furniture with a flashlight with the intensity of Jews looking for leaven prior to Passover.  When trying to find something to write, the first thing I think about is a vision of one of those hemophages the size of a Volkswagen Beetle looking me in the face.  It grins and asks like many leering men have done in the bars I’ve visited during transition, “May I buy you a drink? Heh heh.”

So I might well describe myself similarly to what Rose Eveleth described after interviewing Dr. Goddard:  “Bed Bug PTSD.”  Given the evidence, it’s really not a joke.  One woman with a history of mental health issues even committed suicide over bedbugs. 7 I sympathize.

 

FACTS AGAINST THE DESIRE TO SCREAM

While bed bugs proliferate persistently, they aren’t insurmountable to eradicate.  My exterminator told me, “They’re good hitchhikers, but they’re not good travelers.”  While they demand immediate action for removal one shouldn’t panic.  The earlier you act upon a bed bug infestation, the easier it will be to gain the upper hand.

Here are some general facts about bed bugs as provided from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, annotated by comments from my exterminator:

  1. Bed bugs appear from yellowish white to reddish brown.
  2. Adults reach about ¼ inch, about the size of an apple seed.
  3. Eggs can be detected with a magnifier. They’re elongated and clear to white in color.
  4. Bed bugs have 5 nymphal stages before reaching maturity and all of them are able and willing to drink your blood. In fact they have to feed on you before passing to the next nymphal stage.
  5. They’re insects with oval-shaped bodies, 6 legs and 2 antennae. Their shapes vary from flat to balloon-shaped depending upon how recently they last fed on you.
  6. They leave dark feces marks, dark because of the iron from blood they drank, staining hiding places like mattresses, cracks, and crevices.
  7. Each time they molt they leave nearly clear exoskeletons behind as well as blood spots on bed sheets after feeding.
  8. They aren’t particular in terms of whoopee. They can breed directly with their own offspring.
  9. They tend to breed faster during the summer months.
  10. Adult bed bugs can live over 1 year (my exterminator said they could go 18 months without feeding)
  11. Bed bugs lay eggs intermittently in clusters and may be found in several locations.
  12. Eggs are harder to kill than adults or nymphs.
  13. Bed bugs can regenerate infestations even when one pregnant female survives treatment.
  14. Bed bugs have developed some resistance to pesticides and may require repeated treatments or different approaches. Widespread resistance to pyrethroids (a common class of pesticides based upon pyrethrin, originally derived from chrysanthemums) has been noted.
  15. Adults can hide from pesticide applications or move along wires and walls to other areas. This is one reason why it’s absolutely important to immediately report an outbreak of bed bugs upon discovery. While they can do this, they prefer to remain near their feeding source.8

Because the eggs don’t die off like nymphs and adults do, an exterminator will typically need to do at least 3 treatments and maybe more, spaced according to when eggs are likely to hatch.  The exterminator gives special attention to furniture, baseboards, and tack strips where they could hide. But most of the work won’t be done by the exterminator.  That’s your job.

That includes intense vacuuming of furniture and carpets.  It includes emptying of the vacuum cleaner receptacle each time.  I don’t mean vacuuming only the following day.  I mean vacuuming thoroughly on a daily basis.  The eggs don’t release easily.  In fact a wand with a brush on the end may pick up eggs and deliver them elsewhere.  Best to use as thin a wand as possible to get into corners and tight spaces.  You want one that isn’t equipped with a brush but can concentrate the narrowest suction.  Vacuum furniture aggressively, giving special attention to the insides of folds and loose fabric layers.

 

QUERRIES ABOUT QUARANTINES

Bed bugs don’t do well with heat.  Car seats don’t get easily infested precisely because the car gets left out in the sun and the hot seats cook those critters worse then they cook your keester when you first sit behind the wheel on a warm day.  Application of 120 degrees Fahrenheit would cause them to die off in a few days.  During the summer, many garages get hot like that.  It’s one reason why during prepping it’s recommend to bag and seal items from the household and stick them out there.  The other reason is to reduce clutter within the dwelling.  More clutter, especially around the perimeter of a room, allows more cover and that makes them more difficult to kill.

Extreme cold can also kill them.  But if you want to treat an item for bedbugs with cold you need a deep freeze.  They can survive a simple freezer.  You need temperatures more like zero degrees Fahrenheit and keep those items in the deep freeze for at least 4 days.  Use a thermometer to verify freezer temperature.9

For the same reason it would make sense that after treatments have been completed by an exterminator to steam clean the carpets.  That should destroy any remnant of those hard to see eggs that may have fallen into carpet and remove them.  Check with your exterminator to verify how long to wait before you do this.  There’s a special reason why.  A series of treatments should be good for 120 days against any new hatchlings.

But what about when it comes time to remove items from quarantine?  Clothing items can be run through the dryer on high temperature for a half hour and reinstated.  But other items require inspection.  CD’s and DVD’s need to be checked for eggs and young nymphs.  Eggs can be spotted with a magnifier, especially when in clusters.  The disc, container, and whatever it may include need to be wiped clean.

Books are a special problem.  My exterminator said he’s only encountered 2 cases in his career in which bed bugs had infested a book and so didn’t particularly worry about them.  But I do worry because many of my books are sacred texts including some rare publications that I want to be sure to preserve.  If they had been stored on a shelf, chances are they haven’t been touched unless perhaps the infestation has become advanced.  Pages need to be checked of each book as well as the spine if any separation exists between the cover and the pages.  But to be really sure, the only possible way to combat them is with heat or cold.  Books can be left in a metal container in the sun for a few days.  What if the weather turned cold?  There do exist on the market boxes that can heat books safely without danger of fire or embrittlement of the pages.

An extra precaution would be to store the books in airtight plastic containers.  That effectively continues their quarantine.  You can always continue to inspect them upon removal when you need to use them.  You can place books upon a broad plastic surface like a lid whose edges can act as an interceptor and then wash the lid in hot water after use.  Wash hands afterwards, a practice that should be done before and after handling books in any public library anyhow.

Interceptors for bedposts have also been placed on the market.  Interceptors are designed in such a manner that hungry bugs gravitating toward bedposts can become trapped in an outer ring where you can spot them and clean them away.9 They work well as long as your bed covers don’t touch the floor.  Any bed spring encasement cannot be allowed to touch the floor either.  That means forget about storing anything under the bed.  Keep the bed at least 3 inches away from the wall because bed bugs often follow along baseboards.

Drawer cabinets are less of a concern, though they should be regularly cleaned and inspected.  An exterminator will check drawers for evidence of the insects before applications. The reason is simple why they’re less of a concern.  The bugs want easy access to living bodies for dinner and drawers don’t provide that.

 

PUT ON YOUR SUIT OF ARMOR AFTER SPRAYING IT

Bed bugs can change your life in a fundamental way because you realize you have to make changes for prevention.  You can’t allow clutter to take hold in your home.  While laminated corrugated cardboard is less a concern for bed bugs than it is for other pests, it’s “out”.  Tightly sealing plastic boxes are “in”.  I’ve resolved now to periodically spraying my shoes with a compound designed for bed bugs.  It means also that when I come in from public places, I shed my clothing for the laundry, and hop in the shower.  I suppose it’s hypervigilance out of my own status as a victim of Bed Bug PTSD.  But it’s comparable to those precautions we use in hospitals.  While a room may become downgraded from isolation to regular status, hospitals still follow some pretty stringent procedures when it comes to soiled linen and hand washing with special procedures to be followed for blood-borne pathogens.

But when it comes to transpeople, bed bug issues can take an enormous toll.  If an infestation spreads to other units you don’t have just the cost of your own dwelling to worry about.  You become liable for eradication of the pest for the entire building.  That can cost thousands of dollars to treat and even that might not be the end of the matter.  By concealing a serious problem and allowing it to fester, you can even wind up with an eviction.  That’s trouble for any member of an already oppressed demographic who tries to secure a residence, especially in a state in which anti-transgender discrimination has been sanctioned.

People discriminate but bed bugs won’t.  It’s trouble I would spare any of my brothers, sisters, and anyone in-between.  I think you would too.  They’re more than a nuisance.  The legalities that exist as a result of non-action can literally threaten a transition process.  When it comes to hemophages, most of us would prefer to leave that role to a dating partner-a-la Bella Lugosi, not to potential vectors.

Have a Bloody Mary and Happy Halloween.  I’ll take mine virgin and from my exterminator.  And you can have the crunchy treats too.  I’m not very hungry these days.

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REFERENCES:

Featured Image: An infestation of bed bugs with a detail of an individual adult. Eww. (Flickr)

Unless otherwise noted, all information derives from an exterminator hired through the author’s property manager.

  1. Adrian, Benjamin; Dooley, Olivia; Huang, Chen; and Levkowitz, Michael. “Tackling Bed Bugs: A Starter Guide for Local Government” Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington (June 2015, Revised May 2016), p. 1. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ncap/pages/17/attachments/original/1452107062/tacklingbbstarterguide.pdf?1452107062.
  2. Ibid, p. 25.
  3. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Time for a New Religion?” Transpire (October 17, 2017, accessed October 17, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/time-for-a-new-religion/
  4. Op. cit., p. 3.
  5. Jerome Goddard, PhD. “Bed Bugs Bounce Back – But Do They Transmit Disease?” Medscape (n.d., accessed October 17, 2017)  https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/463778_2.
  6. Rose Eveleth. “Bed-Bug Madness: The Psychological Toll of the Blood Suckers” The Atlantic (October 16, 2014, accessed October 17, 2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/bed-bug-madness-the-psychological-toll-of-the-blood-suckers/381447/.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Adrian, Dooley, Huang, & Levkowitz, p. 5.
  9. (n.a.) “Do it Yourself Bed Bug Control” Environmental Protection Agency (accessed October 17, 2017) https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/do-it-yourself-bed-bug-control.
  10. Ibid.