Lessons of Leadership: A Review of TRANS/ACTIVE

Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

Committees are already gathering worldwide.  Their members, planning the next International Transgender Day of Remembrance (ITDOR, or simply, TDOR), take various approaches to what has become the international trans community’s most sacred event.  For planners and speakers, the new paperback, TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith should be required reading.

It should not only be required for them, it’s a book that should be read by every trans activist and trans ally because it describes keys to success in securing human rights for a people for whom human rights was considered laughable for too long.  In a year when religious Dominionist forces seek to snuff out and erase the memory of a minority of minorities, it’s time to revisit what made the Day of Remembrance and trans activism as a whole so vital.

The story of Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of the Day of Remembrance, and known by many of us simply as “Gwen”, is more than a transition story.  Unlike most of publications of that genre, this story tells the unfolding of a life of activism and a determination to fight the prevailing erasure through the preservation of memory.

Her approach to challenging others is clever and genteel, pointed and philosophical.  The reader may find the biography laced with quotes like:

 

“If all you’ve ever known of transpeople are late-night comedian jokes and fear-mongering about bathrooms, what would you think of transpeople?  Instead, let’s put an actual transperson in the room, and challenge those misconceptions.1

 

The author, Sophia Cecilia Leveque, pursued writing this biography after a synchronous “accident”.  It began with a Wikipedia edit-a-thon hosted by the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, where participants wrote about prominent members of underrepresented communities.  She chose Gwendolyn Ann Smith because the name “Gwendolyn” had enchanted her through other powerful writers who shared that name.  But when needing to reference her Wikipedia page, she found too little online biographical information.2

Ms. Leveque is a young writer of 23 years, competent, but not yet seasoned.  She recently graduated and now pursues a Master’s degree.3 She approaches the story in gonzo style, building upon personal interviews.  Her approach reveals a genuine candor, but at times seems apologetic:

 

“The clock struck five and I called.  Two rings and she answered, sounding breathless.  Was it possible she was nervous too?  Her voice was smooth, very much like her writing. She made a few jokes to put me at ease and said she couldn’t believe someone wanted to interview her.  I told her I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t already.  I could hear myself talking too fast, trying to fit as much into one interview as I could, in case she decided she didn’t want to have another call.  I asked many invasive questions without meaning to, but the hour flew by.4

 

Ms. Leveque succeeded in presenting a multi-dimensional activist.  Gwen Smith may be known best as the founder of the Day of Remembrance, but her activism began to blossom by tackling anti-transgender bias manifest in a ban on anything transgender by America On Line (AOL).  Gwen not only succeeded but continued to administer an online chat within the Gay and Lesbian Community Forum which became Transgender Community Forum, then The Gazebo..  Other online platforms would follow the lead of AOL.5

The importance of this contribution, too often overlooked, cannot be overestimated.  The Internet has been the most potent medium that brought together the modern trans community.  Much of today’s community may be found on online services like Facebook, Twitter, and GooglePlus; in fact today we find more transpeople socializing online than in support groups who meet at brick-and-mortar locations like liberal churches, LGBT centers, private offices, and gay bars.

The original connection between Rita Hester and the Day of Remembrance has long been well documented.6 But the death of Chanelle Pickett and its connection to the same has had far less billing, thought emphasized in TRANS/ACTIVE.  Both transwomen “of color” died in proximity to one another under similar circumstances but scarcely anyone connected them.  Gwen recognized this lacuna in what seemed like a milieu of collective amnesia, a sad internal failure deserving of indictment:

 

“Gwen was not only incredulous; she was angry.  These 2 cases were eerily similar and no one was making a connection between them_ there was simply no community memory.”7

 

This level of insight makes Gwen’s story so compelling.  It’s precisely this realization that has enabled many transpeople to rise up out of the underground, onto the streets and into the halls of government.  It’s a realization that comes from reserving the right to question why things are so; and also to look for ways to make change happen, however crazy creative ideas leading to solutions may initially appear.  This alone, apart from anything else, makes Gwen an example for activists everywhere.

The book, however, isn’t free from inaccuracy, even aside from the usual typographical issues that often bedevil first editions.  One instance particularly would have been difficult for any writer to catch unless she had been familiar with a civic organization’s modus operandī, therefore requiring further explanation:

 

“She [Gwen] was working on other social justice projects, as well.  She worked to get ‘the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a health care benefits ordinance for transgendered [sic] city employees as part of the City and County of San Francisco’s Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force.  This task force also mandated that all single occupancy bathrooms in the city would be gender neutral.’”8

 

The Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force convened on June 1, 2000 in a conference room on the second floor of San Francisco City Hall overlooking McAllister Street.  The 17 voting members were required to be San Francisco transgender residents selected from 3 sources:  6 by Mayor Willie Brown, 6 by the Board of Supervisors, and the remainder by the Human Rights Commission, though the residency requirement was waived for a couple of members whose expertise City officials desired for the effort.  The City assigned the task force a 2-year mandate after the 1994 passage of Municipal Proposition L that gave local recognition for the civil rights of transpeople.  Task force members would evaluate how well the city had followed the will of the electorate.  They were also to recommend implementation for change in the City’s practices.  This task force was a source for reform in police practice, transition benefits, and became a springboard for later change in California civil rights law.  Statewide change took the form of AB 196 that passed in August 2003, making California the 4th state after Minnesota, Rhode Island, and New Mexico to recognize transpeople as deserving of civil rights.  But discussions for addressing state law began with this task force in October 2000 and the verbiage of AB 196 followed the pattern its members discussed.9

Of course, 17 members couldn’t carry out all they needed to do by themselves.  Worse yet, some task force members couldn’t continue their duties for long because of financial or other personal reasons.  Several committees convened at various times each month and various locations in addition to the general meetings at City Hall on the first Thursday of each month.  From the beginning, the task force filled these committee positions with volunteer transpeople who did not need to be appointed or be San Francisco residents but who also attended the general meetings in an outer ring of seats away from the conference table.  These volunteers had access to documents pertaining to committees and all documents of the general meetings including the cornerstone document from the Human Rights Commission titled, Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination.  Everyone in the room had some role in trans activism.  However, these volunteers were not considered part of the task force.  They were assistants to the task force much like a clerk who works at the meetings of the Board of Supervisors is an assistant and not part of the board.  It’s a distinction too easily overlooked.

By 2001, the task force was in danger of losing a required quorum and began to take new appointees.  The Board of Supervisors considered Gwen’s appointment as a voting member in August 2001.10 The date of Gwen’s appointment is important to the narrative because it occurs after, not before passage of transition benefits.  Task force members and volunteers were talking informally about transition benefits back in 2000.  Supervisor (now State Senator) Mark Leno authored the measure and introduced it in January 2001.  Its introduction hit the U.S. news media like a bomb, inciting national ridicule from late night political pundits and comics.  Despite opponents’ attempts to make San Francisco a laughingstock over health care for transpeople, proponents rallied in March 2001 and the Board of Supervisors passed transition benefits on Monday, April 30, 2001 with a vote of 9-2.  Many trans activists were present at City Hall at the time of passage including Gwen Smith as reported by Janis Ryan of Transgender San Francisco, writing in The Channel.11

So while it’s accurate to say that Gwen worked for passage of transition benefits, she could only have done so as a volunteer in 2001, not as a voting member of the task force.  Her work as a voting member would have applied to implementing what had already been passed and the success of this program was well established by 2006.12 The author should make this distinction when preparing this book for any future printing.

Ms. Leveque’s book features what may be the most extensive appendix for a book of pocket size: a list of transpeople people unfairly killed since 1970, almost the time of the Stonewall Uprising and from Gwen’s own research.  This list alone is worth perusing well.  By Gwen’s own admission, this list is by no means comprehensive “due to lack of proper media coverage, incorrect police information, and an overall lack of available information, particularly from earlier years.”13

The list seems overwhelming, frightening, and poignant.  It’s a list any trans activist should have ready to hand and available for reference.  It invites everyone to say and remember the names, to defy attempts to erase the victims, and implicitly, all transfolk from the world’s memory.  It also invites us to do our own research, to question and compare.  Consider a sample for a single month as an example, as compiled from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project and the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT):

 

  1. Alejandra Leos, age 41, shot 9/6/2014 in Tennessee.
  2. Karen Alanis, age 23, thrown from a moving truck 9/10/2014 in São Paulo, Brazil, and died at 7 pm at a local hospital.
  3. Cris, unknown age, killed by a drive-by shooter 9/13/2014 in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil.
  4. Unknown cross dressed victim, allegedly found burned in Los Angeles 9/15/2014. (The obscure story then cited as coming from NBC Los Angeles has not been verified.)
  5. Gabriel Lopez, age 46 and Marcela Lopez, age 46, killed 9/15/2014 in Medellin Antioquia, Columbia as reported from 2 sources but both may be the same victim. No details recorded.
  6. Billi Saeed, age 27, killed 9/22/2014 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. No details recorded.
  7. Mahadevi, age 22, killed in Bangalore, India 9/24/2014. No details recorded.
  8. Bruna Lakles, age 29, killed 9/30/2014 in Brazil. No details recorded.
  9. Aniya Parker, age 47, fatally shot 10/2/2014 while walking home in Los Angeles. The LAPD and City Council offered $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.14

 

Compare these names with Gwen’s list on pages 116, 117 for the same period:

 

  1. Alejandra Leos, Memphis Tennessee, USA, 2014, gunshot to the head.
  2. Karen Alanis, Caçapava, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2014, thrown from a vehicle, ran over.
  3. Marcela Duque, Medellin, Colombia, 2014, stoned to death.
  4. Cris, Portal da Foz, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, 2014, multiple gunshot wounds
  5. Mahadevi, Malleshwara, Karnataka, India, 2014, pushed off a moving train.
  6. Bruna Lakiss, Várzea Grande, Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2014, gunshot wound.
  7. Gaviota dos Santos, Rio Largo, Alagoas, Brazil, 2014, 3 shots to the face.
  8. Aniya Parker, Los Angeles California USA, 2014, gunshot wound to the head.15

 

The differences are themselves instructive for any archivist and historian as well as any activist who contributes to the Day of Remembrance.  Billi Saeed and the unknown victim burned in Los Angeles do not appear in Gwen’s list.  Gaviota dos Santos does not appear in the TMM-IDAHOT list from that time, though she may have been recognized later and so may have slipped through the cracks of being remembered at some 2014 observances.  Gabriel (Marcella) Lopez appears on Gwen’s list as Marcela Duque.  Bruna Lakles appears as Bruna Lakiss in Gwen’s list.  Other details emerge when making comparisons.

This is a very good thing to do because of a grim fact.  One person cannot hope to gather and maintain a fully correct and comprehensive list from year to year and from one generation to the next.  Gwen can’t.  Neither can I.  It takes a collective, a coordinated network across generations and international boundaries.  Even then we can’t be entirely sure the facts are 100% correct.

But it says something more.  While the lists associated with observance of the Day of Remembrance tell us how transpeople, especially those “of color,” have became fodder for slaughter, they don’t say much about how these transpeople lived or what lessons they may have gleaned.  Today’s news articles often offer much more in this respect and we need to give these stories attention concerning their details.  We must do the best we can because these people deserve to be remembered, and to do otherwise may render the entire demographic forgotten by default as it has during much of human history.

But the main contribution of Ms. Leveque’s biography consists of presenting Gwen’s insight.  It’s evident in her admonition to allies.16 It’s also evident in Gwen’s statements about the intentions of ITDOR, a much more serious event than what has sometimes occurred.17 ITDOR has been exploited to merchandize LGBT centers and sponsors even to the point of them becoming like street vendors in an atmosphere resembling a fair.  When sponsors gain a greater voice than the names of victims and speakers talk about the progress of their own transitions instead of defying erasure, they could cheat an entire gathering of attendees who attempt to exercise the observance.18

Gwen’s insight is what this book will continue to contribute, details of which should be read and re-read.  The work Gwendolyn Ann Smith has performed over the years has enriched and unified the trans community and this book will continue that enrichment in good measure.  Personal details are incidental.  But remembering her principles and following her actions offer the best and most enduring compliment by which her activism will endure as a legacy.

 

 

TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith

By Sophia Cecelia Leveque

Produced and distributed by Library Partners Press

Z. Smith Reynolds Library

Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem NC

www.librarypartnerspress.org

ISBN: 978-1-61846-044-8

 

Paperback, 127 pages

Available on Amazon

 

Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the National center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Trans Lifeline, TransLaw Help, and the TransActive Gender Center in Portland OR.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON THE TMP FORUM

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REFERENCES:

 

Featured Image:  (clockwise from the left) The cover of TRANS/ACTIVE; a scene from the first ever Transgender Day of Remembrance on a drippy evening in the Castro in 1999, from the archives of Lynnea Urania Stuart, source is an unknown amateur San Francisco photographer.  “Stop the killing!  Stop the hate!” was the mantra of protesters that night, available from Theresa Sparks on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-lTsu9SQXM .  Quotation from page 51 of TRANS/ACTIVE, leaping into light out of the darkness.

 

  1. 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), p. 51.
  2. Ibid, p. 5.
  3. Ibid, p. 9.
  4. Ibid, p. 10.
  5. Ibid, pp. 19-21.
  6. Rita’s death often appears without mention of Chantelle’s as in “Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDOR – November 20” GLAAD https://www.glaad.org/tdor , accessed August 10, 2017.
  7. Op cit. p. 42.
  8. Ibid, p. 52.
  9. Unless otherwise noted, the writer, Lynnea Urania Stuart, relies upon her own recollections as a volunteer to the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force from June through November 2000 when she served as Employment Committee Secretary and attended the general meetings. Gwen was nowhere at the general meetings through November 2000 so could not have worked for the task force before December 2000.  Further conversation with Gwen on August 6, 2017 revealed that she recalled initially taking a seat next to the window near Larry Brinkin.  Brinkin, being an advisor to the task force, and not himself transgender, typically sat at the outer ring behind and to the right of Co-Chair Sarah Marshall.  Consequently, Gwen would have also sat in the outer ring. The writer has followed developments related to task force activities after moving from the Bay Area.  She writes about the task force and its relationship with AB 196 in detail in “California’s Trans Rights Collective” Transpire (June 10, 2016 ) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/californias-trans-rights-collective/ .
  10. Letter from the Clerk of the Rules Committee, San Francisco Board of Supervisors to Gwendolyn Ann Smith, dated August 9, 2001 (supplied by Gwendolyn Ann Smith August 6, 2017).
  11. Ryan, Janis “Transgender History Made in San Francisco” The Channel 20, Issue 6, June 1001,Transgender San Francisco, p. 15.
  12. Human Rights Commission. “San Francisco City and County Transgender Health Benefit” (memo revisiting the issue of transition benefits, 2006). Copy available online from  Transgender At Work Project. http://www.tgender.net/taw/SanFranciscoTGBenefitUpdateMar3106.pdf .
  13. Leveque, p. 77.
  14. List of transgender victims from the writer’s own archive.
  15. Op cit, pp. 116, 117.
  16. Ibid, p. 63.
  17. Ibid, p. 59.
  18. Witnessed by the writer, Lynnea Urania Stuart in Orange County CA. The writer has also witnessed how some younger members of a planning committee groaned at the perceived “drudgery” of reading the names of victims, an exercise that has embodied the very heart of the Day of Remembrance.
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The Gifts of the Dying: Finding the Elusive Resolution

Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

How he began his class left some of his students feeling “weirded out” as some of them said.  As soon as he settled the issues of attendance and petitions for admission he rose up from his seat, saying, “This morning I talked to the Ocean.  I asked what I should teach so that you could understand.”

“Talked to the Ocean?”  Was this professor nuts?  I smiled while others looked upon him while growing pale with apprehension.  The Registrar had placed us in good hands.  I immediately felt deep admiration for this old man who talked to the Ocean.  His lecture made sense once you understood its context.  He didn’t absurdly speak to the Ocean as littoral water.  He spoke to the Ocean because he sensed Life had profoundly filled the sea and he wanted to convey its meaningfulness to his students. 

He drew a line on the board.  On the left he marked the place of birth.  On the right he marked the place of death.  “What do we consider to make this segment in-between worth experiencing?”

It’s long been much of the grist of Philosophy, at least for those who grasp the phileō1 of Philosophy.  It demands examination after Plato’s spirit who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”2   But what drives that examination is the simple fact that everyone who lives must also come to terms with the end of life. 

 In other words, unless one faces death one can’t really live.  To be disconnected to one is to be disconnected with the other.  Face it.  The end of life ever looms as a virtually inevitable and unavoidable phenomenon.  Is living a duty imposed?  Should life be embraced and enjoyed?  Why even bother to go through all of this?

The answer’s different for everyone.  We might have billions of perspectives and not one of us can point to the next and say with absolute certainty and without dogma that it’s wrong.  But you’d think that transpeople, a demographic who for centuries has been appointed to ostracism, extermination, and erasure should understand better than anyone this relationship between death and life. 

 

A HUMAN DISSERVICE

When it comes to discussing death, we encounter no shortage of zealots who not only refuse to discuss it, but forbid anyone else to discuss it, denouncing everyone who does so as a “negative thinker.”  This, of course is false because “negative thinking” is really an epistemological belief system that proposes: “We cannot know what is; but can only know what is not.”  The vernacular of “negative thinking” we so often hear amounts to subversion to individual narcissists who hide from the inevitable while covering their tracks with psychobabble.

Some of these are even staunch religionists who refuse to engage in necessary activities such as preparation of a Will, or even a Living Will.  Some also forbid their spouses to do so.  Everyone should prepare such documents and update them periodically.  It’s a matter of good stewardship of resources and protection of the living.  Unless you have a complicated estate or beneficiaries inclined to bicker over the dispensation thereof you might not even need an attorney.  There’s no shortage of print and online resources to guide anyone capable of thinking through the process for themselves to make both documents and to guide survivors who address estate matters in propria persona.3

Nobody should have to kowtow to the imposition of permanent denial, disallowing even a remote mention of the end of life.  It’s a shameful disservice.  The same people often live in fear themselves and demand that others live in fear the same way.

Why should this so often happen in churches, the very congregations that brag about being “ready” for Jesus to come and that death shouldn’t be feared because it’s been conquered in His resurrection?   The answer appears to lurk in the societal dynamic of many churches, where parishioners have only been offered temporary assurances of divine acceptance while leaving them to never ending cycles of psychological dependency upon human leaders.  Those who choose another approach may find themselves being redefined as “unbelievers” to be “converted” all over again to the satisfaction of manipulative cultists whose demands for acceptance increase with each cycle.

If that’s not enough, we find much the same with many medical practitioners when it comes to issues like cancer.  Not a few patients aren’t permitted to speak about the end of life till the practitioner is ready for them to discuss it, usually when it’s already inevitable that death is only months away and patients have been driven into bankruptcy by paying for “morally obligated” cancer treatment.  They might be counseled in this after insurance companies have abandoned constituents through rejection of coverage despite prior approval… something that happens far more often than insurers admit while hiding behind a shell game of provider territories and arbitration agreements that they had required in order to offer coverage in the first place.

 

A HEALTHY APPROACH

It seems like a paradox how often “unbelievers” and “reprobates” approach the end of life in ways more healthy than many religionists.  Consider Friedrich Nietzsche… yup… that Nietzsche… the one who said, “God is dead,” as an indictment against religious institutions who by pretense killed the idea of God for everyone.4 He said something amazing in 1888:

 

“To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.  Death of one’s own free choice, death at the proper time, with a clear head and with joyfulness, consummated in the midst of children and witnesses: so that actual leave-taking is possible while he who is leaving is still there.”5

 

Most people, of course, don’t die that way.  Religionists usually don’t do this any better than “unbelievers”.  Clear-headedness and joyfulness rarely accompany the deaths of religionists.  Having worked in hospitals I’ve known not a few of the dying, many of whom died with eyes filled with horror and foreboding.  If a man approaches death as if it was only the realm of the violent and macabre, or something worthy only of horror movies, what else can he expect on his own death bed?

It brings to mind something the professor who talked to the Ocean articulated when it comes to knowing and modal realities.  Of course multiple epistemological theories exist.  But he didn’t address any of them directly.  Instead he steered close to solipsism without going over the edge.  He said:

 

“We know as a human knows.  What is real is what we make known.  If you don’t respect it, then you won’t see it.  There’s also an attitude that makes what’s seen a distorted nightmare.”6

 

Death, in this context, has become the macabre, distorted nightmare, because people have commonly made it known to be such; stuck in individual solipsism from which none can deliver; an entrapment built upon a myth of the grim reaper, rodents, vermin, and worms looking upon each of us as if to say we taste like chicken.  However, those who claim to have encountered the “Angel of Death” overwhelmingly testify that he’s really quite peaceful.  Can such testimony prove the existence thereof to everyone else?  Nope.  It’s like trying to prove the existence of God and you can’t do that and have a faith system.  But it does underscore how the difference a person’s attitude about death can make in how that person approaches the end of life.

This doesn’t diminish the validity of the grieving; far from it.  One should not be stuck in a permanent state of denial and many who view death in terror get stuck in denial a lot.  Ministry (religious or otherwise) demands that we help those who grieve to move through those stages past anger, bargaining, and depression so that they can achieve a final acceptance; and some of us who face issues pertaining to the end of life often have to pass through our own grief cycles as well.

It also calls for mindfulness.  Buddhists usually talk about this more than those in other religions.  But mindfulness, when practiced at the gates of dreaming, also assists at the gate of death.  Consider the words of the poet Theodore Roethke in The Waking who described the process of dying this way:

 

“This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.”7

 

So how does one practice this kind of mindfulness?  Techniques of meditation are very helpful.  But one aspect sooner or later becomes clear:  that state in which one recognizes that he’s falling asleep.  These borders of consciousness are themselves significant.  So are the dreams that happen then, if one dares to cultivate them.

In fact these kinds of dreams form a whole genus of dream phenomena:  hypnagogia.  These are various dream mechanisms that occur before Stage I sleep.  They may begin with simple phosphenes that follow the buzzing of the mind and because of that they don’t mean much.  But other species of hypnagogic phenomena offer varied rewards, even to the point of entering a dream directly from waking and in full lucidity, a practice described variously as “Set Up Dreaming” by Carlos Castaneda8 and “Waking Induction of Lucid Dreams (WILD)” by Stephen LeBerge, both versions in various publications.9

What hypnagogia offers as pertaining to the experience of dying is the capacity to watch the process with one’s full capacity of consciousness however long consciousness as we know it can be maintained.  How effectively can such mindfulness develop?  With practice one might catch the very moment a dream configures with the “snap” of a synapse.  As pertaining to the end of life, what lies beyond is poorly defined for the living.  But that state beyond, faced with clarity of mind and with good cheer, should provide the best answer and assurance for any prospect of what others might do to harm us in their cruel attempts to thwart our life purpose.

 

A DECISION IN REMEMBERANCE

One’s perspective concerning the end of life may also profoundly change if faced with the prospect of terminal illness and has come to early acceptance.  Such a one eagerly seeks to offer the best he or she can for the living, knowing just how fleeting those moments really are.  This writer is such a person.  I’m reminded by my own health that I cannot expect to live many more years.  But after being notified that my medical coverage is no longer being accepted, I made the decision not to choose a course of treatment that promises to drain household resources to the detriment of others.  In which case, what can an assailant or assassin do to me that would be anything short of a favor?

In which case, how does that affect my view of those we memorialize at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance?  The time to start preparations for that defiance against erasure is months in advance if not a year.  But who knows if any of us will reach November 20?  When it comes to this I know I cannot know, and that’s not negative thinking in this context.  Instead it’s thinking that reminds me how needful it is for me to act with my strength while I can.

In which case, what’s the real tragedy of the dead?  Is it in the dying?  No.  It’s the life so constrained by fear and interference that it never exercised life beyond subsistence.  Because life has an end it can retain a beauty borne out of its own desperation to offer the gifts it has gathered.  And for those who dare to listen to the dying, the gifts are freely offered, and whether great or small their specialness is unexcelled.

 For that reason, I also appeal to those eager to die through suicide.  You who are eager miss my point It isn’t supposed to be easy to die.  The desire for suicide isn’t about resolution.  It offers no gift to the living.  It’s only an attempt to hide from persecution and failure when these troubles have arisen to refine you into the person you can become.  Those who suffer patiently do no wrong.  So if you find yourself at the brink today, please call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 in the United States.  For those in Canada, please call (877) 330-6366.

 But the gifts of the dying are something I learned about when my dearest friend one died years ago.  Our love has been called “Aristotelian”.  Some called it “Platonic”.  But our affection breached the moment of her death in 2000 when she said goodbye to me in a dream which I understood, and I confirmed the time of her death the following day.10

When such phenomena that traverse long distances from consciousness to consciousness, how can I think of them as solipsism?  I can’t.  The meaning thereof is too profound.  It’s the stuff of synchronicity and transcendence.  It said so much more than the things restricted to my own mind, an abstract gift of which I wrote a year ago:

 

These are things of the heart and from awakenings that most never experience but when they happen they blaze in stark and poignant reality.  They lead you into the brightest experiences and the deepest sorrows.  But in them you also find yourself.  You awaken to a larger universe with immense grandeur in beauty even in tragedy.  You come alive.  It’s as it were, the difference between existing and Be-ing.  For a transperson, that awakening of internal truths blossoms into living in a way in which one finally awakens and finds herself or himself.  They often lead one to recognize a difference in gender, driving one to shed more and more of the lies imposed from childhood.  The world often thinks of us as “freaks” not only because of our gender expression but also because we often have grasped those internal truths when most of the world has not.11

 

Then when the Angel comes to loose the silver cord and we escape from a world that dies a little more each day because of greed and injustice, a world fading in the shadows from the Light that beckons in its beauty, the sorrow fades in a profound happiness of innocence finally grasped in its fullness.  Have all the ostracism and violence that drove us to recognize who we are as transpeople been for nothing?  The cynical who don’t know seem to think so.  But they’re wrong.  For us, grasping the truths of our own essence developed in our incarnation has always been essential to grasping what it means to Be; through an angst in our temporality that does not leave us there forever, but tutors us in the resolution to which it all leads.

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REFERENCES:

Featured image:  Parts of Theodore Roethke’s The Waking strikingly parallel Kabbalah in the unfolding from the grossly material in a circuitous route up the ‘Etz Chayim or “Tree of Life” to a spiritual unity expressed in the “Light” often recalled from near death episodes.  It’s represented in these public domain images from 2 perspectives, one in analogy of personal experience, the other mythologically depicted in the sculpture “The Angel of Death.” (Sources unknown but labeled for reuse)

  1. Phileō from the Greek φιλέω, meaning “I love” as in fondness.
  2. Plato Apology 38a
  3. In Propria Persona, abbreviated, “In Pro Per,” is Latin for “In (his or her) own person,” which in legal filings refers to one who files directly as either a petitioner or a respondent without an attorney.
  4. Nietzsche, Friedrich, “The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding” The Gay Science (1882) Section 343.
  5. Nietzsche, Friedrich, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man,” quoted by Grey, Eziikiill and Gold, Izenhaera. The Poet and The Painter: Vol 1: Miseries & Epiphanes (2014) Outskirts Press. ISBN-13: 9781478738718, p. 150.
  6. Neill L. Cooney (lecture at Cypress College April 12, 2012)
  7. Theodore Roethke. “The Waking,” lines 16-19.
  8. Waggoner, Robert. “Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self” (2008) Red Wheel/Weiser, ISBN 1609255399, p. 6.
  9. Rebecca Turner. “Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (The MILD Technique)” The World of Lucid Dreaming (n.d., accessed August 2, 2017) http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/mnemonic-induction-of-lucid-dreams.html.
  10. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “A Weeping Woman On a Windy Beach” Transpire (October 1, 2016, accessed August 2, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/the-weeping-woman-on-a-windy-beach/.
  11. Ibid.

 

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Conservative Disgrace: Old Innuendos in Trump’s Transgender Ban

This “President” offered no new arguments.  Congress knows it.  So does much of the United States.  What a significant number of Americans don’t realize is how old and disproven those arguments really are pertaining to transgender military service and their medical coverage.  In fact they had been visited in government over 15 years ago and even then its champions defied national ridicule.

The details of Trump’s surprise tweets announcing his ban on transgender troops serving “in any capacity” have yet to be worked out, much the same way as Conservative religionists often posit their conclusion first and work out the premises later.  But like many issues involving religio-political positions, facts have not been on their side, nor are they now.

 

THE DRAMA

Let’s look at exactly what @RealDonaldTrump tweeted that caused his latest uproar:

(5:55 am on July 26, 2017) “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……”

(6:04 am) “….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..”

(6:08am) “….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”1

Trump reportedly took more than 13 minutes to announce a “policy” in a set of 3 tweets.  He might have saved time to simply have his aides to type up an executive order.  But no other written directive has yet been issued from the White House let alone a signature upon legislation.

Pentagon Spokesperson Jeff Davis appeared dutiful in its doublespeak, but scarcely concealing non-commitment to immediate enforcement when he said, “We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief on transgender individuals serving in the military. 2

 The White House tweets followed another significant action pertaining to transpeople in the military including an amendment titled, Prohibition of Department of Defense Medical Treatment Related to Gender Transition which failed in the House of Representatives 209-214 after Defense Secretary James Mattis lobbied against it.3

Former Governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and father of the newly installed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, blasted Republicans who voted against the amendment.5 Governor Huckabee had previously distinguished himself as an anti-transgender force in politics with this vile Red Herring designed to impugn the entire demographic, couched in what he disingenuously claimed to be a “joke” in 2016:

“Your seven-year-old daughter, if she goes into the restroom, cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man.  Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE.  I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today’.”4

Huckabee’s voice joined with those of Congressional anti-transgender politicians, especially the staunchly anti-LGBT Representative Vicki Harzler [R] MO who was the strongest proponent of the failed amendment.  Politico reported that Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, from the “Alt-Right” publication Breitbart, weighed in as well:

“‘Conservatives were telling [the] White House they didn’t want money in a spending bill to go to transgender health services,’ said one senior administration official, noting that it accelerated Trump’s decision.  Their argument fell on sympathetic ears, White House sources said. Chief strategist [sic] Steve Bannon encouraged Trump to deal with the matter now.  Hartzler and her supporters were elated.”5

The new White House Press Secretary defended Trump’s decision, calling transgender inclusion a “very expensive and disruptive policy” and claimed the “National Security Team” had concluded that “it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion.”6

After Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ announcement we might question who’s included in Trump’s “National Security Team” now.  Where was the Secretary of Defense in all of this, especially after going through all that trouble to lobby against Harzler’s amendment?  He seemed to be a cipher in this decision, a non-entity.  We didn’t hear explicitly from the Secretary of Defense till the following day when his chief spokeswoman Dana White relayed that “detailed guidance” will be implemented “in the future” and the Defense Department will continue to “focus on our mission of defending our nation and ongoing operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect.”7

 Marine Gen. Joe Dunford wrote in an internal memo that there will be “no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”  In other words, he cannot accept a set of tweets as a basis for policy changes.8

It’s difficult to ascertain at this juncture what “treating all service members with respect” is supposed to mean.  It’s also impossible to say whether existing trans service members will be removed with less than honorable discharges.  The level of discharge matters when it comes to receipt of future pensions, allowances, or medical coverage.  In the past servicemembers determined to be LGBT had often been given “undesirable” or even “dishonorable” discharges which rendered them virtually without any hope for future help from the Veterans Administration or any special consideration for hiring in general employment.  The practice of expelling “undesirables” with less than honorable or general discharges have condemned such people to a lifetime of virtually guaranteed ostracism.

 

DECISION UPON INNUENDO

The reasons stated by Trump’s tweets this week revealed much of the same kind of appeal that people like Representative Harzler indicated and they were nothing new.  The tweets themselves represented three:

  1. Transgender servicemembers detract from the focus of the mission of the armed forces.
  2. Transgender servicemembers represent a personal distraction to all servicemembers, destroying morale and readiness.
  3. Transgender servicemembers result in massive medical costs.

None of these claims have been supported by anything but the stigma imposed by Evangelical Dominionists who refuse to tolerate anyone their religion declares “evil”, something which has shifted over generations.  But the issue of mission as pertaining to focus and distraction are the same arguments presented against other minorities at various times, each which over time have been disproven.  Overall morale and combat readiness continued irrespective of minority inclusion.

In fact Trump’s decision came on the 69th anniversary of an order by President Harry Truman order to integrate Blacks into the armed forces.  Objections to Black servicemembers often followed a claim by Senator Lister Hill of Alabama who said that integration of Blacks would “seriously impair the morale of the Army at a time when our armed forces should be at their strongest and most efficient.”9

It certainly represented gross displacement.  The only “morale” that might be “impaired” might be that of the bigoted who were unwilling to welcome Blacks as fellow human beings.  Time proved through decades of honorable Black service histories that they did their work well.  The bigoted, on the other hand, proved themselves unworthy of military service having represented the worst of America to the world, acting as ambassadors of arrogance, prejudice, and social slime.

The case of women and gays has entirely been colored by attitudes regarding sex and the insistence of military and governmental leaders to impose sexual stereotypes, even in more recent years.  Women would be considered prone to “use their sexuality to garner special favors” to use the words of Chaplain Colonel Vincent J. Inghilterra of Fort Leonard Wood in 1997 as reported in the Washington PostDavid Marlowe, Chief of Military Psychology at Walter Reed Hospital was quoted to say concerning homosexuals, “Introduction of sexual attraction destroys cohesion.”10

In retrospect such comments sound like wishful thinking.  Integration of women and gays never categorically represented any introduction of “sexual attraction.”  Women and homosexuals aren’t categorically about imposing sexual guile upon everyone else and this has been evidenced again and again by those of both demographics who have honorably served.

 

MONEY MONEY MONEY

The third issue, the “tremendous medical costs” to use Trump’s words, isn’t about budgets.  It’s the iron-fisted unwillingness of Evangelical Dominionists to benefit any transperson in any manner whatsoever.  How much money was at stake?  Consider this from William Padula of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

“U.S. policymakers generally deem medical services to be cost-effective if the price falls below $100,000 per year of quality of life. The Hopkins research team found that in the first five years of care for transgender people, associated medical care costs between $34,000 and $43,000 per year of quality of life. After 10 years, the costs drop to $7,000 to $10,000 per year.  To put these numbers into context… cystic fibrosis affects just 30,000 people in the U.S. but can be treated as a chronic condition with new medications for $300,000 a year.  While this is neither cost-effective nor individually affordable, society has decided to cover treatment out of compassion. The same philosophy can apply to medical care for transgender people.”11

Of course that “compassionate philosophy” pertains to insurance companies and the federal government is self-insured.  Government must consider costs for such coverage in its appropriations.  A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation commissioned by the Defense Department estimated transitions for active transgender servicemembers to cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year.  In other words, even in the most extreme scenario they could identify, the costs amount no more than .13% of the military health spending budget.12

Not a few critics, like Beth Skwarecki of LifeHacker were quick to point out that the military spends $42 million annually for Viagra and $84 million on erectile dysfunction drugs generally.  The “President” with his entourage, having spent many a weekend on golf trips during his first months in office, leaves the taxpayer a bill for $3.6 million per pop.  Each trip exceeds the low estimate by the RAND Corporation and 3 trips exceed the high estimate.13

 

HISTORICAL PRECEDENT

Claims that transitions drain government treasuries are nothing new.  They existed from the first time a government entity examined transition benefits for its employees.  For that we turn to the first such endeavor.  In the City and County of San Francisco in 2001 the issue had been raised by certain members of the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force by the end of 2000.  Transition benefits were championed by then Supervisor Mark Leno who also convened that task force in the summer of that year.  News of this hit national media like a firestorm in January 2001, inciting criticism and ridicule by editorial commentators and late night pundits.14

Dr. Jamison Green made an important observation in 2001 when transition benefits were being debated by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  He noted that the arguments for not considering medical coverage for trans employees in any system, public or private boiled down to 2:

  1. Not enough transition people exist to warrant any consideration of coverage.
  2. If we provide coverage we’ll be overrun with people who want to transition.

Dr. Green called both extremes “very bad jokes,” and noted that virtually all procedures required for transition are available for those not transgender and these are routinely covered by insurance.  But only when we’re identified as trans do these entities deny the same benefits.  In other words, if not enough people exist to warrant coverage, why do insurers cover them for everyone else outside our minority of minorities?  If there was any concern about being overrun, why have transgender support organizations never amounted to millions of members?15

Transition benefits passed on April 30, 2001 with 9 of 11 votes in favor. Several trans activists gathered for the decision including, Dr. Joan Roughgarden, Gwendolyhn Ann Smith, Ayme Kantz of The Channel, Theresa Sparks, and several other members of the Executive Committee of Transgender San Francisco (TGSF).  The gathering included the San Francisco Chronicle, and KPIX, as reported by TGSF member Janis Ryan who also died in October of the same year, herself having faced starvation despite being a paralegal.16

But the issue would be revisited when a new mayor, Gavin Newsom, took office.  San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission produced this letter in 2006 and included some of Dr. Green’s observations (For a full size view, please follow this link):

With an initial premium amount of $1.70 per month bringing in $4.3 million dollars, only 7 claims for surgery came in with a payout of only $156,000.  The fear that transgender would overrun and bankrupt the system never happened.  In fact it proved to be so profitable; the insurers eliminated the added premium entirely.17

This was an immensely successful insurance program instituted over 15 years ago.  The fears about “immense costs” and people rushing into service so they could milk transition amounted to fear-mongering.  The transgender benefit continues today for employees of the City and County of San Francisco and this has been a model for other such programs ever since.  When it comes to long term effects upon treasuries, this program proved the following:

  1. Transgender employees never drained the treasuries of any insurance company.
  2. Transgender employees never proved “too insignificant” to consider coverage.
  3. Claims that one or the other must be the case are a Red Herring.
  4. The unproven nature of such a Red Herring reveals a cultivated social animus unrelated to transpeople.

Seeing that was the case for San Francisco where the highest incidence of transgender life can be expected, there’s no reason anything different should be expected for transgender servicemembers in the military, or anywhere in federal, state, county, or municipal governments.

 

AT THE CENTER

What it ultimately comes down to these disproven innuendos is that widespread animus fostered against transpeople for generations as against other minorities; rooted in a false religiosity that arrogantly finds every excuse it can to exalt one’s self and chosen communion over others.  It’s that same false religiosity to which the current regime panders that exalts itself above more genuine values that count for goodness and greatness that grow from the rule to love one’s neighbor.  It’s a false religiosity that threatens science and minority faiths, seeking a dominion upon Earth that won’t be satisfied till it can subjugates everyone irrespective of conscience under their own rod of iron in the image of a Roman fasces.

It’s an animus whose constitutionality may be challenged in the courts for as long as Dominionists have not succeeded in subverting the independence of the judiciary.  It’s an animus that demonstrates their genuinely compassionless character that prefers to impose the blarney of innuendo over fact while declaring reports of facts “fake” if they don’t suit preconceived conclusions.  But for us who are trans and whose proclivities to the spiritual represent a more direct and vibrant walk than the continued mummery of liturgy and dogma will have a special role in the future:  the assertion of liberty as liberty really is, reflecting the ethos of a lowly man from Galilee who seeks to heal and free others while having no place of His own to lay his head.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM

_______________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  The tweets in question on July 26, 2017 alongside a detail of the official public portrait of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and a modified detail of a public domain image of servicemembers in action.  The difference in size and incidence between the Defense Secretary and the Tweeter in Chief is more than incidental.

 

  1. Donald Trump. (Tweets July 26, 2017). https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump. Timeline of the tweets from Abby Phillip, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, and Dan Lamothe. “Trump announces ban on transgender people in the U.S. military” Washington Post (July 26, 2017, accessed July 26, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/07/26/trump-announces-ban-on-transgender-people-in-u-s-military/?utm_term=.d5455dc7ee39 .
  2. Vera Bergengruen. “Pentagon caught off guard by Trump’s ban on transgender troops” McClatchy DC (July 26, 2016, accessed July 26, 2016) http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article163704513.html .
  3. Stuart, Lynnea Urania. “July, the Federal Roller Coaster” Transpire (July 25, 2016, accessed July 26, 2016) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/july-the-federal-roller-coaster/
  4. Nick Duffy. “Mike Huckabee hits out at Republicans who voted down anti-trans law (July 18, 2017, accessed July 26, 2017) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/07/18/mike-huckabee-hits-out-at-republicans-who-voted-down-anti-trans-law/ .
  5. Ibid.
  6. Alex Horton. “Trump called transgender troops a costly disruption.  An expert who studied it says he’s wrong” Washington Post (July 26, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/07/26/trump-called-transgender-troops-a-costly-disruption-an-expert-who-studied-it-says-hes-wrong/?utm_term=.1696f237bcd8
  7. Bryan Bender and Jacqueline Klimas. “Joint Chiefs: ‘No modifications’ to transgender policy from Trump Tweet”. Politico (July 27, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017) http://www.politico.com/story/2017/07/27/trump-transgender-military-ban-no-modification-241029?cmpid=sf
  8. Philip Bump. “Trump’s argument against transgender soldiers echoes one used against gays, women, and blacks” Washington Post (July 26, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/07/26/trumps-argument-against-transgender-soldiers-echoes-one-used-against-gays-women-and-blacks/?tid=pm_politics_pop&utm_term=.a985811a6099 .
  9. HUB Staff, Johns Hopkins University. “Study: Covering transgender health care would be cost-effective for insurance companies” HUB, Johns Hopkins (December 3, 2015, accessed July 26, 2017) https://hub.jhu.edu/2015/12/03/transgender-health-insurance-cost-effective/ .
  10. Christopher Ingraham. “The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care.” Washington Post (July 26, 2017, retrieved July 26, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/wonk/wp/2017/07/26/the-military-spends-five-times-as-much-on-viagra-as-it-would-on-transgender-troops-medical-care/ .
  11. Beth Skwarecki. “The Military Spends More on Viagra Than on Transgender Soldiers’ Medical Expenses. Life Hacker (July 26, 2016, accessed July 26, 2017) http://lifehacker.com/the-military-spends-more-on-viagra-than-on-transgender1797266371?utm_medium=sharefromsite&utm_source=Lifehacker_twitter
  12. These facts are personally known to the author who served as Employment Committee Secretary for the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force in 2000 and followed the progress of these developments in various media. Then Supervisor Mark Leno is now State Senator Mark Leno.
  13. Green, Jamison “An End to Exclusions” Visible Man (February 2001, out of print but distributed online at the time. Copy in the author’s collection.  Visible Man is different from the volume, Becoming a Visible Man, available through various online services.)
  14. Ryan, Janis. “Transgender History Made in San Francisco” The Channel, Volume 20, Issue 6 (June 2001) Transgender San Francisco. Lynnea Urania Stuart, as a member of TGSF during this time, personally knew Janis and remembers relaying the news of her untimely death in Berkeley.  Janis never transitioned, but she was notably proud to be transgender.
  15. Human Rights Commission (memo 2006 revisiting the issue of transition benefits) available also through Transgender At Work Project. http://www.tgender.net/taw/SanFranciscoTGBenefitUpdateMar3106.pdf .

 

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The Dominionist Collapse: When Transpeople Face Theocracy

Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

It’s reactive and reductive, embraced by braggart and bigot; and it’s running away with the standard of Conservatism.  Its survival depends upon innuendo more than logic despite the fact that some highly educated people work from the heart of the movement.  Dominionism burst upon Congress in the likes of people like Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee.  But the movement that’s Dominionism cannot last, threatening an intellectual collapse that could drag America and the world into a new Dark Age, attacking transpeople every step along the way.  It will collapse because logic will eventually overrule innuendo and propaganda while the masses turn against Dominionism in growing disgust and the environmental collapse of the planet awakens them to the folly of its religio-political policies.

 

ABOUT DOMINIONISM

Christianity brought Dominionism to the world through the likes of Constantine and Theodosius, the latter of whom cosigned the Edict of Rome on August 6, 390 CE which declared “male effeminacy” a capital crime punishable by burning.  The Edict became part of the Corpus Juris Civilis while driving underground transpeople who had previously enjoyed a respected, even priestly status for centuries.  Dominionist rulers opened the floodgates of what would become a more generalized Abrahamic Oppression of transpeople against which we struggle today.1

Dominionism may be defined as the political doctrine that religion, most particularly the most prominent denomination or alliance in a region, must control the reins of political power and government control in order to assure the goodness of society.  This means integration of church and state.  In this respect Dominionism follows the Post-Millennialism of Augustine in The City of God despite the fact that most of today’s Dominionists are Pre-Millennial instead, some of which make informal tests of fellowship out of Pre-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation in eschatological teachings.2

In the United States, Dominionism has largely taken the form of the Evangelical Alliance that has included Conservative branches of Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Campbellists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and other denominations in cooperation with Roman Catholics, and to some extent, Messianic, Conservative and Orthodox Jews.  This alliance has established the popular stigma of the “cult”, most particularly against Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, the now defunct Worldwide Church of God of Herbert W. Armstrong, and to some extent, the Seventh-Day Adventists.  However, they have not clearly defined what a cult should be outside their own accepted concept of orthodoxy.  In terms of an actual modus operandi, the Evangelical Alliance often displays much of the cultic abhorrence they criticize, carrying the traits of exclusiveness and enforcement to the political arena.  Beginning with the work of Rev. Jerry Fallwell and the Moral Majority in the 1980 presidential election, Dominionists have worked to seize control of the Republican Party, and consequently, the United States.3

 

HR 2796

Republicans produced a decidedly anti-transgender platform in its 2016 Platform.  It reads:

 

“We emphatically support the original, authentic meaning of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It affirmed that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” That language opened up for girls and women a world of opportunities that had too often been denied to them. That same provision of law is now being used by bureaucrats — and by the current President of the United States — to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people by wrongly redefining sex discrimination to include sexual orientation or other categories. Their [sic] agenda has nothing to do with individual rights; it has everything to do with power. They [sic] are determined to reshape our schools — and our entire society — to fit the mold of an ideology alien to America’s history and traditions. Their [sic] edict to the states concerning restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities is at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues. We salute the several states which have filed suit against it.4

 

After the GOP won continued control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the GOP now seeks to execute this platform in legislation.  On June 7, 2017, the GOP introduced HR 2796, also titled the Civil Rights Uniformity Act.  The act explicitly seeks to strip a broad spectrum of civil rights protections for transpeople:

 

SEC. 3. Prohibition of policies redefining sex to mean gender identity.

(a) Rule of Construction.—In determining the meaning of any Federal civil rights law, and of any related ruling, regulation, guidance, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the words “sex” and “gender” and their equivalents shall not be interpreted to mean “gender identity” or its equivalent, and the words “man” and “woman” and their equivalents shall refer exclusively to a person’s genetic sex.

(b) Rule of Interpretation.—No Federal civil rights law shall be interpreted to treat gender identity or transgender status as a protected class, unless such law expressly designates “gender identity” or “transgender status” as a protected class.

(c) Definition of “Federal civil rights law”.—For purposes of this Act, the term “Federal civil rights law” means any Federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, including title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000a et seq.), the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.), the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111–148), and any other Federal law or provision thereof prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.5

 

The bill, problematic enough in its definition of sex and gender on the basis of “genetic sex,” went to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice on July 12.  Whether the subcommittee thinks through the illogic of presumptive “genetic sex” remains to be seen.  But the bill opens up an entirely new discussion between legalities and ethics.

 

ETHICAL REALITIES AND LEGALITY

Anyone who has taken a college class on Ethics has probably faced a common faux pas: one cannot generally debate ethical points using legal precedents.   What’s ethical often differs from what’s legal.  That can include medical decisions directly affecting transpeople.

We as transpeople typically assert a fundamental right to transition, detransition, and even to re-transition provided that actions do not inflict harm or otherwise violate the rights of others.  Medical ethics, however, are necessarily more guarded than this precisely because they follow a Consequentialist, but not Utilitarian approach.6 Consequentialism proposes that favorable outcomes determine right action.  But Consequentialism faces a fundamental challenge in terms of the Remote Effects Problem: that we cannot know a priori that immediate results will translate into good results on the long term.7 When it comes to the willingness of practitioners to treat transpeople with a therapy involving transition, we’re often perceived with a large question mark amid a general nervousness about malpractice claims.  Not all who transition do so successfully and long term studies concerning outcomes continue today to address Remote Effects.  These studies continue as sources for vigorous debate.

 The ethics of Dominionism, however, decidedly follows the Divine Command Theory of MoralityDivine Command asserts that right action follows what God has ordained in holy writ.  But what holy writ means calls upon the interpretations of religious leaders despite the biblical claim that scripture (or at lease prophecy) is not a matter of private human interpretation.8  It’s inevitable that interpretation falls back onto religious leaders because only prophets claim to have direct communications from God and no prophet has full acceptance in every communion.  We see disagreements in interpretation through every religious debate in which both sides in an argument refuse to budge from preconceived doctrines and dogma.  We see those disagreements manifest in the massive schisms in Christianity since before the Reformation.  When addressing trans acceptance, Christians are divided.  Some read the Bible and find a basis for acceptance.  Others read the Bible and reject us as an “abomination”, often couching their rejection with the disingenuous claim of “loving the sinner but not the sin.”  No real position exists concerning transpeople apart from these factions because those who “don’t know” have taken no position at all.  But the broad disparities in the positions of scholars among the denominations automatically render legislation on the basis of Divine Command necessarily imprecise, divisive and consequently unstable.

They’re unstable because Law demands a formulation of decisions upon precise definitions and relations as to what may be permitted through codification and enforcement.  When pertaining to transpeople and their collective diversity, definitions often fail.  Nobody has ever defined “transgender” once and for all.  That definition has shifted widely since first appearing in the 1970’s.  For that matter, our presence has opened up vigorous debate in terms of defining maleness or femaleness.  It’s confusing to many because America has relied upon religious tradition, not medical realities, to define a rigid gender dichotomy while excluding all others possibilities.  Consequently, Dominionists perceive transpeople as disrupters of the social order.

 

GENDER DYSPHORIA AND LEGAL RECOGNITION

Some transpeople who oppose medical gatekeeping have vigorously challenged the authority of medical and psychiatric practitioners.  Instead, transition’s sometimes regarded as something automatically owed by right.  Some have gone as far to say that gender dysphoria is “self-diagnosed.”  There’s a reason that view of “self-diagnosis” is wrong.

It’s wrong because a diagnosis is a medical or psychiatric determination based upon collectively established criteria, carrying legal ramifications.  Only a medical or psychiatric professional can diagnose.  “Self diagnosis” is nothing more than a suspicion till supported by a qualified third party.

For example, this past winter I suspected retinal damage after a fall because I persistently saw flashing arcs of light that consistently followed specific eye movements.  My suspicion proved to be correct when an ophthalmologist diagnosed a horseshoe tear in my retina and immediately referred me to eye surgery.  The ophthalmologist diagnosed on the basis of observation and established medical criteria.  I didn’t make that diagnosis.  I only suspected something to be true.

The same applies to professionals who write letters recommending transition.  Anyone can sense gender dysphoria because of various experiences in one’s own mental, emotional, and sociological disposition.  But a diagnosis demands more than subjective belief.  Gender dysphoria, like other conditions, must be determined upon clinical criteria.  It’s why certain states require a treating physician to sign an affidavit for change of the gender marker on a driver’s license.  It’s why an endocrinologist writes a recommendation for gender confirmation surgery.  That physician’s signature has legal ramifications more relied upon than the patient’s.  I might believe that deep inside I’m one gender or another and my belief may be correct.  But legal criteria require confirmation by a third party deemed expert enough to testify to one’s condition as fact. While, morally speaking, one may have the right to transition, securing legal recognition also matters.

It’s one reason why the Standards of Care and the Guidelines for Psychological Practice are important, provided through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and the American Psychological Association respectively.

 

RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND LEGAL RECOGNITION

What many religious people don’t realize is that a sincerely held religious belief can also lack legal recognition unless that belief is sanctioned by others, preferably by an established religious institution; much in the same way as a belief of having gender dysphoria needs verification through a professional diagnosis.

Think about that for a moment.

Consider, for example, the Vietnam War when 18-year old males were drafted for combat in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Some draftees were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists; conscientious objectors about killing for a human government (the former) and combat on Sabbath (the latter).  Adventist conscientious objectors were often admitted to a Medical Corps, though this provision was abandoned with the close of the Vietnam War.9

Of course, anyone could claim to be a conscientious objector in an attempt to get out of participation in maneuvers or out of cowardice.  Third party verification was required for accommodation.  Just making a statement would not suffice.  Military authorities look suspiciously upon anyone claiming in the middle of a term of service to have converted if it means getting out of an assignment.  Stories abound in Adventist circles about incarceration of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam Era who had been rescued by the church’s military liaison.10

Third party verification also is typically demanded by an employer who must make accommodations for religious practice whenever they come into conflict so long as accommodation does not pose an undue hardship upon the business.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidelines for this:

 

“When an employer requests additional information, employees should provide information that addresses the employer’s reasonable doubts.  That information need not, however, take any specific form.  For example, written materials or the employee’s own first-hand explanation may be sufficient to alleviate the employer’s doubts about the sincerity or religious nature of the employee’s professed belief such that third-party verification is unnecessary.  Further, since idiosyncratic beliefs can be sincerely held and religious, even when third-party verification is needed, it does not have to come from a church official or member, but rather could be provided by others who are aware of the employee’s religious practice or belief.[128]

“An employee who fails to cooperate with an employer’s reasonable request for verification of the sincerity or religious nature of a professed belief risks losing any subsequent claim that the employer improperly denied an accommodation.  By the same token, employers who unreasonably request unnecessary or excessive corroborating evidence risk being held liable for denying a reasonable accommodation request, and having their actions challenged as retaliatory or as part of a pattern of harassment.

“It also is important to remember that even if an employer concludes that an individual’s professed belief is sincerely held and religious, it is only required to grant those requests for accommodation that do not pose an undue hardship on the conduct of its business”11

 

THE TIDE OF LIMITATIONS

Religious liberty, however, isn’t absolute.  A parent in Christian Science would be prosecuted for denying his child medical care if it’s clear that treatment could have saved the child’s life.  Honor killings, today most common among Muslims aren’t exonerated in American courts.  Neither can any church carry out the kinds of pogroms against people of other faiths like what Orthodox Christians have perpetrated against Jews for centuries.  Forced conversions, a feature of Christianity throughout its bloody history, won’t be backed by law… yet.

In the case of employers, the issue of proselytizing in the workplace has been addressed by the EEOC in terms of hardship upon a business.  What’s lacking are the rights of employees to be free from being compelled to convert to a religion as a result of an employer sanctioning a campaign of proselytizing as in cases of religiously operated educational institutions that appear from time to time.  Neither have churches done much to make freedom from proselytizing a matter of accommodation because the churches prefer to fight proselytizing by equipping their own members for religious debate.  But internal conflicts resulting from proselytizing can force businesses to either forbid them through hardship claims, or to terminate employees on the basis of religion, the latter being preferred by many Conservative religious bodies.

Let’s say that the current trend for Dominionist control of government continues to the point in which no legal recourse for those outside the Evangelical Alliance can exist.  It’s a condition of American becoming a fully theocratic state.  Forced conversions often happen in such a milieu.  Some, like the Seventh-Day Adventists, have believed for over a century that this version of Christo-Fascism is inevitable, even established in prophecy.12

 

A LOGICAL CONUNDRUM

Transpeople, many of whom are either Atheist or representing religious minorities outside the Evangelical Alliance, can find a special role to play in such an unfolding drama.  The need for 3rd party verification for liberty claims by religionist and transperson should be more or less on par with each other as exists today.  But if religion demands forced conversions, these 3rd party verifications could be challenged for religious claimants in a way transgender claimants cannot.

A milieu of duress logically demands that we question the validity of claims of having freely made decisions.  Claims concerning liberty in conversion in such a milieu may be legally accepted but morally and logically they cannot.  However, nobody who has voluntarily gone through a process of transition needs anything beyond the documents supporting transition to evidence a past claim of gender dysphoria.  Given the hoops we jump through, it’s difficult for anyone to claim that a transsexual has had surgery under duress.  Simple existence as a post-operative transsexual speaks for the fact itself.  What remains in a totalitarian theocracy is its decision to either accept the resulting logical disparity that demands reform or destroy the transsexual who dares to challenge the religious claims of those having been converted under duress.  In the case of such a challenge, other minorities can take notice and rise up, each with issues of their own.

It’s a condition like what Tertullian described, saying, “semen est sanguis Christianorum” (The blood of Christians is seed).”13 But the blood of martyrs resulting in political and religious reforms isn’t limited to religionists.  For example, the persecution of Galileo Galilei by Catholic authorities spurred a rise of popular interest in science and added to scientific fervor.14 Just like Galileo brought an ascendancy of scientific interest and contributed to the decline of European religious tyranny, transpeople have the potential to spark such a reevaluation of religious liberty claims that can fuel a popular uprising of its own, leading ultimately to a crash of Dominionists’ theocratic grip.

 

A PHILOSOPHIC WARRANT

In which case, transpeople, especially those who transition, need to understand the logic of liberty claims:  their own as well as those of religionists.  For that matter, transpeople do well to understand philosophic ideas including ideas that demand religious literacy.  We should be able to teach them.  Such an understanding not only helps to refine one’s own thoughts about the self and the universe, but may bequeath a treasure for future generations that may arise in a more congenial age.  It may come in a time of environmental ruin and depopulation of the planet resulting from the madness of Dominionist policies rooted in the classic lust for gold, greed, and converts to what they claim is God.

Movements inevitably lead to political machines before becoming monuments to the “good old days.” But a more congenial age would be a time earned with an end to the Abrahamic Oppression that has gripped Europe and other parts of the world since Theodosius cosigned the Edict of RomeIt will also be a time earned for the meek who inherit the Earth, and not because they’re too timid to refuse it.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM

 

________________________

REFERENCES:

Image: Modified details of 2 public domain images.  Left is a statue honoring the ideal of protecting the worshipper from the state, commissioned by the Jewish anti-defamation league B’nai Berith and sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel.  It stands in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia; right is a detail from a protest for trans rights, Flikr.

  1. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Alas, the Charioteer” Transpire (November 25, 2016, accessed July 19, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/alas-the-charioteer/.
  2. Unless otherwise noted, the author relies upon her own experience with the Evangelical Alliance having participated in evangelism from 1974 before her exit from the Campbellists in 1978 and the Seventh-Day Adventists in 1995. Post-Millennialism claims that Christ returns after a 1000 year rule of the church on Earth.  Pre-Millenialism claims the 1000 rule happens after the return of Christ.  Pre-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation refers to whether a secret rapture, or taking up of “real Christians” into heaven, happens before or after a period of mass persecution of Christians.  Eschatology is a branch of theology pertaining to the end of the world.
  3. (n.a.) “Taking Over the Republican Party” Theocracy Watch (Updated February 2005, accessed July 19, 2017) http://www.theocracywatch.org/taking_over.htm.
  4. Republican National Platform Committee. “Republican Platform, 2016” (presented to the delegates of the GOP National Convention August 2016)
  5. HR 2796, Section 3 (bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Olson, Babin, Abraham, and Hartzler on June 7, 2017)
  6. Utilitarianism consists of 2 versions of Consequentialism that posit that right action must be determined upon the greatest number of sentient beings made happy (Jeremy Bentham) or determined upon a rule affecting the greatest number of people made happy (John Stuart Mill). The Consequentialism of medical ethics does not take statistics on societal happiness into account.
  7. “A priori” refers to what can be known ahead of time as opposed to “a posteriori” which refers to what can be known after the fact.
  8. 2 Peter 1:20.
  9. Gary R. Councell. “Adventists and Military Service” Spectrum (July 23, 2012, accessed July 19, 2017) http://spectrummagazine.org/article/gary-r-councell/2012/07/23/adventists-and-military-service .
  10. Related by Seventh-Day Adventist pastors to the author in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
  11. (na.a) “EEOC Compliance Manual, Section 12-4: Reasonable Accommodation” Directives Transmittal Number 915.003 (July 22, 2008, accessed July 19, 2017) https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/religion.html#_Toc203359518 .
  12. (n.a.) “The Image of the Beast” End Times Prophecy (n.d., accessed July 20, 2017) http://www.end-times-prophecy.org/image-of-the-beast.html.
  13. Tertullian. “Apologeticus Pro Christianis” 50:13
  14. Briggs, Kenneth A. “Scholars Are Still Embattled Over the Case of Galileo” New York Times (April 28m 1981, accessed July 20, 2017) http://www.nytimes.com/1981/04/28/science/scholars-are-still-embattled-over-the-case-of-galileo-madisonwisc.html?pagewanted=all.

 

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Blessing the Children: Yes, It’s for Transpeople Too.

Lynnea Urania Stuart

You can see the difference in their eyes.  It’s something children don’t understand.  But they feel it.  Adults usually don’t understand it either.  Blessing children can be a cathartic exercise for us.  It’s especially so for us who are trans.  In fact it’s a tradition practiced by transwomen traceable over thousands of years.

Blessing is a lost art for most people.  It’s perhaps the most often ignored aspect of trans living, partly because most adults don’t bless children and partly because most people won’t believe transpeople can be spiritual.  But make no mistake:  within every transperson a profoundly sacred place exists that reaches to the Divine as an essence beyond our capacity to grasp.  But when it wells up from within the heart it can offer healing and even life-changing reconciliation.

The place of blessing in trans experience has been noted in the work of Hijra in India.  Much of how bands of Hijra have existed have relied upon begging.  But the Kama Sutra tells of a “third sex,” a people whose presence at weddings may be regarded as fortunate.  To this day Hijra attend weddings, serve as midwives, and bless children.1

The British journalist Zia Jaffrey wrote about the Hijra in her book The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India.  Ms. Jaffrey is not herself transgender but became familiar with Hijra society and history during her stay in the Subcontinent.  She recorded the following blessing that survives, possibly from the time of Ram, but evidencing a Muslim influence also:

 

“Lord of the Universe:

because of You,

Ram was born. 

 

Because of You,

Ram was born. 

The instruments are playing in Adhvaryu.

 

Lord of the Universe,

because of You,

all the money is being thrown around

and the one who steals is stealing it.

 

Lord of the Universe,

because of You,

Ram was born.

 

And why was Ram born? 

Ram was born

because Ram was also to die.”2

 

It may seem weird to our Western sensibilities to think of this as a blessing.  After all, the vast majority of transpeople aren’t Hijra and have no ties to Hijra culture..  But a closer look at what has been a vital aspect to Hijra practice speaks to our own vitality as well.  It makes sense to consider what intentions exist in the practice of blessing.

In its most basic sense, blessing offers acceptance, warmth, reconciliation, and makes peace.  That’s a boon for parents and their children.  When we commit to transition, children often feel left out of the decision or may feel abandoned.  Blessing children offers much reassurance that the parent continues that current of love and closeness.  When conflict has devastated a family, a simple act of blessing can do much to restore those natural family ties.

Blessing also awakens to wonder and cultivates innocence.  To bless means to draw upon one’s own deepest dreams, those parts of you that awaken the most profound awe.  Innocence isn’t something lost forever once a child realizes right or wrong and certainly isn’t lost when they begin to question about sexuality.  It’s about awakening to dreams as a part of living, and bringing the wonderment of the true grandeur of the universe into daily life.  Blessing provides a beautiful avenue for doing this.

To lightworkers, blessing also provides a path for the transference of energies that may impact dreaming patterns and whatever faculties may be connected therewith.  This perhaps is why the practice of blessing was so esteemed in the Bible.  Even Esau who despised his birthright desired greatly his father’s blessing, indicating that there must have been something of great value offered thereby.3

Take a look at the image above from a Medieval Kabbalistic woodcut that resembles a Vulcan salute from Star Trek held up to a mirror.  Leonard Nimoy actually patterned that gesture from this.  It’s the Jewish “Berakhah Kohannim” or “Blessing of the Priests.” Mr. Nimoy adapted it after he saw his rabbi using the gesture.4 But people may also find it strange why this gesture should be used for anything, especially a blessing.

But look at the negative space formed by the hands.  You might perceive the hands forming an outline of a dove in flight from the one who blesses toward the one being blessed.  The thumbs and forefingers form the outline of the dove’s tail and the parted third and fourth fingers form the outline of its wings.  It may be described as the Yahu, the Sacred Dove of Sumeria.  It may be thought of as the dove associated with the Ruach Haqqadosh or Holy Spirit.  The Berakhah Kohannim was also placed level to the mouth after the manner: “And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, and he blessed them.”5

In context of these things, we might offer this adaption from the Hijra Blessing of Children to correspond more closely to Western sensibilities:

 

“Lord of the Universe:

because of You,

Light walked among us. 

 

Because of You,

Light was born. 

The instruments are playing

in the Holy cities.

 

Lord of the Universe,

because of You,

the treasuries of generosity are opened

and people give to the needy.

 

Lord of the Universe,

because of You,

Light was born.

 

And why was Light born? 

Light was born

because Light was also to die.

 

And why did Light die?

Light died

So Light could be kindled

in the eyes of a child who wonders.

 

(add any special words you choose)

 

Y’varekhékha Adonái v’yíshmerèkha.

Ya‘ér Adonái panáiv eléikha víchunnèkha.

Yassá Adonái panáiv eléikha

v’yasém l’khá shalóm.

 

May Adonai bless you and guard you.

May Adonai make His face to shine unto you and be gracious to you.

May Adonai lift His face unto you

and grant to you peace.”

 

Perhaps that renders the idea of blessing children a bit less obscure.  I expanded upon the intentions of the Hijra Blessing of Children to fit Western culture and added the common blessing from the TaNaKh or Hebrew Old Testament with translation to English immediately following it.6 In this you might picture the face of a Divine Father who smiles, raising His face toward the child from one downcast from rejection toward one whom He accepts as a newly found friend.

This is but one of many examples of blessing.  By all means write and memorize your own after the manner of your own spirituality.  Blessing children isn’t just for those traditionally religious or even Abrahamists.  It’s a universal practice, enacted in forms peculiar to culture and aspirations.  The essence of blessing isn’t in formulations but the act because when you bless you also commit to the blessing yourself.  If the Divine becomes the child’s friend, so must you; a commitment to peace that binds you together from generation to generation.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON  THE TMP FORUM


REFERENCES:

Image:  A version of a famous old Jewish Kabbalist woodcut of the Berakhah Kohannim, artist unknown.  Image recurs in many textbooks on Kabbalah and is public domain.  Though the thumbs don’t quite touch in this print they do in actual practice.

  1. “Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex (1)” Galva-108 Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association, accessed July 13, 2017. http://www.galva108.org/single-post/2014/05/13/TritiyaPrakriti-People-of-the-Third-Sex-1.
  2. Jaffrey, Zia. “The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India” (Pantheon Books, Random House, NY.  1991)  ISBN: 0-679-41577-7, pp. 266-267.
  3. Genesis 27: 34-41.
  4. Rabbi Yonassan Gershom. “The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute” Patheos, May 24, 2009, accessed July 13, 2017. http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/The-Jewish-Origin-of-the-Vulcan-Salute
  5. Leviticus 9:22, quoted in Kaplan, Aryeh. “Sefer Yetzirah:  The Book of Creation, In Theory and Practice” (Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, San Francisco, 1997) ISBN: 0-87728-855-0, p. 36.
  6. Numbers 6:24-26. Transliteration from “Masoretic Text” with accents supplied by the author for the reader, primary accents denoted with the acúte accent and secondary accents with the gràve accent.  The translation thereof is the author’s.
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