Nicki Andro: Straight Out of Stonewall

By Sabrina Samone

They say, that time heals all wounds. Sometimes that can take years, but here we are. Though we have come a long way as a trans community in the last ten or so years, we are also aware we have much more progress to make. Fifty-five years ago, within some one’s lifetime, black and white were still segregated, gay and lesbian’s still hid behind fake marriages and congregated in secret locations. Those days during the Motown sound, there were very little mentioning of interracial dating, and there were only occasional mentions of people changing genders, like Christine Jorgensen .

It would be another twenty years before the urban sounds of Motown morphed from disco to the hip hop beats of Afrika Bambaataa, known now as the father of hip hop. The industry became quickly synonymous with aggressive male masculinity, street gangs, prison and day to day hardships of life in urban slums. It would be in this patriarchal system’s climate, that women like MC Lyte, Salt n Pepa and Queen Latifah struggled to emerge. They struggled, yet successfully changed the face of hip hop with out compromising themselves as women, unlike some of the top female artist of today, that use sexuality to gain attention. These women were tough, in your face and was not about to degrade themselves or other women to have their voice be heard. I could go on about how I admire those early female pioneers of hip hop, but this is not a story about them, but about the potential new face of hip hop.

Over the years hip hop has become commercialized and embedded into nearly every aspect of American pop culture. It’s now universal among most cultures, religions, etc., yet remains extremely homophobic and transphobic. Many TBLG hip hop artist have tried making their name in music, just as those like P-diddy and Snoop-dog once did, but denied. This attitude from the hip hop industry may have gone unchecked or addressed until recent supporters like Macklemore demonstrated in the hit song ‘Same Love‘ , a time of change is needed.

Now with artist like Azealia Banks, Cazwell, Fly Young Red & gender queer and trans artist like Mykki Blanco, Katastrophe, & Katey Red, the walls are being broken down, one rhyme at a time.

Artist like Katey Red and Katastrophe may have taken the “shock” out of transgender rappers within the hip hop industry, but it’s newest crop of transgender hip hop artist are demanding it’s respect and claiming it along the way. Nicki Andro, is among a new genderation of hip hop artist, with lyrics and rhyme the founding fathers of hip hip would stand and take notice. I have been extremely impressed by her voice and message and it’s time my TMP readers get to know the new face of hip hop, Nicki Andro.

1. TransMusePlanet: Representation of Trans people in the media has been a long, and hard road. Recently we have established our presence in news, the fashion industry, film, art, television, and in literature. How ready, do you feel, is the need for the Trans voice in hip hop music?

Nicki Andro: I think Hip Hop is ready and is welcoming us with open arms, but we aren’t executing the best methods to approach it. There are many transgender rappers that posses a lyrical arsenal that cannot be denied by true hip hop fans, but who don’t have the connections to be heard, and many of us don’t get support from our own community, that could be crucial in elevating us to a higher spotlight. Many of the trans rappers that do have a spotlight get a bit too graphic on their trans experiences, and although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, we must understand that hip hop is known to be a transphobic and homophobic culture for the most part. It would take a lot for them to respect us, and the best way to do so is to make them listen to us, not  make them turn our songs off because we are sayi8ng things they aren’t used to hearing in a rap song. We should start off with music that appeals to many groups as opposed to only one group. We must earn their respect first, then anything goes.

 

2. TMP: The hip hop industry has been labeled for years as a misogynistic genre of music. It has been hard for it’s cis-gender women to find acceptance. What are some of the prejudices you’ve experienced?

N.A.: There have been many experiences I can bring up. Many men have been interested in making
music with me, while thinking that I am a cis-gender woman, then completely back out when I tell them I am transgender. I have also lost many rap battles because I am transgender. I haven’t experienced any negativity from anyone within the hip hop culture while they thought I was cis-gender, which has made me believe that the misogyny aura has been reduced. I will say, however, that although I have only experienced such prejudice from the straight women and men of the world, cis-gender people have also been the biggest supporters of my music.

3.  TMP:  Being Trans can be difficult in any culture, but it can be harder in some more than other, due to religious beliefs among others. What is your experience been like, coming out Trans, in a Haitian Catholic community?

N.A.: My experience has been horrible. Being in a Haitian/Catholic family, I had been taught at a very young age to hate the LGBT community before I even understood I was part of it. So, growing  up, I often had thoughts of wanting to be a woman, and felt guilt, disgust, and self-hatred every time those thoughts crossed my mind. That self-hatred also lead me to numerous suicide attempts. For 30 years, I thought I was a weird man with homosexual tendencies, but I had no idea that I’m transgender, mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable allowing my mind to explore that possibility. Many Haitian people see me as the worst thing anyone could ever be. My ex fiancée, a Haitian woman, had told me that if we had a son, she would kill him if he was gay, but would let him live if he was a serial killer. Also, I have been constantly blamed for being the cause of many people’s sorrows, and my truth has caused my mom to get ridiculed often by other Haitian people. But I would say, but I would say that the most difficult part of it all is knowing that my truth would cause me to lose connections with family members. My love for them is too immense.4. TMP:  In 2014, you were about to be married and your truth was still unknown to family. You ended the marriage and came out as transgender. What were some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome with family?

N.A.:  I face challenges such as having to prove my sanity to my family. My story is unusual, in the sense that I was a very manly man through my entire life. Nobody saw anything in me that would make them think I was not a straight man. I was a good actor, but nobody could see the torment I was fighting inside, the constant feeling of existing but not living. So when I called off the wedding, nobody understood why at first, since my ex-fiancee and I seemed to be in good terms. A month later, I announced that I was transgender, and from then I have been labeled as crazy by many family members, even to this day. I think my revelation wouldn’t have been as bad if I had been known as a gay or feminine guy and then came out as trans. This belief that I have lost my mind created an environment of family members praying and hoping, and also trying to insult or shame me, thinki8ng that such actions will make me “snap” out of it. It’s painful to witness. It’s almost as if I had died when I came out, and am forced to constantly see my family mourn my death, wasting too much time desperately trying to resuscitate the old me, not being able to accept that he is gone. The old me is gone for good.

 

5. TMP:  One of your recent songs, ‘Distant Hearts’, deals with the death of transgender people. You state, that the death of Leelah Alcorn and the countless murders of trans women of color were your inspiration. Why is this an important message for a hip hop audience, in your opinion?

N.A.: I felt that this message was important not just for a hip hop music audience, but for everyone that doesn’t know much about us. All that people see is the “end result” but not the journey. Many people assumed that Leelah Alcorn was oversensitive because they only saw the outside, but every transgender person can relate with what she was dealing with on the inside. When Leelah left, I was very touched by her story, how she had un-accepting, religious parents like me. How her parents would still not refer to her as a female even after her departure. I was emotional when I got on my laptop, and all of the words to that song just started coming to me non-stop. Many parents believe that we trans women, can take their mental abuse because we have other “people like us”, as my mom often telss me, that uplift us. But they don’t know the common lack of support in the trans community. On the song, I spoke about ,my experiences of how my own black and transgender communities seem to harm me more than those outside, and how we working together, can make all of us become stronger. I feel that bigots support each other with hate more than we support each other with love. I wanted to contribute to a positive change, just as Leelah wanted. She said her “death needs to mean something,” and I am glad to see that many of us have shown her that she means a lot to us.

6. TMP:  How important do you feel it is for the other persecuted minority groups, such as African American’s, Latino’s and Women, to stand in solidarity with the Trans Community?

 

N.A.: I feel that this is extremely important. Latinos, African Americans, and Women, all face discrimination, and if they took the time to get to know our transgender community, as they ask of themselves, they would also see that we are likely to face the same discrimination. Women have fought for years for equality, and that in itself should make them want to support us, to help us thrive in our own fight for equality. The African Americans and Latinos are a minority group in this country. They are singling out people within their own community because of gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, gang affiliation, or other things. I believe this make those communities, or any community, weaker. Unity is strength.

7. TMP: Do you feel that the growing number of transgender rappers can change that perception through music?

 

N.A.: Yes, I believe so. Music is very influential. It can persuade someone to do good or bad thing, or to have positive or negative feelings toward any person or thing. Once transgender people are common in mainstream hip hop, our influence will be extreme. All it takes is for some of us to be cosigned by someone who is well respected in hip hop, and that will suddenly ,ake people want to hear what we have to say, they will pay attention, because a respected member of hip hop noticed us. When those days come, we will have a very powerful platform to raise awareness.

8. TMP:  What are some of the other issues you address in your lyrics?

N.A.: I address the corruption of real hip hop, how the poetry side of rap is no longer appreciated the way it used to be. Also, I address how  what we as trans people go through can make someone change for the worse, and how we must try our best to not let that happen. I often address transgender stereotypes in either serious or joking manners. I address the petty competition found within the trans community. All in all, my songs are created from real feelings, and there are many more issues I plan to rap about once I create the right beats for those subjects.

 

N.A.: Nicki Andro is someone who is very loving, caring, and giving, because bringing a smile to someone’s face brings her joy. She has no issue taking shine away from herself to share if with someone. She isn’t selfish, and when she makes it, she will continue supporting everyone, especially her trans sisters and brothers.

These days, Trans culture has penetrated every genre of our society; govt., pop music, movies, fashion, literature, television, and now, along with a new crop of transgender rappers like Amirra Daye Smith, who Nicki often collaborate, they are among a new wave that will change the face of hip hop. It’s time…that the hip hop industry’s long standing reputation of transphobia and homophobia be abolished. Until then, it will be continually fueling the anger of a new genderation of hip hop artist, not like the ones that longed to be ‘Straight Out of Compton’, a place of poverty, but by the anger of those forced, ridiculed, labeled and disenfranchised like no culture in the human race has had to endure. A voice of anger to be accepted by the hip hop industry is screaming, ‘Straight Out Of Stonewall.’, and it will no be silent.


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Toward a Global Trans-Spiritual Community: Remembering Historical Figure, Holly Boswell

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

Fifteen… sixteen… seventeen… We’ve become accustomed to counting.  We’ve come to expect the passing of the next transperson as a result of violence.  But Holly Boswell passed differently this August.  The cause of her death isn’t known to us.  But for those of us who have watched her over the years, she seems like one of those rare souls who arrived in peace and went away in peace.

She might be best known for being the inventor of the widely used transgender symbol, an amalgamation of symbols for male, female, and hermaphroditic symbols into a unity.  But she did more… much more.  Holly set for us all an approach to the trans spiritualities that must have defied the vernacular of her time, an approach full of vitality.  She utilized a similar approach to trans inclusion itself.  We could learn a lot from Holly.  We need it.

 

A MOVEMENT OF TRANS SPIRITUALITIES

It might be said that the religions of transpeople are almost as varied as that of the human race in general.  Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Western Pagan, and Hindu transpeople can be found in most any large metropolitan area. For many transpeople, religion and spirituality are one and the same.  Many don’t see these aspects in any other terms than some form of Abrahamism they had known from their youth.  In recent years, more and more transpeople have been reasserting themselves in their respective traditions.  Some, like Southern Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists, have not generally welcomed transpeople except as targets for proselytizing, even if their “proselytes” may be existing members.  Facing a tide of religious anathemas has been painful for many.  Some have turned to services like Trans Faith Online for trans networking and fellowship in their respective traditions.

But there’s a profound difference between religion and spirituality.  Spiritualities have a habit of forming traditions from one generation to the next till the original intentions become lost.  Religions codify and enforce those traditions, often in ways that exclude others from the possibility of redemption, building a cultic milieu.  Many approaches to such enforcement have been directed against transpeople, often with disingenuous appeals like “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

Some who have left Abrahamism for a more basic system of worship have also been disappointed with Wiccan circles, largely because of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists who dominate many of them. These types of priestesses, while declaring “all life is sacred,” reject or even condemn transgender applicants, most particularly denying transwomen the possibility that they exist at all as women.  Transgender Wiccan covens remain few and far between and that translates into even fewer teaching covens.

Holly’s spirituality followed an eclectic Shamanism most akin to that of Native Americans.  Based in Asheville in the Appalachian region of North Carolina, she worked near the Eastern band of Cherokees.  Her eclectic approach allowed her to appeal to many traditions with a wider vision of trans spirituality than most have been willing to consider.  Holly wrote on her website Trans Spirits:

 

“I honor a vision of a re-emergence of transgender people who acknowledge a profoundly spiritual aspect of their gender journeys.  I also yearn to co-create a global trans-spiritual community, wherein we can heal and reclaim our power to contribute positively to this ailing world.  I mostly believe in magic, and the power of love.”1

 

Not many transpeople speak about a global trans-spiritual community.  Instead, most of us speak of outreach to religious communities.  Many elements of the trans community have adopted inherently schismatic attitudes that prevent this kind of community from happening.  It isn’t just Abrahamists either.  Pagans have at times demonstrated a belligerence of their own, typically in reaction to perceived “Christians” and the abuses suffered from them, and finding ways to redefine others who come to them in order to exclude them.  It can be hard to step away from the tumult of American anger fomented in an age of Trumpism and return to what those ideals have been that have sustained a trans community.  But we must step away.

Holly identified with the hippie culture during her years at Oberlin College in the 1970’s where she studied as a double major in Music Composition and English Literature.  She said that much of it seemed “a little gender-bending in its own way.”  She would also realize that transsexuals were “a thing” through a broadcast of the Phil Donahue Show.2

 She acknowledged the rise of transgender support groups, international networks and conventions in the 1980’s.  Holly credited the introduction to the trans spiritualities being most pronounced at a Denver convention operated by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) when Rena Swifthawk taught from her own Native American spirituality.  The trend spread to other places as well, including the Southern Comfort Conference and Fantasia Fair.  Then in August 1993 the Kindred Spirits Circle which Holly founded, then Pink Moon Gathering, Full Circle of Women, Union of Spirits, and Mountain Spirits.3

One can regard her work remarkable when considering the state of trans spiritualities around 2000.  Back then much of the online trans community frequented either chat rooms in America Online (AOL) or Transgender Forum, the latter operated by 3-D Communications, Inc., maintaining a vibrant chat system nicknamed “Meow” with the administration of Jamie Faye Fenton.  Trans spiritualities weren’t widely discussed online at that time.  Only a few people were inclined to chat about trans spiritualities at all.  But the undercurrent of Wicca within the trans community was strengthening, years before Trans Faith Online.4

This undercurrent was a movement bigger than Holly Boswell, yet her work embodied that awakening that vitalized the trans community and continues to inspire today.  One need only peruse her work on the website Trans Spirits (www.trans-spirits.org) to sense that vitality.  She said:

 

“The sharing and nurturing that is possible between kindred transgender spirits is unlike any other. It is characterized by intuitive connection, trust, honoring individuality, operating in consensus, spontaneity, minimal expectations, open hearts and minds, and no hidden agendas.”5

 

That indeed is how it was when she wrote it.  Transpeople were still searching for one another many years after the Stonewall Uprising.  We all had questions about one another and ourselves and had few clues aside from our own experiences to induce any expectations.  The age captured a profound innocence centered upon the basic grist of spirituality, advanced by technique.  But that common respect made a difference that has been lost in too many places today.

 

AN ETHIC OF INCLUSION AND CELEBRATION

Holly’s openness was reflected in her ethic of inclusion and she celebrated that inclusion.  Unlike many others, she didn’t form a wedge between transsexual and cross dresser.  Unlike today’s common use of the word “transgender” to define the transsexual while excluding everyone else and delegating the medical term “transsexual” to the level of a pejorative, Holly didn’t do that.  Consider what she wrote in 1991 for Chrysalis and Tapestry:

 

Transgenderism serves as a bridge of consciousness between crossdressers and transsexual people, who feel unnecessarily estranged within our own subculture. And in the vast majority of instances, we are not so much “gender conflicted” as we are at odds (even at war), with our culture. It is our culture that imposes the polarization of gender according to biology. It is our culture that has brainwashed us, and our families and friends, who might otherwise be able to love us and embrace our diversity as desirable and natural, something to be celebrated.6

 

Not only did Holly regard this inclusion as something theoretically desirable, she actually established it in ritual.  Consider her trans-affirming ceremony performed at the time of equinox.  Equinox occurs twice a year, beginning the seasons of spring and fall.  At the equinox day and night have equal duration.  Everything is in balance.  The list of names by which she acknowledged the trailblazers tells us a lot:

 

“MtF [Stephanie Sands calling out from the Northeast Quarter]: And those still living who are blazing our trail:

Virginia Prince, Merissa Sherrill Lynn, Jan Morris, Wendy Carlos, Ari Kane, Cheryl Chase, Jane Fee, Marcia Botzer, JoAnn Roberts, Phyllis Frye, Martine Rothblatt, Riki Wilchins, Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, James Green, Jason Cromwell, Gary Bowen, Dallas Denny, Terry Tafoya, Spotted Eagle, Chrystos, Ru Paul, all the hijra, mahu, radical faeries, musicians and artists, gender-queer kids, & so many more… PO [Primary Officiant, Holly Boswell]: To all who have gone before, and all who walk with us now, we humbly thank you, and aspire to your vision and strength.”7

 

This is a highly diverse list of people “blazing our trail.”  It didn’t just include those transitioning like Leslie Feinberg, Wendy Carlos, and Jamison Green.  It also included those who didn’t like Virginia Prince and Ari Kane.  It included drag queens like Ru Paul.  It included heterosexual cross dressers like JoAnn Roberts.   It included radical faeries like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence known for charity while dolling up as nuns.  It included gender non-conforming youth as gender-queer kids.  It included communities with mixtures of cross dressers, transsexuals, and intersex people like the Hijra, a fact recognized by British non-transgender author Zia Jaffrey who interviewed many of them.8

It’s the kind of diversity that not only celebrates sex and sexual orientation, but also gender identity and gender expression.  It’s the sort of attitude that contributed much to the advance of civil rights in the following years.  Minnesota would recognize civil rights for transpeople in 1993.  Rhode Island, New Mexico, and California would follow in 2003.  California’s recognition even followed this attitude as a legal precedent in Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination:

 

“‘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.”9

 

Some proponents of this verbiage were also Wiccan, including Dominique Leslie, a congenial and devoted intersex individual serving as one of the initial co-chairs of San Francisco’s Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force when it convened June 1, 2000.  That task force utilized the Compliance Guidelines as the foundation document for implementing change in San Francisco practices and in the process also led to change in California law in 2003.10

Is there a direct correlation between Holly’s work and what happened in California?  Probably not; however, this current prevailed at the time transpeople experienced an expansion of laws against gender identity discrimination.  The District of Columbia and 9 states followed in 2007 and 2 more in 2011.  However, today we face a trend toward a reversal of trans rights within a growing milieu of community fragmentation.  Even Massachusetts which legislated in favor of trans rights will revisit them in a referendum in 2018.11

 

HEALING EMPOWERMENT

For Holly, this inclusion was essential not only for healing one another, but also healing the planet.  She regarded the gender dichotomy, a definition of gender as polarized according to physical sex so that nobody in-between may be tolerated, as a destructive imposition of “the patriarchy.”  Transpeople, representing a spectrum of expression, “manifested throughout history as an expression of Spirit.”12

For what purpose?  Holly regarded healing of self and the demographic as essential to affect ecological healing for the planet:

 

Some Native American elders believe that there is an abundance of transgendered [sic] people being born at this time who can help heal our world. Gender is at the very heart of who we are as human beings. Our gender transitions–the very process of gender-shift — can be viewed as a kind of Vision Quest, addressing that age-old question: who are we? To transcend gender stereotyping is to dare to be fully oneself, fully human, as Spirit intended. We must all cultivate our full capacities if we are to effectively meet the critical challenges of our time. But before we can help heal our world, we must heal ourselves. We must tell our truth, refashion old myths, and reinvent the tools we need to operate in today’s world with deep compassion and fresh relevance.13

 

It was for that purpose that Holly founded Kindred Spirits in 1993.  It was for that purpose that Holly began the Tree House in 2000 as a year-around retreat facility for gender and spirituality. Both were instrumental, instituted as vehicles to enact the real gift Holly gave to the world. 14

Honoring that vision best honors Holly Boswell.  Someone like her would perhaps prefer it that way, looking past the face of the person and into the eyes as a window to the transgender soul.  At the same time we should look into one another’s, knowing as Holly did, that the divine is to be found there, as all beings and even all things are divine, none without purpose and all deserving of healing and vitality.

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REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  Fragments of images emphasize Holly Boswell’s vision as focused upon her right eye, the Tree House, which Holly instituted a, an etheric version of the Trans Spirits circle, repeated as in the tones of a drumming circle that calls to the dreamtime. (original image sources unknown but can be viewed in their full forms at www.trans-spirits.org).

  1. Holly Boswell. “Who We Are” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/who_are_we.html.
  2. Joey Plaster. “Personal Histories – Holly Boswell (OC72) Oberlin LGBT (Oral History by phone August 12, 2004, accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.oberlinlgbt.org/personal-histories/boswell/.
  3. Holly Boswell. “Ancient Roots” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/spirit_of_transgender.html.
  4. The author relies upon her own recollections from social media available at that time.
  5. Op cit.
  6. Boswell, Holly. “The Transgender Alternative” Chrysalis, Vol. 1, No. 2., Winter 1991-1992., reposted by IFGE (accessed August 23, 2017) http://www.ifge.org/?q=node/58
  7. Holly Boswell. “Trans-affirming Ceremony at Equinox: presented by Kindred Spirits Traveling Medicine Show” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/trans_affirming.html. Bracket’s are those of the author, Lynnea Urania Stuart for the sake of clarity.
  8. Jaffrey, Zia. “The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India.” (Pantheon Books, Random House, NY.  1991)  ISBN: 0-679-41577-7, p. 143.  Jaffrey interviewed 100 Hijra and described them them as: 76% castrated, 13% hermaphrodite or pseudo-hermaphrodite, 11% transvestite “zenanas”, 51% identified as males, 49% identified as females.
  9. 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” (December 10, 1998) City and County of San Francisco, p. 3.
  10. Witnessed by the author on June 1, 2000. The other co-chair initially serving was Marcus Arana.  They held their positions as appointed co-chairs till the task force elected co-chairs to serve over the year.
  11. (n.a.) Massachussets Transgender Anti-Discrimination Veto Referencum (2018)” Ballotpedia (accessed August 21, 2017) https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_Transgender_Anti-Discrimination_Veto_Referendum_(2018).
  12. Holly Boswell. “Ancient Roots”.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Mila Madison. “Transgender Symbol Creator and Activist Holly Boswell Passes Away” Transgender Universe (August 14, 2017, accessed August 21, 2017) http://transgenderuniverse.com/2017/08/14/transgender-symbol-creator-and-activist-holly-boswell-passes-away/.
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10 Trans Men of Color That Will Not Be Silenced & We Are Better For It

By Sabrina Samone

America has always been known as the great melting pot, but how those ingredients mix, is a question that in 240 years, has yet to be answered. Never before have we been so blatantly reminded of this, as we have under the #notmypresident’s administration. Bigotry persists, and there’s probably no one on Earth that knows that better than the average trans person. Yet, even in these times while we watch the leader of the supposedly, most free country in the world, support an enemy our grand parents died to protect us from, we too must take a second to look bigotry in the face and see if there’s any resemblance in our mirrored reflection.

As a community, we know the value of representation and visibility. If you are under 25, that urgency may not be as strong as a trans person over 40, who remembers searching for anyone in this world that gives them the light of hope, that they are not alone. When we know a name, and  see a face, that share some of the struggles that we do; we feel less alone, not so abnormal, and we’re given hope that we too can find happiness. Yet, in our culture, I challenge anyone at this moment, to do a simple search of media content of this week that gives a voice to the men of color in our community. There is less media representation for reasons that often could be reflecting our attention span.

Whether bigotry is given in a cag, or as a table-spoon, it is bigotry. The voices of trans people matter, our stories give hope and understanding, but if they are not heard or ignored, we miss an opportunity to be that great promise of a true melting pot. The trans men of color in our community are the unsung heroes of the Trans revolution. Their true silent masculinity does not demand validation, but out of respect it should be given. Among many are those that have created the greatest, positive changes for trans culture world-wide, as in Kylar Broadus, who is the only transgender person to speak on behalf of an entire minority group, before The Senate of the United States. They’re career advocates like, Kris Hayashi, who heads the largest transgender organization in the country, if not the world, and strives to uplift all of trans society. They face the demons of some of the most oppressed countries in the world like, Victor Mukasa, in Uganda, yet still paves a way for the next genderation to walk just a little easier in the sun.

These are the silent masculine voices of our community, that refuse to be silenced, and because they have, all our lives matter even more.

1. Kylar Broadus.”<img src="image.png" alt="tmp_Kylar_Broadus">

Broadus, who transitioned more than 20 years ago, is an attorney who focuses on LGBT law and transgender rights. He is the founder and director of the Trans People of Color Coalition, the only national organization dedicated to the civil rights of transgender people of color. The former Lincoln University of Missouri professor is also co-founder of the think tank the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. The Missouri native is the first transgender American to testify before the U.S. Senate in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. During his 2012 speech he said,

“For me, the physical transition was about letting the outer world know my internal sense of self, of who really was inside this body. … My transition was a matter of living the truth and sharing that truth for the first time in my life.

2. Kris Hayashi<img src="image.png" alt="tmp_Kris_hayashi">

Kris is the Executive Director at Transgender Law Center, one of the largest organizations in the country advancing the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people. Prior to that, he had served over a year in the role of Deputy Director at the organization.  As a public transgender person of color, Hayashi has been a leader in movements for justice and rights for transgender and gender nonconforming communities for over 13 years. His first Executive Director position was at the age of 23, with Youth United for Community Action in California (YUCA).  YUCA is a grassroots community organization created, led, and run by young people of color. YUCA provides a safe space for young people, to empower themselves and work on social justice issues to establish positive systemic change through grassroots community organizing.  Kris took on his second Executive Director position five years later at the age of 28 at the Audre Lorde Project (ALP) in New York City.

3. Victor J. Mukasa <img src="image.png" alt="tmp_Victor_J._Mukasa">

Mukasa is a human rights defender from Uganda who now lives in the U.S.  He is a Co-founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda and Executive Director of Kuchu Diaspora Alliance-USA. He was forced to seek asylum in the U.S. after fighting for LGBT rights in the highly trans/homophobic environment of Uganda. He was the first activist to address the United Nations about transgender issues in Africa. As part of the “Proudly African & Transgender: Self-Portraits in Writing” exhibition, he wrote,

“For most Ugandans, any person that expresses ‘him/herself’ as the opposite sex is a homosexual and so this exposes transgender people to all the mistreatment that they would love to give a homosexual. All transgender people are seen as the obvious homosexuals. Therefore, on top of all the transphobia, there is homophobia even if you are not gay.”

4. Leo Sheng<img src="image.png" alt="tmp_leo_Sheng">

Sheng came into the limelight after he documented his transition phase from female to male on Instagram and You Tube. He has also been advocating for transgender people, and created his identity as a filmmaker. He has been a source of inspiration for those who are in transitioning phase, and his documented story has helped encouraged them to identify themselves as a transgender. “I really just want to bring awareness to a particular identity and what it may mean for some people — again, not all. I don’t represent transmen, nor do I represent transmen of color. I represent myself. My personal goal, or hope, was and is to try to remove some of the stigma and break the stereotypes of what people think transmen are like. I hoped to show people, as other people have shown me, that it’s ok to be true to who you are and to own your past,” Leo said in a 2016 Interview with Huff Post. Leo is studying at Temple University in Philadelphia as an international student.

5. Laith Ashley

The 26-year-old Ashely, started his transition less than 3 years ago, and immediately appeared in a Barney’s ad, along with several well-known trans personalities. The New York native quickly became a favorite to follow on social media, (and in my best RuPaul  ‘You Better Work’ voice), his modeling career took off. He has been featured in shows for New York Fashion Week for Adrian Alicea, and Gypsy Sport. He also has posed for Calvin Klein. Laith, along with his new romance became a huge hit for Whoopi Goldberg’s first season of the show Strut.  The show comes amid a call to the modeling industry for more representation of the large number of trans models working, who are denied those coveted go sees gigs with national brands due to their identity. Though many in our community see this as one field that has a great deal of trans representation, those trans models are often limited to the work they receive. While our community knows of them, few have broken the barrier into the mainstream, even fewer of those are men, which makes Laith’s role in this, pivotal for trans masculine representation.

6. Neo Sandja

Neo L. Sandja is a Life Coach, Speaker, Author and Entrepreneur. As the president and founder of FTM Fitness World (The First International Body Building Competition of trans men), he is dedicated to empower people of Trans experience in reaching their full potential. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Neo came in the U.S., at the age of 19 to pursue his college career. Neo is a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming Life Coach and a member of the Association for Integrative Psychology. Having struggled with major depression himself, he is very passionate about Emotional Intelligence and helping people find within themselves the drive to lead a richer life. Sandja is the Author of the book, “Right Mind Wrong Body – The Ultimate Trans Guide to be Complete and Live a Fulfilled Life”. Neo is also the chair of the FTM foundation, a private foundation focused on helping people of Trans experience with their overall transition.

7. Andrés Rivera

Chilean transgender activist and founder of Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad, a major transgender rights organization in Chile. Through his work, he helped change the laws in Chile to allow transgender people to legally change their name and sex.  He has worked with government and the local health system to facilitate the evaluation, treatment and surgery of trans people, and organized the first Rancagua debate on the Civil Union Pact. He has also fought against employment non-discrimination in Chile and for LGBTQ rights in Latin America in general.

8. Lucas Charlie Rose

Lucas Charlie Rose, was born in 1991 in Paris France, and is a well-known musician, hip-hop artist and  You Tube personality; chronicling his transition, and love of hip hop. A trans-masculine hip hop artist that is not only reshaping the next genderation of hip hop, but forging together those voices in music often overlooked.  He earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree in Film production from Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. He’s been featured over the past year in several lgbtq media outlets.  Over the past year, he raised eyebrows with the ingenious, first ever collaboration CD, of several trans-only hip-hop artist such as; Sidney Chase, Nicki Andro, Neeko Freeman, Jiji Parker, King Giselle, and many more. The first ever such project, that spoke volumes to the unity of the trans hip-hop music scene.

9. Shawn Stinson

Thirty-five year old Stinson is a Veteran Marine, originally from Peoria, a personal trainer and health fitness coach. In 2014, he won the 1st annual FTM Bodybuilding Competition founded by Neo Sandja. That would spark his popularity as not only a trans role model, but fitness role model. He would go on to compete the second year of Fit Con, and remained undefeated.

“This is once in a lifetime. We’re changing lives so that people get fit and helping transgender men transition,” says Stinson. The time is now.”

Recently, Stinson was featured in a meme that went viral, in the wake of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT legislation, HB2. Among other things, the law prevents transgender individuals from using public restrooms assigned to the gender with which they identify.”

10. Jiovani Carcione

Everyone loves a man in a uniform, and there’s nothing not to like about this handsome EMT from Chicago. A hard-working man, that has every reason too, as he is also a proud father. Raising a child through the ups and downs of transition, life and remains optimistic and full of hope. Jiovani is the new cover model, and trans man of the future; hard-working parents living their authentic truth, and being a role model to millions yet to come. Reminding a new genderation, that all is possible regardless where you are, and that all trans men of color matter!

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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Tony Zosherafatain: The Man Behind The Film…”I Am The T”

By Sabrina Samone

In every generation a story must be told, it is often up the storytellers to speak for the countless voices of our world. In our generation those story tellers are often film makers: the writers, producers, directors, and actors that bring a story to life. This post Academy Award interview is of a man that does just that, bringing voices to the countless unseen, unheard, trans men from around the globe. He is a voice for trans men of color, an often more unheard voice in our community.

Tony Zosherafatain is a man like many with a duality of spirit¹, but he is also Greek/Iranian. A duality of race that also gives him a unique perspective on what it means to be a trans man of color. Even in his upcoming documentary series, Tony will be featuring trans men from ten various countries and cultures. Cultures that are usually overshadowed by American and Western European countries. As in his life from working with those with disabilities, and a nurse practitioner student, he is the champion of the unheard voices of our society.

I am the T: an FTM documentary“, chronicles the lives and transitions of trans men in ten different countries. Production began in November 2014 in Norway, and will continue in the following countries: Malaysia, Canada, Thailand, Lesotho, Germany, the Phillipines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia. Individual country segments will be released independently. The full-feature release date is scheduled for 2018.
 
The first segment was filmed in November 2014 in Norway, and features the story of Isak, a 28 year old trans man who had recently began transitioning. Isak’s story (screened at this workshop) portrays both the challenges he faces as an FTM, and the triumphs over adversity that characterize finding one’s gender and broader self. ” I am the T” plans to grow into a documentary series that chronicles the stories of hundreds of trans* identified people around the world. The mission of “I am the T” is to shift the tide of trans representation in the media to one that is more subjective and culturally-inclusive. 

TMP: You’ve previously mentioned that your reasons, four years ago, to do the documentary film “I am the T” was that you’ve noticed the lacking of trans men in media. Why do you feel personally that was the case compared to trans women? 
Tony Zosherafatain: At the time that I created the idea for the documentary, trans representation was severely lacking; trans stories were not a media priority. As a trans man who was not yet out, I couldn’t find images of trans masculine people to help me realize who I was. Since 2010, we’ve had the emergence of trans women of color such as Laverne Cox and Janet mock in the media, which has helped the trans community move forward. I think representations of trans men in the media have lagged behind, for a variety of reasons. One reason is because many trans men may want to live as stealth. I think another reason is due to male privilege. For many of us, it may be easier to be accepted into society because we are transitioning into the gender that controls society. I think the media also finds it hard to grasp trans male stories because traditionally, being trans has been associated with MTFs, and with good reason given that it was trans women who spurred the LGBT movement at stonewall.
TMP: In your opinion, how has that changed, and has it changed fast enough?
Tony Z.: I think that media representation of trans men has changed, but at a slow pace. For example, the only trans male on TV used to be Max from the L word, which was a horrible representation of the FTM experience. Since then, we’ve had a trans male character played on Transparent, and better films featuring trans men. However, trans male representations are not fully inclusive. In the MTF community, there are trans woman of color who are spearheading the movement, but for FTMs, we are only mostly seeing white trans men being represented. The FTM community needs to share the power of representation with trans men who are of color, disabled, feminine, queer, and those who can’t/don’t want to medically transition. In this way, I think the media will realize that there is much more to our identities; that we are as complex as any other human population.
TMP: Who is your partner in the project and how important is it that we recruit more trans men of color in film?
T.Z.: From the beginning, it was important that I recruited trans people for this documentary. As a trans man of color myself (half-Iranian)³, I wanted to recruit as many other under-represented trans men as possible given that a lot of films about our community are directed by cisgender people. Right now, I have a videographer and editor named Aiden, who is half-Mexican and half-black. I also have an editor and production assistant who is a first-generation American trans man. Another team member, our Graphic Designer, is a trans man who hails from Malaysia. We also have a cisgender production advisor who helps us gain perspective so that we can portray FTM stories in a way that changes the way cisgender people view trans masculine stories. I think it’s very important to see more trans men of color in our community. Trans men of color aren’t being prioritized for representation projects, which is a disservice. I think increasing the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of trans male representation will inevitably lead our community forward. It’s powerful to see a trans man from an oppressed minority thriving. That sends a message of hope to trans youth of color.

TMP:  Tell our TMP readers if you will, what was your motivation behind creating this documentary? Why specifically did you choose to show a variation of cultures in this film?

T.Z.:  The motivation behind creating this documentary is rooted in my experience as a first-generation American trans man. Neither of my parents were born in the U.S.-my dad is from Iran and my mom is from Greece. When I began transitioning, it was even more difficult to find trans men from my specific cultural heritage. If we can show a variation of trans men from different cultures, it will send a powerful message: that the trans experience is universal. I think that creating a diversity of representations in the FTM community can only serve to reassure trans men from these backgrounds that they exist and that they are worthy of visibility.  

TMP: How many nations are represented in the complete series?

T.Z.:  There will be a total of ten countries represented. Because of time constraints, we will most likely create a two part documentary series. Each part will include five countries so that we can give each participant’s story adequate coverage.

TMP: Through this journey, what lessons have you learned about trans-society and the various cultures involved?

T.Z.:  I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined. The first is that many cultures that we deem “discriminatory” against trans people are actually more complex. For example, I dug into my own background, found that the Iranian government is accepting of trans people and covers trans surgeries. On the other hand, someone who lives in a country that is seen as “very liberal” may not actually create an easy transition process for an individual person. For example, Isak (the participant we filmed in Norway)² hasn’t had the simplest time accessing hormones or finding social support. I’ve also realized that there are many shared experiences between trans men in different cultures, many of them relating to bodily experiences, such as binding, taking testosterone, and struggling with internalized dysphoria.
TMP: I see you are an avid hockey player. Do you still play?
T.Z.:   I had almost forgotten about hockey because of retirement, haha. I’ve been playing since I was eight, and I think having access to this sport helped me figure out my gender in some ways. It helped me escape the constraints of being assigned to the wrong gender by allowing me to partake in a sport that is seen as traditionally “masculine”. I played a year in college at Wesleyan University until I sustained a shoulder injury that ended my career. Occasionally, I still play in adult pick-up leagues.   TMP: Working with those with disabilities is a humbling experience, and during the time you lived in Massachusetts, you tutored those with disabilities. How has that shaped your view of your dysphoria?

T.Z.: This is another great question. I think that disability rights and trans rights are intersectional.

People who are disabled fight to have their bodies respected and are often the targets of physical violence, discrimination, and often have to prove that they are indeed human. That resonates with many trans stories, and one could even say that dysphoria is a debilitating emotional and physical disability. I think that just like the disability rights movement has changed the way we see the concept of ableism, the experience of dysphoria can be changed if we are given the unequivocal acceptance to become ourselves. 

TMP: Do you still feel that trans men are an outside voice and how can we as a society change that?

T.Z.:   I definitely think trans men are an outside voice. I think we do have to be aware of male privilege and not try to take up too much representational space; however, if we portray our stories in a way that challenges societal norms about masculinity, gender, and beauty, then I think we can really challenge the reasons behind transphobia. I think we as a society can improve that by changing the ways we see gender by accepting that one’s sex isn’t pre-determined by genitalia. I think we also need to shift away from the idea that gender determines personality, sexuality, social roles, and one’s life destiny.

TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Tony Zosherafatain  and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?

T.Z.: That I have been through many struggles in my life, as a trans man, as a first-generation America, as a man of color, but, honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m very proud of my backgrounds. My life experiences have made me mentally resilient and I can relate to people on a more human level. Though I’ve been the target of discrimination, I try not to judge humanity. I’m critical of systemic discrimination, but believe that people can change for the better. With “I am the T”, I want to show people life through a trans man’s eyes so that even conservative viewers no longer doubt that we are just as human as anyone else.

It has been a pleasure getting to know this man of many talents, a pioneer in film for trans voices, a nurse, and a champion for the disabled. It is our pleasure to announce that this interview is part one of a series TMP will cover about the director, and the film “I Am The T’.  Tony has also teamed up with TMP as a guest blogger, where he will be chronicling his experiences filming in Norway.


  1. In Reference to the duality of being trans. Two spirited people. Consider throughout history as special connections to the divine, and a direct representation of God’s form.
  2. The film I Am the T, covers background from several countries; Malaysia, Norway and Canada to name a few.
  3. Iran actually performs far more SRS surgeries than most countries. It’s a doubled edge sword. While being trans has less stigma than being gay or lesbian, the tragic side is the forced sex reassignment of gay men and lesbian women, so that they will be heterosexual in the eyes of the community and Allah.

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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Sergeant Elaina Odom: Sacrifice…Duty….Honor…In the Face of Hate

By Sabrina Samone

Imagine when given a choice between a life of crime and addiction, you had the mental “worthiness” to choose a path that would better yourself, to be an asset to your family, and to defend your country. You would’ve easily chose to be a “burden”¹ on society, to your family, and a drain on your country, but you didn’t. Elaina Odom made the decision to be of service to those she loved, and her country. To save her life from a dangerous path. Eleven years, she dedicated her life to service of country. Climbing the military ranks to become Sargent Odom. Not everyone is cut out for the military, let alone to do more than a few years. Lifers, are dedicated, determined, with a humble passion for serving their nation.

Now imagine, eleven years that included combats in Afghanistan, sacrificing precious time away from your three new beautiful children, for long periods of time. After another deployment to Korea, you come home eager to be with your family, and families unknown that you have risked your life to protect. While you cradle your youngest, make Churros, and put on ‘Book of Life’, so they can calm down; you hear that your Commander and Chief has made yet another early morning tweet. This time it’s to inform you that he does not support you, or even wish for your service.

President Donald Trump announced he was banning transgender people from serving in the military in a series of tweets Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Images via Twitter)

On Wednesday 26, 2017, wrongfully elected Donald J. Trump sent out a tweet that transgender people were not worthy, and a burden to the US military. The summer of 2016, with the help of Former President Barack Obama, the ban was lifted for transgender people to serve openly. Earlier this year, under the new Republican Administration, debate arose in regards to US spending on trans related health care. Many experts have noted that the average cost would be between 2.4 and 8.4 million dollars annually², which is relatively low compared to various other treatments, including elective cosmetics treatments that are covered.

If you are unable to place yourself in those shoes and feel the pride of someone providing a safe comfortable life for their family. A person that’s proud of the work they do for their country. Then meet Sergeant Elaina Odom, because that imaginary scenario is her painfully real story.

TMP: Elaina, as a Transgender American, and active service member, how did it make you feel to hear about the tweets from your Commander and Chief?

Elaina Odom: Honestly? When I first heard about it, I felt like I had been hit in the gut. Seeing those tweets, and getting so many messages from others concerned about it really bothered me. Here we have been fighting for equal treatment, and this happens in attempt to just so easily dismiss us.

TMP: In his Tweets, Trump stated that he had consulted with Generals, and other leaders in the military. He also stated that having trans people in the military would result in additional cost to taxpayers. His entire tweets have since been proven false, and outright lies. But how does that affect the morale of the average military personnel risking their life for that very office to exist?

E. O: I can’t speak for others, but I know that he has had a running track record with not telling the truth in order to further his ideas. As for myself, I was hit with this feeling of loss and hopelessness. What would I do, what could I do? That was the feeling for a lot of other people I talked to as well.

TMP: Being on the front line of this fight, as well as the freedom of our country, what’s your opinion on the treatment for health care of Transgender personnel, which based on a recent report by ABC News, confirms a yearly annual cost for trans related health care of about 8.4M, and how would that compare to the millions more being spent on Viagra to treat male impotence?

E.O.: I can’t say they are doing a perfect job as many health care providers are still learning to treat trans soldiers. From the experiences I have had personally though, they have always been open and willing to work with us. As far as treating impotence outweighing the cost of our care, it really is a numbers game. ED is more common than trans care, and that explains why there is such a deep difference in cost.

TMP: How worried are you about your future in the Military?

E.O.: I have had some concerns that this will end my career after being in as long as I have. But at the same time it presented me with the opportunity to really look at things, and see what I was missing in my plans to provide for myself and my family, should we be discharged.

TMP: When did you first decided that military service was for you?

E.O.: I first thought about joining the military around sixteen, seventeen years old. I was in a bad spot selling drugs, stealing, and things like that. I was not in a good place, and needed to change. The Army offered that opportunity.

TMP: What has having your dreams of being in the military meant to you, and what it could mean to others that want to serve?

E.O.: Truthfully, I never dreamed of joining the military. I joined to get away from a life that would have ended up getting me locked away, or killed. It was a way to survive, and eventually better myself through their offering of education. It meant a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and so much more without the things I was doing.

TMP: You’re a Sergeant, yes? What were the obstacles you faced physically, and mentally to get to that position?

E.O.: I am, yes. Getting promoted to that rank for the longest time seemed impossible as their were so many in my job. They promote on a points based system, and for us we were maxed out on the scale for a good five years almost. I knew I would have a hard time getting all of the points needed, and over time eventually gave up all together. Then one day, I was told hey, you made cut off, you are getting promoted.

TMP: How exciting for you, that’s awesome. Have you been involved in any combats?

E.O.: I served a year in Afghanistan. It was rough being away from my family, as it always seems to be. But it came with the job, I signed on to fight and win our nation’s wars, even if that meant being gone for a year at a time.

TMP: Despite the bigotry we’ve faced this week from the leaders of this free nation, what advice would you give to other transgender military personnel, or those that wish to serve their country one day?

E.O.: Keep your head up, we have a hard road ahead of us, just like before. But progress does not happen without a struggle. We will get where we need to be in time.

 

TMP: I  like to ask my guest here at TMP, that if you could tell the world something unique about Sgt. Elaina Odom³, and you knew everyone would hear, what would you like them to know about you?

E.O.: I honestly don’t know. I have been told I have a knack at being sarcastic to the point that people really can’t tell, but that is about it I think.

Elaina Odom, is one of an estimated 15,500 transgender military members, that would share similar stories this week. A struggle that’s been a battle for decades, with fears of receiving a dishonorable discharge. Military families that are forced to look into each other’s eyes with no other explanation than that of the bigotry of the very country you defended with your life.

We can debate, and recently a study showed that 58% of Americans are in favor of transgender people serving. Yet, let us not forget what is really at stake. We are on the progress to full inclusion into the military, and I fundamentally believe a tweet cannot alter that ship from sailing. What is at stake is the credibility of our democracy. These tweets were no more than a mere distraction from the recent hearings on Russian hacking of an American election. It is really revealing of Trump, that not only was our very democracy’s soul put up for sale, but now the blood of the men, women, and non-binary people who have died for the very existence of this country since it’s conception. 

John F. Kennedy once said, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.”

Regardless of what branch, it is a sacrifice. A sacrifice of family, health, and even your life. It’s not a decision many go into lightly, therefore it’s our duty as a nation, as a government, and the duty of the President of the United States to stand by all people who are willing to make that sacrifice for country. Anything less is the true abomination.

 

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


  1. The military’s Commander and Chief referred to trans military personnel as a burden, and are unworthy. A UCLA study estimates that 15,500 transgender service members to be enlisted on active duty, in the reserves, and in the National Guard. That same study estimated 134,300 transgender people are veterans or retired from the armed forces.
  2. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine states; Providing transition-related care to the 188 military personnel expected to require it annually would cost an estimated $5.6 million per year, or $438 per transgender service member per year, or 22 cents per member per month. If the Australian military’s annual cost of transition-related care were applied to the U.S. armed forces, the Pentagon could expect to pay $4.2 million per year to provide such care.
  3. Sgt. Elaina Odom lives in Texas when not defending her country, a state that has passed bathroom bills punishing transgender people for using the rest room not in accordance to their birth certificate, when she received the news of Trump’s tweets.
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