And That's the Way It Is!

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

by Monica F. Helms

So, this is the part of the column where Monica gets to be funny and clever. I get to spin words in order to bring the reader into a fantasy world, or create an alternative reality. It is my quarterly moment, my chance to escape into another realm, be creative, to dance within the beauty of the English language. It is the time when I open my soul for others to see.
Out of the last twelve columns, I wrote one opening that was not funny or clever. That is because I wrote it four days after 9/11. The world did not feel clever or funny any longer. But we recovered. I recovered, only to bring me to this moment in my life. No fantasy for this opening. The roller coaster of life finds me at the bottom of the loop, hoping for enough inertia to make it up that next hill. And all along I keep thinking to myself, ?Why did I eat those two hot dogs before getting on this ride??

?What is tearing at your gut?? you might ask. Okay, so you might not ask, but since this is my column, I get to make these questions up. It has to do with the two people on this planet who are capable of giving me more grief than any fifty politicians put together. They are called ?Parents,? or as I like to say, the ?P-word.? Mommy and Daddy, Mom and Dad, Mother and Father. Take your pick. The result is all the same.
Just over six years ago, I faced the same decision many transsexuals face, the decision to either live or die. I know that had I not chosen to make this transition, I would not be here today. I needed to be true to myself, to stop living a lie, and by doing so, risk losing parts of my life. My parents were to become collateral damage from my transition. I am not allowed to see them ever again.

I continued my transition in Phoenix, Arizona, living just five miles from the house I grew up in?one I was destined never to see the inside of again. Days turned to months, then to years. My parents and I talked on the phone, but it was not the same. I yearned to get just one more hug from them. The Eric Clapton song ?My Father?s Eyes? makes me cry. I want to once more look into my father?s eyes. I need my father?s eyes.

One of the reasons for my move to Georgia was to put some distance between my parents and me. Coming here turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life. I have made some great friends, I got a chance to write this column, and I was able to become more active in the community. Coming to Atlanta, I met the love of my life, Gareth. She has helped me with my understanding of myself and made me a better person. Her family has accepted me into their fold, and made me feel welcome in a way I have not felt in years. Like many transsexuals, my adopted families give me more love than my natural family is capable of showing.
Leaving Arizona came with other sacrifices. I missed the high school graduations of both my sons. When my sons came of age, I had to endure the ultra stupidity and inefficiency of the Arizona court system when filing from another state to have my child support payments stopped. I could not be there to congratulate my son for completing Marine boot camp. By leaving, I cut off any chance for the rest of my family to get to know their new ?sister.? At times, it has been hard to see the reasons why I left Arizona. One kiss from Gareth convinces me I made the right decision.

Why am I digging up all of this? In two weeks, Gareth and I will be on a plane to spend a few days in Arizona. I wish to see old friends again, meet people I have spoken to only on e-mail, to see the sights, and drink in the beauty that is Arizona. I need closure.

Once again, I will be in proximity to my parents. My father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer?s and my mother has become extremely protective of him. She thinks that seeing me as I am would make my father?s condition worse. My brother suggested I dress as a man long enough to see my father again. I cannot. I would rather cut off an arm than deny my identity for even one second. I will not be what they want me to be any longer. If it means never seeing my parents alive again, then that is what it means. No longer will I feel the arms of my mother?s hug. No longer will I get to look into my father?s eyes.
?Never say never.? ?Give them time.? These are beautiful words of wisdom I have heard over and over from many people. But my parents are both seventy-five years old. Time is something I do not have.
?Arizona in August? You?re crazy, Monica.? Hey, it?s a dry heat.


On June 26, 2003, Sandra Day and the Supremes broke out into a chorus of song and gave gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and even straight people some much needed R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Yes, I am aware it is an Aretha Franklin song, but is sure sounded great hearing it come from six out of the nine Supremes.
What happened? The only reason one would ask that question would be if they have been living in a prairie dog hole outside of Wefix Flats, Wyoming since Bush became President. On that day, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law in the case of Lawrence vs. Texas and the remaining 12 states that still had similar laws on the books. Besides Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri had sodomy laws that specifically targeted same-sex sodomy, whereas the other nine states outlawed sodomy for everyone.

There have been reams of paper filled with articles on Lawrence vs. Texas?the majority opinion, Justice Antonio Scalia?s nasty dissenting opinion, and speculations about the affect this ruling will have on same-sex couples in America, and on marriage in general. A web search of the word sodomy will pull up all of these articles and fill you in on what this means.

Make no mistake about it, this decision is one of the most historically significant decisions to come out of the Supreme Court since Roe vs. Wade. At a time when the privacy of all Americans is under attack by the government, Lawrence has given more freedoms for same-sex couples and kicked the government out of our bedrooms. But what of transgendered Americans? Many also identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In 13 states, their love was considered criminal. In nine of those states, heterosexual transgendered people would have been criminals.

Beyond the issue of sex between consenting adults looms the bigger issue of privacy. In the 1986 decision in Bowers vs. Hardwick, the Court held that the right to privacy did not invalidate Georgia?s sodomy law. In contrast, Lawrence upholds privacy for all citizens within their bedrooms. The issue of privacy is one of major importance to all transgendered people. Lawrence could be used to overturn various laws that specifically discriminate against us.

While the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal Defense are dusting off old cases to reintroduce them under the light of Lawrence, transgendered lawyers are hard at work trying to see how this new decision can help our community. Some are working on seeing how this can help in legalizing same-sex marriages. Others are trying to overthrow the military?s Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell rule. We are entering a new era of rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. It will be an exciting decade to come.
But we must be careful. Those who oppose rights for GLBT people are angry and have begun a stepped-up campaign to squash the rights we gain; they are using everything in their armamentarium. Transgendered people are being used in hate-mongering articles to incite fear and intolerance. The terms she-males, drag queens and transvestites have appeared with ever-increasing frequency. We have become the targets used to attack all equal rights issues. All I can say is don those flack jackets and protective headgear and keep your arms inside the tram at all times. It?s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Stand by Yer Gal!

Occasionally something happens here in Georgia that is of national importance and I get to write about it in Transgender Tapestry. This time not only has something important occurred, but it happened to my best friend, Dana Brown-Owings. Do not get me wrong: this is a serious issue and one that needs to be reported.
Dana works at the IBM facility here in the Atlanta area. On June 25, Margaret Tolbert, a fellow co-worker, blindsided Dana by announcing to Channel 2 News that she had filed a lawsuit against IBM because Dana was allowed to use the women?s restroom.

Aaarggg! The infamous bathroom issue once again rears its ugly (and stupid) head in the workplace! The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Satan is holding the handbasket. What will we do?
Here are the details as I have come to know them.

Tolbert had actually filed the lawsuit in federal court in December, 2002, but Dana had not been made aware of it until Tolbert decided to go to the news media in June. Channel 2 did not get a chance to speak with Dana, but received a statement from IBM supporting Dana. IBM was going to stand by Dana and their diversity policy, which had added ?gender identity and gender expression? in October, 2003. Prior to that, IBM had changed their restroom policy to accommodate individuals in Dana?s situation.

In a July 4 Southern Voice article by Jennifer Smith, Tolbert was quoted as saying ?I filed a complaint because I was being discriminated [against]. This person, this transgender, is nothing more than a transvestite. He still has a penis attached to his body, but IBM has given him the right to use the ladies? bathroom, and I have a real problem with that.?

I will let everyone form their own opinion about this person based on what she ranted, for my opinion cannot be printed in this family-oriented magazine. What does she think?Dana is going to turn green, grow huge muscles, and crash through the stall door at her, simply because Dana allegedly has a penis? ?I?m getting mad, and you won?t like me when I?m mad.?

Channel 2 News contacted me. (Yes, I know. I always have to be the center of attention. Hey, it?s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) They ran the part of the interview in which I pointed out that transsexuals are far more likely to be the victim of an assault in a restroom, or coming out of one, than to be the perpetrator. The editors of the news piece made Tolbert look rather stupid [Not a difficult task, in my opinion. ?Ed.].

I would like to point out that Dana was the prime factor in getting the restroom policy changed and helping IBM?s diversity policy to become fully inclusive. It is nice to see those very policies being used to protect her from the narrow minds in the company.

Tolbert has not returned to work since the Channel 2 piece was aired.

Amazing Grace!

On July 15, 2003 at their convention in Minneapolis, MN, the United Church of Christ became the first mainline Protestant denomination to pass resolutions supporting transgendered people. They did it with no negative comments and with near unanimity. Other mainstream Christian religions, such as Southern Baptists, Catholics, and Mormons, have made negative statements about transgendered people and have banned them from their churches and temples. It?s nice to see there are some mainstream Christian religions who finally understand.

The resolution contained some of the following highlights (listed in the order that Pat Conover sent them to us):

- The third Whereas: rules of appearance in the Bible, such as in Deuteronomy 22:5, are certainly among the rules criticized by Jesus as focused on outward conformity rather than inner integrity grounded in the acceptance of God?s love.

- The sixth Whereas: transgendered and intersexual people are currently offering valuable ministry with the United Church of Christ, both as laypeople and clergy.

- The first Therefore: All congregations of the United Church of Christ are encouraged to welcome transgendered people into membership, ministry, and full participation.

- The second Therefore: All settings
of the United Church of Christ are encouraged to learn about the realities of transgender experience and expression, including the gifts and callings and needs of transgender people, and are encouraged to engage in appropriate dialogue with transgendered

- The fourth Therefore: Justice and Witness Ministries are encouraged to develop a program of education and advocacy, in consultation with a representative group of transgendered people within the United Church of Christ, and then to provide leadership in advocating for the human and civil rights of transgendered people.

The resolution named the following expected outcomes: the strengthening of the United Church of Christ through deepened hospitality, the enriching of church life and mission as the ministries of transgendered people are encouraged, the increase of righteousness in society as the human and civil rights of transgendered people are addressed.

The United Church of Christ is a denomination of about 1.3 million people, gathered in about 6000 congregations in the United States. I find this very encouraging. Thank you, Pat Conover, for bringing this to our attention.

California Dreamin?

The trans Mamas and Papas in the Golden State of California are celebrating one of the biggest victories in transgender history. Their state legislators passed Assembly Bill 196 and sent it on to Gov. Gray Davis?s desk to be signed. On Saturday, August 2, 2003, Gov. Davis placed his signature on the document, thereby making California the fourth state in the union to afford the same legal protections to their transgender citizens enjoyed by all other Californians.

California is probably home to more transgendered people than any other state in the U.S., but there are no hard numbers to show this. When Day of Remembrance is held in more than a dozen locations in California and draws nearly 1000 people in the Bay Area alone, there has to be a sizable transgender population in the state.

Now, I actually sent in my column three days before Governor Davis signed the bill, so this part was originally written from the perspective of not knowing whether he would sign it. I begged Dallas to let me change the piece to reflect this new information, but, like a true corporate dictator, she refused. ?A deadline is a deadline,? she pointed out in a strong voice. All I had to do was remind her that it will be one of her future clones, not her, who will win the Virginia Prince Award?but if she let me make this correction, she could change the future and win it herself. She gave in, but cut my salary in half.

Back to the bill. AB 196 prohibits discrimination in employment and housing based on a person?s gender characteristics. The measure was sponsored by the statewide GLBT advocacy organization, Equality California, and was authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The bill was supported by a broad coalition of more than 50 business, civil rights, and religious organizations. However, various religious organizations strongly oppose AB 196 and urged the Governor not to sign it. Since Davis is facing a recall election for unrelated issues, the religious right used that election as a threat to the Governor?if he signed this bill, there would be dire consequences. Apparently, their threats didn?t bother the Governor.

While the bill sat on the Governor?s desk, transgendered people and transgender and trans-supportive organizations across the country phoned and wrote Governor Davis, urging him to sign the bill. The question became one of whose voice would be the loudest. It started to sound a lot like the Saturday movie matinee with its weekly serial cliffhanger. ?Will the Governor sign the bill? Tune in next week, boys and girls, and find out.? Next week?s installment will be ?The Rampage of the Rabid Religious Right Radicals.? Like the true Saturday matinee serial, the ?good guys? (and gals) won in the end.

Now that AB 196 is law, California joins Minnesota, Rhode Island, and New Mexico in having full protection for its transgendered citizens. California is the third largest state in area and the most populous state, with nearly 34 million people, as per the 2000 census. Twelve percent of the country?s population lives in California.

Not wanting to wait for the Governor to sign AB 196, on July 28, 2003 the City Council of San Diego unanimously voted to amend the city?s Human Dignity Ordinance (HDO) to protect the civil rights of transgendered people. The amendment was sponsored by the HDO Amendment Coalition, which formed early this year to press for passage of the measure.

In a press release Amanda Watson, co-chair of the HDO Amendment Coalition, stated, ?We as a community have worked hard to achieve this goal. It has been an honor working with such a diverse group. I am proud to be a part of this and to live in a city where I know I have rights too.?

Watson later said she hoped the pas-sage of this amendment in the state?s
second largest city could put some pressure on Gov. Davis to signing AB 196. It may have just done so. Now there are a lot of transgendered people across the country doin? some serious California dreamin?.

Monica Helms is the founder and current
President of the Transgender American Veterans Association and Executive Director of Trans=Action, Georgia?s transgender advocacy organization.
She serves on boards of various Georgia groups,
and is a winner of the 2003 Trinity Award.
She can be reached via e-mail at: