And That's the Way It Is!

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #099, Fall 2002.

by Monica F. Helms

This April, I felt privileged to attend my first IFGE convention. I had fun, and made new friends. The awards ceremonies brought tears to my eyes, while the workshops and panels informed and delighted me. But in spite of all this, there is one evening that will forever live in infamy. I call it The Night of a Thousand Ribs.
The evening started innocently enough, when Dallas suggested that a group go out to dinner. Being the big-time editor of an internationally famous magazine empire, several people wanted to go just so they could bask in her glory. However, the evening took a decidedly evil turn when fellow Tapestry columnist Miqqi Alicia Gilbert suggested we go to a rib joint. Dallas endorsed the idea, even though several of us had long since given up red meat. Being that Dallas wanted to go, the others agreed just so they could be with her. Holly Boswell and Zantui Rose opted not to attend, sparing themselves from the carnage we would soon witness. I received an invitation to join Dallas?s group only because I had my car there at the convention and could help in the transportation. [... and because we thought we could get you to pick up the tab?Ed.]

I followed Dallas? twists and turns through the streets of Nashville. She drove as if she were being chased by an FBI assault team. [You didn?t see them??Ed.] Then, we arrived at Corky?s, Nashville?s Pork Palace. If there is such a place as ?Kosher Hell,? Corky?s could qualify. In fact, one of our group?Holly Devor, a semi-kosher vegetarian?told me she felt as if the room had spun when we walked in.

Six of us were in attendance. Considering the others at the table, I felt educationally inadequate. There was DOCTOR Miqqi Gilbert, DOCTOR Holly Devor, DOCTOR Sandra Cole, and DOCTOR Ann Bolin, and Dallas, who only recently retired her license to practice psychology. Heck, there were more degrees at that table then you could find on a thermometer. And then there was me, with my cute, little twin ?AA?s? (Please do not confuse them with batteries or what one stuffs in a training bra!).

We laughed, we talked?and then dinner arrived. Ann and Sandra had the barbecue chicken sans barbecue sauce (which caused the server to look at them as if they had taken leave of their senses) and Holly constructed a good, non-meat meal from side dishes [not an easy task?most of the sides and salads had pork in them?Ed.]. Dallas gave me a modest cost limit for my meal, which allowed me to order a small dinner salad and a glass of water, with no refills. She said she was looking out for my health. What a sweet boss.

Then we heard trumpets, as they brought out Dallas and Miqqi?s orders. They picked The Rib Cage Special. Every bone found in a pig?s abdomen sat on their plates. They had enough meat to feed a small Bolivian village for two weeks. The rest of us sat in awe, while the two carnivores tore into their kill as if it were their last meal. It reminded me of an episode from ?Wild Kingdom,? the one where a mountain lion brings down a slow-moving desert javalina. Too bad Marlin Perkins could not have been around to record this special moment in natural history. However, I can tell my grandchildren, ?I was there.?

Yes, my first IFGE convention will always remain a golden memory in my life. But it will be a memory sadly drenched in Corky?s barbecue sauce.

[Gentle reader, it was Miqqi?Miqqi, I tell you! who wanted ribs. Your editor would have been happy with vichyssoise or a watercress sandwich?but when in Rome... Ed.]

Back to Oz

Welcome to Kansas...again. The Sunflower State was back in the transgender news, when on March 15?the Ides of March we were told to beware?the Kansas Supreme Court Jesters ruled that the marriage between J?Noel Gardiner and her late husband, Marshall Gardiner, was invalid. Even though J?Noel had been post-op for four years and had had her birth certificate changed in Wisconsin, the court ruled that for the purpose of marriage in Kansas, she remained a male.

When the news hit the airwaves, the transgender community was enraged. In a press release, NTAC Board Chair Yose?io Lewis remarked, ?It absolutely defies logic, that the very same state that created law which allowed for the issuance of a valid marriage certificate to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner [would] later determine that their own state procedures for marriage could be deemed invalid! Judge Allegrucci and the other justices have invalidated their own procedures, their own laws.? [See ?The Community Speaks Out? on Page 18 for quotes from other transgendered people?Ed.]

I can hear singing coming from the Kansas Supreme Court Building. ?If I only had a brain!? By ignoring modern science and current decisions, the cowardly lions of the KSSC overturned the sanctity of heterosexual marriages, destroyed the ?full faith and credit? requirements set forth in the United States Constitution, and opened the door to same-sex marriages in Kansas. Post-op male-to-female transsexuals can now legally marry their lesbian partners, and post-op female-to-male transsexuals can legally marry their gay male partners in Kansas. Rice will soon become a rare commodity in the Wheat State.

Kansas? denial of the full faith credit requirements sets in motion the possibility of states not recognizing marriage and driver?s licenses, birth certificates, adoption papers, divorce decrees, name change papers and any other legal documents issued by other states.

Attorneys for J?Noel have decided to take the issue to the Supreme Court. Let?s hope the case will be heard, and not tossed aside like the Supreme Court has done with other transgender-related cases.

This time, the Yellow Brick Road leads to the Emerald City known as Washington, D.C. By then, the Wicked Witch of the White House will have added a few more of his Flying Monkeys to the Supreme Court bench. Let?s pray for rain before that happens.

?I?m melting!?

One City at a Time

It has been one hell of an impressive year so far, as far as transgender rights go. Between February 28 and May 16, a record five cities and one county passed anti-discrimination bills protecting people based on gender expression and/or gender identity. These six jurisdictions have a combined population total of more than eleven million people, nearly doubling the number of Americans living in areas covering this form of anti-discrimination protection.

Erie County, PA started this trend on February 28. The Erie County Council passed a measure which includes both sexual orientation and gender identity by a 6:1 vote. Pennsylvania activists expressed their elation when Erie Co. joined York, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg in their state in protecting transgender citizens. A month later, on April 3, the Pennsylvania activists had another reason to celebrate, when Allentown passed a similar law by a 5:2 margin. But wait! Those hard-working people in Pennsylvania weren?t through yet. On May 16, they added the Crown Jewel of their state. Philadelphia, with its 1.5 million citizens, passed an anti-discrimination bill by a 15:2 vote.

With the largest population centers in Pennsylvania now protected, the next step would be to extend coverage to the rest of the Keystone State. After that is done, I understand the activists will become ?hired guns,? providing their services to other states in need. I think they need to work on Kansas first.

Pennsylvania didn?t hog all the glory during these past few months. Just down the street, in the Big Apple, people were working hard to gain protections for their transgendered citizens. According to Paisley Currah, ?Transgender activists and advocates from the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, the New York State Transgender Coalition, City Council Members Margarita Lopez, Bill Perkins, Christine Quinn, and Phil Reed have been working together for the past three years to ensure that transgender people are protected under the city?s non-discrimination law.?

In a passionate plea in front of the City Council?s General Welfare Committee, Carrie Davis, a counselor at the Gender Identity Project of the LGBT Community Center, said, ?I have been denied jobs, I have been denied housing. I have been denied services. I have been harassed and abused. I have been beaten and raped, and I have had my children taken away from me? [See the entire speech, which accompanies this column. I cried when I read it?MFH]

On April 23, the New York City Council?s General Welfare Committee voted 7:1 to send the bill to the full Council for a vote. The next day, the full City Council voted 45:5 to add gender expression and gender identity to the city?s anti-discrimination bill. On April 30, 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the bill into law. This is a major victory for all transgendered people in the U.S.

The East Coast people didn?t have all the fun. On the very day the New York City Council?s General Welfare Committee voted to send their bill to the full Council, the Tacoma City Council voted 8:1 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The vote brought dozens in the audience to their feet in applause. Tacoma joined Washington State cities Seattle and Spokane, which have similar laws.

Finally, in a surprise last-minute move, the transgender community of Dallas, TX complained that a proposed city ordinance?s original language left out transgendered people. Mayor Laura Miller helped revise the language in order to cover the transgender population of the ?Big D.? Instead of adding a new category in the proposed bill, the definition of sexual orientation was changed to read, ?an individual?s real or perceived orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual or an individual?s real or perceived gender identity.?

Experts agree this is not the best language available and will not cover all possible situations, but it is good language, and the first for any city in Texas to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting transgendered people in the private sector. Houston has a bill protecting their transgendered city employees.

The City Council of Dallas passed the bill on May 8, 2002 by a vote of 13:2. If everything in Texas is considered big, then you can say this is VERY BIG.

In all this excitement, I can hardly catch my breath. One wonders?who will be next? Every time I hear another city has passed one of these bills, the Queen song, ?Another One Bites the Dust? comes to mind. More than ten percent of the American population now lives in a jurisdiction that covers protection for their transgendered citizens. Ninety percent to go!

These events leads me to wonder how the Human Rights Campaign can continue to claim elected officials don?t have the capability of understanding anti-discrimination protection for transgendered people. In the six jurisdictions, the total vote count comes to 92 in favor and 13 against. If this past two-and-a-half months has taught us anything, it is that our educational efforts over the last 15 years are finally paying off. Pay attention, HRC!

It is a historical time for our community, and we should feel lucky to witness it. Hang on, my friends! The ride ain?t over, yet!

Monopoly?s New ?Go To Jail, Get a Vagina For Free? Card

Robert Kosilek, a.k.a. Michelle, sits in a Boston prison, serving a life sentence for strangling his wife. Michelle has identified as being transsexual since being sent to prison. While in prison, she filed a lawsuit claiming the Corrections Department is violating his civil rights and subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment by refusing to provide treatment for his gender identity disorder. He said he suffers continuous depression, anxiety, and a high level of stress as a result of being denied treatment.

In the lawsuit, Kosilek says, ?The universal prescribed treatment involves psychotherapy, hormone therapy, and surgical correction of the offending genitalia.?

Few would feel transsexual inmates shouldn?t be given proper psychotherapy and hormone treatment if they had been receiving it since before being arrested. However, our community?s feelings tend to split on providing the same services for someone after they have been sent to prison, especially when it involves having the state to pay for sex reassignment surgery.

In an eloquent commentary on this subject, found in the March 10, 2002 issue of Anne Vitale?s newsletter, Juli Goins of Minnesota writes, ?To be frank, I don?t have a problem with referring to Kosilek as Michelle, his preferred?and now legal?name. However, my tolerance for him as a first-degree murderer goes no further. In this severe an offense, deferring to feminine pronouns with Kosilek is pretty insulting to both natal and transsexual women, and by extension, any law-abiding crossdresser who prefers to be recognized in the feminine voice.? She goes on to say, ?But simply put, his plea for free surgery is bad public relations for an embattled and heavily marginalized gender community.?

I have to agree with Juli on this matter. There are many pre-op transsexuals, living near or below the poverty level, who are far more deserving of free SRS than a convicted murderer in a Boston prison. If any state decided to give into this kind of lawsuit, what message would it send to those desperate individuals who would see that the only way they could ever get surgery is to commit a violent crime? Maybe it?s time for the top SRS surgeons to begin to consider the concept of pro-bono surgeries. The problem would lie in how to choose among the thousands of pre-op transsexuals wanting the procedure? There is no perfect answer in this imperfect world.

?Sisters? Take to the Air

In March of this year, working on a non-existent budget, Becky Juro and Marti Abernathy premiered their talk-show brainchild, ?Trans-Sister Radio,? on the airwaves of cyberspace at .

They first started with the not-so-reliable Paltalk audio chat. However, they quickly found it didn?t provide them with the quality they had envisioned. After several weeks, they installed a phone system to provide them the necessary quality, all with their own funding. As of May, they still haven?t been able to figure out how to offset the phone costs for their weekly show. In time, all of these hurdles will be overcome.

I have to commend these two women for taking on this enormous project and succeeding where others would have given up. Add to the fact that Becky lives in New Jersey and Marti lives in Indiana, and you can see the extra burden this adds to their daunting undertaking. There are only a few other shows like Trans-Sister Radio across the country, the best-known being GenderTalk, with Gordene MacKenzie and Nancy Nangeroni. In May, Becky and Marti had the pleasure of actually turn the tables on Nancy and Gordene, by having them as quests on their show. ?The student now becomes the master, Obi-Wan.?

Okay, okay! I admit it! They had me as a guest one time! There! I said it! This is my ?pay-back? piece for them. Okay? Besides, I was their guest because I have an ego that needs constant stroking. Why do you think I write this column? Actually, I?m an indentured servant Dallas bought on E-Bay for an autographed copy of Read My Lips, and a pair of worn and soiled tennis shoes once owned by Ren?e Richards. To this day, Dallas reminds me of her having to give up those tennis shoes?yet she fails to mention how ripe they had become over the years.

Nevertheless, I would like to thank Marti and Becky for providing this great service for our community. Until next time, my trans-sisters.