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(from the atchives – 2011) The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1998 in response to the murder of Rita Hester but for the last several years it has brought another woman to my mind.She is greatly missed and though I did not know her well, I knew enough to understand what manner of loss had befallen us all when she was taken.

We are in the office kitchen. She has arrived in tall shoes, with pink ribbons twined in her hair. We are forever trading nods and pleasantries, this beautiful girl and I. Still, I’m not even sure that she knows my name. I know a few of hers. The one she uses on good days, the kind of days you wake and wind ribbons in your hair, and the one she uses on bad days, when the mean reds hit and it takes all the strength you have to clutch a pillow in one hand and a telephone in the other. “Tell him it’s Pumpkin.” she’d whisper into the receiver.

And I suppose she wouldn’t mind me telling you this now. What she’d mind, I suspect, is that there were no fireworks when she went, no moments of silence, no flags at half mast. We were nothing to one another, Pumpkin and I. Little more than nods and smiles, phone calls transfered and a “hey you, how goes it?” in the stairwell. Still I couldn’t help but see in her what I have so often seen in myself, that ability to dress up sorrow with bravery. Put together and put on. She did it better but I’ve done it longer. That’s all. So if you see her, tell her that there were fireworks and more moments of silence than she could have expected. It’s the god-awful truth.

When Ashlie died, one of the phone calls I made was to her teacher, a former Army drill sergeant who manages to teach the students that no other teacher in town can manage. When I told him that Ash was gone, his first thought was that there was violence involved. To say that she died “by her own hand” is little consolation we agreed, but in light of the statistical alternatives, it is somehow a blessing.

Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo and Rita Hester are not anomalies. Nor are they the norm. But every year, on this day, Remembering Our Dead is one way to fight the bigotry and lack of understanding which results in the kinds of brutality that no one should ever face. On this day and every day, educating yourself and those around you, refusing to engage in the casual, “soft” bigotries of our current culture (Ann Coulter’s adam’s apple jokes, lazy sitcom man-in-a-dress plotlines, Chaz Bono gawking)   and instead establishing your position as an ally can go a long way to changing public perception and ultimately, saving lives.  Like THIS

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Yesterday, while wandering through the wonders of the internet(s), I came upon an essay by Stephen Ira which was (specifics aside) a critique of media portrayals of trans people. The article gnawed at me all day and by this morning, once I was able to untangle my internal response, I realized I feared that in writing and sharing our story, I am furthering that narrative.

“This construction of the emotionally tortured transsexual does another important job: it normalizes trans suffering. Much of the emotional suffering that trans people have to deal with is a result of cissexism.  Lack of access to medical care, disrespect from family and peers, and constant media reminders that trans bodies are worthless and require frequent monitoring/destroying.  But if cis people create the impression through media that suffering is trans people’s natural state, they can erase the real cause of trans suffering: cissexism.”

I am acutely aware that I come to this with my own privilege and I struggle to walk a fine line, speaking about though not for my child and the trans people in our life. I write about doctors, psychiatric professionals and school administrators, those who who were helpful (the few) and those who weren't (the many). I write about family and friends, those who rose to the occasion with unexpected acceptance, and those who could only see her as some kind of Other, whether a soon-to-be victim of violence, a mentally unstable child or a slave to sinful things. I write about her friendships with older trans women and about the emerging generation of trans people we knew, living lives full of hope and promise.

As I wrote two years ago in a sharp-tongued memo, I do not believe that Ashlie's gender brought about her death. In this way the narrative of “The Boy Suit” is perhaps false, but the larger story, the one I wake up every day intent on pounding out piece by piece, is one that I hope addresses in some ways, the cissexism that Ashlie and those like her face.

Despite the desire to remain an ally to the trans community, the fear nags at me that perhaps I am doing more damage than good.  No defense of my work should undermine the experiences, ideas and reality of the very people I seek to support. It is a fine line and I suspect that I will continue the struggle to find myself on the right side of it.

 

 

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Brenda, Francis and Abigail are three transgender immigrants who fled Mexico to start new lives in the city of Los Angeles. After suffering mental and physical abuse in their home country, the three women made their ways to the United States, each eventually seeking political asylum.  But for each of these women, leaving home was only the first step. Transgender immigrants have an even harder time surviving in a new country because of issues caused by transphobia. Once in the United States, obstacles like discrimination, loneliness, and addiction continued, and in some cases continue, to stand in their way.  While some members of this community struggle against these obstacles, others are becoming advocates and activists, thereby proving what it truly means to be an American.

Crossing Over is the story of these three strong, transgender women who immigrated to escape a lifetime of sexual and mental abuse, and found that if they wanted a better life, they’d have to fight for it.

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I am totally over the moon for My Family!™ a company founded in 2010 by Monica and Cheril Bey-Clarke to address the needs of children in the LGBT community. In an effort to spread the word about their books, I asked Cheril to whip a little something up for me to share with you and she consented, resulting in the following interview with My Family!™ author Claudia Eicker-Harris. (Make sure you check out the endnote for this post to get the discount code for My Family!™ products offered especially for Laurustina.com readers.)

1.       Your new book Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales targets babies to pre-school aged children. What is it that attracted you to writing for this group? They are so open and accepting when they’re little and when they start asking questions they want honest, straightforward answers. As long as you tell them the truth, they’re happy with your answers. I think it’s this simple honesty that I love and that I have tried to reflect in the book.

2.       What do you think motivates children to read? I think children (and all humans actually) have an inherent thirst for knowledge and want to be independent thinkers. Reading gives them the freedom to choose, the freedom to learn and to think for themselves.

3.       Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication with My Family? I initially self-published ‘Meet the Families’ on Kindle as ‘I know Children’ under a pseudonym. I then sent the link to a few LGBT sites to get some publicity and to see what the reception was like. My Family picked it up and contacted me to see if I could get them in touch with the author, which was actually me! We bonded immediately and we haven’t looked back since! It’s been really amazing to work with such like-minded people who are so enthusiastic about my work as well as theirs.

4.       What is Freddy and Frieda’s Traveling Tales about? The series about two field mice who travel the world in the author’s (my) luggage and meet all sorts of children and families. They are totally non-judgmental and merely state facts and tell us who they have met. In this way they introduce children and adults to a variety of families in a simple and non-biased way.

5.       Do you anticipate writing for older age groups? Yes, but probably not for adults.

6.       How do you think books that showcase children with a trans parent help children understand? I think books like this will give parents an opportunity to open the doors to discussion. Very young children may not necessarily walk away with a full understanding, but will certainly have a foundation of knowledge and insight on which to build their future understanding. Even if they don’t understand, children will begin the all-important journey to acceptance.  

7.       Do transgender people still struggle more than others in the South African LGBT community? There are very few publicly transgender people. Generally they keep to their own communities. I think it is very difficult for them to integrate into broader society.

8.       When did you first realize you wanted to write LGBT-inclusive books for children? It’s not very unique, I’m afraid. I’ve always been a writer, but until my wife gave birth to our baby girl, Eva, I hadn’t ever written for children, only for corporate companies and for theatre. I started telling Eva stories at night and I realised that they had an effect on her; when her friends started listening to the stories and enjoying them too, I decided to start writing them down.

9.       Do you have a job outside of writing children’s books or is this the only work you do? This is all I do now, although I do write, edit and proofread educational text books, which I still see as children’s literature. I love doing both! I am still a partner in Creative Directions – the event company that my wife and I started 11 years ago, but am not actively involved in the day to day running of the business.

10.    Where can our readers find out more about you? www.claudiaeicker-harris.com

My Family's array of multi-cultural products give children of same-sex parents a sense of normalcy, while promoting the celebration of our differences and the importance of family values. For a limited time (through July 31st) Laurustina.com readers can receive a 20% discount on My Family!™ products (including free shipping within the continental US) by entering the promo code "trans". I especially love their coloring books . I encourage you to check out their site, share it with other LGBT families and support their vision by adding some of their books to your shelves.

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There was a time when I was a quiet, almost timid ally of the transgender people who passed through my life. When my daughter Ashlie revealed her true gender in 2008, the level of my engagement in trans-issues changed forever. Tomorrow would have been her 20th birthday and every year now, as the date approaches, I try to find something to focus on besides the great gaping hole in our lives.

This year I've been thinking a lot about specific people whose small gestures of kindness and acceptance touched our lives in that final precious year and today I challenge you to consider these simple ways in which you can be an effective trans ally and join with me in supporting and encouraging our transgender brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

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