Learn more about Gender Identity including non-binary identities.
Yesterday I saw a post on social media where a 38-year-old person talked about how they had become an elder in the community. As someone a bit older than that I immediately thought then what am I?
I was asked last week by a younger person if the current environment towards LGBTQ+ people was the worst I had ever experienced. My answer was yes. As I reflected more I feel like the time before I came of age was most likely worse since clubs and even homes were raided and people’s lives were ruined by being outed. But in my Gen X lifetime, this is the unsafest I have ever felt.
Why now? Back in the late ’80s and early 90’s there was a lot of being closeted. You were not out if you had any job working with youth. My first job out of graduate school was at a residential program for youth and you better believe I was deeply closeted. On the other side of the equation, though there was so much community. Yes, much of it was at bars but when you felt like it was all too much, there was always a place to go and just be with people that looked like you and had similar experiences. When I moved to San Francisco in the early 90’s it was right before AIDS medication became what it was today. The local gay paper had pages and pages of obituaries every week. Until the week they did not and that was a celebration. Living in the Castro, I felt safe. We may have been invisible to the general population but we were okay in our safe space (for those of us lucky enough to find them-other people’s experiences were different). We looked out for each other. I know many straight people do Friendsgiving now but back in the day it was survival. If you were celebrating you made sure your people had a place to go or you invited them over. Even people that you may not have known that well. When you left your safe space you were alert. You watched out for yourself and stayed closeted in most spaces. But since media attention was not on us, people were not paying attention so it felt safer.
Social media and its use by anti-gay and anti-trans groups has made most of us feel unsafe. Now we are a political pawn everywhere. Yesterday in a Facebook group the admin twice deleted posts asking for LGBTQ book referrals because the hate crowd could not skim by and instead had to post hateful remarks. IT WAS a group about BOOKS. But the people with the hate feel emboldened now they feel like they can post their hate anywhere and not have repercussions. And for the most part, they are correct. Now it feels like there is no safe place. Social media and news are in most of our homes, even if we try and restrict it. There are very few if any gay bars or gay spaces anymore. People have said to me well isn’t that better? You can go anywhere now. Yea but if I do and it is full of straight people it is a different experience. And sometimes I just want to be with people like me or at minimum people that really get me.
Before this time there weren’t laws allowing us to marry and transition (in some states) and have employment protection. We never got a full victory on those things. And now the victories we did get are slowly being torn to pieces. We are constantly being bombarded wtih messages that we are sick and that our existence is an issue. We can’t talk about our families or have our kids read books that represent what we look like. I do not know an LGBTQ+ person right now that is not totally freaking exhausted. We want to live our lives and it’s very very hard to do that right now.
I worry about all of this a lot. When I look back on those pictures from my days in SF in the 90s many of those men are no longer with us. I fear with the culture that is being created now those in their 20s and 30s are going to be facing the same thing when looking at their photos in the future. Except more of those people will die at their own hands when they just can’t take it anymore.
This is my personal experience from a place of white and economic privilege. Others may feel differently. However, I doubt anyone would say it’s not very very hard. And the answer to my original question is yes I am now an elder and a grumpy one at that.
I had a list of topics to write this month’s blog. Then yesterday happened. There is one topic. The attacks on marginalized people. Right now, it is women. This means that it will affect women of color and women without resources the most. We also see attacks on LGB people, massive attacks on transgender people, and ongoing attacks on people of color. If Roe V Wade is overturned we know the next issues on the agenda are birth control, gay marriage, interracial marriage, and medical privacy. There will be no such thing as an established court precedent anymore.
Many of us have seen this coming for years. We have been gaslighted and told we were overreacting. Roe V Wade was a settled law. It would never be overturned. The right has been laser-focused on this issue since Roe in 1973 and have finally begun to reach its goal. Many of us have been feeling this rage for a long time, it gets amplified every time we face another loss. I am rageful at everyone who denied this was happening, who chose not to vote because it didn’t matter anyway, and to politicians who have failed on their promises. I am less rageful at people who support the overturn because they have been honest about their intentions for years. This should not be a surprise.
Why am I as a therapist being so vocal about this issue? Shouldn’t I be a blank slate for a client to work through their pain? No. That is not what I as a social worker believe. I believe in social justice. I am part of marginalized communities as are my clients. For me to be silent in the face of this is to be complicit in it. I don’t raise the issue in therapy but if/when my client does I am there with them validating their rage and the parts underneath the rage that are filled with sadness and feelings of powerless and everything else that is there. My clients need to be safe with me and part of that is knowing that I understand how marginalized people are treated in this country. My experiences are different from theirs but I get how painful it can be.
In an online therapist group, the question was asked Would you tell your client your feelings about this issue if they asked? And some of us said our clients do not need to ask. They already know where I stand. Especially, since 2016 when politics became a constant topic in therapy. Then COVID when therapists were experiencing the same trauma as clients. One of the most effective interventions I had during the shutdown was to say it’s not just you to my clients. At the time many of us felt like our feelings were just ours as a result of not being exposed to many other people to check in about this.
I have to be honest with my clients about my parts that are activated with what is going on in this country. I don’t ask them to take care of me. I don’t tell them how I deal with it because that is mine to manage. I do model that I am activated also. That is who I am as a therapist and as a person. I am angry. I am sad. I am scared. I am figuring out how I will move forward and what actions I need and must take. Probably a combination of self-care and activism. A combination that may shift back and forth over these next months until the next election. What I won’t do as a therapist or as a person is be silent. I will scream and yell with every bit of energy I have. And I will tell my clients that when they ask.
The other day this article caught my eye. CNN was covering the trauma of TSA for transgender people. Essentially the problems boil down to two main issues.
- The scanner used by TSA must have someone manually enter a perceived gender of the person entering it. If that person does not have a body that the scanner feels like is in accordance with that gender the person is then subject to a pat-down.
- Many transgender people have then be abused by TSA officers when going through TSA. If you want specific examples read the CNN article.
While the abuse of transgender people is bad enough my experience is that those scanners also hate those of us that are gender non-conforming. I always get pulled aside for a pat-down. Sometimes gently which is my general experience at SFO and some times rather invasively which is my experience at Newark airport. Needless to say after my last trip through Newark airport I was personally pretty traumatized. I have family in NJ so it is not an airport that I can avoid. I cannot even imagine the trauma of trans and non-binary people.
Shannon Minter legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was quoted as saying this in the CNN article
“For many transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people, going through airport security is a grueling and often humiliating and traumatizing ordeal” “Some of the worst stories we hear are from gender-nonconforming women who are subjected to intentionally assaultive pat-downs from TSA agents. In effect, these women are being asked to accept being sexually assaulted as the price of traveling by air.”
What is the supportive cis person to do? Pay attention to the treatment of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people in your community and nationally. Right now there is an epidemic (as identified by the AMA) of violence against transgender women. As of the date of this blog post 18 women, mostly of color, have been murdered this year. These are only the deaths that have been classified as such the real number is much more. Last year 26 women were murdered. While I get that we are in a time where there is so much to fight for it is important that we do not forget these women and that we all do we can to fight against the attack against trans people. And since the majority of these women are of color we need to be aware of the intersection between transphobia and racism in this country.
When you see injustice speak up and help the person. Vote for candidates who include transgender people in their policies. Donate to organizations that support transgender rights. Just be aware of the daily struggle of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. It is easy for any of us to get stuck in our own day to day life and not be paying attention to what is happening to various groups. I get it. I sometimes have to stop watching the news myself. But now more than ever we need to be paying attention. Lives are literally being lost every day to violence and suicide. It may not seem like much to be harassed when you travel but it is having to live with the constant threat of something like that happening in any environment that creates sustained trauma that needs support and treatment and won’t get better until society does.
Photo Copyright: sevenozz / 123RF Stock Photo
I am filled with rage today. I suspect underneath it all is a deep sadness and grief but right now I am experiencing rage. Full on. I am rageful that I live in a country where the court is going to decide if it is legal to fire LGBT people just for being who they are. I am rageful at all of the straight well-meaning people that just don’t get that in 22 states you can be fired for being LGBT and that winning the federal right to marry did not end the battle for LGBT civil rights. I am rageful at the people that think that their personal or religious beliefs should be more important than the civil rights of an entire group of people.
One of the happiest days of my life was my first wedding on February 13th, 2004 (both weddings are to the same spouse). Gavin Newsom said he thought LGB people should be able to marry on Feb 12. That day my now wife and I talked on the phone and said let’s do it! She had always said we would never get married until it was legal. With no planning, we got up at an obscene time of the morning and were waiting outside of City Hall with many others as it opened. It was beautiful. It was a time of triumph. We saw mostly older couples that first morning. All of us were both excited but also afraid that the marriages could be stopped at any time. The city staff was almost as excited as we were. As each couple came out with their license the entire line erupted in cheers. I am getting goosebumps on my arms as I write this. Then the community started to bring food and other celebratory items to support those in the lines that were now getting longer and longer.
It was a bit bizarre because after we got married, we each went to work. We were in a bit of shock, I think. At the time I worked at an LGBT counseling center. When I got there I told everyone that I got married. People cheered and cried and many raced to their phones to call their partners and propose. It was amazing.
Of course, eventually the courts both stopped and invalidated the 2004 marriages. Court cases continued until in 2008 the CA Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Marriage became legal in CA. So, in July 2008 we did it again. Another of my happiest days! This time it was planned and we took a brief weekend honeymoon. There was little time to enjoy being married because shortly Proposition 8 was approved to go on the CA ballot. This meant people got to vote on whether it should be legal for gay people to marry in CA. It passed 52% to 48%. That day and the days to follow were some of the most challenging in my life. For a long time after Prop 8 passed I would look at everyone I saw and wonder how they voted.
Our marriage was then in limbo for years. In hindsight, I am not sure we would have gotten married in 2008 because it led to years of us being married in CA but not being married federally. Taxes were a nightmare.
We had to wait until 2013 when Prop 8 hit the Supreme Court along with the famous Windsor Case. Prop 8 was vacated on a technicality but Windsor case finally gave us the full federal right to marriage. It was an amazing victory.
Post Windsor, it felt like things changed a lot. When we traveled, we didn’t feel the need to be as cautious as before (granted we don’t travel to places like the south where we still wouldn’t feel safe). We told restaurants it was our anniversary and got free cakes. I must admit that on one vacation I told several restaurants that and got a few free desserts. I figured after all the years of not getting anything I could milk it for a bit
Things felt safer for us personally and I imagine for others who are LGB in blue states. I don’t think trans people have ever felt safe nor should they. Then came the 2016 election and it all went to shit. None of us felt safe. Our rights and the rights of other minority groups like Muslims, immigrants, Jewish people, and POC were being assaulted daily. November 6, 2016, was another on the list of very terrible days.
Now in 2019, I will say that in some ways there is a greater awareness of the issues. I see straight cis friends advocate some for trans and gay rights online. At the same time, I don’t think most of them get what it feels like today. It feels like shit. I am super privileged. I recognize that. I am white, I am middle class, and I live in CA. So, I have legal and other protections that others do not have. I cannot even imagine how they feel if I feel this bad.
At this point as I write this, I feel sick to my stomach and am so so sad. I knew there was a lot under that rage. I do not know how to cope with this. I also know that I will be holding this for many of my clients. One already brought it up in session. But more in the manner of a minority saying “yup, we are getting screwed again what can you do”. I am not sure what we can do. This decision won’t come down until June 2020. There is nothing we can do to influence the decision. Most legal experts expect the decisions to be against LGBT people (there are three cases two for gay men that were fired and one for a trans woman who was fired).
I can work towards getting legislators in office in 2021 that will finally pass an LGBT employment non-discrimination act. Once again LGBT people will have to just suck it up. We may be allowed a day or two of feeling awful but then what? We will all just move on until June when the decision comes out. And if I feel this bad now, I cannot imagine what I will feel like then.
What I will say is if you are straight and cis reach out to your trans and gay friends and check-in. Let them know you see what is going on and you care. Advocate in the ways you can for legislators and judges that will protect all of our citizens. After Prop 8 I had a friend send me a stuffed animal with rainbow clothes on it. That meant so much to me. It meant she saw the pain I was feeling. At the end of the day really what we need when we are struggling is to be acknowledged and not feel so alone.
I am gender non-conforming (GNC). Until recent years I did not have language for this. It was just who I was. In my younger years, I was called a butch but in many ways, that label did not fit me. I was also called a Dyke both in friendly and not so friendly ways. Not a word that is used very much anymore. That seemed to fit better. But when language evolved to include gender identity and I heard of GNC I was thrilled. That was me. I don’t know why a label helped me but it did. Perhaps because from about age 9 when I got a Knotts Berry Farm Ball Cap and wore it everywhere I began to be treated differently because of that. While the more rural area where I lived had some room for “tomboys” I was often reminded that my appearance was not feminine enough. I got read as a boy often and I internalized my parent’s embarrassment at that. At the same time, my father was supportive of my ideas to do things that were “boy” things. While little league or being an “altar boy” never happened my dad was supportive of those ideas.
In high school, one of the jobs I had was at a ladies fashion store Fashion Bug. I got clothes at a discount and began presenting in a more feminine manner. Interestingly enough at the same time, I had some feelings about my sexuality and I bought Our Body Ourselves (not so easy in the days before Amazon). When I saw the pictures of lesbians in that book there were all very masculine women. So I knew that of course, I was not a lesbian because that was not what I looked like. When I was applying to Rutgers University there were different colleges there to apply to including a women’s college. I refused to apply to that school because that is where the lesbians went. So homophobia is often related to our struggles with our sexuality. Nonetheless, in my junior year, I worked at a women’s shelter and met lesbians and got an enormous crush (on a straight woman of course!). At age 21 I came out as a lesbian. I became part of a community and I increased the masculine nature of my appearance.
As part of this journey, I learned that bathrooms were an unsafe place for me. To this day I am one of the fastest people in and out of a bathroom. If I enter the restroom with someone else I don’t wait for them I get outside as soon as possible. I have fortunately never been threatened with physical violence but I have been told the restroom was a woman’s room and given many many dirty looks. Those looks always make me feel unsafe. In recent years it has happened less. I live in the Bay Area and now I am middle-aged and a middle-aged woman is fairly invisible in today’s world. In this case, it is of benefit to me. However just this weekend I was out of town. I was washing my hands when I heard the door to the restroom open and heard a gasp. I knew immediately what had happened. I finished washing and then opened the door to an elderly woman. I stepped back and held the door for her to enter. She slinked past me thinking angry thoughts the entire way (you can tell). I went back to my table and reported back the incident to my companion. It was not as upsetting as it can be sometimes. Maybe because this woman did not feel like a threat to me. I was concerned she would go get a staff person and make a scene which thankfully did not happen.
So why am I telling this fairly personal story? I just want people to understand the effect of the microaggressions on GNC people. And I know for trans and non-binary people it is way worse and often they are in great physical danger. I fully recognize that I have the privilege of being able to say I am a woman and most people will accept that when a transgender woman will not get that same acceptance. I hear stories often from my trans and non-binary clients about the different abuses they face in their daily life. I know the effect on me of the dirty looks. The effect that has been cumulative since I was a young child and given so many messages that I was not normal. They add up and they have taken years of working through and can still get triggered sometimes. I suspect many of my friends may not understand these burdens though I know they empathize. We are coming to a time where there is greater acceptance for the LGBT community but still, there is discrimination against the community especially around gender identity and presentation. I want people to continue to understand this so that they can make sure they are both being accepting, and affirming, and better yet learning to be an ally. Because I know most of my people that are not white cis men are afraid right now. We are in a country that is actively perpetuating hate against Transgender people, Muslim people, Jewish people, People of Color, Women and other groups too numerous to list here but all very important. I think it is each of our obligation to try and protect those with fewer protections than we have.
Transgender Rights and Resources
Since the election, a lot of concerns have been coming up for the transgender people. I have put together some resources and information below so that you can have the best possible information when you make any decisions. Obviously right now we do not know anything for sure. I don’t want to perpetuate panic but at the same time, people need information on the best ways to protect themselves. Everyone needs to make the decision that is best for them in their own circumstances.
I am going to focus on the practical concerns of documents and health insurance.
Please feel free to comment or email me if you have anything to add to this post.
In California, the go to for information on legal documents is The Transgender Law Center. Here is the link to their page with detailed information about this topic. Here is their extensive guide.
Here is my quick summary:
In 2013 Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1121 which made it easier to get documents changed in CA. Full implementation occurred in July 2014. So with the same Governor in office and statements issued both from him and the Legislature that assert that they will protect Californians, at this time there is no indication that this law will change and you should still be able to change your name and gender in CA fairly easily.
It is important to note that you do not currently need a court ordered gender change to change your California driver’s license, social security card, or U.S. passport. You also no longer need a court order to have a new California birth certificate issued reflecting a change of gender.
You DO need a court order for a change of name.
For information on other states and their rules, The National Center For Transgender Equality has an awesome site here. You can click on any state to get additional information including some local advocacy partners.
In states with Republican Governors, there may be a backlash against gains for transgender people and those laws may be at risk so please check in with your local transgender advocacy projects.
Social security cards and passports are Federal documents and as such may have more risk for change.
Social Security Cards
National Center For Transgender Equality also has a great fact sheet on changing your gender for Social Security. Right now it is considered a relatively easy process but we have no idea at this time if this might change and become more challenging in the future so if this is an important change for you, it should be done as soon as possible.
In 2010 the State Department updated its policy to make it easy for transgender people to obtain a passport that has their correct name and gender identity. This may be an area that is targeted and changed moving forward.
If you believe you may want to leave the country at some point this is a very important process to complete as soon as possible.
Here is information from the National Center for Transgender Equality on passports.
The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) has ordered California’s health plans to remove blanket exclusions of coverage based on gender identity or gender expression. This was done to comply with the California Insurance Gender Nondiscrimination Act, passed in 2005. These rules did not apply to self-insured plans. Many larger businesses have “self-insured” plans governed by ERISA, a federal law that preempts state nondiscrimination protections.
Essentially what this means is that those who got transgender health coverage added because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) risk losing it if the ACA is repealed.
However, many in California will continue to have transgender health care coverage under private insurance plans.
With Medi-Cal is more complicated. Many people got on Medi-Cal through the Medicaid expansion in the ACA. Many others also got private health insurance because of the ACA subsidies to buy private insurance. Those aspects are at risk if the ACA is repealed. So people will lose their entire health care plans not just transgender-specific aspects.
CA law does still require coverage of transgender health but it could get more challenging if cities lose funding for public health.
Health Insurance-Other States
If the Affordable Care Act is repealed then Rule 1557, which removed trans health exclusions federally, will be gone. If you live in a state that did not protect transgender health care prior to the ACA there is every reason to believe that coverage can be gone by the beginning of 2018. Also, those who got coverage through the Medicaid expansion will also most likely lose their healthcare coverage if/when ACA is repealed. And we know repeal of the ACA is the top of the list of legislative goals for the Republicans. The other scenario I have heard is that Medicaid expansion may stay but become much more restrictive depending on the state. Vice President Elect Pence did do a Medicaid expansion in his state so we just don’t know how this will play out.
Resources for Further information
Transgender Law Center-CA Specific
Southern Poverty Law Center is collecting reports of incidents of violence and intimidation. They advise reporting to local police first but they are tracking the violence. The link to that is here
US: (877) 565-8860 Canada: (877) 330-6366
Trans Lifeline is a non-profit dedicated to the well-being of transgender people. It is a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people.
CA Courts Site Reference for further CA legal document questions.
A Vanity Fair Editor lets her son wear nail polish. Chaz Bono is going to be on dancing with the stars. These events have caused such vitriolic hatred online that it is almost unfathomable to me. What is actually more shocking to me is the number of people that feel they are able to justify their hatred by quoting bible scriptures. I don’t want to debate anyone’s right to religious freedom, that is a given right in this country, as it should be. What I do question is people excusing their hatred and ignorance by misquoting religious scripture. Do people really think that makes it okay?
What I know is that violence against others, including verbal assault, is wrong. Why should anyone really care that a boy wears nail polish or that Chaz Bono is transgender? What difference do those things make in our individual lives?
After Proposition 8 passed in California, removing the right for gays and lesbians to marry, I was angry and hurt. For a period of time I walked around looking at my neighbors wondering if they were part of the group that hated me. Because as much as the anti prop 8 people said it wasn’t about hatred, to me and many in the community, that was the way it felt. To remove a right from an entire class of people, could be justified only by ignorance and hatred.
I found the anger I had was exhausting. I believe most people are good. I want to believe that, it is part of who I am and how I move though the world. To not to be able to connect with one of my fundamental values was horrible. I eventually realized I would have to grieve the loss and know that eventually justice would prevail. That is what freed me. I pity the people that are so filled with fear and hatred that they need to attack parents that accept their children as they are and people that feel stuck in the wrong body. What a terrible way to live one’s life spending it hating others. I choose to try and make the world a better place for me having been in it. For me that is a far worthier goal.
Recently I was at the Gender Spectrum professional’s day at the beginning of their family conference. Diane Ehrensaft PhD, author of, Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children, was a speaker there. She talked about the different categories and language that children used to explain their gender identity. It was really fascinating. When asked in an accepting environment about their gender identity children came up with words such as gender smoothies,which is put everything you know about gender in a blender and hit on. The kids were very clear about who they were. They took what is a complicated issue and made it really simple. On the other hand, many adults recently had a melt down when a picture of a young boy painting his toe nails was on the cover of a recent J-Crew advertisement.
It seems that in some ways children just understand things way better than adults. To children so much is simple. Why can’t I play with a boy’s toy just because I am a girl? Why can’t two men or two women get married if they love each other? Why can’t countries solve problems without violence? Why do people from this religion, hate those from that religion?
It may seem that they have a simplistic view of things, but I think if we look closely some things really are that simple. As I write this the government fights over the debt ceiling. What is the solution in a country with a divided government?… compromise. What is really so complicated about that? Yet the sides have been fighting for what now seems like forever about something that will probably end up being resolved with a solution that had been previously discarded. A child would know this, why don’t the adults? Maybe some things really could be that simple.