Brock Turner, Hillary Clinton, and the Need for Representation

A little less than four months ago, when Michigan had its primary and I cast my absentee ballot, I indicated that I was not going to publicly indicate who I endorsed at that time, although I indicated that I supported a Democrat and I previously indicated that I would be Uniting Blue.  Tonight, Hillary Clinton will become the presumed Democratic Nominee, the first woman ever to win the presidential nomination in a major party primary, and I’d like to tell you about my support for her.

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This is what a President looks like.

Since February, and even before that, I have rarely, if ever, posted articles in favor of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, although I have posted many articles in support of progressive principles and the Democratic Party. Reading the tea leaves on my comments, you might suspect that I support Ms. Cinton. And I do. Now. In February, I cast my ballot for Mr. Sanders. That choice was difficult for me, because I admired (and admire) both candidates deeply, but I was swayed by the level of enthusiasm I saw in young people and people who normally perceive themselves as disenfranchised. As an aside, this is what truly won me over for Mr. Obama eight years ago – a story I have told several times, seeing African American elders waiting for the bus in Hyde Park and Kenwood, with Obama tees over their dresses, I fell in love with them immediately, and Mr. Obama by extension. Although I support Mr. Sanders’ positions on many, if not almost all topics, this is really the way that I personally “felt the Bern.”

Fast forward a few months. Tonight, Ms. Clinton will win the nomination, and she will be beset by attacks on her clothes, her voice, her experience, her qualifications. The system that put her in that position, by dint of a sizable majority of voters in Democratic primaries, will be cast as rigged. There is little appearance that her nomination, at this phase, will be met with any grace by most supporters of Mr. Sanders. In fact, my Facebook timeline is full of people commenting on how they “don’t know a single person who wants Hillary to be president.”

Well, I’m one, even though I voted for Mr. Sanders. Why? Because she is perhaps the most experienced, qualified candidate ever to run for the office, especially in foreign policy. Because she has devoted her life to helping children and families, something you all know I’m incredibly passionate about. Because she’s a unifying force within the Democratic Party and she will work effectively with teammates in the House and Senate to, yes, “get stuff done.”* Because she will build on Mr. Obama’s gains of the past eight years, and she will lift up progressive candidates, including women, who will change the dialogue in Congress. And yes, because she’s a woman, and I don’t find that insignificant in a country that’s never had a woman President.

So what does this have to do with Brock Turner?

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This is what a rapist looks like.

Although Brock’s violent rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, a crime in the process of which he was caught by passing cyclists, who had to restrain him until the police arrived**, happened some time ago, it burst onto the national conscience, just in the last couple of days. From the judge’s absurdly lenient sentencing (leading now to a recall campaign against him), to the remarkably callous and indifferent excuses given by his friends and father, to the deeply sexist, racist, and classist way in which this entire situation was treated***, this particular rapist’s case is unique only in that, due to the courageous voice of his victim, people are taking notice. The truth is, this happens every day. Most victims of rapists like Brock don’t even get their day in court. And when they do, they generally face the male gaze – from the judge, from the jurors, and from the media. And, just like with Brock Turner, their rapists are too often made into heroes while they are vilified for being women.

So, yeah, we get it, Brock is an asshole rapist, and the deck is stacked in favor of asshole rapists. But how do these stories come together?

Today, California will hand Ms. Clinton the right to campaign as the first woman nominee of a major political party for President. This will be the first time in more than 200 years that a woman had even a shot at being President of the United States. As clear as that message is that we are reaching a new phase in the empowerment of women, that same week, that same state, California, through the bench of Judge Persky, sent women an unequivocal, equally inescapable message, that our histories will not be trusted, our experiences will not be validated, and that justice will not be ours. It’s hard for me to ignore the simultaneity of the presence of these events in my consciousness.

There are many things that must happen to end what feminists collectively call Rape Culture****. Men must act – rape is almost entirely committed by cis men, and thus it is men and not women who must stop raping. The issue of unprocessed rape kits (and women sometimes being forced to pay for their own rape kits) needs to be addressed. There are many, many other things that continue to need to be done in changing the way we teach consent, empowering the voices of victims and survivors, and making sure that they have access to the services they need.

But we also need representation. Let’s be clear. For all the male allies we have, the hegemonic culture of men still does not take rape seriously. Like, at all. A woman presiding over Turner’s case might have produced an equally lenient sentence, but it’s hard to imagine a woman trivializing the situation to the extent that Judge Persky did*****. Not all women consider rape a hate crime, but most of the people who see it this way are women. As long as the bench rarely looks like us, as long as the legislature rarely looks like us, as long as the Oval Office has never looked like us, we are fooling ourselves if we think that men will carry the torch in its entirety to hold rapists accountable. We are fooling ourselves to think that rape victims will see justice in a system run almost entirely by men.

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Emerge Michigan’s own 2016 class of women preparing to storm all levels of government.

This is where it’s not really about Ms. Clinton. Don’t support her? Fine, although think carefully about what could happen if Mr. Trump were elected. Think it’s not just about putting one woman in one office? You’re absolutely right. But we must support putting women in positions of governance and power. This moment, which is just one of many more that have already come and must keep coming, was not brought to us by magic. This moment was brought to us by decades of hard work. Before Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm. Organizations like Emily’s List, the PAC that supports pro-choice, progressive women in critical races, need our support. Organizations like Emerge America and its state affiliates, who are grooming future generations of women to run for office and win elections, need our support. The fact that we, as women who support Ms. Clinton, are dismissed as “vagina voters” covers over the fact that men simply cannot be trusted to create a world that is fair to women, by themselves.

This also goes beyond women and beyond rape. For very similar reasons, we need more Black and Latino/Hispanic voices in our legislatures and on our benches. We need more queer people. We need more disabled people, more people with lived history of mental illness, more in short of everyone who has experienced marginalization. Where we are those people, we should step up and look for opportunities to engage – locally, at the state level, or even nationally. We should consider more critically the need that we fill the progressive bench. Whether or not we can do that, the organizations and groups working to make these things happen need our support. Support as many of them as you can, support the one you like the best, but support them.

Whatever your feelings, and whatever your healing process needs to be, if you’re a supporter of Mr. Sanders who isn’t ready to unite, yet, or even if you never do come to support Ms. Clinton’s bid for the presidency, get engaged in some kind of activity that increases representation of people who are “othered” in governance. Even if you can’t see yourself living in a world with Hillary, get engaged in making sure that, someday, we might live in a world with no more Brocks.

* Bitches (yes, I said bitches, and I’m proud to be a bitch) get stuff done.

** Just in case you thought I’d be content describing it as “twenty minutes of action” … yeah, … no.

*** Particularly when compared to the equally absurd sentence (but in the opposite direction) Jasmine Richards of Black Lives Matter received for “felony lynching,” let alone the sea of mostly brown and black faces serving long prison terms for non-violent drug crimes.

**** Although the term is admittedly cissexist, some feminists, often including myself, choose the alternate term, Dick Culture, that emphasizes the hegemonic nature of the cis white man (and his dick), and which emphasizes that rape is one terrible consequence of a system of hegemony that causes many, many ills to society.

***** And it’s no coincidence that a woman is leading the recall campaign.

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So Done With Primaries Rancor

I feel a little badly complaining about this. I mean, the Democratic Party candidates for President are really good. And the majority of the debate is really civil. Whereas, on the Republican side, when anyone actually has anything interesting to say, it’s a rare exception to the rule of foolishness. A really rare exception to the rule of foolishness. Like, I don’t know that anyone has said anything interesting yet. Some of them haven’t said anything interesting in their whole lives.

I wrote last year about how I finally joined the Democratic Party and exited a lifetime of being a self-declared (and practicing) independent. This was a work in progress – a year ago, I wasn’t ready to make this kind of commitment, but a few months later, I was ready. Although I still value tremendously the local options to work across the aisle (they seem fewer and further between in Washington), I’ve generally thrown my voice in with those who are focused on being “all in” for whomever wins the nomination.

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More of this and less bickering, please. Because this? Kind of melts my heart. Source: Whitehouse.gov

To be fair, primaries have traditionally been hard for me. I didn’t really have a strongly held opinion even by the early summer of the year Mr. Obama was first elected, although when I saw the elderly ladies in Chicago waiting for the bus with Obama tees over their dresses, I kind of fell in love with that. In fact, again, this time, I did enjoy getting to learn the positive side of how Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders make people excited about our country, and I think probably in the end I am more swayed in my ultimate decision by how the candidates move the Americans all around me and stir them to make this a better country, than the relatively fine points of the differences between the two of them in policies or views.

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For a while, there was some really wonderful role modeling going on, here. (Source: NPR)

For a while, I likewise enjoyed the debate process, because it showed that Democrats can be civil and fierce at the same time. It didn’t teach me anything much that I didn’t already know about the candidates, but I liked the conversation the debates engendered, and I learned things from that conversation.

That’s maybe something I’ve learned, very slowly, about myself. I have strongly held opinions on all kinds of things, and I think about all kinds of ideas all the time, and about how to solve all kinds of problems, but the thing I personally value the most is how people feel. A president who can help make Americans feel like heroes and help us get back to acting like heroes is what I want, more than anything. Because I think there’s so much more hero in so many more people than they realize, and leadership is about helping them embrace the truth about themselves. I want to be a heroine, and I want to live in a world full of heroes and heroines.

With respect to the Primary process, though, we’ve gone past the point where we’re doing much of that.

Over the past several weeks, I have simply gotten sick of what is left. I’ve gotten sick of the bickering and the posturing and the attacking. It’s not that I want to keep Democrats poised to attack Republicans … it’s that I think we have an immense amount of work to do — I think there are many ways in which this is a pivotal election, and things could go good, or they could go crazy bad. I’ve gotten to the point where we’re not really building people up anymore, we’re just trying to bully people to get them to endorse “our” candidate. And I’m just not interested in tearing other progressives down.

So I’m done…

Done with the BernieBros.
Done with the BernieBashers.
Done with questioning someone’s feminism because they say, “I’m with her.”
Done with questioning someone’s feminism because they “feel the Bern.”
Done with arguing about whose campaign team is cheating whom.
Done with questioning speakers’s fees.
Done with pulling out LGBT rights histories and measuring them like they’re, you know.
Done with criticizing Millenial voters for being young and dumb.
Done with criticizing women of the second wave for wanting a woman in the White House.
Done with disputing whether Mr. Sanders was active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Done with questioning whether Ms. Clinton is all about the Benjamins.

SO done.

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My vote is in there. I promise, you guys. Please vote. Your voice matters, even if you use it privately.

I have to vote by absentee ballot, which is actually the first time I’ve ever done this, and thank you to my friends at the Michigan Democratic Party for helping me through the process. And I’m not going to talk about who I endorsed in here, although obviously, it wasn’t any of the Republican buffoons. I did something like this once before, when it came to using my own life as an education into HIV prevention, and I ended my article by noting that I got tested, but my results were none of your business.

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I love this, every time I see it (and I get to be reminded of it thankfully often). Source: sisterhoodnotcisterhood on Tumblr

Here it goes again. I endorsed one of the two of them. I’m not going to tell you which. The way things are right now, I feel like this is the radicalest thing I can do, and you know I love being radicaler and radicaler (and I still love neologisms).  I’m not making this choice because I’m better than anyone. I get into fights, and I have to make pledges to myself not to pick fights — not in the sisterhood, and not in the Democratic Party. My call to other Democrats: please, please, engage in the rest of the Primary Season, and then really, really engage after that. Be proud, if you’re a strong supporter of either candidate. But just like we must protect our sisters, let’s keep our eyes on making a stronger country, and a stronger Party, and a little less on being right or beating other Democrats.

 

Maybe It’s Time I Became an Openly Progressive Woman

I think it might be time I change my perspective on something. I have never affiliated myself directly with a political party – I’ve always been an independent. I’ve voted for many Democrats, especially at the national level, but I’ve cast votes for many Republicans, as well, often at the state and local levels*. I’ll always vote for the best person (ideally the best woman) for the job, but I think it’s time I sacrifice a little bit of my fiercely independent nature and pull in closer to the Sisterhood.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the first Women’s Health & Economic Summit, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Progressive Caucus, and particularly Democratic women from the State House. I had been quietly getting to know progressive women here in West Michigan, over the past year, in part because I see very clearly the war on women, on black and Hispanic people, on the LGBT community, and, all too often, on common sense. I do not wish to roll the clock back even farther, and I am keenly aware of the risk the next few cycles of elections holds for all of us.

I walked in on the event, yesterday, with some concern, which was not entirely unfounded. I am a businesswoman who has a very strong sense of entrepreneur identity. I work at a mid-size non-profit (Hope Network, which has a financial size of more than $100M in revenues), and I innovate there. We’re doing things now that have never been done at Hope before, and we already have in our cache the next, next, and next levels of what we’re trying to do (and are prepping the old guard to be very, very afraid). Some people also call those of us who are entrepreneurs “in the big box” intrepreneurs, and I do like that, too, although my businesswoman identity is tied into pro-social innovation, not the big box, so social entrepreneur is probably what I like best. Anyways, as I walked in the door worried that I would not be welcome as a businesswoman, even though we know how many progressive women are small business owners.

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Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), a hometown sister, delivering her statements early in the day.

I was a little right. In the Q&A following a morning panel, two people used their opportunity to ask questions to attack entrepreneurs and providers and everyone else who serves in the healthcare industry. While there is some validity to their point, I felt personally attacked by this, because it’s what I do, and although there is a great need for structural reform (for which I myself advocate, in fact, I advocate unhesitatingly for a transition to a single payer system, to, in essence, doing what works in many other parts of the world, rather than practicing American Exceptionalism), I do not believe in an attacking dialog on this, and especially not one in which there is no room even for healthcare providers to have voices.

Intersectionalism runs deep – this is not a claim to my identity, just a statement of fact. It’s the whole point of intersectionalism. I cannot put away the fact of my Indianness. I cannot ignore the fact that, during my lifetime, although Mr. Obama is a noteworthy exception, every time there has been a Democrat in the White House, relationships with India have become jingoistic on the American side, leading to cooling of bilateral cooperation and adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of my family. I have, nonetheless, supported all the Democrats who tried to get there, during my adult life, starting with hand-delivering get-out-the-vote information for Bill Clinton when I was a senior in high school. In this same sort of way, and perhaps more saliently to me, because my identity as a businesswoman is probably stronger than my identity as an Indian (for better and worse), I can’t put away my belief in economic empowerment through business development when I enter progressive spaces.

I want to back up a step, though. Before that happened, when I walked in the door, people immediately recognized and welcomed me (and I wasn’t really sure there would even be many people I knew). I didn’t have to give my name. My friend, Amber, at the check-in station, already knew it. Representatives and activists came and made me feel welcome. Right away. This is pretty much what happens, time and time again, when I enter the spaces of my feminist sisters. It is frequently not what happens when I enter LGBT spaces**. And it’s something I’ve been listening to, thinking more and more about how I need to embrace my feminist roots, and my feeling that there is some structural mis-alignment (as exemplified by my giving) that over-represents my LGBT identity and underrepresents my feminist identity, when the latter is one I have been clear is much stronger for me. That is, my strongest identity of all is that of being a woman, of being a Sister.

So I did not walk in the door feeling unwelcomed – I walked in the door feeling very welcomed, at home, where I belong. This is a thing I’ll come back to, please bear with me. If the moment I described above validated my fears, they were subsequently invalidated by the rest of the day. I attended two great panels that were about empowering women economically.

The morning session I attended was music to my ears, talking about the value women bring to workforce development, and the many shared goals women of all ages and millennials bring to the workplace. The things with which we will change the world. We talked about fighting sexism, recognizing implicit biases in the workplace that harm women (and minorities), and building a workspace that meets the changing needs of the workforce as women and millennials come to dominate.

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Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) speaking at a morning panel about women and the strength we bring to workforce development

One of my goals is to integrate my life even more – I want to live my career, whether my current role as Director of my Center for Autism, or future ones, in a deeply feminist way. So we’ve been tackling a lot of these issues at the Center. And it’s tricky. I find my millennial leadership team members, amazingly, afraid to ask me if they can bring their young children into work due to a sudden issue with childcare. At my Center where we grow the lives and dreams of young children. In part, they’re scared because, technically, this is against our corporate policy. I respond (and HR may deal with me as they wish) by reminding my leadership team, gently, that they set an example of how to work with the families we serve, who are dealing with the same exact problems, and that of course they should bring their children in, and of course I trust their judgment in the matter. They do not need to say that dedication to their jobs will not be adversely impacted by their children paying occasional visits to my Center. I knew that already.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

The rest of the day was much like that. Rashida Tlaib, alongside whom I spoke last year at Lady Parts‘ V to Shining V, received an award at lunch and delivered an impassioned and remarkably funny speech. Particularly impactful to me was her story of breastfeeding at the State Legislature and something atrocious a man had said to her, emphasizing that no matter how high we climb, we are still sexualized and objectified and well, treated like women. It mirrored something in passing that another Representative had said, which emphasized how women who are running the State still find themselves running home to cook meals for their families, much like I do.

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Rashida Tlaib of Sugar Law Center being fierce. It’s kind of what she does.

One more thing that resonated with me is how many of the women in the House spoke about how influential women in their communities had told them to run for office time and time gain – sometimes more than ten different women had told them this – before they listened. This has actually happened to me more than a few times in the last year, and at least two women I respect immensely have told me to do it. I need to think much more carefully about this, as I learn about what it is that I don’t know (which is kind of a lot) about the business of running for office. I think I worry, too, that I may not be electable, and that if I ran, I would be taking up attention that another politician deserves – taking up too much space. I don’t know if the former is really founded, because I have so many people in my life who are willing to support me. And I got a good dose of reminder that the latter is how entirely too many of us women think, entirely too often.

This is where I want to leave this story. I think it’s time that I think much more critically about my sense of need for independence, and the extent to which that’s a show, pretend, vs. my really deep-seated sense of Sisterhood, loyalty, and alliance. I need to question the implicit assumptions I have that Progressives and Democrats are anti-business. I need to listen to my heart, that tells me when I’m among progressive women, I belong more than I have ever belonged. I need to listen to my brain, which tells me that women are in a perilous time right now, and solidarity is more important than ever. And I need to listen to my voice, which tells me, sister, you’re stronger than you think you are, and you have more to say than you give yourself credit for. And I will listen. To all three.

* I do own my regret that some of the Republicans for whom I voted did what I wanted as a businesswoman but turned around and sided away from business interests, with social conservatives, when politically convenient, to the detriment both of women and of the LGBT community. While I’m a dimensional, non-single-voter issue, this is a compromise I recognize that I made, in the past, without full appreciation of the consequences, and I am trying to learn better.

** Although even in that story, Christina Karhl and her wife waylaid us for a drink and were one of the shining spots in that awful night.

Utilization Management and Trans Healthcare

This is a quick post – I posted the following comments in response to a post by Trans-Ponder on Facebook. They, in turn, posted an article by Alyssa Jackson for CNN, “The high cost of being transgender.” Since my comment was longish, I wanted to preserve it here on my blog (so, like some other recent posts, this is one of those “too long to just leave as a FB reply” posts).

Let me start by saying that I am unequivocally for a future (1) where a wide variety of trans experiences are embraced, and (2) where transition related healthcare (e.g., therapy, hormones or other medications, and surgical interventions) that some (not all) trans people choose is readily available to trans people irrespective of their socioeconomic status. My basis for a belief in a future of this kind is first, and foremost, because trans people are and have been around for a long time, and society needs to get used to it. Second, transition related healthcare is clearly safe and effective (viz. this and this and this and this and a million other reviews and studies, including the extensive data synthesized in WPATH’s position).

I am, for better or worse, also a healthcare expert, and I’ve been involved in discussions of making changes to reimbursability and enhancing access to services for underserved populations (in my day world of preschoolers with autism – I don’t provide trans healthcare). This doesn’t make me a leading expert in this conversation, although I know many of the leading experts, and I’ve talked with most of them about all this in some depth. It’s noteworthy, to me, as well, that none of them are quoted in this article, and that HRC, NCTE, and other leading voices that have done and synthesized the healthcare utilization research, are not quoted, either, in the context of cost, although relevant voices are quoted in the context of risk, e.g., with respect to suicide in our people.

The CNN article includes some real-world reports of trans people and their healthcare choices, although it only includes examples that appear to be significantly above the typical (e.g., +/- 1SD) spend for transition related healthcare.

The CNN article includes some real-world reports of trans people and their healthcare choices, although it only includes examples that appear to be significantly above the typical (e.g., +/- 1SD) spend for transition related healthcare.

From a healthcare utilization / healthcare sustainability standpoint, there’s a lot of problematic content in this article. The large (it quotes $140,450 for trans women and $124,400 for trans men) estimates cited in the article are for combinations of procedures that almost no patient ever chooses – note that the Philadelphia center cited for this data includes a wide variety of services, including blepharoplasty and rhinoplasty for trans men*. It appears to achieve its totals by literally adding every procedure together, even when these procedures cannot be done in conjunction. For instance, it adds the fee for an upper and lower blepharoplasty to the fee for a single, upper or lower blepharoplasty – this doesn’t make any sense – the second, lower fee is included in the list for someone who needs / chooses to only have one pair of eyelids, the upper or lower, done, and not the other. It likewise, for trans men, combines the costs of three different chest reconstructive procedures that all achieve the same outcome, and likewise, different, alternative bottom surgery procedures for trans men (that is, in each of these respective cases, any given man can do one of these things, but not all of them at the same time).

This is important because the figures cited in this work (which is on CNN, and thus has the potential to garner a lot of attention as well as remain part of the conversation over time) are starkly in contrast with data gathered in a rigorous manner by the people who’ve been most invested in moving us to the kind of future I want. Let’s start with San Francisco, the first US city to offer trans health care to all residents.

Note that the 2001-2006 San Francisco data had methodological limitations with respect to the per claimant spend (that is, they didn’t know how many unique claimants there were across the five year period, because they didn’t know how many claimants had also been a claimant in a prior year), but the reasonable median estimate was around $25k per claimant over five years, and the high estimate was $64k, well below the $75k cap imposed** in that model program. This is consistent with the long-term, multi-source data that converges on the result that the cost per covered life for an insurance plan (or employer) is very low (figures come out at in the neighborhood of $0.17 per covered life), as long as there is a medium or larger group of covered lives. The cost in San Francisco’s case, when they went through the first wave of making access available to the city’s own employees, was so low, that they famously stopped collecting an offset surcharge because they didn’t need the money.

We live in a world where, one way or another, care is utilization managed. I’m all for flexibility that allows for serving rare cases where transition related health costs are very high. More to the point, $25k is still out of reach for a large segment of the population – for instance the recent NYT article from a couple of days ago cites the median net worth of 18-34 year-olds as just $10,400, making the difference between $25,000 or $30,000 total costs and the unrealistic figures purported by CNN really irrelevant to an affordability conversation.

Similarly, when one looks at other successful attempts to systematically change access, such as the success we’ve had providing ABA therapy to children with autism (which I mentioned because I’ve been directly involved, in my small way), family costs of $25,000-50,000 are generally accepted by the public and by legislators as costs that “most Americans” cannot bear. So, we don’t need inflated estimates suggesting that trans people are commonly spending $80,000 or $150,000 on services, to win the coverage we want to see, both because people don’t have the smaller amounts of money, to begin with, and, importantly, everybody gets that.

The contrary risk is simple: the higher we make these costs out, especially when not borne out by data, the more reticent stakeholders will be to make these important changes.

With respect to reasonably feasible alternatives, outside of very large, high profit industries (the kind already scoring 100 on the CEI and already providing access to care), the alternative also, we have to consider, is an alternative that somehow tries to measure “objectively” the basis, e.g., on pre-procedure dysphoria level for the patient, and that kind of gatekeeping is deeply problematic for the trans community as well as for our providers. The last thing we want is a system where trans people have to be miserable (or pretend to be miserable if, like me, they are really happy) in order to access services. But if we walk into this argument citing astronomical cost bases, I am very concerned that this is where we might end up.

As the public, a lot of my friends believe firmly in a “no gatekeeping” model. But, the reality is that medical care provided in a congregate funding model – Medicaid, Medicare, insurance, universal health care systems like NHS, hybrid public/private systems – is gatekeeped in one way or another. Although the reality is that the biggest cost drivers, especially in the developed world, are not things like trans healthcare (or autism or any other area where we’re fighting for access), but “boring” things – note that in this review of nine drivers of increasing American healthcare costs, the only disease / problem / disorder / population centric things that even make the list are “lifestyle” diseases (being gay isn’t a lifestyle disease – this is talking about the effects of things like sedentary lifestyle, bad diet, smoking, etc.) and end-of-life care. Nonetheless, it’s flashier to pretend like extending healthcare to critical, impactful areas like trans healthcare (which can prevent the staggering loss to suicide in our population and which clearly provides improved quality of life) is the problem. And this is politics – it isn’t about what’s right, but about what’s perceived.

So let’s tell our story clearly, and not misrepresent our situation in a way that reduces our likelihood of getting the help we need.

*  I don’t even know an example of someone choosing those procedures as part of transition, for instance, as a trans man – I’m not saying it isn’t done, but I’ve never met a trans man who had these procedures done as part of transition, and I have been paying attention, both so that I am generally a better advocate and an ally, and of course because I am rather engaged to marry a trans man, myself.

** In fairness, it is worth noting that median and mean figures belie ranges. They are still important – because when you are looking at large groups of insured people, one must estimate actual costs in a given year across the entire population, and these costs can be used to effectively make these estimations. The range does vary, and this is important with respect to how these access policies are set up. And back to fairness, one should note at this point that San Francisco initially capped services at $50,000 and then moved the cap up to $75,000.

Embracing Imperfection while Celebrating the Pursuit of Liberty

Celebration of American independence must always have been fraught with complexity and inner turmoil. Our forebears sought a response to the British tyranny of that era, but, having spent all their days as subjects of that crown, they could not have had much knowledge of what life without tyranny might mean*. Our forebears sought to create a “more perfect union,” but they did not create a perfect union, nor have we perfected it with any of the changes we made, in the more than 200 years of our nation.

Harper's Weekly Covering the triumph of the passage of the 13th Amendment. Source: LOC

Harper’s Weekly Covering the triumph of the passage of the 13th Amendment. Source: LOC

We have certainly tried. We have tried through giving voting rights to the landless, the abolition of slavery, reconstruction of the South following the Civil War, women’s suffrage, our many attempts to improve our immigration system, affirmative action, hate crime statutes, and other attempts to reduce the harms of racism, the granting of choice to women, our steps to make sure all may access health care, and most recently, marriage equality and other steps to enfranchise the LGBT community. These have all made our land a better and freer land. Sometimes, they were unalloyed good. More often, they were imperfect attempts.

It cannot - must not - be a sign of our patriotism that we pretend that our errors were right or justified, or that we fail to analyze the weaknesses in our values and actions that led us to commit injustice. Source: Wikimedia

It cannot – must not – be a sign of our patriotism that we pretend that our errors were right or justified, or that we fail to analyze the weaknesses in our values and actions that led us to commit injustice. Source: Wikimedia

Certainly, we have failed, too, and failed not just by doing too little, but failed by refusing to do what was good and just, and by actively pursuing what was and is wrong. Failed in our treatment of Native Americans. Failed, time and time again, in our response to hate crimes, even with all the statutes we’ve put in place. Failed the Tuskegee Airmen. Failed to guarantee equal rights to women. Failed in fighting unjust wars. Failed in our reckless pursuit of the imprisonment of vulnerable populations. Failed in our systemic and reckless increasing of economic disparity. Failed in our inability to lead the world in life expectancy, and not for want of throwing money at the challenge**. Failed in our approach to terrorism. Failed by creating classes of people whose rights we refuse to recognize and pretending that this is good or true.

Interestingly, when this video is shared on Facebook, where I originally saw it, the first minute or so is usually clipped. It’s good, but it’s actually way better with that additional context.

At times and in places, we have led, do lead, and most certainly will be leading the world. At times we have followed. At times we have not only not led or merely followed, but we have ignored the wisdom in proof of better ways embraced by other lands. I was at a wonderful party, last night. A friend mentioned in passing that she had, to her embarrassment, largely ceded the idea of patriotism to extreme conservativism. We talked about how this had come to happen – because I see it in so many people in the Sisterhood, and in other movements of which I am part. How did we come to think that wearing red, white, and blue is patriotic, shooting off loud fireworks is patriotic, but making this country a better place is not patriotic? I ask because so many of the people in my life, these days, are in the nonprofit sector (and in for-profit pursuits) that are actively focused on making the world a better place. I have friends who do this by making sure all Americans can have homes. I have friends who do this by making sure all women can be safe from domestic violence and that all women can have access to healthcare. I have more than a few friends who do this by trying to bring the Autism Revolution. And most of them are cautious about embracing the concept of patriotism.

I quipped that the situation is much like my relationship with organized Christianity, as an openly, proudly, authentically LGBT person. How did it come to be, that if I see a verse from the Bible – even, and often, Jesus proclaiming radical love for all, starting with the self – my mind instantly and rightly goes to fears that this person may be aggressive or even violent? When did Christianity*** become this vessel for hate and this bully pulpit for intolerance, instead of love? This situation is much the same about American patriotism – it is presumed now to be an attitude of haughty tyranny over the rest of the world, secured with our advanced army, our nuclear weapons, our economic might, and now even drones. It is predicated on the idea that we are perfect, that our union is perfect, and that it is our right to rule by force over others. It is, in short, and much as Christianity today is frequently striving to be everything Jesus exhorted against, modern American patriotism is, all too often, everything the dream of our forebears, to live in freedom, to be brave, was not.

We do not know full well the minds of early American heroes or heroines, like our sister Sybil Ludington, or even our even our sisters like Julia Ward Howe, who left behind a lot more of their thoughts in their words and speeches, but it does rather seem that they did not see bravery as something relegated only to soldiers, but rather, as a fundamental American virtue.

We do not know full well the minds of early American heroes or heroines, like our sister Sybil Ludington, or even our even our sisters like Julia Ward Howe, who left behind a lot more of their thoughts in their words and speeches, but it does rather seem that they did not see bravery as something relegated only to soldiers, but rather, as a fundamental American virtue.

And beyond just recognizing the tremendous injustice of this, how do we take back the night?

Certainly a great claim to patriotism lays at the feet of all the men and women who have fought, shown valor in combat, have risked and sometimes met death on the battlefield. Although I love peace, and I never myself served in this way, I recognize the need for their bravery, and I celebrate it. I do not see a contradiction between my love for peace and my love for our service-members. The two enhance each other. But I also recognize that, alongside these brave souls, countless other Americans are, everyday, fighting to make this country great, and even if they do not risk untimely death, in dedicating their entire lives to this country, they, too, ultimately die in service of it.

In this light, it seems, to me, deeply unpatriotic to me to recognize this day by mere waving of a flag, by engagement in braggadocio, to make idle claims that our country is the best in the world by birthright and as a privilege, and not a country that can be the best in the world because we make it so. In short, it seems deeply unpatriotic to me to recognize this day in any way other than to say that I love this country sufficiently well that I am willing to live and die to make it great, and that I do not merely offer this service as a hypothetical, but I engage in it, every day.

What I am asking you, today, is to consider changing your approach of shying away from the conversation around patriotism. To tell the truth, if you are one of us, in trenches or lofty estates, fighting every day to make this country great, patriotism will do no good to our mighty flag until you are an open and proud patriot. Your patriotism must not mean that you ignore the imperfections in our union, or that you do not fight to make this union more perfect, but rather precisely that you study and learn these imperfections, and you devote your life to righting them as best you know how.

And, although we can, should, must – always – be mindful of the sacrifices so many soldiers and others have made around and before us, so that we could live in the land of the free, we must recognize that living in the home of the brave is not a privilege granted to us by their sacrifice, but a sacrifice demanded of each of us, every day of our lives. In that recognition rises the great hope of this most unlikely of nations that we call home. In that way, declaration of independence becomes not a static event  some 239 years ago but a living call to arms to all of our people. And that is patriotism.

* I argue previously that this conception is much better than the currently widely accepted tradition of interpreting, for instance, Rousseau, as making a claim that freedom is innate and that we know how to be free, instinctually, but get tricked into chains. No, freedom is a technology, and is the most shining innovation humanity has created. There is also great danger in engaging in a presentist attitude that the “founding fathers” (or Jesus, or anybody) would think precisely like I do about freedom, or about anything. However, our forebears – not just Washington and Franklin, but many, many more of them – clearly did conceptualize governance as being a thing in which one actively participated, not a thing done to one. They saw freedom as a thing not just worth believing in, but worth thinking about, meditating on, advocating for, and yes, fighting and risking their lives for.

** We are, embarrassingly, not only not first, but thirty fourth in WHO’s ranking of some 200+ states.

*** Christianity as an organized entity, or as many organized entities. Not Jesus – I have commented on this in great detail, already.

Re-Thinking Privilege and Visibility in The Trans Community: How Solidarity and Advocacy Can Make The World Safe for All of Us

I gave this speech as the keynote address for the 2014 West Michigan Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Gathering of Hope, tonight. 

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Some of the dedicated people who volunteered their time to make this event happen

FullSizeRender 3I get to stand up alongside some amazing talent in my advocacy role

Thank you so much for allowing me to speak to you, and thank you to all our allies for being here tonight. This is a special night for our community. Even nationally, we don’t have a lot of spaces that belong just to trans people. Because of this, we very rarely have opportunities to welcome you into our space. But tonight, I’m borrowing Pastor Doug’s (and, well, Teri’s and my) church and appropriating it as “our space” (Sorry, Pastor!). So, I do want to take a moment to welcome you all into a space that belongs to trans people. If you’re one of my trans siblings, you belong here. Tonight, this is your space. Yours in which you should be proud of whom and what you are, yours in which you should hold your head up high, yours in which you should demand that you be seen and counted and recognized. And, if you’re here as an ally, for this one rare time, please let us welcome you into our space. You belong here, too. Because trans people are people, and people don’t stand alone, and you are our community.

Now, what I’m about to say may make some of you uncomfortable – but I would feel wrong if I didn’t say it. The thought behind it made me uncomfortable, for a long time. I also think you, like me, will be better for being uncomfortable. Chad Griffin is the CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, probably the biggest LGBT advocacy organization in the world. He came to Southern Comfort Conference a few months ago, to apologize to our community for HRC’s historic missteps towards us. HRC kind of owed us that apology. When Chad did that, he started by acknowledging his privilege.

I want to do the same. I want to acknowledge the stark contrast between my life and the lives of the siblings we are here today to mourn. Where many of them were impoverished and more than a few experienced homelessness, I have always had a warm bed to sleep in, and enough money to pay for everything I needed and a fair amount of what I wanted. Where many of them were estranged from their families, my parents have been so good to me, and if not perfectly understanding of what it’s like to be me, open to trying. My father said, “I don’t know why you came to ask me if I accept you – of course I accept you, you’re my child.” My mother said, “If anybody in the family has a problem with you, they’ll have to come through me,” and she’s as fierce as I aspire to be, so I wouldn’t mess with her. Where many of them were cut off from their communities, I should acknowledge that I live in a world of talking business over lunch or after-dinner drinks (or, sometimes, brunch!). Far from losing anyone in either my personal or professional community through transitioning, my social network has only grown and strengthened. Far from losing recognition for my expertise in autism, I gained recognition now also for my role in the LGBT community. And where many of our siblings were seen as what the police protected “us” from, I am able to generally assume, when I see a police officer, that they are there to protect and serve me. Their presence makes me feel more, not less safe. I want to come clean about all of this. I don’t want to stand up here and ignore how I do not face many of the risks that felled our siblings – 268 in the last year, I think that’s 12% more than last year.

I want to come clean about the disparity between me having about as good an experience transitioning here in West Michigan as anyone has, anywhere, and the siblings, not just out there, but right here, who struggle with a lack of acceptance or access to resources, and of course, the siblings who paid the ultimate sacrifice, just for being what God made them. We live in an intersectional world. Some of us live at the intersection of multiple forms of marginalization, that make it harder to live authentically, harder to be accepted, harder to survive. And some of us live at the intersection of multiple forms of privilege, that make even challenging life experiences, like transitioning, something through which we not only survive, but thrive. That’s privilege. Mostly, I didn’t earn it. It’s just a matter of luck.

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Look at me, getting all fierce

Of course, that’s not the whole story. It’s just a starting point, to challenge you to think differently about how we go farther in getting the world to accept us, in getting our needs taken seriously, and in finally seeing a world where freedom is a right and not a matter of being “one of the lucky ones.” For ALL trans people. To get, there, we need to re-think our use of privilege and visibility. They need to become not just something for which we apologize, or about which we are bashful, but weapons that we will use to win this thing.

So, while I respect that each of us must make choices that are best for them – we cannot build the revolution on anyone’s back – I do want to push you to think differently about being visible. When I was coming out, I knew that I couldn’t be “stealth” in my profession. I’m in a small technical field. Even if I moved to Texas, too many people in my field know me. I could not have been stealth in my profession. But I could have been stealth, in my community, in Texas or some other far-flung place. I thought about this, after I started transitioning, and before my story became public. For a moment. I chose not to leave. Not just because I love Grand Rapids – I do – but because not being stealth gave me an opportunity to be a little more fearless as an advocate. I had a little less to lose. Plus, I don’t really know any other place to wear my heart other than my sleeve. Everybody who knows me knows that.

If you’re a trans person in the room, and you’re engaged in professional or other leadership spaces, especially, you’re kind of used to something that’s new to me, over the four months or so since I went “full time.” You get used to the times when, over and over again, you sit at a table, or speak up in a conversation, or stand up in front of a crowd, and you realize that you are boldly going where no trans person has gone before. And you get used to the sense that there are a million other times when you’re doing that, and you didn’t even realize it. When we go into those spaces and we own them – we stand tall, and proud, and fierce, and we stare down anyone who stares at us, or we throw them a dismissive smile – our visibility makes it easier for the next trans person, and the next trans person, and the next. Even when they hate us, your visibility helps us, because it outs the hate. And when you look around this room, you realize that we have lots of different kinds of visibilities. Some of us are visible with our faces. Some of us are visible with our voices. We are visible by our presence. You are visible just by gathering here tonight. All of you have one kind of visibility or another.

And what about our privilege? Right here, in Grand Rapids, the LGBT community and our allies, we raised more than $280,000 in pledges and donations for Our LGBT Fund. In less than four months. Trans people are represented at that table – as donors and as leaders in the Fund. We are being vocal about our needs and our expectations as we begin the process of prioritizing what we can do with this new source of funding, so that we make sure that trans people are represented at that table as recipients of the supports this funding will bring, as well. Money is one kind of privilege that gets us to the the table. It’s a privilege the trans community is hesitant to mobilize, although today, even small contributions to causes, when added up, can make a difference and emphasize our role in changing things.

But money is just one privilege. Connections, cultivated friendships, opportunities you’ve had to develop skills or prestige, all these privileges are currency in a very real way. That currency helps us get a seat at those tables. But, we choose to be at those tables, because it’s important to make sure we have a voice in the conversation. What I want to challenge you with, tonight, is that we have more privileges than we realize. Some of you work for large corporations. Some of you have privilege by membership in an ethnic group or social class. Many of you have privilege that education brings. Again, when you look around this room, you realize that we have lots of different kinds of privileges. Those privileges, when we lord them over each other, when we use them to build a wall between us and our community, become terrible. But when we we leverage those privileges to make the world a better place for trans people, they can be redeemed.

You can see this – leveraging privilege and visibility – writ large these days. And you don’t even have to look outside our own trans community. I came out in a time of Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Kristin Beck, and Chaz Bono. Their use of privilege and visibility to advance trans acceptance and inclusion – especially leveraging their talents in something other than being trans – made it easier for me. Honestly, they’re kind of hard to argue with. Kristin is like a real-life G.I. Joe character. Laverne had what started as a small role in Orange Is The New Black and kind of stole the show, and not because she was trans, but because she’s an amazing actress and has a warm, lovable personality. And Janet is inspiring as an example about how to be graceful and real, at the same time, for anyone (myself certainly included). And Chaz? Well, I guess I just wish I could dance like Chaz can! Each one of them, in their coming out, made a choice to be visible. They made a choice to leverage their privileges – whether talent or name or appearance or connections – to advance our cause. Those of you who are here as allies, who maybe only know one trans person, who haven’t had the opportunity to be in a space where we’re the majority, you may not know just how many more stories there are, out there, like Kristin’s, Chaz’s, Janet’s, or Laverne’s. You may not know just how awe-inspiring the talent level is when you get a room of trans people together. But you trans people in the room, you know better. All that talent, if we focus it on changing the world for us, can be powerful in changing our perception as a community. So, this is how privilege and talent become weapons.

In the days to come, we’re going to need those weapons. We’re going to need to get uncomfortable, because this is war. So I’m calling on you to ask – how and where are you willing to be visible? And will you think again about the privileges you have and how you can use them in this fight? In a world where so many of you have done so much to advance the cause of marriage equality, we’ve got a lot to do to teach the rest of the LGBT community that “it ain’t a party if I ain’t invited” (even though we’ve always been here). In a world where we need so many candles to mourn our dead, we need to hold accountable the people who have the gall to say we’re “fully protected” already and that our state’s civil rights amendment doesn’t need to include us (this isn’t hypothetical – we need your help on this right now). And in a world where people still call us unnatural, in contradiction to scientific evidence and common sense, we need to teach people the truth – what our friends know already: that the colors are brighter, the laughter more joyous, the songs more cheerful, and the world so much better, when our community embraces us.

My Open Letter to The Mayor

An open letter to Mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids.

I personally have been blessed, aside from the benefit of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, with overwhelming support, acceptance, and graciousness from my community. I transitioned at work in a Christian non-profit in Grand Rapids, and there is really no company of any size or place in the world where my transition could have gone better than here. But we’re not all this lucky. Many LGBT people do struggle with housing or employment, and are pushed to choose between being authentic and true to themselves, and being able to live, love, and work in Michigan. Many highly talented LGBT people leave Michigan for this very reason – and I know many of these stories personally as well as many more who consider leaving the state every day.

See more over on our blog at The Network!

Calling Out Transphobia … Less?

I think it might behoove us to pick our battles, and respond with a smile and a sense of humor, sometimes. I hope that this doesn’t make me Sheryl Sandberg, and I am not trying to make the “Lean In for Queers” point here.

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If I were doing Lean In for queers, I would tell you to man up.
I seem like the least sensible person in the universe
to be telling anyone to man up, particularly
as I continue the process of, well, manning down

I talk about misogyny, but you’ll notice that, so far, I don’t use the term transphobia much in this blog. It’s a real thing. It can make it illegal to use restrooms, deprive us of work, and in some cases, kill us. Part of being a connected queer is attacking this miasma of phobia by giving people a chance to know who we are, rather than hiding in the shadows and letting hatemongers do the public describing of us.

But, on Facebook, I found myself with … less of value to say on the whole topic of Jared Leto and Dallas Buyers’ Club (to be honest I haven’t gotten around to seeing it, but I think it’s in RedBox). I noticed I wasn’t the only trans woman with mixed feelings (Jenny Boylan, as always, brings a lovely balance of insight, perspective, and humor to this). More in my case, it’s a balance of being a person who just can’t hate anything or anyone if I see some small amount of good in them, and that I’m also a very live-and-let-live kind of woman. I don’t talk about transphobia that much on Facebook, either. Especially, I don’t talk about the million and one jokes that I find mildly distasteful, even though feminist scholars are increasingly studying some of this kind of behavior as “micro-aggression.” My point really is that we as a community are spending way too much time cataloging every micro-aggression and calling out everyone from Jesus Christ to Ellen Degeneres out for transphobia. Enough is too much. I’m not oops-shaming people who have chosen to be allies when they say something for which I don’t care. (Do ya like oops-shaming? I’ll also drop in a link to this great blog about abusing the word shaming in the women’s blogging world).

It’s not that I always find these jokes funny. When I can, I do gentle education. But, among my favorite movies, the ones where I know the lines by heart, I choose (yes, choose) to overlook humor I find mildly distasteful. Love, Actually has an unfortunate joke about hiring prostitutes for a bachelor party and how it “turned out they were men.” Music & Lyrics has a comment where the main character criticizes musicians for “wearing panties.” Because of my prism of gender experience as a trans person, I don’t care for these jokes. I still love these movies. I’ve been watching Love, Actually at least once a year for a decade now, and I don’t really ever watch movies even twice anymore. And Hugh Grant dancing is just fundamentally funny (& a little sexy).

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Hugh Grant characters are sexy, but if I ever actually had a real
relationship with a man, I would take pretty much any
character Colin Firth ever played. So there, I’m even giving him
more than the usual 300pix width, because yum

I’m also not really backing down on my principles. I still think exclusionary models of feminism are falsely radical, that they are not real feminism, because they spend more time hating out groups than empowering even the women they do accept as women. I embrace anyone’s right to identify their sexual orientation as they wish, and I think there are some people who are fluid by nature and can “choose” things like the political lesbianism of radical feminism and have it help them be more authentically “them,” but I think the way exclusionary radical feminism uses it runs the danger of being tantamount to the same controlling of women’s bodies and experiences of the patriarchy we’re all supposed to be fighting. As a trans woman in love with a lesbian cis woman, who has more lesbian friends than trans friends, I also find the idea that I hate lesbians absurdist (and you can ask my girlfriend if you want independent verification). These kinds of ideas, which mostly take their roots in third wave feminism organized around the “RadFem” identity (everyone more or less agrees whom and what was in the first two waves of feminism; whether there is a third and a fourth wave, and what constitutes what, are a little more contentious), especially when they are about controlling or excluding women, are dangerous to all women. When I first started coming out, I thought that people who spend all their time fighting “TERFs” and other exclusionary / hate-mongering people hiding under the premise of feminism, were being heroines. The truth to me, now, is that this is a waste of time, much like having debates with “creation scientists” take good people and wastes their time.

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When “feminists” spend their time arguing
about who is and isn’t a woman, and
who is and isn’t a woman worth empowering,
they need to be more radical, not less radical

We need to stand up against major acts of transphobia. Our sisters and brothers must be safe in the world. It is not okay when states try to make it a crime for us to use the restroom, or when it is open season for us to be fired because of our gender identity. And anyone who thinks I am a man (and that a trans man is, absurdly, a woman) is not an ally. But I think we need to shift the balance far, far, in the favor of publicizing strong and talented trans people, trans stories that go beyond the narrative around facial electrolysis and bottom surgery to how trans people are leading their communities, innovating, and living and loving alongside cis people. We need to do mor to help the cis world, including the cis queer world, have some idea of who and what on earth we are. Judging from all the cis people who have gotten to know me and are very loving and accepting, who enjoy my company, and don’t just include me on principle, I think this has to be a primary arm of our approach to building an inclusive world. For me, it’s simply also consistent with who I am – I am way too full of joy to spend all my time complaining.

Along the way, I may need to be held to my own standard, to not let this blog become negativistic. I did feel the need to start by clearing the air on some differences and nuances in perspective compared to other dominant views within trans and queer advocacy. But I need to spend more time being positive and lifting up, more time telling my story, and not be someone who silences her sisters. Please don’t oops-shame me, but I will accept your gentle reminders to be true to myself, and I’ll love you for it.