It's Been One Year

It’s been a year.

One year since I stared at a train bearing down on me, due in moments to pass mere feet from my face. And then, for the first time in my life, I thought not just about how easy it would be to step in front of it – I also thought I wanted to step in front of it.

That thought scared the hell out of me, and I sought help. It was not a quick process, nor an easy one. I left school for two weeks in physicality, and much, much longer in terms of my mental state.

I discussed it a lot then. Suicide is this dark, scary thing that we don’t talk about, and that scared a lot of people. I understand that. Once I realized what discussing it was doing to me, I stopped, too. My need to help others had to give way to my need to survive. It’s in many ways the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. It’s a choice bothered me a lot – and it still does in some ways.

By burying it in darkness and shame we give suicide a power it does not deserve. So many people live with suicidal ideation, live with the knowledge that at one time they considered it an option. And they say nothing. They fear how others will react; as in my case, they fear how they might react. Self-awareness that you at one time considered overriding your basic programming to LIVE is disconcerting at best.

If that seems strange to you, I don’t blame you. It seems strange to me – and I’m one of the people who lives with it. I’ve more than once entertained the notion of suicide in the past year, the past month, the past week...Yes, it was a fleeting one. No, I would never do it.

But here’s the thing: when you’re processing a day of pain you can’t just pretend a certain option isn’t there. It is there now because it was there before – and it will always be. I know that now, and so I live with it. It doesn’t scare me like it used to; in fact it’s my canary in the coal mine.

I’ve discussed with very few people why I spent so much time in the dark places I did last fall. I will not discuss it now, except to say this: It was not because I’m transgender. Was that part of it? It was. But it was more like an accelerant to an already burning fire, or maybe a catalyst. It made worse what was already destroying me, without really changing what was causing me so much pain in the first place.

I’ve come to realize that’s a pretty common thing with transgender people. So many of us that have considered suicide, so many of us that have tried it: Being transgender was not what necessarily defined our pain, but it certainly made it worse. It made it something others might try to be empathetic to, but will never truly understand.

I’ve learned this as a result of my research into transgender people and the reasons they consider taking their own lives. That guilt I live with because I can’t – won’t – discuss it? This is how I keep it at bay. If I cannot write about it, I will study it. I will deal with it in the only way I know how to do so many things these days.

And so I discuss with other transgender people what we often cannot talk about with anyone else. That pain no one else can understand, at least not entirely? We do. That’s one of the reasons I chose to research this pain: so I could better understand my own. A lot of people were worried when I did that; I was one of them – but it’s been a good thing. I’ve learned a lot, some of which might even find its way into my dissertation. And if it doesn’t? Well, that wasn’t really the point, anyway.

I understand now why I call it my “Black Rabbit Hole.” Not because I truly understand everything there is to know about myself. But rather because so many people I’ve talked to describe it in physical terms, too. “The cliff,” “The abyss,” “the brink”: I suppose all of those are kind of the same – and perhaps that’s the point. That so many of us give our pain, the knowledge of our choice, a physical manifestation, is telling. It’s as if it’s something that can only be understood and respected if we can somehow make it tangible, make it real beyond just our own psyches.

I know for me it makes it more manageable, it gives me the belief that just like any gaping maw in the world, I can make sure I don’t fall into it. Yes, I know it’s there, I even peek that way at times; pretending it doesn’t exist is foolish. But I don’t have to fall in to it.

I don’t have to give in. I know that now. Maybe I always did. My research tells me that, too. But that’s for another day.

One thing I can tell you I know, however, is this: None of us come back from that cliff, that black hole. I certainly didn’t. My family, my friends, my school: each of them gave me not just what they could, but everything I needed to make myself whole again. Everything. They are why I am here, and it’s as simple as that.

And there is one person in particular, one place, that saved my life. When I could retreat nowhere else, I retreated there. When no one else could help me face my pain, they did. And when it came back, again and again and again, they were there and gave me the courage to face it. Indeed, it has been particularly brutal these last few weeks, and they’ve helped me face that, too.

The pain I feel is a good thing. It makes me realize I’m not burying it anymore. I’m facing my fears, my regrets, and my decisions with a clarity that only comes with feeling everything you’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny. It’s awful, it’s horrible, and it’s the kind of thing that pulls me closer than I’d like to the Black Rabbit Hole.

But it’s OK. For as surely I know and accept what takes me there, I know what path brings me back. It’s been a remarkable year of illusions shattered, dreams fulfilled, reality clarified, and I’m looking very much forward to the next one.

And may my life continue to be as wonderful as it can be.

Red, Blue & Green

When I moved to Oregon, everyone talked about how green it was. The trees, the flora, even the ocean as the sun shines translucently through a breaking wave on the Oregon coast. That’s my favorite.

Of late, however, green is not the color that predominates my thoughts when I think of Oregon. Not because Oregon isn’t still green. Trust me, when it rains up to 100 inches a year, green is inevitable since it literally grows everywhere. On my porch deck, on the seal around my front-loading washer, on the socks I left outside for 13 minutes last night… but I digress.

No, it’s because like many Americans, I see things in blue and red these days, the colors that by virtue of network TV news have become part of our language. Oregon, of course, is very blue, being a liberal state. States like Texas are very red – and where I’ve spent the last two weeks.

Now, being from a blue state, it’s very simple to describe what I predominantly hear about red states: that they are highly conservative, and full of people with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. Needless to say, they are not known as particularly LGBT-friendly places. Let’s face it, Ted Cruz is not the kind of person I’d want representing me.

Here’s the funny thing, though: about 50 percent of Texas doesn’t seem to want Cruz to represent them, either. He’s currently neck-and-neck in the polls with “Beto,” the Democratic party candidate for U.S. Senate. Until I stood in front of a hundred of his supporters in the Dallas Pride parade, I’m not sure I knew that.

And yes, I did say “Dallas Pride parade.” They have one, through the LGBT district of the city on Cedar Springs Road. And while it might not be as long as Seattle’s or Portland’s, it is every bit as enthusiastically supported. In fact, the Pride celebration here has gotten so big that they’ve had to stage it over the course of a weekend, instead of just a day, to make sure everyone gets to take part.

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The [Dallas] Pride celebration has gotten so big that they’ve had to stage it over the course of a weekend, instead of just a day, to make sure everyone gets to take part.

But that’s still not the best – and most surprising – part, for here’s the thing: even when it’s not Pride weekend, I’ve found Dallas for the most part to be safe, affirming, and even empowering. I’d be lying if I said I expected that. And not just the “gay-borhoods” of Dallas – but everywhere. From Red Oak down south, to Flower Mound in the west, to Denton up north, I’ve been treated with respect and kindness. More than once I had people take the time to tell me about their LGBT experiences. And they weren’t quiet about it; they didn’t say it with a whisper. There was vocal pride in their Pride.

Now, do I think Dallas is perfect? I don’t; I heard negative stories as I talked to the different transgender people. None of them, certainly, saw Dallas as perfect. Being laughed at and asked at a drive-thru if I was coming from a costume party didn’t exactly make my day, either. But that happened to me on the Oregon coast once, too, and as I noted, I still love it.

I’m leaving Dallas today, headed back to Oregon for a few days before my next research adventure. I’m looking forward to going; I miss my daughter, my kitties, and my friends; two weeks is a long time.

But here’s the thing: I’m looking forward to coming back to Dallas. And if I could pack up my village of family, friends, and fur, I’d be happy to bring them all here and stay for a bit longer. Because what I’m not doing is wanting to leave – and when I planned this trip I very much thought I might. Indeed, I think as that plane lifts off the ground I’ll be feeling very blue, indeed. 

It's OK not to find the write stuff

It’s a strange life when you suddenly find yourself channeling Sally Field as well as Wayne and Garth – at the same time. Not that I’m complaining.

My life has been punctuated by a series of grand attempts that ended up as false starts. A stand-up comedy career that started boldly and beautifully in front of a crowd of a thousand people – and then petered out because I got bored. A three-year stint as a novelist that produced five books, including an Amazon.com best-seller – and then petered out because I got bored. I suppose I could even look at my marriage that way, though it’s probably more fair to say we got bored with each other.

What all of these have in common is that their puttering demises didn’t really phase me, at least not after a while. Yes, the end of my marriage was harder to get over than not seeing my name on the bookshelf anymore. (But I can also say I have zero desire to be married again, while I wouldn’t mind making the best-seller list one more time.) In the end, though, they were all things I tried, didn’t find personally what I was looking for within them, and went on to something else with no regrets.

All except one, that is.

I always wanted to be great non-fiction writer, sort of a journalist on steroids, in the vein of people like Edna Buchanan, Bill Bryson, and Carl Hiaasen, all of whom started as journalists. I went off to the University of Missouri’s journalism program so I could learn how to be like them. There, I also got to study the works of writers like Pulitzer Prize winners Jacqui Banaszynski, Tom French, and Tom Hallman, Jr. While working on my masters I got to interview all of them – and even become friends with one of them.

What I never accomplished, however, was writing like them, not really, and eventually I left that goal behind, too. Not this time because I was bored, or unfulfilled. But rather because I knew I could never be as good as they were. Life, too, got in the way: marriage, parenthood, coming out as a transgender woman. You know, the basic stuff.

I never stopped reading their work, however. And as the years have gone on, I have added to the list of people whose work I like to read, including Mary Emily O’Hara, now a contributor on them, and Zach Ford of Think Progress. Like Bryson and Hallman before them, I am in awe of what they do And, like my literary loves before them, I got to meet them, too.

They, along with another four-dozen or so of the country’s most influential digital LGBT journalists, were part of the #LGBTMedia18 conference in Palm Springs, an event I’d been wonderfully and miraculously asked to host. For three days I got to listen to Ford and O’Hara, as well as newer voices I’m only now beginning to appreciate, like transgender documentarian Fiona Dawson and Teen Vogue writer Elly Belle. It was transgender writer geek nirvana – and at the end of the week they gave me a standing ovation.

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They called me “funny,” “smart,” “quick-thinking,” “thoughtful,” and many other things that I’d always wanted to be, but had never felt, at least as a writer. All of these people that I celebrated, and they were returning the favor. I couldn’t have had a more affirming moment if I’d designed it myself. “You like me! You really like me!” I said to myself, with absolutely a touch of “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!”

It was incredible to me then, and it still is now. Not because I got to be one of them; that’s not what I want anymore. But rather because I finally feel like it’s enough to be me: a good writer, a funny person, and apparently a pretty good host – and someone worthy of being happy with that.

Alabamians Will Vote For A Nightmare - And, I Would Too

Quotes are awesome things

Someone famous assembles a coherent and meaningful combination of words and it lives on forever. In books, etched in stone, scripted on walls, scrolling on the screen, both silver and hand-held. If they’re really good – kinda – they’ll become a meme.

Quotes become hallmarks of our time:

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation…”

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

I’ve seen these words all over the place, especially in my mind’s eye when I ponder the past. My daughter, I’m sure, will do the same thing: understand a moment in time, the beginning of a new era, by the words that summed it all up.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

No, really.

Unlike so many horrible things that come out of our president’s mouth, I fear this is going to end up being true. (Only time will tell. Though it’s entirely possible that by 2018 Trump will deny having said it at all – in which case you know it’s true.)

We live in a time where it’s completely acceptable to vote for an all-but admitted child molester because “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.” And, yes, while that’s from the same horrible person that says many horrible things these days, many national Republicans clearly seem to agree.

For example: “I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Republicans are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Democrats’ gleeful race toward dystopia.”

OK, I made that up. A Republican didn’t actually say that. A Democrat did; all you have to do is flip the political parties and make it “Atwoodian dystopia.” The writer didn’t say what would happen if Al Franken fired a gun down Fifth Avenue, but I’m presuming that would be fine, too.

Honestly, I don’t think most of us in today’s political climate think any different. In the end, we’ll vote for anyone that we think will stand against the people we loathe on the other side of the aisle. They may be a nightmare, but at least they’re ours.

Bill Clinton in 1992 and ‘96, Trump in ‘16: You hear those names and dates a lot as punch and counterpunch on the political talk circuit. What I see them as, however, are part of a trendline. Trump merely the latest point on a straight trajectory that goes back through John F. Kennedy in ‘60, Franklin Delano Roosevelt a quarter-century earlier, and so on.

The difference, of course, is that the blemishes on today’s politicians’ records are publicly acknowledged as people go to the voting booth. Give someone an iPod and they can literally hear a presidential candidate relishing in grabbing “pussy” as they go to vote for them.

It took nearly 130 years for George Washington’s extra-marital affections to be known. Even the “discreet” rumors of Kennedy and Roosevelt’s day allowed people some cognitive dissonance, to pretend that wasn’t “really” the man they were voting for.

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Clinton was perhaps the last of these “nod-and-wink” candidates, though he probably shouldn’t have been. Perhaps if Democrats had been willing to reckon with the truth then they could have disrupted the inevitable trendline that led to Trump and Roy Moore.

In Martin Luther King’s “The Other America” speech in 1968, he identified this progression as something else: logical. Granted, he was speaking about racism, but the lesson’s the same, as he spoke of Adolf Hitler’s intolerance. “He took his racism to its logical conclusion. The minute his racism caused him to sickly feel and go about saying that there was something innately inferior about the Jew he ended up killing six million Jews.”

He understood that when a group of people is not good enough to merit equality in jobs, housing, marriage, ultimately it must be concluded they are “not fit to exist or to live. And that… the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.”

The lesson of Clinton and Trump and Moore is certainly different from Dr. King’s; for one thing, this time the ultimate logic ends with tolerance. Tolerance of nearly anything, as long as that person supports your views, even if you’d never allow them near your daughter. And admittedly, shamefully, I don’t think members of either party calculate things differently.

In the days before the 2016 election, I wondered aloud what I would do at the ballot box if the circumstances were reversed. What if the Democratic nominee was unhinged and dangerous? Would I still support them? I reckoned I would; the Supreme Court and so many other things were in the balance.

In the months after the inauguration I also pondered what would happen if the president really were impeached. Would I really prefer a President Pence? God, no. He’s probably intelligent enough to accomplish what Trump’s arrogant ignorance keeps thwarting.

Charlottesville made me rethink that. A white-supremacist in the White House had to go, no matter what the potential cost to my personal causes at the hands of Mike “Pray-it-Away” Pence. But now, I’ll admit, I’ve probably gone the other way again. An idiot as hater-in-chief is less damaging to me personally than a competent one.

And so it goes.

Obviously not everyone is so selfishly motivated in the voting booth; enough Democrats bailed on Hillary Clinton that she lost the White House. But that to me isn’t a lesson in democracy and ideals; it’s a lesson in cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Where, then, does the trendline end? Do our elections simply become anyone, no matter how flawed? That as a candidate one can without fear do anything, no matter how heinous, because they know it doesn’t matter? I’d like to say it won’t.

But unless Roy Moore loses in Alabama, logic suggests nothing else is possible. Someday, only murder may be disqualifying, though that would likely hinge less on morality and more on being unable to run for office while incarcerated. But then again, maybe not; there are quotes yet to be written.

“I stood in the middle of 5th Avenue and shot somebody – and I still didn’t lose his vote.” Facetious, perhaps; but I fear this is the nightmare coming for my daughter when she closes her eyes and ponders the hallmarks of the world she inherited. Even worse: what I’ll have to say when she opens her eyes and asks me how I let it happen.

“At least he was my nightmare.”

Huffington Post

Transgender Youth Have So Many Questions - I wish I Had an Answer

I remember you; in fact I can’t forget you.

Dear young lady with the question,

You asked me a question today. I tried to answer – and I failed. I knew I’d failed, which is why I wanted to talk to you after the session. You had to leave before I could talk to you, so it was important that I find you. No, I still don’t have the answers, but was so very important to me that I find you.

I remember you; in fact I can’t forget you. It’s a five hour drive back home from the conference, and for that entire time I let one song simply repeat on my iPod. It popped into my head instantly after you asked your question, and I used it like a digital brand, to sear into my mind and soul who you were. I won’t say that what song it was isn’t important; it’s very important. But it’s not right now; you are what I want to talk about.

You were sitting there, about 20 feet from me, sitting in the last chair in the front row on my right. It was 2:20 p.m. on Saturday, the eighth of April, at the Journalism Education Association conference in Seattle. You wore glasses, maybe a tad horn-rimmed, if I recall right. They didn’t hide your eyes, nor what I saw there: The hope for an answer – and I didn’t give it to you.

You asked me a question I’ve never had before. You see, before you the questions were always about me. How did I handle my transition? How do I deal with other people’s intolerance? How I stand up at conferences and radiate confidence the way I do? But your question was about you: What do you do when you’re in a school where you’re called names for who you are? When the people that are supposed to support you, don’t?

I didn’t have an answer for a lot of reasons, I suppose. For one thing, where you describe is not my school. My school supports me, my school loves me. It not only allows my differences, it lets me embrace them, so that I can be who I want and need to be. I’ve always admitted that was a kind of privilege, and I never take it for granted. That’s why I do what I do; I need to create for others what I have. Suddenly, though, it’s not enough. Because there is you.

It is one thing to know in abstract: that there are voices that cry out in the darkness. It is one thing to know that they are hurting for what they cannot find. But to have that voice call out to me? And know that I did nothing? That is another thing.

In my defense, a weak one, I’d plead it was not for a lack of caring; it was for a lack of knowledge. As learned as I am – two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. (hopefully) on the way – I am very used to thinking I’m the smartest person in the room. But I am keenly aware that my life is no one else’s. I have never pretended nor wanted to tell other people how they should live, and so it’s been fairly easy to never actually give advice. And then you asked me your questions.

You looked to me for an answer that I had no idea how to give. Standing there, behind the podium, I babbled about internet user groups, and other such nonsense. I wanted so badly to tell you something that would make it right, and feared so greatly telling you something that was wrong, that I said nothing. Nothing that really mattered, at least.

I look at this moment now and I curse myself for my stupidity, my selfishness. I know to so many of you I speak to that I am a role-model, someone to look up to. I say that with neither ego nor arrogance; so many people like you have told me. It is an honor.

But until now it was an honor devoid of responsibility. Yes, there were the obligations I put upon myself to be the type of person I would want my daughter to respect. Learned, humorous, self-assured: I wanted to be support you just by “being” – whatever that means. Right until you asked me that question my life, for all its grand goals, had been about finding answers for myself. What other people learned from that, I simply assumed they would figure out for themselves.

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Answers, however? Those I did not ever pretend to have; my life was an example of what was possible, and I guess I thought that was enough. But it is not enough, not anymore. No, I’m not ever going to have all the answers; I will never pretend to have those. I get an hour, maybe 90 minutes, to field dozens of questions. Maybe that’s why I’ve never thought about the answers beyond myself; there wasn’t time for anything else.

But there has to be. You made me realize that – and that’s the song I played all the way home. “Time is waiting. We only got four minutes to save the world. No hesitating…” It’s Madonna, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland. It’s my generation, it’s yours, and they’re right. Trust me, I played the song 78 times in a row. It’s now at the top of my “most played” queue, so I know I’ll hear it again – and I promise not to forget.

I’ll be ready for the questions, and I’ll do better. I’ll start first by walking away from my podium, and then I’ll go to where you are sitting. I’ll give you my card, and make you look into my eyes and promise to call me. And then I’ll ask you if you want a hug.

When you call me back – and I so very much hope you will – I want to hear every question you have, every answer you seek. I will go try and find you an answer. I’m a journalist, I’m a researcher, I’m a scholar; as the Gods my witness, I will try to find you an answer. And when I can’t, I swear to you I’ll listen. That, at least, is something I can promise.

Before that, though, indeed right now, I will answer the most meaningful of the questions I heard you ask. “What do I do when I feel so alone?” Honestly, I don’t know if you asked me in those literal words, or perhaps it lie between the lines. But I heard it. Here’s what I should have said:

“I know what you feel. Even surrounded by family and friends that love me, wrapped in the figurative and literal embrace of a school that empowers me, emboldened by my academic understanding of what it means to be me, I know how you feel. Even with all of those people I have days when I feel like I am the only soul in my universe. No, they have not abandoned me; I know they are there. But I cannot feel them, I cannot touch them, and I feel so very, very alone.

“Only the knowledge I have, of them, of my past, of my hopes for the future remind me that I’m not alone in that universe. It’s not something I can touch, nor even really explain. It is, to put it inelegantly, the residue of everything I’ve ever been. It, when logic and experience fail me, is what’s still there to remind me of who I am. And more than anything else in this world, I cling to that.”

That’s what I should have told you. And while I hope you have that, too, your question makes me think you don’t – at least not always. I am worried for you, because I’ve been there – and on many days I still am.

People assume so many things about me that aren’t true. It’s because I let them, you know. I guess this letter is about as close as I come to admitting that not only do not know everything, I very often feel as though I know nothing. Though I did know one thing.

I knew to keep trying to find you. I knew to use all those things they taught me as a journalist, a researcher, a scholar, and refuse to give up. I had hope that it would be enough to put these thoughts into the universe hoping that someone – you - would find them.

And you did.

How can I help you?

Huffington Post

History Will Remember Transphobic Trump and His Supporters With Contempt

The president and his 63 million followers will be associated with the doldrums of American history.

The news that the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, has destroyed the freedom of transgender people is numbing.

And before I continue, don’t even remotely suggest to me that banning transgender people from the military doesn’t deny us our freedom. This is ban without reason or substance of fact. It is about hate, fear and pandering to the worst among us ― and about refusing to let a group of people be free from those very same things.

I’d thought by now the hate emanating from the Trump administration could no longer shock me. I was wrong. Still, It’s only the familiarity of such hatred that allows me to think logically, especially when all I want to do is scream. Indeed, perhaps, it’s the magnitude of this piece of hate that puts me at this keyboard instead of sobbing in the street.

Sitting here processing this, I’m fully conscious of the fact that I’ve spent the morning racing through the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Only the intensity of this particular day makes each phase highly distinct, if not new.

It began with the New York Times chime on my phone telling me of the news as I crawled out of bed. I, at first, denied it was true, knowing full and well it was. As I showered, I resolved with anger to fight ― FIGHT with everything I had. As I shaved my legs, I moved onto bargaining with the universe, that somehow there was a still a way to make this right in my head. (Honestly, as a scholar I’ve never found much use for this phase; the world is what it is. But it seemed wise not to shave angry.)

Depression was next, and I’m still there. I suspect I will be for a while.

I’m on vacation in Colorado with my daughter, and my support network here is non-existent. It’s just me and her, though she knows me well enough to talk to me about what she heard on the news. She hugs me a little tighter and longer than usual before she goes back to what she was doing.

(It’s a hell of a world: a seven-year-old understands what the president does not. Though that seems to be true on damn near everything, not just transgender rights.)

It’s this last phase, acceptance, that has me vexed. According to Kübler-Ross, this is the part where the “individual begins to come to terms with what’s happened.” I don’t want to come to terms with what’s happened. I want to fight, I want to do something. Something. Yes, I know, that’s the anger phase, and going through the stages of grief is ideally a one-way process. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s another post for another time.

In the here and now, however, what does acceptance mean? There is no changing it, there is no crusade as yet to even begin. And I return to another phase: depression. Right here, right now, I am a wreck. I know that’s OK; I’ve learned denying it makes it worse. Still, there is a little girl who needs me to be someone else: daddy. She’s away from home, too.

So I accept. Not forever, not even for long, but for now. To find acceptance, I retreat to where I often do: my books and my knowledge, though this time I’ll need to go much further back than the latest transgender scholarship.

I got a history degree a long time ago; a bachelors, I think. It seems so far removed from what I do now, that I don’t think about it much. In truth, however, I’ve come to realize it’s the foundation upon which my sanity is built. This thing we call progress doesn’t proceed smoothly, nor run one way. It moves forward, and then retreats, sometimes wiping out much of what happened before. More, while progress moves quickly at times, at others it seems to go almost at a crawl, if it’s moving at all.

This knowledge serves we well at times like these. As a transgender person I feel like the last few years have been a mighty surge forward, only to be followed by a retreat, one that seems to move quicker all the time.

Being part of history has been mostly exciting and empowering until this past six months, but now it’s brutally hard. It was much easier to view history from the bleachers or even the winners circle than it is here in the trenches. (Forgive my collision of metaphors; It’s been a long morning.)

And yet. It is here that I find a tiny bit of solace. As a historian I know the names of David Duke and George Wallace, names that all by themselves define racism. I also know the names of Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson, two men who despite holding the title President of the United States, are now also defined forever by their racist place in history.

History will remember Donald Trump like these men. His actions today - announced on goddamn Twitter - will forever cement his place as one of America’s great bigots. Children will learn his name in history books as a man who overtly ensured that narrow-minded intolerance would have the full effect of law. Millions of people, for as long as this country will stand, will know that Donald J. Trump stood for hate, just as my daughter knows today.

All of those students of history will know another thing as well: that 63 million people voted for this man, knowing that he was a man of hate and intolerance. History will record that 63 million people decided that this was acceptable - without one damn bit of grief.

I’ll make sure of that.

Huffington Post

Sitting With George Washington, Colin Kaepernick and the Other Son of Bitches

I cannot stand – not until once again those words in the Constitution mean to me what they are supposed to.

“Happily the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” - George Washington, 1790

Wandering about the Independence Mall in Philadelphia a few weeks back, this was just one many inspirational quotes I saw from America’s forefathers. I still don’t know if this particular quote was the most profound; there are a lot of them about the mall. But it certainly was the most prominent; the script is written in 10-foot high letters on a building just a few hundred feet from the Liberty Bell.

But when I read these words, I didn’t feel inspired; I felt duped. Something that was supposed to make me proud of my past, enraged me about the present instead. The whole story of America seems to have become a sham, one now made solely for other people.

This past visit to Independence Hall was my third, and before this trip I’ve always felt proud to be an American. This time, however, I looked around at this place where America began, and I was wrapped in a swirl of sadness, shame and anger. Each story from history bringing it on anew.

Standing in the east wing of Independence Hall, our guide told us about Thomas Paine. How when America was founded in that very room 241 years ago, it was Paine’s words that inspired the likes of John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin. Paine was an immigrant – the same type of man our president demonizes by calling them criminals and drug dealers. A legacy of hate that’s built today to throwing children out of the country, and denying entry to the victims of war.

My guide then talked about George Washington presiding over the creation of the Constitution itself, a responsibility he took as America’s first and greatest military hero. The same military that today’s president and his followers demand be expunged of honorable transgender men and women who fight even now for the very commander in chief that denies them their equality.

Our guide even talked about Thomas Jefferson, whose first draft of the Declaration of Independence included a condemnation of slavery: “Violating (the) most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death…” That Jefferson himself owned slaves until his death – and even then freeing only a few – complicates his legacy. But he would be aghast I’m sure at the North Carolina legislature, who sought so desperately to disenfranchise African-American voters that they violated the very Constitution Jefferson help create.

So it was the whole tour: every great deed that the guide discussed, every moment of historical precedent toward liberty made in that hall, is today being systematically destroyed by the very government that was created there.

One thing he said struck me as particularly tragic: “Our country’s history isn’t just important to us; it’s important to the world. For many nations, the roots of their democracy began here.” Looking at the tourists in the room – some from Brazil, Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands – I knew he spoke the truth.

Or at least what was the truth. Today, we have abandoned that legacy of leadership. While the most of the civilized world moves forward in its attempts to protect the rights of people of diverse LGBTQ, ethnic, and racial status, ours moves backward.

It is our Justice Department that newly claims LGBTQ people do not have the right to be treated equally, and that governments in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore may continue to harm the very people they are sworn to protect. What began twelve score and one year ago is today a model for no one who cares about freedom. Instead, we have become a mockery of what we were created to do. Looking once last time at General Washington’s desk, I wept.

Leaving the hall behind, I thought about those athletes who our president has now labeled “Son of a bitches”: those who have refused to stand while our national anthem plays on the sidelines. I supported their right to do so, but until Philadelphia I’d been keeping a physical and intellectual distance.

But now, gazing one last time at the tower where the Liberty Bell once rang, I at last understood. They protest because they know from personal history what my privilege has only now made me understand. I am ashamed of what I did not know, what I refused to see.

Yes, I have supported their actions, but I have not defended them nor tried to make others understand. The simple truth, however, is this: those people who refuse to stand? They do so not to insult the military, or the police, or America’s past, but to proudly represent what those very things have always worked to protect. They do not insult those that founded this nation; they are the ones who embody those founders. Exercising their First Amendment right to decry what has for them is a historical litany of failures, ones our president now works so desperately to continue.

As I concluded my visit to Philadelphia I felt sick. On every visit before that day, my ignorance and privilege let me radiate with the history of our country. My life, I thought then, a small but shining example of what was possible. But I am not that at all; I am instead an example of what this nation finds impossible: to live up to itself.

I am done. I will no longer live this lie about myself or others. I will no longer stand by and watch the destruction of this nation’s legacy to itself and the world. That’s why I, too, no longer stand by on the sidelines, in the stands, or anywhere else where it is expected. Sitting because I mourn what this country has become – but more because I love what this country can still be.

Until that future day, though, I will not mindlessly deny my own experience and the history of millions of others by standing up, putting my hand on my heart, and repeating or singing words of liberty that now ring hollow for so many Americans. You, of course, may choose differently, and I respect that decision, too.

But I cannot stand – not until once again those words on the wall mean to me what they are supposed to.

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I'm Transgender and I Believe in Caitlyn Jenner

If it wasn’t for Caitlyn Jenner, I wouldn’t be here.

I’m transgender and I believe in Caitlyn Jenner.

Let’s pause here; I’m waiting for Mary Shelley’s mob with torches and pitchforks. With a Home Depot within a quarter mile of nearly everyone, it’s much easier to acquire those types of things than it used to be.

Hmmm…perhaps Home Depot is closed. Or the mob couldn’t find someone to direct them to the farm implements. Either is possible.

I suppose it’s also possible not near as many transgender people as I suppose loathe any statement that supports Caitlyn Jenner. I find that highly unlikely, though; every time Caitlyn Jenner does anything, an enormous portion of the transgender community gets irate.

I get that, I do. Sometimes I shake my head (vigorously) at the things she says and does. But having now watched her be ambushed at the VMAs I feel like I say should say something.

I believe in Caitlyn Jenner, and I always have.

(Of course, even if I didn’t, I still wouldn’t think she deserves to be called a “f***ing fraud” at a public event. But maybe that’s just me.)

If it wasn’t for Caitlyn Jenner, I wouldn’t be here. Her coming out story inspired me to finally look at my own life and realize much of her path was my own. Would I have figured it out on my own, eventually? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t have figured out when I did, where I did – and those two facts alone have meant everything to me.

I may not owe Caitlyn Jenner my existence, but I at the very least owe her the existence that I have. That to me means something.

Caitlyn Jenner is more to me, however, than just a lighthouse from my past. She remains someone that I see all too often in myself: a human being, with all the imperfections that implies. Making mistakes, sometimes without even being aware of it. Though I – thank Gods – get to make mine in the privacy of my own life.

A few months ago I woke up, stared into my closet, and thought that once again the hardest part of my day was going to be figuring out what to wear. No one told me I was diminishing rape victims.

In my Political Economy class at the University of Oregon – where there’s a lot of Karl Marx – I wore a Ralph Lauren Polo sweater with the American flag on it. No one said I was no longer credible as a budding scholar.

At election time I had a lot of friends that voted for Donald Trump, and since the election I’ve made it very clear those people are still my friends. No one called me –

Well, you get the idea.

Is Caitlyn’s role different than mine because she’s famous? I suppose it is. But being famous doesn’t make you immune to screwing up. Though it does seem to make you immune to successful apologies.

When one of my transgender friends saw Caitlyn’s explanation about how she accidentally wore a “Make America Great Again” hat, they dismissed it out of hand: “No one just grabs a baseball hat and throws it on because they’re rushing out in their car.” Really? I had a convertible; I did it all the time.

If this sounds like I’m equivocating to you, I have to admit I’ve wondered that about myself, too. Let’s face it: Trump could not only shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a supporting vote, Trump could shoot a supporter and not lose the victim’s vote. Is that what I’ve become when it comes to Caitlyn Jenner?

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I don’t think so. Trump and his lap-dogs are actively destroying this country for anyone who’s not like them. Are Caitlyn Jenner and I doing that because we’ve had white privilege so long we’re not even conscious of it? No. And if you honestly believe Caitlyn Jenner is doing the same thing as Donald Trump’s Alt-Right nightmares because of a damn hat, then you should go stand with the people who want to make flag-burning a crime. They’re all hung up on symbols, too.

More, however, than people’s disproportionate reactions to Caitlyn’s sometimes questionable choices is still this one basic fact: I still believe she is a human being.

I am tired of hearing that she won’t do anything unless a camera is present, that if she was sincere, she’d get out of the limelight. First of all: the hell with that. Coming out is terrifying, and so is living transgender, I don’t care what demographic you’re in. She’s allowed to navigate her transgender life any way she pleases. Sure as hell no one gets to tell me how to do it, and I’ll grant her no less.

Here’s the funny thing, though: What if she did do something out of the limelight? What if she wanted to stop by a school just to say “Hi”? How would you know? What if she took her private time to mentor a young kid navigating what it means to be transgender? How would you know? What if she took time out of her day to call up a transgender father to talk about parenting? How would you know?

Do I know she does all these things? No – because if I did, we all would, and she’d get ripped a new one again for being a “media whore.” You can’t have it both ways, so I choose to believe she does things most people never know about. In fact I know she does, but that’s another story.

Let me make clear – again – that I don’t think she’s perfect. But if I am to be honest with myself as a person, and abide my soul as a journalist who strives for fairness, I must grant her the same things the universe has granted me. I have friends that voted against me in the election, but they are still my friends. I have friends that have no idea what it means to be me, and yet they remain the people I enjoy talking to most.

Is this a luxury of white upper-middle class privilege? I suppose it is. I acknowledge that maybe it’s only my privileged history which allows me to so actively brush off transgressions which in daily reality don’t touch me. To those who don’t share my worldview, I say: I hear you, I respect you. But I cannot be you, and I simply can’t go where your heart lies. I can acknowledge it and respect it – but in the end that’s all I can do.

The day I began living my life as who I was always meant to be meant the world finally saw me as I saw myself. And while I understand things I did not before, I am still the same person I was. To demand Caitlyn Jenner not be who she is, is not only impossible, it is unfair.

Being transgender is about finally discarding that which the world demands of you. Why trade one societal straightjacket for another? Is Caitlyn Jenner who I would choose to be? No, but she is who she has chosen to be, and she has every right to do so. She has a right to be a thinking, feeling, flawed, stepping in it, and stepping back out of it, person.

I believe that. If I am to maintain my own sense of humanity I must believe in hers – so I believe in Caitlyn Jenner.

See you at the Home Depot.

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I Never Believed I Was "Brave" For Coming Out as a Transgender

It’s still not a term I feel comfortable with.

“You’re so brave.”

I wasn’t out as transgender 15 minutes before I heard those words. I even posted about it here, once: “Bravery,” I wrote, “isn’t running through the flames to escape a burning building. It just means you didn’t want to die.

The dictionary definition of bravery is simple: “courageous behavior or character.” It’s when the cost of stepping forward is dearest, its reward lowest, if not non-existent. Very simply it is the choice to do the right and painful thing when there is no personal reason to do so and the only people that benefit are others.

Firefighters and police officers die every day, for a paycheck similar to the one their neighbors get for no risk at all. A good samaritan pulls a child they may never see again from a fire, while two men die on a train protecting women they’ve never met. These people are brave; they risked everything they had for no benefit to themselves whatsoever. The pilot who brings a falling plane with 150 passengers in for a safe landing on a freezing river is not brave; to do otherwise would kill himself at the controls, too. The passenger who gives the only life preserver to a child who can’t swim? She is brave. The father who saves his own child is not brave. The father who saves another man’s child at risk of leaving their own child without a father is.

As a society we use the word “brave” all the time. We worship it and we laud it, we write novels, tell stories and sing songs about it – and if these people meet the truest definition of the word, they deserve every moment of adulation they receive.

I do not deserve that adulation; I’ve often wished I did. But I am not brave.

I didn’t come out in public because I was brave, I didn’t come out to everyone I knew at once in an e-mail because I wanted to lead. I didn’t come out the way I did for any other motivation than one: Me. I was scared to death to tell the people of the School of Journalism and Communication that I was transgender. When I envisioned having the conversation over and over it made me sick. Who was going to judge me? Who was going to hate me? My studies, my job, my life were in the balance, and for the first time in my life I had no idea what to say.

So when a debate broke out on the school’s listserv about transgender people I saw my opening and I took it. I came out, writing as a small voice in the darkness, hoping only to find a voice of wisdom in the people I worked with.

And it did exactly what I thought it would do: I was out; I would never have to tell anyone face-to-face. I would never have to see their initial reaction; I would never know what they might really think. I never had to worry about being on defense against people at school; my new notoriety took care of that. I was the only publicly out transgender person in the building. I was essentially famous within my own halls; I never had anything to explain to anyone. And I was brave, they all said so – and I knew they would.

But I have never believed it for a minute. Not after all the outreach, not even after all the things I’ve done. You cannot claim to be something you’ve never been, no matter how many people tell you it’s true, not if you have any kind of integrity. Certainly, I recognize that what I choose to do needs to be done. I will not claim that I am not driven to make things better, and that I often do.

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But as each day ends, no matter what I’ve accomplished, I’ve had to come to accept that I lead because I am afraid to do anything else. I lead because it’s the best way to use the only tools I have – the media – to bludgeon the fear that lies inside me every day. Put me in front of a camera or a keyboard, a classroom or a auditorium, and I’ll use that charisma, that smile for the camera, that soundbite for the story, to tell you the story I want you to hear. You’ll never be able to hurt me because I’ve been on offense long before someone ever gets the chance to put me on defense.

Too much of my identity is wrapped up in being a leader, the power that comes with it, the cachet of respectability and authority that go with the term. But make no doubt about it, it’s not bravery. I know what bravery is; I’ve seen people that live it, and I long ago accepted that I was not anything that I respected about the people I admire and call brave. I’d learned to live with that, too.

Here’s the thing, though: this world I live in, these kids I talk to, these groups I lead, they’re not a blank slate. They hear me, they see me, and they talk to me, and I talk to them. They tell me their problems and I listen. And where I can, I help – and where I can’t, I listen more. They tell me even that is enough, because for many of them I’m the first person who ever truly has cared enough to want to know who they are. I had a parent tell me once I saved their child’s life, just by being there and telling them my story. It is affirming – and horrifying.

It’s hard to explain the pain transgender kids deal with, the sense of loneliness they feel even when they are surrounded by friends and family. But I understand it, and I let them pour it into me because they have nowhere else to put it. This power I’ve been given at the University of Oregon: it’s not just the reward for the life I live, it’s also the cost, and it is one I pay every day.

For what they pour into me I must eventually pull apart from myself – and for myself. I cry in my hotel room at every conference. After I talk to a group of kids the next state over I’ll listen to the same song on a loop for five hours on the drive home because it’s the safest way of being numb. At night, for days on end I can’t sleep – and during the day I can hardly stand being awake. It happens every time. Maybe someday I’ll know how to prevent it – but maybe not.

Slowly, fitfully, grudgingly, however, something has changed. I have come to acknowledge none of this is something I do for myself. I do it because it needs to be done, and at times I am the only one there to do it. No, it is not running into a burning building, or trading my life for another. But it is something I do when there is no personal reason to do so and the only people that benefit are others. It’s brave.

It’s still not a term I feel comfortable with. I’ve tried at great length to convince myself that I am not. It’s never been who I was, and the path here will always be laden with guilt. But I also know integrity goes both ways: and if one is to keep their defined sense of self tied to their integrity, you cannot deny something about you is true, no matter how many times tell you’ve told yourself it’s not.

And yet. All those stories we tell, those songs we write about the brave? My whole life I’ve wished inside those were meant for me. How must that feel, I wondered, to revel in the meaning of the word? What would it mean to look in the mirror at the end of the day and see the celebrated face of bravery staring back? How must that feel? I know now.

It’s daunting and deadening. For if bravery is the recognition that someone has done something that had to be done, even at great cost to themselves, it means one very basic thing: something has gone terribly, horribly wrong. Someone, somewhere is hurting or dying, and those who should have been there to help them are not. This thing called leadership, bravery, or whatever other words one can choose, will be necessary again and again and again.

There is nothing to celebrate; there is no reward in “brave.”

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A Transgender Activist Asks: 'What Would Jesus Do - Or a Terrorist - Do?'

A number of years ago it got to be very popular among some of the Christian faithful to sport the acronym “WWJD” on T-shirts, bracelets, bumper-stickers, and other areas of public display. Initially at a loss as to what this acronym meant, I later thought to myself: “What would Jesus do? He’d probably take the time to write it out. Religious texts aren’t exactly known for their brevity.”

My disdain, of course, didn’t end there. Not because I’m particularly anti-Jesus, but rather because no one – most of all Christians – seem to be able to agree on just what the devout should do.

Sure, Jesus told people to “Turn the other cheek,” (to paraphrase Luke 6:29). But I’ve known just as many to quote Exodus: 24-25, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” followed by the repetition of many more body parts and injuries. No, technically that’s not what Jesus would do, but tell that to people quoting Exodus while wearing the bracelet.

Life, it seems, isn’t as simple as letters on a bracelet – or on anything, for that matter.

This past January I was a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award at the University of Oregon. An award that recognizes those “whose contributions uphold and exemplify qualities and ideals either espoused or supported by the late civil rights leader,” I was proud of it – and I’ve spent last few months being tortured by it.

I need to rewind here. The road to my award was paved by the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, in what in terms of ratios is probably the thinnest silver lining in the history of dark clouds.

For on the morning after the election, the leaders of the School of Journalism and Communication, still reeling from the unbelievable, wanted something good to point to. I was that good. As the dean later put it about my transgender outreach: “(Bethany) wants to be that bridge between students and the … larger community.”

As I said, I was proud of that. Having been anointed the journalism school’s “transgender poster child” shortly after coming out, getting the name of the greatest civil rights leader of our time attached to my name wasn’t a bad addition. And so it was that I was invited to a nice luncheon, allowed to hug the president of the university, and given my award – just two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump.

What followed was seemingly very much not “what MLK would do.”

Like so many liberal Americans in the opening days of the Trump Administration, I fired off one angry screed after another on Facebook and other social media platforms. Where, I wanted to know, were all those people who said they would stand up against Trump? How could this nation be letting this happen? I launched angry missives at friends – and wondered if they even were.

Pure, unfettered anger was all that I could feel. Those bridges I’d been building with the larger community were now serving a more base purpose: kindling, as I longed to burn one after another. I can’t say that it felt good; it didn’t. But at least I felt something, which was more than the rest of the country seemed to be doing.

What I saw, however, was that nothing was changing. No one answered my demands for justice, transgender students weren’t suddenly being protected again, immigrants didn’t suddenly feel safer. The only thing that had changed was me – and not for the better. More, I found my conscience asking: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. actually do?

Truly, beyond the obvious stuff you learn in high school history, I didn’t know. So I went digging through the writings and speeches of the man I was supposed to represent.

In a 1957 sermon he said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” A decade later, however, speaking about his angry opposition to the war in Vietnam, he said, “I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.”

Argh.

No wonder no one really knows WWJD; he lived 2,000 years ago. King lived less than a half-century ago, and I barely understand that, either.

That’s not to say the recordings of Dr. King didn’t leave me with a somewhat clearer idea of how Dr. King dealt with anger: “You must not become bitter. No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm.” And I’ve tried. I’ve made myself try to to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award as much obligation as recognition, a charge from the past as to how I should live now.

And yet.

I’ve still from time-to-time lashed out, both online and in person. There are people who call my very existence a mental illness, an infliction on the world, a whim. Does staying reasonable in the face of obstinate hate really solve anything? Is my self-imposed distance from what I truly want to say just intellectual rationalizing? Is my calmness simply cowardice dressed up in more noble robes?

In the end, whether in the writing of a millennia ago, or those of more recent times, it seems there are no answers in history.

Maybe I was looking too far back.

Two weeks ago, James Hodgkinson moved from political rants to shooting at people on a Virginia baseball field. His posts on social media included words like “traitor” and “destroy,” words very much like the ones I’d been using and still at times very much want to.(5)

Does that mean I worry about becoming a terrorist like him? Certainly not.

But I look at the words I write differently now. Am I now truly turning the other cheek, or embracing the light? Just as before, I don’t truly know what Jesus or Dr. King would do. But I know what James Hodgkinson did – and I know who I would rather be.

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