Our Transgender Community: #Calltoarms

It seems appropriate that, while discussing our Transgender community, we discuss the rights that LGBTQ have or do not have here in Cleveland. It is important to understand them in context to where we are and what we should be thinking about for the future. The current administration has shown us that they do not care for the LGBTQ community and are taking steps to reverse the progress we have made. Let me be clear in saying that we have made progress, but our fight is far from over.

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Ohio adopted its first sodomy law in 1885 in and four years changed it to include fellatio. This wasn’t removed from state law until 1972. Ohio was one of a few states that were already repealing their sodomy laws, however it was still considered a misdemeanor to express interest from one man to another. In 1979 the importuning law, expressing of interest romantic or sexual nature, as a misdemeanor was changed to read as an unwelcome or unsolicited interest by the Ohio Supreme Court based on the case State vs. Phipps. This wasn’t overturned until 2002 when the courts reported that the First and Fourteenth Amendments did not allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation in these cases. It wasn’t until June of 2003 that the United States Supreme Court ruled to remove all remaining sodomy laws from the states. These statutes were used to specifically target LGBTQ people.

Same sex marriage wasn’t passed until June 26, 2015 from the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges. Adoption and parenting for same sex couples is legal in the state of Ohio. In 1987, Ohio enacted In re Ladrach, which made it illegal for someone undergoing gender confirmation surgery to be able to change the gender on their birth certificate. Though it is perfectly legal for Transgender people to amend their driver’s license to reflect their gender identity. It wasn’t until March of this year (2018) that four Transgender Ohioans filed a suit against Ohio Department of Health to revoke In re Ladrach and to have their birth certificates re-issued with their correct gender. At the time of this filing, Ohio was one of three states that Transgender people were banned from amending their birth certificates.

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While Cleveland offers protection from discrimination based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, Ohio at large does not have any protection laws in place. Nor are their any hate crime laws in relations to sexual orientation or gender identity. Some State protection does come into play from Federal laws. There are no laws preventing the usage of conversion therapy  in Ohio. In 2015 a bill was introduced to prevent the usage of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors in Ohio by senator Charleta Tavares, however that bill died due to no legislative action. Since 2016 four Ohio cities (Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati) have enacted bans on conversion therapy. That’s right, Cleveland does not have any laws preventing the usage of conversion therapy.

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Conversions therapy suggests that it is possible to change the sexuality or gender identity of someone by using spiritual or psychology interventions. These are measures that took the place of things like institutionalization or castration to prevent homosexuality. They stem from a period in our no so distant history where it was believed that to be a LGBTQ was a mental illness that could be treated. Today they include things like electroconvulsive shock therapy. The Mormons use a version of this that combine audio/visual stimulation in conjunction with electroconvulsive shock therapy. There are electrodes connected to parts of your brain that monitor your reaction to the visual and audio cues they provide you. Essentially, if they show a young boy images of gay sex, two men kissing, of various other things that can trigger a response from someone who is gay, they are given large amounts of electric current. The mindset is that given enough of this kind of “treatment” your orientation would start to change. These types of interventions are nothing short of torture and are not quantifiable by any medical standard. None of these studies have shown to “cure” anyone of being LGBTQ. These therapies do more damage than help, causing feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety, which only creates larger issues needing more help. Suicide rates amongst LGBTQ or question youth is already horrible numbers to consider. LGBTQ and questioning youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. 40% of Transgender adults have reported attempting suicide, of those 92% have attempted suicide before they turned 25. Numbers are often hard to quantify in these studies since more often than not, they are misreported or not known.

We cannot become complacent in our fight for our rights. We definitely should show support to Cleveland for what it offers, but at the same time we need to challenge for better situations. Ohio was home to one of the first cities (Toledo) to pass a ban on conversion therapy, we should push to be the first state to completely ban it. In December 2015, MTV.com reported that 77% of the LGBTQ population live in states where it is legal to conduct conversion therapy. We must #uniteandfight, let our voices be heard that we will not stand by and watch our community still be treated this way. We must get out there and vote every election to ensure people who support us are representing us and the changes we want made for out country. Make your voice matter and show them our votes do count. #votethemout

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Our Transgender Community: Ginger

Transgender people are often overlooked in our LGBTQ community and in the community at large. Animosity and misinformation is at the root of how most people interact with them. In this administration where much of the legislation being changed seems to have a direct correlations to Transgender rights, I feel it is important to be able to share some of their stories. It is time for us all to set our differences and beliefs aside. We must unite and fight this administration before it removes anymore from us and we lose all the progressions we have made. So join with me as I share some their stories and lets celebrate their fight and stand with them.

Ginger is Transgender Woman, known in the CLE transgender community, and does some activism. Ginger has been involved in organizing the Metro Health Transgender job fair for 3 years and works to educate medical students, nurses, and others on caring for transgender patients. Strong in her convictions, Ginger was the first to step forward to help me with this project. I am honored to share her story and hope that it will shine a light into the misconceptions and misinformation surrounding out Transgender community.

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Tell me about yourself. Name, age, where you live, and what you do.

I am Ginger. I grew up in Painesville then moved away from Ohio for 3 decades. I came back to Cleveland in 2010 and I currently live in Brooklyn. I am a teacher, I work with medical technicians teaching them to draw blood, read EKGs, provide patient care and do medical billing and coding.

What does transgender mean to you?

Transgender is an umbrella term that means moving away from the gender they thought you were at birth and toward the gender of your mind, soul, and spirit. While I personally identify with the gender binary (male/female) others are non-binary or float between the two.

What are some common misconceptions you face about Transgender men and women?

Some of the common misconceptions I’ve encountered include the belief among some that gender is rigidly determined by the XX/XY chromosomes and nothing else. Modern genetics identifies at least 25 genes and alleles (genetic switches) that impact gender, and intrauterine hormones during pregnancy have a powerful effect on neurological development.

Other misconceptions include the idea that cisgender people can always spot transgender people and that transgender people are spying on others in the restroom. Neither are true.

Oh, and “cisgender” is not an insult. It simply states that a person continues to identify as the gender that was declared, based on a cursory external physical examination, at birth. You are not considered normal and I am abnormal or other; you are cisgender and I am transgender.

Desistance is the idea that most or many transgender people or transgender kids revert to their birth gender, or regret transitioning. The latest research puts the number at less than 2%, while the number of people who have tattoo regret is above 30%, and marriage regret is about 50%.

Possibly the biggest myth is that transgender people are mentally ill and can be cured with some form of conversion therapy. We’ve already settled that conversion therapy is nothing more than torture. But, beyond that, until very recently access to transition required months of therapy and mental health evaluation by multiple professionals… It can be categorically stated that “transgender” is not a mental illness. In fact, based on the regret statistics, people who want tattoos might be best to undergo extensive mental health evaluations and be required to provide a letter from a psychologist and a psychiatrist to confirm they really want ink and it isn’t a passing phase.     

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How should someone ask a Transgender person which pronouns they prefer?

Pronouns are tricky. I am a woman, 100% of the time, and I blend with other women 100% of the time – to the point that at my last three medical appointments at clinics I have never been to the nurse has asked me if my hormones are due to hysterectomy or menopause. So for me, personally, being asked my pronouns is disconcerting – it causes a lot of paranoia.

I do teach, however, that when in doubt the polite thing is to say something like, “Hi, I’m Ginger and my pronouns are she and her. Can I get your name and your pronouns?” Asking about pronouns should be equitable instead of othering or demeaning.

Do people ask you if you have had any surgeries and how does that make you feel?

Asking about surgery is always a huge no-no. My response is icy polite and goes something like, “You want to talk about genitals? Cool. Since you started you can go first. I will ask you a complete history of your genitals, starting with appearance and current medical problems, and then going into development, sexual history including masturbation, intercourse and experimentations and orgasmic response, sexually transmitted infections, and then finally probe your psycho-sexual hang-ups. I have a medical background so I will be clinical and very thorough. When I am satisfied you can ask your questions. Okay? “I’ve had to use it three times, and each time the person backed the fuck off. If you want to know how the surgery works, Google has plenty of information. If you want to be a voyeur about my genitals it becomes a wide-open two-way conversation.  

What are things that we should avoid doing with Transgender person?

Besides not asking questions about our medical history, don’t make a big deal about us being transgender. Your friends don’t need to know when you introduce us. It has no place in normal conversation and shouldn’t normally come up. Don’t ever use the words “tranny” or “he/she” or “trap” or any of the other common slurs, because I will cut you.

What has been the hardest part of your transition so far?

The hardest part of my transition is accepting that I cannot have certain experiences in this body, at least with the current state of medicine. I can’t get pregnant. That, alone, took me the edge of suicide – I have a screaming empty void down deep inside that will not, in this life, be healed or filled. Even touching it this little bit brings terrible pain and darkness.

Tell me about your normal day?

My normal day is… normal. I get up. I get dressed for work – including light makeup and doing my hair- and I go and teach. I socialize with friends. I go to the store or run errands. At night I come home and wind down and read or watch some TV and go to bed. I take some pills, daily. Yes, estrogen and progesterone, but also for diabetes and blood pressure and a multi-vitamin. My life is little different from my neighbors.

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What are some microaggressions that make you feel unsafe?

Microaggressions have become pretty simple: Trump supporters. I was talking with a coworker, a nurse, a few days ago. She made an off-hand comment, out of the blue, that she wishes Trump would hurry and build the wall because it would take care of so many problems. With that simple statement she became totally unsafe for me, personally and for people I love and for many of my students who are immigrants or who are not clearly white.

Beyond that, since I am rarely seen as transgender, I’ve been alternately bemused and infuriated by the micro aggressions I experience as a woman on a daily basis – being interrupted, dismissed, subtle put-downs, and so on. I’ve also seen some micro aggressive behavior because I am open about being a witch – being told I am going to hell or that I am a danger to children or that I should be burned at the stake.

I am a cisgender gay male, and always want to know how to be a better ally for trans* individuals. What are some things I can do to aid in trans* visibility and helping to create a safe environment, based on your personal experience?

You, as a cisgender man who is also gay can be an ally in a few ways. The most important is this, here. You are allowing space for transgender people to speak about our experiences. Make sure that extends to transgender women who are not white, and transgender men. Transgender women of color and transgender men of all races are often overlooked or actively excluded.

Remember that “identity” and “orientation” are two different things and should not be conflated.

A transgender woman is not a gay man in drag. A transgender man who says he is gay is as valid as a cisgender man who says he is gay. Make space. Be open. Be accepting.

Remember that the first two Pride events were riots started by transgender women. When the government – at any level – mistreats us, they are warming up to come after you. When a company or a coworker or some random on the street mistreats us, they are looking at you, next. You will not gain points by trying to appease the Religious Right, the Neo-Nazis, or any other group of bigots.

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How can people best support Transgender children?

You can support children by believing them and accepting them. Somewhere between 3 and 5 years old kids have a firm grasp of gender and know where they fit – try to convince a kid in that age range they are the opposite gender and you’ll get a massive push-back. Trans kids are exactly the same – they know who they are, and they don’t care about the genitals.

Understand that the key is “insistent, persistent, and consistent.” They insist and cannot be dissuaded. They persist over time. Their claim is consistent regardless of situation. It is not even remotely like your kid who pretended to be a dinosaur one afternoon when he was 5 years old.

Do people question your sexuality when you tell them you are Transgender?

Publicly, I openly identify as pansexual because whom I am attracted to is open for sharing, but my medical history is not open. So I usually do not get questioned. When I am in teaching mode I explain the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. It can be friendly conversation or deeply pedantic depending on the situation.

What are some common misconceptions about Transgender people portrayed in Hollywood?

Hollywood portrayal of transgender people is frustrating at best, with exceptions few and far between. First, while some transgender people resort to sex work to survive, the great majority do not. While some transgender women look like Patrick Swayze or Wesley Snipes in a dress, most of us don’t… and transgender men exist and are not simply “really butch lesbians.” Transgender is not the same as “drag queen,” regardless of RuPaul’s bullshit.

Real transgender people are like Nomi Marks of Sense8 minus the cool powers, and Sophia Bursett of Orange is the New Black, minus the orange jumpsuit. What I want to see is transgender actors and actresses being offered mainstream parts where their medical history is not important because they can simply play the part needed. I mean, if Neil Patrick Harris can be accepted as the womanizing Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother” and Jim Parsons can be accepted Sheldon Cooper on “Big Bang Theory” and Sara Gilbert can be accepted as Darlene Conner, then transgender actors can play cisgender characters.

What gives you strength day to day?

My daily strength comes from my innate sense of self: I am Ginger, I created myself and here I stand. It comes from The Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of War and Sovereignty who walks with me daily. And it comes from a circle of people who I love and who love me unreservedly.        

Can you describe for me why it is important that our laws and people treat each other equally?

We know what happens when we allow the legal mistreatment of some at the demand of others. As Martin Niemöller warned, “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

That is enough reason.

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*All images for this post were provided by Ginger and published through permission from her.*