Passions Fly

This month on RiseUP with Dawn Ennis, meet a longtime lawmaker who is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ causes and her constituents here in Connecticut, as well as a new Air Force recruit,  a country music lover, a man who races sailboats and a gay journalist who is helping raise awareness of long-hidden racism in his hometown.


Activism, advocacy, service, song, and sailing: they’re very different experiences, for sure. 

But what each of these folks have in common is their passion. 


My passion for 34 years has been storytelling. I’m at a crossroads right now as I post this, but I can honestly say that even if I were to never ever publish another word, I’ll still pour most of my passion into the most important work I’ve ever done: doing the job of mom and being a dad to my three motherless children. 

One of them makes a cameo in this episode: singing is her passion. I hope you’ll watch and share! 

Links mentioned in the show are below the link. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in civic government, reach out to the League of Women Voters. In Connecticut their website is here. 

For more info on Philadelphia’s  inclusive flag and efforts toward greater equality in Philly, check out the More Color More Pride campaign. 

You can also read more about Ernest Owens and his work at G Philly magazine where he is the editor. 

Thanks especially to Meredith West who left WHC-TV last month for Atlanta. I wish her the very best!

Shame On Me

Fool me once, shame on you. 

Fool me again, shame on me.

That little ditty has been running through my head as I have learned — the hard way — the price of being authentic. Of expressing my opinion. Of trusting the universe will allow me to be without slapping me back down. Shame on me for thinking I can have all those things.

Just two people reached out to me this week, among the hundreds who read and responded to a recent opinion piece I wrote for The Advocate Magazine, offering to help me better understand a situation with which I am somewhat familiar, but not intimately nor with any personal experience; that of the detention of undocumented immigrants who are transgender.

That actually was not the subject I set out to write about, but for the central figure in the story and her supporters, it’s all that matters. What Jennicet Gutiérrez and her story represent is something that I have spent some time considering these last couple days. 4c72cc56a00532cd25647e0044b663569b27a672343c9dfd942c43ce6252b56c_thumb_medium

I did so, not because hundreds of mean people in their pajamas trash-talked me on Twitter, or because fringe “journalists” denounced my point of view as “privileged” and “classist.”

I did it because I enjoy learning things, especially when it’s something I don’t know well enough.

I took time to better acquaint myself with the views of people I respect, who were kind enough to constructively criticize my opinion without doing to me what I accused Gutiérrez of doing to the president.

What I wrote about was respect. I went so far as to call Gutiérrez rude. My point was to discuss civility, not activism or rape or race or the immigration status of any individual.

But no matter how many times I echoed the comments of others in praising Gutiérrez for achieving a policy change and for standing-up, no matter how I denounced those who booed her, all my detractors saw was me “shaming” or “shitting on” a trans Latina woman, and judging me “on the color of my skin,” and not “on the content of my character,” to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

One “friend” saw an opportunity to drag my name through the media mud once more: she misquoted me, mocked and dishonored the memory of my grandmother and aunt in suggesting they and all Irish immigrants were liars, and took me to the woodshed in a rival publication which someone I respect and admire once described as “one step below writing for al Qaeda.”

Well, friends and followers, I’m not going to flip-flop, or print a retraction, or apologize — my response tweet Wednesday basically said it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, and I’m sorry that anyone took offense about anything I wrote — but, well, that’s the nature of opinion writing. Or as my grandfather said, “that’s why we have horse racing.” Because we all have opinions that lead us to think we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

But to those who blasted me for putting my preference for showing manners ahead of her cause, for spotlighting what Gutiérrez did in the context of civility, and for deploring the disrespect she showed the president — for putting those things ahead of the need for action and for change, I’ve got a message for you:

You’re right.

I’ve pondered, read, watched, listened and listened some more to trans, gay, bi, lesbian (LGBT), people of color (POC), white allies, and cis queer women, who instead of spitting at me online shared with me some of the experiences they and people they know have endured. I learned how bisexuals were once again the victims of erasure and shook my head in disgust at those who blasted Gutiérrez for being undocumented, as if that invalidated her opinion.

I even considered the position of someone who is a vicious bigot herself, giving grief to people who don’t match her standards, who demanded I unfriend her on Facebook because of my opinion piece (by the way, who does that? Why not just unfriend me? Oh, right; if you do that, then you lose influence over the people I connect you to in my vast media universe. Ah.).

Well, I must admit, she’s right when she says Jennicet Gutiérrez is brave. I’m sure Gutiérrez is also compassionate and I’ll agree she is beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind she is selfless and I trust those who know her who have told me she is a good person.

The only area where this woman on Facebook and I disagree (not counting this woman’s derogatory opinion of late transitioners) is that she said Gutiérrez “asked the president.”

C’mon now, let’s not pretend: she didn’t ask, Gutiérrez demanded.

She did what Sylvia Rivera and countless activists and civil rights leaders and everyday people have done when given an opportunity: she stepped up and challenged authority. She stood up for those who have no voice. She spoke truth to power. She grabbed the spotlight away from the president to shove it — not on herself — but toward those who only want two things: to become American citizens and live authentically without fear or retribution or danger.

And I’m certain what Gutiérrez did provoked change that would not have happened otherwise. For that she deserves our praise and all the credit, and those who booed her should be ashamed of themselves, because in booing Jennicet they booed all trans people. I said as much in my Op Ed. I never called for Gutiérrez to be silent, nor silenced, but in focusing on the disrespect I believe now I did Gutiérrez an injustice, by not recognizing that for someone like her, there appeared to be no other opportunity. If you favor sports analogies, this was her shot, her one and only shot, and she took it. Or maybe that’s a sniper’s analogy, but either way, she took it.

And I will concede her doing so frankly makes me uncomfortable, because of my own history. That’s why what I wrote is my opinion, because it’s based on who I am. 

I was raised to mind my manners and to respect authority, to work within the system, to network among those with similar backgrounds and to use the proper channels for communication and in addressing authority figures and institutions. To my parents, protesters were “hippies,” radicals, undesirable.

Challenging authority in my house was met with a beltstrap, a spanking, a slap across the face. I was taught to turn the other cheek, and that to cry or to complain was to be weak.

I was raised to be obsequious, with white privilege and upper middle class privilege and male privilege.  I have been reminded of all this recently, very much so, to the point at which I am humbled to now say: I believe rude was right, in this circumstance.

Despite my habit of being snarky and having a smart mouth, I failed to rebel as a youth, and bring that perspective to my adult life. As a parent myself, I have distilled the strict disciplines of my birth family to become more forgiving in the family I raise, to be more loving, more considerate, more patient and more accepting of ways that are different. I have been an active participant in my unions and have used my skills as a journalist to bring truth to light and expose the excesses of power and corruption. I’ve been arrested, seen the inside of a jail cell, had my days in court, and I’ve endured misgendering.

And I’ve educated myself further over the past 48 hours, reading up, opening my eyes to better understand and appreciate and truly listen to those who are willing to take time to share experiences, without casting aspersions. So I can now say: my opinion on Jennicet Gutiérrez evolved.

I consider opinion and thought to be different things. To me, thought is a process, an evolution of ideas; opinion is the result of that process, but it is not an end product unto itself, because thought continues. And so opinion can evolve as well, given more information and perspective.

Thanks go out to my friends who are like-minded on the topic of civility, as well as to those whose opinions contrast with mine — who gave me the impetus to grow rather than denouncing me as a heretic, for having a contrary view.

I will not back down from my position — that it’s usually best to show respect and manners — and I don’t write this to win converts. I am still a believer in doing whatever your conscience tells you is the right thing, and I am one who tries to walk that line on the side of civility.

But I will concede I could have done a better job expressing there are always exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

I am a reasonable enough person to admit, as much as I wish she didn’t have to, Gutiérrez did the right thing in seizing what she saw as her only opportunity, no matter the cost to herself or to respectability. Making change is a dirty business, and it takes someone willing to get her hands dirty or her name sullied to make a difference. I am proud of Gutiérrez, and can say without exception that I support her actions that day.

With respect to those who won’t see my statement as anything other than eating crow, well, that’s your opinion. The difference between us is, I will respect yours.

I send you wishes of peace and solidarity for LGBT people everywhere — and for all kinds of people, everywhere — from the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.

XOXO

Six

Wow. Six!

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Today marks six years since I decided to blog, to try to explain to friends — and to myself — what this journey is all about.

2009 seems like forever ago.

It was before the first iPad. Obama was still new at the job. Conan O’Brien was about to become host of The Tonight Show. People watched American Idol and Simon was still one of the judges. I lived and worked in Florida as a guy named Don.

But I was struggling both physically and mentally, and a year earlier I had made my first appointment to see a gender therapist. I didn’t believe her when she told me I had “gender identity disorder,” what is now called “gender dysphoria.”

I asked and received artificial male sex hormones to try to rebalance what I suspected was the problem, but all that did was make the problem worse. My body converted all that extra testosterone into estrogen.

1489212_10205720342227958_2246071283184507802_nI was a hormonal mess.

Here I am, six years later, and I rejoice in having survived the trials and tribulations of my long transition. What started as part-time exploration with the help of a therapist eventually led me to my own truth.

This weekend, I’ll be joining dozens of other LGBT journalists and media folks for LGBT Media Journalists Convening 2015, a conference about the work we do, sponsored by the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association and made possible through the generosity of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. fund.

It’ll be my first convention of this kind, and I am nervous about what to wear, how to style my hair, and just meeting folks. It will be great to finally put a face to all the names of folks I’ve considered colleagues and friends for so many years, and I so desperately want to make a good impression given the fact my infamy somewhat precedes me.

I can’t do anything about that, really. I am going to learn, to listen, to share ideas and to make connections. And hopefully, to have fun.

I obsess a little more about looks than others because, I’m not where I want to be weight-wise — And I know, so few women are. And because my hair is my own — I paid for it — but it’s just not the same as all the lucky folks who didn’t go bald in their 20s.

I’ve learned how to crimp, how to use a flat iron, how to tie it back and I’m picking up other tricks, too… but I don’t have that resource every natal woman I know had: a mother or friends who taught them this stuff when they were young. I do have some experience at makeup and style thanks to my rather unusual occupation as a child model and actor. But it’s not as much as I need when it comes to hair. 10984286_10206004341087752_4665889306200428706_n

Mostly, I learn by trial and error; the “heat wave” we’ve enjoyed the past few days with temperatures above 40 teased me into rolling down windows while driving. Not the smartest move by someone whose long flowing locks temporarily blinded me.

But I learned a lesson.

I’ve stocked up on tiebacks and bobby pins and somewhere I have a headband. And double-sided tape is my lifesaver.

Had I thought about this a decade ago, I could have been eligible for a hair transplant, but that’s not who I was. I couldn’t care less about going bald, having long ago accepted it was my lot in life and put up with the jokes and what-have-you. I wasn’t even tempted to get a toupee or plugs or a “hair system” — which one friend told me came off at a most inopportune time, during lovemaking. Nor would I consider that “spray-on” hair that I myself witnessed run down the face of a follicly-challenged reporter live on TV during a steady downpour. It looked like he was taking a bath in brown goo.

So my wig and I will wing our way to Philadelphia on Friday the 13th (good thing I’m not superstitious), and I will be Tweeting, Instagramming and updating facebook — hashtag #LGBTMedia15 — as well as updating this blog, for it is my ticket to the big event. I hope you’ll find my updates interesting and feel free to interact with me as questions or comments arise.

And so it goes.