Mind = Blown

Today is my last day in Philadelphia for #LGBTMedia15, the convening of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists and media folks from 23 states, and one from Nigeria!
Today the gang enjoyed a private tour of the Free Library of Pennsylvania after one last brunch. My flight home is in four hours and I’m packing up, not just my clothes… but my memories and what I have learned that I did not know. Here are ten:

  1. The struggle of bisexuals for acceptance. That 70% of bi folks are women. That they are too often lumped-in with gays and lesbians because people don’t “get” them or judge them or don’t want to know what it is that makes them happy.
  2. The fear of HIV hasn’t truly gone away and how modern medicine has made advances that in the 1980s would be the equivalent to the discovery of penicillin but because of fear and association with “the gay disease” the mainstream media and famous names keep their distance from hailing this breakthrough. It is keeping people alive who would have died, like my uncle did. Like my cousin did.
  3. That LGB journalists are as interested and motivated to fight for transgender civil rights as my trans brothers and sisters are. They understand — or want to understand better — our struggle, that we need their support and that we need it now.
  4. I was able to meet, hug and get to know many of the wonderful people whose names I’ve seen online, and for them to get to know me a little, too.
  5. That a transgender woman with an incredible platform to educate our society has given aid and comfort to those who would want trans kids excluded from sports activities and deny every trans man and trans woman the right to use the bathroom of their true gender. It’s abominable what she has done and an apology is not sufficient; she simply needs to stop talking about things she doesn’t understand.
  6. How awesome my friend Brynn Tannehill truly is. I’ve admired her for years and got to see her in action in person at this event. She’s the whole package, folks: smart, sassy, cute, well-spoken and passionate about civil liberties, the trans community, her family and her comrades who serve and have served our nation. And she’s a scholar of all things Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and the dwellers of Middle Earth.
  7. The generosity of people like Bil Browning, Jen Christiansen and Adam Pawlus, and their amazing ability to listen, to help, to encourage and facilitate our work.
  8. Diversity is not the right word to describe our assemblage: a salmagundi of smart, sensitive downright sexy people. We have had divergent experiences but share a single goal. I think instead of diversity I will start to use the word multiversity.
  9. I learned a lot about Philly’s history of LGBT advocacy and met some of the most treasured members of our community: our elders, who we need to not only salute but save from poverty and homelessness.
  10. And I also heard some very sad stories from those I was blessed to meet here, about work, love, life and their struggles to survive in a world that rejects them.Edit

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

I am empowered. I am strengthened. I am motivated.

I’m also hungry, and just got an invite to lunch, so bye for now!

Oh — before I go: please do me one favor, dear readers: be nice to someone today, even if they don’t deserve it.


Wow. Six!

auto6 images Number_Six_Tricia_Helfer

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.

Rage, Rage


Not for the first time somebody I deeply respect told me, forget Facebook.

Close it, shut it down, walk away.
Terminate your Twitter.
Filter-out your Instagram.
Block your blog.

I understand why. If I take away the low-hanging fruit that tabloid writers have feasted on for more than a year to ruin me and make me famous, infamous and notorious, perhaps the lack of attention will make me less appetizing.

I have become, in what is sure to be a buzzword if it’s not already, “RADIOACTIVE.”

The way my closest cisgender friends see it, I need to go Chernobyl: offline, abandoned, off limits. Or for our younger readers, put the f-u-k in Fukushima. If you enjoy movies, then you understand I should “Make like a tree… and get outta here, McFly!”

Of course, the only remedy for being radioactive is time and distance.

“Move along, nothing to see here!”

Stay out of sight while the media isotopes cool down. Pull my social media profile.

Sadly, in my 30 years of writing about people who vanish and then resurface, they seldom re-emerge without taint. They go from “controversial ” to “formerly controversial.” Now, some do surprise us with their lessons learned. As my dear friend and much wiser social media user Maia Monet told me, while the public enjoys seeing someone big taken down a notch, nothing compares to the joy of watching the great American comeback.

The question is, can there be a comeback for someone like me?

Here are the facts: I’m a pariah to some trans people who saw my honest but wrong declaration of not being trans last summer, after suffering amnesia, as a betrayal that hurt everyone in transition. Others have told me I inspired them to step forward and transition, and called me brave. And there are some who tell me what I have endured convinced them they could not possibly transition and survive, that I am living their worst nightmare (mine, too, incidentally). One called me her “anti-role model.”

To cisgender folks who know only one transgender person (ME), I am what one friend called a “high profile champion of transgender rights.” Really? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. Just so you understand, “cisgender” is a word used to define someone who is not transgender. The closest equivalent would be “non-transgender people,” or as someone I know said, unkindly: “you mean, ‘normal’ people.”

Yeah, thanks for that.

To the larger transgender community, I’m still pretty much nobody, although my name is frequently recognized from all the media attention. I have indeed shared articles in social media to draw attention to issues of discrimination, and to attempt to help spread understanding of what if means to be trans, and in support of this issue of civil rights. But those posts are merely a blip, compared to the megaphone held by true activists and heroes of mine like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Brynn Tannehill, Parker Marie Malloy, Kristen Beck, Cristen Williams, Masen Davis, Landon Wilson, Jennifer Louise Lopez, Lexie Cannes, Ashley Love and so many more. I don’t seek to be their equal on the world stage; I only wish to see all of us be treated equally with all of you.

To most members of my extended family, I am an embarrassment. Some will accept me privately but have faced real retaliation from ignorant people just for being related to me. Others have made excuses for refusing to publicly associate with me and consider it justified. Would it be just as okay to deny knowing me if I were a Jew, or homeless, or gay? (Not that I’d be ashamed to be any of those, but I’m not; I hope you get my point).

And I am saddened beyond words that close relatives I love can turn their backs on me and feel no shame or regret. I never could imagine a situation where I would turn to any member of my family who I felt had done something wrong in my eyes, and as a result, tell them I no longer loved them. Love forgives, strives to accept, and when necessary, keeps its distance — I can accept that — but the bond that is love, for me, is unbreakable.

That bond today helped me realize my true place in the universe: yes, I am trans, but first I am responsible for the lives of four people, in addition to myself: she who married me, and our three children. They have depended on me longer than I’ve known I was trans. I have a responsibility to find work that will sustain all of us, and so far I have failed at this. The majority opinion is that my social media presence has made that task even harder.

I’d cut off my own left arm (I’m partial to my right one) if it meant I could then support my family , so cutting myself off from social media is an easy sacrifice. And so I have taken that step.

What took me so long? I am all alone, separated from my loved ones and desperate for human contact. Social media provides both the illusion of connectedness as well as genuine interaction and friendships with real people who have similar interests and problems. I was hesitant to give up that lifeline that has supported me when no one else would.

But I realize people got by long before Facebook; they were able to make it through the day before a tweet was anything other than the sound a bird makes; they survived back when sharing a photo was sitting in Uncle Bill’s darkened living room watching his slides from his trip to Denver… all 300 of them.

And I will survive this, too. But I also decided today, I will not vanish. Even after my blog goes dark, I cannot imagine muting my voice now that I have found it.

The cause (Vice President Joe Biden once called it “the civil rights issue of our time”) is too important to surrender now. I will find a way to anonymously advocate for change without jeopardizing my family or what remains of my career. I will seek a way to have my say secretly, without putting an employer in the position of having to comment.

I believe I can do this by covertly supporting the cause in a way that will not take precedence over my primary mission of being a provider. I pray it will allow me to fulfill what I see as a calling, second only to my responsibility to support those I love.

I am going away, my friends. But I will not be silent. I will rage on, in secret if necessary, until my dying day.

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.