The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

11178376_10206498349237647_6212748240193972348_nRelax: this is not yet another analysis of what Bruce Jenner said, and like most everyone else, I am using male pronouns because that appears to be what he and his family want, and I respect that. If that changes, I’ll follow suit.

What this is, will likely take you by surprise. Buckle up, buttercup.

Earlier this year I wrote a plea that we needed to let Jenner tell us what if anything he was doing, even though it seemed pretty damn clear he was undergoing a gender transition. Now that he has spoken and confirmed that, it’s time for a follow-up.

And as I did before, I am going to devote more words to me and my experience rather than to his, because even if you didn’t watch all two hours — which I did, my spouse did, even my kids did (most of it, at least; they fled as soon as Diane Sawyer started talking about the Kardashians) — even if you avoided all the articles, you probably have an idea that Bruce Jenner confirmed he is trans. He actually said: “I am a woman.”

But am I?

Whoa — what? Is this another bout of amnesia? Am I going “back and forth” again?!? Perhaps I am a Time Lord as one of my friends calls me, or I’m “waffling” again as another friend ribbed me to no end?

No, I’m just being honest, which is what I’ve always been, and by the way: you cannot tell me I am wrong, because this is about how I feel. And how I feel is how I feel. If you still think I’m wrong after reading the rest, well, that’s why we have horse races, as my grandfather liked to say.

So back to my question: am I a woman?

I’m not denying I am trans, and no, really: I am not detransitioning. I am not denying my mind and my soul are female and that I feel very much in sync with the female gender. I enjoy my femininity and I’m not ashamed to say so, just as I never despised being a male or any part of my former male identity. I was assigned male at birth. And 40 years later, there came a time in which, after a long struggle, I stopped fighting, I stopped pretending and embraced that my true gender is female and that although I could present as male, it didn’t feel natural. It no longer fit me.

But if I’m not a man, does that make me a woman? Well, if someone else assigned male at birth lays claim to being a woman, I’ll take them at their word. I’m only asking about me. And please note: I am not using the adjective “real” here, as if to differentiate between a woman and a “real woman.” That’s offensive, in my book. We are all of us real… some more than others!

11150410_10206435085336089_2894930514843387634_nMy body has undergone very distinct and gender appropriate changes (without the benefit of surgery). I’ve got a face that appears feminine enough, wide hips, a healthy butt and generous boobs. I’ve lactated; I could have nursed if I chose to. Sitting down (or squatting) to pee is my only option without making a mess; no more writing my name in the snow for me!

And my instincts are distinctly, if not stereotypically, feminine: I prefer collaboration to confrontation; I’m a gatherer and a listener; I find shopping therapeutic; I’m in control of my emotions but it doesn’t take much for me to feel empathy or to cry; I have close female friends who I treasure, and I enjoy our ability to share our misadventures without judgment; I am strong, but I can be my own worst enemy, and my maternal drive is fine tuned. I watch over my kids like a hawk, anticipating their needs and reveling in how I can provide for them, from sustenance to spirit-building. I am not their mom; they have a wonderful mother who loves them and cares for them equally if not more. But it’s clear to my kids, who still call me “dad,” that I’m a lot more than just their dad.

Perhaps given all these facts you need to consider me as something separate, something like… “transgender woman.”

It does fit; to every woman who grew up as a girl, to every girl who aspires to be a woman, and to every mother and grandmother and wife and daughter, I can sense what you feel and I can understand what that feeling means to you… but I cannot feel as you do.

I don’t know what a period feels like, even though I’ve had stomach cramps and PMS-like hormone-driven mood swings and cravings. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel life growing within me, to carry a child inside me or to bring a baby into the world. I have only a small sense of the incredible humongous exaltation that intercourse and orgasm must be like for a woman; that is something I hope to be able to fully experience someday.

And then? Well, then, certainly I should be entitled to declare, “I am woman.”

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

Let me be clear: I am not claiming someone needs to be a mother to be a woman, nor that a vagina is what defines a human being as a woman. It’s what’s between our ears not our legs that defines our gender. Me included. I just think the difference between “woman” and “transgender woman” is one worth noting, when appropriate. 

Just as you might say bald white guy, or red-headed woman or Asian child, it’s rarely necessary to point out the difference, and downright wrong to discriminate based on those differences. 

But treating everyone fairly as fellow human beings doesn’t erase our differences, and shouldn’t! I’m Irish. I am right-handed and have blue eyes. Does that matter? Not particularly. 

But when and if it does, I’ll gladly say, that’s me. The same applies to my womanhood.

So, If someone calls me a woman or picks up on the obvious visual cues, and sees me as a woman, I won’t correct them. But I also won’t deny I am a transgender woman. In some circumstances, I do sometimes out myself as trans because it’s relevant or necessary. I’m lucky that in most cases, it’s not, and I don’t feel compelled to share my personal life with acquaintances or strangers.

So, stranger… why am I sharing this with you?

Because I felt it necessary to underscore what Jenner and the awesome team at ABC News made clear: that being trans is just another way to be. We bleed, we sing, we feel heartbreak, we feel joy. We want to be loved, and when love is not possible, or offered, many of us would be happy to settle for being accepted and understood. We know what it feels like to have love withdrawn, to have a phone conversation end abruptly. We share the pain of feeling a door slammed in our face or a punch landing on our jaw. Some of us have been raped, beaten, stabbed, shot, burned, tortured, mutilated and murdered.

Because we’re trans.

Jenner is among us now, and I for one welcome him, and embrace the struggle that in some ways, perhaps many ways, matched my own.

Bruce-Jenner-interview-x400But we are not Bruce Jenner, folks. He’s not us. He said very clearly he is not our spokesperson and wants to do good, and all that is very welcome.

No one is asking him to be our icon, our standard bearer, our hero. And the hope is that the media publicity machine won’t try to do that, despite Kardashian evidence to the contrary.

I encourage Jenner to listen, and not talk, so he can learn about others’ experiences, about trans women of color, about trans men, about the children whose parents can’t accept them as trans, and the supportive moms and dads who worry their child will never really be happy because of transphobia and prejudice. I hope he keeps praying, as I have, knowing God loves us. Even us.

And he will make mistakes. God knows I have, and I am blessed to know His forgiveness. As Jenner said, I have apologized for my life, to everybody, and I will keep doing so as each day adds to another in a string of days living true. April 29th will mark two years since I chose my name and made it my own, forever.

I won’t deny Jenner his right to call himself a woman, or anyone else. I don’t think of myself as “less than” because I prefer to use the term “transgender woman.”  As a journalist whose job is to parse those kinds of differences, I feel better having done so.

But given that my job is to tell stories, let us now find those whose stories must be told, in addition to Bruce’s. My dear friend Jennell Jaquays offered a laundry list of transgender men and transgender women whose lives matter and merit a spotlight twice as big as the one in Malibu. A trans woman writer I’ve known longer than almost any other, Ina Fried, compared this moment Jenner has created to the one Ellen brought about, when at last it was okay to be gay; the hope is the same could happen to those like Ina and me who are transgender.

Let’s remember that after Ellen came out, we moved on, and learned our gay neighbor is just another neighbor, that the lesbian who works in the cubicle across the way isn’t anything more or less than another co-worker.

And me? I’m on my way to being just another woman. But today, I am a transgender woman, and have been for awhile now.

Still, I would be grateful to you for thinking of me as… just another woman.




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.

“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia”

hqdefaultGood morning from Philadelphia, the birthplace of both democracy and W.C. Fields, who famously joked about Philly.

You know, W.C. Fields? The movie actor. Yes, from a long time ago. Hence the black and white picture.

8b41e8920339ae641aa2cc42f951ad33Here’s a color one. This guy ———————————————————–>

Go ahead, google him; I’ll wait. Notice the look on his face? That’s the same look I make when I make a pop culture reference and I realize my idea of pop culture is not the same as someone born in 1988 or later. And there’s a lot of you people.

Okay, are you with me now? Because it’s really late and I’m beat, so I will make this entry brief and to the point.

Stop that. Stop laughing while I’m trying to blog, it’s rude.


I am blogging from the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love because I am attending the 2015 LGBT Media Convening (hashtag #LGBTMedia15) sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). This is the sixth diversity conference, and my first of any kind. What’s interesting to note is that this event is not open to all media; it’s invitation only, and I am both humbled and honored to be here as one of the many representatives of the LGBT blogging community.

IMG_6350Andrea Dulanto of South Florida Gay News reported: “This year’s host committee includes Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease, Erin Rook of Source Weekly, Faith Cheltenham of BiNet, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

In an email with SFGN, Browning reflected on the significance and goals of the Convening: ‘For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter. We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.’

Browning elaborated on the importance of diversity: ‘Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community — especially in online journalism. Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class, and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.’

In 2015, presenters and attendees will explore issues related to the topic ‘So Now What?’

“As Browning noted, these are ‘issues that have been relegated to the back burner during the marriage battles’ and the Convening will offer ‘sessions on religious liberty bills, intersectionality, self-determination, the role of government in promoting diversity, bisexuality, race and gender-specific topics, as well as how to better report on HIV/AIDS stories.'”

IMG_6346A truly amazing perk of this three-day event is that it is all-expenses paid. My crib (see what I did there?) is the swanky Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, and everything has been first class.

I flew in this morning from Hartford, took a shuttle van where I met-up with some fellow attendees including Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine in St. Louis, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, and my longtime facebook friend and fellow writer, Trans Military activist Brynn Tannehill, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person today.

It was a long trip given the many stops our van had to make — in fact it took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to fly here from Connecticut! But that afforded us time to have a fascinating conversation about issues of the day, from bathroom bills to marriage equality and religious backlash. One woman who was riding along with us but not attending the conference told me she was very interested in our conversation and I think that is an important takeaway from this event: that we remember to reach out to those who are not knee-deep in LGBT topics. They can and should be included so we can better arm our allies, to help them help us.

IMG_6345Upon check-in, each of us received a very nice goodie bag from the City of Philadelphia. The contents included a tee shirt, notepads, a pen, some press releases, a “Gay Philadelphia” button which I attached to my purse and a Century21 store giftcard about which I am very excited!

This evening we gathered in the hotel lobby and I met sooo many folks! Too many to name but I’m looking forward to trying to get to know each one. Then we as a group walked the four blocks to the beautiful Comcast Center, where we were wined and dined and then met Nellie Helen Fitzpatrick, IMG_6355 the city’s newly-minted Director of LGBT Affairs, who read a letter from Mayor Nutter. In June, this city’s Pride Parade will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Philadelphia itself is marking 50 years of LGBT activism

I met many more of my colleagues, including The Advocate Magazine’s Mitch Kellaway, who covers the Trans* beat, and our boss, Here Media Editorial Director Lucas Grindley, who has grown from an afterthought to an invaluable online resource with a powerful presence in the LGBT community and the world at large.

One interesting footnote about the location of our first event: the Comcast Center tower lobby has the most incredible HDTV screen I’ve ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice, and I was enthralled.

IMG_6357Then came time to meet tonight’s keynote speaker. Given that this is a conference on LGBT diversity and civil rights and the media, I was not sure what to make of the fact that the keynote address was to be delivered by a southern preacher. After all, right now the very existence of the transgender community is under attack by religious conservatives who believe laws should be enacted to deny me and people like me our civil rights, to block us from protection from unlawful discrimination, and to prevent us from using the restroom.

But this man who spoke was not just a minister. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the President of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays protests in N.C., and a man who recognizes, in his own words, that “the stones rejected will become the cornerstone,” equating a parable from the New Testament to the struggle for equality.

He regaled us with stories and educated us with history, how he and others are helping North Carolinians “vote for the future and not out of fear.” And Rev. Barber encouraged us to visit his home state and cover the issues that have sown division in our society. He frequently explained he does not refer to conservative politicians as “the right,” because he doesn’t want to convey the idea he thinks they are correct.

IMG_6367We spoke one on one following his speech and a brief Q&A, about the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly women of color. And he told me how he as a minister counsels those with conservative views to put aside hate and judgment of those women who feel they have no other choice but to turn to sex work, a potentially profitable but entirely dangerous and violent existence, that society at large dismisses as not worthy of consideration. “These are still people,” he told me. “Every life is precious.”

I wish the “pro-life” folks would consider that view the next time someone trans is murdered because a “john” figured nobody would care about a prostitute. I’m not advocating that as a viable line of work; I’m standing up for those who believe there is no other way to survive.

IMG_6388And that is where this blog ends tonight. My colleagues Rebecca Juro, Gwen Smith and Monica Roberts and I had a wonderful evening walking and talking and trading war stories. Tomorrow starts very early.

Oh. Right. It already is tomorrow.

Good morning from Philadelphia!

P.S. Sorry. I forgot to be brief.


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.