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.


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.