The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers

The most disturbing aspect of the negative reactions to the recent settlement between the MTA about the use of bathrooms by transgender people is the coalescence of a new “talking point” about transgender bathrooms: the fear that they will allow peeping toms, rapists and child molestors to enter the women’s rooms unhindered. People seem particularly disturbed at the idea that the judgment as to which bathroom to use is left entirely up to the pisser. Here’s a quote from the New York Daily News article:

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women’s room.

Jerry Fuhrman, “From On High“:

If I choose to go to New York, have a few shots and beers, decide to “consider” myself a woman for the night, and camp out in the women’s restroom at the Ritz-Carlton to see what I can see, am I now protected by the law?

I know where I’m going on vacation …

Here’s a taste of the venom and hysteria in the FreeRepublic discussion thread, but then again, what do you expect from Freepers?

Now, will any provision made for safety for “real” women who don’t want to be preyed upon by rapists and thugs dressing in drag to gain access to, literally, sitting ducks? Or do they have to just suck it up in order to appease the freaks?

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful and reasonable attempts to clarify the issue by poster Dukat. I wonder how long Dukat will last on FreeRepublic; they have a reputation for purging posters who don’t toe the party line.

The tricky thing about the safety argument is that, like all lies and hysteria, it’s based on a kernel of truth. The sad fact is that women are disproportionately victims of violence and are less safe than men anywhere they go. Everyone is more vulnerable when they’re half-dressed and peeing, shitting or grooming themselves. Combine these two, and a public bathroom can be a very scary place for a woman. Gossip isn’t the only reason women go to the bathroom in groups. Continue reading “The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers”

More transgender bathroom background

In my previous post, I discussed recent transgender-related bathroom events. Now, to go back a little further, I wanted to mention two events that show how seriously some people take bathroom gender boundaries, and the lengths that law enforcement will go to.

A fellow poster of mine on the My Husband Betty Message Boards related a horrible story. Over ten years ago she was arrested in the “wrong” bathroom in her hometown, a large Southern city. She was sent to jail and, upon her release, ordered to receive mandatory “aversion therapy,” namely electric shocks applied while she viewed gay male pornographic images.

In February 2002, after protesting the World Economic Forum, transgender lawyer Dean Spade was arrested along with two friends for trying to use the men’s room at Grand Central. Here is a picture of the riot squad that was mobilized to arrest these three transgressors:

After reading about this incident, I attended Spade’s trial to show my support, and was pleased when the judge threw out all counts within five minutes. I got to meet Spade and his companions, and they seemed so physically non-threatening that the idea of all these cops waiting to arrest them is just silly.

Some Transgender Bathroom Background

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the bathroom rights of transgendered people, particularly here in New York, and I feel the need to do a post about it. Just to recap:

  • In July, a transgender person was attacked with a lead pipe in the McDonald’s across from the Empire State Building, by the store manager, for using the bathroom (with permission). When the police arrived, they arrested the transwoman, not the manager. The police have told the woman’s lawyer that “the case is closed,” and as far as I know, McDonald’s has not commented on the matter.
  • The MTA just settled a lawsuit by a Verizon employee stationed at Grand Central Terminal, who was harassed by MTA police whenever she tried to use the women’s room.
  • On October 3, three “trans youth” (an exonym) were arrested and verbally abused while trying to use the bathrooms in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. A Port Authority spokesman said, “The police inspector is very concerned and is looking into it.” Update: this article in the New York Blade provides more details of the verbal abuse that the Port Authority Police laid on these youth, and how State Senator Tom Duane is helping to pressure the Port Authority to comply with the law.

The MTA settlement has been making the news, followed by the blogs, with some predictable responses by clueless bloggers. Some of the articles are sympathetic, some not. Here are a few examples:

  • First, a surprisingly respectful and sensitive article by Clemente Lisi of the New York Post.
  • The Daily News is generally a little more clueful than the Post, so their insensitive take was pretty surprising. However, it closes with a progressive, open-minded quote.
  • The funniest quote was from a blog called Metadish: “Has anyone actually seen the bathrooms at Grand Central Terminal? This is like a giant step back for the transgendered community. Maybe next time you could lobby for some bathrooms that aren’t public health hazards.”

The other comments all fall into one category, but I’ve got a lot to say about that. Rather than use “more…” I’m going to create another post.

A star for Ed Wood!

According to Metafilter, transvestite B-movie director Ed Wood does not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hollywood horror and costume shop The Dapper Cadaver is running a campaign to raise money for the star. Apparently, all you need is $15,000. If, as Celebrity Stink (sorry for the ugly ads) reports, there are stars for George Lopez and the Olsen twins, the standards must be low enough for Wood. Wikipedia has an extensive list of stars on the Walk of Fame.

Postrel on Glamour

I’ve got a new candidate for my list of twenty-first century geniuses. Joining Malcolm Gladwell and Jonti Picking is Virginia Postrel, who I just discovered from an article in the October Atlantic Monthly, Superhero Worship.

I did a little research to find out more about Postrel, which isn’t very hard since she’s all over the Web. It’s not like I’m uncovering some hidden gem. She’s a well-known, well-published writer, editor and blogger on politics and economics. And honestly, I disagree with most of what I’ve seen from her on those topics. Hey, I linked to Mike Huben’s Critiques of Libertarianism back in 1995!

What I find valuable from Postrel is the clarity that she brings to the idea of glamour. One fascinating point is the fact that the word “glamor” used to mean a magic spell. The OED says that it came through the Scots language from the same root as “grammar,” so the meaning pathway was, roughly, grammar > learning in general > magical skill > magical spell > charming someone with looks and style. Continue reading “Postrel on Glamour”

Coming Out at American Express

(Originally posted January 24, 2004)

From the moment I first slipped on a pair of my sister’s nylons when I was eleven years old, I knew that my cross-dressing was a shameful, dangerous practice, and that people would rather that I kept it secret. When I was twenty-four, I decided that I was tired of hiding, and I just wanted to be able to be who I was. I wanted to be able to join in the conversation when I heard women talking about clothes, not turn away. Mostly, I just wanted to stop feeling ashamed.

In the winter of 1995-96, I was living in New York in an apartment I shared with an old friend. In the previous two years, I had come out to two gay male friends, two girlfriends, my father, my apartmentmate, one bisexual friend, and one straight male friend. Everyone had been relatively accepting and supportive, so I decided to come out to the rest of the world. I had decided to post to transgender newsgroups under my real name, and I knew that it was impossible to hide that. I had started carrying a picture of myself cross-dressed in my wallet. I knew that at some point I would have to come out at work.

My work then consisted of temping for Vanstar, an outsourcing company at the offices of American Express. We were working for American Express, but we were twice removed from most of the benefits of being actual American Express employees. The American Express employees resented us for taking their jobs, and the Vanstar employees looked down on us for being temps. But the money was decent, and it was good experience. Continue reading “Coming Out at American Express”

Doing Transgender Research: Recognizing and Compensating for Limitations

(Thanks to the members of the My Husband Betty message boards for helpful feedback.)

Over many years of contemplating transgenderism, I’ve come up with a few principles that I’ve encountered over and over again. Principle One is “No one really knows what’s going on.” With so many closeted cross-dressers, stealth transsexuals, and people from all over the transgender spectra lying to themselves and to others, and lots of people who’d rather not hear about us, it’s very difficult to make any statements with confidence, or to believe any statements from anyone else.

Recently, there’s some good news and some bad news regarding Principle One. The good news is that there’s been an increase in funding for transgender research over the past few years. Much of this funding is in the form of locally based studies in the context of research on the transmission of AIDS. (I could write a whole article on the problems involved in that idea.) Social service organizations around the country have gotten grants to study their local transgender populations, and have gone out, found transgender people, asked them questions, and published the results. With the sometimes-generous support of the government and philanthropies, hard-working teams of investigators have collected large amounts of data, sometimes on only a small salary or even on a volunteer basis. Just do an Internet search for transgender study and you’ll find a bunch of them.

So what’s the bad news? Unfortunately, a lot of this time, effort and money have been wasted due to poor methodology. It really upsets me every time I read about one of these studies, because I want the same information that the study organizers want, and I know how caring and dedicated they are. I hate the idea that they could have taken all that money and left it in a pile for the clients of their walk-in clinic and probably done more good. Continue reading “Doing Transgender Research: Recognizing and Compensating for Limitations”

Some Transgender Principles

As I have time, I’m going to gradually migrate my writings from my old transvestite website to this new blog, revising and updating them in the process. I’ll also write new articles as the muse strikes me. Many of them will relate to this list of principles that I developed in 2005 and have been expanding since.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been participating on the (en)gender Message Boards, moderated by Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty, and her husband Betty Crow. It’s a really good group of people, with lots of interesting ideas about transgender phenomena, but over that time I’ve found myself saying a few things over and over again. This page is written in part to save myself some typing on this message board; the next time one of these comes up I can just link to Principle 3. Kind of like the joke about the comedians’ club.

Right now I’ll just write a little blurb for each principle. As time goes on I may expand them into full-fledged articles.

1. No one really knows what’s going on
Discussions about transgenderism are often full of generalizations: “Transgender individuals are like this,” or “Transsexuals are like this, but cross-dressers are like that.” The fact of the matter is that nobody’s done enough research to prove this, so everyone’s going on hunches. Unfortunately, hunches can often be wrong. The bottom line is that nobody has information beyond the people that they’ve talked to. Except in Sweden. Continue reading “Some Transgender Principles”

Some good work-related trans news

There are a couple of good trans-related things that have happened to me in the past month. They both relate to my business; in case you don’t know, I’m a computer consultant. I’ve been hesitant about being out to my customers for a number of reasons. The main reason is that it’s just not relevant to most of my business. But sometimes things come up, and it makes sense to mention something trans-related. The second problem is that I’ve built a lot of my business in my local neighborhood, and it’s a bit more conservative than Manhattan. Even in Manhattan, though, I worry that transness (especially transvestism) may not be as accepted as homosexuality.

There are signs that being out isn’t as difficult as I thought, however. I know that one of my biggest customers was aware of my cross-dressing before she hired me, and I’ve come out to some of my other cutomers (who I knew were either some flavor of queer, or at least open-minded) with no adverse consequences. And now, recently, two more things.

The first is that I’ve recently become involved in LGBT business networking. In June I joined the organization Out Professionals, and I was a little apprehensive at first, because all their materials just say “lesbian and gay.” But I asked if it was okay to join because I was trans, and the seminar organizer said, “you could even be straight, and you’d be welcome.”

A few weeks later I got an announcement from Out Professionals that one of their members is organizing a breakfast networking group here in Queens. I went to the first meeting last month, and it was a really nice experience. The other attendees were very friendly, and I got some promising business leads. The next meeting is going to be on Wednesday, September 13 in Jackson Heights. It’s still at an informal stage, so if anyone reading this is interested in attending, send me an email and I’ll send you the organizer’s email address.

The other positive development recently is that I met another computer consultant who’s trans. This woman is transsexual, around fifteen years post-transition, and has built a successful computer consulting business with several employees. She tells me she doesn’t pass with everyone and she’s out to anyone who wants to know, but if any of her customers know she’s trans, it doesn’t seem to faze them. They seem much more interested in getting their computers working.

It’s reassuring to see this, as a counterpoint to all those studies that use questionable methods and claim to show that almost all transpeople are drug-addicted prostitutes or underpaid social workers. It shows that there’s a middle way between the closet and poverty.

First post

I’m writing this blog because every so often I’m moved to write something about transgender issues, and people don’t seem to take plain ol’ websites very seriously any more. It’s a place to post these things and organize them. I hope you’ll find these writings interesting and useful.