Monday, June 23, 2014

I only like Erasure when we're talking about Andy Bell and Vince Clarke

     Periodically, I rage and seethe about the lack of representation of people like me, and like my partner, particularly in The Washington Post.  Growing up in the metropolitan DC area, I started reading the Post well before my tenth birthday.  I probably have written about this elsewhere, but it bears repeating, in a world where newspaper readership continues to plummet, I have been reading the print version of the WaPo for over 30 years.  One would think that might classify me as the kind of reader the WaPo would cater to, but this is not so.  Perhaps because I am not a millennial, they have no interest in appealing to me as a reader, or they think I can be taken for granted as a reader, since I've been reading them even as the content decreases in their paper and the price goes up.  The only reason I've been reading them for the past 3 years is because I live in a home where someone else pays for a daily subscription.  In my previous residence, I cancelled my subscription in disgust at their lack of coverage (and respect) for many of the topics that interested me.  I primarily rely on the Post these days for their local coverage, and in that, they often fail me as a reader.

     Their coverage of local women's sports is pathetic, their coverage of local universities that don't have big time football or basketball teams is pathetic, and I'm not talking about their sports coverage of local universities.  Their coverage of LGBTQ issues is dominated by assimilationist gays and lesbians, and privileges marriage equality over all other LGBTQ issues.  They refuse to publish anything that promotes even the tiniest Health at Every Size approach to health and weight (other than a few years ago two brief interchanges with Dr. Linda Bacon).  They even have a long-running weekly feature in their Real Estate section where they profile a different neighborhood in the DMV, and the neighborhood that I grew up in (and my mother before that) has never been featured.  To top it all off, they messed up part of my father's obituary  (he was a Potomac native, not an Olney one).

     Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Washington National Cathedral for their Pride service, which included a sermon by guest preacher Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge.  Rev. Partridge is the first openly transgender priest to give a sermon at the National Cathedral, preaching from the same Canterbury Pulpit where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last sermon.  In addition, Rev. Partridge is a colleague and friend of my partner, Mycroft Masada Holmes (and a friend of mine), so we were doubly excited to attend this service, since Mycroft has not seen Cameron and other transgender leaders in the Episcopal Church since zie moved to Maryland 5 months ago.  The occasion was covered by all four local TV newscasts (channels 4, 5, 7, and 9).  The event was also covered by the other main daily newspaper in DC, The Washington Times, but was not covered at all in The Washington Post.  The lack of coverage by the Post is appalling and inexcusable.  

     I don't have a problem with The Post covering the types of LGBTQ stories that it chooses, as marriage equality and assimilationist gays and lesbians are part of the fabric of LGBTQ life.  However, I believe they should be covering other types of LGBTQ life, particularly those that fall under the B,T, and Q part of the acronym.  When it comes to gender identity and expression, if the majority of local coverage of transgender issues is of the violence done to transgender people, then they're doing it wrong.  I am grateful that they are covering crimes committed against transgender people, and doing so in a way that shows they're taking seriously the issues of violence that affect transgender individuals.  However, there is so much more to the transgender community to cover.  The Post also provided some useful, but not complete, coverage of the recent legislative work in Maryland to pass the Fairness for all Marylanders Act, which added gender identity and expression to Maryland's existing anti-discrimination law.  What is often missing from the WaPo's coverage are the stories of our region's transgender individuals, and their lived experiences, their day to day lives and the culture they are creating.  Rev. Cameron Partridge's sermon is just one of many facets of the world transgender individuals are creating for themselves, and when esteemed media sources like The Washington Post choose only to focus on the legal facet of transgender lives (whether through the political process or through criminal acts), their erasure of transgender existence in its full and wonderful state does another kind of violence to full equality for all human beings in the US.

     I have long ago accepted that I will never see someone representative of myself in the pages of the Washington Post.  I'm sometimes resigned to that fact, sometimes angered by that fact, but I never ever think it is justified.  The omission of Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge's sermon at the Washington National Cathedral, the erasure of transgender, gender variant, and queer people from the pages of The Washington Post and other major news sources, can not stand.  I'm hoping to use this space as a place to mark these erasures, to speak out against the lack of representation of people like me, like my partner, and of many of the people we hold so dear, and to document the vibrant worlds those of us resisting these violent acts of erasure (or those of us at the ponderous boundaries, if you'll indulge me) are creating every day.  I am glad to know that others are doing this work in many useful and skillful ways, and I am glad to follow in their wake.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Fairness for all Marylanders Act 2014, My Testimony

My dear dragon suggested that I share my testimony that I submitted in writing to be shared with the Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee, which will have a hearing on the bill Wednesday March 5, 2014, Ash Wednesday. The chances are looking very promising that the bill will pass in Maryland this year, providing much needed protections for transgender and gender non conforming people in the state.

Here it is:

March 3, 2014

Dear Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee:

I write to you as an almost lifetime resident of the great state of Maryland, having spent about 39 of my 43 years living in Montgomery or Baltimore Counties.  My few years apart from Maryland landed me in an apartment in Washington, DC, less than 1 mile from the state border at downtown Silver Spring.  To say that I am deeply a part of the fabric of Maryland life is an understatement, as I am able to trace my ancestry on my father’s side back to the 18th century in Montgomery County.  There is even a street in Montgomery County named for one of my ancestors, who migrated to the farmland of Maryland from Ireland at a time where the Irish ‘need not apply,’ and yet he found a refuge in Maryland.  In addition, I’ve been blessed to have received most of my education from Maryland public schools, having attended Montgomery County Public Schools from Head Start through High School graduation, and attending Montgomery College and The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where I graduated cum laude in 2004.  This exemplary education allowed me to earn 2 graduate degrees from The George Washington University, as well.

I mention this at length to show that in spite of my educational background provided to me by a public educational system consistently ranked as the best in the United States, I still struggle to find employment that provides a living wage, let alone a wage that is commensurate with my educational attainments.  This happens not because of my credentials or my skills, but because of how I look.  I have no problem finding employment in the low paying service sector, where my intelligence, empathy, and dedication have served pet owners and book lovers well in my many years of retail/pet care employment, and my appearance means little in these industries that struggle to locate and retain good employees.  However, I have had little luck in cracking the white collar world, despite one undergraduate and two graduate degrees. 

As a gender nonconforming individual, my appearance is the only thing that sets me apart from my better employed and compensated peers from high school and college.  My partner, who is transgender and comes from a similar background of educational excellence in Massachusetts, is in the same predicament, and has been so for years.  I was sure that returning to school to earn college degrees, as has been suggested as the best way to adapt to the current lengthy economic downturn, would be able to lift me out of my working class existence and allow me to earn a living wage.  This has not been the case.  In fact, now I am almost $50,000 in debt, unemployed, and living off the generosity of my retired, disabled mother.  I fear that because of the discrimination that transgender and gender nonconforming people experience in Maryland and most other places, that I’ll never be able to afford the kind of middle class life that my parents were able to build in Montgomery County as public sector workers without college degrees. 

I am proud to have been raised in Maryland, and as a scholar of American literature and culture, I am proud of the tradition of outsider, nonconformist, and social justice figures in Maryland history.  Writers and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, creative geniuses like John Waters and John Barth, women unafraid to break down barriers like Billie Holiday and Mama Cass Elliott, and many other figures in Maryland history have helped shape its image as a place of refuge and support for the outsider and the minority.  Our legacy as a colony supporting religious liberty in the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, and our recent passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act allowing for marriage equality for all loving and committed couples, demonstrates our enduring legacy as a place that genuinely strives to give all Marylanders the equality that allows them to perform at their best, and contribute to a better society.
I hope today you will vote for the passage of the Fairness for all Marylanders Act of 2014.  Let’s continue to place Maryland at the top of the list of places that promotes a just and egalitarian society for all, and a place that emphatically shuts the door on ignorance and discrimination against anyone different from ourselves.  Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and for making me exuberantly proud to call myself a Marylander, because Maryland is a place that embodies the best principles of United States democracy.

Yours Truly,


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Doubt Started Thanks to the Greek Gods

I got some helpful feedback on my Facebook page about my questions in the last post, thank you all who responded.  I think the questions will stay questions that follow me as I journey on in my interactions with the world, and that it is OK to stay in the questions.  For now, I'll just meander on in the blog, and see what happens.  

One of the topics I was thinking of dedicating this blog to is my interest in faith and religion.  I'm not so keen on the word spirituality, mostly because I find it to be a nebulous term that doesn't work for me.  When it comes to world views, I don't like nebulous.  Really, though, most of us prefer the concrete, the binary, the non-gray, and I recognize the trap this kind of thinking ensnares us in no matter what subject we're investigating.  My discomfort with the idea spirituality must be my paradoxical need to hold on to outmoded ideas as I work through new ones. 

That disinterest in nebulousness is what kept me away from anything to do with religion or faith for a long time.  Even as I became more accepting of multiplicity and fluidity and the unknowable in many other areas of my life and my perception of the world, I still expected religion and faith to be clear, solid, binary, and totalizing.  I'm guessing that is a tall order even for G-d/a higher power/the laws of physics and nature/the petri dish we're swimming in to deliver.

However, I started to find myself cultivating relationships with people who were observers of religion, more specifically, Christianity, the religion I was born into.  I had long been a believer of that liberal conviction that anyone who was a dedicated Christian was an anti-queer, close-minded, right wing fundamentalist know-nothing.  I thought that any Christian who didn't claim that queers were against the bible and going to hell were just trying to obfuscate the 'facts' of Christianity because they were trying to change the rules to fit their own beliefs, instead of G-d's 'actual' rules.  I was nothing if not dogmatic when it came to my rejection of Christianity, a counter-move of mine to pretend I rejected Christianity before it had a chance of rejecting me.  My stuck out tongue to the big guy upstairs, if you will.

In most things, I seek out wisps and puffs of judgement and brew it up into my complete rejection from individuals and institutions and groups.  It has taken me until just recently to recognize that this is something I do, instead of something done to me.  It is a feeling like old skin, and so comfortable in its deflection of most forms of connectivity.  I must stress that this animating principle did not come from out of the abyss, but by focusing on the times I was rejected, and using my sensitivity to the signs of rejection to suss them out in situations either devoid of such rejection, or so insignificant to expend brain activity on, I missed out many of the moments of inclusion, of welcome, of recognition that we were the same tangled mess of DNA and neurons.

Being an individual with this predisposition, I forgot to look and see how almost all of what Christianity does say, particularly what Christ says, does welcome me.  But, did I want to be welcomed by Christianity, or any other religion?  For a long time, the answer was "No, not really."  By this time I was partnered with someone who had spirituality at the center of their life, and so I was content to be supportive without being connected to the religious traditions of my partner.  Since there were aspects of religion I had always liked, mostly that of art and music, as well as an admiration for those who were able to be selfless enough to embody a lot of the altruistic beliefs of religions both 'Western' and 'Eastern,' it wasn't that difficult to start to be inside religion without feeling part of it.

I've identified as an agnostic for a very long time, somewhere between 15-20 years I think.  This is how I identified over my life span: 0-12 Christian, 12-ish to early to mid twenties, atheist, since then, agnostic.  I continue to identify as an agnostic, and expect that not to change.  I think it is the most tenable position I can take as someone who strives to be open-minded.  Agnosticism is often portrayed as the laziest, cop-out-iest position one can take on the matter of faith; you either have it or you don't.  This belief annoys me, because it fails to recognize that I'm not trying to evade the question when I say "well, I don't know," I'm saying instead "the cosmos is such a wondrous, awesome, miraculous place, and nobody has enough knowledge to know with certainty how it all came together, so why not stay open to possibility, especially when there are so many competing ideas for the hows and whys of the universe."  It is a position that continues to ask, to study, to observe, and to contemplate, all activities that keep one mindful and engaged in 'the big question' of our existence and the world around us.

Very recently I've begun to see that being a part of religion and being an agnostic aren't positions that cancel each other out.  I'd long read of priests and other religious leaders who have discussed their own struggles with faith, but dismissed the idea that one could permanently be in a state of unknowing and still consider themselves completely a member of their faith.  I also was well aware that faith itself is a state often described as "a belief held while acknowledging that belief's lack of proof, but still holding that belief as true."  Isn't agnosticism then a variation of faith, a belief that there is no proof for, but a hope that there is some truth (or truths) out there that explains it all?  To quote Special Agent Scully questioningly quoting Special Agent Mulder, "I want to believe."  

Since July, I've been attending church regularly.  Not the denomination I grew up in, but one not too far removed.  This denomination is one of the two my partner follows (being a child of an interfaith household perhaps predispositions folks at an early age to be open to the 'yes, and' or 'yes, also'), and it allows me to have my cake and eat it too, in that it has a lot of the old timey ritual and history and art and music I like with the new timey progressive acceptance of queers and women and other religious practices I need.  It fascinates me that some of the older denominations established in the US are among the most progressive.  We shudder mock-dramatically about how repressive and strict and cold those Puritans were, but many of the churches they founded today have an entirely different bent.

I'm also attending because it is my history, after all, this Christian monotheistic faith, and while I don't think Christianity is better or more right than most other religious beliefs, it is like coming back to myself to attend a Christian church, to claim my right to be part of a faith that my ancestors believed.  I've heard Buddhism described as a practice, and not a religion, and I think I'm approaching Christianity in the same way right now.  There is much to learn, and I'm looking forward to that.

Thus, while there is more to add and probably more to come, this is a good stopping point for my religious musings.  I appreciate you coming along.  I worry my discussion of Christian denomination here is still setting up a binary of good Christian denominations/bad Christian denominations, and I apologize if that is so, as this is not my intent.  Oh, the title refers to the fact that learning there were earlier religions before my own that people now dismissed as myths allowed me to think about other ways of being for first time as it related to religion, and one of the first times I thought about alternate ways of being in general.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I am rather surprised to see that I haven't written in here in well over a year.  Bye bye 2013, hello 2014!  I've always been conflicted about this blog, what I want it to do, and if it is a worthwhile endeavor.  Here are the thoughts I'm having: 1) isn't the blog sort of an already outmoded vehicle for fashioning and furthering one's online identity?  2)  Should the blog have a targeted focus, or can it be about anything?  3)  Should the blog have more of an active focus (social justice, education, advocacy, etc), or should it be more passive (my reflections, observations, musings, in other words, more personal and internal)?  4)  How much time should I devote to the blog, or can I even commit to a regular schedule?  5)  Who is my audience, and how do I reach them, should I want to?  6)  Do I want to publicize the blog, or keep it quiet and let folks find it if they are so inclined?  7)  How much of my personal life do I think is wise to share?  8)  What is the expected outcome of blogging, is the goal internal or external (in other words, are my goals focused on the effect it has on my life, or the effect it has on other folks' lives)?  9)  How does blogging help or hinder my ongoing struggle with how much attention I draw to myself/need, as well as thinking through the methods I have used, or contemplate using, to get attention or deflect attention? and 10)  How much attention do I want to pay to the craft of blog writing, and will I be OK with the flaws and imperfections of my writing?

We'll see what develops, and thank you for dropping by.  Here's to a 2014 that is bursting at the borders with promising possibilities!  Enjoy a picture of my darling pugston terrier, Ursula, who can be found on Facebook and Twitter.