Trans-Actions #1

November 1995, Tapestry Magazine
Also published as “In Your Face”, a stand-alone newsletter circulated internationally.

When 40 transgender folk gathered in Falls City, Nebraska, to show their solidarity and commitment to standing up for (as Riki likes to say) ‘genderqueers’, it kicked off the most exciting year ever for activism by the TG community.  The last few months have seen unprecedented breakthroughs for people not just identifying as crossdressers or transexuals, but for a rapidly expanding circle of folks who now for the first time think of themselves as transgressing gender norms.  Perhaps you recall Kate Bornstein’s thinking along these lines in Gender Outlaw.  Well, it’s catching on, and if it keeps going the way it’s headed, you’ll soon be wondering when and where you missed the train.

One bright light is the communications network which is circulating news around the activist community.  Many folks are now getting their news by Email, so that they can respond to events in days instead of months. This has quickened the community’s response time, promising to change the social map of gender rights by allowing greater pressure to be brought to bear on key transgressions against free gender expression.  No longer need crimes against our community go unchallenged.

As for Falls City, both of the men on trial for the murder of Brandon Teena (and Lisa Lambert & Philip DeVine) were convicted of first-degree murder. First convicted was Marvin Nissen, who then testified against John Lotter in exchange for no death penalty (he has been sentenced to multiple life terms).  Lotter was convicted on three counts of first degree murder, and probably faces a death sentence.

While activists were wrapping up their visit to Falls City, transexual Deborah Forte was murdered in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  She was found with a knife in her chest, with multiple stab wounds and bruises about her head and shoulders.  The alleged murderer turned himself in about a week later, and the Menace promises to show up at his trial.

In Oakland, TS Carmen Montoya was murdered in July in a supermarket parking lot.  No leads on this case, according to Transsexual News Telegraph (how about interviewing some friends?)  The Memphis TG community mourned the passing of Father John Prowitt, who was shot in an apparent robbery.  A TS who devoted himself to service to the community, he is particularly remembered for his work with incarcerated transexuals.

In the latest legal gender case drawing national attention, Sean O’Neill in Colorado Springs, CO has been indicted on 11 counts of rape for the “crime” of engaging in consensual (and apparently satisfactory) sex without disclosing the shape of his genitals, which are “female”.  The story is detailed in the October OUT magazine.  Look for a Menace action on this case, whose implications are particularly pernicious for the TG community.

In June, the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF), the leading national Gay/Lesbian lobbying organization, blocked an amendment to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would have added the words “and gender expression” to the freedoms protected by the act.   Their timing was ideal: the news broke during ICTLEP in Texas.  Leading TG freedom fighters were outraged, and waged war against HRCF, leafleting their fund-raisers and in some cases (regrettably, in this author’s opinion) discouraging contributions to HRCF.  The conflict culminated in a meeting in Washington between HRCF and a handful of TG leaders.  The meeting, according to one attendee, stalled at loggerheads while TG folk made demands and HRCF resisted.  Finally, ‘our side’ backed off on their aggressive (typically patriarchal) tactics and made overtures of friendship and cooperation, to which the HRCF folk responded positively.  HRCF (now HRC) has agreed to pursue TG inclusion in their work, and cooperation is proceeding well at this writing.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thanks to a DPW director, has launched a campaign to deny Medicaid benefits to TG/TS persons.  The DPW is both denying current services and seeking reimbursement from providers for past services rendered.  The situation has been publicized by gender activist Kristine Holt, and the Menace is planning supporting action.

Nationwide, anti-Gay initiatives dominate the legislative landscape, and TG activists continue to play a supportive role in their defeat.  As the TG community begins to pull it’s political weight, more and more pro-TG legislation is being introduced and supported around the country.  Success so far has been limited to local ordinances such as passed by San Francisco and under consideration by Iowa City, but hey, it’s a start.

Meanwhile, a long-term national-level effort is beginning.  National Gender Lobbying Day on October 2 in Washington, DC was a landmark event for this community, and chances are you’ve already read about it elsewhere.  It was an enormous success, and next year we’re hoping to double participation.

About half the folks in DC to lobby took part in a demonstration in support of Tyra Hunter, the TG person of color who was left bleeding on the street while a rescue worker laughed at her because she had a penis.  The protest succeeded in obtaining an audience with Mayor Marion Barry as well as Fire Chief Latin, the one responsible for the (non) investigation.  Positive results, unfortunately, are yet to be seen.

Speaking of color, TG activist Dawn Wilson is creating a mailing list for minority members of the TG community; an effort towards inclusion sorely needed by our community.  She says: “Please send me the name, address and phone number of any minority member in your groups or on your list. …call me at 606-277-8244 or write me at 342 Waller Ave, Condo 6A, Lexington, KY 40506”

Meanwhile Drs. Sandra Cole and Matthew Whitten, respected scientists from the U. of Michigan, have agreed to assist in a study of violence against the TG community.  This study will provide the foundation for an effort to include transgender as a category in the federal Hate Crimes reporting act.

This effort is just one more to spin off the work of Riki Anne Wilchins, who emerged this year as a leading activist for our community. When folks started offering money in support of Riki, she wisely passed it on to GenderPAC, the newly formed TG political action fund.  Managed by Lynn Walker, this fund will support the newly-potent gender activism efforts.  If you have some resources which could be helpful in this effort, do not hesitate to contribute to this fund, which is being managed cleanly and spent wisely.

The Bisexual and Transgender communities edged closer together, as Anything That Moves, the Magazine for the Uncompromising Bisexual printed the first issue of Riki Anne Wilchins’ In Your Face, the Journal of Political Activism Against Gender Oppression within its pages.  Cooperative effort between our communities, which share similar philosophies –  and often membership – is on the rise.

By the way, issue #2 of the groundbreaking In Your Face is now available as an insert to most major TG publications (including this one), or by subscription.

Since William Waybourne became Managing Director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) in July, five people of color and one TG woman have left the organization.  In addition, Waybourne has nastily fired Nancy Perez, Donald Suggs and Cathay Che, all people of color.  The actions purge GLAAD of all but one person of color and all advocates for the bisexual and TG communities.  It appears GLAAD is responding to the increasing pressure from the right with “save yourself” rather than the more effective “hang together or we’ll hang separately” philosophy.   Time for a wake-up call?

In The Media: Finally, there’s a media effort to counter the Right’s thrust against the queer community: PFLAG has launched a national media campaign.  Hot TV spots juxtapose the hate-filled rhetoric of the right with violence against Lesbians and Gays.  Targeted for initial airing in foud cities, the campaign has run into a brick wall in Atlanta, with limited success in Houston, Tulsa, and Washington.

Now that the Brandon Teena case is closed, it’s become fair game for storytellers.  Diane Keaton is said to be planning a movie (based on a dubious book by Aphrodite Jones, a True Crime writer) which will depict Brandon Teena as a misguided girl whose duplicity brought trouble to her.  May TG activists succeed in bringing enlightenment to Ms. Keaton before shooting begins. Meanwhile an independent effort by Kimberly Ane Peirce in NYC has landed funding for a feature-length movie of her fiction based on the Brandon Teena story, a work which is sure to be a pleaser.  Kim is a gender activist who wore the Menace colors in Falls City during the vigil.

Speaking of movies, Hollywood tried to cash in on the public appetite for transgenderism with “To Wong Foo… Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar”, a story reminiscent of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, but lacking the latter’s substance.  Disappointingly saccharine, the flick nonetheless plays drag with a positive spin, always a welcome direction.  Now, if only they’d do a good job of it.  Pro golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez doesn’t like the ribbing he’s getting because the cutest of the lead queens in the flick goes by his name.  Can you relate?

Also in the Media, ABC’s 20/20 is working on a segment about TG activism.  They’re building the story around Tonye Barreto-Neto, TG activist and FTM cop from Hillsboro County, FL, who ‘came out’ in September to a tidal wave of media attention.  Tonye’s aggressive handling of the press averted the exploitive coverage that officer Janet Aiello, MTF transexual in NJ, suffered.  Tonye has joined with other TS/TG officers to found TOPS, Transgendered Officers Protect and Serve, to provide support for other TG uniformed folk.  Inspired by the outing and media harassment of Aiello, TOPS hopes to help avert future unpleasantries, as well as provide education to law enforcement and service providing agencies nationwide, so that our peace officers, fire fighters, rescue workers, etc. will be better informed and kinder to TG folk.  Meanwhile the harassment of Ms. Aiello continues on the job, a story all too familiar to this community.

From overseas, researchers in the Netherlands “discovered” a region in TS brain hypothalami which is more likely to be sized like those of women than men (ie smaller).  While this says nothing of cause and effect, it will no doubt be used to justify all manner of misconception (mistake, peabrain).  According to a study called Project Open Mind, the belief in the general population that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable increases the imperative for tolerance.  So perhaps this brain research will increase the imperative for tolerance of transexuality.  It seems unlikely, though, to help crossdressers, and does nothing to shift the focus of pathology from the individual to the society at large.  Seems more likely to perpetuate the kind of thinking that made us miserable in the first place than to support true reform.  Once again, science plays left field.

In London, transvestites are arguing that they should be allowed the same dual-gendered IDs that transexuals have been granted by London Transport.  LT argues that TS folk have a medical necessity, whereas TVs do not.  Heaven forbid we should be allowed to do it because we want to.

Back home, Sauza Tequila recently ran a particularly offensive ad series, showing well-known TS Tula with the words “She’s a He… Life is harsh, your tequila shouldn’t be.”  So far Sauza has been unsympathetic to TG complaints; activists are boycotting Sauza and encouraging you to do the same.

A handful of TG activists wearing Menace T-shirts attended the NOW convention in Columbus in July… NOW membership responded very favorably to a resolution recognizing the existence and needs of TG folk, a measure which should be ratified soon.  One small step…

The Transexual Menace was also highly visible at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) “Creating Change” convention in Detroit in November.  NGLTF invited TG participation, and we responded.  Riki Anne Wilchins turned down an award for her efforts on behalf of genderqueers, while Phyllis Frye accepted hers with a tearfully moving speech.  High point of the convention was a plenary talk by queer activist Dr. Elias Farajaje-Jones calling for an inclusive movement of “Queers in Intersection”, going beyond binaries to embrace all oppressed persons, spanning race, gender and sexuality.  He repeatedly referred to “genderqueers” and transgender folk, and delivered his message while wearing a Menace T-shirt.  Now there’s a serious ally for our community; let’s not fail our brother and sister queers of color.

Speaking of The Menace, they’re losing their bad girl/boy reputation (which was never deserved) as their actions continue to be diplomatic, responsible, positive and effective.  Their motto “Confronting with Love” has so far held true, as they demonstrate the consistently positive results that can be obtained when people are approached lovingly rather than threateningly. Besides, the T-shirts look great.

– Nancy Nangeroni