Category Archives: LGBT

My childhood landscape involved shooting at dragons

Nerf is coming out with a line for girls. The Rebelle – and the first item in their line? The Heartbreaker Bow. It’s… well… Pink.

And it’s for girls.

And for those reasons, I want to hate it.

But the converse of that is this: The function of the bow is absolutely not any weaker than the other products made for Nerf, in fact it’ll pack the same strength behind it as the Nerf Elite darts. The company is making a bow and arrow set targeted at the female child market, and  I never thought I’d see that happen in my lifetime.

But I also think children are smarter than that. And in an age where we have children who are recognizing that there is more than just gender binary – where we do have children who realize their gender may be in flux, we need to stop marketing to children with “Boy” this and “girl” that. We need to just start making toys for children. 

So that the 6 year old girl who wants to hunt dragons (or rescue them, as the case was with me) can shoot a bow and arrow and wield a sword.

So that her brother can play with dolls or a tea set if he wants to.

So that the trans child who doesn’t have an easily identified gender market can play without fearing gender identification by picking up a doll or a Tonka Truck.

Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and really – what’s the difference between the Heartbreaker Bow and the Z Curve Bow except color?

I know that Nerf did market research, that they didn’t just slap pink packaging on one of their other models and call it For Girls, and for that I do commend them to an extent. But why do we need to slap pink on it at all? Why can’t girls play with bows and arrows? Why weren’t girls already part of that market?

In a world where a young woman can choose to enter the military, serve her country – and now go to the front line – we should be changing our perceptions, and maybe it’s a small thing, but the changes start with the toys we play with as children.


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In the Shadow of Illness

I don’t remember ever being told my father was dying. I must have been too young when I internalized this information. I think I always knew he was sick, and since my dad was an AIDS educator, it wasn’t like I didn’t know what the disease did.

It was the 1990s. We were only beginning to knew what AIDS was, and at 8 years old, I only understood what it had done to my father.

My memories of these days are so scattered, and I try to pick up the pieces, scrambling them together like a puzzle made of my own sadness.

I’m still missing some of the pieces – and as an adult I am discovering that the process of getting to know my father nearly twenty years after his death is something I am going to have to fight through. I have letters, written to him, and written from him to others. I have his artwork. I have his writing. I have the play he wrote about his disease.

But I will never remember what he smells like. How do I grab hold of his smell, or his tone when he was happy? The question I begin to ask myself is not “who was he?”, but sometimes “Who am I?” in the context of my lineage.

People tell me I look like him. I have been told that I dance like him once or twice. But I cannot draw like my father, and our writing styles are vastly different. Where does the person I have become line up with the person that he is, and how do I integrate these things into a whole?

When all you have is fragments, where do you begin?

The discovery of who my father was is slow.

Whether or not we realize it, our parents are integrated into our identities at early stages in our development. But there was no father to take with me to the father daughter picnic for father’s day, and I remember having to explain myself whenever a classmate at a new school would ask why I wasn’t making my dad a card.

As adults, we’re expected pretty frequently to identify with our families – especially in highly socialized rituals like weddings. When I got married last year, strangers would ask, “is your father going to walk you down the aisle?” or say, “Oh, your father is just going to love lifting this veil off your face!”

I’ve never been a Daddy’s Girl. I don’t even know what that means. I do know that I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to acknowledge and remember a person who I don’t really know. This year I’m forming an NYC AIDS Walk group in his memory – to walk in his honor and raise funds to fight the disease which killed him. But I don’t want to know my father through his disease. I don’t want to have him be just an illness. I want him to be my parent.

The problem is that even when I ask the people who knew him best about his life, they can’t tell me about the relationship we might have had because none of them are his child. These splinters of memory – reading books about hippos, playing rocketship/astronaut games before going to sleep (and sharing my bed with him when I stayed the night), having my art hanging on the wall – a child’s sketches, next to his artwork during a showing— reading his dedication to me in the play he wrote. These are the things I can cling to.

But they’ll never be enough.

I don’t know if this is what it’s like for everyone when they lose a parent – but I know that I still grieve 20 years later, in part not because I miss him, but because I miss what he could have been in my life. I miss the may-have-been moments.

As a child I remember that I clung to the idea of his physical remains – his ashes, because they were the only reminder I had that he had been there at all. I sometimes envy the people who have gravesites to visit, because at least then there is an acknowledgement outside of their memories – a physical space to occupy when you wish to remember. I don’t have a gravesite, but I do have physical touchstones. As a historian, I suppose it does help me to have these artifacts of his life. I own his archive.

I didn’t know, for example, that my father could read German until I found letter written to him exclusively in German. I didn’t know that his artwork wasn’t always abstract, and that the things I love in art are influenced by the work he did when I was around him. I don’t know how I’m like him, but I want to know. I remember going with him to teach AIDS education classes to adults – I have letters thanking him for his teaching, and these are the things I choose to carry with me. I haven’t done the work in a long time, but I think it may be a way to connect with him – something which I did with him before that I can carry on as an adult. The disease is so different now, but the reality remains the same.

It happened to me, it has happened to others: their parents die from AIDS, but instead of everyone understanding it like they would cancer or another terminal illness, the sideways glances of misunderstanding cloud their faces. The politics of sex education and gay rights muddle the story of my past, and I am forced to politicize the very nature of my identity. The teddy bear gay pin sits in my jewelry box. The ACT UP pin sits next to it. The photos of drag queens and letters from family sit in my office, and I need to find a way to synthesize the historical image of my father with the reality. I need to understand where I came from without forgetting what I already know.

He was Tanya Ransom, a drag queen. He was Michael, an artist, educator and playwright. And he was a patient. And he was my father.

N.B.: If you would like to donate or walk in the AIDS Walk Team I have begun, it is team 4884!

Artwork by Michael "hiv" Norman and Elsa Sjunneson

Artwork by Michael “hiv” Norman and Elsa Sjunneson

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LGBT News Bites

I remember being very little and going to a few meetings of what was called the “Daisy Scouts”. I don’t remember why I stopped going, but I do remember being very uncomfortable with the idea that we had prayer circles.

When people returned or refused their Eagle Scout medals I payed attention, recognizing that the Boy Scouts of America were not an equal opportunity group.

Today I can be proud that someone is challenging that. A Brooklyn Dad has founded a gender neutral scouting troop, welcoming girls, boys, gay kids, and likely trans (though the story doesn’t say). I really appreciate that he is creating his own thing, and refusing to put money towards an organization which he finds to be discriminatory in it’s policies. Which they are.

The second awesome thing is that the National Cathedral is going to have its first ever same sex marriage! I am so glad that the National Cathedral will be welcoming and open to all people when they celebrate in marriage – not just those whom the law recognizes as equal. It is lovely to see a religious organization recognizing all love publicly.

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Sound Reflections: Questionable Quotes

I read a lot online. I read a lot of news, a lot of information, mostly so when I write on here I don’t come off as an under-informed dilettante. In the last 48 hours I’ve read a number of things which have made me frustrated. So we’ll talk about a couple of them.

This is a new segment on Feminist Sonar, named after the way in which sonar gets targets. The targets give off sound reflections. This is what I found.

Let’s start with an interview with Deborah Feldman over on XOJane, about her book “Unorthodox” which is a book about growing up in the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve read the book and I have a number of opinions on it, but her book isn’t actually what concerned me. It was her use of the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had me questioning her opinions:

“So many of the strict Hasidic laws seem to have been created in response to the horrors that Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust. Is all of this just the sort of thing that happens when an entire community suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

That’s exactly how I see it. In fact I’ve used those exact words. I’ve come to the conclusion that when a community is founded on PTSD, you can pass that PTSD on to the next generation, and maybe even on to another — but with every generation it’s going to be diluted, and the motivation for keeping your community and traditions alive is going to fade. My view is that if this community does not adapt and reform, it will eventually collapse and lose its youngest generation. And the new generation now has smartphones and the Internet; when I was growing up we were really isolated, but there’s no way to keep tabs on people right now, there’s no way to keep them from accessing information like they used to. People are wising up.” – Interview with Deborah Feldman

I would really like it if people would stop using Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as short hand for “bad things happen and now everyone is fucked up.”

I’ll let you in on something that isn’t a secret at all: I have PTSD.

I do not think that I will pass my disorder on to any children I may have in the future. I do not believe that we can GIVE PTSD to a future generation. By saying this about the community she comes from, Feldman doesn’t just dismiss the fears of her community (many of which are valid – though perhaps they could lay off on a number of measures which cause outsiders to label them as insular and cruel) but she dismisses the trauma her elders may have faced, and the trauma others have faced in order to gain the diagnosis.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very difficult thing to live with, we have to fight to regain control of our memories, we have struggles to control our sleep patterns, and to learn to live with deep seated fear. I have no doubt that many Hassidic people have made choices about their lives based upon the events of the Holocaust, but this isn’t PTSD. PTSD has symptoms, it has specific experiences. It’s a diagnosis, not shorthand for reactions to horrific experiences. Please don’t use it as such.

Our second quote comes from an entirely different source, and for those of you who read Feminist Sonar frequently, you probably know what it is.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” – Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia really stepped into it this time. He has a habit of saying things like this about any number of topics which can cause most liberals to froth at the mouth and cry for justice – but in this instance what really bothers me is that he jumped directly from homosexuality to murder. No pause, no consideration. Murder. Look, I know that much of the conservative portion of the United States believes that having sex with a homosexual is the worst thing you can do, but the fact of the matter is – it’s sex. It’s just sex. You can have good, bad, or somewhat OK sex.  But unless it’s unwanted sex, you can’t really have evil sex.

The point is, comparing sexuality to murder is ridiculous. It’s overblown – and it tells us that Scalia has no intention of even considering the question of same sex marriage. I shudder to think of what he considers to be the rights of transpeople.
Scalia isn’t going to grant same sex couples marriage rights in this country – other justices are ( we hope), but these kinds of statements do not lend any confidence to me in terms of believing that Justice Scalia can be objective on any matter. His comparisons reek of privilege and of self assurances. I would hope for more decency from a Supreme Court Justice but apparently that isn’t how this works.

The sad fact is that this kind of a comment would be called trolling if someone were a nobody saying this out loud – but because he’s a Supreme Court Justice we actually have to take him seriously. This should be a line from a farce by Moliere, not something we have to take seriously. C’mon, people. You can do better.

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Filed under LGBT, Politics, Sexuality, Sound Reflections

Happy Wedding Day

Yesterday was the first day that same sex couples could get married in Washington State.

And my home state did me very very proud.

It also has reduced me to a puddle of tears at least 3 times in the last 48 hours. I have been raised by a community – and much of that community was queer, or trans, or gay or lesbian or simply nonconforming.

When I got married this last April, I made a promise to myself that I would not sit in complacency just because I’m married to a man. In November, I voted for gay marriage in Washington.

And today, I can share with you these photos from buzzfeed: Photos 41 & 42 are of people who helped raise me. And I’m proud to be able to share these photos with people.

Raise champagne glasses to toast the world, and listen to a little Etta James in honor of all the couples who got married yesterday, and all those that will get married in the future months.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance (A day after, but never late.)

Yesterday was TDoR. I respectfully ask everyone reading this post to please open this link to the list of all those who have died because they were living in their own gender. Please do so knowing that this is triggering for almost anyone. TW on this post in general for violence and bigotry.

I want to tell you the story of how my 10th grade teacher taught me why shock is not always a valuable tool to change hatred.

To begin with you need to understand my exposure to transgendered life. My family is filled with trans activists, with people who transitioned before I was born. I was raised to understand that sometimes people were born in the wrong bodies, and that it is OK to make changes in order to live the life you need to live.

So when I was in the 10th grade, we had a unit on racism and hate crimes in my literature class. I’m not entirely sure how it came up, but someone said something pretty awful and moments later our teacher was angry – and she told us all to watch “Boys Don’t Cry” the movie about Brandon Teena. For those who aren’t aware, the film is the story of a trans youth who was raped and murdered because of who he was. Being the well behaved student that I  was, when my grandmother picked me up from school I told her we needed to rent a movie for my homework – I wasn’t actually aware of how intense the movie was, and I certainly didn’t know what my reaction was going to be.

I watched the movie in my grandparents basement by myself, and afterwards I cried for four hours. Watching the movie hadn’t just been about watching the story of Brandon, but had been about watching the story of every person in my life who was trans, and the abuse that they might suffer were they in the wrong place at the wrong time, were they to come out to the wrong person, or were they to be found out.

We shouldn’t live in a world where watching a movie should make you so terrified for your people that you cannot hold it together enough to leave the basement.

I called my mother in tears and told her what I had watched, and she told me that she was disappointed in my teacher for having told impressionable teens to watch a movie like that. When she saw it in the theaters, she said that grown adults were sobbing in the aisles,. and she felt physically sick while watching the movie.

I’m glad this movie exists for one reason only: it is a great teaching tool if you’re not a part of the community. If you don’t understand the persecution, and the cruelty that happens to people who try to lead their lives in the way that feels right. It is an unflinching view of cruelty and reality.

The point of this story is this: Sometimes we don’t need television or movies to understand fear. For me, I actually didn’t need to see that movie. I probably shouldn’t have. For some of my classmates, it was likely a harrowing but life changing film.

The fact of the matter is that we still live in a time when the Brandon Teena story could happen again. Even yesterday on TDoR itself, I was helping a friend gather resources for a young trans person who does not have a home to go back to. I have heard my trans peers talk about experiences that made them want to commit suicide rather than live in the gender which society assigns them at birth. I have seen friends thrown out of their homes, threatened with abuse, and yes – I have known about suicides.

Being transgendered is not an easy path to walk, and I hope that people will educate themselves, and lend a hand when someone is in danger – because every life lost to bigotry is tragic, even if we didn’t know each other. Our jobs, as allies, as cisgendered people – we need to become better at supporting those who are different. We need to become better at supporting the families of those who lead different lives. Please learn to be tolerant, because without that tolerance we are lost in a sea of hate. The biggest thing you can do TODAY is to never ever call someone by the gender which they DO NOT identify with. Using pronouns THEY choose is another big one. Respecting their name choice. Make these shifts in your language, and you make the world a slightly better place.



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Homosexuality & The Death Penalty

Welcome to Uganda, the country where the “Kill the Gays” bill of 2009 will become law as a “Christmas Gift to the population” (according to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga)
The bill has been written to allow the death penalty in cases of what is defined in the text as “aggravated homosexuality”. The Offence of Homosexuality will still be punished with life imprisonment. Aggravated Homosexuality is defined as: homosexual acts committed by a person who is HIV-positive, is a parent or authority figure, or who administers intoxicating substances, homosexual acts committed on minors or people with disabilities, and repeat offenders. The offence of homosexuality involves engaging in same-sex intercourse and same-sex marriage, as well as working for or volunteering for LGBT organizations.

The scariest part to me, and the one which we can all do something about is the extradition clause. Yes. If they find out that you’re involved in any kind of gay relationship, or otherwise they can extradite a Ugandan back home to be tried and punished – which could mean the death penalty depending on the offense.

Being gay is not a crime against humanity. Neither is being HIV positive. Neither is, for that matter being a gay parent. Yes, pedophilia is a crime, but it is a crime no matter what your sexuality indicates as a preference in terms of gender.

I find it particularly terrifying to think of being a child whose parent was executed for having a gay parent. In fact, having had a gay HIV positive parent means that I already know what that feels like, and adding a possible government sanctioned criminal offense to the pile of trauma is enough to leave me sitting at my computer not knowing whether to cry or laugh at the absurdity.

Instead, I’m asking you to consider doing something about it. If and when this is made a law, consider writing your governmental authorities about the notion of denying extradition to Uganda under this law. That you as a citizen feel it is wrong to extradite someone on the basis of their sexuality.

There’s another thing you can do, too. You can write those same government officials and you can tell them that they should start speaking to the Ugandan Government now. That the United States, or Canada, or Great Britain or France does not support the actions of a state in killing those whose sexual preference is different from the majority.

The fact that Speaker Kadaga has referred to this as a Christmas gift to her people horrifies me, not just because she refers to the extermination and imprisonment of LGBT people as a gift, but because those same LGBT people are her constituents too – and for them this isn’t a gift at all. It’s a condemnation of their rights as human beings in their home country, and proof that their own government does not believe in their right to freedom.

Things may be getting better in the United States, but we have a long way until it is safe to be gay in the world and we cannot be complacent about execution, even if it isn’t happening in our backyard.

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