Tag Archives: LGBT

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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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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Women Know How to Shut That Sort of Thing Down

Last night was definitely an all around win.

We got President Obama for another four years. And in his acceptance speech he acknowledged all creeds, disabled Americans and gay voters. In other words, he recognized that his constituency is not the 47%, but 100% of the people.

In Missouri Claire McCaskill (a woman!) beat back rape apologist Todd Aiken for her senate seat. In his concession speech, Akin thanked God, who, he said, “makes no mistakes.”

In Indiana, Joe Donnelly defeated Mourdock – showing that rape is not a platform and will lose you a republican seat, even if it has been held by republicans for years on end.

In New Hampshire there is a female governor, and TWO women in the House! Which may be a record, I’m not sure.

In Colorado they voted to legalize Marijuana.

In Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren  won, which just makes me happy on principle.

In Illinois, Tammy Duckworth became the first Thai -American woman elected to US Congress. Oh, and she’s also disabled which makes it EVEN MORE AWESOME.

Oh, yeah, and speaking of firsts – Tammy Baldwin? First Openly Gay senator! And from WISCONSIN.

And then there’s my home state, Washington. We voted to legalize marijuana as well, and it’s looking pretty damn good that WA will legalize gay marriage (The governor called it last night, but hopefully it’ll be official SHORTLY)

In Maine, gay marriage was voted in, as it was in Maryland! And Minnesota voted to ban future bans on same sex marriage.
Puerto Rico voted to pursue statehood – possible 51st state! This should be an interesting thing to watch.

The evening was highlighted by firsts, and by important steps in our nation. I’m proud to say that the voters came out, and they voted for equality, and for the future.

The Moral of the Story: Stopping people from getting married isn’t something which wins approval, the war on women doesn’t make you friends, and blaming rape victims tends to make you the bad guy.

Congratulations, America. We’ve got another 4 years before this nonsense happens again.

Have a picture of a kitty, you deserve it:

Kitty in a (ballot) box


Filed under Feminism, LGBT, Politics, War On Women

Flying The Flag

In the Castro, there is a flagpole on Harvey Milk Plaza. It flies the Rainbow Flag 365 days a year, unless a specific group under the LGBT umbrella has requested that they fly a flag for them. They’ve done it for the Bears, and they do it for the Leather community.

So why was the Transgender Flag on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance any different?

The Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) run the flagpole, and when asked in early September to fly the Transgender Flag to honor those who have died because of who they are, the MUMC chose to deny the request. It was rejected on the basis that the request had been made to fly the flag at half mast given the purpose of the day.

Had the organization simply said “We’d be happy to fly the flag so long as we are provided with the flag and we can fly it at full mast in order to comply with safety requirements. It is also a part of our goal to never put the flag at half mast, since we want to represent the strength of the LGBT community” it would have been fine. But no. Instead of offering to fly the flag and demonstrate solidarity with the transgender community, the MUMC chose to deny the request in full.
I am very glad that after 1000 signatures and many emails they chose to remake their decision and are now planning to fly the flag on November 20th. However, even their acceptance letter leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as they state “This has been a difficult conversation and emotions run very high in both directions on the issue.” and I have to ask – why? Why is it so divisive to fly this flag when others have been accepted in the past? The whole thing has notes of discrimination, and in a community of minorities, during a time when equal rights are being fought for, dividing the community makes little sense.

I hope that the organization considers widening their gaze to include all people under the LGBT umbrella in their considerations with less snark in the future.


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