Monday, August 29, 2011

A Culture of Duplicity & Inauthentic Living

Former Governor of New Jersey,  James E. McGreevey is perhaps
best known for his startling declaration in 2004 that he was gay and
had been having an affair with a male staff member.

His book, "The Confession", is a gripping and revealing tale of
a man's upbringing and all the facets of living a double life. It's
excruciating to read of all the secrecy and lies that people still
endure in this 'modern' age.

My outlook over closeted public figures has softened somewhat
over the years. I do know there is more than one side to the
story of how people act and live. This book is making me even
more sympathetic to the plight of men and women in this dilemma.

My take has always been that just because I live my life openly
and on my sleeve, I have no expectation that there is only one
way to live as a gay man. (Or woman, or bi, what have you.)

In fact, the way I live is indicative of maybe only 10% of the gay
population. Most favor a quieter, more discreet life. A simpler
and less confrontational way of being. What I do is not about
critiquing anyone else, or suggesting a 'better' way; it's the way I
have to live. And I want to change things in this world do that
no one else has to live a life of desperation like the one McGreevey
so heartbreakingly demonstrates in his autobiography.

All of the hurdles of denying one's own affections, living a life
for others' needs instead of one's own, the lies, the constant fear;
it's all achingly detailed in an honest and straight-forward way that
is engaging and real. For anyone who has ever dealt with feelings
of difference, or being gay, or who knows someone gay, I urge you
to read this book.

It's a blueprint for an unfortunately huge segment of the populace
that we need to address. There are still far too many hurting souls
out there. It's a call for all of us to live a more truthful existence.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

NEW YORK TIMES commentary

August 11, 2011

We Want Cake, Too


Belgrade Lakes, Me.

A few years ago, I did an article on a ventriloquists' convention in Fort Mitchell, Ky., home to 8,000 souls and the Vent Haven Museum, where dummies go to die.

As a transgender woman, I felt strangely at home at this convocation of adorable misfits. Not only were there guys walking around with puppets, there was a Puppet Ministry run by a preacher who sold his own line of dummies (Satan was the most expensive).

There was this whole scene down in the bar after hours. One guy tried to pick me up using something he called "the muffle voice." People threw their voices. There were fights. One guy, staring into his beer, said, sadly, "A bunch of magicians in the same room? That's a conversation. A bunch of ventriloquists? That's an argument."

I thought of this line after New York passed its marriage-equality law in June. Since then, gay men and lesbians have been lining up from Fire Island to Niagara Falls in order to tie the knot.

As this wave of progress ripples through the country, though, one group of people has been prominently left behind. In conversations with transgender people, again and again, I hear the refrain: Enjoy your cake, folks. Meanwhile, the rest of us remain at risk for discrimination and violence.

More than a few transgender people feel they've been sold out by the gay-rights movement and lament the way the "T" in "L.G.B.T." always comes last. It makes me think, "A bunch of straight people in a room? That's a conversation. A bunch of L.G.B.T. people in a room? That's an argument."

When you look at the staggering statistics concerning the struggles of transgender people, it's easy to understand resentment over the amount of resources put into the fight for marriage rights. Transgender people, according to a nationwide study released early this year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, are nearly four times more likely to live in poverty than the general population. Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide; of those who came out as students, 78 percent reported harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence. Nineteen percent said they had been homeless. Among transgender people of color, the numbers are even worse.

The right to marry clearly isn't the most urgent civil rights issue lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (L.G.B.T.) people face.

Still, it's not surprising that marriage rights came first. The lives of gay men and lesbians have finally become part of the fabric of American life. It seems to be harder for people to get their minds around the transgender experience. It takes a much larger leap of imagination for straight people to understand the difference between who you want to go to bed "with," and who you want to go to bed "as." Frequently, gay and lesbian people struggle with this distinction just as much as straight people do.

But if transgender people are sometimes at odds with their gay and lesbian allies, they're also at odds with themselves. The community is rife with disagreements about whether transsexuals (individuals who change, or wish to change, their gender via medical intervention, and whom some define as simply having a "birth challenge" like, say, a cleft palate) even ought to be grouped, politically, with "transgenders" (an umbrella term that includes cross-dressers and drag queens).

Whenever I hear about groups splintering into smaller factions, it's hard for me not to think of John Cleese in Monty Python's "Life of Brian," protesting that he's not with the Judean People's Front; he's with the People's Front of Judea. In short, infighting seems to guarantee that whatever progress is made for gay men and lesbians, transgender people will continue to lag behind.

We can't afford that. It is painful that the pressing issues of trans-rights seem forgotten beneath the din of wedding bells, but progress in civil rights can only come with the numbers and resources found in unity. Gay men and lesbians, for their part, ought to remember, on the way home from Niagara Falls, that it was drag queens and transsexuals at Stonewall who began this fight.

At that convention in Fort Mitchell, I met a female ventriloquist who was clearly one of my people. Among the crowds and wild-eyed talking figures, the two of us drew close. She said she'd read my memoir about my transition. I said, with a smile, "I think you and I have something in common."

But it was clear from her expression that whatever group she thought I belonged to, it was at odds with her own. Her dummy wiggled its wooden ears and looked at me with irritation and contempt. "Why Jenny Boylan," it said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Jennifer Finney Boylan, the author, most recently, of "Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor," serves on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and is a guest columnist.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Pendulum

We need to be cautious and smart in the days that
come, because danger is unfortunately looming.

Throughout history, there has always been significant
backlash whenever society lurches forward against
the wishes of certain parties.

With all the changes in military policy regarding
gays and lesbians, advances in the right to marry,
visible strength in the rise of the gay-straight
alliances, sports stars and politicians in support
of gay rights and protection, and the anti-bullying
campaigns continuing to gain momentum,
many who oppose gays and lesbians are truly
'sick of hearing about it.'

When social progress pushes through, there will
always be an equal and opposite resistance to
it. Add to that the violent and hateful guttural
response that people in this country have towards
the mere idea of homosexuality, and there is a
tempest in a tea pot. (Allusion intentional.)

With the influence of extremists and the religious,
there is a lot of fear and misinformation and absolutism
afoot. It all makes for a lot of sick folks who are
looking for a place to have their 'voice' heard.

SPLC reports attacks on gays and lesbians up
significantly this last year. (And with worsening
economic conditions and other uncontrollable
circumstances burdening people, everyone loves a
good scapegoat.)

Attacks and vandalism surrounding pride parades
this year were insane.

All the nut ball Republican candidates are out to
get us with both barrels...literally, it seems.

These people know that there are freaks like the
Norway shooter out in the crowd, soaking up their
rhetoric and hate speech....and they play to it.
The fanatics are the core base for this new group
of wing nuts. It's a dangerous game, and all they have
to do is play innocent when someone gets hurt or

The attacks will be more outspoken.
The attackers will be without remorse.
We will be blamed for causing our own pain.

They feel attacked by virtue of our being treated
appropriately. They feel justified by their dislike,
supported by a twisted version of a divine creator.
They see themselves as inherently right, and us
as a 'cause'--not human beings--to be stopped.

So be on guard. We can't let them make
us stop living our lives, but just be alert and know that
with great freedom and respect come more obstacles
and threats. Such is life in these Un-tied States.