Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sports Report

This wave of visibility for transpeople in sports continues.....

I'm told that my Op/Ed piece on CNN.com has generated over 900 comments.  I haven't read a one of them, but I'm comfortable with everything I said.  I only wish I had more than 800 words to give it more substance.

I did an interview in Palm Springs today for Advocate TV.  They've been working on a story about trans people in sports for a while now and we've been trying to connect.  I'm told that they're featuring a trans-man in the story, as well, which is particularly good news as that's a side of things that rarely gets visibility.  Timing is everything or nothing and in this case it's a good thing they delayed it a bit because it's more topical now than ever.

I'm not sure what I said but from what I remember I was in rare form today.  My general passion for the subject combined with the fact that I woke up at 4:30am to be on the road by 5:30 (to beat rush hour thru downtown Phoenix), followed by a 5 hour drive before the interview makes the entire day something of a blur.  One thing I do remember is that the finished piece should be available for viewing within a few weeks.  Stay tuned....

There's an article this month in a UK publication called The Spectator ominously titled "Will transsexuals destroy women's sports?" (read it here).   The contents of the piece are better than the sensational title might  indicate.  One passage is particularly timely and well said:
But transsexuals, rather than genetic outliers, are the bogeymen of women’s sports. The better they perform, the more they are loathed by rivals, as the transsexual downhill mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq discovered when she won the 2006 Canadian national championships. The second-placed rider wore a T-shirt on the podium that read ‘100 per cent Pure Woman Champ’.

The science suggests that protests against transsexual athletes are misplaced. While men have a physical edge over women in almost every discipline, male-to-female transsexuals have no guarantee of sporting success. This is partly because treatment following sex-change operations reduces levels of testosterone, the hormone that builds up bone and muscle mass in men. An American report issued this month concluded: ‘Any athletic advantages a transgender girl or woman arguably may have as a result of her prior testosterone levels dissipate after about one year of oestrogen therapy.’

If they were superior athletes, wouldn’t you expect there to be at least one transsexual sporting household name? But no transsexual has dominated a sport as, say, Michael Jordan ruled basketball. The fear is out of all proportion to the reality. And there are only a handful of top-level transsexual athletes. If there’s going to be a transsexual takeover of women’s sport, as some suggest, they will need thousands of reinforcements.

Sports authorities shouldn’t waste time pondering how female women athletes are, because physical equality is not a true sporting value. The swimmer Michael Phelps has a huge bodily advantage over his rivals, but they don’t complain that they weren’t also born with flippers and arms shaped like paddles. Sport is a celebration of inequality.

Very well said indeed.

As for me, one day of chaos down and another tomorrow.  So much to do, and so little time.  As with so many things - it's all about the pacing.  :)

I'm just glad I'm not driving across country at the moment.  USA Today talks about some storms that hit the middle of the country today: "One of the strongest storms in decades barreled across the Midwest on Tuesday, touching off tornadoes, toppling trees and power lines and triggering potent winds that could cause damage and travel woes today."  That's the last thing I need....

I leave for my cross country trek on Thursday.  I'm going to try to limit my days to 800 miles or so as my typical 1,000+ mile days of driving take so much out of me.  It sounds strange to say that simply sitting in a seat steering a car can be draining but those who have done those kind of long days know of what I speak.  My fingers and toes are all crossed that everything gets done, that the trip goes well, and that I land on my feet.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Last Week begins...

This is my last week here in Arizona.  I can't believe it.

This day next week will be my first day on the new job in PA.  I woke up this morning at 5 something (my internal clock is still very confused) and lay there for a little while thinking about that - about how much there is to do between now and then and how things are going to change in my life.  I try not to think about it all that much because it's easy to get overwhelmed by it but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself with a big knot in my stomach from time to time.

I'm driving to Palm Springs tomorrow to do an interview for a segment on trans athletes.  That should be interesting.  It's about a 5 hour drive from here and given everything else that's happening in my world I'd prefer to drive there, do it, and drive back all in the same day.  If I can do that then Wednesday becomes about packing the car and cleaning.

You'd be fascinated (and perhaps a little disgusted) to see some of the email that I got after the CNN article.  The intersection of trans and athletics still makes people crazy and it still baffles me who so many seem to think that this is anything new.  But every time it comes up all the same old arguments come in to play.

I'll share a few of the less ugly ones that represent a few common themes.

A significant component is about "choice".
Don't make your issue/problem societies. Just because you made the choice to alter your God given equipment, don't force your decision/choice down the rest of our throats, just as we would not do to you. You make your bed, you sleep in it. What's next, I decide I'm no good at a particular discipline as one sex, so I'll just jump ship to the other team? Your credibility and intellect come into serious question.

Good day sir/ma'am, whatever.

Here's another one:
Yes, you have a fundamental right to compete.  I don't think people are arguing that (at least I am not).  If you want to compete, and you have the DNA of man, why not compete with MEN?

By playing against men: You can still love your sport and continue to do something you enjoy.  Competition will still be your fundamental right, and you would not have to relinquish anything simply because your path to manhood or womanhood was nontraditional.  Wasn't that your argument word for word?

You physically can compete against men, but still chose to go against women?    That seems odd to me, but admittedly I have not walked in your shoes so I won't judge.  If you are testing yourself physically, why test yourself against someone you know is inferior?  What joy would it bring to blow the competition out of the water?  That seems hollow.  Competing against men seems to solve every one of your issues, and issues I have brought up.
This entire notion of inherent "competitive advantage" seems to be such a profound argument against allowing trans women compete against other women.  The real shame is that any trans athlete who excels will find themselves criticized for this "advantage" (thicker muscles, better DNA, bigger lungs and heart, all kinds of things) rather than being recognized simply as being a good athlete.

But that same argument has been used in the past to prevent other minorities and/or ethnicities from competing in sports as well.  For example, if you go to the Christopedia website (it bills itself as "The True Christian Encyclopedia") there is a similar "statistic" about black athletes:
Negroes have arms which are longer, relative to body height, than those of Caucasians. This feature, together with their much thicker cranial bones, gives Negro athletes an advantage over Caucasians in boxing. The skeletal and muscular peculiarities of Negroes' lower limbs have given them considerable success as sprinters, but have left them relative undistinguished as distance runners.

So, using this logic, should it be argued that blacks should be prevented from boxing against whites because of some inherent "advantage"?  Would anyone dare make that generality or that argument in this day and age?  Of course not.  So where does it end?

A 1977 article in Time Magazine titled "The Black Dominance" provides a fascinating view of this broader subject of dominance and advantage.  One brief excerpt:
The image of the star athlete is, increasingly, a black image. Yet, while many Americans, black and white, wonder about the reasons for the overwhelming black presence in major sports, simply to remark on the fact makes some people uncomfortable. Racial differences —whether physical or cultural—have been employed in the past as excuses for discrimination. Throughout history, scientific findings have been twisted to serve the social theories of supremacists from ancient Greece to Nazi Germany to separate and unequal America.

Read more
This is the exact same stuff that transgender athletes face.  The most important phrase in that passage is "excuses for discrimination" because that's exactly what it is.  Somehow, people can justify it when it comes to trans athletes, but we've gotten past that when it comes to other ethnicities.  Based on many of the emails I've gotten, the main argument why they're NOT the same thing is this notion of "choice"....

There was a large international wrestling tournament here in the Phoenix area over the weekend.  Teams from as far away as Japan and Canada were here, as well as several US Champions and other "big" names in the sport.  I did not compete as I haven't been on a mat in weeks and I've learned my lesson about getting hurt.  My dad used to say "There's a fine line between brave and stupid" so I just went to watch.

I sat in the stands and watched of hours on end.  I had a blast.  One of my goals was to meet a couple of people that I haven't had a chance to chat with and I did that.  I had a chance to talk with the US Champion in my weight class for a while.  I got to spend a little time catching up with my coach.  And, there was lots of good wrestling.  All in all - I had a very enjoyable day.

Back to the topic at hand:  I never imagined I'd become a poster child for trans athletes and perhaps there is still time to step away from it.  But somebody needs to call this stuff for what it is.  And, for now, I will be one of those someones.

One a more positive note, I'll share a blog posting from someone who attended my session at the SHRM Conference a couple of weeks ago (read it here).  Thanks to Paul for his kind words.  It's nice to know that being "out there" sometimes makes a difference....

Time to go.  So much to do and so little time.  I think my head is gonna explode....

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I arrived back to a cloudy and cool Phoenix yesterday afternoon and was full of energy until about 7 o'clock. That's when my body suddenly realized that it had been awake since the equivalent of 1am local time and that it was exhausted so it decided to shut down. I finally crawled in bed at 9.

A highlight of the today so far was bringing my car in to have the Electronic Throttle Module replaced.  It seems like that would have been an expensive proposition if it hadn't been under warranty.  The good news is that the car drives like a charm and it didn't cost me a penny.  That's a big relief given the road trip that's on my horizon.

Those who dare raise their heads out of the sand to stand up for things that may be unpopular in broader society need to be ready for response.  That's something I've learned well over the years and I've got no problem shouldering that burden.  Something in a forum as significant as CNN.com tends to prompt particularly passionate responses.  There are two ways to approach this: (1) In a respectful manner where there is respect for the fact that people can agree to disagree or (2) by name-calling, ignorant comments, and loud-mouthed foolishness. My Op/Ed piece yesterday prompted all of the above.

I'll admit that I didn't read many of them. I'm comfortable enough with having an opinion that might be generally unpopular and with stating that opinion without getting into follow-up skirmishes over it. Some of the responses that I did read had to do with the belief that being transgender is a "choice" whereas race and other things are not, and that choices have consequences that should include being prevented from competing with "real" women.

One in particular deserves sharing here as it highlights something that all to often goes unrecognized but is very much there.  It is from a self-avowed "lesbian" named JoAnn who takes issue with my gender, and her rant is typical of "Womyn" who seem to somehow believe that they own womanhood, or, worse yet, that any one else cares what they think.

A passage from her email:
You are not a lesbian..... you are a transsexual who hinds behind the very thing that you claim to be so proud of. As a gay person I find this to be horrible and as a woman I find you nothing more than a man who is selfish and a lair. No matter what you attempt to do with the body you were born with you will never have the qualities of a person who is respectful of themselves and others around them. You just don't get it. You have disgraced yourself and turned yourself not into the truthful woman that you seek to be and rather transformed yourself into the ultimate of lairs. JoAnn

Although I didn't respond to many emails yesterday I did respond to this one.  A portion of my response:
The fact of the matter is that you don't get to define me - either my gender or my character. Your words mean nothing to me and, in fact, are the reason that narrow minded bigots looking to define someone by one single aspect of themselves can go to bed and feel at peace. I am not the one disgraced - you are.

You know nothing about me. And I could care less whether you believe I am a woman or not simply because my path to where I am is different than yours. I make no apologies. I do not pretend to believe that I deserve less than anyone else. Whether or not you "get it" is immaterial to me.

People like you seem to feel that they're a victim of their gender. I, however, feel it to be a gift and nobody is going to take that from me or any of my brothers and sisters. In short - take your ignorant judgement somewhere else. It has no place here.

I find people like her to be made of the same cloth that people who can justify their hate with their faith. Judgers who don't want to be judged themselves. I have no time for that nonsense.

When I wrestled at the Nationals I didn't mention the fact that I was transsexual.  It wasn't necessary, and my coach agreed.  I was within the rules and I knew it.  When I came out to my coach he said something that I will remember to the day I die.  He said he doesn't judge people by what's on the outside - it's the heart that counts.  Wrestling is, like, the ultimate of macho sports and for him to show me that kind of support was a big deal.

Still, I knew perfectly well that my unique history would become known at some point; let's face it,  I'm very Google-able (go figure).  But there's a fine line between keeping personal information personal, "hiding" it, or  defining yourself by it.  Often you'll find you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

I'm tremendously proud of the way my situation was handled by USA Wrestling at the Nationals and subsequently at the World Team Trials.  I was well aware of the possibility that it'd get all blown out of proportion the way that this thing with Lana Lawless did.   I didn't want that and neither did they so it became  very much the non-event as it should have been.  From everything I could see they handled it with dignity and respect and I was given the opportunity to compete just like everyone else.

Nobody knows what it took to get to that point.  I trained hard to get to a point of feeling able to be out there on that mat in Cleveland.  Weeks of punishing training that took a big toll on me - physically, mentally, emotionally.  It became an important life goal for me and I'll be damned if anyone was going to rob me of the opportunity to put it all out there on the mat.

In the end, the right things happened.

There is a large wrestling tournament here in Phoenix this weekend. It's the beginning of the International wrestling season and, ironically, the first event happens right here in my own backyard. Competitors from all over the world are coming - Canada, Japan, it's a big deal.  I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't considered competing because I'm in good enough shape to do it, and my weight is where it needs to be. But given all the other things happening in life right now so I'll have to pass on this one.

While I was at the airport in Salt Lake City yesterday someone carrying a wrestling bag and was clearly involved with the sport recognized me from the Nationals and sat down next to me.  He was on his way here for the tournament and we had a very pleasant 20-minute chat.  He was talking about the sport and he half-joked about how it's a "sickness" - that if he could find a way to get away from it he would. He competed all through high school and college and now he coaches.  I so get that.

He said something that's very true - "The reason you compete is that it has to be for yourself".  You can't wrestle for a cause, or for your parents, or for your coach. Ultimately your biggest obstacle isn't your opponent - it's yourself.  That philosophy transcends sports - I find it to be a pretty helpful life mantra in general.  Anyway - I'm not competing this weekend. But I will go and watch.

Back to my original point.  Transgender athletes, and gender non-conforming athletes, face ridiculous barriers simply to compete.  Sometimes we find ourselves in the limelight whether we want it or not.  But sometimes you've just got to take a stand.

I never imagined that I'd be involved with many of the causes that simply come with speaking out against injustice. This, apparently, is another one. They're doing a television segment on transgender athletes and I'm doing an interview for that next week. I have no idea how it's all going to fit as I expect to begin my 2,600 mile drive on Thursday but somehow it will all work out.  It always does.

Speaking of television, there's going to be a story about Nikki Araguz, the widow of the firefighter in Texas, on 20/20 Friday night

There is more about it on the 20/20 website.

I'll finish with this:  If you've got something to say to me that's different from my own opinion, or you feel like commenting on something I've done I always welcome comments. More than that - I respect difference. But be prepared to be held accountable for your words and, depending on what you say and how you say it, be prepared for a response.

Onwards.  And upwards!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life Paths....

I haven't done a good job at keeping up with things here lately.  Sorry about that.  Life has been going very fast for me in recent weeks, and it doesn’t look to slow down any time soon.  To be honest, it’s almost overwhelming.

Over these past 6 weeks: I was in Atlanta for SCC in early September.  I had a handful of days of "down time" before leaving on an extended 3-week east coast trip that included time in the Carolinas, speaking at the Out for Work Conference, doing 3 days of training in DC, a trip to Harrisburg PA for a job interview, and a number of other things.  I was home long enough to unpack and then pack again before heading to New Orleans to speak at SHRM.  Then I was home again for 2 days before flying out again last Friday.  I’m drained….

As I type this I'm in the Philadelphia airport waiting to board my flight back to Phoenix. My alarm went off at the unGodly early hour of 4am. My flight leaves at 7 and I get into Phoenix in mid-afternoon.

I came to Pennsylvania last Friday to speak at the annual Fall Achievement Benefit (FAB) Dinner for the LGBT Center of Central PA.  The Center’s area covers 8 counties around the state capitol in Harrisburg, serving a population of almost 2 million people.

I’ve been active in LGBT efforts for a long time and my two most significant passions have been youth and the workplace.  I continue to be active in both arenas and don’t see that going away any time soon.  Recent events regarding youth suicides and bullying of kids who may not appear masculine or feminine enough have only made the need to speak out more urgent.  It’s not that these things haven’t been happening for a long, long time.  It’s just that now they’re on the front burner getting the kind of attention that forces change.

I feel very strongly that LGBT Community Centers play in critical role in providing real, tangible support, and education.  I've spoken at a number of them around the country and am continually pleasantly surprised to see them as vibrant hubs in places where you'd least expect them.  Tulsa is a good example.  Their LGBT center is absolutely gorgeous and beyond providing services across the entire spectrum of the community it provides a visible, tangible "place" to gather.

The LGBT Center in Harrisburg has reached a point in its growth where they needed to make some big decisions about direction and leadership.  It is a non-profit agency that has an active youth program but, more importantly, it has unlimited potential.

The reason that any of this is relevant to this discussion is that I applied for the job as their first Executive Director a couple of months ago and after the interview process and subsequent contract negotiations I accepted that job last week.  It was announced at FAB, and I’m scheduled to officially start in my new capacity on Nov. 1.

This is big for a number of reasons.  First, it’s big for me personally because it’s an opportunity to finally align my passions with my career.  One of the things I’ve struggled with for quite a while is knowing that I outgrew my 30-year IT career several years ago.  The more difficult conundrum has been about accepting that and trying to figure out what comes next.

Being part of the non-profit world isn’t new to me given my long history serving on boards and as part of broader LGBT efforts.  But it’s one thing to serve on a board and an entire other thing to be responsible for planning, management, fund raising, and all the other responsibilities of an Executive Director.

Harrisburg is strategically located, especially given my own history.  It's 250 miles south of Rochester, NY where my brother and sister and their families still live, and was home for me for almost 20 years.  It's less than two hours from the western suburbs of Philadelphia - I've got lots of friends there.  It's 2 hours north of Baltimore and DC, both places are special to me for various reasons.  And, it's the state capitol.  One thing I’m not ready for is winter.

I have no idea how I’m going to fit everything that needs to fit into these next two weeks.  I truly feel overwhelmed by it all.  Unsettled.  A little scared.  A lot anxious. Sad at leaving some dear friends.  Excited at new horizons.  The scariest part is that I don’t think it has all sunk in yet and I’ll have lots of time to let my mind wander on the upcoming 2200 mile road trip that it’ll take to get from here to there.

To top it all off I wrote an Op/Ed piece for CNN about transgender athletes.  I originally titled it “Don’t Ask, Don’t Play” but they changed it to something a little more forceful that I think changes the substance a bit but I had no control over that.  Anyway,  I’ve been getting hate mail from it all morning long (and supportive mail, too, but usually it's the people who are angry who write).  I’m not reading any of the mail, though.  I've got too many other things going on to get wrapped up in all of that.

My dad was a biophysicist who was well ahead of his time.  He took no small amount of pride in prodding critical thinking and challenging the status quo.  Anyway, I’ll never forget when he told me, “When too many people start to agree with me is when I start to worry that I might be wrong.”  In this case – I’m not wrong. I’m right.

Transgender and gender non-confirming athletes face tremendous hurdles to inclusion and people can justify it all they want but in the end each of us has an inherent right to be athletic and to compete.  We’re taught that from our earliest ages and many of us take that to heart, enjoying a lifetime perfecting and competing at something we love.  The health benefits of athletics and the drive that pushes us to excellence is something none of us should have to hide or apologize for.  Period.

Before I finish, I'll share part of a blog post from someone I met at the SHRM Conference:
Another topic I am going to revisit in the future is Donna Rose's session on Transgender in the Workplace. This topic and my experience at this session will definitely be the subject of a future post. There is no way I can do this session justice in a few sentences. In short, Rose's session completely changed my viewpoints and left me realizing that I have a great deal to learn about this topic. 
It's nice to know that the simple act of sharing a part of ourselves with others - in this case, a little over an hour's worth - can make a difference.  Thanks to Paul for his kind words.  I'll share a link to his future post as an update when it's online....

Anyway – time to get going.  I wrote more than I expected and I hope most of this makes sense given the insane nature of my world lately.  A number of friends have told me they enjoy being part of Donna’s world.  I respond to them: “Just try living it all the time.”  Crazy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Falling, and Flying

I've mentioned in the past that I sometimes look at sometimes look at some short period of time and all that needs to happen in that time and just shake my head.  I have no idea how it's all supposed to happen.  That's how I'm feeling now with all that needs to happen between now and the end of the month.

Most likely there is a cross-country drive.  There will be relocation so there's packing and all that's part of that whole process.  Did I mention that I HATE moving?  When I was married we lived in the same house for 15 years and my ex- still lives in the house that we bought in Arizona together.  As for me - it seems like I'm moving once or twice a year.  To be perfectly honest, not having that singular place to call home, a place that feels like home, is the thing that bothers me most in life right now.

Someone recently asked me what I hoped to be doing 5 years from now and, to be honest I can't wrap my mind around thinking that far in advance.  Rather than what I'll be doing, though, it's more about finding that new anchor spot.  I haven't found it yet.  There are a number of places that are valid contestants for a number of reasons but, for the moment, the place that seems to call me back again and again is here in the Valley.  I dunno, tho.  If I move my stuff away from here I doubt I'll move it back again.  I'm just saying...

I know that I haven't provided many details on all of this and it's not my place right now.  It's premature.  All I can say is that I'm a half inch from the edge of the cliff, closing my eyes, holding my hands out - palms up, and falling forward with Faith that once people find their place that they can fly.  The rest is simply about logistics.

There are a number of things I'd discuss in detail but that will have to wait for tomorrow or the next day. I arrived back in Phoenix late yesterday and hardly even remember falling asleep.  Today has been full of running around - the "Check Engine" light came on in my car again so I had to take it in, I went to the fitness center while they were working on it to pay penance for over-indulging in the wonders of New Orleans cuisine, and I've been catching up on things since I've been out of town for 23 of the last 25 days.  It's crazy....

Three things in particular to share, though.

One:  A Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality on Discrimination and Health Care (see it here).  The numbers are horrifying.

Second: A trans-woman was murdered in Philadelphia yesterday (details here).

And lastly, Lana Lawless (a golfer) sued the LPGA over requirements that competitors must be "female at birth" (details here).  As an athlete and a trans-woman I've got some very specific thoughts on this, and I'll share some of them when I've got more time to articulate them effectively.

As for me - I have one more day here in the warmth of the Valley before heading east on Friday.  If you're anywhere near Hershey, PA - it'd be nice to see you there on Saturday!

In the meantime, I'm on to the next thing.  As I said at the outset - too much going on, too little time....

Monday, October 11, 2010


Today is National Coming Out Day.  People are coming out every day but I think it's important to have a particular day to highlight it as the significant life event that it is.

Several years ago a group of us worked with Mark Shields who was the director of HRC's Coming Out Project on a specific Coming Out as Transgender booklet.  It's disappointing that the booklet isn't available anymore as a number of us did really good job with it.  In fact, I've got copies of it myself and brought a bunch to give away here at the SHRM Conference specifically because today is NCOD.  I suppose I should add that they've replaced it with a "newer" publication.  I guess I should also admit that I liked the old one better.

I was thinking back to other resources that we developed over my time there that were valuable, but that aren't available any more.  We also did a lot of work on a green covered booklet called "Understanding Transgender".  I have a bunch of those in my garage, as well.  They eventually published a much condensed version of it but I don't think that's available any more, either.

My sessions at the SHRM Conference today went well.  There was even a book signing afterwards - I haven't done one of those for quite a while.  And, a highlight of the day was having dinner with a friend I haven't seen since 2006.  We had lots to catch up on.

As I type this I'm down in the lobby of the hotel since that's the only place here that provides free internet access.  There's another football game on that huge screen.  The Jets are playing and it's either raining or snowing - it's hard to tell.  Either way it looks cold and wet.  I miss autumn, but Lord knows I don't miss that.

I've bumped into a number of people here that I know.  I guess the "Diversity world" is smaller than I realize because I bump into people I know at these kinds of things.  Some of the people I know went to Out and Equal last week so they're just as crazed as I am when it comes to travel.  If you went to O&E and want to share something here feel free to send me your thoughts.  I'm happy to publish them.

One last thing - if you're looking for some good trans resources they've got some on the PFLAG website (here's the link).  They've got something they call TNET - Transgender Network - that's worth checking out.  PFLAG rocks.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Big Easy.

As I type this I'm in the lobby of a big, fancy hotel in downtown New Orleans.  There's a TV that's two story high playing in the bar with a football game on, a nice bar, a swanky fountain, and lots of people wearing New Orleans Saints stuff who look pretty depressed (they lost today).

The flights here were uneventful, the shuttle driver from the airport also acted as a tour guide and was interesting and funny.  My room is on the 37th floor.  And I'm feeling ok.  All things considered, all is well.

One thing that bothers me, though, is how so many things are free in smaller hotels but cost in these big expensive places.  One of the reasons I'm in the lobby is that it's the only place where the internet is free.  There's a big fancy fitness center on the 8th floor but apparently that's run by a separate company and there is a fee to use it.  Breakfast?  Costs.  Anyway, I know I'm just ranting and that these kinds of places generally cater to business people who simply put it on an expense account somewhere but still....

I realize that there are all kinds of amazing places to eat in this city but to be honest I'll probably grab a bowl of gumbo, spend a couple of hours decompressing in my room, and try to get to bed at a reasonable hour.  My internal clock is all messed up with this coast to coast to coast stuff and it's not about to get any better.  I head back to Phoenix on Tuesday and then back out to the east coast again on Friday.  Oh well, it's not like I'm a rookie when it comes to traveling like this.  My body somehow finds a way to adjust.

I'm here to speak at the SHRM Diversity Conference tomorrow afternoon.  SHRM is the group that generally oversees Human Resource "stuff" across most of corporate America.  I enjoy opportunities to speak with people who might not otherwise recognize our unique situation as "Diversity" in a workplace sense.  Anyway, I was here last year and it went very well and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Then, I do a breakfast event on Tuesday and fly home later in the day.

In other news.....

Recently there were a series of staggeringly brutal anti-gay hate cries in NY City.  The Republican candidate for governor offered some equally staggeringly ignorant comments (read them here).  To top it off he hides behind the teachings of the Catholic Church to justify his own hatred.  This is the same moron who threatened a reporter ("I'll take you out!") recently (details here).  Lord help us if he gets into a position of power.

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day.  I'll have more to say about that tomorrow.  But it's a big deal.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


So the question would be - what do I do with my "down" time??  That's a good question.

This morning, I hiked.  I was at the foot of Piestawa Peak by 9am and Maria and I made the steep trek up to my perch on the top.  Good exercise, beautiful morning, incredibly deep blue sky, nice to spend time with dear Maria - all are truly gifts.  Without going into too many premature details - my short-term future here in the Valley may be down to a precious few number of days so I'm enjoying some of the things that make it such a special place for me.  Including the mountain, the weather, and dear friends.

I spent time working on the new version of my website.  I've made some changes in recent days and I'm providing a "beta" version before officially publishing it (whatever that means).  If you want to see it, here's the link.  I've already incorporated some of the suggestions and tried to address some of the formatting issues that people have identified.  It's hard for me to get a sense of problems that might arise with various browsers or connection speeds but I'm thinking it's almost ready for Prime Time.  Anyway, feel free to visit and let me know what you think.

In my last post I shared a story about single-use bathrooms in the DC area.  I want to say a couple of things as a follow-up.  First - I've never seen that symbol before.  This is the one that most places use and as far as I know they invented that stick figure specifically for that article.  Second, to think that this is happening simply because of "pressure" from transgender people is ridiculous.  These are not transgender bathrooms.  They are multi-use bathrooms.  Unfortunately, the word "unisex" has any number of connotations but this particular sign shows clearly that it's a bathroom that can and should be used by whoever needs it.  That's not a bad thing.  That's a good thing.  And it's unfortunate that we even have to defend this kind of stuff...

Yesterday I spent time unpacking all my stuff from this past trip, doing laundry, and getting ready for the next trip.  I leave tomorrow for New Orleans.  The good news is that I've been upgraded to First Class on both of my flights so I'm pretty happy about that.  This is a short trip but filled with important "stuff".

I was watching Jimmy Kimmel last night before heading off to bed and there was a funny segment about how Sarah Palin often seems to say things in threes.  Here's a video of it - that particular part of it starts about two minutes into it.  It's interesting, and funny.

Every year there are a couple of things that are bound to put "transgender" into the spotlight.  One is when a high school student expresses an interest is chosen as homecoming/prom king or queen.  This invariably makes the news, and that's happening now. Here's a recent example from Michigan.  Here's another one, in Texas .

It's a shame - no, it's a tragedy - that these kinds of things happen. And, I'd argue that there's a direct connection between these kinds of dehumanizing, mean-spirited things and the bullying and the harassment that students who may not look or act appropriately "manly" or "womanly" enough face in schools around this country, day after day after day.  Now that we're facing an epidemic of youth suicides and, as this particular article indicates, this is only the tip of the iceberg (read article here).
On Sept. 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greenburg, Ind., hanged himself after enduring constant taunts from bullies at school.
Two weeks later, 13-year-old Asher Brown from suburban Houston shot himself soon after revealing he was gay.
And on Sept. 27, another 13-year-old, Seth Walsh of Techachapi, Calif., died after injuries sustained from hanging himself. He too, had endured "relentless" bullying from other kids, according to The New York Times.
One more death -- the Sept. 22 suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi -- catapulted these and other suicides of young gay teens into the media spotlight. Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, allegedly broadcast surreptitious video footage over the Internet of Clementi in an intimate encounter with a young man. Last week, Clementi left a message on his Facebook page: "Jumping off [George Washington] bridge sorry," and then did just that.
Cases like these are far from rare, and "this may be the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. David Reitman, chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Transgender and Questioning Special Interest Group, part of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. In a statement, he said "the tragic outcome in these cases underscores the profound consequences that bullying and harassment can have on a young person."

This stuff makes me crazy.  I'll have more to say on this in the coming weeks, but more than that I think events that are likely about to unfold will transcend words.  This is personal, and this kind of stuff needs to be addressed head on.  And that's what I'm going to do.

I feel fortunate to have been able to hide my unique "gift" when I was in school so I didn't have to deal with any of this crap.  But schools need to have resources.  Parents need to have resources.  Kids need to have resources.  The community needs to have champions willing to step up for those who can't.  There needs to be a whole new level of awareness and support around this and as with so many things it's a shame that tragedy simply highlights something that happens all too often but goes unnoticed.

I realize that the Day of Remembrance specifically honors those who lost their lives due to hate violence but I'd argue that these kinds of things are indirectly due to those same factors.  Wherever I speak this year on DOR I'll have a moment of silence dedicated to those whose lives became so intolerable that they did the dirty work of ending their own lives.  It's the exact same thing.  And it needs to be treated as such.

One friend recently approached me to ask for advice on where to spend their annual community support $$$.  Non-profit organizations needs funding to survive and in these difficult economic times it's even more important than ever to support organizations that do critical work.  Each of us has our own opinions on what organizations that is but I've got three specifically in mind and I recommended that she support all three.

One is NCTE.  It's amazing what they do on the limited budget that they've got. Check this out, and pay close attention to the numbers. They're horrifying:

Another is PFLAG.

And the third, for admittedly selfish reasons, is for a community center.  It's the LGBT Center of Central PA.  I'll be speaking at their annual dinner next weekend, and there are some really exciting things happening there that are going to change the landscape of some things. Mark my words....

Tomorrow at this time I'll be in New Orleans.  The good news is that I've been upgraded to First Class on both of my flights, but the bad news is that I probably won't be able to sleep through them as I usually do.  What's the point of being in First Class if you can't enjoy at least a Mimosa or two on a Sunday morning?  If I'm going to have to travel back and forth across the country every week, at least I can help to make it a little more civilized.    :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Life Transitions

Oct. 7, 2010

Transitions come in lots of flavors.  I'd argue that each of us is going through any number of them all the time.  We just don't take the time to recognize them as such.  I can see this as a transformative time in my own life, and events of the last few weeks have made that clear.

It has actually been a fascinating to see things as they are happening, and I think the magnitude of it all will become clear as events currently being worked unfold.  Big personal decisions to be made are on the horizon - decisions about life direction, priorities, and about life in general.

On Sunday it’ll be 10/10/10.  That’s like the binary equivalent of Nirvana.  I’m actually a little surprised there isn’t talk of some sort of digital melt-down on that day.

As I type this I’m in the air somewhere between DC and Dallas on my way home to Phoenix.  It’ll be nice to get home, although my stay there will only last a couple of days.

This trip was full of a number of important, perhaps even life-changing - events.  I had the chance to reconnect with some dear friends.  I met with some people to discuss the future (specifically, my future).  I took significant steps towards my next major life decisions – decisions that very likely will pull me out of Arizona again.  All things considered – these past 20 days have been a big deal.

Most recently I spent 3 full days this week doing trainings at a government agency in preparation for a workplace transition there.  I led 6 sessions over the 3 days and had a number of side meetings with various departments and groups as well.  The training was mandatory for all managers and senior level leaders, including the CEO, which was way cool.  There were two voluntary sessions for employees that were very well attended, and over the three days I’d say we talked to 250 people.

I was very impressed and especially enjoyed working with the team from the office of Inclusion and Civil Rights who arranged things.  After working with them over these past few weeks and, most recently, this week, I’ve come to enjoy working with them.  For a number of years I felt I’d eventually end up in the DC area and I’d even consider a job there – really - except that the commutes are crazy.  Yesterday I set my alarm for 4:25am, a friend drove me to a bus station at 6am, I took the bus to the metro, I took the metro into DC, and I took care of some things before we started the day’s trainings.  When we were done I did it all in reverse, except that there was also a mile walk to the Fitness Center added in.

I’ve been having flashbacks this week, comparing all the hubbub surrounding this event with my own emotional roller coaster during Donna’s first days at work 11 years ago this week.  Knowing what happens behind the scenes sometimes it’s a wonder any of us ever show up at work for our first day.  Honestly.  We tend to minimize the “courage” aspect of it but you can call it what you want – it takes Considering everything else that happened on this trip it’s pretty amazing just where the path can take you if you have the faith to let it happen.  I was talking with my mom last night now that I’ve finally got some time to breathe and we talked about how life and relationships are both like tides.  Sometimes the tide is out and you’re stranded on dry land.  But eventually the tides come back in and the world around you is water again.  Anyway, the tide is coming in.

I hear the weather in Arizona has been pretty crazy over the last few days.  The good news is that the forecast for the next ten days is nothing but sun and daytime highs ranging from the mid 80’s to the low 90’s.  Talk about Nirvana – that’s exactly the reason people are willing to endure the blast furnace of the summers.  This is the weather that’ll last thru next spring.  As I alluded to a little earlier – I may or may not be there to enjoy it.  In fact – there may be a real “winter” in my forecast again.

My own short-term forecast calls for a couple of down days in Arizona, enough time to unpack, do laundry, and re-pack before heading to New Orleans on Sunday.  I’m scheduled to speak at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Diversity Conference there.  The reason I enjoy these kinds of things is that it provides the opportunity to talk with people who often haven’t been exposed to the topic.  Out and Equal is great, but often times we’re preaching to the choir.  Opportunities to break out of the LGBT circle into more mainstream events are fun for me.  And I’ve only been to New Orleans once (back in 2003) so I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days there.

Oct. 8, 2010

I'm home.  It was wonderful to sleep in my own bed last night, although my time zone thing is all messed up.  I woke up at 3:30am and dozed on and off for the next few hours.  All this travel plays havoc with my internal clock.

I wanted to share a couple of news-worthy things today before getting to some of the things I need to do.

First is a story that just so happens to be timely in terms of my trip to DC.  It's about "gender neutral" bathrooms at Starbucks there.  I kind of bristle whenever people refer to single use bathrooms as transgender bathrooms because that's not the case.  Believe or not there's a Wikipedia page on "Public Toilets" that talks a little about the history and changes over the course of time.  In any event, these kinds of things are happening across the country - not just in Starbucks.  I doubt that this particular symbol is the international symbol for "unisex" but I actually find it kind of amusing.

Does any of us from my generation ever think we'd see a day where we'd be having these kinds of conversations?  Not me.  One of my favorite memories from these past few years is when I attended the Trans Law Conference at Harvard.  There was a reception in the Faculty Club, a very high-class place, and there were paper signs taped over the bathroom signs indicating that all the bathrooms were to be unisex for that event.  I doubt they'd ever seen that there before.

The Out and Equal Workplace Summit 2010 in LA is ending as I type this.  I'm sorry I missed it because I look forward to seeing friends and reconnecting there.  It's a little like SCC in that regard for me.  But this week I was working in DC so being in two places at the same time become problematic.

That brings me to the second topic.  I want to share an explanation by Meghan Stabler about the new Corporate Equality Index criteria as they relate to transgender benefits (read it here).  I invite anyone who has questions to contact her.  This is some big stuff - especially the part about removing ALL trans-related exclusions in at least one health plan.  Just to show how this is working, one friend who works for Bank of America texted me yesterday so say that there was a blurb on the internal BofA website dedicated to the fact that the company was covering 80% of the costs of trans-related surgeries which is the same that it covers for other procedures.  The fact that companies are (a) recognizing the exclusions, (b) making efforts to remove them, and (c) making public disclosures about that as opposed to keeping it hush-hush is huge.

When we first published the wellness requirements in the CEI several years ago a company only had to achieve 2 of 5 to get full credit.  Although there were some in the community who were critical that we set the bar too low there were a number of practical and necessary reasons for that.  This next step is the bold step that we envisioned at the time and it's another big step.

One last thing.  There is a trans-woman here in the Valley that many of us have known for many years.  She was active long before I started my first tentative steps to come to peace with myself a dozen or more years ago and many of us knew her as a dear, caring, wonderful, giving, gentle soul.  She has never been able to fully transition for a number of reasons but lived most of her life as her authentic self to the point that most of us never knew her as anyone else.

The struggles that we face take a real toll.  A mental toll, a physical toll.  She struggled with heart issues in recent years but always faced them with grace and dignity.  She was married and her kids all knew about her unique gift.   Anyway - she died suddenly last Friday.

The reason this has relevance here is that this person was a friend to many of us - in fact, she was a friend to the entire community.  Her passing affected many her in significant and profound ways, and we looked forward to saying good-bye at a memorial service that was being planned.  That is, until we were told that the wife didn't want any transgender people there and that they would be burying her as her male self.

When I landed last night I didn't go home as I probably should have.  A friend picked me up, I met a group of friends for dinner, and I went to a support group meeting where people could share stories and feelings on the passing of this gentle friend.  One of the over-riding emotions was anger.  There was anger that we were being prevented from saying good-bye to someone who, in life, would have wanted that.  There was anger that this person was being sent into the hereafter in a way that was inconsistent with the way she lived her life.  And, there was recognition that this could happen to any of us.

I've known people who have transitioned at later stages in life specifically because they want to go out of this world as the person that they've always known themselves to be but had never had the chance to show.  And here we have someone who has control to deny that based on their own discomforts.  It's just plain wrong.

If any of us has specific ideas about how we want to be remembered, about how we want to go out of this world, it's important to (a) document them and (b) make sure that someone we trust has them.  Otherwise, any of us is open to indignities in death that we spent a lifetime overcoming.  There are important lessons here.  But most of all, there is sadness at the passing of a friend whose efforts became part of others on this same road and in that way she will not be forgotten.  Her legacy is safe.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Full Circles

I'm in the Washington DC area this week doing trainings at a government agency for a friend who is transitioning there.  The training is required for ALL managers, and the organization has been amazingly supportive.  This is an entire government agency, mind you, and to demonstrate support in a tangible way the CEO of the organization added gender identity and expression to the EEO policy.  Those of us who have pushed and pushed internally in our own organizations to get this done know the many roadblocks that can get thrown in our way.  This demonstrates what can be done when you have that kind of awareness and support at the highest levels.

As I sat there today looking around the room at all the senior staff in the packed boardroom, from the CEO to the CFO all the way down, I couldn't help but think back to the earliest days of my own transition.

BTW, here's a self-portrait I took with my iPhone inside the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg.  Nothing special - just something fun...

Perhaps not coincidentally, one of my own life milestones occurred on this date 11 years ago.  Oct. 4 1999 was my first day at work as Donna.  Day 1.  I wish I could say that I remember it like it was yesterday but in reality if feels like a lifetime ago.  I remember being terrified.  I remember sitting in my car taking deep breaths in the parking lot before getting out to go up the stairs, and how a co-worker greeted me and walked up with me.  I remember watching people stroll by my office to get a peek at me.

My management just wanted to get it over with.  They were as uncomfortable with it as my co-workers were.  Fast forward to today - 11 years later - and see how far we've come as a movement and how far I've come as a person.  It's just amazing.

I do have a few seemingly related items to share:

One is that the new HRC Corporate Equality Index was released today.  There was a time when I provided an in-depth review of the numbers and what they meant.  Those days are over, both because I no longer have anything to do with the organization and I just generally feel disconnected with their workplace efforts.  So, if you want to get an overview of the results or want to see the entire thing feel free to go to their website (see it here).  Or, there's a database of specific employers and their policies you can check (here's the link).  That's not to say that the efforts of the Workplace Project aren't important.  It's just that this won't be the place to get in-depth information on it.

What I will say, though, is that it's nice to see that many of the things that Jamison and I and others set into motion several years ago are just now finally becoming reality.  That includes mandatory wellness coverage, removal of transgender exclusions, and other things that affect the lives of transpeople each and every day.  Does this address the challenges many of us face getting hired?  No.  Does it address the epidemic of unemployment and under-employment in our community?  No.  We've got a long way to go in those regards.  But events like this training I'm doing in DC and the story that the CEI tells indicate just how far we've come.

In that same vein, the 2010 Out and Equal Workplace Summit opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.  This is the first conference I'll miss since 2002.  I've met some wonderful people at these conferences through the years and will miss re-connecting with them there.

At the same time, though, I've got some criticisms of the organization that I mentioned at a focus group session they asked me to attend several weeks ago.  For example, recognition for workplace excellence that they provide in their "Outies" awards is based upon a flawed process of nomination that (a) implies that major champions work for a corporation or have the clout to even be be nominated and (b) seems based as much on sponsorship as achievement.  That's not to belittle any of the winners of these awards.  But any workplace excellence award that doesn't have a mechanism for a champion like Jamison Green to be nominated and recognized is inherently flawed and needs to be changed.  That's all there is to it.

Anyway - the Summit is an awesome thing to attend.  I admire Selisse and others on the staff for all they've accomplished.  But I hope that the organization takes active steps to address some of the issues that we highlighted in the coming months.

Continuing in the "impact" vein,  The National Center for Lesbian Rights issues a press release today announcing publication of an effort that they've been working on for quite a while (read it here).  From the Press Release:
The report, “On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student Athletes,” released on October 4, 2010, is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of transgender student athletes within high school and collegiate athletic programs. The report is also the first to provide comprehensive model policies and a framework for athletic leaders to ensure equal access to school athletics for transgender students.

I was honored to be able to provide a quote that they used.  Athletics are a big deal in my world, and as more and more of us become self-aware at younger ages taking part in sports at a high school or college level is a natural outgrowth so having these kinds of guides is critical to provide guidance and raise awareness.  Anyway, kudos to the gang at NCLR for this excellent work.

All of these things feel like full circles for me.  The workplace transition training event.  The HRC CEI thing.  The Workplace Summit thing.  The Transgender Student Athletes Guide.  I'm proud of the work I've done across a broad spectrum activities and the opportunities I've had to work with some amazing people doing important things.  And, to be honest, I expect that to continue in other ways.

I'll end with my diary entry from my first day at work - 11 years ago today:

October 4, 1999

How long have we talked about this day? I can't believe it's here. I can't believe this is me. It's as if I were just a spectator watching this person do these things, and to realize that it's me is really amazing to me. I have no idea where I have gotten the strength/courage to actually show up here today. It has built itself up over time, because I know it wasn't here too too long ago. It's one thing to want it and talk about it, and another to do it. And still another to feel comfortable about it. How many people actually follow it through? Pretty amazing.

I actually slept pretty well last night (in bed a little after 10), but was up early. Like, at 3 something. I found a lot to do to keep myself occupied. Like iron. And put away clothes. And straighten up my ever- increasing wardrobe in my big closet. I was tired last night, and decided to put off most of this stuff until I had a little time. And I had the time.

I also had to decide what to wear. I ended up choosing a pair of Anne Taylor slacks (kinda grey green....Julie calls it "Sea Foam") and one of my Anne Taylor silk blouses (ivory). I thought about wearing a jacket, but felt I would be more comfortable without, so I passed it up. I originally had on a pair of black Naturalizer shoes with a pretty low heel, but my feet were sore by lunch so I went home to change into a more comfortable flatter pair....They're doing better now....

I didn't expect to see much of a reaction, and that's what I got. They had a big production implementation this weekend, and people have been running around fighting fires. We had three new people start today, so I got introduced to them. I was originally supposed to go over and get my new id badge photo at 8 this morning, but I wanted to be here in my cube for most of the morning, so I rescheduled it for tomorrow. I went down to drop something off at the secretary (we call them "administrative aides") and we had a very nice chat.

I guess that's it for now. I may write more tonight. I can't remember everything right now....it's all like a blur. I made a promise to myself to keep my head up, and look people in the eye, and display on the outside the happiness and satisfaction I feel on the inside. So far, I have done that. And when this day is over, those are the things I will remember. Not necessarily what I wore, or what I did at lunch....but how I felt. I will never forget this day.

If anyone had told me 11 years ago how things would unfold I'd tell them they were crazy.  But here we are.  Life continues to reveal itself with interesting new twists and surprises.  To be honest - I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Unexpected Time

What an amazingly sparkling, beautiful day.

I was supposed to be at an NGLCC Board Retreat in the Hamptons thru tomorrow but last-minute logistical curve balls and complications, combined with my ongoing mantra of Simplify, made me hang here in northern Virginia instead.  I've refocused on taking a couple of days of fairly rare "me" time.

My 3-week schedule starting 2 weeks ago and stretching until mid-October was one of those things you look at from the outside and wonder how it's all going to come together, although somehow it always does.  There are things packed into each and every day - literally - one after another, with very little extra "space" built in.  I'm enjoying these couple of days of unexpected down time and I suppose it's much needed.

I went for a long walk today - 6 miles or more along a bike path that at one point was part of a railroad system.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the 60-something temperatures made it one of those magical fall days that those of us who appreciate and miss autumn dream about.

As I walked, lyrics to a particular song that I was listening to on Slacker radio said "I'm at a crossroads with myself" and it struck me how that's very much true in my world right now.  Things are still being worked, but the time to make big big life decisions is here.  Change is in the air more than simply leaves or seasons or temperatures.

Back to the NGLCC thing - people often ask me how they can get involved in broader LGBT efforts.  I'll admit up front that whatever I've achieved hasn't been part of any broader plan or strategy.  All I know is that my heart is in the right place and that I like the person I see in the mirror.  Anyway, I'd be happy to provide introductions or information to anyone who feels that they've got the skills and business background to serve in this organization.  Just let me know....

Also, for those interested in presenting at the Creating Change Conference in 2011 the deadline for submitting proposals is coming up (details here).

As for me - I'm doing a training event all day on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday in DC and then I fly back to Phoenix on Thursday.  So, tomorrow is my last full day to chill.  Perhaps coincidentally, the local weather forecast is for things to get rainy late tomorrow and continue thru Wednesday  as well so tomorrow is the last day to enjoy this weather, too.  :)

I'll end tonight's entry with a plug.  The Central PA LGBT Community Center is having its annual benefit dinner in a couple of weeks (details here).  I'm planning to be there, so if there's any way you can be there I'd love to see you.

My song of the day is something I've been bopping to for a number of weeks now.  It was originally one of the free iTunes downloads.  Now I hear it on the radio all the time.