Monthly Archives: December 2012

FWT (Flying While Transgender)

I hate flying. I mean, I HATE flying. I’d rather drive six hours to Los Angeles than fly for an hour and a half. I’m not afraid to fly. It’s just that flying has become such a huge Pain. In. The. Ass. Waiting in a long line to check in. Waiting in another long line to go through security. Waiting in yet another long line to board the plane. Cramming myself into a tiny seat with no leg room and breathing recirculated air for hours on end. And traveling with a small child – complete with car seat and other random cumbersome gear – just makes the experience that much more obnoxious. Not to sound like a total prima donna, but I’d rather stay put and have people come to me.  (Upon reading that last sentence, I realize that I do, in fact, sound like a TOTAL prima donna.)

However, I’m well aware of the fact that I’ve got it pretty easy. In fact, I think I have it a lot easier than some people. If I had a physical disability and needed assistance, flying would be a much bigger hassle. If I were from a different ethnic background, particularly, in this post-9/11 era, if I were of Middle Eastern descent, my name would undoubtedly be on some list, and I’d be subjected to much more scrutiny. However, I couldn’t find a single psychological study that addressed the experiences of Flying While Transgender. Which is interesting, given that airport security procedures can be extraordinarily stressful for trans- and gender-variant people.

A few weeks ago, Ben Hudson, who is the executive director of the Gender Health Center here in Sacramento, posted a link on his Facebook page to the TSA site for transgender travelers. If you are trans or gender-variant, and you plan on flying, this site should be required reading. Actually, this site should also be required reading for those of us with cisgender privilege – because if you fit nicely and neatly into our two-category gender system, numerous advantages are afforded to you, most of which are probably taken completely for granted.

This is what the TSA site says under the first heading, “Preparing for Travel”:

Making Reservations: Secure Flight requires airlines to collect a traveler’s full name, date of birth, gender and Redress Number (if applicable) to significantly decrease the likelihood of watch list misidentification. Travelers are encouraged to use the same name, gender, and birth date when making the reservation that match the name, gender, and birth date indicated on the government-issued ID that the traveler intends to use during travel.

Theoretically, if the name, gender, and birth date on your driver’s license (or other ID) matches the name, gender, and birth date on your travel reservation, then everything should be fine. Right?  Except for many transpeople, getting your name and gender changed on various identity documents, such as your birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, etc. may not be so easy. A recently-issued report by the Center for American Progress, titled, “ID Accurately Reflecting One’s Gender Identity is a Human Right,” documents the numerous obstacles that have been placed in the way of obtaining accurate ID, creating financial, medical, and legal barriers. In the United States, different states have different policies regarding how identity documents are issued or amended. In one state, getting a new driver’s license with an updated photo, name, and gender label might be relatively easy. Getting a new birth certificate might be fairly simple as well. But even though Tennessee is the only state that outright prohibits the amendment of birth certificates for transgender people, it’s not uncommon for states, in practice, to refuse to amend identity documents so that a transperson’s gender identity is accurately reflected.  And, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, forty percent of people who presented ID that did not match their gender identity experienced some form of harassment. Although the TSA makes clear that transgender people should be treated with dignity and respect while traveling, the reality is that not having ID that is congruent with one’s gender identity is, well, risky.

Here’s the next section of the TSA site:

Packing a Carry-on: All carry-on baggage must go through the screening process. If a traveler has any medical equipment or prosthetics in a carry-on bag, the items will be allowed through the checkpoint after completing the screening process. Travelers may ask that bags be screened in private if a bag must be opened by an officer to resolve an alarm. Travelers should be aware that prosthetics worn under the clothing that alarm a walk through metal detector or appear as an anomaly during Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening may result in additional screening, to include a thorough pat-down. Travelers may request a private screening at any time during the security screening process.

If a transperson hasn’t been outed because of ID-related issues, it’ll likely happen during some part of the screening process. If a person is taking medications, such as injectable hormones that require syringes, this will undoubtedly lead to higher levels of scrutiny. If a person is wearing items with metal, such as a metal boned corset, an underwire bra, or metal binding materials, they will likely set off airport metal detectors and require additional screening. If screening involves what’s called “advanced imaging technology,” in which, depending on the scanning machine being used, the screener would be able to see what genitals a person has, as well as any binding or prostheses. “This is why I don’t fly,” one Facebook user declared in response to this information.

Numerous psychological studies have investigated the factors that predict a fear of flying, or an avoidance of air travel. The most common factor among these studies? Stress and worry about check-in and security checks. Makes sense to me.

In addition to the information provided by the TSA, the National Center for Transgender Equality has provided a tip sheet for transgender travelers. Everyone has the right to a respectful and dignified travel experience.

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Filed under gender nonconformity, human rights, psychological research, Sacramento, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized

A spiritual home for the holidays

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home!

The holidays are all about family. Right? Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings and illustrations of holiday celebrations certainly portray the image of the happy American family – multiple generations seated around the table, complete with Grandma serving a 20-pound turkey. Some families look just like that – and if they do, the holidays are likely to be merry and bright. At least, if you get along with your family.

Sadly, many people don’t get along with their families, which can make the holidays an extremely painful and difficult time. Of course, there’s no shortage of dysfunctional families, for a wide variety of reasons. And family conflict, alienation, and rejection are still potent realities for many sexual and gender minorities, despite the fact that, according to national polling data, positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people are steadily increasing. Add to that the fact that Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated Christian holidays – anchored in a religious tradition that has been used to oppress and persecute LGBTQ people – and you’re essentially pouring salt into an open wound.

Say you’re gay. Or bisexual. Or transgender. Or any of a variety of sexual and gender minorities. And let’s say you were raised within the fundamentalist Christian tradition – that homosexuals are sinful, bad, inferior, diseased, perverse, or some other horrible thing. There’s plenty of people out there who fit this profile – and if we use Bernadette Barton’s 2010 study of “Bible-belt Gays” as an example, people who grow up with these teachings live through, to use her words, “spirit-crushing experiences of isolation, abuse, and self-loathing.” Spirit-crushing. So if your family has rejected you, and your spirit has been crushed by Christianity, how do you find a way to honor the spirit of Christmas without feeling totally depressed and alone?

I wish I had a good answer to this question, but I don’t. You can find other people to celebrate with – people who support you and accept you unconditionally. You can partake in the secular, commercialized aspect of Christmas (which is what most people do anyway). But once the holidays are over, the family rejection and doctrinaire Christian teachings are still there. Because of that, the post-holiday season can feel like the crash after the high – the hit of stark reality after several days of giddy escapism.

I just finished reading a book titled Jesus and the Disinherited, written by theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman. It’s relatively short, at just 102 pages, and it’s not a heady, cerebral read. But it’s one of those books that I read slowly, stopping every once in a while to digest what I’d just read – and realizing, as I was reading it, just how groundbreaking a perspective this was when it was written. This is a book that laid the foundation for a non-violent civil rights movement. It heavily influenced Martin Luther King Jr., who became an avid follower of Thurman’s teachings. And it has turned my own perspective on Christianity on its axis.

In Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman acknowledges an ugly truth – that Christianity has been used to oppress people, including women, African-Americans, and Jews, to name a few. However, Thurman interprets the Gospel as a message of resistance and empowerment for the oppressed, especially given the fact that Jesus, a poor Jew, lived during a time of intense racial and cultural tension – and likely understood first-hand the experience of oppression and marginalization. He understood people whose “backs were against the wall” – a phrase Thurman uses liberally throughout his text to refer to the disinherited. Jesus, according to Thurman, was also a man whose “back was against the wall” – but instead of resorting to fear, deception, and hate (all of which are enemies of the soul), Jesus made a radical call for love:

[Jesus] projected a dream, the logic of which would give to all the needful security. There would be room for all, and no man would be a threat to his brother (p. 24).

Jesus projected a dream. Howard Thurman taught that dream. Martin Luther King Jr. preached that dream:

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

Although Thurman’s book focused specifically on the African-American experience of oppression, Vincent Harding, who wrote the foreword to this edition, notes that Thurman’s message is clearly relevant to many other groups whose backs were pushed against the wall – LGBTQ people being one of the most timely examples. For me, reading Jesus and the Disinherited has given me an opportunity to consider Christianity from an entirely new perspective – and it’s given new meaning and depth to the Christmas holiday for me.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, and I will light the fourth Advent candle this morning. On Christmas morning, I will light the center candle, signifying the birth of Christ. These rituals were never very important to me from a religious standpoint. But today, I see the lighting of the candles as a symbol of Jesus’ message – the message, from a social justice standpoint, of love, acceptance, and unity. I offer that hope to all those whose backs are against the wall, and who don’t feel like there’s a home for them for the holidays.


Filed under homophobia, human rights, psychological research, religion, transgender, Uncategorized

Naming the obvious

Thursday, December 13, 2012. It was the last day of my Psychology of Women class. The topic of the day was “Men and Masculinity,” and the movie of the day was a documentary called Tough Guise.  Narrated by anti-violence educator Jackson Katz and directed by Sut Jhally, Tough Guise links the increase of male violence, misogyny, and homophobia to the way we define manhood and masculinity in American culture. Over the course of the film, Katz examines violence in professional sports, sexualized violence in the media, homophobia-driven violence towards men who violate gender norms – and the role of masculinity in school shootings, including the tragedies in Littleton, Colorado and Jonesboro, Arkansas. It’s a powerful film, never failing to spark thoughtful discussion among my students.

Friday, December 14, 2012. I got to my office, turned on the computer, and did what I always do – scan the headlines from the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the Sacramento Bee. And what was the first headline I saw?


Twenty-seven deaths – twenty of them children. How on earth do you wrap your head around something like this? My first reaction was disbelief, followed by an intense desire to protect my own child. And the fact that I’d just the day before shown a film that, in part, examined the reasons behind school shootings was more than a little chilling to me.

Here’s what else was unnerving to me. After the shootings at Columbine High School, the New York Times published a number of front-page articles that attempted to unpack the reasons why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would open gunfire on their classmates and teachers. Among the reasons cited included the usual suspects: video game violence, social ostracism, lack of mental health prevention and services, overly permissive gun laws. And yet, as Jackson Katz pointed out in the film, the one obvious factor was completely overlooked. “It’s not just ‘kids killing kids,'” says Katz. “It’s boys who are shooting boys, and boys who are shooting girls.” Naming the obvious – the fact that boys are almost always the shooters – opens the door for a discussion about masculinity, power, and violence.

Within hours after the news broke about the shooting, the media began to speculate about the underlying causes of this most recent tragedy. And guess what they focused on? Gun control. Mental health. Media violence. School security. And yet again, the fact that a man was the shooter isn’t even a part of the discussion.

I want to make very clear that I’m not trying to be a male-basher. The vast majority of men do not engage in violence. However, it’s important to note that the men who do engage in violence are responsible for most of the violent crimes in the United States. Check out these facts:

  • Over 85% of people who commit murder are men (and the women who commit murder often do so as a defense against their male batterers);
  • In 90% of homicides, both the victim and the perpetrator are men;
  • Men commit 95% of serious domestic violence;
  • 99.8% of those in prison convicted of rape are men;
  • 84% of hate crime perpetrators are men.

These statistics are staggering. And yet, it’s important to clarify that merely being a man isn’t the primary factor associated with violence. The “X” factor, according to the research, is masculinity in men – and the threat of losing it. For many men, getting your “man card” taken away is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you – and some men will do whatever it takes to salvage whatever shred of their “man card” they can hold onto. According to sociologists Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel, in a 2010 article published in Health Sociology Review, this is exactly what motivates boys to engage in school shootings:

These perpetrators were not just misguided ‘kids’, or ‘youth’ or ‘troubled teens’ – they’re boys. They are a group of boys, deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning. . . . What transforms the aggrieved into mass murders is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man (Kalish & Kimmel, 2010). 

“Aggrieved entitlement” – now there’s a whole different lens through which to consider violent crimes. Numerous studies indicate that, among men who perpetrate violence, masculine identity (or the threat of losing it) is a primary motivating factor behind rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and hate crimes – particularly those crimes targeting the LGBTQ community. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.  Expressing violence towards the feminine (or, more appropriately, the “not-masculine”), is a powerful way of reinforcing one’s manhood. No wonder women are far more likely than men to be victims of rape. No wonder the highest rates of LGBTQ-related hate crimes are perpetrated against gay men and transwomen – two groups that fly in the face of a traditional masculine identity.

Many people (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg being one of them) are hoping that the Connecticut shootings will be a call to action to implement stricter gun regulations. This is my hope as well – the number of gun-related deaths in the United States far outnumber those in other highly industrialized countries around the world. However, I also hope we can engage in conversation about what it means to be a man in our culture – and how, by definition, being a man means acting violently towards anyone who might threaten that masculinity. What if a new definition of manhood didn’t center around strength, power, and violence, but rather on having the courage to show love, compassion, fear, sadness, vulnerability? What if we considered a “real man” to be someone who has the courage to stand up for the rights of all people, and who won’t tolerate any form of oppression, discrimination, or violence?


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Filed under anti-gay bullying, children, gender nonconformity, hate crimes, homophobia, human rights, LGBTQ, media, mental health, overt homophobia, psychological research, transgender, transphobia, violence

First the POTUS, now the SCOTUS!

BREAKING NEWS:  Same-sex marriage is coming to the Supreme Court!

On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it will review the Ninth Circuit’s decision on the Proposition 8 case (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) , and it will also hear a case that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor). Minutes after the announcement, I got the following e-mail message from Courage Campaign, a non-profit organization that has fought tirelessly on behalf of marriage equality (and other progressive issues as well):

Gayle, it’s time to go all in on the nation’s biggest stage. Chip in $15 or more NOW to help us secure a win at the Supreme Court to end Prop 8, DOMA, and possibly same-sex marriage bans nationwide. We can’t afford a loss and we need to move quickly.

Why are they asking for money? I thought to myself. How does money get a judge to rule one way or the other? Maybe Courage Campaign is a big scam, playing on my emotions in order to get my money. Or maybe they’re trying to raise BIG MONEY in order to pay off Justice Kennedy. (NOTE: It’s the end of the semester for me, and being tired and stressed probably contributed to these dastardly, unclean thoughts.)

Then I read on:

Legal experts all say the courts follow public opinion. Justices listen to arguments by day, but read the news and talk to friends and family at night. That means that we need to wage a nationwide public education campaign that shows the harm inflicted on same-sex couples and their families by discriminatory laws like Prop 8 and DOMA.

The courts follow public opinion??? Last I heard, it’s usually the other way around. Decades of social science research indicate that, when a landmark court decision is made (such as Brown v. Board of Education), or when a groundbreaking piece of legislation is passed (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964), these policy decisions tend to have a powerful influence on public opinion. Gordon Allport, a social psychologist who wrote the classic text The Nature of Prejudice, argued in his book that stateways (laws and policies) tend to shift folkways (attitudes, beliefs, and norms) – not the other way around. In fact, if you look at the events of 2012, you can see this pattern very clearly. Consider this:

  • On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in their state – bringing the total number of states banning same-sex marriage to 39.
  • The next day, President Barack Obama made a public announcement in support of same-sex marriage.
  • To date, North Carolina is the last state in the U.S. to have banned same-sex marriage.

Get my drift?

But the Courage Campaign people are saying the opposite. So which is true? Maybe the research can tell us.

Let’s start with the judges’ preexisting attitudes. A 2011 study led by Ryan Black of Michigan State University, published in the Journal of Politics, examined all justice utterances made in cases argued between 1976 and 2008, and then further examined individual-level voting patterns in cases presented between 2004 and 2008. After sifting through hundreds of thousands of utterances, what did Black and his colleagues find? When U.S. Supreme Court justices make their arguments using emotionally volatile language, the side that uses a greater proportion of harsh language is more likely to lose its case. An example? In McCreary v. ACLU (2005), a case that addressed the issue of displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools and courthouses, Scalia used the word “idiotic” twice during his arguments. At the end of the day, the majority of the remaining justices did not take his side. Clearly, angry sputtering does not win a case.

But judges are supposed to be “impartial,” right? The worst thing you can say to a person on the bench is that they’re an “activist judge.” When Ninth Circuit Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, that’s exactly what he was called by the opposition – an “activist judge.” As crippling and insulting a statement that is, the reality is that judges are humans too – with real feelings, real attitudes and beliefs, real opinions on a variety of different issues. Most of the time, according to a 2007 Law & Society Review study, judges are very careful to set aside their ideological beliefs and instead weigh the merits of the legal arguments. The exception to that? In “salient” cases – cases that are high-profile and controversial – personal beliefs tend to carry more weight in the judges’ decision-making process. And I think it’s fair to say that Perry v. Schwarzenegger and United States v. Windsor are VERY salient cases.

So far, we have lots of evidence of the humanness of Supreme Court justices. But what about our original question – do the courts follow public opinion?  Logically speaking, it would seem so – if the public votes for the President, and the President selects Supreme Court justices, then public opinion influences the Supreme Court. However, in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Politics, researchers from Emory University investigated whether a more direct link exists between public opinion and judicial decision-making. The specific theory they tested is what’s called an “attitudinal change explanation” – the idea that attitudes of Supreme Court justices are likely to change dramatically over time, in tandem with public opinion. According to their findings, Supreme Court justices are influenced by the exact same factors that shift opinion in the general public. When a cultural norm begins to shift, people’s attitudes begin to conform more strongly to that norm – and Supreme Court justices are no exception to that.

Based on these findings, if marriage equality activists want to celebrate a victory next spring, what should be in the strategic playbook?

  • Demonstrate that public opinion solidly supports marriage equality rights.
  • Saturate the media in order to preserve the salience of this issue.
  • Pray that Justice Scalia goes on a rant with scathing homophobic vitriol.

Maybe the Courage Campaign isn’t a scam after all.


Filed under homophobia, human rights, psychological research, same-sex marriage

The world of LGBTQ children’s books

I LOVE to write. I’m constantly amazed how words and ideas can just come together, and that words can be combined in infinitely creative ways. And frankly, as a result of going to school for a very long time, I feel I’ve had to re-learn how to write in a fun, engaging, inspired way. Academic writing, particularly in the form of authoring journal articles, is the antithesis of creativity. It’s dull, dry, insipid, and soul-draining. So I don’t do it. I love writing non-fiction, but not that kind of non-fiction. And one of the things that’s helped me the most in re-learning how to write is writing something other than nonfiction – particularly something that is far, far away from nonfiction.

That’s where my friend Mira Reisberg comes in.

Mira is a children’s book author and illustrator. She’s an academic expat, having left a tenure-track university post after feeling like academia was sucking the creative life out of her. Now she teaches classes on writing and illustrating children’s picture books. I had the pleasure of taking one of her classes last spring – and it’s done wonders for clearing out the cobwebs of my right brain. Plus it’s just been sheer fun to learn how to write a creative, engaging, kid-friendly story in 600 words or less.

So far, most of my children’s stories aren’t about LGBTQ-related topics. One of my stories involves Humpty Dumpty getting fixed, another is about toes who constantly argue and can’t find a way to cooperate, and another is a story about a very loud rooster who’s welcomed in the neighborhood by some, but not by others. (Maybe the rooster one is LGBTQ-related, in the metaphorical sense.) But I’ve also been learning a lot about the children’s picture book market and the kinds of stories that are likely to get published – and, more specifically, about the landscape for LGBTQ-themed picture books.

Heather Has Two Mommies cover.jpg

Most people have heard of Leslea Newman’s groundbreaking book, Heather Has Two Mommies. Published in 1989, this was the first lesbian-themed children’s book ever to be published. The story is about a little girl, Heather, who is being raised by lesbian women, Jane and Kate. The book notes that Jane, Heather’s biological mother, got pregnant via donor insemination, and it portrays Heather’s family (and other non-traditional families) in a very positive light. It is a very simple, endearing, and inspiring book – and, according to the American Library Association, Heather Has Two Mommies was the 11th most challenged book of the 1990s. It continues to be banned in libraries. Despite the negative backlash to this book, Heather Has Two Mommies is still one of the bestselling books that focuses on LGBTQ issues.


Fast-forward to 2005. Since the publication of Heather Has Two Mommies, only a few additional LGBTQ-themed books made it onto the children’s picture book scene – one of the most popular being And Tango Makes Three. Based on a true story, the book is about two chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, who live in the Central Park Zoo – and who are, as they say, “a little different.” They play together, they cuddle, and they share a nest, but they aren’t parents like the other penguin couples. One of the zookeepers helps them out by giving them an abandoned egg, and they become fathers to Tango (because it takes two to Tango). As of this writing, And Tango Makes Three was the 8th most popular book in its category on Amazon. It was also, according to the American Library Association, the most challenged book of 2006, 2007, and 2008, and the second-most challenged of 2009 and 2010.

Leslea Newman has continued to be a prolific children’s book writer, and she has also written books for middle-grade and young adult audiences. Lots of books have been published about children who have two mommies or two daddies. But where are the gender issues?

Front Cover

10,000 Dresses was published in 2008. My Princess Boy came out in 2010. Both books address the issue of gender nonconformity in boys. Written by Marcus Ewert, 10,000 Dresses tells the story of Bailey, who dreams every night about magical dresses made of crystals, flowers, and rainbows. But when his parents hear about his dreams, they try to squash them: “You shouldn’t be thinking about dresses at all!” they say to him. In contrast, My Princess Boy is about a little boy named Dyson, who loves dressing up like a princess – and whose parents love him just the way he is.  Again, both of these books have been selling like wildfire. So far, they haven’t made it to the ALA’s “Most Frequently Challenged Books” list, but they’ve nevertheless been met with powerful resistance. A perfect example: “This Isn’t ‘Acceptance’: It’s Warped,” writes conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel regarding My Princess Boy.

Notice any trends? Clearly, all of these books have an audience – otherwise they wouldn’t sell so well. All of them are powerful tools for teaching acceptance to children (and modeling acceptance among adults). And every single one of them has been challenged or subjected to protest in some way, shape, or form.

If you think about it, the LGBTQ-themed books that have been published for children haven’t been all that radical, in the grand scheme of things. Children being raised by two mommies or two daddies is becoming more commonplace. Boys who are gender-nonconforming are increasingly met with acceptance rather than with a trip to a gender-reparative therapist. And few books stray far from those themes. What if there was a book about bisexuality, or about being raised by a polyamorous family? What if there was a book featuring lesbian and gay people of color? Or a book that helps children deal with the harsher realities of homophobia? Or a book about a child who has a transgender parent? Or a book about intersex identities? The possibilities are endless.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get published as a children’s book author. Regardless, I’ve got a few ideas in the works for LGBTQ-themed books. If they got published, that would be a miracle. If they end up on the ALA Banned Books List, I’ll really feel like I accomplished something.


Filed under biphobia, bisexuality, children, gender nonconformity, homophobia, LGBT families, LGBTQ youth, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized