And That's the Way It Is!

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.

by Monica F Helms

I wonder what time of the year this issue is coming out? It?s important to know this so I can write a clever opening. Now, let?s see ... Dallas gave me this wonderful formula that is suppose to help me keep this straight?or in my case, let?s say correct. I don?t do anything ?straight? any more. According to her formula, I first take the square root of the number of shoes once owned by Imelda Marcos. Then I divide by the amount of stitches Dr. Schrang uses in the average MTF surgery. After that, I subtract the number of streetlights in downtown Ajo, Arizona, then multiply that by the cosine of 32 degrees to the third power.
Okay, I did all that. Now what? It says on the back of the card, ?Take the figure you came up with down the hall to Miqqi Gilbert?s cubicle and give it to her.? (Insert video of Monica walking down hall.)

After I handed the figure to Miqqi, she laughed at me for ten minutes. Is this some kind of sick Transgender Tapestry joke they play on the new kids? Wait. There?s some tiny print on the bottom of this card. It says, ?Look on the calendar, stupid.? Oh.

As I write this, the maple leaves and genders are quickly changing in Montreal. Noses are being made smaller by Dr. Ousterhout in San Francisco so Jack Frost has a harder time nipping at them. Breasts are being augmented across the country to add a bit more ?insulation? from those pesky chest colds. And the Sears in downtown Neenah, WI is running a special on Jockey shorts, for FTMs only. Buy ten pair and they?ll throw in a muscle shirt and a six-pack of white tube socks. Can?t beat that, guys!

Am I losing it yet? It could be because ?Uncle Jesse? Helms has finally decided to retire. He?s always been the rottenest branch on the family tree.

?Open the damn pod-bay doors, HAL! Yeah! I?m talkin? to you!?

Mother Would Be So Proud

Why? Because, my mother is from Rhode Island, and tiny RI has become the second state in the union to legislate civil rights for its transgender citizens. Connecticut recently did the same thing through an administrative action, so that makes three states which will protect our rights. Minnesota was the first to make that move, back in 1993. Forty-seven to go. At the time of this writing, several states, including California, Arizona, and Georgia are working on bills that would also extend rights to their transgender citizens.

The Rhode Island bill is unique in that it specifically addresses the civil rights of transgendered people only. The state extended civil rights to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals back in 1995. The battle to get that bill passed left the state?s GLBT community bruised and battered after transgendered people were left out. Six years was a long time for transgendered people in Rhode Island to be the ?Last Minority.?

I keep hearing that some time in this new century the world will be unlike anything we have ever known. Some people see that as a sign of Armageddon. However, if states continue along the same lines as Rhode Island, then transgendered people will get to live in a world unlike anything WE have ever known. I suppose to some people on this planet, if transgendered people have equal rights, then it IS a sign of Armageddon. All I can say to them is, ?Live with it!?

Let?s Do the HRC Time Warp Again

?It?s just a jump to the left? ... or is it to the right? For some reason, I feel as if I have been sent back in time, back to the days when the Human Rights Campaign didn?t have gender expression in their mission statement. In August of 2001, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act made another appearance in the Senate and the House, and yes, you guessed it, it still didn?t cover gender expression. And yes, you guessed it, HRC still didn?t want gender expression in the bill?s language. And yes, you guessed it, they?re still using the same old lame excuse: ?It won?t pass with those words in the bill.? And yes, you guessed it, this writer is PO?ed to the max ... again.

When HRC put gender expression in their mission statement, I cheered along with the rest of our community. However, I still wanted to see proof that their heart was in those words. My friends told me, ?Look how their web site has changed. They?re really doing something for us.? Others I know had meetings with HRC officials and came away with warm and fuzzy feelings. Some were upset because I remained skeptical. Words on a web site and in a mission statement do nothing to protect the transgender community from employment discrimination. Talk is cheap. My spirit must be from Missouri, because I wanted them to show me. When ENDA came back in its same old ugly form, HRC?s words of support turned into so much smoke.

It didn?t end there. On August 10, the following press release appeared on HRC?s web site:

HRC Urges FBI to Assist in Investigation and Prosecution of Colorado Hate Crime

WASHINGTON (Aug. 10)?The Human Rights Campaign is urging the FBI to open an investigation into the murder of Fred Martinez Jr. in Cortez, Colo., as a hate crime based on race and/or sexual orientation. Meanwhile, memorial vigils for the 16-year-old were slated to be held Aug. 10 and Aug. 11 in the area and include the participation of Judy Shepard, mother of slain Wyoming University student Matthew Shepard.

Next to this was a picture of Fredericka as she appeared in public. Fredericka was the name she had given herself, and the name by which her friends knew her. HRC?s article said nothing of Fredericka?s gender expression. Did it conveniently slip their devious minds? I suppose the author of that press release wasn?t briefed on the wording in HRC?s mission statement. In its press release, HRC ignored the gender expression of a Two-Spirited Navajo youth, yet reminded us of it with her picture. I?m appalled.

The bottom line? HRC fooled a lot of people in our community?including me?by changing their mission statement. It doesn?t mean we have to remain fooled. With that mission statement and 50 cents, an out-of-work transgendered person can get a cup of coffee at Denny?s.

This Stuff?s Made In New Jersey?

Seems a court in Trenton, New Jersey is doing its best to set the pace in preventing discrimination toward transsexuals. In July, a ruling came from an appeals court saying transsexuals should be protected from discrimination because they?re handicapped, because they have Gender Identity Disorder. This helps to further strengthen New Jersey?s anti-discrimination laws. The ruling came from a wrongful-termination lawsuit by Carla Enriquez toward West Jersey Health Systems. Under contract with WJHS, Enriquez was fired when, in transition, she refused to change back to a man.

How interesting. All the whining about keeping GID in the DSM seems to have some validity, but only in one state. The Helms (no relation) Amendment to the Americans With Disabilities Act is religiously followed by the courts by the courts in almost every other state, so what happened in New Jersey won?t affect transsexuals anyplace else. On the one hand, this is a good thing, seeing a state outwardly defy the Helms Amendment. New Jersey has a wonderful reputation for being independently-thinking and defiant. ?Yo! I got yer Helms Amendment right here!? Too bad we can?t infuse the courts of other states with that kind of attitude.

But there is a dark side to the Force, young Lukes and Lukettes. Do those of us who are transsexual really want to be considered handicapped? I don?t see myself as handicapped. I see it as a birth anomaly, one which can be easily corrected, if you are able to throw enough money at it [and your editor sees her transsexualism as a gift from the goddess]. Before you flood the Transgender Tapestry office with letters of varying opinions on this issue, keep in mind that this is my opinion. Your opinion is equally valid. But why should I be handicapped for something that doesn?t impede my mental or physical abilities?

The decision in the courts of New Jersey is a double-edged sword. I?m not ready to throw myself onto that sword.

It?s the Principal That Matters

Such was the case in Wilmette, IL this August. Principal Donald Reed of Avoca School District 37 returned to school Fall session as Deanna Reed. (Nice to see she didn?t choose ?Donna? for a first name.) Reed has been a principal for 12 years, and had received encouraging words from students and parents. However, the subject is not to be discussed with the students. You think they didn?t notice? You can bet they?re discussing it amongst themselves. The school board hadn?t received negative feedback from any of the parents.

One of the parents, Jon Liberman, was surprised at the letter he received from the school board, but looked at the situation as a learning opportunity for his daughter. Enlightened parents! What a novel concept.

Shades of the Dana Rivers story? Not in the least, or at least not at the time of this writing. Hopefully, Reed won?t have to face the same agonizing experiences as Rivers. Oh, sure, Rivers made out comfortably because of it, but she would have loved to have continued teaching. She got that chance again in the Fall of 2001. Reed won?t be getting a settlement, but her reward is far greater than any money could have brought. Those people I?ve known in the teaching profession are some of the most dedicated individuals on the planet. To take their job away from a teacher would be like taking their blood away.

Today?s parents of young children are members of the MTV and computer generation. These are the adults who will run this country in a decade or two, and they have grown up being exposed to people with ?alternative lifestyles.? Dana Rivers faced bigotry from just a few parents of high school students two years ago. Luckily, Deanna Reed hasn?t received criticism from the parents of her grade school students?so far. Interesting. They both have the same initials.

Life In the Fast Lane

In May, Lane Community College in Oregon added a private shower and changing area in its Physical Education building after a transgendered student, Amy May, asked where she could shower after recreation classes. Amy is in the process of transitioning from male to female and knew she was a girl from age four. She had always felt uncomfortable having PE classes with the boys and changing in their locker room. She said, ?I felt like I was invading their privacy.?

To facilitate May and other students with privacy issues, Lane Community College converted a janitor?s closet into a single changing room and private shower. When told about the new facility, May said, ?I feel all right using it, but it?s segregation, and that?s a step in the wrong direction.? This writer feels bad that in order to shower in private, May has to go back into the closet. Okay! So I stretched on that one! This writing stuff ain?t easy.

In my opinion, LCC responded to May?s needs in an excellent manner. So often we hear, ?Tough luck. Shower at home, or with the guys (or girls, for FTMs.)? May may feel it?s segregation, but there are times when we, as pre-op transsexuals, have to compromise when it comes to the bathroom issue, whether at work or at school. As an activist, I?ve learned when and where to pick my fights. Newly-transitioning transsexuals should keep in mind that education is a slow and methodical way of winning people over. In states in which pre-op transsexuals can get the sex marker changed on their driver?s license upon the start of transition, it?s not such a good idea to press the bathroom issue right off the bat. It can make for an uncomfortable situation by backing your employer in a corner. You as the individual cannot win.

I see this story as having a happy ending and being a feel-good story in a world that desperately needs good news. Too often, we read about transgender deaths and events to memorialize our dead, such as the Day of Remembrance. To find a place like Lane Community College making an effort to help their transgendered students is a nice change of pace. Let?s hope other places and schools pick up on this.

Monica Helms is 50 years old and lived most of her life in Arizona. Today, she resides in Marietta, GA. She has two sons living in Arizona, one 19 and the other 17. Arizona was where she started transitioning, nearly 5 years ago, and was also where she began getting involved in activism. Monica is currently involved in transgender activism both on the local and national levels. Send Monica e-mail at