Jared Letos’ Rayon doesn’t do a disservice

Several people have asked me what I thought of Jared Letos’ transgender character, Rayon, in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I finally saw the movie, now that it’s out on DVD. Overall, I was thrilled to see a transgender character who the audience loved. It’s that simple to me.

Here’s what Steve Friess wrote in Time magazine: “Dallas Buyers Club’ has garnered praise for the actor’s supposedly brave portrayal of a transgender woman. Don’t expect anyone to find it admirable 20 years from now.” He compared Rayon to Mammy in “Gone with the Wind,” saying, “Back in 1940, when Hattie McDaniel took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone With The Wind,” Hollywood was incessantly proud of itself. … In the light of more than seven decades, that moment and performance are tainted by our collective understanding of how hypocritical and patronizing it was.”

I totally see his point. But back then, in 1940, it WAS brave of the Academy to give her an Oscar.

He continues: “Not long from now — it surely won’t take decades, given the brisk pace of progress on matters of identity and sexuality these days — Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy.”

I’m not sure I agree, but to me, that’s not the point. In the here and now, Rayon is more a good thing than a not-good thing. I think that as people, like Friess, get deeper into subcultures – and I’m talking any subculture, including animal rescue, bicycle advocacy, adoption, craft beer, and, yes, LGBT issues — they lose sight of where the public is vs. where they are. I’ve taken this position in all the above subcultures I’ve been a part of. I’m in the moderate camp, but I really appreciate the more left-of-center view too. There’s room for all of us. (When Lina sees the movie, I’ll add her thoughts.)

I don’t think Rayon will advance the transgender cause all that much, but I don’t think she’ll hurt it. And to me, that’s hopeful.

Posted in Media, Politics, Public reaction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Seven answers about transgender issues

The Washington Post’s “She the People” blog ran a piece today titled “Seven Questions About Transgender Issues You Were Afraid to Ask.” that deserves mention. The biggest takeaway for me was this: “Sometimes it helps to think of gender as a spectrum instead of a binary where everyone fits neatly into two little boxes. Some people’s gender presentation is hyper feminine, others are hyper masculine, and some fall somewhere in the androgynous middle.” I’d add that it’s not just about “presentation” but also intention and internal thinking.

This for me has been challenging. I was much more comfortable when Lina became the other binary and not somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, at least externally. Not saying that’s right, just saying it’s what I felt. My struggle is to stay as open as possible — and I’m pretty darn open already and have been for decades.

The “Seven Questions” are wide-ranging, from sex vs. gender to ENDA and more. Worth a read, and I’m happy to see the exposure, as always.

Posted in Legal issues, Out and about, Physical appearance, Politics, Transgender | Leave a comment

‘Modern Love’ book spreads the word

201402_11_Love IlluminatedI was thrilled to learn a few months ago that my New York Times “Modern Love” column would be referred to in “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers),” by Daniel Jones, editor of the wildly popular feature in the Times’ Sunday Style section.

Yeah, sure, ego played a role in my elation, but much more important is that the topic of transgender couples gets some attention. The more we’re out there, the more that other couples in our situation will feel that maybe, just maybe, they can make it work. And if they can’t or don’t, that’s OK, but perhaps they’ll be more inclined to stay open, respectful and loving during the process.

First, the book in general — read it! It just came out today! If you care about romance, relationships and love on any level, it will touch you. Dan divides chapters and organizes his material into various headings, including Pursuit, Connection, Vulnerability, Trust, and Infidelity. Lina and I are under the Loyalty heading. More on that later.

One lovely review in Elle and a feature/interview in Marie Claire say more than I could and better, so read them. Here’s a brief excerpt from the excellent Elle piece by Lynn Darling: “Jones proves an exceptional guide — droll, compassionate, nonjudgmental –through all of love’s many phases. …. Jones is an unabashed romantic, God bless him, and he celebrates love’s accidental nature, its capacity for mystery and — more important — redemption. ‘After all,’ he writes, ‘isn’t that what love, at its best, is about — healing wounds and being good?’ ” (I should add that the Elle piece mentioned our marriage as well — spreading the trans couple message even further!)

So, back to Lina and me. At first I bristled when I saw we were under the chapter titled Loyalty: The Devotion Test. (The book imparts stories and wisdom through little quizzes, a play on the ones found in women’s magazines.) My first thought was: I didn’t stay with Lina out of any sense of loyalty, but out of love, pure and simple. But, it’s true that I felt devoted to this person and her well-being, so perhaps loyalty kept me open to exploring the possibilities. To explain our story, Dan quoted from my Times essay. The quiz consisted of laying out parts of our story and then asking readers, “what would you do?” Dan praised those who kept an open mind and wanted more information. (The other example, by the way, involved a woman who stayed with a man who was HIV- positive, much older, and a former addict.)

At one point he wrote, “When we try to guess what we’d do based on hypothetical questions, we often underestimate our capacity to be able to adapt, to grow , and to love. We think: I could never do that. But when we find ourselves in the situation, we seem to find a way to do it. We’re stronger than we thought we were. Or perhaps we’re more attached than we ever imagined we could be.”

The answer, at least for me, is, we discover that love is the most powerful force imaginable.

I appreciated the way Dan summarized our story: “All in all, it has been a multiyear devotion test they have passed with flying (rainbow) colors. And today, years later, they remain very much together and in love.” The “rainbow” reference amused me. And it’s true, we are still together and very much in love!

So, I hope you’ll read the articles, the book, and keep up with Dan on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. If Dan is in your area, check him out in person (his schedule is on FB and he’ll Tweet it.) Tell him Diane and Lina sent you!

Posted in Books, Marriage, Media, Out and about, Transgender | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A new name for a new year

I call my sweetie Lina, but her chosen name is Selina. That’s her legal name and also what her family and friends in the Netherlands call her by. Meanwhile, friends and co-workers in the U.S. use Lina, thanks to my use of it.

The thing is, she really prefers Selina, and I’ve kind of dismissed that – but I’m coming around. As much as I appear all cool with everything transgender (though I’ve certainly professed and confessed my various fears, prejudices, judgments, etc.), I have stubbornly stuck to Lina. It’s not that Selina dislikes Lina, but she chose Selina for a reason. Her male name was Wessel, an uncommon Dutch name. Before anyone knew about her upcoming transition, we first used Wesselina as a little joke between us, which is about as old-fashioned a name in the Netherlands as Bertha or Winifred are in the U.S. So when it came time to pick a name, to honor “Wesselina” but to also update it, she chose Selina.

I remember when she told me that would be her name. My heart sunk. To me, it sounded like a stripper or a Latin American pop star. Those are my prejudices, of course. But it went beyond that. If others felt the same way, they might mock her and in turn, by association, me. So it’s really all about me. The name also tapped into the stereotype of transgender women taking girlie names, like Tiffany, Angelica, Victoria. You get the idea. But shouldn’t everyone get to choose their own name? Of course. In fact, if I had disliked the name my parents gave me, I could have changed it, or asked people to call me something else, and they would have.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t honor her by using Selina in the first place and for being embarrassed about it. (I’m human too, so I’m not totally flagellating myself here, but I am acknowledging my weakness.) It’s akin to, but not quite as bad as, friends and family of transgender men and women who refuse to use the opposite-gender name at all after a transition. 

Luckily for me, my sweet Se/Lina allows me my humanness. Perhaps when we live in the Netherlands, as planned, I will slowly and naturally switch over. Meanwhile, I’m starting to mix it up a little. Feel free to join me!


Posted in Coping, Out and about | Tagged | 2 Comments

Many states deny second-parent adoptions

One of the funny side effects of transitioning as a married couple is you go from being a straight couple to, at least on the outside, a gay couple. OK, so first we go through the transgender stuff and now we’ve got the gay stuff to deal with! Actually, it’s a piece of cake, in comparison! (The unpleasant add-on is that some lesbian factions are anti-trans. How you can be anti anyone who is fighting for similar things I’ll never understand, but I digress.)

So Lina and I, supportive of gay rights all along anyway, find ourselves identifying more with the issues and more invested in learning about them. The problem we learned more about recently was second-parent adoption for same-sex couples, which is not legal here in North Carolina and in eight other states.

In a hetero relationship, if, for example, a woman has biological children and she’s single, widowed, etc., and ends up with a new male partner, he can easily adopt her children and become their legal parent. On the other hand, if two women are together, and one has a child and they are a family in every way, the “other mother” cannot legally become a parent, regardless of how long the couple has been together. This poses many, many legal issues, from hospital and school visitation rights to Social Security benefits and on and on. Families pay an emotional price as well.

We went to a documentary in progress about the issue called “Unconditional,” focusing on two parental challenges. One family, two moms and their three awesome children, live in our area. We know them as fellow members of Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. At one time in NC, second adoption was legal for gay couples, and they enjoyed that right. Then the law was challenged and overturned. Their rights were taken away, just like that. The other parent in the film remained anonymous. Her situation was particularly heartbreaking. She’d been with a woman and they’d had a child. The other woman was the biological mother. Later the couple broke up, and the bio mother took away the rights of the co-parent. Eventually, the co-parent was able to get visitation rights, but those are always tenuous.

So I hope you’ll read up on this particularly heartbreaking and heinous form of discrimination. Find out what the laws are in your home state and do what you can to help bring change. As always!

Posted in Legal issues | Leave a comment

Chelsea Manning it is…

Because a few people have asked me about Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Pfc. Bradley Manning, yes, I think she should be called by the name she wants to be called by. Um, hello “the artist formerly known as Prince.” (Funny, I wrote about the topic just a few days before that story broke. It’s not a new request, for sure.) I had thought that Wikipedia obliged, but I see it’s only redirecting, at least for now.

I also think she should be entitled to the same kind of medical treatment that anyone would, but the Army has said it doesn’t provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment therapy. Not surprising. One person said she may not be able to pursue hormone therapy even if she paid for it herself, which would be truly awful. While I don’t think being transgender made her leak government files, I do think being a conflicted person could be part of the root cause. Ultimately, that’s not for me to decide.

I actually knew about her transgender status quite a while back, because a reporter friend doing a big profile of Bradley Manning discovered the info in her research and asked my opinion about how to approach it. So that side of Manning has haunted me a bit ever since.

Posted in Legal issues, Media | Leave a comment

What’s in a name? A pronoun, of course

I have a journalist friend who recently interviewed a transgender man for a Q&A article. It was in the context of his work, but also about him being transgender, as this person has been an advocate for gender-variant people.

The answers were in his own words, so in that way he steered the conversation. But the introduction to the Q&A was in the journalist’s words, and it included a mention of where “she” went to school (an all-female college), where she worked, when she came out as a lesbian and when she married. And then, ta da, “she” became “he”! We all know that dramatic headline. He was she. She was he. I certainly capitalize on that shock value with the title of this blog: She Was the Man of My Dreams.

My writer friend caught a little flak about the head-spinning he/she issue. Trans people and the subject of the story felt “he” should have been used for everything, because even when he appeared to be she, he was a he inside. (Are you keeping up?)

As I told my friend, I see three perspectives. As a journalist, I agree that it would be particularly odd to say “he,” when the person lived as a she. Would I write that Bob Smith attended the all-female Smith College, for instance? As a transgender person one should be called whatever pronoun one chooses. As someone connected to a transgender person, it becomes confusing and crazy making when speaking of the past tense. To call the man I fell in love with “she” seems nuts to me. Lina identified and appeared as a male and used a male name. On the other hand, using Lina’s male name also feels bizarre. Of course I want to respect her, but I’d like also to respect my memories and my reality.

The way I feel is: everyone is right. I don’t believe there’s an absolute. I do believe we should be respectful of the transgender person, but also of the person’s community. If we all choose to proceed with empathy and compassion, as I believe my friend did, that goes a long way in overcoming the head-scratching process of choosing pronouns.

Posted in Media | 3 Comments