Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Transgender Pride

Nearly 800 proud, visible transgender marchers took to the streets of Northampton last Saturday, June 7. What a fantastic day it was and how delighted I was to have been a part of it.

When I drove through Northampton around 11:30 that morning, I was not confident that the first New England Transgender Pride March would be a success. While it was a busy day in the downtown area, I did not see much of a crowd either lining the streets getting ready to watch a march or heading to Bridge Street School where the march was to begin. In fact, I decided that there was no rush for me to get my family to the assembly point in time to march, guessing that the organizers would have to start late in order to get an adequate mass assembled before taking to the streets.

As a result, it was probably around noon (the time that the march was scheduled to begin) when my family and I got a ride across town to where the march was to begin. So, given my complacency (and just a bit of pessimism), imagine my surprise when we drove under the train bridge only to see hundreds of beautiful trans marchers heading directly toward us and a police car with flashing lights ordering us to pull over so the march could begin. We quickly pulled over, jumped out of the car, and joined the marchers just as we saw the GLAD contingent heading toward us (following closely behind the march organizers and the very vocal Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition).

Whatever crowds had been lacking when I scanned downtown earlier that morning had assembled by the time the march made its way to the area. People were chanting (“What do we want? Trans Rights. When do we want them? Now”). And the crowds cheered and clapped as we made our way to the rally. My kids were too excited to be part of the march to be willing at any point to step out to watch the marchers who had assembled behind us. So I had no idea of its magnitude until we finally got to the rally space at the end. I never heard any official tallies but was unsurprised to hear credible reports of between 800 and 1,000 people being part of the march and rally.

Of course, for me, it wasn’t so much the numbers that mattered as the incredible range of identities (and bodies) I saw participating in the event. What struck me throughout the day was how few opportunities there are to be in a space where trans identity is the norm and where something more conventional is aberrational. For me, it was a day of feeling at home.

One of the more clever ideas of the march organizers was making available nametags for rally participants that had a blank for “name” and “I identify as.” Lots of people put “male,” “female,” “boi,” “girl,” or “trans.” Pronoun designations ranged from “he/his,” “she/her,” to “ze,” “hir,” and “you pick it.” Some of the more creative entries for identity included, “me,” “human,” “here,” and “person.” The feeling of freedom was palpable; the celebration was intense.

The day was a scorcher and everyone was happy for the bottles of water freely available through the duration of the rally. GLAD had a table not far from the speakers and stage seating and from where I could see everything. There was little coverage, though, from the sun so I spent a fair bit of time huddled in the shade behind GLAD’s table. But the heat of the day seemed to wither noone’s spirits or enthusiasm for the event. The nearly 5 hour rally was a great opportunity to talk to people about GLAD’s newly launched Transgender Rights Project as well as a chance to hear more about the injustices many of us face in our daily lives.

Unsurprisingly, I heard from a lot of people who have been plagued by the challenges of getting gender markers on identity documents that reflect their lived gender identities. More than a few people shared their experience of being denied insurance coverage for medically necessary surgery or hormone therapy, some foregoing essential procedures and others emptying savings accounts in order to get the care and treatment they need and deserve. A couple of people spoke of the challenges they faced as parents defending their relationships with their kids in the face of a legal system rife with bias and prejudice against anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype of what a “real woman” or “real man” should look or act like.

I was reminded of why GLAD believes it is essential at this moment in time to launch a Transgender Rights Project. So few laws exist that clearly protect our community and so many of us face daily legal obstacles to living our lives with dignity and in safety.

I wanted to round out this blog with two personal stories that were highlights of my day. At the GLAD cocktail reception, I was delighted to meet up with a trans woman (forgive me if that’s not quite an accurate description of your identity) who I first met nearly fifteen years ago. Danielle (not her real name) and I first met at a Sunshine Club barbecue in Western Massachusetts where she and I bonded over neither easily fitting in the gender typical community nor easily fitting in the trans community into which she and I had both just recently found our way. A lot of our trans brothers and sisters at the barbecue were mad that she unapologetically wore her hair butch short, rode a motorcycle, and retained the physique of (for lack of better description) a male body builder. I thought she looked great (still do). But more than that, I was grateful to find someone within the trans community who comfortably exploded so many myths about gender. I was thrilled to learn that she continues to live her truth with all the challenges (and comfort as well) that brings to her.

The other highlight of my day was finally meeting Imani Henry. Imani is a performance artist, trans activist, and all around fantastic guy. I have been a fan of him and his work for many years. He and I have corresponded about a number of issues, political and legal, that have come up in the community throughout the last 12 years or so. We have not, however, ever formally met. We finally did last Saturday. We were both happy to finally be in the same room and have the chance to talk in person. Probably the funniest part of that meeting was his learning that I am not someone who identifies from an MTF-perspective but rather from an FTM one. I suspect it was my name in combination with my trans identity (but no visual context) that supported his assumption. He didn’t come quite out with it, but I knew from his energetic laugh and delight at the discovery of my actual identity that he and I (and likely everyone in the room) still hold onto prejudgments and expectations based on gender categories despite all our work and best efforts. We laughed for a while before putting our heads together again to figure out how best to continue to challenge gender stereotypes.

Jennifer Levi
Director, GLAD Transgender Rights Project

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. Here is a really inspiring profile of a Utah legislator committed to GLBT rights, and why she does what she does.