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When the Soul Cries Out

The last few posts have been centered on exploring creatives and artists in the LGBT community. There are some absolutely wonderful and generous spirits who have agreed to share their art and work with me but there is one brave poet (and singer… and spoken word artist… ) who I just had to share with you. Joslin Kearse, also known as “Soul Cry”. More than an artist, Joslin is a mom, a veteran, and a devout Christian who sees poetry as her form of ministry. I love how she exemplifies the diversity of what makes up US.

Soul Cry

Simply put, as an artist I feel that my purpose is to give life and love through poetic verses, through song and through music. Aside from performing poetry I also sing backup with a local band. I do this because I love it. And while the ultimate goal is to positively impact at least 1 person, sometimes I do perform [just] for me. Sometimes being on stage is a form of sanctuary for me. It’s the place where my cares and frustrations disappear. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you hear Nas sing “All I Need Is One Mic” and you think to yourself “Yeah, that’s all I need”. I suppose that my “orientation” does impact my work but I don’t see as being impactful as much as being integral. I am who I am and that is evidenced in my work.

As an artist myself, I feel like making ANY kind of art means feeling emotions more intensely. Feeling them intensely enough to be able to express them with immediacy and passion even months the triggering event has passed. You also have to be brave enough to put those feelings on display for the world, to bring your audience into a space and time with you. It’s the kind of fearless courage that many LGBT people have to possess just to be “out” in their identity.

I’ve noticed that people have typically responded well to my work. I’ve not experienced any overt discrediting based on my orientation. I generally get positive feedback from people who have heard me. If there is any negative feedback (which I am open to criticism) people tend to keep it to themselves. I still perform at open mics, varying festivals, intimate spoken word venues and sometimes churches. Though I perform at fewer churches than I previously did. Not because of a lack of invitation but because in my experience poetry has been treated as a form of entertainment versus being considered an actual form of ministry.

One of the things that intrigued me about Soul Cry is that she has not only lived and performed here in Pennsylvania, she has spent considerable time overseas, even winning a very prestigious award in 2014 at an international poetry festival in Europe. She is a born and bred Pennsylvania who has stayed centered around the York and Harrisburg area so I was curious about how being a ‘PA Gay’ stacks up to being ‘in the life’ in much more progressive or conservative cultures.

Having been afforded the opportunity to represent the U.S. overseas as a poet was an amazing at the least and overwhelmingly indescribable at best. Being able to hear poets from around the world read their work in their native tongue and still be able to feel their passion and intention without understanding their language caused me to marvel at the power and beauty of poetry. While in Macedonia, I was well received. I was different in many ways. I was the only black person, the only spoken word artist and like the only out lesbian but that had little impact on how I was treated. I did get some odd looks but that is par for the course with being nonconforming. The young people especially showed me love and hospitality. They kept asking to take pictures with me. I wasn’t offended at all because I realized that many of them had never seen a black person in real life before. It’s laughable how cool they thought I was. When I told them that I have a son their age they couldn’t believe it. I even got a marriage proposal from a 22 year old Macedonian man who maintained his offer even after I told him I was 40 with a wife of my own and 4 children. I was grateful to be out of the country again. It had been 20 years since I had been to Europe. Back then I was in the Army and was straight-ish but little was different regarding my ability to meet people and connect with people and establish relationships. The only difference is 20 years ago I came home with a son. This time I came home with lasting memories and gratitude for the people who afforded me the opportunity to go by contributing to my GoFundMe account and especially for Equality Fest for making up the difference.

It was Joslin who introduced me to the term “She-ro”. That brave, feminine, take-no-prisoners part of a woman that represents her empowered best. Whether the protective mother lion, the passionate warrior goddess, or the alluring siren, I believe every woman has a she-ro inside of her, just waiting to be claimed. When meeting Joslin, her strength is obvious but unpretentious. Her survival instinct is an undeniable as her talent and wherever Soul Cry goes, it is hard to imagine her not making it her own.

Over here, I’ve experienced far more difficulty in life for being dark skinned than for being of an alternative lifestyle. I cannot say where is better. I can only say here is home whether better or worse.

Because Maya

Your eternal words
guided me
into the power of
black poetic femininity

A grace once anathema
compelling me to inhale your audacity
shed teenaged tomboy skin
and emerge a lady

With a saunter in my step
a pep in my stride
shoulders pressed back in defiance
breasts resting high

Nose to the sky
paying homage to the sun
the ancestors, now you
all watching from above

Leading me inward to find
my hearts gold mines
the diamonds of meter and rhyme
at the meeting of my thighs

Pushing me deeper
where enlightenment dwells
where consciousness voice
breaks for like oil wells

Upward, outward
past insurmountable odds
the bludgeoning of circumstance
the changing of tides

Because you Mother Maya, I know I’ll rise

Like the desert’s dust
in the Saharan dusk
or morning mist from Tamarisk scaly
at every turn and test of my mettle …I’ll Rise

Like the moon in illuminated perpetuity
Rise!
Leaping forward into the call of destiny
Rise!
Progeny of the universe vast and wide
Steeped in the traditions of our foremother’s pride
I rise!

Loving beyond their shame, pain and oppression
Rise!
Endowed with their beauty, legacy and lesson
Rise!
Bearing the gifts that Mother Maya gave
Fulfilling the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise!
I rise!
I rise!

Art, Politics and Principles

I’m not sure a brief description of my art is possible other than to say all of it, in the end, is in some measure how I see the world around me. Some days, it is vibrant and glorious; other days it is dark, foreboding, terrifying. My work has always been photography based; I don’t know if that will ever change. When I became serious about photography (art); digital cameras were beginning to come to the fore so my artistic career has been solely in digital photography and the digital darkroom. While I still create what one might call “straightforward” photographs, much of my work has been in the realm of what I hate to call “digital” art (I hate to call it digital art because it is not intended solely or primarily for electronic display, but rather for print – to become an object d’art, something to be hung on the wall and enjoyed).

Meet my friend Daniel, otherwise known as incredible modern media artist, d.g. walczyk. Daniel owns and runs the premier art print and graphic source downtown, Vulcania Graphics (vgafa.com), with his partner of many years who is also a modern media artist. As I was chatting with artists from the LGBT community for my last blog, Daniel had some wonderful comments about the ties between creativity, justice and finding self in this crazy political and media climate we live in. I had to share.

For the most part, being a member of the LGBT community does not directly affect the art that I create. I would say I am an artist who is gay rather than a gay artist; just as I would say that I am an artist who is male rather than male artist. When it comes to issues of equality and justice, I think that my approach is more from a perspective of humanity / humanism. I was raised Catholic and now consider myself to be recovering Catholic; just as I am a recovering alcoholic.

Interestingly, with the recent escalation of violence (starting with Ferguson), I am acutely more aware of and understanding of the issue of white privilege. While I did not consider myself a racist prior to this escalation, I certainly have an entirely different perspective on racism. And the escalation of the hate and intolerance of the extreme religious right as regards the LGBT community has made me more acutely aware of a host of social and economic injustices and inequities. There are a number of personal recent events with peers, friends, acquaintances,and clients within the racism and religious arenas that have opened my eyes even further.

So once your eyes are opened, how does that start to change and shape your interactions? Once you have seen, can you ‘un-see’? I know there have been times I wish I could. Ignorance WAS bliss for me in certain circumstances. I had someone I considered a friend who I learned after years of working and socializing together, that this person was highly homophobic. I had another close friend, a best friend actually, who after years of excusing and overlooking and justifying, I finally had to “unfriend” because of her increasing recurrence of racist comments. I still miss my friend, but I made the right decision for me. As a gay male artist, Daniel interacts with dozens of people a day and uses his relationships and connections to pay the rent, as do most artists. So, where then, does that delicate balance fall for him?

I learned, in one instance, that a peer was criticized for utilizing our services (Vulcania Graphics & Fine Art, LLC) because the owners / partners also happen to be be gay partners, not just business partners. And I learned in this same instance that this peer is not at all a supporter of marriage equality on religious grounds. I (we) regard this person with respect and value both the friendship and the business relationship. In another instance, a peer who I already understood as having racist tendencies flew what I suspect to be an unabashedly racist flag. While I value the business this person has brought to us, I was compelled to call out the racism. It remains to be seen whether or not this will affect the business relationship, but it certainly has negatively affected the peer to peer / personal relationship. In both instances, my instinct is not to judge and to remain forgiving; but the relationships are decidedly different, even if only that I am more aware of the world in which I live and how one’s true nature can be so easily hidden or disguised.

LGBT marriages, choices about what church to attend, what shops to support, what state to move to…so much of our personal is political by necessity as well as choice. Would I love to just buy an ear of corn without wondering if its GMO, has pesticides, is locally grown and if the pickers were paid a living wage? Sure! We have a long way to go in the world before I can go back to sleep though. Thank goodness we have so many LGBT brothers and sisters on the forefront of activism who can provoke and promote sensitive levels of awareness in all that they do, even their art.

While my social, political, and religious views have rarely been at the forefront of my work, I’m sure that they inform my work on at least a subconscious level. And perhaps in light of becoming even more awake recently, my work will take a turn toward more directed activism.

Wetiko by d. g. walczyk
Wetiko by d. g. walczyk

STATEMENT:
“Wetiko” is in response to / inspired by the poem of the same name by local poet / spoken word artist Dustin Nispel. The term wetiko is of Native American (Cree) origin and refers to psychic/spiritual vampirism and/or cannibalism. It is a psychosis; a disease of the spirit or soul. Sadly, our nation, through its leadership and legislation, has been promulgating the spread of this disease throughout its history. The disease manifests itself outwardly from within individuals to overtake entire families, communities, states, and nations. Wetiko, among its many manifestations, is intolerance, hate, racism, injustice, greed, war, and indifference.

The only hope in fighting this disease lies within the individual’s ability and willingness to recognize and acknowledge his own evil, his own darkness and how he projects that outwardly on to the rest of humanity. Until individuals can begin to recognize their own wetiko, there is no hope in moving past the divisiveness that characterizes virtually all current socio-political events.

To use an extreme, but prototypical example, it is like someone screaming that you’re killing them as they kill you. If their insanity is reflected back to them, they think it is the mirror that is insane. Suffering from a form of psychic blindness that believes itself to be sightedness, full-blown wetikos project out their own unconscious blindness and imagine that others, instead of themselves, are the ones who are not seeing.

So the work, really a self-portrait, is an acknowledgment of my own capacity for darkness, evil, negativity and soul-suicide in order to begin the healing process. We are, none of us, separate selves in the end. What we do unto others, we truly do unto ourselves. Let us hope that the activists for equality and justice among us are on the rise and can stay the course in the fight for peace and “liberty and justice for all.”

“We Are All Made of Star Stuff…”

I’m a writer. More specifically, in my heart of hearts (and in most of my stage time), I am a poet. That’s why it surprises many people when I tell them that my original dream was to be a dancer. After an accident left me unable to dance again, I traipsed across the stage as everything from an actress in deaf theater to a burlesque show woman before finding the joy of poetic expression. Much of my work is LGBT centered and many of the people who have come to know me through my work are as well. There has even long been the stereotype that with LGBT people just being naturally more fabulous darling, they are naturally more expressive, creative and likely to be in the arts. Perhaps it is simply an area historically where LGBT people have able to forge a career path, a place where judgement and societal norms could be experimentally cast off in order to live a life of exploratory fantasy. How and why the creative world has become such a haven for the LGBT community, I wanted to take a moment and explore some of PA’s most accomplished performers and artists and see how their identify shaped their art, if indeed it did. I also enjoyed some amazing work!

Artist, Larry D. Klinger Jr. is just such a beautiful artist, and he feels he is a human artist before and LGBT artist.

Larry Klinger

I would describe my art as acrylic abstract and I don’t think being part of the LGBT community influences my art at all. I don’t look at someone as gay or straight I look at them as human because that’s what we all are before anything else. Most of the art I have created in the past two years would show up in my dreams until the painting was completed. I have not sold any of my artwork nor have I shown it anywhere except to the people on my Facebook page. It is all still hanging on my bedroom walls. I love abstract because what I see is usually completely different from what another person would interpret when they look at it. It is one of the reasons I have an issue giving my art a title is I don’t want to influence the creative mind of someone looking at my masterpiece. I want the person to fall in love with the piece because of what they see not what I tell them to see.

Visual artist, Brett Greiman, pulls from the empathy and tolerance he found within the LGBT community.

As All Hope Passes by Brett Greiman
As All Hope Passes by Brett Greiman
We Swim In The Same Stream by Brett Greiman
We Swim In The Same Stream by Brett Greiman

I think all of my art involves a certain sensitivity to all life forms. This sensitivity is nothing new. I really do think I was born with a certain level of empathy for people as well as creatures who are different from me yet being able to see the commonality. A valuing of variety of forms, colors, shapes, expressions, races, as well as thoughts, ideas, and backgrounds. Variety is one of the principles of design. It contributes to making a visual work interesting and it contributes to making life interesting. I’ve created artwork that is very attuned to nature. Also, my work has addressed the plight of family farmers, respect for all living things, and the expression of love in it’s many forms. These characteristics have strengthened and grown through friendships within the LGBT community. I have no doubt at all that those who appreciate my work have picked up on these traits. It’s very important to me that my artwork be an expression of what goes on both inside and outside me. A pretty picture has its place in the art world if someone derives enjoyment from it but to me, art is far more powerful and moving when the artist’s life and soul are evident in the work. When other artists and my audience tell me they’ve picked up on this is when I derive the greatest satisfaction as an artist. There is a constant interchange of energy derived from these interactions which drive the energy instilled into my work. As Dr. Carl Sagan said “We are all star stuff”. Energy coming into form. As an artist, I understand that art is simply energy coming into form. So, in feeling that I was born with this sense of empathy, I wouldn’t describe anything as CHANGES but rather as STRENGTHENING of my understanding of who I am and how I relate to the universe. No, getting to this point isn’t easy. Early in life, people see you’re a different sort! As a child, that’s not easy to deal with. No one hands you a manual telling you how to cope. The beauty of it is, as I got older, I saw that different from the crowd is exactly where the universe intends for me to be!

Courageous…AND beautiful! I have the saucy vibrancy (and feistiness!) of my creole Grandmother’s people and the never-give-up strength (and stubbornness) of my grandfather’s Hershey farm boy training. What characteristics of your community and your interactions have shaped the way YOU live? How do each one of us embody the very best of those who have made us who we are? Worthy food for thought. Make sure to look up Larry on facebook and visit Brett at http://brettsart117.wix.com/brett-greiman. May your life be art today!

Showing love to the ALLIES! Our friends at PFLAG speak out.

I admit it, when I first came to York I didn’t think of it as a city likely to be particularly progressive or open minded. I was pleasantly … well, totally shocked to find out that it had a very active LGBT community with lots of awesome allies who supported it. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to highlight some of the great community assets available to people in the York community who want to learn more about the culture, receive services, get or give help. Who are we talking to this week? The parents and friends who make up PFLAG.

PFLAG

So what exactly is PFLAG and what is the history behind the organization? Co-director, Deb Henry, answers my questions and also lets me know exactly why an organization like PFLAG is so important.

“PFLAG was formed because of some dedicated parents who found out that their children were gay; one of the couple’s daughter came out in 1981, but PFLAG wasn’t in existence nor was gay/lesbian talked about very much. This couple still attends our meetings when they are in the area. PFLAG began approximately 20 years ago with a small group of parents who were passionate about our LGBT community. PFLAG’s mission is to “promote the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through support to cope with an adverse society; education to enlighten an ill-informed public, advocacy to end discrimination and to secure equal rights.

During our brief business meeting, the group discusses political issues affecting the LGBT community. Most of our meetings are spent discussing our personal stories; if we have a new person joining us, we will focus on them if they are willing to share. So many times, people tell us that they need a space where they can be themselves and no one judges them. That’s one of my favorite compliments. Our PFLAG group thinks it is very important to be a presence in the community, so we participate in the Olde York Street fair each year; we have been invited to the National Night Out in Goldsboro for the past several years. We also share space at Central Pennsylvania PRIDE with the Central Pennsylvania PFLAG group each year.

PFLAG 2

I think one of the major issues is that parents/family members fear that their friends will find out about their gay family member; parents also face a “coming out” when their child comes out to them. It is important that the gay child is OK with the parents’ coming out. Many people also struggle with their religious beliefs and fear being shunned by their churches.

My daughter doesn’t seem to let anything/anyone bother her; she is a confident young woman. She is dating a very nice young woman, and she does get upset when someone refers to this person as sir or mister because she presents more masculine. My daughter works in a banking institution, and she has had people ask her why she has her hair cut so short! People are rude and ignorant.

I thought that my daughter was a lesbian for several years, yet she never confided in me. I spent some time attempting to have her tell me without asking her. She was involved with a very nice person, and that person outed her to me when I continued to ask questions. Her partner at the time felt very bad about doing this, but she wasn’t comfortable lying to me …that got the conversation going. I ended up sending my daughter a letter explaining how much I love her and that nothing would make me stop loving her. I had a difficult time dealing with the fact that my daughter did not feel comfortable sharing the fact that she was a lesbian, but my friends at PFLAG explained that this is not uncommon. From the time I walked in the door at my first PFLAG meeting, I felt so welcomed; I have made so many wonderful friends over the past six years.”

The best part? This loving, accepting safe space if open and available to ANYONE. Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays is a national support organization with a truly warm and delightfully active local chapter that YOU can visit. PFLAG meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York in the carriage house at the rear of 925 South George Street in York. See you there!

PFLAG 3

Caitlyn, I already have MY Trans* heroes and heroines!

After my articles about all the media exploding fuss regarding the transition and subsequent unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner, I found myself with an admiration even greater than before for some of the hometown activists who have been making a difference here in PA for years. One of those fabulous and courageous people is the lovely and charming Joanne Carroll, President of TransCentralPA and Coordinator for Keystone Conference Services. She was willing to share the story of her life both before and after transitioning, and I challenge you to read it without feeling everything she has been through and admiring her unsinkable spirit!

Joanne

“As expected, the responses to the Vanity Fair issue featuring Caitlyn Jenner have been all over the map, from exhilaration to denigration. In my role as the President of TransCentralPA, of necessity, I must stay current on all things affecting our community. It is my job to carry out the day-to-day operations of the organization. We have a three-fold mission for which I am personally responsible.

1. Provide caring support for transgender individuals, their significant others, families, friends and allies.

2. Advocate on behalf of the transgender community.

3. Provide gender education and information to businesses, organizations, educational institutions and governmental agencies.

From the time I was five years old, I have felt that something terribly wrong occurred at my birth. Everyone told me I was a boy, I had all the outward appearances of a boy, yet my heart and mind told me that was all wrong. I just knew I was a girl. My choice of friends was always the other little girls in the neighborhood, and our playtime was spent playing school, dressing dolls, and all the other stuff that little girls do.

I was never into to the rough and tumble play of the boys. I was not very coordinated and avoided sports and athletics were as well. Up until I was a teenager and then even after, they called me “sissy”, “girly boy” and many other things that really hurt me. I also was beaten up a lot. So I did what [many] trans-girls do, I became a very good actor, and tried to be so very macho. Fishing, softball, hockey, camping, scouts, hunting, rodeo and joining the military, and God knows what else just all to prove I was a male and a good one at that!

However, through all of that, every day I knew the truth that a terrible wrong had occurred when I was born. For fifty or more years, I prayed that God would deliver me from the feelings I had, let me wake up and find that everything was finally the way it should be, or let me not wake up! I was a girl, and needed my birth defect fixed or needed relief from the confusion and frustration caused by my gender dysphoria. God never answered any of those prayers, and things inside of me only got worse.

As time went on, the frustration grew. I sought out everything I could find on the subject. I was fascinated by the story of Christine Jorgensen; the first publicly acknowledged transgender woman who had a “sex change” in Denmark. Then there was Renee Richards, and then Jan Morris. Each of them had a story to tell and I spent many hours in the library reading and re-reading their accounts of their lives. Then the Internet happened! All of a sudden, I had access to loads of information about my condition, and via the various chat rooms and the like, I was able to meet countless others just like me. I found that our life experiences were parallel. Our lives were near mirror images of each other and our hurts, fears, and yes hopes, were the same. I was not alone. There were more of us than I could have possibly imagined. Through talking with them, (some have become very dear friends over the past several years) I was able to realize that being trapped inside myself was not something I wanted to or had to continue. There was a chance for me to be me. All I had to do was to find the courage to stop the denial, and set about charting a course toward gender congruity.

jmcscc

Isn’t the notion of being transgender psychological? No! Medical evidence indicates that this condition occurs while the fetus is still in the uterus. All fetuses are conceived as female and exist as female for a period in the womb. At some point, the mother via a hormone she releases causes the fetus to become male or female. Transgender persons get the physical changes, but the brain does not adjust to the correct gender. Several research projects via postmortems conducted in Europe made a remarkable discovery. There are several structures in the brain and in male to female transgender women and genetic women, the size are the same. However, they differ from that of heterosexual and homosexual males, as theirs are larger and exactly the same size in either case.

You must understand one very important thing, it is not about the clothes, it is about presenting me honestly, and I am able to present myself as completely feminine and only get the rarest of second glances. I interact with people no differently than any other woman because people accept me as a woman. My relationships with other people have changed only as far as the gender binary is concerned. I reluctantly admit to being an alpha personality, which causes me to be rather assertive, but that has always been the case. However, since transition, I approach others more congenially and with more tolerance.

The coming out process is a highly individual journey; while we may share common histories, the path to gender congruity is personal and varies for each of us. Those that are older have a greater sense of trans-history and its pioneers, because it was their journey that cleared the path for so many to follow. I am not so sure that the very young trans-kids have this historical perspective but that does not trouble me, rather I am pleased that so many are able to self-identify at an early age, and that is a by-product of that same history. In time, some of them will become historic themselves.”

As incredible as Joanne’s story is, it made me ask the question, what next? How can people become involved, or help, and what is the current frontier for activism as we see this increased acceptance and a new generation of trans acceptance?

“The origins of TransCentralPA go back to the early nineties, however the organization as it exists today began in 2006 as it evolved and reorganized to adopt an expanded mission. Originally, the prime mission was support only. However, today not only do we provide caring support for transgender individuals, their significant others, families, friends and allies. Further, we provide advocacy and gender education and information to businesses, organizations, educational institutions and governmental agencies. As President of TransCentralPA, it is my responsibility to insure that this three-fold mission carries forward each day.

Obviously, public attitudes toward LGBTQ persons are changing. We may not yet enjoy complete acceptance, however, in many locations worldwide and here at home great strides occurred in the area of non-discrimination. However, here in the Commonwealth that work and fight continues because we need the Legislature to pass the non-discrimination amendment to the Human Rights Act.”

So – the work continues. I hope you all with be with Joanne and I on the front lines.

Joanne 3

Conversations About Caitlyn – The New Face of Transgender Part 2

After speaking with several local trans folk – be they students, activists, or friends – a recurring theme I kept hearing was the idea that perhaps such a public figure “coming out” for transgender acceptance could be beneficial in starting conversation or helping increase awareness with people who are not necessarily at the forefront of the LGBT movement. I admit, I was curious – what were straight media consumers thinking as they read about Caitlyn Jenner? Were they as divided as the chattering shoppers in the Wal-Mart line every time another Kardashian graces a magazine cover? “I love that glamorous, accessible family!” “Ugh, I can’t stand those no-talent media hogs!” Only one way to find out…here are what a few Yorkers had to say, none of them transgender identified, but all existing in the same media culture we swim through every day.

There were indeed quite a few, shall we say, less than enthusiastic responses to the media coverage. Interestingly enough, not over the transition itself, but the idea of capitalizing on it for various reasons.

“Between the Vanity Fair makeover of a 62 year old and her remaining with the Keeping up with the Kardashians, it seriously skews and distorts the underlying issue of transgender identity.” – Terry Keating

“Caitlyn Jenner [has been] a public figure for decades. She could have been special years ago if she had not waited until she was 65 to make this change. Her changing gender years ago would have been helpful to our community, however, she only cares about herself. I truly have little respect for her because she is egotistical and seeks attention at every turn.” – Alana Haag

“I find it sad that the majority get the cold shoulder and are told to eat our pain until a person of celebrity or social power acknowledges the suffering taking place in our community.” – Glori Morris-Carter

“The public’s reaction shows me how far our world still has to go in order for everyone to have true equality.” – Torry Tyler

Quite a few people I spoke with had slightly more controversial takes on the issue. Many Yorkers felt that the conversation about physical appearance and even gender identity was only the gateway to larger conversations about issues like institutionalized gender inequality and racial injustice.

“I do also think that many people are responding so well to her because she is a white trans woman. As opposed to the huge back activist, like when [transgender actress] Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time Magazine a year ago and received massive backlash.” – Peter Fair

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As a woman, she gets paid less for that interview then as a man. I don’t care what’s going on down there with the hoohaa, whether a he or a she. I DO care about real issues, like actual fiscal inequality. Any man can dress like a woman or vice versa these days, or get a sex change operation. Actual inequality expresses itself through financial imbalance. I suppose as Bruce he had enough money socked away to afford to live as a she. – Annalisa Gojmerac

Overall, I have to say that the messages of support were the most compelling and the most passionate. Several people I talked to were more optimistic about the amount of coverage Caitlyn Jenner is receiving and read the articles in the same spirit of hope as their transgender brothers and sisters.

“She is not the first trans celebrity to come forward but she is arguably the most important. Bruce Jenner was a national treasure to many Americans. This brings the idea home to them and encourages dialogue. When the singer of Against Me! came out as trans, the punk rock community got great exposure to the topic (and she was largely celebrated). But she’s not Jenner-famous. I’m optimistic that this is the start of a better national understanding.” – Ryan Sittler

“I think it’s wonderful the media is showing this in a positive light. The fact that a celebrity & Olympic athlete is trans has brought awareness to everyone. The downside, people who didn’t approve before kept their mouth shut. Now they are openly spewing venom. The flip side, the trans community will hopefully see all the people who love them & support them.” – Jade Darling

“Caitlyn Jenner is an icon of strength, integrity, courage and inspiration. Look at the life she’s had thus far! Although she always felt more feminine, she harbored her instincts and succumbed to parental and societal expectations. As a man, he achieved the greatest possible success as an Olympic athlete, fathered and raised a half dozen children who were his first concern and priority, and now that they are grown, she can be true to herself. At 65, she is a stunning specimen of the woman she has always felt within her. Her star status is an asset to others who may struggle with similar issues. Rock on, Caitlyn! I wish her much happiness and am happy to embrace her as part of the divine feminine energy that helps to heal and nurture this planet.” – Nancy Yaeger

Now that, I think, is a lovely way to put the issue to rest.

The New Face of Transgender – Part 1

Thanks to the wonders of social media, the face of Caitlyn Jenner is now immediately recognizable across the country, even in suburban Pennsylvania. The fact that this Hollywood celebrity was once the Olympic athlete known as Bruce Jenner though, has more than a few facebookers up in passionate arms. Is the increased visibility of transgender Americans strictly a big city phenomenon? It doesn’t appear to be so. Transgendered and trans-allied South central Pennsylvanians have been living, loving and advocating here for years – and their responses to Caitlyn’s unveiling are as diverse as their individual stories.

Joanne M. Carroll, the president of TransCentral PA (transcentralpa.org) who currently lives in Lancaster, PA stated,

“As expected, the responses to the Vanity Fair issue featuring Caitlyn Jenner have been all over the map, from exhilaration to denigration. As for me, I thought she looked amazing, but then with stylists for wardrobe and hair and professional make-up, naturally she would look good. Personally, I relate to every point she makes regarding how her life has been prior to transition; onset at an early age, living as a person that everyone expects you to be, never having a moments peace, denying the problem and even contemplating suicide. What troubles me is what far too many people often fail to understand; is that the transgender community, with all of its colors and circumstances, are simply people seeking to live an authentic life. If we use a bathroom, we are only there for the same reason anyone uses a bathroom. Caitlyn indicated her hope that her experience might contribute to a greater public understanding and ultimately greater acceptance and affirmation of transgender persons. As an activist and public speaker on behalf of the trans-community, my motivation for being more and more public with my story derives from that same optimism.”

Peter Fair, an 18-year-old college student living in York and who identifies as male, has similar hope for increased acceptance.

“As a trans person living in southcentral PA, I think the significance of the Vanity Fair cover with Caitlyn Jenner on it is showing how being transgender is becoming more and more acceptable. While there are the people who are being openly and blatantly rude, it seems most people are being fairly respectful and are calling her Caitlyn and using she/hers pronouns in reference to her.”

Pronoun usage is something you hear about frequently when talking with transgender advocates about simple things that can make a huge difference. Using a person’s name of preference. (Asking before assuming is generally a good guideline). Unisex bathrooms and locker rooms are a frequently expressed desire, as are acceptance of non-gender normative clothing or hair styles which still violate many school and some workplace dress codes.

As Louie Marven, Executive Director, LGBT Center of Central PA (centralpalgbtcenter.org), states: “It’s an exciting time for transgender awareness in southcentral Pennsylvania, but that progress is happening very unevenly. We need to celebrate that more people are knowledgeable of transgender issues and that there are more services than ever for transgender people to find trans-friendly services. We also need to recognize that there is a lot of work yet to be done, particularly in the areas of safety, nondiscrimination, and healthcare.”

Indeed, even though places like the LGBT Center of Central PA provide programs and services – transgender youth participate in their Common Roads youth program, and in March they offered a group for transgender youth as a supplement to the recurring youth programming plus all their gender based programming is trans-friendly – Pennsylvania still has no trans-inclusive legal protection against discrimination in place. With no other reason or justification, a Pennsylvanian can be fired from their job or evicted from their housing because of identifying as transgender. The same lack of protection applies to medical and mental health care. A staggering 41 percent of transgender people in the United States have attempted to commit suicide, according to a 2010 survey. About 19 percent of transgender people report being refused medical care because of their gender-nonconforming status, and a shocking 2 percent have been violently assaulted in a doctor’s office. These statistics are just some of the sobering findings from a survey of more than 7,000 transgender people conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, released in October 2010. A 2009 survey of nearly 300 transgender youth conducted by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network found that 89 percent reported being harassed in school.

Kat

Katherine DeArmond, 27, a familiar face in the York music community, is transgender on the male to female spectrum, and started her transition at the age of 25.

“[After having suffered from years of depression] some days I consider getting out of bed a success. One thing most people don’t think about is just how hard it is to be accepted, especially in PA and York, where the general populace is not entirely understanding of trans people. Something as simple as being gendered correctly (being called miss or ma’am instead of sir) over the intercom at a Panera Bread or Wendy’s was a huge accomplishment for me. Or something like the younger male cashier making an flirty comment to me while I’m not dressed up and running errands is a big thing for me. They’re little inconveniences for some people, but when you go from the opposite gender, male in my case, to your gender now; they turn into points of your life that some, myself case in point, consider to be signs of my successful transition…My biggest challenges have always been how I see myself. The old saying, ‘you are your biggest critic’ applies to me well. These critical views I have on myself dictate my dress, mannerisms, behavior in public – and have been fueled by my social anxieties.”

Now indeed, as ‘Kat’, as the singer and bass player is better known, goes on to share, not everyone within the trans community is universally supportive of Caitlyn Jenner’s media attention.

“Caitlyn Jenner’s story is one of millions and does not deserve spotlight over anyone else. There are millions of struggling trans individuals out in the world who deal without the aid of lawyers, publicists or a PR team and still manage to survive ignorant individuals, not passing as easily, struggling with money and being unable to afford health services. There are people have gone through hellfire to get where they are and they do much more for the community without recognition nor do they ask.”

Regardless of age, gender assigned at birth, sexual orientation or personal politics, the desire to live an authentic life and to make our own choices is as Pennsylvanian as good farm land and chicken corn soup. A raw and emotional Joanne Carroll shared;

“People need to gain greater understanding that this is not freakish, it is not some capricious whim, and it has nothing to do with any kind of sexual attraction or fetishism. I first knew that something was not right at age 4, and as the years went along the way I felt about myself never changed, if anything, I became more convinced, and to cope with it, I lived with this burgeoning secret for nearly 80% of my lifetime. In my late 50’s I could no longer continue to deny my own true story, and in order to prolong my life, I chose to extend it by transitioning. As someone else said, I did not choose to become a woman; I determined that to continue to pretend to be a man was killing me.”

Education, compassion, tolerance. Couldn’t we all use just a little bit more, regardless of our gender or our hometown? If Caitlyn Jenner’s sharing can bring that about, I celebrate it. Personally, I see plenty of courageous heroes right here in Pennsylvania.