Getting journalists to understand gender: One down, 2384728734981728294789343 to go

I just called the news desk at the Globe in response to this story, in which they referred to a transgender woman as "he" and "transsexual man." The woman I spoke with clarified what I had told her about what terms were best to use regarding this particular woman and said she was writing down my corrections, as well as my explanation that using preferred pronouns is the current Associated Press style.

I'm not even bothering with TV news, because I don't consider them real journalists, but I've heard that most of the TV stations are getitng it wrong. If someone who has more investment in TV news than I do wishes to call, it couldn't hurt, and might be helpful to our trans brothers and sisters.

I had slightly more faith in humanity before I learned of this beverage

A couple days ago I bought one of those Trader Joe's bags of avocados. You know, the ones that cost about the same as buying one avocado anywhere else. OK, so, maybe I was a little overly ambitious in terms of how much avacado maki I would make, because I only ended up using one avocado, thus now have a whole bowl of ripe avocados that need to be eaten now.

I googled "avocado recipe" to see if I could find anything more interesting to make than a giant bowl of guacamole. The first hit was the California Avocado Commission recipe page. Perfect.

As I was browsing the recipe categories, I noticed that one of them was "beverages." I clicked on it, mostly just hoping to find that they had used a pre-fab recipe database and had an unused category. No such luck.

You know what that shamelessly ganked image is? A creative way of serving guacamole, you might guess? Oh no. That, my friends, is an avocado daiquiri. Yes, you heard me. And there are more lovely avocado beverages where that came from.

I think I may just have to make the whole bowl of avocados into a giant vat of guacamole, because I don't think I can stand to browse through any more titles of avocado recipes. Guh.

I'll stop being gay in deference to the fundies once they start keeping kosher

Once again, the newspapers and internet are filled with people, usually Christian fundamentalists, who have such poor boundaries that they believe their religious laws apply to everyone.

In the past, I've debated this point with them, trying to get them to explain to me how my marriage affects them. They always have plenty of reasons why they think it affects them, but this approach never gets anywhere, since the whole reason they're invested in this is that they don't understand boundaries in the first place.

I've also tried debating theology with them, explaining that the scripture doesn't actually say what they think it does, or in many cases, demonstrating to them that they aren't even familiar with it. Similarly, this doesn't get anywhere, because the basis of their beliefs is that someone told them what to believe, usually in the context of a family and/or religious community in which dissent is not permitted.

So I think I'm going to make this a lot simpler. Next time someone tells me that "it's wrong," either because of their interpretation of scripture or just their personal beliefs, I'm going to emphasize that same-sex relationships are wrong for them. When they insist that this means it's wrong for everyone, I'm going to ask them if they keep kosher.* When they say that of course they don't, because that isn't their belief, I can draw the obvious analogy.

If I believe the moral thing to do is to keep kosher, shouldn't I try to get a law passed, so my children aren't exposed to people who are so immoral as to not keep kosher? Besides, there's no language in the state constitution specifying that the right to vote/marry/own property is extended to people who don't keep kosher, so why do activist judges keep ruling that these immoral people have special rights like voting? And hey, if you want people to just leave you alone, then why not just do the obvious thing and start keeping kosher? Wait, what? Because you're not Jewish? Well, I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, so that's why I don't think my existence is immoral. So how about, I'll keep kosher, you refrain from same-sex relations, and we'll both be practicing our belief systems.

*I realize there are also Jews whose personal views or denomination views oppose same-sex marriage and relationships, but practicing Jews do not typically attempt to have their beliefs written into secular law. Also, no, this is not an attack on Christians, but rather on Christians who have no boundaries. If you feel you're being attacked by this, then, well...



If you haven't called your legislators today, do so now

As usual, BayWindows is liveblogging. The best post so far:

9:15 a.m. An amusing incident: A tour bus wrapped in rainbows stopped at the traffic light on Beacon Street, eliciting cheers and waves from the pro-equality side - much to the confusion of the middle-aged men on board, who were apparently on their way to a business convention.

Queertoday is also liveblogging, with lots of photos.

Also, if you haven't called your senator and representative today, please do so now.

All entities that are pro-equality should march in the Pride parade

I've been seeing a lot of posts on anti-queer sites (no need to give them extra attention; e-mail me if you're curious) expressing confusion and/or disapproval that groups such as hospitals, schools, and businesses were marching in the Pride parade. The authors seem to hold views that Pride is only an event for specifically queer people, rather than for the community at large to learn about and support the queer community.

Personally, I'm extremely happy to see groups participating that I don't associate specifically with the queer community. It shows that these businesses, even if some might have catching up to do in terms of truly understanding our needs, have taken a clear stance that they do welcome us to their businesses. More importantly, it sends a message to the anti-queer folks that participating in Pride is a normal thing that community-minded groups do, and doesn't have anything to do with whatever "agenda" they think exists. The state house was flying a Pride flag, and the governor took part in the parade. These are great first steps, but what really needs to happen is that every politician needs to march, and every major school and hospital needs to march. In a few years, we could get to a point where someone might be "the one city council member who doesn't march in Pride" and "the one major hospital that doesn't march in Pride" and everyone could draw their own conclusions.

Having a group march in Pride speaks volumes about how much a business actually cares, especially if the group is marching under the banner of the business, rather than as the "diversity committee" or "GLBT concerns office." If your workplace or children's school or other place of affiliation doesn't have a group marching in Pride, why not? I'd encourage everyone to explain to their respective organizations about how important it is to affirm the queer community by participating. If they're reluctant, this can be a great discussion to open up.

Most importantly, participating in Pride can dispel the idea that supporting the queer community is "political" in a manner different from supporting any other demographic. Most
organizations participate in events to address hunger and cancer, or hold celebrations to honor holidays of various religions or ethnicities. These events don't technically have anything to do with the purpose of the business, yet they're valued as a way of supporting members of the community. Encouraging organizations to view Pride in the same way can be a step in depoliticizing the queer community.

UPDATE: The Dyke March went and cut a Bitch

Bitch has been cancelled after trans activists voiced opposition to her performance. Please write and thank them for supporting the trans community in this way.

By the way, I just have to say that I love when activism works this way. This is the kind of thing that really sends a message. You can bet she'll think twice about whether it benefits her to loudly advocate for oppression of others. Can you imagine if every organization took this stance? If they really stood behind their policies and mission and loudly stated that they wouldn't support anyone who makes oppressive remarks? Intolerance would become a lot less acceptable, and we wouldn't have to get into people's "rights" to say hateful things. Sure, go ahead and say them, but prepare to find yourself friendless and unemployable.

URGENT: ask Dyke March Committee to cancel scheduled performer who has publicly expressed anti-transperson views

I've just gotten an e-mail from some trans rights activists urging people to contact the Dyke March organizers and ask them to cancel Bitch's performance due to her anti-trans viewpoints.

Queer Today has background on Bitch's views and encourages people to turn their backs during her performance and to bring signs promoting transinclusiveness.

Below is a sample letter I received from some trans activists to send to the Dyke March organizers. I'm sending it basically as-is; I figure at this point, volume of mail is going to do a lot more than trying to convince them with a unique viewpoint. If you just can't bring yourself to send a form letter, then write a one-sentence e-mail asking them to cancel Bitch due to her anti-trans viewpoints. Their address is Please write to them and ask at least two other people to do so.

Dear Dyke March Committee,

I would like to start off by thanking you for all the hard work the committee puts in every year to creating an amazing event that is so important to the queer/dyke women's community. I believe this event is invaluable as a space that is political and one that celebrates queer women.

It is because I love the dyke march so much that I write now. I learned early this week that Bitch (of Bitch and Animal fame) has been asked to perform at the Dyke March. I understand the fact that folks on the Dyke March Committee were unaware of Bitch's active support of the Michigan Womyn's Festival’s policy of excluding transwomen. I also understand that the Dyke March Committee was unfamiliar with the transphobic things that Bitch has said publicly against transwomen which have now been brought to your attention.

I know that the committee has publicly stated that they are committed to transinclusiveness, which I am assuming means the inclusion of transwomen at the Dyke March, and so that is why I am writing you now asking for you to CANCEL Bitch's performance.

I know that a cancellation at the 11th hour may seem like a drastic thing to do but now that the Dyke March Committee knows of Bitch's publicly transphobic words, and her very public support of the Michigan Women's Festival it is the only thing that can make up for the invite in the first place. There isn't any place in Queer/Dyke/Lesbian/Bi Women's community for transphobia and the message that the Dyke March committee sends but not taking a stand is one of complacency in the face of transphobia.

The Dyke March has a history of being a political space, of being an alternative to the Pride Parade, and of striving to be inclusive of all women. I know that many of you on the committee are committed toinclusion and support of transwomen. I think that canceling the performance would be in line with the history of the Dyke March and would be huge step in fighting transphobia in queer women's community.

Still haven't heard back from BIDMC

I just wanted to give an update that I got an e-mail from a patient advocacy person at BIDMC, saying she'd be the one handling my concerns, but then didn't hear back again. So I'm not sure whether they acted in some way that they have a policy of not disclosing, or whether they're just not doing anything.

In some ways, "mainstream" healthcare is less progressive than, say, facilities that serve people with serious mental illness. Pretty much everywhere I've worked, if anyone makes a complaint (even the ones that we believe to be very frivolous), they have a right to meet face-to-face at least once with relevant parties, and they definitely get to hear what was done and be informed of the outcome of the situation. When someone is fired for inappropriate treatment toward consumers, the consumers are usually informed of this, because it's validating to know that they were indeed treated badly.

The thread on the BIDMC blog seems to have died down, but the highlights were Paul Levy saying that the place couldn't possibly be homophobic because they support queer events, and that I couldn't possibly have been repeatedly told by clients, friends, and colleagues about homophobia there, because he somehow just knows this. I did put out the offer that if he wanted to contact me privately, I'd give him as many specifics as I could without violating confidentiality (more details about the types of behavior, details about queer healthcare trainings and conferences I've attended where providers talked about horrendous homophobia and transphobia at BIDMC, etc.) but he didn't take me up on it. It's pretty clear that they don't want to hear from us. He just wants to go in circles -- there can't be problems, because otherwise people would complain -- but we are complaining, and you're not listening -- well, your complaints are wrong, because I already told you we value diversity and we support queer events. There were also a couple of people who decided I and the others in the discussion were clearly wrong because I'd made remarks they found impolite. Apparently only polite queers are aware of care needs and entitled to have complaints heard.

It's also just alarming the lack of logic his colleagues seem to display in terms of the physician's "freedom of speech." Workplaces aren't free from censorship, and his has a policy of prohibiting discriminatory writing or speech. I've worked at a number of places that can and do fire people for expressing homophobia in the workplace. As others pointed out on the blog, I really doubt he'd allow similar expressions of racism or sexism or nationalism. But for whatever reason, people can "disagree" with our basic human rights.

Write a letter supporting marriage equality

MassEquality has a form on their website where you can enter your address and it will take you to a portal to send a letter to the editor of your local paper. It's really important to do this before the ConCon. From their e-mail:

State legislators read the local papers from their districts. Letters to the Editor give them a sense of where their constituents stand on important issues like marriage equality. Using this platform provides a public voice for equality in your community.

Make sure your legislators and neighbors know that this amendment is bad for your community, and that it's time to celebrate equality by moving on to other business in the Commonwealth.

Please, take a minute to go do this now. For Boston folks, please consider writing to more than one paper (the default paper that comes up is the Globe, but you can also write to the Banner, the Sampan, the JP Gazette, and just about every other paper).

Free burritos!

I wanted to share this letter from the CEO of Boloco, in which he explains why Boloco is so awesome. I couldn't agree more, of course. Also, if you take the letter into a Boloco today, you get a free burrito. What could be better?

Vocational programs: do they help or hinder folks?

I've been noticing a recurring theme with people who are enrolled in "readiness"-type vocational programs. The programs, by their nature, ask people to have different boundaries and standards of behavior than are expected at a job, which then leads the programs to assess the participants aren't ready for a job.

To give a little background without identifying the specific programs, I'll just specify that I'm referring to programs where individuals have the option of more or less showing up when they want, and participating in as much or as little as they choose. These are programs that offer skill groups that go beyond teaching interview skills and include other independent living skills (cooking, shopping, using the bank) as well as other life skills that one would more typically find in therapy or a treatment program. These programs also offer a wide range of leisure activities and are set up so as to accomodate people who do plan to eventally work elsewhere, as well as people who have spent their days at the program drawing pictures and watching movies for the past 10 years. Individuals generally have to have a documented disability and receive SSI/SSDI in order to participate in these programs, though some of them also have ways of allowing other folks to participate.

I'm not referring to the more commonplace programs where individuals (usually with challenging life circumstances, but not necessarily with a disclosed disability) sign up for the program, show up every day for a certain number of weeks, and are taught how to work in a bakery or data center. I'm also not referring to the drop-in programs that tend to be run entirely or largely by mental health consumers.

In the alleged vocational programs of which I speak, there seems to be an inherent contradiction just in terms of the amount of information the programs seek to know about participants. The programs request (and in DMR-funded programs, usually require) that they have communication with an individual's family or residence, regardless of whether there is a specific safety or other issue that warrants this. The programs want records of a person's developmental history and psychiatric history. They provide groups, run by staff, during which individuals are encouraged to talk about social and emotional issues. Everything they do creates an environment where participants are understood and feel safe to talk about their personal lives, feel safe to have a really bad day, and feel safe to experiment with interpersonal relationships. It's much like a therapeutic milieu at a treatment program.

The only problem is, when the program then wants to assess someone's vocational skills, they're naturally going to see people who constantly sing while working, talk freely to coworkers about past abuse and current dysfunctional relationships, never show up on time, talk obsessively about interests, and step out of the room any time there's a conflict. Clearly, the vocational staff aren't going to view many of their folks as someone who should be recommended for a job.

Given the nature of these programs, how can the staff accurately assess how someone would perform in a job setting? I've definitely worked with people with developmental disabilities who sing and dance inappropriately or talk obsessively about their interests when they're in a situation where this is acceptable, but who also can stay on task at work or school. And I've definitely known a lot of people with varying degrees of mental illness who get a little loose in discussing their issues when in a touchy-feely situation or an environment where there's no reason to censor themselves, but who act completely appropriately when their paycheck depends on it.

It just isn't normal or natural to observe people in a social/leisure/therapeutic environment and base their vocational skills on this. We don't do this with people who don't have labels. If someone were to observe me with my family and friends, they'd see a lot of random and goofy and off-color behavior. But would they think that this means I'd act the same way at work? Of course not.

Some people with cognitive or emotional difficulties have trouble with the concept of different expectations in different places, sure. However, just about everyone is going to have trouble with the concept of sudden and artificial changes in expectations. If I hang out with a group of people every day and watch movies and do art projects and am rewarded for talking about my feelings, I'm going to behave in a particular way in this setting. If the leader of this group suddenly tells me I need to use formal manners and formal boundaries in this same setting in order to demonstrate "vocational readiness," why would I do this? My previous way of behaving has worked just fine in this setting, because, after all, it is appropriate behavior for a place where I went to socialize and talk about feelings. And no one else is suddenly being asked to change their behavior. Besides, I already know how to behave at a job, so why do I need to put on some act instead of just getting my job already?

So, I would probably continue to behave exactly the same way. Except that now I've been asked to behave in an artificial manner that doesn't correspond to the setting, so that makes me a "behavior problem." Now I'm definitely not ready for work. Had I been assigned in the first place to a regular job with support staff who were only interested in building my job skills and not in getting to know all about my life, I would probably have figured out how to behave at a job.

I've encountered this similar issue several times, when I'm asked to give advice on how to best help someone behave at their vocational program. In each situation, after I hear what the circumstances are, it usually seems to boil down to this same issue in which the solution seems to be to just go ahead and have the person start working in a job with a job coach who does not spend time with the person otherwise. But I can't respond to a vocational program by telling them to change their whole model or telling them to allow one individual to bypass the usual protocol. And except in certain situations where the person's family is very involved and advocates for the person appropriately, I can't really bring up the idea of ditching the vocational program and going to a normal job-training place, because I'm supposed to be working together with the person's other providers.

Like most things in the disability services system, I think the real solution is for us to trust our clients instead of needing to have control over all of their services. We need to respect people's right to take risks and to fail. Instead of limiting people's options to the DMR- or DMH-affiliated vocational programs, why not encourage people to pursue "real" vocational options, and just accept that we won't be receiving a report of what goes on every day, unless the individual chooses to give us one? If that vocational option doesn't end up working, then the person learned something through failure just like we all do. We didn't fail by encouraging someone to try something. We do fail when we insist that people fit into models that are unnatural and don't work for most people.