Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - Taking Some Hits

I had thought about not continuing my year end series from last year which ended with so much promise and hope. 2010 on paper was not the best year personally. I took more hits as a transgender woman in 2010 than in several previous years combined. There was much disappointment in many of my efforts for the community and myself. I was also the target of many unkind remarks more so this year than ever before. Some of them even came from people in the LGBT community. I can only guess I am riling a few feathers although the fruit is not obvious. Through it all, contra dancing remains a social and spiritual lifeline. While nowhere close to perfect, I can't imagine my life without it.

I have been going out as a transgender woman for almost 13 years although only in the last few years have I started down the road of transition (that is, committing more of my life to living as a woman). I am not a beginner at this, and I've had my share of colorful incidents and encounters. For some reason this past year, those incidents have ramped up in number and intensity. In September, I was ogled and gawked at by several Wendy's workers at the drive-thru in Spartanburg, SC. For the first time, I reported an incident at a contra dance involving hurtful comments during a dance (I could have reported several more over the past year and a half). I have even been insulted by members of the local LGBT community essentially saying my views are uninformed and stupid. It makes a girl want to scream.

What really hurts is that the comments don't always come from obviously bigoted people with no lives. Those are easy to dismiss. Many are made by otherwise nice, welcoming, accepting people who are stalwarts in their respective communities. Seeing me pushes them across a line that somehow it is acceptable to insult me, and they have no fear of any repercussions. That is why it is important that all be treated with basic dignity and respect. I don't expect to win over everyone, and I am thankful for friends who love and accept me as I am. I am slowly developing a thicker skin although the words are always hurtful. I am learning to see my friends and appreciate them. I must add that I have received more random compliments and encouragement from unexpected sources that always make my day.

I do not see a similar light at the end of the tunnel for the Charlotte transgender community. I had so much hope at the end of 2009, but right now we are a very splintered group each going our own separate ways. Without going into too much detail, I must report that the local support group is struggling. Part of the challenge of a support group is dealing with difficult situations. There will always be a part of the group that is going through hard times while others are succeeding. These issues do not go away, and it often takes significant time for a person to get out of a crisis situation. The actual discussion month after month can become overwhelming and discouraging for all concerned. Frustration grows as little progress is shown with the same issues coming up every meeting. The people who are doing well end up leaving as they feel they are getting nothing out of the meetings.

It is a difficult task to keep the support group relevant and positive. Part of the answer lies in everyone contributing what they can to the group. Often times, the loudest complaints come from those who have invested nothing. They expect to show up and be entertained without contributing anything. At one of of my first Kappa Beta meetings back in the day, Sherri Carmichael made the point that the best way to get more out of the group experience is to become involved in the group. It is one of the things I love about the contra dance community. So many give of their time and abilities outside of the actual dances so that others can experience the joy of dancing in a clean and safe environment. They give because so many have given to them.

On the national front, there have been many legislative victories. Unfortunately few of them involve the transgender community. We rejoiced over the passage of the federal hate crimes law late in 2009 and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell recently. Also the marriage rights issue continues to move forward with major progress in the courts very possible in 2011. Unfortunately, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act never came to a vote despite repeated promises. This, in my mind, is the most important piece of legislation as it involves our right to live and work, and yet it is treated like the least important.

In so many ways, the transgender community is being told it is not worthy of respect. The City of Charlotte changed policy (but not law) protecting sexual preference (but not gender identity) in the municipal workplace. Charlotte city attorney Mac McCarley has made comments in 2010 and 2009 almost gleefully saying that gender identity is not a legally protected class. We were openly mocked by an LGB event during race week in May. Many of my transgender friends have been told by the LGB community to “Get over it.” That is a terrible thing to say to someone. I will never get over it much to the consternation of many. It just shows how much work still needs to be done even with our allies. This is not true of everyone in the LGBT community, and I am thankful for the many positive conversations even when we disagree.

Much of the above has left me depressed particularly in recent months. I have cried, overslept, under slept, isolated myself, not eaten well at times, and been moody. I am fortunate I don't drink much or do drugs. My work has actually improved slowly in the past year and shows great promise for 2011. For my transition, that is the big key. I have not progressed as much physically (no hormones, hair removal, etc), but I have grown socially. Many thanks go to my friends in real life (thank you Holley, Emily R, and Pamela) and virtually (thank you Jenna T and Nicole S). It is hard to express my full gratitude as they often hear about the ugly things in my life. Their listening, encouragement, and yes the tough love has helped me grow immensely even with all the negativity. If I can make one resolution for 2011, it is not to cut myself off when I need to be around people. I have also been neglectful of my spiritual side due to my weekend schedule. That cannot continue in 2011.

On the positive side, I have grown to love contra dancing more and more. I love the connection it gives me to people. I especially enjoy the dance weekends as I feel the most acceptance there. I also learn the most as it draws dancers from all over the world. With a new camera and editing system, I can give back to the dance community by filming and posting dances from all of my travels. I am continuing my living history research in the Civil War era and gender variant people. Transgender Adventures in History will probably get a new name in 2011. It's just time for a little re-branding. I was especially excited by a good turn-out at Southern comfort Conference in Atlanta. Now I need to find a way to generate more interest locally. The stories are good. I would like for more people to hear them.

Much like the beginning of 2010, difficult decisions lie ahead in 2011. I may have to cut back on some things so I can grow in other areas. I may even hurt a few people in the process. It is not intentional. I must grow in my feminine identity and presentation so I can be a more useful person and pursue the long-term goals I have set out. One friend advised, “If you want to be a woman, then be it.” It sounds simple, but it is quite the revelation. Be and embrace who you are. I am not very good at being someone else or being what others think I should be. My life is much more fulfilling and rich as a genuine person. So that is who I will strive to be. Then I can truly fly.