Over a number of recent summers, well-known portrait photographer Mark Seliger has been documenting the transgender community that gathers on Christopher St in the West Village. Since Seliger’s website is slow and bloated, I’d recommend checking out coverage of the photos on The Advocate, The New Yorker, American Photo, and PDN. I lived on Christopher Street for several years1 and definitely recognize a couple of people in Seliger’s photos.
It was in the Village, on Christopher Street and the nearby piers, where many trans and queer people first shared space with others like them. For generations, these places provided mirrors for those who rarely saw reflections of themselves. On Christopher Street, there were multitudes of potential selves: transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, femme, butch, cross-dresser, drag king or queen, and other gender identities and sexual orientations that challenge social norms.
What an amazing and challenging place to live. While the rest of Manhattan (and the West Village) was either gentrified or gentrifying quickly, on Christopher St, you could still find aspects of “old New York” some long-time residents are so nostalgic for. When I lived there (roughly 2009-2014), it was still very much a place where LGBTQ+ people (especially those of color) could come and be their authentic selves with other members of their community, an opportunity denied them in their neighborhoods in Queens or Jersey City. But there was also crime: people openly selling drugs on the corner, robberies, open prostitution, anti-gay violence, and every single weekend from mid-spring to mid-fall, there was property damage up and down the street from visitors absolutely trashing the neighborhood. In response to the crime, the NYPD basically set up a command center on the street with mobile patrol towers and massive lights. Some summer Saturday nights felt like a war zone.↩
My friend Matt Thompson grew up in Orlando, and like many of the shooters’ victims, he’s gay, a person of color, and a child of immigrants to the US. His wonderful essay grapples with the shooting and tries to untie the fear and risk and hope and community that’s knotted up in those identities.
My own parents were the very last people in my life I was out to, years after I’d been out to friends and colleagues. I didn’t know how they’d react to the fact of my sexuality, and among my friends, there was often impatience with that uncertainty. If they’re good parents, these friends would say, they will love you without conditions and without hesitation.
But this reaction was rare among those of us who grew up, like me, knowing that our parents left their homes and settled here mainly in pursuit of visions of what their children’s lives would be. They had imagined their sons as men with wives, and their daughters as women with husbands, and cultivated these visions throughout our adolescence and beyond. Some of our parents had tended to these visions so zealously that they missed all the signs that these weren’t, in fact, the people we’d become. When we came out, they were forced both to reckon with these people they no longer recognized and mourn the visions of us they had nurtured all those years.
“I can’t stop thinking about the possibility that someone like us was hurt or murdered at Pulse on Sunday morning,” Matt writes. “outed in the very worst way, in a phone call every family dreads. For some parents, such a call would be a double heartbreak.”
Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn’t all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of being themselves.
Frog and Toad are favorites at our house. I’m going to read them to the kids this weekend with a new appreciation. Wanting to fit into the group is a powerful impulse for children, reinforced these days by the increased focus on group work in schools, so it’s nice to have a counterpoint to share with them.
Update: From the New Yorker’s Colin Stokes, another appreciation of Arnold Lobel. Lobel’s daughter Adrianne suspects the Frog & Toad books were “the beginning of him coming out” of the closet.
Adrianne suspects that there’s another dimension to the series’s sustained popularity. Frog and Toad are “of the same sex, and they love each other,” she told me. “It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.” In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. “I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out,” Adrianne told me.
The article also sadly notes that Lobel died at age 54, “an early victim of the AIDS crisis”. (via @bdeskin)
Charles Haggerty is a promising candidate for the best and most chill dad of all time. In the late 1950s, in a much less progressive era, he had a talk with his son, who would come to realize later in life that he (the son) was gay, about the responsibility you have to your true self.
Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak like you did today, it means you think you doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.
Reader, I don’t often say things like “that stopped me dead in my tracks” because life doesn’t work like that most of the time, but that last bit, about ruining your soul, did just that. A fantastic reminder of to thine own self be true. (via cup of jo)
The Danish Girl is an upcoming film starring Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It’s based on a novel of the same name which presents a fictionalized account of Elbe’s life.
The film may well net Redmayne another Oscar nomination, but I don’t know how the transgender community will react. From a quick look on Twitter and the past reception of Oscar-hopeful films dealing with similar issues (see The Imitation Game’s portrayal of Alan Turing’s sexuality), I’m guessing it may not be so well-received.
Polari was a secret slang language spoken by gay men in England so that they could converse together in public without fear of arrest. It fell into disuse in the 1960s, but this short film by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston features a conversation conducted entirely in Polari.
Of all the cultural forms that gay men have created and elaborated since coalescing into a social group around the late 19th century, Polari, a full-fledged gay English dialect with roots among circus folk, sailors, and prostitutes, has to be one of the most fascinating-not least since it has faded along with the need for discretion and secrecy. While some words remain in common use-zhush or zhoosh (to adjust or embellish something to make it more pleasing) and trade (highly masculine or straight-acting sex partners) come to mind — the richness that we know once defined Polari is difficult to capture in 2015.
What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more-and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.
“NeuroTribes” is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to “Far From the Tree,” Andrew Solomon’s landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin’s words, “different, not less.” Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.
Silberman was born in New York, the son of two teachers who were communists and anti-war activists. “I was raised to be sensitive to the plight of the oppressed. One of the things I do is frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil-rights movement being born.”
He says the fact he is gay also conditioned his approach. “My very being was defined as a form of mental illness in the diagnostic manual of disorders until 1974. I am not equating homosexuality and autism — autism is inherently disabling in ways that homosexuality is not — but I think that’s why I was sensitive to the feelings of a group of people who were systematically bullied, tortured and thrown into asylums.”
I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now. To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don’t know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn’t. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.
Ford uses the “they”, “them”, and “their” pronouns to refer to themselves. (Is it themselves? Or would it be themself? English is a relatively young and fluid language but even it can’t keep up.)
MoMA has announced that they’ve acquired the Rainbow Flag for their permanent collection. The flag has been a symbol of the LGBT community around the world since its creation in 1978. As part of the acquisition, MoMA Curatorial Assistant Michelle Millar Fisher interviewed the man who designed the flag, artist Gilbert Baker.
And I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not a just logo — it functions in so many different ways. I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands. [The Rainbow Flag] doesn’t say the word “Gay,” and it doesn’t say “the United States” on the American flag but everyone knows visually what they mean. And that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate.
So the American flag was my introduction into that great big world of vexilography. But I didn’t really know that much about it. I was a big drag queen in 1970s San Francisco. I knew how to sew. I was in the right place at the right time to make the thing that we needed. It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis — it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]. It came from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler. We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag — it’s from the sky! And even though the rainbow has been used in other ways in vexilography, this use has now far eclipsed any other use that it had…
After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.
After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:
Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.
In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.
Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)
At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.
For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
Gender identity is someone’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or as someone outside of that gender binary.) For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.
Trying to change a person’s gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person’s sexual orientation — it doesn’t work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.
People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer. Always use the descriptive term preferred by the individual.
My wife also gets a load of emails from people asking where our son’s father is, as though I couldn’t possibly be around and still allow a male son to display female behavior. To those people I say, I’m right here fathering my son. I want to love him, not change him. My son skipping and twirling in a dress isn’t a sign that a strong male figure is missing from his life, to me it’s a sign that a strong male figure is fully vested in his life and committed to protecting him and allowing him to grow into the person who he was created to be.
I may be a “guy’s guy,” but that doesn’t mean that my son has to be.
Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner. When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.
A college classmate tried to persuade me to come out then and there. But I couldn’t yet. My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I’ve struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.
The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.
Writing for Slate, William McGowan tells the story of the Chickens and the Bulls, an extensive and brazen extortion ring that targetting prominent homosexuals (admirals, Congressmen, entertainers, etc.) and the NYPD & FBI investigators and prosecutors who put the kibosh on the whole thing with minimal exposure to the victims.
Though now almost forgotten, the case of “the Chickens and the Bulls” as the NYPD called it (or “Operation Homex,” to the FBI), still stands as the most far-flung, most organized, and most brazen example of homosexual extortion in the nation’s history. And while the Stonewall riot in June 1969 is considered by many to be the pivotal moment in gay civil rights, this case represents an important crux too, marking the first time that the law enforcement establishment actually worked on behalf of victimized gay men, instead of locking them up or shrugging.
The coda of the case is surprising…one of the members of the extortion ring became one of the gay movement’s most powerful leaders.
Over time, however, championing same-sex marriage had become personal for Mr. Cuomo. He campaigned on the issue in the race for governor last year, and after his election, he was staggered by the number of gay couples who sought him out at restaurants and on the street, prodding him, sometimes tearfully, to deliver on his word.
The pressure did not let up at home. Mr. Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has an openly gay brother, and she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change.
Something else weighed on him, too: the long shadow of his father, Mario, who rose to national prominence as the conscience of the Democratic Party, passionately defending the poor and assailing the death penalty. During his first few months in office, the younger Mr. Cuomo had achieved what seemed like modern-day miracles by the standards of Albany - an austere on-time budget and a deal to cap property taxes. But, as Mr. Cuomo explained by phone to his father a few weeks ago, he did not want those accomplishments to define his first year in office.
“They are operational,” he told his father. Passing same-sex marriage, by contrast, “is at the heart of leadership and progressive government.”
The US military is often thought of by many Americans as being identified with conservative politics, making it an unlikely blueprint for progressive reform. But a recent pair of articles demonstrates that the US as a whole might have something to learn about the US Armed Forces’ liberal leanings. In the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the US military’s universal healthcare and focus on education is worth looking at as a model:
The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans’ health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn’t its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it’s the military day care system for working parents.
While one of America’s greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple, It says, ‘Raise an army.’ It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation. You all joined for a reason: to serve. To protect our nation, right? How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble? … Get over it. We’re magnificent, we’re going to continue to be. … Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines.
Now that’s some semper fi I can get behind. (thx, meg)
Here’s the story from a blogger at Nerdy Apple Bottom: her five-year-old son dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and mom & boy get shit from some of the other moms at their church preschool, thinking that the boy’s gonna catch The Gay for dressing up like a girl. The mom’s not having any of it:
But here’s the point, it is none of your damn business. If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.
Right on. Without really thinking about it this year, we dressed my son in a “girlie” costume (he was a butterfly, at his request, and not a knight or robot or Batman like most of the other three-year-olds I saw) and our daughter was a Frenchman. Not an eyebrow was raised, which is unsurprising as lower Manhattan is pretty much ground zero for It Gets Better. (via @choire)
In 2000, David Jay came out to his parents. But they were surprised by what he told them. He was asexual. David knew he was not alone in his feelings. He bought the url for asexuality.org and soon, the forum he created for people to talk about their experiences as asexuals was abuzz around the globe online and on talk shows like The View. Inspired by the LGBT movement of the 1960s, Jay is growing the asexual movement. Other members of his community are skeptical that they are a part of the LGBT community. But Jay and experts, like Dan Savage, agree that asexuals are a sexual minority and therefore eligible. But are members of the sex-positive PRIDE march going to accept a group that has rejected sex?
Though most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations. Though gay kids in the South and in rural areas tend to have a harder time than those on the coasts, I met gay youth who were doing well in socially conservative areas like Tulsa and others in progressive cities who were afraid to come out.
America is divided on the meaning of marriage and is understandably cautious about tampering with an age-old, embattled institution. On the other hand, Americans are increasingly sympathetic to gay couples who are pledged to care for each other (and their children) but who are legal strangers to one another, a situation which just makes no sense.
On gay marriage, activists on both ends of the spectrum conspired against radical incrementalism. One side tried to ban gay marriage forever on every inch of American soil; the other side dreamed of mandating it nationally by court order. To its great credit, the country refused to be hustled. Instead it is taking the truly conservative approach, which is to try gay marriage in some places, without betting the whole country.
Transgender Americans are finding increasing support for their gender identities in unusual places: the so-called red states. In a small Colorado city, parents and the school administration were initially upset with the transition of a student’s gender from boy to girl, but other students were not.
But on the first day of school, nothing happened. No flood of calls, no angry protests, and no bullying. Michelle was “happy and shocked” that M.J.’s classmates seemed to get it. When one student made a mocking comment to another using M.J.’s former name, one eighth-grade boy dismissed him with a simple insight. “That person doesn’t even exist anymore,” he said. “You’re talking about somebody who’s imaginary.”
Update: Fuck you too, Arizona and Florida. Also, several people objected to the strong language I used here, saying that I can’t curse an entire state where many voted against the ban, it was all the Mormon Church’s fault, and in one case, that it was hypocritical of me as a New York resident to complain. You know what? I’m *upset* about this and a little profanity, a little lashing out, is totally fucking warranted.
You’ve likely seen this by now but I’ve got to link it up anyway because whenever I think about it, it makes me LOLL (laugh out loud, literally). The American Family Association automatically replaces words like “gay” with “homosexual” in the AP stories they display on their news site. When an American sprinter named Tyson Gay is in the news, the practice leads to hilarity.
Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and seemed to save something for the final later Sunday.
Male to female transsexual. This is a manufactured vagina. A Neovagina.
This is genital origami, the cock cut open, carved and folded, crafted by techniques with names like Penile Inversion, the Suporn Technique, and the Wilson Method. The head of the cock morphs into the neoclit. In some methods the scrotal skin becomes the neovaginal canal.
I don’t know which methods were used in the creation of this particular neovagina, but surely this is art of the highest caliber. Sculpture in flesh tissue and nerve bundles.