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Public comment will be received until: Monday, December 21st. (Preferable to submit by Friday, December 18th.)
Public comment will be received until: Monday, December 21st. (Preferable to submit by Friday, December 18th.)
By. Moonhawk River Stone
“For The Times They are a-Changin’”
-Bob Dylan (October 1964)…Indeed
One of favorite quotes comes from The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin (this book is part of the Earthsea Trilogy). The young hero, Arren, is being taught by the Wizard of Earthsea, Ged, and it goes like this:
Do you see, Arren, how an act is not, as young
men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws,
and it hits or misses, and that’s the end of it. When
that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that
bears it heavier. When it is thrown, the circuits of the
stars respond, and where it strikes or falls the
universe is changed. On every act the balance of the
whole depends….We must learn to keep the balance.
This is only a small part of a much longer dialogue where the Wizard urges young Arren to do “only that which you must do and which you
cannot do in any other way.”
I have carried these quotes around with me for over 35 years. They have become part of the foundation for me of how I do the work that is my life–professionally, in activism and in my personal life. Turning to Bob Dylan’s song, now 50 years old and still ever so relevant today, we can see that those actions taken long ago, those actions that were what those early transgender pioneers felt was the only thing to do, have created, perhaps, what will be the most enduring and revolutionary changes about sex and gender we human beings will experience until we’re growing our sex/genders in 3-D printers. No kidding. The emergence of the all things Trans* (new word being used to be ultra inclusive of the umbrella) has done more to revolutionize how we think of sex and gender than any other single event.
In 1975, a group of people, mostly male, mostly crossdressers and , in those days we called such folks transvestites, met in Provincetown, MA, post “the season” for the 1st Fantasia Fair, and yes, there were a few transsexual folks included, too. Back then, Provincetown shuttered itself up for the winter right after Labor Day as the summer people fled back to the cities for the winter. The summer season had very definitive boundaries and P’town was not a year round destination then. Provincetown in 1975 was perceived as a open and welcoming place for diverse folks, and this drove the Fantasia Fair folks’ decision to locate the Fair in P’town. where a much safer environment for differently gendered people to be “out and about” existed and so they were out and about. I took my first “adult” vacation that October 1975 and Unbeknownst to me, I stumbled into the 1st Fantasia Fair while at a tres chic expensive French restaurant. The waiter was all nervous and upset, I remember scurrying around to make apologies for his unusual quests. I was not at all the flummoxed or disdainful guest he thought me to be. I just had this sense of curiosity and comfort. Not consciously then, but at some level I understood that whoever those folks were, I was, too and I was OK with them–and with me, all dressed up in my Sunday best male clothes, I don’t suppose they thought twice about me. I remember being vaguely thrilled, and my extravagant dinner all the more delicious because of them. Re-balancing the whole of sex/gender diversity, changing that part of the Universe became real that first year of Fantasia Fair.
But the rock not thrown that evening was that I did not get up and go over to them and join them introducing myself, though I know in hindsight it would have been OK to do so. What was set in motion that night, was Fantasia Fair took off, and Hawk stayed still a while longer, each action the right one, the necessary one. Now, 40 years later, I go back Provincetown in October 2014 to celebrate Fantasia Fair’s 40th anniversary and have the honor of giving one of the week’s keynote addresses, having come full circle, the balance somehow having been struck, the Equilibrium reestablished. My speech is going to focus on just this column’s theme how differently gendered people have changed the conversation about sex and gender not only in Trans* land, but among all human beings. How that moment where the rock thrown, lands in the ocean and the ripples have reached the farthest shore to only redouble and ripple back yet again and again.
In far off time when history takes measure of this era in America it will note that something changed. The divide between male and female crumbled a bit, and morphed into a continuum that became a garden of delight in which us humans could play. We will note it spurred the larger world to its own imaginings of what lay beyond the strict binary of male and female, though in many places that struggle would be decades or centuries longer than here in America. Dr. Milton Diamond, Ph.D., one of the leading researcher allies to the transgender and intersex communities is oft quoted as saying, “Nature loves diversity. Society does not.” Suppose the rock that was thrown that October evening in 1975 obliterated the second sentence and we are just left with “Nature loves diversity.” I want to be at Fantasia Fair 75 (in 2049) just past 101 to see what ripples then and how the journey unfolded. What new balance will be struck? And will all of us Trans* and cisgender be free to be ourselves and love one another? For one thing we know then as we do now, “For The Times They Are a-Changin’. Until next time…T
Today we’re pleased to share a special complimentary online edition of our CommUNITY magazine feature, Trans View, by columnist Moonhawk River Stone. In keeping with CommUNITY‘s May theme of Vintage Pride, this month’s column focuses on the topic of aging in the transgender community. We hope enjoy the read.
Trans View #122
by. Moonhawk River Stone© 2014
First off my heartfelt thanks to Loree Cook-Daniels for writing the Trans View guest column for the May 2014 CommUNITY. As an ally to transgender people Loree is without peer and has over the decades contributed mightily both to our knowledge about trans elders and services for them. I am so grateful for her, and for all of her steadfast hard work on behalf of LGBT people, especially transgender people. In my column, an online only companion column, I’m going to touch base about some issues beyond policy making for older transgender people. Times are changing rapidly for LGBT people with the increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) policy clarification for transgender marriages among them. I mean, who would have thought 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, that SSA would be talking proactively about transgender marriages and clarifying policy so spouses receive the full benefits they are entitled to receive. I mean, really? For that we have the progress in same-sex marriage to thank as well as our own transgender advocates. Older transgender people come from basically four different cohorts: 1) people who transitioned medically and legally decades ago and have faded into the woodwork ; 2) people who did various kinds of transition related actions and never changed their documents, or had surgery (Billy Tipton, Virginia Prince come to mind here) and who lived very stealth (secret) lives; 3) people who transitioned medically and legally decades ago and who remained in the public eye; and 4) the ever increasing numbers of older transgender folks transitioning in their 60’s, 70’s and yes, 80’s who are seeking access to care in their elder years. Finding the transgender individuals in cohorts #1 and #2 is proving to be quite a difficult challenge. They are vulnerable populations, not connected to the larger trans communities, the result is that they may suddenly be outed without their permission, they may be denied health care, denied access to partner benefits from government agencies, denied inheritance, and suddenly find themselves homeless and without financial resources or face a premature death because they have avoided being seen in a health care setting because of their transgender status. They are a high risk population. Transgender individuals in cohort #4 are the emerging population gaining much notice in the media. People who have yearned their whole lives to transition, people who have had failed or truncated transitions are increasingly transitioning. People who have waited until their partner of many decades has passed are transitioning. One of the challenges here has to do with surprising adult children and grandchildren with news that has been kept secret for a long time. Most elderly transgender people do not have access to genital reconstruction surgeries, either the out of pocket cost is a choice between maintaining a retirement fund–and a standard of living or spending it on surgery. Many elderly transgender people have their social security money as their sole income. Medicare does not yet cover the cost of genital reconstruction surgeries (of any kind), but will cover the costs of mental health counseling and hormone therapy. The Veterans Administration has similar coverage. There is also prejudice within medicine about giving hormone treatment or surgical treatment to elderly people. There is really not much known about the effects of hormones on elderly bodies, and treatment approaches are largely anecdotal. Elderly transgender individuals often have other health challenges which make surgery a more risky undertaking. Transition for older people brings a mixed blessing–getting to finally be who you are, but, maybe, not being able to surgically transition. Transgender elders also need to have access to proper legal advice in order to fully protect their assets and property and their identity. Many states have rigid rules about gender marker documentation and will not be flexible concerning that when a transgender person dies. Several high profile legal cases have involved the issue of late life transgender marriage, and inheritance with the transgender person being the one who suffers. Economic access to quality trans-legal services is also an issue in many localities.
For the larger community and society, we are quickly closing a window of opportunity to collect the wisdom, the stories and the videos of transgender elders. Transgender elders can give us a very unique glimpse of transgender history from an individual perspective that is so valuable. It is important that we capture and remember the time before it all changed and transgender became (not quite yet, but almost) a household word. It’s something like the stories my grandfather told me about walking to school barefoot, and riding his horse when he got older to do errands for the family. Trans elders do really come from the last century one that saw tremendous change for transgender people. They have so much to offer us in stories of courage, survival, living one’s truth, and just how risky and closeted things were back then. They are pioneers to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. Until next time…T