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Archive for November, 2008

The discussion on various Yahoo groups that I belong to regarding the impact of the same-sex marriage bans just enacted in Arizona, California and Florida on marriages involving one or more transgender partner continues. I’ve previously posted about those issues here and here.  This is my most recent addition to that discussion:

I agree with the basics of your description [of the law concerning marriages in which one partner is trans], but want to clarify that what happens in most of these cases is that the couple is able to get a marriage license and marry simply because they appear to be a typical male/female couple. Thus, although they are allowed to marry, they are “legally” married only in the sense that no one has challenged it yet. Many couples involving a trans partner may marry, live out their lives and die without anyone ever challenging the validity of their marriage, and thus escape the uncertainty I’ve been talking about. But there’s no way to predict which couples will be that fortunate and which ones will face the horror of being told years later that they were never legally married.

As for the “trans lesbian” who married her partner that you mentioned, I assume that you are referring to cases where a MTF transsexual marries a cisgender female, before the trans partner has changed her name or sex marker on any of her identification documents. I know of several such cases. Again, as long as the couple appears to be a male/female couple to whatever clerk issues the marriage license and to whatever judge or other authority marries them, their marriage is treated as a legal, opposite-sex marriage, but may, or may not, in fact be legal if it is ever challenged.

The basic rule is that a marriage that was legal when and where it was entered into continues to be valid until dissolved by divorce. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), however, makes an exception to that rule for same-sex marriages by allowing states where such marriages are banned to refuse to recognize a legal same-sex marriage entered into in another state or country. DOMA should not apply, however, to a marriage between a trans woman who was legally male at the time and a cisgender female since, at the time it is entered into, it is a legal opposite-sex marriage. The same applies to a trans man who is legally female at the time he marries a cisgender male. Such marriages should, therefore, be safe from challenge even after the trans partner legally changes her/his name and sex. A marriage between a man and woman, one of whom realizes that she/he is trans after the marriage and then transitions, should also be legal, since the only difference between that situation and the ones I just discussed is simply a matter of timing.

BUT, and this is a big “but,” I know of no cases anywhere addressing whether a marriage in which one partner transitions after marriage continues to be valid. Everything I know says it should be, but stranger things have happened, especially when it comes to trans people.

Finally, just to clarify, the majority of courts that have faced the issue have said that a marriage between a trans woman (i.e., an MTF transsexual) who is “legally” female at the time of marriage and a cisgender man (or vice versa) is INVALID as an illegal, same-sex marriage, despite any change in identification documents, birth certificates, or whatever.

The bottom line is to get married before the trans partner has legally changed her/his sex if you can. If not, once married, see an attorney to draft wills, medical directives, child adoptions, etc. to legally create as many of the benefits of marriage as possible, in case the marriage is declared invalid at some future date. (In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do those things even when the couple marries while they are still legally of different sexes, just in case.) In other words, do the exact same things that other “same-sex” couples have to do to create the semblance of a legally recognized marriage. That’s why marriage equality is just as much an issue for trans people as it is for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

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I have participated in the Arizona Transgender Alliance (AZTA) since its inception. Like any organization, it has struggled to define itself and its purposes in a way that unites, rather than divides, us. Nonetheless, it continues because people see a need to join together. One of AZTA’s current projects is to produce a calendar with photos and biographies of trans women and men to help educate the public about who we are. I volunteered to participate and wanted to share here the biography I submitted because I think it expresses some of the most important aspects of my transition and who I am today. This is what I said:

I was 52 years old before I first began to accept what I had always known: that I’ve always wanted to live my life as a woman, because that is who I am. That moment was one of revelation, but not one of surprise. It was a moment of calmness and gentle peace. It was a moment when I simply realized, “oh, yes, that is what I want.” A month later, I began taking estrogen and I’ve never looked back. Each step along the way, I tested whether I was on the right path for me by asking, “is this bringing me peace or anxiety, love or fear?” And each time, the answer was always the same: “this is right for me because this is who I am.” There were, of course, many moments when I felt scared. In those moments, I simply waited to see if the fear would pass. When it did, I continued forward. Because of that process, when I finally decided it was time to transition, I was ready. My confidence in my decision was unshakable. It is that confidence that has allowed me to live my life as a woman with a calmness and comfort with who I am that others see and that helps them to accept me as who I know myself to be.

When I transitioned, I feared those moments when people would learn that I am transgender. Much to my surprise, however, after transition, I have found that I am much more comfortable when people know about my history. My transition was part of a lifelong search for wholeness and integrity, so situations where fear leads me to believe that I need to deny or hide who I am tempt me to violate my sense of wholeness, of personal integrity. The pain of that violation is much more powerful than any fear of what people may think or how they might react. Consequently, I stay true to myself and am “out” in virtually all parts of my life.

Together, my comfort in who I am, and the pain I feel when any of us suffer because of the bigotry and hate of those who feel threatened by who we are have led me to be an advocate whenever and wherever I can. That takes many forms, from standing before the Scottsdale City Council arguing for the passage of ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression to proudly becoming, as far as I know, the first attorney to ever appear before the Arizona Supreme Court as both a man and a woman (and in the same year!). But mostly it takes the form of simply being who I am, a woman of integrity and grace who lives in peace with herself, allowing others to see and learn about who I am and, in that process, to see that trans people are no threat to them and thus build tolerance and acceptance of who we are. Today I am proud to be transgender and grateful for each opportunity I get to show the world who I am and, hopefully, change the world one heart, and one mind, at a time.

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Tomorrow, November 20, 2008, is the 10th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I’m not going to attempt to describe all the emotions that this day, and the reason it is needed, raise in me.  Suffice it to say that it brings up the most profound sadness and doubt about the future, about whether it will ever be possible to create a world without hate.  But I will not stop striving to create that world, because, without it, all hope is lost and I know that I cannot live without hope.

Please visit the websites below to find out more about the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the location of a vigil near you where you can join with others to honor those who have died because of who they are.

Remembering Our Dead, the project that began the Day of Remembrance

International Transgender Day of Remembrance, maintained by Ethan St. Pierre, contains a comprehensive listing of Transgender Day of Remembrance events around the world.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, a website maintained by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance Webcomics Project, a collaboration of various webcomics to help raise awareness about the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Although there are many videos memorializing the Transgender Day of Remembrance, one of the most moving I have seen is this one, created just this year as a collaboration of several members of the trans community.  After you watch it, click on the link above and leave a comment thanking all those who participated in this project.

Whatever you do, please take a few moments tomorrow to honor those whose lives have been ended simply because they expressed their gender in ways that made other people uncomfortable, which, at bottom, is the source of all hate and bigotry.  Then, think of one thing that YOU can do to help end the hate and DO IT, and KEEP DOING IT until there are no more names to add to the list of our dead.

UPDATE, 11/19/08, 1:55 p.m. MST: To understand why the Transgender Day of Remembrance is vital to our community and why some of us are so angry about our needs being ignored in favor of priorities that others have set, read little light’s latest post. If her writing doesn’t make you cry and vow to take action, at least to show up at your local Transgender Day of Remembrance event, I don’t know what will.

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After I graduated from high school, I left Idaho for Stanford University.  I was a student there from 1971-1975.  In many ways, those were some of the best years of my life.  Stanford was the first place where I experienced what it’s like to be part of a community, to have friends who truly care about me.  At the same time, I also was very depressed during much of my time there, isolating myself from the very friends who I knew could most help me out of that dark place.  Although mostly repressed, my gender dysphoria was still present during those years, revealing itself to me, but never to others, in various ways during those years.

I’ve stayed connected with several friends from my freshman dorm (*waves to Pam, Kevin, Rob, Bruce, Anne, Jon and Hilarie*), but I’ve only been back to the campus a few times since I graduated.  Before I transitioned last year, I wanted my friends to know about me, so I sent an email to dorm buddies telling them about my plans.  In response, I received unconditional support from them all, for which I count myself very fortunate.  Although there have been questions, the support and love has continued just as it did before.

Stanford is very diligent about maintaining contact with its alumni, so I still receive Stanford Magazine regularly, and I always read the “Class Notes” section for news of my friends and classmates.  Every month after my transition, I would wonder about somehow announcing my transition and change of name there.  Until a few months ago, however, I never knew quite how to go about it and the time never felt quite right.

Then, in the May/June issue this year, there was an article about the support given to transgender students on campus and the addition of “gender identity” to Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy.  Seeing that article, I knew that it was time to share my transition.  Before that article, I had never seen the word “transgender” mentioned in any official Stanford publication, nor had I ever read of any other transition in the Class Notes.  But I wanted both current students, and my classmates, to know that it’s OK to be trans and that, wherever they are, they’re not alone.  Thus, not long after that article appeared, I contacted the “class correspondent” for the Stanford Class of 1975 and shared my story.  The result is this addition to our “Class Notes” in the November/December issue of Stanford Magazine:

Following up on the article on transgender students in the May/June issue of Stanford, one of our classmates was inspired to share her story. Abby [Abigail] Louise Jensen writes, “While I was at Stanford and until last year, my name was Sherman Jensen. On May 10, 2007, I legally changed my name. Four days later, I transitioned, finally and forever, to live as a woman. It’s the best decision I ever made for myself and has brought me more peace and joy than I have ever experienced.

“After graduation, I worked fighting forest fires for the U.S. Forest Service and as a civil rights investigator for the Idaho Human Rights Commission; received a law degree from Boalt Hall Law School (Class of 1982); worked 12 years in Seattle as an associate and partner at Garvey, Schubert & Barer, along with Soto dormmate Rob Spitzer; had three beautiful daughters; got divorced and moved to Prescott, Ariz. Since 1997, I have worked as a sole practitioner doing criminal appeals and state post-conviction proceedings as court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants, where I’ve had some success in changing the law of Arizona to be fairer for all.

“At Stanford, I did my best to suppress any thoughts of who I knew myself to be, even then. Nonetheless, I remember distinctly one afternoon spent hiding among the shelves in Meyer Library looking at books containing pictures of genital reassignment surgery. I suspect that’s not an experience that many of our classmates share. Beginning in 2005, the gender dysphoria that I struggled with since I was very young began to assert itself, leading to my transition last year to living the rest of my life as a woman. I have been fortunate to have escaped the harassment and discrimination that many who follow this path experience. In particular, I am grateful for the loving support I have received from the other Soto dormmates with whom I’ve stayed in contact: Pam Franks, Anne Watson, Kevin Wright Enright, Hilarie Hathaway Pierce, MA ’75, Jon Levin, ’76, and Bruce Williams, as well as Rob Spitzer.

“As my transition progressed, as well as my increasing interest in civil rights issues, I have become involved in advocating for fair treatment of LGBT people. In December 2007, I appeared before the Scottsdale, Ariz., City Council and spoke on behalf of the Arizona Transgender Alliance in support of proposed city ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That night, Scottsdale became only the fourth Arizona city (after Tucson, Tempe and Phoenix) to enact a ban on such discrimination in city employment. In addition, to the best of my knowledge, last year, I became the first attorney to argue before the Arizona Supreme Court as both a man and a woman. Both of those appearances, as well as all my other court appearances since my transition, have been handled with dignity and respect by both the judges and my fellow attorneys.

“Finally, I joined the board of directors of and became president of QsquaredYouth, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for LGBTQ youth in Yavapai County, and the Board of Directors of the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter. I am now hoping to move on from my current career to a position where I can devote my time and energy to improving the lives of LGBTQ people.” Abby, thank you for sharing your personal experience with our classmates.

It will be interesting to see what kind of response I get. I’m listed under my current name on the Stanford Alumni website (my first name is Abigail, although I go by Abby), so it should be relatively easy for any of my classmates, other Stanford alums, or students to contact me, and I would certainly be interested in hearing from any and all of them (as long as they remain respectful, that is).

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UPDATED 1/18/09: I’m feeling inspired by the beginning celebrations of Barack Obama’s inauguration in two days, and decided to move this to the front page for awhile for all to enjoy. I don’t know about you, but this video brings tears of hope to my eyes every time I watch it.

This video demonstrates the promise of change, and the hope that it brings, that inspired millions of us to elect Barack Obama as our next President.  Today, I choose to believe in this message of hope and I commit myself to doing all that I can to change the hate and bigotry that led to the passage of same-sex marriage bans here in Arizona, and in California and Florida, and a ban on adoption by gay, lesbian and other unmarried couples in Arkansas.  Hate can never win!

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Last night as I went to bed and this morning when I awoke, my primary emotion in the wake of yesterday’s election is one of overwhelming sadness. The sadness I feel is complex but comes largely from two sources, one political, one personal.

On the political side, I was elated by the election of Barack Obama and the promise of fundamental change it brings. I shared that elation with a restaurant and bar full of fellow Democrats. It was an intoxicating moment. I spent more than a dozen hours over the last four days in the local Democratic headquarters and the headquarters of our local candidate’s campaign for Congress, making phone calls to encourage Democratic and Independent voters to get to the polls and support Obama and the local Democrats. The election of a Democrat to the House of Representatives from historically conservative Northern Arizona is a wonderful victory, and part of the hope that Democratic gains in the House and Senate portend for passage of an all-inclusive ENDA and the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill, and the repeal of DOMA and DADT.

But I realized last night that my hopes and dreams for change from this election really rested on the fate of Florida’s Amendment 2, Arizona’s Proposition 102 and California’s Proposition 8, all of which proposed to amend their respective state constitutions to prohibit equal rights to marriage for same sex and same gender couples. I also realized that I hadn’t acknowledged to myself how important the defeat of those measures had become to me, presumably in a misguided attempt to protect myself from the disappointment that I feel this morning. I had told myself that, although the passage of the Florida and Arizona measures was probable, there was a chance that California’s Prop. 8 would be defeated, thus preserving the California Supreme Court’s historic decision that prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the California constitution; and that, as long as Prop. 8 was defeated, we had a chance to maintain the momentum of change in the treatment of LGBT people that seemed to be building with the California court decision, the elimination of the ballot initiative to overturn Montgomery County, Maryland’s ban on gender identity discrimination, and what had seemed to be a sea change in the attitudes of Americans toward LGBT people and our community’s willingness to fight to continue those changes.

This morning, however, there is no doubt that both the Florida and Arizona measures have passed. Although there are still a substantial number of provisional and late absentee ballots yet to be counted in California, which theoretically could shift the outcome there, the passage of Prop. 8 also seems certain. The inability of our community and our allies to defeat even one of these attacks on our rights by those who hate us and believe that we are undeserving of all that this nation offers to everyone else is so incredibly sad and depressing. I find it impossible to express the hopelessness that I feel. All I can say is that that hopelessness, that feeling that nothing can or will ever change for the better, that it will never be OK to be who I am, that there will never be a chance that I am loved and respected for who I am, has been the source of the depression I have experienced since I was a young boy wanting to be a girl. Although I have learned many ways to remind myself that all those beliefs are lies that my ego tells me to keep me trapped and separated from the knowledge of the Love that I am, this morning all I feel is the darkness.

The personal side of what I’m feeling comes from this: I know what love feels like. I know what it’s like to have someone with whom I can share my deepest self, someone with whom I feel safe enough to share all of my thoughts, all of my feelings, and who feels safe enough to do the same with me, both of us secure in the knowledge that all that we share will be accepted and honored without judgment, without the need to question or change or suggest, someone who recognizes and is able to live the knowledge that we are not our thoughts and our feelings, and that our love for each other lies so far beyond those things as to be unassailable. That safety, that absolute acceptance, that connection at the level of heart, the heart that knows no fear, only love, is what I seek. Today, I long for that, sad in the recognition that is not part of my life today.

The knowledge that this is what I seek has been building slowly over the last few weeks. It came full blown into my consciousness last Thursday when I saw Byron, my friend and therapist who, over the 13 years that we have known each other, has come to know me more intimately than anyone else in my life. Byron helped me to recognize that this is what I seek, what I long for at the core of my being, and he helped me to honor and cherish that desire as an important and valued part of who I am, and who I wish to be.

That desire to connect expresses itself in many ways and isn’t limited only to the desire to have a partner to share my life with. I felt it over the last several days as I joined with other volunteers making phone calls to get out the vote here in Arizona and as I became part of the hope and enthusiasm that became palpable in this country as McCain continued to shoot himself in the foot and Obama demonstrated his integrity and commitment to change and the promise of finding a better way for all of us to live and connect. Sitting in those crowded rooms, all of us talking, dialing and sharing the moments of triumphs and connection with voters who supported Obama and the desire for change, and the disappointment from encounters with those who, seemingly beyond reason, opposed Obama and the need for change in this country, I felt connected, a sense of belonging, of doing something concrete and positive to change this country, to restore hope, to me and to other LGBT Americans who, like me, feel so marginalized and disconnected.

When I went to the local Democratic election party after the polls closed, I hoped that sense of belonging and connection would continue and that, hope against hope, I might even make a new friend, someone who might want to meet again and see if we could connect on a deeper level. It didn’t happen. I didn’t spend my time there alone in a crowd of people, as I have many times in the past. Instead, I talked with other volunteers that I had met through the weekend, and with other friends that I had met elsewhere. After the short moment of elation at the news that Obama had won the presidency, however, my sense of isolation, my disappointment at the reality that no heart connection was to be found there, and my fears about the outcome of Prop. 8 and the other same-sex marriage bans, combined to send me home to my laptop, the internet and the news. The reality of the passage of those measures quickly became apparent and my sadness became palpable, as I realized that Obama’s election hadn’t really changed anything for me, personally or politically, and that, yet again, the hope for the things that I want in my life – love, connection, community, acceptance and respect – lies in the distant future, if at all. Unable to connect at the level I needed from friends on the internet, I signed off Yahoo Messenger and Facebook, turned off my cell phone and cried. I cried at the seemingly insurmountable barriers that separate me from those things and from even my closest friends.

I sit here this morning trying to understand and express what I feel, and the tears still come. Where is hope? Where is love? Why do I feel so apart, so “other” from the rest of the world? Soon after I embarked on this road of seeking knowledge of who I am at the deepest levels and finding a way to move beyond the loneliness and isolation that I have always felt at the core of my being, I knew that I had chosen a difficult path, one that not many are willing to venture down. But I also knew without doubt that no other path offered any hope of finding my heart’s desire. Today I get yet another opportunity to experience those challenges and to remind myself why I continue to seek for love and connection. Right now, however, all I feel is pain, disappointment and near exhaustion at all that this path requires of me.

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