I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.

I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.

Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.

Continue Reading »


Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Manager for The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is again doing his best to erase the role of transphobia in the murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado in Puerto Rico last fall.  Pedro had this to say in today’s article in EdgeBoston on the run-up to the trial of Jorge’s murderer:

“Jorge Steven’s murder was an eye-opener for a lot of folks on the island and many people who either didn’t think or want to believe that homophobia is pretty much alive and affecting so many people in Puerto Rico,” said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. “I have never seen such a wide array of support and tangible solidarity in Puerto Rico.”

(All emphasis in the quotes from the article are mine.)  Of course, that didn’t stop Pedro or others from invoking the “T” when it serves their purposes:

“The Jorge Steven López Mercado case has allowed LGBT activists and organizations to shed light to a long-time problem of violent crimes for LGBT individuals in Puerto Rico and the overall United States,” said Jorge Cestou, the Chicago-based co-chair of Unid@s, a national Latino LGBT rights organization.

* * *

Illinois state Rep. María “Toni” Berrios [D-Chicago,] who also traveled to the island with the delegation, conceded she remains unsure whether anything has actually changed in Puerto Rico since the teenager’s death. She added, however, it galvanized LGBT Puerto Ricans.  “Jorge Steven López Mercado’s murder brought together all of the LGBT groups and has made them work even closer together to try to combat hate crimes towards their community,” said Berrios.

* * *

[Ada Conde Vidal, president of the Fundación de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Foundation,)] was instrumental in the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the territory’s hate crimes law in 2002, but  authorities have rarely implemented it.

* * *

[New York City Councilmember Melissa] Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan, told EDGE there remains “qu[i]te a lot of work to be done” in Puerto Rico, but Serrano stressed López’s murder changed the conversation about LGBT rights on the island.  “It’s no more a debate of whether there is homophobia,” he said. “Now the debate is how we are going to stop it; how are we going to end it. People are more aware of the importance of respecting everyone; regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It seems that the idea that gay men may be feminine in some way is so distasteful that, while it’s OK to acknowledge that gay men exist in Puerto Rico, the idea that they may not be as “macho” as every other man must be avoided at all costs.  That, of course, does not stop anyone involved from claiming support from the “T” portion of the LGBT community or showing how inclusive they are by mentioning “gender identity” protections in Puerto Rican law. What blatant hypocrisy!

And, yes, it really pisses me off.

[This post is by my friend Robin Rice and is copied with her permission.]

Spirituality and the New Feminism
By Robin Rice

(Robin Rice is an author, spiritual mentor and contemporary shaman. Visit her at www.BeWhoYouAre.com.)

The first time I heard the word “feminism,” it sounded to me like there were rocks in the speaker’s throat. I don’t remember how old I was or who spoke the word, but I do remember immediately deciding that I would have to be careful should I ever want to have anything to do with such an “ism” myself.

By the time I received my college diploma, I’d sorted out the messages well enough. The die-hard feminists were working like dogs and taking a beating for my rights to do anything a man could do. You had to hand it to them, because you knew you were going to follow in the wake of their success. But calling yourself one was to take on those very beatings. It wasn’t clear–at least in my mind–that joining the good old boys was a privilege worth fighting for.

In the end, I decided feminism was a theoretical ideal best not taken too far. Tap away at the glass ceiling all you want, just be quiet about it. Be strong and passionate, but only where and when appropriate. Step up to the plate as a man’s equal, but don’t wound his pride by actually winning. Be hard at work and soft in bed. At one point, I actually had a post-it note up that said “Think like a man, love like a woman, eat like a bird, work like a dog.” I was a frantic ping-pong ball trying to make it all work.

God did not help. At least not the God I’d been raised on. In that paradigm, there was God the Father, God the Son, and a Holy Spirit that was assigned no gender. Men were appointed heads of the households. Women didn’t have to walk a step behind in public, but the submissive directive was still crystal clear. And while this was justified by the admonition that men were to love their wives as themselves, I had the sense that few of the men sitting along those pews had any idea of how to do either.

As for strong, sensual women with spirit, holy or otherwise? Well, we were “dangerous” and to be strongly discouraged.

That I was.

Until the day a new wind caressed my face. A breeze so fresh it nearly knocked me over with delight. A firm, supple voice began speaking to me of the kind of freedom even fairy tales dared not offer hope for. The freedom to be who I really was, a woman “as is,” wild and wonderful, powerful even while gentle. The freedom to be successful by my own terms without sacrificing my true feminine self in the process.

I was terrified to learn this hope sounded much like the kind offered by what some would call The Goddess. After all, Goddesses were earthy, unpredictable, sensual, moody and not always nice. Lots of them were big, ugly, and old–the three absolute no-no’s in a modern woman’s success story. Besides, that was just “New Age” thinking, right?

I decided I wanted no part of it.

Yet, yet, yet… I had felt the breeze, heard the voice. A new spirituality had opened up in me, a new spin laid into that ping-pong ball. My inner soul just laughed at my dismissive decisions. To my heart, the old ways seemed immediately primitive. The new ways promised an adventure I could not bear to deny myself. Feminism took on a completely new meaning to me. It wasn’t about making it in a man’s world, I realized, but about creating a new world for the woman in me.

New ideas tumbled forth, one after the other. What if women were here for a reason beyond both mending socks or shoving her way into a board room? What if women were here to transform board rooms with grace and at the same time not be insulted when socks needed to be mended? What if women were here to intuitively hear the goddess, and so pass on her messages…”Enough war, now, brave soldiers, put down your weapons. Enough building now, fine crafters, it’s time to give the land, and your selves, a good rest.”

The questions came fast and furious, as if riding in on waves. What if we could accept ourselves, and so not rape and pillage the earth and it’s resources just so we can go into debt for the best beauty cream? What if we could slow down enough to hear our children tell us what they love, what they are afraid of, and what they really need? What if we took everything less seriously, and started to laugh from the belly again? What if that, and not a multi-billion dollar research firm, held the key to curing cancer?

What if we learned to trust our gut and open our mouths about what we know as truth, even when there is no definitive proof to offer? What if we followed the moods of the seasons, as the rest of creation does, and so gave ourselves times of sowing and reaping, dancing and sleeping, instead of go, go, go, go, go? What if our battered souls felt honored enough to speak, and so shared it’s secrets about things like how to be replenished by the spirit of a tree?

The new ideas took hold in me quickly. Like a powder keg they burst through virtually every old relationship I had, costing me. Costing my children. The death before the rebirth. Yet in this new understanding, I had at last found a way to celebrate all that was within me. This was not the dulled feminism of compromise I had known. It was a brilliant feminism, based on inclusion of all that I was, dark and light, the seasons within my very womanhood. Here the ping pong was not bobbing franticly back and forth, but flowing gently to the rhythm of all things.

“I am the beautiful maiden and the hag!” I began to shout to the moon, sometimes kindly, sometimes not. I became passionate beyond propriety, deeply dangerous to old school thinkers. I loved every minute I wasn’t in heartbreak and tears (and even some of those).

It wasn’t long before I learned that this “new” spirituality wasn’t new at all. The Goddesses who spoke to me had been around longer than my own childhood religion. A lot longer. Like single facets of sparkling light on a magnificent chandelier, each Goddess came to teach me an aspect of The One divinity that sourced us all. Baba Yaga taught me to be a wild woman and to laugh in the face of social risk. Isis lovingly showed me how to mother my children, especially at those crucial moments when I knew what I had to offer was not enough. Kali had me vomiting blood in India, dancing me between my karma and compassion in a way I was not sure I would survive. Kuan Yin whispered to me about gentleness and the value of a woman opened by heartbreak. Pachamama offered healing again and again, until at last I loved the earth I had, in the old days, taken little notice of. Oya swirled her lessons of tumultuous change in ways so stunning I could not deny her a place in my writing. She lives in my novels, alive and well, and I like to think that because of this we have come to terms.

I would like to say that it has all worked out; that these Divine Mentors showed me an easy road with clear signposts. I cannot. Neither can any of other goddesses-in-training I’ve met along the way. The road She points us toward is through an uncut field, because it is our own. The signposts come mostly from our desires and our intuition. Only after we know what we know can we apply our logical thinking to the “how” of doing what needs to be done. Even then, we are ridiculed (or worse) for our ways. We are still existing in a man’s world, after all. Brick walls are no more fun to crash into than glass ceilings.

No, it has not been an easy road. But it has been a road with a breeze.

Today, as I put one foot in front of the other, I am deeply grateful for the work of the feminists who went before me–even if I have not understood them fully. They did cut a first path and allowed me to see one view of what was possible. I am also grateful for my childhood religious training. In seeing the masculine aspects of God/Goddess, I was able to find what was missing.

Even so, I hope to show something different to my son and daughter. I hope to show them a feminism and spirituality that honors dark and light, up and down, here and there, her and him. I hope for them to be able to shout to the moon “I am the beautiful maiden and I am the hag!” Most of all, I hope they hear the voice I hear when She shouts back, with mirth in her throat, “So you are, my blessed child. So you are!”

NOTE: This article first appeared in Natural Beauty and Health Magazine.

FREE USE! Robin’s articles are copyrighted, yet are free to use in print or on the web through websites, e-zines, etc… so long as you 1) contact Robin at info@bewhoyouare.com to let her know when and where the article will appear, 2) be sure all articles have both the “previously published by…” credit listed at the end (if there is one), and 3) include a byline that says: “Robin Rice is an author, spiritual mentor and contemporary shaman. Visit her at www.BeWhoYouAre.com.”

I’m a Dreamer

Over on Bilerico, Karen Ocamp shared her take on President Barack Obama’s speech at HRC’s annual dinner last night.  I don’t go for name calling (Karen says Obama is a “sissy”), but I share her disppaontment at Obama’s failure to use the power of his office to put action to his words, to demonstrate there is more to him than rousing speeches and inspiring words.  Here’s my dream of what Obama could have said to show that “Yes, We Can!” is more than just a slogan to win votes and volunteers, which I left as a comment on Karen’s essay:

I was very disappointed in Obama’s speech. I don’t think it would have been much more of a risk, politically, for him to have said, “Tonight, I call on Congress, on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid, to start making my vision for America a reality by passing ENDA and delivering it to my desk to be signed into law.” Or to say, “Today, I signed an executive order telling the United States military to stop spending your tax dollars on investigating and discharging dedicated Americans who have volunteered to serve our Nation simply because of who they are. Our county cannot afford to lose those soldiers, sailors, air men and women and others. But, more importantly, I signed that Order because it is the right thing to do. And, now, it is time for Congress and the rest of America to do the right thing too. We can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch as Americans are denied the promise of equality that this great Nation has stood for for more than 200 years simply because of who they are, and who they love.”

But, then, I’ve always been a dreamer. It’s hard to maintain that hope, however, in the face of continued disappointment.

As Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., said on the floor of the House during the debate over a trans inclusive ENDA in November 2007, “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”  Mr. President, the time is NOW!


I haven’t blogged much lately and I’m not sure I have all that much to say tonight.  However, I do want to share this video with you.  It expresses a lot of what I believe about the world and what I try to do with my own life.  None of us ever hears that “we are wonderful” enough times to really fill that gaping hole that many of us grow up with.  Imagine what the world would be like if we each went out of our way even just once each day to say a kind word and validate the beauty, the holiness, of another person.  Give it a try!  Who knows what might happen!  (I know the video is long, but I think that, after you watch it, you’ll be grateful for every second of it.)

Perhaps, someday, I will have the time to write a proper blog on this topic. For now, however, I simply want to record (for my own future use, and that of my friends) various internet discussions on the the use of the terms “cisgender” and “cissexual” and the issue of cis privilege. I have encountered these discussions over the last few days as I explored these topics in response to the controversy that erupted on Pam’s House Blend, when one cisgender male objected to being informed that’s who/what he is because it hurt his feelings to have his position of privilege as a cis person (i.e., one who doesn’t have to endure the challenges, not to mention the harassment, discrimination and other oppression, that those of us whose gender identity differs from the biological sex to which we were assigned at birth, i.e., trans folks, experience on a regular basis) pointed out to him. I suspect I’ll revise and add to this list as time goes on.

The posts where this controversy arose on PHB:



The resulting discussion on Questioning Transphobia, which contains links to several other relevant discussions: http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/cis-is-hostile-terminology-really/

Julia Serano’s blog post on the origins, of these terms and her use of them in her book, Whipping Girl: http://juliaserano.livejournal.com/14700.html

Some discussions prompted by the above discussion on QT:

An earlier discussion on QT explaining why every cis person should “check [her/his] cis privilege” before getting all huffy after being told s/he *is* cisgender and/or cissexual and, consequently, is speaking from a place of cis privilege: http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/how-to-check-your-cis-privilege/

A simple explanation of the meaning of “cis”: http://smashthecisarchy.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/trans-101-what-is-cis/

An interesting and informative post that explains why I will hereafter ensure that I always say “trans woman” and “trans man,” not “transwoman” and “transman,” which ties into the discussion of cisgender, cissexual and cis privilege: http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/put-the-goddamn-space-in-transwoman-transfeminism-transmasculine-etc-language-politics-1/

UPDATED with links to some additional discussions that have recently arisen.

UPDATE, 7/13/09
A cis woman’s take on being cis – http://jadedhippy.blogspot.com/2009/07/hey-guess-what-im-still-cisgender.html
Continuing discussion on Questioning Transphobia – http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/a-point-about-cis/

When I heard yesterday that the jury in the trial of Allen Andrade, the man charged with murdering Angie Zapata, had reached a verdict in less than two hours, I was hopeful, since a quick verdict usually means that the prosecution’s evidence was so overwhelming that the jury saw no need for extended discussion. As I watched the judge read the verdicts convicting Andrade on all counts, my hope turned to elation. To the extent that our criminal justice system can actually deliver “justice,” the jury did everything that we could have hoped for. My elation, however, was, and will always be, tempered by the knowledge that Angie, a beautiful young trans woman, will never have the opportunity to live the life of peace and dignity that all of us, trans- and cisgender alike, deserve.

For the rest of the day, I surfed the Web to see what others were saying about this truly momentous event. There I found several people expressing concern that the jury’s verdicts may be vulnerable on appeal on the theory that the short duration of their deliberations indicates a failure to adequately consider the evidence. My experience as a criminal appeals attorney, however, tells me that there is no reason for such concern.

The Weld County District Attorney’s Office charged Andrade with first degree murder and a bias-motivated (i.e., “hate”) crime for bludgeoning Angie to death with a fire extinguisher that he found in her apartment. Before the trial began, however, his attorneys asked the judge to tell the jurors that they had the option of convicting Andrade of second degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, instead of first degree murder. Much to my surprise, the judge agreed and instructed the jury on all four types of homicide as “lesser included offenses.” (A “lesser included offense” is a crime that contains some, but not all, of the elements of the greater charge, such that it’s impossible to commit the greater offense without also committing the lesser. As long as the evidence supports a conviction on the lesser offense, the Constitution requires that the jury be given the option to consider both the greater and the lesser offenses.)

The law on when the jury can pass over the greater offense and consider convicting the defendant on a lesser included varies from state to state. In this case, the judge instructed the jurors that they could not consider any of the lesser included offenses until and unless they first found Andrade not guilty of first degree murder. Thus, there was no reason for the jury to spend any time on those offenses until they decided whether to convict Andrade on the primary charge.

Throughout the trial, Andrade and his attorneys admitted that he killed Angie. That admission meant that the jury only had to answer two questions on the first degree murder charge: (1) was the murder intentional, i.e., was killing Angie his goal when he began to beat her with the fire extinguisher; and (2) was the murder committed “after deliberation,” i.e., was it premeditated. As the jury’s quick verdict demonstrates, those two questions were pretty easy to answer. Here’s why.

First, bashing someone in the head with a fire extinguisher multiple times until her skull is crushed is a pretty good indicator that Andrade’s purpose was to kill Angie. After all, you don’t do that thinking, “Hmmm, she might or might not die if I bash her head in. Let’s try it and see what happens.” In addition, the autopsy showed that Andrade didn’t hit Angie any place other than her head. You don’t hit someone with a lethal weapon in the head but nowhere else unless you intend to kill her. In other words, because of the way he did it, it’s clear that Andrade intended to kill, not merely injure, Angie. Thus, the murder was intentional.

Second, because the most damaging portions of his confession were suppressed, the jury didn’t get to hear Andrade tell Det. Tharp that he hit Angie with the fire extinguisher the first time and thought she was dead; then, while he was going through her apartment figuring out what to steal, he heard Angie “gurgle” and saw her sit up, so he went back with the fire extinguisher and, this time, made sure she was dead. That’s absolutely conclusive evidence of premeditation, but, as I said, the jury didn’t get to hear it.

What they did get to hear is that Andrade started beating Angie with his fists. Apparently dissatisfied with the damage he could do with his fists alone, Andrade paused, took the fire extinguisher down from the wall of Angie’s apartment and used it to kill her. That pause, even if all he had to do was reach over and grab the extinguisher without taking a single step, was ample time for the premeditation or deliberation that the law requires for first degree murder.

Deliberation or premeditation, however, requires more than just the passage of time. It requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant actually reflected on or thought about what he was doing before delivering the fatal blow. So, how do we know what Andrade was thinking during that pause while he grabbed the fire extinguisher? The answer to that question is similar to the answer to the first one. We know Andrade was thinking about how he was going to kill Angie, because you don’t grab a lethal weapon like a fire extinguisher, after beating someone with your fists, and then use it to bash in her skull unless your plan is to kill her.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, but what about the evidence (primarily the things Andrade said to his girlfriends from jail) that indicated that Andrade acted impulsively and without thinking or even knowing what he was doing? It’s true that there was plenty of evidence that the jury could have relied on to acquit Andrade of first degree murder. The beauty, and sometimes the bane, of the jury system in this country, however, is that it simply doesn’t matter how much contrary evidence there was. What matters is whether the prosecution presented enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Because there was more than enough evidence for the jury to convict Andrade, he and his family (and any other supporters he may have) can complain that the jury should have believed his evidence, not the prosecution’s, for as long and as vehemently as they want. In the end, however, it simply doesn’t matter.

How do I know all this and why am I so confident in my conclusions? As I explained in my previous post, I’m an attorney. Because of the nature of my practice, for the last 12 years, I have done nothing but pour through the record of trials like this one on behalf of defendants like Andrade looking for claims that their convictions were improper, for example, because there wasn’t enough evidence. Every single time during those 12 years that I have argued that the jury made a mistake because there wasn’t enough evidence, the appeals court has “schooled” me by showing me that, regardless of how I think the evidence should have been interpreted, it was perfectly reasonable for the jury to see it differently and convict my clients. The bottom line from that experience is that, where the evidence is disputed and the jury chooses to believe the prosecution, the defendant always loses.

Because of all of these factors, there’s no chance Andrade’s convictions will be overturned on appeal for lack of evidence and any concern about the fact that the jury only took 2 hours to convict him won’t even be a footnote when the Colorado courts reject his appeal.