Saturday, April 30, 2011

What The Light Reveals

There are some events, that when they occur, shine a light on our society and ourselves in such a manner that it can leave us shocked, outraged, and saddened that such things can still happen. The most recent example of this was the terrible beating of Crissy Lee Polis that was filmed by a McDonalds employee who did nothing to assist her as she was beaten to the point of seizures. The video footage sparked outrage and was seen(rightfully) as an example of the dangers that Transgendered men and women face in our society as they go about their everyday lives.

For the most part, the response to the video was positive. Even those who were outraged at what happened did so from a place of support. But something else began to emerge that was disturbing. Racism and Transphobia again reared there ugly heads...except this time it wasn't coming from outside the GLBT community...but from those who claim to be within a community that should know dam well what discrimination feels like and have sense enough not to do it to anyone else.

The video of the beating, having gone viral, was on nearly every blog imaginable and echoed around the YouTube universe with blinding speed. As the comments began to fill up it became clear that the conversation had turned to blaming the attack on Crissy Polis on the race of the two girls who attacked her. There were some comments that went beyond the pale and turned out stomachs to read them such as those referring to the Two girls as "apes"....this comment left by someone who identified themselves as a lesbian mind you.

Now...nearly a week later, most of the comments have either been removed by YouTube, or the person who posted them but the evidence of the battle remains. Many people both White and Black have left statements of shock and disbelief that this attack is being attributed to the fact that these girls are African-American...and not to the fact that what they did was a simple act of cruelty. One act of discrimination is being met with another act of discrimination that is no less ugly than what these two girls did to Crissy. It is no wonder that some of the comments left in response were tearful expressions of frustration.

Additionally, several people who claim to be gay made comments that Crissy had brought this on herself by virtue of trying to live as a woman. As if she should hide who she feels she really is. "If only she hadn't tried to use the womens room", was something we heard many times and many times those comments come from those who identified themselves as gay. As someone who has lost a good trans friend to suicide due to the pressures society puts on trans people this just pisses me off.

Does it not want to make you hang your head in defeat also? When Jay told me of some of the comments being left on our YouTube page about Crissy I couldn't  believe what I was hearing. My first and strongest reaction to this is, how can any gay man or woman engage in any form of discrimination knowing full well what it feels like to be the recipient of that treatment. I mean...there are people in this world who if shown a video of a gay person being tortured and brutally murdered would applaud the action and call the world a better place for it. You KNOW what it's like to be hated and live in a world that's not safe for is it possible for anyone who understands that to do it to others? If you would want a world that accepts you as who you are...race, gender, and sexual orientation included...than isn't there a greater responsibility on use as those who understand to give that acceptance to others? It astounds me.
I think it is about time that we be able to talk about these issues. If we can talk about gay issues to a straight world than we have to have the tools to able to address the issues of racism and transphobia that still cling to us as a community. Trans people feel unheard and ignored by the larger gay community even though many march right beside us on the road to civil equality. Gay People of color point to examples like what was said about Crissy Polis's attackers as examples of an unspoken racism that don't get acknowledged or called out as being present within the gay community. Additionally, they have pointed out that there is a lack of visibility of gay people of color....especially when it comes to the heads of prominent gay rights orgs and LGBT characters in T.V. and movies.

So as we move forward in asking the world to see us as human beings...not as gay human beings...just as human beings asking to be treated with the same level and respect as is accorded to straight human we have the courage to look at ourselves and ask where we may not be affording someone else that same treatment? Can we talk about race and/or trans issues without the conversation devolving into heated exchanges of name calling? Can we admit that maybe we still need to learn a thing or two?...I had to admit how much I did not know about Trans issues and face my own squeamishness about altering our bodies in such a major way. I needed to learn the difference between the outward expression of gender and the soul That was not a lesson I thought I needed to learn....Being gay I thought I had it down. It took the suffering of a good friend for me to realise that maybe I wasn't anywhere near as open minded as I thought I was. My friend Carina blew the doors off my ideas of what it meant to be trans and I miss her very much.

When I comes to race, that has been a lifelong journey. I grew up a white kid in California in the 70's and 80's. The population of California has been steadily shifting here over the years but, back then the majority of faces around me were other white ones. In addition, the 70's were a time when T.V. was full of themes about race and gender equality and as a kid, I remember getting a clear message that treating someone different because of their race or sex was wrong. Even so I still had my own fears from growing up around only one type of people. It wasn't until after my parents divorced and I moved north to Redding Ca. that I met any one who was black. There was a family that lived down the street from me and they had two daughters who were about my age. I remember playing at their house one day when I made mention of they fact that she was African American. I can't remember why...we were was a million years ago...but I remember that it made her so angry that she called her sisters and brothers and chased me over the back fence...we were never really friends after that again. It may be a little funny to remember in hindsight but I learned a lesson that day. While I may not have had any intention of hurting her, I had anyway by pointing out our differences. Perhaps what I said really was bad...perhaps it was because they were the only African-Americans in a sea of white faces and that made her feel different....I honestly don't know but that day stuck with me for the rest of my life. Since that day it has been a long walk to understanding that, no matter how much I may have learned and grown, that walk is far from over.

So I am opening this blog post to that discussion in the hope that it will NOT turn into a flying accusations and flame wars. Bring your questions, bring your curiosity, bring your gripes....but also bring your respect and your heart. If having a race, gender, sexual identity, gender identity should teach us anything it is empathy and the value of learning from each other. When the light shines on us what will we see?...the victim?...the attacker?...or something altogether different and more beautiful.

Until next time dear readers....


  1. Thank you... I can't tell you how many times I've been floored by how few of our gay and lesbian allies show up when it's time to fight for trans rights. This is a human rights issue as much as any other. Before any of us is a gender, a race, a sex, an orientation... we're people.

  2. Thanks for your words. It helps to hear that others share the same frustration. I, too, felt that this incident became a story of discrimination both on the part of the attackers and the later commentators. I think that if we all did a better job of accepting the diversity of the world, events like this wouldn't ever happen. Fear of the unknown seems to very often manifest itself in anger and violence.
    This incident particularly struck me because I have personally witnessed many fights among teenagers in public places like McDonald's. The fact is children in many places are being raised in cultures of violence where strength is proven by the degree of harm you can inflict on another person. This is coupled by the growing, disturbing trend of videotaping these fights - they are all over youtube. I have seen people stand by and do nothing. I or friends have called for help in these situations - hoping that someone would do the same thing in our shoes.
    But that hope seems bleak - I once saw a Dateline program where they conducted social experiments to test the Good Samaritan model. 9 times out of ten - no matter what the situation - no one lifted a hand. I hope that we as people can do better.

  3. Bryan and Jay! Long time, no post.

    I'm loving this topic. It is something that has been bothering my quite a bit over the past couple weeks - ever since a Transgendered Rights bill was brought up in the House of Commons and then shot down because of the Senate and our current election (it only passed the House of Commons because of our minority government, not a single Conservative MP voted in favour of it).

    Recently a read a Canadian novel called Annabel by Kathleen Winter, which is about growing up transgendered in rural Newfoundland. I thought it was a great novel, and I found myself relating to it far more than I ever anticipated - not only in the parent figures who often reminded me of my parents, but also in how the main character so often feels alone and trapped in a body that doesn't make sense to them.

    I'm not trans.

    But I am gay. And oftentimes I realize that, even as a 'relatively masculine' gay, I play with that gender variant line a lot more than I ever could've imagined I would. And that is important to me. For the past couple weeks I have been toying around the philosophical idea of being transgendered myself - or perceiving myself as such - because I am not exclusively male in a traditional sense. And I am not a woman. I sit on the fractured earth between the two continents of our cultural ideas, and sit there with millions of others who can't identify as one or the other.

    Today I was filling out a job application. It had me check a box for my gender. Male or female. I checked male - but only as a formality. Inside I knew that it wasn't me in that word, and I wished I could've drawn a line between the two and place myself on that spectrum.

    People deal with this every moment of their existence.

    I highly recommend Annabel. If you can't get your hands on it in the States (it is a Canadian novel, after all), let me know and I will send you two a copy as a gift for all of the wonderful things you two do.

    - Neal

  4. People are people. I have never understood the need to isolate anyone in society. I certainly don't understand hate.

    What bothers me most is the way some in the LGBT community can turn upon our own and others. As we are all members of a community suppressed by society in general we should know better.

    None of us truly fits in everywhere all the time. We need to remember that. We need to remember to stay together. Because sometimes thats all we have.

    As I said before people are people. We each have defining traits that makes us unique but in the end we are all the brilliant colors of the rainbow. Our diversity is our strength.

    I simply believe love one another and lift each other up. Because, when you do so, you stop looking up at the rainbow and begin to shine down upon it.

    Just Love!

  5. Hey Bryan
    another great post.... I am confused as to why as such a minority the Gay community regard Transgenders as bad as some Straight regard the Gay community? I truly would of thought that the Gay community would treat Transgender with the same respect as the Gay community wishes from the Straight community... I am in no way picking at the Gay community but I am a very confused...

  6. If as a society we can become comfortable with the idea that sex isnt an either/or situation, but more along the lines of a scale flowing between gay and straight, then we should be able to understand that gender is the exact same way.

    Some of the racism that I see in the GLBT community boils down into the small slice of pie we are allowed at the table. And when the slice is so very small, bickering begins, and we fall into old and worn out groups, them vs us. Them seems to somehow always be a group we view as less than ourselves. And one of the groups seen as less than is the transgender.

    So until our pie slice is larger, we need to learn to share. Because until we can fight the oppression together, winning our civil rights will be ever so much harder.

  7. This seriously upsets me. When I look at a person, I don't see a black or white person, I don't see a girl or a boy, I don't se a bi, homo or straight. I see a person, with a name. A life to live with major possibilities. I mean, I am a very traditional lesbian myself, the "boy-ish" kind that likes to where "boy" clothes and costume instead of dresses. And I have taken a lot of sh*t for this and probably always will.

    But that in no way gives me the right to put down anyone who feels otherwise. And if someone feel discriminated for being black/white, gay/straight/transgendered, or whatever they may be, I am the first on spot to protect them. Since I am part of about a thousand minorities (I am a christian, vegetarian, homosexual, I also have a mental illness) I know what it feels like and would never treat anyone as I've been treated. But we need to talk about this, we can't expect everyone else to be as opened minded as our-selves and how can we know we even are?

  8. I'm not gay but I cried when I heard about Mathew Sheppard. I'm not black but I cried for Steven Biko. I'm not Jewish but I cried when I heard the stories of the holocaust. I am transexual, will you cry for me?... We are monkeys with microwaves, so far away from being what we are capable of being. Holly xx

  9. I personally don't understand hating others or not caring for them because they are different my self, but like I blogged about in detail I think that the problem involves more then just that, I think that at least on the lack of support for those that are trans in the community, a misguided idea of what the right path to gaining equality is, and I think that Sexism is the "man behind the curtain" that is quite often ignored yet is the root of so many problems in the LGB community, with the trans facing the harshet blows.

  10. Good Afternoon,

    I am Brazilian lawyer specializing in family law and adoption.

    I am father for Adoption and milito this area for some years, especially regarding the right of parenthood are exercised by homosexual couples.

    Last night we had a final decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court, recognizing the right to equal treatment of gay civil union partners as heterosexuals, among other rights that ensure the adoption of joint.

    Unfortunately still hangs on the topic a lot of prejudice, because of my contact with you. It is perceived that you are a happy family, it would be interesting to have a material showing how even before the differences can families be happy and build a solid and stable relationship is necessary for the creation of a child or adolescent.

    It would be nice we set up a video presentation where you talk a little about the constitution of the family of you (your children are biological or adoptive), I believe that regardless of this answer would be interesting to talk a little about the daily difficulties, moments, etc..

    Could you assist me in this direction? I leave my contact is that h.ferraz @ now and apologize for my poor English.

    I would like to congratulate you for the wonderful family they have, if possible answer my email.


    Hélio Ferraz de Oliveira
    Member of the Special Committee on the Adoption Law of the Bar Association of Brazil
    President of the Adoption Support Group - THE HOUSE OF HELENA (

  11. Hello,

    Thank you very much for this post.

    I've been reading up a bit on the Chrissy Lee Polis incident, and information varies - I am still unsure whether she was attacked because she was recognised as a trans woman using the women's restroom, or if the attackers were unaware she was trans, and it was an example of violence that women sadly perpetrate against each other.

    However, the YouTube comments on many videos are shocking - particularly against the young women who attacked Chrissy. There is no doubt acted foolishly, and should be prosecuted as such, but the race-based comments were just awful. Insulting a person who has acted wrongly for their race is horrible, as well as judging an entire group of people due the actions of a few.

    As for GLB discrimination against trans people, sadly it does occur. What I see in this incident is vicious cycles of oppression - that instead of oppressed groups (non-white people in white countries, transgender people, people who are attracted to the same sex, etc.) banding together, they take out their own frustrations, both online and in the real world, on those that they can.

    Sadly, one of the most naïve things you can think is that if a person is part of an oppressed group, that they themselves will not oppress others. You assume that if someone knows what it feels like to be discriminated against and oppressed, that they would have a stronger sense of justice, but that simply isn't true.

    All the love to you and your family. Hope you, your partner and children stay happy and healthy.