28 May 2015

Protest Against Treatment of LGBT Undocumented Immigrants In California

Contrary to how some would spin the story, transgender inmates aren't looking for "special treatment".

I don't think any trans person would deny that when one of us commits a crime, we should pay our "debt to society", whatever that may be.  Being trans might drive someone to, say, prostitution (which, I believe, shouldn't be a crime) or even other illegal acts out of desperation or the pure and simple stress of incurring the prejudice we face.  

And I think that most people would agree that if one of the purposes of prison or jail is to rehabilitate people, an inmate should not be tortured or live with the danger of sexual abuse.  I believe that most would also agree that a prisoner shouldn't be thrown into solitary confinement simply because the system doesn't know what else to do with him or her.

Yet all of the things I've mentioned in the previous paragraph routinely happen to transgender inmates.  Some end up in solitary because they've been placed in the system according to the gender they were assigned at birth and the wardens simply don't know how else to keep the inmate from being sexually attacked.  Or, trans inmates might be so placed simply out of spite and hate.

Being confined under such conditions--and having to become, in essence, a hardened criminal in order to survive among hardened criminals--makes recidivism all the more likely.  After all, if you take a person who has no marketable skills or other means of survival and place him or her in an environment in which the choice is between becoming predator or prey--and then release that person into the environment from which he or she came (which could well be the streets), what is that person going to do after he or she can't get legal employment, housing or social services?

That is why 70 protesters chained themselves together in front of the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, CA.  There, as in other places, undocumented immigrants--especially those who are LGBT, with a particular emphasis on the "T"--are routinely subject to the conditions I've described.  And those inmates, as often as not, have no one to fight for them.

If someone in your family got arrested, you probably wouldn't want him or her to end up in the conditions I've described.  Why, then, should undocumented transgender immigrants be forced to live that way?

27 May 2015

The Wound Nobody Could Heal

For most of my life, I have withdrawn from people when I felt they were getting close--or, more precisely, too close for my comfort.

And what do I mean by "too close for my comfort"?  Well, I always knew that deep within myself, there was a pain, a wound, that nobody could make better--and, I believed, nobody else could understand.  It made me very, very angry and whenever people who might have been acting from the purest of motives tried to "help" me, it almost invariably made me feel worse.  Sometimes I would be angry at those people.  I never expressed that rage physically, but I said a lot of things I shouldn't have and walked out on a few people who deserved better.  

Sometimes I withdrew simply to try to spare someone my wrath.  If I and that person were lucky, I could somehow pre-empt that person's attempt at charity or mercy or compassion, which I knew I never could reciporacate and would never make me a happier or better person.  And there were a few people whom I simply wanted to spare from grief and self-blame, to whatever degree I could. 

In fact, there were two occasions in which I stopped myself from committing suicide only because I knew that the only two people about whom I cared at that point in my life--my mother and a very close friend--would blame themselves. Both of those occasions came within weeks after another friend committed suicide not long after the deaths of an uncle to whom I was close and my grandmother.

I will never know exactly what was in Kyler Prescott's mind and heart.  I, like most people, hadn't heard of the 14-year-old Californian until today.  However, I suspect he was suffering in a way similar to what I've described.  From what I've read and heard, I don't doubt that his mother, Katherine Prescott, did everything she could to support him from the day he announced that he was a boy, not the girl indicated on his birth certificate.  But the pain of having to live in a body that didn't conform to his gender--and the bullying he experienced online and in person--marked him with wounds that even the most resilient and resourceful teenager or parent would have trouble healing.

If there is any window into Kyler Prescott's mind and soul, it might be this poem he wrote:

                     My mirror does not define me:
Not the stranger that looks back at me
Not the smooth face that belongs to someone else
Not the eyes that gleam with sadness
When I look for him and can only see her.

My body does not define me:
Not the slim shoulders that will not change
Not the hips that give me away
Not the chest I can’t stand to look at
When I look for him and can only see her.

My clothes do not define me:
Not the shirt and the jeans
That would look so perfect on him
But that I know would never fit me
When I look for him and can only find her.

And I’ve been looking for him for years,
But I seem to grow farther away from him
With each passing day.
He’s trapped inside this body,
Wrapped in society’s chains
That keep him from escaping.

But one day I will break those chains.
One day I will set him free.
And I’ll finally look in the mirror
And see me--
The boy I was always meant to be.

Ms. Prescott is calling for greater empathy, support and acceptance for transgender and other non-gender-conforming teenagers.  She has done what she could, she is doing what she can and is trying to do better.  Nobody can ask more.  I don't think her son would, or could, have.

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26 May 2015

A Ride For Sally

When we're young, it's difficult and even hurtful to learn that people we admired--whether celebrities or family members, teachers or others in our everyday lives--are, well, people.  We might find out that our favorite actor, writer, athlete, aunt or uncle did immoral or even illegal things.  Sometimes finding out the dark side of someone we took as a model for one aspect or another of our lives is painful even after we thought we'd "seen it all".

One celebrity about whom I never became disillusioned is Sally Ride.  In fact, I found myself admiring her even more as the years went by.  It seems that being the first woman in space was just one of many accomplishments in her life.  Few people have ever done more to encourage girls and young women to study math, science and technology--fields from which they were too often discouraged, dissuaded or even bullied out of studying or working.  

I think now of Sophie Germain, whose parents took away her clothes--and heat and light at night--in an attempt to stop her from studying mathematics, which was deemed inappropriate for a "proper" young lady.  I also think, in this vein, about 1977 Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, whose parents wanted her to get a college education but protested when she decided to study Physics on the grounds that "no man would want to marry" her.  

If Dr. Ride faced such opposition from her family or anyone else, she never let on.  In fact, she did not let on much about her personal life, including her relatively brief marriage to a man and her later, much longer partnership with a woman.  Most people did not know about those things until they read her obituary three years ago.

Whatever the circumstances of her life, she understood the difficulties young women and girls faced--and still face--in pursuing STEM careers.  So, she did everything she could to help them--and their teachers, who sometimes were not confident of their own abilities to encourage their students in those areas.

Here she is helping a student understand some of the principles of gyroscopic motion with--what else?--a bicycle wheel:

She would have been 64 years old today. If I could be in Northern Virginia two weeks from now and I were still racing, I'd take part in the Ride Sally Ride.