by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Respect Gender Pronouns
Jay and the Trans* Flag
Putting Up the Trans* Flag
Lyn Gwidzak (center) with dog
Simon says …
Ezekiel Reis Burgin
Holly and Daniela
Overpass Light Brigade: “Trans* … ”
Overpass Light Brigade: “ … Power”
Trans* Children Deserve Love
Son of Fire
On February 24, the long wait for Transgender students in California and their allies ended. In 2013 the California state legislature had passed AB 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, which gives Trans* students in the state’s public schools the right to be treated as members of the gender they identify with, not the one into which they were born. Specifically, it allows Trans* students to use restrooms assigned to their gender of identification, and to compete in sports based on their perceived gender identity. But radical-rights groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which helped put California’s anti-marriage Proposition 8 on the ballot in 2008, mounted a referendum campaign to put the School Success and Opportunity Act before the state’s voters.
San Diego Trans* activists and their supporters, including SAME Alliance (formerly San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality), Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) and Black and Pink San Diego, sponsored no fewer than three rallies to call public attention to the issue. The first took place on November 22, when the California Secretary of State’s office was expected to announce whether the radical Right had collected enough signatures to put AB 1266 on the ballot. Based on a sampling of the submitted petitions, they hadn’t, but they came close enough to demand a count of every single petition form. Trans* activists called a second rally January 11, in hopes the count would be finished by then and they would know whether the basic rights of Trans* students would go before the state’s voters.
The Secretary of State’s office didn’t have the count completed by January 11, but they announced that they’d issue a final ruling February 24. So the same group of local activists called another rally for that date, held like the January event at Sixth and University in Hillcrest, either to celebrate the failure of the referendum effort or launch the campaign to persuade California voters to support Trans* students’ rights. As things turned out, the event was a celebration; less than half an hour before its 5:30 start time, the Secretary of State’s office announced that the referendum against the School Success and Opportunity Act had fallen 20,000 signatures short of making it to the ballot.
Daniela, the Trans* activist who had spoken especially movingly at the first rally in November, was chosen to MC. “I wrote this before I knew what the ruling was,” she said, “but the fact that the opposition even tried to have a petition against this law brought about a lot of much-needed awareness about our community to the people. Without the opposition realizing it, they were planting seeds in the people’s minds and hearts that our community exists. We are here and we’re not going anywhere.”
According to Daniela, the opposition’s primary argument against the bill — that non-Trans* male students would use it as an excuse to use the girls’ restrooms and peep at them — “hasn’t happened once in the 10 years this policy has been in effect in Los Angeles.” She advised the non-Trans* people at the rally “how to be an awesome ally of the Trans* community: first, use your Transgender friend’s preferred gender pronoun. And make sure when you’re allowed to use their preferred gender pronoun because not all Trans* people are out to everybody. Call out transphobic language when you hear it. Don’t be silent. It plants a seed in their heads and brings awareness.”
As at the previous two rallies, the organizers set up an open mike but asked that only Transgender people use it. The next speaker identified herself as Sahaila, and said, “So often we hear our opposition talking in the name of ‘love,’ and in the name of God, but we see all of these divisions set up in society to hinder our love and connection towards one another. That’s not right. Although we are here to stand up for Transgender students and Trans* rights, it’s important to realize that the issue we are up against right now isn’t necessarily transphobia. Transphobia isn’t necessarily the root of our suffering. Racism, misogyny and sexism aren’t the root of our issues. The pervading issue, the main thing that’s wrong here, is ignorance, fear and bigotry. We need to destroy this tree of ignorance from the root cause, right now.”
“I’ll be honest: I came here tonight expecting to have to give a speech about how we would have to bounce back from defeat,” said the next speaker, Transgender therapist Ezekiel Reis Burgin. “But that’s not the case. … Every year, every day, we are moving towards justice, towards equality, towards a better world. Burgin cited two Transgender heroines as especially powerful examples of the growing acceptance and opportunities for Trans* people: author Janet Mock, whose book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More became a New York Times best-seller; and actress Laverne Cox, who plays a Transwoman in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
Burgin said he is currently writing two essays on Transgender issues for upcoming books. “One is a textbook on social issues and political practice,” he explained, “and my chapter is focused on Trans* communities — not the ‘LGBT’ [Queer] communities, Trans* communities. This is going to be taught to young social workers and therapists who are going to go out into the world. This is going to be one more brick in the wall against bigotry. They’re going to be learning that Trans* communities matter, that we’re real, that we’re not just the end of the ‘LGBT.’ We are actually here, different, vibrant, present and unique.”
The other book Burgin is contributing to, scheduled for publication in May, is Manning Up: Essays by Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family and Themselves. “Again,” he said, “it’s just essay after essay of us telling our own stories and being the diverse, unique, vibrant people that we are. There’s not one Trans* narrative. You’ve seen that with Janet Mock, with Laverne Cox, with me, with everyone here. We’re all different. We’re all unique. We all have interests, not just Transness.” Burgin said that just by being out and about in the world, people like Mock, Cox and himself are advancing the cause of Trans* equality every day.
“I think we’re done with explaining ourselves and finding good places to go pee,” said Nemo, the final speaker — referencing the most basic human need addressed by the School Success and Opportunity Act. “We now have the option for a lot of Trans* youth to have that childhood a lot of us lacked: to be treated the way they want to be treated. Under our government, education is mandatory. For those of us who are studying history, we know how that’s been used. A big part of it has been assimilation and indoctrination. At the same time, as a Queer, education saved my life. It gave me a way of understanding things nobody around me was saying. It gave me a way of understanding that I’m a person, in a way nothing spiritual or social around me was saying.”
After about a half-hour’s worth of speechmaking, the local activists chanted various slogans upholding rights for Transgender people. At least one of the slogans — “Gender’s chosen, don’t you see? You can break the binary” — highlighted divisions within the Trans* movement between mostly older Transgender individuals who see themselves as men born in women’s bodies, or vice versa; and mostly younger people who are exploring gender identities that are between male and female. The “binary” — the idea that people are either male or female, and there is nothing in between — is taken for granted by most people, including many who identify as Transgender, but it’s increasingly under challenge by newer Trans* activists.