Return to Hebrew School

By , February 26, 2011 12:33 pm

This past Thursday, I ventured back to my childhood synagogue to lead a class of seventh graders in a discussion of gender and gender identity. The class was taught by two people around my age, including one I attended high school with (and who hired me to lead the class), and I talked with the teachers beforehand about what they’d been discussing.

The class – a pilot program in its first year – seems really awesome, and I’m jealous I didn’t have something similar when I was at Hebrew School. The teachers set out to lead a frank and open discussion around sex, sexuality, teen and adult identity, By the time I came into the classroom, they’d already covered respect, sex and sexuality, and – perhaps most importantly – how to discuss uncomfortable topics. (I loved their ‘spaghetti rule,’ which said that using any word or language to be mean – even spaghetti, as in “That shirt is so spaghetti” – is unacceptable.)

I came in somewhat skeptical of the teachers’ claims of their students’ maturity, but was pleasantly surprised.

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Bits and pieces

By , February 22, 2011 11:47 pm

I’m getting ready for my trip to DC for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Lobby Day and am trying to figure out where to stay. I’m currently leaning towards a hostel stay, and have found four that have received high reviewer ratings and are pretty close to where a lot of the meetings will be happening. They range from $30-$70 a night (depending on accommodations) versus the $160-$200 a night for a real hotel. I’m willing to put some of the money from this Kickstarter campaign towards staying somewhere I feel safe,  but don’t want to blow the whole fundraising on a ‘real’ hotel. The friend I was hoping to stay with fell through, but I still may couch surf, at least a little bit. As a reminder, my fundraising campaign continues until March 11, the day I leave for DC. I’m also looking into some friends’ offers of hotel/airline points, so maybe that’ll make things easy.

Meanwhile, some links.

A play at Northwestern says it will examine “LGBT” issues, but the article seems to mean just LB issues. Boo.

Illinois youth are trying to get more trans-inclusive bathrooms. Awesome!

A nifty photo-documentary on trans subjects.

I hope the play itself deals with pronouns better than this review of some trans-themed theatre.

And that’s all she wrote! (For now, anyway.)

Not from sickness, but from passion – Trans and Jewish

By , February 21, 2011 5:51 pm

Balancing on the Mechitza is a book of essays on Judaism and trans issues. It’s an interesting read, though I admit I didn’t read every essay particularly closely – some of them I simply glanced through. But there was a lot of good material in there, both for how I think of myself as Jewish and how I think of myself as trans. From Abandonment to the Body’s Desire, by Rachel Pollack:

As I [look at my cultural and spiritual history] it strikes me more and more that cross-gender and sexuality is not a matter of sickness, or disturbance, or abuse, as people so often claim, but of passion. The sickness comes from living in the wrong gender. When we cast that off, we begin to live as healthy people. [cut] As long as we tell others and ourselves, “I did this because I was sick,” we cannot become healthy.

[cut] If we acknowledge, or claim produly, that we made these changes as a life-giving act of passion, we risk losing the moral authority given to victims. But victims have no power. Victims can never celebrate their lives. (Emphasis added)

That’s a hard shift to make, from thinking of being trans as something to be treated or fixed – the analogy I’ve used in the past is “it’s like a diabetic needing insulin” – to thinking of it as an exploration and validation of the body’s passions.

But I still have trouble finding passion for Judaism, in an age where God does not answer prayers, except with silence.

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Such a long day

By , February 20, 2011 8:10 pm

Something like this...

Yesterday was rather epic, and rather exhausting. I was at Noyes (the arts center where I work) beginning at 10AM, and didn’t leave until 11:30PM. From ten thirty to noon I co-taught a class of seventh and eighth graders, which actually went pretty well. It’s a great group, and I enjoy working with them and my co-teacher. Except, while demonstrating physicality, I over-demonstrated and really banged my knee. It hurt for the rest of the day, and sort of set the tone…

I had a brief break from noon to one thirty, where I got lunch and relaxed for a bit. It was lovely, and short-lived.

At one thirty I went into technical rehearsals for my high school class (focusing lights, checking sounds, etc). I really like this group of kids, it was just seven hours of tech, and of managing antsy high schoolers. And, midway through, one of the members of my cast had to leave for a “personal emergency.” I don’t like doubting my students, but she’d already spoken with me, two other teachers, and the theatre office about leaving early to go to a dance. Not even a dance, photos for the dance. So when her dad showed up for a really poorly defined “emergency,” I”m sorry. I didn’t believe him. (She was near tears, and I actually believe she didn’t know what was going on, which is even more fucked up.)

She’s back today, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it really pisses me off. I assume my students and their parents are honest with me, and I really dislike doubting that honesty.

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Trans inclusion, and a survey on vulvas

By , February 20, 2011 6:39 pm

A friend of mine emailed me this link, which goes to a survey “on men’s and women’s behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about vulvas and vaginas.” They continue, “a great deal of research has been conducted on vulvovaginal health, less remains known about people’s perceptions about their own and others’ vulvas and vaginas.”

Totally great. I support more information about people’s perceptions of their and others’ bodies. However, on taking the survey, I was disappointed in their attempt at trans inclusion, even while I was very pleased that they made a conscious effort to be even partially inclusive. Here’s the email I sent the survey organizers:

I was very frustrated by the survey on attitudes around vulvas (linked from http://www.mysexprofessor.com/vulvalicious/new-study-what-do-people-think-about-vaginas-and-vulvas/). After selecting ‘transgender male to female (have not had surgery)” I realized the survey lumped me into the “males” category, asking me questions titled “Males: Vulva thoughts” about “women’s genitals.” In contrast, selecting that I was a woman led me to “Females: Vulva thoughts” and asked me “what do you like about your genitals.”

I absolutely understand the importance of separating answers by people who were born with and/or possess vulvas, and people who do or did not. Likewise, I appreciate your attempt to allow people to self-select their gender and surgery status. However, it would appear you are – at least to some extent – lumping pre- or non-op trans women in with cisgender men. But I don’t think (at least from the questions I saw before I gave up taking the survey) that segregating the questions themselves, and their language, was needed.

I’d be happy to chat more, and try to find a way to make the survey more inclusive. Again, I appreciate you making an effort of trans inclusion. Thanks!
-Rebecca

A letter to bigots

By , February 18, 2011 7:06 pm

As a – hopefully cathartic – writing exercise, this is the letter I’d like to send to the administrators at the school which fired me for being trans. I’m talking with my lawyer about whether actually sending it would be productive.

To whom it may concern,

In the Fall of 2010, I was hired by the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston to teach an 8-week session of after school theatre classes to the students at Neal Math and Science Academy. After having taught the first class, on Tuesday, September 28, I was asked not to return. One or more of your school administrators felt my presence would bring up “uncomfortable conversations,” specifically due to my status as a transgender woman. As a result of your actions, I lost income from the workshops, and your students lost the opportunity to learn the world-class theatre techniques of the Piven Theatre Workshop.  But beyond that, you damaged my sense of safety, and the integrity of your school community.

Bald-faced bigotry is something no one should face, but that was what happened here. You asked me not to return not because I had done a poor job teaching, not because the students hadn’t enjoyed the workshop, not because of space or budget issues, but because of who I am. You don’t know me. You’ve never met me. And yet you felt comfortable firing me for reasons that were irrelevant to my skills as an educator. I hope you never have to experience the self-doubt, the feelings of worthlessness, that you inflicted on me.

More importantly, your actions damaged the integrity of your school community. My understanding is that, within the last twelve months, a student at Neal Math and Science Academy committed suicide following teasing relating to gender identity or expression. Bullying targeted at the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is a very real issue, as the rash of student suicides around the country this past year has shown. But by sweeping the issue under the rug, by avoiding potential “uncomfortable questions,” you ensure that no student is safe. Four out of every five students who are teased for reasons relating to sexuality or gender expression are not gay. (I need to find this citation.) By ignoring issue sof gender and sexuality, you leave your entire student population at risk.

I have no doubt your actions stemmed from a desire to protect your student population. But bringing up difficult issues – like how to deal with a transgender student or teacher – is infinitely preferable to pretending those issues don’t exist. Had you asked, I would have assured you that my status as a transgender woman would have no place in my Piven classroom, because it’s irrelevant to teaching youth acting skills. You, not I, have made this an issue.

My motivation for sending you this letter stems from two desires: First, for you to understand the harm your actions caused, both to myself and your larger school community. Second, to offer the opportunity to move forward and strengthen that same community. The Illinois Safe School Alliance offers training to create safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and I myself offer ‘Trans 101’ workshops to cover the basics of transgender-related issues and terminology.

Instead of using my presence as a teaching opportunity, you furthered the very problems you were no doubt trying to avoid.

I hope to hear from you, so that this matter may be resolved in an adult and professional fashion, instead of simply sticking your head in the sand and pretending such issues are not worthy of your time.

-Rebecca

Yes, No, Maybe!

By , February 17, 2011 3:01 pm

From Becca’s SexBlog (no, not me Becca. A different Becca.) comes the Yes, No, Maybe chart, about sexual activities you would, wouldn’t, and might be interested in. The idea is for people (partners, in particular) to think about and discuss their boundaries. It’s an interesting list, ranging from the mundane (French kissing, food play) to the more unusual (toe sucking – apparently called “shrimping” – sex parties, vomit play, and more).

I have to say, there wren’t that many I would flat out refuse to do (and vomit play probably tops that list). It shouldn’t come as a big shocker to any regulars on this blog that I like sex, and am pretty open to experimentation. And, as a bonus, I got to learn the most amazing word ever, valprehend.

Disingenuous Arguments about the Constitution

By , February 16, 2011 12:23 pm

The Constitution says this. No, it says that. No, this other thing. Being born in the US obviously means you’re a citizen. Um, no, it doesn’t. The Second Amendment is an individual right. Well, maybe it’s a collective right. Abortion is a fundamental right under the Constitution. Think again! Obama’s healthcare law is constitutional. Or is itAnd what the hell is up with privacy? Is it in or not?

At the heart of all of these arguments is an attempt to interpret what the Founding Fathers meant. What the Constitution “really” means today. Except that discussion – while academically interesting – is side-stepping the actual issue which should be under discussion: What do we want the Constitution to mean?

Don’t take that question to mean I’m in favor of so-called judicial activism. Rather, I think if certain things are so clearly ambiguous in the Constitution, we should change the friggin’ document!

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Double your pledge to No Gender Left Behind

By , February 12, 2011 12:53 pm

One of the regular commenters at this blog, the awesome and amazing John, has upped the ante for donating to No Gender Left Behind’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign. For every dollar donated, above and beyond the current total of $900, John will double the donation amount.

Pledge one dollar? It becomes two. Pledge five dollars? It becomes ten. Pledge twenty-five dollars? Well, you get the picture.

I expect to have approximately $4,500 in total show expenses to produce No Gender Left Behind. But with your help, I’m not worried in the slightest. Visit Kickstater to donate.

And thanks for your support,
-Rebecca

The personal is political

By , February 10, 2011 4:46 pm

I admit it: Before starting this post, I didn’t know the origin of the phrase “The Personal is Political.” And, having done some research (that is, Googling the phrase) it appears the actual origin is somewhat murky. But here’s a pretty good rundown of its meaning:

In feminist terms, the ‘personal is political’ refers to the theory that personal problems are political problems, which basically means that many of the personal problems women experience in their lives are not their fault, but are the result of systematic oppression.

In that respect, I think the phrase is extremely applicable to trans rights issues. It’s not that I’m too masculine (or, going back to when I was fired, that my presence would bring up “uncomfortable conversations”) it’s that you’re unwilling to see me as a valid, whole, legitimate person, on par with any cis individual. (I don’t mean you-you, the-readers-of-this-blog-you. Just the-general-public-you.)

That idea, of the personal being political, has been bouncing around my head the last few days, ever since a family member encouraged me to separate my dual-use personal/artistic Facebook page into a single (private, personal) page and a single (public, arts-related) page.

On the one hand, I absolutely see where he’s coming from. I’m sure it’s a little grating for my friends to see me asking for money yet again, to produce a show, go to DC, whatever. Likewise, I’m hesitant to ‘friend’ random strangers who have seen my shows, specifically because I’m not sure I wan them being able to see all my pictures or posts about being hungover drunk, or whatnot.

For all that, my personal life – at least for the time being – has a huge, almost inseparable overlap with my artistic life.

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