Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lincoln, The Clippers, and The Hajib Monologues - A blog for Suddenly Fem by CiCi Kytten

With a title like that you’re probably wondering what the heck this blog has to do with crossdressing and the transgender life. But as I’m gradually coming to learn, nearly everything we encounter these days impacts tgirls and our struggle for acceptance.

Let’s start, sadly, with the Los Angeles Clippers. I’m not a big NBA basketball fan, but I know of Donald Sterling and of his troubled 33-year ownership of LA’s “other” basketball team. This weekend, he was allegedly caught on tape making some extremely derogatory remarks about African-Americans. Understandably, his remarks have caused a firestorm in the press and around the sports world. 

But the saddest reaction is that of so many who have said -- they’re not surprised. Because what we all know -- in our heart of hearts -- is that while civil rights legislation and equal rights marches have helped to change the law of the land here in the U.S., we cannot control someone’s mind or deep-seated beliefs. We cannot legislate hate.

Mr. Sterling is notable in that he has worked closely with the African-American community for years and has profited greatly from that collaboration (Forbes estimates the value of the Clippers at $575 million).  But he is hardly alone.  Racial stereotypes and ethnic ignorance will always exist.

As a member of the transgender community, I can’t help think that we’re staring at our own future.  As we fight for our own acceptance -- legally and socially -- in this world, we must look to other minorities and learn from their efforts.  What I learned this weekend from Mr. Sterling, unfortunately, is that someone who supports you, someone who employs you, someone who applauds you, may still not want to be seen associating with you.  Or being photographed with you.

A few weeks ago, Derrick Gordon, a young basketball player at UMASS (my alma mater), came out as gay -- thereby becoming the first NCAA Division I basketball player to do so.  His coming out came in the wake of recent revelations by NBA player Jason Collins and NFL prospect Michael Sam.

In reaction to Gordon’s announcement, an ESPN radio personality (I won’t use his name because I cannot quote him exactly), expressed his exhaustion with the recent gay movement in sports. He didn’t denounce gays and in fact expressed his support for these young men.  He just didn’t understand why it was news. Why, he wondered (and I’m obviously paraphrasing from something I heard on the radio) does it matter in sports who someone sleeps with or who someone loves? He also hinted that such announcements are often motivated at least in part by self-promotion and publicity-seeking behavior.

I’ll start with the second point, all public behavior is based to a certain degree in self-promotion.  I mean, that’s why I write a blog. Otherwise I could just keep all of these comments and sentiments to myself. But no, I choose to publish them. I choose to draw attention to myself. And it would be dishonest of me to infer otherwise.  I don’t know Derrick Gordon, Michael Sams, or Jason Collins.  I don’t know the motivation behind their public statements. But if it helps someone else -- a confused 14 year old or a confused 64 year old -- to better understand themselves, then does the motivation really matter?

And incidentally, I’m pretty sure that a lot of self-promotional motivation goes into deciding to become an ESPN radio personality. 

As for the first point, why does coming out matter in sports? or in music? or in Hollywood? or politics? or religion? or any other walk of life for that matter?  Well, Donald Sterling answered that question for us. We must speak out and come out -- and continue to do so publicly precisely because antiquated, hateful thinking still exists and still flourishes in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.  

Why must we be loud? Because our opposition is so insidiously silent. Only because of a failed romance and some mean-spirited retribution did we learn of Sterling’s true feelings. He kept his true feelings secret and silent for years. But who knows how many other people -- and powerful people -- in the U.S. feel exactly the same way?  About African-Americans. About gays. About transpeople.

We battle silence and ignorance with conversation and communication.

In a similar vein, I’ve spent some time recently with some young Middle Eastern women who are preparing for a performance of “The Hajib Monologues.” They are writing this themselves as a take-off on the extremely successful “Vagina Monologues.” (I believe there have also been trans versions of “The Vagina Monologues.”)

These are young women who have chosen to wear a head scarf. If you are not Middle Eastern or Muslim, you may think you know why these women wear the hajib. But after speaking with them, I can assure you, you do not. Their reasons are as varied and individual as the women themselves.  As as they spoke with me, of their pride in their heritage, or of their personal, religious and political reasons for expressing themselves so publicly, I could not help but think of my own community. Of my own beliefs. Of my own pride.

And of course, of being stereotyped, insulted, and demonized simply because of what I’ve chosen to wear in public that day.

I don’t hate many people. I try very hard to understand where they’re coming from.  Even if they disagree with me. Or oppose me. Perhaps my own past, my own struggles with identity, my own realization of all that I’ve suppressed and repressed out of misplaced shame, has made me more charitable in that way.  But I hate Donald Sterling. I hate all that he stands for. I hate the hypocrisy.  And most of all, I hate knowing that my own heart harbors similar prejudicial and stereotyped feelings towards others. Certainly not to the extent of Donald Sterling’s, but I know they’re there. I know it’s human. None of us are perfect.  None of us can be fully educated and informed about other cultures.  So we fall pray to stereotypes.  We do it to others. And others do it to us.  

That’s why we much continue to support pro-gay and trans legislation. That’s why we must be as honest and open with as many friends and loved ones as we feel comfortable. That’s why we must support our brothers and sisters in other minorities.  Because their fight is our fight. 

And because we fight silence and ignorance with communication and education. 

I’ll leave you with a quote from the recent movie, “Lincoln.”  I don’t know if Abraham Lincoln really spoke these words or if they are the words of screenwriter, Tony Kushner. But they certainly apply to the trans community in 2014:

"We've stepped out upon the world stage now. Now!  With the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood's been spilled to afford us this moment now!  Now! Now!"

Take care out there.

Stay smart. Stay safe. Stay sexy.



Anonymous said...

Hi Cici,

Always love your posts. I'm not a big NBA fan either, I favor baseball, but Sterling is a jerk.

Hopefully he will be forced out. It won't change his way of thinking, but at least we won't have to listen to him anymore.

Is there any doubt about what he thinks of us as transgender?

Love you CiCi!

Danielle from Connecticut

Michael Smith said...

Dear Cici:

I loved your comments. I found that once I could fully accept myself, that I could also accept other people. Who knows exactly what experiences make up the trajectory of another person's life, or what dispositions or personality traits they have that makes them respond like they do to those experiences? I accept everyone exactly like they are, and I accept myself exactly like I am because it is so hard to understand yourself, that it is impossible to fully understand someone else. I experience people's discomfort with me everyday, but I have ceased to allow their discomfort with me to make me uncomfortable with myself. So it is ignorance that causes all of this strife, and your blog is chipping away at that ignorance. Keep up the good work. What you do makes a better world for me!

Love, Michael

Julie said...

Cici, I really enjoy your blog and have for several years. I would point out, however, that there is a significant difference between understanding and accepting.
When I came out and starting living as a woman, I was delighted with how many people gave me support and encouragement.

A sister whom I love dearly was enthusiastically supportive, said she had "numerous gay and transgender friends", told me that if this was what I need to do to be happy, then she was fully supportive, but then she traveled from California to Colorado to "meet her new sister" and to see if she could talk me out of it. She bemoans the loss of "her brother" and asked me to explain why I felt that I had to do this. All I could tell her, as I have told many others, was that I can't explain the dynamic because I don't understand it myself. My other sisters, while they all told me that they still love me, are not at all happy with my decision.

I have had a lot of "professional" counseling and, frankly, the professionals don't understand the dynamic either.

I have had tremendous support at work and have tried to make it known that anyone who has questions should feel free to ask. Occasionally, someone will come up to me and say "can I ask you a question?" and I tell them to ask whatever they want to ask and that, when I decided to live as who I am, not as who I was expected to be, I also decided not to be thin skinned about who I am. Perhaps I can help clear the way for those who have an intense desire but also a terrible fear. I have a couple hundred co-workers and, frankly, it was with fear of consequences that I made the decision to be "the real me" but I have never regretted acting on that decision. My greatest fear, looking back, was in living the rest of my life in denial of my true self and hating every moment of it.

So, accepting is an emotional response from loving, caring people. Understanding is an intellectual exercise which is much harder to come by.


Danielle Bear said...

Dear Cici, Your thoughts on this matter are very insightful and spoken from the heart. Being born and raised in the deep south (Baton Rouge) I became very thick skinned to all the racist & prejudice remarks thrown at me , I'm Native American and Transgendered so not only was my skin the wrong color (on both sides) but my clothes totally unacceptable for my gender down there. As for Mr. Sterling's comments I really didn't take any notice , they came across as the rantings of a bitter old man man who saw his girlfriend (in a photograph) with a much younger,better looking man and who everyone loves and admires. Who is he ?.... nobody.

Danielle Bear said...


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