Thursday, May 19
by Sue on Thu 19 May 2011 02:15 PM EDT
For 13 years or so, I took pads and tampons for granted. My family had more than its fair share of economic struggles, but my Mom always made sure I had these feminine hygeine products when needed. When I was on my own, it never occured to me that they weren't a necessity. Yes, I'd use coupons or buy generic when necessary, but accessibility was just not an issue.
When I was 25 years old, I was working in social service ministry for an interfaith group of churches in a rural Western Kentucky town. Think no red lights, no restaurants open on Sundays and no social service programs to speak of. No buses, lots of decrepit rental housing and poverty of near two-thirds world dimensions.
Part of my work was to run a small community center, including a thrift store. I had developed a volunteer program to allow local women to help sort the clothing in exchange for credits to purchase what they needed. No one took things for free in this community.
One day, I joined the sorters and noticed they had two piles of "rags" -- so I asked about it, thinking in my 25 year old naive way that they might be for cleaning. There was some unease among the women sorting so I let it drop. Later, a volunteer in her 40s took me aside to explain. She was blunt. Feminine hygeine products were expensive and not covered by food stamps. When faced with spending precious cash, the needs of the children alway took precedence. I got that, but still didn't see where she was going. What did this have to do with cleaning rags? I assured her it was fine with the organization for the women to do what they wanted with anything we couldn't sell.
So she was even more blunt. She explained that she and other local women used literal rags for their periods. They also used rags for toilet paper when things were really tight. I was stunned into silence. Actual rags? Such a thing had never occured to me, even when I was in my feminist-moon-goddess phase of using reusable pads that had been pretty damn expensive and came with a "moon jar" which shows how oblivious I was back then.
I remember staring at her and hearing an almost click on my own emotional maturity as I realized how important my next words would be. I thanked her for explaining it to me and told her that I wanted to help with as much dignity as possible. I asked her to take the lead on this special project since I assumed the other women would feel more comfortable. She agreed. So we began a little pile of menstruation appropriate rags that quietly helped local women.
Then, she apologized to me for exposing me to something uncomfortable as if I was somehow tainted by this glimpse into the real world of rural poverty (and urban poverty I learned later). Admittedly, I was shaken. I kept thinking of how awkward and uncomfortable it would be, as well as messy. I was young enough to feel especially bad for their daughters. I wanted to run out and buy scores of pads, but I knew somehow it was better to go with the plan the women themselves created.
But I was upset. I tried to play cool (I'm sure she saw through me), but it was the sort of systemic eye-opening moment that radically transformed me into a real social worker. How could this happen? What about the rest of the world? What about my high school friends -- did any of them have these experiences? Mind you, I'm an 80's baby which meant much more poverty and financial struggle than neon hair scrunchies and mall rat experiences.
The women who worked with me identified a need and crafted a solution. They weren't embroiled in existential angst because they had bigger issues to face. But I wrestled with this for years. When I returned to Pittsburgh, I learned about similar experiences at food pantries and among women experiencing homelessness. I can say with ease that the initial conversation was a defining moment for me as a social worker and a woman.
I was thrilled when I learned about On The Spot which raises funds to provide feminine hygeine products for high school students in partnership with Planned Parenthood. They have awesomely fun fundraisers featuring homebaked cookies and have done a great job of bringing this conversation into progressive circles.
So, yeah, when I learned about this project, I went right back to that 1996 conversation and still my jaw dropped to think about young girls in the same situation.
The next event is Tuesday, May 24, 2011 from 6-9 PM at Hough's in Greenfield. The event features cookies, 50/50, raffle prizes and much more. Attendees are asked to bring a box of pads (preferred) or tampons along with a financial donation ($5-10).
If you can't attend, you can still help. Donations are accepted at these spots. You can contribute these items to a food pantry drive in your area. You can talk with the Administration at your local middle and high schools to see how prepared they are to help young girls.
And you can help reduce the stigma of asking by making sure the men and boy in your lives can buy a box of tampons without flinching.
On The Spot's website is here. Click to learn more and hope to see you at Hough's on Tuesday.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that inevitably some good hearted person suggests providing reusable supplies for women and girls in these situations. That's a healthy sentiment, but impractical even dangerous when sanitation is an issue. I think those folks should donate those supplies to food pantries so women can choose them if they want them. That's fine. But I do not think we should impose on anyone, especially young women who probably already feel pretty awful about this aspect of their female identity. Allowing them a "typical" teen girl experience in the midst of whatever chaos created the lack of resources is pretty damn important. There's no one right way to experience our menstrual cycles, but we have to recognize that our choices expand as our privileges expand and craft solutions based on the reality of the girls and women we aspire to help.
Saturday, January 8
by Sue on Sat 08 Jan 2011 11:40 AM EST
The PG Community Forum is beginning to grow on me. Today, we find another pro-equality letter to the editor from Attorney Bruce Wilder of Downtown.
Short, sweet and to the point and with an affirming message for same sex parenting.
The comments reflect the usual stupidity and brilliant support.
OK, I have to ask. Lots of kind grow up with Mom and Grandma, or Dad and Aunt Ruth or even Grandma and Grandpa as their primary caretakers. Setting aside the circumstances that lead these children into non-traditional families, folks rarely imply that being raised by a mother and grandmother irrevocably damage a child because of the "what do I call these two women" perspective. Yet, the myriad of homophobic slams about "which gay man is the mother" with regard to Elton John seems to actually carry weight. Does anyone ask what the children of twice divorced Madonna, mother to three children with three different fathers, call her and/or their fathers? Of course not, because its more interesting to focus on her dating life. But no one cares. Does Lola call her Mom, Mum, Mommy, Madre, Madonna, Hey You, etc? I have no idea and I've never seen it mentioned. I'd venture to say any confusion the children experience has more to do with the paparazzi and coping with any fallout from divorce, just like most children. Elton John is not a mother. He is a parent.
Sunday, June 15
by Sue on Sun 15 Jun 2008 12:31 PM EDT
I recently interviewed Lambda Foundation Executive Director Anne Bowman about the 25th anniversary of the Foundation. 25 years is quite a milestone in gay history and the well-being of our community foundation is something to be mindful of as we celebrate our way through June. To purchase tickets for the Joan Rivers event, click here.
A partial list of funding recipients:
Sunday, April 13
by Sue on Sun 13 Apr 2008 04:22 PM EDT
In the most recent GLCC newsletter, the organization announced that Celebrate the Night has become an official committee of the organization. Celebrate the Night is a variety show that benefits the GLCC.
As you may recall, CTN generated a firestorm last year by refusing to audition a transwoman and pronouncing that she was not woman enough to meet their criteria. At that point, the CTN website described the event as celebrating all women.
They've since updated it to state:
No such requirement that to be a lesbian, you must be legally recognized or living full-time as a lesbian. Which is good since there are many, many women who participate in CTN that are not 100% out of the closet and I would hate for them to feel excluded just because they aren't lesbian enough.
Well, at least if the GLCC is going to formally associate itself with an organization that openly discriminates against transwomen,things are a little more out in the open. The GLCC has historically been a little weak on transinclusion and I don't really think this is going to come as a shock to anyone. The truth is that Pittsburghers who are L, G, B and Q really have a long way to go when it comes to lifting up and including our trans brothers and sisters.
For a complete herstory on this situation, click here.
Thursday, March 27
by Sue on Thu 27 Mar 2008 08:53 AM EDT
Yesterday, I thought, was a tremendously sad day. Our beloved Mona who had fought cancer for 10 months and three days reached her final day. All the way to the vet, I kept hoping there was some alternate explanation, but no. We put her to sleep and I have all the usual comforting thoughts about her being "across the Rainbow Bridge" with her best friend Jack and her beloved veterinarian, John. She only had one bad day out of 10 months and three days and that wasn't painful, just her way of telling me it was time to let her go.
Today is a tremendously more sad day. There are reminders everywhere, in the most unexpected ways. The thump of her jumping off the bed. I didn't hear it today. Playing "Our Lady of the Bedcovers" (she made a cute Madonna) when I make the bed. The 300 minutes in the backyard deciding exactly which spot needed a spot-o-Mona. Her unparalled excitement, just quivering with anticipation, at the leftover canned catfood -- even if the cats were still eating the pre-leftover portion.
She fought a really good fight. She kept her weight up (even gaining a few pounds) through the whole chemotherapy. She was her usual self 99% of the time. She visited with her goof friends, Brenda and Michelle, last Friday and snagged some salmon.
Mona was a stray dog that had been hit by a car and taken to the vet clinic where John worked. Her hip was broken, but not her spirit. She came to be a foster with my family while I was in grad school and living with my parents. She "moaned and groaned" a lot because she was crated -- hence, Mona. She was a very vocal dog. I came home from class one day to find our family dogs locked in the backyard and Mona laying on my Dad as they ate some Saltines and watched the Cooking Channel. She was there to stay. And she never got over her fetish for saltines. Thanks, Dad.
Miss Mona had a brief career as an advice columnist and then became a blogger http://pghmona.blogspot.com. My dog behavior friend urged me to keep blogging about the adjustments of the other pets. So I'll try to do that. Amadeus and Alexander are confused. I let them sniff her collar and my clothes that I wore during the procedure. I know that gives them information, but they really are quite lost. Mona was definitely top dog. Debby (behavior friend) doesn't think either one will want to assume leadership so we are hoping that Simon Le Bon, the cat, is up to the challenge.
Considering he stretched out on the dog bed and wouldn't share with Deus, we might be on to something. Simon has now taken over Mona's bed in the corner of the room.
I had Miss Mona for nearly 10 years. She was the brightest, bestest dog ever. I hope everyone experiences that type of love and loyalty. I gotta go now.
Miss Mona 1997 - 2008
Sunday, February 10
by Sue on Sun 10 Feb 2008 06:14 PM EST
In his brand spanking new blog, Slag Heap, the man called Potter critiques media coverage of the recent rescue of Rebecca Hare from being ensnared in the Allegheny River. Rebecca, who is homeless, had been staying along the riverside of the David Lawrence Convention Center and became trapped. She was rescued thanks to an astute convention center worker who heard her cries for help.
Thankfully, she was unharmed in the ordeal.
What's yet to be determined is how the ensuing media focus on her identity as a transwoman will impact her well-being. As Potter puts it:
The ensuing media hue and cry ranged from idiotic (referring to Rebecca as both a man and a woman in the same article) to the oh-so-obvious stupid (WDVE cackling about the price of a sex change versus the price of a home).
What I think Potter missed is a pretty critical point, namely that Pittsburgh media outed Rebecca Hare as a transwoman. However inadvertant, the bungling on the coverage of a story involving a person who happens to be a transwoman resulted in the entire region being informed of pretty intimate details of her life. Details that, on the face of it, have pretty much nothing to do with the story of saving a person who was living alongside the Convention Center.
Or do they?
A research study from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force indicates that LGBTQ kids -- yes, kids -- are disproportionately present among the general homeless population. It is not a big stretch to imagine that coming out to your family as trans might lead to being unwelcome in your home.
Similarly, an adult transitioning might experience unwelcomeness at the workplace or even the loss of a job in states that don't protect people based on gender identity or gender presentation. Loss of a job is a factor leading to homelessness.
An adult might experience similar unwelcomeness among family, even spouses, who aren't receptive to the news about their loved one. Loss of a support system is a factor leading to homelessness.
An adult might also cope with societal transphobia by turning to drugs and alcohol, also factors leading to homelessness.
My point is that the reasons Rebecca Hare ended up living alongside the David Lawrence Convention Center may very much indeed be connected to her identity as a transwoman, but none of the media coverage was intended to explore that connection, was it? Any follow up stories on the trans-friendliness of local homeless shelters, especially those administered by faith based organizations? Nope. We just get stupid jokes reducing gender transition to a sex change operation and comparing it with rising property rates.
What if Rebecca's family doesn't know she's living as a woman? What has happened to her since her rescue -- is she okay? Is she somewhere where she's being treated well? Is she okay with the repercussions that everyone in the tri-state area knows she is a transwoman?
One almost thinks the Post-Gazette should pick up the tab for a safe place for her to stay.
ps: I have been in touch with people that have connected with Rebecca to ask if there's anything we can do to help her. If you want to help, email me.
Tuesday, November 27
Saturday, October 6
by Sue on Sat 06 Oct 2007 11:50 AM EDT
From today's Post-Gazette, a letter written by Kurt Colborn of Swisshelm Park:
While I agree that Craig is a coward, the gay v homosexual debate is the interesting point. Homosexual is the preferred term utilized by the right wingnuts (especially the Christian wingnuts) to demonize persons who are LGBTQ. They've taken a rather scientific term, skipped right over the "human" syllables and loaded it with all sorts of sexually inappropriate connotations to make us less human and more "other."
In reclaiming the terms "gay" and "queer", the LGBTQ community has made tremendous strides liberating ourselves from a heteronormative society that does often, in fact, demonize us. Being gay is different that identifying as gay. I've heard this theme pop up in quite a few different contexts in the recent past here in my day to day queer life.
For our local community, the inherent issue truly is about identity and there's a heightened scrutiny of the motives and even the legitimacy of assuming gay identity solely based on sexual preferences.
Personally, I haven't been victimized in any sense by someone pretending to be gay. The closest I came was one date with a bisexual woman who decided she had to date a man to please her parents. I have no clue about the "validity" of her identity as bi and, frankly, didn't care b/c she was a double-dipper <gross!> and that meant no second date from my point of view anyway. I have three friends who are bisexual - two are with men and one with a woman. It never occurs to me to question their gay identity and knowing them makes me a bit more sensitive to making sure of the B in titles and terms. As for the men, the only thing that bothers me is their reluctance to accept the whole bisexual identity thing. That only happens in one case. That makes me feel sad, but it doesn't impact the authenticity of the woman. Nor does it make me feel like the dates I had with her were less than authentic.
I would be annoyed by the hipsters, but I gotta wonder how blurry the line can be between heterosexual supporters and those questioning if they might be gay. It certainly seems blurry in the opposite direction, with plenty of women exploring life as a heterosexual women while working through our identities. At least, that more closely mirrors my own experience, rather than saying I was simply closeted or in denial or some other explanation that solidly defines my sexual orientation during the years I lived as a heterosexual woman. I would say hanging around gay people, spending time at their events and being supportive is completely different than soliciting sex in a bathroom stall or crawling through a bar looking for a woman to deceive.
That being said, it makes sense that queer men and women resent their identity being co-opted. If that were my scene, I might feel differently. But my scene is very hetero-mixed and filled with lots of straight men.
So, the gay identity is hotly contested even within the community. Those of us on the inside understand how nuanced and diverse we are, but, to the larger population, it is one big mass of homosexuals - supporters and opponents alike. I sort of like identifying Craig as a homosexual man, be he bi or gay, while stating that he has not claimed identity as a gay man (or a bi man).
Wednesday, October 3
by Sue on Wed 03 Oct 2007 07:02 PM EDT
You may have been keeping up, via blog or email, with the ongoing debate around the local lesbian community's acceptance and inclusion of transwomen. It has been contentious and brought to light some long-standing fissures around gender identity that fall loosely along generation lines -- almost a second wave v third wave debate, but not quite.
What's clear is that the "T" in our homo-alphabet soup is not valued as highly as the "L" and the "G." The Community Center includes T and B in their mission statement, but not their name. The Gay & Lesbian Film Society changed their name, but still ignored the T and B folks. What gives with that?
The only folks who seem to be consistently affirming persons who identify as transgender or bisexual are the Queers and Lord knows that's a whole other chapter in the book of gay inclusiveness.
Even though I mock, I am concerned about these divides. As I discussed elsewhere on this blog, I just don't understand why so many lesbians refuse to allow a transwoman to define her own gender identity. When is a woman woman enough to be a lesbian? That's the heart of the matter and how on earth are we going to start a constructive dialogue among local LGBTQ leaders ...I haven't seen any "leaders" step up to the plate on this debate. They are either laying low, afraid to take a public stance or they don't care. Except for Ehrrin Keenan. She has taken a stance, spoken out and she's absolutely a leader in our community. Thank Goddess.
Its not exactly a silver lining, but Pittsburgh is right in line with a large-scale national debate about trans inclusiveness. There's a national piece of legislation called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would extend federal protections in the workplace to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It had a good chance at passing which is great (even though Bush vowed to veto).
This legislation was the result of much hard work on the part of national organizations, including transgender organizations, who worked with legislators to educate them about the importance of these protections. This was a tough sell, but our national leaders worked in harmony to make it happen.
Until ...the sentiment that overriding a veto would require abandoning gender discrimination began making the rounds and Congressman Barney Frank (yes, you read that right) was prepared to introduce a stripped down version of ENDA, with the support of Speaker Pelosi. Our national leaders began howling, knowing full well that there would be no "coming back" to the issue to include gender identity once it passed.
Except .. fissures have begun to appear. Pelosi and Frank agreed to postpone marking up the substitute bill to appease leaders. Then one of the big MacDaddies in the community, the Human Rights Campaign, issued a murky statement that basically reads that while they aren't signing on to sponsor the watered-down bill they aren't going to work against it.
Today, the only transgender member of the HRC Board, Donna Rose, has stepped down. Her statement is here.
Pam Spaulding writes:
It does seem that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would be more politically viable, so Pam asks a good question.
Can the national organizations wade through this? I'm on a national LGBT email list with some pretty heavy hitters and I have to admit I'm a little concerned.
Pam also flips the local cries of "foul" on their head. Here in da Burgh, I've experienced multiple incidents of LGB's decrying the publicity of our "family fight" or airing the dirty laundry as a few have put it. Many women are absolutely incensed, even livid, that other women are criticizing Celebrate the Night, accusing us (yep, I've been included) of hurting the lesbian community. Others, such as myself, are appalled when women insist on referring to a transwoman as "he."
The local debate has quickly escalated into a polarizing L v T situation, even though most of the T defenders are, in fact, Ls. Confusing, no? I think there are far more women who support CTN's decision to exclude Jessi as well as their understanding of transwomen than there are those who support the views I espouse. I wish it weren't so.
There is some good news, namely that discussion and conversation continue. Emilia is organizing a podcast. Another local woman set up an email list to encourage ontological exploration of gender identity issues (I have to admit the level of discourse left me in the dust about four posts into the discussion so I stopped reading ...). While some women aren't comfortable having some transwomen attend women-only spaces, they acknowledge that these same transwomen shouldn't lose their jobs because of gender identity.
I've been feeling a bit discouraged this whole situation. No one attacks me with the venom and deadly aim of local lesbians. Not the Christians, the right wing nuts, the Ice Cream twin defenders, the Santorum lovers. Not even the Anarchists with whom I am often at odds. No one does nasty condescension and disrespect like a lesbian, especially one taking the time to post a comment informing me that no one gives a shit what I have to say. :-) The comments don't get me down. It is the fear that most lesbians share those views about trans inclusion that is so discouraging. If they share those views about people giving a shit about me, its all good. Blog hits are blog hits.
Pam's post has me ruminating about my discouragement and I am vowing to turn my attitude around. There's good stuff happening. I'm hangin with some cool chicks on Saturday night. People are writing letters to the editor in the City Paper that will clarify the fissure described above and I gotta think that sort of exposure to the light can only help heal the wound. I'm going to rededicate myself to covering trans issues and highlighting the impact of overarching issues on transmen and transwomen.
In fact, I've been asked to submit a question or two as part of an interesting new blogger debate, focusing on the Mayoral race. Maybe that's the opportunity to put my money where my keyboard is ...
As for ENDA, it would be a tragedy if we left our trans sisters and brother behind. Easy for me to say because I live in a City where employment protections exist for me and state protections may not be far behind (see earlier post about Frankel). I personally believe it is better to pull back on the legislation and educate, educate, educate on gender identity while perhaps putting some energy into passing DADT.
Hopefully, Pittsburgh and ENDA will move forward to create a community that values everyone in the alphabet soup.
Thursday, September 27
by Sue on Thu 27 Sep 2007 09:00 PM EDT
For the past 24 hours, I've mulled over the best approach to this post updating you about the discrimination experienced by Jessi Seams, a local transwoman, when she attempted to audition for a women's variety show. This week, the City Paper's feature article is thoughtful exploration of this specific incident in the context of larger debates over gender identity, trans-inclusion and the LGBTQ community.
A prominent local gay male told me he was unhappy the story was being published because it aired "the dirty laundry" of the community. While I get where he is coming from, this is problematic thinking, even dysfunctional -- the problem isn't that we have dirty laundry, it is that people know we have it. That perspective doesn't help those who are oppressed within our community. Well, now the readers of the City Paper know that all is not right in the land of the homos. Surprise!
I'm struggling to find the right words. I am very angry with some of the women in the local lesbian/queer women's community. Angry and disappointed at their narrow-minded, bigotry and amazed at the vitriol they spew in Jessi's direction. These chicks have mounted a self-righteous attack based on the supposition that Jessi wants to have her cake (live part-time as a man) and eat it, too (live part-time as a woman). They are so absolutely fucking terrified that anyone even associated with a penis might invade their woman only space that they've elevated this one particular transwoman into some sort of spy for the patriarchy (h/t to Jess Snodgrass).
It all comes down to these particular lesbians and their circle of small-minded cohorts having the privilege of self-determination (as lesbians) while women such as Jessi and her male-born counterparts do not. Period.
Here are a few examples:
We'll call this one "Double Amen"
That is probably the most ridiculous and disrespectful statement I've read all week. If this sensibility reflects the CTN fan base, perhaps Jessi is better off (as are the rest of us).
In another stunning example of uncritical thought, one woman thinks the City Paper and Jessi are *creating* fissures in the local gay community. In one long rant, she condemns Jessi for taking advantage of the economic benefits of being male in her work life, demonstrates total ignorance of the reality of life as a transwoman or transman, and continues to blindly defend CTN without even remotely addressing the very real questions many, many women have been asking. She does make use of lots of hyperbole. At least, I think this is hyperbole.
However, s/he has chosen to slander the community that I hold dear in attempt to elevate her own position and that is inexcusable
So what do you think? Does Jessi get to determine her own gender-identity? Should CTN conduct background checks on performers? Would your own history on the Internet stand up to scrutiny? Could you, perhaps, be found less worthy because you don't conform to rigid norms of behavior, sexual or otherwise?
More importantly, of course, can Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community successfully navigate the fallout from illuminating our failure to include transwomen and transmen in our institutions, social and otherwise? We can't even admit it! We can't even admit the possibility of it!
I just truly do not understand how lesbians who have lived partially closeted at work, with their family (extended or not), in the bowling league, at church, or wherever --- how can these very lesbians be so damn judgmental of Jessi living part of her life as a man. How can they not see any parallel?
I'm perplexed. I'm angry. I'm frustrated. I've been invited to participate in a podcast discussion on the topic and I'm looking forward to exploring these issues in a context where people can at least muster up the respect to use appropriate pronouns. I suppose I shouldn't condemn people for being disrespectful when I myself have contemplated slowly strangling any lesbian who ever again whines about the demise of Bloomers, CJ's or any other lesbian bar all the while hoping a new woman-only establishment would magically fall from the sky and not require female-born female loving patrons to buy anything other than a free-refill coke to be financially viable. Strangling in a purely hypothetical sense, of course. Ledcat does not approve, being a fan of Bloomers herself.
That being said, if you still want to hang out and eat Asian food with Jessi, Emilia and some other cool chicks a week from Saturday, email me and I'll give you the specifics. It won't be a lesbian owned establishment, but the food is great and cheap.