When It Is What It Is

Meghan Buell founder of T.R.E.E.S. and columnist for OUT in Michigan City Photo: Facebook

Hello All. Recently, I was out of town to present at a conference. I had to use a parking garage. When I was leaving it, I had to get my parking pass validated. As I thought about this process, I chuckled. Why, you might ask? It was because of how I thought for a second that my identity was not much different from this parking voucher.

Identifying as transgender has taught me that no matter how confident I am in my identity I spend much of my time validating it for others. Now, mind you, I travel around the country conducting transgender awareness workshops and events so, yes, it kinda is my job. But, you’d be amazed at how often I am “required” to validate my identity outside of the parameters of my work. Just about every time I make a phone call to check on a reservation, appointment, or any other conversation not with family or friends puts me in a position which requires validation. I get the full list of verification questions and when all my answers match I get the “oh, so you’re Meghan?” Um, yes.

Sometimes this validating is more subtle and without words. I was finishing up in a restroom at a public restaurant. As I was washing my hands someone entered, stopped, backed out to look at the gender indicator on the door, then reentered. At this point they looked me over from head to toe then to head again. This was followed by a unrecognizable facial expression, probably somewhere between “you’ve got to be kidding me” and approaching violent illness. I kept it together and just smiled, dried my hands and left. Funny things is, my only real concern was whether or not they would also wash their hands when they were done.

Trans persons are subjected to moments of validation constantly. It gets to be tiring to always have to do this. Hopefully the work I am doing for my organization, TREES, Inc. www.webetrees.org, is having an impact on this problem. No, not the alleged problem of being trans, but the problem of always having to validate my identity, my existence. Sometimes it just Is What It Is.

Peace.

Roseanne, Trump, Twitter and the Age of Hate

Roseanne Barr

Roseanne Barr could have helped heal the divide and for a minute there it looked like she or at least her writers were trying to. With her show “Roseanne” she had the ability to take the fears and misunderstandings that plague lots of people in the country and show them through laughter that their fear and ignorance was unwarranted. That’s what she did in 1990’s when she  tried to be a friend of the LGBT community when it was not fashionable to be one. Little did I know at the time it was just the ‘LGB’ and not the ‘T.’

The original run of the show featured one of the first gay weddings in a sitcom and a controversial same sex kiss, a first on primetime television. Roseanne Barr had to fight hard to maintain her vision of her show. She had to fight against the Hollywood elite who thought a television star should be a size zero. She fought for the equal rights that men in show business had enjoyed for decades. Roseanne Barr was a champion for women’s rights, so why on Earth would she support an egotistical womanizing megalomaniac like Donald Trump? I still can’t wrap my head around that, but Roseanne Barr has always been a contradiction and has lived in a storm of controversy.

Lots of us grew up in a blue collar families. Families in the Midwest that would get free cheese and milk from the government. Families who worked hard to make ends meet. That’s why old episodes of “Roseanne” would resonate with me. The show was art imitating working class life. Not everyone’s life but a lot of people’s. Watching the new season of “Roseanne” I saw an accurate portrayal of older former “liberals” or Democrats, working class Americans disillusioned with their economic status. John Goodman’s Dan Conner is still hanging dry wall and Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne Conner is driving for Uber, their characters well into their 60’s. Neither one able to afford proper heath care so they voted for a presidential candidate who promised to “shake things up” a presidential candidate who promised to help them. A presidential candidate that used their economic status and fears to con them. These characters reminded me of people that I know in real life who were also conned. Because of the people who voted for Donald Trump for whatever reason, this country has been pushed to the brink with pent up racism. Racism that Roseanne Barr’s Tweets seem to endorse.

As the season continues “Roseanne” the TV show tackles not only economic issues but social ones. From the Connors gender non-conforming grandson to having an interracial granddaughter. The subject of opioid addiction is tackled as is the subject of local jobs going to undocumented workers. In one episode Roseanne has to ask her Muslim neighbors to use their internet password. Thinking all Muslims are terrorists she goes to their front door with a bat and her sister Jackie as backup. She ends up getting schooled on what it’s like to be a Muslim family living in the Midwest in the age of hate. Roseanne Barr started using her platform to educate her over 18 million viewers in a cool and subliminal way. Again she could have helped heal a divide but instead for reasons known only to her she took to Twitter not to heal but to reopen old wounds that have not even begun to heal properly.

Roseanne Barr is not Roseanne Connor and the actor that plays the character is not a working class woman in her 60’s but a rich out of touch actor who embraces ridiculous conspiracy theories right out of “Info Wars”and Tweets things that embrace the ugly side of this country. From members of the transgender community to Marie Osmond, whose son committed suicide, anyone or anything is fair game to Roseanne. There doesn’t seem to be a conspiracy theory too small. On Tuesday May 29, 2018 those hateful anger filled Tweets got Roseanne Barr fired from her network ABC and 300 people through no fault of their own lost their jobs.

Classic episodes of “Roseanne” always seemed to mirror real life and Roseanne Barr held up that mirror so American’s could see themselves and find laughter and some comfort in their shared experiences. Somehow over the last 20 years Roseanne Barr started looking at life through a funhouse mirror and the only thing you can really see are distorted visions of a hateful paranoid America that lives in a distorted reality, a reality I don’t want to know. And the hate goes on….

And that’s my view from this other side of the lake.

I Just Gotta Pee

Meghan Buell, Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Hello everyone. I write today waiting in line to use the bathroom, or restroom, or loo, depending on where you reside. Yes, trans people need to go every once in awhile. Not a remarkable discovery, right? I know, right? So, why is going to the restroom the first thing many people want to discuss about the trans community?

Ah, the restroom. A place designed for folks to go #1 or #2. A basic facility usually consisting of urinals, toilets, sinks and, hopefully, towels or hand dryers. Simple design, simple function and just plain simple, correct, or, so we thought. Then why all the interest in keeping trans people out of public restrooms.

There are usually two sides to any argument. In this case there are the trans folk who say, just let us use the restroom that we feel safest in. After all, we only need to go. In, out, easy peasy. The other side of the argument keeps saying that trans people in public restrooms is a safety issue. Of course, not a safety issue for the trans person but for cis (cisgender) women and young girls. Also, apparently, for men and young boys. Interesting. First question would be why would there be a safety concern if everyone is taught or reminded of the purpose of a restroom. So, where does the safety concern begin? It doesn’t begin anywhere because it is bogus. Then what is the real concern?

Raise your hand if using a public restroom is the coolest, most awesome thing ever. Yep, not seeing many, if any hands raised. That is because using a public restroom is a necessity, not a planned destination. It’s not a ride at Disney, people. Because of this some businesses have tried to make their public restrooms as pleasant as possible. Pretty colors, cool posters, couches, big mirrors. All in an attempt to make people feel less uncomfortable in them. Then you have a trans person enter and everyone gets uncomfortable regardless of the décor because people really don’t “get” trans people. Some people get appalled at the idea that trans people would come in and disrupt their comfortable feeling. I was told recently by a woman that the public restroom is their sanctuary. Really? Really??? It’s a restroom. Oh, my. And beside, it’s ok to feel uncomfortable. It builds character.

The point I’m trying to make is that trans restroom discussions are really about people being uncomfortable not them being unsafe. So, please do not fall into the toilet on this discussion and remind people that the restroom is not for resting (from being uncomfortable) but for doing #1 or #2, and occasionally for farting, but that is a whole other blog topic.

Pee, I mean, be well.

I’m Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit You!

San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk

1960s San Francisco became well known as a mecca for the “counterculture,” hippies, musicians, artists, and those of the LGBT community and for a time it worked. As the years rolled on and the 1970’s arrived a much more conservative attitude took over. Gay men coming from around the nation that wanted to make a home in the city’s Castro District found themselves being discriminated against by not only the the city of San Francisco but by the police who were sworn to serve and protect everyone living in the city by the bay. Gay men often times were subjected to brutal police violence. Yet, as the decade wore on gay men kept moving to The Castro. One of those men was a New Yorker named Harvey Milk. In his 40s equipped nothing but a bull horn Harvey brought together the gay community living not only in the Castro, but in the city itself. Harvey would bring along change that is still felt today.

Harvey used not only his voice to unite the LGBT Community, he used their economic power as well. It was not easy for Harvey to bring about change, he ran three unsuccessful campaigns for city supervisor, finally in 1977 he won. He won by shifting peoples perceptions, he won by becoming a leader and uniting the LGBT community of that time. He won by standing up for the abused and disenfranchised. In a time before social media and instant communication news trickeled out to the mid-west of the gay man who won political office in a major city. The news of Harvey’s success reached those living in the closet afraid of their sexuality afraid that there might be something wrong with them. Harvey Milk gave gay people all over this nation the one thing that was very scarce in the 1970’s, he would give them hope.

Harvey Milk at a rally in San Francisco

“MY NAME IS HARVEY MILK AND I AM HERE TO RECRUIT YOU!” was the rallying cry he used to get not only the attention of the city government. It also got the attention of anti-LGBT conservatives by turning their own false rhetoric against them. Conservative Christians would often claim, and some still do that gays and lesbians recruit children and “confused” adults into becoming gay. Harvey took their lies and propaganda and made it his own and by doing so he united a city. The only thing Harvey and his followers were trying to recruit was equality. Harvey Milk served only 11 months in office until he was assassinated by Dan White a fellow city supervisor. Anne Kronenberg, Harvey’s campaign manager said of him, “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He Imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.”

Harvey Milk: photo by Jerry Pritikin

I’d like to think if Harvey were alive today he would be amazed of how far we’ve came in such a short time. I also think that in today’s uncertain political climate Harvey would continue to rally our community. He would want us to not give up or get too comfortable in our own skin because despite our successes we still have a long way to go, we still have a fight on our hands.

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake, Harvey Milk Day 2017.

“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.

 

Does HIV Make Me Undateable? Part I

THE ONLY HIV/AIDS STIGMA IS THAT WHICH WE ALLOW.

What you allow is what will continue.

How you would want to be treated if you were HIV positive?

Normally guys don’t intend to hurt those living with HIV. Yet in referring to oneself as “clean” it is logical for me to assume that this means HIV equates to being “dirty”. Now I’m not saying that every HIV negative person has to choose to be sexually intimate with an HIV positive partner and I understand if an HIV negative person chooses not to be with an HIV positive sexual partner based solely on status, just as I understand if an HIV positive person chooses to be only with a partner that is also living with HIV. Still, choosing to use words or phrases that damage one another to highlight our individual preferences can only divide us further. Don’t allow your status control you. There are lots of people out there who are not afraid to date someone who is HIV positive.

I’m always open and upfront disclosing my status. There is a real stigma in being HIV positive, so it’s important to attach a face to the issue. People won’t even talk to you if they know you’re poz. Then you get the guys who have hyper-fetishized HIV. The gay men is small fringe of the gay community refer to getting HIV at a ‘gift’ and these men seek out exposure willingly. So as a practical reality, having HIV does present problems, but there are however, many men and women who are informed of the risks and who love us as we are. For those people that love us our HIV status does not matter.

“Does HIV make me Undateable?” I find too often the answer to this question is yes. I can’t tell you how often I have gotten to know someone and we had made what I thought was a deep ‘connection.’  Yet when things start to get serious and the subject of HIV came up the ‘connection’ I thought we had disappeared. Then the next thing you know I don’t hear from them any more. I often feel if a guy can’t handle this one aspect of me, then he can’t handle the rest of me and that is not okay. Someone who is not mature enough to handle a relationship with me because of my HIV status shows me that they are probably not mature enough to handle a relationship with anyone. I find that it’s not even worth the effort for me to waste my time, energy, and heart!

More often than not guys will tell me if only I was clean. I didn’t know I was dirty. I refuse to let rejection because of my HIV status make me feel that I am not worth being in a relationship.

“You can never learn to be the person you were before AIDS, or even before HIV, but maybe you can find the person who you want to become after it. Your status isn’t a part of your character…” BY: TYLER CURRY, MARCH 3RD, 2016 Op-Ed: Its Time to Let Go of AIDS

In the Shadow of HIV Relationships are not Always Black and White

I remember the first time I saw Ed at the bar. It was the weekly “Gay Night”. He was standing at the bar by the dance floor, drinking a mixed drink with his circle of friends. He was, in my mind, the sexiest black man I had ever seen and completely out of my league.

A few months went by and we happened to be at the same New Year’s Eve party and  ended up talking, he even sat on my lap. When college classes started back up he and I started texting and we even went out as friends for a drink at a Mexican restaurant. This happened several times. After a night of going out to eat he invited me back to his place where I sat down on the floor by his bed. I guess I was a little nervous. He went on to explain to me he never makes the first move. That gave me the courage to take that chance and we ended up making out. A relationship grew and I moved out of the college dorms and in with him, my boyfriend.

I was accepted, for the most part, by his friends and even his family. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we would go to his mother’s who cooked true “Southern Home Cook’n.” I was the only “white boy” in the house during our holiday celebration, but it never was a problem and likewise at his family reunions, I was made to feel like part of the family, I even took his sister to her prom. He taught me how to twist his hair and use grease, it’s silly but I liked how his hair was like curly lambs wool. When we would travel 800 miles to the North to see my family they left no doubt in my mind that they accepted him without question. When my little sister was learning to talk, she made it a point to learn to say his name before mine.

I wish everyone would have been as accepting as our families. We would get pulled over by the police, this happened more than once and it happened for little to no reason at least none we could see. The police would make it a point to search the car and pat us down. Love is love despite color, age, or race. Love does not discriminate, but we found out the hard way that people do.

Being in an interracial relationship was just like being in any relationship and just like all couples we had our ups and downs. Sometimes relationships change, people change and circumstances change. We had been together for a year when I found out that I was HIV-Positive. I was tested annually at the college health fair and every year my test came back negative. Then the unthinkable happened and my worst fears were realized. There were so many fears. There was the fear of telling him, there was the fear of the stigma of HIV/AIDS and there was the fear of the unknown. Later on he was tested, and he found out that he too was HIV positive, his CD4 counts were lower than mine and it was determined that he had it first and had transmitted it to me.

After we found out he didn’t want to tell anyone about our HIV status, it became our ‘little’ secret. Maybe his silence came from being a proud black man that just happened to be gay, but it was my burden to bare too. He seemed to have become emotionally shut down. We would go to the doctor together, yet we would not talk about the elephant in the room. We never talked about anything having to do with what it’s like being gay and HIV positive in East Texas. He never wanted to talk about the guilt he felt for infecting me, but I could see it in his eyes. It’s hard to keep a secret like HIV to oneself and not feel like you are perpetuating the stigma. It’s doubly hard to be each other’s support system when we all we do is carry our burdens instead of carrying and supporting each other.

I thought we still loved each other. He was my support system, boyfriend, and lover. I would advise against staying silent keeping your status to yourself even in the face of Stigma or harassment for whatever the reason we are all human we are all individuals which makes us all different we must embrace that.

Is Betsy DeVos the Right Choice for the Nations LGBT Students?

Newly confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos was sworn in today as Secretary of Education in a highly contentious confirmation process that split the United States Senate 50/50 down party lines with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote. DeVos, who has zero experience in education or administration and whose family has given millions of dollars to the Republican Party, was called by the editor of the Detroit Free Press, Stephen Henderson, “…a lobbyist-someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them.”Fury 2014 movie streaming

The controversy surrounding DeVos does not stop at her lack of experience, but how her leadership of the U. S. Department of Education will affect the thousands of LGBT students across the county. As a religious conservative DeVos’ family has given thousands of dollars in donations to anti-gay organizations such as Focus on the Family, a group that still supports the wildly denounced practice of conversion therapy for gays. A practice that former Indiana governor and now Vice-President of the United States, Mike Pence still supports. DeVos’ father, Edger Price even donated thousand of dollars to help found the anti-gay Family Research Council. Wanting to focus on education and charter schools it has not been reported that DeVos or her husband Richard have made donations to any anti-LGBT religious organizations, just the DeVos family in general. At one time DeVos called on Dave Agema, a Republican from Michigan, to step down from the Republican National Committee because of disparaging comments made about the LGBT community.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign expressed his concerns in a statement saying, “The DeVos family has a long, well-documented history of funding organizations dedicated to undermining and restricting the rights of LGBTQ people.” Stephanie White, the executive director of Equality Michigan, DeVos’ home state, believes that Ms. DeVos’ view on LGBT issues has “evolved,” noting, “she’s shown a capacity to grow in her understanding of LGBT issues.”

Voting to confirm DeVos was Indiana Senator Todd Young (R), who has received approximately $48,000 in campaign contributions from the DeVos family last year. In a statement to NUVO, Indianapolis’ alternative newspaper, Senator Young stated, “I voted for Betsy DeVos because she has devoted her life to the field of education. She has an unwavering belief that parents should be in charge of making choices about their child’s education. I look forward to working with Ms. DeVos following her swearing in as Secretary of Education.”

There is no telling which way the new Secretary of Education will handle sensitive subjects such as transgender bathroom or locker room rights, and with a stroke of her pen she could rescind all of President Obama’s executive orders for transgender students. One thing is for sure, the controversy surrounding Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the other picks President Trump choose for his Cabinet is sure to continue.

 

 

Has HOPE Left the Building?

Donald Trump’s election has literately torn families apart in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Civil War. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but I certainly have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.
 
My family is no different. My younger brothers support Trump. My mom, my daughter, my husband and I disagree with them on a very fundamental level. There is no easy fix for this, it’s not something I can ‘just get over’ or even forgive, at least not now and maybe not ever. It goes beyond simple politics, it hits at the root of racism, misogyny, gullibility, and common sense. I love my family I especially love my bothers and I have always supported them, they have never done anything to ever make me ashamed or be disappointed in them, until now. Their support of a reality TV star, who is proud of the fact that he feels he can do whatever he wants to women because he is successful not only leaves me disillusioned with my brothers, but with half of this country. I accused one of my brothers of loving his addiction to ‘White Privilege.’ His response was “if working hard to raise a child and paying my bills is white privilege than yes I have white privilege.” After that statement, I simply asked him, “When was the last time you were pulled over for driving while Caucasian?”
 

As a typical Trump supporter he did not ‘get it’ nor will he ever because he and a lot of other Trump supporters, or should I say insecure white guys. Insecure white guys who want to go back in time and live in a world that never really existed. The idyllic world of post World War II 1950s where woman were women and men were men and there was not a person of color in sight and no one had ever heard of a same sex couple. They want a world where Bruce Jenner is still Bruce Jenner, where he’s on the cover of the Wheaties box and pees in the men’s room. They want a world that if a President of the United States visits Japan he would shake hands with Japanese Prime-minister. As is Japanese custom the Prime-minister would bow to a visiting dignitary. President Obama in showing respect to that countries people and culture while visiting Japan bowed to the Prime-minister. Angry white guys didn’t like that, “American’s bow to no one, especially the President!” 

PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 11: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

There is such a thing as ‘healthy fear’ and ‘healthy shame’. Healthy fear protects us and others from engaging in behavior that doesn’t get us or others hurt or killed. Healthy shame keeps us out of jail. You can find both of these qualities in leaders. Mind you I said leaders, NOT bosses. All leaders are bosses but not all bosses are leaders and right now Donald J. Trump is going to be sworn in NOT as America’s 45th President, but as America’s boss and anyone who does not follow the employee hand book is going to be written up, written off, and fired.

Donald Trump has never had to fear anything or feel ashamed of his behavior. I do not think that at his core he is able to feel or understand those concepts. That does not make him a strong leader, that makes him a dangerous leader. When leaders have no fear, shame, humility, and no conscience, people die. Real leaders set examples and earn respect. Bosses give orders and expect unquestioning blind obedience.

I want to believe President Obama with all of my heart when he said at his final press conference, that he believes we will all be okay. ‘It will be okay.’ That sounds suspiciously like something your Dad would say if you had to go to the hospital for surgery as a kid. You KNEW deep down it would be okay, but you also knew that recovery was going to hurt like hell.
 
Eight years ago at this time I felt hope. Eight years later hope has left the building, it left the building  when intolerance and uncertainty showed up.
One of the last things my brother told me was that I was ‘everything that was wrong with this country.’ I’ll own that, and I’ll wear it on my sleeve like I do my heart and my attitude. In the mean time an ‘Amber Alert’ has been issued for ‘HOPE.’ I don’t think it will be missing for long, just long enough for us to miss it. 
And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake.