Running a Literary Reading Series and the Politics of Inclusion

This post has a very specific purpose: to ask those who might be interested to offer feedback on the draft vision statement that appears at the end. The statement is for a small literary reading series called First Tuesdays that I run in my neighborhood in Queens. While I am very interested in hearing people’s suggestions for and critiques of this draft, however, I am not interested in discussing whether people think such a statement is or should be necessary. I take its necessity as axiomatic, and so if you do not, I will ask that you please not comment. Thanks.


First Tuesdays is an open-mic, featured-reader series, meaning that people from the community and surrounding areas come to share some of their work for the first hour or so and then we get to listen to a featured reader, who is usually (but not always) a published author, share her or his work for the last twenty to thirty minutes. I took over hosting the series three years ago, but First Tuesdays has been located at Terraza Cafe, a wonderful bar and live music venue in Elmhurst, NY for about ten years. The series, in other words, has a long history and, as you might expect, a core group of people has, over the years, coalesced into a strong and supportive community.

Last month, in November, I read on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog, an open invitation to meeting called “Enough is Enough: A Meeting on Sexism and Accountability in NYC Poetry Communities.” They called the meeting, they said, because they were

fed up with the reality of sexual violence, intimidation, and misogyny that continues to exist in our poetry circles. We are speaking out against the dominant culture that silences and undermines voices of dissent. We are questioning harmful power dynamics within the poetry community. We are determined to forge a more respectful, alert, and conscientious community.

When I read this, I was concerned. As far as I knew, First Tuesdays was not suffer from the dynamics the Enough-is-Enough organizers were describing. Nor had I heard even a whisper about such things in the literary community in Queens, in which First Tuesdays has played a pretty central role. Of course, the fact that I did not know about it, or had not been perceptive enough to see it, did not mean it wasn’t happening. So I decided to go to the meeting and see what I could learn. Continue reading

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Just One Complaint While I am Doing End-of-Semester Grading

So I’m sitting in my office earlier today, waiting for students to hand in their final assignments, which for some include assignments on which I gave them extensions. One student, who has done barely a stitch of work all semester, rushes in with headphones on and music blasting loud enough that I can hear it. He puts his bag down and pulls out a manila pocket folder stuffed with paper. He has, he says, made up or rewritten all the work he missed or failed over the course of the semester. I’m not in the mood to argue with him about the fact that he has never once come to ask me for an extension of any kind, so I take the folder, wish him a good holiday, and put it in my bag to look at later.

Well, it’s now later, and I just finished going through his work. Aside from the fact that most of it is so late that it wouldn’t count anyway—since, as I said, he never once came to ask about an extension—and aside from the fact that (because he never bothered to pay attention) he ended up doing assignments I changed or eliminated over the course of the semester, he managed to do every single assignment incorrectly, including plagiarizing significant portions of the first page of his final paper. He even failed almost every single one of the online, untimed, open-book self-quizzes I assigned for each of the chapters that we read. And he did self-quizzes for at least three chapters I didn’t assign, and he failed those too.

Except that I am really annoyed because I had to go through everything he handed in—since he has so clearly failed the course, I wanted to make sure everything is properly documented—I have to say that there is something almost admirable about his consistency, in a very ironic and sad sort of way.

ETA: Okay, a second complaint. I thought, perhaps, I needed to step away from the stack of papers I was grading because I was starting to have to read some sentences two and three times before they made sense. So I did walk away, but when I came back, the first sentence of the paper in front of me still read: “Since back from the beginning of time, mankind has always had different parts of their lives.”

One more ETA: Now that I am done with the grading, I feel obliged to say that this student’s paper did get better–and, in places, much better–than this first sentence would seem to indicate. That does not change, however, the effect that first sentence had on me when I read it, walked away, and then read it again.

Posted in Education | 16 Comments  

“So no I don’t always believe them and yeah I let them know that.”

This is a very seasoned detective, 15 years in a sex crimes unit. When I asked him sort of what happens when victims come in to report an assault to the criminal justice system, this is what he said. He said: “The stuff they say makes no sense” — referring to victims — “So no I don’t always believe them and yeah I let them know that. And then they say ‘Nevermind. I don’t want to do this.’ Okay, then. Complainant refused to prosecute; case closed.”

So now let’s loop in the rape victim advocate perspective: “It’s hard trying to stop what police do to victims. They don’t believe them and they treat them so bad that the victims give up. It happens over and over again.”

So now let’s loop in the victim’s perspective. In reference to her interactions with her law enforcement officer, she said the following. She said: “He didn’t believe me and he treated me badly. It didn’t surprise me when he said there wasn’t enough to go on to do anything. It didn’t surprise me, but it still hurt.”

From “The Neurobiology of Sexual Assault,” a presentation given by Professor Rebecca Campbell to the National Institute of Justice (transcript).

Professor Campbell’s research was an attempt to investigate why the police could be so certain that most of the victims reporting rape and sexual assault were lying, while she was so certain that most were not.

What she found was that there are certain neurological events during a sexual assault that explain most of the officer’s complaints:

Tonic Immobility, also known as “rape-induced paralysis”:

…the most marked characteristic of tonic immobility is muscular paralysis. A victim in a state of tonic immobility cannot move. She cannot move her hands. She cannot move her arms. She cannot move her legs. She cannot move her torso. She cannot move her head. She is paralyzed in that state of incredible fear.

Research suggests that between 12 and 50 percent of rape victims experience tonic immobility during a sexual assault, and most data suggests that the rate is actually closer to the 50 percent than the 12 percent.

How stress hormones make it difficult for the brain to encode and consolidate memories:

That’s why memory can be slow and difficult — because the encoding and the consolidation went down in a fragmented way. It went down on little tiny post-it notes and they were put in all different places in the mind. And you have to sort through all of it, and it’s not well-organized, because remember I told you to put some of them in folders that had nothing to do with this. I told you to put one in the pencil jar. It’s not where it’s supposed to be. It takes a while to find all the pieces and put them together. So that’s why victims, when they’re trying to talk about this assault, it comes out slow and difficult.

“Flat affect” and “strange emotions” from victims:

So the behavior that they see is due to a hormonal soup. Remember how we talked about how those hormones can sometimes even be working at cross-purposes. Which hormones are released at which levels? We don’t know yet. We don’t have data on that, but we know that there’s a lot — that those are the four main ones that are being released and that they can kind of put the body at cross-purposes. So what is often interpreted as a victim being cavalier because she’s just sitting there or interpreted as lying because she seems so cavalier and not upset about it, is very likely attributable to the opiate levels in her body, because those will be released at the time of the assault and they can stay very elevated for 96 hours post assault. So the key thing that practitioners need to know is that there is, in fact, a wide reaction of emotional reactions to sexual assault, and it can be helpful to normalize those reactions for victims, because they don’t understand why they’re behaving that way either.

What I’d ask for commenters is:

  1. Please read the transcript or watch the video
  2. Please don’t be a jerk. That doesn’t mean agree, but it does mean that if you disagree, please disagree in a non-jerky way.


Posted in Uncategorized | 31 Comments  

Living While Trans — Snapshots of Daily Corrosion

Not too long ago, Autumn Sandeen wrote about an experience she had trying to get a consumer discount she qualified for.  Sandeen is a career Navy veteran.  She’s the real deal, when it comes to standing up for herself and others like her.  For instance, to protest Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, She handcuffed herself to the White House fence, alongside Dan Choi and others, knowing that she would likely be arrested and booked as though she were a man — a terrifying prospect for any trans woman — and then she wrote about how the arresting officers and custodial personnel treated her.

This was a much smaller matter.  She learned that her phone company had a discount program for veterans, and she applied for it.  Her DD214 (the official documentation of her discharge) has her old name on it, but she also has a copy of the court order for her name change.  So she sent both. Her DD214 with her old name, and a copy of the court order changing her old name to her new name, the new name being the name on her account with the phone company.

The phone company couldn’t figure it out.

Suppose that you serve in the military and get discharged, and then get married and take the last name of your spouse.  In such a circumstance, to get your veteran’s discount from the phone company with an unchanged DD214, you’d have to do exactly what Sandeen did.1

I received a post card back stating the discount was denied. The reason was because the name on my DD214 didn’t match my name.

She called them.

I talked to a very nice customer service agent, explaining my confusion of being denied the discount. She put me on hold and talked offline to their discounts office, and they reaffirmed that I was denied the benefit because the name on my DD214 didn’t match my current name. She, in a tone which indicated, “I don’t understand how this person with a male name could somehow be you” was clearly confused.

Sandeen outed herself. She explained, explicitly, that she was trans.  The rep called a supervisor onto the line.

I explained why my billing name didn’t match my DD214 name. After putting me on hold, he came back on the line to tell me for processing I needed to send in a copy of my change document.

That would be the copy of the court order which she included, originally, with the DD214.  She explained that she had already submitted it.

He again put me on hold, and came back on the line and said, they did have my change of name document on file as I’d sent it in with my DD214.

He apologized.

The process took Sandeen about 40 minutes.

It wasn’t the end of the world.  Sandeen worked through it.  It just took 40 minutes more of her life that it took out of most other people’s.

It seemed familiar to me.

Recently, I paid off a car which I bought a few years ago, before I transitioned.  The bank which loaned me the money sent me the title… in my old name, despite the fact that I had, in the interim, changed my name with the bank.  They explained that they “had to” do it that way, because that was the name on the loan.

So, I took the signed-over title to my friendly and helpful town clerk (who is, in fact, friendly and helpful) and asked her how to get the title in my new name.  Her first thought was that I could sign my old name and sign it over to myself in my new name, but then she pointed out that I’d have to pay the retitling fee, and that didn’t seem fair. Also, I pointed out, part of the process of my changing my name was that the court had ordered me not to use the old name on legal documents, and so it didn’t seem like a good idea to sign my old name to a document with a current date on it.  She agreed.  She called the state DMV, and they said it should not be a problem, and directed her to the appropriate form.  There would be no charge.  I filled it out and sent it in.

Awhile later I got a letter from the state:  they could not process my title request, because I needed to get the old owner to sign it over to the new owner.

A few days later, when I had time during business hours, I drove over to town hall again.  I showed the letter to the town clerk.  She sighed. She called the DMV.  She explained the situation.  They said they would have to get a supervisor.  She explained it to the supervisor, who put her on hold.  We chatted while she was on hold.

“This should not take so long,” she said, “they work in the same room.”

As a police officer, I have access on duty to the state motor vehicle files.  I sometimes run my own name and DOB or my own license plate in order to check that the connection is working.  I know perfectly well that under my vitals a list of previous names comes up.  I’m not happy about it, but there it is.  It’s one reason I fear being pulled over.

“I can tell you what happened,” I offered.  She waited expectantly. “They ran my name, and looked at the previous name, and then they looked at my gender marker, which I have not changed because in order to change it the state requires me to answer questions about what is between my legs, which I think is none of the state’s business, and then they had to have a discussion about it.”  (“Discussion” was the word I chose in an effort to be polite.  I’ve listened to office workers discuss a trans person’s entry, and there’s usually some laughter involved.  Not the light-hearted kind.)

Her mouth twisted. We resigned ourselves to a wait.

Fortunately, there was a practical limit; the DMV offices were due to close.  After a few minutes they came back on the line and told her that it would be fine, and there would be no need for further paperwork.

Now, we provided them with no more information than they already had in front of them, available in my own records, which pop up when you run my name.  It was theoretically within their power to save me, and the town clerk, and ultimately their clerk, this trouble.

But, apparently, a male name and a female name could only be a title transfer, and it was less trouble to stuff an envelope with a form letter than it was to run my name and DOB and read the screen.

Total time and trouble:  for me, about an hour, and for the town and state employees, about half an hour.  Fortunately, there was no other impact.  I wasn’t, for instance, prevented from selling my car because I did not have a title I could sign over to the buyer.  I was “lucky,” if you squint hard and tilt your head sideways.

When I transitioned, I had to change my name with various financial institutions.  The procedure varied.  Most wanted me to send them a copy of the court order, which I did, and then they changed my name.  One simply changed it after I answered the security questions.  One, my actual bricks-and-mortar bank, told me that they could not change the name on my account even though I was standing in front of the manager, showing her the original court order with the fancy crimped seal over the judge’s actual signature, together with the new driver’s license which my state had issued in my name on the strength of exact same copy of the original court order.  No, she told me, I would have to go to the Social Security Administration and get them to change my name in their system, and then I would have to bring that paperwork back, and then they would change my name on my account.

I had a better idea.  I checked with my wife, re-routed the automatic paycheck deposit… and we closed the account.

Then we opened a new account with a different local credit union… using my state-issued driver’s license and nothing else.  They didn’t need to see the fancy court order, because they didn’t know that I had once had a different name.  It would show up in a credit check, but they didn’t need to do a credit check, because they weren’t extending me credit, I was giving them money.  They didn’t need to know that I had once had a different name, apparently, to take my money and store it for me and make more money with it in the meantime.  And the other bank, the one where we closed our account… they didn’t need to know about the name change, either, in order to give us our money back.

What did it cost us?  Measurably, not much; a few hours of time.  Less tangibly, the knowledge that we don’t fit, that procedures are not designed for us, that when we need to do something in our lives which involves our IDs, we should budget more time, and carry more proof of who we are, and be prepared to answer invasive questions about our genitals.

Later, I took the court order to the Social Security Administration. They changed my name.  I also showed them a letter from my doctor certifying that I had undergone irreversible medical treatment, and they changed my gender marker.

At the end of her story, Sandeen advocated and asked a rhetorical question:

I told him their intake process felt both discriminatorily sexist – as more women than men change their names at marriage – and transphobic.
Intentional sexism or transphobia? Probably not. But a process or policy doesn’t have to be intentional to be discriminatory, does it?

The bank manager who told me I had to go through the Social Security Administration was expressive and thoughtful and sincere and helpful and looked up the nearest SSA office and printed out directions and hours for me.  I don’t think her bank’s policy was intentionally discriminatory.

But the result was.


  1. Since drafting this, I have been told that married people can actually get their DD214 changed.  The Department of Defense refuses to change the DD214 for trans people because it is an “historical document”… but the DoD changes the DD214 for people who change their names through marriage. Go figure. []
Posted in Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues, Transsexual and Transgender related issues | 9 Comments  

…and maybe they won’t kill you

Ijeoma Oluo, in a series of tweets:

Don’t play in the park with toy guns and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t ask for help after a car accident and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t wear a hoodie and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t cosplay with a toy sword and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t shop at Walmart and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t take the BART and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t ride your bike and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t reach for your cell phone and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t go to your friend’s birthday party and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t sit on your front stoop and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t “startle” them and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t “look around suspiciously” and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t walk on a bridge with your family and maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t play “cops and robbers” with your buddiesand maybe they won’t kill you.
Don’t work in a warehouse repairing instruments and maybe they won’t kill you.
stand in your grandma’s bathroom and maybe they won’t kill you.
pray with your daughters in public and maybe they won’t kill you.
go to your bachelor party and maybe they won’t kill you.
have an ex boyfriend who might be a suspect and maybe they won’t kill you.
call for medical help for your sister and maybe they won’t kill her.
hang out in the park with your friends and maybe they won’t kill you.
get a flat tire and maybe they won’t kill you.
park in a fire lane and maybe they won’t kill you.
reach for your wallet and maybe they won’t kill you.
let your medical alert device go off and maybe they won’t kill you.
I’m done for today. My heart can’t handle any more.

This is the context. And every fucking time it happens, white people pop up to explain why it’s fine, it’s okay, none of that is important and black people have nothing to complain about.

Don’t comment if you can’t handle not being a jerk about this. You’re discussing people’s lives and deaths. Show some respect.

Posted in police brutality, Race, racism and related issues | 41 Comments  

Quote: Nicer White People

Chris Rock:

Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Right. It’s ridiculous.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?

Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.

Posted in Race, racism and related issues | 1 Comment  

On Ferguson

This is an open thread to discuss Ferguson, but I’d ask anyone participating to please:

1) Watch the video.
2) Don’t be a jerk.

Posted in Uncategorized | 103 Comments  

High School Rapist Orchestrates A Bullying Campaign That Forces Three Victims To Leave The School

In this horrifying, maddening story, a seemingly popular high schooler in Oklahoma raped 3 classmates, and was suspended for distributing a video he made of one of the rapes. From outside of school, he orchestrated his friends in a bullying campaign, which successfully chased all three of the victims from the school. And the other high school in town is frightening, because he has friends there, too.

His campaign was helped by the school administration. All three victims end up being suspended from school by the administration – in one case, because she went to school still affected by the drugs the rapist gave her to facilitate the rape. Other than suspending the rapist, the school – like the police – seems to have been a mix of useless and actively hostile to the best interests of the victims.

There are some people who support the victims – a friend of the rapist who nonetheless secretly made a recording of the rapist confessing, the mothers of the three girls (all of whom believed their girls), and a local feminist knitting group that took up the cause and (maybe) has begun to turn things around for these three girls. But on the whole, this is an infuriating, terrible story that shows how society, at almost every level, can be stacked up against young rape victims.

Posted in Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 28 Comments  

Ken White On Internet (Not Really) Lynch (Not Really) Mobs


#Shirtstorm quickly became a controversy, not about hostile workplaces for women per se, but instead about what are legitimate forms of debate. (If you don’t know what #Shirtstorm is, Phil Plait summarizes it here.) Although I saw several good articles patiently explaining why the shirt Dr. Taylor wore matters, it’s reasonable to say that overall, the debate has become very ugly.

The best thing I’ve seen in the meta-debate is what Ken White wrote about the perennial accusations of “witch hunts” and “lynch mobs.”

We’re Dishonestly Obsessed With Metaphors of Violent Oppression.

People get criticized on the internet. Sometimes this criticism is unfair, irrational, and/or ridiculous. But when you say they’ve suffered a “lynch mob” or “witch hunt,” unless people are actually calling for the person to be hanged or jailed, you’re almost certainly full of shit.

Criticism is not censorship. Criticism is what we have instead of censorship. Preserving the ability to criticize vigorously is how we convince ourselves — tenuously — not to censor. Criticism is often leveled for incredibly stupid reasons, but then, so is the mechanism of government censorship.

When you say that someone criticized on the internet (or in the news) is the victim of a “lynch mob,” here are the notions you are trying to sneak past your listeners:

  • The people who criticize this person are part of a thoughtless mob, reacting with visceral emotion and caught up in the wave. They should be driven by the pure cold light of reason, like me.
  • If lots of people criticize somebody that doesn’t make the criticism right. In fact it makes it less right.
  • Being criticized by a bunch of people is like being physically harmed, possibly by the government. How much like it? We’ll get to that later.
  • Discourse about controversial subjects should be polite and productive and I wish these squirrel-fucking subhuman traitors would get that.

In other words, you’re likely just saying “I disagree strongly with this criticism and I will use lazy shorthand to say so.” That’s how you get a discourse in which lynch mobs are apparently chasing each other in circles — first the lynch mob after Dr. Taylor, followed by the lynch mob chasing the people who criticized Dr. Taylor, etc. This makes the shirt itself look profound in comparison.

We also use related rhetoric about what we’re allowed to say. You hear a lot of “you’re not allowed to . .” or “these days you can’t . . ,” by which people mean that we live in a time where if you do certain things it will have significant social consequences. But we always lived in that time. If I got up at a town meeting in 1914 and said “homosexuals should be allowed to marry each other,” that would likely have had one set of strong social consequences, if I got up in a town meeting in 2014 and said “homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other,” it might have a different set of strong social consequences. The “you’re not allowed to” rhetoric implies two false things: (1) that social consequences are equivalent to force or government coercion, and (2) there has been some sort of magical bunny-rabbit-gumdrop time when people could say whatever they wanted without social consequences.

That’s just a tiny portion of a lengthy post, which I recommend reading. I also recommend Conor’s post on the same subject, which opens with Conor’s alternate world fic of how a disagreement between reasonable people about #shirtstorm could have gone.

Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc. | 60 Comments  

My Society Almost Killed Me Because I’m Trans

Transition takes time. Everyone wishes it weren’t so. Trans people wish it were over in the time it takes you to say “knife”. So do all the people made uncomfortable by transitioning people (which is almost everyone — we do love our tidy boxes). But, there it is: it takes time. Time for hormones to work. Time for hair to grow out so that you seem cis enough to get by (head hair, for most trans women; facial hair, for most trans men). Time to learn speech patterns and social interactions so that you become apparently cis enough to be able to get a job, and/or keep a job, and/or go to the bathroom, and/or not to be a choice target for anti-trans violence.

It takes time. Pretty much a year, minimum.

In my case, it took several years. I started taking hormones, and my body started to change. One of the most visible changes was that my breasts grew. Since I was still changing in the men’s locker room, and still wearing a ballistic vest designed for a male torso for 8 to 20 hours a day, my breasts were inconvenient.

I could hide them, at work. The strategies are numerous. Wear a tight sports bra. Change in the toilet stall. Arrive at work with tight sports bra under opaque undershirt and shuck out of the floppy fleece outerwear and into the ballistic vest while facing away from the men in the locker room. It helps to roll your shoulders forward a little, so that the fabric doesn’t outline the breasts. If you’ve sweated into the vest during the shift, use the toilet stall strategy so that the sweat patterns in the undershirt don’t show the outline of the sports bra. The diciest moment, for me, was doing the bench press during my fitness test. In the bench press, you’re flat on your back, and the down position has your elbows way down past your back. TWO layered compression shirts did the trick, though.

So I could hide my breasts, at work, and I did.

But I couldn’t hide them at the doctor’s office. A nurse would check me in. A doctor would expect me to remove my shirt. I’d have to come out to staff and put the fact that I’m trans in my chart, and all of the medical providers in my region are members of the community, so that might lead to me being outed at work before anyone was ready, which could lead to loss of job, inability to pay mortgage, loss of house, and devastating consequences for my family.

My society’s attitude toward trans people makes it meaningfully dangerous to come out, or even to risk the possibility of having to come out. So I weighed my options and chose my gamble. And I didn’t have a standard physical for over four years. I just saw my endocrinologist, who treats a lot of the trans people in my region, and who was safe to trust. But he was supervising my hormone therapy, not giving me standard screening physicals. I decided that was good enough, and rolled my dice.

When I came out at work it was finally safe to talk to a general practitioner and get basic care, it felt like such a relief. I could finally speak plainly to my doctor, I thought, and be myself. My old doctor, who was great, had moved on to another practice, so I had to come out to a brand new doctor, which I did. My wife, Lioness, came with me. She is wise: she wanted to communicate without saying a word that I had family support, and be a witness in the event that things did not go well.

I say that it felt like a relief, to be able to speak openly about myself, but it was also potentially very stressful. Looking in the mirror, I did not seem very cis, which can be key to being treated like a human being. I had heard horror stories in person from other trans people, and in news stories: medical professionals refusing care, even in life-threatening circumstances; medical staff telling trans people presenting with serious non-trans-related medical problems that “we don’t treat people like you.“.

So I was nervous. I tried to put a good face on it.

The nurse who did the intake wanted nothing but good medical care for me. She was firmly of the opinion that I and my brand-new breasts should get a mammogram. After all, I’ve been an adult for decades! I, on the other hand, did not believe that I should, since my breasts were new and possibly still actually developing, though at the tail-end of that process. I do not think that developing breasts should be irradiated without a very compelling reason to do so.

As I say, the nurse wanted nothing but good medical care for me. So, she made a smiling and enthusiastic pitch for standard medical screening, and started her smiling, enthusiastic pitch thus:

“So, you’re basically a guy, right?”

No. No, I am not. I am absolutely not “basically a guy”. “Basically a guy” is exactly and precisely what I am not. At base, I am a gal. I tried to be a guy, and it turned out I was a gal no matter how much we all tried to make me a guy. I cannot think of a single circumstance when that would ever be an acceptable question to ask any woman, cis or trans.

However, I knew what she was getting at, and when it comes to taking offense, I’m a slow burner. There was about a two-second pause as I struggled to find some response, any response, which would not be counterproductive.

I allowed, “…I have about forty years of life experience in a male-shaped body…”

She grinned happily, a merry ear-splitter of a grin. “Right! So you should…” and she made her pitch. I told her I would think about it. She left.

Dr. B came in. She had reviewed my chart. She led with, “So, I assume you’ve had both surgeries.”

Both surgeries? My mind raced. Surgery #1, in her mind, must surely be genital surgery, because people seem to be congenitally incapable of conceiving of trans people without thinking genitally. Was surgery #2 breasts? Most people don’t know about facial feminization surgery, so although FFS was factually likely, perhaps, it (a) probably wasn’t what she was thinking, and (b) was obvious on its (my) face that I hadn’t. Well, when in doubt, speak plainly with your medical provider:

“Which surgeries do you mean?”

Suddenly Dr. B looked uncomfortable, and I realized that she had taken a shot at seeming knowledgeable, and missed her target. I told her what surgeries I had had, at that point. She became more flustered. We discussed my medical history, and talked about mammograms. She agreed that the standards were not developed with my situation in mind, and that perhaps we should wait a couple of years.

I had no specific complaints; I had just wanted an annual physical and to meet my new doctor when there was no particular urgency. She confirmed that I had no complaints, and then said, “I don’t think a physical exam is necessary, do you?”

Now, a physical exam was clearly the correct medical protocol. I had not had a physical exam in over four years.1

I should have thought faster, at this point. Or taken more time. Yes, I certainly did want a physical exam from a capable professional, because I had not had one in over four years. Which she knew. But my mind, already whirling and trying to make a good thing out of a trying situation, came up with something like this: “No, I guess not, if you think it’s not necessary.”

She agreed, and fled the room. She did not actually run, but her pace was definitely on the spritely side of brisk.

Discussing it, afterward, Lioness and I agreed that I had not received good medical care. Unfortunately, unless we chose to make an actual stink about it, it would be a year before I could get a regular physical again, unless I wanted to pay out-of-pocket.

Now, unlike some trans people I have no difficulty interacting with my body, on a daily basis. That is not the nature of my dysphoria. So, I am able to pay routine attention to my own body and do the usual self-monitoring. I was fighting enough battles on enough fronts, being in the middle of social transition. I decided to wait a year. During that year, I called in and changed the designated Primary Care Physician for myself and my family. I don’t need a medical provider who pretends to knowledge she doesn’t have, and who flees the room to avoid touching me, and my wife and I did’t want such a doctor examining our children.

It was less than a year later when I found the lump.2 I took it to the doctor the very next day (my new doctor had seen me once already for a pre-surgical screening). She referred me to a specialist (that same day). They ultrasounded it and scheduled me for surgery for removal (that same day) and biopsy.

What said the biopsy? It was cancer.

Fortunately, it was Stage 1 and there was no sign that it had gone anywhere. I had caught it early and they had probably removed all of it. There will be followup screening. But if everything follows statistical norms, then in a few years my chances of longterm survival will look just like everyone else’s. Or, at least, everyone else’s who is a trans, and a police officer.

Everybody loves a happy ending.

But consider Alternate Trans Gal (ATG), trying to get by in this world.

In my case, who caught it? I did. Who treated it? A team of medical professionals at a premiere medical complex in New England, a facility where I myself have assisted at staff trainings on how trans people are actually people, and how to treat us as such.

ATG might not be that lucky. It would be very easy not to be that lucky.

Suppose ATG’s dysphoria were such that she could not comfortably handle or examine her body? She would not have found the lump. Eventually systemic symptoms would drive her to the Emergency Department, where they would find Stage 4 cancer in multiple tissues.

Suppose that, being trans, ATG could not get anyone to hire her, so she had no medical insurance? There would be no casual medical visits to examine a small lump which might just go away by itself, and no doctor would see it until, at earliest, there were significant systemic symptoms. At that point, she would have a metastasized cancer and would probably be Dead Woman Walking.

Suppose ATG’s doctor refused to examine her because she was trans, because the doctor’s society had taught her explicitly and implicitly that people like ATG are disgusting, or disturbed, and because the doctor’s medical school training never contained a single mention of people like ATG and how to treat us like people? (See the previous links; for instance, what if ATG lived in Africa, or Idaho, or Illinois, or further down the Eastern seaboard?) Suppose, in other words, that ATG’s doctor had been like my Dr. B? The doctor might not refer ATG for followup care, and ATG would die of cancer.

Suppose any of the specialists said, “I don’t know how to treat people like you?” ATG would not receive an ultrasound, would not have prompt surgical removal of all of the cancerous tissue. And AG would die of cancer.

I’m probably not going to die of cancer. But I’m under no illusions: I got lucky, and also I was able to advocate for my own care in a way that many people can’t. My society teaches a lot of medical providers not to treat people like me properly, or at all, and a lot of them never learn differently. Having transitioned, I can no longer even travel within my own country with the level of safety I used to take for granted. Next time I might not be so lucky. I might not be able to advocate for my own medical care. I might not be conscious.

Next time it might be a femoral bleed after a drunk driver plows into my taxi while I’m visiting a friend in, oh, Oregon. The sort of accident that just happens to people sometimes. And then some paramedic may learn somehow that I’m trans and recoil in horror and fail to stop the bleeding.

And then I’ll be dead.


  1. When I later got to this part of the story with an experienced nurse who works in the same facility and has seen everything, she nearly dropped her teeth, labelled it as malpractice, and demanded to know the doctor’s name. I gave it to her. []
  2. It would not have shown in a mammogram. []
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