The Becky Blog
Women are from Venus; Men are from Outer Space
I had prolonged visits (several hours) with eight old friends on my trip. Seven women one in New Orleans, one in Ocean Springs, and five in the Jackson area and one man. We had so much to talk about: my life, their lives, current events. We did discuss my family, but each friend talked about her family also. In only one occasion out of eight did the topic of my "T" history become a direct part of the conversation. Guess which one?
This man is one of my oldest friends, and someone I can truly say I love in a friendly way. I've mentioned him in my writings before as being someone who accepted my transition, after initially worrying that I might be making a mistake. But we've had good correspondence in the years since then, just never a one-on-one dinner visit until now. The dinner was excellent and the conversation was so pleasant - until he mentioned one of his friends whom he had considered very progressive.
"I had asked 'X' if he would like to have dinner with us tonight," he volunteered, "but he had another commitment."
"Well, that's just as well," I replied. "This way we have had such a good visit."
"Yes, we have. I just thought you might enjoy meeting him. I was a little disappointed he couldn't join us - I had mentioned that I was having dinner with an old friend who was a transgender person."
Holy crap. Becky being Becky, I didn't explode. I just bit my tongue and changed the subject. He has no idea how inappropriate that "outing" was. I didn't let it spoil my evening, which in all other aspects was an excellent time.
I am quite certain that not one of those seven women would ever consider such a disclosure. What is their about the male brain that renders it so clueless?
Anyway... I suspect I know why the guy had other plans for the evening.
Encouraging Words, in Some Places
Sometimes it seems as though we are close to a "tipping point" in acceptance of the reality of transsexualism in most of our society. Just in recent days, see how many bits of encouraging news have emerged:
ABC News broadcast a 20/20 piece on Friday in which Barbara Walters interviewed three trans children (ages 6 to 16) and their families. The parents of these lucky children were articulate and supportive. Barbara and the 20/20 staff were well prepared. ABC News even posted extra material on their website, including an FAQ about trans children and links to some of their past reports on the subject.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been re-introduced into Congress. For the first time, the bill includes protection for gender identity. It has been such a struggle to add protection for us, and frankly our gay "allies" haven't been that helpful, because they felt trans inclusion would doom the bill to failure. Hello? The bill has failed without trans inclusion anyway. What's wrong with doing the fair and right thing? It's possible the bill will have a better chance in the 2007 Congress, but even if it doesn't pass, the public exposure will be beneficial.
I had to read the column twice to be sure it was real. It is real. Respected long-time Los Angeles Times sports writer Mike Penner published "Old Mike, New Christine" on April 26. The story begins:
During my 23 years with The Times' sports department, I have held a wide variety of roles and titles. Tennis writer. Angels beat reporter. Olympics writer. Essayist. Sports media critic. NFL columnist. Recent keeper of the Morning Briefing flame.
Today I leave for a few weeks' vacation, and when I return, I will come back in yet another incarnation.
I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.
That's OK. I understand that I am not the only one in transition as I move from Mike to Christine. Everyone who knows me and my work will be transitioning as well. That will take time. And that's all right. To borrow a piece of well-worn sports parlance, we will take it one day at a time.
I think these stories are amazing, each in its own right, and collectively they amount to a huge positive change in public exposure for trans people.
As I read about Christine, about the three trans children, and earlier about Susan Stanton, I thought of the similarities the stories shared.
All of them took a courageous stand in making their life stories a matter of public record. This should not be taken lightly. "That bell can't be un-rung" and people have long memories. These are not people who will disappear post transition and live a life of "stealth."
I've made no secret of my feelings about stealth versus disclosure. I have no quarrel with those who choose stealth. I think it's becoming less possible, in today's surveillance society, to completely erase your past record and construct a past as though you've always been your new gender. But some do - some even marry and don't disclose to their spouses. I don't understand this. One would live every day in fear of being found out, and then what does the loved one think or do?
I chose to disclose. At my age (46 at transition) I had less to lose than younger trans women, and I wanted those who followed to have some helpful hints. If everyone were to drop out and be "stealth," then new transitioners would have to re-invent the wheel each time. Let them see how it's been done successfully, and their chances for success will be even better.
The other commonality of all these people is their common opposition. The responses to the Web stories are many (Christine's story alone generated 80 pages of letters before the webmaster closed the thread). Almost all are supportive. The ones who aren't follow the familiar pattern: religious fundamentalists, using the Bible according to themselves as a weapon to club us into submission. It never seems to change. It doesn't matter how much understanding and tolerance is displayed in society as a whole. These folks never modify their views. They usually, as in the letter I received last week, confuse us with gay people. (Not that we should ever try to justify ourselves by saying "I'm not gay!" The attempt to sacrifice our gay and lesbian friends in such a manner is my MAJOR peeve.) Anyway, the letter writer uses the same clichés. "God created you as a man, so what makes you think you can change yourself to be a woman?"
I'll be very nice in my reply, as I try to do. God surely didn't create a male brain in my body. God made me with a mismatch, and I am fortunate to live an an era when that mismatch could be fixed. We'll see if that makes an impression.
People ask me sometimes, especially after reading my last essay "Believing the Lie," Why are you so hard on fundamentalists? They are good people. Indeed they are. But a small group of them have taken it as their life's mission to be so hard on me and my GLBT friends. For some reason it's more important for them to condemn us than for them to undertake humanitarian and justice ministries. Hate still sells more tickets than love. So I challenge these folks because they have already made their opposition known to me.
One day I hope we will not have such strife. Until then, my congratulations and support to these brave trans people. May you find as much peace in your new lives as I have in mine.
I've been on call three weekends out of the last four. Tomorrow I have four cases in the cardiac cath lab. There's where my blog time is going these days... I'm just glad I love my work. If I didn't this would be rough.
I've had a lot on my mind lately.
Starting with the birthday in December - the Big. Six. Oh., I've been perhaps too introspective. One of my high school classmates passed away the day after my birthday, and two more (including one of my long time friends) in early January. Our numbers are being called with uncomfortable frequency. I seem to still be blessed with good health, but there is no denying: there's more of life in the past than there is in the future.
So what, you say. Just another front-line baby boomer chanting "it's all about me." But in the end, who else can it be about? Who else's future can I influence? That's not up to me, is it? Everyone, every reader , makes her own decisions and may or may not be influenced by my words. My own future is the only one I know I can influence.
Then there was the trip back to the South in March. I posted some feelings about it at the time, then withdrew some of them, then withdrew the whole darn thing. What was the reason for this erratic behavior? Simply my frustration over yet another unsuccessful attempt to reunite with my son. So, in my frustration I shared some details, and was quickly counseled to "take it down!" Oh, okay, if I leave it up there he might not contact me, right? Whereas if I take it down... Oh never mind.
Of course I want to be a part of my family's life. I wouldn't make demands. How many demands can one make when separated by thousands of miles? Just a line of communication. Just to TALK. But that isn't happening, and I have to prepare myself for the likelihood that it won't happen. That hurts, but there's not a thing I can do about it. Even "not writing about it" won't help.
Then there's the "closing of one chapter - what next?" I won't describe that transition in great detail. Suffice to say I have slightly more freedom now, not to have to work so hard if I so choose. But I DO so choose, still, because I love my work as mentioned above, and would like to keep loving it for several more years. It's just that there's no longer the spectre of panic if work didn't continue as it has for all these years. No, I'm not about to retire, even though I finally gave in to all the offers in the mail, and joined AARP.
I wrote, two years ago on assuming the membership in the AMA Advisory Committee on GLBT Issues, "this is a ball I cannot drop." Next weekend we'll see if I carry the ball to the goal. I am scheduled to present a program to the Medical Student Section of the AMA. My chosen title is "Your Transgender Patient." This is a first, and I think I'll be ready. We have also been able to introduce a number of resolutions adding "gender identity" as a protected category in non-discrimination issues for health professionals. I've been very fortunate to have an influence.
I continue active in GLMA, finishing my second year as Education co-chair. Our program in San Juan is nearly finalized. It's come together with less stress and difficulty than last year's. I cannot imagine myself refusing to be active in the issues of the greater GLBT community. I have met so many great friends, and have been able to make a difference, I believe.
Lastly there's the spiritual evolution which continues ever farther from its beginnings. There will be much written about that in the next couple of months as I complete the essay "The Greatest of These," which may (or may not) be the last Grace Letter. We'll see. As my UCC slogan goes, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." Never say never.
I told you 2007 would be interesting...
This is the first weekend I've been in Phoenix since June 9, and I'm enjoying the rest!
I was in San Francisco the weekend of June 16-17 for the GLMA Board meeting. We continued working on our program for the San Juan meeting and got lots of other business accomplished. It was a working meeting, with little free time until Saturday night, when I was free to have dinner with a local friend. I love San Francisco, and in a perfect world it would be my home base, but for now Phoenix does very well.
The next weekend was the AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago, as I mentioned earlier. I am glad to report that all went very well. (When you live with an artist, your PowerPoint slides generally go very well - thanks Margaux!) My presentation to the Medical Student Section was well received.
Even more important, the series of resolutions concerning AMA policy all passed! I testified before the Reference Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, as did Dr. Nick Gorton, who flew all the way from California just to aid us in our presentation. Following is a partial list of the changed policies, as noted in bold:
The AMA affirms that it has not been its policy now or in the past to discriminate with regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Physicians who offer their services to the public may not decline to accept patients because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination.
Opportunities in medical society activities or membership, medical education and training, employment, and all other aspects of professional endeavors should not be denied to any duly licensed physician because of race, color, religion, creed, ethnic affiliation, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or handicap.
Our AMA will collaborate with the US Surgeon General on the development of a comprehensive report on youth violence prevention, which should include such issues as bullying, racial prejudice, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and similar behaviors and attitudes.
Our AMA urges (1) the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to amend the Standards for Accreditation of Medical Education Programs Leading to the MD Degree, Part 2, Medical Students, Admissions to read: "In addition, there must be no discrimination on the basis of sex, age, race, creed, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation"; and (2) the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to amend the "General Essentials of Accredited Residencies, Eligibility and Selection of Residents" to read: "There must be no discrimination on the basis of sex, age, race, creed, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation."
No aspect of medical staff membership or particular clinical privileges shall be denied on the basis of sex, race, age, creed, color, national origin, religion, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental impairment that does not pose a threat to the quality of patient care.
And, last but not least:
The AMA opposes the denial of health insurance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
These new policy changes will impact patients, physicians, and medical students. The implications are major! Next year more specific resolutions targeting insurance coverage for necessary transition related medical and surgical expense will be considered. One thing at a time!
But wait! There's more. The next blog entry will tell about the rest of time we spent out of town on our long awaited Alaska trip!
Yes! It's the Inside Passage of Alaska! We'd never been before, and had been looking forward to this for many months!
We sailed from Seattle on Sunday, July 1, on the Norwegian Pearl. It was our first cruise experience, and we spent the first day at sea just learning our way around the ship. There were so many activities, sightseeing opportunities from our balcony and the deck, and an amazing number of dining choices. (Norwegian features freestyle dining, which means no set dining hours, and has specialty restaurants such as a steakhouse, Asian fusion, a French bistro, and Mexican/Spanish.) Monday night we dined at the teppanyaki tables in the Asian restaurant and had a wonderful meal.
On Tuesday we docked in Juneau, our first port of call, and met on the dock for our shore excursions. We had chosen a helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier. Yes, this is us on the ice, in front of a running stream of very cold water. We shivered and took lots of photos until the helicopter returned for us. This was an outstanding side trip, but very fatiguing, and we returned to our stateroom to rest up afterwards.
We sailed from Juneau at 10 PM - it was still daylight in this northern latitude - and missed the midnight fireworks. Our destination for Wednesday, the Fourth of July, was Skagway. This is a very small town which is almost totally focused on tourism and the cruise ships. It was very laid-back and there was a party going on all afternoon on the main street. Our shore excursion was the White Pass Railroad up to the Canadian border. The mountain scenery was spectacular as we passed from the temperate summer climate on the shore up to the unmelted snow zone at the summit.
On Thursday we cruised the inlets of Glacier Bay, looking for wildlife and observing the glaciers for movement. We saw one pod of orcas from a distance, and a few seals, but one of the glaciers obliged us by "calving" a large chunk into the water right by our side of the ship. Glacier Bay, just below the Arctic Circle at a latitute of over 59 degrees north, was the far north point on our cruise as we turned back toward Ketchikan.
I think Ketchikan was my favorite of our Alaska ports of call. After our shore excursion, which I'll describe later, we had several hours to spend in town. Ketchikan is a small city of 15,000 or so permanent residents, so there was much more to do. Being the museum geek, I spent some of my time at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center and its associated bookstore. Then I made my way past dozens of jewelry stores (do people really go on these cruises for the purpose of buying jewelry for less?) to the wharf area for lunch. A shopping center inside an old fish cannery contained the Crab Cracker restaurant, where I watched them take fresh catch Dungeness crab and make my crabcake sandwich. It was easily the best crabcake I've ever eaten.
But back to the shore excursion. This was almost an afterthought. I didn't have anything set up for Ketchikan until we boarded the ship, and I went to the shore excursion desk for advice.
The consultants recommended the Misty Fjords National Monument by floatplane. We made our way to the floatplane dock, a large group, five planes full with five persons in each plane. Everyone had a window seat. One after another we took off from the water and flew in formation into the Fjords.
It was a partly sunny day and the many islands down in the Fjords were surrounded by cloud reflections in the water. The effect was dreamlike. I didn't even realize until I got back to the ship that I had taken the most memorable photo of the cruise.
We reluctantly reboarded the ship and set sail for our final port, Victoria, British Columbia, which we reached Saturday evening at 6:00. We had such a short time! I could spend days in Victoria. But we had one destination to make, the Butchart Gardens just outside the city. I had actually seen the Gardens once before, long ago in another life, but memories had faded and it was such a gorgeous opportunity. The Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Japanese and Italian Gardens consumed all our time and much of our digital camera card memory. Finally we returned to the ship late Saturday and caught a few hours sleep before docking to disembark in Seattle and fly home.
We were so exhausted! Although I never became seasick, I noticed it took a few days for my balance centers to stop "swaying" to the rhythm of the ship. But we had an unforgettable trip and would definitely consider cruising again.
July 26, 2007
Tragedy: See Above
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A sightseeing plane crashed in the mountains of Misty Fiords National Monument, killing the pilot, two sisters and their husbands on a side trip from an Alaska cruise, state troopers said Wednesday. Authorities were at the heavily forested site Wednesday to remove the five bodies, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
The single-engine floatplane, a de Havilland Beaver, had left Ketchikan shortly before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday for a tour over Misty Fiords.
A dispatcher for Taquan Air, the Ketchikan-based flight operator, reported the plane missing, said Len Laurance, a Taquan spokesman.
Searchers spotted the wreckage in the area where an aircraft distress signal had been picked up, near the south arm of Rudyerd Bay about 35 miles northeast of Ketchikan. The plane crashed at the 2,400-foot elevation of a steep slope, shearing off the tops of trees and breaking apart, the fuselage sliding lower than the wings, Laurance said.
I felt a tug at the pit of my stomach when I read this. It was the same flight operator on the same tour as we took on July 6. Not the same pilot - this one was older - but I would bet it was one of those five planes that took off from the Ketchikan dock with us.
Even if we cruise Alaska again some year, I don't think we will take a repeat floatplane trip.
An Honor From HRC
I am very grateful to be honored by the Human Rights Campaign as a Local Action Hero. The article on their website contains an interview by Katie Taylor, who spent a great deal of time on the project:
Dr. Becky Allison: Local Action Hero
Kathryn Taylor, HRC Family Project, Aug. 1, 2007
Dr. Rebecca Anne Allison, or Dr. Becky as she is called, has led an exceptional life. Born and raised in Greenwood, Miss., she enrolled in college at age 17. By age 22 she graduated from the University of Mississippi medical program magna cum laude. [Actually age 24 - becky] She first specialized in primary care/internal medicine, but soon realized that her true passion was cardiology. She returned to college for a two-year fellowship and then worked as cardiologist in Mississippi for six years.
In 1993, her sixth year as a cardiologist, Dr. Becky made another significant decision, this time regarding her personal life. She began her gender transition. The reactions she received at that time were harsh. “When I came out, I lost my medical practice in Jackson, Mississippi,” Dr. Becky says. “I was out of work for the better part of the year, until I found a job in Phoenix.” Fortunately that was the last move Dr. Becky was forced to make.
In Phoenix, Dr. Becky now serves as the chief of cardiology for CIGNA, one of the largest healthcare organizations in the country. For the past 13 years, Dr. Becky’s work and reputation have grown considerably. In 2004, she entered the advocacy arena for national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality when she offered to speak on transgender issues at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s annual dinner. She was asked to serve on the organization’s Board of Directors, a position she has held enthusiastically for the past three years. During her first year on the board she was selected as the chair of the Educational Committee. As chair, she has influenced the organization by helping choose topics discussed at annual meetings, bringing greater attention to transgender issues such as medical treatment, legal concerns, counseling and social implications.
In addition to her work with the GLMA, Dr. Becky is a member of the American Medical Association Advisory Committee on GLBT Issues. In this capacity, Dr. Becky has been a diligent advocate on behalf of transgender concerns. In June 2007, she testified at the AMA annual convention in Chicago. The AMA subsequently moved to include “gender identity” in its non-discrimination policies. “The new policy changes will impact patients, physicians and medical students,” Dr. Becky says. “The implications are major.”
Despite the improvements made in AMA policy, Dr. Becky knows that the medical community has a long way to go before it becomes fully trans-friendly. Increasing access to healthcare for transgender individuals is a particularly urgent need. “One of my major goals for the next few years is to have the AMA come out in support of trans-inclusive insurance coverage,” Dr. Becky says. She also hopes to obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration for hormones used for transitioning. “Right now it is not illegal to give them,” she explains, “but there is no medical society that backs up their use. This leads to physician hesitation in prescribing the hormones, for fear of liability.”
Dr. Becky recognizes that other problems within the healthcare profession also impede competent care for gay, lesbian and bisexual patients as well as transgender people. “What happens if I get sick will my partner have the power of attorney, or will it be family I haven’t seen in years?” she asks. “Will my partner be allowed to be included in my living will? If not, who will receive it?” Even if these questions are answered, the documents may be ignored by some hospitals, she points out. “Partner rights need to be respected by more hospitals than they are now.”
Dr. Becky highlights two notable responses to such discrimination. The first comes from the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, which has undertaken an initiative to create an online database of GLBT-friendly healthcare providers. The database would list the names of providers who are not only willing to treat GLBT people, but are “skilled and know how to provide GLBT competent health care,” Dr. Becky emphasized. The second response, the Healthcare Equality Index, is a joint project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and GLMA. The HEI will provide a quality indicator for healthcare, beginning with the hospital industry. It will also offer examples of existing policies that healthcare organizations can use as models when seeking to promote fair-minded policies.
“I think that we’re really making progress in bringing transgender and GLB healthcare into the mainstream,” Dr. Becky says. “The more we can be involved in the AMA, the more people will come to look at our lives as another part of normal society. That’s our goal to have people think of us as not really any different.”
In addition to her work in the medical field, Dr. Becky works for visibility and acceptance of GLBT people on the societal level. For the past several years, she and Margaux Schaffer her partner and, Dr. Becky says, her personal hero have organized Day of Remembrance events in Phoenix to honor transgender victims of violence. Each year, on a Sunday evening in November, the Day of Remembrance ceremony is held on the steps of the Arizona State Capitol. Amidst candlelight and music, the names and stories of transgender murder victims are recited. By recalling the victims, these committed activists raise awareness about bias-motivated violence.
And Dr. Becky’s outreach continues year-round. Through her website (www.drbecky.com), she has become a constant resource on transgender issues. Dr. Becky started the website as a public record of all of her experiences related to her transition. “People used to not know that transitioning could work,” she reflects.
“When I was 20 years old in medical school, growing up in the South, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do anything about it. I began to read up on transsexualism. The books used terrible words, like ‘perverse’ and ‘deviation,’ and I thought I didn’t want to be like that. So I decided not to come out and it cost me many years of happiness. It set me back in my ability to accept myself and be content with my transition.”
When she created her website, Dr. Becky was determined to “be a beacon.” She demonstrated that transitioning was possible, and that living openly did not have to be a career obstacle. For the past two years, she has been voted a top cardiologist out of the hundreds of cardiologists in Phoenix.
Through her role as a talented cardiologist treating patients across the spectrum of gender identity and expression, Dr. Becky also hopes to encourage a greater acceptance of trans-identified people within society as a whole. “Just because we don’t share the same life experiences doesn’t mean that they can’t be our friends and value us in the same way,” she insists. She will continue to work toward a time, she says, when transgender people “shift from being a scary thought in our society, to being just the folks next door.”
My Kid Wears a White Coat
Here's what the newspaper report should have said a few weeks ago:
CHANDLER - Warren S. passed away at age 55 in Chandler, Arizona. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn S., and two daughters, Wendy S. of Chandler and Karren S. of Tucson.
But that isn't what it said - if it said anything. We never could find an obituary. Karren's father died, quite young and quite unexpectedly, and she finally was able to find out details of a memorial service to be held in some little ultra-right church in Chandler. Margaux and I accompanied Karren and two of her other close friends to the service.
No one in that building ever acknowledged our presence. We sat together on the back row - there were no pews, just single, moveable chairs. (This was relevant later.) Karren's uncles, sister, and biological mom completely avoided looking her way.
The speakers - Warren's brothers and a close friend from work - told the expected anecdotes and emphasized how Warren was a family man and "he loved you very much, Wendy." Not a blinking word about Warren's second child. Then the pastor of the church took over. It was immediately obvious that Warren didn't darken the door of the church and the pastor didn't have much of a clue what to say about him. This made me all the more perplexed at how this man could have rejected his child so profoundly, if he had no religious basis to do so. I imagine that perhaps Warren didn't think he would die without having some reconciliation with Karren. But he did.
Life is so short and love is so important. I have a son who deals with me in the same way these parents dealt with their daughter.
That's why she calls me Mom and I call her my kid.
Back to the church. The service ended in its awkward little way, and the announcement was made which the crowd had been waiting for. "We have a covered dish meal in the next room. We'll open up the wall and move the chairs."
The five of us were still sitting on the back row and Karren, frankly, wasn't in shape to move just yet. She was crying and we were comforting her. Bear in mind that we had cooties, or demons, or whatever they were scared of, so they didn't know what to do with us. After a few minutes one of the fine local folks worked up the nerve to say "Excuse me? We need to move these chairs so we can set up tables."
That's the extent of the conversation we had with the good church folks. No "my condolences," no "did you know the deceased," no kiss-my-foot. Just move out of the way so we can eat.
It's all so stereotypical. I couldn't wait to get out of that place. It still gives me the creeps thinking of it. And they think they're the righteous ones.
Less than two weeks later we drove to Tucson for a much happier occasion. Karren has been accepted to medical school at the University of Arizona. I am SO proud of her. There's a ceremony these days for first year medical classes called the "white coat ceremony." It's very memorable and an appropriate way to begin medical training. We sat in the auditorium and clapped and cheered when Karren's turn came to receive her coat. (The clapping and cheering is new in this generation, but I'm OK with that.) Karren's sorrow in Chandler was replaced by a joyful night in Tucson. It was her night and she was shining.
On the way out of the auditorium I purchased a T-shirt with the above inscription: "My Kid Wears a White Coat" on the back, and the University of Arizona College of Medicine on the front.
I love my kid.
Are you listening, Carolyn? You don't know how many opportunities you have left.