Friday, March 29, 2013

Life, Liberty, Happiness, Simplicity

Sean-Michael outside the AZ State Capitol 3-28-13

Recently I have neglected this blog. Normally I try to blog on Sundays for an hour, but this week I was frankly, too busy, too emotional, and too tired. Every day since, I have felt the need to blog but found myself unable to. It has been difficult to put into words what we are experiencing right now in Arizona. But this morning I woke up with some words in mind, and I have come to a place where I am ready to put those words down where others can read them, even tho it is painful. Please forgive me if this is a bit rambling, I just woke from yet another nightmare.

As you know, simplicity is something I have been trying to create in my life. Yet simply living my life has become very difficult recently due to the actions of others. I know not everyone who reads my blog will agree with me, but I certainly hope people will respect that this is very real, personal and VERY hurtful for me. If you disagree, please share those thoughts elsewhere, I hear enough of it every day and really will appreciate your not doing so in the comments section. If you have honest, respectful, thoughtful questions, ask.

Please read on after the break.

Possible "trigger warning"

Sister, Mom, Cousin, Barb, Me a year or two ago
I was raised in a family of primarily white, mostly middle class, Americans. My mother's parents were brought to this country as young children who then had to interpret for their parents while their parents built their own home from the ground up and created lives for their families here. My grandfather was very special to me. He would come and randomly take me out of school for trips to amusement parks (to my mother's dismay) and he would tell me stories of working as a code talker with indigenous Americans during the war. He was a man I loved, and greatly admired. When I first told my family that I planned to take Testosterone so that I could live as the man I have always wanted to grow up to be instead of the 30 year old boy I had become, my family had varied reactions. It was not easy for them to face their fears around my transition. They asked about potential cancer risks, and they worried I would be attacked or killed.

I was told that it would literally kill my grandfather to hear of my transition, so for several years I did not see him or speak to him on the phone. Instead we wrote letters to stay in touch. Letters which did not mention that my face now sported a beard or that my name had been legally changed. I signed any art or letters I sent to him cryptically such as, "Your grandchild in Arizona" because I refused to use the name given me at birth, and he had to ask my aunt, “Which grandchild is this, exactly?”

One day my aunt had enough. She took me to see her father, my grandfather, after telling me that he already knew of my transition. She had filled him in, and he was fine with it. Our fears were incorrect, and I was living without a loved one for no reason. He said to me "I raised my children in San Francisco; I'm metropolitan!" And wondered how we could think he wouldn't love me no matter what. Then he told me that he and his brother had fought in the war for the freedom of their children and their grandchildren, and that included my ability to transition. It was one of the happiest days of my life, when my grandfather hugged me and introduced me to the nursing home staff as his grandson, Sean-Michael.

Most people do not have to think about these things. Will my appearance literally shock someone so much that they have a heart attack and die? Will my parents disown me? Which restroom is safe to enter today? Will the man who just walked into the restroom after me question my gender and beat down the stall door like some have tried to do? Will I be welcome at the neighborhood fundraisers I volunteer at or will I face condemnation for talking about who I am openly before the city council because these neighbors watched in person and on livestream? Will my loved ones be safe going to work every day? Did that phone ring because someone was attacked for who they are or will we come home to each other safe and sound? Sadly, many people in my life worry about such things on a daily basis. And just when some of us became comfortable and confident in our place in the world, just as the city of Phoenix came into the 21st century, the rug was ripped out from under us with Kavanagh's bill, SB 1045. To learn more visit

Some have wondered why this issue is so important to me. “Isn't it ridiculous to give any time to a bill which couldn't possibly become law?” they ask. But I was raised with stories from my mother's uncle about when Germans thought the same; they thought they could just wait it out and nothing bad would happen. Soon they were overwhelmed with the choice to hide their true feelings and stand by, be arrested for supporting people who were different than them, flee from the country, or break the law and risk death simply for allowing Jews, Queers, and disabled people to hide and hopefully escape from murderers in jack boots. I was told very clearly, that the German people did not think their country could ever commit such atrocities. My great uncle Tom knew very clearly that one's own country can turn on it's own people. But surely this could not happen in America. America, the home of the free and the brave would never do that... right? No, actually my grandparents had lived through their Japanese neighbors being whisked away to internment camps simply for being Japanese. My great Uncle was a lawyer and he was very clear that we had to work on a daily basis to keep our own laws and politicians in check. He said it was my duty as an American to make the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness possible for everyone. He told me that not everyone in this world was treated equally. My cousin would probably not get the same chances as I did in this world, simply because of the color of his skin, and that I should look carefully at the privileges I had been given, be grateful for them, and stand up for others. And that is what I have tried to do.

Representative Kavanagh, author of SB 1045
I have tried to use humor when possible to shed light on the ignorance that we are facing right now in Arizona. I have made posters, signs, memes, and the like to try to raise awareness of various issues people living in Arizona must deal with on a daily basis. But it hit home even closer when I woke up to a Facebook box full of messages about a bill that some friends of mine had heard of. I am grateful to those friends for letting me know, so that I could stand up as my freedom was threatened and say no, I should not have to choose to sit by while people are harassed, attacked, or imprisoned for who they are, and I should not have to choose how publicly to discuss what is or is not under my clothing. I should not have to sit for hours week after week waiting to speak to my legislators only to be turned away and told my voice does not matter. To be erased and ignored. Just as they ignored the representatives from Phoenix who stood before them and then said that no one from the city did so. I should not have to see the few politicians of conscience near tears as they hold constituents' hands and console them about sitting for 8 hours to hear ignorance repeated again by the author of a law which would legislate hate. But these are the choices I am faced with. These are the realities of my life. for more information on SB 1045
I rage against a political machine that does not care about its people. And I fear that our country is headed not closer to a time when all humans will be treated equally with dignity and respect, but instead to a day where the atrocities already happening become legalized and codified in dangerous ways. “What atrocities?” you might ask. Things such as the murders of transgender people, especially gender nonconformists, and Male-to-Female transgender people of color. Such as the beatings and threats against our person that myself and my friends have faced. Such as people being jailed for self defense against hate crimes, like CeCe McDonald, or worse, simply for being attacked. Such as being harassed for the color of their skin or what genitals they may or may not have, or who they love. Such as being tormented and bullied by other humans who have lost sight of their fellow humans.

I fear a day when the United States of America, like Uganda, see laws passed that make it legally required to either jail or kill LGBTQI people. And people reading this may think that I am being melodramatic. They may say, "The death penalty for being LGBTQI? Never!" Let us not forget our history! Let us remember the pink and black triangles people now put on signs as a mark of pride, once marked our people for death and concentration camps.  And let us not sit idly by while laws are passed which send the very clear message that we should treat any human as less than. Let us instead stand up for a world where people can just go about our lives striving to work, go to the grocery store, and have the simple things in life.

I do fear where bills such as SB 1045 lead next. And so with our LGBTQI friends dying and being jailed simply for who they love or what is or isn't between their legs, I ask you to take a serious look at our past, even the hard parts that people don't like to think about. I ask you to remember our history in this world, in this country, in this state, and to remember that you, your spouse, your sibling, you could be next. You may be fighting for your life in the future, if you aren't fighting for it now. People have commented that this is ridiculous that we have to fight for the right to pee. And I have joked that I just want them to "let my people go" but it's deeper than that. I haven't slept properly since this happened. I am tormented on a regular basis by the knowledge that this country I live in is not a place of fairness and equality for all that I was raised to believe that it should be. That we are facing the same slippery slope others have faced, and ask myself, “Will I sit idly by and just let it happen or will I use my voice?” We face the reality that not all people are treated equally in this state, in this country, and the women and children, LGBTQI, people of color, Deaf and disabled, people without homes, the elderly, and those who just look different, have even less chance of being treated equally.

All I want is the chance to live simply. To pursue health, happiness, and a life of love. To volunteer in my community safely. To create art and possibly make a living doing so. To work in my garden or help neighbors with theirs. To go to a doctor when I'm sick and not have to wonder if this one will treat me or deny treatment simply because I'm a man with transgender experience. To knit hats for those living on the streets without fear of harassment or reprisal. To fly without being asked to strip because someone didn't understand what they saw on the x-ray machine. To use the local gym without fear, and run into the local coffee shop and use the restroom. To be able to wash my hands when I eat out without having to have someone watch the door, and to not have my wife have to think of ways to distract police with friendly conversation so they won't enter the restroom when I'm feeling most vulnerable and scare the bleep outta me.  I just want to live my life simply and without fear. That's what it comes down to.

1 comment:

  1. There are no words better than those you have used. I did smile though since it sounds like you and I were both raised with the same Martin Niemoller quotes drilled into our heads...because it is true... if we stand to the side while others are singled out, when they come for us, there will be no one left to fight...

    Sometimes I wish I had the luxury of living one day where I had not been one of the 'one's they were coming for'

    peace & blessings