Thoughts While Driving Home as a Second-Class Citizen: Look After the Children

Yesterday I showed up on the State House steps in Concord to lobby in favor of HB 478, which would have added “gender identity” as a protected class in NH law, alongside such things as sex and race. I saw some old friends and made some new friends, and we held signs and greeted the arriving Representatives politely and thanked them for voting in favor of our equal protection.

Today, seconds after the bill came up, Speaker Shawn Jasper called for a vote to table the bill, which meant no discussion on its merits, and no vote on whether it should become law. The House voted 187-179 to table it. All but two of the 187 were Republicans. All but eighteen of the 179 were Democrats. A later vote to take it off the table (and therefore debate its merits and vote on the bill) failed.

I went to my evening activity knowing only about the first vote. I knew the likely outcome, but I managed to distract myself with physical activity among friends. I only thought about it twice. But afterward, when I was the last car in the lot, as the engine warmed up I couldn’t resist calling up the result on my phone.

And so I drove home knowing for sure that under NH law, I’m still a second-class citizen.

I’m not all right, tonight, but I will be. I’ve weathered worse, including in 2009. And I’m in the lucky minority of trans people who has never considered self-harm.

But I worry about the other trans people in this state, and especially about the trans kids. As I posted previously, civil rights decisions have an effect on how many children kill themselves.

This decision by our state government will be a blow to vulnerable people, which surely includes many trans people and gender non-conforming (GNC) people in this state, and which surely includes trans and GNC kids.

If you know someone who is trans, please look out for them. If you know a child who is trans, or just GNC, if you know an apparent boy who is feminine, or an apparent girl who is masculine: please keep an eye on them. Tell them that a wise man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Tell them that we will keep fighting for their equality under the law.

We’ll be back next year, and each year until we’re no longer legally second-class citizens.



How to help with HB 478, an open letter to a NH rep, and some humor

Hello, all!

Important things are going on, so I have a threefer for you, today:

A. How to help with HB478

B. A copy of my open letter to Representative Jess Edwards, in case anyone needs talking points.

C. A bit of humor, because humor makes life better, and we could all use a little mercy, now.

HB 478 is scheduled to go before the NH House for a vote tomorrow (Wednesday). Right now, there is a movement to table it, and not vote on it. This is because the e-mails they are receiving are running 4-to-1 against. I spoke with one of my reps, Lee Oxenham, yesterday, and she said that she’s seeing a lot of repeat names in the e-mails, which means that some busy beavers are sending as many as they can. Apparently this is having the effect of clogging some representatives’ mailboxes and creating the impression of a tide of opinion against the bill.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: According to Lee and other legislators we have spoken with, right now the most important thing is to be seen on the Statehouse steps, Wednesday, at 08:30, with clear signs. Wear green, which is the color of the effort to pass this bill. I will be going down with Sparrow in order to stand up for trans rights. Our signs will read:



and on the reverse:

So, e-mail, call, do whatever you can, but IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, please: show up in person.


Show up on Wednesday, 03-08, at 08:30.
Address: 107 N Main St, Concord, NH 03303
Wear green.
If possible, have a sign.

So, Rep. Jess Edwards gave an interview to New Hampshire Public Radio. This is my reply, which I e-mailed to him directly, at

Good morning, Rep. Edwards.

I just read an interview which you gave, in which you said that although you voted to move HB478 out of committee, you would now be voting to table it in the full House. If you were quoted correctly, then you said that there was “just no evidence” of discrimination against Granite Staters who are trans.

Of course, there IS evidence; you heard it at the committee hearings. Testimonial evidence. I know you did, because I was there, too, and you seemed attentive and asked questions several times.

You say that only one case has gone before the courts. But of course most trans people don’t have access to the money and knowledge which it takes to drive an uncertain case through the court system. And, of course, many times de facto discrimination cannot be proven in court, which doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Often, you can see in the pattern what you cannot prove in individual cases, which is why survey data can be so useful. Trans people are unemployed at a far greater rate than the general population, despite being generally more educated, and despite serving in our nation’s armed forces at twice the rate of the general population. Most trans people who experience discrimination don’t have the footing to challenge it, and simply have to look elsewhere for equal treatment.

You said that you didn’t think there would be a business impact. But you heard testimony from a biomedical researcher, Dr. Elena Long, who is trans, and who testified at the hearing that she was in the process of deciding where to locate her business, and that whether or not NH had trans protections was going to be one of the most important factors in her decision.

When I transitioned at my place of work, my employer, the City of Lebanon, had to hire a lawyer to do the legal research to determine that my employment was protected, (and even after spending thousands of dollars on that, and after training personnel, there were problems). This law would make such costs unnecessary, by clarifying the legal landscape for everyone involved. That would mean a savings for business and government in the Granite State.

In the interview, you also said that our NH constitution already protected trans people. I just looked up what it says: “All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights – among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.”

Sadly, we know from our nation’s history that sometimes a constitutional assurance is not enough. Our Federal Constitution was amended in 1869 to prohibit the denial of the right to vote on the basis of race. By 1969, it was clear to everyone that the amended Constitution was not sufficient.

In this case, our NH constitution does not mention gender identity. So, each time there is a dispute, someone has to make the case, all over again, that discrimination on gender identity is discrimination due to sex, and therefore protected. This law would clarify the legal landscape for all parties.

I urge you to vote in favor of this bill. It hurts no one, and it helps to protect a beleaguered minority.


Thank you for hearing me out.

Grace Alden, police officer (ret.)

Finally, because we could all use a bit of humor, some pointed commentary from a white, cis, straight woman who uses bathrooms for their intended purposes, on what would make her feel safe:


How to contact your NH legislators.


Marriage Equality = Fewer Adolescents Killing Themselves. Some Implications:

JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, recently published a study: “Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts”.

Findings …same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year.

Meaning Same-sex marriage policies are associated with reduced adolescent suicide attempts.

Results Among the 762 678 students (mean [SD] age, 16.0 [1.2] years; 366 063 males and 396 615 females) who participated in the YRBSS [the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System] between 1999 and 2015, a weighted 8.6% of all high school students and 28.5% of 231 413 students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before implementation of same-sex marriage policies. Same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 0.6–percentage point (95% CI, –1.2 to –0.01 percentage points) reduction in suicide attempts, representing a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide owing to same-sex marriage implementation. The association was concentrated among students who were sexual minorities. [emphasis added]

A 0.6–percentage point decline in suicide rates for all students would be equivalent to an estimated 134 446… fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year, based on the 2015 US population estimates of adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.

In other words, in each year following the establishment of nationwide marriage equality, about 130,000 American adolescents didn’t attempt suicide, who otherwise would have. Between 2.5% and 10% of suicide attempts result in death, so that’s roughly 3,000 to 13,000 kids alive each year who would have been dead otherwise.

Note that it was true of all adolescents, not just LGBT kids. The effect was more pronounced in LGBT kids, but it was present in all kids. LGBT equality is a tide which lifts straight boats, too.

That’s just considering death. There’s also the human suffering to consider, both of those who remain alive and of those who ultimately killed themselves. People don’t kill themselves on a whim. They do it because they can’t bear the agony that they’re going through, and they run out of whatever hope or determination was getting them through that day, or that hour, or that minute. They do it because the fear of death and the risk of surviving maimed are less painful than the pressure they are under, whatever that pressure is.

We know that chronic pain increases suicide risk. So does traumatic brain injury, and kidney failure requiring hemodialysis. A cancer diagnosis roughly doubles the risk of suicide. Being a veteran of war roughly doubles or triples the risk of suicide, depending on the study.

The rate of suicide attempt in the general population is about 4.6%. If attempt were perfectly correlated with completion, then the attempt rate in the population of war veterans would be about 10-12%, but studies show that veterans are more likely to complete a suicide attempt, which would mean that combat veterans have a suicide attempt rate lower than 12%.

The rate of suicide attempt among trans adults (those who were still alive to respond to surveys) is about 41%.

Ever since the Williams Institute published the study which contained that 41% figure, anti-trans people have used it as “evidence” to argue that trans people are mentally ill — because only mentally ill people would kill themselves, right?

But we don’t make that argument of combat veterans, do we? Somehow, most people understand effortlessly that human beings who survive the toxic, corrosive stew that is combat are often wounded because of it.

We don’t make that argument about victims of bullying, either. It’s well-known that being bullied increases the risk of suicide, but when someone suggests that children who kill themselves after being bullied are ill, or weak, and just needed to be tougher… most people understand effortlessly that if a person says that about a bullied child, that person is acting like an asshole.

Trans people deal with daily, hourly corrosion, and the result is that for some of us, the fear of another day of it, or another hour of it, comes to outweigh the fear of death or maiming.

I’m not going to try to explain what that corrosion is like. Getting into that headspace thoroughly enough to describe it to someone who has never been there… that is difficult and corrosive in itself. (Especially when the person you’re explaining it to still doesn’t get it. People who don’t get it are not necessarily bad people, it’s just that they have no life experience sufficiently parallel to enable them to grasp it. It’s a level of unrelenting pressure qualitatively beyond their experience. The chasm is too wide to leap.)

Instead, consider it from the other side. If trans people are not fundamentally mentally ill, if we are “just folks”, and most of our troubles, like other folks’ troubles, arise from having to grapple with how people in our society treat us…

…then the treatment our society metes out to us must be truly hellish, to produce an average level of suicidal despair more than four times higher than that of combat veterans.

And indeed, our society’s treatment is hellish. And also, like all folks encountering extreme difficulty, when the difficulty moderates somewhat, we do better. A 2015 study in Canada, focused specifically on trans people, found that

High levels of social support (90th percentile) versus low levels (10th percentile) were significantly associated with a 49 % reduction in suicide ideation… and with a further 82 % reduction in attempt risk among those with ideation… This would be associated with potential prevention of 100 cases of ideation per 1,000 trans persons… and a further prevention of 220 attempts per 1,000 trans persons considering suicide…

This is not a shocking finding, but one of the basic tasks of scientific research is to discover whether what we believe is supported by the evidence. So, there we go: there is some evidence that lower levels of social support result in more dead people.

It’s especially important not to be rejected by your family. According to The Trevor Project,

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Administrative support matters, too. Back to the Canadian study:

Having one or more identity documents concordant with lived gender was significantly associated with reductions in past-year ideation… with the potential to prevent 90 cases of ideation per 1,000 trans persons… and 230 attempts per 1,000 with ideation.

In other words, being able to legally assert your identity is positively correlated with survival.

Nothing succeeds like success. Success begets hope. Hope begets resilience.

Harvey Milk knew this from his own lived experience, way back in 1978, almost forty years ago:


Somewhere in Des Moines, or San Antonio, there is a young gay person, who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay, knows that if the parents find out, they will be tossed out of the house, their classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs are doing their bit on TV, and that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open a paper that says, “Homosexual elected in San Francisco” and there are two new options. One option is to go to California, [and the other option] is to stay in San Antonio and fight.

Two days after I was elected, I got a phone call, and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said, “Thanks.”

And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that that young child, and the thousands upon thousands like that child know that there’s hope for a better world, there’s hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the asians, the disabled, the seniors, the usses, the usses. Without hope, the usses give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone. But without it, life is not worth living.

And you, and you, and you: you’ve got to give them hope.

Probably most of those adolescents who didn’t kill themselves weren’t planning on getting married, specifically. But the movement of our nation toward equality gave them hope, so that when the next moment of suicidal ideation came, they were able to push past it, and survive.

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave her powerful speech in support of trans people

… it gave us hope. I’ve talked about that speech before. I felt that sense of hope.

Conversely, in 2012, when the government of New Hampshire last considered the rights of trans people to equal access in public accommodation and it never got out of committee, and was unanimously voted “inexpedient to legislate”… I felt that sense of despair.

If our society stopped treating trans and gender nonconforming people like pariahs, we would kill ourselves no more often than other folks.

And some evidence for the truth of that proposition is in the reduction in adolescent suicide which followed nationwide marriage equality.

Last summer I attended a meeting at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier. One of the things they do to support their community’s LGBT youth is to regularly open their doors to them, I think every other week, and throw a social, where those kids can have pizza and do their thing in a safe environment. That program has saved lives. They know this, because the survivors tell them. A kid arrives, planning to commit suicide later, and mentions it, and people rally around, and protect them, and they make it through to another day, with more hope.

This issue is not merely a matter of principle, of fair treatment. This is a matter of survival. It is as lethal as a heart attack.

…lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Let’s give kids hope, here in New Hampshire. All the kids, including your kids. Especially LGBT kids… some of whom might turn out to be yours, too, since we LGBT folks are born to every kind of parent.

Let’s pass HB478, the New Hampshire gender identity nondiscrimination bill. In 2012, it died in committee. Here in 2017, it made it out of committee and into the whole House.

This week, I’m meeting with one of my reps. She’s in favor, but she has questions about details and wants to be able to understand trans people better, which will enable her to advocate better.

Here’s my offer: I will make time to meet with any rep who wants to meet with me. I’ve called all of mine. If you have one who would like to meet a trans person who is thoughtful, knowledgeable, and pleasant, please have them contact me at this e-mail, minus the chaff (to defeat robots):

Let’s pass this thing.

How to contact your NH legislators.


NH Nondiscrimination Law Scheduled for a Vote: CALL YOUR REPS NOW

This just in from Freedom New Hampshire:

HB478, #TransBillNH, is the NH nondiscrimination bill which would add gender identity to the list of people who deserve equal treatment under NH law, is COMING UP FOR A VOTE.

HB478 will make it legally clear that trans people have a right to equal treatment under the law. It will simplify the legal landscape for employers and employees, for landlords and tenants, for business owners and customers.

HB478 will receive a vote in the NH House of Representatives late Wednesday, 03-08, or early Thursday, 03-09.

It would be a lot less meaningful to call after that.

So call now.

How to contact your NH legislators.


Diversity is a Virtue

Around 2009 or so, Google rolled out Google Wave. It was an attempt by Google to do a kind of social media. It didn’t make it.

Google rolled it out the same way they rolled out Gmail: initially, only existing users could invite new people, and each existing user had a limited number of invites. That way the growth of the system was organically limited to a rate which Google could keep up with. When you signed up, Google Wave automatically sent some of your information to your most frequent correspondents in your Gmail account, as a way to promote networking and get the word out.

Problem: if you are in the process of extracting yourself from an abusive relationship, your abuser may be among your most frequent correspondents. …and now your abuser has more information about you.

There are plenty of groups of people who have good reason to keep information about themselves as inaccessible as they can (a feat which was more possible in 2009 than it is in 2017). Among these are:

Abuse survivors.
Closeted trans people or gay people who will lose jobs or families if they are outed.
Police officers, whose work sometimes follows them home in the form of vengeful criminals.

Any of these groups could have told Google’s engineers that automatically sending out private information was a bad idea, and why… if they had been in the room when that design decision was made. But Google, like almost all tech companies, tends to swing male, and straight, and white, and highly-educated. They do employ abuse survivors, and trans people, and former or part-time police officers, and others, whether they know it or not.

But apparently none of those people were in the room.

This is one of the benefits of diversity. Different viewpoints enable organizations to catch errors.

Different viewpoints also enable groups to come up with ideas which would not have occurred to a more homogenous group. This is one of the reasons my country, the United States, is such a powerful engine for generating ideas and innovation.

Because it works in government, too: when minorities are in the room, the output of the room is different. The work product of the people in the room is informed by the lived experience of the people in the room. If some of those people hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their college buddies, that’s fine… as long as there are ALSO people who hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their abusive partner, or the troll who has decided to bombard them with 100 messages a day.

If you have three women in the room, chances are good there is a woman in the room who has had an abortion. No matter what you think of abortion, that’s a powerful and important viewpoint to have in the room. Whether that woman speaks for or against abortion, she can speak to what it was like to make that decision, to have to make that decision, in this society. And the decision-making process is richer for that experience.

Representation matters. Indeed, my country was founded on that idea: “No taxation without representation.”

And exposure to those varied viewpoints uplifts us all. We learn to see ourselves in others. When we have positive experiences of different kinds of people, when someone tries to demonize a group, we have a chance for our unconscious mind to serve up a picture of someone we know, someone we care about … instead of a anonymous bogeyman.

We all have things in common. And we are all different. And that’s diversity.


Nondiscrimination Bill in NH Could Succeed and Needs Help

If you believe that I should have the same employment protections under the law that you do, please call your legislators.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Today, I called my legislators.

Here in New Hampshire, there is an important bill which will be voted on in the House sometime in the next nine days. It is HB478, which would add “gender identity” to RSA 354-A, which is New Hampshire’s nondiscrimination law. Already included in the law are “age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability or national origin”.

Last Tuesday, I went down to the hearing on this bill, with the House Health, Human Services & Elderly Affairs Committee. We packed the room until it was standing room only and overflowed into the hall. I stayed all day and took notes. More on that in a later post.

A couple of days later, we heard that the Committee voted 15-2 to recommend that the bill be passed by the House. With an endorsement like that, the bill has a solid chance for success in the house. One legislator I talked to described their current view of the bill as “cautiously optimistic”.

Which sounds really good until you remember that the attitude of a lot of people in this country toward the prospect that Donald Trump would not be our next president could have been described as “cautiously optimistic”.

So now is not the time to sit back. Please, please call your legislators in the NH House.

How to contact your NH legislators.

If you believe that employers and landlords should not be able to discriminate against trans people and gender nonconforming people, please call your legislators.

If you believe that I should have the same employment protections under the law that you do, please call your legislators.

And spread the word. Be willing to be a little impolite. Be willing to bring it up at dinner.

Seriously. New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t already do this. I live here and work here. For twenty-one years I worked long hours, midnights, blizzards, and crime scenes with dead bodies, all to keep the people in my community as safe as I could keep you.

For me, there is no explicit protection under the law. I protected you and yours for over two decades. Please do this, now, to protect me and mine.

In posts in the coming days, I’ll talk in more detail about this law and the treatment trans people receive. This is the short version:

It’s not about bathrooms, in the same way that it was never about drinking fountains.

Please contact your legislators and spread the word.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Thank you.


First, They Came for the Muslims. Then, They Came for the Children Who Were Trans.

A few days ago my wife went to the Emergency Department with symptoms which suggested a life-threatening illness. In the end, the symptoms subsided and as far as we know she is okay.

But for a few hours, it was possible that my wife was dying.

I sat in the Emergency Department with her and our youngest. Our youngest did what homework they could. I stroked my wife’s forehead and sang to her and told her that I loved her. And when she closed her eyes and rested, I tried to distract myself with a bit of online reading.

Which is when I learned that newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had used part of his first two days on the job to target trans children.

And just as trans people were starting to dare to hope that we could receive equal treatment under the law.

It was just last May that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave a frank and coherent speech about the rights of transgender people. The Washington Post did a good job of explaining why her speech was so significant.

Several LGBT advocates said they were stunned by her words. It is not that the Obama administration has not been supportive of their cause, but never before had they heard the government come to their defense so unequivocally and so eloquently, they say.

As Lynch announced that the Justice Department was countersuing North Carolina to stop its bathroom law from going into effect, she gave a passionate and direct defense of transgender and gay rights that in no uncertain terms put their battle in the context of a decades-long civil rights debate.

She drew on the ghost of Jim Crow and separate-but-equal bathrooms for black and white Americans to make parallels to today’s bathroom battles. And she delivered her defense in soaring words not normally used in the ho-hum, legalese-heavy news conferences typical at the Justice Department…

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta could not have made it plainer, even against the background of Lynch’s speech:

Transgender men are men. They live, work, and study as men. Transgender women are women. They live, work, and study as women.

Nevertheless, it was Attorney General Lynch herself who really hit it out of the park:

…Let me speak now directly to the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my home state of North Carolina. You have been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm. That is just not the case. Instead, what this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share. This law provides no benefit to society, and all it does is harm innocent Americans.

Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. Let us reflect on the obvious, but often neglected, lesson, that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good, and never works, in hindsight. It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had other signs above restrooms, water fountains, and on public accommodations, keeping people out based on a distinction without a difference.

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. …No matter how isolated, no matter how afraid, and no matter how alone you may feel today, know this: that the Department of Justice, and indeed, the entire Obama Administration want you to know that we see you. We stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you, going forward.

I had never heard any representative of my government speak so forcefully and so plainly in favor of the notion that I am the equal of any American, and entitled to the same bare minimum of public accommodation. I wept, on hearing that, on hearing it from the Attorney General of the United States!

That’s all gone.

Now we have Jeff Sessions. Sessions doesn’t see us, and doesn’t stand with us, and not only won’t do everything he can to protect us, but will do everything he can to make us live as second-class citizens.

Next month, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether Gavin Grimm, a Virginia teenager who has not been permitted to use the boys’ room at his high school for several years, is male.

Grimm came out as a transgender boy while a student at Gloucester High School in Virginia. After he began using male facilities, the Gloucester County School Board passed a policy passed a policy resolution requiring that access to changing rooms and bathrooms “shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders, and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility”. At the school board meeting, speakers addressing the board called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog. When he refused to use the girls’ bathroom, Grimm was offered the use of some broom closets that had been retrofitted into unisex bathrooms.

This is what Jeff Sessions wants to happen to children. The shredding, corrosive impact of that kind of exclusion, that kind of shunning, is beyond most people’s ability to understand, because most people have never been shunned.

I have been shunned. It was shockingly difficult to take; it undermined me in a way no previous stress in my life had prepared me for. It is a constant pressure and a constant corrosion. It wears at your soul.

Probably no one has laid it out better than the author of the Coy Mathis decision, Steven Chavez, the Director of Division of Civil Rights in the State of Colorado, when he found himself having to explain his ruling to protect a six-year-old girl who was trans:

The evidence suggests that the restroom restriction also created an exclusionary environment, which tended to ostracize [Mathis], in effect producing an environment in which [Mathis] was forced to disengage from her group of friends. It also deprived her of the social interaction and bonding that commonly occurs in girls’ restrooms during those formative years, i.e., talking, sharing, and laughter. An additional problematic issue with this solution is the possibility that [Mathis] may be in an area where she does not have easy access to approved restrooms. As a result, at six years old, [Mathis] is tasked with the burden of having to plan her restroom visits to ensure that she has sufficient time to get to one of the approved restrooms. Even if [Mathis] was in the vicinity of the staff or health office restroom, she would have to explain to her friends why she is not permitted to go with them into the girls’ restroom. Telling [Mathis] that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.

These body blows, things like being compared to dogs, don’t just happen to children, although that would be bad enough. All TLBG people get told many times a day that it’s okay to debate our humanity. As drag queen Rory O’Neill, aka “Panti Bliss” famously put it (and her video is worth listening to in its entirety):

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who probably make good neighbourly neighbours, the kind of people who write for newspapers. And they are all sitting around and they are having a reasoned debate on the television, a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether or not you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether or not you are safe around children, about whether or not God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact maybe you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who feel is almost a friend because you see her being nice on TV all the time, even she thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasoned debate about you and about who you are and about what rights you “deserve” and don’t “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive…

Have you ever gone into your favourite neighbourhood café with the paper that you buy every day, and you open it up and inside is a 500-word opinion written by a nice middle-class woman, the kind of woman who probably gives to charity, the kind of woman who you would be totally happy to leave your children with. And she is arguing, over 500 words, so reasonably about whether you should be treated less than everybody else, arguing that you should be given fewer rights than everybody else. And when you read that and then the woman at the next table gets up and excuses herself to squeeze by you and smiles at you and you smile back and nod and say, “No problem” and inside you wonder to yourself, “Does she think that about me too?”

And that feels oppressive…

Have you ever turned on the computer and you see videos of people who are just like you in countries that are far away and countries that are not far away at all, and they are being imprisoned and beaten and tortured and murdered and executed because they are just like you?

And that feels oppressive.

Yeah, it feels oppressive. And all for nothing. Trans people are not assaulting cis people in bathrooms. Quite the reverse, actually. But cis people excluding trans people from bathrooms, and especially trans children from bathrooms, has consequences.

Is this the damage we want for our transgender children?

Jeff Sessions thinks so.

This is not a surprise. It did not come out of nowhere. Trump may have said that he had nothing against trans people. He may have been willing to let wealthy Republican and trans woman Caitlin Jenner use the women’s room in Trump Tower. But he chose Michael Pence as his running mate. He chose a Vice President who is among the most poisonously anti-LGBT politicians in this country.

And if Trump gets hit by a bus tomorrow, we will still have Michael Pence and Jeff Sessions.

And people like me will sit in emergency departments, holding the hands of the people we love, and wonder when the axe will fall. Will a healthcare worker feel emboldened by those in power to refuse us care? If the local healthcare workers all behave professionally, then the next time I travel, maybe to the American South, do I have to worry about my health if I’m admitted to an Emergency Department there? These people who are running the government of my country — when they are done forcing the trans children to dance for them, to perform in a gender role those children demonstrably cannot tolerate, will these people take away my family’s healthcare, the healthcare which is the reason I could immediately say to my wife, when she was experiencing crushing, disorienting pain, “Call 911”? Will they nullify our marriage? Will I, a trans woman who is married to another woman, no longer be able to sit with her in the hospital, and stroke her forehead, and sing to her?

If, at this point, you want to reassure me that they won’t do these things, spare me. I’ll be willing to have a reasoned discussion about whether my family is at risk sometime after the officials of my country stop arguing in reasoned tones that the law should relegate children who are trans to public accommodations which are separate but equal.

If you are a citizen of this country, you have a responsibility to your fellow citizens, especially to those who are children, to vote responsibly. It doesn’t matter whether the candidates are folksy, or whether you could have a beer with them, or whether they’re a member of your tribe. It matters what policies they are going to enact. It matters whom they appoint, and what they let those people do.

If you voted for Trump, you voted for this. You voted for me sitting in the Emergency Department, holding my wife’s hand, and reading about how the Attorney General of the United States is rushing to implement the suffering of children who are trans, and knowing that a man who is willing to crush trans children certainly won’t hesitate to crush trans adults, and trans marriages, and trans families. Me. Us.

For the love of all that is good, next time make a different choice.


On Wearing Hijab for the First Time, and Why

On Wearing Hijab in Public for the First Time, and Why

02-01 was World Hijab Day. A friend of ours invited us to protest Trump’s travel ban by standing with signs at the corner of the Dartmouth Green, wearing hijab.

Which we did.

Before I go further, it’s important to acknowledge certain things.

The question of whether and when and how to wear hijab is hotly debated even in communities where it is common. It means different things to different people in those communities. World Hijab Day is debated within those communities. And that’s all before we start to consider the meaning of wearing hijab in a country like the United States, where, regardless of what the wearer or community might want, people attach additional meanings to the practice. Some well-intentioned by naive women from cultures where it is not common to wear hijab have tried to experience what it is like to do so by wearing hijab. Some of them have had eye-opening experiences as they received the side-eye and abuse which some people feel it’s appropriate to bestow upon a woman wearing hijab. However, they have the freedom to walk away from it in a way that is not possible for people for whom wearing hijab can be bound up in cultural and religious identity. Because of those disparate backgrounds, a Western and non-Muslim woman wearing hijab does not, and cannot, experience it in the same way.

I have read only a tiny fraction of this debate. I have the impression that it’s rather like the debate among many Western feminists about the use of makeup. Some women object that makeup reinforces an artificial beauty standard, is expensive and time-consuming. Other women argue that they use makeup to enhance their appearance, and that they like it, and as adults capable of making their own decisions about their own bodies, they should be able to wear makeup. The center of the argument always seems to me to pivot around whether it’s a choice, and to what extent, in that it may technically be optional, but if, for instance, it’s expected in a competitive workplace, it become mandatory for those who want to get ahead. “Optional” is not a binary switch; it is a continuum of coercion.

Which is also true of the bit of debate I have seen around wearing hijab.

So, my wife and I were under no illusions that what we were doing in wearing hijab was equivalent to one of our Muslim friends wearing hijab.

Not wanting to offend those who matter to us personally because we know them, we checked with a friend of ours who is Muslim to ask if she, personally, would not be offended. She said she would not, and showed us different ways to wear it. (And, learning from her, it became clear to me that wearing hijab is a learned skill, rather like tying your shoes. Her movements were deft, and her hijab stayed in place. Our hands were clumsy, and ours unraveled easily.)

And then, armed with that crumb of knowledge, we wore hijab as a political statement, in solidarity with the women and men who were targeted by Trump’s ban.

Did the protest accomplish anything with our statement? I don’t know. After we arrived, several more people joined us, native-born Americans and immigrant Americans, both. A group of three Dartmouth students came and interviewed us on videotape. By the end of the interview they revealed themselves to be somewhat inclined to defend the current administration. The apparent head of the group objected to one of us characterizing Steve Bannon as a white supremacist. At the end, in response to something the leader said, one of my fellow protesters made what sounded like a nuanced and thoughtful statement about the state of Israeli politics, and the leader reduced that statement to a brief rhetorical question which baldly mischaracterized what my friend had just said. It was so nakedly twisted that I laughed out loud, and at that point the leader apparently thought better of it and they decamped.

I was glad my friend was there to tackle that topic; it’s certainly not one I feel qualified to speak on.

In the end, we got plenty of waves, and some honks.

And we stood up. Which is the first, and most important, thing.


The Women’s March, belatedly

I spoke at the Concord, NH, Women’s March. (Text below, and links to the audio. I’d have posted about this sooner, but we have to make a living and pay our child’s college tuition, so first things first.)

In December, I preached at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, NH. (Sermon title: Trans People and the Cornerstones of Unitarian Universalism. Contact me if you’d like me to bring it to your church.). One of the happy results was that one of the congregants (I don’t know if she’d want to be named publicly) was impressed enough to pass my name and a recommendation along to Gayle Murphy, who was organizing the Women’s March in Concord. Gayle and I chatted by phone. I asked her how long she wanted me to speak for, expecting something perhaps along the 15-20 minute line, as is often the case when I preach or speak to groups. She said, “Two to three minutes.”

Well, I thought, This will be a challenge. I’d never written a speech like that before, and never given a speech publicly to an audience which could contain anyone.

But I came up with something which I thought would work. It ran about 3.5 minutes, timed cold. Being a newbie to rabble-rousing, I neglected to account for audience response, so in the event it ran about 8 minutes.

I invited my daughter, Valkyrie, to come with me. She follows her own mind, so I had no idea if she would choose to come along, but she did! So, on the appointed day we drove down to Concord, parked several blocks away, and walked to the event, where we listened to the end of the morning speeches and soaked up the vibe.

It was awesome. There were pussy hats everywhere (including on my own head, knitted by my wife, Sparrow, who is a competitive knitter (no, seriously — they have things like mandatory rest breaks to prevent nerve damage)). Valkyrie, knowing her own mind, said, “I’m not going to wear something that is historically degrading on my head.” I asked her if she minded if I wore mine, since we would be together. She expressed her complete indifference. Apparently, in her opinion, what she wears on her head is up to her and what I wear on my head is up to me. That’s my girl. It’s almost like she thinks she’s in charge of her own body. Republicans beware.

There were signs:

“I stand with Planned Parenthood.”

“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.”

“With Liberty and Justice For All,” followed by a marriage equality symbol.


“Fight Big Money”

“Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy”

“Respect our Mother”, superimposed over a picture of the globe.

“DIGNITY”, with each letter a different rainbow color.

“Our babies will not be warlords!”

“History has its eyes on you”. Shout out for the Hamilton Reference! XXXXXLINK

“Let us RESPECT all people CONSERVE and share EARTH’S RESOURCES”

“Girls just wanna have Fun-DAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS”

“Keep Your Laws off MY BODY”


“Take Back Our Elections”

…and my favorite, which I loved even before I noticed that a friend of mine was holding it:

“Jews have seen this before and know how it ends.”

One member of the crowd made sure that Daniel Webster, present as a statue, wore a pussy hat.

There was a counter-protest on one of the streets along the edge of the square, handing out literature to people who were willing to talk to them. They didn’t seem to be doing much business.

As has been much-remarked about the marches generally, it was all very peaceful and orderly. There were bored detail officers from Concord PD having nothing to do. I decided to extend a bit of sympathy and do a bit of activism which, as a retired officer, I was specially suited to do: I walked up to two of them, wearing my pussy hat, and introduced myself by name and as a retired officer, naming my department. We shook hands. I thanked them for looking out for us. I asked them if they were all set for water and snacks. They said that they were, as I knew they would; as an officer, you don’t accept food and water from people you don’t know. But it was a way to say, “I know what a detail can be like.”

I don’t know if they heard me speak, later, but if they did, that’s a second bit of activism, too.

Speaking of incidental activism, at one point, during the event, I interacted peripherally with someone who did not know I was trans, at first. We greeted each other politely and all was friendly. During conversation, the fact that I was trans came up, and someone else asked me a question, which brought it to their attention. From then on, each and every time I looked at this person, they were scanning my face with a manner both reserved and intent. I would meet their eyes for a second or two and then look away again, attending to business. The meeting-of-eyes lasted long enough for each of us to communicate awareness that we had noticed, but not so long that I was bothering to challenge their gaze.

I am familiar with this dynamic. Certain people, most often older and more conservative people, go through life under the impression that they have never seen a person who is trans in person, before. They have encountered a person who is trans, of course, because we are around 0.5% to 2% of the population, and distributed throughout the population by virtue of being born throughout the population, and so it’s impossible to go through life without brushing past us. But they carry with them the belief that they have never encountered a trans person, and so the first time they actually do, they have to process the differences between reality and their previous conceptions, which probably have to do with such things as The Crying Game and The Silence of the Lambs. I know what’s probably going through their heads, because this dynamic is often accompanied by such phrases as, “I’ve never met a trans person before” and “You’re not what I expected”, though that didn’t happen in this case.

It’s not particularly pleasant to be on the receiving end of it, but what are you going to do? It has been said that the most powerful activism a TLBG person can engage in is simply to be out. This is why: because everywhere you go, people are exposed to you as a real human being capable of actual thoughtful and caring social interaction… and the unconscious biases our society planted in them suffer a little bit of damage via reality-check. Sometimes I think of it as “interacting with the muggles whilst simultaneously trans and sane”.

Valkyrie and I located the organizers and participated in the last-minute briefing and planning on what order we would speak in, and how we would change speakers on the podium. I had never been involved in an event like this, but everyone seemed organized, knowledgeable and capable, so I followed their experienced lead.

The person who had been slated to do the final unifying speech was ill, and so Gayle asked Valkyrie if she wanted to. Valkyrie asked what was involved, looked over the speech, and agreed to do it. She did her vocal warm-ups and approached it like a pro. (I recorded her, too; clickable link, below, to audio of my daughter being awesome.)

As it turned out, I was among the first speakers, which turned out to be a good thing, because the crowd was fresh and responsive. I’ve never had the opportunity to fire up a crowd, before, and I have to say it was a lot of fun, and very gratifying to hear everyone’s enthusiasm roared back at me (literally; listen to the crowd reaction at 5:51 in the recording).

Here is the text of my speech:

Once, when Abraham Lincoln was waiting to hear the results of an election, he commented, “Well, it is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.” [pause] When I was young, they told me that in the United States, anyone could grow up to be President. Now a large minority of voters have demonstrated that it’s true. And we’re going to have to sit on some blisters.

It sure would have been nice if we had had Instant Runoff Voting, so that qualified candidates didn’t split the vote. We need Instant Runoff Voting, and total voter access, and the end of the Electoral College.

The notion that anyone can be president is built on a key assumption: that merit matters. Our whole system is built on a foundation which says that we all have the same rights, that we all start essentially even, that our success depends upon our merits and our hard work, that our children are judged on the content of our character.

And yet, in fact, we grapple with a system where one cancer diagnosis, one drunk driver, can wipe out a lifetime of savings. 99% of us cannot earn enough in our lifetimes to be safe from a bad spin on that roulette wheel.

We also spin that wheel at birth. Over fifty percent of Americans grapple with a system where our own bodily autonomy is up for debate. We labor under a system where other people feel free to block access to necessary medical care because they don’t like the choices we might make if we were free to make them. Trans people experience this, both trans women and trans men. Cisgender women experience this. Cisgender men are free to ignore it, and when they are the only people in the room making decisions, their decisions show it. Representation matters.

This is not meritocracy. It is rouletteocracy.

We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species. We can do better than this. A child’s healthcare should not depend on the job prospects of her parents. As a society, we should be able to take care of our children. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that we make our own decisions about our own bodies, not just cisgender men. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that they can get medical care, and never mind any preexisting conditions.

Right now, our playing field isn’t even level and our elected representatives are tearing up the most level parts. We saw it last week, as they started to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be rough, but when you fight for your freedoms, that’s what it takes. Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, … want crops without plowing up the ground. … They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

We are women! Hear us roar! Make sure your friends and family hear you, and model what you’re doing. I’m here with my daughter so that she can witness this, and learn it. Maya Angelou said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

We kick ass right now. Make them pay attention. When your representatives are planning iniquity, flood their phones. Exhaust their staff. Make it impossible for your representatives not to listen to you. Make them react at your speed.

When they work toward the common good, for ALL Americans, send them a letter to tell them that you noticed. Let them digest it at their speed, and savor it. And remember it in 2018.

My name is Grace Alden. I am a woman who is trans. I am a woman who values her autonomy and the autonomy and worth and dignity of others.

And I am a woman who lets her representatives know it. I hope you all do the same.

Thank you.

I recorded our speeches:

Audio of my speech.

Audio of Valkyrie’s speech.

Afterward, people were very complimentary. I got my hand shaken a fair amount, and many people said, “Thank you” in various ways. A couple of them asked why they had never heard of me, before, and I had to explain about how I had been publicly neutral while I was a sworn officer. One simply said, “Public office!” in response to which I shuddered visibly. I learned yesterday that Arnie Arnesen commented favorably on my speech on her radio show.

It feels good, to take action, and to receive the appreciation of others for it.

In the time it has taken me to make a living since the Women’s March, a lot has been happening. I’ve wanted to write about it, and especially about the spontaneous demonstrations of support at JFK Airport. What a shining example of Americans being awesome. It feels good to know that many, many people in my country are also willing and able to take action on behalf of our country, and each other, and our family and friends who happen to be foreign nationals.

Show up.

If you can’t show up, then call your representatives, and the White House.

If you can’t call, then write.

This is our system. “It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work.” *

Let’s make it work.


* Cordelia Vorkosigan, in Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Public service announcement: “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act ARE THE SAME THING

President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have commented, in the agony of awaiting election results, “Well, it is the people’s business, – the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.”

We’re gonna be sitting on a lot of blisters.

Possibly among the biggest is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which is apparently NOT known to everyone as “Obamacare”, because some people seem to be under the impression that they are not one and the same.

For the record: they are one and the same.

This kind of ignorance is what we get when our candidates who have actual, readable policy positions which can be analyzed on their merits (as Hillary Clinton did) have to deal with a media which would rather give free press to a buffoon with no substantive policy positions (that would be Donald Trump).

It’s also the kind of ignorance we get when we permit one party to reframe the public discussion in such a way that the terms we use hide the actual meaning we intend. Republicans are fond of characterizing liberal speech as “Orwellian”, but then turn around and engage in exactly that sort of rebranding. Much of that is courtesy of Frank Luntz, a professional pollster, who, on at least one occasion, actually redefined “Orwellian” as a good thing. Most famously, Luntz gave us “death tax” instead of “estate tax”. He also gave us “climate change” in place of “global warming” (because it sounds less scary), “energy exploration” in place of “off-shore drilling”, “opportunity scholarships” in place of “school vouchers”, “tax relief” in place of “tax cuts”, “personalizing Social Security” in place of “privatizing Social Security”, and, perhaps most chillingly, “electronic intercepts” instead of “wiretapping” or “eavesdropping”. He encourages Republicans to say “liberal” instead of “progressive”, because it resonates with the idea of loose morals or profligate spending.

At least as long ago as 2009, Frank Luntz counseled Republicans to characterize health care reform in scary terms: “government takeover” instead of “health care reform”.

Government takeover? Today’s Republicans managed to eke out a win in the presidency and both houses of Congress and made repeal of the Affordable Care Act their first priority. If that’s not a “government takeover” of our healthcare system, I don’t know what is.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “repeal [Obamacare] and replace [it] with something terrific”.

It damn well better be “terrific”, because the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, is better than what came before by actual measurement. For one thing, it requires coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. That’s important to several people I know who have chronic conditions which didn’t used to be covered, and now are, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Trump said that he was going to keep coverage for pre-existing conditions, because it was one of the ACA’s best points. BUT, apparently not. Let’s hear from Mike Pence:

“We will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions so that they are not charged more or denied coverage, just because they have been sick, so long as they have paid their premiums consistently,” he said.

But that’s not something ordinary people have complete control over, is it? If you’re fired from employment, or have to move unexpectedly, you may not be able to have continuous healthcare. Once you don’t, you’re in the high-risk pool for the long-term.

And there’s the flaw in healthcare, right there: pools. If you sell healthcare in a free market, then as a coverage provider you can’t make money in that market unless you charge more for people who need more. When you’re buying kitchenware, or a boat, that’s fine, because people can choose to economize. But it’s not possible to economize on healthcare by not having an expensive condition. I’m a cancer survivor, and I promise you, I would have economized by not having cancer. But that wasn’t an option.

About 60 million Americans have pre-existing conditions. That’s about 18% of the population. This is not a small problem.

Most Americans believe in meritocracy. Work hard and earn what you get. The implicit promise behind that belief is a reasonably level playing field. Well, when it comes to healthcare, the playing field is not level. A lot of your health is luck-of-the-draw. Some people get cancer. One accident I investigated, during my career, involved a woman who fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed over, taking a car head-on and breaking both of the other driver’s knees and hips, among other things. Let’s hope he was insured, because he’s going to need lifelong healthcare just for that, let alone the fact that he’s just as likely as anyone to draw the cancer card.

Where is the merit in that? Is there any possible way that he could have saved enough to pay for that roll of the dice, while doing the other things we expect of him, like paying on a mortgage and saving for his childrens’ college educations? That’s not meritocracy. That’s rouletteocracy.

How many times have you heard someone say that they hate their job, but they have to stay in it for their family’s healthcare? Conservatives say that they’re all about the entrepreneurial spirit. If our healthcare did not depend on our jobs, if we could know that our basic health was taken care of, so that we could take small risks instead of huge ones, they would see an explosion of entrepreneurs such as they have not dared to dream of.

Instead, they want us to make free-market decisions in circumstances which are famously opaque, where not even experts can get real costs on medical treatments, where parents with no medical training make medical decisions. What if your ten-year-old child falls and hurts their arm? Republican Bill Huizenga says you wait until the next day to take them to a doctor, in order to avoid a costly visit to the emergency department. But hey, don’t worry! Huizenga’s kid’s arm was just broken. Waiting didn’t hurt anyone, right? I mean, anyone besides the ten-year-old?

Republicans want people to make healthcare decisions they are not qualified to make in order to keep their costs down.

What if Huizenga didn’t have health insurance? Then his child would not be insured at all. Rouletteocracy again.

The system we have is ridiculous. We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species, and yet, we do not ensure healthcare for our society’s children. The Affordable Care Act improved our system somewhat. The Republicans are planning to delete it.

Enough of this shame.

We should be improving this system, not dismantling it. Call your representatives and tell them that. Tell them to cover all children, whose healthcare should not depend on the employment status of their parents. Tell them to decouple healthcare from employment.