WBEZ | trans http://www.wbez.org/tags/trans Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Transgender man learns to accept love http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/transgender-man-learns-accept-love-110424 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/StoryCorps 140627 Nick Heap.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&ldquo;I was the oldest of three girls and I had really only male friends for most of my growing-up years,&rdquo; Nick Heap says in this week&rsquo;s StoryCorps. &ldquo;I had long, long blonde hair, long enough I could actually sit-on-it, blonde.&rdquo;</p><p>Nick grew up female and transitioned to male as an adult. He recorded his story as part of a partnership between StoryCorps Chicago and the<a href="http://transoralhistory.com/"> <u>Trans Oral History Project</u></a>.</p><p>As a kid, Nick was a &ldquo;tomboy&rdquo; who enjoyed riding around the neighborhood on his dirt bike, without a shirt on. His parents were supportive of expressing his identity as much as they understood it, but he struggled to understand himself.</p><p>In seventh grade, Nick wrote anonymous love letters to a girl at school who figured out pretty quickly who was writing them. &ldquo;Within days it was all over the school,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The harassment I would get after that was daily.&rdquo;</p><p>Nick&rsquo;s parents were called into the principal&rsquo;s office, but they stood firm: &ldquo;Is she causing an academic disruption in the classroom?&rdquo; they asked. &ldquo;So she wrote some notes to another kid. Kids do that.&rdquo;</p><p>Nick says that years later he talked to the girl who passed his notes around. She became a family counselor as an adult and they were able to talk through the experience in a healing way.</p><p>Even with that kind of support, for a long time it felt like he was on the outside looking in.</p><p>&ldquo;It was really hard feeling like I was utterly alone,&rdquo; Nick says. &ldquo;Now that I am passably male one hundred percent of the time, I am finally free to express those aspects of myself that are feminine, safely. But for so long, I spent so much of my life being ultra-masculine.&rdquo;</p><p>Over time, Nick has learned to have more patience with his family and himself.</p><p>&ldquo;For so long in my life, I couldn&rsquo;t feel the love of all the people around me,&rdquo; Nick says. &ldquo;It was like I was walking around inside a shell of armor. And their love just couldn&rsquo;t get to me. I couldn&rsquo;t feel it. I saw it, I knew it was there, I just couldn&rsquo;t feel it. And today that&rsquo;s not the truth. I can absolutely experience all this amazing love that has been all around me all the time and I&rsquo;m able to give that back to people now.&rdquo;</p><p>In June,<a href="http://storycorps.org/outloud/"> <u>StoryCorps launched the &ldquo;Out Loud&rdquo; initiative</u></a> to collect stories from LGBT people. One of these stories will be broadcast nationally on NPR each week for the next year.</p><p>The Trans Oral History Project continues to collect stories in partnership with StoryCorps Chicago. They <a href="http://transoralhistory.com/uploads/toolkit/ilive-interactive.pdf">recently published a toolkit</a> for gay-straight alliances and community organizations that work with LGBT youth.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/6250422&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 07:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/transgender-man-learns-accept-love-110424 We need to give up transphobia http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-03/we-need-give-transphobia-106351 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:16px;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2013-03-05-chain-fence-4_3_r536_c534.jpg" style="width: 386px; height: 290px;" title="Image of MMA fighting cage, where a trans fighter has stepped into the ring for the first time (Jae C. Hong/AP)" /></span></div><p style="font-family: arial;"><em style="font-family: georgia, serif; font-size: 14px;">Trigger warning: Transphobia. A lot of transphobia.</em></p><p style="font-size: small;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b id="internal-source-marker_0.3950813978444785" style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">A month ago, my friend Todd Clayton came out as a recovering transphobe in an incisive <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-clayton/queer-community-transphobic_b_2727064.html">essay</a> for the</span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> Huffington Post </span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">entitled &ldquo;The Queer Community Has to Stop Being Transphobic.&rdquo; In the piece, Clayton details his own journey on transphobia and inclusion, how a Lana Wachowski speech opened his eyes to the quiet bigotry in his own life. He hadn&rsquo;t openly attacked trans people or worked against their freedoms. Clayton was transphobic in a lot of the ways our community members are: insensitive and dismissive, not realizing the ways in which trans lives and struggles intersect with our own.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b id="internal-source-marker_0.3950813978444785" style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">When he asked me to read it, I told him it was a common experience of cisgender people in the community. As someone who came from a similar place as he did, it was my experience. I told Todd that if he ever published it, I would come out with my own story. This is that story. It&rsquo;s not easy to tell. I&rsquo;ve been holding onto it for awhile, keeping it secret and safe. But it can&rsquo;t stay secret any more.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">My name is Nico Lang, and I used to be transphobic.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I never thought about myself that way. I thought that my emotions were normal and valid, feeling justified in my passive disgust for trans bodies. The first time I heard about trans people was when my father talked about seeing </span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">The Crying Game</span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> in the theater and the way the audience convulsed with shock when the heroine&rsquo;s &ldquo;secret&rdquo; was revealed. My father claimed that people walked out or threw up when confronted with the image of transness or a life that didn&rsquo;t fit their binaries.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I was a teenager. Binaries were all I knew. Like Patty Hearst, I grew to love my captivity. I identified with my oppressors, working to uphold that marginalization in my own life.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">When I met a trans person for the first time, I didn&rsquo;t think my emotions were hatred, but they had to show on my face. For the purposes of this essay, her name was Megan, and she was one of the oddest characters I&rsquo;ve ever met, the kind of person you&rsquo;ll never forget. Megan claimed to be a vampire and drink blood; she also told us stories of being a general&rsquo;s wife and getting married in Egypt, as if she were a real-life Orlando or Candide. She wanted to believe she led a life that was too big to comprehend. </span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I thought she was pathetic. Rather than looking at her identity as a natural defense mechanism for a conservative Cincinnati that would always see her as an outsider, I refused to understand her. I didn&rsquo;t try. My friend told me that Megan had been kicked out of her home and most schools she&rsquo;d attended. This should have helped me be more compassionate, but my heart couldn&rsquo;t open to let her in. I still think about her sometimes. I don&rsquo;t know if she even knows I have anything to be sorry for, but I want to apologize anyway.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Like all hate, I held onto it and secretly nurtured it in my refusal to believe there was anything wrong with the way I felt. On my first day of Human Sexuality in college, we watched a video on transitioning, one that included thorough graphics on gender assignment surgery. Just as the doctor discussed creating a vagina out of the shaft of a penis, I tapped out. I went for a drink of water. I milled around in the halls, checking fake text messages. I didn&rsquo;t even have a texting service at that time. I just couldn&rsquo;t go back in there. This wasn&rsquo;t what I&rsquo;d signed up for.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I wasn&rsquo;t sorry yet. I started to feel the void where sorry was supposed to be, the same one I felt when I saw</span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> Transamerica</span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> and turned away during its brief flash of nudity. I couldn&rsquo;t look at her, just like a part of me couldn&rsquo;t comprehend the identity of a trans masculine classmate of mine. When a friend showed me what trans masculine bodies looked like (from a coffee table book he owned of Loren Cameron&#39;s work), I almost couldn&rsquo;t believe it. </span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">This is an actual quote: &ldquo;But they look so </span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">normal</span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">.&rdquo; It would be years before I learned to regret those words. I wish I could go back in time and punch that person in the face.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I wish there were a moment where I look at my behavior and realized that I needed to change, but life isn&rsquo;t like that. There isn&rsquo;t always a moment; there are a million moments, where you are made accountable to your lack of compassion and openness to the experiences of others, and that part of you will always still be there, nagging and pulling. Sometimes hate stays the same way it did before, and sometimes it lives on in racism, sexism and homophobia. Sometimes it just takes a nap.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">My hate was always secretly directed inward. From an early age, I <a href="http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/when-i-was-a-girl/">identified as female</a>, and it was years before my parents could get me to put on a pair of jeans. I wanted to wear dresses. I settled for sweatpants. Most kids were obsessed with Barney or Chuck E. Cheese; I wanted to be like Jane Fonda, in her spandex and matching headband, commanding a room of women to be their best selves while protesting the war in Vietnam, winning Oscars and being married to an eccentric billionaire. Many of us grew up secretly believing we could have it all. I knew I could. Jane told me so.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">My father has the same name as I do, and I didn&rsquo;t want his name, just like I didn&rsquo;t want his maleness. I went by the name &ldquo;Nicky.&rdquo; When my parents resisted, I started spelling it in increasingly elaborate and stripper-esque ways, like &ldquo;Nicki,&rdquo; &ldquo;Nickie,&rdquo; &ldquo;Nikki&rdquo; and &ldquo;NICKEE*.&rdquo; I dotted it with hearts, wrote it in pink and shellacked it with glitter. Some kids have to come out; I was barely ever in.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">For a long time, my parents let it slide. This was at the height of my brother Jonathan&rsquo;s illness, and my mother&rsquo;s days were too filled with breathing tubes, doctor&rsquo;s visits and press appearances to pay attention to anything else. My brother was born with a condition that they didn&rsquo;t have a name for. Basically, his insides swelled until they couldn&rsquo;t anymore. It was like his brain was trying to push its way out.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">They didn&rsquo;t name my gender variance either. They figured that if they didn&rsquo;t pay attention to it, the problem would go away, like a car alarm or a Jehovah&rsquo;s Witness. My father expected that I would grow to only love the things he did; he expected me to give up Barbies for G.I. Joes and teatime for football, the sport he so loved. He just wanted us to be playing on the same team. He didn&rsquo;t expect to see me in dresses.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">As a culture, when we see a man in a dress, we do one of two things: We laugh or we beat it out of him. We do that in different ways. My parents caught me playing Cinderella at daycare one day after work, and they didn&rsquo;t hit me or punish me. They didn&rsquo;t throw me on the street or pawn me off on a religiously conservative relative. They just showed me that wasn&rsquo;t an option. This isn&rsquo;t what boys do. I was never taught that it was okay to be a woman or that it was okay to be myself. Boys aren&rsquo;t princesses; they rescue them.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">They didn&rsquo;t realize that one day I would need to rescue myself.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Hating yourself is easy. I found a million outlets to hate myself. I had Jesus, who was nailed to a cross because I wasn&rsquo;t good enough. I had the locker room, which helped me learn to hate my body, on top of hating my soul. I had the guys who would wait outside my Pre-Calculus class to stare at me as I walked by, treating my queerness as a spectacle. I had the uncle who stopped talking to me when I came out, who would only direct questions or statements to me through my mother. He didn&rsquo;t hate me for being a socialist or wanting to tear down his capitalist patriarchy because of my political beliefs or any interesting reason. He hated me for the same boring reasons everyone else did. He hated me without even knowing why.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Boring or not, hate sticks. And low-simmering hate is particularly dangerous, because it&#39;s easy to ignore. Hate becomes a pattern, and you learn to hate for the same stupid reasons everyone else does. You hate without even knowing why, not recognizing that hate is a reflection of yourself. </span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">You don&rsquo;t choose to give up hate one day and wash your hands of it forever; the feelings stick with you, and they take lifetimes to cleanse. It&rsquo;s not enough to simply not hate people, and you don&rsquo;t get a pat on the back for looking at Lana Wachowski and saying, &ldquo;Oh, I accept you now. Here&rsquo;s an award. Go us!&rdquo; You have to actively work to include trans people in your lives and spaces, accept a callout when you get it wrong and educate yourself to be better. You have to be accountable to yourself.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">As Virginia Mamey Mollenkott argues, </span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">&quot;It is vital for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals to recognize our movement </span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">as basically a transgender movement</span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">.&quot; Mollenott tells us that it&rsquo;s not just about homosexuality. It&rsquo;s about being queer -- or &nbsp;different from the norm. Our struggle is about gender. She writes, &quot;The fact that the most effeminate gay men and the butchest lesbians are the most endangered among us should alert us to the fact that society cares less about what we do in private than it cares about a challenge to its longstanding gender assumptions.&quot;</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">There was a time when I accepted not hating people as enough and credited myself as a good ally for &ldquo;having trans friends.&rdquo; </span><span style="font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Look how far I&rsquo;ve come! </span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">However, our engagement needs more than love; it needs action. Trans people are some of the most visible and at risk in our collective struggle, and we must actively work with trans people, rather than simply for them. Gay cisgender men need to stop wondering where the T is and realize that the T is all around us, organizing and working to make the community safer for all of us. The trans movement isn&rsquo;t the next movement. </span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Look around you. The movement is happening now, whether we care to recognize it or not. </span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">The movement is <a href="http://kokumomedia.com/kokumo-music-2/">KOKUMO</a>. The movement is <a href="http://tv.msnbc.com/2012/12/04/being-transgender-no-longer-a-mental-disorder-apa/">Kate Bornstein</a>. The movement is <a href="http://transgriot.blogspot.com/">Monica Roberts</a>. The movement is <a href="http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/">Julia Serano</a>. The movement is <a href="http://www.wehappytrans.com">We Happy Trans</a>. The movement is <a href="http://janetmock.com/2012/05/28/twitter-girlslikeus-campaign-for-trans-women/">Girls Like Us</a>. The movement is the <a href="http://www.transmonthofaction.org/">Trans Month of Action</a>. The movement is being broadcast all around you, and it&rsquo;s <a href="https://www.facebook.com/events/491163934264456/">coming to Chicago</a> this weekend with <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Trans100?ref=ts&amp;fref=ts">The Trans 100</a>, celebrating the incredible diversity of the trans community. Trans people are here. Are we paying attention?</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I thought of Megan this week when GLAAD <a href="http://www.advocate.com/politics/2013/03/24/glaad-affirms-commitment-trans-and-bi-people-alters-name">announced</a> that it would be changing its acronym. The organization will no longer stand for the &ldquo;Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation&rdquo; but GLAAD, as in the emotion. </span></b><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">This reflects that the </span></b><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">organization</span></b><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;"> not only speak</span></b><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">s for gays and lesbians, but also includes trans people in its mission. This was announced even though the G and the L will remain in the organization&#39;s name and their board is <a href="http://americanapparently.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/glaadt-gltaad-glaad-adds-trans-equality-to-its-mission/">mostly comprised</a> of white, cis males -- much like HRC, our friendly neighborhood transphobes.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">I don&rsquo;t discredit them for that. I know personally that we all have to start somewhere, and that we can&rsquo;t move forward without taking that first step. However, in <a href="http://www.thenation.com/blog/172925/white-people-have-give-racism">giving up transphobia</a>, we must do more than just mention trans folks. Trans people are worthy of full inclusion, and they must lead, speak, sign, march, walk and wheel next to us (or in front of us). We must realize that their perspectives and issues are as worthy of championing as ours. We need to shut up and learn to listen. As GLAAD moves forward, I hope they continue to listen and push inclusion further. I hope we all do.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">A month ago <a href="https://twitter.com/janetmock">Janet Mock</a> very politely called me out on Twitter for getting something wrong in an article I wrote on transphobia in <em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-01/observers-transphobic-bullying-what-war-trans-women-looks-104924">The Observer</a></em></span><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">, and I learned from her. I haven&#39;t always been great with callouts, but this time, I was happy to get schooled by the best. My work isn&rsquo;t perfect. My work needs to be pushed and to push itself. I&rsquo;m still learning -- and that includes learning to love myself, finally. Personally, I&rsquo;m still <a href="http://inourwordsblog.com/2012/01/10/coming-out-yup-im-genderqueer/">figuring out</a> what gender <a href="http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/things-ive-learned-from-writing-under-a-gender-neutral-name/">means to me</a>. Like everything else in my life, it&rsquo;s a journey.</span></b></font></span></p><p style="font-family: arial;"><span style="font-size:14px;"><font face="georgia, serif"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">If I saw Megan today, I wouldn&rsquo;t just apologize to her. I would thank her. After all, she succeeded in at least one way: I never forgot her.</span></b></font></span></p><p><em>Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly characterized the makeup of the GLAAD board. Ten percent of the GLAAD board identifies as transgender. It also mistakenly characterized GLAAD&#39;s mission statement. GLAAD&#39;s <a href="http://www.glaad.org/about" target="_blank">mission statement</a> includes trans people. </em></p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><em style="font-family: georgia, serif; font-size: 14px;"><b style="font-weight: normal;"><span style="vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;">Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ issues in Chicago. You can follow Nico on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Nico_Lang">Twitter</a>, <a href="http://achatwithnicolang.tumblr.com">Tumblr</a> or on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/NicoRLang">Facebook</a>.</span></b></em></span></p></p> Wed, 27 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-03/we-need-give-transphobia-106351 Breaking ground: An interview with Precious Jewel on RuPaul's Drag Race http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/breaking-ground-interview-precious-jewel-rupauls-drag-race-105658 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/r-RUPAULS-DRAG-RACE-large570.jpg" style="height: 117px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="RuPaul (Logo)" />A few weeks ago, <em>RuPaul&#39;s Drag Race</em> made show history when its first contestant came out as transgender while appearing on <em>RPDR</em>: the fierce Monica Beverly Hillz. For a show that&#39;s often ignored, side-stepped&nbsp; or marginalized trans* issues, this was a major about face. When Willam left the show in Season 4, rumors spread it that was because Willam had started transitioning and &quot;broke the rules.&quot; Willam later explained that the reason for the dismissal was that the divisive contestant had been receiving conjugal visits from their boyfriend. Contestants aren&#39;t allowed to have contact with the outside world, and this violated that clause in the <em>Drag Race </em>contract.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">However, many felt the explanation was unsatisfactory. There was more going on here. That mistrust shows not only the lingering skepticism toward the show&#39;s trans inclusion but the divides between the trans* and drag communities. I mention it below, but Monica Roberts of Trans Griot recently took the show to task for its problematic relationship with transgender folks. Monica Beverly Hillz&#39;s coming out helps move that conversation in a more positive direction. It&#39;s an important first step.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">As a fan of the show, I sat down with drag performer Precious Jewel, who identifies as transgender. I wanted to know what her thoughts on the show were, especially as someone who had tried out for the show in the past. In a blog post on <a href="http://wehappytrans.com/news-media/rupaulsdragrace/">We Happy Trans</a>, Precious discusses the ways she must straddle the divides of drag and trans* in everyday life. I wanted to pick her brain about what Monica Beverly Hillz means for the drag culture. She suggested that we grab brunch at Waffles, a recently opened brunch place off Broadway in Lakeview. <em>A new waffle joint? </em>I was already living for this discussion.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>Nico Lang: As a fan of <em>RuPaul&rsquo;s Drag Race</em>, how did you react to news of Monica Beverly Hillz&rsquo;s coming out? Do you think that featuring its first transgender contestant was a long time coming?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>Precious Jewel:</strong> In terms of Monica Beverly Hillz coming out, I felt not only was it a groundbreaking moment for Monica and her personal journey, but a growing moment for the show as well. No other contestant has ever openly identified as transgender while competing, though several have come out after their stints on the show, like Sonique Love, Carmen Carrera and Kenya Michaels. So yes, this was a long time coming.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The episode also shows us a loving and affirming RuPaul who dotes on Monica and proclaims, &quot;I brought you here because you are fierce,&quot; although she deftly sidesteps the actual word transgender. This shows that Ru has an understanding that at times the intersections of gender and performance meet at drag&rsquo;s doorstep in an undeniable package, but that she may not yet be ready to fully come to terms with the repercussions those commonalities could have on her show. It had to be the right time for a transgender contestant to come out on <em>Drag Race.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Ru is an extremely smart individual; not only is she glamorous but she is strategic. I think she first wanted to establish a relationship between the performance and the meaning of the term drag with her viewership in earlier seasons before she started branching out with other gender identities in later seasons. This season was framed around &quot;goddesses&quot; and &quot;fishy&quot; (or &ldquo;passable&rdquo;) queens; therefore, it wasn&#39;t a complete shock to me that one of them identified as female.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: Why is this moment important? Why do we need trans* women as our drag superstars?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> Ru herself has been quoted as saying, &quot;I&#39;ve always been interested in looking under the hood of our culture and deconstructing femininity in itself.&quot; &nbsp;Monica&#39;s representation and presentation on the show deconstructs notions of what a stereotypical female looks like. That is the piece of <em>Drag Race</em> history that I am living for most.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Some of the most respected individuals in the business are transgender women as well as drag queens: Mimi Marks, Candis Cayne, Sasha Colby, and Carmen Carrera. All of those women have broken through glass ceilings. We need trans* women as drag superstars to show the world that we are no longer going to hide or question who we are or accept the slandering of our character for mainstream culture. We need trans* women as drag superstars to model that&nbsp;we as transgender women are more than just the victims of crude humor and murder. We are women who deserve to occupy positions of power and leadership, and we will be the ones to define our own expectations surrounding our individual gender identities.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: A few weeks ago, an article by Monica Roberts of Trans Griot criticized the show for its problematic relationship to the trans* community. How do you feel about critiques of the show&rsquo;s trans* issues?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> Ru was the closest thing I could identify with on television growing up and all through adolescence. It&#39;s almost like how you love your family even though you disagree with some of the things they do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">So no matter what, Ru will always be an icon to me. Ru has made it very clear that she is not interested in discussing the semantic meanings of words like &ldquo;tranny,&rdquo; or for that matter, whether she is referred to as he or she, but at the end of the day I do believe in her eternal message of love, energy and life. We as a community need to do less crucifying and more identifying with the gifts that the universe has placed within each of us.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: In what ways do you think that RuPaul and the show can improve on its inclusion of transgender identities? And how do you feel that RuPaul herself can be more accountable to change?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> I would like to see an open transgender woman cast and win the entire competition with her fierceness. Although I think Detox is serving some high gloss gender variance this season and it&#39;s looking like shes going to strut out of the competition with that crown. I think RuPaul has done a great job showing gender variance, with Ongina, Carmen and Raja, it boils down to: &ldquo;How can Ru push the envelope more than she already has?&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Candis Cayne is slated to make another appearance on <em>Drag Race</em> later this season and I would love it if they announced her as &ldquo;renowned transgender actress Candis Cayne.&quot; Visibility is a huge step in terms of being an ally for a community.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: As a trans* woman of color, how do you feel that your identity is embraced or marginalized in the drag community? What have your experiences been like?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> Drag was the catalyst in finding the inner goddess that was longing to be free inside of me for so long. Along the way on my journey for a time I identified as Queer before I came to the discovery that I actually identified as a transgender woman. It was during this time in my life that I met many drag performers who identified as women. Through numerous discussions with those women I came to the conclusion that I could and in fact needed to live my life authentically as a woman.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">In regards to my transition, the drag community has been extremely supportive, and I often get a lot of love from people I used to &quot;twirl&quot; with back in the day. They thank me for the work I&#39;m doing for the community and often comment on how much happier I look now than I did when I was performing full time, wavering uncertainly and unhappily between boy and queen. Now that I am a woman, my light shines to its full effect.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: How do you hope to challenge perceptions of drag through telling your own story?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> I&rsquo;m a firm believer that we are all in drag every day. Fashion is iconography. The clothing we wear, the music we listen to, and even the face we present to the world, each of these decisions constitutes our drag persona. Through our awareness, behavior and choices, we articulate our worldview and notions of self, power and belonging, and it is overarching aura that affects those we come into contact with in our daily lives. The way I try to instigate radical change in society is by pressing this point, by turning every sidewalk into a runway, every doorway into a parting curtain on a grand proscenium stage, by living larger than life and making my difference and my presence known.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Drag does not always have to be a huge wig, heavy makeup and a man in a dress; it does not have to be exaggeration to the point of comedic oblivion. Drag can be, and is for me, a self-actualization of confidence, perseverance and universal love.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: You are someone who has tried out for <em>RuPaul&rsquo;s Drag Race</em> in the past, although you have yet to be invited onto the show. Did you feel the need to cloak or conceal your identity?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> When casting for last season came about I was just crossing the threshold of my transition into living full time as a woman. I had just that month even taken the step of re-taking my ID photo in female presentation. Needless to say, as I looked at the audition requirements stating that half of the audition tape must be delivered as your boy self, I definitely experienced some serious reservations.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">As I did some soul-searching over the next few days though, I reached a couple conclusions. First, I truly believed that all of my hard work within the world of female impersonation deserved a place among the industry&rsquo;s finest, and second, part of me also believed in the potential for spreading my message that the platform of the show provided.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">So in the end, I tucked my weave up under a baseball cap and even went so far as to go back to the DMV to have my license re-issued in boy drag. I answered the requisite boy questions and played by all their rules, which wasn&rsquo;t particularly difficult really. I&rsquo;d been doing it most of my life. But it did feel hollow, and the experience caused me to vow that I would henceforth never compromise my authentic self for anything.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>NL: Now that <em>RuPaul&rsquo;s Drag Race</em> has taken a step toward trans* inclusion, where would you like to see that relationship go from here? What steps should they take?</strong></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><strong>PJ:</strong> Trans* women are a part of the drag community. I think in very basic ways the audition process could open itself up to include more gender variant identifications in the written and video requirements. Transgender women have stories to tell and art to share, and the world needs to know it.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Nico Lang blogs about LGBTQ life in Chicago. Want to talk about what happened on </em>Drag Race<em> this week? Follow <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Nico_Lang">Nico</a> on Twitter or <a href="http://www.facebook.com/nicorlang">Facebook</a>.</em></div></p> Fri, 22 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/breaking-ground-interview-precious-jewel-rupauls-drag-race-105658