Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Don’t Do Anything

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Don’t Do Anything
By Raven Usher

Subchapter X: punitive articles
Article 125: sodomy

Every couple of years some politician launches a campaign condemning the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I agree whole heartedly that men and women should be able to serve in the military regardless of their sexual preferences. I also agree that court martialing and discharging soldiers with valuable skills hamstrings the effectiveness of the military.

But I also know the history of the US military (being a veteran myself). It makes me giggle to see people who rejoiced in “don’t ask don’t tell” when it was enacted who are now crying for its repeal. Let’s take a trip through history, shall we?

There was a time when military officials would actively hunt down men they believed to be gay. They were given dishonorable discharges and their civilian lives were destroyed right along with their military careers. Even worse, men who were drafted and inducted into the military involuntarily were still dishonorably discharged. These were men who knew they were not welcome in the military, got pressed into service and then were summarily destroyed.
So someone came up with an idea. “Let’s just pretend we don’t know. They won’t say anything. We won’t say anything. And we’ll all be happy in our ignorance.”

It was a simplistic solution. Maybe it was overly simplistic. But you know what? Most of the time it worked. It was shaky at first. There was a surge in enlistments right after it was enacted which made the old timers uncomfortable in the new change knowing there could be one of THEM in the ranks. But eventually things smoothed out and the military was all the better with the new batch of recruits. It was the birth of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

It was never a perfect solution. No one ever expected it to be perfect. It was a lot of high ranking people agreeing to ignore article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Basically the pentagon decided not to enforce a specific law unless they had no choice. UCMJ article 125 reads as such: (a) Any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration , however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.
(b) Any person found guilty of sodomy shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Technically, every person who ignores the fact that another soldier is gay can be court martialed under articles 81 (conspiracy), 98 (noncompliance with procedural rules) and 134 (general). That is why there are still homosexuals who get discharged. Because someone broke the bargain. They either asked or told. That left the military brass with no choice but to follow through with a court martial.

So what will abolishing “don’t ask don’t tell” accomplish? Not a damn thing!
There is one, and only one, action that will allow gays to serve openly in the military without fear of court martial procedures. The UCMJ must be amended to revoke article 125. As long as article 125 stays on the books gays in the military will continue to be court martialed when they expose themselves to the open recognition of being gay. It is the law. Worse yet, it is military law!

Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” will only put gays who are serving honorably in the military right now in danger of being court martialed. “Don’t ask don’t tell” is not a lot of protection but it IS some protection. More than that, it is the ONLY protection gays in the military have. Getting rid of it before getting rid of UCMJ article 125 is counter productive and potentially harmful. Not having everyone fit under the umbrella in the rain storm is not a reason to throw out the umbrella.

“Don’t ask don’t tell” is only a band aide on a wound that requires stitches. But it is keeping that wound from gaping open, bleeding profusely and getting infected. Am I in favor of gays serving openly in the US military? Yes. Am I in favor of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”? HELL NO! Let us not cut off the whole hand trying to save a single finger.

Blessed Be

Friday, February 13, 2009

Human Rights and Wrongs

Human Rights and Wrongs
By Raven Usher

By a margin of one vote the initiative to give sexual preference and gender identity the same legal protections that cover sex, race and religion was denied to the state of Idaho. Yes, this is an obvious blow to equal rights. (Notice I do not say ‘Gay Rights’ or ‘Gender Rights‘, but equal HUMAN rights.) I was upset, although not altogether surprised, by the vote. Then my propensity for playing devil’s advocate flared up. That brought an interesting question to my mind.

Now do not go flying off the handle at me when you see the question. I am not anti anything. I am not trying to work against the cause for equality. It is just a question I had to ask myself. And now I am going to ask you was well.

What did we actually lose?

The initiative would have made it illegal to fire someone because s/he is homosexual or transgender. That should be law everywhere. Firing someone for either of those reasons is cut and dry prejudicial. It is wrong. It should not happen.

But this is Idaho. Any employer can fire any employee for any reason. You can wake up in a bad mood because your honey bunny did not give you any the night before and vent your anger and frustration by firing the first person to cross your path. You do not have to give that person any kind of reason. All you have to do is say, “Get out.”

If that person decides to try to sue for wrongful termination you can walk into the trial, look the judge in the eye and tell him, “I just felt like being bastard.”
And you know what? That is legal.

SO… let us suppose for the moment that the initiative had passed. Or let us say that it gets re-introduced next term and this time it passes. What do we win? We get some LGBT protection in the law books in Idaho. We make a couple of headlines. We pat ourselves on the back for all our hard work. We thank those who voted for the initiative and we congratulate every single member of the LGBT community.

And tomorrow we show our sympathy for the gay man who gets fired even though he is the top performer in his office. We offer to do what ever we can for the young woman (who just happens to be lesbian) who is the only person laid off from the company.

The truth is that as long as Idaho is an “at will” employment state NOBODY is ever going to be secure in their job. It does not matter if we are gay or straight. It does not matter if we conform to sociological norms or step outside lines. If some little-brained self-important moron decides he does not like you there is no protection. None. Nada. Nine. Nothing. Employment laws in Idaho are unfair to every worker. Not just the LGBT’s.

Yes, yes, yes I am very upset that we lost this battle. I strongly support the re-introduction of the initiative. It will be a hugely needed moral victory for all the state’s workers when it happens. Sadly though I do not believe I will see it in the years of working I have left in front of me.

Blessed be.

Monday, November 3, 2008

… But You Can’t Take the Genes Out of the Tranny

… But You Can’t Take the Genes Out of the Tranny
By Raven Usher

Etiology - The science of assigning causes.

What causes transsexuality? People have been arguing over that little drama for decades. There have been all kinds of theories. Some have been sensible. Many have been short sighted. A couple have been down right moronic. Scholars, scientist, doctors and self righteous debunkers have all thrown their opinions into the hat.

Chromosome push theory suggested that the introduction of certain proteins during fetal development that cause the fetus to mutate from female to male (all human embryos start their existence as female when they are first fertilized.) is interfered with during the development of the brain and nervous system. So the brain remains female while the body changes to male.

Diethylstilbestrol was a powerful synthetic estrogen that was widely used in the from 1938 to 1971. As the LGBT rights movement progressed and transsexuality came under more close scrutiny, the drug was blamed for causing disorders that led to gender dysphoria and other issues.

Symbiotic fusion suggested that an abnormally close bond between the mother and child was formed during fetal development. This bond supposedly left a psychological imprint on the child causing him to imitate the mother’s behaviors.

Paternal theory blames a lack of significant involvement in the child’s life by the father leaving an insufficient masculine influence on the child’s psyche. It was then suggested that the lack of a masculine role model left child with no choice but to emulate feminine influences.

Then of course there are the closed minded right-wingers who insist that transsexualism is pure choice. As if anyone would subject themselves to the hardships of transition if it was not an absolute necessity.

None of these theories have ever been proven. That is until now!

Geneticists Vincent Harley and Lauren Hare, from Australia’s Prince Henry Institute and Monash University respectively, have identified a genetic link to male to female transsexualism. So as fate would have it, it turns out that genetic theory turns out to be the correct answer.

The discovery was made as part of the Human Genome Project. It shows that some male to female transsexuals carry a different form of a gene called an Androgen Receptor (AR). They are a short, repetitive sequence of DNA. Androgen receptors deal with the body’s response to testosterone. In male to female trannies that response is modified by the difference in their AR.
It is probable that the “defective” extra-long copies of the AR gene could severely reduce normal testosterone levels. That reduction leads to a more female-like brain. This discovery builds on previous research that has documented some similarities in the brain structure of females and male to female transsexuals.

Debunkers of the study, which was released in the journal of Biological Psychiatry, say that it is not accurate enough due to the limited number of subjects involved in the study. 112 male to female transsexual subjects were compared to 258 non-transsexual men. Although no one is attempting to disqualify the study, there is a large call for it to be replicated in order to give the findings a more solid base.

Jennifer Graves, head of the Comparative Genomics Research Group at the Australian National University says, “This is still a small sample …. so there is much more to be done.” She also says that she is certain that it will turn out that the RA genes in question will turn out to have an important role in sexuality.

Whether or not this specific RA gene is the ultimate cause of transsexuality, speaking as a pre-op tranny, it feels damn good to have some solid evidence towards answering the ever-pesky question, “Why me?”

Being able to tell myself that I was born this way goes a LONG way in providing some solace of peace of mind. Being as open as I am about my transsexuality I know that sooner or later I will once again encounter someone who is going to want to argue about the morality of my “lifestyle choice.” It is going to be great having the weapon of a scientific study in my debate arsenal. The little, tenacious, instigator part of me almost wants someone to start the argument so I can beat them down with this new knowledge.

But even for those who are more secretive about their transsexual existence and do not crave the adrenalin rush of a head-to-head, hard core debate will be able to draw comfort from this discovery. No matter how much you say you do not care about what other people think, it is always good to feel normal.

Blessed Be

Monday, October 6, 2008

Counting the Miles

Counting the Miles
By Raven Usher

“A journey of 100 miles begins with a single step.”

I have been thinking about mile stones. No, not the rocks that hunters put at the edge of back-wood dirt roads to mark the locations of their favorite places to blast those fuzzy animals who wreak havoc on the wilderness by drinking from streams and nibbling on grass. The monsters!

I am talking about those moments in our lives that mark the great changes in our personal evolutions. Moments like coming out. No matter where we stand under the LGBT umbrella the day we come out is a life changing day. No matter how good or bad it went it left us each changed forever.

I was on a break after taking a test at my newly embarked upon scholastic endeavor when I got to thinking how far I have come in the course of a single year. Going from suicide watch at Saint Alphonse’s to topping the class in a health care program in thirteen months gives me a quite a boost on the pride meter. It was not long before my mind was recalling high points of my transsexual progression.

The mile stones of gender transition are not particularly unique. Other people who are not transgender might have very similar experiences. Body changes happen to everyone at least one point in our lives. Puberty sucks! Using chemicals to induce a second puberty is a bigger bitch than a hockey mom with delusions of grandeur.

Starting to take hormones. That was a big one. Even bigger than coming out, I think. It is one thing to declare your desire for something. It is quite another to take the first steps to getting it.
The day I first noticed that my breasts were casting a noticeable shadow. I know that may sound silly, but I was high on life for a week afterwards. It was an affirmation of the progress I was making.

The same thing goes for the first time I ran and felt my breast bounce. That rocked! Both occasions were milestones in my physical development.

The first time a random sales clerk called me “Ma’am”. Yes, many women dread the day they get called “ma’am” instead of “miss” but for a tranny it is a great day for our confidence in projecting our gender expression.

Using the “other” public rest room for the first time. That one was nerve wracking. Was anyone watching? Did they know? Could they tell? Yeah, I know it was neurotic. But could you imagine walking in there just to have some strange woman scream?

The first time a straight person of the opposite sex hits on you. I took my brother out to a club for his birthday. He was at the bar getting another drink when a guy walked up and desperately tried to get me to go home with him. My brother stood back and watched the entire event. I think it was a mile stone for both of us. It let me know I was fitting into society as a woman. It let him know he really does have a sister.

There are more. My mom altering my wedding dress. My dad saying he liked how my hair was styled. It has been eight years since I took that first estrogen pill. It has been quite a ride. (Thank you for letting me share it with you, by the way.)

The point is that miles stones are points of strength. They our successes. Embrace them. Treasure them. One day they may remind you too that oblivion does not have to be an option.

Blessed Be.

Monday, August 11, 2008

School Daze

School Daze
By Raven Usher

One of the biggest worries in being transgendered is being read in public. It is not easy to be read. Passing depends somewhat on how close people look at you. How close people look at you depends a lot on where you are. In some places, like the mall, you are pretty anonymous. Nobody cares who you are as long as you are not holding them up at the register. Other places do not give you that luxury. In some places they look close. Places like… school! (Insert ominous music cord here.)

I use to think that attending a function at the kids’ school was a total ball busting experience. No matter how friendly the teachers are, there is always that underlying feeling that they are trying to equate your influence on your kid. That and being a parent of the only kids in the whole school who have two moms tends to make you a target for attention. And Goddess forbid you do not hold up to the standards of the soccer-mom clique` less rumors and gossip fly behind your back like leaves in the wind of a speeding truck. Pardon me for wearing the “wrong” shorts when I dropped off my kids! Bitches.

But education is super-mega-mondo important. So you have to bite the bullet. Education is not only important for the kids though. It is important for adults as well. That is a much larger caliber bullet to bite.

No where in our lives are we more closely watched and scrutinized than when we are in school. Teachers watch everything we do and listen to everything we say. Other students are in tight proximity and have a close up view of us. Add to that the extra attention you will garner if you are re-entering a school setting during a later stage of life. It is a atmosphere that can overwhelm someone who displaying a post-transitional gender expression. Being read in such a situation is practically a guarantee.

Such is set the stage for a yet another transgender challenge. Ok, enough Shakespearian influence. It is just another place that will test a tranny’s courage and resolve. It is intimidating. I am returning to school (full time status, no less) after twenty-two years. I go to class and sit among a group of people who are ALL young enough to be my children. It is a lot to get use to in such a short amount of time.

Of course I am not the only one who has to get use to something new. Like most trannies I have to take time out from my apprehension to remind myself that I am the novelty, not the school. I am most likely not the only one who has to adjust to an uncomfortable situation. Everyone has been to school. Very few people encounter transgendered individuals.

It is SO easy to forget that I am not an every day, household staple for those around me. When I see people react to me with hesitation and/or confusion it is an easy thing to dive into a reactionary response that craves an opportunity to holler “prejudice” or “discrimination” from a lonely pulpit. But hesitation is not a form of prejudice and confusion does not discriminate.

Going back to school is much more than just a chance for me to gird up my backbone. It is a chance to learn and relearn. To learn a new trade. To relearn that others need to be given a chance to come to a place of comfort with something new. I may not be new to me. But I am new to everyone else at school. Hopefully we can all learn more than we bargained for when we enrolled.

Blessed Be

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hercules' Epic Disco Battle

Hercules’ Epic Disco Battle
By Raven Usher

So… You thought disco was dead, did you? Well not so fast! It seems that disco is seeing a resurgence at the dance clubs and on the air waves. In the front pew of this resurrection is a band named Hercules and Love Affair.

With their self-titled debut album Andy Butler, Antony Hegarty and Nomi set out to fuel the fire of the disco revolution using some fast beats and lively rhythms. It is not the pure disco of circa 1975, however. Hercules and Love Affair takes the basic disco philosophy of the unwavering dance beat and use twenty-first century techno sound to bring on a hybrid that certainly can keep a dance floor moving.

Usually when I review music I like to get some background on the band. Unfortunately information is woefully missing from Hercules and Love Affair’s web page, myspace page and face book page. All three of these pages have been dedicated to the sole purpose of selling the album and not in promoting the band or the band members. I finally had to dig up interviews from more than a year ago just to find the full names of the band members. I still did not find a last name for Nomi, so I assume she is making a go for Cher’s path to fame.

Despite the single moniker Nomi definitely has the best voice of the group and the three songs she takes the lead vocal on are the best tracks on the album. “You Belong”, the new single, which came out on July 7, has the strength to catch and keep the listener’s attention. If disco could make the charts, it would be a top-notch contender. “True False” and “Iris” top out the top three tracks of the album. “True False” is the best dance mix on the album with the most sustainable beat and “Iris” is a softer heart strings plucker that is reminiscent of a late 60’s protest song. A for all three songs.

The disco/techno marriage peaks with “Hercules’ Theme.” This song should be the rallying cry for the whole disco revolutionary movement. It has the best representation of the good old-school disco format. The innovation comes in when that old sound is remade in the light of the new techno spirit. B+.

There is only a couple of low points in the whole album. First is the song “Blind.” Although it has a good beat and is performed well, it has an eerie, creepy feel that conjures images of Jayme Gumm’s basement in Silence of the Lambs. All it is missing is a six foot tall nut job asking me if I would f*** him. It probably deserves a better grade but I could only bring myself to give it a C-.

The bottom of the well is the song “Time Will.” The percussion line is SO techno that it sounds 200% synthetic and it does not mix at all with and of the other music. Who ever mixed the track was either high or drunk or both as is evident in the choppy mismatching of all the components of the song. To top it off the vocals for the piece are a Hollywood cliché of the swaggering vocal lilt of flaming drag queen. This song barely squeaks by passing grade at D-. Some tight harmonies are the only thing that saves this song from getting an F.

Overall Hercules and Love Affair’s debut album earns a solid B. It is good dance music that is an easy feet mover. It is strong enough to be entertaining and yet smooth enough at to not intimidate less experienced dancers.

You can hear sample tracks and see videos on their web page, There are also links there to where you can purchase the album or download individual tracks.
Blessed Be

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tension in Memphis

Tension in Memphis
By Raven Usher

An incident in Memphis, TN involving a police officer beating a trans-woman was recently brought to my attention. Here are the facts. Duanna Johnson was arrested on a prostitution charge. She was in the booking area waiting to be processed into jail. That is where officer Bridges McRae struck her several times. The incident was caught on video by the police surveillance cameras.

According to Johnson, what started the incident was McRae calling her "faggot" and "he/she" when he asked her to stand up and be fingerprinted. She told him that that was not what her mother named her and that she would not respond to him until he called her by her name. That was when McRae initially came over and began to beat Johnson according to her.

The video clearly shows that Johnson is NOT a defenseless victim during the incident. She did not curl up into a ball and endure a beating. She fought back while in a seated position, even kicking at McRae’s knee. She then stands up and attacks McRae after he backs off. Also, refusing to stand and be finger printed regardless of how she was addressed is a serious offence. That alone is enough to make a police officer use physical force to make a suspect do as told.

Over the last decade since I came out as transgendered I have seen a lot of trannies do a lot of stupid things. I have seen them put themselves in harms way; by getting intimate with men who do not know they are TG. By exposing themselves to people or groups they know to be hostile towards TG’s. And by attracting unnecessary attention from law enforcement agencies and risking their very lives by facing prison time by breaking the law.

Transgendered people have an extra responsibility to their personal safety that average people do not have. We know that we face extra danger just because we are indeed transgendered. It is OUR job to protect ourselves. Anything that puts an average person at risk of violence puts transgendered people at five times that risk. That includes things like breaking the law and getting into confrontations with cops. 99.99% of cops will go out of their way and even risk their lives to help transgendered people the same as they would for anyone else. That .01% idiot should not be used to influence your trust in the police. Unless you are a criminal.

The prostitution charges have been dropped since the incident made the news. Johnson’s lawyers claim that there was no just cause for the arrest to begin with and say that is why the charges were dropped. Johnson also states that since she is African-American and towering at a height of 6’5” that she was “profiled” not only as a prostitute but also a potential threat. It seems more likely however that the charges were dropped so that the police department could partially defuse an already ugly incident. This specially seems likely as Johnson’s legal team avoids the subject of Johnson working as a sex worker.

There is no way of knowing conclusively at this point if the incident between McRae and Johnson was or was not hate-inspired since there is no audio evidence to support Johnson‘s claim of name calling on McRae‘s part. Johnson surely should not have been struck for anything less striking out first. (Although, using physical force to move her to the finger printing counter would be acceptable.) A police officer, specially one who works in booking, should be above being moved to violence by even the most offensive verbal borage from someone they have in custody.

That would not excuse Johnson from some responsibility in the incident. It is way beyond stupid to mouth off to or cop an attitude with the police. An insult or a purposely misused pronoun from an officer is not justification to refuse to obey police commands. Following that up with physically resisting when the officer tries to move you is a very bad thing.

Seeing the full length video, not the edited-for-hype-and-ratings version that was initially aired, it does appear that Johnson did in fact resist McRae when he attempted to physically move her. You can clearly see her pushing his hands away when he tried to take her by the upper arm. This would be comparable to resisting arrest and the officer would then be justified in striking the suspect. Johnson’s behavior was totally unjustified as a response to an insult.

I am sure of one thing after my own look into the ordeal. In my opinion this was not a hate crime against a trans-person. It was a common conflict between a cop and a suspected criminal. The suspect was being combative and the cop overstepped his bounds. There were bad judgment calls and wrong actions on both of their parts. Yes, officer McRae went to far in hitting Johnson as many times as he did. But Johnson did provoke the incident by resisting the officer and refusing to obey commands.

As on-lookers we need to remember that transgendered people do stupid and illegal things just like everyone else. Just because this suspect is black and/or transgendered we should not be too quick to use those details as an excuse to claim wrong doing before we have the proof. Most importantly, let us not over react and scream “hatred” and “prejudice” when there is no due. Keep your wits about you. Be real and truthful. And for the sake of the gods do not add to the hype.

Blessed Be

See this and previous issues of “Raven’s World” at