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Op-Ed: Beacon of Hope for Trans Community

(Houston) — Identity, or gender, sexual orientation or the connection to one’s own race or ethnicity — plays a pivotal role in all our lives today. It is especially crucial to those who have earned the right to express it.

The right to one’s own identity is something still being fought for in many marginalized communities, and when something so precious as one’s identity is reduced to something solely desired for sexual pleasure, it can be painful. This is what can happen when a transgender person encounters a “chaser” — someone who has a “fetish” for transgender bodies.

Those who fetishize transgender bodies are participating in a culture of transphobia that deems our bodies as important solely when they’re sexualized.

The act of “chasing” is, indeed, rooted in a cultural assumption that the only reason someone would want to be with a trans person is that of a sexual fetish. When cisgender male celebrities like rapper Tyga and NFL player Hank Baskett have been “caught” with trans people, it’s been treated as a “scandal,” with the media and public assuming it must be because they have a “thing” for trans bodies.

When Houston native, Valentina Mia, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Houston finally came to terms with being trans, she set out to show that being trans was not a fetish or something to be feared and belittled. Coming from a family of mixed political views, Valentina says she has received nothing but love from her family and friends. This is not always the case for many transgender people.

Not only does Valentina have a BS in Economics with a Mathematics minor and a MA in Applied Economics, she is also an up and coming entertainer in the adult film industry. Valentina says she first decided to start webcamming in October of 2015. She then went on to do her first real porn shoot in early 2016.

Since then Valentina’s career in the adult film industry has been on the rise. She has taken being trans and shown the world that they no longer get to define what it means to be trans or treat being transgender as just a fetish.

Because of fetishes, in general, have a long history of being demonized, it may be tempting to view conversations surrounding this fetishizing as just another crusade against non-traditional sexual preferences. But this accusation couldn’t be further from the truth. Sexual fetishes cover a broad spectrum — from foot worshipping to spanking to sploshing — but when someone says they prefer men, they say they are straight, not that they have a “fetish” for men.

This is because we typically understand general sexual orientation as an attraction that can encompass a desire to know and love that person beyond the realm of the physical. Chasing, by reducing an individual’s gender identity to sexual fixation, doesn’t move beyond the purely physical realm. And it is, as such, dehumanizing. Yet, sadly — because of how much transphobia permeates our culture — trans women are often made to feel as if they should be grateful for any kind of attention they receive, even if it’s as reductive as this.

Until we decide to have a real conversation about the fetishization of trans bodies, stories like Mia Isabell’s will continue to make headlines as a “scandal,” and trans women like Valentina will keep encountering people who try to tell them that they should be grateful for the leftover libido of chasers — as though that paradigm could ever be equal to a loving relationship built on mutual respect.

To our trans community both near and far, remember that you are more than a gender, sexual orientation or fetish. You are a human being who deserves to be loved. You are our mothers and fathers. You are our brothers and sisters. You are our classmates and teachers. We love all of you and are fighting with you.

By Any Other Pronoun ft. Nene Leakes

Pronouns,

How would it make you feel?

Let’s get a few things straight: we’re not worried about someone’s sensitivity. We’re worried about human decency. And a part of being a decent human being is understanding that pronouns are important to people – especially trans and nonbinary people.

More often than not, young children are raised under the impression that there is a gender binary. There are two genders: male and female. Males are supposed to like sports, and cars, and superheroes. They’re supposed to run for president and be doctors. Females are supposed to shoot for the stars, too. In fact, their role models are usually princesses from fairy tales who either inherited or married into money.

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, that’s what.

There are two real issues with this. The first of these is that we’re still associating character traits with gender and sex. That school of thought isn’t just antiquated … it’s stupid. The second issue here is that just weeks out from the year 2018, we’re still looking at gender in the binary, or as having only two parts (male and female). The idea of there being a third, non-binary gender is nothing new. This year, California became the first state to recognize a third, non-binary gender. But centuries ago, many Native American tribes (or as I like to call them, the OGs of the continent) recognized as many as four separate genders (though this also could prove problematic, as they still dealt with masculine-feminine stereotypes).

Look, the fact of the matter is that (especially so in our community) there is a large chunk of people who identify as non-binary (meaning neither female nor male) or identify as male or female and just so happen to possess qualities that seem more masculine or feminine than what is considered to be the “norm.” Even I, a cis-gender, gay male who has chin-length hair, a feminine personality, and who sometimes wears makeup, am often referred to by strangers using the she/her/hers pronouns. And the truth of the matter is that it can be a little embarrassing, just like it can be for trans people and nonbinary people. And why? Because in spite of the fact that I am the most colorful fruit in the produce department at the Montrose Kroger, I am a cisgender male and identify as such.

Now let’s think about how that must feel for trans/non-binary folks. These are people who have struggled most of (if not all of) their lives with the gender they were assigned at birth. No matter how long they’ve been out as trans, or if they even are, a superfluity of emotions can stir inside a person when they’re called by the wrong pronoun.

I posed this question on my Facebook, where some of my friends chimed in.  

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The responses came in quickly.

Cis and mildly passive-aggressive:

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Non-binary:

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Trans:

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Cis and honestly trying to correlate: 

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Cis and understanding:

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So what does that mean you should do? 

 

giphy By Any Other Pronoun ft. Nene Leakes

ASSSSSSKKKKKKK!

It’s perfectly okay to ask. In fact, most people (whether they be trans, cis, or nonbinary) would prefer that you ask. I mean, you wouldn’t want someone walking around calling you a chef if you weren’t a chef. Would you? You wouldn’t want someone walking around calling you an octopus if you weren’t an octopus. Would you? Why would a trans man want you walking around calling him a woman?

He wouldn’t.

So, ask what your newfound friend’s pronouns are! It’s okay. And it will save you some embarrassment. Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable asking this person to the side or away from a large group of people. That’s okay, too. Ask and don’t be uncomfortable about it, and don’t put people on display.

OH, BUT HOLD UP! Here’s something you should never ask: 


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NEVER ask a person about their genitalia that you are not having a consensual, sexual relationship with. Why?

BECAUSE IT’S NOT ANY OF YO DAMN BITNESS.

So, here to explain to me some of the responses you might get when you ask these questions is our good friend Nene Leakes.

Woman – She, Her, Hers

fjbacatxchtmtrajszf6-300x169 By Any Other Pronoun ft. Nene LeakesA woman is any person who identifies as a woman. This can mean that maybe they were born in a male or female body, but now in their life identify as a woman. Use the she/her/hers pronouns here.

Man – He, Him, His

nene-leakes-58a6df187aa07c3c1b40a4ae-g-1-300x169 By Any Other Pronoun ft. Nene Leakes

Same goes for men. This is any person who was assigned a certain sex at birth, but now identifies as a man. Use the he/him/his pronouns in this case.

Non-binary – They, Them, Their

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Some people are assigned a female or male gender at birth (or maybe they aren’t) and grow up to realize that they’re not … well … either. Some people (despite the body they were born in) don’t feel like a boy or a girl. They just want to be a person. And that’s equally okay. For them, we use the they/them/their pronouns.

See? It’s that easy! Just ask. It’s just like asking any other question. Like what their sexual orientation is:

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Or what they do for a living: 

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But remember that it is a sensitive topic, so be respectful. Kind of like asking what size someone wears:

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Or what their beliefs are:

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And like all other things, everyone has the right not to answer your questions if they aren’t comfortable doing so.


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So what have we learned?

It’s okay to ask about pronouns! Just be respectful, and let the person know that you’re only asking because you care about their feelings. And remember: treat others the way you want to be treated. Oh, and that Nene Leakes is still a #kween.

We’re a community, and we have to love each other.

 

Editor’s Note: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month LGBTQIA #MeToo #TimesUp

About will be supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with a focus on how it pertains to the LGBTQIA community

(HOUSTON) — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a topic that is neither new nor relevant, and one to which that many in the LGBTQIA community are not strangers. In fact, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a person is sexually assaulted every 8 seconds in America. Those statistics are startlingly high. More shocking is that according the Center for Disease Control (CDC), queer people often are sexually assailed at similar or higher rates than heterosexual and cis-gender people.

What’s frightening about these numbers is that they are based solely on the information available. They’re nothing more than estimations. Much of RAINN’s information comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which selects 150,000 Americans each year and gathers information based on that group. Unfortunately, there is a large and unaccounted for number of sexual assault victims who do not come forward—a fact that should not be used to place blame upon the victims. While there are several potential reasons for each individual’s decision not to come forward (fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear of being fired, and many more), the one thing that is certain is that the longer that this sort of behavior continues to be perpetuated by sexual assailants and rapists, the longer more people will be victimized and that fear will perpetuate, as well.

Recently, America has seen in influx in the publicity of survivors who have stepped forward. With well-covered movements such as #MeToo (founded over ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke) and #TimesUp, to celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Rapp, Oprah Winfrey and many more that have stepped forward to share their stories and to talk about their experiences in the hopes to encourage and empower other people (namely women, people of color, and LGBTQIA folks) to step forward.

While this could have come at a better time (or maybe I should say that people could have been this tuned into the fact that sexual assault is prevalent sooner), it is nonetheless a remark to the bravery of women, the LGTBQIA community (with an emphasis on the trans community), people of color, and all others who are now stepping out and firing back. Men in power, from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. and countless in between are being brought to their knees, which should be scaring men of lesser recognition all over the world. Because, famous or not, their time is coming, too. Unfortunately, RAINN also reports that most sexual assailants and rapists in the nation will not be imprisoned or be held accountable for their crimes. This is no surprise, considering that we currently live in a country run by a sexual predator (yes, Donald Trump is just as guilty).

But through these movements, through the media, and through solidarity for one another, we can begin to hold as many of these men accountable as possible. In fact, it wasn’t until just recently that I myself was comfortable discussing the story of the man who raped me when I was 19-years-old in my Less Than Butterflies column. It’s a terrifying feeling thinking that no one will believe you. It’s a terrifying feeling to wonder if the person will retaliate or what they’ll tell your loved ones about you. And no one can blame the victims who choose not to share their stories with the world. With that said, however, we—especially in the LGBTQIA community—must continue to be resilient, supportive, and engaged with our brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings. Because until we get there, until there comes a time when there is no tolerance for sexual assault and when victims do not feel they have to hide in the shadows, no one is safe.

And of many other things, the LGBTQIA community should be able to rely on each and every member for safety.

This month, About Magazine will be running a series of stories from victims of sexual assault, as well as informative articles about the prevalence of sexual assault, why the LGBTQIA community is so desensitized to it, why among gay men the lines seem to be more blurred (hint: they’re not and shouldn’t be), and much more. And this won’t be a one-off sort of thing. As long as there is sexual assault happening around the world, we will continue to talk about it, because time really is up for the disgusting men of the world who have led so many of us to a place where we can say (or where we’re too afraid to say), “Yeah. Me, too.”

Anthony Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief


You can donate to RAINN and learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month here.

My Name Is Ian

Ian Syder

Ian Syder opens up about being coming to terms with being trans, his transition, and how he’s helping the transgender community.

(HOUSTON) — My name is Ian Syder. I’m a 34-year-old married man who plans to have kids one day. There isn’t much special about me.

Except that I was born female.

When I was a child, my sister and I used to play house, just like all kids do. Even then there were clues as to who I really was. I always introduced myself by male names and took on more masculine gender roles. My sister, who is now my brother (and they say it’s not genetic…) often did the same. Back then we had no idea what transgender even meant or that it was possible to do something so radical, so life-altering. As an adult, I look back with amusement. Knowing what I do now, I wish it could have happened differently. I have, however, no regrets.

We won’t go into the turmoil of my teenage years. It’s the typical unfortunate story. Self-medicating, drug abuse, promiscuity. Anything to drown out what my mind was screaming at me. I presented as a very butch female, so people assumed I was a lesbian. It was so much easier to go along with that. I let people sort me into this category and never allowed myself to think about what it really meant. But that’s a story for another day, so let’s skip ahead to the point when I really found myself.

When I was thirty, I was invited to an amateur drag show here in Houston. I had been to shows a few times in the past, but never really thought much of them. This one was different. It felt like I was watching real people onstage. My then-girlfriend told me I should try drag. I had the personality. So why not? The friend that had invited me said the same, which led me to make the decision to give it a whirl. A few weeks later, there I was with street clothes and a horrible makeup beard (I’ve gotten much better since). I introduced myself as Ian and the people there called me sir. The entire night I was in a daze. It just felt . . . right. I was hooked. I suppose I did all right that night, though I really don’t remember, to be honest. Still, I feel like that’s the moment that my life began to change.

It took a few months for me to start coming out to the people I had met in the drag community. I was met with joy and acceptance from all sides. I’m still amazed as to how accepting these people were. Once I started telling the people around me, I dove into research with a fervor I never knew I had. I watched every video, read every blog. I looked for information about how to do this venture down this path I’d been pondering. I found every tidbit you can imagine, positive and negative, but not quite what I was looking for.

I found myself lost again, even contemplating how to end my life. I felt alone and desperate, and had no idea where to turn. In my weakest moment, I went to Legacy Community Health. I knew nothing about what they did and continue to do, but I had a friend that worked there who I thought might be able to help me. I had done a benefit for them once and the person who helped me set up all of the details was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met. He was so open and kind. He explained that if I ever needed anything that I could look him up. So I found myself in his office, crying in his arms begging while for help I was sure he couldn’t give me.

But I was wrong.

He took me downstairs to talk to the people who would help him save my life. Some long months and an arduous process later, I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I feel like that was the first real day of the rest of my life. Legacy has since done a lot of work to improve the services they offer the trans community, and have been one of the greatest advocates for us of which I know. They have literally saved the lives of thousands of men and women, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for every single one of the people there.

Since then I have changed more than you can imagine. I am a completely different person. The parts of me that make me who I am are the same, but transitioning has allowed me to become confident in ways that I never thought possible. I learned to be happy, not just content with my life. The happiness applies to all aspects. From my clothing to my sexual preference, I am who I was always meant to be. I will, however, always be grateful to the woman I used to be.

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Ian Syder performing in Dessie’s Drag Race.

Valerie. Without her, I would not be the man I am today. Her experiences molded me, and I promise I will never forget that.

Transitioning allowed me the confidence to help others find what I couldn’t all those years ago. I still perform regularly, and use it as often as I’m asked for anything it can do. I’ve organized “top surgery” benefits for several trans men, all of which have been able to get the medical surgery they needed to live their lives happy and healthy. I use my drag performances as a platform to promote understanding and acceptance with people who may not have ever met another transgender person. I don’t shy away from any question, and make no secret of who I am. People sometimes find it easier to approach a personality than someone they meet on the street. I’m just glad I can be that guy.

Currently, I facilitate two different support groups here in Houston. One meets on Monday nights at Grace Lutheran Church. I’ll open the doors at 7:15, so maybe one day I’ll get to meet you. This group allows people of all types to come, so don’t hesitate if you aren’t like me. As long as you come with an open mind and a kind heart, you’ll be welcome. The second group meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at the Montrose Center. We start at 7:30, and it’s only for transgender men. We also need a space to be ourselves, so please don’t feel left out! I know I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the ability to live my truth. I’m lucky, and that allows me to give other people hope. I don’t feel that I deserve the breaks I’ve been given, so I do what I can to give back to those that aren’t as lucky as me.

In January I was able to get my name and gender marker changed legally, with the court system in Travis County. It took months, and was not the easiest process at the time. No one I spoke to could tell me how to get this done, because in Texas there wasn’t a way to change your gender marker. There just isn’t a law specifically saying you can. It’s left up to the judge’s discretion. Usually that means that it was denied for almost everyone. I wouldn’t take no for an answer though, and made sure to do everything I could to get this done right the first time. My husband had his name changed years ago, but that was all the courts in Harris County allowed. So I did what I do best, and started researching.

What I found first was that Travis County was the most likely place to get the approval for the gender marker change. I also found a document that was written by a law student as part of a class. It had never been tested. I took the leap and started editing the petition to match my information. A few friends found out what I was doing and asked if they could tag along. I couldn’t say no, which led to the petition for me and my husband turning into one for a group of eight. I was terrified that this wouldn’t work and that the trip would have been made for nothing.

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Ian Syder married husband Shane Townsley on Oct. 22nd, 2017.

That day in court, one of those friends was asked by the judge who was responsible for the petitions and the editing. I was pointed out of course. The judge thanked me, told me that everything looked good, and asked that we call ahead next time we were bringing such a large group. That day, eight people walked in with a name they never chose and left knowing that they would never have to hear it again. They would never again be questioned when showing their ID. They could live exactly as they always knew they should. We all cried that day, and they were finally tears of joy.

To date I have given this information to 147 transgender people. Felons, minors, foreign nationals, even a few lawyers who wanted to help but didn’t know how. Not one has been denied. The clerks in Austin took my calls and emails in the beginning, and we have worked out a system that makes the process much easier – especially for the judges! I’m still getting the requests, but so far it has been word of mouth, and word is slow to spread. I’ve held several “clinics” for various groups and look forward to hosting as many as I can. This information just isn’t available in a Google search. If you know someone who might need this, please find me. I would welcome the ability to get every one of us taken care of. Without proper identification, we face discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and many other ways. There is no situation that can’t be worked around, so please don’t think that you can’t get this done too.

When I realized that I was transgender, I felt like there was no hope for me, that something was broken inside and could never be fixed. I know now how wrong I was. We have a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day that we go out into the world is a triumph. Every conversation that we have is a victory. I was able to find out who I am, and I know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with me. There are so many others out there who do what I do, but they stay in the shadows. There are more of us than you might think. So the next time you see someone who looks a little different, don’t turn your head and whisper behind our backs, just say hello. We are more like you than you can imagine.


If you would like to reach out to Ian for assistance with changing your name or gender marker in the state of Texas, you can email him at ianmichaellarive@yahoo.com.