Saturday, June 13, 2020

Transgender Healthcare Protections Eliminated- commentary by Charlotte Clymer

Trump has stripped health care protections from transgender Americans.  I've expected this since the election, and wonder what took them so long.  I have so many thoughts on this, but not articulated as well as what I've already read.

Despite what 45 would have you think, I'm human, As are transgender people all over the world.  We are frail and mortal, just like everyone else.  And like everyone else, we sometimes need medical help.  

The following was written by the great Charlotte Clymer on twitter, and is reproduced here with her kind permission.  My occasional comments will be italicized.  


If you don't quite understand what horror the Trump administration inflicted today on transgender and non-binary people seeking medical care and why we're scared, let me tell you a quick story. 

[TW: transphobia, trans death]

On the morning of August 7, 1995, 24 year-old Tyra Hunter was on her way to work as a passenger in a friend's car when it collided at an intersection in D.C. -- she and her friend were pulled from the wreckage, and paramedics were called.

Tyra Hunter was nearly incapacitated on the ground when paramedics arrived and began treating the injured. A male fireman cut open her pants consistent with protocol and upon discovering she had a penis, stopped treating her and began ruthlessly mocking and misgendering her.

The firefighter, Adrian Williams, joked with other department personnel while Tyra Hunter continued to struggle for breath. All refused to treat her. Bystanders pleaded with them, one saying (and misgendering): "It don't make any difference, he's a person, he's a human being."

The firefighters--who were also EMS personnel--continued to joke, one reportedly saying: "Look, it's a cock and balls". Her treatment was delayed as none would approach begin to triage, watching her die and laughing. Finally, a supervisor arrived and administered first aid.

Tyra Hunter

Tyra Hunter's battered body was taken to D.C. General Hospital, where she was bizarrely--and mysteriously--neglected. Blood was ordered but not taken. Tests were supposedly taken w/ results strangely lost.

She was admitted as: "combative transgendered 'John Doe' with breasts and male genitalia, makeup and female clothes". Later analysis showed obvious symptoms of being in hypovolemic shock, and yet, what should have been a direct treatment seemed to be intentionally obfuscated.

Her pulse and blood pressure fell as she lay on a gurney, ignored by the attending physician and other medical staff. She was paralyzed by a muscle relaxant and an expert physician would later testify in court that she would have experienced "sheer terror" in that state.

She had arrived at the E.R. at 4:10pm and died at 5:20pm, virtually alone in a busy room, suffocating from a lack of oxygen in her blood. Post-death CPR and heart massage were administered, by that point seeming like boxes to be checked for paperwork. This was preventable.

At trial, medical experts testified that Tyra Hunter would have had an 86% chance of survival with appropriate medical treatment. A jury awarded her mother $2.9 million in damages for D.C. fire personnel violating the D.C. Human Rights Law and medical malpractice by D.C. General.

This is arguably the most infamous case of anti-transgender discrimination by medical providers. It led to a revolution in transgender rights in the D.C. metropolitan area and became a rallying cry for LGBTQ patients in general.

Because here's the thing: discrimination of this kind is not rare. We don't know how many LGBTQ people have died for being refused treatment on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but we know discrimination that can potentially enable death is common.  [It's happened to me more than once.  And to many that I know.]

A study by Lambda Legal found 56% of LGB and 70% of transgender patients have experienced discrimination from health care providers, commonly being turned away or refused medically-necessary care because of the medical provider's personal or religious beliefs.

This is already a scary environment for LGBTQ patients, so imagine how it felt last year when Trump and Pence announced through the Dept. of Health and Human Services proposed this regulation stripping out protections for transgender people in the Affordable Care Act.

And not just trans people. All LGBTQ people, folks who are pregnant, and other marginalized communities can be denied ALL forms of medical care by providers if the provider feels treating that patient would go against their personal or religious beliefs. This is all real.  [for example, a doctor could refuse to help a Muslim if they wish.]

The regulation put into effect today by Trump and Pence is meant to pander to religious extremists who feel doctors, nurses--even hospital receptionists--should be able to refuse recognizing transgender patients, even for life-saving care. Heart attacks, cancer, anything.

The rule essentially guts Sec. 1557 of the Affordable Care Act -- the part that says discrimination on the basis of "sex" should include gender identity and sex stereotyping. What is "sex stereotyping"? It's discrimination because you don't "look the right way" for your gender.

A woman who wears more masculine clothing or man who is even a little effeminate. A child who paints his nails or a girl that has a really short haircut. All these people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, violate conformity society expects for gender.  [say, a woman wearing pants for example]

In theory, ANYONE is vulnerable under this rule, even if they're not transgender, even if they're heterosexual. But folks who are transgender? We will suffer because of this. That's not theoretical. That's not a guess. That's reality, a reality that's now government-sanctioned.  

That this is done during a pandemic--during Pride--cannot help but feel intentionally cruel. It is a signal by Trump and Pence that they seek to wipe out trans people from the public square. If they can convince the public we don't deserve medical care, all else is on the table.   [on the anniversary of the Pulse massacre- an extra twist of the knife]

They want to allow doctors and nurses and other medical personnel to look a trans patient and say: "Treating this person goes against my beliefs, and I will not."

This rule attempts to make that legal.

Trump and Pence will not stop with health care. This is just the start. Other protections are being stripped away. They are coming after trans people with everything they've got. And when they've convinced the public this is all fine, they'll come for others, too. Guaranteed.  [who's next?  Muslims?  Latino children are already in camps.]

This election in November is not theoretical on any level for transgender and non-binary people. Our future--every bit of it--is on the ballot. We have to defeat Trump, and we have to take back the Senate.

So, you're a cis person asking what you can do? The following:

1. Register to vote. Now. Don't wait.
2. Support pro-equality candidates who believe health care should be available to all people. Vote for Biden. Vote for Democrats. Don't play around with this.
3. Support trans advocacy orgs, esp. for Black trans folks  [emphasis mine]

I am scared. Trans and non-binary people are scared today. LGBTQ folks are generally scared today. We need you to step up and realize that lives are literally on the line in this election. They want you to be distracted and forget and become complacent. Don't.


Thank you Charlotte.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Sophie Dolls Up

I haven't felt feminine in a long time.  I decided to do my makeup and do the best I could.  I also decided to take pictures as I did it for the sheer hell of it. 

So here they are, all of Sophie's makeup secrets!

Step One.  I've showered, shaved and dried my hair.  This is what I look like after I do all that.  I still see a guy in the mirror.  

Step Two:  I've used a curling iron, and done my best to get some VOLUME in my very fine hair.  meh.

Step Three: Ok, some blue blocker and eye shadow (I used pinks.)

Step Four: Eye liner and foundation around muzzle

Step Five: Eyebrow work and mascara.  I tried false eyelashes again and failed miserably.

Step Six: Coverup around eye sockets, then some white in the corner to "bring it out" since my eyes are very deep set.

Step Seven: Some subtle contouring around the oval of the face, either side of my schnoz and cheeks.

Step Eight: Even with big boobs, some make up contouring can be fun.  I should've blended it more.  Not that anyone is looking.

Step Nine: Dress time!  I always put on whatever I'm wearing before doing my lippie.

Step Ten: Ok, so red lipstick isn't subtle, but since my eyes are, why not?

Step Eleven: Jewelry and a smile completes the look.

So, what do you think?

It's funny.  I still see a guy in the mirror most of the time.  Yet, after I doll up, sometimes I see a woman in the picture, and I can't believe she's really me.

So I had a little fun with photoshop after doing these.  I'm trying to get back into practice with it.

Took off a LOT of weight, half my forehead, and the scar.

So, there it is dear reader.  My day so far.  I feel much better than when I woke up.  I just need to feel like a woman sometimes.  

Monday, May 25, 2020


A version of this was originally posted at TG Forum.  The genesis of this piece was a discussion I was having with a friend about the topic of living one's Truth, a fraction of which is told here.  
The irony is that everyone is complaining about wearing masks these days due to the pandemic.  I'd say many of them stopped wearing the mask of "caring about others" to let their inner narcissistic sociopath shine-  sort of like 45 supporters who let their inner racist show as well by supporting one.  But that's not what this piece is about.  This is about a different level of mask- one that one created to survive in a world that that not only don't they understand, but also would tear them down if they did.

Believe it or not, I’m actually very shy.  I always have been.  Being bullied from a young age will do that.  I stayed as quiet as I could in class, and generally avoided people with whom I wasn’t close.  "You end up like a dog that's been beat too much" as Bruce wrote.
That started to change a little in high school when I was hired at Burger King.  Thanks to my dear departed friend Chuck, who extended his hand, I began to come out from behind the walls I built.  It helped that, at BK, I had to wear a silly uniform.  It was butt ugly- brown red and orange.  It was like I could be someone just a little different when wearing it, especially since, at first, I didn’t know most of the crew.

Picture, makeup, hair by Amanda Richards of True Colors
It was the same after I graduated college.  In late 1989, after leaving teaching, I was among the first hired for T.G.I. Fridays at King of Prussia mall.  There, I had to wear the red and white stripes, a hat, and “flair.”  Yes, OfficeSpace nailed that spot on. However, at that point, I figured that if were going to earn money at the job, I’d have to stand out.  So I adopted a “persona”- the happy, goofy, stupid hat wearing Lance.  Putting on the stripes was like putting on a clown suit- it allowed me to be someone else.  Even then, I referred to the uniform as “clown suit.”  I could play the fool and not care.  When not working, I was an absolutely miserable, drunken SOB.  It let a side of me come out that I (and those who I let in) knew: bad puns, goofy sense of humor, sometimes a bit too cutting. 
Me, Fridays, 1990.
I’ve always loved Halloween, because that one night a year, I could wear a mask and be whatever I wanted… to a point.  That was until Halloween 2008, when all the defenses crumbled.  My female self would no longer be denied.
“Sophie” was a mask.  One weekend a month, I could let a side of me emerge that I’d hidden a long time.  Was she different than him?  Yes, at first.  We had hard drinking in common, but aside from that, I felt… more at peace while dressed as a woman.  To “become” Sophie, I wore a corset, hip pads, breast forms (or the infamous breasts from the UK), a wig, and usually was made over by a professional- most often the incredible Amanda Richards.  If one could put Sophie in a room with Lance, and you didn’t know who I was, you couldn’t tell they were the same person.  My body language was more relaxed.  I could let go the tension.
At the Empire Conference as well as Beauty at the Beach, I did a stand-up comedy routine.  By that time, my training as a teacher prepared me for speaking to groups, but this was different- I was doing this as Sophie.  However, I did this as “costume” Sophie- wearing something ridiculous. 
I’ve done four plays since transition.  In three of them, I wore a costume and was able to play the fool.  Costume as a mask: permission to be someone else entirely.
I was discussing this very topic with someone who is still closeted.  She asked me how different Sophie is from Lance.  I thought, well there’s Sophie, the Truth; “Sophie” the crossdresser; then there was Lance.  Then it hit me “like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead” that…
Lance was a costume- a Mask.
 Lance was, while me, still just a construct of what I thought everyone expected me to be- as a guy.  The people I loved, especially my Wife, saw who I really was behind that mask, but not… everything.  Not until March 2014, when I began living my Truth.

That’s when I discovered how few could accept the person under the mask.  Like the Phantom of the Opera, I scared people away.  The people I’ve met since then, who never knew Him, they have seen me as close to “raw” as possible.  There are parts of me that I’ll never let out; Same as everyone else. 
Truth is rarely pleasant, and most people prefer the lie- prefer the costume.  So do I, on Halloween.  I’m still learning about who I am.  53 years old, and in many ways still a child.  That’s the curse of mid-life transition, as well as the blessing.  I’ll never stop learning.

(If you know the quote I used, tip of the hat to you!)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Men of the Skull Chapter 186: Graduation

How do you say goodbye to a dream? Penn State was a dream come true in so many ways. I remember thinking that on my first visit to PSU, that I'd found Paradise- college as I always imagined it could be. 

For me, as an institution, it was all that.  While he learned it wasn't that way for everyone, and I (along with many others) did what I could to improve things. 

However, not everything was wonderful.  My fraternity, for the most part, treated me like shit for being a transfer student (and because I was "different.")  I had my first grown-up relationship- with the wrong person.  I did things that I still regret now 30+ years later. 

Still, there was Magic- a Magic that all of us shared, and keeps us coming back.  As I type this, I'm back at PSU working on my doctorate.  I'm old enough to be the parent of the undergrads.  And I'm a transgender woman. 

This time of year, I can't help but think about those last days.  For an education major like me, the last semester was spent away from school, student teaching.  So technically, my "last days" were before Christmas break.  But graduation... that's the period at the end of the chapter

Many people transition smoothly from college to jobs without a thought.  I wasn't one of them.


Chapter 186: Graduation 

Saturday, May 13, 1989 Bush urges major shift in Soviet ties

            I spent the day wandering around again.  Many people went to the bars and drank all day or hooked up or whatever, but as I had very little money, I had to conserve it.  I picked up my black cap and gown.  I wanted to tell them that there was some kind of mistake, that I still had credits to take, that I still had friends- that I still had parties to attend.
            I knew it was over, though.  Last fall, Dave was gone- up to Rochester.  What would being here be like without Judy?  I couldn’t imagine it.
            That night, I went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee (the reason I saved all my money.)  I saw some people I knew from the summer before or from classes, and tried to make small talk, but Queen Bee was, as always, really fucking Loud!
You got to love me with a feelin', or you don't love me at all.
            Last call!  I ordered one last Rolling Rock and cheered as the band finished their encore.
            Instead of heading uphill back to the Bone, I headed uphill in the other direction: onto campus.
            Campus was completely deserted in the rain.
            The Lion was alone as well.  By then I was fairly wet, so I didn’t mind getting a wet ass by sitting on the Lion’s base.
            “Well, I guess this is it.  Next time I see you, I’ll be an alumni.”
            The Lion stared in the same direction that it had for all those years.  Cold stone.
            “I’ll miss you.  Stupid as it is to miss a hunk of stone.  I guess I’ll miss what you represent.”
            The rain splashed around us.
            “I don’t want to leave.  I never want to leave.”

 Me at the Lion

Sunday, May 14, 1989 Bush calls for ouster of Noriega

            Graduation was scheduled for 1 PM.  The College of Education ceremony was in Eisenhower Auditorium, a little away from the bigger schools’ graduations, but that was ok. 
            My hangover woke me up around 10:30.  I slept on my old couch one last time, because at least I knew where it had been.  My parents were arriving in half an hour, more or less. 
            Somewhere in the house, someone was cranking the Dead.  It was appropriate.  If Skulls were going to graduate, to leave, it may as well be to the Grateful Dead.
Goin’ to leave this Brokedown Palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll, roll, roll
I showered, shaved, puked, and dressed in my blue polyester suit.  I was ready as I could be.

Dad, mom, and Jeff arrived around 11:15, just when the rain stopped.  Dad wore his usual mud brown suit and mom wore a purple dress which was offset by her orange dyed hair.  Jeff wore a shabby black suit.  He hadn’t showered, shaved or even combed his longish hair, and he wore black “Terminator” sunglasses.
“He slept all the way up since he came in at five this morning” dad said, glaring at Jeff who drooled just a little.
I knew how he felt.
We somehow managed to get a table at the Gingerbread Man.  I needed food and hoped I could keep it down.  The crowd was strange, half in suits the other half in shorts.  After lunch it was about 12:20, and I had to get to Eisenhower.  I walked them up Shortlidge Avenue to the building, and went inside, cap and gown under my arm, stomach churning.
I pulled on the gown- backwards at first, and found my place.  We had one rehearsal.  I was behind Sandi.  She was so excited I thought she’d blow a fuse. 
“Oh my God, Lance!  Can you believe it’s really happening!? Oh, I shouldn’t have worn these shoes, I am so going to fall right on my face on stage!”
Her cap and gown had decorations indicating honors.  Her mortarboard was bobby pinned to her immaculately styled and sprayed hair at a perfect 45 degree angle.  She looked really good.
My gown was simple black.
“Yeah.  It’s happening” I said, forcing a smile.  “Did you go out last night?”
“No, my family came down from New York.  We thought we’d have the big dinner last night since every place will be packed tonight.  Did you go out last night?”
“Yeah.  Went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee.”
Sandi laughed.  “You Skulls!  You’ll be drunk the day of your own funerals!”
That didn’t make much sense.  Smile and nod.
We made a little more small talk as everyone ran through the ceremony once.  The auditorium was already getting pretty fucking hot.
After we finished rehearsal, we had ten minutes for whatever.  I had to take a leak, then I needed aspirin and water.

At 1 PM exactly, we filed into the auditorium and sat in our assigned places near the stage.  Parents and whomever were seated behind us.  The Dean of the College started by apologizing for the air conditioners being out.  So that was the problem!
Hey!  It’s fucking hot in here!  Can we get moving?
Finally, we lined up and were called across the stage one by one for our diplomas.  As Sandi was on the step above me, I had a great view of her nice ass.  She turned and said “Oh my God!  This is it!  Good luck Lance!  Hope I don’t trip!”
“Good luck, Sandi.  You won’t fall.”
Her name was called, and she strutted perfectly on four inch heels across the stage- the picture of confident womanhood.  That was the last I ever saw of Sandi, and it was a great image to remember her by.

“Lance Kandler”

I mounted the stage and walked across to accept my diploma and out the door to a reception type area.  High fives and tossed hats.  And too soon, parents.

My parents, brother, and I walked across campus toward the House.  From there, we’d go back to Spring City, leaving my home for the past few years- the first true home I’d ever known.  My family and I walked without speaking- like we were coming from a funeral.  Walking down a path some distance away was Judy, her brother, and her mother.  My heart leaped and died in a moment.  They were laughing and happy.
            Judy’s group waved to me from a distance.  She smiled at me and held my eyes for a moment.  I waved back.  Tried to smile. 
            I watched them walk down the path and turn the corner.
            “Who was that?” my mom asked.
            “A friend” I said quietly.  “Just a friend.”

            It was over.

Graduation 1989

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

For Hugh

Hugh Casey died on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

I've spent the time between then and now doing papers for school, and wondering how to put into words who I saw as Hugh.  Because Hugh was so many things to so many people.

Classic Hugh

After all, how many people have their friends put together a convention to help pay his medical bills?  And have hundreds of people attend?  So I thought, and I thought.

And I concluded- this is Hugh I'm writing about.  He was a punster extraordinaire- one of the few who could defeat me.  And, above all, Hugh wanted people to be happy and laugh.  So, I will attempt to capture in words the Hughmanity of my friend.  

His service and burial were private, but I'll exHughme a bunch of old puns to honor him.

I do this because my friend Hugh is dead. Resting, Stunned, pining for the fjords, wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through him, passed on! Hugh is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-HUGH!!

A rare dignified shot

(If you don't know the source of that, you're no friend of Hugh.)  In Casey you didn't, I'll say Hugh must catch up on your Monty Python.  I think that show was brilliant, but it may depend upon your point of Hugh.

I met Hugh in 1989, when I answered an ad to join a D&D group.  The group didn't last long, but my friendship with Hugh did.  He had Hughmungous heart, which he shared with so many.

He also had a tremendous love for Sci-fi in general, and Star Trek in particular.  He ran a major convention called Philcon for many years until illness forced him to resign.  Or perhaps he just had his phil of the con life.  No, he loved cons- he could list the pros of cons extensively.  As for Star Trek, he was a master- I'd say he's Q but he was Hugh, not Q.  He was borg that way.  Believe me when I say he could Spock the error in anyone's Trek knowledge.  He was the real McCoy.  Great Scott, these puns are bad!  I hope all these puns are Worf the trouble.

He was also huge in the gaming community, comic books, steampunk... if there was a nerd fandom, he was involved, knew everyone, and was beloved.

I was shocked when Hugh first told me he was sick.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer, and had surgury to cut it out.  Afterwards, he told me "Now I no longer have a colon- I have a semi- colon."  I wish I'd thought of that one.  In any case, he told everyone about it, as he wanted people to get checked for it.  Colonoscopy.  At least he wasn't an ass about it.  Butt he was right, people should get checked.  As you know, the road to cancer is based on good intestines.  In the end, it wasn't the cancer that took him, but it sure didn't help.  The disease weakened him, but he fought valiantly.  Yes, he had a lot of Guts.  

With Hugh and Avi at Hugh Con.  Last time I saw him alive.

In 2004, I was hired at Vanguard (mutual fund place.)  I was surprised that Hugh worked there as well.  He was also a registered representative, but he specialized in retirement plans, like IRAs, annuities, and such.  Occasionally, I'd pass a call over to that department, and got him.  Even though the calls were recorded, we'd both get a quick pun before connecting the customer.  He worker there a lot longer than I did.  I'd like to say that I have 401K puns ready for this section, but I guess I'll have to make an ex-SEP-tion.  No laughs?  Wow- Roth crowd.

When I transitioned, Hugh not only took it in stride, he was welcoming.  He knows several transgender people, and knows we're just people.  No joke here- just sincere appreciation.

In fact, that's all this is: sincere appreciation.  Hugh was one of a kind.  The world was better for his having been in it.

And so was I.

May the four winds blow you safely home, dear friend.  I miss you.

Alyce Wilson, poet, wrote this for him.

We Are Hugh
(in memory of Hugh Casey)

In the pull of his orbit, unlikely bodies
revolved in loose ellipse. Celestial sea
that we were, lucky to cross
his sharp eye, to be drawn in
for a laugh, a conversation. Or,
in better days, a hug. That light,
that voice, a safe mooring spot
despite a world that cast
so many of us out. His power --
to see you through all the posing.
To show up for you
when you least
expected it. To make the day
better, just by passing through it.

To some, good Sir, to others
friend, or helper, or just
that friendly face. A glue
holding the universe together.
Keep saying it, over and over.
We are Hugh, and better for it.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Dolls in the hallway.

March 21 was, to date, the last time I saw my daughter.  I drove down to watch her while Wife had surgery.   I noticed that Daughter's room was cleared out of almost all of her toys- especially her stuffed animals.  She kept some, yes.  All the unwanted stuffed animals and dolls were lined up in the hallway.  They were to be given away or sold.  Many of them, I'd given her.  Some I'd given to Wife before Daughter was even a possibility. 

Daughter outgrew them.

Daughter (here 4 years old) LOVED that horse.  Then... she got too big to ride it.

Her childhood is over, and with it, that sense of Wonder at the world- that sense of innocent discovery.  That time to play with her toys in worlds of her own mind that I will never see.  But I could have- all I had to do was to be there to watch.  Or even sometimes participate.  But, those worlds are hers alone, and she didn't access them when I was around because my being around was a "special occasion" instead of a given routine. 

When I was there, we couldn't be in the house, as I'm not allowed there.  So we always had to go somewhere- usually to the mall, or the grocery store, or to lunch.  Wife would be there as well.  It was very rare that I was with Daughter alone, and I'm ok with that, as it meant I was with Wife. 

She is now a pre-teen.  Puberty began some time ago.  It won't be long before she begins to have an interest in boys (or girls) romantically.  Crushes.  Heartbreaks.  Love's little joys and humiliations.  That first dance.  The first kiss. 

But dad is far away, and won't be there to share her joy when I pick her up from the dance, or to comfort her sorrow at the first rejection. 

Dad isn't there.  Dad hasn't been there.  For going on seven years.  She was FIVE when I was thrown out.  She was a young child, a precocious little girl whose happiness was my chief desire- whose well-being was my top responsibility.  Who lived under the same roof, slept a couple of rooms away, and who ate at the same table.  When she ate- she was a picky eater. 

Daughter at Disney, 2011.  I wasn't invited- and had to work

It all ended because I was Born Different.  Because I couldn't contain that difference burning inside me.  I did so for twenty five years... then failed.  Now, I'm miles away, and her childhood ended without me.

One of my few memories of my pre-teen years was that I didn't want my childhood to end.  I enjoyed playing with my toys, each with their own personalities, and retreating into that world where I HAD these friends- even though most of them were plastic.  And they were friends with each other.  And there were adventures.  And when i lay in bed crying after another spanking, or after being beat up by the neighborhood bully- knowing that I wasn't supposed to cry- MEN don't cry. 

"Do I have to come up there?" I'd hear echo up the winding stairs of the old house where I grew up.  Everyone my age knows THAT phrase.

My toys would play games with me.  I'd set up a board game, and my toys would take the other pawn colors so I'd have "opponents."  Rarely, my brother would join in with his toys, so there'd be teams, and we'd keep score of victories (winner choses next game) on rainy summer days.  Eventually, I lost interest in those games.  I pretended to lose interest in my toys.  They started slowly to disappear.  Sold?  Thrown out?  No idea.

Sixth Grade- when I was Daughter's current age

I still have some of them.  They once lived in an old, large wooden toy box, but now live in two cardboard boxes in storage.  Every once in a while, when I visit the storage unit alone, I'll open one of those boxes, look in, and there'd they be- lifeless, some broken- plastic.  Outgrown- because that's what happens.  I remember desperately wanting more time to play, but I had to go work my (and my brother's) paper route.  Homework.  Eventually, girls.  And... dressing up like the girl I knew I was inside. 

Maybe the reason I like gaming (D&D, etc.) so much is because I didn't want that time to end.  That I wanted more time to be a child, instead of... what I've become.

I don't know how daughter feels about "outgrowing" her toys.  I don't know if she gives them a second thought.  Unlike me, she isn't the sentimental type.  She sets things aside and moves on; a skill I never acquired.   

I know it's unfair- it's her time to grow up, but I DON'T WANT HER TO because I missed it.  Because I wanted to share that childhood with her, and see it through her eyes and maybe catch some of that sense of Wonder that I so desperately miss in myself. 

Here I am.  Sobbing at my keyboard over something that I'm powerless to stop or change.  My God I hate my life.  I hope she doesn't hate hers.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

For Rebecca

Friday afternoon, March 27, 2020.  I'm at MIL's house where I was watching my daughter (MIL called a truce so I could do this, but still insisted on dead naming me the whole time, but that's another story.) MIL went to bring Wife home from the hospital.  The surgery went well.  I decided to check facialbook for the first time since early that morning.

That's when I learned that my dear friend and mentor Rebecca Lohr died the night before.  She'd been fighting leukemia for a while.  One of her last facialbook posts also mentioned pneumonia.

Rebecca with a piece of the original Death Star (from her page)

Sometimes, you don't know exactly when you met someone, but with Rebecca, I know exactly when: December 21, 2008.  That was the night of my first Renaissance meeting.  As I pulled into the parking lot, scared out of my mind, I saw a woman walking toward a door.  I opened the car window and called out to her "Excuse me- I'm looking for Renaissance?" She turned and said "You're in the right place.  Welcome!"  I learned that she was the President, or Group leader, or whatever the title was at the time.  I walked in, carrying my girl clothes- no makeup- and my journey began.

After I'd changed and put on my wig, I went to the meeting area, where Rebecca saw me and smiled her Cheshire cat smile.  I remember saying "I must be crazy" to which she replied “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.  You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.”  I laughed.  She knew her Carroll.

Over time, I found Rebecca to be a very complex person.  In so many ways she was a joyful mix of contradictions, yet they all made sense.  That was just Rebecca.  She seemed to be a bit of a loner, yet sought company.  In her, I saw the Awful loneliness of genius.  There were few who really understood the entirety of who she was.  It took me years, yet eventually, I got it.  She was a goth girl, yet wasn't.  Wiccan, yes, but solitary.  Fan girl, but not obsessed.  Mostly.

I'm glad I had those years.

If there was a TG event around Philly, Rebecca was there.  Renaissance, Angela's Laptop Lounge, Monday Night T-Girls, Raven Parties, Keystone Conference... she was there to lend support.  Or maybe she just wanted company.  Hard to know with her.

Henri David Ball, Halloween 2009

In many ways, her fandoms defined her.  She was a sci-fi fan extraordinaire.  You want to talk Dr. Who?  She knew all about it.  Obscure novel?  Read it.  Trek?  Absolutely.  Steampunk?  Here's the pictures.  Ren fair?  Let's go!

Her biggest, most enduring love was Star Wars.  I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan, and I like to think my knowledge is encyclopedic, but next to her, I was an amateur.  Her Star Wars knowledge and collection was unparalleled.  She had binders full of autographed photos of everyone involved- major or minor- in front of or behind the camera.  She'd met Carrie Fisher so many times that they were on a first name basis.  She regaled me with tales of drinking with Jeremy Bulloch (the original Boba Fett.)  Of, ahem, enjoying other substances with other actors.

With Carrie Fisher, from Rebecca's FB page

That was another thing that defined her in a way: she loved her drugs.  She was extremely fond of weed, and often was dreamy eyed because of it, then suddenly have that mischievous look to eye that she knew something you didn't.  She told me of tripping and all kinds of adventures, yet respected that I never did those things, as I have enough issues with just drinking, thank you.  I never judged her, and she never judged me.  I think that's one of other defining traits.  As the Poet once wrote "She knows too much to argue or to judge."  She never judged people.  She just let it all roll.

We shared a sense of humor

She also had her music.  She loved making music.  She was in many bands, but Radium Angels stands out.  Yet again, her music couldn't be defined or pinned down- she fluidly moved between styles.  They released their music as well.

She wrote and published books.  She's been shot at... She... wow, what didn't she do?

She didn't sign it though.

How I'll remember her most though, is that she was a regular at the book store where I used to work.  She would come in two or three times a week, just to hang out.  We'd talk, especially when I was stuck in the music section, which was usually slow.  Prior to my transition, my speaking to her (as well as a couple other transgender women) raised eyebrows.  I smiled and said "they're friends."  After my transition, Rebecca became a mama bear at the store- no one was going to mess with me while she was around.  On a few occasions, she took someone to task about misgendering or otherwise "othering" me, including, once, a manager.  Often, Rebecca would wear her Tardis dress and carry her R2D2 handbag, just to watch people's reactions.  And we even had a little code for when I was being "watched" by management, or if I was really to busy to talk.  It was her idea.

Since leaving the store, I didn't see her as much.  We'd chat through Facialbook.  She couldn't attend my "farewell gathering" as she was sick, but she sent encouragement.  The last messages were so full of hope.

The last messages

On my way back to State College, I looked up through the Twilight and looking down at me, a Cheshire Moon smiled.  I pulled over as the tears began, yet I felt at peace, because I could just see Rebecca smiling at me from above.  She was happy- No more Pain.  As I watched, the moon was slightly obscured by a dreamy wisp of cirrus cloud, and I thought... how appropriate.

Sleep well Rebecca.  The Force will be with you.


Sunday, March 22, 2020


I've written this blog since December 2008.  Over the years, I've done my best to keep my family matters quiet.  I've written about Wife and daughter occasionally, but I never name them to maintain privacy, as well as security.

Wife is a very private person.  Strange, isn't it?  That she would marry someone who spills their guts in writing for so long.  Before I was thrown out, it was like we were total opposites when we went out- I was full of noise, alcohol, and bluster, all covering my inner pain and insecurities.  But really, we are far more alike than different, especially at home.

At the park- a creepy tree

As I've written many times, I write this blog to get things out of my system.  Maybe it's good that so few read any more.  I wasn't going to write about this, but in this time of isolation, in this time of deep depression... I need to talk about this.

Yesterday morning, I drove east to see Wife and daughter.  I have so much work to do, yet I knew that if I didn't go then, it may be a month or more until I see them again.  I needed to see them- to hug my daughter- to pretend for a moment that everything would be ok.

We went to Wendy's in Oaks, drive through of course, then over to the nearby Lower Perkiomen Valley Park.  Wendy's was out of regular coke, so I got cherry coke, and Wife got a lemon coke.  We ate, talking about Daughter's school work and mine.  The sun shone hot through Wife's car windows, making me sweat a little.

Wife then said she had something to tell me that she wanted to say in person.  My heart sank instantly- nothing good ever followed those worlds.

Wife told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was caught very early- there is a 99% chance of a total cure.  She'll find out Monday if she'll have a lumpectomy or total mastectomy.  She'll tell me when the surgery will happen, but doesn't want me to be there.  She doesn't want pity.  She doesn't want a fuss.

That's how she is.

Daughter was told Friday night.  I understand how she feels- I was in college at PSU when I received a call from my mum saying that she'd had surgery for cancer- past tense.  It was already done.  I remember that surreal feeling of "mum has cancer."

This was different.  Wife and I have been together nearly 30 years.  Next month will be 27 married.  (6 1/2 separated.) To hear the person whom I promised before God and a congregation of loved ones to love, honor, and cherish "all the days of you life until death do you part" tell you she has cancer...

I can't describe that feeling.  I can't.

Hell, I'm crying while typing this.  Daughter and I talked a little later, when she accompanied me to the Wawa to get gas for the trip back to State College.  I told her that it felt like a brick in my stomach.  She told me she was "terrified."  I told her I was too.  I told her that I knew in my head that Her mother would pull through this with flying colors, that the chance of total cure was 99%, and that her mother is tough... but it would take a while for that to get through to my heart.  I told her that we'll get through this together.

After dropping her off, Wife and I spoke privately, and I told her the same thing.  I told her that anything she needed, I was there.  She smiled and said "I know."  But she doesn't want a fuss.  She doesn't want to be patronized.  And as I wrote above, that's her.

We hugged.  I held the hug and told her that I loved her.  She told me she loved me.  I got in the car and drove back to State College.  I was good- I didn't start crying until I reached the turnpike.  But it was a long trip back, as I had to pull over several times as I couldn't see through the tears.

I took this one of the times I pulled over.  Life goes on I guess.

Now I'm here.  The sun is shining, and I'm writing instead of doing my mountain of work.  132 miles awáy live my Daughter and my Wife, who has cancer.  I'm helpless to do anything.

I wrote long ago that I couldn't imagine living without Lisa Empanada in my life, and that was true.  But this is different.  This is Wife, with whom we have a daughter.  We had a family.  Despite our years of separation, I cannot comprehend of a world without her in it somewhere.  I always expected that I'd die first, long before her, and that Daughter would have her to rely upon for decades upon decades to come.  I know Wife will be fine.  I know the percentages, etc.  But I'm still crushed by this.  It just isn't fair.  Nothing in my life is.

Why does everyone I love gets sick or dies as I keep living?  They deserve life more than me, yet here I am.

"Be strong for your daughter."  "Be strong for Wife; she'll need you now."  But she doesn't.  All these miles away, I'm useless, helpless, and she doesn't need nor want me around.

I'd normally say "cue all those people saying 'stop being so negative' and 'pull yourself together.'"  But no one reads my shit anymore.  And I need time to process this.  And I have lots of homework to do.

It's a sunny day outside.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Keystone Conference Cancelled

A version of this was published on TG Forum on Monday, March 16.


The 12th annual Keystone Conference, set for the end of this month, was cancelled due to concerns over the current pandemic.  It was cancelled by the group that runs it: TransCentralPa.

This was the correct action. 

Many of our transgender brothers and sisters are older, or have compromised immune systems.  If you need an example, the infamous “Con Crud” that goes around gatherings like this.  I know I’d survive the Corona virus, but if someone I knew died after contracting it from me, I’d never forgive myself.  Ever.

Yes, it was the right response, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.  A lot.

My Nametag, had it happened.

Before transition, Keystone was the event that I looked forward to the most- even more than Halloween (and that’s saying something!)  It meant several days of being Sophie among people that UNDERSTOOD.  I made some wonderful friends at Keystone over the years, many of whom I only see at Keystone.  When it ended, the dreaded “Pink Hangover” that each year became deeper and lasted longer.  When writing about the conference either in my blog or here, I often quote my dear friend David Denton, who once wrote:

"It was eerie. When I close my eyes and think about the walk to the Dog & Pony on Sunday morning I swear I can hear dying echoes of the most genuinely delightful laughter. It's like hearing ghosts from the past, Sophie."

And it’s so very true.  Keystone brings JOY- a palpable Joy that charges the air itself.  Most of the attendees go through their day to day lives as guys, but treasure the moments that they can express their inner Truth.  For some, this conference is the ONLY time they can do it.  And now it’s denied them. 

Since I wrote this for the column, I've thought about the years I was "closeted."  I remember that blessed relief when I could FINALLY be Sophie again.  It was all I could think about the rest of the month- that one night out.  Several DAYS in a row?  Heaven.  I told Wife I was going to an "Instructional Design" convention back then.  I hated lying to her- it ate away at what little soul I had left.  (That's why I had to tell her eventually.)  But- I needed those few days.  I needed that release.  Like so many of us, the person who arrived at the conference would not be the same person who left it.  I learned so much each time- and my experiences helped my "confidence" grow.  Eventually, on March 25, 2014, the first day of the 2014 Keystone Conference became my first day living my Truth. 

I think about how the conference changed me.  I think about all that it means to the TG community at large, especially in Pennsylvania.  I think about how much I've changed since coming out. 

The Conference doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to- I mean I still love seeing friends and helping girls taking their “first steps” as I did all those years ago.  However, since I now live my Truth, it’s no longer the “escape” it once was.  For me, it’s no longer an oasis in a painful life of Lies.  But for so many others, it IS.  That’s what makes it so damn important.  That’s why nearly a thousand people were planning to attend this year.  That’s the Emptiness that most of them now feel.  The organizers understand that.  In fact, they had the foresight to put the phone numbers for various Suicide Hotlines on the front page of their website, beneath the cancellation announcement.  Because it means THAT much to some people. 

At the Dog and Pony, March 12, 2020

I know some attendees will still be going to the Sheraton Harrisburg/Hershey (if we're not on lockdown by then) during that time, just to be there.  After all, the hotel staff has been extremely friendly.  I may stop by, just to see who is there.  After all, I’m only 90 minutes away.  Those who are still going Need this time- why else risk health and safety?  As I Needed it.  If I were still pretending to be Him… yes, I’d still be there the whole time as well, assuming I could afford it.  Make no mistake, there IS risk.  I know of two people who passed away at transgender conferences such as this (both from heart failure.)  There IS risk of infection.  This pandemic is no joke. 

I also feel so bad for the conference volunteers of TransCentralPa.  They worked so hard all year on this, just to have it end by circumstances beyond their control.  They put their heart and sweat into this- into making this one of (I think THE) premier TG conferences.  They make it look so effortless.  It isn’t.  I also think about all the money they lost in non-refundable deposits.  That hurts too- after all, they’re a volunteer organization.  Some people decided to donate their registration fees to TransCentralPa rather than have them refunded.  That’s a CLASS move!  It helps defray some of the money lost.

If you also wish to donate to defray the losses, their website is HERE.

So we wait for next year.  We wait for next spring, when Keystone comes again.  We wait for that grand occasion to see dear friends, to show off our gowns and shoes, to be who were really are.  As I wrote in a eulogy for a dear friend last year on my blog:

“At that first Keystone Conference, there I sat with maybe 80 other attendees, listening while Dr. Jeanine Ruhsam, then president of TransCentralPA, spoke to us as peers- as family… She spoke about beginnings- about how every journey has one, and that many in the small dining room (only one of the three available- now the conference packs all three) were just beginning our journeys.  I was one of them.  She also spoke about Community.  How all of us were part of something larger- that everyone here Understood what we all felt… For many of us, me included, it was what we needed to hear.  I'd grown up thinking I was alone: a freak.  I never forgot what she said, or how she made me feel.”

THAT is the power of community, and THAT is the power of the Keystone Conference.  There will be a next year.  A next Keystone.  May we all be there to enjoy it.

Be well.