The Gift that Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton Gave to Me (Laura)

There are so many wonderful aspects of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. There’s the compelling story, the brilliant acting, and the life-changing songs.  For these reasons alone, I will forever be grateful to Mr. Miranda for sharing this gift with the world.

But I have other, even greater reasons to be grateful to Mr. Miranda. After listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for the last few months, I have been able to do something that I was unable to do before and that I thought I would never be able to do again.  Since I have been listening to Mr. Miranda’s brilliant soundtrack, I have become able to hear my transgender child’s birth name.

Choosing names for my children was one of the most awesome responsibilities I ever had.  I decided to research names practically the minute I got pregnant and much to my husband’s chagrin, poured over lists for the entire 9 months.  I mean, this was the name I believed my children would have forever.  Long after the brightly colored, animal shaped letters that spelled out their names on the doors came down in favor of Fall Out Boy and Dr, Who posters, their names would remain.  While their every belonging was no longer personalized with paint pens, their names remained.

And then seemingly without any time to get used to the changes that came with it, the name I agonized over choosing for my child was gone.  Just like that.  Gone from my lips as I was instructed to never utter it.  Gone from my eyes, as I wasn’t to write it anymore.  And gone from my ears as I ceased to hear it.  But it never left my heart and every time I did hear it by accident, it was devastating.  I embraced my child’s transition with a level of openness and love that sometimes took my breath away while simultaneously surprising me.  You really never do realize how strong you are until being strong is your only option.  When your child’s safety, health, and happiness are your only priority, transition is easy.  But losing the name you came to associate with every facet of your child is a level of grief I was unprepared to handle.  For two years, I have been unable to find any joy in hearing my child’s birth name.  Simply hearing it was a reminder that I was grieving a living child and trying so hard to catch up with the “new normal” that I worked so hard to create.

And then it happened.  Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton took Broadway, and the Gordon Family, by storm.  And although my first reaction was, “why couldn’t he have married Angelica?,” I soon found myself singing.  I was singing my child’s birth name and it had in no way referred to my child.  The relief I felt was nothing short of breath taking, and not because I can’t carry a tune.  I was relieved because I wasn’t sad and it was that simple.  I needed to realize that the wonderful name my child chose for himself when he transitioned was his name.  The name I chose for him at birth was a temporary place holder until he began to live authentically.  And while I so sure I would never have a place for his birth name in my life, Lin-Manuel Miranda brought Hamilton to life and once again, I found joy in the name I had originally named my child.

I can say his birth name and not feel my eyes well up with tears that I thought were done flowing. I can now sing “The Schuyler Sisters” without having to pretend it is “Bingo” and clap over that one name.  I can hear Alexander Hamilton sing to his bride and be happy while enjoying the music.  When Angelica sings about the fateful night she introduced Alexander to her sister, I sing along loudly, “At least I keep his eyes in my life.”  This is so meaningful to me because I can tolerate the feeling that yes, the birth name I chose for my child is still a beautiful name and even though I no longer use it to mean my child, I can still keep this name in my life.

Every fifth day a horse, every other day…

Curt Schilling is one of my baseball heroes.  The guy came to Boston at the lowest possible time for Red Sox fans and he immediately got it.  He promised to beat the Yankees and that he did.  He put on one of the greatest postseason pitching performances I have ever seen in bringing World Series victory to Boston for the first time in 86 years.  In my eyes, he could do no wrong.

Of course, as most people around here know, Schilling is no wallflower and loves to pitch his conservative Christian credentials over the airwaves every so often.  This gets him in trouble with his new bosses at ESPN but he is always, lovingly welcomed back.  Schilling has gotten himself in trouble with charges of Islamophobia, for example, getting himself a good suspension during last year’s baseball season.

And so today I learned that Schilling has caused a firestorm over his latest post involving his views on the transgender issue.  Does it sadden me?  Well, as much as it saddens me that there are people who so completely misunderstand the issue and decide to broadcast dangerous garbage.  No, Schilling should not get fired from his job, not my call.  But Schilling’s point of view needs to be called on the carpet and exposed for what it is.  So let’s do that.

Schilling got in a bit of hot water for posting this meme on his Facebook timeline (and which has since been deleted):

Curt Schilling trans post

Wow, that’s an ugly picture in all sorts of ways.  But guess what, folks?  THIS is the weapon that is used by people opposed to transgender public accommodation laws.  Pictures like this.  I have noted this previously in this blog.  It is the weapon of fear.  Fear that there is a pervert using a Trojan horse to get a peep or cop a feel of your little girl.  Fear of…of…well, that’s what the fear is, I guess.   So let’s examine that.

Transgender people are trying to fit into daily life as themselves.  They are not trying to be anyone else.  People who pretend to be someone else in order to do bad things are bad people.  We have laws on the books that address the things that bad people want to do.  What we do not have on the books are laws that protect people who are simply being who they are.  It should not matter whether you find what such people look like a bit strange.

Hopefully you are still with me.    Now, as for having the wrong parts and getting exposed to them, let me ask you a question.  When’s the last time you checked out someone’s vag or schlong in the rest room?  I mean, did you see one flying on by today?  Yesterday?  Last month?  I’m not a betting man, but I will guess the answer is “no.”  Know why?  People generally speaking don’t do that!  Know who does that?  Perverts.  And we have laws on the books to deal with them.

Imagine being a transgender person in a bathroom.  This person is rather uncomfortable and really does not want to be noticed.  So do you really think that person is going to walk around with his/her/their jewels hanging out for the world to see?  To say this is insanity is an understatement.

Some people may want to spring a trap on me now by noticing that I have yet to mention locker rooms.  Nope.   Same thing applies to locker rooms.  No transgender person wants to be seen naked.  That person just wants to get in, do his/her/their business, and get out with two goals: a) not getting noticed and b) maintaining their self-respect.

It’s not as if any of this is theoretical.  18 states have public accommodation laws on the books that guarantee human rights for transgender people.  (That my state is not one of them is one of the most infuriating things ever.)  There have been zero problems.  Planet Fitness, a major fitness chain with gyms all over the country, has had a policy in place that allows transgender people to use the proper locker room.  Again, zero problems (save for the occasional opponent who has been offended rather than assaulted).

And now I come back to Schilling:

Schill, I love you man, you mean everything to Boston, but please let me ask you this one question.  How many kids in this country have considered suicide this year because they are committed Christians and the world is too cruel?  Please, I don’t know the answer in my head and I bet you might not know either.  Do some research if you want.  Take your time.  But, and please forgive me, I am going to be presumptuous at this point because we both know deep in our hearts that the answer is a big, fat zero.  Now, you are a smart dude so I take it you know where I am going with this.  Yes, that’s right, there are loads and loads and loads of transgender teenagers out there who have made suicide attempts.  Some people guffaw at the stats but in my experience, they are conservative.  Repeat after me: 41% of teens identifying as transgender have considered suicide in this country.  My son is one of those teens.

Schill, I’m not going to call you a bigot or a racist or anything like that.  Name-calling like that is stupid and childish and just unnecessary.  But I am going to say you spouted ignorance with respect to this issue.   Yeah, this is a big, insecure world as you have noted.  Guess what?  It gets a whole lot more insecure when one of your kids tries to off himself because he is afraid of people like you.

I know you have survived some pretty horrible things yourself so I understand that I am not the only one here with problems.  But do you see me spouting off on oral cancer or bankruptcy or lawsuits?  No.  Know why?  Because I am ignorant with respect to those things and have little productive conversation to add.  Just as you are ignorant with respect to transgender people and have added very little except a lot of noise.

Anyway, that’s all.  I look forward to your thoughts on the state of Red Sox pitching this year.

 

A mensch tracht un Gott lacht.

(A man plans and God laughs – old Yiddish proverb.)

Today Eli is going in for top surgery – basically a double mastectomy in order to eliminate the main source of his dysphoria.  Transgender males who have had top surgery universally report marked decreases in the depression, anxiety, and self-harming that come with gender dysphoria.  Accordingly, we could not be more thrilled about this surgery.

Of course, if you told me 15 months ago that my daughter would be undergoing a double mastectomy, I probably would have reeled in horror – and that is an understatement.   A mensch tracht un Gott lacht.

We’ve come a long way in the 15 months since Eli told us that we have had his gender wrong all these years.  Eli has come out publicly and has taken us with him.  We’ve gotten the schools on board.  We met a bunch of wonderful families with transgender kids.  I’ve learned that the laws meant to make sure that Eli is treated like any other human being are woefully inadequate, even in super-liberal Massachusetts.  I have met the Governor to tell him this and find out what he planned to do about it.  (Nothing, apparently.)  Eli became the first transgender member of a Boy Scout Troop in the Knox Trail Council (and likely all of MA).  We formally changed Eli’s name in Probate Court.  I attended a public hearing at the State House, listened to a friend of mine make the case for our transgender kids to have the same rights as any other people in public, and met the terrific Rep. Joe Kennedy – a mensch if I ever met one.  I got involved with Mass Freedom and the wonderful – and dignified – young people fighting for their human rights in the face of knee-jerk aversion, misunderstanding, ignorance, and outright bigotry.  Eli began taking testosterone and within a few months acquired the voice of a pubescent boy.

And, along with all of that, I learned to fight claim denials from my insurer.

By September of last year, we knew that top surgery was not something that could wait very long.  Eli’s breasts were the cause of his traumatic body image.  (If we had known he is transgender earlier, before the breasts grew, we would have given him puberty blockers.  Alas.)  In order for Eli to function, to go to school and just be around people and himself, he had to wear a binder, which press his breasts against his chest so as to give the appearance of a flat chest.  I liken these things to medieval torture devices.  He can only wear one of these for about 8 hours a day – any longer, and there is a risk of real physical harm.  And in fact, we have documented 4 trips to the hospital for bruised ribs as a result of wearing these devices.  This was clearly an unsustainable situation and out doctors agreed outright.

We consulted with a doctor who specialized in these surgeries.  The doctor and staff were very nice and went over all of things we could expect, including the cost of the surgery if we could not get insurance coverage.  Gulp.  The doctor would put a claim into the insurer and we were going to see what happened from there.  There was an understanding that we could get rejected and then we would keep the doctor in the loop about what we planned to do from there.

Now, our insurer, Harvard-Pilgrim, provides coverage for gender reassignment surgeries. The catch is that the coverage is only for those 18 years and older.  Eli of course at the time was 14 and a few months.  So clearly we were going to be rejected outright.  I called H-P and explained them our situation and they told me that our claim would be denied.  However, they would then enter us into an appeal process where our situation would first be looked at by an internal committee and, failing that, be evaluated by a third party.  It would help if we got documentation from Eli’s medical providers explaining why this surgery was needed now.

We got supportive letters from Eli’s primary care physician (who saw the bruises), Eli’s mental health counselor, and the psychologist and physician at the GeMS clinic in Boston – the specialists who deal exclusively in gender issues from a medical perspective.  I also wrote one that detailed Eli’s daily suffering.  We also submitted times and dates of the hospital visits as well as the hospitalization for self-harming.  I thought that any third party would look at this and be convinced of our case.

I was of course wrong and both the internal committee and the third party denied us.  However, I don’t think this third party really looked at our case in depth.  The reason for the denial was, again, the age.  However, I saw that he got certain facts wrong like, for example, how long Eli has been on testosterone.  (Much longer than he claimed.)  He seemed dismissive of the evidence of suffering.  Not good.

Nevertheless, I was told that I had a choice: either go to the state commissioner of insurance or go in front of an appeal board to tell our story.  The former course of action would put us in a state of conflict and would close off any other options.  So the appeal board it was.  Problem was that, by now it was November and the next meeting at which I could speak would be the following February.  Grand.

Prior to this meeting, I consulted with Dr, Norman Spack, the founder of the GeMS clinic about how to go about convincing the insurance company of our case.  Dr. Spack helpfully gave me scientific literature and told me to continue to stress the suffering in a way to which the very educated board members could relate.  I further reviewed all of the reasoning behind the denial and made sure I could recite details of Eli’s case cold.

The appeal board consisted of eight people, five of whom would vote.  The people came from all walks of life: physicians, mental health professionals, a professor, and attorneys.  During the meeting, I told Eli’s story pretty much as I did above.  I feared that they would thank me and that would be that.  But what happened next astounded me: I got questions from most of the board.  People were interested in the evidence I presented (thanks to Dr. Spack) that younger kids do benefit from top surgery.  Further, for the first time, I understood the insurer’s reluctance to approve the claim: they want to make sure that Eli won’t backpedal and regret the surgery.  Here I made what I thought was my strongest case: I said that, yes, there is always a risk of this happening, but I have to weigh that risk against the much greater and more likely risk that Eli will suffer real, irreversible harm either due to the binders or due to self-inflicted injury.

I had a good feeling after they requested that I fax over the papers and get another letter from the GeMS clinic.  (Apparently, the original letter from our providers there didn’t answer their questions fully.  Huh.)  And, sure enough, 10 days after the meeting, I got the good news that the surgery was approved!

I was on Cloud Nine of course…but then reality hit.  Everything we have done up until today has been reversible.  Now, this is permanent.  No going back.  I admit to being a little nervous about this as is Laura.  But I know of no other way to help Eli feel able to function day-to-day without risking his health.  I have high hopes after today that eventually, after he gets through the long recovery process, that he will truly be himself.  I have so many people to thank for this, including all of you who have provided support and love since we have come out.  We are so lucky that our boy has gone through his transition relatively smoothly.  As for his parents…A mensch tracht un Gott lacht.

 

One Year

One year ago today my daughter Eliza informed my wife and me that he is our son Elijah.  The intervening year since has been a pretty wild ride.  Obviously, it has changed our younger child drastically, in many ways.  But it has changed us too, drastically and pretty much permanently.

Elijah, who prior to last year had suffered mentally and physically, has become happy and self-assured.  We still do have some anxiety from time to time, but we all know what’s going on.  But mostly, we have an enthusiastic high school student who loves his friends and family and his schoolwork.  He has been accepted by the local Boy Scout Troop 1 as one of their own, which is an accomplishment of this wonderful community for which words are simply not enough.  He has known virtually nothing but acceptance from his family and friends – and kudos to the four grandparents for being right there first.  He has been given world-class medical care through the GeMS clinic at Children’s Hospital and is now months into his testosterone regimen.  (At 14, he self-administers and the treatments are definitely having their effect.)  And best of all, he is just a kid.  Not the trans-kid, just another kid.  Awesome.

As for Laura and me, well…we’ll never be the same again.  The turning point wasn’t just one year ago, but last February, when we took a chance and spent a weekend with other families with transgender kids.  Two things happened there.  First, we met all these fabulous families, learned about their difficulties but also their joys, and found so much common ground and friendship.   Second, we got some in-depth education (sorely needed) about the social and scientific aspects of gender.  That enabled us to know where to look for further education and understand how human my child is considered under the law.

It was then I learned that, under the current law, my child isn’t 100% human.: just in school, although I can see from anonymous comments in newspaper articles that even that fact enrages some people.  Learning that, I first took the opportunity to speak with Gov. Baker as someone who voted for him and contributed to his campaign (and is increasingly regretful) about why the law needs to be amended to include protections for gender identity in public accommodations.  I then found the awesome people at Freedom Massachusetts, notably Mason Dunn and Katie Guare – these are people who have been lobbying the right way, with quiet but forceful dignity.  (This is in sharp contrast to our opponents, who, at the State House hearings, verbally abused FM’s volunteers who were helping people find the auditorium.)

So for the coming year, I look forward to a lot of things.  The growth of both my children into adults who will emulate the wonderful role models all around them.  Another year of marriage to my awesome wife, who has stood by Eli despite the trauma of losing a daughter.  Another year of fun and accomplishment.  And, by the way, the passing of the public accommodations bill into law, which at this point may be accomplished if Gov. Baker would simply state that he will not veto.  (And if you do, Gov. Baker, you have a guaranteed contribution to your campaign and several votes for your re-election in the bag.)

 

Supporting the Public Accommodations Bill in MA

Here’s a letter I wrote to members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary (MA Legislature) in anticipation of their meeting this coming Tuesday (6 Oct) to discuss making transgender individuals a protected class in public accommodations.


 

To: Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary

Hearing Date/Time: Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 2:00 PM

Place: Gardner Auditorium, Statehouse, 24 Beacon St, Boston, MA 01233

Re: Strong support for HB 1577, SB 735 for transgender inclusive protections

Dear Chair Brownsberger, Chair Fernandes and members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary,

I am a father of a transgender teenager and I am writing in support of HB 1577 and SB 735.

I tell people all over that I thank God that we live in Massachusetts. Ever since coming out and accepting himself for who he is, my son Eli has been met with nothing but love and acceptance in school and among our friends.

I would never have believed this until now, but I feel that the culture of love and acceptance here in Massachusetts is a logical extension of acts of courage by the Legislature several years ago. Then, the Legislature acted to make transgender individuals a protected class in our schools and when it comes to situations regarding finance, housing, and employment. For our child, these acts of courage have literally been life-saving. Those who worked to make this legislation a reality have my eternal thanks and make me proud.

However, there is a crucial gap in our legislation. For reasons that I do not understand, there is no public accommodations component to the legislation. That means that, while my son cannot be fired from his job at a shop for being transgender, he can be humiliated as a patron of that shop.

Thus, away from the caring and nurturing environments of home and school, Eli lives with an anxiety that most people do not have to face. As of today, every trip to a restaurant or to a clothing store is a potentially harrowing experience. We are dependent on the hope that each person sharing the boy’s dressing room is aware and supportive of transgender issues and will not make Eli’s experience a nightmare. I still need to accompany him at all times so he feels safe.

This legislation before you will close this gap and make people like Eli feel safe knowing that the culture of love and acceptance will follow him to public accommodations. This is emphatically not special treatment, but simply the same as that experienced by every other resident of Massachusetts.

This summer, Gov. Baker told me that the problem he has with the bill is that it is a “one size fits all” when there are so many different communities here in our Commonwealth. While I understand his concern, we have accomplished civil rights for transgender kids throughout all of our school and for transgender people throughout our professions, in all cities and towns. The cost to extend these rights to public accommodations is small compared with the cost of keeping the status quo.

I urge you all to support this life-saving bill.

Ron Gordon, Northborough MA

The Governor and Me

GovBakerAndMe

Tonight I met Governor Charlie Baker of my home state, Massachusetts at a fundraiser.  My very limited goal was to get across to the Governor that the transgender public accommodations bill currently sitting in the Joint Judiciary Committee in the Legislature is important to families like ours in Massachusetts that are raising transgender children.  By that measure, I believe I succeeded.

A little background.  Massachusetts has had a Transgender Rights bill in force since 2012.  Transgender people have equal rights in housing, employment, education, medicine, and credit.  This bill was hard-fought in the Legislature and took 5 years of painstaking effort to get it to a vote on the floor.  It passed with an important provision stripped out: equal rights for transgender people in public accommodations, e.g., stores, restaurants, and the like.  This means that a person cannot be fired from a job in a store due to being transgender, but that person can be denied service in that store solely because that person is transgender.

A little more background.  Despite my political leanings, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Governor Baker.  He is a leader who is unafraid to buck his party on certain principles.  Some of those principles involve his support of the LGBT community.  Like many allies, he has a family connection through his gay brother.

However, Governor Baker, despite supporting the current Transgender Rights law, does not currently support the transgender public accommodations bill in its current form.  When I learned about the fundraiser, I decided to take the opportunity to tell the Governor why the bill is so important to families like ours.

So today, I did just that.  I was given the opportunity to meet the Governor and tell him a little about my family and why the bill is so important to us and other families like ours.  The Governor is obviously a very busy man so I had to get to the point quickly and keep him engaged.

I am happy to say that I did just that.  The Governor made this easy because he is warm and approachable.  I told him that, despite being quite liberal, I am a vocal and enthusiastic supporter – this is 100% true.  I told him that I admire his stance on social issues, and that that has become very important to my family over the past year.  I told him about Eli, about how wonderful his life in school is, and how fantastic it is to live in MA.  I then explained that the transgender gap is a real problem for families like ours.

Gov. Baker explained that, while he fully supports the current laws, and that the laws in MA are as wide-ranging and forceful as anywhere in the country, he is nervous about a “one-size-fits-all” law.  He explained that there are towns in MA like mine that are quite ready for such laws, but there are others that are not.  He fears lawsuits from towns not ready to adopt a public accommodations bill.

I of course disagree, but then again, I am not privy to what Gov. Baker sees.  However, I do see 17 other states that have a transgender public accommodations law in force without incident.  I mentioned this to the Governor.  I got the impression that he has higher expectations of such a law than in other states – just because a state has protections, they may not have force behind them.

Of course, I did not expect to change Gov. Baker’s mind with a four-minute conversation.  The victory lay in having the conversation with both of us listening to each other.  I have a better understanding of Gov. Baker’s reluctance to endorse the current bill.  And I think I got across that this bill is important to families with transgender kids.

This is not the end, but the beginning.  The current law took five years of hard work from dedicated activists and lawmakers.  There are loads of people right now, e.g., MassTPC, GLAD, and many others working to educate lawmakers and move the legislative process along.  I am confident that with that hard work as well as engagement with lawmakers, the people who need this law to pass can make it happen.

A Message from Our Son

Eli asked that we post the following.

Hi, I’m Eli. You’ve probably heard a lot about me, but only from my transition. I want you to know more about me.

I’m a pretty average kid. I like some sports, some video games. I’m into books and fantasy. I love animals a lot. My favorite color is green, my favorite number is three. I love music – especially Fall Out Boy and Twenty One Pilots. I love to write and learn. I have my best friends, and some people I don’t like as much. I just happen to be transgender. That’s one thing about me.

It doesn’t decide whether I’m ‘mentally ill’, or ‘going to hell’. It decides nothing about me. Being trans just means I don’t have the right body parts. I’ve spent the first 13 1/2 years of my life, confused and feeling broken. I’m who I am now, and I could never be happier.

If this is a mental disorder, it’s sure a good one if it makes me feel like I belong.