Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019: Speech at Todos Santos Plaza with Rainbow Community Center

Welcome!  I am Michelle Paquette, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.   I am a person who transcends cultural gender boundaries, that is, I am a transgender person. In my case, as in many others, when I was born the regions of the brain that mediate perception of my body didn’t match the sex assigned to my body.  To put it simply, my body didn’t fit my gender identity.  We try to reconcile this as best we can, adjusting our gender presentation, roles, perhaps even through medical care.

This mismatch occurs slightly less often than natural redheads do, a normal if infrequent expression of biological diversity.  Transgender people are normal, if not common, but are also the target of pervasive and persistent violence for simply existing.

"Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence.“, said founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith,  who started this day in 1999 as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, killed in 1998, and all those killed through violence.  She continued “ is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice."

Transgender people are a living study in intersectionality.  All transgender people can be the target of transmisia,  Transmisia is prejudice plus power, systemized discrimination or antagonism directed against transgender/nonbinary/genderqueer/agender persons.  Historically, 17 percent of all reported violent hate crimes against LGBTQ people are directed against those who identified themselves as transgender.

Now, add into this systemic misogyny, entrenched prejudices against women within this culture, doubly impacting all transgender persons with a femme presentation. About two-thirds of all reported violent hate crimes against transgender people are aimed at transgender women and femmes.

Next, add into this systemic racism, embedded in all social institutions, structures, and social relations within our society, which triply impacts transgender women and femmes of color.  Historically, over 80 percent of murdered transgender women are persons of color.

Transgender Americans experience poverty at double the rate of the general population, and transgender people of color experience even higher rates.  We have an unemployment rate three times the general population, and transgender people of color are unemployed at a rate of four times the general population.   Poverty and unemployment or underemployment impact transgender people’s housing and medical care, and so stability and quality of life. Those without access to stable housing and employment and left out on the streets are most vulnerable to violence.

We have seen the federal government act to permit discrimination against transgender persons everywhere from adoption services, through medical care, and even emergency shelter.  We have seen our government argue in the courts that gender identity discrimination is not a sex related discrimination, and that discrimination against transgender people is perfectly legal.

We have seen the government ban military service for transgender persons, who have served honorably, as I have.  We saw the government try to legally define gender to be irrevocably the sex assigned at birth.

We have seen propaganda campaigns that try to demonize transgender people, as part of a broad campaign to make simply living our lives more difficult.  We have seen a new campaign launched, built on curated misinformation and aimed at transgender children and student athletes.

Allies, no, accomplices, consider what author Imogen Binnie suggested a few years ago on Twitter: ask what the article or conversation would have trans people do. And “if the answer is something like ‘not be trans,’ please consider that most trans people have tried that and it didn’t work.” And if you are having a conversation in public or private that at its core is debating whether a person should exist, please re-consider the value of that conversation.

These campaigns impact transgender youth disproportionately.
“Every day they have to hear these terrible things. They are less than a person, they can’t count, they can’t use the bathroom of their choice, they can get fired just for being who they are,” said Alexis Chavez of the Trevor Project.  The Project’s research has shown some disturbing results: More than half of transgender youths have seriously considered suicide; 78% reported being the subject of discrimination because of their identity.

Since January 1 in the United States, 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people were fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported -- or misreported. 

Worldwide, in the one year period ending October first, at least three hundred sixty-eight (368) transgender persons died in violence.  Thirty of these were in the United States, including deaths from violence under suspicious circumstances, and five more driven to suicide that we know of.

We have been meeting like this for twenty years.  In that time, 3,317 trans and non-binary people have been recorded as dead through violence around the world.   Transgender women of color bear the brunt of this terrible burden. 

The visibility of transgender people can not be denied. We live in your neighborhoods.  We are doctors and lawyers, ministers and judges, sex workers and artists.  We are the same as everyone else.

We are here, and we will not be erased.    We will not be erased.


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Call to Worship: Sacrifice and Refueling

Welcome!  I am Michelle Paquette, and  my pronouns are she/her/hers.

I want to tell you a story from my youth, a tale of sacrifice and support.  To understand this tale, I need to disclose a few things about myself.  I was born in 1953, and reached my teenage years in the late 1960s here in the Bay Area. I am also a person who transcends cultural gender boundaries, that is, I am a transgender person. In my case, as in many others, when I was born the regions of the brain that mediate perception of my body didn’t match the sex assigned to my body.  That is, my body didn’t fit my gender identity.

This mismatch occurs about as often as natural redheads do, a normal if infrequent expression of biological diversity.  

When I reached my teens, the changes that started to happen in my body were seen as incorrect by the brain’s perceptual network, triggering a strong and persistent sense that something was wrong.  The medical folks call this gender dysphoria.  Normally, if something was wrong or really bothering me I would have talked to my Mom or our parish priest for guidance, but observation and experience told me that this would be a really bad idea.   I had to sacrifice any expression of my authentic self, and hide beside a false front to avoid conflict at home.

Instead, I experimented.  I found that growing my hair out helped.  If I could dress in a more feminine style, that helped a bit.  I was discovering that shifting my gender presentation could be a coping mechanism, but it really wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t talk to anyone.

I did read the paper, though.  Eventually I read that something radical was happening over in San Francisco.  For an extra dime, the bus would take me over to the city.

I put on my flared jeans, my platform shoes (oh, yay 1960s!), and packed a rather BoHo top in my bag.  When I got to the TransBay Terminal, I ducked into a restroom, changed my shirt for the top, brushed my hair out, and took off into the city, just another 14 year old hippie chick.  I would repeat this trip many times in the next few years.

I found my way to the Tenderloin, and discovered others like me.  There were groups that gathered at Glide Memorial, and over on Van Ness at the “Center for Special Problems”.  Older women gave me the “Dutch Auntie” treatment, showing me where it was safe to go, where I could rest or eat, and how to avoid being arrested.  

The other teens were amazing.  I made friends, actual friends!  Some were living on their own, or in ‘group homes’ with a half dozen living together in a Tenderloin hotel room.  We talked, sharing and caring for one another.  We listened to one another.  We helped and protected one another.  

As the group dynamics shifted, we shifted our preferred hangout over to the Golden Gate Park panhandle and the growing community of nonconformists in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.  There, nobody seemed to care about our nature.   We could fold and stuff copies of a local paper for food or a place to crash.  Amazing music was everywhere.  And best of all, I got to just be myself, with others like me. These were the best days of my youth.

That gave me the strength to get through all the days I had to stay hidden, so my existence wouldn’t upset everyone around me at home and school.

I don’t have to hide any more.  The days of sacrificing my own existence to avoid upsets are behind me.  I am part of a community where we can support and spiritually refuel one another.  

Let’s look at how we do this today, as we worship together.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Call to Worship for November 3 “That Which Has Been Our Delight”

“That Which Has Been Our Delight”

Last week, while driving through White Pass in Washington, I was struck by the beautiful fall colors in the trees, brought on by a few nights of freezing temperatures.  The trees were marking the season, the end of burgeoning growth, a time of slowing in nature in preparation for the long sleep of winter.

This is also a time of year when we humans may pause, gathering in and perhaps celebrating the harvest, and as we pause, remembering the changes in our lives over the past year.  These changes may include those with us only in memory, and we can share those memories and celebrate their lives in ritual.

Many cultures have independently found ways to mark the changes that come into their lives and have their own unique ways of honoring the dead. 

Here in California, with our strong cultural ties to Mexico and it’s culture, we are somewhat familiar with Día de los Muertos.  The celebration emphasizes celebrating the lives of the deceased, complete with food, parades, dances and parties. Celebrants believe that on this day, the spirits of the dead return to take part in the celebrations alongside the living.

Samhain ( “s’ouen”)
My own family background includes a substantial Irish component, with my mother’s roots in clan Cusack, from County Meath, Ireland.  There, Samhain (“s’ouen”) has been celebrated for many centuries.

It is said that at this time of year the link between this world and the other is at its thinnest, and the dead may return to this world using doors of the sidhe (“shee”) so they could warm themselves amongst the living.

Feasts are held in honor of the dead, with a place set for ancestors who may visit from the other world. After the large supper, the untouched plate of food is placed outside to be left for the sidhe (“shee”).

"i Morti" in Italy
In Sicily, children hunt for treats left by loving relatives no longer around. In northern Italy people leave their homes empty in case the dead want to visit. All over the country, Italians set an empty place at the table for people who no longer sit there.

Obon Festival
A traditional Buddhist festival in Japan celebrated a few months ago, Obon commemorates lost ancestors, whose spirits are believed to return then to visit relatives.

Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors' spirits, dances are performed, graves are visited and cleaned, and food offerings are made.  At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. The customs followed vary strongly from region to region.

Chuseok (chu-see-ok)
Chuseok (chu-see-ok) is one of Korea's largest national holidays,  celebrated a few weeks ago, and traditionally marking the fall harvest. Marked with dancing, games and food, Chuseok is also a time for Koreans to honor their ancestors, and during the three-day festival, the living give thanks to the dead for their part in providing bountiful crops.

I note these special days and rituals not to somehow conflate or colonize them, but simply to recognize that the need to remember those no longer with us, and celebrate their lives is a human thing, larger than any single faith or culture.

Today we, as a Unitarian Universalist congregation, continue our own tradition, keeping in mind the many other traditions of our world, as we celebrate That Which Has Been Our Delight and worship together.