Welcome to MTPC: Kelsey!

Hi everyone, my name is Kelsey Grunstra, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m MTPC’s new Operations Coordinator! Before I get into too much detail about me, let me tell you what I’ll be doing with MTPC. My mission is the same as Mason’s and MTPC’s as a whole, to end oppression and discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression, but my day-to-day work will mostly look like answering your emails and phone calls, running our newsletter and social media accounts, working on events and trainings, and generally helping out Mason so he can keep doing the great work he’s up to! I’m so excited to join MTPC and get to work for and with all of you, our beautiful community.

As for how I got here, It’s been an interesting few years for myself (and, well, all of us I suppose) and things have been changing pretty constantly in my life. Ever since I first came out and began transitioning, I’ve consistently become more and more driven to be directly engaged in work that uplifts and supports the trans community. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve had a lot of privilege in my life, and this commitment has really come from my desire to utilize that privilege to build up and advocate for our community. Almost exactly one year ago at the 2017 Harvard LGBTQ Conference, I was just standing around waiting for Mara Keisling’s (the Founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality) keynote to start when none other than Mara herself came over and introduced herself to my friends and I. She just wanted to meet us and have some casual conversation to avoid thinking about the fact that she’d be speaking in just a few minutes. I’ve been inspired by her work, her dedication, and her resilience for many years now but that was really the moment I knew I could go into advocacy work. Seeing one of my role models struggling with the normal things I encounter all the time, ultimately I realized, you don’t have to be anything special or unique to be a dedicated and empowered leader, you just need to be driven, full of passion and empathy, listen to those around you, and lift up the voices and people who can do what you can’t (after of course accepting that you cannot!).

So now fast forward about a year and I’m chatting with one of the MTPC Steering Committee members who knew I was looking for work and they suggested that I take a look at this role. It just so happened to fit in perfectly with my schedule and what I was looking for! So then I met with Mason and some more Steering Committee members and that’s the short and sweet version of what brought me to MTPC and how I became engaged in advocacy work for the trans community.

Outside of this space, I work and live in Somerville with four amazing roommates and my many, many guitars. I’m a musician who often struggles to answer the question “What do you play?” because of the many instruments and styles of music I’m often bouncing between. I hope to someday soon record some music and maybe even get a band together with some of my friends. When I’m not playing music, I can reliably be found tinkering with my instruments or building new ones (to highly varying levels of completion and quality!), reading fiction or comic books, hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, or nerding out over the latest sci-fi TV series. I do however also love spending time outdoors, whether just on a long walk, going on a strenuous hike, or spending a day at the beach.

With all that said, I’m very, very excited to get started and do what I can to help MTPC be effective and grow. I also can’t wait to get to know you, our community, better, and be I hope to see you at some of our future events. Please feel free to get in touch with me and introduce yourself by emailing me at kelsey@masstpc.org!

Yours,
Kelsey Grunstra

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“A Fantastic Woman” Review

This is a guest blog from Pearl, a community member and local film buff. Thanks Pearl!

Chile’s contender [now winner!] for best foreign language film Oscar is cognizant of the difficulty in the death of a lover, dealing with the previous family, and the added difficulties of a transgender life.

“A Fantastic Woman” is a fantastic film by director and co-writer Sebastian Lelio (Gloria, 2013). Better than Hollywood, foreign films treat transgender identities in more sensitive, understanding way and “A Fantastic Woman” does just that.

Set in modern day Santiago, the film is a confident love letter to transgender isolation and empowerment. Moments of dry witty comedic relief eases the constant tension onset by police and a family bound by their own essential dogma, inflamed by the fact that the “other woman” is transgender.

Daniela Vega’s lead portrays singer/waitress Marina’s stoicism as stronger than her resolve. Her control of the material and restraint as an actress are remarkable for her big screen debut. Finally, a transgender actor is in a lead transgender role. The dignity of the role shines for who she is, not who she is pretending to be. But so much of Vega’s power on the screen is not in what she says or does. The real power is in her expressive on-camera looks. We witness the look of perseverance in the face of one transgender prejudice after another. The prejudices are disturbingly accurate and will cause any trans viewer to identify with and cringe at times. 

Iguazu Falls, in all its power opens the film as the credits rolls. The fall’s force is palpable as cuts of different views takes us down into the plume where a soft foggy mist rises from the tremendous force. Metaphorically, this is where we spend the movie. Floating in a light mist, front and center of tumultuous emotions. The majority of the film’s close camera work style keeps us focused on the story line that goes no further than to advance the difficulties of a transgender life. We are witness to a vast contempt kept within close-cropped scenes.

Once Marina’s 57 year-old lover and partner Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies during the night of her twenty-something birthday celebration, the safe world the two carved out for themselves is under attack. She now must cope with her grief while asserting her rights and forging a new way forward without him. Threats and insults come from the police investigating his death, and Orlando’s family: Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), the jilted ex-wife, the overly male bravado infused son Bruno (Nicolas Saavedra), and other members. The only family member to show any sympathy for Marina is Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco). He stands up for Marina numerous times in the film. Does Gabo possess a better understanding of the love in his brother’s choice? The world needs more people like Gabo. But there isn’t. So when one is transgender, everything you have to deal with is a little harder.

Let’s start with a simple question: What is your name? To a cisgender person this is a no-brainer. But our heroine is asked this basic question by an officer upon her police-escorted return to the hospital. This is the start of the dissent of the trans dilemma for Marina.

A split second delay in answering the name question, Marina giving her adopted name brings the questioning gaze of the officer on her who now demands to see ID. On the defensive while surrendering her ID, she explains her female status is not completed. (Those with no clue to the transgender world, this might be lost on them.) Now addressing Marina by her birth name, the officer gives a child-like reprimand for her to use her birth name when being questioned. Gabo’s arrival avoids further confrontation and Marina retreats with Orlando’s car back to the apartment they shared. Once in the safety of her home, solace is found with Diabla, Orlandos’s long-time canine companion now gifted to her. This part of Orlando she holds dear is just another opportunity for the family to take something away from her out of their bitterness.

No place is safe from persecution.

Marina’s world becomes invaded by confrontations: Bruno’s unannounced arrival with his father’s keys in hand demanding she leave the apartment, an investigating sexual assault officer arrives at her work demanding she come to the station for more humiliating questioning, and on the phone with a demanding ex-wife Sonia. The only people, other than her singer teacher and restaurant boss who share tender words for Marina is her sister and husband. They go so far as to provide her shelter.

Tender words are not used in confrontations. Trans, and ignorance of what trans is by the characters allows for cheap shots such as “faggot” and “monster” to be used. Or a further discredit to Marina: “Orlando must have been crazy.”

Throughout the film a disconcerting threat of possible violence accompanies the name-calling. Marina at one point as abducted amidst a verbal assault. This is a breath holding moment as some of the family men force her into the back of a truck after her appearance at the wake. There is no explaining away that grief has fueled their actions. When this happens to a trans person, it is a hate crime. In this film the perps get way with it and Marina is released physically in tact after a stressful, humiliating ride in the city. This is a dark reminder of the threat of violence to trans people that goes on.

We all end up in the cemetery.

Since Marina forewarned shows up at the wake, one can expect an appearance at Orlando’s funeral. And with it comes the final tête-à-tête. Marina and the family car come to a stand off on the cemetery road. Marina, standing mid-road as the family from inside the car launches another verbal salvo. We are about to discover Marina’s breaking point. She has had it with these Philistines. Hiking up her skirt, she climbs aboard the car’s hood to the roof. With pain and angst, jumping up and down on the roof, she lets it all out. She now becomes the threat to her abusers trapped inside Orlando’s car, as if it is a coffin itself. Marina lets loose her tirade. In the end, Diabla is all she wants from the family. For the dog’s return she willingly surrenders her keys to the apartment and the life she had with Orlando. As the car drives off, one would believe the family is victor since they had the funeral sans Marina.

Alone in the cemetery, Marina deals with the angst of missing her last chance to say goodbye to Orlando. Previously at times, her deceased lover revealed himself to Marina as a speechless vision. He now directs her to the crematory moments before his incineration. Orlando’s apparition as the tender lover he was stops and kisses Marina as gently and lovingly as we have witnessed before. Then disappears through locked doors. Pounding for entry the crematory workers allow her access and a moment alone. To see Orlando’s body to say good -bye is all she desired. Fuck you to the family, they will never know.

A personal requiem.

The returned dog is fed. The stage is set. Marina primps herself. Standing proud and tall she joins her singing teacher and a small ensemble on a stage. Previously we learned of Marina’s vocal talents when she visited her teacher. Now is time for a grand performance to rise above all the chaos. (Daniela Vega is an opera singer.) She doesn’t disappoint. Closing the film, as a personal requiem comes Handel’s “Ombra mai fu,” “Never was a shade.” As Marina’s performance ends, tears for her lover finally run down her cheeks. We can share her pain and triumph.

Ombra mai fu

Tender and beautiful fronds of my beloved plane tree,

Let Fate smile upon you .

May thunder, lightning, and storms never bother your dear peace,

Nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was made

A vegetable (a plant) more dear and loving or gentle.

George Frederic Handel, 1738

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Exciting Updates to Massachusetts ID’s

The Mass Trans Political Coalition has been working closely with the Massachusetts RMV, and the LGBTQ Youth Commission to ease the unnecessary burdens associated with changing a name and gender marker here in the Commonwealth. To that end, we have successfully updated the process for gender marker changes. The forms required to change a gender marker on Massachusetts ID’s/driver’s licenses no longer require a medical/therapeutic signatory. Now, applicants are asked to sign a “self attestation,” to affirm their gender marker change is consistent with their gender identity.

This is an exciting update, with Massachusetts joining only Oregon, and the District of Columbia as locations allowing self attestation for gender marker changes.

MTPC is also working with the RMV to achieve a gender neutral markers for Massachusetts ID’s as well. Gender neutral markers are important to affirm the identities of nonbinary and intersex people in the Commonwealth. We are hoping to see these changes soon. Stay tuned!

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Transphobia in Healthcare: Unhealthy, Unsafe, and Unacceptable

This week we’re witnessing new attacks on the health and wellness of trans and gender nonconforming people. Nationally, the Trump administration has created a new division under the HHS civil rights office geared towards allowing and promoting discrimination against LGBTQ people in healthcare. Under the misleading name of “conscience and religious freedom,” this division will open the door for healthcare providers to deny care to anyone they may disapprove of, including denying care to trans and gender nonconforming people. We all value and enjoy religious freedom as established in the Constitution of the United States; this policy, however, is more concerned with denying health care to marginalized communities than the exercise of faith.

Here in Massachusetts, we have recently learned that the Group Insurance  Commission – the state agency which provides healthcare coverage for Massachusetts state employees – is making changes to the plans available to employees. Under these changes, former plans, which provided coverage for transition related medical care, have been eliminated. The new plans to be offered by GIC have little to no coverage for transition related healthcare for trans and gender nonconforming state employees. This is a major problem, impacting the health and wellness of many members of our community. MTPC is currently making plans to attend upcoming public hearings on the issue, to ensure our voices are heard by the state.

Trans and gender nonconforming people already face disproportionate levels of discrimination, harassment, and denial in healthcare – and these new developments will likely raise those rates in alarming ways. The Mass Trans Political Coalition is here to send the message to policy makers and healthcare providers: transphobia in healthcare is unhealthy, unsafe, and unacceptable.

For more information, questions, or ways to get involved, contact Mason: MasonDunn@masstpc.org

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In Memory: Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien

We at MTPC are mourning the loss of community advocate, activist and friend, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien. Christa was a wonderful person, who had a profound impact on the trans and gender nonconforming community, particularly in Western Massachusetts. She was the creator and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant, and would go on to found Miss Trans America. She was a well known and positive influence for many trans people locally and nationally.

At this time, her death has been ruled a homicide, underscoring the continued prevalence of violence against trans and gender nonconforming people, particularly trans women. Additionally, domestic violence and partner abuse may have been a factor in her murder; factors which disproportionately impact trans people across the country. Christa’s death is a sad reminder how much violence and abuse transgender people face every day.

The Mass Trans Political Coalition would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Christa’s friends and family. We are working to assist in planning a community gathering and memorial in her memory. We will follow up when more information and details are available.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with depression, violence, discrimination, or partner abuse, please reach out to local or community resources. Groups such as The Network La Red (tnlr.org), Samaratins (https://samaritanshope.org/), Safe Passage (http://safepass.org/) and others, are available to provide assistance and resources.

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Snapshots in Time: A Personal Story

Guest post from Michelle Tat, MTPC’s Clerk:

Content Warning: This is not about data science. This is a long post that’s mostly a stream of consciousness. You have been warned!

Happy New Years everyone. It’s been a long time since I last posted, mostly because I’ve been busy at the new job, also because I’ve taken some time off to re-balance my life a little bit. But I’m back! At least for the time being.

There’s been one thing on my mind lately that I’ve been meaning just to get on paper. And it has everything to do with my identity. In the era where trans identities are at the forefront of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, the stories that are played in the airwaves only scratch the surface of who we are and how any of us made it to “now”. Often times, trans folx, are seen as two discrete snapshots in time. Before and After. Then and Now.

Head over to Medium, to finish reading about Michelle’s journey.

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