Saturday, January 05, 2008

Susan Stanton: One Year Later.

You may remember the controversy in Largo Florida about a city manager who decided to transition from Steve to Susan on the job. As a result she lost her job and hasn't much been in the news lately so what has happened to Susan? The St. Petersburg Times just ran a story about her and it is a bit sad and heartening at the same time. Plus Susan has managed to generate new controversy, this time within the transgender community itself.

The upshot is that she is still looking for a job and lots of her former friends have shunned her. Yup, you sure learn who your friends are when you decide to transition-that's what my transsexual friends tell me. You really really need to be very financially and with a strong network of friends to make transitioning work.

She is quoted as saying:

"People assume I'm making tons of money, traveling around speaking. But the truth is: I need help. I'm starting to approach people I know in the area, which I never thought I'd be doing."

Later in the article observes that people who have known her for 20 years won't speak to her, including some of her own family: not at all unusual for those who decide to transition.

On the plus side she appears to have won acceptance from her son. even if he still calls her Dad. That's OK.

So what's the new controversy? In the same article, Susan is quoted as saying that she's different from other transgendered people..."like I'm seeing a bunch of men in dresses." Further on she discusses ENDA-that's the proposed federal legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. This last year the sponsors toyed with the idea of adding gender expression to ENDA. This was ultimately rejected.

She says:

"The biggest issue against the federal legislation is that politicians think the ladies' rooms will be invaded by guys in drag," Susan says, "instead of someone like me."

This of course has led to her being attacked as not being supportive of trans rights and the GLBT portion of the noosphere has quickly reacted, generally negatively. Representative is this quote from Becky's Blog:

"In addition, I’m more than a bit puzzled by her reaction. Susan Stanton worked in government and the political arena for almost a decade and a half at minimum. Did she really expect acclaim or acceptance of the views attributed to her in this article from members of a community as violently persecuted on as Transgender-Americans? Did she really expect support and sympathy from a community of people who have been being legally denied employment, housing, basic social services, contact with children and other loved ones, and even simple human respect for who we are and how live our lives as a matter of course throughout history in most areas of this country? If she did, then it’s clear to me that while she may understand how to live and function on a daily basis as a woman, she still doesn’t have any real understanding of what it means to be a transgender person, and particularly a transwoman, in the United States of America in 2008."

Apparently Susan has been overwhelmed with critical e-mail about the comments in the article and she has responded with a message to the TS community on her website. She writes:

"Contrary to the St. Petersburg Times article, I do not see members of the transgender community as “men wearing dresses.” However, I do feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the general public that being transgender is simply a matter of men wanting to “dress up as women.”"

Unfortunately, here she definitely is right about common public perception. I don't think her comments are going to mollify the transgender activists. Plus her comments do nothing to educate the public about ENDA and I am not sure the criticism she is receiving is going to help passage of a gender expression inclusive ENDA either. It's too bad Susan had gotten thrust into a role she really didn't want and maybe wasn't equipped for.

Here is a sampling of other reactions:

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