Friday, February 17, 2012

What Do Uranium and a Transgender Foreign Service Officer Have in Common?

Quite a lot, come to think of it.

There is the radioactivity to begin with.  When I first tried to speak of being transgender in 1990, I might as well have been radioactive judging from the speed with which some people in my life ran in the other direction.  Even in this much more welcoming and enlightened second decade of the twenty-first century, some may have preferred to deal with radioactivity than with the announcement of my intent to transition in the workplace overseas.  Special handling seemed called for, much as it might have been for an international shipment of uranium.

But just as with uranium, being transgender implies energy.  We need large stores of potential energy that we turn to kinetic as we walk the transition path.  I tell everyone that today I feel far younger than I did just two years ago.  It's as though I'm 57 going on 27.

Being a transgender Foreign Service Officer (FSO) takes the analogy further.  Like uranium, I have found that a transgender FSO can find herself in more demand than she ever expected.  It has been my greatest post-transition surprise over the past three months.

For the coming weekend I will be judging twenty-six finalist essays on the theme of tolerance.  Embassy Bucharest is holding an essay contest in honor of Human Rights Day, and the essays were submitted by Romanian high school students.  Last weekend I judged twenty-eight essays in the first round.  Over three hundred essays were submitted in all, and I am one of a dozen volunteer judges.

Then there is a GLIFAA colleague back in Washington who thinks I should be able to pull together enough information to write a report about LGBT issues among the Roma people.  Thanks to my former career, I believe I am better placed to report on LGBT issues on the Moon than among the Roma, but to my own surprise, I may be on the verge of having just enough information to write a short report.  Whether I do or not depends on three gay Roma guys.  One is in Bucharest, another is in Prague, and the third is in Dubai.  Well, maybe I had better stick to the Moon after all.

Next there is the transgender chapter for the 20th anniversary GLIFAA retrospective.  I wrote a draft over the holidays and got edits and clearances from everyone who was anyone who had anything to say on the subject . . . except for one.  I was simply going to turn it in to the editor, but then the one missing person sent me an archive of e-mails and other documents going back to 2007. 

My first reaction to the sight of this archive was an ardent wish to run for the hills.  Then I started to go through the couple of hundred pages of material . . . and was enthralled.  There's enough here for a book, and I've only got another couple of pages.  The archive covers everything that went on in GLIFAA's successful lobbying that culminated in gender identity being added to the State Department's Statement on Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment in the summer of 2010.  If it hadn't been for a core group of committed people, Robyn might not be writing to you from Bucharest today.  Looking at these documents, I feel I'm a historian working in the archives in Leningrad again.  Instead of running for the hills, I feel honored to be reading these papers.  Now all I need is about 40 hours a week to devote to this. . . .

And then there has been the Esquire interviewI'm leery of Esquire as the right venue for an article on what it means to be transgender, but just such an article is being written in the Romanian edition.  That article is not about me, thank goodness, but about one of the young Romanian transgender women whom I have come to know and respect over the past year.  (I have already had my fifteen minutes of fame in the Romanian press in a good article, A fi b─ârbat sau a fi femeie?, published in the opinion and literary journal Dilema Veche last November.)  The journalist from Esquire approached the Embassy for an interview, and with the State Department's current push for LGBT outreach, both the Embassy and Washington were enthusiastic.  We opted for written answers to interview questions that went through the normal State clearance process.  That gives us some measure of control and an opportunity to present the official US Government position on LGBT rights as human rights.  Stay tuned. . . .

Let's see, what else?  Oh, yes, this is LGBT history month in Romania, and last Sunday I was a book in a living library event organized by Accept.  When I was first told that anyone who wished would be able to check me out and read  me for 15-20 minutes at a time, I had to chuckle.  The thought of a transgender person willingly offering herself to be checked out and read was just too humorous.  In the end it was a fun evening as I was checked out and read multiple times, mainly by young gay and lesbian Romanians for whom a transgender person is nearly as exotic as an extraterrestrial.  This book from the foreign literature section learned as much from the evening as did her readers.

Yes, just like uranium, a transgender FSO can be simultaneously radioactive, energetic, and in demand.  Please just don't put me in a centrifuge.  Although I wouldn't mind being enriched, I believe I'm already as refined as I can be and can't be improved.  As long as my half-life is long, I will continue to live as a young 57 going on 27. 

Now, where did I leave that stack of essays on tolerance? . . .


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