Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prop 8 - The End?

When I first addressed this subject I thought the California constitutional challenge would be pretty much a slam-dunk. Prop 8 proposed to alter a California constitutional fundamental right (to marry) aimed solely against a despised minority recognized as a suspect class (gay people) and thus would constitute a 'revision' rather than a mere 'amendment' and as such could not be accomplished by a mere majority vote of the general electorate, right?

Well, not so quick. I should have known better. I am, after all, a lawyer, and I've seen just how mendacious the courts can be. It never occurred to me the California Supreme Court would be this mendacious.

I mean, I've seen some fancy judicial footwork before. We all have. Remember Bush v. Gore? Author: Tony Scalia. Need I say more? But at least that Court (U.S. Supreme) split 5 to 4. Yesterday, the California Supreme Court went 6:1 to hold that Prop 8 really didn't reduce gay people to second-class citizens. They still have civil unions, right? Hey, that's pretty much the same thing as marriage, so if we don't allow gays to 'marry' what's the big deal? Where's the harm? It is, after all, just a word. No kidding - that's what they said.

To put it in scholarly legal context, the California Supreme Court handed-down its own version of Plessy v. Ferguson. That's the 1898 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld segregated schools because they're "separate but equal."

Top add insult to injury, the six justices (how dare they call themselves that!) collectively wrote 150 pages of pure garbage. We, the taxpayers, have to pay for that. It's tough reading, not because it's too wordy or the insights require too fine a juridical mind to comprehend, but because it's just so much garbage that reading it is a guaranteed headache.

Only one California Justice got it right. Carlos Moreno was the only dissenter, the only one of seven to tell the world plainly that the emperor has no clothes. Read his 25 page dissent. He says it all. And it's easy reading - because it makes sense. The majority opinion does not. That's why it's so hard to read. They have to dress up all their bullshit in fancy language so you won't figure out the obvious - that they're just blowing smoke up your nose.

On the one hand, I'm angry. The courts scream to us how 'fair' they are. But the bottom line is that they're a corrupt cesspool of stinking, lying, back-stabbing scum and Huey Newton was right -- there is no "justice," there's only "just us" - and fuck you.

On the other hand (lawyers always need two hands - have you even seen a lawyer with just one?) I still have one tenuous foot somewhat planted in the real world and it tells me the world is an imperfect place, starting with the courts. It's The Golden Rule - the guy with the gold makes the rules, and our treasury is kinds low on yellow metal.

It took the U.S. Supreme Court 56 years to redress Plessy and hold that "separate but equal" is unconstitutional. How long will it take to do the same with the right to marry in California?

This decision is so bad that the two lead lawyers who were on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore are teaming-up to challenge this decision in the Federal district court. That's right - David Boies and Ted Olsen(!)This isn't the first time a Federal court struck down a patently anti-gay voter initiative that amended a state constitution. It happened in 1996 in Colorado.

But I'm not looking to the courts for help. Maybe Scalia, Roberts, Alito and what's-his-face will all conveniently off themselves and Obama will pack the U.S. Supreme Court with liberal judges who will turn things around, for a while at least until the pendulum swings back the other way again. I'm a student of history and that is human history.

In the meantime, the most plausible solution is yet another California ballot initiative, this time to amend the California Constitution to undo Prop 8.

We shouldn't have to be in this mess now in the first place. We shouldn't have lost the fight last November but the gay leadership has proven itself hopelessly inept. We'll be saved, if at all, by the inexorable demographic shift toward younger voters, the kind of people who increasingly aren't buying into their parents' homophobia. Maybe.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vive la France!

Again, trust the French to get it right.

On May 16th the French Health Ministry (formally, "la Haute autorité de la Santé (HAS)") declassified transsexuality from the list of "psychiatric disorders of long duration." Hallelujah.

And the status change should be accomplishable without surgery. I believe that so far, only Spain allows this. The proponents invite the World Health Organization (WHO) to take the next step to similarly declassify transsexuality.

It should be noted that in so classifying transsexuality, the WHO looked to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Significantly, the APA is holding its annual meeting this week in San Francisco. Today, May 18th, transgender activists protested the proposed DSM revisions that would continue to stigmatize us with mental illness diagnoses.

Cynically, HRC President Joe Solmonese is shouting louder than ever his support for the trans community, even though he's persona non grata with us. In September 2007 he swore to a cheering crowd at the Southern Comfort trans conference in Atlanta that HRC would never support an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that did not include trans people. Just three weeks later Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank sold the trans community down the river by removing us from ENDA. None of Solmonese's fancy footwork and obfuscations could paper-over the fact that he wholesale forgot his promise and went along with this patent betrayal.

Some trans folk worry that removal of transsexuality from the DSM will mean that they will lose out on things like insurance coverages that rely on the DSM's mental illness diagnosis. That may be but it's likely they will retain coverage as transsexuality is increasingly recognized as a straightforward medical/health issue. The AMA is already of this opinion. It's the better way. The current mental illness diagnosis is simply too stigmatizing and carries too many detractors to be worth holding onto. It has to go because it's simply factually wrong.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Angie Zapata verdict

The verdict is in - 1st degree murder plus the hate crime conviction - a clean sweep but bittersweet because it won't bring back the life of the young victim.

I caught a few newsfeeds. They're very sketchy. Everyone was wondering how the jury would react. Now we know and the real news story is the jury - not the killer, and not even the victim. Rather, it's how public attitudes have changed because twelve ordinary people said "no" to the 'trans-panic' defense.

The trial went quickly, just four days, and it was largely prosecution. The defense presented a few witnesses, trying to poke little holes in the prosecution's case but to no avail. The perp had confessed to killing the victim. The only issue was why, and for that Allen Ray Adrade's only defense was trans-panic. It had worked before for Gwen Araujo's killers. Perhaps he really thought it would work again, this time for him.

It didn't.

The jury deliberated for just two hours, perhaps less, and the judge pronounced sentence immediately. The alacrity of it all was surreal.

So where do we go from here? Well, I'd like to know more about the jury. Who were these people, eight men and four women in a conservative and largely rural Colorado county, who only took two hours to deliberate before they returned their "guilty on all counts" verdict? I'd like to know. What went on in the jury room? It's important.

I also want to know if they believed anything Andrade said. His story conflicted with the prosecution's account (that at least 36 hours before he killed Angie he knew she was ts.) Unfortunately, every news media outlet reported his version as the facts - that she performed oral sex on him the night before he killed her. Why did they do that? Who knows if that actually happened? It was just his word and now we know that 12 people, a jury of his peers, read him as a lying sack of s**t. Will news accounts continue to print and air his version?

Colorado is very visible on the trannie radar screen. Two years ago we were reading about the flap when a young ts child started attending school as a girl. I later met her and her parents - wonderful people. The mother told me the hateful parent who had made the stink slithered off in to the shadows, where he belongs.

Then Angie Zapata was murdered.

Now we need to attack the 'trans-panic' defense. It's a form of the insanity defense. There are states that significantly delimit it. I read that in Nevada a judge must first rule on whether the insanity defense can be argued to the jury. Ok, let's do that for the trans-panic defense too - no automatic right to present just anything to the jury, no matter how over-the-top, because the mob is inherently susceptible to demagogic appeals to bigotry. Let the accused first convince a judge that it's a good-faith claim. It's constitutional.

Unless someone commissions a study can we ever know for sure what has happened over the course of years to change public attitudes? Would the twelve people on Allan Andrade's jury have convicted Gwen Araujo's killers of first-degree murder? The fact pattern wasn't all that different. How about Fred Martinez? Or any of the others unlucky enough to be listed on the Remembering Our Dead website? Can we finally say that these people did not die in vain?

Has anyone noticed what's missing? There aren't any voices criticizing the prosecution, the verdict or the sentence. I'm not hearing anyone arguing that the victim deserved what she got. No one is criticizing the prosecution for consistently referring to the victim as "she." Maybe I'm not listening but I don't hear anyone singling-out trans people for non-inciusion in a federal hate crime bill, that it would be granting "special rights" to us in particular.

People's attitudes toward transsexuals can be influenced. The evidence is clear - when people get to know us as real people many are dissuaded from their knee-jerk prejudices. Hopefully the fact that a Colorado jury heard the evidence and soundly rejected an appeal to their baser instincts is significant. The jury fled the courthouse after the verdict and sentence and there are no reports that any of them spoke to the press but hopefully they will speak to their families, their friends and their neighbors about what they saw and heard while in the jury box - and what they felt.

This case may be our lever to accelerate our successful efforts to influence and bring the masses into the light and turn them into allies. We can do it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fairness for Angie Zapata

Thank whomever for the Internet. Without it there would be no Google and no Wikipedia, without which I wouldn’t have been reminded that it was Anatole France (née Jacques-Anatole Thibault) who wrote in 1894 in Le Lys Rouge (The Red Lily)), “La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.” (Translated: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”)

A gratuitous reference? No, especially because today marks M. France’s 165th birthday.

I thought of this famous quote as I considered Allen Andrade's murder trial in Greeley, Colorado, which opened today.

Allen killed Angie Zapata. Not “allegedly” – he killed her and he intended to kill her. He hit her twice with a fire extinguisher, thought he'd killed her, then when she tried to get up he finished her off with another blow to the head. The only questions are (i) whether his crime was murder or manslaughter and (ii) in what degree. The State is charging him with first-degree murder. If convicted, he could be executed.

Angie Zapata’s crime? Just wanting to live and love as a woman.

Andrade’s version? The victim deceived him. “It” led him to believe “it” was a woman when in fact “it” had a cock, which makes “it” a man.

His defense: When he learned that "it" had a cock he "lost it" - he went berserk because that meant (to him) he’d had sex (the victim gave him a blow-job) with a man, which, he alleges, makes his skin crawl. He said if people knew they'd think he’s gay, which (he says) he’s not.

It’s the same tired old “trans panic” defense – blame the victim because "it deceived him."

The case is being tried before Judge Marcelo Kopcow. Since we’re a nation of men rather than laws, who's who matters. I don’t know where Judge Kopcow is from but he attended Northeastern University undergrad and New York (not to be confused with NYU) Law School.

NYLS is not a name law school. Like many local law schools, it graduates what some consider a disproportionate number of lawyers who go on to become judges.

Kopcow was appointed to the bench in 2005. My internet search didn’t disclose whether he was recently re-appointed or elected.

Angie Zapata is not the first person beaten to death by men who claimed the trans panic defense. The list of victims is simply too long and too tragic to enumerate. What’s different here is that the perp is also being charged with a hate crime.

In the 2000 presidential debates I watched Bush and Gore field a question about hate crimes. The context was the sensational Texas murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was tied to a pick-up truck and dragged to death. The three perps were tried and convicted.

Bush came out against a separate hate crime charge. He argued that justice was amply served by convictions on the base criminal charges. Two of the perps got the death penalty; the third got life in prison.

I didn’t expect more from Bush. I already knew him for what he was and what he still is. But Gore’s answer infuriated me because his long-winded response completely missed the point. Gore never even got close to saying that a hate crime is and should be charged separately because it’s intent is to threaten not victim-at-hand but rather the community-at-large represented by the poor unfortunate victim-at-hand. James Byrd Jr.’s murder was a not-very veiled threat to black people everywhere – get uppity and we’ll kill you too. For that reason, and to dissuade others who might be contemplating similar crimes, enlightened legislatures enact hate crime statutes. Why is that so difficult for some people to articulate?

Judge Kopcow ruled on a number of pre-trial defense challenges. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, he upheld the hate crime and first-degree murder charges but he threw-out part of Andrade’s confession and excluded evidence of his gang affiliation.

Regarding the confession, Kopcow ruled that police wrongfully continued questioning Andrade after he told them he didn’t want to talk anymore.

I’m a lawyer and while I never practiced criminal law exclusively I know that this point falls under the Miranda “right to counsel” rule. All the cases I know of that do limit police questioning involve a suspect whom police continue to question after s/he utters the magic words “lawyer” or “attorney.” That’s all it takes. Until then, the police can continue asking questions and the suspect is free to say nothing. Ask the U.S. Supreme Court.

Maybe the law’s changed under successive Republican administrations but I’ve not read any published report that upholds the right to limit questioning and exclude answers obtained after a suspect says s/he doesn’t want to talk anymore – not without first asking for a lawyer.

But Andrade never asked for a lawyer. Did Kopcow bend over backwards to aid a killer? And if so, why? And why no murmer of dissatisfaction with the ruling from the prosecution? Because the victim was transsexual?

Regarding the gang affiliation, Kopcow said that prosecutors wanted a Greeley police gang expert to testify that Andrade was a member of a gang and that any allegation that he had "homosexual sex" would result in severe penalties.

"This type of conduct can result in a 'general hit' by a ranking member of the gang, including death," Kopcow wrote in his order. But the gang investigator "also has never encountered this type of violation to occur where a gang member was 'dubbed' into committing this homosexual act."

Kopcow ruled the gang testimony was “speculative” and “prejudicial” to the jury. Again, the prosecution said nothing.

Speculative? What would be untoward if the expert testified what he knows as a fact about the gang, that this is what he knows about them from their past conduct, and that Andrade was a member of the gang. That’s “speculative?”

Of course Andrade's chances would suffer if the jury were to find out about his gang affiliation but that's the point of a hate crime charge, so how is that “prejudicial?” What exactly does the prosecution have to introduce in evidence to prove a hate crime? Will anything suffice less than a bald-faced statement along the lines of, “I killed “it” because I hate trannie faggots?”

Or do we exclude this highly probative evidence because the victim was transsexual?

So it’s fair to ask: What’s changed since Anatole France wrote his famous quip? The justice system is fair, n’est-ce pas? Transsexuals and the cisgendered are both forbidden to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

Bon anniversaire, M. France.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hooray for Iowa!

Over the years I've had a handful of friends who grew up in Iowa.

The first was a military brat. When I met her she was dancing topless at the NAS Oceana officer's club. Then there was Seed, our squadron nickname for a fellow RIO who'd grown-up on a farm. Lastly was a young woman whose divorce I'd handled. She went on to Barnard and then the NY Times.

There was something different about them. Now I know why. Iowans just are more firmly-grounded and seem to embody true American values than most.

Today we have the news that the Iowa Supreme Court has struck-down a 1998 state law that bans same-sex marriage. It figures.

It figures too that an already declared Republican constitutional challenge to the Iowa state constitution is likely to fail. That's because in Iowa the state legislature must first approve a ban on same-sex marriage in two consecutive sessions after which voters would have a chance to weigh in. Compare that to the protocol in supposedly progressive California whose Supreme Court is set to validate the absurd notion that the fundamental right to marry can be denied gay people by a bare 51% of the general electorate -- no intervening legislative vote necessary, thank you.

What a crazy quilt!

Iowa's looking better and better. Did you see "The Bridges Of Madison County?"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The final nail in this coffin

I just caught the final minutes of Pro 8 oral argument in the California Supreme Court. It sounded like a valiant effort that's going down in flames. Justice Joyce Kennard was flashing unmistakable signals about which way she's leaning - against us. From the anguish in the voice of a valiant gay woman lawyer who was the last to argue I have the sense that the majority will follow Kennard. This has not been a good day for the GV community.

This country is fucked. I say this even though we elected Barack Obama. Republicans have brought us to the brink of ruin and they're still at it. Just look at the Republican brick wall Obama is facing in Congress and the spectacle Republican leadership genuflecting to kiss the ring of Rush Limbaugh. We're fucked. There are so many stupid, bigoted people it's embarrassing to be an American.

As a transwoman, my consciousness of this issue is particularly acute as I become increasingly aware of how the male-female binary permeates society. OTOH, things are changing, and that's our only hope. If we couldn't persuade the California Supreme Court that a bare 51% majority should not be allowed to limit fundamental rights (like marriage) to a visible, undeniably persecuted minority (gays) then what really separates us from Nazi Germany? What use are is the hifalutin verbiage in which we wrap ourselves, deluding ourselves that we believe in the rule of law and concepts like 'fairness?'

The only hope now is that we can get an anti-Prop 8 voter incentive measure on the ballot soon and that the change in demographics since the last election will signal a different outcome. That means we need to limit the influx of antediluvian Latin American peasantry that continues to flood unabated into our state and to humiliate the superstitious and prejudiced black women who formed the core of 'religious' voters who more than any other voting bloc shot down gay marriage. Maybe they need a little re-education, a little vacation perhaps to a reconstituted slave plantation so they might regain an historical perspective and remember what it's like to live without civil rights.

Then again, I could be wrong. I hope so.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Menace to Sorority

A recent story of this name in a local Washington D.C. e-paper is about a controversy engendered by a self-declared female-to-male (FTM) person who joined a college sorority.

This story inspired me to think of something else. I would have loved to have been in a sorority but when I attended college I was male-bodied. As female as I might have felt that would have been awkward, and not just for the sorority sisters. But maybe that’s me. Maybe someone else who feels female inside but is still male-bodied would not feel out-of-place. But the other girls might feel uncomfortable.

What if the male-bodied but female-self-identifying applicant wasn’t entirely “male bodied” anymore. What if the person presented well as female – face, clothes, mannerisms, voice – what then? Would it depend on whether or not the person still had male genitalia, or would everyone say it’s ok so long as she’d had sex reassignment surgery (SRS, aka gender reaffirming (or just plain “affirming”) surgery – GRS/GAS), meaning she now had a vagina. Think about it because it’s coming. The number of young male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals having surgery shortly after they turm eighteen is growing rapidly.

A German MTF transsexual just had surgery at age sixteen. When she was twelve she’d already been been rigorously screened by medical doctors and psychologists who diagnosed her definitively as a MTF transsexual. They okayed her hormone treatment to block pubertal testosterone so she never went through male puberty and her body never turned male. She’s a very pretty and totally feminine girl. She’s also just the first of many.

Young postoperative transsexual women are already starting college. Most of them are stealth – no one knows. No one would know. Their documentation has been changed to reflect their female status and there’s no discernible clue that they’ve ever been anything but female. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were already several who’ve done it. Nor would I be surprised if one or more sorority sisters would know and was at ease with it because these ts women are sooo female. Women know these things. I know. I’m a post-op MTF transsexual woman.

But maybe one of these pre-op girls would not be so cloaked in secrecy. What will happen then? Expect her to make the six o’clock news when she applies to join a sorority and is outed.

But a pretty post-op is an easy case. What if she isn’t pretty? What if she doesn’t have all the feminine graces? Another way to express that is to say she doesn’t “vibe” a female very well. What then? Would it be all about looks? Tougher case?

Actually, this has already happened - on Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model.” Remember Isis King?

Stay tuned… film at 11:00.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Transformations 'r Us

I was eight years old when I saw Ava Gardner in "One Touch of Venus." I fell in love with her and the song "Speak Low" was burned into my consciousness.

The film inspired in me a love - no, an obsession with Greek mythology, a genre rife with stories of transformation and metamorphosis. Zeus was forever transforming himself into a swan or a golden rain so as to more easily enter into the chambers of some lucky mortal woman, usually somebody's wife, to copulate with and usually impregnate her.

Teiresias stumbled across Athena while she was bathing so she blinded him. In another story, Teiresias came upon a pair of copulating snakes, struck them, dispeasing Hera, who then punished him by transforming him into a woman. Later he's re-transformed back into a man. When asked which has the greater sexual pleasure (he experienced both) he unhesitatingly declared, "women." For his impiety, Hera struck him blind.

And then there's Actaeon. He stumbled across Artemis bathing and she turned him into a stag. His raging hounds, struck with a 'wolf's frenzy,' tore him apart.

What do we learn from this? Well for one, don't piss-off the Goddess. She's inclined to wield her enormous power to emasculate men. Oooo, kinky...

Societies project their deepest desires into their religious mythologies and the Greeks' have come down to us intact.; They permeate our sensibilities (consider all those Freudian complexes) so it's not a stretch that the idea of transsexual and trans-species transformation is woven into our heritage. Judaism gave us angels - human-formed demigods with wings, which Christianity adopted. The Greeks came up with the idea of men fitting themselves with wings and taking flight - the story of Icarus.

So when I hear transphobes suggesting that allowing people to cross-dress will invite people insisting on their right to change themselves into dogs I just have to roll my eyes.

Now I read that a that Massachusetts state Representative Carl Sciortino is on the same page with me. Here's what he's saying to people of faith in support of transgender rights:

"I’ve been thinking about our religion, all of Christianity, and the Old Testament, too, and it’s full of transformations. And God’s usually behind them," said Provost, prompting laughs from the crowd. "In the Old Testament you had sticks turning into snakes and disobedient women turning into pillars of salt, and you had a recalcitrant guy like Jonah turning into a prophet. And then you get to the New Testament and you’ve got water turning into wine and God turning into human form, and it’s so full of transformation. It makes sense to me, thinking about it, that the church ladies and the Sunday school should say, no big deal."

It's a persuasive message, but will it fly?

Thursday, January 22, 2009


When my father died the synagogue was filled to overflowing. It was quite a sight. By contrast, few people attended my mother's memorial ceremony.

One hopes one does not die alone. One hears of this one and that one dying peacefully, surrounded by loving family listening to the sounds of their grandchildren's laughter.

What's in store for me? To my everlasting shame and regret I wasn't there for either of my parents. Both died alone in hospitals, their bodies invaded by monstrous-looking tubes hooked-up to droning machines, the only witnesses to their last moments on the planet. I'm forever asking myself - do I deserve better? Will my daughter be there for me? Perhaps, but for now the chances seem slim.

Someone sent me a story. Maybe you've seen it. I don't know if it's true or not but it has the ring of truth. I'd like to share it with you.

* * *

Twenty years ago I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 a.m. the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, and then drive away.

But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I took the suitcase to the cab then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated."

"Oh, you're such a good boy," she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long." I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

“What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said.

“You have to make a living," she answered. "There are other passengers," I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said.

“Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

* * *

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware - beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

You won't get any big surprise in 10 days if you send this to ten people. But, you might help make the world a little kinder and more compassionate by sending it on.

My Friend Dottie

My friend Dottie died last month.

In 1993 we'd been neighbors when my ex and I moved to Los Angeles. We stayed in touch after my now-ex and I bought a house and moved away - not far, about a mile and a half.

Dottie grew-up very poor. One day she returned from school to her Lower East Side tenement to be greeted by her neighbor shouting out that Mr. _____ was dead. He'd had a heart attack. Dottie was ten.

Her mother, who was functionally illiterate, was a basket case. She could barely support herself, much less Dottie and her sister. They survived only because her father's brother stepped-in to help them.

Dottie graduated high school at fifteen and went to work as a secretary. She was very good. When she was seventeen she'd saved enough to set out on her own by train for California. She found work as a secretary with Paramount.

Dottie was very pretty. It never hurts. She was a top-notch secretary, always in demand by writers, most famously Raymond Chandler. She dated and had affairs with movie stars. She regaled me with wonderful stories from a time gone-by before the freeways, when men and women regularly wore hats and Hollywood was truly glamorous.

Even after we moved I was always dying to tell Dottie my secret but could never come out and do it. We'd speak cordially on the phone and she was an occasional dinner guest but my inability to be open prevented us from moving forward. I knew that if I did not there was no chance we could ever have the friendship I so desperately craved because honesty was an non-negotiable prerequisite. It took me years to build the courage.

In late 2000 I was at a crisis point in my transition. My mother had recently died. My marriage, always strained, was finally moribund and I was being kicked-out. I invited Dottie to lunch. It was the afternoon of Veteran's Day, and we sat on the patio at the Daily Grill in Studio City. I told Dottie I had something I needed to say. I struggled to get the words out and while I don't remember exactly what I said it was probably something as straightforward as "Dottie, I'm transsexual."

There - I'd said it. Her jaw dropped but I just sat there and smiled, settling into my true persona. After just a few minutes, Dottie realized that this is who I truly was and we embarked on a remarkable friendship. Even the food tasted better.

Back then my understanding of transsexuality was still very spotty and I hadn't yet formulated the spiel I have now but she got it and we proceeded to have the first of many truly delightful encounters together. It was a watershed. I learned that more than anything I can tell people, my honesty in baring my soul and their seeing me so natural, so relaxed, so comfortable in my femme self could work the charm. It didn't hurt that by this time my appearance was decidedly feminine, even though I wasn't yet living en femme. I've been blessed. I've never suffered being baited as a 'man.'

Two years later something similar happened on the telephone. After 9/11, I called to check on friends in Manhattan. I told one of them, "Jan, I'm not (my old male name) anymore."

"Who are you?" she asked, and I answered, "Debra."

There was a slight pause, then some brief conversation, and then Jan told me she could hear in my voice my body relaxing. It was so easy. I could almost hear her crying out of happiness for me, or was that me?

Dottie and I starting meeting regularly for lunch every two months or so. She delighted in watching me blossom and she was unstinting in her advice and her loving praise. To be sure, she never held back her appropriate disapproval but her criticism was always constructive. I'm the confident woman I am today in large measure because of her.

Dottie was 82 when she was diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago. They gave her three months but she confounded them all. She lived another two-and-a-half years, electing to forego treatment - no burning from radiation, no poisoning from chemo, no disfiguring surgeries. Her doctors were astounded when she went into a seeming spontaneous remission. She suffered other ailments but when she'd see me her eyes would light up and everything was ok. I always made a point of dressing nicely for her and she'd tell me how nice I looked. Her approval meant the world to me.

After Dottie's diagnosis we increased the frequency of our rendez-vous's. I'd pick her up since she couldn't drive anymore. More than anything else she hated losing her mobility. We shared a laugh when my back started acting up together with other ailments presaging my older age. It was comforting.

Dottie was a true film afficionada and we has similar tastes. We liked foreign films and we'd take-in a matinee on Wednesdays when it was only $4 for seniors (I fudged - kids work the box office and they can't discern age.) We didn't always agree but even then it was wonderful to sit in the emptied theatre discussing what we'd seen and savoring how it enriched our lives. Then we'd get a bite to eat, usually somewhere one of us had a coupon. It was wonderful.

Dottie left two daughters so there was no chance she'd adopt me but she knew how I felt about her. My mother knew about me but we never had a dialogue. I loved her dearly and miss her terribly but there was always something missing. I found a bit of that connection with Dottie.

I take classes at the Plato Society. It's a continuing education program, part of UCLA Extension. Most of the members are retired. I'm one of the 'kids' ... but with a mouth. Some of them know about me but only if I tell them, mostly women. They're good friends. I hope I'm not fooling myself but I believe their acceptance of me as a woman is sincere but what do I know? We never really know what people think, do we? I did though with Dottie. I know it.

Dottie taught me about life and she taught me about death. She savored the former and faced the latter unafraid. I always told her she never appeared ill, not to me, and it was true. She always looked wonderful.

I called Dottie about a month ago and asked routinely how she was doing and she told me plainly, "Debra, I'm dying." I knew it wasn't idle talk, and I said nothing. I just listened. Dottie never spent a minute fretting about illness or the prospect of death - never. In her quiet, dignified way she was awesome. She was a classy lady, insistently independent without ever losing her femininity. She taught me about choosing one's battles, what's important and what's not, about generosity and when and how to let go.

I would have loved to have been with her, fixing her meals, tending to her just so I could have more time with her. When in our last phone conversation she told me she loved me I knew I wouldn't see and probably would never speak with her again. She'd just said her goodbye to me and that was that. I had to accept it.

Dottie's daughter was with her at the end. She was loved by many.