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Transgender in State The Improbable Adventures of a Transgender Foreign Service Bicyclist Across Time (Zones), Continents, and Cultures Robyn McCutcheon.

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Presentation on theme: "Transgender in State The Improbable Adventures of a Transgender Foreign Service Bicyclist Across Time (Zones), Continents, and Cultures Robyn McCutcheon."— Presentation transcript:

1 Transgender in State The Improbable Adventures of a Transgender Foreign Service Bicyclist Across Time (Zones), Continents, and Cultures Robyn McCutcheon Tirana LGBT Conference June 2012


3 As for the usefulness of a transsexual in space, I think this is self-evident.... I... know about Gus Grissom and how his capsule sank. Man, you guys have had a rough time of it, haven't you? First Shepard peeing in his pants, then Grissom sinking the capsule. A transsexual wouldn't have blown the explosive bolts off her capsule prematurely, I can promise you that! Most of us, alas, spend most of our lives trying to keep our explosive bolts from blowing -- and as a result, are extraordinarily well suited at withstanding nearly unbearable pressure.


5 Diane Schroer was a highly decorated Airborne Ranger Special Forces officer. She began taking steps to transition from male to female shortly after retiring as a Colonel after 25 years of distinguished service. Sharon McGowan, Attorney with the ACLUs Gay and Lesbian Rights Project represented Diane. In 2005, Diane interviewed for, was offered, and accepted a job as a terrorism research analyst at the Library of Congress, but when she told her future supervisor that she was in the process of gender transition, the Library rescinded the offer. SHE DIDNT TAKE IT LYING DOWN. SHE FOUGHT BACK ! THE RESULT? On September 19, 2008, a federal district judge ruled that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against Schroer, in a groundbreaking decision that found that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law. On April 28, 2009, the judge ordered the government to pay nearly $500,000 in compensation for the discrimination, which was the maximum he could award in the case. VICTORY! Diane Schroer vs. Library of Congress

6 But who led the way in Foreign Affairs Agencies? In the beginning it was a very personal journey, the journey of two individuals, Chloe Schwenke and Ajit Joshi.

7 If ever fate played a hand in the lives of two people and in the development of GLIFAA, the State Department, and the entire U.S. foreign affairs community, it did so in 2008 when it brought together Chloe Schwenke and Ajit Joshi.

8 And then there was Samia Samia Bhatti is a member of the Locally Employed Staff in Islamabad. In 2009 she approached GLIFAA post representative Erin Krassik for help with her transition. With financial support from GLIFAA members and others from the worldwide LGBT community, Samia journeyed to Thailand for Gender Confirmation Surgery in 2011 and again in 2012 for Facial Feminization Surgery. Today Samia is active in outreach to the transgender community in Pakistan.

9 And where was I when Diane Schroer won her case? Where was I when Chloe Schwenke became the first USAID employee to announce that she would transition gender? Where was I gender identity was added to the State Departments Statement on Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment?

10 I was in cotton- pickin Uzbekistan!

11 I had no idea of the tremendous changes taking place at State and within GLIFAA

12 Are you ready to hear my story? Read my web journal!

13 Oh, lets say about to the time of President Kennedys inaugural. So how far back does this go? (Readers Digest Abridged Version, Part I) By the time Project Gemini began, I had the conscious knowledge that I was different and that I couldnt tell a soul. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, I was secretly cross dressing regularly but in despair as my body began to change in ways I did not want it to.

14 So how far back does this go? (Readers Digest Abridged Version, Part II) In college I dressed publicly but invisibly in my night job and came to understand I was not the only person like myself in the world. I devoured every piece of literature I could find on transsexuality and started corresponding with the gender identity clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. But in the end I was too terrified to do anything. I PURGED


16 So how far back does this go? (Readers Digest Abridged Version, Part III) Never having dated, in 1982 I married a friend who proposed to me. Like Jenny Boylan, I thought that perhaps love will cure me. I said nothing, hoping it would go away. In 1990, three months after the launch of Hubble, I could no longer bear the pressure of having kept a secret my entire life. The result of opening up was disastrous: a week in a psychiatric ward, not atypical in those days. The psychiatrist who treated me prescribed antidepressants, saying there is no such thing as a transsexual. I accepted the diagnosis to preserve a now very troubled marriage in which the one treasure was our two-year-old son.

17 So how far back does this go? (Readers Digest Abridged Version, Part IV) In I tried again to speak openly and find some measure of peace with almost equally disastrous results. My universe only began to change when I joined the Foreign Service in My spouse opted not to go overseas with me. It was the beginning of separate lives. I was now certain that someday my headstone would be inscribed with the words Kept the Secret Until the End. Good Show and Goodbye. With our son now in college, I asked for a divorce in The divorce became final when I returned from Uzbekistan in the summer of 2010, but litigation continued into 2011.

18 I climbed Kathadin, forced a smile for the camera, and surveyed the wreckage of a life. I had lost almost everything material that one spends a life building Home Leave in Maine My big secret had played a big role in my divorce and was becoming known to more than just a small closed circle. I assumed it was only a matter of time before I would be curtailed as unsuitable and join the unemployed transgender population. But sometimes nothing left to lose is freedom. When I arrived in Bucharest on a rainy October day, my fourth lifetime attempt to come out openly as transgender had already begun.

19 "Kyna, I need to talk with you about something." It was a late November day, and I had come to see Kyna in the Embassy's MED unit. I was nervous, and I'm sure Kyna sensed it. She closed the door, sat me down,... and listened as no one had ever listened to me before. It all came pouring out: my childhood dream, the story of my growing up, everything I had kept inside in 1975, my marriage, my trying to come out in 1990 and landing in a psychiatric ward instead, the story of Sometimes it takes just one person, a few words, and a hug to change a life. For me, that person was Kyna. The hug and the words were hers. When I was done, Kyna's words were, "You need the biggest hug I can give you." She wasn't appalled. There was no talk of sending me back to the US.

20 The Education of a Transgender Rip Van Winkle In 1975 I had read Jan Morris' Conundrum and had spent every spare moment reading anything I could about transsexualism. So here I was, yawning, stretching, and rubbing my eyes in December Kyna confessed to knowing little or nothing about transgender issues, but she gave me a start with LGBT web sites and literature that she considered the best place to start. Then I purged and purged as completely as I could. I put myself into a deep transgender slumber. If a transgender story appeared in the newspaper, I did not read it. If there was a report on the TV news, I changed the channel. I remained in purposeful hibernation, avoiding anything and everything that had a transgender theme.

21 The Education of a Transgender Rip Van Winkle In December 2010 I met my first LGBT- friendly psychologist, Iulia Molnar at ACCEPT, discovered GLIFAA, and began corresponding with Chloe Schwenke. "I think it's time you finally gave Robyn permission to live her life." Next it was Martha Harris at the Banyan Counseling Center, with whom Ive been working ever since.

22 Fortochcka In Russian, the fortochka is a small window inside a much larger one that is opened with the first thaws that bring a still not realized promise of spring. I was now opening the fortochka that I had kept closed most of my conscious life. Opening the fortochka meant I would need to start talking with people in my life who might not be accepting. With memories of 1990 all too vividly replaying in my head, I was scared.

23 Fortochcka First stop was the Regional Security Office (RSO). Me to RSO: With my divorce now final, I'm moving ahead to explore an area of my life I never could before. I'm slowly coming out as the T in LGBT. RSO to Me: Gee, Bob, that's another one of your fancy NASA acronyms again, isn't it? Could you spell it out? It was the first time I had ever sat down with someone I knew only slightly and declared, "I am transgender, and I don't care who knows. It is not a secret." Only much later did I find out that through my honesty, I had just added another person to the list of those who would quietly support me on the road to a new life.

24 Fortochcka And there were many more steps and stops along the way, some happy and fun, some downright scary, all emotional -- Slowly came out to select coworkers. In March 2011, began the classic double life. Attended the First Romanian Transgender Congress in March 2011, writing a cable afterwards. Survived pressure to curtail initiated by a non-accepting colleague. With GLIFAA colleagues, wrote a white paper on GENDER IDENTITY and EXPRESSION in the FOREIGN SERVICE CONTEXT. Slowly came out to my sisters and my son. This time no one thought I was out of my mind.

25 In June I began hormone replacement therapy and aggressive facial electrolysis. With the support of family, friends, counselors, and a core group of coworkers, I now knew it was not a dream. The impossible had become possible. The only question was, how in the dickens were we going to handle the mechanics and the details of a gender transition in an overseas Embassy environment? It had never been done before!

26 We formed a committee! But as experienced FSOs, we knew how to start. INTRODUCED NOT LONG AGO AT AN EMBASSY NEAR YOU:

27 The Gender Transition Committee Chaired by DCM Duane Butcher and Human Resources Officer Natalie Koza, the GTC included the Management Counselor, the EEO officer, and representatives from MED, RSO, and PA. We based ourselves initially on the experience of NASA, USAID, and guidelines from the Human Resources Campaign. To this we added the Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace published by the Officer of Personnel Management (OPM) in May 2011.

28 The Gender Transition Committee The GTCs guiding principle came from DCM Butcher at the first meeting -- Gender transition at an overseas post "should be treated no differently than any other significant life event... like a birth or a wedding.

29 The Gender Transition Committee Over the summer of 2011 the GTC met repeatedly to make and refine plans, at each stage communicating the decisions to Department HR. November 10 was set as the big day for my announcement to the Embassy community, first at a staff meeting and then by personal letter to all staff in both English and Romanian. But it almost didnt happen.

30 November 9 The Romania desk and EUR/CE had suddenly woken up to the reality of an impending gender transition in Bucharest. They asked for delay, nervous about press interest and the reaction of the Romanian Government. Duane pushed back, keeping the GTC at the Embassy into the evening to write press guidance and prepare input for Informational Memoranda to the 7 th floor. The DCMs phone kept ringing late into the evening. I went home to a sleepless night, not knowing what the next day would bring.

31 I learned of the Departments response only at 8am on the morning of the 10 th in a one-word from DCM Butcher: YES November 10 The biggest day of my life had begun.

32 Two days later I danced and celebrated the night away at the Marine Ball, no longer an artificial construct mirroring what others expected to see. I was living as myself for the first time in my life.

33 None of the fears expressed on November 9 came to pass. Both the American and LE Staff in Bucharest have been accepting and supportive beyond my wildest dreams. The Government of Romania issued a new diplomatic ID without hesitation. But most importantly, I feel more normal and happier than I have in all my life.

34 And so, if you or someone you know wishes to transition while posted overseas -- Have we got an SOP for you!

35 May we all live in self- acceptance and peace no matter what our sexual orientation or gender identity. Life is too short to do otherwise.

36 With thanks to Kyna and the Bucharest GTC.

37 Dedicated to Nadine Chilianu and the transgender communities of Romania and Moldova who continue to fight courageously for their human rights.

38 With thanks, Robyn Рахмат Спасибо Multumesc Falemenderit Obrigada

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