Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Grandview Plaza opens new City Hall



In America, we elect our leaders. And no leaders are closer to the people than our city and county officials.

Grandview Plaza’s city council now has a new home. Its City Hall is complete.

While City Clerk Janet Young and Receptionist Patti Jo Whitten moved into the new building in November, the council held its first meeting there this month.

The construction of the new City Hall cost around $188,000 . It was built by Cheney Construction.

City Superintendent Jerome Thomas is pleased with the new facility.  

“The building looks great,” he said.

Previously, Young, Witten and the council worked out of the Grandview Plaza Community Center, which will now be available to the public anytime.

This will make it easier for groups to reserve the building for special events like birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers and weddings.

Reservations cost $50 for every three hours.

Thomas said the move will benefit those who want to utilize the center.


“We decided to give the community center back to the community because we had the extra room,” he said. 

The new City Hall was decorated for Christmas. 




Good news from Grandview Plaza

The day after I was laid off from The Daily Union, I attended the December Grandview Plaza City Council meeting. The town of around 1,500 people was one of the beats I covered for the paper. 

During their meeting, I informed city officials that I had been laid off from the newspaper. The publisher of the paper told me there were too few subscribers in Grandview Plaza to continue to write stories about the city.  So, I also informed my former sources that The Daily Union no longer planned to cover Grandview Plaza.

The paper also plans to discontinue coverage of Milford and Chapman. I will inform their officials as soon as the holidays are over.

I felt Grandview Plaza deserved to know about the paper’s decisions.

I told the council, “The newspaper should be as accountable as any other public institution.”

After I made my speech, I was immediately offered the position of City Photographer for Grandview Plaza. The position was available after Lynda Costello moved back to Illinois to be closer to her family. 

The offer was confirmed through a unanimous vote by the council members. 

The next day, City Clerk Janet Young told me the position was more of a hobby than a job. I will be paid $120 every three months to take pictures at special events, city council meetings and celebrations at Grandview Elementary School.  

I accepted the position, which will allow me to continue doing the community journalism I enjoy, while I look for my next job.

I took notes during the meeting and plan to cover it just as I would have if I still worked for the paper. To be clear, I work for them now. My coverage will be as complete and accurate as ever, but keep that fact in mind.  

Those posts should be up in the next few days. 

You can also stay up to date with Grandview Plaza on Facebook. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reflections of a Genderfluid

[This post is the fourth in a series on the topic of gender. If you have trouble understanding any of the topics discussed below, you may want to read those articles for context.]

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a post this personal.

But, here we go.

Sometime around late April or May, I learned about the term “gender identity” after taking a quiz created by a psychologist. I didn’t know what the term meant — so I typed it into YouTube. After a short search, I found the first three videos in my previous article.

For the first time in my life, I heard from people who had similar experiences with gender as I did, and I adopted the label “genderfluid.”

The videos contained the information I had been trying to find for a long time.

Whenever I was filling out the gender question on a form, I had always thought that if I was honest about how I felt, I would mark the boxes for both male and female. I also knew that wasn’t what the paperwork was asking for, and never did.

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to paint my nails. But then I saw an ad on TV that only showed girls painting their nails. I quickly concluded that wasn’t something boys did and didn’t do it.

My junior prom date was a close friend of mine who I met in elementary school. I thought it would be fun to try on her prom dress. However, I never had enough time alone with her to feel comfortable making such a strange request. 

Since then, I have had a strong urge to crossdress — but until recently, I had no idea why.

I wanted to understand why I felt this way. When I was in college, I searched online for information about crossdressing, gender and gender roles, but never found the stories of people like me.

After learning about non-binary and genderqueer people earlier this year, I finally had the tools to begin to understand my own gender.

There are some days, about once a week, where I wake up and really want to be female. Ideally, I’d like to be able to physically transform in order to make that happen. I’d like to be female half of the time and male half of the time. While it would take quite a bit of explaining, I think it would be easier to explain than the concept of gender identity.

Unfortunately for me, physical transformations like that are only found in fantasy and science fiction.

If there were no social pressures associated with gender expression, I’d dress in feminine clothes and carry a purse on days where I woke up feeling female. Under that scenario, however, I would hope people would see me as a woman and not just a man wearing female clothes. 

But in our society, when people see a man in female clothing, they often become confused because they don’t know what’s going on. As a journalist, I feel like that would have created a barrier between me and my sources. The resulting awkwardness would have made it harder for me to do my job effectively.

In a completely unrelated development, I was laid off from my job as a reporter earlier this month.

I want to work in education for a while before returning to journalism. I’ve applied for a couple positions at the local school district.

However, I don’t think it would be any easier to express my gender working for a school. I’m sure many parents wouldn’t want a crossdresser as a substitute or tutor for their children.

I find it very frustrating that I don’t feel comfortable expressing my gender at work during my feminine times. I think it would be so problematic to do so that I have never even raised the issue with a potential employer or a boss. 

(If you happen to be a genderqueer-friendly employer, let me know.) 

As a result, on my female days, I’m very frustrated while I’m getting ready. Fortunately, the frustration mostly goes away once I’m actually at work or interacting with other people. 

There are other times where I experience gender dysphoria. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I think my face should be female. Other times, it looks just fine.

Sometimes, when people use the term “sir” to describe me, it doesn’t feel right. It is both gendered and formal, and doesn’t match how I think about myself. Other times, when someone calls me “sir,” there’s no problem at all.

In my imaginary world without social pressures, I’d like to be referred to using female pronouns when I’m presenting as such. But without being able to change my appearance, I believe being referred to as female would seem odd and out of place, no matter how I woke up that day.

I would feel more comfortable presenting as female on the weekends when I’m not at work. But doing so could give the impression that it’s something I’m just doing for fun, rather than expressing who I am. 

I also know from experience that I’ll have a good time going to the bars or other places on the weekend when I’m presenting male, regardless of how I feel about my gender at the time.

It just feels really bad to think that I’m never going to be able to express the female side of my gender. The only time I ever did so was last Halloween. But that was only possible because I could pretend that I was just playing dress-up like everyone else.



I would like to thank my former girlfriend for her help with the outfit. 

Thankfully, after Halloween, I can now browse the women’s section in clothing departments without being paranoid about people judging me.

Because I don’t feel I can present as female when I want to, I settle for half-measures.

When I was picking out my new glasses, I looked at the female frames at Walmart. The associate suggested that I stay “on this wall” where the men’s frames were located. I asked what the differences were between the male and female frames. She replied that the female frames had smaller temple lengths and were more decorative.

I wanted a more decorative frame and was offended by the encounter. I took my business elsewhere. The clerk at the other store asked if I was sure I wanted the glasses frame I picked out because it was so feminine. I told her I was.

I have used other half measures as well.

I enjoy wearing neon jackets in the fall. I purchased a neon pink jacket this fall in the women’s section at Walmart. It was nice and warm. Originally, I tried to wear it only when I wanted to feel more feminine. However, the pockets on my only other working jacket were too shallow and my phone and wallet fell out of it too often. So, I wore the pink jacket all the time.

Sometimes, I would look down when I was wearing it and felt more feminine, which was nice.

I was originally nervous when I started wearing the jacket and wondered what people would say. Thankfully, it didn’t cause me any problems.

I’ve ran into other complications with gender expression as well.

When I was younger and I was getting my hair cut, the barber or hair stylist would ask how I wanted it cut. I wanted to say, “like a girl’s,” but thought that would be too weird.

The last time I got my hair cut, I took a picture of a young woman with a pixie cut. I was worried what the stylist would say. The first stylist I went to wouldn’t cut hair based on a picture. The second one did. Neither mentioned that the person in the picture was a girl.

Gay people use the phrase, “coming out” to describe sharing their identity with friends and family. I’m not sure what it means to be “out” when you have a gender identity no one has heard of. Being truly open about my gender would mean a lot of explaining about something very personal.

Many binary transgender people say their dysphoria goes away after they take hormones and/or have surgeries. At that point, others can see at first glance the gender they identify with.

I have no interest in doing those things. For me, they would be expensive and invasive. They would also create as much dysphoria on my male days as I currently have on my female days.

My gender is an important part of who I am. Unfortunately, I can’t envision a scenario where I will ever be able to truly match my gender as it changes from day to day. I find this very frustrating.

Some people have dysphoria so bad that they are suicidal; others appear to have serious anxiety problems. I can gladly say that I have neither, but I still worry about not being able to fully be myself.

On one of our dates, my former girlfriend, who is a transwoman, said, “It’s amazing what can happen when you let your mind be the way it wants to be.” Because she continued talking, I never got to tell her my response, which would have been, “I wonder what that’s like.”


I’m not sure I’ll ever know. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Non-binary genders: Beyond male and female

(Author’s note: This article is the third in a series on the topic of gender. Unless you are very familiar with the transgender and genderqueer communities, I would recommend starting with the first article. Otherwise, you may end up very confused. 

Also, many of the creators of the videos I discuss in this post have disabled embedding. I highly encourage you to watch the videos as you read the article.) 

In my first article on gender, I explained that someone’s internal sense of their own gender, known as their gender identity, doesn’t have to match their biological sex.

This article takes that idea one step further. Some people don’t identify as strictly male or female. They refer to themselves as non-binary or genderqueer. Many would say their gender falls somewhere between male and female.

Very few people have heard of non-binary gender identities.

Several non-binary people have shared their experiences on YouTube. I will introduce you to some of them today. Many of them use “they” to refer to themselves instead of he or she. When appropriate, I will use the language the individuals I am discussing prefer.

Many non-binary people say, “assigned female at birth” or “assigned male at birth” instead of referencing biological sex or physical anatomy.

Berry is genderfluid, and their gender changes between male, female and in-between on different days.  They said they feel particularly bad on days when their gender doesn’t match their biological sex, which is female.

Their video is available on their YouTube channel. 

Another YouTuber who identifies as genderfluid has the username Seadresa. He prefers male pronouns when dressed in male clothes. She prefers female pronouns when dressed in female clothes. 

When she is presenting as female, she uses the name Grace. I could not find his male name on his channel. He is biologically male and his video can be seen on YouTube. 

Chandler identifies as agender, which means they don’t have a gender. Like many non-binary people, it took them a long time to understand their gender. For a while, Chandler, who was assigned female at birth, thought they were male, and then adopted the label genderfluid. 

As they say in their video, it can be confusing for them to try to explain their gender to those around them. 

In my first article on gender, I explained how everyone has a list of clothing, personality traits and interests they understand to be boy things or girl things. Some non-binary people identify with things on both lists. 

Others, like Chandler, have eliminated the lists in their head altogether. They say you should present yourself however you feel comfortable, regardless of where it falls on other people’s lists.


In my second article on gender, I explained how transgender people often experience gender dysphoria, a discomfort created by the difference between how they understand themselves and how others see them.

Many non-binary people experience gender dysphoria as well. On the channel, “Diary of a Genderfluid,” several people discuss their personal experiences. One of them, Ezra, explains how frustrating non-binary dysphoria can be.



Non-binary experiences can vary considerably from person to person. There are many, many labels genderqueer people use to describe their gender identity.

If you would like to learn more about the topic, all of the people discussed in this article have other, more in-depth videos on gender and other aspects of their life.

As always, I encourage you to do your own research on the stories I cover here. This post was meant to be an introduction to the topic, and there is much more to discover.

Personally, I identify as genderfluid. I plan to write a post about my own gender experiences soon. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Food for the Holidays


JUNCTION CITY, KS — Students from the Freshman Success Academy were among the many volunteers at the Wheels of Hope food distribution Thursday evening. 

Wheels of Hope is a mobile food bank that provides food to low-income families on the final Thursday of every month. 

This month, Wheels of Hope also offered turkeys, donated by Geary Community Hospital, and winter clothing. 

The students were supervised by Communities in Schools Site Coordinator Molly Schuckman, who is standing in the front row, third from the left. 

A total of 55 families, or 205 children and adults, received food during the distribution.   

Around town

I created a map that shows the locations of various stories I have covered for the Junction City Daily Union. The map hangs above my bed. 


Different colored tacks represent different types of stories. 

Yellow: Unified School District 475 Schools
Green: Other education stories
White: Construction
Blue: Health stories
Red: Other stories

Well, that was unexpected…

On Monday, I was laid off from my job at The Daily Union. 

The publisher said the decision had nothing to do with my work performance. Instead, the company is operating at a loss and had to cut payroll.

My termination was effective immediately. I had been planning to leave the paper for a better paying job within the next year anyway, but I did not anticipate leaving so soon and without advance notice.

I am disappointed I wasn’t given the professional courtesy of knowing I would be without a job ahead of time. I consider that to be disrespectful and was pretty upset about it for a couple days.

I have begun the process of saying goodbye to my various sources that I regularly interacted with through the different beats that I’ve covered. I have also begun searching for my next job.

The Daily Union was a great place to begin my career. I learned how to write stories quickly in a way that flowed well and could be easily understood by the public. 

I became less worried about covering controversial stories for a large audience. I also had less trouble meeting new people and going to new places, both in my professional and personal life.

Over the next few days, I will be posting some material from stories I planned to cover for The Daily Union, prior to being laid off. I should also have more time to dedicate to the topics that I have traditionally discussed here as well.


I will let you know when I receive my next job. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Recently, in a classroom not far away


JUNCTION CITY, KS — Students and staff at the Geary County campus of Cloud County Community College watched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones this afternoon. The school is in the process of watching all six previous movies prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this week. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gender Identity and Mental Health

[This article is the second in a series on the topic of gender. As always, I encourage you to click the links to my source material to learn more about the stories I am discussing. Fair warning, this post concerns some pretty heavy stuff — suicide, mental health and identity crises. I believe this topic is an important one, but be prepared.]

In my last article, I explained that gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being male or female. Sometimes, that internal feeling doesn’t match a person’s biology — whether they were born with male or female anatomy. As Rikki Arundel explained in her Ted Talk, gender is a complex mix between society and biology that psychologists are only beginning to understand.

But one fact about gender is abundantly clear: when parents, friends and others disregard how someone, especially a child, feels about their own gender, he or she will become incredibly depressed.


David Reimer

David Reimer was born in Winnepeg, Canada in 1965. At the time, he was named Bruce by his parents. His twin brother was named Brian. Both were assigned male based on their biology.

However, when they were seven months old, both babies were diagnosed with phimosis, a defect in the foreskin of the penis that makes it difficult to pee. Doctors told their parents the problem could be fixed through circumcision, a medical procedure where the foreskin of the penis is removed. 

Unfortunately, the surgery went horribly for Bruce. In a terrible accident, his penis was mangled beyond repair. Doctors didn’t attempt the surgery on his brother Brian, and Brian’s phimosis later disappeared without treatment.

Bruce’s parents then saw Dr. John Money on TV. The physician was discussing surgeries on babies who weren’t physically male or female at birth.  Money advised the parents to raise Bruce as a girl and never tell him he had been born a boy.

And that is exactly what they did. While Money celebrated the case as a success, Bruce never felt right being Brenda.

At the age of 14, he confronted his father about his feelings. That was when his father told him what had happened. Brenda was incredibly relieved and changed his name to David.

"For the first time everything made sense," he said, "and I understood who and what I was."

He married a woman and adopted her three children. However, he struggled with his past experiences.

"You can never escape the past," he said. "I had parts of my body cut away and thrown in a wastepaper basket. I've had my mind ripped away."

David was distraught after the suicide of his brother Brian, who had schizophrenia. He lost his job, separated from his wife and was in serious debt after a bad investment.

David committed suicide in 2004. He was 38 years old.


Reflections

I have been interested in the topic of gender for many years. This is far from surprising because I have also been interested in the topics of politics, law, literature, national security and most other academic disciplines as well. 

But when the topic of gender is raised in high school and college psychology, or in the resources I found myself during that time, the experiences of transgender people were never mentioned. The topic of nature vs. nurture is covered in depth. Often the story of David is used to support the belief that nature, also known as biology, has a larger impact than society on someone’s gender.

Without transgender voices and experiences, however, it’s often implied that boys are boys and girls are girls — and that someone’s genitals at birth always match how they think about themselves.

That just isn’t true. David’s story matches perfectly with those whose internal sense of gender conflicts with what others think their gender should be.

The discomfort with this disagreement is known as gender dysphoria. It leads to an incredibly high suicide rates among transgender individuals.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41 percent of transgender people attempt to commit suicide, far higher than the national average of 4.6 percent.

The survey found rejection by family and friends, as well as discrimination in school, at work or when seeking healthcare, contribute to this higher rate of suicide attempts.

One story explains how these factors can end in tragedy.


Leelah Alcorn

Leelah was born physically male and named Josh in 1997.

She committed suicide in December 2014 by stepping in front of a tractor-trailer on the interstate in Ohio. She was 17 years old.

Leelah left behind a suicide note on Tumblr that was removed at the request of her parents. But her supporters kept copies of her words, which explain why she chose to take her life.

In her post, she wrote, “To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4.”

Like David, Leelah was able to put her feelings into words when she was a teenager.

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness,” she said. “After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was.” 

But she said her parents didn’t react well to the news. 

“I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong,” she wrote. 

Her mother, Carla Alcorn, told CNN that she remembers the conversation differently. While Carla said neither she nor her husband support Josh living as a girl, she made clear they loved him. 

"We don't support that, religiously," she said. "But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy."

Leelah encouraged other parents to embrace their children as they are, and not to try to change how they feel about their gender. 

“If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids,” she said. “Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people, don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.”

Leelah said her mother took her to therapists who tried to change how she felt about her gender. Her parents wouldn’t let her transition and she had trouble building friendships. 

And she, like so many transgender people, decided to commit suicide. 

“Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning,” she wrote.  

Leelah ended her suicide note with a plea for things to be different for transgender people in the future. 

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” she said. “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”

Even after her death, her parents thought of her as their son, not as their daughter. 

A Facebook post apparently from Carla Alcorn said her child "went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts."


Conclusion

Transgender children often don’t have supportive parents. The distress caused by the conflict between their own sense of self and how others view them creates great hardship. Like everyone else, transgender people are more than just their gender — they have jobs, relationships, hobbies and goals. 

But we wouldn’t see as many transgender people attempt suicide if there weren’t serious mental health consequences resulting from trying to stop people from being who they are. 

If we want to prevent the kind of suffering David and Leelah experienced during childhood, we have to take their feelings about their gender seriously. 

Until we accept transgender people for who they are, these kinds of tragedies will continue to happen.