Sep 01

Mental Health News You’ll Use: August 2017

From August, mental health news you’ll use:

I. Most Parents Would Support Teen Switching Gender. Randy Dotinga, Web MD

As in, based on an online survey, “more than half.” More specifically, “Women, college graduates and Northeast residents were slightly more likely than others to support kids who made this choice, according to the Harris Poll survey.”

II. New Research Confirms 9 Ways to Help Beat Dementia. Susan McQuillan, Psychology Today

“A report published in July 2017 by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care reveals nine specific things you can do, right now, and even for your children, to help lower the risk or even help those who are already showing signs of dementia.” In brief:

  • Pursue education, especially in early years…
  • Participate in some sort of physical activity on a regular basis…
  • Maintain social contact as you age. Avoid isolation and loneliness…
  • Treat hearing loss. Even low levels of hearing loss have been found to contribute to cognitive decline.
  • Control hypertension. High blood pressure is a vascular risk factor associated with lower cognitive ability.
  • Avoid obesity, which can lead to diabetes and vascular disorders, which in turn lead to impaired cognition.
  • Quit smoking, if necessary. Smoking is linked to vascular heart disease, which can contribute to dementia, but cigarette smoke also contains neurotoxins, chemicals that can poison brain cells.
  • Resolve depression. Although there is debate as to whether depression is a symptom or a cause of dementia, there is evidence showing higher rates of dementia in those who experience depression in the ten years leading up to a diagnosis of dementia.
  • Maintain strict control of diabetes, if necessary. Problems with insulin delivery in the body may cause the brain to produce less insulin, which would interfere with the natural removal of amyloid, a sticky protein that can build up and become toxic to brain cells. Diabetes also causes inflammation and high blood glucose levels, both of which may contribute to decreased cognition.

III. It’s in the Deeds: What We Do Shapes Who We Are. Brian R. Little, The Guardian

There are personality traits that we “have,” says Professor Brian Little, and there are personality “doings” or projects.

A project is not a momentary act but typically a sequence of actions. In contrast with the stable traits that are freeze-frame shots of your personality, personal projects are moving pictures; their full meaning is not apparent until the entire sequence comes into view.
The greatest value in thinking of personality as ‘doing projects’ rather than ‘having traits’ is in three powerful words: potential for change. We can consciously choose and adapt our projects in ways that we cannot change our traits.

IV. Most People Are Ambivalent About Breaking Up Right Before They Do It. Cinnamon Janzer, The Cut

New research: “Most people…wanted to stick with their partner even as they wanted to cut ties at the same time.”

V. 10 Podcasts About Mental Health. Rachel Orr, The Lily

Most of the recommended podcast hosts mentioned below deal with their own mental health issues and care about yours:

  1. Crybabies with Susan Thyre and Susan Orlean (“things that make us cry”)
  2. Mentally Yours with Yvette Caster and Ellen Scott (“the weird thoughts in our minds”)
  3. The Dark Place with Joel Kutz (“depression, anxiety, trauma and mental illness”)
  4. The Struggle Bus with Katharine Heller and Sally Tamarkin (“candid advice to listener-submitted questions about family, friends, work, mental health and literally everything else”)
  5. Another Round with Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu (friends who “frequently talk about anxiety, depression and the tough aspects of going to therapy…”)
  6. Sounds Good with Branden Harvey (“inspiring conversations with optimists and world-changers about happiness, overcoming struggles and living a life of intentionality”)
  7. Talking in Circles with Laura Miller (“what the voices in [people’s] heads are like”)
  8. The Heart with Kaitlin Prest (“audio art project about intimacy and humanity”)
  9. The Hilarious World of Depression with John Moe (“fellow comedians who are willing to talk about depression”)
  10. The Mental Illness Happy Hour with Paul Gilmartin (“interviews fellow comedians, artists, friends and the occasional doctor about mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking”)
Dec 11

“The Danish Girl”: The First Transgender Surgery

Tom Hooper‘s new film The Danish Girl is based on David Ebershoff‘s 2000 novel about the lives of artist Gerda Wegener and her transgender artist spouse Einar, who became Lili Elbe in the 1920’s and 30’s. Although a fictionalized account, the book was based on Wegener’s actual diaries.

Not all would agree, but Rex Reed, New York Observer, calls Eddie Redmayne‘s role as Lili “the performance of the year” and further states, “Lucinda Coxon’s beautifully collated screenplay…tackles a complex subject with dignity and respect, leaving nothing out. In the process, you will learn more about gender crisis than you ever thought possible.”

Reed adds that The Danish Girl is “about the first known case of transgender surgery recorded in medical history.” More about the plot:

It’s 1926 in Copenhagen and Einar is a painter of landscapes on the verge of success, and the passionate and actively heterosexual husband of a beautiful fellow artist named Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who specializes in portraits. Then everything is altered dramatically the first time he poses as a favor for Gerda while she’s waiting for her model to arrive. Reluctantly, he dons silk stockings and matching pumps, and his embarrassment slowly turns to a confusing confrontation with feelings he’s repressed since childhood. The unexpected ecstasy in Mr. Redmayne’s face of the way the fabric feels to his touch is a clue to things to come.
You experience firsthand the challenges transgendered people endured nearly a century ago and still experience today—brutal physical examinations, homophobic violence, specialists who prescribe primitive medical experiments like penis radiation and drill holes into the brain to cure what they erroneously diagnose as schizophrenia. Einar loves Gerda, but the only way he feels fulfilled is to live with her as Lili…

The Trailer

Portrayal of Trans Issues

Jase Peeples, The Advocate:

Redmayne spent months preparing for his role by doing what he believes is essential for every ally: listening to trans people share their experiences. He credits the many people who generously shared stories with informing the choices he made bringing Elbe to life. ‘One woman talked about when she was transitioning, this period that she called hyper-feminization. A time when you start investigating using makeup, but you use too much or the clothes you choose — you’re going to extremes. She described it as sort of being like a teenage girl’s adolescence when you’re trying things, you’re finding things, and discovering things. That was important to me to bring to my performance.’

Dana Stevens, Slate: “In the early days of Einar’s transformation, Redmayne conveys the degree to which gender is, for all of us, a skill acquired through observation and imitation. Observing a pretty girl through the glass at a Paris peep show, Einar longs not to possess her but to be her, and the quiet moment that passes between them when she sees him copying her gestures makes for one of the movie’s best scenes.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “At one point, reunited with boyhood friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), he admits that he has considered suicide, but held back because he understood he would be killing Lili at the same time — a sentiment that all too many trans people share and one of the many reasons such a well-rounded portrayal is long overdue.”

Selected Reviews

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “The Danish Girl looks like a dream and is about as elusive as one too. What is there can suffice, educate and provoke interest and conversation, but ultimately, it’s hard not to want more.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “The movie…touches rather too lightly on its portrait of a marriage in which one partner is vanishing before the other’s eyes.”

David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle: “Hooper’s strategy of keeping it safe is bound to bring in folks who might otherwise avoid such material. For the rest of us, we must settle for a film that is solid, but never quite soars.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “For all its period setting and opulence, ‘The Danish Girl’ is less removed from our own era than you might think; the physical violence and medical ignorance that Lili faces over the course of her evolution remain in place today. And while this film should by no means be the last word on an under-explored subject in mainstream cinema, it makes an interesting guidepost toward bolder stories in the future.”

Dana Stevens, Slate, reflecting on the existing controversy over actor selection: “If we can just get some of those groundbreaking roles—and maybe even those shiny gold statues—into the hands of lesbian, gay, and transgender actors, the battle against shame will be that much closer to being won.”

Nov 19

Leslie Feinberg, 1949-2014: Truly Brave Transgender Pioneer

Yesterday as I was going through my daily bookmarked sites I was shocked and saddened to see this news from the Advocate: “Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness.”

(Although Feinberg sometimes used non-traditional pronoun choices, in using “she” the magazine was following the lead of her wife Minnie Bruce Pratt, who submitted them a writeup regarding Feinberg.)

Feinberg had been an important fixture at LGBT writers conferences I attended in the 1980’s. Alongside fellow activist Kate Bornstein, at that time she was one of the most outspoken and visible transgender-identified persons the community had ever seen.

“We have a right to live openly and proudly…(W)hen our lives are suppressed, everyone is denied an understanding of the rich diversity of sex and gender expression and experience that exist in human society,” she’d later said in her nonfiction book Transgender Warriors (1996).

Like many others in the world, I also learned so much from her earlier semi-autobiographical novel, the award-winning Stone Butch Blues. 

As expressed by Mary Emily O’Hara, Vice, “When the novel Stone Butch Blues was first published in 1993, it quickly became one of the only depictions of masculine lesbian life to ever cross over into mainstream popularity, finding its way onto bookshelves and college syllabi everywhere.”

One of the most quoted lines from the book: “Everybody’s scared, but if you don’t let your fears stop you, that’s bravery!” That was Leslie Feinberg. A truly brave pioneer.

Just before her death Feinberg had actually been actively working on a 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues; now the project will be completed by some friends. Watch for it and other things of interest on the site In the meantime you can find her books on Amazon and elsewhere.

Jul 02

“Gender Failure”: A Collaborative Book By Binary Misfits

Being a girl was something that never really happened for me. Rae Spoon of Gender Failure

I am a rare species, not a stereotype. Ivan E. Coyote of Gender Failure

The above quotes are by the authors of Gender Failure, Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote. “In their first collaborative book, Ivan and Rae explore and expose their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, and how ultimately our expectations and assumptions around traditional gender roles fail us all,” states the book’s description.

Before the book was a live show they created and performed in this country and Europe. Below, courtesy of the British Film Institute, is a trailer for their London performance in 2013. The art projected on a screen behind the duo is by Clyde Petersen.

Carla Gillis, Quill and Quire, about the authors expanding their material into a book: “Gender Failure gave Coyote and Spoon more space to delve into their individual journeys from confused female-assigned youth to productive, creative adults who refer to themselves using the gender-neutral ‘they’ pronoun.”

Spoon and Coyote alternate chapters to tell their stories, which are presented in chronological order. Spoon’s tidy, humorous prose focuses on the difficulties of dating when one’s identity is in flux: having a boyfriend as a woman; coming out as gay; dating women; coming out as a man; dating women as a man; dating men as a man; and coming out as trans. (Spoon is now gender-retired.) One anecdote recounts Spoon’s somewhat hostile first encounter with the idea of someone wanting to be called ‘they.’

Erin Flegg, Daily Xtra, offers another example from Gender Failure:

In one story, ‘YouTube Gender,’ Spoon learns about YouTube while living in Germany and posts an acoustic version of a new song. Viewers’ posted comments range from ‘boy or girl? :)’ to ‘nice voice but what’s up with your hair?’ to ‘HOLY SHIT DUDE YOU’RE A CHICK!!!!’ and ‘WHAT GENDER ARE YOU?!?!?!?!’

Sassafras Lowrey, Lambda Literary, further describes the book’s content: “The essays, stories, and lyrics included in this collection explore the often-winding road to self-realization, the process of finding oneself again and again through shifting identities, and decisions around physical transition. Ivan and Rae are both exquisite storytellers and bring the page not only the struggle and danger that come with living authentically while simultaneously having to exist within a binary gender world, but also the humor,and joy that those outsider experiences create.”


Beatroute: “If you’ve ever felt at odds with your gender identity, have someone in your life who has struggled with their sex, or you are just curious about the politics and ideas behind gender, Gender Failure is a can’t-miss read. Packed with touching pathos and thought-provoking food for thought, this book could very well give you a whole new perspective on traditional gender roles.”

Vivek Shraya, creator of the What I LOVE about being QUEER project: “Rae and Ivan create intimacy through their charming, insightful, and sometimes painful storytelling, and I even found myself wanting to sing the haunting handwritten lyrics. Most compelling are the surprising moments of hope that help illustrate how defying gender is not a failure at all—but rather something to celebrate.”

Kate Bornstein, author of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: “Ivan and Rae have written a magical, down-to-earth, painfully honest step beyond any predetermined transgender narrative that I know of. At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, their storytelling is top-notch. This book is unputdownable.”

Michelle Tea, author: “Brutally honest, tenderly funny and totally real…”

NOW Magazine: “Sometimes heartbreaking, sometime hilarious, these outlaws’ tales make a convincing argument that gender expectations fail us all.”

Jun 02

Transgender Issues in the News

A selection of several recent newsworthy items regarding transgender issues:

I. A Child’s Transition

The following Huffington Post headline recently caught my eye—“WATCH: Incredible Story Of Transgender Son Will Have You Ugly Crying…And Then Cheering.” Obediently, I watched. And I highly recommend you do too.

Part of the introduction to this family’s well-told and moving story:

Two of the greatest things a parent can give a child in this life are unconditional love and acceptance, and the Whittingtons have done just that. Jeff and Hillary Whittington found out they were expecting their first child, which they were told was a girl, in 2007 and soon welcomed little baby Ryland. As Ryland grew up, they noticed their child was not just a ‘tomboy’ or going through ‘a phase.’ Ryland eventually began show signs of shame. One day, Ryland said: ‘When the family dies, I will cut my hair so I can be a boy’ and asked, ‘Why did God make me this way?’ The Whittingtons refused to let their child become another statistic. So they let Ryland be his true self.

Watch it at this link.

II. Time Magazine’s First Transgender Cover Story

Transgender actor and activist Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, the popular Netflix series.

Her recent failure to make Time‘s annual list of “100 most influential people” had sparked significant social media protests. Now Time has seemingly responded, and perhaps atoned, via the above cover article “The Transgender Tipping Point.”

Some excerpts from the article’s interview with Cox:

Is there a moment or time you remember first feeling like you might be transgender? I tell this story about third grade. My third grade teacher called my mom and said ‘Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress.’ Up until that point I just thought that I was a girl and that there was no difference between girls and boys. I think in my imagination I thought that I would hit puberty and I would start turning into a girl.

How did your thinking change after that moment in third grade? Going to a therapist and the fear of God being placed in me about ending up in New Orleans wearing a dress, that was a profoundly shaming moment for me. I associated it with being some sort of degenerate, with not being successful. My mother was a teacher. She was grooming my brother and me to be successful, accomplished people. I didn’t associate being trans, or wearing a dress, with that, or wanting to be a girl with being successful. So it’s something I just started to push down. I wanted to be famous, I wanted to perform. Those things I really, really wanted more than anything else.

The people out there in America who have no idea what being transgender means, what do they need to understand? There’s not just one trans story. There’s not just one trans experience. And I think what they need to understand is that not everybody who is born feels that their gender identity is in alignment with what they’re assigned at birth, based on their genitalia. If someone needs to express their gender in a way that is different, that is okay, and they should not be denied healthcare. They should not be bullied. They don’t deserve to be victims of violence. … That’s what people need to understand, that it’s okay and that if you are uncomfortable with it, then you need to look at yourself.

III.  Reversing the Questions Frequently Asked of Trans-Identified Folks

Author and transgender activist Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness (see previous post), works with Alicia Menendez to illustrate what it’s like to be asked certain questions about her identity: