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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

If elected to the Palm Springs City Council, Lisa Middleton wants to be as transparent as possible, she said, while engaging with the community.

Middleton is well-known as a transgender activist, and she has an impressive work history as well; she retired after 30 years as an executive with the State Insurance Compensation Fund of California, where she was at one point the senior vice president of internal affairs. She’s also a member of the Planning Commission, and was a chair of ONE-PS, the coalition of Palm Springs neighborhoods. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Lisa Middleton since 2013; I met her while I was a volunteer at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.)

During an interview at her home, Middleton—who would become the first openly transgender individual elected to a non-judicial office in the state, should she win—said the city of Palm Springs is finally starting to handle the issue of homelessness in the right way. She said that the efforts of Well of the Desert and the housing programs proposed by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments are both steps in the right direction.

“The city is making progress when it comes to homelessness,” Middleton said. “We have a dedicated homelessness police officer going from four days a week to seven days a week. … The two additional social workers who have been contracted with the county have produced success, and the city is trying to expand that program. One of the things we found is that it takes multiple interventions for there to be success. There have been, over the last year, 50 people who have been housed, and another 100 who have received housing. It’s been because of these programs.”

Middleton helped to create the ordinances and regulations on vacation rentals that were recently enacted. She said she believes they’re working so far.

“I believe the reforms that were passed earlier this year were very much a step in the right direction,” she said. “The restriction of no more than one (vacation rental) home per person going forward—those who have more than one now are grandfathered in—will remove the investor from the market going forward so that the people getting permits will be the individual or couple who plan to transition to full-time living in Palm Springs. … I came up with the idea through ONE-PS for that restriction. The increase in fines, I supported very strongly, but the most important change was the increase in staffing, and going from a half-time person to nine people in a department, and changing the first responder to complaints from the rental manager to someone within the city, and having them out in cars to where they’re able to respond, as well as being out in cars … (so) they can monitor and drive by. The homeowners and managers are stepping up their game in the review of the people they rent their homes to, because after three strikes, you’re going to lose your license, and could potentially lose your license for good. Those are steps in the right direction, and we need to give this law a chance to work.”

Middleton said she intends to work with local nonprofits to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city.

“I want to work with organizations such as Desert AIDS Project and Coachella Valley Housing Coalition to build more affordable housing in Palm Springs” Middleton said. “A recommendation I’ve made is that … we take and change the public benefit, which is a negotiation that goes back and forth with the Planning Commission and the developer—that it be switched to the public benefit being affordable housing: Either you build a certain number of affordable housing units as part of your project, or you pay a fee to the city to be used to provide funding for other affordable housing projects, based on the value of the project you’re building.”

When it comes to transparency, Middleton said said being accessible and communicating with the public is important, and that she plans to regularly visit each of the neighborhoods in Palm Springs, while making herself as accessible as possible.

“One thing I think would help … is being accessible so people can ask questions and understand things,” Middleton said. “Transparency is extremely important coming from someone such as myself, who managed a public-records office, and I know all of the rules as to what must be released and how it is to be released. Frequently, what I find is somebody says, ‘You’re not being transparent.’ What they really mean is, ‘I didn’t know that was going on.’ It’s that ‘I didn’t know’ that we need to do a better job on … (so that) it becomes easier for them to know what’s going on.”

Middleton said the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has a great relationship with the city. She cited discussions about the plans for the area around the Spa Resort Casino as an example.

“I do think that for almost everyone who was concerned when they saw that dotted line put into the Desert Sun, and then saw this first set of drawings of the new hotel, there should be great relief that the tribe is a great neighbor and has historically been a great neighbor,” she said.

As a member of the Planning Commission, Middleton said she’s happy the downtown redevelopment project is progressing.

“I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting the hotel up and ready for occupancy, and that the leases have been signed and stores will be opening,” she said. “As for the businesses up further on Palm Canyon, they feel like they’ve been in a construction zone for years, and this project has taken longer (than we anticipated) when we voted for Measure J in 2011. There were lawsuits that slowed down construction, and I was part of the Planning Commission that worked with the new City Council in January 2016 that reduced the scale of the overall project by 40 percent. There have been bumps in this road, and we’re starting to move forward, and the vast majority of people in Palm Springs want to see that succeed.

“The Hyatt Andaz,” the long-delayed under-construction project at Indian Canyon Drive and Alejo Road, “has brought up ideas for a change in the approval process. As a part of the planning and review process when the project is approved by the Planning Commission, we need to review the financial viability of the product. Nowhere in the current process do we ask a developer why they feel the project will succeed financially. That can be built into the approval process, and before someone begins construction, they should be required to demonstrate to the city that they have the funds in place to complete construction.”

She believes the best way to prevent more corruption within the city government is to do reviews and make sure everyone has proper information on what they can and cannot do.

“We should sit down with them constantly and review their 700 form, asking them, ‘If you work for other entities, who are these entities?’” Middleton said. “Annually, we have a very clear understanding of what they reported and why.”

Middleton laughed when I asked her if she considered the Palm Springs City Council to be opposed to fun—a criticism some, such as the Cactus Hugs website, have made of the current council.

“I don’t think Palm Springs is against fun,” Middleton said. “I absolutely want it to be fun, and I want our city to keep its sense of humor and be able to laugh with others and at ourselves from time to time, because we need to do so. I was asked this question a few weeks ago: Is Palm Springs a small city of neighborhoods, or is it a world-class destination? The answer is both. Most people want it to be both. That happens when you set balances so you can truly have communities and neighborhoods where people feel safe, secure and quiet in their home and neighborhood—but also a side that can attract people from all over the world to come and have a good time, to go to the parties we have, to enjoy the restaurants, and to enjoy the cultural facilities.”

Published in Politics

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

This was Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush about assaulting women more than a decade ago, but it has proven to be the ultimate expression of Trumpism.

When Matt Lauer, a rich celebrity, asked Trump, another rich celebrity, about North Carolina’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” it became a question of whether Trump “would be fine with (Caitlyn Jenner) using any bathroom she chooses” in Trump Tower.

Jenner, like Trump, is a reality TV star with complicated lines between business and family. Of course, she can pee wherever she wants. But trans people who aren’t stars and who have to go to the bathroom in less-glamorous places than Trump Tower are shit out of luck after the administration declared in late February it would not protect the rights of trans students.

Jenner spoke out against Trump’s reversal on trans issues, telling him to call her. But because she is also a star, her plea misses the point: Trump attacks the most vulnerable.

If Trump wanted to understand how it feels to be denied access to basic services, he could talk to Gavin Grimm, a trans high school student whose lawsuit against his Virginia school district—for forcing him to use a refashioned janitor’s closet instead of the men’s room—was scheduled to reach the Supreme Court later this month. However, on Monday, March 6, the case was sent back to a lower court because of the new guidelines set by Trump’s justice department.

Or when Trump spoke at the ultra-right Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, he could have talked to Jennifer Williams and Jordan Evans, two trans women who stood out in the hallway holding a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a sign that said, “Proud to be Conservative, Proud to Be Transgender, Proud to be American #sameteam.”

“We spent the last year fighting for transgender rights and being part of a presidential campaign, (and) we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Williams said of the anti-trans fervor once again spiking in the ruling party.

Williams has attended the conference since 2006, when she was working on a film called Fear of a Black Republican. She felt that the conference and the conservative movement was moving toward the libertarianism of Ron Paul and away from the “traditional values” of Mike Huckabee.

Until 2016, she attended the conference presenting as a man, rather than as Jennifer, her authentic self. She says she was received warmly when she reintroduced herself last year; her friends asked if she was still a conservative and when she said she was, they were cool.

But after a brief moment of high hopes, the mood shifted.

First, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos got a keynote spot on CPAC’s program. Yiannopoulos regularly called trans people “mentally ill” and used a December speech in Milwaukee to mock a trans student.

Like Yiannopoulos, some other openly gay people at CPAC seemed eager to put down trans people in order to cement their own endangered status among the bigots. One conservative lesbian blogger sitting in the press section “explained” to a Breitbart editor how trans women were really just men who like to dress in women’s clothes and masturbate. “Autogynephiles,” she said, talking high and punching down.

“It’s going to be hard for the administration to go after lesbian, gay and bi people, because they have numbers; they have resources; they have money. We don’t necessarily have that,” Williams said. “You’re going after transgender people ... We’re only 0.6 percent of the population.”

Williams was briefly relieved when Yiannopoulos was disinvited from CPAC, but the night before the conference began, the regime rescinded the Obama-era directive offering federal protection for students to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identities rather than their birth certificates. So when Williams and her friend walked in with their signs and their flag, they didn’t know what to expect.

“I was really worried because people were hyped up. We didn’t expect it to be the issue du jour by 8 in the morning, walking into CPAC with 11,000 or 12,000 conservatives of all different stripes from all over the country.”

Although Williams’ access to public facilities is legally protected in Maryland, where the conference took place, she and her friend located single-occupancy restrooms where they knew they would be safe.

“Hopefully nothing bad will happen. I don’t expect it to. This is my tribe, just as LGBTQ is my tribe. People at CPAC don’t start fights,” she said. “But there’s always that one person you have to be careful about.”

She is especially worried for young trans kids. “When I grew up, we had no hope, and you knew that if you were going to be out and proud and live your life authentically, it was just going to be tough,” she said. “These kids have had a great run for several years, making life better and easier so they can live openly. But now if I’m them, everybody knows who I am. What’s going to happen to me now?”

The fear, she says “has to be overwhelming, because at least the federal government had your back. Now they don’t.”

At its best, the federal government protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority. But Trump’s populism says, in essence, “Fuck that shit.”

On the same day Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said that trans protections are “states’ rights issues,” he also said that recreational cannabis would become a federal issue. In this regime, there are no real principles—only power and the repression of anyone vulnerable enough to repress.

Williams has placed whatever hope she has left in the U.S. Supreme Court. “If we lose the Gavin Grimm case, it could be pretty dismal for a long time. I don’t want to say ‘until a Democrat gets elected,’ because I’m a Republican committee person,” she said. “Hopefully our party will be the ones to make freedom happen for everyone.”

That’s the thing about freedom: If it doesn’t happen for everyone, it doesn’t happen for anyone.

Column updated Monday, March 6. Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington PostVox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications.

Published in National/International

Dear Mexican: Sooooo...your boy René Redzepi is moving to Mexico. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

From Lagos

Dear Loco: Unless the acclaimed Danish chef behind the world-acclaimed Noma is into tamborazo and Antonio Aguilar, he ain’t my compa. But the Scandinavian very well could be nowadays: It was recently announced that he’s opening a pop-up Mexican restaurant in Yucatán, charging an extraordinary $600 a head. So much to unpack here, ¿qué no?

Redzepi is the latest gabacho to fall in love with Mexican food—and the latest to gentrify and exotify it. He’s the latest gaba chef to get media attention for his love of Mexican food, while Mexican chefs get ignored—when the fuck is the culinary press going to go on late-night pho runs with Carlos Salgado of Orange County’s Taco Maria, which is only the most important Mexican-American restaurant in the United States? The gringo is even bringing his entire staff from Europe to man the restaurant. Local talent? According to The New York Times, the Mexi Noma will employ “four local cooks to produce fresh tortillas”—an attempt at “authenticity” that goes back to the earliest days of Mexican food in the United States, and is as trite of an ethnic marker as a shamrock tattoo on an Irish girl’s nalga.

That’s the Zapata in me. The Benito Juarez in me, however, takes the longer view: another gabacho Reconquista’d by our cuisine. Redzepi has been promising to anyone who’ll listen that he wanted to open a restaurant in Mexico, so entranced he is by nuestra cultura. And to his credit, Redzepi’s partner in the Mexican safari is Rosio Sanchez, Noma’s longtime pastry chef who runs a bona fide taquería in Copenhagen and is the child of Mexican immigrants. Sanchez was raised in Chicago’s Little Village barrio, which gives her more cred than that pendejo Rick Bayless by a Mayan minute. So let Redzepi and Sanchez do their cosa!

If you really want to yell at someone for Noma Mexico’s appropriation, yell at foodies and food writers, who’ll always focus more on gabachos doing Mexican food than Mexicans doing Mexican food—and guess what your letter did?

Dear Mexican: As a güero crossdresser, I’m jealous that the Mexican cha-chas are so hot. Are they hot for the same reasons Mexican women are hot? Most güeros look like middle-aged stockbrokers in dresses, probably because we are, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking about the mamacitas! In Mexican culture, are you either macho or the girlie-girl you’ve always wanted to be, with no in between?

La Dama Loca

Dear Crazy Dame: Transgendered, crossdressing, genderqueer and genderfucking Mexicans have historically looked better than their gabachos counterparts because we have better cisgen stereotypes to play with. Men who want to look like mujeres (whether transitioning or not) draw upon the spicy señorita archetype; many Chicanas that I know who are fluid with their gender identity inevitably go the Pendleton or rockabilly look. (All credit goes to Morrissey for the latter one.) And you’re right: Mexican society, despite its historical machismo, has also had a surprisingly tolerant streak for trans folks or flamboyantly LGBT mariposas. But that was the catch: You couldn’t act “normal,” or else risk getting brutalized (and even that Faustian bargain wasn’t much protection against homo- and transphobia).

I won’t make the insult toward gabachos crossdressers you did, but I need to end with a joke here, so try this one: Rick Bayless.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

On this week's minty-fresh weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World chats with an alien about our election processes; Jen Sorenson looks at discrimination against the transgender community by the state of North Carolina; The K Chronicles pays tribute to a member of A Tribe Called Quest; and Red Meat debates whether or not too go into work.

Published in Comics

I watched Caitlyn Jenner’s extraordinary speech at the ESPY Awards with fascination. She was poised and passionate, funny and inspirational. It was a heckuva coming-out party. And she was a knockout! Say what you will, but girl definitely has found the right stylist.

Leading up to the awards show and now its aftermath, I’ve seen social media all atwitter questioning whether Caitlyn deserved an award for “courage.” Seems there are three camps on this. First, there are those who wholeheartedly endorse Caitlyn as the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Prize. The second group honors the impact she will have, but are skeptical about and uncomfortable with the notion that she has done anything courageous. The third group is the usual assemblage of online haters who consider Caitlyn an abomination and an affront to all things American, Christian or civil.

I actually fall into a subsection of the first group (and I suspect I am not alone): We totally get the courage thing, but are a little sheepish about embracing anything that has had that much proximity to a Kardashian. You can’t help but think at first glance that this is just another cog in the grand publicity machine that has labored intensively to convince the world that this astonishingly talentless family has any real bearing on anything that would actually matter in life. It’s all about the ratings, kids. I get that.

So why is this such a cultural touchstone? Why am I rooting for her success and happiness so much? And why, as a gay man, am I completely caught up in her story?

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead,” she said while rocking that Versace dress with the Beladora emerald, pearl and diamond earrings. (I had to look that up. I’m not THAT gay.) “The reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

And there you have it. As a gay man who grew up at a time when being gay was considered shameful, I get it. And I maintain, to anyone who cares to ask, that any person who finally embraces his or her authentic self publicly is courageous as hell. Once you come out on the other side and express your personal truth, the journey toward self-esteem and self-acceptance is exhilarating and, dare I say, life-affirming.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class, progressive community, and yet when I realized I was different, my immediate instinct toward self-preservation was to hide, to avoid, to run away, to self-flagellate. It just seemed easier than admitting I wasn’t what society deemed to be normal. In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I always refer to that time as living inside of my own head. You can still function as a productive member of society. But, all the time, inside your brain, there’s a running mantra that convinces you that you are less than … that you will never have a normal life. Certainly the notion of marriage and social acceptance were completely out of the question. It just wasn’t going to happen. Ever. In fact, marriage and acceptance were things I would have to forgo, at least according to my annoying inner voice, if I decided I needed to go ahead with this gay thing.

At the end of the day, of course, that’s not the decision I needed to make. That decision was made for me when my DNA got all mixed together. The decision I needed to make was whether I was going to run away from my true self for my entire life, or whether I would ever come to the conclusion that, gay or not, I was a good person, a productive contributor to society, a faithful taxpayer, and perhaps, in someone’s eyes, a helluva catch.

You have to understand just how astonishing it is to see popular culture today so rife with positive gay imagery. I can’t even speak to how brutal it must’ve been in the pre-Stonewall days, but even after Stonewall, the only people on television that sort of “pinged” with recognition to me were the likes of Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly and Alan Sues on Laugh-In. I’m not sure I even knew why they seemed kindred to me, but bless their proudly nelly souls.

But I knew for damn sure that I better not act like any of them, lest I give away my deep, dark secret. I grew up during the Anita Bryant crusade against gays, at a time when there were propositions on ballots to ban gays from the teaching profession. We watched the Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags” signs pointlessly and malevolently become ubiquitous at celebrity and military funerals. The American Psychiatric Association didn’t declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1973, for Pete’s sake.

We didn’t have Ellen. Or Neil Patrick Harris. Barney Frank was still in the closet. People were still “shocked” about Liberace and Rock Hudson. Of course, the AIDS pandemic made things even worse. Even if technically we no longer had a mental disorder, now we were insidious carriers of disease. Who, in their right mind, would want to announce they were “one of those people” at a time like that? Who, in fact, would “choose” to be gay when the whole world hated us?

In fact, plenty of people proudly declared themselves “one of those people.” They openly embraced their gayness, homosexuality, queerness, faggotry. And they fought. For civil rights. For human rights. For equality. For the simple decency of government funding to help eradicate (or at least even begin to understand) a horrifyingly complex and deadly disease.

I honor those who came before. At the risk of sounding like the stodgy old fart I’m quickly becoming, I’m not sure that the lion’s share of 20-somethings blithely coming out into a far more accepting world today appropriately acknowledge their forebears. And really, can you blame them? They’re busy being twenty-something and fabulous. Isn’t that something of a victory in and of itself?

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality is something few of us could ever have dreamt possible when we were scared little different kids. It opens another road to legitimacy that was previously blocked. If I can marry whomever I love, then that means the world doesn’t see my love as an aberration.

Of course, there will always be hate, based on gender. Race. Religion. Orientation. Age. Weight. If you are “other than normal” in any of these categories, there’s certain to be a whole subgroup of people who want to negate you on the basis of religious freedom or some other euphemism of intolerance.

Now Caitlyn has brought gender identity to the table in the fiercest freaking manner possible. And OK, she has power and privilege and wealth and stylists. But she didn’t have to become the poster child for the transgender movement. Ellen didn’t have to become “America’s Lesbian.” Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons could have easily kept their mouths shut and enjoyed lucrative careers without casting agents (most of them gay themselves) snarkily decreeing that openly gay actors can’t play “straight” roles. They did something brave. And thankfully, repercussions have been few.

Caitlyn decided at an age when most people begin to collect their Social Security that it was time to start her life over again. This time, authentically. She knew she would be stalked by paparazzi. She knew she would be ridiculed by the intellectually challenged. She knew even that she would disappoint those who hold up the decathlon-winning Bruce Jenner as the quintessence of male achievement in the 20th century.

But, you see, for years, she was only disappointing herself. As was I. As were any of us who tried to “pass” or wish it away or sublimate our genuine needs and desires by working or eating or drinking or drugging too much. That’s a lack of courage.

I see it so clearly now, after kicking down the closet doors at a riper old age than most, only to discover that my sexuality didn’t matter one iota to the people who loved me. And then, the greatest revelation: Anyone who judged me because of a flaw only they perceived was not worth my time or energy or love. And they probably never were. Now, living in Palm Springs, the epicenter of LGBT self-actualization, with amazing, passionate, accomplished, witty, smart, fun, extraordinary friends and acquaintances who also happen to be gay, I can’t imagine what I was so scared about.

Yet bigotry is not over as too many recent examples remind us. The sweeping “religious freedom” movement. The anti-LGBT pandering by the clown-car of candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The voting down in the U.S. Senate of a measure to ban LGBT discrimination in schools. In schools! It goes on and on. But, optimistically, we may be witnessing the last gasps of an out-of-date prevailing belief system.

Caitlyn’s bravery flies in the face of every zealot who will try to deny us humanity. She will have incalculable impact for countless young (or maybe even not so young) transgender people around the world. She didn’t have to do this so publicly. Her pain was long and deep and profound and personal. It’s easy to get lost in that and just make misery and self-loathing your reality.

To my mind, it takes courage to thrust away long-festering mental shackles and just, finally, be real. I think all of us who got to the other side after a lifetime of inner antagonism are, in fact, nothing short of truly courageous.

When all of the Kardashian-level hysteria dies down, Caitlyn will just educate by example. A life well lived is the best revenge, as they say. I hope she avoids the gravitational pull of Access Hollywood-type hype and sensationalism once the initial curiosity abates. That would be an even more courageous thing. Just go and be.

But for now, she deserves her victory lap. She triumphed over fear. And if you’ll pardon the inevitable gay Wizard of Oz reference: Not unlike the Cowardly Lion, she had courage inside of her all along.

Published in Community Voices

In most ways, Aiden Stockman is a typical 18-year-old guy.

The Yucca Valley resident recently graduated from high school. He is just getting his driver’s license, and he’s debating what to do with his life.

However, attendees of Palm Springs Pride’s Harvey Milk Breakfast, held in downtown Palm Springs on May 22, know Aiden is far from typical: He and his mother, Kelli Drake, spoke at the event, and had many attendees in tears as they told Aiden’s story of struggle—and surprising acceptance—in Yucca Valley as a transgender youth.

Of course, transgender people are all over the news these days, thanks to the success of Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox, the Golden Globe win for Jeffrey Tambor playing a transgender woman on the Amazon.com series Transparent, and, most notably, the journey of Caitlyn Jenner.

However, Aiden—who was born Victoria Stockman—was dealing with what’s called “gender dysphoria” well before anyone had heard of Laverne Cox, Transparent or Caitlyn Jenner. While his journey was far from easy—in fact, it almost cost Aiden his life—he said his Yucca Valley High School classmates were incredibly supportive when he finally told them he was transgender.

“Everybody at school was like, ‘OK, cool. That’s what you want to do?’ he said during a recent interview with his mother at the Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. “I got Homecoming Prince during my senior year, and I was on the wrestling team, so people didn’t really care. Your classmates vote for Homecoming Prince.

“I dealt with some pricks here and there. I was sitting at a table one time with friends at lunch, and all of a sudden, these guys threw a bunch of food at me. They called me a faggot, and I was like, ‘All right, whatever.’ Obviously, it hurt my feelings, and I just started to walk away. My friend Jared and my friend Kevin asked me what was wrong, and I told them; they went up and got up in their faces and yelled at them. My whole family and my cousins messaged them and got in their faces, too. The next day, they came up to me and said they were sorry.”

While some may find the support that Aiden received from classmates to be a welcome surprise, nobody should be surprised by a recent graduation honor his classmates bestowed upon him.

Aiden was voted “Most Changed Since Freshman Year.”


As she looked over photos of Aiden as a child, Kelli Drake noted that Aiden always showed off a masculine side.

“I think when me and Aiden’s stepdad got married, it was a fight, because we wanted him to wear a dress, and he was like, ‘I’m not wearing that!’” she said. “So we had to settle on a pair of brown skorts. He was mad that we even made him wear that.”

While Kelli Drake can laugh at memories like this now, Aiden’s childhood at times was downright painful. She talked about how Aiden spent almost an entire school year in and out of the Loma Linda University Medical Center, dealing with depression and behavioral issues. It was during this time she learned Aiden was binding his chest with an Ace bandage.

“We didn’t know he was doing that until we took him to Loma Linda, and they were doing admitting,” she said. “They do searches and go through all their stuff. The lady brought it out, and I asked, ‘What the hell is this, and where did it come from?’ We had no idea. It wasn’t until after that we saw what was going on.”

Aiden said he can remember when he decided he wanted to transition.

“It was probably during seventh-grade when I started going through puberty. It was kind of a wakeup call, and I was like, ‘This sucks!’” he said. “During my freshman year, I went to the hospital in Loma Linda, and I was there for a couple of months back and forth. … They just loaded me up on medication and were like, ‘OK, there you go. You’re fine.’

“I remember I came out to my mom as transgender during my sophomore year, and that’s when I started going to a psychologist, and I got the paper from the psychologist saying it was necessary for me to start hormone therapy, because I had gender dysphoria.”

At one point, Aiden tried to kill himself. “I remember my mom and my stepdad went somewhere, and my brother was home with me. I just took all of the pills. I was having a dysphoria kind of day. When my mom came home, I told her I took them all, and I felt bad I did it in front of my brother. I went to the hospital, and my mom stayed with me all night.”

Aiden and his mother have learned the hard way that insurance companies often don’t deal well with the issues transgender individuals face.

“We would call up the insurance company and get a representative over the phone and say, ‘OK, this is the deal: My son is transgender. We need to find an endocrinologist and hormone-replacement therapy,’” Kelli Drake said. “They would put me on hold and wind up e-mailing me this letter with a thousand different doctors on it—and they’re all doctors that are trying to get him pregnant. It was very hard to find doctors that dealt with this, and even the doctor we see in Redlands now, Dr. (Victor) Perkel—Aiden is the first transgender person he’s ever treated. He usually treats people for diabetes and stuff like that, not for this.”

However, Kelli Drake said Dr. Perkel has been supportive of Aiden’s needs as he goes through the physical transition from female to male.

“We made a few phone calls at first and made sure he knew why we were going there,” she said. “When we went there, we already had the letter from a therapist saying he had been through therapy and basically had his brain picked, and this is what he wants. Surprisingly, Dr. Perkel was fine with it and said, ‘Wow, this is great; of course I’ll do it.’ The first couple of months, we had to go down there because of the shots, and now we’re to the point where he writes a prescription and calls it in, and Aiden injects himself once a week. It’s a relief. We also had to get a letter from him because we found a plastic surgeon who does this kind of top surgery, and he basically wanted a letter from Dr. Perkel saying that Aiden understands the surgery is irreversible, just to cover his butt. (The plastic surgeon) got a letter in the mail a week later recommending the surgery, saying that it was medically necessary.”

Later this year, Aiden will have that chest surgery, or “top surgery,” as it’s called.

“I’m not nervous about it at all, and I’m really excited,” he said. “My cousin wanted to go to the U.S. Open of Surfing tournament this summer. I told him I’m not going, and he asked me why, and I said it was seeing guys with their shirts off, and I couldn’t take mine off. He didn’t know it, but last year, it sucked for me.”


Earlier this year, Aiden had his name and gender legally changed.

“It went through on March 23,” Aiden said. “The judge was all like, ‘Good morning,’ and I said, ‘Hey!’ He asked if I wanted the name change and the gender change, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘Congratulations! You’re a young man now.’ And I yelled, ‘SWEET!’

“We walked out of the courtroom, and my mom said, ‘You’re supposed to be polite and say, <em>Yes, your honor</em>.’ It was my moment for a second, and he got me happy.”

Despite some great moments, Aiden is still struggling with a lot of issues related to his transition.

“I want to join the Army or the Marines, but they said I couldn’t until I’ve fully transitioned,” he said. “They would call my phone, asking for Victoria Stockman, and I would answer like, ‘Yeah, this is her.’ I was thinking about going to college and getting my prerequisites done, but I don’t really know, honestly. I’ve just been hanging out.”

It’s all too common for transgender individuals to face challenges regarding unemployment. A 2013 report issued by the Human Rights Campaign showed transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed, and that four out of 10 transgender people who do have jobs are underemployed.

“I would try to get a job, but I would go into places, and my stuff wasn’t changed yet, and it says ‘Victoria Stockman’ on it,” Aiden said. “People would give me an application; I would fill it out, go back in, and they’d look at it and be like, ‘Yeah, OK, we’ll call you.’ … It’s a cold shoulder. It sucks.”

However, Aiden has found comfort in sharing his story.

“Through the (Yucca Valley High) Gay Straight Alliance, Palm Springs Pride, and the Harvey Milk Breakfast, I’ve talked to a bunch of kids, and I’ve shared my doctor’s information,” he said. “If someone older than me could have explained it to me, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this myself.

“If they want information, I’m really open about it. I talk about everything, and if someone wants to know something, I tell them.”

Below: Aiden Stockman today, and pictures from his childhood. Aiden’s mother, Kelli Drake, said Aiden—formerly known as Victoria—showed a masculine side even as a toddler and a young child.

Published in Features

California author Armistead Maupin has returned with the ninth and final volume in his much-loved Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Maupin, who has long refused to be pigeonholed as a “gay writer,” writes about contemporary San Francisco and the love lives of both gays and straights in an era confronted with a dramatic reassessment of the ways in which people choose to love.

In this standalone novel, Anna, a 92-year-old transgender pioneer, realizes her last days are filling with small surrenders: “You could see them as a loss, or you could see them as simplification.” And she feels compelled to attend to unfinished business in her childhood hometown of Winnemucca, Nev. “It’s something old people do. … Old ghosts.”

Inspired by Christine Jorgensen, once George Jorgensen, a real-life former Army private who scandalized the nation in the early 1950s with a sex change, Maupin’s protagonist followed suit in the ’60s and became an activist who inspired others who struggle with sexual identity. Born Andy Ramsey, son of a Winnemucca madam, Anna Madrigal has transformed herself into a gentrified landlady, a citizen at the vital heart of her city, San Francisco, rescuer of stray cats and other wanderers, and a revered symbol for the LGBT community.

She also struggles with the knowledge that she, herself, has been a bigot. Decades ago, she’d thrown verbal poison at a Basque teenager who’d made advances to her when she was still a boy. In a moving interior metamorphosis at the climax of this novel, one that resonates with her earlier physical changes, Anna finally comes to terms with her confusion as a young man who was afraid of departing from the norm, while hiding a deep desire for lingerie and painted toenails. Owning her humanity in all its complexity, she returns to the gravesite of the young Basque boy in search of forgiveness.

The book is a fitting end to the Tales of the City and shines with Maupin’s uncanny ability to reveal people and their innermost secrets to themselves.

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

The Days of Anna Madrigal

By Armistead Maupin

HarperCollins

288 pages, $26.99

Published in Literature

Many people have a hard time understanding and grasping transgenderism—and a local woman, Kaitlin Sine Riordan, is trying to change that by telling her story with her book, Bondage of Self.

Born a boy, Riordan was raised in Richmond, Va., by a father who was extremely self-disciplined and into bodybuilding, and a mother who was a housewife. During her childhood, she found herself confused about her gender identity.

She describes a moment, when she was 6 years old, on a shopping trip with her mother: She was playing with dresses in a clothing store. When her mother said she would tell Riordan’s father, she disciplined herself by bashing a toy rifle against her legs, leaving big, purple welts. It turns out that her father was cold and indifferent to the whole matter.

Riordan also shares details about her life as a teenager—revealing a person in serious pain. She played basketball and displayed the typical masculinity of a teenage boy, but would find ways to be home alone so she could wear women’s clothing. She later got married and was a devoted husband and father—but Riordan drank, straining the relationship with her wife and children. She was in management at a Philip Morris production plant, but secrets in the workplace eventually forced her into early retirement.

A key moment in Riordan’s life occurred when she started a relationship with a female co-worker who had no problem with Riordan’s love of dressing in women’s clothing; that woman would go on to become Riordan’s second wife. Meanwhile, Riordan started to reach out to others who were dealing with gender-identity struggles, including a support group who sought to embrace and encourage members to come as their “true gender.”

Riordan eventually found the support and the courage to go through the process of transitioning from male to female. She also confronted her alcoholism at Michael’s House in Palm Springs in 2008, after which she returned home and went through with her gender-reassignment surgery.

It’s obviously been a long road for Riordan, and she shows great courage in telling her story. She details the ridicule that many transgendered people suffer through, as well as the struggles one goes through while in the process of transitioning—including problems with friends and family, and the interpersonal issues one deals with while going through the many preparations. In the end, Riordan has emerged as a stronger, happier person.

While the book is quite descriptive, it exhibits flaws that are all too common with books that are self-published: There are grammar and punctuation errors, and several of the chapters should be split. When I asked Riordan about these flaws, and she said she is working with an editor on a second edition which she hopes to have out soon.

Those errors aside, Bondage of Self is a book that not only someone who is going through transgenderism will appreciate; it’s also a great read for people who want to better understand the trials endured by men and women struggling with gender-identity issues.

Bondage of Self

By Kaitlin Sine Riordan

Purple Books Publishing

370 pages, $19.95

Published in Literature