Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 15, Jenn Burleton

15 Jun

Today I would like to honor and celebrate my dear friend, Jenn Burleton.  Jenn is a fierce social justice advocate  and one of the founders and Executive Director of TransActive, a non-profit agency dedicated to supporting transgender and gender non-conforming youth around the country. Jenn is an amazing and compassionate educator about transgender issues.  I also feel compelled to say that being transgender or gender non-conforming have nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation, although there is some overlap regarding marginalization, multiple identities, and the intersections of oppression.

Jenn does a particularly good job of helping folks understand the very important issue of gender identity, which seems a tricky business for people to understand for some reason.  Jenn explains:

At some point we have to let go of this notion that trans people who have had surgery have to be forthcoming about  that fact or be forthcoming if they have not had surgery, from a social interaction persepective it is irrelavent—anatomy on a day to day basis is irrelevant. There are some transgender people that do in fact over-emphasize or act as though being post op is a trophy. That can be a dangerous path because it takes away from the more important conversation around gender identity and puts the focus only on genitals.  The surgery should not have to be the validation of our identity.

Jenn is transgender, but she is also lesbian–two marginalized identities. What first drew me to Jenn is that she is a strong feminist and a true voice for social justice.  What I love about Jenn is that she works so hard to celebrate, educate, and advocate the complexities of gender identity.  My hope is that we come to a point when more of us celebrate and embrace our transgender brothers and sisters. Click here to learn more about Jenn and about TransActive.

16 Responses to “Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 15, Jenn Burleton”

  1. Labyrinth-Living June 15, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Very, very few people understand trans, and do not even know the vocabulary. I spent the day with a well-educated friend who is an ally, but she didn’t know the difference between Transgender and Transvestite… and was astonished when I explained the conceptual differences between sex, gender and orientation. The education has to begin at a very elementary level, don’t you think?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      You are so very wise! Yes, we must educate people early on and talk a lot more about gender identity. Thank you for a wonderful comment.

  2. Christine Noble June 15, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Rest assured, I will be checking out what TransActive has to offer. Merci beaucoup Mssr. Hullshof Schmidt.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 10:49 am #

      Jenn is such a wonderful human being and she is a dear friend. I think you would love the services we are able to provide youth at TransActive.

  3. Jay June 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Jenn sounds great, and I want to thank her for her contributions in support of a severely marginalized community.

    I do have one question regarding this statement: “At some point we have to let go of this notion that trans people who have had surgery have to be forthcoming about that fact or be forthcoming if they have not had surgery, from a social interaction persepective it is irrelavent—anatomy on a day to day basis is irrelevant.”

    I agree wholeheartedly that co-workers, friends, strangers, and family members should not ask rude and irrelevant questions regarding a transperson’s anatomy. Recognizing that humans tend to be curious, I think voluntarily offering details to close friends and family would be a gracious choice for a transperson, but that is different from an obligation or imperative to disclose.

    But I can think of one category of people who have a legitimate right to know those sorts of anatomical specifics–people who are dating a transperson. It seems to me that there is an ethical obligation to disclose trans-status to potential romantic and sexual partners (specifically to people a transperson is actually dating, and not mere “potential dating partners”).

    My reasoning is that romance and sex are so emotionally and physically intimate that a partner’s right to full disclosure ethically supersedes a transperson’s right to privacy.

    This might be one of those gray areas where reasonable people might disagree, but I felt compelled to chime in with one of my “Yes, but what about?” sorts-of-comments. And of course, I might just be flat-out wrong–there’s certainly ample precedent for that.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      You are so absolutely lovely and it is no small wonder why Robert and I adore you! Your comment is very valid. I hope when you visit us you will get to meet Jenn–she is fabulous! I think Jenn would agree with you. Regarding partners and consensual sexual relationships, those questions are completely understandable; other than that, it is no one’s business, which I know you already get that. You are an amazing ally Jay–thank you.

  4. nevercontrary June 15, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Trans people are so courageous to me. I cannot imagine the strength to be able to say I was born in the wrong body and I am going to do something about it.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Thus the reason why we, as the LGBT community, need to be far more supportive.

      • nevercontrary June 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

        I think womyns fest in michigan still does not allow trans women. It quite frankly blows my mind.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

        Why? That just makes no sense not to allow trans women! I don’t get that.

      • nevercontrary June 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        Look them up, maybe i’m wrong, but if not perhaps they deserve a post.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

        I will, thanks for letting me know.

  5. Jay June 15, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Thanks for your very kind and generous response to my comment, Michael.

    As to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival…well, the Wiki page gives some context:


    While this festival is indeed controversial because of their stated (and enforced) policy of only allowing “women born women” to attend, I think a little context is helpful. The festival grew out of a radical strain of feminism that advocated a separatist philosophy–the notion was of a festival where women could gather with absolutely no men in attendance. The controversy regarding the exclusion of trans-women from the Festival is real, and ongoing.

    The problem is that this Festival has become a favorite meme among right-wingers, anti-feminists, and outright misogynists as being an example of the (fictional) intolerance, hypocrisy and bigotry of leftists and liberals. You can probably imagine the rhetoric, so I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but suffice it to say that when an anti-feminist is constructing a Straw Man argument about evil liberal feminists, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is often used as a source of straw.

    So yes, the trans community has an ongoing conflict with this Festival, but please bear in mind that this conflict, and this Festival itself, is used as a cudgel by truly dreadful opponents of gender equality.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 16, 2012 at 6:19 am #

      Thank you for the research and for helping put this awful situation into a broader context. I fear I feel even more discouraged after reading it though. Clearly, we have so much work to do around gender identity. Perhaps it is a part of my own power and privilege, but I grow ever weary of the separatist movement, which does nothing to help build coalitions.

      • Jay June 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

        The whole situation is quite sad. I hesitated about posting my second comment, but I decided that there are lessons to be learned from folly, just as there are lessons to be learned from wisdom.

        The pathway to progress is undoubtedly in coalition-building, as you correctly note, and the proof for that can (in part) be found in looking at the consequences when one marginalized group decides to discriminate against a natural ally rather than to build a coalition with that natural ally.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

        I often reflect and am saddened when I see targeted populations marginalizing other targeted populations. I call it “eating our own.”

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