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Thoughts on the National Museum of African American History and Culture

While in Washington DC today,

I visited the new Smithsonian National Museum of American American History and Culture. It only opened this past September 2016, and was the first new museum since the National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004. All the buzz had said it was EXCELLENT, but that getting in was a challenge due to long lines.

The museum uses a timed-entry system to give out passes FOR FREE (like all Smithsonian museums, yay!) each day first come first serve starting each morning, and walk-up tickets are supposedly available after 1pm. I only decided to come this afternoon. Around 1:45pm was initially told by a guard that the walk-up tickets had been given out for the day, but within a few moments I was asked to wait by an orange sign, and another employee came over and handed me an entry. I got in a little after 2pm, so 10 minutes waiting, with no advanced plan to come. Then again, it’s just me.

So to begin with, as with LGBTQ issues, I don’t want to use the excuse “It’s not my world, so I don’t about XYZ.” Rather, coming here, and much like the Native Indian experience as well, a different approach might be, “Wow, I am disgusted that I wasn’t taught ANY of this…”

The museum begins, as one would hope, with a glimpse into life both along the west coast of Africa—from which most America(s)-bound slaves were taken—as well as in the various European nation-states that instituted the sale of human beings for profit and economic growth. The museum pulls no punches in describing the depravity of invading colonialists. There isn’t any moral leg to stand on, and our country is built on plenty of broken backs. Fortunately, the museum does work to highlight both voices of resistance, and voices of those within the African communities forced into impossible choices and sacrifices. I spent over an hour reading every panel from the 1400’s through the Revolutionary War, which was both captivating and forced me to rush through the remaining museum exhibits.

A few things I noticed:

Benjamin Banneker seems to get a bit stiffed. His feature is in reference to his letters to Thomas Jefferson and another paragraph says he was “involved with the surveying of Washington D.C.. As I recall hearing an at least apocryphal telling of the story, this man was an requited genius with a photographic memory. While assisting Pierre L’Enfant and Andrew Ellicott with the surveying, also managed to trace lost entirely plans back from memory, leading to the city we know today.

I guess it is hard for a museum to report things that cannot be confirmed, it just goes to show how little we actually know or cared to record about the black and African-American individuals who shaped our country. Personally, I’d have put the story there, even with a disclaimer, rather than a footnote that he helped two white people—even if that alone would have been remarkable for the time. The fact he did something spectacular is probably why anyone remembers his name at all, even if history has lost the proof of why.

The museum is surprisingly cisgender and heteronormative.

For a museum that opens in 2016, I’d really have hoped to have seen more reference to LGBTQ history as it relates to the Black and African-American communities considering role of people of color (including black and African-American) in this cause since and even before the Stonewall Riots.

Starting with the museum’s acknowledgement of sexual assault, there is a little paragraph on a wall that discusses the fact slave owners abused their captives, first relating to male owners of female slaves. No surprise there, rape is like toes on the footnotes of human history. It also says a line like: Young black men were also abused by some white women and men. No surprise there, some slave owners were gay. I wish we could find more hard accounts of this happening, to plaster on poster boards next to anyone waving a confederate flag around. “They were gay too! We have proof!”

And inevitably, the first reference to homosexuality is never as a loving consensual relationship, but rather as an assault.

Later in museum’s discussion of the segregation,  emphasis put on the “Whites” and “Colored” signs on hotels, restaurants, waiting areas, and even a full segregated train car (in process of being installed for people to walk through). As an aside, its presence immediately reminds me a little of another museum in D.C. that has a train carriage. What I didn’t really see directly referenced were bathrooms. I wish it could have been a point more boldly emphasized, that people were once painted as perverse and predatory based solely on their skin color, and that the justification for this discrimination might have been… hmm… privacy… yeah. Sounds familiar.

Later, we skip to a block that says, “The Movement Inspires Others,” where the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, finally make an appearance. No specific names are mentioned, and the artifact is a single “remember stonewall” button from San Francisco. Really, a single button?

Why are Miss Major Griffen-Gracy and Marsha P. Johnson not in this museum? Or that black (and other POC) trans women are still at DISPROPORTIONATE THREAT of violence, sexual assault, and murder to this day, even as the moral arc of the universe does “bend toward justice” for racial and LGBTQ equality, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once suggested? To be fair, I only saw Michael Jackson once in the museum, but the did manage to find space for Bill Cosby. We know a lot more about him now than when the exhibit was planned no doubt, but this opened less than a year ago.

To be fair, I only saw a fraction of it on this first trip, and did not have time for the upstairs galleries. The restaurant inside, which features dishes from African-American cultures around this country (though sadly, none from Africa itself) also looks fantastic and reasonably priced. It also closes at 5:30pm, if not earlier, with the museum, which is unfortunate because it would have been a wonderful way to end the afternoon.

All in all, this was a captivating and alarming tour through one of the saddest chapters in the making of the nation I now get to appreciate. I simply wish we’d by 2016 be doing a better job of highlighting stories across sexual orientations and gender identities along the cisgender and heterosexual mainstream narrative in a Smithsonian-class museum. I owe my ability to exist to women like Miss Major and Marsha, as trans women of all colors do. Put her in a national African-American heritage museum, so that she doesn’t become another Benjamin Banneker, whose stories can never be best recalled or retold by white people like me.

One World Trade Lit in Transgender Colors!

Governor Cuomo Lights The Night For Trans Visibility, And You Probably Missed It

It was hardly the smoothest of debuts, but if you happen to be transgender, that’s a relatable feeling. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed the Port Authority to light the One World Trade Center spire in the colors of transgender pride (blue, pink, and white) for the very first time on March 31st, 2017.

Standup at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern

I perform standup comedy as a hobby, and sometimes it is fun to challenge myself by taking to an open mic in a totally new foreign city. This was me performing some British-infused transgender jokes at BarWotever, hosted by the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Find more of my standup comedy (including Jewish “semon comedy”) here:

Learn more about BarWotever here:

What Being Trans is Really Like

If you haven’t already seen this, it’s my amazing video with Refinery29 from 2015, and here I was on the Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC show:

I was also covered by Everyday Feminism!

How Many Moments of Extraordinary Strength Can You Spot in This Ordinary Day in the Life of a Transgender Woman? – Everyday Feminism

Can you do the simple exercise Hannah’s come up with? It really puts in perspective how you “just know” some things about who you are. With Love, The Editors at Everyday Feminism Closed-captioning are provided. Please click on the CC button to see it.

The Big Serbian Day Update Post

Dear Friends, I am sure you are all wondering why I went to Serbia for a single day, and what the hell happened to me there. Well, here we go:

The long story short:

  • Saw a surgeon in Belgrade because I was worried if I didn’t go from Europe and drop a shit ton of money on airfare to see him on short notice, the entire process of getting him to operate on me would never move forward at all. I was right.
  • My doctors in New York had not coordinated with this surgeon AT ALL despite having suggested they had, and even suggesting I was supposed to have had surgery next week by him when he visited New York.
  • The surgeon wants $3500 to operate on me at his office in Belgrade, the soonest this could be is October. There is no guarantee he can fix everything that is wrong, but he will do what he can. This figure does not include other expenses I’d incur, none the least of which the $800 I spent to change all my fights around in a single night to see him at all.
  • I do not have $3500+, and I am applying for jobs right now that would make it impossible to take time off sufficient for a surgery in October. I am stuck delaying getting a job to have surgery (which I can’t afford) or trying to “move on” from my body problems long enough to earn the money and be able to take the time off, which is basically saying that having a fucked-up vagina never mattered in the first place.
  • I am fucked. Goodbye, I’m just done with all this shit.
  • Serbia seemed like a nice place. I was only there for 30hrs or I’d have loved to explore it more.

As many of you know, I suffered considerable complications from my gender reassignment surgery in 20http://hannahsimpson.x10.bz4, and a 20http://hannahsimpson.x10.bz5 revision made things worse. Over the last year and a half, I have been working with the transgender “care” team at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. I say “care” very loosely. This team includes a primary care practitioner, a urologist who is learning to perform gender reassignment, and a gynecologist who has many trans (FTM and MTF) patients. None of them wanted to touch me.

They had put me in touch with a specialist surgeon from Belgrade, who during his last visit to the US, had come up with a plan with them to do as much as he was able to with respect to the visual and sensation aspects of the damage I have suffered. He was not able to address all of my concerns, but was the best hope I had, considering all the doctors I have spoken to in doing more than my diligence in getting additional opinions.

A few months ago, I was told this surgeon would be teaching again in New York City, likely in August, and that that was my target date for my third surgery. The third week in August, to be specific. This would likely be treated “as a primary surgery,” in that I would need to do a full bowel prep, and spend two nights on bedrest in the hospital, among other things. I put effort toward making sure I had my family and support network in place, as well as getting mentally prepared for this newest stage in my journey.

A little over a week ago, I got word from the urologist that I would not be having surgery the third week in August. I was told that they “might” be able to help me in the future. It was unclear at this point whether I was still receiving medical care, or favors, from this doctor. It was heartbreaking.

I happened to be already in Europe, specifically London and the Netherlands at the time, on other business and visiting family. I asked the New York urologist if there had been any consideration to me having had the surgery in Belgrade, where the surgeon is based. There had not been. I asked if they would contact the surgeon on my behalf to start discussing that option, and I was instead referred “to visit his website” and contact him myself.

I did, and he wanted to examine me again to come up with a surgical plan. I thought he already had one, but he wanted to examine me again to confirm it. Very well.

What followed were a few days of frantic back-and-forth emails with New York and Belgrade, beginning with an offer to be seen this past Monday at 2pm in Belgrade, as well as a confirmation that there was no way my New York doctors could promise this surgeon would have time to meet me in New York during his “busy schedule” even if it was just for a subsequent consultation and not a procedure. It was also not immediately clear if or when he would be back in the US again. I was in London, but felt largely numb to my otherwise thrilling surroundings.

I made the decision that the only way I could move this process along for me to actually get my surgery scheduled was to see this Doctor at his own office in Belgrade. While getting there was a relatively simple 2hr flight from Amsterdam and cab ride, it cost me over $800 to book round-trip on short notice, as well as change my return ticket to make my travel as easy as possible. I do not have $800, just credit cards. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t exactly make it go away.

The surgeon was mostly cordial and happy to see me. He genuinely wants to help, and made that clear. He did say some bone-headed things like, “It looks better after the second surgery,” except for the fact I lost my clitoris, which since he can’t exactly fix doesn’t register as a big deal. Typical man.

He wanted to make the consultation free for me, and was not charging me. I mentioned I had spent over €700 to even be sitting there on his stirrups. He said, “That’s not my problem.” Yes, it’s mine.

I am not http://hannahsimpson.x10.bz00% satisfied with what he can offer, but I am not finding any better options, so there is pressure to move forward so I can have a chance at a normal sexual life, and thus a normal life. Every day I am living right now is a challenge, because my genitals legitimately scare me and it is a continuous trauma whenever I look in a mirror, use a bathroom, or even contemplate being intimate. I’d haven’t been able to masterbate at all, there is nothing to stimulate given the nerve damage. I am going nuts.

I asked him when we can move forward. He said August was impossible because I’d have to be off hormones for three weeks for him to operate on me. Wait a second! Nobody in New York told me that, and it was barely three weeks before my surgery when I was told it was not even happening. Clearly there had been ZERO coordination between this team in New York and the surgeon they wanted me to work with. Considering it took them from November until February to tell me an MRI they first put me through was useless and needed to be repeated, I should not have been surprised.

August is out of the question, and September the surgeon is on his vacation with his family. There was no way I could get a surprise surgical appointment while I was still in Europe. I would have to come back to Belgrade at some point in the future. The surgeon said, “Oh, there are direct flights, it’s only €500.” He also wants to make the surgery as affordable as possible, which would be around €3000, the lowest fee he can do. I am not sure if that includes hospital, anesthesia, etc… and it certainly doesn’t cover my airfare, a companion, or two weeks in a hotel plus other expenses I’d incur.

As I’d be going abroad, there is no guarantee I could successfully petition my NY State-based Medicaid to cover it, even if under the circumstances it is not like I have any domestic options. Tried that. Failed. It’d be up to this same team of doctors to make that petition, but I am hesitant to put them in charge of any other aspect of my care moving forward.

Now is the part that is really stressing me out:

October is the soonest possible target for surgery.

My entire life is has been on hold because it is really hard to just think about having a normal job or career, let alone want to be alive, when my body looks as fucked up as it does in this area after two botched surgeries. It has left me too depressed, and quite frankly, for many months, unstable, to either restart Medical School as I had once hoped, or to find other avenues to move on. I have been lucky to have had the emotional and financial support of my parents to get through the worst of it, or I would no longer be alive by now. Sadly, their resources are not infinite either, nor is it fair to impose that on them.

I had a vision of my future that involved being off my feet for most of August and starting to look more seriously for jobs in the fall, perhaps something seasonal to get my started again. I have had two job interviews in the last week which I am tremendously excited about. Both are jobs related to politics and government. One lasts through early November, if offered to me, and would involve working 7 days a week. The other might begin in October or November and continue indefinitely. Both are huge opportunities?

So what the fuck do I do? 

Turn down huge life opportunities to keep myself free for a surgery I desperately need, but can’t even afford? Or do I take the job, and just try to suck up the fact I am still scared of even waking up in the morning so that I can earn more money and not even have the time to take off to get this surgery?

My primary care person in New York emailed me and said, “We can discuss Belgrade when you get back.” How fucking ignorant is she? I booked my return ticket based on having surgery a week later. If I hadn’t pressed the issue, nothing would have happened at all.

These doctors could have been exploring options for me being operated on in Belgrade all along, especially if they were only half-heartedly at best exploring the options for this surgeon to work on me in New York when he visited. This could have been a contingency all along, and even if all I needed was a consult again, I could have booked these tickets weeks early and spent $200 instead of $800 to get from Amsterdam to Belgrade and back.

This entire process has been endlessly complicated, frustrated, embarrassing, expensive, and stressful. I am getting zero help, I feel like I am the only person advocating for myself, and despite screaming as loudly as I can I am continuously denied the after-care I need from this surgery. It would be enough if it went badly, it is too much to bear that nobody seems to give a shit.

I left my appointment with the doctor in tears, and walked into town to a $http://hannahsimpson.x10.bz3/night hostel in Belgrade. I visited a lovely Byzantine church and ate a grilled dinner in the touristy, cobblestoned Bohemian quarter. The next day I took an English-language walking tour, wrote some postcards, bought stamps, and took a bus back to the airport. That was my day in Belgrade.

Time, money, dignity, sanity, spirit, and vaginal sensation. I am left depleted.

New op-ed: The Shortage of Injectable Estrogen, via The Guardian

Feels nice to have a new article out, even if it is an awful situation.

Continue reading New op-ed: The Shortage of Injectable Estrogen, via The Guardian