Tag: trans history

LGBT+ Figures in History #6: Rupert Raj

A triptych of images of a shirtless young man with pale skin, dark hair, and a short beard looking directly into the camera. - Rupert Raj -
Rupert Raj in the 1970s

Rupert Raj’s story is an interesting look into a pivotal time in the history of medical transition. Raj was born in 1952 and began pursuing medical transition in 1971. Because he was only 19 years old at the time, New York State required written consent from an older family member to obtain an appointment with an endocrinologist in order to receive hormone therapy. In the 1970s there was an extremely small body of scientific work on the trans experience, and even less understanding of trans people’s specific needs than there is today. During this time, trans people were also often excluded from LGB action groups, so a few trans and gender expansive people started organizing their own political action groups.

Raj participated in this wave of community action throughout college, and in January 1978, he started an organization for trans people (including trans men and women, as well as cross-dressers), called the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT). During his time with FACT, Rupert Raj edited and published the foundation’s newsletter. This contained much needed information on transgender resources and included lists of books and articles relevant to transgender people, along with tons of other information that was otherwise very difficult to source. Raj was involved with this organization until 1981, when he chose to focus on serving the unique needs of trans men.

A cartoon about penile prosthetics that appears in Metamorphosis Magazine Vol. 1, No. 5, pg. 8

In 1982, Raj founded the bi-monthly magazine Metamorphosis, with which he hoped to serve as something of an information broker between the trans community and the greater scientific community. The magazine aimed to provide information on various aspects of being a trans man, including clinical research, hormones, surgery, tips to effectively passing as a man in public, and legal reform for trans people. There was also some levity in the form of jokes and cartoons, and the subscription even included 3 business card sized ads for subscribers free of charge.

Metamorphosis reached an international audience, at one time having subscribers from as far away as Great Britain, and New Zealand. In 1988, Raj decided to end publication of the magazine due to extreme burnout.

The Digital Transgender Archive, and Canada’s The ArQuives, have graciously preserved digital copies of what appears to be the entire run of Metamorphosis, which you can read here. I am planning on reading these in their entirety and writing a deep dive on this awesome piece of trans masculine history. Should you choose to read these, I would caution you that the language and understanding around trans people and our experiences has changed quite a bit since this time, and these should be read with this context in mind.

After shuttering the magazine, Rupert took a 9-year break from public advocacy to heal. At one point he commented, “No matter how important the work you’re doing may be, sometimes you need a decade off from being a trans person in the public eye.”

Raj re-entered the public stage in 2002 when he founded RR Consulting, continuing his work as an educating consultant, psychotherapist, gender specialist, and trans-positive professional trainer.

In 2017, Rupert Raj made available the text of his international trans poetry anthology “Of Souls & Roles, Of Sex & Gender: A Treasury of Transsexual, Transgenderist & Transvestic Verse from 1967 to 1991.” The volume includes nearly 400 poems penned by 169 trans people throughout Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

His sociohistorical memoir, “Dancing the Dialectic: True Tales of a Transgender Trailblazer” was first published in 2017; a second edition of which was published in 2020.

Rupert Raj continues his work as an advocate for transgender people, and a community educator to this day. Most recently in October of 2022, Fantasia Fair recognized him with their 2022 Transgender Pioneer Award. This is the longest standing award that solely recognizes trans people. Established in 2002, this award honors the lifetime achievements of trans people who have made the world a safer place for people like us.

A balding man with pale skin and a mustache sits facing the viewer. He is wearing blue square-framed glasses, a brown corduroy blazer, a sweater vest, and khaki pants. - Rupert Raj -
Portrait of Rupert Raj by Maya Sueso

If you would like to learn more about Rupert Raj and his work, you can follow this link. And if you enjoyed this look into the life a trans activist, you may enjoy looking into the lives of other LGBT+ Figures in History.

How to Fight for Trans Rights When You Can’t Protest

fight for trans rights, black and white image depicts a large crowd of people gathered in protest, many holding signs
Photo by Teemu Paananen

If you’re feeling anything akin to what I am these days, you may be wanting to go out on the streets and physically join the fight for trans rights. Problem is, not everyone can afford to both go out and demonstrate, and make rent. I am one of these people.

[As an aside, I also question the ability of organized peaceful demonstrating to do anything of actual political use. But politics is not the focus of this article.]

I, like many people, have a family that fully depends on my income. If I go out, trying to stand up for my right to exist, and I end subjugated by the state and remanded to prison, my family would suffer immensely. I imagine this to be the case for a lot of queer people.

So how are we, the caregivers, the income earners, the disabled, and immunocompromised, supposed to fight for our existences? Below are some great ideas for getting involved in community action, and joining the fight for trans rights that don’t involve rioting in the streets.

Great options for joining the fight for trans rights:

fight for trans rights, black and white image depicts a person with a headscarf holding a sign that reads Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere
Photo by Jack Skinner

Mutual aid actions/groups:

You can participate in mutual aid from your immediate vicinity, from home, and/or on the computer. Building alternative routes to meeting both individual and community needs is a powerful form of political action and one that is actually accessible and familiar to most people. Think the church food pantry, or the uniform donation drive at public school.

But we can think beyond these tried and true methods to more direct, and immediate forms of aid. Most people have family or friends that you can check up on. This is a form of mutual aid. Asking if they want something from the grocery store before visiting your parent or friend. Mutual aid. Giving people money without the expectation of being paid back. (Personally, I only give money with this attitude.) Mutual aid. There are so many more ways to do this:

  1. Text a friend going through a hard time. Be kind and open without expecting engagement in return. People really like feeling included even if they can’t actually reciprocate in the moment.
  2. Organize a carpool for anything! People who go to school, work, after school/weekend activities, volunteer activities, or even the grocery store could all use a carpool option. Bonus, it’s really good for our ever deteriorating climate. Keep in mind some of the people who could most use a carpool, are also the most vulnerable among us. The elderly, the immunocompromised, and the very young would all probably be better served by the next option.
  3. Create a family friendly/disabled friendly transportation option. Single parents, families without reliable transportation, elderly people, disabled people, immunocompromised people, and people who use mobility aids often have a difficult time getting around. Yes, there can (sometimes) be transportation options available through some public or medical services. But these are very exclusionary in their policies on who can access them, if they even exist at all in your community. These types of organizations are known for being extremely unreliable, often late picking you up, if they even bother to show up at all. And families with young children often do not have access to a free or low cost option for transportation at all. This leads to many people missing appointments that are vital to their and their children’s health and safety. If you are a communicative, reliable person with a larger vehicle, you could look into coordinating a carpool that specifically services the above mentioned populations. Keep in mind this requires you to know the limits of your capabilities. There will be people you simply are not equipped to help, and you must be prepared to say no when you would knowingly put yourself or the person you are driving with at risk. Certified medical transportation exists in this country (U.S.) for a reason! Also, I recommend studying up on safe methods of storing and transporting mobility aids and car seats/booster chairs. I have almost broken a wheelchair before by being careless. Don’t be me, people depend on these devices.
  4. Organize a “neighborhood pod”, of any sort. This practice saw a surge in popularity during the lockdown, which brought with it the need for parents to actively spend hours a day teaching their own children. Many working parents arranged a type of homeschool pod where students would all meet at one parent’s house to attend virtual school together. This is just one example of what is really an ancient practice. People have always banded together in small groups to get their needs collectively met. So, if you’re the extroverted type, start meeting with people in your neighborhood, or church, or child’s class and just ask around about what people could use. Are a lot people struggling to find time to run errands? Does someone have a 2-3 hour chunk of time to devote to running a few errands for people? It really can be this informal, and can change as needs arise, and ability to contribute changes. I recommend going into groups like this with an understanding that everyone will not be able to contribute in ways that appear “equal”. The point is to be fair about it. Maybe your 90 year old neighbor can’t run errands or watch the kids, but she gave you all a great batch of cookies, so hey.

I am aware that I have put a lot emphasis on keeping your expectations of reciprocation low. But I would like to point out the “mutual” part of the phrase “mutual aid”. The entire point is that it is mutual. You, as the organizer, should still be contributing a need that will be met to the pot. Maybe one week, you need a ride somewhere. Maybe you haven’t had any time this month to go to the hardware store and your brother just said he was running errands in that part of town. Be sure that you are also getting some of your needs met when you engage in mutual aid.

Get involved in organizing behind the scenes:

The fight for trans rights takes all kinds, and needs pretty much any skillset.

There are opportunities to volunteer your IT, administrative, marketing, or graphic design skills. Pretty much any organization needs people creating and/or disseminating information through email, social media, posters, flyers, etc.

Here’s a brief list of resources to get you started on your search for volunteer opportunities.

Interrogating ones own biases and general ideas on the world:

This is one of the most productive and necessary actions to take even if it feels like twiddling your thumbs.

The fight for trans rights needs people to work on their understanding of trans, black, brown, Indigenous, queer, disabled, and intersex people’s places and experiences in society. And the intersections of how these specific identities lead to different (sometimes overlapping) barriers to moving through society freely. You don’t even have to read Judith Butler to get started with this.

I believe that if you approach this task of expanding your perspective with the following set of understandings and beliefs, you will begin to understand what we mean when we say “No one is free until everyone is free.”

  1. Belief/Value #1: Understand that individual members of minority populations are NEVER obligated to explain or speak on things they don’t wish to. No one owes anyone an explanation of their existence.
  2. Belief/Value #2: Trust people when they do explain their experiences. Marginalized people are constantly talked over, spoken down to, and outright disbelieved when we offer, in good faith, to explain our experiences. This understanding that you should trust people with different experiences than yourself when they try to explain those experiences truly only comes once one understands that everyone approaches these subjects through their own lens. Your personal perspective on things like gender, sex and sexuality, race, or social expectations and status, is influenced by so many factors that in order to actually grow you must understand the natural limitations of any one individuals perspective. I am a white, trans man. This perspective comes with many limitations, and also does not explain the whole picture of my understanding of the world. No set of labels, or identities, could possibly do that, for any of us.
  3. Belief/Value #3: Resolve to always vet your sources of information during your learning process. Reddit is NOT a valid source. If you need more information on how to do this or where to get started with your research, we have an article for that.
  4. Belief/Value #4: Above all else, you must believe that no one, and I do mean nobody, DESERVES to be mistreated. I’m not talking about any kind of special circumstances, I mean on a broader, more systemic scale. I think everyone deserves a fair shake. I want you to stop and sit with that for a moment. Really think about what that means and how much your behavior or ideas about the world are in line with this belief. Then consider ways they could be more aligned. The answer to the question “Why should I use different pronouns for people?”, or “Why should I trust what trans people tell me?”, boils down to this basic belief. Do you believe that no one deserves mistreatment?

Making monetary donations

to individuals directly, mutual aid funds, grassroots orgs, and inclusive abortion/healthcare funds:

I highly recommend giving money directly to individuals. There are plenty of people on gofundme and Instagram that could use cash for vital essentials.

If you go the donating to an org route it is imperative you make sure to do your research on how any organization uses its funds. Grassroots, major charity, direct action, or mutual aid fund, it doesn’t matter. Do your research, which could mean you having to call or email them directly and ask for a breakdown of their funding structure.

If you give cash directly to the community you wish to serve, you know it is getting in the right hands because you put it there.

Organizing a Labor Union

The United States of America does not have a good history with organized labor in general. Historically, the powers that be are reluctant at best, and downright hostile at worst to the idea of changing exploitative labor practices, and instead only act in the interest of the almighty dollar. A particularly bloody event in the history of the U.S. labor movement is the Battle of Blair Mountain.

fight for trans rights, Image depicting a headline from The Washington Post that states Air Fleet Ordered to West Virginia Battlefield
Image depicting a headline from The Washington Post that states “Air Fleet Ordered to West Virginia Battlefield”

This event saw miners and their families gassed, bombed, shot, and arrested for exercising their right to free assembly in order to improve their living and working conditions. It is because of these people, and many more like them that we have the opportunity to unionize today.

In the United States all workers “…have the right to talk to your coworkers about starting a union and about workplace conditions, including pay.”

I truly wish I had known this a few years ago when I was working at an incredibly abusive employer. Click here to read the guide I wish I had had.

Basically useless but still necessary actions:

fight for trans rights, image depicts a white persons finger on the tip of which is stuck a circular, red sticker bearing the words I Voted
Photo by Parker Johnson

Vote for the most progressive candidates in any and all elections you can manage to:

I’ll admit I’m not the best for this on the hyper local level, but I always make sure to vote in any and all state and federal level elections, and the primaries if I can swing it. My state allows vote by mail, so this is the main reason I am able to vote.

If you can manage it, I would vote for everything you can, from city council to local school boards. If you can vote, do!

Fight for trans rights by screaming in their faces (figuratively):

Write or email any and all so called “representatives”.

When some fucking governor or state representative is set to sign another anti trans bill, you can call or email to discourage them even if you do not have a connection to the area.

Same goes for officials of every level from your local school board to the Supreme Court and the president’s office. Annoy them with how much you call and email. Make an email address specifically for this if you don’t want to get flooded with campaign advertisements.

Some boards and committees have other options for accessibility such as live streams and call in options. This infrastructure has improved somewhat since the lockdown, but it still has a long way to go on the local levels. So if you can manage it, I really encourage you to make appearances in person at whatever local board/committee meetings you feel compelled to.

Wrapping it all up

All in all, there’s no need to wallow in despair and inaction. Feel your feelings, and let them carry you forward to putting whatever energy you can spare towards the fight for trans rights. We need all hands on deck for this fight for trans, black, brown, Indigenous, queer, disabled, and intersex liberation! Because no one is free, until we are all free!

Complement this with a great resource on trans history.

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