The Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans Movement

Sylvia Rivera (far right in illustration above) hated labels almost as much as she hated discrimination. Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, she lived alone on the streets from the tender age of eleven. Despite her hard life, she rallied, protested, caucused, and got beaten and arrested for the inclusion and recognition of transgender individuals. Some call her the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

Early Life

Born to a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Venezuela in New York City on July 2, 1951, assigned male at birth, her parents named her Ray. Her birth father disappeared early in her life. 

Rivera’s mother remarried. The marriage was rocky. Rivera’s stepfather threatened to kill Rivera, her mother, and her sister. At twenty-two years of age, her mother committed suicide. 

Rivera was three when she went to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother voiced disapproval of Rivera’s mixed background (Venezuelan and Puerto Rican) and darker skin color. When Rivera began experimenting with clothing and makeup, her grandmother berated and beat Rivera for behavior that was too effeminate for a boy. Her grandmother’s disapproval and beatings increased after Rivera’s step-father took her half-sister away

They shuffled Rivera between her grandmother’s home, Catholic boarding schools, and friends’ homes. She started wearing makeup to school in fourth grade. Bullied and mocked, she was the victim of many playground fights and even school suspensions.

Her uncle had her earn extra money with sex work. It’s no wonder that by the age of eleven, Rivera ran away from home, never to return.

Life On the Streets

In New York City, 42nd Street was “home to a community of drag queens, sex workers, and those who were hustling inside and outside of the gay community of New York in the early 1960s.” Rivera ran from home to this area. Here, a group of young drag queens adopted her. They taught her how to eke out a living with sex work and live on the streets, often changing sleeping location every night. Like many young homeless queer youth and older LGBT people in New York City, Rivera and her friends hung out in places they could feel safe and part of a community. Most of those places were Mafia-run bars.

In 1963, twelve-year-old Rivera met Marsha P. Johnson, an eighteen-year-old, “African American self-identified drag queen and activist battling for inclusion in a movement for gay rights that did not embrace her gender.” Rivera said Johnson was like a mother to her.

Fighting for Transgender People

The Riot

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. It was a place where young men hustled and people from all over the city hung out after work and on weekends. The Inn is famous for being the setting for what’s now known as the Stonewall Inn Riot on June 28, 1929. 

Rivera’s presence and involvement in the Stonewall Inn Riot, like Stormé DeLarverie, is debatable. Some sources quote her as saying she didn’t throw the first Molotov cocktail, but threw the second one. Many sources cite she refused to go home or go to sleep for seven days because she didn’t want to miss a minute of the revolution.

After the Riot, Rivera laid low for a few months. When she heard about newly formed activist groups, such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), she enthusiastically tried to get involved. But her gender identity troubled the members of those groups. 

Exclusion and Discrimination

The first Pride Parade happened in 1970, but the organizers discouraged trans people, including Rivera, from joining the parade. Rivera was passionate about equal rights for trans individuals but faced relentless discrimination, even from the gay community.  

In 1971, Rivera and Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group focused on giving shelter to queer, homeless youth. They hustled the street to rent a building they named Star House. It provided a safe space to discuss transgender issues. They fed, clothed and sheltered “our other kids.” Though short-lived (STAR died by 1973), 19-year-old Rivera was a like mother to those kids. 

Determined, Rivera fought against discrimination. She even attempted, in a dress and heels, to climb through a window into a “closed door council meeting” discussing trans and gay rights. It wasn’t the only time she was arrested, fighting for inclusion.

Discouraged

Finally allowed to take part in the 1973 Gay Pride Parade. Officially, she could not speak. Outraged, she grabbed the mike and said, 

If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” She was booed off the stage. 

Womenshistory.org

She fought for trans inclusion in the GAA’s campaign to pass New York City’s first gay rights bill. (It passed in 1986, disappointingly without including trans individuals’ rights.)

Discouraged by rampant discrimination, Rivera attempted suicide. Johnson brought her to the hospital and helped her get well. After that, Rivera left the city, her activism limited to low-key events in her area.

Return to Activism

Rivera returned to the city in 1992, after Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. She and the gay rights movement (expanded to include trans and others) reconciled. In 1994, she honored in the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn march.

She started Transy House, modeled after STAR, in 1997. 

Her determination remained. “Before I die, I will see our community, given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.” She continued working up to her death.

Death

With her partner, Julia Murray, at her side, Rivera died from complications of liver cancer at 50.

Legacy

Recognized after her death, Silvia Rivera has a street bearing her name near the Stonewall Inn in New York City. LGBT community organizations across the country and the world pay tribute to her.  In 2015, they hung Rivera’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., making her the first transgender activist to be included in the gallery. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) continues her work to secure the rights of gender non-conforming people. And the number of tributes continue to grow.

Rivera experienced abandonment, abuse, homelessness, drug addition, and incarceration. Poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, and former sex worker, she embodied “otherness” and fought discrimination her entire life. Metaphorically, she sat at the front of the bus and earned the honorific, the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

What did you know about Silvia Rivera before reading this post?


Image Credits

First Image by Dramamonster at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Final image by Gotty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Build Your Self-Compassion Toolbox

Image of a cupped pair of hands holding a candle whose flame creates a heart--your self compassion toolbox can heal your heart

Humans are compassionate beings. We see someone or something suffer and we want to help them feel better. This is especially true when the sufferer is a family member or close friend. When what we do doesn’t measure up to our hopes and expectations, disappointment can morph into debilitating self-criticism. If we don’t treat ourselves with grace, with self-compassion, our negative thoughts may spiral into depression or other mental health issues. Build your self-compassion toolbox and use it. You’ll not only feel better and perform better—you’ll be more resilient the next time you don’t do as well as you’d hoped.

How Compassion and Self-Compassion Differ

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Dalai Lama

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it. 

Compassion is not an automatic response, though it may feel that way for some. It requires awareness, concern, and empathy. It requires you recognize a serious, unjust and relatable situation.

We give hugs, kiss a skinned knee to make it feel better, and offer advice. We sympathize with the other person’s pain, whether it is physical or emotional. 

In psychology, self-compassion is self-kindness without judgment. It is understanding common humanity versus isolation and practicing mindfulness rather than over identification. You forgive and nurture yourself as you would your child, parent, or significant other when they struggle. 

Benefits of Self-Compassion

Compassion is vitally important to life. Without self-compassion, you may see your faults and inadequacies in such a negative light that it erodes your confidence, self-esteem, and your happiness. 

Forgiving and nurturing yourself can result in lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as improve your health, relationships, and your general sense of well-being. For a list of twenty benefits of compassion, read “The Power of Self-Compassion.”

Practicing self-compassion is like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane so you will be able to put an oxygen mask on your child. The good news is that you can learn compassion, even self-compassion. 

Build Your Self-compassion Toolbox

Accept Reality.

You are juggling a lot. You may have a full-time job, a family, friends, pets, and living spaces to maintain. It’s hard to balance all your obligations of choice and responsibility. Accept that you will never be perfect. Acknowledge that you will drop the ball sometimes. 

Don’t be perfect, be human.

Understand that being human means mistakes are part of life. Include a note in your toolbox that to be human is to be imperfect. Stop judging and punishing yourself. Be kind to yourself. Reframe your mistakes and imperfections as opportunities or strengths. Thomas Edison… you learned a way that doesn’t work and can move on to another way that might work better.

Evaluate your expectations.

We creatives often have unrealistic expectations. Completing that novel or painting this year may not be possible if you have to pack up the house and move. Look at all your life’s roles and set realistic goals. Give yourself permission to not do everything. Give yourself permission to fail and learn.

Give yourself grace.

image of a ball with a sorrowful smiley face and the scrabble letters spelling out Sorry.

I believe that grace is very much a tool. And not only a tool that we try to offer others, but also one that we offer ourselves.

Maria Shriver

You’ve been beating yourself up for mistakes for how many years? Learning to forgive yourself for your past, move forward with extra kindness toward yourself will take time and lots of repetition. Give yourself the grace to change, to grow.

Make grace your personal mantra until you believe it. 

  • I am worthy of forgiveness. 
  • I am worth the commitment it takes to give myself grace.
  • I am worth the time to step away from everything to recharge.
  • My feelings and needs have value.
  • I will not explain or apologize over and over why I take this time or make this effort. I deserve it. 
  • Being my best self will trickle down so I can be my best for the people that matter most to me.

Practice Gratitude.

Gratitude is restorative kindness. You’re human. Practice being grateful for the body that keeps you alive. Be grateful for the strengths that you have and the weaknesses that give you room to grow.

You’re a creative. There’s at least one skill, probably many more, that you do well. Recognize that. Be grateful for that. Take a few minutes every day to be grateful for one of those skills. If you can’t do that, be grateful for the hands or eyes, legs or senses that allow you to practice your craft. 

Give Yourself Permission to Start Over

Recognize that you are human. Don’t fear failure, embrace it. It’s inevitable. When you feel you’ve failed, forgive yourself and keep moving forward. Realize that you’ll never be perfect, but because you’re constantly in the mindset of forgiving yourself, you don’t get stuck in the resilience-killing rut of self-contempt.”

Resilienceguide.org

Life is a series of moments. Those moments march forward, whether you are beating yourself up about how you messed up or you are staying in the moment. Give yourself permission to live moment to moment. Give yourself permission to start over, and over, and over.

When you make a mistake, when something goes wrong, recognize that it happened. Give yourself permission to start over. Take a deep breath and if your action or reaction hurt someone else, ask for forgiveness. If your action or reaction hurt you, forgive yourself. 

Acknowledge Your Successes.

When you’re in a pattern of never giving yourself grace, you ignore your successes. Make it a habit to look at and see your successes. Make a success scrapbook. Display your most successful moments or products on your walls or shelves. Pat yourself on the back. You did that. You deserve praise. 

Keep Your Tool(s) Handy

image of wooden tool carrier with hammer, saw, pliers, level and other tools in it, like it a self-compassion toolbox carries many tools.

Starting out, giving yourself compassion or grace may feel awkward. But revel in being unstuck for the moment you give yourself that forgiveness and permission to move forward. In time, this process will get easier and easier. In time, you’ll feel better, stronger. You may only need to pull out your self-compassion toolbox in times of high stress. If you’re not there now, work toward it. 

Like this post? You may also like “Create Your Joy Toolbox.”

What is in your self-compassion toolbox?

Progress Report: Moving Forward in May

It’s the end of the month and time for my May progress report. After the mass murders at Rob Elementary School in Ulvade, Texas, it feels small and unimportant. Compared to the grief of so many, my report is small and unimportant. My heart breaks for those families forever changed. But a comparison like that is wrong, worse than comparing apples and walnuts. Eventually, those families will move forward the best that they can. In the meantime, it’s up to the rest of us to move forward. And for me, much of my report is about moving forward in May.

Intentions

Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You’ll forget or break your resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life interrupts your plan, take care of that event or disturbance, intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

Making

It was an incredibly busy month. The making portion of my writing business was not the focus. However, I made notes on two stories in development. You’ll see more from the world of the Fellowship Dystopia in the future.  

Managing

Being a launch month, book production and marketing consumed me for most of the month. Happily, If I Should Die is now available everywhere they sell books online. 

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by host Alex Greenwood on the Mysterious Goings On podcast again. Have you listened to it?

Marketing

My limited efforts in marketing on Amazon and on Facebook are encouraging. I marketed and sold books in person.  

Home

My newsletter readers got a glimpse of the unwanted surprise I experienced the last of March and affected the entire month of April and into May. I started rearranging my office to make room for my new sit-stand desk. Surprise! I discovered an exterior wall covered in mold. That led to a rapid move of the “working parts” of my office into my living room. Everything else got packed up. (I had an incredible amount of books and stuff crammed into that space!)

Bids for mold remediation delayed book production activities. It was not the dangerous mold.

They removed the moldy walls and treated all studs. Then the drywall installers came. After all of that, I decided I wanted the floors re-varnished. Turns out that’s better/cheaper done for the entire house. I put that off until after the book launch.

Events

If you follow my tweets or Facebook posts, you know I attended ConQuesT, my local science fiction convention over this Memorial Day weekend. More low-key than usual, it was delightful to be at an in-person event. The volunteers of the con did a great job, especially considering that for the prior two years they’ve prepared and cancelled. 

Going Forward

Moving forward, I have many plans for my writing. Writing the third book in the Fellowship Dystopia is a top priority. Growth of my readership through this blog, my newsletter, and my street team remains a priority. 

Speaking of my newsletter, join the Reading Rebels to receive a free book and more up-to-date information and snippets from my works in progress. 

Final Words

When the world feels unstable, frightening, and incredibly sad, moving forward is difficult. Be empathetic. Keep your head on your shoulders. Remember, tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Don’t let the crazies, the hateful, the tyrannical make you act like them. Rise above. Be strong. You can be the change you want to see. Be the light in these dark times. 

A Train Station with a Story

Kansas City’s Union Station

Kansas City is the home to a majestic building that is called Union Station. In 1945, more than 678,000 people passed through those doors and onto passenger trains that took mostly members of America’s Armed Forces all over the country. In its 100 plus years of existence, it has seen tears of joy, tears of sadness, and even blood and tears. Its history inspired me to use a fictitious version of it in book two of the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The First Kansas City Train Station

The West Bottoms district is one of the oldest areas of Kansas City. It sits near the junction of the Missouri River and the Kansas River. Originally called the French Bottoms, it was an area of trade for Native Americans and French trappers. After Kansas City’s stockyards opened in 1871, the railroads came.  

Union Depot opened on April 7, 1878 in Kansas City, Missouri’s West Bottoms district. The grand building stood on Union Street (hence the name) filled with the passengers boarding trains for distant cities. 

In 1903, Kansas City’s great flood destroyed many of the businesses in the area. Rail executives decided to build a new station on higher, more centrally located ground.

The New Union Station

By 1906, twelve railroad companies combined to form The Kansas City Terminal Railroad. They chose Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt to design the new station.

Construction of the massive beaux arts architectural style building began in 1910.

November 1, 1914, Union Passenger Station of Kansas City opens its doors to a massive crowd. The construction cost close to six million dollars. 

Rail traffic peaked during WWI-with 79,368 trains passing through the Station, including 271 trains in one day.

UnionStation.org

Union Station Massacre

On June 17, 1933, a team of FBI agents and police officers escorted convicted mobster Frank Nash to the station. Nash and four law enforcement officers died in a shootout outside the building. Many myths about that crime persist today. Many claim that marks on the building are from the bullets that flew that day even though modern Kansas City Police disproved that. Mystery surrounds which other mobster committed the crime. They convicted Adam Richetti of the crime and died in the gas chamber on October 7, 1938.

A Long History

Almost the noon hour at the Union Station in Kansas City, MO.

After 100 years, Union Station has a long history, a colorful history. With that colorful history and the beauty of the building inside and out, how could I not use it as a location in If I Should Die? Of course, to fit the alternate timeline of the Fellowship Dystopia, I had to change enough part of the Station’s story to make it part of Miranda’s story. But the clock in the Grand Hall of the station becomes an important location. A location of hope and disaster that will change Miranda’s life. 

Inspired by history,If I Should Die, The Fellowship Dystopia, Book Two goes on sale tomorrow. It’s available on all your favorite online bookseller sites. 

Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo Universal Link

Which historic location do you think the third book of the Fellowship Dystopia should include? Why?

Image Credits

The Frame of a Story: The Forces of Antagonism

This is the beginning of my contribution to The Writers in the Storm blog this month. I share my understanding of Robert McKee’s Forces of Antagonism and how I use those forces as the frame of a story.

This photo is a shot of the grass and blue sky visible between the backs of a man and a woman standing side-by-side. Each has an arm extended in front of them with their thumb and index finger framing the ghostly outline of a house illustrating the frame of a story.
Dreaming Couple Framing Hands Around Ghosted House Figure in Grass Field.

In constructing a story, I am both a pantser and a planner. I plan the frame of a story, then place the characters in that frame and discover what they will do in that situation. It’s taken years for me to figure out a method that works for me. I share it here, not so you have a blueprint to borrow, but to illustrate one way to build your own frame. As I explained last month, the first step in building a story’s framework is the story sentence. The next step I take is to decide on the Forces of Antagonism that will best express my story.

I first came across the idea of forces of antagonism in Robert McKee’s book, Story. No disrespect to Mr. McKee, but I didn’t get it at all. I had a more narrow definition of antagonist that I conflated with the word antagonism. Plus, his terminology didn’t resonate with me. In fact, I barely understood what he was saying. Then a friend reintroduced me to the concept. 

Forces of Antagonism 

… the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in story design.” Story, by Robert McKee

The first part of the principle is easy. It’s about people. Humans conserve energy, all kinds of energy. It’s part of our DNA. If we see two choices ahead of us and one seems easier than the other, most of us will do the easier thing. We avoid taking risks, if we can. 

Mr. McKee explains “the principle of antagonism is that a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotional compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” He says the more powerful and complex these forces are, the more completely realized the character and story must become. 

If you’re like me, you read antagonism and think antagonist. Most likely you are thinking of a single person or group who will oppose your protagonist. But that’s not quite right. 


The Frame of a Story

Read the rest of this post and learn about the principle of Antagonism, how I interpret the four forces, and how I use them as the frame of a story so I can be both a planner and a pantser on The Writers in the Storm.