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  • Writer's picturePenny Sterling

A Letter to the Publisher and Editor of the Rochester Business Journal

Hi! I'm Penny.I'd like to talk to you about the editorial cartoon you posted last Friday. In case you've already forgotten which one, let's take a look:

Ooh. Hilarious. Let's examine this cartoon starting on the right (since it's pretty apparent that this is the way you're leaning):

That's not a cat. That's a dog. No one's saying otherwise. Except you.

Is this Elizabeth Warren? Ok. Just making sure. She's never called herself an "Indian." Unless you are using it to refer to people who live or are from the country of India, that's a rather offensive term. Indigenous people never use it, and everyone knows this. To choose to use it not only insults Warren, but those marginalized people as well.I'm guessing this caricature has to do with her claim to Native American heritage. That claim is being used as a distraction by people on the right who are having a problem with the legislature that Warren supports, much of which forces accountability on industries and businesses, and is my best guess as to why you chose to publish this editorial cartoon. Her heritage is a very small, inconsequential item being brought up to discredit her. Ironically, the people who are doing this don't seem to have any problem with the current president's claim about graduating from Wharton with honors--which he didn't, and certainly not from the Masters program there, as his statements insinuate. I do know that the results of her DNA test shows her claim is valid, although the popular interpretation of the test runs counter to the actual information revealed in it, as this article points out. Note especially that there is extremely little native DNA to compare hers to, no doubt due to the suspicions Natives have about the motives of people who at best mislabel and mock them, and at worst do their best to completely eliminate them. Now onto:

Ah, Rachel Dolezal. ONE woman who claims she's something she's not. Are there any other white people out there that are doing the same thing? Is the black community coming forward and embracing her? No. She's an anomaly, yet she's brought out here as a "type" that needs "identifying." Which, of course, brings me to the very basic assumption of this cartoon: that "Liberals" aren't even human, but instead some sort of lesser-developed creatures that humans (AKA cisgender heterosexual whites) can search and identity for fun. "Look honey! I got a lipstick lesbian and a tree-hugging granolahead on my trip to San Francisco! Hopefully when I head to Portland, I'll get a Soyboy Cuck and an Enbee! I'm having a really big year!" Which leads us to:

Me. Hello again. I'm transgender, so this is me, according to this cartoonist. And, by your willingness to put this in a paper that's supposed to give information useful to businesses in Rochester, it's what you think I am as well. Hey-I readily admit it. I'm built like your dad and I dress like your mom. That's because for 54 years, I lived as a man. I had testosterone coursing through my body, changing it in a way that, quite frankly, I wish it hadn't. The reason why I waited 54 years to transition is because I never intended to. Even though I knew the truth about who I was, I was determined to have that truth be buried with me. And the biggest reason I hid who I really am is reflected in this horrible, horrible cartoon. I have spent the years following my decision to live authentically doing everything I can to change my presentation so that my outsides match my insides. I've learned how to use makeup. I've found dresses and clothing choices that de-emphasize the masculine shape of my body. I have been taking estrogen, which is gradually softening and changing my body and my face. I have spent countless hours lying on a table, having the hairs on my face cauterized and pulled out, one by one, with tweezers. But even with all that, and even at 59 years old, I still give off the impression that I could probably kick your asses. And, quite frankly, there's a part of me that would love to try. I do my best to ignore that part of me, in the same way I do my best to ignore the insults and aggressions and the stares and incredulous headshakes, and especially the unasked-for requests from men who think that because I'm wearing a dress and lipstick I'm just doing this for sex. Or that, because I'm using the women's restroom, I'm some sort of secret pervert. I'm not a pervert. I'm not at all interested in random sex with strangers. However, that doesn't stop men from assuming I am, and acting as such. Even when they're married.Which--y’know--sounds pretty perverted to me. But they’re wearing suits and ties or jeans and leather jackets, so obviously they’re not the perverts here. Right?There is much about being openly transgender that sucks. But the interesting thing is: the stuff that's awful has nothing to do with my gender identity, and everything to do with the reactions and attitudes of people like this cartoonist--and by your publishing of this cartoon--you. I don't care if you posted an apology. Especially when you waited to apologize for four days. This cartoon was looked at, approved, placed on this page, vetted, and sent to publish. A lot of people looked at this. Too many for this to just be a mistake. This was a conscious decision. You thought it was funny, and relevant, and made some sort of point. Yet your social media post states "It does not reflect the views of the paper or its staff." It certainly reflects the views of someone there, or it would not have made the paper.

  • I do not believe that you are sorry you published it. Rather, I believe you are sorry it has been received so negatively.

  • I do not believe you have yet recognized the awfulness of this cartoon.

  • I do not believe you have yet recognized that it reflects the awfulness of your privileged world view.

  • I do believe you are battening down the hatches and are hoping this all blows over soon.

  • I don't know if that will happen or not, but I pray that it doesn't, and that you are forced to deal with your lack of humanity.

Despite the attitude of the cartoonist, his audience, and you, I am, for the first time in my life, joyful. I can look in the mirror, and see the person I truly am rather than the person everyone assumed I was because I was born with male genitals. Like I said, there's a lot about being openly transgender that sucks, but the only thing that sucks more is being transgender and hiding it. I tried that, and it almost killed me.This cartoon gives power and cover to the people who would rather see me dead than joyful. And you're okay with that. It is possible to change your mind about this--about the struggles that marginalized people have to deal with. But before you change your mind, you will have to change your heart. In 2016, I wrote and performed a show called Spy in the House of Men: A One-Woman Show (with Balls) at the Rochester Fringe Festival. In it I describe what my life was like growing up and being a hidden transgender woman, and what my life is like now. In the past two years, I have performed it all over the country, including back here in Rochester at Geva theatre for last years' Fringe. It's funny and poignant. Everyone who's seen it says everyone should see it. I would love to perform my show, free of charge, for the editors and staff of the RBJ, and engage in a dialogue afterwards with you. I sincerely believe you need to see it. Please contact me via this email, or through social media to schedule this. Thanks, and good luck.


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