Pauli Murray, Pioneer for Women and Civil Rights, was Likely Transgender. A new book sheds light

New biography on the civil rights and women’s rights pioneer sheds light on her work and gender identity.

Pauli Murray, born 1910, was of mixed race, and a self-professed “boy-girl” who believed in her bones that she was really a man. She endured segregation, sexism, racism and stringent class constructs to become a journalist, an activist, a professor, a priest, and a lawyer who made monumental contributions to civil rights and women’s rights.

So why do we know so little about Murray, who, for example, laid out the seminal legal argument that Ruth Bader Ginsburg pursued to extend the Equal Protection Clause beyond the protection of white men? In 1971, Ginsburg, building on an influential law article Murray co-wrote, successfully persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment should apply to protecting both women and other minority groups from discrimination.

Read my article at Slate.


Dearly Departed Peeps

My Bichon Frise, named “Peeps” after the cute Easter confections, left us this past summer. Along the path to caring for her — she had many medical problems — I often thought about how I would celebrate her life when she ceased to be in this tangible world. Peeps lived to be 15, which could be considered a monumental achievement given her various health concerns. I feel very at peace knowing I did everything I could for her and that she absolutely knew she was loved. I recently took pen to virtual paper on the subject of Peeps. Definitely a piece for petlovers.

Beatles manager Brian Epstein endured the stigma of being both Jewish and gay




My article about Brian Epstein’s brilliant, yet lonely life, as a gay, Jewish man living in Liverpool in a time when homosexuality was a felony and Jews experienced significant anti-Semitism. I interviewed Broadway producer Vivek Tiwary, who wrote “The Fifth Beatle,” a graphic novel about Epstein and why he died so young, at age 32.

Meet the Fifth (Jewish) Beatle — Manager Brian Epstein

In a New Graphic Novel, Vivek Tiwary Tells the Tragic Story

For the Benefit of Mr. Epstein: In the 1960s in the UK, Jewish businessmen were not particularly common in the entertainment business.


On forgiving Michelle Shocked

The dichotomous Michelle Shocked.

I recall sitting on the lush lawn of Fort Adams State Park during the Newport Folk Festival 12 years ago. It was a hot Saturday in August, and it was drizzling. There were hundreds of sturdy New England ladies similarly lounging around the perimeters since the Indigo Girls were headlining that weekend.

My tarp was damp, my veggie burger was mushy and I was cursing the rain-or-shine event. Sometimes in life, you have to choose to concentrate on the positive until the positive becomes the dominant element of the moment. So when Michelle Shocked began her set, I allowed myself to burrow into her soulful hymn “That’s so Amazing” from her album Deep Natural, her most gorgeous song to date.

“Guiding my way toward dawn when the sun will rise/And shine on everyone/That’s so amazing!”

Fittingly, the sun began to poke rays through the clouds until a sepia light enveloped the audience. (I know, I know. This part is schmaltzy but it is also true.) I continue to believe that the same Shocked who sang that altruistic lyric in which she acknowledged her love for the collective is not at heart a bigot. On the heels of a very disturbing and inexplicable event last week in which Shocked linked the overturning of Prop 8 with the End Time at a concert in San Francisco, I am reminded of my many Shocked moments.

Those memories include one of a conversation we had during one of the most challenging times in my life. I had fallen and literally broken my neck—shattered the fourth and fifth vertebrae of my spine. I was home, recouping, wearing a thick brace up to my chin, and waiting nervously for Shocked to call for an interview I was slated to do for a profile piece in Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Music journalists typically edit their transcripts to feature what they think will interest their readership. So I did not include Shocked’s very kind, albeit irrelevant, words to me in my final piece. She said, “Take it slow, and it will all work out.” A very simple phrase, to be sure, but it soothed my anger that day at my injury, which ultimately took a year to heal, and gave me a measure of patience with my frailty.

These personal fragments are in no way meant to excuse Shocked for her recent confusing, contradictory and painful comments. In writing this, I have sought to reconcile the righteous Shocked with the Shocked who showed up last week at a gig and torpedoed her own career. Ultimately, I arrived at my position regarding how to feel about Shocked: Love the sinner but hate the sin. Michelle, I don’t understand you but I forgive you.

Yo, MTA: Earn your fare hike by fixing the emergency exit system!

An emergency exit alarm that has come to mean nothing
Are you the narcissist who set off this ungodly alarm?

During one morning commute a couple years ago, a middle-aged man in a crumpled suit teetered up and down the subway car, giggling and pointing at us dour paper pushers. The rider, evidently having gotten a very early—or very late—start on cocktails, was bemused by the virtual silence. “Quiet as a graveyard in here.” he said gleefully, and pulled an imaginary zipper across his lips.

As a Brooklynite and native New Yorker, I’ve long been accustomed to the hushed atmosphere of subway transit at the start of my day. There’s always been a basic reverence for it among commuters, even those of whom are new to the five boroughs. Notwithstanding the kvetchy baby or periodic hot-head squabble due to lack of personal space, commuters historically have respected these muted moments heading in to work.

This gentleman’s agreement, as many riders know, was marred several years ago by what has come to be a pernicious feature put in place by the MTA. In 2005 and 2006, the MTA modified about 1,500 locked access gates within its system so that they can be opened from inside the paid area of a station. Thus modified, these “Emergency Exit Gates” are intended to help customers evacuate the stations in an emergency. Station personnel are also allowed to open them to assist customers with strollers or bulky packages.

Using these gates unauthorized is prohibited, according to the MTA, which rigged each of the doors with a now-infamous brain-shattering alarm. Unfortunately, the downsizing of personnel via massive shuttering of booths and a lack of agents at many stops has meant there is often no one available to monitor the gates.

Fare evasion is taking place in the smaller stations that are unmanned. More worrying, the alarm no longer remotely signifies an emergency to riders. Instead, passengers now simply endure it as a pointless nuisance, the cumulative effect of which is nevertheless a quality of life issue.

In effect, the exits do not work as intended because they are functioning on an honor system that routinely fails. Sadly, though only half a dozen years old, they could have been relics from a long-lost time when people cared a little more about collective spaces.

Beyond these logistics is a cultural concern: what kind of narcissist believes he or she has a right to activate this chaotic noise in a public place, jolting every fiber of passersby? In truth, there is no reflective common decency in such situations.

At the 49th Street stop on the N, R, and Q trains in Manhattan where I exit and walk to work, there are rarely more than 20 or so riders making their way out through the turnstiles. Despite the apparent ease with which it is to exit, there is invariably an over-eager office worker who opts to push open the gate instead of waiting half a second for a free turnstile.

This, of course, unleashes a piercing rebuke of its unauthorized use.

Like the walking dead, these gate crashers amble imperviously through the screeching din and up the station steps. Taggers-on keep the screech active by holding the gate and exiting behind them.

The MTA studied this phenomenon more than three years ago and issued an observational report, lyrically titled, “False Alarm: A Study of NYC Transit Emergency Exit Gates.”

“At many locations where large numbers of riders improperly exited the station through emergency exit gates, it appeared that riders generally refrained from using the gates until one rider ‘broke the ice,’” said the study.

This predicament is surely something that should be placed on the schedule to be addressed when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board meets December 19 to vote on proposed fare increases.