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Rachel: My story

The purpose of this letter is to both applaud and criticize your article, "Ordinary people," in which I was included (cover story, by Bob Geary, June 27). I am pleased that your publication dedicates its resources to exploring and explaining transgender persons to your readership; positive exposure is an important part of social acceptance. I was pleased to participate, because while I was somewhat anxious about sharing details of my life with the public, I recognize the value it may bring to isolated individuals struggling with their gender identity.

The beginning of the article is very well-written and informative, preparing the reader for the interviews that follow. I have used a glossary of transgender terms when speaking to groups and I was pleased to find it near the beginning of the article. Unfortunately, as I read the section dedicated to my life, I became unpleased with the content and the somewhat unknown person described by the writer.

I am certain I communicated effectively that my mother was a very positive component of my gender exploration and eventual transition. My mother's support was not mentioned in the article; however, in the first paragraph the writer did include that my "parents made it clear that her declarations that she was something else [female rather than male] were unacceptable." While I don't recall my conversation with Geary verbatim, I am fairly certain that I spoke of my father rather than my parents relative to this experience. Whether I said parent or father is irrelevant, though, as I did convey during the interview how supportive my mother was during my childhood and early adolescence as I struggled with my gender.

Additional discrepancies between reality and details published include my gender reassignment surgery occurring 10 years ago, not three. I'm not currently beginning a new job; rather, I've been employed with the same company for the past 12 years. I wouldn't describe my previous existence as "straight"; instead, I typically describe that period of my life stating "I presented myself as a straight male"—a vast difference. There are two other minor discrepancies later in the article related to my employment history and current romantic relationship.

I found the reference to my neo-vagina described as a cavity extremely insulting, and Geary's description of my orgasms lacked accuracy.

Finally, and most importantly, I found the article lacked a key issue I discussed with your reporter. Geary asked if there was anything significant I would like to include in the article; I shared my very strong belief that educators should be trained to identify and aid young students with possible gender identity issues. Children are more likely to develop into happy and healthy persons if permitted to express their gender in whatever way they wish, without condemnation and being ostracized by peers and adults. Educators, if trained and permitted, are in a unique position to identify children struggling with their identity and take action, providing additional assistance to the child, the child's parents and his or her peers.

It is my desire that you continue to publish transgender articles, but take greater care to ensure accuracy of content. Please understand that my gender has always been a delicate topic—your writer's lack of sensitivity has left me feeling somewhat violated.

Rachel Roberts

(Editor's note: The length limit was waived.)

Don't minimize their pain

I am the mother of Rachel, one of the transgender people profiled in the June 27 issue of the Independent. I appreciate your attempt to shed more light on this misunderstood subject, but I wish your writer had been more accurate in his reporting. You can imagine how hurt I felt when I read that I had told my child that her "declarations ... were unacceptable." I have supported her since she first made me aware of her feelings, and she has acknowledged that support many times over the years. Therefore, I know that she could not have said otherwise to your reporter. But other people who read that article will not know that, and that disturbs me.

The writer of these articles minimizes the terrible pain and depression transgender people go through in their early lives, and the enormous courage it takes to do what they do. The traumatic experience of flying alone to a foreign country to undergo life-changing surgery was reduced in the article to "jetting to Brussels, Belgium."

I was profiled in a newspaper article several years ago, and there were many inaccuracies in the reporting, but I was able to laugh them off because of the relative unimportance of the topic. In writing about a subject as momentous as this, the reporter should be especially careful to be accurate and sensitive.

Henrietta N. Roberts

Raw milk debate shines spotlight on family farms

North Carolina leads the nation in loss of farmlands this century, and nowhere is that loss more damaging than in the Piedmont, former heart of our state's dairy industry. Your article "Drink it raw" (cover story, by Suzanne Nelson, June 20) brought welcome attention to the decline in family-run dairies and the competing health claims surrounding raw milk. In a region where escalating land prices and depressed farm profits are pushing family farms out of business, local farmers and the rural communities they support need opportunities to diversify their income. Raw milk is one such opportunity.

The real question presented by the health, political and economic facts surrounding raw milk is whether North Carolina will actively help family farms survive, or continue to stand on the sidelines while farmland is gobbled up by industrial agriculture and developers' bulldozers.

Health risks are inherent in our food system, whether the food source is an industrial dairy, a roadside vegetable stand or a deli counter. In most of that system, we impose reasonably effective risk management controls. Those controls are never 100 percent effective, and as a society we have shown we are comfortable with that level of risk. But our government and business leaders show a bias in favor of industrial agriculture in assessing health threats. In fact, we can successfully apply more strict standards to small farm production than those with which we ask the industrial ag establishment to comply.

In the case of raw milk, the knee-jerk assertion of the conventional public health wisdom needlessly denies family farms an economic opportunity. It is a shame that, in the discussion of raw milk, our political leaders are debating the arcane legal point of "cow sharing" instead of how we create an effective raw milk regulatory regime that serves the health of the public and of our family farms.

Roland McReynolds, Executive Director
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Progress on disease prevention

Your article was a good exposition of the raw milk for humans issue. As one who worked on dairy farms for several summers and consumed raw milk during those periods, I think you left out mention of what was, then, a significant reason for not drinking raw milk: the risk of contracting brucellosis, aka Bang's Disease, or undulant fever, as it is known in humans.

For this reason, dairy herds were tested for presence of the organism and only milk from the "clean" cows, collected at the start of a milking session when the equipment was newly cleaned, was used for us. We knew our sources, as you noted.

Apparently, the CDC (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/brucellosis_g.htm) finds that the disease is pretty rare in the United States now, so progress has been made over the years since I was drinking raw milk. Still, the disease is somewhat nasty for humans and deserves to be avoided.

Michael Rulison


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