September 30, 2008
(so, this might seem weird, but in addition to its actual content, this post is laying the groundwork for an analysis of the silence surrounding the recent anti-muslim terror attack in Ohio (see also. h/t to Cheshire Bitten. More of the groundwork will be done in a post to follow.)
How often do you see trans women of color speaking in their own voices? On the blogosphere (that is, user created media), there are quite a few: Holly, Tobi, Little Light, Mia Nikasimo, and Monica Roberts, who in turn highlights the voices of Marisa Richmond and Claudia Charriez, as well as (to a lesser degree of self determination) Isis Tsunami, Bulent Ersoy, Leang Sothea.
In non-blogosphere media (that is, media filtered through an organization), there are any number on the Being T documentary (whose names I don’t know)(h/t Monica), and the deceased Marsha P Johnson (who is rarely shown speaking for herself, almost always reduced to ‘activist and murder victim’) and Sylvia Rivera. Seriously.
In Chicago, one friend of mine is a labor organizer, and acquaintances of mine work at the Broadway Youth Center, and Howard Brown. In Minneapolis I met and briefly worked with women from The African American AIDS Task Force, The Indigenous People’s Task Force, District 202, and All Gender Health.
I make this long, long list not because it’s exhaustive (it’s not, please comment if I forgot you), but in order to make it painfully obvious that there are lots and lots of trans women of color speaking, saying and doing important shit.
And if you’re white and that’s what you think of when you hear “trans woman of color” (etc), I’ll eat my shoes. My hat, too. Hell, if you could name 5 accomplishments by trans women of color I’ll be impressed. But not because they aren’t accomplishing them. Because they’re not being reported.
Media visibility for trans women of color (scanty as it is) goes to 1)objectifying portrayals of sex workers, and 2)murder/hate crime victims. The white trans community seems to have replicated this pattern–while Becoming a Black Man1 and Still Black may have achieved some popularity, and Whipping Girl has spread like wildfire, almost all of what I see reported in transnews and on the blogosphere at large that covers TWOC is focused almost exclusively on their victimhood, and the commentary limited to that & dissection of the fetishization.
Of the top twenty hits googling “trans woman of color”, only two were definitively not about that person being a victim (or survivor) of racist trans misogynistic physical violence, one of which was a comment by Little Light in response to transphobic hate speech included in the 59th Carnival of Feminists; 7 of the first 10 results for “trans women of color” are about transphobic violence (though one does have a positive unrelated story), and the other three are about Isis and Lavergne on reality TV. By contrast, not one of the first 10 for “trans women” focuses on physical violence, and only three out of ten for “trans woman”. Neither “trans man of color” nor “trans men of color” turned up any results obviously violence related (though the “Becoming a Black Man does relate to violence, it’s not in such an objectifying way.).
Say it with me now: trans women of color are not objects. They are not (only) victims. They are not the people you can push the pity party onto when you’re tired of dealing with it yourself and want to be seen acting to change shit. Yes, they are at vastly greater risk of violence than the rest of us trans folks–and just because you bring that up when transphobic/trans misogynistic violence is being talked about does not make you a “good ally“. Their deaths do not define their existence. Yes, many are sex workers because of economic marginalization–and this does not define their lives. They are more than points in a power struggle between multiple groups of white trans activists and cis feminists.
As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes in “The Femme Shark Manifesto”:
FEMMES ARE LEADERS IN TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS/ DEFENDING OUR QUEER AND TRANS OF COLOR COMMUNITIES.
WE USED OUR STILETTOS AS WEAPONS AT STONEWALL
WE WERE THE TRANS[ ]WOMEN WHO FOUGHT BACK AT THE COMPTON CAFETERIA
WE’RE THE GIRLS WHO STARE DOWN ASSHOLES STARING AT OUR LOVERS AND FRIENDS ON THE SUBWAY….
WE REMEMBER OUR DEAD- SAKIA GUNN, GWEN ARAUJO, AND MANY OTHER QUEER AND TRANS POC WHO DIED BECAUSE OF RACIST, HOMO/TRANSPHOBIC VIOLENCE. NOT AS A POLITICAL STATEMENT BUT AS WOMEN WE LOVED IN REAL LIFE WOMEN WHO COULD’VE BEEN US OR OUR LOVES.(link) (note–this piece is about queer femmes of color, not specifically trans ones. And you should read it.)
1: A rather (trans) misogynistic article at that–it does include trans women’s voices, but only as a means to further oppress them/erase their voices and further the subtextual point ‘black men have it worse than black women’. See also my performance piece, So Shut Up.
September 29, 2008
White privilege is being being 6th from the bottom of your class in the US Naval Academy and being able to demean your opponent’s intelligence (“What Senator Obama doesn’t seem to understand” ad nauseaum) when your opponent is a Columbia & Harvard educated, former president of The Harvard Law Review and former law professor at University of Chicago.
September 26, 2008
It does something to you, growing up trans in this world, coming out, transitioning. It does something to you, knowing you are worth less.
When you decide, if you decide, to take hormones, to have surgery, to medically transition, you have to accept that your life is worth less because you are trans. You have to accept that in our society, you are not worth a couple weeks of a researcher’s time, an office, and a couple hundred rats.
You have to accept that you will never receive safe medical care again. There are no studies, there is no research. There will be no research. There is a federal ban on funding research. No one knows your risk of cancer, no one knows if there are better options, no one has scientific evidence of jack shit. No one knows the long term effects of trans HRT, let alone how your body reacts with other drugs. Let alone the changes you will experience that aren’t on the map for cis people, that aren’t about them, that are specifically trans. You are not worth even the laxest of FDA approval standards, at least not to the government. Not to medicine. Not even to WPATH. Not even they advocate, protest, denounce, even they are complicit. You are not worth a single class in medical school. You are not worth a single day in medical school. You are not worth any formal training. At all. You are not worth being treated by someone properly trained.
I know, these are false. This is only culture. But you have to accept it nonetheless. You have no choice, if you want to access medicine.
You have to accept not merely the risk, but the certainty of institutional violence against you as a cost of transition. If you want to transition, you must accept abuse. You must accept coercion. These days, you can purchase hormones from overseas, but you still must accept that if the US government finds your purchases it will steal them. You must accept that if it does this you risk health consequences.
If you have surgeries, you have to accept paying thousands of dollars for what cis people have to begin with. You have to accept paying for it all yourself, unfunded by the same cis people who will demand that you take part in funding the same procedures for them. You have to accept that you are shouldering a larger economic burden than those who make twice as much as you do. You have to accept shouldering economic burdens for the very same people who discriminate against you, paying for research you are legally prohibited from benefiting from.
You have to accept that from here on out, you are never safe. You have to accept exchanging internal misery for violence, discrimination, and abuse. You have to accept that the chances you will be murdered go up 16 fold.
You have to accept that you are accepting the risks of violence, discrimination, death, and abuse. You have to accept that you are accepting medical risk that would be illegal for any other population. You have to accept that you are accepting the risk that you will not only be killed for who you are, but that that killing will not even be considered murder. You have to accept, when you transition, that you are taking steps that will disqualify you from many of the most basic safety nets our government provides, and that you pay for in taxes. You have to accept, when you transition, that the actions you take may legalize sexually assaulting you, IPV against you, raping you, harassing you, etc etc, and cause you to lose many of the resources available for dealing with them. You have to accept a world in which your life is worth less than a cis woman’s comfort–and you have to accept entering that world on your own two feet. Whether or not it’s a “choice” to be trans, you have to accept that every pill you take, every patch you wear, every shot you inject is a choice to remain in this world of violence and hate.
You have to accept transitioning anyway. You have to accept leaving yourself vulnerable to all of that. You have to accept taking immense risks to gain some of what cis people have from birth, what they have handed to them. You have to accept that you are not turning back, that your own actions expose you to this risk, no matter how little your fault it is–but if you do turn back, you have to accept that you are throwing your emotional health in a wastebasket and lighting it on fire.
You have to accept betraying yourself. One way or another.
No, it is not your fault. No, the violence, discrimination, hate, etc etc is not your fault, you are not “bringing it on yourself,”–the government is, transphobes in the street and in the West Bank University of Minnesota Office Building and in every office building are, transphobic feminists and CLGB folks are. They are solely responsible, and they are reprehensible for it. But you have to accept risk. You have to accept unacceptable risk. You are in a building lit on fire by arson, and you have to accept that there is an exit you are not taking.
There is something that being trans does to you. Something that transitioning does to you.
Today someone asked me–I don’t remember what it was. Why I took some risk. Why I lane split on my bicycle, why I run red lights. And the only thing I could think of is “I’m trans.” Why I bike in bad weather in the winter–my excuse is that public transit is expensive and a site of harassment, but again I can’t get past ‘but I’m trans’. Of course I do that. Someone lectured me about taking herbs that hadn’t had vigorous scientific studies done on them, that no one really knew if they were safe, if they did what they were said to do, if they had unknown terrible side effects. All I could think of is, “but I’m trans.” Someone implored me not to wear my heart on my sleeve, to leave myself vulnerable to people who will attack me and hurt me, and all I can think is “but I’m trans.” People tell me not to get a tattoo unless I’ve meditated on it for a year and been completely certain, since it was permanent, but I think “but I’m trans. What are you talking about?” People lecture me on my BPA water bottle, on this health risk and that health risk, on what we don’t know about food risks, and I think ‘great for you, but I’m trans.’ People wonder why I go out alone at night, when I feel vulnerable to violence, powerless to defend myself, and they chalk it up to trans woman male privilege, but I know that’s not how being trans affects it. People wonder why I bottom intensely with a new person, and I think, are you kidding me? I should be concerned about that when I’m in a community space? Why did you spit at him when he had you trapped against the wall? Why did you kick the car’s bumper?
No, the reason I take risks has nothing to do with male socialization. I take risks because I’m used to it. I take my life into my hands and it’s nothing special, really. I take risks because I know that it’s ok for me to die in my society, and I can’t help internalizing some of that. I take physical risks to preserve my psychological health because it’s all I have. I take risks because I know I don’t matter. I take risks because what’s one more risk given all I already have? I take risks because I really don’t know how long I’m going to live, or what beast is staring at me from thirty years away. I take risks because I know that in ten years my life, my very existence, could be illegal. I take risks because I’m already surviving a risk that others quake at. I take risks because risk has lost its meaning.
September 25, 2008
Dear national & state LGBT and Transgender organizations,
I am quite moved to see the recent upswell of support among LGBT orgs for trans inclusion in ENDA and Hate Crimes bills. Each of you generally inform your users what states have transgender inclusion in Hate Crimes and Anti-Discrimination law. Many of you have a resource related to transitioning on the job that covers names & bathrooms; HRC includes what one needs for birth certificate change (but doesn’t provide advice), TLC includes information for changing CA birth certificates, Driver’s Licenses, as well as passports and Social Security, and NCTE includes several resources for navigating potential sites of difficulty.
As important as all these are, there are huge gaps in the legal documents/resources/information available to trans people, which make your websites of considerably less use to trans people than we should be able to expect from community organizations. Here are some of the most pressing.
1)A by-state listing of procedures for name change, Drivers’ License gender change, and birth certificate gender change, as well as links to any relevant forms. A discussion of complications, such as whether one needs to complete gender-related documentation at every renewal or upon moving from another state if SSA records have not been changed, a generic form about how to appeal an arbitrary decision by a clerk or manager to not honor gender change requests even with appropriate documentation.
2)A by state analysis of marriage/domestic partnership law that clarifies what document(s) are sufficient proof of gender to enter into a marriage or same-sex-only domestic partnership. If one has different genders on different forms of ID, how will marriage/domestic partnership law be administered? If you don’t know, say so
3)A by state listing of at-will labor law–where can one/can’t one be fired “without cause”. (Also, work to overturn at-will labor law, and require cause for firings.)
4)A document describing trans people’s rights under sexual harassment law and law banning the creation of a hostile work environment. Do trans people have the right to contest intentional and/or repeated misuse of pronouns? Are employers allowed to require that coworkers use the wrong pronoun about a trans person? What statements/questions about a trans person’s body count as sexual harassment–and what are “curiosity”? Can an employer require, or ask for, information about what medical treatments a trans employee has had? (It’s my understanding that employers are not allowed to ask that about other treatments, is this correct?) Documents to provide to employers explaining said rights.
5)Police, criminal law, & arrests
5.1)State prison policies re: gender. What are your rights for prison placement, what are your rights if those get violated, and what level of accountability to guards/police have for the consequences of placement? What are your rights vs sexual harassment/humiliation by guards/police?
5.2)What to do if you get arrested. Trans specific info, or just at all. Please.
5.3)Police brutality law, by state. State organizations against police brutality.
5.4)List of potential legal contacts to ensure safe treatment in prison.
5.5)Prostitution/sex work law, by state. What sex work is legal, what isn’t. Degree of proof required/defining characteristics of offense, sentences for. Are there complications for trans people? What are trans people’s rights against gender profiling by police? Link to law code.
5.6)What to do if you’ve been attacked by police for being trans/24-hr hotline.
5.7)Work to reform/abolish prison system
6.1)Bathroom/changing room law. If trans people are included in state ENDA, what rights to bathrooms and changing rooms does this give us? Are they more than the proposed national ENDA? If not, what are our rights?
6.2)Sex-specific employment. Can I find work in a gender-segregated summer camp without discrimination? If so, in what gender?
6.3)Gender non-conformity. Do trans people have rights to gender presentations other than male and female at work? Does this state include crossdressing and genderfuck as part of its ENDA? If one’s employer requires sex-differentiated uniforms/dress codes, what are one’s rights to non-binary gender expression?
6.4)Can one legally be denied individual health insurance on the basis of a GID diagnosis (as one might be for an epilepsy diagnosis)? Does human rights statue require trans inclusion in items covered by policies?
6.5)Can an employer require disclosure of trans status?
6.6)Given the sex-differentiated dress code loophole in the national ENDA, how exactly does this protect GNC people? (also: don’t throw us under the bus. really.)
7)Welfare. When do trans people qualify for sex-specific welfare benefits, and when not? A legal sheet to present to welfare office employees to assert rights to gender expression/identity. What to do if you are, and how to prevent being, kicked out of a welfare office? What rights do we have in welfare-to-work situations? How do we keep our benefits if we are discriminated against by an employer? Will we keep our benefits if we quit due to hostile work environments?
8)State & National subsidized health care plans (e.g. Minnesota Care, Medicare, Medicaid, Medical Assistance, MCHA). Do they reject trans applicants? Do they reject claims where the gender on file at provider and at insurance company office don’t match? Do they exclude transpeople from a)all coverage, b)sex-related coverage (assigned or preferred), c)transition related care, d)SRS, e)FFS, electrolysis, top surgery, etc.
9)Institutional “Care”: nursing homes, mental hospitals, rehab, homeless shelters, DV shelters, etc: What trans folks do they accept and under what circumstances? What are trans folks’ actual experiences when they have gone there? Are there places that are accountable in addition to ‘allowed in’? Will a mental institution or nursing home force-re-transition you, and what are your rights in that case? Link to The Survivor Project, advocates when needed.
I want to make this a real open letter, with real signatures, and really send it to the organizations we know and
(Note, most of this was actually written almost a year ago, so it was actually before (and I think was partial inspiration for) this post (similar and also worth reading) but I never got a big circulation for it or edits/signatures.)
September 25, 2008
Then do something about it. Post your constructive ideas here, plz.
PS You can donate to Obama AND encourage him to support trans rights, simultaneously. And if you live in Minnesota, you can do it for free.
BUT REALLY THIS IS NOT (primarily) ABOUT DONATING MONEY, Y’ALL. This is about organizing around voter suppression, bringing this shit to light and making sure everyone knows about it and nobody says “oh it’s not that bad you’re being paranoid”.
*I really like this article, but, um, that’s not s/m. & that’s not cool.
September 21, 2008
This is another post from an old forum, one of my most popular, dating to March 2007. Enjoy.
I frequently hear folks talking about structuring liberatory/anti-oppressive movements in inclusive, multi-issue formats. But what does that mean? One can assert that the occupation of Iraq is a queer issue, or that the queer movement must take on the struggles specific to poor & POC queer/trans folks, but I have little long term faith in this. Certainly, trans groups working in concert with immigrant groups against the REAL ID act was/is important and possible. But there is a fundamental problem–when one is working in a group “for yourself,” one tends to take the problems affecting oneself more seriously than those affecting others. Furthermore, in an organization devoted to “LGBT” rights, one does not have any necessary resistance to capitalism/classism/racism/etc. If one is a rich gay white man, there’s no obvious link between your liberation and the liberation of a middle-class straight black woman, nor an Asian trans punk kid experiencing homelessness. There may be a link, and I think there is, but racist & sexist white gay men see POC and women (let alone someone who’s both) as the *problem*, not the solution. How does a movement draw people from that standpoint into agreeing to confront their own prejudices & privileges and joining in coalition?
It’s very clear that the nonprofit & activist sectors are becoming increasingly professionalized, and with that professionalization comes educational barriers to participation and leadership–in a world where educational opportunities are distributed unevenly by class, race, gender m/f, gender cis/trans, ability, and even sexuality–it should be clear that professionalism reifies oppressive power dynamics within activist organizations. Any organization that’s already doing that has very little incentive to stop–its goals, narrowly formulated, will be better served by having the best trained people, who just *happen* to be privileged. Is there really any hope for undoing this dynamic within identity based organizing? I am pessimistic.
But why do we need to found anti-oppression groups on the basis of identity at all? If we were to look at oppressive tactics rather than oppressive targets, we’d see a very different, connected picture. If, for example, we took control of the body as our example of an oppressive tactic, we’d immediately see the connections between fat phobic harassment and medical incitement to anorexia, prison medical experiments, the incarceration epidemic/prison-industrial complex, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, abortion/reproductive rights, the Standards of Care for trans medical treatment and medically-based criteria for identification, gender coercion, rape & rape culture, forced institutionalization & sterilization, male circumcision, intersex genital mutilation & coercive gender assignment, denial of legal/economic/sexual agency to children, kinkphobia, sex-negativism in general, the marketing of control of women’s bodies through BDSM products like The Toy, etc etc. It leads us right into coalition building, because if we really are to attack all forms of public control of the body, we *cannot* be a single-identity group, and all those involved have very good incentive to deal with their racism/transphobia/misogyny/etc.
Furthermore, by making our object of analysis something other than a “shared experience” along identitarian lines, we avoid the trap of assuming that my own experience can be taken as representative of everyone’s experience. It leads us toward intersectionality–when we ask “how does the state control oppressed people through mental hospitals,” and part of the answer is that black folk are likely to be seen as aggressive/dangerous and trans folk likely to be seen as crazy/duplicitous, and those with less economic/class/educational privilege (in general true of both transness and blackness) are less likely to be able to appeal decisions, it’s very obvious that a black trans person is at much greater risk of being involuntarily institutionalized than either a black cis person or a white trans person, in a way that doesn’t become obvious when we just ask about the oppression of trans people or black people.
Organizing around tactics actually supports finding much better answers to law & policy than identitarian organizing, for two reasons: 1)the foci of this kind of organizing are more similarly structured to the foci of a law, which normally constitutes one or two large-scale actions (tactics) in a wide variety of situations (oppressions). Thus, many groups of people might be affected by the REAL ID bill, but ultimately it’s an attempt on the part of the government to improve its domestic intelligence to increase its own power and to facilitate the control and elimination of undesirables (immigrants, trans folks) and all who resist the state’s interest in gathering increasingly large amounts of personal information and tracking systems.
Secondly, by centering on tactics, we’re much better able to articulate a vision of a just law/policy/society. Here, I finally have an example of this kind of politics being played out in real life–www.beyondmarriage.org–which is articulating a response to one large-scale tactic in a variety of arenas–the regulation of relationships, which is necessarily mired not only in homophobia, but also in racism, classism, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, ageism, and sex-negativism/monogamism. By envisioning a world where all relationships are valued without governmental interference, they radically reshape the whole debate on marriage & relationships.
September 21, 2008
This is a post I made in a different forum in February 2007, that a couple friends of mine told me to repost more publicly. There’s one link that was added for snark.
So, I’m basing this post off of lists available here and here, for context. See also my list written with these concerns in mind.
I often feel like cis privilege checklists really aren’t about privilege. All too often, they reinforce the “those poor transgenders” [sic] mentality and assist in making cis privilege invisible. (Those that are about “non-trans” privilege do so even with the name–there is literally nothing but a not-[oppressed group] to classify this thing which we are supposed to start thinking of as more than not-[oppression].)
4) I am not excluded from events which are either explicitly or de facto* men-born-men or women-born-women only. (*basically anything involving nudity)
5) My politics are not questioned based on the choices I make with regard to my body.
6) I don’t have to hear “so have you had THE surgery?” or “oh, so you’re REALLY a [incorrect sex or gender]?” each time I come out to someone.
# My childhood innocence was not interrupted with desperate prayers to a divinity begging to wake up the opposite sex.
# I never grieve about my lost childhood and adolescence because I was born the opposite sex.
# I never worry about potential lovers shifting instantly from amorous to distain and even violence because of my genitals.
See all those “not”‘s and “never”‘s? That’s not explaining privilege or cisgenderness. That’s saying “other people are badly off, but not you.” It does, at some level, and there are some things that it’s very difficult or impossible to explain any other way. But lists written this way end up really keeping the attention off cis people.
Think about the difference between the first item in each set, above, and:
I have unquestioned access to all appropriate sex-segregated facilities.
The two above are more potent at showing a person what the world is like for trans people, and that’s an important part of privilege education. But it fundamentally doesn’t show how the person *benefits* from being cisgender. It shows how an oppressed person is oppressed. Really, all these statements are of the form y = not-x, where x is something that happens to trans folks, and y is the cisgender person’s experience. How do you expect someone who is used to seeing x and only x, to see y from that?
It is more disorienting and confusing to have cisgender privilege talked about in this way. It makes no sense to someone who doesn’t know jack about trans oppression. But, you know, that’s the way privilege is.
My potential lovers expect my genitals to look roughly similar to the way they do, and have accepted that before coming to bed with me.
I expect the privacy of my body to be respected.
I lived my childhood in a gender that felt appropriate for me at the time, and still does.
(or: I lived my childhood in the gender that I want to have lived it in)
…17) When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers.
September 20, 2008
Zuzu, thanks for putting them all in a line like that. It helps to remind me that I’m not crazy; there really is a huge amount of mainstream, virulent sexism that is accepted by our country. But while seeing it laid out like that helps to remind me I’m not crazy, it also makes me feel like I’m swimming against a riptide. It’s very discouraging. I tell myself it’s a backlash that is in response to some real feminist successes, but I only believe myself some of the time. (link)
would result in a rollicking brawl; either she’s got wirey-girl Abe Lincoln strength and it would be stand-up or I’m not crazy and she is really anorexic and would go down in a round. Won’t you Join Me? Together, we can all get our beat-the-living-shit-out-of-Ann-Coulter on.(link)
I saw an ad for nailpolish called “pussy galore.” I don’t remember if that was the brand or the color, but I was totally shocked and wondered if I was somehow misreading or misinterpreting what I read. But I guess I’m not crazy after all.(link)
“My perceptions of reality are valid because I’m not like you.”
“Thank god I’m not like you!”
“If I was like you, nothing I thought or perceived would be valid.”
“I’m worth taking seriously because I’m not like you”
Saying that something is intense or over the top with “crazy” is one thing. But when the fact that you’re “not crazy” is such a relief? When you base your worth in being “not crazy,” you state, unequivocally, that those of us with stigmatizing mental health diagnoses are worth less or worthless. You state, unequivocally, that your views are more valid than ours–or that yours are valid and ours are invalid by definition.
So, please put away your tired arguments that “crazy” is totally divorced from people with stigmatizing mental health diagnoses, ok? (coz if it was we wouldn’t say shit like this, would we?
It matters. Cut it out. And Jill? If you’re trying to not use “crazy” (etc) in a stigmatizing way anymore, rename your ‘crazy conservatives’ filter, too, ok?
NOTE: This post was inspired by a series of ‘oh thank god for feminism–I know I’m not crazy!’ comments in class, NOT the aforementioned blog posts, which were found as references.
September 20, 2008
When you’re trying distinguish between trans and cis parts of the queer community, don’t say things like “Top LGB issues versus Top Trans Issues” (read this one. I’m picking on someone I love and respect and her post is important.), “LGB community gives a free pass to the mockery of the trans community” and “We actually have more in common with [POC] then the LGB community”.
Trans folks are (frequently) l, g, b, q, i, sgl, gnc, etc etc. In the context of the first reference, it’s not the needs of lgb folks, it’s the needs/actions of the cis LGB community–and in this context, it’s frequently not even that, but the white, temporarily able bodied, cis LGB community whose priorities get taken into account. (in the last example, it’s the white CLGB community vs (cis?)(straight?) POC vs (white?)trans folks, even though it’s flawed reasoning anyways)
SO… Cis LGB community, CLBG community’s priorities over trans (LGBetc or straight) community’s needs. yeah.
September 19, 2008
Dear Professor …,
I’m writing you in reference to a comment made by a student in class yesterday. As best I can remember, (I’m paraphrasing but this is the logic he used, and the offensive phrasing/grammar/pronouns are his) it went about like this:
…if you take an autopsy of a man who’s had a sex change operation to become a woman, he’d still be biologically male, despite the absence of a penis and testicles they could tell…what would you call this person? Would you call him a man because he’s biologically male, or would you call her a woman because of her outward appearance?
Yeah, you don’t really know what this woman [who presented as a man until his wife’s mom had him prosecuted and killed (context) for that/sleeping with a woman] should be called, and there’s no way you can refer to her without picking a gender, she should be called a woman because that’s the best, least presumptuous option.*
This came in response to your reading of my comment regarding the cissexual bias involved in referring to someone who consistently presented male as a “woman” because you “don’t know”. Your response to his comment, as best I can remember, was to bring up Joan Jett Black, who did drag but did not want to be identified as a trans woman or have female pronouns used about him, that he made no attempt to pass, and that he wore really tight pants so that everyone could tell that he was a man [sic–this does not show that he’s a man! That shows he has a penis. As stated, it implies that all people with penises are men.]. At the end of class, I mentioned that the comment had been triggering for me, and you said “well, that’s life.”
I’m writing you to say that I need you to call out transphobia (and other oppressions) when they get to the point of impairing other class members’ ability to participate–to not let students complete comments that, either explicitly or as a subtext, serve to silence trans people or validate discrimination against us. To not let that discourse happen, and certainly not to let it stand as a valid contribution to discussion.
To more specifically analyze the comment, he gives his example such that how a trans person self-identifies is completely irrelevant to how ze should be gendered by others–that our genders are a “puzzle” to be sorted out by cis (non-trans) people without our input. To say this–especially less than three feet from someone he had very good reason to believe was trans–shows exceptional disregard for our voices, our realities, and our feelings. He was talking about trans people as if I weren’t present, or as if my presence was so meaningless that it was ok to talk that way in front of me. He is not only claiming the right to determine my gender against my will, but is so secure in that right that he doesn’t even address me at all. Furthermore, the second paragraph of the comment (in my rendition above; I don’t remember which originally came first) was spoken as though my words carried no weight–while he was responding to the topic, my arguments were so inconsequential to him that he made his comment as if I hadn’t said anything, as if I hadn’t argued against what he was just asserting as natural, and again, as if I wasn’t there.**
His comment showed a profound disrespect of me and of all trans people, and asserted both by content and form that nothing I and other trans people said or felt mattered–and your silence on the matter communicated that respecting my identity, listening to what I have to say, or engaging with me as a human being with relevant ideas is optional. Any of you could have said “no. not here. Trans people’s identities and humanity are not up for debate, not in this room.” –and by not saying so, collectively you said recognizing my humanity, my right to speak and be heard, and my right to be taken seriously are not bottom lines. That my ability to participate in your class is not a bottom line, that my equality is not a bottom line. That’s not a class environment in which any trans person can be an equal participant, and it’s not one I am willing to deal with.
I will not be taking your class (in part because of this incident), but I am strongly requesting that you bring this up with the class, to call out that behavior publicly, and to take responsibility for your own part in allowing that violence to happen. (also to tell the students to take responsibility for their parts in allowing it to happen.)
*This claim, that it’s less presumptuous/violent to gender someone according to hir biological sex [sic] than by hir presentation, 1)rested on my words being inherently meretricious, as it put forth no argument to contradict my points, and 2)says that even if every known aspect of that person’s intentional performance of gender is known to be (in this case) male, even if every piece of evidence we have about that person’s choices is that he chose male, we should still call him female–again, implying that gender self-determination is either impossible, irrelevant, or that the violence of misgendering us is insignificant compared to that of misgendering a cissexual person. Again, he claims that my voice and my experiences matter far less than his.
Furthermore, it ignores the obvious possibilities of “person,” “s/he” “they” (as well as somewhat more obscure, but easily wikipedia-able gender neutral pronouns ze/hir et al) which he ignores for unnecessarily gendered language because investigating any other options wasn’t worth even a very small linguistic effort.
*Taking the analysis a step further, I think it’s significant to note that his example/metaphor of the autopsy rhetorically reduces trans women to corpses, in order to take our voices and humanity out of the equation, to prove that we’re “really” male.