Picture Frames

December 15, 2009

Last night I went to see Rebecca’s (yes that Rebecca) new show, Trans Form. I’d plug it if I could, but last night was the last night.

In response to a section in the piece about pre-transition photographs, I had a realization of a reframe about said pictures, but to get there I’m going to move to a criticism of the play (and almost all trans art) through Foucault’s concept of the ‘confessional’ (in an understandable way I PROMISE). So first I want to be clear that within the limitations of the genre she does really well. And she resists the confessional genre a couple times in a beautifully underplayed sarcastic lecture scene, and a series of questions taking her The Little Mermaid analogy farther than the movie does, asking the questions that the movie (and the confessional) fails to ask, going beyond the “happily ever after” that hides so much violence. I couldn’t do the Ariel/trans analogy justice, so I’m going to passive-aggressively encourage her to write about it, like so. 😛

So, the confessional. Invisibility discourse, as well as discourse about “ignorance” and “silence” and discourse about how We Just Need To Tell Our Stories And People Will Like Us all share this background assumption that the thing power does is it hides, it silences, it represses–it prevents things from coming to their natural state of being all happy and open and free. Foucault’s intervention is actually something I think most readers of this blog already get–that while power *does* do those things, it also creates an incitement to speak–for example, to tell your coming out story. Again. And again. And again. ….and again, ad infinitum. It structures what you can say and how what you say will be interpreted, and how you think about what it is that needs to be said.

LGBT autobiographical art has been pushed into a mold that goes about like this: I was little, I was different. I grew up, shit was hard, I hurt and I hurt and I hurt and maybe I had deviant sexual or gender habits and I was different and oh yeah I hurt a lot, and then I slowly realized the truth about myself and I came out and it was hard and scary and I was sure everyone was going to reject me and this or that person did and it was awful but this or that person affirmed their love for me no matter what and I came out and I was true to myself THE END HAPPILY EVER AFTER. One confesses one’s trials and hardship and self-hatred and how painful Denying Who You Really Are* is–and out comes a very personal, very moving piece of art that basically says that only our pre-coming-out/pre-transition experiences are important, and that transphobia and homophobia are all either a)internal stigma and fear or b)those nasty things that bigots do and not c)something everyone does and DEFINITELY not d)something that straight/cis people’s lives and senses of self are structured around and support. One confesses, one does not indict.

I avoid talking about gender dysphoria or gender dissonance. You’ve probably noticed. I don’t frame access to transition related medicine in how much it hurts to have your body not look or feel or move like you want it to, I frame it in terms of risk of violence, of economics, of freedom of movement, of control of the body, but *why* one wants to transition I leave out. I don’t frame being transsexual as being about identifying as a sex other than the one I was assigned at birth–it’s about the State, institutions of medicine, religion, Science-with-a-capital-S, etc undermining the way I (want to) live my life.

In Trans Form, Rebecca (since that’s how y’all know her, using her last name feels weird) talks about something I’ve heard a lot before, about the pain of seeing pre-transition photos of herself, contrasted with the desire to not hide one’s history. I myself have had a lot of angst about it–the only picture that I have of me and my girlfriend from high school I can’t bear to look at. We each got it in matching frames, and it’s sitting about three feet from me, still in its frame, face down–because I can neither get rid of it, nor look at it.**

Prior to yesterday, I thought, maybe there are things I can’t talk about because I refuse to talk about that pain of gender dissonance, because I refuse the confessional. Maybe there are limits.

And maybe there are. But not this time.

When cis people talk social constructionism, they want to figure out why we transition/why we’re trans and how *that* has been socially constructed, but why we experience being trans in the way we do–e.g. as painful–is ignored at best and generally naturalized. The story stops at happily ever after, and Prince Eric never beats Ariel or pressures her into having sex with him, suddenly having different genital equipment is never a problem for her, and nobody ever tells mermaid jokes on TV–because none of that needs explaining or analysis. But while trans people often fall into the trap of debating why, or otherwise biologizing transness, a social constructionism from a trans perspective asks: why the hell is looking at these pictures so goddamn hard? It starts from the assumption that more analysis is needed, and understands gender *dysphoria* as socially caused, not being trans. My brand of strict constructionism attempts to explain why that hurts so damn much without recourse to a naturalized gender dissonance–not because I’m sure it doesn’t exist, but because I hate the confessional, because I don’t want pity I want answers, because I think our lives can be better, and because pain is more likely to be oppression than deficiency. I can’t be all “Not gender dysphoria, gender euphoria! I love being trans!” because, well, that depends on the day–but I can focus on other things, on transphobia and how transphobia structures our understandings of ourselves and the pain we feel “internally.”

What I realized, when I heard about the photo albums, and the pictures on the walls of her parents’ house, was that these were the memorabilia of an occupation, held onto and commemorated by its collaborators (witting or unwitting). Yes they represent a historical “truth,” a “past” one does not want to “deny”–but so do guns and chains and whips and bombs, and you don’t see them in the family photographs. Well, not if you were on the receiving end, anyway.

In the logic of the confessional, all my past is my true past, attested to by photographs that I can either speak/display or hide/conceal. But this “truth” was caused–these pictures document oppression on my body, they are the memorials to transphobia’s impact on my life and in my skin, they are not only the memorials to that time when I was still forced into appearing male, but memorials to that coercion itself. What these happy-memory-photos evoke is not that walk in the park or my high school graduation, it’s the 21 years of my loved ones’ complicity, the eleven-or-so years of transphobia holding me so tightly in its grasp it re-wrote my face with the ink of testosterone. And it is precisely the medium of the photograph, that purports to tell the unmediated, timeless, “unavoidable,” “natural” truth, on which nothing has been written, that propagates that violence across time to the present day, that amplifies the memory of oppression. It is precisely how a camera takes a person and makes a static image, an object that can be reproduced, moved, or displayed without my knowledge or consent that reiterates cis power to determine my body, its appearance, its reproduction, and its movement, and puts it on display without my knowledge or consent.

So find some other way to remember me. You don’t have to get rid of them–I’m not getting rid of mine–but don’t put them anywhere you wouldn’t put a picture of a painful, violent, complicated-at-best memory. I’m done confessing the pain of those photos, and I’m done feeling ashamed and ambivalent of “not being radical enough to embrace my past”–now take them down.

*Sorry, I got hooked on TVTropes. I’m not linking you’ll get stuck there for weeks on end.
**Ironically, I apparently both look really uncomfortable in the picture and was uncomfortable in the moment it was taken, for reasons that said ex-girlfriend ascribes to gender stuff. (I have a harder time seeing or remembering.)

So, for those of you not following US rail politics, earlier this year the House passed its 2010 spending bill on transportation allocating 4 billion to high speed rail, but the Senate’s version is a measly 1.2 billion; capital improvements on already existing airports, on the other hand, are getting 3.5 billion in both bills. They’re working it out in committee now, and you should tell them to make sure high speed rail gets the four billion.

You’re probably wondering why the hell I’m posting about this. Yes, I’m an environmentalist, but that isn’t really the point. Yes, compared to a direct flight, 110-220mph rail would reduce total travel time (including public transit to and from the airport/station, and time spent at station/airport) dramatically not only on short trips like Chicago to Milwaukee or ≤400 mi trips like Chicago to St Louis (slightly shorter than a trip between Tokyo and Osaka) or Minneapolis, but even an 800 mile trip from Chicago to New York City would take a similar amount of time, and less money (and much more accessible for the large numbers of us that are poor). As with single-payer health insurance, I really doubt anyone who’s lived anywhere where high speed rail was prevalent needs selling on it.

But as important as environmental, economic, and convenience reasons are, trans folks (and undocumented immigrants) have a lot more at stake–specifically, airport “security.” Airports are not a good place to be trans, and they keep getting worse–with body scanners and mandatory gender reporting at flight booking on top of the ID checks, “randomized” pat down searches, and sexually harassing/invasive baggage inspection (e.g. putting the “inspected” tag around a dildo or packer, or confiscating sex toys/floggers/etc) that we’re already used to. Railway stations, on the other hand, have minimal-if-any such procedures putting trans people at risk. (what are you going to do, hijack a train? And do what with it? You can’t exactly fly to Damascus with it, let alone into the WTC.)

So, in the interests of a transportation future that’s not so awful for trans folks, and in fact better for everybody, go support rail.
Midwest High Speed Rail Association
US High Speed Rail Association
National Association of Railway Passengers

Trans Superpowers

September 25, 2009

It’s time to admit it: We have superpowers.

You heard me right. Trans people, simply by virtue of being trans, have superpowers. After all, there’s only one of us to every 200-500 cis people—or, according to the “official” statistics, every 20,000—yet we are solely responsible for upholding or destabilizing the gender binary. You realize that means each of us has the political strength of over 1000 cis people–maybe more like 40,000? Talk about superpowers! We can even turn an obscure three letter word into a weapon!

For another example, in women only space, trans women aren’t allowed in because our penises might make the space unsafe, might trigger people. Just our theoretical penises mind you—we don’t have to take our clothes off or even actually have penises, just lurking threat of our bodies makes the space totally triggering and unsafe. Think about it–a half a percentage of us, but we can make a space more triggering than 49% of cis men can! The power! At the same time, we’d dominate all the conversations, even the one’s we’re not in, but especially the ones where we’re outnumbered fifty to one! We are truly Amazons; forget about Spike or Buffy or Edward Cullen or the Centurions, even the mighty Glorificus would be quaking in her heels. Teetering, even.

Don’t forget, while we’re at it, we’re creating an empire and making cis women obsolete—in our spare time, since we spend most of it pursuing bizarre sex fantasies, or relentlessly pawing at straight men!

Think what we could accomplish, if we just went public and admitted it! Stop hiding our strength, stop pretending to be normal, stop disavowing what we we *all* have–men, women, and genderqueers–male privilege in its purest, most concentrated form, far more potent than cis men’s–and that’s just one of our powers. Why, if we just really put our heads together, we could pass ENDA in fifteen minutes and finish off universal health care in the rest of the hour, without even breaking a sweat! We really need to aim for the sky, like eradicating poverty and bringing about world peace!

Only you can stop forest fires, so save the whales.


August 14, 2009

I know I’m a bit late to the party, but there’s this meme going around that “cis” is an insult and we shouldn’t use it.

I think it’s high time we admitted it: “Cis” IS an insult.

That’s right. Because by calling you cis, we’re calling you no better than a fucking tranny*, and THAT, my friends, is one of the worst insults we’ve got in US culture. We’re calling you no more real than us, and we’re not real. We’re calling you no more a woman than us, that you deserve no more respect than us, and in your eyes, that means tranny-alert.com, that means Ann Coulter jokes, that means it’s fine for the general public to post videos of your genitals all over the internet with big purple arrows and random fetishizing speculations, and fire you unless you show us photos of your genitals. It’s saying you can’t apply makeup. It’s insulting your penis size and your manhood. It’s saying that the only difference between us is that you think you’re better than us.

Hell yeah, it’s an insult. Well, that is, so long as you’re unwilling to give up on cis supremacy.

*Obviously, I mean this in the un-reclaimed, insulting sense of the word.

(Also, I’d like to note, that the OP claims that PHB commenters and bloggers would all stop calling trans people trans if we asked them to. I call BULLSHIT, there’s no way they would honor that, they’d make jokes about how ludicrous this request was.)

In response to Objectivity & Authenticity, my post about (fe)male bodied/identified, there was a lot of “yes you’re so right! Thank you!” and a lot of “Well, what do I use instead????”, not infrequently from the same people.

“What do I use instead” frustrates the hell out of me, and is the reason I try (not always succeeding) and writing my language posts on topics rather than terms. If you look at the Language Politics main page you’ll have an idea of what I was hoping to get to. Most of the time I hear this objection, it’s worse than it was here, but even so I was still pretty upset by it.

What you use instead? YOU DON’T.

You say what you mean. Which is never “fe/male bodied,” “bio[ ]boy,” or “GG,” almost never “XX chromosomed” or “born male” and only rarely “person with a penis/vulva”. As mentioned in both Objectivity and Authenticity AND Biological (please read before commenting if you haven’t already *cough* Jasper *cough*), using these terms (with some exceptions) represents a reluctance to give up an entitlement granted by cissexual supremacy–a categorization scheme that makes naming others easy and objecting to that naming impossible. This entitlement is granted to everyone, cis and trans alike–it’s just that trans and genderqueer people have more incentive to get it out of their heads than cissexual-cisgender people do, and we each have incentives to get different parts of it out. And you know? It’s seductive. It makes your life simpler and easier and your sentences shorter. And it’s violent.

There are some times when what you really mean is “person with a penis.” If you’re giving a workshop about CBT (link NSFW), that’s what you mean. It matters somewhat whether the bottom is a cis man, trans man, or trans woman, but realistically, you’re talking about manipulating tissue–bodies–NOT how those bodies are socially positioned or perceived–which is almost always what we’re REALLY talking about. You’re talking about a very specific part of the body, NOT the body as a whole, and that body may be cis, trans, and/or intersex; male, female, and/or other. However, in the vast majority of cases, centering the discussion on trans people’s genitals is a)objectifying and gross, b)reinscribing/strengthening the dominant transphobic categorization scheme, and c)not actually what you mean.

Language use is a practice, not a you-figured-it-out-now-you’re-done, and with this issue, you have to work at inspecting your own thoughts to see where transphobia’s invaded and how to fix it. So, I’m going to go through someone else’s thoughts-as-written-in-a-comment and go through the process with you. Even though I’m responding to some people individually, I hope that the larger point is illuminated through these examples, and the reason this is a post, not a comment, is clear. Here’s part of one comment:

I ID as (male) genderqueer. Testosterone has marked my body for everyone to see. Those markers are the reason why I am harassed and policed when I express femininity. My body marks me as ‘other’ in Queer and Trans spaces where 95% of the people were born with vaginas. The markers make me an ‘unsuitable’ dating partner for queer girls. Testosterone markers makes MTF discrimination so much more intense than for FTMs. These markers make crossdressing for me life threatening compared to a butch or a boi.
So in order to make this discrimination visible and to be able to talk about it and change it, I am searching for a word which indicates a testosterone-marked body. (emphasis mine)

You said it, Jasper, all I had to do was bold it–your body appears/is perceived as male, cissexually male even. Because everything you say here is about how you’re perceived, how you’re socially positioned based on how you look. You might want to say that you’re read as male. It’s not clear whether you identify your own body as male, but if you do, then that counts for some things, though if you want to distinguish your body from trans male bodies then you’ll have to call it cis male. It also sounds like you want to talk about how you’re socially positioned by others independent of how you look or identify–“generally read as” “generally treated as” “consistently positioned as” etc all work– because they’re what you mean.

What I italicized, though, is not only seriously gross and transphobic, not only having well-publicized and easily articulated less offensive alternatives (female assigned at birth/FAAB)–it’s also not what you mean. Even apart from the “have you conducted a survey?” aspect (a problem which FAAB shares), whether or not a percentage of people are “born with” a vagina isn’t the issue, the issue is that the (or a) presumed rule of belonging is ‘that you’re someone we would call (or would still call) a woman if weren’t being so hip-and-trans-friendly.’ What I mean to say here is that it’s NOT the attendees–who may or may not fit the body categories you ascribe to them–but about attitudes, presumptions, vibes, unspoken rules, legitimacy, etc. It sounds like what you mean is that only FAAB people are constructed as legitimate participants/the dominant construction of legitimate participants is that they are FAAB, or that to be seen as belonging, you have to enable and tolerate being perceived as a cis woman. (Because trans men have been known to avoid some of these spaces for these reasons, and trans women have been known to go stealth) But not being there OR in your head, I don’t know exactly what it is that you mean–which is another reason you should say what you mean and not use shorthand.

One part of “saying what you mean” is unpacking all the different things one might mean by “female bodied”, some of which are legit but not under that phrase, and others not:
b)having a vulva
c)having a [real] vulva
d)being perceived/read as/passing as/appearing female (e.g. on the street)
e)looking cisnormatively female / being able to pass as a cis woman (under x circumstances or under all circumstances)
f)living as a woman outside of queer settings
g)living as a woman as far as the State is concerned
h)when (not if, when) you absolutely have to choose “male” or “female”, choosing female.
i)[really a woman]
j)having the possibility of getting pregnant

None of those things map exactly onto identity OR onto each other, but in cis culture, these are all the same thing, and supposedly they’re all about bodies, which the majority aren’t.

I need to go to sleep, hope this all made sense and worked.

So, in the comments of my February post You Call Those Statistics?, Clarisse raised the point that numbers shouldn’t be the issue, no-one-deserves-to-be-oppressed should be the issue:

the argument to dismantle gender expectations, cis privilege, et cetera should not be based on numbers/percentages of transpeople. I know that’s not necessarily what you’re saying, but I wanted to point it out — and to make a note that I think is just generally so important and worth repeating, viz: basing any argument against oppression on how many people are affected by that oppression means moving away from the central point (which should be “no one deserves to be oppressed”) and towards an unproductive numbers game.

Totally randomly, I noticed a post I’d bookmarked back in April that gets more to the point of one reason statistics and numbers matter, In Tough Economic Times, Transphobia Will Get Alberta Out of Debt.

Uppity Brown Woman quotes xtra.ca for the gist of the issue:

The Alberta government delisted funding for gender reassignment surgery this week, and trans activists are quickly organizing to push for the program’s reinstatement.

In Tuesday’s budget, the province announced it was cutting the GRS program to save $700,000 a year. Alberta plans to spend $12.9 billion on healthcare in 2009, according to figures released this week. The GRS program funded surgeries for between 10 and 20 people a year.

Since the program apparently only funds 10-20 surgeries per year, and given that $700,000 /10 = $70,000, or /20 =$35,000 which is just ever-so-slightly more than SRS really costs (17,000 CAD with Brassard, last I heard), I’m assuming that it covers hormones and counseling as well as is just being talked about as surgery ‘coz that’s what cis people understand. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

So, $700,000 sounds like a lot of money, right? I mean out of 12.9 billion that’s gotta be a chunk, right?
700k/12.9b = 0.00005426, or 0.005% of the budget. This is where statistics come in.

If trans people are 1 out of every 500 people, then it seems like 1/500th of the budget for healthcare is certainly not *more* than we deserve, likely less; similarly, if we’re 1 in 11,900 or 1 in 30,400 or 2 in (11,900+30,400). If the program covers hormones and counseling, and all forms of trans related bottom surgery, then it should be a pretty substantial percentage of our healthcare costs, regardless of whether or not it also includes FFS/top surgery/BA/electrolysis/binders/prostheses/etc.

12.9 billion CAD / 500 = 25.8 million CAD.
700,000 / 25,800,000 = 0.027, or 3 percent of our 1/500th of the budget.

I think it’d be pretty reasonable to say that SRS, and in particular hormones, counseling, and SRS combined, are worth 3% of the healthcare dollars allotted to the trans community. (Remember, those of you that are young and able/not-chronically-ill, that the amount spent per person per year goes up drastically with age, so that while hormones & counseling might be drastically more than what you and your temporarily-able-bodied 20-something friends spend on non-trans-related medical care, it’s a small fraction of what the average 70 year old spends. Those of us with disabilities or non-trans-related chronic illnesses will probably find 3% somewhat less shocking. This is in no way to minimize the huge burden of those already-economically-marginalized paying-out-of-pocket-as-if-uninsured-whether-or-not-you-are for care, which generally increases the cost by a factor of 5-10.)

.51/30,400 + .49/11,900 = 21,335
12.9 billion CAD / 21,000 = 614,285.
700,000/610,000 = 1.147, or 110% of the budget that would be reserved for our population if our healthcare needs were 100% average.

Now, our healthcare needs ARE above average, and that’s OK, and if these figures were correct (which they’re not, duh) it still wouldn’t justify “delisting” the services as if we were taking everyone’s money and running with it. However, I think the difference between denying us 3% of what’s due to the average person and denying us 110% should be pretty clear; with bad statistics, aided by the “10-20 surgeries per year”, this seems like an exorbitant amount of money to spend per person, but with better stats, it shows the action for what it is–throwing our life vests overboard on a ship in danger of sinking “to save weight.”

Hey, everybody! So, y’all may remember the critical post about PTHC I made a while back, encouraging folks to submit workshops.

1)I will be leading one called Queering Genderqueer:

Are you third-, fourth-, or nineteenth-through-twenty-fifth-gender(s), but everyone seems to put you in the same damn box—including the genderqueers? Feel invisible because you’ve transitioned, you’re trans female spectrum and/or trans feminine spectrum, working-class, a POC or disabled, or femme’s a crucial part of your gender? Or just pissed that your friends are invisiblized and misgendered by the people that ought to be their community? In this workshop, we’ll discuss our experiences as non-binarily-gendered people who don’t fit in the non-binary-gender box, and talk about how to confront the subversivism, (trans) misogyny, and other oppressive ideologies that too-often shape what genderqueer is taken to mean.

2)Obviously from #1, I’m going. Are any of you in Philadelphia and willing to put me up for a couple nights? (sometime 6/11 till 6/14 in the morning, but I’ll mostly be at the conference, and I won’t have a ton of stuff) A couch or even a cushy patch of floor would be fine. You can either comment or email me at takesupspace AT gmail.com!

3)I hope I get to see you there! Let me know and we can meet up.

Hey, everybody, generally my daily existence as a human being only comes here filtered through politics, but I thought y’all’d care that Thursday night through last night I was in the hospital w/ appendicitis. I’m far from fully recovered, but I am a lot better/no longer in imminent danger of death. I’m still catching up on my online stuff and school stuff…all my stuff really.

There are more problems with this bathroom logic than I have any desire to suss out, other people point them out all the time (trans folks need bathrooms too–and need safe bathrooms too, trans women are easily distinguished from cis men (generally), a sign does not equal a lock and key, there have been protections in place in Minneapolis for over 25 years (16 years in Minnesota) and there’s not a single documented case of perpetrators trying to use those laws to aid them assaulting women in restrooms, and lastly, using the “wrong” restroom is perfectly legal already.). All these logics are also used to justify ejecting trans women from shelters and Michfest, and to justify violent prison placement.

But for all that this is so frequently taken up by radical feminists/as a feminist debate, the radical feminist insight that rape is committed by people you know, that you’re most likely to be sexually assaulted in your own home, or your friend’s home, far more than in a public bathroom–why doesn’t anyone pick up on that insight?

I mean, yeah, trans folks are already raising the spectre of stranger violence in this case, and that’s prolly relevant. But when you’re talking about hate violence/someone defined as expendable in the public discourse (and, no, if you think white cis women are so defined, go read what Focus on the Family has to say about the bathroom debate), that’s when you’re more likely to get hurt by someone you don’t know.

I’ve been physically/non-sexually assaulted by 5 strangers in the past year and a half, for context. I really can’t count how many people have groped me without my consent–strangers and “friends,” mostly but not entirely folks who saw me as trans–though as far as people who’ve perpetrated more serious sexual assault on me, they were both men I was close to, (one trans, one cis) and both in bedrooms. (there was one stranger who threatened to rape me, driving the other way in his car, as I was biking home (in Minneapolis), not really sure whether that’s “worse” or not.)

So I hope you can understand that I don’t mean to make light of the fear of stranger violence, including stranger sexual violence. It happens. But the overwhelming focus on it is not about protecting women, it’s about controlling women. It’s about keeping us scared inside the home where the actual sexual predators have easier access to us. I’m not going to explicate that here, it’s a central second-wave/lesbian-feminist/radical feminist insight–that is, the exact same group that takes all this bullshit they’ve spent thirty years trying to destroy and uses it against trans women because keeping us down is more important than liberation.

Camp Trans 2009!

March 23, 2009

It’s gonna rock. If you’ve never been–it’s rad, and you should this year. (most likely August 2nd-9th, but don’t quote me on that yet.)

If you want to be an organizer and you didn’t just get an email from me in the past 24 hrs, email me at takesupspace AT gmail, and I’ll get you set up. (some folks who did sign up at camp last year had emails that didn’t process right, or alternately, you might not have been there but want to help out!) The more the merrier!