May 8, 2009
Last time around, not having read The Man Who Would Be Queen except for exerpts/quotes, I wrote about how the two type/Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence (BBL) theory is misogynistic/regulates female sexuality. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I’m pissed at how much discussions of the book hinge only on the autogynephilia part, and neglect the ridiculous racism/classism of the “homosexual transsexual” (by which we mean straight trans women) section.
Seriously, it’s so bad it’s hard to even talk about. But, among other things, he says [straight] trans women are mostly [W]OC with below average IQ, and are trans (rather than being gay boys) because they come from lower-class non-white broken households and don’t have enough ambition or family support to ‘defeminize,’ and there are more Latina trans [women] because of machismo.
I SHIT YOU NOT.
He’s yet to come out and say that black/Latin@ and lower-class people are bad parents and should have their kids taken away from them, but he does seem to think that 20% MOC in his gay boy sample is a perfectly standard percentage for Chicago residents, whereas 60% TWOC needs remarking on.
As of the 2000 census,…The racial makeup of the city was 41.97% White, 36.77% Black, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.36% Native American, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population were Hispanic of any race. 21.72% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.29% came from Latin America, 23.13% from Europe, 17.96% from Asia and 2.62% from other parts of the world. The 2007 community survey for the U.S. Census showed little variation
Alma has also noticed, as I have, the large number of Latina transsexuals. In Chicago, there are several bars that cater to Latina transsexuals. About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals [sic] and drag queens we studied were Latina or black. The proportion of nonwhite subjects in our studies of ordinary gay men [sic] is typically only about 20 percent. …Another transsexual, remarking on the same phenomenon, attributed it to ethnic gender roles: “My culture is very macho and intolerant of female behavior in men. It is easier just to become a woman.”
J Michael Bailey, The Man Who Would Be Queen, 183-4.
(It might be argued that he’s not endorsing the claim about machismo, because the next line starts “I am not sure of about the validity of all of Alma’s observations, much less her theories”–but it wasn’t Alma who made that statement, thus the statement isn’t disavowed by the disclaimer, which constitutes tacit endorsement.)
Ken Zucker…tried to predict which boys with [GID] would still have the disorder when they become adolescents. Adolescents with GID are much rarer and presumably much closer to being transsexual. Zucker found several predictors of adolescent GID: lower IQ, lower social class, immigrant status, non-intact family, and childhood behavior problems unrelated to [GID].[‘Coz IQ tests are totally unproblematic.]
They [straight trans women] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common.
A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family (such as Danny’s) has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future. Defeminization might also require more ambition and family support than some homosexual transsexuals possess.
Their customers, of course, are not gay men. They are either unwary straight men or men looking for she-males.) This kind of prostitution is dangerous, especially for transsexuals, whose customers sometimes do not know what they are… The rate of HIV infection among transsexual streetwalkers is very hight, partly due to the high rate of intravenous drug use. [while injection HRT is the same as recreational IV drugs for HIV risk, the implication is pretty offensive.]
their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows… In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired via the five-fingered discount. [yep, it’s totally that those irresponsible black/Latina/poor people just want to live beyond their means, not an occupational expenditure…]
March 10, 2009
The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born.
My body is not in the shape it was born in. It is several feet taller and weighs over ten times as much as it did when it came out of my mother’s womb. Its workings are the product of medical science–I suffered a life threatening illness at age eight and would almost certainly be dead were it not for antibiotics. My appearance, also, is a product of medicine–artificially altering my sex hormones. My parents, not wanting me to go bald before graduating from high school, paid for a mild anti-androgen to stop my hair loss when I was sixteen. I’m very thankful for that, though in retrospect I wish it had been a higher dose. At seventeen, my “flesh [was] torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born” by doctors when I had my wisdom teeth removed. Furthermore, I have altered my body to meet oppressive societal demands which I internalized through mental illness. In fact, I still struggle with my eating habits.
There seems to be a comparatively large number of books written around the subject of gay and lesbian relationships but we could find nothing about transsexuality. It occurs that this is an area which perhaps should be given more attention by authors and publishers, given that it’s not uncommon for trans children to know at quite an early age that they have a degree of gender dissonance.
OK, I say, this is a good point, but I think it’s missing something–the analogy is flawed. But! My POV was (kind of) expressed in a cited post:
There was a time I naively assumed that I wouldn’t have to worry about sexism in my child’s books until at least story books, maybe not even until chapter books. Surely board books, written to start reading to infants so young they only understand the rhythm and rhyme of the words, would be immune!
That naivete lasted until maybe five minutes after the Boychick got his first book.
The truth is even board books, even modern board books, are rife with sexism, heterosexism, racism, and of course, what’s a good word, cisgenderism? (One can’t even call it transphobia, for it’s more the complete lack of acknowledgment that gender isn’t always obvious, simple, and binary. Transphobia might be a step up.)
I disagree with the terminology question–refusal to incorporate the fact of our existence in one’s actions in the world is one of the most deadly forms of transphobia:
When these corporations do justify their denial of basic medical care to trans people, one rationalization comes up repeatedly: the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration has not given approval for the use of any medications for transgender body modification. The Federal government does not supervise, regulate, approve or acknowledge the use of hormones to alter the gendered characteristics of one’s body. The FDA has never acknowledged, I believe, that trans people even exist.
When I buy my finasteride and delestrogen, they come to me, as most medications do, with small neatly-folded inserts outlining their proper use and potential side-effects. These texts are carefully regulated by the FDA. Nowhere in those long texts am I mentioned. They never discuss their use by transgender people, never acknowledge their potentially transformative effects when used with certain bodies, never even acknowledge that anyone under 50 would ever have a reason to take them. Similarly, I am never reflected in the advertisements for these drugs. Their extensive websites or occasional magazine ads have no trace of trans bodies. In the vast, proliferating world of consumer capitalism, trans people just don’t constitute a market niche when it comes to drugs.
I am invisible to my health insurance company, invisible to the FDA, and invisible to the pharmaceutical industries. This invisibility is how these institutions express their transphobia and the hatred of trans bodies. We are not seen. For some, this lack of institutional acknowledgement has dire consequences. Already excluded from the wage economy, many poor trans women in Philadelphia turn to sex work to pay for their hormones. Poverty, police abuse and HIV have taken a severe toll on the lives of trans women in the city. As trans people modifying our bodies, we are using these corporation’s drugs towards unapproved and unacknowledged ends: the gendered rebuilding of our bodies. We pay the bill, and we live with the consequences. For me, choosing to take hormones is the best decision I’ve ever made.
Michelle O’Brien, “Tracing This Body: Transsexuality, Pharmaceuticals, and Capitalism”
But regardless, I’m right there with Arwyn when I say that transphobia is integrated into these books, that it’s part of our culture down to the way infants are taught language, and that that foundationalism (ha!) is true of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc etc., to the point that explicit/bigoted transphobia can even be helpful, in that it acknowledges our potential existence, and only denies that existence a place in our understanding of reality through violence.
When Helen writes I can remember very clearly the day when, aged five, I realised that “something wasn’t right with my body”. But I had neither the language nor the resources to say or do anything about it, I think she elides an even more crucial point–that by the age of five, she had been successfully indoctrinated into believing that her identification as/desire to be/discomfort with ‘not being’ a girl was an affront to symbolic reality. It’s not. Without a preexisting identification of cissexuality with Reality, that wrongness, that lack-of-fit, doesn’t exist. The only thing separating pre-pubescent trans kids from living their genders is the demand that they not do so–not hormones, not height, not anything, physical differences between cis boys and cis girls at that age are practically nil.
Before trans kids can think of themselves as “wrong,” they have to be introduced to the idea that their genders are inauthentic–the separation of cis and trans has to occur, and then the possibility of transsexuality has to be, in psychoanalytic jargon, foreclosed–the incompatible idea is rejected as if it never existed. The very potential for transsexuality would make our theoretical “ground” when writing about sex and anatomy nonexistant. Western culture depends on transphobia to create meaning in the world. I’m not saying that the whole thing would come crumbling down without transphobia, but that concepts we can’t even think currently would have to come in to replace it in order for the whole thing to *not* come crumbling down. Refuting cissexuality-as-reality, cissexuality-as-default is tantamount to refuting positivism/the scientific method/the idea that Truth is or can be objective–which is part of why we have to search for a “cause”–because we need something to help us acknowledge being trans as valid while maintaining that there isn’t anything wholly interior/subjective/qualitative about personhood. I hope you see the problem.
I hope I’m not reading too much Spivak to make sense anymore.
So here I come back to transsexuality-as-an-issue:
Targetting that particular demographic makes good sense, but I wonder if perhaps children themselves should be given access to the tools they need to help them in their own self-identification. To paraphrase Ruth, “I am thinking of something the five-year old Helen could have read that might have helped… but also something that the five-year old Helen would have actually been likely to read rather than have been stuck in a ’specialist’ bookshop like News from Nowhere whilst Helen read Thomas the Tank and the Hobbit”.
On one hand, I want to praise the move toward “trans kids need access to this info, it’s normal, and it’s something five year olds need to have info about and yes are actually capable of understanding.” But on the other hand, if we approach the world from a perspective that cissexuality isn’t “natural,” if we come from the perspective that all gender & sex are self-determination, then there isn’t a book about dealing with being trans–in the background of every children’s book has to be an assumption that kids are uncovering gender for themselves and making what they wish–it may or may not be foregrounded, but the idea that a kid could look at another kid and say “that’s a boy” or that a character could be glossed as a girl in some abiding, permanent, unconditional/absolute/non-tentative way is impossible if we dare to think gender self-determination. In a trans positive world, there are no trans books because there are no cis books–which, currently, are essentially all books.
So, now we come to the drama. The original offending comment:
Don’t you think offering “trans-friendly” books to CHILDREN is a bit like offering pro-plastic-surgery books, or pro-limb-lengthening-surgery books, or gastric-bypass-friendly books to kids? I mean we’re talking about major pharmaceutical dependence, the long-term consequences of which aren’t yet known, and major surgical intervention against what is in actuality healthy flesh. Are none of these trans-advocates concerned at all about children being indoctrinated and influenced to do themselves bodily harm, when they might under less woman-hating circumstances simply be lesbian women or women who otherwise do not adhere to societal gender roles in style or behavior?
So, this whole bodily harm/self-mutilation idea. Mayhem. What does that really signify? What does self mutilation signify?
“major surgical intervention against what is in actuality healthy flesh”–we are changing something from the real, healthy order of things, the natural to the unnatural–that is the essence of self-mutilation. It’s not self mutilation to have, say, an appendectomy or Laparoscopic Anti-Reflux Surgery–even though both involve the removal of healthy tissue–because the tissue in question is irrelevant to our understanding of personhood and reality–whereas in all the cited cases of surgery, one is talking about social characteristics of the body.
The commenter’s presumption is that one can somehow avoid the “subject” of transsexuality entirely, that existing children’s books are not the opening salvos in a war against trans kids. Every single statement she makes about “boys” and “girls,” by assuming that reality is cissexual, are immediately dependent upon a foreclosure of transsexuality. (that is, rejecting it as if it had never existed) That one can be “trans friendly” but not portray it as part of symbolic reality, as “normal”:
guess I was thinking of “trans-friendly” as being more “pro-trans” because that’s the aura it’s taken online. If it were possible to simply portray it, without making it seem like a good thing, or without making it seem like it’s just as normal as being a non-gender-conforming female, intersex, or male person, then, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
She’s saying–so long as transsexuality is talked about in a way that makes it clear that it’s still up-for-debate, not a-part-of-the-underlying-reality-that-makes-this-discussion-even-possible, and not “normal”–part of the real symbolic order–just a deviation therefrom, an aberration that doesn’t have to be accounted for when we think about the world, it’s ok with her. Her position isn’t even one of wanting to make sure to denounce being trans, because she’s fine if there’s no material out there–she has *no concern* for the “girls” that she’s supposedly advocating for, only for maintaining cissexual dominance over the meaning of reality.
If I need to back that up I’ll need another post–it just gets kinda convoluted. The short version is that she acknowledges that a certain group is suffering distress, but is only interested in making sure they *don’t* get a certain kind of resource, rather than making sure that they do get other resources. Furthermore, her paranoia about even a single children’s book that “pushes drugs and self-mutilation” on kids is demonstrative that she isn’t really worried about how many kids it might cause to transition–because individuals’ cissexuality is much more robust than that, but society’s isn’t.* Society’s myth of universal cissexuality *is* incredibly fragile, and has to be protected at all times–but what has to be done is not to create a stronger foundation (which they never ever do) but to disrupt any other conversation that’s happening. (see my Radical Feminist Troll series, especially parts two and three)
This is why these “discussions” cannot continue to be tolerated in feminist spaces–because the premise is to keep our very reality in check, our existence and validity as people at bay, our lives up for debate. That frame unmakes us, it strips the connection between transsexuality and personhood, its very point is to undo us, making us objects that make funny sounds that seem almost like speech. They demand that all participants ground themselves on earth that doesn’t hold our weight.
Margie’s whole deal with “oh I don’t care what adults do, just don’t indoctrinate the children” is precisely about making sure that no one comes into this world without the cissexuality-as-reality frame. She has no concern for whether people actually “mutilate” themselves, no concern for the welfare even of her putative victim, let alone trans kids–only that that “mutilation” remain aberration, unreal, only that our purchase on reality is too unstable to actually give us the support to go interpreting that reality, challenging the cissexual supremacist one, and have it taken seriously.
“We were talking about the gullibility of young children and whether it’s ethical to exploit that in order to make adult people feel better about their pharmaceutical and surgical choices.”
Arrrgh! No we weren’t! Not sure what conversation you were having but the original post was about trans friendly books for children… and now they’re being exploited? What, you think the kind of books we meant were ones that went like this?
November 18, 2008
Three trans women [of color] have been killed (presumably by hate violence) in the two weeks since the election. That’s three too many–any is too many–but our sisters are dying at rates much faster than we normally see.
Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.
Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.
From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.
There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.
There’s been a hell of a lot more than one physical attack.
White trans people, cis people of color, white cis people: being trans does not strip you of other identities and oppressions. When white trans people forget about the racial dimensions of transphobic–trans misogynistic– violence, we lose perspective on why they’re happening and what to do about it. For our survival as a community those of us who are white need to join ranks against violence with people of color (cis and trans), and start remembering racism at the Day of Remembrance and all year round. We need to speak out against the increase in racist violence, because racism is killing our sisters every bit as much as trans misogyny is. We need to remember their deaths, because they’re an attack on all of us.
And white cis people, get your act together. HRC, NGLTF, I’m looking at you. How many emails have you sent out in outrage about our people dying–about the police refusing to investigate? Hell, white trans guys, you too. (“I’m not tied to the case at all and therefore really don’t have that much interest … to do all the research.”)
EDIT: Some problematic language fixed. edited again 11-20.
November 11, 2008
That’s right, I’m not upset about prop 8. Consider this a calling out, if you need to.
It’s not that I’m happy about it–I’m not–or that I don’t think it’s a bad thing–it is–or something that will have (at least in the short term) a lot of bad consequences for a lot of people–it will–or a setback to the “LGBT” (by which we mean CLGB) movement–it is.
It’s that last one, see.
I’m sick of the politics of racism and exclusion, the politics of classism and transphobia, the politics of privilege. I’m sick of the politics that lead to racist violence of any kind, but against black queer people? Fuck you and you privilege too.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement that lead to two white gay men trapping me against a wall and punching me in the face for being a trans woman*. I’m sick of the politics that told them they would get away with it, right in front of a gay bar, at a trans event with approximately twenty witnesses. By the way, while people did intervene on my behalf, and the perpetrators were clearly surprised by that fact and, ultimately, they *did* get away with it. I’m sick of the politics that told the bartenders & bouncer that they could pretend they didn’t see it, despite clear evidence to the contrary, so that they could avoid any accountability. Which they did. I’m sick of the organizers of the event getting praised for how much they did about it–putting out a statement a full three weeks after I’d asked them to, only in response to a bunch of cis people asking them on my behalf, only one week before the next dance, and deciding to do what they thought best without any real attempt to collaborate with me or my advocates to form a game plan. I’m sick of the politics that sets the bar so low for accountability, trans misogyny, and anti-violence work that that’s admirable. I’m sick of it.
Because these people, these events aren’t isolated. They don’t happen outside culture, they don’t happen outside politics, they aren’t random or uncaused. When a white gay male politician cut trans people from the ENDA bill, HRC didn’t hold him accountable, HRC looked the other way and even aided him covertly; ultimately he succeeded in getting us out, this year anyway. A prominent cis gay journalist justified kicking a masculine lesbian [of color] out of a women’s restroom, and referred to an abstracted trans woman as “a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”–…and, what happened, precisely? I mean, I know a lot of people hate on Avarosis, but the fact is that he’s still given a community platform when we know he’s going to use it for transphobic ends, without any accountability…and we’ve never seen this before.
So, what I mean is–in that kind of a climate, how could they not have expected to get away with it? Every indication they had said that there would be some protests and maybe they’d have to say they were sorry at the worst, but that in the end they’d walk away unharmed, their violence and/or negligence done with no need for punishment, restitution, or further scrutiny. And certainly, no one’s denouncing the organizers for, say, not having a plan in place to deal with potential violence before it happened, or claiming the party to be “For trans men and trans women and their chasers, queers and allies, movers and/or shakers”–with no consciousness of how that might impact trans women. No one’s denouncing the other attendees for not stopping to ask why a trans woman(ish person)* in a miniskirt and fishnets was talking to the cops–for not realizing that that ain’t happening if things are ok.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement where, when I speak of the attack to cis people, particularly white but also POC, they’re *shocked*, when I tell it to white trans people & trans male spectrum POC, they’re (generally) not shocked but they are surprised, and when I tell it to trans women of color they say ‘OMG ME TOO.’ OK, this is hardly a scientific survey, and it’s definitely an oversimplification. But there’s only been one group of people, about six people, I’ve met who expected it, who, when I told them, they told me stories about the (raced) trans misogyny they’ve experienced from the hands and mouths of cis gay men–to the point of saying that gay men were “the worst” and that where they got trans misogynistically harassed the most was in Boystown (a predominantly white, upscale, cis, gay neighborhood–which has the vast majority of Chicago’s queer resources) by gay men. (They didn’t mention racial dimensions, whether because I’m a white stranger (likely) or because they don’t analyze it that way or some other reason.)
I’m white. I’m not trying to claim that somehow my white privilege hasn’t been playing out here, or to subtly identify myself as not-white or less-white. What I mean is that I can’t stand the ways in which white queers and cis queers, and particularly white cis queers, maintain a silencing denial about violence that is, frankly, endemic. Violence which they make possible through subtle means, like, say, putting all the LGBT resources in an expensive, white, cis part of town. No one should be able to say “me too” to that violence, but no one should have to be so excited about being able to talk about it, either.
Your “shock” is silencing. It says “your reality is strange and foreign. your experiences must be exceptions, isolated, one time experiences. your experiences aren’t something we could expect given other circumstances.” It tells us that we’ll be supported if we talk about violence coming from the “right people” but if it’s coming from the “wrong people,” then either you won’t believe us, or you will but you’ll be too caught up in your own shit to be supportive, and in either case you won’t understand yourself as complicit. Your shock makes my experience strange so you don’t have to interrogate your normal. Your shock says “violence happens out there, not here.” Maintaining the safety of your space requires my silence.
To return to the present moment–
I know, Truth Wins Out and PFAW put out statements condemning the blaming-of-black-people, and HRC, well, they linked it on their blog. Both statements put the racist violence out in the open and condemn it. The PFAW statement is actually quite good, and brings up the need for white LGBT activists to 1)do outreach to black communities, neither writing them off nor taking them for granted, and 2)to work for black folk as well, on issues like the minimum wage. But it doesn’t draw attention to the larger historical context of white queer betrayal of queers of color, and in particular trans women of color, or the history of the white CLGB movement’s use of racism and transphobia to achieve its ends, and the potential impact therein. The interplay between white and cis supremacy orchestrated by HRC in the formation of NCTE, for example:
Being that we were only a few months from the 2002 midterm elections, and the ALC was happening in late September, one of the provisos for our invite was that we keep it secret until after the event concluded.
The meeting concludes on a high note, we go back to Marietta to do the post mortem debriefing, cross check our notes, and we go back to Louisville to begin working on the most important Transgender 101 presentation in U.S. history.
But that Power Point presentation Dawn and I created for that Transgender 101 session is still on my computer because a Caucasian transgender leader leaked the details to her paymasters at HRC.
Once my tears dried, I began to get angry as I began to piece together the details of what happened and who leaked the info that killed the transgender community’s best chance to wean itself from dependence on the gay community and HRC’s control.
A few weeks later I got my answer. The Caucasian transleader who leaked the details of that meeting to HRC announces the formation of NCTE.
I say that this is an interplay of white and cis supremacy, rather than just white trans racism, because HRC was so clearly playing white trans people and black trans people against each other through, basically, bribery, to maintain its power. I’m angry at the person-who-Roberts-doesn’t-name-so-I-won’t-either’s racist and short sighted betrayal, a betrayal of every fucking one of us, the kind of betrayal that makes me shake if I let myself feel it, but it’s still only a result, and only one result, of HRC’s divide and conquer strategies.
This post is getting kind of long and convoluted for the thread of my argument, but it’s this: winning on 8, with the same strategies, with the same people, without both outreach and accountability to POC, would have been a hollow victory, and I’m so over our strategy of pursuing a specific goal at all costs, what Tobi callswinning to lose. The whole post is worth reading, but I’m just going to pick out an out-of-context tidbit:
Word came down from above that we were not allowed to use the words “bisexual” or “transgender,” or even the term “same-sex marriage.” The focus groups had shown that swing voters respond better to phrases like “gays and lesbians” and “gay marriage.”
As huge as they were, I didn’t feel that the potential short term gains were not [sic] worth the long term implications of perpetuating biphobia and transphobia. Indeed, I saw concrete results of that strategy just a couple years later. We were preparing to get gender identity non-discrimination, but were aware of a well organized opposition. Calling out to our base – the no on 36 voters – we found a disappointingly small proportion were supportive of and aware of the issue. I can’t help but see the connection between the decision not to mention trans people in previous LGBT campaigns, and the lack of awareness our electoral base had of trans people’s mere existence.
Losing on prop 8 denies real rights to real people, and keeps the political debate at an unacceptably low bar. But ultimately, I have to wonder if success might have denied more rights than a loss in the long run, compared to alternative strategies of the sort proposed by Beyond Marriage. As Nancy D. Polikoff writes in the Utne Reader,
The most contested issue in contemporary family policy is whether married-couple families should have “special rights” not available to other family forms. Excluded families include unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended-family units, and any other constellation of individuals who form relationships of emotional and economic interdependence that do not conform to the one-size-fits-all marriage model. No other Western country, including those that allow same-sex couples to marry, creates the rigid dividing line between the law for the married and the law for the unmarried that exists in the United States.
I propose family law reform that would recognize all families’ worth. Marriage as a family form is not more important or more valuable than other forms of family, so the law should not give it more value. Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives; they should never have to marry to reap specific and unique legal benefits. I support the right to marry for same-sex couples as a matter of civil rights law. But I oppose discrimination against couples who do not marry, and I advocate solutions to the needs all families have for economic well-being, legal recognition, emotional peace of mind, and community respect.
I’m sick of politics about marriage that ignore the neo-liberal capitalist domination inherent in US marriage law–
from the historic Massachusetts marriage decision, Hillary Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Health:
Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the
highest importance.” French v. McAnarney, supra. Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by
encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies
individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for
and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important
epidemiological and demographic data.
Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage. The marriage license grants valuable property
rights to those who meet the entry requirements, and who agree to what might otherwise be a burdensome
degree of government regulation of their activities.…ejecting claim for equitable distribution of property
where plaintiff cohabited with but did not marry defendant);…(government interest in promoting marriage would be “subverted” by recognition of “a
right to recover for loss of consortium by a person who has not accepted the correlative responsibilities of
Marriage is not always good for people. It is not always chosen freely. It is not always being prohibited, or discouraged–frequently it’s a government attack on women of color:
Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids received $990,000 from the federal government in 2003 to “facilitate the understanding that healthy marriages between parents is [sic] critical to the financial well-being of children, …increase the number of prepared marriages among low-income adults, and decrease the divorce rate among low-income adults.” The program coordinates local public media campaigns plugging marriage as well as relationship counseling classes, many offered by faith-based providers.
It is precisely this emphasis on marriage as a cure for economic woes that worries many welfare recipients and advocates. According to Liz Accles at the Welfare Made a Difference National Campaign, “Marriage promotion is problematic for many reasons. It is discriminatory. It values certain families over others. It intrudes on privacy rights. The coercive nature of this is lost on a lot of people because they don’t realize how deeply in poverty people are living.” Accles says that adequate educational opportunities, subsidized child care, and real job skills and opportunities are the answer to the financial concerns of women on welfare. She joins many domestic violence counselors in saying that marriage education funded by government coffers and administered via faith-based providers and welfare case workers is at best a waste of taxpayer money, and at worst pushes women deeper into abusive relationships that may end in injury or death.
In Allentown, Pa., a program called the Family Formation and Development Project offers a 12-week marriage education course for low-income, unmarried couples with children. Employment services are offered as part of the program, but only to fathers. In its application for federal funding, the program set a goal of 90% of the participating fathers finding employment. No such goal was set for the mothers. According to Jennifer Brown, legal director at the women’s legal rights organization Legal Momentum, which filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, “What we fear is that this kind of sex stereotyped programming–jobs for fathers, not for mothers–will be part of marriage promotion programs funded by the government.”
Experts at Legal Momentum are concerned that the administration is diverting scarce funds from proven and effective anti-poverty programs and funneling the money into untested marriage-promotion programs. They say there is little information about what is happening on the ground, making it difficult to determine what activities have been implemented.
Feminist economists point out that the mid-1990s welfare reform law served larger economic interests by moving women out of the home and into the work force at a time when the economy was booming and there was a need for low-paid service workers. Now that the economy is in a recession, the government has adopted a more aggressive policy of marriage promotion, to pull women out of the work force and back into the home. According to Avis Jones-DeWeever, Poverty and Welfare Study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “We are talking about putting $1.5 billion into telling women to find their knight in shining armor and then everything will be okay.” (link)
And people wonder why black folks might not all be in lockstep in support of (gay) marriage. Maybe because it’s a racist agenda in the first place.
Marriage discourse that focuses on the lionization of marriage in a climate where the federal government is trying to force poor (black) women into abusive marriages and out of the workforce, discourse that legitimizes the denial of economic benefits to unmarried poor women and women fleeing domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable. I think it’s possible to organize coalitions around marriage (around what Tobi calls relationship recognition, but the point is the white CLGB community isn’t doing it, because it would implicate them in racist and classist oppression.
Tobi writes about how the (now-overturned) California marriage system potentially victimizes queer survivors of domestic violence/IPV:
It’s widely reported that the recent marriage decision in California does not create a residency requirement to get married. That means that someone could travel to California, get married, and go home. However, California DOES have a residency requirement for divorce. That’s where the trouble is.
If you’re home state doesn’t recognize your new marriage, then chances are they won’t allow you to get divorced there. …”States with civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships… also may allow married same-sex couples to divorce, but each of those states …has a one-year residency requirement.”
So what happens if you don’t live in one of those states and you and you’re partner are ready to leave your California-made marriage? Without moving to one of those states and waiting a year to gain residency — YOU CAN”T GET DIVORCED.
This has some obvious and serious legal repurcussions. And recognizing that abuse does indeed exist in queer communities, one can imagine the difficulties of not being allowed to divorce your abusive partner. Not being allowed to dissalow your abusive partner hospital visitation, medical power of attorney, or other such benefits of marriage.
While I’m sure this was an oversight, it clearly demonstrates a lack of forethought on the part of those drafting the bill–and “lack of forethought” is not uncaused, natural, or blameless. Do you think that, say, INCITE would make that mistake? What does it say about white CLGB marriage politics that this went unnoticed?
Earlier, Tobi wrote about the transphobic limitations of Oregon’s Domestic Partnership law:
the domestic partnerships are only for “same-sex” couples only. Why? There are a number of bi and straight “opposite-sex” couples who would rather avoid marriage — either for financial, political, or ideological reasons — why deny them the opportunity to get a domestic partnership. Especially the many straight queerspawn who do not want to be married while their parents cannot. Now they have to choose between taking marriage while their parents are relegated to a separate and unequal institution, or having no relationship recognition while their parents get a domestic partnership.
Then there’s the whole other issue of creating a new government institution that is based on people’s gender. That means that there is one more place where the rights you can have will depend on your ability to prove that you are the gender that you say you are. And that puts transpeople in a vulnerable place. If your someone can “disprove” your gender, then they could annul your domestic partnership. And while that would also end up “proving” that you’re eligible for a marriage, it very well may be too late. A transperson would just be out of luck if their partner “disproved” their gender in order to annul their domestic partnership as a tactic in a custody battle. Of course, all of these things could happen to a transperson in a marriage. But why do we have to include all of the issues of institutionalized transphobia in the relationship recognition system that we wrote?
We should remember that this bill doesn’t hurt “opposite-sex” couples and it doesn’t take away any rights from transpeople, but there’s absolutely no reason to leave them out….I and several other activists pointed this out to Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) two years ago, just before the last bill failed. We were told that this problem would be fixed next time, but aparently nobody took notes. By the time it was discovered this time around (i.e. I pointed it out, again), the bill language had been written
At one level, it’s an oversight. But again, if they’d been on it with their coalitional politics, it wouldn’t’ve happened. It didn’t slip past Tobi, it wouldn’t’ve slipped past me. It leaves open possibilities for transphobic discrimination that could easily have been closed, completely pointlessly.
I hope my point is clear: fixing relationship recognition is incredibly important, but this isn’t the way to do it, and if a setback were to cause us to change course, rather than dive headfirst into the same goddamn wall one more time, then I’m not shedding too many tears. This fight wasn’t about getting rid of discrimination–it was about getting one group of people into the privileged class.
Marriage rights are frequently equated to employment non discrimination. The irony is, of course, that there is a lot of similarity–last year’s defeat of ENDA was, paradoxically, a win for the queer community, or at least the trans community–a federal trans exclusive ENDA would have eviscerated the efforts of localities to institute trans inclusive ones, and thus passing ENDA would have enabled anti-trans discrimination. As bad as prop 8 is, killing it could have left a lot of people out in the cold, and shut the door–now, at least, there’s a chance that when we open that door and come inside, it will be all of us. As I’ve mentioned above, the tactics in use haven’t merely been about only helping middle-class white CLGB folks–they’ve done so by standing on others’ shoulders. It has to stop.
May it stop here.
There was going to be another part of this post, about how we need to get some perspective, about just how big Obama’s win is, how it’s far larger than just the Obama presidency but has implications for the structure of our “democracy” and the role of the Democratic Party; it has implications for who will be nominated in the future and how campaigns will be waged; it has implications for the possibility of the return of intelligent public political discourse which, in all reality, is a far greater necessity for overturning hetero/cis supremacy than defeating prop 8. And, frankly, I think to be focusing on a decision primarily involving white CLBG folks in one state instead of a 1)monumental and historic moment in black history, and 2)potential freedom from the political nightmare of the past 8 years, especially the unmitigated emphasis on wars, wars, and more wars killing almost 100,000 innocent brown people and reinstating known war criminals as the new Afghani puppet government1 and facilitating Wahhabist takeovers of Islamic countries–I think it’s more than a bit racist to be saying that we’re upset about the election.
1: I know, Obama’s in favor of redoubleing the war in Afghanistan, but I think that a potential for change is possible under Obama that would never have been possible under Bush McCain or Palin. (in part due to the whole “intelligent discourse” thing, and, judging from the way he ran his campaign, a much more open and inclusive process and one less prone to the abuses of power so endemic under Bush, e.g. the fake news reports and spying and misuse of security forces…) Maybe I’m overly optimistic, who knows. Regardless, Obama is *less* militaristic than B/C/P have been and would be.
EDIT: In case I’m wrong, sign sign this petition against Larry Summers.
*At the time, I was not ID’ing as a trans woman, though obviously I was seen as such by my assailants (though they’d use different words…), and was generally positioned as such by others in ways that weren’t super cool. But, you know, as of yesterday, I am publicly ID’ing as a woman as well as trans & gender fluid/genderqueer/gender variant. (it was more a matter of realizing my identity had already shifted back than that it changed yesterday, but whatev.)
EDIT: Tobi made a related, simultaneous-ish post: If Not Marriage for All How About Marriage for None?
FURTHER EDIT: Looks like Dean Spade was thinking the same thing at the same time, too.
October 23, 2008
A few great videos:
First, from Julia Serano:
On that note, remember intersectionality?–
“Remember Santina Gibbs? She’s actually Darnell Nash.” –transsexuality = false presentation, femininity = artificial/untrustworthy, blackness = criminality, black transsexual femininity = voter fraud. Action News’s advocacy for voter suppression depends on the construction of the deceptive, fraudulent trans black woman as a representative of moral decay that must be stopped. It’s important to note that she is a figure used precisely because her right to vote, like her rights to sexuality and to live, is seen as optional/unimportant compared to cis anxieties about her deception.
Then there are two MSNBC videos Monica Roberts posted yesterday:
I don’t have too much in the way of comments about these two, other than that I’m not used to news coverage being either as decent politically or as in depth as what I see from Maddow and Olbermann. I keep expecting it to be some kind of spoof.
October 21, 2008
With respect to my last post, Battybattybats writes:
But it is worth taking this further, because in much of the world to obtain basic rights and essential services as a transgender person that cis folk always enjoy one must be steralised.
It’s all well and good for those who choose to undergo procedures that render them sterile. Its their right to make that decision for themselves and everyone should support their right to do so. But to mandate it in exchange for basic rights and access to essential services is a human-rights abuse plain and simple.
If there is a genetic cause or factor involved in being Transgender then forced sterilisation is clear and direct biological Genocide.
It is Eugenics!
Transgender people do not automatically lose their reproductive rights! They may choose to waive them but should never be forced to waive them.
Those who do go through treatment that renders them sterile should be able to preserve reproductive material where possible and to use that later in life if they so choose. [though fine in the US, it can disqualify one for government document change elsewhere, notably Japan.–me]
Where there are state-based health systems these should provide for this service for those that are covered by them.(link)
In this context, but without the governmental authority, at least one US medical practitioner, Jamie Feldman, has made a hysterectomy a precondition for testosterone treatments for a trans man married to a cis man. (with WPATH’s approval–she operates out of the same building)
(you might also want to read Antiseptic Stings in reference to this whole mess.)
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.