Archive for the ‘transgender’ Category
Parts of this post are crossposted with a recent entry over on my own blog The Nuclear Unicorn.
Times are very hard, to be sure, and as I am now working in the fundraising department of a radical transgender rights oriented organisation I’m seeing yet another dimension to the endless Great Recession unfolding before me. Simultaneously, what I am constantly astonished by is how we, in some of the most economically disadvantaged communities, always manage to find a penny here and a penny there to help their sisters, brothers, and siblings in need. We’re out there looking out for each other and that never fails to give me hope.
It sounds a tad bit cheesy, yes, but for all of my snarky sarcasm and the like, I’ve always put a lot of stock in that gift from Pandora’s Box. It’s a precious resource in the trans community. So, what am I waxing all poetic about and what not? Well, I’m trying to fundraise for a charity near and dear to my heart– so much so that I’m actually working for them. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal aid organisation for low income trans people of colour, has radical aims that dovetail with the themes I often speak of on my blog and Questioning Transphobia. My work for them is a pretty big part of why I’ve been a tadbit too busy to write these days. But it is the Goddess’s work and it feels decidedly good.
Lisa’s talked a fair bit about us in some of her elucidating articles, and the other organisations she mentions here, like the Audre Lorde Project, are our close partners in social justice activism (we even share a building with them!)
I’ve been busily helping with the organising and the fundraising that an event like this requires but for the moment I’ve been given a pet project and if any of my readers are interested in doing a spot of good then you can hop on over to Indie GoGo and check out our online fundraiser for the month of June, leading up to a gala for the community on the 29th (see below for more info on that!). Please feel free to contribute, but if you don’t want to or are unable to, then I encourage you to pass the link along to any friends, colleagues, allies, and so on who may be interested. With initiatives like this every dollar helps, every bit of awareness helps.
My work here has been, in no small measure, interesting and a crash course in many things. But it has, above all, been a beautiful insight into the community that my sisters, brothers, and siblings have forged and of which I am proud to be a part. I’m not the kind of woman who is easily persuaded into advocacy and I would have never offered my blog as a place to help our fundraising efforts if I couldn’t say the word “our” with confidence apropos SRLP; if I didn’t feel a sense of ownership, a sense of community, I’d have never mentioned my blog to my colleagues. But I did so eagerly because SRLP isn’t just where I work. It’s a workplace where I can be out as a trans woman without the slightest second thought, and it’s a place where all of the markers of isolating distinction and discrimination do not count against you; a place where I could seek support from everyone on staff when I experienced a transphobic incident a couple of weeks ago.
In sum, I do believe in SRLP and what they do; they practise what they preach and I love them to bits. They are that rarest of organisations that will make my usually cold onyx heart melt and go all mooshy.
This is one of only a few nonprofit organisations that reflects the radical vision I have; radically gender equal and positive, feminist/anti-patriarchal, and as much as possible a non-hierarchical organisation that constantly militates against forces compelling them to sell out. As much as possible, I can say with confidence having seen things from the inside, we really do try to ensure that the trans community has ownership of this non profit and that we are never beholden to the powerful or the “great and good.” Small donations from (yes I’m using the PBS phrase here) people like you make that radical goal possible.
From me and everyone at SRLP, thank you very much in advance.
Also, for those of you in New York, here’s more information about the SRLP Gala– all are welcome, no one is turned away for inability to pay.
I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.
I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.
Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.
We recognise transgender issues are distinct and need to be addressed separately. This is why we will also be publishing the first ever cross Government transgender equality action plan later in the year. Highlighting where distinct action is needed in addition to the measures outlined in the LGB&T action plan.
But we won’t be successful without your involvement. To make sure we really deliver for the trans community, we need to know how you think we should be progressing the agenda. So I am delighted to introduce the first trans E-Bulletin, which gives you an opportunity to do just this. It includes an ONLINE SURVEY asking you to tell us the areas you would like us to concentrate on, how you would like us to communicate with you and to contribute your views and ideas. We will use the findings of this first survey to shape the Government transgender equality action plan and formulate initial Government commitments. The next E-Bulletins and surveys will focus on specific themes, depending on the results of this survey and feedback from meetings with you. We plan to issue E-Bulletins and surveys every other month.
The survey targets UK people only and closes on 6 May 2011. Any queries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ms Featherstone adds that “personal details will be kept strictly confidential and not shared with anyone outside the Government Equalities Office“.
One of the rather fun things about being trans is that you live in a world where doctors poke and prod you hoping to find deep answers about why you exist- deep, award-winning, and powerful answers that will at last enable them to explain what the hell is up with us; because it’s not like we’re authorities on our own lives or anything.
To set the snark aside, I’m of course talking about the endless quest to find an etiology- or medical explanation of origin- for trans existence, a recent example of which can be found here. It is a particularly transfixing matter that seems to occupy the place of El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth in the eyes of our medical masters. A Lost Ark of the Covenant with which to at last claim final dominion over us. The ultimate Holy Grail being a “trans test” whereby folks in white coats will be able to objectively prove that someone is trans.
Yet like all the foregoing it is a myth, a legend. There is not likely to be any one coherent, purely biological/neurological explanation for our existence. The drive to research the matter is not inherently evil, mind, but the resources being dedicated to it come into question when studies of this sort appear to be to the exclusion of more directly beneficial research, like longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of hormone treatment on trans people.
Recent studies have been justified by asserting that they will benefit young trans people with early identification of trans-ness. But let us be as honest and realistic as possible for a moment, shall we? What would make things easier on young trans kids is not an MRI scan or some kind of trans test. It would be a world where having a trans child would not be a terrible thing, where bullying of children who defied gender norms would be frowned upon and actively discouraged, where parents raised their children to accept a multitude of gendered possibilities. A “trans test” would not even be a stopgap measure to help young trans people.
When I first came out to my father I naively waved studies in his face that spoke of this thing called “Gender Identity Disorder.” But his first reaction to me was not to say that my gender was valid. It was to say that since it was a ‘disorder’ there must be a ‘cure’- you know, one to make me into a boy again, like he wanted.
Transgender does not need a medical etiology in order to be accepted morally. The entire issue is a massive red herring that deflects a necessary moral and philosophical argument into whether or not we objectively exist by the standards of a game we are rigged to lose. We are already on the backfoot because we live in a world where our voices do not count, we merely concede more ground when we suggest that narrow, incomplete studies that reveal- at best- a small piece of the puzzle should speak for us.
The critical moral argument that we must never lose sight of is whether it is okay to discriminate against someone because there isn’t a biological explanation for their existence. For most any situation, the answer is a resounding “no” among decent people. We do not say that people of faith bring discrimination upon themselves because they ‘chose’ to be a part of a given religion, and when people do say this, they are rightly derided for being assholes. We do not get sidetracked into asinine arguments about how some people are born Jewish and have Jew brains and, y’know, they just can’t help it and that’s why we should be ‘tolerant.’
No, actually. You should avoid bigotry because it’s simply the right thing to do.
On top of everything else, this vexatious quest betrays another deeply rooted assumption about gender in our society that plainly reveals our position as The Other. Where are the studies that inquire why cis people are cis? Or why heterosexual people are het? Because this is the presumed, normal default of society it goes unmarked and unquestioned (although scientific forays into “male” and “female” brains are nothing new and I will revisit this shortly). Whatever the intentions of these scientists, some of whom I will even be generous enough to admit may want to do the right thing by trans folk, they are participating in a discourse that holds that we are invalid until proven to have a Cause that can be established scientifically and thus set in stone.
The reason that this is dangerous and more than simply a fool’s errand is nicely illustrated by one of the trans community’s leading scientific antagonists, Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey. The attendant quest to trans etiology is, of course, the crusade to find a ‘gay gene.’ Bailey has argued that if such knowledge is used to find and abort ‘gay foetuses’ it would be morally acceptable and a matter of “parental rights.” What would my father have done with me had a doctor told him I was trans while I was still in the womb? That grim scenario aside, however, it is also absurd simply because we have no way of pinning down a single neurological, genetic, or other physiological ‘sign’ of queerness and/or trans-ness. The number of false positives would be astonishing, I expect.
At the heart of this issue, however, is that simple question: do we choose to be trans or not? My answer is: the question is bollocks and so is your face. It is an overly simplistic binary question that does not account for the following realities:
- Social construction of gender shaping how we all- cis and trans- learn about what is feminine, masculine, etc.
- The fact that biological inclinations will differ from person to person and perhaps take wildly different forms in two trans people.
- The agency of a trans person who shapes various aspects of their gender consciously, even if the “decision” to be trans, full stop, was not fully theirs. Some of us have seemingly natural preferences for things, some of us have red lines we will not cross, and some of us change things about ourselves all the time. Is there an etiology that can account for the wild number of variables in that equation? Unlikely.
- The fact that there are several million different ways to be a man or a woman. Some trans women are very feminine, others are less so, others are outright butches. I myself am somewhat femme but lean heavily towards the Hillary Clinton end of the spectrum. Is there an etiology for that level of specificity about these things that comprise my gender and the genders of countless trans folk?
What it comes down to is that ‘research’ on trans origins is basically asking you to see only two types of people in the world: Men and Women. You are very subtly and tacitly asked to see these groups as wildly different from one another, but also to see men as being all exactly the same and women as being all exactly the same, and that “gender” only means your body. When you take a long step back from that to behold the riotous cacophony of beautiful gendered diversity in our world, the findings of these small scale studies on trans etiology begin to seem a lot less far reaching than they otherwise might.
What’s more, we are not going to be loved by people who presently hate us if, suddenly, a study came out tomorrow with The Ultimate Biological Explanation for Transness. The murders would not stop, the discrimination would not stop, the hate would not stop, the cultural exclusion and medical colonisation would not stop. We would be filed in a few cis scientists’ “Hmm, that’s interesting” cabinet and locked away while the beat goes murderously on. Proving ourselves biologically is not salvation, it’s a titanic straw man.
I know this: my growth into womanhood was necessitated by a powerful understanding that if I did not come out, death- literal or waking- awaited me. I was being compelled powerfully to live a lie not of my choosing. Accepting myself as a woman, as a person of trans experience, has had profoundly positive effects on my life. It would be a colossal misreading of my difficult and painful experience to say that I “woke up one day and decided to be trans” as some transphobes might have it. But that is not the only alternative to saying that I was ineluctably and unproblematically “born this way” with some purely biological cause that was not in some way socially and personally mediated.
I say this because this is true of absolutely everybody. Not just trans people. That is one of the critical distinctions to understand here that separates what I’m saying from the rest of the pack. Everyone’s gender is constructed, no one is born a man or a woman. The subtle implication of a lot of trans research is that there aremale brains and female brains when reality proves to be far, far more confounding on that score than not. When we think we’ve found the key to gendered brain difference, we get tripped up. “Women have a bigger corpus callosum than men! Wait, no do they don’t. Wait, yes they do! Sometimes! Behold my small data set!” That particular merry-go-round was critiqued with true scientific precision by biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling in her 2000 book Sexing the Body, which also provides a good deal of data to buttress my points here more generally.
I do not have a female brain so much as I have a Quinnae brain, a lovely grey mattered lump of brainy loveliness shaped by my unique experiences, learning, and an ongoing dynamic life that alters those meandering curves with each passing day. There may be something biological that made my coming out all but inevitable, but a good deal of the shape my womanhood took had nothing to do with the brain I had when my mum bore me.
I should not need a certificate, or a study to tell people that I am who I say I am in terms of my gender. Transphobic people will not stop once an etiology is discovered. Let me make something abundantly clear:
The search for biological explanations is perfectly fine in and of itself. It is not fine for that to act as a substitute for real moral and political discussion. This research is an academic curiosity. It must never be the fulcrum upon which our rights and dignity as human beings rest.
In any moral, just world, the question of our humanity would be settled by the mere reality of our humanity, our existence as human beings. Whatever we “choose” or “don’t choose” is irrelevant to the moral and political questions about our rights. Such debates are really slam dunk arguments that get mired in false concern about scientific relevance that really has no bearing on how most people live their lives. For me, I have found who I am. Nothing will dissuade me from that. I do not, personally, care about the nature versus nurture question apropos which made me trans. If there is an answer it is “both/and with a lot of beautifully messy complications.”
But I am who I am, and I thankfully never needed a peer-reviewed study to tell me so.
Dear Auntie Kate, (can I call you that?)
I have had more than a few reservations about your gender theory for quite a while now but have held my tongue for a variety of reasons. Yet as I read through your latest op-ed in Out magazine, The Trouble With Tranny, I was profoundly troubled. I came to a point where I realised I just couldn’t stay silent any more because of the venues in which you’re promoting a certain kind of theory that is, perhaps despite your good intentions, very transphobic. If I haven’t already lost you, allow me to explain.
You begin the article with fond reminiscences about your time with Doris Fish, a prominent drag queen, whose views regarding trans women you characterise in the following way:
“I was afraid of her raw sexuality, but bowled over by her courage. Doris was amused by my quest to become a real woman.” (Emphasis mine)
“Like me in the late ’80s in San Francisco, the majority of MTF transsexuals just wanted to live their lives as closely as possible to whatever their notion was of “a real woman.” They considered drag queens beneath them. The drag queens were amused by the MTFs pursuing the dream of real woman.”
Let me be the first to say that the disparaging of crossdressers and drag queens on the part of transsexual people is, yes, quite morally wrong and represents internalised transphobia. It evokes that hierarchy of legitimacy that too many people of all backgrounds buy into in order to buttress their stability and position in a world that is built on domination. Yes, it’s wrong. I am not more legitimate than a crossdresser, no DQs do not make me “look bad” and I call out any person who claims such. The problem lies with a society that will not learn about us and lumps us all together as one blob of freakish bad, and not with any individual member of our diverse community.
All of this said, I get the distinct sense that you feel more ‘enlightened’ and ‘evolved’ now and agree with Doris Fish in her ‘amusement.’
Auntie Katie, let me reveal to you a bit of truth here. Willing to listen? Good:
I did not transition to be a “real woman”- that’s a useless concept, and a fairly sexist/transphobic one. I transitioned to be a woman, my kind of woman, the kind of woman I want to be, and that involves expressing myself as I am, as a whole person, in ways that break gender stereotypes as much as ‘caters’ to them. I’m not alone in this. A lot of trans women out there feel exactly the same way, and as we’ve unlearned our internalised transphobia and misogyny we are becoming all the more proud to be unique types of women, not archetypes of women. This leads rather nicely into my next point to you. You say the following:
“Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn’t allowed to co-opt the word “woman.” Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman.”
Here you’re making exactly the same, utterly fallacious mistake that too many “meanies” (as you might call them) make. Your experience was thus and so, therefore we all must be such.
Here is a bit more truth- I know, work with, and study the work of politically smart cis lesbians and queer women who would utterly balk at the idea that a trans woman “co-opts” the term “woman.” They are increasingly part of mainstream feminism, from the street to academe, they and their trans sisters would without a moment’s hesitation label such thinking outdated and transphobic. Why? Because how exactly are you going to break apart patriarchal gender norms if you cede “man” and “woman” to biologically essentialist definitions? If you say it’s not possible for someone assigned male at birth to truly be a woman, you’re not being a gender outlaw, you’re being gender riot police. I don’t think you’d look very good in a black helmet and gas mask, Kate, so I invite you to reconsider your stance on these issues for the benefit of us all.
Because right now, you’re not helping by delegitimising people’s identities. By making womanhood more diverse, trans women are also in the vanguard of disrupting normative notions of womanhood and in case you were not aware, Kate, feminists do internalise gender norms as well; it’s what makes it so easy to take biological-essentialism for granted, as you yourself appear to do.
This is a crosspost from my blogthing.
When one reaches a certain point in transition and begins to delve into this riotously diverse, loose aggregate we call the “trans community” and its close cousins to whom we are the red-headed step sister (yes, quite the odd family, no?), one inevitably hits the wall of language.
What do you call yourself? To what group do you belong? How should you be addressed? How does this relate to how you address others? What language is hurtful and undermines you? On and on the questions and contemporaneous realisations go. Words, wonderful words, surround, bind, and penetrate you. At the end of the day again and again we are learning, re-learning, and un-learning language. Trans people are, along with certain other loose confederations of humanity, perhaps more deeply attuned to the vicissitudes of linguistic power and how language does power than your average bear.
And why is that? Because there is one realisation along with all the other usual ones (i.e. why it hurts when, as a trans man, someone calls you ‘she’ or a ‘woman’) that demonstrates language’s power.
The words we have often obviate any meaningful way of discussing our experiences.
In looking out at the vast, expansive canon of gender studies literature, and in light of even the most superficial analysis of its myriad failings it is easy to feel dispirited by what it has to offer trans people. It is all too easy to understand the instinct to abandon both queer and gender studies as a privileged exercise in neo-pathology, the postmodern turn of the same ideologies that guided the hegemonic psychiatrists of decades past. One could find yet more examples, of course.
Judith Lorber, someone readers of my blog may remember my past disagreements with, had this to say in 1994 about trans people: “[trans folk do not challenge the gender order because] their goal is to be feminine women and masculine men” (Lorber 1994: 20). Yet again we find the tireless obsession with attributing a politics to identity in the simplest possible terms, yet again we find the clutching of pearls with regard to the innate, literal body politic of trans people. It might perhaps be too obvious to tell Professor Lorber that for all of her elegant theorising about the socially constructed nature of gender she cannot bring herself to describe trans people by their proper pronouns (for example calling Renee Richards “he” and Billy Tipton “she”) nor to belabour the questionable hypocrisy of being unable to break out of the role of arbiter even as she derides the imposition of gender schema upon people.
However, to simply shine more light on the white cis women of gender academia and call them to the carpet for their tacit transphobia does a disservice to the armies of trans folk that have devoted their not inconsiderable intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy to challenging these things since before I even drew breath.
In the long march into academia one naturally becomes intimately acquainted with the geeky and esoteric minutiae of whatever discipline one has chosen for their career. Over the last two years I’ve found myself up to my eyeballs in gender studies text and find it utterly fascinating. I’m often seen scurrying to and fro with a book or two tucked under my arm and my desk is covered in all manner of books appertaining to my passions. But importantly, when you are trans-anything and delving into the wild and woolly world of gender studies you have to be ready for the fact that there will be lots and lots of highly credentialed, intellectual academics theorising about you who do not know what the hell they’re talking about.
This occupational hazard is, to put it bluntly, both annoying and the reason I’m doing the sociology of gender in the first place. The only way this is going to be truly fixed is when we start writing the theory and we start conducting the research, casting our eyes not just on this wild and strange tribe of “transgender” but also on cis people whose views are far more powerful in shaping how our fractioned community is gendered and understood. What I’m looking at today is a particular strain of thought that is increasingly common in Third Wave feminist theorising; it is ostensibly trans positive but ends up being highly fetishising, stereotypical, and ultimately transphobic. It stands in contrast to that Janice Raymond school of theorising that constructs us purely in terms of an outsider, an enemy who constitutes a patriarchal invasion-cum-Body Snatchers. This vision instead sees us (or some of us) as ‘useful’- we have utility in the quest of certain cis feminists to smash the gender binary. Yet what unites both of these seemingly oppositional philosophies is that they are theories formed by cis people about us, relative to their gender ideology, and that construct us as ‘other.’
There are a few strains of thought in this new feminist theory that merit deconstruction and they will likely be familiar to most readers in one way or another:
Via email from the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM), news of the publication of one of the few comprehensive large-scale research works undertaken anywhere on the situation of trans people in one country:
The research report Being transgender in Belgium gives an overview of the social and legal situation of transgender people in Belgium. The aim of this research was to map the discrimination and inequalities in practice, policy and legislation faced by transgender people. The research consisted of various phases, each with a specific methodological approach: a detailed literature review exploring terminology, prevalence, social position in various spheres of life and the legal position; an extensive online survey aimed at transgender people, followed by focus groups; a case study relating to the position of transgender people at the ground level. The research results are translated into policy recommendations in the concluding section of the report.
The brochure can be downloaded via the website of the Institute for the equality of women and men (go to Publicaties/Publications > Transgender/Transgenres), or can be ordered in print. It is also available in Dutch and French.
Curtsey to Geraldine at IGVM for the heads-up
What should the rest of us be doing while DC is press conferencing and San Francisco is rallying?//
First of all, email Nancy Pelosi. Then click here to send letters to your Congressmembers with one click. If you’ve previously sent a letter, send another bunch. The language on the letter changes every day, and you should send one everyday.
Then call them at 202-224-3121 and demand ENDA, H.R. 3017, coming to a vote now.
It’s crunch time!
Many actions are taking place around the country on Saturday. Check Equality Across America‘[s website for a list of local actions. Also look at the sidebar, which has a number of actions not on the main list. Facebook’s Harvey Milk Day Actions Page also has some actions listed that aren’t yet on EAA’s page.
Here’s NYC’s Harvey Milk Day March on Saturday the 22nd.
Get out into your community and speak up!
More at the link.