Archive for the ‘transmisogyny’ Category
This video is a speech given by Katherine Cross (who blogs here occasionally and often at Nuclear Unicorn and The Border House) of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project on the topic of liberation, reproductive freedom, and the impact on trans people:
As usual, I cannot easily transcribe videos. If someone would like to, or point me to a transcription, I will be extremely grateful.
Transcript provided by TAL9000:
Video opens on a text screen, reading “from Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building the Movement for reproductive freedom 26th annual conference CLPP & PopDev, Hampshire College, April 13-15.”
(fades in to Ms. Cross standing behind a lectern adjusting the microphone. On-screen text: Katherine Cross, Sylvia Rivera Law Project)
Audience: “Hi! Hi! Hey!” (from various people)
“So. Just what is a right? You see, there is something about rights, those things we keep fighting and dying for, those amorphous evanescent phantoms of liberty that keep us striving toward the infinite horizon of change. Rights are what movements like ours are built on. And so what are they? The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income trans people and trans people of color in New York City, has a rather novel idea of what rights are.”
“We believe that a right is something that you can touch. Can taste. Can live and breathe. It is something tactile, material, with a size and shape that is known and something that is more than a phantom of a whisper of a thought on parchment, a right is the recognition of your humanity.”
(applause from the audience. Katherine pauses)
“For SRLP, this has meant one thing. Rights require justice in order to be exercised. In order to be something more than theoretical. If a woman has a right to reproductive choice, but cannot afford it, then for all practical intents and purposes she has no right to reproductive choice. That is reality, and it is reality that the Sylvia Rivera Law Project has attended to. Human dignity requires material conditions, it requires economic justice, and it requires the power that knowledge brings. There is a reason that Know Your Rights brochures are our most popular offerings. Unknown rights are no rights at all.”
(Brief pause for applause)
“We see in all of our fellow sisters, brothers, and siblings a member of a wider human family that has been denied that humanity. At Sylvia Rivera, we take the cases few others will. We take the cases that strive for humanity where prejudice and petty hatred has most forgotten it, because their rights matter and because we count”
“What are these rights, however, that I keep talking about in the airy abstract? The rights of transgender people of color. Of low-income trans people. Of immigrant trans people. Of trans women who society has forgotten. My sisters. Sex workers. Our incarcerated family members. We make humankind our business. A humankind that is holistic, that forgets no one, that celebrates the love and joy of humanity within us all, that elevates our art, our poetry, our struggles, and our quotidian joys in the midst of an oppressive society where patriarchy pushes down. From the smallest name change case to the largest Appellate Court case on access to medicaid, we are there, fighting for rights that are real.”
“A right on paper is no right at all. A right that is coupled with economic liberty, however, a right that comes with the material resources needed to access it, is a right that can be exercised. A right that is known, that is understood, can be struggled for and it can be won. That is why we at Sylvia Rivera have struggled against the doubts, the fears, the worries and the hand-wringing that attend a law project’s work and seem to only promise death by a thousand cuts. We have fought through these doubts because we know that our clients are more than clients. They are sisters, brothers, and siblings, they come from the communities that we serve and that we are a part of, that we know, they live and breathe with us too, and they are artists, poets, lawyers, teachers, and activists. There is no bright red line between activists and clients, lawyers and plaintiffs, service providers and the served.”
“Whither the link to reproductive justice, however? If a trans woman cannot legally change her name, she loses access to the rights that she supposedly has. The name she has given her own body is not recognized by authorities that then wield the structural power over her to name her as they wish and not as she wishes. If a trans woman must be sterilized before she can legally change her gender, where are her reproductive rights? If she is considered an unfit parent purely by dint of her being trans, where are her reproductive rights? If a genderqueer person who is undocumented finds themselves at the mercy of the INS or other institutions that continually discriminate against undocumented and immigrants in this country, where are their reproductive rights? How can a sex worker who is transgender access health services without enormous risk simply because of their profession and their gender? Where are their reproductive rights?”
“All of these people are united in seeing their bodies policed by authorities that think they know how to manage our lives better than we do. Sound familiar? Just as the Hyde Amendment ensures that Roe v Wade is merely theoretical for millions of American women, so too does heteropatriarchy more generally ensure that trans people’s bodies are not our own. I share with my cisgender sisters the painful fact that my body is public property, and that my rights are contingent on that fact. Sylvia Rivera, the namesake of our organization, said enough is enough. We, as a collective, continue that cry.”
“Liberation is a collective process, goes our popular slogan. What that means is that none of us wins unless everybody wins. None of us is safe until all of us are safe. Citizenship realizes its promise only when humanity is universally recognized and is not contingent on gender, skin color, or national origin. Equality is not just a word. It is not a soundbite. It is no benighted slogan. It is a truth, a thing with substance, with real dimensions, that can be felt, and that can be lived. Transgender people cannot live their lives without a measure of reproductive justice, and reproductive justice cannot exist in a world where trans people’s bodies are not our own. When we fight for the right to name ourselves we are fighting for the right to control our bodies and our existence. When we fight for healthcare access, we are fighting for our bodies and the right to live. When we fight prison injustice, we are fighting against an oppression that criminalizes us for existing. When we fight, we share the cause of reproductive justice. Our bodies, our choices.”
(Applause continues as she concludes) “Thank you very much for sharing this space with me”
(Fade out to a similar screen to the opening one. The url clpp.hampshire.edu/conference is shown on it)
And incites violence against them. This definitely happens in the comments
As it’s become clear that the “WBW” policy is no longer a policy, trans women have begun attending MichFest openly. In response, that repository of anti-trans hate speech – GenderTrender (not going to link) – has posted pictures and real names of four trans women for the purposes of harassing them and possibly inciting violence.
labelle77 on Livejournal wrote a post that covers this fairly thoroughly, as well as WordPress’ unwillingness to enforce their own TOS:
This is a letter I’m going to send off, and link to, and hopefully broadcast in an attempt to get WordPress to take action to enforce their own Terms of Service. Please feel free to link, repost, forward, mail and any other spreading of the word you can do. ♥
While the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) is an event you may or may not usually concern yourself with, I wanted to bring to your attention an appalling violation of transwomen’s privacy and safety that is happening in conjunction with the festival right now, and the refusal of blog website WordPress to take any action to enforce their terms of service and protect a vulnerable population from harassment or worse.
I’ve never attended or really even cared about MWMF myself, but was aware from friends who have gone that there has been an ongoing controversy regarding the attendance of transwomen. There are many transwomen who love to go and bond with other women. There’s also a faction of MWMF attendees that feel the festival should be free of all persons born with penises and open to “womyn born womyn” only.
I don’t really want to get into the body-parts-based admission policies of the MWMF, however. What really disgusts me is a blog post related to this topic on the blog GenderTrender. (I’m not publicly linking to it in order to refrain from compromising the privacy of these women further). I find the post hateful in so many ways, the least of which is actually the blogger’s only “womyn-born-womyn” stance on the controversy. No, what is really disgusting is what she feels her opinion entitles her to do.
This blog post outs several transwomen with both pseudonyms AND legal names, their photos, where they can be found at the festival, and in some cases their profession and employment. Being on this “hitlist” of transwomen was not consented to by any of them, and it associates them with accusations of volatile behavior that the author has absolutely no proof any of them participated in. The blogger refuses to use female pronouns and asserts that these women, who live in one of the most marginalized segments of our society, are “chest pounding” and trying to assert male privilege in invading a womens’ space – as if people who’ve survived gender dysphoria and live outside of our binary ideas of gender have any male privilege to speak of. I can’t even fathom the kind of vulnerability and violation these women must feel. They’re now at risk for ongoing harassment from MWMF-goers, both online and in person at any future fests, and at risk of harassment and potentially violence from any other hateful person that happens to stumble on that post.
The blogger is also putting these people in possible professional peril – at least one woman is listed by both her legal name, profession, and business name AND by the stage name she uses as an actress in (feminist-award-winning, actually) adult films. Suddenly, anyone who googles her in a professional capacity becomes immediately aware of her other work, without any consent from her.
I know there are several people, myself included, that reported to WordPress this gross violation of privacy AND the WordPress Terms of Service, which states “By making Content available, you represent and warrant that…the Content does not contain threats or incite violence towards individuals or entities, and does not violate the privacy or publicity rights of any third party.” (http://en.wordpress.com/tos/)
Everyone who has made a report to WordPress received a single paragraph canned reply that states:
“WordPress.com is in no position to arbitrate disputes or make judgment on such claims. As per http://en.support.wordpress.com/disputes/, please provide us with a Court Order including a court’s decision regarding this particular content; if any content is found to be defamatory or illegal by a court of law, it will be removed immediately from our service. Any court order, should you obtain one, must be sent to the following e-mail address:firstname.lastname@example.org”
Even more than I was outraged at the blogger herself, I’m outraged at WordPress. Absolutely they have the ability and the RESPONSIBILITY to enforce their terms of service. Absolutely they can tell a blogger she must remove photos used without permission. Absolutely they can insist that a blogger cannot out members of vulnerable minority without consent. They DO NOT have to wait for a court of law to enforce their own Terms of Service.
Because WordPress seems flatly uninterested in taking any action to protect these women, I thought I’d write to you. A good old-fashioned media shaming campaign might possibly make them take a hard look at their terrible policies of doing absolutely nothing to protect a vulnerable population and shirking their responsibility to ensure that their terms of service are followed..
Thank you for your time.
…”Types Of Blogs” page that addresses this kind of behavior too:
“Personal attack blogs: Blogs with the primary purpose of attacking an individual or group of individuals are not welcome on WordPress.com. We have a particularly low tolerance for anonymous bloggers who make personal attacks without standing by their words with their real name.”
I’ve reported the blog in question to WordPress myself prior to reading your commentary — WordPress seems a little slow to address reports about their attack blogs.
Unfortunately, it seems that as these trans misogynist radical feminists become less relevant and their views are increasingly viewed as toxic, they become more vicious in their attacks.
I am not doing well with the summarizing or the commentating on the news, but here are relevant links, with the note that they contain descriptions of violence. Three people were shot (two trans women), but none died and their injuries are not life-threatening.
My heart goes out to the survivors and families.
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 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:
“the history of transsexuality is a criminal one” – Viviane Namaste
Patti Shaw, a trans woman in Washington DC is suing the city for 10 million dollars after having been arrested for making a false report, then was held in a men’s prison to be sexually assaulted and harassed. From Courthouse News:
(warning: link includes obligatory repeated mentions of her assigned name. My interpolations are in square brackets)
In a rather complicated case, Shaw says she phoned in a report that her purse had been stolen from her home one night, then found the purse, but ended up actually being robbed that night while she took her dogs out.
Shaw says in her Superior Court complaint that when officers finally responded and she told her story, a detective asked rude questions. Several days later, she says, the detective said “that he did not believe her story and he said that he was going to issue a warrant for her arrest for making a false report to a police officer.”
Shaw says she was told to turn herself in to the 6th Precinct “within a couple days or she would be arrested.”
When she did turn herself in, at 4 a.m., she says, the officers on duty learned that she [is trans]. She says they ignored her legal identification stating that she had [had SRS], and threw her in a male holding facility.
Ok, so do we have this straight? A black trans woman makes a report that she’d lost her purse, and finds it. Then she claims to have been robbed that same night and makes a different report. The detectives are rude to her. Then a couple days later, a detective decides to arrest her for making a false report, and then things get predictably ugly at the police station.
So I think there’s two parts to this story. The first is the sheer fact of her arrest. When the detective says that he didn’t believe her story, how is “believability” being figured in relation to her race and transness? To be robbed the same day after making a pointless report is certainly a bit unlikely, to be sure, but not out of the realm of possibility. Would a white cis woman be likely to be arrested with the same chain of events? Somehow I doubt it.
Then there is the punitive nature of mobilising the law for this – she’s arrested a couple days after the interview after the detectives think about it some. Now, did they think about the sheer facts? Or was what they were thinking about how to arrest that trans woman they’d seen? This is, after all, Washington DC, a locale known to search trans women suspected of being sex workers (ie all trans women) and use condoms as evidence of prostitution. In any case, it’s hard to see how arresting her is somehow less of a drain on resources than making two reports in the same day.
The second part is what happens to her in jail. Even though they’re aware that she’s post-op (and thus should be placed with other women), she’s placed incorrectly in a men’s holding pen, harassed by the marshals and sexually assaulted by other prisoners. Arguably this qualifies as the “deliberate indifference” of law enforcement that the Farmer Supreme Court ruling of 1976 defines as cruel and unusual punishment in the treatment of trans prisoners. Arguably the officers must have been aware was a fair likelihood for a trans woman housed with men. Where were the guards, exactly? And indeed having a woman pee in front of a bunch of men seems not only designed to humiliate, but to stimulate sexual aggression.
Prisoner sexual assault is as Justice David Souter put it in 1976, “not part of the penalty that prisoners pay for their offenses against society.” And fuck, we’re not even talking about a convicted prisoner here, just someone accused of a crime and a fairly minor one at that.
So, my obvious conclusions. Police officers are not there to protect us as trans women, they are as likely to be a threat. Anecdotally, I think most of us are aware (or should be), that making reports is as dangerous as being suspected for a crime, because being on the radar of the police is not a healthy thing for a trans woman. And–this one’s for the HBS special snowflakes–SRS does not guarantee that you will be housed correctly if you’re unlucky enough to get caught up in the criminal justice system. And if you are housed incorrectly, things are likely to go very, very badly.
This what happens to trans women in the “justice” system. Fingers crossed Ms Shaw takes them for everything she can, cos God knows she deserves it.
ETA: It occurs to me that one thing we’re not told by that story was how the case against Ms Shaw proceeded. Is it still pending? Did it go to court? Was she convicted? Surely any story would mention that if it was the case. Because if there was no followthrough, it seems to me that there’s a fair chance it was basically a fit-up from the start due to a personal grudge or prejudice.
One thing that I encountered, over and over, early in transition was the suggestion (demand, even), that I document my transition. It’d be fascinating, document something important etc. The suggestion seemed nonsensical–I’ve never been a very visual person, I’m a writer, a poet–but worse than that, it annoyed and upset me. Like a lot of trans people, I have a fraught relationship to photography.
This post by Rebecca articulates a lot of things. She writes compellingly about the anger she feels at her parents for displaying photos of her pre-transition:
I’m angry at them for remembering as joyful (or even merely placid) the time I felt as painful and turbulent. I’m angry at them for happily framing and mounting photos that remind me of how horribly trapped I felt at all times. I’m angry at them for mourning the loss of someone who was never really there, regardless of how ‘normal’ he was or how little ‘fixing’ he seemed to need. And that anger, I haven’t really even started to address.
But the problem with photography goes further than simply “documenting” an unhappy period–it is that it comes with a cissexist history of interpretation which fixes the photographed trans person as “really” their assigned sex. In other words, like all texts claiming to merely “reflect” reality, the photograph constructs, placing the subject into an interpretative framework. Like all texts, we read the semiotics of the photograph generically–family photograph, wedding photograph, advertisement etc etc. And yet if we realise how fake magazine photos are (with its attendant airbrushing, lighting and so on), when it comes to the casual photo, we very often see it as truthful. As Cedar said:
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.
Cedar is suggesing that, like other marginalised groups (think National Geographic), the camera has had an oppressive history for trans people. Jay Prosser notes in Second Skins the ways in which trans narratives have been framed by photographs. I think we’re all familiar with the placement of “before” and “after” photos side-by-side, in magazines, in books about trans people. Their constant, almost obligatory, usage by cis people suggests that there is something important at stake for the cis gaze which is confirmed by the “before” photos–the “truth” of the assigned sex.
What I think is painfully missing from the world at large is a transsexual gaze. And no, I don’t mean the ability of trans women to possess an objectifying gaze (as I’ve read radfem interpretations of Laura Mulvey’s infamously misunderstood thesis about the Male Gaze). A transsexual gaze would register the changes and movements of transition, but would also begin from the position of trans legitimacy–from the straightforward proposition that trans people are our sexes.
What I mean is, we lack the ability to register across time, not “before” and “after,” but one mode of sex and then other. It would confirm not a cissexual truth, but a sex that already existed prior to transition (for we do not come out of nothing, creatio ex nihilio), it is that a cissexual gaze does not see the trans person there.
In other words, we need to see the woman in the pre-transition photo of a trans woman, the man in the pre-transition photo of a trans man. That, and only that, will help begin to dissipate the painful and fraught relationship so many of us have with photographs.
There’s going to be a little bit of trans-feminist ranting strewn in here, so bear with me ;)
A definition is required to begin with: The word “cissexual” was coined in the early 1990s. General records seem to indicate Patrick Califa invented it. The meaning of this word is “a person who has only ever experienced their unconscious and physical sexes being aligned.”
Essentially, one of the biggest problems with being trans is that we are sexualized in every corner – by the person on the street, by the media, by academia, often by our own therapists – from the word go. From the very beginning of the emergence of a coherent transgender movement/transsexual movement, mid-20th Century, trans women were forced to jump through a set of hoops put in front of us by the medical/psychological establishment to be able to transition.
The original standards of care forced the transsexual to lie constantly. They forced you to lie if you were bisexual or a lesbian; they forced you to lie if you didn’t care to wear skirts or dresses or makeup; they forced you to lie if you were a feminist; they forced you to lie if your interests lay outside of traditional homemaking and “feminine” pursuits; they forced you to lie if you were so badly off that you felt you would die if you didn’t get treatment right this minute, right this second. Trans women were routinely forced to quit rewarding, well-paying “masculine” careers and take up “feminine” jobs that paid a fraction what they were making pre-transition. And they forced you to begin presenting as a woman for an indefinite period of a year or more before receiving the hormones that most trans women need to be able to both feel at one with our bodies and pass successfully in society. In short, you were required to be a 1950s stereotype of femininity, that was even outdated THEN.
After transition, they still forced you to lie; trans women were required to make up and enforce “consistent” (i.e. cissexual) personal histories, and remain romantically heterosexual, or risk being accused of “backsliding,” which was essentially a threat of having one’s hormone prescriptions withheld. Trans “support groups” at that point in history were not so much “support” as an institutionalized way of keeping trans women “honest” – an ironic word given the amount we were expected to lie. Trans women would be expected to primarily discuss in these fixed forums how feminine they were becoming and what men they were trying to find.
Relationships would be severed; ties with children deliberately undone and obscured. The way that trans women would be treated under this regime was little more than the destruction of the old person and the creation of a completely unrelated new person, often in a different part of the country, without history they could refer to or the ability to fall back on any sort of safety net or social support structure. Many trans women fell into sex work because under these strictures it was the only work they could acquire (remember this, it’s important later).
In short, as Julia Serano wrote in Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, “at every turn, the gatekeepers prioritized their concern for the feelings of cissexuals who were related to, or acquainted with, the transsexual over those of the trans person.”
That trans women were able to put up with these horribly misogynistic, male-centered rules for transitioning should be an indication of how badly they needed to transition.
These same, very misogynistic and strictly gatekeeper-enforced restrictions on transition – which trans women deeply resented, chafed under and did everything possible to escape – were thrown back in our faces by the feminist movement, to which we turned to remedy our difficulties, through solidarity with other women, of the time as “proof” that trans women ourselves were a male-centric, misogynistic attempt to “colonize” femininity and “replace” women. It got to the point that Janice Raymond (who wrote the definitive piece of aggressive transphobic literature, Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male) successfully convinced the insurance industry that genital reconstructive surgery – an essential part of the transition process for many trans women – should not be covered under insurance because it was an “experimental, cosmetic” technique when in fact it is neither; its theraputic benefits are well-established and it is cosmetic only in the fact that the appearance of a body part changes.
I am not intending in any way to suggest that trans women are or have ever been wholly blameless victims. It is certainly possible for a trans woman, as with any other person on the face of the earth, to be petty, cruel, vindictive, calloused to the issues of their privilege and others’ disadvantage, all of the above. Many trans women in earlier years, transitioned late in life after a lifetime of working from a position of male privilege and power, and frequently failed to surrender the assumptions shaped by that privilege. However, transness, and trans femaleness particularly, exists at the nexus of a number of privilege interactions that makes life difficult for us.
In the modern world, of course, things are a bit different – not much, but enough to turn transitioning from an ordeal that is guaranteed to rip one’s life into pieces, into something that can be navigated with a minimum of trauma and difficulty. I particularly am fortunate that I managed to transition with my job, with my family intact and my friends mostly intact; and that my family seamlessly transitioned from thinking of me by my old name and he-pronouns to thinking of me with she-pronouns and by my new name of Katie.
The sexualization of trans women in public media is easy to see: It’s in all the places that we are portrayed as sex workers; portrayed as slinky and seductive lovers of powerful men (I love Candis Cayne to pieces, but Carmelita can go to hell); in all the times we are portrayed by cissexual actresses in movies (Nicole Kidman; Felicity Huffman) – and this doesn’t even count the “she-male” and “chicks with dicks” portrayals of trans women in pornography.
Sexualization in academia? Well, to start with, read the book The Man Who Would Be Queen. Written by Northwestern University research psychologist J. Michael Bailey based on a very limited-size sample (a mere dozen trans women found primarily by investigation of the gay bar scene in Chicago and at least two of whom are known to have slept with Bailey in exchange for letters of recommendation for genital reassignment surgery – and the allegations of sexual misconduct alone should have earned Bailey an ethics board), it has hurt trans women more profoundly than any book since Transsexual Empire. Queen casts trans women solely in terms of the sexual desires of heterosexual men; according to Queen trans women are either “homosexuals” – hyperfeminine gay men who wish to be desirable sexual objects to heterosexual men – or “autogynephilics” – otherwise-normal heterosexual men who desire sex with a “female image” of themselves. This is based on the “homosexuality/autogynephilia” dual theory forwarded by Dr. Ray Blanchard of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, ON (formerly known as the Clarke Institute, and referred to by its detractors as “Jurassic Clarke” or “the Cluck”). It is safe to say that Transsexual Empire and The Man Who Would Be Queen are the two most transphobic books ever published.
Bailey’s terms “homosexual” and “autogynephilic” transsexual are more accurately and correctly said to be, respectively, heterosexual and bisexual/lesbian transsexual women. He makes no effort whatsoever to apply his theories to transsexual men (female to male transsexuals). Doing so would require him to view male bodies and male sexualities with the same level of dehumanizing sexualization that he does female bodies and sexualities. He of course refers to transsexual women as “men” throughout his text, and repeatedly and openly asserts that he does not respect in any way our identities and our lived experiences as women; and indeed our past experiences as girls who went through a childhood and adolescence so traumatic that our language lacks words to describe it.
In its text, Queen not only reiterates Blanchard’s theory, but also goes further by adding racism, explicitly stating that trans women of color – the trans women most vulnerable to discrimination and violence – are “usually homosexual” (read: heterosexual, early-transitioning trans women) and therefore “exceptionally well-suited to sex work.”
In another passage, Bailey states “There is no way to say this as sensitively as I would like, so I will say it bluntly: Homosexual transsexuals are usually much better-looking than autogynephiles” – not only bluntly reasserting the stated premise of the homosexual/autogynephile binary theory, but also reasserting that the only purpose of heterosexual trans women is to serve as a sex object for heterosexual men.
The “homosexual/autogynephile” theory of male to female transsexual identity formation fails the most basic possible test of scientific validity: It is unfalsifiable, because according to it, any evidence against it is to be discarded as prima facie tainted.
Bailey’s work is not conducted in a vacuum; it would not have found a receptive audience in academia if many academics studying transsexuality did not share his biases against transsexuals. We do have many good and positive allies and advocates, but those who make it difficult for us have enough influence to do much damage.