Archive for July, 2008
I haven’t been posting much the last little bit, for two reasons. First, I moved, and second I had what was probably an anxiety attack. I’m cross-posting this on my own blog too, cos this is gonna to get slightly more personal than usual.
One of the first lessons of feminism is, of course, “the personal is political,” and while I don’t think everything is political in the way some people take it, I think personal experience is a valid form of political knowledge. And so, I’m specifically going to talk about health care.
Not, however, about transitioning per se. Because, fact is, transphobia is so much more pervasive that I think we do ourselves little favours if we restrict our analysis to strictly trans issues. Struggling to get decent medical care is far from unique to trans people, afer all.
How transphobia intersects with disability, sexuality, race, misogyny etc, these questions are vitally important. I find it profoundly irritating to see my own blog blogrolled in GLBT sections and rarely in a feminist section. Yeah, I’m queer, but I’m a queer feminist.
So, to continue with my story. So, on Saturday, I was seriously struggling to breathe.
The concern for trans women is the concern with all estrogen drug treatments–an increased chance of blood clots. They apparently usually start in the legs and travel up to the heart or lungs. So not being able to breathe is a big big warning sign.
So, after much trying to find an appointment on a Saturday and half-scaring my Suzan to death by calling her at 1am Louisiana time, I get to a GP’s office. I sit down in the chair, and he refuses to sit next to me. Instead, he hovers bizarrely near the door, only daring to sit down when it comes time for me to leave. Apparently transness is catching.
Despite this rubbishness, he suggests I make haste to the hospital, where I have doctors who are at least able to look at me with flinching. The first thing the nurse suggests, of course, is that it might be anxiety (taking me extremely seriously there). Still, they do a few tests–not enough as my GP later tells me, “they took a lot on faith”–but enough to be sure I wasn’t in immediate danger. I’m lucky enough that my own regular GP (who isn’t open weekends) is very thorough, to run through more chests to make sure that I was absolutely ok.
Now, I’m aware that this is small potatoes. You could end up like Tyra Hunter, who died because firefighters decided not to perform emergency resus on her when they discovered she was trans, and then a doctor at Washington General decided not to treat her. Tyra Hunter, a trans women of colour, was deemed not sufficiently human by the firefighters–”it”–that she was allowed to die.
This tells us a lot about how institutions act out ideological biases–transphobia, misognyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, classism, and so on. Some lives are more valuable than others, some lives are more worth saving than others, some people deserve better treatment than others.
Too often, transness works to ideologically overdetermine the medical care given. Got that? No? Ok, a less Althusserian phrase.
If a doctor sees that you are trans, that becomes all that is seen. Suddenly a whole new set of rules apply. I’ve had doctors suggest wildly inappropriate things in circumstances they would have never previously.
Prejudice, phobia, simply neglect, whatever the case is, the point is, where trans people are concerned, trying to get adequate medical is very often a fight in circumstances where physicians should be trying to help.
I left this alone for awhile because, you know, I’ve made my point on this topic.
But, I hate being told that stating the plain truth is a lie.
Truth: I believe that transgender persons should enjoy full civil and human rights with all other persons. I believe that transgender persons are oppressed and targeted because they are transgender and that this is completely wrong.
Why the Lie Has Been Told: Because I have supported, defended and advocated for woman-born-woman only spaces. For the lie-tellers and -repeaters above, defenses of spaces set aside for female-born persons equal “transphobia” and being “anti-trans”.
Setting aside the laughable idea that “woman-born-woman only spaces” aren’t transphobic, and setting aside the idea that “transgender persons should enjoy full civil and human rights” means attacking laws that would actually ensure we have those civil rights because of a convenient interpretation that gender protection would harm cissexual women, Heart’s been known to say things like this in public:
I agree with you re mental illness in the SM culture and also ::::zipping into flame-retardant suit::: among transpersons, i.e., MTFs that hang around lesbian groups/venues. Someone I very much respect who has done very fine work on transgender issues, a radical/lesbian feminist, said a while back she thinks that quite often, doctors, psychologists, etc. encourage “transitioning” because it’s something concrete that they *can* do, but that it doesn’t help, because again, so often these are not really gender issues the person has, these are issues of mental illness, and as some of us have seen, transitioning is no cure for mental illness.
Yes, it’s totally not prejudiced, bigoted, or transphobic to say say that transgender is not about gender or sex, but about mental illness. Never mind the ableist assumptions involved in trying to discredit people by calling them insane.
Stay classy, Cheryl.
Brownfemipower points to a video of “Jon Justice” being downright slimy and nasty about Isabel Garcia:
Isabel Garcia recently pissed off local nativists because of the work she is doing. I am purposefully not going into any detail about the work she does, because I don’t want anybody to think that this clip is vile and disgusting because the woman does amazing work. I want people to see this for what it is–a white man feeling like he can control, humiliate, and imply sexual violence against a brown woman–all while be recorded for public broadcast. It’s about a white man controlling a woman who pissed him off, by mocking her race, by implying sexual control over her through the use of racist imagery and language.
She is being attacked, mocked, ridiculed, and sexually humiliated because she is brown and she is a woman.
Click here to find out how you can stand up to sexual violence on public airwaves. If you want to know more about Isabel Garcia and the amazing work she does, see the previous link and click here.
The video itself is horrible and potentially triggering, so Ilyka’s posted a transcript for those who don’t want to watch it.
Moving on steadily. Hope you’re all enjoying these posts, though it feels a bit weird to not have an accompanying rabbit picture. Here’s another one that gets regular thrown at trans people, particularly by radical feminists.
Basically, it’s the notion that, by medically transitioning, we reify gender—which is something that feminism is supposed to be destroying.
This is a particularly stupid line of argument, that it nevertheless has had enough traction to convince enough people it’s worthy of repeating. And repeating. Usually, it’s tied to an argument that trans people have the most retrogressive of personal presentations.
1. to convert into or regard as a concrete thing: to reify a concept.
2. To regard or treat (an abstraction) as if it had concrete or material existence.
Ok, got that? Trans people (and ONLY trans people) treat an abstract concept—gender—as though it were real. This was an idea promoted, for instance, in Lacanian psychoanalyst Catherine Millot’s Horsexe, where she says:
“The male [sic] transsexual, who claims to have a woman’s soul in a man’s body, and who often demands correction of this ‘error’ through surgery, is perhaps the only believer in a monolithic sexual identity free of doubts and questions”
Those poor dupes, they actually believe in gender.
Everybody else presumably, particularly any kind of cis feminist, has a suitably ironic take on gender. Which is why you’d fight so hard to stop people from changing it. Cos it doesn’t exist. Except it kinda does, enough for you to deny mine.
Generally, my response to the reifying trope is, of course, “as opposed to practically everybody else?”
Why is this critique not applied more strongly to gender normative straight people, or Lacanian academics or crunchy radical feminists for that matter, all of whom gain more and risk less from their gender presentations?
Trans people who identify as male or female do reify categories of gender, in so far as we fit one category or another.
However, depending on our appearance, we do not necessarily fit easily in them, and even if we do, we can be instantly removed from said category as soon as we’re outed. Suddenly, we’re de-gendered, “really” a man or woman.
I mean, it’s all so fracking seamless, like suddenly every Patriarchy-loving person around us goes “phew, they’re not gender non-normative, they’re actually the other gender. And that reconfirms the binary.” Seriously, what? People, liberal feminist people, got really really mad at me transitioning when they were ok with gender non-normativity.
And remember the legal problems I pointed to with transitioning—the law treats gender as though it were real, and guess what? We often have a precarious legal standing. Who’s reifying what, exactly?
Cis people reify gender categories even more strongly. Because, beginning in a category, and not only staying in it but actively defending its boundaries against trans people is fucking reifying it.
I mean, you’re treating the abstract concept of gender as real, as something worth defending against intrusion or defection (ie the “butch flight” idea).
Tell me again how if you draw a boundary against transitioning or even genderqueer states you’re not reifying a category yourself? You’re strengthening the category boundaries. There’s nothing very unusual about that, but it’s patently ludicrous that this critique be only and ever applied to trans* people.
Trans people who transition break the notion that gender is a once-and-forever deal, and this problematises gender categories–and through what grounds they might be constructed–far more than any radical feminist throwing-off-the-shackles-of-Patriarchy dissension.
And that doesn’t mean that our genders are somehow less real than cis genders, because even if you hold to some social constructivist position (which is where this idea stems from), a construct still exists. It’s not something that only those poor deluded trans people believe in.
Yes, many of us identify as a gender, and modify our bodies to fit that. So what? If that reifies gender, then cis people reify it more.
This is one that’s particularly directed at trans women, but occasionally at trans men too. Simply put, it is the notion that before, during and after transition we are privileged members of the patriarchy.
The notion that trans people are the worst examples or supporters of the Patriarchy is a common one in radical feminist thought–notably Janice Raymond’s notorious The Transsexual Empire, Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman, and any number of works by Sheila Jeffreys. The ludicrous premise of recent “science fiction” film The Gendercator was that trans people had collaborated with the Christian Right to force transition on everyone, so that an absolute gender binary would be upheld.
This is, however, complete twaddle. Trans people on the whole are no more in favour of the binary than anyone else, and since it is fracking impossible to just snap your fingers and change gender categories legally (or you know, fall into the Spring of Drowned Girl), we often inhabit a precarious legal space in-between genders–and therefore have very good reason to argue for the abolition of gendered categories.
Transgendered people are discriminated against legally, economically, and socially. Let’s break it down:
I can’t overstate this enough, because it is so frequently elided in studies of transgendered people. We are disproportionately, constantly, the victims of violence.
Viviane Namaste in Invisible Lives found that 1 in two trans people had been the subject of violence in the past year, compared with 1 in 7 gays and lesbians. Violence is most likely to occur, unsurprisingly, against the most vulnerable people–sex workers, women of colour. Some trans women are both, and it adds up to a particularly volatile cocktail in a world that, frankly, hates us.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the violence against proto trans youth. Bullying at school, often sanctioned by teachers, for being “gay,” “too feminine,” “a man,” whatever. And often hostile home environments, where our gender expression is “cause” to beat us, be a man, be normal, and so on.
The point is, trans bodies are the subject of violence because of our genders. This is a patriarchal privilege how?
Murky legal status
Trans people have an often murky legal status, which can vary from state to state, nation to nation. Different places have different standards for allowing us to change our gender—for instance in Australia where I live in, you’re required to have genital surgery if you’re a trans woman (an expensive surgery that requires an 18 month waiting period supervised by a psychiatrist…), in the UK the standards are less onerous and require a Gender Recognition Certificate, in some states in the United States like Texas a trans person can never legally change their gender.
But this does not mean that we get patriarchal privileges, even if for trans women we continue to be legally seen as male.
What this means is that our identities are often not accepted, and so we are placed in the wrong gender category, which is not just upsetting, but it is often dangerous. As Viviane Namaste shows, trans people are systematic erased by institutions.
Now as we all know, ID like driver’s licenses and passports have genders on them. For trans people, there can be a massive difference between our paperwork and how we are presenting, which places us in an extremely vulnerable situation. You’re open to discrimination—this is not a very friendly world to trans people—and charges of identity theft, fraud and even target as potential terrorists (because we’re “disguised.” Flying is particularly difficult for trans people after 9/11).
Ok, so imagine what happens when you get pulled over by the cops and your driver’s license has the wrong gender. You get the phenomenon of “driving while trans,” where some transphobic cop decides to pull you in for driving without a license. Or, a friend of mine found herself having to convince her bank that she wasn’t committing fraud when she tried to change the name on her bank account.
In the US, Social Security sends a “no-match” to employers, which can out stealth trans people. And since there’s very little legal protection stopping employers from discriminating against trans people, said employer is generally free to fire you for being trans. Which leads me to…
Trans people are disproportionately unemployed, and comparatively poor as a group. The myth of the trans woman who transitions late in life after she’s got all that fat Patriarchal money, power and privilege is just that, a myth.
“A study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 of 194 transgender individuals found a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually.”
According to this report from the Williams Institute,
13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
13%-47% had been denied employment
22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace
So poverty, and employment based discrimination is a patriarchal privilege? Shiny.
Anti Discrimination Laws
In most places, transgendered people are not covered by anti-discrimination laws—this is what the big ENDA mess was about in the US, where gay and lesbian organisations discarded trans rights from an anti-discrimination law.
Trans people are not covered by sex discrimination laws, or sexual orientation laws. Sexual discrimination laws are about legal sex, not gender identity.
Sexual orientation laws are about being (or being perceived to be) gay, lesbian or bisexual. Neither of these address the specific discrimination people face for being transgendered.
It’s really difficult to tell, but an extremely large number of trans people are homeless at some point in their lives – the trans group blog post above suggests the majority, but stats are unreliable. A January 2007 report from the (American) Gay and Lesbian Taskforce suggests that one in five transgendered people are homeless. The reason for this is twofold – the aforementioned discrimination for employment, and often unfriendly or abusive home environments.
Trans youth are particularly affected by the latter, and this is doubly compounded by the often gendered nature of homeless shelters.
It is true that some trans people are able to get married, and hence get some of the privileges thereof. However, as with everything else, this is patchy and who you can marry and the legality of your marriage varies wildly from place to place, and depends on your surgical status.
But, even if you can get married, the United States has a policy that specifically excludes marriages where one partner from being able to immigrate to the country. The apparent privilege of sometimes being able to be married is able to be disregarded at any moment.
Now, I could just go on and on about this, but I think the point should be clear enough. Trans people are systematically disempowered, on macro and micro levels. Why on earth does any of this sound like we’re getting monthly muffin baskets from the Patriarchy?
Back in Mid-March I posted an answer to one of Debi’s posts in which she asks why radfems are constantly criticized or attacked by other women – those she might see as allies. I responded, describing many of the tactics I’ve seen radfems used against other women – sex workers, sex positive, feminists who generally disagree with radfem positions on pornography (not always for it, but perhaps not enthusiastically for a heavy focus on stopping it vs. other topics), women of color, trans women, and women with disabilities.
I’m glad she is rethinking her stances regarding dealing with women who don’t agree with radfem views. I’m not at all taking credit for this – it’s about those who blogged in her defense against Dr. Crippen and on the topic of medical rape, something I missed due to not really paying attention to blogs in general.
My intent was not with the first post to call Debi out as transphobic, but to call out radfems in general on how many of them treat women outside the radfem circle. I am still unhappy that after she said she would have preferred if I’d come to her blog to discuss her post that she said “allowing a trans woman to comment is exactly like allowing a man to comment,” effectively shutting down those attempts to discuss her post.
So, I have reservations on the trans front. As a woman whose existence as a woman is constantly questioned and threatened by those who know my trans status, it’s hard to lose those reservations when I’m still not sure if my womanhood is seen as legitimate.
On the other hand, it is fair to acknowledge that Debi changed her mind on stuff I called her out on four months ago (even though my words did not change her mind). That she’s willing to talk to women (and acknowledge them as feminists) even when they disagree with her on matters such as sex work.
So, one of the more wearying things about being trans is having the same arguments over and over and over. The same tropes recur again and again. And again.
I’m going to start with the biggie – that trans people are“really” a [whatever gender you were assigned at birth.]
This is the belief that however we identify, whatever we do to our bodies, we will always really be the gender we were born as. It is irrelevant how trans people feel about ourselves, or how we look, or how we are received by the people in our lives.
You are, supposedly, one gender once and forever. It’s immutable, and whilst you can change the outside shell, you cannot change the inside.
This is, as those familiar with feminist and queer theories, an extremely essentialist viewpoint. Our genders are lies, falsity, deception. What matters is essence, which is apparently carried on chromosomes. Or something. It’s unclear, because it slips from biology to the social (the rad-fem argument about “shared girlhoods”), but it is, always, ultimately an ontological argument about gendered being.
It’s nevertheless tremendously effective, because it appeals to a cis-sexist biology (one that ignores the tremendous gender variation across nature … see Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow for more on this) as a way of legitimating denying trans experience.
It denies us the capacity to grow, change, to self-define, to have agency of our bodies and our lives. It denies our identities.
More than that (as if that wasn’t enough), it is this notion, that we are “really” a different gender, that puts trans lives at risk.
For example, this case in Sydney in 2006, where a stealth trans woman was outed to her boyfriend by police.
“After being released from custody, he broke into Ms Fell’s unit, yelling: ‘You didn’t tell me you were actually a man – I’m going to smash you.’”
Because it “makes sense,” see, to an awful lot of cis people that transness is deception, that underneath is the “real” other gender.
This is why, when trans people are featured in the media, our “real” names and pre-transition photos are inevitably used at some point, as if to say, oh no, you are not the person you say you are.
Well, I am a woman, because I say I am. Because that’s how I feel. Because I live my life as a woman. Because I am seen, by those who aren’t blinded by the “really” a man argument, as a woman. There might be a biological basis to my transness, but it’s ultimately irrelevant to me.
I am really a woman, because I am really a woman.
Hey! How’s you?
I’m Queen Emily, and I’m going to be doing some guest blogging here for a little bit. Some of you will know me from my blog Sexual Ambiguities. For those of you who don’t, here’s a little spiel about me.
I’m MtF trans, white, Australian (but coming to the US for a few months soon), queer, able-bodied, horribly over-educated. I might be slightly biased, but one of my firmest beliefs is that my girlfriend Suzan is the most beautiful person, ever.
Anyway, I’m going to do a series of posts about common transphobic tropes, so I hope you like ‘em.
Ebony Whitaker, a 20-year old woman, was found dead near a Memphis Daycare on Tuesday, July 1st. The press, not convinced that she had suffered enough, denies her the basic dignity of self-determination by using the wrong name and pronouns, repeatedly. Degendering her, stealing her identity and life, labeling her as “a transgender” and using her birthname. Joyce Peterson makes it clear that she doesn’t respect Ebony’s life.
I’ve been having blog apathy recently for reasons related to real life and not interesting enough to explain here. What it means is that in two months, I haven’t posted a word about anything.
I have been following the Kyle Payne thing (links in the sidebar) over the past week, reading about this man who defines himself as a radical feminist, who counsels rape victims, who presents himself as a feminist speaker, assaulted a woman without her knowledge (photographing her breasts while she was asleep) and may have had child pornography on his computer. He apparently does enjoy pornography despite decrying it for the sake of his radical feminist credentials.
Many of the bloggers posting on this – in agreement – have bitterly argued over other issues in the past, but for the second time in the past couple of months – the first being Dr. Crippen and medical rape. Yay solidarity in feminism and among women who do feminist things.
So, anyway, I’ve heard that a couple of feminists seem a bit puzzled as to why Kyle is notable enough to blog about (as opposed, to, say, Ampersand, who deserves multiple posts to drive the point home that pornography pays his bills, whose site is subsidized by pornography, but who doesn’t make any claim to be anti-pornography, who doesn’t have a history of assaulting women, who doesn’t work as a rape counselor or on a crisis hotline after having assaulted women.
Kyle’s trying to make himself visible as a feminist man, as a man who’s opposed to pornography, who speaks out against rape, who puts himself in a position to gain access to women who have been raped and assaulted . . . and he’s a man who has assaulted a woman, and assaulted her in a manner that is well known to be a precursor crime to rape.
As many women as possible should know who this man is, what kind of danger he represents, and how he is apparently using feminism, anti-pornography, and presenting himself as a tear-stained Baltaresque figure so as to gain access to feminist women, to women who have been assaulted and raped, to place himself in a position of trust relative to these women, when he has shown himself to be a predator.
That’s why it’s important to blog about him specifically.