Archive for January, 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about the insufficiency of much trans activism in general, and my own focuses in particular. Namely, that in foregrounding narrow policies aimed at trans people (like regulations regarding documents change), many of us lose sight of the social contexts in which violence against trans people occur. We presume too easily that trans people have housing, jobs, access to health care, and are not in the justice system. Needless to say, this reflects a profoundly middle-class bias, one which I am ashamed to admit I’ve shared. I’ve been fucking up on that score for quite awhile. Barely touching on sex work is a blind spot that ignores the lived realities of trans prostitutes who bear the brunt of violence and oppression.
To state it baldly, sex worker’s rights are trans rights, and any struggle for trans rights as a whole must center sex worker’s rights.
Anyway. Here’s an excerpt from Viviane Namaste’s Sex Change, Social Change, where she interviews Mirha Soleil-Ross, a trans activist in Montreal. It’s a quite damning inditement of transgender politics, and in particular the Trans Day of Rembembrance. I disagree with some of it, and think she underestimates the way in which trans victims of violence are assumed to be prostitutes (even where they’re not, especially if they’re women of color), but it’s compelling and poses important questions for trans activism as a whole.
Mirha Soleil-Ross: I think most people don’t understand the gravity and breadth of the situation. They don’t see the day-to-day violations of prostitute’s most basic human rights. They don’t see our vulnerability and can’t grasp how much the criminalization of prostitution affects our work and our lives; how much it impacts us emotionally, socially; how much it costs in human lives.
But my request is for transgender activists to stop their sinister appropriation of the abuse and violence that transsexual and transvestite prostitutes endure on every continent. When you look at the majority of transsexual, transvestite, and transgendered people who are attacked, raped or murdered, being a prostitue and being part of that specific social and cultural context seems to be a common denominator. So realizing that almost all trans victims of violence are prostitutes, you have to start asking serious questions about societal attitudes towards prostitution. You have to investigate how such attitudes might contribute to–or perhaps even constitute the main determinant in–making trans prostitutes targets for hatred and attacks. And you also have to consider, in addition to transphobia, other facts such as racism and misogyny.
So when you ask why transgender activists do not take prostitution into consideration, I am forced to say that if they were to do so, they have to give up the majority of their martyrs [. . .] Their campaigns have everything to do with supporting their own political agendas, agends that are all about securing and maintaining their middle-and upper-class privileges through and after transition but have absolutely nothing to do with improving the working conditions of lives of transsexual and transvestite prostitutes. (Sex Change, Social Change, “Interview with Mirha Soleil-Ross,” Women’s Press 2005, p91)
Kari Rothkopf and Tori Kirk both underwent gender reaffirmation surgery in Thailand, and because both women had their surgeries overseas (not in the United States), the Illinois Vital Records division has refused to correct their documents.
This seemingly authoritarian interpretation of the state’s Vital Records Act is now being challenged by the ACLU on behalf of the two women, on the grounds that the denials are a violation of state law.
Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health — which encompasses the Vital Records division — say their hands are tied.
“We are following the Vital Records Act, and we are simply enforcing that,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “The part that we are particularly looking at is the definition of physician. Physician means a person licensed to practice medicine in Illinois or any other
As in, one of the United States.
Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, estimates that between 1,600 and 2,000 patients undergo major gender-related surgeries each year.
“Given that many if not most health plans will not reimburse for medically necessary transgender surgery procedures, many transgender people find it necessary to leave the country in order to get the services they need,” Ginsberg said. “So it’s both illogical and unfair to not allow people to change their legal documentation to reflect the reality about their bodies and their condition.”
(Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox)
So, in a daring and audacious move, I’m going to poach some of Helen’s turf and write about this story in the UK.
Basically, hospitals in the UK are going to now be fined if they have mixed-sex wards. From the Guardian:
He said such accommodation was “totally incompatible” with the NHS’s focus on quality, dignity and respect.
Ok, so a couple of things. Note the use of the word “sex”–not “gender.” This is important because it suggests that like other institutions like homeless shelters and prisons, “single-sex” would be organized along legal sex classifications.
Where’s the problem, you say? Hold on, I reply, slightly frustrated by your impatience.
So, the UK, unlike here in Australia or the US, allows trans people to change their documents without SRS, by applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. The minimum qualification is two years of having lived full-time in your chosen sex, I believe. Needless to say, this is much better than anywhere that requires the wealth to get SRS, but it’s still got flaws.
Where this is going to get sticky is where it always does–with tans people who are in the process of transitioning but aren’t yet able to. Two years is a long bloody time, and like any gatekeepering system, the NHS does do bastardy things to trans people who don’t fit their diagnostic categories..
So, the question is, what is the policy going to be with regard to those people? Are they going to be allowed the “dignity and respect” to have their gender identities respected, or are we conjuring up yet another new scenario for the same old argument with women’s shelters–you’re not really a woman, you’re a danger, potential rapist etc etc
Having spent my time arguing on repeated occasions with a hospital that wouldn’t label my files with my LEGAL NAME, simply because they had a previous one, and having a go at me for being deceptive cos I was admitted as female, somehow I doubt that this is particularly going to work that well for trans people. I know that our problems with health care are often far more life-and-death, but this just seems to be setting up another checkpoint, another place to be stopped and asked for your documents, another way to be put at risk when you fail to produce the right ones.
So, it seems to me that an uncritical equating of “dignity and respect” with legal sex (I mean, why? Are we talking public nudity here?) is likely to leave some trans people in the highly undignified position, fighting to have their genders recognised at times where they should be healing.
Sokari at Black Looks has posted a paper by Audrey Mbugua called Human Rights Violations on Kenya’s Transgender Community.
It’s a solidly-researched and impassioned piece which includes a request by the Kenyan TS&TG community to the government there to make suitable provisions in the New Constitution. I recommend reading the whole thing, but here are a couple of quotes that particularly struck me.
Because of the conflation of transgenderism and homosexuality, the common fallacies that come out when we look into the history of “transgender hate” oppression is that it’s mostly labeled as “gay hate” oppression. But, on a closer look, a vast majority of these “gay hate” crimes are actually atrocities done on Kenya’s transgender community.
Transgendered people in Kenya have always been part of the Kenyan society since time immemorial. Transgenderism and transsexualism like homosexuality are a source of great phobia in our society. Although the Kenyan Constitution does not criminalize transsexualism and transgenderism, there are both institutionalized and non-institutionalize forms of discrimination pervading in Kenya.
When we don’t raise our voice against these thoughtless acts of human degradation, we knowingly allow perpetual oppression of transgender individuals.
While you cannot force people to love you, you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by those around you irrespective of any condition you might find yourself in.
(Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox)
But for those who have access to technology – and I know that there are issues around class and privilege, etc, with that – is it not a Good Thing that world leaders can be contacted by the electorate by as many different means as possible?
Via BBC World News:
Barack Obama is to keep his BlackBerry, becoming the first US president to have access to e-mail in the White House.
“It’s just one tool among a number of tools that I’m trying to use, to break out of the bubble, to make sure that people can still reach me,” he told CNN.
“If I’m doing something stupid, somebody in Chicago can send me an e-mail and say, ‘What are you doing?’”
Although I do wonder just how much email access to the President people will really have; how much screening will be in place. If, for example, to pull a completely hypothetical and random thought out of the air – if there was an email campaign pressing for an early resolution to the trans exclusive ENDA situation, would all those emails (a) actually reach him, (b) be replied to and (c) be acted upon?
More flippantly I also wonder if his spam filters will keep out all the ‘remortgage your penis’ junk mail…
(Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox)
Via Pam’s House Blend I see that the White House website has already been updated in the wake of yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as President. Of particular interest is the inclusion in the Civil Rights Agenda page of a section titled Support for the LGBT Community.
You can see the whole thing by clicking here (and scrolling down), but the sub-headings are:
- Expand Hate Crimes Statutes
- Fight Workplace Discrimination
- Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples
- Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
- Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell
- Expand Adoption Rights
- Promote AIDS Prevention
- Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS
As a Brit, part of me is reluctant to comment on US politics, it’s a hugely complex and nuanced subject about which I’m not the most well-informed – but on the other hand, the world is now a very interconnected place, and policies and events occurring in the US can, and do, have an impact on the lives of those of us outside America.
I’m still not entirely sure why so many discussions about being trans always come down to either what’s inside our underwear or which toilets we use. And, having been made aware on numerous occasions by a variety of cis people that These Are The Things That Matter, how could I not mention this piece in The Sentinel, about Staffordshire University Students’ Union nightclub introducing gender-neutral toilets alongside the existing facilities offered to women, men and people with disabilities?
In passing, there’s a video version of The Sentinel’s largely hysteria-neutral report here. It’s worth a look, if only to get an idea of how utterly mundane and unremarkable the subject matter really is. Certainly not worth getting your knickers in a twist over, that’s for sure.
Students’ Union president, Fee Wood, said: “It is known that public toilets are gender separate and are often difficult to negotiate for transgendered or androgynous people.”
“This often leads to embarrassment, harassment, or even assault by others who are offended by the presence of a person they interpret as being of the other gender.”
Fee added: “There have been quite a lot of people using the new toilets.”
“We had one complaint from a girl on the first night, but overall the feedback has been positive.”
I don’t know if I can really add anything more to my post of last September (“Toilet signs ‘too PC’”), which was about the introduction of gender neutral toilets in the basement of Manchester University students’ union building. In that thread, we talked about political correctness; but I think my main concern was, and is, for the safety of trans users of the facilities. Not the safety of cis users who are, I think, talking out of their privileged backsides when they spout the old tropes about trans people just being men who want to use women’s restrooms, and won’t somebody think of the children, and all the other misplaced and pearl-clutching comments that are wheeled out every time the subject comes up.
I mean, far better that trans people run the risk of harassment and assault than cis people face up to the discomfort they feel at having to examine their own privileges and assumptions about the gender binary, normativity, prejudice, discrimination, ableism and so on and so forth.
Coming to a restroom near you. Soon.
Get over it…
(Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox)
“it seems to basically say “oppressed/marginalised people can be treated as property” (to be “borrowed”, something must be “owned”), and simultaneously that an explanation of difference is something that the “normal” have a right to demand at will from the “different” (a term commonly used in the autistic liberation movement is “self-narrating zoo exhibit”)”
Right from that start, this demand is built into the transition process. Just to get your hands on hormones, you need to assemble an autobiography convincing enough to get a psychiatrist to diagnose you and pass a referral on. There’s the endless barrage of questions from family, friends, partners. Why are you doing this? Have you always felt this way? etc etc. For no-op/no-hormone people, I imagine that why aren’t you going the medical route gets pretty old too (you are, of course, damned either way, such is the way of normative power).
Occasionally, this is actually helpful. When you repeat a narrative, you can solidify it (although, also raise the possibility of its failure), and that can be good in clarifying the bodily feelings of gender dysphoria into language. And as Helen points out, inevitably some kind of narrative is necessary to negotiate Planet Cis.
But see, it’s the demand that sucks, the necessity of it. Some people I want to understand (eg my girlfriend, it helps for her to understand what it’s like to live in my skin), but most people? Shit, do they actually really listen, anyway? I’m sick of conversations that go:
Them: So you’re gay?
Me: Not the way you mean. I’m a trans woman, which is about gender not sexuality. I have a girlfriend, which makes me a lesbian I suppose.
Them: Ohhhhhhh now I get it.
Them: So you’re a gay man?
Or the assumption that because I’m a trans academic, I write queer theory. Actually, for the record, I write about religion in culture, my blogging sometimes feels like this bizarro alternate universe. I’m trans, sure, and a feminist, but trans stuff I’m rarely interested in for its own sake. It’s only the utter shiteness of cis-authored theory about trans people that makes me want to pick up a pen on that score.
So the notion that all trans people can talk about with any authority is being trans really pisses me, and that conversations about transness become axiomatically centred on cis concerns about our bodies pisses me off even further. Trans 101 seems to turn into… trans 101.. and then… trans 101. There’s always another person, ignorant of their own privilege, demanding I explain myself. Wanting this zoo exhibit to narrate their own lives, only using cis language to make the story fit cis assumptions, and it never bloody fits.
I’m honestly really not sure how to get out of this roundabout, though. Like Helen says, it’s necessary for us to be understood, because–and this is as depressingly cynical thought as I’ve had–if you are different, you have to prove your humanity to those in power. It cannot be taken for granted, and given the virulence of transphobia when combined with racism, hatred of sex workers, ableism etc this work is probably necessary to some degree.
For me, it’s impossible to stop talking about it, because unless I suddenly get whacked by the 24/7 Stealth Fairy the demand is unlikely to go away any time soon. And even then, there’s always shrinks, endocrinologists and surgeons for awhile. But I’m burnt out on it, and I honestly cannot fathom why someone would actually want to participate in something that makes that conversation occur even more..
“Transgender persons encounter severe problems in their daily lives as their identity is met with insensitivity, prejudice or outright rejection” says Commissioner Hammarberg [the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights] in his latest Viewpoint.
Analysing the various difficulties transgender people face, the Commissioner underlines that “they are discriminated against in all member states, in areas such as employment, health care and housing”.
He concludes calling on member states to “take all necessary concrete action to ensure that transphobia is stopped and that transgender persons are no longer discriminated against in any field.”
The Commissioner’s full statement is available on the Council of Europe’s website (link here)
(Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox)
Another month, another report of another trans woman apparently murdered. The monotonous regularity of these violent hate crimes against trans women doesn’t decrease, does it? I’ve just been reading about a court case currently under way at the Old Bailey here in London. Robyn Browne, a trans woman, was stabbed to death in 1997 and the man accused of her murder seems to be claiming that he did it for a fee of £500 (around $750) which he’d been offered by drug dealers in exchange for stealing Ms Browne’s address book. Because apparently she was also a sex worker who was blackmailing her “famous clients”.
Hopkins later claimed he had been offered £500 by Yardie gangsters to steal the victim’s address book because it contained the names of famous clients who were being blackmailed.
So now we know: the going rate in 1997 for the life of a trans woman: £500. About $750.
Don’t spend it all in one place.
[Mr Hopkins] also told his partner during a prison visit that Miss Browne was stabbed accidentally during a struggle inside the flat.
Accidentally. Nine times.
As if all that wasn’t engrossing enough for any newspaper reader of a tabloid mentality, the story appears to be recounted by a prosecuting lawyer who almost seems to be offering the accused the opportunity to wriggle out of it by means of our old friend, the trans panic defence (see also).
I’ve posted a fairly lengthy unpicking of one of the news reports over at Bird of Paradox, but it makes pretty depressing and potentially triggering reading; a state made worse by the (in my opinion) unrelentingly lurid tabloid style in which the story is related.
And what a great shame that Robyn Browne isn’t around to give us her side of the story.
ETA: Robyn Browne murder trial: update from Old Bailey, January 7 (Via BoP)
ETA #2: Robyn Browne trial, Day 3: accused “not responsible for anybody’s death” (Via BoP)
ETA #3: Robyn Browne trial: accused claims he tried to save the victim (Via BoP)
ETA #4: Robyn Browne murder trial: denials and misgendering continue (Via BoP)
ETA #5: Robyn Browne murder trial: “Celebrity clients spared court appearance” (Via BoP)
ETA #6: Robyn Browne trial: cis man convicted of murder (Via BoP)