Archive for September, 2009
via Helen Boyd
A month ago, a trans woman named Paulina Ibarra was stabbed to death in her apartment in Hollywood. The police have a person of interest, one Jesus Catalan, who is known to have been inside Ms Ibarra’s apartment. From the ABC article linked above:
Investigators say they know that Catalan was inside Ibarra’s apartment but they don’t know exactly what happened between the two. Police do know that Catalan is known to frequent transgender prostitutes.
Catalan is homeless. Detectives say they believe friends are currently helping him hide. Authorities are asking for the public’s help in tracking him down.
“There was an argument or a fight of some type and Ms. Ibarra was fatally stabbed,” said LAPD Lieutenant Wesley Buhrmester.
“We’re here to say that we’re not going to let somebody come in and kill one of our members and just let it happen and let it be forgotten,” said transgender activist Victoria Ortega.
Jesus Catalan is 24 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 140 pounds, and has a tattoo on his right arm. He is known to frequent the Hollywood and West Hollywood areas. If you have any information on his whereabouts you’re urged to call the LAPD tip line at (877) LAPD-24-7. That is (877) 527-3247.
As for the article. Note the use of the word “person” – not woman. Note how it functions. Note how it actually means “not a person.” Note how it’s just tossed in there that Catalan frequented trans prostitutes, and how that works to imply that Paulina Ibarra may have been a sex worker, and how it redoubles her disposability (as a woman, as a trans woman, as a woman of color). It shouldn’t, of course, but in a misogynistic sex-worker phobic world, it sure does.
And then note the date when this occured – August 28th. This occured one month ago, and we’re just hearing now? It’s just making news? Well, that does sound terribly conducive to a search.
And then note what Victoria Ortega says, “We’re here to say that we’re not going to let somebody come in and kill one of our members and just let it happen and be forgotten,” and then pass this news on, please.
ETA: Gina in the comments has posted a link to the wanted poster which features a picture of Jesus Catalan..
Well, no. That would be putting the horse before the cart. I take for granted the fact that I live in a transphobic world. The transphobic people I’ve dealth with would have been transphobic before, and transphobic after. Obviously.
But while transphobia has an independent life of its own, it is given institutional support, and this is what I am getting at. What I mean is, mismatched documents make outing compulsory… and then cissexism does the rest.
Outing comes at the specific meeting point between legal documents, sexed body,and sex-gender presentation (clothes, facial hair, voice etc). I use sex-gender because gender is almost always also a presentation that presumes an alignment with cissexual sexed body (the exception being, say, non-passing crossdressers or summat). Once someone has that information,then whatever prejudice they have is a factor in my life, in our lives.
Cissexism means a number of things, but most of all it means that the “transsexual” part of transsexual woman invalidates the woman part, and instead means, simply, “man.” From there, we have the common meme of “trans deceiver” or whatever.
But the main point is, there’s very little choice about when it’s necessary or safe to out yourself as transsexual. You can’t go, well I’m here for a throat infection I won’t mention it – because the ID they asked you to show already did that for you.. or the computer database they have pinged a record from a decade ago. In a transphobic world, one can never anticipate ahead of time whether the person supposed to help you will become aware of your transness and simply leave you to die. This is a systemic privilege, which can be exercised or not, but either way remains out of the hands of trans people.
It is therefore one giant crapshoot, and as I said in the last post it currently seems easier to change documents and to manage your information yourself than have that choice out of your hands and in the hands of those who may (or may not sometimes, true) seek to do your harm simply for existing.
So, I promised a follow-up to this post. Indeed, I’ve been promising it to a few of you for quite awhile.
So, in my previous post, I made the argument that the discursive, legal categories of “male” and “female” can have real social effects for transitioning people whose documentation doesn’t match their gender presentation. In essence, sex is a bio-political category, one that takes biological features and gives them a presence in the world, and this inevitably has political consequences. Sex functions as a bio-political regime, employed across disparate realms from the medical to Customs to banks to public transport. Every one of these is a pass/fail opportunity, where “pass” is implicitly being cissexual (ie having a gender presentation and sexed body that matches documents) and “fail” simply means being trans–indeed, presenting a “mismatch” means being potentially criminalised. It is about regulation and control.
So this isn’t negligible, and it’s hard to imagine the kinds of social benefit that would outweigh the discursive criminalisation of much of a community at any one time (what with the low rates of SRS caused by prohibitive costs etc).. Indeed, given the proliferation of bio data collection, plus the infinite memory reserve of computers (I’ve had my name and sex overwritten at work from a previous one hour job six years previously, simply from surname and birthdate–which then of course by “policy” couldn’t be changed without a birth certificate), I do wonder how much longer it will be possible for any of us to live stealth.
Interestingly, this post got picked up in several places, and had hundreds of comments all up. Now, because I am Just Like That, I think the criticisms are more worth touching on than the positive comments. Across the various places, there seemed to be a few common arguments that came up. The first was the inevitable plain denial of the reality of trans oppression. I must have been mistaken. I was a liar. I’m as dumb as a box of rocks. Maybe the doctor was doing a good job by screaming at me from outside the room and it was I who is prejudiced.
Most importantly, however, the criticisms centred on my “biological” body, and the possible need for “accurate” records to match. I argued that the sex box on forms functions widely across society, and yet it was the medical arena, pure and simple that was given as the reason to defend this. The reason is, I think, that in a cissexist society medicine seems like a safe way to defend cissexism. The bio in bio-political is not irrelevant, not by a long shot.
Now, governments and courts have already spent a good amount of energy defining the sex categories. Both physical and psychological factors have some standing, though as Andrew Sharpe says in his Transgender Jurisprudence, “in the event of ‘incongruence,’ the genital factor will prevail.” Sharpe points out that Australian laws “draw selectively on medical science” (2003: 56), and ignore or underplay the significance of identity, psychological and hormonal factors. The emphasis on genitality restricts the right to having proper documentation
So one school of thought goes that legal sex categories are necessary, for statistical records. Now, remember that statistical neatness has just recently been given by the West Australian government as the reason for their continued crusade to sterilise two trans men before giving them the correct documentation. So this is not just a neutral idea. Rather – “statistical neatness” is specifically employed against trans people as a legitimation of institutional and governmental attempts to control our bodies, reproductive capacities, ability to marry, and so on. The idea is that sexed bodies are mutually exclusive in function, that bearing children is what women do, not men. So if you want those documents, so that for example you can travel safely without getting held up at Customs cos you look like a man but your passport says woman, then the cost of that will be your fertility. This has less to do with lived trans experiences as tired cissexist presumptions about what bodies are and should do, presumptions regulated through bio-political systems of control.
The other goes that it is medically necessary to have “accurate” records, on the grounds of me being really a man, “biologically” speaking. Now this is a rather common idea, but it is nevertheless based on a misunderstanding of trans physiology. It posits an appearance-reality contrast based more on ontological assumptions (that is, metaphysical assumptions about “being”) than actual physical reality. In other words, my body appears female, but it is underneath really male. Pink on top, blue underneath. Like a Skittle, me.
Now this is of course rather flawed. Bodies just don’t work that way. Hormone treatment as many of y’all know changes all kinds of things. So for one of my emergency situations, when I checked in as female, I was having these stroke things causing me to lose control over one side of my body. The cause? Complicated migraines, a disease overwhelmingly experienced by women and intimately related to estrogen levels. In other words, if I’d checked the “biologically accurate” male box, it would have misled the doctors much more than my checking female is imagined to.
“even in a gender/sex coercive milieu where the observer determines reality not the person hirself, when a scientist or doctor looks at a body-modified transsexual person’s body or an intersex person’s body and says “Look at this, this, and this! This person is biologically male,” said scientist is also saying “And DON’T look at that, that, or that! Those are just distractions, not natural, not important.” My tits, my skin, the texture of my hair, my fat distribution, my arousal & orgasm patterns are all “biologically female” due to the estrogen and spiro that I take. The carrying angle of my elbows is a better fit to the “biologically female” stats than the “biologically male” standard deviation curve. Furthermore, non-surgically-reconstructed bits of transsexuals who take hormones are not the same, do not act the same, and if you know how to look, do not look the same as cissexual non-intersex bits. I haven’t had any permanent hair removal on my chin, and I don’t shave (part of) it, and you know what? It looks like cis girl facial hair.”
There’s only one form of “biology” being figured, and it’s not the one I actually live with.
The problems, therefore, are manifold. First, that being a transsexual or transgendered person with mismatched documents is legally suspicious. The “mismatch” is premised on everyone being cissexual, and therefore that a person with the wrong sex documents must have obtained them illegally. This seems frankly unlikely, really.
Second, it exposes people to discrimination and danger. To put it bluntly, it is astronomically safer being assumed to be cissexual than transsexual. This is not a situation that seems likely to change any time soon. In short, it’s probably actually quicker to loosen up laws than to change the hearts and minds of the great wider public, a task of educating which in the meantime puts us in very real danger, while we fight for legal reform and/or save our pennies for surgery.
Lastly, and this might seem minor given some of the other issues, but it’s just bloody upsetting. It gives license for people to call you the wrong name, use the wrong pronouns, misgender you and deny the reality of your life. It’s one more sign that my womanhood doesn’t count for anything in this society–and a sign with a bulls eye painted on it at that.
I’m sick of being outed by my documents, and sick of people denying the danger that puts me in.
I originally posted this at Feministe in July. The reason why I’m re-posting is that I’m planning on posting a follow-up post in the next couple of days which critiques the assumptions made in the various criticisms the post attracted. So hopefully, it’ll be fresh in your mind. It was intentionally written for a predominantly cissexual audience, so it may be a bit 101 for y’all ;)
I hate it, every single time. Name, sorted. Then… clunk. Sex – M or F. Sod.
It seems like an easy question, right? For most people it is. For me, it should be an easy question. I live and identify unequivocally as female. I’m not a genderqueer person for whom the very either/or question is wrong. So why the rising sense of panic? The problem is this, my birth certificate says I am male, my gender presentation is female. They do not match. Until I can afford expensive genital surgery, I cannot change the marker on my birth certificate. No matter what I put, in a cissexist world, I am situated as a liar.
A small example: Imagine you went to the hospital, with stroke-like symptoms (it was later found to be “complicated migraines”). Because you want to actually be treated, you do not out yourself as transsexual. When the triage nurse filled in the forms, he puts female, and you leave it there. All is fine, the doctor for once treats you seriously, possibly because of the presence of your mum, aunt and cousin (quick lesson you learn when dealing with doctors while trans: there’s safety in cis scrutiny. Bring your mum or your partner with you into the examination room).
Fast forward to a week later, and I’m (sorry, you) at a neurology department to see a specialist to organize an MRI, when one of the reception people comes out to see you and starts screaming that you’re a GODDAMN LIAR because your forms say I’m female but some quirk of the computer system has found your birthdate and surname and pinged up an old treatment from when you were six. Because of this, they decide that your name isn’t real either, and it takes three trips to different departments with your changed birth certificate (changed in name but not in sex). In the end, they put a post-it on your file, with your name, your legal bloody name, in quotation marks like it’s a fucking nickname. And these are the people who are supposed to help you.
Now imagine what happens in an emergency situation.
Imagine you’re me, six months before this, and you’re young and naïve and full of stupid, figuring that putting M will help them you treat you better (ha!), checking yourself in to see a doctor because you’re struggling to breathe. And the dude takes one look at your forms and your barely passing self, and refuses to enter the room. He just stands there at the edge, asking you to holler symptoms at him, and you sit there knowing that if you collapse, this man will pause and debate whether to save you or not. This is what happens when forms, bodies and cis prejudice collide.
Now imagine what you do in a Customs line when you enter a country. Imagine you’ve heard from acquaintances who’ve been turned away by the US, or that worst-case-scenario lurking at the back of your head about Homeland Security issuing a memo about “cross-dressed terrorists.” What do you put then? What do you wear then? How do you present?
Imagine how vulnerable you feel. Driving (what if a cop pulls me over). At the bank (what if they think I’m trying to scam my own money). At the doctors. At school. At work. At anywhere they want a piece of ID, anywhere they want you to tick a box that divides humanity into two. Anywhere they want you to fill out a form. Confess, little tranny girl, confess. Tell them what in their minds what you “really” are. Or else. And they’ll get you anyway.
Because it’s not likely to be a problem for most of y’all, this is something that I’d wager the average cissexual person has rarely to never thought about. That tiny little box is the epicenter of governmental interest, of laws, of bureaucratic guidelines. Lawsuits are fought over the right to change the letter in that little box.
This year, the State of Illinois refused to allow two trans women who’d had gender confirmation surgery in Thailand the right to change their documents, because it didn’t occur in the US. Last year, in Australia, one state refused to let two trans men change theirs because they hadn’t been sterilized (no more Thomas Beatties for us please!). This little box is a political battleground, one that we trans people are fighting on for the right to not be outed at every single crucial moment of our lives. In essence, to have our identifications treated as real, as worthy of respect as yours.
For those of you who “don’t believe in gender” (as I’ve heard some feminists say) – I’ve got news for you. Sex and gender are always with us, on every form, every piece of ID. And every confrontation where someone scrutinizes your ID is one where they measure your gender presentation against your legal sex, to check to see if they match. So sure, you can not believe in gender, and maybe if you clap your hands real hard, it’ll disappear, but I fear it will be with us for some time.
Just wanted to repost this really vital post from Claudia Bellocq at Harlot’s Parlour (where fyi I shall be posting from time to time), which gives a bunch of tips for sex workers in keeping safe. We all know how many trans women are sex workers, pass ‘em on to anyone you know who might need it..
There’s bits on the law too, and you really should read the whole lot, but there’s a handy dandy checklist at the end with tips on reducing HIV contraction, not getting robbed, and self defense.
Now go read!
Cross posted at Hoyden About Town
Two and a half weeks ago, two trans men from Western Australia won the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificates without their having had hysterectomies. Though this may seem rather minor to the average cis person, the ruling by the Western Australian State Admin Tribunal was an important victory for transsexual and transgender rights in Western Australia, moving document change away from the usual expensive and painful genital surgery. Yesterday, however, the West Australian Attorney General Christian Porter announced that the State would be appealing the decision.
Why, you might ask? What is so important, so pressing, such a grave injustice that the WA Attorney General’s office would use taxpayers money to continue to fight a case they’ve only just recently lost? The scary transsexual men might breed. Of course.
After former West Australian attorney-general Jim McGinty decided to challenge the case in the tribunal, the state will argue that the possibility of pregnancy exists.
“The ability to bear children is plainly not a gender characteristic of a male,” George Tannin SC said in the State’s submission to the appeal.
“The retention of such an ability must necessarily result in the applicant not possessing the gender characteristics of a male.”
That’s right. It’s not whether they currently can bear children – because both are on testosterone and cannot – but the possibility that they might. One day. Maybe. Both men testified that they intended to take testosterone for the rest of their lives, but that apparently doesn’t suffice for the Attorney General’s office. What cannot be abided is the mere thought of a Thomas Beattie, of trans people having power over our own reproductive capacities.
Even the judgment of the tribunal victory for the two men two weeks ago makes clear that the document change was conditional on their infertility:
“Both applicants had undergone bilateral mastectomies and testosterone treatment as a result of which each had undergone extensive physical changes consistent with being male,” the tribunal said in its finding.
” … the tribunal accepted the evidence of each applicant that he intended to continue testosterone treatment for the rest of his life.
“It accepted the medical evidence that each was, and would remain, infertile for as long as he continued testosterone treatment”.
Now, the West Australian rules are inconsistent on this front with regard to trans women—our permanent sterility from estrogen counts for precisely nothing, legally speaking. This would have, I hope, given trans women a lever into another test case with non SRS based criteria. But no, first this case needs to be appealed again.
Also important to note is that this represents one half of heteronormativity—the clear exertions of the State to try to keep trans people from contaminating heterosexual reproduction with our. The other is the fact that trans people who marry pre-SRS cannot change their birth certificate either. The ostensible reason is that with the Federal ban on same-sex marriages, the State would be creating them. However, the Federal government in July suggested it would accept same-sex marriages with one transsexual partner. The point is then, that it is the West Australian State (the Gender Reassignment Board) that is working hardest, trying to “protect” the heterosexual institutions of marriage and childbirth from trans people.
So what if there’s the unlikely event that one or both of these guys has a baby sometime? So what? They and all the rest of us deserve the right to the correct documentation. But I know, I know, I’m living in Magic Fairy Land, where populations don’t need to be sterilised in order to not be put at risk for discrimination and violence. Back in the real world, apparently it does seem like quite a threat to the State.