Archive for November, 2009
So, most of you would be aware that today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Last year I asked how to mourn, and I still don’t have any answers. What I do know is that mourning is a complicated business, and even more so when it’s done on a communal level.
I have my misgivings about TDOR, about how productive it is, about appropriation. Who is being mourned is the most important question of all. 160 estimated deaths of trans people, and the vast majority in Central and South America (75% according to Transgender Europe). So it seems to me that to unite all trans people under one banner ignores the specifics of death – sex (the majority are trans women), race (Latina and black), class and occupation (sex work) are as important factors as transness. Appropriating those deaths for political work seems dubious to me at best.
There was an Italian atheist Jewish writer called Primo Levi who wrote about his experience of Auschwitz, over and over. In his last book The Drowned and the Saved, he drew up a distinction between “the drowned” (those who died) and “the saved” (those who lived). He argued that only the drowned could give true and full witness to the horror of the Shoah.
I’m not comparing the murders of trans people to the Shoah directly – the murder of trans people, which horrific, is not institutionally organised towards genocide in quite the same way. But what I want to point out is the structure of witnessing. Even Levi, a man who lived through the camp, at the end of his life felt inadequate to witnessing, unable to have fully experienced the violence he wrote about. Even his proximity was not enough.
Now, I have experienced transphobic violence and abuse. Most if not all of my trans women friends have. Most of the stats I have on violence are fairly sobering – estimates from 33 to 50% of us experiencing trans related violence in any given year. White privilege may protect me.. but it may not. The odds are in my favour.. probably. But how can you tell ahead of time whether you’ll get unlucky, whether that group of teenagers only want to beat the shit out of you and not murder you? How can you truly know? I live with that fear, as do many of you, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable.
So what I want to acknowledge is that there’s a paradox, that no trans person can truly witness for the murdered–especially those we’ve never met. And yet, with due caution, I think we should. Not to further our own goals, not to get legislation passed that protects only the already-privileged or to wallow in self-pity, but to honour the memories of every single trans person murdered this year, and to acknowledge the violence that our community lives with as a whole. To acknowledge that even in death, transphobia and cissexism mean that the murdered are not properly remembered, not even by the correct names and pronouns–and those people should be remembered as the right sex. That is our task for today (surviving ourselves, as well as prevention of more of the same is our task for the rest of the year). The example of Levi suggests that the task of witnessing may well be impossible, but we should attempt it nevertheless.
Please read the full list of names here.
Apparently, the results of the Caster Semenya “gender test” are in. According to the IAAF, she was “innocent of any wrong” so she gets to keep her gold medal.
But what exactly does that mean? What kind of a charge was it that she was being acquitted of? Given that the public discourse from the Daily Telegraph onwards circled not around any suspected steroid use, but around Semenya’s body, there seems two possibilities:
1. that she was supposed to have been taking testosterone
2. that she was supposed to have been intersexed
But the thing is, I don’t think I actually heard the first charge once. What I did hear, over and over, from the Daily Telegraph onwards, is speculation about her sexed body, about her genitalia and her being a “hermaphrodite.”
Call me an overzealous English major, but I think the phrasing is here is very telling. Being intersexed was framed over and over in public discourse as a crime, somehow analogous to the doping which the phrasing slides between–a crime for which she was now been found not guilty. Cos how can you be “innocent” unless there’s a charge?
For Semenya, the worst may be over for now, but given the global scrutiny and outright hate directed her since she first came under the public spotlight, I’m not sure how much of that mud will stick.
What the episode points to is how easily sex/gender variance is deployed as a slur, as a charge to answer, but one which in the sheer act of asking establishes a kind of apriori guilt. Because sex is supposed to be visible, right? We’re supposed to be easily and immediately identifiable as one or the other, not to mention gendered within two general ranges, and heaven forbid you not be. Sex/gender policing is such a fraught field of anxieties–about sex and gender and the sexual orientations they make possible (again, premised on easy recognisability, the heterosexual contract in particular is fraught with anxiety about misidentification).. The sheer necessity of having to look, of needing scientists to test her “gender,” positions Semenya outside of the realm of the easily identifiable–and hence, the always-already innocent.
The moral of the story is, even though she’s been found not to be intersexed, in the court of public opinion, Caster Semenya has still been found guilty.
The suspect in the brutal slaying of a gay teenager in Puerto Rico was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder and four other counts, the prosecutor in the case told CNN.
Juan A. Martinez Matos was arrested late Monday in connection with the slaying of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, whose decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found Friday afternoon on a road in central Puerto Rico.
The usual media misgendering seems to be at play here, making it hard to unpick the reports, but several sources point out that:
Martinez Matos was “looking for women” in a red light district last Friday. He had already been turned down several times, but Lopez Mercado, wearing a blue dress and boots, agreed to get in his car.
District Attorney Jose J. Bermudez says that in his confession, Martinez Matos said that he thought Lopez Mercado was a woman.
Which makes me wonder if the victim may have been a transgender woman, despite the majority of the reports I’ve read referring to a “gay teen” and using male pronouns and a name which may well have been the name in hir legal documentation, but perhaps may not have been the name ze always went by. Regardless, it’s hard not to see it as a blatant and cynical attempt by the accused to lay the foundations for either a gay panic or trans panic defense at his trial.
But it seems the victim-blaming isn’t restricted to just the accused and the media. The local Police Department clearly also has its share of bigots:
The Puerto Rico Police Department has removed Investigator Angel Rodriguez from the case after Rodriguez made comments suggesting that Lopez was to blame for his own death, according to Edge.
“When these type of people get into this and go out into the streets like this, they know this can happen to them,” Rodriguez reportedly said in a statement to local media outlets.
As regards the hate crime aspect:
Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, the LGBT advocacy group [...] is calling on police to investigate the case as an anti-gay hate crime. Although Puerto Rico added sexual orientation to its hate crimes statute in 2002, Para Tod@s says the statute hasn’t been used to prosecute anti-gay violence. The FBI has announced it will take jurisdiction over the case if it’s determined that Lopez was killed because he was gay.
And if it’s determined that ze was killed because ze was trans? I wonder if the hate crime legislation takes account of that possibility.
Anyway. I’d like to close with the words of Bob McCranie, one of the organisers of a candlelight vigil planned for this Sunday:
“A teenager has been burnt and butchered in the streets, and all we can talk about is how many lies are in Sarah Palin’s book, and why Obama bowed to the Japanese prime minister. It is outrageous and unacceptable.”
(Via Dallas Voice)
Amen to that.
Curtsey to Stefani for the heads up
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
Restore Fairness has a post up about Esmerelda, a trans woman who was detained in dehumanizing, discriminatory conditions while trying to seek asylum in the United States:
Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. But her story is also one of hope for change.
While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.
Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.
Listen to Esmeralda’s voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.
For some reason, WordPress won’t actually embed the video in the post, but the link above takes you to it, as does the link to Restore Fairness’ blog.
Request for participants in a study about sexism as experienced and viewed by transgender individuals
ETA, 21 November: Caitlyn has issued the following update:
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for allowing us to get the ball rolling on the Sexism survey. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen errors within our questionnaire, we are canceling the study for now. At some point, we may look at the issue of sexism as seen by transgender people again, but for now we’re tabling it
I’ve received the following request via email and hope that some of you will be able to assist Caitlyn by taking part in this survey:
Hello, my name is Caitlyn Benoit, and I’m a member of a research team out of the Psychology Department at Southwestern Illinois College, an accredited school in the St. Louis Metro East area. Our research group is conducting a study about sexism as experienced and viewed by transgender individuals.
The best way to address what we hope to learn from this study is by starting with what we’re not trying to accomplish. We are not trying to document the transgender experience; we are specifically studying sexism. We believe that transsexual individuals – having experienced life as both genders – can offer valuable insight as to how members of each sex are perceived and treated in the workplace, relationships, schools, and other areas.
This study is being headed by Dr. Barbara Hunter, a psychology professor and active ally to the LGBT community. All student members of the research team are psychology students and either allies to or members of the LGBT community.
As responsible researchers, the privacy of our subjects is absolutely paramount. We understand the extremely personal nature of some of the information that may be disclosed in the course of this study. When considering how to maintain anonymity, we ask ourselves, “How would I want my privacy handled?” The only source of identifying information we have included is an optional contact information page at the end of the survey. Should you choose to provide us with this information, it will be reviewed only by members of the research team and kept separate from the actual survey packet; responses will in no way be attributable to the individuals from which they were received.
We acknowledge that this study does not lend itself to the inclusion of those outside the gender binary. This is not a willful exclusion of those individuals, but in an attempt to understand sexism as it applies to and affects us all, we must first understand gender roles in the context of society at large, which unfortunately necessitates that we limit the scope of this study at this time. We hope to investigate the issues facing genderqueer and genderneutral individuals in the future.
Thank you very much for your time and participation, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me personally at email@example.com and thank you in advance for any data you are able to give us.
The study may be found here.
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
WA police will withdraw charges against the 12-year-old boy who appeared in court yesterday for receiving a 70c Freddo Frog, allegedly shoplifted by his friend from a Coles supermarket.
Police initially stood by its decision to press on with the case after a hearing in Northam Children’s Court yesterday, about 100 kilometres from Perth.
That’s right, a 12 year “received stolen goods” – a chocolate bar shaped like a frog. It’s nice to know that police in Northam have been bravely fighting this chocolate trafficking ring, working patiently to flush out these master criminals. Word on the street was there may been a secret cache of stolen KitKats and funsize Mars Bars, maybe even a Snickers, in the possession of the notorious candy fence. An epidemic of children hopped up on sugar may have occured.
Seriously, though, here’s what you need to know. Northam’s a country town in Western Australia. The kid’s Aboriginal. You do the maths as to why a child would be arrested, charged and sent to court because their friend gave them a stolen chocolate bar.
Quixotess has posted about the way Feministing treats feminists with disabilities:
I know you may already be boycotting Feministing because of, well, because of loads of reasons.
You may have decided not to go there anymore back when Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism came out and it was shallow racist crap predicated on condescending to young feminists, or when the criticism by women of color was ignored, or attacked.
You may have decided not to go there anymore as part of the boycott triggered by Feministing’s transphobia.
You may have stopped going there after their classist “boycott Walmart” post (no linklove for Feministing, sorry.)
Today I am asking you to boycott Feministing because of the bullying, privileged, bad faith way they have treated feminists with disabilities.
The chat, ostensibly held to improve treatment of disability at Feministing, was a joke. It was a lot of denial of responsibility, especially from Miriam, (“do you think we have control over our comment threads?”) capped by Courtney’s tone argument against amandaw.
In the follow up post on Feministing, Courtney said she was “excited” to learn more about disability, but then rattled off the suggestions for improvements without attribution to feminists with disabilities. When feminists with disabilities came to Feministing to criticize the follow-up post, there was no response from Courtney or any other Feministing contributor, even though she commented on the thread itself.
When I e-mailed Courtney, Jessica, and Miriam to ask for an explanation, only Courtney e-mailed me back (see comment thread), to say that she was no longer willing to engage publicly regarding the chat or the follow up post, and that if Amandaw wanted an apology she could contact Courtney herself. This flies in the face of the agreement that feminists with disabilities were very careful to secure, that the chat and subsequent discussion would be public. (Feministing’s consent to that agreement is right at the beginning of the chat transcript linked above.)
I think Meloukhia is right. This is evidence of bad faith. As of now, Feministing’s follow up post is still up, lending credence to the wrong idea that they are working on disability inclusion. In other words, they are getting a free improvement to their image because of the work feminists with disabilities did for them, when in fact they are maltreating and actively marginalizing feminists with disabilities. This is dishonest and I don’t think we should be silent about it.
Consequently, I am asking you to boycott Feministing. This includes:
1) Taking Feministing off your blogrolls,
2) Not linking to Feministing’s posts or community posts, and
3) Raising awareness of the abysmal way Feministing has treated feminists with disabilities and other marginalized people.
I note that meloukhia’s open letter to Feministing is already at the bottom of the first page of google results for “Feministing.” How about raising that signal even more?
Other suggestions and discussion welcome here.
Please boycott Feministing.
While you’re free to comment here about the many ways that Feministing is not a welcoming space for all feminists, it’d also be polite to take discussion to Quixotess’ blog.
The DC Trans Coalition released this:
DC TRANS COALITION
For Immediate Release
November 8, 2009
Contact: Sadie Ryanne Baker
The DC Trans Coalition Commemorates the 2009 Trans Day of RemembranceWashington, DC – In recent months, a lot of us in DC were deeply affected by the murder of Ty’lia Mack, a trans woman who was stabbed along with a friend only a few blocks from the offices of Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc. Many of us at the DC Trans Coalition are survivors of violence ourselves, or are close to someone who is. We now approach the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, a time of emotional ceremonies when we come together with our friends and allies to remember the hundreds of fallen transsexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people all across the world.Our communities are faced with violence all of the time – and it is not only the kind that comes from bigots who follow us on the street. It can also come from the threat of homelessness and job loss, disproportional rates of poverty and HIV infection, bullying in schools, or denial of access to health care or public facilities like restrooms.
To help curb this violence, sometimes we rely on police and laws like the Human Rights Act here in DC. Calling the police can be important if we are in the kinds of unsafe situations that are all-too-familiar for many trans/GNC people. However, involving the police is not a viable option for many people in our communities. A lack of consistent identity documents, fear of prejudiced and hateful officers and other factors can create complicated problems when interacting with police. Thankfully, in DC we have fought for policies to reduce these problems. We strongly encourage anyone who lives in, works in or visits DC to become familiar with these rights and what to do if they are violated. But even with these strong protections on paper, police harassment on the street and the threat of being arrested and sent to jail remains a constant problem for many.
As the city cuts the budgets of social service programs like THE that help the most vulnerable, and the police enact “tough on crime” policies like the Prostitution Free Zones that result in massive arrest rates for those of us who live in the most precarious economic situations, we need to look at the institutional problems that create and fuel all this violence against us. Trans/GNC people are not only made targets of violence because of blatantly transphobic prejudice. For example, we must also deal with racism, the criminalization of sex workers and the collapsing economy. We need to address all of the complex reasons why so many people in our communities are poor, on the street or constantly going through the jail in order to understand why so many trans/GNC people end up victims or survivors of violence.
Recently, the Obama Administration signed the trans-inclusive Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. Within DCTC, we have a diverse range of opinions on hate crimes legislation, but we agree that it is important to acknowledge the limitations and flaws of the criminal justice system as it is. As folks who have worked hard to reduce problems for trans/GNC people with police and in jail, we know jails themselves can be dangerous places for trans/GNC people. They also fuel vast racial and class inequalities. (In DC,for example, only 2% of our jail population is white.) So while it is exciting to see elected officials taking action to address the very real problem of hate violence targeting trans/GNC people, we hope that more people begin to have productive dialogs and think critically about strategies to address and prevent violence within our communities.
Relying on harsher penalties for bias-motivated crimes alone cannot keep us safe. While recognizing that sometimes we need to use them for our safety, we need to think about ways to decrease our societies’ over-reliance on police and jails as the only solution. This over-reliance on incarceration disproportionately harms marginalized communities like trans/GNC people. Even as DCTC works hard to make sure we enforce policies that will keep people as safe as possible on the streets and in jail, we also want to find solutions that keep people from going to jail in the first place. We hope that someday we might live in a world where we are put in unsafe situations less to begin with. That’s why, for example, we also have fought to make sure that trans/GNC can obtain legal documents that reflect the way we live, to make sure homeless shelters place trans/GNC people where they want to be, or to keep funding for vital social services.
The week leading up to TDOR has been declared the Trans Week of Awareness by some of our allies in Massachusetts. While we need to commemorate our dead, remembering the fallen is not enough to bring change toward a safer world. We also need to focus on preventing violence by educating those around us, to make them aware that trans/GNC people are their friends, partners, family, co-workers and community members and that we deserve rights and protection just like they do. We at DCTC join with others to mark this Week of Awareness, and ask everyone to spread the word about the need to end transphobia and work toward gender self-determination.
If you are in DC, we invite you to join Transgender Health Empowerment and other groups on Friday, November the 20th at the Metropolitan Community Church (474 Ridge St. NW) for the annual Day of Remembrance ceremony. (You can call 202.557.1951 for more details as they come through.) This year, let’s mourn our losses, but also celebrate our victories, our shared commitment to social justice and to building a world in which all forms of violence are things of the past. In the meantime, we would like to commemorate the strong communities we’ve built to support one another through hard times, and we invite all who are interested to join us in organizing for a safer DC, or wherever you find yourselves this Day of Remembrance.###The DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) is a grassroots community-based organization dedicated to fighting for the human rights, dignity and equal access for transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming people in the District of Columbia.
The federal government would be banned from funding sex change operations and other services for transgender individuals if social conservative activists get their way.
There’s no sponsor yet for an amendment to the health care overhaul – and it may remain in the dustbin of unrealized wedge issues – but culture warriors are shopping the proposal to Republican senators.
The language is written: “None of the funds authorized or appropriated under this act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be used to cover any part or portion of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of” any sex or gender reassignment procedure, surgery related to such a sex change, hormone therapy for a sex change or pre- and post-operation treatments for a sex change.
A senior aide to a Republican senator said that a public insurance plan could easily end up covering sex-change procedures if that’s not specifically banned in the bill.
“It’s not that hard to imagine that a new federal health plan crafted and implemented by this administration would cover sex-change surgeries. Anything not explicitly prohibited in the bill is effectively on the table. Most Americans probably would prefer that their tax dollars not pay for or subsidize transgender surgery,” the aide said.
Advocates for transgender people note that it is often difficult for them to obtain insurance that covers medical needs related to their transition and say that sometimes basic medical care has been unfairly denied.
“Unfortunately, some insurance companies broadly interpret language excluding transgender-related care and services to deny coverage for non-transition-related procedures for transgender individuals. Insurers justify these exclusions by stating that your current medical problem is somehow related to your transition,” the Transgender Law Center wrote in a fact sheet posted on its Website.
The ironclad language of the funding-ban amendment suggests the type of prohibition conservatives want to see on coverage of abortion if a new health care exchange includes a government-backed insurance option.
House Democrats say they have a plan that would segregate federal funds to prevent taxpayer support for abortion services, but abortion critics say the proposed firewall would not fully shield taxpayers from footing the bill for the practice. In its first iteration, the House version of the health care bill didn’t mention the word abortion – though it carried significant implications for the availability of insurance coverage for the procedure.
Several Democratic aides – and Sen Roland Burris (D-Ill.) – declined to comment on the proposal.
All I can say is: Contact your representatives. This is vile and ridiculous.