Archive for January, 2010
I’ve been hearing about this from friends in Vancouver for a few weeks now, and it would seem according to a note posted to the Facebook group Lu’s Pharmacy Women-Born-Women-Only Policy is Discriminatory & Oppressive, Lu’s pharmacy in Vancouver, BC, has quietly ended their no trans woman policy:
I just wanted to share the good news. Lu’s has de facto removed their women-born women policy! This has been in effect for about two weeks.
I went into Lu’s today with a few friends, one of which is a trans woman who moved her prescriptions to Lu’s. They were aware of her trans status as her old name is on her health care card. It was a complete non-issue, the pharmacist was very friendly, as was the volunteer who gave us a tour. They were very sincere, and I must say that I rather like them. The pharmacist even gave my friend a hug on the way out!
They have not made a press release or similar announcement as their Executive Director resigned recently, and I get the sense that they are expending quite a lot of energy filling her duties. They did promise to change their Political Agreements on their website, and it seems that they have to make changes to quite a lot of their documentation.
Lu’s Pharmacy was opened last summer in Vancouver, BC, by the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective. From its opening the pharmacy had a woman-born-woman policy, which immediately brought negative response from trans and cis activists and agencies in Vancouver’s downtown east side.
This is fantastic news, and a great change in direction for trans women in Vancouver, a city with a long history of trans women being marginalized by transphobic policies at women’s organizations. Much thanks must be given to the agencies and individuals, especially those in and serving Vancouver’s downtown east side, who kept pressure on the VWHC to change their policy. Congratulations, too, to Lu’s and the VWHC for this progressive change, despite the urging of many to remain an exclusive service.
Cross-posted at gudbuytjane.
The other evening I was hanging out with some queer friends having one of those late nights where drinks and conversation flow easily, so perhaps inevitably the talk found its way to sex. We talked about lovers from our pasts and present, and at one point a friend asked me what I liked doing, sexually. I found this interesting, as I don’t often pause to consider that, at least not in casual conversation with people I’m not sleeping with. When I began talking, however, I didn’t discuss the things lovers have done I’ve really liked or dynamics which I find hot, instead I found myself explaining my sometimes difficult relationship with cissexual queer women as a group and as individuals, the fucked-up attitudes about trans women I’ve encountered in various communities, the mistrust I have because of the history trans women have with cissexual queers – all of the things I write about and do activism on which intersect with sex, but I had nothing to say about the actual sex I have or would like to have. I stopped myself and apologized for not answering the question, then sat back to consider this sudden disheartening awareness of how deeply my sexuality is entangled with the politics in which I am active.
As a consenting adult I’ve primarily had cissexual lovers and partners. This is for many reasons (a topic probably worth a post of its own), but the net result is that almost every sexual relationship in my life has involved the dynamic of cis/trans. When I first began navigating sexuality as a straight-identified young woman in my early twenties I had no framework with which to approach having a discussion about being trans and having sex, or how being trans informed my desires, or how hormones and surgeries affected my physical experience of sex. The framework I had to discuss sex was the same one I had been taught by the medical model about all aspects of transition – to do one’s best to ignore it and try to be as normal as possible. Merely having the right someone interested in me (i.e. cis, non-fetishist, straight-identified) was “success,” and I should be happy with that. By making my sexuality valid only by the degree to which it reflected a cissexual theory of gender transition the medical model removed any sexual agency I had.
In my later twenties I came to the realization that I was queer sexually as well as being trans, and this played a large part in what I like to think of as my personal revolt against the cissexual model of transition. I was very lucky to have been able to read and take part in emerging discussions of trans sexualities which were exciting, trans-focused, and empowering. Still, as is so easy to do when recovering from sexually repressive cultures, despite having an empowered public voice about my sexuality I was repeating the same patterns of disempowerment privately. This time the policing of my sexuality didn’t come from the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, however, it came from transmisogynist lesbian feminism. While I moved in somewhat more inclusive scenes than most, the dominant position of much feminist thought of trans women as deceivers, predators, and dangerous had clearly left its mark on the inclusive moderates, too. At best it manifested merely as privilege and defensive cis-centering; at its worst it found expression in trans-focused emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by cis lesbian partners.
Over the years I have had conversations with cis lovers and partners about the dynamics of trans and cis in sexual relationships, yet this has often led me to a great deal of frustration. Admittedly, I am not a great communicator around intimate issues, especially when they intersect with me being trans, and as such I can easily turn into a flustered mess in those kinds of conversations (versus, say, being able to wax eloquently and confidently about them in blog form). Still, I believe that trans people should have voices in all of their relationships, so I would nonetheless press on despite feeling misunderstood, and that rarely proved effective. After giving it some thought it finally occurred to me where my frustration was stemming from: In most every case I was talking about trans and cis people as a model, and they were talking about me and them as individuals. Only then it occurred to me that In a culture where the sexuality of cis people is normalized and trans people is marginalized it would be natural for a cis person to center their experience of their sexuality in themselves. This is perhaps obvious, and should be the case for everyone, but it wasn’t for me: my relationship with sex began in the dominance of cis culture and the arguments which would seek to silence trans people’s sexualities, and it had a long way to go before anyone got anywhere near touching me. My body and my politics felt stuck, and I couldn’t see clearly where one ended and the other began.
I recently turned forty, and while the cynic in me rolls her eyes at arbitrary milestones, this has nonetheless proven to be a period of considerable reflection. Tellingly, my relationship with sex – as a trans woman – has been at the forefront of this process. I am aware of the choices I’ve made which have had a positive impact on my sense of sexual agency and enjoyment of the sex I am having. These have largely been due to decisions like refusing to engage socially in queer scenes in which I don’t see trans women dating (where they otherwise would be, i.e. dyke scenes mostly), and looking for communities actively expressing their diversity in more than one way. Still, I feel I have a lot of work undoing the things this culture has done to people like me, both as an individual and as part of a community. Thankfully that is proving easier as I am inspired by other trans women. Reading others on the internet I feel we are in the early stages of a trans woman self-focused movement of sex positivity, and this makes me glad. I have seen the violence with which some respond to this idea, but I still see more and more trans women speaking about their sexuality openly and positively, and that feels like something special. It was certainly not the case when I began transition, which all told wasn’t that long ago, historically.
But I’m talking politics again. As I prepared this post I discovered an interesting thing: as I began to make sense of those systems of oppression and their influence on the sexualities of trans women it occurred to me that I had answers to my friend’s question after all, and not ones about theories or politics. I often wonder if it is possible to be a trans woman and not have an active relationship with the cultures and communities in which you exist, but at least it appears in this case by acknowledging the political I am engaging the personal. I think it’s about time.
Via the Transgender Foundation of America:
Myra Ical’s partially clothed body was found Monday, January 18. This was a particularly brutal murder and [Houston Police] confirmed that she went down fighting for her life. Every news report has characterized the victim as a cross-dressing man who was in an area known for drugs and prostitution. The media coverage seems Orwellian considering that the Detective in charge of the case pointedly informed me that “There is absolutely no evidence to support the notion that drugs and/or prostitution was in any way involved with the murder.” Yet, reports continue to insinuate the opposite.
I want to invite all of you to attend a candlelight vigil to be held on Monday, January 25 at 6 pm to honor Myra Ical, whose body was found last Monday in the 4300 block of Garrott St near Richmond Avenue.
The memorial will include two moments of silence, one for Ms. Ical and another for the 6 transgender Houstonians who have been murdered since 1999 whose crimes remain unsolved, as well as a moment of noise-making to recognize that it is silence that allows the perpetrators of crime to go unpunished.
The time for silence has ended
Houston Police have no leads in the case. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Transgender Foundation of America at
The Memorial will be held at the site where Ms. Ical’s body was found, at the vacant lot at 4300 Garrott. Attendees are encouraged to bring noisemakers. Candles will be provided.
After the memorial, you are encouraged to attend the HTGA meeting scheduled for 7:30 at our new location in the Havens Center located about 2 miles from the memorial site: 1805 W. Alabama, Houston
The story is here.
Paul Scott is running for Michigan’s Secretary of State. One of his top four campaign priorities is:
· I will make it a priority to ensure transgender individuals will not be allowed to change the sex on their driver’s license in any circumstance.
Why does he feel this is important?
In an interview with Michigan Messenger, Scott said the issue was about “values.”“It’s a social values issue. If you are born a male, you should be known as a male. Same as with a female, she should be known as a female,” he said.
When asked to explain how such a mandate from the Secretary of State would benefit Michigan, he said it was about “preventing people who are males genetically from dressing as a woman and going into female bathrooms.”
While Scott is aware that federal courts have ruled that gender dysphoria, the medical diagnosis for transgender persons, was a disability, he said he did not think he would run afoul of discrimination laws. For the 27-year-old state representative, the issue is about biological gender.
He said his mandate would be in place even for those who had completely undergone sex reassignment surgeries.
“That’s who you are. You can have cosmetic surgery or reassignment surgery but you are still that gender,” he said.
It’s always about scare tactics with the bathrooms. Every single time. At least, that’s what they say, and it’s an emotionally volatile argument that stirs up controversy, as happens every single time civil rights come up for trans people, and is even invoked by those who claim to be our allies:
Last Thursday deja-vu hit as transphobic Barney Frank once again opened his mouth. From an article in the Advocate, link below:
““There continues to be concerns on the part of many members about the transgender issue, particularly about the question of places where people are without their clothes — showers, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.,” said Frank. “We still have this issue about what happens when people who present themselves as one sex but have the physical characteristics of the other sex, what rules govern what happens in locker rooms, showers, etc.”
This is a deliberate attack on trans people – a deliberate instrumentalizing of trans people as threats that must be controlled in order for Paul Scott to win votes and energize his base. Add that Michigan state law explicitly allows trans people to change their sex on identification, and now Scott’s promising to flout existing laws in order to stage this attack.
This is, of course, a distraction. There is no way in hell that the most pressing issue in any part of the United States is that trans women can use women’s restrooms alongside cis women. Just as with every other instance this is brought up, it’s fear-mongering and a deliberate attempt to play off transphobic hatred. Unfortunately, if he succeeds, it is yet another instance where trans people are positioned as a threat to society that must be stopped and controlled at all costs, as opposed to people with reasonable and easily accommodated needs.
The whole point about posting about what happened to my friend Melissa was to get the word out that people need to protect themselves, and to recognize that a terrible thing happened that should not be allowed to happen. That conversation is now happening: commenters have begun rolling on projects that may prove very helpful in supporting the medical rights and legal preparedness of trans people everywhere, which is a fine thing.
Unfortunately, the other conversation happening is one digging a little too hard at the friend in question. I did my best to establish her anonymity for a reason; I didn’t want to upset her friends more, I didn’t want this discussion getting back to her family and generating a backlash that could harm her further, and I didn’t want the focus to be on the details of her story in particular when where it needed to be was preventing this from ever happening again.
I forgot that the Internet is the Internet. I based my assumptions on the kind of traffic I’m used to seeing at my own, much smaller blog, where people only show up because they know what they’re looking for and are members of a given community, rather than the greater exposure and wider audience of a bigger place like Questioning Transphobia. It was one thing when this made the rounds of the entire online trans community in the course of a day. Now that we’ve broken this site’s traffic record and hit a number of major aggregating sites and people are pouring in from Reddit and Metafilter and 4Chan and gods know where else, the whole point of posting this story has become counterproductive–the benefit of people continuing to read it is now being outweighed by the potential continued hurt for Melissa’s loved ones and the potential danger of it having negative ramifications for her and her friends. I won’t expose the friends of Melissa who’ve come here and commented to abuse, and frankly I don’t really have the energy to deal with much more myself. There is helpful attention, and there is attention that becomes destructive, and for better and worse I called down both. Bringing trolls into the situation was my fault, and far from helpful.
I shot from the hip, and I miscalculated, and in the end, the needs of those other people are a lot more important than my reputation. You can call this whatever you want, but I’m screening the original post for the time being. I’m sure you can find its content elsewhere if you’re dedicated. The best effect it could have had–galvanizing people to work to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself–is already rolling, and those conversations are continuing. The people who need to know that this is a possibility to prepare for and protect themselves from already know and will keep telling each other in-community, the way it ought to be. This was the goal; I wasn’t selling anything, after all. The word is out and can’t be stopped. From here, I think it is simply my job to see that further harm doesn’t come from what I wrote.
Thank you to those of you who are taking this opportunity to do helpful, productive work. To anyone I’ve hurt, I’m sorry.
Stay strong out there, everyone. Miles to go before we sleep.
If you want to continue the conversation as to organizing folks to protect trans people’s medical rights, you are welcome to do that continuing here.
Here, h/t Belledame.
Text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the relief effort.
I don’t have much else to say. Haiti’s in my thoughts. I hope it doesn’t get any worse. :(
Mandy Van Deven wrote an article for Briar Patch, called From invisibility to stability: Transgender organizing For the masses. The article itself is about transgender invisibility in the past, and the increasing visibility of trans activism in the present. It’s also a bit of a proscriptive piece, criticizing trans activism for focusing on middle class needs and pointing at the needs of trans people who live at or below the poverty line, and who are working class.
This, unsurprisingly, comes off as lecturing trans people that we’re “doing it wrong.” Van Deven discusses what she considers to be middle class trans activism and how it fails to include trans people. Unfortunately, she includes no links, no names, no descriptions of any organizations. She doesn’t, for example, mention NCTE’s recent focus on Amanda Simpson. After all, Amanda Simpson’s appointment isn’t going to create more jobs for unemployed trans women who find themselves in a position to engage in survival sex work, and perhaps become infected with HIV. Obviously, Amanda Simpson’s appointment isn’t a solution, it’s simply a step.
From reading Mandy’s post, you get the impression that trans visibility is something that’s just happening because cis people are talking about us. She references The L Word and the film Transamerica, positioning these as middle-class exposure for trans people, and says that previously, discussions about trans people occurred primarily in queer and women’s studies in academia.
She goes on to inform us:
Similar to queer activism, transgender rights organizing appears to be gaining ground in major metropolitan areas including Washington, D.C., and Toronto. Legal victories for public bathroom access in New York City and anti-discrimination laws in Maine, as well as the election of a transgender mayor in Silverton, Oregon, are certainly cause for celebration. However, the focus on battles that require class privilege means that other battles that would make a significant impact on the majority of poor transgender people have scarcely begun. Would-be transgender activists must often favour their own material conditions above collective advocacy in order to simply survive – a position working-class feminists and feminists of colour have been arguing for decades regarding their place in the movement for women’s liberation. Given this reality, organizing around transgender issues should be viewed through an economic lens in addition to one of gender.
This is pretty patronizing, and it ignores the work done by such groups as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Audre Lorde Project, and the DC Trans Coalition, just to name three. Looking over their recent news, I see stuff like:
After years of widespread community pressure to end discrimination against transgender people trying to access public benefits in NYC, we are thrilled to announce that the Human Resources Administration (HRA) has adopted new procedures for working with transgender and gender nonconforming clients! To learn more about the procedures, please see our fact sheet.
SRLP Comments on Proposed Changes to DC’s Anti-Discrimination Law The DC Office of Human Rights is attempting to make an exception to anti-discrimiantion law for the Department of Corrections. The DC Trans Coalition is organizing around this issue, more can be learned at their website, here or www.dctc.squarespace.com
The Administration for Children’s Services changes their policy for transgender youth in foster care New York – On June 20th, 2008 The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Commissioner John Mattingly signed a new non-discrimination policy that specifically prohibits ACS staff and contract agencies from discriminating on the basis of gender identity.
The Audre Lorde Project:
The TransJustice Community School is for People of Color who identify as Trans and Gender Non Conformingfor example people of color who identify as trans, gender non-conforming, gender variant, gender deviant, butch lesbians, drag queens, bi-gendered, Two-Spirit, drag kings, femme queens, A.G., gender queer, non-gendered, andro, crossdressers, gender-benders, and more.
The TransJustice Community School aims to strengthen our community and ourselves and build participants confidence and self-esteem. The TransJustice Community School will focus on building the leadership of Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color, while participating in a larger multi-racial, multi-gender community that fights injustice facing those who are most historically targeted in the U.S. Through discussions and panels, workshops, visiting other groups and experience participants will:
- Learn how to and teach others to be self-advocates regarding Know Your Rights as it relates to: HRA, Housing Authorities, the Police System, and Health Care.
- Learn how to do public speaking related to ALP/TransJustice and the Welfare Justice Campaign.
- Learn how to identify and share crisis and sustainable living resources related to: health care, housing, legal issues, counseling and other common issues in our community.
- Learn how to facilitate meetings and how to make decisions and plan in a group setting.
- Learn what goes into planning, executing and evaluating parts of a campaign.
- Learn from experienced community members lessons on personal and community based survival.
And the DC Trans Coalition:
Today, DCTC wrote to Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier with a series of questions regarding implementation of MPD’s general order on interactions with trans people, our ongoing concerns over police training, and MPD’s failure to report on hate crimes based on gender identity and gender expression.
As we’re all aware, MPD officers have often been found completely ignoring the general order, and some have even admitted to us that they didn’t know it exists. In addition, it has recently come out that MPD training programs on trans issues are inadequate, and that MPD completely ignored its obligation to report hate crimes against trans people for the last three years. This letter is an important step in keeping MPD accountable to its own policies and DC law.
We will definitely keep you updated on their response, and let you know how you can get involved to hold the police accountable.
So clearly, there is activism, and there are conversations. I am not saying it is perfect, and that there are no trans activists or organizations who focus primarily on middle class concerns, but I would argue that Van Deven’s decision to present the situation as if there is no organizing and activism going along these lines was a mistake. I would also argue that a better article would have directed attention to these and other organizations that do focus on concerns outside the mainstream middle class focus that consumes everything from feminism to popular media.
It’s also problematic that Van Deven proposes that trans visibility is coming via popular culture, and not via the efforts of trans activists of every social class. Trans visibility has been a matter of years – decades, even. After all, Christine Jorgensen was in the news in the early 1950s, although perhaps not in ways that any of us would enjoy now. The problematic nature of trans women’s visibility has always been silencing to trans women – in that our visibility is primarily due to cis people talking about us. Whether they’re writing sensationalist articles with lurid statements such as “used to be a man” or movies about a fictional trans woman’s life that still involves casting a cis woman for the role, and using appliances to make her “look masculine.” Felicity Huffman’s portrayal in Transamerica is not an empowering one for trans women of any social class. It’s about trans women as seen through a cis woman’s eyes. This “middle class visibility” is another way in which trans women are silenced.
I have not seen the L Word, but I have not heard many good things about the portrayal of Max from trans men. To my eye, it seems to reinforce the idea that trans men are some kind of ultra lesbian, or “special decaf men” who, because they were female assigned at birth, are seen as more evolved or interesting than cis men, and still have a place in women’s spaces and communities.
This visibility of trans people in the media, in Ugly Betty, The L Word, Transamerica, and the like, is visibility on cis people’s terms, and erases trans people’s lives. It’s not a matter of victory for middle class trans people, it’s giving us images of trans people that simply aren’t us.
And what about the activism that has been going on for the past two decades? The work to join with the LGB (now LGBT) movement, the work to get included in ENDA (and the rocky road that’s been), the work of academics like Vivian Namaste’s Invisible Lives? Films like Southern Comfort? What about Candis Cayne’s and Isis King’s actual appearances in the media? What does all this mean?
And since when have conversations about trans people been restricted to women’s and queer studies departments in academia? Do these conversations only count when cis people are having them? What about the conversations that trans people have been having among ourselves for decades? We’re not an undiscovered country waiting for the great cis hope to discover us, and thus bring us into being. We have our own lives, agendas, needs, and politics, and we’ve been having them for a long time. When you talk about invisibility, it’s not that we failed to advocate for ourselves, among ourselves. It’s not that we were silent, willingly hiding behind closed doors. It’s that we live in a society with institutionalized transphobia, with hundreds of millions of cis people, many of whom do not care for what we need, but are in an appallingly large number of cases hostile and opposed to our needs, who actively and willfully silence us by speaking for us and over us, insisting that we exist according to their terms and definitions, and do not deserve the power to define ourselves.
And that’s just the matter of visibility.
When Van Deven says this:
The topics that get the most attention from transgender advocates and activists, therefore, are often those of primary interest to middle- and upper-class transgender folks. This is particularly the case in the U.S., where health care disparities are so pronounced: advocating for insurance companies to cover sex reassignment surgery will no doubt benefit transgender people with enough class privilege to actually have health insurance, but what about the need for basic medical care that low-income transgender people are unable to afford?
She’s not strictly talking about what gets the most attention from transgender advocates and activists, but rather what gets the most attention from the media. I can count on the fingers on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the DC Trans Coalition’s work make it into mainstream media, but I cannot count on all of my digits the number of times that sex reassignment surgery has been discussed (from a cis perspective) in the media.
And I’m also troubled here by the implicit separation of sex reassignment surgery from health care. Sex reassignment surgery is health care. It’s something a significant number of trans people need, but will likely never have access to. It’s not the only health care they need, nor is it always the most important, but it is not unimportant. I say this as a trans woman who is unemployed, who has very little spare money under most circumstances, who has spent the past twenty years advocating for universal health care in the United States. All too often I see transition-related medical care relegated as secondary to real concerns, as optional, as elective, as unimportant. It is hard for me to read this paragraph and not hear that familiar song again.
And then there’s this paragraph:
Creative solutions can be implemented to solve the problems that are inherent in the current systems that serve low-income people. Transgender-only housing units or floors in existing facilities can be established with private, lockable restroom facilities and staff who are trained in transgender sensitivity. Exclusions of transition-related and gender-specific health care can be removed from the policies of medical facilities and health insurance companies. Governments can invest in transgender-specific workforce development and public assistance programs. Laws and policies that prohibit employment discrimination and workplace harassment can be amended to include transgender and gender non-conforming people. Although transgender organizing is newly emerging, the movement need not make the same mistakes as its well-meaning predecessors by ignoring the class-based needs of the majority of its members.
What bothers me about this suggested solution is that it reinforces the idea that trans people must be kept away from cis people. I’m not saying that there would be no purpose for areas set aside for trans people, and for safety some trans people may need them, but I believe it’s important to work on educating people about the need to house trans people where they need and want to be housed. Trans women are women, and trans men are men. The solution to forcing trans women into men’s shelters (and wearing men’s clothes while there) isn’t to create a separate area where trans people are allowed to exist, but to integrate trans women with cis women, and provide the necessary education so that workers and clients don’t mess up. A solution provides mandatory separation does not fix the current problem, nor do I think would it encourage cis people to treat us with more respect.
As for making those mistakes, I will say that a significant number of trans activists are aware of feminism’s mistakes, given that many of said mistakes were directed at trans people with as much heat and hostility as could be mustered. We’re no strangers to this.
What would I have preferred to see in Briar Patch? I would have preferred to see a trans person writing about these matters. If not that, then I would have preferred to see Mandy Van Deven refer to actual trans people, actual trans activist organizations, and actual history, find out what trans people need and want, and cite those trans people. Find the copious writings in academia, the media, on the web. Look for what trans people are talking about, and point back to it. Use your cis privilege and voice to illuminate what trans people are doing and what trans people need. Don’t use it to lecture trans people on how we’re doing activism wrong. As it turns out, there’s a lot of trans activism going on, at all economic levels. It is true that there is trans activism that is as problematic and exclusive as a lot of feminist activism has been – focused on the needs of white, middle-class, heterosexual people at the expensive of trans people of color, of queer trans people, of working class trans people and trans people living in poverty. it’s all there, just as it is in feminism. But that’s not an excuse to minimize and erase the work that is being done. To insert your voice and presence over other trans people to lecture trans people on “how it’s done” and how we’re “doing it wrong” and “missing the point.”
There’s a scene in the first episode of the second series of David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s Peep Show where Webb’s character Jez, shocked at the good fortune of meeting an attractive woman, wonders to himself “Jesus Christ, she’s got to be a tranny” as he looks to her crotch. Relieved that she isn’t, he exclaims in voiceover “She’s no tranny!” and dances closer.
Now, the thing is, I otherwise really like David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I find their sketch comedy work to be intelligent and funny, their character work on Peep Show to be exemplary, and they are both strong actors in a field dominated by standup comedians shoehorned into roles. Robert Webb was featured in an episode of a BBC documentary on one’s love of poetry, and at one point he recited a poem he’d written for his wife: I was nearly brought to tears by its beauty and sincerity. He seems like from most other perspectives a lovely, talented guy. But then I’d remember that scene from Peep Show, and think, well, fuck.
My relationship with the media and my being trans is a considerably complex negotiation, and it is ongoing. Specifically when dealing with individual artists whom I like and their transphobic behavior or words, it becomes even more challenging. Although we do not have personal relationships with the artists we like, we have personal connections to them. While in a relationship with someone as a friend or partner I have the option of try to engage in discussion (or not) if I feel there has been actions or words I am troubled by. There’s no such option in dealing with a dynamic which by its definition is one-directional. The only response seems to be to stop consuming the artist’s work, or to get past it somehow.
Getting past it somehow feels a great deal like yielding to low expectations of mainstream culture, especially in its treatment of trans issues. I find myself shrugging off a great deal, letting it past without too much analysis because, well, we live in a transphobic culture and if I stop watching everything that’s sometimes transphobic then I won’t be able to watch anything at all, right? Still, it makes me wonder what the cumulative effect on my self-esteem will be from constantly turning a blind eye to deeply othering cultural messages about being trans. As this culture is so essentially transphobic, can I have the level of self-awareness to know what is and isn’t damaging?
Perhaps it doesn’t even matter how I consciously choose to respond to these transphobic cultural notes, as the impact has already occurred. I certainly remember the trans women on TV growing up, and I remembered how they were talked about (onscreen and off – one of my clearest childhood memories is my Father commenting on a trans woman character on television while I played on the carpet, and tried not to notice all those things he said about those people). I remember Herb Tarlek curling up into a ball of shame and disgust upon learning the woman he’d been pursuing was in fact a high-school friend who had a sex change. Of the ninety episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati – a show I think was brilliantly funny – it is the moment I remember most clearly.
If Robert Webb was my friend I’d tell him how that line hurt, how I was disappointed, and how it is part of a set of beliefs about people like me that causes harm. He’s not, though, and although I still find myself eagerly awaiting new episodes of Peep Show or That Mitchell and Webb Look, I do so with some trepidation. I watch knowing what lines have been crossed, and with the awareness that crossing them again only becomes easier.
This post has been crossposted on my own blog, here.
There was an incident a few weeks ago. It didn’t happen to my face but it still was a direct invasion of my privacy.
First, some background: If you don’t know me, I’m polyamorous. I date, love and am intimate with multiple people (or well, I would be if I had the energy to find a second partner. That and I’m still recovering from an abusive ex partner). My partner is also poly, they (my partner is nonbinary, hence the pronoun “they”. I swear to god if any grammar cop feels like whining about that I will comment shred with no mercy for degendering and maybe, if Lisa and Em will let me, even drop you in the spam queue so fast you’d think your name was “meat in a can”) are dating me and a guy currently. This is referred to as a pivot branch poly relationship. Pivots among groups of three are also commonly called V poly because of the V shape of the dating connections. Normally what we do is triads, where all three date each other, but I’m not into my partner’s boyfriend in that way. He’s a good guy, puts effort into stuff regarding our disabilities, our poverty, my partner being a nonbinary trans person and me being a trans woman, and puts a lot of work into the family-like nature that me and my partner tend to have for poly groups, even in pivot or zig-zag poly relationships. Still, he screws up sometimes, as many cis, abled folk do.
He asked my partner what size penis I have.
I’m not going to go into the why of it. In the end, reasons and intent doesn’t matter, what matters is the harmful results. My partner read him the riot act before they told me and he’s worked his ass off to make amends, apologized and hasn’t screwed up similarly since so you don’t need to worry about my well being around this guy. Now, if you’re trans, chances are you know exactly why his question was fucked up and transphobic. If you’re cis, it’s a safe bet that you’re now fairly confused. Allow me to provide some enlightenment. Do try not to get your underwear in a twist over the snark.
My genitals are none of your damn business. They never have been, they never will be. No, I don’t care how curious you are. No, I don’t care about how interesting you find us. No, I do not care how much you care for/try to help/are attracted to/are interested in/feel like you’re an ally to us. They remain, steadfastly, none of your business.
It isn’t just my genitals. Every part of my body is intensely outside of the zone on the Venn Diagram that shows what your business is. In fact if you made a Venn Diagram of your business and my body, there would be no overlap, just two spheres hanging out together platonically, almost prudishly, no touching (see figure 1).
And every time your business’ sphere touches my body’s sphere, the latter slaps the former and tells it to fuck off. Too bad your sphere doesn’t learn. And therein lies the problem. Cis people seem to have a hard time grasping the concept that my body is none of their business. This applies on a ton of other intersections, not just being trans, which really shows this blatant disregard for our personal space and privacy in the name of “curiosity”, “interest”, “inquiry” or whatnot for what it is: a symptom and an example of marginalization.
I often ask cis people whether or not they would make inquiries regarding the genital states of other cis people, the bodies of other cis people and so on and so forth without knowing them really really damn well and having that sort of open relationship where that talk is encouraged. Very few do and they always have some sort of half assed excuse or silly rationalization for it too. And of course, those other intersections come up too, where cis men ask privacy invading questions of cis women, abled folk ask privacy invading questions of people with disabilities and so on and so forth. This is likely applicable to nearly every single intersection imaginable. But when it comes to being around people just like you*, you’ll find that burning urge to ask questions that invade and strip privacy fading away (*you being cis people, but it applies to really anyone who happens to be a privileged ass).
Invasive questions aren’t just annoying, uncomfortable and awkward for trans folk. They’re oppressive. They contribute to the idea that we don’t deserve privacy, that our bodies are public property and public knowledge. And since one is subconsciously stripping us of the basic level of agency of being able to keep our genitals, medical history and other parts of our body private, it’s a lot easier for them to do it and still feel like they have a claim to the word “ally”. It’s also harder to address the issue without a whole bunch of cis privileged whining (although really, are we ever spared cis privilege whining based on the type of call out? I can’t think of a single type that doesn’t pull the “BUUUT I DUN HATE YOU, I HAVE TRANS FRIENDS!” or “I SWEAR I’M NOT TRANSPHOBIC, SERIOUSLY. I’M AN ALLY” from the failtastic types that won’t own their privilege). They’re also dangerous. Cis people often ask them without thinking about who they’re around. A good chunk of cis people seem to really like killing, doing general violence unto or at the very least acting shitty to trans folks. Might be cool to avoid asking your stupid invasive question in a mixed crowd that may contain someone who wishes to harm people like me. Actually, would be cool not to ask your asinine invasive question at all.
And really, that’s what it comes down to. The questions? Not even remotely necessary. For one thing, if you’re looking for abstract or general info regarding trans people and our bodies, or how stuff works, there’s enough of us talking about our experiences online, our bodies, the process of hormonal changes and what it does and doesn’t do for us, etc that there is absolutely no reason for you to ask any single person who doesn’t invite you to ask them (or yell out the question to a group of trans folk, yes this has happened before).
Are you an internet user but you’re worried you can’t find these resources and blogs? Use this magical new innovation called a search engine. I hear Google is pretty cool as far as search engines go. Hell, we call using those wild search engines “googling” now.
Don’t have or use the internet? (You probably aren’t reading this post then, but…) Check out your local library and ask for resources on trans people. Don’t have a local library? Find an educator who can send you in the direction of resources. And likely no one reading this blog post right now lacks access to those things, so use those search engines.
Of course, then there are things you really just don’t need to know (unless we both think you should). At all. Ever. No, not even remotely. No seriously, shut the fuck up, you don’t. For instance, you don’t need to know how I have sex unless you plan on having sex with me and I actually want to have sex with you. Asking me how I have sex at any time that isn’t when you and I are discussing how we’re about to have sex so my dissonance doesn’t floor me and kill the mood (or if I have not explicitly invited you to ask) is not acceptable. If this isn’t quite clear enough then I’m basically telling you that beyond those two reasons you have absolutely no reason to know about how I have sex. At all. Ever. No seriously, shut the fuck up. Same goes for any other invasive question regarding personal stuff. Unless I say, “hey, I’m totally okay with answering so and so question” or “ask me anything, literally, I won’t hold it against you” or it is directly relevant to something we both have mutually decided it is relevant to, you have absolutely no call to ask it.
This should be common sense. It generally is, when people are with people who are just like them. Would you ask your cis neighbor (who’s the same race as you, has the same disabilities if any, etc etc) what her genitals look like? Probably not and you’d probably regard someone who did as a disgusting douchebag. Being that, yes, a person who asked that question would definitely be a disgusting douchebag, making your instinct there very accurate. Likewise, if you ask your trans neighbor what her genitals look like, you are now that disgusting douchebag (and perhaps several other different archetypes of douchebag) and no, us being trans doesn’t change that. In fact, it makes it a tad bit worse, considering you’re now engaging in oppression.
This whole not asking invasive questions thing? Yeah, it isn’t hard. It really, seriously isn’t. It’s actually less effort to keep your ignorant trap shut then spout useless, invasive questions that make us feel unsafe, gross, awkward, othered or even endanger us. It’s especially less effort to keep your trap shut than to defend your previous decision to invade our privacy with your oh so cat-like “curiosity” when we tell you that hey, that wasn’t cool, wtf. The best part is that I get that tone argument off the rails reaction from people even when I’m sweet as delicious gumdrop candy about the fact that they just treated me like less than a person. So if you really want to pull the “omg you’re being so ANNNGREEE about an INNOOOCENT question!” shit with me, do me a favor and just don’t bother. I tend to not approve of defensive privilege apologism and derails.
For those of us stuck hearing this blatant cis privileged tomfuckery (a far worse cousin of tomfoolery), there’s many ways to deal with this swiftly and snarkily (provided you feel your safety will be intact when doing so). My personal favorite is asking a ridiculously personal and absurd question in response like, “that depends, have you ever gotten anal from a horse?” Or and I really like this one, giving an absurd and ridiculous answer like, “well actually my genitals are a highly realistic golden statue of Jeff Goldblum holding a cigar and wearing a silver tiara. Priced at 40,000 USD.” (bonus points if you can convert the pricing to Pounds, Yen and Canadian on the fly). Because really, invasive questions not only don’t deserve an answer, they don’t deserve to be treated in a serious fashion. You can certainly answer them or treat them seriously if you want (and many of us feel an obligation or calling to educate, so I get how that goes) but me? I’m going to snark the fuck out of them and then when they inevitably cry their cis privileged tears (which would happen even if I was serious or did anything but cave and say,” sure you can invade my privacy all you want”) I’ll point out, “hey, if you don’t like getting a little sarcasm shot your way, don’t fucking ask invasive and asinine questions.”
Because really, it isn’t okay. I deserve privacy. My body is my own. Information about my body is my own. I deserve this just as much as any cis person. We all do. People damn well need to show it.
Any post that has potential triggers will be labeled as such and the triggering material placed behind a cut, as was done with little light’s post.
Unfortunately, the RSS feed did not respect that cut, and I’m not sure what to do about that. All I know of is to set all of QT’s posts to “show only a paragraph” or show it all. Is there something I’m missing?
While I cannot promise that there will never be a post with triggering content (we crossed that Rubicon long ago), I can promise that there won’t be content that naturalizes or justifies transphobia or trans misogyny, and I hope our regular readers can at least trust us to warn when something might be triggering.
As for the post in question, I did see little light’s post before it went up, and yes it is a terrifying story – I’ve had nightmares about that in the past, and it’s still deeply disturbing to me – but I think what little light said was important. That we have to advocate for ourselves because others will try to erase us. sometimes in the most profound ways possible.