Archive for August, 2010
I didn’t have the heart to just delete the blog because it would take away the domain name, and for some reason that annoyed me.
So it’s private and effectively gone forever. I hope people will finally stop linking to it instead of here.
NOTE: If you came here via a link dropped in a discussion critiquing how someone called someone else (perhaps you) out, I’d like to clarify this is an attempt to join a conversation, and not an attempt to lay any ground rules about calling out itself. It is specifically about dealing with abuse, intimidation, and silencing under the guise of calling out, and not meant to be dropped out of the context of related posts into random disagreements on the internet. By all means read it because I love readers, but I don’t want people to walk away with the impression I have solutions beyond “please don’t abuse, silence, and intimidate people under the guise of anti-oppression work.”
Note 2: The comments on this post are not the place to air any grudges. I don’t care how justified you feel you are.
Okay, I want to talk about calling out. Or rather, what happens when calling out goes horribly wrong. I am not the first to say this, and I hope I am not the last.
To me, when I really looked at the process of calling out, I saw it as telling something that something they did or said was harmful. It was a way to deal with oppressive actions that would at least give the person who committed those oppressive actions a graceful way to back off and admit their mistake. Obviously, a lot of people don’t take well to this, get defensive, deny everything, try to make it your fault, accuse you of being oppressive for hearing oppression in their words or seeing it in their actions, but the setup was there specifically to give them room to be a decent human being and give us room to assert ourselves as fully human and worthy of respect.
Often, the call out may not even actually be about the person you’re calling out – after all, they may not show any sign of really caring that they caused harm and are almost certain to flail defensively rather than respond constructively. It may instead be for others’ benefit, to see that the oppressive action didn’t go unnoticed and that at least someone disapproved.
In both cases, it may open a dialogue with the person you called out or someone else, and productive conversation could grow from that point forward. What it was never meant to be was a means of reproducing oppressive tactics.
And by that I mean, silencing, intimidating, bullying, even outright abuse. It’s no longer a tool for opening dialogues, but for preventing them. It is about establishing a Manichean order where everyone on this side is good and awesome and amazing and everyone on that side is evil and mediocre and annoying. There’s no middle ground, no room for any nuance. No room for dealing with people you know mean well but make mistakes. And every one of us makes mistakes.
And there’s no room, none, for any of us to present ourselves as paragons who are always perfect and proper and never say or do anything busted because as I said the other day, there is no outside. We’re all socialized into white supremacy, male supremacy, cis supremacy, hetero supremacy, economic supremacy, thin supremacy, TAB supremacy. We are all taught that being a person of color, of being a woman, of being of non-binary gender, of being bisexual or gay or lesbian, of being working class, being poor, being fat, having a disability makes people less than. Makes people inferior. Makes people vulnerable. Makes people deserving of the terrible things that happen to them. And we all, every single one of us, have perpetrated these attitudes on someone else, or more likely a lot of other people all at once.
We can sit down all day and tabulate the oppressions that affect us: I am a fat queer white working class (unemployed for over a decade) trans woman with disabilities and I have no college degree. This does not mean I am immune to fatphobia, to homophobia, to classism, to transphobia, to ableism, or to any kind of academic elitism. I have engaged in all of these in some point of my life. They’re not a free pass out of being busted. And they especially do not grant me an ounce of moral authority to call down thundering condemnation from the heavens on someone else who is being busted.
And all of that sounds a bit clinical, a bit theoretical, so let’s also talk about how this behavior hurts us. How it silences us. How it intimidates us. How we start to feel like we can’t talk about certain things or can’t really engage outside of our own blogs and maybe a few friends because someone might have decided – on a Manichean level – that we are bad people and what we have to say is worthless, because we fucked up once, somewhere. Or because we were perceived as fucking up, or someone presented a distorted series of events that made it look like we had not only fucked up, but did so as maliciously as possible and refused to be held accountable for it. I’m not going to name names, but I’m sure many readers can think of examples that have actually happened.
And really, it only takes a small handful to really disrupt a community with this kind of behavior. To engage in a pattern of intimidation and abuse that drives wedges between us and labels some as acceptable and others as enemies. That breaks up potential or actual coalitions and teaches us to distrust one another because we’re not seeing the behavior for what it is, instead treating it as a valid calling out. Called blogswarms on each other. Not even conversations, but what can be – and often is – borderline, if not actual, trolling and again abuse.
And you know, I’m complicit in this. When I saw it happening, I didn’t stop and say anything then. I haven’t stopped and said anything until now. Even while women I love and respect were being raked over the coals for things they had not said and done, I sat it out because of my own anxieties and fears. And while I am not alone in this, I certainly acknowledge my own responsibility in not speaking out against this. I let people get attacked and chased off of my own blog, and it got so bad that at one point I was seriously considering putting an end to Questioning Transphobia. I actually hated checking my comments queue because I dreaded what I would see, but I still didn’t say anything then.
I’ve also participated in these toxic call outs. I’ve backed them up, boosted the signal on them with my blog, got them more attention. I probably originated a few. So I do not say I am blameless or that I am speaking from any position of moral authority. I am saying that I see something that has damaged not just our community (the trans community) but impacted other communities as well, and I think that we really need to rethink how we approach these things.
I am not arguing that people have to be nice, or that anyone needs to hold anyone’s hand, or provide to the injuring party as Delux_Vivens said about what people expect when called out,
Triage, citations, a refreshing beverage, books, articles, a warm blankie, a mixtape…
just so they can feel good about themselves after saying or doing something oppressive. I’m not saying any of these things. I am not talking about tone. But I no longer want to be party to or enable any further silencing, intimidation, or abuse.
Edit: I was ambivalent about linking the other posts on this subject – not because I wanted to take credit for everything I said here, but because I did not want to trigger a blogswarm or create bad blood. But I think that decision was pretty wrongheaded, for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that I am sick to my stomach of shoving all talk about the problems described in these posts under the carpet. Plus, it’s just a huge fucking breach of etiquette to not give credit. So, here:
s. e. smith: Internet. It’s Time to Talk. I read this months ago, and it triggered a lot of the thoughts I had here. Ou’s post was timely but not disseminated openly, IIRC. I think a lot of us were gun shy at the time, and were trying to avoid triggering any more blogswarms and outright attacks.
Flipfloppingjoy: Untitled. This is much more recent, and talks a bit about the mess that exploded all over Mai’a's posts at Feministe as well as something that happened with an LJ feminism community (ontd_feminism) and BFP’s post about the new Eminem/Rihanna video.
This conversation needs to be had, we need to talk about this stuff.
And I apologize for not linking properly from the start. I’m still a bit gun shy.
Unlike Queen Emily, I post the videos at the bottom. That’s how I roll.
NY Times: Border sweeps in North reach miles into US:
ROCHESTER — The Lake Shore Limited runs between Chicago and New York City without crossing the Canadian border. But when it stops at Amtrak stations in western New York State, armed Border Patrol agents routinely board the train, question passengers about their citizenship and take away noncitizens who cannot produce satisfactory immigration papers.
“Are you a U.S. citizen?” agents asked one recent morning, moving through a Rochester-bound train full of dozing passengers at a station outside Buffalo. “What country were you born in?”
When the answer came back, “the U.S.,” they moved on. But Ruth Fernandez, 60, a naturalized citizen born in Ecuador, was asked for identification. And though she was only traveling home to New York City from her sister’s in Ohio, she had made sure to carry her American passport. On earlier trips, she said, agents had photographed her, and taken away a nervous Hispanic man.
Shakesville: Police State Newz:
At some point I may have mentioned that while my family was riding the train between Chicago and New York last December, we were rudely awakened by armed government agents on the hunt for foreign looking people that may have boarded at South Bend, Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, or any number of totally not Canadian stations. They really didn’t pay us much mind. Mostly they were interested in the folks seated in front of us speaking a foreign language (Russian, FWIW). That and yelling at the deaf woman in the next row.
Yeah, this is beyond out of hand. Can we start talking about police states yet?
Refusing to Wait: Anarchism and Intersectionality for your class and oppression analysis needs. I really recommend reading this if you’re interesting in intersectional and kyriarchal viewpoints.
And of course, a music video! Emily in Love, Sow the Seeds:
A couple of months ago I reported on the Irish Government’s decision to drop its challenge to a High Court declaration that Irish law on transgender rights is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The challenge had originally been brought as long ago as 1997 by Dr Lydia Foy and in June 2010 she finally won her battle for legal recognition as a woman, and for a birth certificate that reflects that reality.
Now the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has published a Human Rights comment on the final settlement of the case in Ireland, welcoming the decision of the Irish Government to introduce legislation recognising transgender persons in their preferred gender, including the provision of new birth certificates
Commissioner Hammarberg goes on to highlight issues of concern for many transgender people in Europe, such as the need to be diagnosed with an mental disorder, or being forced to be steriliszed and divorced in order to obtain official recognition of their legal status.
Ireland is not the only country where transgender persons have faced obstacles in obtaining legal recognition of their preferred gender. Some Council of Europe member states still have no provision at all for official recognition, leaving transgender people in a legal limbo. Most member states still use medical classifications which impose the diagnosis of mental disorder on transgender persons.
Even more common are provisions which demand impossible choices, such as the “forced divorce” and the “forced sterilisation” requirements. This means that only unmarried or divorced transgender persons who have undergone surgery and become irreversibly infertile have the right to change their entry in the birth register. In reality, this means that the state prescribes medical treatment for legal purposes, a requirement which clearly runs against the principles of human rights and human dignity.
All countries need to develop expeditious and transparent procedures for changing the name and gender of a transgender person on official documents, in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
The full text of Commissioner Hammarberg’s comment may be found at this link
Curtsey to Richard at TGEU for the heads-up.
So I want to talk about social justice activism, or rather the lack thereof.
I don’t want to address this to anyone in particular, but let’s say there’s a group of feminist bloggers who focus an inordinate amount of time and energy attacking a marginalized group, trying to define that marginalized group under their terms, and often, just playing trying to bully that marginalized group via trolling and the aggressive use of slurs and violent metaphors.
Now, to me, feminism is about many things. I know that sometimes it’s summed up as “the radical notion that women are people,” but I think that really fails to describe the sheer enormity of what feminism is. Sexism, rape culture, domestic violence, portrayals of women in the media, women being the sex class, reproductive justice, educational opportunities, the wage gap, violence against women in general, lack of medical research, femaleness being pathologized, the deconstruction of the idea that men are default people and women are a variation. That feminism is about opposing and correcting these things, and many more. And of course there’s so much progress that’s already been made and progress that while it has been made needs to be defended. And this is important work.
So why are there so many cis feminists think that trans women are so powerful, so dangerous, so important, that we must be opposed at every turn? That we must have our experiences reinterpreted and cissplained to us? Why are these cis feminists so focused on a marginalized group that might make up .1-.2% of the population? Who have a high murder rate? Who have one of the highest domestic abuse rates? Who have one of the highest seropositivity rates? Who have one of the highest unemployment rates? I do not point these things out to to elicit pity. I point these things out to highlight the difference in institutional power between trans women and cis women, and to question why any cis woman would prioritize attacking trans women and characterize it as feminist activism.
Why is it so important to establish whether or not trans women supposedly “think like men” when that’s not even relevant to how we’re treated? Do our thought processes somehow mitigate the sexism, the cissexism, the downright hatred we experience? Does our upbringing, assumed to be male, somehow make the fact that so many of us turn to survival sex work and all of the risks that entails unimportant? What exactly justifies spending so much time and energy raining condemnation and abuse on a marginalized group?
Wouldn’t basic empathy reveal that this is pretty busted? Is it really more important to push to keep trans women who are themselves DV or rape survivors out of DV and rape shelters than it is to agitate against rape culture and domestic violence? Is it really more important to write pages and pages on how trans women supposedly think like men, or would it be better to critique and deconstruct kyriarchal systems that value manhood over womanhood? Is it somehow too inconvenient to talk about how abortion access is becoming more complex and difficult over time that it’s just plain easier to take a disempowered and marginalized group of women and try to paint them as a terrifying threat to all women?
I know at least some of you are reading this. Stop and think about what you’re doing. Stop and think about where you’re putting your energy, your priorities. Are you feminists? Social justice activists? Do you care about inequity and injustice? Why spend time perpetuating it? Just what exactly will the time you spend attacking trans women net you? What will it net all women?
We’re not your enemy. Aside from this one thing, we’re on the same side and want the same things. We’re women. We’re all women. We don’t have to be friends, but why do you need to make yourselves into enemies?
Think it over.
I wrote this elsewhere as part of a conversation, in response to a question about trans men and male privilege. Specifically, in response to someone suggesting that trans men do not receive male privilege because they are apparently socialized as girls and trained to be women. With that in mind, a lot of this is really an answer to those comments.
Also, I’m throwing in a link to little light’s Fair and an article on sexism and trans people relating to Dr. Joan Roughgarden’s and Dr. Ben Barres’ experiences with transition, male privilege, and sexism.
The question of socialization is one of those topics where we all start debating how many trans people can dance on the head of a pin, and focusing onsocialization as if we’re all programmed like little computers while we’re growing up, as if gendered socialization is launched at us like laser-guided missiles and CAFAB children receive only socialization aimed at girls and CAMAB children receive only socialization aimed at boys, and all us trans people are just like cis people who share our CASAB until the day we start transition.
This is not only not true, it’s simply not relevant. You might as well argue that god implanted instructions in your brain on gender.
First of all, I would argue that the nature of socialization changes over time. For example, I doubt a two year old is being socialized in supporting rape culture. I suspect most of their socialization involves toilet training, playing, watching children’s shows. Sure, you can argue it’s there in the culture, and it is. But it’s something that CAMAB and CAFAB children both receive. The only difference is whether or not children perceive themselves as the target of the attitudesbehind this socialization. After all, men don’t exactly hold an exclusive patent on victim-blaming women for rape or domestic violence, right?
We’re all socialized into a sexist culture. We’re all taught that being a man means X and being a woman means Y. There is no outside for any of us.Women, just as men, are socialized to be sexist.
The talk about what this socialization means, however, always positions children (and eventually tweens, and then teenagers) as passive receptors who never react to that socialization. We don’t even talk about whether children who receive these messages perceive themselves as the target, the instigator, or both. We don’t talk about what these messages mean to trans children who may not perceive themselves as having a gender at all, or perceive themselves as having a gender that differs from their CASAB.
For example, I have seen several cis women assume that trans girls as children and teenagers interacted with images of the beauty ideal (models on magazine covers, for example) just like cis boys do, and don’t realize that this ideal really does have an impact on us and on our self-image, and that combined with body/gender dysphoria is one of the many reasons we can be suicidal. I know multiple trans women who pre-transition developed eating disorders in hopes of developing a more female appearance.
Socialization is not privilege. It is a way that privilege is perpetuated. Privilege is based on many things, most of those being how you are perceived and how other people treat you. Trans men who are passed as cis receive male privilege. Many trans men who do not always pass as cis receive male privilege depending on the situation and context.
Similarly, trans women during or post-transition who are passed as cis do not receive male privilege. But, trans women who are read as trans also do not receive male privilege, generally under any context. Being a trans woman is not culturally supported because being a woman is not culturally supported in the same way that being a man is culturally supported, and it seems like in many (but not all) contexts, trans men are given a pass on things that trans women are not, often times explicitly. I have heard Adam Carolla say this explicitly on Lovelines more than once, years ago. I have heard cis feminists (radical feminists and otherwise) make harsh characterizations of trans women and more forgiving characterizations of trans men even while being transphobic to both. I have heard trans men say things like this.
I am not trying to argue here that trans men have it good forever and always and trans women have it bad forever and always, but what I am saying is that there is not only privilege in being a man, whether trans or cis, but that there is privilege in being seen as reaching toward manhood (per cis perspectives) as compared to being seen as reaching toward womanhood (again per cis perspectives) and socialization is not the central factor either way.
I want to add to this that we don’t really discuss day to day pressures toward gender conformity and cisnormativity, toward having the right narratives, toward matching cis people’s standards of what men and women should be like, and how this affects us every day.
Power – in this case sexism, heterosexism, cissexism – normalizes through constant enforcement and women – cis and trans – are always failing at femininity. For trans women, this perceived failure has harsher (cissexist) consequences and higher enforced standards. Trans women who are too feminine are derided for trying too hard and thus really being men. Trans women who are not feminine enough or even masculine are derided for not trying hard enough and thus really being men. Trans women who are lesbian are derided for failing at womanhood, because the expectation is women are attracted to men.
Psychiatrists give us dress codes and standards of behavior. We have to give them the stories they want to hear – cisnormative, heteronormative narratives that establish our genders as static. Many times, we have to actually meet a dress code just to have our transness treated. Trans women are disciplined in modes of dress, behavior, and orientation just as any cis woman, and the penalties can be anything from violence to denial of necessary medical care to being constantly and maliciously degendered or misgendered. When we’re passed as cis the best we get is sexism and judged by the standards of the male gaze. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’re behaving with whatever “male socialization” or “male entitlement” is supposed to be, we’re not being granted any male privilege. We’re either women, or we’re genderless things and failing at both womanhood and manhood.
And you know, when you’re dealing with that every day? It’s going to affect you. I took four years of high school drama, and in that time I learned how to speak up and project my voice, and basically make myself heard – this was something that I completely sucked at until my first drama teacher made a point of teaching me how to do this. My first year out of high school, I lived with another trans woman who attacked me ceaselessly for “speaking too loud,” and I lost every bit of that for years. It barely took a full month before I was always speaking quietly again.You can’t underestimate the impact of daily sexism or male privilege and what that does to your socialization no matter what your age. And this happens to all adult women, we’re policed daily on being women, told how to behave, how to dress, how to talk. Everybody does this – men and women both do it to women. This happens on every level. It’s pervasive.
Socially and culturally, men are supported as men. Women are not supported as women. Yes, there is gender policing aimed at men, but there’s also stuff like Old Spice Guy, which praises and only gently mocks hypermasculinity*. But look at Axe commercials. Look at action movies. At television shows of all kinds. Look at magazines. Look at everything.
This extends to transition. The social scaffolding for female identity that’s supposed to help a trans woman become a woman per social definitions is by design the opposite of support. The process by which you become a woman involves making you abject, teaching you that support is something that women don’t deserve, and this is hard for trans women to defend against because being trans is also wound up in abject status – your success is determined by others’ approval.
Now, while trans men are also policed as men, and have to fulfill the trans narratives and try to “properly” be men, being a man is a valued state. Masculinity (and since men are conflated with masculinity) is valorized and admired over femininity and being a woman. While being trans is, as I said above, an abject status, being a man is supported as a good thing, the best of all available options.
This contrast affects trans men and trans women in different ways. Trans men are given leeway and respect that trans women are not. This happens on a daily basis. If you are given $100 a day for 30 days, would you expect to receive that $100 on day 31, or would you rely on your childhood where money may have been more tight? How about receiving that money for 365 days? Would you expect it on day 366? Are immediate punishment and reward systems overridden by past systems?
It’s not possible to reduce our socialization to our first 18 years, to our first 12 years, to our first two years (as I have recently seen one person try to do). We cannot coherently discuss trans people and male privilege while treating trans people as if we’re cis people, while ignoring our lives during and after transition and focusing strictly on our lives pre-transition. This is cissexism and straight up sexism to try to exclude experiences inconvenient to the assumption that trans women are supposedly really men and trans men are supposedly really women.
Note: CA/S/F/M/AB = Coercively assigned sex/female/male at birth
Note 2: I don’t want anyone to take away from this post that trans men do not experience sexism. They do, most especially pre- and often during transition. There are differences in how misogyny manifests against trans women because the intersection of transphobia and misogyny differs for trans men and trans women.
Anarchafemme wrote about Hurricane Katrina’s Fifth Anniversary:
Five years ago today, on August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I had evac’d the Friday night before, grabbing a few easy to grab valuables and a week’s worth of clothing. I had figured that would be about how long I would be gone, mainly because I was trying to get out a day before anyone else, so I wouldn’t spend 12 hours to get to Baton Rouge, never mind how long it would take me to get to Lake Charles.
I didn’t get back until January, my apartment had six feet of water, I “dealt” (if drinking and crying and fucking up friendships can be called “dealing”) with my emotional trauma in New Orleans until July, when I dropped out of school. Since then, I’ve lived all over the place, and just now, finally, starting to piece together a life again that looks further ahead than next week. The difficulties of finding enough work to live and to go back to school in this economy are another topic.
Most of the day today, I hoped for someone on my Facebook feed to say something. Other than one person, it was only my fellow New Orleanians who said anything. To be clear, when I say “New Orleanian”, I include, along with people who live there now, anyone who lived there and evac’d for Katrina, and either couldn’t go back, or when they got back, had to leave again due to a variety of reasons – emotional trauma and disrupted networks of support, economic reasons (cost of living was drastically higher immediately post-Katrina. It never went completely down in the year I was back). It feels like we have our own diaspora – New Orleans’ population is still a little less than 3/4s what it was pre-Katrina, and, as much as growing up in New Orleans was its own thing that those of us who came from elsewhere didn’t share, there’s a common bond that I feel like all of us who lived through Katrina share, whether we had lived there for six years (as I had, at the time of Katrina), or for sixty (or more).
I expected there to be a ton of articles about New Orleans today on my Facebook feed. And I didn’t see one. The Times-Picayune’s website says stories are all over the web today, and provides a brief list of links, but those are literally all I’ve seen. Even in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf, it feels like New Orleans and the cumulative weight of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA’s actions, the BP disaster, are all quickly forgotten.
Read more at the link.
A couple of weeks ago, little light said something to me while Lucypaw, little light, and I were sipping drinks under the gaze of an angry god and shouting so we could hear one another over the loud, loud music:
“Imagine what it would have been like for us if we had the resources available today when we were 16.”
She didn’t mean “Man, it really sucks we didn’t have all this when we were younger,” although I’ll admit there’s a bit of that for me. What she meant was, “look at how far we’ve come.” In the past four years, trans people online and off have been seriously finding our voices and finding each other, talking about oppression, about cissexism, transphobia, what it’s like to be trans outside the accepted narrative. We’ve blogged in response to the most hateful things said about us, we’ve networked, we’ve created information for young trans people to find their way. We’ve gone beyond the “TS Roadmap” and Lynn Conway’s transsexual successes. We’ve moved beyond just talking about how to get hormones and going to support groups.
I’m not saying that we’ve invented the activism and the fight for our civil rights. Trans people have been activists for as long as there have been trans people. Trans people were involved in feminism from the second wave onward, we were involved in the gay rights movement from Stonewall onward. Many trans activist organizations formed in the 90s. Sylvia Rivera had things to say to the day she died. We’ve always had community.
But at some point, we hit a critical mass. Suddenly, so many of us were online, talking about these things. About practical day-to-day matters beyond how to be passed as cis, which surgeries to get and which surgeons to go to, or sharing means of obtaining hormones. We’ve gone beyond the support groups where so many trans people would sit and dissect each other’s gender presentation to see who was trans enough to fit in and who wasn’t up to snuff.
When I was 10, I learned what the word “transsexual” meant when I stumbled across the top 10 most famous transsexuals in the Book of Lists. This list included such names as Canary Conn, Renee Richards, Jan Morris, Wendy Carlos, Christine Jorgensen, and I don’t even remember the others. There was one trans man, who was probably Reed Erickson, but I wouldn’t swear to it. At ten years old, in 1980, this was really heady stuff. By that point I’d spent years wishing that I could just be a girl and people would stop trying to force me to be a boy, and there in black and white was evidence that this could happen. But that was all I knew until six years later, when I met a trans woman. It took me over a year to tell her that I wanted to transition. After that, it took too long to track down a psychiatrist I could see – and even then I had to make the appointment for after I turned 18.
But then, I saw the psychiatrist, and a therapist. Both had a dress code for me to meet before they’d work with me. I’m not against wearing skirts and dresses, but the need to prove I was trans by wearing skirts and dresses and not, say, describing my personal history and having it taken seriously was demoralizing. The mandatory cis- and heteronormativity – that I had to wear specific clothes to get the treatment I needed when I barely had the money to buy a new wardrobe, and I had to lie about specific aspects of my life. I already knew these things going in, because I had done a lot of homework. But that homework was not easy to find – I had to go through so much of Powell’s Books’ stock to find books about “gender identity disorder” and learn about transsexuality and gender reassignment, and read accounts by psychiatrists who frankly talked about how they decided to prescribe hormones based on whether trans women could give them an erection.
Community resources? Most of the trans women I met once I got started, via support groups, were deeply invested in cisnormativity and heteronormativity. As I said above, the gender policing was rather intense, and not a very supportive environment. I’m not saying these weren’t nice people – they totally were – but there was a vibe that you had to prove you were a “true transsexual” and there was a constant vigilance that a cis man might be trying to get away with something by trying to transition. There could have been anxiety because such a thing would be a disaster for the rest of us, the fear that it would make transition more difficult and legally policed more heavily, but also a deep investment in the gender binary and gender normativity that I think most people (cis included) seem to instinctively reach for.
Oh, and there were no trans men in the community I moved in.
And in a lot of ways, I lucked out. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not met another trans woman when I had. If I could have found anything, let alone been able to move out of my parents’ house at 18, let alone known who to go to or that there was anyone to go to at all.
The 90s were different. We had some community online, and I think there was a lot more networking going on at local levels. On usenet there was alt.support.srs, alt.transgendered, and soc.support.transgendered. “cisgender” was coined in relation to “transgender” although it was a long time before the usage spread and it caught on. But there were so many turf wars on usenet. There was one vocal trans woman who loudly insisted we were all being forced into GCS because after she’d had an orchiectomy, she realized she didn’t want/need it. But we talked about mtfs and ftms and pre-ops and post-ops and non-ops and the developing “transgender” umbrella term, and there were a few highly documented notorious trolls who did their best to stir up trouble, some of whom are still around. In short, we had a pretty contentious and occasionally supportive online community.
But we weren’t really talking about anti-oppression, or institutionalized transphobia, and the word “cissexism” wasn’t even in use yet. There was some, of course. That’s when our first activist organizations formed. and we became part of the LGBT acronym. It’s also when Nancy Burkholder was ejected from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. And attempts to talk about this made many of today’s flame wars look very mild.
The World Wide Web grew, and with it, so did numerous trans-related (usually trans female) websites devoted to helping trans women transition. We could order voice training CDs and get all kinds of advice on how to budget for electrolysis and save for surgery while still paying for estrogen and doctor visits. Andrea James developed her TS Roadmap website, and Lynn Conway developed her own website both of which are good resources if you need to transition, and you want to see other trans people (mostly trans women) who have transitioned and remain successful.
Camp Trans was first started in 1994, and then yearly from 1999 onward, with varying leadership and agendas over time. It served as a central, major intentional trans community. Although the primary reason for its existence became moot in 2006 when MichFest stopped enforcing the “no trans women” policy, and had a major schism this past month.
In 2000, Vivian Namaste’s Invisible Lives was published. Until this point, the majority of literature on trans people fit into four categories:
- Autobiographies that fit the approved narrative: Knew from a young age, heterosexual, transitioned, surgery was a magical experience, yay gender dysphoria over. Almost like fairy tales. I’ve read several of these: Christine Jorgensen’s book, Second Serve, Mirror Image, and a few others I can’t even recall. They were a lifeline to me when I found them but that’s because there was nothing else.
- Medical literature that, frankly, was quite busted. It positioned us as outsiders and interesting objects for study, talked about how to treat us and provided the scripts were were supposed to memorize to get our hormones and surgery.
- Feminist writings that positioned us as invading women’s space and as dangerous predators to cis women.
- A few books (Patrick Califia, Kate Bornstein, Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone’s The Empire Strikes Back) that talked about transgender people in new ways, but not fully breaking away from what trans people were culturally supposed to be. These books were big for a lot of trans people, and definitely helped visibility beyond the approved narrative, but this was still limited exposure. It was important because it was trans people talking about trans people, which hadn’t really happened before.
What Invisible Lives gave us was a critical academic analysis of the impact transphobia had on trans people’s lives. I don’t think anything like this had been published prior to this point, but it had a limited impact rather than what could have been a seminal moment for the greater transgender community to find our voice.
In the early 2000s, we were finding that voice. I had seen many small groups of trans people having critical conversations and developing a language. I don’t agree with everything that came out of this, but we were a step past living in a culture cis people defined for us. We were making our own culture among ourselves beyond the support groups and the lists of surgeons and the prescriptive definitions. Non-binary trans people became more visible, trans men continued to become even more visible, and showing that despite earlier assumptions there almost certainly are as many trans men as trans women.
What I’ve seen in the past five years, though? We’ve found our voice. We’ve found our anger. As a community, we’re talking about institutional cissexism and transphobia, we’re talking about how to describe ourselves and rejecting the labels cis people give us. We’ve finally started actually naming cis people and asserting that transness is not inferior to cisness, but simply another way to be. We’re talking about gender beyond the binary, beyond the expectations that everyone must be a man or a woman. And we’re doing this online, in the blogosphere, in forums, in social networking sites. When something happens anywhere in the world, word travels fast and we all know about it.
We’re also doing this face to face. We’re using these tools to find each other in the real world, to have these conversations, to create more intentional trans-centered communities beyond Camp Trans. Trans people are heavily involved in radical anti-oppression, anti-establishment politics, are a part of the greater conversation about kyriarchy, and forming coalitions with other marginalized people. Even as groups like HRC continue to try to define our political needs for us, we’re critiquing and rejecting those expectations.
And when someone comes online, when they look for trans information? They find all of this. They find this culture – these communities – we’re building online and in the real world. They find us.
They find Dented Blue Mercedes, Trans Advocate, Taking Steps, TransGriot, Genderbitch, Skip the Makeup, The Spectrum Cafe, and so many others I wish I could name every one. They find that on many cis-centric feminist blogs that transphobic trolling and derailing is not tolerated – unlike how it was 4-5 years ago, where it happened just about every time trans people were mentioned in a post or discussion. They find all these things.
And if you transitioned, 5, 10, 20 years ago. Imagine that. Imagine what it would have been like to find all this when you were 16. We have community: Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
The toilet debate seems to have flared up on my twitter feed today, with much discussion taking place at Jack of Kent’s blog.
I always find this very frustrating, but I think an important point is highlighted by the way this debate is typically framed.
The “trans people in public toilets” debate is almost always framed in terms of protecting cis women from trans women
Quite often this framing is not explicit, but is implicit in the language used to frame the issue, and in terms of what is and is not said.
Let’s take Jack of Kent’s framing of this issue as an example – he asks:
Or should the law relating to, say, breaches of the peace be used to prevent transgendered people, especially male to female (MTF), intruding into the “space” reserved for a particular gender?
The emphasis is mine. Now I’m not having a go at Jack of Kent here – his framing reflects wider societal attitudes, but I do think these attitudes, as displayed in the way this question is so oft approached by cis people, are inherently transphobic, and misogynist.
Firstly, there’s the more obvious objection – the idea that trans women in a space reserved for women can ever be considered to be intruding. Since trans women are women, it’s not possible for us to intrude into women’s space, which by definition we have as much right to enter as any other woman. We can be excluded by an act of transphobia, but even asking the question of whether we should be allowed contains an assumption that trans women are not women. This is cissexist (cissexism is the statement or belief that trans people’s identified genders are less authentic or less valid than the genders of cis people)
Secondly, notice the “especially” bit in there. The issue of trans men in men’s toilets always seems to be considered less important. On the face of it this is perverse. Certainly here in the UK, typically women would not see each other in any state of undress when using a public toilet, because the actual act is done in a cubicle. In the gents, one would often expect to find urinals. Should one decide to deviate from the 1,3,5 rule, and also from the expectation that one should look straight ahead and not even glance sideways while using a urinal, one is afforded the opportunity to see someone else’s penis. That this debate is so often framed in genital essentialist terms, that it concentrates on trans women at all is really odd, given the much greater opportunity for genital exposure in a men’s loo.
This is one reason why I think this argument is misogynist. It is deemed less important that a trans man (who, it is presumed, does not have a penis – the general public tends to be quite ignorant on these matters) might see a cis man’s penis than it is that a pair of adjacent locked cubicles might contain a cis woman, with vagina, and a trans woman, with penis (those trans women who are post vaginoplasty seem to be all too often conveniently ignored by this). This is presumably because men are tough, pragmatic sorts who won’t be bothered by having someone who doesn’t have a penis seeing theirs, but women are fragile, delicate, pathetic things and must be protected from the possibility of someone pissing through a penis the other side of a wall.
Thirdly, and I think this is the most insidiously transphobic part of the whole deal, is the unstated assumption (actually, it’s not usually unstated, but in this case Jack of Kent seems to attract a better class of commenter); the “man who thinks he’s a woman” might commit sexual assault/indecent exposure in there.
Corollaray – since there’s no reason to expect trans women would be any more prone to doing this in a public toilet than anywhere else, we can add, where there won’t be a proper man to protect the women folk! Yup, we’re back to misogyny again too.
This is predicated on the idea that trans women are likely to be sex offenders. This is stigma that gay men are only just starting to emerge from – the idea that somehow being gay makes them likely to be sex offenders (if you doubt this is still an issue, take a look at how the gay adoption debate is often framed, especially in the US). With trans women, this offensive sterotype is still firmly entrenched.
The irony is enough to make one weep – I’m not aware of sexual assault ever being committed in a women’s toilet by a trans woman where a cis woman is the victim. Long time readers will, however, be familiar with the case of a trans woman who was sexually assaulted at Pride London 2008, after being made to use the men’s toilets by transphobic stewards. I’ll also state for the record that I have also been sexually assaulted in a public toilet – in this case it was a woman’s toilet and a cis woman apparently felt that grabbing my tits while I was washing my hands was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
I know the plural of anecdote is not data, but the reality for many trans women in toilets is that we are far, far more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than the perpetrator. We are vulnerable in toilets, especially if we are read as trans – expulsion, humiliation and violence are the least of the expected consequences, but nobody ever seems to talk about how we can be protected from cis people. It’s always the other way round.
Dismayingly, the way trans people are treated by the so-called Equality Act, 2010, seems to be almost completely influenced by this idea that “normal” people must be protected from trans women (I guess those responsible for drafting this repulsive piece of legislation never attended a transgender day of remembrance), and gives barely lip service to the idea that trans people, trans women especially, are vulnerable people who are often the victims of violence and discrimination and need the protection of the law.
No, instead everything is framed in terms of protecting everyone else from the distasteful idea that they might encounter us, or that “proper” women might somehow be contaminated by proximity to us. This attitude needs to change, but we seem as far away from that as ever. In the meantime we will continue to be beaten, assaulted, ridiculed and murdered by the same society that regards us as a dangerous predators.
Now Lisa just wrote a lovely post, but I’m going to immediately lower the tone and point you all towards this. Essentially, it’s a reprint of a recent post of Helen’s at Bird of Paradox and the F Word (with her permission) about a new study that’s just come out in Scotland that found that 80% of trans people had faced domestic abuse of some kind, 45% had faced physical abuse, and 47% sexual. Horrifying statistics all.
And that is the photo they chose, on a post about the overwhelming amount of abuse trans people face in relationships? Wow. That’s not trivialising or objectifying at all.
Fuck. You. Jezebel.
ETA: Post is down. Suffice to say, Jezebel’s editorial process was pathetic. Honestly, who requires an explanation that isn’t appropriate to have a picture of a random trans woman carrying a dog accompany a post about endemic abuse? I mean, seriously? It’s sort of like how having a photo of sexy cheerleaders is always appropriate for a story about rape. And hell, I’m wearing a ball gown and carrying a beagle right now, that’s just WHAT WE DO.
Helen has a fuller explanation here.