Archive for January, 2011
The redoubtable Sady Doyle and a bunch of other people are organising a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #DearJohn. The reason?
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman person with a uterus.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases. With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion.
That’s right. This would refine rape to its narrowest form (by “force”), as well as restrict the funding of abortions to rape survivors, enabling statutory child abuse, and partner abuse via pregnancy, codify the yearly renewable Hyde Amendment and effectively end employer insurance funding of abortions in the United States (busy little bill, isn’t it).
I know–as do many of you–how problematic and alienating the ingrained cissexism and binarism of much mainstream cis feminist and pro-choice politics can be, yet this is an attack on trans communities too. If it’s being framed as a means of controlling “womens’” reproductive capabilities, it’s also an attack on some trans men, non-binary and genderqueers’ reproductive rights–as well as a broader attack on rape and incest survivors. The breathtaking dehumanisation of survivors in this legislation affects us all, even those of us who don’t require abortions.
So this is where you, people of the Internet, come in, to voice your opposition to a sexist, classist, rape apologist bill. First, with #DearJohn. But there is much, much more you lot in the United States can do. Jill at Feministe suggests donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds, to help women in need. Sady lays out even more steps you can take:
we also can’t just be outraged about it on the Internet. It’s essential that we make the huge public opposition to this bill as visible as possible: That’s why we’re Tweeting at Boehner and others at #DearJohn. But we also absolutely have to make sure our representatives hear us in person. It’s the beginning of the work week. And that means that all those Congresspeople need to hear from us, on the freakin’ phone, until they get the message that their jobs are going to be very, very hard until they acknowledge the massive public opposition to HR3. We need to reach out to the people who might stand for us, like the Victims’ Rights Caucus and the Pro-Choice Caucus, to applaud them for standing up for us and to ask them to make defeating this bill a crucial mission. We need to put massive amounts of pressure on the people who clearly don’t stand with us, like Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, whose bill this is, and all of its co-sponsors, particularly those (male) few who happen to be Democrats: Our party is not allowed to sell out to those who deny medical care to survivors and attack people who need abortions, ever. We need to reach out to the Ways and Means Committee, which is currently handling this bill, and which has one — ONE! — Democratic woman on board. We need to reach out to Shelley Berkley, that one Democratic woman, and ask her to be our champion.
Click on this, and it should take you to a page where you can find out exactly who your rep is, and what their contact information is. Look that person up on Wikipedia, to get a sense of who they are, if you don’t already know. Then, CALL THEM. Be polite; be professional; do not threaten or use violent or abusive language under any circumstances. Explain to them that their constituents don’t support this bill, explain how and why it’s a bad bill, and let them know that if they support or fail to oppose this bill, they can expect that to impact them in a very bad way when it comes to the matter of keeping their jobs. We hired them; we can fire them. We want to flood them with calls, today and tomorrow. We need to stand up and be counted. And we can. But we need to make sure they don’t just see us talking on the Internet. We need to make sure they hear our voices, one by one by one.
ETA: don’t forget to sign the petition being presented to the Ways and Means Committee
One of the rather fun things about being trans is that you live in a world where doctors poke and prod you hoping to find deep answers about why you exist- deep, award-winning, and powerful answers that will at last enable them to explain what the hell is up with us; because it’s not like we’re authorities on our own lives or anything.
To set the snark aside, I’m of course talking about the endless quest to find an etiology- or medical explanation of origin- for trans existence, a recent example of which can be found here. It is a particularly transfixing matter that seems to occupy the place of El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth in the eyes of our medical masters. A Lost Ark of the Covenant with which to at last claim final dominion over us. The ultimate Holy Grail being a “trans test” whereby folks in white coats will be able to objectively prove that someone is trans.
Yet like all the foregoing it is a myth, a legend. There is not likely to be any one coherent, purely biological/neurological explanation for our existence. The drive to research the matter is not inherently evil, mind, but the resources being dedicated to it come into question when studies of this sort appear to be to the exclusion of more directly beneficial research, like longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of hormone treatment on trans people.
Recent studies have been justified by asserting that they will benefit young trans people with early identification of trans-ness. But let us be as honest and realistic as possible for a moment, shall we? What would make things easier on young trans kids is not an MRI scan or some kind of trans test. It would be a world where having a trans child would not be a terrible thing, where bullying of children who defied gender norms would be frowned upon and actively discouraged, where parents raised their children to accept a multitude of gendered possibilities. A “trans test” would not even be a stopgap measure to help young trans people.
When I first came out to my father I naively waved studies in his face that spoke of this thing called “Gender Identity Disorder.” But his first reaction to me was not to say that my gender was valid. It was to say that since it was a ‘disorder’ there must be a ‘cure’- you know, one to make me into a boy again, like he wanted.
Transgender does not need a medical etiology in order to be accepted morally. The entire issue is a massive red herring that deflects a necessary moral and philosophical argument into whether or not we objectively exist by the standards of a game we are rigged to lose. We are already on the backfoot because we live in a world where our voices do not count, we merely concede more ground when we suggest that narrow, incomplete studies that reveal- at best- a small piece of the puzzle should speak for us.
The critical moral argument that we must never lose sight of is whether it is okay to discriminate against someone because there isn’t a biological explanation for their existence. For most any situation, the answer is a resounding “no” among decent people. We do not say that people of faith bring discrimination upon themselves because they ‘chose’ to be a part of a given religion, and when people do say this, they are rightly derided for being assholes. We do not get sidetracked into asinine arguments about how some people are born Jewish and have Jew brains and, y’know, they just can’t help it and that’s why we should be ‘tolerant.’
No, actually. You should avoid bigotry because it’s simply the right thing to do.
On top of everything else, this vexatious quest betrays another deeply rooted assumption about gender in our society that plainly reveals our position as The Other. Where are the studies that inquire why cis people are cis? Or why heterosexual people are het? Because this is the presumed, normal default of society it goes unmarked and unquestioned (although scientific forays into “male” and “female” brains are nothing new and I will revisit this shortly). Whatever the intentions of these scientists, some of whom I will even be generous enough to admit may want to do the right thing by trans folk, they are participating in a discourse that holds that we are invalid until proven to have a Cause that can be established scientifically and thus set in stone.
The reason that this is dangerous and more than simply a fool’s errand is nicely illustrated by one of the trans community’s leading scientific antagonists, Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey. The attendant quest to trans etiology is, of course, the crusade to find a ‘gay gene.’ Bailey has argued that if such knowledge is used to find and abort ‘gay foetuses’ it would be morally acceptable and a matter of “parental rights.” What would my father have done with me had a doctor told him I was trans while I was still in the womb? That grim scenario aside, however, it is also absurd simply because we have no way of pinning down a single neurological, genetic, or other physiological ‘sign’ of queerness and/or trans-ness. The number of false positives would be astonishing, I expect.
At the heart of this issue, however, is that simple question: do we choose to be trans or not? My answer is: the question is bollocks and so is your face. It is an overly simplistic binary question that does not account for the following realities:
- Social construction of gender shaping how we all- cis and trans- learn about what is feminine, masculine, etc.
- The fact that biological inclinations will differ from person to person and perhaps take wildly different forms in two trans people.
- The agency of a trans person who shapes various aspects of their gender consciously, even if the “decision” to be trans, full stop, was not fully theirs. Some of us have seemingly natural preferences for things, some of us have red lines we will not cross, and some of us change things about ourselves all the time. Is there an etiology that can account for the wild number of variables in that equation? Unlikely.
- The fact that there are several million different ways to be a man or a woman. Some trans women are very feminine, others are less so, others are outright butches. I myself am somewhat femme but lean heavily towards the Hillary Clinton end of the spectrum. Is there an etiology for that level of specificity about these things that comprise my gender and the genders of countless trans folk?
What it comes down to is that ‘research’ on trans origins is basically asking you to see only two types of people in the world: Men and Women. You are very subtly and tacitly asked to see these groups as wildly different from one another, but also to see men as being all exactly the same and women as being all exactly the same, and that “gender” only means your body. When you take a long step back from that to behold the riotous cacophony of beautiful gendered diversity in our world, the findings of these small scale studies on trans etiology begin to seem a lot less far reaching than they otherwise might.
What’s more, we are not going to be loved by people who presently hate us if, suddenly, a study came out tomorrow with The Ultimate Biological Explanation for Transness. The murders would not stop, the discrimination would not stop, the hate would not stop, the cultural exclusion and medical colonisation would not stop. We would be filed in a few cis scientists’ “Hmm, that’s interesting” cabinet and locked away while the beat goes murderously on. Proving ourselves biologically is not salvation, it’s a titanic straw man.
I know this: my growth into womanhood was necessitated by a powerful understanding that if I did not come out, death- literal or waking- awaited me. I was being compelled powerfully to live a lie not of my choosing. Accepting myself as a woman, as a person of trans experience, has had profoundly positive effects on my life. It would be a colossal misreading of my difficult and painful experience to say that I “woke up one day and decided to be trans” as some transphobes might have it. But that is not the only alternative to saying that I was ineluctably and unproblematically “born this way” with some purely biological cause that was not in some way socially and personally mediated.
I say this because this is true of absolutely everybody. Not just trans people. That is one of the critical distinctions to understand here that separates what I’m saying from the rest of the pack. Everyone’s gender is constructed, no one is born a man or a woman. The subtle implication of a lot of trans research is that there aremale brains and female brains when reality proves to be far, far more confounding on that score than not. When we think we’ve found the key to gendered brain difference, we get tripped up. “Women have a bigger corpus callosum than men! Wait, no do they don’t. Wait, yes they do! Sometimes! Behold my small data set!” That particular merry-go-round was critiqued with true scientific precision by biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling in her 2000 book Sexing the Body, which also provides a good deal of data to buttress my points here more generally.
I do not have a female brain so much as I have a Quinnae brain, a lovely grey mattered lump of brainy loveliness shaped by my unique experiences, learning, and an ongoing dynamic life that alters those meandering curves with each passing day. There may be something biological that made my coming out all but inevitable, but a good deal of the shape my womanhood took had nothing to do with the brain I had when my mum bore me.
I should not need a certificate, or a study to tell people that I am who I say I am in terms of my gender. Transphobic people will not stop once an etiology is discovered. Let me make something abundantly clear:
The search for biological explanations is perfectly fine in and of itself. It is not fine for that to act as a substitute for real moral and political discussion. This research is an academic curiosity. It must never be the fulcrum upon which our rights and dignity as human beings rest.
In any moral, just world, the question of our humanity would be settled by the mere reality of our humanity, our existence as human beings. Whatever we “choose” or “don’t choose” is irrelevant to the moral and political questions about our rights. Such debates are really slam dunk arguments that get mired in false concern about scientific relevance that really has no bearing on how most people live their lives. For me, I have found who I am. Nothing will dissuade me from that. I do not, personally, care about the nature versus nurture question apropos which made me trans. If there is an answer it is “both/and with a lot of beautifully messy complications.”
But I am who I am, and I thankfully never needed a peer-reviewed study to tell me so.
Lyon Martin Health Services — a legendary health clinic that specializes in women’s and LGBT health, celebrating its 30th anniversary last year — is having serious financial problems and could close down as soon as Thursday.
Rumors of the closure have been circulating all day, with Sup. Scott Wiener telling the SF Appeal that a source told him the clinic was closing. And the Guardian has now learned that at least one patient, health educator Catie Magee, had an appointment for Monday canceled by the clinic and was told, “We have to cancel your appointment because Lyon Martin is closing.”
The clinic is the only free-standing community clinic in California that serves to women and transgender people in a place sensitive to sexual and gender identity. The non-profit closure of the clinic would be a great loss to the community since it also provides healthcare regardless of one’s ability to pay.
“If you’re uninsured and your trans or a lesbian, you’ve probably been to Lyon Martin,” transgender labor organizer Gabriel Haaland, who used the clinic for his transition in 1997, told us. Unlike most medical providers, he said Lyon Martin offered hormone shots and other services to anyone who sought them “without making you jump through a whole bunch of hoops.”
More at the link.
My partner and I watched Priscilla, Queen of the Desert last night. For those who don’t remember, Priscilla was one of those ridiculously colourful Australian movies of the 1990s, about three drag queens (two cis gay men and one het trans woman) who travel from Sydney to Alice Springs. I believe there was a contractual obligation with the AFI that all Australian films of the 90s had to feature at least one ABBA number. It has a great cast for the leads – Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp as Bernadette, the trans character.
When I first watched Priscilla at 14, it was one of those click moments that, oh yes, trans women exist, it is possible, it is liveable. I was never a queen and never part of campy gay male culture, but still it spoke to me in powerful ways. I still know the words to most of the songs on the soundtrack.
Rewatching it now though, it really is an awful portrayal in many respects.
A trans woman who transitioned 30 years ago supposedly has loads of stubble? And is naturally played by the gruff Terence Stamp? This being a character based on the gorgeous Les Girls showgirl Carlotta, famous for looking Bridgette Bardot? And she’s sitting there having a bowl full of hormones as breakfast cereal? Fuck off. Never mind the “mail order bride” section which I had completely excised from my memory (white privilege, party of one).
I actually don’t mind the bits where Bernadette (the trans character) kicked a guy in the nuts which either Namaste or Serano critiqued, that was fine, and her romance was mostly sweet and there were a few lovely moments of queer family towards the end, but not surprisingly, a very different experience to my early one. Rewatching movies is a dangerous business.
I think when you’re young, you get what you need out of movies and discard the rest–a process so selective that looking back you wonder how you pulled anything useful from there at all. Marginalised people can do wonderfully perverse things with texts, but the sad thing is we have to.
Because there’s no real affirming alternative, and turning poison into cure is the only cultural option we have.
So, I have taken over as editor at Global Comment from Natalia Antanova and Sarah Jaffe. I can’t promise much trans-specific content, but there will be regularly updated intelligent political and arts feature articles, with many familiar names from the progressive blogosphere.
This week we’ve had:
Sarah Jaffe writing about Julian Assange, Glenn Beck, anxious masculinity and the need to move beyond heroic individuals.
Chally from Feministe and Zero at the Bone on the Queensland floods and the way natural disasters in primarily white countries gather more media coverage.
and last but not least, La Macha wrote about the attempted bombing in Spokane and the rise of white supremacist movements in the US.
Do read cos, y’know, otherwise my feelings will be hurt and such.
A great and necessary post from Erik Loomis at Alterdestiny that I think is relevant to the way we pursue queer and trans politics:
A truly left blogosphere does not exist. If the left side of the neoliberal consensus is as far left as respectable policy makers and writers are going to get in this nation, I have no chance of ever making a difference through my own writings. Because the things that I call for–the return of manufacturing jobs to the United States through a combination of penalizing companies for moving factories outside the country and working with other nations to make hard decisions about which industries and products to protect and which to trade freely on the international market, forcing companies to pay high wages and follow U.S.-style environmental legislation if they move their factories abroad, deconnecting housing prices from measurements of economic growth, full employment as a human right, etc., have no chance of ever being taken seriously, even by people who I should ostensibly be allied with.
It is my strongly held belief that the current neoliberal economic system is both a short and long-term failure. It is environmentally unsustainable. We are flat running out of rare earths that are desperately needed for modern technology. Climate change is already causing problems in some localities and nations. The nation’s commitment to letting corporations rule the country has only increased since 2007, despite the fact that their actions are what drove us into financial collapse. It’s almost impossible to put people back to work in the face of a long-term economic depression (not necessarily this one) because we have destroyed our industrial infrastructure and allowed capital to become fully mobile. I could go on.
But even if progressives agree with all of this, they still like the idea that they can go buy a Kindle.
Loomis is quite right to point out that the enchantments of capitalist consumerism (contra Max Weber in some sense) is an obstacle, that even on the putative Left there is the acceptance of inequity that comes with the production of interesting commodities. Consumerism amuses us for good reason, but it’s not enough because it’s made from human misery via sweatshops and other forms of exploitation (as we all know on some level but repress most of the time).
(15 January: edited to include a link to Catherine Ryan Hyde’s response, now at the bottom of the post. –little light.)
by Leslie Feinberg on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 12:46pm, and reposted by Little Light.
In autumn 2010, Knopf published a “transgender” themed young adult novel. The author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, is an estranged relative of mine.
The analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Hyde’s young adult fiction novel will come from those who are living the identities, and oppressions to which she has applied her imagination.
However, as part of the media coverage and publicity tour for the release of the young adult novel, Hyde claims much of her expertise and authority for writing her “transgender”-themed young adult novel as based on my life and identity.
The author is a relative with an axe to grind. When she claims me as kin in order to counter-narrate my life, I am forced to get up out of a sick bed in order to respond in writing.
Since I became acutely ill in October 2007, it has been very hard for me to write, or to speak. So it is opportunistic and unconscionable that a hostile relative would take this opportunity to re-tell my life in a way that changes my sex, mis-describes my gender expression, and closets my sexuality. Hyde also attempts to silence me politically as a revolutionary, reasserts the dominant legal control of the biological family, and ignores and disrespects my chosen family.
My verbal and written request for no further contact has been violated by my relatives numerous times over the last forty years. So I do not rely on them to respect my wishes. Instead, I have clarified and strengthened my legal papers, and I am making this statement public: My living biological relatives—Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde—are not my family. They do not speak for me.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) defines “family” as: “The person(s) who plays a significant role in the individual’s [patient’s] life. This may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual.”
Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde have not played any significant role in my adult life. I have not seen or spoken to my parents in 40 years. Catherine Ryan Hyde was a child when I left home as a youth, and has only met me a handful of times in her adult lifetime.
Catherine Ryan Hyde’s narrations about my identity and early family life to audiences and media on her young adult novel book tour is not the first time that she or other relatives have narrated hostile accounts of my life–in person and in print.
For a few years, we’ve been following the fight of two trans men in Western Australiato have their sex documents changed without GRS. This has been an important test case in Western Australia for trans rights and could potentially change the grounds of legal sex recognition in WA.
Now the case is headed to the High Court, and despite the pro-bono lawyers, significant costs are being incurred. As a result, the two are looking to fundraise here.
A message from AH & AB
We’ve been involved in a legal challenge to interpretation of Gender Reassignment Laws in Australia that’s dragged on for a couple of years now. Fortunately, our lawyers have kindly been acting pro-bono, but now that we’re headed to the High Court, we’re starting to incur some costs – $4200 to be exact.
Whilst we’re certainly willing and mostly able to dip into our own pockets to cover these costs, it’s a bit of a financial strain. So, any assistance to help us offset some of the cost, even just a thousand dollars or so, would be gratefully received and so very helpful.
Posted on Diamond Stylz:
Angel is friend of mine and we have many friend in common. She was shot by a home invader in her face, chest, and leg. By the grace of God she is recovering. Here is how the story is being portrayed on the news Now some of the dialogue has been change because they will not call her by her birth name on my fucking blog.:Police aren’t saying yet if they believe a victim’s sexual identity lead to a shooting late Sunday night. Angel Johnson was transgender. She was shot four times after a man kicked in her chained apartment door.
It happened at the Canterburry apartments around 10 p.m. Sunday. Two sisters were living inside an apartment there. One of them was shot multiple times by an intruder. The other was able to escape by jumping off their third-floor balcony. Neighbors wonder if shooting victim targeted due to sexual orientation
Fox59 News spoke to a neighbor, who says she is now scared for her life.
“When they broke into the apartment, they just started shooting,” she explained.
Police say 23-year-old Angel Johnson opened the door to the barrel of a gun. Investigators say the gunman broke through the chain lock and shot Angel multiple times in the face, chest and arms. He then took off.
There is more at the link.
The only thing about this story that is promising is that the suspects are known to the police already and Angel is alive and recovering. I wish the best to Angel and her family.
EDIT: h/t to Jane LaPlain