Posts Tagged ‘activism’

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Stronger Together

12 November, 2016

​On my mind today is community. Reach out to the people around you; do not wait to see if they reach out to you. Open doors and build bridges. Make connections in other groups who are also hurting right now; stand up for them and help them to stand up for you.

Educate yourself. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens drew our attention to the twin children Ignorance and Want. Of the boy, Ignorance, Dickens wrote: “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.” We must educate ourselves. We must learn about our neighbours, their lives, their fears, and their joys so that we do not become Ignorance, so we do not produce more Want, and so we can avert Doom.

We are and, always have been, stronger together. Please, create community, help us heal, and keep us safe.

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Trans Girl with a Lesson Plan II

13 May, 2016
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a trans woman trying to teach in a public high school? If so, read on and learn about my day.
     It started before I got in the building. The principal meet me outside and said that (we’ll call him) “K’s” guardian “isn’t going to let his grade stand. They’re gonna fight this.” I told him, “K has missed 29 days of school and was tardy 42 times on the days he was present. HIs grade is a 48% and he needs a 73% to pass.” The principal said, “I know, and I’ve got you 100%, but they’re gonna fight it.” So, a lovely opening to my day, but that’s not all that will happen.
     Because the seniors are no longer required to come to school, I have been substituting for other teachers. I start the day off with a teacher’s credit recovery class. I’m not in there for thirty seconds when the first of the kids comes in. He takes one look at me and says, “Oh, hell no. I’m not sittin’ in no room with an it.” They walked out and the three students behind him followed suit. In the end, I had one student in the classroom.
     Halfway through this first period, I get called down to the guidance office to talk to a student about his grades. Oh, surprise, it’s K. I explained to him exactly what I told the principal and tell him the choices he made during the school year have lead him to a point of no return. There is no recovery for fourth quarter. He will have to do summer school. Then I’m sent to sub another class.
     Twenty-minutes later I get called in to meet with a different student and his mother. When the mother enters the room she looks at me, winces, and averts her eyes. I’ve seen this before, you can’t be a trans woman and not recoginise this look. She is so disturbed or offended by what she sees when she looks at me that she cannot bring herself to look at me. My HR person had the same reaction when I came out at work; after that he never looked directly at me again. So, we all stand up to shake mom’s hand. I offer my hand and she will not shake it. I’m standing there like a dope with my hand out, as everyone looks at us feeling awkward, but not near as awkward as I felt or even awkward enough to justify not saying something about this situation. She slowly take a deep breath, holds it, loosely places her hand in mine for about two seconds, then wipes it off on her jeans while expelling her held breath so she doesn’t catch whatever disease I have. She avoids looking at me the whole time, even when I was speaking to her directly. Oh, and it is my fault her whole family is coming to see her son not graduate.
     Then it’s K again. We have to call his mom to talk about his grade. It’s a conference call with the principal and vice principal included. Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence except to ask what work I will give him so he can graduate. I explain everything all over again. She refuses to acknowledge what I have said. I explain about the summer school program. She says, “I hope you won’t be teaching it.” That’s all I get out of her the whole meeting.
     Then it’s back to my room for thirty minutes. Five of which are taken up by K emailing me pleading me to give him some work that will raise his 48 to a 73. The next twenty-five are taken up by a student who was part of the group I sponsored. He spent his time trying to guilt trip, whine, threaten, and cry his way out of the 60% he earned. Mind you, he’s still graduating because he earned 90+ over the required percentage for the year. When that fails he tells me, “I’m disappointed in you You think that you fight for equality but you don’t. If you can’t see I’m a good kid and deserve a better grade then you don’t stand for equality.” I told him the conversation was over and he had to leave. He sat there arguing for ten minutes, refusing to leave the room, despite my asking and telling him to leave no less than seven times. He finally left when I went to page security to the room. He left saying, “I’m gonna pray for you because you need it. God bless you and thank you for the service you rendered.” I locked my door so he couldn’t come back.
     Then I dealt with another email from K. This one tells me he will be homeless if I don’t change his grade and I will have personally ruined his future.
     Now it is fourth period. I have had no lunch and no planning (which is supposed to be third period.) Instead, I go to a science classroom to sub for a ninth grade teacher. It is acknowledged by the administrator that this is a very poorly behaved class. He used the words “out of control,” Why he thought I was a good fit for that is beyond me. It takes ten minutes to get them out of the hall and seated. I have to shut and lock the door because there is a different group of ninth graders in the hall mocking the “man in the dress.” They begin banging on the door. The students ignore me, ignore the instructions, ignore the school rules, and ingnore everything except their phones. Well, all except one student, who we will call “H.” H gets on his FaceTime and begins telling a student at another school that some “he-she is supposed to be watching us.” H then tries to let the students from the hallway into the classroom. I stand in front of the door and block him. He says, “Hey, SIR, I wanna let them in.” I stand there and say nothing. He goes to sit back down saying “He looked like he wants to knock my ass.” I call for the administrator; when he arrives he takes over the class and tells me to write the boy up. I do, but I also realise that nothing will actually be done about it.
     Then it’s back to my room. I answer one more email from K who tells me I should have been telling him everyday that he was failing because the failed papers, failed tests, failed grades in the system, and the failed grades on his progress report weren’t enough to for him to know that he was failing.
     The phone rings. It’s the credit recovery teacher letting me know I’ll be teaching the seniors who failed . . . starting Monday . . . for the next month.
     I turn off the lights, curl into my desk chair, and hide in the dark for the next fifty minutes. Hoping no one else will call or knock before I can leave for the day.
That is what it is like to be a trans woman teaching in the public education system.
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Humour and Transmisogyny (a Caitlin on post)

23 May, 2012

Getting out of bed this morning and stretching my kinked back [the joys of sofa beds] sent a run of cracks and pops up my spine and into my brain where they dislodged an old joke the boys told in high school:

Why do women yawn in the morning?

They don’t have any balls to scratch!

I grimaced remembering this joke and not because after hearing it for the first time I made sure to yawn in the mornings. Rather, I recoiled from realising how problematic jokes like this are and how representative they are of American culture. This joke is both cissexist and transmisogynistic and it disturbs me how early on our culture indoctrinates children.

Cissexism

The joke promotes trans erasure by assuming all women have vaginas and all men have penises. By validating this limited understanding of gender it disregards the existence and experiences of thousands of trans* people. It is true that some trans* individuals undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) but this is not the majority of us. Most trans* individuals either cannot afford or do not want SRS (non-op trans*). These identities are often erased (read: invalidated and ignored) by the cis public because they are not binary normative. The “official” trans* life story is recognise who they are by age five, live in fear and isolation until their mid-forties, have a mid-life crisis, and “mutilate” genitals. Cis people like this version because it affirms the binary, makes for delicious gossip, and can be used to invalidate trans* identity (“You aren’t a real woman/man. Just look at everything you had to do to become one.”) The cost of these surgeries, however, is enormous; a trans* person is looking at $17,000 dollars or more depending on whether you are just looking for the plumbing or if you want the electricity to work too. If the price tag alone is not prohibitive, and for most it is, add these facts in: there are only a handful of surgeons qualified and willing to perform these surgeries and almost no insurance provider will cover them.

The trans* individual is left to pay for this surgery on their own. A hard enough task for anyone, but made all the more difficult by the additional road blocks society puts in front of trans* people, with psychological and employment discrimination being the worst. Trans* psychology is considered deviant and trans* people are required to go through years of expensive psychotherapy before they can even be considered a candidate for HRT and SRS. Also, trans* people (particularly trans women and of them most particularly trans women of colour) face legal employment discrimination in all but seven states. Not only is it okay to not hire someone because of their trans* status, but employers can also fire them if they come out as trans* while in the company’s employ. Many educated trans* people have menial jobs or are forced into sex work because no other industry will hire them (again particularly true for trans women of colour). Of the trans women who are not outright fired, the majority of them take a pay cut which drops their salaries to below what the average woman of colour makes, on the grounds the employer is just honouring the person’s gender “choice.” So, how do you save up for the surgery if you do not have enough to pay rent without roommates?

In this regard trans men have it a bit easier than trans women. Note I said a bit this is not a dismissal of the prejudice and difficulties trans men experience, but it is easier for trans men to be read as their gender than trans women. Because of this and because of the more dramatic secondary sex characteristics trans men gain from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) they do not spend as much on transitioning as trans women do and can save money for surgery faster. [It is important to add at this juncture that not all trans* individuals chose to go on HRT. It is a personal decision and some do not feel it is a necessary step in their journey.] Many, if not most, trans* women require a number of additional procedures to be consistently read as female and to increase their safety while in public. These procedures are not cheap. The primary one is electrolysis. Electrolysis averages at $100 an hour and by the time I have completed this treatment I will have logged three hundred (300) hours under the electrified tweezers. In total, it will cost me $30,000 to have the hair burned off my face. Other procedures that a trans woman might need are facial feminisation surgery (FFS), trachea shave, breast implants (for those whose breast growth is not significantly affected by the HRT), and wigs/hair plugs/forehead reduction. It is possible for her to have to spend over $100,000 on procedures all before considering saving for SRS. Further, the more of these procedures she needs the easier it is to out her and for employers to discriminate against her.

When examined from a trans* perspective it is easy to see why any suggestion that all women have vaginas and all men have penises comes across as offensive and invalidating.

Transmisogyny

On another level, this joke is damning toward trans women. It is an example of transmisogyny. Misogyny is, basic Psych 101, a hatred or extreme prejudice against women; transmisogyny is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny experienced by trans women and is often linked with effemimania [cf. Julia Serano, Whipping Girl] Examples of transmisogyny are constantly in the news and it is the driving force behind the beatings and murders of trans women. CoCo Williams, Paige Clay, and Brandi Williams were all murdered in a three-week period of April 2012. CeCe McDonald is being held for trial after she defend herself against a savage beating that lacerated her face, for which she was denied appropriate and timely medical services by the Hennipen County Police, all because she is a trans woman of colour.

This joke is transmisogynistic because of its use of oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, and the implication that women with male bodied characteristics are not women. Oppositional sexism is defined by Serano as, “the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories.” If one is male there can be no feminine qualities associated with him and if one is female there can be no masculine qualities associated with her. Serano defines traditional sexism as, “the belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity.” In other words, men are naturally superior to women by the very nature of being male. The punchline of the joke is rooted in oppositional sexism: men have penises and women do not. [As explained in the section above this is not always the case.] The traditional sexism is inherent in the telling of the joke, men are superior to women in that they have a penises.

The punchline is mired in the oppositional idea that to be male is to possess and to be female is to lack; in other words, men are complete human beings and women are incomplete or inferior human beings. Genitals are often what this type of thinking comes down to. This type of logic is also used to define superior men over and against lesser men. The larger the dangly bit between his legs are the more masculine he is, the smaller the less masculine and less deserving of respect. Now, consider how the smaller male is not considered feminine but as lacking appropriate levels of masculinity, which means to possess a penis of any size is an immediate invalidation of all other feminine characteristics and is an erasure of trans feminine identity. The reverse, however, is not held true. The absence of a penis does not negate masculine qualities in women and trans men. Instead they are said to have a honourary set.” This bestowed on them due to emotional or secondary sex characteristics that are perceived as masculine and they trump the perceived female characteristic of a vagina. The sexism in this is loaded into our use of language. To “have balls” is a positive thing, a sign of courage and strength, whereas to be a “pussy” is a character flaw indicating weakness and over emotionality. Feminists have made combating this attitude, that male characteristics are superior and invalidate inferior female identity, a priority in the feminist movement.

The attitude is so ingrained in our culture that women will often use it against other women. If a woman shows an aptitude in sports, interest in sex, or enjoyment of gaming and comic books she is expressing stereotypically male behaviour and other women will use it as a justification to erase her identity as a “real” woman. This attitude has been taken to the extreme by radical feminists as a means of invalidating trans women’s identities. “Women born women living as women” is used to deny trans women access to appropriate medical care and female only spaces. If you allow a trans woman into a women’s shelter the theoretical presence of a penis is enough to potentially trigger a “real” woman’s fear of men. Despite the fact trans women are more likely to be beaten simply for being women and their cases are often ignored by the police is not enough to overcome the stigma of having male bodied genitalia. Trans women are often denied access to female restrooms and changing rooms because the theoretical presence of a penis means they will rape the first “real” woman they see. And the theoretical presence of a penis is used as an argument for the barring of trans women from events such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and RadFem 2012. By denying trans women access to these conferences they invalidate trans* identity and create an echo chamber in which only their biased thinking is expressed, amplifying itself in the absence of opposing viewpoints.

These attitudes, cissexism, transmisogyny, trans* erasure, and oppositional and traditional sexism, are so accepted in our culture that young men can tell jokes rooted in them and no one thinks a thing wrong with it. Until we begin a process of re-educating our youth to identify these thought patterns and disrupt them we will never see a culture where all women, trans* and cis, are accord equal status with men.

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Trans* DOs and DON’Ts

24 April, 2012

I am transsexual . . .

do treat me like you would anyone else.

do respect my name and my pronouns. If it is not clear what my pronouns are you may politely ask. Generally, a trans woman goes by she and a trans man by he.

if you make a mistake with pronouns, do politely apologise and then continue with the conversation.

do not ask me what my birth name was. That is private and a source of anxiety for many trans* people.

do not ask me about any surgeries I may or may not have had. That is the business of the trans* person only.

do not assume things about me. Do not assume I am straight or gay, liberal or conservative, happy or unhappy, married or single. We are all different.

do not assume a trans* person wants to teach you about trans* issues. Some trans* people find this very hard to discuss; others are comfortable answering questions. Everyone has a different comfort level.

do not touch me inappropriately. Some people think it is okay to touch trans* people’s bodies to see if things are real. If you would not touch someone else that way do not touch a trans* person that way.

do not “out” me. Do not tell some else I am trans*. The only person who has the right to reveal if someone is trans* is the trans* person. If you reveal it you could embarrasses them or even put their safety and life at risk.

do not say, “But you are really a man (or woman),” “I still see the man (or woman) in you,” or “You pass really well.” These are very insulting comments and are often used as a way to invalidate that person’s gender identity.

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Regeneratio et Politica

5 November, 2011

The prevailing theory on the Doctor’s regeneration and personality states the emotions, situations, and general state of being the Doctor is in just before regeneration dictate the resulting personality of the next regeneration. This theory, the idea that we are the sum of our experiences, is one of insight and verisimilitude exposing the inner workings of the world. I have noted this in my regeneration from A to River. There are so many elements of my personality shaped by my situation as I began regeneration. From my bleak outlook on the possibility of being loved (my divorce) to the Buddhist like calm of River (the inner peace found in acknowledging who I am publicly) to the political activism that drives me (resultant of my work place and colleagues). Of these elements, it is the last that is so telling to the idea of situational personality.

As I began the regeneration process and began my (forced) public deceleration of intent, I was approached privately by a friend who—though I believe him to have been well meaning—said things I found more painful and heart wrenching than the divorce from my wife or the shunning by my extended family. He said that I was simply “[River] in a wig” and that he could accept my regeneration provided I did not “make it political.” How this came across to me was he would never see me as anything other than a fraud and that if I went down this path I would have no right to expect acceptance or fair treatment by society. It came across as, I will tolerate this choice but it is wrong and you are wrong to be open about it. That is, a denial of the right to self-determination.

The person of whom I speak is a good man, but he is one who is a possessor of power and privilege (as defined by Kate Bornstein and the Power Pyramid). He falls victim to the same blindness that all individuals in this position incarnate: an inability to recognize their own position and how different and biased it is from the majority of human doings. I am, however, understanding and compassionate toward this state of politica caecitas because I used to be a sufferer of the condition. It took a Parkinson’s diagnosis and regenerating to shake me violently enough to knock the blinders off. We cannot blame the privileged for their blindness to their own privilege; it is a regrettable but natural state.

Despite how forgivable his offense may be, it became a defining moment in my regenerative process. It helped open my eyes to the inherent bias in the American culture. The idea that outlaws and rebels, speakers for those with no voice, progenitors of change and revolution, protestors for equality and representation, are tolerable only in small disenfranchised doses is a linchpin holding the control of those in power in place.

The very act of regenerating made me a threat to the comfortable universe he lived in. But how? Simple. I represent, at my core, not just an alternative lifestyle, but the idea of tolerance for and acceptance of things his political and religious institution condemns. In most cases he would ignore this existence or even condemn it, but he could not with me. I was within his sphere of influence. He knew me, respected me, and believed in my basic decency and social acceptability. The moment I began regeneration I created a violently opposing dichotomy for him. Here is a person that embodies the more noble aspects of his private philosophy that simultaneously embodies the unacceptable, morally questionable, and sinful. This left him with three possible resolutions to this conflict:

  • ignore the positive qualities
  • ignore the negative qualities
  • redefine his personal schemata

To his credit he was not someone who could do the first, but engaging the third is such a huge undertaking it is not surprising that only the most committed or the most desperate are capable of it. This left him only one option: to ignore the aspects of who I am that are in direct conflict with his perception of me as a good human being. He had to ask me not to display these aspects in order to maintain the delicate mental and moral equilibrium his mind had created.

This also meant that he could not acknowledge my position to influence or sway others to the type of tolerant and accepting thinking that the opposing dichotomy and my position of instructor gave me. Unable to ignore the situation’s reality, he gave me a polite ultimatum: either be quiet about this and remain friends or be public (political) and be cut off. It was the only course a rational and thinking member of the powered and privileged could take. And, predictably, since transferring to a new teaching site, I have not heard from him.

Nor have I been capable of contacting him. Why not? Because the forced choice of being quietly myself or openly, actively, myself became a defining moment in my regenerative process. I was malleable at this point, subject to influence in a number of directions. This private conversation and subtle ultimatum pushed me in the direction of activist. I was so offended by the command’s audacity (as it was not phrased as either a request or a stance for consideration, but as an imperative declaration, “don’t make this political”) that I veered in the opposite direction. It is basic physics, sweetie, every action (the command against the political) results in a reaction opposite of and equal in strength to the original action (River becomes a political activist).

I know that I would have been aware of the political dimension of my existence even without this conversation. The degree of awareness and participation, however, would have been reduced. I was not one who paid attention to politics before regenerating. As a member of the powered and privileged I did not need to be, my position was secure. As a new member of the disenfranchised I could have focused only on securing the limited power and position my new life afforded me, a good white woman. But I was now aware of the bias and bigotry directed at those who make-up the bottom of the Power Pyramid. I was aware, I was emotionally charged, and I was malleable. My new personality was directly shaped by my situation, emotional state, and the people around me.

Who I am is still in development but the public outlaw, the hippie professor, speaker of truth is a fundamental part of my personality. I have been shaped, however unintentionally, by my interactions with the other—those outside myself. Whether the regenerating individual is the last of the Time Lords, a MtF, or just someone growing up and growing into themselves, who they become is intimately linked to who they were, who they were with, and how they responded to the world.