Posts Tagged ‘Trans woman’

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A Queer Pedagogy

7 February, 2018

I worked as a public-school literature teacher for just shy of a decade. I had the privilege of introducing pre-teen and teenage children to good stories well-told and the honour of hearing them tell their own stories. It was never easy, and if I am honest, it was often grueling. Some classes, of course, are more difficult than others. Some were even resistant to what I had to offer. But, every few years, I got a class that was just the right make-up of kids at just the right time with just the right experiences to make the stories live, to make the words sing and the narration dance. But whether it was a difficult class struggling against every lesson or a shining class stretching the words beyond the author’s own limited horizons, I told them all the secret to finding meaning: seek the seed of truth; look for the human experience that tells you what it is like to be alive and together in the world.

Every class found this, at least at first, to be queer. They were right; it is queer. Certainly, in the literal sense of the word it is. To have an instructor insist on multiple answers to the important questions even as the school system administers tests that demanded a single right answer, is strange. The encouragement to empathise with an antagonist’s anguish and to grapple with the darkness lurking in a protagonist’s heart seems perverse to good girls and good boys. Though, as a mentor told me when I was a student, as a storyteller you cannot ever be the good girl.

It’s this last truth that makes the perspective I taught them queer in the outcast sense, in the beaten and bleeding sense, and in the passionate and holy sense. I was asking my students to place themselves on the margins. To see the world through the eyes of the other: the other belief, the other gender, the other morality. To take what they held as most normative and twist it round, viewing the world upside down and inside out. To stop trying to be the good girl who is quiet and accommodating or the good boy who derives his value from his strength and to queer their perspectives, running at oblique angles to the rest of the world. In the final years of my teaching career, this was intentional, but in the early years, when I was struggling to be the good girl who arrived early and stayed late, who attended school concerts and sporting events all while being the virtuous spouse of Proverbs 31, this queered pedagogy only seeped in when I was exhausted and could no longer maintain the tweed-jacket expectations. It happened when I was in my most vulnerable and honest place. I believe that stress and exhaustion reveal our inner character and what I learned was queer perspectives came naturally to me because I was a queer woman.

Perhaps, it’s better to say, what I re-learned. My earliest sense of self was as a queer girl. I was four when Mrs. Peterson informed me I was standing in the wrong line: I was in the girls’ line and I belonged in the boys’ line. I did not have the word queer—with all its danger and strength—at that age, but what I felt was distinctly queer. I knew who I was and who I wasn’t with the same surety that Mrs. Peterson believed she knew which line each child belonged in. That sense of queerness stuck with me throughout my half-day kindergarten class. I played with the girls, I ate with the girls, and I sat with the girls during story time. But at nap time I was told to lay my sleeping mat—a rug woven of earthy greens and reds and purples—alongside the boys and be quiet.

That evening, as my parents drew me a bath and prepared to wash the day’s play off me, I asked them how they knew I was a boy and not a girl. I had been thinking about this and it occurred to me that some girls had short hair and some girls had Smurf t-shirts and some girls looked like boys and they were still girls. My parents recited primer biology; the biology adults still recite authoritatively to children, and to transgender people in a disgusted and vicious tone, and to themselves when they are most desperate for reassurance: boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Even at the age of four that didn’t square with my understanding and now, as an adult woman of transgender experience, it feels queer that some girls are believed when they yell, “I’m not a boy; I’m a girl!” and some girls aren’t.

The attempts to exorcise me of my queerness and to turn me into a good boy fractured me. I hid my true face from people, presenting them with what they wanted to see while I viewed them over my shoulder through a compact’s shattered mirror. It was in this way, I learned the importance of stories. The stories we tell to keep ourselves safe, the stories others tell about us to maintain the illusion, and the early seeds of our stories, the ones we bury deep inside ourselves.

These seeds are the ones I encouraged my students to seek. Kernels buried deep and choked out by all the “good” vegetation planted by professors and politicians and pastors and parents. I taught them to dig their hands into the earth, rip out those straight rows of pedestrian flowers, and look for the bits beneath. Find what is sleeping in the dark, waiting for its chance to stretch deep roots and poke green shoots into the light and burst with vibrant reds and purples.

I worked as a public-school teacher for just shy of ten years and I am transitioning out of that season into something new. I have exhorted students to engage with human stories well-told and I suspect what comes next will be radically different than what has come before. Still, the essence inside me is queer and I know that I will carry my queer pedagogy into whatever I do next.

This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 – check out others’ posts here

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An Open Letter to Faith Leaders As We Approach TDoR

15 November, 2017

Dear Friends and Leaders,

 
Monday, 20 November, 2017 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every 20th of November services are held to remember and make visible the known transgender people who have died due to anti-transgender violence. Black and brown transgender women make up the majority of these victims. This year continues the trend of seeing more transgender people killed than the previous year, yet these attacks and the Transgender Day of Remembrance receive very little acknowledgement outside of LGBTQ circles. The vast majority of Americans are unaware that on this day, every year, a day of mourning happens to honor the people lost solely because of their gender identity. This year, we mourn over two dozen Americans.

 
In light of this being Transgender Awareness Week and the week ending in the memorial service for those who have been lost, I encourage my pastors, my friends who are faith leaders, and all faith leaders to specifically mention the Transgender Day of Remembrance in their services and in their public prayers. Pray for and act on behalf of the victims of anti-transgender hate crimes. Pray for and act on behalf of victims and survivors, their friends, their families (chosen and biological), and their community.

 
Today, I present myself to you as a voice crying from the wilderness. A wilderness of fear, anguish, and suffering. A wilderness so dark that it cannot even be said to be ignored or rejected, but lost. I am the Samaritan woman begging for your children’s fallen scraps; for even your pets receive the blessing of Saint Francis once a year. I am the bleeding woman reaching out in hope of a miracle; I am extending my hand to you in faith that you will act to stem this bloodshed. I am the woman with the crooked back, bent over and hobbled, having seen nothing but dirt for decades; I stand before you now and hope you will lift our faces that we might see you and be seen by you.

 
I understand that the choice to do this comes with risk. There will be those who will be surprised or confused by what you say. Still more, there will be those who reject and actively resist what you say. I know that you have a position and a responsibility to your congregants and your superiors. You are expected to adhere to the dogma you were empowered under. I appreciate the gravity of what I am asking and I am asking it all the same. For God wants justice to follow down like mighty waters and that is powerful imagery. Mighty waters are overwhelming and not a little chaotic. They rip apart established structures and consume them. Mighty waters are not gentle, they do not only come if you are ready, and they do not ask your permission or acceptance for their flood. Scripture is demanding that justice, true Divine justice, be not concerned with what is political, or expedient, or comfortable.  Scripture demands we be prepared and willing to rip out the old structures and dogma, if it stands between God’s children and God’s justice. Are you willing to unleash those waters and let them wash away the injustices the church has shored and bolstered?

 
According to Matthew, Jesus said, not a sparrow falls from heaven without God seeing it, and how much more are we than sparrows. God sees us. I am asking that you, also, see us. God cares for us. I am asking that you, also, show care for us.

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​An Open Letter to Queer Whites From a Queer White Woman

6 October, 2017

I watched Stephen Colbert interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates and experienced great shame for my race. The arrogance Mr. Colbert had in asking Mr. Coates for hope and then questioning his response that he, Mr. Coates, could not offer that hope and Mr. Colbert would do better to seek hope from his pastor or friends. I felt shame because there was a time I was like Mr. Colbert (and, if I am honest still have moments where I am) asking my siblings of colour for absolution and hope for the future. I was blind to the truth that the person beneath the boot cannot offer hope to the person benefiting from the boot’s weight. It is not hir responsibility to weave tales of a brighter future; it is my responsibility to work toward a more just future for hir. This was a lesson I had to learn as a young, white teacher in a 98 percent black school district. This is a lesson I learned from honest students who with a mixture of patience and impatience educated me. Here is what my students helped me understand:

White guilt does not do anyone any good. Not white people who look for a simple one-and-done absolution and certainly not people of colour who are left beaten and shamed by the systemic racism of a country stacked against them.

We white people need to stop looking for absolution. There is none. There is nothing we can do that will ever atone for the enslaving, conquering, colonising, erasing, and genocides we as a race have committed and we as modern white people benefit from. And I know the reaction that will get from many of you because it is the same reaction my younger self had: I did not do those things, my ancestors were not here when those things were done, I am also a discriminated against class.

What we need to do is feel those feelings, own those feelings, recognise them as the dissociation from responsibility they are, and toss them in the dust bin. Those feelings serve no purpose other than insulating us from the responsibility we have to dismantle an oppressive system that benefits us at the cost of our siblings of colour.

But, what about intersectionality

Intersectionality is not a theory designed to give entrance into oppression. Intersectionality is a black feminist theory introduced by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to lift the voices of the most marginalised into centrality. Yet, white people, such as myself, have used intersectionality to force our way into the centre of every conversation; if I use intersectionality in that way, I further the oppression of my siblings who are black, brown, native and also poor, disabled, transgender. I am a queer, white woman of transgender experience who suffers a stratum of systemic oppression AND in the midst of that oppression I still benefit from white privilege. According to the report “A Matter of Life and Death” (conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition) trans women make up 85 percent of hate crime homicides in the United States and of that 96 percent are people of colour. As a woman of transgender experience, I am a victim and by the “virtue” of being white I experience less oppression than my sister of transgender experience who is also a woman of colour.  As such, I should not fight for my rights but for the rights of my sister. It is my responsibility to stand up for her because no matter how limited my access to space and resources, hers is even more limited.

And here is the truth, by centring my sister’s voice and making the world a more just place for her, I, by extension, make the world a more just place for myself. Justice is not a limited commodity. By ensuring justice for my sister of colour I am making my part of the world a more just place and that will benefit me, as well. As white people, we need to abandon our sense of guilt, which places the White Self at the centre of conversation, and take up a sense of responsibility toward the Sibling Other, which places the experience and voices of people of colour at the centre of our conversations and actions.

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More Than Just Dust

7 September, 2017

For you are dust and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

God raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honour. 1 Samuel 2:8

 

Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1980s our house was heated by a boiler stove. Multiple times each day throughout the winter months and sporadically throughout the warmer months my father or mother would go outside in the cold and scrape the ashes from inside the boiler into a large metal trash can.  I once asked my father why he kept the ashes. After all, the wood had already been burned so it could no longer be used to heat the house. It was trash, so why not throw it out? 

My father said it was true the wood had been burned and the ashes left behind could not be used to heat the house, but it was not true that the ashes were trash. In fact, there was a lot that ashes could still do. In the winter, he would lay ashes on our driveway, which went up a small hill. Covering the driveway in ash helped melt the ice and gave the tires something to grip so the truck would not slide or get stuck at the bottom.  During the spring, the ashes could be used to enrich the soil in the garden and flower beds; it also helped ward off pests that could ruin a crop. In the summer it could be used to de-stink the dogs when they tangled with a skunk. In the fall ash could be combined with water to clean silver. Though it did not look like much, there were still many uses for the ash.

We, also, are made of ash. Everything we are composed of is the ash, or dust, of stars after they have burned their fuel. We may not always seem special, but we are never trash. We each have something profoundly us that we can offer to others. Sometimes we forget that about ourselves and about others. Many cisgender and heterosexual Christians have forgotten this truth in regards to the LGBTQIA community. They write us off as just trash. Recently, a group of Evangelical Christians wrote a multiple point declaration they named The Nashville Statement that put the LGBTQIA community in the ash heap of Christian faith. They decried us as fallen, broken, sin-filled, and dangerous. They have forgotten that they are also the dust of stars and that we are also more than just dust. Each of us, no matter how we may look or how others perceive us, has something unique to offer Community. The young bisexual girl at school is an excellent math tutor. The androgynous presenting person in the office is a fantastic copy editor. The gay man who works at the auto store is the only one you trust to give you honest, solid advice on filters and plugs. The trans woman at Starbucks is gregarious and friendly with customers. Yes, it is true they are not ashes in common moulds, but they are special none the less.

You, my loves, are special none the less.

 

Reflection

In what ways am I more than just?

How do we learn to see others as more than just their background or appearance?

 

Prayer

Divine Light, we draw our bodies from the dust of stars and we will return as dust to them, but we draw our value and worth from you and the unique and precious gifts you have given us. Help us to see our value and respect the value you have instilled in others.

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Trans Women and Socialisation

12 March, 2017

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently stated that trans women are not actually women because they have “male socialisation.” I find this proclamation of hers infuriating because it is a cleaned up and repackaged version of Janice Raymond’s bigotry. She may try to cover over this bigotry by saying trans women have a place in feminism and trans issues are part of feminism, but that does not negate her instance that trans women are not women and her implied relegation of trans women to a second class citizenship in feminism (and third class within society).

Adichie’s attitudes are revealed as the bigotry they are through a thoughtful consideration of trans female experience of socialisation. First, and most important, we must acknowledge there is no singular trans woman experience any more than there is a singular cis woman experience.

Second, not experiencing overt female socialisation does not mean a trans woman experienced overt male socialisation. Rather, she would internalise female socialisation, thought patterns, and mannerisms. Some of these women (for, indeed, trans women ARE women), e.g. Kristen Beck, may adapt and mimic male socialisation patterns as a survival instinct while internally identifying with female socialisation patterns, which she may easily switch to upon social transition. These female socialisation patterns might have a more exaggerated appearance, but would be genuine socialisation patterns. Other trans women may not have adapted to male socialisation mimicking. These women, e.g. Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, may have defied society’s attempt at male socialisation. Expressing their gender identity early on and being punished for their refusal to adapt to male socialisation. This creates a trans female socialisation where they are punished for failure to conform to male standards and punished for adherence to female social standards–including those cis women are rewarded by society for integrating into their identity. Further, we are now seeing trans women who begin social and physical transition at an early age, e.g. Jazz Jennings. She and girls like her, receive more traditional cis female socialisation from those who are accepting and trans female socialisation from a rejecting society.

Third, trans women who transition later in life and who mimic male social patterns do not possess typical male privilege. Instead they possess male presenting or male passing privilege. In this instance because they appear to be a cis male and mimic cis male behaviours they do receive some male privilege benifits, but these benefits create a type of cognitive dissonance for the not socially transitioned trans woman because she does not identify as male and feels like a fraud stealing what does not belong to her and living in fear of being exposed. She is either self-aware that those privileges were received due to an unfair perception of gender identity or she quickly learns this after social transition.

Regardless, each of these trans women have 

1) received, absorbed, and integrated or rejected traditional female socialisation;

2) they are more aware of male socialisation patterns than cis women because it was forced on them (which is NOT the same as adapting and internalising male socialisation);

3) they possess a unique trans female socialisation, which gives them a valuable voice when discussing female identity and intersectionality.

All of this is to say, trans women are not men; trans women are not a third gender; trans women are women.

It is, also, important to note that trans men receive the mirror opposite type of socialisation that affects them in their own unique ways. Further, male privilege that they develop post transition will always be influenced by attempts at female socialisation foisted on them and further influenced by how accepted or not their gender non-conforming behaviours were as a child.

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Poem 1612

4 January, 2017

​Injustice came and I ran.

I ran to the politicians, but they said you’ve no power here.

I ran to the courts, but they said you’ve no voice here.

I ran to my faith, but it said you’ve no redemption here.

I ran to the shelters, but they said you’ve no place here.

I ran to my blood, but its beat had stilled.

I ran to the rock and hid beneath it.

Injustice found me and used the rock to seal my grave.

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​An Open Letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

26 October, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Paxton. Thank you for making your opinions on transgender people so clear. In a cultural climate that does not question the unfounded fears and hatred lobbed against those who are different, it is good to know we can count on you to lead a national campaign of hatred and toxic Christianity against us. Thanks in large part to your bigotry we cannot use the bathroom, we cannot get an education, and, now, we cannot even expect our health care officials to use our names and pronouns much less give us medical and psychiatric care.

Mr. Paxton, your rhetoric against us has stirred the coals of hate and fanned the flames of a national Salem witch hunt. You have declared the transgender medical condition “evil.” You use debunked pseudoscience to incite hatred and promote very non-Christ-like attitudes. You have sounded the cry of discrimination against yourself and those who believe like you, but I ask you, are you truly being discriminated against? Have transgender Americans sued the federal government to prevent you from using public accommodations? Have transgender Americans sought legal methods of stripping you of your rights? Are transgender Americans filing suits to prevent you from receiving timely, appropriate, and life saving medical care? How can you consider yourself oppressed when you are the person doing these things and more to a vulnerable population both in your home state and in your country?

Mr. Paxton, you have brought forty-three (43) suits against the government all intended to curtail or remove laws protecting one of the most discriminated against populations in the United States. You sow division and approve rhetorical methods that paint those different than you as malicious, evil, and destructive. Your rhetoric and abuse of power has turned family against family. I know because I have experienced the result of your hatred and propaganda. Your campaign against other Americans, the legal actions you have taken against us, the ads you have supported that spread lies, hold up pseudoscience, and are filked with malicious intent has twisted the thoughts and attitudes of a brother who once stood beside me into a holier-than-thou, self-satisfied bigotry. I would ask if you are pleased with this result, but we both know the answer would be yes.

We, also, know that this is not really a letter to you because even if it found its way to your door, you would not read it. This is a letter besseching my allies to take a stand against bigotry. This is a letter to encourage those whose voices have been trampled by your culture of hate. This is a letter to those still undecided, those riding the fence of public decision, those who believe they can stay neutral in the face of active hate and bigotry. Ultimately, this is a letter to my few remaining family and friends in hopes that they, too, shall not be swayed against me by the rhetoric of a tiny, fearful man with too much authority.
In relation to this article by ThinkProgress.org: 

Providing Transgender People Health Care Violates Religious Beliefs, New Lawsuit Claims

From the article:

The suit claims that even providing “psychiatric support” as part of a medical transition would violate its “best medical judgment and its religious beliefs.” Even simply providing insurance coverage for such procedures would “constitute impermissible material cooperation with evil.”

Combined with a court decision last week that justified a funeral parlor firing a trans woman for religious reasons, this lawsuit sets a terrifying precedent for transgender people. If these cases reach the Supreme Court and it follows the same reasoning it used in Hobby Lobby — perhaps less likely without Justice Antonin Scalia, but still possible— it would create a society in which transgender people could legally be denied the necessary foundations of life simply because of their identities.