Posts Tagged ‘trans women of color’

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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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What Bathroom Bills Are Really Doing

23 February, 2017

Let’s breakdown what the anti-transgender/public privacy bathroom bills and laws are really doing.
(1) The laws are unenforceable without a bathroom attendant checking people’s birth certificates so
(2) It encourages citizens to make personal judgements based on what a person looks like leading to
(3) The unofficial nod to approve cis men and cis women carrying out vigilante justice against suspected transgender citizens (unless you live in Texas or Kansas where politicians openly endorsed vigilante enforcement).
(4) The number of transgender children and adults who don’t eat or drink so they can last eight hours without using a public bathroom will rise past the 1 out of 3 it is already at. Meaning,
(5) More and more transgender people will develop malnutrition, dehydration, UTIs, and other negative health consequences. Further,
(6) Students and employees’ concentration, productivity, and effectiveness will suffer and impair their ability to get an education that can lead to successful employment or hold onto employment if gained.
(7) Without an education and viable employment they will not have an income and will be unable to secure housing, food, and healthcare.
(8) They will not be able to use shelters due to the same gender enforcement laws that affected them in school and public accommodations so they will be forced to seek alternative housing and illicit jobs (prostitution being the most common).
(9) Living on the streets and performing survival sex work will further endanger their health and physical safety and
(10) Will eventually lead to an early and likely violent death.
So, really, it is not, nor was it ever, about bathroom safety. Rather, it is the legislative genocide of a minoritised group.

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Tonight/Tomorrow: A Poem for 23 Lives

20 November, 2016

​Tonight the storm is strong and the winds are bitter. Tonight 23 transgender people are remembered, whether they are trans women, trans men, or gender fluid. Tonight we whisper 23 names in the dark.

Tonight we remember 23 hard earned lives that were lived with strength. Tonight we eulogise 23 lives abruptly ended this past year by people possessed by hatred, by fear, by violence. Tonight we hold hands, we circle one another, and we grieve.

Tomorrow we draw the circle wider and yet wider again. Tomorrow we seek with our feet and comfort with our hands. Tomorrow we reach out and draw our neighbours in with open arms.

Tomorrow we stand with our heads high and our eyes open. Tomorrow we stand firm in the face of hatred and discrimination. Tomorrow we say no to hate and we act with love.

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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.

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Hollywood’s Complicity in Anti-trans Violence

3 September, 2016

Content warning: discussion of trans misogyny

Mark Ruffalo’s casting of Matt Bomer as a trans woman in his soon to be released film Anything has received a lot of negative feedback from the trans community, including such stars as Jamie Clayton and Jen Richards. These criticisms are justified because, as Jen Richards points out, there is a correlation between cis men portraying trans women and spikes in violence against trans women. When we say this, we are not exaggerating. The more Hollywood is willing to foist the idea that a man in a dress is comparable to a trans woman, the greater the violence trans women face because it gives fuel to the lies told about them and creates justification in the minds of bigots and those who act with violence.

In breaking down this connection, we should begin by addressing the dramatic increase in legislation designed to outlaw being transgender and in many cases to systematicly impede or prevent the transitions of trans women. “Bathroom bills” primarily target trans women because most people believe trans women are just perverted men. The rhetoric always revolves around preventing those psychologically ill men from gaining access to to women’s spaces where they will rape and prey on “real” women and girls. North Carolina governor McCrory and Senator Ted Cruz have openly compared transgender women to pedophiles. Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver threatened to carry a gun with her into the women’s room to protect herself from trans women. Representative Richard Floyd has threatened to physically assault trans women and James Dobson, the Christian head of Focus on the Family has encouraged the murder of trans women. Often these people blame Hollywood for propagating the acceptance of “men in dresses” and they point to films’ casting cis men to play predatory and pathetic trans women as proof of the “man in a dress” myth. They use Hollywood’s depictions as part of their justification toward legal and physical violence.

This attitude goes beyond the laws we make and impacts how we enforce existing laws, as well. Specifically how cases in which a trans woman has been assaulted or murdered are handled. In the United States legal system, people (typically straight, cis men) can and often do claim murdering trans women is not their fault because the mere thought of a trans woman existing is so horrifying to them that it produces a temporary insanity that results in a violent, destructive response to this “man in a dress.” It is called Trans Panic Defense and is based on the idea that a trans woman’s existence is such an unnatural perversion that the only psychologically sound response to the revelation is to murder them. Hollywood has often depicted this faux psychological break in its films. Whether it is shown as a serious, relatable response as in the attack on Dil in The Crying  Game (1992) or played for a cheap laugh as when Ace Ventura strips Lt. Lois Einhorn in Ace Ventura (1994) and everyone vomits. Ironically, even though Hollywood helped popularise this defense tactic, California is the only state where its use is not permissable in court.

Hollywood’s casting decisions and portrayls even impact the occurance of crimes against trans women. Straight men attack and murder trans women because they cannot reconcile their attraction to a woman of transgender background to the social perception that trans women are men. Straight men are afraid their attraction makes them gay so they respond with violence to prove their straight masculinity to themselves and others. Because of films like Soapdish (1991) where Robert Downy Jr gags after his encounter with a trans woman, Naked Gun 33 1/3: the Final Insult (1994) where Anna Nicole Smith’s striptease reveals a penis and results in a freak out by her suitors, and The Hangover Part II (2011) in which Ed Helms has sex with a transgender prostitute who is depicted as having taken advantage of his drunken state, straight men are taught to fear trans women as deciving gay men tricking straight men into gay sex. The casting of cis men as trans women reinforces this type of thinking. Mark Ruffalo’s casting of Matt Bomer, a gay, cis man, will doubly do so. In Anything the straight main character forms a taboo relationship with a transgender sex worker portrayed by a gay man. How did Ruffalo think this would be read by a primarily straight audience? Did he consider what the result of the this choice would be?

In reality, the violence that results from straight men’s fear of being duped into gay sex is not after an unexpected physical reveal moments before the sex act. In cases of assault and murder a trans woman has not “surprised” him in the bedroom. This reaction plays out in straight men (and sometimes women) who have seen a trans woman on the street and freaked out. It plays out when a straight man is attracted to a woman and their buddy mocks them for “being fooled” by a “man in a dress.” In these situations they are responding with violence against someone they often have not even talked with.

This happened in May of 2014 on an Atlanta train where two trans women were stripped and beaten. They were being harrassed by straight men, men who saw them and could not reconcile their appearance to the ideal of attractive femininity, men who saw them as gay men in dresses. The men began harassing the trans women on the station platform, demanding the women acknowledge them, reveal their “real” gender, and describe their genitals. On board the train, where the women could not get away, the men stripped them naked and beat them. They did this in front of witnesses. The witnesses did nothing to intervene. The witnesses laughed at the stripped and beaten trans women, filmed their assault, and posted it to social media. The response to this was that the trans women deserved to be attacked because they were men tricking people into believing  they were a women. When Hollywood casts men to play women (because trans women are women) they support and (intentionally or not) encourage people to view trans women as men. There is a direct correlation between the depiction, the belief, and the action.

When straight, cis actor Jared Leto was seen in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) as a trans woman, there was a spike in violence against trans women like what occurred in Atlanta. When straight, cis actor Eddie Redmayne was seen in The Danish Girl (2015) as a trans woman, there was a spike in violence against trans women; 2015 turned out to be the deadliest year on record for American trans women. Now, when gay, cis actor Matt Bomer is about to be seen as a trans woman in Anything, we steel ourselves for another spike in violence against trans women. Through its casting decisions, Hollywood is complicit in this violence. Through its casting decisions, Hollywood has blood on its hands. But the actors, directors, producers, and casting agents who make these decisions care more about the money to be made than the lives to be lost. It is profitable and brave to cast a man as a woman of transgender background in a way that it is not profitable or brave to cast a man as woman of cis background.

On a personal level, I am afraid of the fallout these decisions have. I am teaching at a school where I am stealth, I have not divulged my transgender status to anyone and the adults and children there read me as a cis woman. What happens to me if someone begins to question that? What happens to me if someone begins to wonder if I am not a cis woman? Based on the lived experiences of others trans women and based on my own experiences, what happens is violence. At the very least it will be verbal violence but at the most the violence is unfathomable. Before I was living authenticly, I was afraid of what would happen to me if others found out who I was. Once I transitioned, I was afraid of what would happen to me (and afraid of those things that did happen to me) because it was obvious who I was. Now that I live quietly stealth, I am afraid of what will happen to me should anyone discover or even suspect my past.

To live as a trans woman in America pre, mid, or post transition is to live in fear. Watching Hollywood reinforce the idea that trans women are disturbed men in dresses heightens that fear. This is why we callout casting decisions that reinforce bigotry and violence. This is why we need our cis friends and allies to take casting decisions seriously and to callout the poor choices being made. It is literally a matter of safety for us.