Posts Tagged ‘trans women’

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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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Ten Things Cis Allies Can Do To Help Trans People

1 April, 2017

I received another ask recently about what cisgender allies can do to support transgender people. So, here are ten things a cisgender person can do to support transgender people.

1. Educate yourself by reading and listening to trans women and trans men on what it is to be trans. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people value what cisgender (from the Latin prefix cis, meaning the same or same side of, the medical term denoting people who are not transgender) people say about being transgender rather than what transgender people have to say. I recommend five books to start: “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano, “Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock, “Transgender Warriors” by Leslie Feinberg (trans masculine writer and author of “Stone Butch Blues”), “A Transgender History of the United States” by Susan Striker, and the essay collection “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family & Themselves Connected.” Along with this is the important task of educating yourself in proper terminology to avoid micro-aggressions–the GLAAD media reference guide is a good starting place.

2. Follow trans inclusive media that has trans women and men writing for them. My personal favourites are Mey Rude on Autostraddle, Kat Callahan on Jezebel, and Samantha Allen on The Daily Beast. Feministing.com has good stuff, too.

3. Donate to trans groups and charities, e.g. The Transgender Law Center and the National Center for Transgender Education. Donate time or money to local charities that are explicitly transgender inclusive.

4. When people you know are being transphobic or trans misogynistic, correct them. Having someone standing up for us in everyday situations is the most powerful support we have. Educate the people around you and work to dispel the misunderstandings and lies believed by the average person.

5. Write to your local, state, and national legislatures. Demand they stand against transphobic bills, praise them for trans inclusive actions, and suggest changes that can be enacted​, like non-discrimination policies that specifically include transgender people.

6. Do not buy from companies with anti-transgender policies, donations, and/or attitudes such as Chic-Fil-A, Brilla Pasta, Jelly Belly, or Urban Outfitters. Do buy from transgender inclusive companies like Starbucks, Apple, or Amazon. The HRC maintains a record of and inclusiveness ratings for many companies (and politicians).

7. Get one of these #IllGoWithYou buttons and be ready to support transgender women, transgender men, and non binary people when accessing public restrooms (note: the restroom a person feels comfortable using will vary depending on presentation and how far along a transperson is in their social transition). This is huge because trans people experience medical complications as a result of avoiding restrooms for 8 to 12 hours everyday: urinary track infections, kidney problems, and malnutrition from not eating or drinking all day so they won’t need a bathroom. Not to mention the verbal and physical attacks they face. According to a 2013 survey in DC, 65% of transgender people have been denied access to, verbally harassed in, or physically assaulted in public bathrooms. It may seems like a little thing to cisgender people who use public bathrooms regularly without incident, but it can be life or death to transgender people.

8. When you receive good service from a transgender employee take a minute to tell their manager. Everyday managers receive complaints about transgender employees just because they are transgender. By complimenting their customer service, work ethic, et cetera, you provide a counter-narrative to the “I’m offended you employee a trans person” complaints. If employers see only negative responses to a trans employee’s presence they will terminate the employee–even in the handful of states that have non-discrimination policies. By taking a few minutes to compliment them, you could literally save their job and prevent them from having to seek alternative sources of employment (sex work is often the only viable alternative for trans women).

9. Know that even in places with laws against discriminating actions towards transgender people in housing, employment, healthcare​, and education people still find subtle and malicious ways to discriminate.

10. Listen. Listen to what transgender people say and take their fears and concerns seriously, even when it may not align with what you have experienced. The worst thing that can happen to a victim of harassment, abuse, or discrimination is having their experiences minimised.

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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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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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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.

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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.