Category Archives: gender

Anti-Trans Hate from Suzanne Moore and Julie Birchill Isn’t the Point–Using Feminism to Push Transmisogyny Is

What Do You Mean, Trans Women Are Women?If you haven’t been following #trans Twitter in the UK lately, let me briefly bring you up to speed. First, UK journalist Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman about women’s anger, which included a throwaway line that justifiably got a lot of trans activists pissed off: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Moore defended herself by saying that trans issues were not the point of the article and published a piece in the Guardian where she called intersectionality “its own rectum” and attempted to sound like the sane, logical one focused on women’s issues while implicitly casting the trans Twitterati as narcissistic and irrational. Julie Birchill then shored this opinion up in a more openly vitriolic way when she wrote the Guardian follow-up piece, Transsexuals should cut it out.

Here’s the thing: the Burchill piece clearly has one aim. It’s there to stir people up. It’s there to get the Guardian clicks (which is why I haven’t linked the article; you can Google). It’s there to sell ads. And while it pisses me off that the Guardian would publish such a thing, I also know what their business is. The thing that really gets me riled up is slightly different, and that’s the fact that these arguments seem rational to some people—that this hate speech is being put out there, on its own, without any kind of warning or counterpoint, and left to sit and seep into the brains of folks who really haven’t thought about trans issues.

Blah blah, transsexual lobby, blah blah. Burchill openly insults us for funsies, but at the same time she and Moore are pushing an insidious, dangerous argument. The argument is that trans people don’t care about women, that we are getting in the way of women’s rights, that we are anti-feminist. The argument is that trans women, in particular, are so concerned about penises that they can’t focus on the important issues of domestic violence, human trafficking, and women’s rights generally. And it’s important that we stand up and loudly proclaim that this argument is bullshit.

The scary thing is that to many, it will sound logical. And of course, it sounds terrible. To someone who’s never interacted with a trans woman on a friendly basis, it’s probably not so hard to jump to “oh my God, they’re so selfish that they’re ignoring domestic violence in favor of lobbying for sex change surgeries!” We need to directly attack this strawman argument. We need to point out that many trans women are in fact actively engaged in women’s rights issues that have nothing to do with trans identity. It isn’t our fault that anti-trans feminists only notice trans women when they’re talking about trans stuff, because that’s what they want to pick on. A trans woman working against trafficking or DV doesn’t make the news when the news is all about making fun of “those silly transsexuals.”

But even more importantly, we need to make it clear that transmisogyny is anti-feminist. And this has nothing to do with penises, honestly. It’s about human rights, it’s about casting trans women as less than human and how that is a patriarchal act. It’s about issues that cis feminists talk about all the time: body image, gender stereotyping, women’s dignity. Why do these arguments disappear when an anti-trans feminist is presented with a trans woman’s body? We need to stand up in the media and shout about these hypocrisies. When someone starts dividing “real” women’s rights from the “trivial” ones, we have a big fucking problem.

Say it with me, now. As a favorite Facebook group of mine proclaims, Transmisogyny Is A Women’s Issue! Moore, Birchill, and their anti-trans feminist buddies are simply on the wrong side of history.

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Sometimes Boys Are Hot: Fandom and Misogyny from a Trans Perspective

actor Benedict Cumberbatch flipping off paparazziTW: brief mention of a suicidal thought

That gentleman to your left is Benedict Cumberbatch, an English actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock series, and he’s at least in part to blame for inspiring this post.  I’ve written before about shame in girlish pursuits, and how we’re taught to push down artistic expression as we age to avoid being considered arrogant.  I want to look at a similar phenomenon today, one that revolves around fandom and excitement about male bodies and celebrities.

First, a confession.  I am active in fandom.  That includes fanfiction, the phenomenon that more and more mainstream writers are starting to touch upon, and it also includes good old fashioned squeeing about actors and characters and musicians.  These other writers have already covered the importance of fannish community and fanfiction’s power as an outlet for sexual desire, but I want to talk about excitement over male characters and celebrities more broadly, and how misogyny fits in.

A few facts: I’ve been involved in fandom to some extent, mostly secretly, since I was quite young.  Through various stages of sexual orientation and gender exploration, I’ve found certain male characters and celebrities attractive.  Under a pseudonym, I’ve “squeed” with friends over these characters and celebrities, often for no reason more intellectual than “oh my God look at how well he wears a suit.”  When I have let fandom seep into “real life,” I’ve usually tempered the interest by focusing on a more acceptable element of my fannishness, whether that be a literary interest in Tolkien’s works or a geeky sci fi love for Star Trek.  I haven’t found that being a fan, in and of itself, is necessarily embarrassing.  But the idea of people in my personal and professional life finding out about this girlish “squeeing” was intensely frightening, to the point that as a lesbian-identified college student I assumed that I would have to consider suicide as an option were I found out.

Why so ashamed, you ask?

Read the rest of this entry

Love Is A Many Gendered Thing

button with the text "love is a many gendered thing"I saw this button on Pinterest a little while ago, and the slogan struck me.  Beyond obvious queer cutesiness, I started thinking about what it might actually mean.  “Love is a many gendered thing.”

Though it sounds flip, the slogan really resonates with me, because it reflects the way I look at gender.  I don’t ignore gender in people I’m attracted to, but at the same time I don’t tend to lump attractions by gender, or at least not by gender alone.  My tendency is to create more complex categories–“geeky fannish femmes,” “andro punk trans folks,” “playful trans women with awesome shoes,” “fat femmes that rock the retro chic look.”

Generally, we’re expected to group the people we love into gender clusters, and even in the case of bisexuals or pansexuals, I think there’s some expectation that your “type” will depend on the gender you’re thinking of at the moment.  When we talk about multiple genders, or gender being less important, then it becomes this big incoherent blob of “gender has no meaning” or “we can transcend gender.”  But I think that individual genders do have meaning, insofar as they shape the people that claim them.  And I think that an individual’s gender experience can be sexy, and sometimes I fall in love with the way a particular person experiences their gender.

What do you think?

This Isn’t About Michelle Kosilek or Trans Murderers, It’s About Human Rights

It’s a blessing and a curse.

One of the issues I’m most passionate about–the rights of trans people in prisons and detention facilities–has been in the news lately.  It should be a chance to raise awareness around this important issue and to use media to push forward the tide of increasing respect for prisoners’ fundamental rights that was evidenced in several recent events, including successful lawsuits in Wisconsin and Massachusetts around transition-related care in prison and the issuance of a final ruling on the Prison Rape Elimination Act that incorporates many of trans advocates’ recommendations regarding trans prisoners.  But it was evident from the start that this would be a tricky story to bend in the direction of education and advocacy on the issues, because this is a story that most people just can’t pull past Us vs. Them.

The headlines that started rolling in last week range from more-or-less balanced to fear-mongering on the conservative opinion side:

  • Judge rules in favor for inmate’s sex change operation (Boston Globe, Sep 4)
  • Judge orders Mass. to pay for inmate’s sex change surgery (Boston Globe, Sep 5)
  • Ruling on prisoner’s sex-change a matter of principle (Boston Globe, Sep 6)
  • Judge goes too far in sex change ruling (Boston Globe, Sep 7)
  • Is denying treatment to transsexual inmates “cruel and unusual?” (The Atlantic, Sep 7)
  • Free sex change for prisoner is distasteful, but justified (Boston Globe, Sep 10)
  • The real war on women–rewarded for killing his wife (BernardGoldberg.com, Sep 10)
  • Inmate’s sex change: humane or insane? (Santa Maria Times, Sep 11)

The facts of the case make it tempting, even for transgender people and those engaged in trans rights work, to focus on the individual involved and how heinous it seems that the state would give someone convicted of killing her wife a “free sex change.”  It’s entirely understandable that those who can’t access necessary transition-related health care due to the cost of that care and the lack of insurance coverage would find it frustrating when a prisoner is allowed access to the same care on the state’s dime.  But to focus on Kosilek’s crime, or on the idea of “free benefits” for prisoners, is entirely missing the point.

Yes, it’s strange that someone in prison would have better access to healthcare than someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime, but the problem here isn’t that a prisoner does have access, it’s that many others don’t.  Prisoners should have access to healthcare as a fundamental human right, and so should everyone else.  True, many people don’t have that access right now, but access to human rights isn’t about ranking people by how much we think they deserve a right and doling it out accordingly.  Healthcare access in this country depends on a lot of things–structural inequality, economic opportunity, whether you can get insurance coverage, and whether your insurance covers the treatment you need, to name a few.  The Kosilek case was about a specific legal determination under one specific standard that gives prisoners in a particular jurisdiction access to health care.  The judge made the right call in this case.  There are many other cases, many other standards, that impact trans people’s right to transition-related care in different situations, and many people don’t have care yet.  That sucks, but it doesn’t mean we should wait until all those cases are solved before we provide healthcare to trans prisoners.  It means that we need to hold our country to a standard of basic human rights in all areas.

I also want to remind folks in general, but particularly some of the commenters on Lesley’s xoJane piece who are heavily focusing on the idea of “free surgery” or “rewarding prisoners,” that it’s the prison system itself that leads to this situation.  When people commit crimes in the United States, we handle it through incarceration.  We incarcerate people in facilities where if they are allowed to work, they can’t make very much money and they certainly can’t afford to pay for their own healthcare.  One of the consequences of that system is an enormous burden on the state, but that has nothing to do with the question of what necessary healthcare is.  There are other solutions to criminality, solutions that experts on prison abolition and reform can speak to far better than me.  If we provided some means for criminals to work and pay to access rights such as healthcare, then the argument might fly.  But we don’t, and so it’s the state’s responsibility to pay for care.  The state is failing in other areas–we don’t provide adequate health care for the young, the old, the sick, non-citizens, or those with disabilities–but again, the answer to failure in one area is not to fail in another.

If this case pisses you off, if you’re outraged, then great.  Excellent!  Join the fight for rights to transition-related care through Medicaid, Medicare, the VA, private insurance, and other programs.  Fight for expansion of the Affordable Care Act.  But don’t spend your time arguing about this one trans woman who did a terrible thing and later won a petition for her human rights.  Frankly, it’s a waste.

Framing the Trans Movement as a Moral Movement

One of the things that I really love about the organization where I work is that we’re not afraid to use the word “moral” when talking about things like prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized, pushing for equality for trans people, and queer organizing.  Christian extremists have done an excellent job of co-opting morality in the public imagination, to the extent that when talking about trans pioneers in school, for example, is decried as “immoral,” we all know exactly what they’re talking about whether or not we agree.

But there was never one morality.  Morality has always been subjective.  Morality relies on a system of beliefs, a value system of right and wrong, and the extreme Christian right version of morality is just one version.  What we need to do as a radical trans queer movement is take back that word and start talking about why supporting trans rights, particularly the rights of those who have the least power in our society, is an absolutely moral position.  We need to take that language back and start talking about how cissexist and transphobic people are immoral, and why it’s wrong to oppose our stance.

I would love to hear any success stories from folks who have been able to use this language in their organizing, or any ideas you have about how to apply this strategy in practice.

Rethinking Transfemininity

When I was in high school I learned about the difference between sex and gender.  I was lucky to even have that much education at the time, where I lived, but what we learned was rather basic.  Sex is your body and your chromosomes; gender is your identity.  This simple definition assumes that gender is a relatively simple, coherent thing.  It’s the idea that’s behind “real life experience,” the idea that assumes trans people fit into a fairly narrow range of expressions and traits based on gender identity.  Of course, we don’t.

Being female doesn’t mean that you’re feminine, nor does being male mean that you’re masculine.  Perhaps this would be easier for some people.  People do like to be able to identify and name gender.  I’ve said before that my gender is more about how I’m read or named than how I experience myself.  My gender comes out of how I’m perceived.  When I disclose that I’m trans, I sometimes am asked, based on my femme appearance, whether I’m a trans woman or a trans man who hasn’t yet transitioned.  When I explain that I’m genderqueer, I’ve been asked a couple of times what sex I was assumed to be at birth.  I no longer am willing to respond to that question, because it’s so irrelevant.

Asher Bauer wrote a post a while back that I need to find where he explained that he’s not transmasculine.  As a femme transman, “masculine” is not part of his gender as he experiences it.  I think this would confuse a lot of people, but it makes sense to me.  Coming into femme has  been the biggest part of my transition, and my history isn’t relevant to that.  Whether I was assumed male or female at birth rarely matters; what does matter is the kinds of privilege I have based on how I’m perceived.  In spaces where I don’t mention my transness, I’m usually perceived as female because of how I look, which gives me a certain privilege.  I also have a lot of privilege because I’m white and college educated, and a whole host of other things.  I don’t want to appropriate anyone else’s experience, and I want to recognize that it is a privileged thing to be able to experience gender in the way I do.

One thing I don’t have, paraphrasing from my friend Stephen, is legible identity privilege.  My gender is never going to be very obvious, and no one is ever going to see me walking down the street and think “oh, cool, a non-binary trans femme!”  I’m also not sure how many other non-binary trans femmes are out there, and whether there’s enough similarity in our experiences to form community and camraderie around that.  But I’m very grateful to the trans men and women in my life who do offer that community and camraderie, and who accept that my gender is not something that is visible, though my femme-ness–and through that, my transness–is.

Transmisogynists Should Not Be Respected Trans Activists

I will have more to say on this soon, with concrete examples, once I do some research.  But tonight, I need to get a rant off my chest.  I’m sick of hypocrisy when it comes to trans rights.  I’m sick of people getting the cheers and young trans radical accolades from “focus on the most marginalized among us” rhetoric and then treating actual trans women like shit.

To paraphrase Flavia Dozdan, my trans activism will reject transmisogyny or it will be bullshit.

It is not okay to talk about structural violence and systematic oppression in the abstract and then be a transmisogynist in your spare time.  Part of being a radical trans activist is confronting your internalized transmisogyny and your own privilege, whatever kind of privilege that may be.

I’m not saying that I’m never hypocritical.  Confronting examples of racism in my own actions that runs counter to my activism is an ongoing process.  I benefit daily from a system of white supremacy, imperialism, and genocide.  My entire life is built on the privileges I have as a white person born to white, college-educated parents with access to “merit-based” scholarships.  It is my responsibility to confront that and actively work against forces like structural racism, transmisogyny, etc.

But it makes me angry when someone acts so uncritically, blaming and shaming trans women, and then uses their position as a respected trans activist to benefit and exploit.

Gendering Humanity with the French Concept of Etat Civil

Recently, I read a news story (I can’t even remember what it was, to be honest) that got me thinking about the concept of etat civil.  Etat civil is a French legal concept that, roughly translated, means “civil status” or your legal state of being.  The French Wikipedia describes it as “a person’s position in the family and society, resulting from a written procedure of administrative identification.”  It comes up in the contexts of births, marriages, and deaths, pretty much, but it also encompasses things like your name and gender, so it’s relevant in transgender identity context.

The idea bothers me because although the practical meaning of the term is more like what we call “vital statistics” in the United States, and is dry and deals with demographic data, the actual French term implies much more.  It bothers me that one’s very being, one’s “state” or existence in the public arena is gendered.  Not only is it impossible to escape the gender binary in France due to the gendering of nouns and adjectives in the language, but your being in the eyes of the state must be either male or female (and is exceedingly difficult to change).

Sadly, this is not surprising.  I am not surprised that discrimination is so important to us as a society that it bothers us not to be able to gender someone, because I live this every day.  Nor am I surprised that we aren’t sure how to treat someone “as a human being” with no other data.  We’re obsessed with gender as a framework to tell us how to behave, and many among us are deeply bothered when we get gender “wrong,” are confused about someone’s gender, or find that someone’s gender is changing.

I would be curious to know if anyone’s done a study on human interaction in online spaces where gender is not known, though I imagine it would be difficult to find many where gender isn’t stated fairly early on in an interaction.  I do find it interesting that among queer and trans Twitter friends, I often don’t know someone’s gender, and am sometimes surprised when I learn it.  I imagine that some assumptions are made based on the online space–gaming, for example, being principally male; Pinterest being principally female–but it’d be interesting to know how many spaces there are where that isn’t the case.  I would love to learn that, even in tiny niches, human beings are simply taken as that, end of discussion.

Intersex Athletes and the Intersection Between “Abnormal” Gender and Disability

A couple of weeks ago, I was somewhat perturbed by a discussion of intersex athletes competing in women’s sports.  The discussion took place on a National LGBT Bar Association call on intersex conditions and the law, generally, but it was the information on sports that I found most bothersome.  I’ve been thinking about the frameworks in which we approach trans identities and disability, finding interesting parallels, and the same is evident for intersex individuals.  In the context of women’s sports, athletes who live and identify as women can be disqualified for intersex conditions because they are thought to have an unfair advantage over men.  However, the line in the sand is far from clear.

A couple of months ago, in a dialogue with my friend Kyla on Girl w/ Pen around the classification of gender identity disorder, I mentioned the case of athletes with prosthetic legs being disqualified due to their “unnatural advantage.  In that post, I concluded that the distinction of “unnatural” vs. “natural” wasn’t as obvious as it might seem.  Other extreme body differences, for example being a very tall female basketball player or a very short gymnast, are not considered unnatural or unfair.  The basketball example was also mentioned on the intersex call, in explaining the use of androgen counts to determine who has an “unfair” advantage.

In women’s sports, chromosome tests are no longer used to determine gender, but androgen tests are.  The idea is that having more androgens does positively impact athletic performance, so it’s not fair to have athletes with “too many” androgens compete against women.  Of course, these athletes don’t compete against men, either.  At the same time, athletes with unusual height, lung capacity, or other advantages are seen as “fair” and “natural.”

This says a lot about the way we view gender, and the way we set norms.  We separate athletes by gender because, on average, male athletes and female athletes have certain differences.  But at the same time, there are huge variations within those two genders, so that a perfectly “even” or “fair” match would be difficult to find.  And really, why would we try?  If the point of high-level sports is to work to be the athlete with the most prowess, someone has to be better.  Many young people would love to play sports at that level, but their bodies don’t allow them.  We’re used to this idea.

What we say to intersex athletes when we do tests like this is that there is some line that divides the “normal” from the abnormal.  Folks with a certain number of androgens, like those who conform with their assumed gender, like those who have talents within a socially “acceptable range,” like those who run with legs made of muscle and bone rather than manufactured parts, are considered valid athletes and valid human beings.  Those who fall outside the range don’t get to compete.

It’s not just intersex athletes to whom this restriction applies, by the way.  My ears pricked when I heard that androgens were being used as the deciding factor, because I happen to have a hormonal condition that affects my own hormone levels and I do not have an intersex condition.  I asked whether women with PCOS, for example, who might have elevated androgen levels, but would not be considered to have an intersex condition, could be disqualified on that basis.  The answer is yes.  I’ll leave you to mull these thoughts over with me, and please do comment if you have anything to share on this topic!

Queer, Trans, Feminist Projects to Watch in 2012

Happy New Year!

As we dig into 2012, I have several exciting things to announce.

First, a href=http://www.queerfeminism.comQueerFeminism.com/a has officially launched! Focusing on areas where the feminist movement could improve, including queer/trans inclusion, anti-racism, disability, and decolonization, this is a collaborative site that welcomes contributions from anyone who has thought I wish feminism would do better with me and my community.

Second, Ive been very pleased with participation in the Sunday Twitter chats I launched in the fall. #transchat and #queerchat take place alternating Sundays, 2-4 pm. Anyone can suggest a topic by contacting me on Twitter or just leaving a comment here.

Finally, I have several cool workshops and talks coming up. At Creating Change, the nations premiere LGBT organizing conference in Baltimore, Ill be leading a workshop Friday morning, January 27th, on incorporating ambiguous identities in queer organizing. At Lavender Languages (Saturday, February 11th) Ill be facilitating a lunchtime workshop on the words used to describe non-binary identities and populations. At Momentum (last weekend in March, workshop date TBA) Ill be leading Workshopping Your Sexual Orientation, a unique experience that will break your sexuality wide open. If youd like me to speak on your campus or at your organization, let me know. I still have spring dates available.

Also, no details yet, but look for more coming from me at Gender Across Borders.