Category Archives: trans

#TERFWeek: Why Must Feminism Always Include Trans Women?

Person holding a sign that says It’s #TERFWeek, which at first made me cringe, until I realized that the week is about educating the broader feminist community about the harmfulness of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). This is a group of people, mostly women, many lesbians or queer-identified, who claim to be feminist, yet exclude trans women, one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups of women, from their communities. They’re usually the ones arguing that trans women in the women’s room or in lesbian groups or at MichFest are dangerous, often have weird convoluted mental requirements around transition-related surgeries to recognize trans women as women, and can be found outing trans women on the Internet (including previous names, arrest records, employer info, and home addresses) and generally making lives miserable.

Here’s the thing about TERFs: they’re not feminists.

Now, you could make the argument that a feminist is anyone who says they are one, but I don’t think that really jives with the definition. At the very least, TERFs are extremely hypocritical feminists opposed to the actual tenets of feminism, a movement that is about oppression to patriarchy (which includes, you guessed it, rigid gender norms and a hierarchical binary gender system!)

In this post, I’d like to focus specifically on why feminism must include trans women. I also believe that it must include trans people generally, but if you subscribe to the narrow definition of feminism being about male/female equality or equity, then trans women would be the focus here. It’s also important that feminism focuses on issues such as violence against women and lack of access to employment–areas where trans women are some of the most targeted and affected. Read the rest of this entry

Immigration Is a Trans Issue: Strategy Around Framing LGBT Rights

Back of a woman's red tshirt reading LGBT families for immigration reformThursday afternoon I went to the big #TimeIsNow immigration rally at the Capitol and I was struck by the shirts we were all wearing that said “LGBT Families for Immigration Reform.” I felt like a bit of a jerk for criticizing the shirts later to a friend, but it just kept niggling at me. Why LGBT families? Why not LGBT people?

My question gets to a bigger problem that comes up a lot in LGBT organizing work when we want to develop messaging around “X Is a Trans Issue” or “X Is an LGBT Issue.” The challenge, generally, is to convince an audience of LGBT folks (or in my case, often trans folks) that some policy area that’s not usually associated with the core goals of the movement is at its heart an LGBT or trans issue. We usually do that in one of two ways:

 

  1. Link the issue to core LGBT movement issues. This is what the t-shirt example does. We tend to think of family issues as a movement priority, whether that’s marriage or second-parent adoption or binational family immigration issues. A lot of LGBT immigration reform proponents have used the example of binational couples to make the argument: if we agree that queer families are a core issue for our movement, then we should be concerned about the immigration laws because they often separate families. Other examples of this include linking reproductive rights to transition-related health care or framing health care as an LGBT issue via hospital visitation policy problems.
  2. Tell a tragic compelling story about a queer or trans person. Strategy B is what comes up when you don’t have a good hook with an agreed-upon issue, or sometimes alongside that hook. You find some really sad examples of violence/abuse/discrimination, preferably using people who are considered upstanding and acceptable according to movement values, and you tell their stories from a human rights angle. “This person is part of our community and the abuse he/she/they suffered is so bad that it triggers a need to consider this an LGBT/trans issue from a human rights perspective.” So for example, you might find a gay man and a trans woman who were raped in prison and use their tragic stories to illustrate why prison reform is an LGBT issue.

Neither of these ways are wrong, exactly. It’s true that the agreed-upon core issues often do touch others, like immigration, and it’s also true that compelling stories are a good way to remind people that we’re all human and we need to support human rights. But I think we can do better.

Why is immigration a trans issue? Yes, it’s about human rights, and thus we should care from a solidarity or ally perspective if we’re non-immigrant trans people. Yes, some trans people have experienced really shitty things at the hands of our immigration system, and we want that to stop. Yes, draconian immigration laws separate queer families, including families with trans members. But it’s also a trans issue for reasons that are less sexy and harder to describe.

Trans immigrants have to deal with a lot of shit, not only when they experience the really amazingly awful, front-page-headline story kind of treatment. They deal with daily microaggressions that are compounded by dual identities, and often also by race, class, and ethnicity. Some of these trans immigrants are not ideal candidates for a Facebook post or a fundraising email. They may have a history of criminality or be too politically radical to use in a carefully-orchestrated communications strategy. They may not want to be part of such a strategy. And then, beyond the individual people who are both trans and immigrants, our immigration system as an institution overlaps a lot with the problems trans people are fighting. The problems with our immigration system and the violence and discrimination trans people face are clearly part of the same disgusting web of policing, capitalism, xenophobia, patriarchy, and kyriarchy. There’s not much difference between the vigilantes with guns who stand at the U.S.-Mexico border and those who beat up or murder trans women in the streets. There’s not much difference between police harassing immigrants with “papers please” policies and racial profiling and police harassing trans people with gender policing and asking for ID to use the restroom.

I have a problem with the “link to a core issue” strategy because I want to know who came up with those core issues. It’s not even that it’s a single-issue marriage movement, it’s that it’s a movement of five or ten or fifteen core issues. We have hundreds of issues, and how we prioritize them necessarily varies from person to person. Of course organizations and individuals have to prioritize their use of limited resources, and I support using strategies such as determining who is most marginalized within a community, determining what issue areas are tackled the least and thus need more resource commitment, and determining what issues a group can tackle most efficiently with given resources. But it doesn’t take many resources to simply say “we care about this.”

I have a problem with the compelling story strategy, and with the overall “we care about this because we are all humans” strategy, because it both privileges the easiest-to-package stories and can become weak and diluted. When we hear “X is a human right,” it may be absolutely true but we hear that so many things are human rights and it doesn’t necessarily speak to us. I think we need to acknowledge the specificity of our interest in different issues as queer and trans people. So again, immigration is a trans issue because we as trans people are dealing with this tangled web of policing and patriarchy and bullshit, and part of addressing that system is supporting immigration reform. Immigration is a trans issue because trans immigrants experience multiple forms of oppression that make them one of the parts of our trans community most in need of social, legal, and policy change.

I think that we have an enormous untapped creative potential as a movement, and that we need to start going all-in, taking risks, and supporting social justice in all its forms not simply because we are humans but because we are humans who know the tremendous pain and suffering a broken system can cause. We need to acknowledge that this is what queer and trans work is about, whether we’re working for marriage equality or health care coverage or immigration or protections for sex workers.

Thinking About the #Trans100 in Critique and Celebration

collage of 100 trans activistsI’ve been seeing a lot of social media attention today to the release of The Trans 100, a list which I’m honored to be a part of along with many friends, colleagues, and personal heroes. Much of the attention is congratulatory and positive, some is focused more on who’s not on the list. And I think that both of those things are great. The spirit of the list, as I understand it, is to highlight all the amazing work that is done in our community: to use the 100 people on the list not as an exclusive club but as one handful of examples of people who have done great work in the past year to support trans lives in the US in myriad ways. The idea is to shift the conversation from focusing only on deaths and violence to adding a sense of celebration to our need to mourn those lost. Working in “transland,” as I sometimes call the movement, can be a paradox, as we are so often simultaneously trying to promote and celebrate the work we do as proud trans people while at the same time realizing that the work we do is focused on eliminating huge discrepancies and barriers, on reducing tremendous hate and violence. It can be an odd intersection at which to work sometimes (how do we get excited about a victory that means we are simply more likely to be alive, employed, or healthy at a baseline?), and I believe that it is crucial we never lose sight of both sides of that story–and of the other discrepancies that too often divide success from discrimination and violence along race, class, and ability lines.

I am happy about this list because it wide-ranging and it shows our collective power and ability to do great things in the face of adversity. I’m glad to see many POC on the list, a nice range of local activists, to see those doing cultural work alongside those doing legal and political advocacy. I’m glad that there are many lesser-known names, and that online activists have been included alongside on-the-ground grassrootsers. Though I’m thrilled to see my NCTE colleagues Mara and Harper Jean recognized, I’m also cheering hardcore for those who work with such amazing small radical projects as the Brown Boi Project, the Audre Lorde Project, Planet DeafQueer, and Transformative Justice Law Project. There are too many of my own heroes to name here, and also too many whose work I must. research. NOW. So while I’d like to see even more underrecognized folks on the list, more people of color, sex workers, people with disabilities, etc., I’m applying my critiques to a tone of celebration today. We have this list and it has some attention and hopefully that attention will lead to what we really need–more people nominating next year, more people volunteering to work on the project, an even more diverse and inclusive list. I’m excited to see who made the various breakout groups that will be released in coming months, and I look forward to working with this great big kickass community to achieve things that are bigger and better every year. I’m glad that my friends and colleagues are the kinds of people who recognize gaps in such a list and will bring them to light, because it makes us all better.

¡Viva la revolución trans!

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.

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.