During the last #transchat (next one is tomorrow, 12/11, 2-4pm EST on Twitter) Nat (@quarridors) got me thinking about trans medical history and the kind of assumptions we make based on appearance. Though I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask a person whether they’re trans*, or a genderqueer person what their “birth” gender was, and I don’t assume that I can tell anything about gender by looking at someone, I do tend to assume that it’d obvious from looking at me what I was raised as, or what’s in my pants.
When I think about that, of course, I realize it’s not true. No one knows that for sure unless I tell them. And I’m thinking about the value of not disclosing that kind of information as a way to destabilize or deemphasize gender in our interpersonal relations. What’s in your pants is about as private as it gets, but we don’t treat it that way. We also make assumptions about bodies and medical histories based on a person’s gender identity. On the other hand, I think there may be value in my writing about my experiences as someone who grew up female-identified, because that background is a huge part of my trans* story.
Anyone have experience with this, or has anyone changed approach over time?
When I saw the video below of Beth Ditto live, performing “Standing in the Way of Control” with her band, Gossip, I was profoundly affected. I’ve been thinking about femininity, shame, and femme performance a lot lately. My latest forays into femme fashion as a genderqueer person have been inextricably tied up in the shame of being a teenaged girl, the pain of rejection by my peers, and the power of shame to shut me up as I move through adult society.
I’ve always been a loud, boisterous person. I tend to be proud of my accomplishments and sometimes a bit of a know-it-all. I love karaoke, dance performances, and anything else creative. But as I’ve moved through my teenaged and young adult years, the pressure of etiquette and embarrassment have had a painful effect on me. I read a lot about how it’s important to focus not on what girls’ bodies look like, but what they can do. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I’m shamed by the realization that what my body can do is not as good as what others’ can do. I’ve stopped singing and dancing as much in public because of external ridicule and growing internal embarrassment. Throughout college and law school, clothes went from fun performance to a way to be invisible, proper, and fitting into what I saw as my role. I’ve been trying very hard to speak less and listen more. Sometimes, that’s a good lesson to learn, but it also has painful effects.
When I first saw the Beth Ditto video below the cut on the commuter train, I cried. On stage, Beth is joyful, radiant, and unashamed. She dances in a purple dress that fully exposes her thighs, in bare feet, fully occupying her space. She belts the song diva rockstar style, and certainly doesn’t look nervous or ashamed about the thousands of people watching. Though I may not exactly have Beth Ditto’s voice, I do want to use this video as inspiration. It reminds me so much of being a little girl, singing in my nightgown at the top of my lungs, dancing, crashing into furniture, convinced that my voice and my body were awesome. Whenever there was a chance to perform, I took it. There’s something to be learned from that. It’s also why cried when I saw this empowering video about girls and body image. You know what? I deserve to be a fucking rockstar.
You’ve probably heard the story of the straight man in Indiana who’s suing because a blood bank turned him away on account of “looking gay.” I don’t know that he’s a good poster child, but this case is a great illustration of how discrimination tosses logic out the window.
Numerous articles and posts have shown that the lifetime ban on men who’ve had sex with men makes no sense from a public health perspective. I’m very familiar with the FDA from my day job, and I’m convinced that it’s inertia pushing the decision to await further research, as other high-risk groups are subject to a one-year ban. This is a policy that’s a legacy of a gay panic, and it’s time for it to go.
I find it funny, in a sad way, that someone would be excluded for acting gay, a criteria that is obviously illogical for assessing HIV risk, under a policy that itself has no foundation in logic. Justifications boil down to “that’s just the way it is, and how it’s always been.”
Appearance and mannerisms often serve as a proxy for anti-gay or anti-trans discrimination because they are a visible marker of what makes the bigot uncomfortable. That’s why it’s crucial for non-discrimination legislation to address not only members of a group but those perceived as belonging to it. You shouldn’t have to claim an identity to be protected–bottom line, it’s wrong to discriminate against someone because of how they look or act. That’s equality 101.
Until a government agency offers a compelling reason to apply the laws differently based on someone’s queer identity, and to use appearance or perception as a judge of that identity, I’ll be opposed to this policy and others like it. There are logical, public safety-based ways to screen blood donors, and it’s time we relied on those alone. The FDA has offered no compelling state interest to justify this type of discrimination.