Tag Archive: transgender


A Trans Sex Guide

I’ve been sitting back on Forever the Queerest Kids these past few months as my life has undergone some transitions—graduation from college, the start of a new job (that I tolerate), an internship with an organization that makes me excited for the next 10 years of my life, and the move to a new apartment (to come next month).  But I haven’t forgotten about you guys!  I’ve also been slowly collecting material to talk about, important things that I hadn’t gathered my thoughts on yet.

So here we go.

Looking through my bookmarked FTQK pages, I found that I suddenly had a lot of material on trans issues, and trans sex particularly, which is awesome, because I spent so much of last year trying to integrate more trans-friendly programming into my college campus.  I’m always on the lookout for intelligent responses to the incredibly difficult issues trans people face daily.  Here are a few.

My girlfriend recently alerted me to a really cool PDF Brazen: Trans Safer Sex Guide written by Morgan M. Page and published by The 519 last year.  The PDF is pretty groundbreaking just by the fact that it specifically deals with Trans issues AND sex specifically, but I thought the particular subtopics covered were even more interesting.  There’s a lot of stuff in Brazen that you just wouldn’t find in a safer sex guide aimed at cis-women.

For instance, Brazen devotes sections of each topic to dealing with people who engage in sex work.  Because the PDF is aimed at people in Canada, where sex work is technically legal (although there are a lot of restrictions around the trade), Brazen deals speaks to sex workers on amicable terms. There are concrete, specific tips for keeping yourself safe in the trade (don’t wear scarves or necklaces, as they can be used to choke you if a date goes wrong) and a no-nonsense approach to keeping yourself safe.  While it’s frustrating and sad that trans women are pulled into sex work out of necessity in inordinate proportions, I’m happy to see Brazen deal with that reality directly.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen sex work dealt with in a publication of this nature as anything other than among a laundry list of threats and potential missteps to a healthy sexuality.

Brazen also directly confronts the reality that many trans people are also recreational drug users.  Again, a sad and frustrating reality, and one that is NEVER dealt with in safe-sex guides for women.  Drugs and sex are very purposefully kept away from each other, in an effort to elevate the status of sex (by demoting drugs and distancing their combination in real life) at the expense of information.  Brazen makes very important points about mistakes people can make with drugs that are particular to trans situations.  EX: needles used for hormone injections are a different gauge than needs used for drug injections.

And on top of all that, Brazen does an incredible job of dealing with the nitty gritty of safety, like which activities put you at risk for which diseases, and how you can adapt condoms and other forms of protection to a trans or transitioning body.

Aside from safe sex, A Queer Chick, one of the columnists over at TheHairpin, had a great column back in march about navigating sex with a partner who has transitioned when you have never had sex/been attracted to that gender before.  She has great suggestions, like hanging out with dykes and watching queer porn, but the crux of her advice is strong for anyone, LGB, T or partnered with someone T, straight, queer, etc.

Don’t think about “how to have sex with a woman.” Think about how to have sex with your partner, your special beautiful sweet unique partner you’re crazy about. You don’t have to be a good lesbian, or any kind of lesbian at all. You just have to be with her.

And isn’t that how we need to think about trans issues in general?  That people are not their identity, but a unique individual who has come to their place in their own specific way?

But alas, it isn’t always that simple, especially for people who identify as lesbian or gay and fall for a partner who transitions to a gender that allows them to present as a straight couple.  Aja Worthy-Davis,who guestposted this article on Racialicious, writes eloquently on the subject.  She shows how complicated the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and transition can be in a world where we wear our labels not only through our own actions and presentations, but through those of our partner.

I’m a queer Black femme prone to dating middle-aged divorced hippie White guys due in equal parts to my upbringing, my personality, and my personal baggage. He’s a Black man who has dated more than his share of middle-aged divorced hippie White lesbians. And (I guess this is the kicker) when we met in our staunchly Catholic high school over a decade ago, he was a girl.

…[When he transitioned] My personal life sped up to where I thought it would slowly lead, and my mind was so wrapped-up in the practical questions (Where will we live? When will we go to graduate school? Who will do the cooking?), that it totally bypassed the more personal introspective question about how it would change my personal and relationship identity to be perceived as straight and be with a Black man.

While it’s easy, in theory, to acknowledge that the transition has not changed anything of substance in their identities, the way that a trans man and cis woman are seen is very different than the way two cis women are seen.  And I think it’s legitimate for there to be an element of mourning for the cis woman—the way she expresses her sexual identity has been changed.  She will, to most strangers, be forever read as a straight woman, and there’s not a whole lot to be done about it.

So at the end of the day, it’s a little stickier than just, “Well, this is the person I fell in love with, not the gender I fell in love with.”  Transition will affect many aspects of your life, and embracing that takes a lot of thought and work personally.  From the outside, it’s very easy to sing Love Makes the World Go Round, but inside a relationship, it’s more difficult.  But I would argue, inside that relationship is a complexity and strength that is a lot richer.

Equality for Argentina

I know I’m way behind on this viral video, but these ads for LGBT equality in Argentina are inspiring and worth sharing, timely or not.

 

 

More info on the ad campaign (and even more cute videos!) is here at blabbeando.

Stay cool, queer kids.

 

Transgender Day of Remembrance

trans remembrance candleThis past week has exhausted the last of my energy reserves, both physically and emotionally, because of the work I’ve been doing.  For those of you that don’t know, Sunday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international day of memorial for those who have been bullied, harassed, abused and killed because of bias against gender non-conforming people.

It’s hard for me to fathom the kind of hatred and revulsion that would lead a person to attack another for the way that they express themselves, for they way they dress or how their body and brain’s conception of gender do not match.  And yet it happens EVERY DAY.  The statistics regarding harassment of trans and gender non-conforming people are staggering.  78% are harassed during their  K-12 years at school.   15% leave school because of this harassment.  41% attempt suicide at least once during their lives.  These are completely unacceptable.

And it’s pretty easy to get outraged, but then have nowhere to go from there.  It’s pretty easy to think of everyone that’s died and then go on eating your TV dinner, because really, what can you do?

So that’s what my week was about.  On Monday, two of our AU professors spoke about trans bullying and the way that we can erect safeAU Safe Space sticker spaces on our campus for people to go to if they feel they are being harassed.  The group that heard their message was small (about 20 people), but their message is good.  If those 20 people each tell one of their friends, and each of those 20 people tell one more, we’ve begun to spread the message outside of just our community of allies, and into the core of the “apathetic majority,” the ones that are often hurting trans and gender non-conforming people unintentionally, with their assumptions about gender, their lack of information and education, and occasionally, with their cruel words.  I truly believe that most of the people on AU’s campus (and in the world at large) do not harbor purposefully hateful feelings in their hearts.  They hurt others because they don’t understand, and the only way to fix that is to start reaching out.

On Thursday, we were out on the quad with signs, with petitions, and with our voices, confronting students with the unacceptable statistics associated with injustice against trans people.  We petitioned for an LGBT minor on campus.  We gave out pamphlets explaining the difference between sex and gender and explaining what trans issues are all about.  We got the bookstore to donate a TON of overstock to sell at a $5 or less garage sale to raise money for the Aiden Rivera Schaeff fund, a scholarship established by Dean Schaeff of AU’s college of Arts and Sciences to commemorate her son, Aiden, who came out as trans in high school and committed suicide shortly before turning 18 because of the bullying he endured.  Once the scholarship is endowed, it will go on to fund anti-bullying initiatives and to help any at-risk LGBT student with financial hardships.

AU A Capella Group On A Sensual NoteIn the evening, a huge portion of the school came together for an A Capella Concert in honor of Dean Schaeff, Aiden, and their scholarship fund.  All four A Capella groups from AU performed, and I’d like to think that we reached more than just allies at that event.  There were so many people there who might have never heard Dean Schaeff’s story otherwise, and never donated, never even cared about trans issues.  The courage, strength and composure with which Dean Schaeff told the story of her son’s life made me so proud to be a part of the trans equality movement, and I can only imagine how others were moved.  The music was beautiful, the atmosphere was light, and the change was tangible.

The last, the most difficult, the most important of our events was the Sunday Vigil for the victims of trans hate crimes.  Together, a small group of us lit 221 candles, read 221 names, and remembered 221 victims from this past year alone who have suffered the inequity of a murder due to transphobia.  The prayers and songs were moving, and they brought, for me especially, an incredibly amount of sorrow for the problems facing trans and gender non-conforming people.  These things sometimes seem insurmountable, and it is incredibly difficult to bear witness to so many needless deaths.  I was lucky enough to have an amazing, supportive group of friends through Student Government and Queers and Allies that were there with me, giving testimony, giving me strength, sharing their own love and support when I felt like I had no ground left to stand on.

rainbow candle with trans remembrance stamp on it

There are so many difficult things about Transgender Day of Remembrance.  How do we remember those who have died without collapsing into our own sorrow?  How do we remain hopeful and positive without trivializing the deaths of those who have brought us together?  How do we move on without forgetting?    I don’t think anyone has the answers to these questions, but we keep fighting, we keep remembering, we keep education until we figure it out.  For those of you who showed your support this week in any way- from a facebook status to a face at the vigil to a donation at an event- Thank You.  And for those of you who didn’t know, who forgot, who didn’t have time, who didn’t feel that they could, I hope that you add your voice to ours next year and everyday with your words and actions.

During my Sex, Gender, and Culture class last semester, I wrote a reflection paper on the idea of a genderless world and how possible/impossible/difficult it would be to achieve.  The idea seems much more relevant lately, as I’ve been finding numerous articles about parents and schools attempting to eradicate some of our most in-bred gender stereotypes through creative gender-neutral language and decision-making.

Take, to start, Storm, a now six-month old child in the Witterick and Stocker household (covered in this article) who is being raised genderless.  Zir parents’ decision not to disclose Storm’s gender has received a barrage of criticism for being an unrealistic approach to parenting which will leave Storm unable to interact normally with zir peers and will ultimately confuse and alienate the child.

I’ve seen a number of people’s reactions to this article, and what I find most striking is the difference between Storm’s parents and the general public’s assessment of how well children are able to self-navigate the world of gender.  I’ve heard many comments from people who believe that removing parents’ guidance about gender will inevitably confuse small children and become unsustainable as the rest of the world reinforces gender norms outside of their parents gender-neutral bubble.

I think there are three different ways to look at this kind of problem.  The first is to accept that enforcing gender neutrality has to be a life-long commitment, wherein parents cannot be the only outposts for this teaching.  This is the thinking that has introduced Egalia School in Sweden, which uses the Swedish neutral pronoun “hen” to refer to all students and guests, and calls them “friends” instead of “boys” and “girls.”  You can read from the AP about their carefully arranged plans for playspaces that deconstruct gender stereotypes and allow young Swedish children to learn about their gender in a free and non-assumptive way.

Now this approach is legitimate and groundbreaking in its own right for the way it expands the scope of gender-neutral parenting into a whole new realm by adding a peer group with which gender neutral-raised children can interact.  I imagine this goes a long way in helping children relate to one another and explore gender as a supportive group without worries about bullying, misunderstandings, or negative reinforcement from peers or teachers who do not understand a progressive parent’s objectives in gender neutral child-rearing.  Kids can grow up using gender neutral-pronouns with their friends, dressing in counter-traditional ways, and expressing themselves with the support of their friends.  However, the problem with this line of thinking is the limit of scope.  If you don’t live in Sweden and have the substantial money and connections to get your child into Egalia, there aren’t a whole lot of options for your child.  You must, like Witterick and Stocker, face raising a gender-neutral child on your own.

Which brings up the second way of looking at this parenting conundrum.  Critics argue that by raising a child without introducing zir to the concept of gender norms will actually CAUSE gender confusion for the child later in life.  If maladjusted to the way that society treats gender, children may not be able to distinguish between their own unique perception of self-identity and the how it relates to these norms.  This school of thought focuses, I think excessively, on the idea that gender neutral parenting is trying to “eradicate gender,” a process which they claim is both impossible and a distinctly misdirected aim. The primary claim here is that gender creates structure in our world, and there are positive effects of teaching boys and girls how to act in accordance with these structures.  It makes the world run more smoothly.  If small children are not taught how to blend into these larger sub-groups, chaos ensues as gender collapses on the superficial feet it was built on.

However, I have a number of objections.  I agree that the objective of erasing gender is foolish.  Gender does offer structure and a sense of identity that is crucial to many people.  But gender-neutral parenting is not an attempt to erase gender.  It is a way of postponing the judgments of gender (what clothes to wear, what toys to play with, what professions to strive after- don’t believe me, see what an average parent says about a boy wanting to be a hairdresser when he grows up) and allowing children to grow up free to express themselves as they wish.

Gender-neutral parenting is also an exercise in acceptance of trans and gender non-conforming people (who, incidentally, I imagine don’t all believe in the erasure of gender either).  If a child can grow up and grow into any gender role that ze feels fit for, it prevents years of torment and judgment aimed at children who don’t fit the conventional standards of behavior, AND prevents the alienation and loss a parent often feels when their child announces that they want to transition, or to be start living life as an opposite/different gender.

Now the third school of thought regarding parenting suggests that regular ol’ boys and girls who are raised gender neutral will somehow be maladjusted without the introduction of gender roles early on in their lives.  I have only this to say: children as much smarter than you give them credit for.  Many trans-identified people note that they have known as long as they could remember that the body they had did not match the self they felt inside.  They were capable, at the tender ages of 3 and 4, to pick apart the difference between gender and sex in regards to their own personal identity.  Witterick and Stocker’s first child, Jazz, exhibits an even more nuanced understanding of his own gender, differentiating gender identity from gender expression: though he often wears dresses, keeps his hair long, and loves the color pink, he very strongly identifies as male, and requests that his mother tell his camp councilors that he is a boy.  This shows that Jazz understands not only his own internal conception of gender, but recognizes how gender norms influence how he is perceived by others.

My proposal is that Jazz is not an unusual child.  If given the opportunity, I imagine many, if not most, children are capable of the same understandings and navigations of gender.  With support and guidance from parents who help their children uncover and navigate a very gender-biased world, I honestly believe this style of parenting is legitimate and sustainable.  After all, we were all picked on in school for being different in one way or another.  If we grew strong from it, if our parents explained to us why other kids bully and why we should never stop being ourselves, shouldn’t we pass these values on to our children?

Rent

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the musical “Rent.”  I’m a musical-fan in general, but Rent is a standout for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its incredible score and vocal casting.  There is simply too much talent in that cast to ignore.

Now, I will put out there that I have not seen the Broadway show, only the movie (for financial reasons, mainly), so any and all comments are directed at that version, but nonetheless, I have a problem.  And it pains me to have a problem with Rent, because it has done such an amazing job showcasing the vibrancy and interconnectedness of individual lives, of embracing what the rest of the world might consider sinful bohemianism – drugs, stripping, the struggle with AIDS, being LGB, and most importantly, perhaps, the trans community—in a way that is both humanizing and entertaining.

I was especially taken in by Angel, the drag-dressing transwoman who falls in love with Collins, and eventually succumbs to AIDS and dies, but not without providing the inspiration and reminders of love that keep her group of friends together.

Rent doesn’t address the issue of Angel’s identity directly, but it is alluded to in artful ways, that reveal the cis world’s difficulty in understanding trans people and the multifarious ways they negotiate gender.  Most telling is when Angel’s friend Mark stumbles over words when he delivers Angel’s eulogy, occasionally referring to her as a “him,” but then correcting himself.  Angel is made complicated in the same way she is made human, by dressing primarily in outrageous drag, yet taking off her wig during support group sessions and while performing out on the street for spare change.  She and Collins use the terms “king” and “queen” to gender themselves in the song, “I’ll Cover You,” yet other songs continuously refer to Angel with male pronouns.

This is where I start to have trouble with Rent.

I will admit that I didn’t catch this until just today, while I was cooking up a storm and playing the Rent soundtrack on my laptop, but I started hearing a lot of “him” and “his” and “he” in songs I know were speaking about Angel, and these were songs that were reverent and loving, not humorous ones like “La Vie Boheme,” (A and B)  which poke fun at gender and sexuality by turning around negative or incorrectly applied words like “trisexual, faggot, or lezzie” to reclaim agency.  No, these were songs like “Halloween,” where Mark wonders about the fate that led all his friends together:

“Why did Collins pick that phone booth back where Angel set up his drums?”

And “Goodbye Love,” where Roger, frustrated with Mark, who has invoked Angel’s death as a reason to learn from mistakes, says,

His death is in vain.”

Now this is where I get confused.  While Mark has set some precedent in the movie of being bad with gender pronouns, Roger has never had this problem.  And perhaps most disconcertingly, Collins, mourning Angel’s death, says in the same song, only lines earlier,

“Can’t believe he’s [Angel] gone, can’t believe you’re going.”

Collins has always referred to Angel by her preferred gender, as in the song, “Today 4 U,” where, upon introducing Angel to his friends, says,

“And you should hear her beat” (referring to Angel’s rad drumming)

Collins is also her lover.  Why in the world would he screw up Angel’s pronoun usage now, when he’d never done so earlier in the movie?

I have 3 potential theories here.

  1. Pronoun usage is inconsistent because of poor editing and oversight by Larson and his production crew.  This seems highly unlikely, as there are hundreds of people who worked on this movie, and the Broadway show before this movie.  At some point in the rigorous editing, rehearsing, and production process, someone would have noticed this.  I’m 90% sure that this was not the problem, although Occam’s razor suggests it is.
  2. Each individual instance of incorrect reference has its own contextual reasoning behind it: Mark, who has had little interaction with trans people in general, makes pronoun mistakes out of discomfort with the contradicting language.  He “knows” Angel as being male-bodied, and thus, often forgets to address her as a female.  Roger, angry and upset, and Collins, distraught and mourning, make their respective pronoun mistakes in the song “Goodbye, Love” because of their emotional rawness, making the “details” of Angel’s gender less important.  This seems nuanced enough to be unbelievable to me.  Don’t get me wrong- Rent is a groundbreaking and deep movie, but it does not probe identity questions enough in the rest of the movie to assume so much nuance on this particular issue.
  3. I have interpreted Angel’s identity incorrectly, and ze actually considers zirself as genderqueer or something of that ilk, and has alerted zir friends in some heart-felt moment off-camera that ze doesn’t give a flip what pronoun they use to address zir.  This does seem consistent with some of Angel’s behaviors, like taking off zir wig at the support group meeting, and playing drums dressed as a male.  However, one may also note that Angel always carried zirself in a feminine way, never mixes male and female clothing, dances in a way that is considered predominantly feminine, and only dresses as a male in “stress situations” (homelessness, sickness in the hospital, and the support group), which indicates that zir priority remains performing female (if not identifying as such) in most situations.  Even when Angel removes zir wig at the support group meeting, ze waves by curling her fingers in towards her palm, rather than with her whole hand, indicating that ze is still maintaining facets of female-ness, even when she is not dressed exclusively feminine.  For these reasons, I can’t say the term genderqueer fits quite right, yet I’m not sure what might be better.

Regardless of which of these potential explanations are true (or if all of them are wrong), Angel’s character in general gives us a lot of questions to ponder about trans/genderqueer people.  How much should one read into physical behavior in gendering a person?  Should we, as observers with limited information on a given character, allow ourselves to gender that person at all?  Is it safe to say that all of us understand gender and its manifestations differently?  How does and how should that affect the way we view entertainment?  How much can we assume about an author or director or producers intensions about gender when they are dealing with queer characters/subjects?

All of these questions blur the lines of agency- do characters have thoughts?  Do actors form the way a character is interpreted (theirs or their co-workers)?  Do writers occasionally place flaws like these in their work to provoke just such discussion and analysis of our modern conceptions of gender?

I wish- truly, madly, deeply- that I had the answer to any of these questions.  But unfortunately I don’t.  And perhaps that’s my real problem with Rent.  There is no conclusive or succinct answer to these queries in the script, and I don’t know if that was intentional or not.  I will probably never know.  But as James Thurber once said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”  Rent is just trying to remind me.

Transgender Kenya

My time in Kenya has forced me to confront a lot of things, and ironically, many of them had nothing to do with Kenya itself, nothing to do with Africa even- but with issues closer to home.  Today’s story has to do with one such incident, where I had to reconcile the misunderstandings and hurt on both sides of an acronym that I very strongly associate myself with: LGBT.

In the US, there’s been a rich history of transphobia within the LGBT community- the 1960’s women’s movement saw the exclusion of transwomen as “not woman enough” for their women-identified spaces, the 1980’s AIDS movement unearthed the ignorance that most LGB people didn’t know they had about trans health issues, and the 1990’s and 2000’s struggle for LGBT rights most often allowed the “silent T” to drop away into the background as the HRC focused on bigger ticket items like gay marriage, the Employee Non-discrimination Act (which now has a clause about transgender employees, although it didn’t for quite a while), and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I haven’t been terribly active in trans-activism back in the states, but I never associated myself with the transphobia of the LGB community either.  I felt, having been around the Queers and Allies group and the LGBT resource center where the “silent T” has been recognized and embraced much more than in other spaces,  that the worst of transphobia was over.  I recognized, of course, the struggles that trans people faced in the medical community, in relationships with their families and the general ignorance of much of the population, but at least within the LGBT community, I believed there was a unity that had grown to re-encompass trans and intersex individuals.

Then I came to Kenya.  And I met a representative from Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA), a non-profit in Nairobi that I wanted to get involved with during my study abroad.  Now I won’t turn this into a sob story, but I felt safe enough in our shared marginality to tell the TEA rep that I was a lesbian (a crude rendering of my sexuality, but it would do for the time), assuming that it would bring me some legitimacy in wanting to work with the group.

Instead, I was treated to an hour-long monologue about LGB discrimination of the transgender community.  The tropes were all there: that all gay people think trans people are closeted gays trying to escape their sexuality by transitioning, or that they’re just confused.  But most crucially, ze emphasized the necessity of allying with “straight” people (cis or trans), over any LGB-identified people.

I was crushed, not only because of the hurtful way ze portrayed all LGB people as ignorant and prejudice, but for my own “blindness.”  I blamed myself for my classmates, my friends, my teachers- anyone who I had ever explained anything to about trans issues, I took their “ignorance” on my shoulders.  I hated the fact that no one understood, that people hated, and I accepted the stigma that the TEA rep attached to me.

Yet I tried to prove zir wrong.  I sent zir my trans-related blog posts and the videos I’d been using to illustrate the way false dichotomies apply to misunderstanding sexuality AND gender.  But I was met with silence.

After about a month of waiting, I realized something: it wasn’t me.  I can’t be held responsible for anyone’s actions but my own, and I had clearly illustrated in every action I had taken to this point- the initial contact, going out of my way to verify my identity, to meet with TEA, the email correspondence- that I wasn’t a representative of the prejudiced aggregate that TEA had in mind.  I was just Bianca, and I had done nothing wrong.  At this point, I will admit, yes, I got a little tactless.  I sent a rather nasty email to TEA about how frustrated I was with the organization, and with the rep in particular, for making me feel like a bad person about the community I belong to, and for abusing the trust I put in zir when I came out (to date, I’ve only come out to two other Kenyans).

“… If this is how you treat the most accommodating of allies, you will never be able to expand and make your cause visible.  I approached TEA because I believed that you understood the commonalities between trans* and LGB people- not that our desires are the same, or even our legal rights, but that we both know what it’s like to be villanized by society, thought of as confused at best and sinful at worst.  We both know what it’s like to be afraid to ‘come out’ to our friends and family, to worry who knows and how that will affect our careers and our personal lives.

It is therefore INSULTING that A—-  would treat me with so little respect, and then on top of that, to ignore my emails.  Anger and isolation fixes none of your problems.  It alienates those friendly to your cause and leaves you alone and impotent.  You can write as many fiery articles and submit them to all the newspapers you want- but if you can’t appreciate and network with the allies you have, you will get nowhere.”

And I got an equally nasty email in response:

I sincerely hope you have learn’t (sic) something about how best to work with trans people. Don’t impose your ideas on them, listen to them and do what is necessary. I assume you would never want to be seen as a bad one. I mean I am not that popular with gays and lesbians because of my work in challenging their oppression against trans people – and I don’t need them to like me. You mentioned that we have been bad in getting allies; I do
spend sleepless nights wondering about that, and do know what happens after that? I fall asleep. There are allies and there fake allies. I would rather we get 2 allies than 100 fake people whose only preoccupation is undermining our autonomy and pitying us against heterosexuals.

And its not just a problem with you or those people am alluding to. I see it in most donors. They just don’t understand who transgender people are. They all assume LGBTI people are homosexuals and project on homosexuality are what they need. And some people there get neglected and marginalized. And you [are] here insulting them.

You don’t know how bad it is. The very people who talk about human rights can insult (not once) trans people knowingly. That a homosexual man can call a trans woman a sick homo male. That a pack of lesbians will be busy calling a trans woman a man stabbing her back and posing security threats against her. But, you think that’s okay and nothing needs to be done because trans people need “allies”.

Its okay since am used to that kind of hostility.

From all of this, I figured out a few things:

  1. I need to do my homework about the trans/intersex situation in the US- I want to be part of the conversation there, but I don’t have the contacts or the experience to do that yet.  Being queer doesn’t automatically make me an expert on trans issues
  2. But being queer also doesn’t make me the enemy.  TEA was going to hate me whether or not my blogs were good, whether or not I had experience working with trans populations.  Zir prejudice is the same blatant over-generalization that ze zirself suffers from on a daily basis.  Turning it around on me doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes zir a hypocrite.
  3. We aren’t all the way there in regards to trans issues, but we are making progress.  And I honestly believe that a strong partnership between LGB and trans/intersex people is and will continue to help.
  4. Moreover, ANYONE who has a good heart- cis or trans, gay or straight, educated or honest but ignorant- and truly wants to help is a real ally, and someone worth partnering with.  Even if it means taking a few steps back from your own position and figuring out how to make that partner better, more informed, less prejudiced, more effective, it’s worth it.  Let people help you.  Real allies are the ones who love unconditionally, even if they express that love in crude ways.  If you are one of those people who feels like they need a little more information to understand and support the Trans and Intersex community, start by going over Midnight Philosophy and Gender Identity from way back at the beginning of this blog, then look here for more resources.

Anywa, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything at all on here, so here’s a quick review of some trans-related things that have happened since I up, up, up and flew away to Kenya

  1. Transgender Women Featured on a Popular Nepali Magazine

    Nepal is counting its transpeople!

More than just including transgender individuals in the census statistics, Nepal has made  incredible strides in all areas of inclusiveness in an amazing 180 degree turn-around for a country that only 3 years ago still jailed people for engaging in “unnatural sex acts.”  A court case in 2007 began this momentum towards LGBT-friendly policy by proclaiming that:

“The government of Nepal should formulate new laws and amend existing laws in order to safeguard the rights of these people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex are natural persons irrespective of their masculine and feminine gender and they have the right to exercise their rights and life an independent life in society.”

Now, equal rights are guaranteed under the constitution, same-sex marriage is legal, and Pink Mountain, a Nepalanese travel agency started by the Blue Diamond Society, a gay rights organization, is planning to hold gay wedding ceremonies on Mount Everest.

Although these new measures are definitely still met with controversy (Nepal is a heavily Hindu country, and homosexuality and transgenderism are not viewed incredibly favorably), the push for more recognition of the LGBT community is a huge step in the right direction.  Read the rest of the article to see how it relates to the tourism industry, which is fascinating.  But take it all with a grain of salt: of the 200,000 people in Nepal who identify as transgender, only 5 of them (yes, FIVE) have citizenship papers, which allow them to receive medical treatment for transitioning, as well as normal basic services like access to education and jobs.

2. A new report was released by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force detailing the struggles of trans youth in school and home life, including bullying, hate crimes, youth suicide, and homelessness.

It’s truly terrible that this has become old news for me- that I’m no longer shocked to hear that being transgender increases the likelihood that a teen will commit suicide by 2500% (in other words, trans kids attempt suicide at a rate 25 times higher than cis-gendered teens) or that 78% of trans or genderqueer students face harassment, physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%) at school- to the point where  one-sixth (15%) opted to leave school.

The report is entitled “Injustice at Every Turn,” which is an apt title, and an indicator of just how ridiculously far we still have to come as a nation.  Yet despite the bad news, there are some bright spots to the report:

Although the survey identified major structural barriers to obtaining health care, 76% of transgender respondents have been able to receive hormone therapy, indicating a determination to endure the abuse or search out sensitive medical providers.

Over three-fourths (78%) reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite reporting nearly the same rates of harassment at work as the overall sample.

Of the 26% who reported losing a job due to bias, 58% reported being currently employed and of the 19% who reported facing housing discrimination in the form of a denial of a home/apartment, 94% reported being currently housed.”

But let’s try to end on a positive note.  I’ve learned a lot through my interactions with TEA and my individual research on trans/intersex/genderqueer issues, and though I’m no expert, this I do know: it is never too late to educate yourself.  It’s never too late to add your voice to the chorus of those fighting for trans and intersex rights.  And no matter what A——- and TEA say, there is room for you in the fight, be you gay, straight, trans, cis, Democrat, Republican, or something in between.  If you are willing to speak your mind and stand up for what is right, then you’re an ally.  And to those people who suffer these terrible injustices, let us say- We’re with you.

The other day, I went to a counter-rally which was protesting a Westboro Baptist Church protest. For those who are not familiar with WBC, they are a family led by Fred Phelps who regularly advocate absolutely horrifying ideas about God. According to Wikipedia , they usually protest about 6 times a day at locations around the country. Essentially, anything bad that happens anywhere is considered to be God’s judgment for “letting” gays live openly and act as citizens—they protest at soldiers’ funerals (with signs like “Thank God for IEDs” and “Thank God for 9/11”) and the Holocaust Museum (“Rabbis rape kids”), for example.

Horrifically, they even decided to protest at the funeral of the 9 year-old girl who was killed at the Tucson, Arizona shooting of Sen. Giffords. Thankfully, Arizona quickly passed restrictions on protests at funerals (which is currently being challenged in court), and the WBC was persuaded by some DJs not to protest in exchange for getting their message out on the radio.

Many people are understandably upset with the WBC and its message of hate, and at many of its protests, angry passerbys and numerous counter-protesters have confronted the WBC protestors. But is it a good idea?

Here’s what the WBC spokesperson Sherly Phelps-Roger said to TBD.com about counter-protests:

“Tee hee! We LOVE THEM! When you are delivering a message to people, it makes it easier to deliver the message when people see the signs. So counter protesters have an opportunity to ask questions, and engage in discussion.”

Was my going to the protest appropriate? Or did it just help the WBC get their message out there? Here’s how I saw it:

1. The WBC was going to be there, and was going to get the media attention regardless of what we did in response.

Due to their inflammatory rhetoric, the WBC gets noticed wherever they go, so a counter-protest is unlikely to bring the spotlight to them anymore than they already would anyway. What’s a more positive headline, though? “Westboro Baptist Church protests at campus” or “Fighting hate with blackout poetry”?

2. An organized counter-rally is better than unorganized anger.

One of the most common responses to the WBC is yelling. I understand yelling: these are despicable people, doing despicable things. However, what benefit does yelling actually have, besides making yourself feel better? Phelps-Roger also told TBD.com that:

“We have gone into many places and they send their children out like attack dogs. At this hour, the nation is clear that when we go out, the mob comes out.”

In other words, they like the upset, angry, and untrained counter-protestors who simply spew vitriol at the WBC, making the WBC look almost reasonable in contrast. With an organized, calm counter-protest, a lot of the anger and upset can be channeled into a far more positive outlet, which certainly will not change the WBC protestors’ minds but is still a worthwhile demonstration of support for everything WBC vilifies.

Am I right, though? Did our counter-rally actually doing anything worthwhile, or did we just play right into the hands of the WBC? And here’s the biggest question: did we simply legitimize the WBC?

That is what I am most afraid of: that somehow, by my actions, I actually aided and abetted the WBC’s hate campaign. However, that brings me to the most important reason I went to the counter-rally:

3. It is never ok to stay quiet when hate is being perpetuated.

Certainly, it does not seem that the WBC will persuade many people with their sheer hate, but they are simply one small part of a much larger problem. Standing up to them is easy: they generally are repulsive to even those who might agree with their basic anti-gay rhetoric.

Standing up to the more subtle kinds of hate is hard: a gay slur used in casual conversation (“dude, you’re such a…”—if you’re under 25, you filled in the blank automatically, I’m sure), a derogative comment about how something is “so gay,” and so forth.

That is the real challenge for a decent person: to force yourself not to just let those little things slide.

-The Girlfriend

Trans-initiative

Now that the first of my group of friends have officially settled down and started having kids, I’ve begun thinking more about the obstacles faced not only by younger LGBT people, but by their parents as they try to navigate an intolerant and often resource-deprived world for their LGBT kids.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon Gender Spectrum, a support, counseling, and education community for parents ofgenderqueer/trans/questioning kids.  They host a conference every year on the subject, as well as offering online resources for parents to peruse.  This is a very good start, but it’s shortcoming lies in the same place that most LGBT services fail- they only offer information to parents who ACTIVELY seek it out.  In today’s world, 99% of the time, a parent-to-be is more concerned about a myriad of other issues- prenatal vitamins, getting a bedroom prepared for the baby, regular sonograms and checkups, the pain of delivery, etc- that gender identity issues are not something they plan to self-educate about.    Reasonable?  Yes.  Problematic when the doctor tells you that your baby has ambiguous genitalia and will operate to “repair” your baby’s equiptment and you haven’t read a thing about the subject.  MAJORLY.

There are so many aspects of maternal health and preparation that have become rote in today’s society; mothers read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” take lamaze classes, and learn about how to feed and care for their child.  Wouldn’t it make sense to start gender counseling at this critical stage?  Perhaps it’s a sensitive issue to broach- no one wants to believe their child will turn out “abnormal,” but with widespread educational programs aimed at eradicating stereotypes and educating parents, the ideas of normal/abnormal should slowly dissolve, right?

I’d love to hear some other takes on this idea, but also please use this space if you have other resources to share with LGBT people and their parents about these tough issues.

(In other news, I’m off to Kenya in T- 3 days!  Hopefully I’ll get one more post in before then, but otherwise, I’ll see you in 4 months!)

Out of Africa

There are a few reasons that I feel I need to write a serious blog post to you today.  First, I am leaving for Kenya in just shy of 3 weeks, and I am absolutely terrified and beyond excited.  Second, while I’m gone, this blog will go inactive, unless someone is there to care for it.  So three, I am scoping out caretakers for the site until I return.

This isn’t a big obligation, but if you ever felt like blogging about sex, sexuality, or the like, this is your shot.  I’ll be gone for four months and internet is spotty in Kenya, so I probably won’t have time to upload any content.  If you want to put something here, just email me at bonkiep@gmail.com or comment on this thread (or facebook me, if you must), and I’ll get it up there.  Your help will be greatly appreciated.

As for the actual post, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about homophobia on the international stage.  While I am in no position whatsoever to try and sum up what the nearly 200 countries in this world have integrated legally and socially into their codes against LGBT people, I can offer a few handy links to give you an idea.

The best source I’ve found to-date about the legal discrimination placed against LGBT people is this pamphlet issued by the International Lesbian and Gay Association called “State Sponsored Homophobia.” It goes state-by-state, listing all the applicable sodomy and obscenity clauses in national documents which apply to gay people.  The problem, of course, is that the document does not even begin to touch on the traumas, trials, and tribulations of transfolk in foreign countries, which is often an even more torturous road to travel.  As I’ve written before in my article on Queer Literature abroad, the story of Randa the Trans illustrates how even in the relatively progressive state of Lebanon, there are incredible hurdles for transpeople to clime in living the life they want, and if so desired, changing their body to fit that life.

As a queer person who is about to travel abroad, this reality terrifies me.  Queer activists in many countries, especially Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, are harassed, beaten, and stalked for their affiliations and beliefs.  They are murdered as examples to the LGBT community.  They are beacons towards a world of tolerance often swallowed up by the waves.

I am a person who despises injustice in all its forms and idolizes the people who fight for equality by putting their lives and futures on the line.  Yet, as a foreigner, I find myself worrying about my own personal safety.  What if I slip up and mention my girlfriend?  What happens if I attend a meeting for LGBT people in Nairobi?  Will there be angry mobs outside my door?  Will I be watched?  Vilified?  For me, perhaps this is an over-reaction- I am insignificant on the bustling streets of the city.  But am I really?  I’m a mwanza, a white person, sticking out like a sore thumb.  A white person in a black country means something, even when it means nothing.  People pay attention.  I do not honestly know how safe I am.

Now imagine that being your entire life.  Imagine always wondering who is watching you, who is checking the people you let into your apartment at night, who is noting where you go for drinks in the evening, who you dance with.  It’s an ugly, unnerving feeling, to be unsure who is out there and what their intentions are.

For the starkest picture, compound this constant alertness with the fear that strikes every woman at some point in her life: rape.  In many countries, most notably South Africa, civilian vigilantes still use “reparative rape” as a means of “converting” LGBT people back to normalcy.  And rape itself is not an unusual problem.  This article from BBC highlights the threat of gang rape in public latrines in Nairobi slums.  These are all issues staring me in the face during my study abroad.  The focus of the program isn’t ecology or African literature- it’s sustainable development.  That means addressing the structural problems of HIV/AIDS, rape, discrimination against women and LGBT people, the devastation wrought by poorly-run government programs and the slow decay of urban slums.  All problems are linked.  One cannot isolate one issue from another.

I can’t offer a solution to any of this yet, but perhaps after some field work, I’ll be able to report back with some perspective.  I don’t know where this journey will lead me to, but I know where it starts.  When I began my studies in International Relations, I thought there was no room for LGBT and sexuality studies in Africa, that other problems came first: water, access to medical care, etc.  But everything is interconnected, and I see now that the hardest and most obscure battle to be fought may be the one that needs the most help.  In closing, let me remind you to be thankful for your freedoms, but also never to compromise.  Always push for true acceptance, for real equality.  The battle is to be fought everywhere.

((side note: the bill to get rid of DADT just passed the house.  If it gets through the senate before the end of the year, President Obama will sign it and the discriminatory policy will be no more!))

Trans________

I think for anyone who has read even 2 articles on this blog can tell you, I love talking about sexuality.  Especially how the practices and viewpoints which make up our psyche affect our interactions with language, with other people, and with ideas about normativeness and privilege.  So I was more than ecstatic to take Sex, Gender, and Culture, an anthropology class at American University as a way to satisfy a general education credit and a major requirement for International Studies!

So far, I’ve been loving the class, but yesterday our conversation delved into the realm of performance transvestitism (which I already dislike the term for, as “transvestite” has a very negative connotation in society and is often used as a pejorative way of lumping gender non-normative people together).

Regardless, we dove in, and I tried my best to play along, inserting gender-sensitive definitions wherever I could, but the conversation inevitably overwhelmed me as my instructor accepted glossed-over explanations of very complicated gender concepts and the students absorbed nothing (in addition to not having done the reading- an excellent piece about drag performance in the home and in relation to Carnival in El Salvador). At one point, attempting to draw the distinction between transgendered people and “transvestites,” the professor asked the class to define a transgendered person- a concept we had fleshed out earlier in the semester- and they could come up with nothing better than “a person who wants to be the opposite gender.  *sigh*  Really?  Is that the best we can do?

Frustration mounted in me, but it came to a boil when the professor, in an attempt to focus the discussion on gender performance instead of gender identity, wrote the word “Tranny Prostitutes” on the board and then crossed it out, illustrating that this phenomenon was not what we were talking about.  I’m still at a loss for when, in an academic environment, it would ever be appropriate to use that phrase, except to deconstruct how horribly offensive and inaccurate it is.

The problem is that cis-gendered people are horrifically ill-educated about gender and the different ways that gender non-conformism occurs.  Transgender, transsexual, transvestite, transitioning, gender non-conforming, gender non-normative all mean the same thing, if they’ve even heard the words.   The use of the word “tranny” in everyday conversation is just one more example of this: rather than recognizing the word for what it is (a nasty way of referring to non cis-gendered people), people just see it as a shortened word, a harmless abbreviation.  Asher Bauer, whom I’ve featured before, talks about this concept brilliantly in his article, The T Word.  Ze further goes on to say how the term tranny is disproportionately placed upon trans women (biological men who dress/live as women), and in that regard he is spot on.

My professor implied, through the use of the phrase “tranny prostitutes” two inappropriate things, both of which stem from the poor intersection of sex and identity: one, that the sexualization of transgender or transitioning women is not legitimate; and two, that said sexualization can only occur within the bounds of “bad industry” such as sex work.  By pairing “tranny” with “prostitute,” he unconsciously equated the connotations of the two words.  AKA- prostitutes are bad, and trannies are bad, therefore tranny prostitutes must be REALLY BAD.  Ignoring the vilification of sex work, which bothers me equally but isn’t relevant here, the association made is that trannies can only be sexual when they are prostitutes, as if that is the only sphere in which they are acceptable.  Coming back to Bauer’s point, this critique only seems to apply to trans women, as trans men are excluded from discourse about prostitution altogether (despite the fact that the industry exists, the same way there’s a market for straight and gay male prostitutes).

I know that this isn’t the way my professor actually meant his comments, but the juxtaposition of his words was not an accident: it betrays a cultural misunderstanding and vilification of  trans and gender non-conforming people.   So lets all take a moment to run through our vocabulary list and consider the ways in which we oversimplify our understandings of sex and gender.  If you haven’t taken a look yet, I’ll direct you to Susan Stryker’s “Transgender Terms and Concepts,” which is in the downloadable blog articles box to the right of this post.  Educate yourself.  Watch the associations you make in speech, and apologize when you slip up.  We don’t vilify the people who make mistakes, only those who refuse to learn from them and become better.

Stay cool, queer kids.

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