The Single-Story of Trans Experience

Yesterday’s post may prove to be a jumping off point for an exploration of how to tell my own story. It’s been on my mind since the events that led to me penning that piece and quite fortuitously when reading through Border House Blog I came across a link to one of the best TED talks I’ve seen in quite a long time. It’s worth taking the time to listen to this woman’s words.

What Chimamanda Adichie’s beautiful lecture makes clear is a point that has relevance for many oppressed, marginalised, or othered communities. It is a powerful rebuttal to the insistence of the privileged that they wield no power. Oftentimes you find people writing the most baroque, intellectual arguments against the idea that power, as we often describe it when regarding Kyriarchy, even exists. Yet Ms. Adichie’s stories make one thing powerfully clear: a story itself contains power.

Is your story told? Are the stories of your people valued? Do people outside of your community hear those stories? Who tells the stories? How often? Why are they told? What’s in the stories? All of these questions have some measure of urgency for the trans community, I believe, and this lecture has sent me thinking about my own relation to this larger puzzle. Yesterday I spoke of the Progressive Coming Out Story, a liberal-leaning tale that is designed to be comforting and simplified for an audience that otherwise couldn’t relate to LGBTQ people. It seems that, for many of us, this is the single-story that Ms. Adichie warns us to avoid.

Too often, the stories trans people are allowed to tell are designed to fitted into that single-story, or the narrative, as I called it.

When I recently criticised radical feminists for their assault on the dignity of trans people, and trans women in particular, I made a point at the end that asserted they could not feel as they did if they truly knew us. I stated that transphobic ‘feminists’ seem to be working on stereotypes garnered from the media and funnelled into gender studies academic writing. It is a different sort of single-story that they’re working from: the myth of the trans woman as an invasive parody, or as a drag queen. This tale has reared its ugly head multiple times in the media down the decades and it’s as corrosive as ever. It is a story of trans women as seen through the cruel eyes of certain cis people.

Just as Ms. Adichie shared with us how John Locke looked at Africans and imaginatively saw people with their heads in their chests, so too have cis people looked at us from afar and seen only what they wanted to see, building a narrative on top of that grainy image that became a story none of us ever asked for.

We have been the victims of a single-story about trans people for far too long. Curiously, however, there is evidence of an evolution of that story. Among conservatives, radical feminists, and traditionalists their single-story is that of the illegitimate trans man or trans woman who is a caricature and a deceiver; among more liberal minded people, the Progressive Coming Out story takes precedence. The latter story at least no longer sees us as villains but it still does not reflect us. It’s only one story. To the extent that many of us relate to it, we know it’s only formed a part of our lives. Just one thread in a much larger and more vivid tapestry.

Yet too often, among liberals it seems to be the only story we’re encouraged to tell; it is the definitive story.

It isn’t that I don’t see a bit of myself in that narrative, it’s that I see only a bit of myself in that narrative. As Ms. Adichie said about certain stereotypes: it isn’t that they are untrue, it’s that they are incomplete. Too often people mistake such ideas as representing the totality of our experience, and the precious few bits of media that tried to get it right for us only ended up reinforcing those tropes and those stereotypes. Transamerica was the closest thing to a decent film about us that hit the big time, very, very relatively speaking. In real terms, it was a bad, almost offensive portrayal of trans people. Yet this is the ‘best’ there is.

In watching it with my mother I did see bits of myself and my own experience in it. But I also knew that large swathes of it were predicated on cis-centered or cis-friendly perspectives. The free use of terms like “genetic girl” to describe cis women were part of that. But the spine of the narrative was built on the Progressive Coming Out Story. Things were bad, then I came out, then I dealt with some bigots, then I got the surgery, and happily ever after!

Our lives are about more than transition. Even those parts of our lives that are directly related to our being trans are not all connected to the process of physical transition that so obsesses cis people. That’s another dimension of that single-story, by the way. The body. In both the conservative and liberal version of the single-story of trans people the body and its appearance, as well as its history, are central. The “change” and “transformation” are most profoundly marked by what surgeries we’ve had, what drugs we may have taken, and are considered central and essential. For many cis people I am “becoming a woman” as we speak because I’m still in the throes of physical transition. They don’t understand me as always having been a woman. Biographies of trans people that follow the format of “In 1970 Johnny was born and he did this in his teen years; then in 1990 she became Jane and she went on to induce nuclear fusion, she’s a real peach today” indulge in the same idea. The physical transition is the fulcrum on which gender rests, the dividing line between he/she or she/he.

My story, however, would hold that I’ve always been a woman. Transition is the process by which I discovered and began to seize that on my own terms. That includes changing my body. I don’t owe anyone an explanation of why my body is undergoing certain changes. If I say because it makes me feel right and true to myself, that ought to be enough. Being true to one’s self is part of that progressive narrative, of course. But it always felt incomplete to merely leave it at that, and at times I wonder if I ought to get my story out there to counteract the oppression of the single-stories that bear down on us every day.

There is no true single-story of trans people, no singular “transgender experience.” There are millions of stories of trans people, and they deserve to be heard.

Happily Never After

I tend to say a lot on this blog. Brevity has never been my strong suit, despite it being the soul of wit and all that jazz. For me to be brief feels like a self-betrayal, or perhaps it’s just a bizarre form of laziness wherein I’m too lazy to do less work. Life’s funny like that.

Life’s funny in a lot of other ways too. Despite being as verbose as I am here I often don’t go into great detail about my personal life or personal experience as a trans woman, in spite of my recent preaching about the power and potency of lived experience; it’s something I’ve been dwelling on and a recent article by one of the trans community’s more brilliant writers, Cedar, has crystallised some oblique issues I’ve been having. Her article delves into deeper matters but I’ll talk about a particular personal matter that it sent me thinking long and hard about.

Let me begin- because I only truly begin after writing two paragraphs already- by saying that I don’t consider anything I say here to be truly abstract. I speak about real issues that have very grievous and tangible effects on real people, real human beings. But they’re often not built on personal testimony, except as expressed in the vaguest of senses. It is, perhaps, because I worry about what I’d have to say in that department and it being shoehorned into the narrative that Cedar ably outlined in her piece.

“LGBT autobiographical art has been pushed into a mold that goes about like this: I was little, I was different. I grew up, shit was hard, I hurt and I hurt and I hurt and maybe I had deviant sexual or gender habits and I was different and oh yeah I hurt a lot, and then I slowly realized the truth about myself and I came out and it was hard and scary and I was sure everyone was going to reject me and this or that person did and it was awful but this or that person affirmed their love for me no matter what and I came out and I was true to myself THE END HAPPILY EVER AFTER.”

What I’ve discovered is that it isn’t just LGBT autobiographical art that gets fitted to that, but oftentimes the very discussions I’ve had about being a trans woman with others who seemed so accepting. It’s a realisation nagging me in the back of my head that they may not really “get it” so much as understand that socially acceptable narrative.

This is something I’ve often criticised about LGBT media in the past, especially that rare media that even bothers to portray a trans character (nevermind getting it right). Fictional stories like Transamerica that drop the curtain on the immediate aftermath of SRS are fairly common in the admittedly small cachet of stories about trans people. The implication is that physical transition is the only struggle and once SRS is over (because all trans people get bottom surgeries, right?) then so is the story. But it isn’t just fiction. How many times have we seen transfail on Oprah or The Tyra Banks Show or their like when the hosts make the entire discussion about this surgery and that surgery, and the before and after photos, and on and on. If you look, you’ll find Cedar’s apt narrative summary writ large over all of this, and I guess I’ve been leery of throwing my own personal transition story out there for fear it might get shoved into those confines as well.

That narrative is the Progressive Story of Coming Out, and it’s one that many people who fancy themselves tolerant adhere to very strongly. Is it entirely wrong? Of course not. There are trace elements of it in many of our lives. The problem is that it erases the experiences of those whose lives are very different and also erases the discrimination that can go on long after one has come out and long after one has completed the physical aspects of transition that they felt necessary for them. It erases the institutions that act against us and only casts individuals as villains. Mean, nasty, bigoted individuals that we can all feel good about shunning. This narrative, in its scant brevity, precludes how these individuals are empowered by society to do what they do.

So if the narrative isn’t entirely wrong, what’s the problem? The fact that it’s considered all encompassing. That it is not regarded as an incomplete perspective.

Many of the relatives I’ve come out to on my mother’s side of the family have appeared to be, on the surface, accepting. The women especially seemed very keen to welcome me as ‘one of the girls.’ Their praise was often effusive and their behaviour ought to put the lie to the racism that says tolerance is a preserve of whites. I love my family for it and I thank whatever powers there are that I have this privilege that has been denied to too many of my trans compatriots, that I have relatives who could shame my father for his transmisogyny and transphobia.

But I also know that they’ve already fitted me to that narrative.

They told me quite passionately about how they saw me “before”, as a sad person who always seemed so detached and depressed, and now I was so much more alive, ebullient and engaged. It made me blush and it made me smile to hear that. But I also knew that they didn’t know of the nights where I read the stories of trans oppression in horror, where I had to curl up in a ball and process the reality of what life was going to become, and the knowledge that despite all my newfound strength, life was about to get a lot harder. They knew little of my fears and told me in all naivete to ‘fuck anyone who doesn’t accept you.’ I’ll do that, with glee, but it’s as ever a lot harder than it sounds.

To put it very succinctly: flipping the bird to people who hate me isn’t going to pay the bills, especially when most of the people who hate me are also reviewing my resume.

The liberation of coming out and the trauma of living life in an oppressive society are things that exist simultaneously. They are the different turns and phases of one’s life as a trans person, and they are entirely unpredictable. The love of some of my relatives exists alongside a certain naivete that plays a small role in reifying those oppressive systems. It’s a tough thing to accept, but it is there. Understanding how these forces operate alongside each other has been an important revelation and one that I’m still processing.

What the Progressive Coming Out Story doesn’t get is how hard it is to live afterwards, and why that is. It is, at heart, a feel-good story.  There is, truly, no happily ever after for most people- so why would it be so for a trans woman living in a society that is misogynist, transmisogynist, and transphobic? A society so deeply inured in those evils that many people will angrily deny to your face that this is the way things are? A society where someone can be lauded as a “true egalitarian” by someone moments after they said they’d “fucking kill” a trans woman who he slept with that ‘lied’ about her medical history.

This is what we’re up against. Coming out is merely the introduction to that.

How I grapple with and reconcile my past is about a lot more than fitting it into that narrative, despite the fact that I know I’ve shamefully done so simply to make myself more intelligible to others. Hitting them with the graduate-level gender studies stuff is something I feel guilty about, for Goddess’ sakes. Getting over that is still a work in progress, getting over the internalised transphobia that centralises cis people’s feelings over my own, or even my own safety, is still a work in progress.

And perhaps that’s why I haven’t felt comfortable committing any major tracts of my personal story to this space yet, despite having a really witty title lined up for it. Will I tell it in a way that is really, honestly, true to myself? I’m not entirely certain of that yet. When I speak to trans sisters about myself, I know there’s a lot we just intuitively get about each other’s struggles, a lot of “I know what you mean” going back and forth. But I feel deficient when trying to spell it out to cis people at times, and until I resolve my feelings about that, I’m going to go right on being an enigmatic unicorn here.

PC is for Cookie

In one’s travels through the Tubes you’ll often find rather a lot of fecal matter clogging it all up. Perhaps the grandest of these turds is the notion of ‘political correctness.’ There have been long and thoughtful deconstructions of this ultimate, Voltron-like straw man, but suffice it to say: the next time someone chides you for being “PC” just replace ‘politically correct’ with ‘respectful’ in your mind to keep your focus on what it is the speaker is actually trying to communicate.

Privilege is many things. Pervasive, invisible, colourless, odourless, noxious. It’s a lot like carbon monoxide. In this particular case, privilege manifests itself as the simple belief that you are entitled to a higher level of respect than other groups of people. At heart, that’s what it’s really about. The idea that being decent and respectful- values many of our parents raised us with- is somehow uncouth or even verboten when one is talking about Black people, or Muslims, or trans people is simply privilege made manifest. People found a term that enabled them to get away with being assholes. It’s not being a horse’s ass. It’s being politically incorrect. You sound edgy, and awesome, like a latter day beatnik.

Plus you get to put uppity [insert group here] people in their place.

It should take you all of five seconds to start seeing how this works in regards to trans people. Calling me ‘she’ and ‘her’ and ‘a woman’ becomes a privilege, something I have to earn. Why? Because it’s ‘politically correct’ and implicitly untrue as a result. Time after time I’ve read the words of people who insist that the truth is that I’m male and that any suggestions to the contrary are mere politeness on their part, into which they’ve been strongarmed by the “PC Police.” When basic respect and common courtesy to you is no longer considered correct but ‘politically correct’, you know you’re being marginalised.

But that’s what it’s for, in truth. The term political correctness is just a recent addition to our lexicon to describe a weapon of privilege that has been wielded for a very long time. The simple idea that if you are marginalised, any respect given to you by a privileged person is a bonus, a boon, a privilege unto itself. One you probably had to dance to earn. But the moment you say or do anything they dislike, the cookie is taken away. It is, above all, a tool of control. One that is designed to remind you that respect for you exists at the pleasure of the privileged.

It also divides marginalised people into worthy and unworthy classes. Deserving and undeserving.

Take for example the case of a trans woman who is in prison for life in Massachusetts for murdering her wife. A gruesome crime to which she has confessed and for which she is doing her time. Yet, when the Boston Herald calls her a “transvestite”, a man, and refers to her by her old name which has since been legally changed, what is one to think? That she does not deserve to be called a woman because she committed a terrible crime. If that makes sense to you consider the inverse. Was Timothy McVeigh ungendered or misgendered because of his murderous crimes? Was he termed a drag king for it? No. Any journalist would’ve told you his gender was just a fact about him and the story is his terrorism, naught more.

So why can the same respect not be paid to a trans person?

Because that respect is still seen by society as a privilege. Something one must earn. When one looks at ‘bad’ cis people and the fact that they do not get misgendered, it’s quite clear what’s going on here. Cis people use this as a weapon against you: if they deem you unfit, they can try their damndest  to take away your identity. If it can be taken away from that woman in prison it can be taken away from you. This is far from a slippery slope argument: we’ve long since slid down it.

Early on in my transition I told an erstwhile friend of mine what I was up to and came out to him. He seemed quite accepting at first and he started to refer to me appropriately. I was still riding high from the successes with other friends so I thought he’d be no different and went on my merry way. A couple of months later I penned an article criticising the Catholic Church, of which he’s still a proud member. He told a mutual friend behind my back some rather grotesque and trans phobic things as he complained about the piece, the gist of which was “this is how he thanks me for accepting his lifestyle!?”

True colours revealed, I broke ties with him. It was less than pleasant, for sure, but it had to be done. I wasn’t about to come within ten feet of anyone who dared wield that cudgel. My womanhood is not a privilege, it simply is. Calling me by my real name, addressing me as you would any other woman… these things are not cookies that I am to be given for pleasing you, nor something you have any right to take away when I upset you. “Good trans women get called ladies and bad trans women get called trannies” is bullshit, yet that’s exactly what’s going on here and it sure as hell doesn’t happen to cis people.

If you try to misgender me because you’re mad at me, you’re telling me exactly one thing: you do not take me seriously as a woman and you’ve got unresolved issues about the whole thing.

I don’t need that crap. It’s not a matter of political correctness, just about simple correctness.

Yet for anyone who would think of accepting this arrangement on the basis that you intend to be a “good person” who will surely please the cis majority, and that thus this isn’t really intolerance or transphobia, just another way ‘bad’ people get punished… consider the following.

By now many of us have heard of the elevation of Amanda Simpson to the US Commerce Department where she will be responsible for overseeing weapon exports. She is smart, accomplished, determined, and was tapped for a high level government position. To top it all off, she’s also white. All of which should be the nadir of what our “polite society” considers accomplished, acceptable, and ‘good.’ Now consider the reaction to her in the media. Many mainstream outlets were, to their credit, quite good about her. One, however, was especially and frighteningly egregious.

The New York Post ran an article about her with the oh-so-witty tabloid headline: “Obama sez: You Da Ex-Man!” Genius. But it gets worse. Out of all the articles about her I’ve seen, this was the first to include the dreaded ‘before’ picture, from when she was living as a male. The caption under the pictures was headed with “Tranny Nation:” More sheer brilliance. She was also called a “gal” which again goes to the heart of the male chauvinism that often lies within transphobia against trans women.

But this is just in the headlines. There was exactly one thing the Post got right; calling Ms. Simpson a ‘her.’ The rest was beyond atrocious. I actually crushed the paper in my hands as I read past the halfway point where the reporter said Ms. Simpson declined to talk about her medical history… and then proceeded to regale us with how he went and dug it up anyway from Arizona records and news clippings he’d cobbled together to reveal in detail what her medical history was and how much it cost.

So take note: Upper middle class, white, graduate education, years of experience, accomplished… and you’ll still get trashed in the media as a tranny who had a sex change, and by the way here’s how much it cost, what you did, and to top it off I’ve got this hugely witty pun for a headline.

So imagine the rest of us.

The cookie is made of bullshit.

It is, of course, worth mentioning that the New York Post was a positive paragon of decency compared to the legions of internet comments about Ms. Simpson, which put the final lie to the idea that you can earn the respect of cis people by assimilating to what they consider respectability.

But how then to report on trans people respectfully? Let’s refer to one Rachel Maddow for assistance:

Goddess bless her. *eyes her dreamily*

What is most fascinating to me is that in a world where column inches are at a premium and every second counts when one is on the air, reporting respectfully is actually less time consuming and unwieldy.

  • No time spent on “before” pictures.
  • A couple of seconds shaved by never uttering the old name.
  • Loads of time and space saved by making no mention of medical procedures.
  • Lots of time saved by not making needlessly complex constructions like he/she or giving hackneyed explanations of what a transgender person is, beyond a basic and objective definition.

It’s so easy, guys. We all have everything to gain.

In the end, never back down from demanding the basic respect accorded to everyone else. It is not a privilege. To accept that, and play the game of cissexists in so doing, is to put your rights and dignity in their hands, and to empower them with a weapon that can be used against you. This isn’t just true of trans people, but of all who face marginalisation, great or small. Respect for you is not a joke, nor a privilege, nor politically correct.

It’s simply correct.

Feminism’s Folly

One of the many ironies of the trans life is the fact that oftentimes your worst enemies can be found among the very people you should be able to trust most. One who spends much time in any number of activist circles will not take long to learn this the hard way. The LGBTQ movement as a whole is legendary for its internal strife and battles between cis LGB people who feel the T really ought not be there. Never mind the Q. But today we’re going to focus on the other bastion of sad, activist irony in this sordid and political mess: feminism.

Feminism, near and dear to my heart, is a force for good in this world, ultimately. Its basic tenets have lent me much strength in recent years, and a great deal of pride in myself; the perfect antidote to the shame that trans women are so often made to live with. It was second nature for me to find the numerous intersections between feminism and trans activism, and to see how the issues trans women face are often times part and parcel of wider misogyny. What has so often puzzled me is why some feminists like the execrable Julie Bindel can’t see them. The answer, at the end of the day, lies in the fact that they do not know us and they do not care to know us.

Otherwise they wouldn’t destroy the work of their foremothers with every stroke of their pens, now would they?

How can I make this charge? It’s quite simple really: there are a lot of arguments transphobic ‘feminists’ use against trans people and all of them are entirely hypocritical from a feminist point of view. The arguments only make sense if you see trans people are some kind of set type, where we’re all the same and all caricatures in precisely the same ways.

What are those arguments?

  1. Trans women are parodies of femininity. This is a popular mainstay among radfems who insist that we’re all caricatures of women who, as Julie Bindel might put it, wear ‘fuck me heels’ and have ‘birds nest hair’ or who all look like 50s-era, Mrs. Cleaver style women. This idea allows them to portray us as agents of patriarchy who fetishise clothing and other feminine trappings and thus pose as ersatz women to complete the illusion. So we become the bad guys! Emphasis on guys, of course. I do not need to go into great detail about why this is stupid. Suffice it to ask: how many trans women do you know who dress and act like fembots? We encompass the same vast diversity that is reflected in all women: from butch to femme and everything in between, to every character trait, interest, spiritual pursuit, comportment, or ideal you can think of. There’s a trans woman for that. But this neglects a broader point, after all. How is it a hypocrisy to feminism? Because it relies on media stereotypes and nothing more. The only way you could get away with believing that, as Ms. Bindel does, the world would look like the set of *Grease* if everyone were transsexual people is by not knowing real trans people and going by the ample number of caricatures of trans women readily available throughout the media. This violates a feminist shibboleth:hear the voices of real women. Real trans women would show them such stereotypes are untrue, and the testimony of their experience should matter more than what one sees in *The Crying Game.* It also violates a second shibboleth: do not take media imagery as gospel. We as feminists spend a great deal of time critiquing the media precisely because it presents a false image of the world, and of women in particular. To go by what the media says about trans women with total unquestioning faith, when one knows what’s going on, is rank hypocrisy.
  2. Trans women’s femininity is imposed on them by doctors. This may sound somewhat innocuous, if conspicuously lacking in detail, but it is another popular trope of certain ‘feminists’ to suggest that we are made into fembots who wear pounds of makeup and favour hairstyles that went out of fashion in 1969 because psychiatrists made us do it in an effort to reinforce the patriarchy. The funny thing is, that statement by itself is not wrong. Many trans women have unpleasant stories to share about how psychiatrists would chide them for wearing trousers (even those cut for women) and would not consider them to be ‘making progress’ unless they acted as feminine as possible, often hyperbolically feminine. The stories get much worse certainly and there is a lot of room for a feminist response to this barbarous behaviour on the part of psychiatrists, which even continues to this day in some (thankfully diminishing) quarters. After all, it is misogyny that motivates these therapists who gleefully seek to control women.  Yet what do the ‘feminists’ do? Blame us for it. This violates what is perhaps Rule 1 of Feminism 101: don’t blame the fucking victim. Many trans women who underwent this harrowing will tell you they didn’t enjoy it and shrugged off the mantle of false femininity at their earliest convenience. But for feminists to blame us for this as if we were in collusion with the psychs and in control of the whole process is laughable. Our lack of control over the psychiatric establishment’s response to us has been a major problem for years.
  3. Trans women should use the men’s restroom and other male sex-segregated facilities. One may note that this is an irony among ironies in that it’s a popular demand of the Christian Right as well. But this one is often trumpeted by feminists and I find it to be a very curious demand indeed coming from a movement that quite rightly spends a great deal of time fighting the ongoing sexual and physical abuse of women in the world. How could a feminist in good conscience demand that by law a woman should force herself into a male sex-segregated facility with no regard for her personal safety? Do these people sincerely believe there’s no risk to trans women? It is not a part time job, being a woman. It is not something I can switch off so that I can take a wazz. It’s who I am. I am a woman. At best you are asking me to humiliate myself by walking into a men’s room only to get tossed out, and at worst you’re putting me in a place where I could easily get hurt, whether or not I have conditional cissexual privilege at the time. How can a feminist violate one of the highest rules of all: reduce violence against women? Under any circumstance if such a law were being proposed feminists would rightly tear it down as misogynist madness. A law that made Muslim women use the men’s facilities, for example. This is no different.
  4. I know this trans woman and she likes pink/wears makeup/likes sexy lingerie, no real woman does that! You’ll notice a lot of these are related and are often variations on the same argument (most feeding into the Big Fallacy at the end of this list), but I’m taking them separately to address key issues with each manifestation.  In this instance what you have is an ostensible feminist talking about what good women ‘ought to be.’ This is playing with fire, certainly. Patriarchal fire, one might say. At its heart, it’s cissexism. Cis women can shop at Victoria’s Secret and not be misgendered, but a trans woman cannot. One might argue there’s a No True Scotsman fallacy in this as well. It’s also a feminist hypocrisy in particular because it involves one woman guilting another over her choices. A great many women, quite a lot of feminists among them, are sexual and proud of it. It’s been a time honoured feminist tradition to not shame women because of their sexual behaviour. So why do it to trans women for their choice of dress, underwear, makeup or whatever? Making a woman feel dirty because of those choices has long been the preserve of patriarchs and their enablers. Why carry that water just to splash a trans woman with it? In the case of pink and other stereotypes, would you presume to go up to a cis woman wearing a pink blouse and tell her that her Woman Card was revoked? I didn’t think so.
  5. Trans women’s penises are symbols of male power and thus threatening. This is, in particular, an argument often used to exclude trans women from women-only safe spaces on the grounds that it might upset a rape victim. It is, however, very much worth mentioning that this argument is oftentimes not made by those rape victims, only ever in absentia by women who claim to be speaking for them. That’s known as appropriating, especially when it’s done in bad faith (as it is here to justify discrimination). In stereotyping, speaking for, and using rape victims feminists are committing a pretty grievous sin that is only compounded by its use to legitimise hateful stereotyping. Against other women. But back to the matter of this symbol of male power… Aside from the matter that they wouldn’t know I had one unless I told them (Schroedinger’s Cock?), are these so called feminists seriously suggesting to me that they are going to allow a penis to have that much power? Well, what if I were post operative? Evidently, I’m told, the ghost of my penis is sufficient to disqualify me from true womanhood. I see, so a feminist is allowing the mere spectre of a phallus to overshadow all else? Alternately, she is reducing everything about this woman to a penis. Everything she is: her personality, her way of life, her hopes, dreams, fears, experiences, and all else about her, is erased and reduced to that knob of flesh. That is the exact opposite of feminism. Too often women are reduced to their body parts. How is this any different? Feminism stands against phallocentrism. Why indulge in it so much just to discriminate against women?
  6. Trans women seek to reify the gender binary! This is a biggie and it often starts off most “feminist” rants against us. But I saved it for last because it rests on such an elementary and basic fallacy that I’m astonished people still use it. The fiction goes like this: instead of seeking new and vibrant ways of expressing ourselves as, say, men, we’re resorting instead to this parody of femininity that only serves to reinforce the gender binary that feminism has tried to smash. After all, gender is a social construct, yes? We’re rocking the boat! We’re totally reifying the idea that a person is stuck in a predetermined role into which they are born! ..Wait. Remember the whole reason trans women are being picked on in the first place, yes? Because we were born with wee wees, that’s essentially why. Emphasis on the word ‘essentially.’ Now, remember that they’re saying we are reinforcing the binary? Well, what pray tell, is more binary than asserting someone born with a penis could only ever be your idea of a man? In attempting to tar us as being anti-constructionist they ended up making a mind bogglingly essentialist argument that undermines the whole enterprise. Wrapped up in that is the corollary that a woman is, and must be, essentially a vagina. How could any self respecting feminist ever court that kind of nonsense? If gender is indeed societal, then what difference do genitals make? What’s more transgressive than seizing my womanhood in the face of mountains of societal opposition to the idea? That, to me, seems pretty bloody feminist. A woman forced to be a man instead fights proudly for her womanhood! It’d make a good movie. Maybe if Julie Bindel saw it she’d realise we don’t all have ‘birds nest hair’? She seems to swallow everything else the media tells her…

Bitterness aside, these are some of the biggest hypocrisies of the feminist movement for certain. For feminists to take a group of women and judge them entirely by media images, blaming them for their victimisation, silencing or failing to hear their voices, devaluing their experience, and applying biological essentialism to them is beyond bad faith hypocrisy. It’s something that undermines the very foundations of the movement. Women cannot do this to other women. Least of all if they claim the mantle of women’s rights. Feminism is for all of us, and that is what I’ve always stood for. It was never meant to be the club of upper class white cis women that it became.

Pursuant to that idea, I’m taking it back.

I’m normally not the sort to police labels, but I put feminist in quotes many times in this article because I have a very hard time accepting that any person calling themselves a feminist could simultaneously be so hateful to any group of women. To say “I’m a feminist for everyone except trans women” is a contradiction in terms. The term feminism is marvellously elastic and encompasses many definitions and many ideas, several of them mutually exclusive or contradictory. Yet that elasticity simply snaps when one throws bigotry against a group of women into the mix. It is, as I said, a contradiction in terms.

There is one final matter I have not explained in great detail and it is the notion that in feminism experience matters more than anything and is the testimony from whence our strength and knowledge derives. For any group of people that have been marginalised this is a fine policy. Shared experience is strength, for it reminds one that they aren’t alone and reminds one of realities and institutional problems others would deny out of ignorance and privilege. Lived experience tells one’s story and can light the fire of one’s activism. It is to be heard and not silenced; valued and not cast aside. Yet these radical feminists who make the arguments I’ve debunked above are failing on that most basic premise: honour the experiences of your fellow women. Do not just go by what you see in the media. Hear us. Read us. Learn about us.

As I said before, the only way those arguments could possibly work in your mind is if you don’t know us.

For Fuck’s Surgery

(Trigger Warning: This post quotes hateful/transphobic language at points.)

Being a young transitioner I’ve gone through a couple of fairly common rites of passage in my quest to live life as myself. One is, of course, TSRoadmap which has acted a sort of bible for transition; information compiled in one place that can help a broad cross section of the community. The other is Lynn Conway’s well known website, the centrepiece of which is the TS Woman Successes page, which is something even I’ve linked to others.

The younger ones among us with the privilege of a steady internet connection have probably used these sites in one way or another and we may, perhaps, even remember them fondly in the same way one looks back with a smile at a beloved first grade teacher.  That is certainly my own feeling. To Andrea James in particular, I feel I owe a great debt as her website was one of the first I encountered on this issue and helped me feel less alone. Without TSRoadmap, which I still link on this blog, things might well have gone a lot slower for me.

Yet in time I came to realise something about both websites. They are definitely, at best, 101 sites and not perfect authorities. They are also very much a narrow perspective on the full spectrum of trans women’s experiences, especially in the case of Lynn Conway’s website, which much to my consternation, I came to have serious problems with as I delved into it. Both websites represent the perspectives of perhaps the most privileged group of trans women, white and upper class. I do not deny that both sites are incredibly useful, and to a trans woman who was just getting started I’d still link them.

Yet I cannot get over my supreme discomfort with Ms. Conway’s website as I think it broadcasts some rather unpleasant and demeaning messages that I’m quite confident trans women do not need to hear. Today I’m going to go through my reasoning on this, with all due respect to Ms. Conway and the work she’s done.

One thing that will often be pointed out in the activist community is that both Ms. Conway and Ms. James still insist on using the term MTF to describe trans women, a crude bit of argot that does tend to reinforce the idea that we were at some point essentially male. That doesn’t quite jive with the experiences of many trans women, including many of the ordinary people whose stories are given prominent space on both sites. This isn’t a simple matter of political correctness (a subject to which I’ll return in a later column) but simply of correctness. There are exceptions, of course, where some transsexual women will identify differently, but in the main one should never presume an innate male identity for a trans woman, and the language of “MTF” or “M2F” should just be ditched. It’s nothing a simple FAQ couldn’t clear up.

But the much deeper problem has to do with Ms. Conway’s views on trans women’s body image, and it borders on body fascism, quite frankly.

The first stop on our tour here will be her SRS warnings page which is actually quite useful. It does pay to make sure one is truly ready, mind body and soul, for gender confirmation surgery and it could be instructive to consider a few examples of people who had these surgeries but ultimately regretted it. Conway does not quote these people for the insidious purposes malefactors like Julie Bindel do (i.e. to undermine and delegitimise us), rather she does so to make sure that any trans woman considering surgery is fully informed.

What troubles me is Conway’s commentary.

The first story she recites is that of Renee Richards, the famous tennis player who in her later years has infamously been quoted as saying some rather demeaning and damaging things about other trans women. Hers is, perhaps, a worthwhile story to tell here but Conway’s psychological commentary gets into some very bizarre territory:

“Part of Renée’s problem with public acceptance, and possibly (though unconsciously) with her own inner self-acceptance, was undoubtedly her unusual facial structure. She had a very feminine, well-toned and attractive body, and must have thought of herself as being very beautiful. She sought media attention at every turn, and her photos were widely disseminated.  Unfortunately, she never seemed to realize that she had a very prominent male brow-bulge and large male jaw and chin.”

As I read this I couldn’t help but boggle. Does she even realise what she’s saying and what she’s speculating on?

A bit of background is in order: Conway and James are both major proponents of facial feminisation surgery. They believe that if you have problems “passing” you can make them all go away with a trip to a plastic surgeon. To some extent they are correct that adding female gender cues to one’s face may allow one to gain conditional cissexual privilege more easily, and there is some truth to Andrea James’ assertion that “passing is from the neck up.”

But at the same time, Conway’s nigh-on religious advocacy delves into insulting territory on this website and she starts to sound like a mad barber as she analyses (often very cruelly) the faces of trans women. What is most irksome to me is that both women, but Conway in particular, seem to ignore the fact that many cis women have ‘masculine’ facial features and structures. The kind of scrutiny they may receive for it is a source of huge insecurity for women, whether cis or trans, and Conway’s offensive commentary does little to help that body image problem.

Whatever Richards’ sins in later life may have been, to dismiss her face as ‘unusual’ is incredibly insulting, and to say that she “never seemed to realise” certain things about her face is equally so.

I see myself in the mirror every single day. I am very aware of the fact that I have a slight bossed brow and that my jaw line is a bit more square than that of the average woman’s. Very. Very. Aware. It is an uphill battle to fight the impulse to see myself as lesser, or as not womanly enough because of this. It is a heinous intersection of the body image problems that are heaped on all Western women by the media, and the transmisogynist element of tying one’s womanhood to their ability to “pass.”

I’ve little doubt Renee Richards was aware too.

For Conway to feed this insecurity, especially when many of the people reading her site might be young women who could ill afford such surgeries, is the height of irresponsibility.

Further down, Ms. Conway relates the case of  Dani Bunten Berry, who regretted her SRS and wrote an essay on the subject. Conway’s thoughts are extensive and she speculates on whether Ms. Berry was a crossdresser who might’ve been happier without the surgery and in the final diagnosis says the following:

“Dani would threfore have been much better advised by her counselors to undergo FFS to correct her very masculine facial structure…”

That this is the first thing she writes is annoying enough. That she seems contradicted by the very picture she herself posted of Ms. Berry just makes it maddening. Berry does not have what I would consider to be a singularly ‘masculine’ facial structure.

But I know that to argue this point with Conway is to miss the point and play her game of turning these people into objects to pore over as if they were lifeless sculptures. To do so to Ms. Berry, who passed away in 1998, seems particularly disrespectful. How Ms. Conway could objectify them so is beyond me.

It is also worth looking at the language: “correct” her facial structure. I believe that if one undergoes FFS it should be a matter of choice. Not one of ‘correction’. Trans women have to fight for years to overcome the idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with them, even after coming out, and even after having lived as themselves for many years; then Ms. Conway drops that kind of bomb, implying that, yes my dear, there is something intrinsically wrong with you.

In the end Ms. Conway says this:

“In cases where serious difficulties are expected in social transition, it might be wise to give FFS priority over SRS, because FFS has a much more profound effect on the reactions of others to one’s transition.”

After all this I’m tempted to use the FFS acronym in a different context.

Ms. Conway and her supporters might argue that I am being overly idealistic and unrealistic. That, gee, it would be nice if women could be comfortable in their bodies no matter what, but we have to adapt to the fact that people will judge trans women based on their faces and it’s best if we cater to it.

I disagree.

I post a lot on the aggregator/link voting site Reddit and I came across a thread not too long ago where someone linked to a lovely little game on some website called “Spot the Transgender.” You can see where this is going. The link was to a website that showed ten pictures of Thai women and you had to guess which were trans and which were “real women” as everyone termed it. To say this was an orgy of objectifying hate would be an understatement, but reading the comments was instructive in a grim way.

A lot of the men (and 98% of the people who commented were males) went through their thought processes, proudly telling everyone how they did it and spotted the “men” or the “fakes” or the “trannies”. I quote their othering language to give you an idea of where they’re coming from as these are the kinds of people Conway ostensibly seeks to mollify by frogmarching us into an FFS surgeon’s office.

Guess what? They weren’t looking so much at the faces.

Hands, hips, shoulders, thighs, belly buttons were all mentioned more than facial elements, although a few people brought up things like “creepy smiles” or jaw shape. But the point is that what they were using to objectify and other us were taking parts of the kathoey women’s bodies that could not be “corrected” (to use Ms. Conway’s stupid term) with some kind of surgery.

You could argue that the comment section here had a sampling bias because everyone was told in advance that there would be trans women in the photo gallery, but the point is that if they do not objectify your face, they will objectify the rest of you. One even said that trans women will probably have “ bigger boobs” than cis women.

I am quite sorry, but I’m not going to go under the knife to please these macho, bigoted jerks and as much of a fight as it can be to keep this in mind: I know I’m beautiful. Among the people who matter, I have been told that. Frankly, I’ll go with what my heart says and what those who care about me say rather than what these monsters do. If they know I’m trans, they’ll work overtime to objectify my body no matter how many surgeries I’ve had.

Even when my status isn’t known, I’ve received enough ogles, enough up-and-down looks, enough stares, enough wolf whistles to know I’m being objectified already. I will not do a damn thing, nor spend one cent to please those people, and other  trans women should not be guilted or cajoled into doing so either.

This worship of a cis female standard of beauty is particularly pernicious and harmful to trans women, but it does not affect only us. When I see cis models mocked for “looking like trannies” or Ann Coulter being routinely taunted as Man Coulter, or countless cis women berated for thick eyebrows, extraneous facial hairs, square jaw lines, adam’s apples, or any other features that can be plucked out to mock them with, I see where the problem’s source lies: fundamental misogyny. All women are measured very harshly against these models of Ur femininity and are often told they are deficient if they don’t meet that standard; the entire “you look like a man” bullshit meme is part and parcel of the same phenomenon. The idea that you don’t look enough like a particular standard of feminine beauty and you are lesser as a result comes from that.

I’m not saying “don’t ever get FFS.” I am saying don’t do it for the wrong reasons.

I’ll continue this at a later date as there’s more to be discussed about Ms. Conway’s thinking about post-transition trans women that I feel is somewhat harmful and projects too much of her own experience.

Nuclear Unicorn Presents: Mystery Craigslist Theatre 2009

I have odd pastimes, I’ll be the first to admit.

In this wide world of ours trans people are often invisible, but you can tell a lot about what people think of trans folk by taking a gander at those places where we decidedly are not hidden. One such place is the trans ghetto on Craigslist’s personals. I often amuse myself with the dark humour contained therein simply because the only alternative would be to weep.

It says volumes that trans people interested in dating must be filed under “Misc Romance” and an extra tome or two could be spent on why there are t4m and m4t sections but none for t4w or w4t. T is all we are and we are, evidently, all trans women are interested in cis dudes. Craigslist can teach you quite a bit, it seems!

Ah, but now to the odd pastime and the Juvenalian satire with the weeping and the laughing:

I peruse these listings and mock them. Today, I shall share some of the finer gems with you all, my lovelies. Thus I present to you Katherine’s Mystery Craigslist Theatre:

First up is an estimable and jaunty chap from New York.

“Hello, I am 6’2, 225, fit, black hair, hazel eyes, handsome, masculine and hairy with an 8″ cut and thick cock.”

Thank you for sharing that, sir. That’s usually the first thing I ask a man about! Why, just the other day I went shopping and asked this nice clerk “Yes, I have change. Oh by the way, how long’s your schlong?” Onto our next contestant:

“I am a straight man, who is very attracted to transsexual women.”

Note the affirmation of his straightness. This’ll become a running theme tonight.

Next up:

“I’m 5’9 160 and fit. I work in finance and would like to get to know a passable Asian t-girl. Not interested in just hooking up, much prefer to get to know someone. If that someone is you please, by all means, reach out to me.”

That’s the whole ad. For someone interested in getting to know me, he’s sure telling me precious little about himself! Well, except that he’s got an Asian fetish. Which reminds me of our next young baron…

“I’m very interested in meeting and getting to know a passable trans girl. I’m most interested in Asian and Latina women”

Asian fetish again, plus a word that’ll be appearing quite a bit tonight. Passable. All of these guys, nearly 100% of them, ask or demand their potential paramours to be “passable.” As if being a woman is something they’re playing at. The reason the word “pass” is rejected by a lot of us is because it implies deceit. Not that these chasers care, however. This is all about them, remember. Trans women are there to help them act out porno fantasies. We’re just getting warmed up!

From the same bloke:

“Because of the nature of my work some discretion is required. If you are interested in spending time with a gentleman please reach out to me.”

A gentleman! I always wanted one of those! A gentleman who will hide me because apparently his workplace might judge me even if I’m ‘passable.’

Man, I’d be living the dream if I shacked up with him.

Next up from a man seeking his “one in a million princess”:

“There’s no need to worry, my expectations are already managed.”

Which is why he goes on to say:

“Who am I looking for? … Someone who will be the most beautiful woman in the room wherever I take her and who will make all the other women in the bar jealous because their dates just can’t stop staring.”

I’d hate to see his unmanaged expectations.

What’s funny about a lot of these posts is that I’m not abridging them much. I’ve seen more depth and detail on Twitter. A lot of these guys don’t seem to realise that this isn’t a newspaper ad where one had to cram a lot of information into a bunch of jargony acronyms and a couple of sentences.

But of course, they can’t even handle that tiniest bit of writing:

“You do need to be passable for my interest to be peaked.”

Yep. That’s one way to ensure my interest isn’t piqued.

“Dry sense of humor, which, boarders on razor-wit at times, but is never mean spirited.”

But alas his wit extends not to good spelling. By the way, this guy’s pretty special. Observe:

“[I am a] Possessor of manners better suited to another, more elegant, time.”

You know, a more elegant time, when certain people weren’t allowed in certain parts of town and had separate drinking fountains, or when women couldn’t vote…

Anyhow, onwards and upwards:

“Young but legal bi guy looking to chat online. might lead to something else, who knows.”

Who knows anything? Certainly not him. (By the way, that’s the whole ad.) For our next Mr. Lover Lover…

“I am really interested in going out tonight to a gay bar or club but am very nervous as I am str8”

He’s so straight, he can’t even spell it.

So let’s get this, ahem, straight. You want to go with me, a woman, to a gay bar, is that right? This was a totally random choice of venue? It amazes me how quickly these people telegraph their issues, and with such an economy of words too.

Many of these ads’ authors make a point of mentioning they’re straight, often more than once, before proceeding to call you a “shemale” or some kind of “in between” creature that’s “the best of both worlds” along with insistent requests that you be pre-op.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see what’s going on here.  Anyway, onwards!

“I am the romantic type, i open doors, bring flowers, little gifts, tell you how special u r to me, etc. “

But not special enough to write the whole word out for you. Sorry. I mean… sry. Onto the next winner:

“I want someone who makes my knees weak wherever we kiss and can wait until we see each other again. I am ok with someone not full time, only that you are dressed when we see each other.”

I love you and want a totally awesome romantic relationship! But if for some reason you have to occasionally dress like a dude I don’t want to see it. That’s gay.

But for a more liberal take, let’s ride off to meet our next stallion:

“I am an intelligent, well-educated, genuine person who is interested in meeting a beautiful and passable individual for dating and fun. I am politically progressive and can hold a conversation.”

I’m so progressive I’ll judge you on whether or not you’re ‘passable’ based on some social standard of feminine beauty!

“Your ethnicity could be anything, though from my experience Asians are often the most passable.”

I’m so progressive, I judge based on race!

But what if you hear wedding bells in the distance? Then I’ve got your Mr. Right:

“”It may sound a bit to fast for some people but I really would like to marry a Trans Gendered woman not just because of the gendered or anything but because I seek to be loved and loved by just one woman alone who knows what love is”

I don’t love you for the gendered thing, baby! Let’s get married!

“Reason why I am into the Trans Gendered is because I have had good experiences with it.. Not as far as sex goes but I have made some wonderful friends and they told and shared with me all the wonders of it and i am really intrigued by it.”

I think you’re shit in bed and we haven’t even met. Let’s get married!

But what about someone who you feel like has just known you forever? Well, I felt this fine young man look straight into my soul:

“”I’ve done reading up on it and yes, I’ve been educated enough to know the difference between someone who’s TS (transfolk who have surgery) and those who identify with being TG (live as opposite gender they were born with, but don’t have surgery…..may or may not be on hormones, either)”

I get turned on by people who mangle the definitions of trans stuff. But I practically explode with orgasmic energy when I read ads that were written like an encyclopaedia page.

He deserves credit for trying, I suppose. I mean, it’s a cut above “gurl” and “shemale” or “tranny”- all very popular words among this lot.

Next champion:

“unlike everybody else, i am not just looking for sex. i am a straight white male (never been attracted to guys), but there is something about a m2f girl that really interest me.”

I’m just a bundle of issues waiting to explode. Come get me, baby!

Onto our next Man of the Year:

“Hello – Good looking, down to earth, in good shape, confident, blue eyes, well endowed and a fun drinking partner “

I’m just casually letting you know I have a huge wang. Did I mention my penis is big?

For our next Adonis…

“I am not attracted to men; I’m not judgmental but don’t have any feelings for men personally. My family and friends don’t know about my attraction to transexuals so for now discretion and secrecy are a must.”

So if this potentially degrading powder keg waiting to explode is your thing, come on up and get me, honey! …Secretly of course. Come after midnight, I’ll leave a key inside a fake rock I have outside on my lawn.

Notice again how he has to state twice in the same breath he’s not attracted to guys? If there’s one lesson you take away from this, my fellow trans sisters, it’s this: Stay away from these guys. As a friend of mine also added: “Also discretion and secrecy might mean “No one knows where you are or where you were headed tonight.” Which is just peachy when you’re a member of a group frequently murdered by men while on a date.”

Remember too that these men don’t know or care about that.

But let’s end on a high note. Out of all these grand and noble men, magisterial examples of masculinity cum divinity, we have tonight’s Grand Prize Winner, whose name I have changed to protect the innocent and who we shall call Spanky:

“i swing both ways. get in touch asap u won’t be dissapionted.i got pics this is real u be real too!!!!! “

I wish this wasn’t real.

Anyway, Spanky wins a year’s supply of condoms, which in his case is two. Thanks for playing, everyone, and good night!

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Part 72

Your less-than-humble correspondent has been on holiday, drinking exotic water and visiting strange and mystic locales like her shower as well as phoning far away lands to sort out problems with her bank account.

Which is actually a perfect segue into today’s topic: Healthcare. It’s back, baby.

No article on healthcare is complete without random photos of ambulances.
No article on healthcare is complete without random photos of ambulances.

So how did I get from phoning Bengalooru to Healthcare Reform? Well, let’s start skipping down the yellow brick road here. Recently I went through a bit of a legal process, a name change, and in the wake thereof I had to start to change documents to keep them up to date. The three big places I’ve made changes at so far are the following: The Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and HSBC Bank. Now, which took the longest? Give up?

In the order of fastest to glacial it is as follows:

  • Social Security: I spent 30 minutes at the office. Name change was processed on the spot (i.e. entered into the database) and I got my new card in a week.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (*gasp!*): I spent 3 hours there, the lines were interminable because it was a Friday afternoon, but my name change was processed on the spot and very expeditiously once I reached the clerks. Walked out with a temporary ID. New permanent ID mailed in one week.
  • And a very, very, very distant third: the bank. I waited a half hour to speak to the banker, had to sign several forms in septuplicate, which would have to be copied and faxed to three different organs of the bank corporation before my name change would even be processed and on the computer. So, it was not changed on the spot. That would take a week. Then I had to call a separate group after that was confirmed to order a new debit card, then I had to call HSBC again to ask why my name, after a week and a half, still wasn’t changed on my web profile, then got told I had to call back the next day during business hours. Upon doing that I was on hold for a grand total of around 30 minutes which I productively spent drawing the HSBC logo as a pincushion, then told I had to wait two more business days for the website change to be fully processed. But as always, my patience was appreciated. As of Saturday, a little less than two weeks after signing my name (old and new) seven times, it was all finally done. Oh, but to get new cheques I have to actually head over to a branch office, so not quite…

Why is this relevant to healthcare? Well, I thought it’d be a nice little fact finding expedition to see how the government handles things versus how the private sector does. These little anecdotes are a reminder of the fiction we’ve all been made to live with, the notion that anything run by the government is slow, plodding, bureaucratic service-by-number, and that the private sector is shit hot, lightning fast, get-what-ya-pay-for goodness.

This pernicious lie is at the heart of the American healthcare reform debate. We have been told, time and time again, whether it is by the opposition Republicans or the increasingly aptly named Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends, that the private sector executes its business efficiently and that the government is wasteful and slow. It’s one of the driving ideas against instituting a “public option” in this country, never mind a full bore single-payer health plan.

The myth is so pervasive that many people actually believe the wildly successful and popular Medicare program is not a government operation. After all, it works, it can’t be run by the government, right?

Barack Obama isn’t helping to dent these myths. To be perfectly honest with you, dear reader, I never set much stock in the supposed power of the president’s oratory. The fawning and adulation he received for it was more a commentary on how idiotic most American politicians sound than it was a compliment to the then-Senator’s powers of oral persuasion. Furthermore, how could you not be compared to Cicero when you’re being measured against George W. Bush?

Shown: A preview of the next Republican scare tactic; "Socialised Medicine turns ambulances into chess boards, just look at Britain!"
Shown: A preview of the next Republican scare tactic; "Socialised Medicine turns ambulances into chess boards, just look at Britain!"

But nowhere has the failure of President Obama’s oratory been more spectacular than in his attempts to sell healthcare reform. When trying to say that a public option wouldn’t hurt private health companies’ interests, he wound up insulting the Post Office (“UPS and FedEx are doing fine, it’s the Post Office that’s havin’ all the problems!”),  leading many conservatives to harp on him and say “a-ha! The Post Office is run by the government! Even Obama doesn’t believe his own socialist lies!”

When trying to deflect the nonsensical criticism over nonexistent “death panels” Obama should have said something to the effect of:

“That’s an absolute lie, that’s not in the bill. This terrible lie came out of a section of the bill many Republicans supported, which is about ‘end of life counselling’, which merely says if you’re on the public plan, we’ll pick up the tab for a consultation with a doctor about a loved one with a terminal illness. The final decision rests with *you* and will always be with you. Not me, nor anyone working for the government. It’s between you and your doctor. Period.”

~My fantasy Barack Obama

He didn’t. Why? I don’t know, I don’t consider that language to be especially elegant nor choked to the gills with ten dollar words. But it has the benefit of being concise and, most of all, accurate.

It also emphasises the fundamentally hands off role that government administered healthcare often plays, generally only providing the necessary funds from the tax pool and leaving all else to the doctors and patients. That’s another angle President Obama could be using but seems to consistently fail to avail himself of. I credit him for at least trying, though, and not turning into a ‘nowhere man’ a la the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, whose silence on many global matters is nigh on criminal.

Reform, or reform not. There is no death panel.
Reform, or reform not. There is no death panel. (This still counts as skirting)

But to reform healthcare in this country, one must do more than try. I will skirt around the obvious Yoda reference and merely say that there needs to be a hell of a lot more doing around here. We often hear that ‘words are not enough’ and that may be true, but what happens when you don’t even have words at all? The public needs to be told more of what specifically will be in the bill, what specifically a public option entails, as well as precise, detailed, point-by-point rebuttals of the many lies swarming the airwaves about healthcare reform.

We also need to start hammering away at the myths about the public sector and remind the people that we as a society still trust “the government” to have exclusive dominion over policing, firefighting, and national defence. Why have we made exceptions for things like healthcare? The truth is that we really haven’t made that exception, but the Big Lie about private sector efficiency has lead to us believing that the public health successes we have had are, somehow, not public.

About “death panels” Obama would also do well to remind the public that not only is such a thing not in the bill, but peoples’ lives are already being adjudicated upon by ‘private death panels’ in various health insurance corporations. I have a dear friend whose life is wasting away because of the dreaded ‘pre-existing condition’ she has, and there are millions more like her in this country. They’re victims of the death panels we already have. It’s high time our president said something to the effect of “this bill will eliminate the insurance companies’ death panels.”

President Obama needs to drive home these points. His speechmaking skills have long been over-hyped- he only ever looked good because the competition was so godawful- but he can still rally when he wants to. There’s no question he’s good enough at giving a speech when he puts his mind to it (see: his recent speech at the NAACP’s 100th birthday bash). He needs to put some wind in his sails for healthcare.

Stand and deliver, Barack.

Penney For Your Thoughts

So, I decided I’d take a holiday from the trans-politics for a bit as immersing one’s self in that for prolonged periods can leave one suffocating after a while, and then my writing just gets all like a sweaty squid trying to unhook a corset. Nobody wants that.

Thus I sit here with my nifty umbrella drink, maxing and relaxing, and along comes this load of bollocks in a sock.

[In the interest of full disclosure, 90% of my wardrobe is from JCPenney, for reasons that’ll become relevant in a moment.]

Let’s analyse this bit by bit using my usual restrained, sensible, and sobreminded reasoning.

“Why would this dowdy Middle American entity waddle into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops without even bothering to update its ancient Helvetica Light logo, which for anyone who grew up with the company is encrusted with decades of boring, even traumatically parental, associations?”

What the fuck is wrong with you, woman, seriously?

Ahem. Now to the reasoning part. Update its logo? Like, say, the New York Times and its logo? Which haven’t changed since, oh, around the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates? And what’s with this “Middle American entity” nonsense? Is it supposed to be? I never realised that.

What is Middle America, anyway, Tornado Alley? My understanding is that it’s supposed to refer to the Sarah Palin set who live in the exurbs but it’s hard to see what’s particularly “middle” about that in any sense. Finally I must cast the mote out of thine eye, Ms. Wilson: this may shock you but the Times and many other newspapers have “decades of boring, even traumatically parental associations.”

Now, you might wonder why I, particularly on the heels of my anti-capitalist rants of late, am going to bat for a major retailer. As is ever the case in such matters, it’s not the corporate overlords I’m defending. It’s more those of us who, by dint of economic circumstance, have to frequent places like Penney’s.

“A good 96 percent of the Penney’s inventory is made of polyester. The few clothing items that are made of cotton make a sincere point of being cotton and tell you earnestly about their 100-percent cottonness with faux-hand-scribbled labels so obviously on the Green bandwagon they practically spit pine cones.”

Well, Ms. Wilson, if you’d like there to be less polyester in my closet then kindly give me the extra money to shop at Nordstrom’s and Harrods… so I can promptly spend it on about a dozen things more important to me than clothing made out of God’s toejam and sequin silk.

I like to think most of what I have is stuff I can pull off fairly stylishly (in all the cartoony self portraits you see here- that’s clothing I actually own and wear). Polyester-ness not withstanding, they’re pretty nice and I’m gratified that I can get a whole bunch of awesome clothes for less than 50 dollars. Whereas, one skirt where Ms. Wilson likely shops? Well…  judge for yourself. Fashionable for that kind of moolah, ain’t it?

“— Liz & Co., an offshoot of Liz Claiborne, key provider of looks that say “I have been in a senior management position at this D.M.V. for 34 years.” “

The New York Times Fashion Column, a key provider of prose that says “I have had my head shoved up my ass for about 25 years.”

“AND herein lies the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy’s). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”

I never felt sorry for a mannequin before, but Ms. Wilson I thank you for giving me the experience!

For the record, I actually went to the store described in the article recently after my epic adventure at the downtown DMV. I got myself a pair of blouses I was very happy with. In the process I noticed no “obese mannequins” and while I admit I wasn’t exactly checking the waist sizes of the inanimate dummies, I didn’t see any that appeared to above, maybe, size 8.

But if they do exist, then good on JCPenney. Overweight people deserve a shot at seeing how a particular outfit might look on them.

“This niche has been almost wholly neglected on our snobby, self-obsessed little island.”

I can’t imagine why people might think it’s snobby or self-obsessed…

Anyway, Ms. Wilson is right, there are no overweight people who live in Manhattan, nor are there parts of Manhattan that are, say, lower income or not populated by pricks. After all, if you’ve seen the area around the Empire State Building, you’ve seen all there is to see in Manhattan!

Sarcastic enough for you, ma’am?

The really bizarre thing about this is that many of the things I was criticising here were backhanded compliments building up to what amounted to a positive review of the store. But the incredibly snobbish, elitist attitude is exactly why I have no patience with the economically privileged.

Now if you put me in a JCPenney’s boardroom I’d probably have a jolly good time bitchslapping all of the chaps around the table for the malfeasance I’m sure they’re involved in at some level. But I need clothes. JCPenney is cheap and offers decent enough stuff for my business-casual style. Indeed, if I’m going to wear more than one blouse I have to shop at places like this. My budget wouldn’t support it otherwise. That’s not a sin.

If Ms. Wilson can afford better, fine. Good on her for earning enough money to piss away like that. But turning her nose up so publicly at where the “other half” must shop is a very tacky thing to do, to put it succinctly. In Europe and many other parts of the world, such overt arrogance in a public forum would be considered very uncouth and unbecoming. You do not flaunt wealth in these parts of the world, it is not polite.

Here, things are different. What was all that hogwash about the Times being liberal again?

The City of Cis

Cissexual Nuke

Endeavouring as ever to prove the veracity of the sentiment behind this journal’s title, reality dealt another interesting pinprick the other day. Apparently the trans-sphere exploded over a series of posts and comments made on Pam’s House Blend, a blog way more popular than this one and with more employees. This link is a very good place to start.

Another nuclear situation exploded in the blog-O’Sphere apropos us damn bitchy trans people and all our irritating talk about oppression and what not.

Apparently the terms “cissexual” and “cisgendered” are now offensive according to one professional gay man and Autumn Sandeen deigned to agree, fundamentally, with him and his ideological fellow-travelers in a very long blog post meant to rationalise the fundamentally fallacious idea- saying over and over that the term was “weaponised.” At first, I will admit, I wanted to empathise with her. But as I read her links and really absorbed the meaning behind her post, that was quickly replaced with the sort of solar plexus punch I wasn’t expecting from someone in the trans community.

Silly me.

As I absorbed what she was saying, I really began to take serious umbrage at it. She was handing away our ball to people who couldn’t care less about our struggle. Our verbal ball. The ball of equalising language. Sure, I’m straining a metaphor to death here, but it’s not even half the equal of Ms. Sandeen’s crime against language in this case. The terms cissexual and cisgendered are neutral terms used to (essentially) describe those who are not trans. There are complex exceptions but that’s just another reason we need these handy grey terms for any discussion about the issues trans people face. Why?

Well I’d sooner not say “normal people want to do x, y, and z” to me. That’s accepting a rather unpleasant first principle, that I am implicitly abnormal, and thus making it much harder for me to argue for my rights. Even the term ‘non-trans’ is a bit othering. Cis- terms level the playing field and decentre things in everyone’s favour.

The word is not meant to be insulting. Some folks didn’t get the memo, however.

“And one last wading into the deep:
For the record, I find cis- to be offensive. In general, I thought our community (I mean the whole LGBT rainbow here) uses terms that are acceptable to those being described. That is, we use the preferred gender of trans people, we call someone bi if they identify as bi, we don’t say tranny, etc.

So why is it okay for (some of) the trans community to call us cis-? If members of the trans community said “stop calling us trans, we find it offensive” would we here at PHB continue to say “trans”? I doubt it very much.

Why the lack of respect in the other direction?”

The problem with seductive arguments like this is precisely their succubus (or perhaps in this case, incubus)-like nature. They allure you with all of these other verbal sops to our dignity while fundamentally arguing to take back something that matters a great deal to us. A lexicon that allows us to fruitfully and fairly discuss our issues.

I wish I didn’t have to discuss oppression in my life or why it occurs. I wish I didn’t have to deal with the sort of nonsense that underlies crap like what I spoke about last time, the simple fact that by casting me as abnormal I cannot legally use the women’s bathroom in some places. But it’s there, and I do. I won’t stop using the terms cissexual and cisgendered to describe those who very often have the power, privilege, and authority to pretend I’m a paedophile or say that it’s “immoral” for me to change my passport’s gender marker.

This is all stuff Lane will never have to consider, and good on him. I don’t wish it on anyone. But you set me back a few unnecessary steps when you even try to redefine my language on terms that are favourable to your privilege. How would he feel if the Christian Right began a campaign to remove the term “heterosexual” from our discourse because they found it insulting? Would he simply roll over because a soccer mom from Missouri pleaded with him about how offensive it was to her? I somehow doubt it, don’t you?

If we divorce all these terms of their deepseated historical and political context and move to this wonderful, abstract plane of pure nothingness where only us and these words exist, maybe we can horsetrade and talk about offence on equal terms.

But look out the window, we’re not there, are we? We’re in a very real world where all of that context does matter and it does materially impact peoples’ lives. I have no authority to deny cis-people their rights, and my use of the term is heard by virtually no one except perhaps the people who read this blog which number 20 on a good day. I’m not wounding anyone with it, I’m not perpetuating a cycle of oppression with it, I’m not restraining people from living their lives as human beings because of it. As my good friend at Femmessay put it, even if I did say something meanspirited about cis people, it has no teeth whatsoever.

If I did happen to angrily declare Raaar, all cis people should be put to death. Fuck yo vagina! that’d be pretty hateful, stupid, and, yes, offensive. Because it’s a complete thought. Not, however, because of the term cis. I could’ve easily replaced that word with ‘brown haired people’ or ‘Sephardic Jews’ or ‘Blink 182 fans’ and the sentiment would’ve still been the same. The adjective, the descriptors, were not the offenders. The complete thought (putting them to death) is.

Yet even with those words, stinging as they are, hurt feelings are all people like Lane will ever have to grapple with in that department. When I feel the reverse, if someone were to say “all trans people should be put to death” I know that it’s not just hurt feelings I have to deal with. I have to also confront the reality that this sentiment is why I am legally restrained from adopting children, altering my birth certificate or social security info, why I can’t get certain jobs or live in certain parts of the country, why I might be restrained from even using the bathroom of my choice, why I might be regarded as a perv, or a paedo, or a freak, or a sin against nature. All of that is rolled up into those barbs. Whereas… what exactly is rolled up into “cis” other than its default, neutral, academic meaning? What does the occasional angry, thrashing insult of a trans person who might use that term in a rant do to ruin a cis person’s life, exactly?

What’s astounding about this post is that I feel like I’m giving a basic grammar lesson here, but it demonstrates how far behind trans people are in so many areas that even this can be easily denied to us when it suits the privilege of others. I’m having none of it. I will not abandon my use of these terms so callously and so easily as this:

To begin with, I’m giving up on the words cissexual and cisgender. I saw these as neutral terms, and now I see these are not. Thank you for your reasoned explanation as to why.And yeah, civil tone matters, and thinking in terms of broad communities matter. I see these as being more and more as important as time goes on.

One more MLK Jr. quote:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

For Ms. Sandeen to justify her betrayal with the words of Martin Luther King is even more stinging and unnecessary- and just a little ironic. Does she not seem to remember the fact that his speeches had to make mention of “white people” in ways both entreating and shaming? She might as well be saying that the words “White,” “Christian,” “Heterosexual,” or what have you are weaponised. That the onus of guilt is placed on us for merely using a term that academics responsibly use all the time to have a language to describe the various issues the trans community faces… that is irritating. For a transgendered person to do so is unconscionable.

Perhaps she thought she was doing it out of some misguided sense of fairness, perhaps she thought she was saying something meaningful, but what she did was give our ball away to the wrong people. To anyone who might be inclined to be as “accommodating” as Ms. Sandeen to those who really don’t care for us to begin with, let me quote George Carlin here:

“They don’t give a fuck about you. They don’t give a fuck about you! They don’t care about you! At all. At all. At all!”

I am not giving back the cis words. Language does belong to us all, which is precisely the same reason you cannot take it from me, and I will continue to use this terminology to assist me in talking about what matters when it’s relevant, as opposed to whatever appeasing constructions Ms. Sandeen decides to put together to please those who barely regard her existence. Because what she doesn’t seem to get is that it doesn’t matter whether you call them cissexual or zootsexual or zooblehsexual or wagga-waggasexual, the whole point is that some are miffed that language is putting them on an equal footing with us freaks. It’s not the word, it’s the idea that we’re in equal consideration that gets under these peoples’ skin.

If I am to be labeled an “angry bitch” for it, then so be it. I’ve cause to be angry. If it makes you uncomfortable, help do something about it, rather than blame me. For Ms. Sandeen to do this seems, to me, to forget the sacrifices made by trans people in the past, to claw ourselves the tiny bit of dirt we have today, like the fact that I can legally change my DMV ID’s gender without having had surgery. That tiny bit of dirt there? People died for that. Were raped for it. Had their killers and rapists go free because of it.

The cis terms are another clutch of soil that our bloodied hands have claimed for ourselves; the right to have de-centering language so we can talk about this stuff equitably.

If you think this is melodramatic, then look at the history of trans people, how hard won some of these rights are, just as the rights of other out-groups were clawed inch by bloody inch. I doubt Ms. Sandeen was thinking of this, and I know for certain that Lane and his set certainly gave not a thought to this, merely mouthing the words of tolerance to get to a fundamentally bigoted point: that he had no privilege to examine or consider.

Which is, of course, a privileged way of thinking. So, what do I want? Well, I’ll let Femmessay explicate:

“The point is not to give the gun over to the oppressed person — and it isn’t as though that could ever happen in any universe that doesn’t exist in your own head, and every transperson knows that, just like women know that we’ll never have a matriarchy — the point is to get rid of the guns. The prefix “cis” is one tiny step in the epically difficult process of removing the bullets from the cisprivileged gun.  It is not being loaded into their own gun — they don’t have one! — it is being thrown away in the hopes that maybe one day we can all sit at the table together and enjoy our relationships without the unspoken threats sitting between us.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

I do not wish to hurt or offend cis-people. I’m just trying to get my rights and be respected as just enough of a human being to, you know, use the bathroom without being considered a perv. Without having everything I do, even my most intimate and private moments, second guessed in a way no one else has to contend with.

For example, if you are a cis-woman and you, say, enjoy kinky sex, there might be a slight stigma attached to that in certain circles but no one questions your womanhood. If you like sexy underwear, that will not be questioned, and will in some cases be encouraged. If you like having dirty words hurled at you during sex, that’s just considered a kink. But if you’re a trans woman, suddenly you’re a male pervert for wanting all or any of those things and fetishising your womanhood.

When something that private, personal, and intimate is questioned and held aloft as proof of my non-personhood, something is terribly wrong in this society, and if I can’t say that that comes from cis privilege, then something is really wrong.

Because understanding that hurt isn’t easy, and it has to begin with language. Language is the concrete poured into oppression’s foundation. Eliminating it also begins with our tongues. I, for one, will not stop.

Neither should you, my brothers and sisters.

Invisible Woman

“This is a bill that begins to confuse the gender differences between men and women to the point of trying to allow men to use women’s restrooms, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children,” Tom Minnery, senior vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family Action, said… (Source.)

There are things that words often fail to describe adequately. My reaction to the above quote was one of those things. But I will take a good stab at explaining why this is wrong using my usual flawless logic.

First of all, the onus is on the Christian fundamentalists to demonstrate using anything other than tautological bullshit that gender-identity discrimination protection empowers sex offenders. I like to think of myself as a fair minded woman, willing to walk in another person’s shoes for a while (they’re probably less painful than heels for sure). But for the life of me, looking through the eyes of these Christian radicals I still can’t see what they see apropos paedophila. All I see is that they’re scared of me.

Again we return to the nuclear unicorn thing. I am again being portrayed as this deadly weapon that is an unmitigated threat to society, restrained only by a lack of laws recognising my dignity.

To address this directly, we all know that tragically women and children have been raped or assaulted in restrooms. Yet that’s exactly the point, the absence of pro-trans legislation hasn’t in any way restrained these monsters. If such legislation exists, exactly what loophole can they exploit to do something they’re legally unable to do now? If a man walks into a women’s bathroom and starts leering and groping, he’ll get arrested. Why? For sexual assault. This bill is not decriminalising rape, assault, or sexual harassment. It only ensures that I’m not discriminated at work because I’m a trans woman and that I can use the bathroom of my choice.

Why does this matter, asks the ignorant Christian rightist? Well this may shock you, quite a bit, so prepare to have your mind blown. I use the restroom to relieve myself. I go in there to pee and if I’m really desperate, take the occasional dump. I do not go in there to draw pentagrams on the floor in goat blood and sacrifice babies to our lord Beelzebub while groping various asses that may come my way.

This is quintessential othering. Here’s one more thought exercise: if they’re so concerned about sexual assault, why would they send me- a woman- who is dressed like a woman, looks like a woman, sounds like a woman, into a men’s bathroom? They’re not worried about the catcalling, questioning, groping or leering I might experience? But of course, this isn’t about protecting women or children, and as ever it is a mere smokescreen of incredibly acrid bullshit meant to make people hate us. Yesterday I said that as we are de-voiced we are tragically made all things to all people. Well, you can add ‘paedophile’ to the list of things Christians insist on believing about us.

The fact that it never occurs to these people that I might just want to use the bathroom to pee and wash my hands tells you how deeply ingrained their sense of us as this evil alien species is, and of course they view gays and lesbians in much the same way.

Logically speaking such laws do nothing to help sex offenders. This argument has been trotted out countless times and every time so-called liberal lawmakers do not get up to bat and beat this down; we’re just trannies, why risk their careers on us? But it’s a monumentally stupid and offensive argument. In New York City we have an ordinance that allows trans people to use the sex-segregated facilities of their choice. That’s brilliant. You may also have noticed no commensurate increase in bathroom rape here. That’s because no one can reasonably use those laws to get out of an assault charge. Why? Because the law isn’t about assault.

It’s about allowing me to use the restroom and dispose of my bodily waste.

But really it’s starting to get very tiring to hear these conservative arguments on an academic level just because they’re so old and repetitive. Really, what’s next?

“This is a bill that begins to undermine American energy independence by charging so-called polluters for their waste, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children.”

Or:

“This is a bill that will allow poor families to access healthcare for the first time and prevent people from being denied coverage, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children.”

Come up with something new, guys, seriously. Also, word of advice: Don’t talk about “the children” until you stop opposing things that actually help kids like Head Start and CHIP.

This particular brand of hate meshes very well with that of the malevolent forces in the psychiatric establishment who work tirelessly against the liberties of trans people by attempting to categorise us as disordered. Recently I took this piss out of Kenneth Zucker, the lead doctor at Toronto’s infamous Clarke Institute in Toronto, part of the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and with good reason. This man embodies the precise threat of transmisogyny to not just trans women, but women as a whole.

Dr. Zucker, seen here trying to melt his arch nemesis, Barbie, with his mind.
Dr. Zucker, seen here trying to melt his arch nemesis, Barbie, with his mind.

He is a staunch proponent of the idea that “men wanting to be women” are psychiatrically injured and need to be ‘cured’ of this malignancy. Time and time again trans women are at best aggressively questioned and at worst aggressively beaten for ‘wanting to be women’ because, as most men would wonder, why on Earth would anyone want to be a woman? They’re so… frilly and inferior.

Women as a whole must recognise this and take umbrage at it.

Furthermore it’s worth noting that he also enables a particularly stupid argument that a small minority of gay men love to indulge: “Failure to intervene increases the chances of transsexualism in adulthood, which Zucker considers a bad outcome. … Why put boys at risk for this when they can become gay men happy to be men?” This was written by J. Michael Bailey, a fellow traveler of Zucker’s who cannot believe that I am happy and empowered by being a woman despite the downstairs mixup.

But the point is, folks, I’m a lesbian. I’ll defend the rights of gay men to the death, but I’m not one of them. I’m part of the GLBT movement we all share, yes. But I am not a gay man. I’m a lesbian (trans)woman. That’s just how my cards fell. What does Zucker say to that? I should also add that I’m a very broad minded woman. It took a lot of introspection to get to where I am now and most important of all, self acceptance. Given everything that trans people have to endure and the stigmas we carry (see: what started this article) I cannot fathom that any real person who has gotten to this point is suppressing gay-ness to do something that is monumentally harder, more expensive, and more inviting of trouble on one’s house.

In short, if I truly was gay, and assuming all else about my mind and personality were equal, I’d have had no trouble accepting it.

I’m a woman and it’s as simple as that.

Why should I be ashamed of that or need to be cured of it? Why must I and my experience be made invisible because of it? That’s a worthwhile question for all women to consider.