Archive for May, 2012

May 29, 2012

that’s me in the corner, losing my religion: on transfundamentalism

part one: an introduction and some discussion on religion itself
i had one of those revelations yesterday when leaving a comment on the always-excellent Natalie Reed’s blog, which is hosted on freethought blogs, a site for atheist/skeptic blogs. now, i’m certainly skeptic yet religious, one of those balancing games which is typical in my life…i often believe that religion is meant as a blueprint for us to be good to each other but that it shouldn’t be absolute or considered part of someone’s social or moral character. i hate the degree to which religion has been used to hurt others, justify killing, etc…these are part and parcel of fundamentalism, the especially heinous end of religious practice where people put the concerns of the religion as interpreted by a few above the concerns of other human beings. this is where zealotry, holy war, and hatred come from.

i understand that you might have a different view of religion than i do. i consider it something that, like alcohol, can be good or evil but when it’s evil it often becomes linked to stupidity and violence. i know that many people have very strongly held beliefs about religion being what defines them or what they consider the scourge of the universe and i suggest you consider i come from neither position and that be respected. i was raised fundamentalist Christian, and tried to stick to that fundamentalism through and after transition as back when i dealt with it (though they’ve since changed their mind) they didn’t care if i just married a man and adopted 9000 little white children. of course, it turned out that i’m gay and that quickly put me at odds with the church in question and i was administratively removed for reasons strongly connected to my homosexuality.

part two: cis people force the creation of trans orthodoxy
it’s pretty simple: the demands of cis people for compliance from trans people, especially trans women, are what leads to the toxic orthodoxies that permeate the trans community. i’m not saying that trans people who do bad things are blameless, but i am saying that in behaving the way they do, they’re merely submitting to what cis people want us to do and demand from us. in other words, they’re doing the work of the kyriarchy, consciously or unconsciously. i want to remind y’all that while we should consciously resist kyriarchy, i do understand that people sometimes have trouble unlearning kyriarchical values, especially when they get in the position of enforcer for a smaller community and thus believe that this is how they’re supposed to act rather than question and destroy things which in turn oppresses them. in other words, the enforcer believes that their actions and their enforcing defends them from the kyriarchy when it merely holds kyriarchy’s rage in abeyance.  in other words, your complicity will not protect you on a permanent basis.

part three: like fundamentalists, subscribers to trans orthodoxies use code words 
if you grew up in a fundamentalist religion, or were familiar with one by contact, you know that there’s a lot of coded words used to express an opinion about a person which might not have the same meaning to someone outside that religion. an example of this comes from the religion i was raised in, something i used to be called…a lot: a sweet spirit, which is a nice way of saying that a girl is charming but slow and not particularly beautiful in the heteronormative manner that said religion encourages. a similar one is what people are considered to have: free agency, which we are assumed to be required to follow in order to remain in the good graces of this church, but also to remind us that the ability to make choices is fraught with risk and responsibility.

similarly, the “trans community” uses lots of code words. we talk about stealth, which originally meant a trans person who doesn’t have to mention their transness as part of their everyday life. this is a very privileged position and i will allocute to that i do occupy a position of my transness not being a daily issue…all my documentation matches me in gender and name and it’s not a daily issue in terms of gender presentation. the problem is that stealth has become a value judgment, often hooked up in heteronormative/cisnormative beauty standards, mandatory heterosexuality, and gender-normative presentation (femme for girls, butch for boys) and used as a weapon. like free agency it’s more about satisfying leaders than being your own person. for the record: i don’t care how you choose to live your life, just remember that the term stealth is deprecated because it’s got all this baggage attached to it.  similarly, there’s a number of terms trans women use to refer to the alleged masculinity of other trans women, and i know trans men i know who have complained of similar terms in their line…but that’s not my place…and then there’s how badly we treat genderqueers generally, which is sad.  anyways, i’d rather not give any of those terms any air time. these feel a lot like sweet spirit, because they’re designed to keep a person on a specific chain. they’re often directed at outliers who don’t fit for one reason or another…a trans woman who wears pants or presents as butch, or a trans guy who’s a total dandy (seriously, how can anyone not love a dandy?) and as a result the normative structure of these orthodoxies attacks these people, often for who they are.

part four: like fundamentalist religion, trans orthodoxies know many sects and factions
fundamentalists come in many stripes, faiths, and versions of common faiths. in short, there’s a lot of different kinds of religious fundamentalism. similarly, there’s a lot of different kinds of trans orthodoxy which work to exclude. there’s my old friends the Harry Benjamin Syndrome types…they probably don’t need an introduction since they fit a very specific and narrow mindset where they have decided that they and only they are somehow diseased in a way that causes them to need hormones to cure this disease…i mean, folks, isn’t that called BEING TRANS? basically, to be an HBSer, you have to be a femme, white, able-bodied, middle-class-or-better trans woman…the question is open if you have to be heterosexual or not, it seems controversial amongst that mindset. HBSers often claim people who don’t identify with them (they *love* laying claim to Lynn Conway) and it feels like invariably they pass judgment and find almost every trans woman wanting. we call this toxic girl hate where i come from. (i dunno, and none of my trans guy friends know, if there’s a male equivalent to or version of HBSer. if there is, gentlemen, please accept my most sincere apologies.

there’s the True Transsexuals, who used to go by “classical transsexuals” (you’re into Stravinsky? omg me too!) who claim that transsexualism is a “birth defect” and that they transition for identity reasons completely unrelated to sexual orientation. of course, they also then insist that you must be heterosexual…also, last i checked this screams shrilly over the fact that many trans women have identity issues and don’t merely transition because of sexual orientation…but why do they care if someone does? i’m not listening to a pile of homophobes whine about internalized transphobia. again, you have to be femme, able-bodied, and probably in a relationship with a guy beforehand for the True Transsexual ideal to apply, and…you know what, folks? i just don’t even know. the amount of judging the True Transsexuals do is pretty close to obsessive and i often wonder, much like the HBSers, how anyone lives up to their standards. also don’t ever tell these folks they’re under the “transgender umbrella” or you’ll deal with lashing out the likes of which makes me think of some scenes from Aliens. the True Transsexual is only found in trans woman form, and they often say horrible things about trans guys that led to trans men being excluded from trans spacer and being forced to form their own groups…the True Transsexual mindset dismisses trans men altogether, which is so gross i could say “gross” 144 times.

there’s the support group mindset, a situation like the one locally where there is absolute control of resources and social space for trans people. the situation in my city is by no means unique, but it makes it a very hard place to be a trans person who doesn’t conform with an ultra-femme, able-bodied, moneyed, white ideal. are you noticing a theme here? generally in a support group there are certain distinctive features that make it a lot like an independent “nondenominational” fundamentalist church: obsession with collecting “mandatory donations”, a small flock of trans women who get to pass judgment on newcomers, strictly enforced standards of gendered dress, and, of course, some random person who’s in charge because they decided they’re important. this is the facilitator, whose ability to set the tone of a meeting and decide who should be treated with respect and without…they come awfully close to a preacher, don’t they? anyways, the flock is kept manageable and the support group itself uses its vast power over resources to make sure you have to come to their trough if you want to be trans or work without knowing where it’s safe to go. the support group mindset often only develops in places where support groups hold a lot of power and keep all their information close to the vest, where, in other words, the support group becomes a gatekeeper for trans people. in places where information is shared more freely and there is less resource scarcity, a support group sucking isn’t quite as severe a problem, yet the support group mentality seems not to form. it’s so ironic that it’s like a black fly in your chardonnay…in other words, not ironic at all, just Deeply Problematic.

finally, there’s idol worship, which many trans people vest on folks like Kate Bornstein, Dean $pade, and various others…remember when Riki Wilchins was en vogue? idol worship is bad because it comes with uncritical thought towards the fucked-up things these people stand for, from $pade’s consistent degendering of trans women of color who he speaks over and his generally shitty attitude towards trans women in general (though he seems to consider a few tokens to be okay…kinda like a country club that takes five Black members to go with 995 white ones and thus claim they’re not racist) to Bornstein’s self-appointment as “aunt” to all the trans community and consistent use of her own narrative as typical of all trans people, a tactic which talks over trans men in general and a lot of trans women and genderqueers who aren’t like her at all!  idols can be malignant and self-serving ($pade) or well-intentioned but ultimately harmful (Bornstein), but their true believers cannot be dissuaded in a manner which matches that of religious zealotry.  you can make your point over and over, but it’s like dealing with a missionary who sits next to you on the bus, because they will not be dissuaded by facts, logic, or pointing out the hypocrisy of these people.  if we are to flourish as trans people, we have to stop the idol worship…even if we had (and deserve) better idols than $pade and Bornstein, idol worship still sucks.

part five: apologetics and heretics 
i brought up true believers in the last paragraph, so perhaps we should move on to the issue of apologetics. if you’re not familiar with the Christian version of  “apologetic”, it means someone who defends the faith and also attempts to expose flaws in other faiths or people who choose to eschew religion altogether. trans apologetics defend their version of what it’s like to be trans against other trans people, ensuring that the brunt of their hatred is thrust at other trans people, rather than poking holes in the kyriarchy and its problems. the most egregious trans apologetics are people who know that the support group, their idol, etc. is Deeply Problematic but they defend it because they want to stay in the good graces of the group or hope that maybe their idol will toss them some favor someday. they’re often scared to stand up to the power structure for fear the power structure might cast them out and declare them lesser, too, even in private, out of fear that expressing any dissent even quietly will somehow get back to the powers that be. a lot of fundamentalist apologetics often are frightened of their own church and how they will be seen by God, even if that religious worldview does not provide for an omniscient God, so these behaviors go pretty much hand-in-hand. i remember someone apologizing profusely for how messed up the local support group was who became very afraid that i might tell *anyone* that she said that…of course later her conscience caught up with her and she decided to basically label me a heretic in public while apologizing again for doing the same privately but reminding me that she “had to.”

heretics, oh, heretics. i think the problem that people miss is that we are all, in some way, heretics. in some way, every human being is somehow imperfect by someone’s test. writing off the concerns of a trans woman excluded from a space as her being “bitter and angry” is basically stamping her a heretic. similarly, telling a trans guy that he shouldn’t complain that a support group is like 98% not guys is doing the same, and also really Not Okay to do…imagine how it feels to be one outlier in a room of 50 people? the labeling of people as heretics is part of how the trans orthodoxy works to actively keep the orthodoxy sacrosanct. it’s much like how fundamentalist sects toss people out…call them unbelievers, call them heretics, but most of all, remind them of their place and make them go away until such a time as they are willing to conform to the orthodoxy. of course, i remember being a gay kid in a church with no room for gay kids…there is no way i could fit the orthodoxy. i am not going to wake up tomorrow white, able-bodied, or possessed of money…there is no way i can fit these orthodoxies. it feels exactly the same…here is this group of people, and the rules say you’re not allowed, erica. erica the heretic, it even kind of has a ring to it.

part six, and conclusion: transfundamentalism
the “trans community” as we know it is not a community at all. it’s a patchwork where sometimes you luck out and sometimes you don’t, and certain voices, bodies, and experiences are kept out at all costs if you don’t luck out. transition too young or too old? nope. transition outside the trans-industrial complex? heretic. butch trans woman? call her “it”, that’ll learn her! (yes this actually happened to me) trans guy who doesn’t want surgery? police his life choices. trans woman who doesn’t want surgery? claim they’re not really transsexual!  genderqueer? (insert like the 9500 ways the community fails genderqueers here). when the community goes to its worst four poles, detailed above, the tactics used by these orthodoxies are indistinguishable from fundamentalist religious practice and thus constitute transfundamentalism, an ugly package of leaders, followers, and apologetics which ultimately seek to tear other trans people apart as part of what looks like a holy war rather than question why they’re obeying these commands and demonizing their trans brothers, sisters, and siblings for some illusory concept of safety and inclusion.

transfundamentalism inherently defends and upholds the kyriarchy, because that’s all it is. to be free as people who are oppressed, as trans people are, we must overturn the kyriarchy. if you’re a transfundamentalist, examine why obedience to a power structure matters more to you than your fellow human beings, as that’s exactly what fundamentalism is. it establishes that there are “these people” and “those people” rather than to focus on how we are all connected. if you’re friends with transfundamentalists, encourage them to question the power structures they uphold, work for, and support through work or money. remind them that idol worship doesn’t do a damn thing about the struggle for freedom. if you’re neither, know the signs of transfundamentalism and watch out for them pervading your support groups, social spaces, classrooms, and homes. remember that resisting transfundamentalism can be a daily struggle.

to be free, equal, and respected, we must smash transfundamentalism.

May 25, 2012

the ‘trans community’, trans women of color, and the ‘you deserve it’ mentality

trigger warning: a lot about violence and probably some more swearing than usual. also you should probably go read Monica Maldonado’s excellent “Erasing Trans Women of Colour The Easy Way” as her piece says different things with the same basic thrust.

i started out writing this post about what happens when you get ditched off hormones for three years and the good/bad matrix of what happens when you get back on, as, of course, this is completely Not Discussed. i’ll get there sooner or later but it’s gotten thrown to the back burner because i had One of Those Revelations, namely around the idea advanced by the “trans community” that some people seem to deserve bring treated in certain ways and how it might seem innocent at first but it leads to the frame of mind that considers some of us to be so disposable that we end up nothing more than fodder for Remembering Your Dead.

what got me kicked off of hormones? the informed consent clinic that i’d been going to for hormones and basic health care alike closed. the woman who was in charge apparently absconded with the funds and ran away to Las Vegas, which ewas really depressing since they were the primary outlet for trans woman-inclusive care that was willing to take new patents in this city. they were a friendly, supportive place for women to get medical care generally, and a lot of us who are low-income and female had been thrown into the lurch by their closing. anyways, i mail-ordered for a while, but mail-order sometimes gets intercepted by Customs, and, well, it happened twice and the second time i got the notice that if you do this again, we’re going to prosecute.

so i tried the three private doctors who see trans women around here and struck out. one didn’t like that i wasn’t feminine enough, one badgered me about my weight (of course, having no hormones in your system only makes you fatter), and one wanted to list me as male on my paperwork, which is kind of a shitty solution seeing as that i’m not male. she claimed she did that for all her trans patients and nobody ever objected. so i tried a couple of doctors who allegedly work with trans women in neighboring cities; one was aggressive about wanting to see my junk, which is really not okay (i mean, hi, i’ve obviously already transitioned…looking at my junk won’t change that i need hormones and why should i be showing it to you when you’re not even gonna do a pap?) and the other didn’t like that i wasn’t heterosexual…it was a little more than just “didn’t like” but this post is too long-winded already.

reaching out to ask for information led to the first example i’d seen of “you deserve it.” i got harangued for having let this happen. i gave up for a bit, came back a couple of years later, and ran into the “you’re lying”/”you must be somehow flawed because doctors would never do this”/”it’s just hormones it can’t be that important” bullshit that defined the beginning of my willingness to fight back against this mindset. it’s all they can do, you see, is decide that people who aren’t situated the same as them deserve it. now, it’s harmless, just someone’s words? sure, if that’s all it is…but it’s much more than just that.

see, “you deserve it” translates into micromanagement of the lives of other trans people. it translates into the reality that there’s a very small core group of trans people who believe they deserve the power to decide whose concerns are and aren’t valid. unfortunately, many other people defend any decision that small core group makes…they’re like an army working on behalf of their commanders, and they follow along out of fear or out of not thinking. this army knows how to shout down any concern with the People In Charge (call them “angry and bitter”, claim they’re lying, obfuscate the facts with a wall of opinion) and they keep the core group protected and safe. by doing the will of the People In Charge, you become as evil as their agenda once you’ve had it pointed out to you and you don’t question it. playing nice with oppressive institutions always turns out the same way every time: your safety is temporary and can be revoked at any time no matter how nice you play, and you know it.

the scariest part is that when i brought up the problematic nature of the support group in these parts, what i was seeking was, you know, someone who’d just keep the flak off me if i were to go, not looking for friends or anything, just someone willing to stand up to the people who make it suck or at least keep the People In Charge and their hateful, bullshit “passing tips” away. for some reason, nobody volunteered. i think that says a whole lot about how the “trans community” works…you wouldn’t want to be seen as *responsible* for letting someone who isn’t good enough into the circle, would you? fear is a powerful, strong motivator and it’s used to keep the plebes in line…if *that one* isn’t good enough to be allowed, what would happen if you spoke up? what would happen if you expressed difference? what would happen if you mentioned that the emperor had no clothes? you might end up like *it*. (because, after all, calling me “it” reminds me of my place, right?)

i feel like this mentality builds into the idea that there are acceptable deaths in the eyes of the “trans community”. after all, Remembering Your Dead requires a nice long list of names to read each year to maintain its atmosphere at what looks like the see and be seen event for Caucasian trans people every damn year. Remembering Your Dead always comes with a mess of pronoun fuckups and flubbed names (seriously, people, how hard is “Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar” to get right?) and it’s just beyond frustrating. of course, when you point this out to the people behind it, you run into the same wall of denial because “nobody else heard that, and nobody knows who you are anyways.”  yes, direct quote. i think that if you asked the “trans community” nobody there knew who Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar was either, until she ended up murdered, and then suddenly they noticed. as trans women of color, we’re acceptable losses when we’re alive but we matter when we’re dead.  there’s so many of these examples that it’s beyond gross…Gwen Araujo, (Victoria) Carmen White, Amanda Milan, Erika Keels…misgendered in the news, ignored by the cops, and fucked over by the world, and all that the “trans community” cares about is a name they’re gonna screw up. ps: if you didn’t know how to say “Gonzalez-Andujar” right, you coulda looked it up.

i always kind of rage quietly and angrily when i get to read about another dead trans woman of color because i know damn well that the people in our community who profit off this won’t be far behind like vultures to rip apart the corpse. we’ll get a well-intentioned but ultimately poorly executed article or two about violence, a pile of misgendering (and yes, when you say “born male” about a trans woman, you’re fucking misgendering us…just like using an old/dead name), and probably a free side of racism and transmisogyny working together somewhere in the article. the journalist is almost always white, they’re pretty uniformly cis, and though people misunderstand journalists as members of the ruling class (they’re not, have you seen what it pays in the trenches?), journalists often use their position of personal power and privilege to assume everyone else reads from the same perspective and sees a dead trans woman of color as someone else/something else entirely. i read the paper, and i don’t see the epidemic of violence against trans women of color as an external issue. and, oh yeah, what you see in the paper? that’s just what gets reported. how many acts of violence go unreported because of shame or how fucking awful the cops are?

thus, the solution is twofold: one, we need the “trans community” to stop being an exclusive treehouse for some. i’ve made this point before, others have made this point before, and it’s possible your mom has made this point before, and in at least two cases, someone i know’s mother HAS indeed made this point before. it’s old business, and it keeps coming up for a reason: the fact that people keep  acting in ways that perpetuate this power structure is Deeply Problematic, and when nobody questions why this same core group of people gets to exercise their vendetta against people who aren’t the same as them even when it keeps happening, people are enabling that behavior and sinking to that level, which is quite honestly pretty gross. two, the idea that acceptable human losses exist needs to be confronted. from “you don’t deserve hormones” to Erika Keels’s broken body in the street being run over by a waste of humanity who was never fucking charged with a crime though he ran her over four times, this mentality has got to change because it’s killing people, whether quickly or slowly. the acceptable losses, you’ll start noticing, are almost always trans women of color, disabled people, people whose appearance doesn’t match certain expectations…and we all know damn well why it is and that shit needs to stop. Caucasian folks, able-bodieds, etc: time to step your game up and start asking hard questions about things like this. if you’re doing so, great. if you’re making excuses for the power structure, time to stop. if you’re carrying water for the power structure, it’s time to throw that water on the ground and stop making excuses for why you’re doing it. and if you’re the power structure…your days on top are numbered and it might behoove you to clean out your treehouse because you know what happens to treehouses built without permits…they get demolished. we’ve asked nicely and you slammed the door in our face, over and over…

May 19, 2012

my cunt, or “none of your beeswax”

trigger warning: talks a lot about genitals, and a little about gendered violence so if you’re squeamish you ought to read something else…

as trans women so much about our bodies is rendered public property (have you had the surgery? what surgeon did you go to? the surgery the surgery the surgery!) and so little about us is allowed to be ours. many of us who must choose general nondisclosure for survival know well how differently people react toward many things about your body when you’ve disclosed being trans.

it’s the age-old tool of patriarchal body policing of women (her ass is just too big for those shorts! oh god her breasts are uneven! why are her eyes puffy?) with an exciting new opportunity to micromanage your genitals. the worst part is that sometimes knowing someone’s operative status leads to lots of questions (who cares how deep it is?) and the reprehensible suggestion that someone having surgery makes them a “real man” or a “real woman” and all that rot. i feel reduced by much of this to being 90% cunt, 10% Erica, and i don’t like that.

i say we need to stop…because in the end, that’s all patriarchal society reduces women to. (you’re a cunt!)

when we give in to the pressure to let genitals define us, we give in to patriarchal society. it’s time to stop genital policing. do it for our trans sisters, brothers, and siblings who can’t afford/haven’t been funded for/can’t have/don’t want/aren’t comfortable with genital surgery. do it for people who have had genital surgery and deserve something better than to be badgered about it. do it for people who had genital surgery but consider it an imperfect solution. do it for our cis allies (and even not-allies) who have a crotch that isn’t exactly what they want in life, whether because of genital mutilation or because of injury…a surprising number of burn victims, generally women, have damage in places where the sun don’t shine. do it because it’s your body and you deserve to be treated as a whole person no matter what’s in your unders and so does everyone else regardless of their gender, gender identity, or what have you. but do it to affirm that nobody’s body should be public property. 

May 18, 2012

the bitch/man conundrum

so while we’re on the topic of double-binds, let’s talk for a bit about one of the more disturbing ones because it’s as often used inside the “trans community” as outside and it really ends up having some pretty fucked-up results: the bitch/man conundrum, as i call it.

see, when you’re an assumed-cis female and you have independent thoughts that differentiate you from a doormat, to paraphrase Rebecca West and remove the messed-up part of that quote that denigrates sex workers, you often find yourself getting called a “bitch.” and, well, i am disturbingly meek and shy in person until i get to know and trust someone (and then i’m neither meek  nor shy at all), so it’s probably not the attitude i present with. i am far more of a baller on the internet, in other words.

the paradigm shifts a bit when you’ve disclosed being trans, you’re female, and you have independent thoughts that differentiate you from a doormat. see, this tends to shift things very rapidly from “bitch” to “man.” now, uh, listen, “man” is not an insult to someone who identifies as such, but at the same time, in case you missed the memo, i’m a trans woman, if you know me at all you know why it’s particularly laughable to call me a “man,” as even with some effort toward that goal i still can’t fake it as one for the life of me, at least in the eyes of others, but at the same time i know who is most likely to use that imprimatur: cis gays/lesbians who are deeply threatened by trans women, but most often, it’s used by other trans women.

alright, sometimes they use “it”, which is the more politically correct version of “man” in trans space. nevertheless, the reality is the same: statements which differentiate me from a doormat, which absent the knowledge that i’m trans, would merely get me called a “bitch”, instead magically transform me into a “man.”

i don’t like this conundrum, just in case you missed it. it’s binding, it’s frustrating, and it’s one of the tools in the toolbox of silencing that a lot of our “trans community” leaders seem to believe is reasonable to use. of course, you have to do it quietly, or use oblique angles of attack like that someone is “bitter and angry” and then in the next paragraph refer to how “men are bitter and angry”, but…it’s sort of like the social equivalent of what the little white children used to call “nigger-knocking.” you know, where you pound on the door of a Black person and run away. that’s all any of this is…it’s reminding someone that you find undesirable for a reason you can’t elucidate in polite company that they’re not supposed to be here because of that reason. naturally, you can’t actually say “nigger” to my face, but you sure can pound on the door, scream it, and run like hell.

we need to stop enabling the bitch/man thing within the “trans community” because it’s the only way we’re ever going to get cis people to stop doing it. we have to stand up and stop it all the time, every time. i don’t really care how much you don’t like someone, it’s never acceptable to call another trans woman “it” or refer to her as a man. ever. like, seriously, if we don’t knock it off, how can we ask the cis world to knock it off? i know that behind my back, it’s probably fun to mock my mental shortcomings and my weird features, but these are things you never would have paid attention to if you didn’t know i was trans, and the fact that you are paying attention to them once you know i am is pretty freakin’ reprehensible because it means you’re looking for markings, looking for differences which you can use to other someone and take away their gender identity…this is something that nobody does to cis people, but it’s pretty much a fact of daily life in the “trans community.”

now, of course, we’ve delved at length into the reasons why one is “undesirable” in the “trans community.” or, well, i’ve at least touched on the attempts at reason that the “trans community” provides, since i really don’t understand what part of dogma makes a legitimate case for the idea that you can’t be, say, a trans woman and disabled at the same time, but i don’t get the hater dogma to start with mostly because it’s primarily directed at anyone who doesn’t fit a specific narrow concept of what a “woman” is. at the risk of repeating myself, the definition of “woman” promulgated by the trans community has nothing to do with the definition of “woman” promulgated by Western society generally.  because of this, the “trans community” enforces such a narrow standard that most cis women wouldn’t actually fit it, and if you can’t see why this is problematic, you’re probably one of the people who thinks it’s funny to call me a “man” or “it” and make sure that i’m not allowed in your treehouse.

to which i say: we’re adults, grow the fuck up and get over your treehouse.

May 17, 2012

date of last menstrual period and if irregular:

many of us who are trans women live in a unique double-bind when it comes to basic medical care: this question on intake paperwork, which has a completely benign intent but ends up leading to the very bad decision: do you lie, or do you tell the truth and probably deal with problematic behavior?

i know why it has to be asked of womankind generally: it’s critical to know if someone is or isn’t pregnant before giving them medication for the condition they present with. it’s a bad idea to give a number of meds to a pregnant woman, or, god forbid, send her for x-rays. it’s not designed to block medical care for trans women, but the end result ends up being that it does, and there needs to be a better way to handle it because in many situations disclosure really isn’t necessary and  the danger to our health, person, and dignity is really unacceptable.

i’m sick of lying to appease people, especially people who should know better, and medical professionals, from the office staff to doctors, really ought to know better by now.  i know all the excuses, from Anne Lawrence to “we’re not familiar with…that, somebody else deals with that” to the reality that someone will either freak out and start yelling or alternately you get treated like a freak, asked improper questions, and probably misgendered by someone who would never have thought twice about you if you hadn’t said anything. it’s a bad scene because even if the doctor might be cool, a nurse or an office staffer might not; similarly, a nurse might be totally okay with it but the doctor themselves can’t discern you from Anne Lawrence and the results are expectedly horrible.

there is no special medical procedure involved in treating a trans person when they present with a sinus infection or a rash that would somehow differ from how you’d treat a cis person in the same situation. no matter how you try to throw in variables, there’s no magic difference between our bodies. yes, there can be a few minor differences, but estradiol does not somehow have a magic pull over the snot in your sinuses which causes your disease or disorder to be different.

i often end up getting much sicker because of this dichotomy. i live in a city where there are fairly few “trans-friendly” medical professionals (or at least there are fairly few who anyone will speak of publicly) and they generally focus on being dispensers of hormones and thus gatekeep your fitness for being seen by their practice that way, which is pretty much bullshit but such is life. for some reason, nobody has bothered to figure out the radical idea that a trans person (locally, specifically a trans woman, as there are a number of medical access options for trans guys that we don’t have) might need routine medical care, so it becomes a nasty waiting game: try to fake it without medical care, but have an established point where once you’re so sick, you go to the urgent care and forge your answers to this question (five days ago, haven’t had procreative sex since…you’re welcome), and then hate yourself for the next week and hope you don’t do anything stupid to yourself out of the self-loathing over lying, but at least the pneumonia won’t kill you, this time.

i’m not saying medicine shouldn’t ask this question…what i am saying is that you should probably have an option for “yes, i’m sure i’m not pregnant” while we’re at it. it would be helpful for cis women who don’t bleed, and most cis women don’t really want to talk about their menstrual cycle with some random doctor of the day who knows nothing about their body and cycle anyways, since, really, everyone’s so different and medicine really believes 28 days is normal, 28 days is absolute, and 28 days…well, guess what? it’s not, and it’s never been. it’s an average, a number which is designed to represent fictitious Average Fertile Cis Woman in her average stress-free life with her average (white) Toyota Camry who lives in Averageville, U.S.A. if you see a doctor for a while, they might get to figuring that out, but when it’s some random dude at the urgent care (and why are all the local urgent care doctors male, anyways?), it’s useless for a thousand reasons.

medicine, alas, is not a beast that is likely to embrace change. it’s stayed painfully white, cis, hetero, and male for a very long time, and this reality is much of what keeps it so hostile to trans people generally and trans women in specific.  i do not know how and why doctors form their opinion of trans women; i am quite aware that we’ve had our share of trans women who were doctors and behaved rather problematically in public, but it’s not like Joe Blow at the local urgent care knows any of these people, and besides, even if he did, one bad apple doesn’t mean we’re all like that, yet no matter what, medicine sticks rabidly to its fears and the worst-case scenario when it comes to trans people, especially when it comes to trans women.  somehow, at the end of the day, i think that’s my real problem: i can do all these things in life and yet i can’t manage to convince some random doctor that i am good enough to be treated like an actual human…i can’t convince them that i am any different from, well, Anne Lawrence.

…and you know what? that’s why this really sucks. we’re still considered freaks by medicine unless there’s some clear way to profit off of us, and then we’re good enough as long as we know our place, but don’t expect to be allowed luxuries like basic medical care or treatment for chronic conditions, because that’s just asking too much.

May 8, 2012

why i feel more at home with the cis dykes even if i’m not one

i know, and i must check my privilege up front here, that i am quite aware that passing privilege plays a huge role in this. for readers who might be less familiar with passing priv, let’s talk about that up front: it refers to the privilege of being generally assumed to be a cisgendered member of your gender of presentation. i can pass for a cis woman easily; i cannot pass for a cis man even with significant effort. though i am by no means a pinnacle of femininity, the world looks at me and goes “that’s a chick”, be it in a dress with my hair down or in  baggy boy clothes with my hair slicked back and my breasts bound. i recognize how much easier my invisiblity to almost all cis and most trans people alike makes my life and i’m willing to totally own that.

i have a second thing going in my favor that we don’t talk about as trans people and we need to: i have documentary privilege. my license has my awful but clearly female name on it, it says my sex is F and that i’m an inch taller and 20 pounds lighter than i really am. i have a passport which says i’m an American, that i’m female, and even has a decent picture of me in it. in other words, i have papers which aren’t going to out me and a lot of trans people, especially other trans women of color, don’t have this privilege. those of us who have it should not take it lightly and should never stop advocating for gender self-determination for all trans and genderqueer people, including the right to not define a gender.

golly, that was a long-winded intro. sorry about that! i don’t get to have a ton of privilege often so i had to make sure i checked myself right there. so here’s the deal: as a pretty dykey girl, i’ve had a pretty charmed experience with other lesbians. i’ve always run with the gay girls, from high school to today. i grew up a queer girl, i played sports and made out with girls and i found my first sense of belonging ever amongst these circles. i bitch about the local dyke bar and/or scene, just like all my dyke friends do, and i keep going back to that well. i have never actually moved in on the second date but i go to WNBA games (go Storm!) and go shake my butt when my friend is DJing at the local femaleish queerish dance night. i grew up a gay girl, lesbian, dyke, queer female, whatever… and that’s where i fit.

i do not see the dyke community as perfect, but like my extended family, i see more good than bad. in spite of the myth that all lesbians are huge transphobes, i’ve gone home with enough of them and had disclosure flow well enough that the successes far, far outweigh the failures. i’ve never had one of my dyke friends go running away when i told them i’m trans…i have not been as fortunate with the rest of the cisgender universe or even with other trans people!

i know that a lot of wadfems identify as lesbians and that wadfems say awful things about us and sometimes to awful things to us. they contribute to a pitched battle against basic rights for trans people, especially trans women, claiming that genital essentialism somehow contributes to the validity of your gender. now, i’ve been in a class with Jan Raymond and certainly debated her as much as someone who must remain assumed-cis could, and i’ll tell you that her thoughts towards trans women, like the thoughts of transphobic bigots like Julie Bindel, Cathy Brennan, and Germaine Greer border on genodical. they encourage the violence of forcing us to live in bodies we don’t belong in, in denying us the very self-empowerment they’ve taken for granted as cis people. the thing is, though: these dogma-spouting violent bigots are the fringe. they do not speak for all womankind, and the lesbian-identified ones don’t speak for all of dykey womankind.

in fact, let me put this out there: in ten years, all these fringe pseudoacademic transphobes, like non-academic transphobes like Dan Savage and every asshole who’s ever bashed, harassed, or hurt any of us, will be discredited. why? because they make so much noise about nothing and the more they stand on their head spitting nickels about OH NO TRANS PEOPLE the more they look like damn fools. they’re making a spectacle and they know they’re on the ropes. this is why Cathy Brennan has gone violent and harassing…she knows the sun is setting on the ability to be a virulent transphobe.

of course, passive-aggressive transphobia will still exist, just like passive-aggressive racism, ableism, fatphobia, classism, nativism, biphobia, homophobia, etc still exist. but it will be stupid little microaggressions that reveal to you what an asshole that person is (you’re on notice, asshat white Starbucks cashier by school who hands white people their money and puts it down on the counter for us PoCs…you are on notice, son) but as the sun sets on hate, the people bent on it often become most active.

so, trans girls/women who like the lady people? don’t be so afraid of your friendly local dyke community. i’m sure there will be people who are jerks, but at the same time there are jerks everywhere. and, you know, maybe there are some of us about and you don’t even know it.  there are many of us trans women who are lesbians who have had many happy relationships (and many not-so-happy relationships that have nothing to do with our gender identity but i’m not bitter) so don’t believe the hype the “trans community” often spreads and really, really don’t believe that a few wadfems reflect what all lesbians think.

May 4, 2012

neither deceptive nor pathetic but yourself instead

…so at the end of yesterday’s post i left off with a couple of thoughts, namely that compliance with the deceptive/pathetic tropes that cis people layer on us isn’t working for bringing us respect, rights, or inclusion, and moreover that the use of these two tropes as part of mandatory compliance results in the erasing of many trans women.

compliance isn’t working, and i’m going to say something some of you might find uncomfortable: our compliance, designed to curry favor with the expectations we have of cis people, isn’t what cis people want. like many trans women, my survival is generally predicated on passing, and  i walk amongst cis people all the time, assumed to be one of them.  i know a little something about how cis people perceive trans people, and i can tell you that what we fear in our heads isn’t always what they’re looking at.  sure, there are the phobic assholes, but i feel like Joe and Jane Average have their experiences colored by expectation and the constant “we’re just like you” that comes from our leaders reflects something that Monica Maldonado put far better than i ever could in her piece “Born This Way? Humbug.”  this is the reality that we are all different and that the people trying to claim we’re just like you (and the “you” is always cis people) are actually doing everyone a disservice, both in insulting the intelligence of the majority of cis people who don’t see trans women as monolithic and at the same time silencing the voices of trans women who don’t conform. in other words, i’m telling you that Joe and Jane Average know better than to believe everyone in one group is the same, and our “leaders” who promulgate this message are doing everyone a disservice in trying to portray us as a monolith. they’re holding us back and hurting us both internally and in the eyes of cis people alike, and, all apologies to Public Enemy, this is more than a disservice given the violence, discrimination, and repression that our people face: it’s a crime.

we go back to the “trans community” and see that it continues to feed on these tropes that cis people have created for us. in other words, by enforcing the idea that you have to be deceptive or relegate yourself to being pathetic, it crushes our self-expression. if you resign yourself to being “pathetic” you’ll never see yourself as beautiful, never put yourself first when you need to heal, never see yourself as being equal to a cis woman.  you’ll instead fall into the plan someone else has for your existence, talk down on yourself, sell yourself short, and despite having transitioned and taken agency over your body, you’re not being true to yourself or your self. the “pathetic” model speaks to a negative pathology created by the transphobic portion of cis society and by following this model you’re going slong with their plan for you. is it worth it to get acceptance in a support group or be invited into some trans-related social space? i really don’t think it is because it’s relegating who you are to a class that is lesser based on your fear that you are not good enough to be valid, that you are not good enough to stand up for who you are. as i said yesterday, if you think you’re a pathetic transsexual, you’re probably not pathetic at all. the approval of a few enforcers just isn’t worth sacrificing who you are.

and, well, the funny part is how similarly this crushes those of us who fit the “deceptive” trope. we often find ourselves fearful of how we are perceived, too. i know that i have fought a long and awful battle with perception because i know that all protestations aside, i’m nowhere near as ugly as i want you to believe, but i am not comfortable admitting this because i don’t want to feed the ‘deceptive’ thing. so i cover up, and hide, because that’s what’s comfortable in the moment. all i know how to do in life is cover up and hide, really.

which brings me to the intensely personal part of this blerg entry: as much as there are a lot of other medical/biological reasons my weight is screwed up (we’ll talk more about those shortly) i often wonder if i don’t fight harder with the size of my ass because i know this is some kind of protection and because though i am fat i manage to just clear the “grossly corpulent” bar, and the fact that i’m pretty shapely all told and can move my ass like nobody’s business often causes non-fatphobic people to forget that i am a “person of size.” i mean let’s speak some truth to power here: fatphobia is fucking gross and body policing is not okay but at the same time i idly wonder in places i don’t like to admit if some of my weight is me trying to protect myself.

i’m just not sure what i’m protecting myself from.

…but then again i’m still figuring out who i am. i know one thing for sure, though: i am neither deceptive or pathetic. i am Erica, but a pebble against the avalanche but a pebble nonetheless.

May 3, 2012

but what if i don’t want to be deceptive or pathetic?

so i’ve read maybe half of Whipping Girl, as school and life have precluded much pleasure reading and are both likely to do so for the foreseeable future. however, something that Julia Serano had to say was very noticeable for me: trans women as portrayed in the media are divided into two possibilities: the pathetic transsexual or the deceptive transsexual.  so what happens to those of who don’t fit these narratives? well, it seems pretty likely that we’ll be told we don’t belong, since we’re not playing by these proscribed and unquestioned rules. this helps keep those of us who are neither in isolation. i know Ms. Serano meant these tropes to be about media depictions of trans women, but they seem to actually translate into how we see ourselves in the real world. there are two very specific models which must be followed in trans space, and running afoul of these seems to mean that you won’t be allowed. why do we enforce these tropes ourselves? well, i think it’s because we don’t have anything better and because the people who end up in charge think they’re wonderful. i feel like the narratives that the community enforces only allow for these two possibilities and nothing else, and this is perhaps at the heart of the sense of not belonging that many of have in trans space and also helps keep us in separate camps so we can’t unite, organize, and speak truth to power.

i think a lot of trans women choose to follow the pathetic transsexual narrative because it lets you ascribe everything bad that happens to pervasive transphobia (and don’t get me wrong, transphobia is pervasive) and lets you blame your being miserable on being transsexual. big honking disclaimer: if this is the path you choose, that is okay. i understand swallowing a narrative to fit in and the problem is the narrative, the problem is not you. i just wish maybe you’d have more faith in yourself and your awesometude, okay? plus, by being pathetic you don’t challenge any of the people who have decided that they get to decide who is and isn’t allowed in trans space, and you thus establish yourself as a subject of their rule. and, listen, we’re all subjects to something now and then…the higher mind, Dancing with the “Stars”, Joss Whedon, you name it. of course, the problem is that a lot of people who fall into thinking they’re “pathetic” just aren’t. they fall into this because they see the archetype and they’re so programmed to be afraid of this archetype that they end up getting a case of negative-target fixation.

i get that the position as a cog in the machine is comfortable because i occupy this position in my daily life as a servant-class worker. just like my position as a worker bee puts me at the mercy of the queen bee, the position of choosing to be pathetic (even though you’re probably actually not) puts one in a position where the queen bees get to do things like provide creepy  “passing tips”, tell you everything that’s ‘wrong’ with you, and display disrespect to you for being trans, disrespect they wouldn’t dare show to a cis woman. allying yourself with the “pathetic” class keeps you from representing a threat to very easily threatened closed-minded people, like gatekeepers.  you deserve better, but i totally get and accept why you don’t rise up, though i’m hoping in the back of my mind you can be talked into it sooner or later. no trans woman is actually pathetic, okay? seriously, i mean it. if i could give you an appropriate fistbump or hug (i’m good with either) right now, i would. in fact, statistics point to a strong likelihood that you’re actually awesome and are indeed that when no social or medical gatekeepers are watching. 

and then there’s the deceptive transsexual, the creation of a world that just assumes people are cis. the deceptive transsexual has been framed harder than any woman since Eve and she doesn’t really deserve this title. technically, by the definition of the trope, i am a “deceptive transsexual”. i am quiet and shy about my trans identity in my daily life, because it changes how people see me, and because of this and a general lack of social privilege, i have to be quiet about being trans as a condition of survival. i’m not as pretty as the trope requires, but i’ve been told that my childlike demeanor and persona probably pushes me into the trope anyways. (think of Eli from Let the Right One In, except i don’t kill people, live in Sweden, or melt when entering a house unbidden) i hate this trope because it’s strictly a creation of cis people and their cis expectations of what a body is supposed to be made of. i hate this trope because it grates on me in situations where i really should be able to disclose and outside factors mean i can’t, so i have to lie and deal with how guilty that makes me feel. i’ve talked about it before, but to get through the transition gauntlet in the early 90s, i had to lie through my teeth. i like the boys! of course i want to be a princess! i think being a girl is awesome! sure, i used to play with dolls!

i’m terrified of dolls,  i’m actually pretty okay with being a girl but it just *is*, it’s not an “awesome” or not thing, i dress like a boy, and reparative therapy and worse couldn’t get me to like the boys, other than David Bowie (*swoon*), and none of these things had anything to do with my validity as a girl, but it did instill into my head that “Erica, you are a bad and deceptive person.” i used to leave my therapy appointments and on the way to the G bus back into Hartford, be tearing off every stupid frill i needed to wear to impress this stupid “gender therapist” in his posh office in Glastonbury, half the time ducking into the bathroom at Bruegger’s to shed whatever horrible getup i was wearing. i learned to hate myself for being trans on the forays to this “gender therapist”.  every ribbon in my hair, which he constantly bitched was “too short for a girl”, was a little bit more i died inside. every time i wore makeup to comply, i felt like i was betraying myself a little more.

we have to be “deceptive” to survive in many cases because  every trans woman is somehow going to end up “deceptive” under these rules. there’s this hilarious narrative that a post-transition trans woman who has had genital surgery can “fool” even her gynecologist. now, admittedly i’ve done a lot of amateur study of female genitalia, but there’s this thing that a surgically constructed/reconstructed vagina lacks that most vaginas have hanging out up top: this thing called a cervix. you know, the Republican Party has a really messed up interest in shoving an ultrasound wand up against it but they make sure your insurer doesn’t have to pay to keep it healthy otherwise? yeah, that. so, um, if your gynecologist can’t tell you have no cervix, chances are you have a really shitty gynecologist and should go find a new one. the same goes for that you can just go see any doctor for hormones since the magic power of the vulva will somehow fix this. me and my vulva are extremely disappointed that, guess what, this one’s bullshit too. these tales are fantasies, the trans female equivalent of old wives’ tales, except old wives’ tales often have a nugget of truth in them where these fictions are just that. before or after transition, if you want safe medical access, you have to go to a doctor who is willing to treat trans women, and given that this information is heavily gate kept and embargoed here, it’s a sign that once again the slingers of these old transwoman’s tales are the ones who retain control…you must come, be judged by us, and either adjudged compliant enough or good enough. now, i know i’m always going to be both in their eyes, so why bother with the rigged game?

we tell these stories and enforce these tropes because we’re basing our existence on the approval of cis people…we try to make ourselves harmless and invisible and enforce these tropes on each other because we believe that if we play by the rules imposed on us for long enough that maybe we’ll get thrown some table scraps. the problem is thus twofold: 1)compliance ain’t working, and 2)this steamrolls the identity of a lot of trans people, especially trans women, when there’s a mandatory compliance test. this compliance test is bad enough when cis gatekeepers do it but when it’s used as a test by other trans people, especially other trans women, it’s unacceptable.

this post got longer than i expected, so check back tomorrow (I HAVE BECOME ONE OF THOSE BLOGGERS, MUAHAHAHAHAHA) for more about the twofold problem above, as well as why maybe cis people don’t really want us to constantly seek their approval, too…

so, defenders of the cisarchy, both inside and outside the community,  let me close with the wisdom of Ani DiFranco again, because this is really how i feel about a lot of things in life:

no I don’t prefer obscurity
but I’m an idealistic girl
and I wouldn’t work for you
no matter what you paid
and I may not be able
to change the whole fucking world
but I could be the million
that you never made

May 1, 2012

trans-on-trans violence: i shouldn’t be saying this, but…

trigger warning: physical violence

i’ve been on the wrong end of physical violence for being trans once.

i can tell you where i was. i was on the N-Judah streetcar in San Francisco where it makes that jerky turn onto 9th…it was about 1 in the afternoon, a July day in a nameless year in the early 00s. i was in a two-seat at the end of the second car, and yes, i admit that i was holding hands with my partner and she might have pecked me on the cheek once. my friend L was sitting in front of us on the sideways-facing seats. we were giggling, being stupid as people in their early 20s are wont to be, and life was pretty good. i’d had a breast reduction after finals about four weeks hence, and i had healed enough that i could almost raise my arms above my shoulders!

i know it sounds cliché to say this, but i was happy. my partner randomly took me to San Francisco for a few days, since she had money and could do that sort of thing, and i hadn’t seen my friend L in forever. my breast reduction had reduced my chest from horrifying to reasonably cute and perky, and my weight was about as controlled as it’s ever been. i had an understanding source at my school’s health services office for medical care and though i was pretty much in denial things were otherwise fine. i’d been playing college soccer and had three great years with my team under my belt, and my mother actually managed to accept that it was okay for me to be gay if i had a rich partner, so my life might have been at its best point thus far.

and then, it all went to shit. an older trans woman, whose circumstances i know as little as possible about because of the anger i still possess toward her, apparently read me. it started with that icy stare, and i was a little bit scared, but i ignored it…and then at that second jerky turn she came running at me and stabbed me in my right breast screaming “disrespectful, disrespectful, disrespectful”. needless to say, since i’d just had a breast reduction and had nice slow-dissolving sutures keeping things together on the inside, there was a horrible tearing sound, since the blade went almost clear through my breast.

i’d like to tell you that everything was okay and that the cops were super. they weren’t, especially after she kept calling me “it” and “tranny” and the cops wanted to know what was in my pants more than they cared about the fact that my boob had been ripped apart. the Muni cops who were first on scene did not understand what a “breast reduction” was and why a transsexual would have one, of course believing her that i was one… and they assumed i had picked a fight with her even though eight witnesses said otherwise. i also wasn’t getting taken to the hospital which is kind of an issue when you’ve been stabbed. eventually a nice SFPD cop came by and she made sure i got to the hospital, putting me and my friends in her squad car and taking us over because “this is a clusterfuck, honey.”

i had the choice whether or not to press charges for assault…unfortunately, as my assailant was a self-appointed “transgender leader”, she used the threat of outing me to my college, as she now knew my name. she ended up being charged with some stupid minor misdemeanor about a weapon on Muni and paid a fine and did something like 3 days of community service. you want a case where impact on a victim is disproportionate? this is a good one, folks.

i had to have two surgeries to fix my compromised breast. i lost three weeks of work. i couldn’t even explain why i got attacked. and in the kicker to end it all, the “transgender leader” in question outed me to the dean of my undergrad school anyways. good thing she already knew i was trans…the letter claimed i was the aggressor. all this shit with Cathy Brennan outing trans people and then claiming they are the aggressor that’s been going down lately is actually completely redolent of this kind of abuse. it’s the ability to claim you have a moral high ground and that other person is disposable.

i crawled out of denial a year later, as my relationship was crumbling. i found a few people but that for the most part trans world didn’t think i was good enough. years later, i’m still living with the nightmares about what happened, but i’ve gone back to San Francisco, i’ve managed to crawl out from under the trans rock a little more, and i’ve been reminded that we’re more than things like this, so i will talk about it, and i will not accept shaming for speaking up about being on the wrong end of violence. after all, the story is written on my body every time i take my clothes off…my right breast is a little smaller than the left, and it has a nice nasty knife scar and is stitched up from underneath as they had to make a small but visible cut to successfully repair the damage. i’m never going to be okay with it, but slowly i am learning to figure out how to live with it the best that i can.

mostly, though, i wish i knew why i was “disrespectful” for existing.