Somebody asked a straightforward question about whether a trans person is their gender and suddenly the questioned no longer understands what “gender” is. Continue reading “Trans-ient amnesia”
We chose a theme today. You don’t keep in touch too often, but even if you had you might have missed the significance of that one so no harm done so far. This week, we crossed a significant hurdle in the progress of my divorce. My ex-husband and I had some tax debts that would have been more than complicated to resolve on account of his status as a non-resident alien. This year’s filing resolved that debt with my refund and gave me a little extra money to boot. We are now no longer impeded by the debt or the lack of funds that once stood in the way of serious wedding planning. So, we chose a theme.
We also chose a venue. We wrote a guest list. We’re making a budget. We’re working on a timeline. So if your hesitance to display enthusiasm was at all related to my legal marital status, I hope this clears up any reservations you may have had on Lauren’s behalf. I can assure you that the length of our engagement has had everything to do with raw numbers and nothing to do with any sort of indecision or unwillingness on either of our parts.
If your reaction to Lauren’s phone call today was fully a result of the above, you can disregard the rest of this correspondence and stop reading now, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe for a minute that you have – or at least, not honestly. Since forming a relationship with Lauren, my second-hand encounters with you have been littered with painful aggressions wrapped in cowardly excuses, casual blame shifting, and disingenuous denials. You have actively shielded your family and friends from the reality of Lauren’s gender and sexual orientation. You have continually expressed humiliation and unwillingness to prioritize your familial bond with Lauren above the meaningless, shallow social capital you’ve amassed in your little suburb.
If only you could see your words from an outside perspective – from the vantage point of somebody who just watched her partner disintegrate into tears as her mother offered to “skype in” to a wedding. What would you think of yourself, do you suppose? Are you the sort of person who is perfectly content to discard your family’s well-being for the sake of your reputation? Oh, who am I kidding. Of course you are. “Don’t tell grandpa.” That’s your favorite phrase, right? Or is it “I’m glad you live far away.” Well, I’m glad you live far away, too.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps you simply don’t possess the wherewithal, courage, or natural instincts with which most of us are endowed. Maybe you’re simply not capable of caring for people other than yourself. In which case, I’m sure you’ll understand that your presence is not welcome at our wedding. While your presence would certainly save on electricity bills, we’d much prefer an air conditioner for keeping our venue frosty.
Guest post by Heather McNamara
I had to smirk at the TV as Piers moaned about how vilified he was by “abusive” people on Twitter. Lauren and I didn’t say much to each other after Janet Mock appeared on Piers Morgan’s show last night. We griped a bit on Twitter about Piers’ gratuitous use of the word “boy” and constant interruptions just as Janet was about to lead the discussion away from her surgery. We rolled our eyes and gawked at Piers’ defensive and offensive tweets and we clicked the favorite button on some particularly humorous snipes in his direction, but there wasn’t much going on behind the laptops in our house. We held hands. I got the Kindle version of Janet’s book and we skimmed over the first few pages together and we got ready for bed with the quiet parallel understanding of the overwhelming and uncomfortably close mess forming in the media. We’ve been there before.
This past August, as Chelsea Manning received the verdict at the end of a highly publicized trial and subsequently revealed herself to the world as a woman, my family had some new challenges to face. Lauren had been called as a witness to the trial and, as a transgender woman herself with a tie to the case, found herself invited on several news networks for brief interviews on the subject of transgender issues in prison. For a while, our sons and I were squealing with delight and calling family and friends to brag whenever her face was on television or her voice on the radio. We were excited and proud.
But our adventure (yes, admittedly, primarily Lauren’s adventure) was not without a price. One of her interviews on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper aired on the television in the waiting room at the doctor’s office as I waited with my sons to get an ear infection checked out. At first I was excited that I’d get the opportunity to watch the interview live though I was away from home, but my enthusiasm quickly turned to horror. My sons, who simply knew their stepmother as a “woman born with a boy body” watched as Jake Tapper described her as somebody who “used to be a gay man.” They listened as the other patients in the waiting room snickered and as their stepmother patiently attempted to explain Chelsea’s needs to somebody who insisted on calling her a man. Red-faced and near tears, I confronted the loudest and most obnoxious jerk in the waiting room who was, no surprise here, a masculine looking guy complete with beard, tattoos, and a shit-eating grin. “You think that’s fucking funny?” I asked him, my gaze hard.
“Yeah” he responded and continued laughing. The women at his flanks, apparently unrelated to him, joined in.
I had more choice words for him that I’d have let fly if I hadn’t been worried about being dropped as a patient from the one queer-friendly physician Lauren and I had grown to trust. I wrote about it when I got home and confronted Tapper on Twitter, pointing out that his disrespect of my partner’s gender was unacceptable to me. Tapper and I ended up speaking on the phone and after much defensiveness and belittling of my concerns, he asked me to write a letter to the “higher-ups” at CNN which he would pass on for me. I wrote that letter and it was reprinted and quoted and nothing changed. Lauren and I wrote an article together about our experiences attempting to enlighten Tapper and the CNN staff. We were quoted by trans people desperately hoping some sort of quotable would lead to an end to this hell, but nothing changed.
It was a difficult time for us as a family. More of my coworkers, friends, and even barely acknowledged acquaintances who did not previously know about Lauren’s transgender status were informed via television. When the buzz died off, this would be a vehicle to getting to know who my real friends were, but at the time, it was a dizzying experience of heightened awareness and distrust. I fielded more questions than I’d have liked about her gender, whether she’d had surgery, and what this meant about my sexual orientation.
These questions, as they often do, came from people who had neither the knowledge nor the vocabularies to process the real answers. Awkward, over-simplified half-truths were my replies. “Surgery is a complicated question, but she has… medically transitioned” I would say instead of “she’s been on hormone replacement therapy for a little over a year, has completed a name change and could change her birth certificate in some states but not in others because we cannot currently afford the orchiectomy and…” you get the idea.
The week that Chelsea came out was a sickening one culminating in a lot more anxiety attacks than I usually have, some fights we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and some calls to a therapist who didn’t exactly specialize in anxiety but whom we could at least trust to know what a transgender person was and not suggest treatments based on not being that anymore. Count your blessings if you’ve never had to take that into account when searching for a therapist or physician.
Since then, there isn’t much to say to each other when this sort of thing comes up. We know that when trans people get into the news, slimy little tendrils of ignorance will squirm into our lives and we’ll find ourselves answering more basic questions with oversimplifications. We’ll have to explain what bigender is to our friends and why asking Carmen Carrera about her genitals is inappropriate. We’ll have to explain why Leto’s performance on Dallas Buyers Club did not amuse us. We’ll feel overwhelmed by the thousands leaping to his defense because at times like this it seems like everyone in the whole world can identify with the person erasing our experiences, lives, and years of carefully crafted confidence and nobody can seem to learn from or identify with us. We’ll know, as they sneer at us in reply, their faces blank and uncaring, that they’re thinking the same words Piers said on his Twitter account last night.
We’re not alone. Though not much can approach the impact on our lives of the Chelsea Manning controversy, our internet social circles lit up with activity as Piers Morgan dug his heels in with tweets about how “dimwitted” his accusers were. Trans people all over the world consoled one another by talking about how shitty this is, by bickering with one another about what should have happened, and by developing minimum criteria for an acceptable apology that will never come. We reach out to each other through crowds of ignorance and exhaustive attempts at teaching the uninitiated and we surround ourselves in the cocoon of each other.
When Piers went back on his show tonight he argued with Janet about how he’s fairly sure that since he called her pretty and didn’t refer to her as “he,” he did all that he really needed to do. He didn’t know that his colleague Jake Tapper went through this with us only a few months ago because he didn’t bother to pay attention. He didn’t see anything wrong with confronting Janet over and over again about her surgery in spite of what just happened with Katie Couric. He stubbornly continued to refer to Janet as having once been a man because that is the only way he cares to understand us.
Thousands and thousands of people who tuned in will also feel that in spite of the disproportionately high homelessness, murder, rape, and suicide odds that trans people face, they too shouldn’t have to do more than call Janet “pretty.” The poor arguments and ignorant bloviating they’ve learned from listening to Piers and his even more ignorant panel of assholes will seep into our lives and come out of the mouths of coworkers, the Facebook statuses of friends, the mouths of our sons’ peers, and the conversations at family gatherings.
Concepts like “essentialism,” “dysphoria,” “misgendering,” “identity erasure,” and “tone policing” fly over their blissful cisgender heads as surely as the words that describe them. Our oversimplified half answers: “I was born a boy” were thrown back in our faces as they are whenever we ask for a bit of understanding, and often with, as Ben Ferguson said in his sick response: “science says you were born a boy.” Our lessons, patiently given, were used as weapons against us.
And, you know, Piers Morgan was “vilified.”
Guest post by Heather McNamara
To whom it may concern:
My name is Heather McNamara. My fiancée, Lauren McNamara, was a confidante of Chelsea Manning’s and testified in her trial. As such, Lauren was recently interviewed by Jake Tapper on The Lead and will be appearing again tomorrow morning on New Day Saturday.
During Lauren’s interview on The Lead, Mr. Tapper explained that CNN would be referring to Chelsea Manning by her former name Bradley and using male pronouns until such a time as her name is officially changed and her physical transition process has begun. NPR made similar decisions, and it is my understanding that this has led to some backlash from transgender people concerned that this is disrespectful of Chelsea Manning and her gender.
Mr. Tapper explained to me that CNN is interested in being sensitive to the LGBT community and certainly intended no harm, but that it is difficult to understand the needs of a largely invisible minority and what constitutes respect. I believe that CNN has the LGBT community’s best interests in mind, and it is my hope that I can assist in shedding some light on some simple strategies for demonstrating respect to trans people.
While trans identities can seem difficult to understand at first, it can actually be made quite simple. Mr. Tapper expressed to me that it may be confusing for CNN’s audience to comprehend an abrupt change from two years of news coverage as Bradley Manning to Chelsea Manning. There’s nothing disrespectful about being confused by a sudden name change. It may assist viewers’ understanding to refer to her as “Chelsea” and add the caveat “formerly known as Bradley Manning” while people continue to learn her new name. This proclamation and clarification will remove the necessity of continuing to refer to Chelsea as “he” and “him.”
Where further questions arrive, it can sometimes be helpful to imagine replacing words associated with gender with words associated with sexual orientation to determine whether a statement or policy would be offensive. For example: Mr. Tapper said that Lauren was “once a gay man.” Although gay people may have gone through a time in their lives where they formed heterosexual relationships before coming out, they are no less gay for having done so. Ellen DeGeneres went to prom with a boy, but it would be disrespectful to refer to her as once having been a straight woman.
The societal understanding is that there is so much pressure on gay people to be straight or keep it secret that it is difficult for them to understand their identities and be open about them immediately. The same is true for trans people. Chelsea has not changed. The only thing that has changed is that she is now presenting outwardly as the person she has always been within. Further, we prefer “trans” or “transgender” to be used as adjectives rather than nouns. “A gay” would be bad form, and so would “a trans.” “A lesbian” continues to be the only exception to this rule.
Waiting for Chelsea to achieve a legal name change and physical transition, including hormone treatment and possible surgery, is unnecessary and inhumane. The military currently refuses to treat transgender people with hormone replacement therapy and/or surgery. In any case, that line is arbitrary. There is good reason that trans people consider coming out to be the only step necessary to command respect of their genders.
At what point would her hormone replacement be considered sufficient? When a blood test showed her testosterone as sufficiently repressed? Or not until surgery? Only one in five trans women get sex reassignment surgery, and even fewer trans men – only one in 26. The surgery is prohibitively expensive and can lead to complications. At what point would she be considered to be presenting as a woman? When she wears make-up and dresses? And if I wear pants and no make-up, am I therefore presenting as a man? Would it then be acceptable to call me “he?” I hope you can understand that, under scrutiny, it becomes significantly more confusing to deny a trans person’s gender than to accept it.
As Lauren mentioned on Mr. Tapper’s show, 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Social ostracism and denial of agency can and do seriously harm people. CNN’s anchors’ word choice will make a difference in how the public understands and discusses transgender people. Setting an example of respect and dignity will change the lives of trans people everywhere for the better.
CNN would not be alone. In fact, if these changes are not made, CNN may be left in the dust. Since speaking with Mr. Tapper this afternoon, MSNBC, Slate, Huffington Post, and NPR have all agreed to refer to Chelsea by her chosen name and female pronouns. It’s too late to take the lead, but it’s not too late to catch up.
Thank you for your consideration.
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.
Guest post by Heather McNamara
10:00 a.m.: fiancee Lauren McNamara texts me at work that she will be doing some interviews on CNN today about Chelsea Manning, who came out this morning.
10:00:01 a.m.: I tell everyone within earshot that my famous awesome beautiful amazing brilliant genius girlfriend is going to be on television.
12:30 p.m.: Lunch time. I tell some other people. My friends hide faces/walk away embarrassed that I’m admitting out loud to people outside of our circle of trust that my girlfriend is trans.
1:00p.m.-3:00p.m.: television at office plays Chelsea Manning story on loop; news anchors asking “hard-hitting” questions like whether those poor taxpayers might have to pay for Chelsea’s medical care.
4:10 p.m.: at doctor’s office with sons. CNN plays on TV. Lauren, my children’s stepmom, comes on TV. Two people in the waiting room snort and laugh. I ask if they think transgender people are funny. They laugh and stare at their laps. One of them says “Yeah.” I reply “assholes.”
4:11 p.m.: CNN news anchor continually calls Chelsea “he” and “him” and postulates that Lauren, too, was “once a gay man.”
5:00 p.m.: Arrive home. Cousin’s wife on Facebook has posted a status about how horrifying it is that her daughter has to share a bathroom with “a confused boy” at school. No really. I am not making this up.
6:00 p.m.: I call my counselor for a session.
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.
Guest post by Heather McNamara
In my Women’s literature class, all of the books we read had ecofeminist themes. Obviously I got an A. I know. I can’t help it.
Even though the class is over, it got me thinking about ecofeminism. I read a few articles about it and the widest criticism I can find is that the narrative is typically centered around white women. In case there are a few 101s in the audience, I’ll briefly explain why this is a problem. While obviously white women have legitimate feminist agendas,when white women dominate the narratives, the concerns of people of color are at best ignored and at worst willfully invalidated. More on this in a minute. So, when I went to the library to get a book about ecofeminism, I intentionally overlooked the eight volumes that appeared to center mostly on white women’s concerns and went straight for the one book that had chapters about colonialism and women of color. Simply titled “Ecofeminism,” I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Chapter two, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework” on account of the name of the author, Andy Smith.
Generally speaking, when I want to read about anticolonialism, I don’t want to read it from the perspective of somebody who shares a name with some of the most notorious English colonizers. I prefer to hear from those who have personal experience. Andrea Lee Smith is a Cherokee feminist scholar and not a white man as her name suggests. Silly me. She has written a whole lot of awesome books that I now have to read. That being said, I soon found Andy actually had quite a lot of interesting stuff to teach, and I wanted to share them with you. Below are some selected quotes:
The Inuit of Canada reported that NATO war exercises had been wreaking environmental havoc where they live. The 8,000 low-level flights that had already taken place over Inuit land had created so much noise from sonic booms that it had disrupted the wildlife and impaired the hearing of the Inuit. Furthermore, oil falling from the jets had poisoned the water supply.
The Shoshone reported that low-level flying also takes place over their land. One man was killed when his horse threw him because it was frightened by the noise of the jets. They reported that the flying had been scheduled to take place over the cattle range until the Humane Society interceded, saying this would be inhumane treatment of the cattle. Consequently, the war exercises were redirected to take place over Indian people instead.
Wow, way to go Humane Society.
In the interest of being brief and not just quoting an entire chapter on my blog, I’ll just let you know that what we learn next is that waste dumping on Native land, since it’s not “American land” does not need to meet the same EPA requirements. Because of this, it’s cheaper and therefore preferable for some unscrupulous companies to dump their waste on native land and cause miscarriage, cancer, and birth defects.
Now, here’s where we learn about exactly how racist white-centered feminism is:
The inability to fully embrace an anticolonialist ideology is the major stumbling block in developing alliances between Native people and members of the mainstream environmental movement and the feminist movement.
For instance, in “Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism,” Michael Zimmerman argues in favor of eradicating the dualism between humans and nature. “only by recognizing that humanity is no more, but also no less, important than all other things on earth can we learn to dwell on the planet within limits that would allow other species to flourish” However, deep ecologists and other environmental theorists are often not consistent in applying this theory in practice. For instance, sentiments that have been expressed in Earth First! Journal include that “the AIDS virus may be Gaia’s tailor-made answer to human overpopulation” and that famine should take its course in Africa to stem overpopulation. Such sentiments reinforce, rather than negate the duality between humans and nature, because they imply that humans are not part of nature and that their destruction would not also mean environmental destruction… In addition, it is noteworthy that the people that are targeted as expendable (victims of AIDS and Africans in the foregoing example) are people of color or Third World people who have the least institutional power or access to resources in society… To even make such a comment indicates that one has to be in a fairly privileged position in society where one is not faced with death on a regular basis. It also assumes that all people are equally responsible for massive environmental destruction, rather than facing the fact that it is people in positions of institutional power who are killing the earth and the people who are more marginalized to further their economic interests. It is racist and imperialist to look at the people who are dying now from environmental degradation (generally people of color and poor people) and say that it is a good thing that the earth is cleansing itself.
All emphasis mine. So in other words, all that crap that you hear about overpopulation killing the planet and all this disease being a perfect cure for it? Sorry to burst your bubble, but allowing the deaths of millions of poor and marginalized or those in developing countries is not going to bring the earth back to balance. It’s not Gaia undoing the damage. It IS the damage. Removing poor and indigenous people is the least efficient way to save the earth.
It’s a slightly pricey book but your local library may have it. Just follow the link I’m not doing MLA citations outside of school.
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.
Guest post by Heather McNamara
I wish I had been surprised last night when the verdict came through Not Guilty, but I wasn’t. The last time I was surprised was 13 months ago, when I learned that not only had George Zimmerman not been arrested immediately, but he’d managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from his supporters.
In the several days after Trayvon Martin was shot to death, several of my subordinates were late to work. At the office where I was working at the time, most of my subordinates were people of color. At my level, it was about half white, half PoC. All of my superiors were white. Most of my subordinates lived in Sanford. The protests were clogging up the streets and messing with the traffic and bus routes, and so they were having a hard time getting to work on time. The white people in the office were having a grand old time discussing their thoughts and opinions on the protests (everyone is too worked up!) and their various thoughts on possible terrible outcomes (what if this means no more stand your ground law?!). The people of color in the office said nothing. Their faces generally remained stony and quietly resentful as they worked hard for the pittance my superiors paid them. I stayed silent, embarrassed and afraid for my livelihood.
I lived in Simi Valley, California when the Rodney King verdict came through. Simi Valley is a primarily wasp/latin@ city about a fifty minute drive north of where the riots took place. In spite of the fact that the rioters were generally not chartering buses and driving up to our little town to mess things up, we had a curfew. Police enforced the in-at-dusk emergency rule. Our field trip was cancelled on account of several of the jurors had been from Simi Valley and the school decided that if we drove even a mile south with “SIMI VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT” printed all over the side of our bus, we’d be moving targets. Nothing happened to Simi Valley. Nonetheless, several months later, there was a KKK protest against… what? I don’t know what. The existence of people who aren’t them, I suppose. They left advertising fliers at my daycare. My mom was disgusted when she saw them. We weren’t there for much longer.
As a child who had experienced a curfew following the Rodney King verdict, and the rage of the California black communities at the O.J. Simpson trial, I took righteous indignation for granted. I assumed that any time some blatant example of racism occurred, I could count on people of color to get pissed off and take to the streets. Of course I also took the existence of racist people for granted, but in my juvenile interpretation of things, I thought the sides seemed evenly matched.
When I was 28 years old, I realized I was gay. It was then that my eyes were opened to complacency – not just my complacency, but the complacency of all marginalized groups. I was very suddenly aware of the ways that people delude themselves into thinking they’re not bigoted, that they just hold some justifiable opinion or another about this or that marginalized group. It was impossible for me to ignore the incredibly sad fact that sometimes marginalized people believe those opinions, and that sometimes they’ll be so desperate for approval that they’ll assist in justifying them. It took more introspection and bravery than I’d ever before mustered to overcome my tendency to do the exact same thing. I’d been proud of blending in with straight people. I’d been uncomfortable in women’s locker rooms or bathrooms because I thought if they knew about me, they’d rightfully want me out of there. I’d been afraid to tell anyone that their intolerance of me was not the same as my intolerance of their intolerance.
A lot of my black facebook/twitter friends are saying things about how they hate white people, or white people suck, or they need to shut the fuck up. Part of me is uncomfortable when I see this. I think no, please, the hateful cannot hate on my behalf any more than I can refuse to hate on their behalf. I want to tell them how much I wish I had the power to fix this. But I know it isn’t about me. So, I tell my white facebook/twitter friends who are saying stupid bullshit about how the witnesses were inarticulate or about how they’d be afraid if they saw Trayvon in their neighborhood to shut the fuck up. I delete them. And once I dropped my knee-jerk defensiveness in response to my black friends’ rage, I realized that I took comfort in it. I was empowered by their lack of complacency. Somehow, the world seems to make more sense.
The prosecution claimed that this crime wasn’t about race. It was. But even if it wasn’t, even if we could prove conclusively somehow that George Zimmerman really was only afraid of hoodies or there’d been a rash of Skittles-wielding burglars in his town, the outcome of this trial was about race. The defense team was funded by thousands upon thousands of people who could easily imagine themselves in the same position – so afraid of a black teenager that they would do the unthinkable and end his life. It was funded by people who imagine their fear as so justifiable, so logical, so worthy of respect that literally any heinous response to this worry is okay. It was funded by gun nuts who don’t give a shit how scared anyone else is when they wear their guns in plain sight at the grocery store, but truly believe that anyone who scares them deserves to die. George Zimmerman is free because he had their money.
Some people who read this are going to consider their racism more seriously than they had before. They’re going to do so because they’ll see my picture and notice that my skin is fairly pale and that I therefore have nothing to gain by speaking out against racism. They’ll think that I am therefore unbiased. They will dismiss similar words from people of color because they’ll see bias the same way the anti-gay bigots saw bias when Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional by a gay judge. I don’t know what it’s like to experience racism, but I know a little bit about bigots. I know they’re not creative. I know they have self-centered morality. I know they think they’re good people. I know they have warped definitions of what it means to be a good person. And I know that when they do the unthinkable, they will have the support of thousands upon thousands of bigots who will spend any amount of money to prove to themselves that they’re not bigots. I know that they will look at the money they spent and imagine it’s proof that they’re really the victims. And I hate them.
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.
Guest post by Heather McNamara
So, who’s heard of Julie Burchill and her “censored” article?
Coming to the defense of her maligned feminist friend, columnist and author Julie Burchill wrote an article about trans women. Apparently, her friend Suzanne Moore’s latest article contained a faux pas. In Burchill’s words:
She wrote that, amongst other things, women were angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”.
At best, this is simply a poorly constructed byproduct of the aged-out argument that idealized beauties are expected to be voluptuous in ways white women can’t achieve (Brazilian!) and skinny in a way that cis women can’t achieve (transsexual!) simultaneously. It juxtaposes the hyperfeminized (big boobs!) and masculinized (skinny hips!) to demonstrate the absurdity and impossibility of beauty ideals.
It’s aged out because modern feminists can generally agree that however rare these body types are, shaming the women who possess them as plastic and/or masculinized is just repackaging the same old worms. Moore’s statement was poorly thought out. It was also a microaggression. It was clearly not intended to upset or dismiss transsexual people, but to make a cheap and thoughtless argument. The problem was that she completely disregarded trans people in doing so. She decided that their opinions or their audience was not worth acknowledging and that their identities were therefore free and available to use as a brazen and absurd example of what not to be.
Not surprisingly, some trans people didn’t like this. Moore was apparently harassed quite a bit on Twitter and felt forced to delete her account. Julie Burchill to the “rescue!” I won’t bother going into the specifics of the article, because it’s all ugly. There’s some stuff about bed-wetting and bad wigs and a hilariously sophomoric display of Burchill’s feeble grasp of How Words Work. For example:
having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff
Why but Burchill rhymes with Churchill, so if I call her Burchill, am I calling her a wrinkly old white guy who hates Lady Astor? What an idiot.
It was originally published in The Observer, but the editor didn’t take long to realize their mistake and took it down. Of course, any editor worth their salt wouldn’t have published it to begin with, but don’t tell that to Toby Young! Why he was so offended at this “censorship” that he chose to republish this snot on The Telegraph, proving that British and American conservatives have at least one thing in common: they really have no grasp of the concept of censorship at all.
But why did Burchill do this? To defend Moore’s honor? I once found myself in Moore’s position, and I can sympathize… almost.
Not too long after my marriage went downhill and my ex lost his main source of income in the flailing economy, I was forced to take a job – literally any job I could get. My skills and experience were pretty okay, but at every job I applied for, I was competing against literally hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in my area. It was taking forever and I had children to feed. I was about to get evicted. So, I took a job I wouldn’t otherwise take at a call center that hired anyone that came through the door: felons, addicts, anyone.
Every day after work, I would apply for more jobs, but for a while I was stuck there. Well, as anyone who has seen any of my videos on Zinnia’s channel or any of our live shows on BlogTV knows, I present in a fairly masculine manner. I stand well above average for a woman at 5’10”. I’m also very obviously a lesbian, and it didn’t take long for my coworkers to notice, but I am not trans. I do identify as a woman. As one of the few people at the office who didn’t show up to work on a lot of drugs every day, I was also fairly successful.
I worked my way up a rank fairly quickly and soon found myself on a level that very few women in that office ever achieved. My coworkers and bosses were all men. This privilege of being promoted, I was often told, had something to do with my “being one of the guys.” Never mind my performance, I guess. There were frequent jokes about how “manly” I was. They called me by my last name rather than my first. I think this was all meant as showing respect by defeminizing me. As a feminist, this was extremely offensive, but driven to feed my kids and not really in a position to hire a lawyer, I kept my mouth shut.
One day, we came to work and discussed the dress code. They were tightening it up, they said, and men would be required to wear collars and slacks. Somebody asked about women’s blouses. Could women wear shirts that didn’t have collars? Of course, they conceded. Women’s blouses are appropriate. I asked if I could wear shirts without collars. They said no. Somebody made a joke that I would look like a man in women’s clothing. I grimaced quietly.
So, along comes Halloween and there’s a costume contest at work. I thought it might be a good idea to up the ante, so to speak, on their crap. I put on one of my old dresses from back when I used to try to look femme. I did not shave my legs and had not in over a year at that point, so I let my fur fly. I also stuffed some tissue in my bra and put on some makeup to look like a five o’clock shadow and some chest hair. I wore a pink feather boa. I was a bad drag queen. My trans girlfriend thought this was hysterical. So did I.
I did not make much money. We rarely had enough to survive. In the absence of the resources to hire a lawyer and draw any real kind of line, I’d asserted my femininity and shone a spotlight on the absurdity and inappropriateness of my coworkers’ jokes. I felt liberated and empowered for the first time in a very, very long time. I carved a pumpkin with a feminism symbol on it and took a picture sans the boa, which was itchy by then. I posted it on reddit.
At first, the thread went fairly well. People thought it was funny. Then, somebody pointed out that this was transphobic. There was much anger. A trans woman who goes by the internet handle LifeInNeon wrote an essay about how offensive I was. This essay become quite popular. My inbox was filled with death threats and sundry vitriol. I was humiliated and exhausted. I responded defensively. Because this was an empowering statement of my gender during a time when I had very little to feel good about, I would not apologize.
The joke, as I attempted to explain to people, was that I looked like a man in a dress. But the way they saw it, I was mocking trans women as looking like men in dresses, simply by looking like a man in a dress. Individually, Zinnia and I managed to explain this to those who would be willing to listen. When I calmed down a bit, I apologized not for doing what I did, but for irresponsibly posting it without the very necessary context, thereby setting into motion the inevitable consequence of appearing to be another one of those transphobes, of which there are more than plenty.
Those who were willing to listen, LifeInNeon included, agreed that while I certainly could not have expected to be perceived as anything other than a transphobe, this was not bigotry and mostly a horrible mistake. I hold myself and no one else responsible for whatever offense I caused, and I hold the authors of the death threats and no one else responsible for their violent behavior. That’s the end of that.
Due to my experience, I have a unique understanding of what Suzanne Moore must have endured when her words went roaring through the trans activist circles online. People can be really awful. Over a year later, I still sometimes get replies to old reddit comments about how I’m a transphobe. People still post that picture whenever they disagree with me, their version of the ultimate ad hominem.
But however vitriolic and sometimes violent those who responded to me may have been, I would never resort to transphobia. I would never denigrate an entire group of people who are just trying to go about the business of living their lives and achieving the same amount of respect that even Moore and Burchill implicitly receive with crass, base insults about the genitalia of an entire group of people, most of whom probably have no idea who Moore even is.
Did Moore have to apologize to every single person who ever got offended or sent a rape or otherwise violent threat? No. Frankly, I’m not a fan of demanding remorse. Apologies taken are not the same as apologies given. But when you’re calling yourself a voice for equality and social justice, there are some basic rules that people will generally expect you to follow, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that, while you may mess up, and may not always practice what you preach, you at least have some kind of idea of what you’re preaching.
I wouldn’t say that I necessarily handled my personal debacle with the utmost of grace and dignity, but I can say with certainty that Burchill’s handling of Moore’s debacle was beyond the pale. Burchill claims she did this in the spirit of feminism, aggressively claiming women’s voices in a sea of men, in which she includes trans women. But what she’s demonstrated is that her version of feminism has less to do with equality of the sexes, and more to do with making sure sewage just rolls a little further downhill than herself. Armed with the same body-shaming, shallow insult tactics that have been used against women since the beginning of time, Burchill is nothing more than a common hypocrite, and would do well to remember that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
Meet Jody Allen Crowe. He’s on a mission to save the world one baby at a time. As the owner of a bar in Mankato, Minnesota, he happened upon a harrowing discovery: sometimes pregnant women drink! Jody’s done his research. Once he found out that pregnant women drink, he went on a mission to find out exactly how many pregnant women drink, how much they drink, and which women are doing the most drinking. Armed with this important information, he founded Healthy Brains for Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of a singular method of keeping pregnant women from drinking: putting pregnancy tests in bar bathrooms.
Because the zygote is self-contained, any alcohol in the bloodstream of the mother will not impact the embryo before the placenta is formed and delivering nutrients to the embryo… By placing pregnancy test dispensers in the women’s bathrooms in bars, gas stations, hotels, restaurants, fitness centers, etc., women will have a constant reminder to think before they take a drink of alcohol. They will be able to take a pregnancy test in the privacy of the restroom without having to purchase a pregnancy test over the counter at the drugstore or local big box stores. In a small community, purchasing a pregnancy test can be an embarrassing event and expose the woman to the gossip of the town. The advertisement on the dispenser reminds women to test each time they decide to have a drink of alcohol to ensure their child will be born with an alcohol-free fetal development.
The New York Times article about Crowe points out that pregnancy tests are among the most shoplifted products, citing a 16 and Pregnant star recently arrested for the same as an example. Of course, a 16-year-old girl with no job and a lot to lose is probably not whipping out her AmEx to buy a pregnancy test from a vending machine before dropping another benjamin or two on a night out at a wine bar, but I digress. Hilariously, the site further contends that a woman who has recently purchased a pregnancy test at a drug store must then “rush to find a bathroom.”
I’ve been pregnant a few times. I used to lead weekly discussions in a group of women on the topics of breastfeeding and fertility. We all purchased pregnancy tests at some point or another, and on precisely zero of these occasions that I was aware of did we then rush to find a public bathroom to test ourselves so that we could get on with the business of eating sushi and getting shitfaced. Before you get started on me, yes, I am aware that my personal observations do not constitute a scientific study, but there are reasons we didn’t rush to public bathrooms. There are a lot of reasons. And there are even more reasons the business-savvy pregnancy test marketing brains haven’t ever done this before.
A woman who uses this vending machine is necessarily:
1. unaware of her pregnant or non-pregnant state
2. either at the bar already before she considers testing or too embarrassed to go to a drug store and buy one
3. in a room with a lot of other women
4. concerned deeply with the health of her Schroedinger’s fetus
5. not in a relationship wherein a pregnancy would be publicly acceptable
6. not planning a pregnancy
7. not concerned enough time in advance to buy one on the internet
Jody Allen Crowe has demonstrated a profound inability to understand women, not to mention child development. As this study found, moderate alcohol consumption in the first twelve weeks is not associated with negative outcomes, and there’s a reason for that. For all of Healthy Brains for Children’s balking at alcohol going through the placenta to the fetus, a placenta isn’t developed enough to begin transmitting much of anything at all to the fetus until it is nine weeks along, and not in portions enough to harm it until it is fully developed at the end of the first trimester.
In pregnancy speak, the weeks start counting from the first day of the last period, which is usually about two weeks before the fetus is conceived. Two weeks after conception is the expected period. That’s when you can have a positive pregnancy test. Eight weeks after that is three missed periods. Even if you’ve missed the morning sickness, cravings, and absent periods, by then you’re starting to show, and you’re probably even starting to feel the little bugger kick. That’s plenty of time for our pregnant mother to go on a handful of benders before her fetus is at all damaged.
So, what baby is Jody really saving? Jody is saving the baby that has been mistakenly conceived by a woman who does not want an abortion. She is mortified to go into a drug store but she is totally okay buying a test in a public bathroom full of strange women. She is twelve weeks pregnant or more and has not noticed. She wants to drink a whole lot tonight but wants to make sure that these two missed periods for which she’s been too humiliated to test don’t mean that she’s pregnant before she does so, and if she is, she’ll go home and start knitting booties instead. She wants to learn her fate in a bar bathroom stall and cry over a positive test there, with only the comfort of sharpie graffiti on the walls naming men at the bar who have sores on their dicks, and maybe the girl fighting with her boyfriend on her iPhone in the next stall. She would rather die than face the humiliation of going to a drug store and buying one, then testing at home, but she’s brave enough to face the world with her unwanted baby belly. Maybe she’ll throw a baby shower.
So that’s pretty unlikely, right? I mean if you’re going to start a business or start selling a product of some kind, you probably want a wider base of potential customers. And if you’re going to save the world, you’re probably going to want to start with a larger pool of save-able victims. Jody Allen Crowe’s crusade against fetal alcohol syndrome ultimately amounts to policing pregnant women. It is a crusade to make sure all women remember that, want it or not, they’re the bearers of the next generation and should not even think about selfishly enjoying themselves before they’ve done everything possible to protect the babies they might have some day. But not only that, he wants women to remember that they’re too stupid to do it on their own, because he can’t even imagine a single possible way to know whether you’re damaging a baby without constant reminders every time you have to take a piss that you might be pregnant. Jody didn’t bother to consider what women might already know or be capable of. In Jody’s mind, he’s pretty sure that he just saved the next generation of children from their stupid, bumbling moms. That’s some nice sexism, Jody.
Radical feminism is a platform for gender equality which includes, among other things, the belief that most gender is performed. As a radical feminist, I believe that gender roles are artificially created, that most dimorphism is affected rather than mandated by nature, and that the divide has been pushed beyond all reason to the express benefit of men. This is what we call the patriarchy.
One unfortunate aspect of this socialization is that society, through various messages including but not limited to role-modeling from peers and media, teaches young men that they are entitled to the hearts and minds of women, including but again not limited to domestic and sexual servitude. Women, no more fond of subjugation and servitude than men, become unfortunately prone to self-loathing and more fortunately prone to rebellion.
In the process of shaking ourselves loose the shackles of gendered expectations, different schools of feminism have emerged. Varying degrees of oppression are recognized, and socialized roles and appearances are sorted differently into categories of oppressive and benign. Radical feminism, as the name suggests, subscribes to the most severe criteria. Radical feminism is also unfortunately best known by queer communities as transphobic.
The rift between radical feminism and trans activism begins with the application of known oppressive phenomena to the analysis of trans presentation and activism. On the surface, it’s easy to see what their problem is. To the casual observer, trans women assert and express their womanhood physically and visually. They often wear feminine clothes, shave feminine areas, and insist on feminine names and pronouns. Trans men resist feminine obligations, much the way radical feminists do, but then also resist the designation of “woman.” In the eyes of transphobic radical feminists, the former too closely resembles role enforcement while the latter too closely resembles self-loathing.
If trans people and trans activists were at all interested in sending women at large back to the kitchen, entrenching them further into the sex class, or in the case of trans men, eliminating women altogether or otherwise gender-leveling up, the transphobic radical feminists might have a point. Inconveniently for them, this couldn’t be further from the case.
The patriarchy has the same persistent negative impact on trans women as it does cis women. Society tells them that they are more acceptable when they present in a feminine manner and worth less as a person when they fail to please the eye. The rigid physical standards applied to women cause trans women inordinate amounts of stress. The sex classing of women and requisite caste system of the class (more commonly known as varying degrees of fuckability, or even more commonly as a scale from 1 to 10) has inhumanely relegated trans women with a certain remaining organ to the undesirables. They are expected to be content with either fetishization or pity fucking, along with cis women of the overweight and differently abled varieties. This particular problem has recently been the birth of a massive online “cotton ceiling” debate. We’ll get back to that.
Let us first work on the premise that trans women are women and trans men are men. Of course without the validity of their genders decided upon, it’s easy enough for transphobes to make their arguments unchallenged. The most common radical feminist position on trans identities is that a post-patriarchal world would not require men to call themselves women to be feminine. They could just be feminine men; reverse that for trans men.
But this doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Society already does not require masculine women to call themselves men or feminine men to call themselves women. Furthermore, a post-patriarchal world – more specifically a post-gender role world – would necessarily have eliminated almost every trait that divides men from women. Things we think of as masculine or feminine would no longer be associated with men or women and would no longer even be recognizable as masculine or feminine. Masculinity and femininity would lose all meaning.
This is not a utopian fantasy. Many things have already lost masculine and feminine categorization. In my mother’s time, trumpet playing was masculine. In my grandmother’s time, making jokes was masculine. Today, neither of these activities are associated with gender. It is not possible to draw a line in this gender-blending at the physical. Perhaps the imaginations of older-generation feminists who grew up in far more oppressive environments than today’s feminists were unable to think as far ahead as, say, the thick-necked, slender-hipped, flat-chested physiques of the very feminine 2012 Olympic women’s gymnastics team, or the soft skin and round, well-developed breasts of a trans woman on HRT. Nonetheless, here we have it. The lines are being erased with the slow liberation of women and medical advancement.
If the contention of radical feminism is that neither behavior, nor presentation, nor physical appearance should make or break the difference between men and women, why draw the line at the word “man” or “woman?” The very words will become nonsensical and impossible to define. Sure, there will still be some natural hormonal division, but when people can safely, permanently, and completely alter these differences at will, why deny it? When women and men are socialized equally, what will anyone have lost? What will anyone have gained but the right to define themselves, the right for which radical feminists so arduously fight?
Back to the cotton ceiling debate, or really, any debate online between radical feminists and trans activists: Is a childhood of boy-designated socialization sometimes evident in arguments from trans women? Absolutely. To start with, they don’t question themselves, apologize for themselves, or wait for their turn to speak quite as often as cis women are taught to do from birth. Likewise, a childhood of girl-designated socialization is sometimes evident when trans men make arguments. It will be nice when girl-designated socialization and boy-designated socialization include a childhood where respect and assertiveness are taught equally, but though there has been progress, we’re not there yet.
However, there is no reason to make the leap from a sense of the way somebody was socialized as a child to their “true” gender. Like the wage gap, sex classing, and glass ceiling, all of which very much apply to trans people’s identities rather than their designated birth sex, these are simply the costs and benefits of the patriarchy. Like skirts, heels, trucks, and sports, they are no more reflective of the true identity of a trans person than they are a cis person.