Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Masculinity Paradigm

Our culture is a patriarchy. It has been this way for a very long time, and while women's rights have made leaps and bounds, from suffrage to the much more recent Lily Ledbetter fair pay act, equality seems closer and closer.

But the thing is, we still do have our roots in this male-dominated mindset. These roots have lead to more than just income inequality and women being unable to vote. Though those are more overt, and can be addressed directly through legislation, there is still a large issue present. Basically, what our culture considers to be masculine, is damaging, both to the men subjected to the cultural pressure, and to Gender and Sexual Minority(GSM) groups.

Now how is it that this is the case? Well, to begin, we need to examine masculinity and how it' is impacting males, because this is sort of the key to all these issues.

The traditional view of masculinity has many traits; for instance, men are expected to be stoic, emotionless. The only emotion that is acceptable to show is anger - other emotions, especially sadness - are signs of weakness. Men - "real men" - don't cry. Crying is a weak, pathetic act. It's womanly - women cry, women are weak. Men are better than that. Men are expected to be sexually ready at any turn, and to embrace any and all opportunities they get. Men are expected to be the assertive person in relationships, from the first time the guy asks her out, to their first, second, fifth time in bed together. If a man were to be passive - that's weak and emasculating, and unattractive. They need to be strong on their own, independent. They need to keep their troubles to themselves, because they can show no weakness. "Real" men want to have sex, and they want to have it often and with as many women as possible. But only women - because all the "masculine" logic falls apart if there's two men in the relationship.

The consequence here is that men are widely constrained emotionally, and physically. Men are expected to bottle up their sadness, their depression, they're expected to grin and bear situations which may require emotional support. They're required to be assertive, despite their personality or wishes to the contrary. There is a drastically limited scope of what a "masculine guy" is. And it's reinforced, both in the media, and in the social behavior of groups of guys. Teasing someone about their sexuality (for instance) in order to make them feel insecure in their own masculinity, as if that had any real bearing on how masculine they are.  Men are, consequently, emotionally chained, cornered. They're bombarded with messages about how they are to be emotionally, who they can be sexually interested in, and with how narrow the scope is, this leaves many men scrambling to reconcile the parts of them that don't fit the "masculine stereotype".  In many ways, the emotional constraints on men mirror the physical constraints on female beauty, where a limited scope is considered "acceptable".

Now that we have a grasp on masculinity, we can talk about the impact this has on GSM groups. As I mentioned before, a large portion of the masculine caricature I described earlier revolves around who it's acceptable to be attracted to. In the case of the masculine individual, the assumption is woman. The "man's man" is a womanizer. Now, bear in mind, not everyone is introspective to the levels required to understand that the social pressure is on them in this way, but it is. It's self evident from the way boys insult each other calling them "gay" or "a fag". The intent is to say "look at you, you like someone who it isn't acceptable to! You're not living up to the masculine image and are worthy of ridicule!" The insult here is an assault on the person's masculinity. Now, that's not to say that this alone is the culprit - but it sets the stage for far worse.

Because men are made to feel insecure about the possibility that they may not be 100% unequivocally into women, they will fight against that notion. Even if they may be partially bisexual, they are forced to bury that aspect of their selves because it will bring ridicule and questioning of their masculinity. This internal conflict and turmoil manifests itself in a number of ways, all damaging to GSM groups. For one, they are likely to engage in further behavior against homosexual men and transgender women. Because if they're insulting people and belittling them, then there's no way they could possibly be hypocritical and actually be that themselves, right?

  It's this repression that causes these negative reactions. It isn't simply limited to venomous insults, either. When a man finds out he's dating a transwoman, well, there's a reason for his negative reaction. Its often that he's more worried about his own image, both self and perceived. Because in his mind, no matter how cis she looks, no matter her level of femininity, some part of her is male, in his mind. This throws his own identity into turmoil. If he was dating her, he obviously liked her - but "part of her is male". But masculine men don't like guys. And what will his friends think? Even if he can come to terms with it himself, that doesn't mean his friends (I.E. those individuals on which he uses as a mirror, projecting himself and gauging their reactions to determine his own value) will accept it.

At this point, the confusion and lack of understanding (of self, of societal pressures, and of transsexual people) bubbles over and he may react violently. Again, the root cause of all of this is the culture which encourages such a narrow scope of what it is to be a man, cornering them emotionally. And what is it that a cornered animal does?

That same scope also leads to much transphobia. Because the unspoken assumption is that men are 'better' than women - stronger, faster, more aggressive (which is seen as a good thing). These traits are seen as masculine, and seen as stronger. When you read the traits, gentle, emotional, empathetic, caring - you don't get a picture of a guy, you get a picture of a girl. A guy being described as those things is seen as weak. This is why, in part, tomboys are accepted, but "sissy" boys are not. It's alright if a girl wants to "raise" her social standing by acting more boyish (so long as she remembers her place, of course!) but for a boy to want to act "like a girl", it's disgraceful.

So when you take someone who's trans, it throws a monkey wrench into that poisonous, ill-conceived logic. Because it only leaves a few options, and none of them are pleasant. Option A - The transwoman is really a guy, and she's being disgraceful and worthy of being insulted. Option B - some people are trans, and it's not up to them that they are that way, it's just how they are.

Option B is obviously the case in real life, but the problem is that to agree with that, they have to accept that masculinity is not just "the better of the two options". Because if it were, then a woman born with male body and privilege, well that would be a wonderful thing! Because obviously, men are better than women, so she shouldn't complain. And yet, she does - she wants those feminine things seen as "lower". This challenges their understanding of the world order, and thus results in poor reactions from people.

Now that's not to say women are immune to being negative towards GSM people too - but without the constraints of masculine emotional image weighing them down, they're less likely to be that way.

The key in all of these cases is that men are expected to live their life in an emotionally unsustainable way, with rules that run contrary to the reality of humanity. It is this masculinity paradigm that contributes to the continued oppression of GSM individuals. Though times are changing, and people are starting to shun the use of "gay" and "fag" as insults, I believe these underlying feelings of disgust will continue until masculinity is redefined, without so much pressure to conform to such a narrow scope, and with no pressure on who you're expected to love. Only when men are afforded emotional freedom to grow into their own persons free from the warping influence of cultural masculinity, will we see these underlying feelings towards the GSM communities subside.


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Time Machine Effect

Transition, as it is for most all of us, takes time. Going down the list of people you have to tell, actually telling those people of your plans, and what they mean. Beginning hormone therapy, switching mode of presentation, changing your name, both in practical use and legally. Correcting the people in your life, tirelessly, when they use the wrong pronoun, or your old name.

These processes take time. Eventually, at least in my case, I've reached a point where it's mostly behind me. My immediate family either refers to me correctly, or refuses to gender me at all. All of my friends know and I'm just Katie to them. Largely, I'm past transition in that regard. It's old news. It's just how I am and how I live. The norm, if you will.

But this leads to a very interesting thing which I'm dubbing the "Time Machine Effect". That is, when your life is going smoothly, everything is fine, then you have a family gathering of some sort to attend. Be it a family reunion, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other excuse to gather up members of your family whom you haven't seen in a year or better, these situations almost always seem to be the equivalent of stepping into a time machine with regards to transition.

Those who first come say such things as "Oh hi, [old name]!" to which I promptly correct them. At best, I get a scoff and a disgruntled, angry look. At worst, they smile, nod, with an infuriating air of "humoring me" - going out of their way to use my new name but putting obnoxious, special emphasis on it in as if to say "I'll use these words because you're here, and you WILL notice that I am using them, but as soon as you're out of earshot, I'll call you what I please".

Now that may seem contradictory, but there are members of my extended family who do, in fact, accept me. And for them it's just businesses as usual. "Hi Katie" - no special emphasis, nothing.

You also have members of your far-extended family who don't even recognize you. I was mistaken for my mother once at thanksgiving. Of course, you then get treated to members of your closer-yet-still-extended family who feel the need to say "Oh, that's [old name]!"

To maybe explain the effect more: I never, ever get gendered male anymore. It just doesn't happen. No conflict. "Hi I'm Katie" done and done. The aspects of how I was prior to transition appear less and less in my daily life. It creates a jarring shift when suddenly an entire group of people whom you're expected to visit and socialize with all behave like you never transitioned to begin with.

The situation is, in general, a total nightmare. I suspect that it may improve over a couple of years worth of family events, but I also consider that the downtime between events may be so long as to continue to foster their ignorance. In any case, I thought writing about this might give appropriate warning to those early in transition. Watch out for this - at the wrong time, it can really kill your self esteem.


(If you like my style of writing, and wish to see an idea or question you have elaborated upon by me, please leave it in the comments below. This blog thrives when there are questions asked, and is content starved when there are none. So please, ask away!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trans 101 - Presentation

Today I write this blog post as a preparation for speaking at an upcoming meeting of the local college's LGBT meeting. They asked me to speak on the topic of trans issues, and I of course accepted. So the following is, basically, my presentation for this meeting. Bear in mind - this is aimed at the lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the club, and so much of the writing will be formatted with that in mind.

"Transgender people need your help. We're a minority, even within LGBT, and we suffer a great deal of injustice in society today. We're denied medical care, ruthlessly discriminated against in housing, employment, and virtually any other way you can imagine. Even within the larger LGBT community, we're the first to have our protections removed from prospective bills and legislation, in the name of passing the protections for everyone else. The public doesn't understand us, and consequently, we're even further behind when it comes to basic rights, and simply being treated as human beings. The attempted suicide rate of transgender identifying people is 41%. That amount is positively staggering. Just shy of half of all transgender people have attempted suicide.

But there is good news, and that is that you can help. It's very simple - all you need to do is be educated on trans issues, and stand up for trans people when you see them being put down. Aka, be a trans ally.

It's easy to just say that, but what's it mean to be a trans ally? The first step is to understand some basic terms, and what they mean. This can help to clear up misconceptions when people have them, and will hopefully get you thinking a bit more on the topic.

Bear in mind, I am but a single transsexual woman, and while these are my opinions and observations, I cannot speak for all trans people all the time. Individuals are individuals, and they will likely not agree with me on every point.

To begin, lets start with one some of you probably haven't heard of - cisgender. The latin prefix cis means 'the same side', whereas trans means 'the other side'. cisgender is the antonym of transgender. This term is very important for the same reason that 'straight' is important - it's an equalizer. Prior to the term straight, straight was just "normal". Making gay what, abnormal? It's the same principle here. Many people are cisgender. Some people are transgender. But we're all people. This term, more so than any other, is one you need to learn to be a trans ally. It helps to get people thinking of trans people not as some foreign "other" but as just another sort of person.

Here's one I know most of you have never heard before - Trans misogyny. Trans misogyny is when you hold a transgender or transsexual person up to standards you wouldn't hold a cisgender person up to. For instance - I don't wear makeup much, if at all. I love video games with a passion. If a person were to say "You're not a -real- girl, you don't wear makeup and you love video games!" That is trans misogyny - I personally know cis girls who don't wear much makeup, and cis girls who regularly play and enjoy video games. They don't have their womanhood questioned over it, and neither should I.

Now onto some of the terms that get muddied together. Often I hear confusion on what these mean, and I'm going to try to clear this up for you.

Gender Dypshoria - the official diagnosis for someone who is transsexual - in a nutshell, it means you suffer depression, anxiety, and are generally unhappy as the gender commonly associated with your birth sex.

Transvestite - Trans means other side, vestite is a root for vestments, aka clothing. A transvestite is a term for a cisgender individual who crossdresses. Some people consider it offensive, and prefer just to be called a crossdresser.

Transsexual - An individual who suffers from / has suffered through gender dypshoria, Often, they seek medical or surgical intervention, therapy, and so on.

Transgender - An umbrella term encompassing most everything I've just mentioned. It's worth mentioning that many people misuse this term in some ways - to cover that briefly, transgender is an adjective. I am a transgender woman. I am a transgender person. I am not "a transgender". I am also not "transgendered" - that would imply it's something that happened to me.

Passing - For a transsexual person to pass, means they are not identified as trans - that is to say, for instance, a transsexual woman who passes, is read as a woman.

This would be a good time to make a note about passing. Passing doesn't mean "this person cannot be read as trans, at all, ever" it means "they don't get read as trans by the general, ignorant public who doesn't think about trans issues often enough to consider it". Likewise, it means even talking about these issues in public can be dangerous; it gets the people nearby thinking about it, which makes them more likely to scrutinize your friend, figuring out that they're trans. Our ability to pass is very fragile, so please bear that in mind when you're out and about with us.

While we're on the topic of terms, lets discuss some terms which are slurs. Knowing these - and more importantly, why they're so offensive - is a stepping stone to halting their use everywhere.

Tranny - This term is just not okay. It's derogatory in the same way many racial slurs are, shortening a single aspect of ourselves and using it label us. Furthermore, it's a term that is most commonly used by two groups - people shouting it as a slur, intending to demean and hurt us; and news outlets who haven't got the message that this term is not alright.

Trap - A term which gained popularity on the internet, referring to cisgender male crossdressers, and transgender women. This term is not alright because the implications are horrifically bad.

To unpack this term, at face value, the term assumes the  trans woman is "really a man" who is intending to deceive a man into gay sex. First - a trans woman is a woman, not a man. Second - the myth of deception - is a devastatingly untrue idea. There is nothing deceptive about a transsexual woman presenting as a woman. Second, if a straight male were to date a transsexual woman, he would still be straight. It's not some sort of mythical grey area - trans women are women. Third, this myth subjects us to all sorts of potential violence, because it perpetuates the idea that trans women are deceptive. Fourth - it looks at the motives of the trans woman as if she were a man. What this means is, it assumes the trans woman transitioned to 'trap' guys into sex. Because a trans woman is "really a guy" and guys only think about sex. Ergo, by this marvelously flawed logic, a trans woman is doing it for sex.

In short - 'trap' is a very, very bad term. Please don't use it.

Shemale - A term mostly used by the porn industry to refer to a male to female transsexual actress. Oftentimes used in ignorance by cisgender people who watch said porn. The reason why this is offensive should be fairly obvious - not all transsexual women do porn (Though many are forced into sex work because of rampant discrimination). Further, the name is derogatory - it pigeonholes trans women into an "other" category somewhere between the genders, which is not the case at all.

Now that we've covered most of the basic terms, we can cover etiquette - that is, how you should address or treat trans people. Let me preface this by saying - when in doubt, ask. Though most of these will apply fairly broadly, everyone is different, and some people buck trends. When in doubt, ask.

First and foremost, never, ever, ever out a person as trans. It does not matter how well you know the person you're telling, no matter how sure you are they'd be 'cool with it', it doesn't matter. Coming out as trans is an EXTREMELY PERSONAL decision that should be left up to the trans person to decide. People have all sorts of preconceived notions of what a trans person is supposed to be like, and having those stereotypes forced on us is bad. Doubly bad, is that even within accepting circles, there's an air that transsexuals aren't "really" their presented gender - even if they pass flawlessly. Giving up the information that someone is trans leads to them being treated differently. It's just not a good scenario.

More than just being treated differently, it can have other, very real consequences. If a person overhears that your friend is, lets say, a trans woman, and she has to use the restroom, she could be assaulted for simply trying to go to the restroom. Though she passes, giving up that vital information to the wrong party can result in her being barred from the restrooms, or worse, expected to to use the male toilets (which can be even more dangerous). In a worst case scenario, she may even face violence simply by virtue of being trans. Trans rights are far behind LGBT as a whole, and it makes it that much more dangerous for us to be identified as trans.

Pronouns use is one of the biggest ways you can show your support for a trans person. If a person is male to female, refer to them with feminine pronouns. It bears mentioning that this behavior should be universal - supporting them doesn't mean 'supporting them when they're within earshot". The same rules apply to their new name. Do consider, however, if they're not out, they may ask you to refrain from using them in certain scenarios (around family, etc). This is so they are not outed as trans.

Now, lets look at some questions which shouldn't be asked, or phrases which shouldn't be said. These are things commonly said or asked by cisgender people, which are really just not cool.

"What's your real name? / Whats your old name?" In the case of the former, it implies that their new name isn't real, which is very hurtful. In both cases, the answer is "none of your business". Our pasts are not something that you're entitled to information about, and many of us have bad memories of our old name, and our lives before transition. And on top of that, it's not something you should ever need to know! We've told you our names already, presumably.

"Well, you're not a REAL girl/boy, so... / "Well, you're not a GENETIC girl/boy, so...." In both of these cases, the premise is that "because you're trans, you're less of a boy/girl, or not a legitimate one at least". We're real, obviously, or we wouldn't be speaking to you. And as far as the genetics comment, it's kind of a pointless statement. Some male born people have XX chromosomes, some female born people have XY chromosomes. And odds are, you don't even know your own. Furthermore, some research has suggested that genetics may play a part in some instances of transsexuality. In either case, the only valid clam that can be made is "Well, you're not a cisgender girl/boy" which is true - but be careful how you use it. If you're using it to invalidate the opinions or experiences of the trans person, it's a mistake, and you should stop.

"So, have you had the surgery yet?" - Pretty straightforward, I don't ask you about the state of your genitals, I don't expect you should be entitled to information about mine. You don't go up to a cisgender person and ask them about their genitals, do you?

"Oh, wow, you don't LOOK trans. No, you look great, not like some people I've seen"  - The inherent implication here is that the person looks cisgender, and that therefore that makes them acceptable. It's basically admitting you're 'cool' with us because we look cisgender, I.E. if we didn't look cisgender, we wouldn't be cool with you. It's doubly insulting because trans people are somewhat rare, and in a given area, it's likely we know the person you're comparing us to, and putting down. It's an uncomfortable thing to say, so don't say it.

On the topic of acceptance coming on a string, don't ever, ever utilize a person's trans status in an argument, to insult them. Invalidating their gender in a heated argument shows more about you, and what you really think of us, than it shows about us. Also, what's it say about you, that as soon as you're mad at your trans friend, you stop respecting their gender? It says "I get to define who you are. It's by my good graces that I humor your trans status. Don't piss me off or I revoke that acceptance" Which isn't very promising. It's a disgustingly privileged way to act, and shows your true colors to every other trans person you know who you aren't mad at.

I would also like to address a few of the common arguments used to invalidate us, and why they are wrong.

Transsexuality is not "someone who's just really gay". Transsexuality is not "a drag king/queen taking it too far". Transsexuality is not "just a grown-up who takes dress-up way too seriously"

Transsexuality IS currently understood to be a neurological issue, with two possible causes (science hasn't been able to pin down which, because it is very difficult to get funding for trans research) Possible cause one: The mother, while the baby is developing in her womb, has some sort of hormonal imbalance, causing the wrong set of hormones to wash over the developing baby's brain at a crucial moment. Possible cause two: The baby is born with a genetic defect which results in faulty androgen receptors, causing improper response to the hormones they are subjected to.

Transsexuality IS beyond the person's control. A transsexual person's transition is about as much of a choice as a cancer patient taking their medicine. Transition is the cure for gender dysphoria.

And to wrap this up, a little language etiquette. Transsexual women are women. Transsexual men are men. If a transsexual woman is in a straight relationship, she's with a man. If she's with a woman, it's a lesbian relationship. If a transsexual man is in a straight relationship, he's dating a woman, etc.

To claim otherwise is to, basically, claim that the transsexual person is "really" a man or "really" a woman, which is VERY offensive, and frankly, untrue.

I hope you all enjoyed my presentation on Trans 101 - if you have any questions, please go crazy, I'll answer as many as I can."

This is the presentation I am intending on giving at the college. If anyone has anything they feel I missed, let me know in the comments section. The presentation is not until October 2nd, so there's time to revise it should pressing information be brought to my attention.

(The comments section is open to anonymous posting! This blog thrives on reader questions and prompts, so if you have an issue you'd like me to write on, please leave it in the comments!)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Trans names

A recent event in my life with a family member prompted me to write this post.

We, as transsexual/transgender people, have a lot vested in our names. Gender is tied so neatly to names, with even those few names which are technically gender neutral being pushed to the gender lines (Ashley, for instance, used to be gender neutral, but now almost exclusively refers to a girl). Because of this close tie between gender and name, it's extremely common for trans people to change their name to better suit their gender. After all, when you're trying to be inconspicuous, nothing raises a red flag more than being a girl named David, for instance. As I've said before, passing is a delicate balance for most of us, where we're protected simply because most cisgender folk do not think about trans issues often enough to spot us. Having such a red flag is a dangerous indicator which can make them consider gender issues, and "blow your cover".

So, we change our names. Now here's where it gets foggy - people don't exactly change their names often. Last names, sure, through marriage, but first names? Beyond someone requesting a nickname, it's not exactly something that happens all that often. So naturally, it's difficult for people, at first at least, to accept your new name. Their mind has ties, memories of you with your old name. You're tied to that old name with them. So, naturally, its going to be difficult, even for the most well-meaning persons.

But what of those who refuse your new name? In my family, a few people are in denial about / ignoring my transition. I've had my name legally changed, everyone else in my life calls me by my new name, except these few people. Which brings me to what caused me to write the article in the first place. Often times people are at a loss for what to say or do when someone uses their old name. Here's my simple logic behind the name change, and those who refuse to accept it:

They cannot claim it's your legal name; your legal name has been changed.
They cannot claim it's your preferred name - you wouldn't have gotten a name change if you preferred it, and further, the discussion is happening in the first place.

So what are they left with? I suppose they could claim it's your birth name, but seriously, what weight does that carry? None legally, and none with the person who found their birth name so lacking as to change it. But you know what comparison I'm left with? Do you know what kind of person hears what you want to be called, then calls you something to the contrary? It's a word from those distant school days: A bully. Just like from back in the schoolyard days, they hear what you wish to be called, they've heard your 'legal name' from the roster, but they still call you what THEY want, as if they have authority over you to make such choices.

Only you can decide what you wish to be called. Not some bully, family or not.


(Comments are open to anonymous posting! This blog thrives on questions and prompts posed by readers. When there's a drought of questions, there's a drought of writing - so if you have something you would like to see addressed, please leave it below in the comments section!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Trans and Passing

Passing is one of those things that is a big deal for all trans people - but I see more confusion about it among pre-transition and early transition transsexuals than any other group. So this blog post is aimed at them, though it's also aimed at people who don't understand the importance of keeping it quiet when around their trans friends, family, and acquaintances.

To start, what is passing? Passing is the term used for a trans* person being read as a cis person. This is important because of the rampant discrimination against trans* people. Many cisgender people believe it's their right to determine our gender for us, based on criteria they decide on. And I don't mean doctors, scientists, or researchers, I mean ignorant, uneducated average joes who make up their mind that one criteria tells the truth, be it genital configuration or chromosomal makeup. If/when they determine that we're trans, they can pick a whole variety of ways to insult us, from being loud and outing us (the practice of announcing one's trans status against the wishes of the trans person) to intentionally misgendering us, as well as plain old disrespect.

Because of the above, to live a discrimination free life, and to not suffer constant insults, it is imperative that we pass. Now, there's good news and bad news about this. The good news is passing is at least a little easier than most people give it credit for. The bad news is that the trans illusion tends to be fragile for many of us.

Good news first - passing is easier than most people really think. Many, many pre transition transgirls obsess over passing - and decry pictures of transwomen because their jaw is a little to big, or their shoulders a little too wide.

Here's the thing with that - even cisgender women have wide shoulders, or are tall, or other such signals. People ignore them because the last thing on someone's mind when they're out and about in their day-to-day lives is transsexualism. We're skewed because we live it every day of our lives, but to the average joe, we're a myth, a legend, and not even on their radar.

Now the bad - most of us do have more than a few signals to our assigned-at-birth gender. This is why when pre-everything trans people are always able to 'tell' - and their perception that because they can 'tell' everyone else can.

I won't split hairs - we do have these signals - and  that makes it dangerous to get people thinking about transsexuals around us - ESPECIALLY if we're the one being asked about it/talking about it. The line of thought is no cisgender person would discuss it so seriously, so it immediately brings speculation about which 'one of us is the "tranny". They then look with that in mind, spot our signals, then our 'cover' is blown.

Now I should add, that passing isn't everything. There's something to be said for the peace of mind that comes from being comfortable in your own skin first and foremost. And even with the above, some people may never truly pass. Passing is merely an extra security level - one which does make life easier, and affords you many privileges you wouldn't have if you wore your trans status on your sleeve. The purpose of this was to get people thinking about the fragile balance of appearing as our desired gender, realizing that passing isn't as hard as people really think, and realizing that maybe chatting up your trans friend about trans issues in public might be a bit more dangerous for him or her than you give credit for.


(Comments are open to anonymous posting! If you think I failed to address a point, or if you have a question, please leave it in the comment section below! This blog thrives on reader questions, so please ask them if you have them! )

Friday, July 27, 2012

Trans Inclusion in LGBT

Anonymous asked: Random question why are trans people apart of the L.B.G.T. at all? I'm not saying it's a bad thing but the first three letters have to do with who a person is attracted to, while the T. is a body issue. Soooo whats the deal?

There's a few reasons why we're together, and the easiest way to state it to start is there's some overlap with goals, as well as perception of our separate groups by the heteronormative majority.

To begin, lets start with the obvious one, same-sex marriage. For trans people, this normally-sticky issue becomes even stickier. Some states allow you to change your gender, whereas others do not. Some states where you can change your gender, don't legally recognize it regarding marriage. Others do. These discrepancies in how it's determined by the state can and do lead to tons of problems. One of the biggest is that a single case can be judged either way, however the judge wants to lean. Does he agree with your gender change? If so, he'd annul your marriage with your wife/deem it illegal. Does he disagree with it? Then if he does, your lesbian relationship is able to be legally wed. The inverse is true involving guys. If you want to marry your boyfriend, but the state doesn't legally recognize your gender transition, too bad, no marriage, despite being a straight relationship. Since it can be ruled either way, it doesn't matter what your orientation is as a transsexual, you're likely to have someone attempt to deny the legitimacy of your relationship - and thus, we have a vested interest in marriage equality either way. Allying for the purpose of passing marriage equality is mutually beneficial, so we do.

There's more than just that though. By and large, transsexuals / transgender people are a far, far smaller minority than the gay, lesbian, bisexual portion. On our own we would have little hope of accomplishing our equality struggle. Latching onto the movement gives our actions some teeth, resulting in a give-and-take wherein we fight for LGB rights, and they fight for T rights. This gives us the benefit of their numbers regarding our issues. Of course, there's been a lot of problems with this "exchange" because often we're the first people thrown under the bus when it comes to cuts made to pass legislation. Oftentimes when trans people speak up, it's even lesbian/gay/bisexual people asking why we're even here, during these times. We're the first people to be abandoned for the sake of advancing their rights. So the exchange is, in many places, not working for trans people.

The last part which creates a perceived link is the presence of drag queens within gay communities. My understanding of drag queens is that they are almost exclusively gay males doing drag performances as a form of entertainment or art for the sake of people to watch. However, people who are trans are either passing (and therefore invisible) or not-passing, and those who don't pass tend to make heteronormative people think "omg a drag queen" or something similar. This creates a misinformed link, or opinion that transsexuals are just "really, really gay" and "taking it too far". As such we tend to be grouped in with the gay, lesbian, bisexual group anyway.

And of course, when searching for help when coming out, the LGBT organizations exist already, and as such they draw in new trans members. As the group continues to exist, and more trans people seek these support groups, it creates a perpetual motion machine where new trans people wind up in the LGBT group, perpetuating the relationship.

So there's a few reasons, as you can see, we're still allied. Unfortunately, this alliance has cost us many, many times when legislation comes to pass, and we're told "sorry, we couldn't pass the bill with public accommodations (restroom use and changing room use) so we cut it. But good news though, gays and lesbians can't be discriminated against! woohoo!" If this continues, the trans movement will be left behind; we're not nearly a large enough group to win by brute force with votes; we absolutely require our gay and lesbian allies to help get our legislation through. Without sneaking trans rights by in a comprehensive "LGBT Rights" bill I don't forsee a "Trans public accommodations" bill passing on it's own two feet any time soon.

So there you have it - my take on why trans is grouped in with LGBT as a whole. I may have missed something, but I think I nailed most of the big reasons.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Trans Invisibility

Orangeban asked: "What are your thoughts on trans* invisibility within the LGBT movement?"

Invisiblity within the trans* movement is a topic which could have any one of a few different causes (or at least a combination of them). Some of them are within our control, and others require the LGB of LGBT groups to stand up. And even though some are within our control, it winds up being a lot to ask of those trans people who can affect this.

The first reason is sheer numbers. By and large, we're not a big group. There were only a handful of us, if that, at my local LGBT group (compared to the tons and tons of LG people). The numbers game means that at any LGBT support group, we will be a minority, unless it's specifically targeted at trans* people. There are just more gay and lesbian identified men and women than there are trans women and men. So, even at the outset, we're already fighting an uphill battle.

The next issue is a beef with many of the LGBT organizations out and about. In a lot of cases, the trans related issues, discussion topics, and so on are either few and far between at best, or nonexistent at worst. This stems from problem one, that we're not nearly as large a group as the LGB, so naturally, most LGBT organizations tend to give the T events, topics, etc. proportional to their numbers within the group. Small numbers, few meetings focused on our issues. (I want to give a shout out to the Akron LGBTU group at my college - they break this trend and give trans issues a larger chunk of time).

So even within these groups, we're often pushed aside because we're a minority within the minority. This deserves a mention, because right now, we're FAR behind LGB rights in terms of social acceptance, protections, rights, and so on.  We still have U.S. Senators getting away with promoting violence towards us. The murders of trans women are in many cases not appearing in the media. CeCe McDonald's self-defense resulting in jail. We are YEARS behind LGB rights, and even despite this, many LGBT organizations fail to adequately inform and educate their memberships on trans issues. I've heard many stories of lesbian, gay, and/or bisexual people being just as ignorant of trans issues as heteronormative people. Considering that they are supposed to be our allies, it's not asking much, I think, that they be informed on our issues. Especially considering we're so far behind them. We need them to be educated, and we need their support. These are still dark times to be a trans* person, and if we can't even count on the LGB part of LGBT, then who can we count on? Are we expected to be used as a voting base for gay and lesbian rights while we get thrown under the bus to advance LGB-related legislation at the expense of trans protections? This comic comes to mind. Don't be like this, seriously. If your group is like this, please don't hesitate to bring this up to them. If they worry about losing gay and lesbian membership if trans-related information and activities are increased - ask them if those who would leave were ever really trans allies in the first place. We're years behind, and quite vulnerable, we NEED those who claim to be our allies to be educated and involved.

Okay, back to the main topic. Another reason trans people tend to be invisible, is that many trans people simply cease all action within trans/LGBT circles once they've finished transition, especially if they pass. They no longer need the emotional support group, and are capable of living a normal, fulfilling life without the need for the LGBT organization. As many LGBT groups are very lesbian/gay focused anyway, and tend to serve their interests and needs instead of those of trans people, its no surprise that many decide to just stop going to these groups. Especially since they no longer need most of the support that the few trans-related events offer.

And finally, you have the last, and probably most obvious reason for trans invisibility - "stealth". Stealth of course refers to the practice of a trans person living as a cis person, actively hiding their trans status in an attempt to avoid anti-trans related issues / enjoy cis privilege. While it's obviously understandable why many trans people choose this, it has some consequences. For one, when people think of someone who's transsexual/transgender, they're usually think of drag queens, or the stereotypical late transitioners who's trans* status is apparent. That is because these are the only trans people that they "see". You have your outliers like Jenna Talackova, and Chaz Bono, but that's only recently, and even then they're seen as the exception to the rule. This is because, explicitly, of passing/stealth. It's confirmation bias. The only trans people that 'exist' are those who don't pass. Those who do pass are rendered invisible to the public, and thus don't 'exist', becoming literally invisible. That said, it's hard to ask any of them to stand up and be loud and proud when doing so is likely to result in violent action, discrimination, and other negative consequences. Once more legal protections and rights, and more social progress has been made, it will be safer for those among us who appear cisgender to speak out for trans rights.

All of the above contributes to this. We're a minority already, but many of us pass, and in doing so, we literally become invisible. This means the number of 'visible' trans people is even smaller. It's only recently that we've had much visibility, and even with the somewhat growing acceptance, many would rather hide in stealth.


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