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All posts for the month November, 2012

In Memoriam

Published November 20, 2012 by Sez

This Transgender Day Of Remembrance, I’d like to tell you about Rachel, who died on the 6th of April 2010. She was 53 years old.

Rachel was a volunteer and service user at my workplace. She was kind, generous, sensitive and – once you got to know her – wickedly funny.
Rachel immediately made me feel welcome in my new office, and we bonded from the outset. A shared interest in creative writing, admiration for the work of Kate Bornstein, and a fondness for cutting asides (which were often missed by most of our colleagues) drew us together. We had a similar taste in clothes, but she was the more flamboyant in this regard, and I often envied her sense of style and the flair with which she wore her bold, bright colours.
Despite her stylish exterior, though, Rachel was always very down on herself. She was, in most social situations, incredibly introverted and shy, and carried herself rather as if she was constantly expecting to be kicked. Rachel suffered badly with stress and depression brought on by gender dysphoria, and by the judgements on her gender identity she knew were made by others around her.
Three days before her death, Rach emailed me in great distress. She had just undergone vocal cord surgery in Thailand and was feeling ill, depressed and isolated. We emailed back and forth for a while and then she stopped responding, which I put down to the fact that she was getting some much needed rest. A few days later I learned that she had suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Rach had multiple stress related health problems. While I was distraught to hear of her death, it was easy to see that the danger had always been there.
At her funeral, some guests misgendered my friend and used her old name. I know that it would have caused her such grief to hear that, and that those in her family who had come, at last, to acknowledge love her as her true self would have brought her such peace.
The stress caused by the operations she’d undergone, and the deep emotional distress I saw in her emails must, at last, have been too much. The Rachel I knew was a strong and vibrant woman who was true to herself and gracious everyone she met despite a constant onslaught of transphobia.
Rachel was like a warrior undergoing battle after battle. Although I hoped, each time, that she’d come home with more tales of narrow escapes and courageous confrontations, there was always that nagging fear that, one day, she wouldn’t.

The following is an extract from
Rachel’s final email to me. I believe that she’d be willing to share this part with you, as she had shared similar thoughts at the poetry open mic nights we went to together.

“When people stare at me and make their instant judgements I see what they see in their eyes, the attempt and the failure. The women feel smug because they have identified a flaw as they
perceive it and thus feel secure because this flaw distances them from what they see.”

I wish I could say that Rach was wrong, but as her friend I often saw the derisory looks and mouthed jokes aimed at her back. I saw the disgust, the fear, the hate.
Rachel was mocked, excluded, avoided – just for being who she was – by people who would call themselves open minded and unprejudiced.
When she died, our friendship had just begun to truly blossom. As much as I miss Rach, I miss the long and close camaraderie that we might have had, if things had been different.

In her last email to me, Rachel called me her sister. I was, and am, proud to call her mine.

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On Trans People and the Male Privilege Accusation

Published November 9, 2012 by Sez

There’s a thing I keep hearing about trans women. That they approach life with too much male privilege. That their assigned male upbringing informs their behaviour – in short they act like they have more rights than cis women and like the world somehow ‘owes’ them.

There’s a thing I keep hearing about trans men: That they are sort of abortive feminists: instead of joining the good fight for gender equality they have elected to break ranks and join the winning side. To identify as male purely to get their hands on some of that male privilege the trans women are having such a hard time letting go of.

Now. Odds are that you interact with and live in a society that glorifies the gender binary and, by and large, treats women worse than men. You will be aware of certain traits and roles that men and women respectively are ‘supposed’ to have and, if you’re reading this, you have probably questioned those gender role assumptions to some degree or other.

So it’s not a big leap to assume that if you were assigned male at birth, you had a different experience of being brought up than if you were assigned female at birth. If the former, you might have had more emphasis placed on your career choices. You might have been encouraged to be less emotionally expressive. If the latter, you might have experience d people having lower expectations of you. You might have found yourself more objectified and sexualised from a younger age. If, at some stage, you found that your gender identity was not what people had originally assumed it could be said that you were likely to have learned some of those ‘male’ or ‘female’ traits, withut even consciously realising that’s what they were.

This leads to an idea that trans women have something they shouldn’t and that trans men want something they shouldn’t have: male privilege.

I can see the allure of this idea. I can see why it’s got some traction. I know trans women with a confident, entitled manner and I can imagine that their upbringing contributed to this. I can totally see that being constantly told they were something they felt deeply and certainly that they were not absolutely infused them with privilege.

I know trans men who have gone from shy, withdrawn “girls“ to confident, cocky lads. High on massive societal approval showered on them when they came out as transgender, no doubt.

Here’s the thing. It is not wrong for a woman to have a sense of entitlement and self confidence. If, regardless of gender, you have been brought up to value yourself, that’s good. If you’ve been brought up to disregard others, that’s bad and you need to fix it but it’s got tit all to do with your gender. I hear women who call themselves feminists complaining –COMPLAINING!- that some women are too confident and assertive, because they are trans. “You’re not a proper woman, you’re not oppressed enough.” As well as being patently ridiculous (since when are trans women known for their high, oppression-free status in our society?) this is horribly misogynist. Why aren’t such ‘feminists’ looking at how ALL women can be more empowered, not how some women should be “taken down a peg or two”? Maybe that would be too radical?

The thing about trans men cynically exploiting the medical system to get hold of this elusive male privilege is equally surreal. Going by that trans woman male privilege idea, surely all trans men should be shy little mice who enjoy embroidery and self deprecation, no? All that female non-privilege should inform their every movement, and be totally insurmountable, right?

Then there’s the frankly bizarre supposition that trans men decide to be trans men. No. They are trans men. They decide to tell you that, or not as the case may be. It’s not a ploy to get privilege. If it was it would be the least well thought out privilege-getting ploy ever.

It’s almost like these people get angry whenever trans people display signs of happiness, empowerment and confidence. Classy.

Changing The Changing Rooms (or Transphobic Toilet Panic II)

Published November 4, 2012 by Sez

Am I weird? Am I actually transphobic? Do I have internalized homophobia? Am I a massive prude?

What has sparked this cavalcade of doubt? The Jezebel post on the story about the complaints about a trans woman sharing a space with teenage girls.
This blog post came to my attention because of the outrage on Twitter about it. I don’t believe in linking to articles to point out how bad they are – (why send more traffic?) but it’s easily findable if you’re interested. The main criticism was that after calling out other coverage of the story on transphobia, the Jezebel writer repeatedly misgendered the trans woman involved. Accusations of sloppy and inaccurate reporting were also leveled by the twittersphere.
But, correctly or incorrectly, in the Jezebel version of events, the trans woman was walking around the communal changing space naked. She’s pre op, so her penis would have been visible.
I can actually see this being upsetting. As someone with (i hope) a nuanced and sensitive understanding of trans issues, this story raised a primal “someone showing their knob to teenagers aaarghhhhh” response. How much are we expecting of the teenage girls involved?

BUT BUT BUT in my other blog post about this I totally took that argument down: having a penis does not make you a rapist! so what’s going on, brain?

I think part of this stems from feelings about the inherent physical power imbalance at play here. A male assigned at birth adult and cis female teens. I think what bothers people here is that the power is perceived to be with the person with the larger frame and the penis. SHE is making the choice to be in that bathroom, and SHE is choosing her behaviour around those teenagers. Instead of the smaller, younger, vagina having people being in control. This perception is flawed in that a trans woman has far FAR less societal power than a cis man, or a cis woman, or a cis girl, but the physicality thing is a factor. For example, imagine an Assigned Female At Birth trans person asserting his right to change in front of a male sports team. Different vibe.
I believe that the answer to this lies in the education of the general population about trans issues, rather than the restriction and oppression of trans* people’s lives. But we have a long way to go.
Another issue with this story has been that the woman in question prefers women, leading to the horrible assumption that lesbian trans woman = cis straight man saying he’s trans to GET YOUR DAUGHTERS.
This nasty train of thought leads me to the question that if this trans woman’s sexual orientation is relevant in the changing room, why isn’t mine?
I see naked women in the changing room at the gym. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I often change in a cubicle and spend as little time in there as possible. I quite like the idea of being naked around other naked people in a queer friendly space, but in the palaca of heteronormativity that is the gym, it seriously gives me the creeps. Basically, my internal monologue goes “These women might be homophobic. I can see their bodies. If they knew I was queer they might freak out and I’m all naked and vulnerable right now!” add in some school PE changingroom PTSD (seriously, 5 years of twice weekly emotional/physical hell. Still have nightmares) and the one place where public nudity is acceptable becomes the least safe space EVER.
I think it’s this whole thing of “sex segregation = safety” that’s so deeply ingrained in our culture.
Once you question it, the false consciousness that assumes everyone to be straight and cis and assumes that men CAN’T CONTROL THEIR MALE URGES starts to crumble.
And with it, assumptions we didn’t even realise we had about ourselves come to the surface.
Something has to change.