cis woes

All posts in the cis woes category

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.

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Snarks And Reclamation

Published October 28, 2012 by Sez

Disclaimer 1: In order to talk about homophobic and transphobic slurs, you kind of have to use homophobic and transphobic slurs. I’m not asterisking things out; I feel like that gives the words in question a “he who must not be named” type power.
So if reading slurs in this context is likely to upset you, now’s a good time to stop reading.

Disclaimer 2, This post is, in part, about the difficulties a trans ally can face. I know, I know. The poor, oppressed ickle cis girl. Privilege-o-rama. I’m not for a second forgetting that.

This is something I see from both ends. As a queer woman (some might say lesbian but “queer” is my preferred label if I’m wearing one) I don’t like hearing gay, queer, etc thrown around as negative slang.
As part of my job I talk to teenagers about why homophobia is bad, m’kay? One thing I talk about is how using gay to mean bad is homophobic even if you DON’T MEAN IT TO BE. Because if you know that “gay” means “same sex attraction”, that it hurts people for you to use their identity as an insult, and you STILL can’t be bothered finding a better way to express yourself, then you’re being homophobic.
At this point people often bring up reclamation – black people using the word “nigger/nigga” being a favourite example. Is it ok for white people who are part of a social group that includes black people who use “nigga” affectionately to join in with that? If so, the convoluted teenage logic goes, it’s ok for people who don’t regard themselves as homophobic to fling “gay” around like a verbal hand grenade. I can usually debunk that one in a matter of seconds, but it does raise an interesting point. As a kid said to me the other day “Say all my mates are gay, and we’re meeting at a gay pub, and I go in and say “Hello, you gayboys!”, and we ALL know it’s a big joke, I think that would be OK”
I had to agree with him. Not that it would be OK, but that, depending on the people there, it might be. But that generally, reclaiming was reserved for the people who were affected by the slurs in the first place (at which point another little smartase pointed out that I’d said that homophobia affects everyone. D’oh!)
Why this long and confusing preamble?
Tranny is why.
The word “tranny” and I have a complicated relationship.

It’s a slur. It’s used, horribly, against transgender people. It’s not ok for me to use “tranny”. Just like a white person saying “what up my niggaaas!?” I’m probably going to come off as unbelievably crass at best, nastily prejudiced at worst.

Here’s the thing, though. I would say that a slight majority of the trans people I am aware of in my not-online social and work circles sometimes choose to reclaim it. One or two of them choose “tranny” as the main word they identify as, gender wise. I also know people in the transgender community who hate the word regardless of context, who feel that there’s never a context when anyone can use it ever, regardless of what their gender identity might be. It’s been suggested to me that tranny is just too triggering to reclaim, and that the right of some not to hear the word trumps the right of others to identify themselves that way.

So I, as a cisgender person, have friends whose gender identity I fail to respect if I refuse to use “tranny” and friends whose history of oppression I fail to acknowledge if I agree to use it. It’s a weird head space to occupy.

Also, as someone who identifies as queer, I’m aware that I make some people who have had that word used against them uncomfortable.
But that’s the thing about reclaiming. It’s prickly. It hurts to pull words used in hate back and make them a source of strength. And for LGBT people, there’s the issue that all the words we use for ourselves are also used as slurs, or as pathologising diagnoses. ALL our words have to be reclaimed, and ALL our words have the potential to hurt us.
Like I said at the top of this post, I don’t believe in asterisking words out. I don’t believe in giving slurs the power that censoring lends them. I’m with (cis, white, rich, hetero male) George Carlin on this. There are no bad words. It’s context that makes them good or bad .
So I’m going to come down on the side of my trans friends who DO identify as “tranny”, and defend their right to do so even if that offends other trans people.

Which leaves me in the position of sometimes, just sometimes, saying, and defending “tranny”.
Which I have absolutely no right to do.
Ho hum.