Monthly Archives: June 2013
This is a story about Emma, a trans girl, mostly told by her mother. I first saw this on Suzan’s blog at http://womenborntranssexual.com/2013/06/22/emma-60-minutes/. After the video I have posted “grades” for the parents and the media regarding their behavior and apparent attitudes. (Preview: The media passes, but barely.)
The parents get an A+ for being totally supportive of Emma and honest and open about their experiences with Emma’s transgender status, particularly in such a public forum. The only fault I found with the mother is her reference to Emma not being “normal,” although this may be a language difference (there is a substantial difference between American English and Australian English)—she may have meant “not conforming to the ‘norm’ or the average, in which case she would be using “normal” as a statistical term.
Oh, where to start? The media gets a passing grade for covering the story at all, not over-sensationalizing and not acting like total morons. However they need to:
- STOP misgendering Emma by referring to her as a “boy.” Emma has never been a boy. She has ALWAYS been a girl.
- STOP misgendering Emma by referring to her as the parents’ “son.”
- STOP misgendering Emma by referring to her by her birth name. Her name is “Emma.” Have some respect and call her by her name. Do YOU like people calling YOU by an incorrect name?
- STOP, STOP, STOP misgendering Emma by using incorrect pronouns, and
- *F*F*S* it is not “in her her head.” Emma’s gender as a girl is real and it’s not going away. Is YOURS?
As I mentioned, I should have given the media an “F” for these behaviors. I begrudgingly gave them a passing grade for covering the story, not being totally insensitive and not being complete assholes—only partial ones.
In 2009, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that more than 97% of transgender individuals had experienced some form of harassment or discrimination at work [and] 47% had been fired, denied a promotion, or refused a position because of their gender identity [number formats edited.] http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/fact_sheets/transsurvey_prelim_findings.pdf
This post, about the transition of Risa Bear while a librarian at the University of Oregon, is a followup to my post “The Power of Pronouns.”
The Pronoun Problem
“It started with a bathroom,” says Risa Bear, retired University of Oregon librarian.
When her bosses learned that she had begun her gender transition, they assigned her a key to the locked, unisex, management bathroom for nearly eight months. They did this to avoid any questions or stares that would make co-workers feel uncomfortable. However, after months of sprinting the 0.8 miles across the library to the management bathroom, Bear decided that it was her time to visit the ladies’ room.
Sitting in a faded green rocking chair one year into retirement, Bear smiles and sips her tea, always aware of where the closest bathroom is. In 2006, at the age of fifty-seven, Richard Bear became Risa after undergoing genital surgery. Despite the tilted heads, cocked eyebrows, and questioning voices, Bear acknowledges that she was among the lucky few to keep their jobs while transitioning.
Dr. Jillian Weiss, a professor at Ramapo College who transitioned at the age of thirty-seven, explains that being fired is the biggest fear when an individual decides to transition.
“We spend so much time at work that this business environment transforms into a social organization,” says Weiss. “Even in a great work environment, it typically takes at least a month for people to adjust to the notion of their co-worker taking on a new identity.”
Bear emphasizes that it was because of the support of those around her that her transition was so smooth. She explains that many of the negative comments she could have heard from students or visitors of the library were deflected by a close group of friends and co-workers who continuously looked out for her.
“I had 300 friends before I transitioned, and 300 friends after I transitioned,” says Bear.
She kept her friends by being someone that other people wanted to know. No matter her gender, Bear was a friend to those around her.
In 2009, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that more than ninety-seven percent of transgender individuals had experienced some form of harassment or discrimination at work. Forty-seven percent had been fired, denied a promotion, or refused a position because of their gender identity.
However, Weiss explains that in the last decade, these trends have begun to shift. Since 1982, gender identity protection laws have begun sprouting in states in order to protect individuals from being fired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“It’s not right for someone to be fired because of their gender identity,” says Weiss. “If you think about it, everyone is a little transgender. A woman who works on cars and a man who likes to cook, they are both transitioning across the lines of [stereotypical] gender roles.”
Nevertheless, discrimination because of gender continues. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that Special Forces veteran Diane Schroer be compensated with $491,190 in back pay and benefits, emotional pain and suffering, and out of pocket expenses for the discrimination she faced for being a transgender person. This ruling penalized the Library of Congress for refusing Schroer a job when she announced that she was transitioning from male to female.
From the media to the government, Bear explains that transgender individuals are given the lowest amount of civil rights. In fact, “We’re no longer people, we’re objects,” she says. “If you want to make people feel like they have no rights, like they don’t even belong in society and have no right to ask to be treated like equals, start by telling them that they are less than human.”
According to Bear, the vast majority of people are accepting of transgender people. Once they have the opportunity to meet and work with a transgender individual their stereotypes disappear. However, until that time, they often know very little and assume that whatever stereotypes presented by the media and other outlets are true.
“People tend to not have an opinion,” says Bear. “The opinions they do have are generated from shows like Cops.” Bear explains that the comical representation of transgender people, large men stumbling in low-cut dresses, paints a very harmful picture.
While people are beginning to take the situation seriously, Bear emphasizes that right now, transgender individuals need “media outlets that will present people for who they are and what they do rather than what they are.”
However, without the necessary steps, transgender people still face fierce discrimination in and out of the workplace. In Illinois, the discrimination of transgender people proceeds far beyond the cubical. Victoria Kirk and Karissa Rothkopf sued Illinois for not changing their gender on their birth certificates. Still, the state explained that this was difficult because both women had their surgeries performed by doctors outside of the United States.
Whether navigating the impressions of others or lessening evidence of physical differences for the workplace, Bear explains that there is always a barrier to be broken.
Bear began her career at the University of Oregon while still Richard. However, when she decided to transition, she began leaving her co-workers subtle signs of femininity—a pair of earrings or a barrette in her hair. Bear recalls the evening of August 7, 2003. It was after a day of dressing up and taking pictures that Bear ordered her first set of pills. When she began to take estrogen, she also began to transition.
In 2006, Bear proceeded with her Real Life Test, a psychological examination to ensure that one is ready to change genders and fit into a new role. In Homecomings, Bear’s blog, she recalls a difficult segment of the transition process—changing psychologists three times to find one sympathetic to her experience.
“He inquired into my childhood. He listened to my vocabulary, enunciation and phrasing,” she writes of one psychologist. “He watched my body language. I had a feeling I was not feminine enough for him.”
After completing the required number of sessions, Bear requested a surgery. She flew to Miami where there was a surgeon who was competent, yet affordable. Post-surgery, Bear grew her hair longer and began wearing dresses that covered most of her still slightly masculine figure. Bear explains that she knew that she would never be a “beautiful woman,” but would rather settle for an “old lady.” However, she began to allow herself to wear makeup and jewelry outside of the house, in order to make her new persona more apparent to the public eye.
“I realize this makes me sound a little shallow,” Bear says. “But, I was always afraid of being seen as grotesque.”
Upon returning to work, Bear found that her colleagues were very supportive. Rarely did she encounter conflicts. The “pronoun problem,” as Bear refers to it, is one of the most hurtful mistakes that people make when working with a transgender person. This is often a slip of the tongue, when someone uses “he” instead of “she,” or vice versa.
“It’s the kind of mistake that crushes you and leaves your confidence on the floor for weeks,” Bear says as she chokes back a tear.
Weiss, however, takes a more moderate position to this issue. She explains that transgender individuals need to understand that it’s a transition for their peers as well. It takes time for the mind to adjust to new names and pronouns.
Bear suggests approaching a transgender co-worker in a gentle way with a simple variation of the question: “What pronoun would you like me to use?” She adds that this practice is done throughout the University of Oregon’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) groups and is very successful.
As a transitioning counselor, Weiss is often asked to assist companies when an employee is transitioning. When doing so, she breaks the process into three main steps.
First, she pulls all company records and policies to ensure that they are transgender friendly.
“There are so many sensitive issues that need to be changed,” explains Weiss. “And it’s not the transgender employee’s responsibility to educate their employer on the issues.”
Instead, Weiss looks at bathroom policies, paychecks, changing names on payroll, emails and much more to ensure a smooth transition.
Next, Weiss holds an intensive training for management. She talks to them about what it means to be transgender and how the transition will affect their employees. Weiss prepares management to be supportive while not changing the working environment. An ideal employer, according to Weiss, is one who seeks outside resources to aid in the transition. Hiring a human resources consultant to work specifically with the transition, or doing research that takes pressure away from the transgender individual helps show support.
Finally, a similar training is held for co-workers.
“This session is more casual, allowing everyone to ask questions and understand that the transition won’t affect their work environment.”
Weiss explains that often colleagues ask questions in good faith, but enter very personal territory that the transitioning individual may not be comfortable answering. These questions include asking what sort of surgery or medications they are using. Rather, it is appropriate to be inquisitive about how this will change their relationship with the transgender individual, not about the details of the transition itself.
“People are usually curious about what they should do if a client calls for Mr. Smith, but Mr. Smith is now Ms. Smith,” Weiss says.
These are issues that Weiss helps associates navigate and practice. She stresses that within the first month, most kinks are worked out and by the end of the year, pronoun and name changes are hardly even a conscious effort.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you asked the transgender individual ‘why’ he or she is transitioning, but remember that when someone’s at work, he or she is just trying to do the job—regardless of gender,” she says.
Lonnie Sexton, a colleague and friend of Bear’s, says that as Bear gained confidence in her new identity, she became a role model to others. Sexton explains that Bear is an individual who is even tempered and has always been a joy to be around. She also speaks of Bear as a role model for students. “Those [students] grappling with transgender identity could look to [Bear] as a model of a smooth transformation. She has confidently integrated her transformation with other aspects of her life—work, friendships, and family.”
Throughout this process, Bear says that her peers were aware and supportive of her decisions.
“Risa, keep your knees closed,” repeats Bear in recollection of the best advice an associate ever gave her.
“I knew and liked Richard Bear as a co-worker,” says Sexton in reference to the transformation. “However, I was not very close with him. I was interested in his poetry, and we exchanged pleasantries, but that was the extent of our relationship. On the other hand, I have become very friendly with Risa Bear. It’s interesting that she is the same person, but I definitely relate better to her as a woman. This says more about me than her.”
“There are a lot of rules about transitioning—I broke them all,” Bear says with a chuckle. However, she advises everyone about to delve into their own transition to invest in a nice set of thank you cards and Hershey’s Kisses. “Express your gratitude and show appreciation when people are nice to you,” says Bear. She explains that her own gratitude paid off greatly when people would stop by to give her a hug or when a woman would pause and whisper “welcome” to her.
What is the real reason the head COCKroach in charge doesn’t want trans women at RatFest?
A Rose By Any Other Name…
…Does Not ALWAYS Smell as Sweet.
I first started writing about transgender issues on Facebook when I wanted to provide some basic guidelines for cisgender people regarding how to talk to and about transgender issues. In my very first post I stated:
While a small number of people use the word “transsexual,” they are in the minority; it is considered offensive by many and the word “transgender” is generally the appropriate word to use… See “‘J’ and Some Definitions,” in this blog, originally published on Facebook on April 13, 2012.
I’ve learned considerably more about trans* issues since then, one issue of which is the split between people who refer to themselves as “transgender” vs. those who adamantly refer to themselves as “transsexual” and insist that they do not fit under the “transgender umbrella.” (see below.) Apparently it’s a big political issue that has not only caused divisiveness in the LGBTI community, but there is now a huge chasm in the trans* community as well, with some individuals attempting to force their labels on others and attempting to create a hierarchy regarding who is “really” trans*.
Transgender is an umbrella term that includes different types of gender variant people (including transsexual people) so transgender women could, for example, refer to either a woman who was assigned male at birth, identifies as a woman, but does not wish to undergo physical changes, or a transsexual woman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_woman
I completely disagree: Transsexual/transgender, intersex , androgyne and polygender people do not belong in the same category as cross-dressing and transvestite people; furthermore, the entire concept of a cisgender person deciding to categorize and label people without their consent pisses me off. None of these groups should be lumped into a single category because they are completely DIFFERENT from each other.
In my last post I addressed the Power of Language. That post specifically addressed pronouns. I believe that respecting people’s preferences regarding labels (if labels are needed at all—I personally despise labels) is just as important. This is what I got when I posted my feelings about this on the facebook page “Boycott GLADD’s and AA’s T-Shirts: ‘Transsexual Will NOT be Censored.’” My response follows:
MY FIRST COMMENT:
WOW. Just like many disenfranchised groups, it is amazing that anything gets done with all of the infighting.
First of all, in the US, people who dress in clothes of the opposite sex part-time are referred to as “transvestites,” not “transgender;” although there are some who place transvestites under the transgender “umbrella,” they don’t belong there.
Second, all of the people I know who refer to themselves as “transgender” have a medical condition that requires medical treatment—some have been able to afford the surgery, some not yet—but they ALL are what you define as “transsexual.” IT IS JUST A FLUCKING WORD. I fully understand why you want to differentiate yourselves from cross-dressers, but saying that people who use a different word to describe themselves WHEN THEY ARE JUST LIKE YOU (which may, in fact, be cultural in origin, based on geography and/or age) is divisive and destructive.
Third, the psychiatric diagnosis “Gender Identity Disorder” was created so that people can get the psychiatric evaluations necessary to ensure that only individuals whose gender is truly in conflict w/their physical bodies get treatment and that they are making an informed decision (and able to give informed consent). As a licensed mental health professional I KNOW that transgenderism/transsexuality is NOT a mental disorder, but there has to be a billable psychiatric diagnosis or insurance companies will not pay for these evaluations, pure and simple.
Forth, while some transgender/transsexual people I know refer to the discordance between body and gender as a birth defect or medical condition (which I do, to differentiate it from a psychiatric disorder), some do not, as they do not wish to be viewed as “disordered.”
Geez, have some respect for the words people use to refer to themselves. For example, younger LGBTI people are using the word “queer” now, while others of us cringe at that word as offensive. For some people the word “transsexual” is just as offensive, although it may not be to you.
I’m cis, so you can discount everything I have to say and tell me to f-off. But ironically enough, I guarantee that my trans friends would completely support my comment.
The other person made reference to the DSM IV & V before I did but then edited it out before I got the screen cap, making it look as though I was being argumentative. SHE brought it up. btw, I DO have my DSM IV right next to me….
MY NEXT (long) COMMENT:
I’m just asking you to back up what you’re claiming.
Almost all of my trans friends use the word “transgender” to describe themselves—pre- or post-op—yet they are not fetishists, not wannabes, not part-timers… they are exactly what all of you are describing as transsexuals. Almost all of them view this as a curable congenital condition (except those who don’t want to be viewed as “disordered”.)
For the most part you’re fighting over a word. For example, some lesbians prefer to be referred to “lesbians,” some “gay;” infighting over how people refer to THEMSELVES and not respecting how people refer to THEMSELVES does nothing to help TS/TG people (not transvestites or fetishists–I could give a rat’s @$$ about them) get the rights they deserve, and only hurts the cause. I cringe at the word “queer” that younger people are now using because I remember its old connotations, but if they want to refer to themselves as “queer,” I RESPECT their right to do so and am not going to nit-pic over definitions because it accomplishes nothing but divisiveness in the LGBTI community.
I’m not trying to fight, but I have to ask: Are you being hostile towards me because I’m cisgender and therefore must not know what I’m talking about? Because my trans friends can tell you that I am more supportive of trans issues than many in the trans community. I DO understand that cis people pushed all the non TS/TG people under the “transgender umbrella” and do not agree that: 1) they belong there or 2) cis people have any business defining trans people. But when a legitimately trans person prefers the term “transgender” over “transsexual” and THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME AS WHAT YOU DESCRIBE AS “TRANSSEXUAL,” they should be respected and referred to by the term they prefer.
RESPONSE TO MY COMMENT:
MY FINAL COMMENT:
I’m not an idiot, am well-educated and I understand the meaning of the words. I also specifically mentioned that I am in the US and that there may be cultural differences. In common use, the word “transgender” in the US is used to refer to someone who is, by your definition TS, despite the existence of the “transgender umbrella.”
My friends are NOT cross-dressers, they are what you refer to as TS and many are taking hormones and are trying to find a way to afford surgery (some have already had it)–they have all been properly diagnosed by licensed physicians as having a medical condition that requires treatment. Unlike the UK, virtually no health insurance companies pay for SRS/GRS. I think the “transgender umbrella” is utter BS and would never refer to a transvestite or anyone else who does not meet the criteria for what you refer to as TS as “transgender.” I NEVER STATED THAT EVERY TS SHOULD BE LABELED TG. Screw PC—I merely stated that people should be RESPECTED and referred to by the label they prefer, if a label is needed at all. Oh, and I don’t feel “threatened” by people who don’t show respect for other people’s feelings—they piss me off for their lack of respect.
You are wrong—I do NOT feel that anyone who labels themselves as TG should get treatment—medical treatment for TS/TG should only be available and provided by licensed physicians after careful and proper diagnosis of a medical condition.
You obviously didn’t read my post; you apparently saw “transgender” and my self-disclosure as being “cisgender” and reacted. My issue is with you forcing YOUR label on other TS/TG people in the same way that cisgender people created the “transgender umbrella” to label YOU, thereby disenfranchising people who are JUST LIKE YOU. It is so sad to see that the TS/TG community is as divisive as the LGBT community–it’s a wonder you have any rights at all.
I don’t appreciate your condescending attitude towards me and you DO seem to be dismissive of me because I am cisgender. I would be happy to provide you with the names of friends who are, by your definition “transsexual” although most of them refer to themselves as “transgender.” I spend a lot of my time writing a blog dedicated to trans* issues, written specifically to educate cis people on trans* issues; some of my followers are trans* people, some of whom refer to themselves as TS, some as TG and they are all what you would call TS. People from the LGBT and non-LGBT communities have thanked me for doing so because they wanted to know more but were afraid to ask, because they are sensitive to people’s privacy and because they did not want to be met with hostility for using the “wrong” terminology or “saying the wrong thing.” This post is a perfect example of why.
The link to my blog, if you are willing to lower yourself to reading anything written from a cis perspective, is below. If you read from bottom to top (i.e., in chronological order) you will see the process by which I, a cis person, learned about trans* issues. You expect us to understand you—how about reciprocating? https://transcister.wordpress.com/
To anyone who is not happy with this blog or this particular post, I will conclude with a quote a read somewhere 😉 recently:
The only people who are mad at you for speaking the truth are living a lie.
I have been criticized by several straight cisgender white males in my life for being “too politically correct” when it comes to language (I gave up on correcting their grammatical errors and incorrect use of words a long time ago. ) I have had the words “feminist,” “liberal” and “atheist” (I’m agnostic—they couldn’t even get it right!) hurled at me in anger… yeah, as though those are insults! rofl These were instances of men with privilege not recognizing their privilege and then using that privilege not only to malign others, but also to attempt to intimidate me into shutting up. It didn’t work. My father prides himself in not being a bigot (and he really isn’t when it comes to people of color or people with physical disabilities) yet he has the most rigid attitudes of anyone I know and refuses to admit that some of his “opinions” may not be based on factual information.
The importance of language should not be underestimated. Our lives center largely around various types of relationships. The success of relationships depends on communication, and much of our communication is accomplished through language and how we use language. As someone who has been addressed by an incorrect name on a regular basis and has her surname mispronounced more frequently than it has been pronounced correctly, I can attest to how invalidated it can make one feel. And when someone doesn’t spell my name correctly when it is right in front of them (e.g., on Facebook) it sends me the message that their communication with me is not (or I am not) important enough to them for them to make the effort. When I was a manager responsible for hiring, any resumés with letters on which my name was spelled incorrectly automatically went into the “probably not” pile: If a prospective employee does not make the effort to spell their possible future supervisor’s name correctly, what can one expect in terms of the quality of their work?
Names, descriptive labels and pronouns… they are all important because they refer to who we are. When people use incorrect names, descriptions, pronouns, etc., it strikes to the very core of our identities as human beings.
Or, more accurately, they are symptomatic of the issue.
The issue that underlies all the rest of the stuff, the issue that creates the fundamental problems.
The use of the proper pronouns, the use of the right name, the remembering to say that a woman is a woman instead of calling her a man — these things are all symptomatic of the issue, and they are the most important things.
Because the issue is this: if you want to say that trans women are not women or trans men are not men, especially when you hate them, then you are the problem, not the solution.
That’s what underlies the bullshit around the MWMF. That’s why it hasn’t gone away, and only gets worse.
That’s what underlies the calls for things like laws that decide which bathroom you can use based on your birth certificate.
That’s what underlies laws that require sterilization just to change some paperwork.
That’s what makes that paperwork so damned important.
Some might speculate that it is men who kill trans women of color. IT is a reasonable speculation — the majority of the attacks that are known are done by men. But many of the attack that are done are also done by women.
The call for the moral extermination of trans people was put forth by a woman, though. A woman who also helped to ensure that medical coverage for trans needs was labeled as “experimental” decades ago, when it already had decades behind it.
THat, by itself, meant that a lot of trans people died, and they all died for the same core reasn: people did not see them as the women they are, and even though they might, occasionally, say something like “well, they are women, but they aren’t female?, that sort of bullshit is nothing more than a backhanded furtherance of the very same problem.
That is the problem. IT is the chief problem, the first problem, the most important problem. It is more important for trans people than domestic violence, than rape, than homelessness, than pretty much all of those social ills because it is what lies at the very heart of it.
Other people do not get to police how one person’s existence is genuine or not. You do not get to decide if I am enough of a woman, or if I have “female energy”, or if I am the right sort or the proper kind.
That is, in the end, the core of it. The heart of it. Because that lies at the heart of all those other things, and is the root cause, the root source, and those who continue to do it are complicit in the very acts thereby.
BEcause no matter what the statistical prevalence of other things might say (and here I am thinking of someone who uses a statistical model in a commentary on this, not realizing the incredibly racist manner of her usage, while dismissing as unreliable a study that is far, far more reliable than her piss poor assemblage of disparate data), it is not poverty alone that creates situations like this.
And until people recognize the basic, core, heartfelt sense of self in people who are men, women, both, and neither, then there will continue to be an overriding need to recognize that pronouns are indeed incredibly important.
Because that is what lies at the root. That is the first step. That trans women be seen as women. That trans men be seen as men. That trans people of color be seen as just as much a part of the trans community as all the rest.
That’s not merely pandering, either.
The single most overwhelming predictor of success in a diversionary program — be it substance abuse, prostitution, or just getting out of a cycle of self destructive behavior — for a trans person is that they be treated consistently, enduringly, and readily as the man, woman, or person they are.
And I have data going back seven years that supports that. That shows that respecting someone is the first step to saving their life.
That’s the impact on 3200 trans people. Not counting the ones in the last year.
SO yes, the right to be called the right pronouns, the right name, is the most important thing to do.
So let’s name the problem, shall we?
The problem is people not thinking that trans people are what they really are. The problem is people policing trans people’s lives. The problem is fucking assholes who call trans women men and male, and trans men women and female.
IF you know someone who does that — no matter what their justifications are for it — you know someone who is actively contributing to the problem, who is part of it, and who is fighting against the solution.
The solution is simple.
Tell them to stop treating other people as if their lives were their personal property.
I can think of one person, we’ll call her Cockroach, who does this frequently. She runs around the internet acting like a dick and then scrambling away every time the light is turned on. Seems fitting.
It would be pretty incredible if people just went to all her twitter accounts, to all her “friends”, to all her Facebook pages and all her blogs and simply left the comment above. Nothing more, nothing less.
Stop treating other people as if their lives are your personal property. Stop using the wrong pronouns. Stop using the wrong names. Stop being the problem.
A real simple comment. It doesn’t say the hard things we all want to say the way we would like to say them. But it still says what needs to be said, and it does it well.
Then leave it alone. They have been “educated”. After that, its up to them, and it is time to move on to greener pastures. They will be left behind, consigned to the dustbin of history, footnotes on how not to be human beings in the not too distant future.
Just as the person who called for that moral extermination, that genocide, is now a footnote, consigned to the dustbin of history, an example of how not to be a human being.
There are bigger fish in the sea.
The St. Petersburg Pride Parade, the largest Pride celebration in the State of Florida and the 4th largest in the Southeastern US will take place on this Saturday, June 29, 2013. More than 100,000 people from all over Florida (and from all over the country!) are expected to attend. The Pride festival is the largest single-day event in the City of St. Petersburg.
I’ve marched in the parade the past 3 years, with 3 different groups. Based on the depressing experience I had last year (see my blog entry “Where is the Pride?” for a blow-by-blow description of that fiasco), I have been procrastinating on finding a group to march with this year. Last year I marched with a trans* group and while I would like more than anything to show my support for my trans* friends in the same way again this year, I felt like such an outsider last year that I don’t think I’m going to do that again. I identified a new group to march with, but my daughter is marching with that group and I don’t think the wannabe independent adolescent wants her Mom there….
Anyway, I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I saw this article on Kira Moore’s blog Kira Moore’s Closet and thought it both timely and replete with facts and challenges faced by transgender people:
Transgender activists have planned a march and festival during Seattle’s Pride celebrations to increase visibility of a little-understood segment of the LGBT community.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Originally published June 23, 2013 at 9:03 PM | Page modified June 23, 2013 at 10:49 PM
They are the “T” in LGBT and arguably the most maligned segment of that community.
Many transgender men and women face hardships in routine areas of daily life. They are twice as likely as the general population to be unemployed or homeless and four times as likely to live in poverty.
Some 90 percent said in a 2011 national survey that they had encountered discrimination at work, and more than one in three attempt suicide at some point in their lives.
Such dire statistics are part of what inspired Danielle Askini, a 30-year-old transgender activist, and a group of volunteers, to organize Trans Pride in Seattle during the week set aside at the end of June each year to mark the historical launch of the nation’s gay-rights movement.
Executive director of a Seattle organization called the Gender Justice League, Askini said the goal is to help promote visibility of a population often in the shadows of its higher-profile gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
“For us there are some very distinct political and sociological justice struggles that the LGBT community has not always been the best in addressing,” said Askini, who lives in Kirkland and is program manager for QLaw, the state’s LGBT bar association.
“Some of us are calling this our coming-out party.”
The Williams Institute, a national think tank that does public-policy research on sexual orientation and gender identity, estimates there are 700,000 transgender people in the U.S. — people whose birth-assigned sex does not match the gender to which they feel they belong.
Trans Pride celebrations are planned for a number of U.S. cities this year.
In Seattle, one is scheduled for Friday, beginning with a 6 p.m. march from Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill to Cal Anderson Park, followed by a festival at the park.
Starting to gain visibility
It’s been 44 years since the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York launched the gay-rights movement.
And in cities across the country, the LGBT community marks the anniversary with colorful pageantry — including a parade down Fourth Avenue in Seattle followed by a festival at Seattle Center and smaller celebrations throughout the month.
In the 1990s, transgender people began participating in Seattle Pride for the first time — one of the first cities where that occurred — and in 1997 hosted their own Trans Pride Rally, which drew about 150 people onto Broadway on Capitol Hill.
In recent years, as the broader LGBT community has built strong alliances and gained broad acceptance, the particular needs of transgender people have been getting more attention, too.
The Social Security Administration recently announced it would no longer require proof of surgery to alter the gender ID of individuals in its records; other federal agencies also have relaxed requirements for documents such as passports and visas.
Transgender men and women also have gained protection against discrimination in areas such as housing and employment in Washington, 15 other states and the District of Columbia, and more than half of all Fortune 500 companies now have nondiscrimination policies in place.
During the first August weekend each year, thousands from across the world attend the Gender Odyssey conference in Seattle, an international event focusing on the needs of transgender and gender-variant individuals.
And a growing number of employers nationwide, including Microsoft, have expanded their insurance coverage to meet the needs of transgender workers — a major area of concern for the community.
Still, transgender people — who can be either gay or straight — have not gained the kind of visibility that the gay community has.
Nor have they experienced the kind of broad successes the gay community has won in recent years, with same-sex marriage now legal in 12 states, including Washington, and the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned openly gay military service. The U.S. military still prohibits transgender people from serving openly.
Marsha Boxter is co-founder and chair of the Ingersoll Gender Center, a Seattle-based organization that works with transgender people and has become one of their best known advocates on a local and national level.
She said “like any group, there’s a period of survival, early organizing, then a stage where the community widens and matures, and at some point there’s the public identification of the community.”
The transgender community has now arrived at that point, she said.
Trans Pride, in which Ingersoll will participate, should help “increase visibility for the community; and if it brings more energy at all — and it will — that’s always welcome and wonderful,” she said.
Boxter said the findings of the national poll, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, are mirrored in Washington state, where concerns over joblessness and underemployment are among the reasons the Ingersoll center began an employment project.
Advocates believe transgender people face discrimination in large part because of how they may look — a male-to-female transgender person might be much taller than the average woman or have a deeper voice, or a trans male might still have hips and female breasts.
Some employers might find that unsettling, out of sync with their view of gender as being immutable.
Access to health care, particularly health-insurance coverage, is another primary concern for transgender men and women.
Most employer-based health-insurance plans exclude coverage for transition-related treatment and other care on the grounds they’re cosmetic or elective in nature — claims that have been challenged by medical professionals.
Fred Swanson, executive director of the Gay City Health Project, Trans Pride’s fiscal sponsor, said an added community concern is the high rate of HIV.
Part of the problem, Swanson said, is that transgender people are not accessing health care at the same level as the general population, in part because of the challenge in finding culturally competent medical providers they feel they can trust.
“For gays and lesbians, that’s a challenge,” he said. “For transgender and gender variant individuals, it’s very difficult.”
He points to Centers for Disease Control statistics that show male-to-female transgender people have an HIV rate of 28 percent. Gay City will make the first mass distribution of home HIV test kits in King County during Trans Pride and other Pride events that weekend.
Askini, 30, who was raised by foster parents from around age 15 when she began transitioning to female, represents a new generation of activists. Like many young people throughout the LGBT movement, she is eager for change.
But she and other transgender people recognize the limitations of the law in addressing many of the challenges they face.
Laws alone, she points out, won’t stop negative media portrayals or prevent transgender people from taking their own lives. “The law can’t force your neighbor to like you,” Askini said.
She believes society is growing more familiar with those in her community as transgender people come out publicly.
Chaz Bono, the only child of celebrities Cher and Sonny Bono, announced his transition from female to male about four years ago, and President Obama three years ago became the first U.S. president to appoint a transgender person to his administration.
Askini believes the next step is for transgender people to gain more acceptance through visibility, by allowing others to get to know them as neighbors, co-workers and friends — much as the larger gay and lesbian community has done.
“That cultural shift has started to happen,” she said. “The reason we started Trans Pride is to highlight that, to increase visibility, while creating something where we in the community can see one another and celebrate ourselves.”
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @turnbullL.
The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
Undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition: “we had to transition to a new set of products”
passage — change — crossing — transit
I have neglected this blog for a long time (geez! almost a year!) not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I have a lot going on in my life and writing is not easy for me. Actually, it’s because I am transitioning.
I am not trying to minimize the experiences of trans* people nor trying to equate my transitioning to gender transition, but there are some similarities, which I hope I can adequately articulate and not get my trans* friends pissed off at me (screw the RatFaux-Feminists.) I believe that many people are in constant transition, continually evolving, developing new relationships, learning from those people & those relationships and from other life experiences. I’m not sure that all people are continually transitioning, as some seem to stagnate and not appear to learn anything, nor do they seem to grow or improve as human beings (e.g., NOMmers, Westboro Baptist Church, and other fundamentalist christians who cherry-pick the bible to justify their ignorance and hate, etc.) I like to think that I am continually learning, growing, and becoming a more complete (not necessarily better 😉 ) person. Perhaps that is delusional thinking, but I am going to indulge myself anyway. After all, this is my blog and I am Queen. 😀
There are all kinds of life transitions and we celebrate many of them: Births, birthdays, onset of puberty, questioning and/or realizing that one does not adhere to society’s cisgender and/or heterosexual norm (I did NOT say “normal”— “norm” is a statistical term), coming out (or deciding not to) as transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc., obtaining a driver’s license, a new job, voting for the first time, buying a car, starting high school/college/graduate school, graduations, starting/ending relationships, engagements, marriages, civil unions, anniversaries, divorces (yes, there are people who throw divorce parties), buying a house, relocating, children moving out of the house, onset of perimenopause and menopause, illnesses, changes (and possible limitations) related to aging… and, finally death—our own and those of family and friends. Some of these transitions are marked with single events, while some take place over a period of time. In talking to my trans* friends, I would conclude that coming out as transgender, real-life experience (RLE) (i.e., appearing in public dressed, groomed and presenting as one’s true gender,) beginning hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery (SRS) are among the major transition points in the life of a transgender person’s gender transition.
Before I try to describe my current transitioning (i.e., my rationalization for neglecting this blog, lol,) I am going to describe some events in my own life that may explain why I feel comfortable with trans women, and perhaps why I feel less comfortable with trans men (see my blog entry “A Penis? Uh… NO, thanks… No Penis for Me!” for my diatribe against trans men attending women’s colleges.) First, another definition:
Definition: A transgender person is someone whose personal idea of gender does not correlate with his or her assigned gender role. It does not exclusively refer to transsexual persons, i.e. those who are transitioning or have transitioned from one gender to another; all transsexual persons are transgender, but not all transgender persons are transsexual. A transgender person is anyone who fully accepts a gender identity—androgynous, hermaphroditic, intersex, transsexual, third gender, bigender, or otherwise gender non-conformist—does not match his or her assigned gender [emphasis added.]Common Misspellings: transgendered
At the risk of completely alienating all of my tran* friends, I am going to say it:
~ ducks, runs & hides, wondering how to get into Witness Protection… ~
According to the broad definition of “transgender” above, I contend that I would, in fact, be considered transgender.
Now, TAKE A DEEP BREATH! Allow me to explain. Again, I am not trying to equate my experience with those of my transgender sisters who are transgender in the conventional sense, i.e., born with a hormonal system and/or body parts (i.e., sex) that do/does not match their gender. I am a cisgender woman with all of the female parts (some people would argue vis-à-vis the presence of breasts, but hey, I’m 54 years old and… well… what goes up, must come down 😉 ) there has never been any question about this. But I received some confusing childhood gender-related messages and I have never been one to take on any role that someone else has decided and assigned to me.
I would say that a person begins developing their identity as a person with their name and assigned gender. What are the questions we ask when someone has a baby? “Is it a girl or a boy?” and “What is her/his name?” are the first 2 that come to my mind. And I would imagine that their name and presumed gender are the first 2 things a baby learns about themself from most parents (I don’t remember laying the gender thing on my daughter until later when I told her to be careful not to fall and crack her head open because her brains might fall out and she would turn into a boy….)
Let’s start with my name. I have a boy’s name. Okay, “Jody” is more common as a girl’s name now, but it is almost always spelled with an “i” or “ie” (or “ee”) instead of a “y”, and it was certainly uncommon back in the dark ages when I was born. When I was 3 or 4, Santa called me “Judy.” Yes, this could have been a simple & understandable error, but it’s happened my whole life whenever someone screwed up my name (which happened frequently) and already knew I was female. On the other hand, substitute teachers would take attendance, asking, “Jody? Where is he?” It was never, ever, ever “she.” And everyone, when learning that I am, in fact, female and my name is, in fact, spelled with a “y” would inform me that I spell my name “the boy’s way.” Dammit! I was a girl! And dammit! I didn’t pick the stupid name or decide how to spell it!
Until the 4th grade, my mother made me keep my hair short despite the fact that I wanted long hair. I don’t know whether my desire for long hair had anything to do with expressing femininity, I just wanted long hair, dammit! I do remember at least once or twice someone mistaking me for a boy in a very public way when I was prepubescent. It was humiliating—obviously, as I still remember it. In any case, despite having very thin hair due to a thyroid problem, at 54 years old my hair is almost down to my waist and if it would grow any longer, it would be even longer.
I remember how happy I was when my mother allowed me to pick out my own clothes—even those I would receive as Christmas and birthday gifts. I really hated some of the clothes she bought for me before that. I recall 1 specific incident about a teacher thinking that my raincoat belonged to a boy and this was expressed in a public and very humiliating manner. I’ve never gone for a lot of pink, ruffly lacy crap.
When I started elementary school, girls were not permitted to wear pants to school. Yes, this is true. When the policy changed and I told my mother I wanted to wear pants, at first she didn’t believe me (and I was a painfully honest child, so that created other issues) and then she reluctantly allowed me to wear “nice” pants, but only twice/week. I was what then was called a “tomboy” and didn’t like wearing dresses because I was very active and dresses are not conducive to, for example, doing cartwheels. I didn’t play with dolls or other “girl” toys (I never had a Barbie) and preferred to play outside, riding my bike, climbing trees, digging in the dirt or exploring the woods.
I clearly remember being at a community swimming pool with my entire family (I must have been about 11) and my parents very loudly discussing the hair on my legs and whether it was time for me to start shaving my legs. I was already extremely self-conscious (I think my mother had already started telling my sister that she was “the pretty one” and I was “the smart one”; you can imagine the messages we got from that!) and this public humiliation made it worse. And, no, my mother did not allow me to start shaving my legs for a couple of years after that even though kids made fun of my hairy legs.
Despite my perception that I had a body resembling that of a young boy, I started dating at 12½ and was “boy-crazy” for years. It wasn’t about sex: I didn’t have sex until almost 19. I came from a family that did not express love or affection either verbally or physically in any meaningful way, so that probably accounts for most of my need for romantic relationships (I couldn’t stand having anyone else touch me), but maybe I was also trying to prove my femininity… to the world or to myself. I don’t know. (Having recently been told by a rather, shall I say, “voluptuous” woman that I have the body of an adolescent boy, I LMAO and took it as a compliment! At my age that is definitely a good thing! Poor old witch didn’t mean it as a compliment though.)
In school I always did well in math & science which I was not “supposed” to do because I was a girl. Can you believe that BS? But I also did well in foreign languages and everything else. The one clear identity I always had was that of student (and employee) with a role to achieve and excel. And for the most part, I did. But I didn’t have a clear sense about what it meant to be a woman. When someone walked into a room with their baby, I was more likely to leave the room than I was to do the baby talk thing. I refused to let anyone push me into traditional roles but encountered pressures and stereotypes (especially when working in a male-dominated field) on an ongoing basis. Even when I changed fields and entered the female-dominated field of professional social work, I wasn’t the stereotypical social worker because I’m not the warm and pleasant touchy-feely outgoing type person that everyone likes; in fact, I’m quite introverted and don’t give a rat’s ass whether people like me or not.
When the biological clock kicked in and I gave birth to my daughter at 36, I assumed the role of mother in addition to employee. Naturally I wanted to excel. I read baby books, went to La Leche League meetings, read more books, talked to friends, read books, decided to ignore conflicting information I received from people I didn’t trust & to trust professionals and my own instincts, & read more books. I used cloth diapers, breastfed and made my own baby food. I did my best as a single parent to give my child the love, support & sense of identity I never got while growing up.
When I became disabled & no longer able to work I was absolutely devastated. Work had always been at the core of my identity, and until my daughter was born, my entire identity essentially revolved around work. When my child ended up in foster care (through no fault of mine—a very loonnngggg and unpleasant story) and having had my only remaining real identity in essence ripped from me, I was lost. I had been forced into several major transitions in my life but was so busy grieving the losses that I did not recognize the opportunities that these overlapping transitions precipitated by these horrendous life-altering events had provided for me.
I became an advocate and activist for LGBT people and others on Facebook. I learned about issues and hate groups, and helped get some hate pages/groups shut down on Facebook. I met 100s of new people, made new friends and revived friendships that had been inactive for decades. I learned the word “pomosexual” and have appropriated it to describe my sexual orientation. I learned the word “cisgender” and learned that I am one. I learned a lot about gender and am starting to wrap my head around the concept of non-binary gender. I learned (mostly by reading) a lot about transgender issues and developed friendships with several transgender women who I consider my sisters. I have learned about myself and learned to let the little things go and deal with the big things more calmly (which came with a price.) I know more about the foster care system in the State of Florida than anyone would ever want to know (it’s even worse than people think it is.) I learned that even people smart enough to graduate from law school can be too stupid to learn to understand that bipolar disorder is a medical—biological—disorder of the brain. I learned that you can’t fix stupid and no matter how good a parent you are and how you raise them, some kids just don’t turn out the way one would expect them to.
During and prior to that period of transitioning, I was subject to physical, psychological and emotional trauma and there were times that my life was literally in danger. I developed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and continue to meet the full criteria for the disorder, although I am less frequently exposed to the source of trauma and lethality has been diminished by making some changes in my life. One of the things I had to do to survive during that time was to numb myself emotionally and I continue to experience “feeling[s] of detachment or estrangement from others” and “restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings.” Therefore, a primary goal in my current period of transition is to take back my life: i.e., to re-establish a stable sense of personal identity, become more functional physically & cognitively, work towards experiencing a wider range of emotions, feel productive—giving something back to the world, and find more purpose in my life. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I think writing this has served some of these purposes. Why the hell you read it is beyond me. 🙂