I’ll be out of town – out of the country, in fact – until Saturday, 12/19, and will have limited access to email, Facebook, and the rest.
I’ll be out of town – out of the country, in fact – until Saturday, 12/19, and will have limited access to email, Facebook, and the rest.
I’ve been thinking a lot about race and racism in the classroom, about microaggressions and why anti racist activism is needed now more than ever. We’ve been having more of a conversation about it at my own university, so I decided to write up a list of the kinds of things I do and think about when it comes to teaching.
This is a working document, not final, but I think it gets at a lot of the issues that trip me and others up when creating a racially inclusive classroom.
I also want to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that these thoughts do not reflect the thoughts or policy of the university which employs me, but only represent my own personal thoughts on the topic. (There is a reason, after all, that I have not named said university.)
Thoughts on Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Focus on Race – Helen Boyd Kramer
Safe Space/Trigger Warnings: Due to the nature of the reading material, I will issue no trigger warnings about specific readings, precisely because any or all of this material may be difficult. That said, I am more than willing to excuse you if necessary, although you will have to do a make-up assignment/readings. My intention, and the intention of most gender studies courses, is to address issues that cause oppression and violence in order to empower and create change. In order to do so, it is vital that we discuss, research, and analyze these topics but that we do so from an intellectual, not an emotional, place. That said, do make time to process, make appointments with counselors, or otherwise find support if any of these topics are deeply personal and troubling.
Finally, an educational atmosphere cannot be safe space in the truest sense, but I do ask that you follow these four rules:
I’ve been working on trans issues as a non-trans person for long, long time, and there’s really one rule that I find the most useful. Not that I’ve always managed it, but still.
Here’s the deal: when you step on someone’s toe and they say “OW, damn, you stepped on my toe!”, your response is not:
“Why was your toe there?”
“I hardly stepped on it!”
“But I didn’t mean to!”
“Why are you using that tone with me?”
No, when you step on someone’s toe you say “I’m sorry.”
So when you’re called out for being a dick in whatever way – and believe me, I’ve been called out a gazillion times – you check with the toe rule. If you’re responding initially with anything but “I’m sorry, what did I do?” then you’re not responding right.
That doesn’t mean the charge is always just. It doesn’t mean you meant to step on that person’s toe, or that you did it maliciously, or that you make a habit of stepping on people’s toes. You just did, and it’s better to say sorry and sort out the rest later.
A few days ago I gave a lecture on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home for the first year students at Lawrence, and while I don’t have a video, I do have this audio, so if you’re interested in some of the LGBTQ history that’s tucked away in the book, or in the basics of queer theory, do give it a listen.
Has anyone seen an updated list of names for this year’s TDOR? A few people have asked, and the “official” one stops listing people in March.
AB 469 is back on the schedule, dammit. This is the bill that wants to undo local ordinances that will overturn local ordinances that allow trans students to use the correct bathroom.
It’s been scheduled for a hearing next Thursday, November 19th.
With just over a week before the hearing, please take a minute right now – and it really only takes a minute – to contact your lawmakers and let them know you oppose this harmful, unnecessary proposal.
It is our responsibility to care for and protect all Wisconsin students. Instead, this bill treats a group of young people with suspicion and fear, adding to existing and harmful stigma.
There are myriad serious issues facing our state and our communities. Our lawmakers in Madison should be focused on bills that will improve the lives of Wisconsinites.
Last week, hundreds of you took a moment to email your lawmakers; that’s a great start, but we can’t let up now.
Email your lawmakers right now, with just a few easy steps. Click here to get started.
When lawmakers meet on this bill next week, it is essential that they know where we stand – and we stand in strong opposition to this bill and any other that will lead to discrimination against the LGBT community.
An amazing non discrimination ordinance in Houston was just struck down due to a paid-for campaign that focused, once again, on fear mongering: that somehow laws that allow trans people to use public bathrooms are going to result in sexual assault (of cis women) in those bathrooms.
So let me quote Red Durkin here for some clarification:
If a man wants to get away with sexual assault in America, he doesn’t have to put on a dress and sneak into the women’s restroom. He just has to join a frat or a band or professional/semi-professional sports team or the police department or get promoted to manager at Wendy’s or own his own business or go to a bar, stand on the street corner, go into a grocery store, star in a movie or sitcom, go to school with a woman, work with a woman, go on a date with a woman, live next door to a woman, deny the charges after the fact or, generally speaking, do anything EXCEPT disguise the fact that he’s a man in America.
And, I’ll add, there is no evidence whatsoever that any man who wanted to commit sexual assault did so by wearing women’s clothes and using the ladies’ room, and none, either, that any trans woman or crossdresser or GNC person has.
Sorry, Houston. I’m sure you’ll come back bigger and better and stronger as a result. In the meantime, because trans men who have not changed gender markers on their ID are now legally required to use women’s rooms, there’s a call for them to do so.
In the meantime, public hearings on a similar law in Wisconsin have been postponed.
Such a gorgeous way to mourn and celebrate those we’ve lost.
(The x is there as it’s being used to degender the heavily gendered romance languages. You’ll see Latinxs a lot, too.)
I’ve been doing work with and for trans women for about 15 years now. Arguably, I have met more trans women than most people on this planet. Older transitioners, young transitioners, passing, non-passing, those who pursue medical options, those who don’t, very feminine trans women, butch trans women, trans women who had children before they transitioned, trans women who had children after transition, trans women who are partnered to men, or to women, or to neither.
And the thing I tell most audiences at the outset is this: once you know one trans person, you know one trans person, & that is all you know.
So Germaine Greer has met a few trans women and she has made a decision about all trans women, and she has decided that trans women are not women. She has also clarified that she did not say this to prohibit trans women from getting surgery or other medical treatment, and also clarified that she thinks people who chose Jenner for the cover of Glamour were motivated by misogyny.
I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she is not making such a sweeping statement based on personal and anecdotal evidence. After that, we have only biology and theory as lines of reasoning for what a woman is. Let’s start with biology.
Here is what I think: trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.
Trans women are aware that they are female and are meant to have bodies that allow others to gender them correctly. Harry Benjamin, when he started working with trans women, noticed that we had tried many ways over many years to convince trans women they are not women and that not only hadn’t worked but it caused undue (& for him, anti-Hippocratic) suffering. But bodies, unlike brains, are changeable. So he designed a way to make it work.
Because definitions of sex are based on only a very few things: chromosomes (which we now know there is a panoply of chromosomal variation, not just XX & XY but XO and XXY, etc.) and hormone dominance. The combination of those two is what creates a sexed body, but we also know that bodies with vaginas sometimes come with XY chromosomes and vice versa. We also really have no goddamned good idea what part of the brain “tells” us our sex, and mostly, for those of us who are not trans, we never face a disruption between our bodies/glands/hormones and the way we are socialized. But trans people do. Some experience a crippling, brutal disruption. They experience gendered oppression internally and externally, as it were.
Which is all my way of saying: ‘female’, like ‘woman’, is also an unstable category. Its very definition is changing, has changed, due to what we know about bodies, chromosomes, hormones, and fetal development, and what we know about brain sex even moreso.
Which is what leads us to theory for a definition of woman. As a feminist, my compassion is with those who experience gendered oppression of whatever kind. My intersectional feminism respects that all women experience gendered oppression in different ways: for black women, for instance, gendered oppression is racialized. For poor women, gendered oppression is classed. For trans women, gendered oppression is transphobic.
I don’t know why Germaine Greer missed out on 30+ years of gender theory which allows her to posit that woman is a stable, universal, and identifiable category. I really don’t. It hasn’t been for a very long time. I also don’t know how she can be any kind of post structural feminist and not acknowledge that socialization is what makes a woman a woman – it is, in essence, what we raise females to be, and it is made of how we treat women, including their right to self determine, to have bodily autonomy, and to resist definitions of woman-ness that oppress and restrict them.
And I don’t know of a group of women right now who are more restricted or oppressed by someone else’s definition of ‘woman’ than trans women (except, of course, black women and lesbians and childfree women and post menopausal women). ‘Woman’ is, after all, a category of patriarchy’s making, and it pains me to see a feminist borrow tools from the master’s toolbox and call them liberation.
Germaine Greer is wrong. And her speech, whether she admits to it or not, carries a greater resonance – and a greater burden – because we expect such remarkable feminism and knowledge from her. She is not dismissable nor stupid, but she is still wrong. Because everything I know as a feminist is built on inclusion; ‘woman’ is an alliance, not an identity you choose; it is the sum of all of the parts of what it is to live in a patriarchy and to feel no power and a tremendous threat of violence if you don’t follow the rules. And if there is anyone in the world who is experiencing those things right now, it is trans women. She is not just upsetting people by saying what she says. She is giving those who hate trans women permission to make their lives more miserable. And there is nothing, NOTHING, feminist about asserting the rights of the oppressors over the dignity and value of the oppressed.
Her stance is not just harmful and illogical but more than anything else it seems spiteful, exclusive, and lacking in compassion. It is not my feminism, and no feminist worth her salt would exclude other women based on how good or how bad they are at being women. And she is doing exactly that. Let her fade; let her be remembered for the good work she did do when she was still keeping up with the reading and while her fire was lit for ending oppression and not causing more of it.
There is nothing to see here. Ms. Greer has left the building.
My online group for partners of trans people: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/engender_partners/info
Our online forum for trans people and their partners, friends, family, and allies: http://www.myhusbandbetty.com/community/index.php
Excited to be reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival for the second time tomorrow, once again joined by my awesome writer friend Miriam Hall & Shawnee Parens. We’ll be reading from Love, Always, the book by Transgress Press that is composed of pieces written by the partners of trans people. I wrote the Afterword, so that’s what I’ll be reading.
“I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific, enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. ‘Slavery’ is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professsors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved. She can hope for more. She can imagine some future for her grandchildren. But when she died, the world – which is really the only world she can ever know – ends. For this woman, enslavement is not a parable. It is damnation. It is the never-ending night. And the length of that night is most of our history.”
from Between the World and Me, Ta Nehisi Coates, p. 69-70.
A couple of amazing students put this short clip together for a class that promotes media making in the service of community.
I was honored to be a part of it, but the real props go to Rowan and her amazing family.
I love that Indigenous People’s Day is taking over, but as someone of some Italian American heritage (Sicilian American, it turns out), it would be nice to have a day of recognition. Just not Columbus, please, who enslaved a peaceful people, and by his own admission:
“[The Indians] do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
But there are other Italian Americans that might fit the bill. Because I’m generally horrified that all people know about Italian Americans is the mob and pizza, here are my choices:
My top choice is Mario Cuomo. He died just as Indigenous People’s Day was getting some recognition, so the timing seems right.
Joe Petrosino, a Sicilian American, who was the first detective to really go after the Mafia & the Black Hand in particular; he was assassinated while in Italy (supposedly undercover) in 1909, and they’ve only just “solved” his murder.
Then there’s Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who was surely innocent of the crimes he was killed for but who wrote some beautiful, peaceful letters while in prison. His trial, along with Nicola Sacco’s, caused the first real anti death penalty push in the US & continues to inspire. Their judges called them racial slurs – proving they didn’t get a fair trial, whether they were guilty or not – and connects to a lot of the racialized injustice happening even today around the death penalty in particular.
Alternately, we could just have a day for eating, because Italian food.
& Honestly, living here in Wisconsin, a Lombardi Day seems like a shoo-in, and the famous coach was anti-homophobic and anti-racist in ways that the NFL could still take a lesson from. His daughter explained: “My father was way ahead of his time,” Susan Lombardi said. “He was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger, when he felt he was passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He felt the pain of discrimination, and so he raised his family to accept everybody, no matter what color they were or whatever their sexual orientation was.”
The always awesome S. Bear Bergman put this up for National Coming Out
Day, and I immediately loved it, and shared it, like you do.
What surprised me was that a few people responded thinking it was sarcastic, not heartfelt. Bear said no one had interpreted that way before.
So it occurs to me that there is a subset of my readers, in particular, who take National Coming Out Day particularly hard: the crossdressers, surely, and even some (stealth) trans men and women. As groups, for the most part, they aren’t always or even often out. Sometimes they’re making sure to stay employed because of dependents. Sometimes a partner or spouse doesn’t want them to be. Sometimes it’s just easier for them not to, because they’re not the kind of people who want to explain shit all the time. (As I’ve always joked, I wrote my books so I could enjoy parties again.)
And recently I’ve been thinking about the alarming number of younger out folks who have committed suicide, and somewhat maternally wonder if maybe everyone shouldn’t be, or at the very least shouldn’t feel like they *have* to be. I still think there’s a huge difference between gays and lesbians vs. trans outness, but also, I now live in a place where the repercussions of being out are far more drastic than they might be elsewhere.
So maybe let’s remember that: all of us choose not just when and how we come out, but IF we do, and even why we might not. As per usual, let’s give ourselves some room for diversity of situation, judgment, and choices.
Love to you all whether or not you’re out. Pride doesn’t require us all to be the same.
Sadly, this transphobic bathroom stupidity has arrived at our doorstep, WI. It’s time to act.
Here’s the MoveOn petition. Go sign it.
Here’s a letter draft you can email to your representatives:
I imagine you have heard of a bill proposed by Sen. Steve Nass & Rep. Jesse Kremer that will limit transgender students’ access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities. This bill is discriminatory and further stigmatizes transgender and intersex youth, who already face disproportionate levels of discrimination, harassment, and bias from teachers, community members, and often peers and family members.
Phone Script:Hello, my name is, and I live in city/town/district.I am calling about Proposed bill LRB 2643/1. What is your stance on this bill?I am concerned about this bill because it is seeking to discriminate against transgender and intersex students in Wisconsin. I urge you to not sign onto this bill as your constituent.
>Add personal reasons against bill here.<
In case anyone’s interested, here are my remarks from last night’s event.
(before video) Hi! I’m Helen Boyd and I teach gender studies here at Lawrence. I was inspired to make this video after hearing from a few male friends who were surprised that I think about my safety all the time, and I knew, from talking to women all of my life, that I was not alone in being vigilant.
(then we showed the video)
(after) When women complain about being catcalled, this is why. Too often we don’t feel safe and a catcall reminds us that we’re attracting attention – wanted or unwanted. & Sometimes it feels safer to be less noticeable when we’re out.
That phrase, “safe enough”, came out of a conversation I had with a gay man about what it’s like to walk past a guy on the street. You never know how he’s going to respond, or what’s going to happen. The safety concerns aren’t just women’s. The violence some of us worry about isn’t just sexual violence. It’s gay bashing. It’s transphobia. It’s racism.
The thing is, even if you’re not that guy, you probably know that guy. It’s not that you’d even know who he is, either, which is why everything you say or do when you’re only with other guys matters. Jokes about crazy bitches, gay men, all of that. When you don’t stand up in the little situations, the guys who would hurt gay men and trans people and women get permission. They think you hate us all too because of the jokes you tell or listen to without objecting.
Someone isn’t taking no for an answer, or is freaking out because a gay guy is crushed out on you, or because a trans woman is hot. It seems to me sometimes that it’s you guys who are afraid — afraid of losing face, of being gay, of wanting kinds of sex that other people don’t think is normal. And I know, too, you’re not supposed to be afraid and you’re not supposed to admit it even when you are. I’m a New Yorker and a punk rock kid and a professional activist – I make a living not being afraid of stuff. I get it. But something is wrong out there, something about the ways even the good guys don’t stand up, don’t step up, don’t tell that one guy in their crowd he’s ruining it for all of you. And believe me when I tell you he is – in communities where women feel safe and respected, they have a lot more sex, but in this culture, right now, women are so scared they give you the wrong number because they think a “no” will result in violence.
So what I’m asking of you, really, is to think about what you don’t think about when you walk home at night drunk. I’m asking you to think why you’d ever want to have sex with someone who wasn’t totally into you. I’m asking you to remember that someone else’s gender and sexual orientation is none of your goddamned business. I’m also telling you that not being an asshole doesn’t make you a miracle. Raise your own bar.
You’re going to be hearing some statistics next, and there are two things I need to underline: One is that all sexual violence is underreported, across the board. The other is that men are not just perpetrators, but victims – they are assaulted by men AND women, and they don’t report even more than women don’t. This isn’t about your mother or your sister or your best friend who is a woman. It’s about you, too.
So come join us in gender studies. Find out how many genders there are, how many kinds of sex exist, and how men who are married to feminists self report way better sex lives than men who aren’t. & Thanks for being here.
Despite my reputation as a humorless feminist, I’ve been working with a small group of undergrad men (& one female student!) on a group called M.A.R.S. – Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault. We have a huge – huger than predicted or expected – event happening tomorrow night where we’ll be showing that short clip on safety and I’ll be speaking super-briefly.
And it’s been amazing, to be honest. I know a lot of you roll your eyes at this kind of thing, and I know an awful lot of queer women, especially, who just can’t and won’t work with the guys, & all for very good reasons. But I like guys. Always have. In so many ways. So this work was really right up my alley, especially as I got to partner with a local community leader, my friend Shannon Kenevan, and the local sexual assault center, SACC. I’m the faculty advisor to Lawrence’s feminist group, DFC, too, so it really brought a lot of worlds together for me.
There are staff and other faculty on board who have been helping organize, too, and of course we needed funding and meetings and space and all of the many things that have to come together. Joe Samalin of Breakthrough is coming to speak as well – so this event draws from campus, local, statewide, and national talent.
But mostly I’m just thankful to be able to do what I do, to know such amazing, inspired, angry young people who want to make a difference, but most especially I’m thankful for all of the women who have stood up to tell their stories and worked to dismantle rape culture from the ground up.
We re-designed the blog about a week ago so it would be more mobile-friendly. Most everything is still here but in slightly different places; if you can’t find something, ask.
In the meantime, I was curious, so I went & looked up the very first version of my blog / this site, from march 2003.
The blog got added later the same year (which makes mine the oldest blog on trans issues still in existence, I think, but I’m happy enough to be corrected).
Feel free to leave me some feedback.