“I stand with trans people.”

I did a talk for Rainbow Over Wisconsin last night – a local org that helps fund LGBTQ projects in northeastern wisco. Here’s what I said.

Someone asked me recently why it is that gay people are so political, and I said, “you’re kidding, right?”

Our lives are legislated, our existence is debated, our relationships are suspect, and we are still, to this day, likely to drop our partner’s hand on the street, in bars; we worry about kissing each other on New Year’s Eve, and we have to prove ourselves before we are assumed to be good people, good parents, good teachers or lawyers or accountants. Every time some institution recognizes our worth – as the Supreme Court did a few years ago – a hundred objections are raised everywhere all over this country, saying we can’t be married, we can’t be good, we can’t be moral.

But we know that’s all wrong, that they don’t know us.

And they don’t. Those who do know us, support us. There are straight allies in this room no doubt, and in all of our lives: people who have seen what we are and who we are and support our right to exist, to thrive, to choose our families and professions, to walk home at night safely.

Right now we’re seeing those objections – that backlash – everywhere. And I worry mostly about what it means to be us.

The day after the election I had beautiful young queer kids come up and ask me if it might make more sense to be closeted. Worse yet, I said I didn’t know, that that was an individual choice, that if you feel scared, it’s okay to hide a little more.

But what’s funny is that my own impulse was to be more visibly queer, to be more out there, to not shut up. I feel like so many queer people I know have come to me quietly and said, “I’m just waiting for someone to say something” or that they are so tuned in to the sideways glances that they feel like they’re walking around with their fists clenched. My jaw some days is like a vise. A lot of us are feeling it – anger, but if not anger, rage. Sadness, exhaustion, fatigue. They keep trying, you know? To legislate bathrooms and “religious freedom” – by which they mean the legal right to discriminate against us, of course – and to make us feel as if expecting to be treated like a person, to not live in fear, is too big an ask, that we are somehow supposed to be grateful for being treated only a little like 2nd class citizens.

But it’s better now, right? Straight people tell me. For some of us, it is.

But we still stop holding hands when we walk down the street and see a stranger.

And you know? What we need to do is hold tighter, as a recent ad out of Australia put it. We need to hold hands more often, not less. We need bigger buttons, more rainbow flags, more trans pride, more bisexual visibility. We need more of us in the public sphere, not less.

Because when that student asked me that I remembered what it was like when I was 17, in 1986, when people were dying and queers were throwing bricks through Wall Street windows and putting red handprints all over New York City in order to make the point that the lack of funding, the lack of care, for those with HIV, was killing us, and that those who did nothing had blood on their hands.

We were so tentative then, and yet also so angry and so full of love for our communities.

[[ a little bit here about being liminally queer, being that girl in HS for the gay boys, the first days on Christopher Street even in the early 90s ]]

It’s what sustains us. We’re such an amazing group of people. The twinks and the bears and the softball lesbians and the butches and the queens and all of us. We have so many genders, so many versions of smart, so many kinds of fabulous, so much creativity and life and humor. We have so much to us, and a culture of living in the world and making things beautiful even while people hate us.

But what I worry about is who’s getting left behind. Queer identified youth are still getting kicked out of their homes. Trans youth are still being denied healthcare that enables them to be who they are. Trans women are still not getting jobs, they are still living on disability and hustling to pay the rent. Those of us who are gender-y get the cops called on us when we need to pee. I worry that those of us who have jobs, who are white, who have health insurance, and maybe a 401K, don’t remember how insecure life can be when you’re younger. We know that we’re here for them, but I worry that they don’t, and I worry, now that at long last we got to breathe a sigh of relief with Obergefell, that we forget all of the rest of us.

In gender studies, I often teach this idea of “asking the other question” – which means, simply, that we look at what’s not obvious. We see homophobia, say, but we have to ask too: what about racism? We see homophobia, but what about transphobia, misogyny, transmisogyny? Do we pay attention to the ways that those of us who have more intersections – more reasons for people to deny us jobs or housing or healthcare – manage to live? Do we know what life is like for a single black trans woman of color, at all?

I ask because I’ve been doing trans work for a very long time. Almost two decades. When the word transgender was barely a thing.

[[ more here about how I started to do this work, where we came from, what it was like, etc ]]

Now we see Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and Jazz Jennings – two of our most amazing trans women are women of color, I’d like to point out – and love that they can be who they are doing what they do. But trans women, you know, still die too much, and even when they live, they die too young. Trans kids who don’t have supportive families have a 41% risk of suicide. 41%. I have that number written on my bathroom mirror so I don’t forget it.

It’s hard to see sometimes because trans people seem to be made of steel. They amaze me regularly with their ability to hide their fear and their worries. But once gay marriage became a thing, and all those bathroom bans were proposed, I watched my beautiful wife go from being a huge, charismatic, creative, ridiculously flirtatious human being get kind of quiet. She didn’t say anything at first. But then we were in an airport in NY and there was a line for the ladies’ room and she came back to me paler than pale. They stared at me, she said. Like I wasn’t supposed to be there. That hasn’t happened in a long time. It hadn’t. But as I sat and held her hand while she calmed down, I looked up and noticed that in our little corner of the airport, many of the flights were headed to North Carolina. They were debating HB2 at the time and I knew that wasn’t a coincidence.

Let me drop some facts: trans women are women. Trans women do not assault people in bathrooms. This is not about women’s safety – hell, it’s not even about bathrooms. And trans people have been part of the LGBTQ community since the very beginning, and they worked with gays and lesbians on every major issue – marriage, HIV care, adoption, non discrimination laws – that we have fought for and won. Believe me, I can recommend books. Check out Susan Stryker’s Transgender History for starters. She’s a historian who ran the LGBTQ Archives in San Francisco for years, and she’s queer, too.

What is true is that, at that time, trans people hid themselves. They “woodworked” as it came to be called. They transitioned and moved sometimes clear across the country and started life again. So for decades, many of us doing this work didn’t know we knew trans people. We knew the visible ones, the drag queens that would go on to transition, the butches who did. But they were always with us, always fighting side by side, always working for laws that helped and communities that kept us as safe as we could be. Do you know Reed Erickson’s story? You should. He was a trans guy who funded most of the major research on gay and lesbian lives for decades. He inherited some money and he used it to create our history.

What about Lou Sullivan, who started FTM International, and who was one of the first gay identified trans men? Imagine the heat he took about being both trans and gay back in the 70s. He fought for a trans man’s right to transition despite being same sex attracted – which at the time was largely discouraged by medical gatekeepers – they didn’t want to create more gays and lesbians so they routinely turned down transitions for people who knew they would be once they transitioned – and he helped create the LGBT Historical Society. He died of AIDS in 91, and he grew up in Milwaukee. There’s a new book about him that just got published.

Sandy Stone helped start “women’s music” – by which I mean lesbian music – at Olivia Records.

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson – the P is for ‘pay it no mind’ – a Latina and black woman – were at Stonewall and were reported to start the whole thing off. Holly Woodlawn – one of Warhol’s Factory – was there too.

Ben Barres is a neurobiologist who works for greater diversity – especially opportunity for women – in the sciences. He tells a story about how people still come up to tell him that his work is better than his sister’s, and is a champion for women’s intellectual prowess.

Phyllis Frye is the first out transgender judge appointed in Texas, and believe me she’s fighting SB6.

Alan Hart, Jamison Green, Sarah McBride, Miss Major, Monica Roberts, Riki Wilchins, Allyson Robsinson, the Wachowski sisters… do you know their names? Do you know how many trans people do the good work of increasing visibility for all LGBTQ Americans, not just the trans ones? How many make art for us, music, do research, run companies? There are so many. Some put in decades as gay or lesbian even before they transitioned, and their commitment to the whole of this community has never wavered, not for a minute. Not even when they’ve been told to stand down and step aside, not even when they were told to wait for their rights, that sexual orientation was a more pressing matter than gender.

It’s easier to see the entertainers, the actors and models and athletes, especially. And every year for Transgender Day of Remembrance we see how many trans lives have been cut short – how many die of murder, of the kinds of extreme violence that sicken you even to read about? It’s a necessity – we need to know that this kind of violence is still happening, all the time, around us, but it makes me sad that a lot gays and lesbians only know a list of the dead and … Catilyn Jenner. Because behind every single famous trans person there are hundreds of trans people living their lives, creating families, making a living. And some of the most confident of them are shaken right now by all of this backlash which is focused on them and them only.

So while you see trans people keeping it together, right now, they need all of us behind them. We need to have their backs. They need us to tell bullies where to shove it. They need bathrooms that are safe, schools that are safe, jobs that are safe. They need those of us in the LGB to get over it already. It’s not better for all of us yet. The rates of unemployment, violence, unequal education, all of it – are still very much an issue for trans people, and every time one of these damn bathroom laws gets proposed – there are a dozen in the works right now – beautiful, proud, gigantically queer and awesome women like my wife go quiet.

Which is, you know, why I get louder. Let’s all chime in. I support trans people.

The future is trans. The future is queer. The future is us.

Thank you.

Music: The Traveling Suitcase

So I’ve gone to see a lot of my friends’ bands over the years, and mostly they were alright, but now I get to go see Traveling Suitcase, the band that just came back after one of the guys transitioned.

Here’s a piece from a local paper about their return:

“Among the reasons for newfound optimism in the band is Botterman, who came out as transgender during the hiatus. Those who followed the journey of the Traveling Suitcase since the band began in 2010 (and the current lineup came came together in 2013) might have caught that from the new material — hormone therapy has led to a new voice coming from behind the drum kit. It’s been a feeling-out process — some of the band’s old material likely won’t be making future setlists because Botterman said he simply can’t sing them anymore — but the transition, after first being part of why the future was in doubt, has now given the band new life.

“I’m excited this time around because I’m just happy,” he said. “I’m just genuinely there, rather than pretending to be somebody else. And I was doing that for a long time. … The music was real, obviously. That will always transcend. But I just feel happier personally and I’m excited because I think that when we are one with ourselves, when we are being honest and truthful to who we are, everything we do is a manifestation of that — everything just kind of ripples out.”

Bad, Bad News from HHS

You know when a document is signed by a few of your favorite organizations (NCTE, the Task Force) you have to pay attention. Here are the highlights:

  • President Trump this week quietly appointed anti-LGBT extremist Roger Severino as Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/OCR). 
  • He authored a report opposing OCR’s implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex in federally funded health programs.
  • Severino has called the efforts of agencies such as OCR to protect transgender people from discrimination an “abuse of power” wielded “to coerce everyone…into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.” 
  • Severino has falsely asserted that HHS’s 1557 rule “create[s] special privileges based on gender identity” that can “force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries” even when they are not medically necessary.
  • Severino also strongly opposed HHS’s commonsense interpretation of Section 1557 to apply to discrimination related to pregnancy termination, including denying care to patients just because they have previously had an abortion.

Please read the whole thing. 

 

Tomorrow Night!

Time to #BoycottTexas: SB6 Approved

I watched some of the five hour hearing.

Toward the end, a Republican woman named Lois Kolkhorst came on and made something she thought was a feminist argument for passing this law.

And if I never hear another woman argue this transphobic bullshit on some kind of fake feminist grounds I will be surprised.

It embarrasses me that somehow, women actually believe all the bigoted, transphobic legislators who are now somehow magically concerned about violence against women. And this woman, who apparently spoke to an undisclosed university professor, said she herself must be a radical feminist — because their views are the same.

It’s a sad day for Texas and a sad say for this country.

(& Every time someone mentions the men and women in the Bible, all I can think is: what about all the eunuchs? Do you guys actually read the actual Bible or what?!)

Tegan’s Family

A family in Illinois is fighting for their son’s right to use the men’s room.

“I just want to let other people know, I know there’s a lot of other people that’s going through the same thing I am, that, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Tegan said. “You just gotta keep on pushing.”

There is a rally for trans rights in Appleton (yes, Appleton!) on March 18th. Come join us.

Male Privilege & Trans Women

I’ve said in the past that I’ve made all the mistakes and asked all the dumb questions as a feminist who is trans-allied, and I have. I’ve put a lot of it in print.

The reality is that many of us still talk about gender as if it isn’t intersectional. So we ask: do trans women have male privilege before they transition? But that is both too big and too small a question; too big because it implies that trans women are monolithic, and too small because it implies men are as well.

So instead perhaps questions like: is a woman who is suppressing her gender and suffering from gender dysphoria actually experiencing the world as a man? Also, if we know that a gay man doesn’t experience male privilege in the same way a straight man does, and we know black men don’t experience it the same way white men do, then isn’t it possible that trans women, before they transition, also don’t experience it the way cis men do?

While there are women like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings, who expressed their femininity from a young age, who never experienced male privilege at all, there are a lot of trans women who hid their femininity. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there or that they didn’t suffer with it. It means they were being raised like sheep in wolves’ clothing: visible only to themselves, and exposed to some of the very misogynistic, sexist attitudes men share when they think they are around other men only.

I remember my wife coming home after being on an elevator with a bunch of guys from the College of Insurance and being horrified by the way they spoke about women. I said: I know. And she said: no you don’t. And I believed her.

Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity is useful here. She outlines some kinds of masculinity, like subordinated masculinity (like gay men) and complicit masculinity (the guy who isn’t hegemonic but who still benefits from patriarchy). So male privilege might be thought of on a similar scale, that it’s not YES or NO but rather: what are the other intersections of identity that might modify the experience? If being black or gay disappears some of male privilege, at least in the world at large, then it’s easy enough to say that trans would as well. Add more intersections of marginalized identity, such as being feminine, gay, and trans, and male privilege has all but disappeared.

Sometimes when we talk about gender we want a hammer to solve all the arguments when what we need is a scalpel, a microscope.

None of this is simple.

#IBelieveinTransWomen

Look, my fellow big brained cis feminists who don’t understand trans people but who feel the need to question and evaluate trans feminism and the entire concept of gender because you’ve just learned this is something you should know about:

THIS HAS ALL BEEN DONE, HASHED OUT, CONCLUDED, long before you arrived on the scene.

I asked all the dumb questions. I posited all the tenets of feminist theory. I examined the role of socialization, looked at intersectionality, read books about intersex, argued with radfems, got cold shouldered by them, targeted by them, all of it.

Please please please just stop and take a minute to realize that this is not a new topic, that your feminist brain is not going to find some crumb of logic that mine didn’t, and that right now, all you’re doing is hurting women who are already marginalized in ways that are brutal. Especially right now.

Here. Read this.

I believe trans women, and I believe in trans women.

Trans Advocates Share Message of Hope for Trans Youth

Gender Diversity Talk (by me)

It starts about 10 minutes in.

Working Women

This is my grandma. She was a janitor for a building in midtown, a proud 32 B/J union member, a single mom, and a survivor of domestic violence. The only day she called in sick to work was the day my sister Kathy graduated from NYU because she was the first in our family to do so.

My mother worked as a bank teller, as a cashier, in my sister’s bakery, all while raising 6 children and a grandchild. I don’t remember her ever sitting down when I was a child.

My eldest sister was the first professional woman I knew. She used to come home and hang her dry cleaning in the front hall, and those clothes always seemed to me like a passport out of the shitty part-time jobs the women in my family often had. She has supported nearly every single member of my family financially at one time or another.

My second sister owned her own bakery – working there was my part time job through high school and into college – and went on to get numerous degrees and just returned, at 53, to law school. She raised three kids solo, and now she specializes in disability rights.

My first jobs were babysitting, a newspaper route – I was one of only two girls who delivered papers, a baker’s assistant, a video store clerk, a writing tutor, a canvasser for environmental/consumer legislation, an admin, and now, an educator.

We have never been paid a dollar for a dollar’s work. 

To the working class women in my family, and in my world: thank you.

 

 

 

Dandara dos Santos, Or, Why I Don’t Quit

A former student expressed some fatigue and frustration on FB today while they were once again explaining how binary gender is a social construction. I said: try doing it for another 25 years.

It’s two decades nearly doing trans work for me, but almost 30 as a feminist.

Around the same time, a video of a trans woman (TW, please don’t watch it but do read the story) being savagely beaten while her attackers laughed was also making the rounds.

Dandara dos Santos was dragged from her home and dumped in a wheelbarrow before being rolled to a back alley and beaten to death amid cheers and laughter.”

And that’s why. I don’t know how anyone can read that sentence and ever, ever stop trying to educate people. It’s the least I can do.

Rest in peace, Dandara dos Santos. May your attackers rot in jail, may your family find peace, and may whatever divinity you believed in welcome you home.

Int’l Women’s Day Teach In at Lawrence

Just as with February 17th, when a National Strike was called, tomorrow is the Day Without A Woman. A few of my colleagues and I agreed that education is more in our wheelhouse, so we created a day-long Teach In that includes members of our community, faculty, students, and staff doing presentations on various aspects of women’s political issues.

 

So pleased. If you’re in the Appleton area, this event is open to the public.

Parents of Trans Kids

(I’m looking for the artist’s name. Haven’t found it yet. If anyone out there tracks this person down, please let me know.)

update 2PM: Here are the original designs, all being used to raise funds in the UK for trans youth orgs.

WI State Detransitioning Trans Employees

Imagine, married folks, how it would feel if you got a cheery email from your university or from the state you live in telling you that due to some clerical reorganization, you and your spouse, and all married people in the state, had been re-set in their files to SINGLE and that, in order to be reclassified again as married, you had to provide documentation of your marriage as well as scientific evidence, say DNA, to prove you aren’t related.

IMAGINE.

That’s exactly what the state of Wisconsin is currently doing to trans state employees: reverting their gender markers to the gender they were assigned at birth and asking for “additional documentation” to change the gender marker back.

Cary Gabriel Costello, who works at UW Milwaukee, just got that email. You can read Costello’s description of this event on his blog TransFusion.

This is happening to people who have ALREADY transitioned, who have legally been their gender for years, and who had been entirely accepted as that gender legally, professionally, and medically. ETF is requiring them to do three things:

1 – The employee must notify ETF (Employee Trust Fund, the state’s administrative board) directly, providing their old and new names, old and new gender markers, ETF ID number, and a declaration that they are gender transitioning. (Previously, employees notified HR at their place of employment, and employer HR staff changed the gender marker directly in the benefits system. But now ETF will centralize control over implementing transitions, and maintain a database of gender transitioners. In essence, we are being required to register with the state.)

2 – Trans people are required to provide “proof of identity,” such as a driver’s license or military ID showing the new name and gender marker. (This is the easiest one for people who have already transitioned.)

3 – Trans people must produce “proof of gender.” These options include (a) a correctly gendered passport, (b) a court order – often requiring proof of genital surgery, such as in WI, or (c) a birth certificate which is correctly gendered.

THIS IS NUTS, folks. It’s creepy, it’s the worst governmental intrusion, and it’s turning the clock back on trans rights and identity a decade.

Please stay informed. As I know more, you will too.

Crossdressers on NPR

It’s so rare to see a good story about crossdresser culture these days, but Veronica Vera, as ever, leads the way in this story from NPR.

I love that there’s a wife interviewed as well:

In fact, Pat came to Miss Vera’s Finishing School with the support of his wife of 15 years. She asked that we refer to her by her middle name, Leigh — because she too is concerned about potential scorn. Leigh says she sees how becoming Bianca lifts the weight of the world off her husband’s shoulders.

“It’s definitely a stress release for him,” she says. “It definitely helps him have more balance in his life. And all of that is good. It’s good for me as his wife. It’s good for my children.”

Leigh says she’s more concerned about her husband being judged than being judged herself.

She uses her middle name – which is precisely how I became Helen back in the day.

This Is Compassion: Hansen Unplugged

What a remarkable thing: compassion without understanding, without needing an explanation, without fear. Just one man, looking at the situation, and trying to see this young man for who he is while also seeing how unfair it is for the young women he was forced to compete against.

But the way it ends is so simply put, so kind:

But Mack Beggs is not the problem so many people make him out to be. He’s a child simply looking for his place in the world, and a chance to compete in the world.

Do we really not have the simple decency to allow him at least that? Because it seems to me it’s the very least we can do.

Here’s the full transcript:

I would have thought in 2017 – or maybe I just hoped in 2017 – we would be done arguing about birth certificates… but obviously we’re not.

Seventeen-year old Mack Beggs, a junior at Euless Trinity who was born a girl and is now in the process of becoming a boy, wins the girls’ state wrestling tournament Saturday. So the argument has started again.

Mack wanted to wrestle against the boys. The UIL says he had to wrestle the girls. And that’s not fair for anybody involved in this argument.

Mack has been taking testosterone and it shows. There’s a reason we have rules in sports against steroids, and it was an incredibly unfair advantage for him. It was also unfair to the girls who had to wrestle him.

The question is, “When does a girl become a boy, and when does a boy become a girl?” or “When can you play games against those you identify with and not what a piece of paper says you are?”

That answer is way above my pay grade. But someone has to find a better answer than what we’re being given now.

As I said when I wrote about Missouri football player Michael Sam, I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay. I don’t understand his world. But I do understand he’s a part of mine. And I am saying the same thing now about Mack Beggs.

Transitioning is a struggle I cannot imagine. It is a journey I could not make… and it is a life that too many cannot live.

The problems that Mack Beggs is facing and dealing with now remind me again that I don’t have any problems. He needs our support, and he does not need a group of old men in Austin telling him who to wrestle because of a genetic mix-up at birth.

We have argued long enough about birth certificates. It’s an argument that needs to end. You don’t have to understand – I myself don’t understand. But Mack Beggs is not the problem so many people make him out to be. He’s a child simply looking for his place in the world, and a chance to compete in the world.

Do we really not have the simple decency to allow him at least that? Because it seems to me it’s the very least we can do.

More of this.

Hold Tight

I am not sure straight folks even know how often we do this when we don’t feel safe.

Amicus Brief

A remarkable document, signed by 101 trans individuals – some celebrities (Jen Richards, Laverne Cox, Zachary Drucker, the Wachowski sisters), activists (Beck Bailey, Diego Sanchez, Jamison Green), professors (Ben Barres, Jenny Boylan, Paisley Currah), and lawyers (Zoe Dolan, Mik Kincaid, Jillian Weiss) – was filed today in favor of trans use of bathrooms re: Gavin Grimm’s SCOTUS case.

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
Bathroom restrictions are proxy battles for who is considered fully human. If you can’t use a public facility safely, how can you be an active member of the community? How can you be a citizen if the message of your own government is that you don’t belong? And what are you without community or citizenship? – Ms. Jen Richards, 40, Writer, Actress and Producer

Amici respectfully submit that the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals should be affirmed for the reasons set forth in the Brief for Respondent. Amici further submit this brief to highlight for the Court the perspectives and experiences of transgender individuals who are vulnerable to the pernicious effects of Petitioner’s proposed interpretation of Title IX. Amici offer their personal stories to illustrate that they, like other Americans, strive to contribute to their communities, raise healthy, loving families and succeed professionally. Amici also detail the support that they have received from their families, friends, schools and employers, which has helped them to achieve their full potential. Amici believe that their ability to contribute to society and lead lives of “equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2608 (2015), would be upended by Petitioner’s interpretation of Title IX, which would humiliate and discriminate against them on the basis of sex.

It’s a remarkable document, worth reading in full.

When We Rise #whenwerise

You really should be watching this series.

It’s not perfect, but it’s really, really good, and gets at some of the ways life was.

You can watch the first two episodes online, and catch the third and fourth tonight and tomorrow.

It’s really what we all need right now: to see what resistance looks like, what it had to look like, and how people brought their best fight, their best selves, and found alliance even within communities that had a great deal to argue about amongst themselves. But moreso: things were just starting to really improve just at the moment when the horror that was the AIDS crisis hit. Sound familiar? It should. We’re living through a similar historic moment right now.