Passing Privilege and Maine Politics

Last week, Jennifer Finney Boylan spoke to the Maine legislature over gender inclusion in Maine’s non discrimination laws. She writes:

Yesterday, I spoke to the Maine legislature’s Judiciary committee. A bill has been proposed to “exempt” transgender people from protections under the Maine Human Rights Act, which went into effect six years ago. Currently, Maine protects GLBT people from discrimination, and this includes a so called “public accommodations” provision of the very sort that was, in part, the deal breaker in the Maryland law that was shelved last week. (Although I should make it clear that the Maine law has been on the books for six years without problem, and the proposed legislation is to REMOVE the protection for trans people; Maryland currently has no such provisions and the shelved legislation would have put these protections into place.)

She made some lovely remarks to the Maine legislature’s judiciary committee, which she’s reprinted in full on her blog, but the issue that comes up is that of passing privilege: how people are more than ready to have trans people who pass in their transitioned gender protected and welcomed in gender-specific spaces, but that the people who don’t pass are suspect.

That’s obviously a problem, since it’s exactly the trans people (and cis people, for that matter) who don’t have “acceptable” or culturally legible genders that need the protection most. No one asks for anyone’s ID on the way into a public bathroom after all; we are carded by our gender expression, and if our gender isnt normative, there’s often trouble, whether the person is trans, butch or some other gender that doesn’t stick closely enough to “man” or “woman”.

A quick thanks to Boylan for the heads up and for speaking up, too.

7 Replies to “Passing Privilege and Maine Politics”

  1. ….“Wacky” here appears to be a synonym for “passable.”

    Among other things. I have seen this prejudice against “passable” people both within and without the trans community….

    In my experience, “wacky” is more often a synonym for non-passable. Folks who pass generally do not need too much in the way of legal protections (as you note) – but this seems to claim a bit of reverse discrimination.

    Maybe passable persons might be accused of moving stealthily through the world for nefarious purposes in a way that non-passable persons cannot. Maybe there is some resentment directed towards passable persons either out of envy or because they’ve stepped away from the community or a trans identity. And I can understand Jenny (as a successful author and public figure) perhaps having taken some hits from within the community related to her success or her passing; we do so love to eat our own.

    In some ways, it’s complicated for those who do move through the world with ease to stand up as an example of “why we need a law” – these persons can be charming and effective spokespersons, but can’t really speak in the first person about crushing discrimination or hate. I’d be hard put to come up with any really negative experiences in recent memory, and I surely lack the “fire in the belly” about legal protections that I’ve figured out how to live without for many years – so I step back and let those who do experience such things, and will benefit from such protections, have the floor.

  2. That’s what I meant, non-passable. Duh. Was that not clear? Quite frankly, very little bad has happened to me as a very out trans-woman and I have always presumed this is because the privilege of passing has made it a non-issue. Wacky, when lobbed as an insult, means that you don’t pass, and that your appearance makes other people uneasy.

    In a personal aside, I still find it odd that people think I “pass” so easily– when I look at that video of me talking to the committee, I cringe, and wish I looked different in so many ways. Plus: is there anything they can give to make you 25 years younger?

  3. I’m going to re-edit my pieces to make this clear. “Wacky” raises the issue of passability, but my whole point is that “wackiness” was meant as an insult to people who don’t pass. It appears as if the English professor has managed to say the opposite of what she intended. hate that.

  4. Dozens of jurisdictions — cities, counties, and states — have anti-discrimination laws going back more than thirty years. If these laws caused problems, there would be an abundance of evidence. There isn’t. It’s always argued on the hypothetical case of a “man in a dress” in the little girls restroom. Shouldn’t they be expected to show some evidence at this stage of the matter?

  5. Well I tried post my thoughts here, but WordPress sees it as Spam for whatever reason.

    So I gathered them into a post on my blog instead:

  6. Christine, thanks for that. I guess I probably count as one of those with “passing privilege” but I really hate the Gold Stars for their exclusionary language and tone. It’s just bullshit.

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