Context, Culture, Community

Here are two amazing pieces written as a response to the recent uproar about the use of the term “tranny” but also due to the one caused by a series of articles about Leto playing Rayon and the potrayal of trans women in mainstream media.

The first, by Jen Richards, takes an intersectional, intergenerational approach to looking at the conflict that happened between Parker Molloy (whose work I admire) and Calpernia Addams (whose work I have admired for a long time), and about whom Jen Richards writes:

Her story is not an unusual one for trans women, particularly those of us who came of age before the dominance of social media. The clubs I first went to were gay ones, and the lines between fag, queen, tranny and crossdresser were not always apparent, certainly not to anyone on the outside. In those contexts, differences within the group mattered less than the shared safe space.

For Addams and her followers, Molloy’s criticisms of Jared Leto and RuPaul, her fixation on language and general focus on victimhood, is emblematic of a view of trans women that is, if not inaccessible, at least not understandable. Many of these trans women have carved out unique paths through transition, often outside of a community context, and some young straight trans women may not have ever identified as gay men. Others bend gender and sexuality in ways that exist comfortably outside of the binary and heteronormative view that Addams represents.

The second article, by Cristan Williams on TransAdvocate, does a linguistic, historical review of the usage of the term “tranny” that is just – GREAT. It reviews various appearances of the word from 1985 onward, with sources such as Law & Order, a review of Hedwig, to the use by the “Tranny Roadshow” in 2005. It closes with the following questions:

  • What impact does an obviously very popular context of framing the trans experience (tranny) have on social justice movements?
  • When the majority clearly associates “tranny” with the sex industry while the gay and drag community associates the term with performance and partying, will this affect the ability of the GLBT community to communicate well? 

I would ask one more: is it possible for us within the trans community to use this term but simultaneously object to its usage in a mainstream context? It was always “insider” language for me – never a term I used outside of trans contexts – and a term I have since stopped using altogether, precisely because I am not trans.

These two together are really, really good stuff, giving us not just context, but history and a stronger sense of the struggle of a community to come to terms (oh! I said it!) with its own language and diversity.
The one thing I am sure of: these dust-ups hurt the people involved in them. What doesn’t help is name-calling, condescension, and a too-quick willingness to condemn the very people who are trying to move shit forward.

 

White House Issues New Guidelines for Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Wow is this overdue, but very, very welcome.

“The American people have kind of woken up to the fact that we’ve got a serious problem when 20 percent of coeds say they’ve been sexually assaulted,” said Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California.

Lawmakers and the White House have condemned the assaults on campuses, but the federal government has largely left it up to college officials and the local authorities. Congress last year passed the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which requires domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking cases be disclosed in annual campus crime statistics. But victims’ advocates say that does not go far enough.

And a federal law from decades ago that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses, including sex offenses, is rarely enforced, critics say . . .

Last year, the agency fined Yale University $165,000 for failing to disclose four sexual offenses involving force over several years. Eastern Michigan University paid $350,000 in 2008 for failing to sound a campus alert after a student was sexually assaulted and murdered. The department also reach a settlement last year with the University of Montana at Missoula after investigating the university’s sexual-misconduct policies and finding them woefully inadequate.

Under the new crackdown, the White House will urge colleges and universities to conduct “climate surveys,”  in which participants  anonymously report their experiences with unwanted physical contact, sexual assault or rape, and how their schools responded. Some lawmakers would like to see such surveys mandatory and to possibly make federal funds like Pell grants contingent on their being carried out . . .

Ms. Speier would like to see the government do more, liked requiring schools to post Title 9 rights and where students should go if raped.

Under the White House plan, the federal government would also help colleges and universities gain a better understanding of their obligations to protect students and their legal rights.

20% of coeds.  That’s disturbing. (Also, can we stop using the term “coed”? It’s anachronistic, at best, at this point, if not just sexist.)

NC Clergy Bring It

Oh, this is all kinds of awesome.

“The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,” says Jonathan Martel, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP. “Marriage performed by clergy is a spiritual exercise and expression of faith essential to the values and continuity of the religion that government may regulate only where it has a compelling interest.”

Growing numbers of faith traditions, including those represented among the plaintiffs, bless the marriages of same-sex couples. “As senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation. My denomination – the United Church of Christ – authorizes me to perform these ceremonies. But Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right,” says Rev. Joe Hoffman, Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville and a plaintiff in the case.

Amendment One is, of course, the law barring same sex marriages in NC.

“Farewell ‘Tranny'”

An old friend of mine, sometimes known as Minerva Steele, wrote a piece on Facebook about his own, queer relationship with the demise of the word “tranny” and the surrounding culture of language policing. I wanted to share it because his opinion is, at this point, one that is not often heard from but one that’s still needed. Often, in any social movement, it is the angriest, most militant voices heard from most often, and, as he said in conversation, voices like his often aren’t heard from “because we don’t care enough to be angry; we already see transpeople as our sisters and brothers and just go on our merry way.” I would add not only that, but there are plenty out there who lived at the edges of subcultures where all of these identities mixed and were valued and respected, even if there were differences in language and worldview. I hate the idea of shutting down people whose identities come with some historical and individual complexity only because the new paradigm doesn’t fit their experience very well.

Recently I posted a link to a video by Alaska Thunderfuck, who appeared on the 6th season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It was seemingly created in response to the retirement of the “you’ve got she-mail!” segment announcement on the program, due to increased negative feedback from the trans community. The program has also ceased using the term “tranny” for the same reasons. RuPaul’s producing team was painted to be insensitive to the trans community by using these terms, inasmuch as the context in which they were being used was specifically drag queen oriented. I thought this concession to pressure was a mistake, but I see the logic of not alienating any part of their demographic, however misguided anyone might find their reasons for objection. In any case, I thought Alaska’s video was hilarious, biting and brilliant, typical of that queen and very satisfying for me personally. I posted the following link with my two cents, “I needed this. Can’t say “she-mail”, can’t say “tranny”…what the stinkin’ hell? Used to be this queer community was fun.”

A new friend of mine responded with a polite yet firm opposition,

“Please keep in mind those are slurs that get thrown at trans women on a regular basis, often with threats of violence or rape (or in addition to violent attacks or assault). Sorry to be a wet blanket on a post that might have been made in jest, but as a person who worked with and is close to the trans community, we as Cis people, need to understand those slurs are not ours to throw around for comedy’s sake.”

I sincerely respect where she’s coming from, the topic is hardly unknown to me. One of my closest friends teaches gender theory on a university level and we talk this subject constantly, but my familiarity doesn’t start there: as someone who has spent most of his life with gay, lesbian, bi, queer, drag, and all flavors of pansexual genderfuckery, I hardly come at these hot topic terms as an outsider. For decades I’ve been very comfortable referring to myself among friends and family as a “tranny,” and it’s never been anything but a term I respected and celebrated, and I’ve never thought of “she-male” as a slur…how can I when I’m clearly in that continuum myself? Perhaps I rarely bring the high drag anymore, but I’m still as queer as ever. Why queer? It’s about the best umbrella term I can settle on for anyone who’s deviated enough from the decidedly square and heteronormative model to become interesting; I honestly don’t know what the fuck I am if I really have to break the terminology down, but I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago and I’m much happier for it…which is a lighthearted way of acknowledging the position that most of us are somewhere on the trans and/or queer spectrum, whether we can see it/recognize it/embrace it/explore it in earnest/reject it outright and deny it exists within us because we’ve been rigidly indoctrinated by exterior forces/condemn and even endanger others who oppose our mindset.

Continue reading ““Farewell ‘Tranny’””

Us @ FORGE Milwaukee

We’re doing a presentation and heading a discussion at FORGE Milwaukee tomorrow, Saturday April 26th, at 7PM.

The Facebook event is here.

FORGE’s longer description is here and goes like this:

Join guest speaker and author Helen Boyd for a lively reading and discussion of her book “She’s Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband.” Published in 2007, this book is a foundation for partners of trans people, with timeless information and thought provoking concepts from a partner-centric focus. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to engage in dialogue with Helen and other attendees, as well as hear more from the author about the book (and possibly about what has changed for her — and the trans/SOFFA community — since 2007).

[Get your free copy of the book (paper or Kindle) by attending the March 22nd social support group or contacting michael (tgwarrior [at] forge-forward [dot] org) to make arrangements.]

Helen Boyd is the author of My Husband Betty (Thunder’s Mouth, 2004) which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and is often referred to as the “field guide to crossdressers”. Her second book, She’s Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband (Seal Press, 2007), has been called “a postmodern reflection on transness” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Her blog (en)gender can be found online at www.myhusbandbetty.com.

She hails from Brooklyn, NY, and currently lives in Appleton, WI, where she teaches Gender Studies at Lawrence University.

Open discussion is from 6:00 – 6:45pm

Open discussion is the time to connect connection with fellow Trans+ and SOFFA individuals. This gently facilitated time is especially devoted to exploring the issues you bring in – sharing your experiences and stories, asking questions, seeking referrals, gathering resources. We’ll assure this time will stay focused on your needs, and the discussion you generate.

Casa Valentina Opening

Casa Valentina opening night 4/23/14

It was so much fun. I’ll be writing more about the play itself in the upcoming days, but for now, look at the pretty pictures.

There are more at Playbill’s site.

bell hooks @ SNC

Well check this out! This is a video of a talk bell hooks just gave on Tuesday at St. Norbert College. I was there, & it was amazing. Watch & learn.

The Q&A is really the thing, and that starts about 40 minutes in.

‘Gabo’ Flies Away on a White Sheet While Hanging Laundry

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died and left us with an outstanding legacy of beauty and politics.

“I Touch Myself” Becomes Breast Cancer PSA

The Divynyls’ Chrissy Amphlett died of breast cancer last year and she wanted her best known song to do some good. The song of female desire is now a song of self-care:

= why women rock, pt. 8010.

The RuPaul Brouhaha

RuPaul’s Drag Race decided to stop using “she mail” for a segment on the show because trans people were upset about it – but moreso upset about an additional segment where people had to guess whether a close-up shot of a body part belonged to a cis woman or a “she male” (as the show put it).

& Today, a lot of really transphobic shit has been posted and tweeted, and by gay men. An old friend of mine who is a comedian and TV producer based in NYC posted a frustrated response on his Facebook page which he’s given me permission to reprint here.

There’s a lot of chatter in the LGBT community today about RuPaul’s Drag Race removing the “She-Mail” element of the show, due to complaints from transgender viewers. As a comedian, I have very mixed feelings about it. Not everyone appreciates satire, and many, many times, those who do not appreciate it end up unwittingly squashing the 1st Amendment rights of others. HOWEVER. As a gay man, I am utterly horrified by how aggressive some gay men and women are being toward those who are transgender over this issue. Many are going as far as to suggest we drop the T from LGBT, because we obviously “have different goals in mind.”

That is fucking disgraceful.

A gentle reminder that it was, in large part, the T in LGBT that conducted the Stonewall Riots. It was the T in LGBT that made it possible for you to get married in a big chunk of our country. It was the T in LGBT that made it possible for you to walk the streets holding hands relatively safely, as compared with 50 years ago, when that would have gotten you killed. Y’all need to slow your roll a bit here. Just because you’re now realizing that the T in LGBT has a much harder road to hoe than the rest of us does not mean you get to dismiss them. They never dismissed you. Those of you who are doing this are the exact same assholes who, if Dancing with the Stars awarded a prize called a Fag Bag, would be burning down ABC and hurling Molotov cocktails into Tom Bergeron’s house. Your brothers and sisters can feel differently about something without getting disowned. Pick your battles, and know your history. Taking a phrase off of a TV show does not constitute a legitimate reason to bury the people who gave you life.

Pick your battles and know your history. Some days those seem like unreachable goals.

Sports T

All the boldface is my own.

The first evidence of this new policy in action was published last year in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Four female athletes, ages 18 to 21, all from developing countries, were investigated for high testosterone. Three were identified as having atypically high testosterone after undergoing universal doping tests. (They were not suspected of doping: Tests clearly distinguish between doping and naturally occurring testosterone.)

Sports officials (the report does not identify their governing-body affiliation) sent the young women to a medical center in France, where they were put through examinations that included blood tests, genital inspections, magnetic resonance imaging, X-rays and psychosexual history — many of the same invasive procedures Ms. Semenya endured. Since the athletes were all born as girls but also had internal testes that produce unusually high levels of testosterone for a woman, doctors proposed removing the women’s gonads and partially removing their clitorises. All four agreed to undergo both procedures; a year later, they were allowed to return to competition.

The doctors who performed the surgeries and wrote the report acknowledged that there was no medical reason for the procedures. Quite simply, these young female athletes were required to have drastic, unnecessary and irreversible medical interventions if they wished to continue in their sports.

I’m angry, frustrated, and even a little surprised. At this level of things, they couldn’t find anyone who knew anything about the relationship between T and clitorises? How does a large clitoris have anything to do with competitiveness?

As a friend just asked, are they seriously saying that having a larger clitoris makes women run faster? People use it to steer or catch the wind? What?

The whole article is here.

Hyenas

I write memoir. Sometimes people ask me why I would publish such deeply personal things, and I never know how to answer that question. Because I can? Because I think shame is the single most limiting factor of our lives? Because I want people to know the same sense of relief I have many, many times – that relief when you read something, or see something, and you think, “maybe I’m not horrible.” But often it’s because writing about something is a way of taking control of it. Owning your own story is empowering. Having someone else tell it to shame you is not.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because I’ve been watching two good friends have their lives dragged through social media in horrible ways.

And I think about all of these news stories – politicians’ dick pics, barebacking requests, grindr photos – all of these things, the real world of desire and shame and love and risk and identity – and we all make jokes about them, judge them, maybe sometimes feel sorry for the parties involved.

But really, we should all ignore them. We should ignore them on the proposition that these things could happen to any one of us.

Anyway, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, first of all. Second of all, read with compassion whenever and however you can. This current story is tragic and personal and painful, and this is all I will ever say about it.

Back off, hyenas. Even you may need to rely on the common decency of other people someday.

Lab-grown Vaginas

For real, folks. Not only can they grow them but they can implant them.

A tissue sample and a biodegradable scaffold were used to grow vaginas in the right size and shape for each woman as well as being a tissue match.

They all reported normal levels of “desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction” and painless intercourse.

Experts said the study, published in the Lancet, was the latest example of the power of regenerative medicine.

So awesome.

New Trans Relationship

So this Dear Abby letter is a few kinds of great:

Dear Abby: I’m a divorced woman with grown children. I have always supported gay rights and thought of myself as straight. But a few months ago, I met a woman, “Stephanie.”

We hit it off immediately, and I was shocked to learn she’s a transgender woman who was born male. We have spent a lot of time together and are falling in love. Stephanie will be having surgery soon to complete the transgender process.

I have been surprised and disappointed by the lack of support from my family and friends, whom I always thought were open-minded. Some have voiced support, but have shown no interest in meeting her and seem uncomfortable hearing about her.

I’m excited about this relationship and would have thought my family and friends would be happy for me, as I have been alone for a long time. But now I find myself refraining from mentioning Stephanie in conversation.

How can I discuss her with others? We are taking things slowly and not jumping into anything, yet we can definitely see ourselves spending the rest of our lives together. We have already faced disapproving strangers and handled it well.

– Loves My Friend in Ohio

Dear Loves: It appears Stephanie isn’t the only one in your relationship who is in transition. Both of you are, and because it is new to those around you, they may not understand it – which is why they are uncomfortable.

The fact that Stephanie is transgender should not be mentioned right off the bat. It is not the most important thing about her, and it should not be her defining characteristic. Discuss the matter with your friend and ask how she would like to be introduced and referred to. It’s only logical that this will vary according to how close these people are to you.

What do you think? Did she cover all the bases?

Christie Lee Littleton (Van de Putte) Dies

She did remarry after the case that made her famous, which was only recently overturned by the Nikki Araguz case.

Her case brought a public spotlight onto the injustice of judges ruling on gender transition and marriage rights.

I’m glad at least to know that she saw so much change before she died.

“They” – by Ivan Coyote

“Just a thought: I would like to phase out the use of the term “prefers the pronoun” she or he or they, (or any other) and replace it with “uses the pronoun”. I prefer chicken to duck. I prefer a window seat. But I use the pronoun they. When someone writes that a person “prefers” a particular pronoun, it infers that there is a choice there for everyone, whether to respect that wish or not, and that the person with the pronoun “preference” would be okay with the middle seat or the duck of their identity being respected. Not true. For some (if not most) gender variant and/or trans folks, not having their pronoun respected is hurtful and constantly correcting people is exhausting and alienating. So I vow to change my language. People don’t prefer their chosen pronoun, they use it. My only choice is to be mindful and respectful of others or to be thoughtless, and even cruel. This is not to say I get it right all the time every time, but that is my aim. Saying things like “but I find it so hard to remember because we grew up together” is a cop out. If you grew up together then you owe it to the person to do better by them. And if you want to try the “but the they pronoun is so awkward” angle with me, then I would ask you to think about how your struggle compares to the battles trans people have to fight every day.”

Ivan Coyote, author of Missed Her, Bow Grip, and One in Every Crowd

Casa Valentina

So we were just in New York, and one of the awesome things we did was meet the cast and crew of Harvey Fierstein’s new play Casa Valentina.

We didn’t get to see the whole thing – just a few key scenes – but I am so looking forward to seeing the whole of it.

And it opens to audiences tonight. I have no doubt the reception will be great.

But here’s the thing: we were invited to come see a rehearsal to advise. One of the actors contacted me a few weeks back – when I was already scheduled to be in NYC – and asked that we come because a bunch of the cast were reading or had read my books.

& Mare Winningham – who plays the wife of one of the crossdressers – said really nice things about them. She was so welcoming and cool to us.

Anyway, it was an awesome experience all around, & I only wish I could have stayed in town a day longer to catch the first night of previews tonight, but alas, the class I’m teaching started today, too.

I’m hoping to get a group together to go see it when we’re next in town, because from what I can tell, this is a gorgeous play – honest (maybe in ways some people won’t like) but compassionate, by which I mean: the wife is a real person.