Posted by– June 29, 2015
Posted by– June 15, 2015
An old and dear friend wrote to me about the Rachel Dolezal issue; she was the partner of a trans person at one point, is allied to the trans community, and is also one of the most awesome feminists I know. The way she broke down the arguments for why Dolezal can’t be black go like this:
(1) she didn’t forge her identity through being raised in a minority group,
(2) she can switch back to the privileged group whenever she likes, and
(3) Finally, she is relying on stereotypes when appropriating “blackness”
Her question to me was: how is this not what some trans women do? And in some ways, my answer is to focus on the “some”. Because if something is going to be true for transness, then it should hold up – even, in this case, for all trans women (who are going from a high status identity to a lower status identity, such as someone would be doing in going from white to black).
(1) Trans women aren’t raised and socialized girls and women EXCEPT that plenty are. There are lots of trans girls who come out young enough that plenty are, AND once trans women live as women they are re-socialized as women, AND, as I’ve often argued, trans women may live in the world as people identified as men by others, but they’re not really men, either. They sometimes manage good lives as men, even, but it doesn’t mean they are. What do I mean by that? It means that I don’t know cis men who struggle every day whose genders feel horribly wrong to them and who crave femininity sometimes precisely because they’ve had to repress any expression of it and who have to work out their own complicated love of women. That is, a trans woman is still a woman even if she hasn’t transitioned; she’s just living in the world as a man and there is often a world of suffering tied up in that.
(2) Well, not really. Some trans women can; some do; some detransition for various reasons. But the whole point of things like the Standards of Care were to keep people from transitioning who shouldn’t, and some people realize that in fact transition isn’t the answer to their issue at all, that there is some other issue that gender has gotten mixed up in. Of course, too, many trans women can’t just become men again; too many years on hormones, surgical choices, etc., would cause them to have to transition again, not back, really. It’s not like trans women take off a pair of earrings and become men again. Transitioning is a complicated process and isn’t easily undone; most people who I’ve known have detransitioned do so because they needed to – out of financial need, needs of dependents, unemployability, to keep a marriage together.
(3) Lots of cis women rely on stereotypes to be women (cough Kardashians cough). So if stereotypes of femininity are acceptable for cis women, why aren’t they okay for trans women? One of the reasons feminists keep trying to push the images of women to include more and more types is so that there is no wrong way to be a woman. There isn’t. It doesn’t mean that some of the types degrade and stereotype and pigeonhole women; Disney can stuff it with their damn princesses already. But I don’t get to judge how any woman “does” womanness and I don’t want other women judging the way I do mine.
So that’s, in a sense, Part 2 of my other answer: these are all specific issues and doing a comparison based on general ideas/theories of identity just don’t hold up. There are too many exceptions. In saying any of this, I’m not insisting on any basic truth of transness, or any basic truth of race; I think these are lovely and complicated ideas that can’t easily be “boiled down” to any easy equations. That’s what I love most about what I do: sometimes there is no right answer, and you have to hold, and let be, contradictory conclusions. That’s okay. I think we all often have a tendency to want to nail down the correct, succinct answer, but for anyone who is interested in race and gender and class what is eternally fascinating is how exactly complex and mysterious these interactions between facets of our identities can be.
One thing that has become clear with the news that Dolezal once sued Howard University for discriminating against her as a white person: Dolezal is unlikely to be a good bet as a standard bearer for anyone wanting to win an argument about much of anything; as more of her story comes out, the more apparent it is that there are some seriously dysfunctional family dynamics going on, too. Personally, I’m most upset at the way she trampled all over what is an allies’ first and best rule: you use your privilege to figure out a way to help end oppression, and you don’t do so by ‘becoming’ the oppressed but by recognizing and checking your privilege. I don’t know what Dolezal’s intentions are, but that’s not really a difficult rule to understand.
Otherwise, here’s a good article on Slate as to why it isn’t crazy to compare the two but that breaks down why it doesn’t work, and another that covers a lot of good stuff on identity, belonging, “passing”, and binaries, amongst other things, by the awesome Kai Green.
Complicate that conversation. Think past binaries. Trouble categories. Hold contradiction. People who know what to think all the time are often the dumbest among us.
Posted by– June 13, 2015
As much as I joked yesterday that America just found out, via Spokane, that race is a social construction, I meant it to be only that: a joke. It has lead to a lot of people actually talking about what race IS and specifically what blackness is, and to me, that’s a long overdue conversation where maybe some white people will learn a little more about paper bag tests and colorism, “passing” as a means to survival, marrying up to have lighter children than their parents, etc. There are amazing histories and books full of information and deep knowledge about what it means to be black.
But that this whole idea that she is “transracial” is just upsetting to me. First, I always discourage comparisons between race and gender because they never, ever hold up. Gender is constructed by very different discourses of being, through different bodies and histories. Race – especially race in america – is constructed through specific historical contexts (slavery, for starters). Even the movements toward liberation are different. Look at how differently the term “passing” is used, for instance — which is one of the main reasons I hate using the term when it comes to gender.
Here are a few reasons this bothers me: (1) we’re having a conversation about race, finally, at long last. It seems at best disrespectful to make it about anything else when we are so, so overdue in talking about race in the US.
(2) It’s pretty clear that Dolezal doesn’t identify as black.
Ezra believes the only reason his sister would change her identity was due to the racism she claimed to have encountered at Howard University, where she graduated with her master’s degree in fine art in 2002.
Rachel, he added, would often complain that she was treated poorly as one of only a few white students on a mostly black campus.
“She used to tell us that teachers treated her differently than other people and a lot of them acted like they didn’t want her there,” Ezra said. “Because of her work in African-American art, they thought she was a black student during her application, but they ended up with a white person.”
(3) Why are white people so quick to defend what she’s done when they don’t know her? White privilege, again. When those in your own gang are behaving badly, it shouldn’t take someone from some other group to point that out. When I work with men on issues of violence against women, my most frequent refrain is that the good guys have GOT to stop defending the bad guy in their midst. Their best work is to call out the bad guys, to use their own male privilege to confront the people whose actions are oppressing others. White people have to call this woman out for exploiting and mocking the experiences and identities of black people. More
Posted by– June 8, 2015
Our radio interview on WPR’s The Kathleen Dunn Show is now up & available for listening or downloading. It’s a call-in show and we got a lot of good questions. Ms. Dunn was, and is, a great interviewer.
Topics included: Caitlyn Jenner (of course), including that misguided NYT piece from yesterday (I won’t link to it), trans youth, why we don’t answer questions about genitals, family, but mostly it was about trans partners and what it’s like to go through transitioned while married.
Posted by– June 5, 2015
Posted by– June 1, 2015
Created by my good and super talented friend Alex Colby, whose photography & other creative work hangs out here. Photo by Annie Liebovitz, of course, and Wheaties box by – well, Wheaties. (Yes, that’s Jenner’s original Wheaties box.)
Posted by– June 1, 2015
Congrats, Caitlin. The first time I saw the cover – via Janet Mock, natch – I didn’t realize who it was. (Context is everything.)
I really do wish people would stop referring to their own selves – even Caitlyn 1.0, as it were – in the third person. It’s just kind of weird. #bobdole
Otherwise, trans female friends of mine are already starting drinking games based on how many times the new photo appears on their FB feed, which is pretty goddamned hilarious. Others are bemoaning her RWT status, and still others just want her to start doing activism for healthcare for trans people.
Also, why does she appear to be wearing bridal lingerie on the cover? Surely VF had access to some clothes.
And so it goes.
Posted by– May 26, 2015
Here’s an interesting, interactive map that will give you an idea of how many people who are trans live near you.
Our county in NYC has the highest number of all the NY counties, but our county here in WI has more than I expected.
Posted by– May 21, 2015
Things You've Always Wanted To Ask a Trans Person… But Probably Shouldn't
"What's the difference between transvestite and transgender?""Which bathroom do you use?""Have you had 'the op'?" "What do you do in bed?""Are you a drag queen?"We got together some people from the transgender community to pick out questions they often hear. We asked, so you don't have to!
Posted by BBC Free Speech on Wednesday, May 20, 2015
(if it’s not working, try this link.)
Posted by– May 10, 2015
If you’ve come here from the Salon article, here are some of the resources/community I’ve been running for years.
(en)gender partners – a private list only for partners of trans people. inclusive of trans masculine & trans feminine, genderqueer, wives of crossdressers, etc.
You’ll find other resources by searching my blog or clicking on the ‘trans partners’ tag.
Posted by– May 10, 2015
Posted by– May 4, 2015
My wife and I were lucky enough to score tickets to see The Replacements this past weekend in Milwaukee; neither of us had ever seen them back in the day and both of us were fans. And they were, as expected, amazing; Paul Westerburg’s voice still sounds incredible and the band was tight.
But today, while doing an interview – I’ll post info about it when it turns up – I realized something about even going to concerts that sucks these days: my wife can’t sing to me when we’re in public and use her full range; instead, it makes me nervous when she drops below a certain register instead of it making me happy. We can’t hold each other or kiss, much less make out, for fear of our own safety. I worry that she doesn’t have much of a spideysense for that too-drunk dude next to her who has started to stare at her or me or worse still, us, in that disconcerting too-drunk dude sort of way.
Mostly, though, what upsets me is the thinking about it. Yes, we both want to say to hell with all of it so she can sing anyway and we can make out where we want to and ignore too-drunk dudes because they are idiots. We want to be awesomely brave, progressive, proud queers who don’t give a shit.
But we’re not.
And we know straight people don’t entirely get it; as I’ve said many times, I thought, as an LGBTQ ally, that I understood, but I didn’t. Yet a lot of same sex couples don’t get it either because they haven’t lived on the heteronormative side of the fence or haven’t for a very long time. Our heterosexual past, as it were, is always present; that guy I met, our ability to make out in public, it all happened, and with each other, and not very long ago. So we find ourselves between the demanding ethics of LGBTQ* politics and well-intentioned but clueless straight people.
What I resent, mostly, is that a simple urge to kiss my partner because she is smiling so hugely because oh wow we’re watching the goddamned Replacements, I wind up in my head thinking about what to do or how to do it and then getting angry that I have to think about it at all, feeling guilty, talking myself out of feeling guilty, coming up with another (non verbal) way to tell her I’m happy she’s happy, and by then I’m noticing too-drunk dude who is listing creepily in our direction and the whole thing starts all over again.
Mostly we both feel cheated of our lives, of the life we had together, and even though it’s no one’s fault. there it is.
Posted by– April 30, 2015
A reporter just called me and asked me to respond to this quote:
JUSTICE ALITO: Well, how do you account for the fact that, as far as I’m aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex? Now, can we infer from that that those nations and those cultures all thought that there was some rational, practical purpose for defining marriage in that way or is it your argument that they were all operating independently based solely on irrational stereotypes and prejudice?
Silly, silly man. Of course there have been, both nations and cultures, who have married people of the same sex. Some of those people weren’t of the same gender, but that’s not what he said now, is it? I expect SCOTUS justices to be exacting in their language, and if doesn’t know the difference between sex and gender, he has no business making such blanket statements.
I’ll let you know if the article comes out.
Posted by– April 27, 2015
I put “stealth” in quotes because it bothers me as a term; it implies a kind of sneakiness that has nothing to do with the goals of the women and men who live their lives who no one knows are trans. They are men and women, they are happy or unhappy, but they are not lying or deceiving anyone.
They are one group whose voices are not heard precisely because they can’t be, so I’m more than super thrilled to have been directed to this one, by one of my readers, who is smart and funny and warm and angry. It’s really great stuff. Like this piece:
Many years ago, I read a throw-away line from someone on an internet forum: “Early transitioners face discrimination before transition, and assimilate afterwards. It’s the opposite for late transitioners.” This rang really true for me. As a child, and most especially as a teen, I really copped it from all angles because of my complete inability to hide my gender identity. My parents, classmates, teachers… It reached something of a crescendo around transition, where I spent a year or so being visibly trans, then faded away as I assimilated. I think the converse happens for people who are able to cope as teens. They get by, are even stratospherically successful like Cate. But the consequences of this success are that they’ll have much more difficulty assimilating post-transition. They’ll often be visibly trans the rest of their lives, or simply have so much baggage from before transition that they can’t get past.
So more on me. I had a pretty rough childhood due to gender stuff. As a result I’m estranged from my parents and most of my siblings. I haven’t seen or talked to my parents in more than twenty years. My mum passed away a couple of years ago (I didn’t go to the funeral) and I was relieved more than sad. Relieved that the one sibling who I do maintain vague contact will give up on his periodic attempts to reconcile the family.
Anyway, like a surprisingly large number of queer kids I got in trouble as a teen, had a couple of babies, and did the shotgun wedding thing. Like most queer kids in that situation it didn’t stick. Getting married only postponed the inevitable, and then only by a couple of years. I divorced and transitioned at 23, went back to uni, got my shit in a pile and made a decent life for myself.
I just hope she keeps writing.
Posted by– April 25, 2015
I know B. Jenner is exciting and trans people are exciting and – well, not so much for me. As I was saying to my wife recently, I wish the only people who did work on trans people found them incredibly boring and ordinary — otherwise the whole “look at this weird exotic thing” happens and it always depresses me.
Aside from the obvious tropes, Allyson Robinson wrote a good piece about why she didn’t watch, which I’m going to summarize: 1) Jenner coming out doesn’t change the work that needs to be done, 2) If anything, Jenner coming out has just increased the work to be done, and 3) the media is a poor tool for the work because it is always, always based on consumerism and advertising dollars. But do go read the whole thing as she makes key points on each of these issues, and her analysis of the usefulness connects right back to why the Trans Documentary Drinking Game exists in the first place.
Also, there’s this: Jenner’s a Republican, and I can honestly say that is disheartening even if it’s not surprising; there are quite a lot of trans Republicans out there, and I think they’re pretty much deluded that the Republican party will be open to defending trans rights — especially at this moment in time where nearly a dozen Republicans have drafted bills that encourage people to report trans people for using the “wrong” bathroom in public places, with some of them offering as much as a $4k bounty.
Wealthy celebrity athletes and reality shows don’t interest me much either.
But mostly, what Robinson says: there’s work to be done and there will be more as a result. So I’m glad for Jenner and glad for anyone whose families come around a little and glad for new allies who will help in the future, but in the meantime: back to it.
Posted by– April 24, 2015
We love you, and welcome you with open arms, & know that being #famouswhiletrans is its own level of difficult.
Posted by– April 23, 2015
Lisa Vogel announced yesterday that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, now in its 40th year, will depart the stage this year; the 40th will be the last.
An event that has empowered so many women, one of the last amazing coming-to-consciouness feminist events, is shutting down because they can’t just take the one tiny leap of admitting trans women openly and willingly.
Trans women will no doubt be blamed for the end of this event, when really, as Autumn Sandeen put it, “…trans womyn have attended MichFest for many years — trans womyn who identify themselves as womyn-born-womyn. She doesn’t have to change the change the womyn-born-womyn intention, she just needs to say ‘Trans womyn who identify as womyn-born-womyn are welcome at MichFest.’”
But they couldn’t, and didn’t: If me and my ball don’t pitch, me and my ball don’t play.
Heartbreaking that after all these years and all this dialogue, their answer was to give up and shut the doors.
Posted by– April 8, 2015
We’re off to NYC for a few days to participate in kinship ritual (my nephew’s getting married) & will be back in WI Monday night.
In the meantime, check out this interview with none other than Catharane A. MacKinnon on trans inclusion, wherein she states, “Simone de Beauvoir said one is not born, one becomes a woman. Now we’re supposed to care how, as if being a woman suddenly became a turf to be defended.” Great stuff.
Posted by– March 31, 2015
Today’s the Trans Day of Visibility, which I honestly didn’t know was a thing. I’m glad it is. I’ve long been cranky about #tdor being the only/first way people learn about trans issues, so yay!
What I’ve already seen is a lot of trans people who aren’t super out wondering if they should be, so let me reiterate: if you can’t be out, don’t be. If it means risking your job, life, family — then please, take care of yourself & don’t be out.
If you can be out at all, in any way, to any small number of people in your life who you trust, then do that.
Do as much or as little as you can manage.
& If you can’t be out, then consider, instead, donating to any number of awesome trans organizations that are out there.
There’s NCTE in the US, the trans lobbying org.
There’s SRLP in NYC who provide support and legal services for trans people with an especial eye on those who are least likely to have their own resources.
TLDEF is out there fighting the good fight on the legal front, and
FORGE, right here in Wisconsin, provides support and training and visibility in Milwaukee.
Shoot, if you really are worried about your privacy, you can send me a check & I will make a donation for you.
Here’s a selfie of me & my beautiful wife for #tdov. Go team!