Guest Author: Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn, My Top Manager is a Transwoman

I first met Kristy after she had been working for a month at one of my El Pollo Loco restaurants in Thousand Oaks, California. Kristy is a tall dark haired Latina, transwoman in her late twenties.  While observing her, the first thing I noticed was a caring and good natured attitude with our customers.  She was our first transgender employee and I was anxious to meet her. The manager who hired her put her front and center at the cash register, which is where she belongs. She is great with customers. As we got to know each other she told me the story of what had happened at a previous job with Taco Bell.  Kristy had worked at a Taco Bell in the Ventura County area. Though she clearly identified as a woman, the manager told her she must use the men’s bathroom. While using the bathroom one day, she was sexually molested by a customer. Her employer’s response was to tell her, she could use the women’s room but only when no other women are inside. One time, while using the women’s restroom, a female customer entered after Kristy was inside. This customer complained to her husband about a man dressed as a woman in the ladies room. Her husband pressured store management into firing Kristy. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. I have heard so many stories just like hers from other transwomen.

The basic need for any transgender person to get a foothold in this world is to have a decent job. Today transwomen are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty. There are considerable barriers both social and legal to obtaining a job as well as to transition while on the job. More than 3 of 5 transgender persons work in states that have no protection for gender identity in the workplace. Based on six studies done between 1996 and 2006, 20 to 57 percent of transgender respondents said they experience employment discrimination, including being fired, denied a promotion or harassed. Though even more difficult to measure, transgender people also face considerable barriers in the job application process.  Even in California, which has laws in place against gender discrimination in the workplace, transgender workers are often treated at best as second class citizens.

In Kristy’s situation, over a year had gone by and it was past the statute to file a lawsuit. I was disappointed.  I wanted Kristy to have justice. We also need high profile lawsuits to let employers know there will be severe punishment for gender discrimination in the workplace. In the end though, it is possible that the transgender success stories told by employers, will bring about the greatest change.  Kristy has done extremely well with us. Our customers adore her. Today she is the general manager of our busiest restaurant and I could not be more proud of her. In fact the restaurant she manages is ranked number two our of over 400 units in the El Pollo Loco chain for quality and customer service. We are now at six trans-employees and growing. Two others have made it into management. I am quite certain there will more success stories to follow.

Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, ‘Transgender Cinderella’

What an awesome little excerpt from my friend and author Zoe Dolan’s book about what it’s like to date as a trans woman. Probably NSFW, and not for the faint hearted.

Once I was living as female, but before sex change surgery, my dreams were bounded by what I came to identify as the Cinderella Syndrome. I loved to go dancing, since on the dancefloor I could sink into the beat and movement around me. Men would come and go, drifting toward me and away, and sometimes closer and closer until we were dancing with our hips together. I felt the heat of their breaths upon my skin and the beads of sweat on the back of their necks as I ran my hands along their spines and floated up into a kiss.

But I always dreaded what I sought most: a moment of intimacy. At that point my coach would turn back into a pumpkin and my gown would disappear in an instant.

When I was studying abroad in Leiden, Holland, during law school, I met a handsome Italian whom I’ll call Adriano. At a get-together with other students, he stared across the room at me the whole evening. I tried to ignore what was happening, to no avail. I could not sustain conversation with whomever I was talking to. After a few minutes I got up to leave; but he intercepted me. The next thing I knew, I was in a conversation with him, trying to catch the breath he was taking away.

Adriano was tall and broad-shouldered, with curly dark brown hair and clear golden brown eyes. He spoke fluent English with a slight Italian accent. He had recently decided on law as an undergraduate major. He had the opportunity to come check out the Netherlands and thought he’d take the adventure north to broaden his mind. Basically, he was perfect. Continue reading “Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, ‘Transgender Cinderella’”

Guest Author: Ashley Altadonna, Letter to Myself 10 Years Later

I’ve put Ashley Altadonna’s writing on this blog before and this piece, in particular, is so amazing. It’s also so great to hear from trans women and men 10 or more years post transition; so often trans community is made up of people who are about to transition, transitioning, or only have recently, so getting some perspective from those who are further along the road and deeper into their lives post transition is particularly useful, and Ashley is particularly heartfelt. 

Dear Ashley,

Congratulations on reaching this next step in your gender journey! I am so proud of you! I wanted to give you a little heads up on what’s coming your way over the next decade. You never quite made it to Eagle Scout, but you know, ”Always be prepared.”

You are going to love and hurt and laugh and cry more than you ever imagined you were capable of. For the first few weeks, maybe even months you’ll feel sort of like an imposter, like everyday is Halloween and you’re the only one dressed up. It’s sort of exciting getting to be a whole new person but eventually that feeling will fade and you’ll just be you again, only the real you this time.

Lady friends will give you a ton of clothing and make-up advice early on. In fact, most of your friends will take your transition amazingly well, except for one from high school, who after hanging out with you twice as Ashley, will stop talking to you completely, and you’ll never really know why. That other friend, the one who told you that you’d be a social outcast and that people would throw bricks through your windows…he’ll come out as gay six years later.

Your family is very supportive. Even your 78 year-old Grandma tells you she loves you no matter what. True, your father has some difficulties with your new gender at first. He’ll be nervous about you meeting his side of the family, which in turn makes you nervous. When you finally do, it’s fine. Your cousin will tell you she cried for the boy you used to be. You will tell her you envied her girlhood growing up.

You will talk to you ex-girlfriend, the one you first came out to. She tells you, that after she told her mother about your transition, her mother said it was almost like the boy you used to be died. You will feel that way too, like you sort of killed yourself, to live. You will grieve for the guy you were at times.

A few months later it actually will be Halloween. You’ll be a friend’s party. Some drunken dudes will debate your gender right in front of you, questioning whether you’re a “woman or a man”. (They will not be the last people to do this, btw). You’ll be about to tell them they can just ask you when one of them will grab your breasts, laugh and say, “Oh my God, I can’t tell!” You will know what it feels like to be objectified.

You’ll go to a club for 80’s night. While dancing you’ll see a girl you used to have a crush on. She asks you why you’re dressed like that. You tell her you are transgender. She’ll say, “Thank God I never went out with you!” Another night at the same club you will be very drunk and a guy will pull you by the arm down on a couch next to him and his friend. You’re surprised by the force he uses. He’ll ask you if you do this all the time, or if tonight was just “something for fun”. You tell him you do this all the time. He’ll say, “You’re pretty cute!” as he slides his arm around you. Your friends will pull you away and tell you it’s time to go.

Both gentlemen and assholes will hit you on. You will face harassment and mockery from random strangers on the street, honking car horns, and indecipherable words yelled at you from speeding cars. In one particularly frightening instance, a middle aged asshole on a motorcycle will pull up to you as you’re waiting for a bus, tell you he’s, “seen you around the neighborhood,” and ask you if you’ve been “fixed”. He will proposition you for anal sex. You will actually fear for your safety.

At the time, you’re still working at the bank and bookstore. The bank will transfer you to a different branch, one with a single user bathroom just so no one has to share the restroom with you. Human resources will also create a policy where no one is allowed to talk about “personal business” on the job, out of fear that someone will say something offensive, and you’ll sue the company. They will forget to mention this to you, so you’ll assume that everyone at your new branch hates you. Who knows? Maybe they do.

At the bookstore the difference is like night and day. Your bosses and co-workers are very welcoming to your new gender identity. For the most part they politely ask questions, and tell you how great you look. You use the women’s restroom everyday and no one cares. Eventually, your transition is a non-issue. You’ll quit the bank 3 months later ‘cause who needs that stress?

A few years later you end up working for a nationally renowned feminist, progressive sex toy store. Your job is fun and you get to help people have better, healthier sex lives. You also help a ton of trans & genderqueer customers get the products they need to be and feel better about themselves. You convince your bosses to start carrying more products for trans ladies and even teach some classes on transitioning.

You’ll wait in longer lines for the bathroom. You’ll never know what to do with your hair or reliably find shoes in your size. You never stop biting your nails no matter how many times you try and give up and try again. You’ll learn to try on every item of clothing when you go shopping, because a size 14 in one brand does not mean a size 14 in another. You will know the torture of high heels and stabbing pain of broken underwire bras. You will try to learn to follow while slow dancing and suck at it.

You will eventually play onstage and have band again. When you see a picture of yourself from the show you’ll be struck by how similar you look to the female rocker you revered in high school and college.

You will be excited for your first Pride event only to have an older butch lesbian tell you, upon trying to enter a “lesbian-only” space that you don’t, “really count as a woman” and will refuse to let you in. This notion of “womyn-born-womyn” only spaces and the belief that trans women are somehow “fake women” will be archaic notions long before you began to transition, but are still sadly a thing 10 years later.

You’ll witness a rapid revolution of trans rights and activism, seeing trans folks gracing the covers of magazines, starring in TV shows, being granted benefits, and opportunities that you thought would be impossible just a few years before. At the same time, trans women (especially those of color) will continue to be killed at a rate much higher than the national average. Politicians will keep introducing discriminatory bills, and blocking legal protections for jobs, housing, healthcare and more. You’ll wonder why your friends and family aren’t more appalled and motivated to help, but you’ll come to realize they are dealing with their own struggles and causes, and this one is yours.

You end up making some short films about gender and your transition and they will play at LGBT film festivals all over the Europe, Australia, and the U.S. Your films will be picked up for distribution. You even start a film company, Tall Lady Pictures. You’ll share phone calls, emails and even Christmas cards with a wonderful trans woman from North Carolina you’ve never met, but sincerely hope to one day.

Actually, you meet a lot of trans women after transitioning, and find even though they are nice people; you find you have little in common with them besides your gender identities. You feel a connection to a few, but they tend to move away or go stealth and stop talking to you. A lot of times you’ll feel alone. Other trans ladies tell you that you inspired them and that they look up to you.   You’re grateful to have helped them while wishing more folks had been there for you.

You will question you femininity a lot. Like a TON. You will doubt your looks and your ability to be female more than you care to admit. You know part of this is the impossible standards society sets for women, but that doesn’t help. Every time someone misgenders you it makes it that much worse, especially when those people have known you as Ashley for years. Struggling with body image and feeling like you aren’t feminine enough to be considered female, is probably be the hardest, most frustrating part of your transition and the part nobody really prepared you for.

Your girlfriend, however, will be your blessing through all of this. She is always there for you, supportive and incredible. She is your best friend, who makes you laugh like nobody else. She comforts you when you are sad. She takes care of you when you are sick. Sometimes she gets jealous of the attention your transition receives. You are able to understand her needs better than when you were a guy, because you know the irrationality of hormone-based mood swings and feeling upset for no real reason. You two will travel the U.S. and Europe together. In Paris you’ll want to propose to her, but you’ll wait another year.

You’ll finally get married after 7 years of dating. Your father will walk you down the aisle. Your brother will make you cry with his best man speech. Marriage equality is another 4 years in the making, so you marry as man and wife; though essentially you have a legal “gay marriage”.

In 2013, over 15 years after you first came out as transgender, you will finally have your gender confirmation surgery. You are eternally grateful to all the friends, family, therapists, doctors and organizations that helped you reach this milestone.

In preparing for surgery, you will undergo more awkward/embarrassing situations than you could’ve ever imagined. You’ll spend hours on hold and fighting with insurance companies. When the day of your surgery arrives, you’re so nervous you can’t stop shaking as they prepare to wheel you into the ER.

Your surgery is a complete success. You at last have the lady parts you always wanted. You will in no way regret your decision to have surgery, and bonus: the female rock star you idolized will email to congratulate you! You know this isn’t the end of your transition. In reality, it feels like the beginning of the rest of your life.

Love you lady,

Ashley

 

Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, When Political Correctness Hits Below The Belt

Here’s a controversial piece from Zoe Dolan, lawyer, author, and friend, in a smart piece about why, when it cones to dating – amongst other things – talking about genital surgery is important. I have always reserved the right to talk about these things with trans people and with trans partners because I do a lot of work around sex and relationships, but I stopped a few years ago in any public forums because of the ridiculous obsession – especially with penises – when trans stuff comes up. (I’ll be posting something a bit later about the term “political correctness” because I really, really can’t stand it.)

The conversation goes like this:

Him: Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

Me: Yes, I have a vagina. Yes, I have a clitoris, and also labia majora and labia minora. Yes, I feel sensation and I can have orgasms — both vaginal and clitoral. And yes, I self-lubricate; but who ever said no to a little coconut oil?

Him: Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you for being so open. I’ve been curious but afraid to ask.

I’ve written before, and I maintain: my view is that there’s no shame in the human body. We all have one.

Nevertheless, a politically correct script of deflection dominates public discourse when it comes to sex change surgery. This condescension shames people into believing that questions arising out of natural curiosity are somehow overly intrusive, and that inquiring about the medical aspects of being transgender is wrong.

Take, for example, John Oliver’s Transgender 101 that recently went viral.

The monologue began with a discussion of “dumb mistakes” that the media make. His point was, apparently, that “[i]t is no more okay to ask transgender people about their sex organs than it would be to ask Jimmy Carter whether or not he’s circumcised.”

He concluded, “[T]heir decision on this matter is, medically speaking, none of your [bleep]ing business.”

While the privacy that others may choose deserves respect, there is fallacy in the proposition that everyone should know better than to pursue understanding of a subject to which they have yet to be exposed. Continue reading “Guest Author: Zoe Dolan, When Political Correctness Hits Below The Belt”

Guest Author: Darya Teesewell, “Hollywood Takes Care of its Own,” Unless You are Trans

In response to my HuffPo post, we have our first crosspost, by my friend Darya:

A young trans friend of mine in the Hollywood film industry, a union member, spoke to me recently about a conversation she had when she asked an individual representing the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan about health care for herself. She began with the most basic question; will they pay for hormones? The answer was a flat and simple no.

Page 63 of the Active MPI health plan states that “gender change” is excluded from coverage. Some of us would argue that we aren’t “changing” so much as “restoring” genders, but let that be, for now. On her own, my friend found that that there was another plan available to union members, an HMO, that did indeed cover all aspects of trans health care including Gender Reconfirming Surgery with an excellent provider in Arizona.

Even then, she found she had problems with representatives of the provider depending on where the offices were located. The Hollywood/Los Angeles office was helpful and knowledgeable, while other offices seemed perplexed, as if she were requesting something no one had ever heard of before.

If you are a trans person seeking health care, you are no stranger to this. In spite of a groundbreaking state law in California that prohibits insurers from excluding trans-related care from health plans, many insurers still push back against providing it, subtly, or not-so-subtly.

Continue reading “Guest Author: Darya Teesewell, “Hollywood Takes Care of its Own,” Unless You are Trans”

Trans Actors?

A guest post from my good friend Darya Teesewell, who has worked in Hollywood for a very long time, and who had a few things to say about the news that Elle Fanning will be playing a trans guy (and Eddie Redmayne a trans woman):

So both Elle Fanning and Eddie Redmayne will be playing Transgender characters in new films.Both fine actors and I’m sure the Directors felt they were sound choices, but really, it’s time to kick up a bitch about this; why not make a bolder choice and cast trans actors, and while we’re at it, hire a trans writer or two. There also many trans below-the line workers who hide themselves, but that’s another topic. I’ve spent 40 years in “The Industry” and detest parts of of as intensely as I love and respect the magic that happens when they unintentionally create art.

Honestly, intra-trans bitch fights frustrate the fuck out of me, but this is not that. This is about daring an industry to ignore the iPhone-swiping little Fucks who protect the bottom line(I can say that as a below the line grunt) and get in on a wave that has begun to build thanks to people like Shadi Petosky , Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, Lana Wachowski and Laverne Cox, and pioneers before them like Calpernia Sarah Addams , Candis Cayne and A’leisha Brevard.

Both actors, no doubt, would do a superb job in these parts, but it really is exactly like the 1950’s bullshit that had Mexicans playing Japanese (Ricardo Montalban), Europeans playing Native Americans, Mexicans, Asians (Mickey Rooney-*shudder*) and whatever the studio wanted.The bold Directors and producers were the ones who hired authentically. I just found out today that Paul Newman was producing a film in the 60’s in which a male running coach falls in love with one of his runners. The studios wanted to make the runner a woman, and he told them shove it. The bold choice lost again to the studio fucks.

Film is a grimy, tedious ruthless business that occasionally, like alchemy, turns that lead in gold in the form of images and performances. The hacks won’t hear this message, but the Artists will; cast a trans woman to play a trans woman and let’s see what magic happens.The guys in their Teslas who have to answer to boards will fret; they want a bankable name, multi-pic pac, wings to Gotham, Boffo numbers, but they just fucked all that up this summer, didn’t they? Time for bold choices.

I understand: if I’m artist, and you tell me who I should cast in my movie, I’m going to resent that; but if you are a fellow artist asking if I’m settling for a safe choice over a bold one, that’s a valid question.

Below the line is another conversation for another time; this is not an LGBT friendly industry, in spite of what a few high profile jobs might have people think.

Being silent does nothing.Time to call Bullshit, and it is indeed Bullshit.

I will add one more thing: why can’t women play women and men, men? Why do cis people always think trans women should be played by cis men? It perpetuates this idea that trans women are *really* men, and they’re not. Let’s move on, folks, can we?

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger was still a virgin at 22, and he was angry that he was because too often, men’s value is in their ability to “get women”. There are a lot of good articles out already – Slate’s & The Belle Jar‘s & Jess Zimmerman’s in Medium’s Archipelago are standouts – all of which have pointed out that Rodger was not a madman because he didn’t need to be. He only had to be a man, full of entitlement and male privilege – entitled to women’s bodies and to sex. His connections to various groups who persist in thinking that “game” is what convinces women to have sex with men, and that women are only attracted to jerks – never to a “perfect gentleman” as Rodger thought he was – has been well documented, despite those groups and online communities having scrubbed any and all of his posts. I assume they don’t want to be held responsible for failing to recognize someone who wasn’t just blowing off steam but planning to kill.

And what always strikes me about these kinds of complaints is the thing that I had to explain to my wife as she was transitioning: there are men who can yell that they want to do you across a crowded street and it’s a compliment, even if totally inappropriate, and there are others who can shake your hand politely who fill you with caution if not fear.

When I have made this observation (here on my blog and elsewhere), invariably someone who is male – or who used to be – says something about how the real difference is whether or not the man is attractive or handsome or whether the come-on is welcome.

That is not the case.

As Jess Zimmerman points out in parentheses:

“If women‘s mysterious disinterest drives you to consider murdering them, consider that you may be terrifying. Women are smart enough to notice that you’re the kind of guy who’s driven to blood rage by simple rejection.”

And I would add, not only do women pick up on someone who hates them enough to threaten or commit violence; they can, too, pick up on a more subtle and less violent misogyny as well. And that is what I feel is the difference between the men I’ve just mentioned: using “gentlemanly” manners to cover a deeply felt hostility or hatred toward women will not work.

And as someone who has hung out with kinky folks – for whom fulfilling a woman’s fantasy of rape, degradation, or humiliation is not uncommon – I know there are men who respect and adore women enough that even these difficult fantasies do not change their respect for the women they top.

By no means am I saying that only when men respect women enough do they “get” to exert power over them; that is the illusion, not the fact. The fact is that what comes first – what gains a man privilege into a woman’s trust – is their respect and understanding that only once their misogyny is something they have become aware of, worked on, realized and acknowledged does it go away.

It strikes me that this is not unlike racism, or transphobia, or ableism or any of the other kinds of blind hatreds are culture teaches us. And we are all taught them; women in a patriarchy can also be misogynists who do not trust or like or respect other women the same way that even gay men can hate themselves and other gay men because we are all raised in the stink of homophobia.

But the thing about Elliott Rodger is this: so many men who want to date or have sex with or marry women figure it out. They realize they love their moms or their sisters or their daughters and realize the women they are dating or sleeping with or marrying deserve the same respect as the women they know and love. Gay men, on the other hand, especially those who live in a very intense masculine homosocial environments, can express a misogyny that is raw and unchecked. That is, they haven’t had to do the work necessary to realize that women are awesome. Those gay men, I might add, are very, very rare, and getting rarer by the day. The only time their misogyny is still apparent is in the disrespectful, violent attitudes they occasionally express toward trans women, which many, many people have witnessed in these recent uproars about RuPaul and Trannyshack.

What I’m saying, ultimately, is that people – not just women – are wise enough to pick up on someone who hates you for who you are. The white kid who loves rap but who hates black people will never feel welcome by blacks socially. Gay men and lesbians often know when someone who is truly a homophobe is in their midst.

And women, like all of these other groups, know deeply when a man hates them for being women. They may not know it enough to articulate it, but they know it enough to keep their distance.

No amount of chivalry or good manners or “game” will perfume over the stink of that kind of misogyny. In this time when we hear a lot of talk about how accepted gay people are, or how “post racial” we are, or when we hear a gay man talk about how much he really loves trans people but doesn’t want his language policed, we might do well to remember what Elliot Rodger accidentally taught us: that it’s only in owning and dismantling these kinds of systemic, taught, culture-wide hatreds that we free ourselves of them.

“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’””

TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 3

The problem isn’t just trans exclusion. It’s gender exclusion. Feminism is for everyone:

#19 ONE OF THE GIRLS

People sometimes ask me when I knew I was transgender.  Usually I say around the time puberty set in and the differences between me and the girls I knew began to become more apparent.  I can recall wanting to play with the girls as far back as elementary school.  However, the girls at recess didn’t have much interest in an awkward geeky boy hanging around.

I have always considered myself a feminist.  By feminist I mean someone who believes women are just as equal to men and deserve the same rights and respect.  As I began to experience my own womanhood, feminism became even more important to me.  I am very fortunate to have some seriously stellar lady friends in my life that have been instrumental in my development as a female.  These inspiring women go all the way back to high school and have helped see me through college and my transition.

With all this awesome girl power and female bonding going on around me, I was seriously taken aback when I learned that there are a number of women and radical feminists who refuse to recognize transwomen as women. What is confounding about many of these women is that while they don’t believe that “biology equals destiny”, yet they judge transwomen on what we have/had between our legs.  They claim that we were raised with male privilege and no amount of hormones, electrolysis, or surgery will make us “real women”.

A big matter of contention among this crowd tends to be the issue of transwomen in “women only” spaces.  By their reasoning transwomen are invading (and some…ahem, Janice Raymond…have gone as far as saying “raping”) women’s bodies, safety, and comfort when transwomen dare to be part of female groups and activities.  Yet a lot of these women will welcome trans-masculine people openly into their organizations and events.  This is trans-misogyny plain and simple.

Transwomen have a lot to offer feminism and indeed it is crucial that transwomen be part of the feminist conversation.  Those who denounce transwomen as fake and refuse to recognize our femininity are like those girls elementary school who wouldn’t let “boys” be part of their game.

I love her take on this, too:

#20 TRANSGENDER PEOPLE DON’T REINFORCE THE GENDER BINARY

I have read that some individuals take issue with trans folks because we supposedly “reinforce the idea of a gender binary”.  Their view is that through our transitions trans individuals are somehow trying to fashion themselves into an idealized image of what a “real” man or woman should be, and therefore supporting the notion that men and women should look and act a certain way.  This is notion is flat out ridiculous.

While it is true that for many trans folks attempting to gain access to hormone therapies and surgeries, portraying themselves as overly feminine or masculine is a means of dealing with gatekeepers.  This does not mean that we are reinforcing the gender binary. Instead, this is an unfair burden placed upon trans folks to work within the restrictions imposed by the Standards of Care.

What really debunks this concept is that it holds trans people to a higher standard than cisgender individuals.  If a transwoman is reinforcing the gender binary by wearing make-up and a dress then by the same thinking ANY woman wearing make-up and feminine attire would be reinforcing the gender binary.  Any man who chooses to sport a tie would be reinforcing the gender binary as well.  In other words, if trans people are reinforcing the binary, then we all are.

Because well, yes, we all are, we all do. We make concessions to binary gender because it’s fucking easier, and there’s no good reason trans people have some special mission to deconstruct the binary so that cis people can be liberated from it.

TIL: Ashley Altadonna’s Top 30, Part 2

Not basing your gender presentation on TV, movies and magazines seems like sound advice for everyone – not just trans people.

#9 OVERDOING GENDER

From my own experience and from other’s transitions I’ve witnessed; a lot of trans folks tend to overdo it when it comes to the gender presentation choices they make they begin to transition. I look back and cringe a little when I see some of the outfits and make-up decisions I wore early on. I think the reasoning for this is two-fold.

  • I was trying my best to signal to the world “I AM A FEMALE NOW!” So I picked the most stereotypical feminine over-the-top outfits available. I’ve also seen a lot of younger trans men who express their newfound masculinity in a parade of suits and muscle tees along the same lines.
  • I believe a lot of this is because as trans people we base our gender presentations on what media and society has deemed a male or female person to look like. If you are basing your wardrobe/hair/make-up choices off TV, movies and magazines…you’re going to look a little off.

It takes a bit before we become comfortable enough in our own newly established genders to start expressing them in more realistic/traditional ways.

I’ll add that I think there’s a huge difference between emphasizing your gender because you’re expressing an internal sense of it as opposed to emphasizing your gender because you’re worried about what people think of you. To me, it’s self expression in the first case, but self consciousness (at best) in the second.

I hope, by now, everyone knows I hate hate hate the term “passing”. I do. I come to hate it more every year.

#10 THE PROBLEM WITH PASSING

“Passing” is a term rife with complications and innuendo. Originally “passing” was a term used to describe gay or lesbian persons who didn’t seem to “act homosexual” (whatever that means). For trans folks “passing” means to be seen as socially/physically as cisgender (i.e. non-transgender).

I’m fortunate that I tend to “pass” fairly well. People read me as female when they meet me and as a result I tend to have an easier time (i.e. less harassment, humiliation, discrimination) than many of my fellow transgender brothers and sisters. However, not everyone is able to pass due to physiology or lack of access to HRT and other costly aesthetic procedures.

The problem with passing is that it implies that there is a “correct way” to present as either male or female, and that this ideal is cisgender. It also suggests that transgender individuals are somehow attempting to fool or trick people into thinking they are cisgender. This sets up an “us and them” situation with trans folks on one hand and cisgender folks on the other, and those who pass are like spies in the house of gender normativity.

There is no right way to be male or female. At most, some of us tend to look/act in ways that we as a society deem as “feminine” or “masculine” most of the time. Trans people who don’t live up to that standard shouldn’t be penalized or victimized for not living up to our culture’s false standards.

The other implication, of course, is that trans people are not actually the gender they’re being read as when they “pass”. But I am *still* looking for a way to express this idea without using this godawful word. I’m open to suggestions and coinages that express the idea that someone, anyone, is having their gender interpreted correctly by those around them, and this is true for trans and cis people alike.