Monthly Archives: September 2011

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IDENTITY POLITICS, POLICING & FENCES

SUBTITLED VERSION HERE

And read what they have to say here.

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No Good, Very Bad News

A blogger on this site, WordPress, has published a list of trans*women’s information along with extremely transphobic drivel, all because they have a problem with trans women coming to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Now, I had seen Bevin, the Queer Fat Femme, wearing a “trans women belong here” t-shirt, and I knew there was a controversy (which is unfortunate in itself) but I had no idea it reached this level of ugliness.

The issue here is not only that these women, who are in a very vulnerable state as it is (violence against trans women is extremely common), but WordPress has refused to do anything about it.

I heard about this from Violet Blue (NSFW), but the person who has taken the lead in backlash against this is labelle77:

“Everyone who has made a report to WordPress received a single paragraph canned reply that states:

“WordPress.com is in no position to arbitrate disputes or make judgment on such claims. As per http://en.support.wordpress.com/disputes/, please provide us with a Court Order including a court’s decision regarding this particular content; if any content is found to be defamatory or illegal by a court of law, it will be removed immediately from our service. Any court order, should you obtain one, must be sent to the following e-mail address:court-orders@wordpress.com

Even more than I was outraged at the blogger herself, I’m outraged at WordPress. Absolutely they have the ability and the RESPONSIBILITY to enforce their terms of service. Absolutely they can tell a blogger she must remove photos used without permission. Absolutely they can insist that a blogger cannot out members of a vulnerable minority without consent. They DO NOT have to wait for a court of law to enforce their own Terms of Service.”

Oh sure WordPress. We’ll just go to court. Not to mention that trans* people have a much harder time making money at all, many are involved in survival sex, and even if we had that kinda money, we don’t trust the legal system for the most part, cause it constantly screws us over. No big.

I want to make a couple points about this. Firstly, this is why we need to do this work. This community is still appallingly marginalized, and here’s just another piece of evidence. Keep up the good work of tolerance, bravery, education, rage, and activism–whatever you can do, we need it.

Secondly, I think I would like to get this site off WordPress. If they don’t enforce their terms and conditions, what’s the point? I was hoping perhaps that we could get our own domain name. What do you guys think? Also, does anyone know anything about website design? I know y’all aren’t big commenters, but I really want to know your opinions.

In other news, this article was really cute and made me think about dogs and geckos. And also privilege.

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Trans* Fa(t)shion!!!

I’m so excited about this site. It’s just starting up but I can tell it’s gonna be fabulous. Check it out. Who knows, maybe you might even consider posting, if you fit the description (pun! get it?).

Also, this might be the #1 cutest picture I’ve ever seen.

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Hi, Justin Vivian Bond.

Okay everybody. It’s fanboi time. I was doing me a little bit of research about a fine individual named Justin Vivian Bond, rather well known for a fabulous performance in Shortbus. I went to the bio section of this human’s webpage and found an incredible articulation of non-binary trans identity, as well as some innovative ideas for gender-neutral pronouns and titles.

Justin Vivian Bond takes the pronoun v. Thank goodness I got that out of the way because now I can use pronouns for v for the rest of this post. I really like the idea of everyone having their own individual pronoun, that perhaps you learn upon meeting them. I suppose it is logistically a bit difficult, but we’re all very clever mammals and I think we could handle it. Also, I think it’s difficult to have to manage the way we’re gendered every two seconds by our language, so I would happily make the extra effort.

Also, v uses mx. instead of ms./mrs./mr. I think it’s clear why these binary titles are unsatisfactory–cause they’re binary, obvs, and also, in my opinion, outright sexist. V points out that mx. denotes ‘mix’ (I think that’s how I’d pronounce it, too) and doesn’t imply any particular gender. I myself find it rather satisfactory.

Also, v just does a fabulous job talking about the discontents of being a non-binary-identified trans* person. And v gives a shoutout to Columbia! Read it.

Mx. Bond is going to be performing at the unfortunately named but fortunately awesome Knock knock Who’s there 9/11 9/11 Who? You said you’d never forget! at the Highline Ballroom on Sunday. I will be there, and I’d love to see you too!

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Alright.

So. Nightline made a show about trans people. Specifically young trans women. And I’m gonna be real with you, it made me furious. But I want to resist simply hating on it, cause I do think that it might be a good tool for making parents and other people who might not have a single clue about these issues come around. That being said, why, flying spaghetti monster, why???

I’m gonna give you a little rundown of each segment and share my thoughts, mostly to spare you from watching it yourself. Seriously, don’t. It won’t be good for your health.

Synopses are from the Autostraddle article.

1. “This segment introduces us to the Dyson Kilodavis and his mother, who is the author of the children’s book “My Princess Boy.” Dyson is a five-year-old boy who loves wearing dresses, and we learn about his mother’s initial reaction and eventual embrace of her son’s gender expression.”

This segment features a supercute African-American child from an apparently wealthy family whose strong sense of gender moved his family, especially his mother, to open their minds and hearts to gender variance. Not only is this little boy my hero (for his bravery and superfabulous styyyyle), but his mom is amazing. She went from serious discomfort and gender policing to being a trans activist, ally, and wrote this fab book, linked to above. These two people are really contributing to our community, but I don’t think that the segment showed them the respect they deserved. They gave the dissenters a pretty loud voice without allowing the family to answer them directly, so while the tolerant rhetoric is very present, it comes off as esoteric and less strong than the virulent criticisms. Also, the whole tone of the narration is so sensationalistic, with a lot of stress laid on the spectacle.

2. In this segment we meet Jackie, a ten-year-old trans girl who recently transitioned with the support of her parents.

Jackie is a white, midwestern preteen, again from an apparently wealthy family, who very strongly identifies as transgender. Her family, with the help of this groovy doctor, decided assist her in transitioning at an early age. This is where show’s fascination with the medical/physical transition spectacle begins, as they show Jackie getting dressed, before and after pictures, etc. Somehow I never feel like images of transition presented by non-trans people are as respectful as they should be. I understand the interest, even among trans people, but can’t we look at trans people’s representations of themselves? Anyway, this is where the narrator starts to get pronouns all wrong and uses terms like ‘biological male’ and ‘biological female.’ Ugh guys. Ugh.

Also this section had a quote that really got me riled up. The father said he was worried about his daughter finding a ‘mate.’ Excuse me? I am actually having trouble expressing how much I hate that thought. My instinct is to talk about all the trans* people I’ve loved and the people who have loved me, but really I don’t need to prove anything. My message is this: everyone is lovable. Furthermore, none of us have to have a ‘mate’ to be happy or justified, or even to have children. So don’t worry about us, alrighty?

3. This segment is about a 19-year-old Latina trans woman named Vanessa, who is traveling to Mexico for breast augmentation and facial feminization surgery because she cannot afford these procedures in the United States. She helps pay for her surgeries through sex work.

This section is just riddled with racism, classism, and prejudice against sex workers. It is painfully clear the way the narrator treats this story versus the ones of the white girls, and her complete ignorance about sex work and the ways that racism and classism affect trans* women of color. The narrator uses derogatory language to describe sex work, which I’m just not gonna repeat, and literally tells Vanessa to stop doing sex work and ‘start working at McDonalds.’ I’m just gonna quote Annika on this, cause she got it down “Oh no she didn’t just say that. Privileged white cis woman telling a Latina trans woman to go get a job at McDonald’s? Who does she think she is? And anyways, has she not heard about what happened to Chrissy Lee Polis earlier this year? Or in 2009, when a teenage trans girl applying for a job at McDonald’s in Florida was told “We do not hire faggots”? McDonald’s isn’t exactly a safe space for trans women.”

What’s more, this segment focused extensively on video footage of her surgery, which I had to spare myself from. Again, spectacle, spectacle, spectacle, which is unfortunately business as usual, especially for those with intersecting minority/oppressed identities, like Vanessa. Which of course, doesn’t make it any more acceptable. It just brought my head that much closer to exploding. The only pleasant surprises in this documentary are the parents, who, even though their struggle was visible, were way more supportive and accepting than the overall tone of the piece.

4. Charles Kane is a man who transitioned to female at age 37, and then transitioned back to male after 7 years of living as Samantha.

I have literally never heard of a case like this before, and as we all know I am a HUGE trans* nerd. I am just so deeply offended that they included him instead of, oh, say, A TRANS GUY. I mean, I’d be cool if this was a documentary specifically about the experiences of transgender women, trans*misogyny, their experience with sexism in and out of the trans* community. But it wasn’t. It was about trans* people in general except, oops! You forgot half of us (or about half, because there are definitely trans* people who don’t identify with the binary). Legitimately, there are far more out trans women than trans men, but if you’re gonna be representative like that, at least do it with an accurate ratio, which would be about 3 to 1, not 5 to 0.

Anyway this section was maddening and I don’t want to talk about it. If you must know, look this guy up yourself. Be prepared to get angry.

5. Kim Petras is a 19-year-old German trans girl who has a successful career as a pop singer. She has been featured in various news stories for transitioning at young age: starting estrogen at age 13 and having SRS at 16.

This section is adorable because Kim is so sweet, but it’s all about the spectacle of a girl who is conventionally attractive and thus, obviously, doesn’t “look” trans. I’m kind of okay with it because I like to be all like “wah we walk among you!” with cis people, but really, this is just misogyny, white supremacy, transphobia, and fatphobia. And even though this girl is obviously awesome and talented, the narrator continues to be condescending, use incorrect pronouns, and interrogates Kim about her genitals.

The show leaves off on some rude question about whether parents of trans* people are hurting them by letting them transition. It bothers me that that can even be posed as a question that is subject to public opinion. Like what, the parents are gonna look at twitter and news polls to make decisions about their own families? “Honey, twitter says drink your milk.” “But daddy, I’m lactose-intolerant.” “DO WHAT THE INTERNET SAYS HONEY.” Awesome.

Overall, this made my brain melt. However, I do think that people who haven’t heard of this stuff before and maybe have trans daughters could be swayed by this. There is very little media that represents us well. This one hasn’t exactly set the standard, and I’ll be excited when something does, but for now, I think this would not be impossible to work with.

Anyway. Enough sass from me. If you want more sass from other sassy individuals, sass over to Autostraddle for their analysass.

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Ugly

I’ve hesitated on posting this a few times, because it’s taken me a while to feel that I understand this provocative and powerful speech. It’s by Mia Mingus, “a queer physically disabled woman of color, korean transracial and transnational adoptee writer, organizer and community builder” who blogs on her site Leaving Evidence. She spoke at the Femmes of Color Symposium in Oakland, CA, and this was her keynote address.

Now, this has been all over the radical queer blogosphere (oooh it rhymes), but with very little comment other than short exclamations of joy. Maybe it’s just me, but I want to have a larger conversation about what she’s saying here. This speech engaged and provoked me so much that I resisted much of it at first, as have many of the more powerful concepts that I now hold dear to me, and like any good piece of writing, took me on quite the journey. I think it is extremely relevant to our interests over here.

Sidenote: I consider femme to be a non-conforming gender. Like other gender variations, it confronts normative ideas of ‘natural’ gender with flamboyant and conscientious performativity. I have met femmes of many genders, and I have met people for whom femme is their one and only gender. Femmes in particular often face invisibility from their own communities and hatred of the feminine from the mainstream world.

On to the speech.

This is the most oft-quoted section of the piece, which says to me that it moves people the most. I’ll start there:

“If we are ever unsure about what femme should be or how to be femme, we must move toward the ugly. Not just the ugly in ourselves, but the people and communities that are ugly, undesirable, unwanted, disposable, hidden, displaced. This is the only way that we will ever create a femme-ness that can hold physically disabled folks, dark skinned people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, poor and working class folks, HIV positive folks, people living in the global south and so many more of us who are the freaks, monsters, criminals, villains of our fairytales, movies, news stories, neighborhoods and world. This is our work as femmes of color: to take the notion of beauty (and most importantly the value placed upon it) and dismantle it (challenge it), not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people; as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide.”

Absolutely amazing. But by far, not the hardest part to digest. I want to share with you some pieces I found more difficult, and how I’m now thinking about them.

“To me, femme must include ending ableism, white supremacy, heterosexism, the gender binary, economic exploitation, sexual violence, population control, male supremacy, war and militarization, and ownership of children and land.”

This is interesting to me, because in my circles, gender is often treated as something that is political enough in itself, and should not necessarily carry more political burdens. I am certainly tempted by the idea that no one should have to answer for their gender. However, the following story brings this more to light, I think:

“Many people assume that I identify as femme and even call me femme, but the truth is that “femme” has not felt like a term where I belonged nor was it a place I wanted to be.   I rarely see femme being done in a way that actually challenges and transforms gender, rather than colluding in an alternative enforcing of gender.  Many of the people in this room are more invested in being beautiful and sexy than being magnificent.  Even something as small as the time I nervously asked a comrade femme of color friend of mine to wear sneakers in solidarity with me, instead of her high heels, because I didn’t want to be the only one and didn’t want to get chided from other femmes of color about my shoes (as so often has happened).  She said “no,” but she (of course) “totally didn’t think there was anything wrong with wearing sneakers.”

This definitely changed my mind somewhat, since that story shows gruesome lack of solidarity, apparently thinking they were excused because of their gender. However, I still feel like this might be a case where the person needs to be held accountable, not ‘femme’ in itself. Even though I understand wanting to have distance from something because of negative personal experience, I’m not sure that holds up conceptually. But, in all fairness, she’s addressing a room full of self-proclaimed femmes of color, calling them out on their shit, and being super-brave. She’s showing them her vision:

“…gender was about being a grounded force to end violence. Their gender was about forging dignity out of invisibility that could slice through femininity that would rather be pretty than useful.  Their gender was about answering the question, what is the work you are doing to end violence and poverty, not what shoes are you wearing. Their gender was about feeding family and raising children collectively; organizing for themselves when no one else would. Their gender was a challenge to the world they lived in that was trying to erase them.

As femmes of color—however we identify—we have to push ourselves to go deeper than consumerism, ableism, transphobia and building a politic of desirability.  Especially as femmes of color.  We cannot leave our folks behind, just to join the femmes of color contingent in the giant white femme parade.”

This does seem to me to be a lot of stress to lay on gender, but it is an incredible call to action. I hope everyone in that room was able to get some inspiration from this vision.

Now her main solution to the problematics of ‘femme’ is to replace the ideals of beauty with the ideals of ‘magnificence’:

“The magnificence of a body that shakes, spills out, takes up space, needs help, moseys, slinks, limps, drools, rocks, curls over on itself.  The magnificence of a body that doesn’t get to choose when to go to the bathroom, let alone which bathroom to use.  A body that doesn’t get to choose what to wear in the morning, what hairstyle to sport, how they’re going to move or stand, or what time they’re going to bed.  The magnificence of bodies that have been coded, not just undesirable and ugly, but un-human.  The magnificence of bodies that are understanding gender in far more complex ways than I could explain in an hour.  Moving beyond a politic of desirability to loving the ugly.  Respecting Ugly for how it has shaped us and been exiled. Seeing its power and magic, seeing the reasons it has been feared. Seeing it for what it is: some of our greatest strength.

Because we all do it.  We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty.  Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot.  What would it mean if we were ugly?  What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s?   How do we take the sting out of “ugly?”  What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel?  What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us.  What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it?  What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent? “

I really appreciate this concept. However, I wonder how useful it is to have a whole new word and concept, when perhaps the concept of beauty just needs to be expanded? She says:

“There is only the illusion of solace in beauty. If age and disability teach us anything, it is that investing in beauty will never set us free.  Beauty has always been hurled as a weapon.  It has always taken the form of an exclusive club; and supposed protection against violence, isolation and pain, but this is a myth.  It is not true, even for those accepted in to the club.  I don’t think we can reclaim beauty.”

Perhaps I am in such a privileged position (white, thin, enabled) that I can’t imagine the difficulty it takes to reclaim beauty. But I think I see beauty being reclaimed every day. I see people refusing the beautiful/ugly binary. And perhaps that is what her magnificence is all about–it’s the fusion of that binary, the place of tension at their axis. This essay definitely made me see that the concepts of beauty and ugly need to be exploded. But I don’t think one can swallow the other. I think we need all of these words, all of these concepts, and we need to continue challenging and confronting them. From what I understand of Mingus, that’s what she thinks too.

After everything, this is all about, as Mingus puts it,

“liberation and ending violence and oppression so that we all may shine; not just some of us.”

And that is magnificent.

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Street Harassment and the Trans* Community

So, back in New York City, home of our beloved schools and, not beloved at all, rampant street harassment. New York  is the place most of the street harassment I have experienced has taken place, starting from the person who yelled a come-on at me when I was 12 years old, to my college years where me and my girlfriends have been harassed for merely holding hands. Most people who are read as women and people with non-normative presentations have had some such experiences. For some of us, because of transition or changes in presentation, we’re just beginning to experience street harassment.

This brings me to a very interesting article written by blogger Annika. It’s called On Display: Navigating the Male Gaze as a Lesbian Trans Woman. It is about her transition from someone read as a normative-looking white upper class heterosexual cisgender male, to a “passing” lesbian trans woman–a transition from invisibility to visibility, from someone expected to be the subject of street harassment to the object.

She describes the basic reaction of her ciswoman friends as, welcome to being a woman, deal with it. Now, I understand this perspective in a lot of ways. Most of us who were raised women have been dealing with sexual harassment, especially in the streets, from a heartbreakingly young age. Many of us have become numb to this as a coping mechanism. I must admit that at first, I had a hard time finding my sympathy for my translady friends who started experiencing street harassment after years of what seemed, to me, blissful inexperience. But, if you have been street-harassed, imagine the first time it happened to you–if you can even remember–how scary it was, how violated and unsafe you felt. That is how newly female-presenting people feel too. What’s more, the success of the feminist movement is completely implicated in freedom being won for all women, not just including, but, I would argue, especially trans women, as an intensely marginalized group on the forefront of gender politics. Most basically, these women are our sisters, friends, teammates, classmates, co-workers, leaders, girlfriends, fellow human beings, and heroines, and we need to have our compassion for them switched-on all the time.

My stance is, instead of advising your trans*feminine friends to ‘deal with it,’ tell them about women’s and feminist struggle to turn street harassment and rape culture around, if they don’t know about it already. If you’re involved, invite them to join in. If they’re involved, join them in the struggle. Because we don’t have to just deal with it, no matter who we are.

For resources on this subject, check out Hollaback! and Yes Means Yes.

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