Category Archives: by Simone

Safer Sex for Trans* Bodies, Part I

So a little while ago I did a workshop about HIV in the trans* community. While I was researching, something I came across over and over was that trans* people lacked education about safe sex, because no one targeted them specifically, or if they did, lacked useful knowledge (and I suspect unwittingly insulted them with ignorance of trans* issues and terminology). A lot of this comes from the fact that doctors spend minimal time getting trained about sex and gender (let’s just say that in all the years of med school, the hours spent on those topics are not in the double-digits), and also that LGBT activists tend to be all about the LGB and not so much about the T (a rant for another day). In any case, I am going to try to make a little comprehensive guide to fill that void.

I suppose we should start with the basics–what is it that you are protecting, when, and what from?

Trans* bits:

Trans* people have all sorts of genitals (just like cis people, really). They may have been assigned female at birth, if they have external genitals that look like this:

This is what the external genitals look like of someone who a doctor would assign female, meaning that this person internally has a uterus and ovaries, two X chromosomes, and when they reach puberty, estrogen will define their secondary sex characteristics. Intersex people may also be trans*, and this could very well be the external genitalia of someone with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or other intersex variation. It also could be the external genitalia of a trans man, who identifies as male and may or may not take testosterone. It might also belong to a trans woman who has gotten genital surgery. Basically, these genitals could belong to most anyone, of any kind of sex or gender. Same holds true about this:

Again, people might or might not have any of these internal systems. This system could belong to a trans woman. The person who owns these bits may call what is labeled “penis” on this chart their clit. They might call the “rectum” their vagina. Anyway, I don’t want to get off-track, but the point is that it’s uncool to assume things about what people have going on under their clothes, inside their bodies, and what words they want to use to talk about it. For more about intersex genitals, check out this incredible article, that says and shows it all way better than I ever could.

Here are some illustrations from that article. Basically, it’s gonna expand your world.

To sum up: trans* people may have what is traditionally thought of as “male” genitalia, “female” genitalia, intersex genitals, and surgically constructed genitals. All of these kinds of genitalia are vulnerable to STDs, some of them can get pregnant, and some can get someone else pregnant.

If the words I am using are confusing you, check out the glossary.

Any questions so far? Tomorrow I’ll be back with part II, when we get into what safe trans* sexytimes are all about.

UPDATE: I have received criticism that this post conflates trans* and intersex people. I was pretty disappointed with myself, because that is exactly what I was trying NOT to do. I have edited it, but I also want to make sure that this is clear: Trans* and intersex people are not the same. Trans* people do not identify with their birth-assigned sex and the gender they were raised with. This may or may not be true for intersex people. However, some trans* people identify as coercively assigned at birth, which means for some people that they are intersex, but were coercively, through surgical intervention or otherwise, assigned “male” or “female.” And since many intersex people, coercively or not, are assigned one of the two binary genders to be raised with, they can sometimes be trans* as well as intersex.

I included this in my post because I really want to represent the biggest swath of the trans* population. I am torn because I do not want to misrepresent, but I also don’t want to exclude. Going forth, I hope I can make this much clearer.

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End of semester? Back to work.

Hey kids.

I am so remiss to have let this blog languish over the semester, but I have been engaging a little concept we call self-care, which has sadly meant not keeping up with yet another project. But! The semester is over and I promise I’ll be on this more.

Look forward to:

-A post on safer sex for trans* people

-A blog about self-care (just inspired myself, see above)

-Some dissection of recent news and policy changes

-More international stuff

-Thoughts about intersectionality

…and much more! Also, I take requests. Email transcolumbia@gmail.com, or get me when I post these things on facebook, or comment.

Thank you, everyone who’s been reading and checking back. Don’t think you’re not important to me.

Lastly, a bit of reader appreciation: W commented and told me about a petition to stop an anti-LGBTQ rights bill that was on the table in Russia. Since I hadn’t been checking, the petition already went through, got nearly 250.000 signatures, and (I’m not exactly sure if it is related, but) the bill was not put into law. Read more here. Sorry for missing this, but next time I’ll be on it!

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The Sex Ed We Need

oh hey congress you see us!

So this would seem not even gender-related, but there’s an awesome and sassily-named sex ed bill in Congress right now, called the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act of 2011. It is totally comprehensive and just epically worded, and check out this gem:

” [the education must] cover a broad range of topics, including medically accurate, complete, age and developmentally appropriate information about all the aspects of sex needed for a complete sex education program, including–…

(v) gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation…”

Look! We are up in there!

I’m so excited. If you are too, you can do a bit of activism and email the representative from your voting area. Do that in an absurdly easy way here. And read the rest of the text of the bill here.

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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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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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Gender Hero: Waxie Moon

Today I want to introduce you all to a personal hero of mine, Waxie Moon. They’re a burlesque artist with a heart of gold and a mustache full of glitter. Burlesque, like drag (although I’ve found the two have a fair amount of overlap), is an art form where gender is messed with, made fun of, and reveled in. Waxie in particular is the meeting point of several gender expressions, from lady to leather daddy. Their performances always cheer me up, and I hope you’ll like them too:

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Self-Love + Body Acceptance

I want to introduce you all to a knot of awesome blogs that I discovered lately that deal with issues of radical self-love, body acceptance, and fat activism along with issues of gender. I think they’re super inspirational and important. I’ll give you a little summary, and then you can find them in the links section from now on.

glitter attack!

Glitter Politic: This is a project by housemates and radical cuties Ashley and Erin. They say: “Glitter is a beautiful external reflection of the brightest, most powerful light that shines inside each one of us. In a world that makes hating yourself and others so easy and available, embodying a radical politic of glitter is challenging. By doing so, we accept and perpetuate the radical notion that there is enough room for all of us to shine.” It’s adorable and inspirational. And glittery. I really think y’all should check it out.

That’s So Majestic: Erin of Glitter Politic’s personal blog. They describe themself as “a working-class genderqueer who is guided by whim and fancy, but is instead putting too much time and government money into a degree in women’s studies and social justice at the University of Victoria.” I think a lot of us can relate. Check out their sweet social justice reblogs, fat pride, and badass outfit posts.

Deliciously Subversive: This blog is more angsty, but deals with self-acceptance as a trans person with fabulously complex gender things happening. He says “I’m a 20 year old white, fat, trans/gender/queer/femme bear cub boy who prefers “HE” PRONOUNS… blog about social justice, especially in relation to gender, sexuality, race, ability, sex work, and fat positivity.”

Blogging for Brown Gurls: Transmissions from brown gurl and my little pony look-alike who, from what I can gather, lives where it is warm and sunny, sew their own clothes, struts around like no one’s business, and is gifted with epic amounts of hotness. I really think you want this sass and eye candy directly in your brain.

Shine on crazy diamonds!

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