On Pronouns

The actress Laverne Cox said, in response to misgendering of a trans murder victim during a vigil remembering her life, “I know as a trans woman, and I think so many trans women in the audience understand, that when we’re misgendered, that is an act of violence for us,” she said. “It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.”

It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.


It’s a part of the violence that lead to Islan’s death.

This is not rocket science.  It’s not hard to refer to a woman as a woman.  And before you object that “well, you can’t always tell,” (hint: that’s a pretty horrible thing to say to a trans person) or “it takes me a while to get used to someone’s new gender” (another hint: it’s not their new gender, it’s their gender period), let me say I’m not talking about a one-time slip that you learn about.  And before you say that was the problem at Islan Nettle’s vigil, let me mention that someone speaking at the funeral of a trans person, particularly someone representing an LGBT group, is expected to at least read some random Trans 101 – I even have one targeted towards people who want to be allies on this site.

Islan NettlesToo often, it’s that people simply can’t be bothered (or don’t want) to recognize someone’s gender.  I’ve seen parents 15 years after their child disclosed their gender who still use the wrong pronouns and names for their child.  Are you really telling me that you can’t love someone enough to change after 15 years?  Now, I’m talking about supposedly supportive parents – that is, people who consider themselves supportive of their child’s identity.  I’m not talking about the other group of parents, the group that refuses to recognize their child’s gender out of some sort of misguided idea that this was a bad ethical choice.

I’ve seen other people who don’t change and say, “I’ve known him for a long time, so it’s hard to see him as a girl” or similar nonsense.  No, it’s not.  It might be some work on your part, but if you truly care you’ll do it.  If you say a person is your friend, that you would go out of your way for this person, then fricking go out of your way and respect them.  It’s a lot easier than helping them move to a new apartment, after all (something you probably wouldn’t hesitate to do for a friend).

I truly think part of this is how wonderfully willing most trans people are to give people who seem even slightly supportive some space and time when they first come out.  They know there are patterns of speech that might take a bit.  But sometimes people take advantage of this, and just use it as an excuse not to change.  And it’s hard to tighten the reigns.  That’s why so many parents of trans people refer to their son or daughter with the wrong pronouns, while their child is right next to them!  The (likely adult) child doesn’t want to lose the relationship completely over this, but at the same time, the parents are doing this incredibly hurtful – even violent – thing.

I’ll tell you a secret about most of the trans people I know: most don’t want to live their whole life as a “trans” person.  They want to be respected and accepted in their gender.  They don’t want to be different.  They want to be the same as all of us.

So it is an act of violence.  It reinforces the idea that trans people aren’t really the gender they say they are, that there is something weird going on, that the person isn’t quite who they identify as.  And that’s the excuse people who use physical violence do.

Now, I can hear the objection: using the wrong pronoun isn’t like a physical attack.  No, it’s different.  That doesn’t mean it’s more or less violent though.  You can be emotionally or psychologically violent – not just physically violent.

And for the next objection, heard from the person using the wrong pronouns: “I wasn’t intending to hurt.”  Maybe, maybe not (someone who was trying to reinforce the idea that someone’s gender wasn’t as they said would likely say this very same thing).  But even if you weren’t, you did.  And if you did so after correction (yes, a mistake here or there is okay), and it’s not intentional, it’s just not caring.  There’s this thing that is really, deeply important: who the person is, and the wrong pronouns deny that person’s existence, erase it, trample on it.  You don’t need to mean to do it – you can do great harm by just not caring.

And, finally, the last objection: you might have a friend/brother/sister/parent/etc that doesn’t mind when you use pronouns that don’t match their identity.  Let me let you in on a secret: most trans people who identify as a man want to be identified as a man.  And most trans people who identify as a woman want to be identified as a man.  A failure to lash out at someone who is inconsiderate and hurtful is not the same as being happy about it – nor is it proof it isn’t hurtful.  Too many trans people have few relationships with others, so the ones they have, even if they are hurtful, may be better than absolute loneliness.  It’s better than the alternative.  That said, it’s a sick person who doesn’t care enough about their friend to worry about whether “well, this relationship is better than suicide or loneliness.”  We should be better than that.  We should be someone who affirms our friends and family members, who affirm the core of their being.  So even if your friend/brother/sister/parent/etc doesn’t seem to mind when you use the wrong pronouns, you’re an ass if you don’t find a way to use the right ones.

And you know what?  You already know this.  Want me to prove it?  Quick: What do you think the reaction would be if you told the jock in High School that he “looked like a girl out there on the athletic field?”  Depending on how much the jock liked peace, you might end up with a black eye or bloody nose.  So you already know this.  What is the insult hurled after women who succeed in their career?  “She’s more of a man than most men!”  So you already know this.  Yes, these examples are also very misogynistic (and I’m certainly not defending them), which is equally bad, but it is clear that most people want to be referred to as they are.  You know that.

In summary, what pronouns should you use?  The non-violent ones.  That is, the ones that the person themself would have you use of them, whether that’s pronouns like “he” or pronouns like “she” or pronouns like “ze.”  Once you know, you have a choice to make: take the little bit of effort to use the right words *or* be an ass.  The choice is yours.

Rejecting the Binary

How many genders are there?  If you say two (that is, a binary view of gender), you’re not correct – there are people who reject binary gender, such as Leslie Feinberg (if you haven’t read her work, and you consider yourself knowledgable about trans people, you’re missing a really key thinker’s views, so go read a bit).  Leslie doesn’t identify as man or woman – the original usage of the word “transgender” – someone that transcends gender.  Transgender was distinct original from transsexual as transsexuals wanted to change sex, but neither transcend gender or transitioning gender (they are happy with their gender, and their gender has always been their gender, but they are not happy with their sex!).

An ATMega 32 AVR CPU

An ATMega 32 AVR CPU – a different kind of binary (not quite what we’re talking about!)  [Photo by Joel]

It’s important to acknowledge that transgender (and others) people like Leslie exist.  Too often, they really are ignored in the conversation.

But, equally important, is to realize that respect when it comes to gender is about self-determinism.  It’s about my right, your right, and Leslie’s right to define who each of us are.  You don’t have the right to define me, nor do I have the right to define you.  A lot of people have trouble with this concept, and it’s the root of anti-trans violence – one person trying to define another, through force if needed.

One of those self definitions is binary.  I might say I’m a man, even if I do feminine things occasionally.  I might say I’m a man, even if I’m not a stereotypical man.  I might say I’m a man even if I don’t have a typical male body.  I might strongly identify as a man.  Putting someone like that in a third category is just as bad as ignoring that a third category exists (and indeed other categories as well).

People who can’t 100% pass as their actual binary gender deal with a lot of crap.  Among that crap is people assuming that they are neither man or woman, but a third category.  It’s a place they don’t want to be in.  They don’t want to be different.  They want to be a man (or a woman, depending on the person).  Being told “Well, we’ll put you in a transman category” rather than ensuring they have the ability to identify as man emphasizes this difference, this distinction.  It ignores the self-identification of someone who feels like they are a man – because of the very same prejudice that anti-trans people have: that trans people aren’t real men or real women, but something different.

This comes from some unexpected sources.  Certainly it comes from anti-trans people.  But it also comes from people who consider themselves to be allies of trans people!  I’ve written about how the overuse of “cis” does this.  It can occur in other contexts where a third category is created for “trans” people.  Put yourself in the shoes of a couple different trans people.  First, put yourself in the shoes of someone who publicly identifies as trans (whether they are binary or not) – hearing about special procedures for trans people at an event will be welcome and probably exciting.  Now, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is a woman but didn’t always have an “F” on her birth certificate.  She will see this and think, “Am I going to have to out myself?  Am I expected to?  Do they see a difference between myself and other women?”  Too often, the expectation with trans people (particularly by LGB people for whom being out is often very important) is that they should be comfortable being out too.  So seeing a “trans” category can be alarming.  It can signal that they won’t be seen as a “real” woman.

How do you resolve this?  It’s actually not that complex – first, you don’t create categories.  You let people create their own category.  I recommend a blank instead of checkboxes for a “gender” question – and I only recommend asking gender if it actually is needed; and make sure you ask sex if that’s actually what you need (Planned Parenthood, I’m looking at you!).  If you actually need checkboxes on the backend, 99% of people are going to fit neatly in the boxes on the backend.  For the additional 1%, you can use some judgement.  This lets people put anything from “man” or “male” to “transgender” or “transman” to “genderqueer” or “genderfuck.”  How would you feel if you saw 20 checkboxes for gender, but your gender wasn’t one of them?

Second, you allow an environment where people feel no pressure to identify as something other than binary if they don’t desire that.  Of course it also needs to be an environment where someone who does want to identify as non-binary can.  These don’t have to be conflicting needs – starting with allowing people to self-identify, but also extending to not explictly differentiating binary trans people from binary non-trans people (that means generally people shouldn’t self-identify as “cis-” or non-trans, as that would absolutely differentiate!).  Basically, the terms used for a non-trans man should be 100% identical to the terms used for a transman, unless that transman desires to be referred to differently (in which case only that person’s terms should be different).

So, here’s my checklist to determine if a place or organization is truly friendly to both binary and non-binary people:

  • Do they allow a non-binary gender option for things like room assignment, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc?  Typically, this would be single-use facilities, but could be non-gendered facilities as well.
  • Do they make people fit into a certain number of checkboxes on forms (whether that number is two or twenty, it can’t cover all variation)?
  • Does the organization encourage binary trans people and binary non-trans people to use the same gender description?  (I.E. no use of “cis-” in self-identity, so that the trans and non-trans person can use the same binary terms if they are binary – for instance “man” or “woman” rather than “cis-male” vs “transman”)
  • Does the organization encourage out trans people (binary or non-binary) to identify as they wish (including terms such as transman, genderqueer, etc)?
  • Does the organization treat binary trans people and non-binary trans people exactly the same (facility usage).

The one I see most often going wrong in the ally community is the overuse of the cis- prefix, which places binary trans people who aren’t out in the situation of either not using the term cis- and feeling either “othered” or outed, or using the term and feeling like a liar.

The other group that has a problem with binary trans people is an unlikely group: some feminists.  Despite older feminist principles that place the utmost respect on self-identification and definition (and, thus, being trans-friendly), some newer offshoots of feminist movements alienate transpeople in two different ways.  First is the concept of “womyn born womyn” espoused by organizations such as the Michigan’s Women’s Festival (and written about by several performers).  The idea here is that someone not born with an “F” on their birth certificate enjoys privilege that other women do not.  Now, few will say that transwomen are not women, but their actions clearly differentiate and separate – much like overuse of cis- does.  They believe that there is a difference in that transwomen have “privilege” having lived as men.  Of course that’s hogwash.  There’s no “privilege” living as a transwoman, either before or after transition, in this society, and even if there was, there’s plenty of other types of privilege on display among groups of women (such as race, income, education, origin, family type, etc) and to single out one particular type of privilege is probably not rooted in a sense of “making everyone equal and without privilege” but rather making judgement calls based on ignorance (note I’m not saying malice, although I also won’t say it is always without malice).

When that isn’t going on, another group of feminists attack binary trans existence out of a desire to fight gender stereotypes.  To this group, who rightly believe women should not have to be bound by social stereotypes, they see the identification of a trans person as a woman as an attack that defends and builds up those stereotypes.  In essence, the trans person, in their eyes, is embracing the stereotypes that they are fighting against.  Thus, the trans person is an enemy.  Of course plenty of women follow at least one feminine stereotype, even while violating many others – but trans women get this attack for “defending stereotypes” even though trans women are just as diverse as non-trans women in their adherence to stereotypes.  One transman writes about his and his wife’s (a transwoman) experience saying that it’s a very result of the stereotypes that transwomen are forced to act stereotypical too often – if they transcend the stereotype, and live non-stereotypically for a woman, they face the very real danger of being perceived as a man, in a way that non-trans women are not.  The effect of the stereotypes being fought against are even more confining for a trans woman!  Yet, she’s not welcome to join the fight against the stereotype because, in the eyes of some, she’s embracing the stereotype simply for deciding to identify as a woman.  And, because of the other group (the “womyn born womyn” group), if she acts assertively, she’s excercizing masculine privilege in their eyes!  Yes, it’s a twisted mess.

Again, most feminist theory can and does recognize trans people as who they are, but as noted above, there are at least two threads that cause transwomen to be abused by the very groups that claim to be empowering women.  Transwomen in particular are expected to live as a third gender, not being acknowledged as women.

So, the next time you think “we need to recognize non-binary people,” think carefully.  You do need to recognize non-binary people.  But you also need to recognize binary people!  And there are some things you can do to recognize both – you can acknowledge the existence of many genders, but not force binary people into a category other than men or women.  If you do identify as binary and aren’t trans, you can show a solidarity with your trans brothers and sisters by using exactly the same term for them that you use of yourself.  Yes, you can talk about how non-trans people don’t face the prejudice that trans people do, but that’s distinct from going around and telling people you are non-trans.  If it doesn’t matter to you if someone is trans, why does is it important to differentiate when talking of an individual (note I’m not talking about avoiding this when talking about groups).  If the trans person wants to identify as trans, let them.  But let them use the same words that you use about yourself if they prefer that.  It’s basic respect.  Unfortunately, it’s respect that is getting lost in the desire to recognize differences.  And it’s creating some decidedly unsafe spaces for binary trans people – ironically these non-safe spaces are in the very spaces where people are trying to create safe space!  That makes it even harder to fight (the hardest inclusion fight to fight is one where the other side thinks they are inclusive).

The Dangers of Recognizing Privilege

If you’ve read much from writers who are disabled, feminist, non-white, LGBT, or otherwise a political minority, you’ve come across the idea of privilege.

One example of privilege, having enough money to afford a really nice house.

One example of privilege, having enough money to afford a really nice house.

Of course there are many types of privilege.  And that’s where we start to have a problem.

Academically, it’s not a bad thing to talk about, for instance, able-bodied privilege in an abstract sense.  After all, as a whole, an able-bodied person has no problem finding an apartment or house within a given price range that has a bathroom and kitchen they are able to use.  Able-bodied people don’t face discrimination on the basis of their disability when they seek employment.  Able-bodied people don’t get stares in public when they talk about wanting to have a kid.  Able-bodied people are presumed competent by others.  Able-bodied people are much less likely to be the victim of abuse.  This list could go on a while.  There is such a thing as “able-bodied privilege.”

And this privilege can impact how a person sees the world.  Chances are, a person with privilege hangs around people with similar privilege, and sees their status in the world as relatively normal, rather than recognizing they may have it a heck of a lot better in some areas than others.  Even more concerning, however, is the tendency to see someone else’s desire to get rid of discrimination as an attack on themselves.

For instance, take the extreme case of Kirstin Giesech, a teenager who uses a wheelchair in Fountain, Colorado.  Her neighbor – enjoying white, upper-middle-class suburb privilege, felt threatened that her ramp would lower his property value.  He didn’t see this as an issue of the right to access that Kirstin should have on her own property, but rather an attack on his status and privilege – the privilege to have a home appreciate in value (that said, there’s absolutely no evidence a wheelchair ramp affects a neighbor’s home value – but of course even if it did, people should have the right to enter and leave their own home).  Typically, when someone without privilege (in this case, a disabled person) wants something someone with privilege has (a means to enter and exit her home, like her able-bodied neighbor enjoys), it’s an attack against the person with privilege.

So, in this sense, talking about privilege is useful.

But here’s where it starts to break down.  Rather than talking about Kirstin’s neighbors as ignorant asses, the conversation gets focused on privilege.  The problem isn’t that the neighbor is white.  It may not even be that the neighbor actually is operating as a result of privilege.  It’s that the neighbor is treating Kirstin and her family horribly.  That’s the issue.

Sometimes, when we use words like privilege, it gets the blame rather than the actual people.  But, moving past that, even if privilege is what enables this type of thing to happen, there is another problem: it’s a rare person indeed that lacks some sort of privilege.

Privilege varies with time, place, and situation.  Someone can be simultaneously privileged and unprivileged.  So, if I was disabled, but have a lot of money, am I privileged?  Probably in some ways.  And definitely not in others.  If I was disabled and had no money, I still might have privilege if I have good friends and family to support me – and in some cases, that privilege may be greater than my lack of privilege due to disability and poverty.  It’s complex.  And it doesn’t work well when talking about individuals, at least in my nontypical brain.

I’ll stick with calling out assholes when they are assholes.  I don’t need to analyze their privilege or lack of privilege.  I can recognize simply that what they did was wrong.  And I can call that out directly and bluntly if need be.  That will probably go further than telling them they have neurotypical privilege or some such.  It’s probably better to say, “You aren’t hiring me simply because I’m disabled” rather than “You’re showing able-bodied and neurotypical privilege.”  The first one points out the wrong directly (the wrong is not hiring a qualified person) while the second statement just criticizes.

In our advocacy, we can get caught up in the intellectual shortcut of privilege and similar concepts.  They are useful when talking about the hypothetical average person within a given population.  But they fall short in dealing with real problems.

When is a Rape not a Rape? Or Hate not Hate?

This comes up way too frequently – for instance, we all heard about “legitimate rape” (Todd Akin, a US politician, implied that women who were “legitimately” raped would, somehow, only rarely get pregnant due to some sort of ovarian rape-detector or something) in the last election cycle.

Up until 1993, spousal rape (a person raping their spouse) was not illegal everywhere in the USA.  North Carolina was the last state to change their law which, prior to the change, included this in the rape statute: “a person may not be prosecuted under this article if the victim is the person’s legal spouse at the time of the commission of the alleged rape or sexual offense, unless the parties are living separate and apart.”  Before the 1970s, spousal rape was not a crime anywhere in the USA.

In a particularly horrifying example, in 2007, a Philadelphia judge, Teresa Carr Deni, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, even if you held a gun to her head to force her to have sex, if she had previously agreed to have sex.  In this case, the rape victim previously agreed to have sex with the rapist for an agreed sum of money.  Now you might have moral disagreements with that, but that wasn’t what was supposed to be on trial here.  What was on trial was whether or not she was raped.  When she met the rapist to receive money and perform the sex act (protected sex), the rapist decided he wasn’t going to pay her (no sex had occurred yet) and that he would use a gun to force her to perform unprotected sex with at least 3 other people.  Clearly, this was not consensual.

The judge, Teresa Carr Deni, a Philadelphia municipal judge, decided that it wasn’t possible to rape a prostitute, essentially, since she was offering services for a fee, and that this was just a case of robbery and theft of services.  Not rape.

Despite the Pennsylvania Bar publicly condemning her, she won re-election in Philadelphia shortly after the case for another 6 years in 2007.  Fortunately she’s on her last year as a judge and will not be back in 2014.

On July 14, 2013, Diamond Williams was brutally murdered with her body dismembered and dumped in a vacant lot.  The primary suspect – with significant evidence against him – is Charles Sargent.

Diamond, sadly, even after death, has three things going against her: she was trans, may have been a sex worker, and the judge who will be presiding over Charles Sargent’s murder case.  The judge is Teresa Carr Deni.

That Diamond was reported to be a sex worker should have nothing to do with this case.  She’s not supposed to be tried as a victim in her own murder case.  It’s not less wrong to kill a sex worker, and hopefully Judge Deni has learned that.  But we’ll have to wait and see.  Diamond’s human value and worth was the same as any of ours, and the law should reflect that all of us are created equal, that we all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  Such as the right not to be murdered.

That she was trans may be relevant, as a hate crime.  Some media have reported that Charles Sargent killed Diamond when he found out she was trans.  If this is the case, it would seem to be clearly a crime motivated by bias against gender, which is against the law (I’ve written about hate crimes elsewhere and why treating people in this way is not an injustice but actual justice).  But of course it’s not going to be prosecuted that way.  No, it’s going to be prosecuted as random violence that could have happened to any of us.  Except, it seems, it wouldn’t have happened to any of us.

I pray and hope that justice will be served and that Diamond’s murderer will never see freedom again.  He took a person’s life, so it is reasonable that he should spend the rest of his behind bars.  I also want to say that while I never knew Diamond, I do share the grief of her family and friends and their loss.  I don’t have to have known her to know that she was special to many people and that someone was unjustly taken from all of the world.

The Tradition of Fixed Gender

A recent Fox News article about a proposed California law to protect trans students from discrimination is what one would expect from Fox – transphobic and ignorant of science, while finding obscure hate groups to provide “counterpoint” to a fictitious argument.

As someone who finds history – particularly history of gender, sex, and orientation – to be fascinating and much more interesting than much of what I was taught in school (or should I say “what they tried to teach me in school?”), I found one statement pretty humorous:

“For a millennium, sex has meant male or female,” she said. “What they are saying is now you can change that.”

The person quoted is Andrea Lafferty, the non-traditional head (many “traditional” churches still ban women from leadership, after all) of the Traditional Values Coalition of California, an obscure anti-gay group that has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center not because of their anti-gay stance, but rather because of the known and verifiable lies they use to promote their cause  of hate.  Any responsible journalist would recognize that this may not be the best source for a quote, unless you are talking about how absurd some groups in America are when it comes to hating gays (and, to these groups, gays and trans people are exactly the same).  But I digress.  She claims that for a millennium (that would be roughly 914 A.D. until now) that sex has meant male and female.

Apparently intersexed people don’t exist.  These are people who, at birth, have ambiguous genitals or other sex characteristics.  For instance, someone with some cells that have XX chromosomes (female) and someone who has XY chromosomes (male) would be intersexed (and, yes, these people do exist).  Sex determination is hard – so hard that most reputable, scientifically based groups (such as most sports organizations) have acknowledged that someones we just can’t know if someone is more male or more female – they are ambiguous, and no test can make it clear (in those cases most sports organizations fall back to the person’s legal recognition).

That of course is not new.  Focus on the Family seems to imply that intersexed people shouldn’t marry, by saying:

From [some previously quoted Bible passages] we see that Christians are called to understand that God readily seeks to strengthen and encourage those who find themselves unable to marry and participate in genderedness and sexual expression as ordained in the created order.

The context of this is about why you can dismiss intersexed people as a challenge to Biblical ideas of male and female (note that not all Bible scholars agree that the Bible says everyone is fully male or fully female and cannot change).  They go on to say that the person should live their assigned gender identity, never mind the possibility of error at birth.  So, Focus on the Family’s solution is to just ignore intersexed people when it comes to discussion about gender, and that they live single lives rather than complicate the situation for Focus’s followers.  Oh, elsewhere they tell us that intersexed people – unlike the rest of us – are a result of the fall of man, and thus are basically the fruit of sin.

So ignoring or insulting intersexed people is hardly new for some groups that claim to be acting in the name of Christ.  So it is no big surprise when the Traditional Values Coalition’s (TLC) executive director ignores those.  At least those who have existed in the last 1,000 years or so.

But back to the rest of her point – that, ignoring intersexed people, sex has meant male and female for a 1,000 years.  Of course we should differentiate sex and gender, with sex being biological and gender being identity – and I’ll ignore the common sense that says someone who identifies as a woman and is known to be a woman should use the women’s room, or the common sense that a non-discrimination law for students affects far more than bathrooms.  Or that this is needed because of the tremendously high suicide rate of trans youth.  I’m going to ignore that and just focus on how sex has meant male and female for 1,000 years.

Looking at that, most trans people would say, for the most part, it still does.  Most trans people don’t seek a third category (some do, and this of course should be respected).  The very idea of gender identity disorder (the current DSM-IV diagnosis for a transsexual) is someone that is unhappy with the biology of their body – and there are of course medically recognized treatments, consisting of things like hormones and surgery, for this diagnosis.  And most of these people would consider themselves to be male or female after transition.  No surprise there (except possibly to the TVC).

I suspect the literal reading (a mode of Bible study these people are fond of!) is not what the Executive Director intended, however.  I suspect she’s arguing that sex is fixed, and can’t be changed.  And, further, that people should live in the gender role that matches society’s expectation for their sex.

So, let’s look at some history.

Let’s take Queen Christina of Sweden in the 1600s.  That’s within 1,000 years.  After she abdicated the throne, she traveled as Count Dohna, a man.  There’s some evidence she may have been intersexed, and also may have been bisexual.  During her life, many observed she (unfortuantely I don’t know which pronoun she would prefer) did many things as a man would.  Want a real mindblower?  Her body is in the Vatican crypts.

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Or the many Native Americans who lived as what we might see as transgender or transsexual lives.  That is, a person born with male sex organs who lived, worked, married, and dressed as a woman, often married to a man.  Or vise-versa.  Or those that lived as neither man or woman.  That mostly stopped as the USA was colonized and Christianity (and European interpretations of Christianity) were brought into the culture.  This was certainly within 1,000 years.

Or we can look at Islam and Mohammed, who lived a few hundred years before the last 1,000 years.  The Quran references “Mukhannathun” who would generally be considered transwomen today.  Within the last 1,000 years, other writings have confirmed this view.  There is controversy about whether trans people are committing sin in Islam, but regardless of that controversy, clearly gender was not always black and white.

Or we can look at USA court cases.  Such as M.T. v. J.T. in NJ (1976), which affirmed that a post-operative trans person was in fact a different sex than their birth.  It’s for this reason that most US states allow reissuance of a birth certificate after a sex reassignment procedure.  Clearly sex is not fixed in the eyes of the law.  We can look at more recent legal decisions such as the federal In re Jose Mauricio LOVO-Lara (2005), where a post-operative trans person was recognized as a female for immigration purposes.

There are literally thousands of examples I could cite, but the above is sufficient: sex was never recognized as completely black and white, one way or the other, and unchangeable.

Of course then we get to the heart of the issue and the real transphobia in the Fox article.  The heart is the idea that trans people aren’t really the gender they claim to be, that they really are whatever was put on their birth certificate at birth.  That’s what’s really at issue, beyond all the talk of bathrooms and religious discrimination and love for the product of Adam’s sin.  It’s about whether or not a person’s gender can be legally recognized.  Some, who have nothing in the fight except hate, say no.  They say that they outnumber trans people, so trans people should lose.  Fortunately, our country’s founders were smart enough to not quite let majority rule at their whim – and this hateful group very likely lacks even that majority.  Even the rights of one are worth protecting.  Scared your kid might have to use the bathroom with a trans person?  I hate to tell you this, but they almost certainly already have.  And so have you.  Beyond that reality, trans people are not sexually assaulting kids in bathrooms.  No, rather than that, the trans kids are being assaulted in the bathroom.  So, if you really care about kids, as you claim, why don’t you start by figuring out why someone would think it’s okay to beat someone up because you think they dress wrong, talk wrong, act wrong, or pee wrong.  But, no, the solution from the right wing is to allow schools to exclude and neglect trans people, to appease people who think they are living a life of sin, who want a trans person to be punished for the mistaken idea that somehow you can punish the trans out of someone.

One thing is for sure, though: trans people aren’t a new part of society.  This is hardly a new idea to any serious student of history (you know, the kind that doesn’t just read stuff that reinforces their views and ignores all other sources).  Maybe it’s new to some bigoted right-wing hate group administrators, but it’s not new to the world.  I didn’t even mention the Asian or African cultures that lived for thousands of years (and often still do) with third gender members of their communities.  Or the women who dressed and acted as men to fight for the USA (or other nations).  Or the many other people who didn’t meet everyone’s gender expectations.

The Connection Between Military Service and Trans People

320px-Marine_RPD_machine_gunA recent study (focused on the USA) talked about, among other things, how trans people were more than twice as likely to have served in the military than non-trans people.  It talked about a lot of other things, only some of which I will talk about here, as some of it is truly horrible – the likelihood of being a rape victim, for instance, is particularly high among closeted trans people serving in the military.

Today’s policy in the US armed forces is that someone with gender identity disorder is mentally ill and thus should be discharged as unfit for duty.  The same goes for intersex soldiers.  Being open about your gender identity, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), is not acceptable and will get you kicked out.  There is no apparent plans to change that.

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way – Canada has allowed trans people to serve, and even provided SRS (sex reassignment surgery) under the military health coverage.  So does Israel.  And the best speech ever by a military officer about treating people decently (specifically after a sex scandal) was written by the Australian General’s speech writer, a transgender Lt. Colonel.

But, back to the study…the study found there are tons more military veterans among the trans community than among the non-trans community.  Why?  They cited an earlier study which found many trans people, particularly transwomen (that is, people who initially had an “M” on their birth certificate but are women), undergo what the researchers described as a “flight into hypermasculinity.”  I believe, based on stories I know of transsexual people, that this is both real and common, and have a thoughts as to why.  First, this “flight” usually seems to occur in early adulthood.  This is a time of tons of changes, such as brain maturation, physical maturation, and leaving home (for many).  People are trying to find themselves, trying to figure out where they belong.  To find acceptance and peace, obviously it would be easier if one were living according to society’s expectations on gender.  So people try.  I think this is one reason why so many transwomen have done very masculine things in their teen and early adult lives, whether it’s being the high school football star, being part of the hyper-masculine Seal Team 6, or a motorcycle racer.  Now, I’m not saying women can’t do these things, but they are traditionally very masculine jobs.

I think the flight into hyper-masculinity may be similar to a may man who has internalized prejudice and marries a woman – only to have a broken marriage years later.  It doesn’t turn out to work.  He’s still gay.  And, likewise, the transwoman is still a woman.  Yet, there is an attraction for both the gay man and the trans woman – if only they could live as society expects, life would be much, much easier (and likely better).  They can’t, because they aren’t what society expects, and trying to live that life leads to death.

It’s unfortunate that the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) health system (the medical system that provides medical care for veterans in the US) leaves transgender people out in several ways.  Now, it’s not all bad – overall, the official policies of the VA are actually relatively decent compared to most health care.  But there are three big gotcha’s in the policy and implementation.  First, good policy, alone, is insufficient if people providing care don’t get it.  And that’s sure to happen in a health system as large as the VA.  It’s inexcusable to treat a veteran in need of medical care in a way that humiliates or demeans, but sadly it does happen.  Second, the policy itself prohibits sex reassignment surgery.  The VA, like many health care providers, consider this surgery to be primarily cosmetic, while at the same time recognizing that gender dysphoria is real (and has a surgical cure, for transsexuals, particularly transsexual women).  In addition to these two problems, the third is a problem of access – many trans people are discharged non-favorably from the military, in which case they may not qualify for VA health benefits, even if they otherwise qualify (for instance, an honorably discharged veteran who served in combat within 5 years would qualify for a time).  For instance, cross dressing is against military justice code, and can cause a dishonorable discharge – which results in no veterans’ benefits.

So, the next time you hear news of gay veterans, think of the transgender military members – there’s plenty of them and they are, sadly, at risk of dishonorable discharge or worse (suicide is very common among trans people trying to live as a gender they are not).  And then, when discharged, think how the system we’ve set up to ensure our veterans are healthy and can adjust back into society fails someone on this most personal and important aspect of their being.  We have work to do.