You would pass better if you…

One thing I’ve noticed is that a trans person will almost always hear something like, “You would pass better if you…” followed by some “helpful” suggestions. For instance, the “if you” part might be:

  • If you wore more feminine clothes
  • If you bind your chest tighter
  • If you laugh more like a woman
  • If you act interested in sports
  • If you wear your hair differently
  • If you lower your voice
  • If you give up your masculine hobbies
  • Etc.

Imagine going up to someone who isn’t trans, and saying, “Hon, you look great! But you’d look even better if you put make up on right.” It’s a recipe to get slapped or punched. Maybe both. Yet, for some reasons, it is assumed that trans people want these helpful tips.

Often, they don’t. There’s a time to realize they can’t look more like a woman (assuming they are a transwoman) than they already do. How can a woman look more like a woman? But the assumption is that they aren’t “really” a woman, that they are really just learning to be a woman, and they need your help (whether you are a woman or not!) to give them a hand.

Part of this comes, I think, from the divide between different groups of trans people. For instance, a drag performer may look stunningly beautiful and extremely feminine – and spends hours to get that look just right before you see them. A drag performer wants to look the part of some idea, to present a living portrait of a specific link. Whereas, a transsexual person may just want to live as they are and be allowed to be who they are. Sure, they could do what the performer did and comply better with the stereotype (depending on the performer!). But why? Why should they need to?

Nobody fits the stereotypes, and trying to fit them isn’t a recipe for happiness – the 1970s taught us that with divorce, when the stereotypical nuclear family formed in the 50s was the source of the rise in divorce (it wasn’t the sexually liberated young hippies getting divorces!).  People were trying to live a stereotype, be something that wasn’t natural, in family life. And it was miserable. Likewise, most of us aren’t performers (and even performers probably don’t want to perform every minute of the day). Most of us – trans or not – are happiest when we have the freedom and support to be who we are, even if it doesn’t fit someone else’s ideas of who someone like us should be.

So, when you see that woman that isn’t a perfect stereotype of a woman, don’t give them hints about how to become that stereotype. Affirm who they are: a woman. Even if they have a deep voice, prefer wearing jeans over skirts, don’t wear make up, or whatever else. Or even if they have a feminine voice, wear mini-skirts, and spend an hour putting on makeup before leaving home. Likewise for men – being a man is about more than getting drunk or watching sports. Affirm his manliness!

Sure, give advice when asked. But remember there are all sorts of men, and all sorts of women, and all sorts of non-gendered people in the world. And that’s okay and good.

I remember visiting London, where I met up with two British autistic guys, and we ventured around London. I remember an anti-war activist coming up to the group of the three of us, and addressing me, the supposed Londoner, and asking me if my American friends would be willing to talk about the war! Were they not British enough? Hardly. Was I non-American? Again, hardly. My friends and I were fine – it was the activist who messed up. After all, what can an American do to be more American? I already am American – I can’t be “more American” (despite what some might say).

We need diversity! And we need our friends, whether we are trans or not, to support us learning who we are, interacting in the world in our own unique way. And we need to recognize that men and women don’t always fit stereotypes. And that’s a good thing.

So, You Are an LGB Ally – How T is Different

Are you an LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) ally?  Or maybe you are L, G, or B.

Think you know T (trans)?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

A lot of pain is caused by people assuming that being a trans ally is just like being an LGB ally (or an L, G, or B yourself).  But it’s not – there are key differences that too often are ignored.

Here’s some differences:

Acceptance for Some Trans People is About Invisibility

For much of the LGB community, the desire is to be who you are, wherever you want to be: to be able to bring a loved one with you to the company picnic, to be able to get legal recognition of your relationship, or to be protected from discrimination when people see you as you are.

For some T people, this is the same – particularly for people who identify as non-binary.  They want the right to be accepted as they are, without having to confirm to an inappropriate category.

But, equally, many want to be recognized as the binary gender they identify as. They don’t want to be asked if they are trans, they don’t want to go to a trans-pride rally, and they don’t want to be outed. It’s not that they aren’t proud of who they are, but rather that they know who they are. It isn’t a third category. It’s one of two categories already recognized.

You want to respect a transsexual who identifies as a woman? It’s simple: treat her as a woman. Not a transwoman, but a woman.  And treat yourself the same way – treat yourself as a woman (or a man), not a ciswoman or a cisman – that still creates a distinction when someone else just wants to be part of the same group you are in.  Treat this person like any other person. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to someone who considers themselves non-binary. But many trans people do consider themselves binary.

That leads into…

Not All Trans People are Non-Binary

Just as not all LGB people are bi, not all trans people are binary. It’s insulting to a gay to insist that he’s “really” bi. In the same way, it’s insulting to insist a trans person who identifies binary is really non-binary!

So, you don’t create bathrooms that are “male”, “female”, and “trans.” You don’t ask someone if they are “male,” “female,” or “trans”, as that creates a difficulty for a binary trans person – are they a man or a trans person? And are you really wanting to know about chromosomes and genitals (male, female) or gender, anyhow?  What you do is consider things like single-user bathrooms that everyone can use and forms that provide a blank rather than a checkbox for sex or gender.  But you don’t create a “trans” choice that may make some people feel pressured to identify essentially as a third-gender. At the same time, you recognize that some people are non-binary and you provide that option as well – just do so in a way that doesn’t pressure a trans person.

Trans is Not the Future Civil Rights. It’s the past too.

Remember Stonewall, where the gays rose up against oppressive laws and police? Go back and read about it again, and read why people were prosecuted. In general, it was for crossdressing.

When people promote an employment non-discrimination act that throws T people to the curb, they are denying the heritage and the people that helped fight for (and win) rights for gays. Nobody that does this, no matter how much of an ally they are for LGB people, is a T ally.

Trans People are at Higher Risk

Trans people face higher risks of violence, homelessness, and unemployment than LGB people. Trans people are more likely to be kicked out of their home, have their identity used against them in child custody cases, and lose connections to former friends when they come out.

While sadly many LGB people have also faced these things, it’s important to be careful about saying you can relate. It’s generally best to not compare sufferings.

Trans People are Discriminated Against by LGB Groups

Just because a place claims to be LGB friendly, doesn’t mean it is T friendly. This is particularly true for transwomen. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival comes to mind – they welcome lesbian women, so long as they weren’t born with a penis, complete with justification about how women can’t feel safe if there is a “man” there (typically referring to a transwoman that way) – very discriminatory BS. I’ve heard stories from transwomen about being excluded from lesbian-friendly survivor support groups, dating sites, social events, etc. I know others that have been discriminated against in some Metropolitan Community Churches (one of the first “gay friendly” denominations). Just because an event is LGB friendly doesn’t mean a T person is going to be welcome.

It’s also important to remember, despite this blog mostly drawing a distinction between LGB and T, things aren’t quite this simple. Plenty of T people are L, G, or B.

Trans and LGB People Have the Same Problem, But it’s not Recognized

Trans people face discrimination and violence because they don’t fit someone else’s idea of the gender role they should live. (edit: of course it’s due to prejudice ultimately – that prejudice is based on the idea that people should fit certain gender expectations of prejudiced people)

LGB people are similar. But this is one that a lot of LGB people get upset about when it’s mentioned. Part of this is because a lot of gay people have been insulted and told they are like women, while a lot of lesbians are insulted by being told they are like men – when obviously this isn’t true. Gay men are just as “man” as straight men. The same goes for lesbian women – they are just as “woman” as a straight woman. So it is understandable there would be a gut reaction. But the issue is still there: The reason a gay man is discriminated against is because of the gender role they are living. They are living, as a man, but not following the stereotype properly – they are attracted to other men, after all. That’s where their lived gender role (that of a man) fails to fit the stereotype of what others believe a man should be.

It is because of this that trans people have long recognized that the LGB movement is about gender roles, just as the T movement is about gender roles. Not the idea that gender roles must be dismantled (although obviously some people believe they should be), but rather that one should be able to live as they identify, even when someone else doesn’t like that choice based on stereotypes and expectations.

Some T People will Always be Clocked

If I see a non-trans man at Wal-Mart, who is alone, I have no idea if he is gay (barring a T shirt that says, “I’M GAY!”). Yet that man can very well might be living as a gay man, openly.

However, some T people, aren’t fortunately enough to be able to live as they are without people knowing they are trans. They simply never get seen as a human being apart from being trans. They are always trans, to everyone, all the time. They are always on-guard, and even completely innocuous things, like going to Wal-Mart, can become an ordeal. It can be hard to just leave the house.

So It’s Just Not the Same

The summary is simple: Trans people have desires and overlap with the LGB community, but also have concerns unique to their community.

More than Toilets

Most of the debate about rights for trans people revolve around toilets.  While toilets are a big issue, there are a lot of other big issues too.

I’ll keep this simple.

Here’s a sampling – a lot of this is the right to not be outed, to be safe, and to participate in society:

  • The right to not be assaulted for being trans. Violence is still extremely common. There isn’t a trans person who doesn’t have to consider, “If I go to this bar, will I be attacked?” or “If I tell this person, will they respond violently?”
  • The right to not be insulted, misgendered, and placed in a gender that doesn’t fit (for instance, a binary trans person likely wants to be seen as man or woman, not trans-something and not a third gender; Likewise, people who aren’t binary don’t want to be identified as a binary person). People have the right to their identity.
  • Employment records that don’t “out” you.  If someone calls an employer from 5 years ago, will the employer mention the name I was employed under or my current name?
  • Education records that don’t “out” you.  What name is on my diploma?  My transcripts?  Are you crossing out my old name or noting my old name, or are you re-issuing it in my name?
  • Credit reports that don’t “out” you
  • Voter registration that doesn’t out you
  • Junk mail that doesn’t “out” you.  Some databases are really old.  They’ll insist on using old names and titles even 20 years after they are no longer applicable.  Non-profit causes, I’m looking at you – you’re among the worst.
  • Government records that don’t “out” you.  Full transcripts of SSI data, tax records, property ownership, and court actions should not list the old names without good cause. Public curiosity and open records laws are not good cause.
  • The right to change your social security or other government ID numbers. Essentially to get a chance at not being reminded of the most painful time of your life continually.
  • The right to transition while on the job, without losing your job.
  • The right to identify as trans.
  • The right to not identify as trans.  (Non-trans folk: Make sure your use of “cis-” to refer to yourself doesn’t put someone in the uncomfortable position of having to call themselves something different than you or to lie; Generally, you shouldn’t use it in any introduction about yourself where all trans people wouldn’t mention they are trans; I.E. if they might want to say they are a man, you probably shouldn’t say you’re a cis-male)
  • The right to prison and jail placement that reflects identity, provides safety, and ensures access to health care
  • Health care that doesn’t involve needing to tell every single doctor, nurse, administrator, etc, your trans history. I.E. if someone is asked for their surgical history (“What surgeries have you had?”), and they say, “It’s not relevant,” don’t press. Same with medication.
  • Health care practitioners that are educated – if someone says they are trans, intersexed, or don’t have gonads, a doctor shouldn’t say, “I’ve never heard of that.”
  • Proper names and pronouns in health records, without exposing irrelevant history to people who don’t have an actual need for it. Allow change of name for past procedures that are in the records.
  • The right to, if qualified, serve in the armed forces
  • Health funding parity (public and private) for gender-related medical procedures and counseling
  • The right to any sexual orientation
  • Telemarketers that can correct the source data when someone says, “I’m not a sir” or “I’m not a ‘ma’am”.
  • The right to marry as someone of your gender identity
  • A right to news stories about you not mentioning that you are trans or your prior name, unless this actually has something to do with the story, is newsworthy, and is not just an attempt to get attention
  • A memorial service after death that respects your chosen name, gender, and identity

There’s probably a lot of other ones (feel free to comment!) that I missed. As you can see, this is about respect, privacy, and safety. That’s not too much to ask. And, interestingly enough, as important as toilets are (and they are important), some of these things are every bit as important.

Facebook…got it wrong.

A sample of Facebook's 50+ gender options

A sample of Facebook’s 50+ gender options

Facebook, today, added 50-some new gender options, for your profile (although left “man” and “woman” as the only partner options for seeking a relationship). While this is a welcome move, it’s not the right approach.  They made a mistake here.

They left people out.

Quite possibly, this was intentional – I imagine they allow advertisers to target people on the basis of gender, so having checkboxes the advertiser can select to determine who sees their products is probably a good selling feature for Facebook.

But it leaves people out.

Not everyone identifies with the same gender markers.  While Facebook added 50+ new options – certainly a welcome addition by anyone who identifies by one of those 50 options, no matter how many options they add, they are going to leave some people out.

For instance, they have genderqueer, but not queer.  They have neutrois, but not neuter. I know people that identify as queer and people who identify as neuter.  They don’t really matter to Facebook, at least not that much. They should be happy with a different term, since they have non male/female options (hint to Facebook: male = sex, not gender).  Concerning, I suspect they asked some US-based organizations what to put in the options list – they are missing the obvious Hijra – quite possibly the identity that has the largest number of people who identify as something other than man or woman. Someone thought they knew more than they do. This is where these things always fail.

They also fail on recognizing that people may have different genders in different environments. For instance, at college, a student might be genderqueer or bi-gender at school, and around people who accept that. But at home, their conservative family doesn’t accept that. To save family strife, they identify as a binary gender at home. Why can’t we do the same thing on Facebook that we can do in real space?

Equally concerning, they give three pronoun choices: “he”, “she”, and “they” in general. What about xe and ze? And can you come up with every possible identity pronoun?

Here’s my advice to Facebook and anyone else making a form: Unless you have a really strong external mandate that requires you to collect sex or gender from among 2 or 50 selections, either don’t collect it or collect it in a way that allows a “fill-in-the-blank” answer. Don’t do “male”, “female”, and “other” for gender (or “custom” when you mean “other”, as Facebook did). Besides “male” and “female” being sexes, not genders, this is othering – males and females get a box, but you don’t.  You have to go through a different process.

I know where this type of thing comes from – it’s nice to search through a database for people who match a category. And free-form entry means people will typo it, use 5 different spellings for the same word, and all kinds of other messy people things. Well, people are messy! And gender doesn’t fit neatly into any number of boxes, whether that’s 2 boxes or 56 boxes!

Similarly, pronouns and titles should work the same way. So should selection of potential relationship partners.  Yes, this means database work is hard. And Facebook is in the database business – they want to know who you are so they can sell you targeted ads. That requires a database. But I believe Facebook has enough smart people to solve this right. And “right” isn’t picking 50+ terms at random (or from an advocacy group that has a US-centric view of culture), but allowing people to be themselves. However they refer to themselves.

Likewise, they also get a major fail for not allowing either of two methods to be “out” in a limited extent. Many people, particularly early in transition, need to use different gender identifiers around different people – they might use one set of terms for their work, one set of terms for friends, and another set for their family. Their government ID might not match any of these! Recognize people are complex. If this is too hard to do, Facebook could make major progress simply by letting people create two profiles, if they are doing so for gender reasons. That makes it hard for Facebook to track you (they have to figure out these profiles are the same person, but being they report yearly on duplicate profiles, clearly they can do that). But it protects people and allows them to be out with the people of their choosing. It reflects the reality of the double-life that trans people are often forced to live early in transition. It also facilitates a clean break with one’s past if desired.

But it’s against Facebook’s rules to have two profiles. So you can’t do that. Even if you’re trans.

I worked on a government identity management system – basically a common login & password used between different agency computer systems.  So you would have one password to renew your driver’s license, voter ID, pay taxes, apply for unemployment, etc.  One thing that came out early was that each agency might know a person by different names – someone may have changed their name with the DMV, but not the tax agency, so don’t force them to have a single name for all agencies. Likewise, they might want to interface with an agency under a pseudonym (for example, to report child abuse, seek AIDS information, or to comment on a potential policy – things that typically don’t require you to prove your identity, and for which people might not want to give a verifiable identity). The solution? Give people the option. But don’t pass information to the agency without the user’s permission – ask them, “Is it okay if I tell this agency about you?” And accept “NO” for an answer.  If Government can figure this out, why can’t tech companies?  I might want my dad to see me as a different gender than my best friend sees me.

Facebook could show true support for diversity by not only recognizing non-binary genders exist, but could go further, and recognize that they can be a platform for people to experience living as their true selves, without having to be “out” to everyone. That could be tremendously powerful and empowering. Or they can focus on selling database records. I think they’ve chosen the later.

So, in summary, if you are going to ask for gender or sex, here’s  how to do it respectfully:

  • Give a blank to everyone to write their gender. Don’t try to guess possible options.
  • Do the same for titles and pronouns.
  • If your organization might interface with different aspects of a person (their medical identity, their legal identity, their social identity – for instance), recognize this real-life reality and allow a person to have multiple genders as appropriate.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  50+ gender identifiers are better than two. But we shouldn’t be satisfied when people are still left out. Don’t mistake what Facebook did for the right thing. Maybe it’s “more right”, but it isn’t “right”.

Remember Stonewall, Police Abuse, and Presumption of Guilt

NYCD Police Department Patch

NYCD Police Department Patch

In the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, in NYC, it is commonly known that the NYC gay community stood up and said, “This is not okay.” They stood up to both the police department, who used humiliating and abusive tactics, and also against the laws of the time which were designed to punish homosexuality.

What isn’t as commonly known is that this may have been less about gay rights than about trans rights. While it was true that gay men (and sometimes women) were arrested for pursuing relationships, it was just as often – if not more often – about the gender expectations, specifically clothing, worn. It was easier to arrest someone for cross-dressing.

Lesbians and FTMs wearing “male” clothing (various ordinances required a certain number of supposedly gender-appropriate clothing) or males wearing women’s clothing were in violation of the law. Of course an officer would verify your sex matched your gender expression in exactly the way you would expect a non-enlightened officer to do so.

Stonewall was frequented by drag queens and transvestites among many others. So it isn’t surprising that when the raid began in the early morning of the June 28, 1969, with these clothing verifications taking place, people got upset. While this was hardly an unusual occurrence, people had finally had enough. And the drag queens were right out in front. As were the other groups. That’s probably one of the things that made Stonewall so significant: it wasn’t just one group of people who faced abuse (such as trans people). It was many, and involved intersectionality between gender, sexual orientation, and poverty.

So, you would think the home of Stonewall would have progressed, and that other departments would have policies and procedures that take this into account. And somewhat, they do. There are policies in most major police departments that call for the fair treatment of trans victims and suspects, albeit often not as progressive as we might want to see.

Earlier this year, the NYPD was accused of profiling trans people who happened to be carrying condoms – something perfectly legal and done by many law abiding citizens every day. Yet, this was seen as proof – because the person was trans or otherwise appeared to be a member of some group the police officer believed to be associated with prostitution (blacks, for instance) – that the person was out looking for someone to pay for sex. And when it came time to stop the city’s “Stop and Frisk” program (where people are frisked based on officer intuition and bias), which disproportionally affects innocent trans people and LGBT people of color, the mayor vetoed the change.

 

Of course NYC isn’t the only place that treats LGBT, and particularly T people, badly, although NYC of all places should have the resources to not only understand the profiling issues, but to go further and lead the nation in what positive policing should look like.

But let’s look at some of the other incidents in America. In California, a police officer is accused of raping a transwoman. While on duty. From the Gay Star News article,

According to the complaint, the officer pulled up to the victim and demanded to know what she was doing. He then ordered her to lean into the driver’s side window of his police car.

When she leaned forward, the officer groped her and asked if she was ‘a nasty shemale’.

After she responded that she was transsexual, the uniformed officer allegedly lead her to a secluded area and attacked her.

A condom which was reportedly used by the attacker was kept by the victim to use as evidence, and has been handed over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s not just rape (and the above case was not the only recent rape of a trans person by a police officer in the US).  It’s also how we treat people locked up.  From a story on trans immigration detainees in Women’s E-News:

“I don’t think it is difficult to gauge the level of risk for transgender detainees,” said Keren Zwick, the managing attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative and Adult Detention Project. “I have never met a transgender detainee who hasn’t experienced some kind of sexual harassment, at the very minimum, or being propositioned for sex or being called names. Never once.”

Now much of this is not committed by officers, although officers certainly should be watching detainees.  But the article cited above also talks about harassment and abuse by immigration officers, including threats of solitary confinement for continuing to take medication, retaliation for reporting abuse, and even being forced to drink semen by an officer.

Something’s not right here. This is happening too often.

The statistics back this up too – in the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ report on LGBT Hate Violence in 2012, they found that trans victims of violence were 3.32 times more likely to face violence from police than non-trans (but LGB) people.  In Injustice at Every Turn, a survey of trans people, 22% of trans people reported harassment by police – that is, nearly 1 in 4 trans people say that police have harassed them. It’s more than 1 in 3 when trans people of color are surveyed.  6% reported physical assault by police and 2% reported sexual assault.  As a result, 46% said they feel uncomfortable seeking police assistance. Imagine that.

After all, who wants to be laughed at when they report a crime? Who wants to be the subject of officer chit-chat about what weird freak the officer had to deal with that way? Even more significant, different is often seen as dangerous to an officer – and the police response may be quite disproportionate to the need – multiple officers with backup, for instance, when a victim is reporting a crime (and there is no evidence of active violence). Why do the officers need backup when they don’t for other situations? Simply because the person is trans. Thus they must be dangerous – at least in some officers’ heads.

We need to expect more from our professional police.  Does your department have good policies? Will it treat trans people with respect, and take their complaints seriously? It’s worth finding out.

Collecting People

Most of us want others to recognize we’re good people. That, in itself, is fine, particularly if it causes someone to actually do good.

What’s not fine is collecting. Collecting is when a person gathers a variety of people around them to show how good and open minded they are. I’ve seen it in conservative circles around religious people who want to show how they are “reaching the world for Christ” – so they’ll hang around with a prostitute or drug addict to show they are doing this thing that others don’t find comfortable – witnessing to the people that make others uncomfortable. In liberal circles, it involves letting people know that you hang around with gays, trans people, blacks, poor, and others society excludes to some degree.

The difference between collecting and not is simple: a collector wants recognition. Someone who accepts diversity and isn’t a collector doesn’t need that recognition.

Trans people, unfortunately, are, too often, the targets of collectors (so are plenty of others, like autistic people).

Here’s a quick test. Let’s say you go to church and your pastor is a transwoman (that is, someone who does believe they fit the binary). How do you tell people about your pastor?

Do you say:

  • I love my pastor, she has a really great way of explaining things
  • -or- My pastor is trans, and that’s cool with us!

If you said “My pastor is trans, and that’s cool with us,” you probably are a collector.  Seriously.

Here’s a few things you should keep in mind when talking about trans people:

  1. Most trans people have binary gender identity and expression, with the possibility of a transition time when they expression less binary – but that expression is often not a desired expression (they are doing it to make your life easier, but it’s not what they want – they know they are binary)
  2. Most trans people want to be recognized as the binary gender that matches their identity. They don’t want to be recognized as trans or as a third-gender.

Now, there are of course non-binary people and this identity must be respected too. But don’t assume a trans person is non-binary. They most likely are not, at least statistically. If you’re not sure, ask what their preferred pronouns and method of address is. If they give a binary answer, respect that.

Part of respecting their identity as binary (if that is their identity) is to not treat them differently than anyone else that has made the same choice. For instance, If someone was labeled as male when born, raised as a boy, and live as a man, they very likely still live as a man by identity – in the same way a transman is a man by identity. A transman should get the same respect I do and be treated as a man, not as a transman (which would be, essentially, a third gender, which isn’t what he wants if he identifies as man). Now, if someone doesn’t identify as binary, don’t treat them as if they are. But remember most trans people, like most non-trans people, are binary, and have no particular desire to dismantle the existence of gender. They just want their identity accepted.

So, with that in mind, the minute you tell someone your friend is trans, if your friend is binary (as are most trans people, albeit not all), you have essentially said, “I see a difference here.”

Now, there are some exceptions to this rule. The first and most obvious one is where your friend identifies as trans and doesn’t want to be simply known as their binary gender. Respect that too! But just because someone tells you they are trans doesn’t mean they might not rather be seen simply as, for example, a woman.

So, with the pastor example, she might be out and proud of her trans identity. However, it’s likely still far more respectful to refer to her as your pastor rather than your trans pastor! Most trans people want to be accepted in their identified gender as someone of that gender. Doing this is the most respectful thing.

If you do think you need to tell people she’s trans, then I ask you to think about “why?” If you are combatting prejudice or bigotry, it should be sufficient to say that trans people need respect and dignity without needing to name specific people. Certainly, it’s not advocacy but collecting the minute you try using your relationship with trans people not to inform your view, but rather to give credibility to yourself. Yes, it’s fine to say you have trans friends (if you do) and that they inform your view (but be careful, as you could easily say something bigoted or wrong and try to use your friends to justify it – “I know that you can call them a ‘tranny’ because I have trans friends” would be an example of this).

Respecting your friends is the biggest part of advocating for your friends. And this starts with treating them as they want to be treated. You aren’t advocating for them the minute you start referring to them as something other than their gender identity (which is likely not “trans” but rather “man” or “woman”). You’re saying “they are different.” Yes, there’s times that is okay, but it’s rarer than people think.

There’s lots of subtle ways to collect, too. For instance, someone might say, “I’m going out with a transman, so I guess that makes me pansexual.” No, it doesn’t. Pansexual, of course, is meant as a non-binary way of saying “I’m attracted to all genders”. It’s different from bisexual because some say bisexuality only includes men and women, and not intersex or genderqueer – or, in some people’s eyes, trans people. Of course plenty of bisexuals would differ, as would Kinsey if he was still around (Kinsey disliked the term bisexual because he felt it the word was nonsense unless the person was attracted to individuals who were, entirely in themselves, both male and female – he preferred the word “hermaphroditic” to what most refer to people who are bisexual (I haven’t seen people identify this way, and would think it would be confessed for someone attracted to intersexed people). In 1948, Kinsey and others said,

Until it is demonstrated [that] taste in a sexual relation is dependent upon the individual containing within his anatomy both male and female structures, or male and female physiological capacities, it is unfortunate to call such individuals bisexual

But, Kinsey’s objection aside, many bisexuals are attracted to trans, intersexed, and other genderqueer people (as are plenty of homosexual and heterosexual people). The most problematic part of the idea of pansexual including trans people, while bi does not, is that trans people are somehow different than men or women. Certainly, trans people who identify as non-binary are. But, for a trans person that doesn’t identify this way, they are not different. A transman is just as man as any other man is. Now of course not everyone is attracted to every possible person who has the “right” gender. A heterosexual man might not like skinny women, for instance. Likewise a heterosexual who dates a woman who had a hysterectomy is not suddenly pansexual – he’s still dating a woman, so unless he also has attraction towards people other than women, he’s straight. And a woman who is romantically and sexually involved with a man who lost his penis through an accident is not suddenly pansexual, at least not if she doesn’t have attraction to people other then men. You see, genitals (or surgical histories) don’t define gender. Or, for that matter, orientation. Sure, plenty of people might not be interested in someone who’s genitals were mutilated in an accident, someone who is sterile, or someone who is otherwise different than their idea of a perfect partner. But only being attracted to a specific idea of a “perfect” body doesn’t make someone straight or gay, and there are plenty of people of all orientations who prefer a certain gender but don’t necessarily require their partner to fit some stereotype of that gender.

So, I have to wonder, why would someone feel the need to tell me they are attracted to men, women, non-binary, and “also attracted to trans people?” The only conclusion I can come up with is that they don’t see trans people as other people, but as a unique category (and not just non-binary trans people as a unique category, but rather all trans people as a unique category). I don’t like that.

Now, if you are pansexual, that’s fine – you can say you find all genders, not just men and women, potentially attractive. I don’t have a problem with that (as you’re telling me that you also find non-binary people attractive, which is fine – of course many bi people would also say they find non-binary people attractive, but I’m fine with someone who wants to emphasize that). But you might be careful of how you describe it, unless you really do see all trans people as different. The minute you start telling me that you find trans people hot, I’m starting to wonder, “Do you see a transman as a man or something else?”

Again, you can’t grok trans people without groking the reality that most don’t want to be something other than the gender that matches their identity. Trans is rather unique compared to other minorities in this regard, as some people consider the ultimate success as losing the trans identity! Few other minorities would have sizable populations that want to disappear as a population and blend in completely with the majority society. But that is the case with many trans people, and respecting it means not forcing a battle against the binary upon them if it isn’t a fight they are interested in (that said, it’s fine to fight with anyone – trans or not – who doesn’t want to provide a decent world for people who aren’t binary – but that doesn’t need to involve erasing the binary to accomplish).

And the minute you start distinguishing trans people from non-trans people, you’re saying trans people are different than non-trans people. And that can be collecting (or just bigotry). Certainly, there are places this makes sense, but, again, it’s less often than people think.

Of course trans people aren’t the only people that are collected. I know in another community, the autism community, I’ve seen autistics used by autism organizations not to inform the organization (which may be run primarily by non-autistic people), but rather to build credibility. The autistic isn’t really listened to, but the organization gets bonus points for having an autistic person involved. “See, we involve autistic people.” You also see this when people go out of their way to mention a person’s race when it’s not really relevant. It’s probably a problem with every minority community.

Don’t collect, do respect.

 

Why The Christian Backlash Against Trans People?

As a Christian, and someone who was in some fundamentalist circles, I think I can answer this. It’s kind of puzzling to watch the hatred against trans people. Oh, we all know that some Christians interpret some verses as God’s prohibition against homosexuality (of course not all Christians do). When you think the Bible literally says that God will punish gays, of course you would think being gay is wrong. Now, I’m not going to argue against this here, although I clearly disagree with those who see God hating homosexuality (I used to believe that hogwash; then I learned to actually think and read and judge independent of what I was “supposed” to believe according to some leader; I also started voting non-Republican sometimes, as I also couldn’t find the 11th Commandment, Thou Shall Vote Republican, in the Bible either).

But I know the language and I thought like these people still think.  So I think I have some insight that non-Christians might lack in understanding the double-talk and coded language surrounding gays and trans people.

Display in Gamarelli shop window of Papal vestments. (Licensed CC-Attribution-Generic 2.0. Creator was Anthony M.)

That lacy garment is not a woman’s dress!  This display in Gamarelli shop window of Papal vestments. (Licensed CC-Attribution-Generic 2.0. Creator was Anthony M.)

The question that comes to mind is: so, what’s the issue with trans people? The verses about gays don’t talk about trans people. At best, you can find something about cross-dressers in Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (NIV).  But, this verse isn’t what you’ll hear quoted by Christians who object to trans people.  After all, Jesus fulfilled the law (which includes Deuteronomy) so we are no longer bound by it, but are now bound by the new covenant. Yes, that’s a bunch of coded language, but it basically means Christians can ignore the parts of the old testament we don’t like (yes, it’s more complex than that, but I’m simplifying as I don’t think I’ve heard this much used against trans people, because it is old, not new, testament).  Besides, I’d have to ask about the picture to the right – and see what the pope wears. It sure looks similar in style to some of the clothing I’ve seen very conservative Christian women wear! And certainly if you wore that type of clothes out of context, people would think “dress”, not “papal vestment!”

As I’ve mentioned, this isn’t the problem people seem to have with trans people. It’s not because God “despises” trans people (most Christians would say God loves trans people, even if they themselves think the trans person is going to hell and committing a huge sin). Perhaps this is because of what comes just afew sentences later in Deuteronomy 22 – the section around verses 20 and 21 in particular:

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Nevermind that good ‘ol Mom & Dad are supposed to know if she’s a virgin and have the proof – go look at verses 13 through 15 for how that was to be done:

If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin.

This “proof” was a bloody cloth. I don’t know any Christians who keep bloody cloth as proof of virginity of their daughter at time of marriage. Or, thankfully, any that will stone their daughter (although I know plenty that will shame a woman – and never mind that there are ways that the hymen could be broken or stretched beyond consensual intercourse). Also nevermind that heterosexual intercourse (particularly with a man who is gentile and who listens to the woman) won’t necessarily cause bleeding even if a woman still has a supposedly “intact” hymen (you did get your sex ed somewhere other than porn or Texas, so you know this, I hope…and you know that a hymen may stretch, not rip, if the man is not rough [see this video])? Never let a little science get into the way of obsessing over virginity! Besides, who says the blood actually has to come from the hymen to make the sheet bloody (it appears that some women actually cut themselves to bleed on the sheets to provide this proof)? Regardless, this is a ritual I’ve not seen encouraged by the modern Church in general, so I’m not surprised the part right before it – about clothing choice – is also similarly dismissed. Oh, and the fact that 80% of unmarried Christians age 18 to 29 have had sex (that means it’s probably much higher by the late 20s than 80%) probably doesn’t hurt in getting people to ignore this.

So, what’s the issue?

It’s gays. Yep, gays. Now I can hear it now, “trans is not gay!” Of course it isn’t (and, yes, I know that a trans person can be gay).

In the last few years, same-sex marriage has become legal in much of the United States and elsewhere. The US federal government recognizes it, as of this summer. And that’s a good thing. So what does it have to do with trans people?

It’s simple: it’s the argument against gay marriage. There are religious arguments against gay marriage, but most people know that someone who doesn’t follow their faith isn’t going to put a lot of stock in these arguments, so they turn to what they think is a secular argument. This is where we get to the doozy: men and women are different and complimentary. This is the key to understanding the Christian backlash against trans people.

You see, you’ll hear statements like “every child needs a mom and a dad.” This is apparently the less-noticably-bigoted way to say “a kid needs straight parents.” It’s also exceptionally offensive not only to gay and lesbian parents, but also to widowed and divorced parents. But this argument persists – the idea is simple: moms (women) bring one set of gifts to a family, and dads (men) bring a completely different, but just as necessary, set of gifts. If you have two moms, you have the maternal, but you’ll be hurt in life by not having the paternal. And, likewise, having two dads will leave you missing the maternal.

Of course this is hogwash. But it is the kind of “common sense” hogwash that people use to hide bigotry. “Oh, I’m not saying gays can’t be good parents. I’m just saying that a man can’t provide what a woman can and visa-versa. You need both.”

Obviously this type of thing is also exceptionally sexist – what things can’t a man provide? Sometimes, these are very generally described, or, more often, not described at all. After all, not every family with a mom and dad has a man earning money and a woman cooking food. And plenty of men can be nurturing, kind, emotional, and all sorts of other things supposedly only women do. And plenty of women can protect, provide, and guide their child – despite these being supposedly manly tasks.

But, regardless of problems, this is the view. God made women to do women things. God made men to do men things. It was ordained by God (in their eyes).

So, where does a trans person fit in? First, they might identify as neither man or woman – that is, non-binary. But God’s plan, in the eyes of some Christian, requires rigid separation of roles. And, if you are arguing that gays can’t provide everything a child would need without a woman, you can’t believe that a gender lines aren’t fixed or rigid and absolute. You have to believe they are rigid and absolute. A gay dad couldn’t cross over and be nurturing (note that I don’t buy this, and I don’t find anything non masculine about being nurturing). To some Christians, the dad isn’t supposed to do these things. He’s supposed to do “man” things. So that leaves a gap. A non-binary person could, in theory, do both “man” and “woman” things. We can’t have that, because then if one was in a relationship they wouldn’t need anyone else to raise a kid . Supposedly.

That may not yet make sense, so let me talk about the binary, transsexual person. That is, someone who identifies as a binary gender. The very existence of this person means a few things: first, it means we might have women that look like men (as do most transwomen before they express a feminine gender identity, as most are raised as boys and then men). After all, someone might be a woman inside, but might be living as a man. How would we know it’s not a lesbian relationship if this person married a woman (just joking here – the Christians I’m talking about don’t think that deeply)?  No, rather, the problem is that, to them, there is no longer any way of objectively verifying someone’s gender – instead you have to ask. This causes too many questions, and questions in a path they don’t want to go down. For instance, if someone could marry heterosexually as a man, but then gets divorced and transitions to a woman, should she marry a man or a woman? Did she suddenly lose all the “man” skills and gain all the “woman” skills? Or did she have the woman skills all along, but lacked the man skills – and, if so, did she, before transition…well, the questions go on. And this challenges beliefs. It turns out you start thinking about what are gender roles and where did they come from. And that starts you questioning this fixed, rigid roles.

Again, however, it’s not that complicated to these people. Trans people, like gays, challenge the ideas of gender. They challenge the idea that there are certain things that are man-only and certain things that are woman-only. Gays do it by being attracted to a guy (in some Christians’ eyes, this is something only women should do). Lesbians do it by being attracted to a woman (again, something some think only men should do). And if they raise kids or otherwise participate in society, somehow the important stuff gets done. Even the stuff that someone might think is “womanly” like cooking or nurturing. And the stuff someone might think is “manly” like protection and providing.

Trans people challenges these thoughts by essentially saying, “You don’t know who I am, you just know who you thought I was. And you have to take my word for who I am.” And, to someone who is already transphobic and thinks being trans is just a random choice, this sounds like, “I can be a man or I can be a woman.” Of course intersex and non-binary people also cause this problem.

But much of it traces back to this idea that men and women have different roles in the family, and thus a feeling of justification in opposing gay rights (see, I care about the children). And back from there to just plain sexism. And, yes, it’s as ugly as it seems.

 

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).