24 September 2009

I'm (Mostly Not) Coming Out

I started attending university again right after I began transitioning. Since I had not yet changed my name legally I came out to all my professors before the first class session so that they would call me by my proper name, not my legal one. I didn't explain much, just that I was transgender and to please call me Lucy. Oddly(?), no one asked me any questions except for my Intro to Women's Studies instructor which led to many long conversations in which she revised her opinion of transgender since she'd only had theory prior to then; theory which did not survive contact with an actual trans woman who refused to let others define her life with their theories. It wasn't only a one-way exchange since I was still struggling to come to terms with my transition and place in society as a trans woman.

Now I'm back in courses for a new year, having been in transition, including HRT, for two years and with my name legally changed. Hormones have reshaped my body and I've grown more comfortable with being a woman. Because the university has the right name on everyone's class rolls, there was no burning need to meeting with my professors prior to classes beginning. I figured I'd just talk to them during their regular office hours. It took me a while before I noticed that I was getting properly gendered by everyone in my classes, students and professors, even with my height and lower voice. I've met with all my professors now and passed up the opportunity to come out as a trans woman. There seems to be little point. Why should my geology professor even care? He unhesitatingly calls me "ma'am" (He's charmingly polite.) whenever I interact with him which is really all I care about.

So, I'm not coming out as transgender in my classes. With one large exception, which I'll get to in a moment. Because, honestly, cissexism means that there's a fair chance that if I do come out I will no longer be regarded and treated as a woman. Sadly, many cis (and even some trans) people regard trans people as not being "really" whatever gender they are. Polite ones may humour us by using proper pronouns and forms of address without actually accepting us. Frankly, I don't have the energy to fight against that sort of thing. I need to get good grades to get into graduate school and having to devote energy to educating someone would hinder that. Except...

Except that I'm taking a Women's Studies course this semester entitled "Gender & Technology." I'm sure everyone can see where this is going. One of the topics we will be covering is technologies of the body and the syllabus specifically mentions intersexuality, transsexuality, and cosmetic surgery. Which is perfectly reasonable. However, feminism has a bad history with regards to transsexuality (and intersexuality, for that matter) as it has spent far more time criticising and theorising about transsexuality and transsexuals than actually listening to us. Considering one of the criticisms levelled against transsexuality is that the body modifications that transsexuals often undergo are a form of self-mutilation like cosmetic surgery (which you'll notice is being discussed in this same topic), you can begin to see why I might be concerned. More to the point, even with a supportive instructor in my Intro to Women's Studies course, I had to actually yell at the other students in my class for being shitheads when this topic came up, outing myself to the class in the process. Also playing a role is the fact that Dr Bernice Hausman is a tenured professor here, affiliated with the Women's and Gender Studies Program. Some may know her as the author of the book, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender, which has been criticised perhaps most famously by Julia Serano in Whipping Girl as well as appearing prominently as an example of what not to do in a guide for cis people writing about trans people. She headed the (then) Women's Studies Program from 2003-2005, which is coincidentally the last year she seems to have written anything about trans people (She now seems to have moved on to breastfeeding based on her CV). Her acceptance here does not lead to great confidence about this being a supportive academic environment for trans people.

So, I am going to come out to my Gender & Technology professor and inquire just what and how she intends to present transsexuality to the class. And, depending on how that goes, I'll be coming out in the class discussion as well. Because I really can't see how I'd be able to avoid it and stay true to myself and other trans people. While it is not my responsibility to educate others, I'm not going to duck doing so. I'm sure there will be those who will see me as lesser afterwards, but hopefully more will be open to learning. I'll let you know how it goes.

23 September 2009

Happy Celebrate Bisexuality Day!

Yes, 23 September is Celebrate Bisexuality Day. It's the day for bisexual, pansexual, those of fluid sexuality, and their friends, family, and supporters to celebrate bisexuality, bisexual history, bisexual community and culture, and bi/pansexual people themselves. While I'm not bisexual I have been very fortunate to be loved and befriended by bisexual people (For instance: Hi, Ruth! Hi, Arwyn!) both online and in my day-to-day life. Let the bisexual people you love know that you love them, accept them, and support them today.