26 April 2011

Why Misgendering is Bad

[Note: This is a repost of a post by Char C. and not by me.  The author has granted repost permission and even asks for it to be reposted.]

As a trans person, one of the more difficult parts of being around those who are not trans is the danger of being misgendered- that is, being addressed with a pronoun (she/he/etc) which is incorrect. This happens to trans people with unfortunate regularity, and is an error committed almost exclusively by those who are aware of the trans status of the person being misgendered.

When someone is misgendered, I often get quite visibly angry. The thing is, I know that kind of strong reaction can take someone who has committed this offense off guard, especially if one has little experience with interacting with openly trans people. I can understand why someone who has made this mistake with a trans person might feel hurt and defensive in response to that person’s clear anger, when one is not sure why this is such a sensitive issue in the first place. So I was hoping to take just a moment to explain why we react this way.

People with trans history are not able to take their gender for granted, the way that people without that history do. We go through a long and really difficult process, almost all of which is invisible to anyone else. For example, I struggled with profound gender dysphoria for over a decade before deciding to take any steps to alleviate it. This struggle did not kill me, but it came close on countless occasions. At this point, I see my active transition process as the only alternative to suicide, a perspective shared by quite a few trans people.

We’re not ignorant of the consequences of being trans, after all. Our culture fears and hates us, openly and actively. It seems that every damn day I see another reporting of assault on a trans sibling of mine. We would not accept the clear day-to-day risks of living in such a trans-hostile environment if we were not convinced that the alternative to transition were worse. All of which is simply to illustrate the fact that gender is not something we take lightly, but is an aspect of our identity upon which we place great value and importance.

People who have misgendered anyone with trans history often take the defensive position that misgendering is not such a big deal. Often the argument is made that they, personally, would not take such offense if they had been misgendered. First, let me reiterate that gender is something people with no trans experience or history can take for granted. If you have never had to earn the right to be your gender from an unwelcoming physician, or fight for the right to exist as your gender while waiting for the bus or trying to use a public restroom, then you are probably a whole lot less invested in the way that people see you. Second, I have to disagree with the idea that trans people are the only people who are offended by misgendering. In my years in the service industry, I have seen firsthand countless reactions of people exploding in rage when offered an incorrect ma’am or sir. Gender is important to most people’s identity, regardless of trans history, and most find the egregious insult of misgendering pretty darn offensive.

Also important for myself and many like me is the question of sexual orientation. When my boyfriend or I have been misgendered, the message implied (despite any intent on the part of the person who misgendered us) is that he and I are engaged in a heterosexual relationship. The further implication is that we are playing the part of a queer couple, faux faggots, merrily appropriating the fashion of the gay community while actually living out a straight lifestyle.

The gaybashers on the street corners disagree. We are read as homos by people who don’t know us- a fact which highlights the interesting point that without exception, the people who misgender my boyfriend are those who know that he is trans. So we find ourselves stuck: attacked by homophobes for being gay, and snubbed by the gay community for being transgendered. Being misgendered brings up these frustrations and resentments, reminding us that it is impossible for us to leave our house without being scrutinized and attacked by both strangers and acquaintances. It may seem like a small Freudian slip in conversation to the person who misgenders us, but in fact it is a reminder that the rest of our lives will be spent under fire, as second class citizens.

The next time you are in conversation with a trans person and you misgender them, don’t try to brush it off as inconsequential or become defensive when your error is pointed out. Simply apologize honestly for your mistake, and try to be more aware of what is coming out of your mouth in the future.

-Char C.

(Please feel free to repost this.)

23 April 2011

Baltimore McDonalds Protest - 7pm, Monday, 25 April 2011

A rally in front of the Rosedale McDonald's in Baltimore is planned by trans groups for 7pm this coming Monday to send the message that the recent beating of a woman who was using the bathroom at that McDonald's is not acceptable, CBS Baltimore reports.

Chrissy Lee Polis was beaten by two women, an event which was videoed and later uploaded to Youtube by a now-fired McDonald's employee, with only a single customer moving to try to stop the attack while employees and other customers merely watched and can be seen talking about the attack in a video from the Baltimore Sun.

For those wishing to attend the demo or to voice their opinions directly to that McDonald's: 6315 Kenwood Ave, Baltimore, 410-866-3250.

07 March 2011

Ugly Is Bone Deep

I've been following an anti-kink discussion at a radical feminist blog for a post that's been garnering comments for almost two years now.  Recent comments there have me wondering if it's not just a lack of empathy that is the problem when certain feminists (usually anti-kink/anti-porn/transphobic radical feminists) refuse to listen to other women and instead keep making straw people of them.  Because for a long while, I did think it was just a matter of not being able to empathise with others who are not like them.  That could explain their efforts to make sure feminism is not for everyone (counter to bell hooks) but is for certain women, women who they see as enough like them.  But based on the comments I read tonight which were horrid, twisted, lurid, sexualised fantasies of mutilation and death (which they assigned to kinky feminists), I just have to wonder if they're not the same as those ministers who are especially found in the US and who stand in their pulpits or on their stages and decry in the same kind of overwhelming detail certain types of sexual activities that you later find they have engaged in.  I have to wonder about people who imagine in such extreme details things they claim to detest and stand against.  Only, I'll be honest, instead of it being something okay like it often is with ministers such as men having sex with men, when it's things like rape, mutilation, and murder?  These people scare me.  Because they also sound like the stuff I've heard on true crime documentaries about the activities of serial rapists and serial killers.  I don't know about most people, but those are the kinds of thing I hear and then shove out of my mind, not store them to pull out to assign as supposedly what people I oppose want.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't have a problem with feminists who don't agree with me.  But I want honest disagreement.  I want people who don't fantasise about why people do things when there are people doing those things who are saying why they do them (as there have been on the thread I'm talking about) as opponents.  I want honest engagement and discussion.  I'm not assuming this is going to happen with these people for whatever reasons, but I won't be there any more.  I refuse to be exposed to someone else's nightmare fantasy vomited on the screen.  It squicks me, it disgusts me, it scares me.  And while I've been mostly talking about a specific instance with anti-kink feminists, I'm doing the same with transphobic and other feminists who engage in similar disgusting fantasies.  Because that's not discussion, that's not debate, that's just slut shaming, misogyny, and other forms of hate.

29 November 2010

Transphobic Feminists? It's Your Turn

I could spend all of my time responding to the transphobic nonsense that's put forth as a valid form of feminism.  But it would quickly get repetitive even as I took on a new thing from a transphobic feminist every day.  Because  there's nothing new.  So, guess what, transphobic feminists?  It's time to justify yourselves.  Not just smack on trans women with lies and half-truths and evasions as you assume the support of cis feminists but have to build your case from the ground up.  However,  you're not getting to do it here.

polerin has provided a blog post for you transphobic feminists to justify yourselves.

Have at it.  The shoe's finally on the other foot.  As it always should have been.

20 November 2010

Remembering Our Other Dead

Today is the 12th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day we remember those trans people (and those who were suspected of being trans or who were with a trans person) who have been taken from us by transphobic violence.  It is a somber day, a day when we remember that transphobia not only grinds us down every day but can ultimately kill.  I highly recommend you go to a a TDOR event in your area if one is being held.

However, I wanted to do something different for this TDOR.  I wanted to talk about the fact that the transphobic violence that kills us does not always come at the hands of another.  Sometimes it's at our own hands.  Almost half of living trans people have attempted suicide.  I am one of them.

While many factors contributed to my suicide attempt the primary one was the transphobia I had internalised over years.  The self-loathing from knowing how abject a person I was built to self-hatred and, when I lost my primary emotional support, finally to the calm assurance that the way to deal with transphobia was to kill myself. Because I had not transitioned at that time.  I knew lots of things.  I knew that I would always look like "a man in a dress", that I would never be truly accepted among lesbians (even though cis lesbians had always been very supportive of me, a rarity for a trans woman), that no one could truly love me as a woman because I had the wrong genital configuration, but most of all that I was a freak and a pervert.  Does any of that sound familiar to you?  It should as that's the transphobia that surrounds us and pervades our culture.

I was fortunate.  I changed my mind at the last moment, and, while I paid the price for my attempt in time in hospital, permanent physical damage, and likely a shortened lifespan, I consider myself lucky.  I lived and decided to transition.  Not everyone is so lucky.

Transphobia in a cis person can obviously be deadly.  The roll of names that we read every year shows just how deadly.  And those names should not be forgotten.  They should be remembered as lives lost to the hatred of trans people.  But we should also spare a thought for those whose names we likely don't know.  Because transphobia in a trans person can be just as deadly, likely even more deadly considering the number of those of us who have tried suicide and lived.  Spare a thought today for those trans people who may have never come out enough to even hint to others that they were trans.  Spare a thought for those trans people who learned the hatred of trans people so well that their response was to kill themselves because they could not live with that hatred.

Even if you have never hurt a trans person, if you have expressed transphobia you may have contributed, in however small a part, to the death of a trans person.  That is even more sombering than knowing that trans people are killed by others.  Even if you can't stop a murderer from killing us, you can help prevent the death of trans people by stomping out transphobia in yourself and others.  Please remember that beyond this day of remembrance.

ETA: I would be remiss if I did not provide trans-specific suicide prevention information.  Here are two brochures provided by the MTPC on transgender suicide.

15 October 2010

Candle Light Memorial for Stacey Blahnik

The House of Blahnik has announced there will be a candle light memorial tomorrow (Saturday, 16th October) in Philadelphia for Stacey Blahnik, found murdered in her home on the 11th.  Since, for somewhat complex reasons, I am currently in Philadelphia I will be attending.  Although I was not familiar with Stacey, we lose too many trans women, especially trans women of colour, for me to not pay my respects to her especially given her work as a trans activist.

The details of the candle light memorial are as follows:
Candle Light Memorial
Saturday, Oct. 16th
6:30pm – 9:30pm
Love Park – 15th/JFK (Phila, PA)
4 info contact Father Kiron Prodigy 267-401-5085

I hope that anyone who can make it to memorial will attend.  I hope to see you there.

29 September 2010

Rage: (Cis) Feminists Other Trans Women

This is going to be a short ragy post because, as a feminist and a trans woman I find it depressing to dwell on this subject much.  Feminism has a long, shameful history of only being for some women, the right women.  The sex-positive movement, womanism, and others owe part of their existence to the fact that feminisms, or perhaps more accurately, feminists have not lived up to any sort of ideal that feminism is the radical idea that women are people.  As a trans woman I'm definitely not people and often not a woman.

Now I'm not just talking about the transphobic radscum types who take pride in their hatred for trans women.  Haters are everywhere, only their supposed justifications differ.  Radscum really say the same things as the religious fundamentalist haters.  So I dismiss them pretty easily.  Except.

Except it's amazing how most cis feminists don't actually denounce radscum.  Oh, they're happy to give lip service about how awful it is that they say these things but they're otherwise happy to accept that they really are feminists who are concerned about all women.  Or, you even get cis feminists who claim to not be transphobic and then make approving comments at radscum hate sites.  But the most annoying thing is when cis feminists don't necessarily do these things but make statements that exclude trans women as women and as feminists.  Like this lovely quote I found in a recent post by a cis feminist elsewhere:
I am always fascinated when transgendered people describe (witness!) the sexism they have encountered, and chronicle the differences in the ways they are treated after transitioning to man/woman. I don't think any better witnesses concerning the realities of sexism can be found, since they really have experienced it from both sides of the gender spectrum. 
That's pretty othering.  Trans people as witnesses to sexism.  Like we're subjects of an experiment that cis feminists are running.  Like we're not feminists but only exist to "fascinate" cis feminists.  This is the sort of reason why some trans women are saying they are no longer feminists.  Because feminism doesn't include us.  At best we're examples for feminism in its relentless theorising, our lived experience considered in the most limited way. Silly trans women!  We show how the system is broken!  Thanks for that.  Maybe feminism will liberate you when they liberate all women (ie, never).  But don't con yourself that you're a feminist who can theorise and analyse like cis feminists!

So why do I stay a feminist?  Because I do believe in the ideals.  Because I know feminists won't listen to non-feminist criticism.  Heck, they barely listen to feminist criticism.  I'm sure at some point it will be too much for me to bear any more and feminists will drive me out of feminism.  No great loss.  Same old, same old.