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Trans Feminism and Me

Okay, so in honour of it being Friday, and me being at work, I'm going to post on something I don't think I've posted about before, and it's about time I rectified that.

I believe in the basic rights of all transgender people. I believe that we, as a society, a nation, and as a world cannot continue to deny anyone the same rights and dignities cisgender people expect as a matter of course.

We're making some good strides forward in Gay/Bi/Lesbian rights, but we still severely marginalize and, confusingly, fear Transgender people.

I am very lucky in that my physical gender presentation and my mental gender presentation match. Not because anything else is a bad thing, or not normal, or not desirable, but because our society makes life super easy for people who fit the socially sanctioned gender types, and treats those who do not as outcasts.

Even the most cursory look at the Caster Semeya story shows how regressive people are about people who don't physically fit the rules our society has laid down about how men and women should look; add intersex or transgender issues (not the same thing! Please check out the links!), and people lose their tiny little minds.

To my greatest shame, Feminism has in large part failed its Trans Sisterhood; the nasty commentary I have seen on some supposedly progressive feminist sites makes me want to scream. The idea that someone who identifies as a woman should not be treated as a woman is... incomprehensible to me. We are our perceptions of ourselves - how many times do we tell other people "it's not how you look; it's what's inside that counts"? Yet, when it comes to trans women, people insist on the opposite.

I don't like this. And I don't like it when people do it around me. One of the excuses I hear is that people don't know the etiquette of being around trans people. In the age of the Intarwebs, this is a pretty lame excuse, but I'll bite, and have scattered some links for y'all to pass on to anyone and everyone who is curious throughout this post.
But first, a couple of basics that I'd like everyone to start practising right now - around me is a good place, since I get really fucking browned off when people think it's okay to be transphobic (especially about false issues) around me.

1. Call everyone by the name they like to be called. This seems pretty simple, right? We expect this courtesy from other people in regards to our own names, and are suprised and offended when people decide to call us something else. You'd be amazed at the number of people who insist on calling trans people by the name they were given at birth, using phrases like "well, it's your real name, isn't it?". Ugly, ugly stuff. Don't do it. Give all people the respect you'd want for yourself.

2. Refer to people with the gender by which they identify themselves. Again, mind-numbingly simple, but again, the number of incidents (and people!) I have run into where someone insists on calling a trans person by the wrong gender boggles me. It's like they'll catch "teh gayez" or something if they actually refer to a trans woman as "she". It's fucking insulting, is what it is. I'm not going to refer to someone who identifies as male, who physically presents as male, who calls themselves a man, as "she". It's stupid, it's nasty, and it's prioritizing your bigotry over the feelings (and safety) of the other person. Be respectful.

3. Keep your asshole opinions to yourself. (If you do not have transphobic thoughts, obvs. this bit does not apply to you.) I am not the thought police, and I cannot control how people think (despite what some people might tell you). All I can offer is (hopefully) thoughtful information and commentary from the "other" side that may make people who see this post more able to empathize with and understand trans issues and why they affect everyone's human rights, especially if they have never given the issue much thought beyond "sex change? EEEEWWWW". If you have strong feelings about why trans people are awful, or evil, or should be locked away, or even dead (!), keep them to yourself. You do not know who you are talking to, and what their feelings may be, and refraining from spewing transphobic bile is a public service. A little self-control goes a long way towards making the world a better place. Plus, I find that not giving air to one's ugliest thoughts helps to minimize those thoughts in favour of other, kinder ones. Empathy is the act of putting yourself in someone else's shoes. It's fun and educational!

It's funny - the "issue" of trans people in society has never been a question for me - people are people, it's that simple. I was stunned the first time I ran into transphobia outside the far right conservative sphere, because I honestly thought that people who had progressive views on feminism and the various intersectionalities of oppression would be totally on board with the idea that people should be able (and welcome) to present themselves as they wish - after all, wasn't feminism about the agency of all humans?

It seems not. It turns up everywhere.

And that's a damned shame.

Comments

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dreda
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
attack_laurel
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:12 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. It occurred to me, reading my friends' list, that it's something my circle does not talk about much, and while I read about it all the time on the blogs I follow, not everyone follows those blogs.

And everyone needs to think about these things. :)
lanome
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much.
hsifeng
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
*nod* *nod* *nod*

I was (happily) indoctrinated into these ideas at a very young age by a progressive family. We have a smattering of 'non-socially conforming' folks in my clan and I grew up loving them all and assuming that there was nothing "wrong" with them (because there wasn't/isn't). I was shocked the first time I encountered family friends who were creeped out by men in skirts or 'de gahz'; I couldn't figure out what was wrong with the folks who were getting the willies (I'm sorta happy that I automatically assumed that *they* were the ones with the problem, not my family members). *chuckle*

Thanks for raising this issue.
fallconsmate
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Once upon a time, my ex hubby was district manager for a convenience store chain in Florida. This meant that he was the last word in the hiring process. He got an application form from a young person, it looked pretty good, he set up the appointment.

Male name. Ticked the "male" box on the application. Showed up for the interview in WAY over-the-top drag. Bless his soul, the ex looked at him and told him "I don't care what you do on your off time, but you need to pick who you are and stick to it. It's unprofessional to go flipflopping on presenting as male one day, female the next." I swear, nothing really rattled that man!

The young person got hired. And showed up for work female, and was not harassed by her co-workers. Only lasted a month because convenience stores have a high turnover rate, but she was treated fairly while she worked there.

And isn't that what we all hope for? To be accepted for who we are, and not what hides in out underclothes?
hugh_mannity
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
*throws rose petals at your feet*

Thank you very much!
mooselover13
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Ya know. I was going to say, "Duh". But I just read the original message you referred to, and found a few ugly thoughts coming up in my head as I thought.

Thank you for prompting me to think even more about this. My husband and I are pregnant with a baby right now. We had genetic testing, so assuming that was effective, we know we are having a girl. But I just had a little talk with Hubby to make sure that we agreed that if something were "different" about her, or him, that we would roll with it and see where the child wanted to go over time.... not make a surgical decision at birth.

Thanks again for sharing.
soldiergrrrl
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
My ex-husband is trans, and it's taken me a long time sort out my anger at the ex and how I felt about trans folk in general. I still have my bad days, but I'm mostly better. There was a long time when I couldn't figure out what was uneasiness about something very different from me, and what was seething rage stemming from the lying cheating crap my ex put me through.

We talk now, and evidently, she's very happily married and living in Tennessee.
wulfsdottir
Oct. 9th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks. You just reminded me of a conversation I need to have, along the lines of "If I'm using the wrong pronouns, please tell me."
raventhourne
Oct. 9th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
The company I work for has a whole program to help co-workers of anyone who is transgender especially if they are doing a full conversion to the sex they mentally see themselves as. Its pretty cool and I had not expected that but it was very reassuring to see.
christianet
Oct. 9th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
I've met a few trans people through the goth scene. A friend of mine actually made the switch from female to male. I found a "before" picture recently, and the misery coming off this person was palpable; now he's so much happier, because he's being true to himself.

The two male-to-female trans people I met at parties. One was petite and delicate, and so convincingly female I could not think of her anything but, even when told later she was pre-surgery. The other, post-surgery, didn't seem comfortable in her new gender. Before surgery, she was a college football player, and looking at her, the broad shoulders in the flowered dress were rather dissonant. She hunched herself over, trying to make herself appear smaller, and wore heavy makeup. The men at the party made fun of her; the women were mostly polite, but she made them uncomfortable because she was uncomfortable with herself.

This was 15 years ago. I hope she has grown into her new identity and gained the happiness she was seeking.
attack_laurel
Oct. 9th, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that the larger trans woman was uncomfortable because of the responses she received towards her new body. If society had been accepting of her no matter what she looked like, she'd have been happy right from the beginning. Unfortunately, she had to go through the terrible process of building an emotional shield to deal with the constant ugliness she was surrounded with. That's society's fail, not hers.
(no subject) - christianet - Oct. 9th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
soucyn
Oct. 9th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
On one of my progressive, sex positive pod casts that I listen to, they did a really awesome show on what is and is not polite when talking with transgendered people. Some things were no-brainers, but other things were enlightening. The take away rules I got from that are:

When referring to someone with a pronoun, use the most obvious one first (so if she's dressed like a girl, use "she"), but be willing to change if the person in question corrects you.

If you can't tell which pronoun to use, it's not horribly impolite to just quietly ask, "which would you prefer" so long as you're not a jerk about it.

It is not polite to ask about what genitals the person currently has, used to, or plans to have. Generally, unless you are potentially interested in playing with their gonads, it's not cool to ask about them.
(Deleted comment)
cozit
Oct. 9th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
I've wondered for a while how much of that is due to society in general accepting feminine-appearing men more readily than masculine-appearing women... no matter how they identify or which/how many type of people attract the person in question.

Me, I just get confused when I know something of a person before and after their decision to make a change occurs. "she" doesn't work well when talking about a time when that person identified/s as "he"... or "he" when the person identified/s as "she". Talking past personal history with a couple of friends can cause temporary mental whiplash at times.

Either way, its the same person - just seeing themself different. When you think about it, it's rare (if ever) to come across with someone who has always seen themself in the same way throughout their life.
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Oct. 9th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - love3angle - Oct. 9th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swwoodsy - Oct. 12th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
aelfgyfu
Oct. 9th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
An excellent post - thanks!
eggies_red_dres
Oct. 9th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
It was discussions with my kids about some of our gay friends that brought this up for me, and really elementary as your points suggest: People can be whatever they want to be, as long as they don't hurt anyone else. People can be *with* whoever they want to be with, so long as they don't hurt anyone in the process. They deserve to be treated well, regardless of how those thoughts and feelings pan out, so long as they don't hurt anyone.

If I can explain it to a seven year old and get the point across, it's a point of some concern that adults will allow their own head-mash to complicate the issue further. As if human emotion and feeling about gender and sex/uality wasn't hard enough.
eve_the_just
Oct. 9th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
I can understand where the discrimination comes from. As a straight woman, I'd be heart-broken if a guy I was with decided that they were really a woman and took steps to make their external gender conform to their internal feelings. I wouldn't want to have to choose between being with the person I fell in love with and being sexually satisfied (if they underwent gender reassignment surgery). I think I'd also question their love. If they changed gender (and I'd conclude they were lying about their gender from the beginning), would that change what gender they were attracted to (or were they maybe lying about that preference too)? I can see where fear of that experience, or going through that experience, could lead to discrimination. Doesn't make it right, but at least I understand the source.

On the other hand I'd have no problem at all dating a guy who used to be a girl. And I could be perfectly supportive of a friend who was going through the change. Trans people who are "in the closet" worry me, but only in the sense of the impact of the change on their relationships. Trans people who have come out and made the change (whether in attire and attitude or going the whole nine yards and completing surgery) are a-okay. Heck, even people who are upfront about being unsure and some days are women and some days are men are okay by me. It's only the fallout of the change that is hard to wrap my head around.

The vast majority of trans people know at a fairly early age that they are so. It would be nice if society was accepting enough that they could make that change early and easily instead of living a long time miserable, and having to make the change after they've entered relationships and make other people miserable too. I'm all for people making themselves happier sooner rather than later!

My question is as follows... does having that attitude make me helpful or harmful to the transgendered community?
attack_laurel
Oct. 9th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
I think you should probably focus your reading on the issues that trans people in previous relationships deal with. The question of whether or not you are helpful or harmful depends on your actions.
(no subject) - eve_the_just - Oct. 9th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Oct. 13th, 2009 10:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lanome - Oct. 9th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eve_the_just - Oct. 9th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rikibeth - Oct. 9th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sskipstress - Oct. 10th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC) - Expand
My first REAL boyfriend - weaverrhi - Oct. 9th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
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