Category Archives: LGBTQIA

Issues about sexual orientation, trans and nonbinary people

Visibility and violence

[Image: Orange banner with “U.S. Trans Survey” in white letters, and “Available to Complete Now” in a blue box.]

This morning I completed the U.S. Trans Survey, from the National Center for Transgender Equality. This survey for trans and nonbinary people living in the U.S. had an impressive amount of detail. As today is the first day the survey is available, server response time is slow; I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to complete it. Also be aware that many of the questions are potentially triggering.

Near the end of the survey, one of the questions presented a list of issues of concern to trans people, including violence, health care, homelessness, identification documents, and so forth. The question asked to assign importance (Very/Somewhat/Not) to each of these, and then to rank the three most important from the list. As my top priorities, I chose violence, police violence, and school bullying and discrimination.

While I have been fortunate not to experience any trans-specific physical violence or overt bullying myself – yet – these issues are critical to address. Trans women of color are particularly targeted for violence. Seventeen trans women – that we know about – have been murdered in 2015, and fifteen of them were women of color. Trans actress and activist Laverne Cox has described this as a “state of emergency.” Even the mainstream Time Magazine has taken notice.

As noted by those quoted in the Time article, increased visibility of trans people has not halted the continuing problems that disproportionately affect us, including poverty, bullying, unemployment, and violence. Most of the general public still doesn’t understand trans and nonbinary people, and that ignorance can lead to overt acts of hate and fear, as well as more subtle discrimination that still has devastating and lasting effects.

Education led by trans and nonbinary people – telling our own stories – is part of what will help dispel the ignorance. That’s a large part of why I started this blog, and why I urge people to stop focusing on our body parts when talking about gender identity. Performing cisnormativity – “passing” as a cis person – should not be the determiner of acceptance for a trans person. Whether a person has a beard or breasts, whether they wear a skirt or pants, their gender identity should be accepted without question.

We cannot continue to allow cis people to define who we are, what we can have access to, and what rights we are allowed to have. Cis allies can help by honoring our names and pronouns, sharing our stories, and speaking out against cissexist language, wherever it occurs.

We must put a stop to this epidemic of violence against trans people, women in particular. Visibility is not enough.

Privacy and deadnaming

[Image: A glass partly filled with an amber liquid sites on an outdoor table.]

When I came to realize that I was trans, the first thing I wanted to do was change my name. I announced my name change on social media two years ago, but it took a great deal of time and expense – and a court hearing – to change my name and gender on all of my identification documents. (I still haven’t changed my birth certificate, as my home state requires surgery for that.)

During this time, I carried ID that still listed my birth-assigned gender and, as many trans people refer to it, “dead name.” Whenever I used a credit card to pay for a purchase, I had to sign that name that I no longer related to. I could deal with that; I had no choice. But what I couldn’t deal with was a clerk reading that name off of my card out loud. “Thank you, Miss Deadname. Have a nice day.”*

I knew they were just being polite. I knew they had likely been trained to do this. It did not lessen the impact. Being misgendered can feel like anything from a pinprick to a punch in the face, but it almost always hurts.

I’m writing about this now because Sam Dylan Finch blogged recently about Starbucks outing customers by reading their names off of their debit cards. On Facebook he mentioned that several former Starbucks employees told him this was company policy. I usually pay cash at cafés so I haven’t experienced this, but as mentioned above I’ve definitely been deadnamed by grocery clerks, and once by a door guard at a bar.

Reading someone’s name aloud in this manner is an invasion of privacy. And it’s not just an issue for trans people. Many cis people go by different names from what’s printed on their IDs; a nickname or a middle name, for example. Now, if a man named John Joseph Doe goes by Joe and is called John by the barista, it might just be confusing, or slightly embarrassing. But say a woman who is going through a painful divorce still has her husband’s last name on her card. Is it worth risking traumatizing her at the grocery checkout by reading that name out loud, in the interest of “politeness?”

When this sort of topic comes up, people will inevitably complain about “political correctness.” But the issue here is treating people with respect. It’s just as polite to say “Thank you, have a nice day” without sticking a “Miss Deadname” in the middle of that sentence. The consequences of offending a customer who expects a more formal form of address are minor compared to the consequences of inadvertently outing a trans person. Keep in mind that sixteen trans women of color have been murdered this year.

Respect our privacy. Ask us personally for our names and pronouns if you need to know them. Don’t just assume we all go by what’s printed on a corporate or government-issued piece of plastic.

* I should clarify that I changed my entire name, not just my first name, when I transitioned. Being referred to by my previous last name is painful for me.

Nonbinary erasure

[Image: The signup page for Facebook. The words Female and Male are circled in red.]

Yesterday I read a great response from agender writer Tyler Ford to the question “Do I Have A Penis Or A Vagina?” (Spoiler: You should never ask this question of anyone.) When I went to leave a comment, MTV.com offered me the option to link to my Facebook or Twitter account, or create an account on the site. I chose the latter, and then was presented with a signup form that asked me to specify my gender: Female or Male. Highly ironic considering the author of the article is neither female nor male.

In the course of my gender transition I’ve become increasingly aware of nonbinary erasure. Some sites, like Google, have added nonbinary options, though they are usually hidden under a “More” option, or allow gender to remain unspecified. Facebook added custom gender options years ago, but in order to sign up for a new account, you still need to specify Female or Male first (as seen in the screenshot at the top of this post). Yahoo requires Male or Female to be specified at account creation as well.

Yahoo signup page[Image: The signup page for Yahoo. The words Male and Female are circled in red.]

My assumption is that this forced binary gendering is for the benefit of advertisers, whose systems probably aren’t set up to handle anything other than two genders. Considering the backlash at the idea of degendering children’s products, it seems US-Americans still believe that men and women have fundamentally different needs when it comes to shopping. And as for people who aren’t men or women, well, I guess we don’t exist.

I’ve started sending messages to customer support when I see only Male and Female options presented on a form. I’ve had mixed results thus far. Two years ago I signed up for an account with Rovio so that I could save my Angry Birds scores online. I sent this message:

Why do I need to specify my gender in order to register? My gender has nothing to do with my gameplay. And the two options given, “Male” and “Female”, are actually sexes, not genders.

Their response:

We are very sorry to hear that you are upset about our registration form. The inquiry includes gender due to marketing reasons and to ease the targeting of certain campaigns, games etc. We apologize for the inconvenience caused for you and we hope that you can still enjoy the games!

I had better luck with Wikimedia, when I contacted them after responding to a survey last year:

Hello, I just made my annual donation to Wikipedia after receiving the fundraising e-mail from Jimmy Wales, and I took the survey afterwards. On the last page I was asked to specify my gender, and the two options presented were Female and Male. Please note that Female and Male are sexes, not genders, and not everyone identifies as one of these. Please consider adding options of “Other” (with or without a fill-in box) and “Decline to State” to this question on your survey in the future.

Their response:

Thank you for your email and your support for the Wikimedia Foundation and free knowledge. Thank you also for your suggestion about the extra options for the survey. It’s a good one, and we will add it to the existing list of proposed improvements. We may have higher priorities to implement in the immediate term, but appreciate your input in making the donation process the best it can be.

I’m going to keep sending short messages like this, though I’ll probably drop the bit about male and female being sexes rather than genders, as I don’t want to confuse people too much in this setting; I just want them to be aware that nonbinary people exist. I’ll also consider not signing up for sites and services that require a binary gender to be specified. I declined to sign up for MTV.com, for example, though I did send a message to customer support first.

Another nonbinary person who has been far more active in this area is Cassian, aka on mxactivist on Tumblr. Amongst other things, they’re working to get the title Mx included on every form in the UK. That gender-neutral title is already gaining official recognition there. I’m not terribly fond of it myself, but I do hope it catches on in the US, so nonbinary people can specify a title other than Mr, Ms, Miss, or Mrs. (Justin Vivian Bond is one notable nonbinary person in the USA who goes by Mx.)

Even if you’re not nonbinary, you can help stop nonbinary erasure by sending quick e-mails to customer support like the above. And speak out whenever you hear others say that people like me don’t exist, are freaks, are “special snowflakes,” or are mentally ill (though some of us are, just as some binary people are, and there’s no shame in that). As a member of the LGBT studies task force on Wikipedia, I am constantly seeing vandalism of the Genderqueer page and others like it; vandals edit the page to say that we are all autistic teenagers on Tumblr with make-believe identities. Yes, these are trolls and their vandalism is soon reverted, but being confronted with this sentiment day after day wears a person down.

Nonbinary people are not “really” biologically male or female. What we really are is exactly what we say we are, whether that’s agender, bigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else entirely. (See Genderqueer Identities for a partial list.) Nonbinary genders are not new and are not going away. It’s time that society stops erasing us and starts respecting us.

Gender neutral agenda

[Image: Two mesh bath sponges rest side by side on a blue background. The charcoal gray sponge has a tag reading “mesh sponge.” The lavender sponge has a tag reading “delicate mesh sponge.”]

Target recently announced a move to gender-neutral signage for some of their children’s products. While this is a welcome development for many parents and kids, the horrified responses from people can’t handle this kind of change are sadly predictable. One enterprising person posed as a Target representative and trolled their Facebook page, mockingly responding to and screencapping many comments from angry customers. Complaints of pandering to “political correctness” turned up frequently. Fox News, of course, also asked “Have the PC police gone too far?”

Here’s the thing. Gendering children’s products is flat-out ridiculous, and forcing children to only play with or wear “gender-appropriate” items has serious potential for harm. Trans author S. Bear Bergman has a great essay on raising his son amidst relentless gendering of everything from training toilets to prescription shampoo for lice. He and his spouse aren’t forcing their views of gender-neutrality on their son; they just want him to choose whatever makes him happy.

The idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” is a recent phenomenon. I’ve seen no evidence that boys who wear pink or play with dolls turn out to be gay or trans any more than boys who wear blue and play with trucks. Clothes and toys do not have the power to change a person’s gender or sexual orientation.  And of course, the implication that turning out to be gay or trans would be a bad thing is just ugly. Trans children especially need supportive parents.

Regardless, gender has no color. Look at the charcoal gray and lavender bath sponges pictured at the top of this post. The shelf tag for the gray sponge, and the receipt when I purchased it, read “MENS.” Heaven forbid a man use the wrong color sponge to scrub his manly ass in the shower. (I bought the lavender sponge for my male spouse, for the record. I hate pastels.)

While I can’t speak for Target, I myself do have a “gender-neutral agenda,” because I think that not just children’s products but nearly all products are pointlessly gendered. Eyeglass frames for example. The last time I shopped for them, I was happy to find a store that did not use gendered labeling at all; they merely grouped the products by brand.

As for clothing, I posted yesterday about men’s versus women’s pants. Here it does make more sense to have separate clothing sections, because most adult women have wider hips than men, amongst other differences in body proportions.

But these differences are not consistent even for cis people, and are reversed for most trans men and women. And any department that is separated into “men’s” and “women’s” erases nonbinary people. For clothing you might think “just shop in the department that matches your actual sex” but this is biological determinism. Many nonbinary people do not consider themselves to be male-bodied or female-bodied. (I myself was assigned female at birth, but am agender and male.) And being nonbinary does not imply any particular clothing choice, regardless of a person’s body configuration.

My agenda is not to eliminate gender completely, but to eliminate forcing the gender binary on everything: Clothing, accessories, titles, salutations, single-occupancy restrooms,  and on and on and on. Gender-“nonconforming” people exist. Nonbinary people exist. Intersex people exist. Eliminating forced binary gendering will reflect and honor this reality, rather than erasing the real and valid identities and expressions of children and adults alike.

In the pocket

For years before my transition, I complained about women’s clothes, pants in particular. The sizing was ridiculously inconsistent, and the pockets were miniscule-to-nonexistent. But I also hated purses, so for a good twenty years I strapped a fanny pack to my waist.

Switching to men’s pants, with ample pockets and sizing by waist and inseam, was a relief. I can easily fit my wallet, keys, cell phone, and miscellaneous small items in the pockets of my jeans, cargo pants, and even dress pants. On days that I’m not going shopping and not planning to be out long, I love the freedom of walking unencumbered by bags, wearing nothing but the clothes on my back.

Recently I read an article on the gendered nature of encumbrance, which made me think more about why women are expected to carry their possessions in bags and men are not. I rarely see a man carrying a tote bag (which is part of why I switched back to wearing a backpack after my transition). Women are expected to do more of the childcare, grocery shopping (sometimes with young children in tow), and the like, so would be more likely to have diaper bags and other things for children.

In addition to the other issues the author points out (being expected to carry items for others), cosmetics may also play a factor. I remember when I was still being sent women’s clothing catalogs, I’d read descriptions of tiny purses having “just enough room for the summer essentials: A lipstick and compact.” I haven’t worn makeup in over fifteen years, so I can’t really relate to this, but I feel strongly that people of any gender should be able to wear makeup without being judged for it. And for some trans women, a careful makeup application can make the difference between having a peaceful day and being outed and violently assaulted.

The sturdiness of men’s versus women’s clothes isn’t something I had thought of much, but makes sense, sadly. I currently buy most of  my clothes from secondhand and discount stores. When I first started shopping for men’s pants, I was surprised to see a whole line of sturdy work clothes I had never seen in a women’s clothing section. People of all genders do manual labor, of course, but it isn’t considered  a “woman’s job.”

Ultimately, when it comes to gender, clothes are just clothes, and ideally shouldn’t be gendered in the first place. Three times now I’ve bought secondhand pants from the men’s section of Out of the Closet (I prefer to support them rather than Goodwill), and had them rung up as “WMNS BTMS, ” presumably because I looked like a “WMN.” The third time this happened I pointed it out, and the clerk made some excuse like “Oh it’s just whatever the cash register rings it up as.” Well, no, there was no bar code to swipe so the clerk actually did make an assumption based on my apparent gender and not the clothes. If my male spouse had approached the counter with a skirt to buy, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been rung up as “MNS BTMS,” even though my spouse is a MN (who happens to wear skirts).

In closing, because I need some comic relief nowadays, here’s a lighthearted tune from the always entertaining Jonathan Coulton, Mr. Fancy Pants. (I think I was actually at the concert where this video was recorded.)

 

On echo chambers

[Image: Black and white vanishing perspective of a wooden pier.]

Some people wonder why folks like me are so intolerant of comments questioning the impact of racism, cissexism, and other oppression, and our tactics to fight it. Why do we want to be in an “echo chamber” of people who think just like we do? Why can’t we be open to a variety of opinions? What about free speech?

First of all, freedom of speech does not apply to my personal blog, Facebook page, or any other space I control. As atheist feminist blogger Greta Christina has written, “If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.”

But more importantly, these questions, however well-intentioned, overlook the fact that I already live inside an echo chamber 24/7. I am queer, black, agender, and transsexual, and am constantly bombarded with messages that people like me are thugs, freaks, perverts, special snowflakes, and dangerous. I don’t need people to come into my space to tell me what the mainstream already wants me to hear. Nor do I need to subject myself to this dialog in group discussions.

When I post about racism, heterosexism, or cissexism,  I want to hear a resounding echo of people shouting “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” I am not just venting, I am urging people to take action.

As someone who suffers from depression to the point that some days updating this blog is the only thing I manage to do, I do not have the energy to educate every person about these issues. Nor am I obligated to do so. That’s where true allies come in, who have the knowledge and patience to amplify the voices of the oppressed, and educate their peers from a place of privilege.

If you don’t like what I write, no one’s forcing you to read it. Post in your own space about “all lives matter” if you like. No one’s going to arrest you or beat you or murder you for doing so.

But I will not tolerate any more unsolicited opinions from my oppressors on how to be an effective activist or a “nice” person. Get out of my chamber.

Disclosure and erasure

[Image: A person stands on a street in a parade, holding a large circular red sign reading “I’m Bi!” in white letters.]

The other day I was listening to a work by the late great Leonard Bernstein (Mass, for the record*), and I started perusing his Wikipedia page. I learned that there is debate over his sexual orientation. It’s pretty clear he wasn’t straight, but some, including his ex-wife and a friend, have said he was gay, while others claim he was bisexual.

As a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT Studies task force, I know the importance of self-identification for sexual orientation (as well as gender identity). For living people, the standards are clear: We do not label them as being anything other than straight unless there is documented evidence in reliable publications that they self-identify otherwise. For historical figures, it can be a bit more difficult.

Wikipedia currently categorizes Bernstein under bisexual men and bisexual musicians. I admit that this makes me happy as a former bisexual (I now identify as queer) who is very mindful of bi erasure. I’ve known a lot of bisexuals in opposite-sex marriages and long-term relationships who were presumed to be straight, myself included (before my transition), and some in same-sex relationships who were presumed to be gay. Some did not mind this, as they were not publicly out as bi, which is their right of course.

But for myself, I felt I had to make a point that I was bi, or have my identity erased. This was even more challenging for monogamous bisexuals, who also did not like the assumption that bisexuals all sleep with “anything that moves.” While I and many of my bi friends are polyamorous, being poly is no more inherent to bisexuality than to monosexuality.

So when I was active in the bisexual community, I encouraged people who I thought were bi to come out as such. I didn’t think there was anything weird or shameful about being bi, since so many of my friends were. I thought it was just obvious that most people were somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale rather than completely hetero or homosexual, and that we should all embrace our bisexual potential instead of being forced to choose sides.

Since learning more about gender and sex in the course of my transition, I’ve realized the error of my ways. Sexuality is much more complicated than the Kinsey scale implies. I cannot and should not assume anyone’s sexual identity from their behavior or even stated preferences, nor should I pressure anyone to “come out” or identify with any particular label. How a person labels their sexual orientation is for them and them alone to determine. No one else.

I still feel that bi erasure is a big problem, however. I was literally yelling at the screen while watching the first season of Orange is the New Black, as it seemed obvious to me that the central character was bi, yet the writers refused to use the word. The woman whose memoir the series was based on, Piper Kerman, has clearly self-identified as bisexual, so the description of her as an “ex-lesbian” without acknowledging her bisexuality was infuriating to me. (Of course, the series is hardly a realistic depiction of prison life either, as many critics have noted.)

I’ll close by re-iterating that we shouldn’t just throw out all the labels. Labels are useful to help us understand our sexualities better, and find mutual support. But they must be self-chosen.

* Despite being an atheist, or perhaps because of it, I find myself drawn to musicals with Judeo-Christian religious themes. Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are some of my favorites.

Sometimes you’re just a jelly donut

[Image: Frosted donuts in an open box.]

Today’s Everyday Feminism article by Sam Dylan Finch on coming out as non-binary reminded me of a story I wrote shortly after my own coming out, two years ago. It’s a political allegory that expresses my frustration at being non-binary in a binary world. I was hoping the story would get more attention so that someone might illustrate it; I released it under a free Creative Commons license for that purpose. I’m re-posting it here; hopefully it will now reach more people and at least be entertaining!

Sometimes you’re just a jelly donut: A nonbinary gender political allegory

by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Happy birthday! You just turned 18 years old, and are happily walking to the city hall of your small town to register to vote for the first time. You have have done a lot of research and thought a lot about your values and beliefs, and have decided that you want to join the Jelly Donut party, dedicated to providing free delicious jelly donuts for everyone to enjoy.

You arrive at the registration office and are greeted by an officer. They smile and say “Hello, citizen! I see you are here to register to vote. As you are wearing a red shirt, clearly you are in the Strawberry Shortcake party. Here is your registration form.”

You frown. “I’m wearing a red shirt because I like the color red,” you explain. “But I do not want to join the Strawberry Shortcake party. I want to join the Jelly Donut party.”

Now the elections official frowns. “Citizen, I’ve known your parents since you were in diapers. You were raised to be a Strawberry Shortcake. You haven’t shown any evidence of wanting to be in the Peach Cobbler party.”

“I said Jelly Donut, not Peach Cobbler,” you say with some exasperation. “I have nothing against either Strawberry Shortcake or Peach Cobbler, and it’s true I like the color red and have eaten plenty of strawberry shortcake in my time. But I have been reading about the Jelly Donut party and decided I really like what they have to say and want to identify myself as one of them, for the promotion and consumption of delicious jelly donuts.”

“Citizen,” the officer says sternly, “The Jelly Donut party is on the fringe, it is illegitimate. Registering with them would be throwing your vote away. In this town we do not offer a registration form for third parties. You must choose to be in either the Strawberry Shortcake or the Peach Cobbler party. Though for the life of me I cannot understand why you would want to be a Peach Cobbler when you are so clearly a Strawberry Shortcake.”

“Look,” you yell, now really angry, “I don’t care what you think I look like, I don’t want to be a Strawberry Shortcake OR a Peach Cobbler. If you won’t let me register as a Jelly Donut, then I don’t want to pick a political party at all. But I still want to register to vote. Can I just register as nonpartisan?”

“No,” says the officer, “You must choose. Everyone in this town is either a Shortcake or a Cobbler. We are a tolerant town and are split pretty evenly between the two, and many folks don’t insist that one choice is inherently better than the other. But you can’t be in-between or something else. If you insist that despite your appearance and upbringing you are really a Cobbler, not a Shortcake, then I can change your registration, but first you’ll have to put on a yellow shirt.”

“What?!?” you cry. “I have no problem with peach cobbler, in fact I get along quite well with Cobblers, but I really hate the color yellow. What does that color have to do with Peach Cobbler anyway? Even if I wanted to register as a Cobbler, couldn’t I do that and still wear red?”

“That would be highly unusual and improper,” says the officer. “You would have difficulty attending Cobbler meetings wearing red, and would always have to explain yourself. Why can’t you just accept that you are a Shortcake?”

“I’m not a Shortcake. I’m not a Cobbler,” you insist. “I’m a Jelly Donut. And I know there are others out there like me. Some are Chocolate Chip Cookies, some are Gingerbread, and yes, some do not belong to any party at all. But we should ALL have the right to vote, and wear what we please.”

“Then citizen,” sighs the officer, “This is not the town for you. I suggest you move somewhere where you think these fringe people and parties you speak of actually exist. Good luck.”

You stare at the officer, pull your shirt over your head and throw it to the floor, then walk out of the building.

We just need to pee

[Image: A restroom sign showing the stick figure of a person wearing a skirt and the word MEN underneath.]

This morning I jammed a one inch long needle into my thigh. I’ve done this every other week for over a year now, to inject the testosterone I need to stay healthy and sane. As many times as I’ve done this procedure, I still get nervous and my heart races, every time.

But that nervousness is nothing compared to how I often feel when entering a men’s restroom. I made the decision that when I began testosterone therapy last January, I would no longer use women’s restrooms. Since last July I’ve had identification that shows I’m legally male, but that’s not enough for conservatives and TERFs who would still bar me from men’s facilities on the grounds that I’m “biologically female.”

The bathroom police are calling for bounties on trans people for using restrooms that do not correspond with our birth-assigned sexes. In some cases they are actually resorting to chromosomes as the test of one’s “true” sex, which, as I’ve pointed out, is patently ridiculous and discriminatory, however they plan to verify this information.

While the primary targets of this bathroom policing are trans women and girls, trans men and boys are also hurt by these arbitrary policies. This high school student is being told he can’t use the boy’s restroom because he was “born female.” What exactly is the school administration afraid of? Do they really think the cis boys using the restroom are at risk from this child? Do they not recognize the harm of forcing him to use the girl’s room, where he does not belong, or a unisex restroom, where he suffers the stigma of being separated out from his peers?

A bathroom selfie campaign that went viral, #WeJustNeedToPee, showed the ridiculousness of forcing a bearded trans man to use a woman’s restroom. But the important thing is that there’s no particular way a trans man, woman, or nonbinary person should look to “confirm” their gender, and our outward presentation should not dictate which facilities we are allowed to use. Trans women in particular are often policed for looking “too femme” if they wear makeup, dresses, and heels, but if they wear a T-shirt and jeans like many cis women do, they often aren’t seen as womanly enough to be granted access to women’s spaces.

I was especially nervous using a public restroom yesterday because of the way I was dressed. It was over 80 degrees out, so I wore a light gray V-neck T-shirt with nothing underneath. It was a fairly loose shirt (and a “men’s” style), but my breasts were still visible underneath. I decided that I would rather put up with potential stares and misgendering than suffer from heatstroke.

As I approached the restroom, another person headed in, making eye contact with me before doing so. I pretended to check my phone while waiting for him to come out, hoping he wouldn’t take long. After he exited, I waited another minute and then went in, did my business and got out as fast as possible.

I don’t like having to think every day about what I’m wearing, where I’m going, how long I’ll be out, what kinds of people will be in the space, whether there will be a unisex restroom, and if not, whether the men’s room will have a stall with a functional door lock. I didn’t have to think about these things before my transition, and I shouldn’t have to now. I’m not in there to spy on anyone, I’m there to pee and get out. Neither my breasts, nor my vulva and vagina, nor my uterus and ovaries, nor my chromosomes are relevant when I’m in a restroom. The only body part that’s relevant is my bladder, and my need to empty it.

If you want to help stop the bathroom policing, please speak out against it whenever you read or hear about these policies. Consider signing this pledge by the Transgender Law Center. Some other things you can do in your school or workplace:

  • Ensure that everyone can use men’s and women’s restrooms without being asked for identification or otherwise harassed.
  • If you have no unisex restrooms, lobby to create one. (But don’t force trans people to use it instead of gendered facilities.)
  • If you have single-occupancy restrooms that are gendered, lobby to make them unisex.

And for the love of whatever you believe in, please stop referring to “biological sex.”

Please help stop bathroom policing. We all just need to pee.

Women’s spaces are for women

[Image: Trans actress and activist Laverne Cox, standing outdoors and speaking into a microphone.]

Today’s Everyday Feminism article about the closing of the transmisogynistic MichFest has brought out TERF commenters in force. Some self-proclaimed feminists really don’t see a problem with equating “woman” to “assigned female at birth,” and excluding trans women from so called “women-born-women” spaces.

First of all, no one is born a woman (or a girl, or a boy/man). We are all born babies, and assigned a sex of female or male at birth based on arbitrary physical characteristics. They are arbitrary because no single sex characteristic, or group of characteristics, are shared by all females or males, and because intersex people exist.

Second, some cis women do not have menstrual cycles or other common aspects of female-assigned reproductive systems. So assuming that all “women-born-women” have any unique physical attributes to bond over is factually false.

Third, having “lived experience” as a coercively-assigned member of a gender does not define one’s gender. I’ve read many stories from trans women who were terribly bullied before transition, constantly being told they weren’t “manly enough,” and suffering for not being able to live authentically. They may have appeared to be men to the outside observer, but they were still women (or girls), and did not have male privilege. Trans women are absolutely as oppressed by sexism as cis women are, whether or not they have physically or socially transitioned.

Cis women who exclude trans women from their events while welcoming trans men are reinforcing biological essentialism, and trans men as well as women should be speaking out about this. Trans men are men, and men do not belong in women’s-only spaces. Women organizing spaces for only “people with uteruses” or some other such exclusionary category should  make it clear that’s what they’re doing.

Trans men who identify as women when it’s convenient to do so are trying to have it both ways. (I’m speaking here of binary trans men who are living as men full-time, not bigender or genderfluid people who were assigned female.) If a trans man needs access to a woman’s clinic for medical purposes that’s one thing, but to participate in a group that treats trans men as if they were “men-lite,” or, worse, a group that excludes trans women on the grounds that they aren’t real women, is to my mind inexcusable. Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, an intersex trans professor who is married to a trans woman, wrote about this in an article about trans men at women’s colleges.

Speaking for myself as an agender trans male, despite (or more accurately because of) having lived as a girl/woman for over 40 years, I have no interest in being in women’s-only spaces, whether they include trans women or not. My discomfort in being in such spaces was a good part of the clue that I was trans. Even before my transition, I generally avoided gender-segregated events, but found myself happiest when interacting with bisexual or gay men. I wouldn’t want to be in a men’s-only space that was geared toward straight men, but I’d still prefer that to a women’s-only space if those were my only choices. I’m male for legal and medical purposes, and I don’t belong in a space designated for females.

Having a uterus and ovaries doesn’t make me feel any bond of “sisterhood” with other AFAB people. I truly detested having a menstrual cycle, and never had the slightest interest in getting pregnant. It’s now been a full year since my last period, and I am very happy to consign that part of my life to history, permanently, as long as I’m able to get uninterrupted access to testosterone. If I felt the need to talk about my female-assigned reproductive system in a group setting, it would be with other transmasculine folks, not women.

But that’s just me. My point is that you can’t assume a common bond with people based on their anatomy – whether at birth or post-puberty – or their “lived experience.” Trans-exclusionary feminism is hurtful to all women, cis and trans, and trans men should not be perpetuating this biological essentialism.