Category Archives: Sexism

Discrimination against women

Shedding blood

[Image: Pax (pre-transition) stands in semi-darkness in their underwear, in front of closed vertical blinds.]

Menstruation is a taboo topic in much of modern US-American society. It’s a subject I feel uncomfortable reading about or discussing myself, given the serious dysphoria I have over my female-assigned reproductive system. But even though I no longer bleed every month (thanks to testosterone therapy), the hundreds of millions of women, trans men, nonbinary, and intersex people who still do are stigmatized by misinformation and prejudices over this routine bodily function.

A recent Everyday Feminism article debunks many of the myths about menstruation. I greatly appreciate that the author points out that not only and not all women have periods (a point the TERFs constantly misstate to deny that trans women are female). Yet menstruation is primarily a women’s issue, and I speak in this article primarily as an ally to women and girls.

I was somewhat alarmed to read in the above article that the average age for menarche in North America is now between eight and thirteen years old. An eight-year-old is still a young child. As people reach sexual maturity at younger and younger ages, it is imperative that children receive timely and accurate sex education. This education must not put the burden solely on girls and women to prevent pregnancy or defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances.

Our patriarchal society dominates women not only through abstinence-focused sex education and denial of reproductive rights, but also controlling access to sanitary products. This article by a woman who was imprisoned shows how jailers deny basic human rights and decency by not providing adequate tampons and sanitary pads.

Another article by a woman who ran a marathon while on her period, without using tampons or pads, brings more attention to misconceptions and shame regarding menstruation. Having run a full marathon and several half-marathons myself, I can relate to the concerns about cramping, changing pads or tampons, and worrying about stained clothes.

Shedding menstrual blood is a fact of life, and should not be a source of shame. People of all genders should educate themselves about menstruation.

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.

Privilege is not an on/off switch

[Image: A collage of people holding signs, with a question mark in the middle and the Direct Action Everywhere logo at the bottom.]

Edit, June 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), as have several others pictured in the above collage. My points about privilege and ranking oppression still stand.

A lot of people misunderstand the concept of privilege. White people and cis men in particular get very defensive when called out on speaking from a place of privilege. “I’m not privileged,” they cry, “I’m not [rich/straight/Christian/American/etc.]”

Here’s the thing. Privilege is not an on/off, yes/no switch. Nor is it something you can assess with an overall rank, despite what well-intentioned but misleading quiz memes might tell you. Privilege consists of many components, including but not limited to: Race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, physical and mental ability. Today’s article in Everyday Feminism addresses a lot of common misconceptions about this topic.

As a queer black trans atheist, I am a member of several oppressed groups. Despite this, I still enjoy many privileges. I am financially stable, college-educated, US-American, and English-speaking, for starters. I am also relatively able-bodied and slim.

But none of these privileges completely erase the disadvantages I have. My skin color makes me a greater target for police profiling and violence, independent of my class or education. Being a nonbinary trans person means that I experience social dysphoria on a daily basis, even though I have financial access to hormones that help with the physical dysphoria. Being queer means I face possible harassment and violence if I am affectionate with my male spouse in public, even though same-sex marriage is now legal in all fifty US states. And being an atheist means that I am in one of the most despised groups of all in this country, independent of anything else about me.

When it comes to privilege, I find it unhelpful to rank oppression. Many animal rights activists correctly point out that we all enjoy human privilege. But as I’ve argued in my post about veganism and white privilege, that in no way means that racism, sexism, or other human issues are trivial by comparison. Rather than telling women, people of color, and others in disadvantaged groups to stop “playing the victim” because they supposedly have it so much better than non-human animals, we should be recognizing and honoring their struggles alongside our fight to end speciesism.

We should all use what privileges we do have to amplify the voices of those who do not share our advantages. The montage at the top of this post shows some of my fellow animal liberationists from Direct Action Everywhere; I took these photos at our annual forum. As also seen in our most recent video (I can be seen briefly at approximately 3:13), we represent a wide variety of races, genders, and nationalities, in a movement that is dominated by cis white voices. We come together to speak for the non-human animals whose voices have been silenced. I will be joining my DxE friends in San Francisco this Saturday, as we light the path to liberation.

Beards and bullying

Harnaam Kaur is a woman with a beard.

Alex Drummond is a woman with a beard.

What do they have in common, besides having copious facial hair?

  • They are both women.
  • They both live in the UK.
  • They have both been bullied.
  • They both deserve to have their gender identities respected.

Facial hair seems to be the last bastion of “manhood.” In many places, cis women can wear pants or neckties, have short hair, abstain from makeup or jewelry, or present in any number of other “masculine” or “androgynous” ways, and still be accepted as women without question. But dare to grow a beard, and suddenly you’ve crossed that line, because everyone knows that only men have beards.

Except that isn’t true, and has never been. As I posted yesterday, cis women with PCOS can grow full beards; Harnaam Kaur is one example. She kept her beard because shaving and hair removal treatments damaged her skin, and also because of her Sikh religion, which forbids cutting or shaving hair. She’s endured quite a bit of bullying for this.

Even female-assigned people without this condition often grow some facial hair. You just don’t usually see this, as women are socialized to remove all traces of it. I found this out in my 30s, when I began to grow some sparse hair on my upper lip and chin.  I’d been diagnosed with PCOS when I was younger, but after losing weight, all other symptoms of that condition disappeared. The chin hairs didn’t appear until years later. I shaved them as it looked odd to have hair growing from just one part of my face.

After a year and half on testosterone, I have a lot more facial hair but I still shave regularly, as it’s coming in very unevenly (much to my impatience). I do actually want to grow a beard and mustache, not because I love facial hair (I can take it or leave it) but because it will hopefully cut down on the number of times I’m called “ma’am” or “miss”.

However, I wouldn’t grow a beard if I hated facial hair. The pressure to conform to gendered expectations regarding appearance really bothers me, which is why I felt happy reading Alex Drummond’s story of why she decided to keep her beard and not opt for hormones or surgery. From the sound of her story she actually got bullied more before her transition, when she was living as a man. She is now living authentically, and doesn’t need to subject her body to procedures she does not want in order to “confirm” her gender.

It’s not just women (trans and cis) who are pressured to have a naked face; nonbinary people are too. Some people think being agender means having no visible sex characteristics, including breasts and facial hair, or even body hair. For some people, especially many who identify as neutrois, that might be true. But as I’ve discussed in my entries about being agender, male, and transsexual, it’s not true for me.

My sex is not neutral, it’s male. I personally don’t want to look like Peter Pan or a prepubescent child.  I started on testosterone therapy ready to accept whatever physical changes came with my second puberty. This so far has included growing additional body and facial hair, as well as developing male pattern baldness (my hairline is already receding). I’m fine with all of this.

Two nonbinary people I admire who wear varying amounts of facial hair are Tyler Ford (agender), who I wrote about in my article on agender fashion, and Jacob Tobia (genderqueer), who I found in the New York Times Transgender Today gallery, where I was also published. Tyler wrote about navigating the streets of New York as a queer agender person of color, deciding based on their schedule for the day whether or not they should shave, what they should wear, and which gendered restroom was safest for them to use. Jacob spoke about self-acceptance as a genderqueer person wearing both a beard and lipstick:

While I celebrate those who are able to live their authentic selves, I recognize that privilege comes into play. Harnaam Kaur and Tyler Ford, people of color, likely suffer more bullying and harassment for their presentation than Alex Drummond or Jacob Tobia. We cannot ignore the intersections of race, class, and gender. It is simply not safe in many places for everyone to “just be themselves.”

I hope that as more people transcend the artificial boundaries of gender expression, more of us will be able to live safe, happy, authentic lives.

Are we male yet?

[Image: Pax , the author, runs on a trail, grinning and making a “V” sign with their fingers. They are wearing a “no meat athlete” shirt and race bib. Photo by comerphotos.com]

Today marks one year since a San Francisco judge granted my court order to change my name and gender. (Although I’m agender, my sex is male, so I wanted that legally recognized.) I’ve had nearly all of my various identification documents updated now, with the notable exception of my birth certificate, as my home state of Pennsylvania currently requires surgery for that.*

And surgery is something I am not willing to have at this time. When I first contemplated transitioning, I felt that I wanted a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. But after I went on testosterone and my monthly periods finally ceased, I eventually decided I didn’t want to undergo the risk and expense of surgery. As long as I’m not bleeding, I’m not actively thinking about those internal organs.

I would still prefer to have a cis-typical penis instead of a vulva and vagina, but that kind of surgery is really problematic and expensive. Testosterone therapy has helped there too, as my clitoris has grown to the size that I now think of it as a penis, albeit a very small one. I no longer feel the need to get a prosthetic, which is another thing I thought for sure I’d want before going on T. (I did wear a packer at home for awhile, but don’t currently feel the need to do so.)

One of the more disturbing things about my transition is that while my physical dysphoria has decreased significantly thanks to the hormones, my social dysphoria has actually increased. Part of this is due to my breasts. Unlike the vast majority of trans men and nonbinary female-assigned people I’ve encountered, I do not bind and am not seeking top surgery.

I neither love nor hate my breasts, but I do hate the feeling of constriction. After I lost a significant amount of weight a couple years back, I stopped wearing bras, even for running, and it felt great. I felt a little bounce at the beginning of each run, then didn’t notice them anymore.

But I’m sure other people do, as you can see in the featured photo at the top of this post (which this blog theme conveniently cropped to focus on my chest). This was at last September’s Beat the Blerch half-marathon, near Seattle. I was wearing a tank top under that thin shirt, but it was cool out, and I have rather prominent nipples regardless.

So every time I go for a run, I’m convinced that everyone is staring at my chest. This, plus my continued resentment that I can’t run topless without facing additional stares and harassment on top of the misgendering, has resulted in me running less and less frequently since my transition. I ran today for only the second time in a month, and only because I got up early enough to get out by 7 a.m., when there were few people about.

My therapist, who has been listening to me complain about not being able to run topless (safely) since well before my transition, finally said that I can either change the world, or I can change myself. At that point, I was starting to consider top surgery. But I simply do not want to surgically remove parts of my body that I don’t have a problem with.

Having breasts does not make me female or “female-bodied”. Cis men have breasts too, unless they’ve had them surgically removed. Cis men can get breast cancer. Cis men can suffer from gynecomastia, which causes breast enlargement independent of body weight. In fact, some of the most popular binders for trans men were designed for cis men with this condition.

The only difference between my chest and that of a typical cis man’s is the size, shape, and position of my breasts, nipples, and areolae. The “free the nipple” and “top freedom” movements point this out, though they are geared toward cis women, not transmasculine people. The problem with how I’ve seen these important movements marketed is that most of the people pictured are thin, light-skinned, and small-breasted, with small areolae and nipples. Look at this widely-circulated photo for example, which I believe originated on the Instagram page of Cara Delevingne (though it’s not clear if she’s the one in the photo):

"Male" and "female" breast comparison
[Image: The torsos of two people with words written on them labeling breast tissue, areolae, and nipples.]

Notice in the above photo that both chests are hairless, both have fairly small nipples and areolae, and the person on the right has their arm lifted which makes their breast appear even smaller. A lot of breasts, belonging to both assigned-male and assigned-female people, look nothing like the above. See this gallery of self-submitted, non-sexualized breast photos for example (geared toward cis women; contains cissexist language). Top freedom means freedom for everyone with visible breasts, regardless of their assigned sex or appearance.

Ironically, in many cities, including here in San Francisco, it is legal for women to go topless in public, but few do so. In New York City there’s a co-ed topless book club (some of their photos contain full nudity). I’ve mused about arranging a topless fun run, but the permitting process and security would probably be a nightmare.

So, do I change the world or do I change myself? If I didn’t want to change the world, I wouldn’t have become an animal rights activist, and I certainly wouldn’t have gotten involved with DxE (Edit, Sep 2016: I left DxE a year ago). I’d just be content to be vegan. But this kind of activism – top freedom – has more risk to me personally, and is probably not as important from a global perspective, though it’s something I care about deeply. Regardless, the idea that I should cut off parts of my body that I’m not personally dysphoric about is really unacceptable to me at this stage.

For the time being, I think I’ll  just stick to running in the early hours when I’ll encounter fewer people, but I’ll keep my shirt on. For now. Stay tuned…

* Edit, Sept. 2017: Pennsylvania removed the surgery requirement in August 2016.

Pope Francis is no ally of mine

Originally published on LiveJournal.

It seems every time Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church, suggests that we might not want to torture or outright kill people who don’t look or act like us, progressives fall all over each other to embrace him as an ally. Saying “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” landed him on the cover of The Advocate as “Person of the Year”. And now, saying “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” has garnered the praise of animal rights organizations, and even the “Abolitionist Approach” vegan anti-welfarist Gary Francione.

Let’s look behind the curtain at what this man is really about. As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis supports equal rights for one and only one category of people: Straight cisgender monogamous human males. He does not support reproductive rights for women (or anyone with a female-assigned reproductive system). He does not support same-sex marriage. He does not support gender transition. He does not support anyone other than straight cisgender men taking leadership roles in the Catholic Church.

In these regards, he is no different from any other Pope before him. Many individual Catholics feel differently, but it is the Pope specifically who is being praised by LGB and animal rights organizations. And as a queer trans person, I cannot tolerate this hypocrisy. This Pope, like all other Popes before him, is unapologetically sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, and speciesist.

I chose the words “heterosexist” and “cissexist” rather than the more familiar “homophobic” and “transphobic” to highlight that I don’t necessarily believe Pope Francis hates or is afraid of LGBT people. But whether he loves us or hates us is irrelevant; he is oppressing us. He makes theism, celibacy (in the case of gays and lesbians), and non-transition (in the case of trans people) prerequisites to his acceptance of us as worthy humans. Having compassion for someone and not outright condemning them is not allyship. If the Pope – or anyone else – does not support full and equal rights for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation, he is not an ally.

In animal rights terms, the Pope’s language about “needless” suffering and dying is a welfarist smokescreen unless he follows it with a clear declaration that animals are not property for humans to enslave and kill for their flesh, eggs, milk, or any other purpose. Again here, it does not matter whether or not the Pope truly loves animals. I disagree with those who say that you cannot simultaneously love animals and be non-vegan. It is entirely possible, sadly, for someone to love an animal and still believe it is OK to enslave and kill them, because we live in a deeply speciesist society.

What matters is the perspective of the victim: The animal who is suffering and dying. And all farmed animals suffer and die needlessly, regardless of whether they are imprisoned in a factory farm or a backyard. As long as animals are considered the property of humans, this will not change, no matter how many encyclicals the Catholic Church releases talking about the value of animals in the eyes of the Lord. It is lip service, it is political, it is empty. “Humane” farming is the ultimate betrayal, visible in the terrified eyes of every fish, pig, chicken, calf, and lamb whose throat is slit for their flesh, skin, eggs, milk, or wool. Animal farming itself is, indeed, “needless”. But you won’t hear that from the Vatican.

I don’t want to hear about baby steps. Humans who make purchasing decisions are adults, not babies, and don’t need a religious figurehead to decide for them whether or not to enslave and kill animals for their meals, clothing, and entertainment. As a queer black trans human who seeks total animal liberation, the Pope is no ally of mine.