Gender and education at Wikipedia

[Image: Pete Forsyth and Pax speak about transgender issues at the Wikimedia Foundation. Photo by Ziggy.]

Last night, Ziggy and I attended the inaugural Bay Area WikiSalon at the Wikimedia Foundation headquarters in San Francisco. When I was first alerted to the event (via my Wikipedia watchpage), I was intrigued by one of the featured guests: Kris Lyseggen, a photojournalist who would be speaking about her book, The Women of San Quentin: Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons. I signed up for the event, and downloaded a sample of the book to begin reading it.

Concerned by a callous remark made on the event’s discussion page, I contacted one of the organizers, Pete Forsyth, who I knew from the Wikipedia 15 birthday celebration earlier this year. Pete, Kris, and I all ended up meeting, and agreed that we would have a panel discussion, moderated by Pete and including myself, Kris, and her husband, child psychiatrist Herb Schreier. I included one of the slides from my recent presentation on gender diversity, to give basic definitions of terms such as transgender and cisgender.

While I felt somewhat unprepared and frazzled (especially after being misgendered by the building security guard), I was grateful for the opportunity to educate more people about transgender issues. I also expressed my frustration with the constant vandalism and disruptive editing on Wikipedia, particularly on the Genderqueer and Cisgender pages. Several people asked questions during and after the event, which I did my best to answer, and I pointed them to the links page on my blog for further reading.

Pax and Kris[Image: Pax with Kris Lyseggen. Photo by Ziggy.]

Kris presented a slideshow about the subject of her book: Trans women in male prisons. I read the entire book before last night’s event. It was moving, heartbreaking, and infuriating. I had to keep putting it down because it was so emotionally difficult for me to read about these women having every ounce of dignity stripped from them. This book, in conjunction with all the police brutality faced by cis and trans people of color in the USA, seriously made me want to join the prison abolition movement.

Herb Schreier at Bay Area WikiSalon[Image: Herb Schreier speaks at the salon. Photo by Ziggy.]

In his portion of the presentation, Herb talked about working with young trans children, and the criteria used to determine if they were ready to transition. He explained the harm of forcing trans children to live as their assigned sex. I asked him a clarifying question about what transitioning meant, because there’s a lot of people spreading misinformation about children being given genital surgery or other irreversible treatments. He explained that transitioning meant social changes (name and gender) and, at the right age, hormone blockers.

Jan and Pete at WikiSalon[Image: Research librarian Jan Patton speaks with Pete Forsyth at the salon.]

The other topic for the evening was a report on a high school Wikipedia edit-a-thon. Research librarian Jan Patton spoke about getting kids excited about editing an online encyclopedia. While she spoke, I thought of the printed World Book Encyclopedia set that my parents splurged on when I was in elementary school, back in the 70s. Instant online access to virtually any topic is a luxury I didn’t have until long after graduating from college.

Of course, many people throughout the world still do not have on-demand Internet access. (Projects like Wikipedia Zero are trying to help bridge that gap, although they have attracted criticism from net neutrality activists.) But it is great that school-age kids are now able to not only access an encyclopedia online, but actually contribute to it, instantly.

Canon v Nikon[Image: A Nikonista takes a photo of a Canonite.]

I’ve uploaded a few photos that Ziggy and I took at last night’s event to Flickr, as well as to Wikimedia Commons (the latter gallery may contain others’ photos as well). The Bay Area WikiSalon will be an ongoing monthly event, with opportunities for collaborative editing and casual discussion as well as formal topics, so locals should check it out.

ETA 5/14: Videos of the salon are now available on YouTube as well; the transgender panel is here, with closed captions provided by me.

Welcoming gender diversity: The video

[Image: Left: Pax stands wearing a name tag and holding a mug with their name taped on it. Right: Aph Ko, Pax, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters, and A. Breeze Harper (Black Vegans Rock advisory board members) stand outside with their arms around each other. Photos by Ziggy Tomcich.]

One month ago today, I gave a presentation on gender diversity at the Intersectional Justice Conference at the Whidbey Institute, Washington State. Videos from that conference are now beginning to be published. Thanks to Photon Factory for the videography, and to Marnie Jackson-Jones for enabling community-contributed closed captioning to help increase accessibility to these videos. (Try it out!)

My video is below, along with a transcript that I generated by exporting the captions I created. The text is lightly edited for clarity and to include links to the slides from my presentation and other resources. Enjoy!

Welcoming gender diversity – video transcript

Aubrie Rose Keegan:

So I’m here to introduce Pax, and I had something prepared actually for Pax, and I’ve been able to spend some time with them over the course of this weekend, just a little bit. And I would say that from reading their blog, and also from talking with them and their partner Ziggy, that I totally love Pax! They are just… you’re just amazing! You’re just amazing.

And if you haven’t read their blog,, you definitely should. I’m so ready for this talk so I don’t even want to stand up here. So please, without further ado, welcome Pax.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen:

Thank you for that very sweet introduction.

Slide 1: Welcoming gender diversity

Hello, I’m Pax Ahimsa Gethen, I’m a queer black trans vegan activist, and this is my presentation on Welcoming gender diversity: Trans, non-binary, and intersex inclusion in activist spaces. I will be reading out all the text on all these slides so if there’s anyone who’s visually impaired either here, or watching or listening to the video later, they should be able to hopefully follow along.

Slide 2 – Gender and sex basics

Just some basics. Gender and sex are terms that are often used interchangeably by people who think, well, if you’re a male you have these parts and you’re a man, if you’re female, you have these parts, and you’re a woman, that’s it.

But what really matters when respecting people is their gender identity, or what trans activist Julia Serano has referred to as the “subconscious sex:” our internal sense of self. And what people use to express this identity can be things such as clothing, hairstyles, or mannerisms, but these are not necessarily all in alignment with the identity; they can be separate.

Also often confused with gender identity is sexual orientation, but that is who you are attracted to. That is not related to who you are.

So these are all separate things: Gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, can be completely separate. This talk is going to focus specifically – or, primarily on gender identity.

Slide 3 – Gender identity basics

So a transgender person like myself, we do not identify with the sex that we were assigned at birth. Virtually everyone is assigned at birth a sex of male or female. We like to say assigned or designated at birth as opposed to biologically or anatomically or genetically female or male, or male or female bodied, because this honors our own sense of identity rather than one that was assigned to us without our consent.

A cisgender person does identity with that sex that they were assigned at birth, male or female. The etymology or origin of the word cis is that is Latin for on the side of, as opposed to trans, on the other side of. It is not a slur, although some angry trans people, justifiably so because of the transphobic and cissexist environment we are in, have used it as a slur, just like sometimes some people of color use white or whitey as a slur, but you don’t get people saying “Well, white’s not a word,” or “Don’t call me white.” I have heard that a few times, but not nearly as much as people complain about the word cis.

So, just gotta get it out there, it’s not an acronym, it’s not short for sissy, it’s from Latin, it’s a prefix. I’ve heard “Oh, it means Comfortable In Skin.” Like who came up with that one? No.

So, a non-binary person is a person simply who identifies as something other than a male or man, female or woman. Non-binary is an umbrella term that can include many identities, such as agender, not having a gender, that’s what I am; bigender, having two genders; or genderqueer, which is often used synonymously with non-binary. Not all non-binary people identify as genderqueer, but they are both considered to be umbrella terms.

Now an intersex person on the other hand is a person who has physical characteristics that vary from the expectations for a binary sex. So this could be different genitalia, hormones, or chromosomes than one would expect from a male or female. An intersex person can be any of the above: Transgender, cisgender, non-binary, genderqueer.

Slide 4 – Pronouns and salutations

Now when we talk about gender identity, we often talk about pronouns that people use, such as he, she, or they. Unless otherwise stated, people often talk about preferred pronouns, and we’ll go over this in my session later today, but unless someone specifically says that they have a preference, just assume it’s mandatory. I have a ranked preference; I prefer they, but I accept he. But for most trans people, just use the pronouns that they say, because again, that’s respecting their identity.

Some non-binary pronouns that are in common use are singular they, so they/their/them; that’s even accepted on numerous places online, like Facebook has that as an option now. But there are other non-binary options as well. Zie and hir is one other common pair.

It’s a little harder for salutations, such as Mr. or Ms., Mrs., Sir or Ma’am. Especially in the United States, it’s really hard to get around those. But there is Mx. Mx is gaining popularity in some places. Like in the UK, it’s actually accepted on some government forms now. So you don’t have to specify a gendered salutation.

And the thing to do if you make a mistake on someone’s pronoun or salutation or gender, just apologize and move on. Don’t say “Oh my God I’m so sorry, I’m the last person who would ever do that.” Just don’t make a big deal about it, because that just makes it more awkward.

And, even worse, don’t have an attitude about it. Just say, “I’m sorry,” use the correct pronoun,  and just try to remember it next time.

Slide 5 – Assigned Male

So here’s an example relevant to the animal rights community on misgendering. This is a comic strip I love called Assigned Male, by a trans woman named Sophie Labelle. And the title is Misgendering, and in the first panel we see a child walking a dog, and an adult talking to the child, and it says “a pet:” and the adult says, “He’s such a cute dog, what’s his name?” And the child says, “Her name is Emy.” And the adult says, “Oh I’m so so sorry, she’s so pretty!”

And then in the next panel we have “a trans person:” same humans, no dog. The adult says, “What’s your name little girl?” The child says, “My name is Sam, and I’m actually a boy.” The adult says, “Um, well that’s unique, I’ll try to remember… gotta go.”

So, this is sadly common. We have people in the animal rights community especially, who say, you should always use a gender appropriate to an animal, never call an animal “it,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. But we have to remember that trans people also need to be gendered, and we, unlike non-human animals, can actually say what pronouns we prefer in our human voices. So it’s really inexcusable not to honor those.

Slide 6 – Forms and surveys

Now for events like this there are often registration forms to fill out, and usually surveys to fill out afterwards, so here are some best practices involved,because often these ask for gender in a way that ignores people like myself.

If you are asking for someone’s gender on a form or survey, first of all ask, “Do I really need this information? Why am I collecting this information?” Because a lot of times advertisers are collecting it, and I’m like, Do you think that if I have one set of genitalia, which is what most people think gender is, that I’m going to play this game or use this object differently than if I have another set? No.

Now for social justice spaces it can be useful to collect gender information.But just remember that there are people who are neither male nor female, man nor woman. So if possible, please include a fill in the blank option for gender.

I know not all software allows this, but if at all possible, design your forms in this way, so that people can fill in their own options for their pronoun, title, and salutation. If it’s not possible, one other option if possible is to include Other or Decline to State options, and this could also be useful for cisgender people who just don’t want to disclose their identity. Just say Decline to State.

Slide 7 – Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello

And when you’re doing this, I’ve seen people who are trying to be aware of transgender people’s existence, which is always welcome. But then they list transgender itself as a gender, which it is not for the vast majority of people. And I’ll illustrate that with a page from Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello; he’s an intersex trans male professor who writes about transgender and intersex issues.

And the first panel of this has three checkbox options, that say Christian, Jew, and Convert.The second panel says, “Does this checklist seem bizarre to you?” “That’s how I feel when I see this one:” And the third has three checkboxes that say Male, Female, and Transgender.

So, again, there are some trans people who do identify simply as trans, but it’s rare. Usually you are a trans woman, or you’re bigender, or you’re genderqueer, etc. I actually when I accidentally got mistaken for a woman earlier today said, “I’m not a woman, I’m trans,” just because I was tired and not thinking. But that’s ridiculous, because of course, many trans people are women. I should have just said “I’m not a woman” and left it at that, because when I start to say “Well I’m agender, but I’m also a transsexual male,” then people just look at me weird, so [laughs] sometimes I just take shortcuts. [laughs]

Slide 8 – Privacy and safer spaces

OK, so privacy and safer spaces. A lot of trans people have not had their official identification documents updated, either because they haven’t had time, they’re below the age of 18 and they can’t yet, or it’s expensive, or many other reasons. But you should always honor a person’s name regardless of what’s actually written on their official identification documents.

So if you require, for example, people to sign up online for an event like this,allow them to put a name that’s not exactly the same as the name on their credit card, for example. And if you need to check people in in a secure space by looking at their IDs or credit card or something, to verify registration, please do not read that name out loud, because you could inadvertently out someone.

You could also embarrass a cisgender person who just doesn’t go by the same name that’s listed on their credit card. I’ve met a lot of people who use a nickname or a middle name and don’t go by that name. So it’s a best practice just not to read off the identity document and assume that’s their actual daily use name.

If you’re having a women’s event, which is very common in social justice spaces, and you want to make it clear that you invite transgender women,and you honor transgender women as being just as much women as cisgender women which they absolutely are, a good way to say this is “trans and cis women welcome.” Because often I’ve seen people use woman-identified language, like “women and people who identify as a woman.” But that kind of separates people, because really, everybody identifies; you either identify with the sex you were assigned or you don’t, whether you’re cis or trans or non-binary.

So, it would just be better to say if you want to emphasize that you are including transgender women, say “trans and cis women welcome.” I’ve gotten this from talking to trans women because I’m not one myself. I would assume it would be the same for men’s events even though I haven’t attended such events myself.

And I’ve noticed, I’m very grateful that the restrooms, at least for the duration of this event, have been labeled as gender-neutral. This is a huge thing for trans people. I don’t know if some of you are aware of the transphobic bathroom bills that are going around the country. First they tried it in Texas, then South Dakota, then Tennessee, and now North Carolina has actually succeeded in basically criminalizing people like me who are trying to go to the bathroom. I mean, that’s how bad it’s gotten.

So, the safest space, especially for people who are newly transitioning, and don’t “pass” as cisgender yet, is a gender-neutral space. And this is especially important for single-occupancy restrooms, because, when I see a single-occupancy restroom that’s gendered, it’s like, why? What’s the point. So if you have any control over the space your event is in, this is a huge help to trans people.

And if you have an overnight conference like this, and you’re arranging shared rooms, please realize that there are non-binary people, and there are non-heterosexual people. So if you’re trying to match up genders for the purpose of rooms, keep that in mind.

Slide 9 – Non-binary awareness

So I’ve mentioned awareness of non-binary people a lot, and some other suggestions in that regard: If you’re having a fun group activity where you’re dividing people into two groups to compete against each other for something not gender-related, just general, please don’t divide into men’s vs women’s groups, Again, you’re excluding people like me, and it just doesn’t really help anybody.

If you’re addressing a group like this, instead of saying Ladies and Gentlemen, which again excludes non-binary people, you could just say “Hello everyone,” or if you want to be more formal, you could say, “Honored guests,” or “Distinguished guests,” or less formal could be, “Friends” or “Folks,” or I kind of like “Comrades.” But that has some political implications some people are not too comfortable with, but I’m gunning for it to come back. [laughs]

Now this is a big one. I say “You guys” all the time, so I’m not saying anybody’s a horrible person for saying it. I use it all the time. But I’m really trying to train myself out of it, because “guys” is no more a gender-neutral term than “gals” is. It’s only because of our patriarchal society that we see “guy” as a gender-neutral term. Just like, wearing pants is androgynous, but wearing a skirt is always feminine. It’s just patriarchy.

So, “You all,” or if you’re Southern-inclined, “Y’all,” that’s a very gender-neutral, inclusive thing to say instead of “You guys.” And if you’re referring to a married or romantic couple, you could say “spouse” or “partner” instead of husband or wife or boy or girlfriend if you’re not sure of the gender identity of both parties involved.

Slide 10 – Outreach

So for outreach to transgender communities, most of these tips apply to any marginalized community that you’re not a part of. Spend time learning about the issues that affect the community. Read and listen more than you speak. Always acknowledge your cisgender privilege. And understand why some trans people just might not be interested in veganism or animal rights.

Slide 11 – Photo montage

I’ve got a montage here of images from the Transgender Day of Remembrance, BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action, and the ReclaimMLK march in Oakland, California, that had a large trans presence. We had over 20 trans people murdered last year, most of them people of color; and seven so far, I hate to say so far, but it seems inevitable there will be more this year. And again, these are mostly women of color. Trans women of color that are being murdered. This is what’s on our mind, and this is why people are going to be resistant if you start to bring animal rights into their community without understanding these things.

Slide 12 – Stop ranking oppression

I have an example here from a Facebook page that was started by a transgender woman to talk about transphobic violence, but she expanded into intersectional social justice, which is the title of the page. And there’s a screenshot that she shared, that says, “Tfw” – I think that means ‘that feeling when’ – “animals suffer more than what poc suffer.” “Tfw animals give more to the world as well.” And the moderator shared that and says, “Comments like this will get you banned, it’s also why we don’t give a fuck about veganism.”

And this is the prevailing attitude in communities where people who don’t understand the challenges facing the community come in and talk about animal rights. And they don’t have a right to without doing the research first. So this is why you need to understand what’s facing trans people, especially trans women of color.

Slide 13 – Some questions are off-limits

I wish I had more time but I’m going to, you know, talk a lot more in my session,and you can check out my blog like Aubrie said. But you know, there’s going to be a lot of questions about transgender people. There’s a lot of curiosity about us. But as I said during Dr. Harper’s presentation, it’s exhausting to live this life and also be an educational resource, so we want to tell people to “Google it.” But I feel like the best thing to do is to talk to trans people like me directly and learn about us.

But when you do that, you have to realize some questions are off-limits. And if you think about it, most of these questions would be off-limits to a cis person also. Such as questioning whether somebody is “really” male or “actually” male or female, asking about someone’s sex life, asking about someone’s genitals, asking if someone has had “the surgery,” or asking someone what their previous name was.

Even if it’s someone that you know pretty well, be careful when asking any kind of questions like this, because they’re really invasive and inappropriate.

So, I wish I had more time, but I’m already over. But I hope to be able to answer more of your questions in my session. And please do check out my blog, because I do have, as I was talking about during Dr. Breeze’s session, a curated list of resources that I feel comfortable recommending that talk about these issues. So, thank you very much.

California voters: Check your affiliations

[Image: Rainbow and American flags.]

This election season is too much. The other day I got a robo-call from Donald Trump. As soon as I heard that man’s voice on my answering machine (I screen all calls), I ran to pick up the receiver and hang up, wondering how in the hell I ended up on his call list. Just before hanging up, I heard him say something about  the deadline for registering to vote in California.

As the Republicans have a closed primary here this year, that answered my question: I’m registered with no political party preference. His campaign wants to make sure that no one who wants to vote for him is locked out. Two of his own kids missed the registration deadline to vote for him in New York, after all.  And though I have no love for any of the mainstream presidential candidates, yes, our election registration system is overly complicated.

Californians wanting to vote Democratic, on the other hand, can do so in this year’s primary if they are registered either as a Democrat or with no political party preference. Hence the reason for this post: Apparently many Californians who want to vote without an affiliation have been mistakenly registering with the American Independent Party. Doing so locks them out of voting for anyone but candidates from that party in the primary. And the far-right positions of those candidates would make some Republicans blush. Here’s a sampling of their party platform (emphasis added by me):

  • We insist that marriage is between a man and a woman and assert the role of the law in establishing and reinforcing the mutual rights and obligations of that God-ordained contract.
  • We support secure borders and immigration policies inviting the best of the world to join us in freedom. We emphatically demand that our borders be protected against intrusions by that most straight-forward and practical means, a fence, reinforced by all the necessary manpower and electronic surveillance.
  • The Fourteenth amendment requires all States to apply all the protections they provide for life equally to all visitors or citizens, and to all born or unborn persons within the territories governed by their laws.
  • We believe that all those who govern are the servants of God for the good of citizens. Therefore all governments are under God whether they like it or not!

If the above positions sound abhorrent to you, you might want to double-check your registration status to make sure you haven’t accidentally signed up with this party. (If, on the other hand, those positions sound good to you, please stay very far away from me for the rest of your life.)

The reason that I’ve tagged this entry with “ableism” is because of the inevitable comments that people who accidentally checked the wrong box on an election form are stupid or lazy. The name of this party is simply misleading, and confusing to people who want to be truly independent voters. As the LA Times piece points out, all sorts of voters have made this mistake, including prominent celebrities and relatives of politicians. There’s no shame in being confused. The American Independent Party might not be obligated to change their name, but the confusion and subsequent disenfranchisement does bolster the case for election reform.

So spread the word, Californians. Whether or not you intend to vote in this primary, make sure you aren’t propping up a party you don’t actually support.

Prince: Not vegan, still awesome.

I was as shocked as everyone else yesterday to learn of the death of the legendary musician Prince, at the untimely age of 57. While I was growing up in the 80s, Prince’s music and music videos were in constant rotation on the radio and MTV. Although I only bought a couple of his albums myself,  I appreciated his amazing musicianship and fierce individuality.

So it is with some trepidation that I must point out one “fact” about Prince that many of my friends on social media are sharing is actually false. Prince was not a vegan. He was a vegetarian. Hear the man say this in his own words in a 2011 interview with George Lopez:

Despite not being vegan, there’s no doubt that Prince definitely spoke up for non-human animals. As the link notes, he openly shunned wool and leather in addition to flesh and cheese. But he was not opposed to all dairy products; he drank yak milk with the reasoning that “It is given freely by the yak, so U can truly enjoy it.” He also enjoyed snacking on cookies that contained milk and honey. [Update: See note on this below, under Edit, 4/24.]

Some will decry my words as excessive “vegan purity,” but I feel it’s important to point out that drinking animal milk isn’t vegan regardless of what animal it comes from (with the exception of human breast milk for human children, which can indeed be “given freely”). Besides, as shown above, Prince didn’t even describe himself as vegan, so it really isn’t appropriate to put that label on him, post-mortem.

Another danger of describing someone as vegan when they aren’t is that people who are convinced vegan diets are deficient or dangerous will latch onto any disease or early death as an excuse to bash veganism, independent of the actual composition of the diet or other factors. (See also: Steve Jobs.) Veganism is not a diet, and vegans can and do get sick. But most people in the USA do see veganism as just another dietary choice at this time, so it is not helpful to give conflicting information regarding what vegans eat.

Again, being non-vegan does not diminish Prince’s legacy, either as a musician or as a spokesman for the animals. Regardless, we should not be looking to celebrities as role models for veganism anyway, even in the black community. There are plenty of black vegans from all walks of life to connect with, including struggling artists who could use your support. We don’t need to falsely or mistakenly attribute veganism to black folks like Prince or Alice Walker (whose oft-repeated quote about animal rights is taken out of context) to convince others to go vegan.

As an aside, Prince also did not publicly label himself as genderqueer, genderfluid, or otherwise non-binary. By all accounts, he never openly identified as anything but a straight cisgender man. A man who gave no fucks about conventional masculinity (whatever that is), but a man nonetheless, song lyrics and clothing style notwithstanding. (Non-binary bloggers on The Orbit and Medium also wrote on this subject.)

Let’s celebrate Prince for what he was: An amazingly talented, passionate, groundbreaking musician, who deeply cared about animals in his own way.

Edit, 4/24: A commenter pointed out what I failed to notice, that the “What’s in Prince’s Fridge?” article linked to in the paragraph about yak milk was posted on April 1. Whether that was an April Fool or not, my point still stands based on the 2011 video of Prince being asked “You’re a vegan?” and responding “Vegetarian.” As I noted in response to comments below, if anyone finds a more recent statement from Prince himself saying that he is a vegan, please post a link to it here.

Edit, 6/3: Since this post keeps getting hits: Prince did describe himself as a “complete vegan” in a 1997 Vegetarian Times interview. So as I suspected, it appears that he was indeed vegan for part of his life, but not in the years immediately prior to his death.

Oppression, Christianity, and “forgiveness”

[Image: A church building with a sign in front reading “The Pittsburgh New Church – Welcome to Worship.”]

On Friday I watched a segment on the CBS Evening News that really angered me. It was about a black man who was framed by a white cop, spent four years in jail, and later came to forgive and even “love” his oppressor. Please watch or read the story for yourself before continuing (it’s three minutes long).

I didn’t write anything about this at the time, but today read a post by Son of Baldwin which encapsulated all that’s wrong with this shitty “feel-good” example of white supremacy. I posted this reply:

This story made me so angry when I watched it on the CBS Evening News. Especially the last line: “And clearly, if these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?” Their bitter grounds? As if a racist white cop has any “grounds” for being angry with the innocent black man that he framed? As if having four years of your life stolen from you by a racist white cop is something you should just “set aside?” As if the racist prison industrial complex — where one of out three black men can expect to serve jail time —can be papered over by Christian forgiveness?

I’m an atheist, but I’m not going to blame Christianity specifically for white supremacy (though the #NotAllChristians excuse is just as bad as #NotAllWhites and #NotAllMen). Regardless, if this particular black man wants to forgive this particular racist white cop that’s his prerogative, but it is not, not, not incumbent upon anyone else to forgive their oppressors.

Make no mistake: This story is not just about a “crooked” or “bad” cop. This is racism, which does not have to look like the “n” word or hooded figures burning crosses on lawns. If you deny that this man’s arrest and the subsequent framing of this “feel-good” story is white supremacy in action, you seriously need to check your privileges.

I want to expand here on the part about Christian forgiveness. As I’ve written before, the only person who can forgive an oppressor or abuser is their victim (or survivor). No one else. I’m just going to say it: A religion that assigns ultimate judgment of human affairs to a supernatural being is a tool of the oppressors. Christianity in particular has been used to justify racism (including slavery), sexism, sexual abuse, heterosexism, and cissexism for centuries.

As I posted on Medium, I do not want to hear “Not All Christians” in response to this charge. Christianity is the dominant religion in the USA, and always has been. While church attendance and theism dwindle in Europe, Christian beliefs and practices remain strong here, and are reflected in our politics. It is incumbent upon Christians to reform their religion, not upon atheists and those who practice other religions to submit to it.

While Protestant faiths dominate here, Pope Francis, who gets news headlines for saying anything that sounds the slightest bit progressive, is also not a friend of the oppressed. I especially do not want to hear “Not All Catholics,” when the Vatican has made it clear that only straight cisgender monogamous men are fully deserving of rights. Catholics who support birth control, abortion, “extramarital” or homosexual sex, gender transition, or women holding church leadership positions are acting in direct opposition to the central authority of their church.

Believing in God might not be a choice, but in the USA, church membership is voluntary. Christians who oppose oppressive church doctrine ought to protest against it, loudly, or else leave those churches behind.

I take heart in sites like The Orbit for featuring black atheists (among other atheists of color) in a society that too often assumes that all black folks are Christian. While I never belonged to any church (or temple or mosque) to begin with, many atheists have left their religious communities, and that can come at a cost. Atheists need communities as much as any other group, and women/of color especially need supportive environments in a movement that is dominated by white men.

But I digress. The point is, when I point out racism or any other oppression, do not come to me speaking of forgiveness. Fix the problem, rather than blaming the victims.

Socialists for Bernie?

[Image: Protesters hold signs reading “Your money can’t buy Bernie” and “We can’t buy a home in SF for $353,000”. One protester wearing a “Socialist Alternative” T-shirt bangs on a pan with a spoon.]

Disclaimer/reminder: I am registered with no political party and support no presidential candidate at this time.

Last night I heard a commotion outside my window. Going out on the balcony to investigate, I saw police on motorcycles driving the wrong way down the one-way steep hill I’ve lived on for the last 13 years. Following behind was a group of several dozen marchers, holding signs, banging on pots and pans, and chanting. As it is somewhat unusual for a protest march to come through my neighborhood—Nob Hill, San Francisco—I quickly threw on some (more) clothes, grabbed my keys and camera and ran outside to take some photos.

Protesters on Nob Hill[Image: Protesters stand in the street. One holds a sign reading “Oligarchy is Unamerican.” Another reads “$HRC + $DNC = $uperDelegate$”.]

SFPD on Nob Hill[Image: San Francisco police stand behind a barrier reading “S.F.P.D. Police Line – Do Not Cross.”]

I caught up with the group a block away, where I eventually learned that Hillary Clinton was in town hosting a fundraiser with George Clooney, at the home of a venture capitalist. Price for a couple to sit at the head table: $353,000. As the sign pictured at the top of this post notes, you can’t even buy a home in San Francisco for that, and not just on Nob Hill. Median home prices here are in the seven figures. Ziggy and I live in a rent-controlled apartment, which is a privilege in a city that has been rapidly gentrifying.

Police barricaded the street, but stood by passively; I did not witness or read about any confrontations. I can’t help wondering if the same would have been true if there had been more black and brown faces in the group of protesters.

Protesters on Nob Hill[Image: A protester speaks into a megaphone. Another protester wears a shirt reading “Socialist Alternative.”]

While trying to determine who organized this protest, I noticed that a number of people were wearing T-shirts reading “Socialist Alternative.” I looked them up, and found that they have a “Movement4Bernie” campaign to support Bernie Sanders. (I also located the Facebook page for the event. Far fewer people showed up than indicated by the RSVP numbers.) I was genuinely surprised that a socialist group would openly support a Democratic presidential candidate. I know that Bernie has been described as a democratic socialist, but as far as I’m concerned, socialism cannot happen under our two-party system. We need a (peaceful) revolution to create a society that truly treats all people (human and non-human) with fairness and equity.

Dog at protest[Image: A dog with their tongue hanging out stands next to a human wearing boots.]

Dogs at protest[Image: A leashed dog wearing a T-shirt sniffs the rear of another dog.]

I had short, reasonably pleasant conversation with one of the protesters, who was wearing a Bernie shirt. He didn’t openly identify as socialist, but was sympathetic to my view that the two-party system was an intractable problem. He pointed out that Bernie had been an independent; I countered that he had moved to the Democrats, and was now part of that machine. Would he not endorse Hillary if she won the nomination? The protester said he was going to make sure she didn’t win, but when I pressed him on whether Bernie would endorse Hillary, he mentioned “lesser of two evils.” (ETA: A recent editorial echoes some of my concerns.)

I don’t want to get into a debate about lesser evils, third party “spoilers,” or Hillary vs Bernie; I’ve heard it all before. But I am particularly interested in hearing from socialists, whether or not you support Bernie Sanders. Others are welcome to comment as well, but please respect that I am an independent and intend to stay that way.

My full set of photos from the protest is on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

On Powerpuffs, unicorns, and trans inclusion

[Image: A “Powerpuff Girls” cartoon rendition of Pax, standing in a field with trees in the background.]

Recently I saw a number of Facebook friends posting avatars they created using the “Powerpuff Yourself” web site, a promotional tool for the reboot of the Powerpuff Girls series on Cartoon Network. I’d never watched the show, but figured it was a bit of harmless fun. I love creating avatars, and especially liked that this generator was gender-neutral; many require you to specify male or female first, and limit clothing and hairstyle choices accordingly.

So I was concerned when I read a link posted on Sophie Labelle’s Facebook page* that suggested that a new episode of the show was transphobic. The link contains a very detailed description of the episode, about a horse who wants to be a unicorn. Later reading confirmed that the story was intended to be about gender identity.

From the detailed write-up the episode sounded pretty awful, but as I hadn’t watched it myself I wanted to get the opinions of more trans people on it. I posted about it to Kat Blaque’s Facebook page,** as did at least one other reader. A day or two later, Kat posted that she’d watched the episode and understood the criticism, but didn’t personally feel that offended by it.

I tried to watch the episode online for myself, but after a two-minute preview the Cartoon Network required me to enter login credentials for a cable or satellite provider to watch the rest. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, as Ziggy and I haven’t had cable television in over 12 years—we haven’t even had a working antenna for the last two or three—and I won’t use torrent sites to download media illegally. Both of these issues could merit blog posts of their own, but suffice to say, I have not watched the episode in question as of this writing.

So this really should come as no shock, but we trans folks do disagree on some stuff. This bears repeating because sadly, to the majority of US-Americans, all trans people are Caitlyn Jenner. And Caitlyn Jenner is about as representative of trans folks as Ben Carson is of black folks. So if you’re cisgender, please keep this in mind.

The important thing is that, as with racism, sexism, and other oppressions, an assessment of whether or not something is offensive should be made by those affected by it. If a marginalized person is hurt by words or pictures, they should be taken seriously, and not just dismissed as being overly sensitive, “playing the victim,” being “politically correct,” or practicing “identity politics.” Pain is genuine even if those causing the pain didn’t intend it or can’t do anything about it.

People in positions of privilege can also be genuinely hurt, of course. But too often, such people use their pain to derail and drown out the voices of those who don’t have access to a wealth of resources and/or sympathetic people to cope with that pain. This is why sayings like “cis tears” are sometimes used in response to cis people who say they are hurt by trans people calling them transphobic. The same holds true for white people and racism, and for men and sexism.

Regarding trans people, there’s a saying that I first heard in relation to disability activists: “Nothing about us without us.” The comic Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls illustrated this in another reaction to the Powerpuff Girls episode that Sophie Labelle linked to from her page. (ETA: Another article about the episode contains an interview with Manic Pixie cartoonist Jessica Udischas.) I don’t know if the writers of the Powerpuff Girls have trans people on their staff or not. Even if they did, that not would by itself negate a charge of cissexism.

I remember when I first heard complaints about the Amazon series Transparent, which has a cis male lead playing a trans woman, I thought the show was OK because trans people were on the staff and in the cast. But reading and thinking more about it, I now agree with the criticisms that casting a cis man as a trans woman reinforces the “man in a dress” stereotype, and deprives trans actors of much-needed work. (I also stopped watching the second season of that show after the first episode, because I found it too depressing and triggering.)

So where does that leave us with regards to the Powerpuff Girls? I’m not calling for anyone to boycott the show or take down their Powerpuff avatars. (Mine are still on Flickr.) I just want to make people aware that there are trans people who feel the show is trans-antagonistic, and their concerns should be listened to.

* Author of the web comic Assigned Male and books on gender diversity, which I blogged about recently.

** Kat and Sophie were both featured in my post about International Women’s Day.

Not seeing eye to eye

[Image: Self-portrait of Pax wearing glasses with red and black frames.]

Today I went to Optical Underground in San Francisco to pick up the new eyeglasses (pictured above and also on Flickr) I ordered last week. I got my previous frames there nearly three years ago, before my legal name and gender change, and was overdue for an eye exam and new prescription.

I like OU because they don’t separate the frames into men’s and women’s sections. Eyeballs have no gender, at least as far as I’m concerned. I chose these frames because they were in my favorite color combination—red and black—and were relatively inexpensive. Though out of curiosity, I looked up the brand and model number when I got home, and found out that the manufacturer apparently does consider these to be a women’s style.

Eyefunc frames[Image: Screenshot of Eyefunc eyeglass frames, with a conventional “female” figurine highlighted in red.]

This story so far would be unremarkable, except for the fact that when I went to pick up the glasses, I was yet again misgendered as female. As soon as I entered the shop, a friendly woman at the counter greeted me and asked if I was picking up frames. I said yes, and she asked a co-worker to get frames for “her” (as she was in the middle of helping another customer). I responded “Actually that’s ‘him’ – I’m a guy,” with an apologetic, nervous laugh. She smiled broadly in response; I’m not sure if she actually heard me, or perhaps wasn’t sure how or whether to apologize. I wasn’t angry with her for making an honest mistake. But, as always, it put a damper on my day.

As I’ve written frequently, I don’t normally have the energy to explain being agender during one-off encounters with strangers, so I’ll settle for being addressed as a man. But I will not stand for being addressed as a woman, and it really irritates me how often that still happens after over two years on testosterone therapy. I’m beginning to think that if I never manage to grow a full beard, I might have to live with this for the rest of my life. There simply aren’t any further modifications to my appearance or mannerisms I’m willing to make to mimic the persona of a gender I don’t even fully identify with to begin with.

I’m realizing that not being able to pass as a cisgender man or woman is probably one of the main reasons some trans people de-transition. Conservatives and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) like to point to detransitioners as supposed proof that transitioning is harmful or ineffective, but it is our cissexist society that makes it impossible for some people who don’t conform to binary notions of gender appearance to fit in.

As much as I dislike my biweekly testosterone injections, I can’t imagine ever going back to having an estrogen-dominant body, but realizing I might never pass as a cis male is one of the many reasons I’m reluctant to have top surgery. My chest was fully covered up most of the times I was misgendered recently, so my breasts aren’t likely what’s causing the problem. Even if I wanted to just say fuck it and go back to wearing the low-cut tops I prefer, since I’ll likely be misgendered regardless, I couldn’t do so without compromising my safety.

Anyway, at least I have new glasses, and have confirmed that my eyes are still reasonably healthy. It will be interesting to see if I get misgendered even more now, with these new frames. Though I’m honestly not really looking forward to finding out.

Teaching children about gender diversity

[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

In the wake of relentless trans-antagonism in the USA, cisgender allies often ask what they can do to help support trans people. While I am childfree by choice, I believe that educating children to not only respect, but actually welcome gender diversity, is key to creating a society that treats people of all gender experiences as equals.

One trans activist who is a parent and writes books for children is S. Bear Bergman (pictured above), who I blogged about recently. His micro-press, Flamingo Rampant, offers “feminist, racially-diverse, LGBTQ-positive books for all children and families.” In response to an ugly threat (which Bear responded to by making it into his Facebook cover photo), the company is offering a flash sale on picture books, through Sunday, April 10.

Another trans activist who writes books for children is Sophie Labelle of the web comic Assigned Male, who I wrote about for International Women’s Day. Sophie has an Etsy shop where she sells coloring books and other materials for children, focusing on “gender identity, trans-related stuff and art!

While I prefer to recommend trans authors for materials on trans issues, one cisgender parent to check out is Marlo Mack of gendermom, mother to a young trans girl. Marlo maintains a blog about raising a transgender child, and has created several videos and a podcast with the help of her daughter.

If readers have other suggestions of trans-inclusive materials for children—preferably created by trans or non-binary authors—please leave a comment below!

“Real” milk, real suffering

[Image: Sarah Tulsi, a cow living at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

One of the benefits of getting all of my television from the Internet is not having to sit through as many commercials. When I do watch conventional television, inevitably I see ads extolling the virtues of eating the flesh, eggs, and milk of my fellow animals. This was especially hard to take when staying at a hotel in Seattle after enjoying three days of all-vegan fare at last month’s Intersectional Justice Conference.

Returning from a breakfast buffet that included the sliced and cooked flesh of cows and pigs, I turned on the TV and saw an ad for “Real milk vs almond milk,” which featured a child in a spelling bee contest attempting to spell the word “lecithin,” an emulsifier used in some commercial almond milks. Another child then easily spelled the word “milk”, which was defined on screen as “milk, n., like, from a cow.”

I suppose it’s good news that the dairy industry is feeling threatened enough by the sales of non-dairy beverages to spend advertising time and money taking them on. But it has always irritated me to hear milk stolen from forcibly-impregnated cows (and goats) described as “real,” while liquid blended and strained from water and nuts, soybeans, or other plants is considered, at best, an “alternative.”

Ziggy and I make soy and nut milks at home with water and soy/nuts only, and when we do buy commercial non-dairy milks, we seek out brands with no additives. Cow’s milk sold in the USA, in contrast, is hardly ever free of additives; by the time it hits store shelves, it has been pasteurized and processed to add vitamins (which we can get directly from plants and sunshine), and may contain traces of growth hormone and antibiotics. Perhaps the child at the “ingredient spelling bee” should have been asked to spell “penicillin.”

I heard “real milk” referred to again when we went to lunch at one of Seattle’s many all-vegan restaurants (Plum Bistro, highly recommended). A customer at a table near ours asked the waitperson if they had “real milk” or “just” soy milk.  It reminded me of a time a friend insisted that “vegan ice cream” made no sense, because cream had to come from a cow. I wish people would refer to animal milk products as “dairy” instead of stigmatizing plant-based foods as somehow illegitimate.

As I wrote in the DxE blog back when I was active with that group, the idea that cow’s milk is a normal and appropriate substance for humans to consume is a Eurocentric notion that ignores the fact that the majority of people on Earth—primarily people of color—cannot digest lactose properly after infancy. Of all animal products, I’m convinced that cow’s milk is the worst for both human and non-human animals (other than the baby cows it is meant for), in terms of health as well as ethics. Dairy farming involves terrible suffering and death, even on organic, “free-range,” and so-called “humane” farms. This is a large part of why I avoid advocating for vegetarianism, “Meatless Mondays,” or anything else that implies that eating “meat” is the primary problem with animal agriculture.

Let’s stop thinking of non-dairy milks as “alternatives” to or “substitutes” for animal milks, and just recognize them as another option in the vegan grocery cart. Plants are as real as real food gets.