Tag Archives: trans

Cissexism and community standards

(Disclaimer/reminder: I am registered with no political party and endorse no presidential candidates at this time. Please do not shill for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton here, thanks.)

I’ve been listening to the words of Donald Trump a lot more carefully since he’s become the presumptive Republican nominee. Like it or not, he may well become our next president, and I will have to live with that somehow. As much as I fantasize about moving to another country—for a variety of reasons, not just the threat of a Trump administration—realistically, I know that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So I want to prepare myself.

I’ve also been watching CBSN a lot, not because I prefer that network, but because they have free 24/7 live streaming that I can watch on my TV via Roku. (We don’t have an antenna, cable, or satellite.) So I’ve noticed that Trump has hired some women to be spokepeople for him, no doubt in response to the (very legitimate) charges of sexism against him.

In this interview, spokesperson Katrina Pierson explained Trump’s response to the bathroom battles, saying that the decision should be left to the states. That much didn’t surprise me. What disturbed me was her explanation that “the federal government’s hands should be tied” because “this is a republic, not a democracy.” (Also disturbing, but not surprising, was her assumption that we were too small a constituency to matter, because in some places, “there may not even be a transgender in that area.”)

It’s been a long time since I studied history in high school and college, but I was under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that civil rights were an issue of national concern. Pierson seems to think civil rights aren’t at issue here because Title IX does not define what gender is. I could write (and have written) many essays on the subject of gender, but that would be missing the point. The point is that these restroom restrictions are being enacted by bigoted, transphobic people whose concerns about the safety of (cisgender) women and children in public facilities have no basis in reality.

I didn’t feel comfortable living in a country where one’s marital status could be invalidated by crossing state lines. The Supreme Court ultimately handled that in Loving v Virginia in 1967 for interracial couples, and in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 for same-sex couples. Perhaps the right of trans people to use facilities in accordance with our gender identities will go to the Supreme Court as well. But however that court fight turns out, I am still bothered living in a country where so many people seem to think “community standards” should trump (no pun intended) basic human rights.

Here’s a sample of what community standards look like: A public comment session at a Board of Education meeting in North Georgia where attendees used their Christian faith as an excuse to hurl vile insults at trans people. “Gays and transgenders are genetically wired to have sex with children,” said one parent. “We need to stand on God’s truth in this perverse situation,” said a pastor. “I drive a Ford pickup. If I take the bumper off of it and I take the hood off of it and I put a Chevrolet bumper and Chevrolet hood on it, is it a Chevrolet? No it is not,” said another attendee. Fortunately, some others (cis and trans) in attendance stood up for trans people, but the transphobic remarks were cheered.

This is not just about Georgia, or North Carolina, or Texas, or any of the other states that are loudly and publicly trying to deny the rights of trans people to live in dignity. But the idea that a trans person’s—or any person’s—civil rights should be dependent on something as arbitrary as the soil they are standing upon runs counter to everything I believe in. I am ashamed to live in a country where people use religion and politics to enforce bigotry. (Note: Do not write “Not All Christians” in response to this post.)

With visibility comes violence, and the entire country is waking up to the fact that trans and non-binary people exist. We have always existed, and many cis people have had interactions with trans people without even knowing it. Cis-passing trans people have been quietly using public restrooms in accordance with their identities all along, and most will continue doing so, regardless of the local laws. But now we are all in increased danger, as self-appointed police spy on us and spread hateful lies on the Internet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, allies can help by sharing the words of trans and non-binary people who are affected by these issues. The Transgender Law Center is a good place to start, as they are an organization created by and for trans people, and are up to date with the latest legal developments in this country. The TransAdvocate is another trans-run organization, and a good alternative to mainstream media. Please help make this a country where everyone is treated with dignity, fairness, and equality, regardless of gender identity.

On bathroom battles and allyship

Since my previous post on the potty wars, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has officially weighed in on the transphobic North Carolina Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2. She announced a federal civil rights lawsuit to declare the restroom restrictions are “impermissibly discriminatory,” and specifically addressed the transgender community, saying “we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

In further news, today the federal Justice and Education departments are sending out a letter to all public school districts, declaring that trans students must be allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identities. The letter states, “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

These are definitely positive developments. I particularly appreciated Loretta Lynch speaking directly to trans people, and acknowledging that we are moving “haltingly” toward inclusiveness for all people. Her speech was needed and on point.

Here’s the thing though: I have seen a disproportionate amount of praise for allies like Lynch—and I do consider her speech a true act of allyship—compared to the trans people who are actually impacted by this legislation. I even saw one headline refer to her speech as the trans movement’s “Rosa Parks” moment.

Sorry, no. A “Rosa Parks” moment would be a trans woman who does not “pass” as cisgender defiantly using a women’s restroom in North Carolina, against the direct orders of a security guard or police officer. Loretta Lynch is extremely unlikely to be “gender-checked” in a women’s restroom, in any state. As a North Carolina native herself, she may be very upset over her state’s legislation, but she is not personally facing violence from its enforcement.

Allies shouldn’t be held up as heroes, or expect undue praise for their efforts. Ally is a verb. Cis people should perform acts of allyship with trans people simply because that’s the right thing to do. Trans people—and trans women in particular, as they are the primary targets of transphobic legislation—are the ones whose voices need to be heard most in this ridiculous battle over our private parts.

A news clip I saw on CBS about the North Carolina bill was typical in its exclusion of trans voices. Dominated by cis people on both sides of the debate, one trans woman got a 10-second sound bite, where she was introduced as being “born a man.” (Fortunately, the accompanying text story mostly corrected this to say “trans-woman.”) Mainstream news coverage, like the rest of society, is cissexist, and it will take much more public exposure to trans people from all walks of life to make serious progress on gender equality.

Help defeat cissexist and transphobic legislation by elevating trans voices. We all just need to pee.

Dismantle rape culture, not transgender rights

[Image: A sign with multiple gender symbols and the words “Inclusive restroom.”]

Content warning: Rape and childhood sexual abuse.

I’ve been quiet for a few days because I’ve come down with yet another cold. I’ve been sick so often lately that I’m worried about my immunity, and wondering if my physical as well as mental health is being affected by all the transphobia in the news lately. This is news that I can’t ignore, as it affects me personally whenever I leave my apartment.

I’ve been collecting links on the bathroom battles, and this latest incident made me angry enough to break my posting silence. In short, a cis woman using a restroom at Target was spied on by a self-appointed restroom policewoman who was concerned about “men and homosexuals” being in there, and was “making sure you were a woman.”

If this sounds scary for a cis person, imagine how a trans person would feel in that situation. I might be less likely to be subject to such treatment when using a men’s room, but it is still a terrifying thought every time I use a stall.  I hunch over and get my business done as quickly as possible, being careful not to make eye contact with anyone on my way in or out. The transphobic wave of hate and fear-mongering has now made me feel even more like a furtive criminal rather than someone just trying to take care of basic bodily functions.

Some insist that they aren’t against “real transgenders” using the restrooms appropriate to their identities; they are just trying to prevent (cis) men from pretending to be women in order to gain access to these spaces. It’s been pointed out in many other articles (which I don’t have the energy to search for and link to right now) how unlikely this is, how a sign on the door won’t keep predators out, and how most victims of sexual assault know their attackers. And yet, the fear-mongering continues.

What these bathroom police can’t or won’t understand is that sexual assault thrives not because of gender-inclusive spaces, but because of rape culture. As this essay on Medium points out, the possibility of a woman being attacked by a “man in a dress” in a restroom is just about the only time women are not being blamed for their own rape. Everywhere else, it’s their fault for dressing too seductively, or being out too late, or they’re shamed for ruining the reputation of their rapist.

While I’m not a woman, I lived as a girl/woman for 43 years before my transition. And like many girls, I was the victim of sexual assault by someone I knew; a member of my extended family. My attacker wasn’t a trans woman or a man in a dress, and he didn’t assault me in a public place. He was a cisgender man, upper middle class, conservatively dressed, and respected in the community. I was sexually abused in his own home, for years, nearly every time I visited without my parents.

As I wrote in my blog about this abuse, the repercussions of how my revelation was handled ultimately resulted in me distancing myself from my entire birth family, likely permanently. This has made days like today, Mother’s Day, a particularly painful time to be on social media. Regardless, my point is that my experience is much more typical than the hypothetical man lying in wait to jump on a woman or girl in a public restroom.

If you really want to stop men from raping women and girls, do it by teaching them not to rape, not by punishing trans people for using public facilities. Listen to victims (and survivors); take them seriously, don’t automatically take the side of the abuser or preach about forgiveness. Stop blaming trans women for what cis men are getting away with in your own homes, unchecked and unchallenged, year after year after year.

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, funcrunch.org, 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.

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!

Freedom to discriminate in Mississippi

Add Mississippi to the list of states making it clear that people like me do not deserve equal rights. The governor has signed into law a “religious freedom” bill, protecting the right to discriminate against people in same-sex marriages, transgender people, and people who engage in “extramarital” sex. As someone who falls under all three categories, I am triply sure I will not be visiting that state anytime soon.

As the linked article points out, LGBTQIA+ people are already discriminated against in Mississippi—as well as many other states—in employment, housing, and other accommodations. Anyone who thought that legalizing same-sex marriage was the greatest victory of our time needs to wake up to the harsh realities faced by any non-hetero person who is not also cisgender, white, able-bodied, and financially secure. This conservative backlash in state after state is just going to keep coming, as long as people with cishetero privilege remain silent while our personhood is gradually eroded.

Whether or not you live in one of the affected states, you can help stop this cancerous spread of hate and fear by speaking out. Don’t wait until the entire country officially declares open season on queer folks, especially queer folks of color. You might think I am exaggerating for effect, but I assure you I am not. The lives of millions of people are under threat, for no reason other than our distance from the inner “charmed circle” of straight cisgender monogamous whiteness. Don’t allow this situation to continue.

Trans visibility in San Francisco (and beyond)

[Image: Event emcees Lexi Adsit, Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, Shawn Demmons, and Nya (from Transcendent) stand on a stage in front of a screen reading (in part) “Trans Day of Visibility – Embracing Our Legacy. #TDOV”]

Last night I attended a San Francisco event celebrating the Trans Day of Visibility. Unlike the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors lives lost to trans-antagonistic violence, the TDoV—an annual, international event since 2009—highlights the vibrance and vitality of the transgender community.

The Singing Bois at TDoV[Image: The Singing Bois – three singing into microphones, one playing guitar – perform on stage.]

Breanna Sinclairé at TDoV[Image: Opera singer Breanna Sinclairé – the first trans woman to sing the national anthem at a pro sporting event –  sings into a microphone on stage.]

Our Lady J at TDoV[Image: Our Lady J (the first openly transgender writer for Transparent) sings into a microphone while playing keyboards.]

This event featured video presentations, comedy, and musical performances. Awardees for 2016 were the Fresh Meat Festival, Ms. Billie Cooper, St. James Infirmary Clinic, Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez for the documentary film MAJOR!, and—to her surprise and delight—HIV/AIDS awareness activist Tita Aida.

Tita Aida at TDoV[Image: Tita Aida speaks into a microphone while holding a trophy on stage. Others on stage are smiling in the background.]

As uplifting as events like this can be for the trans community, violence is the flip side of visibility. The non-binary performance art duo Darkmatter had some sobering words to say about TDoV on Facebook; in part:

On this day of trans visibility so many of us are left uneasy and conflicted. Yes, of course, visibility has been helpful and transformative. But visibility is not the same thing as justice. What has become increasingly evident is that the system is, in fact, much more willing to give trans people visibility than it is to give us compensation, resources, safety.

Telling our own stories is part of how we can dismantle the cisnormative framing of gender, and counter the ignorance, hatred, and fear that lead to discrimination and violence.

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