Archive for July, 2008

Don’t panic

July 31, 2008

I gather that today is National Orgasm Day, and that it’s some sort of marketing device by Scarlet magazine. Although I don’t consider myself especially prudish, I can’t help thinking that if some people were less obsessed with the secretions of their genitalia and their own self-gratification – and a little more concerned about their attitudes to sex and gender identity and sexual orientation; their relationships with their bodies and their sex partners, and so on – then maybe I wouldn’t find myself writing such a downbeat post on what is presumably being hyped as a day for focusing on the joys of sexual climax.

Two news items have caught my attention lately, and, sadly, I doubt that they’d have become newsworthy were it not for Penis Power™.

First of all, the Larry King case. I originally wrote about this at TFW back in March (link here; archive copy here at BoP). To recap: on 12 February, a teenager (Brandon McInerney) apparently murdered another teenager (Larry King) because he (McInerney) did not approve of King’s apparent sexual orientation and gender presentation. For a teenager to exhibit such homophobic behaviour, let alone manifest it in the form of lethal violence (McInerney shot King in the head from point blank range), is not only disturbing but a sad indictment of a society that tells us that hate crimes are an acceptable way for people to express their phobias about non-heteronormative, gender variant members of society.

The most recent update to this sad state of affairs, reported a few days ago in GayAgenda.com and elsewhere, is as follows:

A Ventura County judge has decided 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, who has been charged with the murder of his gay classmate, will be tried as an adult [and not as a juvenile]. If convicted, this means McInerney may have to face life behind bars.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Douglas Daily passed the ruling down Thursday siting punishment would not be unconstitutional.

Brandon McInerney is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime for the brutal killing of 15-year-old Larry King at their Oxnard school back in Feburary. King was an openly gay student and McInerney shot him point blank, in school. McInerney’s arraignment is set for August 7.

McInerney’s lawyer responded by announcing that he wants to get the case in front of a jury as quickly as possible.

Deputy public defender Willie Quest said he was disappointed by Superior Court Judge Douglas Daily’s finding earlier this week that there was no constitutional violation in Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten’s decision to try Brandon McInerney, 14, as an adult.

“We hope a jury will look at it in a much more reasonable light,” Quest said. “I’m not going to allow a 14-year-old to go to prison for the rest of his life without someone other than the D.A.’s office looking at this.”

So now we wait for the arraignment on 7 August – a week today.

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The second news item concerns the confession to the murder of Angie Zapata, by a man named Allen Ray Andrade. Ms Zapata was a trans* woman living in Colorado, USA, who was found beaten to death in her apartment on 17 July. The website of 9NEWS has quite a detailed report – link here – but the sequence of events seems to be that, having met on a social networking site, the two arranged to meet on 15 July. The report at 9news continues:

Zapata picked Andrade up in Thornton where he lived and the pair returned to Zapata’s Greeley apartment together. Andrade told police Zapata performed a sexual act on him.

The following day, the affidavit explains, Andrade started to look at photos in the apartment and questioned Zapata’s sex. That night, Andrade questioned Zapata directly, according to the affidavit, and Andrade says Zapata responded, “I’m all woman.”

Andrade told police he grabbed Zapata in her genital area and felt a penis. He became angry and hit Zapata with his fist before grabbing a fire extinguisher and hitting her in the head twice, according to the affidavit.

Andrade explained to police that he thought he “killed it,” referring to Zapata but when she made gurgling noises and started to sit up, he hit her with the extinguisher again.

He also admitted to police he stole Zapata’s car and drove away.

On the 17th, Zapata’s sister, Monica Murguia, called police saying she had not heard from Zapata. She also went to her apartment where she found Zapata’s body on the ground covered with a blanket.

Wednesday morning at around 1:45 a.m. Thornton Police responded to a noise complaint at Sierra Vista Apartment Homes in Thornton. There they contacted Andrade and linked him to the stolen car. He was arrested on outstanding warrants.

Maybe I’m just jaded, but even as I was reading the report, I found myself wondering how long before the old and tired ‘trans panic’ defence would be wheeled out. And, sure enough, towards the end of the article, there it is, spelled out nice and neat for us by 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson:

“A prosecutor is going to talk about this being a knowing killing, that the defendant knew what he was doing. The defense is going to argue that it was the heat of passion, that he did it because he, the defendant, was so upset for being duped,” said 9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson.

Robinson believes that while the prosecution will be seeking a conviction for second-degree murder, the defense could seek a lesser offense of heat of passion manslaughter.

…*sigh*…

I have no more words right now.

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©2008 Helen G

Hard-wired 1

July 30, 2008

To add to my earlier post (Hard-wired), I’ve just spotted an interesting article in the New Scientist (link here) which reports on another piece of research which appears to add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that transsexuality may (at least in part) have a biological origin:

A gene variant has been identified that appears to be associated with female-to-male transsexuality – the feeling some women have that they belong to the opposite sex.

While such complex behaviour is likely the result of multiple genes, environmental and cultural factors, the researchers say the discovery suggests that transsexuality does have a genetic component.

It must be noted that there are, I think, genuine concerns that – when a neurological basis for transsexuality is finally confirmed (as I believe it will be, eventually) – this may encourage research to try to find a “cure”. I have to say that the potential for some or all of the very scary concepts of eugenics to re-emerge as a result of such a search is really rather frightening.

As Janett Scott, former president of the Beaumont Society, says in the article: “Nature may have made us the way that we are, but nurture is what gives us a problem”.

However, Clemens Tempfer (of the Medical University of Vienna, who discovered the gene variant) strongly denies any such motive for his research: “That is completely out of the question,” he says.

Nonetheless, he says, if other gene variants with a stronger association to transsexuality are identified, establishing a diagnosis might become easier. This might allow gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy to start earlier in life.

Which is actually not an unreasonable stance, or at least it would appear so. But it’s interesting that he assumes such decisions about the aims and intentions of the research are his to make and enforce, particularly in the medium to long term.

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©2008 Helen G

Computer says…

July 29, 2008

Mike On Ads has a mildly amusing toy which analyses your web browser history to estimate your gender… (Or should that be “construct your gender”?)

Mike says that the idea of this kind of analysis is far from new and he points out that Xerox actually made an application to patent the process.

Of course there are potentially not-so-nice social engineering uses for a script like this – although most webby social engineering trickery pales into insignificance if you believe even a zillionth of the rumours about the amount and type of data collected by a certain well-known search engine. And don’t even start me on the potential information disaster in waiting that is a famous social networking site…

So click over to Mike’s and have a go. Put your results in the comments here and let’s all have a bit of a smile at the foolishness, waste-of-time-ness, predictability and bah-humbug-ishness of it all…

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 87%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 13%

Yeah baby! I’m (nearly) all woman! Rawrrr!

(Via Violet Blue: link probably definitely NSFW)

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(Cross-posted at The F Word on 29 July 2008)

©2008 Helen G

If at first you don’t succeed…?

July 28, 2008

transgender symbolLast month I wrote about the beating of Duanna Johnson and the slowness of Black civil rights organisations to denounce the police brutality against her.

It seems that Ms Johnson has been arrested on suspicion of prostitution once again. She was charged with prostitution before, but the charge was dropped.

The report by Lani Lester in the Memphis Commercial Appeal today is short and the details given are few:

Duanna Johnson, 43, was arrested on the 1200 block of Hollywood Avenue during an undercover operation in the area after flagging down an undercover officer and making arrangements to perform sexual acts for payment. According to the affadavit of complaint, Johnson, who is 6-foot-5, told an officer, “For everything, $30 and a beer.”

The arresting officers found a crack pipe when she was taken into custody.

Like many others, I await with interest the news of the outcome of her appearance in criminal court today.

———-

©2008 Helen G

…one teaspoonful at a time

July 25, 2008

This via Stephanie Stevens at The View From (Ab)Normal Heights:

A Small Change At The BBC

Moving the mountain…

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©2008 Helen G

WPATH Clarification

July 19, 2008

From the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) website:

In response to questions about medical necessity of transgender treatments and sex reassignment surgery, particularly in the U.S.A., where insurance exclusions often prevent access to health care for transgender people, the WPATH Board of Directors has issued a clarification statement which is now available on the Resources page of the WPATH web site.

Here’s a link to a PDF copy of the full statement on the WPATH site

A couple of selected excerpts:

The current Board of Directors of the WPATH herewith expresses its conviction that sex reassignment, properly indicated and performed as provided by the Standards of Care, has proven to be beneficial and effective in the treatment of individuals with transsexualism, gender identity disorder, and/or gender dysphoria.

And:

The medical procedures attendant to sex reassignment are not “cosmetic” or “elective” or for the mere convenience of the patient. These reconstructive procedures are not optional in any meaningful sense, but are understood to be medically necessary for the treatment of the diagnosed condition.

The statement concludes by requesting health insurance carriers and healthcare providers in the US to “eliminate transgender or trans-sex exclusions and to provide coverage for transgender patients

Now, there’s nothing you could even remotely call news about this. That’s why it’s called a clarification, I suppose – but it’s odd that WPATH should think that health insurers should even need reminding.

I can’t help but wonder if it has any bearing on the forthcoming update of the DSM to DSM-V – see previous posts on the controversy surrounding the appointees to the GID review board here, here and here. Oh, and here.

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©2008 Helen G

Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis

July 16, 2008

Kelley Winters, the founder of GID Reform Advocates, has an interesting post over at the GID Reform Weblog about the problems with the Gender Identity Disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). She asks the question:

How are overarching issues of psychiatric stigma and access to medical transition procedures related to specific flaws in the diagnostic criteria [2] and supporting text? The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti said,

If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem. [3]

Kelley adds that, although the list is far from comprehensive, “it is perhaps a starting point for dialogue about how harm reduction of gender nomenclature might be possible in the DSM-V.”

Top Ten Problems with the GID Diagnosis

Solitary sister

July 14, 2008

Donna Rose recently wrote about the animated movie, Wall-E. She points out that one of its themes is loneliness. The following quote from her post sort of leapt off the screen and slapped me. Hard.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that loneliness is the single-most difficult issue that many trans-people face. We often feel it core-deep and although we can fill our lives with other things to keep us busy and keep our minds off the fact that we’re all alone sometimes it can become almost overwhelming. It’s not that we don’t have friends. And, it’s not about sex either. It’s the deeper need for intimacy – for simple things like holding hands, hugging, having a shoulder to cry on – those are things so many of us long for but often our searches are futile.

I have lived a very solitary life for longer than I can remember. But it is only recently that the sense of aloneness (which I was quite comfortable with) seems to have turned into loneliness. I think it may be why I have been so despondent since my falling apart on Saturday. Talking about the personal side of transitioning is like pulling out your own heart and putting it on a silver platter for all to see. And although I have done this plenty of times before with selected friends, it’s an entirely different sensation doing it for a room full of strangers. It makes you acutely aware of just how on your own you really are – and I just wasn’t able to put that much of me out there, in front of so many people. Maybe this is why I have been feeling so emotionally raw, battered and punch-drunk in the aftermath.

———-

Lonely is as lonely does
Lonely is an eyesore

———-

Later edit (tangential): Kate Bornstein has posted quite an imaginative take on the genders of the two robots in Wall-E. She considers it from the point of view of being: “[...] a feature length cartoon about a pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other”.

The gist of her argument is that, if we consider the characters as Butch and Femme instead of male and female, then they can be assigned any gender. So they could be a lesbian couple, or a gay couple: as Kate says: “You’re the audience. You get to decide.”.

Pixar and Disney made a great many anatomical choices when they designed EVE and WALL•E to be as close to human as they can possibly be and still be robots. They didn’t give us one single anatomical clue to the gender of these cute li’l robots, but they knew we’d see WALL•E as boy and EVE as girl.

Kate thinks that this isn’t the first time that Disney has used gender variant characters.

Mu-Lan is a film about a female to male cross-dresser. And what about Pinocchio? An animated block of wood spends an entire movie trying to become a “real” boy – aided by a blue fairy and an asexual cricket. And what gender exactly was Ariel (a non-gender specific name, by the way) when that little mermaid had a fishy tail? Did she go through a gender change when she grew legs which (presumably) had something between them so she could be a “real” girl? And getting down to basics, can anyone prove that Mickey and Minnie Mouse are male and female?

Behind the humorous tone of the piece, there’s quite a thought-provoking deconstruction going on. Okay, so there’s an implied acceptance of Disney’s anthropomorphism of technology – but Coleridge’s phrase suspension of disbelief comes to mind…

A good read

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©2008 Helen G

Notes for the Feminist Activist Forum’s transgender and intersex learning exchange

July 12, 2008

Saturday 12th July 2008

Hello. I’d just like to say thanks to Sophie, debi, Red and the members of FAF, the Feminist Activist Forum for inviting me to the Lambeth Women’s Project today to take part in this transgender and intersex learning exchange.

I’m Helen, and I’m a transsexual woman, or trans woman. I was diagnosed as being transsexual (which is the severe form of gender dysphoria) in 2006, although I first knew that “something wasn’t right” for many years before I actually asked for medical help. After my diagnosis, I began the process of transitioning, which is a way for transsexual people to change ourselves and our lives to match our “real” genders. For me, although I’d been born and raised, and lived most of my life as male, I identified as female. The way I think of it is that my brain was expecting my body to have female sex characteristics. This is called gender dissonance and it was – and is – at the heart of my transsexuality.

I should also add that, despite the name, transsexuality is actually about gender identity, and not sexual orientation. As the saying goes: “Sexual orientation is about who you go to bed with, but gender identity is about who you go to bed as” (and yes, that is an over-simplification, which is why I use it here only as a convenient shorthand).

So, as you might expect, I’ve been through – and am still going through – a lot of changes as I’ve transitioned. I’m happy to talk about pretty much any aspect later during the Q&A, but for the moment I’d like to focus on some of the intersections and overlaps between my transsexuality and feminism.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is in relation to the various privileges that I benefit from. Perhaps I should just explain what I understand by the word ‘privilege’. The best definition I’ve found is by a blogger called Brown Betty, who says: “Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf”.

I believe there’s a distinct connection between privilege and inequality. Privilege is both a cause of, and is caused by, inequality. And when I started to think about gender inequality, I realised that you cannot ignore sexism, either. And suddenly you have two of the fundamental concepts that feminism addresses: inequality, and sexism.

A quick history lesson – because we always need to know where we’ve come from, to be able to figure out where we are, and where we might be headed. Feminism came into being in Britain in the nineteenth century, and initially, it was focused on obtaining equal rights for women in things like marriage, and property, and of course, the right to vote: suffrage. (Via Wikipedia). But those gender inequalities all came about because of sexism, and this is summarised really well by the writer Bell Hooks in her book Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center. She says: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression“. That is such a great definition – and it means as much to me as a trans woman, as it should for any other, non-trans, or cissexual woman. And for anyone who is an ally to feminists, as well, come to that…

So far, so good – but there is one area of feminist ideology that preoccupies me quite a lot, and it’s the tricky problem of gender. It’s one of those words we all use, but is really hard to define. My opinion – and I know that many second-wavers will disagree – is that ‘gender’ is about a sense of being feminine or masculine, or woman or man. I think it’s innate: it’s something we’re born with. Whereas I would say that ‘sex’ describes biological and physical traits – such as internal and external organs, chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, etc.

To me, these are two very distinct but interrelated things, and it seems that the problems only really start to arise when ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are used as interchangeable terms. At the risk of over-simplification, for me ‘sex’ is what’s between a person’s legs and ‘gender’ is what’s between your ears. As I said at the start, the key to understanding my transsexuality was realising that my brain had always expected my body to have female characteristics.

However, nothing’s ever simple, and as soon as we start talking about gender, we also need to remember that, out of that sense of being gendered come ways of behaving, ways that society calls ‘female’ or ‘male’, ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’. These behaviours are generally what is meant when we refer to gender roles, and gender expression.

There is an aspect of gender which always provokes discussion, and, like it or not, we cannot ignore it: it’s that well-used feminist slogan, “gender is socially constructed”. And it’s one of the big problems I have in trying to synthesise a working trans-feminism. Hard-line social constructivists – and there are a few of them about! – will tell me that gender is merely a societal response to physical sexual differences. They tell me that I should be ‘fluid’ about gender and maybe even invent a hybrid ‘third gender’. Yes indeed, these cultural feminists tell me many things about how I should live my life and stay out of theirs… But I would counter their constructivism with what I realise is also a sort of essentialism; namely that there is this invisible thing inside each of us called “gender”.

I’m not saying that there is no constructivism around gender. I am saying that because something is a construct doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Money, laws, politics – they’re all constructs – but they seem pretty real to me… The way I cross my legs when I sit down, or that I like to wear a little makeup, or the way that I apologise for things that aren’t my fault – they’re constructed, too. I’ve probably learned these things in a subconscious way, and I don’t think they have much to do with my vagina or oestrogen levels.

Some feminists accuse trans women of conforming to gender sterotypes, of reinforcing the gender binary and generally behaving as willing dupes of the patriarchy. And, in turn, I wonder why it’s considered progressive to have such fixed ideas of what “man” and “woman” mean. I wonder what, exactly, those critics themselves are doing to dismantle gender. Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, in her book Crossing: A Memoir, gives a simple and heartfelt response as to why some trans women learn stereotypical feminine gestures: “It’s to keep from getting murdered, dear”.

I don’t think these things which certain feminists criticise me for doing make me a bad feminist. In my opinion, feminism is about the worth and value of every human being – or should be. Which leads us to another related source of confusion. Transsexuality is not an ideology – it’s a lived experience of a condition which has been known, by many names, for almost as long as there have been people and societies. First and foremost it’s personal, not political. But because many people simply don’t understand transsexuality, they will react first, think later (if at all). So we become a target for bigotry, hatred, abuse, harassment and violence. It’s all driven by that fear of the unknown, that irrational idea that trans* people are somehow a threat to the world and her sister. Mad, bad and dangerous to know? Er, no – I don’t think so. I’m just a very ordinary middle-aged woman who is trying to come to terms with some very big changes in her life. But if transitioning teaches us anything, it teaches us that we must learn to survive – often through adopting gender roles and expressions which are associated with our gender identities – and in the process we become politicised, even if we don’t realise it.

Developing that survival mechanism has informed my feminism to a very great extent. Trans and non-trans women alike, we all suffer oppression and inequality as a direct result of living in a society which arbitrarily puts the interests of these people ahead of those people with no justification other than maintaining a system which long ago outlived any usefulness it may arguably once have had.

But, whatever a gender-free society might look like, I believe that, had I been born with a male body, I would still have transitioned and undergone surgery (SRS). I do feel quite strongly about this, although I can’t give you any cold, hard logic for it, let alone empirical proof. But even though the research so far has been very sketchy, there do seem to be indications that some aspects of gender are ‘hard-wired’ into us, possibly when we are still in the womb, as a result of fluctuations in hormone levels. So maybe it will come to pass that this essentialist philosophy – that there is this invisible thing inside each of us called “gender” – will be proved to have a basis in fact after all.

But back in the here and now, not only am I finding it very hard to come up with a feminism that sits comfortably with being transsexual, but I’m also starting to wonder if such a symbiosis is even possible. A trans woman who identifies as a feminist seems to set herself up as a target for so many people. Men will not accept me as a man – not that I want them to – and more than a few feminists will tell me that, no matter what I do or say, I will always be a man. Ironically, that leaves me in a really good position to create that mythical ‘third gender’ – but there are two problems with that. First, by the way Thomas Beatie – ‘the pregnant man’ – was attacked by so many people, we know that redefining the gender binary is something you have to feel really strongly about. And I don’t have that strong belief: I’m a woman, and quite comfortable being a woman, thank you. Secondly, being told that I should find a hybrid gender for myself smacks of Othering – and I get more than enough of that in my everyday existence, thank you, without going out actively looking for it.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I’m really glad to be here today – and I’m even more glad that you’re all here today. I’m looking forward to a fruitful and constructive workshop, and I’m confident that it’ll be an enjoyable way for us all to learn something new about each other’s views and beliefs.

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Later update: Well, that was a waste of time, wasn’t it? – All those notes for that big-deal talk I was planning at the FAF workshop on Saturday and in the event, I was too busy falling apart to even use them…

Let me backtrack a little. I arrived at the Lambeth Women’s Project building in good time and met up with Red and Sophie… Helped out a little answering the door, sticking posters up, etc, and the event finally got under way about half-an-hour late, with an audience of maybe 40 or 50, with four of us on the first panel, plus Sophie to keep it all running.

Col, a really nice trans man, started things off by showing a short film called “The Jar” that he’d made about 20 years ago, very early in his transition. It referred to his father, who collected butterflies, and the sequence showed the process from capture, to killing, to pinning and mounting; ending up with the ‘specimen’ in a glass tray being put into a chest of drawers in what looked like a warehouse.

I’m a bit of a butterfly fan anyway – partly because I have one or two good associations. Also, I suppose it’s quite an obvious metaphor for transitioning/surgery, but whatever, I found the whole thing powerfully disturbing…

Col followed this with a short talk on what it meant to him, especially in terms of his transitioning and then the other two (Phoebe and Debbie) gave similar accounts of their histories.

I suppose I should have considered beforehand that it would be about the more personal side but I didn’t. I’d stupidly assumed we’d be talking about how being transsexual affected one’s view of feminism. But with the three other people having talked about their personal histories, I felt that I probably should do the same.

And I was really rubbish. I hadn’t imagined it would be that difficult to talk about it, but for some reason it was… I got quite upset and had to sit down after a very few minutes because I just couldn’t go on for crying. (I’m tearing up again now and I’m writing this two days later).

…*sigh*…

I don’t know what was – is – the matter with me. The others managed fine and I was just a total emotional trainwreck. Very embarrassing and I’m still beating myself up about it now…

Anyway, the long and the short of it was that I left before the afternoon session started: I just came home, lay down on the bed and cried myself to sleep. I felt such a fool. I woke maybe early evening, and that was about it for the weekend, really.

Am I really so broken, inside? That I can’t talk about something so central to my life as transitioning is? But I can talk around the politics of it from dawn til dusk? What’s that about, then?

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 ©2008 Helen G, except the photo (which appears by kind permission of Red Chidgey) and the logo (which was stolen shamelessly from the Feminist Activist Forum website)

Who are you calling obsessed?

July 11, 2008

My recent post, Love is stronger than Pride, about Roz Kaveney’s disgraceful treatment by stewards and the police when she tried to enter the public toilets in Trafalgar Square during the Pride march last weekend, drew an interesting comment from Winter, who said:

I think some analysis should be done on what this obsession with toilets says about society.

At an event like Pride with so many genderqueer people in attendance, unisex toilets do seem the sensible way to go because it’s a situation in which the binary gender system (of which gender segregated toilets are a part) has already broken down.

That is actually a very interesting point, and I wonder if we can draw any conclusions about the attitudes of society in general.

But first let me get the obvious bad joke out of the way: if trans* women were more anally-retentive, then maybe they wouldn’t need to use public toilets and all this unpleasantness could be avoided…

Badum-TISH

Yes yes. Very amusing, Helen. Now will you get on with it, please?

Okay. The first thing is – even though it was only a bad joke – there is a subtext there, and perhaps it was a contributory factor in the Pride incident: If trans* women had stayed out of the public toilets, then there would have been no problem. It only became problematic when trans* women tried to go into them.

In other words, the trans* women’s needs were secondary, unimportant and not worth even considering – or so it was decided by those who were policing the toilets (no pun intended).

But it goes further, because it’s not trans* women who have a problem in using appropriate (ie women’s) public toilets: it’s other people who have a problem with trans* women using women’s public toilets. In Roz’ case it was the contracted steward(s) and the police’s so-called LGBT liaison officer. I don’t know the identities of those two or three people, so I’ll have to leave aside the question of whether male sexism played a part or whether it was even-handed (gender-neutral? ;) ) across-the-board discrimination originating from a combination of men and women.

So it was other people (the steward(s) and the police officer) who believed that trans* women shouldn’t go into a public toilet designated for use by women. Why would they think that? Presumably, it’s because they didn’t consider trans* women to be women. (Real women, that is, I’m muttering sarcastically under my breath).

I’m seeing Othering, discrimination, harassment, bigotry and transphobia – in addition to a complete lack of awareness of gender diversity, not to mention insensitivity and sheer bloody ignorance. And that’s even without irresponsible wielding of powers invested in them as part of their employment at Pride.

There do seem to be some almost mediaeval attitudes to men, or – crucially – people who are perceived as men – entering a women’s toilet. For example, in June, I wrote about an incident which has some parallels with Roz’ experience. Tanya White, a natal woman whose gender presentation was very masculine (she admitted this herself in interviews at the time) was told by hotel security staff to leave a women’s restroom, despite providing official documentation “proving she was a woman”.

And there, for me, was the problem: After “proving she was a woman”, she should have been left alone. Should she have been questioned by the guards in the first place? That’s tricky. She presented in a masculine way and went into a women’s toilet. Had I been in a women’s toilet and someone who appeared to be male walked in, I might be a little curious – but I think I’d have been more disturbed by three male security guards crashing in through the door, apparently in hot pursuit.

Both these incidents seem to suggest that society believes that men, or people who are perceived as men, who enter a women’s toilet are sexual predators. Even though in Roz’ case she transitioned many years ago – and in the Tanya White case, the men who entered the women’s toilet were security guards. And I wonder – how many women are sexually attacked by random strangers when they’re in a public toilet? Particularly in Trafalgar Square in the middle of a gathering of thousands of people, supposedly to celebrate gender variance…

As Winter remarks, ‘the binary gender system (of which gender segregated toilets are a part) has already broken down’- yet the whole girls-play-with-dolls/boys-play-with-guns stereotyping seems to be ingrained in people at a very deep level. We know that the brainwashing begins from the moment the midwife announces “It’s a boy (girl)” – but is it really so deep that the majority of people are completely and utterly oblivious to it? To the extent that they will make a snap judgement about another person’s entitlement (*waves at the privilege debate queuing up outside*) – and even be prepared to defend that indefensible decision with violence? Is/was passing (or not passing) a factor? – and who decides who passes anyway? (Those with the privilege of wielding power, of course). And why this preoccupation with the default configuration of our genitalia anyway? I mean, what next? – can we expect panty-checks at next year’s Pride? I mean – *wrinkles nose in distaste* – it all starts to get a bit essentialist, don’t you think?

There are so many mixed messages it’s hard to unpick them all and come up with a single coherent conclusion. There appears to be absolutely no logic, or rational thought and/or arguments in favour of excluding trans women from women’s public toilets.

I’m beginning to believe it’s all down to that primal fear called transphobia. There is clearly a complete lack of knowledge across a huge swathe of society that trans women are just that: women. Honestly; if you have a deep and enduring sense of being gendered female but, as a result of an accident of birth, you find yourself unfortunately in possession of male genitalia, it does not mean that you are a sick pervert who wants to sexually harass women in public toilets. (And this applies irrespective of whether or not you’ve had “The Surgery”).

Trust me on that one – this trans woman has only ever used women’s public toilets because she needs to pee.

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©2008 Helen G

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