Exclusionary tales

April 4, 2009

Three separate news reports on three separate subjects with one common theme: the exclusion of trans people.

Akasha Harding“This is not who I am”

Southern Voice of Atlanta carries a distressing and disturbing article (link here) about Akasha Harding’s experience at the city’s Metro Atlanta Task Force for the
Homeless shelter (also known as the Task Force, or Peachtree-Pine). It’s the only known shelter in Atlanta that will accept trans clients, but at the same time it expects them to present as male in order to comply with city ordinances.

Ms Harding said when she checked into the shelter some eight weeks ago, she was told to hide her gender identity. In order to be able to stay at the Task Force, she must “present as male” according to the shelter’s policy.

“They told me as long as I covered up there would be no problem. Then other people who have homophobia or whatever problems – people who worked here [as resident volunteers] – said I couldn’t do this,” she said. “I was threatened to be put out if I continued to dress the way I wanted – like me, who I feel that I am.”

“They told me it’s in the policy this is a men’s shelter and I have to dress like a man. So I downplayed what I had on, but still wore my hair and makeup … now that I am a resident volunteer I can’t do it at all. I’m very uncomfortable. I don’t like this. This is not me, this is not who I am.” [...] “I just hate I have to change it now to make someone else happy,” she said. “If they make a transgender policy I would follow it, to allow us to be comfortable as long as it’s not any way threatening the security of others.”

Cole Thaler, transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal, believes that “People are confusing sex and gender expression” and has suggested changing the policy. Anita Beaty, executive director of the Task Force, said Thaler’s recommendation is “excellent” and added:

“We’re working on it,” she said of perhaps making the policy official. “The real issue is separating behavior and dress from gender choice.” [...] “We’ve always included trans clients,” she added, “and we try hard not to be oppressive.”

Lest we forget: since 2000, Atlanta has operated a policy of prohibiting “discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, domestic relationship status, parental status, familial status, sexual orientation, national origin, gender identity, age, or disability.” Unless, of course, you happen to be a homeless trans person.

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BCBS logoMichigan health insurance company withdraws coverage for surgery for trans people

Via the Michigan Messenger (links here and here), it seems that the Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance company has received permission from state regulators to change insurance policies it offers, and the withdrawal of coverage for surgery for trans people was one of those approved changes.

According to Helen Stojic, a spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan:

“We took a look at our product line and what other insurers were covering in other markets. [...] Most don’t cover this type of surgery. So we aligned our products.”

Ms Stojic added that BCBS – which is mandated by state law to offer coverage to those other insurers will not cover – reduced the cap for maternity coverage in the new alignment as well. The changes impact only single payer plans. The company posted a $133 million loss in the single payer plans last year, but hasn’t said how much of that was a result of trans people undergoing surgery.

The move has been condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Social Workers and Transgender Michigan.

“We certainly understand that people who are particularly interested in [trans health matters] may not be happy with [coverage elimination],” Ms Stojic said. “We have to compete in the market.”

Clearly, BCBS has forgotten that:

Gender reassignment surgery is often used to treat gender dysphoria, the medical diagnosis given to transgender persons. The surgery is considered medically necessary by advocates and the American Medical Association (direct link to PDF).

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Feminism loves you? Yehrite...Trans inclusion at the University of Victoria

An interesting twist on a tired old story in The Martlet, “the University of Victoria’s independent newspaper” (link here).

The question of the exclusion of trans people from so-called women-only spaces has a long and dishonourable history, particularly with regard to trans women. So, on the one hand, it’s encouraging to learn of a Women’s Centre which operates as a space for “all self-identified women” and as a result, includes trans women by default. On the other hand, it excludes trans men, and this is currently a subject of some debate.

Sinead Charbonneau, communications and outreach co-ordinator at the UVic Students’ Society Women’s Centre says:

“To speak about trans inclusion, we must also foreground anti-racism, anti-colonialism and many other frameworks. [...] The coming together of all of these subjectivities can be ominous and seemingly insurmountable, but it’s not impossible.”

Although Ms Charbonneau feels that a move toward a trans-inclusive space would be a positive change for, she emphasises the importance of trans-inclusion not marginalizing the experiences of the women who use the space.

“The Women’s Centre, as a space for all self-identified women – which includes trans-women – appears to many as a site of female essentialism. Faced with this criticism [that the center should be more inclusive], I revisit the initial reasons women-only spaces were established and … thus the political, social and cultural role of women-only space remains relevant.”

There has been much discussion on campus since one of the Centre’s board reps, Mik Turje, stopped identifying as a woman and resigned. Mr Turje’s transition was not kept secret from the Centre, but he said it reached a point where he no longer felt welcome in the space.

“Being forced into the category of ‘woman’ has been a contentious issue for me for so long,” Turje said. “Why should I have to pretend to be something I’m not, just so I can do the kind of advocacy work I want to do?”

Some campus members have discussed creating a trans advocacy group, but a counter-argument holds that creating a separate space for trans people would only create further divisions.

“It’s problematic to talk about a trans-advocacy group, as opposed to the Women’s Centre, because we’re still locking ourselves into gender barriers,” Turje said. “The problem, as I see it, is not so much women being oppressed, as gender oppressing all of us. We need a centre that questions categories. We need to stop splitting each other into smaller and smaller pieces.”

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(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

9 Responses to “Exclusionary tales”


  1. [...] (Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox) [...]

  2. queenemily Says:

    You know, call me horrible but the last one? It’s a *women’s* centre. Why do trans men need to be a part of it? Is it about exclusion, or trans melancholia? Oh damn, I’m not part of this group I used to feel valued in accepted in. That sucks, but I do question what’s going on there.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s compelling reasons for trans men to be allowed to choose to be in women’s shelters, prisons etc (eg the threat of violence and rape), but I don’t see one here. It seems to me that having trans men in a self-defined women’s space disrespects their identity–unless you do in fact change it to being a broader gender centre. Which, ok, I can dig.

    But I’m curious about the way it’s being framed. Inclusion is the question here, not re-definition, and it’s pretty wtf that the trans man in question reckons that “trans inclusion” is at stake here, when trans women are *already* included.

  3. msruthmoss Says:

    I have to admit, I did also think the same thing as Queen Emily:

    I’m not sure how I feel about “women only spaces” but at the end of the day, if such things exist, why should trans men be included? In a weird way isn’t that kind of misgendering trans men? If you know what I mean?

    I guess trans men face some of the same health issues as cis women… but other than that?

    But the first two stories – depressing and heartbreaking.

  4. Helen G Says:

    Bingo!

    Teh Mighty Cis Wyymmyynz: You can’t come in here, you weren’t FAAB.
    Teh Tryynz Wyymmyynz: Oh, okay, we’ll go and have our party somewhere else.
    Teh Powerful Cis Wyymmyynz: No no, come back, you can come in after all, we’ve decided.
    Teh Tryynz Wyymmyynz: No, it’s fine, really, but thanks anyway. We’ve got this pretty cool space of our own now.
    Teh Troo Cis Wyymmyynz: Oh poo. *sulk*
    Teh Tryynz Myyynnnzzz: Can we come in?
    Teh All-knowing Cis Wyymmyynz: No you can’t because you were FAAB.
    Teh Tryynz Myyynnnzzz: Oh poo. *sulk*
    Teh Omniscient Cis Wyymmyynz: Errr… Umm…
    Teh Straight-faced Tryynz Wyymmyynz: We’re not giggling, honest we’re not.

  5. queenemily Says:

    Heh.

    Yeah, I mean I do question the efficacy of women’s spaces generally. For one, they aren’t really safe, two they’re not really safe for trans women even with an official policy (what the administrators think and what the woman in the bathroom yelling at you says may be two very different things), and three they can actually obscure the real conditions of violence and inequity amongst women.

    I tend to feel more comfortable in queer spaces, but even then…

  6. Helen G Says:

    Setting aside my flippancy for a moment, I do wonder why it’s even an issue. The Centre states that it’s for “all self-identified women” – a term which I am starting to warm to, as it seems by definition to include trans and cis women, and in the process apparently bridging the trans/cis women divide, at least in this context – so I’m a little puzzled as to why someone who says he no longer identifies as a woman would even be interested in going there.

    And QE, yeah, I hear you wrt queer spaces…

    Gender politics – cuh!

  7. msruthmoss Says:

    I’m a little puzzled as to why someone who says he no longer identifies as a woman would even be interested in going there.

    I think that’s the bit I don’t get either.

  8. voz Says:

    It’s all about cis women fetishizing trans men as “men lite” or some such crap, and trans men who can’t cut the apron strings to leave.

    It’s about trans men bein momma’s boys, and taking advantage of women to give them an extra push in a life of male (but not cis) privilege, and exploiting transmisogyny to do so.

    But u all knew this already. I kno most of my trans women friends have lived bein on the wrong end of it.

    I was disappointed to see that “exclusion” given equal weight to homeless trans women being denied shelter. Somehow a trans man’s desire to be the rooster in the henhouse does not strike me as bein on the same level as that.


  9. [...] Exclusionary tales Three separate news reports on three separate subjects with one common theme: the exclusion of trans people. (tags: trans world)   Comments (0) [...]


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