Archive for the 'Privilege' Category

Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[...] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.

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Procter & Gamble bars trans discrimination

May 4, 2009

Procter & Gamble logoVia the Washington Blade:

Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products maker, has amended its anti-discrimination policy to include gender identity and expression.

The policy was recently amended to read: “We at P&G recognize the power that comes from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences coming together around a common goal. Our policy forbids any discrimination, harassment or intimidation because of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability or other non-job-related personal characteristic. Employees are encouraged to bring questions or concerns in this area to their management. Strict disciplinary action for violations of this policy will be taken, including termination of employment.

Although I wonder why it’s taken the company so long to make this addition – and why now? – the underlying issue is that there should be a need for trans specific policies.

In a perfect world, trans people wouldn’t need this sort of ‘positive discrimination’ because we wouldn’t be discriminated against in the first place. And, of course, to benefit from the protections so enshrined in (yet not always enforced by) such policies, we need to ‘out’ ourselves as being trans – and, undoubtedly, be able to ‘prove it’ to the employers too. In turn, that burden of proof will undoubtedly be a requirement for verifiable medical documentation, which presumes that all trans people are undergoing medically sanctioned transitions.

But this is not a perfect world and trans people are routinely discriminated against, marginalised and excluded from countless aspects of this overwhelmingly cis people’s society. Until cis people accept us for the human beings we are, without feeling the need to tokenise, exoticise and objectify us, then such policies will continue to be needed.

Not that such policies will even guarantee our protection, but given the huge difficulties that many trans people face in simply obtaining employment, let alone keeping it, then these few crumbs are all the (cold) comfort that many of us have.

So, while I am heartened to see some employers at least acknowledging our existence, the fact that we are still positioned as some kind of endangered species in need of paternalistic levels of care and concern, only underlines that it is cis society’s attitudes that need to evolve.

We are not this week’s little problem to be solved by bleeding heart cis liberals in the HR department – the problem is that, by othering us in this way, cis society yet again absolves itself from doing the work necessary to develop a mindset which is truly inclusive, accepting and non-discriminatory. These policies are only needed because cis people’s ignorance, bigotry and hostility make these limited protections necessary.

Trans people are not the problem: cis people are.

Qatar: TS/TG people – human beings or behavioural deviants?

April 27, 2009

Qatari flagCompared with certain other Arab states – Saudi Arabia, for example – Qatar might appear to have relatively liberal laws, even though it’s still not as liberal as some other Persian Gulf countries. However, since the mid-1990s, Qatar has been undergoing a period of liberalisation and modernisation which brought many positive changes. For example, Qatar became the first Arab country of the Persian Gulf to extend suffrage to women. Nevertheless, the country still lags behind the UAE or Bahrain in terms of more westernised laws and though plans are being made for more development, the government is cautious. (Via Wikipedia)

Regrettably, with regard to TS/TG people, in some areas this caution seems to manifest itself in a rather old-fashioned but nonetheless toxic form of transphobia, as can been seen from a recent report in the Gulf Times (link here):

[...] Dr Saif al-Hajari, the deputy chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, described the emerging trend of “manly women” and “womanly men” as a “foreign trend” which, he said, had invaded the Qatari and Gulf communities as part of the “globalisation winds”.

Interestingly, the terms ‘manly women’ and ‘womanly men’ could have come straight from the pages of a reparative therapist’s manual and they are almost common currency amongst those transphobic cis women radical feminists who, believing that gender is absolutely a social construct, insist that trans people can only be deluded dupes and pawns of the patriarchy for undergoing medical transition when all we really need is a good talking-to, and perhaps a nice cup of tea.

And, at the same time as Dr Saif al-Hajari talks of the ‘globalisation winds’ that have ‘invaded’ the country, the Qatar Foundation’s own website (link here) makes much of its mission to prepare the people of Qatar and the region to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.

There’s more than a hint of small-c conservatism about Dr Saif al-Hajari’s words, which seem curiously at odds with the wider trend towards a more liberalised society. And the rest of his comments don’t inspire confidence that he thinks TS/TG people should be treated fairly and with respect:

“This is an issue which can harm all our social and religious values.”

I would suggest that a society whose social and religious values can be threatened – in an unspecified way – by a tiny minority of people who self-identify in a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, is a society which has far deeper fissures in its foundations than anything that could be caused by the existence of TS/TG people.

“It needs some sort of bravery to address it.”

Oh please, Doctor: just listen to yourself. Perhaps if you did some work on the subject, you would realise that the real bravery is exhibited by those TS/TG people who live in another gender role, in a country where kneejerk transphobic reactions – like yours – are not only tolerated, but given airtime on national television.

“I have never imagined that one day I can see such behavioural deviations in our streets, schools or universities.”

This is simply a rather embarrassing display of an irrational fear of any gender presentation that exists outside a rigidly defined, artificial – and, frankly, archaic – binary. ‘Behavioural deviations’, indeed. Such things are defined by human beings and can easily be redefined to include, as to exclude. From where I sit, the phrase ‘behavioural deviations’ comes very close to hate speech, and is all the more cause for concern when it emanates from a country with a long and proud history of interacting with a multitude of races, peoples, languages and religions.

Not content with out-and-out transphobic hate speech, Dr Saif al-Hajari then proceeds to introduce xenophobia and paranoia into his arguments:

“These cases of behavioural deviations we have are not working alone. They co-ordinate with similar groups on regional and international levels,” he added.

The implication seems to be that there is some sort of international conspiracy to influence otherwise fine, upstanding, morally correct citizens into becoming some sort of threat to the established order by means of questioning their gender identity and presentation. Even a moment’s research would expose this assertion for the laughable fallacy that it represents. We transition to survive; not to overthrow governments.

To a question whether foreign education institutes established in Qatar are responsible for the spread of the phenomenon, Dr al-Hajari said that Qatar Foundation, which is the umbrella of foreign universities in Qatar, should set up a mechanism to protect young people in such universities from “invading behaviours”.

“We need to educate the administrative and teaching staff of these [foreign education institutes] on the special traits of our society.”

Hmm. Socio-cultural rehabilitation, anyone?

We are expected to accept the phrase ‘the special traits of our society’ without question. I’d be very interested to know how Dr Saif al-Hajari defines those ‘special traits’, and where he obtains his authority to make such definitions.

As for “invading behaviours” – has Dr Saif al-Hajari never heard of mukhannathun? There have been TS/TG people across the Arabian Peninsula – across the entire world – for as long as there have been humans. This is not a new phenomenon, a ‘trend’ to be reversed or a conspiracy to be repressed: it is an established and internationally recognised condition with a considerable body of medical evidence to support its existence.

“Some foreign schools and universities hire staff hailing from communities that do not see any problem in what we think of as deviations. This is a problem that should be dealt with.”

Again, it is unclear precisely why Dr al-Hajari believes that TS/TG people are a ‘problem’ to be ‘dealt with’.

It must surely be a matter of concern for anyone with even a passing interest in equality and human rights that such a forward-looking country should apparently tolerate such regressive and repressive views being expressed by so senior a person as the deputy chair of one of Qatar’s best known private, chartered, non-profit organisations. Dr al-Hajari, it is time to leave behind these proposals for the inhuman treatment of gender variant people – you may not understand us, but you can at least accept us as the fellow and equal human beings we are, in all our glorious diversity.

Is it political-correctness-gone-mad week?

April 2, 2009

European Parliament logoIt must be the week for those ignorant bigots who govern us to demonstrate the awfulness of their kneejerk approaches to gender issues. Meanwhile, those of us who actually live the life, well we still have to live it, no thanks to our political friends. Not that one would generally expect any useful support from said politicians anyway, be they local, national or European. More’s the pity.

So, perhaps it’s no real surprise to come across this little headdesker of a story from TheParliament.com (link here):

A group of MEPs have tabled a written declaration calling for a new parliamentary gender guidance booklet to be withdrawn.

Roger Helmer, Christopher Heaton-Harris and Martin Callanan, all UK Tories, have branded the guide as “political correctness gone mad.”

*sigh*

First, let’s note that these three are cis men and Conservative politicians. Those two facts alone speak volumes.

Second, let’s hear it again for our old friend “political correctness gone mad”. As I pointed out in my post of Monday, Cis man makes offensive “joke” then complains about consequent police warning (link here), Kai Chang deconstructed that particular meme a long time ago. To remind our three heroes, it’s called The Greatest Cliché: The Unexamined Propaganda of “Political Correctness” (link here). Here’s a taster:

Simply put, the great “PC” cliché, as commonly deployed in mainstream discourse, is cultural propaganda designed to befuddle and misdirect while defending the current power structure. All politics deal with power relations, and [...] there’s a stark asymmetry of power between the defiant megaphone-wielders who complain of being constrained by humorless hypersensitivity from below, and the under-represented people of color, women, LGBT, disabled, poor, and otherwise marginalized or dispossessed people who have no choice but to absorb the linguistic, cultural, and physical barbs of the ruling class. The former feel psycho-emotionally oppressed by their inability to crack puerile [...] jokes without criticism; the latter simply are oppressed.

And yet, according to Christopher Heaton-Harris, MEP:

[...] a person’s sex is fundamental to their sense of identity.

“It is an essential part of who they are, how they wish to be characterised, and how they relate to other people. This is just another example of political correctness gone mad in the European parliament. It’s time to make a stand for common sense,” he said.

He added “No one I know wants to be neuter and androgynous. They’re happy to be women or men”.

Oh I do love a sweeping generalisation. There’s just so much wrong in those few sentences it’s difficult to know where to start. Time for a quick smiting with the cluestick by the parliamentary authorities who issued the document, you might think. But instead, what do we get? Backpedalling, that’s what:

A parliamentary source said the guide is a voluntary code intended for staff and not politicians.

So the three MEPs are free to ignore the code – because it’s not aimed at them. And – to add insult to injury – it’s okay for parliamentary staff to ignore it too, if they choose. Makes you wonder why it was published in the first place.

I’d have thought that anything that helps (in no matter how small a way) to start changing the entrenched cissexist and trans-misogynistic attitudes that tell cis people it’s acceptable to misgender anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into the gender binary, should be encouraged. Especially by those privileged yet obviously bigoted cis politicians who claim to represent our interests in Europe.

Remembering Angie Zapata

February 17, 2009

Received this message from the Remembering Angie Zapata Facebook group (direct link to full message text

SAVE THE DATES: March 18th & April 7th

Colorado Anti-Violence Program Announces
Discussion, Meditation & Dinner to Prepare for Upcoming Murder Trial

Trial dates have been set for the murder of Angie Zapata. The eight day trial begins on April 14, 2008 and takes place in Courtroom 11 of the Weld County Courts at 901 9th Ave in Greeley. We would like to provide as much community support to her family and friends as possible by packing the courthouse during those days. If you are interested in coordinating rides to Greeley from the Denver-Metro area, please contact Kelly Costello at 303-839-5204 or kelly@coavp.org.

CAVP staff feels it is important for all of us involved in the trial to do so from an intentional and loving space. We recognize that we are all emotionally impacted when people target the LGBTQ community with violence. These incidents often lead us to feel a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability. We may feel anger and hatred towards those responsible for such violence.

In an effort to support our community members in maintaining a positive and healthy emotional and mental space around the trial of Allen Ray Andrade, CAVP will be hosting two evenings of discussion, meditation and dinner. Discussion will be facilitated by CAVP staff and meditation by Marti Engelmann.

We encourage you to participate in BOTH sessions if:

- You are even slightly considering attending any trial dates
– You would like to find other ways to support people going to the trial
– You have any interest in participating in creating this type of space regardless of your
involvement with this case

When:
March 18th from 6-8:30 pm and April 7th from 6-8:30 pm

Where:
CAVP Office

What:
Discussion and meditation 6:00- 7:30. Dinner provided afterwards.

How:
RSVP to Crystal Middlestadt at crystal@coavp.org or 303-839-5204.

[...]

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(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

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The Transsexual Empire

February 15, 2009

Janice RaymondAll transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artefact, and appropriating this body for themselves. [...] Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.

The transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist feeds off woman’s true energy source, i.e. her woman-identified self. It is he who recognises that if female spirit, mind, creativity and sexuality exist anywhere in a powerful way it is here, among lesbian-feminists.

I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.

From The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male (1979) by Janice Raymond.

Illinois Vital Records division refuses to issue correct documents

January 28, 2009

Image from Chicago Sun TimesVia the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, I see that two trans women have filed a lawsuit challenging the Illinois Vital Records division’s refusal to change their birth certificates.

Kari Rothkopf and Tori Kirk both underwent gender reaffirmation surgery in Thailand, and because both women had their surgeries overseas (not in the United States), the Illinois Vital Records division has refused to correct their documents.

This seemingly authoritarian interpretation of the state’s Vital Records Act is now being challenged by the ACLU on behalf of the two women, on the grounds that the denials are a violation of state law.

Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health — which encompasses the Vital Records division — say their hands are tied.

“We are following the Vital Records Act, and we are simply enforcing that,” said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “The part that we are particularly looking at is the definition of physician. Physician means a person licensed to practice medicine in Illinois or any other state.”

As in, one of the United States.

[...]

Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, estimates that between 1,600 and 2,000 patients undergo major gender-related surgeries each year.

“Given that many if not most health plans will not reimburse for medically necessary transgender surgery procedures, many transgender people find it necessary to leave the country in order to get the services they need,” Ginsberg said. “So it’s both illogical and unfair to not allow people to change their legal documentation to reflect the reality about their bodies and their condition.”

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(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

Angie Zapata murder trial: accused faces habitual offender tag

January 1, 2009

Via the Greeley Tribune:

Andrade faces habitual offender tag

The man accused of killing a transgender woman in Greeley this summer could likely face extra time if he’s not convicted as charged.

The Weld District Attorney on Tuesday moved to increase a potential sentence in the murder case against Allen Andrade, 32, by filing habitual criminal charges against the Thornton man. In this case, the habitual criminal status guarantees a sentence of four times the amount of the sentence of the convicted crime.

[...]

[Mr Andrade has] been charged with first-degree murder, a bias-motivated crime, felony motor vehicle theft and felony identity theft.

The murder charge guarantees life in prison without the possibility of parole or a maximum sentence of death, according to state law.

But there is always the possibility of Andrade being convicted of what is called a “lesser-included,” which in this case could be, for example, second-degree murder, which carries a sentences of eight to 24 years in prison. Juries often are given the option to convict of lesser crimes if they don’t find there’s enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt on the crime charged.

“If he’s convicted of lesser-included, if we don’t file these now, then we don’t have the option later,” Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said. “We filed these so that if a lesser-included is the verdict, then we have the opportunity to pursue the habitual criminal” status.

The habitual criminal charges stem from Andrade’s past court record. Court records show Andrade pleaded guilty in three different felony cases: one in 2000 for possession of contraband, another in 2003 for theft and another case in early 2004 for providing false information to a pawn broker. Court records indicate Andrade was sentenced to one year in prison for the contraband charge, three years in prison for the theft charge, and another 15 months in prison for the final case.

If Andrade isn’t convicted of murder at trial, which is scheduled to begin April 14, Buck will present the habitual criminal evidence. If Judge Marcelo Kopcow finds Andrade guilty of the criminal counts, he would be required by Colorado law to sentence him to four times the maximum.

“If he is convicted as charged, he’d be sentenced to life without parole, plus he’d be sentenced for stealing the car, and (the identity theft). We wouldn’t pursue the habitual criminal counts.”

For me, I don’t think I will ever be able to read Mr Andrade’s quote (in relation to the murder of Angie Zapata) without a chill running down my spine: “Gay things need to die”.

Mr Andrade’s jury trial is scheduled to begin on April 14. Should Mr Andrade be found guilty of murdering Angie Zapata – of bludgeoning her to death with a fire extinguisher and leaving her for dead on the floor of her own apartment – then I hope the court will reach a verdict which adequately reflects that fact.

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(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

Pope to save humanity *and* the rainforest. What a great guy!

December 23, 2008

Via BBC News:

Nobody expects the Spanish InquisitionPope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

He explained that defending God’s creation was not limited to saving the environment, but also protecting man from self-destruction.

[...]

Pope Benedict XVI warned that gender theory blurs the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the “self-destruction” of the human race

So much FAIL in one man.

But pray tell us, Your Holiness, how, exactly, acknowledging that gender is a spectrum (not a binary) – how is that going to bring about the self-destruction of humanity? Because you seem a bit unclear about the practicalities. And – this is just a wild guess, mind – but your upholding of the gender binary will exempt you from that destruction, amirite? Yep, thought so.

Ach, you know what? I really can’t be bothered with you. You’re talking through your tiara. Now go, run along, I think there are some gay and lesbian Catholics would like a word with you. (Via AP)

…*sighs, shakes head*…

Special flouncy curtsey to the lovely Kate Bornstein for being more patient than I, well maybe not really – link here – and I’m sure others also have some interesting things to say.

And now for something completely different:

The new feminists: lipstick and pageants

December 21, 2008

Although it seems to be addressing cis women, not trans women, there’s a nevertheless interesting piece in the Life & Style/Women section of the Sunday Times today, The new feminists: lipstick and pageants. The journalist, Gemma Soames, seems to be arguing that the recent Miss University London beauty pageant is a microcosmic example of a change in the focus of feminist activism by cis women away from a ‘retro’ (and, by implication, outmoded and irrelevant) feminism:

Take heart, sisters, for there is a new breed of feminist out there that is reinventing the ideology. Subscribing to the original feminist theories of equality (equal pay, equal rights and the importance of a right to choose), they pick the fights that mean something to them, ignoring the elements of feminist politics they find irrelevant.

My reading of the piece is that the “elements of feminist politics they find irrelevant” derive generally from the more problematic areas of second wave feminism and particularly, in this context, the protest against the 1968 Miss America Pageant. Instead, Ms Soames seems to be describing a sort of post-feminism.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with feminism and I make no secret that I’m still very much a n00b to gender theory and politics so, dipping into Wikipedia while writing this, it’s been interesting to learn a little more about the concepts of gender feminism and equity feminism within post-feminism. I’m by no means convinced that post-feminism offers the ideal home for my still-developing ‘politics of being trans’, but superficially at least, it seems a little more open-minded than certain other feminisms it’s been my misfortune to have been slapped about the face with.

At first glance, equity feminism – “an ideology that aims for full civil and legal equality” – certainly seems to offer a solid foundation from which I might be able to start a reconciliation with feminism; although I’d need to know more about the ‘target equality’ – as I said in my earlier post, “I’m really not comfortable with an equality which takes cis men’s point of view as its benchmark“. It occurs to me, and I don’t suppose this is a new or original thought, that the pursuit of equality for all must surely also imply an end to oppression – especially in the context of living openly as a trans woman – but I see no mention of anti-oppression work in the Wikipedia piece. And that subject – ending oppression as a means to achieving equality for all – may well, I think, open up an avenue of exploration all of its own. (Note to self: See also Michelle O’Brien’s essays Whose ally?, Gender Skirmishes on the Edges and Trans Liberation and Feminism)

Gender feminism, on the other hand, is immediately problematic for me. Apparently, the term was first coined by Christina Hoff Sommers in her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? to describe a feminism which criticizes contemporary gender roles and aims to eliminate them altogether. And it is that aim of eliminating gender roles that I don’t understand. Why would you want to eliminate them? Could you eliminate them? What would you replace them with – a form of androgynous gender neutrality for all? How would you enforce that? And why is it more preferable to abolish gender roles rather than allowing people to find the gender roles that are right for them, that chime harmoniously with their own sense of gender identity?

…le sigh…

I begin to wonder if I’ll ever find a solution that works for me; a solution that the world and her sister don’t feel threatened by (and hostile towards).

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