Archive for the 'Planet Cis – it’s where I have to live' Category

Yes, I’m trans. Why is that such a problem for you?

July 31, 2010

This is not a trans womanI begin to wonder if the increase in cis people’s awareness of TS/TG people has a downside, in that they’re finally beginning to see us everywhere. Kind of like when someone says, “Ooh, there are loads of red cars on the roads these days” and suddenly you start noticing that, yes there are a lot of red cars around. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are more red cars all of a sudden (although I suppose it might), just that you’re suddenly noticing them more because someone’s put the thought, the awareness, in your head.

As far as the increasing visibility of TS/TG people goes, this wouldn’t be so bad if so many cis people didn’t have this obsessive need to point it out, like they’re playing some twisted game of I Spy. But I don’t know if I’m becoming more aware of people doing it to me, or whether they really are doing it more.

I’ve just got back from doing a weekly grocery shop in my local supermarket where two cis men construction workers decided to mention it. The number one favourite phrase: “It’s a tranny”. “It“. Fucksake. “Tranny” is bad enough; “it” just drives the point home that I’m not a member of the human race, that I’m an object with no sense or feeling. And paradoxically it’s always said in an exaggerated stage whisper, deliberately loud enough for me to overhear.

It’s harassment. It’s transphobic. It’s the third time it’s happened to me (that I’m aware of) in the past couple of weeks. And you know what? It’s happened to me so often that it’s gone beyond being just upsetting. It fucking hurts. It hurts like hell. It makes me want to lock myself in the house and never leave it again. It makes me wish I lived somewhere I never had to interact with another cis person ever again. Increasingly it feeds my gathering depression and yes, I’ll say it: it makes me wish I was dead.

What I really don’t understand, though, is why cis men (it seems it’s always cis men, although I’ve no reason to believe cis women don’t do it too) think it’s okay to behave like that. What do they gain from it? Is it some sort of shoring up of their own insecurities, that by pointing out someone who they’ve been brainwashed to think isn’t “normal”, to the point of letting me know I’m some kind of freak with no feelings, they make themselves feel better about their blinkered little lives? Well let me tell you something, guys, if we have to use such divisive language, I have to say that I don’t think it’s me who’s the abnormal freak.

Mostly though, I’d just like to know what kind of cheap thrill you get from telling me I’m trans – Oh really? Well gosh. Thanks for letting me know. Y’know, I’d have had no idea if you hadn’t pointed it out. What kind of sick pleasure do you get from tormenting me – Yes, I’m human too. Why do you do it? What does it achieve? Do you do it to other people too, or is it just “trannies” like me that you pick on?

Cis people, can you tell me why you do it? I’d really like to know.

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Other posts in the category Street harassment

“Funny” office emails – and why they’re not funny

May 28, 2010

Picture the scene: It’s the Friday before a long holiday weekend and everyone in the office is skittish, ready for home, even though it’s only 2.30pm.

So one of the guys (and it’s always “one of the guys”, isn’t it?) sends round a “funny” email to make everybody laugh and wind down ready for 5.30pm and the end of the working day.

The email has the title “For those who are thinking of buying a bicycle” and the text says “When you purchase your bike, make sure the colour of the bike seat is taken into consideration!” And this image is attached:

Oh how everyone giggled. Everyone except Helen, the humourless trans harpy. She didn’t think it was very funny at all, because she recognised the cissexist thinking behind it.

It goes like this: Oh! That woman looks like she has a penis. That’s funny, because women don’t have penises. Not real women, anyway. So it’s funny because she’s obviously not a real woman. And because she’s not a real woman, then it’s fine to laugh at her, because she’s clearly less than a woman. A joke. Unimportant. A freak. Disposable.

It’s the kind of thinking that underpins the idea that any woman with a penis is not “really” who they say they are, that her identity is somehow a fraud, that her lived experience counts for nothing and therefore she can’t expect to be treated equally with everyone else. So it’s okay to harass her, abuse her, beat her, rape her, murder her. Because she’s worthless. Because she’s a woman with a penis.

Sometimes it’s hard not to hate cis people.

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ETA: And I don’t want to hear one word about how I’m being oversensitive, or how I just enjoy being offended, or that I’m taking things too personally, or any of that shit, okay?

Bootstrapping

April 18, 2010

Image via http://eroidays.com/2009/05/28/oen-webinar-chanin-mitch-i-chat-on-bootstrapping/

Verb

to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps

  1. (idiomatic) To begin an enterprise or recover from a setback without any outside help; to succeed only on one’s own effort or abilities.

(Via Wiktionary)

Dealing with cis society and, to a lesser extent, blogging on trans issues feels like that most days.

Lately, my bootstraps have become a bit frayed so I’m taking a brief hiatus while I replace them.

Back in a few.

Ungendering and the fine art of inflicting papercuts

November 25, 2009

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pointed out how trans women are ungendered as a way of Othering us and denying our identities. I’ve talked about how it happens as a very common form of street harassment (link here) and it feels like I’ve talked about it just about every time I’ve quoted the mass media in their reporting of trans issues.

So it’s interesting to read on the Reuters blog (link here) some readers’ reactions to the organisation’s ungendering of Brenda, the trans woman recently murdered as part of an attempted cover-up of a political scandal in Italy (links here and here).

The wrong pronoun?

Transsexual in Italian political scandal murdered

ROME (Reuters) – A Brazilian transsexual caught up in a scandal which prompted the resignation of a senior Italian politician — the center-left governor of Lazio region, which includes Rome — was found burned to death in his home Friday.

As well as the deliberate misuse of a male pronoun in the original post quoted above, I’m uncomfortable with the use of the word transsexual as a noun – but I realise also that opinion on this is divided. So I simply point it out without further comment.

And the quoted responses? Hmm. Well, at least they’re speaking out on behalf of trans women – and yes, I am grateful for that – although I’m sorry to say that I have issues with the terminology used by the first of the three commenters, Nicole:

I find it shocking that in this day and age, you still refer to a male-to-female transsexual as a “he”. I find this both old fashioned and disrespectful to the person you are reporting about.

Whether she was a prostitute or not, she was presenting herself as a female – likely because that’s what she felt she was. Most publications in the US honor this nowadays. You should, too!

“Male-to-female” is a problematic term as it assumes transsexual women like me once were male and that – presumably by transitioning – we somehow became female. I understand the constructivist argument at the back of it, but on a personal level? I don’t think I ever considered myself male. Cis society may have (else why was I male assigned at birth?) – but as far as I’m concerned, it’s simply the case that my brain was expecting a differently-configured body.

I’ve mentioned above my discomfort with the use of the word transsexual as a noun, not an adjective, but for clarity: I think it’s cissexist. The subtext is that our self-identification as women is unacceptable because our genders don’t correlate with the sex we were assigned at birth; therefore the speaker feels entitled not to use the noun woman about us. The fact is that I am a woman, I am transsexual, and I am a transsexual woman.

The second and third comments by Chancellor and Liz respectively really hit the nail on the head:

I honestly expected better from Reuters as a major news organization.

I’m astonished that Reuters of all organizations could do this.

An editor responded with this:

A number of readers objected to our choice of pronouns. In the past we have used “she” to describe her, and we will do so in future stories

Apart from being left wondering who decided to switch to incorrect pronoun use (and why) it remains the case that despite the reputation of any news organisation, despite its size, despite its market share or its demographic, its reports are only as trustworthy as the journalists who produce them. And as long as those journalists choose to ignore even their employer’s own style guide (which is, admittedly, a long way from perfect), then these cissexist slurs will continue to be repeated, with no regard to the effect they have on those of us who don’t have the advantage of cis privilege to shield us. On their own, these may seem like minor points to some, I know that; but the cumulative effect is another matter. As a friend of mine says, “Every day brings a thousand papercuts” – and from where I sit, that pretty much sums it up.

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Previous related posts:

This is not a trans woman

November 22, 2009

Reclaim The Night (For Cis Women Only) and the London Cis Feminist Network

October 5, 2009

RTN cis onlyMy previous post (link here) has drawn me into looking further back along the organisational chain of command, and the results are as depressing and predictable as one might expect; as much for the failure of would-be allies as for the actual transphobia of the organisers.

Reclaim The Night and Feminism in London are both organised by the London Feminist Network and one commonality in all their literature is the use of the trans exclusionary phrase “women only”.

The problem arises because the term is grounded in the use of the long-established trope which states that transsexual women are “not really women” – hence my assertion that the phrase women only is trans exclusionary. The definition is essentialist in meaning as it infers that one can only be “born a woman” (and never “become a woman”, to paraphrase de Beauvoir), and in so doing it denies not only the existence and agency of transsexual women and transsexual men, but also the potential for change itself. Thus women comes to mean cis women, just as surely as women only means cis women only. The biological determinism underpinning this rationale ensures that these definitions become permanent, unquestionable, immutable dogma.

However, it also results in the anomalous situation we now see in the cases of both Feminism In London and Reclaim The Night where transsexual men (“really women”) will be welcomed to these events, at the same time as transsexual women (“really men”) will be excluded. The bias in favour of transsexual men not only makes use of one of the most offensive manifestations of transphobia – ungendering us – but silences and further marginalises transsexual women in the process: it is divisive too. At the same time, it reinforces the male/female binary which, in their next breath, those same cis women feminists will tell you they are committed to destroying – because, they reason, gender isn’t really absolute, determined by one’s genital configuration at birth, it is in fact a completely malleable, socially constructed concept.

LFN cis onlyBut regardless of the contorted and contradictory logic employed by LFN to exclude transsexual women, it’s interesting to note how the cis women feminist organisers then go on to avoid being called on their hidden transphobia by saying nothing explicitly about who is included in, and who is excluded from, the term women only. Their cis women feminist supporters at these events, who blithely go along with this hypocrisy by telling themselves that if transsexual women aren’t explicitly excluded then they must be implicitly included, are therefore not only complicit in the silencing of transsexual women, but their complacency allows the organisers to manipulate and exploit them in pursuit of this hidden transphobic agenda.

Which brings me to the real question: who decided this? How many people were responsible for implementing this trans exclusionary policy – and would they have been successful if the majority not been so apathetic? In a situation like this, saying nothing is no different to actively supporting the bigots. And given that transsexual women are highly unlikely to have access to the decision-making process, it falls to those cis women feminists who call themselves allies to take a stand on our behalf.

No more excuses, my sisters.

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Cis Feminism in London 09

October 3, 2009

Feminism in London - it's for cis women onlyNext weekend sees the Feminism in London 09 event. There are various workshops and discussions on a range of subjects: for example, racism and sexism, self-defence and assertiveness training, activism training, etc – and nearly 30 speakers scheduled. Any self-identified woman, whether cis or not, would surely find something of interest there.

But what’s this on the front page of the website?

If you are a woman or a pro-feminist man, come along to join the discussion.

Any trans woman seeing that will surely already hear the alarm bells ringing. It shouldn’t need restating that the word “woman” defaults to meaning “cis woman” and excludes trans women as a consequence. And “pro-feminist man”? I wonder if that includes trans men?

But there’s more. At the bottom of every single page of the website is this little gem of transphobia:

Some workshops may be for women only.

I see. And which workshops might they be, then? Close reading suggests that there is, in fact, only one workshop which is open to cis women only, and it’s the Rape and sexual violence workshop.

Because, as we know, trans women never suffer rape and violence.

Scratch the surface and the same old hidden agenda can be seen. Biological determinism: if you were born male-bodied, you will only ever be male. And its corollary – if you were born female-bodied, you will only ever be female – is the flipside. The thinking, if that’s the word I want, is fundamentally cissexist. The implication is that, irrespective of how we self-identify, to cis people we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth. It’s interesting that a self-styled feminist event should choose to implement such an essentialist policy. Whatever happened to the idea that gender is entirely socially constructed? And what happened to the feminism that preached equality for all and an end to oppression and discrimination?

And what all of this means in the context of the event is that a trans man will be welcome at the Rape and sexual violence workshop (because cis women have decided that he’s “really a woman”), but not a trans woman (because cis women have decided that she’s not).

But then I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else of an event organised by the rabidly transphobic London Feminist Network. The same people who were last seen supporting a transphobic bigot celebrity lifestyle journalist at last year’s Stonewall UK protest, and who are no doubt already gearing up for the annual Reclaim The Night (But Only For Cis Women) march next month.

Frankly, if this is state of feminism in Britain’s biggest city in the 21st century you know what you can do with it.

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ETA: Because trans women never suffer sexual violence.
(Via This Is South WalesPDF here)

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Cross-posted at Harlot’s Parlour

Trans-misogyny? There’s an app for that.

September 26, 2009

Trans-misogyny? There's an app for that.It’s always hurtful when cis people make trans-misogynistic attacks on trans women’s gender expression, and I doubt I shall ever understand why they think they are entitled to do so. The barbs are bad enough when they’re aimed specifically at me as an individual, but when they target my entire community they inevitably seem only to add insult to injury.

I’ve just seen an example of this mindless hatred emanating from Apple computers; a company which makes products of which I’ve been a long-time fan – indeed, I’m writing this on my much-loved PowerBook and I’m soundtracking my blogging with music played on my iPod. So to then view the cheap shot that is their latest commercial is a huge disappointment, to say the least.

GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has already formally requested Apple Inc to withdraw the advert (you can read the details here) which they describe as follows:

The ad features model Gisele Bundchen, who is supposed to be the embodiment of a home movie made using iMovie. After the Mac presents Gisele, the PC presents a person wearing a dress identical to Gisele’s, in a wig, with no breasts, a five o’clock shadow and an abundance of exposed chest hair.

The ad ends with the line:

“Work in progress?”

For me, perhaps the worst thing about this is the perpetuation of a stereotype founded on pure ignorance. The point that so few cis people ever seem to understand is that transsexual women like me transition as a way of managing the intense morphic dissonance we experience. Do you not think that if we simply wanted to be cross-dressing caricatures as depicted in the Apple ad, then we would? Does it not occur to you that we turn our lives upside down, we lose families, friends, loved ones, jobs, houses, cars – everything – because that is what we need to do to survive? Do you really believe we “choose” to be transsexual, that transitioning is nothing more than a “lifestyle choice” that we could freely reverse if only we would see things your way?

And really, the idea that every transsexual woman wants to look like some fictitious ideal of a femme-y woman is as much of a stereotype as the “bloke in a frock” image on which it’s founded – and I say that both stereotypes are wrong. Transsexual women’s gender expression is every bit as varied as cis women’s; a fact conveniently ignored by the oh-so-cool hipsters in the marketing department in Cupertino, CA.

There’s a very pertinent quote in “Crossing: A Memoir” by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey (link here), when she was asked why trans women learn stereotypical feminine gestures.

She said: “It’s to keep from getting murdered, dear”.

And, certainly for me, that’s the main reason I wear skirts and dresses. Camouflage. Self-preservation. It’s not the perfect match for my gender identity – but it’s damned close, close enough for comfort. My comfort. To blend in; to merge with the background; to be just another face in the crowd. I do it so I can get from A to B without winding up in A&E. I don’t do it to meet some dumb-ass enforced criteria of how I should look. I’ve spent my life doing just that, from one side or other of the binary divide. And I’m sick of cis people imposing on me their unreasonable preconceptions of how I should look – and then attacking me for failing to meet their frankly ludicrous standards; standards which they never seem to apply to themselves. Funny, that.

Like all of us, cis or trans, I am who I am and I let my presentation reflect that. But apparently this is such a huge big deal to the advertising staff at Apple Inc that the only way they can deal with the existence of transsexual women is by ridiculing us in this hateful, hurtful way.

I say it’s time to stop the trans-misogyny once and for all. Like my PowerBook, it’s old and tired; and like Apple’s advert, it’s not even vaguely amusing.

Transsexuality will no longer be classified in France as a mental illness

May 17, 2009

Flag of FranceVia Le Provence, mangled into English by Google Translate:

Transsexuality will no longer be classified in France as a mental illness, a government decision Saturday qualified as “historic” by the associations, on the eve of World Day against homophobia and transphobia.

Health Minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has taken these days “High health authority for a decree transsexuality leaving the category of psychiatric disorders”, said a spokesperson of the ministry.

So far, transsexuals enjoyed an exemption from user fees for medical care under a long-term ALD23 classified for “persistent or recurrent disorders”.

For the Department of Health, it is a “strong signal to the whole community”, transsexuals feeling “this admission ALD23 as stigmatizing”.

This classification, derived from that of the World Health Organization (WHO), was also linked to the fact that transsexuality was on the list of diseases identified in the medical manual DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which refers the medical profession, just as homosexuality was there a few years.

In an article published in Le Monde dated Monday-Sunday, many people [including] first secretary of the Socialist [party] Martine Aubry, the Communist Marie-George Buffet, Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the Nobel Prize [winners] Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (medicine) and Elfriede Jelinek (literature), have requested WHO “to no longer consider transsexuals as mentally disordered.”

This is because the WHO had decided on 17 May 1990 [to remove] homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, that date was chosen for the World Day against homophobia celebrated from Saturday and Sunday in many places .

It is symbolic that France chose that moment to be “the first country in the world” to “delete [transsexuality from] the list of mental illnesses,” commented the IDAHO Committee (International Day Against Homophobia and transphobia).

This “historic decision” is also “an explosion of hope for all trans people in the world,” said Joel Bedos, Secretary General of the IDAHO Committee.

The association Homosexualités et Socialisme (HES) has “welcomed” the announcement that also answers “to a claim of long-range” of the lesbian, gay, bi and trans de France (LGBT). For UAS, it is time now to move from symbol to action, fighting against violence and discrimination […].

image from Le Provence

(The full text of the announcement in French can be found in this PDF of a Microsoft Word document originally posted on the IDAHO website)

I absolutely agree that classifying transsexuality as a ‘psychiatric disorder’, a ‘mental illness’, a ‘disease’, is wrong – it stigmatises us in ways that only compound the negative, discriminatory and profoundly damaging views of trans people that mainstream cis society already holds.

What does concern me is if, in the forthcoming DSM-V revision, the condition is either completely decategorised (I believe that would allow healthcare authorities such as Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and specialist healthcare insurers worldwide to stop offering support and essential services to us) or recategorised into such an extreme paraphilia that we are even more stigmatised by its pathologisation.

Worryingly, this second proposal has already been outlined by Ray Blanchard (chair of the Paraphilias Subcommittee and inventor of the mental illness he terms autogynephilia) in a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR) in April 2009 (link here; see also Julia Serano’s piece for Feministing, “Why feminists should be concerned with the impending revision of the DSM”, link here).

My fear is that this unilateral move by France, although initially seeming to be a positive thing, may actually provide ammunition for the members of the APA Task Force and Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Workgroup in their quests to medically mandate us out of existence. Janice Raymond must be proud of them.

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Previous posts about the DSM on this blog:

Post-identity feminism and the “problem of agency”

May 10, 2009

transgender-symbol_103x120In his post Feminist Theory and Identity Politics (link here) A Very Public Sociologist writes about a recent talk given by Professor Lois McNay, a cis women academic at the University of Oxford, when she talked about how feminism is “moving into an era of post-identity politics, which is stepping away from issues of difference and is grappling again with the problem of agency”.

Professor McNay’s theory serves only to highlight her own privileged position, comfortably ensconced in the leafy groves of academe. Any trans woman who has had even the smallest brush with cis women’s feminism will know only too well that the overwhelming majority of cis women feminists – if they even give a fuck about trans women to start with – are openly hostile to our presence within “their” movement. That stance, by definition, seeks to deny us not only our agency but our very right to exist at all.

Why? Because our existence demands the rethinking of vast swathes of feminist theory and the reshaping of 40 years of transphobic attitudes. And that, apparently, is simply too much like hard work. Far easier to demand that – in the words of feminist icon and transphobe Janice Raymond – we are morally mandated out of existence.

And to suggest that “the problem of agency” is feminism’s concern when so many cis women feminists flatly deny trans women’s agency is just a joke.

You want to talk about the “problem of agency”? Because I agree that it exists. No question. So where shall we start?

  • The “agency” enshrined in an Equality Bill where trans rights were added almost as an afterthought, and are so poorly protected as to be almost worthless?
  • The “agency” of a non-gendered person living in a state which demands that per identifies as either male or female?
  • And where was this “agency” when Allen Andrade unilaterally decided that Angie Zapata had no right to live, because he disapproved of her genital topography?
  • What about the “agency” of an LGBT solidarity organisation to operate without state-imposed conditions? Or the “agency” of trans people in a country where the state tacitly condones transphobic violence?
  • The “agency” trans people have when it comes to changing our documentation to match our gender identities without having to jump through a needlessly complex series of hoops?
  • Where’s the “agency” of trans people in a centralised database system that requires us to pay for two different ID cards?
  • How about that old favourite, the “agency” that trans women have to use (cis) women’s toilets?
  • Or the “agency” we have in a healthcare system which demands that we submit to being pathologised as “mentally disordered” before it will dispense the medications and surgeries which have been shown countless times to ameliorate a condition which is rooted in how we perceive our identity?

I could find many, many more examples of the forms of “agency” denied to us but, frankly, any cis person – be they feminist, socialist or some high-faluting academic an ivory tower – who doesn’t ‘get it’ by now is demonstrating not only a monumental failure to grasp the simple fact that trans people across the world are forcibly reminded every single day that our “agency” is defined, administered and controlled by cis people – but also that, as long as the situation remains unchanged, there cannot possibly be any such thing as a “post-identity feminism”.