Monday, February 6, 2012

GLSEN Goes to the Super Bowl

You’ve probably seen the ThinkB4YouSpeak ads put out by GLSEN (rock-dwellers: the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to discourage the use of phrases like “that’s so gay” in popular culture. These ads point out how senseless and potentially hurtful it is to use “gay” as a synonym for “dumb.” Some ads do this by putting the person who says “that’s so gay” in a gay person’s shoes (thank you, Hilary Duff) while some simply speak out against it (thank you, NBA). It’s true that a lot of queer people do this themselves in an effort to “take back the word,” but the practice can definitely contribute to feelings of isolation and worthlessness to queer youth, especially uncertain and potentially closeted youth who don’t have a network of queer friends reminding them it’s okay to be gay.

Thanks to airtime generously donated by Grazie Media (you can add your signature to GLSEN’s thank-you note here), GLSEN was able to air new PSA’s including the ones above AT THE ACTUAL SUPER BOWL. According to GLSEN’s webpage about this project, some 800,000 spectators in both the stadium and the surrounding parking lots saw these on the stadium’s big screen. Anti-gay groups—including everyone’s favorite, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church—protested the airing of the ads and even went to the Super Bowl to form a picket line, which apparently didn’t get too much attention from the sports fans. If you don’t care because you want to fight homophobia, care because much homophobia is rooted in gender stereotypes (a boy teased for “acting gay” is usually really being teased for “acting” feminine), which hurts our community too. If THAT doesn’t interest you, care because the most-shared and most-commented-on status GLSEN posted about the Super Bowl is actually about a transgender woman who joined the counter protest.

The status, which you can see in full on GLSEN’s Facebook page, shows a photo of the woman holding a sign that reads “I’m transgendered. I’m prettier than all of the WBC and God still loves me” and hails her as an ally. The post adds that “a couple of football fans came up to the trans woman and prayed with her in support of the counter protest directly in front of the anti-gay picket.” Right now, there are 73 comments about how beautiful and strong this woman is. The community has chosen to focus on this individual’s strength over anything else. I don’t know if GLSEN is moderating comments, but I couldn’t find a shred of transphobia in any of them. There can be a lot of in-fighting in the queer community, but I like this example of the fact that we can really come together in the face of hatred.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Revisiting My Roots...?

Sooo I’ve fallen off the face of the planet—again—and now I’m back—again—until I decide that I’m not sure what I should be writing about—again. My initial goal in starting this blog was to help people who had little to no experience in the trans world, and didn’t know about any resources that could help them become more comfortable with the community, the vocabulary, and even the concept. I wanted to do this because I was once frustratingly unable to grasp the reality of being transgender, and when I was able to admit this to myself and actively seek help understanding, I was met with more questions than answers.

To be specific: I went to my first ever transgender allies workshop/discussion at a transgender rights conference and met a whole bunch of people who didn’t really know how to define or describe their partners/parents/kids/friends and, in many cases, themselves because of it (am I still a lesbian?). I got into a long conversation with a parent about existing resources—websites were the most accessible, but there were no question-and-answer or networking sites, no routinely updated newsfeeds, that weren’t out of Facebook or something similar. What if— she asked my young English major aspiring writer self—SOMEONE were to start a blog addressing common issues new allies were facing? People could connect about similar experiences via the comment feature; relative anonymity would provide comfort but moderated comments would provide safety.

I started here on Blogger. I wrote about conferences and vocabulary, about employment laws, about respecting your partner’s identity without sacrificing your own. The problem was nobody read it. Someone convinced me to move to Tumblr, insisted it would guarantee readers. I found readers-- there and here as well-- but the new allies, it seems, are still not finding this blog, or else aren't finding it helpful. Who’s helping the newest allies? Where are they looking for that help? I was just wondering if anyone had any suggestions for ways I could reach out to new allies and help connect all of us in new ways. We've all been there, right? What helped you?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Educating the Educators

This is a REALLY LONG post, but, it's a fun story. Plus, long posts are okay if you've gone on a months-long hiatus, right?

Today, I tore apart a class of future Student Affairs professionals for silencing people who don’t fit into the gender binary. It was beautiful, but it made me realize how much work we have left to do, even among the people who claim to be on our side. It was a group presentation on how gender roles can affect college students. Some quotes from their handout:

· Sex: “refers to the biological difference between male and female.”
· Gender: “a socially constructed distinction between male and female.”
· “Sex and gender are inseparable; those who are sexual males are normally perceived as gendered men and sexual females are normally perceived as gendered women.”

I am ripping my hair out.

The entire presentation talked about gender using the terms ‘male’ and ‘female,’ and never, even once, acknowledged the possibility of something else. Most of the class was spent getting classmates to talk about times they have been restricted because of their gender. You know, Mommy always made me curl my hair in grade school, that kind of thing. Then, at the end of the presentation, someone mentioned that SOME people ACTUALLY think that gender is fluid, and that genders beyond male and female exist. *GASP* They presented this idea by showing a youtube montage of newscasters freaking out about a couple raising a baby without a gender shoved down its throat, and asked us if we thought this was a bad idea.

I’d had enough, and announced I was going to talk now and had three things to say.

One—even this clip about a baby being raised outside the binary shows how much power the binary has over us. All the clips were ranting about ‘his or her’ parents when the reality is it is THEY who are imposing THEIR politics on this child. Some of you have probably never heard of this, but one in every who-knows-how-many babies are actually born with genitalia that are not distinguishable as male or female, or have characteristics of both—and nine times out of ten, that baby is operated on, without the parents’ knowledge or consent, in order to make them appear more ‘normal.’ Those babies never get a chance; this one does. For all any of us know, this child isn’t even male or female to begin with; sex is NOT a binary.

Two—since sex is not a binary, it stands to reason that gender is not a binary either. Viewing it as a binary silences countless voices you could learn from. I didn’t say anything during our conversation because I haven’t been told I’m not feminine enough; I’ve been told I’m not masculine enough to claim the gender I do. Most of you will look at me and label me as a woman, and that’s your problem, not mine. In reality, I don’t identify as a woman OR a man; I am something called genderqueer, and there are a hundred other words I could throw at you if we had time. Tons of people exist outside the gender binary and are silenced by gender assumptions—like the ones you’ve all presented in this class which is supposed to be ABOUT gender assumptions. I don’t mean to call you out, but no one in your group even MENTIONED transgender or gender variant people in your presentation ABOUT GENDER. Maybe women are less valued than men, but gender variant people are invisible in general society.

Three—sometimes, gender and sex ARE binary concepts, but are not at all related. T—, when you said you had to shovel snow while your sister had to cook breakfast every day, it made me think of my partner. When he was a girl, he had to do things like that too. Yes. I said that. When he transitioned to being a man, his parents taught him how to mow the lawn because that’s what real men do. My partner is accepted as a man by everyone who comes into contact with him because that’s how he presents; we call it “passing” and he is lucky enough to do it consistently. But my partner is female. That’s a binary identity in which sex and gender are not traditionally linked. And that’s only one way gender complicates sexuality. He doesn’t identify with words like queer or straight because all of those words immediately suggest a sex and gender that match for the person using them. Likewise, I don’t identify as a lesbian anymore, because that suggests I am a woman and date women, not a gender-variant person who dates other gender-variant people.

I wanted to share my experiences with you all because, someday, you are going to be working at colleges with gender variant people. You won’t even know they’re in the room sometimes, but we’re everywhere. And, if you all talk the way you talked tonight, you are going to be silencing those students the way that I felt silenced during this class.

This, of course, is a paraphrase; I was more candid and less articulate in class, I’m sure, but I did cover every point mentioned above-- some better than others.

My classroom was dead silent. All eyes were on me, but not in a look-at-the-freak way; in a oh-wow-I-never-thought way.

My professor, who’s pretty fantastic, chided me for not speaking up sooner. I tried to explain that I’d waited on purpose—if I’d just jumped in ranting about feeling oppressed, everyone would’ve been defensive, and the class wouldn’t have had the opportunity to SEE how the silencing works. But she wasn’t satisfied with that and informed me I would be talking more about my experiences next week.

Can’t wait.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bi/Trans/Pans Debate: Why Respecting Everyone Matters

I have a lot of queer friends. We have a lot of interesting conversations about identity and legality and how crazy the world is. I recently got to witness a conversation that exemplified, at least to us, why this whole bi-trans debate (you know; does the term ‘bisexual’ negate transfolk and uphold the gender binary?) is really unnecessary. The setup: a lesbian, a bisexual, a pansexual and a transsexual (all terms used generally) walk into the room (we were not at a bar, but you can pretend). The lesbian and bisexual are dating, are both female, and are very affectionate; whenever they get caught in a PDA moment, someone inevitably goes “ewwwwww, lesbians!” At first it was funny, but after a while, the bisexual friend in question starting voicing how this actually made her feel uncomfortable and overlooked because it entirely undermined her bisexual identity. And some people were like, oh right. Our bad. But some other people were like, get over it, you’re a lesbian right now.

Cue the pansexual (female presenting) and transsexual (male presenting), who are also dating and are also fairly affectionate, but get less teasing from the general group. During one of THEIR recent PDA moments, the bisexual friend interjected, “ewwwwww, breeders!” Everyone laughed, but the pansexual girl, who may or may not actually be me, was like, oh hell no. Saying that entirely undermines my queer identity. And people were like, oh right. Our bad.

The bisexual friend said nothing, just let it sink it. One by one, the members of our little group realized that if we’re going to respect one queer’s preferred identity label, we’re going to have to respect another’s, too. We haven’t had our next group get-together yet, but I’m willing to bet there will be far fewer lesbian jokes aimed at my clever bisexual friend.

Moral of the story: There is no queer hierarchy, no right or wrong way to be who you are. We all identify differently because that difference makes us beautiful; respecting that difference makes our friendships beautiful. Don’t overlook identities you don’t understand; you never know when it’s going to come back to you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Two-Spirit Film Could Win PBS Award

So PBS does this thing called Independent Lens, where they feature and focus on independent films. As far as I understand, once a film is shown, viewers get to vote on what the best one was, and the audience favorite will get special support and recognition from the program. One of the films up is called “Two Spirits.” Need I say more? Probably not. But here are some links if you’re interested.
Movie information and trailer:
PBS site to vote on (click on the stars):
The film is about one specific Native American hate crime victim and the history of two-spirit culture. I haven’t seen it myself, but how cool would it be if a film about trans experience won the Independent Lens Audience Award this year? Just saying. Get clicking!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Treatments of GID: What Does This Mean for Us?

Talking about GID always bends one’s mind a bit. Is it really a disorder? Is it fair to define a trans person as mentally ill before they can pursue surgery? Isn’t the fact that GID is still understood as a medical disorder partly to blame for transphobia?

Needless to say there are a lot of articles floating around about this. There are plenty of arguments to be made, but a lot of writers do a pretty shoddy job of explaining what GID is and where it came from in the process. I’ve been thinking a lot about language and what it does to us versus what we do to it, in terms of culture in general and the trans community in particular, since my last post about that mildly atrocious article. This article isn’t atrocious—it’s respectful and treats some common misconceptions—but there are two ideas presented that I’d like to hear reactions on.

One is the presentation of GID as a mysterious and “serious, often deadly” illness, most notably in the beginning paragraphs; later, GID is even compared to skin cancer. The author implies that having GID leads to suicide and essentially blames the condition of being trans, not the diagnosis, for the hardships a trans person may face (depression, unemployment, etc). Depression and suicide are not symptoms of GID so much as natural reactions to society’s treatment of trans individuals. To not make that distinction is almost akin to blaming trans individuals for these situations and implies that all transfolk have depression due to this “illness” they apparently combat.

This brings me to my second observation: the blatant acceptance of the gender binary. The article claims that a trans person’s “brain growth follows one gender track while their bodies follow another” during development. That kind of thinking discredits any kind of non-binary gender in existence and undermines anyone not interested in pursuing a traditional physical transition to what some would view its “completion”.

The article isn’t brand new, but was posted as helpful to someone new to the concept. If you’ve never heard the term before, this article DOES simplify the concept greatly. Which is helpful, but also harmful; are these the ideas we want to be associated with?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Veterans Health Administration Regulates Care of Transgender Veterans

As of June 9th, the 950 hospitals and clinics connected to the Veterans Health Administration are all required to provide the same level of adequate and sensitive healthcare to transgender veterans. These health care centers will not be providing sex reassignment surgery, but WILL connect veterans to counseling, hormone therapy, and post-operative care as a regular occurrence. Personnel at these centers are also required to refer to all transgender and intersex patients, in conversation AND in medical records, using their preferred gender pronouns rather than their assigned sex pronouns.

A lot of these standards sound like common sense to us, but they’re a big deal to the transgender veterans affected by the new protocol. According to some online testimonies, some transgender veterans receiving care through the Veterans Health Administration have been able to pursue hormone therapy, while others are denied even basic, non-trans-specific healthcare. This new standard means that ALL health care centers, clinics, and hospitals will provide a higher standard of care to transgender veterans. You may cheer a little if you like.

** Side note: I’d usually accompany this type of post with a news article, but the one I saw contains language that is questionable at best and has actually inspired me to write a letter to the author (but more on that later). I googled for an alternative, but none are immediately apparent. You can search yourself, but I won’t promote an article insensitive to the identities of the people it reports on. **